by Kiersten Hallie Krum
I’m delighted to welcome New York Times bestselling author Roxanne St. Claire to Lady Smut today as part of my monthly focus on romantic suspense novels. For years now, Roxanne has been writing contemporary romances set in her fictional world of Barefoot Bay, Florida, but prior to that, she wrote two steamy, successful romantic suspense series, The Bulletcatchers and The Guardian Angelinos, and has returned to that genre with her Barefoot Undercover romantic suspense series set in Barefoot Bay…with one beloved bad boy smack at the center of it all.
Barefoot with a Bad Boy, the book that finally gives fan favorite character Gabriel Rossi (from The Guardian Angelinos series) his own HEA, is available to buy tomorrow! But you can win your own copy of it today! At the end of the interview will be an opportunity to win a copy of Barefoot with a Bad Boy, but let’s begin with a Rocki Chat!
KHK: Welcome Roxanne St. Claire! Thanks for chatting with me today here at Lady Smut!
RStC: Thank you for having me here! It’s an honor and a pleasure!
KHK: Tomorrow, your hotly anticipated book Barefoot with a Bad Boy releases. Readers will FINALLY get fan favorite Gabriel Rossi’s story.
RStC: I know, right? SO FLIPPING EXCITED!
KHK: Tell us about the long journey to bring Gabe his own story.
RStC: It was a long journey that began in 2010 when I first introduced Gabriel Rossi as one of the secondary characters in a romantic suspense trilogy based on an extended family of bad asses called The Guardian Angelinos. I knew he wasn’t going to be a hero in the trilogy though I hoped he might someday get a book. As is often the case with a secondary, I went a little crazy with his character, giving him a shady background, a filthy mouth, an overdose of attitude, and an unfair amount of sex appeal. Readers loved him…but the series was canceled because the publisher suddenly decided “romantic suspense was dead.”
With my genre DOA, I moved to contemporary romance and happily launched the now long-running Barefoot Bay series. There seemed no place in the tropical resort full of heartwarming and emotional contemporary romances for a tough-talking, name-taking, gun-firing former spy. But the requests for his book started after the first time he was on the page and continued for SIX SOLID YEARS. Something about this character resonated with readers and I knew I had to figure out a way to tell his story the way it needed to be told. And I did!
KHK: Can you tell us a little about what’s in store for our favorite bad boy?
RStC: Heartache. Trouble. Adventure. Sex against a wall. More heartache. A son. Big problems. Oh, and a woman whose supposed to be dead but is very much alive. And did I mention that heartache?
If that doesn’t answer the question, here’s the blurb:
Former spy Gabriel Rossi is mourning the death of Isadora Winter, a woman he loved and lost five years ago, when a stranger approaches him on the beach and claims to be Isadora. She doesn’t look, act, or talk like his beloved Isa, but she knows things about their past that only a lover could know. Gabe knows that in the spy world, anything is possible, but doubts and distrust plague him. Still, glimmers of the woman he once knew shine through and begin to melt his hardened heart.
CIA agent Lila Wickham has been working deep undercover for so long that sometimes she’s forgotten who she really is. Finally free but utterly changed, she is determined to fix the broken life she left behind. With threats being sent from an unknown source and blinding headaches that torment her whenever she feels deep emotion, she seeks Gabe Rossi’s help and protection. But instead of setting her up with a new undercover identity, Gabe insists on luring her nemesis to Barefoot Bay so he can end the threats once and for all.
Even if they succeed in drawing out the killer who has Lila in his sights, a much more serious danger hovers over them…a treacherous, deadly truth that could not only destroy their love but end their lives as well.
KHK: What was the most difficult thing about writing Gabe’s story? What was your favorite thing about writing Gabe’s story?
RStC: The most difficult thing was…well, there were two. One was the weight of high expectations. In thirteen years of being a published author, I’ve never had a character capture readers like Gabe Rossi. I’ve never had so much mail about one potential hero or demand for his story. I knew that readers had a “certain” kind of story in mind–and a certain kind of heroine, back story, and ending. I wanted to respect and honor those expectations, but also tell the story that worked for me. The other difficult thing was staying utterly and completely true to his character, which is quite different from anyone I’ve ever written. He swears mercilessly, he has an almost destructive need to fix things and be in control, he can’t trust anyone, and he loves his family with a passion. Oh, and he has a quick temper, rapier wit, and huge heart. Knowing all that, he was “easy” to write because I had his character formed. I didn’t have to think about how he’d react in a situation, I knew. But that’s also difficult because I had to always be true to his character, no matter what was happening around him.
My favorite thing? Just…Gabe. He made me laugh, swoon, smile, and cry, and want to climb into the monitor and kiss his face off.
KHK: Gabe is known for breaking all the rules, extreme sexual prowess, and a creatively filthy mouth all of which just makes readers love him more. What do you think is the appeal of the bad boy? Why do you think it is that Gabe has resonated so deeply and for so long with your readers?
RStC: I wish I knew and I would write more and more of them! My heroes are alpha but always have a great big gooey mushy heart in their mighty chests. Gabe’s no different, he’s just bigger, badder, dirtier, and funnier. And readers love that. He’s irreverent, sarcastic, and always one step ahead of the next guy, but his love for his family is damn near crippling. I think his strengths can be weaknesses (that need to control and fix everything can make him resist much-needed help; his suspicious nature makes trusting someone almost impossible) and that makes for a layered character who is never boring.
KHK: Lady Smut readers know I’m a big fan of romantic suspense novels. You created an entire romantic suspense sub series—the Barefoot Undercover books—in your Barefoot Bay world in order to bring Gabe out of the shadows. How has it been to go back to writing romantic suspense after such a long hiatus? Did you discover you approached the genre differently after writing so long in the contemporary genre?
RStC: Let’s be clear: I created this world for Gabe. It rests on his sizeable shoulders. But the beauty of my Barefoot Bay series is that it is one big series–all set on one island, with recurring characters, centered around a gorgeous beach-side resort–but it is made up of multiple “mini-series” of three (sometimes four) books each. Each of those has a different tone and type. I’ve written sexy, sassy, snappy shorter stories in the Barefoot Bay Billionaires mini-series, and deeply emotional, feel-good novels in the Barefoot Bay Brides books. With that structure, nothing could stop me from introducing an element of grit and suspense, so I launched Barefoot Bay Undercover and put Gabe squarely in the middle by having him open a covert operation that acts as a “privatized witness protection” service to wealthy patrons.
I loved going back to romantic suspense but had forgotten how complicated and challenging it can be. The tendency is to focus so much on the danger, the chase, the villain, and the suspense plot that the emotional foundation suffers. Balance and interweaving the romance and suspense takes a whole different set of chops than writing a layered and lush romance with all the focus on the love story. And I did write the suspense differently after having written so many contemporaries–I’ve learned the incredible power of the setting and the “world of characters” behind the story. This one has a strong subplot involving Gabe’s grandfather and the Jamaican housekeeper who has become an unlikely “asset” in Gabe’s undercover operation.
KHK: Will there be more romantic suspense books coming in the world of Barefoot Bay?
RStC: Not in 2016, since I’m launching something new on the island. But, I’m listening to readers. If the romantic suspense novels are super popular and the demand is there, of course, I can create more Undercover stories. To be honest, as a writer, I need breaks and palate cleansers. The three romantic suspense novels I wrote over the last 12 months were creatively draining. I want to write something lighter, brighter, and funnier, but not lose the sexy, emotional, exotic feel I go for in every Barefoot Bay book. After that? Who knows?
KHK: What first made you create the world of Barefoot Bay?
RStC: When I decided to launch a small town contemporary series, it was natural to set it in Florida. I live here! Plus, there were very few beach stories at the time, and almost none of the small town contemporaries were set in Florida or on an island. I know this setting so well (I actually live on a coastal island) and I knew I could do justice to the world. I started with a hurricane clearing away “old Florida” and making room for a high-end resort and a lot of change and took it from there. Mimosa Key (the fictional island where Barefoot Bay and the Casa Blanca Resort are set) is quite real to me now and have grown from a seed of an idea to a thriving and colorful community. It’s been a fun four years with more to come!
KHK: Barefoot with a Bad Boy is your 14th book (novels and novellas) in the Barefoot Bay series. When you created this world, did you anticipate it getting this big?
RStC: Not in my wildest dreams. I would have made the island MUCH bigger! LOL! I had two series canceled by publishers so I went into this third with realistic expectations. This was way back in 2012 and super long series weren’t really the “thing” yet. Then self-publishing took off and authors could write seven, eight, 10, or 12 books in three years and series size grew to meet a voracious reader demand. I’m self-publishing Barefoot Bay now, which is why I have so much liberty with the kinds of stories I can tell, so there’s no limit to what I can do with this series.
KHK: What’s coming up next in the Barefoot Bay series?
RStC: I’m not announcing my 2016 mini-series until spring, but I’m 25,000 words into the first book and I LOVE IT. Like I said, I wanted something faster and funnier, lighter and brighter, and NO DEAD BODIES or SHADOWY VILLAINS. But plenty of sex, surf, sand, hot guys, smart women, and there might be a Gabe sighting or two…ya never know!
KHK: Thank you so much for joining us here at Lady Smut!
RStC: Thank you for having me!! Let’s give away some books!!!
Want a taste of what’s to come from Gabriel Rossi? Check out the expert below for a taste of the ultimate bad boy. Read all the way to the end for a chance to win a copy of Barefoot with A Bad Boy
Who are you?” And that low, slow growl of a barely restrained fury shifted all the power back to him.
“I am Isadora Winter.”
He suddenly turned and reached to the end table to turn on the lamp. The golden glow warmed the room, but he marched to the other lamp and turned it on, too. Then he hit the switch for two sconces in the dining area and tapped on the kitchen light.
“There’s a flashlight in the drawer,” she said. “And I bet I can find a magnifying glass if you’d like to look closer.”
Still near the kitchen, he stared at her. “I might. Don’t move,” he ordered. “Except your mouth. You can move that anytime. And for the love of sweet baby Jesus, please know that I was associated with the CIA for more than a decade, and there is not a trick of that trade I don’t know.”
“Then you know about the use of facial-reconstruction surgery to create an undercover disguise.”
Still staring at her, he took a few steps closer. “Facial-reconstruction surgery, yes. Not body, height, hair, voice and…soul.”
She let out a sigh. That was it, of course. She didn’t just look different; she was different. “You know there’s more. Body reshaping, chemical changes of hair color and texture, surgical alteration of fingerprints, permanent eye dye. And, of course, training on how to stand, walk, speak, and behave differently. A person can be remade, Gabe. I was.”
He approached her, openly looking her up and down and up again, and then he began to circle, very, very slowly, examining her with his arms folded, eyes intent, an appraiser looking to see if the art was real or a forgery.
He reached out and lifted her chin, turning her face one way, then the other, looking for scars she knew were artfully hidden but could be seen if he looked carefully enough.
He rounded her back, grabbed a handful of hair, and then slid his hand down the length of it, probably unable to feel the artificial straightening that gave her well-colored hair a glassy sheen.
He stroked a shoulder, one finger grazing her bicep, which she flexed, as she did regularly in weight training after having her once-feminine curves taken away, along with her curls and green eyes.
Finally, he was facing her again, that finger sliding to her throat, her collarbone, her breastbone, and over the rise of one barely there breast, a mere shadow of its once-formidable glory.
Of course, he lingered there longer, circling the nipple that jutted against the silky top, his gaze down as he watched his finger torture her. His touch still raised chills on her skin and shot fire through her whole body.
That much had not changed.
She breathed slow and steady, waiting out his assessment. She knew Gabe’s tastes, and they didn’t include lean, structured women. He was a big-tits and soft-ass kind of man. He liked laughter and lushness, a woman who’d rest on his shoulder, not on her laurels.
This new model of an old favorite had to disappoint him.
“I don’t believe you,” he said.
“Because you don’t want to believe me. Which, as you know, is the most effective element of any disguise.”
His eyes flared like she’d turned up the heat on a gas flame. “If you think I don’t want Isadora to be alive, then you haven’t done all your homework, spy girl.” He spat the words, shaking his head. “You can try to convince me you’re Isadora, for whatever effed-up mission you’re on for whatever coal-black op you work for. But I know every trick in the CIA handbook because I either invented them, used them, or rendered them useless. Which I’m about to do with this little game.”
“I know things only Isadora could know.”
“You could have interviewed the sweet shit out of her, read her journals, cracked her e-mail, stolen her computer, or dragged conversations from her brain using some Dr. Evil memory-retrieval software.”
She leveled her gaze at him, knowing her ebony eyes could land a very effective glare, and she decided to make her point by using her natural American accent again. “I am Isadora Winter, your former lover and an undercover agent for the United States government.”
His jaw and fists flexed as he scrutinized her, his razor-sharp brain obviously in high gear. “What I want to know is why,” he mused, ignoring her statement. “Not that I’m expecting a word of truth from you.” He turned his back on her, then grabbed her barely touched drink on the table and knocked it down his throat. “So I’ll have to figure out a very clever way to get you to tell me the truth. Torture. Coercion. Or maybe I can fuck it out of you. That’s why you brought me here, right?”
“Why don’t you just sit down and hear me out, like a smart, experienced intelligence agent who knows this is entirely possible?” She put her hand on his shoulder and tried to turn him around, feeling the ice in her words which, for the past five years, felt normal. With Gabe? That cold tone felt wrong.
“Please listen to me,” she said, softening her voice, letting the tiniest glimmer of Isa come through. “Even if you don’t want what I tell you to be true.”
He let her turn him, but she almost wished she hadn’t. The fire had dimmed, drenched by the Scotch or her words. Either way, pain was back, and she knew why.
If she was lying, it hurt.
If she wasn’t lying, it hurt even more.
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Singer, writer, editor, traveler, vodka drinker, and cat herder, Kiersten Hallie Krum avoids pen names since keeping her multiple personalities straight is hard enough work. She writes smart, sharp, and sexy romantic suspense and can be found at http://www.kierstenkrum.com and regularly over sharing on various social media via @kierstenkrum.