by Anya Simha (@AnyaSimha)
Adult Contemporary Romance
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I am seeking representation for my debut novel, LEAVE AND COME BACK, an adult contemporary romance that combines the humor, heart, and South Asian culture of Mindy Kaling’s Never Have I Ever and the dual timeline and deep emotionality of Christina Lauren’s Love & Other Words with a lead couple’s chemistry and devotion to each other similar to Sarah Hogle’s You Deserve Each Other. The full manuscript is complete at 85,000 words.
At thirty-one-years-old, emotionally closed off Simran Murthy doesn’t expect anyone to break through her barriers, but that’s exactly what Leo Bridgers, her best friend’s confident, optimistic younger brother—who has loved her for as long as he’s known her—does. After losing her parents at fifteen, Simran has accepted that she’ll never have a family again, even as she returns to her adoptive home, along with Leo, for the first time in seven years to attend an extravagant Indian wedding.
Worried that her suffocating aunt and indifferent uncle will stifle their new relationship, Simran and Leo, with help from their friends, hatch a plan to pretend to not be together—fake not dating—so Leo can win them over as a stranger first, a plot cribbed from Simran and her beloved cousin Kavitha’s favorite Bollywood movie. Amidst the many events leading up to the ceremony, Leo begins to charm everyone, whether by becoming the wedding errand boy, or flirting shamelessly with the neighborhood aunties, or teaching Simran’s aunt to use the internet to set up her fledgling business, all while still finding chances to steal secret moments and kisses—and sometimes more—from Simran.
But Simran’s repressed grief puts up emotional walls that not even Leo can scale. In a dual timeline and POV, Leo recalls all the years he loved Simran from afar until they finally got together, revealing that his easygoing nature hides a deep fear of abandonment. Simran and Leo will have to confront and share the buried, most vulnerable parts of themselves with each other to fight for their love and help her reconnect with the family she still has left.
I was born in India and speak Tamil and Hindi. For the last decade, I have worked in the sales department of a Big 5 publishing house and am a member of the Toronto Romance Writers Association. In my spare time, I like to share my many opinions on a wide variety of topics with anyone who will listen.
Please find my first five pages as part of this showcase. Thank you for your time and consideration.
First Five Pages
If she had to choose a cinematic avatar, Simran would liken herself to the women in her beloved Bollywood films—strong-willed, whip smart, wears the hell out of a sari—rather than the romantic comedy heroine she’s acting like right now. Whatever the genre, she finds herself doing something she’d never even contemplated prior to an hour ago: running through the airport to tell a guy how she feels about him.
Well, she was running—she’d bolted to the arrivals area, only to realize that in her haste, she’d ended up at the wrong terminal and that his flight had landed at the opposite end of the airport. So at this precise moment, she’s not running, just swaying from side to side with the motions of the air train, slightly sweaty and boiling over with anticipation every time the gentle chime alerts passengers that they are at one of the six stops between her and her destination. Between her and her destiny, in heroine lingo. This never happened in the movies, one of the many differences between Simran’s life and those Hollywood-Bollywood fairy tales. In fact—
Bing. Five more stops—she’s not like the people in those movies at all. She’s not a shiny, happy person prone to confessing her love, or any other emotion. The ones she does express on rare occasion can’t be summed up in a single word. The last time she was purely happy was many years ago, during a childhood lived by what feels like someone else. For Simran, it’s happiness with melancholy staining its edges, or excitement hand in hand with a healthy dose of pragmatism. Infatuation with a twist in her gut of cautious trepidation. The last one is both new and overwhelming right now.
Bing. Four more stops. She drums her fingers on the metal pole, nervous energy thrumming through her. She is far more adept at negative emotions, excelling at pessimism or exasperation. Her cousin, Kavitha, used to joke that she rolled her eyes so much, they’d get stuck that way.
Bing. Three stops. Before this, before him, life in Seattle was good for Simran. Or least, good enough, considering there was a point in time when even being okay seemed like an impossibility. Her job pays the bills, even if it doesn’t feed her soul; she has good friends, and she has fun. Occasionally, she’s even happy—her complicated version, of course.
Bing. Two stops. There are—well, there were, given what she’s doing right now—a number of reasons she wasn’t supposed to fall for him. He’s her best friend’s brother, younger than her by four years. She fiddles with her nose ring, spinning the small gold hoop around, thinking of the gawky, awkward kid she first met compared to the assured, incorrigible flirt he is now. But the biggest reason has nothing to do with him and everything to do with her: she didn’t think she would fall for anyone, not after what happened, and her past relationship.
Bing. One stop left. But there are few things the universe likes more than to test the fragility of a carefully constructed life. Two events upended it: the arrival of a gilded invitation to a summer wedding in New Jersey, along with a hand-written note from the bride and groom asking her to be in the wedding party; and him, moving to Seattle a few months ago. That life was further rattled when they traveled through Europe together, and then smashed to smithereens a week ago when they kissed for the first time at the Zurich airport before she ran away from him—quite literally flight prevailing over other instincts, as she immediately got on her plane to New Jersey. She hasn’t seen or talked to him since. Until now.
Bing. The doors open.
If she was actually in a romcom, the background score would swell and all her problems would melt away. They don’t, and there’s no music, but it doesn’t matter. She spots him as soon as she steps on to the platform, twenty feet away, his silhouette like a city skyline. It washes over her like a wave: all those months of ignoring her feelings for him was like trying to keep herself underwater, beating her arms and legs to fight the natural buoyancy, exhausting herself holding her breath. Seeing him now feels like coming up for air. He is the surface her body floats up to.
He frowns as he looks at his phone before glancing up; it takes him a moment to realize she’s there, but when he does, his face splits into a grin so wide his eyes become lost in the crinkles that form around their corners. It fills her with a marrow-deep relief so acute it feels like joy. He gives her a nonchalant wave, but his look is warm and beckoning; her feet move like magnets to his charge. But for all her internal epiphanies, she’s tongue-tied. She still can’t form the words to tell him.
So, instead, she decides to show him.
She walks right up to him, hooking two fingers into the neck of his Henley shirt and brings his face to hers. His shock lasts a fraction of a second before his bag slides to the ground with a muffled thump and his arms band around her, long fingers clasping her neck from the back, anchoring her as she sinks further into his kiss. She’s engulfed by sensation: the well-worn waffle knit under her hand; the soft-strong pads of his fingers moving through her hair; the nudge of his nose against hers as he pulls away for a second before returning to kiss her from a new angle.
A low hum of pleasure slips from her, unbidden, and his chuckle ebbs against her lips.
“Hello, Simran,” he says.
A ragged breath escapes her. “Hello, Leo.”
“You’re here.” Surprise and delight twine in his smug smile but she can’t deny it; for the first time, she doesn’t even want to. The dramatic run to the airport was not at all necessary, considering they were certain to see each other at the party tomorrow. But she’d woken up that morning, and everything swirling inside her since they’d kissed had coalesced into kinetic energy with one intention: to do this and only this.
“I’m here,” she confirms. Other travelers bustle around the two like they’re a rock in the middle of raging rapids, as the crowds go to find a cab into the city or catch a flight or generally go about their lives with no care or time for the grand gesture in their midst.
“And you’re still here.” He feigns surprise, the dark slashes of his brows rising high as he pulls his arm between them and checks the vintage watch she’s never seen him without.
“Historically, this is when you’d tear out of here and jump on a flight.” As if to prevent that, he tightens his arm around her.
She tightens hers back, as she mutters, “Very funny.” But her past behavior and his easy forgiveness push her to want to say more. “Leo, I…” Her fists stretch his shirt as she clenches the material. “I—” She struggles again but he traces two knuckles against her cheek and interrupts.
“I know.” His smile is small, just a bend in the line of his lips, no teeth. But the crinkles around his eyes are little rivers of emotions. She brings her lips to his again, and then again, and then again, because she can, because he’s here, and because he’s hers, and hard as she tried to fight it, she’s his too. “So what now?” he asks.
Those three words followed by the deafening burr of a plane taking off overhead bring her crashing back to a place even more stifling, more hectic, more chaotic than Newark Airport: her aunt and uncle’s house, where she’s staying for the summer to help prepare for and attend the aforementioned wedding. The same wedding Leo will be at—that’s why he’s flown in for the weekend, to attend the engagement party tomorrow. What would her aunt say if she saw Simran right now, in the arms of a broad-shouldered, hazel-eyed man, gazing adoringly at her? She imagines Veena aunty arching a dark eyebrow, giving sharp edges to her usually round face—so much like Simran’s mother’s—and dismissing him with some caustic, carefully-placed comment. She pictures Leo’s gentle smile crumbling before rearranging itself into his default sunniness, the ends tipping just enough that only she can see the hurt.
Something clangs like an alarm inside her. There are many reasons why this is Simran’s first visit back to her family home in seven years. Her brand-new happiness with Leo is the most compelling one yet. She will have to keep him away from them and logic dictates that if she’s with them—which she will be, since she is living there for the next six weeks—that means Leo will have to stay away from her. That thought is unbearable.
She isn’t sure what to do—but she knows whom to ask for help. She slips her hand around Leo’s, and squeezes. “Come with me.”
He squeezes back, once. “Anywhere.” As they walk to the lot where she’s parked, she realizes the biggest way she’s not like the heroine at the end of a romantic comedy.
This isn’t happily ever after; this is just the beginning.