Some romance novel novels begin with a ‘meet cute’, that electric moment where the heroine and hero first cross paths and are drawn to each other. Here, for example, is the moment when Luz, heroine of my novel Masquerade, first sees Leandro:
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.
But love is not always the story of a coup de foudre (lightning bolt) followed by the development of a relationship. Sometimes love is built upon the old adage ‘absence makes the heart grow fonder’ and the foundation of the love story is a reunion.
I love to write scenes in which my characters find each other once more. There is so much to experience in this moment, a mixture of nostalgia and new discovery. Each person is at once the same and different. To reconnect with someone you once cared for – the rush of emotions is so heady and thrilling, it can be overwhelming.
In Aphrodite’s Tears, my novel set on the Greek islands, Oriel shares a night of passion with a stranger, Damian, and expects never to see him again. But six years later, when she arrives on the island of Helios to start a new job as an archaeologist, she is in for a shock:
The shadow moved again and she stared up at the tall, dark figure that stood a few feet away from her, framed by the splayed branches of two lemon trees. Though his features were shrouded in darkness, she could just make out his square broad shoulders. He took a step forward and, as he did so, moonlight fell on one half of his face.
Oriel felt as if she had been struck by invisible lightning, the blood draining from her body, and her legs seemed made from cotton wool. It couldn’t be! Those bright and glowing slate-grey eyes were quite unmistakable…once seen, never forgotten, she told herself with stunned bewilderment, at least not by her.
‘It is you,’ he murmured, his eyes glinting with something unfathomable. He spoke impeccable English in that deep foreign voice imprinted on her memory. ‘But then how could it be any other, with that flaxen hair that looks as if it’s been woven with the silver rays of the moon?’ He smiled languidly. ‘It’s good to see you again, Calypso. Or should I say Despinis Anderson? We never were properly introduced, were we?’ He didn’t bother to come forward but remained where he was, his shoulder propped against one of the trees, arms folded across his chest.
His eyes narrowed like those of a jungle animal as he watched Oriel standing there, holding her breath as if suspended in time. He spoke again quietly, coolly now, a sardonic veil covering whatever expression had kindled at the first stunned impact of their meeting. ‘Remember me?’ …
Oriel fumbled for something to say. Of course she remembered. The way her heart raced just from his proximity was testament to that. The sheer size of him, with those broad shoulders and massive chest … his mere silhouette had a thrilling familiarity.
How many times in the past had she wished that he would walk into her life again? How many nights had he haunted her dreams as she searched hungrily in the dark for his lips, his arms, craving his touch? And now he was here, standing in front of her after all these years, opening the floodgates to all those memories and dreams, and she felt nothing but cold shock and panic. She stepped away instinctively, her heart thudding beneath the silk of her dress.
Aphrodite’s Tears: available to buy now
In Concerto, set on Lake Como, a decade has passed since singer Catriona fell for composer Umberto. Then, she was a teenager, naïve, innocent and entirely generous in giving her heart completely – only to have it broken. Ten years on, there is no surprise meeting between the two former lovers; Umberto’s mother comes to Catriona, now a renowned music therapist, and begs her to help the composer, who has lost his sight in an accident and sunk into a depression. Catriona, desperate to protect her heart and her young son, refuses. But the decision haunts her. I write:
For ten years she had tried not to think of him, holding on to the futile hope that time would gently erase her aching love. Yet the memory of him had never diminished. Like a phantom, he was now seeping back into her dreams, returning to plague her in new, disturbing ways, calling to her somehow.
She sat on the edge of the bed, staring into space, one thought revolving in her mind … I don’t know if I’d ever have been strong enough to see you again, Umberto.
Finally, she decides she must go to him and try to help him. But she will protect herself by concealing her identity from him. For Catriona, the reunion is deeply emotional and tinged with sadness over the tragedy that has befallen Umberto:
Catriona took in very few details in that first moment; all she saw was the unnaturally still, broad-shouldered figure in dark glasses and emerald green sweater sitting in the high-backed cane chair at a table under an umbrella. As she came forward, Umberto turned his head questioningly, evidently trying to judge where she was by the sound of her footsteps. It shook her more than she would have believed possible because in that instant he’d sent a kaleidoscope of images from her past spinning through her mind. Memories so staggering in their clarity of colour, scent and taste that her skin prickled.
A barb of wire seemed to fly into her throat and she flung up a hand as if to stifle that choked feeling. Coming right up to him, she paused in the expectation that he would hold out his hand for her to shake, then, catching the glint of his dark glasses, realized her mistake and reached out and took his hand, somewhat hesitantly, in hers. A shock passed through her as she felt the contact of his long, strong fingers closing firmly round her own. With a tremulous effort to keep her voice steady, she said: ‘Buongiorno, signor Monteverdi, it’s good to meet you.’
She thought she detected a sudden stillness in Umberto, as if a film reel had glitched for a moment. Then the hard lines of his face set inscrutably once more and any presumption she might have held that the blind musician would show the slightest vulnerability was quashed immediately.
Umberto, unable to see, experiences their reunion in a different way. He does not recognise Catriona until he hears her sing, and then he is dazed and at once plunged into memories of her years ago, of them together in a night of passion. For them both, the reunion is slow, tentative and loaded with meaning.
Concerto: available to buy now
In both Aphrodite’s Tears and Concerto the protagonists who are reunited were once lovers, thus there is a great deal of chemistry between them already. In my latest novel Song of the Nile, the reunion has a different feel, for Aida and Phares have never even kissed.
The pair grew up on neighbouring estates in Luxor, and their fathers, best friends, planned on their marrying – but then Aida’s father died in terrible circumstances, and in her grief Aida fled Egypt for England. At the start of the book Aida has returned to Egypt after eight years away determined to clear her father’s name: before his death of a heart attack he was convicted of a crime and Aida is convinced that Phares’s father framed him. Whatever feelings she once had for Phares she dismisses as ‘a schoolgirl crush’; she can’t love him now, she tells herself.
Then Aida meets Phares while out on a walk:
Aida stood there on the edge of the sunlight with the dense trees behind her, watching spellbound as the door to the little cottage opened and a figure emerged. Without thinking, she quickly pulled her sunglasses down to cover her eyes.
A man strode forward. He was over six feet tall, with the supple, sinewy body of an athlete, and there was strength in the alert vigour of his movements. The breadth of his shoulders fitted with his height, and thick, unruly hair fell a little over a high forehead. He wore a cream cotton shirt with the sleeves rolled up to his elbows, and his long, muscular legs clad in a brown pair of riding breeches strode towards her.
‘Where on earth have you come from?’ he demanded. The voice was deep, almost curt. He had addressed her in perfect English. There must be something about her clothes or looks that branded her a foreigner. Aida recognised him immediately. He was as autocratic and arrogant as ever, she decided, and for a dizzy moment her heart stopped beating. However, it seemed that he hadn’t recognised her – her face disguised by her sunglasses – and for the moment, it suited Aida to have the upper hand.
He was even more handsome and charismatic than she remembered, with a strong jaw and an almost golden tint to his tanned face as though he carried the reflection of his family’s wealth and greatness in the very moulding of his features and the hue of his skin. She remembered the last time she had seen him, stern in a navy suit, finely pinstriped, wearing an expression that had unnerved her immeasurably. She took a deep breath and licked her lips, which had suddenly gone dry. A silent curse went through her mind. She hadn’t seen him for eight years and it took no more than the sight of him for her to go weak at the knees.
Phares Pharaony. Phares, meaning knight, the man who had been the knight of her dreams until the day of the tragedy. He stopped in front of her and seemed not to notice how his proximity made her stiffen. His large almond-shaped eyes settled severely on her face, so startling in their density that they made Aida think of coals with a flame at the centre where passions might be quietly smouldering. They were fixing her now with a look that tested her nerves to the utmost limit.
She recalled how that same look from those eyes had made her feel like an irresponsible schoolgirl the day she dared to accuse his father of deceit and treachery. But eight years on, and they had a different effect, making her conscious of herself as a woman, and this strange new feeling was even more alarming.
In just a few moments of reunion, all of Aida’s feelings come flooding back, and now it will be much harder to convince herself that she and Phares were never in love and could never hope to be. Especially once Phares insists that their reunion should be permanent and formalised at the end of an aisle…
Song of the Nile: available to buy now
Reunion: the coming together of two soul mates; or, in the words of Aristotle, ‘a single soul inhabiting two bodies’. A return to all that is simple and destined and right. A homecoming, to where each belongs.
Picture credit: conrado/Shutterstock