Elizabeth: Warming things up

love_holding_handsWhile the mystery/suspense portion of my story is moving right along (well, inching along, but moving forward nonetheless), the romance has stalled. Seriously, Nancy Drew got more action. As my beta readers have pointed out, there’s a definite chill in the air, so I’m currently brainstorming ways to warm things up.

If I was writing a contemporary story, I think I’d have more options, but Abigail is a gently bred young lady of the Regency. Since at that time it was commonly thought that women had no real need or desire for sex (really?), she would probably have known little if anything about it before she married, especially since she had no mother around to advise her. Having been raised in the country she may have had a basic idea of the mechanics of things, but she is unlikely to have any practical experience (other than a stolen kiss perhaps).   She has known Michael since she was a child (they lived on neighboring estates), but the adult Michael, who has spent the last years away fighting for King and country, is a mystery to her. They may be married, but they are very much strangers.

Michael, on the other hand, is a traditional Regency gentleman. Since the sowing of one’s wild oats was an accepted part of the transition to adulthood, he is experienced (but hopefully disease free). During his time as a spy in France, he successfully seduced secrets out of any number of willing wives, but he has no idea how to deal with his own wife, who he still thinks of as that quick-witted hoyden of his youth. To make matters worse, he is trying to keep his distance from Abigail while he’s resolving the whole traitor problem to keep her safe in case things go south.

By the end of Act I, Abigail and Michal have joined forces (somewhat unwillingly on Michael’s part) to find the real traitor, which gives more opportunity for them to interact with each other. Both a house party where they are doing some investigating and a visit to the dark walks of Vauxhall Gardens offer opportunities for the two to log some up-close-and-personal time.

The problem is how to warm up Act I when Michael and Abigail have more limited interactions. They are together for a ball, a quiet dinner at home, and breakfast. Well, and the scene when they catch each other breaking into the house of a potential suspect in order to find evidence, but I’ve got the warmth there taken care of (nothing like the excitement of a close escape).

So, what ideas do you have for taking the chill out of the air between Abigail and Michael?

18 thoughts on “Elizabeth: Warming things up

  1. Hmm, he wants to keep her safe and concentrate on his main problem; she wants to be a lady and a “good girl.”

    I think you might need a love ambush!

    Do they have real chemistry? Lingering glances over the teacups? Blushes over the roasted squab?

    Are they actually sleeping together? If they haven’t consummated their marriage yet, there should be some intense longing, I suppose. (-: I remember mooning over boys when I was much younger. Such a little spark when there was accidental contact. One of my favorite songs for that kind of unconsummated physical longing is from Wicked — “I’m Not That Girl.”

    What does Abigail think of her husband’s lack of, um, lustiness? Does she think he’s seeing someone else, or still in love with a Continental chorus girl?

    LOL, lots of questions. I wonder if Abigail needs a girlfriend, or a wise ladies’ maid?

    • Michaeline – you are right on target. They’re married, but since Michael dashed off to war as soon as he said “I do”, there’s been no up-close-and-personal since. Abigail doesn’t think his lack of interest is due to another woman – I think she’s more worried that he’s not interested in her or regrets having married her. Abigail does have a close friend in the story, but I can see the possibilities for a wise ladies’ maid. Must think more about this.

  2. Presumably when Michael and Abigail got married somebody would have been delegated to give her The Talk about her wifely duties? Even if she was very young and the briefing was simplistic and misleading, there would have been an expectation that Michael would fulfil his husbandly obligations and Abigail would have children ASAP. Maybe it was even embarrassing to her that he left for France without a proper wedding night (did she do something wrong?). In which case, she’d expect him to put the matter right as soon as he came home, even if he has a mistress? He shouldn’t have married her unless he was prepared to do his duty. So she’d be making her thoughts clear even as Michael’s trying to keep her at arms’ length.

    Also, if Abigail’s naive and Michael’s trying to behave, you could have fun torturing him. She could find delight in food and show it (lip-licking or even finger-licking if you can engineer it); be very tactile with her horse or her lapdog and have them push for her touch; get physically messy and have her laugh about it; break her corset laces and have to go without her corset because Michael’s too chicken to help her fix them; respond physically to him while they’re dancing; what Michaeline said about accidental contact, the possibilities are endless – anything that makes him realise she has a passionate, sensual nature and would make his perfect lover 🙂

    • All excellent ideas Jilly. I love the idea of a naive but determined Abigail going up against a trying-to-behave Michael. That opens a whole field of possibilities.

  3. To carry on with what Jill said, I’d think you could do some great things with a waltz, which would put them at close enough quarters for Abigail to notice something odd happening below his waist.He’s trying to behave, but his body betrays his true feelings. As Jenny always said, “bodies in motion can’t lie.” An erection is the sincerest form of flattery.

    • Jeanne – I can definitely see things happening during a waltz and I have just the scene for that to happen in. Thanks for the suggestion.

  4. If he’s trying to keep his distance to keep her safe. Then she is almost like a stranger or a mark. He needs to see some things like her spunk, her willingness to get into trouble for what she believes & to help, and that she has grown and grown more interesting since they have been apart.

    Keeping a secret makes things closers and builds tension. Maybe he has to make her a part of his secret and that they have to be strangers both for believability and her safety.

    Maybe she gets in to the spy world a bit this way on his case- to keep that they are strangers she has to interact a bit more than friendly with another – jealousy always stokes some fires.

    He decides he has to whoo her and win her as a mark (like he would any spy gal he was trying to seduce) and to be legitimately close enough to keep her safe (& away from the other man/men).

    Oh so much to bring them together, stoke the fires, and rekindle a burning new passion.

    Good luck!

    • Thanks Penny. All good points. Abigail is getting involved in his spy world, so I can see how the two of them, working on their secret investigation, could bring things closer. There is another gentleman who could be used to play up the jealousy angle – just enough so Michael realizes he’s not as unaffected as he thinks he is.

  5. For Abigail, maybe physical reactions like a high school crush? I remember how my heart would start pounding when Social Studies was over because I knew in six minutes I would be sitting in English class next to the cutest boy in school. Could Abigail be having those reactions before seeing her husband? And the way I taught myself to flirt with my palms resting flat on my jeans so that when a boy took my hand it wouldn’t be sweaty. Abigail would have gloves to help her out here (I’ve often thought how convenient that must have been for maintaining a cool facade) but she could spare a thought to be grateful for them.

    As for Michael, you must be having fun with having him discover that his “quick-witted hoyden” is a woman now. How difficult for him to behave when he is noticing the soft swell of her breasts above her bodice and the way her tongue moistens her lips when she is nervous.

    If you build in lots of these little incidents of awareness I think it will build the sexual tension so that the first kiss is highly anticipated and very satisfying.

    • Jennifer – those are just the kind of details that I seem to have glossed over in the first write. Must think more on who has a crush on who though. Might be fun for it to be Michael who is experiencing the sweaty palms and racing heart over a girl he still thinks of as just a kid. Especially since he’s supposed to be experienced and mature.

  6. I had a couple thoughts when I was reading this, Elizabeth.

    The first was Desmond Morris’s 12 stages of intimacy. If there isn’t much happening, they can move through stage 6 easily, especially if there is a waltz (#6 is arm to waist or back). I’ve always found it interesting that mouth to mouth (stage 7) comes before hand to head (#8) and you have a kiss in there.

    The second thought was about her being a hoyden – was she a tomboy? Did they do things together that trigger the brain to go in a different direction than when they were 10? I’m thinking of, say, climbing something. Abigail reminisces about it and all Michael can think of is the time he boosted her up on a wall with his hands on her bottom which sends his brain and his libido think of what it would be like to get his hands on it now. I think you could build sexual tension without having them go too far.

    And I agree with what Jilly said about enjoying her food in a sensual manner, like Jennifer Beals eating lobster in Flashdance.

    • Michille – love the climbing idea – perfect to work in when he is helping her climb out the window in their breaking-and-entering scene. Also ties in well with him being the one experiencing a crush, rather than her. Abigail can be focused on doing whatever she needs to do to get what she wants and Michael can be the one trying to valiantly resist (and failing).

  7. When stumped, I always go to the pros: what would Georgette do? Maybe it’s time to reread some Heyer! I think it was in Fredericka when the hero was about to propose and the heroine went into a discussion of restorative pork jelly. Okay, maybe you don’t want to go there…

      • Oh, wow. Well, I was weaned on Georgette Heyer, so I’m sure I’m skewed. And I don’t know if you want to read her while you’re in the middle of your book. But her characters don’t have sex but the attraction is clearly there, and I think she’s pretty much swoon-worthy. So eventually I think you might want to read at least one to check her out.

  8. Just one man’s opinion, but I think you actually have more opportunity for conflict because of the era and Abigail’s relative naivete. This being Act I, you want to drive a wedge between your romantic couple, but you want to leave room for escalation in Act II. To me, that implies you need a misunderstanding, and if you can play with your readers’ assumptions at the same time, all the better.

    First, you indicate that Michael is a spy in a culture where men are assumed to know their way with women. Your readers may even expect him to be a Bond-style lothario, but he doesn’t have to be.
    To succeed in his role, Michael needs to be able to manipulate people, including the bored matrons (who may just want to flirt) and young girls wanting to rebel against their fathers (for whom 2nd base may be extremely naughty). If Michael doesn’t know anything more than that, he certainly won’t admit it.

    Abigail, on the other hand, will be under pressure to produce a child, and this will cause her stress if her newly-returned husband isn’t fulfilling his matromonial duties. Michael, however, may be caught in a madonna/whore dilemma: he knows Abigail, and likes her, and doesn’t want to treat her like the targets he uses and despises.

    Initially, Abigail might see him distracted when dancing with her, but intensely focused on other women when he dances with them (because he’s trying to work them as espionage targets). She doesn’t want to think badly of him, so she blames herself. A friend might even suggest that she is not serving Michael properly if he doesn’t desire her. Meanwhile, Michael, who doesn’t want to think of his wife as one of “those women”, will reject her flirtation as inappropriate.

    Next we leverage a friend or confidante in Abigail’s life, like the lady’s maid mentioned previously. Abigail might worry that Michael can’t perform because of health reasons, and look for a home remedy in his diet (oysters?). This is even better if Michael doesn’t notice, but his friends do, because it will be a source of humiliation for him and drive him further from his wife.

    At this point, we have reached Act II, and can use the “nuclear option”: there must be another woman. If Michael has been working a specific target for information, Abigail may even have someone to blame, even though Michael is himself innocent. Then, when truth is revealed, they can both apologize, and the relationship is restored.

  9. David, welcome to the blog and thanks for weighing in from the man’s side. You’ve given me some great ideas to mull over.

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