“THE second she sees Mr Oh-So-Delicious, Jennifer Hayes knows she needs one night of crazy. No names, no strings, no rules. Except that Jennifer’s naughty one-nighter is actually Marcus Wright - her new business partner! Now they’re mixing business with all kinds of pleasure. But when it comes to falling in love her sexy Mr Wright is either Mr Wrong or the best mistake of her life...”

Getting hot and flustered is all in a day’s work for Mills & Boon author Rachael Stewart, who fits her writing career around being a mum-of-three. When the kids have gone to school, she’s busy writing her latest erotic romance.

“I set the alarm for 6am, write in bed with a coffee for an hour, before getting the kids up. When they’re at school I’m sitting at my desk for the day,” says Rachael, whose books include Mr One-Night Stand, Naughty Or Nice and Losing Control. Her latest release is Getting Dirty, about a “drop-dead sexy private investigator who is about to discover that digging for dirt can expose some seriously naughty little secrets”.”

If she’s written a particularly steamy chapter, Rachael could be forgiven for looking a little flushed on the school run... “You can’t write a sex scene without getting a bit flustered,” she laughs.

Rachael, of Guiseley, fell in love with Mills & Boon books in her teens when she discovered a stack of them at her grandparents’ house. “My nan revealed that they weren’t hers - they were my grandad’s! He liked short books,” she says. “I loved the romance of them. I’d always been an avid reader, thanks to Enid Blyton, and started writing stories aged seven on sheets of paper. I did drawings to go with them. My dad printed them off at work, I’ve still got them in a box in the loft.”

Ten years ago Rachel sent a historical novel to Mills & Boon and received a lengthy rejection letter. “Looking back, it was quite complimentary, but I was disheartened,” she says. “I carried on writing as a hobby and when Fifty Shades of Grey came out I decided to give erotic romance a go. My son was poorly, I was up late at night with him and just wrote whenever I could. In 2015 I self-published an erotic novella, Unshackled, which got into the Amazon Top 10. That boosted my confidence and I extended it into a full-length novel at the request of Entangled Publishing in the US, who later re-evaluated the book and said it no longer worked for their line. I submitted it to a Canadian publisher who accepted it."

When Rachael’s mum died she found writing helped her cope with the grief. “It was theraputic and I needed the escapism. Life suddenly seemed short,” says Rachel, who wrote a novel, The Good Sister, targeted at Mills & Boon. "It was good timing; they'd just launched a submission blitz for their new Dare line. I sent a synopsis and they got back to me, saying the plot didn't work for them but asking me to suggest other ideas. I sent some and they loved them. Then I wrote three chapters of a new story and waited for a response.”

It was on the school run that Rachael got the call. She nearly didn’t take it: “I’ saw ‘no caller ID’ on my phone and thought it was a cold call so ignored it. Then I had an email from Flo Nicoll at Mills & Boon saying she’d tried to call me and did I have time for a chat. After settling the children, I fired an email back and she called, saying the team loved my chapters. I was so nervous it took a moment to realise she was offering me a two-book contract. I was stunned!"

Rachael’s first book was Mr One Night Stand. She now writes six books a year, for both the Dare and True Love strands of Mills & Boon. It's a world of steamy office romances, Swedish billionaires, city slickers, elite models and international playboys. “Sex plays a big role in the Dare series; it’s more for younger readers. There has to be a reason for every sex scene though, it’s not gratuitous," she says. "A glass of wine often helps the writing!”

For more than 100 years, Mills & Boon has been the UK’s top publisher of romantic fiction. It sells millions of books worldwide in a variety of romance genres, including historical, medical and contemporary.

In these #MeToo times, there’s a more modern take on the traditional M&B love story - the submissive nurse and macho doctor or air hostess and pilot - and, says Rachael, there's no set writing formula, other than reaching a happy ending.

“In light of #MeToo it’s important to have modern, strong heroines. There’s a very active thought process in writing that, even within the fantasy of being overpowered by a man, this is what the woman wants. Readers still want the heat and passion of traditional bodice-rippers, but the women are on an equal footing, taking control of their sex lives. It can be tricky to navigate sometimes. It’s quite a skill."

When it comes to inspiration, Rachael is an avid people-watcher. She also has her own love story to draw on. “When I met my husband, Andy, it was love at first sight. It was crazy, I couldn’t get him out of my head,” says Rachael.

“I often think about those days when I’m writing. Andy’s very good at coming up with ideas for stories.”

The couple met at work, when Rachael was a business analyst for a software company. “I used the corporate background in my first book, Mr One Night Stand,” she says.

Mills & Boon was founded in 1908 as a general fiction publisher. Its first title, a romance, was so successful the author penned another 65. A growing female readership boomed further during the Second World War, and in the 1950s the books became popular internationally. The Sixties saw the distinctive Mills & Boon paperbacks; brightly coloured and slim enough to slip into a handbag and dipped into during a coffee break. While the M&B traditions remained, the books began to reflect changing attitudes to love, sex and marriage.

"They've stayed true to what readers want," says Rachael. "People have busy lives, and these are quick fix reads that focus on the two main characters. Today's stories tackle issues that people can identify with, and they give hope."

Rachael values the support and friendship of an online community of M&B writers, and enjoys hearing from readers via social media. "The readers are lovely," she smiles. "Making it as an Mills & Boon author was what I'd dreamed of since reading that collection at my nan's house as a teenager."

* Visit rachaelstewartauthor.com

Rachael Stewart's books are published by Mills & Boon and are available in ebook and paperback.