Hi LJ Evans and welcome to HJ! We’re so excited to chat with you about your new release, Branded by a Song!
Hey, Harlequin Junkie readers! Question: Do you love music and lyrics as much as I do? Not only is my new release a “rock star” romance, but every chapter is inspired by song lyrics. This isn’t anything new for me, but maybe it’s new for you? I hope you’ll read more to find out just what I mean.
Tell us about the book with this fun little challenge using the title of the book:
B eautiful but heartbroken artist meets a
R ock star legend
N either realizes that one
D ance will change
E verything. Cari is
D etermined not to be swayed
S exy country legend,
O nly to find his gentle touch is the one thing she
N ever thought she’d need again. Brady is determined. He’s
G oing to prove to her that hearts aren’t limited to just one love song.
What’s your favorite line(s) from the book?:
“We would be art. We would be paint and chords blended together.”
Because it shows how determined Brady is to merge their two artistic bodies together. How he sees pieces of himself reflected in her paintings, and how he will always understand what drives her.
Please tell us a little about the characters in your book. What first attracts your Hero to the Heroine and vice versa?
When Brady sees Cari for the first time, he’s struck by the mahogany streaks in her hair, the way her golden eyes glitter, and the restless energy that seems to fill her. He’s attracted to her because of the strength she shows in caring for her daughter and her dead grandmother’s legacy. In her, he senses another artist with an emptiness inside that matches the one in him.
He also sees her as bright and shiny and impossible to ignore.
Before they kiss, he tells her, “Right now, it’s dark as sin. There’s no moon, and yet, I feel like I’ve got a flashlight on. A beam of pure radiance is shimmering around me…from you.”
Maybe this is why Cari is attracted to Brady as well…because he sees something in her that she finds hard to see in herself these days. Someone worthy of being loved again.
She sees him not as the “country-rock legend” with his face gracing billboards, but as her Grams’ much-beloved student who speaks through his lyrics the way she speaks through her paintings.
When he opens his heart and takes a risk to let her in…to let her daughter in…it starts to heal the broken parts of her she never thought could be healed.
When you sat down to start this book, what was the biggest challenge you faced? What were you most excited about?
The challenge and excitement of this book were actually tied to the same thing. Brady O’Neil himself. Because, even though this story is a standalone, Brady first appeared as an almost Pan-like creature in Guarded Dreams. His flirty, sexy charisma was established as he appeared as a friend in each of the Anchor Novels, and I couldn’t wait to write about how this country-rock legend found is one true love. He says he’s looking for the Faith Hill to his Tim McGraw, and I wanted to give him that. A true HEA. But, because he’d appeared in several other books, the readers expected him to be a dynamic, happy, flirty character, and I rarely write without my characters having their souls being ripped apart in some way. So, the challenge was to write someone true to those glimpses we’d gotten of him, but with an appropriate amount of depth and heartache. I wanted readers to feel in their bones just how very much Brady needed Cari to fill the void in his life.
What, in your mind, makes this book stand out?
Deep characters and swoony slow burns…
Okay, maybe that’s too simple. I guess I like to believe my stories stand out because they show the beautiful resilience of humanity. How you can get the crud kicked out of you and still stand up every single time…and how love and the family you make for yourself (by blood or choice) can guide you through.
As one reviewer put it, “This was so much more than just a romance book. This is about the power a family can wield… about how they can build you up, or tear you down. It’s about how a family can help you heal. And that my friends is simply beautiful!”
Plus, one of the things I love most about my stories is how I start every single chapter with a song that literally inspires the scenes. Most of my readers listen to the playlists as they go along and say it adds an unexpected depth to the books. Thirty-two chapters mean thirty-two love songs winging into your heart.
The First Kiss…
Yeah… I loved this first kiss. It may be my all-time favorite first kiss I’ve ever written.
The feel of his gentle exploration as he kissed me almost broke me. The slow and steady pull on my sleepy nerve endings was tearing my veins apart. A kiss tasting like berries and wine and picnics in the filtered sunlight between shady tree branches. A kiss that caused a burst of lust to spread through me because of its tenderness. A simple kiss with just lips and tongues joining and no hands or bodies, as if he knew how painful the experience would be for me and was trying to soften the blow.
A simple kiss that was anything but simple.
It felt so damn good it was hard to imagine stopping. It felt perfect.
Which sent a wave of ice down my back.
How could it be perfect?
I stepped away, regret filling me. Regret because I was being cruel, and I didn’t like to be cruel. I’d let him kiss me, knowing it could only be a kiss and nothing more. Knowing I couldn’t give him what he deserved to be given when he touched someone like that. When he kissed someone so wholeheartedly, so openly, so devotedly.
He deserved a beginning. He deserved someone giving all of themself.
And I didn’t have that to give anymore.
I’d already given it away.
If your book was optioned for a movie, what scene would you use for the audition of the main characters and why?
I think I’d include the scene where Cari finds out that her Grams’ beloved student, Cormac, is really the country-rock legend, Brady O’Neil:
Cari rubbed both her hands up and down her arms. She leaned forward and kissed the little girl’s cheek. “I’m going to be right there in the hall for a second, okay?”
Then, she stood and stepped out into the corridor, expecting me to go with her. Which I did.
“What are you doing here?” Cari asked.
“My sister is having a baby,” I told her, waving a hand down the hall toward the maternity ward.
“Congratulations. Shouldn’t you go back to her?”
“I was just heading that way, but you looked upset. I wanted to make sure you were―”
“Holy Moses,” the nurse said, dropping the water pitcher in her hand and sending its contents soaring across the linoleum flooring. She was staring at me. I put my hand to my self-chopped hair. I hadn’t grabbed my beanie in our rush out the door earlier.
“Oh my God, you’re Brady O’Neil!”
“Can I have your autograph?” she asked.
Beside me, I felt Cari stiffen as I forced a smile on my face and nodded.
“Wait. Wait. Right there!” In two seconds, she was back, shoving paper and a pen in my direction.
“Who should I make it out to?” I asked her, smiling.
“Theresa. I’m Theresa,” she said, grinning back at me.
“Theresa, you must not be from around here originally,” I told her as I signed the paper.
“How’d you know?”
I chuckled. “No one in town asks me for my autograph. They know I’m the kid who got caught one too many times in the apple orchard.”
“Plus, how could I forget that beautiful face?” I said, and she turned a deep red.
I handed the paperback back to her.
“Shall I help?” I asked, referring to the pitcher that had spilled.
Theresa turned a deeper shade of red. “No. No. I’ve got it.”
She took off again, presumably to get items to clean up with. The call button in the room behind the second nurse went off, and she sighed before going back into the room.
I turned my face to Cari’s graceful brows squinting so hard I thought they would leave permanent marks. “Cormac. You told me your name was Cormac!”
She was pissed, or embarrassed, or maybe a mixture of both. I was just sad that the cat was out of the bag. I couldn’t put it back. I couldn’t just be the person her grandmother had liked enough to leave something in her will.
“Cormac is my name. My given name,” I told her.
“I can’t believe I didn’t recognize you. I can’t believe my grandmother! That stupid mischievous look in her eyes. One last secret for her to spring on me.” Cari turned and headed back toward her daughter’s room, and I followed. Because I swear to God, the moment we’d met, a portal to another world opened around her. It sucked me right in with an energy that only a black hole could create.
Suddenly, I didn’t give a damn about a box from Elana, or my sister who was ready to burst, or my parents who had long ago forgotten the things that were important to me. The only thing I cared about was following Cari into the void and hoping I never came back.
If your hero had a sexy-times play list, what song(s) would have to be on it?
Music. Seriously. Music and me. We’re a thing!! The song that inspired this book, “Done” by Chris Janson is definitely on top of Brady O’Neil’s list followed by “Worship You” by Kane Brown. Because he definitely worships every single part of Cari… head to toe and heart and soul:
I flung my phone on the table, shed my jacket, and before she could even get her second sandal off, I picked her up and headed to the bedroom and the huge king-sized bed that resided there.
“Brady,” she laughed.
I put her down, knelt, and took off her remaining shoe before gliding my hands under the hem of her very expensive dress, tempted to just tear it from her body. I wanted to prove with my hands what I felt in my heart. She inhaled, a tremble of emotion and desire as my hands were followed by my lips. Worshipping her. Her body. Her being. Everything I adored about her.
If you want to listen to the whole playlist, you can check it out here: http://spoti.fi/3hfiUA6
What do you want people to take away from reading this book?
I want them to walk away smiling with a heart full of joy. But, I also I hope that everyone finds a sense of peace in knowing that love isn’t limited to just one person in your life. You can find more than one soulmate. If you’ve lost yours or haven’t even found your first one, don’t give up, that person is waiting out there for you. Sometimes, you just have to wait for the right moment for them to appear.
What are you currently working on? What are your up-coming releases?
The last book in the standalone Anchor Novels is due out in April. UNMASKED DREAMS is Dawson and Violet’s romantic suspense novel. It’s got international crime syndicates, international boat races, bombs, and do it yourself makeup labs…but at the heart of it is two people who found each other too early in life and had to wait five years for their time together.
It’s a beautiful second chance story about finding your feet and finding your way back to where you belong.
Thanks for blogging at HJ!
Giveaway: Two winners. Each winner receives:
1 eBook copy of Branded by a Song
1 $10 Amazon Gift Card.**
** Must be able to receive gift cards from Amazon US or PayPal as an alternative.
To enter Giveaway: Please complete the Rafflecopter form and Post a comment to this Q: If you could have one musical genius show up on your doorstep, who would it be?
Excerpt from Branded by a Song:
As if my thoughts had conjured her, I heard Cari’s voice in the old storeroom space that had now been converted into her studio. It was strange to see it filled with art supplies instead of boxes and instruments.
As Sheldon and his mom disappeared down the stairs, I looked over to see Cari on a futon in the corner with Hannah on her lap. The little girl was crying with her top hat askew on her head and arms swallowed up in a shawl that would have made Stevie Nicks jealous.
I didn’t know if I should walk away or stay. But the pain radiating from them both had me freezing to my spot. It was more palpable than Sheldon’s had been downstairs. I had the strangest urge to wrap them both in my arms and hug them until the grief and tears went away.
Cari’s eyes met mine. “She heard Sheldon in the practice room and thought…”
She thought her great-grandmother was back teaching lessons. I grimaced.
“I…I…just want to play again,” Hannah sobbed.
I tilted my head, eyebrows creasing together, surprise registering in my voice. “Does she play guitar?”
Cari shook her head. “Piano.”
I eased toward them, sinking onto the floor so my face was practically in Hannah’s. “Piano, huh? That’s what I started on. But I was quite a bit older than you.”
“Y-you did?” she asked.
I nodded. “Yep. I use my guitar most often these days because it’s easy to take with me, but the piano will always be my first love.”
“What’s your favorite song?”
“That is quite the question. If I’m playing classical music, I definitely like Claude Debussy’s ‘La Cathédral Engloutie,’ and if I’m playing contemporary music, ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ by Queen is up there.”
“Grams was only teaching me classic rock songs. That’s all I ever want to play,” Hannah said with tears in her eyes.
I tried not to laugh as the little girl obviously took her music very seriously.
“Would you like to play one for me?” I asked.
Cari’s breath caught in a shallow gasp, and I felt like an ass again, as if I’d intruded and broken some unwritten rule, but Hannah’s eyes turned wide, and a smile lit up her face.
“Can I?” she asked as she turned back to her mom.
“Are you sure you want to, Chiquita?”
She nodded, pushed off her mom, straightened her hat, grabbed my hand, and pulled me toward the practice room with a piano in it older than I was. The one I’d learned on myself. Old and scratched with keys so worn it was as if they were melting away.
She pulled a folder from one of the cubbies where Elana’s students had always kept their music and laid out the sheets on the piano. She sat down and patted the bench next to her. I looked at Tristan for approval before making my way to her.
“I can’t reach the pedals, so Grams said I shouldn’t worry about it yet.”
I nodded at this sage advice.
Then, she started into “Let It Be” by The Beatles. Not only did she play, but she also started singing with a strength and confidence that startled me so much I had to put a hand to my chest to make sure my heart was actually still working. Her sweet voice turned the song into something different than its original intention. Something haunting in a brand-new way. She made mistakes on the keys and in her pitch, but it was done smoothly and with a flourish that only Elana could have taught her.
My eyes filled, and when I looked up at Cari in the doorway, tears were rolling down her cheeks unchecked. A beautiful song. Two beautiful females. One unforgettable loss. But I could feel Elana in every inch of the room as if she were with us. The missing person. She was there in the keys and the wood and the walls. She was in the skin and the fingers of the little girl playing the classic rock song. She was in the eyes and the face of the woman watching her daughter’s fingers move.
Excerpts. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.
Has this country-rock legend finally met his match? A woman who can fill the aching void for “more” that’s been missing from his life?
Brady O’Neil tells the world he’s temporarily returning to upstate New York to help his sister. While it’s the truth, he’s also searching for the soul his music has lost. Certain his childhood mentor can help, he seeks her out and finds a woman trapped in the past instead. A woman who makes him want to stay like he never has before.
Losing her grandmother feels like yet another blow the world has dealt Cari. Keeping the music store and her daughter afloat is all she can focus on, and Grams’ beloved student sauntering in doesn’t change anything. He’s just another adventure she can’t afford.
Conceding that Brady holds the solution to her troubles doesn’t mean he can have her heart. After all, she buried that bruised organ alongside her husband years ago.
“We would be art. We would be paint and chords blended together.”
Author’s Note: This flirty rock star, independent heroine, and adorable child prodigy might just leave a permanent mark on you with their achingly sweet story.
From the award-winning author, LJ Evans, comes a standalone, single-parent romance about the lyrical healing power of love, inspired by Chris Janson’s “Done.”
Book Links: Amazon |
Meet the Author:
Award winning author, LJ Evans, lives in the California Central Valley with her husband, daughter, and the terrors called cats. She’s been writing, almost as a compulsion, since she was a little girl and will often pull the car over to write when a song lyric strikes her. A former first-grade teacher, she now spends her days reading and writing, as well as binge-watching original shows like The Crown, A Discovery of Witches, Veronica Mars, and Stranger Things.
If you ask her the one thing she won’t do, it’s pretty much anything that involves dirt—sports, gardening, or otherwise. But she loves to write about all of those things, and her first published heroine was pretty much involved with dirt on a daily basis, which is exactly why LJ loves fiction novels—the characters can be everything you’re not and still make their way into your heart.
Her debut novel, MY LIFE AS A COUNTRY ALBUM, was the Independent Author Network’s 2017 YA Book of the Year, and the debut series has won multiple awards including Romance Audiobook of the Year in the Indie Audiobook Awards.
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