Please welcome Catherine Bybee to the blog today!
1) Sasha, from your newest novel Say it Again, is unlike any character that most readers will have encountered. Can you give us a rundown of your heroine?
Sasha is a female James Bond with all the skills that kick ass and the sexy that opens doors. She’s a master of disguises, speaks more languages than anyone should…and has a razor-sharp mind that doesn’t sleep. In all her badassery, (pretty sure I just made up that word) Sasha has a soft spot—a vulnerability that makes her want to protect the innocent. She’s a true to life superhero who walks the fence between right and wrong. She really doesn’t have any issues breaking laws to get what she wants. And that’s what makes her so fun to read, and for me to write.
2) Fans have been following Sasha throughout your First Wives series. Did you always know you wanted to write her story?
No! Not at all. The first four books in the series were going to be it. However, Sasha commanded attention the first moment she walked on the page and I couldn’t get enough of her once I dreamed her up. I was almost finished writing the first book when I decided that Sasha was not going to be a bad guy. Yes, I’m a pantser, and have no real outline before I sit down to write. I think the fact that I didn’t know she was one of the good guys made her all that more believable. I don’t even think she knew she was going to be on the side of right and justice until the end of Fool Me Once.
3) While many of your novels have a mystery or suspense element, you dive head first into action and spy-games in this book. How easy was this transition for you?
It was super easy and tons of fun. In fact… I think I may have a spin off of a spin off rolling in my head with all the fun characters I played with while writing this book. Neil was one of my very first book boyfriends from the Weekday Brides. And having him come back in this book just reminded me how much fun it is to write all the action and intrigue. I hope my fans love it enough for me to continue the theme with new books.
4) When AJ is first introduced he seems pretty average—just a guy looking for answers about his sister’s death. But in reality, there is nothing average about AJ. How would you describe him?
The best picture in my mine that I can describe with all clarity is Brian O’Connor, Paul Walker (RIP), from Fast and Furious. Innocent until he isn’t.
I would say that AJ is exactly what Sasha needed to open up and accept that she too can be loved. I wanted AJ to come off as average until he wasn’t. Sasha is such a strong character that she needed someone who wasn’t going to try and overpower or overshadow her badassery (love that word). AJ does that. Yet he has some badass moments himself and that is what makes her fall for him even more. He is in no way perfect and neither is she.
5) AJ and Sasha have something in common—they are both characters with lots and lots of secrets. What makes them open up to each other? What else do they have in common?
Trust through time. That’s the best way for me to describe how they evolved in my head. There is a common respect the moment they “acquire” the other’s phone. A moment where they take notice and begin to respect the other. Honor among thieves as they say. I think the common ground that isn’t apparent until the story evolves is how they want the love of a family. AJ is much more open to it than Sasha, but they both have to fight for it in the end.
6) While you have written books with scenes in foreign countries, this story takes place internationally. Have you visited the same places as your characters? Where do you hope to take readers around the world in the future?
Yes, I have been to all the places I have written about. I was in Berlin a couple of years ago at a book signing and managed to get their by taking the train from London, through Amsterdam etc. So yes, I’m blessed to have visited these places which makes the story that much richer in my opinion. Richter, the school in the story, is from my imagination. I did some fact checking and learned that post Hitler’s Germany, military boarding schools were not welcome in the country. So I made one up and made it as great and awful as I could while still making it believable.
I have placed most of my travels, or experiences from them, in my books. And as I travel the world, I will bring my readers along…eventually.
7) Say it Again wraps up your First Wives series. What have you learned while writing these books? Will these lessons affect your writing in the future?
On a personal level, I will say that I’ve leaned to write with a great deal of personal turmoil. There have been times I’ve doubted my process and this final book in the series has told me to never do that again. I would like to always keep the door open for more books because of characters like Sasha. I love writing fast moving romantic suspense and intrigue and can see Claire, Cooper and the whole of Neil’s team as a great setting for future books. Yeah… I’m liking that idea more and more. I hope my readers do, too.
About the Book:
Protector-for-hire Sasha Budanov is accustomed to life as a loner. Always on the move, she’s now reached a crossroad. Looking for answers about her shadowy youth, she’s returned to the strict boarding school in Germany where she was raised. It’s also where she was trained in the stealthy, militarized art of survival. But behind its gleaming gates, Richter is a fortress of secrets, including those buried in Sasha’s mysterious past. To uncover them, she’s clinging to her first rule of defense: stay guarded.
If anyone can challenge Sasha’s rules, it’s devilishly sexy stranger AJ Hofmann. He wants answers, too. And he needs Sasha’s help. The recent deaths of several of Richter’s former students—including AJ’s own sister—have aroused his suspicions. He’s arousing something more in Sasha. Never one to surrender to her emotions, she senses something tempting in AJ. She trusts him. He’s fearless. And he kisses like a demon. Sasha’s found her match.
But treading Richter’s dark halls—and following their hearts—has its risks. As the decades-old secrets of the past are mined, Sasha and AJ are falling deeper in love . . . and into danger.
Read an Excerpt:
AJ was being stood up.
It was half past noon and Sasha wasn’t there.
The Brandenburg Gate was one of the busiest tourist attractions in Berlin. The square was filled with families and walking tours led by someone holding a colored flag on a stick and talking into a microphone while a line of dazed, zombie-like visitors followed behind. Aside from those in the square learning about the history of the place, there were a dozen police officers and security guards moving around. Considering the American, British, and French embassies were all within a stone’s throw of each other, AJ was surprised there wasn’t a stronger military presence.
AJ kept scanning the crowd in search of Sex on a Stick in black leather pants and a bad attitude.
Left without options, AJ dialed his phone number on her phone and waited. It rang twice.
Behind him, the riff of “Bad to the Bone,” his ringtone, shot through him. He dropped his hand from his ear and saw a blonde standing three feet away, her back to him.
Slowly she turned.
Sasha stared back at him, wearing white capri pants and a bright floral top. The blonde wig overdid it but completely camouflaged her in broad daylight. She took a step closer, reached out her hand holding his cell. “Hello, AJ.”
They switched phones. “How long have you been standing there?”
“Half an hour, give or take.”
He looked her up and down. She looked like a typical American housewife, minus the kid in the stroller. “Impressive.”
“I wanted to make sure you were alone.”
AJ glanced around at the passing tourists. “Is there a reason behind the cloak-and-dagger?”
She moved closer, lowered her voice. “You’ve come here to look for your sister’s killer. You think there is some connection to Richter. Went so far as to go there asking questions. You’re stalking the local pub and hitting on, not to mention stealing from, the patrons . . .” Sasha waved her phone in the air before tucking it into her back pocket.
“I’m calling pot to kettle on that last accusation.” Although all the rest she pointed out was spot-on.
“I like to go unnoticed. If someone followed me here, they lost me the second I made the city limits and went clothes shopping.”
“What if someone followed me?”
“Then I would have seen them watching in the thirty minutes you’ve been standing around looking like a lost child without a parent.” She turned and started walking toward the gate.
AJ had no choice but to follow.
“What makes you think anyone is following either of us?”
She smiled, didn’t answer his question. “I used to help your sister on her agility training,” she told him.
The mention of his sister brought his attention back to what he should be focused on. “She wasn’t the most athletic woman.” Amelia took after their mother, who didn’t grow more than five feet five inches tall and had a sweet tooth that always kept her rounder than she’d liked. At least that’s what she’d blame when she went on one of her many diets.
“No. But she held her own most of the time. Everyone at Richter was pushed to do at least that.”
“Her coworkers said she had recently started taking morning walks before work,” AJ said.
“Which explains the police report about her being murdered in the park and tossed in the river.”
AJ stopped walking. “You looked her up.”
“Only because I knew her.”
He jumped in front of her, stopped her from moving. “Then you’ll help me.”
“There is nothing to suggest that Amelia’s death is at all linked to Richter.”
AJ looked over Sasha’s shoulder and noticed a man eating an ice cream cone and staring at Sasha. The middle-aged guy turned his attention away and took a few steps in the opposite direction.
“Maybe she . . .”
AJ felt eyes, turned to his left.
“What is it?” Sasha asked.
“The guy with the ice cream, over your left shoulder.”
She grinned, cocked her head to the side. “We did this last night.”
“Yeah, only I’m not asking you to lay a lip lock on me. Tempting as that might be.” Truth was, he’d thought about that kiss more times than he wanted to admit. “If how you’re dressed is any indication, you’re the expert on all things undercover. You tell me if you feel the weight of someone’s stare.”
Sasha paused, then looked over her shoulder. “That him?” she asked, thumbing toward the guy with the ice cream.
She grabbed AJ’s hand and walked directly toward the guy he thought for sure was watching them.
“What are you doing?”
She didn’t answer. “Excuse me?” Her voice rose a full octave, her smile was sickeningly sweet. Any accent he’d detected from her voice was gone . . . or changed.
The man with the cone turned toward them. “Yes?”
“Are you American? You look American.”
“I’m, ah . . . yeah.” The guy looked directly at AJ.
Sasha kept going. “Good. Would you mind taking our picture? I can’t get the gate behind us with a selfie.”
Again the guy offered AJ unblinking eyes. “Ah, sure.” He reached for the phone Sasha was handing him.
Next thing AJ realized, he was standing beside Sasha, her arm slipped around his waist, and he was smiling like all of the other tourists surrounding them while the man he thought was spying on them took their picture.
The stranger holding Sasha’s phone, while trying to balance his ice cream cone, looked completely out of place.
“Take a second one, just in case.” Sasha giggled.
The sound of her voice didn’t suit her. The hand on his waist, however, suited him just fine. The feel of her there, the warmth, the softness he knew she would hate if he pointed it out, felt a little too right.
“Thank you so much.”
The stranger handed her phone back with a nod. “Have fun.”
She waved. “We will . . . thanks.”
And he was gone.
AJ watched the man slip away as Sasha removed herself from AJ’s side.
He missed her warmth, instantly.
“Any self-preserving spy wouldn’t have made contact,” Sasha told him.
The two of them walked toward the center of the square. “Okay,” AJ started. “Maybe I’m a little paranoid.”
“You’re a lot paranoid.”
AJ paused in the middle of the plaza and stared at the massive horses that sat atop the gate. The image of his sister at Christmas the previous year surfaced. It was the last time he’d seen her alive. “I know Amelia’s death wasn’t random, Sasha. I feel it with every breath I take.”
She sighed. “I know you do.”
He looked at her. “You don’t believe me.”
“I believe you believe.”
He lowered his head, studied the salt-and-pepper colored stones beneath his feet. “You’re not going to help.” Damn it . . . he was back to ground zero.
Another heavy sigh from the woman at his side. “I will help you.”
AJ snapped his head up. “What?”
She placed a hand in the air as in warning. “Not because I think you have anything other than grief inside you. The not knowing, or never accepting the facts, can eat you alive.”
Not ground zero. He wanted to kiss her. Not that she would be receptive to that kind of thing. “Why are you doing this?” There wasn’t anything in it for her. Sasha turned away from him and focused her attention on the Brandenburg Gate.
“Because I’m not bored.”
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Meet the Author:
New York Times, #1 Wall Street Journal, and USA Today bestselling author Catherine Bybee has written thirty books that collectively have sold more than five million copies and been translated into more than eighteen languages. Raised in Washington State, Bybee moved to Southern California in the hope of becoming a movie star. After growing bored with waiting tables, she returned to school and became a registered nurse, spending most of her career in urban emergency rooms. She now writes full-time and has penned the Not Quite Series, the Weekday Brides Series, the Most Likely To Series, and the First Wives Series. For more information, visit www.catherinebybee.com.
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