The Perfect Kiss Payoff

These days, there is a lot of explicit sex on offer. You can watch guarded versions on network TV or incredibly explicit versions on cable TV. It is available in movies and even in books. It makes me shake my head in wonder at the sort of romance novels I started out reading. The payoff in those? A single, perfect kiss.

Barbara Cartland coverI cut my romance baby teeth on dozens of Barbara Cartland’s Regency romances. These slender volumes invariably featured beautiful, but impoverished, heroines with heart-shaped faces. The heroes were tall, dark, very rich noblemen who somehow managed to see past the heroine’s shabby clothes and unfashionable chapeau to the natural grace and beauty underneath. At the end of these sweeping, sweet romances, the hero and heroine shared a glorious, much-anticipated kiss. Generally, this followed after the declaration of love and proposal of marriage.


Game-of-Thrones-sex-3This notion of waiting an entire book for a single kiss is hopelessly old-fashioned these days. With shows like Game Of Thrones and Masters Of SexΒ (both excellent, by the way) showing us people getting busy every which way, who would waste their time reading 150 pages to get to that incredibly sweet first kiss?

North and South kiss


I still find myself, though, enjoying the build-up. Even in books where the hero and heroine are definitely headed toward the boudoir, I love the sexual tension. The awareness. The breathless anticipation of the will they, won’t they? We can pretty much guarantee, these days, that the hero and heroine will definitely do a lot more than kissing. But waiting for that first kiss is something I still really enjoy. (And yes, that IS Richard Armitage and that fabulous kiss on the train fromΒ North and South!


gustav-klimt-the-kissI’m not sure if my enjoyment of the anticipation is because of all those Barbara Cartland novels or because I simply love falling in love right along with the heroine. My “new love” days are long gone and so far in the past now they are difficult to recall sometimes. But when I read a great romance novel and find myself longing for the first kiss along with the heroine, I get to fall in love all over again.

Do you enjoy the build-up to the first kiss in a romance? Have you ever read a romance where a kiss was the ultimate romantic payoff? And do you require a fully-consummated romance or do you think the heat of the romance depends on the couple and their story? I can’t wait to find out!

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  • Jane says:

    Hello Caren,
    I do love the build up to the first kiss where you can feel the tension and attraction between the couple. I don’t think I’ve ever read a romance where a kiss was the ultimate payoff. I prefer romances with some heat, so books with fade to black scenes don’t usually work for me. I feel a little cheated because I want to see where all that build up leads to and then nothing.

    • Caren Crane says:

      Jane, I usually feel the same way these days! Poor Barbara Cartland wouldn’t stand a chance. πŸ˜€ Still, I have noticed that in a few books I’ve encountered recently – and I think it was a function of the characters and the story – I was okay without explicit sex scenes.

      I hadn’t noticed it before, but I read two Kristan Higgins books in a row and she rarely has any actual sex at all. Lots of build-up. LOTS. Maybe one (or sometimes two) scenes where there is actual ACTION, but it’s mostly off-camera. I just hadn’t noticed that before! Or if I did, I didn’t recall noticing it. It was interesting to me, because she is SO GOOD at the build-up. A master!

      Please be careful with the GR around today. Since it’s getting to be late summer in the USA, he is beginning to molt and shedding dreadfully. Keep the vacuum cleaner handy!

  • Helen says:

    Hi Caren

    Oh yes I love that build up to the first kiss and what ensues afterward πŸ™‚ I am happy with books with the bedroom doors opened of closed as long as I fee very satisfied when I have finished the book. I started reading historicals many years ago and cut my teeth on Rosemary Rogers and the likes of Woodiwiss and Lindsey so I have enjoyed it all for a long time πŸ™‚

    Have Fun

    • Caren Crane says:

      Oh, Helen, if you began with Rogers and Woodiwiss, then you have always had expectations of fully-realized sex scenes. πŸ˜€ I do find I can enjoy books without them, but you are right that it depends on the story and characters. The most frustrating to me are books where the door should CLEARLY be open and the author shuts it. So frustrating!

      Still, I think the tension before anything ever happens is what really makes a romance for me. So much like falling in love is in real life!

  • flchen1 says:

    The heat totally depends on the story, Caren. I do admit that there seem to be fewer and fewer stories where the payoff is just a kiss and a proposal, but I also think that it’s all in the story and its telling. That tension building is such fun! πŸ˜‰

    • Caren Crane says:

      Fedora, I think the last one I read like that was maybe an Amish romance. I love the Amish way of life, so I was interested in reading some. I loved them! Of course, even those can get away with some closed-door sex if the h/h go ahead and get married. Hooray for the marriage of convenience! πŸ˜€

  • Amy Conley says:

    Sometimes the first kiss needs a buildup, others, not so much.
    As far as the sexual stuff, I have a great imagination, thanks to Ms Cartland, I can take it or leave it too. If a couple gets married at the end of a story and ghere is an epilogue where it talks about their 6 children, I don’t need the details.

    • Caren Crane says:

      Amy, my sister in Barbara Cartland! I have trouble finding anyone who started out reading those and the sweeter Harlequin romances (which may have had a few kisses, but that was about it). Maybe those are what level-set me for taking a story as it comes? I don’t know.

      I don’t get bothered, though, if a story doesn’t have any consummation of the romance on-camera. As long as it makes sense for the characters! You’re right, that payoff of them and their growing brood of children can be just as satisfying. In those I always love the long, lingering looks of adoration the h/h exchange!

  • Deanna says:

    Barbara Cartland! Wow, that brings back memories. I loved those books back in the day when I was young and just starting to discover the romance genre. With her books, the satisfaction for me was the declaration of undying love and the proposal of marriage. I guess that is still the case for me these days. While I do love the build up to the first kiss, the first time they make love, and that in itself is very satisfying, the thing I love most is the build up to that ultimate declaration of love, and (call me old fashioned) if there is a marriage proposal along with is, even better. It must be my old days of reading Barbara Cartland, Johanna Lindsay and all the other bodice rippers, but I still love it and get a little giddy when I find out the heroine is a virgin.

    • Caren Crane says:

      Deanna, I was wondering yesterday whether Barbara would stand the test of time. I’m not sure! I read PILES of her books when I was about 12 or 13. Until the library ran out and the librarians were rolling their eyes at me! πŸ™‚

      I think it’s really nice these days to run into a contemporary, especially, where the heroine is a virgin. I finished a book the other day where the heroine had only ever had sex with one guy and she was 35! It was true for her character, though, so I believed it. And yes, it is a little bit of the old Cartland thrill to find those innocents!

  • Carol Cork says:

    Caren, I remember reading Barbara Cartland when I was a teenager but then my reading tastes changed and I didn’t rediscover romance until the 1990s. I love the build up of sexual tension between the hero and heroine leading to the first kiss and then the anticipation of the ultimate consummation. I like lots of heat in my romances and tend to get frustrated if the bedroom door is shut in my face.

    • Caren Crane says:

      Carol, I was about 12 (I think) when I discovered Barbara on the paperback racks at the library. I almost exclusively read her Regencies, though I did venture out a bit time-wise when I had read all of those. They were like romance crack! I can’t tell you how horrified the librarians were, honestly.

      They steered me toward literary classics and also some big, meaty romance sagas. I recall reading all those Jalna books by Mazo de la Roche. Between the public library and my middle school library (where the librarian had hoarded them away on a little-used shelf), I got to read the whole series!

      Eventually, though, my next-older sister started reading Kathleen Woodiwiss and Rosemary Rogers. It was all over for sweeter romances for years after that! And yes, the shutting of the door can feel incredibly RUDE sometimes, especially when the tone of the book and the nature of the characters has promised more. RUDE, I say! πŸ˜€

  • Debbie Oxier says:

    They can kiss on the first page if they want. I just love the telling of their story. How did they fall in love? We’re they already in love but circumstances drove them apart? Will they ever declare their love for one another again? If they aren’t in love at the start, then when will it happen for them? There are so many questions to be answered and each author has their own unique way of doing so. It doesn’t matter either how physical they get if it’s keeping in the telling of the story. I hate it when an author uses sex as a filler just to add more pages to the book. A book can have, as you said, one kiss and if it fits that particular story then I am good with it. There doesn’t have to be a lot of angst either to make it work. I’ve read romantic comedies where the kiss was sometimes better than the best drama. I like it all!

    • Caren Crane says:

      Debbie, it’s a real gift to be able to appreciate a story however it unfolds. It makes for joyous reading! I love the falling-in-love part of any romance (or any book with a romance). As you said, if they are already in love, it’s incredibly satisfying to see the whys of that love. The demonstration of love in everyday life. Such a pleasure!

      Yes, the questions of the story are exactly the thing. You nailed it! Why these people? Why now? What is there to be learned/discovered/revealed? For me, my favorite types of stories are those with incredibly interesting characters. I enjoy a good plot, but the plot isn’t it. The characters and their arcs are! πŸ˜€

  • Shannon says:

    Yes. I read the Barbara Cartlands and the sweet Mills and Boon medical romances. A surgeon who was a Mr. not a doctor. It was all so sweet and innocent.

    I missed the bodice rippers because I had college, then work that required lots of serious reading, and then grad school. It was only when I was well into my career that I stared reading again.

    I have to say that some of my favorite books emphasize the getting to know each other without sex (well, they slip up) but they’re trying. One book about a governess and a pirate was delightful. I looked at page 100, they were sparking. I looked at page 200, they were starting to smoulder. At page 300, the first kiss. After that things moved along quickly, but the suspense and build up was so different and appealing.

    My just finished book was about a couple coming together after 10 years, starting off as friends for 1 month. There was the bedroom, but so much of it was the Barbara Cartland theme of the hero finding so much behind the heroine’s good looks.

    • Caren Crane says:

      Shannon, isn’t it fun to think back to those sweet romances? Honestly, I think I need to find a Barbara Cartland just to rediscover what I loved about her stories. I do recall (even at 12 and 13), thinking it was horrifying how HELPLESS those poor heroines were. Really at the mercy of everything and everyone!

      I remember, because I was 12 in 1977) that the women in the Harlequin romances were just beginning to have careers, rather than just jobs as secretaries or nannies. They began to be far less helpless and to demand more respect. For me, it was a nice change from all those impoverished Regency misses! πŸ™‚

      I’ve recently read some historicals and contemporaries where the romance is much slower to unfold. More layers, usually more secondary characters and plots, with the hero and heroine really having time to get to know one another. Since that was not how I ever conducted my own romantic relationships, I really enjoy reading about it! πŸ˜€

  • Deb says:

    I am old-fashioned. I love(d) that the kiss was the ultimate romantic payoff. I read Barbara Cartland because those books were available, but did get bored with them because her storylines often repeated. I read ALL of Betty Neels’ books, and even though her storylines were often the same, too, I loved them. Often times, there wasn’t even a bit of payoff kiss and her HEA usually was a page long.
    Jessica Steele’s books (Harlequin) were great for wrapping up the HEA…15 or 20 pages, and, dork that I was, I often just reread the HEAs of her books. Essie Summers’ books, too. (I have all of her books except 2; not paying $120 for them, as much as I’d like them for my collection.)
    I am sure my mother would like me to take my Betty Neels, Essie Summers, Jessica Steele, and Debbie Macomber books out from under my bed in my old bedroom at their home. I just don’t have room for them here at my house!

    • Caren Crane says:

      Deb, I love that you still have all of those books at your mom’s house! I had forgotten Betty Neels. Man, I read a lot of her books back in the day. I also loved Charlotte Lamb, who wrote for Harlequin/Mills & Boon. She sort of pushed the envelope on sexiness in series romance, I think. Probably gave poor Betty palpitations! Anything I know about England (and British slang) I first learned from Barbara Cartland and Charlotte and Betty. πŸ˜€

      I also adored Lavyrle Spencer in the 1990s for really romantic, heartwarming romances. set in rural America, for Pete’s sake. And Rosamunde Pilcher for more exceptional romance and great storytelling and mental pictures of Cornwall! I still have a shelf filled with Lavyrle’s and Rosamunde’s books. I adore them both!

      I don’t blame you for keeping your books parked at your parents’ house. As long as they aren’t threatening to burn them (as my mother did), let them stay there. They’ll be yours to store long before you have room for them!

  • Patty L. says:

    I love the first “real” kiss. The one that actually means something other then the pressing of lips. The movie “Never Been Kissed” comes to mine when she is searching for her first real kiss and when she gets it at the end of the movie you are so invested in their romance.

    • Caren Crane says:

      Patty L, I thought about Never Been Kissed when I was writing this post. My husband and I were discussing it and we both love that movie. Josie Grossy, LOL! Yes, that story is the epitome of The Kiss being the payoff. They are so in love by the end of the movie, yet you are so worried he won’t be able to forgive her deception. I think I need to watch that movie today!

      Another great first/only kiss was in the movie My Girl which is both sad and tragic. I recall seeing it with my son when it came out. He was about 6 at the time and he loved it. A guy from the theater gave us a poster from the movie and one of my daughters has it in her bedroom of the rental house she has at college. We love that movie and that kiss was just everything!

  • catslady says:

    I love variety so I like a little of everything. I do enjoy the anticipation though. When first reading the more explicit stories I wasn’t sure at first but I must admit that when written well, I quite enjoy them!! As to kisses, one of my favorites is in First Knight with Richard Gere.

    • Caren Crane says:

      Oh, Catslady, that was the most passionate and tragic kiss ever! Julia Ormond was just so gorgeous and such a great Guinevere. I was surprised how great Richard Gere was as Lancelot in that movie. He’s does torment really well!

      And yes, when done by expert hands, very explicit scenes can be quite enjoyable. πŸ˜€

  • Jo Robertson says:

    Great post, Caren!

    For me the anticipation, the breathlessness, the exquisite journey is more enjoyable than the arrival — as in many things in life!

    When I wrote STORM OF CRIMSON, my YA, I wanted it to be very clean because of the audience, so I was forced to rely on those flutterings of young love and found them very powerful.

    • Caren Crane says:

      Jo, I was thinking about some YA stories in connection with this theme, for just the reasons you mentioned. All that yearning and wanting and unrequited love. *sigh* I recall, as a teen, simply pining for {insert name of current crush here}. I’m pretty sure getting them would never have been as satisfying as longing for them was. Time proved that! πŸ˜€

  • EC Spurlock says:

    Oh, lord, I HATED Barbara Cartland! Her stories were so absurd, with So! Many! Exclamation! Points! And the ellipses…so…many…ellipses… I always felt like there was not enough oxygen in her books, everyone was always gasping for breath. I preferred Georgette Heyer, whose heroines for the most part were strong, clever and sensible, and full of witty banter without having to stop for breath.

    That being said, I’m also a fan of the buildup and tension. You know they’re going to get together but the question is HOW and WHEN and HOW LONG will it take them to figure it out? It’s more about the journey for me; like you said, about the character arc. I don’t care whether there is sex or no sex, but I do have to say that too much sex bores me. After the second or third trip to the bedroom I’m all OK, we know how they did it, can we get on with the story now?

    • Caren Crane says:

      LOL! EC, it’s been so very, very long since I read a Barbara Cartland that I have no recollection of the gasping and ellipses and exclamation points. I really have to get my hands on one to see what captured my young attention. It may have been the exclamation points!! (I still use far too many.) πŸ˜€

      You know, I have shamefacedly admitted here before that I never read a Georgette Heyer. I think the disgusted librarians at my local branch tried to steer me toward her at some point, but I wasn’t interested. Now, of course, I have compiled a list of Heyer’s that I need to read before I die. Someday I will have a Heyer marathon, I’m sure, and then TORMENT you guys with how wonderful she is.

      Caren, always decades late to any party!

  • Becke says:


    Interesting topic. Anticipation and pay off are key. I love the build, but I also want the payoff. So we’re back to reader expectation. A reader needs to have an idea what she bought and then the author needs to create the payoff.

    Sometimes it’s difficult to filter these days. I started a book, not sure where I got it, but I thought it was hot contemporary romance. Turned out I would categorize it as erotic. There was little story. They were always in the sack and like another responder, I grew bored, stopped reading and put it in the give-away box.

    Point: if you trick me into opening your book with a false promise, I still won’t stay with it.

    • Caren Crane says:

      Becke, I agree there is nothing worse than believing a book (or movie) is one thing and then finding out it’s another. I recall vividly that the movie Uptown Girls was billed as a romantic comedy. It so was not! It’s actually fairly tragic for both girls in the movie. Very emotional and really a great movie, but not a romcom AT ALL.

      I have started (but not finished) plenty of books where I thought from the blurb they were one thing, but quickly found out they were something else. So disappointing!

      Naturally, if something is billed as “sweet” my expectations for heat are low. In an Amish romance, I don’t expect explicit scenes. Yet, I do expect “story” from every book, even if it’s erotica. Without actual story, even very explicit books can be a real bore!

  • Great blog, Caren – and great collage at the end. I clicked on it to see more. Very nice.

    I never read Barbara Cartland – never even heard of her until the news made a big deal that she was a relative of Princess Di. So I read one of her books after I’d been married for a decade and had a couple of kids. I hated it. And was so disappointed with just a proposal. I don’t have to have explicit sex in a book. I’ve read and loved many closed bedroom door books – as long as the relationship and characters are built convincingly – but Cartland? No Way.

    Love the first real kiss. It’s like that movie line – you can tell everything you need to know about a guy in that first kiss. Sigh…

    • Caren Crane says:

      Oh, Donna, you discovered Barbara far too late! She was best, I think, for the very young and the very old. πŸ˜€ I really do need to revisit something of hers, though. I think it would be really fun now that I actually know something about writing. And romance. LOL

      I know, for myself, one kiss ended more than one budding relationship. Honestly, a bad first kiss…there’s just no coming back from that. I always loved first kisses. So much potential exists before it. All that anticipation, all the expectation and hope. It is indeed sigh-worthy!

    • Caren Crane says:

      Oh, and I adore Gustav Klimt. I actually have a nightlight of this painting of his. This one is “The Kiss.” I’ve loved it since I first saw it as a young person!

  • Jay Belle Isle says:

    I love the build-up, too! Of course, a little heat is always nice. πŸ˜‰ I stumbled across a new author who manages to do both quite well. She has a “sweet” version and an “after dark” version of each book. Her name is Alicia Quigley & she has a page at