Tag Archives: romance

Excerpt: “In Sickness and in Health”

An excerpt from my latest novel, now available at the Kindle store….

by Libby Malin

He was making her an offer: marriage, perhaps for a short time, depending on his prognosis, during which she’d live a life of luxury and leisure except tending to him. Not as nurse or maid, mind you, but as companion and dear friend. As helpmate. As hand-holder. He’d hire nurses and maids, and all Ava would have to do was manage them. He’d expect fidelity during the marriage, and she heartily concurred. Once married, she’d live up to the vows and she’d expect the same as him.

Once married—yes, she said that. She spoke with the same level of sincerity and seriousness. She told him he wasn’t crazy, that she was the one who’d originally floated the idea, and that she wasn’t about to laugh at him for taking her up on it, especially given his current situation.

They talked, in fact, as if this were a business deal. But even so, she found herself staring at him, her heart breaking thinking of the loneliness he’d probably felt after his parents passed, and then being alone again in the doctor’s office, getting bad news.

She’d felt lonely during her DC ordeal, and she’d not faced anything as grave as this.

She, too, began to feel that her “inspiration” the night she’d arrived at the beach—to marry a rich man, and the call it had prompted her to make—was some sort of quirk of Fate, leading them to each other, if only for a short time.

This, too, nudged their interaction into overdrive. There was something about a possible death sentence that made everything more intoxicating, that made colors more saturated, emotions more pronounced. Why, she might even say she loved John. Loved him as a human being in need. And who was to say: perhaps she’d fall in love with him, too. She’d always liked him. Well, in that impersonal way of high school kids. But they’d not moved in the same social circles much, so she’d just not had the chance to interact with him. After the beer-soaked proposal at the pool party, she’d even crushed on him. Until she realized he wasn’t going to ask her out. She had to admit she’d found him attractive when he’d landed on her doorstep the other day. Very attractive. And if he’d taken measures to start dating, she would have responded positively.

She squared her shoulders when they arrived at the medical center in Wilmington. Step one: be that helpmate he required. She’d signed up for that task for this day. Maybe that was the way to approach all of it, just in twenty-four-hour segments, one day after another, not looking farther than evening.

The day was tedious and stressful, and if anything was going to test her inclination to say yes, it was the frustration and boredom of medical testing. The check-in and directions to the right office. The endless papers to fill out, the same ones for the radiologist as for the medical center in general. The signature on the privacy papers—yes, she agreed when John asked if he could put her down as someone the doctors could talk to. The showing of his insurance cards, the looking up of said insurance program, the checking of blood pressure and pulse, several times, once for each location they moved to, from office, to waiting room, to private waiting area of the scan area.

The sitting around sea-green waiting rooms flipping through last month’s People magazine waiting nearly two hours for a scan because there was a technical issue with one of the two machines in the medical center, and because it turned out John was, in fact, claustrophobic, and they’d had to pull him from the room, give him a Valium, and wait for it to affect him before putting him back in the schedule. Oh, and there were more checks on his BP and pulse then, too.

All of this was done, of course, with stiff smiles on their faces, little reassuring grins as if to say, “This is going okay, isn’t it? Just a few little bugs here and there, but it’s so ordinary, so normal to have these speed bumps, so comforting to feel irritated at this, this small thing…”

Although she’d done nothing but sit and read the entire afternoon they were there, she felt as if she’d run a marathon when they finally slipped out of the building and breathed fresh air. Her muscles ached, particularly those around her mouth and eyes.

“If I heard ‘Strangers in the Night’ one more time, I would have screamed,” she said.

“Your voice would have been covered by the racket I’d make heaving a chair at the speaker system,” he said, as they made their way to his truck in the multilevel parking lot.

“At least they turned off the TV,” she said. “Watching bodies being cut up in the morgue on CSI: Miami just doesn’t seem like suitable fare for a hospital waiting room, you know?”

At that, he chuckled. So did she. And the tension of the day led them to full-out laughter as the aches left them and they relaxed, and that led to him touching her arm when they reached his vehicle, and she leaned in, and he wrapped her in a hug. And they shared their first kiss.

Not bad. Not bad at all, she thought, as his warm lips pressed against hers and he deepened the kiss. She liked that he didn’t wear aftershave, and she breathed in the clean scent of his soap, something that had a tinge of coconut oil in it, she thought, reminding her of suntan lotion and the sea.

They stayed locked in an embrace, his forehead pressing on hers, for a few moments. “Thanks,” he breathed. “It really made a difference, having someone—you—with me.”

0-6She squeezed his arm. “I was happy to do it. Really.” The tedium of the afternoon lifted, the fatigue memory misting away as well. She felt good. About herself. About life. About everything. And especially about being with John. This was Fate bringing them together.

“I think I’m awake enough to drive,” he said, but she shook her head.

“Nope. I take my duties to my future fiancé very seriously. I will drive us home.”

The corner of his mouth quirked up a bit, and she thought she noticed a visible relaxing of his shoulders. Good. She was glad if she could give that to him.

They both got in, and he leaned his seat back, confirming her belief that he really did need to unwind.

She started the engine, and after a few jolts as she got used to the brakes and action of the accelerator pedal, they were on the road south to Bethany Beach.

(c) Libby Malin Sternberg 2019

Read the entire story of Ava and John’s journey to love through bad and good health by heading to Amazon and picking up a copy of “In Sickness and in Health”!

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The Diary: A five-paragraph historical, contemporary literary, horror, romance, suspense short story

“The days grow shorter, but it isn’t just the season closing in. It’s the long winter of German occupation that looms. Mama makes plans to leave while Papa continues to believe all will be resolved and peace will reign, that we have nothing to fear! I don’t know what bothers me more now–the invasion of my beloved France or the shattering of my illusions about my father. I have thrown away the rose-scented lotion he gave me. Ah, how I loved rubbing that on my arms before bed. But it was from his trip to Germany…”

Elise closed the diary. No more entries. Was that the moment before escape? Stretching as she stood, tired from hours of translation, Elise went to the window, staring into the blue-gray gloaming at steady rain that did nothing but illuminate the grit on windowpanes in need of a good scrubbing. “Rose-scented lotion.” Rubbed on her arms every night. Elise rubbed her own arms as she sighed. Closing her eyes, she wondered what it would feel like to gently, slowly smooth a luxurious garden-perfumed ointment on her limbs before bed, anointing oneself in order to fall into the arms of Morpheus. It seemed, to Elise, like the epitome of luxury, and for a few moments she thought that her own life would find exquisite meaning if she, too, engaged in such a ritual every evening.

6358926648975702601882742274_The-Austerity-DiariesBut before her dreams could skitter along any further, a sharp slam in the hallway startled her so badly that she jumped. Now she dug her fingernails into her arms with fear, not gentleness, as she slowly turned toward the door, dreading what she would find there, knowing from recent experience what would greet her. She shuddered. She narrowed her eyes as if that would stay the inevitable vision, but she couldn’t keep them from widening when she beheld what she’d feared: the cloud of smoke. Back again. Always the smoke. To haunt her. To tempt her. To beckon her…

Down the hall and around the stairway, she flew, yelling as she went, “Dereck? Dereck! For God’s sake, Dereck, you’re burning something again!” She opened his door, which had slammed shut from the wind coming through his window. He roused himself, following her into the hall. “For the umpteenth time, man, you can’t take a nap after you put something in the oven.” In the kitchen, she growled as she waved acrid smoke away, turned off the oven, turned on the fan, and pulled blackened cookies–at least she thought that’s what they were–out and into the sink. What was this–the fifth pan he’d ruined? Hands on hips, she turned and stared at him through the lifting fog. But his disheveled look, his sleepy, doe-eyed innocence quieted her anger, and she couldn’t help but laugh. He had a speck of flour on his nose. And in his hair. And some of it was even on his jeans, accenting his muscled body. As a top New York chef specializing in French pastry, she had reluctantly agreed to coach him for an upcoming TV cooking contest. His specialty was savory, hers sweet. Looking at him now, though, in his tight-fitting T-shirt, she thought he was the sweetest thing in the world.

“I’m sorry,” he said, running his fingers through his hair. “I put them in…and was going through your great-aunt’s cookbook but…” But it had bored him, and he’d drifted off. But these thoughts he kept to himself as he didn’t want to insult Elise, good, honorable, dutiful Elise, whom he was deceiving, keeping from her his undercover work for the Recovery Agency, a group of ex-Navy SEALS who specialized in terrorism. Because of his cooking skills, he’d been selected for this mission, locating an ex-Nazi who might be partnering now with radical Middle Eastern groups. Lightning flashed and thunder cracked outside. As he saw irritation start to overtake Elise’s usual tolerant cheer, he changed the subject. “Speaking of your great aunt, did you make headway on translating her diary?” Elise had found the journal when they’d both absconded to her family’s New England home to prep for the TV show, and he was hoping it would reveal clues he needed in his search. As she opened her mouth to answer, the lights went out. But glancing out the window, he noticed they were the only house on the street going dark. Not the storm, then. His nerves crackled, and his training kicked in. Seeing a shadow run toward the front door, Dereck grabbed Elise and threw her to the floor just as glass shattered in the hallway and an explosion rocked the house. That diary held a secret all right.

Libby Sternberg’s latest novel, Fall from Grace, has been hailed as “truly a novel for our times” by Midwest Book Review. Get a copy before Amazon runs out! 🙂 

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Learn to Write Romance, Learn to Write

Cough, cough… There’s a lot of dust here. I haven’t visited in a while.

Okay, down to today’s topic.

I am happy to report that a new romantic comedy has hit the e-shelves by none other than yours truly — in this case, Libby Malin. Titled Aefle & Gisela, it tells the story of Medieval History Professor Thomas Charlemagne, who is so eager to slay his childhood reputation as “Timid Tommy,” that he takes a dare at a bachelor party and stops a wedding the very next morning.

Only problem — it’s the wrong wedding. A comic romp blended with biting satire (of academe), Aefle & Gisela should appeal to all my fans (yes, both of them!) who enjoyed Fire Me! and My Own Personal Soap Opera. It’s available for Kindle, Nook, and other e-reading devices. Please check it out and take advantage of the summer sale — it’s only 99 cents for a limited time.

I really enjoyed writing Aefle & Gisela. But if you’d told me ten years ago that I’d get so much pleasure from writing something as light as romantic comedy, I would have cried in your face. You see, I always wanted to be a Serious Writer of Serious Fiction that Serious People took Seriously.

But because I didn’t see myself being accepted into that club (yes, I know, Dr. Freud, I had a classic inferiority/superiority complex about writing), I didn’t bother to try getting in. I didn’t try to get published.

I couldn’t stop writing, though. It was my addiction. My beloved sister knew this. She’d been kind enough to read some of my stories over the years. She knew that’s what I had the “fire in the belly” for. So she suggested I try my hand at romance.

Romance? Why, shut my mouth, that should be a walk in the park for someone like me, who, after all, had spent years writing Serious Fiction that Serious People Would Take Seriously if I ever bothered to get any published.

So I got me some Harlequin romances, sat down and penned a quick proposal, sending it off to the editors, sure I wouldn’t have to wait long to hear back from them with a breathless “yes, yes, yes, we want this amazing, wonderfully written story even though it’s far, far too good for our humble imprint.”

I waited a long time for that note. In fact, I never did get it. I did get an impersonal but very polite thanks, but no thanks.

In a great display of magnanimity, I forgave those hapless editors, sure that my next effort would have them falling all over themselves to publish me.

Wah-wah-wahn. No dice. The Romance Goddesses, they no like me.

By this time, however, I became committed to learning how to write a romance novel, not just playing at it, but really figuring out what made them tick. I read Nora Roberts and Jayne Ann Krentz and bunches of category romances that I actually outlined in a marble notebook. I joined Romance Writers of America and became a member of their various email groups. I entered their chapter contests. I went to a state chapter conference.

From contest judges, I learned that my heroines were sometimes unlikable (when I wanted readers to hug them to their hearts) and that I didn’t need to use so many ellipses because readers understand from the context when dialogue is supposed to sound halting. I learned from one kind soul that I wasn’t formatting my manuscript correctly — not a deal-breaker if the story was terrific, but why distract an editor you’re trying to woo. And from one inept judge I learned that I used too many weak verb constructions (when she circled every “was” in my entry, incorrectly chiding me for using so much “passive voice”).

And I learned how encouraging it was to hear “attagirl” when manuscripts placed in contests and how comforting to get “so sorry to hear” emails when my latest proposals were rejected after initial enthusiasm from an editor.

The romance writing community, unlike some other writing communities, is an extremely supportive one. Writers cheer each other on and help each other out. They share information about editors and agents and trends.

In that community I became comfortable with myself, and I learned how to write. Not just romance. I learned how to let that voice inside me loose and get it to sing my song, not the Serious Fiction that Serious People would Take Seriously song, but my quirky, funny, sometimes bittersweet tune. I found my voice.

When I have the chance, I tell writing students that they should try to write romance if they really want to learn how to write. Romance has a formula (go look it up if you don’t know what it is — I’ve blogged about it), and it’s very hard to make characters real, a plot believable and a story compelling when readers know implicitly if not explicitly what the formula is.

Those of you who’ve read my bio know I went to a music conservatory, not a liberal arts college. Learning to write romance was my degree in creative writing. It was my Writing Seminars Program.  I highly recommend it for any aspiring writer — even those who have gone through a college writing course of study.

Now, hurry on over and get a copy of Aefle & Gisela! Here are the links if you missed them up above:

For Kindle, click here.

For Nook, click here.

For every other e-reading device, click here.

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