I was a newspaper reporter and columnist back in the day, and feel a special connection to other reporters, especially those with a long and illustrious career like Associated Press reporter and New Adult fiction writer Tamara Lush.
Please welcome Tamara as she celebrates her new release INTO THE HEAT, a contemporary romance novel filled with action and suspense. INTO THE HEAT is her second novel set on fictional Palmira Island, Florida. Her debut title was HOT SHADE, and I can testify that her stories sizzle with semi-tropical heat. I’ve read both books and gave them 5 Stars. Be sure to welcome Tamara in the comments section and check out her awesome books.
Journalism Came First by Tamara Lush
I’ve thought about writing a romance novel for a long time, since I was in my early twenties. I’ve always liked the genre but only had a vague idea of where to begin. The love of my day job — a journalist — always came first. And so the vague ideas went nowhere for a couple of decades. In 2012, I wrote a first chapter of a story, and then shelved it.
Who was I to write fiction, I thought. I was a journalist. I had no business writing like that!
The idea percolated for two years and I didn’t forget that chapter in my file cabinet. I was a reporter with The Associated Press, covering huge stories like the Haiti earthquake, the BP oil spill and countless mass shootings. In 2014, I covered a spate of particularly awful news. Within a few months’ time, I wrote about the trial of a woman who killed her teenagers, a man who killed his entire family and burned his house down, and a grandfather who killed his daughter — and his six grandchildren.
Something in me snapped. Almost overnight, I craved writing a story that ended well. Ended happily. I pulled that first chapter out of the drawer and began to write and re-write it. I took a Media Bistro class with author Susan Squires and I wrote my little fingers off at night, after covering news.
I finished a book. It ended up being Hot Shade, my first novel. It was so freeing and cathartic that I kept writing. Fiction was addictive, I discovered.
Don’t get me wrong. I still love journalism. Every day, I learn something new, and I work with some of the most talented folks in the business. I’m also trained to shoot video. Some days are a pure joy. I write about escaped monkeys, alligators on golf courses, and once I did a story on a potbellied pig named Chris P. Bacon.
(Photo copyright Chris O’Meara)
Journalism is a deep and complicated love, one that I will never shake. I’m still a reporter with The AP. But writing fiction helps me be a better, more observant reporter. It helps me look at stories and people differently. Fiction also gives me a mental break from a sometimes unforgiving world.
When I wrote my second book, Into the Heat, the idea came while walking on the beach with my best friend one November day. We stumbled upon a sand sculpture contest, and there was a good-looking guy doing a detailed carving. I looked at my friend and said, “This is the opening of a book.”
We ended up spending the day brainstorming, and Leo Villeneuve was born. He’s the hero of Into the Heat, and he’s complicated. As an Afghanistan war hero, he suffers from PTSD. He also has awful nightmares and goes into fugue states when he takes certain sleeping pills. When he arrives on Palmira Island in Florida, he’s convinced that he did something horrible while in such a confused state.
Trouble is, at that very moment, he runs into his first love. Jessica Clarke lives on Palmira and is reeling from her mother’s death. Jessica and Leo met on the island when they were teens and fell quickly, madly, in love. But they’re both dealing with pain and anger from the past.
With the help of my amazing editor Chris Keeslar, I sharpened the conflict between the two characters. It was a somewhat challenging book to write because it didn’t have anything to do with journalism — unlike my first book, Hot Shade.
Both Hot Shade and Into the Heat are standalone novels, although they are both set on the same fictional, Florida island. They’re fun books to read in the dead of winter, I think. A lot of the scenes unfold on beaches, and what could be sexier than falling in love under the sultry Florida sun?
Summary: INTO THE HEAT
Leo Villeneuve is a wounded, tattooed Afghanistan war veteran who is trying like hell to avoid his pain—and his past.
He returns to Florida in hopes of healing. On a sun-kissed beach he runs into Jessica Clarke, the one woman he’s never forgotten. Their attraction for each other burns as hot as the summer sun, but Leo’s got secrets he can’t reveal. Because, if he does, he’ll risk the one thing he can least afford to lose: Jessica’s love.
A book about first love and second chances. And unforgettable passion.
Jessica moved lightly, never taking her eyes off the guy. His skin was a warm bronze hue and his muscular thighs had sunk into the sand. He wore only blue surf shorts, and while she had grown up on the beach, it was rare that such a stunning specimen of manhood graced the sleepy Palmira shores. If only she could remain invisible while sculpting her sand creation, free to admire this guy’s beauty without having to make small talk, then life would be perfect.
She stopped swinging her bucket, so the tools wouldn’t make a sound.
A sketchbook sat in front of the guy on the sand, and he held a pencil in one large, masculine hand, drawing with broad strokes. Jessica took a few more steps toward her sand pile, which also conveniently allowed her to get a better look at the guy’s profile. What she saw turned her grin into an open-mouthed gape.
No. It can’t be.
Leo Villeneuve? Inhaling a long, thin breath, she narrowed her eyes. Was it possible? Her first kiss. Her first love. Her first heartbreak.
She took off her sunglasses. Was it really him? Yep, it was. She could tell by the shape of his long, straight nose. And by the way his full lips pushed out slightly as he concentrated on the sketchbook. Those lips had kissed her, and the memory of all the places they’d touched— her neck, her nipples, in between her legs—made her shiver in the hot sun as if a single ice cube had been dropped down the back of her shirt.
“Jess, you’re my first. And I’m your first and I don’t want there ever to be anyone else.”
It made her unsteady to recall his lazy New Orleans accent and how he’d whispered honey- sweet promises and dirty declarations in her ear all while he did wicked things to her body. Things that she’d allowed no one to do in the five years since.
Leo and his father had vacationed on Palmira and stayed at the hotel for two weeks. Her mom and his dad were old friends. Old good friends, apparently, because the minute they arrived Jess’s mom had become less strict. Jess and Leo had taken to each other quickly, talking about music and video games and movies. He’d been surprised that she liked the Iron Man franchise as much as he did.
They’d kissed on Christmas Eve, the second night they knew each other, and spent the next several days doing everything but sex. She’d been wary but so excited. Leo never once tried to push her to do more than she wanted, and soon she was ready to try it all with him.
A week later, it happened. Leo slipped into her room after the adults were asleep. They’d lost their virginity to each other—awkwardly. She remembered how she hadn’t had an orgasm from sex like she had with his hands and tongue, but it was pretty wonderful nonetheless.
They’d kept having sex over the rest of the vacation, seemingly every moment they could steal away. Things had quickly stopped being awkward. More like explosive.
“All of you, from your head to your toes and everything in between, is mine. You’re mine, Jess. And I’m yours. Always will be, babe. Forever. I love you.”
Jessica straightened. It had been five years, and she’d heard nary a word. So, why the hell was her heart pounding like this? It was as if she had sprinted from her car to the beach. This was not what she wanted.
How unfair. She hadn’t felt this kind of adrenaline rush around any guy in years. Not with the couple of dudes she’d gone out with in college, and not with Jacob, her douche bag of an ex-boyfriend. No, there was only one man who’d ever made her feel this crazy, and he was the one who’d disappeared after what felt like a soul mate connection. And now he was kneeling on the beach in front of her, looking hotter than any man had a right to.
Oh. My. God. Turn around and run. Fast.
She couldn’t move. The sight of him riveted her in place. Instead of the cute, sinewy boy who’d stolen her teenage heart that winter five years ago, this was a man kneeling before her. He looked like he’d been sculpted from fire—and sin. What the heck was he doing here?
Her eyes scanned the beach. There was no one around except for her and this newer, hotter version of her first love. He definitely hadn’t had biceps like that five years ago. Or all those tattoos. His dark hair was short and severe now, no longer curly. His skin looked lickable and smooth, with only a slight sheen of sweat that made her want to glide her hands over his body and linger on every ridge and valley. Like she used to. When she knew him before, he had looked like a sweet lead singer in a boy band. Now those high cheekbones made him look a little feline and a lot arrogant. Hard and sexy, like he was used to taking what he wanted and to hell with everything else.
Or was she imagining all that?
She stepped back, poised to turn, but a curious voice inside of her commanded her to stay. She hadn’t thought of Leo in a long while, mostly because other, bigger tragedies had taken his place. And because what had been the point?
Slipping her sunglasses over her eyes again, she felt an uncomfortable awkwardness wash over her. What could she even say to this near stranger? She suspected that after all these years they would have nothing in common—if they ever had. They’d just been a couple of foolish kids…with an insane amount of physical chemistry.
Tugging at the hem of her oversized T-shirt, she wished she’d worn something other than it and this old pair of jean shorts. As always, she wondered how she looked. Ugly? Fat? She was bigger than she’d been in high school. More womanly. Well, there was nothing she could do now unless she sprinted off the beach.
Her heart thumped hard. With a pulsing, annoying cadence, her right eye twitched in time. Since everything had happened, her eye did that when she was stressed or anxious. It was unnerving how one tiny muscle could sense her emotions.
Leo. She had to say something to him, be polite and act like a mature adult, not a brooding, heartbroken teenager—which was what she felt like as she blinked several times as if to clear the sight of him out of her eyes. Her sister was always telling her to put on her big girl panties and stop being a baby. “Woman up,” Nicole always said. Well, this was the time for it. She was overreacting, anyway. Right?
She’d been staring at him for several moments. He hadn’t seen her and appeared to be deep in concentration, which was fine with her; it allowed her more time to gawk at his hard body, which practically radiated testosterone. She needed to get a handle on what she’d do before he finally acknowledged her presence. She took a big breath, willing herself to stomp down the excitement of seeing him in the flesh. It was only February, and she was determined to have a better year than the last. But seeing Leo again almost guaranteed that life was about to get very, very complicated.
LINKS—INTO THE HEAT
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