Tara Tropeful’s Holiday Letter

IMG_4807I wasn’t even sure I’d find the time to write my annual holiday letter this year. Whoa Daisy, 2014 was a busy year. Between getting married to the love of my life and finding my perfect, fulfilling and oh so rewarding career, I’ve barely had time to watch Scandal!

As I’m sure you recall, at the end of 2013, I was devastated after my fiancée Hutch left me for his stepmother and her son. The school I’d worked for since college closed after its headmistress, said stepmother, absconded with the school’s funds and its soccer coach, said fiancée. I was down on my luck and suffering from low self-esteem.

But last New Year’s Eve, my life changed. I was planning on spending the night alone in my tiny apartment, watching “Love Actually” for the millionth time, when my old roommate Sabrina called me in a panic. Her brother, Beau, a Navy SEAL, was in town unexpectedly and needed a date to a big party Baldur, Sabrina’s Icelandic celebrity chef boyfriend, was having at his restaurant, Matur. I hurriedly highlighted my hair, pulled on my favorite tiny red dress, and Ubered to the festivities. It was a magical evening. Beau was broad shouldered and gorgeous with raven hair cut just a little too long. As the last seconds of last year ticked away, we looked into each other’s eyes–his were the green of purloined emeralds–and, suddenly, our lips met.

When Beau told me in the morning that he was heading back that night to his submarine so he’d be back in time for his next assignment–singlehandedly taking out the biggest arms dealer in Costa Rica using a strategy based on the teaching of modern Vikings, I was crushed. I was sure this alpha male with eyes the color of a new leaf glistening in the rain was the man of my dreams. I sobbed into my mimosa(s) and vowed, henceforth, to guard my fragile heart.

I realized I needed to focus on getting a job so that I could afford both my rent and the vet bills for Princess and Duchess, the two gentle strays I had taken in after finding them wandering about nearby Picture Perfect Park one wintery day. Every morning I scoured the ads online, searching for another teaching position, but no one seemed to be hiring Elementary Calligraphy teachers. Finally, in desperation, I accepted a job as a receptionist at Broad Peter Industries, the wildly successful company owned by the Cabesa family and run by the eldest Cabesa son, Ricardo.

I thought I was going to be working for Human Resources, but, after just one day on the job, I was mysteriously reassigned to work directly under Ricardo Cabesa. I didn’t know much about the man other than what I read in the society pages: He was 37, worth billions, and had a different overly tall supermodel in his bed every week. I will confess, I was a bit terrified of working for someone with such a reputation, especially when Human Resources told me Mr. Cabesa required absolute discretion on the part of those who worked in his “inner sanctum.”

The first few weeks of working for Mr. Cabesa flew by. I was learning so much about the company and its complicated business–they made money by moving money from one country to another via a system run entirely on Samsung cell phones.

Then, one day it happened. Mr. Cabesa asked me to come into his office and shut the door. I was nervous, but he was a sublimely sexy billionaire with golden hair that put the sun to shame and eyes as blue as a clear Maldivian sea. I found myself obeying his command. Once there, he took me by the hand and led me into a smaller chamber lined with mirrors, hidden behind a pale puce door I hadn’t noticed any of the hundreds of times I’d been in his office. We were there, alone, and, as he leaned into whisper in my ear, I found myself growing weak with desire coupled with fear.

“I need you to do something,” he growled. I steeled myself. “What?” I asked, sure he was going to require me to do something, well, you know. “I need you to wax my back.” “What?!?!” I yelled. “You heard me. I need it. I have a date with Giovanna Ana Beatriz, Brazil’s highest paid model tonight and I missed my aesthetician appointment today.”

Well, what could I do? Let me just say, the man has a low pain tolerance.

Even though Mr. Cabesa was paying me the big bucks to help him with his personal grooming, I knew it wasn’t the job for me. So, on the first of May, I quit and, after packing all my possessions into six suitcases, moved back in with my parents who, due to their allergies, gave me, Princess, and Duchess the room over the garage. Honestly, returning to the small town of Sugar, Texas was not what I’d hoped for myself at the ripe old age of 25. Jobs are scarce in the Southern part of East Texas. Finally, after weeks of searching, I was hired as the office manager of Best County’s Sheriff’s Office. (I think my handwriting won them over.)

Well, let me tell you, that office was a disaster when I started. The current Sheriff, one Cade Slade, was as challenging a man as I’ve ever met. I don’t think any one has ever been as rude to me as he was–the man defined the word cocky. Everything about his strong jaw, mobile lips, and silver eyes made me crazy. And not only was he impossibly handsome–that man’s backside in a pair of worn jeans would make Angelina dump Brad in a heartbeat–he was also arrogant. He was so sure that his eight years of being the head lawman for the County made him an expert on how the cases should be filed. Really, as if anyone is still using that ancient last name, first name system. But, I am a strong woman and I didn’t back down. I explained that if the cases were organized first by type (murder, assault, theft, streaking) and then by importance (the nuances of this did prove to be difficult to agree on), the office would work more smoothly.

Sheriff Slade and I butted heads for months but, incredibly, despite his pig-headed behavior, something about him made me damp and bothered. I tried to ignore the stirrings his 6’6″ toned, pretty much perfect body created in my belly, but, the man is gorgeous. He, however, did not appear to have the same feelings for me. I mean, yes, we did keep accidentally having multi-orgasmic sex in the file room, but I knew it meant nothing to him.

Then, fate intervened.

Beau, the buff and brave Navy SEAL I’d met at New Year’s, came to town to do some necessary to the nation undercover work. One rainy fall night, I walked into the town’s only bar, The Sip and Slip, and there he was. He bought me a Cosmo–actually four–and asked if he could walk me home. He swept me into his arms as we stood on my doorstop on Sweet Pea Lane and kissed me and I knew he was… not the one.

Cade Slade had stolen my hoo-ha and my heart. As I pulled away from Beau’s embrace, about to tell him goodnight, the man of my fevered dreams pulled up in his vintage pick-up, jumped out, and strode up the driveway.

“You’re mine, Tara,” he hollered. “I was staying away from you because you deserve more than just a small town hero but I can’t do it any more. Marry me, run the office, and make me the happiest man in the world. But first, I’m gonna kick this guy’s ass.”

Well, you will be relieved to know, I was able, with the help of Princess and Duchess, to keep the boys from needing more than a few stitches. Beau left–he later began dating Cade’s little sister Carrie–holding an ice pack to his beautiful brow and Cade and I finally had sex in a bed. We were married on Christmas Day. And, not only did Best County embrace my filing system, it’s now being used by all the surrounding counties in Texas, Oklahoma, and Wyoming.

So, all in all, my year turned out like a dream come true. I hope yours did too! Wishing you the best in the New Year.

All my love,

Mrs. Tara Tropeful Slade

Sweetheart or Shrew? Sister or Skank? AAR announces a new yet to be named series!


Keeper or Kick-Her-to-the-Curb?

In July, AAR introduced the new series “Dreamboat or Douchebag” in which our staffers weigh in on the merits and demerits of famous literary heroes. These pieces have been some of our most popular and have generated a set of robust comment streams. They’ve also been a hell of a lot of fun to write.

Thus, we’ve decided to begin a similar series about heroines. Over the next year, we will set our critical sights on some of literature’s most contested heroines and pass judgement upon them. (We may even add in a movie heroine or two–wouldn’t it be fun to assess Vivian from Pretty Woman or evaluate Princess Leia?)

There are two things we are considering as we begin. The first is what makes a good heroine? There is, unsurprisingly, no consensus on that. Maggie likes a heroine who’s “well written and can make me sympathetic to her point of view.” Melanie prefers a woman who is “human – she has her flaws, but they aren’t the focus of the book” and who “feels real.” Shannon’s favorites are “self-reliant, but not afraid to ask for help when needed.” Caroline prizes “a sense of ethics,” “a spine,” and “self-awareness.” Lynn goes for “a smart, confident heroine who knows her limitations.” Lee wants a woman who stands up for herself. For me, a good heroine is one who deserves her happy ending–a criteria so vague it can be summed up as “I know it when I see it.

The second–and likely to be far more contentious–is what to call this column. There are those readers who acutely dislike “Dreamboat or Douchebag” and others who love it. We are sure no matter what we call our heroine column, the same situation will prevail.

I asked the staff to come up with suggestions for the column–serious and not–and their list was quite inventive. Suggested were:

First Class or Trailer Trash?
Sister or Skank?
Keeper or Kick-Her-to-the-Curb?
Bangable or Brown Bag?
Darling or Diva?
Wonderwoman or Witch?
Honey or Harridan?
Sweetheart or Shrew?
Captivating or Contemptible?
Special or Spoiled?
Treasure or Terror?
Catch or C**t?
Babe or Beyotch?
Hall of Fame or Walk of Shame?
Babe or Bint?


I’m not sure what we will pick or even if this is our final list. I give the staff points for wit.

We hope you will enjoy our new series and we welcome suggestions for heroines you’d like to see us consider. As always, we love to hear from you.

Dabney Grinnan

Writing a New Love Story

How good are you at reading in between the lines? If you’re better than me, maybe you saw my impending divorce coming before I did. When I blog, I tend to take inspiration from what’s going on in my own reading and in my life. A few months ago I wrote about the romances that mirror your own romance, and in a roundabout way discussed my newfound disenchantment with heroines who marry too young. Continue reading

TBR Challenge: Back in Time

provoked Given I read historicals almost exclusively, this month’s prompt wasn’t much of a challenge so I decided to look for something – for me – a bit different. Provoked is the first in Joanna Chambers’ Enlightenment trilogy, and an M/M romance, which is a genre I’ve read only once or twice before.

Not being overly familiar with historical M/M, I had the idea that it would be quite difficult for a romance to have a convincing HEA for two men at a time in history when homosexuality was not only illegal, but punishable by death – and while I certainly have no problem with the idea of two hot guys stripping off their frock coats and getting it on, I can read erotica for that. I read romance (as opposed to erotica) most of the time because I want more than that in my reading material – I want a decent storyline, too, and – with any luck – one that doesn’t stretch my credulity to breaking point and beyond.

The book is set in Regency Scotland, at a time of much political and social unrest. The author immediately evokes a strong sense of time and place with the opening of the story in which two young men – weavers accused of treason – are publicly executed. Present in the crowd is David Lauriston, a twenty-four year-old advocate who had defended the men in court, even though their fate was a foregone conclusion. Continue reading

Grown-Up Reading: Why Romance and Happy Endings Matter

QRMI heard George RR Martin on the radio the other day. Asked about the Game of Thrones body count he said something like (this is a paraphrase): “I used to read stories that had happy endings, where people did good things and nobody got raped…then I grew up.” Meanwhile, in an article on children’s fiction, author Robert Muchamore observes, “While a childish thirst for happy endings satisfies and entertains us, the real world is so complex that unambiguously happy endings hardly exist.” Continue reading

Happily Ever….

QRMOne of the most – cough – discussed posts we’ve had on Queer Romance Month recently has been about the happy ever after in queer romance. What the post, and the responses to the post, highlighted for me was just how complex and emotive this issue is. And while that would probably make any normal person STFU, I’d kind of like to talk about it. So the next two QRM-inspired posts for AAR are going to be about the HEA: in this one I’m going to ponder what HEA means in the context of queer romances, and in the companion post next week, KJ Charles is going to talk about why the HEA is valuable and necessary on its own terms. Continue reading

TBR Challenge – On the Edges of Our Seats

huntinghuman It’s been a while since I read a paranormal that felt fresh. For that reason, I was especially happy to read Hunting Human as I dove into the paranormal side of “paranormal or romantic suspense” for this month’s TBR challenge. This book is a 2011 release from Carina Press, and after reading it, I was rather disappointed to find that author Amanda E. Alvarez has apparently not released any other books. That’s a real shame because even if Hunting Human isn’t perfect, I’d give it a very solid B. My romance picks don’t often haunt me, but this book both made me smile and made chills run down my spine.

The chilling part starts early as we meet heroine Lizzy Williams in eastern Europe with her best friend Rachel. As they leave a bar and head for their hostel, the sense of foreboding increases. The reader just knows that something horrible is about to happen to these two happy young women, but reads on, powerless to stop it. When several men they encountered at the bar kidnap the duo and throw them into a van, my heart sank. I was horrified, but also so gripped by the story that I just couldn’t turn away. Continue reading