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First Page: Unpublished Manuscript- Contemporary Romance

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I couldn’t have heard correctly.

“What?” I asked when my brain caught up.

“Forget the money,” he repeated, “the only payment I will accept from you is marriage.” I gaped at him some more.

“But…but I don’t even know you!” I protested, standing dumbfounded before him. He made no reply, just watched me calmly, his piercing gray eyes unwavering. Those eyes sent shivers through me. Shoring up my faltering brain cells, I took a breath and asked, “Why?”

That got a reaction, albeit a small one. Glancing away for the merest second, he combed his fingers through his short black hair. Obviously not one to shy from uncomfortable questions (was it really that disturbing a query? What else did he expect?), he looked me in the eye again before answering.

“You’ve impressed me,” he said simply.

Despite its redundancy, I couldn’t help gaping at him again.


“What?” I gasped, then nearly smacked myself. I’m not usually so repetitive. Then again, it’s not every day a mercenary proposes marriage to me.

His mouth twitched and I narrowed my eyes at him. I’d impressed him? I couldn’t think how, my life was perfectly ordinary. At least it had been, until my globe-trotting brother got himself grabbed by hostiles in some third world country. My unexceptional life is what prompted me to look elsewhere for help, who was standing in my kitchen making impossible statements like “marry me.” I would do anything for my little brother, but marry someone little more than a stranger to me?

I took another breath, deeper this time, and spread my fingers on the counter in front of me. My hands are like the rest of me, slender and unadorned, with short, unpainted nails. My veins show blue through my pale skin, unmarred by calluses or scars. In comparison, his hands were large, tanned and strong, with little white scars everywhere and calluses on his palms.

He moved, shifting to sit on a stool across the counter from me. I watched his work-roughened hands as I put my thoughts into words.

“If you’re serious—”

“I’m perfectly serious,” he interrupted, prompting my eyes up to his once more.

“If you’re serious,” I persevered, wondering what the heck I was doing, “you’ll have to answer a few questions.” I pointed my finger at him, stopping him as he opened his mouth to respond.

“Truthfully.” He considered me thoughtfully.

“I promise to answer all of your questions truthfully.” Now it was my turn to regard him, judging the veracity of that declaration. Shrugging mentally, I gave up on that endeavor and decided to jump right in, hoping that something might change his mind.

“Do you have or have you ever had any sexually transmitted diseases?”

“No,” he said solemnly. “I’ve always been careful and I’m not promiscuous.” Well. Points for him, I guess.

“Are you romantically or sexually involved with anyone else?” He frowned at me; I just raised my eyebrows.

“No,” he grumbled. Another point.

“Would you promise never to abuse me physically, mentally, or emotionally?”

His face grew taut and fierce as he growled, “I do promise.” Going great guns now, though he looked less and less happy. But I wanted him unhappy with his proposition…right?

“Would you promise never to cheat on me?”

Even gravellier, “I promise.” Good answer.

“When would you expect this wedding to occur?” Surely not in the day before he left to retrieve my brother.

“This afternoon.” I clutched the counter, just barely refraining from shouting another

“WHAT?!” at him. My thoughts were frantic as I tried to make sense of his reply. Didn’t you need a special license to get married on such short notice? What about blood tests? What about rings? Who would officiate? What about my dress? Was I actually considering this?

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. Ros
    Feb 22, 2014 @ 06:38:29

    This is why I hate that advice to start in the middle of the action. This is a crazy set up and in order for me to buy into that I need a whole lot more context. I don’t know anything about these people – not even their names. All I know is that he’s asking a woman he doesn’t know to marry him today and she’s thinking about saying yes because somehow that’s going to help her kidnapped brother. Um…

  2. MJones
    Feb 22, 2014 @ 06:51:12

    This did not work for me at all. As the previous commenter mentioned, I have nothing to go on. If this is the first page of a book, I’m not curious enough to keep reading. Dialog and then the exposition of meaning and internal thought after every response is so hard to read. When I have to keep re-reading to figure out what’s going on, I can’t get lost in the story. This reads to me like a really really early draft. Needs lots of tightening.

  3. Mooshoe
    Feb 22, 2014 @ 07:46:13

    Why is this the prologue? This seems really important to the book, unless you want to start on their wedding day or something? You get across what you need to get across: character description, stakes, not setting though, but I would have liked more introduction to the characters. Is she attracted to him? Does she know his name? Where did she meet him? He comes off as really pushy and almost like she’s being taken advantage of to get someone to marry him without even knowing each other. He comes across like he knows she’s in a predicament and therefore he’s scheming to get in her pants. I’m not sure if that’s the set-up you want to go with. I’m not sure if this works for you as a first page.

  4. Kate Sherwood
    Feb 22, 2014 @ 08:03:16

    I agree that it needs to be tightened.

    But once that’s done… IF you can pull this off, I might be intrigued!

    But that’s a big “if”. For me, I need to understand and respect both characters for a romance to work. I don’t have to LIKE them, necessarily, although if I understand and respect them I usually like them too, but the first two are deal-breakers. And right now I don’t understand the hero and I don’t respect the heroine.

    “You’ve impressed me” is a ridiculous reason to want to marry someone, and both of these characters should know that. (I also kind of worry that it’s a setup for a book that paints the majority of women in a negative light, because if this mercenary has had to wait THIS LONG to find a single eligible woman who impresses him, it’s not saying anything favourable about womankind).

    And taking the word of a stranger who seems mentally unstable (given the proposal) about things as important as STIs and abuse seems ridiculous as well. As does even considering a marriage proposal instead of just finding another mercenary with less absurd payment terms.

    I’m tempted to agree with Ros that this is a case of starting TOO MUCH in the middle of things, but maybe it could still work if you cut it down REALLY short and then immediately jump back to the necessary information we’re missing. Like, if this part of the story was shortened to something like:

    “Marry me.” His voice was as level as it had been the first time he’d said those two words a minute earlier.

    He was a stranger. A mercenary. He was everything I’d been avoiding for my entire safe, quiet life. Maybe that was why I was actually thinking about saying ‘yes’ to his proposal. Or maybe I was just desperate for a way to save my brother’s life.

    And then you had a scene break and started back when she first met the mercenary, or whenever.

    I don’t know. Putting the little teaser in… it feels a bit cheesy, maybe. Almost retro? But a story about a woman agreeing to marry an unknown mercenary in order to save her brother in ‘some third world country’ seems like it’s maybe going to be a bit in that vein anyway, so maybe starting with the teaser would set you up for a fun, action-filled cheese-fest!

    Or maybe it’s a stupid idea! But I agree with the others that the scene as it is doesn’t really work. I can’t think of a reason either character would be doing what they’re doing, so I find myself worrying that the whole book won’t make sense. If I can get a thread of understanding earlier in the story, I can trust the author to take me to improbable places but still make things make sense.

  5. Kate Sherwood
    Feb 22, 2014 @ 08:08:29

    @Kate Sherwood:

    Oops. Italics gone mad.

    I obviously forgot the slash in the html and did a double blockquote instead.

    Editing posts – I understand why it’s gone, but I miss it!

    Sorry, everybody!

  6. DS
    Feb 22, 2014 @ 08:16:10

    Dropped out after the fourth paragraph. Not my sort of story at all. Nothing more helpful to say.

  7. Holly Bush
    Feb 22, 2014 @ 08:21:48

    Good morning!
    I’ve got to swim against the tide on this one. I liked it and would read more. I think the premise is intriguing. I do agree that it needs tightened. I like the snarky inner comments because they tell us about the heroine’s personality but I think you could remove about 30% of them in the opening scene. They’re distracting because we don’t her yet and I think the reader needs to get the set-up first. I like the description of the hero, eyes, hair, then hands (liked the hand thing – very visual). I did find the 4th line strange when she says ‘but I don’t even know you’ because on some level it implies she’s considering his proposal. Personally, I would have been more like, ‘What in the hell are you talking about?’ but we don’t know our heroine yet so that may be appropriate.

    This has a screwball comedy feel to me and I could picture her following this guy to wherever her brother is and causing some havoc. It does not feel like romantic suspense so I’d hate to see you make it more angsty. (Don’t think angsty is word!) I like your voice and the absurdity of the set-up. Good luck and I’d be interested to read more.

  8. wikkidsexycool
    Feb 22, 2014 @ 08:46:23

    Hello Author,

    Thanks for having the courage to submit this.

    I really like what Kate Sherwood suggested with your opening. Her re-working of the dialogue and scene did wonders:

    “Marry me.” His voice was as level as it had been the first time he’d said those two words a minute earlier.

    He was a stranger. A mercenary. He was everything I’d been avoiding for my entire safe, quiet life. Maybe that was why I was actually thinking about saying ‘yes’ to his proposal. Or maybe I was just desperate for a way to save my brother’s life.

    You’ve got virtually the same thing in your piece, but shortened, with these lines:

    “What?” I gasped, then nearly smacked myself. I’m not usually so repetitive. Then again, it’s not every day a mercenary proposes marriage to me.

    In three sentences you’ve set up an intriguing premise, told us he’s an alpha male (mercenary by profession), and the unsuspecting woman who somehow turns him on. I’d keep reading to see how this oil and water combination works, as long as she doesn’t continue to act so clueless. It’s cute in the beginning, but a whole book of the main lead wondering why a mercenary wants her may be too much. I enjoyed your character’s voice, though I think some of the dialogue tags and descriptions could be dropped (piercing, shrugging, twitching, gasping) All that can be cleaned up, but I do think you’ve got something here. I wish you all the best with this, and maybe you can post something short on what this is about, and where its headed.

  9. Jamie Beck
    Feb 22, 2014 @ 12:04:46

    Kate’s suggestions are wonderful. Run with those…

    When I read through this, I had the sense that the heroine was really YOUNG. Her thoughts and statements are immature. There is nothing to tell us why she’d think this idea would help her brother. She doesn’t come across as strong, articulate, or even very bright. And are those questions (all about his sexual history) honestly the first questions she’d ask him?

    Is the mercenary only willing to help her IF she marries him, and why is he so enamored? She doesn’t SEEM impressive (given her responses to this situation and her own account of her uninteresting life), so it doesn’t make much sense to me (based solely on what I’ve read).

    The idea is interesting if you can fill in some of these gaps. Maybe you just need to get the personalities of these two characters on the page (I’m sure they are well developed in your head).

    I think with the help of serious critique partners, you might have something interesting here. Best of luck!

  10. Lori
    Feb 22, 2014 @ 12:58:05

    If it was tighter I’d keep reading because I love the forced marriage/strangers marrying trope. And I liked the set-up. I just need a lot more understanding why she would consider it.

  11. Carol McKenzie
    Feb 22, 2014 @ 13:10:19

    There’s something intriguing here, but not as written. I’d like to see her more assertive, more impressive. She tracked down a mercenary in a third world country in order to rescue her brother. That should be impressive; he should tell her, if that’s the reason. A simple statement just doesn’t cut it for me.

    I can see this going in so many directions, as a thriller, with romance, or more comedic, with romance. What I’d really like to know is his real reason for asking her to marry him. Did she demand to come along and the only way he could pull it off was if they were married? Does he have a problem somewhere that showing up with a wife would solve? How is she going to slow him down, if they’re married? Or will she end up helping him in some unexpected way? And through all of this, they fall in love.

    As far as the writing, my two cents is lose the parenthesis. They aren’t needed. And drop the dialog tags that tell us what the emotion is or how they’re speaking. That’s my personal peeve; let the dialog or actions show us, don’t tell us. Or better yet, let us make it up as we go. Sometimes readers get that someone was grumpy or solemn, without the obvious tags. You can just use said…and sometimes, you don’t even need that, if it’s clear who is speaking.

  12. txvoodoo
    Feb 22, 2014 @ 15:30:10

    I’m with @Carol McKenzie: on this. Make her less of a wilting flower, and the forced-marriage trope has some more oomph. Then it’s really going against her grain.

    She still can be someone who’s lived quietly, but not a doormat.

  13. Randy Brown
    Feb 23, 2014 @ 00:12:52

    loved it! caught my attention, i wanted to read more,
    the story would be funny as well as exciting/adventurous, because i just know she will be right there with him, probably being a pain in the butt, but trying her best. the characters formed in my mind, i could feel her emotions and sense his presence (like a shadow of things to come)
    when i pick up this book and glance, first at the back cover blurb, then the prologue or first page, i would be intrigued enough to purchase it. or check it out from the library as i often due because of cash flow.

  14. SAO
    Feb 23, 2014 @ 03:07:43

    This plot and opening are a very tough sell. To sell me, you have to work on a number of issues:

    1) This is that it’s not all that far from blackmail. She’s desperate and he’s asking too high a price. You could fix this by rewording.

    2) I need to know why he wants to marry her. This, too, could be fixed by her being more focused on her goal and less on the question. “Why would a (detail about him) guy want to marry someone as ordinary as me? I nearly asked him, but what did it matter? If I want to see my brother alive again, every hour matters and I wasn’t going to waste a minute more.”

    3) I don’t get the point of all the questions. They remind the reader that abuse and AIDS are issues, but what does she expect him to say? ‘I’ll beat you every day and I’ve got a raging case of herpes?” The word of a stranger who wants to get in your pants is worthless.

    4) This was strangely devoid of any sexual attraction. He’s decided to marry her, but he looks “unhappy” when talking to her and his piercing gray eyes are unwavering. She doesn’t even give him a once over when the prospect of sex enters the equation.

    5) Why is mercenary man willing to drag along ordinary unnamed woman on his effort to free Bro from kidnappers? Now he’s got to take care of her. Or is Bro going to be quickly ransomed and the book about the marriage?

    Depending on where the 3rd world country is, marriage could be expedient. It would be safer for a woman in, say, Muslim countries, but you have to know which ones.

  15. Willaful
    Feb 23, 2014 @ 10:55:09

    @Carol McKenzie: I agree with Carol. If he’s really impressed with her, I need to see why.

    And I agree that the questions are basically pointless, as written.

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