When Tessa Bailey’s Bellinger Sisters (It Happened One Summer and Hook, Line, and Sinker) duology went megaviral on TikTok, readers everywhere learned what romance fans had known for years: If you want rom-com hijinks and a high heat level, there is no one better than Bailey. Her latest book, Secretly Yours, is a steamy opposites-attract love story that will only increase her legion of admirers.
Secretly Yours is the start to a new duology, A Vine Mess. Can you tell us a little bit about this new book and the overall setting for the series?
The setting is Napa! After writing a series in the misty Pacific Northwest, I was in the mood for a sun-drenched vineyard. In this duology, we’re going to find love for the Vos siblings; they are heirs to a vineyard that is influential and respected but has perhaps seen better days. Julian Vos, a regimented history professor, is my first victim in Secretly Yours. He begins receiving mysterious love letters at the same exact time that he begins falling for his gardener, Hallie, a free spirit who flouts convention and comes with a trio of slobbery dogs. Julian is fiercely attracted to Hallie. Even though he is positive they could never work as a couple, he can’t stop fabricating reasons to see her.
Since wine and vineyards feature prominently, did you do any research on winemaking or vineyard upkeep?
Yes, I drank a lot of wine as my main form of research and found it very educational. I also watched a lot of documentaries on winemaking. The process is a lot more complicated than I could have imagined. There is no set method or recipe for wine. It is a constantly evolving art form, especially with new technology. If I learned anything from the eight documentaries I binged, it’s that grapes are extremely temperamental, vintners are more like scientists and I just want to drink the wine. There are a lot of great vineyards within driving distance of where I live on Long Island, New York, and they served as inspiration for my Napa setting.
Hallie and Julian are total opposites in a grumpy-meets-sunshine sort of way: Hallie is bubbly and upbeat, while Julian is more on the stuffy side. What do you enjoy about writing an opposites-attract romance? Do you have an ultimate favorite trope to write?
I cannot seem to quit opposites-attract romances. There is something very satisfying about two extremely different personality types finding common ground. There are so many opportunities for them to teach each other new perspectives on everyday life and really unlock something momentous in each other. For instance, in Secretly Yours, Hallie has an organic, unplanned approach to flower placement. Julian wants rows and structure, but when he sees Hallie’s finished product, he acknowledges that the lack of structure is what makes the garden beautiful and interesting.
My favorite trope to write is enemies to lovers, but the storyline must be very specific for me to fall in love enough to write a book of that nature. It’s important to me that, while the hero might be an “enemy” at first, he actually has a soft, Tootsie Roll center when it comes to the heroine.
At times, Julian and Hallie’s diverging personalities create conflict between them. How did you balance making these two people so different while still giving them a workable path toward happily ever after?
I really think it goes back to perspective. Julian has this rigid, almost unrealistic schedule. Every moment of the day is accounted for. Due to some past trauma, he believes the careful life balance he has created in order to preserve his mental health will collapse if he doesn’t adhere to his strict daily plans. But he learns through observing Hallie (and constantly having his schedule interrupted by her and the pooches) that everything doesn’t collapse if his plans get derailed.
On the opposite end, Hallie learns that a little structure won’t kill her. It’s really rewarding to take characters on a journey that allows them to see the world differently and learn something about their own resilience.
Why did you decide to have Julian receive physical love letters rather than “wrong number” texts or anonymous social media messages?
I took the old-school route because physical letters are more classically romantic and felt more appropriate for this particular series. Letters are a Big Gesture. They would be more of a surprise to receive than a direct message on social media, and have a little more gravity to them. If someone took the time to write words on actual paper and send them to me, in my opinion, those words would carry a lot of weight.
While Secretly Yours has funny moments and great banter, Julian and Hallie are also dealing with serious things. Julian has anxiety and experiences panic attacks, while Hallie is grieving the death of her grandmother. How do you keep a romance from feeling too light or too dark?
This is the challenge going into a modern romantic comedy. Readers expect there to be high stakes on the road to happily ever after. We don’t need the path to be easy, simply because the book has humorous situations or a humorous tone. A lot of us deal with the heavier aspects of life by laughing or creating levity. So that is my balancing act—making sure there is depth to the characters and their struggles, while also making sure the champagne bubble, fizzy feeling of romance is on the page. I can usually feel when I need a more poignant scene or if the story needs a break from carrying a heavy emotional load. It’s just a sixth sense. Time for a food fight!
For those who may be picking up a Tessa Bailey book for the first time, what can they expect? What’s the recipe for a Bailey romance?
Heat, humor and heart. In one of my books, a reader can expect lovable, relatable characters who are usually at a transition point in their lives—such a coincidence that they happen to meet their love interest at the same time! Expect to laugh and potentially even get a little misty during the quieter moments. Perhaps most notably, expect open-door love scenes. Like, way the heck open.
As someone who has read many a Bailey romance, I know things can get pretty steamy. Where would you rate this one on a scale of 1 to 10?
I usually put my books around a 7, but it’s all a matter of perspective. Some will say 10! Others will say 5. A lot of readers lately come to my books having been fooled by the cute, illustrated cover into expecting a closed-door rom-com, but there will always, always be ample steam in my books. I love experiencing the more intimate moments with my characters and putting them in those vulnerable scenes on the page. Their walls come down and they connect on a physical level . . . and afterward, something usually goes wrong. Like one of them gets a job offer in Milwaukee. Mwahaha. Romance writers are evil at their cores.
What can we expect in book two, Unfortunately Yours? Who will be the main couple?
In the second book of the Vine Mess duet, we get Natalie Vos and August Cates’ love story. This book owns a massive chunk of my heart—there was just some extra magic sprinkled into it. I can now say definitively that I’ve written my favorite hero of all time. It’s enemies to lovers, marriage of convenience and forced proximity. All the banter. A prank war. And a pesky cat. We meet Natalie and August in Secretly Yours, so I hope readers will be excited for their book.
What have you been reading lately? What books should readers have on their radar?
The last book I read was Before I Let Go by Kennedy Ryan, and it blew me away. It’s a second-chance romance between a divorced couple. They have older kids and a business together, so there are a lot of fraught interactions and high stakes. It’s mature and riveting and feels oh, so real. The tension, emotional and sexual, is top-notch. I highly, highly recommend it. Kennedy knocked it out of the park.
Photo of Tessa Bailey by Nisha Ver Halen.