Tension--Setting the Scene and Tone

Romance fiction stories run the gamut when it comes to the hows, whens, wheres, whys and what-ifs of plot, character, setting, etc. Whether sweet or steamy, the hero and heroine seek fulfillment of their goals, resolution of their conflicts and the achievement of a loving bond that only comes as a result of commitment from both.

Some readers prefer having the bedroom door closed while others enjoy a peek inside at the passion. One of my favorite elements to write in romance is tension. Not simply the drama that comes as a result of escalating internal and external problems and troublesome secondary characters, but rather the tension that arises when a man and woman are first attracted and getting to know each other. Many times they do not approach sexuality and intimacy on the same level. One is likely more experienced and outgoing than the other. What happens when desire threatens to tip an otherwise balanced scale between them? Compromise and patience are paramount.

Of the novels I’ve written and published, TORMENTED is my favorite. Eve has arrived at Charles’ mansion for what she believes is only a healing of her wound. The journey on which she embarks involves her body, mind and soul. In the following scene, the couple feeds more than each other’s imagination.

“You are tired. Save your strength. I will feed you.” Rich as the rum custard soaking the golden-brown bread, his words could calm any savage.

Yet they only goaded her heart to a wilder gallop.

He remained unblinking, snatched her spoon and scooped a small portion of pudding. Moving the spoon to the opposite side of the bowl, he dredged the morsel in the melting cream before raising his hand.

She shut her eyes. Her heart thumped harder, making a racket Charles certainly heard. His deeper, bolder breaths overpowered her shallow ones.

He moved so fast. Faster than any man she’d ever met. Fast as a wild animal fleeing its foe.

And his gaze struck bone.

Something about Charles bore closer consideration and a measured approach.

“I don’t want to feed your fear, only your appetite,” he said and tapped the spoon against her lips.

Not polite, refusing his hospitality. She opened her mouth. As the spoon advanced and caressed her tongue, what must have been his pinkie played twice over her lower lip. She pulled the dessert from the spoon and his hand retreated. But not before the faintest of moans rattled in his throat. The fire in her belly flared to between her legs. How sweet, his treat, as the creamy sauce and softened bread covered her palate.

As her lips closed, an image of him played against the blackness of her eyelids. The flavors settled and filled her entire mouth. She chewed and swallowed. Though she could feed herself without dropping any food, Charles’ steady hand was welcome.

Her fingers remained folded together. At least that way they didn’t fumble and fuel the tingling that cascaded from the bottom knuckles to the very tips.

“More, Eve?”

Maybe he’d feed her hunger for knowledge? “How long have you lived here in New Orleans and cared for its people?”

The soft scraping of Charles tracing the spoon around the pudding bowl’s rim. “Many years.”

Her damp fingers pleated the napkin on her lap and she glanced at him. “When younger did you suspect you’d enter a healing profession?”

The twinkling of countless stars settled in his eyes. “From the time I removed the first burr from my pet spaniel’s paw. Seven years old and somewhat of a surgeon.”

A gentle shake settled the napkin over her legs. “My father frowned on having animals in our home but he gifted me with a trotter on my tenth birthday. I enjoy riding horses.”

“As do I. Zephyr is the name of my spirited mount. He delights in nipping and throwing my stable boys. And then there’s Janus, my carriage horse.” Charles laughed, eyes closed and head tipped back at a jaunty angle.

“Your brothers and sisters must have held you in awe.”

A tic pulsed in his right cheek. “Only a sister, Cecile. She was born two years before me. On the day after Christmas. Mama and Papa called her their miracle child. Her love of music matched mine. Have you any brothers or sisters, Eve?”

Visions of the family library flitted past her mind’s eye. “None. Books proved my constant companions. I enjoy sharing many of the things I’ve learned with my pupils in Boston.”

His gaze narrowed and his free hand lay on top of hers. “Do you miss Boston when on such voyages as the one to the Transvaal?”

“My father and Edward often journey alone.” No amount of squirming unseated his hot touch. “Actually, I won’t be accompanying them anymore. This past trip proved tedious and I’m far happier remaining behind in Boston.”

He removed his hand and played the spoon over her mouth again. “More?”

Quite a persistent man, her potential healer. She jerked forward and settled. How could she refuse his offer the way her mouth watered for more?

His feeding her wasn’t doing any harm.

At her nod he slipped another spoonful between her lips. Some of the custard dripped down her chin. His warm finger swiped it away. Charles’ soft sucking filled her ears before the silence between them resumed.

He’d licked his finger clean. The fire spread higher and claimed her breasts.

Her next swallow freed a giggle.

Charles patted her hands. “Still more?”

“Yes.” What was she saying? Countless church bells pealed in her brain.

She pushed the chair away from the table. Charles’ laughter held her in place.

A buzzing filled her brain. Back and forth. Good pummeled Evil. Evil returned with a jab to Good’s jaw.

And she hadn’t done anything except sit here and let him feed her bread pudding.

He stroked her cheek with the back of his hand. “I’m sorry if I’ve upset you.” With his free hand he dunked his spoon into the refreshment. Softened from its soaking with rum custard, the remaining piece of pudding split. Charles let go of the spoon and the handle clanked against the side of the bowl.

She claimed the fallen spoon and lifted the custard to her lips. “No need for an apology. Your willingness to help me means a lot.”

She drifted her gaze from the bowl to his face and back again.

Waste not, want not.

He patted the back of her upraised hand. “Don’t worry about wasting food. Your comfort is more important.”

Not only was he incredibly striking but also incredibly astute.

Somewhere someone hummed. Or could she simply be hearing things?

He pulled the bowl and spoon away and set them near his left hand. “You can enjoy some fresh, warmer pudding later. You’re tired.”

Without further ado Charles stood, helped her up and scooped her into his arms. Her breath huffed out and hit his cheek. There she dangled, becoming smitten with a man whose will couldn’t be broken. Silent and his breathing measured, he retraced their steps and headed straight for the staircase.

What are your thoughts on keeping the emotional stakes and tension high in a romance novel?

Wishing you all many happy reading moments,

Shawna Moore
TORMENTED (Recommended Read)--Ellora's Cave
ROUGHRIDER -- Ellora's Cave
HELLE IN HEELS -- Ellora's Cave

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Nicole North said...

Great post Shawna! I absolutely love strong sexual tension (and other kinds of tension) in a romance novel.

ShawnaMoore said...

Hey, Nicole!

Glad you enjoyed the post :) Keeping those stakes and tension high is always a labor of writing love :)

Happy weekend wishes,