Last year I set myself a challenge. I've always written full-length novels and I find it no problem to write 100,000 words. But late last year I decided to write a little novella spin-off in my London Steampunk series, as a Christmas gift to my readers and as a little something to tide them over in the intervening months between Kiss of Steel's release in September and the upcoming release of Heart of Iron (May).
This is easier said than done.
Writing a novella is so much fun - but completely different to writing full-length. I love weaving complex plots together but in a novella you can't do that. There's limited word space, so everything has to be tight, focused and based on one plot element. And the challenge of creating a complete romance in 35,000 words? Complete with the smexy scenes, fully fleshed back stories and emotional character arc? Hoo-boy.
That's how Tarnished Knight came into being.
Of course, it helped that this particular couple just wouldn't leave me alone. Rip and Esme were secondary characters from Kiss of Steel, both loyal to their master, Blade, and living beneath the same roof. At the end of Kiss of Steel, Rip had just contracted the craving virus that turns a man into a blue blood - and forces him to survive on blood alone - and Esme was devastated at how close she'd come to losing her best friend and the man she secretly loves. There was a story there, lurking beneath their tense exchanges and stolen glances, and it haunted me until I wrote it.
So I'm pleased to present to you Tarnished Knight, a sexy little read about a scarred man who's afraid to be close to the one woman who drives him beyond all control and Esme, who refuses to let him go. It's got a friends-to-lovers theme and best of all it's available for free download for a limited time. The perfect way to get a sneak peek at my London Steampunk series!
In the steam-fuelled world of Victorian London, vampires, werewolves and slasher gangs stalk the night and a man made partly of metal is about to discover just how far he’ll go to protect the woman he loves…
After a vicious vampire attack left him struggling to leash the dark urges of the craving virus, John ‘Rip’ Doolan, thinks he’s finally starting to master the darkness within. The only thing that threatens to shatter his hard-won control is Esme, his closest friend and the only woman he’s ever wanted. If the stubborn beauty ever realized precisely what was going through his mind, their friendship would be ruined…
For six months Esme has waited for Rip to recover and take her as his thrall, not daring to hope for more. Too afraid to put her heart on the line, she is devastated when Rip reveals that he never had any intentions of making her his.
But when a savage gang of Slashers start causing havoc in Whitechapel, Rip and Esme have no choice. They must face up to the depth of the passion that burns between them and forge a new relationship… or risk losing each other forever.
Here's a little excerpt in which our hero has refused to take Esme as his thrall and is getting his blood from other sources. Let's just say she's not very happy about it, and he's not quite sure why:
Gathering her breath, Esme strode out into the narrow lane… and directly into a warm, hard surface. Hands locked around her upper arms as she tripped, the scent of heated male curling through her nostrils. Panic flared as she instantly recognized whom it was. She’d washed his shirts for years; she’d recognise that distinct, slightly spicy scent of his cologne anywhere.
Of all the people she didn’t wish to see this morning…
“Rip,” she blurted, tipping her head back to stare up at him. “What are you doing out?”
“Ain’t been in,” Rip muttered, staring down at her with an unreadable expression in his green eyes. Faint lines feathered the corners as his eyes narrowed. “So it still ain’t ‘John’?”
It wouldn’t be John again. It couldn’t. Not until she’d managed to heal the gaping wound inside her – or distance herself from it at least. “You’ll be looking for your bed then,” she said, sidestepping him and tucking her basket against her abdomen. “If you’ll excuse me? I have errands to run.”
The soft shuffle of his heavier footsteps echoed hers and a hot wash of tears threatened to spill down her cheeks. Why wouldn’t he leave her alone?
“The boiler’s running hot water. You’ll be wanting a wash, I believe,” she threw back over her shoulder.
Two long steps and he caught up to her, his hands shoved deep into his pockets and his collar pulled high against the drift of snowflakes. Canny green eyes raked over her. Rip had never been a fool, though most people dismissed him as merely muscle.
“Know when a woman’s tryin’ to give me the ‘eave-‘o, Esme.” He stared straight ahead. “I’d ask why, but I think it’s got ought to do with what ‘appened yesterday.”
Silence was a sudden, awkward wall between them.
“I was trying to be considerate,” she replied stiffly. “You’ll be tired.”
“Stop tellin’ me what I feel and what I ought to be wantin’,” he snapped. “You know you can tell me anythin’, don’t you?”
When she said nothing else, his lips thinned. The soft dawn light softened the harsh slant of his brow and the jagged break in his nose, but he would never be considered handsome. Still… For a moment, her heart twisted in her chest as she stared at his familiar profile. So strong. So stubborn. She’d stared at that face for years, wondering what thoughts he entertained behind those beautiful green eyes.
Jerking her gaze away, she focused on the street. Theirs were the only footsteps marring the pristine white. It made her feel terribly alone with him, her body prickling with dangerous awareness. And that only made her furious with herself.
“You’re still angry with me,” he said gruffly.
“I shouldn’t think why.” Esme strode ahead, desperately wanting to avoid this conversation.
A steely hand caught her upper arm and when she spun, he was staring down at her with those far-too-clever eyes. “We can dance in circles all day, Esme, but the ‘onest truth is I ain’t got a bloody clue why you’re so upset.” He rubbed his forehead, fingertips leaving white marks in his swarthy skin. Frustration edged his voice. “I spent ‘alf the night thinkin’ ‘bout it.”
“Let me go,” she said quietly.
“Damn you, J—Rip!” She threw all of her weight against his grip and felt his hand slip on the fabric of her sleeves.
He held them up in surrender and she fell back a few steps. The thin rigid spars of his right hand reflected the morning light. As if sensing where her gaze was drawn he jerked it low, shoving it in his pocket, a flush of heat turning his cheeks ruddy. “So I’m thinkin’ right, ‘bout what you said yesterday, and I’m thinkin’ this ‘as got nothin’ to do with me so-called lie.”
Esme swallowed. “I see.”
Those wicked eyes narrowed at her non-committal answer. “You’re angry with me,” he said slowly. “Because I were drinkin’ me blood from someone else? Because you thought you’d be me thrall? I should ‘ave told you I wouldn’t ‘old you accountable to that. You don’t need to be me thrall – you don’t need to be anyone’s thrall.”
Esme shook her head, trying to step around him. How to tell him she’d wanted to be his so desperately? Especially when he’d made it clear he didn’t think of her in that way. “It doesn’t matter--”
He grabbed her again. “Damn it, Esme. I’m tryin’ to work this out.” Hard fingers – metal and flesh – dug into her upper arms as he stared down at her. “I’m tryin’. Please. Tell me what’s wrong?”
“What’s wrong?” Suddenly she couldn’t hold it in any longer. It was either this or burst into tears. She shoved past. “I—I have my pride, John Doolan. I do! I won’t beg you, damn it. You don’t want me and I won’t--”
He danced in front of her and Esme staggered into him, hands pushing at his broad chest.
“I don’t want you?” he demanded. “I don’t want your blood?” A dark glint came into his eyes. “That’s it, ain’t it? That’s what this is ‘bout? Because I don’t want your bloody blood?”
Something hot slid down her cheek and she dashed the tear away, hoping he wouldn’t see it. “Leave me alone,” she said hoarsely.
The wall of his chest stiffened. “Esme?” he asked. “Are you cryin’?”
Suddenly his hand cupped her jaw, the cool steel of his right one slick against her skin. Esme shut her eyes as he tilted her face up to his, one last tear sliding silently down her cheek. She didn’t want him to see it but the firm grip gave her no choice.
A roughened thumb traced the tear’s path. “Bloody 'ell,” he said in a breathless, bewildered tone. “Christ, luv. Don’t cry. Please don’t cry. I ain’t worth that.”
“Yes, you are,” she whispered. “I won’t have you belittle yourself.” Everyone else did enough of that.
As dangerous as sin, the whores on the street whispered. Oh yes, she’d heard it and knew he had too. But in her heart, sin wasn’t unattractive at all. It was the faint brush of his hard body against hers as they passed in the kitchen or the slow, dangerous smile he gave her when they were alone and he was stealing batter from her cake mix. Only she got to see what no one else did when he dropped his guard and let himself be just a man, instead of forcing his reputation and his scowling menace down people’s throats.
“Fine, luv. Fine. Won’t say it.”
His hard body seemed to surround her, fingertips caressing her jaw so lightly she could have escaped if she’d wanted to.
He still didn’t understand what the problem was. She could walk away now, knowing that their friendship would remain as it always had, that her nights would be spent in a torture of thwarted desire whilst he lay on the other side of the wall, no doubt oblivious to her true feelings.
She could pull away. She should.
It was the sensible thing to do. The Esme thing.
If she wanted to…
Her fingers loosened from their tight fist and flexed wide, hovering an inch away from his abdomen. Esme couldn’t believe what she was suddenly thinking. She was so damned tired of waiting for him to notice her feelings. Of being too afraid to voice them.
She didn’t want to be sensible anymore.
“Do you want to know why I’m so upset?” Esme whispered, forcing the words through trembling lips. If she couldn’t say this now, then she never would.
“Aye,” he said gruffly, tilting his face lower as if to find the answers in her eyes.
“Because I wanted it to be me,” she whispered, sinking her fist into the collar of his shirt and lifting onto her toes to press her lips to his.
Want to see what the London Steampunk world is all about? Tarnished Knight is available as a free downloadable ebook for a limited time at http://www.becmcmaster.com/books/tarnished-knight/#more-404
Also, keep an eye out for Heart of Iron, which is due out in May 2013. Featuring one mighty stubborn verwulfen hero with a brutal past and a flirtatious heroine who's about to twist him around her little finger, it's full of explosive action and steamy interludes...
I'd love to know what you think about novellas. Perfect for an afternoon read, or preferable over something full-length? If you're a writer, have you ever tried your hand at one? Easier or more difficult to write than a full-length novel?