Inspiration - it hits us at the oddest times and in even odder places, but an early mentor of mine said it best: "Read a couple hundred romances, and then a couple hundred more."

She was right, and along the way I've enjoyed many a pleasurable hour in the company of works by the likes of the late Kathleen Woodiwiss, Stephanie Laurens, and my personal favorites, Jo Beverly and Joanna Bourne - historical romance at its finest with the RITAS to prove it. Jo Beverly covers both the Regency and Georgian eras. Joanna Bourne does Regency with a twist. Her award winning works focus on English spies during the Napoleonic Wars.

All of these fine authors offer advice for aspiring romance writers on their websites, which I frequently check out:

This was a hard one to pick, since I've read most of everything she's ever written, but had to go with "A Lady's Secret," one of her Georgian titles. When Robin Fitzvitry, the fun-loving Earl of Huntersdown, encounters a cursing nun in a French inn, he can't resist the mystery. Petra d'Averio is not exactly a nun, though she has spent years in an Italian convent with her widowed mother. Her mother's death has left her in danger, and she must find the only person who might protect her: her true father, an English lord who doesn't even know she exists. She will enlist the Earl's help, use him, and eventually escape him with her virtue and secrets intact ... she hopes.

Don't miss her RITA award-winner - "The Black Hawk" - the spy story opens in 1818 London - "The past caught up to her in the rain, in Braddy Square, six hundred yards from Meeks Street." This is Justine and Adrian's love story. Two star-crossed spies struggle to re-ignite their passion in spite of the hidden menace trying to kill them.

Hands down - "The Edge of Desire" - Lady Letitia Randall is a woman like no other, and the day Christian Allardyce, 6th Marquess of Dearne, left her behind to fight for king and country was the most difficult of his life. She believes he abandoned her when she needed him most, but now she needs him to clear her brother's name. Christian decides to wage a war of his own - a campaign of pure pleasure and sweet revenge.

Her best by far - "Beguiling the Beauty" - set in 1886, a love affair on a transatlantic liner - "She was quiet. The ship rose and fell gently, as if it lay upon the breast of a sleeping giant. The beads on her skirt slid and clicked against one another, like a distant rain of pearls."

All of these authors offer romance on the edge - never a cliche, with many an unexpected plot twist. Sparkling prose and enough historical details to satisfy your curiosity, yet not put you to sleep. And all within the parameters of traditional romance. You have to provide the holy grail of HEA before your story spins out its 300-400 pages. (Happy Ever After). They manage to create small twinges of doubt even though you know how the story has to end.

If you don't yearn to hole up and write a romance of your own after reading some of these great stories - well, you're just not living right.