Marie Force Blog

The Story Behind the Love After Dark Cover

By: Cheryl Serra

Newlyweds Ashley and Bryan Lopez had no idea the Christmas card they sent out last year would lead to a gig as cover models for Marie’s Love After Dark, releasing at midnight EDT tomorrow and boasting the highest preorder numbers ever for the wildly successful Gansett Island Series.

“As a newlywed couple, this experience has been amazing!” Ashley says. “It’s another story to add to our book of adventures together.” She and Bryan were married on April 25, 2014.

Marie and her family received the card, which was a beautiful photo from their wedding. Marie’s husband, Dan, asked if the photograph came with the frame from the store because the couple pictured was so perfect.

Marie told him that they were real people and that Ashley and her twin sister, Courtney, do all Marie’s graphic design work. Marie calls them her “Designing Women.”

To which Dan replied, “They ought to be on the cover of one of your books.”

Ashley, a senior manager of production and design for a small trade association where Marie’s assistant, Julie used to work, recalls Marie sending her an email one morning about the card. When Marie relayed the story about Dan’s comment, Ashley jokingly let her know that Bryan said he was available if she ever needed an Hispanic cover model.

And with Paul Martinez’s story up next on Gansett Island, the timing couldn’t have been more perfect for a cover featuring Ashley and Bryan. Ashley even went so far as to darken her normally blonde hair to the color Marie had already chosen for the character of Hope in an earlier book.

“The thought of being on a book cover was pretty exciting,” Ashley says. The next closest experience she’d had was modelling for sister Courtney, a photography major at East Carolina University, for some of her projects. She and Bryan thought the cover would be a fun experience. Bryan, too, was excited by the prospect.

While Love After Dark wasn’t completed by the time of the shoot, Julie and Marie provided the gist of the story to Ashley and Bryan. By the time of the shoot, they knew Paul owns a business and hires Hope to care for his sick mother. And according to Paul’s late father’s standards, he was not to mix business with pleasure, but readers can guess how well that went.

“In a way, I think not knowing their true personalities made the photo shoot easier,” Ashley says, noting that Bryan agrees. “Instead of being these characters we were ourselves which in turn made us more vulnerable, more real and more human. I think the photos are a lot more natural than if we pretended to be two individuals we aren't.”

In February, Marie sent her photographer friend, Pam Sardinha and her husband, David, to Washington DC, near where the Designing Women and their families live. The shoot was done in a hotel suite in Alexandria, VA, with Julie and Courtney there while Marie was signing books in Vermont.

“Ashley and Brian were so adorable when we met that morning of the shoot,” Pam recalls. “They were right on time, and Dave and I could tell they were a little nervous. I think the mini bar helped alleviate that a little. We spent about 15 minutes with them, Julie and Courtney talking about how we were going to spend our time and how we all wanted to bring Marie's vision to life. I loved working with them, they were so amenable to all the ideas we had and once the initial jitters were gone, the next six hours flew by (including an Irish fish and chip lunch enjoyed by all!) I felt like we had worked together for years. Ashley and Brian are as warm and genuine as they are physically beautiful. I felt so honored to have been chosen for this shoot and for the opportunity to be a part of bringing Marie's wonderful characters to life!”

Pam and David even scored an extra night in DC when a winter storm stranded them. “The fact that the weather made us stay an extra day turned out to add to our great experience,” Pam says. “Dave I had the pleasure of hanging out with Julie and getting a first-hand tour of the area and wonderful eateries.”

Ashley agrees she and Bryan were nervous going into the photo shoot, but once they met Pam and David—and realized they had a refrigerator filled with adult beverages—they knew they were in good hands.

Bryan, a Realtor in northern Virginia, was very comfortable during the shoot, which shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone who knows him, Ashley says. And he even helped to alleviate her photo shoot jitters.

“Paul, I mean Bryan, helped calm my nerves by making me laugh as he whispered sweet nothings into my ear as I straddled him on the hotel chair,” she says, laughing.

Courtney, a marketing coordinator and graphic designer for the largest beverage distributor in Virginia, started working with Marie in the spring of 2013. She designs ebook and print book covers, including the new covers for True North, Treading Water and Georgia on My Mind as well as the Quantum Series. She also creates advertisements and promotional materials such as posters and postcards and Marie’s merchandise, like the Gansett Island sweatshirts and the book series stickers.

For Love After Dark, one of Marie’s visions for the cover was to have distressed wood behind Hope and Paul, like they were in the retail store of the nursery for one of their trysts while it rained outside. Marie later wrote that scene in the book. Courtney says she took the vision and ran with it, trying to find as many distressed wood images as she could. Marie also provided Pam with possible poses she wanted her to try.

“At the time of the photo shoot we weren’t sure if Hope and Paul would be lying on the beach or cuddled up in a farmhouse somewhere, so we had to make sure we had a variety of angles, facial expressions and overall compositions to choose from…Pam is so phenomenal and was so amazing to work with, I think together we really brought Marie’s vision to life,” Courtney says.

Both Ashley and Courtney say the cover shoot is one of the best experiences of their lives. Seeing the finished book cover was over the top, too.

Courtney says, “It was so fun to be part of the entire process, from the photo shoot to the designing of the cover to the reveal.”

The cover was revealed in front of a packed house of fans at Marie’s Reader Weekend in Rhode Island earlier this summer.

“Marie had warned us that readers would fall in love with Paul once he was revealed,” Ashley says, “and boy, was she right! It was so much fun watching readers request their picture with him. He was such a good sport and never passed up a photo op! He had many fans that weekend. Once we got home to northern Virginia we went to the grocery store. Bryan turned to me and said, ‘No one knows who we are here!’.”

“Ashley and Bryan were great sports about all the attention they received at Reader Weekend,” Marie says. “I think Bryan might’ve even given up a few ass-grabs, not that he was complaining!”

The Love After Dark photo shoot had a few behind the scenes giggles. For instance, Courtney says Marie had provided her sister with some ideas for Hope’s wardrobe for the photo shoot. Two days prior to the shoot, though, Ashley was afraid she’d need more options.

“So on my lunch break I was trying on outfits for her at Target and sending photos to her iPhone.”

And Reader Weekend fans might be surprised to know Paul’s little secret, as told by Ashley: “Per Bryan’s request, Courtney had to ‘add’ some hair to the side of Paul’s head. Bryan had his hair cut prior to the photo shoot and thought it was just a little too short for Paul Martinez.”

In the end, Marie was thrilled with the cover—one of her favorites ever—made extra fabulous by the special friends who worked together to bring Paul and Hope to life. “I can’t thank Ashley, Bryan, Courtney, Julie, Pam and David enough for their amazing work on the Love After Dark cover,” Marie says. “I think it’s no coincidence that this book has such incredible preorder numbers. It’s all thanks to the couple on the cover!”

Cheryl Serra is Marie’s director of publicity—and one of her bridesmaids 23 years ago this October!

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Marie Force is the New York Times bestselling author of contemporary romance, romantic suspense and erotic romance. Her series include Fatal, First Family, Gansett Island, Butler Vermont, Quantum, Treading Water, Miami Nights and Wild Widows.

Her books have sold more than 10 million copies worldwide, have been translated into more than a dozen languages and have appeared on the New York Times bestseller more than 30 times. She is also a USA Today and Wall Street Journal bestseller, as well as a Speigel bestseller in Germany.

Her goals in life are simple—to finish raising two happy, healthy, productive young adults, to keep writing books for as long as she possibly can and to never be on a flight that makes the news.

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