In the late 1970s, when my interests changed from horses to boys, I discovered my first romance book. I don’t recall the title, but the story featured a grey-eyed, red-headed virgin heroine who was brutally deflowered by a nearby Lord. Yes, there was bodice ripping, fainting and, in the end, true love. Of course, the sex was tame. We were given a few lines of purple prose (I think his “manhood” was mentioned once) and little else. But more distressing than the lack of sex was the heroine. She was, well, wimpy. In subsequent “bodice rippers” the heroines weren’t much different.
Then some years later I discovered Anne Rice’s Exit to Eden and her Sleeping Beauty series. The books were proudly displayed in a bookstore in downtown Washington, D.C. I couldn’t believe my good luck. Spelled out sex! In broad daylight! And for once, the heroines were depicted as strong women. In Exit to Eden, Lisa, the head trainer at an exclusive BDSM club, was in charge. As the years passed, I noticed the “strengthening” of female leads across all genres continued, but no greater than in romance, erotic romance and erotica.
From Savannah Tennyson and Marcie Moira in Joey W. Hill’s Knight of the Board Room series to the more recent Karina Casper of Cecilia Tan’s Slow Surrender series, the modern heroine is nothing like the redheaded beauty of my first-read romance novel. Savannah made her hero work for her. Marcie went after her man with a vengeance. And Karina didn’t take any crap from her guy. They all ended up with true love.
Today’s female protagonist rocks.
Unlike the blushing brides of decades past, these modern heroines are spirited and worldly with strong goals and ideas. Even in recently-written regency books, the women have strong opinions. Also, while two decades ago a female character “putting up” with the hero’s abuse would have been a natural step to love, today such a hero would find himself on the street. In today’s books, connections are mutually beneficial and characters come together as partners—or they don’t happen at all.
The heroine is not the only character who has undergone shifts, either. The contemporary hero is vastly different than the conquering Lords from previous decades. For one, heroes go through emotional journeys and character growth. In essence, they change. (I didn’t say it mirrored real life. Just kidding, guys.)
Add the importance of consent and safe sex, and one could say the modern romance—erotic or not—has travelled light years from the “bodice-rippers” of the past.
These changes are a natural progression. After all, society has shifted with more male-female equality. But this evolution of the romance, erotica and erotic romance genres makes me wonder what the heroes and heroines in twenty years will bring us. How far can we go?
How do you view the modern hero or heroine? Do you find them cast differently than years ago?
Caption: His Hour (1924) with John Gilbert & Aileen Pringle
Caption: Jennifer Lawrence as Katniss Everdeen, heroine of the Hunger Games books
(An excerpt from LOVELY by Elizabeth Safleur - keep reading for the GIVEAWAY!)
The Jefferson Suite had a reputation. Everyone said so.
Christiana Snow watched Henrick, the sous-chef, slip a red rose into the silver bud vase on the room service tray she’d been tasked to deliver. “There are some naughty stories about the guests that stay in that suite.” He winked. “Let me take you to dinner, and I’ll tell you all about it.”
She turned her back on Henrick’s smirk—and his eyes that never seemed to travel farther north than her neck. Since the day Christiana started working at The Oak she’d fought the desire to bend her knees to force his gaze to her face. It would only give him the wrong idea.
Instead she threw back two ibuprofens with her milk and then set the glass into a nearby bin of dirty dishes. Gossip made her head hurt.
She felt Henrick’s eyes travel her body as she pushed the room service cart into the elevator. “For a reporter’s daughter, you aren’t very curious,” he called after her.
Curiosity wasn’t the issue. The Oak, which stood mere blocks from the White House, attracted politicians and paparazzi—and dozens of men, sporting earbuds attached to wires disappearing into their dark suits, sent to watch them both. It took real concentration to ignore the stories that the hotel’s staff collected like trophies.
At least the tips were good at the boutique hotel and restaurant, and the mundane work gave her time to think—or think forward, as her father always said. And that’s what she was going to do—think forward and move forward. She didn’t have time to get wrapped up in other people’s lives and certainly not the pseudo reality of the D.C. politicos.
The elevator creaked to a stop. Water sloshed in the silver pitcher as Christiana leaned over the cart to push the slatted metal door aside. A dusty, oil-paint smell greeted her as she started down the hallway, lined with canvases of hunting scenes set in over-sized, gilded frames higher than she was tall and wider than her arms could stretch.
Christiana took in a lungful of the stagnant air as she reached the Jefferson Suite’s double doors at the end of the corridor. She knocked and listened for the sound of footsteps. No one came.
Her leg danced with impatience. Mrs. DeCord’s order was Christiana’s last task of the day, and she wanted to finish it as fast as possible to rush off to meet Avery, her best friend. Christiana had agreed to be her “date” at some society fundraiser that afternoon.
Christiana studied the rich mahogany crown molding, lining the long hallway. Gold brocade wallpaper led her eyes to images of smiling women, draped in gossamer swaths of pastel blue and green fabric. They stared down from their ceiling mural home, their eyes cold and full of secrets.
Christiana knocked on the door once more. After no response, she pulled her master key card from her apron pocket and slipped it to the lock slot. The door cracked open but stopped against something on the other side. Through the gap in the door, she saw a man’s shoe lying on its side.
She called into the room, “Hello? Room service. Ma’am?” No one answered though muffled voices resonated deeper within.
Well, she couldn’t wait. She pushed harder on the door, and the shoe slid aside.
The cart’s wheels whispered over the marble entryway floor. She announced herself one more time. No reply. She picked up the man’s dress shoe, an expensive leather smell wafting to her nose. She set it down beside a tufted chair in the hall.
A male voice echoed from the bathroom off the suite’s master bedroom. “No, Yvette.”
“Please take me. I won’t say a thing.” Mrs. DeCord’s voice reverberated off the tile.
“You know our agreement.”
Mrs. DeCord whined, “I don’t understand why I wasn’t invited. I’ll show up anyway.”
“You won’t do any such thing, Yvette.” He spoke her name like a caress. “Take off your panties.”
Christiana’s insides seized at the man’s abrupt change in tone. Maybe she had heard wrong. After a long silence, she urged the cart forward, but the wheels bogged down on the plush carpet in the living area.
The voice spoke. “Bend over, put your hands on the counter. Good. Look in the mirror. Eyes on me, Yvette.”
Smack! A sharp slap pierced the air, and Christiana jerked backward as if stung. Mrs. DeCord moaned. Was she hurt?
Christiana couldn’t break her gaze, eyes glued on the bedroom doors. They weren’t closed completely. They were slightly ajar, a sliver of the interior showing through a small crack.
“Open your legs.” The man’s voice, sandpaper and velvet, rooted Christiana in place even though her heart fluttered wildly. “Very nice, baby.”
Christiana took a deep breath to steady herself, inhaling musk mixed with the fragrance of lilacs. Something else hung heavy in the air.
Mrs. DeCord’s whimpers grew louder.
Should she call, so they knew she wasn’t trying to hide her presence? If they saw her, would they realize she had overheard? Should she leave? If she abandoned the lunch, they’d know she’d heard and run away, probably to gossip.
“Mmm, you like that, don’t you, sweetheart?”
Christiana licked her lips at the man’s chocolate-caramel tone. She tried to place the voice—maybe he was a radio announcer. No, he sounded too sexy and way too dangerous.
Slap! Slap! Christiana’s leg bumped into the cart and silverware clanked. Water splashed on the linen, and she stilled, but no new sound came from the bedroom.
She couldn’t abandon the lunch in the middle of the living room. She’d just have to be quick. Christiana maneuvered the cart to the small bay window overlooking Pennsylvania Avenue. She set up the silver and lifted the dome on Mrs. DeCord’s salad.
“Touch yourself,” the deep, rich voice said. Christiana’s heart punched at her ribs, and she lifted one hand to her breast to still it. Her eyes darted to the doors.
She gulped and tried to shake off the sound of the man’s sexy intonation. Christiana tiptoed over to the French doors of the master bedroom and risked a peek into the room. The bed’s comforter wilted over one side of the bed, and sheets bunched in a tight wad at the foot, bulging through the brass rails of the footboard. Pillows lay scattered on the floor. Braided black ropes hung limply from the frame of the headboard. She envisioned a restrained body, spread-eagle and helpless on the bed. Oh, god.
A chill broke out across her body. Instinct told her to click the doors shut. She winced at the snick of the door jam. Did they hear her?
More whispers escaped from behind the closed doors. She couldn’t make out the words, but the sensual rhythm of his voice rose and fell in a soothing, hypnotic cadence. Christiana’s ears strained for the man’s instructions, for what he wanted Mrs. DeCord to do next. Footsteps brushed across the carpet in the bedroom. The man spoke in rumbling purrs, approaching the bed.
She bit her bottom lip when a thought arose about that strange, human scent. Sex. A pang hit between her thighs as an image slipped into place of the faceless man—with that voice—putting his mouth on Mrs. DeCord’s neck.
A long wail and an ecstatic groan drifted from inside the bedroom.
Christiana stepped back. She needed to leave—now. If caught eavesdropping, even accidentally, she’d be dismissed. She clutched the silver dome to her chest like a shield and slunk to the marble foyer. The man’s smoky voice oozed into the main room as the suite’s front door clacked behind her, a barrier to . . . what?
She jogged down the long hallway to the elevator, punched the call button, and tried to steady her breathing as the elevator creaked upward. The man’s voice still reverberated in her chest. Relief coursed through her body, glad she hadn’t run into either of them inside, especially him. One look and he would have guessed she’d heard, had sucked in the air, heavy with sex, and understood.
Her imagination settled on Mrs. DeCord pressed into the mattress under a dark, mysterious man. His lips floated over her breast. Christiana shook her head in a vain attempt to stop the image from evolving into the man slipping his hands between the woman’s legs.
Christiana hit the button twice more. Come on. She gave up on the antiquated elevator and headed to the stairs. More questions surfaced with each step downward.
Did Henrik’s wink mean he knew? Who was Mrs. DeCord hooking up with in the Jefferson Suite? The mystery man had done something carnal to her, something she’d wanted done, though Christiana couldn’t imagine what. Something with ropes and slaps and Lord knows what else. Maybe she should’ve listened when the other waitresses, huddled in the employee break room, tittered about who slipped through the hotel lobby trying not to be noticed.
Then again, maybe not. She began to understand why her manager, Brian, had directed staff to drop off the orders and avoid looking around. He had warned, “In the political climate of Washington, D.C., some things are best not to see.”
Christiana dislodged her overactive daydreaming and ran to the staff room to gather her things before clocking out. She jumped when her phone rang.
“Hey, get here already! I’m guarding your dress in the main ladies room. You know where,” Avery said. “I never wore it, and you seem to like blue.”
Avery’s closet enjoyed a regular turnover, as the budding socialite wouldn’t be caught dead photographed in anything twice. Christiana was the grateful recipient of Avery’s generosity. Her hand-me-downs were really more like hand-me-ups for Christiana.
She grabbed her purse from her locker. “I’m leaving right now. How come this event is so early?”
“Mom said it’d be like happy hour. It’s really so they can all start drinking earlier. Serve anyone interesting today?”
“No one special.” She glanced in the small mirror inside the door and smoothed down a few wispy bangs to cover up the two-inch scar on her forehead, now pink from exertion.
“Oh, come on. It’s an election year. Everyone wants to be seen.”
Christiana laughed. “You sound like my dad.” The silence on the other end signaled Avery wasn’t pleased with the comparison. Another faux pas—something Avery said Christiana was very good at making, like wearing the same dress to a charity event more than once.
“Um, do you know Mrs. DeCord?” Christiana asked.
“Sure. Former Miss Dallas, married to a high-powered lawyer. Well, at least for now. Women like that go through men like wardrobe changes. Why? What’d she do? Spill it.”
“Oh, nothing. She comes in from time to time.” Damn, she shouldn’t have asked. Avery’s natural investigative nature came alive when a fellow socialite’s name arose.
“Who was she with today? Not her husband?” Avery’s voice lit up with excitement.
“I don’t know what her husband looks like. It was probably him.”
Avery snorted. “Yeah, right. No one goes to The Oak with who they’re supposed to be with.”
“I’ll take your word for it. Look, I’ll be there as soon as I can, okay?”
Christiana stuffed her phone into her purse and sprinted to the garage.
Cars choked Constitution Avenue even on a Saturday. Tourist season had begun in Washington. Families clad in matching t-shirts and people carrying maps and cameras would soon replace D.C.’s full-time residents, who would escape the city for Rehoboth Beach on most muggy summer weekends.
She shifted in her seat and adjusted the air conditioning vents to blow directly over her clammy chest. Christiana glanced to the National Mall alongside Constitution Avenue. Stopping at a red light every thirty-five feet never used to bother her. It gave her time to take in the sights. But lately the Washington Monument’s constant pointing to the sky created an unsettling feeling. It only reminded her nothing really changes in D.C.
Christiana pulled up to the entrance of the Rosemont Country Club only ten minutes late. Sunlight bounced off the brass plaque on the white brick pillars, the only announcement to the outside world that the elite of Washington gathered at the other end of the dogwood-lined driveway. Members of Congress discussed budget negotiations while golfing and bored wives complained about Neiman Marcus inventory while sunning themselves on the terrace.
Avery’s family had held membership here since the club opened in the 1920s. Her great-grandfather was one of the founding members. The Churchill women had spent countless hours flipping from their backs to their fronts by the swimming pool and attending mixers and events in the cool evenings. Avery reveled in the ambience. Butterflies usually took over Christiana’s stomach at the thought of crossing the threshold of the country club though she attempted to raise a little gratitude for Avery’s generosity in letting her tag along. Or drag me along.
Christiana handed her keys to the valet, whose traditional red coat was replaced by a ridiculous number in black and pink. Oh, right, today’s event was a fundraiser for breast cancer research. Great, she’d be in blue while everyone else draped themselves in various shades of fuchsia and rose. She hoped no one would notice. She knew everyone would. Even when helping a great cause, Washington feasted on mistakes, and failure to heed dress codes was a major gaffe. It took a lot of time and money—none of which she had—to conform to all the rules of Avery’s world.
She shook her head and tried to focus on not tripping up the stairs in her high-heeled sandals. But memories of work today and what she’d overheard at the Jefferson Suite kept replaying in her mind. Stop it. Chris. Think forward. She slipped through the massive oak door.
Can you have love and power at the same time?
Congressman Jonathan Brond has mastered his work, his reputation and the art of sexual domination while keeping his family’s political legacy intact. But a chance encounter with college student Christiana Snow promises something he didn’t think was possible–meeting someone honest.
When the charismatic man proposes a summer of sensual, sexual submission, Christiana leaps into his world—the antidote to her bland life. But Washington, D.C. is an unforgiving place; soon gossip and scandal threatens their relationship.
Yet, in a town of players, sometimes introducing a new game is the only way out. Who knew love would be the winning plan?
5 star: “Elizabeth SaFleur’s book explodes and almost rocked our capital for a loop!”
5 star: “Wow. Where do I start… This book, ‘Lovely’, was an exceptional book.”
5 star: “Elizabeth SaFleur did an amazing job in creating a book that will stay with me. A must add to your tbr list. Highly recommended.”
4 star: “Madame SaFleur a job well done. A perfect title—simply Lovely. Hoping that this story continues. In my opinion, Christiana and Jonathan’s journey is far from over.”
4 star: “This page turner leaves you feeling vindicated and wanting more of HOT Jonathan.”
4 star: “A great read and an author I’m certain to keep going back to.”
About the Author:
Elizabeth SaFleur is an erotic romance author who is finally sharing what simmers in her imagination—lots of alpha males, seductive encounters, and love. For many years she lived and worked in her novels’ setting, Washington, D.C., in public relations. In her thirty-year career, she represented or encountered some of the city’s powerful insiders.
Elizabeth now writes, tweets and posts under her pseudonym, Elizabeth SaFleur, since her former clients might be a little shocked at their past PR counselor’s new career choice. Then again, perhaps they would fear they provided inspiration. (She has sworn secrecy.)
Her series, the Elite Doms of Washington, is contemporary erotic romance for the progressive woman—unafraid and unencumbered by society’s boundaries.
Lovely, the first novel in the series debuting in January 2015, was inspired one sunny day at an outside café in Washington Harbor where Elizabeth swore she witnessed a woman being lashed to a sailboat mast, happily. Lovely’s hero, Jonathan Brond, was born that day when he silently answered her unspoken question, “does she like that?” with yet another question: “Would you like to find out?”
Today Elizabeth shares twenty-eight, wildlife-filled acres in Central Virginia with her husband and dog, and is sometimes separated from her laptop to indulge in dance classes and visits to wineries and hiking trails with friends. She lives by one quote: “If you really want to be happy, nobody can stop you.”
Elizabeth is a member of the Romance Writers Association, the Washington Romance Writers, and avid reader of all fiction genres, but especially books with a happily-ever-after ending. Visit www.ElizabethSaFleur.com to drop her a note.