As a romance author I am especially fond of the month of February and the glorification of all we hold dear. Love is in the air, although it’s in the air twelve months a year and twenty-four hours a day for most of us that create stories that end with happily ever after.
What is it about love that holds our interest? Is it the improbability of love in an age where we spend more time on our phones and computers than we do with our loved ones. Don Henley, the prolific, brilliant, songwriter, and singer, nailed it in his song The Heart of the Matter:
I got the call today
That I didn’t wanna hear
But I knew that it would come
An old, true friend of ours was talkin’ on the phone
She said you’d found someone
And I thought of all the bad luck,
And the struggles we went through
And how I lost me and you lost you
What are these voices outside love’s open door
Make us throw off our contentment
And beg for something more?
I’m learning to live without you now
But I miss you sometimes
The more I know, the less I understand
All the things I thought I knew, I’m learning again
I’ve been tryin’ to get down
To the heart of the matter
But my will gets weak
And my thoughts seem to scatter
But I think it’s about… Forgiveness
Even if, even if you don’t love me anymore
Ah… These times are so uncertain
There’s a yearning undefined
And people filled with rage
We all need a little tenderness
How can love survive in such a graceless age?
Ah… The trust and self-assurance that lead to happiness
They’re the very things – we kill I guess…
The words to this song take my breath away. How does love survive in such a graceless age? I mulled that question over and over as I wrote this blog. Maybe that’s why romance books represent such a large segment of book sales. We all yearn for love, a respite from the daily bombardment of bad news. We all want someone to walk beside, someone to help us navigate the storms that every life will face at some point. And what is happiness if there is no one to share it with? Yes, it’s true that some of us will never find it, and some of us will lose it. But that doesn’t diminish the dream of it.
Writing is an expression of dreams and observation. A great romance book in which two people overcome obstacle after obstacle to find, hold on to, and embrace love is a teaspoon of sugar to our souls. We want it, crave it, will do anything to possess it. It’s a passion that makes our sojourn on this planet worth the cost.
We as authors have a responsibility to deliver love stories that inspire, that lift the heart. Fashioning your stories with truth and possibility. Push your characters to find redemption in achieving their goals, but never forget that the crux of your story is the most basic of needs, to be loved and to love.
Excerpt from my current WIP, The Girl Who Knew Da Vinci, a romance/thriller:
It was nearly closing time, and there were few people left in the North Pavilion where pre-1700 paintings and sculptures were displayed. Natural light from the ceiling cast a warm glow through the room, washing the precious masterpieces in a filtered luminosity. Alex Caine entered one of the gallery rooms and noticed a young woman sitting by herself. Something about her stillness drew him. When he moved closer he could hear her mumbling in Italian.
The girl sat and stared at the portrait of a young man captured in eternal contemplation. Alex had seen his share of crackpot behavior, but he couldn’t get his head around this girl talking to a painting. The Botticelli painting was unlike any he’d ever seen. The subject’s eyes were hidden from the viewer. Why Botticelli had chosen to paint the young man with his eyes downcast was a mystery. The youth was handsome, almost beautiful. Thick dark waves of hair framed his face. He wore a stylish red velvet tunic that distinguished him as a man of royalty or rank. However, wealth could not dispel the overwhelming sadness imbued in his face. In three-quarter profile, his finely etched brows portrayed a man of extreme sensitivity, his face and demeanor more one of a poet than a man of commerce.
Something about the girl made his pulse accelerate. Her midnight hair swirled in a bun atop her head, and her black-framed glasses couldn’t hide her beauty. The prim accoutrements enhanced her high cheekbones and full mouth. He moved closer to get a better look at her. She was oblivious of him and showed no sign that her private sojourn had been intruded upon. With her hands folded in her lap, she sat like a statue. Her dark eyes never left the young aristocrat’s face.
She was so deep in contemplation that he could have broken out in song, and she wouldn’t have reacted. He hovered for a few minutes, unsure of what to do next. Moving closer, he sat on the bench and faced the painting. He could smell her floral scent. From the corner of his eye, he saw dark wisps of hair frame her pale, flawless face. The indescribable attraction he felt for her heated his blood. He tried to ignore the jolt of desire that vibrated through his body.
When he turned to observe her face, she’d closed her eyes. Had she come here to take a cat nap?
In the next moment, the light coming from the skylight dimmed. Shadows enfolded the paintings. A brewing storm? He took note of the sudden, encroaching darkness that pervaded each painting, except one: The Botticelli painting was glowing. Alex stood scanning the room to discover where the illumination was coming from, but he could see no beam of light shooting down from the skylights.
What happened next made him doubt his sanity. He looked at the woman and saw a transformation. Her eyes fluttered open. They were no longer dark brown. They’d turned forest green. Her gaze fixated on the young man in the portrait as though he were alive and standing right before her. Her expression reflected radiant, passionate, love. Intense. All consuming. It took his breath away. His eyes shifted back to the portrait and what he saw made him lose his balance, his knees buckled forcing him to sit. The young man in the painting turned his face, opened his eyes and stared at Angela, his dark eyes mirroring the same intensity.
Alex was stunned. Never in his life had he witnessed such intense love in just one look, let alone directed at a portrait of an unknown man who’d died more than five centuries ago.
He shook his head, trying to clear his vision. Any minute he expected to hear Rod Serling’s voice.
What happened next floored him: Angela turned to him on the bench, slid closer until she was barely inches from him. She began speaking in Italian. He’d lived most of his life in Europe and was fluent in Italian. He understood every word she said. “Ti amo per sempre.”
I will love you forever.
His heart pounded. He couldn’t take his eyes off her full lips when she said, “Sei l’unico uomo che amerò mai”
You are the only man I will ever love.
She leaned in and pressed her lips to his, her tongue prodding, provoking him to respond. Uncontrollable desire seized him, his fingers tangled in the silk of her hair, pulling it free from the confines of her bun. A waterfall of dark waves cascaded down her back. Their tongues danced together and for long, breathless moments, he lost himself in her kiss. Regaining his composure, he pulled away from her luscious mouth. The woman gazed at him with the same intense love she’d directed at the painting. Her eyes, still the color of forest green moss. He was mesmerized. A yearning flowed through him, the likes of which, he’d never felt before. He wanted this woman with every fiber of his being. Shocked at his own visceral response, he let go of her, and leaned back, his gaze straying to the painting of the young man. He was relieved to see the portrait had returned to “normal” and the young man’s visage was turned away once more.
He glanced back at Angela when she stood up. “Siamo in questo insieme,” she whispered. “Devi aiutarmi. È il nostro destino.” He was paralyzed by her words, his heart beating arrhythmically in his chest.
We are in this together. You must help me. It is our destiny. And without another word, the strange woman turned and left.
The gallery filled with light again, the clouds no longer blocking the rays of the sun. There was nothing to indicate that anything out of the ordinary had occurred.
His heart was pounding, his face felt hot and feverish. The surprise kiss had unglued him. He sought to find a plausible explanation. He hadn’t had a PTSD attack in about two years. This didn’t feel like PTSD: That sense of the walls closing in, the thundering of shellfire or the roar of rockets and screams of civilians running for cover. This was something completely different. He closed his eyes, breathed deeply, and cleared his mind until the raging storm passed.
Inanimate objects don’t come to life. It must have been the light playing with my imagination. And the kiss? Yeah, it’s been too long since there’s been a woman in your life. You’re losing it, buddy. This case is getting to you.
The case was a conundrum. He’d been hired by Max to find a painting that might not even exist, based on letters from an art historian who disappeared off the face of the earth seventy-three years ago during the evacuation of Florence. Max’s uncle had claimed to have found a misattributed Leonardo da Vince wedding portrait.
It was Alberto Scordato, the director of the Getty Museum, that had brought Alex to Los Angeles. Scordato had recently quit the case. In a sudden change of heart, Scordato, who’d been gung-ho on the project, had soured and declared the painting a fraud. From what Max had told him about Scordato, Alex suspected the director with the Getty’s resources was on his own treasure hunt to find the painting first.
He looked at his watch. It was time for his meeting with Alberto Scordato