The ‘meet cute’ on WIP Wednesday

meet-cute‘Meet cute’ is a term from Hollywood that has crept into book publishing. It means that moment in a romantic comedy when the hero and the heroine first encounter one another. The implication is that the first meeting is amusing, entertaining, or charming.

Even if you’re not writing romantic comedy, the term can apply, but today I’m just using it as shorthand for the first meeting in your book. My own current works-in-progress have progressively less and less cute about them. The Bluestocking and the Barbarian comes close, with James swooping down to save a child from the path of racing curricles.

With hand, body and voice, James set Seistan at the child and dropped off the saddle, trusting to the horse to sweep past in the right place for James to hoist the child out of harm’s way.

One mighty heave, and they were back in the saddle. James’ shoulders would feel the weight of the boy for days, but Seistan had continued across the road, so close to the racers that James could feel the wind of their passing.

They didn’t stop. Didn’t even slow. In moments, they were gone.

The boy shaking in his arms, James turned Seistan with his knees, and walked the horse back to the gates of the big house. A crowd of women waited for them, but only one came forward as he dismounted.

“How can we ever thank you enough, sir?” She took the child from him, and handed him off to be scolded and hugged and wept over by a bevy of other females.

The woman lingered, and James too. He could hear his father and the others riding toward them, but he couldn’t take his eyes off hers. He was drowning in a pool of blue-gray. Did she feel it too? The Greeks said that true lovers had one soul, split at birth and placed in two bodies. He had thought it a nice conceit… until now.

In Revealed in Mist, David and Prue parted in anger in the Prologue, and meet again for the first time in months in the first chapter. Prue has just saved a young lady from rape.

She put the girl behind her with her free hand, then pulled the door closed. Something thrown banged against it on the other side.

“We must get you to safety,” she told the girl, a very young debutante in a torn white gown, her honey blonde hair falling from its careful coiffure, the delicate oval of her face streaked with tears.

“I cannot… I did not… Everyone will think…”

“Take the child to Lady Georgiana.” Prue started at Shadow’s voice and the girl yelped and clutched at her for protection. Fussing over the girl gave Prue time to catch the breath that had escaped at his sudden appearance. He was leaning against the next door down, half concealed in the doorway. “There’s a small sitting room along there.” He pointed down the passage towards the far end, seemingly unaffected the meeting, while Prue was torn between spitting in his face and throwing herself at his feet to beg him to forgive whatever offence she had caused. “Half way to the corner. Lady Georgiana is in there. She’ll take care of your maiden, and I shall see to the assailant. Who is it?”

And A Raging Madness has the least cute meet of all, as Ella flees confinement and abuse in her in-laws house to beg help from Alex, who she knew long, long ago.

The couch faced the fire, its back to the bed chamber door. The occupant was invisible until they stood right over it, and then there she was, lying on her back, wrapped tightly in a scruffy grey woollen blanket, heavily mired at one end with dried mud. All they could see of the woman was her head, and that was somewhat the worse for wear. Her face was far too thin, with dark patches under the eyes and bruise over bruise along her jaw, as if she had been gripped too hard time after time, week after week. She lay in a tangle of long brown hair, escaped from the plait to which it had been confined.

As they watched, she opened her eyes. For a moment, she stared at them, confused. Then she seemed to recall where she was, and sat up in one convulsive movement, clutching the blanket to her with a bare arm as it fell, but not before Alex had seen she wore nothing but her shift.

“Alex, thank God. You must help me. Please.”

“Lady Melville.” Alex bowed as well as he could, leaning heavily on his stick, hating to show weakness in front of her of all people. But her eyes did not leave his, and she displayed no signs of noticing his infirmity.

“Please,” she repeated, just as someone knocked on the door. She shot off the couch, clutching the blanket, and retreated to the wall, her eyes wide. He had seen such a stance before, people under threat finding a wall for the back, animals at bay, almost dead from fear, but  still searching for escape.

“It is just the major’s breakfast, my lady,” Jonno said, soothingly. But a male voice in the hall belied his reassurance. “Knock again,” it said, loudly, authoritatively. Braxton.

“Please,” Ella begged, one more time.

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16 thoughts on “The ‘meet cute’ on WIP Wednesday

  1. I think I’ve shared John and Mary’s first meeting in TLS with you before, so here’s their meeting as depicted in “The Late Lord” (endnotes removed, obviously). (It’s still a WIP if I’m working through the proofs, right?) It’s not romantic fiction, being a biography, but John’s endearing goofiness always makes me giggle. Even if it probably made Mary want to kick him in the shins.

    ___

    During Chatham’s stay in Madrid on his way home from
    Gibraltar, the British ambassador Lord Grantham noticed something
    singular about his guest. Chatham’s travelling companions ‘found out
    new Acquaintances [prostitutes] at Madrid, but Lord Chatham never went
    with them, & I would not swear that he is not in possession of a most
    precious Jewel’. Some weeks later, Grantham’s brother Frederick
    Robinson met Chatham at a dinner held by Thomas Townshend, later
    Lord Sydney, a former political associate of Chatham’s father. By the end
    of the evening Robinson had solved the riddle. ‘If [Chatham] has a mind
    to set that Jewel which you suppose him possess’d of very beautifully,’
    he told Grantham, ‘he might consult Miss Mary Townshend’.

    Robinson was right: Chatham had fallen in love with Townshend’s
    second daughter. Mary was already considered a beauty, elegant, darkhaired
    and quietly intelligent. She was the perfect match for the reserved,
    highly private Chatham, but at 16 she was too young for him to press his
    suit seriously, and his departure for the West Indies the following year
    slowed down their courtship. Still, he never forgot her, and once he settled
    permanently in Britain he renewed his attentions. By the summer of 1782
    the fashionable set was full of Chatham’s attachment to ‘the beauty in
    Albemarle Street’ (Townshend’s London residence). Chatham played it
    cool, dismissing such gossip as ‘Stock Jobbing Reports’, but he fed the
    rumours himself by visiting the Townshends over the summer. By May
    1783 the match seemed certain, and Chatham’s sister Harriot wrote
    excitedly to her mother of the couple’s very public ‘amicable’ behaviour
    at a ball.

    Harriot had reckoned without the streak of schoolboy bashfulness in
    Chatham that made him miss nearly every opportunity to bring his suit to a point. Although he came ‘very near’ proposing on a trip to Frognal,
    the Townshend family’s country estate, he did not do so, and by 6 May
    Mary was ‘not a little fidgetty [sic]’. ‘I think in this sort of way all sides
    may be likely to get Frampy,’ Harriot grumbled, but Chatham did not
    screw up the courage to propose until 5 June. The marriage contract,
    dated 5 July 1783, settled £5,000 on Mary as a dowry, and the wedding
    took place five days later. The match cemented a close alliance between
    two strongly political families and, despite its fitful start, it was very
    happy.

      • As I said on my blog, I suspect the courtship went something like this:

        “Mary?”

        “Yes?”

        “I wanted to ask you something…”

        “Yes?”

        “Something very important…”

        “Yeeeeeeeeeees?”

        “………… Could you please pass the salt?”

  2. So here’s one from An Open Heart, my entry in Holly and Hopeful Hearts. In this one the heroine walks right in to the hero’s disapproval.

    “Good afternoon, Smithers. Isn’t it a lovely afternoon?” she chirped to the butler as she swished by him. “Where is my father?”
    She didn’t wait for an answer. This time of day, Papa would be home and he would be in his study. She strode down the hall without heeding the butler’s, “Miss Esther, you might not want—”
    Silence met her when she swept into the study. Papa was not alone, and his frown boded ill. Esther stood rooted to the spot, momentarily speechless.
    Two gentlemen surged to their feet immediately. The tallest, with hair so blond it appeared white in the afternoon shadows, looked down his aristocratic nose with ice blue eyes and made a perfectly correct bow. She knew the Marquess of Glenaire on sight. His sister, a horrid girl, had been at school with Esther, albeit a few years younger. The other gentleman appeared to be Glenaire’s equal in class, breeding, and refinement, and yet he looked at her with kind eyes the color of warm coffee. She believed he fought to contain a smile. Esther let out the breath she held, smiled back, and curtseyed politely.
    Behind the two of them, a third man rose, and Esther’s smile fled. This one she knew well. Her heart gave a stutter as it always did at the sight of Adam Halevy, her father’s protégée. She devoutly wished it did not. His coal black hair, magnificent form, and piercing eyes never failed to affect her. Usually, they left her breathless. Today, those eyes were neither icy, nor warm. They looked furious. “Miss Baumann,” he said through clenched teeth with the slightest bow. “This is unexpected.”
    A shift of her shoulder cut Adam and his disapproving frown from her line of sight. “I apologize, Papa. I didn’t know you had company. I’ll leave you gentlemen to your business.”

    Pre-order links for Holly and Hopeful Hearts are on the project page at the Belles website: http://bluestockingbelles.net/belles-joint-projects/holly-and-hopeful-hearts/

  3. As I’ve said else where I don’t necessarily do cute. My characters more collide when they meet. Sparks tend to fly.

    The captain leaned against an ornately carved pillar, around which numerous identical elephants marched in an orderly line, and blinked at the chaos in his inner courtyard. His rumpled clothing, obviously slept in, gave him the appearance of a care-for-nothing—at least they should have in Clare Armbruster’s opinion. As it was, they hung loosely on his powerful frame and only added to a rakish air, as did the disordered, over-long auburn hair. Clare suspected the sun hurt his eyes and found it impossible to dredge up sympathy for the drunken lout. She pitied any woman who fell for his too obvious attractions.
    The dispute in his garden threatened to become physical and had already cost the captain some lovely spider lilies, which had been trampled. Two little girls, the ostensible causes of the contending parties’ care and concern, cowered in a corner where the elder tried to comfort the younger. Both looked terrified.
    Clare wanted to scream, “Do something!” at the worthless captain, but the shouting of the house steward, the retorts of the cook, and the wailing of the children would only drown her out. Reverend McKinsey’s attempts to preach above the fray didn’t help. She edged cautiously around the gesticulating steward, the irate cook, and the reverend, in an attempt to get to the girls. A gunshot stopped her in her tracks and made her heart stutter in her chest. She avoided dropping to her knees by sheer force of will, dove for the girls, and pulled both into her arms. They clung like limpets.
    In the silence that followed, only the quiet sobs of the younger girl, where she buried her face in Clare’s shoulder, could be heard. All eyes turned to the figure of the captain, one arm held high, smoke still rising from the horse pistol in his upraised hand.
    “What the hell is going on?” he demanded.
    The house steward stepped forward and bowed respectfully, hands pressed together. “Your woman is dead, Sahib,” he said woefully. Clare found the wizened old man’s sad posturing to be entirely false.
    “I know this, Prahdi, and I expected you to manage the thing without overturning my household.”
    As if the death of one’s mistress and nominal housekeeper didn’t disrupt it enough, Clare thought. Her scorn for the man deepened.
    (WINK See what I mean?)
    This is from The Reluctant Wife, which is the sequel to The Renegade Wife. The Renegade Wife is available for pre-order now.
    https://www.amazon.com/Renegade-Wife-Children-Empire-Book-ebook/dp/B01LY7IRT6/

  4. This passage is from The Viscount’s Bride and in the heroes POV. The book is currently up for preorder and releases on October 17–

    Matthew was aware he was in trouble if this lady and his mother knew each other. He was about to announce his presence when—
    “Then I’m sure we won’t as, from what I understand the duke can be a harsh task master. At least that’s the rumors I heard in the village.”
    Matthew quickly decided the lady to his right was the daughter while the other the mother. This was going to be a very interesting meeting. Bringing Devil to a stop, he smiled to himself and took in a breath.
    “Ladies, my uncle is a fair gentleman unless you cross him or disobey an order while under his command in the Guards.”
    Their reaction was exactly what he’d expected. They dropped their poles and spun about. He’d been correct in his assumption. The lady on his right was the daughter, and never before had he seen such a beautiful lady. Not even the duchess could hold a candle to her.
    “Ah, so the illusive viscount is for real. I’m Lady Elsie, Countess of Ashburn, and this is my daughter, Lady Kathleen.”
    “M’ ladies, it is a pleasure to make your acquaintance. I do hope you enjoy fishing on Radcliffe Hall property,” he politely informed them, all the while trying not to be firm in tone.
    “Yes, m’ lord, we are as where the river crosses our estate is all rapids, thusly dangerous to get near,” Kathleen announced.
    The sound of her voice sent warmth racing through him like no other lady had ever done. But it wasn’t just hearing her speak but the way the sun glinted off her sandy brown hair turning it cinnamon in color which had him spellbound. Then there was her heart-shaped face, soft full lips, and petite nose that helped in entrancing him.

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