Stronghold (All for Love #3) by Nicki Bennett & Ariel Tachna
Cover art by Reese Dante
The Perils of POV
It’s no secret that when we write together, we tend to use omniscient POV. To some extent that’s a product of how we write together, but it’s established enough in the All for Love series that Stronghold presented a real challenge for us. It’s hard to write omniscient POV when the characters aren’t together!
For two-thirds of Stronghold, Gerrard is in England and Raúl is in France, and so obviously those scenes were written entirely in the POV of the character we were with, including the memories of times they had spent together. This forced us to consider what to do with the scenes when they were physically together in the present, not just in their memories. We chose to leave the first scene in omniscient POV, since it represents the last hours of Raúl and Gerrard’s life together to that point, and everything readers know of their story until that time had been told in that manner. Once the chapter ends and they go their separate ways, however, we wrote the remainder of the story in limited POV.
That presented its own challenges, though, because we write together in real time, each of us taking a character and writing his thoughts, feelings, words, and actions. This method of collaboration creates very dynamic conversations and reactions because, much like in real life, each of us can only control what her character says and does, not how the other character reacts. For Stronghold, though, we had to find a way to mesh our writing process with the POV of the scene we were working on. In some ways it was harder. How as an author do we convey the character’s reactions if we aren’t in his head and can only see him through the other character’s eyes? On the other hand, the challenge was a good stretch of our skills, of showing rather than telling. The reactions/thoughts/feelings of the non-POV character had to be clear enough that the POV character could interpret them for the reader, either through his knowledge of his lover or, in the case of some of their memories, through the lens of later discussion between the two of them about those memories.
Omniscient POV is a valid choice that can be necessary in some stories. Partnership in Blood could never have been written in limited POV, even multiple limited POVs, because of the wide scope of its storyline and the large number of characters involved. When we started writing Checkmate and All for One ten years ago, omniscient POV was what we were comfortable with. In the intervening years, we’ve learned that some readers don’t enjoy it (too much “head-hopping”) and that the current industry trends lead toward a single POV in any given scene. As we’ve evolved as writers, we’ve moved more in that direction in all our work, but Stronghold was started five years ago. Then we took a three-year hiatus before finishing it. The end of the book is definitely a reflection of our evolution as writers compared to when the series and even Stronghold began.
We’ve included two excerpts below, one from the opening of the story written in omniscient POV, and a second from later in the book written in limited POV. Which do you prefer?
“Are you surprised that strength is drawn to strength?”
For the last six years, the gypsy healer Raúl has lived a life he never dreamed possible. Gerrard Hawkins has stood at his side, his love a source of silent strength like nothing Raúl has ever known.
When a letter from Gerrard’s estranged father forces them in separate directions—Gerrard back to England to make peace with his family and Raúl to Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer for his annual pilgrimage—Raúl expects to suffer for their parting, but he holds on to their plans to meet again in France when Gerrard has satisfied his father’s demands.
Gerrard left England never expecting to return, especially after he pledged his life and love to Raúl. Yet he cannot dismiss his father’s offer of peace without some acknowledgment. When he arrives in England to find tragedy, his sense of duty toward his family’s tenants wars with his promises to Raúl.
As tensions mount and illness spreads in France, Raúl stands as a bastion of hope, but his strength is not limitless. Gerrard is the rock he leans on, and without that strength, Gerrard’s arrival in France may come too late.
“I should leave in the morning,” Gerrard Hawkins said with a deep sigh. “I don’t want to, but if I must go, the sooner I leave, the sooner I will be able to return.”
The room was cool despite the unseasonably warm April weather, but the thick walls of Ambassador Blackwood’s hôtel particulier, where he and Raúl had been guests for over six months, kept the heat out, and Gerrard was glad of the warmth from the fire at his back.
“I won’t be gone more than a month. Two at the most.”
The shiver that curled up the nerves of Raúl’s spine had nothing to do with the coolness of the room. His eyelids flickered shut, the vision lasting only a moment, though that was enough to chill him even further. Drawing a breath, he opened his hazel eyes to fix on Gerrard, replacing the illusion with the reality of Gerrard’s presence for as long as it was still his to claim.
“Of course you must go,” Raúl said. “The claims of family are not to be ignored. And you have been absent from them far longer than they ever expected.”
Gerrard rolled his eyes. “Were it not for my nephew’s death and my brother James’s illness, my father would be happy never to see me again. He made his opinion quite clear before I left England with Christian. I am far happier with you than I ever was in his house. I will do my duty by them and return to your side, where I belong.” Rising from his seat, he drew Raúl into his arms, bending to kiss the slender column of his neck. Raúl’s willowy figure had deceived Gerrard when they first met, but no longer. He knew the steely strength belied by the lithe form and fully intended to take advantage of it before the night was over.
Letting Gerrard pull him into an embrace, Raúl raised a hand to brush through the crisp, dark hair, longer than it had been when they first met six years before, though still far shorter than his own. He indulged in the warmth of Gerrard’s lips against his throat until the need to taste in return became too strong to resist. Closing his fingers around the silken strands, he urged Gerrard’s dark head down, claiming his full lips in a demanding kiss.
Gerrard gave in eagerly to Raúl’s demand, parting his lips so Raúl could ravish his mouth. The thought of being separated for the first time in almost six years tore at his heart. Pulling away, he caught Raúl’s face between his hands. “Give me something to remember you by,” he pleaded. “Some token to carry with me while we’re apart.”
The love, tinged with anticipated sorrow, lighting Gerrard’s deep brown eyes so filled Raúl’s thoughts that the words did not at first register. When they did, he smiled, tugging gently with the hand still woven in Gerrard’s hair. “A token?” he repeated. “A scarf, perhaps, to cover your hair like a Rom’s? You might set a new fashion in England.”
Gerrard laughed. “I think perhaps my father might object to that.” He fingered the gold loop that pierced Raúl’s ear. “Then again, I suspect he would object to anything associated with you and my new life, but many a Rom has a scarf. I was hoping for something more intimate.”
“More intimate? You already carry my heart with you,” Raúl answered, the words full of meaning for all they were spoken with a lilt of humor. “I fear any more intimate portions of my anatomy must await your return. But what think you of this?” He swept the dark hair behind Gerrard’s ear, tracing his fingers over the whorled shell to linger at the lobe. “A ring to mark you as Rom.” As mine, his heart whispered as he rubbed his thumb over the pendant flesh. “Your hair is long enough that it may escape your father’s notice.”
“I care not if he notices,” Gerrard said, voice rough with desire. He leaned into Raúl’s touch, his body tingling with the thought of his gypsy leaving a permanent record of their relationship. “Mark me as yours, love.”
A knock at the door drew their attention. Gerrard was loath to let Raúl go even long enough to open the door, but he knew how Raúl felt about showing weakness to others. That he had leaned on Gerrard so much already with others around was a testament to how worn down he was. “Sit,” Gerrard urged. “That will be water or food. I will take it and send the servant on his way.”
“There should be clean clothes in that armoire,” Raúl said as he bent to remove his boots. “After wearing these for the past sennight, I will be glad to be rid of them.”
Gerrard set the plate of meat, bread, and cheeses the kitchen maid delivered on the dresser and turned back to Raúl before he could unfasten the collar of his doublet. “I’ll do that,” he murmured, kneeling before him to slip the ties free and gently lift the fabric over Raúl’s head. He tossed it aside and kissed a path down the cords of Raúl’s throat, then turned his head to rest it against Raúl’s chest. Raúl’s breath rose and fell unsteadily, which Gerrard would rejoice in if he were sure he was the cause of it. “You’ve exhausted yourself,” he admonished, running a palm down Raúl’s side. Raúl was always slender, but the ribs beneath the skin were too prominent for Gerrard’s liking. “You give and give to others and forget to reserve anything for yourself.”
“It is a failing of mine,” Raúl said, “especially when you are not around to remind me.” He coughed fitfully into his hand, only increasing Gerrard’s worry.
About the Authors
Growing up in Chicago, Nicki Bennett spent every Saturday at the central library, losing herself in the world of books. A voracious reader, she eventually found it difficult to find enough of the kind of stories she liked to read and decided to start writing them herself.
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When Ariel Tachna was twelve years old, she discovered two things: the French language and romance novels. Those two loves have defined her ever since. By the time she finished high school, she’d written four novels, none of which anyone would want to read now, featuring a young woman who was—you guessed it—bilingual. That girl was everything Ariel wanted to be at age twelve and wasn’t.
She now lives on the outskirts of Houston with her husband (who also speaks French), her kids (who understand French even when they’re too lazy to speak it back), and their two dogs (who steadfastly refuse to answer any French commands).