Thank you for having me as a guest, Rae.
One of the things about writing romance that’s both fun and challenging is coming up with the right hero for a particular heroine and vice-versa. Some writers of series plan their lead couples before they write the opening to the first book. I generally prefer to let things develop organically, to see where the characters take me.
I had to pair up Griffin Dare, the hero of Renegade, because that was the first book in my Light Mage Wars series. His kickass heroine, Valeria Banning, was the Southeast Shire Reeve, or sheriff, while Griff was their most wanted fugitive. Griff had been taking covert action against the mages’ deadly enemies, the ghouls, so I gave him a group of friends who were his covert ops team. Each of them would be the hero or heroine of a subsequent book, but that was all the planning I did for them.
One of the members of the team introduced in Renegade was Natasha “Tasha” Murdock, a US Navy veteran who ran her own business as a building contractor and interior designer. Because my parents met while both were serving in the navy, I have a soft spot for that branch of the service. So I had to have a navy veteran. Since Tasha was a building contractor, I thought serving in the navy’s construction arm, the Seabees, would’ve been a good way for her to acquire those skills. I knew Tasha would be the heroine of the sixth book, but I didn’t yet have a title for it.
I also had no idea who her hero would be until I was writing the fifth book, Warrior, which features archaeologists Will Davis and Audra Grayson. The dark magic users known as ghouls were targeting their team, so a group of mages provided security. One of them was Carter Lockwood, who is a deputy shire reeve, the mage equivalent of a deputy US marshal.
Writing happily along, I had no idea what was about to happen. Then Carter entered the farmhouse Will and Audra’s team was using as a base. A moment later, Tasha walked out of the kitchen. Tasha saw Carter and stopped cold. He was equally stunned to see her. He was also delighted. Unfortunately, the delight was on his side only. Here’s what happened:
Will opened the door, and the tall deputy reeve stepped in. Although raindrops glistened on his combat boots, his close-cut, chestnut hair was dry. He must’ve magically shielded himself from the rain.
“Days like this,” Carter said, his gray eyes gleaming with humor, “I wish I were a weather mage.”
“I wish you were, too,” Will replied as Carter and Griff exchanged handshakes and heys by way of greeting each other. “You want a cup of coffee before you tell us the news?”
“Coffee’d be great.”
They all started for the kitchen as the three women emerged, Val carrying a plate stacked with brownies.
About to ask Carter a question, Will happened to be looking at him. The expression on the deputy’s face went from shocked to delighted to wary to bland in a heartbeat.
What the—? Tracking Carter’s gaze, Will found it locked on Tasha, who’d gone pale and wide-eyed. Bright spots of red suddenly bloomed on her cheekbones.
Carter set his hands on his hips. “Hey, Red.” His easy tone belied the intent look in his eyes. “Good to see you again.”
“That’s Murdock to you, mister.” Despite the whipcrack in Tasha’s voice, it was higher than normal, and she was minutely trembling.
Will had never seen Tasha rattled, and he would bet Griff and Val hadn’t either. Val moved a half-step closer to Tasha, into her space. A clear move of support.
“What are you doing here?” Tasha demanded, glaring at Carter.
His expression hardened. “My job.”
The answer made her eyes flash, as though the words had some significance. Will eased between them on Carter’s left at the same time Griff was stepping forward on the right.
“Do we have a problem?” Will asked, glancing from Carter to Tasha.
“I don’t,” she snapped.
Carter shrugged. “No problem here.”
Yeah. And the Easter Bunny ate steak for breakfast.
This clicked for me, so I built Tasha and Carter’s story, the latest in the series, off of it. That involved figuring out why Tasha and Carter reacted the way they did. It also gave me the book’s title, Nemesis, because she saw him as her nemesis in the service.
In the excerpt above, Carter and Tasha obviously already knew each other. Her use of mister, a navy term my parents used, implied they’d served together. It was also obvious that he’d been attracted to her and she had strong feelings of some kind about him. All that suited me. Navy regulations would’ve precluded a relationship while they served together, so mutual attraction would’ve left them both wondering what might’ve been.
But why was Tasha not nearly as happy to see him as he was to see her? I settled on the idea that she had done something well-intentioned but not strictly within regs that caused a political firestorm. If Carter was the one to uncover and report that, resulting in a blot on her record, it would’ve torpedoed any attraction on her part. Or so she would tell herself.
All this gave me an old conflict that would start them off on uneasy footing, but that wasn’t enough to drive the story. Holding grudges is not sympathetic. Since Carter was, however reluctantly, bound by duty to act as he did and Tasha knew she was skating the regs and thus in the wrong, she wouldn’t come across very well if she couldn’t get past that. So I needed more.
Tasha and her twin brother, Nate, grew up in a rundown trailer with parents who’d had a shotgun wedding and resented their children and each other because of it. Tasha reacted by running wild. She acquired a very bad reputation, including a scandalous criminal charge.
Carter, on the other hand, comes from a wealthy and socially prominent family. His dad was their town’s mayor, and his mom serves in the US House of Representatives. Tasha believes they would be appalled by her history and not want Carter anywhere near her. She also believes that knowing the truth would shatter his good opinion of her, and she wants to avoid that pain.
But she also wants him. And he wants her. In the service, she was attracted to his leadership skills and his kindness. He admired her perseverance and courage. Of course each of them also found the other hot. The regs that kept them apart no longer matter, and the sizzling attraction burns as strongly as ever.
Unfortunately, the chance she and Carter might actually have something important ramps up Tasha’s fears about her past. She thinks he’s the worst possible guy for her and she can’t bring him anything but disappointment. Can she overcome her own self-doubt and open up to this man who yearns for her? Or will she drive him away to protect him?
We all know romance is about the journey rather than the destination, so I’m sure you know the answers to those questions. I hope you have as much fun going along on Tasha and Carter’s bumpy road through Nemesis as I did.
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Nancy Northcott’s childhood ambition was to grow up and become Wonder Woman. Around fourth grade, she realized it was too late to acquire Amazon genes, but she still loved comic books, mysteries, science fiction, fantasy, history, and romance. A sucker for fast action and wrenching emotion, Nancy combines the romance and high stakes (and sometimes the magic) she loves in the books she writes.
She’s the author of the Light Mage Wars/Protectors paranormal romances, the Lethal Webs and Arachnid Files romantic suspense series, and the historical fantasy trilogy, The Boar King’s Honor. With author Jeanne Adams, she co-writes the Outcast Station space opera series.
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