Good Role Model or Horrid Example?

One of the reasons I read paranormal historical romance is to immerse myself in a supernatural love story set in a fascinating time period. I learn more about the time and the people, while being swept away in the story with larger than life characters. I was mesmerized by the story of the Queen of Sheba and King Solomon, two heroic Biblical figures who, many say, had supernatural powers. I wondered how this three thousand year old state affair between two super powers became embedded in our collective consciousness. I also wondered about the impact of this epic romance on our lives today, who the descendants of these royal super heroes might be, where they lived, and what they might be doing now.

In my research, I discovered that despite the differences between and among cultures, four major religions, Judaism, Christianity, Ethiopian Coptic Christianity, and Islam, tell, retell and revere the story of the Queen of Sheba and King Solomon. The Hebrew Bible, Old Testament in the Christian Bible, contains the story in very short form, but repeats it in two places, in 1 Kings 10:1 through 10:13 and in in 2 Chronicles, 9:1 through 9:12, as if one telling of the event was not enough. The repetition of the same tale in two places was a way to ensure the story would be found, told and retold, even if the Books of the Bible were somehow separated from one another.

As the only foreign Queen mentioned in the Bible who appears to be considered an equal to King Solomon, this mystery woman has been claimed by no less than three countries: Arabia and Yemen, where she is call Bilqis, Balqis or Balkis, and Ethiopia, where she is known as Makeda. Her role in these stories has been interpreted by many scholars in multiple ways. The Queen of Sheba has been seen as a symbol of trade, as an example of nations converted to monotheism in polytheist world, as a warning against foreign women and their wiles, and, finally, as a romance between a powerful king and an equally powerful queen.

Many scholars who interpret the Queen of Sheba as a symbol of trade, point to the significant trade routes that ran through regions under the control of Israel. All trade routes had to be protected from bandits, or the products would never reach the marketplace. Frankincense was so valuable that men who worked in the factories were required to strip and be searched before they left for the day to ensure they took none of the product home. This lightweight incense was prized all over the world and used in religious rituals throughout the Middle Eastern region, especially at funerals. The wealthier the individual, the more frankincense was used. Israel’s territory lay between the region of production of frankincense and many destination ports. Without the protection of the King of Israel, other countries would not be able to thrive and survive. Was the Queen of Sheba merely a symbol of trade and the rest of the world showing its submission to the great and wise King Solomon?

Scholars who interpreted this story as a way of showing King Solomon’s (and Israel’s) favor in the eyes of his Lord, Yahweh, and to underscore the significance of the need for monotheism in a world of multiple gods, point to archaeological evidence of multiple gods and goddesses still present in the time of King David and King Solomon. Archaeologists have found evidence that Asherah, the female goddess, was worshipped in the first and second temples of Jerusalem, alongside Yahweh. Prophets and priests opposed to polytheism may have created the story of the Queen of Sheba’s visit and her conversion to monotheism as an example of what other nations should do.  Was the Queen of Sheba merely a prop to provide a good role model for other nations?

Some stories about the Queen of Sheba have indicated her origins were exotic and supernatural, with a mother who was a jinniyah, or genie. Other, darker stories demonize the Queen of Sheba and make her synonymous with Lilith, Adam’s first wife, who left him to become a soul-sucking demon and baby killer. In early times, the war over which god would prevail was a very real one, and priests and priestesses of gods opposing Yahweh were not well tolerated, even killed, on the road to monotheism. Foreign women became synonymous with foreign gods and evil ways. Solomon’s tolerance of his multiple wives’ religions was seen as a character flaw by the Yahwists. Were these stories about the Queen of Sheba created to serve as a horrid example of foreign customs?

Finally, the romance between two great and powerful heads of state is irresistible; many scholars offer strong support of a real love story. One of the strongest pieces of evidence is the use of the Hebrew word in the phrase “she came to him.” There are many different words the scribe could have used, however, the one selected has a sexual meaning, used only in the Hebrew Bible in sexual situations. The romantic description of the meeting and their interactions include such phrases as “she communed with him of all that was in her heart,” “she was left breathless,” and “king Solomon gave unto the queen of Sheba all her desire, whatsoever she asked, beside that which Solomon gave her of his royal bounty” makes the reader wonder what he gave her, since she was wealthy, too. In fact, the largesse of her gifts of state is over the top, even for a visiting dignitary. Was it, in fact, a wedding dowry? If so, why did she leave and return to her own country with her servants? What happened? Was this a love lost?

According to the Kebra Negast, the constitution and Holy Book of Ethiopia, Makeda, the Queen of Sheba from that nation, returned to her country with her servants and gifts only King Solomon could give to her:  a signet ring, a child, and a Solomonic dynasty that endured to the last Ethiopian Emperor, Haile Selassie I. For the purposes of KISS OF THE VIRGIN QUEEN, it is this story that I followed and brought to the twenty-first century via the African Diaspora.

Come with me on this epic paranormal journey into the past and present. Here’s an excerpt from my sequel to KISS OF THE SILVER WOLF, my work in progress, KISS OF THE VIRGIN QUEEN.

Prologue

MAKEDA

AKSUM, ETHIOPIA

975 B.C.E.

Makeda clambered up the steep outcropping of rocks in pursuit of a white snake. She’d seen the creature sunning itself on a large boulder, its normally sleek shape enlarged in the center with a bulge the size of a rat, and wanted him. After a big meal, the slithering would stop and he’d be easy to catch. As soon as she caught the snake, she’d drag him down the rugged slope, and shove him in Tamrin’s face.

Stupid boy. How dare he say girls didn’t know how to catch snakes with a tone used for speaking to babies? Even though he was twelve, two years older than her, didn’t she throw a spear farther, ride her horse harder, and catch more pheasants than he did? Fish practically threw themselves on her carved bone hooks. Without a doubt, Makeda ran faster, climbed higher, fished harder and hunted better than all the other children in Aksum and many of the adults.     Hadn’t she brought down a lioness when the predator attacked a woman in Aksum? Everyone else screamed and fled, the cowards. She, a mere girl, had stood her ground and speared the big cat, saving the mother and her unborn child. Her actions had shown the men and boys she was a warrior, not just the king’s daughter.

The only animals she didn’t hunt were the red, long-legged wolves. When she was five, the first time she rode out to hunt antelope with her father and spotted the creatures, a wolf surrounded by a litter of pups locked eyes with Makeda. Frozen in time, it seemed as if the female whispered to her, “Go away. Leave me to raise my babies. Spare me and when your time comes, we will do the same for you and yours.”  At last, she pulled away from the creature’s penetrating gaze and caught her father watching her, his dark brown forehead creased in a worried expression.

“Why do you look at me in that way, Baba? Is something wrong?”

He reached over and felt Makeda’s brow. “Are you not well, my daughter?”

She shook her head. “The wolf snared me with her eyes and spoke to me. Asked for mercy.”

Her father’s eyes grew as large as eggs, and he held up the palm of his right hand. “Stop. Say nothing more of this.”

“Baba, what’s wrong?” She had never seen her father afraid of anyone or anything. The supreme ruler feared nothing. Until today.

His lips thinned into a knife’s edge. “Tell no one. Do you hear me?”

Baba had never spoken to her in such a harsh tone before. Tears rose in her eyes. She dared not speak for fear of choking on her words. Makeda nodded. And they never mentioned the incident again. Now, despite the heat baking the stones beneath her feet, she shuddered at the memory. Stop thinking about the wolves. Keep going. A few more boulders to climb and she’d have the snake in her hand.

A sharp rock pricked her palm and a trickle of blood ran down her arm. Scraped, bruised, and covered in tiny cuts, her hands seldom scarred. Her father told Makeda her mother had healed the same way and her extra toe on each foot gave her special powers. “My heart, you are my little goat.”

Tamrin shouted at her from below. The wind snatched his voice and carried it into the clouds. She glanced over her shoulder and the sight took her breath away. A shrub-strewn carpet of green grass broken up with craggy hills, a wandering river, and scrubby bushes lay beneath her. This is why the Sun God rose each morning. To admire his handiwork.

Nay! Come!” Tamrin’s shout carried to her in a gust of wind. “Soon it will be sundown.” She knew the rest. He ended everything with, “Your father will kill me and my family if I don’t bring you back safely.”

Where was all his boasting and blustering when it came to her father? Vanished like a rat in hole. She dismissed his warning with a shake of her head, pulled herself over a ledge and headed upward, closer to the sun and the snake. Lazy beast. Sitting right in front of a large cleft, the snake hissed, almost as if to say, “Come get me.”

She stood on the boulder. Two more steps and she’d pounce. One, two–just as he was within her reach he turned his head, flicked his tongue, and slipped into the cave. She followed him into the darkness, deep into the grotto, her trusty feet feeling the way. Her eyes adjusted to the gloom. Aha! Right there on a big boulder. One more step and–

A soundless explosion of light dazzled Makeda. Blinded by its brilliance, she stumbled back, her sure feet slipping, unsteady. Cool and slick, the wet rock walls did little to help her stay balanced. She blinked, shook her head, and gasped. Where the snake had been, now sat a giant. Even sitting down, the ferhenjee, this non-black stranger with skin the color of a young curly horned antelope, was twice her father’s size.

Mouth dry, heart hammering in her throat, her vision adjusted to the light. The ferhenjee had a man’s body with sparks circling his head like embers from a blazing fire. A nose of an eagle, large and strong, dominated his profile. He looked at her with eyes the same color of the sky in the morning. His stare pinned her to the rock floor. Behind him wings, too many to count, fluttered and stirred up a breeze. Her brow, once hot and sweaty, cooled.

Hands clenched into fists, her mind alternated between wanting to fight the creature, run away, or freeze in his sky colored stare. Immobility won. At last, it hit her. He must be the Sun God, angry with her for climbing this high. “I only wanted to catch the snake.”

The giant threw his head back and roared.

Released from his stare, Makeda fell to her knees and bowed her head. “Please don’t kill me, Sun God. I’m sorry; I didn’t mean to anger you.”

“I’m not angry, child. I’m laughing.” He chuckled. “Don’t call me Sun God. It offends my King.”

She jerked her head up. The ferhenjee was smiling. “Who are you? Are you from the stars? Who is your king? How did you get here?” She took a deep breath, prepared to ask more questions.

“Stop.” His voice rumbled in her chest. A frown furrowed his brow.

She bowed her head again. Maybe she should flatten herself on the floor of the cave to please him.

“Don’t lie on the ground, Makeda.”

Tremors shook her body and her teeth rattled. Just like she had heard the wolf’s thoughts, he knew hers.

He sighed and a blast of air blew past her. “I am Metatron, servant of the greatest of all  gods, Yahweh. I bring a message for you.”

She peeked up through strands of curly black hair. “Me? Why me?”

“You have a grand destiny. Your son will rule a great kingdom.”

Despite her fear, the notion of being a mother tickled her gut and tore huge gulps of laughter out of her throat. He had to be blind. She wasn’t even a woman yet.

The creature stared at her. “You dare to laugh?”

The girl struggled to regain her self-control. “I’m never going to marry. I will never have children–”

The giant creature stood and his head touched the top of the cave. Her voice caught in her throat. He looked like her father had the day she heard the wolf speak, only angrier.

“Hear me, Makeda. You will become the mother of a nation of kings. Go home and prepare yourself. Learn everything you can about love, honor, and becoming a wise and just ruler, so you can teach your son and his son.”

“I’m sorry, whoever you are. I cannot rule my father’s kingdom unless I am a virgin. It is forbidden for me to marry.”

She was terrified of this messenger and his god, but rules were rules. Her own mother had disappeared when she was a baby. Wasn’t that enough evidence that the punishment for non-virgin queens was banishment?

“I must be a virgin queen. I was born to rule. It is my destiny.”

Sparks flew off him and the room blazed with the light of day. He grew larger and larger, filling up the space with his glow. One of his wings brushed her cheek, soft as the fuzz of a baby bird.

“You are young and foolish. You will grown and learn. Above all else, you must seek wisdom. That is your destiny.”

 

PS: If you are interested in reading more about the Queen of Sheba and King Solomon, here are some books for you.

Budge, W. (Translator). (2007). The Kebra Nagast (The Glory of Kings). Lexington, KY: Silk Pagoda.

Clapp, N. (2001). Sheba: Through the Desert in Search of the Legendary Queen. New York, NY: First Mariner Books.

Coogan, M.D., Brettler, M.Z., Newsom, C.A.,  & Perkins, P. (Eds.). (2001). 1 Kings 10:1-13 in The New Oxford Annotated Bible. New York, NY: Oxford University Press, p. 508-509.

Coogan, M.D., Brettler, M.Z., Newsom, C.A.,  & Perkins, P. (Eds.). (2001). 2 Chronicles 9:1-12 in The New Oxford Annotated Bible. New York, NY: Oxford University Press, p. 630-631.

Fraser, A. (2004). The Warrior Queens. New York, NY: Anchor Books.

Grossfeld, B. (1991). The Two Targums of Esther. Translated with Apparatus and Notes. The Aramaic Bible, Vol. 18. Collegeville, MN: The Liturgical Press.

Razwy, S.A.A. (Ed.) & Ali, A. Y. (Translator).  (2009). The Qur’an Translation. Elmhurst, NY: Tahrike Tarsile.

 

Book Review: The Passion of Mary Magdalen by Elizabeth Cunningham

If you’ve been reading my posts here on Sexy Romance Stories, you know I have an insatiable curiosity about all things Biblical. So when a dear friend recommended THE PASSION OF MARY MAGDALEN by Elizabeth Cunningham, I promptly bought it in February, 2011, looked at the beautiful cover of this 620 page book and told myself to get back to work. Now I’m kicking myself for waiting so long to read it.  Then again, perhaps things really do happen for a reason. But I digress.

WARNING: If you are offended by feminist interpretations of the Bible, do not read on.

Elizabeth Cunningham, descendant of nine (9) generations of Episcopal priests, knows whereof she speaks in all things biblical. My impression of this author is that she literally ate, drank, slept and breathed Bible stories from birth—no from conception. And, rather than hew to the party line, so to speak, she listened for the voice of the women in these tales and found them missing. In THE PASSION OF MARY MAGDALEN, Ms. Cunningham gave Mary Magdalen and the other two Marys of the New Testament, not only voices, but brains, bodies, spirituality and backstories.

This is the second in the Maeve Chronicles, but you do not have to read the books in order. The author provides an excellent summary of the first book in a non-intrusive manner. She gives the reader enough information to understand where we are as the story begins and weaves in more later. I never felt lost reading the story. I felt as if I was firmly anchored in Mary’s point of view throughout the book, in large part because of the author’s skillful use of the first person.

We know from the New Testament that Mary Magdalen was a prostitute; what we don’t know is where she came from, why she was in that occupation, and what her relationship was to Yeshua, aka Jesus. The first half of this book tells us about Mary’s life as a prostitute and takes place in Rome. Born a Celt named Maeve, she escaped certain death in her home country, only to be captured by a tribe intent on using her as a breeding vessel. She escapes again, only to be drugged by the sea captain. The book opens with her in an open air market in Rome where her captor is extolling her wares. Stripped, poked and prodded in the public setting, she maintains her Celtic backbone and lives up to her bright red hair by cursing the man in three different languages. Amused by her antics and intrigued by her body and brain, the brothel owner and madam knows a good value when she sees one and buys Maeve.

Maeve becomes a craftsman at her trade, taking pride in her work as a whore. Sought after by generals, senators and wealthy land holders, she becomes a favorite of the patrons and the other women in the brothel. The only problem is she isn’t just a worker bee; she’s also a priestess of Isis and strange, supernatural things happen around her at inexplicable times. It is a bawdy, fun, gripping read and the details of daily life in 1st Century Rome are seamlessly woven in without becoming a history lecture. I felt as if I was there at the feasts and in the Temple of Isis. Throughout it all, Maeve never forgets the young man she fell in love with in her home country: Esus.

The second half of the book takes place in Jerusalem, Israel, where Maeve has taken up residence after a series of misadventures in Rome and being bought, sold and finally released into the wild. Setting up a Temple of Isis in a Jewish country occupied by Romans is not an easy affair. While she has financial backing from Joseph of Arimathea, support from some of her fellow whores from the Roman brothel, and a flair for finding hidden sacred springs, she still has to stay under the radar of the religious and Roman dictators. True to her profession and her calling, her temple is offers healing and sexual services, for men and barren women. Between cleaning up an old estate and vineyards, she visits the Temple searching for any sign, any word of Esus. Here the author excels in providing the reader with insights into the people of the day, including the larger than life figures in the New Testament. She also gives us a window into the era’s religious practices, including animal sacrifices, and gives us an idea of how power can corrupt all, even those who claim to act on behalf of Yahweh. Everyone has an agenda in Jerusalem, and the only ones in charge with swords and spears are the Romans.

I won’t spoil the story for you, let me just say that if you want to see, smell, taste, hear and touch that era from the eyes of a very important woman in our collective history, I highly recommend this book.

Prescription for Change

In my novella, An Inn Decent Proposal, which appears in my anthology, KILLER KISSES, the heroine, a gourmet chef who wants her own kitchen, and hero, an ambitious hotelier, have an opportunity to bid on a rundown inn and restore it to its previous glory. Along the rock-strewn way to achieving this goal, they discover they need to make some changes in themselves, too, in order to achieve their happily ever after.

After a frenzied year of work and leisure activities, including over-scheduled vacations, exhaustion can take its toll. In addition to our overbooked lives, many of us are working at taking care of both children and parents–but not ourselves.  Even if your parents are independent and your children are grown, it is easy to fall into patterns of caregiving that are unhealthy.

Not only do we become spread too thin, but also we begin to stop enjoying things we once loved to do. When having sex becomes just another chore on your to do list, you need to take serious stock of your life. Sex is one of the great gifts of being alive at any age. Taking control of your time and life can re-energize your bedroom activities. My gift to you on the cusp of planning back-to-school, back to work, back to the hamster wheel, is to share this with you in the hopes that you will begin to take better care of yourselves, too.

SEVEN STEPS TO MAKING HEALTHY CHANGES

Step One: Admit that you have needs, too. We cannot be Wonder Woman all the time. If you crash, you can’t help anyone. Accept the idea that you need to take care of yourself. If you don’t take care of yourself, you will be useless to your dependents. It is not shameful to take care of yourself. You have needs, too. One of them is a healthy sex life.

Step Two: Write down what you need, physically, emotionally, spiritually. Get thee to a doctor. Get your regular checkups. Inform your personal physician if you are a caregiver when you go for medical appointments and inform your doctor of any special stress or issues you are facing. Ask what you can do to improve your sex life.

Step Three: Write down what you will do about getting your needs met. Henriette Klauser says, “When you care enough to write down your goals, stand back.” Writing your goals down makes them tangible and your subconscious continues to work on them, even when you forget about them. Make a contract with yourself to change unhealthy behaviors and to start new healthy ones. When you write your goals down, they are more likely to happen. Set goals and stick to them. Tell your family and friends what you are doing–and ask for their help. “I have a quit date for smoking. I need your help.” Or, “I want to get more exercise. Could you please come over and watch Mom so I can get out for a thirty minute walk?” Quitting smoking, eating healthy, getting exercise improve not only how you feel, but how you feel about your attractiveness. It also revs up your sex drive.  

Step Four: ASK FOR HELP. People may think you WANT to do it all. Allow others to help you. We can be our own worst enemies when it comes to asking for help. We feel as if we ought to be able to do it all, that it’s shameful to ask for help. If a friend or neighbor volunteers and says, “If there’s anything I can do, let me know,” say, “Yes, I would love it if…” and you fill in the blank. Of course, you should be reasonable in your requests. It is okay to ask for help, too. The worst thing that will happen is someone will say no. More likely, they will say yes. Perhaps you have trouble letting go of control? Delegating not easy for you? Maybe family and friends want to help, but are waiting for you to ask them. ASK!

Step Five: Take action. Do what you say you will do for yourself. Don’t keep putting it off. Let go of non-priority tasks and take on activities that make you healthy, physically and emotionally. Have a date night. Spend time with your partner and make it pleasurable. Go to dinner, watch a romantic movie, light candles, take a shower or bubble bath together. Turn on the mood music and get out those special massage oils.  Make an appointment for you and your lover and keep it. Do NOT fill up that space with something else. Put it on your Google calendar with lots of reminders.

Step Six: Write about how you feel about your actions. Journaling has been found to be an effective tool for stress reduction. Keep a diary to record and track your emotional status. Sometimes we try to tell ourselves everything is okay, when it really isn’t. Denying your feelings of loss, sadness, loneliness, or being overwhelmed does not make them go away. When you put something in writing, it forces you to acknowledge your feelings and can motivate you to do something to improve the situation.

Step Seven: Start OVER again with Step One. Over time this will become natural, but right now, it will feel awkward.

What tips do you have for taking care of yourself and your sex life?

While you think about your answer, here’s an excerpt from An Inn Decent Proposal, which appears in my anthology, KILLER KISSES

 Now do you admit that my cooking makes men weak at the knees?”

He crawled to her chair, reached up and pulled her face down to his and slanted his mouth over hers. “Yes,” he breathed. “You have made my knees—and other parts of my body weak.” He pressed his lips against hers and she responded, opening her mouth. She tasted like pomegranates. He wanted more of her flavors. Now.

He ran a hand down her neck and found a hardened nub awaiting his touch through the thin lace. He lowered his head to her breast and sucked at the cloth, pulling her into his mouth until she moaned. Then he moved to the other breast, but pulled the blouse down, exposing a claret-colored nipple the size of a silver dollar. He licked and sucked at that large, lovely rosebud until she clutched at his hair.

“Stop.” She panted. “We still have dessert.”

“You’re my dessert.”

“I’m not too fat for you?”

He looked up into her eyes, his tongue longing to return to sucking on that big bud. “Skinny women don’t turn me on. I love your curves, your hips, your big beautiful ass, your full, delicious breasts, and your sweet, succulent nipples. I want to explore every inch of your luscious lovely thighs, right up to your—”

She pushed away from him, stood and took his hand. He tried to pull her back but she shook her head, smiled, and dragged him down a hallway. Illuminated only by candles, her bedroom contained a queen-sized bed, large pillows, and red satin sheets. A cooking cart with a chafing dish stood ready to serve.

She turned to him. “Get undressed.”

As he ripped his shirt and pants off, she released her hair from her ponytail and peeled out of her lace top and slinky pants. She wore no underwear. He swept his gaze over her large breasts, full hips and the red triangle of hair he wanted to sample next. He stood at complete attention, pointing straight at her. He reached for Genie, grazed a breast, and she shoved him back onto the bed. “Lie down.”

He complied, shivers running up and down his spine.

Hair draping across her face, she stood over him and drizzled warm chocolate sauce on his chest, belly button, hips, and erection. Then she dropped dollops of whipped cream in swirls along the same pattern.

“Just so you know, this is all homemade.”

Bending her head over her work, she quickly licked from his neck down to his belly button, and then in a slow, deliberate pace, continued downward. He groaned and grew harder and thicker with each lick.

He grabbed Genie and pulled her onto the bed. “I’m hungry, too.”

A dish in each hand, he drew wild patterns with chocolate sauce and whipped cream across her lush curves. After eying his handiwork, he licked his lips. “I think I’ll start with these two delicious mounds topped with these bright, red cherries. Then, I’ll follow the chocolate trail down to here.”

He slid a chocolate covered finger into her moist folds, sliding across her center, flicking her until she wriggled and arched her hips upward. He smiled, withdrew his finger and licked it. “Delicious.”

Between gritted teeth, she gasped. “Tease.”

“Look who’s talking. You’ve been driving me wild all evening.” Jim licked his way down the chocolate path. The pool of sweet brown liquid in her navel and below required extra attention to detail, and he lapped up every drop, first licking lazy circles on her soft thighs. She grabbed his head and pushed him to her silky triangle. His tongue probed her saucy folds, then nibbled at her hard nub until she moaned, screamed his name, and clutched his hair.

“I want you inside me.”

He crawled on his elbows, maintaining skin contact with each upward movement. He looked deep into her eyes and slid inside her. She rose to meet him at every stroke, urged him onward, and let him know with her touches exactly what she wanted: harder, deeper, stronger thrusts. She shuddered and screamed his name, he couldn’t hold on any longer. He came with a shout and fell on top of her.

She looked him in the eye. “Ready for the cheese course?”

Food and Sex

Do I have your attention now?

Is there a connection between good food and good sex? The answer is a resounding yes, according to sources as diverse as Discovery Health and the Social Issues Research Center. Food is part of the dating and mating ritual across all cultures. Both food and mating are essential to the survival of the species. Feeding your mate is not only sexy, but also a way of saying, “I will take care of you forever.”

Some people may go a bit overboard combining food and sex, as this fun loving couple did. But, hey, it’s their groceries, who am I to criticize? One super food that has been strongly linked to super sex is chocolate. Yes, dare I say it? Women are programmed to love it because it gives us pleasure and makes us feel happy and sexy. Consider giving yourself and your mate the gift of chocolate–in the bedroom. Be imaginative. Play with your food! That’s what my couple did in An Inn Decent Proposal.

In An Inn Decent Proposal in my anthology, Killer Kisses, Genie King is a Culinary Institute of America trained chef who is piqued by her high school heart throb, Jim Rawlings, when he tells her that he’s sure she’s “a solid cook.” Furious, she retorts, “Tell you what, Mr. Critic, you come to my house for dinner tomorrow night. My food makes men go weak at the knees.” She proceeds to seduce him with her sensual cooking. Starting with a chef’s amuse-bouche and ending with a decadent dessert in the bedroom, Genie brings Jim to his knees and makes him beg for more.

Here’s an excerpt to whet your appetite.

With butterflies dancing the hoochie-koochie in his stomach, Jim stood on the front porch of Genie’s house at the appointed hour, clutching a dozen hot-pink roses, his finger poised to press the doorbell. A witch that appeared to have flown into the siding stuck out of the wall and cobwebs were draped over the light fixture.

Why was he so nervous? It was just dinner. Right? Visions of Genie’s teasing cleavage danced before his eyes. No. He wanted it to be more than dinner. A whole lot more. He took a deep breath and leaned on the bell.

Moments later, the object of his desire appeared framed by the doorway, fiery hair pulled up in a ponytail, her luscious breasts covered by a huge black apron that read, Never Trust a Skinny Chef.

He handed her the flowers. “Trick or treat?”

“Treat. Thanks. Come on in.” She stepped aside to give him room to pass.

He wanted to grab her in the doorway, drag her into the bedroom and take her right then and there. Down boy. No need to act like a Neanderthal. He cleared his throat. “Did you get a lot of kids?”

“About two dozen little ones with their parents. After dinner the teenagers came out in droves. Most of them weren’t even in costume. I ran out of candy bars and turned the light off at ten. What about you?”

“The Motel Seven wasn’t in the holiday spirit.” He grinned. “Just as well, I forgot my costume. The only thing I could have gone as was Adam.”

She blushed and said, “That would have been interesting.” She handed him a glass of champagne. “To celebrate our purchase, I thought we’d begin with a Perrier Jouet. And, since we seem to be in an Indian summer, we’re having appetizers on the patio.”

She led him through the living room under a cuckoo clock made to look like a green-and-red Swiss chalet. “Interesting timepiece you’ve got there.”

“My father gave it to my mother years ago, on their second date.” She opened the sliding glass door. “He wanted her to be reminded every hour of the day that he was cuckoo for her. Corny, hunh?”

He clinked her glass. “To corny love.”

She pointed to the small square white dishes on the glass topped patio table. “Tonight’s amuse bouche is salmon tartare on five-spice crisps.”

After he sat, she placed a cloth napkin on his lap. The simple motion aroused him. He shifted in his seat, grateful for the camouflage. He turned to the tasty morsels at hand, closed his eyes and crunched into what appeared to be a large wonton crisp—but with tastes of clove, peppercorn, cinnamon, fennel, and anise dancing on his tongue. Layered in with these flavors were salmon, wasabi, ginger, and a touch of spicy sushi sauce. He moaned, opened his eyes and saw Genie watching him.

He took a sip of champagne. “More please?”

“You may have two more—that’s it, or you won’t be able to enjoy the rest of the meal.”

He savored each bite and realized the chef was not on the patio with him. “Where’d you go?”

“Not to worry.” She appeared from another sliding glass door bearing a large platter covered with golden brown rings drizzled with a red sauce and garnished with something green. She placed the dish in front of him. “Sweet-and-spicy calamari, toasted peanuts, and cilantro.”

“Can taste buds explode?”

She inclined her head. “We shall see. Bon appétit.”

“Won’t you join me?”

She sank into a chair opposite from him. “Just for a few moments. I have kitchen duty, you know.”

“Yes, and I’m grateful.”

She smirked. “We’ll see how grateful in a while.”

Was that a signal? Was she coming on to him? His heart raced and his pants stirred. Focus on food, dammit. He reached for the calamari. Spicy sweet-and-sour flavors rioted with combined textures of crunchy light tempura batter and tender squid. He licked his fingers. “Dear God, please serve this in heaven.”

When Genie laughed, the smile reached all the way up to her sparkling eyes. “You approve?”

“Mmm. Yes. Why aren’t you married?”

She eyed him and took a sip of bubbly. “You first.”

“I was.” He grabbed another piece of calamari. “To a hot blonde blackjack dealer.” He crunched, savoring the flavors.

“And?”

“What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas.”

“Not fair.”

“She left me for a higher roller. Your turn.”

She popped a piece of calamari into her mouth and ran her tongue around her lips slowly, getting every little crumb. His pants grew tighter. “Sommelier boyfriend became alcoholic.”

“Occupational hazard.”

She nodded. “I swore off romance for a while. Became best-friends-forevah with every gay guy in New York City. Lots of great shopping stories.” She sipped her wine. “Fell like King Kong diving off the Empire State Building for my new executive chef. Man was he hot.” She fanned herself.

A flash of jealousy surprised him. “And?”

“Hot, as in temper. As in throwing dishes, pots, anything at hand.” She shook her head. “He was Italian; I nicknamed him Mount Vesuvius. I left him and the job the day after he threw an iron skillet, missed me, and dented the wall.” She dusted her hands off. “That was that. He’s the reason I’m here.”

Jim reached over and grabbed her hand. Heat pulsed off her palm. “What’s his address? I’ll send him a thank-you note.”

She stood and gave him a Mona Lisa smile. “Save your thanks for when you’re done with dinner.”

That was definitely a come-on. He admired her lovely ass as she sashayed away and looked forward to the next courses.

As dusk fell, they moved into the dining room. She had placed the roses in a vase and set them on the buffet to the side. The table was set for two with fine china and glassware. Everything sparkled in the candlelight. She held a chair out for Jim, and once again placed a napkin on his lap, this time drawing out the ritual a tad longer. She was killing him. She breathed into his ear, sending frissons down his neck. “I hope you like the next course.”

Just to have something to hold onto—other than her—he clenched a soup spoon. And a white dish appeared in front of him in the center of which were large lumps of—

“Rich lobster soup with curry.” She poured a thick pink liquid around the lumps of shellfish.

The scent of curry rose on the steam grabbing his olfactory lobe, taking his brain to a new plane of existence. “Oh. My. God.”

“Some have likened my food to a religious experience.”

The lobster swam in the smooth soup with a hint of curry while his taste buds danced and sang hallelujah, hallelujah. “Any chance I could get this for dessert?”

She took her apron off and sat down. “Not tonight. I have other plans.”

The low cut lace top left little to Jim’s imagination. Torn between appetites, he wondered if there was an intermezzo. He needed to clear his palate—and knew just who he wanted to do it with.

Read the rest in Killer Kisses, available in Kindle or Print

 

Galatea, Pygmalion, Pigmalion: A Rose by Any Other Name

Like many authors, my inspiration for my short story, PIGMALION, in my new anthology, KILLER KISSES, came from an old myth. The Greeks and Romans worshiped Aphrodite and Venus, respectively. In one of the versions of the myth of Galatea, a sculptor whose heart has been broken and hardened by a bad break-up decides to sculpt the perfect woman from marble. Possessed by some unknown power, he works day and night. As he works, the marble feels warmer to his touch and what emerges from the block of stone is a woman so beautiful, she takes his breath away. He falls in love with his statue and falls asleep at its life-size feet. He awakes to a living woman who steps down from the pedestal into his welcoming arms.

Centuries later, George Bernard Shaw, revisited this myth and updated the story with linguistics Professor Henry Higgins and his flower-seller student, Eliza Doolittle. His charming and tongue-in-cheek tale is available in full text for all to read at Pygmalion. The years have not dimmed his humor. Shaw’s use of the new technology of languages and all the gadgets and scholarship available at that time are put to good use to move the story forward, all contingent, of course, on a bet. If you are old enough to remember bell-bottoms, then you know this story later became the hit 1964 musical film, My Fair Lady, starring Audrey Hepburn and Rex Harrison.

Fast forward to current times and you have my version of the myth retold in PIGMALION. In my story, the professor has become a female speech-language pathology graduate student, Levisa Harris, and the language-challenged student has become an accounting student from Pigtown, Baltimore, an area well-known for its heavily accented dialect.

Whether it is Galatea, Pymalion or Pigmalion, in this rose by any other name, all of the stories focus on the transformative power of love. Isn’t that what we all want? Here’s a little snippet to tease you into reading more from PIGMALION  and the rest of my anthology, KILLER KISSES.

She rubbed against him, and her legs felt weak. She whispered, “I’ve been struggling to keep my hands off you for four months.”

“We’ve waited this long, this is going to be special—for both of us.” He nibbled at her shoulder, and began kissing his way down to the base of her neck. “Time to take this off.” Her turtleneck sweater slid up over her long curls, exposing her black camisole. “Next.” He peeled the spaghetti straps down, removed the silk lingerie, then her bra. His lips hovered over her breasts, his breath warming her, thrilling her nipples.

Levisa moaned and shuddered with anticipation. She cupped her hands under her breasts, offering them up to him with abandon. She had never been this free with a man before. She’d always felt like an observer, not really involved, when she’d made love. But this time, this man, this aching need was different.

Oh my God, I’m so in love with him!

In a nearly hypnotic state, she watched him lightly lick her left nipple and then take it into his mouth, sucking and pulling. She groaned and grabbed his firm butt, pressing hard against the outline of his erection.

“Now?”

“Not yet.” He took her nipple between his teeth, tugging lightly. Levisa gasped as his hands slid up her skirt, between her legs, and stroked her thigh a torturous inch below her silk thong. She pulled at his waistband and unzipped his pants, barely recognizing her own voice thick with lust, “My turn to drive you wild.”

“I like the sound of that.”

“Get over here,” she ordered. Slowly, intent on teasing him, she eased his jeans down. As he stepped out of the pant legs, she tiptoed her fingers down his back, beneath the waistband of his underwear, and grabbed his butt. “Did I tell you, you have a perfect ass?”

A look of surprise flickered across Sam’s handsome face; then in a in a flash, still watching his expression, she yanked his briefs down to his ankles. His beautiful penis stood at attention, long and hard, waiting to be of service.

“Oh my,” she whispered in awe. “I admire a man who’s happy to see me.”

KILLER KISSES is available exclusively at Amazon

Horrible Warning or Good Example?

Jezebel.

Why is it that this name is often associated with the following epithets: whore, slut, evil, harlot, seductress, scheming, manipulative, and murderess? How many of us have actually read that portion of the Hebrew Bible closely? I hadn’t until recently when I picked up Alice Ogden Bellis’ book, Helpmates, Harlots and Heroes: Women’s Stories in the Hebrew Bible.  Bellis’ book is an eye-opening, feminist review of women’s stories in the Hebrew Bible. The author employs the latest critical thinking in feminist literature while simultaneously reminding the reader of the realities of women’s lives in that era, as well as the fact that men wrote the bible.

Warning: If you are offended by feminist interpretations of biblical tales, don’t read the rest of this post.

Here’s the real deal about Jezebel: she was Queen of Israel and came from a different kingdom. She was an outsider, a daughter of the King of the Sidonians.  An independent and strong woman, she brought her religion with her to the marriage. She worshipped Asherah (the goddess found in many cultures of that time) and Baal, the son of Asherah.  Elijah, the prophet, told everyone to abandon their idols for Yahweh. At the time, Yahweh was a new concept, an invisible god, competing with a lot of other visible gods and goddesses.* Elijah called upon Yahweh to destroy the false prophets. This was in no small part because Queen Jezebel had already knocked off a bunch of Elijah’s followers. These were not forgiving people, nor were these accepting times. The power struggle between Queen Jezebel and Elijah was a fight to the death.

1 Kings 18:19 Now therefore send, [and] gather to me all Israel unto mount  Carmel, and the prophets  of Baal four hundred  and fifty, and the prophets of the groves four hundred, which eat at Jezebel’s  table.  (The Blue Letter Bible http://www.blueletterbible.org/Bible.cfm?b=1Ki&c=18&t=KJV#19)

Only the prophets of Baal were destroyed–none of the “prophets of the groves,” i.e., the goddess, Asherah. Elijah declared himself and Yahweh the winner.  But, Jezebel  was one tough cookie. You had to be to survive in those times. When she saw her husband, King Ahab, was depressed because he couldn’t  buy some land from two men, she arranged to have the men killed via the council of elders’ decree. (Some experts suggest she was not behind this move, that it was King Ahab’s action). Her husband got the vineyards and lands.  Years later, after King Ahab dies, the son of one of the men she had killed for his vineyards became the new ruler. Elijah backed the new king. When Jezebel realized she was about to die, she put on her make-up and fine clothing, looked out the window at the mob below and spoke to them defiantly.  Three eunuchs grabbed her, threw her to her death, and then she was trampled by a horse. When someone called for a decent burial, all they could find was her skull and a few bones. Elijah wanted this woman and her influence completely erased. He said to let the dogs feast on her. He also said:

1 Kings 9:37 And the carcass of Jezebel shall be as dung upon the face of the field in the portion of Jezreel; [so] that they shall not say, This [is] Jezebel. (The Blue Letter Bible http://www.blueletterbible.org/Bible.cfm?b=2Ki&c=9&t=KJV#30)

Elijah clearly did not want a martyr’s grave.

The early kings did not acquire their thrones and kingdoms by being nice. They took things by force and grew alliances through marriage, which is one of the reasons Jezebel was married off to King Ahab. She was the daughter of a powerful ruler. She was also a pawn in a biblical game of thrones. Yes, Jezebel was scheming, manipulative, and possibly murderous, because her husband’s throne was at stake. There is no evidence that she was a harlot, whore, slut or seductress. Was she evil? Were her actions any different from the men of the times? Or was she deemed evil because she was a woman? Take a moment to reflect on how King David sent Uriah to the front to be killed after Bathsheba became pregnant. Yet, David is still held up as a role model and Jezebel as a terrible example. In a patriarchy, women are not supposed to think, have power, or do anything except have male babies and obey their husbands. Have times really changed that much?

As I listened to the sound bites and followed the Rush Limbaugh/Sandra Fluke controversy , it occurred to me that many of the same epithets used against Queen Jezebel were used against a modern woman, a learned woman, a law student. When all else fails, it seems, some men will call a woman a slut. So, what do you think of Jezebel? Horrible warning or good example of a strong woman living in tough times?

(* Raphael Patai, biblical scholar and author of The Hebrew Goddess writes about the archaeological support for the idea that Asherah and Yahweh were a divine couple who lived a peaceful and loving co-existence in the Temple of Solomon. But that’s another post for another time.)

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PS: When I wrote DESIRE AND DECEPTION , I purposely chose the name Isabel for one of my heroines because of its similarity in sound to Jezebel. Here’s a link to the sexy book trailer for this erotic read.

Does Erotica Empower Women? Or Do Empowered Women Read and Write Erotica?

From my childhood through my young adulthood, my mother wore the mask of the “Perfect Mother, Girl Scout Troop Leader, and Sunday School Teacher.” But her behavior when at home, away from the scrutiny of other adults, was anything but perfect. One of the first short stories for which I won an honorable mention from Spinetingler Magazine (yes, horror!) was called Goody Two Shoes. It was my first public foray into exploring the roles women play and the masks women wear.

My full length erotic romantic suspense novel, Desire and Deception, explores these same themes. Similar in heat levels to noir movies like Body Heat and The Postman Always Rings Twice, my story differs from these notable examples because it ends on an upbeat note. In Desire and Deception, polar opposites sex siren Isabel (Izzy) Ramirez and goody-two-shoes Sarah Wright-Rosen become fast friends and seem destined to be BFFs until Izzy’s terrible secret is unearthed–literally and figuratively. Convinced she is unworthy of redemption, because she believes she cannot be anything but the “bad girl,” Izzy goes down a take no prisoners’ path, halted only by her younger lover, Sean Richards.

For her part, having been raised by an alcoholic in a “you’re-only-good-if-you-enable-me” paradigm, Sarah discovers shades of gray in her formerly black and white world. She also learns the powers of forgiveness and love can transform not only how she sees the world, but also her own self-image. In the end, Izzy becomes more like “good girl” Sarah–and Sarah becomes more like her “bad girl” friend. Izzy is the larger than life embodiment of all that is forbidden to “good girls.” Izzy embraces her sexuality and desires, takes control of her life and the men in it, and pleases herself. Sarah is “everywoman;” she works hard, plays by the rules, collaborates and facilitates consensus. She believes she can only be “good” one way, i.e., by constantly trying to please others.

This binary, yes/no reasoning is faulty, but I believe many women struggle with this duality in our lives. The question is not to be or not to be, but who are we supposed to be versus who do we want to be? Our role models may or may not be good ones, depending on how healthy our parents’ upbringing was. If you come from a dysfunctional household, one with crime spoken daily, can you break out of that mold? Or are you ever going to be able to explode from those constraints? Likewise, if your home appeared to be the epitome of perfection to the outside world, but was hell behind closed doors, can you ever overcome the damages of a self-righteous hypocrite?  Izzy and Sarah discover their true selves through the redemptive power of love and realize that they can be what they want to be, in spite of their pasts.

In writing Desire and Deception, I wanted to tell a sexy suspenseful tale about smart, powerful women and the men who love them. I wrote about society’s expectations of what a woman should be versus what a woman wants to be. And since the standing advice to writers is to “write what you know,” I then placed these characters into the setting I knew well, the rigidly hierarchical academic world where tenure and promotion are the duo brass rings. With Isabel and Sarah chattering at me the entire time, Desire and Deception is a story that practically wrote itself.

I am fascinated by powerful women. By making her the pampered princess, daughter of a Mexican crime boss, I was able to make her a modern day woman warrior who lives by her own rules. In her non-fiction book, The Warrior Queens, Antonia Fraser analyzes the lives of real women who led in times of war. Fraser looks at the historical data, legends and myths surrounding these women through a modern lens. She gives a list of adjectives and categories that men create for these astonishing, strong females, one of which is the lustful “Voracity Syndrome,” aka the “Man Eater.” Izzy is the archetypal Man Eater: smart, sexy, sassy, funny and deadly. Female and male readers can live vicariously through Isabel because she embodies all the things women are told not to do. Don’t be too smart. Don’t be too aggressive. Don’t put your desires ahead of other people’s wants and needs. Don’t talk back. Don’t enjoy sex. Don’t be in charge in the bedroom. Don’t be in control of your life. In other words: DON’T BE EMPOWERED. I made Isabel over-the-top on all of these traits and more, because she had to be strong to endure her early life and to lead her troops.

Like Meadow Soprano, Izzy grew up with all the privileges of being the mob boss’s daughter.  She was given the best of everything: nannies, schools, clothes, cars, horse-riding lessons, whatever her parents thought would make her more cultured. She was also given the worst of everything: horrible role models, a Machiavellian world view, and a very dark childhood secret that no child should ever have to carry with her. Because of this complex background, she becomes a female warrior in her own right. Where others would collapse, she survives and thrives. She is a flawed heroine–with redeeming qualities and compelling reasons for her behaviors.

Here is an example of Isabel’s empowered behavior:

After swinging by the daycare center, Isabel headed to the grocery store with the three kids. Ramon pushed a grocery cart, and the girls ran up and down the aisles shrieking. Enamored with all things chocolate, the twins stood in the middle of the candy aisle, yanked bags off the shelves and tossed them into the basket. Serious-faced, Ramon placed boxes of kid tested, mother approved cereal on top of the candy. Sometimes that boy looked like an undertaker. Isabel shook her head, pushed another cart with the adult purchases, and ignored the pointed stares of the other shoppers.

An elderly woman approached her with a dour expression. “Young lady,” she shook her finger at Isabel, “Don’t you know how harmful all that sugar is for children?”

Isabel gave the crone her favorite look reserved for morons and meddlers. “Old lady, don’t you know how harmful it is to interfere with a child’s self-expression? Who wants to grow up and be an uptight rectal sphincter like you?” She laughed out loud at the woman’s face, an excellent impression of a fish gasping for breath. “Dictionaries, aisle ten.” Isabel turned on her heel and continued shopping.

The woman sputtered behind her. “Why you cheeky–”

Isabel flipped the bird in the air and kept walking. She arrived at the checkout and turned to Ramon. “Pick out three boxes of cereal and one bag of candy. Ditch the cart in the produce section.” Now on their third lap around the store, Sherry and Ruby appeared to be slowing down. “Get your sisters. We’re outta here. I have to make another stop.”

I bet every mother who reads this has been there. Your kid(s) are rambunctious, but not really evil, you’re minding your own business and some busy body decides to give you a lecture about child-rearing. Can you honestly say you never wanted to respond that way and give the meddler the finger? And I love the scene from the perspective of the character’s growth. Izzy has had a nanny for her brood for quite some time. Now she’s forced into taking care of them and is becoming more attached to them and more protective of them. She has a maternal side to her that she never expected. She grows and continues to grow. In her own weird way, Izzy is protective of her brood and is working on being a good mother.

Looking back in your lives, have you seen yourself in either of these roles: people-pleaser or empowered woman? How do you think you were encouraged (or programmed) for these roles? Do you think erotica helps to empower women? Or do you think empowered women read and write erotica? Which came first? The chicken or the egg?  What do you think is the best way we can help ourselves and other women to become empowered?