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BOOK CLUB: The One That Got Away by Kelly Hunter

the one that got away1) What was the genesis of your story?
A bunch of romance author friends and I were comparing Presents alpha heroes to the likes of Christian Grey and Gideon Cross. Dominant behavioral traits defined them all, yet Presents heroes didn’t really dominate in the bedroom. Was this a line constraint? Given the success of books like FSoG and BTY, would it stay a line constraint? After a hard day at the office, did a 21st century alpha hero really just want to come home and sub?

We talked about incorporating D/s sexual dynamics into sexy category romance. Would the sex scenes need to be fully realized and described? Could you load up the subtext and go easy on the details? Would glossing over those details limit exploration of character? Limit the resolution? Would readers feel short-changed? I really wanted to explore these questions, preferably within the framework of story.

2) What is the theme or overriding concept, as you understand it, behind the KISS line?

I put this question through to KISS Senior Editor Bryony Green.

Bryony: Harlequin KISS is flirty, fun, fresh and contemporary! It is a brand new series that reflects the way 25 – 35 year olds actually find love today. It’s about spirited, independent women – their lives, work, friendships and how they meet the guy who’s right for her. And when you’re talking about women who know what they want and don’t need a man to make their life complete, these men have to be super-hot and alpha in a totally 21st century way! The guidelines are here: http://tinyurl.com/9wmcmtd


3) The balloon covers indicate a fairly light hearted romance but the story of Evie and Logan is fairly dark. Did the tone evolve or did you know going in, that this would be a darker romance.

I knew going in that this story would be darker and more experimental than my usual. I got the go ahead from editorial and started writing. The cover came later. More on the cover later.

4) Was there any thought to Evie and Max having a romance? Why or why not?

The first scene I wrote for this story was that of a newly engaged Evie meeting Max’s family for the first time and realizing that she’d once been madly in love with his brother. I liked the inherent conflict. Max’s brother would be the hero. It could have gone either way at that point, but that was the direction I chose. Given that Max wasn’t going to be the hero, I needed that initial engagement to be one of convenience so that he could walk away unscathed. Cue the set-up of Evie and Max agreeing to marry in order to access his trust fund. I don’t often work backwards to get to the set-up, but this time I did.
5) Logan’s feelings toward Evie were conflicted due to his past. What changed in the intervening time? His control or his feelings overcoming his desires?
For me, what changes for Logan is that he learns how to trust. Logan trusting in himself more, as he tries to navigate an intense love relationship without doing damage. Logan trusting that Evie can hold her own with him and rein him in, both in the bedroom and out, should he ever go too far.

6) The dark feelings that Logan had exhibited themselves in a sexual manner yet the sex scenes are rather restrained and there was no attempt to work those control issues out in the bedroom. Was that intentional? Why did you choose to go that route?

Initially, I wrote sex scenes for the story that included pain play and breath play. This let me explore bedroom control issues more (though I never fully resolved them) and shone a different light on character. It made Logan more confronting and the story very dark. If I’d had to label the story at that point, I’d have called it erotic romance. Not a problem. I’d gone into this story perfectly willing to pick at the edges of what was sexy category romance and what was not. I took the breath play out. Reworked the characterization. Took the pain play out. Tweaked. Put it back in. Tweaked. Took it back out (drove myself nuts…).

Other factors came into play. I’d written the story with a Presents Extra audience in mind but then my publisher told me that the story was going to open for KISS. Fantastic, but the potential audience for the story had just become a mystery box. I saw the cover (And it’s sweet and romantic and contemporary and… doesn’t fit the story at all). My story had identity issues. My cover had… balloons.

I have no sway over cover concepts. And this cover was pulling double duty in representing not just my story but an entirely new series. Some KISS stories don’t have explicit sex scenes in them at all.

I took another pass at the story. By now I’d pushed just about all of the sexual pain play and a lot of the sexual power play into subtext. Would readers feel short-changed by this decision? I’d soon find out. I’d wanted to find out.
*note to self: Next time you get curious, Kelly, step away from the manuscript and go visit Madagascar. Plenty to satisfy curiosity there.


7) Do you intend to write more for the KISS line or the HP line? Or, in other words, what are your next writing plans?

I’ve another KISS story on the go. Amnesia. I love this trope. It’s my duty as a proud category romance author to twist this trope at least once. As for writing straight Harlequin Presents, I’ve never actually written for HP editorial, even though 3 or 4 of my stories are packaged as such. It’s complicated. Will a simple ‘I’ve no plans to write for HP editorial’ suffice?

I have a single title contemporary romance in the works and a fifteen thousand word story that’s coming out in May as part of an Entangled Anthology called When Honey Got Married... . Collaborating with Kimberly Lang, Anna Cleary and Ally Blake on this project was an absolute joy. Four linked stories. One big Louisiana society wedding… My story’s called Nina Tempted The Lord. Yes, really.

Thanks for the Book Club pick, Jane, and the opportunity to answer a few questions

***

Over to you readers. What were your thoughts on “The One That Got Away” by Kelly Hunter.

Jane Litte is the founder of Dear Author, a lawyer, and a lover of pencil skirts. She spends her downtime reading romances and writing about them. Her TBR pile is much larger than the one shown in the picture and not as pretty. You can reach Jane by email at jane @ dearauthor dot com

25 Comments

  1. Sirius
    Feb 15, 2013 @ 08:35:56

    I ended up really loving this book and mostly because of Evie. I really loved that she did not forget that she is the coowner of the building company while she was revisiting (or building) her relationship with Logan. Yes her head was not all in her work but I liked how she acknowledged it – do not see that too much. I also read Jane’s review and have to say that I completely agree with some of the points she made. At first I was scratching my head because it felt that the story was telling me that consensual d/s play is something wrong and to be ashamed of . Very soon however I felt like narrative pulled a switch on me in the midair and Logan is now purely afraid to be abusive like his father , that he will loose his temper, etc. So yes I really wanted to see that bedroom scene between them.

    The funny thing was that despite that contradiction I was so happy seeing them together that I was still satisfied at the end – I thought they had an awesome chemistry.

    And heh I loved Max of course I did – such an unexpected bonus.

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  2. Jane
    Feb 15, 2013 @ 10:34:11

    I wonder how many people’s experiences are adversely impacted by expectation set by the cover. It didn’t affect mine. As my review stated, I felt my issue was with whether Lucas’ sexual desires were going to be labeled wrong and the unnatural restraint I felt went on during the sex scenes. The Harlequin Kiss line seems to be having an identity crisis. You have this book with a lot of strong sexual content and then you have books that have zero sensuality in them. There are dark books and there are kind of frivolous stories. I don’t really understand what I am getting from the KISS line and how it is different from other lines.

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  3. Jinni
    Feb 15, 2013 @ 10:52:20

    I’m so surprised by the subject matter of this book. I would never have expected that from the cover. I assumed these were all chick lit, light or HP, light. Balloons and dom/sub??

    I’m coming across a number of publishers with ‘new’ lines that are not cohesive. But this is surprising from Harlequin who seem geniuses at books living up to very set expectations. Although I have to say, I’m no fan of the dom/sub books and would probably avoid this one for that reason. Now, I’m wondering what in the heck is in the free KISS book I downloaded a couple of months ago.

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  4. Lia
    Feb 15, 2013 @ 10:53:30

    Jane, like you, I’m also confused about the Kiss-line. I just don’t see the point or where Harlequin wants to go with this. If I had to categorize catagory romance, then I would do so on the level of sensuality. There is Blaze, Presents (nearly always a virgin heroine, but not actually shy in the bedroom department) and there is Romance, which closes the bedroom door before things actually heat up. Then there are obviously the paranormal and suspense catagory. I just don’t understand what Kiss has to offer that isn’t already represented in the other catagory romances.
    I thought the Kiss line was a mere continuation of the Mills and Boon Modern Heat / Presents Extra line, but appareantly that isn’t the case.

    Judging by the cover and blurb alone, this is not a book I would have picked up, but based on the information here, I just might give it a try.

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  5. Lia
    Feb 15, 2013 @ 11:01:05

    Maybe a dark romance line is next in Harlequin’s catagory romances. Jumping on the 50 Shades and Sylvia Day bandwagon, I can definitely see an audience for it. And most Harlequin writers write better than EL James.

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  6. Li
    Feb 15, 2013 @ 11:10:40

    Thanks for the interview – I’d love to see how the original sex scene(s) played out (how’s that for a heavy-handed hint for deleted scenes *ahem*). Also, I’m all excited to see the Hunter-take on the amnesia trope.

    Re KISS and categorisation, I think part of the confusion lies in the fact that category lines tend to be viewed in terms of levels of sensuality (as Lia said). Whereas KISS appears to be based on having a “modern feel”, distinguished from the M&B Modern Heat romances by not being as fantasy-like (by which I mean no sheikhs, billionaires etc) – I am mainly going by this quote in the interview:

    …reflects the way 25 – 35 year olds actually find love today. It’s about spirited, independent women – their lives, work, friendships and how they meet the guy who’s right for her.

    Disclaimer: I haven’t read any other KISS books, so they may have sheikhs and billionaires galore for all I know.

    Re the book itself, I really enjoyed the romance (and also the secondary characters). I liked that it was unusual for a HQN/M&B with the hints of darkness, but yes, like Jane, I would have liked to see it push the boundaries a bit more.

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  7. Jane
    Feb 15, 2013 @ 11:11:23

    @Lia – I wouldn’t mind if darker, sexier stories were going to come from a HQE category romance but a couple of the books this month and next month are kisses only. Um, what?

    This Kelly Hunter book is the best of the Kiss books i’ve read and honestly, if this were the direction KISS was going to take, then YAY! But, for example, one of next month’s books is “Must Love Kids” and it is all about teaching a CEO of a children’s toy company to love kids.

    But I also feel that the category nature of this book held Hunter back. When you read it, there is a certain restraint to the sexuality and I felt I deserved to see and read more about the very issue that broke them apart.

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  8. Lynne Connolly
    Feb 15, 2013 @ 11:19:35

    I made the comment in my review about the confused identity of the Kiss line. Like Riva, it really doesn’t seem to have any consistency other than “modern,” and for Harlequin, that’s quite a difference from the other category lines. They’re also experimenting with first person stories.
    I loved this book, and the cover-well, the less said. I would have liked more bedroom scenes, because it would have given a more concrete example of exactly what Logan was doing that made him so conflicted. I loved Evie, too.

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  9. Lia
    Feb 15, 2013 @ 11:36:56

    @Jane: and therein lies part of the problem. You can’t really tell upfront what type of read you are picking up upfront. I know that some of the Romance-writers write for Kiss as well, so that might be a clue, but then again they might have start writing for Kiss to expand their horizon. I know that Mills and Boon classify their historicals by era, so you know whether you are picking up a Regency or American History novel (and with historicals, usually the blurb says it all).

    ‘Modern’ is such a vague description. If it excludes sheikhs and fake royalty, than I’m all for it, but ‘moderm’ can also mean a recovering alcoholic or drug addict and I just don’t see that happening in a Kiss line (though admittedly that’s not really fun nor flirty).

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  10. Ros
    Feb 15, 2013 @ 11:38:22

    I was quite a fan of the M&B Riva line which I have no idea what’s happening with. It was on hiatus. Then it had a relaunch in Oct/Nov. Since then, nothing. I quite like the fact that the books aren’t categorised by sex/sensuality level. I think the identifying feature is something along the lines of voice. They don’t read like Harlequin Presents/M&B Moderns which tend to have quite a traditional/old-fashioned feel to them. And they aren’t the cosy style of the Romance/Cherish line. They aren’t small-town romances, for instance. They tend to be urban, with career-minded heroines and heroes who aren’t billionaires. They strike me as the kind of people I might actually know in real life.

    Having said all that, I totally agree that this is the worst mismatch of cover and book EVER. And I think I remember reading on Kelly’s website that she was a bit concerned about this being a Kiss launch book, because it’s probably not very typical of the line going forward. So, who knows?!

    I did like the book, though it’s a while since I read it (Kelly kindly sent me an advance copy) so I’ll need to re-read before I make a more coherent comment. But I do remember feeling that it wasn’t completely satisfying and I think your point about wanting to see the D/S in the bedroom is spot on.

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  11. Ros
    Feb 15, 2013 @ 11:41:18

    @Lia: When you buy a historical or a paranormal, for instance, from Harlequin, you don’t know what sort of book you’re getting in terms of its sensuality level or even its basic plot or tone. I’m not sure why people are finding this so much harder to cope with among the contemporary categories. I could totally see a recovering addict being in a Kiss book – I have a feeling I’ve read at least one Presents with that storyline, actually.

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  12. Lia
    Feb 15, 2013 @ 12:09:16

    @Ros; admittedly, I’m not a big Historical reader, but all the Nocturnes I’ve read where quite steamy in my opinion.

    I’m not quite sure how to explain this properly: though most of the Presents heroines and heroes have horrific backgrounds, the story never really comes across as dark, if you know what I mean. But if there actually is a Presents with a heroine who is a recovering addict, I’d be really interested in reading it!

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  13. erinf1
    Feb 15, 2013 @ 14:12:39

    Ok… I’ve read two books in this new Kiss line… The One that Got Away and How To Get Over Your Ex. I really enjoyed both but I felt they were completely mismarketed by the cover and the blurb. In fact, if I hadn’t read Jane’s warning about the mismatch before going in to TOTGA, it might have affected my reading. While these were both excellent stories, I’m afraid that a lot of readers looking for fluff and fun are not going to be happy. As for the sensuality levels… eh… as long as it flows well with the story, I’m ok w/ hot or fade to black. What bothers me more about this line is the complete polar opposite impression that is being thrown out. It’s ok to have a contemporary line that skips about but jeez louise they need to get the editors and marketing together to at least talk once or twice.

    But going back to this book… I loved it. I thought that Ms. Hunter did a fantastic job of confronting Logan’s fears and still allowing Evie to be strong and empathetic. Nice to see some newer topics being explored and I’m definitely looking forward to the “amnesia” story next :)

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  14. LJD
    Feb 15, 2013 @ 16:40:58

    @Jane:

    But I also feel that the category nature of this book held Hunter back. When you read it, there is a certain restraint to the sexuality and I felt I deserved to see and read more about the very issue that broke them apart.

    Yeah, this is pretty much how I felt.

    I really liked the book at the beginning, but grew more annoyed with it as it went on, as I realized that the issues that I wanted to see dealt with weren’t going to be resolved to my satisfaction. Also, there was very little from Logan’s POV in the second half of the book, and I wished we had more of it.

    Interesting that 2/4 Kiss books this month have structural engineer heroines. (Based on reading the blurb for Hitched!) I had a lot of trouble believing that Evie and Max had had that company for 6 years at their young age when you consider the years of work experience required to get professional accreditation, etc. (Max was 28 and Evie was ? I think about 30.) But probably most people wouldn’t be bothered by this.

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  15. Brianne
    Feb 15, 2013 @ 17:25:45

    I agree with a lot of the comments about the lack of the sex scenes and understand that it seems to be linked to restrictions of the line. But I think it took away from the story because that was a key element to the conflict between Logan and Evie. I didn’t really mind that the story was different than the cover, but could see that being a problem for some. I did really, really liked what Ms. Hunter did present, and this book moved me even more so into her came. I love the twists she puts on the tropes.

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  16. Jenny Schwartz
    Feb 15, 2013 @ 17:38:30

    I’ve read three of the KISS books so far.

    “The One that Got Away” surprised me by the depth in it. The intensity and the issues dealt with. Definitely a mismatch to the cover, but I thought the story was strong and the relationship real.

    Then I read Nikki Logan’s “How to Get Over Your Ex” and again was surprised at the depth. I didn’t expect deep and meaningful from the new KISS line, but the book had compassion and wisdom — and some great settings!

    But “Hitched!” by Jessica Hart confounded my understanding of KISS by being classic Jessica Hart — which was fine by me since I love her books. Fun, flirty and cuddly.

    So now I’m a bit confused, but what the heck! I just read three great romances :)

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  17. Nicole
    Feb 15, 2013 @ 20:46:37

    I am so glad this book was picked for the book club and I had read comments “to ignore the cover, it really is a dark, angsty book”; otherwise, i would have never chosen it. I enjoyed the characters’ development. I liked how everyone worked and there was consequences for being distracted. Evie is great. She knows who she is & what she wants out of life. I appreciate a a well-drawn pragmatic heroine. I am not really someone who usually wants the details (and pages and pages of sex), but I do think including the “deleted” scenes would have actually added to the story. It would have helped us understand a little more about who Evie was and whether Logan’s interpretation of the events were full of self-directed angst or had some validity. All in all, a great read and I’m really glad it was recommended. (But I do hope the cover is changed and soon….it makes me think that babies are on the way or the lovable shelter dog is just outside of the picture).

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  18. cleo
    Feb 15, 2013 @ 21:56:43

    I’m a bit conflicted about this book. There were things that didn’t really work for me in it, but it was still compelling enough that I read it in one sitting and postponed dinner until I finished it.

    I agree that the closed door sex scenes were frustrating (hah!) and didn’t work for the story. My main complaint is that I felt disconnected and distanced from the romance – in fact I don’t think there was a lot of romance. I didn’t feel like we got to see them fall in love as much as read about how deeply they both felt, how conflicted they were, how difficult it was, etc.

    I did like Evie and I liked how she and Logan worked out their relationship and boundaries.

    I was a little thrown by Max and Kit at first – that seemed like it came out of nowhere, but I liked it. And I really want to read their story – finally sequel bait that I’m interested in (not that I expect a Harlequin Kisses m/m anytime soon – although it would be “modern.”)

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  19. Willa
    Feb 16, 2013 @ 08:44:24

    I took another pass at the story. By now I’d pushed just about all of the sexual pain play and a lot of the sexual power play into subtext. Would readers feel short-changed by this decision?

    I think the story was shortchanged by doing this. This was the central aspect/crux of the story, it was why Evie and Logan broke up, it was the white elephant on every page, yet we were just told about it and not shown. It wasn’t even like reading about it through gauzy curtains – it was blackout blinds!

    Certain scenes also made me cringe – when Evie and Max went to Max’s mother’s to announce their engagement and it ended up with Evie, Max, Logan and their mother sat around the table discussing Logan’s sexual proclivities and why Evie and him had broken up – albeit euphemistically. In front of his mother?? It all leant, to me, an air of him being a naughty, confused schoolboy who had to be feted and indulged, especially when they asked him if he still wanted Evie – well if you want her why don’t you have her? Forget the engagement, forget the business, forget what she might want . .

    And then Evie goes upstairs after Logan to discuss things and they end up having sex in his Mother’s house, having only met her hours earlier and being introduced as the fiancee of one son and now she is upstairs boffing the other son?

    It just didn’t work for me and made me remember why I don’t read category anymore.

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  20. Ros
    Feb 16, 2013 @ 10:32:41

    Something I did like about the book was that it didn’t play into the myth of the Perfect Dom who always fully anticipates his partner’s wants and needs and never screws up. Logan screws up, like a real person.

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  21. cleo
    Feb 16, 2013 @ 14:29:21

    @Willa:

    Certain scenes also made me cringe – when Evie and Max went to Max’s mother’s to announce their engagement and it ended up with Evie, Max, Logan and their mother sat around the table discussing Logan’s sexual proclivities and why Evie and him had broken up – albeit euphemistically. In front of his mother??

    Agreed. I thought the whole opening set up was squicky. The story didn’t start working for me until they went back to Sydney.

    @Nicole:

    I do think including the “deleted” scenes would have actually added to the story. It would have helped us understand a little more about who Evie was and whether Logan’s interpretation of the events were full of self-directed angst or had some validity.

    I really wanted to see a more thoughtful approach to Logan – he’s full of anxiety and self-loathing and the people around him are assuring him that he’s not his father, he could never be abusive like his father, but I didn’t feel like Evie or his mom really LISTENED to him or took his concerns seriously or acknowledged that they could be valid or tried to help him evaluate his actions rationally.

    The more I think about it, the more I object to some of the ways domestic violence and abuse was handled here. It really bothered me that both Carolyn and Evie took it on themselves to decide what Logan needed to do to come to terms with his past and what his father did – Carolyn with the ring and Evie with her confrontation towards the end of the book. I’ve typed and re-typed this next sentence several times – the best way I can put this is that their actions struck me as heavy handed, and while not exactly abusive, it didn’t sit well with me at all.

    I did like that domestic violence was taken seriously and portrayed in a darker or grittier manner than some categories. And the way Carolyn was proud of herself for taking action towards the end of the book rang emotionally true and made me tear up.

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  22. SonomaLass
    Feb 16, 2013 @ 16:27:26

    I don’t always want to read author interviews, but I was really glad to read this one. I’m glad to know that the author sees the cover mis-match too, and to know that the story was originally conceived with more scenes to work out the sexual aspect of the couple’s conflict. Because let’s face it, he hurt her DURING SEX, which is not at all the same thing as losing his temper or trying to punish her or control her behavior, which is the classic domestic violence profile that his father fit. I was disappointed how that important distinction, so clear to Evie, was muddled.

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  23. Kaetrin
    Feb 17, 2013 @ 01:08:24

    I enjoyed the book a lot (I’m a big fan of the tortured hero). While I would have liked to have more of the edgy sex scenes in the book, strangely it didn’t bother me *that* much when I read it. I say strangely because when I read others’ opinions, I find myself nodding. Added to that, the interview above where I now find out there was breath play and pain play AND THEY WERE DELETED makes me want to cry. Can we please please please see those deleted scenes Ms. Hunter?

    Also, I would absolutely love a short/novella/full length novel about Max and his romantic journey. I don’t see Hqn Kiss/Presents doing it anytime soon but maybe Carina could publish it instead?

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  24. Ros
    Feb 17, 2013 @ 06:52:25

    @Kaetrin: Maybe she’ll get to do an expanded version like The Trouble With Valentines. That would be really awesome.

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  25. Kat
    Feb 17, 2013 @ 10:40:33

    What a great Q&A — it explains so much of what niggled at me when I read the book. (Except for the balloons — I know they have nothing to do with the story, but looking at the balloons makes me feel happy.)

    And what I was going to say is pretty much covered by the last two comments above! I could cry at how close we came to a Kelly Hunter book with pain play. And, like Ros, I’d love an expanded version, except that I guess we’d have to wait at least 6 years or so? I do love the insight on Hunter’s writing process, from the ideas she was exploring when she started writing the story, to the way she changed things around to suit the line and to align with reader expectations. This part of the writing process interests me greatly, because it seems (to me, at least) something unique to category romance. I mean, I can’t even recall when I last heard that an author tweaked a story to match the book cover or the imprint it’s being published under.

    Regarding HMB lines, the Harlequin KISS writing guidelines page also says: ‘KISS is published as RIVA in the UK’. In Australia, this title is published under the Sexy line (in a duo with The Downfall of a Good Girl, also a KISS title), which is also where many Riva and Presents titles fall under, so imagine how confusing it gets for us.

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