I must have been 13 or 14, and my parents skipped town for a long weekend, leaving me with my older sister and her new husband for three days. I had no idea what on Earth I was going to do during those days without my computer and stuff, after all, this was long before laptops, cell phones, and tablets, you know—in the olden times of the 19-somethings.
My sister led me into the guest bedroom/junk room to drop my stuff, and in the corner I noticed a stack of Harlequins as high as my waist. (This may not be that impressive, as I’m a short person, but let’s just roll with it.) To this day I’m not sure how she amassed a stack of books like that, she never struck me as a voracious reader, but I digress.
Catching my gaze on the stack of books, she said, “You can read these while you’re here, but I don’t think they’re your type of thing.”
Not my type of thing? I couldn't put them down the entire time I was there, despite the fact they were all pretty much the same. This particular series focused on cowboys, because, you know, that’s what Harlequin had a lot of in the 19-somethings. I managed to work my way through half of the stack before my parents returned.
I think I was also sworn to secrecy by my sister—I wasn’t supposed to tell my mom she let me read Harlequins all weekend. Sorry Mom, secret’s out.
My first romance novel was like my first beer—smuggled to a party to be enjoyed by a group of friends. It was Catherine Hart’s Night Flame, gifted to one of us by her superbly cool step-mother. We passed it around and giggled over the cover. Like any good romance, it fell open to the most relevant scenes. We took turns reading aloud in our best Romance Voices (sound effects optional). I did not excel at this; at fourteen, there were words I just couldn’t speak aloud. My friends insisted I take the book home, since I clearly needed it most. I read it overnight. Shout-out to my old literary friends, Night Hawk and Flame! You rocked my world.
Jean Ferris’s Into the Wind and subsequent two titles in the trilogy were part of a teen historical romance line called American Dreams. This one featured a young woman whose ne’er-do-well European father had sailed them to America and ended up running a cantina in a Mexican harbor. A series of events—shootings, kidnappings, fires, more kidnappings—led the heroine to be a passenger/prisoner on a privateer ship during the War of 1812. Raider Lyons, you are one of my first loves!
I read the first book in a day and asked to return to the bookstore for the second, which I also read in a day, prompting a third trip in as many days. At which point my mother got suspicious.
“Do these books have . . . sex in them?” She had this way of saying “sex” like the pressure that had built up while she hesitated forced the word out of her mouth with far more emphasis than necessary. I was quick to reply “No!” Then, “Well, it’s implied.” My mother: “Oh, like ‘and then they wafted into the bedroom’?” To which I heartily agreed. My mother nodded and left. Wafting was fine—we had cable after all.
Somewhere, somewhere I still have all of these paperbacks because I don’t think I could ever knowingly give them up.
I’ve been reading romance for what feels like my entire life. The first one I remember (though the title escapes me) was a post-apocalyptic romance about a girl named Angel which I read in grade five. In grade six I moved on to Sweet Valley High and V.C. Andrews’ Casteel series (but I’m not sure they count as "romance"). The book I should technically talk about is P.S. I Love You by Barbara Conklin because I think it was the first straight-up romance I read and loved but...
Junior high is when I discovered historical romances *cough* bodice rippers *cough.* You know those covers with Fabio on them that are oh-so-mockable now? I could not get enough.
In fact, two titles from that period are still on my shelves today (though sadly neither has Fabio on the cover). The first, The Rope Dancer by Roberta Gellis, was my introduction to ‘medieval’ romance and the second is Summer Storm by Catherine Hart.
I read and re-read Summer Storm. Over and over. Hell, I was even going to name my future children after the characters within it. I’d be a little nervous to re-read this novel now--my ideas about expropriation and portraying other cultures have matured somewhat since the days when I last thumbed through those pages--but so far, though I’ve culled titles from my shelves dozens of times over the years, that one has never been added to the ‘Donate’ pile. I don’t think it ever will.