I asked the AAR staff to share the scenes from novels they found the most romantic. And, boy, did they come up with some exquisite scenes. Be prepared to swoon….
This scene is from the novella Paris for One from Jojo Moyes’ Paris for One. Nell and Fabien sit on the ledge. A half-drunk bottle of wine sits beside them. He is reading to her, his voice halting as he translates into English. Her head rests on his shoulder.
Because she knew already that this would be the thing that would end them. And that in the deepest part of her, she had known it from the beginning, like someone stubbornly ignoring a weed growing until it blocked out the light.’”
“You can’t stop,” says Nell when he does.
“The other pages are missing. Anyway — like I said, it’s no good.”
“But you can’t stop. You have to remember what you wrote, all the changes you lost, and send it off to a publisher. It’s really good. You have to be a writer. Well, you are a writer. Just not a published one yet.”
He shakes his head.
“You are. It’s…it’s lovely. I think it’s…the way you write about the woman. About how she feels, the way she sees things. I saw myself in her. She’s…”
He looks at her, surprised. Almost without knowing what she is doing, she leans forward, takes his face in her hands, and kisses him. She is in Paris, in the apartment of a man she does not know, and she has never done anything that felt less risky in her life. His arms close around her, and she feels herself being pulled into him.
“You are…magnifique, Nell.”
Why I like this scene: Even on short acquaintanceship, there’s this deep connection between them that is forged on the belief in each other’s wonderfulness. I find that very romantic.
This scene is from Nobody’s Baby but Mine by Susan Elizabeth Phillips. Cal and Jane got married after she became pregnant from two hookups. The two have a marriage of convenience but after an evening of fooling around, Cal jumps into his car and takes off. Jane, angry he abandoned her on date night, sabotages his beloved Lucky Charms by taking all the marshmallows out and putting them all over the front seat of his truck.
“If you were pissed off about the way I took off last night, why didn’t you just say so?”
“I prefer docudrama.”
“I can’t believe anybody could be so damned immature!”
“I could have been a lot more immature— emptying the marshmallows in your underwear drawer, for example— but I believe revenge should be subtle.”
“Subtle! You ruined five perfectly good boxes of Lucky Charms and spoiled my whole day in the process.”
“What a pity.”
“I ought to . . . I swear I’m . . .” Damned if he wasn’t carrying her upstairs right now and making love to her until she begged his forgiveness.
“Don’t mess with me, Calvin. You’ll only get hurt.”
Seriously. He was seriously going to kill her. He regarded her through narrowed eyes. “Maybe you’d better explain why you got upset enough to do this. It’s not like anything really important happened last night, is it? You yourself said it was— How did you put it? Oh, yeah. You said it was quite pleasant. Now to my way of thinking, pleasant doesn’t add up to important.”
He regarded her closely. “But maybe it was more than pleasant for you. Maybe it was more important than you want to let on.” Was it his imagination or did something flicker in the depths of those melted shamrock eyes.
“Don’t be ridiculous. It’s your lack of courtesy I found offensive. It would merely have been good manners on your part to have stayed around instead of running off like a teenager hurrying to tell his buddies he’d scored.”
“Manners? Is that what five boxes of mutilated Lucky Charms is all about?”
Just one good shot. He was already late for his meeting, but he couldn’t leave until he got off one good shot. “You’re about the lowest breed of human being there is.”
“Right up there with the Boston Strangler and the Son of Sam.”
“Don’t you think that’s a little extreme?”
“Not hardly.” He shook his head and regarded her with disgust. “I married a damned cereal killer.”
This one is from from Katharine Ashe’s The Rogue. (I mentioned it in my review!)
Her birthday came and went without fanfare. She requested no celebration, only that Eliza accompany her to the bank to see to the transfer of her mother’s fortune into her father’s account, as they had agreed. Upon her return she found in her bedchamber a package of considerable size. Unwrapping it, she discovered a magnificent bow fashioned of polished wood that shone like a mirror. Twined about its string was a single white rose.
The rose is what made this stick in my memory. Constance had a bouquet of white roses at her wedding to Saint – but their marriage so far is rocky, and while it’s clear he’s fully committed, she’s skittish and he’s trying to give her what she needs to work things out in her head. The fact the gives her a bow shows how well he knows her in that he has given her a gift he knows she will appreciate more than anything else. Taken on its own, that quote isn’t all that romantic, but taken in the context of the rest of the story, it’s a beautifully romantic gesture.
What a joke.
She’d fallen in love.
And he was saying goodbye, in the time-honored fashion of men of his kind, with an extravagant gift.
“Noirot, are you unwell? It’s been a very long day, and we’re both overwrought, I daresay. It’s no small strain, even for you, trying to do the impossible—all this racing from one place to the next, buying, frantically buying. And I—shopping with a woman—it’s possible my sensibilities will never recover from the shock.”
She looked up at him.
They had no future.
Given who he was and what he was, she couldn’t be anything to him but a mistress. And that she couldn’t be. It wasn’t because of moral scruples. She barely understood what those were. It was for business reasons, for the business that supported her family, the business she loved, the great passion of her life.
She could keep her feelings to herself. She could suffer in silence. She could say thank you and goodbye, and really, there was nothing else to do.
The trouble was, being who she was and what she was, noble sacrifice was out of the question.
And the real trouble was, she loved him.
And so she made her plan, quickly. She saw it all at once in her mind’s eye, the way she saw all of her plans. She saw what she needed to do, the only thing to do.
She stood and walked to the bed and pointed. “I want you to sit there,” she said.
“Don’t be stupid,” he said.
She untied her bonnet ribbons.
“Noirot, maybe you failed to understand why I was in so great a hurry to have you out of my house,” he said. “I don’t care about talk, if it concerns only me. But you know the talk will hurt someone else.”
“You’re a man,” she said. “Men are readily forgiven what women are not.”
“I’ve promised myself I won’t do anything I’ll need to be forgiven for,” he said.
“You won’t be the first man to break a promise,” she said.
Still holding the bonnet by the strings, she looked at him, capturing his gaze. She hid nothing. All her heart was in her eyes and she didn’t care if he saw it.
She’d fallen in love, and she’d love for once, openly, without disguise or guile. That was the one last gift she’d give him, and herself.
He came to the bed and sat, his face taut.
She let the ribbons slide through her fingers. The bonnet dropped gently to the rug he’d chosen for her bedroom.
He watched it drop. “Damn you,” he said.
“It’s all right,” she said. “This is goodbye.”
She set her index finger over his lips. “I thank you for all you’ve done,” she said. “I thank you from the very bottom of my cold, black heart. There are some things I can repay but more that I can never repay. I want my gratitude—its depth and breadth—to be clear, perfectly clear . . . because after tonight, you must never come back here. You must never come to my shop. When your lady wife or your mistress comes to Maison Noirot, you’ll stay far away. You will not speak to me in the street or anywhere else. After this night, you become the man I always meant you to be, the man whose purse I plunder—and no more than that man. Do you understand?”
His eyes darkened, and she saw heat there: anger and disappointment and who knew what else? He started to rise.
“But for this night,” she said, “I love you.”
As the ganache cooled, he prowled the fillings they had made the day before, until a deep, intense red on one of the shelves of his cold-storage rooms caught his eye. Raspberry gelee. Normally intended to be tucked in tiny heart shapes in one of his dark chocolate macarons, for Valentine’s day, but he wouldn’t offer Magalie chocolate. Her life was full of chocolate. The gelee was as intense in color, heart’s-blood red, as the meringue had been before it baked to a soft, deceptively gentle pink. One small square, the exact size of his thumb on her pulse, on her breasts, on her mouth, on her…
He tucked it inside, nestled in the heart of the creamy pale ganache, hid it under the pink shell.
And stood back, uneasy. It looked so…naked. Vulnerable. The pink shells filled with pale cream. He couldn’t do that to her. Maybe he couldn’t do that to himself. What was inside this macaron deserved protection.
He bit into a raspberry from the flat shipped up fresh from his greenhouse grower in Spain. Sweet, tender, so fragile before his teeth, so perfect on his tongue. From those raspberries he made armor around the vulnerable edge of the ganache, nestled between two shells, hiding it from the world.
I picked this scene for two reasons. The first is the descriptive quality that lets you picture Philippe working in his kitchen. The second is the thought behind it – that Philippe is basically putting his heart on the line for Magalie by making something so exquisite for her, while at the same time recognizing that she may not be ready to admit she has feelings for him in return. But it doesn’t stop him from doing it anyway. That’s romance.
Spoiler Alert! The following excerpt comes from the third book (Voyager) in Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander series. It contains spoilers, and should not be read before the other books.
I stretched out my hand and touched the black letters of the name. A. Malcolm. Alexander Malcolm. James Alexander Malcolm MacKenzie Fraser. Perhaps.
Another minute, and I would lose my nerve. I shoved open the door and walked in.
There was a broad counter across the front of the room, with an open flap in it, and a rack to one side that held several trays of type. Posters and notices of all sorts were tacked up on the opposite wall; samples, no doubt.
The door into the back room was open, showing the bulky angular frame of a printing press. Bent over it, his back turned to me, was Jamie.
“Is that you, Geordie?” he asked, not turning around. He was dressed in shirt and breeches, and had a small tool of some kind in his hand, with which he was doing something to the innards of the press. “Took ye long enough. Did ye get the—”
“It isn’t Geordie,” I said. My voice was higher than usual. “It’s me,” I said. “Claire.”
He straightened up very slowly. He wore his hair long; a thick tail of a deep, rich auburn sparked with copper. I had time to see that the neat ribbon that tied it back was green, and then he turned around.
He stared at me without speaking. A tremor ran down the muscular throat as he swallowed, but still he didn’t say anything.
It was the same broad, good-humored face, dark blue eyes aslant the high, flat cheekbones of a Viking, long mouth curling at the ends as though always on the verge of smiling. The lines surrounding eyes and mouth were deeper, of course. The nose had changed just a bit. The knife-edge bridge was slightly thickened near the base by the ridge of an old, healed fracture. It made him look fiercer, I thought, but lessened that air of aloof reserve, and lent his appearance a new rough charm.
I walked through the flap in the counter, seeing nothing but that unblinking stare. I cleared my throat.
“When did you break your nose?”
The corners of the wide mouth lifted slightly.
“About three minutes after I last saw ye—Sassenach.”
There was a hesitation, almost a question in the name. There was no more than a foot between us. I reached out tentatively and touched the tiny line of the break, where the bone pressed white against the bronze of his skin.
He flinched backward as though an electric spark had arced between us, and the calm expression shattered.
“You’re real,” he whispered. I had thought him pale already. Now all vestiges of color drained from his face. His eyes rolled up and he slumped to the floor in a shower of papers and oddments that had been sitting on the press—he fell rather gracefully for such a large man, I thought abstractedly.
This scene is not the longest. It does not contain the most profuse declarations of love. In fact, the dialogue here is pretty sparse. And yet I’ve reread it countless times. Sometimes I just jump right to it—because this is one of my favorite moments in the Outlander series. But I find it packs the biggest punch when it comes after 2.5 books of delicious build-up.
Why do I keep coming back to this moment time and again? It’s not just the beautiful writing—though Ms. Gabaldon’s evocative prose builds an atmosphere unlike any other. And it’s not just the drama inherent in Claire’s traveling back in time in the hope that her husband still wants her after 20 years’ separation. It’s the characters themselves which draw me, which make this scene one of the most romantic I know. A scene could be wonderful in theory, but without characters you care about, it will fall flat. This moment between Claire and Jamie is built on thousands of pages of falling in love with the characters themselves, so that by the time you reach this reunion, you sigh and smile to see them finally happy. True romance isn’t built on gestures, but on the people who make them.
My pick is from A Gentleman’s Position by KJ Charles.
…’You carry burdens for all your friends, my lord. Someone has to do it for you now and again.’
Lord Richard’s lips parted slightly. He was a big man, absurdly wealthy and infinitely privileged, but at that moment, his expression was so painfully vulnerable that David’s heart contracted with the urge to make all well.
He began to say, ‘My Lord,’ raising his hand open-palmed. Lord Richard started to speak at the same time, turning toward him and gesturing as well, and their hands collided in the air.
David couldn’t move away, couldn’t beg his lord’s pardon for his clumsiness. Could do nothing but stand and feel the pressure of Lord Richard’s fingers against his, because his master wasn’t moving either. They should have pulled away, one or both of them, but neither did, and every tick of the clock as they stood and stared at each other, hand to hand, was a hammer blow that nailed the unspoken thing irrevocably into place between them.
The unspoken thing, the forbidden hope, the one point that made David’s service feel like servitude because he could not even ask. But Lord Richard still wasn’t moving, his deep blue eyes locked on David’s and wide with shock, and now they knew. Now they both knew, and there was no pretending otherwise.
David could feel the blood thumping in the ends of Lord Richard’s fingers, unless that was his own pulse.
‘My lord? He cursed himself that it came out as a question.
‘Cyprian.’ Lord Richard’s arm shook a little, but his fingers didn’t move. ‘Cyprian – I – …
Here’s why I love this extract: This passage is full of the sexual tension that I love, but more than that – without direct speech it expresses adoration and deep emotion. I have read so many romances and romantic tracts but this one I immediately remember when asked for an example.
I think because classic examples for me would be from Jane Austen, or a Bronte, this use of repression of love and feelings in a KJ Charles’ modern work feels so familiar and nuanced, it has stayed with me.