Chris Gordon, stage manager at Rabourn Theater, suspects his late wife’s hit-and-run was never an accident. He believes the man she was having an affair with, Oakley Sutherland, was responsible and he vows to get Evelyn justice, igniting a plot to ensnare Oakley, working through Oakley’s fiancée, Victoria.
A well-known exotic dancer by night, Victoria Morrow has been fighting to make a better life for herself, and she won’t be taken advantage of. But when the most handsome man at Rabourn Theater takes an interest in her, she finds herself spiraling down a path she never expected to. Can Victoria resist Chris’s charms? Or will both of them fall prey to the danger that lurks in the wings?
“I’m fine.” Victoria hid her eyes.
Chris tucked a disheveled wave behind her ear. “You don’t look fine. You’re trembling, and you look as though you’ve been crying.”
Victoria did her best to hold it together, like she always did. But seeing the compassion in Chris’s eyes, compassion that ran deeper than anything she had ever been on the receiving end of, the emotions welled inside of her. As the tears spilled down her face Chris took her into his arms. His strength surrounded her. He brought her inside of it, brushing one strong hand up and down her back.
“Victoria,” he whispered, “why are you marrying that man?”
Victoria tried, but couldn’t think of a single reason why she was. For years, she’d been telling herself that she was humoring Oakley, biding her time with him until she could approach him from a position of power. But the more time passed, the more she questioned whether that day would ever come. The night Oakley had asked her to marry him, there hadn’t been any question in her mind that she was going to say yes. Such had been the way of their disgusting farce of a relationship. She presented a hard-edged front to the world, but when it came to the man who’d been manipulating her for half her life, it was as though she had no power at all, as though she might just as well be nothing more than a mouse.
Avoiding Chris’s eyes, because she couldn’t possibly hide the truth from him if they were looking at each other head-on, Victoria simply said, “I love him.”
Chris’s arms stiffened and Victoria froze in turn, barely breathing as he took her by the shoulders, saying, “Victoria, that man just embarrassed you in front of two hundred people. He berated you, he manhandled you and he exploits you every night of your life. How could you possibly love a man like that?”
Victoria gnawed her lip, completely at a loss for words. She had no defense for the man in question and by aligning herself with him she was sacrificing more of her identity every day. Not that the life she’d led had made her crazy about relationships in general, but she wasn’t even opening herself to the possibility of another man’s companionship, to his soothing words and soft touch. Was it so wrong to want these things, so impossible to have them? Bringing Chris into the middle of her relationship with Oakley was liable to prove dangerous for both of them. But Chris was strong. He had to be, to have survived the loss he had.
Cautioning herself not to allow her thoughts to get away from her, knowing that Oakley would probably kill a man he perceived to be a serious enough threat to him, Victoria lifted her chin. “I know what it looks like, but I couldn’t count the things Oakley has done for me over the years. He’s protected me, and I sleep soundly at night knowing that no one is going to hurt me. He makes me feel safe.”
She realized right away that she shouldn’t have put things in those terms because the twinkle in Chris’s eyes told her exactly what his reply was going to be. She ought to run. He was giving her a chance to do just that, but her legs refused to stand. Instead, they eased sideways, leading the way like the smokestack on a train as her body leaned helplessly into that of the man sitting beside her.
“Tell me, Victoria—” Chris looked into her eyes, “does Oakley Sutherland make you feel like this?”
#1 BookStrand bestselling author Jessica Lauryn has been writing since before she could hold a pen. Her days of storytelling through the art of playing with dolls inspired her to write romantic suspense novels The Romance Reviews describe as having “Just the right amount of passion and romance!” Villains often reform in Jessica’s stories, and just may become heroes themselves! Jessica is an avid antique collector, as well as a proud member of Romance Writers of America and her local chapter, New Jersey Romance Writers.
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Where are you from? Tell us a little about yourself!
I was born in New Jersey, where I reside to this day. I love being outdoors and during the warmer months of the year I make a point of looking for new places to explore—my fiancé and I recently discovered Buttermilk Falls, a beautiful waterfall in Blairstown, NJ, and we went kayaking along the Delaware River. When I’m not walking in the woods, I can usually be found in an antique store, looking for anything from the Victorian Era. I love this time in history, yet my preference as a romance novelist is to set my books in modern times. Romance still exists today, in fact, we need it more than ever! I want my readers to see what a powerful role love plays in our everyday lives and I aim to prove this time and time again, through my stories.
Tell us about your book? How did it get started?
A Sultry Performance is the third story in the Rabourn Theater Series, which is a series about love, passion and decades-old secrets. But A Sultry Performance is also a stand-alone title which can be enjoyed separately from the other stories. Chris Gordon, stage manager at Rabourn Theater, believes his late wife’s hit and run was never an accident. After learning his wife was having an affair, he suspects the man she was entangled with, Oakley Sutherland, was responsible, and he ignites a plan to ensnare Oakley, working through Oakley’s fiancée, Victoria. Victoria, who is a dancer at Rabourn Theater, as well as the lead exotic dancer at Oakley’s nightclub Sultry & Sensational, won’t be taken advantage of. But when the most handsome man at Rabourn Theater takes an interest in her, she finds herself spiraling down a path she never expected to. She agrees to give Chris’s daughter dance lessons, at his most insistent request. But as she finds herself falling deeper and deeper for her blackmailer, she wonders whether either of them will be able to keep from falling prey to the danger that lurks in the wings.
My inspiration for writing this story came from so many different places! First off, my initial inspiration for creating the Rabourn Theater Series spurred from my love of Phantom of the Opera. I loved the idea that someone (the Phantom) could become so obsessed with something so beautiful and that obsession, as well as past hurts and uncontrollable circumstances, could make that person very dangerous indeed. Thus, the major villain of the Rabourn Theater Series, Augustus Nathanson, was born. Augustus’s past, and present obsession with Rabourn Theater and the woman he once envisioned as its star affects the plot of each story in the series, and in A Sultry Performance we learn a big secret that Augustus has been keeping, which affects one of the major characters in the story. Chris Gordon, hero in A Sultry Performance is the funny yet mysterious man we meet in the first two stories. He acts as a sleuth on behalf of Evan Masters, stage director and Augustus’s one time right-arm. After writing A Passionate Play and An Amorous Dance, I wanted to know more about Chris and after noting at the end of An Amorous Dance that his wife was having an affair just prior to her murder, I was as eager as he was to reveal the truth about how she died and give Evelyn the justice she’d never received. Enter heroine Victoria Morrow, the key to Chris’s plan. Having just started taking dance lessons myself for the first time in over a decade, I was very inspired to write about this woman, who though at a severe monetary disadvantage in a world of privileged elites, possesses a dancing talent that is otherwise unparalleled in her universe. Victoria is the definition of a strong heroine and I wanted to see her bring a rumored ladies’ man to his knees, which she does and then some!
How do you create your characters?
My characters are like real people to me, and I do my best to think of them as such as I am writing their stories. One thing that helps is if I can “hire” an actor in my mind, someone I already know to “play” my character as I develop him. This allows me to have a voice in my head which can actually speak the dialogue I create. I tend to choose an actor who I believe might be cast in the part, were I writing a movie, instead of a novel. Then I’ll begin outlining, usually with a general idea of where I want the book to go. Oftentimes, I don’t know much about my characters when I begin the outlining process, but by the time I’m done I’ll know a lot. Things like back-history, quirks and how a character might react in a particular situation are revealed to me as I’m actually telling their story, not typically before. Some writers may tell you that their characters are the ones actually telling their story—I don’t believe that is the case with me, but I know that much about my characters comes to me while actually writing the story, versus simply thinking about their story.
What inspires and what got you started in writing?
19I’m often known for saying, I’m not a writer, I’m a romantic. That said, it is the desire to see my characters come together, to act on their hidden desires and to fall head-over-heels in love that drives me to write the stories I do, which is why I write romance and ONLY romance. All of this came together for me when I was graduating from college. Having taken several writing classes, I was trying to determine the best way to use the skills I’d gained. I liked romantic movies and TV shows, so I decided to write a “romance novel.” (I’d never even read one!) After struggling through a rough draft that redefined the word “rough,” I decided to pick up my first romance novel, to get a better idea of what I was aiming for. My life forever changed! Though I don’t recall the title or the author of that first story, I do recall that it was a historical romance about a couple who had inadvertently inherited the same property. The two were like oil and water and since neither would agree to sell their share to the other, they decided to live in the mansion together, and you can imagine what happens when they do! I love seeing an unlikely couple give into passion and I especially love bringing a character back from the trenches, someone who has lost their way and who is believed to be a lost-cause. Reforming the former villain is one of my favorite things to do in a romance novel. I enjoy doing it so much that I’ve basically established my author brand around it!
Where do you write? Is there something you need in order to write (music, drinks?)
This is something that has changed many times over the course of my writing career. Truth be told, I’ve typically not had the luxury to write where I want to, or when I want to. So, I’ve had to get creative and learn to tune out distractions. I’ve written at everyplace from Starbucks to my car while parked at lunch hour. One type of writer I have great respect for is the one who is so in love with her story and her characters that she writes her book at work. I’ve been there myself, so on a roll with my story that I couldn’t stop and I raced through my assignments just so I could salvage whatever extra time I had left over, for writing. Nowadays I work for myself, and ironically I’m busier than ever! But I am learning all over again how to make my writing a priority and I am fortunate enough to be doing it from behind a desk where no one is going to sneak up behind me and tell me to get “back to work.” It’s also helpful to have a bit of classical music going, wherever I may be writing, to help drown out the background noise.
How do you get your ideas for writing?
As I mentioned earlier, one of my favorite things to do when I’m writing is to reform a former villain, a man or woman who’s lost their way for a time, having committed any wrong from white-collar crime to murder. I’m greatly inspired by characters and people who fit that bill, because, let’s face it, we all make mistakes, and it is incredibly uplifting to see another person bring themselves back from their lowest point—it reminds us that we all possess that same ability. It also demonstrates just how powerful the phenomenon of love is, as love is always at play somehow when a villain turns his life around. Suspense inspires me as well, (nothing too graphic or violent for my taste, I’m not one of those romantic suspense authors!) but I definitely want to see my characters in danger, perhaps several times leading up to the climax, or beyond it. Characters are often highly motivated to act on their desires when they fear their lives are in danger, and passion is what I, and my readers, want to see the most! I’m also inspired by the amazing stories some of my closest author friends tell, as well as by real-life scenarios and quite often, whatever crazy ideas find some other way inside the well of my imagination.
What do you like to read?
I’ll pretty much read in any sub-genre, as long as I know I’m reading a romance. On occasion, I’ve picked up a novel mistakenly thinking it was a romance only to discover it wasn’t. Very disappointing! When this happens, unless perhaps I’ve intentionally swapped stories with another author, I’ll probably put the book down. Likewise, if I’m reading a story and I don’t really like it but I know that it is a romance, I will probably keep reading it to the end, even if the book is not my cup of tea. Sometimes I’m pleasantly surprised by a turn of events and if not, I might learn something valuable from another author’s mistakes. I often read historical romance, even though it isn’t my chosen genre to write in, just because they’re a lot of fun to read. Since historicals are not set in the time period in which we live, reading one is rather like being transported to another time and place, true escapism if you will. Perhaps one of my reasons for reading in this sub-genre and not writing in it is that it keeps the fantasies alive for me by not doing the behind-the-scenes work it takes to create one of these stories and instead simply enjoying it. I am currently plotting a series, however, which will require me to write some scenes which are set in another time. And so, perhaps I will soon experience historic romance on a different level. Additionally, I like to read romantic suspense, though I am not a fan of a lot of violence. I focus more on the mystery element of suspense in my own stories and enjoy reading the works of fellow authors who also don’t wish to invoke nightmares.
What would your advice to be for authors or aspiring in regards to writing?
Had I been asked this question just a few years ago, my answer would have been very different. I’ve heard the same advice given time and time again by fellow authors, that being, to not be discouraged by rejection, to improve your craft and writing skills as best as you can and above all else, do not stop writing. This is excellent advice, but it barely scratches the surface of what a budding author can expect to face today, nor does it specifically address the issues authors may face when they actually do become published. In a world where the number of traditional publishers is dwindling and the number of digital publishers rising, where self-publishing is no longer thought of as a “last resort” but instead is an avenue many authors, including those already published under a publishing house are successfully utilizing, where so many authors are being published at one time that discoverability can seem impossible, a whole new set of challenges has arisen which none of us were prepared for. After publishing 8 novels, 7 with a digital press and 1 indie title I’ve learned there are no easy answers when it comes to discoverability, making your books stand out when there are hundreds of millions of other titles out there for readers to choose from. It can be discouraging, and at times so much so that it can suck the joy out of the craft and one might forget why she started writing in the first place. And so my advice to authors facing these challenges and those aspiring authors who will undoubtedly face them in the future is be prepared to think outside the box when it comes to marketing. Know that when you are published, getting your work into the hands of readers may not come so easily—know this ahead of time. But also know that if you love your work and make it the best it can be, others are going to love it to. And so the old advice does still ring true. Keep writing—there is a reason why you started doing it in the first place, and while you’re busy doing what you love and working very hard at getting the word out, fame and fortune may just be hiding around the next corner!
Anything else you’d like to share?
I took a brief hiatus from Rabourn Theater to dabble into my next series, which will be similar to my debut series The Pinnacles of Power, in that we’ll once again be returning to a world full of criminal masterminds. My next series focuses on a group of crime-fighters, who’ve made it their mission to take down a very powerful drug trafficking organization. There’s danger, mayhem and a lot of passion along the way and be assured that love definitely conquers all! Once I complete the last pages of my final outline (I’m very close!), I’ll be diving back into book 4 of the Rabourn Theater Series. In this story, Dani Talbert, the dancer we meet briefly in An Amorous Dance and A Sultry Performance, has finally saved enough money to take her young son away from the place that has caused her so much pain. Having abandoned her dreams of being a lead actress long ago, Dani packs a bag only to be stopped by Ryder Nathanson, Augustus Nathanson’s younger son. Ryder’s got his sights set on Rabourn Theater AND on Dani—they shared a brief encounter years ago and he’s never gotten her out of his head. His plan to take back his family’s legacy is simple, and it starts by improving his less-than-stellar reputation. If Dani doesn’t want her own secrets exposed, secrets that could put her in prison, she’ll have to agree to become his wife, and it only gets better from there!