Vote for Harlan!
The publisher of my Twelve Kingdoms and Uncharted Realms books is hosting their annual Ultimate Hero Showdown. Harlan, the hunky and infinitely patient hero of THE TALON OF THE HAWK, has made it through two rounds so far.
(Mostly thanks to passionate fans who stayed up clicking away until midnight!)
Voting in round three starts at midnight, March 31 and goes until midnight - all U.S. Eastern Daylight Time. You can click as often as you like! (Hence the aforementioned Harlan fans clicking away.)
Harlan also appears in THE PAGES OF THE MIND, out May 31 (finally!). So, to give you a little extra Harlan love, here's an excerpt from PAGES, which is in Dafne's point of view. Here he's helping Ursula teach Dafne self-defense.
Ursula rolled her head on her shoulders. “All right, librarian. We’ve no time to teach you Danu’s forms, which would be the foundation of what you need to know as a fighter. Instead we’re going to show you the tricks—all with the intent of you gaining time to escape should you be attacked. For the most part, your aim will not be to kill or permanently disable an attacker. You don’t want to be that close for that long. Instead you will focus on hurting a person enough that they can’t chase you. We’ll lay the groundwork this morning and then Jepp will take over after you leave tomorrow, helping you refine the skills and build on them. Does that make sense?”
“You’ve no time to teach me the entire alphabet so you’re giving me the equivalent of conversational phrases that I can practice and add to as I learn this language.”
Her frown cracked and she laughed. “Exactly. You’ll do just fine. I know you will.”
I knew she meant more than just with knife work and I nodded, hoping to reassure her.
“The first thing you’ll learn is what to do when someone grabs you. Jepp, demonstrate. Let Harlan catch you, and break free.”
Jepp sauntered up to Harlan and gave him a saucy grin of challenge. “Captain Harlan can catch me anytime.” She turned her back, and he launched himself at her, dwarfing her slim form, muscles bulging in his sleeveless shirt as they flexed to restrain her. She seemed to fold in, then burst out, spinning in place and halting with a sharp blade at his throat.
He grinned at her. “Lucky indeed would be the man who could both catch and hold you.”
“Stop flirting, you two,” Ursula said. “Now you try it, Dafne.”
“I can’t do that!”
“You can and you will.” She pressed a short knife into my hand, much like the daggers she and Jepp habitually carried, but made of wood with blunted edges. “Harlan?”
He advanced and I took an automatic step back. “I can’t get away from a man that size!”
“You’re going to a place where they are all that size,” she emphasized. “Better to learn with someone you know and trust.”
“Maybe I should start with Jepp?” I offered weakly, but Ursula shook her head, a determined set to her jaw.
“Jepp is here to see what we teach you. Today you’re working entirely against Harlan and me. You have to experience what it’s like to be up against someone bigger and more skilled.”
I wished for some of the thrill I’d felt yesterday when I accepted this mission. Being called to adventure turned out to involve a great deal of unpleasant challenges.
I nodded in resignation and turned my back. Harlan’s big arms closed around me, trapping my arms against my sides, sending a flutter of panic through me. Trapped in the dark. Unable to move. My throat on fire. Can’t breathe. I whimpered and his arms loosened.
“Tighter than that, Harlan. Don’t go easy on her,” Ursula’s voice whipped out.
“She’s afraid.” His voice rumbled against my back, an oddly comforting sensation that worked some to lessen my rising fear, but only a little. “She doesn’t like being trapped.”
Of course he’d remember, from that story I’d told him, of the fall of my family’s castle. Ursula bent over so her eyes were level with mine, bright steel. “Use it,” she commanded. “Everyone feels fear at some point. That’s healthy self-preservation. It’s also the fuel that will drive you to survive. You’ve called on it all these years. People underestimate you—use that, too. Now, let him think he has you, collapse a little, like you’re fainting. He senses your fear so he’ll believe it. Let your weight sag, so he’s forced to support you, then call on that will to survive. Picture it like a sun burning in your heart. Push up from the ground and rise. Burst up and out. Do it.”
It helped not to fight the panic. Use it. I let myself collapse as she said, feeling Harlan’s arms tighten to keep me upright. That dark space. Trapped. The fear burned like a sun indeed, and I wondered how Ursula knew. It wanted to break free, so I let it. Harlan grunted, his hold breaking.
I’d done it!
“Good,” Ursula said, “but don’t just stand there. Break, stab him with the knife, and run. Hold her again.”
Ursula was a relentless taskmaster. I’d seen her badgering Andi all those years to learn to defend herself and also witnessed Andi’s wary attempts to avoid the lessons. Ami had stubbornly refused and appealed to Uorsin, who had, of course, indulged her. Which was no doubt why she found herself needing lessons from Ash so many years later.
Over and over, Ursula made me break free, showing me which vulnerable spots on Harlan were in easy reach of my short blade. Due to my much smaller stature, that usually meant somewhere in his groin area. Ursula made me put my hand up between Harlan’s massive thighs, to feel for myself the hollows where the arteries ran shallow and where his man jewels hung heavy and vulnerable. Harlan stoically endured it all, but I blushed furiously.
“Get over it,” Ursula ordered. “This isn’t about niceties. This is about saving your life. Now, break away, and if your position is good, shove your blade as hard as you can up into his balls.”
“I don’t want to hurt him.”
Harlan gave me a reassuring smile. “It won’t be the first time—and I’ve been hit there by people much bigger than a nyrri.”
He called me that deliberately, to make me mad, but it worked anyway. Experimentally, I called on that, too. When I broke away, I did as Ursula bade me and brought the wooden knife up hard between his thighs, slicing edge up.
To my shock, Harlan dropped to his knees gasping out a Dasnarian curse. Ursula surveyed me with a delighted grin. “Excellent! Imagine if that had been a sharp blade. He’d be bleeding out. But you still forgot to run. Do it again.”
Harlan gave her a sidelong look. “This time, I’m wearing protection.”
“I’m sorry,” I told him.
“Don’t be.” He held out a hand for me to help him to his feet. A gesture of courtesy, as he surely didn’t need it. He inclined his head. “Be proud of besting me.”