Caught Up in RAINE by L.G. O’Connor
An unforgettable debut in romantic women’s fiction, Caught Up in RAINE captures the struggle of a woman who must reconcile guilt from her past with the promise of a future as her life intersects with a much younger man who offers her a second chance to get “caught up” in love on her road to redemption.
“Don’t judge a book by its cover model”
Forty-two and widowed, romance writer Jillian Grant believes hospitals equal death. Plagued by loss and convinced more is imminent when her aunt ends up in critical condition after heart surgery; she has come to equate the absence of pain with happiness. When she spots a hot, young landscaper working on the hospital grounds with an eerie resemblance to the male lead in her next novel, she convinces him to pose as her cover model.
Working multiple jobs to put himself through college, twenty-four-year-old Raine MacDonald is no stranger to loss. Behind his handsome face and rockin’ body lies family tragedy and agonizing secrets. When circumstances put him back in the path of his abusive father, fate delivers Jillian as his unwitting savior. Thing is, when he thinks of her, his thoughts are far from platonic.
Despite their age difference, Jillian and Raine discover they’re more alike than they could ever imagine. But torn between facing her own fears and grasping a chance at happiness, Jillian makes a soul-shattering decision that threatens to blow their world apart.
My heart lifts and my shoulders relax the moment I step outside and the sun hits the crown of my head. The click-clack of my high-heeled sandals across the parking lot marks the distance between me and this godforsaken place. After a silent prayer for Vera, I switch mental gears and find my escape.
Drew, the male lead in my novel who’s loosely based on my real-life Drew, slips into my head the moment I sit behind the wheel. He’s particularly loud today, begging me to write some hot scenes with Becca.
Ah, to be young and brimming with hormones.
I smile and flip on the air-conditioning. “Down, boy. You’ll need to wait until I get home.” I picture him scowling at me with his muscled arms crossed.
One glance in the rearview mirror tells me I need some major construction on my face. Thank God for waterproof mascara. Kitty missed my mini-breakdown before she arrived. No wonder she kept checking to see if I was okay. I look like total crap.
I pull out my compact and smooth my face with mineral powder, dab on some lipstick, and feather on a subtle layer of blush. Makeup always cures what ails me to some degree. “Look good, feel good,” Aunt Vera always says.
Rather than heading out the front entrance, I turn onto the long, winding drive toward the east-side exit. A chunky dump truck emblazoned with Petrillo’s Landscape Design blocks my way. Saplings with puffy treetops are visible over the side.
Seriously? Swearing under my breath, I calculate my chances of squeezing my SUV past the truck and arrive at an unwanted answer. So I shove the car in neutral, set the brake, and get out. I stalk around the oversized Tonka toy to where four guys are digging various parts of a new landscape bed.
My eye gravitates to one in particular. Oh. My. God. Above a pair of dirt-encrusted jeans, his broad, sun-kissed shoulders glimmer in the sunlight. A landscape of ripples contract along his back and arms as he works. His tawny-blond hair is drawn back in a ponytail at the nape of his neck.
I force my slack jaw back into place. “Excuse me.”
Four heads turn at once, and when the blond turns, my breath sucks in fast.
Drew. He looks like Drew—at least in my head and from what I remember. Narrow waist, hard, and lean. Unlike the rest of guys with shovels, he hasn’t used his body as a living canvas for self-expression. He has no ink. But I only wonder why for about half a second. My brain is too busy superimposing Drew as I fight not to gape.
“Um, can someone pull up the truck? I’m trying to get out,” I say, doing my best to be polite. I look away to hide my blush.
An older, dark-haired guy tosses a set of keys to the blond. “Yo. Catch.” By process of elimination, he has to be the “Petrillo” named on the side of the truck. The other two men are smaller Hispanic guys, and the blond doesn’t particularly strike me as a “Petrillo.”
My heart races as the blond trots over with the keys. He scoops up a white T-shirt lying in a mound on the grass on his way over, and wipes his face. Giving me a crooked smile, he heads to the driver’s side.
“Hey, sorry about that. You’re the first person to head down this way all day.”
“This exit points me closer to where I need to go. Sorry to be a pain.”
“No problem,” he says, and climbs up into the cab. The timbre of his voice sends chills down my spine. It’s Drew’s voice . . . or maybe just my overactive imagination.
He stares down at me quizzically. “You good?”
I realize he’s waiting for me. “Uh, yeah,” I say, waking up from my daydream haze and forcing myself back into the SUV to back up.
Acrid black smoke rises skyward from the truck’s vertical exhaust accompanied by the dull roar of the engine as he drives past me, his profile catching my peripheral vision.
My brain short-circuits as my sandal hits the gas pedal. How can I just leave?
The idea hits me like a sledgehammer, and I jam on the brakes. The blond guy is on his way back to where the other guys are planting trees when my mouth develops a mind of its own.
“Excuse me,” I yell impulsively through the open window.
He alters his direction and comes over. Stooping down, he leans his hands on my open window. “What’s up?”
His sudden proximity heightens my heart rate. For a split second, I almost lose my nerve until I look into his stunning blue eyes—Drew’s eyes. For a second, I’m back in the summer of 1990, sitting behind the wheel of my dad’s Chrysler.
Drew drops his backpack of schoolbooks onto his driveway, and leans into the open car window. His eyes, blue like the summer sky, connect with mine. Tawny blond hair falls down around his face. “I’ll pick you up at six-thirty for the concert,” he says and presses his lips to mine. Then he steps back, juts out his hips, and breaks into an air guitar riff and the first line of “Wanted Dead or Alive.”
Giggling, I shift into reverse. “Later, Bon Jovi. Love ya.”
“Love ya, too,” he shouts back, scooping his books off the blacktop.
If I’d only known how little time we had left, I would’ve done so many things differently, kissed him a little longer . . . held onto him a little tighter.
I take a second to compose myself and clear my throat. “Um, this may sound strange, but how would you like to be on a book cover?”
His head jerks back slightly, and his eyebrows fly up. “What?”
Undeterred, I give him a sweet smile and repeat slowly, “Would you. Like to be. On a book cover?”
He chuckles. “I’m not mentally deficient. I heard the question. I’m just not sure what you mean.”
I can’t help but stare at his delicious full lips, wishing I were half my age. I take a deep breath and prepare for his refusal. “You happen to resemble the male lead in a novel I’m writing, and I haven’t had a book cover designed yet. I’m wondering if you’d like to be on it.”
The corner of his mouth tips up. “I think I’m flattered.”
I can’t suppress my smile, secretly glad I fixed my face earlier.
“What would this entail, exactly?” he asks.
“A two- to three-hour photo shoot.” As if I haven’t been impulsive enough, I add, “Sometime this week.”
He gives me a pointed look. “Clothed, right?”
I tilt my head, a spark of hope flaring inside me. “Pretty much the way you’re dressed right now, except with cleaner clothes.”
He looks down at his pants and grins. Then his mouth turns into a frown. “Hmm. This week might be tight.”
“Is that a yes?” My heart picks up tempo.
Petrillo yells over, “Yo! Stop flirting with the nice lady and get back to work, man.”
“Hey, I gotta go.”
“Wait.” I fumble in my purse and pull out a business card. Without thinking, I thrust the card at him and blurt, “I’ll pay you $300 in cash.”
His eyes light up. “Really?” Then he glances at my card. “You’re on, Jillian Grant. By the way, I would’ve done it for free.” Wearing a lopsided smile, he shoves the card in his pocket and taps the side of the SUV with his hand. “I’ll text you.”
A thrill shoots through me as he heads off, and then I remember. “Wait! What’s your name?”
He turns and calls, “Raine. With an e.”
I smile. Raine with an e. It suits him, almost better than Drew.
For the first time all day, I feel alive.
Well now, color me impressed!!
When I first read the blurb of this book, my mind immediately went to that Mrs Robinson place, so of course I jumped at the chance to read this ARC for L.G. O’Connor. And I’m really glad that I did.
I loved everything the author did in this story. She didn’t make the age difference in our leads anything more than what it was, a number. She didn’t focus on it to the point where it took away from the beautiful love story she presented. She didn’t take the baggage that both Jillian and Raine brought into their journey to HEA and make it so agnsty that it deterred from the love story. Don’t get me wrong, it’s there, and in true romance novel form, it does rear its ugly head but it just isn’t over the top.
I also loved how the author took Jillian and Raine and made them almost complete opposites but yet absolutely perfect for one another. For where one lacked, the other made up for. Honestly, I really REALLY love this story!
Another prop the author gets from me is that she made sure that although Raine was young in age, he was not young in mind and heart and soul. THAT is what made this story work for me. Like I mentioned earlier … it was just a number.
I really loved the ride L.G. O’Connor took me on with this book. It will make you laugh and cry and laugh some more, you will want to scream and slap someone a time or two, but best of all, it will give you hope and it will make a believer out of you! #TRUST
ARC received by the author for review
L.G. O’Connor is a member of the Romance Writers of America. A corporate strategy, branding, and marketing executive for a Fortune 250 company, she writes adult paranormal and contemporary romance. Caught Up in RAINE is the first romantic women’s fiction novel in her Caught Up in Love series. She is also the author of the four-book urban fantasy / paranormal romance series The Angelorum Twelve Chronicles. The third full length novel in that series, Book of Four Rings, is set to launch in 2016. L.G. lives a life of adventure, navigating her way through dog toys and soccer balls. When she’s feeling particularly brave, she enters the kitchen . . .
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For more information on Caught Up In Raine visit: www.caughtupinraine.com
Q&A with LG O’Connor, author of Caught Up in RAINE
- Why do you write what you write?
LGO: Great question! I’ve been an avid reader my entire life, and have read everything from classics to pulp. Being a fast reader, I’ve never let the size of a book deter me. If anything, the bigger the better as long as the story is good and the characters are engaging. I read to escape with characters I can love, and for that profound ‘something’ the leaves me with a book hangover when I’m finished. I try to write with the same things in mind, and since I like to stick with characters for a little while, I’m drawn to series. But when it gets down to it, I write books that I want to read.
- Given that you are still in the middle of writing an epic Urban Fantasy / Paranormal Romance series that won’t be fully released until mid-2017, what inspired you to switch genres midstream and write a romantic women’s fiction novel?
LGO: Funny, I didn’t choose to be a writer, it chose me. The same thing happened with this story. The first chapter in CUIR was inspired by something that actually happened to me, and became the impetus for writing the book.
Late on a Friday afternoon in August 2013, I made a trip to the hospital to see my childhood friend’s father who had emergency heart surgery. Just like Vera, he was eighty-two years old. I’d known him my entire life, and loved him like an uncle. When I arrived—having just completed a dialysis treatment—he was fast asleep. So I sat there quietly for about an hour and reflected. It was the last time I saw him alive.
At the time of my visit, I was working on final copyedits for my first novel, TRINITY STONES. One of the series characters is rock star, Brett King, who physically resembles the model on the cover of CUIR. When I was leaving the hospital grounds that day, I spotted a landscaping crew planting trees. You guessed it…one of the landscapers looked just like Brett. Tanned, muscular, long blond hair… I was so tempted to jam on the brakes and ask to take his picture. Of course, I didn’t. But that left me with the question: what would’ve happened if I had? The result is Caught Up in RAINE.
- Are there any writers in the contemporary romance / women’s fiction genres who particularly influenced you?
LGO: First, let me talk a little bit about new adult, which is a sub-genre of contemporary romance. Despite the fact this book doesn’t qualify due to Jillian’s age, that sub-genre is what inspired me. Interesting, if it were reversed, and Jillian was Raine’s age? It would qualify.
When I wrote CUIR, new adult was taking off. I adored the immediacy of using dual first person point-of-view. I decided to go the route of Jasinda Wilder and use first person, present tense. There are a lot of people who find it akin to nails on a chalkboard, but I think it lends itself to a fast-moving story with deep point-of-view. Even though CUIR is classified as romantic women’s fiction, I used the conventions I loved so much in new adult because it was just plain fun to write, and added the energy that I was looking for.
As for the writers who inspired me? The epicenter of it all was Jasinda Wilder’s book, Falling Into You. By then, I’d already read and fallen in love with Cora Carmack’s Faking It, Laura Kaye’s Hearts in Darkness, and Jamie McGuire’s Beautiful Disaster which left me with a book hangover for about a week. Others I’ve discovered and enjoyed since then: H.M. Ward’s Damaged: The Ferro Family, Karina Halle’s The Pact, Vi Keeland’s Worth the Fight, anything by Katy Regnery, Jennifer Armentrout (writing as J. Lynn), and Maya Banks.
- I understand this book was written during National Novel Writing Month in 2013, is that correct?
LGO: Yes! That question: “What would’ve happened if I’d stopped my car and asked that landscaper to pose as my cover model?” kept rolling around in my head. I’d just turned in the final pages of TRINITY STONES to the publisher, and the first draft of the second novel in the series was staring me in the face. Then in mid-October 2013, I had this weird schedule where I needed to be in Pennsylvania for work three days in a row. I live in New Jersey, so that was a three hour commute each day. On the morning of the first day, the question of the landscaper can back up and grabbed me with a vengeance. I’m a sworn pantser, but by the end of the third day, I had voice recorded an entire outline for the novel. That was a first for me.
My pen hit the proverbial page, and by the start of NaNo on November 1st, I had over 25,000 words written. By Black Friday, I’d finished the novel with more than 50,000 words written during the month of November, for a final word count of 82,000 words. My critique partner read the story as I wrote it, so revisions were being made simultaneously to the story being written. My editor, who was also one of my NaNo buddies, was on standby to copyedit the manuscript as soon as it was completed. My goal was to make a December contest deadline. Honestly, I’m not sure how I did it. The book grew organically out of my brain and through my fingertips. I wish every book was like that…
- That contest was the RWA Golden Heart® Contest, wasn’t it? How did you do?
LGO: Yes, it was! That year was the last time I would qualify as an unpublished writer, since, technically, the only contract I’d signed at the time was a distribution agreement with She Writes Press.
It wasn’t until a month after the Golden Heart® finalists were announced that I’d received the results. I’d only missed the cut by 1 point. I found that extremely encouraging given the number of contest applicants.
- You used a local setting close to where you live. Any particular reason why you chose suburban towns rather than the big city locales of your fantasy series?
LGO: Well, for one, I’ve lived in all these places J I’m a former resident of both Chatham and Summit, and currently live about ten minutes from downtown Morristown. I chose a local setting and venues for a couple of specific reasons. Since this was a NaNoWriMo project, I needed to spend my time writing, not researching. Choosing a local setting gave me the advantage of knowing the locations well enough to write from my own experience. Another advantage in “staying local” is that it gives me a logistical advantage to go deep in my local market without traveling, and yet bring all those relationships and resources to bear. Plus, I get a warm feeling driving through downtown Morristown, and seeing the real-life buildings that I patterned my CUIR locations after… I sometimes wonder if I’ll spot someone who looks like Raine walking across the Green.
- One of the big questions I think many will have is the age of your heroine, and the choice to do a reverse May-December romance. Are you afraid this may impact your chances to capture a romance audience? Also, this book focuses a lot on the romance and is written in dual first person point-of-view, which gives the male lead equal footing in the narrative – how do you think this will impact your women’s fiction readers?
LGO: In a lot of ways, this is just as much Raine’s story as it is Jillian’s, which distinguishes CUIR from hardcore women’s fiction.
As for Jillian, I think the market needs more books like this for the demographic of readers out there. I think Jillian’s voice resonates with women of a certain age, I being one of them. Jillian is an attractive woman in her 40s, but she’s far from dead. Yet there’s this negative connotation out there about women over forty in the romance market, signaling to me an underserved segment of readers.
Jillian struggles in a very real way over the age difference between herself and Raine. She’s not a cougar looking for young men. Yet that’s how the market is showcasing stories about older women in this scenario. In CUIR, my intent is to realistically show how an almost impossible pairing can be near perfect based on who these individuals are, and what has shaped them.
I think this book will resonate broadly across markets. However, traditional women’s fiction tends to have a higher level of angst and complexity than I write. As much as I enjoy a good Jodi Picoult book, you won’t find that level of intensity here. I try to use enough angst without making it the entire focus of the story. As a result, this book is more of a hybrid between contemporary romance and woman’s fiction, hence the “romantic women’s fiction” moniker. In it you’ll have spicy love scenes, and a “happily ever after” that is well deserved.
- Is it true that this book may be part of a trilogy?
LGO: Hmm. I can answer that two ways. Caught Up in RAINE will have two companion novelettes that follow it, so I guess you could say it is a trilogy. Kind of. However, I’ve just finished the first draft of a second full length novel with the working title, Shelter My Heart, about Jillian’s niece Jenny and a young CEO-in-training. In it, many of the CUIR characters reprise their roles. I’m also planning on writing a third book that involves… Well, I’ll keep that one a secret for now. That said, I’m not going to declare it a series yet J
- Are there themes that tie this potential trilogy together beside the family connection between the main female characters?
LGO: There are two driving themes, really. Each of the female protagonists harbors a shameful secret, and in their own way, they’re all seeking redemption. It’s about finding second chances, and surrendering yourself over to living your best life.
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