UNRIDDEN Excerpt

Excerpt:
Prologue

“So? What did you think?”

Much like an accused man watches the faces of the jury returning with a verdict, Jenna Block held her breath as she studied her literary agent’s expression and tried to determine the answer to her question.

Marge Collins of the Collins Agency had a reputation for not pulling any punches. Swallowing hard, Jenna guessed Marge’s tightly pursed lips and hesitation were not good signs. She had a feeling her delicate writer’s ego was about to get a lesson in humility.

The manuscript sat on the desk between them like an eight-hundred-pound gorilla. Her agent sighed. Another bad sign.

Suddenly feeling like a child seated in front of the wide desk, Jenna straightened her spine. Was her chair lower than Marge’s? That sneaky, power-grabbing ploy on the part of her agent wouldn’t surprise Jenna one little bit.

Marge peered over top of her reading glasses. “Jenna, there’s really no market for straight contemporaries right now.”

Jenna frowned, confused. She’d assumed the sale of this book would be a slam dunk.

“There was a market last year when you sold my last straight contemporary. In fact, you had no trouble selling my last three novels.”

Marge nodded. “You’re right, but the trend in the industry has shifted.”

“In under a year?”

“That’s why it’s called a trend, I guess.” She shrugged.

Biting her lower lip, Jenna tried to digest the idea of totally scrapping the novel she’d spent a considerable portion of the last year writing and starting fresh with a new one. In a different genre, no less. The thought had her stomach twisting with dread. How in the world was she going to write a new book and get it sold before this apparently fickle and ever-changing romance market shifted yet again?

Hesitantly, Jenna asked, “So, what is the new trend?” Please don’t say historical romance. She absolutely loathed research; one reason why she wrote only contemporaries.

Marge leaned back and steepled her fingers. “The publishers want cross-genre, out of the box stories.”

What the hell did that mean? Panicked, Jenna did her best to keep her expression neutral. “Okay, like what for example?”

“Well, I just sold an erotic, multi-partner, paranormal romance with elements of bondage about pirate vampires in space.” Marge waited expectantly, as if Jenna would leap up and say that she had written a book just like that and had it stashed under her bed.

Jenna sat perfectly still, hoping her face didn’t show her horror. Bondage issue aside—how did one research that subject—her brain stalled on visions of her brother hiding the remote control and making her watch agonizing hours of the SciFi Channel on television when they were kids.

Science fiction. Ugh. Was she destined to now spend her days penning tales of horny vampire space pirates?

Jenna swallowed the ever-growing lump in her throat. “Um, anything else selling?”

Marge shuffled a few pages on the desk. “There is a publisher who put out an open call for submissions for their new cowboy line of romances.”

Cowboys. Okay, she could do cowboys.

“Space pirate cowboys?” Jenna probably asked that last question with a bit more attitude than was wise considering her writing career and the fate of her future manuscripts were in this woman’s hands.

Eyes narrowed, Marge pursed her lips but answered her anyway. “No. Regular cowboys.”

“Contemporary or historical?” Jenna could fake knowing about cowboys. She’d just have them wear jeans and boots and chew on a piece of hay or spit tobacco or something. However, writing about the old west would require actual research. Even if Jenna had the desire, she didn’t have the time for that. A writer was only as good as her most recent book and too much time had already passed since her last release.

Marge finally ended Jenna’s suspense. “Any genre is fine, so long as it has a cowboy theme.”

That was good news at least. Still overwhelmed by the idea of starting over from scratch, Jenna let out a sigh. “When’s the deadline for submissions?”

Marge glanced down at the paper in her hand and cringed. “A month and a half from now.”

“A month and a half!”

“Can you do that?” Marge raised one eyebrow dubiously.

With a romance convention coming up out west, book signings scheduled, on top of radio interviews and a virtual tour online to various chats and blogs, Jenna had countless other things to do over the next few weeks besides plotting out and completing this new book. She wasn’t a slow writer, but she wasn’t super fast by any means. “What length are they looking for?”

Again, Marge consulted the paper that had delivered more bad than good news so far. “They want between fifty and sixty thousand words. And they’re looking for stories that are fun and light in tone.”

Jenna snorted out a laugh. “Fifty thousand words in a month and a half on top of everything else I have going on? It’s going to be light. Don’t worry about that.” She sure as hell didn’t have time to do heavy, though she doubted anything about this would be fun.

Rising from her seat, Jenna let out an overly loud breath. “I guess I better go home and get started.”

There went her plans for some retail therapy in the stores while she was in the city for the day. She would have to hop right on the next train and get back to her laptop at her condo in the suburbs.

Marge pushed Jenna’s manuscript across the desk. “Don’t forget this.”

Jenna eyed the sheaf of papers with sudden, undeserved hatred. “Don’t you want to keep it, just in case?”

“I guess I could try to dump it on one of the smaller, indie e-publishers. Most of them don’t pay advances, but it’s better than nothing. Send me the electronic file when you get home and I’ll see what I can do.”

Dump it. Great.

Jenna forced a tight, and far from sincere, smile. “Thanks, Marge. You’re a sweetheart.”

“No problem, Jen. See you in six weeks.”

Marge slid her glasses back up her nose and turned her attention to the next stack of papers on her cluttered desk. Apparently Jenna had been dismissed. Stifling a groan, she mumbled a goodbye and gladly retreated from the office.