This has been a wonderful couple of weeks. Just when I thought things couldn't get better (or crazier, depending on the angle you looked at it), I received the advanced review copies (ARCs) for Smoke and Ashes. Hands down--not including the birth of my children--this was one of the most amazing moments of my life. For nearly a year, I have known the day would come in which I could hold the book in my hands, smell the mass market paper and ink, stroke the cover, and drool over the artwork. It was surreal when that day finally arrived.I'm not one who cries (and I'm not really a hugger--though I make exceptions), yet this week I have been spontaneously bursting into tears and hugging strangers.I can't express how much it means to me that I get to hold my literary baby in my hands. I have sacrificed more than most know to make this dream a reality--friends have come and gone, my social life has its own headstone, and my family members knows that whatever "vacation" we take will likely revolve around a conference, book signing, or convention. And, just like any small business, I really don't have days off. There is always something that needs my attention, or word counts that are breathing down my neck.Yet, it always has been a labor of love.Through it all, the sacrifice, the writing time, the exclusion and tedious schedules, it all comes back to the reason I will always write--I want to make a difference. I want my readers to put my books down and feel uplifted--and to walk away with a feeling of hope.In writing Smoke and Ashes, I spent a great deal of my time researching the events that transpired between the pages. Want to know about chemical oxidizers and arson? How about how fires affect fingerprints? Ask this girl. Or, more accurately, ask me because I spent many an hour talking to firefighters and police officers within my community.This book (really all of my books, but this one in particular), wouldn't have been possible without their support.As a thank you to my local fire department, as soon as I received my ARCs (and a bunch of swag), I bought a cake and a thank you card and made my way to their doorstep once again. I was given a gracious welcome and "How did the book turn out?"I have never had a bigger smile on my face as the moment I handed them the book that they helped to create. Up until that moment I had kept the secret... a secret a year in the making... a secret that I had been dying to tell them--They had helped to make my dreams of becoming a Harlequin author a reality.I cannot express my thanks enough to the men and women who serve our community. Not only do they put their lives at risk, but they open their hearts and their doors in doing community outreach--like helping crazy blond writers who have nothing more than a dream and a pen.These amazing men and women risk their lives to help others, and my sacrifices pale in comparison. I have no room to complain. I don't have to hold the hands of the dying or run through a burning building. I simply get to mark down the stories of those who do. They are the men and women who live through real life danger... they are (the often unsung) everyday heroes.I tip my hat to those who serve. Thank you.