You know those moments. You're reading a romance and it's good. But then you read a scene that is so indescribably, deliciously, breath-robbingly romantic that it stops you dead in your reading tracks. You are powerless to move on. The book must be put down—preferably held against your heart—while you sit there, sighing and wallowing in the perfection of it all. These moments are incredibly rare—and so they should be. If reading put you in such a state every day, you'd be useless. One of my absolute favorite moments of this type occurs in Connie Brockway's As You Desire.
The story takes place in 1890s Egypt. Cairo is an eclectic, international mix of scholars and scoundrels looking to make their name—and their fortune—in the antiquities trade. Desdemona Carlisle and her grandfather are on the scholarly side of things. Desdemona is, in fact, a genius, fluent in 12 languages. As a child, she was paraded around Europe as a prodigy when all she ever longed for was to be a “normal” English girl.
Harry Braxton has a secret.
He has dyslexia and thus cannot read. Despite efforts to hide his great shame, Harry is treated as an imbecile and sent down from Oxford. But Harry is a brilliant man who thrives in Egypt while definitely skirting on the scoundrel side of the population. Harry is also madly in love with Desdemona, whom he calls “Dizzy.” Dizzy is not indifferent to Harry, but both have sublimated their passion into a bickering give-and-take friendship that all comes to a head when Harry's cousin arrives in Cairo. The brooding—and perfectly named—Blake, Lord Ravenscroft, is every girl's dream hero, and Dizzy's heart melts when he calls her an “English rose.” Harry scoffs at the unoriginality and when challenged by Dizzy to do better, launches into a description of Desdemona that steals her breath (and mine too). He says, in part:
'. . . how can one single image describe you? You are a country, a country of unexplored sensation and whim, veiled in dawn, shining, shedding light. See how the long fluid line of your throat flows to your breasts?' If he heard the intake of her breath, he ignored it. 'Or how their blue-shadowed curves ripen above the smooth plain of your belly?'
'Your mouth.' He paused, and her lips felt suddenly sensitized, tingling as his gaze fixed on them. 'Your mouth is a sweet well sealed against me, keeping me thirsting for the clarity of your kiss. Your flesh is like the desert sand, warmth and shifting strength beneath its golden color. Your palms open, fingers flexed, are minarets, delicate and elegant. And your body . . . it is the Nile itself—the camber of your back slipping so easily by the narrows of your waist and jettied hips to the lush delta below.'
He stopped. She heard the intake of his breath. 'You are my country, Desdemona.' Yearning, harsh and poignant and she felt herself swaying toward him. 'My Egypt. My hot, harrowing desert and my cool, verdant Nile, infinitely lovely and unfathomable and sustaining.'
Whew! Give me a moment . . .
From that point on, things change. Desdemona has to look at Harry differently. His words awaken the latent desire she has always had for him and colors every subsequent encounter. And Harry has let the cat out of the bag. He can—and does—joke about it, but once his true feelings have been put into words, he knows he cannot simply be friends with Dizzy any longer; he cannot let Blake—or any other man—steal her away from him. There are adventures and fights and misunderstandings and crises to overcome before Harry and Dizzy find their HEA, but this moment is a turning point in their relationship.
I've been asked before, “What is your favorite romantic scene?” and I unhesitatingly say, “You are my Egypt.” Thank you, Harry, and thank you, Connie Brockway. Let me go see if I can get my toes to uncurl.
Cheryl Sneed reviews for Rakehell.com.