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When It Comes to Romance, Actions Speak Louder Than Words

Candy HeartsValentine’s Day has never been a holiday that I have enjoyed. Society seems to place certain expectations on the day and well, romance has never been Ned and my forte. The other day I was cleaning off a bookshelf and I came across our Penguin Classic copies of The Iliad and The Odyssey. Neither Ned nor I had read those classics in our younger years (read: high school literature assignments). Intimidated by the poetry and unfamiliar language, we decided to read these two books to each other out loud. For about two months, every night, we would go to bed early and take turns reading about the Greek wars, Odysseus’ journey and Penelope’s faithfulness.

As I got to thinking about romance and Valentine’s day, I realized that Ned is very romantic, but not in the big John-Cusak-standing-outside-the-window-in-the-rain-with-a-boombox way, but in the small detailed way that he makes sure my car is never out of gas or that we always have root beer in the bottles.

When I think back to my favorite romances, they reflect my own idea of romance – however unconscious and subliminal. You see, my favorite romances are generally about the quiet characters whose actions speak louder than words.

Take, for example, the infamous “You are My Egypt” speech that Harry Braxton gives to Desdemona Carlisle in Connie Brockway’s As You Desire.

“Your mouth.” He paused, and her lips felt suddenly sensitized, tingling as his gaze fixed on them. “Your mouth is a sweet well sealed against me, keeping me thirsting for the clarity of your kiss. Your flesh is like the desert sand, warmth and shifting strength beneath its golden color. Your palms open, ringers flexed, are minarets, delicate and elegant. And your body– it is the Nile itself–"the camber of your back slipping so easily by the narrows of your waist and jettied hips to the lush delta below.”

He stopped. She heard the intake of his breath. “You are my country, Desdemona.” Yearning, harsh and poignant, and she felt herself swaying toward him. “My Egypt. My hot, harrowing desert and my cool, verdant Nile, infinitely lovely and unfathomable and sustaining.”

Of course, when Henry say this to Dizzy, she does not believe it because Henry’s perceived actions says to her that she is nothing more than a younger, irritating sister. Compare this passage to the one in All Through the Night between Jack and Anne.

He weighed carefully the responses he might give her: vows of love, a promise for the future, pledges of fidelity, guarantees that her hurt would fade. But he couldn't promise any of those things but the first, and that she already knew. So finally he gave the one response he could and it proved the most healing one of all.

“I know,” he said, gazing steadily into her eyes. “I know.” And Anne smiled.

Tayse, the King’s Rider, whose father and father’s father was a Rider, took the step beyond himself to change his world and Senneth’s in Sharon Shinn’s Mystic and Rider.

Now she lifted her hands, hesitantly, and the gesture was full of such uncertainty and such supplication that he could not endure it. He closed the short distance between them. He wrapped her in his arms as if she was a child who needed succor and he was the only avenger for miles. Fire flashed between them; he thought for a moment the flimsy gown had gone up in flames, but it was just the heat of her body, or the excitement of his, or the reveling of the night around them, and nothing to be concerned about. He kissed her, and that was the end of it. No more pretending, no more holding back. Life changed by love, life sparkling now with its own peculiar magic. He tightened his hold and let the transformation take over. When he lifted his mouth from hers, he knew, he would be a different man.

In one of my favorite Amanda Quick book, Scandal, the heroine is constantly interfering with her husband’s plans for revenge. But the point of her actions is all to please her husband because she loves him.

Emily stared at him in confusion. “I could not let him humiliate you, Simon.”
“No, of course not. You love me. You adore me. You think I am noble and generous and brave, a paragon among husbands.” Simon took a sip of brandy. “You would do anything for me.”
“Simon?” Emily’s voice was uncertain.
“You must forgive me for being somewhat dazed at the moment. Actually, I have been in this state for the past several hours. No one in my entire life has ever tried to protect me, elf.”
Emily continued to stare at him, unable to speak.
“I have taken care of myself for as long as I can remember,” Simon continued. “And when I met you, I realized I wanted to take care of you, too. But the notion of someone being willing to risk her life for me, the concept of someone willing to shoot a man to protect me, has temporarily scattered my wits.”

Last year’s Angels Fall by Nora Roberts featured a gruff, no nonsense approach to life. I read some people’s comments that these single titles by Roberts aren’t very romantic, but I found Brody to be very romantic. Reece witnessed a murder but many people of Angel’s Fist are having trouble believing her. In fact, many begin to suspect that Reece may be imagining it all. Brody does not. He never wavers, not once, in his belief in her. I felt when I read this book that Reece and Brody would last. He stood by her when his friends and his newfound community would turn against her. As I wrote in the review, “Those actions show me more than any amounts of endless exposition that not only does Brody love Reece, but he will love her forever, no matter what, amen.”

In the end, the actions of these characters leave the reader to believe that the happy ever after will truly be “happy ever after.” These characters understand the value of the action versus the spoken word. How do you define romance? Any particular romantic or anti romantic moments? Favorite passages? Do you want the big declaration or can actions speak as loud as the words? Let’s celebrate in our own, Dear Author way, with the best stories you’ve got. Feel free to steal them from books, like me. :)

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

11 Comments

  1. Nora Roberts
    Feb 13, 2007 @ 07:14:47

    Every now and again my husband will buy me Dots–I’m wild about Dots–and tuck them into a kitchen drawer. Finding this sweet, colorful surprise is better than flowers. For me, knowing he saw them on the shelf and thought of me is all about love.

    BTW, what lovely, lovely passages.

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  2. Keishon
    Feb 13, 2007 @ 09:00:38

    Oh, I love the speech Harry gave. I also love Christian’s speech to Maddy in Flowers from the Storm, very moving and I’m too lazy to find the book to quote it here. Action does speak louder than words. I still have Angels Fall in my TBR and what prompted me to buy it was what you said about Brody sticking by her when no one else would. That says A LOT. I think sometimes, I would take the action over the words any day. But it takes skill to convey that type of emotion without the declaration, I think.

    Another one, I just thought of was Reap the Wind by Iris Johansen, where heroine had lost her family heirloom early in the book and the hero replaces it for her. That was his declaration of love because he remembered how important that necklace was to her. Love that book.

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  3. Barbara B.
    Feb 13, 2007 @ 11:46:52

    Truly beautiful and romantic passages. Thanks for such a great post!

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  4. Susan/DC
    Feb 13, 2007 @ 12:10:21

    I looked at my reading log and found two quotes that I’d thought romantic enough to include. One is from an older Marion Chesney, and even though I only graded the book a C, I found romantic the way the hero comforted the heroine with a kiss after she got lost in a snowstorm: “Don’t cry, sweeting,” he whispered, “a kiss, nothing more. No great commitment. Only a kiss in an inn in a snowstorm.” Rereading it now, now quite sure why it struck me so forcefully when I originally read it, but it did.

    OTOH, Diane Farr’s “Under the Wishing Star” has a scene I’ve reread several times because I find it so romantic. Nathalie and Malcolm are recently married, and Natalie is nervous about her body and her ability to please her handsome husband. Malcolm tells her to think of him instead, and, “in a flash, she understood. He was right. When she thought about herself — her fears, her nakedness, what he must think of her, whether or not she pleased him — she froze. But when she thought of of him — the play of his muscles, the texture of his hair, the feel of his mouth when he kissed her — she was free of petty anxiety.” Earlier in the book Malcolm holds a party solely to be able to have the excuse to dance with Natalie. Be still my beating heart, and someone give this woman a contract to write more romances.

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  5. Laura Florand
    Feb 13, 2007 @ 12:32:53

    I would take a Ned over a John-Cusak-standing-outside-the-window-in-the-rain-with-a-boombox any day. Because you are right. Ned’s the one who’s showing he loves you over the long haul and the every day.

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  6. seton
    Feb 13, 2007 @ 12:51:04

    Great post today, Jane.

    I dont read Nora but Janga on the Eloisa James board is a big-ass fan and a few weeks ago, she coupled that “My Egypt” passage you quoted with this one from Nora’s THE RETURN OF RAFE MACKADE. Thought it was nice (still dont make me want to read the novel tho)

    Something fell into her lap. _____ blinked her eyes and stared at the bouquet of lilacs.

    “They’re not real," he told her. “You can’t get them in February. I’ve had them in the back of my car for a few days, so they’re cold."

    “They’re lovely." Slowly she ran her fingers over the chilly silk blossoms. “A few days," she murmured and looked up again.

    “Yeah, so?" He scowled, jammed his hands in his pockets, shifted. “Man." He thought facing a noose would be easier than what he was about to do. It certainly couldn’t burn his throat any less.

    He got down on his knees.

    “What are you doing?"

    “Just keep quiet," he warned her. “And if you laugh, you pay." Mortified, he swore under his breath, dragged a hand through his hair. And bit the bullet.

    “‘When I arose and saw the dawn, I sighed for thee.’"

    “____ . . ."

    “Don’t interrupt me." Miserably embarrassed, he glared at her. “Now I have to start over."

    “But you don’t have to—”

    “_____."

    She drew in a breath, wondered if there was another woman in the world who had ever had Shelley quoted to her with eyes that threatened murder. “Sorry, you were saying?"

    He shifted his weight. “Okay. ‘When I arose and saw the dawn, I sighed for thee. When the light rode high, and the dew was gone, and . . .’ Oh, hell." He raked his fingers through his hair and tried to concentrate. “I got it. ‘And noon lay heavy on flower and tree, And the weary Day turned to her rest, lingering like an unloved guest, I sighed for thee.’"

    “That’s all I’ve got. It took me more than a week to memorize it. If you mention this to anyone—"

    “I wouldn’t dream of it." Incredibly moved, she laid a hand on his cheek. “That was very sweet of you."

    “It kind of fits the way I feel about you." And now that it was over—thank God—it hadn’t been as bad as he feared. “I think about you, _____, all day. Every day. So if you want poetry—”

    “No," With a quick shake of her head, she reached out and lay her cheek on his shoulder, “No, I don’t need poetry, ____."

    “I haven’t bothered to give you much romance." And he knew now, by the way her eyes had gone soft and dreamy, that he should have. “Now it’s fake flowers and somebody else’s words."

    She had to cry now, but they were lovely tears, soothing ones. “I love the flowers, and I loved the words. But I don’t need them. I don’t want you to change for me, ____. There’s nothing about you I’d want to change. I said I’d take you as you are and I meant it."

    copyright: Nora Roberts (cause she owns all)

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  7. Shiloh Walker
    Feb 13, 2007 @ 13:07:44

    actions ALWAYS speak louder than words.

    My DH isn’t very big on words, but he does these little things that say I love you louder than anything. He goes and warms up the car for me in the morning. When the baby is fussy (she’s TEETHING) and I’m about ready to rip my hair out, he gets her laughing when nothing else can, he turns off the alarm on Friday morning to let me sleep in while he gets the bratlet up and off to school. There’s a movie I want to to see? Often he’ll get the DVD and leave it on the table for me.

    I’ve known a bunch of guys who are very good at talking but when it comes to the actual act of showing somebody you love them? They suck at it. Give me the action over the words anyday.

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  8. Robin
    Feb 13, 2007 @ 13:58:45

    Ditto on loving the speech Christian gives in front of Maddie’s church at the end of Flowers from the Storm.

    One of my favorite ‘actions speak louder than words’ moments occurs at the end of The Dream Hunter when Zenia runs back into the house, terrified that the ghost of her mother is driving her insane. Arden makes a “charm” to protect her and draws her into his comfort and care, and IMO it is miles more romantic than even his “kidnapping” of her from the train (on his horse, in the middle of winter, in total swashbuckling, dodging bullets style).

    I like those moments best in Romance where the hero (or heroine) shows he/she understands the other at the most fundamental level. THAT’s romantic to me. Like when Olympia comforts Sheridan at the end of Seize the Fire, finally, perhaps, seeing him fully for the first time.

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  9. Josie
    Feb 13, 2007 @ 19:35:59

    Great post Jane! I feel all warm and fuzzy…I think as a Valentine’s treat I’m going to have to read As You Desire again.
    I am also in the actions over words camp. One of my favourite things that hubby does for me? He hates electric blankets (makes him too hot) and in winter, so I don’t have to get into bed when the sheets are cold, he gets in first and warms up my side. Many a brownie point was earned when he came up with that idea!

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  10. Ann(ie)
    Feb 13, 2007 @ 23:19:48

    The Egypt speech leaves me breathless, everytime.

    Here’s a passage I like:

    Somehow, Mina found the courage to ask, “Do you…love me as much as you loved her?"

    “No," he said softly—and she feared she might weep. Sometimes curiosity ought not to be indulged. But then he went on: “Not as much. More. I loved Juliet so that I thought I would die without her. But I behaved badly and carried on. I would die without you, Mina. You are my heart and soul—the music to which I dance, my sunshine in the morning and my last kiss at night. You are the woman who makes me laugh—and cry—and who will not let me hide. You are the woman who can smile at me, even now, knowing what I am—"

    Her composure melted like spun sugar in the rain. “You are my husband.”

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  11. Jane
    Feb 14, 2007 @ 11:52:47

    I love everyone one of the titles you mentioned – and that scene from the Quick book is a favorite. Another favorite with a quiet man whose actions speak louder is The Masqueraders by Heyer. Anthony is described as large, slow and quiet throughout the book and most have no clue about his intelligence. But his quietness hides deep passions and he makes it clear in just a couple of scenes that Prudence is his everything and he will do anything it takes to make her happy.

    Sorry, I don’t have the book in front of me right now to add some quotes.

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