So how do you start a new #King story for Harlequin Presents? Probably not like this.
I’m in first-draft la-la land, and soon there will need to be less Katharine Hepburn and Cary Grant and more Liz Taylor and Richard Burton. In other words, I’ll probably have to start again. I’m on the perfect princess, playboy king trail. Fair warning, the words are unedited, probably politically incorrect, and not even cold yet.
Princess Moriana of Arun wasn’t an unreasonable woman. She had patience aplenty and was willing to give anyone the benefit of the doubt at least once. Maybe even twice. But when she knew for a fact she was being passed around like a Christmas cracker no-one wanted to pull, all bets were off. Her brother Augustus had said he wasn’t available to speak with her this morning. People to see, kingdoms to rule, he’d said. Nothing to do with avoiding her until she regained her equilibrium after yesterday’s spectacularly public jilting, the coward.
Ignoring her brother’s notice that he wasn’t to be disturbed, she stalked through to his inner sanctum, sparing a tight-lipped smile for his executive secretary who waved with two fingers and a pasted-on smile before pressing a button on the intercom. Augustus’s secretary didn’t actually speak into the intercom, mind. Moriana was pretty sure he had a secret code button set up just for her—doubtless announcing that Moriana-the-Red was incoming.
Her brother looked up when she walked in, told whoever he had on the phone that he’d call them back, and put the phone down ever so gently.
“Moriana,” he said, sitting back and steepling his hands, and maybe the whole I’m in charge of the universe pose worked on some, but she’d grown up with him and knew what he looked like as a six year old with chicken pox and as a teenager with his first hangover. She knew the sound of his laughter and the shape of his sorrows. He could wear his kingly authority in public and she would bow to him but here in private, when it was just the two of them, he was nothing more than a slightly irritating older brother. “What can I do for you?”
“Have you seen this?” She held up a thick sheet of cream coloured vellum.
“Depends,” he said.
She slammed the offending letter down on the desk in front of him. Letters generally didn’t slam down on anything but this one had the weight of her hand behind it. “Theo sent me a proposal.”
“Okay,” he said cautiously.
“A marriage proposal.”
Her brother’s lips twitched.
“Don’t you dare,” she said.
“Well, it stands to reason he would,” her brother said. “You’re available, and politically it’s an opportunistic match.”
“We loathe each other,” she grated. “There is no earthly reason why Theo would want to spend an evening with me, let alone eternity.”
“I have a theory about that—
“It goes something like this. He pulled your pigtail when you were kids, you gave him a black eye and you’ve been fierce opponents ever since. If you actually spent some time with the man you’d probably discover that he’s not half as bad as you think. He’s well travelled, well read, surprisingly intelligent and a consummate negotiator. All things you admire.”
“A consummate negotiator? Are you serious? Theo’s marriage proposal is a form letter. He filled my name in at the top and his at the bottom.”
“And he has a sense of humour,” Augustus said.
“Everyone except for you.”
“Doesn’t that tell you something?”
“Yes,” he said.
“Did you arrange this?” Because she wouldn’t put it past him. He and their three neighbouring monarchs were close. They plotted together on a regular basis.
“Did Casimir?” He of the broken matrimonial intentions and newly discovered offspring.
“I doubt it. What with burying his father, and planning a coronation, the instant fatherhood, his engagement and then his long lost sister returning from the dead … I’m pretty sure he has his hands full.”
“Then whose mad idea was this?”
“I’m assuming it was Theo’s.”
“I’m not doing it,” she said. “I have finished waiting on kings. I’m going to Cannes to party up a scandal. There will be recklessness. Orgies with dissolute film stars.”
“When?” Augustus did not sound alarmed.
“Soon.” He didn’t look alarmed either, and he should have. “You don’t think I’ll do it. You think I’m a humourless prude who wouldn’t know fun times if they rained down on me. Well they’re about to. All those things I’ve placed value on? My reputation, my sense of duty to king and country, my virginity? I’m getting rid of them.”
“Okay, let’s not be hasty.”
“Hasty?” Princesses didn’t screech. Moriana dropped her voice an octave and gave it some gravel instead. “I could have had the stable boy when I was eighteen. He was beautiful, carefree and rode like a demon. At twenty-two I could have had a sheikh worth billions. He only had to look at me to make me melt. A year later I met a musician with hands I could only dream of. I would have gladly taken him to my bed, but I didn’t. Would you like me to continue?”
“Please don’t.” Augustus had his face in his hands.
“Casimir’s not a virgin. He knocked up a nineteen-year-old when he was twenty-three! You know what I was doing at twenty three? Taking dancing lessons so that I could feel the touch of someone’s hand.”
“I thought they were fencing lessons.”
“Same thing. Maybe I wanted to feel a little prick.”
“Moriana, too much information!”
“I have waited. All these years I have denied myself all manner of pleasures that others take for granted. And for what?”
“You do have your self respect. Not to mention the love of your people.”
“Neither of which is keeping me warm. Tell Theo I reject his offer.”
“Oh, no,” said Augustus and held the letter out for her to take. “You do it. Better yet, consider the offer for what it is.”
Augustus smiled grimly. “A solution you might just be happy with. Form letter or not, he means it. You want to marry a king of the region? Set a wedding date.”
Moriana turned on her heel, headed for the door and closed it behind her with a savage click. Within thirty seconds someone was likely to poke their head in the door to see if he was still breathing.
Augustus looked at the phone on his desk and gingerly picked it up. Keeping the line open wasn’t the best idea he’d ever had, given the way the conversation had progressed. Then again, he wasn’t above giving his childhood friend and neighbouring monarch a heads up. “She’s gone,” he said.
“She’s magnificent.” A thousand miles away, King Theodosius of Liesendaach sat back in his chair and smiled. “The stable boy? Really?”
“I wish you hadn’t heard that.” Augustus sounded weary. “I wish I hadn’t heard that. And what’s with the form letter marriage proposal? I thought you wanted to help.”
“I did help. I haven’t heard her in that fine a snit since, oooh, probably the unfortunate incident with the Cordova twins. Only one of whom I was seeing, by the way. I did not know they were taking turns.”
“You deliberately wind her up.”
“And I’d never deny it. Your sister doesn’t need any more people looking to her to be the perfect royal puppet. She’s flesh and blood with more fire in her than most active volcanoes. It’s about time she realized it.”
“Trust me, she’s aware of it, and so is every one else in her inner circle.” Augustus’s voice was dry, very dry. “My dear departed perfectionist of a mother spent years teaching Moriana how to cap herself accordingly.”
“Possibly part of the problem.” Theo wasn’t above armchair psychology when it came to analyzing his nemesis.
“How soon can you get here?” Augustus asked.
Theo stretched, sighed, and glanced at his watch. “I can get away within the hour.” Trade his palace of pleasures for Augustus’s austere one. “Do you need me to bring decent scotch?”
MORNING-AFTER EDITS – NOTES TO SELF
I’m adding these here for anyone interested in my writing/editing process. I tend to write the dialogue first – that’s the easy bit for me so I run with it. That’s pretty much what I’ve done above. A dialogue run. Then I have to go back and colour in the scene. My process tends to be Day One: Write it, Day 2: Read back over it, fix it and move on. It’s not the end of my editing process by any means. It’s a work in progress.
- Where are they? Do you know? Yeah, neither does anyone else.
- Time, day, month, year … Do we care? Make it matter to one of the characters. Reason?
- Character descriptions – what do they look like? You’re in the perfect POV to describe a minor secondary character. Yay. And you didn’t even do that. (I’m not changing the POV. If I do that I have to change the opening setup. I don’t want to change the opening setup) What about making the heroine see herself in a mirror? Or her reflection in a window pane? (No) But … (No) She could see herself in the dulcet pools of her brother’s liquid eyes. (So Much No. I’ll add some physical attributes somehow–but I’m still not changing the POV)
- Let the humour breathe for a beat (or two, or three) after you land it. Don’t rush to carry on with dialogue. 2 places especially. Add some description of brother or office, of light, sensory stuff or narrative after the brother’s “Yes,” he said.” and also after “small pricks.” Finesse for rhythm.
- Take another pass at the Casimir has enough to be going on with sentence. It’s long and confusing and you’re losing track of who all the he’s are.
- Whose POV do you want to be in once heroine leaves the room? Brother or Hero (who is not in the room)? Can you get away with both? Use brother’s POV as a bridge, extend the scene, and finish strongly in Theo’s place and POV, and y’know, DESCRIBE SOMETHING. Colour the end of this scene in. Colour HIM in. Is he a peacock? Can he have a mirror? (NO. You cannot make him a peacock. He’s a Presents hero. Where’s THE ALPHA?) Emphasize the difference between the court of plenty (Theo’s) and the court of moderation & duty (Augustus’s).
- Who owns this scene? The heroine owns the start of it but the hero has to up his game if he wants to finish it and match her. Those last few lines of dialogue are too weak for end of scene.
- Needs something else. Does he feel he’s coming to her rescue? Add his statement of intent? His goal? What does he want and why does he want it? Finish on that instead?
xox Your Ever Loving ED