When I start any new project, I outline like crazy. I don’t just write an overall book idea; I do chapter-by-chapter outlines, complete with blocked-out scenes and even pertinent dialogue. Because of that, I don’t usually have too much extra fluff that needs to be cut.

From start to finish, I’m a plotter, not a pantser.

There was one scene, though, that didn’t make it into my latest release, HOUSE OF PAYNE: STEELE. My beta readers didn’t think it added anything to the story, so I cut it out. Part of me wishes I’d kept it in, since I believe it best displays the proximity issues my heroine, Essie, has in the beginning of the book. As a teen, Essie was brutally raped and beaten by a family “friend,” and while physically recovered, she still has near-crippling issues when it comes to human closeness. This scene takes place shortly after Essie and the hero, Steele, have met.




The diner across the street from House Of Payne was packed when Essie and Steele walked through the door. She looked around the room with a sinking heart, half-expecting Steele to announce he wasn’t in the mood to wait for a seat to open up, and that would be the end of the world’s shortest coffee-date.

Oh well. Even if that did happen, it would still have been the best date she’d had all year.

“There.” Suddenly Steele pointed at a place at the end of the counter that had probably been there since Elvis was a strange, sleepy-eyed kid with a funny lip curl and loose hips. “If we hustle, we can get a couple of stools.”

He didn’t have to tell her twice. Essie bounded into the fray and almost got flattened by a bald-headed man wearing a biker jacket and jeans. She didn’t have time to even squeal when Steele’s arm suddenly came around her shoulders to steer her to safety. In an instant, her skin tingled wherever he touched, a not-altogether unpleasant sensation, but the unexpected physical contact still made her flinch as if touched by a live wire. Almost as immediately as he’d reached out to her, his arm dropped away, and he gestured for her to lead the way.

Great, she thought as dismay rolled its dark and chilling wave through the core of her heart. Way to act like a total freak. And nothing started off a date quite like an “Ew, don’t touch me!” flinch.

This wasn’t going to work. Opening herself up to people, trying to make connections… she was proud of herself for trying, but it was time to face facts. This just wasn’t going to work.

“I’m not sure I’m all that hungry.” Essie grabbed up a laminated menu the moment a waitress buzzed by to drop them off. “I know it’s boring, but I’m not really in the mood for anything else but coffee.” And besides, the sooner they ended their time there at the diner, the sooner this farce of a date would be over and she could spare the poor guy any further moments of awkwardness.

Seated beside her, Steele picked up his menu as well. “That makes one of us. I’m starving, so I’m going for something big. How does a triple-decker burger sound to you?”

“Like it could feed a small nation.”

“Cute.” He shifted on his stool so that he faced her more than the counter. “You are, you know.”

Distracted, she continued to peruse the menu. Maybe she could eat, after all. “I am what?”


Her gaze snapped up to him. When she found that his eyes were already on her—until that moment she’d had no idea her breath could be taken away just by someone looking at her—the bustling diner around them seemed to go silent.

“You…” She had to swallow, her throat was so tight. “You think I’m cute?”

He nodded, not even blinking. “You’re cute all the time, but when you’re being funny, your cuteness levels become borderline lethal.”

“Ah.” She still wasn’t breathing. At that point she could only hope he found fainting cute as well. “I always thought cute described puppies and kitties, but I’m strangely okay with it being applied to me.”

A corner of his mouth curled. “Glad to hear it.”

“It also makes me want to be funny again just so I can continue to be cute in your eyes, but now I’m under the gun. From this point on, you should probably expect nothing but dull remarks from me, like nice weather we’re having, and I like trees.”

He chuckled and tucked his menu behind the napkin dispenser, and since the napkins were technically in her personal-space zone, she micro-flinched again.

Damn it.

“As it happens, I’m loving the summer heat, and I like trees too. Trees are good. See how well we’re getting along?”

Valiantly she tried to smile. “Like best buds already. What are you wearing tomorrow? I want to match you so we can be twins.”

“Twins are closer than most people, you know.” Keeping his gaze on her, he rested his forearm on the counter, and that brought his hand only an inch or two away from her breasts. “They don’t mind how close the other gets.”

“I’m sorry.” The words were out before she could stop them, and she gripped the menu so hard it shook. “You know my background by now, right? It… it messed me up when it comes to letting people close. Letting people close means they’re close enough to do damage. I know you have no intention of harming me, but that doesn’t matter. No matter how logically I try to look at it, I still jump out of my skin whenever someone gets into my personal space. I’m just…doomed, I guess,” she finished on a lame laugh that, to her horror, sounded broken.

“What you are is an idiot if you really believe that.” Facing her fully, he slid almost all the way off his stool so that his long legs were on either side of her, hemming her in. “Don’t apologize for having great survival instincts. You don’t let people you don’t know get too close to you, and you don’t know me. Not yet, anyway.” Then his eyes narrowed. “Unless you’re rejecting everything about me?”

No.” In a flash she whipped around to face him, and that fast, she found herself in the frame of his long legs. “I’m not rejecting you at all. I’m just…”

“You’re not used to physical contact.” Very slowly, as if afraid of startling her, he reached over to close a hand over hers lying on the edge of the counter. “You’re not used to physical closeness. You’re not used to me. But you will be.”

Before she could think of an adequate reply, the waitress zoomed by with a smile and an ordering pad, and as they gave their orders, Essie couldn’t help but notice Steele refused to let go of her hand.



Sound interesting? Check out HOUSE OF PAYNE: STEELE, out now for only $0.99!

TRIGGER WARNING: This book deals with the sensitive subjects of surviving rape, trauma suffered during combat, child abuse, and possible sterility. If you have issues with these elements, this book might not be for you.

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Raped. Tortured. Beaten. Essie Santiago’s life fell apart when she was sixteen, and it’s taken eight years to put it back together. There are some pieces that can never be mended; it would take a miracle for her to get pregnant, and physical closeness is something that makes her shudder. Only her love of creating beauty in the form of fashion gets her through the worst of the darkness.

When a mortar attack destroyed half his face and all of his life as he knew it, something vital died inside of former Marine, Ezekiel Steele. For years he’s felt nothing… until he sees Essie trying her best to be invisible. But the feisty spark inside the lovely fashion designer is too bright to be concealed, and like a moth to a flame, he’s helpless to resist her.

Chicago’s premiere tattoo studio, House Of Payne, is taking the world of fashion by storm, holding a contest to find the best designer the city has to offer. Competition is fierce, but all Essie can concentrate on are Steele’s dirty-talking lessons in sex. But when the student surpasses the master when it comes to love, Steele’s inner demons get the better of him. If he can’t face them down, he’ll lose Essie forever.

123,000 words

***This standalone, mildly erotic contemporary romance contains a dirty-talking Alpha with a penchant for having sex in public places. No cheating, no love triangles and no cliffhangers. Fairy tale HEA guaranteed. Due to adult language and sexual content, this book is not intended for people under the age of 18***