It’s probably not breaking news that I adore a good love story, but sometimes I wonder if that really makes me a romantic or not. There are some things which are often labelled as ‘Romantic’ that I have to admit skeeve me out. One of these is the idea that obsession is a good thing – the idea that obsession is equivalent to love.
When I think of men who are so determined that their love interest must return their affection that they follow them night and day, drive off all other suitors, break into their rooms to watch them sleep, steal their pillowcase so they can sniff it etc etc, I don’t think “wow, that’s real love, right there.” I think “sheesh, you’re a creepy stalker, aren’t you? I wonder when this will escalate to you trying to kill your lover so you can possess them forever.”
So why have I written a book called His Heart’s Obsession, you might ask? Well, I wanted to write a love story that pitted that kind of obsession against what I think of as the real thing – real, giving love, which is not about possession but is about healing and growth.
I wonder, though, whether beside the black salty hungriness of obsession, love might come out as a bit milk-and-water. What do you think? Is the thing that ruins lives and destroys souls more romantic than love? Does love look weak next to it?
These are the kind of questions I was asking myself when I wrote this book. Whether I’ve answered them is up to you to say. I hope so!
Blurb for His Heart’s Obsession:
Kingston, Jamaica, 1752
Robert Hughes, a lieutenant–and rogue–in the British Royal Navy, is in love with his gorgeous fellow officer, Hal Morgan. Hal only has eyes for their captain–a man who’ll never share their inclinations. Night after night aboard the Swiftsure, it kills Robert to listen to Hal’s erotic dreams of a man he can’t possibly have. Determined to protect his friend, Robert stages a seduction.
But Hal demands proof of love before he will submit to the rakish Robert.
Mission accepted. After all, how hard could it be to show what’s inside his heart? Yet Robert’s move to claim Hal’s love leads to the threat of exposure, and mortal danger from the French. Will a heart obsessed ever accept defeat?
The candles flickered, the gold and brown dusk of the room filling up with their sweet honey scent. Robert worried his lip between his teeth. Sure though he was of Hal’s inclinations, at this final pinch the terror of exposure burned its way down his backbone like a live ember creeping its way down a slow-match. I know I’m not wrong. But if I am…?
Glancing up, he found Hal watching him with a look of wary despair, as if he too held back some all-or-nothing confession. The intimacy, it seemed, was encouraging a very different reaction to that for which he’d hoped, other secrets trembling on the brink of exposure.
The end of the world, it seemed, was nigh, and what would come afterward? Heaven or hell?
“Hughes, I… Please. I need to tell you something.”
The words came just as Robert’s pent-up eloquence burst its banks. He couldn’t stop the flood until it was all out. “I’ve loved this young person for years now, unrequited. I believe my beloved thinks of me as a friend. A good friend, I hope. But it’s…it’s… For romantic purposes, I might not exist at all.”
Hal’s lips disappeared as his mouth drew a clamped line of pain. His fingers tightened on his mug. “I wouldn’t wish that on anyone.” He stood up to take off his coat and, once he had folded it over the back of the chair, he abandoned its discomfort and—as planned—drifted slowly over to sit next to Robert on the bed, looking concerned. “You should tell her. Is she someone I know? Perhaps I should talk to her for you.”
Almost from his first week on station Hal had attracted the young ladies of Jamaica as a flowering tree attracts hummingbirds. With his bright good looks, physical grace and, most of all, his air of romantic tragedy, he remained their darling years later, to the envy of the other officers. An excellent camouflage for his true nature. Robert could have told him that his throng of female admirers was the reason the squadron had a tendency to ask him for romantic advice. Yet how very abandoned he must feel—the unwanted centre of that whirl of intrigue and desire. Surrounded by love’s young dream, condemned himself to loneliness.
Robert ached for Hal with a fierce, hot pain. He put a carefully casual hand on Hal’s knee, feeling the roughness of the heavy linen. The warmth of Hal’s flesh, seeping through it, travelled up his arm like flame eating along a fuse. So far, so good, and yet Hal had been about to tell him something. After all these years of being held at arm’s length, he had been about to confide in Robert as though he considered Robert a true friend.
That was new. The plan could surely wait half an hour while he showed himself worthy of Hal’s trust. “Forgive me. You had something you wanted to tell me and I interrupted.”
Robert refilled the brandy—splash of liquid, reeling pepper-hot smell—and raised his eyebrows enquiringly. “I’m at your service.”
Hal looked away. “It isn’t important.”
“It seemed grave enough to me.”
The refusal ached a little—had the moment passed so quickly? But Robert took the chance to lean forward and slide his hand, in a friendly sort of way, up onto Hal’s white-clad thigh. Hal’s head came up, his eyes dark and startled. For a fleeting instant, Robert thought he saw realisation, understanding, until Hal gave a shudder and dropped his gaze to the surface of his liquor.
“I have a moral dilemma of my own.” Setting his back against the wall, Hal pulled his knees up and wrapped an arm around them, seeming to huddle close inside his own skin against the cold of the outer world. “To tell the truth, it’s wearing me out. I…I am almost at the stage where any outcome, however unfortunate, would be preferable to continuing as I am. But if I were to tell you what troubles me, I don’t think you’d accept my help after.”
Oh, God bless you. The splinter of heartache beneath Robert’s breastbone stabbed him again, joined to a joy almost equally sharp. He had guessed the secret—unaware of Robert’s nature, Hal was obviously nerving himself up to make the sort of confession that could lead to death. “Tell me, Morgan. You can trust me.” What will it be? “Hughes, old chap, you’re pouring out your problems to a filthy sod. Don’t hurt me…please don’t hate me…” “Whatever it is. Nothing you say could damage my respect for you, I swear.”
Robert smiled encouragingly, slipped his hand farther up Hal’s thigh. He hooked his thumb into the flap of Hal’s breeches and pulled it a little open. If the confession proved too hard, all Hal needed to do now was to nod.
But Hal reared back, startled. His eyes rounded, wide and puzzled. “What…?”
“I’ll tell you my secret if you tell me yours.”
Robert leaned in until his nose scraped in the blond stubble of Hal’s cheek. He smelled salt and ambergris and the faint clean scent of Hal’s skin. Cupping Hal’s confused face between his hands, Robert tilted it and kissed him. Hal gasped, his lips parting in surprise, and Robert licked his way into Hal’s open mouth, tasting brandy and apples. Caught off guard, Hal’s first reaction was everything he’d hoped for, his hands coming up and gripping Robert’s arms, pulling close. Hal’s tongue touched his, tentatively, and the flicker of interest poured like fine liquor down his throat, pooled in liquid fire in his belly and groin.
Warmth pulsed beneath Robert’s fingers from Hal’s furious flush. He slid one hand around the nape of Hal’s neck, fingers tangling in silk-sleek hair as he dragged the younger man closer. The other he dropped to Hal’s breeches, worrying the first button through the stiff material. Pleasure vibrated through him in a chord, his whole body singing like a plucked string. Oh, this was all going so very…
Then Hal’s mind must have caught up with what his body was doing and reacted violently against it. He bit down hard on Robert’s tongue. Robert’s mouth exploded with pain and, when he recoiled, Hal shoved him away.
“What the hell are you playing at?” Hal shouted.
Robert swallowed, wincing. His tongue throbbed. The copper taste of blood mingled with the apples. His yard, once stiff and sore with wanting, drooped sadly at the pain and disappointment. “Was there any call for that?” He dabbed at the cut with the back of his hand. “There I am trying to tell you I love you, and you bite my damn tongue off. I have to say it’s not what I hoped. A man could feel hurt.”
Hal slammed his fist down on the window ledge, scrambled off the bed and launched himself to his feet, where he stood gaping at Robert like a fish. A very angry fish. “You—you—I don’t know what to make of you! Are you mocking me? Because…” His fists clenched and he bared his teeth, but furious tears glimmered in his accusing eyes. “Don’t! So you guessed my shameful secret already? Well, you can have me hanged if you will. You can cut me dead if you will. But don’t laugh!”
Robert dabbed at his tongue again, the sting of salt from his fingers a distraction from the sensation of having thrown the dice badly and lost everything on the gamble. What was left except honesty, naked and inadequate though it was? “I’m not laughing, Morgan. This person I’m in love with? The one who doesn’t have the faintest idea of what I feel? It’s you, you fool. Didn’t you know? It’s always been you.”
Alex Beecroft was born in Northern Ireland during the Troubles and grew up in the wild countryside of the English Peak District. She studied English and Philosophy before accepting employment with the Crown Court where she worked for a number of years.Now a stay-at-home mum and full time author, Alex lives with her husband and two daughters in a little village near Cambridge and tries to avoid being mistaken for a tourist.
Alex is only intermittently present in the real world.She has lead a Saxon shield wall into battle, toiled as a Georgian kitchen maid, and recently taken up an 800 year old form of English folk dance, but she still hasn’t learned to operate a mobile phone.
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