Forget a fancy dinner, chocolates or bunch of flowers. The only Valentine’s gift you need to receive this year is steamy new rom-com novel Etched in Stone.
Valentine’s Day is just around the corner and what better way to indulge yourself than curl up close to new romance rom-com novel Etched in Stone?
Award-winning author Liv Arnold’s confident debut is the perfect date for book lovers, featuring a dramatic storyline you can invest in, plenty of giggles along the way and, in male lead Sebastian Stone, a raven-haired stallion any woman would beg to ride.
At the start of the book we are introduced to career-driven business graduate Vanessa Lang, who is hoping to secure a coveted position at Stone Corp—one of US stock exchanges’ largest investment companies.
While she awaits news, she prepares for her graduation ceremony by going clothes shopping to get a new dress for the special occasion.
Unfortunately, Vanessa may be smart but she’s more than a little accident-prone and she mistakes the men’s changing area for the women’s. Popping into a cubicle she’s horrified to find that it’s already occupied by a man in an advanced state of undress.
But though she doesn’t know where to look, she certainly has a good idea as the guy is so finely sculpted that you’d think he’d been carved by Michelangelo:
“He pulled on a pair of slim-line jeans that fitted him like a billboard model. She envied the denim because it got to caress those thighs. Her heart fluttered as her gaze trailed down to the V-line of dark hair disappearing into his jeans.”
Excusing herself, Vanessa heads home with the stud foremost in her mind. These happy thoughts are quickly dispelled, however, when she discovers that while out she has lost her necklace—an irreplaceable gift from her late father.
The loss of the keepsake hits hard, reminding her of his absence in her life, but Vanessa’s mum, Katrina, gives her the emotional support she needs to go to the graduation ceremony.
While at the event the call from Stone Corp finally comes through. She’s got the job. But her celebratory mood is soon spoiled when her mum, who has a history of kleptomania, is caught at a swanky jeweller’s trying to steal a replacement necklace for her daughter. Given her past record, the attending police officer, Lisa Herouvim, is ready to throw the book at Katrina, despite Vanessa’s appeal for leniency.
Herouvim, however, is not all she seems. Taking Vanessa to one side, she reveals that she is actually a detective investigation suspected insider trading at Stone Corp. Scarred by the injustice of her own mother being sent to jail for a white-collar crime she never committed, she is on a crusade to bring down corporate criminals. She wants Vanessa’s help, and threatens to send Katrina to jail if she doesn’t comply.
Acting as a police mole at her employer isn’t exactly the best start to a career, but Vanessa has no choice, being only too aware that her mum’s vulnerability would mean she “wouldn’t survive a week locked up”. With deep regret she accepts the corrupt detective’s offer, recognising that she has just “made a deal with the devil”.
Having graduated top of her class, Vanessa naturally swots up on the basics of corporate espionage but her plans for being a super-spy are derailed when, on the first day of work, who should greet her but the Adonis from the changing rooms. Not only is Sebastian Stone prime beefcake, he’s also the CEO of the company. Furthermore, he’s also seemingly a white knight as he hands Vanessa’s mislaid necklace back to her. It’s impossible for her not to be attracted to him but she tries to keep things cool, knowing that she may soon be responsible for his imprisonment.
“She reached for her necklace, and their hands grazed. Tingles crawled up her arm and down her spine, but she willed them away. No harm in only looking, right?”
But the lure of Sebastian proves too much and soon they’re flirting shamelessly, with the sheer force of his charm turning on her “inner sex kitten”. When he subsequently rescues Vanessa from the unwanted attentions of a drugged-up bar singer on a work’s do, the die is cast and they’re soon an item.
Sebastian is the perfect catch, sending Vanessa expensive earrings on their very first date and conscious of her every need thereafter. Unsurprisingly, he’s also a sexual dynamo and not averse to guerrilla sex sessions in the most random of places: a swimming pool, playground and photo booth. He can even make a shared lift ride into paradise.
“The doors separated, and Sebastian stood inside alone. She drew to him like a butterfly to nectar. No matter the distance between them, her attraction remained constant. He could be at the ends of the earth and still pull her toward him. With one hand, he held the door until she stepped in. “Are you going up or down?” There was no smile on his lips, only the hot intensity of his gaze.”
There’s only one problem. Herouvim is also still breathing down Vanessa’s neck and once she learns of the burgeoning romance, uses it to her full advantage. The stakes are now even higher: deliver the evidence, and fast, or both Vanessa’s mum AND billionaire boyfriend will both be heading behind bars. What’s a girl to do?
If you only read one romance novel this year, make it Etched in Stone. Author Liv Arnold has clearly read widely within the genre and offers everything you could want. Part detective story, part gentle erotica with a little pun-laded farce thrown in for good measure, this book is a thriller in all senses.
Having previously penned only one novella, 2018’s Law & Disorder, the Australian writer has emerged fully-formed and ready to claim the romance crown. There’s no question she’s capable of being one of the big names moving forward and we can’t wait for the next instalments in her planned trilogy, which will each focus on the sex lives of Vanessa’s closest colleagues.
EXCLUSIVE Q&A WITH LIV ARNOLD
Rom-com writer Liv Arnold shares the essential ingredients of a great romance novel, how she got started in the genre, and her advice to others wanting to pen their own steamy stories.
Q. As an author, what are the most important ingredients of a great romance novel?
A. The same as with other genres—character development, with protagonists who go through an interesting journey.
The potential couple needs to have incredible chemistry. There are many tropes in the romance genre like CEO billionaire, hot cop, enemies to lovers, second chances and much more. After all, there’s no such thing as an original idea. It’s important to put your own spin on it. The storyline needs to set the book apart from others in the same category. There needs to be a reason for why the reader would pick up your book over another author’s.
Q. There’s a fair share of jokes and puns in your new novel. Why did you decide to blend erotic fiction and humour?
A. There are many romance tropes out there. You don’t see as many erotic rom-coms. I have a strange sense of humour which I wanted to bring to my writing.
People tend to smirk about the romance genre. So why not embrace that? Sex is funny. I enjoy a good pun and had fun with writing my entire novel.
Q. What led you to becoming an author of erotic fiction?
A. I more fell into it. Before becoming a novelist, I entered my short stories in competitions, anthologies and literary magazines. Those short stories ranged in genres from sci-fi, children’s and fantasy.
I would keep writing in different genres as I love reading various styles. But writing erotic rom-coms, I have a special spot for that. It’s a hella lot of fun!
Q. The romance genre is only second to crime in terms of popularity. What do you think makes it so appealing to readers?
A. Human relationships are at the centre of our existence, and romance privileges those stories while also claiming the arena of hope. Happy endings are satisfying and makes people feel good.
Q. What inspires you as an author?
A. It ranges from many things. I’ve gotten inspiration from scenes from TV, a funny story or even someone saying a sentence which I’ve stopped to think about.
I observe people’s mannerisms. Little quirks make the character come to life. My husband Tim also comes up with many ‘witty’ lines and scenarios which he is quite proud of.
Q. What kind of research do you conduct before writing your books?
A. I write erotic romance so I watch porn, look up sex positions and go to swingers clubs. Just joking . . . except for the researching sex positions part.
Sometimes I feel like there’s only so many ways you can write about having sex, or maybe I’m too innocent. Even still, for sex scenes in the romance genre, it has to add to the character development and storyline. They can’t be written and there for no reason. When I write them, I always think about how the scene will grow the characters and bring the story forward.
Q. What advice would you give to others who want to write romance fiction?
A. Be prepared for the negative questions that aren’t unique: Are you still writing sex books? When will you write a real book? Are the sex scenes based on real life? Nudge, nudge!
I find it funny and don’t take it seriously.
Also, I’m a member of Romance Writers of Australia who provide a lot of support. Join your local chapter. They know the highs and lows about this crazy journey. It’s important to find your tribe. Writing can be a lonely occupation.
Keep learning. I read a lot of information about the art of writing and other romance books for inspiration.
Q. There’s romance and erotic romance. How would you sum up the difference in styles, and why did you choose the latter route for your books?
A. Erotic romance has sex scenes where it can be quite graphic. With romance, the love scenes, if any, are behind closed doors. I love romance novels no matter the heat level.
I started writing erotic romance by accident. I originally did a creative writing course for children’s and young adult fiction. Then my husband described a romance scenario as a joke and was laughing at how this genre is all about beefed-up guys. He thought of the idea of a woman accidentally walking in on a man in a changing room and the woman is absolutely mesmerised. I immediately pictured the scene playing out in my head.
Q. As a writer of erotic romance do you find some people have certain (false) expectations of you when you are introduced?
A. Yes, yes, yes! I’ve had many comments of the variety that I’m ‘not what they expected’ a romance writer to look like. If you see me out and about (and please say hi), I’m always in a t-shirt and jeans. Or an oversized jumper during winter. But what do they expect a romance writer to look like? To wear fishnet stockings and corsets?
One person even told me that since I write romance, people might think I’m open to flirting—despite being married. It’s ridiculous. If that was the case, I would’ve become a romance author during my single days in my teens and early twenties when I was often friend zoned. I’ve never heard of authors, at their signings and writing events, ending up being slipped with phone numbers on napkins either.
Maybe I should become a crime writer so everyone will be scared of me.