Monday, November 4, 2019

Interview & Excerpt ~ THE FIREFIGHTER'S THANKSGIVING WISH by Anna J. Stewart


The Firefighter’s Thanksgiving Wish (Butterfly Harbor, #7)
by: Anna J. Stewart
Series: Butterfly Harbor
Genre: Contemporary Romance/Clean
Release Date: November 1, 2019
Publisher: Harlequin Heartwarming
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They both know it’s true

Where there’s smoke, there’s fire!

Working with the new fire chief, Roman Salazar, is a challenge for Frankie Bettencourt. Everyone in Butterfly Harbor agrees she was the one destined for the top job at the station house! So, should she quit? No way! But she will steer clear of Roman from now on…or at least until his kindness, quick smile and can-do attitude win the town—and possibly Frankie—over for good!


Hi Anna. Welcome to Read Your Writes Book Reviews. I can’t believe this is the first time we’re sitting down for an interview. How are you?
I’m doing great, Kim. Living the dream.

We’re going to discuss your latest book, The Firefighter’s Thanksgiving Wish. It’s the 7th book in your Butterfly Harbor series. Could you please tell me about the series in general?
I call this series my idealistic series. It’s a small-town community that while dealing with the varying aspects of daily life, keeps a very upbeat attitude. I keep it as a town I’d love to live in with fun, quirky, friendly people who welcome newcomers in with a real enthusiasm. These books are definitely all about the positive elements of community and living life to the fullest.

Is Butterfly Harbor a real place or a fictional town created by you?
Well, I created Butterfly Harbor, but it’s based on a small Central California town called Pacific Grove, which is just a hop, skip, and jump from Monterey. The town is known for being part of the monarch butterfly migratory pattern and in October and November they take over the sanctuary there. It’s glorious. And as I absolutely love butterflies, it seemed the perfect place to set a series of romances.

I love that connection. You’ve been writing this series since 2014/2015. How do you manage to keep it fresh?
I have to admit, it’s getting tougher the farther along I go, LOL. I originally had ten books planned in the series; now it’s going to be twelve (yes, there will be an end). When I start each new book, I scan through the older ones to see what threads I might have let drop or what characters need to be brought back and featured. And I definitely try to mix up the types of characters I’m using. Their personality traits, backgrounds, conflicts. As long as I can make the characters distinctive from one another and keep the town moving forward (like the way they’re moving through the construction project of the new sanctuary), I feel like I’m doing an okay job. Also focusing on different aspects of the town. In book 1, it never occurred to me there was a fire department (duh, LOL). So things like that help grow each story.

Are the books standalone reads or do they need to be read in order?
They absolutely stand alone. Before I was a writer, I was a voracious reader, so I always make a special effort to make sure every book I write (and I LOVE writing series of books) can be read on its own. I think there’s probably more enjoyment having read as we go along, only because so many characters reappear and we see what’s going on with them once they’ve found their HEA, but it works either way.

Please tell me about the characters of Roman Salazar and Frankie Bettencourt. Who are they, what makes them tick?
I’ll start with Frankie, who from the second she walked on the page in (I think?) SAFE IN HIS ARMS really demanded her own story. She has a fiery personality, but she’s also one of the most devoted residents of Butterfly Harbor. Her father and grandfather were fire chiefs in town before her and that’s all she’s ever had in her sights. She’s the one everyone calls when they’re in trouble or need help (or a ride to the store). Being of assistance is just part of her DNA. Giving back to the community she loves above all else is really what makes her tick.

Roman Salazar, on the other hand, isn’t quite so…shall we say comfortable with the idea of a small town. He, too, comes from a firefighting family. His father was one, but he never quite achieved his dreams, so Roman’s picked up that mantle and, at the start of the story, considers Butterfly Harbor as a bit of a pit stop to bigger and better career heights. That he ends up with Frankie’s job definitely adds to the conflict between them, both professionally and personally. But they’re both alike in a lot of ways. Roman has a huge heart; he’s a good guy (as are all of the men in Butterfly Harbor). Service and his dedication to helping people is really what forges an unbreakable bond between him and Frankie.

The title of the book could be referring to either Roman or Frankie. What made you want to have Frankie’s career be that of a firefighter?
She literally walked onto the page as one. It surprised me, too, in a way. Originally it was going to be her twin brother Monty who was the firefighter, and she was going to run a tour boat company, but then I stopped and thought, now that’s just boring. And predictable. And, given the age we’re living in right now, why shouldn’t she be the firefighter? That was it. I think she was actually the one who told me what she was, because the original idea didn’t click, but once she declared herself a firefighter? The entire story fell into place.

And yes—the title definitely can refer to either of them. I like to think it’s referring to both.

What do you think one of your biggest challenges in writing this book was?
Getting the details right on how firefighters do their job. We think we know, thanks to TV and movies, but I’m not sure we really do. I was fortunate that, just before I started writing this book last year, I attended my high school reunion. One of my former classmates is now a firefighter with the SFPD and she became my go-to for everything from how they fight a fire to how they spend their downtime; schedules, routines, the little details I knew I’d need. I send her any of the scenes that had to do with those elements and she set me straight on what I got wrong and helped me expand on what I’d gotten right. That was invaluable (and why I dedicated the book to her).

It’s always the biggest challenge, I think, to represent someone and their occupation as accurately as possible. It’s my responsibility to get it right and not just make stuff up (despite it being fiction). Also, because I’d made the heroine a firefighter, it felt even more important.

Tell me about one of your favorite scenes from the book and why it’s a favorite.
Oh, I have a few, actually, and they all involve the Cocoon Club, the group of senior citizens in town who get up to more mischief than any of the kids. There’s one scene in particular where the club has been stranded at the grocery store (shopping for turkeys) and they do what they always do when they’re in trouble: they call Frankie. Through the 9-1-1 dispatch. They even have a code that tells Frankie it’s not a real emergency, but of course Roman thinks he knows better. That’s a turning point for Roman where he realizes that life in Butterfly Harbor isn’t anything close to predictable. And that it’s going to take a lot of work on his part to prove himself to those who believe Frankie got the raw end of the deal when Roman got her job.

When a reader gets to the last page of The Firefighter’s Thanksgiving Wish what do you hope their final thought is?
First and most importantly, that Frankie and Roman earn their happily ever after (I think they do, LOL). But also that sometimes life doesn’t always give you what you want—it provides what you need. I’m always a big proponent of my characters either making decisions at the end of the book they wouldn’t have made at the beginning, or they give up that one thing they’ve been striving for. That, to me, creates characters readers can relate to and fall in love with. And when all is said and done, that’s really what I want: for readers to fall in love with my characters.

One last question. What’s next on your writing agenda?
Okay, let’s see if I can cull this down, LOL. I’m currently working on a new Harlequin Romantic Suspense for my Honor Bound series (I’ve already got 2 in the can for publishing next year); I’m also writing Monty, Frankie’s twin brother’s story which will be a runaway bride sweet romance. Then I’ll be writing a Valentine story for an upcoming boxed set that takes place in the fictional town of Christmas Town, Maine and…then I’ll be back to Butterfly Harbor to write Alethea’s story (she operates the town’s new food truck). Oh, and I’m also writing a new paranormal novella that I hope will launch a new series of short stories for Heart’s Kiss Magazine. So…I’ve got a few projects in the pipeline for sure.

You are VERY busy. Anna, thank you so much for answering some questions for me.
Thank YOU for having me!

“I’m sorry, Frankie. But you didn’t get the job.”

In the days that would follow, the fact that Fire Chief Bud Granger struck Francesca Bettencourt speechless—a feat long considered impossible— would be the talk of the town. Whispers would turn to murmurs of disbelief, which would add to the legend of Frankie Bettencourt that had been building in Butterfly Harbor for the past three decades. Of course, years down the road, Frankie would argue it was her stellar control of temper that was the real accomplishment of the day. That’s what happened, Frankie supposed as she considered sinking into the familiar worn leather hardback chair across the desk from her boss, when one was blindsided.

Her knees shook. Her fists clenched. Inside, deep inside where her dreams had waited sheltered, nurtured and protected, she cracked. But she didn’t crumble. Instead, Frankie did what she always did in the face of adversity: she stood.

She cleared her throat, knowing her speak-first, think-later mentality had gotten her into more trouble than anything else. Now was not the time to lose her cool.

“Frankie?” Bud shifted in the squeaky office chair behind the old, scarred desk and winced ever so slightly. “You did hear me, right?”

“Mmm-hmm,” Frankie managed to say through numb, pressed lips. She nodded, tucked an imaginary loose bit of hair behind her ear and scrunched her toes in her worn work boots. When the tightness in her throat eased and she felt she could speak without spitting fire, she cleared her throat again and clasped her hands behind her back. “May I inquire as to whom the town council has promoted to the position?”

Bud’s wince became a full-on flinch, his small eyes almost disappearing in the wrinkles of age and experience. The chair creaked under his significant weight as his fingers tapped the file folder on the side of his desk. “Frankie —”

“I’d like to know. Sir.” Frankie loathed the tremble in her voice; she loathed any sign of weakness that slipped past her control. But she loathed the pity she saw on Bud’s round face most of all.

“Cut the sir stuff, Frankie. I used to bounce you and Monty on my knees when you were nothing but specks in this world. You think I don’t know when you’re ticked off?” Ticked off?

Frankie arched a brow. Was that how one should feel when everything she’d worked for, everything she’d ever wanted in her life, disappeared with—what had it been? Nine words?

“Sit down.” Bud gestured to the chair she’d ignored earlier. “Please.”

She sat. Not because she suspected he’d order her to if she refused, but because she wasn’t entirely sure her legs would continue to support her.

“Who did they promote?” Frankie asked. “There aren’t a lot of qualified people for the job in town.” Not that Butterfly Harbor ever paid much attention to protocol. A small-town department that ran mostly on volunteers didn’t have the luxury of falling in line with other departments. Of those half dozen volunteers, all of them, as far as she knew, were quite happy with their current employment, and none would have gone behind her back. As far as she knew, no one else had expressed any interest in becoming the new chief once Bud’s retirement became official next week. Everyone had assumed, Frankie included, that her eleven years with the department, a good portion of which she’d served as captain, meant her succession to the position was a given.

“No one’s being promoted over you, Frankie.” Bud’s jaw tensed as if he were gnawing on a particularly tough piece of jerky. “They’ve hired from outside the department.”

Outside the... Resentment collided with anger, ready to back draft its way out of her system. She’d worked her butt off to get where she was, and she took inordinate pride in her accomplishments. Knowing she was a lot of people’s first call when they needed help wasn’t a weight she carried; it was a badge she wore proudly. Not only that, she’d purposely gone to each and every town hall meeting since she’d joined the department, keeping her face in front of the town council, always happy to be the walking advertisement for the Butterfly Harbor Fire Department. A pang of regret hit her square in her chest. Her father’s monogrammed baseball cap she’d been keeping safe for when the promotion came through was going to continue to reside on the peg by the front door. She’d vowed she wouldn’t wear the BHFD hat until she was officially sworn in. Now chances were good that day would never come. “So who stole it from me, Bud?”

“No one stole it, Frankie.” Her friend and boss sounded tired. No, he sounded exhausted, reminding her why he was retiring in the first place, but Frankie couldn’t dwell on that now. She needed answers. “It was decided with Butterfly Harbor going through such big changes, and given what’s coming down the road, that they’d rather have someone with...” Bud hesitated, and again Frankie arched a brow, silently daring him to finish that sentence. She knew what they wanted the chief to have, and she hadn’t been born with that...chromosome. “More pedigree.”

“Pedigree?” Frankie blinked, more surprised at the word than she had been to learn she was being passed over for someone with a... She shifted in her chair, tried to straighten her spine that seemed to have softened in the last few minutes. “You make this sound like one of those dog shows on cable. So what? I’m a prancing poodle and he’s a rottweiler?”

“That’s not remotely amusing, Frankie.” Bud’s disapproval sounded forced. “Besides, aren’t poodles the smartest of the dogs?”

Frankie couldn’t help it. She snorted. “All the more reason I should have the job. And I should have the job, Bud. You know it. Everyone in this town knows it.” And now everyone in town was going to know she’d been passed over for some outsider! As if losing out on the job wasn’t humiliating enough, she was going to come in second place to some...well, she didn’t know just what he was yet. She could see the headlines in the now-defunct Monarch Gazette, see the guarded gazes when she walked into the Butterfly Diner. Everyone was going to be chomping on the gossip rather than Holly Saxon’s famous homemade pies.

“How about you stop dancing around the facts and just hit me with them, Bud?” She was so tired of politics, so tired of unofficially campaigning for a position that was decided on by the town council. Her grandfather and father had both been chief. Not that she’d expected special treatment that would define her as a legacy appointment; she hadn’t, which was why she’d taken every hard road to get here. No one could argue she hadn’t done what it took to wear that badge.

Bud sighed and pushed to his feet, headed to the ancient coffee machine sputtering away just outside his door. The building itself was one of the oldest in Butterfly Harbor and, sadly, was beginning to show its age. Like most things in town, it had stood the test of time and was a testament to the town and its history. But history was fading fast, even in a small town of just over five thousand. She had so many great plans for the department, for this building. For making sure the legacy and history of those who had served the community would never be forgotten or tossed onto the bonfire of the past. Bringing in someone who didn’t know any of it didn’t just seem like an insult to Frankie, but against Butterfly Harbor itself.

She turned her head, felt tears prick the corners of her eyes at the straight, notated gouges on the office’s door frame. F, age six. M, age six. F, age seven. M, age seven... She rolled her shoulders. Monty had always been an inch or so ahead of her growing up. Now her twin brother was more than five inches taller—just tall enough he didn’t bash his head on the roofs of the boats he chartered to tourists and business groups. She brushed her fingers along the back of her neck. To this day she could feel the hard wood pressed between her shoulders, against the back of her head as her father had notched how much she’d grown. It had become a ritual, one she noted with a pang of grief, that ended shortly after her and Monty’s sixteenth birthday, when Tybalt Bettencourt had been killed fighting a wildfire just south of Napa.

This firehouse had been her father’s second home, had been her second home. Sure, it needed upgrading and some serious updates, but they were working on it. A bit of polish and new paint wouldn’t hurt. She’d done a few things over the years, here and there. New paint in the workout room, which she’d equipped with her own exercise machines. Upgrades, including a new stove in the kitchen, the only place she cooked. She lived in her grandparents’ old house while Monty had set up in their parents’. She was low maintenance, so whatever spare money she had went to the job she loved. It just...made sense. Especially when most of the department’s operating budget had to go to provide the best equipment they could afford. And that was as it should be, Frankie reminded herself. Protecting this town and its residents was her first priority. She didn’t believe for one second some out-of-towner was going to feel the same. He’d be completely clueless about...everything.

“The decision not to promote you wasn’t unanimous, Frankie.” Bud poured them each a cup of coffee strong enough to boost her immune system for a solid year. “In fact, it was a tie and that deciding vote was cast by—”

“Let me guess.” Now it began to make sense. “Our illustrious mayor, Gil ‘The Thrill’ Hamilton.” She knew she shouldn’t have voted for him on election day.

Bud sighed. “The fact you’re the one who gave him that nickname is probably one reason he wasn’t enamored of the idea of you as chief. It’s no secret you two can’t stand each other, and this job requires you to work with him, not be snarky whenever you get the chance.”

Frankie rolled her eyes. Gil Hamilton had been two years ahead of her in school and encapsulated every possible stereotype as the town’s golden boy. Star quarterback, homecoming king, butter wouldn’t melt in his always smiling mouth. The son of the mayor who was the son of the mayor who... Frankie had long lost track of how far back that line of succession went. Gil wasn’t her favorite person in the world; he could be the poster child for politics and privilege, but she had to admit he’d surprised her the last couple of years with the positive changes he’d been making to the town. His ideas, the people he’d appointed to get things done who had done just that, and now, with a flourishing downtown area and the butterfly sanctuary currently under construction, the town she’d lived in all her life was thriving again. She’d thought the mayor was many things, but to hold a grudge for a harmless nickname? He wouldn’t have rejected her promotion because of that, would he?

She certainly didn’t want to think so. They might not be friends, but they were friendly. Though Bud had a point. She could see the flash of irritation on Gil’s face whenever she let the nickname fly, so...maybe her current disappointment was partly her fault. Railing against the decision wasn’t going to get her anywhere other than fired. Which meant she had to come at this situation from an entirely different direction.

“So does the new guy have a name?” The question itself tasted sour. Ugh.

“Roman Salazar.”

Frankie choked on her coffee. “You have got to be kidding me.” She wiped her eyes and tried not to guffaw. “What kind of name is that? Roman?”

“It’s Italian, actually.”

The baritone behind her had her jumping to her feet. She sloshed coffee down the front of her black T-shirt, the hot liquid scalding her taut stomach as she spun around.

Wow. The man standing there had to be a mirage. No one was this goodlooking in real life. Heck, not even the heroes in her weekly TV binges came close. It was as if a travel brochure had fallen open long enough for him to walk off the pages, bringing with him all the dark-haired, dark-eyed, muscular intensity found in the men of the Mediterranean. Normally she preferred her men clean cut, but she had to admit, the thick, dark hair and five o’clock shadow notched him up another fifty points on the testosterone meter.

She had to inch her chin up to get the full picture of him and felt her face flush in feminine appreciation of the six-foot-plus frame, wide, sturdy chest and biceps she’d bet could lift a small building. “I should probably call him my hero behind his back,” she muttered under her breath.

“Shut it, Frankie.” Bud elbowed her as he passed. “Roman. Good to put a face to the name and voice. You’re early. We weren’t expecting you until Friday.”

“I’m not one to sit around waiting, so I got into my car and drove on out.” Roman accepted the handshake offered before his gaze flicked to Frankie. “Ah, right. Roman Salazar, this is Captain Frankie Bettencourt.”

“Pleasure,” Frankie lied as she shook his hand. The earth didn’t move. Completely. But the warmth that shot through her palm certainly tilted her off her axis.

“Pleasure’s mine, Captain. And for the record, I know my way around homemade pasta and bocce ball tournaments, in case it ever comes up.”

Smooth, she thought. Smooth and confident. Not a good combination in her experience.

Roman lounged against the door frame and slipped his hand into the pocket of jeans she’d swear had been tailor-made for him.

“Well, welcome to Butterfly Harbor,” Bud said when Frankie didn’t respond. “I was just about to fill Frankie in on your—”

“Pedigree.” Unable to stop all the snark, Frankie leaned against the edge of Bud’s desk and drank more coffee. “Where are you from, Salazar?”

“Orlando. By way of Boston and before that Chicago.” Frankie rolled her head to the side to look at Bud. “What is it about Chicagoans that they’re ending up out here? He’s what? Number four? First Luke, then Jason, then Xander?”

“Jason has a restaurant in Chicago, but he’s from New York,” Bud corrected her. “Sorry—” He returned his attention to Roman. “She has a bit of a point. Luke Saxon, the town sheriff, arrived a few years back. He’s settled down now with a local girl, Holly Campbell. Just had twins this past May. Boy and a girl. And of course there’s their older boy, Simon. With affection, we call him our town supervillain. Smartest kid you’re going to find out here.”

“Oh, I don’t know. Charlie Bradley could give him a run for his money,” Frankie argued. “Jason Corwin’s our town celebrity chef.” Frankie figured Roman might as well get used to the small-town tendency for gossip and information overload. “Owns and operates Flutterby Dreams over at the Flutterby Inn. You might also catch his food truck bustling around.” Roman blinked as if processing the information. “And Xander would be?”

“Xander Costas.”

“The architect?” Roman’s eyebrows disappeared under his too-long hair. “His family’s pretty well known back east. My grandfather and his worked on a project together, restoring one of Chicago’s historic firehouses. I’ll have to be sure to introduce myself.”

“You’ll find him up at the construction site for the butterfly sanctuary or at Duskywing Farm. And before you ask, yes—” Frankie gave him the widest smile she could muster “—you will be tested later on all these names.”

“I’m excellent at tests.” That glint in his eye only brightened.

Frankie bit the inside of her cheek. She’d just bet he was.

“So, who feels like giving me the nickel tour?” Roman moved in a way that made the leather of his jacket creak. “I’d like to hit the ground running come Monday morning.”

“Wow. And your predecessor’s not even out the door yet. Happy holidays. Nice.”

“Frankie—” Bud warned again.

“No, she’s right.” Roman nodded. “I apologize. New job and all. Anxious to get started, get everything set in my mind, see how things operate around here.”

“Figure out what you’re going to change?” Frankie fluttered her lashes like a Southern debutante at a cotillion.

“Change can be a good thing.” Roman inclined his head as if trying to puzzle her out. Well, good luck with that, hero, Frankie thought. Tougher men than you have tried.

“Can be. But I doubt it will be.” Frankie finished her coffee and three-pointed the paper cup into the trash. “If it’s a tour you’re looking for, Bud’s the expert. And as I have a few hours left on my day off, I’ll be going. Ozzy should be here in about an hour,” she told Bud as she squeezed between the men.

“It was nice to meet you, Frankie.” Roman stood up straight enough to let her pass. As she did, she caught the scent of sandalwood and heat, an odd and intoxicating combination for these early-winter days. “I’ll see you tomorrow, I’m sure.”

Frankie walked backward past the solitary engine, gave him her brightest smile and waved. “Count on it.”

She took her time, pricked her ears and felt her bad mood shift when she heard Roman’s low whistle.

“Why do I feel like I should be apologizing for something?”

“Because that’s Frankie Bettencourt,” Bud told him. “And because you took her job.”

Purchase The Firefighter’s Thanksgiving Wish from:

The Butterfly Harbor Series:

A Match Made Perfect releases April 1, 2020

USA Today and national bestselling author Anna J. Stewart writes sweet to sexy romance for Harlequin's Heartwarming and Romantic Suspense lines. Early obsessions with Star Wars, Star Trek, and Wonder Woman set her on the path to creating fun, funny, and family-centric romances with happily ever afters for her independent heroines. A former RWA Golden Heart nominee and 2018 Daphne DuMaurier finalist, her Heartwarming book RECIPE FOR REDEMPTION was recently optioned for a TV Movie and will air on UPtv during the 2019 holiday season. Anna lives in Northern California where she deals with a serious Supernatural, Sherlock, and Jason Momoa addiction and surrounds herself with friends and family. When she's not writing, you can find her at fan conventions, at her local movie theater, or building her client list for her content editing services.

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