Sunday, July 20, 2008

by Suzanne Welsh
Hey readers, I’m out to lunch today with my dear friend and critique partner, Jo Davis. Jo is a 2004 Golden Heart finalist who left teaching to successfully launch her career as a romance author. We’ve been planning our trip to San Francisco next week over margaritas, (the beverage of choice at our monthly lunches) and getting ready for the debut of Jo’s Firefighters of Station Five series with her first book, TRIAL BY FIRE, which releases from Signet Eclipse on August 5.

Nibbling on the Southwestern spring rolls, yet another lunch staple, I fix Jo with a twinkle in my eyes.

Suz: So tell me again how you came up with the idea for this series of sexy firefighters?

Jo [taking a sip of her margarita]: The idea was born from two factors, the first being simple necessity. I needed a big, hero-driven series concept nobody else was writing about. Cops, FBI agents, and Navy SEALS? Forget it. Done, done, and done. The second factor was that the series must be exciting for me to write. One day in the spring of 2006, I was sitting in my office, frustrated, mulling over these two factors. I looked around at the scores of romance novels sitting on my shelves and forced myself to categorize the romantic suspense books objectively. What was I seeing? Um, cops, FBI, and Navy SEALS. More importantly, what was I NOT seeing? The answer smacked me in the head like a baseball bat—FIREFIGHTERS! Hot damn!! My God, they are the poster boys for the American Hero! Who doesn’t love a man who’ll rush into a burning building or pry apart the twisted metal of a mangled car to rescue you and me?

Suz [smiling and nodding in agreement]: Very true! So, did the series sell right away?

Jo: No, nothing happens fast in the publishing industry. First, I had to research firefighters. I had to make contacts, learn about their jobs, the equipment, the dangers. I did months of study before I could even write the series proposal. When I finally sent the proposal to my agent, I told her, “This is the one!” The series sold to NAL nine months later.

The waiter returns and takes our orders for salads, (I did say we were going to conference next week, didn’t I?) As the waiter leaves, a commotion starts near the restaurant’s entrance. A group of firefighters, complete with jump pants and boots approaches.

Their leader is six feet six inches of pure muscle and short brown spiky hair, bleached blond on the tips. Watching his confident swagger, I feel like I’m on fire and quickly down half my margarita.

Suz [drooling]: Oh, my! Who is that?!

Jo [waving a spring roll at the hunk]: That, dear friend, is Lieutenant Howard “Six-Pack” Paxton, the hero of TRIAL BY FIRE. Scrumptious, isn’t he?

Suz: And, look! He brought all of his friends!

Following Six-Pack is a beautiful black woman who’s whipcord lean and looks like she can handle her own in a fire or against any one of these guys. She’s laughing with the sexiest dark haired geek I think I’ve ever seen. Behind those glasses lurks the heart and soul of a lover, I’m just sure of it.

Jo: That’s Eve Marshall and Zack Knight, her best friend on A-shift. Zack is the FAO—the fire apparatus operator or engine driver—and he’s the hero of UNDER FIRE, which releases in May 2009. Behind them are Tommy Skyler, the youngest guy on A-shift, and Julian Salvatore, the team’s horn dog and all-around pain in the butt.

Staring at Tommy, my jaw is hanging open. With blond hair and pale blue eyes, he has to be the most unnaturally beautiful young man I’ve ever seen. Like Brad Pitt ten years ago, only way better! And bringing up the rear is the epitome of a sexy Latino lover and he knows it. Julian catches my eye with a smile and a wink. Yep, there goes the last of my margarita!

Jo [frowning]: There’s one missing—

Suz: They’re coming straight over here! Did you invite them?

Jo stops searching for the missing team member and grins at me. Why, that stinker set me up!

Jo: Surprise!

Quickly, I brush at stray crumbs of spring roll and give the guys and Eve a welcoming smile. They invade our table like a category five hurricane, laughing and poking each other, pulling over extra chairs, and generally causing a ruckus as other diners stare at the spectacle.

Julian [to Zack, wedging a chair between Suz and Jo]: Move over, geek. I’ve got ladies to satisfy.

Zack [rolling his eyes]: Actually, what you’ve got requires a good therapist.

Tommy [snatching the last spring roll]: Oh, dude, I love these things! Can we order more?

Eve [slapping the munchie out his hand]: Those aren’t yours.

Tommy: Ow! Hey, it was just sitting there…

Eve and Tommy start arguing loudly over the food while Julian starts whispering sweet Spanish nothings in my ear, making me giggle. He’s certainly earned his reputation, for heaven’s sake! Six-Pack pops Julian on the back of the head, then slaps a hand on the table to get everyone’s attention. Just as I thought, this big man is clearly the leader of the group.

Six-Pack [setting his hand-held radio unit on the table]: Knock it off! Jo invited us to meet Suz and you nimrods are gonna get us kicked out. Sorry, ladies. Suz, it’s nice to meet you.

Suz [blushing]: Well, it’s great to meet you all! Are you on break?

Zack: In between calls. We just worked a messy traffic accident, but the victims are okay. Before that, we had an accident in the home and a man who forgot to take his insulin. Busy day.

Suz: What about fires? Don’t you get a lot of calls to those?

Eve [glancing at Six-Pack in concern]: No. Well, not normally. Thanks to fire prevention awareness programs, only about 3% of our calls relate to fires. The rest consist mostly of home and traffic accidents, and an odd assortment of emergencies.

Suz: What do you mean, not normally?

Six-Pack [looking away, mouth tight]: We’re having a problem with an arsonist/murderer torching victims in our sector. It’s getting personal.

Tommy: But the cops are gonna catch this sicko, dude. Not to worry.

Eve [making an obvious attempt to divert the topic]: Stop saying dude or I’ll smack you again, kid.

Tommy [arching a blond brow]: Baby, I’ve got your kid right he—

Jo: Watch it, Skyler. This is a family audience. [Tommy looks contrite] Six-Pack, where’s Sean Tanner?

Everyone looks to Six-Pack. He’s their rock, and the respect this team has for him is plain. The lieutenant chooses his words very carefully.

Six-Pack [brown eyes sad]: The captain called in sick today. Twenty-four hour bug or something.

Jo and I exchange knowing looks while everyone else squirms uncomfortably. We all know Six-Pack’s best friend doesn’t have an illness you can treat with medicine, and that it’s going to take a lot more than one shift off to heal Sean’s grief from his tragic loss. True to form, the oh-so-scrumptious Julian provides a distraction, putting each of his arms around me and Jo and grinning like the rogue he is.

Julian: So, queridas, I’m off tomorrow night. What do you say, want burn up the town with me?

Suz [laughing]: Hate to break it to you, but we’re taken. Sorry!

Julian [pouting]: I’m wounded. Alas, I may never recover from the rejection.

Jo [dryly]: Oh, I’m sure you’ll find solace somewhere.

Eve: Where doesn’t he find solace? Ah, the teaming masses of femininity—

Six-Pack’s radio squawks an interruption—a call to assist a child who’s head is stuck through a…toilet seat? A couple of the guys snicker and Six-Pack shakes his head with a killer half-smile as they all push out of their chairs.

Six-Pack: Another day in the jungle. Sorry, ladies, we’ve gotta run but we’ll see you around, huh?

Jo [winking]: Not if I see you first.

Suz: This was such a cool surprise! Thanks for stopping by, and take care.

Jo and I watch them leave with a sigh of appreciation. There’s nothing finer than seeing a firefighter in action, rushing to the rescue!

Suz: I can see why you love those guys so much! They’re adorable.

Jo [finishing her margarita]: Aren’t they? And I get to spend every single day with them.

Suz: Oh, hush! So, tell me what’s next? Do you have any other books coming out besides the firefighter series?

Jo: Yes, I do. I have two erotic suspense/thrillers coming from NAL HEAT. The first one is titled WHEN ALEX WAS BAD and will be released in August 2009. It’s about a wife who grants her lonely husband seven occasions of sinful pleasure with any lover he chooses, provided he confesses to each liaison in detail and agrees to accept whatever punishment she doles out. Too bad the bargain comes with a deadly price…

Suz: Ooh, that sounds fantastic! Now that you mention the story, I’ve heard a whisper through the grapevine of something exciting on the horizon involving ALEX. Do tell!

Jo [blinking innocently]: Why, I can’t imagine what you mean. How about another margarita?

Suz: Uh-huh. Nice diversion.

Jo: I’m so glad we did this today! I had fun.

Suz [signaling the waiter for another margarita]: Me, too! And thanks for bringing the whole gang by today. When I read their story in TRIAL BY FIRE, it felt as if they were the coolest group of close-knit firefighter-heroes I'd want to spend more time with. By the way...uhm...tell your readers what kind of heroine Six-pack falls for? Perhaps a cute brunette OB nurse? [hint, hint]

Jo: Patience, dear. You already know you’ll have to wait for Zack’s story, UNDER FIRE, for your nurse heroine! Kat McKenna is a spunky, curvaceous first grade teacher who literally falls into Six-Packs arms at the scene of a fire.

Suz: Ooh, I can’t wait for TRIAL BY FIRE hit the shelves—only two more weeks!

Jo: It’s been a long time coming, girlfriend. I’ll drink to that!

Suz: So dear reader we have a question for you. Have you ever been up close and personal with a firefighter, as in had one come to your rescue? Tell us all about it and Jo will have an autographed copy of TRIAL BY FIRE for one poster. Trust me when I tell you this is one HOT read!! You can watch the trailer at Jo's website @ And if you wish to order a copy from Amazon, just click on the book in this blog.