KAREN’S KILLER BOOK BENCH: Welcome to Karen’s Killer Book Bench where readers can discover talented new authors and take a peek inside their wonderful books. This is not an age-filtered site so all book peeks are PG-13 or better. Come back and visit often. Happy reading!
READ MY LIPS
Riches & Royals Book 1
BY KELLE Z. RILEY
Riches & Royals Series
Modern career women fall for princes-in-disguise, only to discover that “happily ever after” isn’t guaranteed. Can love turn their cautionary tales into glittering fairy tales, or will their hearts shatter like glass slippers?
Read My Lips
Temptation always leads to trouble…
Claire Lennox thought she could have it all—until trusting the wrong man destroyed her career, her reputation, and her heart. Now, as director of a literacy foundation, she has new ambitions. But when a sexy client tempts her to love again, does she dare?
Billionaire chocolatier Clayton McClaine risks everything—even his heart—when he goes incognito, hoping to overcome the dyslexia that haunts him and threatens to destroy his carefully crafted image.
They’re perfect for each other, except for one little thing—the billion-dollar deception that lies between them.
It’s so nice to be back with the wonderful readers of Karen’s blogs. You are like a literary family to me, and I can’t think of a more perfect group to be celebrating with today.
What are we celebrating?
We are celebrating my return to my first love, romance writing. Read My Lips debuts tomorrow and I’m bouncing off the walls with excitement. This book holds a special place in my heart. Today, I wanted to share some of the history of the book with you.
I came to the romance genre first as a reader, then as a writer. It didn’t take many books for me to realize I liked my heroes over-the-top. I enjoy all romance tropes, but small-town romance, boy-next-door, and friends-to-lovers plots all seemed too close to home when it came to fantasy lovers. I wanted the kind of hero you can only get in a book: billionaires, princes, circus performers, spies, aliens, superheroes, mythological gods, supernatural beings, and more. The fantasy of those larger-than-life heroes willing to sacrifice all for the love of a woman—make that a normal, mortal, everyday woman like me—was what I gravitated to.
In short, I craved a Cinderella tale where the overlooked good girl wins the heart of the most powerful man around. Moreover, she wins it because she truly sees him, just as he truly sees her. (Read My Lips fits the troupe. What’s even more cool is that as I write this blog, Read My Lips is listed at slot number 3 on the Goodreads “Best Cinderella Stories” list, right behind Julia Quinn’s An Offer From a Gentleman! I have goosebumps—I love Quinn and her work.)
Having recognized my theme, I proceed to put my own twists on it. Every hero needs a vulnerability, and what feels more vulnerable to a reader than a hero who struggles with words? My dyslexic hero was born. To sweeten the deal, I made him earn his billions in the chocolate industry. Research was a literal treat for that book.
Read My Lips (originally titled Beauty and the Billionaire) brought many turning points to my writing career. It garnered me my first final in a major contest (RWA’s Golden Heart), resulted in me landing a high-powered agent, and pushed the editor reading another manuscript into offering my first book contract. It was also the first book I rewrote multiple times, adding, removing, and revising subplots as the market seemed to demand.
Still, traditional publishing wasn’t lining up to grab it. That wasn’t a bad thing. Publishing had changed. Independent publishing lost its stigma. Authors flocked to self-publishing platforms as part of their career paths. And I had reached a point in my career where I felt my cozy mystery series was well enough established that I could take risks and introduce my readers to the romance series. Oh, and I’d written 3 more books, promoting secondary characters to starring roles in the sequels. The timing was right.
So, with that background, I stand on release-day-eve, hoping my book baby will find its readers and have a long and wonderful life. This book paves the way for more yummy out-of-this world heroes and heroines who could be you. I hope you enjoy it more than a box of chocolates!
Love the book? Here are 10 ways you can be a part of the book’s success:
- Pick up a copy of the book
- Tell your friends. Tell your enemies. Tell strangers. Tell everyone!
- Ask your library to stock it
- Introduce it to your book club
- Leave a review on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Goodreads, or wherever you find books.
- Vote for Read My Lips on the Goodreads lists: https://www.goodreads.com/list/book/58414603
- Join my mailing list to keep up to date with releases and events
- Visit my website (www.kellezriley.net)
- Follow me on social media
- Leave a comment below (you could win a free ebook version of Read My Lips)
Clayton Arthur McClaine glanced out the darkened limousine window one last time. No one was watching. He turned to his driver. “O’Shea, you’d better be right about the disguise. If the paparazzi get wind of this, they’ll have a field day.”
“I’ve watched your back since third grade, boss. You’d think after the first twenty years or so, you’d start to trust me.”
“If I didn’t, Jimmy, you wouldn’t be here.”
Jimmy shifted in the seat, stripping off his sunglasses and looking him in the eye. “Clay, you don’t have to do this. We’ve managed just fine until now.”
“I can’t keep counting on you to cover for me. Unless you want to give up your role as silent investor and move into the executive suite, I have to do this.”
“I told you before, I like driving the cars, not sitting in the back. You’ve always been the public face of the corporation. I don’t like the limelight. But that don’t mean you have to risk being seen. We’ve done fine. No one suspects anything.”
“Right. Nobody suspects anything. Yet. But someday they might. It’s a risk I’m no longer willing to take. I don’t like putting our business in jeopardy, Jimmy. This deal could triple our distribution network and open the European markets, but if I blow it, Milford Johnson will have the opportunity to bleed the corporation dry. He goes after weakness like a shark after blood.”
“So do you. What’s the problem?”
Clayton rubbed his temples, wishing he could find another way around the dilemma. “Johnson senses something. He’s insisted on closed-door negotiations. Just the two of us.”
“He doesn’t expect you to sign a contract without your lawyer reviewing it.”
“No, but a last-minute addendum could change everything. I won’t have the luxury of funneling that paper through you or my secretary.” Milford Johnson was sharp. There would be last-minute alterations to the contract.
“I guess even a photographic memory has limitations.”
“Phonographic, Jimmy. In my case, it’s phonographic. I remember everything I hear.”
“Whatever.” Jimmy turned from him and flipped open a thin newspaper.
“What’s that? The masthead looks like the Huntersville Daily Press.”
Jimmy grunted. “Unlike you, I try to keep up with what’s going on in the hometown.”
“Since now. A man’s got to have something to do besides chauffeur his best friend around and help him sneak into places he should be walking into, head held high. Besides, neither of us knows how long you’ll be gone. I’ll sit tight and wait till you’re finished.”
Clayton hesitated, wondering if the rewards justified the risk.
“Don’t you have an appointment to keep, boss?”
Clayton grimaced from the edge in Jimmy’s voice then focused his attention on the matters at hand. He slipped from his warm limousine into the dank chill of the parking deck. Giving Jimmy a last cocky grin, he huddled into the frayed, plaid wool coat and pulled his ball cap lower over his eyes. “Wish me luck.”
He jogged down the stairs of the garage and headed to the street. A gust of wind pierced his thin trousers and flimsy tennis shoes. Damn. April in Chicago is just as cold and rainy as it is in Huntersville.
But he’d grown from a scrawny kid going to work at the poultry farms and slaughterhouse into a man who had beaten the odds more times than he could count. He neared the small store-front office at the end of the block and steeled himself to meet the next challenge. And win.
A muted chime sounded when he pushed open the door. He glanced around the room, taking in the comfortable armchairs, mismatched couches, and scattered tables. Brightly colored toys spilling from a basket in a haphazard heap dominated one corner. Books and magazines littered almost every horizontal surface.
Across the room, two women sat side by side at a small round table. The younger woman excused herself and walked toward him, brushing a strand of light brown hair behind her ear as she crossed the room. The gentle sway of her hips and the hint of soft curves beneath her lightweight sweater almost made him forget why he’d come here.
It had been a long time since he’d been attracted to a woman. It had been even longer since he’d been in the company of a simple, unassuming one. Someone who wasn’t trying to snag the title of Mrs. McClaine like it was a prize at the county fair.
A rush of nervous anticipation, the kind he hadn’t felt since his high school days, flooded his senses. He didn’t like the nervousness or the memories it evoked.
“Hi,” she said, extending her hand. “I’m Claire Lennox. Welcome to the McClaine Literacy Clinic.”
He forced his gaze away from her body and focused on her mouth, studying her small, perfectly white teeth and her pink, slightly chapped lips, rather than meeting her eyes. He shook her hand, swallowing his fear like a man downs a shot of whiskey, letting it burn into oblivion in his clenched stomach.
He raised his eyes. So help him, if he saw an ounce of pity or a flicker of recognition on her face, he’d be out the door before she could blink.
All he saw were innocent, brown eyes and her little, welcoming smile. He shifted his weight onto the balls of his feet and tensed, locking his gaze on her. No sense sugarcoating his condition with a fancy label. He was a bottom-line man. “I can’t read. Much.” He threw the words at her like a gauntlet and braced to meet her response.
“That’s why the clinic is here. I’m glad you trust us to work with you. Unfortunately, my assistant is out for the day,” she said, still smiling and looking as pleasant as if he’d said nothing more surprising than good afternoon.
“I’m working with Mrs. Jablonski right now, but if you could wait a few minutes, I’d be happy to give you my full attention. There’s a video about the clinic if you’d like to watch.” She motioned to a small TV near a well-worn couch. “Have a seat, Mr. …”
“Artie,” he muttered, the urge to fight draining from him. “Artie McC— Michaels. Artie Michaels.”
She nodded. “I’ll be with you soon, Mr. Michaels.”
He slumped in a chair. Only ten minutes into the venture and he’d almost blown it.
“Clayton Arthur McClaine.” He tensed at the sound of his name, spoken in a soft, hesitant Polish accent.
“Wait. You’re not planning to read that article from People magazine today, are you, Mrs. Jablonski?”
Even though his back was to the women, he could picture Claire Lennox moistening her lips and leaning toward the older woman as she spoke, that troublesome lock of honey-brown hair falling across her cheek.
The knot in his gut eased slightly for the first time since he’d come up with the plan. Jimmy’s suggestions about how to avoid the press just might work.
“Have you seen, Miss Lennox? You must be up with the birds to get the early copy. By noon, the newsstand, she was already sold out. I can not blame you for wanting to get your hands on ‘America’s Ten Most Wanted Bachelors.’ Especially since Mr. Clayton Arthur McClaine of Chicago is bachelor number one.”
Excitement caused her accent to thicken and blur. “Look at this picture of him. He looks like such a nice, young man with beautiful, thick hair, and a good strong jaw. Handsome like, like… evil.”
“Do you mean ‘handsome as sin’?”
“Yes. Sin. Handsome like sin. Look at his office—bigger than this whole clinic. Wasteful. What that man needs is…”
“Let’s skip the photos and focus on the words for today, Mrs. J.”
He heard the scrape of a chair and the rustle of magazine pages punctuated by the older woman’s sigh. Clayton forced his tight body to relax. People see what they want to see.
He concentrated on keeping his shoulders slumped and his cap low over his eyes. Behave like a factory worker, and that’s what she’ll see. He strained to hear Mrs. J’s monologue, but kept his gaze focused on the dirty tennis shoes of his disguise.
Clayton weighed his reasons to stay against his desire to go. Too much was at stake. The deal with Johnson opened the European markets. But with knowledge of his private struggle with dyslexia, a manipulator like Johnson could make him look like a fool, embarrass and, perhaps, even discredit him in the eyes of the business community. He had to do this now, before someone discovered his secret and exposed him as a fraud.
But there was more to it than just that. Even his reason for being here was a fraud. He reached inside his thin coat, feeling for the letter he’d carried with him since the day he’d settled his mother’s estate last fall. This was the real reason that drove him to the clinic.
The negotiations were a smoke screen. Handling his investors, including Johnson—and even the public—would be tricky, but not impossible. He’d handled scores of business deals on his way to the top.
He caressed the battered envelope, the wrinkles and creases of the once-crisp paper, a silent testimony to the times he’d tried to read his mother’s last thoughts. He had no doubt that she’d poured her heart onto these pages. She’d been a lover of books and letters. She’d want her last message to him to be more permanent than a phone call. So she’d put it into words. Words he couldn’t read. Words he didn’t want anyone else to read for him.
The one thing he couldn’t conquer.
Kelle Z. Riley, writer, speaker, global traveler, Ph.D. chemist, and safety/martial arts expert has been featured in public forums that range from local Newspapers to National television. In addition to her works of fiction, a personal story was included in “Chicken Soup for the Soul: Living with Alzheimer’s and Other Dementias.”
Her fiction publications include cozy mysteries and contemporary romance.
In the Undercover Cat Mysteries a cupcake baking scientist turns sleuth—an much more. The Cupcake Caper, Shaken, Not Purred, The Tiger’s Tale, and Studying Scarlett the Grey, as well as free short stories set in the Undercover Cat world are available on Amazon or wherever books are sold.
In the Riches and Royals series, modern career women fall for princes-in-disguise, only to discover that “happily ever after” isn’t guaranteed. Can love turn their cautionary tale into a glittering fairy tale, or will their hearts shatter like glass slippers?
A former Golden Heart Finalist, Kelle resides in Chattanooga, TN. She a popular speaker for the Chattanooga Writer’s Guild, Romance Writers of America, Sisters in Crime, and other venues. She is a member of Sisters in Crime, Romance Writers’ of America and various local chapters. When not writing, she can be found pursuing passions such as being a self defense instructor, a Master Gardener, and a full time chemist with numerous professional publications and U.S. patents.
Kelle can be reached at www.facebook.com/kellezriley; www.twitter.com/kellezriley; and www.kellezriley.net
Links to Kelle’s website, blog, books, #ad etc.:
Universal Link to Other Vendors
Amazon Author Page
Good Reads: https://www.goodreads.com/kellezriley
Thanks, Kelle, for sharing your story with us!
Don’t miss the chance to read this book!