In the new Lake Sullivan romance from the author of Just a Summer Fling, a young woman’s homecoming becomes an invitation to rediscover her past, reinvent her future, and redefine the meaning of family, forgiveness, and love.
Please summarize the book a la Twitter style for the readers here:
What’s your favorite line(s) from the book?:
Well, my real favorite is:
“What would your interpretation be if I was a guy? If you couldn’t just flip to your ‘wow, women are so delicate and sensitive’ bullshit?”
But if you want one without obscenity, from the same scene, maybe:
“I mean, if I was a guy—or, hey, just for fun, let’s say I’m a woman. But one that you actually respect, rather than just steamrolling over whatever she says—if I was someone like that and I’d told you repeatedly to leave a topic alone, and you just kept coming back to it? What would that make you?”
Please tell us a little about the characters in your book. What first attracts your Hero to the Heroine and vice versa?
I don’t know if readers need to know anything about them before they get started – I think they’ll be pretty quick to figure out that Zara isn’t as wild as she seems, and Cal isn’t as tame as he seems! In terms of things that surprised me… I genuinely didn’t know until the end how Zara was going to resolve her concussion issues. Show her courage by stepping back in the ring, or show it by doing the ‘smart’ thing and walking away? I wrote the end about five different ways before settling on the final version.
When you sat down to start this book, what was the biggest challenge you faced? What were you most excited about?
I think the biggest challenge was also what I was most excited about—writing a female MMA athlete. It was really fun to learn about the sport (and really exciting to be doing all my research with Ronda Rousey around, being her rowdy self) but also a bit challenging because I’m a total wimp—I can’t watch the fights live, and really don’t even want to watch them taped. I’m okay with the grappling part, but every time they hit each other I want to scream at them: Be more careful! Somebody could get hurt, here! I took a couple introductory classes to get a feel for things, and I think I’ll probably go back for more when I have time—there’s something really liberating about landing a good punch!
What, in your mind, makes this book stand out?
I struggle with alpha heroes in my reading – every once in a while one will jump out at me as hot and sexy, but mostly they just bug me. So in this series, I was really conscious of the power dynamics between the characters, and making sure the women have at least as much power as the men, if not more. In Just a Summer Fling there’s a powerful movie star matched with a small town handyman, and he’s the one with a tawdry past and she’s the one doing the pursuing. And in this book, Zara is a celebrity, an MMA fighter who models and runs her own life, while Cal is the small-town boy who only takes occasional trips outside his safe zone.
Not that my men in either case are wimps! They’re both handsome, ripped, lusty men who want what they want—but they’re on equal footing with their partners – equally strong and equally vulnerable. For me, that leads to some really interesting, sexy relationships.
The First Kiss…
Goodnight that tastes like forever
Did any scene have you laughing or crying (or blushing) while writing it?
Honestly, the times I was most likely to cry in this book involved Zara and her brother, Zane, who just got out of jail after ten years. He was just a kid when he was convicted, and if he’d had a better lawyer he probably would have done a lot less time, but he messed up and he’s never denied it. But now that he’s out, he’s having to figure out a new world, and fighting hard to find his place in it. On top of all that he’s working on a new relationship with his sister—he was her hero growing up, but now she’s taking care of him, and he doesn’t know how to handle it. After he’s picked up by the police, Zara and Zane and Calvin have to talk things through, and some truths come out that made me sad:
“Wait.” Zara needed a minute to catch up. He hadn’t done it. It sounded like he hadn’t done it. But she needed to know. “Where the hell were you last night at ten o’clock?”
For a moment, Zane looked like he wasn’t going to answer. But then he sighed and looked back out the window. “At the old trailer.”
“The . . .” Zara turned to Calvin to see if this made any more sense to him.
“The one in the Richardsons’ backyard?” Calvin said. “They don’t even live there anymore, do they? They moved to the city a few years ago.”
“Yeah.” Zane sounded resigned to his confession. “The house is deserted. But the trailer’s still there, and . . . I don’t know. I’ve been going there sometimes. You know how small that back bedroom is? Just a bed and a couple feet of floor. Sometimes everything else feels too big, you know? Too open. So sometimes I go there, just to relax a little.”
Because the trailer bedroom felt like a jail cell, and he liked that. Because her brother was overwhelmed by his freedom and was trying to find a way to re-imprison himself. Zara blinked hard to keep the tears from falling. “And you were there last night?”
“Yeah,” he said quietly. “I went out after work. I slept there, came back here about four in the morning.”
This was about Zane, Zara reminded herself. Not about her. She needed to ignore her own feelings, at least temporarily. If she freaked out, it would make him feel even less comfortable in the house, even more in need of a safe shelter. “We should sort through some stuff,” she said, trying to sound calm about it all. “Your parole says you’re supposed to live with me, right? Is that mandatory? Do you want to talk to your PO about getting your own place?”
He looked like a kicked puppy.
“Jesus, Zane, not because I don’t want to live with you anymore!” And she did what she’d been wanting to do for too long. She took the few steps to him, wrapped her arms around his strong shoulders, and squeezed him tight. And he let her. After a moment, he even lifted his arms and hugged her back.
If your book was optioned for a movie, what scene would you use for the audition of the main characters and why?
There’s a scene about a third of the way into the book with Zara and Cal in a locker room just after Zara has learned that her ex-convict brother has been picked up by the police. I’d love to see the actors try it because it’s the first time Zara lets herself be vulnerable around Cal, but she’s also still a fighter, still scrappy and tough. So it would show all of her versatility, and also show that Cal is a really good guy, genuinely trying to make things work for everyone. And it gets into their backstory, with Cal the one who’d turned Zane into the police years ago. Lots of juicy drama!
The knock on the locker room door startled her and she stared at it as it pushed open an inch or so. Not enough for anyone to see anything, but enough so she could hear. “Zara? Can I come in?”
She leaped for the door, yanking it open so fast Calvin stumbled a little. “Have you heard from Zane?” she demanded, pulling him inside and then locking the door behind them. “Do you know what’s going on? I think he’s in trouble, but I don’t know what for! I don’t know where he is!”
“He’s at the police station,” Calvin said. His voice was calm, his gaze steady. “He called me and I arranged for a lawyer. They haven’t pressed charges yet, but they’re investigating him for an armed robbery last night.”
“Armed robbery? Why? Why do they think it was him?”
How closely did the description match? she wanted to scream. Had her brother, her sweet, desperate brother who’d made mistakes but was trying to start over, had he done this? “Was anyone hurt?” she asked, and the universe froze for a moment before Calvin answered.
“Not seriously. The victim was pushed to the ground, it sounds like. Scraped up a little, but he’s okay.”
“No. Zane wouldn’t do that. He doesn’t need money, and he’s not violent!”
“I agree,” Calvin said calmly. “I’m sure it wasn’t him.”
Zara had no idea how it happened. One moment she’d been standing there, more or less stable, and the next she was sagging, not quite falling, but she could see the blackness trying to creep in again from around her field of vision, and she felt her consciousness backing away from her body.
And then there was a strong arm wrapping around her, catching her under her shoulders, and a warm, solid body snug in beside her, guiding her over to the wooden bench in the middle of the aisle. “Okay,” Calvin whispered, “Everything’s okay,” and Zara really, really wanted to believe him.
Under other circumstances, Calvin might have been more than happy to have his arms full of Zara Hale, but as it was, he was mostly bewildered. “Shh,” he tried, since his chant of “okay” hadn’t really gotten him anywhere, but it wasn’t as if Zara was actually making any noise. She wasn’t crying. It honestly seemed more like she’d been about to faint, but a woman like Zara Hale surely didn’t faint just because she’d had a scare.
Still, it was all he had to work on, so he went with it. “Zane’s going to be fine. I’ve got a lawyer with him, and we both know he couldn’t have done it, so they’ll just—I don’t know, they’ll just let him go. He’ll be fine.”
Then he stopped to think about it. A recently released convict who matched the description given by the victim? He was sure Zane would be exonerated eventually, but it might take some time. “I don’t suppose he has an alibi? For last night about ten o’clock? Do you know?”
“Yeah,” Zara said. “That’s what they were asking me about. The police. That’s what they wanted to know.” She seemed stronger now, less shaky, but she wasn’t moving away from him and he just couldn’t make himself retrieve his arm before she asked him to. “I told them he was at home, from the time I left work until morning.”
“Well, that’s great, then! I mean—it’s great, right?” Why was she staring at the floor so intently?
“It’s what I told them,” she repeated, and his stomach fell.
“Shit. He wasn’t there?”
“His car wasn’t. I didn’t go downstairs and search around for him, but—no. I don’t think he was there.”
He tried to catch up. “Shit. Why’d you lie? If he told them he was somewhere else, it’s going to look bad! For him, maybe, but for you absolutely. Interfering with a police investigation . . . I don’t know what else, but, Zara, this is not good. Think about how it’s going to look when he tells them where he really was and the stories don’t match.”
And now she pulled away from him, and he had to let her go. “Or maybe I should have just turned him in, right? That’s what you’d do. What you’ve done.”
He froze. “You know why I did it. Because I couldn’t get him under control and I thought he was going to hurt himself or somebody else. I thought he was going to hurt you. I didn’t want—”
She cut him off. “Yeah, fine. That was then.” She wasn’t interested in his story, his excuses, not when she had more pressing concerns. “But now—the stories will match. I’m pretty sure. He must have told them he was with me, right, or else why’d they come talk to me? They asked me about it right off. I mean, they tried to sneak up on it a little, but they’re not all that smooth, really. So I—we had a system, Zane and me. When social services or something would come nosing around and we’d have to cover for—whatever. Like, if we hadn’t seen Dad for a long time and they asked us when we’d seen him, we’d say it was the night before, and we’d bounce back to whatever the real last night we’d seen him had been, and we’d tell them about that night as though it was the night before. You know? So that’s what I did, I told them about the last time Zane and I spent much time together at night. From the way they reacted, I think it matched what he told them.”
If your hero had a sexy-times play list, what song(s) would have to be on it?
Hmmm – Cal likes his sex mixed in with a lot of laughing. Sure, he’s intense for the important parts, but before and after? He’ll be teasing and grinning and relaxed. He’s confident in himself, open to new ideas…
Is it cliché to say he’s bring SexyBack? I like the dynamics of that song, where the woman can be in charge…sometimes. And maybe some Chris Isaak? The history between him and Zara, the way she holds him at arms’ length matches Wicked Game, for sure.
If you could have given your characters one piece of advice before the opening pages of the book, what would it be and why?
I’d tell them both to calm down and trust themselves! They both bury their self-doubt—Zara under aggressiveness, Cal under charm—and they both need to believe in themselves before they can trust anyone else.
But if they already had that advice before the story started, it wouldn’t be much of a book, so… I guess I’m glad they have to figure it out as they go.
What are you currently working on? What other releases do you have planned for 2016?
I’m definitely hoping to write a third book in this series, one that follows Zara’s brother Zane. He’s out of jail, he’s rebuilding his life—but he needs a good woman to make things really sizzle!
But mostly I’ve been catching up on writing under my Kate Sherwood pen name – m/m romance. (I think writing m/m has made me hyper-aware of the power dynamics in m/f romance, for what it’s worth).
Thanks for blogging at HJ!
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Excerpt from Hometown Hero:
There were a few picnic tables set up, but they were mostly taken up by older folks, or else parents trying to get their kids to eat something without spilling the food all over the ground. Most people were sitting on blankets around the bonfire, or on fallen logs and boulders a bit farther back in the trees. Calvin saw Zara perched on the back steps of the house, staring at the bonfire from a distance, and wandered over with his plate of food.
“Warmer near the fire,” he said. The day had been beautiful, but the evening air was cool.
“I’m fine here,” she replied shortly.
“Mind if I join you, then?”
“Won’t you be cold?” She didn’t sound like she actually gave a damn about his comfort.
He sank down onto the lower step. “I’m tough. I can take it.”
She didn’t respond. He took a bite of potato salad and said, “How are things going at the center? You settling in okay?”
“It’s fine,” she said.
“You’re finding things to do?”
“Yup.” She had no expression in her voice or on her face, but still somehow managed to convey a complete lack of interest in him.
He raised an eyebrow. “Are you mad at me about something?”
And she raised an eyebrow right back. “Why would you think that?”
“Well, you’re not exactly . . . you’re not acting un-mad.”
“I’m not acting at all.” She raised a hand as if she was going to rub her temples, then frowned and jammed the hand back onto her lap.
He could have been sitting anywhere else on the whole property having a perfectly pleasant time and yet he’d chosen to subject himself to this. But, damn it, he could break through whatever was bothering her. He was a friendly guy, widely considered both charming and handsome. He was a good conversationalist, genuinely interested in others. Zara was a bit of a challenge, sure, but he was up for it.
“Zane seems to be doing well,” he said.
And Zara turned toward him like a flower seeking the sun. “Yeah? Really? He’s not telling me much. I mean, I see him at the center, and he looks happy enough. But they’ve got him on the evening shift now, so I don’t see him too often. And we don’t really. . . .” She frowned, then shrugged as if deciding to be honest. “We don’t talk at all, not about anything real. But he’s talking to you? You think he’s okay?”
Well, now Cal felt like an asshole, using her brother as a way to get her attention. But at least he could honestly say, “Yeah, I think he’s good. We’ve gone out for beers a few times, and he seems to be adjusting. And he’s here tonight—a bit slow to warm up, but look at him now.”
They both turned and saw Zane sitting on one of the blankets by the fire, chatting to a young mother who was juggling a toddler and a plate of food.
“Is he meeting people? You know—making friends?” There was something awkward in her voice, something strange.
Was Zara Hale asking him if her brother was getting laid? Judging by the stricken expression on her face, the way a lovely tinge of pink was blossoming on her cheeks, he was pretty sure she was.
“He’s met a few people,” Cal said cautiously. Zane had left Woody’s with a woman the other night, but maybe he’d gone back to the Hale house afterward, or maybe he’d spent the night and Zara hadn’t noticed because they were working different shifts. Or maybe he’d walked the lady home like a true gentleman and then returned to drive himself back to the country. It was none of Cal’s business, and probably none of Zara’s, either.
Because she wasn’t really interested in her brother’s sex life, he didn’t think. At least, he hoped she wasn’t. Her curiosity was just a symbol, a small part of her larger concern. “He’s doing okay,” Cal reiterated. “He’s meeting people, settling in. I’m sure it’s a—I don’t know, a challenging transition. But he’s making it.”
“And you’d tell me if he wasn’t?” She sounded almost pleading. “If something goes wrong, I can help! I can—I can do whatever I need to. I will do whatever I need to. As long as I know it’s happening, I can fix it.”
It was a strangely distorted version of the conversation Cal’d had with Zane. Cal wanted to protect Zara, Zara wanted to protect Zane. And Zane was probably doing okay all on his own. “He’s a big boy, Zara. He can take care of himself. I really think he’s doing fine.” And then he added, “But, yeah, I’ll let you know if I see something to worry about.”
She nodded, and her shoulders lowered a little. “Thank you.”
He felt almost bashful, like her thanks had been a gift and he was a schoolboy too shy to know how to receive it. Which was just stupid. He needed to get control of himself, so he changed the topic a little. “And you? I know, the center’s ‘fine.’” She had the grace to look a little sheepish at her previous lack of engagement. So he pressed a bit further, giving her a warm smile and leaning in just a little. “But what about your head? The concussion? Is it—”
The transition was quick. Her face shuttered again as she said, “My head is (a) none of your business. And (b) just fine.”
So much for sheepishness. Before he caught up to whatever had just happened, Zara had turned away from him. “You were right. It’s cold over here. I’m going to the fire.”
And she was gone, leaving Cal looking after her. What the hell? He pushed himself to his feet. He had no idea what the problem was, but he was going to find out.
Excerpts. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.
Zara Hale escaped Lake Sullivan, Vermont, as a teenager and never planned to return. But a decade later, when her brother Zane is released from prison, she leaves her life as a Mixed Martial Arts champion and heads north, both to support him and to lend her golden-girl status to the opening of a new community center.
Cal Montgomery knows he let down the Hale family ten years ago, but this is his chance to make it up to them. Zane is his best friend. And Zara? She’s stubborn, frustrating, strong, beautiful—irresistible. Once she’s back in town, it isn’t long before their professional relationship turns into something much more intimate.
Though Zara’s hometown celebrity is as surprising as her feelings for Cal, she’s only there for the center and for her family. But as she soon discovers, Cal’s not that easy to leave, and neither are the unexpected comforts of Lake Sullivan.
Meet the Author:
Cate Cameron grew up in the city but moved to the country in her mid-twenties and isn’t looking back. Most of her writing deals with people living and loving in small towns or right out in the sticks – when there aren’t entertainment options on every corner, other people get a lot more interesting!
She likes to write stories about real people struggling with real issues. YA, NA, or contemporary romance, her books are connected by their emphasis on subtle humor and characters who are trying to do the right thing, even when it would be a lot easier to do something wrong.
I love to hear from readers at catecameronauthor at gmail.com, or on twitter at @CCameron_author