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First Page: Contemporary Romance

Welcome to First Page Saturday. Individual authors anonymously send a first page read and critiqued by the Dear Author community of authors, readers and industry others. Anyone is welcome to comment. You may comment anonymously.

This is the revised version. I failed to recall that the author had sent me a revision. Sorry guys!

***

Somewhere between ordering dinner and the arrival of the Italian salad, the conversation at Brizio’s veered into “Have you ever… ?” territory.

Two sets of eyes turned in Carla’s direction as she sipped from a glass of house red. Where do they find all this great stuff, she wondered, absently contemplating the shelves of imported cans, bags and boxes in the grocery store cum restaurant. And what the heck is it for?

‘Hey!” Mary’s finger tapped Carla’s glass, startling her back to attention. “Don’t leave us hanging. We’re collecting data.”

Data. Where was her concentration lately? “Sorry. Have I ever met someone and felt an immediate physical –”

‘Sexual.”

‘– attraction to that person and, yes, I have.”

A waitress began seating a party at the table to Carla’s left and the three women automatically moved in closer to each other.

‘And,” Gretchen prompted, passing the wine bottle to Mary, who waved it away.

Carla leaned forward. “I was introduced to a colleague’s partner after work one day. He was pleasant looking, had a great smile, an average guy.” She took another sip and set the glass down. “I put my hand out to shake his and as soon as his palm touched mine, I swear electricity ran up my arm and out the top of my head.”

Glancing again around the restaurant, she realized that quite a few tables were occupied by police officers wearing firearms, Kevlar, radios, flashlights. How did they eat with all that gear and just how young did the CPD take them these days? The table straight ahead held at least one detective, though: shoulder holster, white shirtsleeve cuffs rolled back on tanned arms, shield clipped to belt. Huh. Nice pants.

‘So, what, you jumped him?” Gretchen asked.

‘No, no, no,” Mary said. “The real question is ‘Do you think he felt it, too?’”

Carla shook herself and returned to the conversation. “I have no idea, but, honestly, I wanted him, in that instant, I really wanted him. Never felt anything like it before or since.”

Were those handcuffs on that belt?

“You know, when I shook–I can’t even remember his name–anyway, when I shook his hand, he was smiling, hugely, and the part of my brain that wasn’t on fire didn’t understand. Maybe he did feel something or he was just really happy to meet me. We’ll never know.”

‘Too bad he was already taken.” This from Gretchen with a sigh. “I mean, it’s great to know strong, instant attraction is possible outside the covers of a romance novel, but without any real experience to show whether that could have lead anywhere… ” She stopped at the broad smile on Carla’s face.

‘He wasn’t just taken, he was gay.” Her friends’ surprised silence gave way to laughter, drawing looks from other diners. “Yeah, male colleague, male partner. I spent a lot of time wondering about attraction, how it works and what that whole encounter meant, if anything. Color me confused because I can still feel it.”

The women paused as their plates were set down, and then passed the grated Parmesan around the table. Could there be anything better than Brizio’s salad dressing? Maybe the basil-infused olive oil for dipping bread. Or a gold watch on the right wrist of a southpaw.

Keeping her eyes off the detective–the man–at the table ahead of her was becoming increasingly difficult. He looked so vital, so competent. Dark hair brushed back from a high forehead, tall, slender, all of his movements controlled, not rigid, just quietly capable. Where did all that power and confidence come from?

Definitely time to stop the not-staring. And there was probably a law about sizing up police officers or, worse, he’d peg her as a stalker or groupie. Sorry, sir, just admiring your  wrists.

This could not end well.

‘If the electricity ever runs over you again,” Mary continued between bites, “I really would like to know if the person on the other end feels it.”

Me, too, Carla thought, refusing to look up any more. Me, too.

++++

“Legs.”

Maybe it was time to try the calamari sandwich or go crazy wild with eggplant, all purple,  good-and-good-for-you healthy. What was the point of looking at a menu if a guy ordered the same thing every time?

“Your three.”

The giambotta wouldn’t be a bad choice, not like the onions were going to get in the way of …

John’s eyes swiveled to his right, his brain finally registering his partner’s quiet words, taking in the party of women across the small restaurant. Blonde, brunette, something in between and, yes, there were legs. Nice ones. Very long ones.

Resuming his inspection of the menu, he muttered, “Too tall.”

The ensuing silence and the scrape of silverware against a plate had him looking to his left.

“Oh, really,” Pat said slowly, tearing one of the rolls in front of him. “Because, what, short worked so well for you the last time? Big guy like you, taken down by that ankle-biter, excuse me, ex-wife. Hey, how’s that shoulder healing anyway?”

John closed his menu, torn between astonished outrage and a choke of laughter. His partner, this stocky, red-faced Irishman, his best friend and one-time best man, never bothered to pull his punches, not even when the blow landed in a particularly sensitive spot. You had to love the guy. He cleared his throat.

“Now that the good ship ‘Tact’ just went screaming from the harbor, and nicely done, let me add, was there something you wanted to say to me?”

Pat held up a hand as he chewed, then swallowed before responding. Sure Mrs. O’Brien would be so proud of her son’s neat manners.

“Look, you’ve been to the seventeenth circle of Hell, which was not, as we originally thought, the baggage claim area at O’Hare. What she put you through …”

Not going there, not going.

“It’s done, it’s over and it’s time to get your head out of your ass.” More bread followed, having been run through the olive oil and cheese first. He shrugged. “I saw legs and I know you like legs. As your patient and long-suffering partner, it’s my duty to point these things out to you. If those legs happen to be attached to someone nearly as tall as you, I can’t think that’s all bad, considering.”

Jesus. If Pat had dragged him through the stuff on his plate, he couldn’t possibly feel more exposed, torn apart like that last roll. John rubbed his forehead with the thumb and middle finger of his left hand, the shoulder pulling only a little these days. Yes, he liked short women, no idea why since there wasn’t much need to make himself feel taller. And, yes, his ex was quite short so, OK, maybe his dining choices weren’t the only thing that needed changing.

A burst of laughter from the other table had both men looking over. The woman with the legs and not-quite-blonde-or-brown hair had said something to her two companions, setting them all back in their chairs. Although he couldn’t see their color from this distance, John could tell her eyes crinkled when she smiled. She was easily–how had his sister described herself?–five-foot twelve. Nice looking, probably intelligent, and way too soon for him.

“Gentlemen, what will it be today?”

John sighed as their waitress appeared, handed over his menu. “The usual, Nancy. Just the usual.”

++++

Jane Litte is the founder of Dear Author, a lawyer, and a lover of pencil skirts. She 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

36 Comments

  1. Leslee
    Jul 04, 2009 @ 04:30:35

    Ohhh, I really liked this! I wasn’t sure when I read the first few sentences but it really hooked me. Please tell me you are going to continue and will have it out very soon.

    I love the way she talked about his wrists, and such. It felt like a real attraction, not just oooh, he has a nice package I want to jump him. The tidbit about his ex intrigued me.

    Best of luck cause I would so buy this!

  2. Danielle
    Jul 04, 2009 @ 04:53:40

    I love it and it’s not just because I’m Italian. Let us know if this get’s published.

  3. Moira Reid
    Jul 04, 2009 @ 05:26:18

    I really enjoyed this. My favorite line: “Or a gold watch on the right wrist of a southpaw.” That kind of detail is awesome. Oh, and I’m a sucker for watches on men’s wrists…yum.

    And this: “The better question is ‘Do you think he felt it, too?'” Now that’s something I could read a book about!

    It’s just my opinion, but the sentences in the conversation between the men are a little long. It started out sounding right–”Legs.” “Your three.” Then the sentences, the flow I guess, sounded slightly off. “I saw legs and I know you like legs. As your patient and long-suffering partner, it's my duty to point these things out to you. If those legs happen to be attached to someone nearly as tall as you, I can't think that's all bad, considering.” I like the information here, but maybe trying cutting the sentences up more would improve the rhythm. Just a thought…honestly, I hesitate to say anything. I was sucked in from the very beginning.

    Who wrote this? It’s probably supposed to be a secret, but I’d hate to miss the release of the book when it comes out. And if the rest of the book is like this, it will come out one day.

    The very best of luck with the story.

  4. JJ
    Jul 04, 2009 @ 05:43:21

    Like everybody else, I really enjoyed what I read. I hope you come back and tell it has been released.

  5. Leah
    Jul 04, 2009 @ 06:39:01

    I liked it, too. It was so easy to see and hear. The only thing I wasn’t sure about was “Legs” and “Your three.” I thought that the cops at the other table were discussing their top 3 turn-ons when it came to women–which seemed kind of girly given the discussion at the other table. But that’s so minor. I love the dialogue, the heroine is interesting, and I love cops. I’d buy it.

    Thanks!

  6. Deirdre
    Jul 04, 2009 @ 06:45:49

    If I’d read that page in a bookstore it would be bought.

  7. Fae Sutherland
    Jul 04, 2009 @ 07:03:33

    Oh yeah, I’d definitely read more! I love the voice, the humor, the bantering between the characters. And the little details that, to me, make a story jump from good to great. Like “Your three” being said by a cop because it totally reminds me of NCIS and how Gibbs is always saying “DiNozzo, on my 6″ when he wants him to follow him. It’s just something that in my mind I equate with cop speak and the little detail cements in my mind the character’s occupation. Very nicely done.

    I do hope you’ll come back and tell us when this sells. When, definitely not if. Finish this if you haven’t already and if you have already sub it so we can read the rest!

  8. Stephanie
    Jul 04, 2009 @ 07:44:30

    A nice, breezy tone here–I’d definitely read on and I’m usually not a contemporary-romance gal. Carla’s stream-of-consciousness narration works for the most part, though you might want to differentiate a bit more between her inner “voice” and John’s.

  9. Gennita Low
    Jul 04, 2009 @ 07:48:21

    Wonderful ;-). Great intro of characters, nice dialogue interspersed with introspection. Good luck!

  10. Susan/DC
    Jul 04, 2009 @ 08:23:14

    Wow! This one showed intelligence, humor, and a mastery of language that we don’t usually see in these first page, often — but not always — first time authors. The author clearly knows what she’s doing and drew me in right away. I’d definitely follow her to pages 2 through the HEA, even if, as a short woman, I feel the need to defend our honor.

  11. KristieJ
    Jul 04, 2009 @ 08:33:52

    Like everyone else so far, I really enjoyed this one and would keep reading.

  12. Silver James
    Jul 04, 2009 @ 08:59:21

    I seldom comment on First Page Saturday. I even less frequently read contemporaries. I would read this book. In a heartbeat! I love the cop speak and the little details. Like everyone else, please let us know the title and when (or if it already has) it sells and is released!

  13. Juliana Stone
    Jul 04, 2009 @ 09:16:44

    wonderful voice and great delivery. Loved it, would read more. Good luck with this!

  14. Renda
    Jul 04, 2009 @ 09:18:41

    What Leah said.
    I don’t watch cop shows so to me it just seemed random and more than a little confusing. It did turn me off a bit, but it picked up just fine.

  15. Lynne Connolly
    Jul 04, 2009 @ 10:00:04

    I enjoyed this, and I’d definitely look for it. However – it could be sharpened up just a little bit. Don’t get me wrong, the voice is great, the scene is good as it is, but maybe, just maybe, the men sound a tad girly. Maybe the choice of words is a bit particular, this bit “Now that the good ship ‘Tact' just went screaming from the harbor, and nicely done, let me add, was there something you wanted to say to me?” set off my gaydar a touch.
    And please, please, not Pat O’Brien! I’m married to an Irishman (one generation and about 20 miles away from Eire) and really, that is such a cliche Irish name! Small point, but it did grate a bit.

  16. JenD
    Jul 04, 2009 @ 10:25:21

    This was great- makes me wish we had a page two Saturday.

    My only small nitpick is telling us that Pat O’Brien is an Irish cop. It’s pretty obvious that he’s Irish, not really a need to tell us. You can tell us his name, hair color and job and we’d put the other part together. Trust us a bit, we’ll make the connection.

    Please let us know when this gets published (I have no doubt that it will) because I’ll be standing in line to buy it!

  17. AnnB
    Jul 04, 2009 @ 10:54:55

    Oh, this is good!

    Just needs a little change here and there for things like the too expected Irish name but yes if I read this page in the bookstore the book would be coming home with me.

    Good job!

  18. Tina Burns
    Jul 04, 2009 @ 10:55:54

    Devil’s advocate here: I did enjoy the voice of the story but here’s the things that popped out to me.

    Two sets of eyes turned in Carla's direction

    I see Geico googly eyes here, it’s always good to have bodies connected with the parts.

    ‘Too bad he was already taken.” This from Gretchen with a sigh.

    How did she know? I reread twice and didn’t see where Carla had said he was taken.

    The women paused as their plates were set down, and then passed the grated Parmesan around the table. Could there be anything better than Brizio's salad dressing? Maybe the basil-infused olive oil for dipping bread. Or a gold watch on the right wrist of a southpaw.

    This pulls us out of Carla’s POV, and into an omniscient or narrative POV. Keeping it in Carla’s pov is as simple as… Carla paused as their plates….

    As far as the “Legs” and “Your three”, just make it “On your three.” and it’s fixed. :)

    Overall, love the whit and the banter between the two guys, that seemed real. I didn’t really believe the chicks though. At a girls night out, if I see a yummy guy, I’m telling my peeps, so it seemed off that she didn’t. I too would love to see the completed story though.

  19. Gwen Hayes
    Jul 04, 2009 @ 11:03:55

    I really enjoyed the voice a lot. And would keep reading.

    But–um–this is way more than one page. Just sayin.

  20. Fae Sutherland
    Jul 04, 2009 @ 13:22:49

    @Gwen Hayes:

    I thought it was a little long, too. I’m glad it was, though, I liked the guys perspective better than the girls. In fact, I’d probably start with the guys if I were the author, they were more engaging than the girls imo.

  21. cecilia
    Jul 04, 2009 @ 13:51:12

    @Tina Burns: I think the line about being introduced to the colleague’s partner is the indication that he is taken.

    General comment: I liked it, too, and would like to read more.

  22. Sarah Mayberry
    Jul 04, 2009 @ 14:36:05

    Yay. Big enjoyment. Would like to read more. Happy writing and good luck with selling!

  23. Julia Sullivan
    Jul 04, 2009 @ 15:25:24

    Nice idea, needs a bit of cleanup, but good to go.

    I think these are the only things that nobody’s mentioned yet:

    a) Restaurant names don’t need italics, but ship names–even imaginary ship names–do. You were eating at Brizio’s and talking about the Titanic.

    b) “CPD”: Chicago Police Department? Cleveland Police Department? Spell out the city name, seeing as it’s the first page.

    c) Where do they find all this great stuff, she wondered, absently contemplating the shelves of imported cans, bags and boxes in the grocery store cum restaurant. And what the heck is it for?

    Boring, confusing, and I assumed you (and your characters) were English because of the “x cum y” construction. Cut, as the cliche goes, to the chase. Carla should be spacing out because she’s ogling guys, not because she’s pondering canned goods.

  24. Tina Burns
    Jul 04, 2009 @ 16:22:10

    @cecilia

    Ah, I took it as business partner. She also explains that he was gay, so maybe that’s why at first I didn’t get it. :)

  25. I wrote this
    Jul 04, 2009 @ 16:52:59

    Thank you all so much for your comments. I had two goals in submitting my story: to find out whether I had written something anyone would want to read and to see if the male POV was at all interesting or believable.

    I’ve always written for family and friends, the ones who think the sun shines out of my keyboard. This feedback has been all that I had hoped for and I’m eager to make changes. Strangely enough, Pat O’Brien was the first Irish name I could come up with that didn’t belong to one of my friends. That and trying to find an Italian name that wasn’t already used by a restaurant in Chicago nearly made me nuts.

    I don’t know if anything will ever come of Carla and John’s story, but I am grateful beyond belief for this opportunity to have them take a bow.

  26. Meljean
    Jul 04, 2009 @ 18:13:05

    I liked it a lot, too, though the canned goods line almost lost me there for a second. I realize it’s probably a way of getting some setting description, but I also thought: Oh, Lord, this character is boring if she’s wondering about canned goods. I also had a “how did she know he was taken?” reaction (but that could probably be fixed by calling him the colleague’s boyfriend rather than partner — we don’t know the gender of the colleague, so him being gay would still be a surprise for everyone at the table.)

    The rest of it went smoothly for me, and I’d keep reading.

    Just generally: The length of this example might be more than a page, but I thought it probably gave a better indication of story and voice than we’ve seen here before. I liked the first page, but it was the second that sold me (as is often the case in bookstores, too. I’m not as invested in a great opening paragraph(s) as I am in seeing what comes right after them, and that’s where I’m either lost or sold.) So if this feature became First Page (and Sometimes a Little More) Saturday, I wouldn’t cry foul.

  27. ReacherFan
    Jul 04, 2009 @ 20:06:43

    Wow, that was a great start. This is something I’d give a try.

    I agree about that clean up of the extraneous stuff. It adds nothing and is a bit distracting.

  28. I wrote this
    Jul 04, 2009 @ 20:42:31

    I’ve made the recommended revisions and really appreciate all the suggestions. Writing in a vacuum isn’t just lonely, it leads to an inability to see what’s in front of me.

    Today’s my day for being brave. Fully aware that I could fall on my face, that what comes next, as Meljean mentioned above, won’t be good, here is the rest of this scene. Pat is still an O’Brien for now and the quick changes in POV may throw off some readers, but here it is:

    ++++

    What would they talk about anyway? As dinner progressed and Carla kept her eyes anywhere but there, she continued to wonder. What wouldn't teeter into the truly uncomfortable or border on the ghoulish? “Have you shot anyone?” or “Why did you join the police force?” or even “How was your day, honey?” were all non-starters. No wonder cops seemed to stick with cops because, really, what could a civilian say that wouldn't sound ignorant? Mickey, her retired firefighter neighbor, said his friends all married nurses because that's who they saw in their line of work; nurses at least understood some of the things they experienced on the job.

    What about you, Mr. Detective, she mused. Damn if I know why I find you so attractive, but there it is. What could I say that would get your attention and hold it, that didn't involve firearms in the city of Chicago or the breaking of laws?

    ++++

    “You remember my crazy Aunt Darlene, right?” Pat said over the last cup of coffee and the next to last biscotti. Pat's family had a lot of crazies so this wasn't exactly a trick question.

    “Yeah, your dad's brother's sister-in-law …” Tracking the O'Brien clan was like spelling “Mississippi”: how did you know when to stop? “Sarah's mom,” John concluded. The women at the other table, whom he resolutely wasn't noticing, were gathering their things, asking for the check. She, whoever she might be, really was lovely to look at.

    “So we couldn't figure out where all the PFLAG brochures came from or why Aunt Darlene was talking, a lot, about the freedom to make choices and how you couldn't help who you loved.” Both men reached for their wallets when their own check came and spent a few moments doing the math and over-tipping.

    “Turns out,” Pat continued, “she's decided Sarah must be a lesbian. You know, not seriously dating, no immediate prospects of doing so, heading towards her unmarried 30s.” He shook his head as he settled again in his chair. “The look on Sarah's face when the penny finally dropped. I felt so bad, especially since I was trying really hard not to laugh. She just got up from the kitchen table and walked out to her car, Aunt Darlene calling after her, ‘Sweetie, it's OK. You know we love you and we'll love her, too.'”

    John smiled into his own cup, enjoying the evening, his partner's stories, breathing. Maybe this was how you survived, maybe you knit the pieces together a little at a time. Subtly, small gestures. Wiping his hands on his napkin, he said, “I have a physical therapy session with Sarah next week. I'll be sure to – “

    “Excuse me.”

    ++++

    This was going to be a disaster, biblical in scale. Carla could sense Mary and Gretchen's progress, frozen at the door, turning to see where their friend had gone. That restless, nameless fascination had brought her here, to this table, all because she wanted to say something, to not let this moment simply slip away as so many others had.

    “I'm sorry,” she began. “I -’“

    Both men pushed their chairs back and stood.

    ++++

    Blue, her eyes were blue. And not a little startled, as if she hadn't expected to have to look up at him. Her mouth opened and closed a couple of times and then words, a verbal river, came tumbling out of that very nice mouth.

    The only thing more surprising to John was Pat's total silence the entire time, not that it would have been easy to interrupt. It was possible the woman standing in front of him wasn't breathing between sentences, but apparently neither was he, so he watched her face and noticed little things like freckles, the pink of her cheeks, a faded scar above an eyebrow.

    ++++

    “… what I would say to you. And I realized, I don't know anything about the kind of work you do, but I wanted to say ‘thank you,' because, well, it should be said, in case you haven't heard it in awhile.”

    And the part of her brain that wasn't pushing out more words was thinking, “Good Lord, who knew that a man standing up when a woman spoke would be so incredibly hot?”

    “That's all,” she said. “I just wanted to thank you.” Then she gave a small, rueful and lopsided smile and turned toward the door. Stupid, stupid, stupid, if her friends' expressions were anything to go by.

    “Wait.”

    Carla looked back at the sound of his voice.

    “I'm John,” he said and held out his hand.

    ++++

  29. Suzi-Q
    Jul 04, 2009 @ 20:59:20

    If I read this page, I would probably buy the book.
    Some comments on others’ comments:
    When Carla’s attention roves, I saw it as a character clue. She is a Noticer and a Wonderer. I liked the detailed observances when she noticed the “white shirt rolled over tanned arms” and the “shield clipped to the belt.” When she scopes out the Italian grocery, some concrete examples would set the scene– garlic on a rope, huge colanders, chalkboard menu.

    I would modify “grocery store cum restaurant” — most people don’t think of Latin prepositions when they see “cum.” How about, an Italian grocery store with a packed row of bistro tables.”

    In regards to the male badinage, I got the feeling that John kept a lot inside, was not a wordy person, and “good ship Tact” was self consciously cute. More in character to acknowledge the hit, and respond, “and your point?”

    Very good work.

  30. Leslee
    Jul 05, 2009 @ 05:06:57

    Oh my gosh, please say you will try to submit this somewhere. The second exerpt you gave was awesome!!!! I want to know what is going to happen next!!!! I want to see these two fall in love!

  31. sirayn
    Jul 05, 2009 @ 10:07:17

    I’d buy.

  32. vanessa jaye
    Jul 05, 2009 @ 10:17:43

    This entry rocks. I’m already invested in the characters. I hope the author submits this to an reputable agent/editor.

  33. Marianne McA
    Jul 05, 2009 @ 13:21:53

    I agree – I really, really liked this too.

    I do feel Suzi-Q is right however: while the word ‘cum’ should be okay – I wouldn’t think twice if I heard it used that way in speech – when I saw it written out, it looked out of place.

    And, as for the CPD, I sort of liked that it wasn’t spelled out – that carries the suggestion that the character is local to the area. The reference to O’Hare was enough to place the story for me, even though I’ve never been to the US.

    As long as John doesn’t turn out to be a shapeshifter on page 3, I’d buy.

  34. Gennita Low
    Jul 05, 2009 @ 19:38:50

    Still wonderful. Still love it! ;-)

    I wasn’t bothered by the “choppiness” of the second excerpt at all. It echoes her nervousness and showing his cop eye for detail was really good.

  35. RStewie
    Jul 06, 2009 @ 09:02:03

    I’d buy and I appreciate the extra excerpt!

    One thing, though, was the physical stuff about him rubbing his forehead and his shoulder in the original threw me off…I had to stop and figure out which fingers you meant, but that’s me and I might just be slightly dense on that.

    Otherwise, I love the internal dialogue and I really like where the story is going. I don’t see a lot of conflict at the moment in the beginning, but I’m sure there’s plenty of story to work through it.

  36. Cheryl S
    Jul 07, 2009 @ 02:01:48

    Oh wow. I loved the first excerpt and want to thank you for the follow up. I would definitely read this. I absolutely want to know what’s going to happen with these characters- even if you change his name.

    I enjoyed the unobtrusive way you introduced the details in a short piece: his handedness, their city, her too- tall height, his volatile marriage with his short ex-wife, his relationship with his partner, her legs, the way their minds’ wander ( just loved those touches ). They were really neatly done.

    I agree with the comments about the use of ‘cum’ but I enjoyed the jerkiness of the observations. They set the tone well.

    Seriously, this is one of the best first pages I’ve seen here.

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