Happy Valentine’s Day everyone and welcome to the Swept Away Valentine’s Day Blog hop! There are a ton of authors of various genres participating in the hop and lots of opportunities to win great prizes! Click here or on the blog hop graphic to check out the list.
My prizes? I’ve got three to offer: 1) an autographed paperback copy of any of my Dreamspinner Press novels (doesn’t include novellas, since those are only in ebook format) OR an ebook copy of any of my Dreamspinner titles (format of your choice); 2) a t-shirt of your choice of my Blue Notes Series covers, including the latest book, “Aria”, and 3) a $10 Amazon gift certificate. I’ll pick three winners on February 18th from among those people who comment on my blog starting today. Good luck everyone!
Over the next four days I’ll be blogging about — what else? — love. The stages of love, specifically, with excerpts from my published works or works in progress (WIPs) to illustrate each stage. I’m no psychologist, of course, but as a writer, I often have to think about how relationships progress between my main characters (MCs). Every couple is different and they move through these stages at differing speeds, but there are usually touchpoints in relationships. I’ll choose four (since I have four days): 1) infatuation; 2) exploration; 3) commitment; and 4) happily ever after (HEA). Note how I separate out “commitment” and the “HEA?” I personally believe the HEA comes after commitment. To me, commitment is about confessing your love and telling each other you want to stay together. It’s the first step toward the HEA. But the HEA is the time when you settle into commitment and grow your relationship into something that can withstand time. But more on this later in the week….
The first stage, “infatuation,” makes for some of the best romance fodder around! Think sweaty palms, racing hearts, and all the fun and excitement that comes from wanting another person, sexually or otherwise (although the sexual wanting part is so much fun!).
So, to my excerpt. This is a long excerpt from my first Blue Notes Series book, “Blue Notes.” A little setup for the scene: Attorney Jason Greene has run away from all that’s wrong with his life (a job he doesn’t enjoy, a cheating fiancee, and an unfulfilled life). Where does he run? Paris. The City of Love. He identifies as a straight man, but he’s often wondered about what it might be like to love another man. When he meets struggling jazz violinist Jules Bardon, he soon becomes infatuated with the beautiful Frenchman. And when Jules plays his violin for Jason, Jason begins to fall hard….
THE weather was bright as they exited the Métro. Jules, wearing a sweatshirt belonging to Jason’s sister (at Jason’s insistence), had pulled his hair into a short ponytail at the back of his head, several shorter strands falling across his forehead. In daylight, the contrast between Jules’s brown and green eyes was striking.
“I’ve never met anyone with two different colored eyes,” Jason remarked as they climbed the steps to the platform overlooking the Seine and the Eiffel Tower beyond.
“My eyes are brown,” Jules replied, appearing pleased that the older man had noticed. “I lost one of my contacts. I couldn’t afford another pair, but Henri said he thought it looked cool, so I wear the single contact for the hell of it.”
Jason was tempted to say something like, “Kids these days,” but thought better of it; he had no desire to sound like his father. Instead, he heard himself tell his companion, “I like brown eyes.” It was true, especially when they were flecked with bits of amber like Jules’s.
A couple of teenagers on skateboards descended the shallow steps nearby, and Jason thought wistfully of his old board, sitting in his parents’ attic in Ohio.
“You skate?” Jules asked.
“Used to,” replied Jason, noting again how observant his companion was. “It’s been a long time.”
“I always wanted to try,” Jules said as he watched the skateboarders with fascination. “I couldn’t afford to buy one.”
“You grew up in the city?”
“Just outside. In Nanterre.” Jason knew the area well—a troubled Parisian suburb with a lot of high-rise, low-cost housing. In late 2010 there had been riots sparked by the French government’s proposal to raise the retirement age from sixty to sixty-two. Students and other youth from the area had burned cars, destroyed bus shelters, and blocked roads, prompting the French government to send riot police with teargas to disperse the crowds.
“Your family still live there?”
“No.” Jason sensed Jules’s hesitation in answering the personal questions and let the subject drop.
They reached the top of the plaza. Below, the fountains were still, and across the Seine, the Eiffel Tower rose skyward. “I’ve always liked this view,” Jason said, leaning on the stone wall. To their left, a few giggling Japanese girls in short skirts and berets were taking photographs. Jason offered (in English) to take a picture of the group, and the girls giggled some more, handing him their cameras and even asking Jason to pose with them. Jules watched all of this with amusement.
Jason rejoined Jules by the wall a few minutes later. A man approached them, holding a giant ring filled with Eiffel Tower key rings in various colors. Jason was about to wave the man away, but changed his mind and negotiated a good price on two—one in blue and one in green. Turning to Jules, he asked, “Blue or green?”
“Green,” Jules replied, taking the key ring from Jason and clipping it onto one of his belt loops. “Merci.”
They walked down the long steps and past the silent fountains. From time to time Jason got the impression that Jules was staring at him, as if the boy were trying to figure him out. An hour later, after a
crowded ride up in the elevator (during which Jules managed to press his body as close to Jason’s as humanly possible under the pretext of “making more space” for the other tourists), the two of them stood atop the Eiffel Tower, looking out over the city. Jules’s face was flushed with excitement and for just a moment, Jason remembered the first time that his parents had brought him here. His younger self must have looked just like Jules.
“What do you think?” Jason asked as his companion leaned over the edge.
“It’s incredible,” Jules responded, sounding breathless. “I’ve been to Montmartre, and the view there is impressive, but this….” He stopped speaking and just stared. Jason put his hand on the Frenchman’s shoulder without thinking, squeezing it lightly. He removed it a moment later, realizing that this would only encourage the kid to flirt with him again. It wasn’t as though the flirting bothered him all that much; he was attractive, but Jason didn’t want to lead him on, either.
The realization that he found the kid attractive left him feeling awkward and uncomfortable in his own skin. You’re straight, he reminded himself, as if the thought would somehow insulate him from feeling anything but friendship for the other man.
“I remember thinking the same thing once,” he told Jules, pushing the thought aside. Then, after a few more minutes had passed, he added, “Do you have to be somewhere today?”
“You mean like work?”
“No. I help Henri out at the club sometimes, but it’s closed Mondays.”
“Good. I’ve got something I want you to see.”
A LITTLE over an hour later, they both stood atop one of Paris’s ubiquitous “Bateaux Mouches” or “Fly Boats,” the low-slung boats whose glass windows recalled the multifaceted eyes on insects and transported tourists around the Seine. Jules, the cold wind in his hair, leaned over the railing of the uppermost deck, head tilted to one side as he watched the city slowly unfold before him. Jason couldn’t decide
which he was enjoying more—the beauty of Paris seen from the river’s swirling waters or his dark-haired companion’s enthusiasm.
“I’ve never seen Notre Dame from this angle,” Jules marveled, watching the flying buttresses with their gargoyles and the stunning apse at the back of the cathedral as the boat floated past Île de la Cité. “Did you know the gargoyles are really the ends of pipes that carry water down from the roof?”
“I seem to remember hearing that,” Jason answered, transported by the impressive gothic building as well.
“The church used gargoyles and chimeras in their architecture to frighten the common people into attending mass,” Jules added. “Or at least, that’s what they taught us in school. We studied Roman and Gothic architecture. It was one of my better subjects.”
“Troisième,” said Jason, recalling his high school class with fondness. “I remember learning about the different types of arches. My French was still pretty rough—we hadn’t been in France that long—but I remember the pictures of churches and aqueducts in the textbook. My parents dragged me to see the Roman structures in Arles and Nîmes,” he added, shaking his head, “and about a hundred little churches on the way. I hated it. But now….” Now he understood how fortunate he had been, watching Jules and knowing that the kid had probably never been outside the confines of the city.
“Why were your parents in France?” Jules asked as the boat floated under Pont Neuf. Jules waved at some of the tourists on the bridge and Jason chuckled.
“My dad was a university professor. He took a year’s sabbatical from his position, and he and my mom liked France so much that they extended it for a second year.”
“I hated it.”
“Why?” Jules’s interest was genuine. Jason could see it in his eyes.
“I was a kid,” Jason explained. “I wanted to be back with my friends in the States.” He paused, looking back over the water. “I was an idiot.”
Jules laughed, and Jason shivered; the sound was so alluring, so genuine.
“It makes you sad to remember it.” It was a statement, not a question. Jason said nothing—he told himself he wasn’t ready to share anything that personal with someone he had met less than twenty-four hours before. Jules, however, was unintimidated. “So, Jaz,” he continued, “what do you do in the States?”
“I’m a lawyer.”
Jules rolled his eyes.
“What’s that look for?” Jason growled.
“It explains the fancy clothes,” he said, eyeing Jason’s Diesel jeans and D&G shirt with a hint of longing. Jason frowned, feeling self-conscious. Jules was still wearing the ratty jeans that he had been wearing at the club.
“Yeah, I make a lot of money.” Jason knew that he sounded defensive. “Does that bother you?”
“Nah,” Jules drawled. “Just pointing it out, that’s all. Seems like it bothers you, though.”
The kid was really too perceptive for his own good. And Jules was right that Jason had always been uncomfortable with the money he made at the law firm. He’d justified buying the expensive clothing by telling himself that it was expected of him as a partner. And when he’d met Diane, she’d seemed to appreciate it. But now….
Jules sidled over to Jason and, without warning, slipped a single finger under the waistband of Jason’s pants. “I like the clothes,” he said as he looked up at Jason with a challenge in his eyes. Jason calmly extricated Jules’s hand, bringing it up between the two of them.
“You don’t quit, do you?” Jason chuckled, realizing that he’d not only gotten used to the kid’s flirting, but that he was beginning to find it a little bit flattering. His face grew warm with the thought, and he hoped that Jules hadn’t noticed.
“Nah. Quitting’s not my style.”
BACK at the apartment several hours later, Jason sat on the chaise portion of the sleek, Italian sectional (another of Rosalie’s sophisticated touches) and checked his e-mail, while Jules prepared dinner in the kitchen. Jules had insisted on cooking, and Jason—knowing that the
kid saw this as a way to thank him for his generosity—had obliged. They had stopped at a small supermarket on the way back, where Jason had let Jules select the ingredients for their meal. Now, as the smell of butter and shallots wafted from the kitchen to the living room, Jason pondered whether he should ask Jules to spend the night again.
It’s already getting late, he told himself as he gazed out onto the dark street. Tomorrow, I’ll send him on his way. As soon as he made the decision, he felt better: in control again, as he preferred to be.
DINNER was delicious and quite simple: chicken breasts in a delicate cream sauce, pureed vegetables, a leafy salad with Jules’s homemade vinaigrette and, of course, the obligatory bread and cheese to follow. For his part, Jason had purchased several bottles of wine, choosing the white Pouilly-Fumé with its dry, smoky flavor to pair with the chicken. John Coltrane’s classic jazz album, Blue Train, played softly in the background. But for the fact that his companion was a man, Jason was reminded of the intimate dinners he and Diane had shared when they had first dated.
They talked about less personal things this time—of how Coltrane’s style had changed after he’d quit drugs, of trends in jazz and classical music, and of the difference between French and American cuisines. Jules surprised Jason with his understanding of each subject and his wit. There was no mistaking that Jules had lived on the rough streets of the Paris suburbs, but it was just as clear that Jules had transcended his difficult surroundings.
Over coffee, Jules asked Jason about the recent negotiations in the US Congress over the budget, easily comparing the American system of governance to the French parliamentary system. They discussed the latest French political sex scandal, the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” and its implications for the US military, and the financial crisis in the European Union.
During, and even after the dinner, Jules did not flirt with Jason, although Jason found it difficult to separate Jules’s outgoing personality with some of his more flamboyant behavior. Agreeing with little comment that Jules would spend one more night in the guest bedroom, the two men cleared the table, Jason insisting on doing the dishes over Jules’s vocal protests.
The dishes done, they returned to the living room, and Jason settled back onto the couch. Jules pulled out his neon violin case and asked, “Mind if I play a little?”
“You kidding?” Jason replied. “I’d love to hear you play.”
Jules grinned and clicked open the fiberglass case, pulling his bow out first, tightening and rosining the hairs, then picking up the violin and planting it beneath his chin. He closed his eyes to tune the instrument and opened them again to ask, “What should I play for you?”
Jason had not been expecting the question. “I don’t know,” he shrugged. “I guess something that you love to play.”
“D’accord,” replied Jules, his mismatched eyes glittering in anticipation. “Bach. Sonata no. 2 in A Minor.”
The choice surprised Jason, but he said nothing, instead propping a pillow behind his head and leaning further back against the sofa.
Jules took a deep breath and closed his eyes once more, gently laying bow to string and beginning the opening phrases with their insistent, rhythmic repetition sounding below the melodic line. The simplicity of the piece was both stunning and heart wrenching. Each phrase built upon the next, rising in intensity and in pitch. It reminded Jason of a prayer, powerful in its stark beauty, and he heard Jules’s soul poured out into every note. And then it was over, and Jason was left sitting in silence, staring at Jules as he had in the club, transfixed.
“Well? What did you think?” asked Jules.
The words woke Jason from his reverie. “That was… beautiful, Jules.” There were tears in his eyes, and yet he could not put into words why the music had so stirred his heart. In that moment, he saw the boy in a different light—no, “boy” definitely was not the right word—the look in Jules’s eyes was anything but childlike.
What are you thinking, Greene? he asked himself. You’re letting this get away from you.
Jules rested the violin and bow on the case and sat down next to Jason. He hesitated for a moment, watching the older man with uncomfortable intensity, then reached for Jason and brushed a single tear from his cheek. For Jason, the touch was electric, and his physical response unexpected.
“Bach always touches my soul,” Jules half whispered. His fingers still rested against Jason’s cheek. “He must have known great love, and great pain, to write something so powerful.”
Jason realized that his own pain must be showing on his face, because Jules, too, looked sad.
“I’ve never been religious,” Jules said, his eyes never leaving Jason’s, “but I played this piece in a tiny church once. It was like God was there with me, speaking through me.”
When Jason remained silent, Jules leaned forward and kissed him lightly on the lips. At a loss to explain the intense emotional and sexual response of his own body and equally unable to stop himself, Jason reached for Jules and returned the kiss. The younger man’s lips tasted of wine and musk, and Jason realized that he was hungry for more.
What are you doing? With this thought, he pulled abruptly away from Jules, stared at him for a moment, then frowned and stood up. His heart pounded in his chest and he felt dizzy. You’re straight, remember?
“I’m sorry,” he mumbled, his throat dry. “I shouldn’t have… I’m tired. I’m going to sleep.”
“Of course,” Jules said, appearing to be just as stunned by their brief embrace as Jason was.