Romancing the Beast You Can’t See
For many people, the classic tale of Beauty and the Beast is one of seeing the person below the surface, learning we’re all worthy of love, and finding redemption. For others, it’s romanticized Stockholm Syndrome. Either way, there’s no disguising that the Beast is, well, a beast. Physically, the story goes that he’s changed into something monstrous; mentally and emotionally, he’s just as harsh. Beauty then has to see the man beneath, the man he could become, past this rough exterior.
But what if it went a step further than that?
In Beast, the moment my heroine, Belladona, encounters her beast, she is not allowed to see him. For their encounters, she’s required to be blindfolded.
Joseph was burned horribly in a fire twenty years earlier. He lives with physical pain still, but he was a teen boy when it happened and it damaged his self-image drastically as well. He’s a recluse, preferring to hide from the world, and after decades of little human contact, socially he is completely inept. He’s filled with rage and self-loathing, and doesn’t want the women he hires as companions to know what he looks like.
This left me with the difficult task of having my heroine fall in love with a man she couldn’t see.
One of the draws of the fantasy of romance for me, and surely others, is the strong, attractive hero (who loves the heroine unconditionally and has many other virtues, but let’s talk about the physical attractive part right now). The heroine meets him and even if he pisses her off, she finds her heart hammering and her body reacting immediately to his closeness. If it’s a hate-to-love romance, she’ll often resent that he’s so attractive. If he’s a little plainer looking, the more time she spends with him, the more he becomes the most attractive man in the world to her.
But Belladona spends weeks with Joseph without seeing him. Their sexual encounters all involve her being blindfolded—not as kink added to the bedroom scene, but for their regular interactions.
This presented a unique challenge as an erotic romance writer. Although Joseph’s scenes allowed me to include visual cues when writing, Belle’s did not, which meant really delving in deep to figure out how to make the scenes erotic for both her and the reader. The thing we can sometimes forget in writing, though, is that there are four other scenes to explore. The rough sound of his voice, the scent of whiskey in the room, the sudden intake of breath in reaction to her touch, how he feels against her hands, the taste of his skin, the temperature of the room. The mind itself is another sense, allowing Belle to put together a rough image in her head, even though she’s only glimpsed her lover in shadow.
The end result, I feel (and hope readers will as well) is equally erotic if not more so than having Belle see Joseph, and I found there was no better way for her to discover the man beneath the beast.
A scarred recluse hiding from his past…
Joseph Li has lived in hiding since he was fifteen years old. The son of dangerous mob boss known as The Dragon, he sought a life of his own and paid the ultimate price, ending up horribly burned over half of his body. He escaped when the world–and his mother–assumed he died in the fire, but is not without scars. Physically, he’s disfigured; mentally, he trusts no one and has become a shut-in living in the fringes of small towns until local interest drives him away.
The beautiful young housekeeper who is more than she seems…
Belladona Martin is a loyal employee of Seven Security, specializing in undercover work. When a local call girl comes to her for help after a prostitute turns up dead–one who worked at Li’s mansion–with worries the scarred man living there killed her, Belle naturally takes the case. She slips into the persona of a housekeeper who provides “companionship” on the side, hoping to find evidence to convict the monster responsible for the crime.
Joseph believes he’s more beast than man, even as Belle’s presence gives him hope for redemption. But beyond the lies surrounding her identity that could destroy their budding relationship, a twenty-year-old secret is buried deep in Midsummer, one from Joseph’s past that might claim both their lives.
Joseph supposed Sundays wouldn’t be half as quiet if he staggered his employees’ days off instead of having them all gone one day, but often he needed the break from everyone as well. He’d been deeply introverted as a boy and was now even more so, the constant isolation from society seeming to worsen the condition.
At the same time, he was grateful he didn’t have to go out in the world, enduring the stares and the whispers. He’d read occasionally about new procedures to regrow faces and replace scar tissue, but even if he lived in such a time that it was a common occurrence, he didn’t think he’d ever have it done.
His scars were a reminder of his betrayal, of the death of the boy he used to be, and he preferred not to forget.
He sat in the drawing room with a glass of whiskey, most of the lights off and just the faint orange flames flickering in the fireplace provided a way to see as the evening grew darker. The room could stand for a larger fire but he disliked having one at all; it had taken more than a decade to be able to light a candle without past trauma overcoming him. Whitmore wasn’t back yet and Keller, should she be able to return to work, wouldn’t arrive until the morning. Technically Belle didn’t have to work until nine Monday morning and didn’t have to come home tonight either.
He corrected himself, then, as the word startled him—this wasn’t her home. This was her place of employment, and while she might sleep here, her real life lay elsewhere. She had at least a brother if not other family. She had friends. Jesus, he didn’t even know her real name.
He would be lying, however, if he said he didn’t miss her presence. He regretted seeing her so little yesterday, wished he could explain somehow that he liked her around too much, that she was providing more than physical companionship to him but emotional as well. And that was something he didn’t want, couldn’t bear to have.
It would be too much when it was inevitably taken away.
A knock on the drawing room door startled him. He frowned over the rim of his glass as he took a sip, decided he might need the alcohol to deal with his butler tonight. “What?”
The knob turned and carefully the door creaked open. The light of the fire revealed Belle, clad in her uniform and blindfold, stepping inside.
His heart surged even as he tried to tamp down on such feelings, and he checked his watch. “You’re not on duty. You don’t even need to be here.”
She smiled, faintly, closing the door behind her but not stepping in farther so the side of the couch hid the lower half of her body. “I finished in town.”
“Hmm.” He drank more whiskey, not wanting to reveal he was glad to see her.
“I brought you something.” Then she moved smoothly into the room, turning to face him and navigating around the coffee table toward where he sat in the great wingback chair. She really was awfully good at that now, perhaps better than Joseph himself who had spent years learning to move without light to guide him.
She carried something wrapped in brown paper, large and flat, perhaps twenty by twenty-six inches or so. Belle stepped up to him and reached forward with the item, nearly touching his knee with the edge of it.
He scowled at her and the gift for a moment, and then set his whiskey down beside him. “What’s this?”
“Just something I saw that I wanted to get you.”
“I don’t want presents.”
Her lips twisted and she hesitated before speaking. “You’re sure I’m not on duty?”
“Quite. It’s right in your contract.”
“Good. Then I will tell you that I don’t give a damn whether you want presents or not, I saw this and thought of you. You also don’t seem to have a lot of friends and I’m not sure when your birthday is, but you probably haven’t had a gift in a while. So take the goddamn present.” At this, she smiled sweetly.
He couldn’t help it—he chuckled, a low bitter sound, and then took the parcel from her.
It was light, the edges firm. He tore back the paper and stared at the framed sketch beneath it.
King Lear—he recognized it right away, the old man with a long beard, wearing robes and a tarnished crown, carrying the lifeless body of his daughter Cordelia. The image from the play was unmistakable, captured with graphite by a highly skilled artist.
But what drew his eye and caught his breath was the quote written beneath it.
Come not between the dragon and his wrath.
Joseph immediately glared up at Belle, her hands hanging loosely at her sides. No smugness in her smile, no look about her that suggested anything but coincidence.
Still. Did she…know, somehow? Did mentioning his mother’s death make her remember stories of the Dragon, the missing head of the Jade Rose Triad who had met her end at last in Midsummer last fall?
“What is this?” he whispered.
Belle’s smile faltered and her tone was genuine. “I thought you’d like it. I mean, it’s a little grim, but…”
He looked her over again. There was nothing about her that said this was an act. It had to be a coincidence.
Had to be.
Here’s the info on the giveaway!
Prize: 3 copies of the ebook Midsummer Suspense Tales Vol 1 (contains three books, Cinders, Beauty, and Snow) to three winners, in their preferred format (epub, mobi, pdf).
How to enter: Answer the question: If you could be any fairytale heroine (or hero!), who would you be and why?
Deadline: December 20, 2015 at 11:59 pm EST
Note: By participating in this contest, the winner has given permission to RNIC to share his/her name and email address with the person conducting the contest so they can forward the prize(s). Prizes open to U.S. and international entrants.
About the Author:
Asha King likes good-looking men and hot books, and often strives to combine the two in paranormal and suspenseful erotic romance featuring interracial couples. She also drinks mojitos and watches a lot of TV, often at the same time, and never misses Scandal.
She loves connecting with readers and you can keep up to date with her online at www.AshaKing.com, where you’ll find a list of her books as well as what she’s working on.
Connect with the Author:
Laurel Cremant is an opinionated author and reader of romance with a wicked sense of humor. RNIC was smart (or crazy) to bring her on as a blogger. In 2016 she took over the management of this site and relishes her new title of “Overlord of Awesome”