Will They, Won’t They: The Joy of Slow Burn Romance

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by Charlie Adhara, author of Wolf in Sheep’s Clothing

As an avid reader of romance, there’s not much I love more than a slow-burn story of enemies to lovers. You know, the ones where the mc fights that mysterious warm and fuzzy sensation they get when the irritating, forced-proximity companion does something out of line like smile at them? The ones where they insist over and over that it’s not feelings they’re developing, nope, definitely not, until finally, wonderfully, the inevitable: Oops, I’m in love with you, how’d that happen? Truth is, I’m always in the mood for a story like that. Which is why settling in to write a now pretty well-established couple for the first time ever was…nerve-wracking.

Wolf in Sheep’s Clothing is the fourth book in my Big Bad Wolf series. My main characters—grumpy, human Agent Cooper and his doting, protective werewolf partner, Park—are past the “will they, won’t they” stage (they will, and boy, do they ever). They’re not biting back half-formed L-words or deciphering strange glints in each other’s eyes (been there, done that). These guys are in love and they know it. To move backward, to take away their well-earned HEA for the sake of conflict, wouldn’t just be unfair—it wouldn’t make sense. But that begs the question: Now what? When plotting a romance book where the couple has developed that trust and love already, where does the, well, plot come in?

Ironically, before fully working out the synopsis I had already started doing research into relationship therapies, because I knew the guys’ investigation would be taking them undercover to a couples’ counseling retreat. I spent a lot of time on virtual tours of beautiful getaways and reading self-help chapters on healthy communication and how to navigate various fraught relationship dynamics. I pored over raw and incredibly personal online testimonies from couples on the issues they’d overcome and spoke to real-life friends about their own experiences with counseling.

Did less than 10 percent of that research actually end up in the book?

Yes.

Was there ever a moment I looked up from diligently filling out my fifth “relationship worksheet” in the voices of my two characters and think, The writing process is weird?

Definitely, yes. 

But sometime during that deep-dive I realized I’d been shortchanging the excitement, appeal and sheer complexity of life after I love you. Relationships are hard (please look suitably surprised by this brand-new information). According to the worksheets now full of my characters’ innermost hopes, fears and dreams, relationships can be even harder when you expect your partner to be the one to “fix” you.

It’s always been important to me that the message of my books is not “love cures all ills.” Not by itself, anyway, and not overnight. But by thinking the story of an established couple wouldn’t by definition have conflict, I had fallen into that exact trap I’d wanted to avoid.

After three books and a whole lot of learning experiences, Cooper and Park still have some of the same deep insecurities, anxieties and scars they always have. But with love and trust, they’re also able to be more open with each other than ever before. They’re able to explore their own personal histories and truths and traumas in ways they maybe didn’t have the space or security to do in the beginning of the series, when they were too busy catching feelings. I no longer think there’s anything boring about that. Quite the opposite.

Don’t get me wrong, I still love a tension-packed, enemies-to-lovers romance. But I’ve come to appreciate one special thing about series that follow a single couple is how much room both the relationship and the individuals within that relationship have to grow and change and build. The Cooper and Park we see in Wolf in Sheep’s Clothing are the same people we met in the first book, of course, but they’re different, too. They know and understand each other now, and perhaps more importantly, they’re working to know and understand themselves. My personal experience writing an established couple meant my characters finally had the safety and support to be vulnerable and look inward. It meant moving from I love you to I love me, too, and eventually, I love us. As it turns out, I’m always in the mood for that kind of story, as well.

About Wolf in Sheep’s Clothing:

Agent Cooper Dayton and his partner, Oliver Park, are going undercover—at a retreat for couples who need counseling. They do say the best cover story is one that’s close to the truth…

Agent Cooper Dayton is almost relieved to get a phone call from his former boss at the Bureau of Special Investigations. It means a temporary reprieve from tensions created by house hunting with Oliver Park, his partner both in work and in life. Living together in a forever home is exactly what Cooper wants. He’s just not keen on working out the details.

With a former alpha werewolf missing, Cooper and Park are loaned to the BSI to conduct the search at a secluded mountain retreat. The agents will travel to the resort undercover…as a couple in need of counseling.

The resort is picturesque, the grounds are stunning and the staff members are all suspicious as hell.

With a long list of suspects and danger lurking around every cabin, Cooper should be focusing on the case. But he’s always been anxious about the power dynamics in his relationship with Park, and participating in the couples’ activities at the retreat brings it all to the surface. A storm is brewing, though, and Cooper and Park must rush to solve the case before the weather turns. Or before any more guests—or the agents themselves—end up dead.

Follow Agents Dayton and Park’s romance from the beginning. Read the first book in the Big Bad Wolf seriesThe Wolf at the Door, available now from Carina Press!

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