Hi Meg and welcome to HJ! We’re so excited to chat with you about your new release, Love in the Morning!
Tell us about the book with this fun little challenge using the title of the book:
I is for Independent, which describes my hero, Clark Denham, a proud hotel owner who wants his breakfast buffet to be the best in Salt Box, Colorado. Fortunately he finds Lizzy, the perfect chef who desperately needs a job and a new home.
T is for Termagants, a fancy word meaning bitches that perfectly describes the stars of The Lovely Ladies of LA, some of whom are definitely interested in ruining Lizzy’s life. Again.
M is for, well, Morning. The time of day Lizzy works her magic in the kitchen and supplies the delectable Clark with muffins and love. And morning is also what the Praeger House Hotel of Salt Box represents for her—a new start, a new chance, a new man. As long as a certain group of Termagants don’t get in the way.
What’s your favorite line(s) from the book?:
At the end of the book, when most of the drama is over, my hero and heroine walk back through a light snowstorm (she’s from LA–has never seen it snow before). “Lizzy paused for a moment, feeling tiny flakes land on her cheeks like cold kisses.” I really like that one!
Please tell us a little about the characters in your book. What first attracts your Hero to the Heroine and vice versa?
My characters meet sort of by chance (Lizzy decides to try her luck finding a job at the first place that appeals to her, and Praeger House is it; Clark needs an assistant chef, pronto), and at first neither is all that attracted. But little by little they develop respect for each other and that respect turns to attraction. Lizzy likes Clark’s commitment to his goals, and his belief in his hotel. Clark (believe it or not) is attracted to Lizzy’s omelet-making skills. There’s just something about a super-competent chef doing her thing that takes his breath away.
When you sat down to start this book, what was the biggest challenge you faced? What were you most excited about?
I didn’t know much about the Real Housewives-type shows that the Lovely Ladies of LA is based on. I’d never watched them, and I don’t have cable. I read a lot of tabloid coverage and watched all the snippets available on the various Real Housewives web sites. It wasn’t exactly fun but I did get some kick-ass villains out of it.
I’m always excited when I get to work with a chef character. This time I got to explore the world of breakfast buffets. Yum.
What, in your mind, makes this book stand out?
I think the setting of both my Salt Box books is a little unusual. Salt Box, Colorado is based on a lot of small Colorado mountain towns that cater to both tourists and locals. Visitors love them, but there’s also a local culture that can be sort of quirky. That quirkiness shows up in the Blarney Stone bar in Love in the Morning, complete with its resident curmudgeon, who just happens to be a legendary Hollywood producer. There’s also a tie-in with reality shows in all three books. I’m not really much of a fan of a lot of reality TV, but it still has a kind of awful fascination. I guess what I’m doing here is showing what happens when reality TV runs into Reality.
The First Kiss…
Happens after the couple have already had a couple of strictly-business dinner dates. And after Lizzy has confessed her Big Secret to a newfound Salt Box friend, but not to Clark. Clark comes to the kitchen after hours to firm up some special menu items, and, well, things develop in the direction they’ve been heading all along:
She heard his quick inhale, as if the lip licking had been some kind of signal. Maybe it had been.
And then he was leaning forward, stepping off the stool, one arm sliding around her waist, bringing her body up against his. She had time to feel the shape of his arousal against her belly, and then his lips touched hers and she lost track of whatever it was she’d been thinking about.
If your book was optioned for a movie, what scene would you use for the audition of the main characters and why?
Probably the opening scene of the book. Lizzy is desperate. She’s down to her last dollar, almost literally, and her car has run out of gas in Salt Box. She’s also hiding a disaster in her past that may make it difficult for her to get another job as a chef. She needs a kitchen where she can hide out while she finds her feet again. The Praeger House hotel looks like salvation, but she has to get by a man she assumes is the janitor, who might be inclined to throw her out. The “janitor” turns out to be the owner, but Lizzy still fears that he might not hire her. But, as it turns out, he does:
“I…um…” She took another breath.
His eyes were back to narrow.
“My car ran out of gas at the edge of town, and I’m not sure I can get it started again.” She said it all in a single breath.
In the ensuing silence, she could hear the dim clang of pots and pans in the kitchen. She was willing to bet the chef was not a happy camper at the moment.
Apparently, Denham heard the clangs too. He sighed. “Come on. I’ll drive you to your car and get it started. Then you can come back and fill out all the forms before you go into the kitchen and do whatever the hell it is Clarice wants you to do.” He turned on his heel and headed for the back door.
Lizzy closed her eyes for a moment, blowing out a long breath. The whole thing was still Too Good To Be True, but it was also apparently real. At least for now. Who knew? Maybe her luck had finally begun to change.
“Come on, damn it!” Denham snarled from the doorway. “I don’t have all day for this.”
If your hero had a sexy-times play list, what song(s) would have to be on it?
- Dusty Springfield, “Breakfast in Bed”
- Tim O’Brien, “I Like the Way You Cook”
- Emmylou Harris & Rodney Cowell, “Black Caffeine”
- Band of Heathens, “Cornbread”
- Allison Moorer, “I Want a Little Sugar in My Bowl”
What do you want people to take away from reading this book?
As always, I want people to have a good time and to leave the book feeling happy. And I’d like readers to feel that it’s possible to start all over. That disasters don’t need to be permanent. Lizzy begins in defeat but ends in victory. That’s something I want you to feel good about.
What are you currently working on? What other releases do you have planned for 2016?
I’ve completed the third book in the Salt Box Trilogy, Running on Empty, which is scheduled for a September release right now. I’ve also been working on a couple of novellas that pick up some of my Konigsburg characters. I hope at least one of them will be out this year.
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Excerpt from Love in the Morning:
He nodded at the night desk clerk as he headed up the hall toward the kitchen. Why he was headed to the kitchen he didn’t know. He wasn’t hungry or thirsty. Maybe he just wanted to make sure everything was set up for breakfast tomorrow. Not that he had any doubts on that score, given Lizzy’s work ethic.
Lizzy. He paused for a moment. Seeing Lizzy in the Blarney Stone had made him want to have Lauren drop him off on the nearest street corner. He didn’t really feel like trying to figure out why a woman dressed in jeans, a T-shirt and sneakers suddenly seemed infinitely more desirable than a woman like Lauren. In fact, he was fairly sure figuring that out would lead to trouble.
Then why are you trying to find Lizzy instead of just heading for your apartment? Good question. He didn’t exactly have an answer.
He pushed through the door to the dining room, but he couldn’t see any lights on in the kitchen. He wasn’t sure when he’d begun to assume Lizzy would always be there when he wanted to see her, but obviously that assumption wasn’t accurate this evening. Just another thing that wasn’t going the way he expected it to.
He stepped back into the hall again. Maybe she was still at the Blarney Stone. He could always head over there and see. On the other hand, if she wasn’t there, he might end up being stuck at the bar, talking to people he didn’t want to talk to.
No Blarney Stone, no kitchen, that left… Yeah, genius, you’ll have to go knock on her door. He took a deep breath, then turned down the hall, heading for the corridor that led to what passed for the Staff Quarters.
In reality, most of the people who worked at Praeger House lived outside the hotel. Clark figured that once upon a time, when the hotel was still the private residence of the timber baron, there’d been live-in maids and kitchen staff. But given the size of their rooms, they must have been related to elves. Some of the old staff rooms had already been done over, walls removed to make suites. Lizzy was staying in one of the few that remained at the original size. He felt a little guilty about putting her in a room that wasn’t much more than a broom closet, but she’d seemed glad to get it at the time. And so far as he knew, she hadn’t been looking for another place since then. She pretty much lived in the kitchen. He didn’t stop to wonder why she did that.
He raised his hand before he could think better of it and knocked on her door. There was a long pause, long enough to make him wonder if she actually was still at the Blarney Stone, and then her door swung open.
Apparently, he’d managed to come just as she was getting ready for bed. She wore a pair of black yoga pants and a T-shirt, and her dark hair was pulled up on top of her head in a clip. Her eyes widened when she saw him, and for a moment he thought she might close the door in his face. Then she squared her shoulders and gave him a polite smile. “Hi, what’s up?”
What’s up? He suddenly realized the weakness in his plan—he didn’t actually have a plan. He had no idea what to say to her now that he was there. “Hi,” he said, trying desperately to think of a topic he could legitimately claim had brought him to her door.
Her forehead furrowed slightly as she waited for him to go on.
“I was wondering…” His brain had gone utterly blank.
“Wondering?” She raised an eyebrow.
“About the menus,” he improvised. “You know, the breakfast stuff. I mean could I get a copy of the ones you showed me?”
“Sure, come on in.” She stepped back. “I’ve got them here somewhere. You can photocopy them.”
She turned back to a desk on the other side of the room, all of three feet away, flipping through some pages. He took a quick glance around. Hotel furniture—bed, dresser, desk and bedside table. Hotel linens. Hotel rug. And not much else—no family pictures, no posters, no art, nothing that made it look any different from the other rooms on the floor. It was just the way it had been when she moved in.
He frowned. Why wouldn’t she want to put up a couple of pictures? Was she not planning to stay?
“Here you go.” She picked up some papers from the desk and turned back toward him.
He took them from her, trying to come up with anything else to talk about. Because he wasn’t ready to leave yet. Not by a long shot. “How was the Blarney Stone?”
Her expression seemed to close, her jaw tightening. “It was great. I enjoyed it.”
“Good.” Surely there was something else he could say about the Blarney Stone. Something that didn’t involve Lauren.
“She’s very pretty.”
Some of Lizzy’s dark hair had come undone from the clip, drifting down alongside her face. Her eyes seemed larger in the soft lighting of the room, fringed with velvety lashes. And he had no idea what she’d just said. “Excuse me?”
“Your girlfriend. Your date, I mean.” She licked her lips. “She’s really a knockout.”
One glimpse of that pale pink tongue and his body was back on high alert. Crap, crap, crap. “She’s not my girlfriend.”
Lizzy’s forehead furrowed slightly. “She isn’t?”
He shook his head. “She’s just…someone I know.” Used to know.
“Someone you know.” She nodded slowly.
“We…we’re not…” He ran his fingers through his hair. Why exactly was he having so much trouble with this? And since when had he tried to explain his sex life to a relative stranger?
A really hot relative stranger.
Lizzy’s forehead was still furrowed, as if she were trying to figure out the same thing herself. “You’re not…”
“Ah, hell,” he muttered and reached for her.
She gave a slight gasp of surprise but then moved more tightly against him, her hands sliding up his chest as he grasped her shoulders. She smelled of cinnamon and honey, faint hints of spice in her skin and hair.
He ran the tip of his tongue along the edge of her lips, tasting, testing. She opened for him, her hands against the back of his neck now, drawing him closer, and he plunged deep.
Her mouth was sweet, like sugar, like honey, like all the delectable things she had in her kitchen. He rasped his tongue against hers, his lips hard upon her mouth, hands moving now to the indentation of her waist, the curves of her hips. Her T-shirt rode up as she wrapped her arms around his neck, and he touched warm skin.
Some distant part of his brain was warning him to slow down, but he paid no attention. He wasn’t entirely sure where they were going with this—he was playing it by ear. But it was definitely going to be a great ride. He stepped forward, closing the door behind him.
Excerpts. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.
The reality show Lovely Ladies of L.A. should have launched Lizzy Apodaca’s catering company into solvency. Instead, when her carefully prepared appetizers mysteriously gave the cast on-camera food poisoning, she lost everything.
To make matters worse, her car breaks down in Salt Box, Colorado, a town not much bigger than a salt shaker. But maybe her luck is changing—the handsome owner of Praeger House, the town’s premier hotel, needs a kitchen assistant.
Clark Denham realizes his diamond in the rough is a polished gem when Lizzy steps up to save the hotel’s breakfast buffet after his temperamental head chef quits. It isn’t long before she’s winning his heart as smoothly and efficiently as she runs his kitchen.
Their relationship goes from simmer to rolling boil with the speed of a short order cook. But when a bevy of not-so-lovely ladies shows up in Salt Box, Lizzy’s past disaster threatens to flatten her happily ever after faster than a falling soufflé.
Meet the Author:
Meg Benjamin is an award-winning author of contemporary romance. Her Konigsburg series for Samhain Publishing is set in the Texas Hill Country and her Salt Box trilogy is set in her new home the Colorado Rockies. Her Ramos Family Trilogy for Berkley InterMix is set in San Antonio. Meg’s books have won numerous awards, including an EPIC Award, a Romantic Times Reviewers’ Choice Award, the Holt Medallion from Virginia Romance Writers, the Beanpot Award from the New England Romance Writers and the Award of Excellence from Colorado Romance Writers.
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