by Joyce Lamb)
The awesome Roxanne St. Claire shares an excerpt with HEA from her next Barefoot Bay romance, Barefoot in White.
Roxanne: Thank you for inviting me to this awesome home of romance readers! So excited to share the news about my latest release, Barefoot in White, the first novel in the Barefoot Bay Brides series. The resort on the sun-kissed shores of Barefoot Bay is now home to a destination wedding firm called The Barefoot Brides, run by three women who are experts in arranging dreamy "I do's" but haven't found their own happily ever after ... yet. You just know that's about to change, right?
Up first is Willow Ambrose, who's fought a battle with the scale for much of her life, but she's finally won the war. She hasn't just cut calories — she's cut all ties to her past, too, and successfully carved out a new body and a new life. But when she comes face to face with someone who left an indelible mark on her heart years before, all that threatens to crumble.
Navy SEAL Nick Hershey is on medical leave, doing a friend a favor as a stand in "man of honor" at a beach wedding. He might not be that interested in the nuptials, but the wedding planner catches his eye the minute they meet. When he realizes Willow is a girl he knew in college — and a girl he unintentionally hurt to the core — he knows he has some making up to do.
Willow has learned how to beat every temptation ... but Nick's sweet as candy kisses just might be the one thing she can't resist. However, the closer they get, the more the past threatens to tear them apart. Nick and Willow learn the hard way that they can't change history, but does that mean they won't have a future?
Question for readers: Willow is not a plus-size heroine, but she spent most of her life as a plus-size girl, and that has definitely shaped her character. (No pun intended!) How do you feel about a heroine who has dealt with or is dealing with the baggage that comes with feeling overweight? Like 'em, love 'em, don't care, or hey, that's too close to reality for me? One commenter will win an autographed print copy of Barefoot in White from me! Winner announced on my Facebook page on Sunday (May 11).
Here's an excerpt from Barefoot in White:
While he's on leave in Barefoot Bay, Nick is trying his hand at writing a novel that he hopes will heal some of the emotional wounds he's earned in battle. Willow agrees to help him, reading his work, and, occasionally assisting with research. Like when Nick gets to one romantic scene and seeks out a little kissing research ...
"Come on, Nick. I ate ice cream. I told you about my mother. I confessed I am the result of a hit song. Now what line do you want me to cross?"
He just smiled and inched closer. "I told you, I'm researching kissing."
His eyes were so dark, they pulled Willow closer, making her want to get inside those eyes. Something that felt very much like what she now thought of as "empty-hunger" engulfed her. That need to be filled, to be satisfied, to be comforted, even though nothing was really empty or dissatisfied or uncomfortable. Empty-hunger was what got her into trouble with food, and empty-lust was about to get her into trouble with Nick.
Except it didn't feel empty, like the desire for a piece of cheesecake. It felt real. Like the longing for a sweet taste of his mouth.
"I thought writers had great imaginations," Willow said. "Can't you wing it?"
"Then my kiss will read like some idiot wrote it."
"Some other idiot," he corrected. "Like when I read a battle scene and they get the weapons wrong, it pisses me off. What if I get it wrong?"
"Lips are the only weapons involved. You can't mess that up."
"There's so much more to a kiss, Willow."
Really? She wanted to know. She might have inched closer, but at that moment, she wasn't really in control of every movement. He lifted their joined hands and brought them close to his lips. "Why do you seem so dead set against a little, tiny, simple, inconsequential kiss?"
"Because one loss of control leads to the next, and what if I can't stop?"
"I'm okay with that."
She laughed, putting a hand on his shoulder to push him back but, oh, man, that was a nice shoulder. Hard, thick, powerful. A shoulder to lean on. A shoulder...to ride.
"Your eyes are turning gray."
She widened them. "What does that mean?"
"I think this is what happens right before you give in. They turned gray when I asked you to get ice cream."
"It's the color of fear," she whispered.
"You know what I taught you about fears." He closed almost all the space between their mouths, still holding her gaze. "You face them, you live them, you beat them. Kiss me and the fear of losing control will be gone."
But she wasn't afraid of losing control. This was Nick Hershey. She'd kissed him once before, and he'd been so turned off, she had practically tasted the aversion to her on his lips.
That was her fear, and it wasn't even deep-seated. It was right on the surface, clawing at her heart.
Ancient insecurities and a lifetime of self-hatred welled up like a bubbling fountain, pulling her back.
"This is not research," she said. "Where's your notebook?"
"Right here." He pulled out his phone. "This kiss is absolutely for research purposes only. In fact, we can stop and take notes after each kiss."
"How many will there be?"
"How many can I have?"
She had to laugh. "How many do you want?"
He lifted their joined hands to his lips, a smile breaking behind his knuckles. "Let's start with one and see what happens."
What could one hurt, right?
She closed her eyes and gave a simple nod. Nick remained perfectly still for a long beat. Too long. Long enough that the ache inside her turned cold.
She opened her eyes, and he was staring at...his phone. She peered down to see him typing in a note-taking app. His finger glided over the screen as he typed Willow.
"How many research partners do you have?"
Then, he placed one hand on her jaw, cupping it with strong fingers and a warm palm. It took everything in her not to nuzzle him like an affection-deprived dog, practically itching for his hand to slip deeper into her hair and cradle her whole head as he kissed her.
But he still didn't do it. In fact, he dragged his hand from her face and picked up the freaking phone again.
"I want to write what I'm feeling." He tapped the screen. "I think it's important that I remember exactly what it feels like before the actual kiss."
Was he serious? Or looking for a way out…
"For God's sake, Nick, just kiss me."
"I thought you'd never ask." He dipped his head and brushed her lips with his, making her shudder at the touch before she slowly lifted her arms.
Her hands settled on his upper arms, her grip tightening as each amazing sensation rolled through her. The tangy, rich taste of chocolate and mint, the warm pressure of his lips on hers, the scent of ice cream and aftershave, and the gentle caress of his hand on her jaw. His fingers slipped deeper into her hair, hot and strong, holding her as if she were precious.
She couldn't help the softest whimper, which made him angle his head and intensify the kiss. She leaned closer so he could slide his hand through her hair and pull her into him to kiss her cheek, her jaw, her hair, her ear. She heard him laugh and felt him sigh.
"I like kissing you, Willow," he whispered.
"You fell for that?" He chuckled and leaned in for another kiss. "Not for research, for real." He kissed her again, opening his lips to tease her tongue, sending a thousand fluttering butterflies roaring through her stomach.
Find out more about Roxanne and her books at roxannestclaire.com. You can also connect with her on Twitter (@roxannestclaire).