Authors: L.J. Fine
Emma Durham aspires to be a full-time erotic romance author,
but her sex scenes leave a lot to be desired. She knows that’s due to a severe
lack of quality experience. In order to refresh her muse, she visits an old
friend with a wild past.
Her friend introduces her to Ben Serano, whose standoffishness
strikes her as rude. But something about his quiet intensity draws her in. When
he learns of her creative problem, he volunteers to be her solution. His sexual
inventiveness and ferociousness ignite her writing and her desire for more.
Word around town says he is a dangerous man to get involved
with. But the rumors don’t match up with the man she is coming to know,
especially after he reveals an unexpected tender side. Then a man from Ben’s
past accuses him of murder, and Emma is left to decide who to believe.
Everything in her wants to trust Ben, but how well does she
really know him?
contemporary erotic romance
from Ellora’s Cave
“This novel has a lot of strengths, Emma. The plot is
exciting, the dialog is witty and engaging, the pacing is good and your prose
is well written. But…there are a few—rather important—areas that could use some
As Emma Durham listened to her critique partner, Jessica,
disappointment formed a lead ball in the pit of her stomach. She knew what was
coming next. It was the same thing that
So it wasn’t a surprise when Jessica continued on to say,
“Your characters are still just a little too farfetched, specifically your hero,
Though it wasn’t a surprise it still rankled and before she
could stop herself she snapped, “What’s wrong with Charles? I think he’s
perfect the way he is.”
A frown marred the already serious features of her partner. “See,
that’s the problem right there. There’s
wrong with Charles. He’s
perfect. Remember that your characters need to be
believable and in order to be believable your readers have to be able to relate
to them. People—as a general rule—are not perfect so there has to be some sort
of character flaw that Charles possesses. Besides.” She shrugged. “Character
flaws spice up the plot. They add new dimension.”
“I’m sure he has
flaws.” Emma leafed through the
printed copy of her manuscript searching for said flaws. She suspected, though,
that Jessica was right. That didn’t stop her from defending her writing anyway.
“I mean, that’s Character Building 101.”
Surely she’d set out to give him a personality defect or two
when she’d begun writing this story. She just hadn’t gotten around to it. Besides,
the men of her acquaintance had
flaws and wasn’t that the point
of writing fiction? To escape reality?
“Well, I guess he does have
flaw.” When Emma
raised her eyebrows hopefully, Jessica continued. “He’s not very good in bed,
had her slapping her manuscript closed even
as her jaw dropped open.
That was the main flaw most men had, wasn’t it? It was
hardly realistic to expect any given man to be stellar in the bedroom. Those
types of men were few and far between. But it probably wasn’t something one
wanted to accentuate when writing a romance novel. And, okay, so maybe she
could see where Jessica was coming from. Even as she’d been writing those
scenes she’d felt a lack of passion for the words pouring out of her. She just
hadn’t expected Jessica to come right out and say it. Though, that was what a
good critique partner was for, after all. So she should probably be thankful.
Something about Emma’s expression, maybe that she must have
looked like a fish out of water, had Jessica giving a soft laugh. “You’ve told
me before that you’re determined to write in this genre. I know you don’t want
to write the kind of innocent romance that fades to black once the bedroom door
is closed. So what’s holding you back?”
Emma sighed as she looked around the crowded bookstore for
some inspiration. Their weekly Tuesday fiction writers’ group meeting had ended
about fifteen minutes ago and most of the members were lingering at the table
or in the small café inside the bookstore. Emma had taken the opportunity after
the meeting to pounce on Jessica to get her much awaited feedback on Emma’s
latest attempt at a novel. She’d thought she’d made some progress with this
one, she really had. Now she wasn’t sure why she had been so eager for this
“I don’t know,” Emma said softly. “I guess I just don’t have
a lot of real world experience to draw from in that area.”
“Oh, honey.” Jessica chuckled. “You don’t need real world
experience to write a steamy love scene. All you need is some good chocolate, a
healthy libido and some inspirational reading material.”
Pulling a purse that could double as a suitcase up onto the
table, Jessica rummaged around its contents until she pulled out a folded piece
of paper and handed it to Emma.
“What’s this?” Emma took the paper with a frown.
“It’s a list of my favorite erotic novels. Novels that have
prodded my creativity more than once and have left my husband feeling more than
grateful.” She winked.
Ugh. How embarrassing that she needed this kind of advice. And
the fact that Jessica had had the forethought to make a list made it worse
somehow. Still, she was thankful for the woman’s willingness to mentor her
because Lord knew she needed all the help she could get. So she neatly placed
the list in her own purse with the intention of going through it later. In the
privacy of her own home. Maybe with a Google app open and a glass of red wine.
Again, the expression on her face must have given away her
anxiety because Jessica lightly patted her on the shoulder. “Don’t worry, Emma.
You definitely have the talent and potential to make it as published author. I
wouldn’t be trying so hard to figure out ways to help you if I didn’t honestly
believe that. You just need to get this aspect of it straightened out and
you’ll be well on your way.”
“Thank you. Having you say that really means a lot to me.”
Emma smiled warmly as they both stood and made their way to the door.
It really did mean a lot. Jessica was a successful,
multi-published author in the very same genre that Emma was trying to break
into. To top that off, Emma had been a fan of hers even before she’d joined the
group. So she respected Jessica’s opinion and was insanely grateful that the
woman even took the time to read her stuff, let alone help her out.
“Well, I mean it.” Jessica pushed the door open and headed
out into the brisk fall evening with Emma right behind her. “So just do a
little reading, have a glass of wine and keep one thing in the back of your
mind at all times: A sexy as hell bad boy with some deliciously corrupting—yet
Emma laughed at the way Jessica bobbed her eyebrows and
waved good night as she headed in the opposite direction to walk the few blocks
to her apartment. Running a tired hand through her chin-length black hair, Emma
bit her lip and mentally went over their entire conversation again, zeroing in
on Jessica’s advice.
It wasn’t that she hadn’t read erotic novels before. In
fact, those were her favorite types of books. If they were written well she
devoured that genre as if it were her job. It was just that when she sat down
to actually write those kinds of scenes, the words she wanted to say never came
What she lacked was confidence. There was a deep-seated fear
within her that her severely inadequate experiences would leak out onto the
page and her readers would call bullshit. Confirming that she had no idea what
she was talking about. Not that she didn’t know the mechanics. Tab A goes into
Slot B, and sometimes Slot C and Slot D depending on your kink. The ability to
weave together the mechanics and the prose to elicit emotion and authenticity
during the act was what eluded her.
The only emotions she’d ever experienced during sex were
discomfort and mild boredom. While she was aware that—for most women—every time
wasn’t a religious experience, it would have been nice had she had even
ground-shaking memory to call forth and lend credibility to her work.
But, as it was, she’d had a grand total of two lovers in her
lifetime. The first was a shy high school boyfriend she’d dated for a few
months. Laughing and shaking her head at the memory, she jogged up the steps to
her apartment building and entered. She’d lost her virginity in the most
stereotypical fashion and she was slightly ashamed. It had been prom night. In
the back of his car. The experience had lasted not even ten minutes and was so
painful and awkward that they had decided the next day it would just be easier
to break up.
And then there was her last lover, or ex-fiancé, Rob. Their
sex life, while a vast improvement from her first time, had always been
strained. There had never been any kind of throw down. None of the fireworks or
sweaty, sated exhaustion she’d read about. While he had reassured her time and
again that it wasn’t her fault, she had always secretly wondered if she was
doing something wrong.
Of course, later she found out what the real problem was. Rob
was gay. Had pretty much known he was gay almost from the beginning but he
hadn’t wanted to admit it to himself. They’d just gotten along so well on every
other level that he wanted to give it a good shot. His parents were strict
Catholics and he had been dreading breaking that news to them.
In fact, he still hadn’t told them if memory served. She
understood why he had done what he had and they remained good friends to this
day. But his revelation made her secretly wonder if she hadn’t had something to
do with his batting for the other team.
It was an irrational thought. She knew that. If you’re gay
you’re gay no matter what. But it didn’t do much for her self-confidence in
Or for her writing apparently.
Finally reaching her apartment, she unlocked the door and
went inside. Throwing her keys on the table, she picked up the mail she’d
gotten earlier but hadn’t had time to look through. Nothing new there. A few
bills, an advertisement for the Chinese restaurant down the street.
Bored, she threw the mail back onto the coffee table and
ambled into the kitchen to scrounge up something to eat. As usual, she pulled a
Lean Cuisine out of the freezer and popped it into the microwave. Though she
had one of those frozen delicacies every night, she wasn’t exactly lean from
the habit. Jessica was right; she did enjoy some good chocolate. So no, she
wasn’t a skinny bitch but she liked to think of herself as curvy in the right
places and generally had no complaints about her body.
The microwave beeped and she pulled her meal from inside
before grabbing a glass of water and heading into the living room to watch some
TV. Same old shit there too.
Come to think of it, her life was a mundane study in
routine. Even her job was mind-numbing. She worked as a bank teller, processing
the same kinds of transactions day in and day out. Most nights just thinking
about going into the branch in the morning had a piece of her creative soul
curling up and dying just a little more. In fact the only part of her life, as
of late, that was even remotely exciting was her writing, which obviously
needed a serious kick in the pants.
Surveying her dull surroundings, she had an epiphany. It
wasn’t just a lack of excitement in the bedroom that was causing her writing to
suffer. It was a lack of anything interesting happening in her life. Ever. Well,
at least not since college. She needed to shake things up a bit. Throw herself
wildly off course and gain some new experiences. Sitting cross-legged on her
overstuffed loveseat, she folded a pillow in her arms across her lap and tried
to recall the last fun and exciting thing she’d done.
Yup, that had been back in college. With her old roommate,
Chloe. Her free-spirited, fun-loving, blonde beauty of a roommate had always
been up to some crazy thing and occasionally Emma had tagged along for the
ride. Though they’d moved away from each other after college, they’d always
kept in touch. And hadn’t Chloe told her the last time they spoke that she was
dating someone who worked for the mafia?
No, wait, that wasn’t right. But it was some kind of shady
thing like that.
Getting up, she paced over to where she’d tossed her purse
by the front door and pulled out her phone. About halfway through her contact
list it came to her. He was a bookie!Yeah, that was it. For some
underground fight club. Emma shook her head as she continued scrolling through
her phone. Trust Chloe to get involved with someone on the wrong side of the
No way a guy like that would even remotely register on her
That automatic thought had her stopping cold and she
realized that her hero, Charles, possessed every single trait that made up her
“Charming List”. Not that the list was an actual bulleted document of traits
she found necessary in a man. It was more of a guideline she liked to keep in
the back of her mind. Just generalities such as men who were thoughtful,
considerate, passionate, refined, intelligent, self-sufficient, kind, confident
without being arrogant, funny, knew how to cook, outgoing, personable without
coming off as phony, into eclectic music and cultured… Okay, okay she should
probably stop now.
Unfortunately, the list seemed to be the other problem with
her writing. Men like that didn’t exist outside of a Disney movie.
As a kid she’d been obsessed with fairytales. Particularly
the ones with a handsome prince who saved the day, like in Cinderella, Snow
White, and Sleeping Beauty. And it was that shit right there that had ruined
her for any flesh-and-blood man. They just couldn’t measure up. But it had also
fueled her love of romance novels and had given her the inspiration to try her
hand at writing her own fairytales. Making her own happy endings even if life
was determined to make real happy endings few and far between.
She really did believe, though, that her writing stood a
snowball’s chance in every other area but the physical expression of love. Which
brought her back to the problem at hand and the phone she still clutched
tightly in her fist.
What she needed was an actual man to gain some actual
experience to lend that much needed realism to her writing. She needed to shelve
the list for a little while and see what she could come up with. And for this
she would need Chloe’s help. Surely if her boyfriend managed an underground
boxing club she’d be able to fix Emma up with
who would make
quality random hookup material.
Though they spoke fairly frequently, she hadn’t actually
Chloe in a while. Would it even be all right to just invite herself for a visit
after so long just for research purposes? What if her plan didn’t work? What if
she wasn’t able to let go and let her guard down enough to