Hi Rebecca and welcome to HJ! We’re so excited to chat with you about your new release, Off the Record!
Please summarize the book for the readers here:
Off the Record is the story of best friends and longtime professional rivals, Ebon Brody and Sophie Caplan. They’ve always managed to balance their competing careers with their tight-knit friendship, but when they find themselves sniffing around the same career-saving scoop, their careful boundaries are severely tested. Probably a good idea to also give into their long-held, unfulfilled attraction, right? No-strings sex plus higher-than-ever professional stakes. What could go wrong?
Please share the opening lines of this book:
“You’ve got some nerve, showing your face ’round here.”
Sophie didn’t acknowledge the man’s sneering comment, keeping her smile bright and her chin high as she beat an unhurried path across the crowded hotel bar.
She hadn’t expected that her recent article exposing how a top-ranking government official had paid off his pregnant, underage mistress—and prompting his resignation—would make her the most popular journalist at the party conference.
She hadn’t thought it would make her feel like the most hated woman in Britain, either.
Please share a few Fun facts about this book…
I admit: across the board, my characters are never teetotal. In this one, however, they may get a little boozier than usual because I wrote this book while pregnant! Unlike some pregnant women who are totally put off the barest thought of alcohol, I swing the other way. Just the smell of crisp, cold white wine makes my mouth water ten times more during pregnancy than in my normal, measured, cocktail-sipping life. I can’t tell you how many non-alcoholic alcohol substitutes I tried during pregnancy, but none of them compared to the myriad glasses of chilled Chenin blanc in my imagination. So if it seems like these characters enjoy the odd tipple a little more frequently than usual, that was just me, living vicariously.
Please tell us a little about the characters in your book. As you wrote your protagonist was there anything about them that surprised you?
I always get the ideas for my heroes first, then am perennially surprised when it’s actually the heroine driving the story. Off the Record was no different. Although Ebon is the youngest in the line of brothers around whom the series circulates, this is really Sophie’s story. Driven, conflicted, constantly proving herself to ghosts… I absolutely fell in love with her complexity and I hope readers will, too.
If your book was optioned for a movie, what scene would you use for the audition of the main characters and why?
Funnily enough, one of my favorite interactions between Sophie and Ebon involves them barely speaking to each other! The morning after they push their friends-only boundaries farther than expected, they sit together on the train back to London. Not only is the tension between them knife-worthily thick, the situation is made even more awkward when a bickering couple take the two adjoining seats. I’d love to see actors bring this scene to life and capture everything that goes unsaid.
She was still adjusting her laptop screen when the woman turned squarely to the man Sophie presumed was her boyfriend and stuck a sharp-looking fingernail in his face.
“And another thing, if one more of these so-called lads’ rugby nights ends in a strip club, I swear to God I’ll—”
“It wasn’t a strip club,” the boyfriend muttered.
“Oh really? Then how is it Lisa saw you stumbling out of one in Soho just last week?”
The boyfriend scoffed. “Lisa doesn’t know what she’s on about. She wouldn’t know a strip club if she fell over one.”
“Lisa’s my friend, and she ruddy well knows the difference between the quiet pub you said you were going to and a well-known strip joint.”
Sophie tried to tune out their argument and concentrate on reducing her gas bill. This was exactly the kind of scenario she and Ebon would normally laugh about together, but he hadn’t so much as flicked a glance her way when she’d moved over.
This supplier offered the first month free for new customers, but that one—
“If your mother wasn’t always—”
“Excuse me, you leave my mother out of this, or—”
The volume of the argument on the other side of the table began to attract the interest of other people on the train. Sophie gritted her teeth and was counting the stops left before Euston when her phone pinged with a message.
Gratefully she swept it up, her heart beating a little harder when she saw it was from Ebon.
I blame her mother. Interfering know-it-all.
She bit her lip to stop her grin from spreading ear to ear. A furtive glance showed Ebon was stony-faced, his expression completely impassive as he watched the screen of his phone.
This is 100% Lisa’s fault, she replied. Why’s she getting involved? Seems awfully coincidental that she passed the strip club at the exact moment he was leaving.
Probably jealous. Trying to steal that stunning specimen of masculine perfection.
Sophie covered her mouth, just managing to turn a blurting laugh into a fake cough. Said specimen had his hand between his legs, giving his balls a vigorous scratch.
The woman looked at her sharply, then quickly returned her attention to her verbal assault on her boyfriend.
Maybe you’re right. Relationships are overrated.
Her breath caught as she read Ebon’s text. He wouldn’t pretend last night hadn’t happened, but she was pretty sure this was his way of telling her it was okay, that he understood.
Hate to say I told you so, she typed back, trying to shove her emotions into alignment with the flippant retort. Her head knew full well that the only way to keep Ebon close was to keep her hands to herself, and if that meant watching her best friend fall in love with another woman, so be it. Her unhelpfully wistful heart needed to fall into line.
What do you want people to take away from reading this book?
I hope readers love Sophie and Caplan for the uptight, overachieving idealists they are! They each want the best for the other one even when it comes at a personal cost, and I so enjoyed watching them finally admit that they’re perfect together.
What are you currently working on? What other releases do you have planned?
I have a five-month-old baby at home and am nearing the end of what has been a blessedly long (by comparison) maternity leave. As a result, I haven’t written in ages! But the ideas are percolating and as soon as I’m back to work, it’ll be back to the writing desk, too. In the meantime I’m soaking up every last second with my sweet baby girl!
Thanks for blogging at HJ!
Giveaway: Digital ebook of Off the Record and Tule swag
To enter Giveaway: Please complete the Rafflecopter form and Post a comment to this Q: January is upon us and with it, the season of resolutions! I resolved not to eat any candy or chocolate for the month of January…and then revised it down to the first week. 😛 Have you made any resolutions and how are they going?
Excerpt from Off the Record:
Sophie’s heart hammered with an unfamiliar mixture of apprehension and excitement as she shoved open the door to the pub and stepped inside, pausing to let her eyes adjust to the gloomy interior.
She shouldn’t be so keyed up. She’d met Ebon for after-work drinks hundreds of times. For a while they had a standing date to a particularly cheap Thursday happy hour between their respective offices.
But this was different.
Of course he wanted to pump her for information on their apparently mutual source, and of course she had no intention of revealing anything about her months-long investigation into a culture of cyclical abuse and hush-ups among the political elite. They’d sniffed around each other’s leads before, ultimately retreating into their friendship, neither willing to push the other too hard.
Not this time.
Back at her desk after leaving Miroslava’s flat, she’d spent so long staring into space, revisiting the incident in her mind, that one of her co-workers asked if she was all right, admitting he was worried she was having a seizure.
Instead, she was mentally retracing every step she’d taken in her investigation, trying to pinpoint exactly where Ebon Brody might’ve joined the circuitous path the story had followed.
She’d stumbled upon it through sheer luck, waiting in an MP’s office for a scheduled, boring interview about a minor change in student loan repayment rules. A bald, shabbily dressed man barged in and began to demand an update on behalf of his client. The receptionist led him inside somewhere, and when he came out seemingly pacified, Sophie listened to her instinct, excused herself to the ladies’ and followed him down the hall.
He turned out to be a solicitor, and although he wouldn’t give her any details on his client’s case—in all likelihood because she was about to accept one of the hush money payouts that became crucial pieces of the evidence in her story—he did murmur the name of what turned out to be a domestic staffing agency.
A few days of research and administrative legwork later, Sophie had discovered the company purporting to be a recruitment firm called Domestic Miracles. It placed maids, chauffeurs, and au pairs in London homes and was apparently impossible to contact. She tried different phone numbers, different e-mail addresses, even got one of her male colleagues to leave a message posing as an affluent-sounding potential employer, but she never got a reply. A knock on the door of the company’s registered address—a nondescript office in a large block—also went unanswered. It wasn’t until a dig-through of the financials filed with Companies House revealed a number of directors with Eastern European names that the pieces came together in Sophie’s mind.
Through weeks and weeks of cold calling, combing domestic-worker forums online, and nearly destroying Google Translate with endless chunks of text in Polish, Romanian, Lithuanian and a host of other Eastern European languages, she’d begun to slowly but surely build a picture of a network of women brought to the UK exclusively to work in the homes of known abusers, almost all of whom had high-ranking government posts.
She’d worked carefully and diligently, confident this was her scoop and hers alone simply due to the difficulty of uncovering each element of the story.
Until Ebon bloody Brody turned up on the doorstep of one of her prime sources.
She still had no inkling how he could’ve gotten wind of a secret network that appeared to have been in operation for years, and after an afternoon’s contemplation, she decided she didn’t care. What mattered was stopping him from getting even an inch further.
And tonight she had a plan to find out exactly what he knew.
She scanned the room and, not finding Ebon, deliberately chose a semi-circular booth tucked in a back corner of the labyrinthine space carved out of a disused industrial cellar. The uneven, reclaimed wood table boasted a single candle, the exposed stone walls angled in cozily, and there wasn’t a window in sight.
Perfect spot for a seduction.
It was the only way, she’d concluded after extensive analysis of the alternatives.
And if she was really, brutally honest with herself, she rather fancied it.
She hadn’t wavered in her belief that any attempt at a relationship would be ill-fated and disastrous, but that brief taste of him she’d gotten in Manchester had softened her resolve. Who was to say they couldn’t satisfy their twin cravings and still remain friends? That’s more or less exactly what Ebon had suggested on that awkward morning-after at university. This could be the ideal opportunity to reopen that door—and sneak a peek into his investigation in the process.
She’d just discovered that her covert corner seriously lacked phone reception when Ebon appeared, unbuttoning his coat.
“Great table,” he remarked approvingly, slinging his slightly drizzle-damp coat over the other end of the wooden bench. “What’re you drinking?”
“I believe the word cider was mentioned on the phone.”
She finger-combed her hair and applied a coat of lipstick while Ebon went to the bar, then hastily scrubbed it off on a spare tissue before he returned. Too obvious—he’d spot her intentions a mile off.
“Here we are, fresh from the West Country.” He returned with two low, fat glasses of golden liquid.
She slid down to make room, giving him no choice but to squeeze into whatever space she left before the edge of the bench—which, as it happened, was just enough for their thighs to brush, and for his unmistakable, clean, paper-and-ink scent to wrap around her like age-softened cotton sheets.
“Cheers.” She raised her glass and he clinked his obligingly. The first taste of the crisp, cold cider was dry and heady and dangerous on her mostly empty stomach, so she set it down, mindful she’d have to pace herself if she wanted to retain control of the situation.
“So that was a bit odd, bumping into each other at Miroslava’s flat this morning,” he said jovially.
“Getting right to the point, I see.”
“I’d hate to spoil this delicious, artisanal beverage with an awkward attempt to tiptoe around the elephant in the room.” He raised comical brows above his glasses as he took an exaggerated sip, and she smiled despite herself.
“Why don’t you tell me what you’re working on and then I’ll tell you whether I’m doing the same,” she suggested.
“I told you. Drug smuggling.”
“Well, what a coincidence. That’s exactly what I’m investigating.”
“How’s it going?” he asked, evidently unruffled by her step into his obvious lie.
“Excellent,” he replied smoothly, but she detected a hint of frustration in his posture.
He shifted in his seat, pivoting toward her, inching slightly closer.
“Forget the story. It’s not important. We’ve crossed paths on investigations before and it’s always worked out. I care more about you than headlines, anyway.”
She frowned at his sudden change in tone, watched his gaze drop to her mouth before leveling on her eyes, and had to sink her teeth into her lower lip to keep from laughing out loud.
Did Ebon Brody seriously think he could seduce her into leaking information?
It would’ve been funny if it weren’t so irritating. First he’d found his way into her investigative territory, and now he was stealing her flirt-for-facts plan. Admittedly she’d been a little uncertain about the seduction route, but realizing that he intended to attempt exactly the same thing made her more determined than ever.
“I couldn’t agree more,” she replied softly, letting her hand find its way onto his thigh.
He flinched in surprise, then relaxed, probably remembering he was supposed to be encouraging this kind of behavior.
He slid his hand to her hip, his thumb gently stroking her lower back, and she silently cursed the way her nipples tightened at such a slight touch. This seduction needed to be calculating, precise, effective.
She’d better pull herself together, and fast.
“I’ve been thinking about our conversation in Manchester,” he began. “About not wanting to ruin our friendship with an attempt at a relationship. I couldn’t agree more.”
He nodded. “At the same time, I think we both know we’re stupidly attracted to each other. Always have been, from my side at least.”
She hummed, a faint encouragement for him to go on, readjusting her position so her hand slipped farther up the inside of his thigh.
He swallowed, and she bit back a tiny swell of triumph.
“Maybe we could configure a scenario where we take advantage of the latter without compromising the former.”
She arched a brow in interest. So that was his play. “Friends with benefits?”
“I suppose. But not in an ill-conceived, secretly-in-love-with-one-another way like you see in films. Proper friends who sometimes—”
He choked off the end of his sentence as she whipped her hand beneath his shirt, trailing a finger along the waist of his jeans. She paused when her knuckle brushed the line of hair bisecting his abs, then resumed her slow, meandering exploration.
“Sometimes what?” she prompted, enjoying the way he became more off-balance with each second. This was his idea, apparently. Couldn’t he handle the reality of what he was proposing?
“You know, just… Sometimes we could… If you want…”
“Fuck?” she asked, plunging her fingers beneath the denim.
He gasped, and she had to suck in a breath of her own when her palm brushed the hard, hot length of him through his boxers. She used her free hand to open his fly to give herself more space—God knows she needed it, given the size of him—and repositioned her other to get a good grip on his thick cock.
“Sophie,” he said, his voice trembling. “I didn’t mean—”
“What, did you want to draw up a contract first?” She stroked him from tip down, need beginning to gnaw between her legs in time with the throb beneath her fingers.
“No, but I thought—Jesus, that feels good.”
“I’m sure Jesus is delighted you thought of him in this context.”
Ebon’s hoarse laugh turned into a rough, startled grunt of pleasure as she pulled her fist back up, tugging him, relishing the combination of silky flesh and steely firmness.
“You make an interesting suggestion,” she said agreeably, glad she was able to keep her voice steady despite her hitching, excited breaths. “I have to admit I was thinking along similar lines these last few days. We’re two intelligent, mature adults. Surely we can set and respect boundaries, right?”
“Brilliant.” She shoved her hand down and up once more and he slapped his palms on the table, bracing himself against her building momentum.
“We’re agreed, then. Do you think we need to set ground rules? Or just promise to keep things physical and stomp the brakes if any pesky emotions creep in?”
Ebon didn’t respond, bent over the table, his rasping breaths making her wet as she watched—and controlled—the steep ascent of his arousal.
She eased the pace of her hand, not quite ready for this to end. Ebon practically growled at the sudden slowdown.
“As you say, we can be sensible about this. We’ve come close to a similar arrangement before. Why not…”
She trailed off as a young woman approached their table, still wearing her coat. Ebon made a feeble effort to straighten up and try to appear like he wasn’t on the receiving end of an enthusiastic hand job, but it was unnecessary. The woman barely glanced at them, then turned to scan the rest of the room before heading back in the direction of the door, presumably looking for whoever she was meeting.
“Why not make it official this time,” Sophie continued, resuming the rhythm she’d only slightly lessened when the woman approached.
Ebon made a vaguely affirmative sound, his eyes squeezing shut. She knew he was close—she could feel him tightening and pulsing beneath her hand.
With his eyes shut, she dared to slip her fingers under her skirt, knuckling her clit through her knickers and tights. For a second she let her lids drift closed, nearly losing herself to the heat of Ebon’s rigid flesh beneath her hand and the synchronized pressure between her legs, then snapped them open, remembering her mission.
Through sheer force of will, she dragged her spare hand back to the seat beside her and narrowed her eyes at Ebon. Sweat beaded his brow despite the chill in their rock-walled corner, and a bright flush made his sexy, prominent cheekbones stand out more than usual.
“This is only a taste of how we could be together,” she murmured, working him harder, faster. “Imagine a whole night in the same bed, nothing between us but air. No reservations. No secrets. No holding back.”
He opened his eyes and looked at her, his expression pleading, endlessly kissable lips slightly parted.
“Sophie,” he begged, sending a thrill soaring and bursting in her chest like a bright, white firework.
“We’ll share everything. Give ourselves to each other completely. And…” She paused, forcing aside her reluctance to say what she knew she had to, what had brought her to this moment in the first place. “And you’ll tell me why you were at Miroslava’s flat.”
She regretted the clumsy, ugly words as soon as they left her mouth, but it was too late. Ebon’s expression twisted into bewilderment and then unease, but it was too late for him too. A second later, he sucked in a breath and let it out in a hissed profanity as he came in Sophie’s hand, his conclusion spilling over her fingers, warm and wet.
“Fuck’s sake,” he muttered, snatching a cocktail napkin from the table as she inelegantly withdrew her hand and stood up, cheeks burning with guilt.
Without a word, she fled to the toilet, squinting in the sudden transition to bright, fluorescent light as she rushed to the sink and scrubbed her hands. She soaped and rinsed and soaped and rinsed, until the bang of the door to admit a pair of laughing women finally prompted her to meet her own gaze in the mirror.
What the hell were you thinking?
When she’d made a plan to seduce Ebon to try to get a whiff of what he was working on, she’d imagined loosening him up with a few drinks, flirting, exchanging playful touches and suggestive glances. Maybe even a teasing kiss they could easily wave off later.
Not jerking him off under the pub table and nailing him with a forthright question about his investigation.
“Oh my God,” she said miserably, pressing her still-wet hands over her face. She and Ebon had employed some fairly underhanded tactics to get at each other’s stories in the past, but nothing like this.
And to think she’d actually enjoyed it right up until the end.
No wonder all of her relationships crashed and burned. She never knew what she was doing from one minute to the next, running hot and cold and second-guessing herself until she was dizzy and disoriented. The complete opposite of her precise, high-performing, driven professional self, this haywire romantic version was exactly the reason she needed to stay absolutely clear of anything even vaguely resembling a relationship.
Which, she decided then and there, included any kind of no-strings arrangement with Ebon.
She left the toilet feeling sick to her stomach, with no idea how or if she could repair the situation. She didn’t meet his gaze as she returned to her seat, but in her peripheral vision, she caught his damnably sweet, apologetic smile.
“I’m sorry, Soph, I—”
“Don’t. This is my fault. That was so inappropriate.”
“It was my suggestion.”
Her chin snapped up and her eyes locked with his, summer-sky blue in the gloom, and she had to look away, even as the disconcerting, shining affection she saw there warmed her from her toes to the tips of her fingers.
“You didn’t suggest I pull you off under the table,” she muttered.
“I suggested we…you know…indulge ourselves.”
“And then I turned it into a cheap crack at your story.” She pressed her palm over her eyes. It sounded so much worse out loud.
“Come on, Soph. Look at me.” He gently pried her hand away, then held it in his own. Reluctantly, she let herself find solace in the face she’d always trusted, and in the warmth of the fingers closing around hers.
“It’s fine,” he insisted. “We’ll pretend it never happened. Although that’s a shame, because it was bloody good.”
She laughed through her lingering guilt, so grateful to have a man like Ebon in her life. He always forgave her, always cheered her up, always saw through her numerous, unfixable flaws to the best of what she was.
“All right, but only if you accept my apology for being a right shit, trying to drag information out of you like that. I can promise that’s not usually how I get my sources to open up.”
“You might scoop me more often if you did.”
She wrinkled her nose. “Ebon, that’s disgusting. As if I would ever.”
“You know I’m kidding.” He squeezed her hand before dropping it. “I accept your apology, but only if you’ll accept mine. I also came here tonight thinking I could snog out your secrets.”
She smiled. “I know.”
His jaw dropped. “Seriously? How?”
“You’re an open book—to me, at least. I smelled your plan a mile off. Thought I’d beat you to it.”
“There you succeeded. So. Apologies duly exchanged?”
She nodded. “All level.”
“Grand. Then let us never speak of this again. And also find another pub. This wooden bench is digging into my arse and I swear one of these stones is dripping on me.”
She saw right through his effort to change the mood and flee the scene of the crime, and she couldn’t be more in agreement. “My artisanal cider wasn’t that good anyway. The Duke?” she asked, referencing a brightly lit, inexpensive, unpretentious chain pub around the corner.
“I’ll get the first round,” Ebon promised, then guided her out of the booth and toward the door with a reassuring, decidedly platonic hand on her lower back.
Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.
When these friends become lovers, they might just turn into bitter enemies
Ebon Brody and Sophie Caplan have been close friends – and closer rivals – for as long as they can remember. One night they become even more, and shake hands on a no-strings agreement. They’ve always been able to keep their hands off each other’s stories – surely, they can keep their hands on each other at the same time.
But when they both begin to circle the same scoop – a human trafficking scandal that could bring enormous accolades for either of their competing papers – they discover it’s harder to avoid those strings than they thought.
Sophie was secretly furious when Ebon didn’t attempt to poach her to his newspaper, the Phoenix, and she resolved to win at all costs. Now she has to choose between the man she’s always wanted and the career she loves more than anything. Ebon wants to prove himself to his older brothers and to the woman he’s always admired, even if it means snatching a story out from under her feet.
Meet the Author:
Rebecca Crowley inherited her love of romance from her mom, who taught her to at
least partially judge a book by the steaminess of its cover. She writes contemporary
romance with smart heroines and swoon-worthy heroes, and never tires of the happily-
ever-after. Having pulled up her Kansas roots to live in New York City, London and
Johannesburg, Rebecca currently resides in Houston.
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