Here’s my synopsis for a romance, Love by Design (written under my Jenny Jacobs pen name). It’s the first romance I ever wrote, and it sold (to Avalon, and later republished by Montlake Romance).
Love by Design by Jenny Jacobs (synopsis)
Tess Ferguson has a weakness: taking in strays. She has a special fondness for the canine kind but she has also taken in more than one human stray. Her impetuous generosity has landed her in trouble more than once, and she’s had to rely on her sister Greta to help her out of the hot water afterwards.
Tess, a seamstress who dreams of becoming a fabric designer, is also the single mother of eight-year-old Belinda, the daughter of a sister who has died. Practical matters, like supporting them both, have taken all her focus. Tess believes she owes it to Greta and Belinda to set her dreams aside and to keep her heart firmly under wraps.
Greta, an interior designer, is also Tess’s boss. When Greta is laid up after knee surgery, Tess is required to be the go-between with Michael Manning, the owner of a carpentry business. Tess is attracted to Michael’s calm, quiet strength, but when she sees the sadness in his eyes, she’s convinced he’s just one more stray.
Michael is drawn to Tess, who stirs physical sensations he has long suppressed. He finds her warm, open and likable. But her curiosity and persistence in asking questions he doesn’t want to answer threaten his hard-won peace. Michael has every intention of staying immersed in building his business. He wants to prove that he doesn’t have to be an engineer, physician or doctor to be successful. By burying himself in his work, he can forget about the shocking death of his wife and unborn son – and the unhappy secret she left him with.
Because Tess must be Greta’s stand-in while Greta recovers, Tess and Michael are forced to spend time together, desperately trying to ignore the attraction they feel for one another. One afternoon, while Tess and Michael are busy, Belinda goes exploring and discovers a whimsical hand-made Noah’s Ark in Michael’s workshop.
Tess realizes that there’s a story behind the toy, its whimsy so at odds with the carefully disciplined and controlled man she’s come to know. Michael tells Tess about the death of his wife and child, and it’s clear to her that the wound hasn’t healed.
Then, a project Greta is working on offers Tess the opportunity to put her fabric designing skills to the test. But Tess doesn’t have the money needed to invest in producing a design. When Michael learns of the opportunity, he offers to invest in Tess’s business. He’s so enthusiastic that she can’t bear to turn him down.
With trepidation, she agrees to his deal. Despite their business relationship, Tess vows not to let herself get emotionally involved with Michael. She reminds herself that her ex-husband was also a stray and that that relationship was destructive to her – and to Belinda. She won’t take such a risk again.
Tess focuses on getting her fabric design business underway. Because Tess doesn’t want to continue getting handouts from Greta, Tess keeps her ownership of the business a secret from her sister. When Tess’s first design is approved, she can hardly wait to share the news with Michael, who knows how much it means to her. They share a kiss.
The kiss disturbs Tess, stirring up feelings she has for Michael, despite her knowing that a relationship with him would be the worst thing for her right now. Michael makes it clear that he is not ready for a relationship, especially not with a woman like Tess, who won’t let his secrets stay buried.
Greta discovers that Tess has been doing the fabric designs that Greta believed were being produced by a new supplier. She confronts Tess, telling her that Greta’s clients should have known that Tess was the owner of the company since Tess also works for Greta. Tess is crushed. She never realized her actions could create a conflict of interest. She realizes that she’s been acting childishly in keeping the truth from Greta. What if Greta fires her? What if Greta turns her back on Tess? Tess has no one else to rely on.
In distress, Tess talks to Michael, who reminds her that he has said all along she should tell Greta the truth. Annoyed and angry (mostly with herself), she demands that Michael should tell the truth himself. Tess says that while she once thought he was still in love with his late wife, she realizes now that his late wife must have hurt him deeply. She asks him what happened that damaged him so much that he doesn’t feel entitled to get on with his life. Michael storms off without responding.
Greta forgives Tess, and Tess realizes that people who love each other take care of each other – it’s not a one-way street. She understands that she could have trusted that Greta would want the best for Tess. Tess finally admits to being in love with Michael but swears she is through with strays. Greta challenges her, saying that she knows there’s a dog at the local Humane Society that needs to be adopted or it will be put down.
Tess wrestles with her decision but finally realizes that there’s nothing inherently wrong with taking in strays. Although she often feels like the stray Greta has taken in, Tess realizes that she gives Greta as much as Greta gives her. In the same way, she knows she gets comfort, affection and companionship from her dogs in return for the affection and care she gives them. It’s not about rescuing dogs – or people – but about creating good relationships with them.
When Greta informs Michael that Tess hasn’t stopped taking in strays after all, he comes to visit Tess, telling her that she was right. He explains that when his wife died, she was pregnant – but it wasn’t his son. Because Michael wanted a family, he was still willing to raise the child as his own. His wife despised him for it, claiming that he couldn’t hold any woman, believing that his kindness and love were a sign of weakness.
The betrayal was shattering to Michael, and her taunting him about it, eviscerating. But she died before he could ever earn her respect or decide her opinion of him wasn’t the truth. Tess knows she loves him and he loves her – and Belinda – but her fate is sealed when she looks at the glider and realizes that he has hidden tiny painted animals all over it for Belinda to find. His whimsical side no longer buried, she knows he’s going to be fine – and they’ll get to live happily ever after.