You’re The One For Me

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Sybil traced her finger slowly down Jack’s chest, luxuriating in the soft feel of the hair that grew there, in stark contrast to the lack of any on top of his head. His warm, solid presence comforted her, and for a moment she just soaked in it, breathed it in, letting her cares slip away.

Only for a moment, however. That old demon returned, as it always did, to nag at her. Was he really happy with her? Did his attention perhaps roam at times, caught up in someone more elegant, more beautiful, more slender, more… just more? Could she really still be enough for him, or would he seek someone who could do so much more for him than she ever could? She told herself this was silly, Jack had never once given any hint of anything like that, it was just her persistent insecurities talking to her. Still, she worried.

“Hey. I’m right here. Come back to me, sweetheart. What’s going on?”

Jack’s voice brought her back to the present, and his touch soothed her as he slid his hand along her side to her hip. His palm was calloused, the palm of a man who had worked hard with his hands, though his skin was not so rough as it had been. His firm grip on her hip reassured her, and Sybil looked up into his eyes, hovering only inches above her face. She saw only love there, and remembered why she was with this man. She ran her own hands down his body, tracing the contours of his back with her fingertips, before answering.

“I’m sorry, darling. Just… nothing. It’s nothing.”

His eyes questioned her, he knew it wasn’t just nothing, so to forestall any more questions Sybil leaned up and kissed his lips, still soft yet with their own touch of roughness to them. She brought her hands to his waist, gripped him there, and wrapped her legs around his.

It worked. Jack gave a soft moan against Sybil’s mouth and moved against her body. His hips rotated back and forth, and now Sybil gasped, sweetly filled and fulfilled, his heat warming her inside and out. This man, this beautiful man, making languorous and luxurious love to her, how could she ever doubt him?

She didn’t doubt him. It was herself she doubted. Oh, not her love for Jack. She loved him as passionately as ever, but how could he still desire her? So many other women were so much thinner, so much more graceful, had so much more energy.

Jack moved atop her, sliding his entire body first one way then the other, causing delightful little frissons of friction within her. Sybil brought her attention back to him, back to them, and she moved herself beneath him, squeezing him, pulling him in tightly.

“There you are,” he whispered against her ear, before gently biting her lobe. “I lost you for a moment, but I still know how to bring you back, don’t I?”

He did desire her. His body could not lie. After all this time, his passion for her remained unflagging. A tear formed in Sybil’s eye.

“Oh, Jack.” Her voice hitched, caught in an upwelling of emotion.

He stopped moving, pulled back just a bit to look in her eye.

“Darling, I know I’m not as young, not as strong as I used to be. I know you could have your pick of men, now as well as then, but you chose me, and I chose you. Nothing has ever made me more proud and more happy. Are you still happy with me?”

Sybil’s voice hitched again, this time in a choked off laugh rather than a cry.

“Oh, Jack,” she said again. “If you only knew the depth of my… well, you do know. You always have known. But it is you who could have your pick.” She turned her head, ran a hand through her grey hair against the pillow.

Jack cupped her face in his strong hand, brought her back to face him. “How long have we been married?”

She didn’t even have to think about it. “Forty-two years.”

“And do you remember what I said to you, forty-two years ago, that day we ran off, ignoring everything everyone told us, when we eloped off to Vegas? Do you remember?”

“I do.”

Jack laughed. “Yes, I said that, too, but before that.”

Sybil laughed with him, feeling much better already. “Yes, Jack, I remember.”

“It’s as true today as it was then, as it has been every day and every year since. What did I tell you?”

“You said, you’re the one for me.”

“That’s right, babe. I’ve gone bald, and you’ve gone grey, but around you I still feel like a twenty-two-year-old kid.” He grinned at her, randy and lascivious, and she loved it. She grinned back.

“You’re the one for me.”

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You Are Mine

A tear fell from her eye and slid ever so slowly across the curve of her cheek, pooling in the downturned corner of her mouth. He pulled her into his embrace and kissed the tear away.

“Are you so very disappointed in me?” she asked, gazing up into his eyes, trying to discern his thoughts there.

“Do I seem disappointed?”

She thought about everything that had just happened, turning it over in her mind. She had been so absorbed in her own experience of events, so focused on her own feelings, that she hadn’t really paid attention to how he seemed during it all, what he might be getting from it. She was mostly aware of what he was doing, of how it impacted her — and how those impacts felt — and not so much of how he might be feeling. Now she recalled the intense concentration on his face, the firm yet gentle touch of his other hand, and she realized he had been fully present in the moment, completely focused upon her, while she had selfishly spared thoughts only for herself. A fresh sense of unworthiness and selfishness washed over her, and once again she could not understand his interest in her, despite the evidence of his caring embrace, his soothing touch, his loving kiss. She sniffled softly before replying.

“No. No, you don’t, but I don’t understand why you put up with me. I’m so selfish! You are so good to me, and I don’t do anything for you, and, and… and no wonder I needed this, deserved this, what you just did, when you… I didn’t pay any attention to you! I should have been thinking about you, but all I could think about was what was happening to me, and when your hand… when it would…”

“Hush.” He put a finger to her lips, quieting her, cradling her on his lap. He kissed her brow and slowly her breathing calmed. “You were perfect. You gave me everything I could possibly desire. You lost yourself in the experience, gave yourself over to me completely, and that, my darling, is more beautiful to me than you could imagine.”

Again she found herself lost in his eyes, looking for what he wasn’t saying but finding only honesty there. With a start she realized that she trusted him completely, knew with every fiber of her being that he would always take care of her. She wanted to wrap her arms about him and hold on tight, never let go, but of course that wasn’t possible yet. She lay her head against his chest, curling herself in his lap, and he held her more tightly. She could feel his heart beating strongly beneath her cheek, and she marveled at the power he wielded over her. With a single word he could calm her fears. With a single touch he could inflame her passions. With a single glance he could hold her soul.

She wriggled against him, settling in comfortably, and she felt his heart race within his ribcage. Experimentally, she wiggled again, and again his pulse rate shot up. She smiled to herself, marveling at the power she apparently held over him, too, her doubts evaporating like summer rain steaming under the hot southern sun.

“Careful, pet, or you’re liable to get me started all over again,” he said with a soft chuckle, and that thought only made her want to wriggle more. She turned her face up toward his, and he leaned down to kiss her lips, long, languorous, and slow. Now she really wished she could wrap her fingers in his hair, twining them in its silky black length, caressing the touch of grey just beginning to show at his temples, but she contented herself with inhaling his breath, tasting his mouth, parting her lips to tease the tip of his tongue with her own.

She felt just a twinge of discomfort from her sore bottom, but that reminder only served to ignite further flames within her. The twinge and her reaction didn’t escape his notice, and he responded by taking her mouth even more fiercely, crushing her lips with his kiss, taking her lower lip between his teeth and biting to just the edge of pain. Briefly she wondered if afterwards her lips would also be bruised, sore, and red, but then she ceased all thought as he renewed his advance, crushing her thin body against his with the ferocity of his embrace.

After an eternity that flashed by in an instant, he withdrew and they both caught their breaths, panting from aroused passions. He kept her gaze locked on his eyes, lifting a hand to push back a strand of hair falling across her face.

“Do you still wonder if I’m disappointed with you, my pet?”

She smiled, all fears laid to rest. “No. No, I don’t.”

“And are you disappointed with me?”

“No, I am not.”

“Good, because I plan to keep you for a very long time.”

She squirmed again in his lap, happiness settling over her, suffusing her through and through.

“Ok, I don’t think we need these any longer,” he said, reaching around behind her. “But first, pet, what are you?”

She knew this game. She liked this game, and now she knew it wasn’t actually a game.

“I am yours.”

“That’s right,” he said, as he unlocked the cuffs from her wrists.

“You are mine.”

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Romantic Conflict

I think it may have been Tolkien who wrote “Adventure is something nasty happening to someone else far away,” though admittedly I am having trouble sourcing this quote today.

As an aside, I did find a similar quote attributed to David Niven: “Adventure. Ah yes. That’s someone else having a very rough go of it very far away. My idea of adventure is carrying a pint of bitters from one smoke-filled room to the next.” (http://www.baenebooks.com/chapters/0743498747/0743498747___6.htm)

Of course, what either of these quotes implies is that while we enjoy reading about adventure (or watching it on film), it may not be something we necessarily want to have happen to us. For all the interest in adventure tourism, or active sports and pastimes, true adventure implies an element of peril not sought for its own sake, but rather risked or endured, perhaps unwillingly, on the way to something else far more desirable.

In other words, adventure is conflict. Most of us seek to reduce conflict in our own lives, but in fiction, without conflict there isn’t much of a story. A group of characters sitting around having the time of their lives may sound like a lot of fun, but it isn’t very interesting to read about.

That means our protagonist is that someone else, and for the story to be interesting, she must have a very rough go of it. Nasty things must befall her, and then she must overcome them, gain strength through adversity, and return to her ordinary world wiser than before, having won the grand prize.

Herein lies the author’s conflict. We spend so much time with our protagonists, our main or lead characters, our heroes and heroines, that it is easy to identify with them. They are the children of our imagination. We grow to love them as we love ourselves, or as we love our best friends, and who would wish nastiness upon their best friend?

Yet we must, for the sake of the other children of our imagination, the stories themselves. We must array armies of conflict against our heroine, in all their serried ranks, and she must lose at least a few battles — though she can win one now and then, too — before ultimately emerging victorious. It’s painful to do, but our heroine must suffer — for the sake of art, of course.

So what does conflict look like in a romance, then? No one is swinging swords at our heroine (unless, perhaps, we are writing a paranormal fantasy romance), nor shooting bullets at her (or are we writing romantic suspense?). The grand prize she seeks, though she may not know it at first, is love. The barriers she must overcome on her quest for this prize are emotional more than physical.

There will be external conflict. She is not the only one seeking the hero’s heart.  She has a rival, one who may stop at nothing to steal the hero away from her. Perhaps her family, or the hero’s family, or workplace rules or societal politics, dictate that they should not be together. Perhaps the hero is, at first, simply uninterested, or he lives in a different world, moves in different circles, such that their paths would not cross in the normal state of affairs.

There will also be internal conflict. The heroine, or hero, or both, may have been hurt before, such that they now avoid entanglements, or they may inwardly consider themselves somehow unworthy of love, or of each other, not realizing at first how far from the truth this sentiment may be. The heroine will harbor some dark secret, some shadow from her past that she has struggled — and failed — to overcome, and just when things finally seem to be on a perfect trajectory, it will rear its ugly head to dash all hopes.

Naturally, she will ultimately triumph, defeating her inner demons and outer rivals, and win the hero’s heart for all eternity, as classic romantic tropes dictate, living happily ever after.

Or will she?

Romance is full of conflict, and in this we find a truth for both fiction and reality.