By Lisabet Sarai
Some enchanted evening
you may see a stranger,
you may see a stranger
across a crowded room,
and somehow you know,
you know even then,
that somewhere you'll see her
again and again.
~ Oscar Hammerstein II, South Pacific
I’m willing to believe that love at first sight happens occasionally, but I haven’t experienced it myself. As I think I’ve shared here before, when I first met my husband (36 years ago!), I tried to discourage his obvious interest in me, because I already had too many men in my life. It took four months of cross-country correspondence and a month at my dying mother’s bedside for me to begin to understand what a special person he was.
My relationship with the man I call my master also developed gradually. We were casual friends for over a year, before he dropped out of grad school and headed for California. A lengthy epistolary seduction landed me in his bed and his bonds. (Hmm. Both cases involved writing. Is there a pattern here?)
I’ve certainly been hit by lust at first sight—that intense, immediate chemistry one sometimes feels when meeting a potential partner for the first time. That has rarely worked out well. Physical attraction and sexual compatibility just aren’t enough, by themselves, to support a serious relationship. I recall one guy, in particular, whom I met at a girlfriend’s wedding in San Francisco and found almost unbearably attractive. I gave him a lift back to the LA area, where we were both living at the time. We first had sex that very same evening. Definitely fireworks material. Before long, though, I realized that though I still wanted him, I didn’t like him much. He was immature, and not very trustworthy or honest. Still, we remained lovers for a couple of months, mostly because of the sex. I felt a sense of relief when we finally broke up.
Love at first sight is of course a common trope in romance, but it’s difficult to make the phenomenon convincing. When it’s done well, the couple almost always questions the reality of the connection. The characters know that this kind of immediate bond is rare. In fact, coming to believe in their own love can be a central story conflict.
As I mentally review my own backlist, I can’t think of a single contemporary or historical title in which my protagonists fell instantly in love. In paranormal romance, though, I’ve found I can stretch plausibility. My paranormal titles sometimes feature what I call “magical lust”—an instant, irresistible attraction between the protagonists that derives from their fated connection. Characters in a paranormal book are often lovers by destiny. Their complementary powers draw them together. Often they’re mystified by the potent forces that bind them, but readers understand and welcome this kind of attraction (which is, after all, another trope).
Here’s an example from my novella Rough Weather.
A high-pitched whine drew her attention to the tumbled boulders that marked the eastern extent of the beach. Atop the pile of rock crouched a dark-skinned man, boring into the surface with some kind of drill.
“Hey! What are you doing?” Ondine strode towards the interloper, still holding her discarded clothing. “That noise—you’ll disturb the fish!” She halted on the sand below his perch, one hand shielding her eyes from the glare. “Stop that this instant!”
The stranger raised his head and fixed her with eyes like polished jet, set in a proud face almost as black. A cloud of wiry hair haloed his skull. He flipped a switch and the irritating noise died. His full lips parted in a confident smile, revealing even, pearly teeth. He rose to his full height—at least six feet, she guessed, though her position made him look even taller—and gazed down at her.
Self-consciousness blasted through her as she suddenly remembered she was naked. Hot blood raced to her face while her nipples tightened into ruddy peaks, and an echo of her recent climax shimmered in her still-damp pussy.
The stranger looked distinctly amused, as though he sensed the physical effects his presence triggered. There was something else, too, an unnerving sense of familiarity, although Ondine was certain she’d never met this man before.
She squared her shoulders, ignoring her embarrassment as best she could. She wasn’t ashamed of her body—far from it. “You can’t drill here. Tide pool habitats are very sensitive. The vibrations could kill crustacean larvae, for a start, and confuse organisms that rely on echolocation…”
The black man’s grin grew broader. He scanned her nude figure with deliberate and obvious interest before he answered. Ondine’s nipples ached under his scrutiny, even as her blood boiled at his brazen attitude.
“I have a permit.” His voice had an unexpected softness, with a faint hint of the Caribbean. He rifled in the pocket of his tight jeans and pulled out a sheet of paper, which he offered her. “Mass DEP. Go ahead and check. I think you’ll find it’s all in order.”
The sun beat down, hotter than ever. Sweat gathered under her arms and at the back of her neck. Ignoring the proffered permit, she planted her fists on her hips and summoned every ounce of authority she could muster.
“This beach is private, reserved for Katama residents. What’s your business here?”
Stuffing the permit back into his pants, he sank into a crouch to pick up a piece of equipment that he’d propped against a rock, next to a two-meter steel pole. His thigh muscles flexed against taut denim as he rose. His white T-shirt emphasised his ebony skin, sculpted pectorals and massive biceps—her mouth felt dry and her pussy, wet. “I’m installing a temporary meteo-hydrographic monitoring station.” The device bristled with lenses, buttons and dials, the pinwheel of an anemometer, and the tongue-like extrusion of a rain gauge. “Come on up. Take a look.”
“Just a minute.” She stepped into her shorts, then pulled her shirt over her head, trying to ignore the sensation of fleece brushing across her naked breasts. In her bare feet, she clambered up over the knobby, rust-coloured stone until she stood beside him. He towered over her. She caught a whiff of sandalwood and coconut oil and was washed by sudden desire.
He pointed to a white plastic rectangle. “This is the hygrometer, the humidity sensor.”
“Yes, yes, I understand. You’ve got a laser ceilometer for cloud height, I see, and an infrared camera for thermal imaging…”
She found his surprise gratifying, as he realised she wasn’t just a naked, blonde beach bunny.
“I’m a marine biologist. We use similar devices in my lab at Woods Hole. But VineyardAirport has a full suite of weather instrumentation. Why are you installing this system here?”
“I’m working on the design for an offshore wind farm.”
“Wind mills?” Her indignation returned, blasting through her with hurricane fury. “Those spell death for sea birds!”
“We’re doing research—”
“And the awful, endless hum disorients cetaceans. They swim in circles until they starve to death!” She snatched the apparatus and held it above her head, threatening to smash it upon the rocks.
“Don’t! Please!” Seizing both her wrists in one massive hand, he pried the delicate gadget from her clutches with the other.
She did not fight him. When he touched her, her anger fled as quickly as it had arisen, to be replaced by irresistible, irrational lust. Her pussy gushed and her clit pulsed between her thighs. Electricity zipped along her limbs. Her modest breasts felt huge and heavy, aching for contact.
The stranger’s eyes grew wide. Sweat beaded on his forehead. She dropped her gaze to his crotch. A visible bulk distended the fabric there, evidence that he shared her reactions.
Without releasing her, he placed the weather station upon an outcrop, then dragged her into a rough embrace. Their lips mashed together as they grappled, tearing at one another’s clothing in a desperate quest for bare skin. The rusty taste of blood flooded her mouth. She’d bitten her own lip in her hunger for him. His flavour was spicy with a burnt edge, like an autumn breeze. His brazen tongue mirrored the frantic dance of his hands on her flesh.
She wormed her hands into his trousers so she could grip the smooth, solid curve of his buttocks. The muscles tightened and shifted under her palms as he ground his hardness against her. Her shorts hung loose on her hips. He dragged them down to her knees and plunged his fingers into her drenched cunt, smothering her moan of delight with another fierce kiss.
Ondine fumbled with the stranger’s zipper as he delved into her core, pushing her closer to the edge. She needed to complete the circle of pleasure, to feel him hard and smooth and slick in her hand. The pressure of his swollen flesh against his fly and the exquisite play of his fingers in her sex combined to render her task almost impossible. Finally, using both hands, she managed to open a gap big enough to release his cock from its prison. Now she made him moan, as she stroked his taut shaft and coaxed him towards release.
“Oh, ah, Father Legba! Oh, woman, you will undo me…!”
The man sank to his knees, and she followed, unwilling to relinquish her hard-won grip on his cock. He fisted her hair to take possession of her mouth again. She drank in the heat of him, the taste of him, at once strange and familiar, pumping his cock all the while. Gravel tore at her knees as she opened her thighs to expose her needy cleft. His thumb found her clit, sending bolts of sensation roiling through her. She rolled her thumb over his slick bulb in return. Waves of tension rippled up the shaft, proof of his struggle for control.
Somehow he’d ripped her shirt open. He bent his head to suckle her and she felt the same pull deep in her centre. His teeth closed around her aching nipple. She raked her nails along his length.
His cock shuddered and jerked in response, spilling warm fluid into her palm. At the same instant, he captured her clit between two fingers and squeezed.
The characters go from adversaries to lovers in seconds. As it turns out, Ondine is a Water Elemental and Marut is an Air Elemental. They have been lovers for eons, reborn in each generation. They’re fated to be together, to balance the varied forces of Nature. Though they don’t understand their connection, they can’t help but surrender themselves to magical lust, and to love.
Writing this sort of scene is a guilty pleasure. I know this kind of overwhelming, magic-enhanced attraction probably doesn’t exist. It sure is fun, though, to pretend that it does.