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First Page: His Best Friend’s Secret Sister

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Through the eye holes in his mask, Brandon Reilly surveyed the glittering crowd mingling in the penthouse club room of one of the most exclusive buildings in New York. The day of reckoning had arrived.

He snagged a flute of champagne from one of the circulating waiters. He would have preferred a scotch, but this would get him to the bar. As he sipped, he scoped out each of the women in the room he could see. Wondered which of the ones he didn’t know was the sister his best friend Matt Christopher had discovered less than a year ago after his father had died.

It was just like Matt’s dad to keep a love child secret for nearly thirty years. Not that Brandon’s dad had been any better. At least he’d always known there was the possibility of half-brothers and -sisters out in the world considering how many times his parents had ended up in screaming matches over the latest paternity suit.

“Brandon, there you are. I was wondering if you were going to ditch our little shindig.”

As Brandon glanced down at the perfectly coiffed silver hair which had snuck up on his left, he let one of his infamous brows rise up.

“As if I’d ever miss a party of yours, Grandma Adele.”

The woman at his side snorted. She may have come from one of the richest society families in New England, and assisted in the making of her husband’s fortune in exclusive hotels, but she’d never put on airs with her family and the few non-relatives she’d taken in as her own.

And he thanked whatever deity had been looking out for him that he’d been included in that circle. He bent and kissed her powdered cheek below the edge of the gilt mask she wore.

“How are you doing?”

“Perfectly well. We expected you earlier. I know Matthew wanted to introduce you to Sam before the crowd arrived.”

“Sorry. I got held up by a call from China. It turns out the money guys behind the deal Matt’s been working on have decided they’re ready to talk to me.”

“About time. Well, go ahead and mingle. I’ll let Matt know you’re here when I spot him.”

“I’ll be at the bar.”

She turned a gimlet eye first on the flute he held on his hand and then on him. “You had better not install yourself there all night. All family hands on deck tonight with hosting duties.”

Brandon grinned and saluted. “Yes, ma’am.”

Her eyes narrowed, but before she could say anything one of the other grand dames in the room called her over. He didn’t know why they still bothered to wear the masks since almost everyone knew almost everyone else. It was asking for trouble in the form of a high society burglar who preyed on events like this, but the masked New Year’s Eve party was Christopher tradition.

Brandon cut his way through the crowd to the bar where the bodies were three deep. No one missed a Christopher open bar. He sidled over to the corner where a lone woman stood at the pass through.

The deep green of her dress shimmered as it framed her back. The soft fold lying against her waist invited the hand. Sparkling crystals ran across her shoulders and kissed the nape of her neck. His lips itched to do the same.

When she turned her head, he realized he didn’t know her since the mask she was wearing didn’t do anything to hide her identity with its wide eye holes and lacey metalwork studded with green and clear crystals. Dark brown hair was swept up in a chignon and diamond studs sparkled in her ears. Makeup smudged her eyes and made him think of sunkissed mornings in bed after a night of debauchery.

She caught his gaze and smiled. “Hi.”

“Hello.”

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

12 Comments

  1. Dallas
    Jun 28, 2014 @ 06:45:18

    Hello, author,

    To be honest, though you might have some very interesting ideas in mind for this story, nothing here looks fresh and new enough to keep me reading. The “insta-lust”–my goodness, he has seen her for two seconds and already is thinking of getting it on with her–is a major turn-off to me and again, not original.

    Instead of back story, what about giving us more insight into the character? Like, why does he require a drink just to get him to the bar? Does he hate these parties? Why? Did he have to give up something else he wanted to do? And if this is the “day of reckoning”, what is that about? Is he feeling pissed? Nervous as he plans some sort of revenge? Help me be more interested in finding out more about this guy.

    Then there’s the grammar. Needs clean-up. For example: “As he sipped, he scoped out each of the women in the room he could see. Wondered which of the ones he didn’t know was the sister his best friend Matt Christopher had discovered less than a year ago after his father had died.”

    Wow. He could see the women, or the room? and why not just say, “As he sipped, he scoped out the women”? And if they’re masked, how does he know which ones he doesn’t know? Just trying to sort out those two sentences together took more time than I, the reader, am willing to invest in a story. So think about tighter sentences and better grammar.

    I was also totally confused by this: “When she turned her head, he realized he didn’t know her since the mask she was wearing didn’t do anything to hide her identity…”

    So…if I interpret this correctly, her mask doesn’t hide much, so he can see enough of her features to realize that he doesn’t know her.

    Nope. Not gonna work that hard to read a book, especially one that doesn’t seem to offer a fresh story.

    I will give you points, though, for the inadvertent Tom Swifty-ish moment, when grandma eyes his champagne: “She turned a gimlet eye first on the flute he held on his hand.” :-) (Oh, and it’s “in his hand”, not “on his hand”.)

  2. Lynne Connolly
    Jun 28, 2014 @ 08:42:33

    This reads like a parody of a Harlequin Presents. But then, so do a lot of the current crop of Harlequins (no names, no pack drill!)
    You have the “ingredients” here, but nothing new, nothing to make me perk up. The blurb would contain something, the spark of difference, I presume. I just read a very disappointing series of books by some of Harlequin’s best authors, and that was a revenge plot. I suspect part of it was because I just don’t like revenge plots.
    Cut the backstory. All of it. Trust the reader. I write backstory like this in my first drafts, and then cut it when I revise. Show it. For instance, he’s wearing an expensive tux. He’s either rich or he’s hired it. There’s a bit of tension for the reader.
    Technically, you have a few problems. Some run-on sentences, like,
    “When she turned her head, he realized he didn’t know her since the mask she was wearing didn’t do anything to hide her identity with its wide eye holes and lacey metalwork studded with green and clear crystals. Dark brown hair was swept up in a chignon and diamond studs sparkled in her ears.”
    That’s two sentences, if not three.
    There are a fair few passives and disembodied body parts. Just to take one brief passage:
    “The deep green of her dress shimmered as it framed her back. The soft fold lying against her waist invited the hand. Sparkling crystals ran across her shoulders and kissed the nape of her neck. His lips itched to do the same.”
    The dress is alive? And how did the soft fold invite “the hand.” Is the hand working on its own? And the crystals also have a life of their own. She is passive, it’s her clothes he fancies, not her, at this stage. And he has itchy lips? A cold sore? (sorry, but that was my first thought!)

  3. SAO
    Jun 28, 2014 @ 08:50:22

    I’m interested in your story, but you could make this page a lot better. You spend too much time in backstory. I’m no fan of the contrived cute meet, but somehow the “Hello” and the reply “Hi” are a little flat.

    You need to show, not tell. For example,
    Was that her? Brandon Reilly tracked the tall woman in the crystal-encrusted Versace gown as she made her way towards the crowded bar. She was tall — any sister, even a half-sister of Matt’s would be tall.

    Okay, so this isn’t a stellar opening, but it gives Brandon a goal (finding the half-sister) and it shows us the glittering crowd.

    Your story has 3 elements, Hero, Heroine, and Plot. Because Brandon isn’t doing much, we don’t learn anything about who he is. The sister doesn’t do more than wear a dress and say Hi. The plot is not on the page at all, because why does Brandon care about the sister’s family tree?

    Focus on one of these elements, show conflict, preferably internal conflict, and start your story.

  4. Jill Sorenson
    Jun 28, 2014 @ 09:52:06

    I often disagree with the criticisms I see here and I think this is good. Best friend’s sister is a favorite trope of many, and secrets are even better. This is an elegant world with nice descriptions. I don’t need to know everything about everyone on the first page. Just put the hero and heroine together in a well-described setting and let stuff happen naturally. Which you’ve done.

    The awkward sentences need a little work. “He scoped out the women nearby. Wondered which one might be the sister…etc.” Simplify. “When she turned her head, he realized he didn’t know her. The mask she was wearing, with its wide eye holes etc, did little to conceal her identity.”

    Good job and good luck.

  5. Carol McKenzie
    Jun 28, 2014 @ 10:08:14

    Hi Author and thanks for sharing.

    I actually do get the line about the champagne getting him to the bar and I think it’s one of the better lines in the story. It reads like a line from a hard-boiled detective story from the 30s. He’s a guy who drinks hard liquor, but waiters at posh events don’t carry glasses of 20 year-old single malt on their trays, so the champagne will have to do until he can fight his way to the bar.

    I like the last line as well. However, pretty much everything else in between isn’t all that great.

    As above, you have grammar and sentence structure issues. You also have the cart before the horse in a few sentences:

    “I”ll let Matt know you’re here when I spot him.” Granny has to spot Matt first, then tell him. It’s an awkwardly constructed sentence, but one that’s easily fixed.

    “When I see Matt, I’ll tell him you’re here. I assume you’ll be at the bar?” Adele raised one perfect eyebrow above the edge of her mask. She turned a gimlet eye…”

    And the rest of that sentence has to be one of the best unintentional double entendre I’ve read in a while.

    A major pitfall on this page for me is knowing who has the sister, Matt or Brandon. I’ve read through the sentence about Matt’s father having illegitimate children. And then you go right to the possibility of Brandon’s father doing the same. So I’m left muddled about whose half-sister we’re actually looking for, Matt’s or Brandon’s. And if it’s Matt’s sister, why is Brandon so keen to find her?

    Since I don’t know if this is romance or intrigue or something else, I’m not sure what I’m expecting from the discovery of a stranger at the bar. Is this Matt’s sister, or Brandon’s? I’m still confused over whose sister we’re actually supposed to be interested in. (Although if I go back and read the title, it’s clearer, I think. But I shouldn’t have to close the book on the first page for clarification on whose sister this is. I may just set the book aside and not open it again.)

    Backstory needs to go. If you’re going to have dialog between green-dressed girl and Brandon, it would have shown up on this first page. And that would have hopefully been worth sticking around for. As it is, there’s nothing on this page about Brandon, other than he’d really like a Scotch and this isn’t his family.

  6. Carol McKenzie
    Jun 28, 2014 @ 10:10:24

    Sorry… “Isn’t all that great” is harsh. It’s not great writing, but it’s writing that can be improved upon. My intent was to say the writing gets in the way of the story and when that happens, it’s not great. But fixable. Okay, taking foot out of mouth now.

  7. Sunita
    Jun 28, 2014 @ 10:49:07

    I’m with Jill on all points.

    There are some awkward sentences and word choices, so as she says, simplify. Have someone else red-pencil it and show you where the bits are that interrupt the flow of the story. But I already like the hero and I’d definitely keep reading.

  8. hapax
    Jun 28, 2014 @ 11:37:20

    First of all, I loved the title. It made me laugh.

    I actually like the set-up, although it’s been done a thousand times before. But that’s WHY it’s been done — it works (when well-crafted).

    I think your biggest problem here is a string of cliches (“day of reckoning”, “perfectly coiffed hair”, “powdered cheek”, etc. etc. etc.) That, more than the familiar plot, is what makes this feel tired.

    I’ve found that whenever my writing seems to flow effortlessly, pouring out of my fingers as if I’ve connected straight to the Muse, it’s because I’m tapping into a well of subconscious cliche. (<– Like that sentence right there). That's why it's so important to hand the document over to a beta reader you can trust to be honest… and harsh.

    Good luck with this; I want to see it go somewhere!

  9. shiloh walker
    Jun 28, 2014 @ 11:38:07

    This works for me. I got a good idea for the setting, the hero doesn’t come off as a jerkhole.

    I didn’t get that tedious feel of info dumping with what little backstory there was, so that was ok.

    I’d keep reading. :)

  10. Michele Mills
    Jun 28, 2014 @ 12:57:26

    I smiled when I saw the “category” title, because I love reading a good category. I was pleased to see you had the beginning down -fast start that sucked me right in. I enjoyed the set up, works for me. By three fourths in you were starting to lose me, I was skimming. This was only because of the errors/sentence structure already pointed out above. But no worries, this has “good bones”, everything pointed out is easily fixable. Keep going and good luck!

  11. Lucy Woodhull
    Jun 28, 2014 @ 16:44:32

    I agree that there’s not much that’s fresh and compelling here, I’m sorry. I was turned off to your hero when he called his own eyebrow “infamous.” It might be, but him thinking it to himself is douchey to me, and I laughed, and not in the good way. Bless you, though, for not naming your hero Chase or Dakota or Mace or something equally eye-roll worthy. I just get so tired of Alphaholes named Jackknife Wolfe.

    I’d love for you take a step back and consider all the things that are unique to your characters besides the formula of this type of line that’s necessary, I know. What makes them weird, awesome individuals? If you find those things, it’ll automatically elevate the story. Good luck!

  12. Lisa
    Jun 28, 2014 @ 18:37:19

    Matt Christopher is also the name of a well-known author of sports books for kids.

    The silver hair that snuck up gave me a laugh that I’m not sure you intended.

    I am rooting for you to poke gentle fun at these tropes while giving us a good story.

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