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Duck ChatWelcome to another day of Duck Chat!

Today Jennifer Haymore is our guest. Some of you may know Jennifer as erotic author Dawn Halliday, who has several books in print, but we’re going to chat with Jennifer about her debut book, A Hint of Wicked, which is getting great reviews all over the place.

Jennifer is married and she and her family live in Southern California. She holds a bachelor’s degree in Computer Science from UC Berkeley and a master’s degree in Education from UCLA. She grew up in Hawaii and is an accomplished athlete. Loretta Chase and Maya Banks are two of her favorite authors from a huge list and a couple of her favorite movies are Master and Commander and P.S. I Love You.

Now let’s get down to business! Be sure to leave a meaningful comment or question to be eligible to win a copy or two of A Hint of Wicked that Jennifer’s giving away. Come on, let’s chat!

Jennifer HaymoreDUCK CHAT: Jennifer, we have to start with what it was like to grow up on the Big Island of Hawaii! Paradise to us mainlanders, but it has to be different to someone who knows all the ins and outs. Please give us an inside look.

JENNIFER HAYMORE: Hawaii is beautiful, and I’d love to live there again–and probably will someday–but growing up there had its ups and downs. I always felt trapped, like there was nowhere to go (and there really wasn’t!). I think it was sort of like living in a small town and feeling like there was no way out. When I was fifteen I’d had enough and actually moved out of my parents’ house and went to the mainland.

Still, though, Hawaii is paradise. You step off the plane on the Big Island and the humidity smacks you in the face, and you take a deep breath of fresh, clean air, and it smells like flowers. It’s just beautiful. One of the things I miss most about it (probably surprising to most) is the rain—I live in the California desert now, and during the few days it rains every year, I’m in absolute heaven.

DC: You were quite an athletic person while living in paradise. You surfed, learned how to fly plans, raced bicycles, and developed a love for sailing. Is your love of sports natural or was it living in Hawaii that brought it all on? Do you still do any of these sports today?

JH: Well, my dad owned a boat and a plane from the time I was a tiny child. I was born in California and we ended up in Hawaii by sailing there! I think sailing is in my blood. Flying doesn’t come so naturally to me (I think I’ll always be a little scared of being in the air!). I was never a really good surfer, but my sister was, and I love watching her surf. And cycling is such a great sport—I’m trying to introduce my kids to it now.

I think ultimately my love of sports was fostered by my parents. I will always love to sail and cycle—I might be more of a spectator of surfing at this point (my sons love to surf). And I’m not sure about flying. I still waver about whether to finish off my hours for my pilot’s license.

DC: I’ve heard writers often say their stories take them in surprising directions, or dialogue flows from some unknown place. Is it the same with you? Do your characters surprise you sometimes?

JH: Definitely! Sometimes they absolutely shock me! In A Touch of Scandal, the manuscript I’m working on now, the heroine constantly surprises me. She has an inner determination and intelligence I actually didn’t expect her to have, yet she’s more wounded at her core than I planned her to be when I set out to write the book. This gives her an interesting combination of strength and fragility. She’s been a great heroine to work with, and I’m going to miss her when this book is over.

DC: Do you ever argue with your characters while you’re writing? Who usually wins?

JH: I don’t argue with them. I’m a pushover. I coddle and soothe them when they become demanding, and I always let them have their way.

DC: I know it’s one of those questions that has been asked of you dozens of times because you’re a debut author, but tell us about the call! What were you doing, where were you, what was your initial reaction, etc., when they said those magic words?

JH: It was near Christmas, 2007. I was at home working on revisions for one of the publishers who’d expressed interest in the book. I knew something was brewing–I felt it in my bones and I was constantly jittery. A week earlier I was at an RWA chapter meeting/Christmas celebration and I’d told a few of the members what was going on, and I remember my voice was all breathy and shaky–My manuscript was in talks at one house, I was working on revisions for another, and strong interest had been expressed from a third.

When my agent called me…well, it was very surreal! I think back on it now, and it’s like one of those foggy, bizarre dreams. I vaguely recall my agent saying one of the houses had made an offer. I didn’t know what to say…what to do. I think my mouth was moving, but either I was stuttering or nothing was coming out. I’m sure I was completely incoherent. I remember the words “wow” and “no way!” and “are you sure?” but not much more.

The second call came the next day. I was driving to pick up my kids from school. I answered my cell phone and my agent said a second house had made an offer. I was completely shocked. I had to pull to the side and lean over the steering wheel, and all the while, my agent was laughing this gleeful, cackling laugh in my ear.

I drive by that place every day and remember that moment!

DC: What is sure to distract you from sitting down and working/writing?

JH: (1) Email/the internet, and (2) My kids.

DC: Your first book is titled A Hint of Wicked. Let’s talk about that cover. Simply gorgeous. I’m assuming like most authors you didn’t have any input at all with the cover gods? Is this final the one and only that was considered?

JH: My editor did ask me for cover input. She had some conceptual ideas I thought were brilliant, and I sent her some examples of vivid, colorful dresses of the period. There have been some slight modifications (the colors have been brightened, for example), but I was in love with this cover from the first time I saw it. I thought the image of Sophie staring outside at her rose garden (which is actually in the book) was completely appropriate…and beautiful. It just fit!

DC: Now tell us a little about Sophie and her two men in A Hint of Wicked, Garrett and Tristan. Where did the story idea come from and how did it evolve once you started writing?

JH: The core idea for A Hint of Wicked was my husband’s, but it has developed quite a bit from his original “vision,” which was of an enraged husband catching his mourning wife in bed with another man. I latched on to that scenario and ran with it!

As I wrote A Hint of Wicked, I received tons of input from my brilliant editor, Selina McLemore at Grand Central. She really helped me to shape the book into a cohesive story, and I’ve learned so much from her.

A Hint of Wicked

Your special treat, an excerpt from A Hint of Wicked:

The patterned red silk of Sophie’s dressing robe whispered over her skin, light and cool after the warm, heavy brocade she had worn to the party. She’d gone to check on the children, and finding them fast asleep, had kissed them goodnight, returned to her dressing room, and called her maid to undress her. Now she sat, finally alone at her table, drawing the pins from her coiffure one by one, watching in the oval-shaped gilded mirror as the tendrils of honey-brown hair fell away from her tight chignon.

She paused in mid-action as a sudden memory assailed her. Garrett standing behind her, removing her hairpins in the same methodical order, using his fingers to fan her hair over her shoulders. He watched her in the mirror with that stormy look in his blue eyes. The look that reminded her of crashing ocean waves in a storm. The look that said he wanted her.

Sophie curled her toes into the lush ivory strands of the carpet. Dropping the final hairpin on the glossy surface of the mahogany table, she clutched its edge and stared into the mirror, taking deep breaths to regain her composure.

The unbidden memories came less frequently now. She supposed that was natural after so many years.

She didn’t want to forget Garrett. At times, she welcomed the memories, coveted them. But not tonight. Tonight she wished only to think of Tristan, of his long, lean body, his disarming smile, his caresses. The way he’d slid into the mud today to hold her body against his, tight and comforting. The sheer desperation in his expression before he’d realized she was all right.

As if her thoughts summoned him, the door separating her dressing room from their bedchamber swung open. Swiping the back of her hand over her damp eyes, Sophie reached for her hairbrush. She watched in the mirror as Tristan closed the distance between them, sharp as ever in his snug gray trousers and embroidered waistcoat, the gold thread matching the color of his cravat. He’d untied the cravat, and it hung loose about his neck.

“That didn’t take long,” she murmured, smiling at him.

“I came as quickly as I could, love.” He grinned at her, revealing straight white teeth and the single dimple that always had the ability to melt her heart. “Got rid of Billingsly. Even tales of his Egyptian travels can’t entice me when I know you’re in our bedchamber…” a hint of wickedness quirked his lips and sparkled in his eyes in an expression he reserved for her alone, “…waiting.”

As she dragged the brush through her hair, Tristan rested his hands on her shoulders. Long-fingered and elegant, with blunt, clean fingernails, his hands weren’t the only part of him that hinted at his position in society. His face was aristocratic, with clean lines, sharp angles and shrewd, dark eyes. But his refined mannerisms and famed control proved he was of the higher orders. Though he may not have coveted Garrett’s legacy, he suited his new role as the Duke of Callahan.

“How’s your leg?”

She forced a smile. A nasty bruise had bloomed on her leg, but she was thankful. It could have been so much worse. “It’s all right. I scarcely feel it anymore.”

His smile faded as they locked gazes in the mirror. “Ah, Soph…” His voice trailed off, and he must have seen the residual grief in her expression, because the pain in his eyes suddenly reflected her own.

He squeezed her shoulders. “I miss him too, love. Every day.”

Tilting her head to glance up at him, she smiled sadly. Tristan was the one person in the world who understood her loss. He too had lost a spouse. Nancy had died giving birth to their son two years after Waterloo. Though Sophie knew he’d loved her, Tristan rarely spoke of Nancy.

Yet the loss of Garrett was different. Garrett had been gone longer, but he remained a solid presence in their lives—perhaps because they had retained hope for so long.

Tristan was patient with her melancholy. Most men would have despised her for continuing to love a dead man. Most men would have been jealous of her unwillingness to let go of her affection for him. But not Tristan. He knew how much she had loved Garrett, and he never tried to take that away from her.

“It’s just—nights like tonight—” Struggling to order her thoughts, she shrugged helplessly.

She never intended to make Tristan feel inferior, because he wasn’t. He was simply different. When she fell in love with Tristan, it seemed her heart swelled to twice its previous capacity to make room for him.

Still, more than anything, she feared hurting Tristan by clinging so desperately to her feelings for Garrett. If she lost him as she had lost Garrett… The thought was intolerable. If that happened, she wouldn’t be able to endure it.

“I know,” he murmured, as if reading her mind. His lips brushed against her hair. “I understand. I do.”

“I’m sorry.”

He rose to his full height. “Don’t be sorry, Soph.”

She set the brush on the table and stood, twining her arms around his neck. The linen of his cravat brushed against her skin as she pressed her cheek to his solid chest. He smelled like exotic spice, like the eastern countries he was so fond of. “I adore you,” she said. “You mean everything to me.”

His fingers sifted through her hair as he tilted her head to face him. He laughed, but the sound was ragged. “I can’t force you to forget him, Sophie. Hell, I can’t forget him. You know how strongly I cared for him. He was more than a brother to me.”

“Yes.” She tightened her arms around him. “Thank you.”

He nuzzled his face in her hair, his breath hot against her scalp. “We’ve come far, wouldn’t you say?”

Sophie nodded. “Yes.”

They’d come much farther than she ever would have imagined. Their wedding night had been difficult. She’d been shy and awkward, and she couldn’t shake the feeling that she was betraying Garrett’s memory. It was the first time for her since the day Garrett left with his regiment to fight at Waterloo.

But Garrett was gone. Tristan was her husband now, and in the past months, he’d earned her complete trust. In his arms, she’d exposed everything to him, from her life’s desires to her deepest and darkest fantasies. They shared a level of openness and communication she’d never thought to have with anyone.

“There was no need to rush up,” she said in order to change the subject, her voice muffled against his chest. “I would not have begrudged you talking with Mr. Billingsly. I know how you crave news of Egypt.”

“Not as much as I used to. I find myself perfectly content wherever you and the children are. Egypt seems more of a youthful fancy these days.”

His admission stole the breath from her lungs. Tristan was an adventurer, a traveler. His wanderlust had always been a mystery to her. She felt most comfortable at home, either here in Mayfair or at Callahan House in the north. While she’d waited patiently for Garrett’s infrequent trips home, Tristan had explored half the globe. China, India, Madagascar. Jamaica, Ireland, Italy, and America. When he married Nancy, he didn’t stop. Nancy always said good-naturedly that it was a miracle he’d managed to get her with child, he was gone so often.

He’d never visited Egypt, though. When they were children, an Egyptian adventure had been his dream.

She rubbed her cheek against his chest and sighed. “Perhaps I have domesticated you after all.”

A soft murmur of contentment was his only response. His body pressed against her in all the right places, hinting at the pleasure he could give, making her long for his firm touch. She slipped her hands from his neck to his shoulders. Muscles rippled beneath her fingertips, and keeping her fingers light, she skimmed lower, down his back to curve over his behind.

He stroked the slippery fabric of her robe and pulled her tight against him so his erection prodded her belly. When he spoke, his voice was husky in her ear. “Billingsly’s travels couldn’t hold my attention tonight. I kept thinking of you alone up here. Everything pales beside the promise of having you, love. Seeing you, touching you…taking you…”

A Hint of WickedThe way he talked to her, the way he felt against her…there was nothing like it in the world. The blood ran heavy and slow through Sophie’s veins, warming her, making her muscles languid. Her breaths came in shallow little pants. As hard as pebbles, her nipples pushed against the silk of her dressing gown. She sensed the change inside her body as it heated and opened, eager for his invasion.

Sophie reached between them and untied the belt on her robe. The silk slipped off her shoulders and pooled on the floor, leaving her bare. Cool air brushed over her sensitive skin, raising gooseflesh on her legs and arms.

She ran her lips along his jaw, speaking softly. “Make love to me, Tristan.”

Highland ObsessionDC: Any thought of writing in another genre in the future?

JH: I currently write erotic romance as Dawn Halliday. Right now Dawn is focused on a pair of 18th-century erotic Scottish historicals for NAL/Signet Eclipse. The first one, Highland Obsession, releases in August.

But while I’m currently steeped in historicals, I’d never say never to any genre. Who knows what the future will bring?

DC: What advice would you give to your younger self?

JH: Don’t listen to people who tell you English is not your strength!

DC: I read on your site that you brainstorm with your husband and you turn his wild non-romantic ideas into stories of romance. How fun is that. Can you give us an example or two of his ideas?

JH: Heh, one of his ideas was of a hero and heroine having sex through prison bars (!?!??!). That scene never really came to fruition (hehe—maybe someday!), but the concept of a hero imprisoned and being visited by the heroine is part of A Touch of Scandal, the sequel to A Hint of Scandal.

DC: If you had never become an author, what do you think you would be doing right now?

JH: Editing. Maybe acting or teaching. Most likely some combination of all three.

DC: What’s on the horizon for Jennifer Haymore?

JH: I am starting to work on book three, the story of Garrett’s younger sister, Rebecca. After that…only the fates can tell, although I’ve got an idea for a second trilogy stewing in the back of my mind.

Lightning Round:

– dark or milk chocolate?   – Milk
– smooth or chunky peanut butter?   – Smooth
– heels or flats?  -For the last 30 years, I would have said flats, most preferably of the Nike variety, but lately I’m learning the appeal of heels.
– coffee or tea?  –  Coffee…unless I’m already shaky from caffeine overdose, in which case, definitely tea.
– summer or winter?   – Summer.
– mountains or beach?   – Beach (shocking, I know!)
– mustard or mayonnaise? – Mustard
– flowers or candy?  – Flowers
– pockets or purse?  – Purse
– Pepsi or Coke?   —   Coke.
– ebook or print?  – Both!

And because they’re just plain old fun?

1. What is your favorite word?   – I really don’t have one! I like most words.
2. What is your least favorite word?    – Hmmm….maybe “was”
3. What turns you on creatively, spiritually or emotionally?    – Love, friendship, companionship.
4. What turns you off creatively, spiritually or emotionally?    – Mean-spirited people.
5. What sound or noise do you love?    – Waves breaking on a rocky shore
6. What sound or noise do you hate?   – Anything rubbing against styrofoam
7. What is your favorite curse word?    – F**k
8. What profession other than your own would you like to attempt?   – Acting. If I was younger and more talented, Olympic athlete.
9. What profession would you not like to do?    –  Literary agent (Hehe…this is why I have such a huge amount of admiration and respect for my agent!)
10. If Heaven exists, what would you like to hear God say when you arrive at the Pearly Gates?   – “Welcome! I thought you’d never come!”

DC: Thank you for spending the day with us!