You can tell I'm a year older this week as I almost forgot about the lovely Tori St. Claire's visit here today. I apologize to her and Goddess Fish promotions for my doofus moment, but better late than never. So let's learn about Tori St Claire and this sexy book together.....
TSP: How did you get where you are today with your writing career and your first erotic book being released?
TSC: Oh my goodness… As I reflect, most of my writing endeavors have come as a result of being challenged. I began writing historical romance (and still do, though it’s not currently dominant in my path) and had some success in contests with a few manuscripts. A critique partner dared me on what was to be my first published novel, Seduction’s Stakes, to amp up the heat and write about horses. An entirely different critique partner slammed the manuscript when I finished it, so I submitted it to The Wild Rose Press to get a “professional take” on the “problems” in the manuscript. To my absolute surprise, shortly before Christmas, my editor there returned with an offer to contract. I had a phenomenal relationship with my first editor and quickly decided to write something else for her. The holidays were right there – so A Christmas to Believe in and Timeless Valentine came about.
We’ve since signed international contracts, obtained the second with Berkley, and she is an invaluable instrument to where I am presently. She’s aware of my goals, she helps me strive to meet them, and also gives me freedom to spread my wings as my creativity demands. She, and my editor at Berkley, brought me here with STRIPPED by seeing a door I didn’t even consider.
TSP: What made you decide to change writing genres after having so many not quite erotic releases as Claire Ashgrove? And will you still be writing as Claire Ashgrove?
I kept writing contemporary while working on paranormal and shopping to agents. While I adore The Wild Rose Press, I wanted something a bit larger for the books that required intense research and writing time. I’ll be completely frank – I took a chance with a new agent. I was her fifth client, and couldn’t have made a better decision...After she signed me with my paranormal, IMMORTAL HOPE, we sold a week and a half later.
TSC: First, yes, I’m still writing as Claire Ashgrove. And actually, in conjunction with the release of STRIPPED, I have a new paranormal series releasing through Tor Romance this month – IMMORTAL HOPE, the first book in The Curse of the Templars. (There’s my plug – check it out!)
TSP: What can you tell us about your new release Stripped and the Black Opals series, which it's the beginning of?
Second – it was completely by accident! I wrote STRIPPED as a hot romantic suspense that falls in line with many of my contemporary works. It was shopped to my editor as such. The offer came back contingent on an alteration to an erotic novel. I agreed, and here we are. The choice of a second pen name wasn’t to disguise or hide behind a second identity. It was to establish a clear delineation between what type of book my reader was picking up, so Tori St. Claire was born.
TSC: STRIPPED is dark and edgy, and the Black Opals veer away from the traditional pairing of really good guy in bad situation. At the core of what they are, the Black Opals are human beings with the same faults, strengths, and weaknesses as any human being. But their professional side pushes boundaries that put them in not only dangerous, but also morally questionable situations that make them a bit controversial.
The books are also thrillers, where I’ve taken great pains to weave hidden intricacies so that the danger is truly unknown. Which has made it surprisingly difficult to talk about, actually. I’m so afraid I’ll give away something that is critical to the resolution. I will say this though – more often than not, what you assume as fact… isn’t.
TSP: What do you think makes a good h/h and do you have a favorite from another author's book (I know it's hard to choose among your own, so I thought this might be an easier choice...lol)?
“They exist only in shadow. An elite team of deadly operatives created to satisfy increasing international threats. Their world is the dark underground, where sin and pleasure dominate and lies are second nature. To those who cross them, they are professional killers. Within the CIA, they are the rare Black Opals . . .”
TSC: A good h/h comes about when there is deep emotion and can come from any pairing, in my opinion. It’s not about conflicting goals or personalities… but the emotion those conflicts evoke. How it affects and makes them grow. You can take two people in the same profession, who have the same external goal, who both want happily ever after plus children… One gets a promotion while the other loses his job. A small conflict with the potential to have extraordinary emotional growth and impact. If the unemployed can’t move past jealousy, there’s one possible obstacle. If the employed suffers from guilt, there’s another. What they do with that, how the interrelate can make the difference between a memorable read and a good read.
Actually…I do have favorites –note the plural, lol!) amongst my own, and I really don’t like to name other authors because I always feel like someone might get offended, even if that’s a ridiculous worry. However, I love the conflict between Natalya and Brandon in STRIPPED because of how it affects Natalya internally, what it forces her to consider and acknowledge about herself. More so, in this series, I’m incredibly attached to the hero in the forthcoming second book, LIE TO ME, and another hero who is plotted, but not yet written, both of whom have to confront demons of their past.
In my paranormal works, book 2 of The Curse of the Templars (IMMORTAL SURRENDER) has one of my favorite h/h pairings. As does the pairing between Belen and Faith in my novella, DESTINED TO DIE.
But currently, my absolute favorite hero and heroine pair are Kyle and Aimee in A BROKEN CHRISTMAS, from my contemporaries. Kyle is absolutely broken, physically and mentally. Aimee has her own obstacles, but she’s immovably determined to heal Kyle. They aren’t different people, their personal goals don’t put them as polar opposites, but the emotional turmoil the conflict puts them through, moves me to tears, and I’m not one to cry over my own writing, ever.
TSP: How do you feel about the digital revolution and what affect does it have on your writing and how you market yourself? Do you have an eReader yourself?
TSC: I don’t own an eReader, but I’m not opposed to them. The digitalization does impact an author, and I’ve had to bend my understandings to meet those demands. Promotions used to be a matter of appearing physically at stores. Now, it’s doing blog interviews, social networking, maintaining websites and making sure that material is there for readers who are digital-first. I’ve done some short stories to keep with the curve, something I never thought I would have an interest in. I joined Twitter – big step for a somewhat shy gal.
While I don’t see digital replacing the physical book, it is a dominant force and an author needs to be aware of its existence. No longer can a blind eye be turned to the ‘revolution’. Innovative promotions, just getting out there –which is hard when the writers cave calls – will bring an author into the new era.
TSP: What do you do when not writing and when you complete a book do you do anything special to celebrate?
TSC: Laugh! You really should see my GANTT Chart. I came up with the insane idea that it would be prudent to write eight novellas in the middle of two contracts that are running parallel. Right now, I have no downtime. I finish a book, take about a week to clear my head, piddle around the house, play with my children, just… breathe outside of the cave. We have horses, but it’s winter, and no one feels like doing much other than feeding and watering. When I’ve let down for a while, then I go back in and do it all over again.
Writing is a job to me, though I love every moment of it. But just like my days in the corporate world, when one task or project is finished, I’m done, I move on to the next one. With all the voices clamoring for attention in my head, I don’t have trouble being enthusiastic about the next slated story.
TSP: My site is all about favorite things. So what are some of your favorite things, the things you can't live without?
TSC: I cannot live without my horses. I might be able to exist without the dogs and cats, but the horses… no way no how.
Must. Have. Chocolate. And coffee.
I’m also very addicted to dragons. I have figurines of all kinds of dragons, and pictures… I love dragons. Cute, mean, dangerous, wise… all colors, shapes and sizes. One cannot have enough dragons in their lives.
Last, I’d say I must have my critique partner’s cream puffs. YUM!
Must also have high heeled shoes and nifty boots… I’m a shoe addict.
STRIPPED by Tori St Claire
Body of secrets…
As a member of the CIA’s elite, Black Opals, Natalya Trubachev must live a lie, working undercover as the lover of Dmitri, a Russian mob boss. His business is trafficking vulnerable Las Vegas strippers overseas for twisted sex games. Natalya’s business is to blow the ring wide open and bring down Dmitri and his American contacts. But the stakes are raised when she learns that the next target is her own sister Kate, a dancer in the famed club Fantasia. Only now does Natalya realize how personal her mission has become, and how far she’s willing to go to complete it.
Body of lies…
The manager of Fantasia is Brandon Moretti, an undercover detective who keeps a close eye on his girls, and an even closer one on his sinfully sensual hire. For Natalya, working the club could be the break she’s been waiting for. But for Moretti, Natalya is a possible link to a killer. Only he never counted on her being so lethally seductive or so dangerous to get close to. As every forbidden pleasure between them is stripped away, his own secrets threaten their security, but it’s Natalya’s that could destroy them both.
"No.” Sitting forward, Brandon folded his hands on the stack of papers atop his desk. “You worked with Kate. That was when? Ten years ago? Have you danced since then?”
“Fifteen, and no. But I’m quite capable.” Only because Dmitri made her dance for him. She supposed she could consider that a benefit. If he hadn’t insisted on private pole dances, her body would have forgotten how.
The reproachful arch of a dark eyebrow hinted at doubt. “What makes you certain you can compete with the girls who’ve been doing this for years?” His gaze dropped to her breasts, then slid slowly back up to lock with hers. “Beyond the obvious.”
Natalya’s body flushed with heat. She crossed the opposite leg over her opposite knee, unsettled by the blatant appreciation in those tawny eyes. How many times had Dmitri looked at her with the same suggestion in his gaze?
How long had it been since she’d liked being stripped bare with a mere glance?
The sudden tingling of her skin disturbed her. Moretti could very well be one of Dmitri’s faithful—he had more than one cop on the take. While Dmitri understood her job required a bit of . . . feminine finesse . . . he’d only grant her so much leeway. If she gave him a reason to suspect her allegiance, he’d slice her throat before she could see the knife glint. And the way her body was warming beneath Brandon’s heated stare spelled trouble.
Determined to ignore his blatantly sexual gaze, she focused on the small white scar across Moretti’s chin and dredged up every reason she could think of to convince him into giving her the job. “I danced well. Was the crowd favorite for a while. I held the job all through college, and two years in, the girls were coming to me for dance suggestions, costuming, on-the-spot fixes for breakdowns. Advice on how to handle the more exuberant customers.” She took a breath and began counting items off her fingers. “I hired. I fired. I kept the drugs out of the dressing rooms. I trained the girls on the pole—Kate said you needed someone strong with the pole. My core body strength—”
Natalya snapped her mouth shut. Slowly, she blinked. “What?”
“You’re hired.” Moretti stood, stretching out his muscular thighs that even his loose denim jeans couldn’t disguise. He shoved his left hand into his hip pocket. Against her will, Natalya’s gaze dropped to his crotch.
Her breath caught at the tightening of his fly, the hard ridge that evidenced arousal.
When she yanked her gaze back to Brandon’s, his eyes flashed dark gold, telling her he knew exactly where she’d been looking. His voice, however, belied his awareness. “We open in three hours. I’ll need you here early to help get the girls settled in.”
He fished a set of keys out of the top right desk drawer and held his fist over her hand. “These are to the dressing rooms. I have a copy, you have a copy. No one else. Kate’s our star. She goes on at ten, and every two hours after. Jill follows. Beyond that, you’ll have to talk to the girls.”
Natalya moved her hand beneath his, palm up, waiting for the keys. “And me?”
“I need a housemom more than I need a dancer.” His fingers brushed the base of her wrist.
Ignoring the chill that raced to her shoulder, she blinked again. “A housemom?” He had to be kidding! She needed to be onstage. Scoping out the crowd. Looking for Discovery, as he was bound to be looking for potential targets.
Brandon lifted his hand a fraction. “A housemom.”
Or the job wasn’t hers. The hard line of his chiseled jaw voiced what he didn’t say.
Hell, not if she had anything to say about it. She was here to crack a case, and she couldn’t do that locked away in the back of the house.
He slammed the ball of his fist down on her desk. A box of chocolate-covered cherries jumped. He glanced at the white and red carton briefly, then dismissed it, locking his gaze with Natalya’s once more. “I’ll tell you about wrong ideas. Let’s start with how your boss told you not to dance, and you decided to do so anyway.”
“My boss?” Natalya laughed again. “Make up your mind which role you want to play, Brandon. You’re only my boss when it’s convenient for you. Otherwise you’re too busy fucking me.”
He clamped his teeth down on the stream of oaths that choked off his air. He couldn’t argue with the truth. Moreover, he caught the flat glint of her eyes. The unfeeling stare that told him the words were real enough, but the woman who said them wasn’t. For a moment, in the dancers’ lounge, he’d glimpsed that mesmerizing Natalya who drove him to maddening limits. While this shell made him every bit as crazy, he ached for the woman who prompted him into foolishness. She had been on the stage. She deserved the fight.
“Damn it, where are you?” Frustrated beyond all means, he swiped his arm across the desk, sending the chocolates flying into the wall.
She blinked. But not at him, he realized, as he followed the trajectory of her gaze. She stared at the floor where the box had broken open. Smashed chocolate-covered cherries coated the floor, sugary ooze pouring from a squashed corner.
Brandon straightened. Unease filtered through his angry haze. He’d hit the candy hard. But not hard enough to smash two entire trays of candies, each held in egg-shaped cups. That candy was already crushed, long before he’d hit it. And to accomplish that, while keeping the flimsy plastic cups from collapsing, someone had done it piece by piece.
“Who gave you that?” His gaze flicked back to hers, and he took a small measure of satisfaction at witnessing the truth behind her eyes before she once again snapped the shutters closed.
“I told you jealousy wasn’t a pretty color for you.”
He pursed his lips, ground his teeth together. With patience that defied his years of training, he gritted out,
“No games. Who gave you the chocolate, Natalya?”
Defiance radiated in the proud jut of her chin. Sparkled behind her unblinking stare. Then, as she blinked, the facade crumbled. She shook her head. “It wasn’t here when I left for the stage.”
In the next heartbeat, the color drained from her face. He knew then, she’d made a connection. Associated the candy with someone else. Someone who had the capacity to strike fear into her fearless little heart.
“Tell me what you want, beautiful.” His breath rasped over her cheek. Featherlight kisses accompanied the whisper, trailing across her skin in a taunting path toward her mouth.
Kiss me. She turned her head in search of lips she instinctively knew would be warm, the words on the tip of her tongue. Kiss me until I don’t care whether I live or die.
Honesty. Just once.
He caught her lower lip with his teeth, the nip nowhere near gentle. But the lazy stroke of his tongue soothed the stinging bite. She parted her lips, dipped her tongue out to touch his.
Brandon’s body tightened like a whip. The pressure in her lower back increased as his fingers curled into her skin. Their breaths mingled. The tips of their tongues met in a slow, sensual dance. As another spasm of ecstasy threatened to send her tumbling into his solid chest, she braced her hands on his shoulders.
And then Brandon was gone, the magic of his fingers disappearing as he stepped back and set both hands on her waist. His gaze scorched in to flood her body with tingles. He waited, his question unspoken, but hanging between them.
Tell me what you want.
Clearly he intended to make her admit she wanted to feel him deep inside her. Wanted to experience the slide of his bare skin against hers. And God, how she wanted to kiss him. To taste the desire that burned in his gaze and the indescribable flavor of hot, aroused man.
Confessing might lead her to an early grave, but for once, her conscious would be clear. She swallowed hard and dug deep for the courage that had kept her alive these last three years. His gaze followed the sweep of her tongue as she moistened her lips.
“Kiss me.” Her senses honed in on her whisper, amplifying it and the ragged fall of their mutual breathing. She became aware of every minuscule sound as she waited for Brandon to either dip his head and honor her request, or shove her aside with a wicked sneer.
He took a step closer, bringing their bodies in contact from chest to toes. One arm wrapped around her waist, then slid up her back to offer support between her shoulder blades. The other tangled in her hair, tipping her head back. Putting her where he wanted her—subtle dominance that thrilled her in places she hadn’t known existed. Her womb clamped hard, sending another rush of moisture through her pussy.
His mouth descended. Warm lips played against hers, drawing her into the spell his body wove. Pulling her in so deep she struggled for air.
The sudden, brassy ring of her cell phone jolted her out of hazy desire. She froze. With Kate and Sergei due to arrive at Fantasia any minute, there could only be one other person calling at this time of day—Dmitri. It would be almost one in the morning in Moscow. The time Dmitri put aside his work and crawled into bed. He’d want to talk before he slept.
“Don’t answer that,” Brandon whispered against her mouth.
Damn if those lips weren’t compelling. She’d had his mouth on her breast, knew the incredible magic his tongue could create there, but had yet to experience the tantalizing slide of his tongue against hers. The need to feel his mouth on hers, to get lost in his potent masculinity pressed her to ignore the ringing tones.
Duty, however, rose up screaming. If she didn’t answer, Dmitri would get suspicious.“I have to.”
Tori St. Claire grew up writing. Hobby quickly turned into passion, and when she discovered the world of romance as a teen, poems and short stories gave way to full length novels with sexy heroes and heroines waiting to be swept off their feet. She wrote her first romance novel at seventeen.
While that manuscript gathered dust-bunnies beneath the bed, she went on to establish herself as a contemporary, historical, and paranormal author under the pen name, Claire Ashgrove. Her writing, however, skirted a fine line between hot and steamy, and motivated by authors she admired, she pushed her boundaries and made the leap into erotica, using the darker side of human nature and on-the-edge suspense to drive grittier, sexier, stories.
Her erotic romantic suspense novels are searingly sensual experiences that unite passion with true emotion, and the all-consuming tie that binds -- love.
Tori can be found at:
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