Today it is my pleasure to welcome New York Times bestselling author Christine Warren to HJ!
Hi Christine, welcome to HJ
If you were written about in the newspaper, on the front page what would the headline say? Why?
Romance Author Eaten By Her Own Cats!
Well, maybe not, since I don’t currently have cats, and my dogs would have to be a lot hungrier before they started nibbling than the average cat, but I do joke about being the equivalent of the Crazy Cat Lady who owns too many pets for her own good and frightens away the neighborhood children. I’m an unabashed animal lover, and while I only live with 3 dogs, the smallest one weighs 65 lbs, the next weighs 103 lbs, and the third weighs 127 lbs, so that’s the equivalent of a lottttttttttttttt of cats! My horse equals several hundred more, but he lives at a barn and not the house, so he probably doesn’t count. Plus, he’s a vegetarian.
Are you a plotter or a panster? Tell us a little bit about your writing process.
I’m actually neither nor. Or maybe a little bit of both. When I start a new book, I have in my head who the main characters are and what the primary conflict of the story will be, and I begin the writing process by the seat of my pants. Within 1-3 chapters however, I need to stop and create a plot outline.
I’ve actually tried writing according to each method, but neither one is quite right for me, so I had to individualize my own process. I think that’s actually important for a writer, to realize that no matter how good a system sounds or how well it works for other authors, the “right” writing process is always the one what works best for you. In my case, If I write entirely by the seat of my pants, I end up getting to a place in the story where I’m either hopelessly confused and have no idea where to go next, or I find myself running out of steam and completely devoid of inspiration to finish. By the same token, if I attempt to outline my whole plot before I start writing, I never get anything done, because I keep going back and changing the sequence of events when I realize I missed something important or have contradicted myself somewhere along the way.
To function at my best, I need to dive into the story and let the characters introduce themselves to me and the readers without a lot of preconceptions. I need to get the feel of the story, and for me the only way to do that is to just let it happen. Once I have that foundation laid, then I need to stop and sit down to really think about how to get the characters to the place they need to end up, what obstacles might get in their way, and how the journey will effect them, so that’s when I do an outline. It isn’t very detailed and isn’t very formal, just a sequence of short paragraphs that tell me how A leads to B leads to C leads to HEA. Because all books need a happy ending. At least in my world.
Let’s talk about your newest release: HEART OF STONE
If you had to summarize HEART OF STONE for the readers here…
Hmm, well HEART OF STONE is the story of Ella Harrow, an art historian with a few special abilities who has her world turned upside down when her favorite statue at the museum where she works springs to life and sweeps her right off her feet. Literally. Kees the gargoyle has been asleep for centuries, but when he is startled awake in the presence of an attractive little human, he decides that she holds the key to discovering why his nap has been interrupted, and he intends to hold onto her until he gets some answers.
And then maybe for longer than that.
Please tell us about the characters in your book
Ella Harrow is an art historian who works as a docent and gift shop manager at a museum in Vancouver, BC, Canada. She’s an intelligent and self-sufficient type, maybe a bit more than is good for her. She’s had a rough life, losing her parents as a child, and being plagued by some… unusual occurances over the years. Her past makes it hard for her to let people get to close, but sometimes the universe decides the best thing to do is to confront your fears head on. And some of those heads might have horns…
Kees is a Guardian, an ancient race of warriors summoned to protect the human race from the threat of ancient demonic evil. He and his brethren sleep through the ages, waking only when they are needed and then slipping back into the form of stone statues of fierce gargoyles. The last time he woke, the demons were stirring, but this time he sees no threat, just a small, frightened human with some very interesting abilities. He thinks she might be able to tell him why he’s been awakened and why the servants of the demons seem so intent on her. He just needs to remember that the woman is mortal and that Guardians don’t suffer the burden of emotions. Honestly. They don’t. Not ever. Really.
As you wrote your protagonist was there anything about them that surprised you?
I think I was a little surprised by Ella’s determination. I don’t write weak female characters, but considered the things she had gone through in her life and the barriers she’d created around her heart, I was impressed in spite of myself by how she set out a plan of attack and doggedly moved one foot after another toward her goal. She was like a bulldog once she latched onto her strategy. Even Kees couldn’t move her!
What scene did you most enjoy writing? Why?
By the time I finish writing a book, I can’t ever remember having fun with any of it! It’s such a difficult process most of the time that fun tends to be forgotten beneath all the hard work. But I will admit that the first interaction between my main characters is always one of my favorite parts. It’s just so full of possibilities and excitement and energy. And in this case, some serious confusion!
I have. Lost. My. Mind.
Ella’s first thought upon realizing she was about to be attacked for the second time in one night seemed perfectly reasonable to her. What other explanation could there be?
She should have been safe inside the secured confines of the museum property—at least once Patrick Stanley had been escorted from the premises—because she should have been alone. A man with a knife certainly shouldn’t have emerged from the shadows and come gliding toward her like a slice of walking evil.
Most of all though, she should not have just witnessed a thousand year old statue springing to life in her defense, because things like that simply didn’t happen. Not in the sane world. Statues didn’t move, they didn’t fly, they didn’t knock would-be muggers unconscious, and they certainly didn’t speak to people who had not just slipped over the edge into the land of certifiable lunatics.
Therefore, Ella had lost her mind.
She was almost ready to close her eyes, click her heels together three times and head back to Kansas when the statue turned away from her unconscious attacker and held out a hand.
“I won’t hurt you,” it rumbled.
As if it wasn’t a freakin’ gargoyle!
Him, her impertinent mind quickly corrected. Even with the scrap of fabric masquerading as a loincloth covering up the evidentiary bits, the statue was unquestionably a him. Male. From the top of his horns to the tip of his tail.
Panic robbed Ella of her voice, so that all that emerged of her intended scream was a strangled, high-pitched chirp. Her breath knotted in her throat, and her eyes widened, staring helplessly as the monster in front of her leaned forward, cutting off the light, the sky, the world, until all she could see was him. Chiseled features, sharp fangs, and eyes like pools of starless night sky.
She nearly passed out.
Fortunately, she caught herself before the edges of her vision could go more than a bit hazy.
Ella had no intention of being the dumb blonde girl who got eviscerated before the end of the first act. Not only wasn’t she blonde, she was not dumb, and she was not helpless; and if she found herself almost as scary as she found her present situation, at least she knew that this time, she wouldn’t be hurting any innocent bystanders.
Fifteen years ago, Ella had sworn to herself never to open this door again. She had slammed it shut and mentally nailed it over with stout boards. What was inside it, what was inside her had never brought her anything more than fear and pain, but tonight, it might just bring her freedom.
Turning her head away from the sight of the monster who threatened her, she clenched her teeth, braced herself, and reached for the door handle.
It slammed open with the force of a category six hurricane.
Ella tried to steel herself against the screaming. Now she could close her eyes. Now she had to close her eyes. She couldn’t watch what would follow.
It didn’t matter how many times she told herself that she had no choice, that it was her life at stake, that it wasn’t like the last time. Last time had been an accident. She hadn’t known what would happen, hadn’t even recognized it when her control had snapped and her world had ended. Then, her loss of control had cost her everything. This time, she had nothing left to lose.
If she could have stepped out of the stream and run screaming out of the apartment, she would have, but since the badness flowed straight through her, all she could do was to wait for the monster to let her go, and pray that it happened fast. Then she could start forgetting. Again.
She knew her mind replayed the echoes of old screams, and she concentrated on blocking those out. She frowned when she realized that without the memory-screams, the room sounded oddly quiet. The waves of energy created a rushing sound in her ears, like a constantly incoming tide, but nothing sharp or shrill rose above the steady whoosh. No one was screaming.
Cautiously, she opened her eyes and peered through the fringe of her lashes. The creature who held her hadn’t moved, hadn’t run away, hadn’t disappeared into an explosion of light and smoke. He also hadn’t been killed, wounded, dismembered, beheaded, or otherwise driven insane. Instead, he just looked annoyed.
Well, annoyed and curious.
“Are you planning to stop anytime soon, or do you plan to exhaust yourself into unconsciousness, human?”
What scene was the hardest to write? Why?
I think the hardest was probably the scene late in the book where Ella reveals the truth about her past. It’s a very intense scene, emotionally, plus there’s a lot of information in there that needs to get out without dumping it on the reader. I needed to make it interesting, because it really is the key to Ella’s character, but I also needed to make it clear, factual, and understandable. Plus I had to keep the emotions ramped up and ground the scene in the present while dealing almost exclusively with the past. I can only hope I carried it off well enough.
Ella woke screaming. Choking. Suffocating. Pinned beneath heavy debris, her senses overwhelmed with the smells of burned rubber, gasoline, and blood.
She was twelve years old again.
Someone shouted her name. The sound of it registered because it shouldn’t exist. No one had called for her. Everyone who knew her name was dead. She had killed them.
“Ella, wake up. Now!”
Her eyes opened, and she blinked. She saw no trees, no sky, no twisted pieces of metal. The smell of blood faded. Nothing pained her. Her flesh bore no cuts, no bone-deep contusions. She was awake, she was twenty-seven, and she was back at her parents’ cabin.
Her stomach lurched and she shoved hard at the figure hovering over her. She needed the bathroom. Now.
She ran, knelt, heaved. Her stomach revolted, attempting over and over to throw itself out her open mouth. Or, at least, that was what it felt like. She had nothing much to vomit. She’d never gotten dinner last night. She’d been too busy killing a man.
Again, she heaved.
Behind her, she felt Kees’s presence. The gargoyle stood in the door to the small bathroom, barely squeezing himself inside. She wanted to shout at him to leave her alone. To go away. To take the car and go, drive himself somewhere else and leave her here, out in the woods. Where she couldn’t hurt anyone else. Ever.
Tears streamed down her face, and she knew they weren’t caused only by the violent spasms of nausea. She tried to choke back the sobs, but that only made her sick again. Her arms clasped the rim of the toilet bowl and she wanted, more than anything else, to die.
A hand, huge but achingly gentle, reached out and gathered the strands of her hair, pulling it out of the way. The side of a lethally sharp claw scraped tenderly against her skin as it moved the tendrils that tears and saliva had glued to her cheeks. The touch felt like a benediction, cool against her flushed face, gentle and loving, and that only made Ella weep harder.
She didn’t deserve it. She didn’t deserve to be loved.
She retched again, her empty stomach convulsing painfully, but she had nothing left to bring up now. Not even bile came out. She spit weakly and sank back onto her heels. Laying her forehead against the cool toilet seat, she shook and ached and wept.
“Shh, sweet girl,” Kees crooned. “Poor little human. Come on now. I’ve got you.”
His arms came around her, gathering her up against his chest. She fought his touch at first, but she felt drained of strength, and he seemed not to even notice her feeble struggles. He cradled her close and carried her back into the bedroom. Once again, he laid her down on the cool, crisp sheets and stood.
Ella lay still. She had her eyes closed, blocking out everything. She felt chilled, almost freezing, but she didn’t reach for the quilt, didn’t try to cover herself. She just lay there, stiff and silent, and the tears continued to roll down her cheeks.
A moment later, she felt the bed dip. Kees sat down beside her and slid an arm beneath her shoulders, raising her slightly. The cool edge of a drinking glass touched her lips.
She turned her head away, but the glass followed. In the end, she sipped. It was just easier.
The water flowed over her tongue, helping to wash away the taste of bile. She waited for her stomach to contract, but it felt as if even the internal organ was weary. The trickle went down smoothly, and she accepted another.
Kees eased her back onto the pillows. She heard the click of the glass settling on the bedside table, then felt the rough nap of a wet washcloth against her forehead. He bathed her face like a child, then abandoned the cloth and shifted her across the mattress. She didn’t open her eyes, but she felt him stretch out beside her and did nothing.
Not until his arms came around her and he pulled her into his embrace did she renew her struggles.
Once again, he ignored them. He let her buck and writhe, beat his chest and kick his knees and shins. He paid no attention to her foul language as she cursed him in every way she could think of. He simply held her, pressed close to his chest, until she ran out of steam.
When she quieted, he shifted their positions, rolling onto his back and dragging her on top of him. He settled her head on his shoulder and brought his wings forward, wrapping them around her like a living blanket. She let him, too tired to fight, too tired to move.
Too tired to breathe.
She felt him lift his head, felt the tender press of his lips against her forehead, then heard the words rumble up from his chest.
Who would you cast in the role of your characters if your book were optioned for a movie?
Oh, this is so hard. I have a really difficult time with the idea of casting familiar faces as my characters. No known actors are ever right. I’m also not the type of writers who uses photos of models or actors as inspiration when I’m writing. I picture my characters so clearly in my head that it’s impossible to get close to them in reality. The thought makes me wince. When I was thinking of Kees, I didn’t look for photos, but for artwork done by fantasy artists, and even then I couldn’t find anything quite right. Honestly, for him the only thing that springs to mind is the animated character of Goliath from the old television cartoon series Gargoyles. He doesn’t look like my Kees, but the way his features aren’t quite human comes closest to my vision of my hero.
For Ella… Hmm… Most actresses are so striking that I can’t picture any of them blending into the woodwork like Ella tries to do. I think the closest I can come is if someone had the magical power to make Zooey Deschanel a bit less beautiful…
If you could have given your characters one piece of advice before the opening pages of the book, what would it be and why?
I think it would be the same for both of them: Let go! The harder you try to struggle against Fate, the more you lose control. Give in and things will work out much faster and cleaner. Of course, that would make for a much less interesting book…!
What are you currently working on? What other releases do you have planned for 2014?
I’m currently writing the second book in my Guardians series, the sequel to HEART OF STONE. It features Ella’s friend Felicity (Fil), who appears via telephone in HEART OF STONE. She’s getting dragged into the world of the Guardians whether she’s ready or not (spoiler alert: she’s really NOT), but she’s a very different character than Ella, so it’s interesting to see how she deals with events in her own unique way. I believe that book will be released in fall or winter of 2014.
Where can readers get in touch with you?
I love hearing from readers! I can always be reached via email sent to Christine@ChristineWarren.net. I tend to store up emails while I’m writing and only answers them in batches, so replies might be delayed, but I read and treasure every one. Readers can also find out about my thoughts, my projects, my pets, and my pet peeves by following me on Twitter as @chrstinewarren (yes, the first “i” is missing) or checking out my Facebook page, as Christine Warren author.
Thanks for blogging at HJ!
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Ella Harrow fully supported the notion that people with excessive amounts of money should donate large sums of it to worthy causes, and she counted her employer—the Vancouver Museum of Art & History—as among the worthiest. She just wished the donors would hand over the cash without wanting to talk to her first.
Five minutes after the last guest of the Friday evening fundraising gala had exited the front doors of Georgia House, the historic building that housed the main museum gallery, Ella gave in to the pressure she’d felt building all through the evening. She rolled her eyes, blew a raspberry, and thumbed her nose simultaneously. It was childish of her, but satisfying.
Béatrice Boucher, the only other staff member still present laughed and shook her head. “Now, Ella, tell me how you really feel about these little events.”
Ella shot her boss a narrow-eyed glare. “They’re my favorites, Bea. Really.”
Drinking wine and nibbling canapés might not sound like a year in a Stalinist gulag, but having to do it in the midst of five hundred elegantly dressed strangers, while maintaining a polite smile in the face of their inane conversations and pretending to laugh at their lame jokes, ranked even worse in Ella’s mind. She’d rather volunteer for the hard labor.
“I never would have guessed,” Bea said, locking the heavy antique entrance doors. After rattling the knobs once to check the bolts, she turned to Ella and waved her hands in a shooing motion. “Fly. Be free. You’ve done your penance for this fiscal quarter. I’ll hustle the caterers out through the kitchens and lock up that side. You can sneak out the garden gate the way you usually do and lock the terrace doors on your way out.”
“Don’t look a gift horse, mon amie. Run while you can, before I come up with some new programs to spend all those lovely donations on and put you back to work.”
“I’m already halfway home.”
Ella listened to her friend and colleague’s laughter follow her through the hall and into the historic mansion’s stately ballroom, which now housed an impression collection of paintings, antique furniture, and historic objets d’arts. She’d worked for the assistant curator for more than two years now, and Bea knew her well enough to understand that when Ella said she hated crowds and that making small talk with strangers gave her hives, she wasn’t kidding.
She scratched absently at her arms beneath her embellished cardigan—her half-hearted nod to the event’s formal dress code—and stepped out into the crisp night air. Pausing on the paving stones, she took a moment to breathe deeply and savor the silence. The solitude. For the first time in hours, her nerves began to unwind.
For some people, Ella knew, shyness made interacting with strangers an uncomfortable and embarrassing experience, but Ella wasn’t shy; she was terrified. Crowds scared her, more than spiders, more than the threat of global war, more than the boogeyman.
With people all around her, she could never predict what might happen, and the constant tension of holding onto her self-control made her head pound and her nerves fray. Being an anti-social hermit just made life easier.
Unfortunately, the hermit gig didn’t pay much, and Ella was addicted to living indoors and eating regularly, so she had to work, which meant dealing with people on a daily basis. At the museum, at least most of the people she met were on their best behavior, though, and being surrounded by the art made the unwelcome company almost bearable. When she gave tours as a docent, she could concentrate on her speech and on the works she pointed out to visitors to the collection; when managing the gift shop, she could smile politely and use professionalism to keep people at bay.
Most days, things went perfectly smoothly. It was only at times like this, when she had to deal with a special event and potential donors that Ella ended her day feeling as if she’d been dragged behind a car over a field of broken glass.
A few minutes of peace, she told herself. A few minutes of quiet and isolation, and she’d be fine again. The ache in her head would ease. She’d even be able to face the bus ride home; at this hour, it wouldn’t be crowded, and in twenty minutes, she could lock the door of her apartment and wallow in her Fortress of Solitude.
Taking a deep breath, Ella drew in the autumnal scent of drying leaves and cool breezes. Her head fell back as she closed her eyes and rolled her shoulders against the tension knotted there. She’d take a minute, just a minute, to herself on the ballroom terrace, her favorite spot in the entire museum, before she locked up and headed a home. Just a minute to collect herself, to shore up her defenses for the short trip home.
The lighting out here was dim, especially with the caterer’s lamps removed and the museum shut down for the night. A full moon partially obscured by drifting clouds made it possible to see, but somehow the silvery sheen it cast only made the quiet of the gardens deeper and reminded Ella of the lateness of the hour. She enjoyed the quiet hours of the night, enjoyed the sheen of the moonlight playing on the artful plantings and graceful sculptures scattered through the museum garden.
She enjoyed that she’d survived the ordeal of the party and wouldn’t have to do anything else so annoying for at least another three months. Until, as Bea had hinted, the next fiscal quarter.
“I think this is the first time I’ve seen you alone all evening, Ella.”
Stifling a shriek, she clenched her fists and spun around.
She also jumped, the ankle straps of her black Mary Janes the only things keeping her from literally coming out of her shoes. Adrenaline rushed through her, making her heart pound in her ears and her hands come up defensively. Breath catching, she blinked and caught sight of the person whose words had just scared her witless.
She should have recognized the voice. Smooth and slick, it simultaneously sent shivers racing across her skin and raised the hairs on the back of her neck. Stanley was rich, handsome, and sophisticated, one of the most sought after bachelors in British Columbia, and a third generation patron the museum. He had a movie star’s smile and the kind of charisma that drew people to him like lemmings to a cliff face.
He also creeped Ella the hell out, especially when she caught him repeatedly staring at her the way he’d been doing all evening. She’d thought he had gone with the other guests. She’d thought she could relax.
“Mr. Stanley. You startled me,” she managed after a minute, once her vocal chords had unclenched and restored her power of speech. “I had no idea anyone was still here. The event ended almost an hour ago.”
Stanley stood less than ten feet away on the darkened terrace, which was about twenty feet too close for Ella’s comfort. Normally, strangers couldn’t get that near her without her sensing their presence, especially the ones who made her uncomfortable. She’d gotten very good at being difficult to surprise.
“I’m aware, but I found that there were still some things around here tonight for me to admire.” He ambled toward her, his hands buried in the pockets of his tailored trousers and his attention fixed uncomfortably on her neckline.
Ella frowned. She’d worn a simple black sheath with a high neck, a modest hem, and the sparkly cardigan over the top. She’d even paired the outfit with dark hose, which she normally loathed, but she knew there wasn’t an inch of exposed skin below her hyoid bone for him to look at. That made the man’s fixation on her even more disturbing, somehow.
She had met Stanley for the first time almost two years ago, shortly after she’d started working at the museum. He’d come out of a meeting with Bea and the director, Bea’s boss, just as Ella had been ending a tour in the mansion’s front hall.
When her guests had scattered, Bea had waved her over and introduced her to both Dr. Maurice Lefavreau and one of the museum’s greatest benefactors. Even with her mental shields still up from interacting with the tour group, something about Stanley had slipped through Ella’s defenses and convinced her that this was a man she’d much prefer to keep at the greatest possible distance in the future.
Until tonight, she’d thought she’d been doing a pretty good job of it.
Suppressing the slight, irrational discomfort the man’s presence always inspired, she lifted her chin and pasted on her best professional smile—the one with no actual warmth anywhere near it.
“We do have an impressive collection,” she remark distantly, “and the new exhibit of Légaré landscapes is particularly worth an extended study. You should make it a point to come back on another day. The natural light does make quite a difference to the viewing.”
Turning, Ella began to move toward the French doors, gesturing for him to join her. “Allow me to walk you to the front, Mr. Stanley. I believe Dr. Boucher has already locked the doors, but I’d be happy to let you out.”
She made a concerted effort to keep Stanley in her vision, but the man seemed more amused by her tactics than inclined to play along with her. He stood where he was until she drew even with him, then with a speed she hadn’t anticipated, his hand darted out and grabbed her arm. He jerked her to a stop, nearly upsetting her balance.
“Don’t be in such a hurry, Ella,” he purred, holding her closely enough that she could feel the clammy heat of his breath against her cheek. “It’s a beautiful night. Surely you can spare a few minutes to enjoy it. With me.”
Her stomach heaved.
At the best of times, Ella avoided touching strangers. Even when she kept her guard up, sometimes she could sense things about them. Right now, she sensed a sickly sort of malevolence that made her want a swift escape and a long, hot shower.
Frozen like a field mouse facing down a hungry fox, she stared into Stanley’s handsome features and fought not to let the panic overwhelm her. This was another of the reasons why she worked so hard to keep people at a distance, because she could never tell when the slightest touch would rip open her senses and let the buffeting whirlwinds of the unnatural energy that surrounded her threaten to send her spinning into the eye of the storm.
And when Ella got swept into the eye, very scary things happened.
Dizziness threatened, but Ella ruthlessly pushed it back. She blinked to clear her vision and concentrated hard on seeing only the stark reality of the objects around her—Stanley’s intense, predatory stare, the majestic old elm tree that overhung the space between the garden stairs, the protective, crouching presence of the medieval gargoyle statue looming in the background.
A hysterical laugh bubbled up in her throat when Ella realized that if that ancient French sculptor had really wanted to scare people, he would have carved a statue that looked less like a demonic guardian and more like a feckless, morally bankrupt billionaire. No monster had ever scared her the way this human man was doing.
Swallowing hard, Ella forced back the nausea and fought for control. Her head spun and her ears buzzed with the low drone of a thousand bees, signs that she’d let her guard down.
She could tell herself that she couldn’t have known that she wasn’t alone out here, that the museum was closed, and that Patrick Stanley had no business lurking in the shadows when his invitation to Georgia House had expired the minute the fundraising event had ended. None of that, however, did her any good.
Pulses of restless energy battered at her weakened barriers, but she refused to let it overwhelm her. If it did, not only would she be unable to fend off Stanley’s advances, she’d find herself barely able to function for days, if not weeks, to come.
And that wasn’t even considering what other things might happen here in this place full of history and artifacts. Old things, especially old things full of talent and beauty, held power of their own. Things could be destroyed if she was so weak as to lose control. If she couldn’t hang on, those same things could feed the madness.
Ella couldn’t let that happen.
Frantically, she shored up her defenses, plugging hole after hole that the black, poisonous energy rolling off Stanley tried to slip through. She could only be grateful that the cardigan she wore had kept his skin from touching hers. If it hadn’t, she’d be halfway to comatose by now.
“Mr. Stanley, I’m not sure what you’re suggesting, but it’s very late, and the museum is closed.” Her voice sounded more like a tortured croak than a confident dismissal, but she plunged ahead regardless. “Dr. Boucher and I have each worked a very long day, and I, for one, would like to return home now. Please let me go.”
Stanley’s eyes, pale blue and cold, hardened along with his grip. His fingers dug into the flesh of her upper arm with enough force to leave bruises. “I’m sure Dr. Boucher would be the first to tell you that alienating one of this museum’s largest benefactors is a poor way to do your job, Ella, my sweet. But even if she were short-sighted enough not to, I’m more than happy to correct her oversight.”
His other hand shot up and curled around her throat, nearly cutting off her air supply. What his fingers couldn’t quite accomplish, his mouth did. It attacked hers with brutal force, crushing her lips back against her teeth until she tasted blood.
Then, she tasted fury.
For an instant, her control waivered. The unmuffled touch of this man’s tainted skin on hers opened her up to the most intense surge of murky energy, and she could feel the dark, vicious nature of him trying to infiltrate her defenses.
Part of her—that dark, secret part she kept imprisoned behind thick stone walls and heavy steel doors—wanted her to just let go, to stop fighting so hard to control the strange ability she’d always both feared and hated, to just let whatever wanted to happen, happen. No one would blame her. She was only defending herself.
As she felt the familiar, stomach-churning sensation of the energy welling up under her skin, she toyed with letting go, letting it not just bubble to the surface, but explode. The power inside her would stop Stanley in his tracks.
It might also stop him. Permanently.
The temptation of it shook her. Memories of what had happened the last time she’d given in to the temptation flooded her. She recalled what it meant to stop fighting, back when she’d been just a child and the energy battering at her had left her feeling overwhelmed, alone and hopeless, a freak of nature with a decidedly unnatural talent.
The power crawled over her skin, and she fought to pull it back. She couldn’t let that happen again.
Without warning, Stanley jerked back, releasing her mouth and leaving her with the taste of her own blood in her mouth.
His hand shifted on her throat, forcing her head up, angling it to the side until the moonlight caught and illuminated her features. His eyes glittered with lust and fury.
And something else, something that frightened Ella more than even the assault. It twisted his lips and carved lines into the surface handsomeness of his features, transforming them into a macabre mask of evil.
He stared at her for a long moment, tracing each line and expression on her face. Speculation lit his eyes, along with a dark, flickering flame Ella’s instincts immediately identified as madness.
“Well, well, aren’t you a surprise, little Ella.” His voice hissed in the darkness, soft and sharp and unctuous. “I never would have guessed you might have such . . . hidden depths, my dear. I see now that I’m going to have to get to know you a great deal better.”