She was kind enough to write a guest post for us.
Thank you Sharon! :-)
The Trouble with Heroes by Sharon Ashwood
Heroes can be the most frustrating, irritating, wrong-headed, stubborn, idiotic creatures to write. Don’t get me wrong. We all love them. They’re handsome, strong, and willing to change diapers or jump out of airplanes on cue—except they don’t want to talk about it. Yes, I know I’m talking about imaginary people, but I am absolutely certain that some days they would rather pluck out their eyeballs than inform the author about how they feel. Given the fact we’re storytelling here, that’s not a big help.
Case in point: the Horsemen series revolves around four paranormal super-spies—three vampires and a werewolf. All are very different personalities, ranging from joker to daredevil to the smart-and-silent type. As I was writing their stories, they gleefully dominated the page through car chases and explosions—but drew a firm line when it came to revealing their inner selves. I might be their creator, but some things were none of my business. Yeah, right. Who has control of the delete key, fellas?
Sam, the hero of POSSESSED BY A WARRIOR, came around with a bit of patience. He’s a straight shooter, honorable to the last, and it made sense that he eventually cooperated. His friend, Dr. Mark Winspear of POSSESSED BY AN IMMORTAL, was another matter. Sure, he walked into my head with no problem and listened to what I, as his author, had to say. However, our first encounters revealed little of what was going on in his mind. Motivation? Deep emotion? His darkest fears and brightest hopes? Nope, nope, and nope. Frustrating as that was, I was on deadline and I just had to go on faith that Dr. Bedside Manner would spill the beans before I hit a creative wall.
There are those who firmly believe authors need to be in control of their characters. I say that’s true, but I also believe giving them space works wonders. For the good doctor and me, a breakthrough came very unexpectedly. I was writing a scene about his past—dungeons, blood feuds, and high drama—when revelation finally hit. Deep and gritty emotion, so hard to find before that point, suddenly flooded in. I finally understood what had built the walls around Mark’s soul. No wonder evasiveness was so much a part of him! As I finally connected with his character, I actually turned cold and had to stop typing. My character, or my subconscious, or maybe the muse had given me a gift.
And then I went back to the beginning and rewrote the book. Sometimes what a character doesn’t tell you is just as informative as their life story. Sometimes they need to tell you—or show you—in their own time. The key is to trust that it will come, and eventually they’ll trust you.
So, yes, I want to strangle my heroes on a regular basis. And yet, in the end, the boys and I work well together for one very good reason. Like all real heroes, when they finally talk, they speak from their hearts. As rough or difficult as their stories may be, my job is to stay out of the way and just convey what I’m told as purely as I can. Does it show in the end product? I think it does. Do you?
A dazzling dress is wreaking havoc—and costing lives…
The violent death of her uncle sends Chloe Anderson reeling—and rushing to his estate. As coexecutor of Jack's will, she assumes that he has left her something. What she doesn't expect is a bejeweled wedding gown with a note warning her to trust only his business partner—dark, mysterious and sexy Sam Ralston.
Chloe's been burned in love, but never bitten, and there's something about Sam that keeps drawing her in, despite her fears. The attraction is mutual, intense, and it takes all of Sam's willpower to hide his fangs. With Chloe's career at stake and murderous thieves hot on their trail, the vampire vows to protect her. But can he save her from himself?
After witnessing a murder, Bree Meadows is on the run with her young son. But the bad guys are in hot pursuit. Dropped in the middle of nowhere amid a torrential thunderstorm, things look pretty grim. To make matters worse, her son is in desperate need of medical attention.
Mark Winspear has been alone for too long. When the vampire senses a gorgeous female nearby, he discovers that her swift, selfless courage pulls at his instincts. The doctor has history with the same men who are after Bree—and he's ready for revenge. Working together now, they discover an attraction that might save them both—if they're lucky.
Mark Winspear listened to the sounds outside his cabin, hearing each rustle of branch and bird. The cabin was sparsely furnished, the only light an orange glow spilling from the cast-iron stove. The dark wood walls disappeared into the shadows, giving the impression of a cave. Mark tossed another log into the stove’s maw, watching as crimson sparks swirled. In a moment, fresh yellow flames licked at the wood. He settled back into his threadbare easy chair, letting the worn fabric embrace him.
The scene was domestic, even dull, but it was overdue. Out here, in the back of beyond, he could be what he was: a wild beast and solitary hunter. A vampire. Most of all, he could be alone. After five hundred years plus, he’d become less of a people person.
He willed his shoulders to relax, but his instincts forbade it. Tonight, something was different. His vampire hearing was on alert, the night birds and small furred creatures whispering of something new. An invader. Mark’s fingers gripped the ragged arms of the chair. Who dares to come here?
He rose, gliding to the cupboard beside the stove. He unlocked it using a key he hung around his neck. Inside, he kept a rifle and his pistol—a Browning Hi-Power—and a curved kukri knife. Logic said to take one of the guns, but it would be infinitely more satisfying to hunt as a vampire with fang and hunger, and not with human weapons. Still, there were other hunters who knew exactly how to kill his kind. As a compromise, he picked up the knife and relocked the cupboard.
He did not leave by the front door. Instead, he climbed the narrow staircase to the loft and raised the sash window. Clean, cold air rushed in on a gust of wind. Mark crouched by the sill, listening. He zeroed in on the disturbance within seconds. Footsteps. Human. Coming this way, no doubt drawn by the firelight in the cabin window.
Mark searched the darkness for any sign of movement. Feathery cedars, tall pine and thick fir trees blended their heady scents in the pounding rain. Enemies aplenty hunted him, many of them professionals. Trapping him here at the cabin, when he was alone, was a logical choice.
Whoever came would be the best—or they would be dinner. He worked for the Company, what his friend Faran Kenyon laughingly called an army of supernatural superspies. Kings and presidents called when their own experts failed. Solving kidnappings, thefts, smuggling and every other kind of nefarious plot was the bread-and-butter work of Company agents. Dr. Mark Winspear preferred healing people, but he had other skills that came in handy more often than he cared to admit.
In a single smooth move he was perched on the window frame, and then sprang to a nearby tree. The wet, rough bark scraped his palms as he moved from one tree to another, positioning himself for a view of the intruder. Where the limbs were too soft to bear his weight, he used his vampire abilities to fly silently from trunk to trunk. Branches snagged his hair and shoulders, dripping rivulets of rain down his neck. Mark ignored the discomfort and focused on the ground below.
Territorial instincts triggered a wave of hot anger. These were his hunting grounds. Whoever dared to enter would feel his wrath. He leaped, silent and agile as a cat, barely a branch crackling as he moved.
A rare smile played on Mark’s lips as he caught a whiff of warm blood. Warm female blood. It made his mouth water. Clever, to send a female assassin. No doubt she was a seductress, meant to disarm him. He knew better. Women killed just as easily, sometimes better, than their brothers.
Nice try. After a steady diet of black-tailed deer—well, he was ready for dessert.
Then he saw her, stumbling through the trees. She’d found the deer track that passed for a path and was making good progress, but she didn’t move like someone accustomed to the woods. He leaned a little farther, balancing in the perfect spot to peer between the branches. The hood of her coat was pulled up, so he could tell little outside the fact that she was tall for a woman, around five-nine. No flashlight. Obviously, she was trying to sneak up to the house.
Mark shifted his weight, poised to drop on top of the woman as she passed beneath his tree. Then shock rippled through him as he saw she was leading a small child by the hand. In his surprise, his foot nearly slipped. Who took a kid through the woods on a night like this?
A cougar stole through the brush a dozen yards behind. Adrenaline tightened his muscles. No! One rush and a spring, and the cat would have the child.
Mark dropped between the woman and the cat. His boots landed with a hollow thud on the needle-strewn path. The woman stumbled, letting out a yell of surprise. Mark rose, turning to see both her and the cougar. The cat padded backward a few steps, ears flattening.
A need to protect his domain flashed through Mark. He gave a warning growl, hoping the cat would turn and run. Compact and muscular, this male was nine feet from nose to tail-tip and as heavy as a grown man. Mark suspected it was also every bit as smart.
Except tonight. Instead of running, the cougar bared its fangs in a rattling hiss.
It was too much for the woman. She bolted, dragging the child with her, tripping and crashing as she went. The cat lunged forward, but Mark was there in an instant, crouched in its path. The cougar swiped a huge paw. Mark caught it before the massive claws touched his flesh. The cat strained against his grip, rearing up. Mark grabbed both front legs, struggling against the steel of its muscles and tendons. If he had been human, the cougar would have flayed him in a heartbeat.
With a roar, Mark thrust the cat away, the force of it making the creature slide and skitter into the brush.
“Not tonight,” he said evenly, using a touch of vampire compulsion. “This prey is mine.”
The cougar gave a long, slow blink, ears flat against its head. Mark waited. The moment stretched, the cat lashing the ground with its tail, its emerald eyes sizing Mark up, choosing whether or not to obey. Mark raised the knife, letting the cougar see it. The cougar hissed again, a nightmare of long, ivory fangs.
Go. I don’t want to kill you. The moment stretched, Mark still and silent, every muscle poised to strike.
At last the tension broke. With a disgusted swish of its tail, the cougar wheeled and stalked away, shoulders hunched with displeasure. Mark watched it go, relieved to avoid the fight. Good hunting, brother.
He retreated a step, then two, making sure the cat did not change its mind. At last, Mark turned and sprinted after the woman, dodging roots and low branches. She hadn’t gone far. Mark caught another wafting cloud of warm, human blood-scent, now spiced with extra fear.
She ran, too much like a doe fleeing through the woods. Mark’s instincts to chase and devour sparked and flared, roused by her slender, panicked form.
Mark grabbed the woman’s shoulder. She gasped, making the sound of someone too scared to scream. He spun her around, her feet slipping on the wet ground. His grip tightened as she started to fall, but she sprang back with another noise of pure terror, pushing the child behind her.
“Stop!” he commanded, putting a snap into the word.
She obeyed, hunched against the rain, face hidden by the hood except for a pale, pointed chin. Her feet were planted wide, as if to launch herself at him if he so much as twitched in the direction of her child. The cougar had nothing on a mother protecting her young.
“Please,” she demanded, voice shaking. She didn’t say what she pleaded for. There was no need. They both knew he could be a threat—he knew exactly how much.
Mark didn’t answer at once, but took the time to study her. She was wearing a tan trench coat with half the forest stuck to its sodden hem. Her boots were sturdy tan leather, scuffed and splotched with mud. The only other feature he could make out was her hands, long fingers ending in short, unpainted nails. Capable hands. They were half-curled, ready to lash out.
“Where’s the cat?” Her voice was nearly lost beneath the sound of the rain.
“I scared it off. What are you doing here?” he asked in turn, his voice deceptively soft. She smelled so good, his stomach tightened with desire and hunger.
“What does it matter to you?” she snapped back. “I mean, do you live here? Where’s the road to the nearest town?”
She was trying to sound brave, but he could hear her pulse racing with terror. To a predator, fear meant food. He barely resisted the urge to lick his lips. “You’re trespassing.”
“My bad. It’s kind of dark out.”
“A person doesn’t just take a wrong turn out here. The next house is miles away.”
“We walked up from the beach.”
That puzzled him. “You came by boat?”
He hadn’t heard a motor, but the pounding rain might have drowned it out. Still, something was very off. She was extremely wet, the skirts of her coat soaked through and stinking of saltwater, as if she’d waded to shore.
The child peered around her legs, his small white face pinched with cold. Mark felt a stab of anger. “You took your boy for a sail on a night like this?”
The woman’s chin lifted to a stubborn angle. “I made a mistake.”
“I’d say so.”
Mark was growing impatient, rain trickling down his collar. He’d been expecting assassins. He’d never met a professional killer with a child in tow, but such things weren’t impossible. Some would do anything to make a target drop his guard. All that fear he smelled didn’t make her innocent.
He lunged forward and yanked her hood back, wanting to see the woman’s face.
“Hey!” She blinked against the rain, her mouth opening in a startled gasp. It was a nice mouth, wide and soft and giving her features a vulnerable, unconventional beauty. Her face was more long than oval, framed by squiggling tendrils of rain-soaked hair.
“Who are you?” he demanded. She was lovely. Desire rose in a sudden heat, but this time it held more lust than appetite.
“Back off!” She crouched, wrapping her arms around the boy and scooping him onto her hip. The fiercely protective gesture put her body between Mark and the youngster. The swift, selfless courage pulled at his instincts. Whoever this woman was, she was magnificent.
But the child made no more sound than a ghost, and that silence dragged Mark’s attention away from the female. The boy has to be sick or exhausted. He’s cold and wet and it’s dark and his mother is frightened. Most kids would be crying by now. This one hasn’t made a peep.
“I apologize.” Mark frowned, his tone making the statement a lie. “Who are you?”
She backed away. “Bree. Who are you?”
“Mark. Is that your son?”
“Yes.” She shifted uncomfortably, rain trickling down her face. The moment dragged. “Is that your cabin?” she finally asked, her tone torn between need and reluctance. “It’s cold out here.”
Mark bristled, edgy. No one came to his property by accident—it was too far from civilization. Then again, his unexpected guests weren’t going to survive the night without shelter. Kill or protect. Food or willing flesh. Be the vampire, or be the healer. For centuries, the debate had worn on Mark, eventually driving him to his island retreat. He wasn’t a monster when there was no one to kill. He liked it that way. This woman was interrupting his peace.
Still, a good hunter never harmed a mother with fragile young. “Come inside. Your boy needs to get out of the rain.”
“Thank you.” The woman bowed her head, her expression a mix of relief and new worries. She didn’t trust him. Smart woman.
Mark took her elbow, steering her down the path rather than letting her walk behind him. He might be taking pity on the woman, but he still didn’t trust her. After climbing the wooden steps to the cabin and opening the door, he gave Bree a gentle push inside.
After shuffling forward a few steps, she stopped, reminding him of an automaton winding down. Water dripped from her clothes, puddling on the old, dark wood of the floor. She shivered with cold as she let the boy slide from her hip to stand clutching her thigh. He saw the child at least was dryer, as if she’d done her best to keep him out of the water.
Mark knelt to stoke the fire in the stove, keeping one eye on his visitor. The cast-iron door squeaked as he opened it, a blast of hot air lifting the hair from his face. Bree drifted closer, lured by the heat. Pressing himself to her side, the boy clung to her hand.
The firelight played on her skin, highlighting the gentle flare of her cheekbones. She unbuttoned her coat with her free hand, then pushed back her long, wet tangle of hair. The gesture was slow, almost listless. Bree was a woman at the limit of her strength.
“The fire feels so good,” she said softly. She lowered the khaki backpack she carried to the floor. It sagged into a damp heap.
Mark studied her, his curiosity every bit as hot as the fire. “How long were you out there?”
“I’m not sure. It felt like hours, but it couldn’t have been that long.”
“Where did you sail from?”
She didn’t reply, but stared into the burning core of the stove. A few wisps of hair were already drying, curling into pale waves.
Mark waited in the silence. He could use vampire power to compel the answer, but he chose to be patient. Something else had drawn his attention. Crouched before the stove, he was level with the boy. The child was good-looking, dark-haired, but thin. Mark caught his gaze just long enough to see a lively intelligence before the brown eyes shied away. Once again, Mark noticed that the boy never spoke. Was he simply afraid? Or was it more than that?
Dark circles ringed the child’s eyes. He was exhausted, thin and probably anemic. Mark had medical training, but any vampire could have diagnosed as much. The boy’s scent was wrong. “Your son is ill.”
Bree pulled the boy a fraction closer. “Jonathan’s just tired.” A look of chagrin flickered across her face, as if she hadn’t meant to give even that much away.
“I’m a doctor,” Mark said. “You’d better let me take a look.”
Bree looked at him sharply, her full lips parting as if to protest, then pressing into a tight line. “No.”
The refusal didn’t surprise him. The protective arm she had curled around the boy’s shoulders said everything, but Mark didn’t give in. “I might be able to help.”
“I’ve taken him to a G.P. already, and they sent me to a specialist.”
“They were no help.”
Mark offered a smile. “Whoever they were, I’m better.” Suddenly, illogically, it was important to prove it. It had become a challenge. Beware your pride. It would be easier to just send her on her way.
Her brow furrowed, as if she didn’t know how to reply. As Mark rose to his feet, Bree tilted her head slightly to watch his face. He was half a head taller, so he had to look down into her eyes.
Beneath the scent of woods and ocean, there was the warm, earthy smell of female, sweet as sun-warmed peaches. The cabin, with its shabby chair and dark shadows, seemed slightly shocked by the female presence. Or maybe that was just him. Somewhere in the past few minutes she’d morphed in his mind from food to mother to woman. It had been a long time since he’d thought about a mortal female that way. It was almost a novelty.
Last month, I shared an excerpt from Possessed By A Warrior. This time I'm sharing one from Possessed By An Immortal. Enjoy!
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