Needless to say I related to Theo Dwyer, the hero of my Valentine's Day story The Colors of Romance. When my husband and I first started dating, he used to get a teddy bear and chocolates and send roses to my office. He'd go all out. It's rather more subdued now, and even after the best of his efforts, I still have an urge to hide on the day.
Maybe that's why it was so important to me to write a truly sweet story for Valentine's Day when I wrote The Colors of Romance. Theo's story is a secret admirer story, which meant it had to be told from a single point of view. But I decided to write an intro story for it, just a brief one. And I immediately had a struggle. I couldn't use the character's name! I wrote it anyway, playing an old trick with first person point of view to keep the character safely anonymous.
I love The Colors of Romance for Theo's secret admirer and his relentless determination to bring romance to Theo's life. Turns out Dreamspinner Press wants you to share that romance. The Colors of Romance is $1 until 11:59 ET Feb 15. (link opens in new window)
And now for something special: an intro from the love interest's point of view.
The Shades of Romance
I'm always groggy when I wake up. I don't have an excuse, I grew up getting up earlier than most people can contemplate. But since I came to college my body's natural resistance to the effort has been rather more pronounced.
I have the usual rituals: a cold drink, a shower, brushing my teeth. When I get dressed I'm glad of my single room, because I'd hate to think of what the guys would think if they knew how long I spent getting ready, on making sure my jeans hug my ass just right. They just think I'm naturally rugged. I fucking work at it, harder than they can imagine. But I can't let them know, because if I did, they'd guess my secret.
Some days, most days, I wonder why I bother. If no one knows, how is anyone ever supposed to act on it? How am I ever going to find someone?
So I'm a downer. It's February, I'm twenty-one, and I'm a fucking virgin.
The reality is, it wouldn't matter if someone noticed my ass, or the deliberately just-tight-enough outline of my junk in my denims. I'm a hopeless case.
In the mirror blue eyes stare back at me. They seem haunted. Everyone tells me that they sparkle. That when I smile I have dimples. I don't see it. I'm just thankful my not-quite-long hair does what I want it to with just a few combs of the fingers. Not that I settle for just a few, because it has to be perfect. Playing baseball in high school kept me fit, and I know I'm lucky to be so muscular. Dad wanted me to play football, but how could I? Have you ever seen how tight a baseball uniform hugs your ass? And you're allowed to look! It definitely had to be baseball.
Come on, Aster. You're talking to yourself again. This is important. This is about him.
I saw him the first time the day I moved in. I knew his roommate, Jeremy. Fellow baseball fan. But his roommate? I honest-to-God, literally fell when I first laid eyes on him. Fell to the ground and pretended I'd fucking tripped. Theo fucking Dwyer. If God had a smile, that would be Theo. Most sexy thing? He has no idea at all how beautiful he is.
He's also hung. We live on the same hall and share a bathroom. Yes, I've looked. Easy thing about men's bathrooms and looking--everyone is so busy deliberately not looking that it's easy to sneak a peek. Want to judge? Just don't. Seriously, I couldn't help it. He's gorgeous.
The worst part? This isn't some crazy lust that goes away in a week. That falling down? That was in fucking August. It's February. Every time I see him it's worse. When I talk to him? I'm just glad I can get the words out, terrified my name for him, beautiful, will slip out and he'll know.
When I get really lonely, I hope I'll slip up. But I've known I was gay since I was six and didn't have a word for it. I've been hiding it pretty much my whole life. The chances of that slipping out are about zero. Unless there's alcohol involved, so I usually drink alone. Drinking alone sucks.
Even though we're on the same hall, sometimes I think Theo doesn't even know I exist. Worry, fear. Those are better words for it. I don't think I can live like this much longer. But if I come out, if my parents find out, it'll break their hearts. So if I'm going to risk that, it can't be for a maybe. I have to know.
A quick text to Jeremy is all it takes to put my plan in motion, but I spend half an hour hunched over the toilet afterwards, sure I'm going to lose my guts. And I do. Why does this have to be so hard? But I've never told anyone. And just knowing that someone will be across the table, that someone else will know, that control over who knows about me will very suddenly be out of my total control--it's hard.
But I'm good at this part, at least. I brush my teeth again. I rinse with mouthwash. I chew some gum to get the horrid taste out of my mouth. By the time I meet Jeremy at the cafe, no one would know I'd spent the morning puking my guts out.
Jeremy's there already when I reach the cafe, cap backwards, clad in a loose t-shirt and faded jeans. He looks like a frat boy and I wonder for a moment why he didn't go that route. He flashes a smile and holds up his cup as I go to stand in line for my own coffee. The pastries are freaking expensive, but I promised Jeremy one for meeting me. I can't meet his eyes once I sit down.
He grabs the pastry off my plate and takes a bite. Jeremy doesn't have a bit of guile in him, and he takes his time savoring it. That's my fear. I'm not just telling someone, I'm telling someone I know can't lie to me. I trust him to try, but I know it won't work. He just doesn't have it in him.
He's licking his fingers, and he's enjoying that too. Finally he wipes his hands with his napkin. I'd love to know what his expression is like, but I still can't look at him. How can I be this afraid? This is my friend!
Jeremy drums his fingers against the table. It's a quiet seat in the corner. No one can hear us. Almost no one is here anyway, but I still automatically check. He's grinning like a maniac, and I know that's not just the pastry.
"What?" It's clipped and almost angry, but I can't help it.
The corner of Jeremy's mouth ticks upward. He sips his coffee and remains silent. Fingers drum against the smooth wood of the table. His eyes sparkle in a way I quite simply know mine never have. He's confident and sure and he's staring at me with eyes that live so fully I can only dream that I....
"Spit it out, Aster."
He laughs. His smile is a genuine one, all boy next door. "You know what."
I look away. Am I that transparent?
"Jaz figured it out?" I croak out. I'm proud that my voice doesn't actually break. It would make me happier. I met Jeremy through Jasmine. They've been dating for almost two years now, and she knew me before that. I'd feel better, less of a fraud, if she had been the one to spot me.
"You wish." Jeremy leaned in. His eyes caught mine and holy Hell, he knew. He wasn't guessing. He fucking knew. Bastard.
"How?" I closed my eyes. I couldn't look into that certainty, not right now.
"You have puppy dog eyes whenever you look at him."
"Theo," I whispered. Hesitantly I looked up to meet his gaze.
"Jaz didn't notice." Jeremy beamed. "Knew I was right."
I let out a breath, so slow, and tipped the hat I wore everywhere. "Does he know?"
Jeremy shook his head, leaning back in his chair. Somehow he managed to keep drumming at the table. "Nope."
"Valentine's Day is next week. If I asked him... I thought maybe a double date--"
"No." Jeremy's eyes were stormy.
"It'd be non-threatening!"
"That's my time with Jaz, man."
My throat felt like I was in a desert, dry and cracking. "What would she say?" I said, my jaw clenched.
"Fuck." He slammed his hand against the table. "You don't get it, man. Theo doesn't do Valentine's Day. He doesn't like it. He doesn't want to like it. This is a bad time."
I closed my eyes. "It's the best time. I can make him want it. I can woo him properly. I'm ready."
Jeremy's questioning look and furrowed brow made me think he didn't have much confidence in me. But I did. I was in love. I'd been in love with Theo for months. I'd cursed it sometimes. I never believed in love at first sight until I saw that beautiful young man. Even now, just thinking about the moment had me breathless. I nodded. "I know he's old fashioned. I know he wants someone to sweep him off his feet and make him feel special. I can do that. I want to do that."
"Not for Valentine's Day, man. Trust me."
Just the words made my heart hurt. "All you have to do is ask him. Don't tell him who. Leave that up to me. I can do this. I know how."
"How are you going to do that when you can't even look me in the eye and tell me you're gay?"
I looked up and stared into the sparkle. "I'm a romantic. I know I can help him. I know I can show him a way to feel it. I have to. There's too much at stake. Jeremy, I'm in love with him."
Jeremy pulled his chair close to the table and leaned in, peering into my eyes, searching for something. Finally, he leaned back and reached for his coffee.
"He's going to say no. You understand that, right?"
I nodded, slowly.
"You'd better be serious. He hates Valentine's Day for a reason."
I swallowed. Did that mean Jeremy was going to do it? My thumbnail bit hard into my palm. "So, you'll ask him?"
"I'm thinking about it." His expression grew stern. "If he gets hurt..."
"All I want is a chance. Something to open the conversation, so that it doesn't come out of nowhere. I want to romance him not creep him out."
"And you think you can do that?" asked Jeremy.
"I know I can," I said. And I meant every word. I would do anything I had to. Flowers. Candy. Poetry. Theo would know romance. I'd make sure of it.