Envision the Platonic Ideal of a romantic meal and it will probably bring to mind an elegant restaurant, gourmet food, candlelight; perhaps even a tasteful proposal. But romance is unpredictable and can be found in many guises: while nurturing someone you love, while demonstrating the very best you have to offer, or even while accepting less than the best, just to make someone else happy.
For Zsadist, the most messed up, terrifying, and unpredictable member of the Black Dagger Brotherhood, falling in love in J.R. Ward's Lover Awakened brings the need to nurture. “She was going to need food, he thought. He needed to get her food.” After an exhausting, traumatic night he is starving himself, but his thoughts are all on his beloved:
“He kept showing stuff in his face as he took out a knife and a plate and started slicing off thin shavings of the turkey breast. He was careful to take only the very best parts of the meat for Bella.
What else would she need. He wanted her to eat calorically dense things. And drink—he should bring her something to drink. He went back to the refrigerator and began making a pile of leftovers for review. He would choose carefully, taking to her only what was worthy of her tongue.”
It's over-the-top, sure—extravagant, as the entire series is extravagant, devotion taken to the nth degree—but it successfully hits so many emotional buttons. The choice of turkey, such a symbolically laden food for an American reader, with its associations of family and tradition. The feared calorie, here seen as something desirable. All culminating in the meal that she eats from his hand.
“It took a while to prepare the fire and get a pot of rice started inside, to find two thick logs to serve as seats before the crackling flames. The dog returned as Rob brought out a platter with the fish and some venison and potato chunks he’d seasoned, and a fistful of metal skewers.
With the entrée done, they slid potato chunks and hunks of venison onto skewers for the next course. It was all so simple. And perfect. So uncomplicated.”
One of the interesting things about this scene, and the novel in general, is that though Merry loves the simplicity of Rob's life, she keeps feeling a little incomplete with the more typical trappings of a romantic evening, particularly wine.
“If we had wine, I’d turn this into a one-woman campfire sing-along.”
“Why do you need wine for that?”
“Same reason I need it to dance. It’d probably take a whole bottle if I ever needed to find the balls to try karaoke.”
“Dutch courage,” he teased, eyes on the flickering fire.
“My mom always called it ‘Scotch courage.’ I thought that was the term until I was about twenty-five. I wonder why it’s called that—Dutch.”
“Because of gin,” he said, still staring at the flames. “Gin came from Holland, originally.”
She doesn't realize, because Rob hasn't told her, that alcohol can never be a part of their time together; his secretiveness and her longing for the usual trappings of a date will eventually bring them to disaster. But for now, they have everything they really need:
“She was no Joni, to be sure. She squeaked on the highest notes, but she ached so badly for music, her modesty dissolved, sucked up into the darkening sky with the wood smoke. After a couple verses, Rob joined her. He didn’t seem to know the words, but his deep voice cushioned her airier one with a low, harmonious hum. She shivered, deep down inside her skin, to feel united with him this way. Just like the fire and meal and mountains—pure and elemental.”
In The Chocolate Thief by Laura Florand, the chocolatier Sylvain puts together a sumptuous Parisian meal to tempt the woman he loves. But despite her pleasure in the delicious food, he can feel a distance between them. Cade doesn't just want to partake of the perfection Sylvain can offer her, but to share something of her life with him.
And that was how Sylvain Marquis, widely held to be the best chocolatier in Paris and therefore in the world, found himself making s’mores with marshmallows, Lu butter cookies, and cheap supermarket chocolate he wouldn’t feed to a three-year-old child.
God, it sure did make her happy, though.
Sylvain didn’t eat his. She was so gleeful as she smushed the biscuits together over the gloppy marshmallow and held the first one to his mouth that he reached up, took it out of her hand, and began to kiss her.
The Sterno can had burned out by the time she thought of it again. Mentally, he gave himself a congratulatory pat on the back.
When you have true romance, sterno or a campfire is just as good as candles, and food doesn't even have to taste good; it only has to be shared with the one you love.
ETA 11/14/13 3:54pm — Editor's note: We incorrectly identified a book quoted in this post; Laura Florand's The Chocolate Thief, not The Chocolate Kiss, features Cade and Sylvain. The title and image have been corrected. Apologies for any confusion.