by Naina Kumar (@nkumarwrites)
Adult Contemporary Romance
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I am delighted to submit my 86,000-word adult contemporary romance, JUST PRETEND YOU’LL BE MY JAAN, for your consideration. It will appeal to fans of the fake dating/engagement trope and South Asian representation found in Accidentally Engaged by Farah Heron and Dating Dr. Dil by Nisha Sharma.
Meghna Raman, middle-school teacher and aspiring playwright, has two big dreams: seeing her play on Broadway and hearing her writing partner say he never should have broken up with her. Those dreams are dashed when her writing partner reveals that he’s getting married and asks if she’ll be his best man. Desperate to let go of him and try to move on, Meghna rashly tells her mother she’s finally open to an arranged marriage.
Karthik Murthy, a no-nonsense engineer, loves his mother, and doesn’t want to disappoint her by telling her he never wants to get married. Instead, he strikes a deal, giving his mother a limited window to introduce him to any prospective brides she wants. Unfortunately, he underestimated his mother’s craftiness and he’s not sure he’ll survive the rigorous schedule she’s created. When Karthik’s boss mentions that a greater show of commitment would make him a perfect candidate for a promotion, he realizes a fake engagement could help him get the job he’s always wanted and get him out of the deal with his mom.
Thinking a faux fiancé will dampen the sting of being the best man for the guy she’s secretly still in love with, Meghna accepts Karthik’s proposal of a mutually beneficial fake engagement. Their initial attempts as fiancés around friends and family are awkward and stiff. The two must work together to convince everyone the relationship is real, or risk the truth coming out, hurting Karthik’s mother and exposing Meghna’s true feelings for the groom.
I’m a lawyer by day and a reader and writer of romance at night. This manuscript was partially inspired by my family’s numerous (but unsuccessful) pleas to consider arranged marriage. Content considerations include mention of off-page sexual harassment (not involving either MC), brief on-page cheating (not involving either MC), and open-door sex.
First Five Pages
“Ms. Raman, what’s an arse?”
Meghna Raman’s eyes snapped to her sixth-grade student, Paige, who sat criss-cross applesauce on the floor with the others going through their scripts, highlighting their respective lines.
“An arse.” Paige pointed at the script. “It says it right here. Eliza goes to that horse race and tells the horse to move its ‘bloomin’ arse.’”
A few students snickered, and Meghna let out a sigh. She meant to edit that line before passing out the scripts, but it completely slipped her mind. To be fair, she only had three days to prepare for this first day of rehearsal. Only three days to wrap her mind around directing the middle school’s fall production of My Fair Lady.
“It’s ass,” seventh-grader Derek told Paige with a smirk. “It’s the way English people say ‘ass.’”
“Though we’ll be using the word ‘bum,’” Meghna quickly added. She didn’t want to get any emails from the parents complaining about this. “I’ll send out new versions of the script tomorrow.”
“So, now it’ll be ‘move your bloomin’ bum,’” a student whispered loudly, sending the room into another round of giggles.
Meghna shook her head, holding back the grin threatening to break across her face. Teaching wasn’t exactly her dream job, but she loved these kids. Even when they drove her up the wall. She checked the time, wrapped up rehearsal, and headed home, where a thrilling night of grading papers awaited her.
At the door to her apartment, her phone rang. She sighed, answering it without even checking to see who it was. She knew exactly who was calling.
Her mother greeted her enthusiastically, asked about her day, then launched into a recitation of everything that had happened during Meghna’s brother’s visit last weekend.
“Beta, he wanted to cook dinner on Saturday and he made macaroni and cheese. Macaroni and cheese,” her mother repeated incredulously. “It tasted like nothing. Like air. I tried to mix in a little mango achar to give it some flavor, but—”
Meghna shuddered at the thought of what that would taste like. “I’m guessing that didn’t work?”
“Not at all.”
Meghna locked the door behind her, chucked off her shoes, and headed towards the kitchen. “Well, I’m glad Samir was able to visit you and dad this time. Even if it resulted in mac and cheese.” She infused the words with all the horror and melodrama her mother had. “I know you’ve both been missing him.”
“We were happy to see him,” her mother said. “He’s very busy, but we understand. Being an engineer takes a lot of hard work.”
Meghna grimaced, dropped a stack of mail on her kitchen counter, and settled in. She knew the exact speech her mother was about to deliver. She’d heard it so many times over the years. She’d even given it a few titles: “The Difficult, but Satisfying Life of an Engineer” or “Why Engineering is the Only Meaningful Profession” or “Meghna, It’s Not Too Late to Quit Your Job and Become an Engineer.” Though her mother would never put it that bluntly, she knew that was what her mother really meant.
As if on cue, her mom launched into all the difficult and rewarding aspects of engineering, something she had experienced first-hand, she reminded Meghna. After all, she had placed first in engineering college back in India, beating out Meghna’s father who had only placed sixth. But somehow, her mother said, she had fallen in love with him anyway. Their families had considered their relationship scandalous at first, especially since her mother’s family was North Indian and her father’s South Indian, but they eventually came around and Meghna’s parents had ended up with the first “love marriage” in their family.
Meghna put her phone on speaker, tuning out her mother’s familiar words. As a kid, she’d loved listening to her parents’ great love story. She’d asked to hear it again and again, dreaming about finding that kind of love for herself one day. She still hoped for it. Even though she had no clear prospects in sight. Even though it felt less and less likely every day.
She sighed, and opened her mail. She read a few bills, set aside a couple flyers, and saved a stationary supply catalogue she never ordered from, but loved to look through. And that’s when she saw it. A deceptively simple-looking white envelope. It wouldn’t have stood out to her, but the address on the front was written in a style of calligraphy she knew all too well.
A wedding invitation.
She frowned. Most of her close friends were already married. And the few who were single wouldn’t be getting married any time soon. Slightly puzzled, she took out the invitation. Two names in large, bold italics sprawled across the middle of the page: Seth Mitchell and Julie Cox.
Meghna’s stomach dropped. She hadn’t counted Seth in her mental tally of close friends. Seth was in a different category altogether. And even though she’d known he was dating someone, he’d never referred to that person as his girlfriend. Let alone mentioned that the two of them were thinking about marriage.
Meghna had met Seth as a college freshman, when they had been paired as partners in Intro to Creative Writing. She was smitten the moment she saw his lanky build, dark green eyes, and blonde hair that he left a little too long.
They both wanted to major in creative writing, but Meghna had declared an education major instead. Seth had constantly tried to change her mind. He hadn’t understood why she couldn’t pursue writing plays fulltime, but that wasn’t his fault. Seth wasn’t like her. He never doubted his abilities. Never doubted that he would become a successful songwriter. She’d envied his certainty, his optimism, his lack of fear.
When they started dating their junior year, she thought it was the beginning of her own great love story. Seth was kind, funny, and honest to a fault. “This entire section has to go, Meg,” he’d told her, as he reviewed her latest script. “It doesn’t add anything.” His comments had stung at first, but she soon got used to his direct feedback. She started to appreciate his blunt honesty. It made his praise all the more meaningful. When he told her that her character work was stunning, she believed him fully. When he called her beautiful, she didn’t doubt that he meant it. And when he broke up with her after graduation, she knew he meant that too. “We’re friends, Meg,” he’d said. “You think so too, right? That we’re better off as friends?”
She hadn’t thought that, but to save face, she forced a smile and lied. “Of course, Seth. We’ll always be friends.”
Surprisingly their friendship had continued. Seth still called or emailed every week with lyrics and voice memos of his songs and she sent him pieces of the play she had started in college and was still working on. They were strictly writing partners. Writing partners who happened to talk about everything under the sun. No matter what she was going through, Seth was always willing to listen, to hear her out, to encourage her, or distract her by making her laugh. He was and would always be her first phone call. But despite all their conversations, they somehow never ended up talking about their few months of dating in college. He never brought it up and she was too scared to mention it. She worried that once she started talking about it, she wouldn’t be able to stop. She still had so many questions. Did he regret ending things? Did he ever think about that time? Had he ever felt anything for her at all?
Meghna swallowed hard, setting the invitation face-down on the counter and pushing all thoughts of Seth out of her mind.
Her mother was still talking to her over the phone. “And before you say anything, let me just tell you about him. His name is Karthik. He comes from a good family. Well-educated. Very tall. And he’s an engineer.”
Meghna’s prediction about her mother’s speech had been completely wrong. This wasn’t a talk about it not being too late for Meghna to become an engineer. This was a brand-new speech. One titled, “Meghna, It’s Not Too Late for You to Marry an Engineer.”
“You don’t have to promise anything,” her mother said. “Just meet him. Once. That’s all.”