The romance author, especially one who writes erotic romance, must walk a fine line between staying true to the plot and the characters’ motivations, yet being hyper-aware of readers’ sensibilities. An author acquaintance mentioned she’d received criticism for having “too graphic” sex scenes in a sub-genre where it’s fairly common. Another suffered under the “not enough, I feel cheated, this is lame” set of complaints.
It’s a damned if you do, damned if you don’t scenario.
Personally, I like—no, let’s make that… I love—intimation and veiled suggestions that burn your eyeballs and set your skin to tingling. For me, romance and the physical expressions of sensuous touch and taste, scent and sound… all speak to seduction and sensuality that resides, first and foremost, inside your head. It awakens in the images conjured by the body’s response, in the act of reacting that eases control and elevates the senses to another plane.
Add in an element of risk or danger—of pushing against boundaries—and you heighten, magnify and amplify an experience that may cross the line between pleasure and pain, turning a transitory moment into oppressive, lingering guilt or remorse. Or it can fuel a hunger so intense it becomes obsessive, compulsive and utterly compelling.
Today—a sensual example from Roman (Saints and Sinners):
TJ’s been warned to stay away from the teen living above her father’s repair shop. Roman’s an enigma, a juvie with a checkered past—a loner who inspires fear and loathing—in everyone but TJ. In the dead of night, with no one to see her, she steals into Roman’s loft under the pretext of bringing him dinner, thinking herself alone…
His body blocked the light, casting his face in shadow. He wore the fleece hoodie and jeans and biker boots, the hood still pulled up, hiding his features. All she saw were the deep pools of temptation, drawing her in, the mouth set in a firm line. In anger, displeasure, disappointment—she couldn’t tell. Yet, he’d held her so tenderly, as if she were the most fragile of creatures.
Say something. Please. I didn’t mean to hurt you.
She barely knew him, but she felt his pain, his sorrow. She’d cut him, left him bleeding. This stranger, this dangerous stranger, mattered. Tears leaked from the corners of her eyes, the strain of her guilt and dismay too deep for her to mask.
With one hand, Roman swept the hood back, and took a step, then two, closing the distance between them. Brushing her cheek, he gently fingered away the first droplets, unaware she was close to unleashing a torrent that would shame them both.
His voice was guttural, deep, and ragged, as if he wasn’t used to speaking. She wondered if she looked as surprised as he did, that he’d spoken, let alone said her name.
Words releasing in an avalanche, she said, “You didn’t come to dinner so I made you a plate and Ben said he’d drop it off but he didn’t and then Marsha came over and we sparred and it got late and,” she paused for a breath and continued, a little more slowly, “I worried you might be hungry.” Pointing to the leftovers on the small table against the far wall, she said, “It’s just spaghetti and meatballs. You can heat it up in the microwave.”
His lips twitching, Roman continued stroking her cheek with his thumb, the pad rough on her skin, tracing a path from her eye along the cheekbone, following the contours to the corner of her mouth and back. Circling down to her chin, he swept the jut of her jaw and nestled into the dimple with thumb and forefinger teasing the flesh, pulling until she yielded and brought her mouth closer to his.
She had no defense against his hot breath mingling with hers, his lips so close she could almost taste them.
“I didn’t mean… This afternoon. I’m so…”
He said, “You did,” accusing and forgiving in a single breath.
Cupping her neck with the other hand—an act so possessive, so sensual, she thought she would swoon—he closed what little distance remained between them, close enough she’d have sworn she could hear his heartbeat, feel the blood hammering in his veins.
When he brushed her lips, it was feather light, a punishment. He knew that she’d shied away deliberately, not willing to trust either him or herself.
Pulling her body in tight, he cut off her breath, his mouth devouring hers with a hunger she didn’t understand, probing, demanding, his tongue sweeping across hers in a tangle of passion that nearly brought her to her knees.
Cursing, he pulled away and strode to the table. He muttered something in that strange language, then said tersely, “Look, I’m sorry. I-I … had no right.”
Rubbing his scalp, he turned to look at her, his eyes lit like burning coals, bluish-white flares in an ink jet sky, his dusky face set in hard planes, the bones stretched so taut she feared they’d slice through the thin skin.
She had no idea what was going through his mind. Hers was a jumbled morass of confusion, a muddle of fear and longing and feelings for which she had no vocabulary, let alone experience, to describe.
My first kiss…
Roman picked up the leftovers and said, “Thank you,” he held it up, “for this.”
“Are you hungry? I could nuke it for you.” She desperately needed to ground herself in normal, mundane, ordinary—otherwise she would explode.
From the look on Roman’s face, he teetered on a knife edge also, holding himself together, but barely.
Shaking his head no, he said, his voice halting, uneven, “I think you better leave.”
The sadness and despair nearly broke her. That kind of emotion was something she’d harbored all her life, holding it tight, letting no one else in … and while she couldn’t begin to imagine the source, she recognized herself in his eyes.
It took all she had to agree, because the last thing she wanted was to leave, to desert her oasis of safety. Tempted to ask him to hold her once more, to encase her in that feather bed of protection, she instead turned and moved to the door. She appreciated when someone knew not to push, to let things be.
There would be another time. Another place. She’d see to that.
He followed her to the door, oddly still open. It left her wondering if he’d been in the apartment the whole time, because she hadn’t heard his bike or anyone climbing the metal stairs. That thought sent waves of heat up her neck.
Before she left, she had to ask one question, just one, otherwise she would never get to sleep.
He nearly plowed into her, stopping just inches away.
“This morning, when you touched me? Was that real, what I felt?”
She pulled his right hand to her chest and pressed it over her heart, covering it with her own. The soft material gave way against her naked flesh, the heat and roughness from his palm penetrating skin until he cupped her heart, the beat ragged, jacked to near fatal arrhythmia, the muscle nestling into her palm.
Whispering, “What does this mean?” she released his hand and allowed the cool night air to wash over her.
It seemed an eternity before he spoke. “Yes, it’s real.” And then he turned to solid stone, cold, hard, unyielding. She would learn nothing more from him right then.
“Roman,” she refused to yield to the mask of arrogance, knowing it for what it was, “thanks for everything today. I’ll see you at school tomorrow.” There was no way she’d ask if he would offer her a ride again. It was safer to not assume too much until she understood him better.
He replied, “No.”
Damn, it’s like pulling teeth, trying to get him to talk.
She could be just as arrogant, just as alpha. Drawing herself to full height, she challenged, “Why not?”
“Stay away from me, angel.”
Refusing to abide by the implied ‘I’m not good for you, and your brother, your father, all the powers in the universe know what’s best for you … including me,’ she growled low in her throat, “Why?”
Murderous lights flashed in eyes gone cavernous, consuming his face until all she could see were burning coals of agony and despair.
He eased her out the door and closed it against her back, the deadbolt clicking firmly into place.
A caress, a whisper floated weightless, its implications so ugly and unfair she would have screamed in rage had she not been convinced she’d imagined the entire episode. She’d had enough with destiny and fate and people deciding what was best for her.
He had touched her heart for the second time that day, he’d kissed her senseless, and then he’d done the mind meld and informed her ‘it is forbidden.’
Muttering, “We’ll see about that,” she stomped down the stairs and headed toward the house.