Readers always ask me, “Where do you get the ideas for your novels?”
Honestly, there’s no simple answer to that question. My Muse can get excited by just about anything: snippets of conversation, the title of a painting, the diary of a Civil War spy, the Saturday night adventure of a co-worker . . . and then there are other novels and movies.
In my award-winning Western Historical Romance novel, His Wicked Dream (Book 2 in the Velvet Lies Series), I got the idea for the picnic basket auction from the broadway musical, Oklahoma!
But as you’ll see in the excerpt, below, that spark of inspiration lead to an entirely different outcome between my hero and heroine.
Here is the passage than won Dr. Michael Jones the “Reader’s Choice Award for Best Hero” by popular vote from the Avon Books website. (Note: The excerpt takes place in the fictional Appalachian town of Blue Thunder, Kentucky, in 1881)
His Wicked Dream
(Book 2, Velvet Lies)
Suddenly, a towering shadow darkened the kissing booth. Eden glanced up in time to see Michael eclipse the sun. Striding out of the crowd with a bulging picnic hamper in his fist, he halted before her, hoisted the box, and banged it down on the counter with a challenging thud.
“Forgive the intrusion, ladies,” he said, deceptively pleasant, “but there’s been a slight change in Eden’s plans. This afternoon, she’ll be picnicking. With me.”
Eden was so stunned by Michael’s audacity, that for a moment, all she could do was blink. Even Sera looked aghast. She gazed up at her brother as if he had just committed some unforgivable crime.
“Michael,” she said, her usual bravado wavering, “what have you done? Put Eden’s basket back. If you disqualify her from the auction, she’ll be ruined in this county!”
He didn’t look the least bit disturbed. “I’m sure Eden’s reputation will survive.”
“But you can’t just steal her basket—”
“I don’t consider a $100-dollar investment to be a steal.”
One hundred dollars? Eden gulped a shallow breath. She hadn’t thought it possible for a corset to grow so tight.
“Can you do that?” Sera breathed.
“I just did.”
“But the auction hasn’t even started—”
“The auctioneer,” Michael interrupted dryly, “had the good sense to take my one-time offer, since he, as the president of the Raise the Roof Committee, recognized that Eden’s basket was unlikely to earn as much income from any other bidder, Chance McCoy included.”
Eden’s heart hammered so hard against her ribs, she feared one would break.
“So…” Sera’s eyes had grown as wide as the Ohio River. “You didn’t disqualify her?”
“Like I said. Eden’s reputation is likely to survive this episode. It might even be enhanced. Coming, Eden?” He stretched out his hand. “I believe you owe me the pleasure of your company.”
Sera giggled. Eden pressed her lips together. If Michael Jones were any other man, not the fantasy she’d been longing for night after restless night, she would have told him to go choke on her picnic lunch. He was reenacting the role of her hero, but that didn’t mean she had to approve of his methods.
Hiking her skirts, she swept past his insufferable hand, taking some small satisfaction in the fact that he’d now have to haul her twenty-pound hamper of fried chicken and cherry pie to some distant spot of shade.
To watch him fall into step beside her, though, the wicker swinging effortlessly from his arm, proved disconcerting.
She set her jaw, trying not to appreciate the way his tailored suit coat accentuated the broad planes of his shoulders, or the way the late morning sun struck flinty shades of blue from his hair.
“Well, you’ve had your way and impressed your authority once more on your sister,” she said tartly as they passed the rear entrance to the orphans’ tent. “Now that Sera’s out of sight, you can return my basket to the auction block so some serious-minded beau can offer for it.”
“I’m afraid I can’t do that.”
His drawl, like Kentucky’s finest bourbon, was golden smooth, intoxicating. She did her best to ignore the nuance, even though it melted her nerves.
“Why not?” she demanded.
“Certain factions in this county would consider a cure for Cupid cramps… inconvenient.”
She stumbled at his jest.
A dimple creased his cheek, which only heightened her aggravation.
Halting, she planted her fists on her hips. Courtesy forced him to stop and face her, even though they were now the object of speculation for several gawking bystanders and at least a dozen couples who’d slowed their strolls to listen. She decided not to care. In fact, some ornery part of her refused to play the docile female to Michael’s high-handed male.
“You are a pirate of hearts, Michael Jones. If my cherry pie did indeed have curative powers, every female in this town would be lined up for a slice.”
“And that is precisely why your cherry pie shall never see the light of day.”
She glared at him, refusing to laugh at this disarming humor. “Your diabolical plot is doomed to fail. Because while I was perfecting my recipe, I tasted plenty of cherry pie, a fact which, I assure you, has made me thoroughly immune to the charm of irksome male neighbors who prefer to mind my business instead of their own.”
He arched a coal-black brow. “Selling kisses to outlaws, in broad daylight, does not connote a sound business sense.”
“That is your opinion, sir. Contrary to your belief, I think the orphanage would be enormously grateful for any donation it receives, including one from Chance McCoy. The man can’t be all bad, if he is willing to commit a charitable act.”
“Charity was the farthest thing from McCoy’s mind.”
“So you’re a mind reader now?”
“Eden.” He gentled his voice. “Your willingness to see goodness in the blackest of hearts is one of your most endearing qualities. But it can also be a peculiar blindness. McCoy is a danger to you, to Sera, and to anyone else who crosses his path. Men wear guns for a reason. Don’t put yourself in the crossfire.”
She swallowed. The concern in his voice vibrated into her being, touching her in a dangerously romantic way. She had to remind herself he’d included Sera among the people he was trying to protect.
“Are you trying to make me crazy?”
She’d taken him by surprise. She could see his guard waver in those breathtakingly blue eyes.
“I’m not sure I follow you.”
“All protestations to the contrary, you’re behaving like a beau. A jealous beau.”
Amusement curved his lips. “I’m behaving like a good neighbor.”
She blew out her breath. “Fine. Call it what you like. But you are not responsible for me, Michael. Besides, Chance wasn’t doing anything I didn’t give him permission to do.”
“Chance, is it?”
She rolled her eyes. “You’re missing the point. Deliberately, I think.”
He shifted her basket to his other arm. “As much as I enjoy sparring with you on a public fairground,” he said evenly, glancing at the eavesdropping children who huddled, bug-eyed and mouths agape, at the rear of the orphans’ tent, “might I suggest we find a cooler location?”
Eden could ignore the trickle of perspiration sliding under her whalebone to dampen her chemise. But she couldn’t disregard the orphans, especially when one chubby twelve-year-old with brown, sausage-style ringlets waved to Michael.
“Hi, Doc!” she called shyly. “Is that your new sweetheart?”
The whole tent tittered. Michael weathered the giggles with aplomb. Mrs. Witherspoon appeared, tossed Eden an apologetic glance, and ushered the girls back into the shade for cookies. Eden suspected Michael the Pirate had stolen a couple of adolescent hearts, too.
“Honestly, Michael.” They began strolling toward the nearest stand of trees. “You might have told the children the truth.”
The glance he slid her way was veiled. “That you prefer outlaws to doctors?”
She glared back. “Must you be so difficult? I don’t have to picnic with you, you know. After removing my basket from the auction and fueling a veritable prairie fire of gossip at my expense, I think I’d be well within my rights to leave you standing in the dust.”
“Hmm. I suggest we drive, then.”
Winner of the Reader’s Choice Award for Best Hero
Selection of the Doubleday Book of the Month Club