Since Fifty Shades of Grey burst onto the scene–and now even more that I’m writing the Release Me trilogy (books two and three just sold, yay!), I’ve found myself having conversations with friends and acquaintances about the rising popularity of erotic romance.
What’s the appeal? Why now?
I’m hardly a sociologist, but as both a reader and a woman, I think that ultimately the popularity of erotic romance ties back to the age old question of What Women Want counterbalanced by The Role Women Are Supposed to Play. Women are strong, no doubt about that, and over the course of history (especially modern history) we’ve relied on that strength as responsibilities and expectations have landed on our shoulders. What responsibilities? Well, we’re supposed to be fierce competitors in the workplace, astounding housekeepers, nurturing wives and mothers, and walking fashion plates. We’re supposed to look good in and out of our clothes, know how to apply make-up and, if the headlines on grocery store check-out magazines are any indication, know exactly what we want sexually and not be afraid to demand it.
Lovely in theory, but a bit daunting (not to mention exhausting) in practice. Can a woman be all those things? Realistically, probably not. Certainly not all things at all times, but still the world bombards us with expectations, and so we grab onto what we can and work damn hard to take charge. To control as many aspects of our life as we can.
And there it is–the key to my hypothesis behind one of the reasons for the recent upsurge in the popularity of erotic romance: Control.
It’s emotionally exhausting to always work to be in control. To get everything done that needs to be done at work and at home. To get the house clean and the kids fed and the invoices processed or the depositions taken or the clients satisfied. And yet women are supposed to want to be in control. After all, wasn’t that what the sixties and women’s lib and all that bra-burning stuff about? And control in our lives means control during sex. Except … except … except it’s fun to lose control. It’s healthy to lose control. But … but … but … what about that strong woman thing? If we surrender that control we fought for and are supposed to have, then haven’t we gone back a step? (Well, no, we haven’t, but that’s a subject for a longer post).
So how better to lose control and enjoy losing control than to lose oneself in erotic romance, especially in an erotic romance wherein there’s a touch of BDSM? It’s safe and it’s fun and it’s an escape and, yeah, it’s sexually appealing. It’s a way to remain in control … and yet also lose control. It’s an abandonment to fantasy–a strong man to whom we surrender control because that surrender is our choice.
In Release Me, Nikki is exactly that kind of woman. She has her weaknesses, sure, but she’s in control of her life. She’s smart. She’s capable. But she surrenders to the power of a man like Damien Stark. What I hope is that readers will fall for Damien as hard as Nikki does.
Check out this scene (18 and older please) where Nikki and Damien are having drinks in his apartment and she is trying (and failing!) to hold back on her desire:
I take a slug of my bourbon. “Maybe you’re not as smart as you think you are, Mr. Stark.”
“Nonsense. I’m fucking brilliant. Or haven’t you heard?” His grin is wide and boyish and I can’t help but laugh. And then, before I even have time to catch my breath, the boyish expression is gone, replaced with one of fire and need. He moves fast, and before I can blink he’s twisted my barstool so that my back is to the bar and he has a hand on either side of me. I’m caged in, trapped in Damien’s heat. “I am smart, Nikki,” he says. “I’m smart enough to know that you feel it, too. This isn’t just heat, it’s a goddamned conflagration. Not chemistry, but nuclear fission.”
I’m flushed and breathing hard. He’s right—so help me, he’s right. But even so …
“There’s nothing good about an atomic reaction,” I say. “And the blast destroys everything it touches.”
“Bullshit.” The word comes out hard. He’s right in front of me, and I can feel the anger coming off him in waves. “Goddammit, Nikki, don’t do that. Don’t play those kind of games with me. Don’t make this complicated when it should be so damn simple.”
“Should be?” I repeat. “What the hell does that mean? Nothing is simple. Am I attracted to you? Hell yes. But you don’t even know me.”
I stifle a sigh. Sometimes I wonder if I even know myself, or if all those years of being molded by my mother—being told what to eat, what to drink, who to date, when to sleep, and all the other Mommie Dearest bullshit—had sucked Nikki right out of me.
But no. No, I fought to keep the core of myself, even if I do keep it buried deep.
I look fiercely at him. “You don’t know me,” I repeat.
The intensity with which he looks back at me almost makes me stumble. “But I do.”
Something in his voice makes me feel exposed. He has me on edge again, and I look away, not liking the way he seems to be shining a spotlight on me.
It takes me a moment to gather myself, and when I do, I tilt my head just enough to look up at him. “We’re not taking this further, Mr. Stark. Absolutely not.”
“I don’t accept that.” His voice is a low growl that rumbles through me, weakening my resolve.
I don’t say a word. I can’t seem to form one.
“I liked it,” he continues, as he traces his fingertips down the sleeve of my jacket. “You liked it. I’m not seeing a sound basis for cessation, Ms. Fairchild.”
I force myself to make a coherent sound. “I like cheesecake, but I only have it rarely. And I know it’s bad for me.”
“Sometimes bad is good.”
“Bullshit. That’s what people say to alleviate their own guilt or justify their own weakness. Bad is bad. A is A.”
“I didn’t realize we were discussing philosophy. Shall I counter with the teachings of Aristippus? He held that pleasure is the highest good.” His fingertip traces my collarbone. “And I want to be very, very good with you.”
I shiver from his touch, allowing myself one brief moment to savor the pleasure of basking in the glow of Damien Stark. Then I turn away, so that I’m speaking to the air, but not to the man. “This isn’t going anywhere.” My voice is a whisper. My voice is the sound of regret. “It can’t.”
“Why not?” I hear the gentleness in his voice and wonder how much of myself I’ve inadvertently revealed.
I don’t say a word.
He exhales, and I can feel the frustration rolling off him in waves. “Ultimately, your free will is your own, Ms. Fairchild. As is mine.”
“I’m free to try to convince you otherwise.”
The space between us is so thick that it’s a wonder I can breathe the air. “You won’t convince me,” I say, but not as forcefully as I want. “I have a job with someone you’re going to invest with. I’ve already gone further than I should.” I suck in a fortifying breath. “But it has to stop now. I’m not risking my professional reputation any more than I already have.”
“Why not work for me?”
The retort is so quick that I can’t help but wonder if he’s already considered the possibility. “Not happening,” I say.
“Give me one reason why not.”
“Um, gee, let me see. Maybe because I don’t want to be the poster child for sexual harassment?”
The change in his face is instant and disturbing, and I am left with no doubt that I’ve angered him. My immediate instinct is to slip off the stool and scoot away, but I remain rooted to the spot. No way am I giving him the satisfaction of backing down.
“Did you feel harassed last night?”
“No,” I admit. As much as I’d like to take the easy way out, I can’t lie to him.
I see the relief wash over his face, banishing the anger. Or was it fear? I’m not sure, and it doesn’t matter. Right now, I see only desire.
“I thought about you last night,” he says. “Giselle and Bruce will probably never have me out for drinks again. I was terrible company.”
“I’m so sorry to have ruined your evening.”
“Hardly,” he said. “And the ride home—I think that was the first time in my life I wanted a drive to be longer. Me, alone in the back of the limo, surrounded by the scent of you.”
He doesn’t mention the panties. I wonder if he’s found them. And if he hasn’t…
Oh, dear. Who else does he let use that limo?
I feel my cheeks warm, and from the way his eyes crinkle with amusement, I know that he’s noticed.
“I imagined undressing you,” he says, reaching for the top button on my blouse. He pops it open effortlessly. “I pictured you naked.” Pop, another button. “You’re beautiful,” he whispers.
With the side of his thumb, he gently strokes the swell of my breast and the lace of my white, satin bra.
My breath catches in my throat. I open my mouth to tell him to stop, but no words come out.
His hands find the bra’s front clasp, and as efficiently as he unbuttoned my blouse, he’s released me from my bra, which hangs limp from my shoulders. His groan is low and needful and desperately arousing. I want nothing more than to close my eyes and surrender, but I can’t, I can’t—
He lifts his eyes to mine. He’s breathing hard, and there’s longing in the hard angles of his face. “Free will, Nikki. Tell me to stop, and I will. But tell me fast, because I’m going to kiss that damnable mouth of yours, and goddammit, Nikki, I’m doing it to keep you quiet.”
Faster than I can react, his mouth covers mine. Claiming me, marking me. Making me his. My mind goes blank, all thoughts dissolving, replaced only by pleasure and the need to be claimed by this man. To open my mouth and take and be taken.
Blindly, I grope for him, my fingers clutching at his hair, pulling him closer. It’s as if all my protestations have been nothing but a sham, and now that they’ve been beaten aside, the pressure of emotion—of need—that’s been building inside me has to burst out, wild and hot and desperate and demanding. The kiss lasts either seconds or an eternity, I’m not sure. But when he releases me, I suck in air, craving oxygen because I am light-headed and weak.
This is my chance, and I know it. Tell him to stop now, and he will. Tell him to leave me alone, and he’ll walk out of my life.
I throw myself at him. Wanton. Willful. I’m risking everything, but right then I don’t care. All I can feel is the fire.
Our mouths clash as I draw him in, and he’s right there, tasting me, his low moan of pleasure making all my risks worthwhile.
He breaks our kiss roughly, then closes his mouth on my neck. I gasp and arch back, and as I do, his hands slide into my shirt, cupping my breasts, and then his mouth is there, suckling, drawing me in until my nipple is a tight pearl against his teeth. I realize he’s tugged me closer, so that my ass is barely on the bar stool and his thigh is wedged between my legs. I’m bucking against him because the pleasure has shot like a hot spark from my breast to my sex.
“Baby,” he whispers, as he comes up for air. His fingers quickly finish unbuttoning my shirt, and his hands ease down to my waist, leaving my skin hot and prickly in his wake. He slides me off the stool so that I am standing in front of him. I’m damp from the heat of my desire, and my body aches all over, craving his touch.
“So soft,” he says, as he untucks my shirt and brushes his fingers lightly over my skin. His fingers skim around the waistband of my skirt, then slowly unzip it. It falls a bit, hanging loose around my hips. “So damn beautiful.”
The awe in his voice unnerves me, and cold fingers of trepidation creep in beneath the fog of pleasure.
I tremble, not sure if it’s from my fears or from his touch. “Reach back,” he orders. “Hold on to the stool.”
“Damien…” I hear the protest in my trailing voice, but my actions don’t match my words. I do as he says, my hands clutched tight, my back arched, my head tilted back with pleasure.
He opens my blouse fully, so that the thin material hangs limply on either side of me, and I feel the gentle flutter of the edges against my bare flesh. He brushes his mouth over my nipples, and I groan, wanting to feel him suckle me, but he’s only teasing, and with each soft, feathertouch of a kiss upon my nipple, I feel my sex tighten and throb. I want him—I want him desperately. And yet I don’t. And all I can do is hold tight to the stool and try to ride out the storm, afraid all the while that I will shatter and break.
“Did you know you glow?” he asks. He is trailing kisses down my cleavage, to my belly, to the waistline of my skirt. I tense, afraid he’s going to slide the skirt the rest of the way down over my hips and leave me exposed in the tiny bikini panties I put on that morning.
He doesn’t, though, and I glory in the brief reprieve. Instead, he pulls me roughly to him, then shifts our positions, so that he is the one leaning against the bar, and I am in front of him. “Turn around,” he says roughly, but doesn’t wait for me to comply. Instead he turns me, and I feel his mouth tug at my earlobe even as one of his hands closes over my naked breast.
His other hand snakes around my waist, and he pulls me tighter against him. I gasp, both in surprise from the quick motion and from the pressure of his denim-clad cock against the swell of my ass.
“Damien,” I whisper, my voice a plea. But whether I’m begging him to stop or continue, even I don’t know.
His mouth is at my ear, his voice so carnal, so full of lust, it makes my clit throb. “I’m going to fuck you, Nikki. Pleasure? We’re going to blow the roof off pleasure. I’m going to make you beg for it. I’m going to claim you. I’m going to tease you. I’m going to torment you. And you’re going to come for me like you’ve never come in your life.”
I’d love to hear your thoughts! Why do you think erotic romance has become so popular? Are you a fan of erotic romance? Why?
And don’t miss Release Me coming January 1 … with books 2 and 3 in the series to follow in 2013!
Here’s another sneak peek:
Release Me by J. Kenner (an excerpt)