I’m in the throes of deleting point-of-view chapters for one of my favorite secondary characters *sobs piteously*. My editor is right: if this story is truly to be an erotic romance that focuses on the hero and heroine’s journey to find their happy-ever-after, I have to let this character take a back seat. And I know the book will be stronger for it. But he was such an awesome character! Complicated. Ruthless. Intelligent. And his backstory…. Well, there’s a story in itself!
Right now, I’m comforting myself with the thought that he is so vividly drawn, he might one day justify an entire story of his own.
His name is Talmai, and he’s Captain of the Scentinels. And I thought I’d share a couple of his deleted scenes from Scent Of A Man, the fantasy that I’m currently rewriting as an erotic romance for Red Sage.
Deleted Scene 1:
Talmai waited patiently for the maid to rap on the door and introduce him. It’d been hardly any effort at all to convince the innkeeper’s wife that he had a legitimate and most urgent reason to call upon Lord Wychwood without making a prior appointment. A slight relaxing of his will to allow the merest hint of his scent to exude from his pores and waft into the air…. She’d been his to command. As was this young maid.
Once, a long time ago — when he’d been new to his power and still thought it a wondrous gift — he’d attempted to analyze his own particular scent. From his ripening, the only time he’d smelled his own scent, he recalled a fragrance reminiscent of the jasmine-scented skin of his first lover: a perfume infused with the unsurpassed scent of the woman’s skin and her desire for him. And for years, Talmai had made a point of asking each woman he ensnared to describe his particular scent.
Fresh-baked bread, said one.
Ripe apples…blueberry…no, loganberry! insisted another.
New-mown grass on the first day of spring.
Vanilla scented soap.
Fine wine infused with tiny bubbles which burst on the tongue and exploded in one’s mouth.
Musk. Lemon-grass. Mint. Cinnamon…. The list had been as infinitely varied as the women he’d seduced. He’d finally stopped asking, when a woman that he imagined he might have fallen in love with under different circumstances, provided the ultimate answer: “You smell like an angel.”
Hers had been a death he truly regretted. He hoped she was truly happy there, in the Heaven she had believed in, with all its angels.
Deleted Scene 2:
Joseph blew air from his nose in a rush, the resulting sound halfway between a laugh and a snort. “And I was being sarcastic, as you well know. So, Captain Talmai, tell me about yourself.”
“Talmai will suffice. And I was just about to request the exact same service of you.”
“Given I have yet to decide whether or not to trust you, Captain, and that I’ve already been accused of naivety once this evening, what leads you to believe that I would willingly tell you anything?”
Talmai rapidly increased his estimation of Joseph. Untried though he might be, it would be a serious error to consider him entirely naïve. Now for another test of his character. He swirled the port about in his tumbler, watching as the deep ruby liquid clung thickly to the sides, momentarily coloring the glass. It reminded him of freshly shed blood. “I could make it an order.”
“Regardless, you would still find yourself disappointed. Until I’ve reached the palace and been fully integrated into your ranks, you have no authority to command me…unless I choose to allow you to do so. To clarify, you may think of me as free agent who may follow your commands if I think it makes sense for me to do so.”
He passed with flying colors. A potential leader, not a follower. “Well, given that our Liliana will be struggling to remove that gown of hers without assistance and given that she is far too stubborn to request assistance, we have a little more time to fill. What would you like to know about me, Joseph?”
He shrugged. “Anything you care to tell me.”
Another test passed. Joseph was obviously well aware how easy it was to let slip important information when one was forced to talk. Talmai was far too wily to make that error, despite Joseph’s careful maneuverings. “Let me tell you about life in Europa.”
Joseph nodded consent and Talmai began to expound at length upon the Europan way of life. As he talked, he processed the data that he’d collected from Joseph and Liliana thus far.
Given Joseph’s proprietary air toward Liliana, he obviously imagined himself halfway in love with her. It was not unexpected. Liliana was an endearing young woman. She’d rescued him from a vile fate and given him a chance of a new life. How could Joseph help favorably comparing Liliana’s liveliness, her competence, her self-assurance and unabashed sensuality, to the meek and prim females that he’d previously encountered? Liliana eclipsed the insipid Anglian females in the same way a polished gem outshone pebbles.
Your women are given a great deal of freedom,” Joseph mused in response to Talmai’s statement that Europan women owned businesses and freely engaged in commerce.
“Given?” Talmai shook his head. “Our women are not given freedom, as one might reward a child or an animal for good behavior. Our women expect it. ‘Tis a right for every Europan, whether male or female.”
“And yet you give me understand that you have servants, as do we Anglians.”
“Yes. But our servants are not bonded, as yours are. It is employment, nothing more. And unlike the Anglian class structure, in Europa, even the lowliest servant may rise in rank and overcome the accident of their birth.”
“Oh?” Interest flamed in Joseph’s eyes. “How so?”
“Well, there are the usual methods of course. Diligence, a run of luck at the card table, an unexpected inheritance, royal favor.” He answered Joseph’s many questions, appreciating his obvious curiosity.
Joseph’s current infatuation for Liliana would easily be overcome. Enforced isolation during his training would begin the process. And exposing a young, sexually inexperienced man to numerous lushly beautiful women trained in the arts of seduction, would soon cure him of any fancy that he might be in love with Liliana. He would have use of the most desirable women that Europa had to offer. And, as numerous young Scentinels before him, he would soon become arrogant and jaded enough to dally only with exceptional beauties during his off-duty periods.
To Talmai’s mind, the problem was not Joseph but Liliana. That she had indulged herself in Joseph’s body during a mission was a serious infraction but it could be explained away. Obviously, she had succumbed while she’d been ill and not quite herself. Cite delirium and weakness, hint at the possibility that she’d been adversely affected by some drug the Anglian quack who had attended her might have administered, and he was confident that Vashti could be persuaded to forgive Liliana’s momentary lapse of judgment…especially because the girl was a favorite of hers.
But he knew Liliana well enough to realize that this situation with Joseph was no momentary lapse in judgment. Liliana openly took the occasional lover to indulge her sexual needs, just as any other healthy young Europan woman did. And when the affair was over, she ejected the man from her life with nary a backward glance. She’d never shown any sign of caring for any man at a deeper level. Until now. With this man. What Liliana exuded was love. Not desire. Not lust. Love.
Damn. Why this particular man?
“How did you meet Liliana?” Joseph asked.
“When she came to the Empress’s attention, I took her under my wing. I trained her.”
“I commend you, then. Having seen her in action, she truly does you credit.”
“For a mere woman?” Talmai prodded.
“Now you are putting words into my mouth. I’ve seen what she’s capable of and I would wager Liliana against most men.”
“What have you seen her do that impresses you?”
“Aside from her refusal to show any sign of weakness, you mean?” Joseph proceeded to narrate the details of his first encounter with Liliana and how she’d dispatched the dog with an ax.
Talmai was intrigued to note the pride infusing his tone, even as he went on to describe the incident in the cave where she’d so easily bested him. Such a pity that Joseph was who he was. Or more precisely, what he was. Perhaps in another life….
Talmai, pragmatic Scentinel Captain, master of seduction and Vashti’s most cunning assassin, the man who supposedly had not a single weakness, did not want to bear witness to Liliana’s hurt after she was rejected by Joseph — as she inevitably would be. And anyone who knew Talmai, or thought they did, would have been shocked to realize how fond he was of the young woman.
They would have been still more shocked to learn he did indeed have a weakness, a secret known only to himself. His one weakness was the daughter he’d gotten on a young itinerant woman he’d rutted with whilst traveling back from a particularly trying mission. The girl had compounded his original lapse of judgment by taking steps to discover who he was after her baby was born. She’d thought to blackmail him. And Talmai, unwilling to suffer demotion for getting a bastard on such an undesirable, had ruthlessly employed all his considerable abilities to extricate himself from her clutches. He fucked her senseless then efficiently smothered her.
He’d felt nothing as her murdered her. No remorse. No guilt. Nothing at all. He still felt nothing. He couldn’t even remember what she had looked like any more. She’d completely faded from his memories and if it hadn’t been for the gift that she’d left behind, he’d likely not remember she’d existed at all.
That night had been a defining moment for him, one he would vividly remember for the rest of his life….
He left the woman’s body and crawled from the malodorous, straw-stuffed pallet to turned his attention to the apple box beside it. The box served as a makeshift cradle. Inside, his next problem to solve lay atop a ragged folded blanket. The baby was naked save a soiled swaddling cloth about her loins. She lay on her back, one thumb firmly ensconced in her mouth, asleep…as she had slept throughout Talmai’s coupling and then murder of her mother. Barely two months old and undernourished, her cheeks were flushed from the stifling temperature in the shabby room.
As he picked up a pillow, intending to end her wretched existence as implacably as he’d ended her mother’s, an alien sensation twisted his gut. He paused, astonished to be feeling any emotion at all let alone pity. And that one small lapse was his undoing.
The infant opened her eyes, blinked and focused on his face. She smiled gummily at him. She cooed, kicking her legs and waving her arms, already employing feminine wiles to obtain what she desired, in this case, attention. Talmai stilled, poised statue-like, in direct contrast to his wavering resolve. The baby reached out to him. Her tiny hands batted at his face and he was lost. He could not have killed her then to save himself.
The infant was his daughter, of that he had no doubt for she had the look of him, possessing the reddish curls and startling green eyes which bred true to his mother’s side of his family. Reacting swiftly and decisively as was his wont, even when carefully laid plans went awry, he wrapped his daughter in the blanket and walked from the room with nary a backward glance. He spirited the infant to the Palace and placed her in the care of one of the older female servants, claiming to have found her abandoned in the street.
It was child’s play for a Scentinel as talented as he to subtly influence the surrogate mother he’d chosen, as well as those females who would likely interact with his daughter. Though it soon became apparent to him that Liliana, as they called her, managed quite well on her own. The baby’s easy smiles and undemanding demeanor contributed to the fact she was always well fed and cared for, which relieved her father of his daily visits and dramatically lessened the chances anyone would suspect his relationship with the foundling. And as soon as the child was old enough, a whiff of Talmai’s tantalizing scent in the right nostrils ensured her a position at the Palace where he could keep an eye on her.
As his daughter grew and enshrined herself ever more deeply in his heart, he vowed to protect her as long as he had breath left in his body. He never failed at anything he set his mind to. It was inconceivable to him that he would fail to keep Liliana safe.