Ahhhhh, look at his hair! And of course, the blood.
I am Shadow. I am Death.
Oh, there is soooo very much to be thankful for this year. I’m thankful for my family and friends, my Evil Day Job (which really isn’t that evil), three releases in 2011, an RT nomination, just to name a few. But one thing I’m very very grateful for…. is finding Silviya, the artist I commissioned to create new covers for the Shanhasson books.
Because let me tell you, she outdid herself.
You know how hard and long I searched for Gregar. I never could find the right man, the right look. Well, Silviya was able to take the stock photo I found that was close, almost him… and breathe life into the wicked assassin I’d hoped to see.
Wait until you see him in all his glory!
But you know me, I have to torture you just a little. So this week I’m going to release hints of the final cover, one cropped bit each day. You won’t see the whole cover until Thanksgiving Day. Until then, feast your eyes on this…and dream of Blood and Shadows, which I hope to re-release in December after I finish NaNoWriMo.
A great review from Sherri, who writes:
I lived a lifetime between these pages! Laughing. Crying. Loving. Dying. I laughed at Rhaekhar’s wicked sense of humor (at the inn) when Shannari’s father meets her Blood (personal guard) — he seriously channelled Gregar! I cried as my heart broke along with Shannari’s. I squirmed in delight when Rhaekhar, Shannari, and Gregar’s love culminated into the menage a trois hinted at in book one. And don’t worry if that’s not your usual thing because Burkhart does it tastefully without losing the sizzle. There was some roughness between Gregar and Shannari though I didn’t feel it was abusive within the scope of their relationship.
These characters — these people — are as real to me as my husband or best friend. Their world as real as the one outside my door. But Burkhart doesn’t stop there. She blends in a life and death struggle that fits perfectly within the world she breathed life into.
Read the entire review here. Thank you so much, Sherri!
For a short snippet of what I said about Rose:
“The characters and their world will haunt me for the rest of my life.”
Yep. Still haunted.
This book literally tore my heart in two when I read it the first time. I had tears streaming down my face. But I love books that make me FEEL as opposed to leaving me lukewarm, so this was the perfect book for me. If you’re hopped up on Romancelandia’s supposed “rules”, this may not be the book for you. Me? I think some rules were meant to be broken and Joely breaks them superbly. I LOVE series books and I love THIS series. “Road” is a great sequel to Rose and has me pining for the third installment, tentatively titled Return to Shanhasson. But seeing how busy poor Joely is and intends to be, I might have to wait awhile. (*off screen* *SOOOOOOOOOB* CRUEL FATES!!!)
Ok, ok. I’m composed. I can wait.
Haha, not to worry, dear Soleil, but the first draft of Return to Shanhasson is indeed finished and only awaits Revision Hell. The only problem will be deciding which Revision Hell to tackle first…
Thank you so much, Soleil!
And yes, Gregar haunts me too. He always will.
Out of the cast of a hundred of so characters in the Shanhasson trilogy, I get the most comments about Gregar, the Shadowed Blood. I even wrote a prequel short story from his point of view (available here as a free read), and I often joked about The Road to Shanhasson being “Gregar’s Book.” He’s my Muse; when I think of the “still silent voice” that helps me write, it’s his voice I hear. Even when I’m writing something different, he touches my writing.
Let’s just say, he’s been a very, very bad influence on me, in a very good way.
What’s funny is that I created him and the rest of the Shanhasson cast long before I knew anything about “proper” character development. Which is maybe why he’s so very, very wicked.
(See explanation of proper at the bottom of this post.)
10. He has a terrible, ribald sense of humor.
“Will you let me claim you here and now?” Rhaekhar asked.
From the heated thickness in his voice, she dreaded asking for an explanation. “Claim?”
“Gregar, what is the proper word?”
“Marry, wed, consummate, pleasure, mate, copulate, tup,” the dark-haired warrior replied with a wicked smile of delight.
9. Gregar is famous on the Plains for “arse competitions.”
“Since you’re new to the Plains, you might not know that Gregar is actually very famous.” Watching the red-haired young man, she narrowed her gaze, wary of his wide-eyed innocence. “You could always ask them for an arse competition.”
She spluttered. “What?”
Dharman groaned. “That isn’t appropriate for Khul’lanna’s claiming.”
“Why not?” Sal winked at her and whispered conspiratorially. “You must like their arses rather well.”
Face hot, she started walking toward the center of Camp. Dharman still held her upper arm, walking slightly behind her and close enough he would trip over her feet if he wasn’t careful.
The lad with the wretched sense of humor walked alongside her. “Don’t you?”
“That’s none of your business.”
“At the Kae’Khul, he made quite an impression on everyone. Alea still remarks about it sometimes.”
“Only when you’re up to mischief yourself,” Dharman retorted. “Leave Khul’lanna alone, Sal. She obviously doesn’t want to talk about arses, Gregar’s, Khul’s, or yours for that matter.”
“But Alea often mutters that I could give Gregar a hard gallop for his rahke. When I’m older, of course.”
A surge of what Shannari could only call jealousy burned in her stomach at the thought of the tall sun-kissed woman getting an eyeful of Gregar’s ass, delightful or not as it might be. Through his bond, she felt only a smug silence, which actually made her madder. “Tell me about the Kae’Khul. Is that when Rhaekhar became Khul?”
“Oh, aye, it was a glorious event,” Sal replied. “Gregar and Varne were at it as usual …”
“Wait. I thought they were friends, like you and Dharman.”
“Nay, Khul’lanna,” Dharman said. “Friends, true, but there has always been an edge between them. They aren’t friends like Sal and I. We have an understanding.”
“What’s mine is his; what’s his is mine. I lead; he follows. There are no questions or doubts between us.”
“Unless it comes to mischief.” Sal leaned in close to whisper. “Then I lead Dharman where he’d hesitate to go.”
“Aye, and have led me into more trouble than I care to admit.” Although grumbling, Dharman smiled at his friend. “I shall lead you to yet greater trouble soon enough.”
“I cannot wait,” Sal breathed, his face softening with something rather like reverence.
“Me, either, my friend. Me either.”
They both looked at her with expectation, hope, and a sort of worshipful awe that embarrassed her. If they knew even half of the darkness that she carried inside … The Lady’s Lake within her resonated with a deep humming echo of power. Uneasy, she changed the subject. “So did Khul compete in this arse competition at the Kae’Khul?”
“Nay, the competition was between Gregar and Varne. It started as a friendly bet, but I believe they came close to formal challenge. I always thought they disagreed over which would lead as nearest Blood to Khul, but now …” Dharman glanced at her, his gaze considering. “Whatever the disagreement, Gregar lightened the argument with a joke, dared Varne to an arse competition—”
“Which he won, of course,” Sal added helpfully.
“Aye, and gained legendary status as a result. I’ve heard he’s even been known to flip up his memsha at kae’don to infuriate his opponents.”
She could absolutely picture it: the dark-haired Blood, laughing and winking as he flipped up the short cloth about his hips. He’d probably shout a few obscenities, too, all to better rile his opponent.
:Kiss my arse works rather well.:
8. He used to be a Death Rider, an assassin dedicated to the Great Wind Stallion.
She pointed her sword at Gregar. “Back off.”
The Blood took a step closer, pressing the sword tip into his body. Her jaw tightened with determination and she pushed a little harder, puncturing his chest. Smiling with anticipation, Gregar pushed back. A little closer, a little more steel pressing into his body.
She shifted her grip on the hilt, fully prepared to skewer him. A coldness settled on her features that told Rhaekhar she’d killed before and often. Very impressive. He liked a hint of danger in a woman.
Evidently, so did Gregar. “Go ahead,” he taunted, his low voice echoing with amusement and his trademark wickedness. Shannari shivered and her eyes widened. “Run me through. I shall greatly enjoy it.”
Her gaze flickered to the smaller wound she dealt to Rhaekhar’s neck earlier. “Are you all crazy?”
“Gregar is… special. He used to be a Death Rider.” At the blank look on her face, Rhaekhar added, “An assassin. Death Riders delight in sacrificing blood to the Great Wind Stallion. Blood sacrifice is a very great honor among us.”
She jerked her sword away. Gregar wiped his hand across his chest and licked the blood from his fingers. “Would you like a taste?”
7. As a Death Rider, he can wrap himself in Shadows and disappear, lying in wait until his mark comes close enough to sacrifice.
She stared at the feathered arrow sticking out of her shoulder. How could she have forgotten the archer? She fell to her knees and used the tall grass to shield herself, but it might not be enough.
“Khul’lanna!” Gregar roared with fury that another had hurt her. Only the Shadowed Blood was allowed that privilege. Shadow swallowed him, engulfing him whole, and Death came like a killing frost up the hill toward her.
6. He’s arguably one of the best rahke fighters on the Plains and is never without his ivory knife that he earned as a Death Rider. Just don’t ask what the “ivory” hilt is made out of if you don’t really want to know.
“This one is Gregar, my shadowed Blood who used to be a Death Rider.”
So cold. She opened her mouth to ask where he was, her teeth chattering harder. A blade touched her neck and she froze. Blessed Lady, the Blood was close enough to hold a knife to her throat while she sat here, oblivious until he touched her with steel. As always when threatened from her blind spot, terror screamed through her body. Muscles bunched, her fingers locking on the hilt, her heart thundering in her ribcage. Her fear only intensified the sense of bone-chilling cold rolling off the Blood.
Varne removed his hand from hers and stood at Rhaekhar’s side protectively. Automatically, she started to draw the sword. Helpless with a knife at her throat, she couldn’t just sit here and—
The wickedly sharp blade lifted her chin higher and the sudden press of bare flesh against her back scalded her. The Blood whispered against her ear. “Shall I draw a bit more of your sweet blood for Khul?”
Gregar hovered against her back, barely visible in thick, black shadows. As a Death Rider, he could wrap the cold Shadow of Death about himself and disappear. He could slit Shannari’s throat before she even knew he was there, and the knowledge shook her to the core. Silently, Rhaekhar waited for her to look to him for assistance.
The Blood whispered something to her too low for him to hear. Her jaw clenched and she stiffened, her fingers tight on the sword’s hilt. Shadows draped across her shoulders, darkening her face.
Rhaekhar felt a sudden and irrational urge to drag her away from the Blood. In his heart he knew the Blood would never hurt her, but he couldn’t ease the trepidation. The shadows wanted to suck her down and drown her in a sea of blood and agony.
Gregar raised his head, his dark eyes glittering like black ice in the shadows. At his familiar smirk, Rhaekhar loosened the tension straining his shoulders.
“Or perhaps I shall draw Khul’s blood for you.”
Her gaze leaped to Rhaekhar’s face, her eyes wide with fear and reluctant desire. The surge of hunger through their na’lanna bond at the thought of tasting his blood very nearly sent him plunging over the cliff into raging, uncontrollable lust. Why did she fear his disgust when he would like nothing better than to give his blood to her?
“Leave us,” he ordered, his voice thick and heavy to his own ears.
Gregar drew his rahke up her neck, trailing the blade across her cheek in an odd, dangerous caress, but he stood and backed away.
5. Before Gregar became Blood, he very nearly assassinated the main hero of the Shanhasson trilogy.
Rhaekhar dropped his voice to a fervent whisper. “The Rose will be mine, a love like no other.”
Those words rocked Gregar to his heels and the Shadowed Call thundered louder.
Kill him, kill him, KILL HIM!
This warrior would be Khul, any Death Rider’s greatest mark. Nay, the woman, his woman, would be Khul’lanna, his greatest mark, his most secret heart’s desire, and Rhaekhar would take her as his own.
Gregar held himself very still, but inside, his heart raged, his stomach rebelled, and his very blood boiled in his veins in denial. The ivory rahke came into his hand eagerly, hungry for this warrior’s blood.
4. He knows he’s going to die, and soon. Surely that makes him poor romance hero material, right?
“While I live, no one will touch you with steel or blade again. As long as you let me stay close, at your back, like this.”
“I can’t love again.”
“You already do.”
Gregar spoke so matter-of-factly, so calmly, while she wanted to hack and slash all about her with a sword. “Even if I do, I can’t stay. I know my destiny, Gregar. I must return to the Green Lands.”
“Eventually.” He rubbed his cheek against hers and then released her. “I know my destiny, too, and Khul’s. Your priest is not the only one who has premonitions. I’ve seen the day of my death. I’ve seen the years of happiness it will buy you with Khul. And it’s worth the sacrifice.”
3. He loves Shannari, but she’s also his greatest mark as a Death Rider. e.g. the temptation to kill her rides him hard.
Midnight eyes pooled with tears, she lay beneath him, trembling as his life’s blood poured out on her skin. She had not come easily to his embrace. She never did. Fighting for her life, she’d enjoyed wounding him as much as he’d relished her pain.
She fed his darkness like no other.
“I love you.”
“Aye,” he whispered, smoothing his thumb over the pulse thumping frantically in her throat. “My heart is yours, na’lanna.”
And he buried the ivory rahke in her heart.
2. Pain and blood only turn him on.
Shannari took a long, shuddering breath. Her eyes flew open. And with a low, vicious cry, she buried the rahke in Gregar’s chest.
The dark-haired Blood with the wicked smile fell forward slowly, the knife in his chest still in her hand. Horrified, Shannari tried to pull back, but his hands gripped hers in a vise, pressing the blade deeper.
He fell on her, staring into her eyes. No surprise, no reprisals, no pain. His gaze was heavy lidded, smoldering with desire, pleasure, raw hunger, death. Blood gushed from the wound, searing her skin.
“Thank you,” Gregar whispered, his voice thick. “You honor me.”
1. He has no limits.
Her voice flat and cold, she admitted the atrocity of her Dream. “I let you hurt me, and I enjoyed it. I enjoyed hurting Khul by letting you hurt me. And then I killed you.”
“Shadow lies to you again, Shannari.” Gregar unsheathed the ivory rahke and laid it on the tent floor before him. “I’m tainted with Shadow, this we all know. However, my heart’s desire is not to die in your embrace.” He forced the words from his throat, and ice fisted Rhaekhar’s heart with each word. “My most secret heart’s desire is for you to die in my embrace. It’s what I dreamed for years before I became Blood. I killed you a thousand times before I ever knew your name.”
“You would enjoy hurting me,” she whispered, a question not an accusation. “You would enjoy killing me.”
“I have no limits,” Gregar replied, his voice cracking with strain. “I warned you, and I warned Khul. That’s why I refuse to participate in your claiming and why I didn’t push for you to admit your love for me. Aye, I would hurt you and enjoy it. I would kill you and enjoy it, even while I raged at myself for ending your life. I love you too much to risk you.”
Despite knowing he’ll die, that he will kill her if given half a chance, Shannari still loves him. And yeah, so do I.
And here’s the explanation about why Gregar always puts special emphasis on proper.
“Are you up for a kae’rahke this night, Gregar?”
The two warriors rode ahead, leaving Shannari staring after them with dread pounding in her veins. A kae’rahke? Challenge? Sometimes they fought to the death.
“Aye, I’m up for many things, Khul.”
Rhaekhar laughed, a dark masculine sound of arrogance that made her grind her teeth together. “I bet you are. Good. I’ll declare you co-mate before the claiming. What do you want for terms?”
Groaning, Shannari tried to think of a way to distract them. Short of ripping her armor and clothes off, she didn’t think much would distract them from their goal of blood.
Gregar winked at her. “I would certainly enjoy another kiss. This time, I want a proper kiss.”
“Oh, aye,” Rhaekhar replied, giving her a smoldering look over his shoulder. “Do you want her tongue in your mouth, or yours in hers?”
I’m looking for reviewers for The Road to Shanhasson. It’s proving slightly more difficult than usual because this is book two of a trilogy, and Road will ONLY make sense if you’ve read Rose too. I can’t send it blindly to the normal romance review sites if I can’t guarantee the same reviewer will be assigned. And, well, Road isn’t exactly standard Romancelandia fare, with violence, extreme sexual situations, and some really really bad villains.
Then there’s Gregar, the sadomasochist assassin.
So if you have a blog or website, you’d like to read some smoking hot romantic fantasy, and you’re not grossed out by violence and blood, please drop me a line or comment here and I will contact you.
A few of you have already read Road, so if you’re so kind as to blog about it, let me know so I can link to you. (Let me know if it’s okay for me to pull an excerpt from your post to advertise both here and at Drollerie Press.)
The first two chapters of Road are now posted if you’d like to take a gander first.