Guardian Series Retrospective #7 – DEMON NIGHT

This and many of the following posts will be shorter than the original two-part retrospective posts, primarily because all of the “How did you start the series?” introductory stuff is over. If there’s something that I don’t address, however, or if I skip something that you’re curious about, please feel free to ask me.

Meljean’s note: This post is part of a series of entries about the Guardians paranormal romance series, including information, reactions, and pieces of trivia for each one. THESE POSTS WILL INCLUDE SOME SPOILERS, though I will try to keep the details of those spoilers to a minimum. Please understand that this means you will get a “behind the book” look at the series, which is not always awesome. After all, there is a person behind the books – me – and it’s often true that enjoying fiction is easier the less you know about the person writing it. With that in mind, I will try to keep comments about my intentions to a minimum.

Please feel free to comment below. If an answer to your question will spoil the final book in the series, however, please understand that I won’t answer it.

This post is about DEMON NIGHT, and I’d like to focus on that story in the comments. If you ask a question about another book (or if your question will be answered in another post) I might just give a brief response and let you know a more complete answer is coming up. Please also feel free to leave your own reactions/responses to the book – and I’m not offended if you didn’t like it.

Demon Night

DEMON NIGHT’s place in the Guardian series

This is the fifth story in the Guardian series (counting novellas). This book follows DEMON MOON, but not as closely as that book followed DEMON ANGEL. This is the first book in the series that I wrote AFTER seeing reader reviews and reaction, so I took a step back and tried to figure out how to make it easier for readers to jump in. This is also the first book of a new contract — originally, I had a contract for two books. I had no idea if I was going to get any more in the series. But then I did, so I felt less pressure to cram stuff into the stories. This series was going to happen, so I could take my time with my planned eight-book arc.

So there’s a bit of a break here, stylistically. Not a huge difference — my voice is very much the same, as is the tone of the books — but whereas I was biting off a LOT in the first two books, this one I said: Okay, this is where I’m going to introduce the nephilim as new antagonists for both the demons and the Guardians, and also show another side to the demons. So I introduced one of Belial’s demons and made him fall in love with the heroine’s sister.

There’s still a lot going on, of course. This is another long book. Quite a few things happen. But for the overarching plot, those were my two simple goals. From there, I created the characters that I wanted to use. Both were relatively new to readers and to the series. I introduced Drifter very briefly in DEMON MOON — and that scene was added in after I’d finished the book and was in copy-edits. I hadn’t really given much thought to sequel-bait when I was writing the first two books. I should have, but adding extra characters for that reason kind of grated on me then, just as it does now. A part of me thinks that was a good idea — readers don’t really miss out on much, character-wise, if they come into the series at this point. I just have to give an overview of WHAT HAPPENED SO FAR and then make sure the worldbuilding is explained well enough. But no sequel-bait means that readers don’t have any connection (or anticipation) for an upcoming story, which isn’t always awesome.

For these reasons, though, DEMON NIGHT is the best place to jump into the series if a) you can’t find the first two books or b) you couldn’t get into the first two books.

Where have all the cowboys gone?

In an earlier retrospective post, I mentioned how this series began as a single scene in an alternate-universe Justice League fanfic. When I was first sketching out ideas for heroes, I returned to that a little. I wanted another Batman — a loner, a dark protector of the city, alpha, tortured, and etc. So of course Drifter ended up as a laid-back cowboy, who had demons in his past but wasn’t really that tortured, who had plenty of friends among the Guardians and was well-respected rather than feared, and who gave up his secret identity a few chapters in.

I can’t remember now why I went with a cowboy. I don’t really have a sweet spot for them in romances or anything. I like a Western here and there, and I enjoy contemporaries on ranch settings, but I’m not a hardcore fan. Maybe it was the influence of Firefly, or a comic that I’d been reading at the time — High Moon — or a bunch of little things that added up to it. I remember thinking “What the hell am I doing, writing a cowboy?” but it became a really fun part of his character, and I loved developing a history that fit him (and his Gift.)

But I know exactly where Charlie came from. One of the things that I try to do with every character is imagine the absolute worst thing that could happen to them … and then do it. I knew that the plot would have to involve vampire blood in some way, and that I would either start with a heroine who was a vampire, or she’d have to become a vampire. But I’d already turned Savi, and she wanted to be a vampire. So I thought: What kind of person would be hit harder than any other by turning into one? Why would this be a terrible, terrible thing to happen to her?

And of course: an addict and an alcoholic. Someone who has fought with everything in her to clean up and stay sober — then she’s forced to drink and depend on someone simply to live.

It was a really awful thing to do to Charlie. But I really, really love what it brought out of her.

The Cover

This book also marked the first change in cover styles. The first two covers didn’t resonate well with readers or seem to give a good indication of the contents, so we went with a more PNR-style of mantitty. I don’t love mantitty, but I think this guy is hot, so I like it a lot. I don’t know why he isn’t wearing a shirt under that leather jacket, but it’s not like Guardians wear real clothes, anyway.

My only real request for the cover (for any cover) is no mullet. So it was all good for me.

Re-Reading DEMON NIGHT

I don’t really have any problems with this book. Not that there aren’t little things I wouldn’t change if I had a couple of days and another run through to line edit, because there are always tweaks. But really, I’m happy with this story. It has one of my favorite opening chapters ever (the scene with Charlie on the rooftop, and Ethan showing up out of nowhere.) I’d probably give her a few more funny stories to tell.

One of the things I don’t think about much but that makes me happy when I re-read this book was Charlie’s relationship with her sister. Jane is with the love of her life at the end of DEMON NIGHT, but it’s not really a happy ending (and honestly, if it wouldn’t have hurt Charlie and made her own HEA too bittersweet, I’d probably have killed Jane at the end — because that’s what being with a demon is eventually going to lead to, and I wanted to make that explicit.) But I really love that they fight, and they understand each other, and they don’t always agree, but they love each other like crazy. And sometimes that love is painful, and they want to slap each other sometimes. I have a lot of sisters, so I really enjoyed writing a pair in this book.

I’ve received a few requests for a novella with Jane and Sammael, and I always feel a little bad — because there’s no way. Sammael is a demon, and that’s a full stop in this world. Sooner or later, being with him will destroy Jane (unless she wises up and gets away.) I like to think that, with Charlie’s support, eventually she will.

And speaking of supporting characters … Jake! He was so much fun, and I love his relationship with Drifter, but he was never supposed to be a main character in this series. Even at sixty years old, he was far too immature to be a hero. *headdesk* So of course I made him the next one.

Favorite Scene

When Charlie is digging the bullet out of his back. Maybe. I also love the scene in the truck, when Charlie calls him out for kissing her one second and pushing her away the next, which then leads into Ethan’s confession about his brother and Charlie refusing to be a salve — mostly because it’s the moment when Drifter understands how badly he’s misjudged her.

Well, what the heck. Here it is.

Two feet of bench seat was apparently nothing when a man had a reach as long as Ethan’s. His hands slid around her waist and he hauled her against him so quickly that she prepared herself for an onslaught on her mouth, but the first touch of his lips was soft and searching.

That sweet heat slipped through her again, warming and melting her from the inside, leaving her skin hot and tight. He groaned, and it sounded like a denial, but then his big palm curved up from her stomach, and the light brush of his fingers over her breast was followed by a possessive stroke of his tongue past her lips.

And it imploded, the burning ache sweeping from her skin to her core. His fingers tangled in her hair. He shifted, turned until he was half-lying on top of her, never relinquishing her lips. The seat cushioned her back, but there was nothing soft about Ethan’s body above hers.

She could hardly breathe, he was so heavy and he was practically fucking her mouth with each deep lick, and then blazing a hot trail of need to her womb when she returned the penetrating thrust and he caught her tongue in a suckling kiss.

Jesus. Excitement tore through her in an erotic wave, pushing her hips up, arching her back. Her fingers clenched on his waist. He was tilted awkwardly, his legs still beneath the wheel, but she pushed her foot over his thighs to grind closer, trying to kick and pull and do anything to have him big and hard between her legs.

A flat, loud honk split the air. Ethan jerked his head up and away from her, turning to check each of the windows.

“The horn,” Charlie gasped. “I hit it.”

His eyes closed and his head dropped forward. His hips rocked toward her, giving her the pressure she’d wanted so, so badly, in just the right place.

“God Almighty,” he groaned as she pushed her foot against the door and rocked him again. “I just meant it to be a little kiss. But I’m so fuzzy I can’t keep my hands—ah, not like that, Charlie—”

“Then how?”

His lids were heavy as he stared down at her, his fingers cupping her jaw and his thumb running across her moistened lips.

She rolled her hips beneath him. “How?”

“Not like this.” His scar whitened as he pressed his jaw tight. “Not this at all.”

He had to be joking. But he wasn’t; he sat up and began untangling her legs.

Her stomach aching, she shook off his hands and scooted away. “I don’t understand you, Drifter. You tell me not to want you, not to rely on you for anything but protection, that I’m too needy, and then you kiss me here and in the house and in the bar, knowing how much I—”

She couldn’t continue. Hurt was ripening into anger and she began thinking that the knuckles of her left hand could use a good taste of his face, too.

The window beside Ethan’s head shattered. Oh, fuck fuck. Her heart thundering, Charlie jumped for her door handle and turned to look, expecting vampires and demons and anything but the steel door crumpled around his elbow and hanging drunkenly in the frame.

Ethan was staring straight ahead, frustration in every taut line of his body, in his hard profile.

Goddamn him. It was one thing if he didn’t want her, but he was breaking doors and had an erection the size of a tree. “Why don’t we just fuck and get it over with? I’ll bend over the tailgate, and it’ll be done, and I swear I won’t ask for anything more from you and you won’t be sitting there with your dick busting through your pants.”

He didn’t say anything, didn’t look at her. She picked up her milkshake and threw it at him. If he wouldn’t acknowledge her then he sure as hell wasn’t worth the pain of hitting.

Ethan simply plucked the cup out of the air and set it upright on his knee without turning his head. “Now, Charlie, let me just ponder that image for a minute.”

You bastard. But the words wouldn’t pass the constriction in her throat. She quietly pushed open her door, certain she’d never felt so stupid and dismissed in her life. The air was pungent with the fragrance of pine needles, the fresh scent of the lake, but she couldn’t breathe it in deep.

Metal screeched behind her; then Ethan stood in front of her, blocking her exit from the cab. The edges of his lips were pale. “That was a damn fool thing to say. I meant to set you laughing, and then lay it out straight. Not put a hurt on you like this.”

Her fists clenched. “Are you in my head?”

“No. No, I could feel this without looking into you.” He caught her chin when her cheeks flared with heat and she’d have turned away. “I’m the one who ought to be embarrassed, Charlie. I ain’t doing right by you. But bending you over the tailgate won’t be doing right, either.”

Oh, Lord. She’d said that? “I actually meant the…the…” She waved her hand at the front of the truck. Then the visual struck her, and she ground her teeth together before the laugh escaped.

He brushed a strand of hair from her face and seemed relieved by what he read there—his shoulders not so straight, his muscles not so rigid beneath his clothes. “I’d give anything to bend you there or just about anywhere, but I suspect the one relying on someone else and needing too much would be me.”

Charlie closed her eyes, unsure if she was being slow, if he wasn’t making any sense, or if she was rattled by his proximity. Their position was too intimate, the height of the seat putting them almost on eye level, his big body taking up too much space in the door. She’d been half-outside when he’d appeared in front of her—he only had to step forward and he’d be between her legs.

But he had “indirect” perfected, so she’d bet it wasn’t just her. She met his gaze again, and said, “This isn’t laying it out straight, Drifter.”

His jaw tightened for an instant, then he was shaking his head. “All right. I ain’t good at storytelling, so I’ll just say that what I told you at Cole’s was mostly true. And that in order for a man to become a Guardian, he’s got to sacrifice his life to save someone else’s.”

What had he told her at Cole’s? Her brow furrowed, until she realized she was holding the two encounters separate in her mind.

Oh, Lord—he hadn’t told her as himself, but as the older gentleman. “Your brother’s life?”

He nodded, tension carving lines beside his mouth. “I figured he got out. There’s  no way he could have been living, so I didn’t expect—“ He paused and lay his forearm on the top of the door frame. His gaze searched her face. “And I’m losing you again, most likely because I can hardly think straight about it myself.”

She’d seen and spoken with enough grieving customers to recognize it in him now. “It’s okay. I’ll catch up.”

He swallowed, looked down at his boots. After a minute he said, “We’d gotten into a spot of trouble, Caleb and me. And there wasn’t a way out of it—even before we rode into Eden. But the opportunity came for me to make a bargain, and for him to get out.” He lifted his head. “Not just out of Eden, Charlie, but to get to California or Oregon, and start over. When the two of us were together, no one could mistake us for anyone else. But Caleb alone? He could get by. And it was a chance for him to get back to the life he should have been living. So before I took the poison, I made him promise he’d give up what we’d started. Made him swear he’d do right again, have a family.” He reached up, touched his lip. “Fair had to beat the promise out of him.”

Charlie’s stomach was a hard knot, and she didn’t understand all of what he was talking about, but she nodded.

“We had no inkling that Michael would know when someone sacrificed himself like that—and Caleb never could have known that I became a Guardian, because the sheriff had let him go before the poison killed me, before Michael showed up. So Caleb took off with that promise, and me dying in a furnace of a jail cell so he’d have another chance…and he went right on back to thieving. He got himself hanged a month later.” His thumbs slipped in low on his suspenders, and his throat worked a couple of times. “I got the newsletter yesterday morning.”

Gingerly, Charlie ran her fingers along his left suspender until her hand rested against his. A light touch, a connection that wasn’t asking or taking anything.

He seemed grateful for it, though; he turned his wrist to cup her hand in his palm. “I can’t help but think that maybe my sacrifice didn’t mean anything to him. Leastwise not enough to quit, to do what he’d sworn he would. So it’s tore me up some, Charlie. It would feel awful good to slip into your arms, and I want you so bad I’m damn near dying for it. But I don’t know that my head’s on straight after the blow Caleb laid on me. And I don’t know if I’d be taking what you’re offering for wanting you or because I’m hurting. I just know I ain’t going to use you as a salve.”

Charlie understood that all too well. “All right,” she said softly.

His fingers flexed around hers. “All right?” His brows lowered over his eyes with his frown. Had he expected her to argue, to talk him into letting her fuck his grief away?

She looked away from that piercing gaze, tilting her head so that her hair hid her expression. She didn’t know exactly what she was feeling; exhaustion, sadness, grim amusement, and resignation all seemed to be playing their notes within her, but she didn’t want to put on a show with any of them.

But he probably knew this about her, too, so there was really no reason not to explain. “Mine crept up on me instead of hitting me fast, but after a while, it was the same—so that if I didn’t have a…a salve, I couldn’t function, and I’d start planning my day around just getting it,” she said quietly, and had to swallow before she continued. “And you tell yourself that it makes you feel good—but really, you’re just getting by. Because you feel like shit with it, but you really feel like shit without it, so you need it to get through the day. And after a while, you’re desperate to get through the day without it, but know that stopping will feel worse than going—and you don’t know if you’re clinging to it as much as it’s clinging to you. But you’re constantly looking for a way to get rid of it without hurting yourself…but there’s no way. And eventually you hate it as much as you need it.”

She tugged lightly on Ethan’s suspender before meeting his direct gaze with a sincerity she hoped he couldn’t mistake. “So I never, ever want to be anybody’s salve.”

Stuff That Relates To Other Books in the Series

SPOILERS!!!!

Please note: I’m trying not to repeat myself too much. If you are using the trivia to refresh your memory before Michael’s book is released, you’ll probably want to check out the trivia in each post, just because there are so many related points that compiling them would make for a huge, huge list. So I’m trying to focus on the things that are introduced in each book, rather than cross-referencing every single thing between them.

  • Living Blood

We’ve known that vampires can’t exist for long on animal blood or blood from a non-living source, such as bagged blood. So feeding from a living human/demon/vampire/Guardian is the only option for most vampires. In this book, however, we learn that as long as a demon is still living, the blood is still living as well, even if it is bagged. And humans aren’t necessarily feeding off the blood; they are feeding from the psychic energy in the blood (and this is why, when a vampire licks her own blood, she won’t taste anything — the psychic energy already matches her own.)

This is also how the shielding spell works — using symbols and blood (and the blood isn’t ‘dead’ when used in this way — it remains ‘living’ and retains that psychic energy until the spell is broken.)

For Michael’s book: This doesn’t really come up, but it does play into…

  • Unlocking the shielding spell.

With Ethan’s ability to open locks (his Gift) and Charlie’s ability to sense psychic energy in blood as a song, they essentially create a key that can unlock that shielding spell.

For Michael’s book: This ability might be important.

  • The Nephilim

This is the book where the nephilim are introduced. Although it isn’t yet revealed exactly how they are created, we learn that the nephilim were sent to Earth to enforce the Rules in Lucifer’s place, because if any demons on Earth break the Rules while the Gates are closed, Lucifer can’t punish them.

The nephilim don’t have physical bodies on Earth (they do in Hell, but that’s also explained a bit more later.) They are able to cross the realms — essentially, they are put psychic energy — and capture a human soul as it crosses over to Hell. Then the nephil adjusts the resonance of its psychic energy to match the human’s so that the nephil can dwell in the human’s body (essentially possessing the human’s dead body and keeping it alive.)

Vampire blood — which has healing properties — also “heals” the dead human, and briefly disrupts the nephil’s possession, weakening it.

For Michael’s book: Some of this is important.

  • Registering psychic energy as sound (instead of flavors or smells.)

Most Guardians and vampires sense psychic energy and emotions as flavors, scents, or physical sensations. A few Guardians and vampires sense emotions and psychic energy as sounds, instead — including Charlie and Michael. Each person has a different song. If a being has the ability to match that song, it allows them additional powers … such as breaking spells or possessing dead bodies.

For Michael’s book: This is pretty important.