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Love is king!

Revenge and Retribution, by Anna Belfrage, coverI am a sucker for love. As a consequence, I cannot imagine writing a book that does not contain a sizeable portion of love – albeit that I generally avoid the mandatory complications of a romance as it drives me CRAZY when he and she are torn apart, both of them believing the other no longer cares for them. (This is when I will peek at the ending, needing reassurance. Idiotic, I know, as a romance also should have a happy ending, but just in case I check) My characters are often torn away from each other, but at least they have the comfort of knowing that somewhere their man/woman still loves them, will do anything to see them safe.
When I began writing The Graham Saga – years ago – I had in my head a laughing young woman named Alex Lind with short curly hair and deep blue eyes. She was wearing jeans and red Converse – which was a major problem, as my novel was set in the 17th century. Hmm. Maybe I should save this apparition for another book. The shadowy man who was to be the protagonist of the series, Matthew Graham, shook his head. His eyes were glued to the laughing woman, at present dancing on the spot to “It’s Raining Men.
“I want her,” he said.
“But she’s not from your time,” I protested, looking at him.
Matthew leaned against the wall, arms crossed over his chest. His hitherto so vague form was suddenly fleshing out, bright hazel eyes meeting mine as he jerked his dark head in the direction of the woman.
“It’s her or no one.” He went back to staring at her, a smile tugging at his long mouth. No matter that his linen shirt was worn and dirty, that his breeches had seen far better days, and that he was in serious need of a bath and a shave, he looked quite mouth-watering – but unfortunately (or not: after all, I am happily married and Matthew Graham doesn’t exist – or maybe he does) his attention was riveted on her, this as yet unknown Alex.
“You heard me,” he said, beginning to fade away, all six feet and plus of him.
“Stop!” I yelled. “I’ll think of something.”
“You do that.” He gave me an encouraging smile.
Obviously, Matthew was smitten. A serious case of what the French call a coup de foudre, love at first sight. Some people scoff at the idea of something as ridiculous as immediate love, but personally I am not that sure. I believe some of us are lucky enough to meet the one and only, and the moment our eyes connect, we are done for.
As all of us know, there’s a major difference between saying “I’m in love with you” and saying “I love you”. The first statement describes a heady phase, no more, but if we’re lucky it morphs into the permanence exuded by the last statement, a commitment that extends – potentially – over a lifetime. It requires guts to love with all your heart. It leaves you very vulnerable, which is why wounds to the heart take such a long time to heal. But there is nothing as wonderful, as empowering and as liberating as to love someone unconditionally. It gives us strength when we need it the most, it gives us wings and allows us to soar. No wonder I’m a sucker for love…
One day, Alex-in-my-head caught sight of Matthew. He was presently fleeing for his life, scrambling up a dilapidated ladder to hide behind a crumbling chimney. Dogs bayed, horses snorted, and the loud voice of the officer called his men to order, instructing them to find the fugitive and apprehend him.
“Fugitive?” Alex whispered, leaning forward.
“He’s just escaped from prison,” I explained, throwing a worried look at one of the soldiers who was studying the ladder.
“Is he a criminal?” She didn’t seem too bothered by the notion, incapable of tearing her eyes away from Matthew’s crouched body.
“No. But I’ll let him explain it to you in person.”
“You will?” She gave me a brilliant smile. “Now?”
“He’s sort of busy at present,” I pointed out. To my horror, the roof gave way, and a surprised Matthew was sucked into the house.
“Fix it,” Alex told me. “Make sure he makes it out okay.” Blue eyes hovered uncomfortably close to mine. “It’s him or no one.”
“He’s in the 17th century!” I protested.
“Well, then put me there as well. He needs me!” Her face softened. “And I need him,” she added in an undertone, “I’ve needed him since well before I was born.”
Turns out Matthew and Alex were right. They were born three centuries apart, they should never have met, and yet they are each other’s missing half. Without her, he would be diminished. Without him, she wouldn’t quite know how to breathe. And no matter that by now they are well past their youth, the fire between them still burns, still scorches their hearts – as can be proved by the excerpt below from Revenge and Retribution, the sixth book in The Graham Saga.
(As the excerpt opens, Alex is struggling with nightmares – has been doing so for days – in which the son she left behind in the future is taunting her, telling her everything in her 17th century life is nothing but a dream…)
No, Alex moaned, no, it isn’t a dream! Not my Matthew, not my sons and daughters. A dream, Isaac repeated, his dark eyes suddenly cold and hard. A dream, your life is a dream, he whispered, laughing gratingly.
“No!” Alex shrieked out loud, was awake for a moment with her heart in her mouth and then was dragged inexorably back under.

“Alex?” Hands holding, shaking gently, lips that brushed her forehead. “Alex, my heart.”
A dream, a dream, nothing but a dream. He doesn’t exist, this man of yours. Isaac giggled maliciously.
But he did. Alex struggled back into the light, and the man holding her was solid under her hands, his concerned eyes a gold-flecked green in the light of the candle he had lit.
“Aye, Matthew, that’s me, lass.”
Alex struggled to sit, her sweat-drenched shift sticking to her skin. Matthew handed her a mug of cider, helping her to hold it steady. She blinked, trying to clear her mind of the fragmented images of Isaac. Jesus, I’m going insane, she thought. She drained the mug and with trembling hands began to undo the laces of her chemise.
“Let me,” Matthew said. He got her out of the sopping garment, and found a towel to pat her dry with, sitting with her shivering, naked body on his lap. She curled into him, her arms tight around his neck, and he ran his warm hands up and down her bare skin, crooning her name in a hoarse, breaking voice.
“I’m not sure,” she groaned. “Are you for real? Or are you the dream?”
“I’m no dream,” he whispered back, “nor am I a ghost. I’m here, now, and so are you. It’s the others that don’t exist, Alex. It is them that are the dream.”
“A nightmare,” she said against his chest, “not a dream, never a dream. A black hole of loneliness. An absolute freezing emptiness.”
“Ah, lass.” Matthew kissed the top of her head and gathered her to him. Alex needed him even closer, pulling at his shirt, his breeches in a frenzied attempt to get at his skin, his warmth. Yes, oh yes, he was real, and Alex sighed when he laid her back naked against the pillows.
Her skin sizzled under his hands. A long, strong finger followed the curve of her hip, and she imagined she could see the blisters popping up in its wake as searing heat flew like a shadow behind his digit. Beneath her skin, blood called to blood, and when his fingers manacled her wrist, she was entirely taken over by his beat. Strong it flowed into her, demanding it drove her pulse before it, and Alex no longer knew where she ended and he began.
The candle on the chest gasped, shrinking down to a weak blue glow before it flared back into life, this time a long, dancing flame that backlit them against the wainscoting that adorned the walls. At a remove, she could feel the stubble on his unshaven cheek against the tender skin of her thighs, her belly. He dragged his face across her, and she arched herself against him, because he was hers and she was his and she was very much alive. The soft warmth of his lips; his hot breath in her ear, down her neck, on her chest; his hands with those long, dexterous fingers…Her breasts in his grip, and when he slid down to kiss her, she sank her fingers into his hair and called his name.
“Matthew,” she said to the night air. “My Matthew.” Of course she would die if she were dragged back in time – how could she survive with half of her yanked out? And he, she saw in his eyes, he would dwindle and die as well. Bit by bit, the fire in him would falter and go out, and he would float away like top soil in a drought.
He cupped her buttocks and lifted her closer to his mouth, and she no longer thought, she simply was, awash with colours and sensations that flowed from her curled toes to the tip of her ears.
“Oh God,” she groaned, and her hands gripped at his head, his hair. “Ah!” she said, and Matthew’s muffled laughter ran like a vibration up her spine.
He raised himself up, used his knees to widen her thighs, and leaned forward to kiss her as he thrust himself into her. “Mine,” he said into her ear. “Only and forever mine.”
She clenched herself around him in response, her legs coming up to hold him in place. He kissed her again, and she tasted herself on his lips and the skin round his mouth. She clung to him, refusing to release him. Glued from hip to chest bone they lay, scarcely moving, and in the wavering candlelight, his eyes were black as they stared down at her. She made a demanding movement with her hips. With tantalising slowness, he moved, and she groaned out loud.
“I burn,” she said hoarsely. “All of me is burning.” And she was, consumed alive by a fire that he expertly stoked and throttled, fed, banked and finally let go, riding her until she cried his name out loud and sank her teeth into his shoulder.
They lay face to face, knees against knees, and noses almost touching. Matthew smoothed back the hair that lay stuck to her damp cheek and tugged gently at her bared ear.
“Alright then?”
Alex nodded. God, she was tired – in a way she hadn’t been since well before the incidents down at the meeting house. For the first time in days, her brain was free of any images but those of him, the pictures and people of a long gone future receding grumbling to slither down her brainstem and pop into non-existence.
“Hold me,” she whispered, and he rolled her over to fit against him. His hand came round to cup her breast, and Alex relaxed in his warmth. She yawned, wide enough to crack her jaws, and with a little grunt closed her eyes.
“I love you,” she said through yet another yawn. She covered his hand with her own, one finger on his wrist to feel his reassuring pulse.
“I adore you,” he replied.
Alex didn’t hear. She was already drifting into sleep. But she knew all the same.

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