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Sensual Tension

Sensual tension is the awareness shared by the hero and heroine of a romance, and building sensual tension is crucial to the success of a romance novel. Sensual tension is not synonymous with sex, or with love scenes in general, or with foreplay. In this example,

Excerpted from PART-TIME FIANCÉ

by Leigh Michaels

She heard footsteps on the stairs and instinctively pulled the computer onto her lap, staring at the spreadsheet on the screen without seeing the numbers. She looked up with a scowl when Sam loomed in the doorway.

"Why no lights?" he asked. "You’ll ruin your eyes trying to work that way. I came up to tell you I’m going home, but... oh, my goodness, this looks comfortable. I’m sure you don’t mind, since there’s plenty of room."

"I mind," Delainey said, as soon as she realized what he intended to do.

But it was too late. Sam had already flung himself across the bed and was sprawled on his back across the width of the mattress near the foot. His arms were flung wide, and he looked totally relaxed. "There’s nowhere comfortable to sit downstairs," he said.

"And whose fault is that? You covered up the futon. Sam, if you don’t mind-–"

"Careful, honey. You don’t want me to start wondering whether I’m making you nervous just by sitting on your bed."

"You’re not sitting," Delainey pointed out.

But Sam wasn’t listening. "Such an unusual bed," he mused. He was staring up at the gold ring mounted to the ceiling at the precise center of the canopy, supporting the lace as it drifted down around the heavily-carved posts. "It’s especially inviting in the dark. The lace flowing down all around us makes me think of a sheikh’s tent somewhere in a lonely desert. The lights are barely glowing, there’s a sandstorm howling outside, and I have a willing slave girl awaiting my pleasure..."

His voice wrapped around her as softly as silk thread, and for an instant Delainey was bemused enough to picture the scene exactly as he was describing it. There was something primitively erotic about a tent closing out the storm outside, isolating a man and a woman who basked in warm soft light and in sensual enjoyment of each other...

She must have made a sound, because Sam sat up. "You’re not a willing slave girl? That’s a pity. Oh, I realize now that I wasn’t hearing a howling sandstorm either-–that was just you expressing your annoyance at me."

Delainey caught her breath. The problem with silk thread, she told herself, is that if you’re surrounded by enough of it, you find yourself caught in a cocoon. She was lucky she’d come to her senses in time. She frowned at him. "Have you finished with the fantasies, Sam?"

"Oh, no–- I’m only getting warmed up. I won’t waste them on you, though, since you don’t seem to share the enjoyment." He sobered. "The fact that you’ve never been without a job must make it seem even scarier right now."

Delainey nodded. The motion felt jerky as if something in her neck wasn’t working right. "Not since I was seventeen. All through college, through a dozen roommates, through losing my parents... it’s always been the one thing that stayed the same. Different jobs, of course, and different branches-– but always National City Bank."

Sam slid off the bed.

She told herself she was glad he was going, but something deep inside her wanted to ask him not to leave her alone right now. A perfectly silly notion, of course. She’d always been alone. She liked being alone. And in the present circumstances, she’d positively prefer being alone... wouldn’t she?

Instead of leaving, however, he moved to perch on the side of the bed near the pillows, right next to her. Delainey tensed, and Sam shook his head. "I’m not trying to seduce you."

"Smart of you not to attempt the impossible."

"Careful. That sounded almost like a challenge." He pulled a pillow from behind her. "Slide around with your back to me."

Suddenly-–she wasn’t quite sure how-– she was cradled against him, her spine against his chest. Gently, his hands brushed over her hair and then settled at the base of her neck with each fingertip pressing gently into her scalp at the hairline. Slowly and gently, his fingers moved upward, each tracing a path through her hair, massaging the scalp, until his hands met and his fingers laced on the top of her head. Then he pulled back and started once more at the nape of her neck.

Delainey’s head drooped forward. She tried to hold it up straight, but she couldn’t seem to. "You know you’re ruining my hair."

Sam obviously recognized it for the token protest it was, because he didn’t even pause. "So sue me."

"Remind me whenever you’re done, and I will." Her voice felt heavy.

With each stroke of his hands, every finger took a slightly different path, wandering over her head until each square inch had been gently rubbed and soothed.

She felt limp, enervated. Though he was massaging only her scalp, her entire body felt totally relaxed, as if the sensations roused by his fingers had trickled out through every nerve and found their way to each individual cell.

She was completely relaxed–- and yet stimulated in a way that was unlike anything she’d ever felt before. She’d had no idea until now that her scalp was an erogenous zone-–particularly the square inch just above her right ear, which he seemed to be particularly fond of.

Because every nerve was vibrating, it took her a moment to realize that he’d stopped-–and even then she couldn’t immediately force herself to move. She sat, her head drooped, as he pushed the heavy weight of her hair up and away and kissed the nape of her neck, a long, slow, tender caress.

"You were complaining about your hairdo?" Sam whispered.

"Yeah." Delainey’s voice felt rough. "This is your last warning-– do that again and I’ll make you pay for sure."

He laughed. "If I do it again, sweetheart, you’ll be asleep."

Not likely. The odds were far greater that she’d lean back against him, turn her head, let her lips brush his cheek... Talk about asking for trouble... No, screaming for trouble would be a better description.

"Thanks," she said, trying to keep her tone crisp. "That was... quite pleasant. A very nice way to unwind." She pulled the computer closer, as if it was body armor. "Now I really do need to-–"

"Delainey," he interrupted. "Have you eaten anything today?"

"I don’t remember." As if prompted by the question, her stomach growled. "Apparently not."

"Sit tight. I’ll see what I can find."

What happened to the idea of you going home? she wanted to ask. But he was gone.

She did her best to focus on the spreadsheet displayed on her computer, but her ability to concentrate was shattered. All she could think of was the way his fingers had felt as they arched through her hair, at first very gently but with increasing boldness and pressure as she grew accustomed to his touch, and then gentling once more...

A voice in the back of her brain murmured, That’s probably how he makes love, too. Very, very gently, until you want more and more and-–

"Oh, shut up!" she told herself irritably. She took a deep breath and stared at the computer screen. Why did these numbers sound so familiar?

Maybe, she thought, it wasn’t because this was something from RJ’s files. Maybe it was because she’d put them together herself.

With a couple of clicks, she pulled up another spreadsheet. It was one she hadn’t looked at for nearly a week, one that was still on her computer only because she’d neglected to clear it off.

She put the two sets of numbers side by side, and bit her lip while she looked at them for a while. Then she pushed the computer aside and leaned back into the pillows, closing her eyes to think.

She didn’t know how long it had been when she heard a rustle from the doorway. She sat up. "Sam?"

"I thought you were asleep." He set down a tray that held two big mismatched mugs and a stack of crackers still in the waxed paper wrapper.

"No, just thinking."

"About sheep, right?"

"No, about takeover targets."

"What’s Curtis going to be acquiring this time?" He handed her a spoon and sat down opposite the tray. "It’s only vegetable soup from a can. But since the can was in your pantry, I’m sure it’s the kind you like best."

"Why do you want to know what Curtis is after?"

His eyebrows raised. "Suspicious, aren’t we? I was just making conversation. If you don’t want to talk about that, then how about giving me some ideas for making up with Josie?"

"Oh, I’m sure you’ll think of something."

He shrugged. "Maybe I’ll just give her a scalp massage."

Delainey, still preoccupied with her discovery, said absently, "If you did, her husband would come after you with a shotgun."

Sam paused with his spoon halfway to his mouth, while the seconds stretched to half a minute.

"What?" Delainey said finally. "What’s wrong with you?"

"All I did was rub your head, Delainey. I find it interesting that you seem to think it was an intimate experience."

Delainey opened her mouth, and shut it again. Because what could she say that wouldn’t give him an even bigger boost to the ego?

"Thanks for telling me," Sam murmured. "That’s very, very nice to know."

Part-Time Fiance, Copyright 2004 by Leigh Michaels. All rights reserved.

This exercise is copyrighted material and is offered for the individual's own use. Further distribution or sale is not permitted without permission of the copyright holder. Copyright 2013 Leigh Michaels.

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