Plenty of hot sex there may be in erotic romance novels, but so often secrets abound too. The hero (and sometimes also the heroine) has a past he wants to keep from the woman he loves.
Communication is the key in any relationship, but all too often, although they may be in love, our fictional protagonists have a hard time communicating outside of the bedroom.
I was reminded of this only today while watching one of my favourite episodes of Buffy, Hush where The Gentlemen demons come to Sunnydale and steal everyone’s voices. At the end of the episode when Buffy and Riley have prevailed, restoring the townspeople’s voices, they have also revealed the one thing about themselves they wanted to keep from each other in the process. Even though they know they now have to open up and actually talk… they can’t.
Why do the characters in romance novels find it so hard to say what’s in their hearts and minds?
This whole I love you, but I’m scared to trust you and let you in issue that seems to abound in romance novels could be deemed to be formulaic, but to keep the story interesting there has to be some conflict of emotions, some holding back. Not to mention that if you want your characters to feel real to your readers they have to display real human emotions and react in the way we do in real life.
And, just like we are in real life, it’s not just the ability to speak the words; trust is a huge part of what holds us back. It’s hard to lay yourself bare to another person and trust them with your heart and your secrets. When was the last time you told someone your hopes and dreams? In fact, how many people do know them?
As my hero in TORN, Aiden Byrne says, “Trusting someone, anyone, is a huge leap of faith”.
It takes time to trust someone with your deepest darkest secrets. Whilst TORN’s Aiden Byrne may be an open book, Frost Trilogy’s, Nick Frost is decidedly tight-lipped when it comes to his past. Although Mia discovers something is amiss in Beguiled, it takes all three books before Nick trusts her enough to open up and disclose everything he’s kept hidden deep inside for years.
This isn’t a device to keep the reader’s attention through three books − it’s keeping the story authentic. When you’ve kept things about your past secret for so long you’re not going to spill your guts five minutes after meeting someone new. They have to earn your trust − to prove your secrets are safe with them. And that takes time.
It’s not just trust though. Fear comes into play too. What if the other person sees us differently when they know what we’re really like or what we did in the past? So we put it off, hoping we’ll never have to tell… But there’s a problem with trying to keep secrets… All to often they get found out just as Nick’s does at the end of Beguiled…
* * *
‘I know. I’m sorry. I wanted to tell you, you have to believe me.’
‘So why didn’t you?’
He inhales deeply, breathing out in a stuttering exhale. ‘I was too scared.’
‘Scared? Of what?’
‘Of this… Scared if I told you I’d see the look on your face that’s on it now. Like I disgust you. Scared you’d see me differently. That you’d leave.’
* * *
It’s not just the secrets of our past we have trouble sharing. Sometimes it’s how we feel about the other person… So what do we do when we can’t let go of the fear and trust the other person enough to say the actual words?
Well, maybe sometimes we don’t need the words. As Nick and Mia know in book 2, In Too Deep, sometimes a look… a touch… a kiss, can say more than words ever could.
* * *
We stare at each other as he continues to move inside me; saying with our eyes all the things we can’t say out loud; our connection so much more than just physical. The emotional rift between us mended, bringing a renewed closeness as our bodies meld and move together in perfect harmony.
* * *
Eventually though, if the relationship is to survive we have to let go of our fear and allow the other person in. And when we do, just as Nick does in Letting Go, we often wonder why we waited so long…
Fuck, it feels good to say all this shit out loud. To finally tell Mia everything.
I lean into her touch as she cups the side of my face with her palm and holds my gaze. It’s not pity I see in her eyes and it’s not judgement either − she doesn’t see me as pathetic. No, all I see is love. The relief is overwhelming and has me wondering why the fuck I didn’t just tell her everything ages ago.
‘Thank you for telling me.’
She’s thanking me? It’s me who should thank her, every damn day of my life, just for being in my life, for coming back to me and for staying. I’ll never be able to express what I’m feeling right now, but I don’t have to because she smiles again.
* * *
* * *