Chantelle Shaw on Finding Inspiration From RWA Conference and Historical Romance Writer Sarah Maclean!
by Chantelle Shaw, author of Master of Her Innocence
The idea of self-made millionaires who started out with nothing and fought their way to the top really appeals to me. The two heroes from my Bought by the Brazilian duet Cruz Delgado and Diego Cazorra grew up in one of Brazil’s most notorious favelas, where poverty, crime and violence were part of their everyday lives. In the dark and dangerous alleyways of the slum they formed a lasting friendship and a burning desire to escape their humble beginnings. As adults they risked their lives working in a diamond mine, but when the mine closed they took a gamble and bought it – and made their fortunes.
But both men discover that fabulous wealth can’t buy happiness – nor, in Diego’s case – redemption. In Master of Her Innocence, Diego is haunted by the belief that he committed a horrific crime when he was younger. Right from the start when I had the idea for the linked books (Cruz’s story is told in Mistress of His Revenge) I imagined Diego as an almost Wild West type of guy; a rough, tough maverick who lives life on his terms. He is a loner, happiest when he’s prospecting for gold in the Amazon Rain Forest, but when he wants company, there are plenty of women who work at his casino in Rio willing to fill the position of his temporary mistress.
So I had my hero, but I needed a heroine who would break through Diego’s reserve – and Clare Marchant turns Diego’s world upside down. Clare has gone to Brazil determined to rescue her sister from the kidnappers who are holding her hostage. But an unworldly English accountant carrying a briefcase full of ransom money into the rain forest was asking for trouble, until the Mother Superior of a convent where Clare took refuge suggests that she disguises herself as a novice nun! Pretending to be a holy Sister will give Clare some protection when she travels across Brazil with her guide, a sexy gold prospector and self-confessed womanizer Diego Cazorra.
I’ll admit that at this point in planning the book I had started to worry that the story was too crazy and I should curb my imagination. But then I attended my first ever RWA – in 2015 it was held in New York, and I went to some wonderful workshops including one given by the bestselling historical romance writer Sarah Maclean. One piece of advice that Sarah gave was to write your book, however crazy your ideas seemed, because a story could always be edited and changed. What I took away from the workshop was the notion of believing in yourself and your imagination. Basically Sarah’s advice was to ‘write bonkers’ and for me it was a light bulb moment. I gave my imagination free-rein and turned off my inner editor who wanted to tell me I was breaking all the rules. The result was a book that I had the most fun writing. Below is an excerpt from Master of Her Innocence.
It was a relief to take off the stiff serge habit and her veil. The shower was surprisingly powerful but Clare was convinced she had glimpsed a snake slither out of the cubicle as she had entered and she did not dare hang around in case it came back.
Even at night the humidity was so high that she felt as if she was being smothered in a damp blanket. She had packed a light cotton chemise to sleep in, but she was still too hot and the mosquitoes were eating her alive. She lay on the bed, huddled beneath the mosquito net, and wondered where Becky was sleeping tonight. The rain forest was even noisier at night than during the day, as hundreds of species of insects and nocturnal creatures vied to make the loudest sounds.
What was that? Clare tensed when she heard a scurrying noise on the floor of the hut. Could it be a rat? Her muscles tensed and her heart was pounding. The noise came again and she switched on her torch and shone it on the floor. The beam of light revealed a huge cockroach, its hard black shell gleaming and its long antennae twitching as it moved purposefully towards the bed.
‘Ugh!’ Clare’s nerve crumbled. The rain forest was a terrifying place. She loved the English countryside, but here in the jungle she imagined what other creatures might be crawling or slithering inside the hut. Panic engulfed her and, without thinking of anything but her desperate need to find a place of safety, she leapt out of bed and remembered to grab the briefcase containing the ransom money before she tore out of the hut. She sprinted over to the Jeep faster than she had ever run in her life. The rough ground hurt her bare feet and the beam from her torch picked out glowing pinpricks of light that she realised were the eyes of animals hiding in the dark forest. Frantic with fear, she pulled open the back door of the Jeep.
‘Diego, there’s a huge cockroach in the hut.’ She paused to drag oxygen into her lungs—and stared.
Diego was sprawled on top of a mattress which he had unrolled to cover the floor of the Jeep. He was leaning back against a couple of cushions, bare chested, his jeans sitting low on his hips. A kerosene lamp emitted a bright glow that fell on the pages of the book he was reading and cast a pool of light on his torso, highlighting the golden hairs on his chest. With his tousled blond hair and the blond stubble on his jaw, he reminded Clare of a lion: sleek, muscular and supremely powerful.
‘Unlikely,’ he drawled in his laid-back manner that gave the impression he took nothing in life too seriously.
‘There is. I know what a cockroach looks like.’
‘I meant it’s unlikely there’s only one. Cockroaches like company and they like to hide in small spaces. There is probably a nest of them behind the headboard of the bed.’
Clare shuddered. ‘I can’t sleep in the hut with a family of cockroaches.’ She screamed as she felt something touch her foot. ‘There’s a snake on me. It’s running up my leg!’
‘Snakes don’t run.’ Diego held up the lamp so that it shone on the ground where Clare was standing. ‘It’s just a harmless lizard,’ he told her as he brushed the vivid green creature from her leg. ‘It’s probably far more scared of you than you are of it.’
‘I wouldn’t bank on it,’ Clare muttered as she scrambled into the Jeep, unaware that as she did so the hem of her chemise slid up to reveal several inches of her bare thighs. She pushed her mane of long auburn hair out of her eyes and looked pleadingly at Diego. ‘Please can I sleep in here tonight?’
He did not reply and she wondered why he was staring at her as if she had grown another head. ‘What’s wrong?’ she said shakily. ‘Do I have another lizard on me?’
‘I thought nuns had to cut their hair short.’
Idiot, Clare silently berated herself. She had forgotten that she wasn’t wearing her nun’s habit and veil. Her hair had dried quickly after her shower, but the humidity and the fact that she did not have her straighteners had resulted in a wild tangle of curls tumbling halfway down her back. She tensed as Diego reached out and wound a curl around his fingers.
‘It feels like silk,’ he murmured. ‘And it’s such an amazing color. It reminds me of the conkers I saw children collecting in England when I was there one autumn.’ His eyes narrowed on Clare’s flushed face. ‘It’s a pity to hide such beautiful hair beneath a veil.’
She sensed he was waiting for an explanation and searched her mind for one. ‘I’m a novice, which is why I wear a white veil instead of a black one. I don’t have to cut my hair until I take my final vows.’
‘When will you do that?’
‘Soon,’ she assured him quickly.
Diego shut the door of the Jeep and resumed his position stretched out on the mattress with his shoulders propped against a pile of cushions. He tucked his hands behind his head and the action drew Clare’s gaze to his bare chest and superb muscle definition.
‘So you are not yet absolutely committed to your cause?’ he said softly. ‘You could change your mind?’
The speculative gleam in his light grey eyes sent a quiver along her spine as she became aware of the sexual chemistry fizzing in the close confines of the Jeep. Clare realized she had swapped one danger for another. She had felt unsafe in the hut but her intense awareness of Diego could prove to be a greater threat to her peace of mind, especially when his gaze lingered quite blatantly on her breasts that were inadequately covered by her cotton chemise.
She remembered Becky and the vital reason why she needed to get to Torrente. ‘Nothing will deter me from the path I have chosen.’
His mouth curved into a sexy smile that should be illegal in front of susceptible females. ‘You don’t think you could be tempted to choose a different path?’
Heaven help her. She wished he would stop looking at her as if he was imagining stripping her naked and having his wicked way with her. She glanced rather desperately around the Jeep for something to cover herself with. ‘Could I borrow a sleeping bag?’
She unzipped the bag and gave it a thorough inspection for tarantulas before she got into it and pulled the zip up to her chin. Immediately her temperature soared but at least her body was hidden from Diego’s gaze. ‘Temptation is the work of the devil,’ she said primly.
‘Are you telling me you have never been tempted by desire, which is a perfectly natural human instinct?’
His voice was like molten syrup sliding sensuously over her body, inciting all sorts of shocking images in her head. She was fiercely attracted to Diego but she certainly wasn’t going to admit it. ‘If I did ever feel tempted…I would pray until those feelings passed.’
The Jeep was suddenly plunged into blackness as Diego switched off the lamp. Clare heard him moving. He was obviously trying to get comfortable but his height meant that he had to lie diagonally across the Jeep.
‘While you’re praying to be delivered from temptation, maybe you could say one for me, Sister,’ he muttered. ‘You’d better pray real hard because I keep picturing you in your cotton nightdress and I’ll be honest; I’ve never been so tempted by a woman in my life.’
If the devil did exist and was waiting to receive sinners into the fires of hell, he was toast, Diego thought to himself. He was burning up with desire to unzip Sister Clare’s sleeping bag and remove the tantalizing, almost see-through garment she was wearing. If he had ever given a thought to what nuns wore in bed he would have guessed something demure and ankle-length, not a sexy little slip that left little to his imagination.
Attending the RWA conference was an invaluable experience for me because I learned to write instinctively and stop being scared that my ideas are nuts (which of course they are)!
Have you ever been inspired to do something in a different way, even if it meant breaking boundaries? Or have you challenged yourself in some way and faced the fear of failure?
About Master of Her Innocence:
When renowned diamond magnate Diego Cazorra is asked to escort Sister Clare Marchant halfway across Brazil, he feels duty-bound to get her there—after all, without the help of the church he’d still be on the streets. But the look in Clare’s innocent eyes tempts him like no other…
After it’s revealed that Clare is only disguised as a nun to save her kidnapped sister, Diego suddenly finds himself trading his prize diamond to help her. Now Clare is indebted to the notorious womanizer, and he intends to collect…!