I'm not sure what it is that so fascinates me about a person trying desperately to change. But I love seeing a person who has messed up in the worst way overcoming their past.
The classic example of this is my obsession with the 1980s television show, The Equalizer.
Robert McCall used to work for the CIA. He's killed a lot of people, to the point where he talks about being haunted by the face of every one who has died because of him.
His former CIA colleague calls McCall the "most dangerous man he's ever met" and says the government won't let him walk away. McCall tells them to take their best shot. A friend aware of the situation tells him "I'll cry at your funeral." McCall says "I'll be there."
When the woman he's protecting from a stalker says "I'd like to get to know you better," McCall responds with "you wouldn't."
It's no wonder I was hooked on this show from the beginning.
Later, McCall struggles to do things the right way but every now and then the backslides, like killing the rapists who hurt one of his clients. Or using a bomb to blow up the people who kidnap his daughter. Or the time when the wedding he's attending is crashed by terrorists. He uses a doorstop from the bathroom to kill one of the terrorists before going after the others.
McCall has been the template for two of my romance heroes. The first manuscript is as yet unpublished and that character is not nearly as dark as McCall.
The second, however, is *darker* than McCall. That's Philip Drake of Phoenix Legacy. Drake, like McCall, is a former black ops CIA agent. And, like McCall, he's a killer but now he's trying to figure out how to do the right thing.
If he can figure out what that right thing is.
Philip is a bit of a psychopath. Because he was raised by an abusive father and because he had to kill his stepfather and several others to survive to adulthood, Philip's morals basically are "protect the person I care about and all others are expendable." Laws and regular morality mean nothing to him. The only person who matters is his foster daughter, Beth, who he rescued during a mission years ago. Beth is Philip's one fragile hold on humanity.
Philip has the ability to heal himself of nearly any injury. This means he looks young, even though he says he's too old and cynical to look under thirty. It also means because he gets an adrenaline rush when his body heals, Philip is addicted to pain, to the point where he physically harms himself just to feel at all.
So he's a stone-cold killer who's addicted to pain with a very fragile hold on his humanity. I thought Philip was extreme for a romance hero but then I talked briefly with Anne Stuart--who's known for her dark heroes--and she said "I love it." With that kind of endorsement, I went ahead and wrote the story.
So who's Philip's heroine? No other than the daughter of the people Philip had to kill in order to survive as a teenager. (He did have one other very good reason--protecting someone else-- but that's a spoiler, so I'd rather not say.) As the blurb says, Del Sefton is ready to cheerfully spit on his grave.
Except my bad guys have involved Del by impregnating her using Philip's sperm. The bad guys want to grow the next generation of psychic healers. They tried to keep Philip from finding out but he does. And he's less than pleased.
So Del's carrying the baby of someone she blames for the worst tragedy in her life. And Philip has to convince her to trust him or the bad guys will get her and the child.
Here's an excerpt:
Philip pounded the floor, digging the glass shards in deeper. Pain shot up his arms. Blood pooled onto the floor. He closed his eyes, breathing heavily. Sweat poured down his back. He held up his bloody hands and opened his eyes.
He still imagined holding Del. The lust triggered by the pain spread through his body.
He imagined Del in his arms, in the back seat of the Charger. She wasn’t a child any longer, she was a beautiful woman, one who’d saved his life, one who—
One whose life had been wrecked so she could carry a child who was either his brother or his son.
Blood slid down his arms, soaking his shirt.
What a mess.
Daydreaming about her wouldn’t help. Neither would crippling himself before he caught the men looking for her. Wrecked hands wouldn’t help him find Genet, they wouldn’t help him interrogate Cheshire.
They wouldn’t help him make certain Del and her son could live in peace.
Philip pulled out a pocketknife and flicked the shards out of his knuckles, one by one. Pain slashed at him. He grinned, riding with it, feeling his nerves sizzle with the agony. His erection pushed against his jeans. He ignored it. He’d not give into it, not when thinking about Del. She didn’t deserve that.
It's a measure of how messed up Philip is that when Del finally lets loose her anger at him violently, he's all "oh, that's good, more."
Let's just say the sex scene is quite intense.
Maybe it's because the characters, particularly Philip, are so lost that the ending to this story makes me so happy. They had to come so far from where they'd been to care about each other.
And that's the trick of a great redemption story. Their happy ending, under the worse circumstances, somehow gives me hope that I can redeem my own very mundane mistakes.
Though the other part of me says the story was fun to write because Philip is so single-mindedly without conscience about protecting those he loves. Get in his way? You're dead. Kidnap his woman? He'll crash his truck into your house. Shoot him? He'll shrug it off and keep coming.
Sorta like the Terminator. But hotter. And (I would hope) better in bed.
Corrina Lawson is a writer, mom, geek and superhero. She's written the Phoenix Institute series for Samhain Publishing, including Phoenix Rising, Luminous, and Phoenix Legacy. She also is a co-editor for the GeekMom blog on Wired.com. And would love to write a great redemption story for Magneto, if she could imagine Michael Fassbender in the role. www.corrina-lawson.com