Archive for the ‘Berkley’ Category

Heroes, Villains and In-Between-Meljean Brook

Walking the Plank – Pirates and Heroes

Reading through these fabulous guest posts on villains, heroes, and everything in between, one thing is perfectly clear: There is a point of no return for these characters, when they’ve done something irredeemable. Much like walking a plank, you can only go so far before falling into some shark-filled, treacherous waters, with little hope of escape – and if the character is bad enough, you might even hope that he’s eaten or drowns.

It’s also perfectly clear that the point shifts, depending on the reader.

This was something that I thought about constantly while writing The Iron Duke. My hero, Rhys Trahaearn, isn’t a nice guy. He’s arrogant and overbearing, and his moral center pretty skewed. A former pirate, he was a thief, and he didn’t hesitate to kill anyone who threatened him, his crew, or his ship. Sure, he had his reasons and a tortured history – and depending on where a person’s perspective, he might have even been justified in those reasons: the law failed him and many other people, and so he chose lawlessness.

Now, the worldbuilding itself gives him a little more leeway there on redeemable/irredeemable, because the pirate stuff he does would never fly in, say, a contemporary novel. No question, he’d be an out-and-out bad guy if the setting was modern day America (or Somalia). His actions would be unforgiveable. Much like the serial killer of the modern suspense novel, the excuse of a bad childhood only goes so far (but then you make that serial killer only murder bad guys, and you’ve got a Dexter – a hero of another sort).

So Rhys has a history that pushes him close to the edge of that plank, but there are other circumstances that keep him from falling overboard: because he freed England from an oppressive regime, he’s also considered a national hero. Even the heroine, who doesn’t like his pirating ways at all, is grateful to him for that.

And although Rhys isn’t a pirate anymore by the opening of the novel, he still often does exactly as he wants without considering what others want or need – and there’s always a point where overbearing and alpha can turn into: he’s a jerk.

I pushed Rhys to that jerky line a couple of times – I pushed him to the edge of that plank – pretty deliberately. For some readers, I know that means he goes straight over, because their plank is shorter than mine. There’s one scene that was actually difficult for me to write, where he is his usual “I know what I’m doing, I’m totally in control of myself” mode, and he inadvertently hurts Mina, the heroine. He’s immediately remorseful and horrified as soon as he realizes what had happened – which, to me, meant that he’s just barely hanging on to the edge of the plank by his fingernails, but there’s still the possibility that he can pull himself back up – but to a lot of readers, I knew that he took a flying leap right into the water.

That is always the risk that heroes like this will run. There will never be a one-size-fits-all-readers plank for our characters to walk. As I writer, I accept that.

As a reader, it makes for a lot more interesting experience with each book. When I read a review, I never know whether a hero or heroine will cross my personal line into irredeemable territory . . . and I think that’s a good thing. It keeps everything exciting. Maybe not as exciting as hanging upside-down from an airship and shooting a spear at a kraken, but still a pretty damn good time. Heroes that walk to the edge of the plank keep us on our toes, if nothing else – hoping they don’t go over and become shark-bait (or hoping that they do.)

The Iron Duke Excerpt:
Mina turned to find a man as big as his voice. Oh, damn the newssheets. They hadn’t been kind to him—they’d been kind to their readers, protecting them the effect of this man. A hollow fear shivered within her, much like the first time she’d run into a razor-clawed ratcatcher in an alley—the instinctive knowledge that she faced something dangerous and that she didn’t wholly understand.

Not that Rhys Trahaearn looked strange, or mutated as those ratcatchers were. He was just as hard and as handsome as the caricatures had portrayed—altogether dark and forbidding, with a gaze as pointed and as guarded as the fence that was his namesake. The Iron Duke wasn’t as tall as his statue, but still taller than any man had a right to be, and as broad through the shoulders as Newberry, but without the spare flesh.

But it was not his size that made her wary. And for the first time, she could see why his crew might follow him through kraken-infested waters or into Horde territory, then follow him back onto shore and remain with him. When he leveled that cold, detached gaze at them, as if he couldn’t care less whether they dropped dead in front of him, they would be too terrified to do anything else. He leveled it at Mina now, and the message in his eyes was clear.

He didn’t want her here.

Because of her bloodline or her occupation? Mina couldn’t decide. It hardly mattered, anyway—she was here now.

She glanced at the man standing beside him: tall, brown-haired, his expression bored. Mina didn’t recognize him. Like the Iron Duke, he wore a fashionable black overcoat, breeches, and boots. A red waistcoat buckled like armor over a white shirt with a simple collar reminiscent of the Horde’s tunic collar. Perhaps a bounder and, if so, probably an aristocrat—and he likely expected to be treated as one.

Bully for him.

She looked to the duke again. Though she’d never been introduced to someone of his standing before, she’d seen Superintendent Hale meet a marquess without a single gesture to acknowledge that he ranked above her. Mina followed that example and offered a short nod before addressing him.

“Your Grace, I understand that you did not witness this man die.”


“And your companion . . . ?”

“Also saw nothing,” the other man answered.

She’d been right; his accent marked him as a bounder. Yet she had to revise her opinion of him. He wasn’t bored by death—just too familiar with it to be excited by yet another. She couldn’t understand that. The more death she saw, the more the injustice of each one touched her. “Your name, sir?”

His smile seemed just at the edge of a laugh. “Mr. Smith.”

A joker. How fun.

She thought a flicker of irritation crossed the duke’s expression. But when he didn’t offer his companion’s true name, she let it go. One of the staff would know.

“Mr. St. John has told me that no one has identified the body, and only your footman saw his fall.”


“Did your footman relate anything else to you?”

“Only that he didn’t scream.”

No scream? Either the man had been drunk, asleep, or already dead. She would soon find out which it was.

“If you’ll pardon me.” With a nod, she turned toward the steps, where Newberry adjusted the camera’s thermite flash. She heard the Iron Duke and his companion follow her. As long as they did not touch the body or try to help her examine it, she did not care.

Mina looked down at her hands. She would touch the body, and Newberry hadn’t brought her serviceable wool gloves to exchange for her white evening gloves. They were only satin—neither her mother’s tinkering nor her own salary could afford kid—but they were still too dear to ruin.

She tugged at the tips of her fingers, but the fastenings at her wrist prevented them from sliding off. Futilely, she tried to push the small buttons through equally small satin loops. The seams at the tips of her fingers made them too bulky, and the fabric was too slippery. She looked round for Newberry, and saw that the black powder from the ferrotype camera already dusted his hands. Blast it. She would bite them through, if she had to. Even the despised task of sewing the buttons back on would be easier than—

“Give your hand over, inspector.”

Mina hackles rose at the command. She looked up into Trahaearn’s face and heard a noise from his companion, a snorted half laugh—as if Trahaearn had failed an easy test.

The duke’s expression didn’t soften, though his words did. “You’ll finish more quickly if I assist you. Will you allow me?”

No, she thought. Do not touch me, do not come close. But the body on the steps would not allow her that reply.

“Yes. Thank you.”

She held out her hand and watched as he removed his own gloves. Kid, lined with sable. Just imagining the luxurious softness warmed her.

Mina wouldn’t have been surprised if his presence had, as well. With his great size, Trahaearn seemed to surround her with heat just by standing so near. His hands were large, his fingers long and nails square. As he took her wrist in his left palm, calluses audibly scraped the satin. His face darkened. She could not tell if it was in anger or embarrassment.

However rough his skin was, his fingers were nimble. He deftly unfastened the first button, and the next. “This was not the evening you had planned.”


She did not say this was preferable to the Victory Ball, but perhaps he read it in her voice. To her surprise, his teeth flashed in a smile—then his face quickly hardened again, as if his smile had surprised him, as well. He bent his head over her hand again and Mina found herself staring at his short eyelashes, so thick and black that his eyelids seemed lined with kohl. She looked away, but gold glinting through the thickness of his dark hair drew her gaze again.

Three tiny rings pierced the top curve of each ear. His earlobes had been pierced, too, though he wore no jewelry in them.

And so the newssheets had dressed him up. In a drawing, his thickly-lashed eyes and jewelry would have appeared feminine. But not up close, not in person. Instead, the effect was . . . primitive.

Unsettled, she focused on her wrist. Only two buttons left, and then she could work.

She should be working now. “Were the dogs patrolling the grounds before the body was discovered?”

“No. They search for the point of entry now.”

Mina pictured the iron fence. Perhaps a child could slip through the bars; a man could not. But if someone had let him through . . . ? “Have you spoken with your man at the front gate?”


She had not asked the gatekeeper his name. “If Wills has a prosthetic left leg, and often saves a portion of his supper in his beard for his breakfast, then we are speaking of the same man.”

“That is Wills.” He studied her with unreadable eyes. “He wouldn’t let anyone through.”

Without my leave, Mina finished for him. And perhaps he was correct, though of course she would verify it with the gatekeeper, and ask the steward about deliveries. Someone might have hidden themselves in one.

His gaze fell to her glove again. “There we are,” Trahaearn said. “Now to . . .”

She pulled her hand away at the same time Trahaearn gripped the satin fingertips. He tugged. Satin slid in a warm caress over her elbow, her forearm.

Flames lit her cheeks. “Sir—”

His expression changed as he continued to pull. First registering surprise, as if he hadn’t realized the glove extended past her wrist. Then an emotion hard and sharp as the long glove slowly gave way. Its white length finally dangled from his fingers, and to Mina seemed as intimate as if he held her stocking.

Her sleeve still covered her arm, but she felt exposed. Stripped. With as much dignity as she could, Mina claimed the glove.

“Thank you. I can manage the other.” She stuffed the glove into her pocket. With her bare fingers, she made quick work of the buttons at her left wrist.

Mina looked up to find him staring at her. His cheekbones blazed with color, his gaze hot.

She’d seen lust before. This marked the first time that she hadn’t seen any disgust or hatred beneath it.

“Thank you,” she said again, amazed by the evenness of her voice when everything inside her trembled.

“Inspector.” He inclined his head, then looked beyond her to the stairs.

And as she turned, the trembling stopped. Her legs were steady as she walked to the steps, her mind focused.

“Tell me, captain: Did you plan to assist her, or undress her?” she heard his companion ask. Trahaearn didn’t reply, and Mina didn’t look back at him.

Even the pull of the Iron Duke was not stronger than death.

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Coming September 2011



Meljean was raised in the middle of the woods, and hid under her blankets at night with fairy tales, comic books, and romances…and that pretty much explains everything about her. Meljean is the author of the Guardians paranormal romance series, and the Iron Seas steampunk romance series. She lives in Portland, Oregon with her husband and daughter.

Link to my site:
Link to my book page:

Heroes, Villains and In-Between- Jennifer Ashley

From Villain to Hero in One Easy Step
By Jennifer Ashley (aka Allyson James)

Villains are tough for me to write, not because I don’t like them, but because I become so fascinated by them.

I dislike books with cardboard or unbelievably evil villains—poorly constructed villains can ruin an otherwise good story. On the other hand, really “good” villains can steal the show.

The villain is the hero of his own story. He thinks he’s good and right about everything he does. He might do really awful things (murder, assault, kidnapping, plotting to end the world), but he knows that whatever he decides to do is justified.

Writing a good villain means finding solid motivation for his actions. It’s not enough that the villain does what he does because he’s inherently evil (unless you’re writing broad comedy). He has to have a reason for kidnapping the heroine and putting her naked in chains in full view of the hero. A very good reason, and it can’t be “bad” to him.

The deeper I dig into the motivations of my villains, the more I like these guys. I like them so much, I decide to go ahead and make them heroes in their own books.

I’ve done this several times in my novels with success. My first hero-to-villain was James Ardmore, villain of The Pirate Next Door and hero of The Pirate Hunter.

James Ardmore as villain wanted to hunt down and kill the pirate hero of The Pirate Next Door. Why? Because not only was James a pirate hunter, but the hero was a pirate James blamed for the death of the woman he loved.

Good motivation. I really liked James! In The Pirate Hunter, James is still hunting pirates, but he works through his problems and runs across a heroine who challenges him.

In Dragon Heat, which I wrote as Allyson James, the villain, Malcolm, a black dragon, tries to kidnap the heroine to use her latent magic. Why? Because he’s trapped in the human world and wants desperately to go back to Dragonspace.

Malcolm is pretty bad—he coerces a young witch to help him, and the witch starts to fall in love with him. So much so, that when she’s attacked in The Black Dragon, she calls on Malcolm to help her. And he steps in and becomes a hero.

Penelope and Prince Charming introduced one of my favorite villains, Grand Duke Alexander. Alexander wants the charming prince (the hero) dead. Why? Because Alexander battled all his life to save his country from the tyranny of the hero’s father. Now he fears that the hero will come home and carry on the tyranny.

I loved writing Alexander. He acts not from personal ambition but for benefit of his countrymen (well, he that and his big ego). Alexander becomes the hero of The Mad, Bad Duke, where he meets a young Englishwoman who won’t let him get away with that big ego.

With my two current series (Shifters Unbound and The Mackenzies), the hero / villain delineation is a little more complicated.

In each series I have some bad guys who drive the plot, but the true villains in these series are more obscure. In the Shifters books, it’s the overall situation of humans vs. Shifters (Shifters are second-class citizens made to wear Collars and live in Shiftertowns). The Shifter heroes battle to keep the others Shifters in line in order to keep the peace and let Shifters get strong enough to end their situation. (The current book is the bestselling Primal Bonds, which came out this March.)

In the Mackenzies’ books, the villains are the Mackenzies themselves.

The entire world views them as “villains” (not criminals, but dangerous and powerful). The Mackenzies do as they please, uninhibited by society’s rules, because they don’t care about the rules. They have too many other things to deal with to worry about rules.

The youngest, Ian Mackenzie (The Madness of Lord Ian Mackenzie, re-releasing August 2011), has Asperger’s Syndrome. Ian fights that demon every day, and his choices aren’t understood by most of the world.

His oldest brother, Hart, has done what he had to do to keep his younger brothers safe, especially from their father who was obsessive, jealous, abusive, and probably a little Aspy himself.

Hart’s actions regarding his brothers (and his father), can’t always be seen as “nice,” but he sees them as necessary and justified. More of his motivations and exactly what he’s done and why will come out in the August release, The Many Sins of Lord Cameron (about the womanizing, horse-training Mackenzie brother), and Hart’s own book, which I’m working on now.

As you can tell, I love giving villains a chance to tell their own stories. I love these guys so much, I want to give them a chance to fall in love and be happy.

“Good” guys can bore me—I think I’ll keep writing my men bad!


Jennifer Ashley Bio:

Re-Release August 2011

New York Times and USA Today Bestselling author Jennifer Ashley has lived and traveled all over the world, and now lives in the Southwest. She writes historical, paranormal, and contemporary romance as Jennifer Ashley; mysteries as Ashley Gardner; and paranormal romance and urban fantasy as Allyson James.

Jennifer’s/Allyson’s/Ashley’s novels have won RWA’s RITA award, the Golden Quill, RT Reviewer’s Choice awards, and the Prism award, among others. Jennifer’s novels have been also been translated into nearly a dozen European and Asian languages.

Jennifer enjoys writing and reading above all else, but her hobbies include cooking, hiking, playing flute and guitar, painting, and building miniature rooms and dollhouses.

If you have any comments or questions,
e-mail Jennifer at

Heroes, Villains and In-Between- Joey W. Hill

A Different Kind of Dom by Joey W. Hill

Years ago, when I started the Knights of the Board Room series, I was driven by a basic theme. Five men, all top executives in a successful manufacturing/acquisitions company. All five sexual Dominants. Each book focused on one man finding his soulmate, the submissive he wanted to claim as his forever. And in each story, the other four men were willing to use a variety of combined sensual talents to help him win her over – body, heart, mind and soul.

Four of these men are very out front alpha types – Matt, Lucas, Peter and Ben. But Jon was the one who brought them all together. A deeply spiritual man who draws strength from the philosophies that underpin yoga and martial arts practices, he’d recognized their common code of conduct, both in the bedroom and the boardroom. When I wrote Matt, Lucas and Peter’s stories, Jon was a quiet force in their books, but somewhat overshadowed by the personalities of the others. If I now had the pleasure of sitting down with the other men to confess that impression (after I got over being tongue-tied and stammering) they’d probably exchange an amused, understanding look and then Matt would say, “People tend to underestimate Jon. And he’s the strongest of all of us.” After writing his story, I now agree. As the story unfolded, Jon surprised me, on so many levels. Though he was a different type of Dom, the underlying nature of a Dominant that appeals to a submissive personality was there in full force. Today, if I had to choose among all five of them (and mind you, I wouldn’t turn any of them away – lol), he’d be the one I’d choose for myself.

The reviewer for Whipped Cream blogspot noted: “I have a feeling that anyone would submit to Jon. The author did a great job displaying his strength without making him harsh. As a reader I found myself wanting to do whatever he demanded along with Rachel; that is how much power he wields. His character had me asking myself if men like him really exist and if so where can they be found? …This story has a strong yoga/tantric/Buddhism element to it. This helped to demonstrate why Jon was so comfortable with who he is and how he lived his life.”

To give you a more concrete example of what kind of hero Jon is, I chose a couple snippets from the book I thought you’d like. The following one comes at a point in the story when, in a desperate attempt to deal with her desires and escape her feelings for Jon, Rachel (who is a yoga instructor and physical therapist) goes to the wrong kind of club. This is a couple days’ afterward, when Jon comes to her apartment and confronts her about it. They’re sitting on her bed.
* * * * *
He put a hand on her face, the uninjured side. “Rachel, why did you do this?”

When he was little, her son had taken martial arts training. For some reason, at Jon’s direct look, the firmness in the hand on her cheek, Rachel remembered one of Kyle’s instructors. He’d been gentle, careful, intelligent. Yet when he helped the boys spar, there was a concentration in his gaze that suggested it was best not to underestimate the power of a gentle, focused man.

She closed her eyes. “Jon, we can’t have this conversation. I can’t have this conversation. It was stupid and pointless. That part of my life was over a long time ago. I’d accepted it. It was just…”

“I started something with you I didn’t finish, and left you nowhere else to go.”

“No.” She opened her eyes immediately. “This was my stupid decision, Jon. You weren’t responsible. I appreciate you coming by to check on me, but…”

It was as if he were weighing the significance of every word that came from her mouth, noting every minute change in her expression, the uncomfortable shift of her body. Since he was sitting on her bed, his hip brushing her thigh, he now slid his hand from her cheek to her shoulder, his thumb resting on her collarbone. It effectively stopped her babbling. She couldn’t seem to continue, to tell him she was fine, that he needed to leave.

“Breathe,” he said. “Like when you start your yoga class. Three count. And keep your eyes on mine.”

His thumb shifted so it was on the pulse in her throat, making short strokes there as she drew in a breath. She felt foolish, but she took that deep breath, drew it in for a count of three, even as she remained conscious of those two points of contact, his hand on her throat, his hip against her leg. When she let it out, emotion welled up in her chest, making it tighter. She got the second breath out, and it got worse, such that more tears spilled forth.

“I don’t want you to see this.” Her voice broke. “I can’t—”

“One more,” he said, not unkindly, though his hold on her throat increased, underscoring the relentless command.

It was a shudder of sobs, more than an indrawn breath, and as it crested, they broke. She’d cried a lot over the past day and a half, but this was different. This was the way a person cried when someone was there to hear, to help. Pulling her into his arms, he turned them so they were stretched out on the bed together, one of her arms wrapped around his back and the other around his neck, her face buried into his chest. He stroked her, crooned to her as she shook and cried, until she’d cried out the fear and shame, and was left limp with exhaustion.
* * * * *
Though the man captivates with his ability to slide inside a woman’s soul, he’s also fire engine hot (an added perk!). I’ve provided the gorgeous cover above, but on the Joey W. Hill fan forum, Katishka Taylor, one of our wonderful moderators and graphic artists for the site, designed a beautiful banner inspired by her impression of Jon. I provide it here for your additional viewing pleasure.

Now, in case I gave you the impression Jon was too gentle, let me leave you with another side of him –

She turned then, faced him, and it was so hard, for so many reasons, to meet that steady gaze. “I can’t have what you’re offering, Jon. You’re too young, too late and I’m too fragile. It took me too long to pull myself back off the cliff edge, and…” Her voice trembled once more. Closing her eyes, she steadied herself, spoke the desolate truth to that black space. “I won’t survive going there again.”

“I’m not offering anything.”

He moved then, closing the space between them. She wanted to shrink back against the glass, but managed to keep herself still. He had such a smooth way of moving, gathering an energy around him that would always turn a woman’s head. Her gaze latched onto the tie. His tie tack was a Japanese kanji symbol, one she recognized, because it was on a tapestry in her yoga studio. Perseverance.

Her palms tingled, wanting to reach out, touch it, flatten against his chest, feel his heat and heartbeat. When he laid his hands on her tense shoulders, she had another brief spurt of panic, but before she could wrench away, he’d pushed her against that panel of glass. It had absorbed a considerable amount of the sun’s heat, such that it burned through the fabric of her bolero and the thin blouse beneath.

“Let me go,” she whispered.

“No.” The resolve beneath the deceptive mildness was terrifying to her. Gentle, thoughtful Jon, so interested in the philosophy and spirituality behind yoga, yet he also understood the strength of it as well. A mountain could be placid, but it didn’t make it less immovable, less capable of demonstrations of utter power. However, while he could easily overcome her physically, he didn’t need that. His voice and manner alone arrested her.

“The instruction I left you this morning wasn’t an offer, a suggestion or a proposal, Rachel. It was a command. I’m not going to give you a choice. Not right now. Because you’ve been given far too many. That isn’t what you need, is it?”

The ache low in her belly was becoming that spinning wheel she knew too well, a wheel with blades that were going to cut her insides to pieces. “Please…don’t.”

“Keep your eyes down, Rachel. You’ll meet my gaze when I give you permission. You understand?” The implacable tone shut that wheel down, made her knees weak. He leaned in, until his lips were at her temple, trailing down her skin in a highly distracting way until he reached her ear. “Tell me you understand.”

Squeezing her eyes shut, she realized she’d latched onto his shirt at the waist, digging her fingers into the cloth as an anchor. A hard shudder ran through her body.

“Ssshh, girl. At the end of the third class I took with you, you told me you saw an old soul in my eyes. We talked about how we both believe in reincarnation, the idea that the physical body isn’t the sum total of a human being. You remember?”

She nodded. He tightened his grip. “Well, when I look in your eyes, I see a young soul, one who had her wings clipped too soon. She doesn’t realize they’ve grown back, that she can spread them out and fly, finally realize the potential that’s been there all along.”


Shifting, he closed his hand over one of hers at his waist. When he detached her fingers, he gave them a quick squeeze and then turned, taking her across the room to the drafting table, the stool there. He slid a hip onto it, then perused her with that lingering, appraising look. “Take off the shoes.”

He’d tolerate no disobedience, no discussion. She didn’t know what that would mean if she resisted, but her pulse thudded hard against her throat. Her shoes. If that was all he was asking, she could do that, right? And truth, they were pinching her feet. As she slid out of them, giving up the two-inch height they’d offered, she immediately realized why slaves were made to go barefoot. There was a distinct difference in status, looking down at her feet clad only in thin stockings, positioned between his polished dress shoes. Her toes curled into the deep carpet.

“Now the hair. Take it down and hand me the pins.”
* * * * *
I hope you’ve enjoyed this view of one of my heroes. You can read further excerpts and blurbs about the whole series on my home page, (direct link You can also visit the JWH fan forum, where you’ll find further graphics of the Knights, character interviews with them and more (instructions on how to access the site, click here). In the coming months, I’ll be posting free vignettes there about Ben, my final Knight, to whet your appetite for his story. (Coming later in 2011 if all goes well!)

Thanks for letting me join in the fun with Heroes, Villains and In-Between. Best wishes to everyone.  :mrgreen:

Coming July 5th, 2011 to Berkley Heat


Bio: Joey W. Hill is the author of over twenty-five award-winning titles of paranormal and contemporary erotic romance, most of them of the BDSM genre. She is a two-time nominee for the Romantic Times Career Achievement Award for Erotica. She writes vampires for Berkley Heat, mermaids and angels for Berkley Sensation and contemporaries (as well as a smattering of anything-goes paranormal) for Ellora’s Cave Publishing, so you have your pick of a wide range of heroes!