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First Page: The Devil To Pay – Romantic Suspense

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She could hear them coming, closer, closer. They were right behind her. She could hear the barks and growls of the dogs and the shouts and curses of the men. Hurry, hurry or die.

The scorching July sun beat mercilessly down causing sweat to run into her eyes blinding her. Almost there. Only a twelve foot fence stood between her and the road. Between subjugation and freedom. Between life and death. A 200,000 volt electrified fence. Could she do this? She had to do this.

She’d noticed the gap in the fence on one of her rare excursions into the woods surrounding the house. Or rather a fox had shown it to her. The animal had looked at her suspiciously before dashing off into the trees. Or so she had thought. But to her amazement it had appeared again on the other side of the fence. How had it gotten there without being fried to a crisp? The fox continued to stare at her in an odd way, no longer suspicious but almost encouraging, daring her even, to follow him.

She glanced over her shoulder at the two guards and saw that they were watching her. As nonchalantly as she could she walked towards the fence. The fox immediately took off across the field. She bent down as if to look at the flowers that grew around the perimeter of the fence. She picked one and smelled it but her eyes were on the wire meshing.

At first she couldn’t see how the fox had gotten out, but as her eyes travelled down the fence she saw the earth around it had been disturbed. Something had dug a hole; how they had done it without being electrocuted she didn’t know. It was a small hole, not big enough for a human to get through, not even a slim young girl. But if it were made larger?

Just then one of her guards called, ‘times up.’

She rose reluctantly and they followed her back to the house.

She thought of little else but the hole and the fox, how he had looked tauntingly at her. She prayed for another opportunity to study the hole more closely.

That opportunity did not come for another month. He took up all her time. He wanted her to entertain his business associates. Serve them drinks. Smile at their vulgar jokes. Be nice to them. Be subservient. Be seen but not heard.

Eventually he told her that as she’d been so good and obedient she could have a treat, a walk in the grounds. She fought to hide her elation, but then she had fought to hide her feelings all her life, so it was not too difficult. Of course she’d had to reward him in bed that night.

The next day she had strolled as though aimlessly, while all the time making for the gap in the fence. She once more stooped to pick the flowers and once more sniffed at them.

Her guards had become bored and leaned against a tree smoking and talking crudely about the female servants. She did not waste the opportunity and with her back to them, started to dig, very carefully so as not to touch the fence.

Her hands of course would be filthy but she’d think up some excuse or other; she had become an expert liar in the last twelve years.

She dug until the hole was twice as big, it was then that one of her guards yelled over, ‘hey, whatcha doin’ there?’
She stood up unhurriedly and began to wander as unconcernedly as she could towards them saying, ‘just picking some flowers for my room.’ She held up the flowers she had pulled out of the ground. The man who had yelled said disparagingly, ‘flowers? Fuck flowers. Look at your hands you stupid bitch!’

She looked down as though surprised. ‘Oh, I didn’t notice.’

The man walked threateningly towards her but stopped dead when she said innocently, ‘I thought Dashiel might like them, they smell nice, see.’ She thrust the flowers at him.

He recoiled as though she was pointing a knife at his heart. He looked at her with suspicion and dislike, ‘it’s time to go, get moving.’ And mumbling, ‘fucking flowers,’ followed her out of the woods and across the lawn. Silently she thanked God for making these men so stupid.

It was another two weeks before she had another chance to work on the hole, and another month after that before she could put her plan into effect. Six weeks of trying to hide her excitement and anticipation and fear.
But now that chance was here and when her two guards had stopped to light their cigarettes and were again distracted…this time by the pretty new maid who was washing windows at the front of the house…she seized her chance.

Luck had been with her thus far but now she hesitated. Fear replaced the excitement, despair replaced the hope. She looked at the fence and thought about her life here, if that’s what you could call this existence. She thought about him and the things he did, the things he would do if she were to be caught now.

Stay and be punished. Go and maybe die. Or take that first step to freedom. It was now or never.

Sweat oozing from every pore, heart racing, she took a deep breath, dropped to the ground and crawled on her stomach through the hole she and her friend the fox had made. She was halfway through when terror gripped her. Just one hair of her head had to touch the fence to fry her like a shrimp on a grill.

The yelling and barking was closer now. They were here. It was all the incentive she needed. She pushed aside the fear and doubt, gritted her teeth, grabbed handfuls of grass in her fists and pulled until she was on the other side of the fence.

But now they were close. She could hear dogs baying and men yelling.

Dogs and men all out for blood.

Breathing hard, heart pounding, she ran.

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. Willa
    Oct 26, 2013 @ 09:04:41

    I admit to being slightly thrown when reading this – you have mixed up your tenses when telling about the fox. You start with it in the past tense but then switch to present tense, which made me wonder if the fox had come back during her escape attempt. This threw me for a bit – and then you wandered off into backstory, completely overriding any tension you had built up about her escape in the first two paragraphs. I would think if someone was making an escape then they wouldn’t be pondering about how they had found a route.

    I would cull the backstory about the fox and build the tension with the paragraphs you already have -

    She could hear them coming, closer, closer. They were right behind her. She could hear the barks and growls of the dogs and the shouts and curses of the men. Hurry, hurry or die.

    The scorching July sun beat mercilessly down causing sweat to run into her eyes blinding her. Almost there. Only a twelve foot fence stood between her and the road. Between subjugation and freedom. Between life and death. A 200,000 volt electrified fence. Could she do this? She had to do this.

    Luck had been with her thus far but now she hesitated. Fear replaced the excitement, despair replaced the hope. She looked at the fence and thought about her life here, if that’s what you could call this existence. She thought about him and the things he did, the things he would do if she were to be caught now.

    Sweat oozing from every pore, heart racing, she took a deep breath, dropped to the ground and crawled on her stomach through the hole she and her friend the fox had made. She was halfway through when terror gripped her. Just one hair of her head had to touch the fence to fry her like a shrimp on a grill.

    The yelling and barking was closer now. They were here. It was all the incentive she needed. She pushed aside the fear and doubt, gritted her teeth, grabbed handfuls of grass in her fists and pulled until she was on the other side of the fence.

    But now they were close. She could hear dogs baying and men yelling.

    Dogs and men all out for blood.

    Breathing hard, heart pounding, she ran.

    Once she has made her escape you could have her taking a rest and pop the fox backstory in then.

    Good luck!

    ReplyReply

  2. JB Hunt
    Oct 26, 2013 @ 09:26:47

    This would really engage readers in the main character’s struggle if you started with her reasons for wanting to escape. In other words, show us why she’s desperate. (Don’t just tell us.) Take us into those moments when she has to be “seen and not heard.” Build sympathy and outrage in your readers so we’re cheering her on as she digs that hole.

    I’m intrigued by the woman’s situation, but I don’t feel emotionally connected to her at all. Beyond the telling/showing issue, the nameless-ness of the characters keeps us at a distance. That might be your intention, but it doesn’t make me want to read on. Can she, “he,” and the guards have names? That would make me feel more connected to what is happening.

    The jump from present to past and back to present is a bit hard to follow, and I wonder if you’d be better off building tension with a linear timeline rather than a fragmented one.

    Good luck as you develop the story further!

    ReplyReply

  3. Caro
    Oct 26, 2013 @ 11:25:22

    There’s such an overwhelming temptation to explain everything right away, isn’t there? As a writer, I’m constantly telling myself, “the reader doesn’t have to know everything right now, kiddo. Keep some of it in reserve.” But it’s still a struggle.

    I think this is my main issue with this piece. I’m with her at the beginning and then you lose me as the backstory creeps in and takes over. I don’t need to know the entire situation to be caught up – actually, I don’t want to know the whole situation right away. I want to be left guessing.

    I mean, gosh, look how much I already know right here on the first page. I know she’s been captive for a long time. I know the bad guy, quite a lot about him actually. I know there are guards and fences and she doesn’t have any time alone. I know about foxes and digging holes and picking flowers. I even know she’s being raped every night. Yikes!

    None of this is essential right now IMHO. What’s essential is my bonding with this girl/woman. I want to feel her fear. I want to cheer her as she escapes – even though I might not know what she’s escaping. I want to get a bead on her. Instead, that bad writing temptation got you telling me a lot of things I don’t need to know right now.

    The writing is smooth and strong. You just need to wrestle with bad temptations. Believe me, I sympathize.

    ReplyReply

  4. Lori
    Oct 26, 2013 @ 11:45:01

    I’m not a huge suspense fan but I liked this a lot. I do agree that the tension got broken by back story and I’d like a way to know her back story without my heart beat slowing down. All in all though, I wanted to keep reading.

    ReplyReply

  5. Vanessa
    Oct 26, 2013 @ 14:06:09

    I’m not a huge fan of detailed flashback scenes, especially on the first page. I agree with everyone else that it’s best to skip the backstory for now. You’re writing an action-filled scene. We’re seeing the world through a heroine who is in the middle of running away, and is probably not going to be replaying her escape attempt step-by-step in her head. Ground the scene in the present. There’s no need to distract the reader with explanations for why she’s running away; that can easily come up later on.

    Aside from the flashback parts, your prose is quite smooth. I really like Willa’s cropped version of your first page. I definitely think you should start with that part, since you can write suspense quite well.

    ReplyReply

  6. Marnie
    Oct 26, 2013 @ 14:49:57

    Thank you everyone for taking the time to review the first page of my novel. I agree with the back story bit, I was very tempted to erase it but wanted other opinions, now thanks to you I am decided. To those who said they wanted to know more about the girl and her situation, as she is not the main character I did not think it necessary to say too much this early but I wanted her introduced early so that when she appears to the heroine we will at least know a little back story. Thank you all for your comments.

    ReplyReply

  7. Jamie Beck
    Oct 26, 2013 @ 14:55:19

    I echo the comments of others regarding the focus of the first few pages needing to remain on her escape. Willa’s version is crisp and quick (I suspect she might end up getting inundated with requests from other writers for help!!) and sucks the reader into the chase.

    It might be interesting to give us a hint as to “where” she is (eg., is this taking place in the U.S. or some third world country) so we have more context for her dilemma. And finally, while you have a lot of relevant sensory info (heart racing, sweat, etc.), I might also include a bit more of her mental state. A girl imprisoned and under constant surveillance for 12 years probably has a ton of cognitive dissonance going on while she’s making her escape. Maybe she’s blinded by visions of what will happen if she’s caught, maybe she’s hearing her captor’s voice in her head, maybe she vomits or trembles convulsively just before wedging herself under the fence? Does she even know where she’ll go for help if she makes it past the fence? You allude to some of this (fear replaced excitement, etc.), but I think it should be more visceral under the extreme circumstances. Of course, that’s just one opinion.

    I hope to see more of this some day. You’ve piqued my interest! I am curious to know more about why and how this girl came to be imprisoned as some kind of sex slave (or so it seems), and what she wants to accomplish once she’s freed (revenge, help to free others left behind (if any exist)).

    ReplyReply

  8. marnie
    Oct 26, 2013 @ 15:13:59

    Jamie, Thanks very much for our review, it is very helpful. I did actually open the sequence with Birmingham, Alabama. July 17th. You can find the entire novel on Amazon if you are interested. Thanks again for taking the time to review my work.

    ReplyReply

  9. hapax
    Oct 26, 2013 @ 22:55:39

    I am not a big fan of romantic suspense, but my attention was caught by this one.

    Actually, I am a bit disappointed that the “she” featured here ie not the heroine! I like her courage and cleverness; I loved the hint of paranormal help from the fox (foxes being only second to crows in my passions).

    Still, I wish you good luck!

    ReplyReply

  10. marnie
    Oct 27, 2013 @ 10:30:35

    Hapax, thank you very much for your review. I am sure if you read the entire novel you would love Adela, the heroine, too, everyone does. Thanks again.

    ReplyReply

  11. Jane
    Oct 27, 2013 @ 10:31:41

    @marnie: Thanks for participating in the comments. Just as a reminder, this first page feature is to garner honest critique but not to publicize already released material.

    ReplyReply

  12. marnie
    Oct 27, 2013 @ 10:38:42

    Oh I am very sorry, Jane. I did not realise that.

    ReplyReply

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