A Slice of Southern Gothic Pie
Thanks so much for hosting me on your blog, today, Delilah! (I’m looking forward to the release of our next joint venture in Femme Noir Series – Possessed in the Big Easy!)
Having been born and raised in the Deep South, it’s hard to escape the influence of some of the greatest female authors of our time. Eudora Welty, Flannery O’Connor, Margaret Mitchell, Carson McCullers, and of course Harper Lee.
These authors captured the land of cavaliers and cotton fields at a time when the Old Guard struggled against modernization which not only brought electricity and other conveniences we take for granted to Southern cities and rural areas alike, but ushered in racial and gender equality. These books are set against a backdrop of red clay and stifling humidity, of respites in the shade of Spanish moss laden live oaks, and dark nights where Bourbon is one’s only companion.
Southern literature is also rife with secrets held onto to for generations, taboos risked, and tragedies suppressed. While most readers of Gone With the Wind think of Scarlett O’Hara as a bitch, she is the consummate Southern heroine who drags her loved ones out of a way of life that no longer works and into the dramatically changing world of Reconstruction Era Georgia. She sacrifices to protect her own. Harper Lee’s honorable Atticus Finch parents by quiet but larger-than-life example when he champions Tom Robinson, an innocent man accused of rape because of his race.
And while these Southern authors make us laugh and cry (and often want to strangle their characters), many of these classic tomes have tragic endings.
Though I penned my Southern Gothic romance, Every Waking Hour, nearly twenty years ago, I only recently submitted it for publication. On some levels, the book was too personal, the heroine, Grayson Garland, too edgy, too tragic. Romance readers wanted to sigh when the characters came together and Every Waking Hour isn’t that kind of story.
Inspired by the bastions of Southern literature, by stories told to me by my grandmother about how times had changed, and by my own skeletons in the cupboard, Every Waking Hour is the story of two women whose lives have been mapped out by their pasts, who struggle to find happiness in their present when secrets are imperative, and who don’t know if they’ll be able to share a future.
English professor Della Boyd has worked hard to carve out a career for herself in the male-dominated 1950s South. Having escaped an unpleasant childhood, she resolves to keep her nose to the grindstone and work her way up the university ladder. All that changes, however, when she meets her favorite author, Grayson Garland, whose androgynous beauty and taboo kisses cause Della to question everything she’s always believed.
When Grayson Garland returns to bury her father, the world renowned, eccentric Southern author sets the small town of Rome, Alabama on its ear. But the old antebellum mansion she once called home is haunted with dark secrets Gray is reluctant to face. Sultry nights in the arms of a pretty, oh-so-feminine professor provide ample distraction, but unless Gray can summon the courage to confront her demons, even Della’s love won’t be able to save her from herself.
It didn’t make sense that this would upset her.
She swallowed thickly.
No. She wasn’t a lesbian. That was ludicrous. Lesbians were women like…like Gray. Women who dressed and acted like men.
“Della?” Gray’s voice startled her.
She looked over her shoulder as Gray quietly slipped out the screen door and then dropped heavily and somewhat unsteadily onto the step, balancing her glass to keep the bourbon from spilling. “Have you been crying? Is something wrong?”
Della dried her eyes and shook her head.
Gray gestured back toward the house. “I saw them, too.” She pursed her lips sympathetically. “Sorry.”
Della heaved a sigh. “I was never seriously involved with him.”
“You were involved enough to let him make you cry.”
It’s not that, Della wanted to confess. She couldn’t. It was so much more than that. Her whole world seemed out of tune, her whole way of thinking about herself. She didn’t know who she was or what she wanted any longer.
Gray waved her hand in dismissal. “To hell with ‘em.”
Della dabbed at her tears. “I’m just being silly.”
“Hey,” Gray said as she placed her glass on the step, drawing her hands back cautiously as if it might topple at any second. “Which car is his?”
“Why? What are you going to do?” Della asked.
Gray grinned, her blue eyes sparkling with mischief. “Which one?”
Della pointed. “That blue Ford. Why?”
Gray eased off the steps and stole across the lawn like a secret agent, looking back and forth to make sure no one was watching.
Della shot to her feet. “Grayson,” she whispered loudly. “Grayson, don’t.”
Gray reached inside the open window and switched on Will’s headlights.
Eyes widening, Della checked the door to make sure no one was looking out. She couldn’t help but laugh at this woman who’d won a Pulitzer Prize, playing a childish prank. If Will hadn’t deserved it, Della would have been appalled.
Triumphant, Gray returned to the steps, pride illuminating her face. “That’ll take the piss out of him.”
She’s beautiful, Della thought as if she’d just realized it for the first time. She’s really very pretty.
“It’ll most certainly put a kink in his plans to go home with little Miss Allie,” Della said and smiled, resting her hands behind her back against the screen door.
Gray’s own smile faded into something somber and thoughtful. She climbed the steps slowly, deliberately, her hand skimming the rusted iron handrail. Her eyes shimmered from laughing and from the booze she’d consumed. Della’s heart drummed. She felt like a rabbit under the spell of a fox, and when Gray’s languid gaze moved from her eyes to her toes and then slowly back up again, Della’s stomach clenched.
Gray didn’t stop her ascent until she’d closed the distance between them, until her face was only inches away. Her gaze dropped to Della’s parted lips. A delicious chill washed over her and her mouth went dry.
She stopped smiling. Her entire being filled with anticipation and expectation. She knew Gray was going to kiss her. It was something that only fifteen minutes ago, Della couldn’t allow herself to imagine, but now it was about to happen and she wanted it more than she’d wanted anything in her life.
Gray wet her lips with the tip of her tongue and then gingerly brushed her mouth across Della’s. She opened her lips to the softness, meeting the whiskey flavored tongue that tested and then retreated. So soft. The kiss was so soft and yet so devastating.
A husky moan tore from Gray’s throat and she deepened the kiss, cupping Della’s face in her hand, pressing her warm body close. The faint fragrance of Gray’s androgynous cologne wafted in the sultry night air.
Gray’s arm snaked around Della’s waist, drawing her impossibly close, crushing her dress against the hard thigh that pressed between her knees. Helpless, Della yielded to the incompatible softness of feminine lips that vied with powerful passion. She responded, meeting the invading tongue, tilting her head to give and receive more. She entwined her arms around Gray’s neck and held her head captive.
This was madness. It was fire and ice and Della dissolved in the embrace, the kiss. And, merciful heavens, the way Gray held her. So tightly. So closely. As if they could become one.
Desire unfurled and snapped like a standard in the wind, leaving Della powerless to do anything but submit. Dampness trickled inside her panties and she moved restlessly against the thigh pushing tight between her legs.
Gray groaned and her arms tightened, her kiss ever deepening. Her tantalizingly chilled fingers slipped from Della’s cheek, downward to where they worked inside the bodice of her dress, inching possessively under the laced edge of her bra. Sweltering passion contrasted the cool touch, pooling between her legs and when Gray cupped her breast and pinched her already hardened nipple, Della all but melted.
A little moan escaped her mouth as Gray’s lips moved to her neck, then to her ear where she raked her teeth against the earring there, then finally back to Della’s lips again. Della wanted this moment to last forever. This fervid passion. This recklessness.
Heat rolled up her spine and all the taboos and warning bells sounding in her head evaporated, leaving desperate physical need in its wake.
Without warning, Gray’s fingers fell away. The kiss ended. Della searched her eyes, shocked by the bleak darkness in the deep blue pools.
Gray turned away and sank back down onto the steps. She took her drink in her hands and stared into it.
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About Paisley Smith
Paisley Smith is a full time freelance writer and can usually be found in front of the computer either writing, chatting, promoting or plotting. It’s a glamorous life…working in one’s pajamas.
She attended college in the Deep South where she obtained a slew of totally useless degrees and developed an unrelenting sense of humor.