And another Harlequin Historical submission for our First Page Feedback. @JewelCourt certainly has an engaging title!
New York City
Grace gathered her skirts and stepped carefully around the puddle of blood soaking the sawdust floor of the Hurdy Gurdy. Atop the blood floated a yellowed tooth. She looked away, coming face to face with the tooth’s owner. The evidence was borne by his grin as he clanked a dirty glass against that of his companion, a large gentlemen sporting an eye turning a dangerous shade of purple. The fact that each was responsible for the other’s injuries cooled their conviviality not one whit.
Ahead, Mr. McMullen’s broad shoulders broke a path through the unruly crowd toward the small ring situated in the center of what had previously been the dance floor. The boxers were squared off. The fight was about to commence. She scurried after Mr. McMullen, but was waylaid by a hand that grabbed her upper arm before she could reach him.
“How’s about a go?” asked the man in the garishly checked suit. His breath smelled of onions and cheap beer.
“I’m already engaged,” she said with a polite smile. The only other women in the Bowery bar were prostitutes, therefore, it was no surprise he thought she was working. Upon her entrance, she’d scanned the other women present on the off chance there existed a rose among thorns, but all the women looked too hard worn for her cliental. Prostitution was a difficult life that wore a woman down long before her time, but she took care of her girls. Like her, they had no better options. Plus, her patrons expected a certain youthful freshness. And she ensured they paid dearly for it.
Despite her demurral, the man’s grip on her arm remained tight. “How’s about he wait his turn,” he said.
“Kindly remove your hand, sir,” she said firmly. She palmed the knife strapped to her thigh through the slit in her skirt pocket.
But before she was forced to act, McMullen turned back. It took but one long stride for him to reach her side. “Woman’s already taken,” he said.
Garish Suit took one look at McMullen’s towering bulk. “Didn’t mean no trouble,” he mumbled and dropped her arm. He backed away through the crowd.
“Thank you, Mr. McMullen,” she said, removing her hand from the knife. “I was prepared to stab the toad, but I fear that would have distracted from our errand.” She reached up to ensure her hair was still smoothly in its place. “Now, let us observe your Mr. Sullivan.”
McMullen secured them a vantage point at the very edge of the ring. She was sorry to lose him as an employee. His sheer bulk was often an advantage. Within the ring, the boxers were stripped to their waist, highlighting their contrasting frames. The boxer with the enormous waxed moustache was easily twice the other. He stood as bulky as a bear and nearly as furry. In contrast the smaller, light-haired man was lean and smooth. Only a battered nose marred his handsome face.
First Page Feedback from the Harlequin Historicals Team
Now there’s something delightfully refreshing about a cool, composed, unshakeable heroine (especially facing a gruesome puddle of blood!) and this first page certainly delivers on that front.
Generally there’s a good fluidity to the writing – it’s expressive, getting across the sense of both the rowdy hall and the heroine’s experience nicely. We did pause at ‘cooled their conviviality not one whit’, wary that the rather old-fashioned arrangement of this sentence may be off-putting to some so early on (despite the historical period!). However this was soon forgotten!
We were excited by the down-to-earth, gritty, setting. There’s something about the fact the boxing ring used to be a dance floor that particularly caught my eye and seems to hint at more – has the heroine similarly fallen to her position from a more wealthy lifestyle? If so – what lovely layering!
We did wonder about heroine’s ethics as her role as a Madam, but the sense that she has very little choice does come across. It didn’t stop us wanting to read on, especially with the mysterious errand still to be uncovered, but we would be looking for further signs of justification later in the manuscript.
Intrigued to see more of the hero and how he makes an impression on this tough heroine – especially if he’s the smaller of the two boxers!
Overall an intriguing, well-written first page, with plenty to capture our interest – nice work!
Thanks to all–and hope it was helpful!