I mentioned Rosemary Rogers and Katherine Woodiwiss in my first blog. They were major influences in my development as a romance writer. There was another Romance writer heavyweight who influence me over the years and certainly influence 'The Gift of Surrender.' Johanna Lindsey is the author whose covers introduced Fabio to the world. She is a prolific author who had many a fine title. Her romances often had a splash of humor, a bit of mystery and lots of heat. One of the things she liked to do in her novels that I enjoyed was to have big families in the stories. A cynic could view that as a way of having built in sequels. That may be true, but what's not to like about having more than one hot looking guy about. My favorite were the Malory brothers whose tale began in Captive Desires.
For my part, I thought having brothers compete for Sarianna's hand would create tension between the characters. The brothers' pursuit would also sum up the complexities of the politics Sarianna faced without having to go through a vast array of suitors. As I've said before, it was in my head to end the book with the brothers split apart as a result of Armas' betrayal. He would leave for another kingdom and the heir to their father's throne would go to Julin, the middle brother. Perhaps it was Lindsey's influence, but I couldn't leave those brothers estranged like that. And there were a lot of readers who wanted to see the older brothers wed. Thus, Armas' journey began.
It was in his head to earn his way back to his family by becoming a better man and a better prince. But those noble efforts put him at odds with his ambitious and paranoid queen. He has to flee from her wrath and barely makes it the shelter of Nikulainen and Sarianna's kingdom. Thus, Armas feels guilty and vulnerable in the presence of his brother. Here's an excerpt and remember, these are still unedited:
Armas awoke just as dawn was breaking. He woke less out of habit than from the pain that finally seeped into the forefront of his mind. The intensity of the painful surge made him gasp. Upon opening his eyes, Armas found that Laurila had fallen asleep curled up in the chair. A blanket covered her to the shoulders.
“Be at ease, Brother,” Nikulainen said softly as gently lifted his head then pressed a cup to his lips. “Just drink deeply.”
“I do not wish to sleep right away,” Armas rasped. “We must speak.”
“We shall. The water will not make you sleep as quickly. You are gaining your strength,” Nikulainen replied. “Please, Armas.”
Armas obeyed drinking all that was in the cup before his head was placed back on the pillow. Nikulainen sat beside him and looked at him quietly for a little while.
“Is the pain easing?”
“Yes,” Armas replied with a sigh. “Thank you, Niku.”
Nikulainen smiled a small smile at the tender use of his name. “Do not be afraid. I will not harm you.”
“I know,” Armas said though he was wary. He wondered if there was more to the healing.
Nikulainen then gently placed his hands at either side of Armas’ head to cradle him gently. Their eyes locked in a deep gaze. Suddenly, Armas felt a warmth and happiness flow through him. Nikulainen seemed to be in his mind for a moment.
“What manner of sorcery is this?” Armas breathed. “I can feel you in my mind.”
“’Tis no sorcery, Armas. It is merely who I am,” Nikulainen replied quietly. “Look into me as I do you.”
The warmth shimmered between them for a long moment. And then Nikulainen withdrew and sat back. His gaze was even more kind. It was almost too much to be viewed with such gentle regard after all that had passed between them.
“I am sorry,” Armas began. “About so much that has passed between us. But especially for putting your family in peril.”
Nikulainen gently caressed his brow. “That was not your doing. Your warning saved those I live for and you nearly died saving Laurila. None could ask more.”
“You do not question my heart, brother?”
“I know it,” Nikulainen said warmly. His smile widened “And it brings me great joy to have you here. I have sent word to Magnus and Julin.”
Armas smiled a little at that. “I wish to see them. I pray they feel the same.”
“They do, brother,” he replied. “We have been trying to know your state of being since you left us. Our tables were always a little empty with your absence.”
The Prince felt a lump in his throat at that sentiment. He took Nikulainen’s hand and clutched it to his heart. “I always thought you weak for your kind heart. But you are most courageous for giving your heart as you do.”
“Armas has great courage, too,” Nikulainen said. “Though I sense that something dire caused you to come to the Citadel at this time, I also know that your feet were already set upon a path back home.”
“Aye,” Armas replied softly. “I cannot speak all of it now. I feel my fatigue returning. In my pack you will find a chronicle of all that has occurred to bring me here. You and Sarianna may read it.”
Armas looked confused at something beside his head. Nikulainen picked something out of the hair spread out on the pillow. It was a small wooden soldier.
“My son has left you a guardian,” Nikulainen said placing it on the headboard.
“He is very much like you were,” Armas observed wryly.
“So I am told.”
“Magnus and Reija must enjoy that,” Armas chuckled.
“Indeed they do. Far too much, in my opinion.”
“Before I slumber once more, tell me of Magnus and Julin and Reija,” Armas said.
The smile lit Nikulainen’s large eyes from within. He then spoke in soft tones about how their family was faring. Sleep claimed Armas while he basked in the happiness of hearing Nikulainen’s news.
Though his family is welcoming, Armas has a lot of guilt to get past before accepting forgiveness. One of the most important questions posited in the story is will Armas forgive himself and take the happiness being offered by Laurila and his family or will he be doomed with his former lover? In this excerpt it is clear that the guilt is always near the surface with him.
Armas had just finished his mid-day dose of healing tea when he heard a commotion in the corridor. Laurila looked up from her reading at the sound of laughter approaching the door. It was most certainly Alkarin and Kirsi, but there was another voice. The sound of that voice made Armas sit up attentively. Laurila put down her book with curiosity. Then Julin was in the room smiling at him while covered in laughing children.
“I am in this Citadel only an hour when I am accosted by ruffians,” he rumbled trying to shake his nephew from his leg while squeezing the baby. “Greetings brother. You look terrible.”
“I was worse,” Armas smiled. “Greetings, brother.”
The two men stared at each other. Laurila rose after a long moment.
“Allow me to take the children, highness,” she said softly. “Alkarin, let your uncles visit a moment. They have not seen each other and it is Julin’s turn.”
“Okay,” the boy said glumly releasing his uncle’s limb. “Can I show you my alarm horn later, uncle?”
“You have an alarm horn?” Julin repeated incredulously.
“Aye,” he replied proudly. “I am very loud.”
“Of that I am certain,” Julin replied with barely contained chagrin. “I cannot wait.”
Alkarin look Laurila’s hand. Kirsi was placed in her free arm.
“Thank you, Princess,” Julin said.
“My pleasure,” she replied with a short curtsy. After a long glance at Armas, she left.
Julin noticed the exchange. He raised a curious brow for an instant, but he seemed to decided that greeting his brother was more important than teasing him. Armas welcomed the strong, heartfelt embrace though it pained his taxed limbs and healing wounds.
“You cannot know how happy you have made Magnus and Reija,” Julin murmured before releasing him. “How happy you have made me. I was not sure I would lay eyes upon you again. I never knew I could miss such a face.”
“I am glad to see a face such as yours as well,” Armas said softly. “I have sorely felt the absence of your odd humor.”
Armas laughed. His heart felt so much lighter and somehow full at the same time. He bid his brother sit beside him.
“Forgive my foolishness, brother,” Armas said quietly. It was hard to meet the warmth in Julin’s eyes. “I deeply regret the grief I have caused.”
“My ire abated upon the message of your return,” Julin said sincerely. “Our father’s joy righted everything between us.”
“There is so much I wish to say and much I wish to hear,” Armas said with mild distress. “But I shall not be able to fight sleep for much longer.”
“Nor should you,” Julin assured him. “I saw Niku when he was wounded thus. Even the strength of the Forest Realm did not spare him great pain and fatigue. It took time and great care to heal.”
Armas was stricken by the memory. The pain once again battered his body. Taraasta had been so pleased with herself at the thought of avenging Rowsdower’s death. For reasons that still escaped him, she had believed that he would be pleased as well.
“I did not know she had sent the assassins until well after they left. There had been no way to stop them,” Armas said in despair.
“You did not have to tell me that. None of us thought you would willingly allow harm to Niku,” Julin replied.
“My mind is not my own,” Armas sighed in frustration.
“You are weary of being weary?”
Armas found himself smiling at the very familiar teasing. “Perhaps I am. My eyes will not stay open.”
“We will talk later,” Julin said. “I must wash the trail away and seek my own rest. Until later.”
“Yes,” Armas said vaguely. He heard Laurila return just after Julin departed. It was only after he felt her kiss on his brow that he released himself to sleep.
Throughout the novel is the relationship of the brothers. Once they are re-united, there is a lot of laughter and comradery. They even get to fight together once more. They also get to fight with each other. Hopefully, readers will enjoy this as much as I enjoyed reading about the Malorys in Johanna Lindsey's books.
I'm not doing a contest this week. Next week, I hope to start offering preview pdfs of The Price of Surrender.