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When Juli Gunby left Missoula, Montana, she didn’t intend to come back. Not to her exacting alpha werewolf father, and certainly not to Neil Statham, the beta who rejected Juli’s girlish advances. Her father, as usual, has other ideas, using his dying breath to pass pack leadership to his daughter. Juli resolves to carry out her duty to her father and her pack, but the one man she wants on her side has made himself her enemy.
After years of loyal service to the pack, Neil expects to take over as alpha when his mentor dies. As good as it is to see Juli again, he knows he can’t trust her. After all, she abandoned both him and the pack years ago and never looked back. Neil determines to fight for his rightful position in the pack, even if that means going up against a woman who fills him with an overwhelming urge to mate every time she walks into the room.
Someone needs to lead, and the more Neil and Juli fight, the more they attract interference from those who would control the pack and destroy the ties between them.
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A Little Like Me, a Little Different from Me
by Annabeth Leong
For the most part, my characters are completely made up. I don't base them on people I know in person, actors, or what have you. Things do creep in, of course—many times my heroes wind up saying things that my husband would say, for example. However, I resist this as much as possible, because I want each character to be different, his or her own person.
Ideas have to come from somewhere, though, and a lot of times the answer is that they come from me. At any given moment in real life, I'm choosing which version of myself gets to respond to whatever just happened—my anxious self? my compassionate self? my angry self? I think there's a "real me" in there somewhere, but so many times I'm sorting through a lot of other possible selves.
When I'm designing a character, I'm usually taking the traits I know intimately and remixing them. For example, the villain of Not the Leader of the Pack, Heather Compton, is the result of building a character around the satisfaction and comfort I can sometimes get from following the rules. Of course, Heather takes that to extremes that I would not reach (I hope). The hero, Neil Statham, is the very best version of my commitment to duty, but not sufficiently tempered by the ability to stand up for his own interests. The heroine, Juli Gunby, is my exploration of what it might be like to find the courage to go home (I left my home a long time ago, and never went back for more than a visit).
Every person contains the potential to be so many people. I think that's part of where compassion comes from—for me, caring for others is a similar act of imagination. Someone will tell me they slipped and said something they didn't mean, and I think about times I've done the same, or that time I would have if my angry self had managed to get the upper hand. When I create a character, I'm imagining a person who's a little like me, and also a little different from me—just like every person I've ever met in the world.
That said, Not the Leader of the Pack includes a very important exception to my usual character creation process. I wrote it a couple months after my father died, and Darrow Gunby is based pretty heavily on my own father. That might not be obvious—he looks very different from my father, and my father wasn't a werewolf. However, Darrow's strong will, which comes through despite his death in the first chapter, comes from my own dad. Juli's experience saying goodbye to him is also based on what I went through at the time, and some of her regrets and feelings are my own.
I'm not sure how my dad would have felt about becoming a character in a paranormal erotic romance, but I hope he'd be honored to know that he was deeply in my subconscious at the time.
Juli smiled for only a second before her expression turned serious. “Neil, I wasn’t ready for any of this.”
He tightened his arm around her. “Of course not. How could you be?”
Neil cleared his throat. It was just like her to take him off balance by diving straight into the heaviest part of the conversation. He needed to respond carefully. “Juli, if that’s a burden to you, I may be able to help.”
“I hope so! I don’t know what I’ll do without you staying on as beta. What if people don’t accept me?”
Neil blinked. He’d expected to find her desperate to relieve herself of the responsibility Darrow had dumped on her. She’d left years ago, after all, and had never seemed to spare a backward glance for the pack, or for him. “You mean, you actually want to do this?”
She pulled back a few inches and stared. His body cried out at the loss, and he had to resist the urge to close the distance she had opened between them. “I have to do this. My father used his dying breath to pass this on to me. I have a duty. You of all people ought to understand.”
He spoke before he had a chance to think. “Maybe it’s time to stop worrying so much about duty. Maybe it’s time to think about what’s right for us individually.” He should have kissed her that night years ago. She shouldn’t take this responsibility now, when she clearly didn’t have the resources or the training for it. Both these things could be fixed.
Annabeth Leong has written romance and erotica of many flavors -- dark, kinky, vanilla, straight, lesbian, bi, and menage. Her titles for Breathless Press include Not His Territory, Not the Leader of the Pack, and a contribution to the Ravaged anthology. She enjoys writing about the tension between passion and control that werewolves embody. Unfortunately, when Annabeth loses control of herself, she does not gain the power to change shape. She lives in Providence, Rhode Island.
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