Saturday, June 22, 2019

Retro Wendy: If You Build It, They Will Come: Erotic World-Building

This post originally ran at Heroes & Heartbreakers on August 5, 2012

Even though I’ve currently declared a moratorium on paranormal reading, that does not mean I ignore the subgenre completely; I still buy plenty for my library patrons to read, and I follow many bloggers who are diehard paranormal fans. One thing that is typically always mentioned in reviews for paranormal books is the world-building. Was it good, bad, or indifferent? In some cases, the world-building can make or break a book for a reader—too much and the romance gets lost. Not enough and the reader is slogging through wallpaper. But what about world-building in other corners of romance? 

Any story worth its salt—regardless of genre or subgenre—needs to have decent world-building. It’s what helps transport the reader into the story, as opposed to relegating us to the sidelines where we’re barely interested observers. I love getting lost in a book, sucked in to the point where I don’t want to come up for air. World-building does that for me.

Some of my favorite worlds have been built within the realm of erotica and erotic romance. An excellent example would be Logan Belle’s Blue Angel series. It follows the travails of Mallory Dale, a law student who hangs up her legal briefs for pasties when she gets sucked into the world of the New York City burlesque scene. What Belle has done very well in this series is flesh out that scene for readers. She’s got an excellent back-drop to populate her characters with, she sprinkles in plenty of drama, and gives readers a soap opera feeling against what, for many of us, is an exotic lifestyle.

Megan Hart takes a slightly different approach, especially in her early Spice novels, Dirty and Broken. It wasn’t the setting so much as the characters. She has a way of slyly interesting recurring characters without beating readers over the head with a series-baiting stick. Newcomers won’t feel like they’re missing anything, but fans will get a giddy thrill recognizing and seeing former secondary players again, waltzing across the pages of multiple books.

But as well as Hart does this, Portia Da Costa is the pro. Da Costa has a long and extensive career that carries across several publishers and lines. What I love about her books is that she’s designed her own erotic universe. It’s like all the characters she’s ever created reside in this giant bubble, and they can pop up in any given book.

One couple that the author seems especially fond of is Maria and the enigmatic Mr. Stone. These two got their own book with Entertaining Mr. Stone, showed up in In Too Deep, and even crossed publishers to make an appearance in the recent Carina Press book, Intimate Exposure. Then there was the time the couple from In Too Deep, one of my personal favorites, was spotted in a crowded restaurant scene in Kiss It Better. It detracts nothing for the newbies, but for someone who had read all those stories, it caused my heart to skip a beat.

The misconception with erotic writing is that as long as the author delivers the sex, readers will happily return to the trough to gorge. Is the sex important? Yes, but it’s not nearly enough. For a book we can really sink our teeth into, one that will linger beyond just a few scintillating moments of feeling naughty? We need the characters and we need the world.

What are some of your favorite moments of world-building in erotica and erotic romance?

Wednesday, June 19, 2019

#TBRChallenge 2019: Three Harlequin Historical Undones

One of the few "rules" I give myself for the TBR Challenge is to read from my print TBR.  However the book I ended up selecting was a pretty quick DNF and with familial obligations this week, I opted instead to burn through three short stories languishing on my Kindle from the defunct Harlequin Historical Undone line.  To keep things cohesive, I went with three written by the same author, Marguerite Kaye.

Spellbound & Seduced opens in 1622 with a witch, betrayed by her own daughter, being burned at the stake.  Before she dies she, naturally, puts a curse on her daughter, stating that her husband will die on their one-year anniversary and that every woman in their line will lose their husbands until a "one true love" can break the curse.  Fast forward to 1822, and that witch's descendant, Jura Mcnair, is living in a remote cottage, determined to die alone, the curse along with her.  Lawrence Connaught, who turns out to be the new laird, arrives on her doorstep, injured, just as a snowstorm is blowing in.  He's captivated, she's lonely, they're snowed in - oh, whatever shall they do?

Jura is a witch and herbalist, talked about in hushed whispers, but respected by villagers for her willingness to help and heal them of various ailments.  Still, wanting to break the curse, she has resigned herself to a life of loneliness.  The paranormal aspects are written with a light touch but given that a "one true love" is the only way to break a 200-year-old curse...well, a short story didn't provide me with enough of a word count to convince me.  Pleasant and OK.

Final Grade = C

Behind the Courtesan's Mask is a perfect example of a story that works better in a short format.  Had this been a full-length Harlequin Historical I'm pretty sure the hero would have gotten on my last hot nerve.

Constance had no idea she had an identical twin sister until she shows up on her doorstep, near death from consumption.  Her sister now passed, Constance has returned to her sister's townhouse to pack up her things, and given that her sister was a courtesan known as "La Perla" - well, the townhouse is eye-opening indeed.  To Constance, widowed when her upstanding, staid, completely devoid of passion, vicar husband dies - her sister's life is a compelling mystery.  So when Troy Templeton, Earl of Ettrick shows up at the door, thinking that Constance is her sister, well...she doesn't correct him.

Troy is a diplomat and there to warn the infamous La Perla away from his boss's son.  Instead sparks, tension, and flirtation means he ends up ravishing Constance - who is a willing participant.  Troy, naturally, thinks the worst of her since he was duped as a young man by a courtesan/fortune hunter.  There's some mild, read in between the lines slut-shaming, but Kaye counteracts this with Constance's pragmatic views on sex work - especially since she got to properly know her long-long sister before her passing.  In a full length novel I think I'd want to smack Troy into next Tuesday, but the shorter format means his moments of jackassery are blessedly brief.  It didn't light my world on fire, but I liked this one.

Final Grade = B

Finally, I read Lost in Pleasure, a perfect example of one-clicking based on author name and not reading the back cover blurb carefully.  This, very brief, story that clocks in at 40 pages is a time travel romance.  Richard, Earl of Kilcreggan is wealthy, captivated by all things scientific, and has a fabulous library.  However, he's got a bit of ennui and wishes for something to "happen" - which comes in the form of Errin McGill, an American antiques dealer from the 21st century magically appearing in his library.  Errin got there after she sat in a Regency-style wingback chair (which turned out to be once owned by Richard) in a dusty London antique shop.

What follows is sex, dress shopping, traveling back and forth in time, more sex, and finally the two realizing they're in love and need to be together.  One reason I have a hard time with time travel romance is I find all the "time travel stuff" rather tedious.  "Oh golly, I traveled back in time! You sure do talk funny! You sure do wear funny clothes!" etc. etc. etc.  A positive on the short page count is there's less of this.  The downside is that I don't believe in the longevity of the romance.  Where are these two going to live? How will they live?  How will Richard adapt to the 21st century or how will modern, independent, Errin adapt to life as a woman living in the early 19th century?  They have great sex, she gets to wear pretty dresses, they go to balls, the theater and what-not...but it's not enough to make me believe.

And yes, I'm aware that me dissecting a time travel romance, the height of fantasy, is patently ludicrous, but there you have it.

Final Grade = D

A bit of a mixed bag for me for this month's challenge, but given my limited attention span, going with short stories was the right course of action.  Also, it reminded me of how much I appreciated the defunct Harlequin Historical Undone and Spice Briefs lines for offering readers different.  I read three stories, all by the same author, and got a witch, a historical, and a time travel.  Oh sure, it wasn't all a raging success for me, but I think it's another reason why Carina's Dirty Bits line has failed to ignite much interest in me, a reader who LIKES to read short.  It's all contemporary, all the time and when it comes to shenanigans? Viva la variety!

Friday, June 14, 2019

Reminder: #TBRChallenge Day is June 19

Hey, hey, hey!  For those participating in the 2019 #TBRChallenge, a reminder that your commentary is "due"on Wednesday, June 19.  This month's theme is Historical!

Historicals are my first love in romance so I've got an obscene amount of options for this month's theme.  I suspect more than a few of the TBR Challenge participants are in the same boat!

But what if you *gasp* don't like historicals? Or maybe you're just not in the mood to read one this month?  Hey, no problem! A reminder that, as always, the themes are completely optional.    The goal is to read something, anything, that has been languishing in your TBR.

If you're participating on social media, please remember to use the #TBRChallenge hashtag so people can follow along.

And it's not too late to sign up!  Simply leave a comment on this reminder post.

You can learn about the challenge and check out the full list of blogging participants on the information page.

Monday, June 10, 2019

Review: Swim Deep

TW: sexual abuse

Limecello told me about Swim Deep by Beth Kery months ago with a conversation (widely paraphrased) that consisted of, "It's different and it sounds like your kind of book."  I read the description, which screams Gothic, and that was enough for me to one-click.  Naturally, me being me, I finally got around to reading this February 2019 release in June.

Let's get this out of the way up front, this isn't an erotic romance - which is the sub genre Kery is known for.  This is an amalgamation of Gothic, romance, suspense, and women's fiction and for that reason it starts out rather bumpy.  This was most definitely a second half book for me once the plot starts to bubble over.

Anna Solas is a young, beautiful starving artist working two jobs.  She meets and falls fast for the older, more worldly Evan Halifax, a hedge fund manager who sweeps her off her feet, marries her after a whirlwind courtship and takes her to live in his magnificent, fortress-like home in Lake Tahoe.  The home he inherited from his dead first wife, Elizabeth.  Elizabeth, who naturally casts a long shadow, died in a drowning, whose body was never recovered.

If you're passingly familiar with Gothics you'll kind of know what happens next.  Evan isn't all that he seems, his lies by omission start to unravel, and Anna, secluded up in the mountains doesn't know who to trust.  The plot is a solid one and even though I knew one character was not all that they seemed, Kery does a good job of building suspense, throwing in misdirection and leaving the reader questioning what they *think* they know.

But (and yes, there's a but...), it's kind of a lumpy read.  The beginning is like getting thrown into the deep end of the pool with the expectation that the reader already knows who these characters are.  You don't.  I spent the first third of this book asking myself, "Who are these people? Why should I care about them? I don't think I do care about them..."  To be honest the only things that kept me from setting aside this book in the early chapters were Limecello recommended it to me, and it's a Gothic.  I'm achingly nostalgic toward Gothics to the point where I give them a lot of rope before throwing in the towel.

And I'm glad I did.  Because after a while I got a better handle on the characters and the pacing picks up on the plot.  There were definitely times I wanted Anna to be smarter, to be less trusting, but then we wouldn't have too much of a book and she makes up for it in the end.

There are certainly problematic elements to this story though, and the mix of Gothic, romance, suspense and women's fiction did make the story feel unfocused at times.  Sexual abuse is a driving force behind the suspense and when a secreted away box of sex toys and recordings are found there's an uncomfortable correlation with depravity (it's in between the lines, but I felt like it was there).  This will be a deal breaker for some readers, and likely not register at all for others.  It wasn't necessarily a deal breaker for me, but it did cause me to squirm in my seat.

This book ended up being a bit of a mixed bag for me.  Uneven is probably the best way to describe it.  There were parts I enjoyed, but I'm not sure enough to make up for the lumpy beginning, slow character development, and problematic elements. Evan does something over the course of this story that was a bridge too far for me, but it helps tremendously that Kery doesn't try to do too much with the ending when it comes to the romance.  However, it's a Gothic and on that score, it worked for me - and reminded me a bit of the more lurid sounding Gothics that were turned out during the height of the pulp era.  Depending on your nostalgia for Gothics and/or your fandom for Kery's work, your mileage may vary.

Final Grade = B-

Saturday, June 8, 2019

Retro Review: Leave It To Cleavage

This review of Leave It to Cleavage by Wendy Wax originally was posted at The Romance Reader in 2004. Back then I gave it a rating of 4-Hearts (B Grade) with a sensuality content rating of PG.

Every now and then a book comes along to remind me why I keep reviewing books after 5+ years. There are two perks to this volunteer job 1) discovering new authors and 2) loving a book that you normally would not have a touched with a 10-foot pole. This second novel by Wax definitely falls into the second category. It’s got a silly title, a bright orange cover featuring a pink bra, and it screams romantic comedy – a sub genre that very rarely works for yours truly. So you can imagine my delight when I read the first page and was immediately hooked.

Miranda Smith is a former beauty queen and heir apparent to her family’s long-running lingerie business. However, while she has an MBA, her husband is the one running the company. Miranda is more of a spokeswoman than anything else. However it’s on a cold January day when her world comes crashing down around her.

She’s in her husband’s office looking for a stamp when she finds some pictures – pictures of Tom wearing women’s lingerie. Also in one of these pictures is a woman’s hand, sporting a perfect French manicure, poised on Tom’s butt. Flabbergasted, Miranda also discovers a letter from the bank that mentions an audit of her family’s company, Ballantyne Bras. Seems Tom was cooking the books.

But that’s not the worst of it. Tom also emptied their joint bank accounts and his closets. He then left her a “Dear Miranda” letter saying he wasn’t coming back. With Ballantyne Bras as the driving force of the local economy, plus with no clue as to extent of the damage her husband has wrought – Miranda has no choice. She’s going to have to take over the running of Ballantyne, try and come up with a plan to save the company, find the weaselly Tom, oh and divorce his sorry butt. However things get even stickier when the handsome local police chief starts snooping around. Why won’t Blake Summers just leave well enough alone?

Blake won’t leave well enough alone because he gets a tip from an anonymous caller claiming that Tom has met with foul play, and that Miranda had something to do with it. So Blake decides to do some snooping around – only to become seriously distracted by Miranda.

I loved this story from the get-go thanks to Wax’s charming, breezy writing style. It’s crisp, clear and kept me easily turning the pages. It also helps that it’s funny without trying too hard. While some of the plot borders on silly at times, Wax reigns herself in before she goes over the top. She also has a way of making the silly sound totally plausible, and making the reader swallow every spoonful with nary a nagging doubt in sight.

What seals the deal though are the characters – which are often found in silly circumstances but are never silly themselves. Miranda is a refreshing woman with a lot working for her. She’s a former beauty queen with brains. She’s battled infertility problems, but thought her marriage was sound. Tom’s disappearance is a rude awakening that allows our heroine to take control of her life. Blake is a sexy and charming, with an older father to look out for and a jock teenage daughter to raise. Imagine this poor guy’s confusion with his basketball star “little girl” decides she wants to enter a local beauty pageant, starts wearing make-up, and has boys sniffing around!

Leave It To Cleavage is much more than a standard romantic comedy, and I can’t help thinking that Bantam shoe-stringed it with its dopey bubblegum cover art and title. It’s a cozy mystery and women’s fiction novel with a romance tucked neatly inside. While Miranda is taking control of her life, she also has to figure out where the heck Tom is, plus deal with her burgeoning feelings for Blake. The romance is just gravy for our girl, and by the end of the novel this reviewer was cheering her on has she makes her final stand. Very easily one of my very few standout books of the year – don’t miss it.

Wednesday, June 5, 2019

Guest Review: Summer at Mirror Lake

Today the Bat Cave is hosting guest reviewer Janet Webb who many of you know from her writing at Heroes & Heartbreakers (RIP), Criminal Element, and as a longtime resident of Romancelandia. Welcome Janet!

Honeymoon Harbor is a romance destination worth visiting—it’s a vibrant Pacific Northwest community, complete with a long-ago Romeo/Juliet*esque family feud, gorgeous brothers, to-die-for scenery, and plots that gently wind themselves around the heart strings. Summer at Mirror Lake is the 3rd Honeymoon Harbor book. Herons Landing #1 and Snowfall on Lighthouse Lane #2 are the first two book in the series. It reminds me of Debbie Macomber’s Pacific Northwest series (a compliment, believe me!) because earlier characters don’t disappear after they get their HEA: they are woven into the plot. (N.B. what really packs a wallop, the pointed brother to brother advice.)

Gabriel (Gabe) Mannion is the second oldest Mannion son, destined from birth to compete with his over-achieving older brother Quinn (former hot-shot lawyer, now crafts beer entrepreneur extraordinaire). Gabe did not expect to collapse at the funeral of his mentor but hey, who would? Where to recover and recuperate?
When he lands in the emergency room after collapsing at the funeral of a colleague and friend, Wall Street hotshot Gabriel Mannion initially rejects the diagnosis of an anxiety attack. But when warned that if he doesn’t change his adrenaline-fueled, workaholic lifestyle he could end up like his friend, Gabe reluctantly returns to his hometown of Honeymoon Harbor to regroup. 
Gabe reluctantly admits “that everybody had their limits,” and he decides to go for a run each morning along a lakeshore trail and visit Quinn’s bar each night to drink away his chagrin at having a life-plan interruptus. He knows that second chances don’t come along all that often. And in case we missed it, JoAnn Ross slyly reminds us of the quintessential second chance story.
But it wasn’t too late. He figured that ER doc was more like Scrooge’s Ghost of Christmas Future. He hadn’t revealed what would happen. Only what could. Gabe was perfectly capable of changing his fate. All he had to do was make a plan. It wasn’t all that different from analyzing financial data. 
What could go wrong? Gabe is a man with a plan and everyone in Honeymoon Harbor knows he’s richer than God. The problem with drinking at Quinn’s bar is that after two weeks Quinn tells it to him straight: “You do realize that you’re driving customers away.” Come again? But Quinn’s right, the bar isn’t as busy as it was when he first came to town. Of course, Gabe denies that it has anything to do with him but Jarle Biornstad, Quinn’s Norwegian giant of a cook, agrees: “The edgy vibe radiating off you is scaring people away.” They tell him how to fill his “days of leisure.” He should build a boat, something he loved to do before he went away to college. Specifically, a Viking faering.
“Even if I wanted to, which I haven’t said I do, it’d be a push to get a decent-size one done in three months.” Which was his deadline. By then he’d be rested, at his fighting weight and ready to get back into the fray.  
“Because your summer schedule is so booked.”  
Gabe gave him a hard stare. “You’re pushing me.”  
“Just saying,” Quinn said mildly. That was a funny thing about the eldest Mannion. Gabe couldn’t remember his older brother ever yelling, or even raising his voice. Yet, somehow, just like his dad, who was the quieter of his parents, he always got his way, always made things happen. 
Quick aside to JoAnn Ross: when is Quinn’s story coming down the pike because I’m more than ready!

I’m sure readers are more than ready to meet the heroine of Summer on Mirror Lake. Chelsea Prescott, head librarian and friend to all, faces life with a determinedly glass-half-full attitude. That’s her choice. Her childhood slid into tragedy after her younger sister died and her doctor dad left the family. Her mother died when Chelsea was in college—police called it an accidental overdose, but Chelsea saw it as a slow, tragic suicide. Honeymoon Harbor’s library was her safe place and former head librarian Lillian Henderson was her second mother. Chelsea may have stepped into Lillian’s shoes, but she’s determined to put her own stamp on the job. The Summer Readers’ Adventure group is Chelsea’s pet project—she not only wants kids to delve into books during the summer, she’s planning field trips to enhance the curriculum. What would match up better with a “Caldecott Medal-winning children’s book on northern myths” than a visit to see an actual Viking ship under construction? Brianna, a good friend of Chelsea, and the only Mannion sister, spills the beans, although she warns her girlfriend “not to get your hopes up.”
"He’s been a loner out at the lake, and extremely noncommunicative even with us. I have the feeling something significant happened in New York, but if anyone knows what it was, it’d be Quinn, and he’s not talking." 
Everybody knew that Quinn Mannion held secrets as tightly as a priest hearing a confession at St. Peter the Fisherman’s church. Which was why he undoubtedly knew personal things about most people in Honeymoon Harbor.  
“Well, it wouldn’t hurt to ask,” she decided. “All he can do is say, no, right?”  
“Right. And good luck. Quite honestly, I think it’s be as good for him as it would be fun for the kids.” 
A week or so later, Chelsea tracks down Gabe in a “back corner of the Honeymoon Harbor wooden boat-building school.” He doesn’t remember her although he has fond memories of Lillian Henderson. Chelsea tells him that Mrs. Henderson is on the advisory board.
“I didn’t realize libraries had advisory boards.”  
“Many do.” Twin dimples appeared in her cheeks as she smiled. She was, as his grandfather Harper would say, cute as a button. Even as her naughty librarian glasses had him imagining unbuttoning a few more of those buttons, Gabe reminded himself that he didn’t do cute. 
And he doesn’t do boat-building tours, telling her it’s a liability issue. Chelsea protests: “Even if I promise that they won’t touch a thing?” “Even then,” Gabe says and if you think that’s the end of it, you need to read more romance.

Summer at Mirror Lake is my favorite of the Honeymoon Harbor series because the protagonists are so different, yet they’re absolutely made for each other. Even when they resolve their difficulties over boat visits and decide to have a secret summer fling (that everyone in town knows about), the end of August looms like a big dark storm cloud. Everyone knows Gabe’s real home is the gold-paved canyons of Wall Street—or is it? JoAnn Ross never disappoints—take this to the beach and enjoy.

Friday, May 31, 2019

Retro Wendy: Let’s Talk About Sex, or Not: Sexual Tension For the Win!

This post originally ran at Heroes & Heartbreakers on August 5, 2015

As long as the romance genre has existed, it has had unimaginative critics. Sometimes even before the word “trash” is uttered, we get “Mommy porn.” Women should know their place. If it’s something you enjoy, if it’s something you take pleasure in, it must be wrong, and nothing screams wrong quite like dismissing readers and suggesting they are “dirty” for liking something. What these critics are really reinforcing is the old adage that women shouldn’t like sex, talk about sex, and heaven help them, they shouldn’t want sex. The truth is that if these critics asked a large sample of romance readers why they enjoy the genre, “I read it for the smokin’ hot sex!” is pretty far down on the list, if it’s on the list at all. Oh dear, silly, hopeless na├»ve critics. We don’t read romance for the sex. We’re looking for all the delicious things that lead up to sex. The tension, the chemistry, the foreplay, two characters who are beginning to realize that taking on the world together is ever so much better than taking it on by themselves.

To illustrate this point, all three of these recent releases, of wildly varying heat levels, illustrate that it’s the not the actual falling into bed we love – it’s the journey the characters take to get there.

Charlotte Stein writes erotic romance, a sub-genre that one would think would be “all about sex.” Except, of course, that it isn’t. Good erotic romance knows that it takes more than pages of kink and fetishes to make a story “hot” – to make the romance work. In Sweet Agony, Stein takes anticipation to a boiling point featuring a young woman looking to escape poverty and despair and a young man with a mountain of entitlements emotionally stunted by a past he’s unable to break free of. So haunted by a traumatic past, our hero is emotionally crippled at the mere thought of basic human touch. Which makes navigating a sexual attraction particularly tricky, but leads to a story filled with tension. That old saying about the brain being the biggest erogenous zone? Yeah, that.
He just did the equivalent of throwing everything in on a pair of jacks, so sure I would back down that he barely saw the straight flush lurking in the river. He was too explicit, too rude, too eager to say that word: spanked. He should never have said spanked. Maybe he could have to someone else, someone who cares only a little, someone less like him. But I am not nearly so closed off, nor so silly. And when he pushes, I push back.
I glance over my shoulder. I meet his gaze. His face is so pale it could pass for a fainting lady’s. And I say with the most relish I can muster: “Would you like me to leave my dress down, or do you prefer a bare work surface?” followed by the longest silence the world has ever known. It goes on and on and on, and the longer it does, the worse it gets. If nothing happens in the next thirty seconds I am almost definitely going to die. 
In The Fighter and the Fallen Woman, Pamela Cayne is working within a sensuality landscape that is fairly typical for the historical romance sub-genre. It’s in that middle ground between just-kisses and erotic romance. What this story features is a forbidden sexual attraction between a boxer/hired thug hero and a prostitute/mistress heroine who both happen to work for the same dangerous crime lord. The tension between the two hits a boiling point even before the reader is out of the first chapter, when our villain suggests his mistress kiss his fighter for “good luck,” something the hero, King, is reluctant to do.
“Come, King, it’s only a kiss,” Lady said, deliberately pitching her voice low. She would give the kiss and pray her trembling barriers would hold, keep her safe against the desire to close her eyes, breathe in his scent, and feel for one moment that a fighter and a fallen woman had a future together. 

“Lady, you should know when it comes to you, it’s never only anything,” he whispered so that only she could hear. “It’s everything.” 

He grabbed her hand only for an instant, but it was long enough to brand his touch on her skin before he let go. Lady pulled back and her eyes drifted open, her held breath slipping from her mouth and into his. King was right. This would never be only a kiss. 
Deeanne Gist started her career writing inspirational historical romances, but her most recent books have moved towards secular Americana. This has been a move that has not been met with enthusiasm by all of her fans, and there is criticism, in some circles, that Tiffany Girl is “pornographic.” This is laughable for the most part since the only love scene fades to black while the hero is helping the heroine out of her wedding ensemble….on their wedding night. But upon closer inspection, these critics have somewhat of a point. Gist does more with sexual tension in a “just kisses” historical romance than some erotic romance authors do with an encyclopedia of fetishes and a chest full of sex toys. Things heat up for our hero and heroine when they agree to help a photographer take a series of photographs of them dancing so he can make a phenakistascope.

Now they were cheek to cheek. Flossie’s face, nearest the camera, shielded his. Her ear lobe peeked out from beneath her coif and was within an inch of his mouth. He resisted, resisted, then could resist no more. He took a gentle tug with his lips. 

She closed her eyes, her lips there for the taking. He didn’t so much as breathe. “Okay. Ready?” Holliday settled himself beneath his shroud. “Just a few more shots.” Holliday took them through the rest of the dance, one step at a time. When she had her face shielded by Reeve’s, she blew across his ear.
The stairwell was silent. The hallway was silent. The rooms were silent. He didn’t know where everyone else was on this sunny Sunday afternoon, but he was thankful they weren’t around.  
He followed her back down to the first floor, narrowing his eyes. Were her hips swaying just a touch more than usual? Or maybe he was simply too attuned to her every move. When she began to enter her room, he grabbed her hand, hauled her to his room, shoved his door closed, pulled her against him, and took her mouth with his. 
All of these authors employ the use of tension to increase the personal stakes for their characters. Cayne introduces it to the reader from the very first chapter, in a first kiss scene the simmers and boils through the remaining early portions of the book and carry the reader to the eventual consummation. Stein and Gist both go a different route, keeping their characters apart by circumstance. Stein, with a hero who abhors anyone touching him and Gist with the social restrictions and mores of the time period. However, in the case of all of these books, something has to give. All of these characters are mere mortals, after all, and tension can only go on for so long until someone eventually snaps. It’s those delicious moments that lead up to the snapping that keep romance readers coming back for more.