As Lysander wisely points out in Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, ‘The course of true love never did run smooth.’ And what would a romance novel be without some obstacles along the path to test the lovers? Of course, one of the most common threats introduced by the author is love rivals – the other woman or the other man who tests the lovers’ commitment.
I confess that when writing a romance novel I like to add some conflict and challenge for my lead characters in the form of other love interests – be they real or simply paranoid misunderstandings. The little green monster jealousy really heightens emotion in a story, and helps a character test just how strongly they feel about the object of their affection. I suppose, with my love of wild nature and powerful imagery in poetry like that of Leconte De Lisle, I am intrigued by the instinctive, animalistic nature of jealousy. As a lioness may fight any competitor encroaching upon her mate, so my protagonists struggle with a primitive urge to compete, to fight off other potential mates, to claim for their own their soulmate.
In Burning Embers, I was keen to create competition for both characters – because why should it be that the man is in demand, but not the woman? This novel is set right after the liberation of the 1960s, and throughout I wanted to create a sense of equality between man and woman; and this extended to ensuring both were desirable, in demand and feeling threatened by attention lavished on the other by a competitor.
For the first part of the book Rafe is secure in the development of his feelings for Coral, and it is she who feels uncertain. But then Coral’s ex-fiancé, Dale, arrives on the scene. Coral is not remotely interested; after all, this man broke her heart months before. But she sees no harm in letting Rafe believe that Dale is a threat (ah, the games we women play!), and he is enraged by the man’s repellant manner and opinions on Africa, to the point where he finally escorts him personally to the airport for a flight home!
Coral struggles with Rafe’s womanising ways and has to contend with his relationship with not one but two other women – her fiery stepmother, Cybil, and Morgana, a sensual dancer from his nightclub. The relationship with Cybil is in the past, but poor Coral is easily manipulated by her vindictive stepmother and believes the passion exists yet. Morgana is a different breed – she is what Coral is not, but longs to be: an experienced, confident woman entirely in touch with her passionate, sexual side. How can a young, naïve girl compete? she wonders. The answer, of course, is that it is her very innocence and purity that so attracts Rafe.
And there is one more woman in Rafe’s life who needs to move aside to make room for Coral: Rafe’s former wife, who died in a tragic accident. Only when Rafe is able to let go of his wife can the lovers finally be alone in their love for each other.