Hi all!  It's a pleasure to bring you a lady I respect, a good friend, and an author who writes one heck of a story -- Alicia Dean.  I've worked with Alicia on many different things through the years, from beta reading, to critiquing, to a collaborative project, The Three Kings trilogy.  Her newest book, Soul Seducer (which she's going to talk about today) is frankly blow-you-out of the water amazing.  I had the privlege of reading an advance copy and provided a cover blurb for her release.

You don't want to miss this book.

She spent her entire life fighting death. Now she’s falling in love with him…

Audra Grayson became a nurse in order to help save lives. But one night after a brutal beating, she almost loses her own. The near-death experience opens a door between the world of the living and the world beyond. Two Grim Reapers invade her life. One is charming, with the angelic blonde looks of a saint and the black soul of a psychopath. The other is dark, dangerously attractive and, in spite of her distaste for his reaper duties, she finds herself inexplicably drawn to him.

When Audra's patients begin to die unexpectedly and her loved ones are threatened, she will risk her life—even her soul—to save them. But can she risk her heart to an inhuman being whose very purpose is to take those she is trying to save?

 
So I asked Alicia to come by and answer some questions, tell you all a little more about herself.  She happily obliged!
 
Briefly take us on the journey with you – when did you start writing, did you start in the genre you’re published in now, what hurdles did you have to overcome, etc.


A.D. I started writing as a child but seriously began pursuing publication in September of 2001 after taking a class with Mel Odom. I started with suspense and still write it, but I wrote a paranormal in 2006 that eventually sold. I’ve faced the same hurdles as most every writer, the difficult in getting an editor to look at your work, the even more difficult task of getting them to buy it. I faced even more challenges in that my writing didn’t always fit a specific genre. My first paranormal also had a great deal of suspense and publishers didn’t know whether to market it as paranormal or suspense.

Obviously you write in the paranormal romance genre. Is that your favorite genre to read? Do you write in any other genres, or under any other pen names you’d like to share?

A.D. My actual favorite to read is suspense. I haven’t written under any other pen names up to this point, but I’m currently writing a gothic mystery novella that will be released under the pen name, Winter Frost. It’s a project I’m working on with Mel Odom.

And I can't wait to read it! 

Of the books you have published, do you have a favorite? If so, which one and why?

A.D. I think Soul Seducer is my favorite. I believe it’s the most unique, that it has the most tension and emotional impact. I also love my heroine, I really love my hero, and I even like my villain…a lot.

Me too, me too!!  That's one yummy hero, to be certain. And your villian will leave chills in his wake.

What are your published titles and please tell us about anything coming down the pipe next.

A.D. I have some older titles, but my latest works are my recent Crimson Romance Paranormal release, Soul Seducer. I also have two books out in my Northland Crime Chronicles series, Death Notice (Book 1) and Death Offerings (Book 2). My next release will be a suspense short story through The Wild Rose Press, Thicker than Water (Tales of the Scrimshaw Doll) and will be available August 8th of this year.

All really, really excellent books.  I fell in love with your Northland Crime Chronicles hero -- he's yummy also.  Happy sigh.

So let's talk about Soul Seducer.

Tell me about your plot development? How did the idea spur, did you have to do much research, any interesting tidbits that we should know?


A.D. I wanted to write about a supernatural being that wasn’t common. I thought about how creepy a Grim Reaper story could be. Then, I thought, wouldn’t it be hard to love Death? The story developed from there. As far research, there wasn’t a great deal, but I had to do some. A writer friend of mine who was a nurse helped me with those details. I researched the practice of putting pennies over the eyes of the dead because copper is my Reapers’ kryptonite, so I had to figure out exactly why. One interesting tidbit I learned is that the average human breathes about 12 to 16 times per minute. My Reapers can turn human, but only for a thousand breaths, so I calculated that it would be right at an hour that they could remain human.

So cool!  


What’s one thing about your hero that we wouldn’t necessarily learn in the book? A secret dream, an embarrassing habit, an episode from childhood.

A.D. He wishes he could get a second chance at his previous human life. He’d right his wrongs and make amends.

All heroes are unforgettable in one way or another. What’s one thing about your hero that makes your heart go pitter-pat?

A.D. His dangerous side. What woman doesn’t love a bad boy?

If your hero doesn’t have a pet in your novel, what kind of pet would best suit his personality?

A.D. He doesn’t, but probably a black panther. I realize they’re not your average pet, but my hero’s not your average human.

Laugh so true.  So tell me about Audra, your heroine.  Everybody has flaws. Sometimes they are endearing, other times they are annoying. What is Audra's greatest fault?

A.D. She tries too hard to ‘fix’ everyone and every situation. It makes her come off a little stubborn and controlling.

Without giving away details that might spoil the story for those who have not read it, could you tell us the one strength your Audra provides to your hero?

A.D. She makes him more human. She helps him get in touch with the part of him that values life.

If your heroine was your daughter – what advice would you give her upon meeting your hero?

A.D. I would tell her to run as far and as fast as she could. But, only because of who he is when she first meets him.

If we peek in on your hero and heroine’s lives ten years from now, can you give us a glimpse of what we’d see?

A.D. They would still be in love, still be together, but they would probably be struggling a bit with conflicting views on how to reconcile the living world with the dead.

Well, let's take a peek at this awesome pair!

~~@~~
EXCERPT
~~@~~

Sensing movement behind her, Audra whirled. In the shadowed corner of the room, she could make out the figure of a man, although she couldn’t distinguish his features.


Visiting hours weren’t until ten a.m. And even then, only family members were allowed in this wing of the ICU. Audra had met each of Ms. Chapman’s relatives, and this man wasn’t one of them. She could tell by his body type and height. The only male in Ms. Chapman’s immediate family was her son, and he was short and stocky.

“I’m sorry,” she said, her voice hushed. “You can’t be in here.”

He looked behind him, then back at her. “You can see me?”

She frowned in puzzlement. “Of course.”

“You saw me that night. Both those nights.”

Her frown deepened. “What nights?”

He moved from the gloom, drawing closer. Her instinct was to back away, but she forced herself to remain in place.

As he left the shadows behind, his features emerged and part of her brain recognized him, but she wouldn’t let the terrifying thought solidify.

He wore faded jeans and a form-fitting black T-shirt. His pectoral muscles and biceps would rival a male model’s. They were tight and well-defined, not overly bulky like those of steroid-enhanced body builders.

Reluctantly, her mind acknowledged she’d seen him before. He’d been part of her hallucinations. Her worst nightmares were becoming a reality.

Somehow not as frightened as she should have been, she stared into his icicle blue eyes. She waited, holding her breath in expectation.

Why did she feel this tingly sense of excitement? This glimmer of anxiousness mixed with fear? Why did she feel like she might explode with anticipation?

He halted a couple of steps in front of her and lifted his hand, brushing it along the scar on her cheekbone, causing a shudder in the pit of her stomach. A current moved in the air, like a burst of electricity.

“The first time was the night you got this.” His words were a whisper along her skin, as was his touch . . . as if his caress was the hint of a sensation, but not actual contact. Her eyes drifted shut and she swayed toward him. One slight move forward and she could touch him, press against his chest. Biting her lower lip, she just barely held back from giving in to the urge.

Softly, she murmured, “That night—I—you—” Her heart pounded, her belly clenching. She lifted her lashes, staring up at him, wanting to lose herself in his glittering blue gaze. Wanting to feel his hands on her body . . .his full, sensual lips on hers. Wanting to be swept away in whatever madness this was. It felt so strange, yet at the same time, exhilarating, compelling, irresistible . . . dangerous.

Yes, dangerous. Gulping in a breath, she stepped back. His touch fell away, breaking the strange hold he had on her.

“You! It was you there that night. In the alley . . . .” Her breath came in short gasps as the odd yearning was replaced by fear. “Then again, at the hospital.” She shot her gaze around the room. “Where’s the other one? The blond guy? Who the hell are you?”

~~@~~
YOU HAVE JUST READ AN EXCERPT FROM SOUL SEDUCER
BUY NOW ON AMAZON | BARNES AND NOBLE
~~@~~

Okay, Alicia, a little more about you then we'll let you get back to crafting more fantastic heroes.

How has writing changed your life?


A.D. I’ve gotten an opportunity to do what I’m passionate about. Many people don’t even know what they’re passionate about, let alone have the opportunity to actually do it. It’s given me contentment and satisfaction I wouldn’t have otherwise.


What fictional character would you like to be, and why?


A.D. Samantha Stevens. (Bewitched) I’ve wanted to be her since I was a little girl, and I still haven’t run across a fictional character that has her beat. I mean, she’s magic. She can do anything. And, she’s beautiful. I would have to dump the husband, though.

Laugh -- yeah he was kinda a stick in the mud!  In your opinion, what is the hardest part of writing a novel? Why?


A.D. Creating believable characters that people can connect with. I find it very difficult. It’s almost like being a mad scientist. You have to breathe life into a figment of your imagination. It’s very difficult to create characters that resonate with readers. They need flaws, but not enough flaws to make them unlikable.

Okie dokie -- We'll let you get back to work on that.  Although I, for one, don't see flaws with your characters.  ;)  Thank you so much for stopping by today!

If you want to know more about Alicia Dean, you can find her at:

Her Website  |  On Twitter as @Alicia_Dean_








~Claire
www.claireashgrove.com
www.toristclaire.com

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Hi all!  I had a wonderful time at RomCon 2012, met a lot of great authors and readers, bloggers and models, and reconnected with some old friends I haven't seen in way too long.  (And according to a few I got married there too, but that's a story for a different day.)

I have passels of stuff to share about RomCon and pictures to upload.  All of which I'll begin doing tomorrow.  And I came home with two amazing things:

1.  A new assistant -- oh thank the powers above now there is someone to keep me organized.  I'm so very excited to work out all the technical requirements and get her rolling.

2.  Remember this book?


I'm THRILLED to announce that Immortal Hope won the Reader's Crown award for Paranormal Romance!!

There was some amazing competition, and congrats to all the finalists! 

And speaking of finalists, while they didn't win...




Were both finalists in the Contemporary Romance category.  Jennifer Zane took home top honors.  Congrats, Jennifer!


More to come later this week.  Including some really hot boys!


~Claire
www.claireashgrove.com
www.toristclaire.com

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It's Tuesday again--time for more LIE TO ME.  If you're just joining us here this week, you're viewing an excerpt from my July 3rd release as Tori St. Claire.

You can read the previous installments here:

Prologue, Part 1
Prologue, Part 2
Chapter One, Part 1

Warning: The following material is suitable for mature audiences only. It may contain graphic content that is offensive to some. It is not intended for readers under the age of 18.

A man of action…

After helping to break up a Russian human trafficking ring as part of the CIA’s elite Black Opal team, Alexei Nikanova’s newest assignment is to rescue one of the stolen women and return her to her father. When he arrives in Dubai, he discovers his target is Sasha Zablosky—a woman he knows all too well, and who has haunted him ever since their unforgettable nights spent together in Moscow, two years earlier. But he finds Sasha reluctant to leave her Sheik, the only true friend she’s ever known. Only Alexei can’t give her a choice.

A woman of deception…

With their yearning roused by intrigue, Alexei and Sasha can no longer resist and spend night after night in forbidden pleasure. Soon Alexei finds himself falling for her even as he battles a shadowy menace to protect her. But Sasha is no innocent. She has a past darker than she could ever admit or that Alexei could ever forgive. And it is about to explode into her life once more. Now, as the lies they tell themselves—and each other—pull them deeper into a perilous desire, what began as simple passion becomes a love certain to destroy them and end the lives of countless innocents.


~~@~~


Chapter One (Continued)

Saeed stopped in the hall and leaned his forehead against the cool white wall. He felt as if every portion of his being were locked in conflict. The secrets surrounding his father’s death, the weight and undesired responsibility of stepping into leading the family, the deep affection he felt for Sasha—none of this he had wanted. He’d been perfectly content traveling the world, reveling in the Western traditions he enjoyed—along with the freedom of taking the women he desired—until he’d been asked to protect one of his father’s slaves. Saeed had taken one look at her malnourished figure, the emptiness in her blue eyes, and instantly known he’d devote his life to fulfilling his promise.

Now he put her safety in danger to protect the other half of his responsibilities. And he knew that though Sasha had said she understood, in time, when enough women had been trafficked through his hands, this would become a wedge between them.

He took a deep breath as voices drifted from his front hall where his staff was handling Vasily’s arrival. If it weren’t for the man’s years of service in China and his contacts, which Saeed had verified, he would never risk something like this. But even Saeed, who had done all he could to stay away from the corruption of wealth, had recognized Vasily’s name. Men like Vasily had a reputation that rumbled through the quieter circles of the elite who didn’t share Saeed’s moral convictions.

“He will join you in a few moments. Please make yourself comfortable,” Saeed’s man directed.

Footsteps echoed across the marble flooring beyond the door that separated off Saeed’s personal quarters, signaling Vasily had entered the front room.

Just for a moment, Saeed wished the fabricated argument between Alexei and his father had occurred, and that his father had killed the agent. If Amir had, Saeed would be free of the despicable compromises he had been forced to make. But he hadn’t, and though the agent had seemingly dropped off the face of the earth—as would be expected— that man still possessed the ability to destroy Saeed’s family no matter what Saeed agreed to tonight. Alexei Nikanova knew, more than anyone, that he had not assassinated Amir. If he chose to speak of it, if he still monitored the activities here, the resulting nightmare would never end.

Saeed pulled in a deep, fortifying breath and pushed away from the wall. He could not worry about Alexei now, nor the concessions he’d made both to his own beliefs and to Sasha. He must see this through. He knew no other way to protect the ones he loved. Including Sasha, who had entrusted him with her dark past, and who he had sworn to protect with his life.


(Continued Next Week with Chapter 2 in full)










~Claire
www.claireashgrove.com
www.toristclaire.com

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Good morning, everyone!  It's the eve before RomCon departure, and I am thrilled to have Heather Long on the blog today.  Heather was one of the authors I met at Fantasy on the Bayou, and she's wonderful!  Ask her questions if she doesn't answer them in the interview -- you'll love her, I promise!

And her books are hot, hot, hot!

So with much ado, let's meet Heather's newest book in her Always A Marine series:

Once Her Man, Always Her Man

Fulfilling a favor and executing a business plan, Luke Dexter arrived at Dallas’ Sybarite Club for a one-night stand. He never imagined that in the darkened club with bluesy strains of jazz playing he’d come face to face with the woman he left behind a decade earlier.

Rebecca Rainier fell in love with Luke Dexter in high school and was crushed when he dumped her to join the Marines after 9/11. Now, waiting for a date her best friend and business partner set up, she’s unprepared when Luke walks in.

Can Luke and Rebecca bridge the pain of a decade long abandonment in one cold Texas night?

 
 
 
Heather subjected herself to my interview (mwah-ha-ha).  And here's all the tidbits I learned!
 

Briefly take us on the journey with you – when did you start writing, did you start in the genre you’re published in now, what hurdles did you have to overcome, etc.

H.L. I’ve been writing for as long as I can remember. I’ve always loved books and I was always telling my own version of stories. Initially I wanted to write comic books, DC Comics specifically and I even pitched to an editor in New York and developed a potential working relationship. (This is one of the reasons I’m also really excited about my upcoming superhero romance from Carina in September). Alas, that came to naught, so I continued on, but I never stopped writing. When my daughter was born, I went from having a lot of free time to almost none and that was the last kickstart I needed to finish a full manuscript.

Five years of practicing, writing, re-writing my fiction while working as a freelance writer continued to grow my craft. From 2006 to 2008, it was all about the rejection letter. Then in late 2008, I received my first acceptance and now here I am four years and 18 books later with nearly ten due out total this year. It’s been a wild ride, but I wouldn’t trade any of it. The challenges actually made me a better writer.

Obviously you write in the contemporary genre. Is that your favorite genre to read? Do you write in any other genres, or under any other pen names you’d like to share?

H.L. I write in a lot of different genres from paranormal romance to contemporary to romantic suspense, urban fantasy and paranormal western historical romance…I write what I like to read, eclectic. I need to add thriller and YA to my list and I think my life will be complete!

Of the books you have published, do you have a favorite? If so, which one and why?

H.L. This question is always the hardest because I love every book I’ve written and of course I love them because otherwise I wouldn’t have written them, but two of my favorite books haven’t been published yet, they are still looking for an editorial home so of those published, I’ll have to say Brave Are the Lonely. This is the second book in my Fevered Hearts series set in the 1850s. Cody (the hero) offered me a lot of challenges as a writer and I loved seeing my world unfold and deepen as I typed.

What are your published titles and please tell us about anything coming down the pipe next

H.L. Currently, I have four series in release:

Fevered Hearts - a paranormal western historical romance featuring some sexy brothers, supernatural powers and sensational romances.

Forbidden Legacy - paranormal romance set in the contemporary world as the Fae reveal themselves and ancient hatreds challenge the ménage relationship between a Fae, a Wizard and the woman they both love.

The Fortunate Buddha - a romantic suspense series that are loosely tied together by the common hunt for an icon that is said to bring great fortune to those that touch it.

Always a Marine - This is my series of five sexy shorts from Decadent as a part of their 1Night Stand line and I have to admit, I’m a little bit in love with every Marine in the series.

Gee, I wonder why.  Not that they are super-sexy, ultimate-alpha or anything.

Speaking of those Marines, let's jump to your new release, Once Her Man, Always Her Man . Tell me about your plot development? How did the idea spur, did you have to do much research, any interesting tidbits that we should know?

H.L. I’ve never had the opportunity to write a military hero. I have nothing but admiration for the men and women who serve our country. When a friend suggested that I write for this line, the story that immediately came to mind was the reunion of first loves and one was a Marine. I wanted to tell the story of a Marine who gave ‘everything’ at eighteen to serve his country after losing his mother and his sister during 9/11. But I wanted to take it a step further to confront who these men and women are now and what challenges they face at home and abroad.

Each story then led me to the next and it was an amazing journey. Research wise, I had actually done a paper when I was working on my psychology degree about the integration of soldiers returning home from Iraq and Afghanistan and the difficulties. I’d read articles about the challenges for families of the deployed both during deployment and when they returned, so these were all elements I wanted to combine in my shorts. That presented another challenge because these were meant to be sexy shorts, not a deep character study.

As someone who is tied to the service, those are all awesome elements that round out stories and aren't always present.  So glad to hear you incorporate them.
Let’s talk heroes –

What’s one thing about Luke that we wouldn’t necessarily learn in the book? A secret dream, an embarrassing habit, an episode from childhood.

H.L. Funnily enough, it’s touched on a little in the story, Luke nearly fumbled a football game in high school because his girlfriend was sick and he was worried about her. That affection contributed to his choice to leave her before he headed to basic. He didn’t want his focus to be on worrying about her or worrying about her worrying.

Aww.  Remind me to tell you a story sometime ;)

All heroes are unforgettable in one way or another. What’s one thing about Luke that makes your heart go pitter-pat?

H.L. His absolute dedication to the idea that there is no I in team. Fierce devotion and loyalty definitely melt my butter.

Me too.  Especially the devotion part!
If Luke doesn’t have a pet in your novel, what kind of pet would best suit his personality?

H.L. Luke is totally a dog guy.

With lots of drool, or no drool?  Hee!

Okay - Rebecca's Turn.  Everybody has flaws. Sometimes they are endearing, other times they are annoying. What is Rebecca's greatest fault?

H.L. Rebecca couldn’t let go. Even when she made herself stop writing, a part of her remained vigilant in her love and she compared every man to this idealized version of Luke. I think it inhibited her from really being able to move on with her life.

Without giving away details that might spoil the story for those who have not read it, could you tell us the one strength Rebecca provides to Luke?

H.L. Unconditional love. Unflinching support. Uncompromising forgiveness.

If Rebecca was your daughter – what advice would you give her upon meeting your hero?

H.L. He’s a keeper. But make him work for it.

If we peek in on Luke and Rebecca's lives ten years from now, can you give us a glimpse of what we’d see?

H.L. I see two of the most disgustingly happy people raising their two point four kids with their dogs and thriving in the network of families that they live in. Luke and Rebecca really are that couple that make it, as long as they keep talking.

Laugh.  Disgusting, yes, but really cute and sweet.

Let's take a peek at Luke and Rebecca real quick, then we'll touch on a few more things with you.

~~@~~
EXCERPT
~~@~~

Luke Dexter handed his keys over to the red corseted valet driver, gaze skimming the generous globes peeking up from the open buttons of her white shirt. The Sybarite Club offered the Dallas area generous access to every pleasure. He slipped a card out of his leather wallet and displayed it to the doorman. The doorman, a tall, lanky figure dressed in topcoat and tails exuded a sense of elegance that the club's exclusive clientele enjoyed.

The doorman examined the card, scanned it with a small device in his palm. Luke admired the cageyness of the action. The pen scanner would be out of place with the old world atmosphere encouraged by the man's uniform. “Good evening, Mr. Dexter. Welcome to the Sybarite Club.”

Accepting his card back, he passed through the opening doublewide doors. The gothic style doors were dark cherry, aged like a fine wine and a decorated with wood cut carvings of a man and woman engaged in cunnilingus and fellatio. The joining was subtle, the each left crying out in pleasure when the door opened, only to be joined again when the doors closed.

Amused by the door carving, he smiled as he plunged into the velvet darkness of the club's jazz infused atmosphere. Every night featured a different style of music, but Fridays were reserved for jazz. Old world, cool smooth jazz with smoky voices, haunting guitars and lonely horns played to the soul. The doors barely closed behind him when his phone buzzed inside his breast pocket.

How did the woman know these things?

Pulling it out, he thumbed it on, a new message from Madame Evangeline of the 1Night Stand exclusive online dating service populating the screen. She's dressed in green silk and sitting at the bar. Life doesn't always offer a second chance…

Clicking the screen off, Luke walked down the four red-carpeted steps into the lounge proper. He'd only agreed to the dating service only to support the men in his unit putting themselves out there. The last thing he'd expected was the invitation to the Sybarite Club. His gaze roamed the room the room, coming to a halt as they fastened on a pair of to die for tan legs at the bar. The sweet length of them, one crossed over the other ended in black heels with crystals glittering around dainty feet.

A green skirt skimmed her knees. While he appreciated the legs, he studied the line of her back, curious about the rest of her. His gaze slid higher to the pile of unruly auburn hair fighting to escape a pair of matching crystal hair combs.

As though sensing his appraisal, the green cloaked mystery woman turned on the bar stool and his heart tripped.

~~@~~
YOU HAVE JUST READ AN EXCERPT FROM
ONCE HER MAN, ALWAYS HER MAN~~@~~

Yum!  I want to be her in just that little scene.  Make me my own Luke, Heather!

Okay, breathe deeply, Claire.  Back to you, Heather.  What’s been the greatest contributing factor to achieving the goals you’ve accomplished?

H.L. My daughter. Corny as it sounds, she inspires me, she challenges me and she makes me want to keep trying even when I want to give up, I know I have to show her how it’s done.

I completely understand that feeling, even if it is corny.
In your opinion, what is the hardest part of writing a novel? Why?

H.L. For me, the hardest part is always the beginning. Those first three chapters are always like pulling teeth because I am always second guessing ‘where does the story start’?

If you write in multiple genres, Do you find it challenging to shift? Or is it a natural process?

H.L. It’s a totally natural process. Shifting genres book by book keeps me fresh and gives me new ways to look at things as I write.

Well, I think our time is up for today.  Thank you so much for coming by, Heather.  I wish you the absolute best with Once Her Man, Always Her Man -- everyone go buy it now!
Here's a little more about Heather to polish off her visit!
 
 About the Author:
 
Heather Long lives in Texas with her family and their menagerie of animals. As a child, Heather skipped picture books and enjoyed the Harlequin romance novels by Penny Jordan and Nora Roberts that her grandmother read to her. Heather believes that laughter is as important to life as breathing and that the Easter Bunny, the Tooth Fairy and Santa Claus are very real. In the meanwhile, she is hard at work on her next novel.  
 
You can connect with Heather via:
 
 
Or you can keep abreast of her upcoming releases and all the exciting news by signing up for her newsletter.
 
Thanks again, Heather and come back soon!


~Claire
www.claireashgrove.com
www.toristclaire.com

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Sorry ladies for the delay.  RomCon is around the corner and it's chaos trying to get ready for that, prep the farm and farm-sitter, and get the demidemons ready for a stay with gramma.

Anyway!  The winner is...

Hand-drawn out of the box-of-magical-goodness by my eldest demidemon:

Melissa Limoges

If you will contact me, I'll get your prize en route.  Congrats!  (Use the little linky at the top of the blog menu - Contact Claire)



~Claire
www.claireashgrove.com
www.toristclaire.com

Labels:

Hi all!  We're back this week with more LIE TO ME -- my July 3rd release as Tori St. Claire, from Berkley Heat.

For those of you just jumping in, I'm previewing the opening of Lie To Me for my Tuesday Teaser feature, over the next few weeks.  You can read the previous installments here:

Lie To Me Prologue, Part 1
Lie To Me Prologue, Part 2

Let's jump in!

Warning:  The following material is suitable for mature audiences only.  It may contain graphic content that is offensive to some.  It is not intended for readers under the age of 18.

A man of action…
After helping to break up a Russian human trafficking ring as part of the CIA’s elite Black Opal team, Alexei Nikanova’s newest assignment is to rescue one of the stolen women and return her to her father. When he arrives in Dubai, he discovers his target is Sasha Zablosky—a woman he knows all too well, and who has haunted him ever since their unforgettable nights spent together in Moscow, two years earlier. But he finds Sasha reluctant to leave her Sheik, the only true friend she’s ever known. Only Alexei can’t give her a choice.

A woman of deception…

With their yearning roused by intrigue, Alexei and Sasha can no longer resist and spend night after night in forbidden pleasure. Soon Alexei finds himself falling for her even as he battles a shadowy menace to protect her. But Sasha is no innocent. She has a past darker than she could ever admit or that Alexei could ever forgive. And it is about to explode into her life once more. Now, as the lies they tell themselves—and each other—pull them deeper into a perilous desire, what began as simple passion becomes a love certain to destroy them and end the lives of countless innocents.

~~@~~

Chapter One

Present Day

Onyx eyes sparkled, silently laughing at Sasha from the plush beige chair beside hers. She stopped, mid-sentence, and pursed her lips, though her own humor threatened to spoil her attempt at annoyance. It occurred to her, even as Saeed’s amusement escaped with a warm smile, she was being ridiculous. Not once in two years had she felt the need to deliver a formal report on the staff she oversaw as his housekeeping manager.

She tossed the papers onto the table in front of her knees with a chuckle. “I’m no good at this.”

His broad shoulders shook with mirth as he reached across and straightened the disheveled report. “No, you are not.” Leaning sideways, closer to her, he brought the back of his hand to her face. Knuckles whispered across her cheek, then slid lower to push a thick lock of her long blonde hair over her shoulder. “You try too hard when your work already pleases me.”

“I just want everything to go well when you meet with the tribal leaders this week. They’ll expect the same meticulous service they received at your father’s home.” Sighing, she flopped into the soft cushions and played with the buttons on the blouse Saeed had given her on her birthday, two months prior. With Sheikh Amir’s suicide six months ago—a death Saeed diligently covered up—and the crimes Amir had been charged with, it was imperative his son make strong impressions to prevent the disgraceful secret from being discovered and his family from falling into shame. Particularly when Sasha was living proof of Sheikh Amir’s dark practices. Saeed and she rarely spoke about his ownership of her, or how she’d been presented as a gift two years previous, but they both understood her driving need to make sure she didn’t jeopardize him, or her own safety.

“Come here, Sasha.” He patted a muscular thigh.

Feeling like she bore the weight of the world on her shoulders, she moved catty-corner to sit in his lap. One arm wound around her waist, holding her protectively—comfortably—close. Sasha tucked her cheek onto his shoulder and breathed in the scent of frankincense that clung to his skin. Another sigh slipped free.

Saeed ran his hand up and down her spine. “You worry overmuch. We have discussed this, habibti, they will not ask questions. You are safe here. They assume I enjoy the pleasures of your body, no more. They will not find it worth their time to consider you, your work, or your origins further.”

A faint smile drifted to her lips despite the thick worry that had plagued her since Saeed had inherited his father’s kingdom. His preference for Western culture and his deviations from Muslim traditions were complication enough. If anyone discovered she was part of the ring of human trafficking his father had begun, one loose end as yet unresolved and one of the few women who hadn’t been returned to their original countries, Saeed’s family would suffer. Talk would begin again about Amir’s supposed meeting with the man who transported the women, and the questionable events that Saeed had managed to spin into a story of assassination, despite knowing his father had taken his own life. Saeed didn’t need her origins threatening him further.

She let out another heavy sigh. “Mellilah knows I was with you when you found Amir, Saeed. She also knows you never visit my bed. She hates me.” Saeed’s first wife despised the close relationship Sasha and Saeed shared. That she couldn’t dismiss Sasha with the simple tag of whore made her somehow feel threatened, and added yet another stressor to the circumstances.

Not that Sasha complained about her unique status and lack of sexual involvement. While Saeed was young and nice-looking, they had their own arrangement. She took care of his household, they’d become close friends, and for his own reasons, he hadn’t used her for the purpose she’d been gifted. Whatever those reasons were, she’d been blessed to be placed in such a position of trust. Blessed by the deep camaraderie they shared.

Though admittedly, it was a bit odd that while he obviously found her desirable, he’d never acted on the urge.

“Mellilah does not cause you trouble, does she?” Wariness gave Saeed’s voice an edge.

“No.” Sasha shook her head and sank deeper into his embrace.

“And she will not.” His hand slipped to her waist, the other coming to join it, and he shifted her so she faced him directly. “She has borne me two sons, my rightful heirs. She will bear me more. She would not jeopardize her security, or theirs.” He paused, then looked Sasha straight in the eye. “Or even those which come from your womb.”

Saeed’s sons. She could give him children—Lord knew he had done more than enough for her. And he was an attentive father to his boys. But to get to that point, something would have to change between them. Drastically.

Sasha laughed. “I think you’d have to do more than come to my room to go over your staffing reports.”

The light in his eyes darkened to a deeper hue of black as a faint smile touched his full mouth again. One corner of his narrow mustache twitched the way it always did when he found something she said satisfying. He cupped her chin in one hand, his hold gentle, his voice intimate. “I have waited two years so you would come to trust me and feel as if you truly belonged in my palace. Do I have that trust now?”

“I trust you with my life, Saeed.” Her secrets too. He was the only person in this world who knew the things she had done, the deaths she’d unwittingly caused, and the absolute hatred she felt for her father.

She ran a fingertip over the line of close-cut dark beard that edged his defined jaw. “You know this.”

“It is time for things to change between us, habibti.” For the first time since she’d known him, he leaned forward and touched soft lips to hers. “Tonight. I have planned a surprise for you. It is my hope you will not take offense.”

Startled by the sudden kiss, Sasha struggled to connect his meaning. “Offense?” This was unexpected. She knew it would come eventually, and she couldn’t say the idea of sleeping with Saeed didn’t appeal—he was handsome, kind, and always considerate. But the last thing she’d been prepared to hear after discussing household reports was that he’d decided to exercise his inherent rights to her body.

He didn’t answer with words. His lips brushed hers again, then lingered, the tip of his tongue teasing the corner of her mouth. Sasha responded naturally, opening to his subtle entreaty and gliding her tongue across his. Confident, yet tender—he kissed the same way he benignly touched her. She closed her eyes and let him take his fill.

The newness of their circumstances held a strange appeal. His previous restraint hadn’t made sense. He was a man. She was a woman. He desired her. He should have acted on it far sooner. Instead, he’d put her on a virtual pedestal, gave her important duties in his household, and treated her like a princess. But the gentle press of his lips didn’t come close to stirring the fire of the last man she had kissed. Alexei still haunted her dreams. Still stoked an ache she couldn’t satisfy.

Saeed eased the kiss to a close, his breathing elevated, his gaze now fathomlessly black. “You must understand it is only your pleasure I wish for, Sasha. Despite how it may sound . . .” His brow furrowed.

“What is it, Saeed?” Smiling, she flattened her palm against his chest.

“I fear you will not like my explanation.” Abruptly, he slid her off his lap into the cushion beside him. “But there are things I must do to protect the secrets of my family. You’re right, in some ways, to worry.”

A spark of apprehension lit, and Sasha’s gaze narrowed. Sheikh Amir had done some terrible things. Buying women for his hotel, trading arms, running drugs—none of those sounded like Saeed. And if he’d suddenly decided black-market bombs were his thing, they were going to have serious problems. He knew how she felt about that.

“I found myself approached by awkward allies,” Saeed began cautiously. “The same tribal leaders you have been so concerned with.”

Sasha nodded.

“Though they have mentioned nothing of you—and they will not— several already question the circumstances of my father’s death. Mahmoud specifically talks of how my father and he were supposed to meet with the agent who arrested him, but my father was coincidentally found dead in the palace garden the morning of. Mahmoud’s sons question the story that my father was killed by the same agent.” Saeed passed a hand through thick, wavy hair. “His sons have insinuated that if I shun the involvement of other tribal leaders, they would make it . . . difficult.”

Sasha cringed. Saeed had worried about Mahmoud, one of the few men who had been captured and taken to America as opposed to being killed in the quiet of night. He hadn’t anticipated Mahmoud would talk, or that the questions Mahmoud posed would travel across an ocean to the homeland that neighbored Saeed’s. The men who were lured by the money to continue in what their fathers began wanted Saeed’s connections with the Western world. Connections they didn’t possess. Evidently now, they sought to press his hand the only way they knew how, by using rumor and suspicion to gain his aid and alliance.

“I had to choose a means of pacifying them, habibti. With the respect I feel for you, I couldn’t agree to the trading of arms. You also know my abhorrence of drugs. Which leaves . . .”

His gaze held hers steadily, speaking what they both knew. What they both despised, but couldn’t escape—the trade of women. Sasha swallowed hard. She’d had it good. Far better than the rest of the women that U.S. Intelligence had taken back, and introduced to rehab programs that would cleanse the heroin from their blood, and hopefully their minds. But they’d never shed the scars.

Still, she had little room to protest. Saeed was caught between two threatening boulders. She couldn’t ask him to endanger his entire family for her peace of mind. Nor would she. He had saved her from that horrific dependence on drugs and an endless stream of sexual degradations. Despite all that, despite all the privileges she knew, she still belonged to him. She was not his equal. Her opinion wouldn’t matter against the current stakes, and while Saeed cared for her, he wouldn’t risk everything to alleviate her disgust.

“What did you plan for tonight?”

“I have met with a man. Vasily. Another of the Bratva who comes highly recommended for duties such as this. He has been trading Russian women to China for several years.”

Like Alexei. Sasha’s heartbeat kicked up a notch, the familiarity uncanny.

“He asked for a token evidencing my trust in him.” His gaze cut to her, sharp and direct. “He heard of your beauty. He heard also, though I am shamed to admit it, that you are my weakness.”

A knot began to form in Sasha’s gut. All the months of being put on a pedestal had come to haunt her in a far larger way than her origins or Mellilah had ever posed. Though she wouldn’t put it past that gloating witch to spread the whispers of Saeed’s supposed weakness. Mellilah would be glad to be free of Sasha.

“You’re not . . . sending me to China . . . are you?” She could hardly get the words out, the thought struck such fear.

Saeed gave her a frown. “Do not be silly. I would never send you from here unless such was your wish.”

Saeed placed two fingertips beneath her chin and lifted her gaze to his. “I offered to share you for one night. We will both come to you tonight. For your sacrifice, habibti, I swear upon my soul, you will know nothing but pleasure.”

Her eyes widened in shock. Not just Saeed, but a stranger? Two men, in her bed. One she trusted. One she didn’t know at all. Somewhere, in the back of her mind, she knew she ought to feel shame. Outrage. Something other than the kernel of excitement that popped inside her soul. That she didn’t made her uncomfortable. She squirmed out of Saeed’s gentle hold.

Saeed clasped her hand, his intense gaze willing her to believe. “I also swear, such will never happen again—unless you request it.” His thumb stroked the back of her knuckles. “As my beloved partner, Sasha, your happiness will know no restrictions.”

Dumbfounded both by what he proposed would happen this evening and the selflessness in his promise of their future, Sasha’s jaw dropped.

Saeed winced. “I have offended you.”

“No . . .” she answered hesitantly, uncertain how to define the emotion skittering through her veins.

Shifting closer, he twisted so one knee touched her thigh. His fingertips grazed up her forearm to her elbow. “You promise I have not?”

“I promise.”

“Good then,” he murmured as he dipped his head. His breath danced against her lips. Warm fingers slid higher to the tank-style sleeve of her sheer baby-blue blouse. Then his caress drifted downward, and he trailed the back of his hand over the curve of her breast.

Featherlight, the unexpected touch combined with the whisper of his lips and the shocking idea of what tonight would involve. Her thoughts rioted between surprise, curiosity, anticipation, and shame.

A shiver rolled through her all the way down to her toes. She arched into the press of his palm with a gasp.

“I promise nothing but your pleasure,” Saeed murmured before he took her mouth again.

As a foreign sense of attraction for this man tumbled through her veins, Sasha yielded to his tempered kiss. His fingers stroked the soft flesh of her breast, tightening it until her nipples hardened into tight buds. Funny how he’d never once elicited this sort of response from her. But under the command of his hands, guided by mental images of his promised evening, and tormented by memories of another kiss, another touch, another beard that scratched her cheeks, she yielded to repressed desire. Two years she’d gone without a man’s touch, known only the satisfaction she could give herself.

Saeed might not turn her insides into jelly or make her willing to beg as she had with Alexei, but it had been so long. And in his own way, Saeed was tied into her heart.

Arousal stirred in the depths of her womb, seeping lower to moisten between her legs. But as she squirmed against the building pressure, Saeed abruptly pulled away. A smile settled on his full mouth.

“I must meet with him. Asiya will see to your preparations.”

Before she could blink through the chaos of her thoughts, Saeed strode from Sasha’s sitting room, leaving her to dwell on the lingering magic of his hands and the forbidden promises of the night to come.

(Continued Next Week)




~Claire
www.claireashgrove.com
www.toristclaire.com

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Happy Monday everyone!

That's right -- Monday -- which means it's time for a Pick Me Up!

Katherine Grey, our guest this week on The Muse, is giving away a copy of her book, The Muse!  All you have to do is comment below and answer this simple question:

What is your favorite romance subgenre?


Noted poet Blaine Hobson counts the Prince Regent among his patrons. But ever since the socialite he wished to marry took her life, he has been unable to compose a single line of poetry. With a sonnet commissioned by the Regent due in a few weeks, Blaine spends his time alternating between trying to write...and wishing he had the courage to join his beloved in the grave.

Raised in an orphanage with her sister, seamstress Emma Tompkins lives with the guilt of her sibling’s death. Accidently finding a suicide note penned by Blaine, she resolves to keep him alive at all costs. Vigilant, she returns each day, pushing her way into his home--and losing her heart.

Can Blaine forget his beloved and return the affections of the seamstress? Or once finished with his work, will he cast Emma out of his life forever




~Claire
www.claireashgrove.com
www.toristclaire.com

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Good morning everyone!  As I mentioned earlier this week, Katherine Grey is spending the week with us and giving us insight on her book, THE MUSE.  (How appropriate that her book is titled identically to the blog.)

We started off the week with a Tuesday Teaser that was awesome.  Today, Katherine's going to talk about the magic of secondary characters.  Before I turn the blog over to her, let's take another peek at The Muse.

THE MUSE
Katherine Grey

Noted poet Blaine Hobson counts the Prince Regent among his patrons. But ever since the socialite he wished to marry took her life, he has been unable to compose a single line of poetry. With a sonnet commissioned by the Regent due in a few weeks, Blaine spends his time alternating between trying to write...and wishing he had the courage to join his beloved in the grave.

Raised in an orphanage with her sister, seamstress Emma Tompkins lives with the guilt of her sibling’s death. Accidently finding a suicide note penned by Blaine, she resolves to keep him alive at all costs. Vigilant, she returns each day, pushing her way into his home--and losing her heart.

Can Blaine forget his beloved and return the affections of the seamstress? Or once finished with his work, will he cast Emma out of his life forever?

On that note, I yield the floor to Katherine!

~~~~~~

Help, I’ve Fallen for My Secondary Character


Have you ever found yourself liking a secondary character so much you want to know his story as well as the hero and heroine’s? That’s what happened to me as I wrote The Muse.

While I loved writing about Blaine, a tortured poet who can no longer compose a single line of poetry, I found myself just as intrigued with a secondary character named Lazarus. Lazarus suddenly appeared one day out of the mist and acted as a brotherly protector to Emma, the heroine. He was a criminal, yet as honorable as Blaine. I was instantly intrigued by him.

As I wrote, I kept finding myself adding subplots involving Lazarus. It was like he was determined to be in the book. Unfortunately, I had to keep going back and taking them out because the manuscript had to be under a certain page count as I had been asked to submit the story as a novella.

Here’s a short excerpt from The Muse involving Lazarus:

~~@~~

Blaine glanced behind him. The little man still stood under the same tree as before.

“He’ll tell Lazarus.”

“Who is this Lazarus?” Blaine frowned. She didn’t seem frightened but very worried instead.

“He watches over me.” She met his gaze, her own turbulent, and said, “He saved me from being attacked. A few days later, both men were found floating in the Thames. I’m not saying he killed them, but…”

“It does seem a bit coincidental,” Blaine finished.

She nodded. “There are other rumours, rumours of things he’s done for those under his protection.”

“Do you believe these tales?”

She fidgeted with the ribbon of her cloak and looked away. “I don’t want to believe he is capable of such things,” she said after a long moment.

~~@~~


Have you ever wanted to know or write a secondary character’s story so much that he or she threatens to take over the story or your interest?


~~~~~~~

Oh yes, Katherine, I have.  So much so that I had to put that in a workshop on how to get them out before they did take over.  Laugh!  I completely understand the love and frustration.

So tell us what you think readers -- Katherine would love to hear your responses!

And while you're thinking about that answer, put it on your calendar to come back Monday.  Katherine will be giving away a copy of The Muse as part of our Monday Pick Me Up feature!  But if you just can't wait to get your hands on Blaine and Lazarus, The Muse is available at The Wild Rose Press.

Thank you, Katherine for coming by today.


A Little More About Katherine

When Katherine started talking to her friends about the characters in her head as though they were real people, she decided it was time to start putting all those people populating her mind along with their exploits down on paper. A chance meeting with another writer led Katherine to seriously pursue a writing career. Her debut novel, Impetuous, was released by The Wild Rose Press in August 2011.


Friends have gotten used to Katherine’s imaginary friends but still often ask, “Wait, is this a real person?” whenever she mentions someone they don’t know.

Katherine lives in upstate NY with her family, but threatens to move South at the beginning of every winter season.

You can find her on Facebook
Or on her blog
Or on Goodreads


~Claire
www.claireashgrove.com
www.toristclaire.com

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Good morning, everyone! Technical difficulties overcome, and I'm thrilled to welcome Katherine Grey to the blog!

She's going to be here for the week, more or less, and we'll learn more about her, and her book, THE MUSE as the week goes along. Thursday she's got a great guest post planned, and Monday you can win a copy of this beautiful book!

So let's kick things off with this excerpt that I've been talking about. 


Noted poet Blaine Hobson counts the Prince Regent among his patrons. But ever since the socialite he wished to marry took her life, he has been unable to compose a single line of poetry. With a sonnet commissioned by the Regent due in a few weeks, Blaine spends his time alternating between trying to write...and wishing he had the courage to join his beloved in the grave.

Raised in an orphanage with her sister, seamstress Emma Tompkins lives with the guilt of her sibling’s death. Accidently finding a suicide note penned by Blaine, she resolves to keep him alive at all costs. Vigilant, she returns each day, pushing her way into his home--and losing her heart.

Can Blaine forget his beloved and return the affections of the seamstress? Or once finished with his work, will he cast Emma out of his life forever


~~@~~
EXCERPT
~~@~~

The Muse



by Katherine Grey


“You’re alive.” The words burst forth with such a sense of relief, it was all Emma Tompkins could do not to reach out and touch the man in front of her just to be certain.

He scowled and stepped back.

“I’m so glad I’m not too late.”

“What are you talking about?” He glanced up and down her person and seemed to find her wanting, but Emma didn’t care in the slightest.

“Who the hell are you?”

Ordinarily, she would have been beyond insulted, but to know she wasn’t too late, not this time, she ignored his surly disposition. “Emma. Emma Tompkins.” She dropped into a quick curtsey, not certain of the proper protocol. Her social circle included servants, shopkeepers, and the like, not well-known poets favored by the Prince Regent.

She sidled by him into the foyer, afraid he would shut the door in her face. Now that she was here, she couldn’t let that happen. “I found the letter. I found your letter. I was afraid I was too late.”

“What letter?” he asked, his tone dripping with impatience.

“Oh!” She thrust the wrinkled piece of parchment hand toward him.

He took the missive, though he was careful not to touch her ungloved hand. Was it because he was being a gentleman or because he worried about a lack of hygiene?

For the first time since her arrival, she realized she must look like a bedlamite. She was without a bonnet and gloves, and her cloak was fraying at the sleeves and hem, certainly not one of her best. On her feet, were the oldest, but most comfortable, pair of shoes she owned. She curled her toes so they  disappeared under the edge of her gown as embarrassment heated her cheeks.

~~@~~
YOU HAVE JUST READ AN EXCERPT FROM THE MUSE
~~@~~

I love the underlying tension here.  And I can't wait to share Katherine's post on Thursday.  Come back everyone -- you don't want to miss it!




~Claire
www.claireashgrove.com
www.toristclaire.com

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Welcome everyone!  Today we have Karyn Good as part of the New Voices weekly feature.  She's here with her debut romantic suspense, BACKLASH.  Because the emotional ties are what make Romance so gratifying, I've asked her to talk about her characters emotional journey.  Please make her feel welcome -- and don't forget!  Karyn has a giveaway to go along with this guest spot.

What he’s sworn to protect, she’s willing to sacrifice to save those she loves...

When dedicated teacher Lily Wheeler interrupts a vicious gang attack on one of her students, she vows it won’t happen again. But her rash interference puts her in the path of a cold-blooded killer and the constable tracking him—a man she has little reason to trust, but can never forget.

Constable Chase Porter returned to Aspen Lake to see justice done, not renew old acquaintances. But when he rescues the woman he once loved from a volatile situation, he realizes his feelings for Lily haven’t lessened over the years.

Now, the dangerous killer Chase has sworn to capture has Lily in his sights. Can Chase and Lilly learn to trust each other again before it’s too late—or will old insecurities jeopardize their future?

Welcome, Karyn! I'm passing the floor to you now.

~~~~~~



Thanks to Claire for hosting me today! It’s a lovely day to be here talking about my debut romantic suspense, Backlash, and sharing a bit about the emotional journey of my main characters.

In Backlash, I toss together a small town teacher and a returning city cop who have an intimate history with each other. They come together again after a decade apart in an effort to save a thirteen year old boy from attacks by a wanted gang leader. Small towns and gangs are two extremes colliding and parallel the main characters emotional arcs.

Lily Wheeler is happy where she is and her well-ordered life is turning out exactly how she planned it, with the possible exception of her love life. She plays it safe, never straying too far outside her comfort zone. Never risking her heart. My hero on the other hand has spent the last ten years building a career and using that as excuse to avoid emotional connections of any kind. Obviously, the villain in this story is on the run, but so is the hero. He’s emotionally closed off and desperate to stay that way. That’s their starting point.

Lily’s relationship to the victim and Chase’s link to the villain bring them into close proximity and force them to work together. To Chase their backstory is, or should be, a non-issue. But Lily wants answers. As they do the whole one-step-forward-one-step-back dance, they drag each other into the next stage of awareness. Both protective, they each have valuable background information to share. As the stakes rise, so do Chase and Lily’s hormone levels. There’s a quote from one of my favorite movies, Speed, that seems to fit. Jack says to Annie: “I have to warn you, I've heard relationships based on intense experiences never work.” Annie replies, “OK. We'll have to base it on sex then.”

But we all know it’s about so much more than sex. After which comes the self-reflection hangover. As Chase and Lily journey forward they come to realize it’s less about simply reacting to the familiar scent of a past lover and more about coming to grips with moving forward. Together or separately.

In Backlash, Chase must also deal with a family past he’d rather forget. Being back in Aspen Lake and connecting with Lily revives all his old insecurities. But it’s the idea of destiny and hereditary colliding and offering different alternatives to the ones he’d considered written in stone that give him pause. And eventually the hope that you can fall off that wall and shatter into a million pieces and have those pieces put back together again only in a different way.

It’s about Lily being in a rut, waiting for that elusive something she can’t quite put her finger on. With Chase back in town she has an opportunity to purge or at least down-size Chase from the man-by-which-she-judges-all-others status. It will take more than a kiss to erase ten years of separation. That sometimes the best laid plans are the ones that never come to fruition.

Thank you for having me here today. I’m happy to try and answer any questions.

~~~~~~



You're most welcome, Karyn!  And it's information like you've supplied, that gives a peek into the true heart of the story, that really inspires me to read.  Backlash sounds very compelling!

Let's take a peek at an excerpt and see how these two co-exist with one another.

~~@~~
EXCERPT
~~@~~

 
“I remember you.” His arms tightened.

Her heart sighed, and the scent of him cast a spell. A trace of soap, a whiff of man, and a fragrance so familiar it made her think of bush parties, bonfires, cheap wine, and the back seat of an ’86 Firebird.

She remembered every little detail.

“What’s this about, Lilypad?”

That he remembered that awful nickname he’d labeled her with when they were kids was a visceral punch to the gut.
She wrinkled her nose. “I hated that name.”

“I know. I’d have been disappointed if you hadn’t.”

“Why ‘Lilypad?’”

“I don’t know. I thought of it one day when a bunch of us were catching frogs.”

“You’re such a sweet talker.”

He hadn’t moved an inch, yet he seemed closer. “You don’t want a sweet talker. Remember?” He ran a finger down the side of her cheek. “You want someone who’s going to let you know exactly what he plans to do to you. And believe me, there won’t be anything sweet about it.”

In the second needed to catch her breath, she changed her mantra to: Live in the moment. Forget Tessier and his bag of terrors. Forget everything. For the next hour. One more hour.

~~@~~
YOU HAVE JUST READ AN EXCERPT FROM BACKLASH
~~@~~

 
Yum!  Yes, that's definitely some tension brewing there. 
 
While Karyn's here, let's learn a quick bit more about her:
 

I grew up on a farm in the middle of Canada's breadbasket. Under the canopy of crisp blue prairie skies I read books. Lots and lots of books. Occasionally, I picked up a pen and paper or tapped out a few meagre pages of a story on a keyboard and dreamed of becoming a writer when I grew up. One day the inevitable happened and I knew without question the time was right. What to write was never the issue - romance and the gut wrenching journey towards forever.


Website and Blog
Facebook
Twitter

 

Karyn will be giving away a $25 Amazon.com gift certificate to one randomly drawn commenter during the tour. Follow her stops -- the more you enter, the better your chances of winning! Complete tour dates can be found here.



~Claire
www.claireashgrove.com
www.toristclaire.com

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Hi everybody!

Last week I mentioned that the next several Tuesdays will be previews of the opening chapters to Lie To Me, my July 3rd release as Tori St. Claire.  My goal is to have the first two chapters posted by release date.  Whoo-hoo!

You can last week's installment here:

Prologue, Part 1

Now to pick up where we left off!

Warning:  The following material is suitable to mature audiences only.  It may contain graphic content that is offensive to some.  It is not intended for readers under the age of 18.


A man of action…

After helping to break up a Russian human trafficking ring as part of the CIA’s elite Black Opal team, Alexei Nikanova’s newest assignment is to rescue one of the stolen women and return her to her father. When he arrives in Dubai, he discovers his target is Sasha Zablosky—a woman he knows all too well, and who has haunted him ever since their unforgettable nights spent together in Moscow, two years earlier. But he finds Sasha reluctant to leave her Sheik, the only true friend she’s ever known. Only Alexei can’t give her a choice.

A woman of deception…

With their yearning roused by intrigue, Alexei and Sasha can no longer resist and spend night after night in forbidden pleasure. Soon Alexei finds himself falling for her even as he battles a shadowy menace to protect her. But Sasha is no innocent. She has a past darker than she could ever admit or that Alexei could ever forgive. And it is about to explode into her life once more. Now, as the lies they tell themselves—and each other—pull them deeper into a perilous desire, what began as simple passion becomes a love certain to destroy them and end the lives of countless innocents.

~~@~~

The nearly inaudible response sent chills skittering across her exposed skin. She crossed her arms over her breasts and rubbed at goose bumps. “I do. Tell me where you’re taking me.”

He didn’t look at her as he murmured, “To Dubai.”

Dubai. Sasha blinked. Last she’d heard, Dubai wasn’t a place to drop off Bratva informants. Dmitri Gavrikov and the rest of the Moscow mafia preferred to dispose of their liabilities in rivers, abandoned plots of lands, snow-covered forests—not metropolises.

“What’s in Dubai?”

“A sheikh.” His gaze slid to hers for the briefest of seconds before it fixed once more on the fl at gray wall. Muscles flexed in his cheek, sharpening the angle of his bristly jaw. “You’ve been . . . traded.”

She squinted at his handsome profile. Apprehension bubbled beneath her skin, chasing away the tremendous chill of the late October night. “Traded for what?”

Alexei glanced down at the syringe in his hands, and his hair fell over his shoulders to curtain his expression. His voice was a strained whisper. “There’s an elite hotel. You’ll join . . . the others. For half a million U.S. dollars you’ll entertain businessmen.” He tapped the covered needle. “This will keep you sane.” He looked up, his unsettling gaze locking with hers. “Somewhat.”

Thoughts collided in Sasha’s head. Traded. Entertain businessmen. Sheikh . . .

No. More. Russia.

For six months, she’d been trying to figure out how to get out of the country. Her father’s political power made it impossible to obtain a visa, to even skirt the borders without getting caught. Unwittingly, Alexei was providing that impossible escape.

She held Alexei’s troubled gaze. “I’m to be a whore. A possession and a slave.”

Swallowing again, Alexei answered with a curt nod. “It was why I came to your cousin’s club. You were chosen”—his green eyes flicked over her exposed body, and desire flashed hot before his gaze filled with remorse once again—“before what happened between us.”

“Chosen by whom?” Indignation colored her voice.

“I can’t say. It’s larger than both of us.”

Not the Bratva then. Sasha frowned. Common sense said she should be outraged. Furious with this man who’d taken her to his bed, fucked her until she was nearly delirious, and then betrayed her. But the part of her that had lived so long with guilt, the part that couldn’t forget the deaths she’d caused, whispered that this was fitting punishment.

She had no right to lead a carefree life. Though she’d never intended to harm a single person, let alone kill thirty, she didn’t deserve freedom. Paying that price with her body was insignificant. She’d still be alive—unlike the fate that awaited her in Russia.

Unlike what would happen if her father ever got his hands on her again.

In a strange, perverse way, Dubai offered a freedom that was wholly acceptable.

She gestured at the syringe in Alexei’s hand. She didn’t know what it was, didn’t want to know. But she sensed it would poison her for life, that if she allowed him to stick that needle into her, she’d lose her hold on reality.

“You can put that away.”

Surprise arched his strong brow.

“Take me wherever it is you’re taking me. But don’t put that in my veins.” As she realized what she was agreeing to, a foreboding weight settled on her shoulders and her throat inched closed. A fine sheen of moisture fuzzed her vision. “I won’t fight you. Just don’t give me that.”

For several, never-ending seconds, Alexei studied her. Protest registered in his expression, only to yield to a resignation that came with a heavy sigh. His broad shoulders bowed. Absently, he nodded, placed the syringe back in the leather case, then turned off the overhead light.

Silence spanned between them. The vehicle bounced on, springs rattling, engine cutting through the thick quiet. Cool night air invaded the tiny space, and Sasha clutched at the coarse canvas covering her lower body.

“Are you cold?” Alexei whispered.

Her voice rasped just as softly. “Yes.”

Strong arms wrapped around her waist and hauled her into a cushioning embrace. Alexei reached beneath her calves to drape her knees over his thighs, tucked the canvas tight around her body, and cradled her close. She snuggled into his arms, taking comfort in the warmth of his body, the crisp scent of soap that lingered on his clothing. Beneath her ear, his heart beat steady and strong.

She tipped her gaze to his face, taking in long, lowered eyelashes that dusted over high cheekbones and cloaked his startlingly light green gaze. His features tightened with unspoken pain and grief. The strength of his embrace echoed the same emotions.

She reached unsteady fingertips to his face and flattened her palm against his bristly cheek. Her thumb brushed across the stubble that edged his full, sensual mouth. His gaze held hers for a suspended heartbeat, before he crushed her close and his mouth fluttered through her hair. “I’m so sorry, Irina.”

Despite whatever drove him, whatever obligation he sought to fulfill, in her heart, Sasha knew he was.


(Continued next Tuesday with Chapter 1.)



~Claire
www.claireashgrove.com
www.toristclaire.com

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~
(History Channel International)

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