Jo Walsh has loved Cameron Mitchell for as long as she can remember. Whether front and center in her life or on the periphery, the tall, brooding artist has made his presence seductively and irresistibly known. But whenever they start to get close, Cam pulls away. Jo's tired of keeping her feelings in a box Cam is afraid to open. If he wants her, he'll have to prove it. And if he doesn't, Jo will need to know the real reason why . . .
. . . become the love of a lifetime?
How do you walk away from your soul mate? Cam wishes he knew. No matter how far he runs from Jo, he can't resist looking back at the silver eyes that seem to see right through him. But as well as Jo thinks she understands Cam, the dark truth about his past is something she shouldn't have to handle. Cam's sure that setting Jo free is the right thing to do. Too bad his heart has other ideas . . .
And the pain.
God, the pain, splintering up his back and puncturing him from behind.
Cam curled his bare toes into the plush area rug. He knotted his fists at the base of his neck, rubbing the tight muscles there, and brushed the sweat from his face.
He had to pull it together before Jo got back from her run with Meredith. If he was going to be with Jo, he had to fix this. Figure out how to get rid of these damn dreams. He sniffed at his T-shirt. Did he smell like him? Was it his imagination that the nasty, cloying scent had somehow crossed space and time and infected the fibers of his clothing again? Cam ripped the shirt over his head and tossed it across the room. He strode to the bathroom, shedding his jeans and stepping into Jo’s gargantuan shower.
The water wasn’t hot enough. Nothing could wash away the filth. Those hands on his shoulders. Sweat dripping from above into his hair. Spittle on his face. God, he couldn’t get clean. He barely noticed his chest and arms reddening under the scalding water and the vigorous scraping of his nails. He sank to the shower’s stone bench, pulling one knee up and enfolding it with his arm. The hot water wasn’t nearly as scorching as the shame these memories burned into him every time they paid him a nocturnal visit.
“Cam!” Jo’s voice, bordering on urgent, already concerned. “Are you here?”
Cam swallowed over his aching vocal cords. He’d awakened with screams running up his throat and fleeing his mouth. He turned off the shower, stepped out, and grabbed a towel from the hook by the door, knotting it around his hips.
“I’m in here. In the bathroom.” He prayed he sounded normal, even though he didn’t feel it yet. Couldn’t reach it yet.
Jo waved at the thick-as-soup steam filling the room.
“Good grief. Was the water set on hot as hell?” She stopped in her tracks, her eyes resting on his bare torso. “What happened to you?”
“Huh?” He looked down at himself. His arms and chest glowed red, angry lines striping him where his nails had dug in. “Oh, I guess I was…the water must have been too hot.”
“I have some ointment we can—”
“It’s fine, Jo. Leave it.”
“No, really.” Jo walked over to open the medicine cabinet. “I know I have some.”
“I said drop it.” Cam’s sharp voice sliced through the steam.
Jo looked over her shoulder, still facing the medicine cabinet.
“Jo, I didn’t mean to snap at you. It’s just…Leave it, okay?”
Jo faced him, leaning against the bathroom counter. She pulled her headband off and the elastic holding her hair hostage. She fiddled with them both before wrapping them around her wrists and looking him in the eye.
“Did you…did you scratch yourself like that, Cam?”
Jo would never understand not feeling clean. Like in-your-bones, under-your-skin dirty. Beyond-scalding-water dirty. One day in and he was already giving her reason to regret taking a chance on him. She’d think he was crazy if he told her he smelled that monster’s cologne on his shirt, on his skin, in his hair. The man was dead.
Thank YOU for having me! I’m glad to be here.
About the book and the series
Who was more difficult to write, Cam or Jo, and why?
Cam was harder to write than any of the characters in the series, I think. He is, by far, the most complex and the darkest. He and Kerris are what I call mirror characters, in that they have similar childhoods. Both are abuse survivors, and as a result wrestle with a misplaced sense of shame and guilt, like many survivors do. Both have a diminished sense of self-worth that affects the decisions they make, which readers sometimes don’t understand initially. I think Kerris makes dumb decisions in book 1, and in book 2 we understand better why she made those choices, and we see her getting help to deal with her issues. Cam’s motives and past experiences are really shrouded in a lot of mystery until book 3. There was a lot I deliberately kept from the reader in the first 2 books. Cam’s abuse took place over an extended time, and was directly connected to his mother and her disregard for him. Then another incident occurs that further complicates him as a character. There is so much push and pull between him and Jo, the reader could be like – just do it! Just get with her. It’s only as the layers of his past and hurt unfurl that the reader realizes that Cam’s unresolved hurt is a legitimate danger to his relationship and really, to himself. And ultimately, if unaddressed, to Jo. Jo was somewhat straightforward. Cam is her loophole. She is so strong, so fierce and so certain. I did have to balance the tension of the reader believing that about her and still believing that she would carry a torch for a man this long. In book 1 she planned his wedding. A lot of readers wondered how could she do that? Her greatest strength may be her capacity for unconditional love; the perspective that just because she couldn’t have him didn’t make him any less worthy of her love. She desired the best for him even when it appeared that the best was with someone else. She always found a way to be in his life as his friend. In book 3 we see her coming to the end of her capacity, not for unconditional love, because she still has that, but for being in his life without giving in to her deep feelings for him.
Was there anything about their story that surprised you as it unfolded?
Yes! Several things. The one that most surprised me I can’t say because it would be too much of a spoiler! But there is a pivotal scene where we really get to see why Cam considered himself a danger to Jo and has withheld himself. I didn’t know that aspect of the story until I started writing their book.
Now, for me, I haven’t particularly liked Cam after the previous book. How do you take someone who had some callous behavior and redeem their likeablility?
You are not alone! LOL! I would say there were fewer readers who liked Cam after the first 2 books than there were who didn’t. I had the advantage of knowing Cam’s past and his point of view. My editor and I made the decision to eliminate Cam’s point of view completely from the first 2 books because we knew it would garner sympathy, and it wasn’t his story. Kerris wasn’t his true love, and we needed the reader to root for Walsh and Kerris. I knew he had a long way to go with most folks, so I used flashbacks of his childhood to take the reader back to the genesis of his hurt. You are right there and see how cruel it was. I got so many PMs and direct messages and emails from readers by chapter 6, which is the first flashback, who said – “OK! I get it! I can’t hate him anymore.” And by the end, invariably so many readers contacted me saying, “I can’t believe I’m saying this, but Cam is my favorite character of the series now.”
Mission accomplished. LOL!
Here is an example of one of the scenes from his POV we held back in book 1: http://wp.me/P2Y3qf-4h7
Is there a message in this series you want readers to grasp?
Yes, definitely. That our hurts and our past don’t dictate our future. Both Cam and Kerris allow, at various points, what happened to them to convince them they are not worthy of the person they love. It is not until they begin, in the context of therapy, to unravel the damage the abuse did to them that they see things more clearly and can move on with their lives. We often don’t take time to connect the dots between the mistakes we make now and the pain of our pasts, so we keep making the same mistakes until we do the interior work to resolve the damage done by the past.
If you had to do it all over again, would you change anything in your latest book? In this latest book?
No. I think I might hold back a little on a particular scene in book 1 which will not be named, but anyone who read WHEN YOU ARE MINE knows exactly which scene I mean! LOL! I honestly didn’t anticipate how strong readers’ response would be to the scene between Kerris and Cam after Cam sees for himself how Kerris and Walsh feel for one another. (trying to stay spoiler-free!) That scene, more than any other, turned readers against Cam, and without his point of view, I had very little to counter that perspective with. Redeeming him in this book was definitely an uphill battle because of that scene! But for me, I think he comes sooooo far with readers in this story, that without that level of ire, the redemption of his story would be less sweet.
What do readers have to look forward to from you next?
I have 2 books in various stages of creation. One I am revising and shopping to traditional publishers, and one I am writing (and loving!!!) that I would like to self-publish at some point. I really see myself as a hybrid writer, going back and forth between traditional and self-publishing, and I look forward to that!
What inspired you to write your first book?
It was very cathartic process for me. I needed an outlet from…life. My life can be very stressful. I have a son who is on the more severe end of the Autism spectrum, and it is easy to get lost in all that entails. He is, like many kids on the autism spectrum, obsessed with water. One summer, he was obsessed with the Chattahoochee River, and we’d go there every evening after work. Sitting on the riverbank watching him play each summer night, the fictional town of Rivermont from the BENNETT series started coming to life. And each night we’d go, more of the story would unfold. The characters would tell me something new until I had the whole thing mapped out in my head and in notes on my phone! Hahaha!
What is your favorite book and why?
This is so hard. In the romance genre, and it’s really a little broader than romance, but Tiffanie DeBartolo’s How to Kill A Rock Star. The writing is amazing. Especially the hero, Paul, slays me with his wit. He is so smart and gifted. He isn’t the most handsome or the tallest or the most muscular, well-dressed…or whatever you expect from the hero, but he is the most mesmerizing thing in that book. And DeBartolo’s writing is so captivating. It is not enough for me to even have a good story or good sex scenes or whatever. It is very much how you tell the story. Word choice and the sound of the book itself. That book has all of that for me. Outside of romance and still fiction, several – Their Eyes Were Watching God, Wuthering Heights, Jane Eyre, Beloved…
What is your favorite quote?
It’s from an Emily Dickinson poem. “I dwell in possibility.” I’ve learned not to assume impossibility. I think we overassume that things are not possible. We live like that instead of embracing how absolutely possible some things are with hard work and time and pressure. And that pressure is my hope. My hope presses against the impossible all the time and overcomes it! That quote says that for me.
When I’m not writing I like to?
I founded and run a foundation for families in Georgia living with Autism. I’m very hands on with that, and it is incredibly fulfilling helping those families. And, of course, spending time with my husband and my son. And lately…watching Sex & the City marathons on E! After all this time, the clothes are still awesome! LOL!
What advice would you give to your younger self?
Stretch yourself more. Go on adventures. Leave the nest earlier and venture further. It took me a long time to fulfill my dreams of writing, partly because there was so much I had to put on hold while I figured things out for my son. His condition and the responsibilities associated with it occupied me for a long time. Still do, but I found a way to focus on something that was just for me, which is my writing. We need that as moms sometimes and don’t realize it. Don’t pursue it. And pursuing is so much easier when you’re younger and don’t have some of those responsibilities. I don’t regret my family or the decisions I made or the unexpected responsibilities and challenges that have come, but I wish I had maxed out that stage just out of college and traveled more. The lessons I hear some folks say about not letting other people define you or get to you – I just never did that. I was raised not to allow the opinions of others to shape me or sway me so that just wasn’t an issue really ever. I’ve always been pretty self-contained.
Favorite snack and/or beverage while writing?
Ahhhhh! Diet Coke. It’s an ever-kicking habit! LOL!
Favorite romance book?
I already mentioned How to Kill A Rock Star, but I also love some oldies by Kathleen Woodiwiss, Meagan McKinney, Connie Brockway, Sherry Thomas, Meredith Duran. I love a good historical, if the writing is excellent.
Other Books in the Series
About the Author
Her writings on Autism have appeared in Chicken Soup for the Soul, and she has been featured on the Montel Williams Show, NPR, Headline News and others. She is donating a portion of her proceeds to her own foundation and to her charitable partner, Talk About Curing Autism (TACA).
Her interview series MOMMIES DO THE MOST AMAZING THINGS is featured each month in Modern Mom.
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