How can love bloom when characters are on the run? Most of my Love Inspired Suspense stories take place over a short period of time. The hero and heroine are in danger at the get-go, and the threat escalates as the story progresses. Forcing them to constantly look over their shoulders and dodge the next attack works for the suspense elements in the story but makes falling in love difficult. There’s no time for candlelight dinners or leisurely walks on the beach. So how can they find romance when a ticking time bomb is ready to explode and danger lurks around every corner?
The key is the “first meet.” First impressions are important, especially between a hero and heroine. Staging that initial meeting in the right light, no matter the genre, helps propel the romance forward and hooks the reader so she’ll keep turning the page.
Let’s look at a few ways to begin a romance—even when the characters are on the run.
Strangers at the Start
When word count permits, the romance can develop at a leisurely pace over a period of time, even if the characters are trying to elude danger. This setup is often used in straight romance stories where the main focus is on the relationship between the hero and heroine. The first meet may hint at a future attraction, but the sparks don’t fly until later in the story.
My debut novel, Nowhere to Hide, was published in 2007, and at that time, Love Inspired Suspense stories weighed in at 65,000 words, ten thousand more than the current word count allows. Those added pages gave me time to focus initially on the suspense and layer the romance in, bit by bit, as the story progressed.
Let’s see what happens when Matt Lawson, the head of security at a gated, coastal community, responds to an alarm at one of the upscale, oceanfront homes and finds the heroine hiding inside with her small son.
Matt Lawson peered into the darkness, saw movement and aimed his gun. “Hold it right there.” He raised the flashlight in his left hand. The arc of light broke through the darkness. “Sanctuary Security. Step towards me. Hands in the air.”
A woman moved from the shadows. Slender. Five-foot-six. Shoulder-length blond hair. A child peered around the counter. She shoved him protectively behind her.
“What’s going on, ma’am?”
Lightning illuminated the spacious kitchen. Two seconds later, a clap of thunder confirmed a nearby hit.
Why in the world would a woman and child break into one of the prestigious homes on Sanctuary Island? The woman certainly didn’t look like she belonged in the upscale community. Wrinkled clothes. Hair hanging limp around her oval face. She reminded him of a stray cat, needing to be fed.
Matt shook his head ever so slightly. The past year working security on the island must have skewed his common sense. He’d seen plenty of female perpetrators on the streets of Miami.
Didn’t matter how pathetic the woman standing before him looked, he’d still have to take her back to the office, question her and, if need be, call in the mainland sheriff’s office.
No reason why this scared wisp of a thing couldn’t be up to no good in coastal Georgia.
Matt questions why the heroine and her son are in the house, but he isn’t drawn to her romantically and instead refers to her as the “pathetic woman standing before him.” Of course, later, the attraction begins to grow.
Giving the hero and heroine an instant attraction is a viable way to jumpstart the romance at the first meet.
In my Christmas novella, “Yule Die,” featured in Christmas Peril, my seasoned cop hero, Joe Petrecelli, is concerned about a gang member injured in a recent shootout. Fearing the other members of the gang might try to spring their buddy, the cops secreted the injured gunman out of the large Atlanta trauma center where he was initially treated and into an out-of-the-way long-term care facility. Joe stops by the facility, after his early morning run, to check on the patient.
Medical technologist Callie Evans works at an Atlanta laboratory and is helping out at the nursing home this Christmas Eve morn. She enters the gunman’s room to draw his blood only to realize the wounded criminal—using an alias--is her estranged brother.
What happens when Joe finds her there?
Acknowledging the officer on duty, Joe stepped into the patient’s room and closed the door behind him. Movement caught his eye. He turned.
A woman stood in the shadows. White lab coat, swarm of black curls, alabaster skin. Troubled blue eyes captured his gaze.
Joe’s gut tightened and warmth flooded over him. He spied the tourniquet in her clenched fist and tried to override the conflicting signals pinging against his heart.
Glancing at the patient, he asked, “Is the kid okay?”
“He…he appears stable.” She stepped into the light.
Pretty, in a fresh, wholesome way, the woman stared back at him with an intensity that made his world shift.
Instantly aware of his own less-than-stellar appearance, he glanced down at his sweats, wishing he’d already showered and shaved.
The “conflicting signals pinging against Joe’s heart,” his shifting world and concern for his appearance hint at the instant attraction Joe feels. Seconds later, three gunmen overpower the guard on duty and force Joe to carry their injured buddy to a waiting van. Joe’s brother, Theo, lives at the care facility so Callie knows about Joe, although they’ve never met. Notice the attraction she feels, even in a life-threatening situation, just minutes after they first meet.
Once again, she glanced over her shoulder at the cop, a man she’d prayed for countless times with Theo. Cancer had wasted the older brother’s body into soft flesh that hung on a bony frame. In contrast, Joe was bulk and brawn and raw emotion that made her heart quicken and her pulse race. Dark eyes matched his hair and the shadow of beard that outlined his angled jaw.
Theo sought forgiveness and a chance to reconnect with the brother who couldn’t forgive the sins of his past. Something Callie and Joe shared in common. They’d both shut out their siblings and closed the doors to their hearts. Although every time she caught Joe’s gaze, her door creaked open.
Callie and Joe must work together to stay alive in the hostage situation, but they also must deal with forgiveness issues. The reader anticipates romance and redemption for this unlikely hero and heroine who allow the Christmas message of hope and love to transform their hearts.
In The Officer’s Secret, Maggie Bennett discovers her military sister’s body hanging in the attic of her on-post quarters. Special Agent Nate Patterson is called in to investigate. As he enters the house, he catches a glimpse of Maggie.
Nate glanced into the living room where a woman sat huddled in a high-backed chair. Blue-green eyes looked up with the hollow stare of shock he’d seen too many times at crime scenes. The raw emotion written so clearly on her face brought home the tragic reality of what had happened tonight.
Their eyes met and held for an instant, causing an unexpected warmth to curl through Nate’s gut. Tugging on a strand of her auburn hair, she dropped her gaze, breaking their momentary connection and leaving Nate with an emptiness he couldn’t explain. Probably the middle of the night phone call and his attempt to respond as quickly as possible that had thrown him slightly out of sync.
Or maybe it was the woman—a family member, perhaps.
Putting a human face on the tragedy—a very pretty face—intensified his desire to learn the truth about what had happened tonight. Nate was good at what he did. Tonight he wanted to be even better. The woman deserved as much. So did the victim waiting for him upstairs.
The mention of a “momentary connection” that causes an “unexpected warmth to curl through Nate’s gut” alerts the reader to the romance that follows.
Only an Acquaintance
Having a past history, even just knowing who the significant love interest is, helps speed the hero and heroine into a romantic relationship. None of the “Hi, how are you?” introductions are needed, nor other niceties that usually go along with a first meeting. Adding a flawed misperception of the opposing lead character can add to the conflict, at least in the beginning of the story, which was the case in The Captain’s Mission.
A training accident has claimed the life of one of Captain Phil Tibodeaux’s soldiers, and a CID agent has been called in to investigate. Phil hopes Jamison Steel will handle the case, but that would be too easy.
Footsteps sounded to Phil’s left. He turned and spotted Jamison Steele walking purposefully toward him. “You’ve been assigned the case?”
“Negative.” Jamison looked over his shoulder toward the bleacher area. “Special Agent Kelly McQueen will be handling this one.”
Phil’s heart thumped against his chest as he followed Jamison’s gaze and recognized the very determined complication walking toward them. More than anything, Phil didn’t want his focus swayed off course by the pretty face that seemed to pop up everywhere he went on post.
He’d heard some of the single officers grouse about the attractive CID agent. Her good looks weren’t the problem. It was her no nonsense attitude. A number of guys called her the Ice McQueen. And the fact that she’d won the Outstanding Marksmanship Award was off putting to some.
Easy enough to understand their frustration. Kelly was an anomaly. Beautiful yet aloof, and 100 percent focused on her job. Phil had to admit he admired her for maintaining her distance from many of the men on post whose interests revolved around her pretty face instead of the strength of character she undoubtedly possessed.
He also understood her desire to keep her personal relationships separate from her military career. He had vowed long ago to never get involved with female personnel. When and if he settled down, it would be with a woman who wanted to be a stay-at-home mom with a houseful of children to love. Somehow that didn’t go hand in hand with a career military gal who needed to be at Uncle Sam’s beck and call.
Kelly McQueen might be good at what she did, but Phil had to keep his focus on the investigation and not the special agent. He didn’t want sparks of interest to interfere with the work ahead. Instead, he wanted an answer to the question that pinged through his brain. How had one of his men shot and killed another soldier in the unit?
Biting down on his jaw, he steeled himself to the ironic twist of events. Phil didn’t need the Ice McQueen in his life. No matter how attracted he was to her.
The external conflict is clearly revealed as well as the romantic complications that will spring from both characters being in the military and seemingly at odds over the investigation.
How does Kelly react to Phil?
Kelly hadn’t expected Captain Thibodeaux’s eyes to be as black as the night that had settled over the range. Nor had she expected the frown that furrowed his brow and tugged at his full lips. The guy had “Keep Out of My Business” written all over him. Even his hands were fisted, as if she were an adversary instead of someone assigned to help him get to the bottom of a very bad situation.
“Evening, Captain.” She held out her CID identification. “I’m Special Agent Kelly McQueen with the Criminal Investigation Division on post.”
“Phil Thibodeaux.” He breathed in a lungful of air. “I’m aware of who you are, Agent McQueen.”
“It’s Kelly, please. We’ll be working together to find out what happened today. I suggest we drop formalities.”
“I’d like to talk to the soldiers in your unit and determine if anyone saw anything outside the norm.”
He raised his brow. “You mean like one of my men being shot?”
The Cajun may have dropped his accent but not his attitude. “That is why I’m here, Captain.”
Notice how Kelly and Phil butt heads at the onset. Minutes later, she approaches fellow agent Jamison Steele and reveals, through introspection, how Phil is perceived on post. She also exposes a bit about her troubled youth when she offers this reflection:
Up close and personal, the captain was even better-looking than Kelly had realized. The eyes clinched the deal, along with the dimples that must be killers when he smiled. Not that he was smiling this evening. His rugged face was lined with concern and an underpinning of grief.
No doubt, he felt for the loss of his soldier’s life, but he also had to know his own career was on the line. If the captain had made a mistake, he’d be disciplined as well as the shooter. Phil had a reputation for being the pretty boy on post with the ladies and the man most likely to be promoted above his peers. Maybe the poster boy of Fort Rickman knew his moment of glory was coming to an end.
“With some luck, we might have this investigation under wraps within a few days,” Kelly told Jamison. Then she could say goodbye and good riddance to Captain Thibodeaux. Until then, she had to be careful.
She knew all too well that a handsome face could turn a girl’s heart. Her mother had been a perfect example. At least Kelly had enough sense to stay away from guys who promised everything and gave nothing but heartache in return.
The memory of her Cajun dad bubbled up like rancid oil. Kelly wouldn’t take pity on anyone, even a handsome captain who, at this particular moment, looked like he needed a friend.
Hopefully, within a few short paragraphs, the reader knows that, in spite of the obstacles, these two, strong-willed characters deserve a happily ever after.
Army posts are like small towns, and in The General’s Secretary, CID Special Agent Dawson Timmons is well aware of Lillie Beaumont, the Commanding General’s secretary, although the two have never met. When a man is gunned downed on her front porch, Dawson is the CID agent called in to help the local police with their investigation.
Here’s the first time he sees Lillie up close and personal.
Entering the living area, Dawson signaled to the officer in charge, held up his badge and nodded as the local cop continued to question the woman huddled on the couch.
Lillie’s life had been inexplicably intertwined with Dawson’s, although he doubted she was aware her mother’s killer had a son. They’d never been introduced, but Dawson had seen her on post. It was hard not to notice the tall and slender secretary. Usually she was stylishly dressed and perfectly coiffed. Tonight wild, honey-brown tresses fell across the collar of what appeared to be flannel pajamas. Even from where he stood, Dawson noticed the blood spatters on the thick fabric.
She turned, hearing him behind her.
He hadn’t expected her eyes to be so green or so lucid. She wore her pain in the knit of her brow, in the downward tug on her full lips, in the tear-streaked eyes whose sadness wrapped around his heart. His breath hitched, and time stood still for one long moment.
Pritchard asked another question. She turned back to the lead cop, leaving Dawson dangling. He straightened his neck, trying to work his way back to reality.
Long ago, Dawson had learned to weigh everything, never to take a chance. He put his faith in what he could do and affect and impact, not on emotions that left him hanging in thin air.
The passage hints at Dawson’s inner struggle, including his lack of relationship with the Lord. It also points to the very real conflict between the hero and heroine. His father had been found guilty of her mother’s murder. Now the dad has been shot dead on the heroine’s front porch. Even with that standing between them, the first time they come face-to-face, Dawson’s controlled world tilts off course.
Past Relationship: Former Love/Lost Love
Any past relationship between the hero and heroine ups the conflict and the stakes. The reader wants to know what drove them apart and questions whether they’ll find love again.
In The Colonel’s Daughter, we meet Special Agent Jamison Steele. He loved Michele Logan, but she walked out of his life ten months earlier. When she returns home to Fort Rickman and stumbles onto a murder, Jamison is the person she calls for help.
A face flashed through her mind. Without weighing the consequences, she punched speed dial for a number she should have deleted ten months ago.
He answered on the second ring. “Criminal Investigation Division, Fort Rickman, Georgia. This is Special Agent Jamison Steele.”
The memory of his warm embrace and tender kisses washed over her. For one sweet, illogical second, she felt safe.
“Hello?” He waited for a response.
A sharp intake of air. “Michele?”
“I need help.” Rubbing her free hand over her forehead, she tried to focus. “I’m at Quarters 122. In the Buckner Housing Area. Contact the military police.”
“One of the wives… Her husband’s in Afghanistan. He’s in my father’s brigade. She was hosting a potluck for the wives. Someone broke in--”
Jamison issued a series of commands to a person in his office. “I’m on the way, Michele. The military police are being notified. I’ll be there in three minutes. Are you hurt?”
“I…I’m okay. It’s Yolanda Hughes.”
Michele swallowed down the lump that filled her throat. “Yolanda’s dead.”
When Jamison arrives onsite, we’re all too aware of his past pain and his longing for the love he lost.
Heart in his throat, Jamison pulled to the curb and hit the ground running, weapon in one hand, Maglite in the other.
Stay calm. Ignoring the internal advice, his gut tightened when he stepped into the house and spied Michele on the floor with her arm around her mother.
For an instant, he was once again the man who loved Michele more than anything. Swallowing hard, Jamison shoved aside any lingering hope for a future together, a future that had died when she walked out of his life.
While the friction between Jamison and Michele is evident at the onset, the reader is eager to see them overcome the past and move into a future together.
Secret Love/Secret Baby
Secret baby stories could be added to the list of past relationships. The earlier intimacy between the hero and heroine leads to the birth of the child they conceived. Although initially seen as a stumbling block to their renewed love, the secret baby—once revealed--helps to heal their broken relationship and bring the couple together again.
A word of caution: Secret baby stories written from a Christian worldview sometimes pose problems for the author. While heroines in secular stories often hide the child’s identity and the father’s paternity, Christian authors must ensure their heroines are honest with the heroes. No lying allowed about the hero’s relationship to the child. Any attempt to keep news of the baby’s conception and birth from the father must be well motivated. I haven’t written a secret baby story and hope authors who have will comment about the pros and cons of this type of renewed romance.
In a nutshell, fast-paced stories require fast-paced romance that develops even when the heroes and heroines are on the run. To kick start the attraction, give your characters an instant connection or a past relationship. Any knowledge of the other, be it ever so slight, will propel the romance forward and, hopefully, engage the reader and enhance her interest in the story.
Share your own experiences—what you like as a reader and what has worked in your own stores—to be entered into a drawing for my March Love Inspired Suspense, The Agent's Secret Past.
Four of my military heroes—Nate Peterson, Phil Thibodeaux, Jamison Steele and Dawson Timmons–are serving breakfast at the buffet bar. Today’s menu includes made-to-order eggs and omelets, hash browns, sausage and ham, biscuits and gravy, assorted pastries, bagels, fresh fruit and grits.
The coffee’s hot! The tea has steeped. Grab a mug and pour a cup of your favorite morning beverage to enjoy while we talk about Romance On the Run!
Wishing you abundant blessings,
By Debby Giusti
THREAT FROM HER AMISH PAST
Eight years ago, a drifter destroyed Becca Miller's ties to her Amish community—and murdered her family. Now a special agent with Fort Rickman's criminal investigation department, Becca knows her past has caught up with her and doesn't want to relive it. She's convinced that the killer, who supposedly died years ago, is very much alive and after her. Special agent Colby Voss agrees to help her investigate. Yet the closer they get to the truth, the closer the killer gets to silencing her permanently.
On sale March 1 or pre-order here.