Authors: Vanessa Stark
Natasha Raven has a secret. Although she is the bestselling author of erotic fiction, she has never penned a sex scene. Her sister, Liza, was responsible for the sizzle in Natasha’s books – until she passed away only months ago. Now Natasha must write the scenes herself. Trouble is, she hasn't a clue what to write and being a virgin doesn't help. When she is invited to speak at a conference workshop titled 'From Your Sheets to the Page,' Natasha panics. But a suggestive wink from a young hotel staffer named Jace gives her an idea. If she can muster the confidence to have a one night stand with Jace, she just may be able to endure the workshop without feeling a total fraud. But will she go through with it? And is Jace all that he seems?
Thank you to RWA Australia for my first (amazing) conference in 2012 – after which I wrote this story and earned my first sale. And thank you to Kate Cuthbert for saying ‘Yes!’
To my wonderful family and friends for all your love and support
Natasha Raven sucked in a deep breath through clenched teeth.
As the hotel doors parted, Natasha’s reflection disappeared along with the polished glass. Though she hadn’t slept a wink in twenty-four hours, somehow her long, curly hair had remained lush and frizz-free, her smart grey suit unwrinkled. Still, Natasha’s stomach contorted into knots as her stilettos clicked and clacked against the glossy cream tiles of the hotel foyer.
Cool, conditioned air tickled the sweat-dampened strands of Natasha’s hair, bringing forth a groan of relief in her throat. Okay. So there were
benefits to being inside. Peering over one shoulder, she watched as the glass doors came together, shutting out the heat-shimmering streets and the noisy city traffic.
Locking me in…
‘May I take your luggage to your room, Miss Raven?’
Natasha jumped. Standing before her was a male hotel staffer with an odd, half-suppressed grin upon his lips, as though he was in on some kind of private joke.
Maybe he knows a fake artist when he sees one
She cleared her throat and forced her brows into a frown, hoping to wipe the grin from his shapely lips, but instead it earned her a fully blown smile and a soft shake of his head.
Her heart stuttered. Perhaps he really
know her secret? But if so,
No. Get a hold of yourself. He’s a stranger. A stranger who likes to grin a lot. That. Is. All
Beneath his dark fringe flashed the most vivid blue eyes Natasha had ever seen. Eyes that blatantly roved from her face right down to her nine-inch heels and back up again, causing her pulse to jump in a most erratic manner. Natasha had to fight the urge to run a hand through her hair and wipe the shine from her brow, because there was no way she was going to show an inch of weakness in front of some random, cocky guy. She hadn’t spent
the past month chanting confidence-building affirmations and practicing breathing exercises to crumble only a minute after arriving.
‘Your luggage, Miss Raven?’
‘Oh, yes. Thank you…’ her eyes skimmed over his name badge, pinned to the crisp white shirt that stretched to cover his broad, muscled chest, ‘…err…J-Jace.’
‘My pleasure,’ he said in a low voice, his eyes never leaving hers.
Natasha’s heart, already racing from the endless cups of coffee she had downed on the red-eye flight, kicked up another gear. Was this guy actually
with her? He looked around twenty-five years old — at least ten years younger…
Get a grip and focus. He probably does this to all the guests
Jace cleared his throat, his eyes now on Natasha’s luggage. ‘Are you going to let go of that?’
With a rush of heat to her cheeks, Natasha loosened the tight grip from the handle of her heavy suitcase and let it drop to the floor with a thud.
‘Sorry,’ she mumbled, immediately running her fingers through her hair and wiping the back of her hand across her brow.
Jace tossed the luggage beneath one arm as though it were a mere matchbox.
‘I’ll see you later, Miss Raven,’ he called over his shoulder, grinning.
What on earth just happened? What was that?
In a sleep-deprived daze, Natasha watched Jace walk away.
Hmmm… nice arse
Pleased with the observation, she gave herself a mental nod. That was more like it. Maybe if she pretended well enough she would eventually
like the sexy hear-me-roar authoress she was
A gorgeous, blonde, Amazon-princess at reception checked Natasha in and handed over the key-card to her room. Cold sweat trickled down Natasha’s back when she turned from the reception desk to find a small crowd of women approaching her with slow, measured steps as though she were an exotic creature in the wild. She half expected to hear the hushed tones of David Attenborough in the background.
A strange and pitiful beast… watch as it cloaks itself in another’s skin to be accepted by the herd...
The women beamed collective, wide, awe-struck smiles. Brightly coloured conference lanyards hung about their necks. They were writers — published and unpublished — their sense of pride clear and almost luminous in their eyes.
If only I could hold my own head so high
‘Miss Raven!’ A woman wearing a red beret and a blood-red shift dress rushed towards her, her lanyard declaring her
Raunchy Writers of Australia Conference Co-ordinator — Sheryl-Ann
. The woman extended a hand to Natasha.
‘Hello, Sheryl-Ann,’ said Natasha, giving the woman a firm hand-shake and wondering all the while if the woman had noticed how damp Natasha’s hand was.
‘Miss Raven, may I call you Natasha?’
‘Let me say how pleased we are to have you as our honorary guest for this year’s conference.’ Sheryl-Ann let out a small squeal and gave Natasha’s forearm a quick squeeze. ‘I’ve read each and every one of your forty-seven books and I am
for the next one.’ She fanned her face and leaned in to whisper. ‘Nobody writes sex scenes like you.
. God, Gabriel is the hottest character alive.’ A small groan escaped her pouty lips. ‘That scene in the kitchen with the... um…what was it?
Sheryl-Ann clicked her fingers, the shiny red polish on her nails flashing while she sought the right words.
Whipped cream… carrot…argh… what was it?
‘Zucchini?’ Natasha held her breath.
Sheryl-Ann furrowed her brows and narrowed her eyes. ‘No. I remember now, it was honey. I don’t recall a zucchini…’ Her green eyes suddenly widened. ‘Is it going to happen in the next book?’
After half a beat, Natasha winked and shrugged one shoulder. ‘Maybe.’ Her answer seemed to appease Sheryl-Ann for the moment and Natasha finally exhaled.
Natasha fingered the key-card in her hand and pictured stripping off her stale travel outfit and standing beneath a cold shower. Though the hotel air was borderline icy, she continued to flush with heat as more and more eyes turned to stare.
‘Natasha Raven,’ they murmured with reverence, as though she were the Queen of England. It turned her stomach.
I don’t deserve this
‘Excuse me.’ A young woman of about twenty years shuffled up beside Natasha, her heart-shaped face blushing pink. ‘First timer here.’ The girl raised her fluorescent pink lanyard that read —
Budding Erotic Writer
‘Hello… Emily,’ Natasha said politely, after reading the girl’s name. She was about to excuse herself when the girl’s mouth widened into a huge grin.
‘I just wanted to tell you that I can’t wait for your work-shop.’ The girl paused to read from a sheet in front of her titled Workshop Schedule. “Get Your Sexy-On: From Your Sheets to the Page.” Her grin widened. ‘It’s booked-out. I was the last one to get a seat.’
Natasha swallowed thickly, her throat suddenly dry, her pulse booming in her ears.
‘I’ll be there too!’ other voices chimed in, as women swarmed around her.
‘Thank you all so much for your kind words,’ Natasha said behind a forced smile. ‘Now, if you’ll excuse me, ladies, I came in on the red-eye and the shuttle bus I took broke down so I was stuck on a highway for two hours. I really need to freshen up in my room.’
Sheryl-Ann came to the rescue and waved the crowd away with a flick of her hand.
‘Your workshop is not until tomorrow morning, so please feel free to relax for the rest of the day, or, if you feel up to it later, you may wish to join us for sunset cocktails at the bar on the second floor.’ A mist of hope swirled in Sheryl-Ann’s eyes.
Natasha forced another smile, which could not have been more difficult than if she’d chiselled it out of rock with a toothpick.
‘Wonderful,’ said Sheryl-Ann. A dark shadow seemed to pass over her features, dimming her green eyes and stripping the radiant smile from her lips. ‘You know, your books helped me through my divorce.’ She sighed and shrugged. ‘I just wanted you to know.’
Natasha’s heart stumbled on its beat and for the first time since she entered the hotel she forgot about her own troubles. ‘I’m so sorry. I mean, I’m glad my books helped. But I’m truly sorry to hear about your divorce. It must have been difficult.’
Sheryl-Ann’s lips curved up into a naughty grin. ‘I’m fine now and hey, I have Gabriel and his wicked ways to keep me warm at night.’ She winked. ‘Here, I almost forgot.’ She looped a lanyard over Natasha’s neck that read: Natasha Raven — Best-selling Erotic Author, twelve-time winner of The Sexiest-Sex-Scene Award.
For a moment Natasha had felt the stirrings of pride deep in her belly. Gabriel, the tortured divorcee, was her baby — by far the favourite of her many characters. But Sheryl-Ann wasn’t talking about Gabriel by day — the man who ran the animal shelter — she was talking about Gabriel by night. It was the
she loved. Just like all of the other readers. Whenever Natasha read reviews on Amazon or Goodreads, they were entirely focussed on the raunchy scenes. Nobody ever mentioned Gabriel’s missing big toe or the baby koala he’d saved from the razor jaws of a dingo.
Natasha wanted to tear the lanyard from her neck and demand one that read, ‘Natasha Raven — Thirty-five–year-old erotic romance writer who has never written a single sex scene in her life. Oh, and she has never had sex, either! Yes. Natasha Raven is a VIRGIN.’
My sister’s name should be on the lanyard, not mine. Liza is the one who writes…no, who
the sex scenes in those books...
Natasha’s chest constricted at the memory of her sister’s death, at the hand of cancer, last year. Tears bit at the back of her eyes, but she blinked them away and smiled at the many women she passed on the way to the elevator. She needed the comfort of four walls and a door she could lock herself behind - somewhere to hide all of the shame and sadness that gnawed away at her heart.
Once inside room 1127, Natasha’s pulse slowed slightly, and a sigh of relief escaped her lips.
The room proved as stylish as the website had promised, with a sleek black bed, soft cream carpet and cream walls, all enlivened with splashes of red throughout — red throw cushions, shiny red bar fridge, and even a red waste paper basket. The balcony offered uninterrupted views of the Pacific Ocean.
After a long, cold shower, she slid on one of the satin robes supplied by the hotel and stood out on the tiled balcony, allowing the breeze to dry her dark red hair. The ocean rose and fell beneath her gaze, the gentle movement gradually lulling her heart into a more relaxed beat. Liza had loved the ocean.