Author of Candlemoth: A Holy City Romance Series
Pauline West is a bookworm, trail runner and bourbon lover. Her hobbies include mild hypochondria and ill-advised matchmaking. For more romantic stories about Charleston, follow West on Pauline-West.com and Amazon for news on the Candlemoth: Holy City Romance novels, as well as her upcoming series, Evening’s Land: a Gothic Fantasy.
Candlemoth Book 1: A Holy City Romance
A bold and independent free spirit from the foster system of small town South Carolina, Lily is a survivor with skeletons in her closet. She knows what she wants and how to get it. And a spoiled rich playboy is not part of her plan- but Ry is irresistible.
Steamy, exciting and beautifully written, this dramatic romance will appeal to fans of Sylvia Day.
Candlemoth Book 2: How to Spend It: A Holy City Romance
Lily is a bold, passionate free thinker from small town South Carolina. Fiercely self-reliant, the same strength that helped Lily survive a traumatic upbringing makes it difficult for her to trust anyone, especially Ry Calhoun. When Ry’s political obligations and Lily’s rising notoriety in Charleston threaten their relationship, Lily arrives into her most reckless act yet- and at incredible cost.
The scorching second installment in the Holy City Romance series of steamy romance novels about a wild, fun-loving group of twenty-somethings in Charleston, South Carolina.
Candlemoth Book 3: A Twist of Fate: A Holy City Romance
As Lily and Ry are reunited, the lovers are caught in a tragedy that changes their lives forever. Boldly sensual and deeply inspiring, this installment in the Candlemoth series will have you on the edge of your seat all the way to its soaring finish.
What is your typical writing schedule?
I’m a cubicle bunny from 9 to 5, so I write from 5 to 8:45 am every morning and until 2pm on weekends. Its easier to roll out of bed & start if you do it every day. It becomes a habit, like closing your eyes to savor that first sip of hot coffee.
“Habits at first are cobwebs, then cables”~ Spanish proverb.
Sometimes I’ll write during lunch too, but more often I just read instead. Recently I picked up Exit to Eden by Anne Rice… I read that thing in a white heat. She’s amazing.
What inspired you to write the Candlemoth series? How long did the first book, from first thoughts to final polished copy, take you?
I’d been working on a Southern Gothic, Evening’s Land, and kept finding myself writing these really intense, steamy scenes. So I ended up wandering off to do a little ‘research’ into what’s new in the romance genre (it turns out you actually can read Story of O and Anais Nin only so many times) and happened on Sylvia Day’s Crossfire series.
Day’s erotic scenes are AMAZING. I mean, you can’t read them on an airplane because you turn bright red and steam up all the air. After reading Crossfire, I couldn’t resist trying to write a no-holds barred romance series of my own.
To be honest, Candlemoth: A Holy City Romance wrote itself. You meet extraordinary people in Charleston every day, and the city is as romantic and sultry as it gets. Book One took me about two months from start to finish. It took longer to get the nerve up to publish it!
Without giving too much away, what’s your favorite part of Book One?
Oh, man. The first time Lily really lets herself go with Ry, on his father’s kitchen counter...
Readers have told me it reminded them of what it was like when they fell in love with their forever sweetheart, how powerful that first experience together was. Also, its scorching hot. It was crazy fun to write!
Ry Calhoun is so swoony!! Is he based upon anyone you know? What traits do you like best and least about him?
Ry’s personality is based partly on my fiance, especially the goofy/sweet aspects of his personality. My guy didn’t have the wacky childhood bed that I describe for Ry- I have no idea where that came from, I was as surprised as anybody when I wrote that- but he does share the same sense of humor.
For Ry’s looks, I used Ian Somerhalder from the Vampire Diaries. Somerhalder has that whole cut, smug-sexy thing going on that I imagined for Ry. You resist him at first, because he’s so damn cocky... but he’s also just meltingly sexy.
“Then I met Ry Calhoun, and all my clothes flew off…” ~ Lily Inoue, Candlemoth: A Holy City Romance, Book 2
When Lily meets Ry, she’s torn because Ry stands for everything she’s never been able to have, and she assumes he must be the spoiled playboy everyone says he is. Lily hates herself for being so drawn to him. She figures she’ll just be another plaything; that even being drawn to Ry in the first place must indicate some kind of weakness in her.
But Ry has depths he doesn’t show most people. He’s actually humble, and does so much behind the scenes to help other people however he can. I love what a strong, brave human being he is, and I’m so proud of both his and Lily’s actions later in the series. They grow so much together, and become these amazing people. And of course, they have smoking hot chemistry. They can’t keep their hands off each other.
One of the things I don’t like in Ry is that he’s such a good guy that Lily can seem like a bitch in comparison to him. Even though she’s this gorgeous, fragile-looking beauty, Lily is fiercely independent, and a little selfish. She kind of has this Scarlett O’Hara thing going on :)
What’s your research process like?
I’m a total magpie, I’m always gathering up bits for stories. I take notes on my phone- phrases I like, cool street names, random thoughts, sensory experiences- and then email them to myself.
Sometimes I can put them into a story right away, but I’ll also hoard them in separate docs for Names, Dialogue, Sensory Experiences, etc, and pull from them later. I’m constantly drawing from my life for my work, and I think both are richer for it.
I also read voraciously, always with a pen in hand. (Usually a green one from the art supply store down the street or a Pilot V-5.) I read everything: genre lit, poetry, natural history, cereal boxes, The New Yorker, The New York Book Review, beer labels, the Sunday papers.
Have you ever done something wacky for the sake of ‘research’?
I’m pretty open to experiences, so people might categorize a lot of my life as wacky!
I homeschooled myself through high school to see if I could; I lived in my Jeep out in the woods one summer, just to sort of drop out and experience being alive really deeply, out there in the quiet; I’ve sucked out pigeon brains in Vietnam and eaten the whole head of a pig, including the eyes and upper palate (hey, you asked); I worked as a phone sex operator girl to better understand what makes desire tick; I sold cable door to door to meet the people you wouldn’t ordinarily meet. Going door to door you meet everybody under the sun. You also realize pretty quickly that we’re all just one big kooky family. It was absolutely awesome. We actually made great money doing that, and then took a vacation couch surfing through Moldova and Ukraine. One couple we met ended up taking us exploring into the limestone tunnels under Odessa: I mean we were stepping over broken oil lamps and reading hundred year old poetry on the walls. We made dinners for so many new friends in their kitchens after shopping together in the outdoor markets…
Experience itself is the best research. I’ll try anything twice, and the good stuff way more often than that. Basically, writing is just an excuse to have more fun.
Do you read much? Who are your favorite authors, and what genres do you enjoy the most?
I love to read, and make time to read every day. If I’m really busy, it’ll be some poetry, like anything by Ocean Vuong or Jack Gilbert; I also love short stories. Hugh Howey’s Beacon 23 and These Heroic, Happy Dead by Luke Mogelson are fantastic. Anne Rice, Sylvia Day, Denis Johnson, Thomas Pynchon and James Lee Burke are major favorites as far as full length fiction goes. Generally I like stuff that’s stylized, a bit flashy and dark.
How do you relax?
We throw a fair bit of boozey dinner parties! I’m always taking long, ambling walks downtown, and exploring the nature preserves outside Charleston. There’s so much history, so much lushness and decay here, I can’t ever get enough of it. Its just a dreamy place to live. I also love running and hitting the gym with friends: I turn into a neurotic mess if I don’t exercise. My natural state is just a wee bit tightly wound, as you might guess from my main characters!
But my very favorite way to relax is on the porch with my feet up and a book in hand. I love recommendations, so find me on GoodReads and let me know who you think I should check out!
What do the next six months hold for you?
I’ll be finishing Books 3 and 4 for the Candlemoth series and getting those rolled out as quickly as I can for readers, because I’ve got everyone perched on the edge of a helluva cliff right now.
We’re also planning to do some traveling this winter, maybe to Japan. I’ll write about that extensively and share the experience on my blog. You can follow me at pauline-west.com. I also post stories there for free too sometimes, so make sure to stay tuned.
Thanks again for having me, and very much for reading. I hope you’re enjoying Ry & Lily’s love story as much as I am~ I’ll have more for you soon!
What’s the most interesting thing that’s ever happened to you?
I’ve had something like twenty foster parents. I’ve partied with pop stars, fought off blackmailers and survived more than one attacker. I have the kookiest, funniest, most amazing friends a girl could ask for, and I live in the most romantic city in the whole world.
But the day I met Ry Calhoun I felt something I’ve never felt in my life.
It happened fast. I was serving cocktails at a wedding, and my tray got tipped, throwing me off balance.
The whole tray, filled with sparkling cocktails, went up in the air. Suddenly this small, horrified knot of Charleston royalty is dripping vodka. And I was still falling.
Shards of glass sparkled up from the perfectly manicured lawn: I was about to get a faceful of glass.
I felt a large, warm hand at the small of my back, steadying me. He caught my left arm, bringing me against him as the rest of the tray smashed down into the grass. And I didn’t fall.
I smashed into his chest instead.
When I looked up, I saw a man so gorgeous my heart stopped like a dropped clock.
He was tanned and chiseled, with full, sensuous lips that came as a surprise against his masculine jaw. His eyebrows were thick and deliciously scruffy above big blue eyes.
And he was laughing at me.
I jerked back, humiliated, still with the trace memory of the warmth of his chest on my hand. My fingers had fitted so perfectly against his sculpted chest muscles; he was gorgeously cut under that dress shirt.
Not that it was hard to see that now. He was soaked in vodka, and his shirt was drenched tightly against his chest, outlining every erotic detail of his torso. He was long, lean and ripped solid. The mischievous look on his chiseled, sexy face was in delicious contrast to the ultra clean-cut image his Brooks Brothers outfit and short ash-blonde hair projected.
Oh my god… I was definitely fired. You couldn’t just smash a bunch of glass over people’s heads and get away with it. I dug my heels down into the grass.
“Wait, wait, stop. I can’t just disappear like this.”
The guy paused so suddenly I almost ran into him again. He turned his heart-stopping gaze on me.
“But you’re hurt,” he said.
For a moment both his warm hands fitted around my wrist. His thumbs traced over my skin for the space of a heartbeat. Could he feel how fast my heart was racing?
Then one of his hands moved slowly up my arm, and I glanced down.
Sure enough, there was blood all over my arm. Not only was I soaked with the spilled drinks, I had cuts on my arms too. I hadn’t noticed until now, but they burned with the vodka.
I looked up, my eyes drifting to his. I saw that sneaky grin of his again, tugging at the corner of his handsome mouth. Why was he smiling at me like that? I had the strangest impulse to kiss that smirk right off his face.
But blood was spreading on his chest.
“You’re hurt, too,” I said, stopping just short of touching him again.
He ran his hand carelessly through his hair, grinning at me. “We make quite a team,” he said.
Then Beren, my best friend, appeared suddenly beside us, just as cool as a cucumber. As if we weren’t walking through a black-tie wedding party drenched in blood and vodka! Beren looked from one of us to the other, his smile reaching his eyes.
“How can I help?” he said, making his voice richer and deeper than usual.
My would-be rescuer put a hand on Beren’s shoulder and nodded in the direction of the shattered grass on the lawn. “Set up a drinks station on top of all that,” he said.
The easy command in his voice made me tighten, and I couldn’t help turning my head to look at him. The guy had an arrogant grace that was as arousing as it was maddening. It drew something in me to him. As if we were magnets.
“Yes, sir.” Beren said, nodding. He glanced at me. “Babygirl, you okay?”
“Yeah, I got her,” the handsome stranger said. I glanced at him again, surprised. The men looked at each other for a beat, evaluating one another.
It was Beren who broke the stare. “See you in a minute?” he said to me, a little protectively, glancing back over his shoulder as he hurried off.
And there I was. All alone with tall, dark and dangerously handsome. “You should get back to the party,” I said. “I’m fine, really.”
“I will,” the stranger said, easily, taking my hand again. “But I can hardly leave you to fend for yourself like this, can I? My grandmother would roll over in her grave if she thought I’d abandoned a lady in distress.”
I reddened. “I’ve been fending for myself for quite a while now,” I said, trying to be nonchalant as we swung into the private entrance of the house. A curtain of heavy, air-conditioned silence instantly drew over us. I lowered my voice in spite of myself, taking in all the fancy antiques, the deep plush of the rugs.
Then I realized his hand still rested lightly at the small of my back. Possessively. Awareness of his touch burned through me like a torch.
“Well, I hope you don’t mind me saying, but you looked like you could use a little help, pretty,” he said. He got that playful look in his eyes again. “You think vodka absorbs through the skin? I feel a little buzzed.”
“That’s the adrenaline,” I said.
“My heart is beating pretty fast,” he said, grinning at me as he held open the door to the bathroom. I slipped in and he stood in the doorway, still holding the door.
Still watching me.
I was about to ask him his name when I caught sight of myself in the mirror.
Even in the forgivingly rich dim of the elegant bathroom, I looked disheveled and flushed. My long, shiny black hair had escaped from my once tidy bun into a frazzled mess, and my pale eyes looked bright and starstruck.
Suddenly I realized what I looked like to him. Like an anonymous peasant girl. An easy roll in the hay.
Well, if that’s what he thought, he was dead wrong.
“Well, thanks. You should get back to the party now,” I said, snapping back to my senses. I ducked my head and turned on the tap, rinsing my cuts clean. Threads of blood ran over the sides of my arm and disappeared down the drain.
“You don’t like it when people help you, do you?” he said.
“Not particularly,” I said.
Then he was behind me, so close I could feel the heat of his body through my clothes. He smelled like lemons and cedar, and something else I couldn’t name. Something old, something powerful. Sex.
I felt nerves all over my body sharpen and dance to the surface. I went blurry with desire.
I wanted him away from me, now. This was crazy!
He was a complete stranger- and anybody could see we were impossibly different. I mean, here I was, this loner foster kid who’d basically never been kissed, and there he is: rich, gorgeous, impossibly cut.
But I wanted him. Specifically, I wanted him to fuck me. Some secret, traitorous part of me wanted it, desperately needed it, and I couldn’t get the bad thoughts out of my head.
What would it feel like to have him press against me? His full length, the sensuous hardness of him. And his gorgeously full, sullen mouth in the mirror- I could see it just above my shoulder- how would that taste?
I ached for his body, his weight.
The wanting went deep. I wanted him inside me. Every inch…
I’d never had these kinds of thoughts before. The masterpiece of my life was having learned how to glass myself inward, burying my heart so deep I didn’t even know where it was buried.
This guy was tripping off all my alarms and yet I couldn’t even begin to run away! What the hell was wrong with me?
“Easy,” the maddening stranger said. As if I were some wild horse.
Gently, he took my hand in his again. He was darkly tanned, every line of his body perfectly sculpted. My familiar tea-colored skin, usually so dark next to the pale Southern Belles I’d grown up with, looked delicate beside his own.
Somehow, that turned me on even more. How different he was. How sun-dark and rock-hard...
He turned down the faucet to a trickle, and ran his thumbnail up the edge of my cut.
“Ouch!” I cried, as he carefully lifted out a splinter of glass. It hurt more coming out than it had coming in, and I felt a ribbon of fire sail briefly under my skin. “I didn’t know that was still in there.”
Behind us, the bathroom door fell closed with a heavy, expensive click like a limousine’s door. He held the splinter of glass up between us so I could see it, his hips so close that if I swayed even slightly we would have touched. I couldn’t help smiling up at him.
“See, you need me after all,” he said.
I flipped my hair out of my face irritably. “I don’t need anybody,” I said, rolling my eyes, moving away.
“Wait,” he said, his hand near my waist. He reached down to the cabinet beneath the sink. “I think they’ve got bandages down here.”
“You must know these people pretty well,” I said, but he didn’t respond, busying himself with opening a silver-plated first aid kit. It was neatly stocked with band-aids, hydrogen peroxide, bandaging tape, nail scissors, everything you could want.
“Come here,” he said, without looking at me. When I didn’t obey, he gave me that mischievous, smirky look again and tugged me close. He bandaged my arm expertly, smoothing the fabric tape flat.
“There. Now you won’t bleed through your shirt.” He grinned. “Now, admit it. You need me just a little bit.”
It didn’t help that he was impossibly cute. And now we were standing toe to toe.
“Maybe just a little,” I said.
“What, no kiss?” he said, still grinning down at me.
The most interesting thing in my life turned out to be the simplest: falling in love with Ry Calhoun.
~Lily Inoue, from the Candlemoth: A Holy City Romance series,
“I’ll call the police,” I said, faintly.
“I’ll fall,” Ry said. The raft of confederate jasmine floating along the power line behind him shook in the wind, and my rooms filled with their sweetness.
With a cry I surged forward, trying to prise the window up only to realize how short the ledge was. Ry clung there by the pads of his fingers; his sneakers must have been wedged against the brick wall by determination alone. Jamming the window up to let him inside might be enough to cost Ry his balance, but there was no way he could scramble back down, either.
He knew this.
“Please.” My voice was wet paper. “Please don’t fall.”
“Lily,” Ry said.
It was all he said. Waiting.
He kissed my forehead, stroking his fingers under my chin. Tilting my face up so that I looked into his eyes. “There’s not many things a hot bath won’t help. And I do want to help, Lily.”
Wrapped tight in his arms, naked except for a pair of silky pajama shorts, I’d never have believed how much I’d come to love this man who’d been a stranger to me days ago.
“But you have to talk to me.”
Fate is a clock. I knew this. Just as I knew Ry and I had been rushing towards one another all our lives. But what if now we were already rushing apart?
What if I was rushing us apart?
“Lily.” He buried his face in my neck, letting his breath out in a rush.
The small, white-tiled room filled with steam and Ry’s eyes darkened to indigo beneath those wonderfully scruffy eyebrows. I don’t know how to fix this. I knotted my fingers in his silky hair, bringing his face close. If I lose you…
I’ll find you again, I wanted to say. I will always find you again.
“I missed you,” I said.
He fitted me against him. I felt denim swell against silk. Pressing my hand down his front, memorizing the carved swoop of his pectorals, the spike of nipple under my thumb. Scraping the tender pink flesh with the edge of my nail, I watched Ry’s beloved face quicken...
Ry grabbed my shoulders and then my hair, stroking it back from my face as he moved his hips, his cock purring in and out, slow as honey, my lips and tongue tracing his seams.
My breasts swung over the cool tiled floor. Steam trickled down my sides like sweat, mazing my nipples. Water like his touch.
Ry’s bare feet curled with bliss. I felt a surge of tenderness for every part of him. For his feet, his naked heart, his lovely mind. For having had to hurt him and for sheer want of wanting to stay like this forever...
Ry’s eyes licked over my body. “Well, you look incredible.”
Oh right. I was still wearing Wen’s dress. It was skin tight and knee length, as white as the crescent moon in the sky. I felt how the tight hem had inched up my thighs and resisted my sudden unglamourous impulse to tug it back down into place.
I stood there looking at him. My hips ached towards him instinctively, but the heartbreak on Ry’s face made me stay back.
I couldn’t bring myself to hurt him any further. Running into his arms just to pull away again. It would only twist the wound.
So we both hung there like twin paper cut outs, locked in place.
“What are we doing, Ry?” I said, softly.
“I think we’re scared.” Ry tried to laugh, but his eyes were still. His eyebrows drew together. His voice so soft it seemed to drift down between us. “I’m afraid if I touch you, you’ll shatter my heart. Again.”
Paper trash shivered in the grass.
“I already used all the Krazy glue I had just to pull myself together enough to get here. So I’m sorry, Lily, but I’m just a catshit right now. You, I don’t know what you’re afraid of.”
“Chickenshit,” I tried to smile. “You mean chickenshit.”
“Hey, listen, you asked me, so it’s me telling this story.” Ry smiled meltingly.
I took the tiniest half step closer to him, and it was like a tiny taking flight. I hung in the air, fighting back the impulse to run into his arms.
“My mama raised me to fight for what I want.” Ry’s voice was rough with emotion. “So I’m here. You’re what I want, Lily. You’re all I want. Whatever it is that’s so wrong about that, we can face it together...”