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First Page Saturday: Untitled Contemporary Romance

"I've crunched the numbers. Double, triple crunched and without a major influx of capital, you're going to lose the company."

Douglas Hamilton exhaled deeply. It wasn't a surprise, but until he had heard his accountant, Adam Richards, articulate his company's verdict, there had still been hope.

"I'm sorry Douglas," Adam offered. "The recession has hit everyone hard."

"Some more than others," Douglas quietly sighed.

"Some more than others," agreed Adam.

Douglas stood up from the table and walked to his office window to gaze out upon the darkened street below. On a clear day, he could see for miles from his office building in Arlington, Virginia. Past the Potomac River, which separated the commonwealth from the nation's capital; past the obelisk shaped Washington Monument; past the city streets. He'd spent many an hour looking out onto the landscape which had given him much peace over the years. At this late hour, however, his tremendous view and personal calm were shrouded in black.

"There are other options," continued Adam. "You can sell the business, either piecemeal or whole. Haven't you had some interested parties?"

Without turning his gaze, Douglas shook his head imperceptibly, but it wasn't missed by his adviser. "This is a family business and it will remain a family business."

"Okay, your other option is to declare bankruptcy. File Chapter 11."

Douglas whirled around. "I can't do that!" he declared forcefully. "What about my employees? What would become of them if I do that? Yes, I could save myself and possibly start over, but at what cost to my dignity, my self-respect, my employees? Some of them have been with me since the beginning. I have multiple generations of families working for me. What would happen to them? What would my legacy be then? Their legacy? There has to be another way and you must find it. You will find it."

"I've given you the alternatives Douglas. If you don't want to sell or declare bankruptcy, then we're back to square one. You must raise some capital. And fast. What are your assets? Do you have something valuable that you can part with?"

Douglas fell into his desk chair and stared at his desk-’all the time he'd spent here and for what? To reach the top only to be at the bottom again?

His eyes settled on a photo of his beloved daughter and he automatically smiled. His beautiful Lizbeth. His pride and joy. He'd raised her himself after her mother's death when she'd been but a child. She idolized him. Seeing her tears as she cried for her mother, he had vowed to never give her cause to cry again so he had protected and provided for her. She'd received the best: a beautiful home, a top education, designer clothes, extravagant vacations, and all his love.

At age twenty-two he was still protecting her. She knew nothing of his business troubles. After her recent college graduation he had bundled her off on a graduation trip around Europe with her aunt and cousin. He hoped to have things resolved by the time she returned.

He reached out and touched the frame. His little girl. He couldn't bear to see the light for him go out of her eyes. She was the only thing that really mattered to him. The only thing of any value he had left.

"What?" Douglas stammered as he realized Adam was talking to him.

"I said, do you have anything of value you can sell?"

Looking from Adam's questioning face to Lizbeth's smiling one, Douglas wearily affirmed, "Yes, yes, I do."

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

32 Comments

  1. SAO
    Feb 26, 2011 @ 04:52:00

    I really don’t like the juxtaposition of ‘Do you have something to sell?’ Lizbeth’s face, and ‘Yes, I do.’ Is he planning to offer his daughter to the highest bidder? That might work in historicals, but if said daughter doesn’t promptly say, ‘Forget it,’ I’m throwing the book against the wall.

    The writing is smooth enough, but you know nothing about the business world.

    Good CEOs know the numbers, and know what is happening long before the accountant announces it.

    A CFO, Chief Financial Office, is in charge of the the accounting and financial management of a company. an accountant is a lower level employee under the CFO. An Auditor checks the quality of the accounting.

    A well-run company has projections of sales and a plan implemented to reduce costs in the face of a recession. Bankruptcy is a failure of good management.

    All accounting systems that were implemented since the introduction of the PC produce easy to read reports that tell CEOs and CFOs how the company is doing on a, if they desire, daily basis.

    Since, in real life, it is usually easier for employees to find new jobs than for CEOs, Douglas is really concerned about his legacy, If he ran his company into the ground, I have no sympathy for his legacy.

    Refusing to sell off parts of a business makes no sense to me. This is more about his pride and his legacy than good business sense.

    In short, you’ve lost me.

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  2. Jennie
    Feb 26, 2011 @ 05:03:29

    I especially “love” the juxtoposition of his impassioned speech about family, dignity, self respect and legacy and his apparent intention to sell his daughter to save his company.

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  3. Jane Lovering
    Feb 26, 2011 @ 05:17:56

    I liked the style, thought the writing flowed well, but then I hit the first dialogue tag. Then the second. He ‘quietly sighed’, then he ‘declared forcefully’. Sighing is usually quiet, and declarations are normally forceful, and usually we only need ‘said’, we can work out the tone from the dialogue.

    But an intriguing start, I wish you well with your writing.

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  4. Joanne
    Feb 26, 2011 @ 07:57:09

    Now I’ll spend the rest of the day hearing Barbra Streisand singing “On A Clear Day You Can See Forever”.

    There is some moments of lovely writing in this first page but there’s nothing new or exciting or enticing enough to keep reading or to purchase the book.

    He certainly wouldn’t be the first client to lie to his accountant but I still have to ask why the accountant doesn’t know what saleable assets Hamilton has.

    Beginning your story with a man who is going to sell his daughter to raise funds — even if it were to ensure world peace — well, it’s not a favorite trope of mine and I would not continue reading.

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

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  5. job
    Feb 26, 2011 @ 08:12:52

    I’d call this promising, but an early draft.

    Couple o’ thoughts.

    There are a few simple technical thingums. No big. Easy to solve.

    – Jane Lovering points this out. Use ‘said’. Without adverbs.

    – There’s a whole gallery of twitchy little movements folks use to tag dialog. He turned, he smiled, he sighed, he breathed out, he looked at, he saw, he sat down, he stood up, he nodded, he shook his head.
    Do not use these.

    Give your character one long and interesting piece of stage business and use that to tag the dialog through the whole scene.
    Let him tie a fishing fly or tear a computer printout to tiny pieces.

    – Avoid cliche and sentimental language.
    his beloved daughter
    On a clear day, he could see for miles

    Second, the character does not seem to have depth and reality.

    This is a corollary of what SAO so aptly describes. The business situation seems unrealistic. The businessman seems unrealistic. Someone who has built a company is probably a mean SOB. He doesn’t sigh a lot when confronted with disaster.

    (What does the company DO?)

    And, finally, this is almost certainly the wrong place to start the story.

    We do not want to see two folks — neither of them the H or H — telling each other about the problem.

    The story beginning will probably be the heroine’s POV as she confronts her conflict.

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  6. Brandi
    Feb 26, 2011 @ 08:28:24

    If he were going to sell his daughter, I could get into that trope–but unlike everyone else here, I would be surprised if that is what happened, because a man who cares about protecting his daughter as much as this guy seems to, would never consider it. If this was a completely unsympathetic character who was more interested in money than people, and, as someone mentioned, ran his business into the ground, then decided to sell his daughter to save his financial legacy, then I would be far more interested.

    If he isn’t planning on selling his daughter, you might want to change what he’s looking at when he says he has something to sell.

    Also, much of the dialog is stilted and reads unnaturally. I would take out the repetition of “some harder than others” it’s redundant–I know people do that in real life, but in a book it’s wasted space. Try reading all of your dialog out loud, that will help you find more natural phrases.

    I do like the writing very much, and am curious about what it is that he plans on selling. Good luck with this!

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  7. Brandi
    Feb 26, 2011 @ 08:30:21

    Oops, it was some more than others, not harder…

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  8. theo
    Feb 26, 2011 @ 08:33:01

    I found the writing flat in many places.

    “I've crunched the numbers. Double, triple crunched and without a major influx of capital, you're going to lose the company.”

    Douglas Hamilton exhaled deeply. It wasn't a surprise, but until he had heard his accountant, Adam Richards, articulate his company's verdict, there had still been hope.

    Just reads passive to me.

    Rather: “I crunched the numbers, Doug, every way I can. Without a major influx of capital, you’re going to lose the company.”

    Douglas Hamilton exhaled. It wasn’t a surprise, but when he heard Adam articulate his company’s problems, what little hope he’d clung to disappeared with his breath.

    And reading the accountant continue to call his boss Douglas felt very unnatural to me. Either I’ve worked in situations where I called my boss sir or, when I worked at the hospital, doctor, I rarely called my nurse supervisor who’s full name was Suzanne anything other than Sue. So if the accountant and Doug aren’t on really familiar terms, calling him Mr. Hamilton or sir just sounds more appropriate to me. Right now though, it sounds like you’re caught between historical dialog and a contemporary story.

    “There are other options,” continued Adam. “You can sell the business, either piecemeal or whole. Haven't you had some interested parties?”

    Formal and flat.

    “You have other options, Doug. You can sell the business, piecemeal or whole. You’ve mentioned interested parties before. Are they still around?”

    “I've given you the alternatives Douglas. If you don't want to sell or declare bankruptcy, then we're back to square one. You must raise some capital. And fast. What are your assets? Do you have something valuable that you can part with?”

    “You know the alternatives, Doug. If you don’t want to sell and bankruptcy isn’t an option, then you’re back to square one. You have to raise some capital. And fast. You have assets. Aren’t there any you can part with that are valuable enough to provide some of what you need?”

    I’m not entirely sure I’d continue reading because my first thought too was that he would sell his daughter and in this day, unless they’re an old world family clinging to traditional values, I can’t see any modern woman going for that. I would be more inclined to read the next few pages though if there was some life to them rather than the way it’s written now.

    Kudos for putting it out there. It’s tough to do. And good luck!

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  9. liz talley
    Feb 26, 2011 @ 09:00:33

    The first two paragraphs read smoothly to me. I have to agree with Theo – you seem to be straddling historical and contemp with your lauguage choice – “What will become of my employees?” should be “What will happen to…” etc.

    I feel like Douglas emotes into melodrama. I think I’d prefer quiet desperation over impassioned. Seems to fit him better.

    Also, if he’s paid for his dauther’s quality education, then why would the light go out of her eyes? She’s 22. She maybe be preseumably wealthy, but unless she’s a spoiled brat, she should already be willing to roll up her sleeves and make her own way in the world. But then again, I can understand his thinking she can’t take care of herself.

    You have a misplaced modifier with “At age twenty-two he….”

    I didn’t assume he was going to sell his daughter. I figure he owns something that’s going to hit an auction block. Because if it’s his daughter up for sale, then I would stop reading.

    I think it’s an interesting first page, and I’d keep reading. Kudos to you for submitting it here – tough crowd:) But that’s what it takes to make your work the best it can be.

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  10. Berinn Rae
    Feb 26, 2011 @ 10:53:30

    I found the ending to this piece intriguing and would like to read on to see what happens with his daughter.

    One idea: what if you keep the first paragraph and then jump to the 11th paragraph (starts with “I’ve given you…”) to bypass some of the run-of-the-mill accounting conversation and get to the action even faster.

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  11. DS
    Feb 26, 2011 @ 10:55:21

    I don’t think Chapter 11 bankruptcy means what he think it means. Maybe his account should have explained it more carefully.

    He would have to be more concerned about his creditors than his employees to refuse to file chapter 11. Most fathers would be willing to sell their children to make sure their creditors do not take a bath.

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  12. DS
    Feb 26, 2011 @ 10:57:04

    Aargh I thought I wrote:

    “I don't think Chapter 11 bankruptcy means what he thinks it means. Maybe his accountant should have explained it more carefully.”

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  13. DM
    Feb 26, 2011 @ 11:18:22

    This is pure, “As you know Bob…”

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  14. Rose Fox
    Feb 26, 2011 @ 12:18:53

    “Said” is not dead. Please use it. “sighed quietly”, “wearily affirmed”, etc. all just distract from the narrative.

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  15. Darlynne
    Feb 26, 2011 @ 12:32:49

    I would be interested enough to keep reading, but the lack of a comma preceding a direct address dropped me right out of the story, as in, “I'm sorry Douglas” and “I've given you the alternatives Douglas.” Small things like this shouldn’t bother me, but, there it is. Good luck and keep writing.

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  16. Mischa
    Feb 26, 2011 @ 13:08:16

    Douglas’s comment about bankruptcy pulled me out of the story. Worrying about keeping employees would be a reason for declaring bankruptcy not avoiding it.

    While I didn’t originally think he was going to sell his daughter because of the “He hoped to have things resolved by the time she returned.” line, in the very next paragraph he thinks of her as the only thing of value left. Right after that he is asked if he has anything he can sell and he says yes.

    If Douglas is the type of man who would sell his daughter to save his business, then I find it odd that she is described as his ‘beloved’ daughter, his ‘pride and joy’. If he is not the type of man to sell her, then he shouldn’t be saying he as something valuable to sell right after thinking she is the only thing of value.

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  17. RebeccaJ
    Feb 26, 2011 @ 15:54:00

    Ok, if this is one of those “make my daughter marry someone to save my company and keep her in the lifestyle to which she’s become accustomed even if she’s miserable all because I love her” I’m outtie. I don’t like those story lines, they’re a dime a dozen and they don’t even make sense. How can you force someone you love to marry a complete stranger out of a sense of obligation?

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  18. Jane Lovering
    Feb 26, 2011 @ 15:59:19

    And, of course, if he’s been keeping his daughter in every luxury at the expense of his company and his workforce…not a good businessman.

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  19. Jinni
    Feb 26, 2011 @ 16:50:54

    I’d so read on. I don’t think it’s a literal ‘sell his daughter.’ But I’d be very interested to find out what happens next.

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  20. loreen
    Feb 26, 2011 @ 17:31:25

    Start somewhere else. Up until the end, I thought the father was the hero of the story. If the story is going to be about the daughter and whoever saves the company, start with one of them.
    Conversations with accountants are not exactly scintillating. I avoid them in person whenever possible and would not buy a book that began with such a dry subject.
    I think you need to start with the heroine’s POV, perhaps when she is finding out about her father’s financial troubles.

    Also – a 22 year old heroine? Blah. Seems very 1990 Harlequine to me. I prefer my heroines to be mid-20s to early 30s. Younger heroines tend to be annoyingly immature and naive.

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  21. Jackie Barbosa
    Feb 26, 2011 @ 19:01:32

    “Start somewhere else. Up until the end, I thought the father was the hero of the story. If the story is going to be about the daughter and whoever saves the company, start with one of them.”

    This.

    Also, in addition to what’s been pointed out about missing commas before direct addresses and excessive use dialogue tags, you a couple of other mechanical problems to watch out for. For example:

    At age twenty-two he was still protecting her.

    In addition to the fact that you need a comma after “twenty-two,” this sentence actually means Douglas is 22, not the heroine. This kind of dangling modifier is a common error and one that’s easy to make, but it can lead to all sorts of unintentional (and often hilarious) meanings.

    Next:

    Without turning his gaze, Douglas shook his head imperceptibly, but it wasn't missed by his adviser.

    If Douglas actually shook his head “imperceptibly,” Adam wouldn’t notice it. The fact that he DOES notice means you’ve contradicted yourself as a narrator.

    This story could totally work–the setup has Harlequin Presents written all over it–but you need to shore up your mechanics and start in either your hero or heroine’s point of view to really make this stand out.

    Good luck!

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  22. Nadia Lee
    Feb 26, 2011 @ 21:01:35

    I, too, thought Douglas was the hero.

    Listen to what others said about your dialogue tags & tangling modifiers.

    SAO is 100% correct about your business situation. It’s quite unbelievable, and neither Douglas or Adam seem to know what Chapter 11 really is. And Douglas’s reaction to Adam’s suggestion to file Ch 11 is rather comical (to me at least) because he comes across as being excessively melodramatic and emo.

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  23. Julia Sullivan
    Feb 26, 2011 @ 22:18:20

    Please do more research into how Chapter 11 bankruptcies work (or if you do understand how they work, make sure your text reflects that). What you have right now is an alternate universe from our own.

    Starting with the heroine’s father is an unusual move (unless Adam is the hero, I wonder if it is a wise move).

    I hope the heroine really isn’t naive enough, or enough of a wuss, to be ZOMGcrushed if her father’s business needs to declare Chapter 11—if you’re not intending Douglas to sound like he’s on the extreme edge of overprotectiveness, dial it way down.

    That said, I think the idea of a romance with a protagonist facing a major family challenge is a great and very topical one, and I wish you all the best in ironing out the problems people flagged for you here.

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  24. Courtney Milan
    Feb 27, 2011 @ 09:42:33

    Lots of people have said the things I want to say, so let me just add this: There is a ton of redundancy in here. Like:

    “It wasn't a surprise, but until he had heard his accountant, Adam Richards, articulate his company's verdict, there had still been hope.”

    We know what he just heard. We were there. You don’t need to tell us a second time.

    Or:

    ““What about my employees? What would become of them if I do that? Yes, I could save myself and possibly start over, but at what cost to my dignity, my self-respect, my employees?

    I’m leaving off the next two sentences where he wonders about his employees, again. And so on.

    Some redundancy is fine, for emphasis or clarity. But this irritates me as a reader.

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  25. SAO
    Feb 27, 2011 @ 11:30:09

    This is a classic example of telling us one thing (“forceful” Doug refusing to lose his legacy) and showing us something else (Doug being bossed around by his accountant).

    In detail, the accountant (let’s call him CFO as this is what he should be) has the information and is therefore, dictating the terms to Douglas. Although the CFO is tactful, in the end Doug does what the CFO tells him he has to do. To wit: The CFO says, you will go bankrupt, have to sell off pieces or something else. Doug says, “you will find it (the solution)” and the CFO doesn’t bother to try, he replies, “what else do you have to sell?” and Doug comes up with something.

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  26. author
    Feb 27, 2011 @ 13:01:22

    Thank you for your comments. I will take them all on board.

    After I submitted this, I realized what some of you have already mentioned–that this isn’t the correct place to start as neither the hero nor heroine are in the scene so I have ditched this scene and started with the next scene which features the heroine. Hopefully it’s better.

    To address some of your other questions: I have always called my supervisors by their first names as Adam does here.

    Douglas was planning to sell his daughter to a certain extent. It’s a common theme in Harlequin Presents. I guess most of you don’t read those since you say you don’t like that theme. Jackie did recognize that is my aim.

    Here Douglas sees the fire between Lizbeth and the hero and hero and Douglas both use that to their advantage. Lizbeth thinks it’s a love match and doesn’t realize any money has changed hands until Adam spills the beans–thus creating conflict between H&H.

    Adam is Douglas’ godson so that is why Douglas is so trusting of him–this relation is revealed later.

    I think using said numerous times is too much so I tried to spice it up a bit with different dialogue tags, but apparently that’s not liked. So noted.

    Oops about the modifier. Thanks for letting me know. I usually catch that stuff, but not here.

    I appreciate your critiques of my writing, regardless of whether or not you enjoyed the piece or even my writing and I’m super sorry about those commas!!!! :-)

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  27. Jackie Barbosa
    Feb 27, 2011 @ 13:11:11

    @author:

    I think using said numerous times is too much so I tried to spice it up a bit with different dialogue tags, but apparently that's not liked. So noted.

    It’s not that you always have to use “said” as your tag. Mostly, I think, it’s that when you have a conversation between two characters and they are the only characters in the room, it’s not necessary to “tag” every incidence of speech. The reader can tell who is saying what without you tagging every line of dialogue. In this case, less is more. Let a combination of stage business and the flow of the conversation tell the reader who’s speaking.

    And I did see Presents in big, bold letters all over this setup. As I said before, best of luck!

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  28. job
    Feb 27, 2011 @ 14:09:27

    What Jackie Barbosa said.

    There are twenty or thirty distinct ways to tag dialog.

    Pick up a well-written book and skip along from quote mark to quote mark. In each case, ask ask yourself how you know the speaker.

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  29. author
    Feb 28, 2011 @ 10:14:03

    SAO, thanks for the suggestion. I think I will give Adam a promotion to CFO.

    I was reading a book last night and on one page there were four dialogue tags and all of them were ‘he said’. I will definitely revisit that in my piece.

    Again, thanks for your comments/suggestions.

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  30. Sharon
    Mar 01, 2011 @ 17:26:44

    It’s frustrating for all of the reviewers to give their time critiquing a piece and then learn that you’ve already changed/deleted this scene. I believe that Jane gives the authors a chance to update their submission before it’s posted, and I wish that you had taken advantage of that.

    It seems that you’ve gotten a lot of great comments about the writing style, but I have some concerns about the basic plot.

    First of all, you present Douglas as a man who cares deepy about his daughter and wants to protect her, and who cares more about the fate of his employees than his own financial demise. And this man is going to sell his daughter? You need to completely change Douglas to make it believable that he would rather sell his daughter than his company. Unless he is a heartless, greedy bastard, it would take a lot more than the loss of his company to make him sacrifice his daughter’s happiness.

    Second, how do you sell a daughter in contemporary America? I gather that the hero is going to give Douglas a substantial amount of money for the privilege of marrying Lizbeth. But why? You say that there’s a fire between them, and that Lizbeth believes it’s a love match. So why does the hero need to pay up? He’s already won the girl. Even if Douglas won’t agree to the marriage without a payout (reinforcing his greedy bastard status), she’s 22. She doesn’t need her daddy’s permission. You say that this is a common theme in Harlequin Presents, so perhaps if I read that line I would understand, but I’m having trouble imagining a scenario where this is believable.

    Third, you’ll have to be careful that your setup doesn’t make your hero and heroine unlikeable. It’s one thing if Dad is a bastard, but the H&H need to be sympathetic. So far all I know about your hero is that he’s going to pay money to buy the heroine and lie to her about it. You’ll need to justify his actions carefully or give him an opportunity for growth and redemption if you want your readers to root for him. And don’t let your heroine be a passive victim who can be sold by her father.

    All in all, not a story line that interests me, but apparently there is a market for it.

    Kudos, btw, for taking the comments about dialogue tags to heart and being so willing to learn from the feedback.

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  31. Julia Sullivan
    Mar 04, 2011 @ 21:20:46

    I don’t read a lot of Presents, but the scenario I’m familiar with from that line and other romance publishers is that a woman marries or dates a man she doesn’t actually like in order to forward some goal that generally involves helping others financially. And then she falls in love with him but so embarrassing so she can’t admit it, &c., &c.

    Having the heroine marry a man she likes, who likes her, in order to save her father’s company seems like a scenario with something missing, but perhaps (as is understandable, because nobody has time for everything when commenting on blogs) you didn’t have a chance to represent the plot clearly in your response here?

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  32. author
    Mar 05, 2011 @ 11:46:53

    Julia, no, I didn’t reveal the whole plot or conflict here. I can’t divulge all my secrets! Hopefully one day it will be available for purchase. Thanks for your comment.

    ReplyReply

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