Can you tell readers a little bit about yourself and what inspired to write in this particular genre?
I’ve been writing romances since grade school, and have loved fantasy and science fiction everything for just as long, so I’m not surprised at my choice of genre. When I hit my teen years, I’d have dreams about falling in love with guardian angels, vampires, men from other planets, you name it. My romantic heroes were Han Solo, Hicks from Aliens, and even Anne Rice’s Vampire Lestat, bad boy that he was. I’m not exactly normal, but I’ve made peace with that.
Please tell us about your latest release.
Soulless follows the romance between natural born predator David Jason Sawyer and Fairfield Police Detective Alexis (Alex) Martinez.
Alex is in pursuit of a smart, sadistic serial killer that picks his victims at random and leaves no trace evidence. Soon, Alex’s investigation puts her among the hunted, not by the serial, but by a much bigger threat: Family, a secret society with members imbedded inside world governments, law enforcement and every walk of life. Their prime objective is to avert discovery, and when her investigation comes too close to revealing their existence, Alex becomes a target. The only one that can save her is the trained assassin they’ve sent to kill her, David Jason Sawyer; a man she’s already dangerously attracted to, and who is slowly becoming her prime suspect.
David is a predator with the face of an angel, his mind a weapon as equally formidable as his body. He and his people represent the next step in man’s evolution. Their physiology has evolved to consume bio-energy directly. They’re stronger. They age at an incredibly decelerated rate. With their extraordinary ability to heal, they’re close to invincible. And they feed on humans to survive, draining the life force of their victims.
Since childhood, Sawyer has been trained to manipulate and entrap on reflex, to put emotion second and Family first; yet one moment of weakness, sparing Alex, the woman he has grown to love, makes him a dangerous threat his people cannot tolerate.
Now, Alex and David struggle to stay one step ahead of an invisible army out to silence them both.
Do you have a special formula for creating characters' names? Do you try to match a name with a certain meaning to attributes of the character or do you search for names popular in certain time periods or regions?
I always search for names with root meanings that tell a little something about the character. For instance, ‘Alexios,’ the root of Alexis, my main female character, in the Greek, means ‘defender’ and ‘protector’.
Was one of your characters more challenging to write than another?
My main character, David, was the hardest to write. He’s portrayed as a chameleon and master assassin with incredible control over his emotions. He keeps them reined in because, to him, they’re his weakness.
When writing on the interplay between one character and another, the writer, of course, falls back on the characters’ emotional responses. Well, what if you have someone that doesn’t show emotion and is cold to the point that he frightens? That’s what made David so hard to write, and also so exhilarating. He’s such a complicated person, that I couldn’t help but enjoy creating him, even though he frustrated me.
Do you have a formula for developing characters? Like do you create a character sketch or list of attributes before you start writing or do you just let the character develop as you write?
I let the character develop as I write for as long as possible, until I become stuck. At that point, I create a character sketch, using those early scenes as the foundation. For me, it’s easier that way. It gives me a starting point, a picture for me to build on.
Did you find anything really interesting while researching this or another book?
I became really interested in weapons while researching this book. Family used swords, but they needed something more. Since Family was a secret society that wanted to stay hidden at all costs, I had to find a weapon that left little trace evidence, but was as effective as a standard firearm. That’s when I started looking into modern crossbows.
Many hunting bows can be as deadly as any rifle. In Soulless, the “bad guys” use high-performance crossbows that can shoot arrows at speeds exceeding 300 feet per second; and Snyper razor-tipped, twin-blade broadhead arrows, the blade designed to expand outward on impact, similar to a hollow-point 9mm bullet. Nasty.
Do you ever suffer from writer’s block? How do you deal with it?
I suffer from writer’s block at least once a week. What always works for me is reading my old material. The more I can immerse myself in the world I’ve created, the easier it is for me to pick up where I left off. Oh, and chardonnay whilst immersing helps too ... lots of chardonnay.
What can readers expect next from you?
Soulless is the first book in a series. The second book, Soulless: The Fallen, will be released in 2014.
Where can readers find you on the web?
Readers can find me at www.tonihofman.com; on Goodreads and on Twitter @tonihofman.
Would you like to leave readers with a little teaser or excerpt from the book?
Alexis knew her cries of pleasure were surely penetrating the hotel room door and echoing down the halls but she didn’t care. The burning passion consuming her felt as relentless and dangerous as the trained killers that had been hunting them for days. The deft, sure strokes of David Sawyer’s fingers were damn near driving her crazy, trailing down her back, brushing her breasts, stroking her quivering stomach only to dip into the slick, aching depths of her, teasing, probing. He smiled down at her like a loving husband but, even now, she could sense the cold, restrained power that marked him as a dangerous man. Under his comforting weight, she bucked and cried out again, losing herself in a world of sensation that, for a few precious moments, eclipsed her fear.
He was an assassin trained to be unstoppable, methodical, ruthless. And at the moment, all of that felt as far away as the moon. Her want, her need of him had taken her over long ago, making all pretenses at sanity, at caring about what he was, as inconsequential as the detective's shield she still carried. She was his, body and soul, with no other identity. Not until the danger had passed and she could return to her normal life. If that was even possible.
But she wouldn't think of that now.
Sawyer's face, with its clear, strong brow, full lips and prominent cheekbones held a sense of hidden strength within its noble structure that never ceased to reassure her. His hair, as dark and lustrous as obsidian, fell down to partially cover his forehead. She grabbed a handful, yanked his head back and kissed him hard, drinking him in as a low chuckle vibrated in his chest.
Roughly, he spread her legs apart, his hard, muscular body pressing her down. She wrapped them around his hips, hugging him with her thighs, welcoming him. Sawyer's talented fingers reached between them and moved in a slow, lazy circle that robbed her of breath.
“Please—” she cried, barely recognizing her own voice.
She was on fire, her lithe frame twisting under him restlessly. As if to quench the heat, his mouth came down on her throat, trailing open, wet kisses along her sensitive skin.
His breath blew hot on her ear. “You like that. Tell me you like it when I touch you,” he coaxed sadistically. “It's okay, Alex.”
She groaned. “Shut up.”
Smug son of a bitch.
He chuckled again, and she felt him nip at her earlobe, his teeth causing a brief jolt of pain mixed with pleasure. His tongue laved the spot as if in apology, its circular motions sending electric currents of ecstasy shooting all the way down to her toes. “Say you love me. That you'll want me like this forever. Promise it, Alex. Come now, I'm losing patience.”
He thrust roughly against her to prove it and shot her a cocky smile that didn't do enough to downplay the taint of something not quite right in his voice. It caused her arousal to dampen a bit, and she pulled back to look at him. He returned her stare, his gaze only calmly assessing, without any specific motivation or ambition, untouched by the passion she darn sure had physical evidence he'd been feeling.
A man raised under the strictest edicts of discipline, David Sawyer always held his voice, emotions and reactions under strict control. Sometimes his eyes registered no emotion, and that chilled her. But when they looked at her and warmed, it was like the sun emerging to light up every part of her life.
They knew each other as deeply as two people could. Right now, she saw what he was hiding: uncertainty, and love so clear and startling it threatened to break her heart.
“Don't...” she whispered, desperately trying to hold on to the passion, to block out the troubling confusion he always brought.
He stroked her hair, filling his hands with the long, chocolate-brown tresses and then releasing them to tumble down along the pillows.
“Promise me,” he said.
She knew what he meant. He wanted her acceptance, her commitment, maybe even her forgiveness. Reality came crashing down, stamping out the fire that had threatened to overwhelm her seconds ago.
Damn it, don't ask me for that now.
“I'm trying.” It was all she could say. There was blood on his hands. Though he never admitted the fact, God help her, she knew it, and she didn't know how much. Alex forced her mind away from the thought just as Sawyer brushed his lips along her forehead in a gentle caress.
He was as seductive and darkly powerful as Lucifer, yet the good in him was so strong. It's what had ensnared her, why she couldn't kill him when she'd had the chance.
They'd met months ago and it was as if they were meant to be together from the first moment. Searching for each other. She knew what he was. He'd told her, because loving him, their being together, put her in danger. The people he belonged to wouldn't tolerate her. She knew their secret. It was that simple.
So, he'd convinced her to run with him. No plan. No time for that. Only escape, and a chance at life. Together. And even with her reservations, and only the small hope that she'd be able to return home someday, she went. She couldn't help herself. Or excuse her actions.
“I love you,” he said.
The oath she had taken to uphold the law, the one that ripped at her guts every time she went willingly into his arms, got to tearing her up again.
Please, God, let this get easier.
As she struggled to word a response, a strange sound carried down the narrow hall on the other side of their hotel room door.
Sawyer stiffened and looked in that direction.
Alex's preoccupied mind worked on the sound for a full three seconds before she realized that high-pitched whine, abruptly cut off, was a woman's strangled scream.
In one fluid move, Sawyer was standing, naked, a fierce, dangerous warrior poised to strike. His voice came calm but urgent. “Someone's found us. Get dressed. Fast as you can.”
They'd traveled west in his black Mustang, taking secondary roads instead of the major highways. They'd spent their nights at motels in out-of-the-way small towns before moving on. They'd left their credit and ATM cards back in Fairfield, and used their dwindling supply of cash for everything. Now, apparently, none of that had been enough.
No way we left a trail. However the hell his ability to sense his own kind works, it's gotta be off.
The motel was in the middle of the Arizona desert.
If they could track us here, and this quickly... Jesus...
Alexis reached for her 9-millimeter on the nightstand. “How do you know they're here?”
He stared at her intently. “I know.”
She grabbed her discarded jeans, t-shirt and gun holster from the floor and quickly threw them on. “Don't tell me: A family trait?” She couldn't keep the hostility out of her voice, or the anxiety that was behind it.
He dressed quicker than she could follow him with her eyes. A katana in a shiny black case had rested on the dresser. Now it was in his hands.
Swords were the weapons of choice in fighting among his kind; no bullet shells or other trace evidence left afterwards that might lead to their discovery, only blood. His people were masters with the weapon, trained since childhood. Sawyer gripped his katana firmly by the hilt, pressing it against his leg to partially conceal it from view, and then looked at the weapon holstered at her hip.
Adrenalin and a sharp, unsettling fear coursed through her.
It's not enough to drop one of you. I know.
Still, Alexis rested her hand on her gun, the weapon feeling uncomfortably inadequate against her palm.
“This isn't a stand-and-fight situation for you,” he said. “And these aren't Colin's men. My father couldn't have tracked us so quickly. If anybody's out there, it's Renegades. When I left you last night, I went looking for someone rumored to have joined their ranks: Braxen, heir to the Western House. I thought he might be able to help us. I had to make it known that I was seeking him. It was a mistake.”
“Run. I'll clear you a path.”
“Alex, if they touch you...”
“You won't let them.”
Sawyer glared at her. For a moment, he looked on the verge of losing his carefully-honed calm. “I can't promise that.”
She shook her head. “If they get their hands on me, you won't let them hold me for long—”
“—not long enough to calm themselves, to focus. If they can't concentrate on killing me, they can't kill me, right?”
“Unless they're armed, which they will be. I can't fight them and protect you at the same time.”
“You don't have to. I can hold my own in a fight. I'm the cop, Sawyer, remember? I'm not freaking helpless.”
“Yes you are,” he pressed. “You're human.”
“Look, maybe this gun can't kill them, but it sure as hell can slow them down.”
They were out of time.
He sighed, running a hand through his hair. “Stay behind me. If it gets rough and I tell you to run —”
“I'm smart enough to be scared, okay? Let's just get this done.”
She opened the door.
And all of the lights in the hotel's hallway went out, plunging them into darkness.
For a moment they hesitated on the threshold, then Alex felt him grab her hand. Together, they walked out into the hall, Sawyer slightly in front of her.
At the end of the corridor, they turned left and headed into the lobby. The area behind the reception desk was empty. Blood spray ran diagonally along the wall near it. A smeared trail of red on the linoleum tiles led from behind the desk and out the hotel entrance.
Alex's heartbeat sped faster.
They kept moving, exiting the building, heading for the parking lot.
She only saw one of them, a tall man, lean and muscular, wearing jeans and a weathered leather jacket, and with that ageless look Alex was beginning to recognize. He looked to be in his twenties, but she knew he could be much older. He stood at the back of the Mustang, waiting for them.
Rain fell in a slow downpour.
They stopped twenty feet away from him.
“One of Colin's?” she whispered to Sawyer.
He shook his head.
Sawyer's voice carried through the rain. “I wasn't hunting him. No order has been given. I came to talk. My father does not know I'm here. If you choose to move against me now, Renegade, that will change. We both don't want that. Do you understand?”
The tall man shrugged.
Alex felt a prickling at the back of her neck and turned.
She watched four others approach from a parked car at the side of the hotel entrance.
Her breath quickened. Five of them.
She looked at the tall man again and saw that he held a sword now, his katana's blade glittering in the harsh light from the parking lot's overhead lamps.
Terrified, she unholstered her weapon. Raised it.
“No,” Sawyer yelled. “Run!”
One of the approaching four came towards her, sword raised.
She fired, the loud boom of the shot echoing in her ears.
The bullet hit the man mid-chest, right where his heart should be.
The man staggered. And kept coming.
Fairfield Detective Alexis (Alex) Martinez is in pursuit of a killer so brutal, he holds an entire city in the grip of terror. His victims are picked at random; their torture and mutilation, unspeakable. As the body count rises, Alex’s investigation puts her among the hunted—not by the serial, but by a much greater threat: a secret society with members imbedded inside world governments, law enforcement and every walk of life. Their prime objective is to avert discovery, and when her investigation comes too close to revealing their existence, Alex becomes a target. The only one that can save her is the trained assassin they’ve sent to kill her; someone who has already infiltrated her heart and mind, and who may be the monster she’s been chasing all along.
David Jason Sawyer is a predator with the face of an angel, his mind a weapon as equally formidable as his body, prince of a powerful hidden society believed to represent the next step in man’s evolution: Family. Their physiology has evolved to consume bio-energy directly. They’re stronger. They age at an incredibly decelerated rate. With their extraordinary ability to heal, they’re close to invincible. And they feed on humans to survive.
Since childhood, Sawyer has been trained to manipulate and entrap on reflex, to put emotion second and Family first; yet one moment of weakness, sparing the very detective that hunts him, the woman he has grown to love, makes him a dangerous threat his people cannot tolerate.
Now, light must join forces with darkness as Alex and David struggle to stay one step ahead of an invisible army out to silence them both.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Toni Hofman has been writing romances since she was thirteen years old and loving every minute of it. She is the recipient of a B.A. in English from Florida State University, a M.A. in English from the University of Illinois at Chicago, and a previous participant in UIC’s Program for Writers. For the past 10 years, she has worked as a proposal writer and manager, focused on helping employers and clients win multi-million dollar federal and state contracts. Soulless is her debut novel and first foray into publishing. She lives in Southern California with her family.