Every Great Romance has a Song
My career with stories began when I was seven and my dad took me to see Xanadu, staring Olivia Newton John. When I got home I strapped on my white roller skates with the hot-pink wheels, went in the yard and skated around to the film’s 8-track while reenacting the movie. Later that night I hid under the covers with a flashlight and my Barbie and created an elaborate story about Kira, a runaway muse (I had no idea what a muse was but it sounded cool) who knew karate and got by in the world singing in dive bars and roller-skating. Over the years, the plotlines shifted, the characters evolved, but there was always a Happily Ever After.
AND there is always a song. As I believe, every great romance starts with a song. Not just any song, but THE song. So, before I plot or outline or even type a word, I make a playlist comprised of music that conveys the kind of emotional struggle my characters are going through.
When I first came up with the idea for my Sugar, Georgia series, I was listening to the radio when Stupid Boy by Keith Urban came on. The song tells the story of a girl who falls for a boy who claims to see the beauty in her difference, but as their relationship grows he tries to change everything about her that makes her special. The need for unconditional acceptance is universal, and it is easy to relate to the kind of heartache that comes with external limits placed on us by loved ones. The entire song is incredible, but here are the lines that got me:
Stupid boy, you can’t fence that in
Stupid boy, it’s like holding back the wind
She laid her heart and soul right in your hands
And you stole her every dream and you crushed her plans
She never even knew she had a choice and that’s what happens
When the only voice she hears is telling her she can’t
I heard those lines and immediately though of a woman who tried so hard to live up to expectations, only to discover that happiness comes from living her own truth. That became the connecting theme through this series. The women of Sugar, Georgia are strong, driven, and looking for unconditional love and acceptance.
Creating the soundtrack for SUGAR ON TOP, was a lot of fun because the heroine, Glory Mann, is a dreamer and a hard worker, but she is also a nurturer and a pleaser, looking for something she’d never had—a family of her own. But when she crosses paths with her secret crush, Cal McGraw, the sexy single dad and hometown hero, her colored past stands in the way of a happy future. Cal is as attracted to Glory’s wild reputation as he’s put off by it, because with a teenaged daughter in the house he’s looking for wife material—not the town’s wild child. SUGAR ON TOP is a friends to enemies romance that shows not only how opposites attract, but also that when Cal and Glory allow themselves to live their truth, they find that they aren’t all that different where it matters.
In searching for the perfect song, I came across a few that really set the tone for this book. So I thought I’d introduce Glory and Cal by sharing with you their soundtrack:
This song captures so much of Glory’s struggle to overcome her past. It seems no matter how hard she tries to move forward, people keep reminding her of where she’s been.
Oh so your standing in the middle of the thunder and lightning
I know you’re feeling like you just can’t win, but you’re trying
It’s hard to keep on keepin’ on, when you’re being pushed around
Don’t even know which way is up, you just keep spinning down, ’round, down…
Cal’s biggest issue is that what he’s attracted to and what he thinks he needs doesn’t match up. Between raising his brothers after his parents passed, and his daughter after his wife walked out, Cal has spent most of his life taking care of others, making him extremely responsible and level-headed one. But there is something about Glory’s wild side that draws him in, makes him feel free and alive. He doesn’t know what it is about her, but he can’t seem to stay away:
She’s sunny one minute then she’s pouring down rain.
And she’ll do whatever she wants
And when she moves every jaw’s gonna drop
And I do but I don’t want her to stop
I want, I want I want whatever she’s got
I want whatever she’s got
When looking for that perfect song to capture Cal and Glory’s relationship struggles, I didn’t have to look far. I reached the chorus of this song by Sam Hunt and my heart broke. Glory is used to attention from men, but not the right kind of attention—or from the right kind of men. She longs to be someone’s forever, but is forever put in the one-night category. When she realizes that her time and a little fun is all Cal is looking for, she begins to wonder if she will ever be the kind of woman who a man sees forever in.
I don’t wanna steal your freedom
I don’t wanna change your mind
I don’t have to make you love me
I just wanna take your time
I don’t have to meet your mother
We don’t have to cross that line
I don’t wanna steal your covers
I just wanna take your time
This song actually inspired the book. With the different hats women are expected to wear, the need to feel wanted runs deep in society. Women want to be wanted, not for what they can give or what they look like, but for who they are at their core. And that is what this song is about. I must have listened to it a hundred times before I ever put a single word to page. The lyrics represent both the kind of love and relationship Glory dream of in her life, as well as how Cal eventually grows to see Glory. It helped me create a story where a small town girl learns that even in Sugar, Georgia she can experience big time love—and the kind of forever that doesn’t require conditions.
When I wrap you up
When I kiss your lips
I wanna make you feel wanted
And I wanna call you mine
Wanna hold your hand forever
Never let you forget it
‘Cause baby I wanna make you feel wanted
“Marina Adair writes with heart and sizzling heat.”
–Jill Shalvis, New York Times bestselling author on Sugar’s Twice as Sweet
She’s sassy and sweet
The last thing Glory Mann wants is to become chairman of the Miss Peach Pageant in Sugar, Georgia. Spending months hearing nothing but the clinking of pearls and judgment? No thank you! But when Glory is forced to take the rap for a scandal she didn’t commit, the judge sentences her to head the committee. Even worse, her co-chairman is rugged, ripped . . . and barely knows she’s alive.
He’s ready and willing
Single dad Cal McGraw can’t take any more drama in his life. After a difficult divorce, his little girl became a boy-crazy teenager and his hands are full. The last thing he needs is to spend his down time with the town bad girl. Glory is pure trouble-tempting and tantalizing trouble. But he can’t deny the strong chemistry between them-or how her touch turns him inside out. Now as squabbles threaten to blow up the contest and the town of Sugar itself, Cal must risk everything on the sexy wild card to get a second chance at love . . .
“Shut off the tractor and put your hands in the air.” The command came through the speaker attached to the top of the sheriff’s car, which was right next to the flashing red and
Squinting against the rain, Glory stared in panic at the speed trap up ahead. A floodlight clicked on, blinding her and causing her foot to slip off the clutch. The engine sputtered to a stop.
Determined to see this through, Glory cranked the engine and spun the tires, kicking up loose gravel and a few cow pies. She hadn’t come all this way, spending thirty minutes on the muddy back roads in the middle of the night to right someone else’s wrong, just to get caught now.
“Come on now, Ms. Hattie. Step on off that tractor so we can all get out of the rain.”
Ms. Hattie was the town busybody and one of Glory’s grandma’s oldest and dearest friends. Which explained how the Prowler ended up in her grandma’s garage.
The roadblock of wet and irritated officers obviously had no idea who was driving the tractor. If they had, Glory was certain that their boss would have her butt tossed in jail before she could say, “Morning, Sheriff.”
Plus she was pretty sure the smug-looking guy in the department-issued hat, weighing in at two hundred pounds of bad attitude, was Sheriff Jackson Duncan.
“Look, I promise my grandma won’t press charges.” Yup. Sheriff Duncan. The entitled drawl was a dead giveaway. And if he thought Ms. Kitty wouldn’t press charges, he was insane. “Heck, Ms. Hattie, as long as the Prowler is back in the bay before she wakes up, she doesn’t even have to know
it went missing and we can all go home and back to our respective business.”
“Do I have your word on that, Sheriff?” The second Glory opened her mouth, Jackson realized Hattie McGraw wasn’t behind the wheel because he went from leaning against the grill of his cruiser to reaching for his gun. She also knew that only ten feet and some plywood separated her from a mug shot—a mug shot that was not going to happen. She had enough mascara under her eyes to pass for a
linebacker and enough emotion built up that, after one too many double shifts slinging beer and a lifetime of double standards, getting arrested would fill out her already unflattering résumé.
Jackson silently made his way toward the tractor, boots clacking against the slick concrete, cuffs jangling in his hand. Knowing nothing good could come from that, she rested her hand on the gear shift and asked, “I’m guessing by the pissy look on your face that your generous offer is no longer on the table.”
“Sorry to say, but you’d guess right,” he said, not sorry at all.
Jackson Duncan had been sheriff of Sugar County for the past four years, and he’d hated Glory for at least twice that amount of time. He was uptight, by the book, and still blamed her for his older brother leaving town. Not that he had ever bothered to listen to her side of the story. No one really had. But everyone knew that he would love nothing more than to parade Glory around town in cuffs and prove that she was a menace to Sugar’s properly polite society.
“Even if I told you that I wasn’t stealing Ms. Kitty’s tractor? That I was trying to return it?”
“Even then. Possession is nine-tenths of the law.”
And wasn’t that just great, because in this county possession might constitute only nine-tenths, but being the girl who cost Sugar High their beloved football coach and the state championships all in the same year surely made up the other one-tenth. Which meant the odds of her getting out of this mess with a friendly warning were a big fat zero.
There was no way she was letting him take her in. Not dressed in flannel and fertilizer. And sure as hell not when she had a Pediatric Health Theory midterm in six hours. It had taken her the better part of a decade, juggling part-time classes and full-time bar tending, to get to where she was, and she wasn’t about to let one mistake screw up everything. Not again.
“Sorry then, Sheriff.”
Grabbing the edges of her rain slicker, she flipped it up to cover her face and gunned it. The tractor roared as she threw it in second. The gear kicked in, causing the Prowler to pick up in volume and speed—surprising speed for a machine that looked like a giant peach and was built when she’d been in preschool.
“Aw, hell,” Jackson said, racing back to the cruiser. “Let ’em go, boys.”
Heading straight for the road, she vowed that she would drive right through that speed trap, over the metal spikes and all, if she had to. Her grandma was counting on her, and the entry to the Prowler’s parking bay was only a few yards past the sheriff’s patrol car. She could slip in, park the vehicle, and hightail it out of there.
She hit fourth gear right as the Prowler’s wheels cruised over the first set of shredders—tires unscathed. Only before she reached that second strip, Jackson stepped in front of the tractor.
“Dang it, Jackson,” she screamed over the roar of the tractor’s engine. “Move your overentitled, stubborn ass out of my way or I’ll run it down!”
“And miss busting yours for grand theft auto and assaulting a police officer?” he yelled back, smiling as though he’d just won box seats at the Georgia Dome. “No, ma’am.”
Glory looked from side to side, weighing her options. Had she been thinking with her head instead of her heart, she would be warm and snug in her bed, not facing jail time in little more than a pink slicker and ducky galoshes. Instead she was trying to solve a feud that had been brewing since Glory turned seventeen and made the biggest mistake of her life.
Before Glory could react, she crossed the second trap and the back two tires exploded simultaneously. The tractor jerked forward and she didn’t know what was thumping louder, her heart or the deflated tires struggling to roll over the blacktop.
The Prowler decelerated and slowly crawled toward Jackson, who stepped out of the way right as the tractor made its final stop—giving the cruiser a big smacker to the front bumper. The Prowler must have been made of steel because a loud crunch broke through the night’s air, followed by an awful sizzle and finally steam, which drifted up from under the hood and into the inky sky.
“I guess I can add destruction of city property to the charges,” Jackson said with a smile.
“Damnit, Jackson.” Glory picked up a stray cow pie, which had landed in the back of the tractor during her offroading excursion, and threw it on the ground. It shattered, splattering right up his department-issued boots and onto his pant legs. “I’m just trying to return it.”
“And I’m just doing my job,” he said as he approached the vehicle and hoisted his smug self up. “Now, do you need me to read you your rights? Or would you like to say them with me?”
And right then Glory understood that no matter how hard she tried to atone for her past, she was never going to be free of it.