I’m a romantic. I can appreciate a sizzling scene, but I confess that, with few exceptions, once I close a book, the scenes that earned it a high sensuality rating tend to blur into memories of similar scenes I’ve read in thousands of other books. The scenes that remain vivid in my memory and emerge in book talk with romance-reading friends are the romantic scenes, especially those involving grand romantic gestures. To qualify as “grand” on my list, a romantic gesture must meet three criteria. First, it must be something that is inextricably linked to the particular hero and heroine and their story. Then, it must be costly. The cost does not have to be monetary; it may be costly in terms of time or effort or emotional risk. But whatever the currency, the gesture must be a gift given without measure. Finally, the truly grand romantic gesture must reveal the hero’s understanding of the heroine and who she is, what her dreams are, and what her vulnerabilities are. Please proceed with caution: spoilers ahead.
One of my all-time favorite romantic gestures occurs in The Return of Rafe MacKade by Nora Roberts. Early in the developing relationship between former bad-boy Rafe and the elegant, controlled Regan Jones, the two make a light-hearted bet. Rafe bets that within a month Regan will be so crazy about him that she will “wiggle into a leather miniskirt. A red one” and show up at the local watering hole for a beer and a game of pool. Regan counters with a bet that within the same time frame Rafe will be so wild about her that he will fall to his knees, clutching a bouquet of lilacs and spouting poetry. Rafe’s response: “Darling, the day I start spouting poetry’s the day Shane’s prize hog sprouts wings and flies down Main Street.”
Regan does show up in the red leather miniskirt, but all Rafe is interested in is getting her out of the tavern and away from the eye-popping stares of his brothers and friends. Regan is humiliated and furious, but her attitude changes when Rafe gives her lilacs—silk ones, cold from their days in his car because he had to work up his courage to deliver them. The tears start when Rafe, on his knees, begins haltingly quoting from Shelley’s “To Night”:
When I arose and saw the dawn,
I sighed for thee;
When light rode high, and the dew was gone,
And noon lay heavy on flower and tree,
And the weary Day turned to his rest,
Lingering like an unloved guest.
I sighed for thee.
It took him more than a week, he tells her, to memorize these lines, but they “kind of fit” the way he feels about her. The “I love you” and marriage proposal that follow a few minutes later may be delivered “in a “furious snarl,” but that doesn’t matter. Rafe has made the grand gesture. Big sigh!
In Jo Goodman’s unconventional A Place Called Home, her only contemporary romance, ad executive Thea Wyndham and cartoonist Mitchell Baker are joint guardians of the orphaned children of their best friends. Because the two don’t really like one another at the beginning and both are involved with other people for the first half of the book, the relationship develops slowly. Even after the romance begins, although it is intense, trust and understanding are far from instantaneous. The final chapter is too sentimental for some readers, but I consider it perfect, not least because it includes a glorious romantic gesture. After an idyllic Fourth of July celebration with lots of food, Sousa marches, and a baseball game, Mitch takes Thea to view a house, a large, pale yellow Victorian with a wraparound porch and white gingerbread trim that is perfect for him and the kids. Mitch leads her to the remodeled attic space which has French doors leading to a small balcony to watch the fireworks. There Mitch shows her his cartoon for the day: It was a pen and ink line drawing of the house with a banner strung from an upper-story window that read “IN(TER)DEPENDENCE HALL” and a figure recognizable as Mitch preparing to light a Roman candle while a big-eyed female figure watched. The caption read “OF THEA I SING” and overhead an explosion of fireworks contained two words—“Marry Me.” For Thea, who never had a home, and for the two of them with their particular history, it is perfect and one of my favorite scenes ever.
Julie James creates another of my favorite romantic gestures scenes in About That Night. Kyle Rhodes, heir to billions, has a date with assistant U. S. district attorney Rylann Pierce, who is wary of being seen in public with Kyle because of her job and his fame as the “Twitter Terrorist.” In the alley where he tells her to meet him, he waits in a black limousine with windows “tinted, for privacy.” He takes her to the Clybourne in the college town where they first met “nine years ago on this very day.” He has rented the top floor of the restaurant/bar. The menu is cheeseburgers and French fries, but the table, the one where Rylann was sitting when Kyle first saw her, is covered in white linen with crystal glasses and a bottle of Perrier-Jouët Fleur de Champagne de Rosé. More than a hundred white pillar candles cover the tabletops and bar “casting the entire space in a warm, romantic glow.” Lovely!
Historical romance authors are just as skilled at creating such moments as their peers in contemporary romance. In fact, earlier this year, within a few weeks of one another, three of my favorite historical authors gave me three new grand romantic gestures to add to my list.
Damaris (Tait) Chance, heroine of The Winter Bride by Anne Gracie, is convinced that she can never marry, but when she and Freddy Monkton-Coombes find themselves in a compromising situation, he insists they marry. Freddy become a dragon slayer for Damaris, administering a beating to her rapist before having him arrested to be tried and hanged, and he gives her words she needs to hear, words assuring her that he loves her as she is “strong and good and pure.” He also gives her a tangible wedding gift, an ancient white jade necklace with carved Chinese dragon and phoenix intertwined. It is an appropriate gift because “yin and yang, the dragon and the phoenix complemented each other and symbolized blissful relations between husband and wife.” Having grown up in China with her missionary parents, Damaris understands the traditional symbolism, but the necklace also holds personal symbolism for Damaris. Like the phoenix, she has risen from the ashes of her past to embrace a new life. Like the necklace itself, she is “subtle, unusual, and lovely.”
In Eloisa James’s Three Weeks with Lady X, Thorn Dautry has an epiphany after he has almost given up on winning the love of Lady Xenobia India St. Claire, who has always feared her parents were running away from her when they were killed because they had taken with them the only jewels of value they possessed:
It was love. He loved her.
And yet India didn’t believe he loved her. She never would . . . unless he took action.
He had to find those jewels and bring them to her.
He had to prove not only his own love for her, but her parents’ love.
Thorn, who had been a mudlark before his father found him and removed him from that life, decides that he and his former companions will turn mudlarks again to search the Thames for the missing jewels. It is a dangerous mission, and Thorn hates the river and the memories it evokes, but he is willing to take the physical and emotional risks to give India something she needs. India is furious that he risked his life, but the jewels give her the assurance for which she has longed: “Thorn had given her parents back to her. They hadn’t been conventional, or particularly aristocratic, and certainly not protective. But they had loved her.”
Julie Anne Long’s Between the Devil and Ian Eversea contains not one but three grand romantic gestures. With her brother killed in the War of 1812 and her parents victims of a carriage accident, American-reared heiress Titania “Tansy” Danforth has no close family and no home. All she has are her memories of Lilymont, the home she had loved as a little girl when she had lived there with her family. Ian Eversea never gives gifts to women, his confidence in himself being great enough to believe that his attention is reward enough. And yet he uses the funds he has carefully saved to finance his trip around the world to purchase Lilymont for Tansy: “I want you to know that Lilymont is yours. It belongs only to you. If you want it. No matter what you decide your future will be.” Tansy and Ian were married in the spring “in a modest clearing in the forest that had nothing much to recommend it apart from the profusion of brilliant wildflowers, all of them American expatriates.” Ian planted the flowers for Tansy so that she would feel the presence of her parents and brother with her on her wedding day. Finally, Ian gives Tansy a gold necklace from which dangles a “tiny, simple, exquisite little star. Not expensive. But perfect.” Etched on the star is a single word “Forever”—Ian’s promise to his lady who talks to the stars. So romantic!
What are your favorite grand gestures in romance?
Janga spent decades teaching literature and writing to groups ranging from twelve-year-olds to college students. She is currently a freelance writer, who sometimes writes about romance fiction, and an aspiring writer of contemporary romance, who sometimes thinks of writing an American historical romance. She can be found at her blog Just Janga and tweeting obscure bits about writers as @Janga724.