Can a leopard get rid of its spots?

—Jeremiah 13:23

So … can a leopard change its spots??

You know, up until last week, I would have said “no,” but my husband proved me wrong.

You see, Keith just finished reading the manuscript for book 2 in my Heart of San Francisco series, Love at Any Risk (working title that was originally Dare to Love), and his input has effectively diminished some of my spots. Oh, sure, sure—I’m still a leopard, which is just as passionate as a cougar, only far more restrained in the moral sense, preferring God’s take on romance rather than the world’s), but those spots—my propensity for including pulse-pounding kisses in my novels—are fading somewhat.

Now, it’s no secret I love kisses in my books and lots and lots of them, and, in fact, had a kiss on the very first page of my debut novel A Passion Most Pure, a most shocking notion for a Christian novel. Contrary to most Christian romance, where a kiss doesn’t generally happen till midway or ¾ of the way through the book, all of my books contain a kiss in the first quarter of the novel … uh, except for this latest manuscript for Love at Any Risk. How did that happen, you ask? Was I on cold medicine, perchance, wreaking havoc with my passion for romance?

Nope, just married to a man who thinks differently than I do.

“Boy, are people going to hate you,” he said one day this week, strolling into the hearthroom where I write with a black binder under his arm.

“What do you mean people are going to hate me?” I respond in alarm, wondering how on earth I could offend in a book that was toned down in every possible way—length, complexity, passion, angst, drama, more subtle spirituality, etc.

He levels me with a mock scowl. “I’m about ready to jump out of my skin, Julie, after the last scene I just read. I thought you said this book was a sweet, easy read with no drama?”

I blink. “It is,” I say, thinking maybe he picked up his Popular Mechanics by mistake.

“I don’t think so,” he says with a smirk, “people are going to hate you for making them crazy.”

Crazy? A true talent of mine, obviously, given the excessive roll of my daughter’s eyes over the years, the constant shake of my husband’s head, the wealth of emails from readers who either did or wanted to throw one or more of my books across a room.

“B-but … but … there’s no huge surprise in this one,” I argue, “no great drama, no angst …”

The head-shaking commences as he smiles and walks away, binder in hand.

Which just goes to show that even though this leopard thought she was changing her spots, she wasn’t, at least not in the drama sense. Apparently that is ingrained in every fiber of this CDQ’s being.

But in the romance sense? Ah … a leopard of a different color, at least on this book, and you know what? For the first time ever, I’m content with the idea that a kiss does not happen in Love at Any Risk until ¾ of the way through, just like a typical Christian romance. In fact, call me spotty if you will, but I think it may actually be a little more romantic this way with the desire to kiss hovering over the entire book like the intoxicating scent of Ghiradelli chocolate hovered over the wharves of San Francisco back in 1903.

But … I’ll let you be the judge. Here are two clips from the same scene in Love at Any Risk in which the hero enters the heroine’s classroom while she’s standing on a chair, pinning letters to a bulletin board. In the first example, I originally had what I affectionately refer to as a “caveman kiss” (see my Seeker blog entitled KISS-ology 103 for a definition and example), which happens ¼ of the way through the book, true to my form and spots. But based on the feedback from my hubby, I changed this caveman kiss to a softer near-kiss, which I’m shocked to discover I actually like better. What do you think? And by the way, I’m THRILLED to say that my hubby finished this book in record time (3 or 4 days and him a non-reader) and says he “misses the characters” and wants to read it again before I send it off to my editor, so YAY!! Hope my readers agree!!

Happy reading and Happy Weekend!




     “Look, lady, I’m sorry I riled you again, but if you would just listen to reason—”

     With a sharp suck of air, she hopped off the chair and grabbed her pointer, eyes blazing and stick flailing. “Reason?!” Two circles of bright pink bruised her creamy cheeks, clear indication he had effectively triggered her ire—for the umpteenth blasted time. “There is no reasoning with a brainless bully like you,” she shrieked, her voice so high-pitched, it hurt his ears. “Oooooo, you are simply the most infuriating baboon I have ever had the misfortune to encounter—out!”

     He put his hands up to fend her off. “Look, Miss McClare, if you would just hear me out—”

     Whoosh! The stick nearly sliced his ear before he dodged it, snatching it from her fingers so fast, it hit the wall even before her gasp hit the air. He loomed over her, temple throbbing. “One more stunt like that, lady, and I’ll arrest you for assault with a deadly weapon.”

     “I’ll give you assault!” She hiked her heel and stomped his foot with a loud grunt, further singeing his temper when she marred his fresh shoe polish. Whirling around, she grabbed a wooden yardstick from her desk while he gaped at the half-moon indentation on the tip of his shoe, hardly able to believe what the little brat had done. Nobody scuffs my Italian leather oxfords …

     Slapping the yardstick on her desk, she jabbed it toward the door, yammering on and on about what a disgrace he was to the precinct and what a pitiful excuse he was for a man. He was sorely tempted to break her ruler too, but his promise to Lottie and Miss Penny had him by the throat. Not unlike a certain feather-headed aristosnob. He ground his teeth, glaring while her tirade continued, wishing there was someway he could just shut the woman up. She continued to unleash her fury, hands plunked on her hips and green eyes glittering like jagged glass. All at once, her words faded while he focused on her mouth, Miss Penny’s warning ringing in his ears. “And you’ll be nice to Miss McClare and treat her with the respect she deserves, right?” His lips curved in a devious smile.

     Oh, yeah …

     She jabbered on, near glazing his eyes before she popped him with the ruler, her noisy nattering never missing a beat.

     “That’s it,” he muttered and tossing his hat on a nearby desk, he jerked the ruler from her hand and flung it away. Scooping her up in his arms, he silenced her with a sound kiss, her feet dangling limp when he latched her to his waist with an iron grip. Blissful silence reigned for several pulse-pounding seconds while her shock wore off and then she twisted and kicked till he tightened his hold, determined to give the wildcat something to smack him for. Much to his chagrin, she tasted like peppermint with just a hint of honey, and somewhere deep down inside a groan rose in his chest when fire began to lick through his body. The intensity of attraction jolted him so much that he dropped her like a rock, as if he’d been singed, and from the blood throbbing in his veins, he wasn’t all that sure he hadn’t.

     She landed precariously with a hard grunt, the wind obviously knocked out of her as she wobbled on her feet. “H-how … h-how d-dare you!” she sputtered, the whites of her eyes circled in shock as she teetered on her heels.

     “Only way to shut you up,” he said in a near growl, swiping his hat from the desk. He jerked his waistcoat closed, then buttoned his vest with fingers as thick as the insults on the tip of his tongue. “I’m warning you, princess, for you own good—stay off both the trolley and the streets by yourself in the Barbary Coast, especially after dark, understand?”



     “I … apologize, Detective Baronē,” she whispered with her back to him, actually pronouncing his name correctly for the very first time. “I’ve been …” He could almost hear the swallow of pride in her throat. “Unforgivably rude and I just hope …” She pivoted slowly on the chair to face him, the humility in her eyes jolting him when it heightened her beauty. “You can forgive me for being such an obnoxious brat.”

     A leisurely smile curved on his lips. “Forgiven, Miss McClare,” he said with tease in his tone, “and I sure hope apologies are on the curriculum, ma’am, because you do them so well.” He extended his hand with a cock of his head. “May I help you down so we can start over?

     She drew in a deep breath and released it with a nervous smile of relief, placing her palm in his. “Yes, please.” Voice as soft as her touch, she startled when the dainty tip of her oxblood kid leather shoe accidentally kicked the pinbox on the edge of her chair, causing her to wobble. “Oh!” she squeaked, the crash of the pins apparently leaving her off kilter. With a look of abject horror, she flailed in the air for several panicked heartbeats before finally thudding hard against his chest, his arms fusing them together in a state of mutual stun.

     He blinked, paralyzed by the warmth of her body, the flare of her eyes, the scent of chocolate from parted lips so lush, the fire blazing through him could have melted the candy in her bowl. As if hypnotized by the shape of her mouth, his gaze lingered there, feeling the pull …

     “Uh, Mr. Baronē?” The lips appeared to move in slow motion, their soft, pink color luring him close … SO very close.

     “Mmm?” Barely aware, he felt his body slowly lean in, breathing shallow and eyelids heavy, that perfect mouth calling him home …

     “Mr. Barone!”

     Her tone could have been a whack of her stick, jerking him from his fog with the reminder that a woman still dangled in his arms. Sucking in a harsh breath, he dropped her to her feet so fast, the poor thing teetered like his sanity in even thinking about kissing a dame from Snob Hill. “Forgive m-me, Miss McClare,” he stuttered in a gruff tone, “I … I don’t know what came over me.” Swallowing hard, he quickly squatted to retrieve her pinbox and pins, rising to carefully place both on her desk.

     “Thank you.” A deep rose dusted her cheeks as she took a step back. Head in a tilt, she offered a timid smile while she frittered her nails. “So, Detective Baronē,” she said with an awkward clear of her throat, “was there something you wanted?”