It's holiday season, and romance readers all over the world are deep into their stack of Christmas stories – including me! It’s a time for fun and frivolity and beach reads. (Hey I’m Australian, Christmas means summer here!) And I know my fellow Aussie romantic comedy author, Cassandra O’Leary, is going to hit the perfect note with her Christmas novella Heart Note, which is out now.
Winner of the global We Heart New Talent contest. Nominated for Best New Author in the 2016 AusRomToday Reader's Choice Awards for excellence in Australian romance fiction.
Cassandra is a romance and women's fiction author from Melbourne, Australia. You’ll find her drinking coffee, dreaming of Italy and Spain, and raising two mini ninjas with her superhero husband. Cassandra O’Leary’s new release, Heart Note, is a Christmas themed romantic comedy novella. More novellas and novels are bubbling away!
In 2015, Cassandra O’Leary won the global We Heart New Talent contest run by Avon Books/HarperCollins UK and her debut romantic comedy novel, Girl on a Plane, was released in July 2016. She was also a 2015 finalist in the Lone Star contest, Northwest Houston Romance Writers of America, and a 2014 finalist, First Kiss contest, Romance Writers of Australia.
A romantic comedy Christmas novella, perfect for fans of Love Actually . . . from the award-winning author of Girl on a Plane
Love is like a fine perfume. The top note draws you in, an instant attraction, but the Heart Note is the true essence. Like true love – a great perfume should be a woman’s perfect match.
At least, that’s what perfume counter manager, Lily Lucas, tells her customers in one of Australia’s largest department stores.
It’s almost Christmas, the store is bedecked with baubles and Lily has about eleventy billion gifts to wrap and sell. She and her team of spritzer chicks are glamorous, professional and hoping they don’t have to wear the hideous red onesies and reindeer antlers the store manager has in mind.
The high point of Lily’s work life is Christos Cyriakos, ex-cop, security guard, possible Greek god. He's a mystery box she’d love to unwrap. But can she trust him?
All Lily wants for Christmas is to kiss Christos (and more), catch a band of thieves running amok in the store, and live happily ever after. Is that too much to wish for?
Read a little, buy the book...
“Oh. My. God.” My reaction couldn’t be contained, unfortunately.
Had I forgotten to drink my second cup of coffee? Because I was clearly delusional. The vision before me had to be caffeine-deficiency induced.
I’d had some time to wind down from the events of the day before, with no explanation as to what was going on from either Christos or the store management. I expected we’d find out eventually if there had been a crime going down. But today’s excitement was of a different variety.
When I saw the new casual staff walking towards my counter, my mouth popped open. I leaned forward on the perfume counter, mouth agape like a stunned mullet. It was probably unprofessional, but I couldn’t help it.
I turned to Giselle, standing at my right.
Giselle was a willowy French import with a hypnotic accent, naturally highlighted brunette hair and friendly personality that put anyone at ease. To her left stood Gillian, the non-exotic but reliable and hard-working country girl, with silky blonde hair, freckles and perfect teeth. Collectively, they were known as G-G or Gigi. According to me.
“Gigi, what do you make of this?”
Gillian was near the towering display of perfume tester bottles arranged on a precarious kind of multilevel, mirrored Lazy Susan. She shook her head. “No.”
Giselle shrugged, her long and lush false lashes fluttered as she blinked several times.
The new gang of casual spritzer chicks walked in close formation, either in solidarity or trying to hide somehow. Because the costumes they sported were truly horrendous. A crime against fashion, not to mention reindeers. And Christmas.
Red onesies. Gold reindeer antlers. Oh, no...
“White boots! What were they thinking?” Giselle had read my mind. She continued to tsk under her breath, clearly appalled.
The new girls looked like a sleigh full of Rudolph and Mrs Claus costumes had exploded after a run-in with a bad 80s music video. Their hair wasn’t teased on end, but was slicked back to allow the gold sparkly antlers maximum wow-factor. It was the Heart-mas perfume ad come to life in front of me, in scary 3D with added velour and ‘smell-a-vision’. The aroma was truly something. An eye-watering something no perfume lover should ever suffer.
Giselle sighed with gusto and tapped me on the shoulder. “Please, tell me we will not have to wear that?”
It hadn’t occurred to me. I shuddered, because why wouldn’t I? “I don’t think so. No one has mentioned a costume to me. It’s not in the product-knowledge brochure or the communiques from head office.” I waved vaguely at the folders of information and promotional material filed under the cash register.
The posse of new girls reached the counter in front of me, all of them sharing dazed and confused expressions. The one at the front of the pack, bearing the name ‘Penny’ on her name tag, looked close to tears.
I pulled myself up to full height, five foot five in heels, and forced myself into calm, professional mode. I’d been expecting new staff, if not their mad two-dollar-shop costume-party appearance. “Welcome everyone. I’m Lily, the counter manager. Your fearless leader.” I saluted, for fun.
A few of the women smiled and said hello. I did a quick head count. Eight casual staff had arrived. Quite a large crew, and more than I’d been expecting. I’d put them to work though. I’d booked a training room and would have them gift wrapping before I unleashed them on the cosmetics floor for promotions.
After a quick pep talk, and they needed the pep, I ushered them away, the new girls headed towards the training room. I’d be gone for half an hour. An hour, tops. The gift wrapping in the training room would be quicker with a whole team. Still, I wanted to make sure my regular staff were okay.
Gillian was busy straightening the display in the glass-fronted cabinets, making sure the gold boxes of a swanky brand were prominently displayed.
I waved at Giselle where she was crouched behind the counter, pulling stock out of the drawers at floor level. “Bye, G. See you in a while. Oh, don’t forget to fill in your sales sheet for the week.”
Giselle nodded once. “Of course. Good luck with the new...girls.” Her lips twisted to one side for a second. Elegant as she was, this was her contained version of a guffaw.
I raised my freshly waxed eyebrows. “Thanks for the support.”
Avril: What’s the appeal of Christmas stories from an author’s perspective?
Cassandra: Christmassy stories are fun. And the seasonal nature of ebook sales especially, means it’s good to have something fresh to release that can be tied into a holiday, whether it’s Christmas or Valentine’s Day. I really wanted to challenge myself to write something quickly to release by the end of this year, which I did! I thought a Christmas story would be a good tie-in with my idea of a perfume-counter setting at a department store too.
Avril: Do you have any books on your own Christmas reading list this year?
Cassandra: Oh, stacks! My To Be Read pile has been stressing me out, because I haven’t even got through half of the books I meant to read this year. I actually just bought a few Christmas reads too, such as Hot Toy by Jennifer Crusie, A Christmas Wedding by Paige Toon and A Very Vintage Christmas by Tilly Tennant. I can’t wait to get stuck into some reading.
Avril: Favourite Christmas movie?
Cassandra: This is tough… I’ll have to say When Harry Met Sally, which features several scenes around Christmas such as picking out a Christmas tree, and a big New Year’s Eve party. I just love everything about this movie, from the snappy dialogue to the abundance of ‘meet cutes’ as Harry and Sally meet several times over the years. But also, Die Hard is another favourite. It’s kind of an anti-Christmas movie with a bunch of criminals and bomb threats that Bruce Willis has to conquer during the holidays. Anyway, I love it.
Avril: Do you have any Christmas family traditions?
Cassandra: My husband and I have held a Christmas Eve party since forever, with lots of old friends and family invited. Now that we’re older (cough) we have quite a few kids running around too. It’s warm weather here in Melbourne, Australia, so we do a barbeque and people hang out on our back deck or chill out inside listening to Carols by Candlelight on TV.
Avril: With a heroine who’s a scent expert, want to share your own favourite perfumes?
Cassandra: This is tricky, because I love so many of them! I tend to have favourite perfumes for different moods or occasions. At the moment I’m in a summer mood and I love Marc Jacob’s Daisy, Calvin Klein’s Eternity Moment and Christian Dior’s J’Adore. But…some of my all-time favourites are old-fashioned scents such as Chanel No. 19 and Shalimar by Guerlain. If you sent me into Sephora with orders to buy perfume, I could be lost for days!
Avril: Heart Note is part of a series – what can readers expect from the other stories to come?
Cassandra: I’ve just started work on the next novella in the Spritzer Chicks series. It will be called Cupid’s Bow, and (hopefully) will be a Valentine’s Day release. The next heroine will be Giselle, the French character I introduced in Heart Note. I know there will be more perfume, love letters and a second chance romance, but that’s about it for now. I’m a pantser (I write by the seat of my pants) or an organic writer. I start with a core idea and then work it out as I go. After that, I’d like to get back to the character of Petula, an Indian-Australian make-up artist who’s full of spunk and looks like a Bollywood star. I haven’t really worked out this story yet.
Avril: Will Christmas 2017 be a reading or a writing time for you?
Cassandra: Both...I hope! As I mentioned, I’ll need to crack-on with writing Cupid’s Bow, but without putting too much crazy-town pressure on myself as I tend to do when I get into full-on writing mode. This will be another indie release so I’ll be able to move the timelines if I need to.
I’ll have my two little boys home on summer holidays so I’ll need to be doing things with them. But I want to read a little and chill too, so that’s the challenge. Hopefully my husband can get some time-off from work and we’ll head somewhere along the coast for a while, enjoying a lazy beach holiday.
Cassandra is giving away an e-copy of Heart Note to one lucky person who signs up to her author newsletter this week. Simply subscribe HERE with your name and email address!
Meanwhile, we'd love to know if you have a favourite Christmas book or movie!