Hungry HeartWhen you’re thinking about a romantic dinner, or maybe just the romance of food in general, barbecue probably isn’t your first choice. Barbecue was originally blue collar food, or sometimes even no collar food. You don’t put filet mignon into your smoker, needless to say. You put cuts of meat that are so tough they need all day over the coals to break down and become delicious.

Even now, when barbecue has achieved a kind of cult status among regional food, you don’t think of it as something you’d fix when you want to inspire passion in your sweetie (unless it’s a passionate argument over the presence or absence of tomato-based sauce). But barbecue is also a way of life for some cooks, both professional and amateur, and it was that fact that I wanted to talk about in my eighth book set in Konigsburg, Texas: Hungry Heart.

My heroes are both passionate about ’cue. One, Harris Temple the Barbecue King, cooks barbecue professionally, selling it off his truck in downtown Konigsburg. The other, Chico Burnside, is an amateur pit master who’s come up with his own sublime recipe for pulled pork. Harris and Chico decide to join forces on a competitive barbecue team (yes, there really are competitive barbecue teams—lots of them), entering Konigsburg’s first Fourth of July barbecue cook-off.

Of course, Harris and Chico both have Significant Others who complicate things. Harris’s girlfriend is Darcy Cunningham, sous chef of the Rose restaurant, who’s a lot more skilled in professional cooking than he is. But when it comes to barbecue, Darcy’s newbie, and a sarcastic newbie at that. Chico’s true love, Andy Wells, has a barbecue background of her own, but it’s bittersweet. Andy’s ex-husband was a competitive barbecue cook and his devotion to barbecue (along with his own “winning” personality) broke up their marriage.

It’s these four people who make up the barbecue team and provide the romance. Because when you’re doing things together, even if those things involve brisket and pork loin, romance can flourish. Here’s a quick excerpt:


He lifted his hand, brushing the hair back from her temple with his fingertips.

Not a good idea. You shouldn’t get involved here. But all of a sudden she couldn’t exactly remember why she shouldn’t.

He leaned forward slowly, maybe giving her a chance to run. A chance she wasn’t going to take. His lips brushed hers, lightly, as his hands cupped her face. He rubbed his thumbs across her cheekbones, dark eyes watching her carefully.

The flecks of green had deepened, making his eyes even darker now. She leaned forward, placing her hands on his shoulders, bringing her mouth against his more firmly. The contact seemed to send an arrow of heat through her body, making her nipples ache, her pulse warm again.

His mouth opened against hers and she let him inside, rubbing her tongue against his, feeling it rasp against her teeth. She sucked his lower lip for a moment, nipping him lightly, hearing the catch in his breath.

His hands dropped to her breasts, cupping, then rubbing them, his palms brushing her nipples to hard points. She felt cool air against her back as he pushed her shirt up, his fingers fumbling with the catch on her bra. His lips drifted down the side of her throat, leaving a trail of heat as he did.

She pushed his shirt up, running her fingers through the slight dusting of hair across his chest, then down along the ripple of muscle over his stomach.

His hands cupped her breasts, pushing the bra aside. He leaned down, taking one nipple into his mouth, sucking, his tongue laving the aching peak.

Somewhere behind them something beeped loudly. Porky came awake with a woof.

“Shit.” His hands dropped to her hips, his forehead pressed against her breasts. “Shit. Fuck. Goddamn.”

“Timer’s beeping,” she muttered. “And Porky’s awake.”

He nodded, his forehead still resting on her collarbone.

“Fire’s ready. And you’re behind with the meat as it is.”

He raised his head to look at her. “I didn’t plan this.”

“I know.” She wasn’t entirely sure what he meant—the timing with the meat or the timing with the two of them. She brushed a hand across his cheek, pushing his hair back from his face.

“I don’t want to stop.”

“I don’t either.” She slid back a few inches, moving her hands to his shoulders. “But like you once said, barbecue waits for no man.”

“Shit,” he repeated. “Caught in my own trap.”

Hungry HeartHungry Heart, my eighth book set in Konigsburg, Texas, will be released by Samhain Publishing on March 25. There are some familiar characters along with some new faces, and a whole lot of information about barbecue.

Here’s the blurb:

Hungry Heart

Peace, love, and barbecue—with a big order of sexy on the side.

Konigsburg, Texas, Book 8

Sous chef Darcy Cunningham is less than entranced with small-town Konigsburg’s obsession with barbecue. But her future career as a chef de cuisine requires expanding her culinary horizons, so she talks the Barbecue King, a.k.a. Harris Temple, into taking her on as his apprentice.

However, learning Harris’s professional secrets wasn’t supposed to include falling for his spicy blend of smoky sexiness and laid-back charm.

Chico Burnside specializes in flying under Konigsburg’s small-town radar, but lately life has been going a little too smoothly, even for him. Hoping to shake things up a bit, he talks Harris into teaming up for Konigsburg’s first barbecue cook-off. But once shy scientist Andy Wells catches his eye, Chico’s got more on his mind than brisket. Like enticing her out of her shell to show her just how tenderly a big guy can love.

As the competition ignites, so does the romance. Until a natural disaster threatens to derail Konigsburg’s dream team before the grills even get good and warmed up.

Warning: Contains hot sauce, hot sex, and a whole lot of smokin’ action.

Happy Medium Is Here

Happy Medium“You know it is a good book when you do not want it to end and that is what it was for me.” — Gigi Staub

“Happy Medium was a terrific conclusion to the Medium Trilogy, although I’m very sorry that it’s the conclusion.” — Book Pushers

“A sexy builder, a smart, sensitive researcher and a naughty ghost. Terrific fun!” — CayoCosta

Happy Medium, the third book in my Ramos Family Trilogy, is now available at the usual outlets. All three of the Ramos Family books feature reluctant mediums, siblings who were previously unaware of the family legacy of communication with the dead. The hero in Happy Medium is Ray, the youngest sibling who specializes in home renovation. That’s a good job to have in San Antonio’s King William District with its historic houses. But the house Ray is working with this time has all kinds of problems, including a very nasty ghost. Here’s the blurb:

Love is good for the soul… unless it’s one that you’re trying to exorcise.

Ray Ramos has a problem–the King William District mansion he and his business partner purchased for a fast renovation needs more work than expected. Ray could use a quick infusion of cash. Enter Emma Shea, assistant to Gabrielle DeVere, the star of American Medium. Gabrielle is looking for San Antonio houses to use for her televised séances, and Ray’s fixer upper seems to fit.

When Gabrielle does a sample séance, Ray and Emma become the target of a touchy ghost with no respect for boundaries. After Ray learns his family has a special affinity for ghosts, the two decide to investigate the haunted house. It doesn’t hurt that Emma is immediately attracted to the laconic Ray or that Ray is intrigued by the buttoned-down beauty who seems determined to hide her considerable assets behind sober business suits. But can the two of them fight off a vengeful succubus bound to the house while getting a lot closer than either of them planned?

Amazon | Barnes and Noble

The other two books in the series are Medium Well and Medium Rare. For those who’d like to catch up, here’s a little information about both of them.

Medium WellMedium Well

Love At Second Sight

Real estate agent Danny Ramos has always had a knack for selling homes, but when his boss saddles him with a neglected carriage house, Danny discovers that his abilities are more than simple intuition…

On his first visit to the house, Danny is confronted with visions of a violent murder. His assistant, Biddy Gunter, doesn’t seem affected, and Danny starts to think he’s going crazy—until he gets a visit from his mother, who suggests that Danny’s uncanny talent to sell old houses may stem from his family inheritance: psychic empathy.

When Biddy reveals to Danny her own strange dream about the carriage house ghosts, they team up to investigate and discover both the house’s dark history and their own unexpected attraction. But as the hauntings turn from unsettling to downright dangerous, Danny and Biddy need to figure out how to rid the house of its ghostly inhabitants, before their budding romance meets an untimely end…

Amazon | Barnes and Noble

Medium RareMedium Rare

There are no skeletons in her closet…only ghosts

Rose Ramos was a reference librarian, until she inherited her grandmother’s house—and the family talent for connecting with the other side…

Moving into the lovely Victorian in San Antonio’s King William District is a dream come true for Rose—and also a nightmare. That’s the only explanation she has for the man hovering above her bed. But Skag is a ghost who’s been part of Rose’s family for generations. And now he’s all hers.

When Evan Delwin, a reporter out to debunk the city’s newest celebrity, posts an ad looking for a research assistant to investigate a famous medium making his home in San Antonio, Skag suggests that Rose apply for the job. Delving into the dark side has its own dangers for Rose—including trying to resist Delwin’s manly charms. But as the investigation draws them closer together, the deadly currents surrounding the medium threaten to destroy them all…

Amazon | Barnes and Noble

Love, Sort Of

Love, ActuallySo this is the tenth anniversary of Love, Actually, the British ensemble film that’s become a Christmas staple for a lot of us. I’ll go on record here as being a fan—I find the film funny and touching and ultimately charming. I’d much rather watch it than a lot of Christmas movies (::cough:: Miracle On 34th Street ::cough::). But as is the way with cultural phenomena, when a lot of people like something, you’ll eventually start getting pushback. Christopher Orr slammed Love Actually in the Atlantic. Lindy West went after it with a metaphorical hatchet in Jezebel. Other people weighed in with negative comments.

The thrust of all these bad reviews is basically that Love, Actually is over-rated romantic tripe, and that people who like it are sentimental dummies. For those of us who occasionally fall for romantic comedies, these are familiar arguments—most romantic comedies get hit with nasty reactions at some point. But it seems to me this argument misses the point. It’s not a question of whether Love, Actually is good or bad. The question is why a critic feels called upon to go after people for liking something he/she doesn’t.

Criticism serves a purpose—a good critic can illuminate why something works or doesn’t work. But there’s something about this ex post facto criticism that grates. In a sense these critics aren’t so much analyzing the movie itself as they’re analyzing and dismissing the people who happen to like the movie. It reminds me of something William Goldman once said—snobby people can never really like anything because they’re afraid some even more snobby people will say, “Oh, so that’s the kind of thing you like.” In effect these critics are sneering at the movie’s fans: “How can you like something so puerile? Allow me to kick it to pieces to show you how mistaken you are in your bad taste.”

It isn’t just Love, Actually that gets hit by this kind of reaction. Pick a movie you like and do a quick search. You’ll usually find somebody who’s quite willing to tell you it sucks. Love Casablanca? Silly you. Some Like It Hot? Nope. Pauline Kael, that doyenne of movie critics, seemed to specialize in this kind of movie fan bashing at times, as witness her dismissal of the wildly popular  Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.

Love, Actually has a lot of admirers too, but it also has a lot of people who don’t like it. The important question is So What? So what if you don’t like a movie? Why should that mean you need to go after those who do? If you think you can convince them to dislike the movie, let me assure you that’s not going to happen. The idea that you can somehow persuade someone to dislike something they admire or like something they hate by giving them your own detailed hatchet job is sort of ludicrous.

Believe it or not, I don’t much like The Sound of Music, and I’m willing to bet I’m not alone in that opinion. Does that make The Sound of Music a bad movie? Nope. It just makes it a movie I don’t like very much. You are within your rights to like or dislike anything. But that doesn’t mean you get to make that decision for everybody else, or to make fun of those who don’t share your opinion. That’s not being a critic, that’s being a crank. And Lord knows we already have more than enough of those!

So if you haven’t seen Love, Actually, I invite you to check it out. And make up your own mind. It really doesn’t matter which critics like it and dislike it. What matters is your opinion. In the end, in fact, when it comes to choosing what film to see, that’s all that really does matter.

Christmas Greetings!

Happy Holidays To All

Fearless LoveFearless Love, my seventh Konigsburg book, is now available in print from the usual outlets.

All of my Konigsburg books include animals. I’m not sure how this happened, it just did. Starting with a diabolic cat and a sweet-natured Chihuahua in Venus In Blue Jeans, I had a greyhound in Wedding Bell Blues, a mostly coon hound puppy in Be My Baby, a largely Maine coon cat in Long Time Gone and Don’t Forget Me, and an iguana named Doris in Brand New Me.

When I got to Fearless Love, the choice was already clear, and so, as it turned out, was the animal. Chickens. My heroine, MG Carmody, inherits a chicken farm from her grandfather. MG doesn’t have much else she can depend on in the way of income—she’s a struggling singer trying to regain her confidence after some bad experiences in Nashville. So she decides to sell eggs. And I had to find out how you raise chickens.

Fortunately for me, Denver (where I live now) had just passed an ordinance allowing urban farmers to raise a few chickens in their backyards. All of a sudden chickens were in the news, and it turned out I actually knew a few people who were raising them. Plus Denver wasn’t the only city in the country where people had decided that having backyard chickens was a good idea. I found Web sites galore with loads of chicken information.

So what did I learn? All sorts of stuff. Hens usually lay only one egg a day and they may not come through every time (so my heroine’s twenty-five chickens wouldn’t necessarily produce twenty-five eggs). They don’t lay while they’re molting, and they stop laying altogether when they age (two to three years). This creates all kinds of dilemmas for the soft-hearted urban chicken farmers who can’t bring themselves to do what traditional farmers do with aging hens—make chicken soup. I also found out raising chickens is a lot of work, which fit in with my story. Between her job in a restaurant kitchen, her reborn music career and her chickens, MG is frequently exhausted.

Although most of the chicken authorities cautioned against naming your birds (you don’t want to get too attached), I decided that I’d have at least one chicken with attitude, a rooster named Robespierre. He has a run-in with a coyote and the result is based on a similar story I picked up from a chicken blogger (yes, Virginia, there are chicken bloggers).

MG finally triumphs, with the help of my hero, Joe LeBlanc, a chef who turns out to know a lot about chickens himself. And I’ve now got enough information about chickens to know for sure that I’m not going to be raising them myself any time soon!

Here’s the blurb for Fearless Love:

Fearless Love, Konigsberg, Texas, Book 7

Sweet music doesn’t come without a few sour notes.

MG Carmody never figured her musical dreams would crash against the reality of Nashville. Now the only thing she has going for her is her late grandfather’s chicken farm, which comes with molting hens that won’t lay, one irascible rooster, and a huge mortgage held by a ruthless opponent—her Great Aunt Nedda.

With fewer eggs to sell, MG needs extra money, fast. Even if it means carving out time for a job as a prep cook at The Rose—and resisting her attraction to its sexy head chef.

Joe LeBlanc has problems of his own. He’s got a kitchen full of temperamental cooks—one of whom is a sneak thief—a demanding cooking competition to prepare for, and an attraction to MG that could easily boil over into something tasty. If he could figure out the cause of the shy beauty’s lack of self confidence.

In Joe’s arms, MG’s heart begins to find its voice. But between kitchen thieves, performance anxiety, saucy saboteurs, greedy relatives, and one very pissed-off rooster, the chances of them ever making sweet music are looking slimmer by the day.

Warning: Contains hot kitchen sex, cool Americana music, foodie hysteria, and a whole lot of fowl play.

Buy link: http://store.samhainpublishing.com/fearless-love-p-7011.html


My Secret Identity

Meg Benjamin

Photo by PJ Ausdenmore

Okay, I admit it—one of the things I love to do whenever we go traveling is shop. More specifically, I love to shop for things like lacy tops, silk ruanas, or vests made from vintage kimonos. I’m a sucker for anything funky and slightly romantic, which a lot of vacation spots have in abundance.

But every once in a while, I’ll see a sales lady watching me with a particular expression I know well. And I know exactly what she’s thinking: Honey, you’ll never wear that. Because, of course, she’s seeing the everyday me. The slightly older, slightly heavier, slightly bland woman who looks like everybody’s Aunt Margie. And it’s quite true that Aunt Margie would probably never wear that lace overblouse, although it might hang in her closet for decades.

But here’s the thing—I’m only Aunt Margie most of the year. Believe it or not, toots, I also have a secret identity.

Two or three times a year, I get to wear those imaginative duds among crowds of other women who are a lot like me. We all save our most fanciful clothes for those times when we’re sitting behind tables at RT or RWA, signing our books and smiling at all and sundry. A few times a year I morph into Romance Writer, and I love doing it.

So let this be a cautionary tale for all those oh-so-superior sales ladies who are convinced that older women never get to wear cool clothes and that we might as well confine ourselves to knit pantsuits the way we’re supposed to. You never know what magic lurks within each of us. Maybe we’re actually somebody else part of the time. And maybe getting a chance to wear those wonderful things at writers conferences has emboldened us to wear our secret identities at other events as well. Maybe we sometimes break out that sequined jacket for Sunday services. Maybe that hand-painted ruana will be perfect for our niece’s commencement ceremonies. And maybe that purple velvet cape will see service at next year’s Christmas party.

You never know.

So let us buy what we want, and save the stink eye. You really never know—someday you too may be looking at those knee-high suede boots and thinking, “Yeah, I could do that at Authors After Dark. No problem.”

That is, of course, if you’re lucky enough to have a secret identity of your own. And this being the holiday season, in which rancor is out of place, I’ll wish that for you. May we all have secret identities we get to dress up for. At least once or twice a year.


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