"Ms. Hartlace?" Jenny called over the intercom. "There's a gentleman and a lady here to see you."
Senior Editor Agatha Hartlace put her mah-jongg game on pause and cleared her throat, accidentally swallowing the Skittles she'd been sucking on. After coughing for several moments, she wheezed out "Do they have an appointment, Jennifer?"
"No, ma'am, but they have a letter from you." Jennifer paused and unfolded some paper. "It says you are interested in seeing the synopsis for their new novel, Angel's Darkness. They said they're here to deliver it."
These authors had no shame, Agatha thought, blanking on the book title. "Fine, whatever. Have them leave it with you."
"Um, they say they have to give it to you in person."
At this rate she'd never beat out the production team's top score. "All right, send them in." Her elbow bumped the half-empty bag of Skittles by her keyboard, spilling candy on the floor around her chair. As she bent over to grab a handful before the ten-second rule expired, her office door opened and closed.
"If you were a half-demon cop," a man said, "would you use your dark powers to solve crimes?"
Agatha banged her head on the edge of the desk as she sat up quickly. A tall, dark and handsome man in a black suit stood in front of her desk. "Excuse me?"
A petite, brunette woman in a pretty pink linen dress joined him. "Or would you resist the evil forces bubbling deep inside your soul," she asked Agatha, "so that you would not lose your humanity, or the chance to save the life of a half-angel librarian being stalked by a diamond thief?"
"I'd dump the cop and take off with the diamond thief," Agatha said. "I'm sorry, who are you people?"
"I'm John, the edgy but lonely detective wrestling to preserve his soul from the fires of Hades," the man said politely. "This is Marcia, my girlfriend."
Marcia elbowed him. "I'm also the half-angel librarian who is hoodwinked by the diamond thief at a Halloween party into transporting a soul-snatching diamond out of the protective walls of the house. Where the party is happening." She nodded toward her companion. "I meet John there, too."
"Of course you do." Agatha kept her eye on both of them as she reached for the intercom button, and then frowned. "Wait a minute. Are you two telling me a synopsis of a novel?"
"Yes. Angel's Darkness by Temperance Rising," John said as he sat down in on of the guest chairs. "I'm the protagonist. This is my love interest, Marcia."
Marcia laughed as she took a seat beside him. "His jokes are so cute, aren't they? I'm actually the protagonist of Angel's Darkness. He's simply the love interest, and the big plot twist." She pressed her fingers to her lips. "Oops. Better save the details of that for the end of the synopsis."
"You're giving her TMI, honeybunch," John said through his teeth as he smiled at the editor.
"At least my TMI is accurate, cupcake," Marcia replied, patting his hand.
Agatha sighed. An author who hired actors to perform a synopsis -- well, at least this would make an interesting anecdote for Mojito Night at the next BEA. "All right, so one of you is the protagonist, and you're both half-whatever. What's your story?"
"I've had a terrible life," Marcia said, her expression turning serious. "My mother sold me to gypsies three days after I was born. Then, after I spent many years telling fortunes and eating half-raw rabbits and stolen cans of beans cooked over open camp fires, I was rescued by my Aunt Millicent, who had been searching for me for years, as she never married and had no children of her own. Millicent never forgave my mother for that time she stole her boyfriend on Prom night--"
"I think Ms. Hartlace gets the picture, dearest," John said as he rested his hand on Marcia's arm. "Now, I was adopted at birth by a very wealthy couple who adored me, but who were also incessant travelers who couldn't stay in one place for more than ten seconds in order to die in a convenient plane crash on the day I turned twenty-one, so that I could inherit their billions. Before that I was raised by servants, went to private schools, that sort of privileged stuff, and frankly it left a bad taste in my mouth, so I went straight into the police academy as soon as I collected the life insurance and moved into Mom and Dad's bedroom at the mansion, because the only place I could sleep was in their beautiful old bed, not that there was any funny business going on between us when I was a child, you understand--"
Marcia studied Agatha's eyes, which were rapidly glazing over. "Sweetheart, maybe you should move along to the night we met, which is really the point where the story starts."
"Are you kidding?" John gave her an incredulous look. "I have another two chapters of weather reports and backstory to condense. I haven't even told her about my dog Rover getting run down in the street by the ice cream truck on that Thursday in late June, right after I turned eleven, and --"
"--the loss left you heartbroken, and you decided you could never love again," Agatha said, and yawned. "Been there, read that. You'll need to remove the dead dog from the book. Romance readers don't like animals being killed. Let's talk about the important details. Such as, when is the first time you two have sex in the story?"
Marcia glanced at John before staring at her shoes. "Well, not counting all the heated looks and erotic fantasies we have about each other, sort of on page five."
Agatha's eyebrows rose. "Page five?"
She nodded. "Right after my house explodes."
"We tell all of our backstory in flashbacks," John explained, "in between savage attacks, desperate car chases, Marcia's house exploding, other mystic but not too scary encounters with the netherworld, and bouts of increasingly passionate but non-consummated lovemaking."
"It'll all be in italics," Marcia assured Agatha, "and the page five thing? Is a quickie in the cloakroom at the Halloween party."
"It was not a quickie," John snapped. "I only do longies."
"Really." Marcia looked at the ceiling. "What do you want to call last night, then?"
John folded his arms. "I was tired."
The two began sniping at each other, until Agatha finally put two fingers in her mouth and whistled. "Enough. I'm only interested in the story. So you two meet at a Halloween party, and do the nasty in a closet, and then what?"
Marcia shifted uneasily. "You don't want to know about the very strange storm that blows up around the house while we're, you know, doing it?"
"Or what about the backstory of the soul-stealing diamond?" John asked anxiously. "It dates back to the time King Solomon had it dug up from his secret mines in ancient Egypt--"
"No diamond backstory," Agatha snapped. "Here's the deal. You two go home, tell your author that she needs to forget about all these useless details you're throwing at me and condense her story into a logical synopsis. It should tell me a little about you two, your conflicts and the other characters, but mainly it should chronicle everything that actually happens in the story. Save the rest of this stuff for the novel. Have her mail it to me when she's done and I'll look it over."
Marcia smiled hopefully as she and John stood. "Really?"
"Really. Now, if you don't mind, I have fifty other manuscripts I need to be reading," Agatha said, and gestured to the door.
"Thank you for the advice, Ms. Hartlace," John promised as he steered Marcia out of the office. "We won't let you down."
Agatha waited until they had left before she picked up the phone and called the legal department. "Prepare a standard two-book contract for a Temperance Rising. First novel titled Angel's Darkness. Paranormal romance." She listened for a moment. "No, don't date it yet. I haven't gotten a complete synopsis from the author." She listened again, and then chuckled. "Page five."