Claire Kent has been writing romance novels since she was twelve years old. She has a PhD in British literature and, when she’s not writing, teaches English at the university level. She also writes contemporary romance under the pen name Noelle Adams.
Writing a Revenge Romance
I’ve read a lot of revenge romances, and I’ve always enjoyed the dramatic conflict that happens immediately because of this particular trope. Most of the revenge romances I’m familiar with feature a hero who is seeking revenge, often because of something the heroine’s family did to him in the past. When I began writing Sweet the Sin, I wanted Kelly, the heroine, to be the one seeking revenge against the hero, and it needed to be for something the hero himself did. Revenge is a tricky trope to manage, and there were a number of different landmines I wanted to avoid with the book.
1. The motivation couldn’t be too trivial. To get the intensity of the revenge story I wanted to write, the motivation for seeking revenge couldn’t be too small or petty. For instance, having someone break your heart is hard, but it’s not big enough a slight to justify a deep, elaborate revenge plan. So the reason for Kelly seeking revenge in the story I was writing had to be genuinely significant. In Sweet the Sin, Kelly believes that Caleb was responsible for the death of her father. That felt big enough to cause a real person to go to the lengths Kelly goes to bring him down.
2. The “turn” can’t happen too quickly. I’ve read a number of revenge stories where the scheme is overthrown almost immediately because the revenge-seeker falls for the target. Obviously, that’s the appeal of the trope, but I wanted to make sure it didn’t happen right away, since I’d be disappointed in a heroine who believes a man killed her father but surrendered her desire for retribution as soon as he touched her the right way. She has to be stronger than that. In Sweet the Sin, Kelly definitely falls for Caleb, but it happens very slowly, and she keeps holding a part of herself back until she finds out the truth about her father’s death.
3. Both characters have to be morally ambiguous and complex. In the scenario I was setting up, neither of the characters could be wholly innocent or noble. If one of them was too good, then the readers’ sympathy wouldn’t be balanced between the two. Both Caleb and Kelly lie, manipulate, and go to somewhat ruthless lengths to get what they want, but both of them have sympathetic and human reasons for doing so. I hope readers can understand and feel for both of them, and not always be sure whose side to be on.
4. Sex can’t change the heart. In this story, Kelly is willing to do anything to bring the murderer of her father to light, and that includes using sex to get close to Caleb. But what I really didn’t want to happen was for the sex to cast a romantic cloud over all of her anger and determination. So, in Sweet the Sin, she and Caleb have a lot of hot sex, but it’s always conflicted by the fact that she hates him, and the sex doesn’t make that hatred vanish. Sex can do a lot of things, but it can’t actually change someone’s heart.
What are some of the things you like or don’t like about revenge romances?
In the first novel in USA Today bestselling author Claire Kent’s deeply sensual story of love, lust, and deception, a woman searching for the truth discovers that she’s sleeping with the enemy.Portrait artist Kelly Watson keeps her relationships simple and steamy, with no strings attached. She’s had a hard time trusting other people since she was a child, when her father was murdered for trying to blow the whistle on corporate corruption. Nearly twenty years later, Kelly finds herself in the arms of a seductive stranger—the very same man who may have ordered her father’s death. And even as she plays him, using hot sex as a means to revenge, Kelly is tormented by one question: Is she committing the ultimate betrayal?Caleb Marshall has spent decades forging a high-powered career, rejecting intimacy for the convenience of fast women and cheap thrills. But Kelly intrigues him, pushing commitment buttons he didn’t know he had. Still, something is wrong. Despite their physical and emotional chemistry, Caleb feels the fear inside of her. Now the only way to keep her safe is coming clean, before secrets and lies destroy their connection—no matter how deep, intense, and addictive it may be.
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“Pet portraits?” the man asked skeptically, with that same smug laughter in his eyes.
“What’s your point?”
“Nothing. You’re just that type, aren’t you?”
“Pet portrait artist. At one with the universe. Lover of flowers and trees and all furry creatures. Filling the world with pretty objects and warm fuzzies. I bet they call you Blossom, don’t they?” His tone was bone dry, as if far above such sentiment.
He probably was. She could tell even from their brief interaction that he was too intelligent, too experienced, too competent to have patience with anything trite or saccharine.
She liked that about him. Despite her intentionally bohemian appearance just now, she was as far as possible from those feelings herself.
“You don’t know me at all,” she said, pleased at the cool aloofness of her tone.
It just made him smile. When his dog lay down with the Frisbee, panting blissfully, the man started walking toward him, evidently expecting Kelly to fall in step with him. “I know a little about you. I know you paint pet portraits. I know you’re wearing vegan sandals and are reluctant to cut your hair. And I know you have on your bracelet various charms of dogs, cats, birds, and flowers.” He arched his eyebrows. “I think I’ve got a pretty clear sense of you.”
The bracelet was stupid, but her clients always liked it, and her hair was indeed very long, hanging down to the small of her back. But this arrogant man couldn’t be more wrong.
He might be eerily observant, but he knew nothing.
“Is that right?” she replied, giving him arched eyebrows in response. “You might be surprised about me. But there’s no way I’d be surprised about you. I’d know your type in my sleep.”
“Blossom, you could know my type in your sleep, if you asked nicely.”
She felt another tingle of excitement at the sexiness of his tone but ignored it. “You wear a suit to work every day, don’t you?”
“What does that have to do with anything?”
“Nothing. It’s just your type. You’re one of those guys who wears a business suit like armor—going through the world as if the nameplate on your office entitles you to whatever you want. As if your bank account makes you superior.”
The words weren’t particularly gentle, but he looked interested rather than offended. “What makes you think I have anything impressive in my bank account?”
“Please. I know roughly how much that watch you’re wearing costs.”
Because of the Watsons, her adoptive parents, Kelly was in good shape financially, but she didn’t own anything except her car that cost as much as the watch he was wearing.
“And I bet you’re wondering why would I spend money on something so superficial when I could be donating it to all the homeless animals in the world?” Again, he was teasing in that intimate way, as if he really did know her.
“I’m not like that,” she told him, speaking only the truth.
“Sure you aren’t.” He flashed her a grin. “What happened to your client, anyway?”
Kelly had actually forgotten about her client, so absorbed in the conversation had she been. She gave a little jerk and turned back to scan the park, focusing on the entrance, but there was no sign of another man with a German shepherd. “I think I’ve been stood up. It happens sometimes.”
Just then, her phone chirped with another text, so she reached in to pull it out of her bag. “Maybe that’s him.”
When she focused on the screen, she realized it wasn’t her client. Are you sure? I’d make it worth your while. Promise.
She sighed. Jesse. Why the hell wouldn’t he just give up?
“Not your client,” the man beside her said.
She glanced up. “How do you know?”
“I’m pretty good at reading expressions. Who is it? Your boyfriend being annoying?”
He was actually quite close. Impressive, given that they were strangers. “No. Just a guy who won’t take no for an answer.”
“He has my sympathy.”
She sucked in a breath. “Why should he have your sympathy?”
He had that smug, heated amusement in his eyes again. “To get a taste of a hot little thing like you—and then get the door slammed in his face? Can’t help but feel sorry for him.”
“I didn’t slam the door in his face. I was nothing but honest with him. He’s the idiot who ignored what I told him and keeps bumbling on toward something he already knows he can’t have.”
The man chuckled and reached out to run his fingers gently down a long strand of her hair. “It doesn’t matter what you tell him, blossom. You’ve got this gorgeous, untouched sweetness about you. It’s like a promise and a challenge.”
Her whole body went hot at the texture of his words, at the tension and power she could feel in his hand, his shoulders, his gaze.
She knew what he was referring to. She’d been born with clear creamy skin, pink cheeks, big blue eyes, and a heart-shaped face that gave the impression of innocence. There was no way she could dress that would change her natural look, even though she’d desperately tried when she was younger.
“Don’t assume the way I look is the way I really am,” she said, her pulse starting to throb in her wrists and her throat. She knew how to recognize the look in this guy’s eyes.
He wanted her.
And despite his smug superiority—or maybe because of it—she wanted him too.
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