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Forget Me Not with Heather Ashby

Today I am so pleased to welcome Heather Ashby, a 2012 Golden Heart sister as well as an award-winning romantic suspense author!Heather Ashby 2013 03 07 - 0125-Edit-7

After the successful debut of her first book Forgive & Forget, Heather has just released the second book in her “Love in the Fleet” series, Forget Me Not, to even more acclaim. And I heard a rumor that she’s also brought along Forget Me Not’s sexy hero Sky Crawford. I can already tell he’s a flirt!

SW: Welcome, Heather! I loved this book and am not surprised to hear all sorts of wonderful buzz about this story, the hero, and especially the villain. Can you share the blurb without giving away too much?

HA: Thanks, Sharon, for inviting me back to Kiss and Thrill! Here’s the blurb for Forget Me Not:

Suffering from survivor guilt, playboy Navy Seahawk pilot Sky Crawford swears he’ll never marry, unsure he deserves happinessbesides there are too many hot chicks to choose from.

War widow and veterinarian Daisy Schneider swears to love only animals after her Marine pilot husband is killed in Afghanistan—but work fails to ease her loneliness or the guilt that she might have saved him. The last thing she needs is a sweet-talking, fast-playing military pilot in her life.

Between a fiery battle with drug runners at sea and one stray, matchmaking Siamese cat, the fur flies in Forget Me Not as Sky and Daisy learn about life, love, and second chances. 

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SW: I know this is your second book but can you tell me about this amazing Romantic Suspense list Forgive and Forget is on?

HA: I was stunned when Suspense Magazine voted my debut novel, Forgive & Forget, to their “Best of 2013” list for Romantic Suspense with Linda Howard, Allison Brennan/Laura Griffin, and Sandra Brown. This was beyond my wildest dreams.

SW: I am so happy for you, and the award is much deserved. In researching the cocaine trade, how difficult was to come by the information? Were you afraid of ending up on someone’s list?

 HA: I did wonder if the FBI was going to come for me after reading my Google search history or seeing what I checked out of the library. While packing for a wedding in St. Petersburg, Florida, my normally sweet husband pulled my current reading material from the suitcase, got in my face, and exclaimed, “No, you are not going to sit around the pool at the Don Cesar Hotel reading How to Smuggle Cocaine for Profit and Fun.

 SW: I don’t blame him! Did the reality of the drug world scare you?

HA: Yes, the above book was written by a drug lord to show just how easy it is to smuggle cocaine into the U.S. In addition to reading about the “selling of souls for profit,” I was shocked at what growing and processing cocaine does to the environment. Besides the slashing and burning for more farm land to grow coca, millions of liters of caustic chemicals, including pure gasoline, are dumped into rivers and jungles.

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 SW: How did you get a Navy helicopter pilot to help you with the writing/authentication? Can you tell me a bit more about him/her?

 HA: Oh, it was definitely a him, and didn’t he look hot in that flight suit! Oops, did I type that out loud? Seriously, he is the dad of a former student of mine. And I was thrilled to learn that he’d always wanted to write a thriller, but didn’t know where to start. So he enjoyed adding his two cents worth, along with authenticating scenes, especially cockpit dialogue and actions, and the drug interdiction/firefight. We even added in a character based on his best friend, a naval aircrewman who perished in a flight accident. Petty Officer Billy Quinn is honored in the story and on our dedication page.

 SW: Your books are known for their realism. What extra lengths did you go to do research?

HA: The Navy invited me to go through their Seahawk helicopter flight simulator. They said: “We are so thrilled that someone is going to write about what our pilots and crews do to make the world a safer place, we will help you in any way we can.” Although it was all simulated, it was 100% realistic – including movement. I sat in the pilot’s seat and my “co-pilot” (another cute pilot in a flight suit) guided me to land our helo on the flight decks of various sized ships, including a frigate which has a postage stamp-sized deck. Then they had me do it “at night” and “during a thunderstorm.” Next they set up the drug runner scenario I would be writing about. I got to fire warning shots on a “go-fast” – a speed boat – while it evaded interdiction by zigzagging. Since the mules did not cease and desist, I next got to pick off their “$100,000 engines” with lasers, one by one until they were DIW, dead in the water. After that, my co-pilot let me fire three Hellfire missiles! (No, not at the drug runners.) And finally, they had me experience a tail rotor failure, which throws a helicopter into a violent spin – and might, just maybe, happen in the book . This was one of the most exciting days of my life!

 SW: Tell me about your “Villain”.

 HA: The villain in Forget Me Not is cocaine. Through interwoven chapters, the reader follows the journey of the cocaine from harvest to processing to the mules who transport it in go-fasts to the distributer. Various characters are introduced, such as a drug lord, his son who has a conscience, the manager at a processing plant, and a go-fast captain, but they are only there as a means of guiding the villain – the cocaine – on to the next step in its journey.

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 SW: Was writing this book harder than the first? Was it a revision of an older book?
This book was way easier than Book 1, because I knew what I was doing. I had no idea about writing a novel when I wrote Book 1, which means it was re-written five times over before being published. I actually wrote Book 2 with the Golden Heart in mind, ensuring lots of voice in the beginning as opposed to the backstory that had been in Book 1. I also wrote it around a hook at page fifty. I was very excited when Book 2 was named a Golden Heart finalist. (Original title: Cat On A Hot Steel Flight Deck.)

 SW: As we’re talking, an incredibly handsome man has walked in. And since Heather has prepared me, I’m pretty sure that killer smile and sexy wink belongs to Sky Crawford, the luscious hero of Forget Me Not. “So, Sky, what was the first thing you thought when you met Daisy? (be honest!)”

Sky: If you want me to be honest, how about go right to the source? Here’s my reaction when I first saw Dr. Daisy at her vet clinic.

Attention on deck. All hands man your battle stations. Hot. Chick. Alert.

Sky’s brain flipped over to autopilot. Left eye did the ring finger check. No rings. Good sign. Right eye—hey, something was wrong here. His right eye knew it was assigned breast patrol, but it couldn’t seem to move past her blond hair swept up into some kind of barrette thingy. Hair that screamed for him to pull out the clip so he could watch the flaxen mass come tumbling down, like the walls of Jericho. Then both eyes got too lost in her pale blue ones to even consider glancing lower.

Mayday. Mayday. Losing focus fast. Send reinforcements.

Peripheral vision was called in as backup and the situation report said any woman that looked this good in a pair of scrubs must be some mighty fine booty.

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 SW: I’m surprised she even talked to you. What was it about Daisy that changed things for you? 

 Sky: She didn’t put up with my BS. But since I love it when desirable women play the hard-to-get card, I wasn’t about to give up the chase.

 SW: Was there ever a moment when you had to choose between Daisy and the final showdown with the drug runners?

 Sky: Yeah, but that would be a spoiler, sweetheart.

 SW: Your story involves your ongoing recovery from PTSD. Can you tell us how Daisy helped you in your recovery?

Sky: She made me acknowledge that I might have some…you know…issues…and I might have to…um…get some help. Okay, so she threw my a** out until I actually got help.

SW: What help did you give Heather in her ongoing research into your world of Navy pilots?

Sky: I suggested she work out at the base gym on the Navy base. See, if she goes around 11 AM and uses a certain treadmill, she can watch all the hot guys in uniforms walk by on their way to the locker room before their lunch-hour workout. That also affords her a good view of the chin up bars, since she has a thing for upper-body musculature. And I reminded her that nobody would suspect her of “doing research,” since she’s old enough to be their mother. And as to the hot love scenes, I just whispered them all into her ear.

 SW: Are Navy pilots really this sexy? Or is it all for show?

Sky: Oh, sweetheart, we are really that sexy. (Heather says it’s the flight suits, but don’t listen to her. Come on, this is the Skylark you’re talking to—king of the skies and the bedroom. The King of Hearts.)

SW: Okay. As cute as he is, it’s time to shut him down and ask the weekly question: 

Do you like unusual villains? Or do you prefer the standard scary drug-kingpin type villain?

And if villains aren’t your thing at all, what do you think about cocky heroes who get taken down by sexy, smart heroines?

And for one lucky commenter, Heather will be giving away one e-copy of Forget Met Not!

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Heather Ashby is a Navy veteran, whose mother was one of the original Navy WAVES in WWII. After leaving the service, Heather taught school and raised a family while accompanying her Navy husband around the United States, Japan, and the Middle East. 

In gratitude for her Army son’s safe return from Afghanistan and Iraq, she now writes military romance novels, donating half her royalties to support wounded warriors and their families. 

An award-winning author of romantic fiction, Heather is a member of  Romance Writers of America, and also belongs to regional/specialty chapters, including The Golden Network and First Coast Romance Writers. Additionally, she holds memberships in RomVets and the Military Writers Society of America. Heather lives in Atlantic Beach, Florida, with her retired Naval Engineer husband and three rescue cats.

All photographs courtesy of Heather Ashby and Sharon Wray.

Heather Ashby’s Thursday Winner!

Thank you, Heather, for spending the day with us!

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And now…the winner of an ebook copy of Forgive & Forget is Carmen Pacheco! Please refer to the contact page on this website for information on how to claim your prize.

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Coming up on Tuesday, Rachel blogs about the Walker-Ames House in Port Gamble, Washington. Purported to be haunted, the house was also Rachel’s inspiration for the Montgomery Mansion in her book, Grave Danger. We hope to see you all there!

Heather Ashby: Stories of Love and Suspense on the High Seas

I’d like to extend a warm welcome to Heather Ashby, a 2012 Golden Heart finalist and author of the Love in the Fleet series published by Henery Press (which is quickly becoming one of my favorite publishers!). Today Heather is talking about her debut novel Forgive & Forget, where star-crossed Navy lovers battle an al-Qaeda operative in order to find a paradise of their own. And because Heather is as generous as she is talented, half of her author royalties are donated to the Fisher House to benefit the military families they serve.Heather Ashby 2013 03 07 - 0042-2-5

Thank you for inviting me to Kiss & Thrill, Sharon, and thanks for letting me share about life aboard the USS Blanchard. Full speed ahead!

SW: Then let’s start with some awesome reviews!

“Bold and steamy with a suspense taken from today’s headlines and a love that breaks all rules.”
 ~ Cathy Maxwell, NY Times bestselling author of Devil’s Heart

“A thrilling novel…takes the reader into adventure on the high seas that involves suspense, danger, and intrigue, as well as forbidden love. This is a FEEL GOOD read that rings true in every regard. It is especially exciting to know this the first in a series. I’ll be eager to read the rest!”
 ~ Susan Brandenburg, St. Augustine Record

“A fantastic debut! Heather Ashby kept me entertained all the way through with engaging characters and a story that had me right there living it.”
 ~ Kim Law, author of RITA-nominated Sugar Springs

Forgive & Forget

SW: These are amazing reviews, Heather. You must be so excited. Can you give us a description of Forgive & Forget?

HA: Because her mother had always boasted, “I have something better than a son—a daughter with balls,” Navy journalist, Hallie McCabe, isn’t afraid to use them to protect the man she loves—and the five-thousand crewmembers aboard their aircraft carrier. Her chutzpah enables Hallie to find paradise with Lieutenant Philip Johnston on shore without him discovering she’s an enlisted sailor stationed aboard his ship—at least, for awhile. Her most challenging test however, occurs when Hallie faces an al-Qaeda operative intent on destroying the USS Blanchard so he too can find Paradise.

SW: How long did it take to write, and how many manuscripts did you finish, before you got published?

HA: It took me three months to write Forgive & Forget, and then two years to revise and rewrite it when I discovered I had no idea what I was doing. Head-hopping? What’s that? Scenes are parts of chapters? People have visceral reactions before they verbalize surprise or passion? Characters have arcs? Although I’d kept journals all my life and had two completed memoirs, F&F was my first stab at fiction.

SW: Which comes first: the characters or the story?

HA: The first two books in the Love in the Fleet series were character first, while the final two are story first.

SW: What drew you to the forbidden work affair type of story?

HA: Um, they say your first novel is essentially autobiographical. Although we never worked together, I did meet my husband in the Navy. He was an officer. I wasn’t.

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SW: Although I’d love to know more, I won’t pry. 🙂 How does their affair complicate the scary suspense/terrorist plot?

HA: I don’t believe it does. No one is aware of the threat until it is upon them (except for the mole aboard the ship and the reader.) Once it is upon them, both hero and heroine fleetingly think of the other in possible danger, but then resort to the code: “Ship, Shipmate, Self.” All thoughts of self or friends or lovers are tucked away as they do what they are trained to do to save the ship, then those shipmates they can save, and lastly concern for self or self-interests.

SW: I know the villain you started with changed dramatically throughout your revisions, becoming much scarier and ratcheting up the suspense and danger. Can you tell us how your villain developed and why you had to change him?

HA: I lived in the Middle East and wanted to use my knowledge of setting and culture to describe my plotting terrorists. (Which actually disturbed me, since all we met in the Middle East were peaceful, family-oriented people.) I have an awesome editor who saw that the scenes with these men plotting in some undisclosed Middle Eastern locale came across as stereo-typical. She urged me to delete most of them and have all the information about the plot be shown through my traitor’s point of view as he goes about his business on board the USS Blanchard. Now that got scary. The idea that “one of their own” was the catalyst for the attack. And what really scared me was, once I got into the bad guy’s head, I discovered he was one of the crazies on the news who seems to be functioning in society, all the while he has lost his grip on reality. *shivers.*

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Photo courtesy of Heather Ashby

SW: Can you describe the challenges of writing realistic terror plots that could show up on the nightly news?

HA: Because I wrote my villain as a disgruntled sailor instead of a religious fanatic, it downplayed a convoluted terrorist plot that might show up on the news. He works in tandem with al-Qaeda, but most of the focus is on why he wants personal revenge. One of my military advisors recommended that I make my villain an Islamic extremist because “it remains a very real threat and would read authentically.” I think readers are tired of that and – as sad as it sounds – a unique villain who has gone over the edge is more likely to grab the readers’ attention, because that  is what is in the news these days. (*Note to Navy: If you see anything that my villain does that really could harm our sailors or our ships, please take care of it so it doesn’t ever happen. Thank you.)

SW: Can you describe Hallie and Philip? What internal and external conflicts keep them apart, how are they different, how do they complement each other?

HA: Hallie is a lady, but a gutsy lady. Don’t push her, because she knows how to take care of herself and how to get what she needs in life. Philip is the ultimate gentleman— something Hallie would love to have in her life. A nice guy, a stable guy, and a trustworthy guy—unlike her father. Philip is Mr. Integrity. However, she fails to tell him she is an enlisted sailor in the Navy because if she does, he will walk away, because of his integrity. He’s an officer and it would be breaking the rules to date her. She never lies, except by omission. She believes she is protecting him because, according to the regulations, he can only get in trouble if he knows she is enlisted. Before the ship deploys, a sailboat plays an integral part in the story. When Hallie tells Philip he is like an anchor for her, giving her stability, he replies that she is his sails, taking him to places he’d never dreamed of going before he’d met her. Places like…paradise.

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Photo courtesy of Sharon Wray

SW: What does Hallie want more than anything? What does Philip want more than anything?

HA: Remember when I said I didn’t know what I was doing when I wrote this book? It may be clear here. Besides a general need to do their part in the war on terror, they’re looking for The One. Philip wants a loving woman in his life who plays by the rules and appreciates his nice guy/gentlemanly/integrity-filled attributes. Hallie wants a loving man in her life who she can count on. However, once the suspense unfolds, more than anything, they want to save the ship, their shipmates, and each other.

SW: Your book feels so real, the descriptions of the aircraft carrier, the people who work on it, the sounds, the overall feel of living on board a ship. But as a Navy veteran, did you have to take any creative license with the military aspects of the story?

HA: I took little creative license with the military aspects. My original goal was to write books to entertain our women in the fleet, so authenticity was paramount to me. But I also wanted civilian readers to enjoy the story and see what life is like for our sailors when they deploy. So I stayed away from using too many military acronyms, but did not “dummy it down” so my active duty readers would roll their eyes. The best compliment I’ve received is from a retired Navy Chief who served on aircraft carriers. She said, “I went into the book looking for flaws, but I couldn’t find any(*Heather pumps fist*) I have awesome military advisors to thank for their final edits.

It’s been great chatting with you, Sharon. Thanks again for the invite. I’d like to give a book away to those who comment and/or answer the prompt below. I will send the winner a choice of Forgive & Forget or an ARC for the sequel, Forget Me Not. (It’s about the hot aviator sidekick from Book 1 J)

Now I’m curious how other suspense writers and readers feel about bad guy plots that could conceivably end up on the news. *shivers again*

 Heather Ashby 2013 03 07 - 0065-EditHeather Ashby is a Navy veteran whose mother was one of the original WAVES in World War II. After leaving the service, Heather taught school and raised a family while accompanying her Navy husband around the United States, Japan, and the Middle East. In gratitude for her son’s safe return from Afghanistan and Iraq, she now writes military romance novels, donating half her royalties to Fisher House Foundation – Helping Military Families. She lived in Atlantic Beach Florida with her retired Naval Engineer husband. Forgive & Forget is the first novel in her four-part Love in the Fleet series.

Heather loves hearing from readers and can be found on Email, Twitter, Facebook, and Goodreads

 

Larissa Reinhart Paints a “Still Life in Brunswick Stew”

Today I’d like to offer a huge Kiss and Thrill welcome to my favorite cozy mystery author Larissa Reinhart.

closeupLarissa spins stories, published by Henery Press, about murder and mayhem with a southern, comic twist. And she has the most wonderful titles. Larissa’s debut book Portait of a Dead Guy is a Dixie Kane Memorial Winner and a Daphne du Maurier Finalist, and her second release, Still Life in Brunswick Stew, has proven to be even more delectable. After all, how can you not love a female artist sleuth who loves to eat and has a name like Cherry Tucker?

Here’s a brief look at both!

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Cherry Tucker’s in a stew. Art commissions dried up after her nemesis became president of the County Arts Council. Desperate and broke, Cherry and her friend, Eloise, spend a sultry summer weekend hawking their art at the Sidewinder Annual Brunswick Stew Cook-Off. When a bad case of food poisoning breaks out and Eloise dies, the police brush off her death as accidental. However, Cherry suspects someone spiked the stew and killed her friend. As Cherry calls on cook-off competitors, bitter rivals, and crooked judges, her cop boyfriend get steamed while the killer prepares to cook Cherry’s goose.

In Halo, Georgia, folks know Cherry Tucker as big in mouth, small in stature, and able to sketch a portrait faster than buckshot rips from a ten gauge — but commissions are scarce. So when the well-heeled Branson family wants to memorialize their murdered son in a coffin portrait, Cherry scrambles to win their patronage from her small town rival.
As the clock ticks toward the deadline, Cherry faces more trouble than just a controversial subject. Her rival wants to ruin her reputation, her ex-flame wants to rekindle the fire, and someone’s setting her up to take the fall. Mix in her flaky family, an illegal gambling ring, and outwitting a killer on a spree, Cherry finds herself painted into a corner she’ll be lucky to survive.

SW: Welcome to Kiss and Thrill, Larissa. We are so happy to have you here today and I’m going to just jump in and start asking questions. You have such wonderful titles. How did you come up with them?

LR: Thank you! And thanks so much for having me on Kiss & Thrill! I’m thrilled to be here. 🙂

I wish I had a method for titles. They’re more of a brain pop than anything else. I had the title for my third Cherry Tucker book, HIJACK IN ABSTRACT, with only a glimmer of an idea for the story. I use art terms in all the Cherry Tucker titles and I just liked how the words Hijack and Abstract sounded together.

I’m thinking about the title for book number four before I start writing it in August. It’s going to be a poison pen type mystery set at a private school where Cherry’s going to paint the backdrop scenery for the drama department. I’m stuck between POSTMODERN POSTMORTEM or POSTMODERN GOES POSTAL. Any opinions?

SW: I actually love Postmodern Goes Postal. I like the alliteration and the cadence. (and I also love puns :))  Cherry is such an off-the-page kind of character who is so hard to forget, I have to ask–which comes first, the characters or the mystery.

LR: The characters. The mystery is what I figure out just before I start writing, but the characters drive all my stories. I hear them talking, I can envision where they live, what they drive, what they eat, and their relationships to each other before I know the plot. Then I work out the crime so I can have the motives and behavior for the antagonist as I’m writing. And then I let go and hope it all works itself out!

SW:  Your writing is so compelling, partly because you are so good at lining up a myriad of eclectic characters as suspects. What was the hardest aspect about writing a mystery?

LR: Thanks for saying so, that’s a wonderful compliment. I think having believable motives for your antagonist (and other suspects) is hard. I like how desperation can drive a criminal to do the original crime or attempt greater crimes, and I love thinking about the psychology of a criminal mind. One of my favorite books is Crime and Punishment by Dostoyevsky. As I was reading it, I kept thinking this could take place anywhere, not just Russia. However, it’s also easy to get too into the psychology of criminals and end up with a psychotic killer in every book.

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SW: How long did you write for before you got published?

LR: I’m incredibly blessed, and I believe I got very lucky with timing. I wrote in high school and college, then took a break for about twenty years. I started writing again when we were living in Japan in 2009 and came back to the United Sates with two completed manuscripts in 2011. I got my first contract about a year later in 2012. But I will say, I’m a pretty intense person, so once started, I immersed myself in the work.

SW: You paint such a wonderful portrait of a small southern town (pun intended!). What drew you to writing small-town mysteries in the first place?

LR: Small towns are in my wheelhouse because I’m from one (smaller than Halo). I find my mom’s stories about town doings and local gossip entertaining. Even as a kid, I treated my hometown like an anthropology project. I never felt I fit in, but I didn’t resent the town. I just observed and stored the information for later use.

SW: I adore Cherry Tucker’s name. Can you tell us how your first met Cherry and what she’s like to work with?

LR: Thank you! When I was in Japan, the first manuscript I wrote was set in the mountains of Georgia. While I was working on it, I kept getting flashes of conversation between other characters who lived in middle Georgia. I heard Cherry’s voice before I knew who she was. Then my father died and I returned to my hometown for about a month to stay with my mom. After my dad’s funeral, I had an epiphany about having this small town artist character who had to paint a coffin portrait. And her name, Cherry Tucker, just popped in my head. I found her funny. I just hoped other people did, too.

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SW: I love how food plays a special part in your books, as if the food is its own character. Does that come from your own background? Or was it something that showed up when you met Cherry?

LR: I like to eat, but really, I like the idea of food. Food appeals to all your senses and tugs on your memory and psyche in such interesting ways. One recipe gives you comfort, reminding you of your childhood. The same food prepared another way triggers a vomit reflex because you ate a bad batch once. Food brings people together and defines customs. What else in the world does that? And what you eat defines some of your personality, don’t you think? Plus, I don’t know how you can write a Southern book and not talk about food. It’s such a part of the culture. So food and Cherry naturally went together. And because she’s almost manic, I imagine her constantly burning all this energy. So she needs to eat a lot. Or tries to eat a lot.

SW: Your work has been compared to Charlaine Harris and Sophie Littlefield. What did you do (or how did your feel) when you first heard those comparisons?

LR: I’m stunned and honored. I have to pinch myself when I hear things like that. I still feel amazed that someone besides my mom likes my stories!

SW: Well, I loved them! And I’m so happy for your success. And as a small gift to our readers, here’s a brief  excerpt from STILL LIFE IN BRUNSWICK STEW:

STILL LIFE front 2kWatching Eloise eat made sweat break on my neck. “On a scorcher like today, I would think you’d rather have a Sno-Cone than a hot bowl of stew.”

“As a Sidewinder native, it is my duty to eat Brunswick Stew, particularly at our annual cook-off,” said Eloise. “I love Brunswick Stew. You should know better. How long have we been friends?”

“Let me see,” I pretended to think, not trying to hide my grin. “Seems I beat you in the Forks County Art Competition in third grade…”

“And I stole your drawing and you promptly announced it over the PA, getting me in all kinds of trouble. I still have the handprint on my behind.”

“Serves you right, you art thief.”

“I loved your drawing,” Eloise’s eyes grew misty. “I couldn’t help it. I’d never seen such a beautiful unicorn.”

“It was not a unicorn. I would never draw a unicorn.”

“I’m pretty sure there were rainbows, too,” Eloise laughed at my horrified look. “You were eight. Anyway, I recognized talent then and now. I’m lucky to have a friend like you.”

“Are you kidding? You’re the one that got me into the Reconstituting Classicism gallery show. If I can pull off something great, that crowd will pay big bucks. I’m down to my last twenty dollars and change.” At that thought, I fished in the pockets of my cutoffs to look for Sno-Cone change, disappointed to find only thirty-five cents and a few gum wrappers.

“No one around here wants a portrait made, not even one of their pet,” I moaned. “I had the hunting dog market cornered there for a while. The art well in Forks County has mysteriously run dry ever since I was snubbed by the Bransons after painting the portrait of Dustin. Then Shawna Branson became president of the Forks County Arts Council and suddenly I have paintbrush leprosy.”

“How are those classical paintings coming?” Eloise dropped her eyes to her stew bowl. She knew me well enough to avoid conversation about Shawna Branson. “Aren’t you supposed to send digital photos of the portfolio soon?”

“Week from Monday,” I said. “Plenty of time. I’m doing famous Greek statues as paintings. Except to make it edgier I’m covering the model’s body in tiny Greek letters. Head to toe.”

Eloise swatted me with her spoon. “You haven’t done them yet? Don’t make me look bad, Cherry Tucker. The show is organized by my old drawing professor at UGA. He’s still ticked I went into pottery. I’m hoping to get back in his good graces and get my own show out of the deal.”

I held one hand over my heart, the other palm up in Pledge of Allegiance mode. “I swear I would never do anything to make you look bad, Eloise Parker. You have my word. I’m just having a little trouble convincing my model to pose nude as the Dying Gaul.”

“Who are you using as a model?”

“Luke Harper.”

It took a moment for Eloise to regain control over her laughter. I helped her right her chair when it threatened to tip.

“Luke is the perfect model for a Greek statue,” I explained. “Tall, lean, with great muscle definition. Especially those indentations between his waist and hips.” I paused a moment in delicious ecstasy, ruminating over Luke’s V-cut. “He even has the dark curly hair and the straight nose of a classic Greek. And I don’t think he’s got a drop of Greek blood in him. Pretty sure Harper’s not a Greek name.”

“Nor Roman. You just want to paint Luke naked,” Eloise cackled. “This doesn’t have anything to do with art.”

“Of course it does. I have an eye for beauty, that’s all.”

“You got a thing for beauty, all right. As long as it’s got a—”

“You can stop right there, Eloise Parker. No need to get trashy.”

“I’m not the one obsessed with painting Luke Harper nude.”

“He never lets me paint him, nude or otherwise. I don’t get it. What’s the big deal?”

“Probably because he’s worried the criminals in Forks County will laugh at him after seeing his bare ass in a painting,” Eloise lifted her brows. “Hard to arrest somebody when they’re laughing at you.”

SW: So, here’s the question of the day: What elements do you love in a cozy mystery (humor, romance, food, scary villains, crazy sister-in-laws, etc.)? And for one lucky commenter, Larissa is offering a free e-book of Portrait of a Dead Guy.

niceorangeLarissa Reinhart loves small town characters, particularly sassy women with a penchant for trouble. STILL LIFE IN BRUNSWICK STEW (May 2013) is the second in the Cherry Tucker Mystery Series. The first, PORTRAIT OF A DEAD GUY, is a 2012 Daphne du Maurier finalist, a 2012 The Emily finalist, and a 2011 Dixie Kane Memorial winner. She lives near Atlanta with her minions and Cairn Terrier, Biscuit. Visit her website, her Facebook page, on Goodreads, Twitter, or find her chatting with the Little Read Hens on Facebook.
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