Regular readers of the blog will know that I like a good hot sex scene. I read Alisha Rai’s Play With Me recently – very hot. KA Mitchell’s No Souvenirs and Regularly Scheduled Life (scroll down a little after you click the link for a brief review), Heidi Cullinan’s Special Delivery and Double Blind, Cara McKenna’s Willing Victim, most everything by Charlotte Stein – all feature very hot scenes which, for the most part, advance the story and reveal the characters (and not just because they’re naked). In fact, I wrote a post a while back saying that I don’t like fade to black (except when I do) and why. So you might be surprised then, to know that my favourite sex scene ever, is not at all sexy. Not the least bit hot. But I love it. When I need a comfort read and I have a spare 20 minutes, I open the book up just before the scene starts and within seconds I’m sighing in pleasure (er, not that kind of pleasure). In fact, it has happened that those spare 20 minutes have turned into numerous complete re-reads, but I digress.
The book? Heartless by Mary Balogh.
Sadly, it is out of print, but I hope it will be available digitally one day soon. I paid a hideous amount for it on eBay five or so years ago and have never regretted a single cent. ETA: Cue streamers and cries of Huzzah!! it is available again. You can buy it from Amazon here.
It is a book I don’t think I can be entirely rational about. It is my favourite Mary Balogh, a definite Desert Island Keeper and in my top 5 books of all time (don’t ask me to name the other 4 – it’s too hard). I’m sure the book has flaws. I don’t care. I love it. And, I’d like to share with you one of the (many) reasons why.
Here’s the blurb (from Goodreads) Life has taught Lucas Kendrick, Duke of Harndon, that a heart is a decided liability. Betrayed by his brother, rejected by his fiancée, Luke fled to Paris, where he became the most sought-after bachelor in fashionable society.
Ten years later, fate has brought him back home, to the rescue of the very people who had once shunned him. Luke is amused by the advice that a wife will make his takeover of both the title and the family estate smoother, but amusement turns to desire once he sets eyes upon Lady Anna Marlowe.
Unbeknownst to Luke, Anna is also no stranger to pain, but her suffering can’t be so easily overcome, not when her tormentor stalks her to the very doors of Bowden Abbey. Luke and Anna, each made fragile by the past, must learn to trust both each other and their love if they are to have any chance for a future together.
A word about Luke Kendrick. On the scale of Orlando Bloom to Jeffrey Dean Morgan in terms of build, Luke is Bloom. I tend toward the Morgan end of the scale in terms of attraction but Luke is nevertheless one of my favourite heroes ever. He is “not very tall” and of a slight but muscular build. He’s a fencer. He’s light on his feet. He dresses in the first stare of fashion – in fact, he creates the fashion. He loves rich brocades and is particularly careful of his coats and cravats. He is fond of lace. He wears red heels and makeup and powder and patch. He carries a fan. He has long flowing dark hair which he refuses to cut, eschewing a wig for preference. He is one of the most masculine heroes I’ve come across. I adore him.
Introducing our heroine: Anna has been keeping a big secret for years. She lives basically in terror of that secret being revealed. She feels like she’s on borrowed time. When she meets Luke, she falls for him almost immediately. And, she thinks, hopes, she can steal a little more time and be happy before it all falls apart, as she believes it must. When he first sees her Luke sees someone who is almost frantically happy and he delights in her joie de vivre. Knowing what he has to face at home, he decides to court her, so that there will be some pleasure in his life to balance out the duty. And for her part, she (thinks she) gets a little more time to be happy. Her life with Luke is so very happy, that in a very short time, she’s quite desperate to keep it.
Anyway, on to the sex scene which is the purpose of the post – a sex scene which isn’t sexy or physically arousing. I mean, I do find myself holding my breath and there’s tension in my shoulders and jaw and a zing of excitement in my belly, but, it’s not a scene to make anyone horny.
Luke is the “heartless” one to which the title refers. He has made it clear to Anna that he will not love her and he is fairly emotionally detached. They are together for “duty and pleasure” (I think the ice around his heart is cracking a lot earlier than he does, but it is probably here that we first see the phenomenon).
In this particular scene (Chapter 17) Luke comes to check on (a pregnant) Anna – they are late for an engagement – his mother and sister-in-law are waiting impatiently downstairs and their host is expecting them for tea. Anna is terrified. She has been threatened – her past has come back to haunt her, but feels she cannot talk to Luke about it; that he couldn’t possibly believe her. He sees her distress immediately but when she is not forthcoming they quarrel. He is about to leave the room, angry with her when she begs him to stay. Clinging to him, she kisses him wildly and begs him to make love to her – but he can tell she is not aroused.
Luke is a man to whom appearances are very important. Social niceties and his well groomed person are points of pride with him. He dislikes overt emotions or any kind of “scene”. Yet, he undresses Anna, locks the door (knowing his mother, already angry, will be furious. Knowing the people who are expecting him to tea will be disappointed and rightly so).
He takes off his heavy silk coat and steps out of his shoes but takes no further time to undress, never mind the wrinkles. Luke senses what Anna needs – but not in the alpha “I know what you want baby, wink wink” kind of way. First, she has asked him, explicitly to make love to her. He knows how to satisfy a woman and “after three months of almost daily intimacies” he well knows Anna’s body and how to satisfy her. He has begun to understand her on a deeper level too. “In some strange way she was not aroused and did not want or need to be brought to climax. She needed his body, his closeness. His body instinctively recognised her need and set about satisfying it.” There is no foreplay. He “puts himself in her” (how unsexy is that?) and stays there for as long as he can, giving her the comfort of his body. After, he holds her close while she sleeps, watching over her and keeping her safe.
Later, when he and Anna are being castigated by his mother, he defends his decision to stay with his wife who had need of him (the set down he gives his mother is fabulous).
See? Not sexy at all. But, when I have 20 minutes or so and want to read something which will make me giddy with squee, Chapter 17 of Heartless is where I go. The scene marks a turning point in Luke and Anna’s relationship. (It’s not all smooth sailing from there of course). This is where Luke prioritises Anna over many things he holds dear. It is where he chooses her above competing pressures. It’s the most satisfying sex scene I’ve ever read but it’s not the least bit sexy. The intimacy of the scene, the romance of it, in a strange way, the sacrifice of it, what it reveals about each character, makes it the most beautiful love scene for me. (and it perhaps goes some way to explaining why I adore Mary Balogh’s books also).
Because Mary Balogh’s words are more eloquent than I could ever be and because it’s not easily available, here’s (basically) the whole scene:
But it was unusual for Anna to be late.There was no one in her dressing room, he saw in some surprise, and no one in her sitting room. He tapped on the door of her bedchamber and opened it. She was standing at the window looking out. She was wearing a silk morning gown wrapped simply about her with a sash at the waist and no hoops. Her hair had not been dressed but hung loose and unpowdered down her back.“Anna?” He stepped inside the room and closed the door behind him. “Have you forgotten that we are to take tea at the Wilkeses’?”“No.” Her voice was quiet and toneless. She did not turn from the window.He crossed the room toward her.“Go without me,” she said. “I want to be alone.”She sounded quite unlike Anna. Her voice was lifeless. Her shoulders were slumped.
“What is it?” he asked, frowning.“Nothing,” she said. “I just do not feel like going out.”“You are unwell?” he asked. A glance down her body showed him she was not wearing stays. She was quite noticeably losing her slim figure.“No,” she said.He continued to frown. “You are absenting yourself from tea for no apparent reason after we have accepted the invitation?” he said, “Is it not somewhat discourteous, madam? And discourteous, too, to leave my mother and my sister and yours downstairs without informing them that they need not wait for you?”“Go away,” she said.His eyes glinted dangerously for a moment. But he had heard about the various maladies that could accompany pregnancy, moodiness among them. Anna had been so remarkably well that sometimes he forgot that her body and her mind were having to cope with unfamiliar changes and functions. He reined in his temper.“Come and lie down,” he said, setting his hands lightly on her shoulders. “You need rest, Anna. I will send for your maid to bring you a hot drink. I shall make your excuses known to Mrs. Wilkes. Your condition is generally known, I believe.”She shrugged her shoulders, pulling free of his hold. “Go away,” she said again. And then she was shrieking at him. “Leave me alone. Is this not my own room? Is there no privacy to be had anywhere?”He had never seen Anna in a temper. He gazed at her in some amazement for a few moments, eyebrows raised. And he had never tolerated temper tantrums in any woman. A few of his women had tried and found themselves swiftly and firmly cast off. He turned on his heel and strode toward the door.“Luke!” Her voice stopped him as he was turning the handle. It was no longer shrieking, but sounded almost panicked – and shaking. He turned slowly and looked across the room at her, his own expression cold and haughty. “Don’t leave.” The words were whispered. Her eyes were tightly closed.He walked slowly back toward her and she opened her eyes and looked at him. They were large with unhappiness. There was something wrong, and it was not her health.“What is it?” he asked. “Tell me what has happened, Anna.”She shook her head slowly and reached for him. “Nothing,” she said as he took her in his arms. She shivered. “Nothing. ‘Tis just that I am not feeling well. I am tired and lacking in energy.”It was not that at all, he knew, but clearly she was not going to tell him what it was. “You must lie down, then, and rest,” he said. “I have to go. The others are awaiting us downstairs and my mother is less than pleased by the delays. Come, let me help you off with your gown.”But she grabbed for him when he would have let her go. “Don’t leave me.” She pressed herself against him. “Don’t leave me. Don’t leave me.” She whispered it over and over again as her arms came tightly about his neck and her eyes closed and she sought for his mouth with her own.
He gave it to her and tightened his arms about her again. There was a familiarity. She had been like this before. It did not take him long to remember. She had been like this in the carriage on the way home from Ranelagh Gardens, intensely, almost wildly amorous, throwing herself at him, so that he had been persuaded to the almost incredible indiscretion of coupling with her inside an unlocked carriage on the public streets of London. And she had been as wild and as clinging after they had got home. It was the night she had told him she was with child, the night she had begged him to bring her home to Bowden.He kissed her opened mouth deeply, opening his own, thrusting his tongue inside, leaving it there while she sucked inward on it and while her hands tore at the ribbon holding back his hair and closing the silk bag that held the length of it at the back. He felt his hair spilling over his shoulders and about her face. He thought about his mother waiting downstairs even as he felt himself harden into arousal. “Make love to me.” Her lips were rosy and swollen, her eyes heavy with desire. “Make love to me, Luke. Please. Please make love to me.” Her body was taut with desire, taut with desperation.“Come.” He led her to the bed, untied the sash of her gown, and slipped it from her shoulders. She was wearing only her shift beneath. She lifted her arms as he removed it, and reached for him as he drew back the bedcovers and lowered her to the mattress. But he did not joiner her there immediately. He crossed the room to lock both the door into the corridor and that into the dressing room. He shrugged out of his heavy silk coat and stepped out of his buckled shoes but did not stop to remove the rest of his clothes. He unbuttoned his breeches and went down into her reaching arms.He could read well the needs of her body. He had carefully taught himself the skill many years before. And he was familiar with Anna’s body after more than three months of almost daily intimacies. He knew that foreplay was not what she needed now. She needed to have him inside her. He freed himself from the fabric of his breeches and put himself there, firm and deep. She sighed and almost immediately relaxed beneath his weight and his penetration.She needed him in her for as long as he could keep himself there. He could sense that need. In some strange way she was not aroused and did not want or need to be brought to climax. She needed his body, his closeness. His body instinctively recognised her need and set about satisfying it. He stroked into her slowly, reaching deeply and carefully inside her – he had been loving her with shallower strokes lately, conscious of her pregnancy. But he knew that she needed depth today. She moaned with every inward thrust.She seemed quite oblivious to the fact that someone came into her dressing room and knocked quietly, first on her sitting room door and then on the bedchamber door. She did not even seem to hear when Henrietta called her name softly and then tried the handle rather hesitantly. He set his mouth wide over hers to absorb the sound of her moans until he heard the outer door of the dressing room close again.He gave himself to her for as long as he was able before his control went and he spilled into her with a sigh. But he kept his arms firmly about her after he had turned her onto her side against him and lifted the bedclothes so that they almost covered her head. She pressed her face into the silk of his waistcoat at his shoulder and wrapped her arm about his waist. He smoothed one hand lightly over her hair and felt her slipping slowly and deeply into sleep.He stared over the top of her head at the window.…Luke drew her naked body even more snugly against him and she sighed against his shoulder. He must find out what it was that had so much power over her emotions. So much negative power. He didn’t like it when the sunshine went out of her. Some light died in him, too, when she was unhappy.The thought, consciously worded in his mind, brought a frown to his face. No, that was not true. It could not possibly be true that his mood was affected by that of his wife. That would mean that she had some power over him, some control over him. That in some way he was dependent on her.Never! No, absolutely never in this life again. What he liked best about Anna was the comfort of the fact that she made not demands on his emotions. So different from Henrietta.Anna stirred in his arms, whimpered, clung closer, and relaxed into sleep again. He cradled her close.
Used with the kind permission of Mary Balogh