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First Page: Lord Sebastian’s Honor – Historical Romance

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Travellers Club
London, May 1851

“It’s a sure sign that I had too much to drink,” Sebastian said, “when I start imagining beautiful women coming into my bedroom and taking their clothes off.” The young woman did not reply. She merely let her chemise fall to the floor and stepped out of it.

Sebastian de Mornay had the feeling that he’d missed something. It was the same sensation he got when he been reading a book and skipped a page by mistake. Or, more accurately, as if he had been going down a staircase in the dark and missed a step.  The feeling of being caught off guard and coming to ground with a thump. Surely, he thought, he’d have remembered if he’d propositioned a woman tonight?

It wasn’t as if there had been many women in his life lately. He’d only arrived in England on the Marie Therese last week, eager to find his way back out of the country as soon as he could get another expedition funded. Which is what had brought him to the Travelers Club tonight in the first place.

He remembered a banquet room: brandy fumes, cigar smoke, and the sound of self-important men trying to out–bombast each other with their endless speeches. But not one beautiful woman, not even a single doe-eyed houri. You’d think that there would have been at least one, he mused, considering this was a club devoted to exploring the remote and exotic.

And this woman certainly qualified. Her dark eyes were as beautiful and mysterious as the nubile denizen of a sultan’s harem. She removed the last pin from her coiffure and her hair tumbled down around her. He had forgotten how beautiful a woman’s hair could look when it was unbound. Dark hair parted around a pale oval face and flowed down over bare white shoulders, a dark waterfall that provided entrancing glimpses of smooth white skin… It had been a long five months on that ship. If he looked at those curves much longer, he was going to forget the fundamental absurdity of this situation.

One moment he was sitting in bed reading, getting ready to go to sleep, and the next thing he knew the door handle had turned and a woman had walked into his room without a word of explanation. Perhaps it was the brandy that fogged his memory. He couldn’t recall ever seeing her before. She hadn’t been dressed as a servant; she had looked like a perfectly respectable young lady. At least, she had looked like a lady until she started taking off her clothes.

He should have paid more attention. Sebastian knew that now, as he watched her remove the last scrap of clothing and stand before him, cloaked like Lady Godiva only in her long hair.
She came closer. As she moved, the dark concealing waterfall of hair shifted, revealing the pale curve of a hip here, the stray glimpse of a breast there… Sebastian dragged his eyes away from her body as she drew back the bed covers. His hand shot out and grasped her wrist, stopping her. She regarded him without moving an inch. Her dark eyes were watchful. There was a kind of quiet dignity about her, which was more than Sebastian could say for himself.

“I don’t know quite how to put this,” he said, “but — have we met?”

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

16 Comments

  1. Kierney Scott
    Aug 03, 2014 @ 04:54:11

    I love it. It is super fun and a great set up. I would read on. Well done, author!

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  2. Lori
    Aug 03, 2014 @ 05:38:30

    Brava!!! You have an excellent first page here. Not a single nit and I want to read more.

    And this is exactly how to show who the character is, where they’ve been and what they want and all without an info dump.

    I love it.

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  3. Carol McKenzie
    Aug 03, 2014 @ 05:57:55

    Hi Author and thanks for sharing.

    This is interesting. I like historical romance although I don’t read them a great deal.

    I’d check your details. This isn’t, I believe, classified as a Regency romance, but the details still need to be accurate. Those who read historical romances know the details of the era more than I do. My only quibbles on that would be if there was a shipped named the Marie Theresa, and if the description of the banquet room at the Travellers Club. Was there an actual banquet room? And did men in Victorian England smoke in that room, or do they retired with brandy to a different room after dinner? Would the Club have had female servants, since it’s a men’s only club? And in a club that admitted women, but only to certain rooms, how had she gotten upstairs? But then again, that’s part of the mystery of the story, isn’t it?

    Check your spelling: you have Travellers up top and Travelers in the body of the story. I believe the correct spelling is with two Ls.

    Would I read on? Yes, I would. I want to know who this woman is and how she got there.

    I like your voice, and I like the historical feel to the language, although the line about the nubile denizen is a bit over the top for me. But it’s engaging and pulls me in and leads me to believe this is one of this historicals full of mistaken identities, wealthy British men with that lovely dry sense of humor and women who go against convention, for whatever reason.

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  4. Kate Sherwood
    Aug 03, 2014 @ 07:54:55

    I think it’s well-written and I’d read on.

    The only concern I had was over the references to Islamic culture, sultans, etc… by modern standards, I found them a bit offputting, the old fetishization of women from another culture game. But by historical standards, I expect the thoughts were pretty mild.

    So you’re stuck with the old ‘write according to modern standards’ or ‘write according to how my character would have really thought’ issues that come up in historical fiction.

    I have no idea what the answer is, except to avoid mentioning other cultures at all in historical fiction, which would raise its own set of problems with both modern standards AND historical reality.

    So, I mention it for what it’s worth, but I have no idea what to do about it. Useful, right?

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  5. Suz_Glo
    Aug 03, 2014 @ 08:02:38

    This is an excellent first page, IMO. I was hooked from the first paragraph and I would definitely keep reading.

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  6. Maggie Robinson
    Aug 03, 2014 @ 08:04:28

    Much more, please.

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  7. Lynne Connolly
    Aug 03, 2014 @ 08:44:33

    Good start. A little bit cliched, but I think your voice is good enough to get over that. Nice, smooth style and a way of introducing a character and leaving a little bit of intrigue to make the reader turn the page.
    However, as a Victorian romance, I wouldn’t be reading it, because I detest the Victorian era (it’s just me, honest!)
    Men had lots of facial hair, so your hero would probably have side whiskers and a mustache at the least. I’d have imagined his first thought was that his friends had sent him a prostitute, since that’s how she’s behaving.
    I do like your hero. If it weren’t for the whiskers and the smuts, I might be joining him on his journey!

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  8. sao
    Aug 03, 2014 @ 10:44:35

    I thought it was a good start. My only quibble is the comment about how the club should have a houri — which sounded like a woman owned by the club for the pleasure of the men,which is such a disgusting concept that you’ve triggered a rapist alert for Sebastian

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  9. Marianne McA
    Aug 03, 2014 @ 12:06:17

    This does everything a first page is supposed to: I want to know what happens next. And bonus, it made me laugh.
    (I agree with Kate about ‘the nubile denizen of a sultan’s harem’ etc being off-putting, but I was prepared to assume a Victorian man might think that way, so it wouldn’t put me off. )

    Good luck.

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  10. Lucy Woodhull
    Aug 03, 2014 @ 13:05:52

    I liked this! I echo Kate Sherwood’s questioning of the sultan thing. It’s unnecessary and smacks of fetishization of “exotic” cultures.

    The only thing that got me, besides that, was this:

    “One moment he was sitting in bed reading, getting ready to go to sleep, and the next thing he knew the door handle had turned and a woman had walked into his room without a word of explanation. Perhaps it was the brandy that fogged his memory. He couldn’t recall ever seeing her before. She hadn’t been dressed as a servant; she had looked like a perfectly respectable young lady. At least, she had looked like a lady until she started taking off her clothes.”

    This paragraph is 100% unnecessary. You’ve told us all this through action, except for the fact that she’s not a servant, but that’s implied (if she’d been a maid, I feel like he would have acknowledged that immediately). Regurgitating stuff we already know slows the passage down, and it’s too good to let that happen. Good luck!

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  11. cleo
    Aug 03, 2014 @ 14:09:39

    I’m not crazy about this setup (it has a bit of a Victorian letters to Penthouse vibe to
    me, even though he’s self deprecating – imagine my surprise when a beautiful woman came into my room and started undressing…), but I’d keep reading to see what happens next.

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  12. Willaful
    Aug 03, 2014 @ 16:59:10

    @Lucy Woodhull: That’s pretty much what I was going to say. It started feeling repetitive to me at that point.

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  13. Upstart
    Aug 03, 2014 @ 18:48:04

    Great work, Author. I’d definitely read on.

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  14. Kristi
    Aug 04, 2014 @ 08:43:03

    Ahh, I love it! Reads like Julia Quinn, I need more.

    I agree with Lucy in removing that paragraph.
    I also think the sultan reference is keeping in mind with the times, I didn’t mind it.

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  15. Zeba Clarke
    Aug 04, 2014 @ 12:25:57

    Hmmm. It’s an intriguing set up but there were things that bothered me and would have me hesitating before continuing with the book.
    a) it needs pruning because it is repetitive. Yes, we get it, he’s staying at a club and in walks this woman and strips off for him.
    b) if he’s a member of the Travellers Club (NB spelling needs to be consistent), he’d know full well that ladies were not admitted. In fact, if you check out the current membership page on the website, I don’t think that it allows women members even now. And he couldn’t stay there if he wasn’t a member, so he would be fully conversant with the no ladies deal, and hence even more astonished by her appearance.
    c) Banqueting not ‘banquet’ room – if indeed there was one. Also smoking cigars would have occurred in the smoking room, not in the banqueting room.
    d) Sebastian de Mornay – why the French name? He doesn’t sound remotely French in thought or diction. And Mornay always reminds me of cod. Which means the name is ringing my alarm bells and maybe I’m superficial but if the name doesn’t work for me, I find it very hard to continue with a character.
    e) Presumably this young woman has come into his room and he’s been watching her striptease for some time, and yet he waits until she’s about to hop into his bed to ask what the hell she’s up to and whether they’ve met? Doesn’t ring true with me – not the behaviour of a true gent.

    All of those things combine to make this a no-go for me.

    Hope my comments aren’t too mean – I’ve just come from reading Tim Clare’s Death of 1000 Cuts blog.

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  16. Evelyn Alexie
    Aug 06, 2014 @ 07:08:06

    Thank you for all the comments!
    @Zeba — No, your comments aren’t mean in the least! They were very useful.

    @Kristi — Julia Quinn? Wow!

    @Upstart — Thank you!

    @Willaful — Okay, I’m convinced. That para’s gone.

    @Cleo — I’ve not actually read Penthouse, but I have heard of their letters section. I’ll have to be careful not to give the wrong vibe!

    @Lucy — I will have to restraint my urge to over explain!

    @Marianne — I’m getting the feeling that that line might need to go.

    SAO — Ack! I hadn’t thought of that interpretation. Definitely need to rewrite that!

    Lynne — I agree, the Victorian era facial hair is a bit of a drawback. And I’m slapping my forehead because of /course/ a reader would assume his friends sent her. I’ll need to revise that.
    On the other hand, I think the Victorian era is a good setting for stories where women who don’t have any power, legally, have to get creative to get what they want.

    @Maggie — Thank you!

    @Suz_Glo — That is very encouraging to hear.

    @Kate — Yes, I was trying to give the feel of a Victorian male’s way of thinking. I agree that can be off-putting to modern readers. Personally, I wanted to shake H. Rider Haggard for some of his men (and women) and Haggard wrote decades later than this. I think I can tone it down a bit more while still giving the flavor. Thank you for mentioning this!

    @Carol — These are good points. That ‘nubile denizen’ line is definitely getting a rewrite!

    @Lori — Thank you!

    @Kierney — That’s very encouraging.

    Thank you all very much for your comments!

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