Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about forgiveness.
One of the most common fictional clichés is that of the wronged protagonist working to avenge lost loved ones, or recover status and personal pride. In particular, the trope of a dead wife or girlfriend prompting the hero to get even has become so common that it’s been dubbed ‘fridging’, and can be found in all sorts of media, from books, comic or otherwise, to movies. But you don’t have to go to such an extreme to find that we enjoy heroes who go on a journey to fill a void. Such characters come across as dynamic and exciting, whereas those who merely swept up by the action can seem passive and hard to relate to.
Yet in real life, few of us leap at opportunities to right the wrongs done against us. Self-preservation is a powerful handbrake for more reckless impulses, one which writers often do away with for the sake of moving a story along. The princess is saved, the stolen bounty recovered, and the bad guys often pay the ultimate price. And if the hero—and let’s face it, it’s often a hero—has to nurse a grudge or two to arrive at that satisfying end, well, we’re mostly comfortable with that.
Forgiveness doesn’t get a fair shake in fiction. Would the cathartic pleasure we as an audience get from seeing characters visit justice upon those who’ve wronged them be absent if, say, they were to take a step back or move on? I don’t know. But with my writerly hat on, I do notice I’m becoming more interested in characters who find it within themselves to put the past behind them.
This is the case with The Woman Next Door, my contribution to Totally Bound’s Ladies Only anthology, a collection of erotic romance short stories about women who love other women. At heart a meet-cute set in a noisy apartment building, The Woman Next Door pits former rivals Ziva and Yvonne against each other in an unlikely reunion that could easily turn explosive. Instead, sparks of a different kind fly.
Now I’m no stranger to writing women who fight for answers, or power, or love—or sometimes all three at once—but for this story, I wanted to explore what happens when a grudge is allowed to fade. Ziva wasn’t always an artist: having inherited her father’s company, she was forced her to reinvent herself after losing both position and wealth to Yvonne’s corporate maneuvering. Although much happier now, she did once consider Yvonne her friend and getting stabbed in the back has left a deep scar. That someone with such a strong reason to loathe could come to feel attraction or affection toward the object of said loathing was deeply compelling to me.
At the risk of going all Pollyanna, forgiving others and forgiving one’s self can amount to pretty much the same thing: permission to turn the page and move on. To be clear, I do think there’s value in acknowledging past wrongs, but clinging to past wrongs done against us can be incredibly addictive. We live in a culture that makes holding grudges both easy and attractive, where a peanut gallery is just a few clicks away, ready and eager to sympathize by assuring us we’re right to revive old hurts and pore over them again and again like picking at a scab. I’ve certainly been guilty of this in the past and I probably will be again. Lately, though, I’ve started to think of forgiveness as character progression. It may not be as glaringly heroic as going after the bad guys with guns blazing, but so far it’s shaping up to be a far more enjoyable arc.
About The Woman Next Door
What’s a girl to do when her arch nemesis moves in next door?
After months of endless renovations, Ziva can’t take the racket anymore. Her commissions aren’t going to fulfill themselves and she’s nowhere near ready for her next exhibition. She is, however, more than able to give her new neighbors a piece of her mind—until she discovers that the people moving in next door aren’t new faces at all.
Yvonne Barros couldn’t be less of a stranger. Eight years ago, Ziva might even have said they were friends. That was before Yvonne destroyed Ziva’s business and nearly drove her to bankruptcy. Almost a decade later and Ziva desperately wants to hate the woman who stole everything from her. Yet with every run-in, Yvonne proves to be a changed person, her sharper edges chiseled smooth, her losses now worn on her sleeve.
Unexpectedly thrust into close quarters by their living arrangements, it’s not long before Ziva and Yvonne rekindle their old connection—and with it the spark of mutual attraction. But Yvonne misled Ziva once before. What’s to say she won’t do it again—especially when she is spotted embracing another woman?
Publisher’s Note: This book has previously been released as part of the Ladies Only Anthology with Pride Publishing.
Excerpt from The Woman Next Door
“You were curious.” Yvonne shrugged indifferently. “I’m not offended.”
“You’re not?” Eight years ago, before their friendship had been sacrificed on the altar of personal profit, Ziva had once witnessed Yvonne tear into an underling for messing up her lunch order. The secretary had left in tears and Ziva had long suspected he’d handed in his resignation the next day.
She’d been too green, too desperate for role models to realize how absurd it was to admire such cruelty.
Yvonne shook her head, wheat-gold hair catching the light. “Frankly, I’m slightly flattered. You’re the first person who doesn’t work for me who’s cared to see this place.” Traces of bitterness seeped into her voice. “Do you like it?”
“I do.” It shouldn’t have been the truth, but standing across the kitchen island now and seeing the loft in the daytime, Ziva’s opinion was merely bolstered. “And I’m sure it’ll look even better once it’s furnished.”
Smiling, Yvonne shifted to retrieve Ziva’s cup. Sand-colored foam wobbled on the surface, steam curling over the rim. Much to Ziva’s surprise, though, Yvonne didn’t hand it over. Instead, she opened the fridge door, dug out a bottle of skim milk and topped off thecoffee with a generous glug. Two sugar cubes completed the concoction.
“You look like you’ve seen a ghost,” Yvonne had the nerve to say as she slid over the saucer and cup. “Isn’t that how you take your coffee?”
It was precisely like that. “I didn’t think you remembered.”
Yvonne scoffed. “I have an elephantine memory when it comes to the little things. It’s my one and only party trick. I still remember that your father took honey in his coffee.”
“Just like Nicole.” Beyond a vague sort of fondness, no emotion had traversed Yvonne’s face as she’d mentioned Ziva’s father. That wasn’t the case once Ziva brought up the wife. “I read an article…”
Looking down at the counter, Yvonne raked her nails into the scraggly surface. “To be honest, I don’t know much about Nicole these days. She and I have been separated for three years.”
“Oh.” Ziva bit her lip. “I’m sorry.”
“Don’t be. We finally managed to reach a settlement. Papers went through yesterday, so…” Yvonne flung her hands up. “Here I am. New house, new life.”
About Helena Maeve
Helena Maeve has always been a globe trotter with a fondness for adventure, but only recently has she started putting to paper the many stories she’s collected in her excursions. When she isn’t writing erotic romance novels, she can usually be found in an airport or on a plane, furiously penning in her trusty little notebook.