Rex Royce is the darkest, most damaged character I have ever written. He is a man of around 31-years of age who grew up among the wealthy and privileged class in the Adirondack Lakes Region. He was the only son of multi-millionaire Quentin Durant who was not a nice man. Rex's real name was Alexander Durant. Alexander was different from his father. He was born with his aunt's sensitive, artistic nature. He loved to paint, but was forbidden to do so; told that artists are mentally unstable. His mother was distant and did nothing to intervene between father and son. Alexander had a younger sister with a rare genetic blood disorder, an often fatal type of anemia. Alex spent his life having to hide his passion for art. He would sneak out of the house to paint in a stone cottage a mile and a half away from the main house when everyone else was asleep. He painted 437 works of art that he had to keep hidden from the world there.
Alexander and Alexis got along well, but it shattered his heart when she died as a teenager. He was sent to Harvard to study business with the expectation that he would take over the family business. He had trouble forming relationships, but he was handsome and girl's were attracted to him, so he had numerous, brief affairs in college with no emotional involvement. He had already learned to be remote, distant as an act of self preservation, to protect the sensitive artistic real Alexander.
Quentin and Magdalena Durant died in a plane crash in South America around the time that Alexander graduated from Harvard. He was the sole heir of the Durant estate. As he plotted to make Alexander Durant disappear, he created Rex Royce and shifted ownership of the Durant businesses, properties and finances to Royce's various corporations and holdings. And then Alex simply disappeared, an alleged suicide, jumping off a sailboat that he was sailing alone- never being seen again.
Alex recreated himself as the brilliant, talented yet intensely private and difficult Rex Royce. He bought his great-uncle's estate at Whisper Lake and renovated it into a prestigious art gallery, with living quarters for himself on the third floor. He found three other artists with similar talent and they were assigned private studios on the second floor where he has his own studio (in the west wing). No one is allowed into Royce's studio, nor the room where his finished canvases are stored-ever. The other three artists, however, welcome visitors.
Royce acquires a reputation for brief affairs- basically one night stands. Women are still very attracted to him because he is devilishly handsome and extremely wealthy, but he lets no one get close to him. He immerses himself in his art. His canvases reveal a sensitive man with an eye for the natural beauty in the world. His art is acclaimed and highly sought after. He is a prolific artist. Yet, he is basically a lonely, unhappy man- one who aches to be loved and understood, accepted for who he is, but who has built walls around himself, and constructed a persona that is unapproachable and resistant to love.
And then, along comes young Lucie Palmer, a pretty, young redhead from Saratoga Springs who applies for the job at Royce's gallery of Public Relations and Promotions Manager. She has a college degree, but very little practical experience. She has talent and enthusiasm, and a pure radiance of character that immediately draws Royce's attention. She went to private all girls schools so is not experienced with men. At twenty-three, she is still a virgin. The gallery manager, who is currently having a fling with Royce and thinks that she's going to land a big fish, does not think much of the girl, but Royce intervenes and Lucie is hired.
Lucie is warned never to speak to Royce unless he speaks first. She's a little intimidated by him, but from the very first day he comes up with assignments for her, giving her all his personal business letters to type. He's cold and rude, and seemingly angry all the time with her, even though she is desperately trying her best to do exactly as he wishes. Yet, with each encounter, there is a small sign that there is something more than meets the eye going on. Royce is attracted to her. He finds her fascinating. He begins drawing her. Lucie becomes his muse.
Although he continues to frighten, exasperate, frustrate and anger her- he always does something for her that is unexpected, and is, in retrospect, thoughtful and generous. Rex Royce is a man in conflict with his true self at this point. He desperately wants young Lucie because she inspires him, incites him, inflames him- yet he continues to repel her. He is two men struggling to find a way to hold onto her, to make her understand how much she means to him-and seemingly failing.
Yet, Lucie is drawn to him. He fascinates her, and gradually she comes to realize that although he is distant and difficult, he is always doing incredible, unexpected things for her. He promotes her to gallery manager, he gives her money to help her out when she is nearly broke- and this allows her to find a better living situation than the squalid little apartment above a café that was all she could afford when she first moved to Whisper Lake. He basically shows her that he has trust and faith in her by allowing her to run his gallery. He has a financial and business manager, Johnson Powell (a powerful, intelligent man who is ex-Special Ops who oversees everything related to Royce's personal and professional business matters and knows his secrets).
Lucie likes a young man named Miller at the gallery but there is no romantic spark there. They're just friends. But, she does discover her own desire for Royce after he gifts her with a very sweet painting of a fox vixen. They continue to argue and have misunderstandings though. He is rather passive-aggressive, which is how he has managed to cope with his life- but his budding relationship, his overwhelming desire for her begins to change him, to chisel away at the hard, icy edges of Rex Royce.
Lucie has also inadvertently discovered the Durant family while researching the Maurice Durant mansion in which the gallery is housed. She's followed links and found Quentin and Magdalena in nearby Dana at Bolt Lake, and read about their son Alexander who has mysteriously vanished and is presumed dead, and Alexis who died at seventeen years of age. While visiting another artist to get contracts signed, she idly browses through some Dana yearbooks while the artists takes a phone call, and is jolted to recognize Rex Royce in one of the group pictures. Only Rex is identified as Alexander Durant in the photo caption. Lucie has inadvertently discovered Royce's deepest secret- and Royce is aware that she may know because he had found all the research she had printed out and seen the pages about his own family and gotten furious and panicked about how close she was to the truth about him.
Although he has difficulty reconciling the two sides of his nature- the real sensitive, artistic side of him and the cold, remote, impersonal side he's constructed to protect that true nature against what he perceives as a cruel world trying to destroy it- he is able to relax and loosen up somewhat while with Lucie, the only woman who knows the truth about him, accepts it, and actually loves him for who he really is. He is still afraid to love as deeply as she does- afraid of rejection. He does not trust himself to be able to give Lucie that kind of whole-hearted love in return- yet, in reality, he loves her with his entire heart and soul; he just cannot express that to her.
When she is threatened by an artist with a habit of seducing young females, for sadistic and cruel satisfaction, Royce maneuvers behind the scenes with the aid of Powell to capture Sebastian Rose, although they need to use Lucie as the bait to do so, knowing Rose wants to hurt her, and possibly kill her, to hurt Royce for kicking him out of the gallery and ruining his life. They manage to rescue Lucie, who is relatively unharmed physically, but their relationship suffers a tremendous blow when during this emotionally volatile time she reveals that she's pregnant. Royce had a vasectomy and believes he cannot possibly be the father. His trust in her is shaken to the core. He believes that she's cheated on him because he cannot believe that he could be the father.
Yet-he still loves her. His world revolves around her- and when he learns that she really is leaving the gallery, his world rapidly begins to crumble faster, as if there has been an earthquake in his heart and soul. He has himself tested and is shocked, yet relieved to find that he is capable of fathering a child. He's stressed and worried that the baby will inherit the genetic blood disorder, but he wants Lucie to know that he cared enough about her to have the test even though they aren't speaking to one another at the moment. That night- communicating via text messages- Lucie looks at the report he gave her, realizes what it is and what it means. He has acknowledged that he's the father, that he was wrong. He is curious about the sex of the baby and she has to tell him that it is a girl, knowing how wrenching it will be for him to learn this. And, ultimately- he is right there on her doorstep wanting to be with her, wanting to go forward, wanting to be with her and the baby. He is less like Rex Royce and more like Alexander Durant- yet he will always be two men- the real Alexander and the remote Royce but with Lucie he is the one and only man that she loves- and he is finally able to tell her in words that he loves her too.
When Alexander was a teenager he painted a work depicting a leering demon dragging an innocent red-haired angel down a rough, sulfurous stairway to Hell. The demon had captured the radiant being and was going to destroy her. That is how he envisioned himself with Lucie- she is the radiant being and he is the demon who will destroy her- yet, the angel turns out to be his redemption and salvation. That is the theme of the book- love is Alexander's salvation.
Rex was a difficult character to write because he is so damaged by his past. As he points out, the rich and privileged are no less capable of being violent and abusive than any other class of people despite their wealth. He's been deeply hurt growing up, yet, he and his sister had a close relationship and made life better for one another. He was devastated by her death. He has issues, but from the very first meeting with Lucie in Aea Porter's office at her interview, we already see little signs that something is different. Lucie realizes this also, after the fact. No one talks to him, no one touches him or interacts with him unless he initiates the encounter- yet she unknowingly thanks him and puts her hand out to shake his hand after her interview- and though he hesitates, surprised and caught off guard by this innocent action on her part, he does briefly grasp her hand, and he does speak to her, one brief sentence, before walking out the door. It is out of character for him to have done such a thing. And then, when she is not even settled yet in her tiny office in a former dressing room, he appears with a letter for her to type. He has this desire to see her again, to interact with her. He cannot stay away from her- he is drawn to her. She is his angel personified, and she is his muse...and she is his heart's desire. The book is all about his struggle to reconcile these things, and Lucie's struggle to help him see and accept that he can love and be loved in return.
Readers may not like him- but if you go back to day one and trace his actions throughout the entire book- everything he does, he does for Lucie because he loves her, but doesn't know how to express his feelings otherwise to her. He is generous with her, he takes her for medical treatment after he causes her to get a large sliver, he arranges top medical care for her when she is sick, he provides her the money she needs for gowns for the exhibitions, he gifts her jewelry to wear with the gowns, he promotes her so that she has a better income and the ability to upgrade her living situation, he paints romantic and beautiful pictures for her, he rescues her from the clutches of Rose, not once, but twice, he allows her free reign to run the gallery even when he doesn't always agree with her choices of exhibiting artists or activities...everything he does shows her how he feels about her even though he remains difficult to interact with...but gradually he changes as more of Alexander emerges from behind the cold façade of Rex.
The Subtlety of Light and Shadow was my 2015 Golden Heart contest entry for Romance Writers of America. I am not a true romance writer, but I gave it another shot. I recently received my "report card" back from the contest. Five judges read the novel. Judge #1 rated it 8.90 of 10, Judge #2 rated it 7.20 of 10, Judge #3 rated it 10 of 10 (I LOVE Judge #3, whoever she was!), Judge #4 rated it 5 of 10 (evidently lacking heart for a romance writer!), and Judge #5 rated it 6.30 of 10. Overall, I received a rating of 7.466666667. Generally, I was happy with that score.
In conclusion- although Rex Royce was the hardest character to create, he is the most dear to my heart because every woman secretly wants to rescue a dark, damaged man and 'fix' (love and nurture) him. In this novel, Lucie manages to do just that.