Loch Assynt and Ardvreck Castle
One of the places that inspired several scenes in my new release, My Brave Highlander, was the Assynt area of northern Scotland in what is now Sutherland. Ardvreck Castle inspired my Munrick Castle which I placed on Loch Assynt. I did an earlier post about Ardvreck Castle where you can see a few more pics.


The area is hauntingly beautiful and incredibly scenic. Ardvreck Castle sits on a promontory which is almost like a small island. Water from the loch seems to keep encroaching on the narrow walkway leading to the castle.

Sorry this photo ended up a bit tilted. But you can see how the castle seems somewhat scary. This is the mood I used in the scene where I introduce Isobel MacKenzie, the heroine in My Brave Highlander.


 Here you can see the castle ruin from a different angle, from further back on the island. On the right side, in the background you can see Calda House, where the MacKenzies moved after leaving Ardvreck.


The narrow walkway leading to the castle.


The mystical view across the loch from the castle is beautiful.



Another view from the castle but in the opposite direction, toward Calda House. I like to be able to visualize what my characters see when they look out a window.



Another view of the castle from a different position on the island. This is the best preserved portion which makes it easier to imagine what the castle must have looked like when it was in use.


If you click on the two photos below, you can see the on-site signs at a larger size and read about the history of the castle and the area. The drawings of what the castle is believed to have looked like when constructed are interesting.




The road and landscape leading down to Loch Assynt and Ardvreck Castle. The yellow flowered bushes are gorse.

In my story, I attempted to bring this stunning and beautiful area to life. Of course, My Brave Highlander takes place in November instead of May, so visualize snow instead of green grass. :)


Excerpt from My Brave Highlander which takes place in this area:

Gusts of chill wind flung icy snowflakes into Dirk's eyes. After several days travel on galleys up the west coast, he and Rebbie had disembarked at Ullapool. With the strong winds, it had been unsafe to sail further north. Then, they had traveled north on horseback.
'Twas slow going on a narrow footpath through the rugged countryside. He glanced up at the Assynt Mountains surrounding them, their rocky peaks hidden in the low-hanging clouds. Snow blanketed even the lowest slopes in white.
"Is the weather always so inviting here?" Rebbie called out several feet behind him.
Turning in his saddle, Dirk glanced back and smirked. Rebbie had become spoiled in the temperate Scottish Lowlands and England. Snowflakes littered his friend's dark hair. Breath fogged from his mount's nose.
Of course, Rebbie had insisted on bringing his manservant, George Sweeny. He'd wanted to bring two servants but Dirk had to say no. It would've been more difficult for a large entourage to secure passage on a galley.
"I was thinking you were a Highlander," Dirk called.
"I am, indeed. But from much further south."
"Use the mantle's cowl." The plaids and mantles Lachlan had given them had come in handy. The wool over his head would catch the water from the melting snow and hold in the warmth from his body heat. Beneath that, Dirk wore a piece of metal-studded leather armor—because one couldn't be too careful in the Highlands—and a belted wool plaid over his trews.
Rebbie generally dressed like a Lowlander. But now they both had on several layers of clothing, both Highland and Lowland.
Evening was upon them and the temperature was dropping. They needed to reach Munrick Castle before nightfall. The MacKays and MacLeods had ever been allies, most of the time, anyway. He hoped the chief would provide them shelter for the night.
No doubt word had circulated through neighboring clans that the MacKay heir had died several years ago and a younger brother was set to inherit. Dirk wasn't yet sure how he would explain that he was indeed alive.
During his twelve year absence, he'd forgotten exactly how forbidding the weather in the Assynt region could be. If anything, MacKay Country, on the north coast was even harsher.
The trail through the Highlands only handled single file horses and foot traffic. He inhaled the bitter peat smoke trailing from nearby crofters' cottages. What he wouldn't give right now to be sitting beside one of those smoldering fires. The smoke scent blended with the damp air off the nearby bog and frost-bitten plants created a scent that reminded Dirk of his childhood.
When he was a lad, he had visited this area a few times with his father as they had dealings with the MacLeods. Generally, they got on well, but most Highland clans were canny enough not to trust another clan with one hundred percent conviction.
A movement out ahead caught Dirk's attention. What was that? Not a red deer. He thought he'd seen a flash of plaid. The trail turned uphill and passed through low-growing gorse bushes. Someone was hiding behind that boulder.
Dirk stopped and turned. "Rebbie," he said low. "Someone's lurking up ahead."
Rebbie nodded. They both quietly dismounted and withdrew their swords.
"Hold the horses," Rebbie murmured to George. "But if they come out fighting, give us a hand."
George nodded. "Aye, m'laird."
With the wind blowing constantly, Dirk could hear naught above it.
"Who's there?" he called out. "I'm a MacKay, just passing through."
No response. The knave was still hiding. Might be more than one of them. Was this an ambush by highwaymen or desperate outlaws?
Gripping his sword, Dirk sneaked along the trail, trying to avoid kicking loose stones. Rebbie followed a few feet behind.
The wind picked up, whistling through the gorse branches and stinging his face. Good. This would cover any sounds they made, especially since they were downwind of whoever lay in wait between the bushes and rocks. If he could sneak up on them, he could gain the upper hand.
If they were members of the MacLeod Clan, he'd have to assure them he was a MacKay ally. He prayed there hadn't been any clan feuds since he'd last been here. His uncle hadn't mentioned any in his missive, but then his message had been brief and to the point.
Each step took Dirk closer and closer to their hiding place. He held his basket-hilt broadsword at the ready, fully aware two or more men could leap out at any moment.
At last, he reached their hidey-hole and stole around the side of the boulder. Naught but snow-covered heather and low-growing plants greeted him.
Damnation, where had they gone?
He crept forward, down an incline and around a bush. There, two forms in drab plaid huddled, one standing upright, back pressed against a giant boulder, and the other crouched.
Dirk froze, as did the two strangers.
A lass? Dark fierce eyes met his from beneath a cowl, but the face was definitely female and so was the clothing—a long arisaid. Despite her bulky and voluminous clothes, he could tell her shoulders were slender. Her eyes narrowed, and her stance was defensive. He glanced down at her hands, partially hidden in the folds of her skirts, but he did not miss the glint of a dagger clutched in one fist.
His gaze darted to the other figure. Also a woman, but a few years older.
"What the devil?" Rebbie muttered, coming up beside him.
"What are the two of you doing out in this weather?" Dirk asked in Gaelic, his tone harsher than he'd intended. Were they mad? Gloaming was approaching, and the snow and wind would only worsen.
"Leave us be," the lass said, her voice strong.
He exchanged a confused glance with Rebbie. He was surely wondering the same thing Dirk was. Why were they here, far from the nearest village, croft or castle?
"'Tis not safe for two women to be wandering about. Do you not ken of the outlaws and thieves in these parts?" At least there had been twelve years ago, and he doubted things had changed much.
"We're not troubling you, and we have no need of your help. Not much further and we'll reach our destination." The glint of her dagger taunted and irritated him. Undoubtedly, she was afraid of them.
Dirk returned his broadsword to its scabbard. "And where would that destination be? It's been a long while since we passed through a village." And even longer since they'd left the keep they'd stayed in the night before.
"'Tis none of your concern."
Ah. So the lass had an impertinent mouth on her. Even more interesting, she had the speech of the Highland aristocracy, the dialect of somewhere south of here, but Western Highlands for a certainty. He nodded. "Well, I cannot leave you out here in the elements. I'll take you and your companion to Munrick Castle. The MacLeods will help you."
"Nay," she snapped and turned about, helping her friend—or her maid—rise to her feet. "Leave us. We are well."
"We mean you no harm, m'lady." He watched for her reaction to the title.
"I thank you for the offer of assistance, but we have no need of it."
She didn't notice the title, so clearly she was used to being called lady. Aside from that, her speech spoke volumes about her social station. And her status meant he definitely couldn't leave her unprotected in a snowstorm. She would not be as accustomed to the elements as a hardier crofter maid might be. Was she some chief's daughter who'd run away?
"Which clan are you from?" he asked.
"Does that matter?"
"Aye." He always liked to know who he was dealing with. Helping her would no doubt have repercussions.
The shape of her lips and the curve of her jaw line gave Dirk a sense of déjà vu. Though he could tell her eyes were dark, he could not see the shape clearly beneath the cowl and curtain of her dark brown hair. Had he seen her somewhere before?
"Are you a MacLeod? A MacKay?" he asked. Those were the two main clans in the area. But if she was from somewhere further south, as her dialect indicated, no telling which clan she'd come from.
"Nay," she said. Why the devil wouldn't she reveal her clan name at least?
"Are you running from someone?"
She froze, staring at him wide-eyed. That was it. Who was she running from and why?
A sharp gust of wind grabbed her cowl and flung it back, revealing more of her face and long dark hair.
Indeed, she was familiar. Was she someone he'd met during his youth? The familiarity niggled at the back of his mind, tormenting him.
"I've seen you before," he said.
My Brave Highlander copyright 2012 Vonda Sinclair


Thanks so much for checking out my pics and excerpt! What is your favorite area of the northern Highlands of Scotland? Do you enjoy learning what inspires certain scenes or settings in stories?

Vonda
www.vondasinclair.com


BDSM Backlist - Bound by Design
When you read this, I will be in the Finger Lakes, on vacation with friends. I hope to have some pictures and stories to share with you next week. For now, I'd like to share another of my backlist titles which features a BDSM theme.

I was thrilled to be one of three authors whose stories were chosen for Binding Ties, a special call Samhain put out a few years ago. My novella, Bound by Design, was released along with the two other novellas, separately as a download in September of 2009. The next year the print anthology, Binding Ties, was released.


Blurb:

Jenn spends her days crafting custom-designed slave jewelry, but wear a collar herself? No, thanks. Been there, done that, burned the T-shirt. That whole Master/slave scene was too much of a roller coaster ride. Then Scott, an architect with a dominant side, enters her life. Something about him makes her body come alive with longings for another taste of the lifestyle.

Scott’s life fell apart when he tried to deny his dominant tendencies. He’s determined to convince Jenn that denying her submissive needs would be a big mistake. Her response is so strong, so sweet, he finds himself falling again and falling apart for the smart and sexy sub.

Suddenly, something he thought he’d never have seems within reach—a forever love tied up in a nice leather bow. But any mention of 24/7 sends Jenn flying away in panic. If any real healing is to take place, he’ll need to take a giant step back and design a new approach using ropes, chains…and a whole lot of trust.

Excerpt:

He covered her hand with his. “Why don’t you tell me about your experience with bondage?” He slid his hand up and shackled her wrist with his fingers again. “Was it so terrible that you resist it even when your body craves the binding?”

She looked away from him, staring into the shadows surrounding them. She did crave it. The security of the bondage. The freedom of letting go of the control she normally held onto with an iron grip. But she didn’t want to lose herself like she did before. Could she bring herself to admit her experiences with Rob?

He cupped her chin and turned her face so he could study her. “Talk to me, Jenn. What are you afraid of?”

“Losing myself,” she blurted.

“No, you should never be afraid of losing yourself. You’ll find yourself, Jenn, if you surrender to your needs.”

She shrugged and looked down at her hands clenched in her lap.

“What happened?” He stroked her hair, soothing her nerves. “Was it recent?” His voice hardened. “Did someone around here treat you badly?”

“No. It was back in college.”

He cursed. “A boy playing at being a Dom?”

“I guess. But then I guess I was playing at being a sub.” Neither one of them had really known what they were doing. But when it was right, it had been amazing.

“I’m sorry you didn’t have a good experience.” He kissed her softly. “So basically your body responded even though he didn’t treat you right?”

“He didn’t always treat me badly,” she said, but she shivered as she remembered being tied up and left for hours while he got drunk with his buddies. “I think the power trip got to him.”

“A Dom’s first consideration always should be his sub,” Scott told her. He grasped her shoulders with his strong hands. “I want to show you the way it should be. Let me show you how good it can be, Jenn. Give me the weekend.”

Reviews:
"Bound By Design is a sexy novella that will have you squirming in your seat as you furiously flip its pages while two wounded souls find BDSM bliss in each others’ arms." Two Lips Reviews

"It's a delicious story, that will have you holding your breath, smiling a knowing smile during some of the more intimate scenes, and wishing Scott were there with you right then. It was a quick story full of desire that will make you crave just a little bit of naughtiness in your life. Don't miss this book." Veiled Secrets Reviews


"What makes this story is the emotional growth of Jenn. The romance, sizzling sex, great pace and dialog make this a wonderful read. Don't miss this one!" Just Erotic Romance Reviews



Bound by Design is still available for download at the Samhain store or any e-book site. The print anthology, Binding Ties, is also available if you'd like to read all three sexy bondage stories.

Natasha
Plaything - Paolo's Playhouse #4
Silken Canvas - coming Dec 25th
www.natashamoore.com
More on Interviews
Last week I posted about my job interview adventures and thought that, even though my search is over, I would share some of my most memorable experiences whether recent or not. I've learned much about the process, especially how to recognize that I was lucky to not get the job, and I hope that hearing my tales will help someone out who's going through the same thing.

In one of my first job interviews, which I didn't realize was an actual interview, I wore shorts and a camp shirt. It was for a part-time job that I was told I'd already been hired for, and so when the woman in charge of the position called me to ask me to come in to talk, I told her I'd come straight from my full-time job later that day, assuming that I was just going to fill out paperwork. She looked at me oddly when I came in and sat down, and finally, after about her second question and several long glances at my legs, I realized she was interviewing me. I got the job, but it was a big red flag for me that there had been a miscommunication between the two people who were in charge. I worked for the company for a couple of years, and I remember seeing that same woman standing and staring at nothing even when people tried to talk to her. It didn't surprise me that the company folded soon after.

Another time, the woman I went in to interview with immediately began to tell me why she wouldn't give someone like me the job. She was condescending and negative in the guise of being "helpful." She spent an hour recommending books on how I could improve my interview and communication skills, how I could dress better, etc., in a one-sided conversation where she'd repeatedly ask me questions and continue talking whether I answered or not or while I was trying to answer. Basically, by the end she had whittled my confidence to zero, and then she curtly let me know the main reason I couldn't have the job was that my degree, which was one of two that qualified me for the position, was simply not the one she really wanted. Years later, after bumping into several people who interviewed with her, I was relieved to find I wasn't the only person she'd treated this way. Even people she hired suffered similar fates and eventually left her employ because of some of the crazy stuff she did.

This woman wasn't the only person who seemed to take their role as interviewer too seriously. One of the most embarrassing interviews I had was when the interviewer told me I smelled like cigarette smoke and needed to get some perfume. I was humiliated because I didn't smoke and had showered just before going. I found out later he was transferred from his job shortly after that because of his rudeness and lack of professional decorum. I still, though, to this day, worry about how I smell when I go to an interview. I even have my husband smell me, which he enjoys a little too much, to make sure I haven't picked up a stray scent somewhere along the way before I leave the house. On the bright side, after interviewing with him and the woman above, I learned that when interviewers decide to use their time to give you a lecture on why you suck as a human being, you're better off not getting the job.

Sometimes there's more than one person on the other side of the desk. I've interviewed with as many as seven people at once, and this group experience was even more interesting than the others. I realized that it's just as important for those conducting the interviews to have their act together as it is for the person on the hot seat because otherwise they just come across as unprofessional. For example, once I went into a situation where two of the interviewers felt very strongly about the way the job should be done and two held a different opinion. Every question was an either/or question designed to make the job candidate pick a side. It was frustrating that they were so far apart on what they wanted in an employee and totally annoying. I was older by then and didn't take it personally anymore. As a matter of fact, it ticked me off pretty good, especially when one of them kicked me under the table. Apparently, my answer had held favor with the other person in the room that agreed with her; however, as my explanation for the answer went progressed, she must have felt I was losing him, because she kicked me. Hard. Not like accidentally, either. I left there wondering who in the world they would hire, since it would be a 2/2 split either way. Happily, it wasn't me.

Not all my interview experiences have been bad, although looking at what I just wrote--yikes!--it looks like they were. Actually, the last three were fantastic. I ended up getting one job, and the other two interviewers told me at the time and later on the phone that they were really impressed with me and how I presented myself, and they seemed very sincere. So perhaps that which doesn't drive us bonky, at least interview-wise, does make us stronger or smarter in some way.

What about you? Do you have any interview stories to share? Go ahead, it might help purge some of those past interview-from-hell demons and give someone some great tips. Please do share!
Crash and...burn
It's taken me almost a month to write 5k. I'm not surprised. Schools out, my out-of-the-house work schedule has been all over the map, and writing just isn't happening the way it should. But if I stretch my arm out real far and... wiggle my fingers, I can brush my fingertips against the end of this book. I'm that close.

This is the first book I've written from scratch under contract. To say that it's added a bit of stress to the writing process is an understatement. I've got new worries I haven't had before. My editor loved the first book in my MMA series. What if she hates this one? What if she regrets offering me that three book deal? What if this one sucks so bad, she says, "You know, let's not worry with the third one."

Yeah, the doubts are tenfold with this book. And the closer I'm getting to the end, those doubts are increasing. Tommy is so opposite of Dante, which is a good thing. You don't want your heroes to be the exact same. But Dante was so together. Tommy's is a redemption story. The whole rising from rock bottom to persevere sort of thing. I've enjoyed writing the story and watching Tommy grow and reclaim his life.

Here's the problem. I feel like I'm writing a "You're just a big, fat smart bug, aren't you?" ending. (Anyone get that reference? Starship Troopers? Anyone? Anyone? Bueller?) If you do get it, you know what I mean. If you don't, it means a groaning, "Really?!?!" ending.

I think I'm over thinking it. I think the doubts are just getting to me. I want my editor to love this book as much as she loved Extreme Love. Unfortunately, what is happening is I'm on lockdown. I write a few words, scowl at the screen, and delete.Write, scowl, delete.  Over and over again. I'm making no headway toward the end. It royally sucks.

*Sigh* I needed to get that off my chest. Maybe expressing it will open the writing floodgates now. I have a third book to write after this and I hope, hope, it comes easier than this one did, though I know the research is going to be insane with it.

Thanks for letting me vent:)
Abby
New Release! My Brave Highlander
Hi everyone, I'm happy to announce that My Brave Highlander (the third book in my Highland Adventure Series) is out now and available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble and Smashwords. It will be available at other booksellers such as iTunes and Kobo soon.


A man long believed dead, Dirk MacKay returns home to a den of murderous conspirators in Durness, Scotland. Along the icy trail north, he rescues Lady Isobel MacKenzie from a snowstorm. He would never steal the neighboring chief's bride, would he? The tantalizing lady fires up his passions, testing his willpower and honor at every turn, even as some of his own clansmen plot his downfall. 

Reviews: "I REALLY enjoyed My Brave Highlander. Lots of action and sensuality--Dirk is so intense and yet when he's near Isobel the heat crackles and his defenses fall. The scenery is vivid and magical. I felt like I was in the midst of the Highlands, the snow falling and melting on my cheeks. Beyond the sizzling sensual tension (which Ms. Sinclair is an expert at weaving!) the adventurous plot had me on the edge of my seat. And Dirk's enemy--HATED with a passion. Ms. Sinclair has the unique ability to pull an emotional response from her reader on every single page.

Filled with romance, I had a constant smile to my face, I got chills, the whole nine yards! This might be my favorite of all three books in the Highland Adventure series. Well done, Ms. Sinclair--I highly recommend this book! And I can't wait to read the next one!" Eliza Knight at History Undressed

"I loved MY BRAVE HIGHLANDER! An intriguing tale of Love, Loss, Betrayal and heart stopping romance! A story you definitely DON'T want to miss! You gotta love those Highlanders!"  A.L. Snider

Excerpt from My Brave Highlander
(On their journey north, not long after he rescues her from a snowstorm, Dirk and Isobel end up having to spend the night together in a small cottage. He knows that Isobel sleepwalks sometimes.)


"Isobel?" Why on earth would she open the door and allow the winter wind to blast into the cottage, especially wearing naught but her underclothing? Dirk hurried across the room, drew her back and closed the door. "What are you doing?"
Her eyes were open but she wasn't looking at him. Was she asleep?
"Go back to bed, Isobel." With his hands on her upper arms, he gently turned her toward the bed.
She resisted and reached for the door. "Going home."
He could understand that, for he wanted to go home, himself. But neither of them could do that at the moment.
Knowing she wasn't going to obey him, he lifted her into his arms. She was light as a wee thistle flower but not near as prickly. He'd helped her mount the horse a few times, but he'd never held her like this, in his arms with her curvy body leaning against him.
When he turned with her, she giggled. The playful sound wound through his body in a heated swirl of excitement. She slid her arms 'round his neck and held on tightly while he carried her back to the bed. One of her soft breasts rubbed against his chest, only the thin fabric between them. She snuggled her face against his neck, her warm breath teasing his skin.
Arousal surged through him, but when she kissed his throat, he thought he might go up in flames. Saints! He wanted to do the same to her, trail kisses down her throat, untie her smock and… He shook his head, trying to clear it.
Standing by the bed, he remained still, though his instincts raged at him to crush her sweet body beneath his on the mattress.
He drew in a deep breath, fighting to calm his desires.
"Are you awake?" he whispered.
She hummed a sleepy sound and placed another wee kiss against his neck. Restraining a moan, he glanced down at her. In the dimness, he couldn't see if her eyes were open or closed. But she smelled heavenly, like lavender and woman.
Just put her in the bed and leave her be!
He lowered her to the mattress but she did not relinquish her hold on his neck. He knew he should simply remove her slender arms, but he couldn't seem to make himself do it. Her breath tickled his face. Her mouth, no less than an inch or two from his, tempted him, made him crave just one taste.
Surrendering to the enticement, he brushed his lips over hers… silky-smooth warmth. She released a soft moan and pressed her lips more firmly to his. It was a chaste kiss, but the raging need storming his body urged him to make it carnal, compelled him to part her lips and slide his tongue between.
Nay. She's asleep.
Lifting his head, he dragged her arms from around his neck and covered her with the blankets. She protested with a petulant moan.
Damn, she seemed near as needy as he was. But was her need for him, or would any man do?
It didn't matter.
"Go to sleep," he said in a low but firm tone, even though she already was.
She turned over and her breathing deepened.
Saints! That was one time he wished she'd done the opposite of what he said. The sensual feel of her lips was now burned onto his.
Nay. He couldn't have her. He couldn't kiss her. She belonged to another man.
My Brave Highlander - Vonda Sinclair


Thanks for checking it out!! :)
Vonda


Not Going to RWA National?



Romance Divas is an awesome place for romance writers. I've been a member for years and the support and information I get there is unparalleled. The NGTCC has become an annual event and I highly recommend you check it out.

Natasha
Plaything - Paolo's Playhouse #4
Silken Canvas - coming Dec 25th
www.natashamoore.com

Hostess Gifts for a Summer Weekend
Jams - Borough Market, London
Everyone has a social life. If you're lucky, you might be visiting someone's house for a lovely summer weekend.
What do you bring?
First, consider your host's preferences and interests. Not every gift is perfect for every person. Second, don't worry about the price tag. It's not necessary to spend a lot of money to please your hostess. 
Here are some ideas:
-        Interesting non-perishable food items, particularly those which aren't found everywhere. For example, flavored olive oils, imported salts, handmade chocolates, etc. A nice selections of jams as shown in the picture above brings the bounty of summer right into the home.

-        The picture below shows a selection of bottled sea salts, and the names alone tell you how unique this gift would be. The names include: shallots sea salt, mushroom sea salt, fresh truffle sea salt and many other interesting varieties.

-        If you provide homemade food, the presentation is key. Use pretty jars or tins, and interesting ribbons. Once I was attending a Christmas Yankee swap. For the gift, I used a decorated box and wrapped it in netting tied with a ribbon and a sprig of fake flowers (all materials found someplace like Joann's Fabrics). I can't remember what was inside the box, but I remember the gift getting chosen over and over.

-        Board games and their accoutrements make fun and useful gifts. (Be sure your friend doesn't think board games are boredom in a box.) Table Topics is a box of questions on cards. It's a fun way to start conversations when you have a large group. (If you got a tattoo, what kind would you get and where would you put it?) One of the best hostess gifts I ever received was a nice dictionary. We use it all the time while playing games like Scrabble or Scattergories. I always think of my friend when we pull it out.
-        Personalized items are wonderful if you have the time. You can monogram most anything nowadays (ice cream scoop? Yes). Even cocktail napkins with the right initial will be appreciated.

Be careful of these gifts:

  • Food or drink which must be consumed right away (unless, of course, your hostess is expecting it). It makes work for her and may not fit with her plans.
  • Flowers can be difficult if you're attending a large party. They require immediate work (finding the right vase, cutting the stems, choosing a display spot).  
  • Don't ever do this: Bring your own homemade wine! Yes, this happened to me. A guest brought a case of her own wine, wine she'd made somewhere, complete with personalized labels. The wine was undrinkable and presented a huge problem. What to do with a case of bad wine when the giver is right there? Well, I opened 1 bottle and hid the rest. 
A few minutes of thought given to your choice will ensure that your gift doesn't end up as the Trash in someone's Trash or Treasure party.

The pictures are from Borough Market, London, a fabulous fresh food market of individual stalls each selling something different. You can see more pictures from the market here:



On the Job
I've had the dubious pleasure of going through the job interview process this spring and summer, with the most recent experience this last month. It's no surprise, then, that this would be on my mind, and if something is on my mind, then I have to write it about eventually or it just stays in my head and sort of rattles around.

My biggest problem in interviews is my imagination. My mind, if I'm not careful, drifts into scenarios that would not bode well for me getting the job. Mostly this happens when I'm thinking of answers to questions like, "What is one of your weaknesses?" Now, I know I'm supposed to come up with something that indicates I am aware of my own short-comings, because showing you engage in this kind of self reflection is considered a valuable asset in an employee. I have a practiced answer for this, but what I think would be more fun to say would be one of the following:

"Antonio Banderas." (Followed by fanning oneself)
"My biggest weakness is that I hold grudges against people when I don't get a job. Not that you should worry or anything." (Followed by a maniacal grin)
"My abs. I do tummy crunches all the time, but they're still nonexistent." (Followed by lifting blouse to show interviewer where abs should be."

Right now, these don't seem that humorous to me, but when I'm in the actual interview, they seem hilarious because I can almost picture the reactions of the men/women sitting across from me. What would they do? Ask me to leave? Write about me in an article about their weirdest interviews that they've conducted? Who knows? Since I've not broken down and said any of these--I've been a good girl--I'm left wondering.

More on my job interview experiences next week. Happy Reading!
Pinterest
After months of saying I wasn't going to do it, I finally caved and asked for an invitation to Pinterest. Now I have my pin board up and I have no idea what to do with it. LOL.

That's really an exaggeration. I did make five boards, my favorite being my hero inspiration. Yummy. I see that one filling up really quick. God, I love sexy men pictures.

The one issue I seem to be coming across is that unless I have a very specific thing I'm looking for like Ryan Reynolds or Hugh Jackman there is so many pictures to wade through. I put in a search for humor. On one page I saw the same pin reposted like ten times. That doesn't seem right.I shouldn't be seeing repetitive things right?

I love for some of you veterans to give a newbie some tips. I'd also love to hear what kind boards you've created.

One board I'm definitely going to work on is one for each of my books. I'm really looking forward to doing Defying Convention's and searching out stormtroopers and con pics. I'm going to start one for Extreme Love and my following MMA books.

Do any of you have story boards you do WIP or upcoming releases?

What kind of pictures do you include in it?

Thanks!
Esme

Meet the Characters of Eliza Knight’s THE HIGHLANDER’S REWARD
Please welcome our special guest, Eliza Knight, as she talks about the characters from her new release, The Highlander's Reward, first in The Stolen Bride Series. Please leave a comment and your email to be entered to win an ebook copy of this awesome book! Yes, I read it and loved it! :)


It’s always nice to put a face to your characters when writing a story, and I’m happy to give you the faces and some stats of my latest characters in THE HIGHLANDER’S REWARD!

Hero: Magnus Sutherland – Laird of Sutherland.

Stats: 6’4, muscular, tan from the outdoors, sandy colored hair with a hint of red, dark piercing green eyes. Resides at Dunrobin castle.

When I imagined Magnus, actor Chris Hemsworth often came to mind.

Heroine: Lady Arbella de Mowbray of England

Stats: 5’6, lithe, long blonde, blue eyes. Traveling from England to regrettably marry and live in Scotland under orders from the King.

Actress Amanda Seyfried kept coming to mind when I pictured Arbella. She has such perfect skin, large blue eyes and beautiful shiny hair.


About the book…
She belonged to another… But was destined to be his…
Lady Arbella de Mowbray abhors the idea of marrying an English noble occupying Scotland. When she arrives in Stirling, she is thrown into the midst of a full battle between the Scots and the English. Besieged by rebels, she is whisked from her horse by a Highland warrior who promises her safety. But when he kisses her, she fears she's more in danger of losing herself.

The last thing Magnus Sutherland wants is to marry the beautiful English lass he saved. As the laird of his clan, he has a responsibility to his clan and allies. But when Arbella is attacked by one of his own men, he determines the only way to keep her safe is to make her his. A decision that promises to be extremely satisfying.

Magnus brings Arbella to his home of Dunrobin Castle in the Highlands. And that’s where the trouble begins… Their countries are at war and they should be each other’s enemy. Neither one considered their mock marriage would grow into a deeply passionate love. What’s more, they were both unhappily betrothed and those who've been scorned are out for revenge. Can their new found love keep them together or will their enemies tear them apart?

Excerpt…

THE HIGHLANDER’S REWARD, 2012 ©Eliza Knight


An ear-piercing whistle cracked the air. The rebels parted, opening a path. Panting, she had only a moment to catch sight of a behemoth of a man thundering toward her on a great black horse. She’d never seen a horse so large. Nor a man. Goliath himself had come to end her life.
He barreled toward her, his pace not slowing and she kicked her mount to turn in the opposite direction but the rebels held her in place.
He was closer now. Maybe even a leader of these rebels. He too was covered in filth, his eyes wild, light hair flying grabbing the wind as he rode hard, lips curling into a snarl. As he drew closer she saw that his eyes were a brilliant green, like fresh spring grass and new leaves covered in dew. Arbella had never seen such a color. An odd contrast to the grime on his chiseled cheekbones and rough-looking beard. She never expected to see beauty on a demon. Her breath caught and her lungs refused to function. Arbella could not look away. She was amazed, yet frightened by the sight of him. He was from the stuff of fairy tales—not the ones with a happy ending she reminded herself.
Dizziness took over. This must be God’s way of saving her. She would faint before he trampled her with his monster horse.
But that was not the way of it. Instead he swooped in on her, grasped her by the waist and yanked her from her horse. He settled her on his solid lap, still galloping hard as he turned in a circle and headed over the bridge. Arbella bounced wildly in his arms, not sure if she should be more terrified of the man who’d stolen her or the threat of falling from his humongous mount.
Then she knew. The devil would toss her into the river to drown. Although she could swim, but the deep river water was surely freezing and her muscles would tense up refusing to work. Her gown would fill with water and act as a weight dragging her down to the bottom to her death.
Arbella tried to pull from his arms, but he only held her tighter in his steel-like grip. Thick with muscle, his thighs were hard and warm beneath her bottom, his arm heavy, solid against her waist.
“Sit still,” he growled with a deep burr against her ear, his breath tickling her neck.
She slapped her hand on the spot, not understanding why her flesh tingled. She squeezed her eyes shut, willing it all away.

The sound of the horse’s hooves clopping on wood gave way to a softer, squishier pound. They were on marsh grass. Arbella opened her eyes wide. He hadn’t dumped her in the river. From behind she heard a whistle, but she couldn’t see who followed.


“Where are you taking me?” she asked, her voice sounding surprisingly strong for how weak she felt inside.
“To safety.”
Safety? The demon had saved her? In truth, God had an unconventional way of answering prayers.
Available at:  Amazon / Barnes and Noble / Smashwords

Please remember to leave a comment and your email to enter the contest!
Thanks!
Silken Canvas - Official Blurb
Silken Canvas, my next erotic romance novel from Samhain, is scheduled to release on December 25th. A few weeks ago I was able to share the gorgeous cover.


Now I can share the tag line:

He can work with her body…as long as he doesn’t touch her heart.

And blurb:

Brendan Cole burst onto the art scene in a blaze, creating erotic works of art from beautiful women. Recently, though, reviews suggest that his brilliance is burning out. He knows what’s missing—inspiration. He lost it the day his ex-lover and muse, Ashley Mancuso, walked out on him.

Together, they can once again create the erotic images that will silence the critics forever.

When Ashley runs into Brandon at an art gallery, their attraction is as hot as ever. Though she swore to never again take second place to his art, she finds herself agreeing to an impromptu photo shoot. Once in front of his lens, five long years of suppressing her kinky side melts away—and shakes her resolve to keep it strictly business.

One spellbinding session after another makes it impossible to resist talking of fantasies and long-buried desires. But once the images hit the gallery walls, all the fears and insecurities that drove them apart create a rift wide enough for danger to find its way in...

Warning: Contains a sexy, tortured artist, his gorgeous muse, and a string of pearls that creates one very erotic BDSM fantasy.


What better Christmas gift than an sexy e-book in your stocking??

Natasha
Plaything - Paolo's Playhouse #4
Silken Canvas - coming Dec 25th
www.natashamoore.com
Hunks in Kilts! Yes!

Don't you love a man in a kilt? Who looks like this???

I'm writing about jaguars and I need to keep focused here, until I saw...HIM. And then there went my focus. But he's all focused, isn't he! :) On YOU!

*sigh* I can't help it. When a man looks this good in a kilt, and with a sword on top of that...I'm ready to take up with a Highlander!

I know, I know. I'm soooo fickle!

Oh and for great summer reads, at USA Today's Happy Ever Blog here are some great titles!

Have a super great Saturday!



Terry
"Giving new meaning to the term alpha male where fantasy IS reality!"
www.terrys
A Visit to My Garden


Show me your garden and I shall tell you what you are.
Alfred Austin



 Everything that slows us down and forces patience, everything that sets us back into the slow circles of nature, is a help. Gardening is an instrument of grace.
May Sarton




Flowers always make people better, happier, and more helpful; they are sunshine, food and medicine for the soul.
Luther Burbank





I grow plants for many reasons: to please my eye or to please my soul, to challenge the elements or to challenge my patience, for novelty or for nostalgia, but mostly for the joy in seeing them grow. 
David Hobson 




 How deeply seated in the human heart is the liking for gardens and gardening.
Alexander Smith


A garden must combine the poetic and the mysterious with a feeling of serenity and joy.
Luis Barragan


Thanks for visiting my garden! :)
Vonda
www.vondasinclair.com

BDSM Backlist - Smoke and Mirrors
I'm continuing my periodic posts featuring stories from my back list that feature BDSM elements. Smoke and Mirrors released in November of 2009 from Ellora's Cave and is one of my favorite stories.


"Ms. Moore creates scenes that are as spine-tinglingly erotic as they are romantic, and I definitely felt the heat level rise in the room as I read. I Joyfully Recommend Smoke and Mirrors. It's an enchanting, entertaining reunion romance filled with lust, love, and inventive uses for scarves. Simply magic!" Joyfully Reviewed

Blurb:

Love is nothing but an illusion.

Heiress Gabriella Winslow learned that lesson years ago when her magician boyfriend abandoned her, sick and alone, hundreds of miles from home. In the years that followed, she’s tried to forget him and the erotic bondage games they used to play. But the life she’s made for herself since then still leaves her restless and yearning for something more.

Now a successful illusionist, Alexander Black has returned to settle an old score. And to seduce Gabriella. With a blindfold and handcuffs and blood red roses, he entices his former lover and magician’s assistant back to his Las Vegas penthouse. Alex is an expert at smoke and mirrors. If all goes according to plan, she’ll never even know she’s his prisoner.


Here's an excerpt:

Gaby glanced at her reflection in the floor length mirror next to the front door and took a deep breath. She smoothed down her sleek auburn hair and straightened the hem on the short black dress that hugged her curves. She wasn’t going to think about Alex anymore, about the magic they made or the illusions that tore them apart. That part of her life was over.

She met the driver at the door, a short thin man with graying hair and laugh lines around his warm brown eyes. After grabbing her evening bag, she stepped out into the cool evening air. When they reached the shiny limo, the driver cleared his throat. She turned to him.

“My name is Foster. Please forgive me, Miss Winslow, but my employer insisted you wear this.” He looked around as if concerned someone was watching, but she lived alone and the acre of landscaped grounds around her house insured her privacy. She grinned as she wondered what gift Aaron had for her.

Foster opened the rear passenger door and pulled out a padded black leather blindfold.

She gasped. Excited tickles ran through her stomach. She’d expected a corsage or maybe a necklace if he was feeling extra guilty. But this was much more stimulating than flowers or jewelry. Erotic images flashed through her mind, Strong ropes and flickering candles. Wet lips and sweaty skin and moans of passion. Memories she
didn’t want to have, but were strong enough to moisten her panties.

Aaron was full of surprises tonight. Why the blindfold? Maybe he just wanted to surprise her with their destination. He certainly would have no way of knowing the things that used to turn her on.

In her heels, she was taller than Foster, so she simply nodded and bent her head. The diver gently slipped the blindfold over her head. The weight was substantial. The darkness total. A tiny click let her know it was locked on…

“And one more thing, Miss Winslow.” The poor man’s voice was wavering in its apologetic tone. He took her evening bag out of her hand, then grasped her wrist and wrapped a thick cuff, probably padded leather also, around it. He cuffed her other wrist and gently drew her arms behind her and locked the cuffs together. Another click. She should have wondered what Aaron had in mind, but right now she didn’t give a damn. She felt more alive than she had in years.

Her heart raced. How could Aaron know? She’d never indicated to him that she liked anything more than plain, everyday sex. They’d never even talked about bondage in any way. She’d convinced herself that that magical time with Alexander had been nothing but an aberration.

Alex again. Why did he keep popping into her mind tonight? The answer to that was simple. Alex was the only one who had ever tied her up. Who had ever made her feel this way.

”I’ll help you to your seat, Miss.” Foster led her to the limo and settled her into the seat. “Are you comfortable? It will be quite a ride.”

Gaby found if she bent her elbows and tucked her bound hands into the small of her back, she could sit quite comfortably. She kept flexible with yoga classes. She nodded. “I’m fine. Thank you.”

The door slammed shut and Gaby was alone in her darkness. Alone with her bound hands and covered eyes. Alone with her thoughts and memories and questions about her past and her future.

Or was she alone? A faint scent, strangely familiar, drifted by. Was Aaron sitting somewhere in the deep expanse of the long limo? Did he get off by watching her being bound by someone else? The limo started and loud, heavy music throbbed through the speakers near her head.

“Hey!” she called out. “Are you in here? What are you up to? Where are we going?”
When there was no answer, she felt rather foolish. What was she thinking? It didn’t make any sense. Surely if he’d been here, he would have met her at the door. He would have placed the blindfold and cuffs on her himself. There was no reason he’d pretend not to be here.

She was alone as the limo glided through the streets of Los Angeles.

The heavy beat of the music matched the pounding of her heart, throbbing in her ears, traveling through her body. Tingles of anticipation, curiosity, longing, danced along her skin. Where was he taking her? What would they do when she got there?

She hadn’t worn a bra tonight and when her nipples beaded, they rubbed against the dress’s stretchy fabric. Need prickled the sensitive nubs and she rocked her shoulders, trying to relieve the itch. It didn’t help. If her hands hadn’t been cuffed, she would have tugged on them herself. But that was one of the reasons for the bondage, wasn’t it?

Longing. Need. Frustration. Anticipation.

She and Alex used to do that all the time. Tease each other to the point of desperation. She shifted in her seat, trying to relieve some of the tension there as well. But of course it did no good.

Long ago, she’d buried the memories of her two short years with Alex so deep, he rarely crossed her mind anymore. It was the roses and the bondage that made her remember.

And ache for what might have been.

No, it never would have lasted. It had all been an illusion. Alexander Black was now the greatest illusionist in the world. And he’d practiced on her.


If you enjoy a little bondage with your romance, you might want to check out this sensual story. It's only $1.49 on Amazon and Barnes & Noble.

Natasha
Plaything - available now
Silken Canvas - coming Dec 25th
www.natashamoore.com
Happy Fourth of July!






Happy Fourth of July to all my American friends!! 

What's everyone's plans for today?

For me, I'm going to take the morning to write before the chaos of the day sets in. And it's going to be a busy, busy day once noon rolls around. Preparing for a cookout is time consuming, and we're taking it easy this year and going the hamburger and wienie route.

Do you have a specific food you cook on July 4th or do you do the typical cookout fare? 


Makes you hungry, doesn't it? LOL. Yeah, I'm being mean, but if it makes you feel better, I'm starving as I write this, so I'm just torturing myself. 

I love getting together with my friends and cooking out, but my favorite part of the 4th are the fireworks. Our city puts on a great show. We normally pack up the cars around 7:30 and go in search for our spot. Everyone is flooding the downtown area around the same time and traffic is horrible. But I have cop friends, lol. We've been shown the secret area. It's the perfect spot to watch the fireworks. I mean perfect. No building obstructing your view--just a large flat area covered with grass. I have no idea how no one but a few seem to know where this place is. I guess those who do know are like me and refuse to share the secret.

We take blankets, drinks and snacks out there and just relax until the show starts..and then it does. As soon as those colors start bursting in the sky, I'm immediately a kid again. Clapping over ones that seem to skip through the air. Ohhing over the ones that zigzag across the sky. Ahhing over the ones that shoot high into the air then disappear only to explode into a fountain of color.

There is something magical about fireworks.

Happy 4th everyone!!
Esme


Durness as a Setting in My Brave Highlander
I’m just finishing up my new book! It’s always fun and exciting to finish a story and get it out there for readers. My Brave Highlander is set mostly in Durness, Scotland, in winter. I’ve visited Durness twice and loved it each time. But during writing my story, I’ve felt like I’ve visited Durness every day for the last several months, which is awesome. Yes, it is cold and windy. It has always been windy in Durness the times I’ve been there and the weather tempestuous and harsh. But I still love it! Durness has some of the most beautiful and fascinating scenery. It is wild and untamed. The beaches are gorgeous. If you read my story, which will be released in a few weeks, these are some of the settings I’ll describe, but keep in mind things will often be snow covered. I'll admit this is an extreme setting for me but it was wonderful creating it.

Balnakeil Bay at sunset with Faraid Head in the background

The beach at Balnakeil Bay and the church.
 In my story, the above church ruin is new. And you will have to imagine a huge stone castle where Balnakeil House sits. :)


Sango Bay
 I don't have any scenes set at Sango Bay, but it is such a beautiful place, one of my favorites in Scotland.
Balnakeil Church and wedding photos on the beach

Sango Bay

Ceannabeinne Beach 

The waterfall in Smoo Cave

 I have an important scene set in Smoo Cave so it was great to have visited it. I didn't get to take a boat ride in the second chamber like those in my story. I had to use my imagination. :)
View from Smoo Cave toward the sea

View from the hill or cliff above Smoo Cave. It's a steep descent.


Smoo Cave

Ceannabeinne Beach - Durness

Waves in the wind at Sango Bay

I didn't have any good videos of the area but I found these on YouTube.



 

 My story is set in 1618, so the hero doesn't ride a bicycle. LOL But he has been out to Faraid Head numerous times when he was a lad. In fact, one of the important, life changing events for him happened here.

 


This one has some stunning photos on a rare sunny day.
 

I hope you enjoyed these glimpses of Durness!
Thanks for stopping by!
Vonda
www.vondasinclair.com

Trip back from RomFest 2012
Last week I shared some pictures from RomFest 2012, where I was able to spend a few days talking romance with readers and authors. Last week my hubby and I took a slow trip from eastern Tennessee back to western New York. I thought I'd share a few more pictures with you.

We stayed at a campground in Pigeon Forge, not far from where all the action is. While I was at the Glenstone Lodge in Gatlinburg, Hubby learned his way around the back roads and checked out the Titanic museum and did a little shopping. There was an Old Mill that houses a restaurant and a store. And was a popular subject for photographs.


The campground bordered Patriot Park.There was a walking trail around the park and while enjoying the campground and the green space in the park, it was hard to believe how close we were to traffic packed highways and a crowded shopping area.


In keeping with the patriot theme, there was a patriot missile on display.


And a rendering of the Liberty Bell.


We had a very uneventful trip back. After the trip from hell last year, that was a real relief. On our way back home, we stayed at a rustic campground in the Shenandoah Valley.


I didn't shriek like a little girl when a fat black snake slithered by me. No, I didn't get a picture of it. I was too busy catching my breath. This campground had a unique way of dealing with the inevitable bugs that plague campgrounds in the middle of the forest. A flock of chickens peck their way through the bushes and campground, feeding off the insects.

I'm back home again now, dreading going back to the edj, and looking forward to digging into my current work-in-progress.

Hard to believe after looking forward to it for so long, my vacation's over! So anyone else taking a trip this year?

Natasha
Plaything - available now
Silken Canvas - coming Dec 25th
www.natashamoore.com


  • Defended by a Highland Renegade

    Defended by a Highland Renegade
    Vonda Sinclair, 12/1/16

    In the Court of Love and Loss

    In the Court of Love and Loss
    Jenna Ives 11/15/16

    A Very Jaguar Christmas

    A Very Jaguar Christmas
    Terry Spear 10/4/16

    Choose Me

    Choose Me
    Natasha Moore 9/24/16

    Taken by a Navy SEAL

    Taken by a Navy SEAL
    Carly Carson 9/5/2016

    Alpha Wolf Need Not Apply

    Alpha Wolf Need Not Apply
    Terry Spear 5/3/16

    Conqueror Vanquished

    Conqueror Vanquished
    Leigh Court, 4/26/16

    The Viking's Highland Lass

    The Viking's Highland Lass
    Terry Spear 4/4/16

    SEAL Wolf In Too Deep

    SEAL Wolf In Too Deep
    Terry Spear 2/2/16

    Covert Cougar Christmas

    Covert Cougar Christmas
    Terry Spear 12/18/15

    Her Royal Mistake

    Her Royal Mistake
    Natasha Moore 8/20/15

    Her Royal Rendezvous

    Her Royal Rendezvous
    Natasha Moore, 10/5/14

    The Cottage Next Door

    The Cottage Next Door
    Natasha Moore, 9/16/14

    Playing For Real

    Playing For Real
    Natasha Moore, 2/4/14