New steamy rom-com novel Etched in Stone by Liv Arnold pushes all the right buttons for women readers, with high drama, laughs-a-plenty and a winning couple with explosive chemistry.
The popularity of erotic romance fiction has exploded in recent years, thanks in large to the unprecedented success of the Fifty Shades trilogy by British author E. L. James.
While this is to be welcomed, readers who have only dipped their toes into the genre through the X-rated exploits of Ana Steele and Christian Grey are missing out on so much more that the best works can offer. It’s like stopping at Paris Hilton’s bomb of a film, The Hottie and the Nottie, when you could be munching down the popcorn to Pretty Woman.
Exciting new Australian author Liv Arnold’s debut novel, Etched in Stone, offers everything that a good erotic romance should: likeable characters; a compelling storyline with lashes of melodrama; crackling dialogue; and white-hot sex. It blends crime writing with family issues, fantasy romps with light rom-com, to present in literary form the equivalent of male protagonist Sebastian Stone. In other words, the total package.
Sassy female lead Vanessa Lang has just finished a business degree and, after years spent glued to her textbooks, is ready to make her mark on the world. Ambitious and driven, she has her sights set on a job with Stone Corp, one of the largest investment companies operating on the US stock exchange.
While she waits anxiously to hear if her application has been successful or otherwise, there’s the small matter of her graduation ceremony to attend to. On a shopping trip to pick a new dress for the event she makes two mistakes that will change her life.
The first is accidentally going into the men’s changing area rather than the women’s, where she walks in on a near-naked man occupying one of the cubicles. Vanessa is deeply embarrassed but, at the same time, can’t help but admire the grade A hunk before her.
“The last thing she wanted was for him to cover up. Not when unfamiliar heat pooled low in her belly like some primal urge to grab the alpha male and—do what? What would a mouse do with a sleek panther? He’d have her for a snack and barely notice. But what wouldn’t she give for him to feast on her?”
Though the briefs encounter puts a smile on Vanessa’s face, she is horrified to find that she has lost her late father’s necklace—a precious keepsake—while out. Distraught, she tells her mother, Katrina, who tries to console her.
On the night of the graduation ceremony Vanessa gets the call from Stone Corp that she’d been praying for. Everything’s looking up, until her mother is caught trying to steal a replacement necklace for her daughter from a jewellery shop. Having had a history of similar incidents because of her kleptomania, Katrina is in hot water and looks set to be charged.
Officer Lisa Herouvim, however, takes Vanessa aside and offers her a deal. Revealing that she’s actually a detective investigating insider trading at Vanessa’s new employer, she promises to prevent Katrina going to jail if Vanessa will act as her eyes and ears within Stone Corp, searching for evidence of the financial crime.
For Herouvim, it’s personal. Her mother spent time behind bars after unwittingly taking the fall for her CEO’s white-collar crimes. For Vanessa, she has no choice but to comply given her mum’s vulnerable state.
“Mom loved gardening and the outdoors and often left a few grapes for the exploring birds. Every Sunday she tended to her herb patch—grass trimmed short between rectangular beds. Tiny green leaves of thyme, basil, and rosemary in clay pots reached for the sun. Mom wouldn’t survive a week locked up.”
Vanessa dives straight into her covert duties, researching insider trading red flags, but things become a whole lot more complicated when on her first day at work she is introduced to the CEO, Sebastian Stone: the same man she’d walked in on at the clothes shop.
“She spun around. Sebastian stood before her, and she met his gaze long enough to take him in. His smile didn’t quite reach his eyes, but the look in them—a suggestion of heat flared as their gazes connected—was enough for adrenaline to race through her bloodstream.”
It will come as no surprise to say that Vanessa and her raven-haired boss hit it off almost immediately, helped enormously by Sebastian returning her lost necklace. Still, he is a suspect and so she follows him to the bank to see if he’s doing anything dodgy. In what is a recurring joke throughout the book, Vanessa ends up slipping on some soda on the sidewalk and falling right into Sebastian’s strong arms, and completely under his spell.
“His hands still hadn’t let go of hers. Should she move? But she didn’t. Every part of her wanted to shift closer to him and recreate those sensual dreams. He almost seemed to need the contact as much as she did, or was this her imagination? His hands reassured her the world was safe, and she longed to tangle her fingers with his.”
To give away anything more would be to spoil what is a pleasurable read in all senses. Sebastian is seemingly the ideal man—stunningly attractive, kind to everyone, and attentive to Vanessa’s every need—and the thrills ramp up as they enter into a relationship so steamy you’d think they dated in a sauna. It works so well because our two lovers have the perfect chemistry: the kind that goes bang (a lot).
Likewise, the tension escalates as Officer Herouvim continues to pile on the pressure, threatening now to bang up both Vanessa’s mother and new beau if she doesn’t soon uncover the criminal evidence she craves.
That being said, things never get too heavy and the author has a refreshing taste for comedy, milking the story for puns and double entendres. My favourite is possible the location of Sebastian’s swanky pad, on “Nob Hill”, but there’s many gems to choose from.
In any case, Etched in Stone deserves to be in any erotic romance fan’s collection, and is the perfect introduction for genre virgins. Within the first few chapters you’ll be madly in love with the book and, within a few chapters more, you’ll have fallen for the the greatest gift to women’s literature since Mr Darcy, billionaire Sebastian Stone.
Q&A INTERVIEW WITH LIV ARNOLD
Erotic romance author Liv Arnold shares her views on why erotic romance continues to be a best-selling genre, why men should read her books, and why she likes to inject humour into her writing.
Q. Why do you think romance fiction continues to be so popular with female readers?
A. People need an escape from their everyday life. Often women get caught up in their jobs or families—they don’t have time for real life romance. We get busy. Life gets in the way.
With female readers who’s been in long-term relationships, there may not be as much effort in dates and gestures compared to the beginning. Romance has a happily-ever-after and we want to feel uplifted. That there’s some good in the world and genuine people out there.
Q. As an author of romance fiction, what is your definition of the ideal man?
A. Well…they have to be well-endowed. And I mean physically, not financially.
In romance books, the man has a mighty ‘wang’ that’s the solution to everything. The type of thick legs where they could pass as tree trunks, where I can climb them and swing from his branch like a monkey. And he’ll even be hiding a banana just for me!
Isn’t that every woman’s ideal man?
Q. Some erotic romance is rather po-faced, but your work injects a good sense of humour into the mix. Why do you think this is important?
A. I don’t take myself too seriously. I’m always up for a joke and a laugh about pretty much any topic no matter how inappropriate.
People tend to giggle about romance novels especially if there’s sex scenes. It must be the adolescent in them. So why not embrace it? My stories are filled with puns, amusing scenarios and jokes.
Q. You suffer from anxiety. How does writing help control your condition?
A. Writing is better than therapy! I have had anxiety for as long as I can remember. I always picture the worst-case scenarios, take hours to fall asleep (sometimes I’m still awake when the sun comes up) and my chest is permanently tightened.
Medication barely helps and I lack the focus for meditation. My mind wanders too often and my whole body fidgets. Sometimes I even laugh as a defence mechanism.
Writing drowns out the noise in my head—maybe because I’m focusing on fictional characters and storylines far removed from the real world. At work on my breaks, if my mind starts to spin out of control, I write for a few minutes straight to refocus. People cope with anxiety in different ways but writing with some exercise helps me.
Q. While romance is a genre read mostly be women, do you think that their male partners should also read it?
A. Absolutely. You can teach old dogs new tricks. I’ve had a few male readers who reviewed my book and said they loved it. Romance is mainly written by women for women. They’re stories where the guy makes the girl orgasm first, thinks about their needs and does the sweet gestures. It’s an insight on what makes women tick and maybe men can get a few ideas.
6. Who are the romance novels that you most admire, and why?
A. I love Cecelia Ahern. Her novels aren’t always romance but has a touch of magic. They are all feel-good novels that brings a smile to my face. I also adore Jojo Moyes. Her writing is beautiful and whimsical with unique storylines. I would love to meet them both because I’m a huge fan.
Q. Outside of reading your novels, how do you think women can add more romance to their lives?
A. I love ‘love’. I used to enjoy listening to Richard Mercer’s radio show, The Long Kiss Goodnight, featuring love song dedications. I always wanted my name to be called. Maybe try putting in a love song request. I for one, would’ve loved it.
It’s often the little things that can be romantic. They don’t need to be big grand gestures. Buy your partner their favourite chocolate bar on your way home, have an anniversary where you make each other something for the gift, or lie down on the beach to watch the stars. Life gets busy and people don’t often make the time to have meaningful conversations.
Q. Do you think that reading about the perfect lover in fiction can lead to disappointment in real life?
A. No way. Do Disney movies set unrealistic expectations? As a child, I was more interested in the library in Beauty and the Beast rather than the prince. Most people know the difference between fantasy and reality. Having said that, there’s nothing wrong with injecting a little bit of magic in everyday life.
In romance, the women know what they want. They end up with a man who fulfils their every need in more ways than one. It may get readers to think about their life and what they deserve. Everyone deserves someone who loves them and a great sex life.
Q. Would you like to write in any other genres in the future?
A. I’m currently writing a YA fantasy trilogy about a girl who gets pulled through a mirror by a mysterious handsome demon prince into the netherworld to aid in a war. I’ve almost finished the first novel and it has my typical humour throughout the story.
I would also love to write thrillers down the track. I have a fast-paced style of writing I believe will suit the genre.