When I begin planning a new romance novel, one of my first questions is: how do they meet? In my most recent novel, Song of the Nile, the characters already know each other, but in my other novels there is a ‘meet cute’ moment.
The first meeting of the hero and heroine has such importance to the development of the story; it’s really the foundation for all that follows. Though they do not realise it at the time, that moment of connection will change everything for the characters. As I write in The Echoes of Love after Venetia meets Paolo:
Thus does Fate cast her thunderbolts into our lives, letting them fall with a feather-like touch, dulling our senses to the storm they would cause should we realise their devastating powers.
Paolo and Venetia’s first meeting is dramatic: he saves her from being mugged one night on the street in Venice. Often, though, the drama in the first meeting is in the chemistry between the two characters when they first see each other. In my novel Masquerade, the story begins with a coup de foudre (lightning bolt) when Luz first sees Leandro while out riding:
Luz set eyes on him for the first time from her seat on Zeyna’s back as the fine white Arab mare stepped down the narrow path from the cliff that led to the beach. He was sitting on the edge of the track, leaning nonchalantly against a wild carob tree, watching her while chewing on a sprig of heather. As she drew nearer, she met his steady gaze, spirited and wild. At that moment she had no idea this man would have the power to change her world and create such havoc in her heart, that she would emerge from the experience a different person. Fate had not yet lit up the winding pathway of her life nor the echoes of history along it, but now, in front of this stranger, a disturbing awareness leapt into flame deep inside her and began to flicker intensely.
Masquerade: available to buy from my shop
In Legacy, the sequel to Masquerade, the first connection between the hero and heroine is just as powerful:
And then it happened … their eyes met across the room and held for a long moment. The effect was electric and hit Luna like a bolt of lightning. His gaze, fringed by long black lashes, burned with a fire that scorched her as it moved slowly and deliberately over her face, then her body, with frank admiration, as if drinking in her every feature. Though she could not see the exact colour of his eyes at this distance, she knew they were paler than his tanned complexion – brilliant and alive with passion. The man before her was mesmerizing in his perfect male beauty. His bold, open stare should have made her want to turn and run but something more powerful than she had ever experienced, a shot of pure adrenaline in her blood, had her rooted to the spot.
These novels, set in Spain, are infused with fiery passion, and it seemed fitting to start the relationships with a bang. But lightning does not always strike in this way. Sometimes a heroine is more innocent or guarded; sometimes a gentle hand is required to allow the attraction to spark.
In Burning Embers, Coral meets Rafe aboard a ship bound for Africa. He is a stranger to her when he approaches her one evening as she stands on the deck of the ship, feeling lost and tearful. In this case, their first connection is established through touch:
They stood close to each other, almost touching. His hand reached out and, with infinite tenderness, covered the slender fingers clenching the rail. A pleasant warmth flooded her. She was afraid to move in case she disturbed that initial, yet powerful, contact. For a fleeting moment, in this wan light and because he spoke gently, her wounded heart yielded to this stranger’s soothing voice.
The sky was slowly clearing on the horizon. The black cloak of night began to lift, lazily giving way to a monochromatic dawn of decreasing hues, from indigo to steel blue. The first rays of the African sun broke through in the distance, a sallow slip of color outlining the eastern horizon. Coral felt the stranger looking at her, and heat suddenly rose in her cheeks.
Their eyes locked. She shuddered and pulled his jacket closer around her shoulders. As his gaze dropped to her soft, full lips, he flushed under his deep tan, then suddenly seemed to check himself and turned away. Coral, whose head and heart were throbbing, stood there silently, staring up at him with a mixture of curiosity and wonderment. The sensation she was experiencing was totally new to her. It was as if an unspoken affinity had been discovered and a connection established all in a single moment.
Inherent in romance is a sense of dreaminess and fantasy, and I harness this in Aphrodite’s Tears, which is set in the Greek islands and draws on the mythology of the Ancient Greeks. In this novel, Oriel first sees Damian when she is sitting alone on a beach one evening and he emerges from the sea.
It was a man, but not one wearing a wetsuit, fins or diving mask; this one was almost naked, his modesty barely protected by what could only be defined as an apology for a low-rise brief. He was no mere trick of the light. Sleek and glorious, he was suddenly hurtling out of the water, throwing spray off his body like Poseidon rising from the waves.
Oriel’s breath caught in her throat as she watched him, a small frown crinkling her brow. A curious sense of apprehension seeped into her veins. In the near-darkness he looked large, somewhat menacing and disturbingly masculine as he strode through the shallows. There was an air of unquestioned dominance about this man, an arrogant power that expressed itself in the controlled motion of his body as he sauntered on to the beach.
For that fateful minute, she was totally helpless, in the grip of emotions too basic to be controlled by rational thought. Instead of turning to leave quickly, she continued to stare at the stranger who had materialized like a Greek god wading from the depths of the sea.
Oriel feels somewhat bewitched – and who can blame her? Of course, when she next meets Damian and discovers he is her new employer, she must quickly separate fantasy from reality; but this dreamy first meeting will colour her every encounter with him.
Aphrodite’s Tears: available to buy from my shop
For Catriona, heroine of my novel Concerto, the first meeting with Umberto is far less romantic. When he catches her, his next-door neighbour, snooping on his property, he is anything but friendly.
‘What on earth do you think you’re doing? Who are you?’
Caught unawares, Catriona was almost scared out of her wits by the angry voice that accosted her. She looked up to face her interrogator. In the silence of that moment her impression was that a foreign sculptor had made this man and then stood him in the wind and the sun, allowing them to weather his face into a dangerous attraction. He was perhaps in his mid-twenties and very tall, his lean frame making his height not apparent at first glance. His dark hair was windblown into a fashionably wild look. The very bright emerald-coloured eyes staring down at her were glittering with anger but riveting in his bronzed face, the contrast somehow increasing the threat he emanated as he towered over her.
Catriona swallowed hard, not sure how to handle this, but she knew instinctively that, in the blink of an eye, her pleasant, peaceful existence had been shattered.
Though Umberto is obnoxious and arrogant, Catriona is drawn to him. In her case, though, she knows more of Umberto than she gleans from this brief meeting. She has not seen him before, but she has heard him. The night before, she stood on her veranda and listened to the music coming from a party next door.
Someone was playing the piano: Beethoven’s ‘Moonlight Sonata’. It had once been likened by the German poet Ludwig Rellstab to the effect of moonlight shining on Lake Lucerne, and to Catriona tonight it suggested the silvery orb shining on the Mediterranean. Entranced, the eighteen-year-old musician listened with a beating heart to the liquid notes that floated to her through the night, a mesmerizing melody that held her in its charm long after it had ceased to play. Although she was cold, Catriona waited a little longer on the balcony in the hope that the pianist would grace his or her audience with another piece…
So begins their love story.
Already, I am dreaming up a first meeting for my next novel. Will it be dramatic, or tender, or dreamy, or antagonistic? Whatever the scenario, one ingredient will be key: chemistry.
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