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A Visit with Jessica Lauryn & A SULTRY PERFORMANCE

Thanks so much for welcoming me back to Manic Readers, everyone! I’m thrilled to share that my latest title, A Sultry Performance has just been released. This story of love, passion and decades-old secrets is about a dancer named Victoria Morrow who, though at a severe monetary disadvantage in a world of privileged elites, possesses a dancing talent that is otherwise unparalleled in her universe. I find that so inspiring, not only Victoria’s strength because she is definitely a strong woman, but more so, her passion. Victoria has discovered the thing that she loves to do more than anything else in the world, and despite whatever hardships have come her way she’s always remained dedicated to her pursuit. Dancing is Victoria’s livelihood, but it’s also her life’s ambition and the thing that keeps her grounded when nothing else in the world around her is fair or right.

Ironically, or maybe not so ironically, I began dancing again myself shortly after I’d completed A Sultry Performance. Though my brief time on the ballroom dancing team at my college had seemed like something I should best leave in the past, when the opportunity to dance once again presented itself I welcomed it with open arms. Having learned a thing or two about persistence from my very determined heroine, I gave the dances I was learning for the second time, with the help of a skilled instructor and a dedicated partner, everything I had. 3 spotlight dances and 2 progress checks later, I expect to graduate the Bronze I level at our dance academy some time next year. I’m excited, because dancing is something I’ve always wanted to do. It isn’t my greatest passion, however. That, for me, will always be writing.

Earlier this year, I took a long hiatus from writing. Burned out from facing the challenges of an ever-changing publishing industry and busy as all get-out with the other responsibilities of my “real-life,” I was no longer sure whether I could keep writing at the pace I have been for almost a decade or if I could continue writing at all. But passion is one of those things inside us that burns within us like a flame, even when we ignore it. Working on other projects, I was constantly reminded of the stories I wasn’t writing, the ideas I’d yet to develop and the characters I’d not yet had the pleasure of talking to for hours on end. It was as though a part of me had been lost. Though I’d still be facing the same challenges, the least of which being a busy life with very little time to spare in a day, I decided to return to what I love. And what a joy it has been!

Passion is something all of us need in our lives. If you’ve yet to find your passion, simply follow the direction your heart is pointed in—I guarantee it won’t steer you wrong! And if you have found your passion, don’t abandon it as I did for a time. Treasure it, nurture it, cherish it. Everything else is so much better when you are doing what you love!

 

 

“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?”

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?

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#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.

 

For all the dog lover's Debbie Burns' MY FOREVER HOME & giveaway

 
 
Love comes to the rescue.
 
Vet school drop-out Tess Grasso dreams of having her own pet therapy business, but she meets one disastrous obstacle after another. There’s no denying she has a way with animals, so in the meantime she puts her skills to use at a local no-kill shelter. Between helping her furry companions and a budding relationship with fellow dog lover Mason Redding, Tess begins to find fresh confidence…
What Tess doesn’t know is that Mason is recovering from an accident, hoping to get back to his pro-baseball career. He’s afraid the truth will ruin everything—and he’s right. But in the midst of hurt and betrayal, a free-spirited stray Husky enters their lives, and teaches them a few things about faith, love and forgiveness.
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It was time to get out, but Tess didn’t want to leave. She unbuckled her seat belt but didn’t move. “So, the laptop. I don’t know that I can accept it.”
A single crease lined Mason’s forehead. “You lost yours helping me. I wanted to do it.”
“If I keep it,” Tess said, “I’d like the chance to make it up to you.”
The lopsided smile that made her heart wallop reappeared. “What’re you thinking?”
“John Ronald. I want to help you catch him.”
His smile fell as quickly as it had popped up, and he studied her face in the glow from the dashboard instruments. Tess wanted to know what he was thinking. She didn’t know him well enough to guess.
It was too dark to see the color of his eyes, but Tess was hungry to. She’d already memorized what a perfect mixture of blue and green they were.
“The dog may not be lost,” she continued before the last bit of her nerve slipped underneath the seat, “but I’m not entirely sure that means he’s found. When I saw him tonight, I got the feeling that he wants to come to you, but he’s afraid. You’re probably hoping he’ll let you catch him, but that’s a jump he might not know how to make. Life is hard for strays. Really hard. And if animal control catches him, who knows what kind of chance he’d have.”
Mason thumped the side of his thumb against the top of the console as he seemed to consider her words. “I’d like that,” he said finally. “And your offer takes the pressure off me to figure out the best way to tell you that I want to see you again.”
It had been on the tip of her tongue to add that she’d had some experience catching strays, but words fled. Tess bit her lip to keep her jaw from dropping to the floor.
“So, yes, I’ll take your help. Gladly,” Mason said. “And I’m going to try really hard to stay true to form and act like you offering this and not something less personal didn’t just hit home deeper than you could know.”
Tess shook her head. What could he possibly expect her to say in return?
“So instead,” he continued, his smile reappearing, “I’ll admit that while I’ve never gone on a real stray-dog hunt, I suspect it’ll work up an appetite even in someone as petite as you, and I’ll offer to make dinner.”
“I’m, uh, a vegetarian.” That’s your answer? That’s the best you can do?
His smile widened. “That rules out the three meals I claim to have mastered at the most basic of levels, but I’m up for a challenge. What night’s good for you?”
Tess pressed down her delight. He wanted to make her dinner. “How about Thursday after work? As long as it isn’t raining. He’d likely be hunkered down in the rain, and it’s unlikely we’d find him in the same spot as yesterday.”
“Perfect. I’ll pick you up. Six thirty all right?”
Tess heard herself agreeing. Instead of dinner and a movie, it was dinner and dog catching. So much for a cute pair of boots and a skirt to undo the image of the dorky pants-rolling of earlier.
“I wrote this in the card, but my grandma threw away the cup with your number on it. I should’ve said so earlier, but that’s why I rode to your place. I didn’t want you thinking I wasn’t appreciative about the laptop. It’ll probably be a few days before I get a new phone, but my grandma’s number is in the card if you need it.”
“I’m glad you came over, but I’m pretty sure my number is on a slip of paper on your grandma’s fridge. She asked if you had it and when I told her I’d written it on a cup, she said cups were no place for phone numbers and had me write it on a piece of paper.”
Tess clicked her tongue. “She knew I was looking for a cup after I found the laptop. You’d think she’d have told me that before I dashed out.”
“If you ask me, it worked out pretty well that she didn’t.” For a split second, Tess got the feeling that he was about to lean in to kiss her, but then he shifted farther away and pushed open his door and headed for her bike.
“Good luck tomorrow,” he said, hooking his thumb into his jeans pocket after it was down.
Tess thanked him. She remembered a flash of the dream she’d awoken to, the one in which she’d been kissing him and he’d been holding back. It hardly seemed possible that she’d only met him yesterday. If he was holding back, it was the right thing to do. How off the wall was it that if he had kissed her, she’d have kissed him right back? 
Her last boyfriend had been someone she’d connected with mentally and emotionally, but not physically. They’d been dating for nearly a month when Tess had realized that every time he leaned in to kiss her, she had to keep herself from pulling away.
She couldn’t imagine wanting to pull away from Mason. 
What was she doing? Get it together, Tess.
She looked toward the house. “My grandma’s probably waiting. I’ll see you Thursday?” She forced a step toward the driveway; it just didn’t turn out to be very large one.
“Six thirty,” he repeated. “And I’ll have takeout cued up on my phone in case dinner sucks.”
Tess laughed. “Can I bring something? Dessert?”
“Just your sweet self.”
Her mouth went dry. She didn’t think in all her life she’d ever wanted to be kissed as much as she did now. The urge was ridiculous but impossible to suppress. Then she remembered the taut, enticing muscles in his arms, chest, and shoulders and took off toward the driveway. “Thanks again for the ride.”
“Anytime, Tess Grasso.” 
As she headed up the driveway, Tess was left to contemplate how Nonna must have told him her last name. And he’d remembered it.
 

Debbie Burns’ writing commendations include a Starred Review from Publishers Weekly and a Top Pick from RT Book Reviews for A New Leash on Love, as well as first-place awards for short stories, flash fiction, and longer selections. Her hobbies include hiking, gardening, and daydreaming, which, of course, always leads to new story ideas. She lives in St. Louis with her family, two phenomenal rescue dogs, and a somewhat tetchy Maine coon cat who everyone loves anyway.