I’ve been making faces at myself in the mirror, trying to replicate “The smile didn’t quite reach her eyes.” I know what that means in Romance Land Shorthand, but what the hell does it look like? Upon careful experimentation, I still can’t tell you, but I made myself laugh out loud. Jack Nicholson and his maniacal grin may have something to worry about.

We come across inevitable, intriguing, and inexorable phrases/concepts often used in romance novels. What’s your favorite cliché—plot, word, sentence or scene? You can cite one of the ones below if you wish (I’m crazy about the hero always being scared of his valet). Here’s the opening of Third-Rate Romance, my recently completed and languishing romance novel spoof. I haven’t counted, but there are a clutch of clichés for your reading pleasure. One lucky commenter will win August’s prizes—a brand-new copy of Stephanie Laurens’ first-rate, non-clichéd All About Passion, some fabulous Maine bookmarks and other surprises. Look for the winner and new post on August 8.

“I don’t know why my father has to be an impoverished earl who lost the family fortune at one turn of the cards,” complained Lady Eleanor Buxton, her auburn eyebrows knotted in adorable frustration. “It’s such a cliché. Why didn’t she make him a ship’s captain so I could have sailed around the world and had an adventure or two? I might be wearing skintight breeches fighting Barbary pirates this very minute instead of lounging about Lady Caterham’s dull old drawing room.” She gave a fringed ottoman a vicious kick.

“Do think for a moment, Ellie. You know you’d only have to be captured quite early on and sold into slavery,” replied Lionel Hamilton, fourth Duke of Cleves, sixth Earl of Wynton, ninth Viscount Stacy and thirteenth Baron Gussington. “But that,” he added, pausing, “might be rather amusing.”

A long tapered finger tapped his chin and his dark eyes took on a faraway look. “Hmm. Imagine Ali Bey or some such villain looming above you, your helpless ivory limbs tied with silken ropes as he has his wicked way with you.” The duke brushed an imaginary tuft of lint off his well-toned thigh. “I confess that image quite piques my interest.” The bulge in his perfectly form-fitting inexpressibles confirmed his opinion.

“Rape is never amusing! It goes against every tenet of the romance genre since the 1970s,” Eleanor informed him, her green eyes flashing the obligatory daggers. “You know you’d have to save me before it ever came to that, and very likely you’d be imprisoned and tortured. And then she’d make me save you by some clever trick or other! Not that you’d deserve it!”

“Now, now,” Lionel said mildly, “you know we are meant for each other. You hated me on sight and have misconstrued my every action since the beginning.” He took a discreet pinch of snuff and leaned idly against a marble Corinthian column stolen from an ancient grave site.

“Disgusting habit! And lower that damned eyebrow. I cannot endure it!”

Lionel smiled his crooked smile instead and picked at an invisible thread on the sleeve of his immaculate Weston coat. How he lived to torment the little baggage. It was simply too simple. “I can see you in the harem now, my love. Your riot of copper curls might sway the sultan initially, but I doubt he’d be fond of you long once you turned your fiery temper upon him. And you know,” he drawled, “you’d inevitably get fat. All the sugared dates, goat cheese and whatnot. I believe more pulchritude is the standard of beauty in the East.”

He cast an assessing black glance at her piquant little face. “Plus, you’d be veiled. It seems a damn shame to cover up that pert little nose, faintly freckled and twitching in anger.”

Eleanor threw herself down on the striped Sheraton sofa. “This book is insupportable! I’ll probably be doomed to act like a widgeon almost up until the end! Then you’ll settle my father’s debts anonymously and pave your way. You think you’re so darned noble.”

“Is it really such an arduous task to love me, Ellie? I’m considered quite a catch, you know. The matchmaking mamas have set their sights on me for an age,” Lionel said, somewhat hurt.

Eleanor snorted in a most unladylike fashion. “Oh, I know your artfully disarranged black hair is all the rage. Your eyes are as black as spades and twice as sharp. How you are so tan in the middle of a rainy English spring after an endless English winter is a mystery, but I’ll go along with it.” She smoothed the folds of her bottle-green riding habit. “Why am I wearing this? It’s all wrong for an afternoon visit to Lady Caterham’s drawing room,” she mumbled to herself. “She doesn’t know the difference between sarcenet and dampened muslin, I wager. Lionel,” Eleanor implored, “please hold me!”

Lionel swiftly ensconced himself on the sofa, doing his grim duty. He was unusually tall for a nineteenth century Englishman and did not find himself at all comfortable; nevertheless, he enveloped the petite trembling form of Lady Eleanor as she ruined his lapels with salty tears. His valet would no doubt give him hell.

I’m going to go practice my smirk now, right after I quirk an eyebrow or two. For more of TRR, all of Chapter 1 is posted to the left. Don’t forget Romance Novel TV’s writers’ workshop this month, so you can avoid cliché-city!