1. You first introduced Trent and Laura a few years ago and readers have been eagerly awaiting their story for a few years. Did you always know when you first created them in BECAUSE OF YOU that this was how their story would play out?
I knew they would have a story to tell but telling their story in this particular way, no I didn’t intend it. It took finding my amazing editor along with multiple attempts at trial and error to get them just right. I’m a nervous wreck about their story, but I’m also really excited because I’m very happy with how their story turned out. Plus, hamsters. Who can argue with that, right?
2. BACK TO YOU is the incredibly emotional story of a marriage at the breaking point. What or who inspired you to write this story?
I remember standing in the ops one day and one of the guys was on the phone with his wife. He was telling her how much he was sorry, how much he didn’t want to work late. Then one of the other guys remarked that he always says that but he doesn’t ever mean it. So I had this idea of a man who was so driven to get back to war that he let his entire family and personal life suffer, but I also wanted a wife who people could relate to as well. Laura is Trent’s perfect complement.
3. In your own personal life, you’ve been the soldier that has deployed to a war zone and the spouse that stayed home and has taken care of the family on the home front. Which was more difficult for you in your experience? And why?
That’s a much bigger topic than we have time for but I’ll say this: each one has its own unique challenges. Being deployed, not being able to get home when your kids are crying that they want mommy, that’s brutal. It rips your soul out. But then coming home and your reality doesn’t live up to the fantasy? In some ways I think it’s worse, and that doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. As far as being the wife at home? I remember vividly lying awake at night, obsessively checking to make sure my ringer was turned on. I never cared when he called I just wanted to hear his voice. So which one is worse? I can’t really say. But I’m grateful that we’ve made it through each one a little bit stronger, you know?
4. Which is your favorite story to write—a reunion romances like Trent and Laura’s where each scene is alive with their own history or a fresh romance where they meet for the very first time and everything is new? Why?
I love a reunion story. I love the idea of being able to forgive and love the person you’re with right then and not the memory of someone. I’m a huge sucker for reunion stories, honestly. I love the reconnection, the noting of how things have changed, of learning to love that person all over again, especially after a betrayal or things didn’t work in the past.
5. Trent is such a compelling character and you do a beautiful job of showing his survivor’s guilt and the resulting anxiety and fear that provokes in him. He’s both so alpha and strong and so very broken. What inspired you to create such a complicated hero? A real life person? A culmination of your own experiences? What you’ve seen yourself in the army? And were you at all concerned about the way readers would respond to him?
Trent is going to be hard for people to read, I suspect. He comes close to crossing some boundaries, and I wanted to do that deliberately: I wanted people to understand that coming home from war isn’t cured in a day or a week. It’s a process. Someone like Trent who has bled in combat isn’t going to be okay after a night of magical sex. I know that’s the fantasy, but I wanted something more: I wanted the fantasy that the couple will be strong enough to make it. So for me, Trent is deeply, deeply personal because I’ve seen friends struggle with some very tough choices. And the truth is, there is no magical cure but there can still be a happily ever after if you have someone strong enough to stand with you.
6. Laura is such an amazing character because she’s done the best for her family at every turn and supported her husband. But when all communication breaks down with her husband and he just keeps deploying, she serves her husband with divorce papers while he’s serving. It seems like such a taboo to serve papers while your spouse is deployed—is that true? And why did you choose to have Laura, the ultimate good wife, respond this way?
Laura sending Trent divorce papers while deployed I think is the ultimate prohibition. It’s just wrong on so many levels, and yet I wanted to give readers a sense of what could drive someone to their breaking point. Laura is such a strong woman and yet she broke. The strongest of us all have our breaking points. I wanted to show people how hard the war has been on everyone—not just the soldiers deploying but on the kids, on the spouses—but I also wanted to give people hope, too.
7. Agent Chaos and Fluffy, the family hamsters, almost steal the show with their disappearing acts and they add the perfect amount of cuteness and comic relief. What inspired you to add them into the story?
Ah Fluffy and Agent Chaos. So for readers who don’t know, we have hamsters. It all started when we volunteered to buy the pre-k class pet. I didn’t realize that this would include home visits for the holidays. Fluffy was the first hamster and she promptly escaped within the first 24 hours. After that, we’ve become a multiple hamster household and well, when they escape, it’s madness because we have dogs and cats who, by some miracle, haven’t actually ever managed to capture one of the little buggers.
This story badly needed something to lighten it up. I thought adding in some escaping rodents would be the perfect thing to break up a really tough interaction between Trent and his kids. They provided a bridge for him to cross, a way to reach them while he was still getting used to them.
8. Big wedding or small? Hamsters or dogs? Sweats or lingerie?
Small wedding. Both hamsters and dogs and cats. Sweats all the way.
9. Emma and Ethan, Trent and Laura’s kids, are adorable and watching Trent learn how to be a dad again is an amazing thing. How do you think Trent got so detached from his family?
Coming home to be a parent again is probably the hardest thing soldiers do. The kids have changed, they have their own wants and needs and, well, they’re not your soldiers. They don’t listen like your soldiers have to. The noise and the chaos and the constant needs are really tough to get used to again, so I think Trent just ran away because it was too much to deal with.
10. Since this is such an emotionally charged story, was it difficult for you to write? Or did it come easily?
It was very, very difficult to write. I wanted to push boundaries and create at least a glimpse of what it’s like to come home. I wanted to give readers a taste of the emotions that people go through, the fear, the uncertainty but also the love and the hope and the relief that their loved one is home safe.
11. Since you’ve been in Trent’s shoes, what is the hardest thing about readjusting to civilian life after a deployment?
The crowds and the entitlement. To this day, I won’t go into crowded stores or wait in crowds. It’s suffocating. And it’s funny because when I first came home, I was so annoyed at people complaining about lines and traffic and school starting. I was just so grateful to be back. Now, I’m much more sympathetic to everyday gripes and groans. I think it’s just part of how we get through our days.
BACK TO YOU
“So, to what do I owe the honor of this visit?” she asked, minimizing her e-mail to be able to focus.
“Don’t throw me out of the office,” he said, trying to keep his voice light. “But I need to talk to you about Trent’s case.”
Laura leaned back in her chair, folding her arms over her chest, and started counting to ten.
“I know you’re having a hard time with him.”
Laura sucked on her top lip for a moment before answering. “I wouldn’t necessarily call filing for divorce a hard time.”
“And that’s what I need to talk to you about.”
“Just hear me out, okay?”
She ground her teeth but after a moment nodded.
“Listen, there’s no case against Trent. It’s weak at best. With the Article 32 about to start, we have a good chance of getting it stopped here before it goes to court-martial. But I need to plant doubt that the allegations against him are true.” He met her gaze. “I need you to do that.”
Laura chewed on her bottom lip, playing his words over and over in her head, not understanding what he was asking of her. “What do you mean, you need to plant doubt?”
“The primary witness against your husband, PFC Adorno—”
“Oh, we’ve met,” Laura said dryly.
Patrick’s smile was humorless. “Yes, well, that’s part of the prosecution’s problem. She’s alleging that Trent was inappropriate but the problem is that she and Lieutenant Randall were caught in their shenanigans downrange.”
Laura frowned. “So you think this is a ploy to get herself out of trouble?
“Her and her husband. If they were working together to steal the missing weapons systems, then what better way to get out of trouble than to make this stuff up against Trent? Takes the focus off her and her husband completely.” Patrick leaned forward, tapping his index finger on the desk. “If I can cast Trent as a sympathetic family man who would never do anything like what she’s alleging, this case is all but dismissed. I’m not attacking her. All I have to do is make Trent look better than the story she’s telling and we’ve got a win.”
“And you need me to paint on a happy face and be the loving wife.”
Patrick shook his head. “No, I need you to be one half of a loving couple. And I need you to do it publicly where everyone can see it—in the PX, in the chow hall, everywhere. I need the officers on this board to believe exactly what I’ll be telling them on the day of the hearing.”
She looked down at her empty ring finger, absently rubbing the bare skin beneath the bandage. “Everyone knows that we’re having problems, Patrick.”
“Then make sure everyone knows you’ve fixed it.” He leaned back. “I wouldn’t ask you to do this if I didn’t think it was our best shot at getting this whole thing thrown out.”
She looked up at him. “Why didn’t Trent ask me to do this?”
Patrick swallowed and looked away. “He refused to drag you into this,” he said quietly. “For what it’s worth, I don’t in a million years believe the allegations against Trent. I don’t think he would ever, ever be unfaithful to you.”
Laura pressed her lips together in a flat line. “You’re wrong, Patrick. He’s been cheating on me for years. It was just with the army instead of another woman.”
“Let me think about it,” she said quickly. “I won’t say no out of hand but I can’t make this decision on a whim.”
Patrick leaned across the desk, gripping her hand. “I know this is hard for you, Laura. I know what I’m asking you to do.”
She said nothing for a long moment and he gave her a sympathetic but firm smile. “Give it some thought, okay?”
When she was alone, she sat there, staring at the picture of her family. Wondering how she was going to bring him back into the kids’ lives and then rip him out again. What he was asking wasn’t fair. He had no idea what this was going to do to her family.
She glanced at the photo on her desk as she typed furiously, trying to get ahead of the flood of e-mails in her inbox.
There was a quiet rap on her office door. “I’m not here,” she said quickly, looking up.
Her fingers froze on the keyboard. Her heart stopped in her chest.
Trent stood in the doorway. He had a duffle bag slung over his shoulder. His glasses hid the darkness of his eyes. There was a streak of dirt on his cheek. An assault pack hung limply from his left hand.
A thousand emotions ripped through her all at once, rioting for supremacy as she drank in the sight of her husband.
Ex-husband, she reminded herself. Or at least he was supposed to be.
She wished that this were a normal homecoming. One where she would rush across the small space and crash into him. His arms would come around her and she would inhale the strong spicy scent of his skin. Feel the heat of his touch. Savor that first, wild kiss.
Instead she had this. This empty chasm between them, echoing with loneliness.
And she had no idea how to cross it.