Behind the scenes: Rebel Lion

Laid-back lion shifter falls for workaholic city girl. Did you wonder how I got the inspiration for Book 3 of my new PEARLS OF DESIRE series? Well, read on for all the inside info on this exciting new release.

The characters

Dell has featured prominently since Book 1 of this series, in part thanks to his humor and good looks and in part due to his constant ribbing of Cynthia. I just love it when he calls her Cynth, and she snips back (“Cynthia,” she insists, drawing out each syllable). In fact, the dynamic between those two even led some readers to speculate that Dell and Cynthia might become an item someday! That would have been fun, but I have a very special hero in mind for Cynthia. Don’t worry - you’ll get to meet him in Rebel Alpha! Meanwhile, destiny has a different heroine in mind for Dell – a unique, independent woman who is ready to bring order to the comfortable chaos of Dell’s bachelor life.

That’s Anjali Jain, and she’s just perfect for Dell despite being his exact opposite. He’s a mellow, take it one day at a time kind of guy, while Anjali doesn’t go anywhere without her planner, which is filled with deadlines, meeting times, and sticky notes. Anjali is the nice girl who studied hard and got into the best schools while Dell knows more about playing hard than working hard (or so he’d like people to believe).

I guess I could have made Anjali’s character just about anyone, but the fact that her family’s roots are in India gave her extra layers I enjoyed exploring. I’m not Indian, but as a first-generation American, I know all about blended cultures and traditions. It was a lot of fun to subtly layer those details in – things like family expectations and small but important cultural holdovers like the kathak class Anjali takes (kathak is a mesmerizing form of traditional Indian dance). All that helps add another level of contrast between Anjali and Dell.

I’ll pop back to Dell for a moment and point out another thing. Through Books 1 and 2 of this series, readers only see Dell’s easygoing, fun-loving side. But the moment Book 3 begins, we discover Dell’s secret inner world. That’s really important, I think – that twist in expectations, that feeling of What will happen next? Real life is like that - the more you get to know someone, the more glimpses you get of their private, inner side. And boy does Dell have a lot to grapple with when so many factors in his life converge - memories of his brother, family expectations, the agonizing decision he has to make about what’s best for Quinn, and the temptation of his destined mate who wanders along during the deepest crisis of his life.

So each character - Dell and Anjali - was fun to develop and get to know. Meanwhile, their relationship allowed me to explore two fascinating themes. One is how opposites attract. The other is that love isn’t just about finding the right person – it’s finding him or her at the right time. Have you ever experienced that yourself? That feeling of if things were different, who knows how this might have worked out? Anjali and Dell would never have ended up together if they had met under different circumstances. Anjali would have been much too busy studying to take much notice of Dell in her earlier days, just as Dell would have been too busy carousing in true lion shifter style. But fate works in mysterious ways, bringing Quinn into their lives.

Quinn is both the magnet and the glue that brings that couple together – and keeps them together. Dell and Anjali’s relationship is bound for great things because each helped the other become a better person in the end. Dell discovers his serious, responsible side, and Anjali learns to loosen up and smell the roses along the way. As shifters and adoptive parents to Quinn, they form an unbreakable bond for life. For me, that’s the definition of a happy end – the deep, satisfied sigh I heave when I turn the last page and read The End.

The story

There’s nothing more emotional than a well-written “surprise baby” story, and I’ve wanted to try one for a while. Dell was the perfect hero for this trope as the last guy you’d imagine taking care of a baby. But that’s just the challenge he needs to show his true colors, even if the journey is a long, hard one.

One thing I struggled with while writing this book was how much resistance the other shifters of Koakea ought to pose to the idea of Dell adopting Quinn. If they had unconditionally supported him from the outset, it would have been too easy for Dell, so I went with the “tough love” approach. It was hard at times, but if you read between the lines of what the others say, their support and brotherly love comes through clearly.

As much as I love Maui settings (so many to choose from, and all so lovely!), I decided to make a detour to Chicago to change things up a little. That also brings Dell and Anjali right to the dragon’s den, so to speak, when they confront Moira, and it adds yet another contrast – the busy city versus the tranquility of Maui. I wanted to set the final confrontation on neutral turf (Oahu) for another reason – namely, so that Dell and Anjali would have to face off with Moira’s henchmen on their own. But, wow. It was hard to design a fight-to-the-death that involves a baby! I think the airplane hangar worked well in the end, and I hope you agree.

My favorite scene

While I have a lot of favorites, I really love the tension of Dell’s confrontation with Moira – her being all slinky and seductive, him barely controlling his rage. I also really enjoy the lead-in to Dell and Anjali’s first love scene, and it was fun peppering little dragon details into the mansion owned by Silas (see Cross-links with other series below). Other favorites include all the fun moments Dell and Joey share, because you see Dell being a kid but being a great father figure at the same time. So, lucky baby Quinn. She really gets a happily-ever-after, don’t you think?

Biggest change from early drafts to final edition

Early on, I toyed with the idea of a slightly different identity for Anjali’s character – namely, making her the sister of Lourdes (and therefore Quinn’s aunt). That would have made the story one of two brothers falling in love with two sisters, albeit at different times. But that didn’t feel right to me, and once I hit upon the idea of having Anjali’s family come from India, I abandoned that.

Then came the question of how close Anjali and Dell ought to come to parting ways. I thought about having her tearfully signing Quinn over to Dell and then leaving Maui, with Dell chasing her down either at the last minute or in Chicago. That would have been pretty dramatic! But I figured Dell would never have let Anjali go, plus it was a good opportunity to have both Dell and Anjali encounter Moira in the big city.

A smaller detail I played around with for a long time was the location for the final confrontation. I knew all along I wanted to set it in an airport hangar, but I wasn’t sure whether to make that at Chicago’s O’Hare, LAX, or on Oahu. Finally, I settled on Oahu. And, whew - poor Anjali, Quinn, and Dell! All those flights in quick succession. Whew!

Cross-links with other series

Fans of my Jewels of the Heart series will notice several cross-links with Rebel Lion, even though every book can be read as a standalone. One of the most obvious is with Silas Llewellyn, the dragon shifter from Love of the Dragon. If you haven’t read his story yet, you should! It’s Book 5 in the Aloha Shifters: Jewels of the Heart series. In it, Silas battles his mortal enemy, Drax, and inherits a vast fortune from his late uncle – including a Manhattan penthouse and that lovely mansion in Chicago. (I am seriously tempted to write a story about the hunky security guy at the mansion, by the way! Maybe someday…)

If you haven’t read Love of the Dragon and the other books of Jewels of the Heart, put them at the top of your reading list, because they will help you appreciate the nuances that are a lot of fun to spot in the background.