Archive by Author

Everything Old Is New Again

3 Sep

by Kiersten Hallie Krum

It’s here again. The official end of summer and the start of the marathon run to the end of the year. Pools are closing. Barbeques are having they’re last hurrah. Commutes are once again clogged with cars. Kids are back in school. My Facebook feed is full of my friend’s frustrations and exasperation with their kids school lists and classroom requirements, followed soon by proud first-day-of-school pictures.

But while Labor Day is one last rest before that metaphorical rush to the finish, this time of year also offers a chance at new beginnings. New seasons of fall sports. New teachers and potential classmates. New work challenges in our day jobs. We may be leading the same lives, but every new season is alive with possibilities. Full with the chance for everything old to be new again.

Power up, ladies!

Anyone who has been in publishing for five minutes knows the constant change that happens in this industry. Flexibility is key and reinvention, common. What remains are good writing and great stories, whether under a different publisher or even, sometimes, a new name.

Last week, Lady Smut author Isabelle Drake shared the exciting news of how her previous released cowboy romantic comedy, Cowboy for Hire, once published by the now defunct Ellora’s Cave, is available again through her new publisher, Riverdale Ave Books.

T0day, it’s my distinct pleasure to share with you the news that my novels, the award-winning Wild on the Rocks and its follow up, SEALed With a Twist, will be republished this Septemer.

Earlier this summer, the powers that be at Amazon decided to close the successful Kindle Worlds program under which my novels were published. As it turns out, this was the best thing that could happen. Both novels will now be available on *all* digital platforms. But wait, there’s more! They will also, for the first time, be available to international readers. But wait, THERE’S MORE. They will also, for the first time, be available in print!

I KNOW!

 

I am super thrilled to be able to share these wonderful stories with so many new readers! These stories have traveled far and wide with me, through some significant life deviations and personal heartache. They have taken me on an adventure I never expected and its on-going. Come celebrate with me at the New Jersey Romance Writers Put Your Heart in a Book annual conference, October 19-20th. I love to meet readers in person and especially those who meet and laugh with us here at Lady Smut.

The only thing constant is change, they say. And the only thing to do with change is to make it work for you. With the change of the seasons comes the opportunity to reexamine and reinvent. To make something old, new again. I hope you’ll celebrate this change with me this fall and share with me some of what may be changing with you, dear readers, as well. Come take another wild ride with me–perhaps, for the first time.

Writer, singer, editor, traveler, tequila drinker, and cat herder, Kiersten Hallie Krum avoids pen names since keeping her multiple personalities straight is hard enough work. She writes smart, sharp, and sexy romantic suspense. Her award-winning debut romantic suspense novel, Wild on the Rockswill be available this September. Visit her website at www.kierstenkrum.com and find her regularly over sharing on various social media via @kierstenkrum.

 

Achievement Unlocked!

22 Jun

Here at Lady Smut, we talk a lot about women. We talk about women’s bodies, women’s sexuality—we talk about women’s sexuality a lot—women’s relationships, women in the media, women’s issues. We’re particularly passionate about women’s issues. To do this, we’re personal and vulnerable to you, our readers. We share from our hearts, from our own experiences, our hurts and disappointments, our joys and triumphs. We share our dreams and fantasies. There is no surefire way to know the heart of our dreams than to read our books. The deepest meanings of the stories we tell reveals the heart of each of us.

Maybe not our entire heart, mind you. That would be a bit much, even for the Interwebs.

My story has been changing rather dramatically for several years now. I’ve been on a personal journey of health and wellness. Not health and fitness, though fitness is a large part of the journey. Health and wellness. Being well physically and emotionally, reclaiming parts of myself, parts of being a woman, that I had long resigned myself not to expect in my own life. I looked at my life and saw unhappiness and sorrow. A life unfulfilled. Arrested. A life I was physically unable to fully live. I wanted to stop saying “I used to do” and get back to saying “I’m doing” or better yet, “I did.”

So I did.

Because everything these days requires a hashtag, I hashtagged this journey #BringingMeBack.

Hello rower, my old friend. I’ve come to curse at you again.

And, well, it’s been a struggle, I won’t lie. It’s been expensive. Helluva expensive. It’s required me to do things waaayyyyy outside of my comfort zone. It’s forced me to trust people, something I don’t do easily. It’s made me have to get over and past myself time and time again. It’s ebbed and flowed, started and restarted and then started again. I failed repeatedly. I’ve refocused and reexamine and reframed.

This year, that reframing meant a huge investment of time, energy, and hard, hard work.

I joined a CrossFit gym and committed to a 12-week “Transformation Program” that along with an exercise regimen and weekly weigh-ins, includes a meal plan adapted to my medical needs.

Kettle bells. Ah, yeah.

Been there. Done it.

What is CrossFit? Here is a snippet from the definition on crossfit.com

CrossFit is constantly varied functional movements performed at high intensity. All CrossFit workouts are based on functional movements, and these movements reflect the best aspects of gymnastics, weightlifting, running, rowing and more. These are the core movements of life. They move the largest loads the longest distances, so they are ideal for maximizing the amount of work done in the shortest time. Intensity is essential for results and is measurable as work divided by time—or power. The more work you do in less time, or the higher the power output, the more intense the effort. By employing a constantly varied approach to training, functional movements and intensity lead to dramatic gains in fitness.

Basically, you’re working your ample ass off. The beauty is that the workouts can be modified, not changed, but adapted, for any physicality—or in my case, lack thereof. I have arthritis everywhere. Name a joint, it’s inflamed at one point or another. There’s no cartilage in my knees, and a slipped disc in my back that sometimes sends shooting pains down the front of my thigh.

I am not, by anyone’s definition, an athlete.

So, this was an enormous, often painful challenge, and it continues to be so. Fitting the program into my whacky day job schedule means me, the avowed night owl, getting up at 5:30 AM every morning but Sunday to take a 6:30 class that stretches me to my limit physically and mentally. My coach made me cheat sheets every morning that modified the warm ups workouts everyone else was doing to my abilities while not compromising the quality or intensity. I kept every sheet and constantly pushed myself to increase weights at appropriate intervals and keep pushing forward. Happily, I can say I now no longer need, nor do I get, my cheat sheets anymore as, with only a few modifications, I can now keep up and do every movement along with the rest of the class.

And I absolutely love it.

Battle ropes. It’s all in the name.

I completed the 12-week program last Saturday. This week I ate my weight in chocolate chip cookies. (Not really, but it felt that way.) The next morning, I got back at it. Again. Because I committed to this, full stop, and that means getting right back on that painful horse.

And not just with CrossFit either.

I was thinking this week about what this means for me, practically and internally. It means I pushed myself physical on what has come to be a daily basis. They say you are your own worse critic, and I take to that philosophy like a life motto.

Boy. Howdy.

And that hasn’t changed. I look at my progress pictures and don’t see a tighter ass or strong arms or reduced belly, but the unevenness of my legs, the wobbly lines in my thighs, the bulges under my arms. I’ll never be able to look at my image and not see the flaws. The faults.

I look at my writing, my publishing career, and I don’t see an award-winning debut novel or the successful follow-up novel, but the long-delayed, as-yet-incomplete proposal on which I can’t seem to get any traction. The fact that I haven’t written a word in months. The feeling that this too like so many other good things in my life before, might only be for a short time. But, if I can challenge myself and push myself to physical achievement in CrossFit, starting over again when I stumble, why can’t I apply that same determination and focus to my writing projects?

That’s the next journey. Challenge that mind set years in the making that I can’t or I shouldn’t and tell it to fuck off and get out of my way. In the gym. In writing.

In life.

That’s what we do as women. We start again, over and over again. We march for the same issues decade after decade (unfortunately). We have the second, third, or more child. We go back into the work force…again. We pick up. We move forward. We go on.

We bring ourselves back over and over and then one more time again.

Achievement. Unlocked.

 

Follow Lady Smut. We’ll bring you back every time.

Writer, singer, editor, traveler, tequila drinker, and cat herder, Kiersten Hallie Krum avoids pen names since keeping her multiple personalities straight is hard enough work. She writes smart, sharp, and sexy romantic suspense. Her debut romantic suspense novel, Wild on the Rocksis now available. Visit her website at www.kierstenkrum.com and find her regularly over sharing on various social media via @kierstenkrum.

Springing Forward: EXCERPT From Sealed With A Twist

30 Apr

It’s hard to think “Spring” with blizzards in April. But tomorrow is May Day and, here at Lady Smut, the upcoming RT Booklovers Convention puts more than a spring in our step. Occasionally, we skip. Once we even skedaddled, but I’m pretty sure wine was involved. But we’re sure ready to leap over the next three weeks and get going to the mad cap, crazy, bookapolooza hootenanny that is the RT Booklovers Convention, that yearly gluttony of authors and the readers who love them.

Lady Smut’s own Elizabeth SaFleur and Isabelle Drake will be represent in Reno at RT, once again headlining last year’s wildly popular “Never Have I Ever Ever” game, that sexy tell all of all the naughty things we’ve never done…and the naughtier ones we have.

You know you wanna know…

Meanwhile, back here on the home front, since I’ve been out of the loop for a few weeks, I wanted to re-introduce myself to the many lovely new readers who’ve joined us here at Lady Smut. My January post, Dating Apps and Ghost Dicks, vented my frustration with the incomprehensible juvenile behavior of said ghost dicks, but one thing dating apps have taught me is the succinct introduction–which, for a motormouth like me is saying something.

Available exclusively from Kindle. Click on image to buy!

Hi there. Welcome to Lady Smut where we know what we like! I’m Kiersten Hallie Krum and I like to write award-winning, very sexy, romantic suspense novels. I like dive bars and live music and guys who…whoops, sorry. Went into autopilot there for a sec.

Right. Fictional meet cutes. Not real ones. Gotcha.

My heroines are sexy, self-rescuing smart asses and my heroes are smokin’ bad asses who often carry guns and do things that make their ladies (and readers) go “ohhhhh”. I love reunion romances and second-chance romances, which means both of my books, Wild on the Rocks and SEALed With a Twist fit one of those categories.

My debut novel, Wild on the Rocks, won the 2016 Reward of Novel Excellence (RONE) award from InD’Tale Magazine for Best Romantic Suspense Novel:Short. Reviewer Between My Bookendz called the follow-up novel, SEALed With a Twist, “well-written, engaging and plotted to perfection…but what really makes it stand out to me is that this author tackles a serious topic such as PTSD with candor without losing the romance and suspense that centers this book. Plenty of humor and witty banter.”

But hey, books are subjective: one reviewer may like a book, while another reader thinks “are you high? that book sucked!” You’re a Lady Smut reader. Clearly you have discerning tastes in your reading choices–tastes you prefer to determine for yourself.

 

I hear ya, sisters (and bros), and I want to give you what you like. That’s what we do here at Lady Smut. So keep reading for a steamy excerpt from my latest release SEALed With a Twist. Remember, if you’re in or near the Reno area, don’t miss Lady Smut at the RT Booklovers Convention for some naughty “Never Have I Ever” fun.

And follow Lady Smut. We know what you like too.

Look! A blurb!

Available exclusively from Kindle. Click on image to buy!

Debutante. Heiress. Lady. 
Skylar Thornquist has been called them all. But when her family insisted she stand as bridesmaid at her sister’s wedding to Skye’s ex-fiancé, she rebelled, drowning her public humiliation in tequila and a one-night stand of carnal debauchery with Grant Sisti. To escape her family’s iron grip, Skye now hides out cleaning toilets at the Casa Blanca Resort & Spa, masking her breeding and identity under a dye job, heavy makeup, and a smattering of fake tattoos while she tries to discover which label sticks to her best.

Doctor. Joker. Warrior.
Navy SEAL Grant “Twisted” Sisti has been them all. But since he failed to prevent the violent death of his teammate six months ago, Grant isn’t sure he can be any of those men anymore. He’s back at the Casa Blanca Resort & Spa for his best friend’s wedding, but Grant knows he’s reaching the end of his rope. A state that isn’t improved by finding the help swimming naked in his private villa’s pool.

Skye never thought she’d get caught skinny dipping by the man who got her through her worst night. But this Grant is a different man than the one who lit up her world back then. And though it takes him too long to remember her, Skye is drawn even more to the wounded warrior than she was to the charming lover.

Grant is fascinated by the puzzle Skye presents, the debutante who cleans toilets and speaks like a queen. She’s the first thing he’s had any interest in since his friend’s death, the first woman in a long time to see the man before the SEAL.

They never expected to find each other again on Barefoot Bay, both hiding from who there were, both wondering who they should be. Until Skye’s identity is compromised and the Thornquist iron grip gets a stranglehold on her new life…only this time there’s a Navy SEAL by her side.

SEALed With a Twist EXCERPT:

The sunset-timed wedding meant full dark had fallen by the time Grant made his way down the path that would take him around to his rented private villa. A private villa called Artemisia of all things had been reserved for Quinn and Jasper on his dime—his wedding gift to them—along with a sleek pleasure cruiser down at Mimosa Harbor, should the couple ever make their way out of the bridal chamber. What the hell was Grant sitting on obscene amounts of wealth for if not to spoil his friends on special occasions?

He preferred to ignore the fact that he was heir to a robber baron fortune with a trust fund bulging at the seams from interest rates alone. The money wasn’t who he was, a lesson he’d learned early under his father’s strict hand. He used it for start-up funds for his practice and then again years later to buy his place on Coronado and a sports car, two rare outright indulgences. Otherwise he left it untouched, collecting percentages and adding zeroes to the bottom line without any direct effort from him. He set up some charities, enough to keep his soul from going completely black, and got quarterly reports from his money manager that he read religiously so he couldn’t get swindled. Otherwise, he liked to forget it was there. He led a life a Navy salary could afford and left only a chosen few the wiser as to his net worth. Even Jasper didn’t know how deep the Sistanovich pockets went.

And Grant liked it that way.

He strode down the paver-stone, tree-lined path to Blue Casbah villa. The resort owners had put together one hell of a resort, steeped in Moroccan ambiance while remaining Florida flavored, particularly in the foliage. He’d plundered more than a few luxury hotels around the world during the wastrel years before he broke away from the familial herd. Few could compare to the lush environs of Casa Blanca Resort & Spa.

Grant rolled his shoulders as the villa came in view. Each step away from the reception felt like a year off a dead man’s reprieve. He was a shit for bailing on his friend. He knew it. He’d make up some explanation for Jasper if he asked for it.

His mobile pinged with an incoming text alert. Speak of the devil.

Sit rep.

Even being the best man Grant ever had the privilege to know or fight beside, Jasper McQueen could be a serious pain in his ass.

Grant exhaled audibly through his nose and typed out a reply.

Fuck off.

Don’t talk dirty to me on my wedding day.

A wry smile twisted Grant’s mouth. You wish.

Quinn wants to start the dancing. needs you for the congo line.

Congo line? Christ, more staid tradition from edgy Quinn. Next, she’d want him to start the chicken dance, after which lay only madness and binge drinking.

Sorry man. got a better offer.

He had zero offers, but that wasn’t for Jasper to know on his wedding night. Grant had tried burying his emo fallout in the easy pleasure of the SEAL bunnies, but too many of those hookups started to ring empty and he needed no help there.

Now, it felt like too much effort to bother trying.

His phone pinged with Jasper’s reply. You bailing on my wedding?

I wasn’t there for the first. you won’t miss me at the second. Should know what you’re doing by now without me holding your dick. He reread the text, then backed it up to replace “dick” with “hand” and sent it before he could berate himself for wussing out.

There was a longer pause this time before Jasper’s reply arrived.

You need me, brother?

Grant’s throat got tight. He’d do it, Jasper would. He’d put a word in Quinn’s ear and slip out on his own wedding if Grant gave him the slightest signal. Jasper’s well of responsibility ran that deep, but more, he was that good of a man—and a friend. He had Grant’s back, no matter what, and for that very reason Grant couldn’t let him know how fucked up his head had become.

Nah. You’re relieved from wingman duties tonight.

I ask to be relieved?

Yeah, when he transferred to SOCOM. That was a little too on point for comfort. Been doing without you six months now. Think I can manage another night.

Another long pause, then, Don’t piss me off, Twist.

Don’t ask stupid questions. And stop dicking with my mojo. Dance with your wife.

He turned off the phone to avoid Jasper’s reply and unlocked the villa with a card and a faint regret for the lack of a hard key in his hand. Some asshole decided to shove inside the room behind him, be tough to mount a defense with this flimsy piece of plastic.

The default to combat readiness reassured Grant. Not that he expected to stumble upon violent crime here—recent Russian mob experiences notwithstanding. But with so many things getting past him—first that maid, then Quinn’s too-close-for-comfort téte-a-tête—it was good to see his edge might be wavering, but it could still cut a bitch.

Quinn’d been right; men like him and Jasper were always on, which is why Grant automatically scanned the villa’s interior like it was a tango’s lair. A light had been left on in the living area and another over the kitchen sink so that an ambient haze hovered over the main rooms. He noted the fruit set up on the island block before breaking off to clear the bedrooms and baths. Satisfied no one else had breached the perimeter, he re-booted his phone on route to the patio. Surely, by now Jasper had been distracted away from bugging Twist.

His phone immediately blew up with Jasper’s missed message.

Even through the flat, emotionless language of a text, Jasper’s words were resolute.

You will brief me on what this shit is about.

Grant snorted. Like that was gonna happen. He pulled back the wide glass doors that led out to the patio and pool before typing out, Whatever, man. Kiss quinn for me.

The reply came quick. Fuck off.

And now they were back on the easy ground where Grant was most comfortable. It was his job to dig into the emotions of his team, to make sure their heads were in a place where they could continue to complete their duty.

Damned if he’d have any of them, even Jasper, do the same to him.

He let Jasper keep the last word and tucked his phone in his back pocket as his foot tangled in a pair of shorts left in a pile on the pool deck.

The hell?

His gaze tracked along to land on a matching golf shirt. He could just make out the Merry Maids logo in the glow of the pool lights.

Gatecrasher. He kicked the shorts up with his toe and snatched them out of the air.

“Fucking brilliant.” He was in no mood to deal with this shit. Feelin’ too much today already, watching Jasper and Quinn get their happy ending, dealing with Putter, working to keep that devil-may-care attitude at the forefront so his friends didn’t zero in on the shit messin’ with his head.

Failing at that if his conversation with Quinn and Jasper’s text messages were anything to go by.

Was it too much to ask for a quiet night swim followed by more tequila and a morning filled with the headache of regrets and good booze? Instead, he had to deal with some reckless townie looking to take advantage of the abandoned villa.

He looked beyond the shirt and the muscle in his jaw clenched when he saw the bra and panties discarded at the edge of the deep end.

A girl townie.

Fantastic.

Time was, he’d view this as a chance to end his night with his favorite kind of happy ending. Now, he was only annoyed at having to rustle some kid out of the pool before he could get back to drinking.

The sound of steady splashing caught his attention. He lifted his head in time to catch a glimpse of arms cutting through the water with smooth, sharp strokes.

Her body had length, most of it in the legs that kicked rhythmically in time with her arms, calf muscles cut in relief. Her head tilted for her to take a breath, eyes shut, the oval shape of her face perfectly bisected by the water like a Carnival half mask. Grant’s eyes tracked down to the equally round and, it had to be said, pert shape of her bare ass with tight cheeks he guessed would comfortably fit in each of his hands.

She reached the end of the pool and executed a perfect underwater flip that set her feet in precise location to launch into another lap. The floor lights in the pool illuminated the gleam of her body as she undulated for near half the pool’s length before breeching the surface with the sharp bob of a breast stroke.

Emphasis on breasts, plural, as both globes were revealed to Grant’s growing admiration. The SEAL in him admired her skill. She was an amateur but a damn good one who knew to move with the water rather than against it. Not many amateurs figured that trick out, instead thought swimming was a battle to tame the water to their form. Most never learned the truth.

There was no taming the water. Not in any form.

The man in him was far more intrigued by her other captivating assets. Grant felt a ripple of interest he hadn’t felt in months. He crossed his arms and settled in at rest to enjoy the show.

She was halfway through the return lap when she finally tagged him. Immediately, she floundered, getting a good swallow of pool water as she did, which led to an epic bout of choking while she got her feet under her.

Fixed on him, her eyes bugged out wide, but the pool light now put her face in shadow, hiding their color. Her once fluid limbs locked tight on the water’s surface, with an air of shocked embarrassment that told him she wasn’t accustomed to being naked before strangers.

He liked all that said to him.

’Cept he wasn’t in the mood to tangle with a moonlit mermaid. “You’ve got some nerve, sweetheart.”

“Holy cats,” she managed between coughs. “You’re not supposed to be here.”

“Sorry to disappoint, but pretty sure I paid for the privilege.” His gaze swept over her, clinical and without any admiration. “Don’t remember checking off the ‘naked water nymph’ perk on the reservation.”

“It’s –it’s only—” A final harsh gurgle cleared her throat. “It’s only offered to Gold Star members.”

Her cheek made him fight a grin, which only made him more aggravated. “Hafta remember to thank management for the upgrade when I report you.”

That took care of her cheek. “You can’t do that,” she whispered.

“Think you’re wrong there, nymph.”

Something odd flashed through the shocked embarrassment in her face. Odd and…familiar.

His vision narrowed to pinpoint on her features. Her wet hair left her face stark and that whisper of warning teased the back of his neck again. The one that’d saved his life countless times in the field. The one that told him he’d missed something important.

He felt it, but didn’t get it, so he got pissed. “Tell me your name”

She started at his bark. “N-no.”

Her refusal surprised him. He wasn’t used to being disobeyed, and the only thing that kept his temper in check now was that she looked as surprised by it as him.

Her eyes tracked past him to where she’d left her clothes. It was the new angle of her head that finally clicked an image in his head.

“You’re the maid who snuck behind me while I was on the phone.”

Her shoulders rolled back, chin tilting with an arrogance he’d expect from his Yankee, blue-blooded mother, not a housemaid at a Florida beach resort. “I hardly ‘snuck’. Now if you please, kindly turn your back so I can get out and leave you to your evening,” she ordered, all traces of embarrassed guilt gone.

Grant found himself fighting a grin. “You’re not exactly in the position to make demands, nymph.”

She turned that rigid shoulder to him, exposing plump side boob and a very nice back whose spine was ramrod straight. She swished her way to the edge of the pool where she’d left her clothes—which were now at his feet.

Despite her demand to turn his back, her nudity seemed not to bother her at all. Once at the side of the pool, she looked up, fingers curling around the rim, and, fuck him, his dick finally dialed in to take acute notice, rousing despite her breasts being out-of-sight crushed to the wall.

Her legs kicked idly in the water, muddying his view, but he’d seen enough to know she’d be worth the time and effort—if he was in the mood to make either. Well, parts of him were in the mood, but it’d been a long time since he’d been led around by his dick. One tempting water nymph wasn’t going to make him revert.

“You going to stand there staring all night or are you going to report me?”

More cheek. He really didn’t want to like this woman.

“Probably. If you were a little nicer, maybe you could talk me out of it.”

He waited for the sharp reply, eager to hear what snooty rejoinder she’d aim his way. Any other woman would’ve cut and run by now, especially when he was deliberately being this much of an outright asshole. But something about this woman made him brace.

Good plan, too, since his water nymph contemplated him from below and then shocked the shit outta him by flattening her hands on the cement edge and hoisting herself out of the pool. A whoosh of water and there she stood, naked and without a hint of shame.

Water dripped down her chest and over her high, pert breasts with nipples raised to points by the cooler air. Down the concave slope of her belly and over the natural flare of her hips and the vee of her exposed sex to pool around her feet on the asphalt. She was almost a foot shorter than him, but her height was mostly in her long thighs and curved calves.

He wanted his hands on those hips, his mouth on those breasts, and those lithe legs wrapped tight and high on his back as he sank inside her. He felt the pull of her expectation and somehow wrenched his eyes from the feast to the no less bounty of her face. When she caught his gaze with what had to be the bluest eyes he’d ever seen, the perfect bow of her mouth curved into a smug, Cheshire smile.

“How much nicer do you want me to be?”

 

Kiersten Hallie Krum writes smart, sharp, and sexy romantic suspense. She is the award-winning author of Wild on the Rocks, and its follow-up, SEALed With a Twist. She is also a past winner of the Emily Award for unpublished novels.

A member of the Romance Writers of America, the New Jersey Romance Writers, and the Long Island Romance Writers, Kiersten has been working in book publishing for more than twenty years in marketing and promotion. At other times in her career, she’s worked back stage for a regional theater, managed advertorials for a commerce newspaper in the World Trade Center, and served as senior editor for a pharmaceutical advertising agency.

Writer, singer, editor, traveler, tequila drinker, and cat herder, Kiersten avoids pen names since keeping her multiple personalities straight is hard enough work. Born and bred in New Jersey (and accent free), Kiersten sings as easily, and as frequently, as she breathes, drives fast with the windows down and the music up, likes to randomly switch accents for kicks and giggles, and would be happy to spend all her money traveling for the rest of her life. Find out more about Kiersten and her books on her website www.kierstenkrum.com

Altered States With Altered Carbon

19 Feb

With Altered Carbon, that great god of television glory—aka Netflix—has once again launched a binge-watching worthy series that’s smart, sexy, mind-boggling, bloody, engrossing, and, honestly, a total mind fuck. It crosses genres, subverts expectations, and sucks you in like damn and wow. It’s science fiction and romance and film noir and cyberpunk and futuristic and murder mystery and cop show and conspiracy action thriller all at the same time. It’s Max Headroom’s violent, sexual, mind-bendy grandchild. (Appropriately so then, Max Headroom himself, Matt Frewer, shows up for two episodes as Carnage, who runs a real death cage fight.)

Carnage

Welcome to Altered Carbon.

The world of Altered Carbon

WARNING: there will be mild spoilers ahead. I’ll do my best not to ruin the Big Reveals, because they should be experienced organically to properly appreciate the storytelling. But no promises.

THE STORY: In a cyberpunk future, the consciousness of every human being is now downloaded into a hard drive, called a “stack”, that is stored at the base of the skull on the brain stem. The body, now called a “sleeve”, has become merely the shell that encases the “soul stack” of a person. This means a person only truly dies, known as “real death” or “RD”, when the stack is destroyed, like a gunshot directly to the stack. It also means people can live for hundreds of years, changing sleeves along the way.

It’s all in the bag

If the sleeve dies, a stack can be dialed up into a new sleeve, the person therefore inhabiting a new body. A person’s original body can be kept in cold storage while his or her stack is stored elsewhere, for example, when a man is imprisoned, he essentially “goes to sleep” for hundreds of years while his sleeve goes on ice. However, there’s no guarantee that sleeve won’t be used by someone else in the interim and possibly killed while being used, so that when you’re dialed up, it may not be into the sleeve in which you were born. Race, gender, height, weight, health—it’s all a lottery now. You get what you can afford. This is the same for damaged sleeves if you’re attached to your existing reflection. If your arm is injured and can’t be saved, you can get it replaced with an upgrade, bionic arm in moments—if you have the credits. People can also dial up “dead” loved ones, especially if those loved ones are “coded” not to be re-sleeve after sleeve death for religious reasons, and have them live again if, perhaps, not in the same sleeve in which they’d led their lives. (This makes for a hilarious re-use of a biker gangster as a Spanish grandmother and a Russian mobster.)

People can also “double sleeve”, essentially copying their stack and downloading into two different sleeves at the same time. While technically illegal, when you live forever and have unlimited wealth, the sky’s the limit. Literally so, if you’re one of the super rich.

Hundreds of years old, these “Meths” (aka Methuselahs), live far above the common man in sky palaces. Their wealth enables them to grown clones of their sleeves and constantly download themselves over the years into new sleeves that match their birth sleeves. They have a system that regularly uploads their consciousness into back-up drives that protect them against real death. They’re untouchable demi gods to which the lower classes only dream to rub shoulders against.

And one of them has just been murdered.

Enter Envoy detective Takeshi Kovacs who has been in stasis for 250 years and was just woken up by industrial magnate Laurens Bancroft (James Purefoy) to solve the man’s murder. From the moment he awakens, Takeshi is plague by the attentions of Detective Kristin Ortega (Martha Higareda), a bad ass cop with a jones for catching Bancroft in what she is sure are corrupt and nefarious dealings—if only she can prove it. She also has a deeper connection to the sleeve Takeshi now inhabits, one that deepens the stakes for them all.

Tak was once a super soldier for the police force that menaces the outer worlds. When he’s betrayed by the unit to which he’d dedicated his life, he becomes an Envoy, a revolutionary operator with scary potent observational and investigational skills. Envoys were renown for being able to be dropped in on any world, into any situation, and quickly adapt and manipulate the environment and the people to their own ends—until they were betrayed and wiped out. Tak then became a mercenary, one who eventually was apprehended by his former commander, earning him a sentence of hundreds of years for his crimes.

Until Bancroft wakes him up.

Once an idealist under his battle scars, Takeshi has awoken to a world he doesn’t recognize, on a different planet than the one he was on when he went to sleep, and with the people he loved long lost to real death. He is now a grumpy tool only in the job for himself and the promise of a fortune and his birth sleeve as a reward for solving Bancroft’s murder. Except Tak can’t fight his true nature, the core of him that still cares no matter how much he protests to the contrary. And the list of people worming their way into his circle of protection keeps growing…whether he likes it or not.

Clearly, there’s a LOT going on in the ten episodes of Altered Carbon. And fan as I am of the series, it I have to admit, it ain’t all good.

THE BAD STUFF:

While the show runner on this one is a woman, that doesn’t mean, in a Game of Thrones world where rape is an acceptable plot device, there isn’t a lot of violence and nudity in Altered Carbon. There’s a whole hopping lot of both, though violence prevails most of all. This includes a naked fight scene a la Viggo Mortensen in Eastern Promises, where Ortega engages in a bloody knife brawl with a number of cloned sleeves. This is one case of nudity in Altered Carbon, though, where the nudity is designed to be empowering and deliberately used as a manifestation of the character’s head self-perspective and how she sees her body as a tool, rather than objectifying her for the male gaze. For more on this, check out this interview with actress Dichen Lachman about that scene and her character, Rei, who is the naked combantant. Be warned, it includes series spoilers galore.

There’s an argument to be made that the prevalence of nudity stems not from producers’ desire to curry favor with permanently adolescent fans boys, but rather an outgrowth from a society that has made the human form an interchangeable commodity. How can modesty persist when your body may be interchanged with another’s at any time?

Sexy times for the sake of sex.

And yes, the violence is such that it may as well be another character in the cast. This is a world that uses virtual reality, where time has no constant, as a means of torture. Here, one can kill a victim over and over again in the most brutal and bloody of ways including chopping off limbs and removing innards, all virtually but while being connected to the physical body’s pain receptors, only to start a new VR session and begin again for a seemingly endless amount of time. A sleeve holds no inherent value; there are instances in Altered Carbon where people fight to the sleeve death for the promise of a sleeve upgrade as a reward. Naturally, that makes for an inherently violent world.

For a show with so much female bad ass representation, it’s still driven by a moody, growly, maladjusted white man, one who all the women he comes into contact with want to bone, no matter how badly he treats them. It’s a film noir construct, the Bogey hyper masculine hardliner disdaining all the Bacall femme fatales that rotate into his sphere but banging them nonetheless. Even in a futuristic society where the consciousness can be transported from form to form, women are still portrayed stuck in the past.

THE GOOD:

THE MAIN CAST:

Joel Kinnaman, late of The Killing and the forgettable Suicide Squad, anchors Altered Carbon with his big presence. Seriously, the guy is huge and his normally beanpole form is ripped and cut and beautifully bulked out for this role. Hoo. Shah. He broods and grumbles and bad asses through the entire series, but he also brings out Tak’s tortured sweetness, an idealism that even 200 years of cold storage hasn’t fully frozen out of him. It keeps popping up to conflict him when he wants to be a cold, ruthless operator, but he can’t quite keep his heart from getting in the way.

As Ortega, Martha Higareda plays the perhaps typical cop with a mission, but she does it by distaining a typical approach and instilling Ortega with a man’s attitude and vocabulary. She doesn’t play a lady cop; she plays a cop and has an attitude that would do John McLain proud. Ortega takes on the unlikeable heroine mantle with pride and spews ferocity and anger and complexity all over it.

James Purefoy, a personal favorite in everything he does, oozes through his scenes with smarmy confidence, exuding the charm and power of the wealthiest man on several planets, sprinkled with the comfortable arrogance of someone who genuinely believes himself to be a god. As in the TV series Rome, his…erm…talent is on display here, including The Purefoy, as I like to call it, once again making a casual on-screen, full-frontal appearance. No, I did not hit the pause button, nor did I screen cap it, and I’m sticking to that.

But truly, the one who steals the show is Chris Conner as Poe.

Once Tak accepts Bancroft’s case, he embeds himself at The Raven, a hotel run by an AI (artificial intelligence) named Poe, as in Edgar Allen. Poe hasn’t had any guests for hundreds of years, due to the AIs reputation of getting obsessively attached to their guests. Tak genuinely couldn’t give a shit about this and sets up shop at The Raven. Good thing too as Poe almost immediately proves his worth when Tak is attacked before he can even register as a guest.

Poe is an absolute delight. Snarky, smart, sweet, ruthless, loyal, dedicated, and oh so funny, he’s the land-locked sidekick/valet/butler Tak’s been missing in his life. Alfred to Tak’s Great Detective. As an AI, he’s tied to The Raven, but he can move about in VR (and does) and adds a rich depth and complexity to what’s nominally a bunch of ones and zeros. For a programable entity, he’s the most human and most humane one of the bunch.

THE ROMANCE:

Yes, there is romance. As mentioned earlier, Ortega has a prior connection to the sleeve that Tak is put into, which takes the idea of a love-triangle and really fucks with it. But Tak is also nursing a broken heart from this lost love, and his hallucinations, a side effect of being re-sleeved, keep her front and center in his journey. As Tak and Ortega get closer and the complexity of their connection deepens, the emotional risks of their relationship add texture and stakes to the on-going mystery and the threat of the enemies stacking up against them. It’s no surprise that in the end, Tak’s big heart, and not only for Ortega, is nearly both their undoing.

Sticking close together.

THE MULTICULTURALISM:

Altered Carbon, like Max Headroom and Firefly and Blade Runner before it, builds its world on an Asian heavy multiculturalism. Set in a re-envisioned San Francisco, called The Bay, there are flying cars and neon signs and prevalent blinking screens that never turn off, pummeling the eyes with images and adverts that recall pretty much every science fiction show of the last 20 years. People speak all kinds of languages and understand one another. There’s no Farscape-esque universal translator either. Ortega speaks to her partner in Spanish and he replies in Arabic. There are subtitles; we can read them. There is no spoon feeding required. Tak’s Japanese/Croatian lineage speaks to the show’s inherent multicultural nature too, even if the tone-deaf move of folding an Asian character into a white man’s sleeve stomps all over that same multiculturalism with a pair of Kovacs’ combat boots.

THE STORYTELLING:

The storytelling is complex and deep, but so well paced. Nothing is revealed too soon, but once the revelation is made, one can look back and see the layers being laid in past episodes. That’s bloody hard to do and especially in a visual platform as rich as this show where there’s always something to see on the screen, nothing is wasted, no image thrown away in building the rich texture of this show. One of the appeals of the Harry Potter franchise from a craft perspective is how deftly Rowling plots the series over the length of the seven books; events happen in book five for which Rowling lays the groundwork in book two. Altered Carbon does that too, enough so that when I finished the series, I wanted to immediately watch it again so as to see those touchpoints again, this time with the benefit of foreknowledge of what was to come.

Accompanying this deep plotting and detailed planning is a respect for its audience that is rare to find in entertainment today. In Romancelandia, writers often debate the idea of dumbing down our storytelling, our writing, in order to reach a wider audience, a significant percentage of whom may not have a large vocabulary or an extensive reading and comprehension ability. I deal with this a lot in my day job where much of which we’re producing needs to reach an incredibly large audience, as in millions of people, whose lives may depend on being able to read and comprehend our message. As a writer, I think it’s my job to enhance my stories with complex writing, words that enrich as much as the story they form. If my readers have to look up a few words, then I’ve done my job right. (This is much less an issue in historical romance where a certain complexity of phrase and flowery language is expected.)

Altered Carbon doesn’t dumb down to its audience. The show presents complex word-building from the outset and it doesn’t waste time spoon-feeding the audience as to the nuts and bolts of things. We are plunged right into the muck of things and as the show presses on, it expects its viewers to keep up or catch up. That’s not to say it doesn’t give us a map; the trope of dropping someone new into the situation as a proxy for the audience is used in episode one to bring us all up to speed, but the information we need is parceled out as part of the storytelling without any recapping or “As you know, Bob,” retreads along the way.

THE IMPLICATIONS:

Nearly a week after viewing, my mind is still buzzing with all the implications and raised by Altered Carbon. The show raises questions of the nature of the soul and the value of a bodily form. When a soul can be kept in a hard drive and uploaded at random, what then makes it a soul rather than simply more data? Morality reforms in a world where sleeves can be killed and then the victim dialed back up to testify against his or her murderer. Where a person can voluntarily agree to have his or her sleeve killed for sport with the promise of an upgrade for the trouble. Where death suddenly has several degrees.

It’s a referendum on torture and an examination of whether love can last over hundreds of years. It’s a dissertation of gender identity: when your spouse can be dialed up into a sleeve of the opposing gender, are you still attracted to each other. Do you still love that woman who is absolutely unchanged except for the fact that she now wears a man’s shell? Do you recognize her soul inside that sleeve?

What makes memory when that memory can be obliterated by dying before the next upload. Is any event truly real if the memory of it is destroyed before the backup kicks in?

Overall, I found Altered Carbon to be compelling television. Underneath its science fiction, film noir trappings is an exploration of identity and morality and the nature of self and the soul that still has my mind spinning right round, baby. Right round.

Follow Lady Smut. We’ll mind-fuck you in the very best of ways–but only if you ask really, really nice.

Kiersten Hallie Krum writes smart, sharp, and sexy romantic suspense. She is the award-winning author of Wild on the Rocks, and its follow-up, SEALed With a Twist. She is also a past winner of the Emily Award for unpublished novels.

A member of the Romance Writers of America, the New Jersey Romance Writers, and the Long Island Romance Writers, Kiersten has been working in book publishing for more than twenty years in marketing and promotion. At other times in her career, she’s worked back stage for a regional theater, managed advertorials for a commerce newspaper in the World Trade Center, and served as senior editor for a pharmaceutical advertising agency.

Writer, singer, editor, traveler, tequila drinker, and cat herder, Kiersten avoids pen names since keeping her multiple personalities straight is hard enough work. Born and bred in New Jersey (and accent free), Kiersten sings as easily, and as frequently, as she breathes, drives fast with the windows down and the music up, likes to randomly switch accents for kicks and giggles, and would be happy to spend all her money traveling for the rest of her life. Find out more about Kiersten and her books on her website www.kierstenkrum.com

Dating Apps and Ghost Dicks

15 Jan

Iby Kiersten Hallie Krum

Everyone who has been on a dating app/site has horror stories. In Alisha Rai’s book, Serving Pleasure (a must read), the heroine goes on a series of first dates in an attempt to meet the kind of man her traditional mother would approve and thus be the daughter she believes her mother wants. To research this book, Ms. Rai joined dating apps and went on a series of dates, some hilarious disasters she live chronicled on Twitter. So when I joined early in 2017, I was well prepped to endure many toads before finding even the hint of a potential prince.

I did not anticipate Ghost Dicks.

I’ve been on two “dating” apps since last March, though I didn’t start actively engaging until July. I went in with a healthy skepticism, shields at the ready, prepared to swipe left far more often than I would right. Over the past months, I’ve met a shocking (to me) amount of married men looking for a fling and the expected quota of boy men looking for hookups. Some engagements have been quite flattering. I’m not ashamed to admit to enjoying being called beautiful and sexy even with the foreknowledge that such compliments may be merely a line. Everyone on dating apps has an agenda. Even me.

Despite my metaphoric arched eyebrow over the whole process, I went into this with a few outright, perhaps obvious goals. But in the last few months, my goals have changed. Before I was looking for a date (among other things); now, I’m just hoping they don’t turn out to be a Ghost Dick.

Ghosting is (apparently) pop-culture parlance that all the kids are fluent in, but which was new to me. It’s when someone with whom you’ve been communicating…disappears with now warning. Poof. Gone.

Ghosted.

It’s supremely vexing.

My best friend coined the phrase “Ghost Dicks,” because ghosting is a seriously dick move. I’ve had multiple connections with potential dates where sometimes weeks of texting and communicating ends in stunning, inexplicable silence. I’m not talking “this chick is cray cray, she’s totally getting blocked,” I’m talking about “I can’t wait to meet you” and then…absolutely nothing. There were even interactions with one or two of these men that developed into intense, intimate sharing, things I don’t lightly reveal to just anyone, so I was invested in a potential in-person meeting, which made me even more gobsmacked when instead, I was treated to more utterly asinine behavior. Just the other day, I read a Facebook post of someone whose date got too handsy on their first time out. I immediately thought, “damn, at least you got a date.”

I began to wonder if something was wrong on my end. Was I too open? Too forward? Too needy? Too pushy? Things women have been conditioned to think, to blame themselves, when something involving a man goes wonky. But then I remembered–it is so not remotely related to me. Not as a person or as a woman. Nor is it a silent commentary on my worthiness or attractiveness as a prospective date. They are just being total dicks.

Ghost Dicks aren’t limited to any specific age or profession or lifestyle or race or anything outside of them having an XY chromosome. Not for nothing, but one of the things that really cranks me up about the experience is knowing that I just have to start all over again only to risk having the same thing happen. I’ve gotten to the point where I’ve said at the start, “be a man and don’t ghost on me” and still, the bastard disappeared!

Who needs a relationship? I’m going through most of the stages of one from attraction to breakup without even meeting the wankers!

Has no one learned the basics of respect? Because I don’t think it’s naïve or silly to expect someone who’s considering being physically and emotionally intimate with me to be an actual adult and not a juvenile coward. Most wouldn’t bail on a business associate like this–not and hope to keep the business. So why is it OK to simply disappear from a romantic entanglement–even if it’s only still in the potential stages–without even the basic courtesy of “sorry babe, this isn’t working for me”?

I know high school never ends, but really?!?!

On one actual in-person date, I ask the guy what was the deal with guys ghosting. His theory was that guys did this when they moved on to a “better prospect” but didn’t want to completely sever the connection in case the new one didn’t work out. In what crazy world would a woman take a guy back after such treatment? Because we’re all, what, contestants on The Bachelor desperate for your special snowflake attention? Please.

I’ll admit, my reaction may seem a bit…extreme. But I have no patience for bullshit, especially when it involves people’s emotions, and let’s face it, if you’re on a dating site, you’re emotionally invested on some level. I’m not saying you want to marry every dude (or lady) you “like”, merely that the act of preparing to open yourself to someone new, to some picture and profile on a dating app, involves making yourself emotionally accessible. Being vulnerable. Have some bloody respect for that, damn it.

Am I expecting too much? Is my bar set too high? Can there be a “too high” setting on something like this–an attempt to emotionally (and, let’s face it, sexually) connect with someone who will respect you enough to at least say “goodbye”? Have you been on a dating app/site and experienced a Ghost  Dick? Got a theory as to why such pricks are so prevalent? Let me know in the comments.

Follow Lady Smut. We won’t ghost on you. Promise.

Kiersten Hallie Krum writes smart, sharp, and sexy romantic suspense. She is the award-winning author of Wild on the Rocks, and its follow-up, SEALed With a Twist. She is also a past winner of the Emily Award for unpublished novels.

A member of the Romance Writers of America, the New Jersey Romance Writers, and the Long Island Romance Writers, Kiersten has been working in book publishing for more than twenty years in marketing and promotion. At other times in her career, she’s worked back stage for a regional theater, managed advertorials for a commerce newspaper in the World Trade Center, and served as senior editor for a pharmaceutical advertising agency.

Writer, singer, editor, traveler, tequila drinker, and cat herder, Kiersten avoids pen names since keeping her multiple personalities straight is hard enough work. Born and bred in New Jersey (and accent free), Kiersten sings as easily, and as frequently, as she breathes, drives fast with the windows down and the music up, likes to randomly switch accents for kicks and giggles, and would be happy to spend all her money traveling for the rest of her life. Find out more about Kiersten and her books on her website www.kierstenkrum.com

Running Full Tilt Into the End of 2017

20 Nov

by Kiersten Hallie Krum

Early last week, after about seven months of searching, first for a house, then for an apartment that would take me and my fur babies, I finally found a new home for all of us–that I will move into in around a month’s time. This means I have about six weeks (if I’m super lucky) to pack up the place where I’ve lived for the last nine years and move (in-state) to the place I’ll likely be in for at least the next seven or eight years to start.

Yep, I’m running full tilt right into the end of 2017. Full steam ahead. Phasers on stun. No rest for the wicked. Power on through. Every weekend from here on in is a packing weekend (with the exception of Thanksgiving day, of course). A drawn-out, slow trip down a sometimes painful, bittersweet memory lane.

It’s be a lousy year, Lady Smutters. Politically for all of us, and personally for me as it kicked off with the death of my mother in January. Don’t get me wrong, there has been a lot of good among the bad–first trip to Florida, new book released, award win for debut novel–but I’m sure ready to kick the holy hell outta this year and plunge into the next, hopefully better one soon as the ticking clock can get me there.

New Year. New Home. Nothing but good times ahead.

There’s been a lot of news lately about the sexual exploitation and harassment of women and, God save us, children by men in political and professional power. News that makes my stomach curdle and my soul ache. Many of the responses have been equally repellent as the women making these accusations have found their lives and their credibility shredded and shamed on the public altar of social media and media in general. I have a lot of thoughts about all of this, thoughts and feelings that are still processing only to be newly outraged with each new announcement of horror and violation. Each squirrely, slimy justification made for the unforgivable abuses these men have committed.

But it’s the woman who are shamed.

It’s mind boggling.

I wrote a post some time ago about our culture of shame. of how people are publicly shamed almost before the full story has been realized, a shame that can follow people for years and even drive some to suicide out of unbearable shame.

More than ever, public accountability is key to keeping TPTB, well, accountable. Yet in a world rife with cyber bullying to the extent that people have committed suicide because the feel their lives have become unbearable as a result of being bullied, the culture of shame has almost become a spectator sport. Where do we draw the line between holding entities accountable for ofttimes severely shitty behavior and effectively flogging them in effigy in cyberspace?

 

Happy Thanksgiving, Lady Smutters. Thank you for being such an integral part of what we do here. Hug your loved ones, drink some wine, eat too much pie, and be grateful for all the good you generate in each other’s lives.

If you’d like to read about women without shame and the SEAL heroes who fight to win them, be sure to check out my award-winning debut novel Wild on the Rocks and its follow-up, SEALed With A Twist, both available exclusively from Kindle.

 

Follow Lady Smut. We’re proudly, endless, fully shameless.

 

Kiersten Hallie Krum writes smart, sharp, and sexy romantic suspense. She is the award-winning author of Wild on the Rocks, and its follow-up, SEALed With a Twist. She is also a past winner of the Emily Award for unpublished novels.

A member of the Romance Writers of America, the New Jersey Romance Writers, and the Long Island Romance Writers, Kiersten has been working in book publishing for more than twenty years in marketing and promotion. At other times in her career, she’s worked back stage for a regional theater, managed advertorials for a commerce newspaper in the World Trade Center, and served as senior editor for a pharmaceutical advertising agency.

Writer, singer, editor, traveler, tequila drinker, and cat herder, Kiersten avoids pen names since keeping her multiple personalities straight is hard enough work. Born and bred in New Jersey (and accent free), Kiersten sings as easily, and as frequently, as she breathes, drives fast with the windows down and the music up, likes to randomly switch accents for kicks and giggles, and would be happy to spend all her money traveling for the rest of her life.

Halloween With The Mother

30 Oct

by Kiersten Hallie Krum

Halloween was one of The Mother’s favorite holidays, which, on the surface, was slightly incongruous. But her beloved grandmother’s birthday was on Halloween, and her death marked one of my mother’s biggest life losses. So to honor her Gran, The Mother decorated our house with somewhat antique Halloween decorations. Every year, the same spiders and witches and ghouls on our windows, never anything truly scary and always with a bit of fun to celebrate the season, and, by extension, her beloved Gran.

She put out buckets of candy on the front porch if we weren’t going to be present for trick-or-treaters, and, when the razor blades started to show up in candy bars (this was the 80s), was one of the few (if not only) mom in our neighborhood to switch to pencils or other non-edible items as a Halloween giveaway (something that didn’t make me popular in grade school, but then, nothing did).

Our youth pastor’s birthday was also on Halloween; one year, The Mother got Big Sis and I up on Halloween at the crack of ever-lovin’ dawn to go fill his church office with balloons before he got there. We were late for school; she wrote us notes. We had a blast. Even after she moved in with me and then when her health derailed and failed, there were always pumpkins and window decorations, even a few wonky gourds. One night, I came home from the day job to find a witch had slammed into my front door–face first.

Her love of Halloween is one of the many things I neglected to share about The Mother when I gave the eulogy in January at her celebration service. I’d planned to write it out rather than do my usual pantser protocol, but I wound up instead staying up till 4 AM the night before, scanning old photos to put into a slide show (that never happened because of a technical miscommunication) while scribbling down notes on a cue card as scattered thoughts about her life came to me.

So pants it, I did.

Grief is a motherfucker that screws with you left, right, and center, and one of the many ways it’s dicked with me over the last nine or so months is the regret I feel when I think of something long forgotten about The Mother–usually while driving or showering or, (awkwardly), while sitting across from my OKCupid date–now that I’ve lost the designated platform on which to share it. I expect there will be years of these moments when something 20 years old or more that I learned from her, or because of her, will come to me, sparking the never-far-from-reach grief back into the foreground of my life.

Halloween is tomorrow and while my personal appreciation for the event has ebbed and flowed over the years (I don’t find it entertaining to be scared, but I do like to wear costumes), I thought this an appropriate time to share a few of the things The Mother taught me that I failed to share back then. This will not be everything–there is likely not enough bandwidth in the world for that. But it’s a taste of who she was and why I loved her madly. Thank you in advance, lovely Lady Smutters, for this indulgence.

Always drive a block ahead. That way, you can see what you’re headed toward. I still do to this day, even if it’s at 80 mph.

Know your material and you cannot fail. As a young woman, The Mother played professional accordion. She hated it; she wanted to play the piano, but my grandfather told her they couldn’t afford a piano, so accordion it was. She’d happily left it behind by the time I came along, but would pick up piano lessons here and there until her arthritis or her financials made it impossible. Once, she forgot her music and played an entire gig completely from memory.

The sign of a true professional is in their recovery. The Mother was at nearly every voice lesson I took. She actively tried not to listen to my lessons because she didn’t want the instructor to feel as though two people were learning for the price of one. My voice teachers never saw it that way, but that was The Mother. I made many mistakes when I performed, I can’t think of any performance where something didn’t go wrong, but she had long ago taught me that professionalism isn’t in being flawless, it’s in recovering and carrying on to an excellent finish no matter what.

Put your clothes out the day before an event. This way, you can see if you need stockings/pantyhose and get to the store before Sunday morning. This was a a lesson almost always related to being ready for church on Sunday morning. I rarely was, ready that is, and the few times I was solely happened because I followed The Mother’s instructions and laid my clothes out the night before. She’d be tickled, no doubt, to know I now mentally prep my day job wardrobe, sometimes even planning multiple days ahead at once. The Mother was big on “being prepared” and often laid us down for camp and whatnot with preventative items no one else would think of (but which are now fairly commonplace), which is probably why in my purse now there are band aids, wet wipes, antiseptic gel, eye drops, eyeglass repair kit (even though I wear my contacts every day), wallet, checkbook, protein bar, backup charger for my mobile, compact, business cards (in a business card holder, natch), 14,000 lipsticks, three pairs of sunglasses (in case one or the other breaks), breath mints, and a small hairbrush. I carry a big purse. Sue me.

Carry condoms. Don’t rely on the guy; protect yourself. If you’re not too embarrassed to have sex, you can’t be too embarrassed to buy your own condoms. The Mother was an RN and spoke frankly and naturally about sex to her two (mortified) teenage daughters. Mortified or not, we grew up with a healthy “yeah, and?” attitude about where we came from and what was happening to us through puberty. Though not one to go so far as actually hand out condoms to her teenage daughters, when I went to the senior prom as a junior in high school, The Mother wrote me this beautiful, emotional note about not giving my virginity away, but to be sure I was making the choice to end it, if that’s what I decided. There was no shame or recrimination in her words, no talk of morality or religion, merely the recognition of opportunity and the desire to be sure her daughter was as prepared for such an event as she could make her–and above all know she was loved no matter what decision she made. Though I didn’t read the note until the next morning, she had nothing to worry about. She’d taught me well enough already.

Be proud of your beliefs, but always, *always*, respect others who believe differently. I grew up in a community with a predominantly Jewish population. Most families who weren’t Jewish were Catholic. My family was (is) evangelical fundamentalists. Around Easter when I was in 5th or 6th grade, it became trendy in evangelical churches to have a “Birthday Party for Jesus!”. I don’t know why this was around Easter and not Christmas, but whatever. Maybe I remember it wrong. What I don’t remember wrong is that The Mother called each and every Jewish family in my class to explain that their lack of an invitation to this party was out of respect for their beliefs and the desire not to insult them with such an invitation that they would have to refuse as the party was in direct opposition to Jewish teachings. She didn’t want the kids to feel excluded or rejected, but she also didn’t want to put their parents in an untenable situation. I don’t remember the conversation that led to me being made aware of this, but I remember the complete “of course I did” attitude with which she told me. It was the natural, respectful, and appropriate thing to do. So she did it. That too was The Mother.

Stand up for what’s right, even when your kid might hate you for it. Sophomore year of high school, I delayed a term paper on Edgar Allen Poe for months. When I was finally given a firm deadline, I wrote the thing in a Coco-Cola infused rush that had my 15-year-old self bouncing off the walls at 2 AM. I got an A on the paper; the teacher said it was one of the best things he’d ever read from a student. The Mother was aghast; she thought this rewarding of my procrastination and late-night cramming was not teaching me how to plan for adult life. She told my teacher and principal this when she dragged me into the principal’s office to demand my grade be lowered. Yes, lowered. The principal, already well aware of the futility of opposing The Mother when she was in a state–and right–order the (amused) teacher to lower my grade. I got an A-.

Play to your strengths, but never sell yourself short. She always pushed us forward, even, no, especially when we didn’t want to move. She liked to tell the story of how I screamed at her all the way up Millburn Ave after my first English honors class, yelling how it was not for me and she had to get me out of that level because the kids in that class used words like “eloquent” and “moving” to describe a poem when all I could come up with was “I liked it”. (Incidentally, this was the same class in which I wrote the Poe term paper six months later.) She insisted I stay, and she was right to do so. She also taught me to recognize when all the eloquent and movings of the world are simply complete bullshit. Throughout the rest of my life, the phrase “eloquent and moving” was one we used to recognize when it was all just bullshit and I needed to press on.

The Mother was a great cook, but a self-confessed crap baker, creative, but completely incapable of sewing anything. She once, under protest and due to extreme best-friend pressure, helped with the children’s Christmas pageant costumes; hers was the only donkey with crooked ears. Her creativity shined in decoration and hospitality. She was the Hospitality Coordinator for our church for many years, a full-time job on its own, and put on extensive missions’ banquets for hundreds of people, creative Superbowl parties to be enjoyed around evening service, somber funerals, and monthly pastoral breakfasts for some of the leading evangelical figures of our era. Big or small, each event under her tenure featured The Mother’s special flare.

She was uncomfortable in front of people, but determined to be heard. Little phased or cowed her. The Mother was one of the few women in our church of her generation to have a full-time job and not be a stay-at-home mom once Big Sis and I were full-time grade school students, and boy, did she catch flack about that. She loved the ocean but never learned to swim. She could (and did!) sit for hours on the rocks on Marginal Way in Ogunquit, Maine and watch the tide go in and out. She loved antique stores and at one time collected silver spoons and antique books. She was terrified of fire and of the dark, almost irrationally so. She adored music, especially classical and jazz, and took particular pleasure in complex and unusual arrangements. About ten years ago, I got her tickets to see Itzhak Perlman at the Prudential Center in Newark, NJ. Her joy was too great for words. When they saw her alone with her walker (I could only afford the one ticket, so I took her in and turned her over to a docent charged with her care), the staff upgraded her to an empty seat in a box right above the stage from where she was able to see Perlman’s hands move on the strings of his violin. He played the entire concert from memory, choosing pieces at random that sent his pianist scrambling through pages, while Perlman merely tuned up and dredged the notes from whichever memory vault in which they’d been stored; The Mother was gobsmacked. When she emerged from the concert, she was bubbling over with effervescent glee. A life-long dream realized. The ticket hangs on her bedroom wall to this day.

We once went to a piano recital at the Steinway store; I made sure to get us seats where she’d be able to see the pianist’s hands. She didn’t only want to hear the music, she needed to see the excellence with which it was crafted. She thought herself Salieri to everyone else’s Mozart, able to recognize the genius but not produce it herself. She was wrong; she sang in church choirs her whole life until her steroid breathing treatments stole her voice. She often said her biggest fear was of losing her mind and her voice; she felt those were the only things of her worth mentioning. She was humble and gracious, truly appreciative for what people gave and shared with her, honored to be the one with whom they did. She was also demanding and picky, sometimes hard to please because of both, even as she took genuine joy and pleasure in the smallest and simplest of things Big Sis and I did or gave her. We are lucky women to know how proud she was of us and how much we were loved because she told us every day. Yet she could also be judgmental about how things should be. A properly complex and challenging lady.

Remember to be silly and laugh at life. Our family vacations were spent in the Pocono Mountains and usually involved my father, bless him, making an extra trip up in our VW Rabbit with luggage and supplies. Back then, the closest supermarket was a 45-minute drive away, so we brought everything in with us. One year, after we’d arrived and were all unpacking, we heard The Mother laughing hysterically from her bedroom. She’d packed every single pair of shoes she owned…and not a single pair of underpants. Every time she pulled out a new pair of shoes from another bag, she started laughing all over again, until she and I and Big Sis were sprawled across the bed giggling our asses off.

She once ran out of the house for work in a flurry, coat on, briefcase in hand, turned around to lock the front door, looked down…and realized she’d completely forgotten to put on her skirt. She was standing there on the front stoop in her full suit and overcoat and her half slip. While working for a healthcare review company (a job she loathed, as it made patient care into a numbers game), The Mother did a short stint with nail extensions. She didn’t even make it home before the cackling began–she’d stuck the extension into the seat-belt holder. Then she couldn’t figure out how to pick her nose with the extensions on. The list went on and on. She once, incensed by her job, drank an unusual two glasses of wine on an empty stomach, and only afterwards remembered she and my father had an event that night at church. We wound up keeping a book to record the silliness–which we called “The Book”–and the phrase “put it in The Book!” became regular lexicon for our family.

There’s no reason to be afraid of old people. The Mother worked in nursing homes. She was a gerontologist with a true heart for the elderly. From a young age, she had Big Sis and I visit her at the nursing home where she worked. She introduced us around and we even “adopted” a woman named Gladys as our honorary grandmother. Gladys went on to get her high school diploma at the age of 90 and we were there for her graduation. I don’t remember how or when Gladys died, but I remember how she lived and what she accomplished no matter her age. That too was The Mother.

Choose your signature scent. The Mother always smelled good. Chanel No 5 and Red and Shalimar and White Linen. These were the scents that would waft over me when she bent over my bed to kiss me goodbye before she left for work. She once told me a story of being at a bar when she was in nursing school. A guy she was dating at the time was there with another girl, but he had yet to notice The Mother was also there, and not so very far away either. It wasn’t too long though before she heard him say, “I smell Shalimaaaarie! I didn’t know you were here!”

Always leave the dance with the man who brought you. The Mother dated. She was a size six and 5’7″ in the 60s with hazel eyes and red/brown hair, so yeah, she was a hot ticket. At one point, she dated five guys at the same time who all had names that started with “D”. But when there were three guys waiting for her at the hospital front desk, she went out the back door with my father.

Goodbye is not forever. When I was fourteen and had to have spinal tumors removed, life-threatening tumors that were wrapped around my abdominal aorta, The Mother, the RN, had to let me go into the operating room alone to face death and maybe conquer it. (Spoiler alert: I did.) She couldn’t and didn’t know whether she would again see me alive. But she had faith that she would see me soon one way or the other–either in this life or in eternity. And so the last thing she said to me before they wheeled me away was “see you soon” trusting that indeed, she would.  After that life-changing event, whenever we took leave of one another, for the day, for a month, for however long we’d be apart, we would say “see you soon”, sure that we indeed would do just that, one way or the other.

When I took my leave from her after her passing, my final words to her were “see you soon”.

That too, was The Mother.

 

Kiersten Hallie Krum writes smart, sharp, and sexy romantic suspense. She is the award-winning author of Wild on the Rocks, and its follow-up, SEALed With a Twist. She is also a past winner of the Emily Award for unpublished novels.

A member of the Romance Writers of America, the New Jersey Romance Writers, and the Long Island Romance Writers, Kiersten has been working in book publishing for more than twenty years in marketing and promotion. At other times in her career, she’s worked back stage for a regional theater, managed advertorials for a commerce newspaper in the World Trade Center, and served as senior editor for a pharmaceutical advertising agency.

Writer, singer, editor, traveler, tequila drinker, and cat herder, Kiersten avoids pen names since keeping her multiple personalities straight is hard enough work. Born and bred in New Jersey (and accent free), Kiersten sings as easily, and as frequently, as she breathes, drives fast with the windows down and the music up, likes to randomly switch accents for kicks and giggles, and would be happy to spend all her money traveling for the rest of her life.

Winner RONE Award for Best Suspense/Thriller: Short

23 Oct

by Kiersten Hallie Krum

Remember, lovely Lady Smutters, when I shared the news that my debut romantic suspense novel, Wild on the Rocks, was a finalist for the prestigious RONE Award from InD’Tale Magazine for best Thriller/Suspense: Short of 2017? Weeeeeelllllll…

Last weekend, I spent five wonderful days in Southern California at the InD’Scribe Con and Book Festival put on by InD’Tale Magazine, the magazine or self-published authors and independent publishers. I met tons of new-to-me independent authors while attending several excellent workshops. But this wasn’t just about the meet and greet or writer self-improvement. We sure got our party on! The conference kicked off with a Medieval costume party followed by a “Knight’s vs Highlanders” themed, author-sponsored costume party the second night.

…flapping my way through the other one.

Wenching it up at one costume party…

 

Yes, that’s a *T-Rex* at the kick-off costume party! It was an “anything goes” kind of soiree!

I’ll admit, southern California in October? Ah, yeah, I hit the pool and got in some sun. But I also enjoyed a splendid, Reader’s Day that included the conference’s first Reader Rave Luncheon where readers were able to sit and have lunch with their favorite authors, including conference headliners Marie Force, Brenda Novak, and Catharine Bybee–and moi–along with a busy afternoon book fair!

Signing books at the book fair!

Of course, no California trip, however short, is complete without some delicious Mexican food, plenty of margaritas, and a glimpse of the Hollywood sign.

The weekend was topped off by the presentation of the magazine’s RONE Awards (Reward of Novel Excellence) at which I received the award for Best Suspense/Thriller: Short of 2017 for my romantic suspense novel, Wild on the Rocks!

No, that’s not Jon Snow. With cover model and gentleman, Brandon Katz.

A beautiful, engraved, crystal book for the award!

I was honored to dedicate this award to my mother, who I lost suddenly earlier this year. I know she would have been over the moon. She loved Wild on the Rocks, and I’m a fortunate woman to know how proud she was and how much she loved me because she told me, frequently.

I am fortunate, too, for all you lovely Lady Smutters who read and supported Wild on the Rocks. In thanks for that support and in celebration of my win, I’m going to give away two limited print copies of Wild on the Rocks. Just leave a comment and tell me what costume you would most want to dress up in for Halloween or a costume party.

The award-winning Wild on the Rocks and its follow-up, SEALed With a Twist, which has been named one of the Top 5 Romantic Suspense Picks for Fall by Heroes and Heartbreakers, are both available now exclusively from Kindle Worlds.

Follow Lady Smut. Costumes optional.

Kiersten Hallie Krum writes smart, sharp, and sexy romantic suspense. She is the author of the prestigious RONE award winner, Wild on the Rocks, and its follow-up, SEALed With a Twist. She is also a past winner of the Emily Award for unpublished novels. 

A member of the Romance Writers of America, the New Jersey Romance Writers, and the Long Island Romance Writers, Kiersten has been working in book publishing for more than twenty years in marketing and promotion. At other times in her career, she’s worked back stage for a regional theater, managed advertorials for a commerce newspaper in the World Trade Center, and served as senior editor for a pharmaceutical advertising agency.

Writer, singer, editor, traveler, tequila drinker, and cat herder, Kiersten avoids pen names since keeping her multiple personalities straight is hard enough work. Born and bred in New Jersey (and accent free), Kiersten sings as easily, and as frequently, as she breathes, drives fast with the windows down and the music up, likes to randomly switch accents for kicks and giggles, and would be happy to spend all her money traveling for the rest of her life.

Surviving the Sadness

24 Sep

by Kiersten Hallie Krum

Welcome to Theme Week here at Lady Smut. This week we’re celebrating the release of my new book, SEALed With a Twist.

Look! A blurb!

In the follow-up to the wildly popular, Library Journal starred review, RONE award finalist, Wild on the Rocks, a fan favorite returns to Barefoot Bay…

Debutante. Heiress. Lady. 
Skylar Thornquist has been called them all. But when her family insisted she stand as bridesmaid at her sister’s wedding to Skye’s ex-fiancé, she rebelled, drowning her public humiliation in tequila and a one-night stand of carnal debauchery with Grant Sisti. To escape her family’s iron grip, Skye now hides out cleaning toilets at the Casa Blanca Resort & Spa, masking her breeding and identity under a dye job, heavy makeup, and a smattering of fake tattoos while she tries to discover which label sticks to her best.

Doctor. Joker. Warrior.
Navy SEAL Grant “Twisted” Sisti has been them all. But since he failed to prevent the violent death of his teammate six months ago, Grant isn’t sure he can be any of those men anymore. He’s back at the Casa Blanca Resort & Spa for his best friend’s wedding, but Grant knows he’s reaching the end of his rope. A state that isn’t improved by finding the help swimming naked in his private villa’s pool.

Skye never thought she’d get caught skinny dipping by the man who got her through her worst night. But this Grant is a different man than the one who lit up her world back then. And though it takes him too long to remember her, Skye is drawn even more to the wounded warrior than she was to the charming lover.

Grant is fascinated by the puzzle Skye presents, the debutante who cleans toilets and speaks like a queen. She’s the first thing he’s had any interest in since his friend’s death, the first woman in a long time to see the man before the SEAL.

They never expected to find each other again on Barefoot Bay, both hiding from who there were, both wondering who they should be. Until Skye’s identity is compromised and the Thornquist iron grip gets a stranglehold on her new life…only this time there’s a Navy SEAL by her side.

There’s a lot about SEALed With a TWIST that is sexy and fun and it’s full of flirtatious banter. Grant and Skye are on similar journeys, but they’re at different locations on the path. They’ve both lost someone and that loss has rocked their foundations and made them question and reevaluate key components of their makeup. They’re both reconciling pieces of their past and learning to make peace with themselves about it.

This book was very difficult for me to write. In the beginning of the SWAT, Skye learns about the death of her grandmother who raised her and that, because of the choices she made, Skye wasn’t with her at the end. My mother died rather suddenly in the beginning of this year. She had lived with me since 2003 and I had been her 24/7 primary caregiver since 2008, so her loss has had an enormous impact on every aspect of my life.

While I had already written the death of Skye’s grandmother before that happened, fleshing out those scenes in the months afterward became very personal for me, much more than I’d anticipated.

Anyone who deals with grief walks the five stages, but the way in which we take those steps is always unique. No one can tell another how to do it or when to stop or how long it will take or what it will entail. Every grief journey is different. One day, you’ll realize that last breath you took wasn’t quite as hard as the one before it. A few months or years later, you’ll realize that breath wasn’t as difficult as the other one. The only thing you have to do is keep breathing.

Skye’s grief journey is just beginning in SEALed With a Twist. She’s in the very early stages, before the full impact has had time to take root, but even now, she wonders how she’ll survive the sadness. Into these early moments. the man who was once the only good thing in a horrendous, publicly humiliating situation has suddenly show up in her life again. Not only that, but Grant is on his own grief journey and has been since just before he met Skye for the first time six months ago–and he isn’t handling it well at all.

I hope you’ll walk along with these strong and flawed and hurting people as they walk this journey together and discover any journey, however difficult and rocky, is easier to endure when the right person is by your side.

 

 

Kiersten Hallie Krum writes smart, sharp, and sexy romantic suspense. She is the author of the prestigious RONE award finalist, Wild on the Rocks, and its follow-up, SEALed With a Twist. She is also a past winner of the Emily Award for unpublished novelists. 

A member of the Romance Writers of America, the New Jersey Romance Writers, and the Long Island Romance Writers, Kiersten has been working in book publishing for more than twenty years in marketing and promotion. At other times in her career, she’s worked back stage for a regional theater, managed advertorials for a commerce newspaper in the World Trade Center, and served as senior editor for a pharmaceutical advertising agency.

Writer, singer, editor, traveler, tequila drinker, and cat herder, Kiersten avoids pen names since keeping her multiple personalities straight is hard enough work. Born and bred in New Jersey (and accent free), Kiersten sings as easily, and as frequently, as she breathes, drives fast with the windows down and the music up, likes to randomly switch accents for kicks and giggles, and would be happy to spend all her money traveling for the rest of her life.

SEALed WITH A TWIST

18 Sep

It’s a new week here at Lady Smut and we are still agog about our smokin’ new look–and thrilled to feature the emotional and sexy new book from Lady Smut blogger Kiersten Hallie Krum–SEALed With A Twist.

In this follow up to Kiersten’s wildly popular, RONE award finalist novel, Wild on the Rocks, fan-favorite, Navy SEAL Grant “Twisted” Sisti, returns to Barefoot Bay for the second wedding of his friends, Quinn and Jasper (from Wild on the Rocks)…and runs straight into the arms of a mysterious woman from his rocky past.

 

EXCERPT

~~~~~

“I remember you.”

The words were so soft, it took several seconds for them to resonate in Skye, a slow earthquake that rippled out with increasing impact as their meaning and consequence took root.

“But you changed your look,” Grant continued. “Dyed your hair. Added some new tattoos I should’ve figured were temps. Slathered on enough makeup to make me wonder who you’re trying to hide from. Even with all that, there was something was so familiar about you. Couldn’t figure out how or why.

“Now I know.” His head slid to the side and Skye trembled for a different reason when he nipped at the jittery pulse in her neck. Her neck stretched back with an invitation he was eager to take. His hand slipped to pull one strand of her top out of his way before she felt his tongue on her throat as his mouth followed the line of it up to her ear. “I remember how you taste. How you feel when I’m inside you. How you sound when I make you come.”

That was an uncomfortably thorough and arousing account. Her legs shifted on the sand and restless with the need to relax beneath him and take all that was promised by his hard body and hot words.

“And sweetheart,” he continued, head lifting out of her neck so he could stare into her face. “When a girl runs out on you after a night of spectacular sex, it’s the definition of unfinished business.”

“You left first,” she accused, a child’s defense, but all she could manage against a tsunami of arousal. Dammit.

He released her wrists and brushed her hair back from her forehead before spearing his fingers through the bunched strands to cradle her head in his wide palm. “My friend needed me,” he explained, no less terse for the gentle way he touched her. “The same friend, funny enough, who got remarried last night, no small part because six months ago, I left a sexy debutante passed out in my bed to help him get his head outta his ass and make up with his then ex-wife. I didn’t think you’d bail the second I was gone!”

Remembering how hurt she’d been when she realized he’d run out on her re-ignited Skye’s ire. “Then you should’ve left a note!” She shoved at his shoulders, not that she could move him, but so frustrated, she couldn’t hold back. “Let me up!”

He cursed under his breath, but set her free, sliding off to her right so he shielded her while she set her suit to rights.

“I figured,” he growled, over his shoulder, “that after a night that good, you’d want more. I damn well did.” Checking she was decent, he flipped back around to face her. “Because, you’re right. What happened between us was a goddamn sexual unicorn. I wanted more. I wanted you. All the while, you were using the security guard to work out your rich-girl issues. Daddy cut off your trust fund again?”

She sucked a breath in through her teeth and lurched upright. “You have no idea what I was dealing with that night.”

“Ditto, princess,” he shot back.

“I’m not a princess.” She’d been cleaning toilets for long enough to bring that fact home.

Grant cocked an elbow on his bent knee and sneered, “You are. An American princess. Privileged and entitled. I grew up with your kind, sweetheart. I know your kind.”

“You do not know me.” Skye swept sand off her arms with a regal sniff, unconsciously giving weight to his label. “Amazing that you suddenly recall such salient details of our…dalliance when last night it escaped your memory entirely despite the fact that I stood naked before you. How convenient for you to stumble upon the details now. When, exactly, did you deign to remember you had…Biblical knowledge of me six months ago?”

The corner of his mouth twitched. “Biblical?”

“So help me, if you laugh…”

“This morning.” He cut her off before she could finish what they both knew would’ve been an empty threat. “I remembered this morning when Jasper and Quinn surprised me with morning-after breakfast. He brought up when I pulled you from the pool back then and—” He snapped his fingers so close to her face, she started in place. “Your puzzle pieces clicked together.”

“I am not a puzzle!”

“Baby, you are a Rubik’s Cube of contradictions. Fortunately, I’ve been well-trained in decoding all possible combinations.”

That was be disastrous.

God, he remembered. And in detail. Skye floundered for a retort, floored by too many quick changes to find stable footing.

As if sensing his advantage, Grant tugged her back in his arms. One calloused thumb rubbed her button lip; it caught on wind-chapped flesh, so that her tongue shot out to moisten his digit. She watched his pupil flare into a sharp green as desire drew skin taut across the craggy planes of his face.

A low keen hit her ear and Skye was too turned on to be mortified when she realized it came from her.

“Oh yeah,” Grant said, his words a sibilant sound against her cheek. His hand cupped her jaw, thumb sweeping back over her parted mouth. “I remember that too.”

This was bad. This was very, very bad. She was getting sucked back under when he’d already turned her down once. Truth was, she didn’t want to find someone else to be with for however long she had left here on Mimosa Key. Not when she was drawn to him like an opposing polarity, constantly failing to break the laws of magnetism and getting stuck on him over and over again.

And when he touched her…

Lord, was she in trouble.

It’d been that way since the night she’d slept with him. A night when she’d been given a glimpse of something she knew she’d never have again, not from any other man. And it wasn’t the orgasms or Grant’s physical prowess in her bed. It was how he’d lifted her up and carried her away from her deepest humiliation, from a lifetime of being less than, and made her feel like the most important woman in the world.

Treasured even.

Precious.

“It might’ve been a one-night stand for you, but waking up to find you gone killed me.”

Grant’s shock at her words was no less that hers for having said them. He reared back liked she’d slapped him. “The hell you say.”

But the gate had been breached and half a year of emotional trauma ripped out of her, raw and unrestrained. “That night—that was the worst night of my life. I was a joke, a punchline, and everyone at that bloody wedding knew it. So, yeah, tequila and the pool. Since if I was already publicly humiliated, best to make it really memorable.”

“But then you were there, laughing like I was the best time you’d ever seen. You jumped in the pool and…plucked me up like I weighed nothing.” She latched onto his shoulders, nails digging into his skin. “Cripes, I’ve never known anyone as strong as you,” she mused, fingers tracing the lateral muscles that bunched under her touch. “You took me out of that…horror show and made it…” she sighed heavily, “so much better. And god, the sex was amazing. Don’t look so smug. I may not have a lot of experience, but even I know three orgasms in one night isn’t customary. And then you were gone.”

She’d felt so ashamed and at the same time, so devastated by his absence. “After all that, you made me feel like some filthy cliché,” she said in a small voice. “I was fighting the first hangover of my life. Sick and…so very ashamed for…so many reasons. I had to get out of there before anyone saw me.” She bristled now, embarrassed at how naïve she’d been. “I get it now. I understand how such things work. But Grant, whether you meant to or not, you broke my heart.”

The hand cradling her head slid around to cup her chin. “Skye,” he murmured. “I didn’t know.”

Drained from her emotional purge, Skye merely nodded. “I know.”

He struggled with something for a moment before exhaling hard. Releasing her, he scrubbed both hands over the scruff on his face and considered her over the tips of his fingers.

“That night,” he began. He hesitated. “I—fuck—I was dealing with some shit too. Still am, for fuck’s sweet sake. You were blitzed. Totally shitfaced.” His face softened as if seeing her again. “And so beautiful. Stunning and tragic.”

She winced at the description. “I sound irresistible.”

“Utterly,” he said with simple sincerity. “And I—” His eyes clouded and he ducked his chin to gaze out toward the water. “I needed to forget for a while. I took advantage of that. I took advantage of you.”

The admission cost him. More, she saw the memory of what had driven him then continued to claw at him. ““What happened to you?” she asked softly. When he didn’t answer, she risked pushing a bit more. “You’re different. You’ve changed.” Now he looked at her.

“You come with me right now, back to the villa, and I’ll show you how much I haven’t.”

She’d be lying if she said the idea didn’t tempt her. “Don’t do that,” she gently admonished. “Tell me what you wanted to forget that night. Tell me what haunts you.”

“Tell me why you were drunk in that pool,” he countered. “Tell me what you’re hiding from now.”

“Grant,” she said. Only his name, but it hung there between them, weighted with meaning that didn’t require articulation.

“Let it go, Skye,” he demanded, brusque in a way that was meant to be obeyed.

Unfazed, she tilted her head to catalog his nuances. To anyone looking, he probably came off cool and aloof. A seasoned warrior at rest, perusing the beach with watchful eyes, never fully off-duty, but enjoying the bright side of life.

But all of it was a skillful mirage. The leveled lines of his shoulders remained locked tight, braced against whatever turmoil broiled right beneath his surface. His jaw was set, an acute angle that restrained some unholy impulse.

Beneath all that was…pain. His beautiful irises were dull and flat, deadened by the damage he kept locked away. A knot twisted in her plexus, making her chest feel concave with empathy. She wanted to hold him close, overwhelmed by an instinctive urge to protect this man no one else seemed to notice was quietly falling apart.

So Skye, with the lack of self-preservation no Thornquist breeding could fully wash out, led with her heart.

“Something’s changed in you.” She tried for a smile but knew it was weak. “I can see it there, behind your eyes. You’re not hiding it from me; I think, for some reason, you’re not trying that hard to.”

He started to reply, no doubt more assertions of how wrong she had him, but the alarm on her phone interrupted them. “Time to go,” she announced softly. “Mandy is treating me to a spa appointment.”

She rolled onto her side and pushed against the yielding sand, feeling ungainly and awkward through the modified yoga pose that got her to her feet. Once steady, she gazed down at him, strong and imposing even posed at her feet, self-assured if strangely aloof.

He stood in a rush with far more grace than she’d managed, as though the shifting sand was as solid beneath him as concrete.

Annoying.

Skye bent to gather her shorts and tee, pulling both on mechanically. Casting him a look from under her lashes, Skye searched her feelings, but they were too conflicted for her to settle on one. This was when being bold became uncomfortable risky. By the pool, in the dark of night, she could blame emotional trauma and the mistakes only the night would forgive. In bright sunshiny day, it was much harder to come up with excuses she could live with.

“Stay safe, Grant,” she said, feeling lame but somehow as if it was the right thing to say.

“If you can’t be safe, be fucking deadly,” he returned, then explained, “Something we say on the Teams.”

“Well.” That was certainly…definitive. “Try to be both. Not that I want you to be deadly per se,” she floundered as what she’d said registered. “I mean, I do, if that’s what it takes to make you and your friends safe, but it’s not like I want other people dead.” She winced when humor flashed through his eyes. “Just—keep breathing. For my sake, if not your own.” She studied his stalwart face for a moment. “Because I have a feeling you really don’t care whether you do or not.”

“But you do.”

“Yes,” she confirmed without hesitation. “I do.”

Those arms rippled as he again crossed them over his chest, a move she recognized as defensive but felt more aggressive coming from him. “Not sure what you want me to do with that, Skye.” And, by that flat, unyielding tone, he wasn’t too keen to find out.

Her smile turned wane. “Me neither.” She laid a hand on one bulging forearm. “But I care whether you live or die, Grant Sisti. What puzzles me is why you don’t.”

She gave him a squeeze, and left it at that, stepping back while swinging her bag up and over her shoulder before starting the short walk back to her putt putt.

Before she was three steps in, Grant snagged her hand and pulled her up short. “Skye,” he said in a sibilant tone, too masculine to be a whisper but pitched for her ears only. She shot an inquisitive glance over her shoulder.

Grant closed the distance between them in one stride. His hand skirted up her spine to squeeze the back of her neck. “Don’t try to get into my head,” he warned. “You won’t like what you find.”

“Maybe not,” she allowed. Going with her gut, she twisted at the waist and leaned into his touch, stretching her neck up to briefly press her lips against his. “But I bet I’ll still like you.”

~~~~~

SEALed With a Twist is now available exclusively from Amazon Kindle

Blurb:

Debutante. Heiress. Lady.

Skylar Thornquist has been called them all. But when her family insisted she stand as bridesmaid at her sister’s wedding to Skye’s ex-fiancé, she rebelled, drowning her public humiliation in tequila and a one-night stand of carnal debauchery with Grant Sisti. To escape her family’s iron grip, Skye now hides out cleaning toilets at the Casa Blanca Resort & Spa, masking her breeding and identity under a dye job, heavy makeup, and a smattering of fake tattoos while she tries to discover which label sticks to her best.

Doctor. Joker. Warrior.

Navy SEAL Grant “Twisted” Sisti has been them all. But since he failed to prevent the violent death of his teammate six months ago, Grant isn’t sure he can be any of those men anymore. He’s back at the Casa Blanca Resort & Spa for his best friend’s wedding, but Grant knows he’s reaching the end of his rope. A state that isn’t improved by finding the help swimming naked in his private villa’s pool.

They never expected to find each other again on Barefoot Bay, both hiding from who there were, both wondering who they should be. Until Skye’s identity is compromised and the Thornquist iron grip gets a stranglehold on her new life…only this time there’s a Navy SEAL by her side.

 

 

Kiersten Hallie Krum writes smart, sharp, and sexy romantic suspense. She is the author of the prestigious RONE award finalist, Wild on the Rocks, and its follow-up, SEALed With a Twist. She is also a past winner of the Emily Award for unpublished novelists. 

A member of the Romance Writers of America, the New Jersey Romance Writers, and the Long Island Romance Writers, Kiersten has been working in book publishing for more than twenty years in marketing and promotion. At other times in her career, she’s worked back stage for a regional theater, managed advertorials for a commerce newspaper in the World Trade Center, and served as senior editor for a pharmaceutical advertising agency.

Writer, singer, editor, traveler, tequila drinker, and cat herder, Kiersten avoids pen names since keeping her multiple personalities straight is hard enough work. Born and bred in New Jersey (and accent free), Kiersten sings as easily, and as frequently, as she breathes, drives fast with the windows down and the music up, likes to randomly switch accents for kicks and giggles, and would be happy to spend all her money traveling for the rest of her life.

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