Most of you know me as a Regency romance/mystery/romantic suspense writer, but I have dabbled in a few contemporary romances. One of those turns 10 years old today.
One morning in 2008, I was watching the Today Show, and Dr. Laura Berman shared a study involving pheromones and the connection to Nerve 0 and the human sex drive. The short piece caught my interest so much so I did additional research on the findings. There was a wonderful article “Sex and the Secret Nerve” from Scientific American, which was not too far over my head. http://mugwump.pitzer.edu/~bkeeley/pix/Portugal/Nervus_Terminalis.pdf
Nerve 0 has endings in the nasal cavity, which are attached directly to the sexual regions of the brain. This nerve has no olfactory cortex, meaning it is not used to smell, but to identify sexual cues of potential partners. We are attracted to those with scents in opposition to our own. Family members share similar chemical makeup, a means to keep humans from seeking sexual partners within one’s own family. This next fact is the one that caught my attention in the study. Pregnant women are drawn to people with similar chemical makeups, likely to seek comfort. As the pill “simulates” pregnancy conditions in a woman’s body, women on the pill often choose someone of a similar makeup rather than the opposite. Could this be the reason for so many divorces? I found that possibility totally confounding.
Anyway, combining Nerve 0 with the study of MHC (Major histocompatibility complex) proteins became the basis of Gillian Cornell’s research, and a contemporary romp began. When I retrieved the manuscript from mothballs, I pressed Rebecca Young (Abigail Reynolds’s daughter) into creating a jazzy new cover and made major revisions to the story line.
Dr. Lucian Damron, a noted psychologist, has it all: good looks, a high society girlfriend, a growing fan base, and a media deal for his own television show. Yet, when he meets Gillian Cornell, he ironically sees what he does not have—a love which will complete him. A bit of a control freak, Gillian Cornell does not need complications such as Lucian Damron in her well-ordered life. He is shallow and surprisingly self-assured. Moreover, Gillian has her own goals to define, and she has responsibilities the infantile Dr. Damron would never understand. However, a once-in-a-lifetime love dangles teasingly within their reach if they can put their former prejudices regarding each other to rest and work together on television’s newest reality show “Second Chances.”
Each week the show’s contestants compete for a dream wedding and a quarter million dollars. To do so, the couples, who were previously married but presently divorced, must undergo psychological therapy and good, old-fashioned competitions. As the medical support staff, Gillian and Lucian find themselves thrown head first into the competitions also. It seems the American public are enthralled with their blossoming relationship. Tuning in each week to watch the next level of competition and to vote for their favorites, viewers tell the show’s producers they like the battling psychologists as much as they do the contestants. Ultimately, Lucian and Gillian become the show’s stars and the face of the franchise. Meanwhile, secrets of a former life and previous relationships threaten to end their budding happiness, keeping it barely beyond Lucian’s and Gillian’s grasps. Can their love survive the complex emotional swirl forcing them to put their trust to the test? Is “happily ever after” only a dream?
Rushing through the concourse to make her way to the conference stage, Gillian Cornell comes face-to-face with the one man she finds most contemptible of everyone she knows, and suddenly her world tilts. His gaze tells stories she wants desperately to hear. As he undresses her with his eyes, Gillian finds all she can do is stumble through her opening remarks. The all-too-attractive cad challenges both her sensibility and her reputation as a competent sexologist.
Dr. Lucian Damron never allows any woman to capture his interest for long. He uses them to boost his career and for his own pleasures. Yet, Lucian cannot resist Gillian’s stubborn independence, her startling intelligence, and her surprising sensuality. Sinfully handsome, Lucian hides a badly wounded heart and a life of personal rejection.
Thrown together as the medical staff on Second Chances, a new reality show designed to reunite previously married couples, Lucian and Gillian soon pique the interest of the American viewing public, who tune in each week, fascinated by the passionate electricity between them. Thus begins an all-consuming courtship, plagued by potentially relationship-ending secrets and misunderstandings and played out scandalously on a national stage.
Excerpt (using a bit of the research in the opening):
“Time Does Not Bring Relief”
by Edna St. Vincent Millay
Time does not bring relief; you all have lied
Who told me time would ease me of my pain!
I miss him in the weeping of the rain;
I want him at the shrinking of the tide;
The old snows melt from every mountain-side,
And last year’s leaves are smoke in every lane;
But last year’s bitter loving must remain
Heaped on my heart, and my old thoughts abide.
There are a hundred places where I fear
To go, – so with his memory they brim.
And entering with relief some quiet place
Where never fell his foot or shone his face
I say, “There is no memory of him here.”
And so stand stricken, so remembering him.
“Jackson,” Lucian Damron extended his hand as he maneuvered the man out of earshot of other conference attendees. “Any news?”
Jackson Ryder knew what Lucian wanted to hear. “We’ve made progress.” Jackson dropped his voice. “Starline is developing a new reality show, and they want you as one of its medical consultants. If this one goes the way we think, they’ll pick up the talk show format for the fall season.”
“You’re not kidding me, are you, Ryder?”
“We’ll meet after your session, and I’ll give you all the details.” Lucian realized Ryder lived for such moments–teasing his clients, dangling the proverbial carrot before them. “One of my other regulars could also be picked up by the show. Maybe we can all meet–hash out the details.”
* * *
Praying she wasn’t late, Gillian Cornell rushed into the civic arena’s conference room only to find clusters of people standing around waiting for the session to begin. Out of breath from running through the concourse, Gillian stood, chest heaving, before making her way to the stage. She wondered if she’d made a mistake in accepting Jackson Ryder’s proposal to be part of this conference round table. Her science wasn’t the science of the rest of those in attendance. Gillian practiced what most of the conference attendees would call “New Age Medicine,” although Gillian certainly didn’t call it that. In fact, that particular term was so passé. A sex therapist and relationship counselor, Gillian held hopes of releasing her first book soon. If Ryder’s promise of the new Starline reality show came through, she could launch her book to a national audience.
* * *
As he settled into his place at the presenters’ table, Lucian Damron’s eyes surveyed the room before settling on the still open doorway. Riveted to the portal, he couldn’t curtail his instinctive appraisal of a striking beauty rushing through the entrance: a bit disheveled in her appearance, but oh so breath-taking, he noted how a moment of insecurity played across her countenance. Unexpectedly, he found himself rising to assist her.
“Is there a problem, Damron?” the moderator asked.
“No…no. I was just looking for the water pitcher before we began.”
“I will take care of it for you,” the man offered, but Lucian merely nodded; his eyes still searched the room for the woman.
Then he found her, and an uncomfortable deep rush of blood to his lower body, as well as a lift of his brow accentuated the pleasure he experienced in watching the slender woman march purposefully toward the front of room. The conference participants blocked part of Lucian’s sight lines, but he managed to find her immediately each time she reappeared from behind another cluster. He enjoyed this perverted game of hide-and-seek as the woman, zigzagged her way through the crowd. Then, she began to ascend the stage’s steps. So, she’s part of the program, Lucian thought. Perhaps a late night rendezvous.
As she settled her belongings under the table, a sensual delight in the woman’s perfection—her thin, aquiline nose and lush lips—coursed through him. When her eyes narrowed in response to Lucian’s stare, he turned his head quickly, looking the other way for several minutes; yet, those same magnificent eyes drew him back to the woman’s countenance. It had been a very long time, if ever, for Lucian to be taken so instantly with someone, but, this auburn-haired beauty had left his senses rattled. Unfortunately, for him, the moderator cleared his throat to set the program’s beginning.
* * *
“Are you telling me . . . telling this audience, you seriously believe we choose our mates by how they smell?” After several less than stellar presentations, the discussion had become a heated one between him and the pretty brunette. In the back of his mind, Lucian considered how tantalizing it would be to argue and then have make up sex with his opponent.
“Why not? Attraction must be based on something . . . an intangible,” she retorted. “Is science absolutely certain it knows what attracts two people to each other.”
Although her impertinence infuriated him, a crooked, boyish smile played across Lucian’s features. “Maybe it is something as tangible as a person’s looks.” Her appearance had certainly piqued his interest.
The woman quipped. “Or their body odor.” A snicker crisscrossed the room as Lucian felt a twinge of indignation; in claiming her own respect from the audience, she had dismissed his.
His voice rose with the embarrassment: No one spoke to him with such bravado, especially not a woman. He knew full well his appeal to women for he had used it to carve out his current success. No cheeky female, despite how attractive she might be, would show him up. “Then explain to me, Miss Cornell, why there are so many divorces if all we must do is sniff people to find our perfect mate. Maybe we should act more like dogs.”
Incredulously, she flushed before saying, “Some women already think men act like dogs.” Again, came the snickers of laughter. “In reality, it is not so simple.”
Lucian leaned back in his chair, crossing his arms across his chest, symbolically closing off the discourse and denying her ideas their validity. “It never is.” A look of amusement overspread his face, and the laughter accorded him lasted longer than what his sexy opponent had engendered.
Despite his being her target, Lucian liked the fact she did not concede defeat. It spoke to the type of woman she was. The type he normally avoided. Miss Cornell demanded, “Dr. Damron, do you challenge the existence of Nerve ‘O’?”
“I am a man of science, Miss Cornell; I am willing to accept the possibility of what you purport.” He thought he saw the flash of her eyes, and Lucian smiled as if they were already lovers.
However, the lady brushed off his overtures, a fact he duly noted. Obviously, the woman meant to spend her time discussing her research and placing her agenda on the table. She had no time for him, and Lucian wondered if he had made a mistake in demonstrating an interest in the woman. “Reproductively speaking,” she continued, “MHC may determine how healthy our offspring will be, and as far as our susceptibility to another person, it does appear, sir, that next to our brain, our nose is a powerful sex organ.” The crowd responded as tainted images drifted among the attendees. “Women in my research groups report a connection between a satisfying sex life and their guy’s scent.”
“Oh, God, save us from scent aphrodisiacs!” Lucian protested loudly.
“A study by the Berlinger Foundation discovered which smells increase a man’s arousal by increasing the blood flow to the penis,” she countered. “Would you be interested in knowing what those might be, Dr. Damron?” Her voice held its own taste of sarcasm.
“Of course, Miss Cornell, enlighten me. I may need to know what scents to avoid in the future.” Smugness crept across Lucian’s countenance.
Even though the lady apparently meant to put him in his place, Miss Cornell laughed, and Lucian could hear the seductiveness of it. “Turn up your attraction,” she smirked, “by having your mate indulge in pumpkin pie or black licorice or a donut or lavender.”
* * *
“You were magnificent,” Charlotte purred into his ear as she laced her arms around Lucian’s neck. “You had the entire audience hanging on your every word.” She kissed him intimately behind the ear.
Lucian smiled, but his attention lay elsewhere. His eyes searched the room for the likes of Gillian Cornell. Once they had exited the presentation, he had watched her move from one group to another, relishing in the attention but not dwelling with any one person too long. Lucian had found he liked that idea. Unrealistically, the idea of her being with someone special didn’t set well with Lucian. Charlotte moved closer and allowed her hand to caress his hip. For some nine months, a casual sexual relationship had existed between Lucian and Charlotte Blakeley. The casual part had existed purely on Lucian’s side: Charlotte held hopes of something more permanent. “You certainly put that Cornell woman in her place,” Charlotte intoned in her best socialite attitude.
“That was never my intention.” Lucian nonchalantly extracted himself from Charlotte’s hold while he distractedly searched the crowd for another glimpse of Gillian Cornell.
Charlotte’s apparent jealousy sounded through her tone. “You cannot possibly believe the woman’s opinions hold any merit?”
“Most certainly, I don’t find her opinions valid.” Lucian’s voice carried a little too far. “The woman is a sex therapist for Christ’s sake,” he protested.
“Actually, I am a sexologist.” Lucian turned to face a furious Gillian Cornell. “That means I have a psychology degree—the same as you, Dr. Damron.”
Lucian flushed at being caught calling forth his masculinity before his acquaintances. “I stand corrected, Miss Cornell.” He made her an exaggerated bow before stepping away from the contrariness displayed on the woman’s countenance. “Your advanced education is duly noted.” Her cheeks began to burn, and for that he felt a twinge of guilt; but in reality, the lady had her life and so did he. Lucian purposely threaded Charlotte’s hand into the crook of his arm as he walked away. From behind him, he had no doubt it was the very correct Gillian Cornell who growled, “Pompous ass!”