Hi Tawna and welcome to HJ! We’re so excited to chat with you about your new release, Just a Little Bet!
Hellloooooo, all you lovelies! Thank you so much for having me. I would absolutely give you awkward hugs and butt pats if it weren’t for the whole social distance thing.
Please summarize the book a la Twitter style for the readers here:
Best friends who used to bang take a road trip to grill his exes and settle a bet about why he sucks at relationships, only to discover they might be perfect for each other.
Please share the opening lines of this book:
“Uh-oh.” Kayla Gladney sipped her beer and squinted across the dim expanse of Boyton Ballroom’s central bar. “Breakup at three o’clock.”
“What? Where?” Willa leaned back on her barstool, then yelped as she started to topple.
Kayla made a grab for her, but Willa’s hottie husband moved quicker. Grady caught his wife by the waist, grinning as he glanced across the room to watch their friend—and his teammate—Tony, deep in conversation with a pretty brunette.
Please share a few Fun facts about this book…
- This is book #2 in my smokejumper series, though all the books are standalones that can be read in any order.
- My brain has percolated for years on a story where the hero and heroine set out to grill his exes and hear what they have to say about his history of relationships going off the rails, but it wasn’t until I met Tony and Kayla in THE TWO-DATE RULE that I realized they’d be perfect for this setup.
- Spending time at my local air base interviewing hot, shirtless smokejumpers as research for this series was…um…not a hardship.
- While all my books are romantic comedies, this one deals with some weighty issues once Tony and Kayla start to hone in on why Tony can’t seem to commit.
- The dog Kayla and Tony adopt on their road trip is named Fireball, and he’s very much based on a friend’s dog named Goonie.
What first attracts your Hero to the Heroine and vice versa?
Tony and Kayla dated for a hot minute in the first book in my smokejumper series, THE TWO-DATE RULE, and they bonded over music and outdoorsy pursuits. They split after a month and remained best friends, so this book picks up one year later as Tony is going through yet another breakup and realizing he might like to get to the bottom of why he’s so bad at relationships.
Using just 5 words, how would you describe Hero and Heroine’s love affair?
Friends to lovers + road trip.
The First Kiss…
While Tony and Kayla dated before JUST A LITTLE BET begins, they’ve been purely platonic friends for a year at this point. The first kiss in this book takes place in a hotel room on their road trip right after Kayla adopts a rescue dog and feels a bit rattled by how it all went down (er, she may have been caught peeing behind a tree by two strangers bickering about the dog neither of them wanted). After Tony shows up and takes Kayla back to the hotel, she initiates the first kiss to defuse the tension bubbling between them since the trip began.
Without revealing too much, what is your favorite scene in the book?
I relate very much to the scene in which Kayla attempts to meditate, only to be thwarted by her own over-active brain….
Kayla made her way to her chosen spot and folded herself into a kneeling position on the grass.
And then unfolded herself because ow, her knees. Okay, so cross-legged would work just as well. She set the camera bag off to the side, determined to do this right. Resting the backs of her hands on her knees, she let her fingers splay out, palms open to the sky the way she’d read about in her book.
There; that was nice. She was getting into it, feeling Zen and relaxed. She let her eyes fall shut and tried to think about peaceful things. Calming things—soothing stuff like…like ice cream. Yes, ice cream, that was good. She pictured the vanilla cone in her hand, the creamy goodness glinting in sunlight. She could picture it so clearly, imagining the rivulet of white dripping down the cone and over her knuckles and—
Ugh, no. That was no good. Sticky hands weren’t relaxing. She opened her eyes, determined to stay with the plan. The river—that was key. Maybe she should focus on the water, the gentle current, the way the silvery surface rippled and churned over rounded rocks glinting with damp sunlight.
Look at how the reeds swayed and shifted with the water, undulating just below the surface. A fish! Was that a trout? Or no, maybe a steelhead. She’d have to look it up later, maybe google to find out which fish were native to this region and which ones were—
Gritting her teeth, she tried again.
“Relax,” she ordered herself.
Like it was really that easy. Shutting off her brain wasn’t as simple as freakin’ Patience O’Toole made it sound.
If your book was optioned for a movie, what scene would be absolutely crucial to include?
The impetus for the road trip is that Kayla (a professional photographer) is contracted to do a series of photos showing the aftermath of wildfire on forests that burned years ago. Smokejumper Tony accompanies her, since he has unique insights about these burn scars. The notion of rebirth in the wake of destruction is a metaphor I play with a lot in this book, and I’m fond of several scenes where they discuss or think about these fires while en route to visit another one of Tony’s exes….
Kayla watched out the window as the highway narrowed and the rush of mountain hemlock and Douglas fir began to thin. They were climbing, getting farther away from bigger towns.
And closer to northeast Washington, which was the site of the next burn scar. That’s what Tony called these old forest fire sites. Last night as they cuddled, he’d described the J & J Complex fire for her in detail. The acrid smell of smoke and trees bursting like bright orange torches. His heartbeat drummed in her ear as she’d laid her head on his chest and listened to the rumble of his voice. Heard him describe dense underbrush that burned so hot it reached high into tree canopies, wiping out great swaths of forest.
Only meadows remained in some spots, though Tony admitted he hadn’t been back for years. Maybe now, things could grow again. She’d read it could happen that way, the soil made fertile by heat and destruction.
Maybe that’s how it would be.
Readers should read this book …
Naked, preferably in a bubble bath with a glass of wine and a sexy smokejumper.
What are you currently working on? What other releases do you have planned?
I just turned in the third book in this series, which features Tony’s best friend, Leo, who is introduced in JUST A LITTLE BET. That book is called THE BEST KEPT SECRET and comes out next summer. It’s the story of a woman who rescues her sister’s ex from a loopy response to pain meds, then has to keep his biggest secret while trying not to fall for him.
Beyond that, I’m cranking on the last book in my popular Ponderosa Resort Romantic Comedy Series, which is DR. HOT STUFF (coming Dec. 11) along with the second book in my new Juniper Ridge rom-com series (releasing March 2021). It’s been a busy year!
Thanks for blogging at HJ!
Giveaway: Five readers can select their choice of any book in my Ponderosa Resort Romantic Comedy Series in digital format:
To enter Giveaway: Please complete the Rafflecopter form and Post a comment to this Q: What’s your favorite road trip game?
Excerpt from Just a Little Bet:
He glanced over and winked. “Want to play a road-trip game?”
“Like twenty questions?”
“Or the alphabet game,” he said. “The one where you look at road signs to find letters of the alphabet in order?”
Kayla scanned the long stretch of highway dotted with sagebrush and junipers. Not a lot of signs in sight. “How about kiss, marry, kill?”
She wiggled her toes on the dash, enjoying the cool flutter of air conditioning. “We take turns naming three random celebrities,” she said. “Or they could be musicians or cartoon characters or whatever. You have to decide which one you’d kiss, which one you’d marry, and which one you’d kill.”
He glanced over and raised an eyebrow. “Sounds like another middle school game. Proceed.”
“Um, let me think.” She rubbed her palms down her denim-clad thighs and tried to come up with something. “Okay. Marge Simpson, Judy Jetson, and Princess Fiona from Shrek.”
“Those are my choices?”
She grinned. “Those are your choices.”
Frowning at the highway, Tony considered it. “I’m not keen on killing anyone, but Judy Jetson’s gotta be pushing ninety, since that show came out in the early sixties. So I guess I’ll go with her.”
His brow furrowed. “Do we really have to do that part?”
“Yep, it’s the game.”
“Okay, then yes.” He tapped the brakes as a rabbit darted out in the road, then changed its mind and scurried back. Tony swerved to avoid hitting it, expertly keeping the Jeep on the road.
“Princess Fiona seems really happy with Shrek, so I’m not going to fuck that up for them,” he continued. “Just a peck on the cheek is okay, right?”
Kayla eyed him, surprised by how seriously he seemed to be taking this. “Does this mean you’re marrying Marge Simpson?”
He shrugged and tapped his thumbs on the steering wheel. “Homer’s kind of a dick, and she always seemed like a cool lady. Might as well get her out of that.”
“Wow.” Kayla stared at him. “So you’re seeing marriage as—what? A chance to rescue someone?”
Tony frowned. “That’s not what I said.”
“No, but you implied it.” She laughed and dropped her feet to the floor. “No wonder we didn’t work out.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
“I don’t need anyone rescuing me,” she said. “If some sort of hero complex is the driving force behind—”
“I do not have a hero complex.” His words came out so forceful, even Tony seemed surprised. “I just don’t like seeing anyone in a lousy marriage. There’s too goddamn many of those in the world.”
He wasn’t meeting her eyes, which was probably just because he needed to watch the road. But Kayla couldn’t help feeling a dark fog hovering over this conversation.
“Fair enough,” she said mildly. “For what it’s worth, that’s very noble. Maybe not the best reason to marry someone, but not the worst, either.”
“It’s not like you gave me great choices,” he pointed out.
“Okay, you go. Give me three picks.”
His frown tipped up at the edges, and suddenly he was grinning again. “Fine. Tom Hanks, Denzel Washington, and Kevin Bacon.”
“Ooh, good choices.” Kayla tucked a knee up under her. “At their current ages, or do I get to choose my favorite roles they’ve played?”
“Current ages,” Tony said definitively.
Kayla laughed. “Says the guy who killed a geriatric Judy Jetson. Okay, I’m going to go ahead and kill Kevin Bacon. I never forgave him for being the guy who cheated with Julianne Moore and broke Steve Carell’s heart.”
“Which movie was that?”
“Crazy, Stupid, Love,” she said. “A brilliant—and dare I say highly underrated—romantic comedy.”
He glanced over at her. “How come you’ve never made me watch it?”
“The fact that you just said made you watch it is exactly why,” she said. “I don’t want your machismo sullying a movie so near and dear to my heart.”
“I’m wounded,” Tony deadpanned. “For the record, I’m a sensitive guy who digs the occasional rom-com.”
“I’ll keep that in mind.” Kayla got back to considering her options in the game. “Okay, so it comes down to Tom Hanks and Denzel Washington. Both are brilliant actors. Tom’s got a great mix between comedy and drama, where Denzel is a little more serious. But Denzel has the sex appeal thing going for him, while Tom just doesn’t curl my toes.”
Tony gave a low whistle. “Nice in-depth analysis.”
“Thanks.” She grinned. “You set the bar high with your thoughtful response.”
“Yeah, but you’re better at it than I am.”
She shrugged and grabbed her Hydro Flask to take a swig of water. “I do tend to overanalyze relationships.” Could be why she hadn’t managed to find her soul mate. “Not that it’s gotten me to the finish line.”
He frowned. “What the hell is the finish line?”
“Marriage. Babies. All the things you claim not to want but secretly might.”
He gave her a pained look and eased over to slip by a truck hauling huge bales of hay. “This bet is going to be the death of me. You’re going to spend the next couple weeks fiddling around in my brain, aren’t you?”
“Not if you don’t want me to.” She studied the side of his face as he steered them safely in front of the hay truck. “I just think a road trip is a perfect time for self-reflection.”
“Whatever you say.”
“Okay. So kiss, marry, kill.” She forced her brain back to the game. “I think I’m going to marry Denzel. The way he owned up to all his mistakes at the end of Flight seals the deal.”
Tony shifted his eyes off the road and looked at her. “That seems noteworthy, don’t you think?”
“How do you figure?”
“He played a raging asshole for 97 percent of that movie. But you focus on the redemption scene at the end.” He flashed her a grin. “It’s actually kind of sweet.”
She felt her forehead creasing. “Are you calling me a Pollyanna?”
“Hey, I didn’t say it. You did.”
Kayla rolled her eyes. “Is it too late to play the alphabet game?”
He laughed and picked up his cup of McDonald’s iced tea. “I’m sensing a trend here. We can play whatever you want, sweetheart.”
She dropped her foot to the floor and grabbed her own cup of soda. “I spy with my little eye…”
Excerpts. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.
After a night of too many drinks, smokejumper Tony Warren and his best friend, photographer Kayla Gladney, come to the realization that they’re both bad at love. They even tried dating each other, but that crashed and burned, too. Now he’s got the hangover from hell and the certain conclusion he’s just a shit boyfriend. But Kayla thinks he’s a straight-up commitment-phobe.
So they make a bet—they’re going to hunt down his exes and decide once and for all why he’s so unlucky in love. Terrible boyfriend or commitment-phobe. Why does either answer feel like he’s still losing?
But between roadside burgers and late night detours, they discover some fires never burn out—like the one slowly smoldering between them. And suddenly losing feels a whole lot like winning again.
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Meet the Author:
When Tawna Fenske finished her English lit degree at 22, she celebrated by filling a giant trash bag full of romance novels and dragging it everywhere until she’d read them all. Now she’s a RITA Award finalist, USA Today bestselling author who writes humorous fiction, risqué romance, and heartwarming love stories with a quirky twist. Publishers Weekly has praised Tawna’s offbeat romances with multiple starred reviews and noted, “There’s something wonderfully relaxing about being immersed in a story filled with over-the-top characters in undeniably relatable situations. Heartache and humor go hand in hand.”
Tawna lives in Bend, Oregon, with her husband, stepkids, and a menagerie of ill-behaved pets. She loves hiking, snowshoeing, standup paddleboarding, and inventing excuses to sip wine on her back porch. She can peel a banana with her toes and loses an average of twenty pairs of eyeglasses per year. To find out more about Tawna and her books, visit www.tawnafenske.com.
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