FOR THE LOVE OF A WOMAN by Tara Fox Hall
You might be wondering why the hell I’m here today at the Romance Studio promoing my new paranormal action adventure book, Lash. You’re right in thinking that this book is violent, dealing with the exploits of a weresnake from his young adulthood to his middle twenties. But this is more than just excitement and tension, with a few fight scenes thrown in. It’s also a historical work, taking place primarily in the Roaring Twenties, up to the beginning of the Great Depression. Lash also contains themes of romance, odd as that may sound. In fact, the book is rife with them.
Trystan Valeras is a young Spanish boy whose weresnake family’s poverty forces him to work alongside his brother and mother at a large hotel on the North Carolina coast. Once he sees the beautiful Tamara, he is instantly smitten, even while he tells himself anything between them is impossible. Yet when his father, the gangster Jared Valeras, appears the summer Trystan turns sixteen, a future with Tamara suddenly becomes possible. Trystan takes Tamara as a date to his parents' lavish wedding, and before long, their tentative friendship blossoms into love. After Tamara agrees to marry him, Trystan is determined to do whatever it takes to make sure that happens. Its his love for her that leads Trystan to agree to enter his father's illegal world, setting him on his path of violence . That same love brings deadly consequences to the loving couple on the morning of their marriage day.
Later in the book, Trystan begins a sexual affair with Britney, a young lady of the night. While their relationship is more physical than romance, Trystan is fiercely protective of her to the point he asks her to quit her dangerous profession, and just be with him. Though she refuses, he stays with her, doing his best to keep her safe even as he hopes she will change her mind. When Britney is taken in the night for "entertainment" by a pack of werewolves, Trystan risks his life and goes alone to rescue her, again with deadly consequences.
Lash is more than the story of a weresnake killing people, or even a good thriller. It is the tale of a man on a quest for acceptance; a man that hopes to be loved even though he's been hurt before. And what is more romantic than that?
Scarred from a childhood spent in perpetual indigence after being forced from their home in the
weresnake Trystan Valeras and his family make their way to the Case Hotel. When
his wealthy gangster father arrives the summer he turns sixteen, Trystan’s dream
of a better life, along with the lovely aristocrat Mara, is suddenly within his
grasp. Instead of paradise, a series of devastating events unfold, leading
Trystan to become the instrument of his dying father’s revenge. His violent
reprisal instigates a backlash of murder and death, forcing Trystan to flee
with the remains of his family to the sultry city of New Orleans where he sells himself into the
service of the Vampire Lord Abraham. Becoming the assassin Lash to hide his
identity, Trystan finds a measure of peace, even as his skill with killing
heightens, bringing to him not only new allies, but also new adversaries.
Excerpt for Lash by Tara Fox Hall:
“Lash, no, please—”
I slid my well-used survival knife deftly into the mark’s heart, his familiar gasp of surprise instantly gratifying. After a few more jerks, his body went limp in my arms. Withdrawing the knife smoothly, I lay the dead weight down across the stoop of his business. His employees would find it when they arrived for work the next morning.
Only one more thing to do.
Moving the coiled whip at my waist out of the way, I went to one knee to sever his head. The bastard rolled as I reached for him, going to all fours as his skin started rippling. A throaty growl issued from his mouth where fangs were rapidly erupting.
“Who’d have figured you for a goddamned shapeshifter?” I hissed, bracing myself for the lunge that was coming. “You’re a street thug, Ken—”
The black panther leapt, it’s still-shifting clawed hands more fingers than paws. Ken knocked me sprawling, kicking hard with his back feet, the nails shredding my shirt.
I shoved up and right with the knife. The cat let out a howl, then went for my throat.
I dropped the knife, and used both hands to keep those white fangs out of me, as I partly shifted, my own fangs forming fast. Spreading my lips wide, I bit down into Ken’s foreleg. He screamed and thrashed, trying to shake me loose, even as he changed form back to human. I held on tight, pumping the venom in as fast as I could.
Thirty seconds later, Ken went limp as his heart stopped.
Spitting the taste of wereblood out of my mouth, I quickly severed his head, placing it in his lap as my boss had instructed.
“Abraham told you to stop selling drugs in his territory,” I hissed. “That you weren’t going to listen was a given. But who the hell turned you? There’re no werepanthers inside the city limits.”
Ken didn’t answer.
I cleaned my knife blade on the remnants of his torn clothes. Why not? It’d already been amateur night here with me having to resort to my venom. Might as well move it up to total incompetence.
I walked off to my car, consoling myself that probably the cops wouldn’t notice poison residue mixed in with the victim’s blood when they had a headless, naked body to hush up. Even if they did, what I used was a common poison; something readily available at a dozen locations inside the city limits. In any case, the sky was lightening. My vampire boss would turn in for the day any minute now. Before he did, I had to get back and make my report.
“Ken’s dead. I left the body like you asked. Someone had turned him panther in the last week—unless you forgot to mention that when you asked me to kill him.”
Abraham shook his head. “I didn’t know. Was that trouble?”
Yeah, he’s naked and headless. “No.”
He rubbed his eyes. “Good. We’ve had enough since the Crash. People all over the country are suffering.
made a few speeches outlining some new government plans, but nothing’s come of
New Orleans will survive.”
I bared a fang. “At least as long as you and I have anything to say about it.”
“Get some sleep, Lash. I’ll need you to go back at first dark to find out who turned him, and to make sure that my message was heeded. ”
“And if it wasn’t?”
“You know what to do.”
I sat in my room later that morning, sipping some single malt. For the past month, I’d been having trouble sleeping. A few shots were usually enough to relax me, but this morning it wasn’t working.
It wasn’t the killing, I was used to that. It wasn’t the failing economy, those fucking human deadbeats peddling drugs, or even the vampires and weres I had to keep in line for Abraham.
My own bad memories were keeping me up.
I hadn’t always been an assassin. I’d been a bright young man poised for a successful future, maybe an exemplary one. I’d been going to get married.
Instead I’d become Lash.
I downed the rest of my shot and got into bed, placing my weapons on the nightstand within reach. Sleepless, I lay there remembering.
The first thing I can remember is water and the smell of warm growing things. The damp soggy earth of the swamp, brackish black soup covered with a skin of pale green algae.
I lived with my mother and brother. We were dirt-poor, our home a one-room wooden cabin, the stilts of the floor supports sunk deep into the muddy water. We had a table and four chairs, a rocking chair, a small potbellied stove, and a bed. The latter was big enough only for my mother, but that was all right with us. My brother and I slept on the floor, preferring to be near the stove. Every night in the cool season, my mother would put in a log, and it was comforting to feel the heat soaking into us. We were always human at night, as the cold-bloodedness of our reptile forms let us get chilled easily. We were weresnakes of the water moccasin variety, a type of poisonous viper called cottonmouths.
My mother always said that was our Achilles’ heel; that we were cold-blooded where so many other types of weres were warm-blooded. We could die if we froze, where others like werefoxes, werebears, and werewolves would not. It limited where we could live. There were many snakes in
my mother said, and in the Southwest. There had been many in Florida in the late 1800s, but the
ever-encroaching human population had driven most from their coastal homes into
the swamp. We were one of those families.
My mother often told us of her childhood in the Keys, where she ate juicy birds and lay in the sun on warm sand.
“We will go there one day, Tryst,” she said, giving me a gentle smile. “You’ll see how beautiful it is.”
“Why do you never call me anything but Franco?” my brother pouted. “You always call Trystan by his nickname.”
“Because you are the older brother, and you have to be strong and brave,” she said sternly. “And because I doubted you wanted to be called Fran.”
I laughed. My brother hissed at me, but he laughed too. He was easygoing, my brother was, with more of my mother’s temperament than I had. He looked a little like her too, his mouth always ready to smile, his eyes usually twinkling, and his features open and honest. I never knew his father, so I couldn’t say if he had his father’s features. But his hazel eyes were my mother’s, and they were always happy.
We usually hunted in snake form, though that was the only time we changed forms, emerging from the house only after the transformation was complete. My mother was afraid of someone finding out about us and told us we couldn’t risk changing form outside. Even deep in the swamp as we were, sometimes swamp tours traveled off the beaten path, the white ghost faces looking all around in fear before the guide got the boat turned around. We would always hide and were never seen in snake form, only as humans. We spent at least a few hours every day in snake form, so it wasn’t as if we were deprived. But feeling of shame was there even then, that non-weresnakes would not accept us, that what we were was something to be hidden away and only let out when no one was watching.