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First Page: Ring of Love (contemporary romance)

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Chapter One

She needed this job.

Clementine Foster stared across the stately desk to the empty leather chair. Behind the chair stood a series of soaring shelves stuffed haphazardly with hundreds of books. Leather-lined first editions competed with tattered paperbacks for space. At any other time, she’d have been delighted to spend hours combing through the collection and finding new treasures.

This is not the time to get distracted, Clemmie.

No. It wasn’t, was it? Now was the time to concentrate on what was most important. More important than anything else in her life right now.

“You must,” her grandfather hissed in her memory. “You’re the only one who can.”

She hadn’t argued with him. She never argued with anyone. And in this case, he was right.

There was no use arguing that there was anyone else who could do this. All the rest of the Fosters were dead. And her grandfather was as good as.

It was up to her to get the ring. And then maybe her grandfather could die in peace. And then maybe, at last, she would have paid him back. Paid all the dead Fosters back for what they’d done for her.

So she needed to get this job.

But for her, it was not really a job. It was a payment. A means of atonement. Once she accomplished this, she’d finally be free for the first time in her life.

The door behind her slammed open.

Clem stiffened her spine and forced herself not to turn around. He didn’t matter. Getting the job mattered. Getting the ring mattered.

“Ms. Daniels.”

A jolt ran through her at the name. The name she’d left behind long ago.

And then the impact of his voice slid around her spine and jolted her once more. She hadn’t expected a voice like his. Not deep and rich and sibilant. She’d expected something more along the lines of her grandfather’s – harsh and hard and old. The urge to swing around and stare became almost overwhelming.

But he moved before she could slip from her control. Out of the corner of her eye, she saw a large male come up beside her and then move past her chair.

She managed to stifle a gasp.

He was huge. A great mountain of a man. The black wool sweater he wore did nothing to disguise the bulging muscles of his arms or the broadness of his shoulders. The black jeans did not diminish the strength of his heavy thighs; rather they highlighted their power as he propelled himself around the desk.

Clem had never liked big anything. Big houses. Big families. Big drama.

And she especially didn’t like big men.

He turned and she nearly gasped again.

He wasn’t old. Not even close to her grandfather’s age. Nowhere near her assumptions about her future employer.

Assumptions her grandfather had not contradicted.

His dark hair was not threatening to recede. In fact it announced its vitality by sticking straight out of his head as if he’d just been hit by lightning. His jaw line was taut, though shadowed by two days’ worth of whiskers as if he had no time to spend with basic care. His masculine power poured out of him filling the room with his energy. A man in his prime.

Clem did not like overtly masculine men. They made her conscious of her lack.

Work for this man? Steal from this man?

Was her grandfather mad?

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. Kate Sherwood
    Jul 06, 2013 @ 06:31:09

    I really like a lot of this. The set up is intriguing, the characters interesting, and the writing is mostly solid.

    I think it would be better for me with a bit less introspection and repetition. It’s a hard balance to find – we’re told we have to make it clear what our characters want, but we’re also supposed to show and not tell… for me, this went a little too far in the “telling” direction. With a first sentence as clear as yours, a lot of the rest of the first chunk felt repetitive. This part, for example:

    It was up to her to get the ring. And then maybe her grandfather could die in peace. And then maybe, at last, she would have paid him back. Paid all the dead Fosters back for what they’d done for her.

    So she needed to get this job.

    But for her, it was not really a job. It was a payment. A means of atonement. Once she accomplished this, she’d finally be free for the first time in her life.

    Feels like you’re repeating the same ideas a couple times. I didn’t think it was necessary.

    Your second paragraph put me off a bit, too – books “competing for space” is a bit of a cliche, as is “combing through” books – I think I could handle one or the other, but both together felt as if I’d read this all before.

    Stylistically, I think you overdid the sentence fragments a little. I think they’re great as spice, but parts of this felt like they were the whole meal.

    And I don’t THINK it means what it sounds like it means, but a woman “being conscious of her lack” because of a masculine man makes it sound like all women are lesser because they aren’t men. I think you meant some specific lack in the character in this instance, but it still didn’t come out sounding quite right, to me.

    Overall, though, I’d like to read more. I was interested in the characters and the setup, and that counts for a lot! Good luck with it!

  2. Lynne Connolly
    Jul 06, 2013 @ 06:57:00

    This reads like an opening for a Harlequin Presents. I’d start with “the door behind her slammed open.” By the way, how does a door slam open? Is it bouncing off the wall?
    Everything before it is redundant and you can explain it as you go along.
    You do repeat “man” a bit, and “male” sounds weird, like he’s an orang-utan or something.
    The “two days of whiskers” is a bit specific, is she an expert?
    Her lack of what?
    And finally, this is adding up to a martyr heroine. Please don’t make her a doormat, someone who does as she’s told because her sick mother or grandfather want her to!

  3. wikkidsexycool
    Jul 06, 2013 @ 07:23:07

    Hello Author,

    Thanks for having the courage to submit this.

    Just a few nit-picky things, but otherwise I liked it. While I’m not crazy about the heroine’s name, I’d just advise not to jump too much from using Clem, Clemmie or Clementine.

    It would be nice if you had more going on besides her backstory thoughts. The only other thing I’d add to what has already been stated by others, is to tighten up some of your sentences. The description of her potential love interest worked in some parts, though you might think about having her gasp only once, and not twice.

    Another example:

    “His masculine power poured out of him filling the room with his energy”

    I think what the repetition of “his” in that one sentence isn’t needed.

    I’m no expert, but “Masculine power poured out of him, filling the room with energy” reads a bit smoother.

    I wish you all the best with this, and I have to agree with Lynne. Your heroine is coming across as a doormat who’s hampered by a trope.

    I’m hoping there’s more of a twist besides the premise of her owing the Fosters so she’s willing to steal for them. Its sounds like a much older romance novel set up, but this is listed as a contemporary, so something a bit more modern besides simple guilt may be needed imho.

    The story didn’t really start for me until the male lead entered the room. That’s when your writing picked up, and I got a sense of pace. This had more action for me than the premise of her stealing the ring, because you set a mood and tone by your description of the male lead with the way he charged the atmosphere. I think this may be where you could start, and work the backstory in somehow.

  4. Marianne McA
    Jul 06, 2013 @ 07:37:42

    A couple of things read oddly: ‘before she could slip from her control’ and ‘They made her conscious of her lack’. Be more usual to say before she could lose control, and they made her conscious of her deficiences. And I’m not sure what a leather-lined book is.

    Other, minor, maybe it’s just me thing – when you say his voice is sibilant, it doesn’t conjure up an appealing sound in my head – it makes me think pantomime villain.

    Overall, the page didn’t have enough of a hook for me – it’s not that I need a kick-ass fiesty heroine, but Clementine isn’t very interesting on this page and nor is the hero (in fact my mental picture of him is a bit odd – unshaven giant with mad scientist hair).
    And the macguffin didn’t draw me in – she doesn’t want the ring for herself, she needs it to somehow appease her grandfather who I already don’t like because even his imagined self hisses at his granddaughter. If this harsh man who is as good as dead wants the ring, I won’t care unless you make me understand why Clemmie does. It didn’t work (for me) to know she wants to pay the dead Fosters back because that just seems a futile ambition.

    So I think what I’d need from the page in order to become invested in the story is more sense of why this quest is important to her personally – why she has to help her grandfather.

    Good luck.

  5. Yttar
    Jul 06, 2013 @ 09:15:41

    I rather liked this. I liked the setup. I liked that it started with her thoughts about needing the job, though I wish there were maybe a little more action and a little less repetition to go with it. Either way, less depiction would get us to t he guy sooner.

    I kind of liked that Grandpa didn’t correct her assumptions about who she’d be stealing from, which makes me think he has something else planned for his granddaughter. That bit made Grandpa come alive as a character for me. So, good job.

    I didn’t think of her as a doormat, just someone who isn’t argumentative. I would hope that this situation of needing to steal from her new and very attractive boss will help her grow.

    Even though I don’t normally read contemporaries, I’d like to read more of this.

    Good job at setting up main characters and side characters I’d like to know more about and a situation that makes me want to find out what happens next.

  6. theo
    Jul 06, 2013 @ 10:57:05

    This is noted in the title as contemporary, but other than the clothing (sweater and jeans), the voice in this screams historical to me. And that’s where my problem with it is. The voice isn’t contemporary. It’s too stiff, too…proper. I read way more historical than contemporary and this almost feels like it’s fighting with itself to find the proper era. Did you start this at one time as a historical?

    A doormat Hn in a historical is easier to accept provided we see immediate growth, which we could here with a bit more action. She stiffens her spine…what else? There isn’t enough tactile showing going on.

    But a doormat in a contemporary is very hard to accept. As our attitudes have changed over the years, so have our expectations of the character and where they’re dropped into a story. It doesn’t read like she’s a doormat due to cultural/religious reasons here, so for me, it wouldn’t work. Unless she stabs the guy and grabs the ring. Then I might find this very interesting after all ;)

    Find your story’s heart, the era you really need according to your voice and you might just have something.

  7. Lil
    Jul 06, 2013 @ 11:13:16

    Now this is just my reaction, so feel free to disregard.

    I’m not fond of martyrs and I get particularly annoyed at foolish heroines, and this one is bothering me. She is desperately eager to get this job, but she hasn’t prepared for the interview? She hasn’t even bothered to even look up her hoped-for employer? Why is she expecting an old man? Hasn’t she heard of Google?

    You could finesse this–say she did look him up, but what she found was his grandfather and this behemoth has just taken over. But please do something to make her not sound like an idiot.

    Then there’s the description of the “huge” guy. I’m afraid that to me the description sounded more grotesque than anything else. Sort of like Hagrid. And that is not, I assume, what you want.

    But as I said, this is just me. You may be following conventions for a line or subgenre I don’t generally read, in which case these comments are beside the point.

  8. Lucy Woodhull
    Jul 06, 2013 @ 12:21:25

    The writing here is good, if not terribly unique. I think that’s my problem with the whole passage, right up until the end where you say she has to steal the ring. THAT, I like, because it was unexpected.

    But until then you have Clementine (Ugh, I’m sorry, but ugh. Just name her Mary Sue.), a walking yawn. I can dig a shy hero or heroine, but that doesn’t mean they’re devoid of personality. Right now, I find nothing that makes Clem unique. Who the heck IS she? She can’t just be an empty foil used to steal a ring, and we root for her just because she’s the heroine. You’ve got to give me a reason to like Clem. I’d highlight every single cliche you’ve used in here and try to bust every single one of them up into something different to Clem.

    Your hero, thus far, is also Romance Hero 101. Giant, unruly, sinewy thighs and whatnot. I know we’re not in his head, but he is described just like every other giant powerful hero ever written. Since we’re in Clem’s head, this is a great time not only to paint him in a bit more unique way, but to reveal character for Clem, too, in her reactions to him. I’d love something besides cowering and fear.

    I know you can level this passage up a little into something that sparkles, even shyly. Good luck!

  9. Mary
    Jul 06, 2013 @ 13:09:23

    I’m getting a beauty and the beast vibe here-is it intentional? I mean scared girl sacrificing herself for parental figure (father/grandfather) to a giant hairy beast man? Also if we’re going off the Disney version then there’s the whole library loves books thing.
    If it is intentional then you really have to try and make it more unique, and if its not then I’m clearly just too obsessed with fairy takes and seeing them everywhere.
    There were things that intrigued me- why does she owe the dead Fosters, why is her real name ms. Daniels, how does hero man know this…but at the same time I didn’t feel interested in the characters. The plot may be good but romance is really a character driven genre and to write good/memorable romance people have to remember your characters and they have to stand out as not cliches. Obviously you can’t do this all in the first page, but to draw in readers you might want to add something that makes the characters unique and different in the first page. Just something small, to distinguish your h/hn from all the other ones out there.
    But kudos and good luck with getting this out there!

  10. Mary
    Jul 06, 2013 @ 15:29:29

    Also wanted to add that this line, “Clem did not like overtly masculine men. They made her conscious of her lack.”, confused me. Her lack of what? Right now it kind of sounds like her lack of masculinity which…is still confusing. Do you mean something like her lack of attractiveness to such men, lack of the ability to stand up to them…?

  11. Viridian
    Jul 06, 2013 @ 15:44:07

    I’m having trouble seeing what has drawn some of the other readers in. While the writing is competent, clear, and mildly engaging, everything else puts me off. The line about her grandfather hissing in her head made me roll my eyes. And while one-sentence paragraphs are useful for emphasis, eleven times on one page is crossing the line.

    And this sentence:
    “Clem did not like overtly masculine men. They made her conscious of her lack.”
    I’m not sure what you’re trying to say. Her lack of what? Masculinity? That’s hardly a problem. Her lack of confidence and power? Those traits have nothing to do with masculinity.

    Furthermore, what person in their right mind thinks “Oh no! I was going to steal from him, but he’s so young and hot and big that I don’t think I can go through with it!” Man up, lady. Right now, your narrator seems like a jellyfish. If she had sat there quietly and taken in how intimidating he was without panicking, I would be impressed. Someone who is gut-wrenchingly nervous yet chooses to sit quietly and calmly is more interesting than a squeaking mouse. And while being physically intimidating is… well, intimidating, I can’t imagine why it would make someone more difficult to rob.

    On the subject of your apparent hero: while a big man can be sexy, right now he sounds more like Arnold Schwarzenegger on steroids than a gym bunny.

    On the subject of your heroine: while I adore the name Clementine, it does not belong in a contemporary novel.

    Obviously I don’t speak for readers of contemporary heterosexual romance, but while I can imagine finding this in a bookstore, I can’t imagine buying it.

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