Monday, February 15, 2010
by E. J. Rand
ROMANCE IS DEFINED as a close relationship between two people who are in love with each other--and that can include married folk (well, some). My problem was simple: how to sustain the emotional passion between my married amateur sleuths? Late one night, Ms. Muse did a lovely arabesque in my brain, a ploy to propel me out of bed. "Give them an anniversary bash, a cruise vacation," she said. "Repay them for the difficulties you've caused."
But jumbled in there with my thoughts, she became suspicious, and the next day she departed on her own vacation, leaving only her eureka moment. It was enough. DARK SEA, the fourth Reluctant Sleuth Mystery, will be out late in June. The Valentine's Day theme fits: my sleuths' marriage is itself the subplot.
A small-ship cruise offers a total break from normal routine. The surround, companions, and emotions, peel passengers down to basics. She's seeking to overcome shyness; he has trouble saying no to her. When she becomes adventurous in front of the wrong men--well, let's stick to our "romance" theme. It's late in the evening, a woman friend has just left their cabin, and you’re a fly on the wall. How can we move Becca further into the plot and provide a snapshot of their relationship?
He stepped behind her, admired the curve of her neck, leaned down, and kissed it. "You're very becoming."
Becca shifted away. "She got you excited."
He paced around the couch, knelt in front of her, and put his hands on her knees. "You get me excited. You are every bit as lovely as Denise, except to me. I like you better."
"Well, you're my husband."
"What? So I have to be turned on?"
She grinned. "It's in your job description."
He squeezed knees to get her attention. "Becca, you're an attractive woman. Men look at you. Don't you know that?"
"Please." She made a face. "I'm a chubby, middle-aged mommy, and my boobs droop."
"I'd like to check that out. Offer an expert opinion. You can always use an expert opinion, right?"
She looked at him oddly.
"Off with the pajamas, please."
"Is this the way you're going to be on every vacation?"
"Oh, I hope so. Set the two of us down where it's just you and me, and I remember what got us together in the first place."
"You were a lonely, horny man."
"Not lonely anymore--and you're the one made me horny--still do. I want those pajamas off."
"It's late," she said.
"We're on vacation."
"You get up early anyway."
"You'll sleep better."
"You're a pest." But she rose and, standing above him, pulled the top over her head. She tossed it aside and when she leaned down to lower the bottoms, he was in the way. He reached up, unhooked, and tugged at the bra, freeing her breasts.
"See--you could have taken my word for it."
"I adore every inch of you," he said, rubbing his face against her. He peeled the straps from her shoulders, tossed the garment away, and reached for her pajama bottoms. "When you discover how irresistible you are to men, then I'll be in trouble."
"Are you saying I need to discover it for myself?"
But he was busy and didn't pay attention, either to the question or to her expression when she'd asked it.
Out of the blue, Becca asked, "You sure you want to go? It's expensive."
He was holding her hand, and when she stopped, he did, too. "My treat."
"You always treat."
He saw her eyes were on his chest and realized this wasn't about money. He released the hand and gripped her shoulder. "I'm grateful I found you. You're worth more than money."
She blinked, still downcast. "You were happy with Sarah."
The last time they'd been through this, it'd been, "How can I compete with your late wife, thirty years, the memories?" Becca had cried then, and for a time he'd held her, unsure what to do, knowing she did not like to feel dependent. Had her clinging to him earlier brought this on?
He took in her demeanor. Who on God's Earth didn't have insecurities, vulnerabilities, him included? If this was hers, she was fortunate because--emotion overwhelmed him.
"I love you," he said, leaning forward, both hands on her shoulders, forcing her to look at him. He saw her eyes, reached for the hand again, grasped it even though she started to turn away. "I adore you. I'd count the ways, but I don't remember the poem. If you'd like, I'll get on my knees and sing a love song."
He saw her breathe deeply, felt the pressure on his hand, and then she turned back. "I'm sorry," she whispered.
When he touched her cheek, she covered his fingers with hers.
"Any song you want," he said, "that I know the words to. I'll even let you pay if it's important to you."
Her eyes misted, but she smiled. "Miser!"
They'd each come with baggage from previous partners, he knew. A year later, so much still remained to be worked out. He wondered whether the working out thing wasn't a lifetime occupation.
A MARRIAGE has it's rocky times. Hours have passed, during which Becca killed a man to save Gary, but they can't tell anyone. We're back at their cabin. She's distraught. What's he to do?
Gary knocked, called out, heard footfalls inside, locks opening. When he entered, she'd already moved away. He secured the door.
She was lying on her side of the bed, still in the robe, the quilt bunched beside her. He could tell by the look of her hair and the smell of the room that she hadn't showered. Without air conditioning, the space had warmed, but as he approached, she pulled the cover over her as if she were cold.
Or maybe as another insulating layer.
Neither of them spoke. He stood beside the bed, gazing down at her tear-streaked cheeks and unfocused eyes. He wasn't sure she was seeing him, or wanting to.
He didn't know how long he stood that way, watching her, unsure what to do, but knowing that words would have little meaning. "Can I come into bed?"
She bit her lip, nodded once, but didn't look at him.
He stripped down and slipped in to her left, so he could favor the bruise.
"Would you take off the robe?"
She didn't respond.
He waited while voices from a different world passed in the corridor. "At least let me open it?"
"Leave me alone." The voice was weak.
He reached for the belt.
Her sigh sounded annoyed and she moved as if she were irritated while shifting about to remove the garment. The cover slipped when she dropped the robe on the floor. She pulled the quilt back and turned toward him, eyes closed, knees drawn up, arms locked across her chest.
"I can't get close to you that way."
"I don't want you close."
He barely heard her, didn't believe it, wouldn't accept it. With a fingertip, he tucked hair back off her face. In the stillness, he traced a cheek, her chin, felt it quiver. Inches away, almost sharing breath, he stroked the curve of her neck and watched as tears crept from under her eyelids.
When he wiped the tracks, her eyes opened.
Holding her close, the way he felt, the way they fit, was nothing short of a miracle. He wept with her.
HOW DO we try to return thing to, well, normal?
Beneath the cover, she took his hand. "I'd better get up and shower, or we'll keep Leanne and Andy waiting. I don't know why, but I'm--"
"Hungry?" he finished for her. She nodded. That probably meant she'd eat a few bites of vegetable in addition to her fish, and maybe even peck at a salad. But the normalcy of the comment warmed him.
Watching her slip from the bed, he considered the cant about how a woman should look, what it was that made a woman sexy. Unaware of his eyes, she bent to retrieve the robe, walked across the room, hung it in a closet, and he knew, given the power, he would change nothing. Freckles, cheeks too soft for classical beauty, chin a little weak--she was his gift of a lifetime.
She turned and smiled as if she'd read his thoughts. "Better turn on the air conditioning, or I'll steam up the room."
THEIR DIFFICULTIES MUST result in something good, some change. Here's one. Becca's in the bathroom; Gary's watching from the entry:
Standing a few feet away she faced him, slowly parted the towel, and, staring into his eyes, dried her back as she'd done in front of the men on the beach.
Her small smile, the fact that she was doing it for him--and enjoying his reaction--captivated Gary. Before yesterday, she wouldn't have had the confidence, or, despite their love for one another, the interest in doing it for him.
He found it intensely erotic and realized her attitude was more a turn-on than body parts. His voice was hoarse when he reached for her: "Now you're five for five."
But she stepped back and ended it. "That's because I love you. Later, you can ask for much more." Moving naturally, she stretched to hang the towel over the shower enclosure and then reached for the bra on the countertop, aware he was watching, taking it beyond routine.
He understood that something had changed--and it could be very, very good.
WHEN MS. MUSE RETURNED from Greece, she frowned at their troubles but liked the story, and claimed all the credit. Fine. We've completed two more novels since then, and I think she's getting the hang of it.♥