Guest blog by Mary Sullivan, author of No Ordinary Home
I’m so happy to be here! Thank you loveromancepassion for having me.
I want to talk today about raising the sensual stakes in a novel without littering the book with endless love scenes. To my mind, it’s important to have the characters yearn for each other long before the consummation of their attraction. It makes that first sex scene so much more satisfying to read. The concept of delayed gratification is a sound one on so many levels. LOL
In my October Harlequin Superromance, No Ordinary Home, it was hard to envision what that attraction would look like and how it would grow because the characters were so very different from each other.
While the hero, Austin Trumball, might have had a rough start in life, he was saved with the help of a good-hearted sheriff and left behind those bad habits that surely someday would have led him to a jail cell. He’s grown up to be a deputy sheriff in my fictional town of Ordinary, Montana. The heroine, Gracie Travers, is a drifter. She’s been living the homeless life for six years. She has her reasons and feels no need to share them with law enforcement.
So, how was I to make their attraction to each other believable? How could a deputy sheriff ever find a homeless woman attractive? I started with character. Austin grew up to be salt-of-the-earth dependable, a trustworthy man on whom anyone can rely. Gracie has known so little of that in her life. Fiercely independent, she is nevertheless tempted by his dependability and stability.
Gracie might appear to be rough around the edges, but she has an innate kindness that life hasn’t managed to beat out of her. During her travels, she stops at nursing and old folks homes to give free manicures and pedicures to the aging residents. Then she sings old classic songs that they all love. Austin likes that about her. As a child, he was asked to grow up too quickly by an extremely dependent mother. He admires Gracie’s staunch independence even as he wants to help her.
As far as their physical attraction went, I built it in slowly, in small ways.
Austin has given her a few meals and her pride compels her to pay him back somehow. She has no money, so offers to cut his hair.
She approached uneasily, regretting now that she’d offered to do this. In her need to pay him back, she hadn’t realized this could be dangerous to her.
Touch. Six years of deprivation. She’d been starving. She craved touch. Had known too little of it, even before she’d run away.
She settled the towel across his back and broad, muscled shoulders. The warmth of his body seeped into her through the slightest touch.
Good-looking, fit, kind, generous, decent. The man was perfect in every way, or would have been in another time, under different circumstances.
Guard your heart, Gracie.
Then, in another scene, Austin drops her off in a small town where she is going to pick up money owed to her. It will (they think) be the last time they will see each other.
“I guess this is goodbye,” he said and grasped her hand in his much larger one, engulfing her fingers with his calm, sure strength.
Why did she feel like crying, as if maybe she was walking away from the best man she would ever know? Certainly, he’d treated her well, but so had others. Some others. Not all. Not many.
Holy mac and cheese, how could a handshake be so devastating?
He tugged, gently, and she yearned forward. He leaned close, closer, his breath a caress on her cheek. Then his lips were on hers, warm and tender and firm.
In his kiss was the heat of summer, the shimmer of sheet lightning, the earthiness of morning dew.
His palm cradled her cheek, his thumb and forefinger angled her chin where he wanted her. His tongue played hide-and-seek with hers, so sweetly.
A dangerous kiss, it whispered intimate promises to her naïve daydreaming heart, promises that would hurt when they weren’t fulfilled.
She slid her lips and hand from Austin’s, slowly, memorizing the feel of him, to take out one month, one year, one decade from now when she was living alone and hiding from the world, and feeling the lack of love in her life. She almost certainly would live alone. In the future, how could she possibly ever find another man as good as Austin? She would need a memory to sustain her. Like this. Of him.
In the end, there was only one thing to do. Walk away.
She gets out of the car and walks away, but we see a little of what Austin feels about that kiss…
“Goodbye, my left nut,” Austin muttered. After that kiss? That bit of perfection that should have been a beginning instead of an ending?
The beginning of what?
He didn’t have a clue, but he couldn’t leave her to walk away, not until he knew for sure she was safe. Then he would consider it.
Then, and only then, he would really say goodbye. Maybe. After he explored more of whatever it was that had built between them.
Later still, long before their first sex scene, Gracie ends up in terrible danger and Austin saves her. She has been able to save herself while on the road for six years, but the man attacking her is drunk, high and too strong for her. For once in her life, she is glad that someone else is there to help her. Gracie had let her pride get the better of her common sense. Austin is furious that she put herself into such a dangerous situation by sleeping in a back alley when she could have been safe in a hotel room with him, no strings attached. He loses his precious control around her. He takes her back to the hotel and she is glad to go.
“What are you doing?” she whispered.
“I’m going to kiss you.”
“Because I have to do something or I’ll yell this place down. You frustrate me, woman.”
“Woman? You sound like a caveman. I have a name.”
“Quiet. You talk too much.”
Before she could protest, his lips were on hers, seeking and demanding.
Gracie felt his kiss to her toes, felt it everywhere, as though bubbles were dancing in her stomach and diminutive fairies were jumping for joy in her brain.
More, they shouted. Give us more. They danced jigs. They threw fairy dust into her bloodstream.
When he pulled back, she said, “I don’t talk too much.”
“You do.” He kissed her again. Just what she wanted.
The fairies whooped and danced some more. The fairy dust in her blood floated and twirled. The fairies sang love songs. “A kiss is just a kiss,” she told herself.
Not this one. This was THE kiss, the one that would go down in every history written from this point on, in the annals of romance, as the best kiss ever.
Austin drew away and Gracie sighed. He knew his way around a woman’s lips. “You’ve been practicing.
He picked up his shaving kit and dropped it into this bag then walked toward the door.
“What are you doing?”
“Going to get a room of my own. I can’t stay with you tonight.” He walked out of the room.
His rejection stunned her. It shouldn’t hurt. It did.
Fine. She didn’t want sex with him, anyway. Truly.
The fairies disagreed. They pouted, railing against the unfairness of life that they should be left excited and eager and wanting, while Austin had apparently felt nothing. They crossed their little arms and stomped their tiny feet.
Holy Hannah, how was she supposed to sleep tonight?
Again, Austin’s reaction to that kiss. We get his POV the following morning…
After he’d kissed her last night, he’d had to leave the room because he wanted to make love to her badly, but not like that.
The first time he and Gracie made love—and they would—it wouldn’t be with him full of anger. It wouldn’t be while he was ready to burst with frustration because of how much she pissed him off.
It would be because of how much he liked her, just honest to God liked her spirit, her honesty and her generosity.
That day when he’d seen her singing with the senior citizens, he’d seen an angel in action, a woman who cared.
It will still be a while after this scene before Austin and Gracie make love and I hope that I built up the tension enough that it is as satisfying for the reader as it is for my hero and heroine.
NO ORDINARY HOME is in bookstores today!
Currently, I’m writing a short Christmas story, a free read to send out in my December newsletter. I have a real weakness for many of the romance plotlines that are considered clichés. The short story is about a man and a woman stranded in the middle of a snowstorm in a small cabin in the woods, alone, without electricity, with only a quilt in front of the fireplace to keep them warm. Well, you can guess what happens next!
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MY WEBSITE: www.marysullivanbooks.com