Okay, maybe I went for the shocking blog title ’cause it was fun. (PSA: for the record, edible underwear is a waste of money. Talk about a mess – and disgusting tasting!) The truth is, incorporating food/drink into a romance works because those things are just as universal and important as love. Think about a first date – probably half the time it is coffee or a cocktail, and the other half of the time it is dinner. We’ve intertwined the act of sharing food so inextricably with dating that it seems impossible to write a book without them.
That said, one of the old standards of critiquing is to cut any scene where people sit at a kitchen table sharing tea. Why? Because it can mean lazy writing. It can be stagnant. But as we all know, rules are made to be broken. I just turned in a manuscript today where the heroine is at a coffeeshop in the first chapter, and at high tea in the next one. Why? To illustrate that her very contained, bubble of a life is restricted to her apartment and tea. Would I use that ever again? Probably not. Are there more scenes in that book about eating and drinking? You bet. She makes the hero dinner. They go to dinner with his friends. She goes for drinks w/her bff to complain about the hero. Why? Because that is what people do.
People celebrate over food. They commiserate over food. They comfort each other with food. And yes, they occasionally sex each other up with it (I’ve got a drizzled chocolate sex scene that’ll melt your bra right off in A Fine Romance, which featured a chocolatier hero).
Because I can’t resist, I’m going to share with you a tiny excerpt. You see, I wrote an entire chapter in my book Friends To Lovers revolving around an aphrodisiac dinner (yes, the research was super fun!). Was it sexy? Holy heck, yes. It was one of my favorite scenes to write ever. But, and here’s the key, it advanced the plot. It wasn’t just about eating. It was about getting two friends to see each other as potential lovers. It flicked that switch for them. And that’s what food can–and should–do in a romance.
“Don’t get me wrong.” Daphne guzzled half her glass in a single swallow. “Foreplay’s great. Love it.” Her gaze skittered around the room, looking everywhere but at him. Had she drank too much coffee this afternoon? She seemed all hopped up. “What I don’t like is all the gamesmanship leading up to a lip-lock.”
“I prefer to think of it as a dance.” He picked up the deep-purple fruit, feeling the contrast between the slightly sticky skin and its moist flesh. Slowly he lifted it, waiting until Daphne’s eyes latched on before bringing it to hover even with her lips. She’d swiped red gloss across them, and they looked as full and plump as the fig.
More often than he liked, Gib caught himself thinking wholly inappropriate thoughts about Daphne’s lips. As a friend, he respected her too much to consciously crave a taste of her luscious mouth. Sexy, smart-aleck Daphne. The only woman he’d ever encountered seemingly immune to his quick charm and quicker smile. But the lust snuck up on him unannounced, like fog stealing through the night. He’d have to be three days in his grave not to notice her earthy, sensuous beauty. So tonight he could partially give in to the simmering curiosity he’d ignored over the years, and have a little otherwise-forbidden fun with her.
Her lips parted, and he rubbed the fig along the bee-stung bottom lip until she opened enough for him to pop it in. “Well? Does it work for you? Are you ready to straddle me and go at it like a pair of minx?”
She finished chewing, eyes hooded. “Not quite yet.”
“Ah, well. My turn, then.” Gib nudged the plate toward her.
“What?” With the precision of a laser sight on a rifle, her gaze whipped back up to his face.
“You have to feed me. This is finger food. Be Daisy, a woman on the cusp of possessing the man she so greatly desires. Touch the food, all the while pretending that you’re touching me. Use the food to seduce me.” Knowing she’d never back down from a challenge, Gib leaned back in his chair with a smirk. “If you can, that is.”
The determined jut of Daphne’s chin told him she’d rise to his teasing bait. “Not a problem, Graham.” She lingered over his fake name, dropping to almost a whisper. Then she reached across him for the next card by two wine goblets. “‘Red Burgundy mixed with ginger, cloves, vanilla and sugar is known as the potent Hippocras aphrodisiac. Vanilla in particular is believed to increase lust.’”
“I am partial to vanilla pudding.” Gib swallowed a laugh. He could practically see the cogs turning in her head, trying to figure out how to make him crack. This felt more like a strategic chess match than a seduction. Either way, he was having scads of fun.
Daphne shifted until she knelt on her chair. She squinted for a second, as though trying to get a read on a wary target. After hitching in a quick breath, she picked up the goblet. “Tip your head back and close your eyes.”
“Why?” Last summer, after working nine days straight during the political convention, he’d fallen asleep on her couch during an Iron Man marathon. Her soft heart allowed him to nap there for four hours, undisturbed. Her wicked streak, however, woke him up by pouring a tumbler of ice water over his head. Gib was no fool, about to fall for the same trick twice. “Play nice, Daph.”
“It’s Daisy,” she corrected. Her shirt slid off one shoulder as she raised her arm to bring the goblet nearer. Suddenly there was a whole lot of creamy skin a breath away from his face. The long, perfect line of her neck, the hollow of her collarbone—on any other woman, he’d be unable to resist the urge to map a trail of kisses along it. Gib gripped the edges of his chair. Hard. And thanked God he’d spread a napkin over his lap. Otherwise she’d see about eight rock-solid inches of wholly unsuitable reaction to her proximity tenting his trousers. Now that he’d acknowledged—just for tonight—his attraction to her, the intensity of it overwhelmed him.
“Now close your eyes, or the dance is over.”
What did she have planned? Closing his eyes, he tipped his head against the high, tufted chair back and waited. A droplet of liquid hit the seam of his lips, and Gib flicked out his tongue to catch it. The rich darkness of wine swirled with spices warmed his taste buds. The feel of her finger grazing the tip of his tongue shot heat straight to his cock. Gib’s eyes flew open.
“Tastes good,” he said.
Daphne smiled, a Mona Lisa smile, both innocent and mysterious. Then she dipped her finger back in the wineglass and rubbed it against his lips once more. “Does it taste like lust?”
It tasted like eight kinds of trouble. Like there should be sirens blaring and red lights flashing.