In Florida, fall is (barely) in the air. No, we haven’t turned off the air conditioner. At our house, it runs practically twenty-four/seven twelve months a year. But the temperatures outside have dropped into the very pleasant mid-seventies, and the humidity isn’t quite as oppressive as it was in the middle of the summer. With palm trees and evergreens dominating the landscape, the occasional flame tree provides a burst of bright red against all that green. Citrus ripens on the neighbor’s orange and grapefruit trees. The fruit promises a taste of sunshine when the temperatures drop lower.
Which they’ll do for, maybe, a day or two.
In January or February.
In the midst of all this fall-ish Florida weather the Chinese Ting that grows outside my office window has produced a bumper crop of berries. Flocks of robins and butterbutts that have escaped colder, northern temperatures are drawn to the tree. The birds cover the ground and roost in the wooded lot behind my house. With all these returning visitors to keep me company, is it any wonder that I’ve been asking, “Where did you come from?”
But I’m focused on heroes and heroines, not birds or bees. Where do they come from?
For me, every new book starts with the characters. And because I write romance, I usually “see” the hero or the heroine first. I’ll be going about my business—shopping, cleaning, cooking, whatever—and one of them will pop into my head. Sometimes, they wave and keep on going. There’s a woman in an orange grove who’s been doing that lately. So far, she hasn’t pulled up a chair to sit a spell, so I wave simply back and let her go. When she’s ready to tell her story, she’ll come back...and stay.
That’s how it was with heroine in Rancher’s Son, my fourth book for Harlequin American Romance. Social worker Sarah Magarity had visited before. She had a minor role in The Daddy Catch and Rodeo Daughter. But, when I sat down to draft the proposal for Rancher’s Son, Sarah practically took up residence in my visitor’s chair.
Over tea she told me about the cattle drive she’d sent two older foster kids on, and how a certain hunky cowboy had let her down when he abruptly returned the boys to DCF’s custody. She showed me how passionate she was about improving the foster care system. Unfortunately, her tendency to go out on a limb for the children in her care had not only broken her heart, but jeopardized her job. So, she’d sworn to remain aloof, to keep her distance the way her boss insisted. All her pent-up love went into raising orchids and plumeria instead.
The more she “talked” the more I thought Sarah deserved her own Happily Ever After. But to give it to her, I needed a hero. And I didn’t have one.
I was at a loss until the Christmas Eve a five-year-old orphan landed on DCF’s doorstep with nothing but a birth certificate naming Ty Parker as his father. Right away, I knew my hero had arrived on the scene.
Of course, a piece of paper didn’t prove anything in Ty’s book. Any more than the protests of a self-righteous social worker. A fourth-generation Florida rancher, this cowboy demanded paternity tests. And as much as he insisted the child couldn’t be his, on the off-chance he was wrong, Ty refused to let the little boy go into foster care while they waited for the results.
Taking a young boy on Ty’s cattle drive made perfectly good sense to someone who’d grown up on a ranch. But not to a city girl like Sarah. She insisted on accompanying the boy. To watch out for his safety, and see for herself if Ty Parker was daddy material.
Clearly, Ty and Sarah both needed each other as much as they needed the little boy who’d been dumped in their laps. That’s where my job—and a cattle drive through Florida’s version of the Old West—came in. The result was Rancher’s Son, a book I hope you’ll enjoy when it’s released just in time for Christmas on November 27th.
So, now you know where my stories come from. But what about yourself? What prompts you to pick up a book? Do you read because the plot intrigues you? Or because the characters do? Or are you most attracted to the setting?
At least one inquiring mind wants to know the answer to those questions. Share your answers in the comments section. I’ll choose one name at random. And on its release day, November 27th, I’ll drop a copy of Rancher’s Son in the mail to you.
You can learn more about Leigh Duncan and her books on her website www.leighduncan.com