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First Page: Captive of Her Heart (Historical)

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If a child was guilty for the crimes of one’s father, then Georgina Patience Wilcox was going to burn in the eternal flames of hell.

And it just so happened that hell was located in a stucco townhouse with heavy cornice in the port-city of Bristol, where she may as well have been a chambermaid for all the attention she was paid.

The sharp ache in her breastbone reminded her that she’d forgotten to breath. She sucked air into her lungs and stared at the simple wood door eying the handle as though it was covered in venomous spiders.

The moans finally stopped. As did the cries and shouts of fury and agonized pain. In this house of traitors to the Crown such sounds were not foreign; they were however, no less…

“What are you doing, Georgina?” Jamie Adleyson Marshall snapped.

She spun around on a gasp, a hand clasped to her breast.

Jamie lounged against the wall, arms folded across his chest.

“I-I…” she gestured to the door. “Who is in there?”

He shoved away from the wall. “Tsk, tsk, I asked you question.”

She forced herself to remain still, not wanting to give him the benefit of seeing the effect his presence always managed to have on her. Any other man who’d possessed his tall, lean physique and golden crop of curls would have surely elicited a different reaction than the shivers of apprehension that danced along her spine whenever he was near.

“I asked you first,” she countered, marveling at her own bravery for questioning him.

His nostrils flared in barely restrained anger. “No, you didn’t.”

Well, that was true. His blasé attitude drove back her fear as determination steeled her spine. “I heard a man screaming. Who is he?”

The swift backhanded blow was fast, unexpected. Not as hard as her usual beatings, but a painful warning nonetheless. A vicious reward for her bravery. She staggered against the wall, a hand clutching her stinging cheek. Pain radiated out from that point of contact. After so many years of being hit, she still wasn’t used to the way it left her body screaming for relief. She flexed her jaw, immensely thankful it wasn’t broken.
An icy smile turned his perfect lips, chilling her to the center. “We’ve told you numerous times to mind your place. You were specifically ordered to stay away from this room.”

In other words, carry on cleaning and cooking all the while ignoring the poor strangers brutalized by the two monsters who lived her. Except, those monsters had learned that she would not meekly look away from the plight of the men brought into this townhouse. All the beatings in the world hadn’t deterred her from caring after the prisoners whose only real crime was being loyal to the Crown. Which in Georgina’s opinion was no crime at all.

In spite of her fear, she took a step toward Jamie, and tossed her chin back. Her cheek still throbbed from where he’d struck her. “I-I w-want to be sure he wasn’t unwell. I heard sounds of distress.”

Those were the wrong words. Then, she’d never been the best with finding the appropriate ones.

He closed the small distance between them and grasped her chin between his thumb and forefinger. His breath fanned her cheeks. Suddenly he released her, his hand dropped to his side as though her skin had scorched him. “You are a tender-heart, Georgina.” Those words contained a blend of consternation and intrigue.

So many of their interactions went this way; she would say or do something to earn a show of his disapproving fury and then he would waver. It was as though he were two different people. She saw his weakening resolve and pressed her vantage. “I’m going to help him whether you allow it or not. You should therefore let me do what I…”

He pressed his finger to her lips, silencing her. His eyes grew shuttered and another frisson of fear curled deep in her belly like a poisonous serpent about to strike.

Jane Litte is the founder of Dear Author, a lawyer, and a lover of pencil skirts. She self publishes NA and contemporaries (and publishes with Berkley and Montlake) and spends her downtime reading romances and writing about them. Her TBR pile is much larger than the one shown in the picture and not as pretty. You can reach Jane by email at jane @ dearauthor dot com


  1. Elizabeth L.
    Nov 10, 2012 @ 06:37:40

    Personally, I like this as a start…provided that Jamie either isn’t the hero OR is seriously redeemed. A couple typos, but I’d definitely keep reading.

  2. joanne
    Nov 10, 2012 @ 08:28:37

    I’m surprised at how much I like your writer’s voice because the title makes me shudder.

    You have two characters in this small piece and they both have three names which is probably too much too soon. This opening could be tightened up easily if you decide to do that, and I would hope that you would be careful not to make your heroine TSTL by letting her say things that she should know will get her mistreated.

    Thank you for putting your work here and much good luck!

  3. Nicci August
    Nov 10, 2012 @ 08:59:01

    There are a couple of minor typos, and I’d suggest deleting your second paragraph. It only slows the reader down, and the location can be introduced later on. I agree with Joanne’s comment about being careful not to make your heroine TSTL by being openly defiant when she knows it’s only going to gain her a beating. There’s bravery, then there’s stupidity. You can emphasize her danger and Jamie’s cruelty in other ways.

    If Jamie’s your hero, then you have a very difficult path ahead of you, but I get the impression that he’s one of the villains, and I presume that the other will be her father? At any rate, I would continue reading based on what you’ve posted here.

  4. JB Hunt
    Nov 10, 2012 @ 10:15:29

    I enjoyed this. Interested to find out whether Jamie redeems himself or gets what’s coming to him.

    I disagree with Nicci’s suggestion to cut the second paragraph. I liked it, and it didn’t slow me down.

    But a few other things did. For the opening line, I’d go with the subjunctive (“If a child were…”). I definitely wouldn’t use “one’s” if “child” is the referent. If you want to avoid a gendered pronoun, make “child” plural: “If children were guilty for the crimes of their fathers…” That would be much smoother.

  5. Avery Shy
    Nov 10, 2012 @ 10:28:08


    Well, it’s a good place to begin. Tension, villain, things happening, no info-dump, ect. Excellent.

    At this point, whether or not I’d buy this book down would hinge solely on whether or not Jaime is the love interest. A gorgeous man who’s genuinely evil (ie, one who is not redeemed and who is not the love interest) is interesting. Whereas the “he’s hot but he’s evil!” love interest has been done to death.

    Not bad writing. Couple of mistake, could use a beta. You slip into purple prose a few times; keep a watch out for that.

  6. SAo
    Nov 10, 2012 @ 10:40:20

    You would improve your writing a great deal by studying motivation-reaction units. The natural order of a reaction is: 1) event, 2) feeling, 3) reflex 4) conscious thought/speech/action. You can Google this and get a better explanation than I can give, but when the order is wrong, the reader can’t feel things with the character.

    This is what happened: 1) Cries, moaning, shouts of fury, 2) Georgina forgot to breathe. 3) the noise stopped, 4) she sucked in a breath. She thought about something — a plan of action? while staring at the handle of the door.

    By putting it backwards, instead of us hearing the noises of the tortured men with her and feeling with her, we’re busy figuring out the puzzle of what happened. It’s an easy puzzle to solve, but we’re losing the sense of being there.

    Next, 1) she saw Jamie’s blond curls 2) shivers went down her spine then, 3) she forced herself to remain still. Your order was backwards again and we had to read through a lot of words to discover what Jamie looks like and that the guy with the tall, lean physique and golden curls was not the hero making her drool, but a creep.

    The next scene is the same: You tell us about the blow, she compares it to a typical beating (thought), she staggers against the wall clutching her cheek (reflex) and then she feels the pain. The right order is hit, pain, stagger, thought. Because we’re not seeing this with Georgina, we are being told about the shivers, not shown.

    You also need to work on your POV. Jamie speaks before Georgina is aware of his presence. He lounges against the wall, but how long has he been there, watching her? Why would he lounge watching her, then snap, ‘what are you doing?’ You’d be better off having her hear a step, whirl and see Jamie.

    You also need to let us see things as soon as Georgina is seeing them. We have to figure out from the middle of your para what Jamie looks like, rather than seeing him as soon as G. does.

    I liked the opening sequence that If one pays for the sins of one’s father. . . burn in hell. . . Hell is in the townhouse. That’s a great hook. However, you load it up with too much detail about stucco, heavy cornices and port-cities and G’s middle name. More importantly, you drop every reference to the father’s sins. He’s gone from this page. G is treated beaten, but she complains no one notices her. I’d think she’d do her best to avoid the notice of people like Jamie.

    I did wonder if G is too stupid to live. I think your problem is that you’ve given her a distinct background — the sinful father, the beatings, the fear of Jamie but that seems to be totally divorced from her actions. How do frequent beatings affect her? How would you react?

    Good luck with this and thanks for putting it out here.

  7. Lynne Connolly
    Nov 10, 2012 @ 14:16:46

    She’s a doormat, he’s an abuser, I’m guessing we have some 50 Shades here. Not for me, sorry, especially if he’s the hero. I’m more than bored with the powerful alpha/sweet little Mary Sue heroine.
    of course, you can only tell so much from the first page, so I might be on the wrong track. But neither character on this first page interests me, so I’d probably put the book back on the shelf.
    The manuscript needs some tidying up, eg you “breathe,” you don’t “breath.”

  8. Christi
    Nov 10, 2012 @ 18:08:48

    Thank you so much for the crit ladies! Wonderful, wonderful advice! I’ve made some revisions since I submitted which address some of these very points you raise! But there are also pieces here that I can now go back and reflect on.

    SAo…this was fantastic feedback!

    Just to clarify, Jamie is NOT the hero! : )
    @Lynne Connolly:

  9. Irish Lass
    Nov 10, 2012 @ 22:34:19

    SAo offers some great feedback, couldn’t agree more. A nice analysis that’s thorough and constructive.

    I see things like “breath” and “breathe” as catches you’ll get on a future revision or when you have someone proof it for you – not sure how productive it is to mention, but there are others, e.g., “by the two monsters who lived her.” [lived here]

    I craved a little more grounding and setting details, but that’s just me. I think setting can really help set a mood – it’s what distinguishes a great series like “Game of Thrones” from “Mad Men,” the setting. You don’t need to overdo it, and I do find the possibility of this house appearing rather innocuously – and the fact that it harbors these horrors – a disturbing, compelling contrast.

    The opening line is a grabber, but then the father element is dropped, as we realize she’s doing penance for it, (right?) But I’m not sure how critical that is to your opening scene. To me, her survival and escape are paramount. To me, the opening line is stylish – but is it a gimmick to hook me? Because I’m not sure how connected it is to the rest of it – perhaps because it’s not explained.

    Okay. Here’s a suggestion, she could holding an object that indicates her station, e.g., a cooking utensil or a cleaning rag, that she is clutching nervously as she’s listening to the agonizing screams of these men… and plop this in one of your first three paragraphs, to provide the reader with a clue as to what she is doing here, (aside from the opening sentence, which I’m not sure is congruent or essential to the rest of the scene, although it’s a definite grabber).

    You could work in some cooking utensil where she is holding it, trying to be quiet and listen to clues about these tortured men, and when a sudden sound erupts, she drops it (being human, we’re all human and make mistakes). This way, she’s not committing a TSTL maneuver yet she’s still imperiled, because that is why we read novels, because characters are endangered, they’re imperfect, they struggle. If you weave in a detail like this, you’re increasing the tension as well, e.g., “will she be discovered and beaten?” Perhaps she could be receiving a message that’s critical from one of these tortured guys and she’s holding some giant spoon and it slips as she receives the message… alerting the guard / creep who slaps her.

    Relieved to know this dude’s (Jamie) not the hero, and I gravitate toward the dark alpha hero, but he seemed brutal and indifferent to the plight of those being tortured… and if he’s the hero, he’s going to need some miraculous conversion.

    Oh, this too-stupid-to-live movement. Oy vey! You know, when I go out driving or shopping, I can see dozens of examples of “too stupid to live,” and I myself have my TSTL moments. Scarlett O’Hara might have had a few, yet she was iconic as a character, she was strong, stubborn, self-centered, etc. I like imperfections in heroines, love those flaws, I don’t need ‘em perfect, but if they’re fighters, good. One example of a highly relatable character is the original “Karate Kid,” a thin, insecure kid. I can’t speak for other readers, but I can’t relate to a Kardashian who’s beautiful and a butt-kicker, I relate to insecure people who struggle, I root for them. Good Lord, I adore Edward Rochester and he’s as flawed as it gets.

    I offer my suggestions humbly and salute you for posting your opening page. It’s easy to be a critic – far harder to put your stuff out there and your heart on a limb. Kudos for your courage. Best of luck.

  10. Lynne Connolly
    Nov 11, 2012 @ 10:38:31

    @Christi: Very relieved to hear that Jamie is not the hero! However, since he’s the first handsome male the reader meets, it might be good to drop a hint somewhere that he’s not going to be the hero. Just a thought.

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