Writing Challenge: Time After Time

by Evan Yeong

Nowadays when we think of Historical Romance the first images that spring to mind are likely beleaguered estates, empire waist dresses, and other such hallmarks of the Regency Era. That may or may not be directly attributed to the film and TV adaptations of Pride and Prejudice that have been released roughly once a decade (though given the era of superhero films it could be worse).

Great Britain in the early 1800s (1811-1820) has in some ways become synonymous with tear-stained missives and dramatic, heartfelt entrances (and departures) on horseback, which is precisely why with this Historical Romance writing challenge I’m explicitly forbidding you from setting your scene in the Regency era.

Yes. And it’s more than that. 

Referring to Hannah’s post on what the Harlequin Historical team are looking for, here are the other settings you can’t use:

  • Viking (793-1066) – Scandinavia, Great Britain, Western Europe
  • Medieval (938-1485) – Great Britain, Western Europe
  • Renaissance (Tudor) (1458-1558) – Great Britain
  • Victorian (1832-1901) – Great Britain

I also want to set an upper limit of the early 1900s. If you’re sitting in a time machine and you can see the Great Depression directly ahead and the Jazz Age fading in the rearview mirror, you’ve gone too far. 

Looking at it now, this honestly gives you most of the world in which to set your romance scene of 450 words or less. It’s important to remember that setting involves the time and place. Your submission may fall squarely within the centuries of the Medieval era, but not take place in Europe at all!

Lastly, I understand the difficulty in establishing a setting while also exploring the chemistry between your characters. While your scene should provide hints as to where and when it’s set, I’d also like you to, at the end of your submission, include the time and place on a separate line. This could be anything from “Ancient Egypt” to “New Orleans, 1716.” That should help you to avoid obsessing over whether or not you’ve included enough pertinent details throughout, hopefully.

Submissions are due 11:59 PM EST on February 9th, Sunday. As mentioned in my last challenge, there will be no Editors’ Choice Top 3 this time around! Instead, all valid submissions will receive personalized feedback from the editors at SYTYCW. Everyone’s a winner, baby, that’s the truth! (That song reference is from 1978, which you’ll be happy to know is not ancient history ☺)


UPDATE: I am absolutely floored by the sheer number of submissions! Although a handful were unfortunately disqualified for not closely following my prompt (a future post on these challenges will cover that), we still received a total of 53 scenes to provide feedback for.

The editors have been emailed their submissions, and every one will be responded to by this Friday (February 14th) at the very latest. Thank you so much to everyone who participated, and who had kind words to say about other contestants’ work. We love to see you supporting one another, and we hope you’re reading both the other scenes as well as what we have to say about them!

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  1. Chrissie

    “God’s Teeth, woman! What do you think you are doing? If you jump overboard in high seas it will be the last of you. It’s down in Davy Jones’s locker you’ll be.” James held tight as he pulled along the gunwales to gain his footing with Mary squirming like a sea creature in his arms.

    “You have no right to keep me prisoner.” She beat at him with her fists.

    One look into those green eyes and his heart flickered. She was young and innocent, but she was a fighter and would argue him into a corner if he allowed it. Anger at her stupidity of attempting to escape overwhelmed the desire to plant a kiss on her pouty lips.

    “Mary, you will use the manners you were taught. There’ll be no fighting or cursing, and no more adventures while we’re at sea. Is that understood?”

    She sucked in a deep breath making her bosom swell against his chest. “It’s understood. But do not trap me in your cabin. I need fresh air. I’m used to ships, or I was before you sank the Anna Belle.”

    “Ah, so you’re a seafaring lass? Know how to keep balanced on a swaying deck? Watch for the boom and sails as they swing about in the wind?” He laughed heartily as her mouth widened with each question. “There now, there’s so much to learn. I’ve got a mind to teach you, but I have a ship to run and a crew to keep in line.”

    “Your crew doesn’t pay any attention to me. I walked right past the sailor in your cabin.” She pushed against his chest but only made herself more enticing to hold.

    “Aye. That was Mike. His hearing went bad after he stood too close to a cannon during battle. He did notice you were missing and alerted me. If not, you’d be in the sea.” He carried her down the steps into his quarters.

    Her released stance was defiant. “Do you promise not to lock me in here again?”

    James glared down at her, though he wanted to laugh at her spunkiness. He’d frightened the wits from fierce men in battle with his ability to remain calm no matter the consequences. But here she was, a sprite of a female, telling him what to do.

    “I’ll leave the door unlocked but if you leave my quarters again, I’ll not come to your rescue. Be glad it was I who found you and not one of the unruly seamen aboard. They’d love to taste the sweetness you have to offer.” As would I, he thought as he turned away from her curious gaze.

    The Caribbean – 1716

    • Mena O Neill

      Hi Chrissie. Well done on being so Brave and going first. My hat off too you and thanks for breaking the ice. I loved your scene. Full of imagery and sass. If I was directing this as a movie I’d need a time machine as no other than Maureen O Hara and John Wayne would do it justice. X although Sarah Greene (The Dublin Murders) a Irish Actress would make a great stab at it too.
      Very visual and very well done, Chrissie. Best of luck with a great feedback.

    • Patience Bloom

      Dear Chrissie, What an adorable snippet. You made very clear the setting and, I think, the time period. I also like that neither character was scared of the other. Nice interaction between the two–and I hope she shows him who’s boss. 🙂 –Patience

  2. Sally Freytag

    ‘It’s trying to make enough money that I can plough back some of the profits into the village and tenant farms. Yes, I want to set up a stud farm but that takes time. I need something instantaneous.’ William was unsure why he was confiding in this chit of a girl called Caroline, and not the one he was supposed to be pursuing because of her wealth. Yet she seemed very informed on all matters industrial, and had a quick mind, both of which he appreciated.
    ‘You have the railway,’ Caroline said decisively.
    ‘The railway?’ His voice was startled. ‘I’ve been away a long time. The canal I know, but…a railway?’
    ‘Oh, yes. They want to push across Yorkshire and into Lancashire, Cumberland, Scotland as far as I know. And south, to London. You must see how this opens up trade. My…uncle and his mills, he relied on the canals for some time but has quickly seen the benefits of the railway. He agreed without hesitation for the tracks to cross the bottom of our estate but I had heard…’ Caroline hesitated and smoothed down the fine silk of her gown, her eyes lowered.
    ‘Heard what?’
    ‘That the Duke of Arkendale…yourself, sir…was causing problems. All letters to you were returned unanswered.’ She raised her face and stared fearlessly into his eyes.
    ‘I’ve only just returned from America. I had no idea. The letters most probably weren’t forwarded because no-one knew of my whereabouts. Even my mother’s letter, telling me of my father’s death, only reached me six months ago. The railway, you say? Why that, over and above the canals?’ His look was piercing and a shiver ran through her body. This wasn’t the sort of conversation they should be having, but her active brain, trained from being very young by her astute father, refused to let the matter drop, no matter if the Duke thought her a bluestocking, stuffy beyond belief. She would far rather be herself with him than pretend to be an empty socialite here just to accompany her cousin.
    ‘The railways,’ she repeated now, impatiently, her hand reaching out to catch hold of his, unaware of his involuntary shiver. ‘The iron road. The trains travel at a far greater speed than the canal boats can, and there is less the problem of breaches. They are the future!’ Her tone was fervent, her grip enthusiastic. ‘You must immediately respond to them for I had heard they would seek another route, more expensive, but would prefer your land!’
    ‘Caroline… Miss Beckinsale… I am in your debt!’ His eyes burned into hers as he lowered his mouth, placing a fervent kiss on the back of her hand.

  3. Renee Nurek

    Marie gathered her dress as she ran across the damp needles in the forest. She had to get to the hunting camp to meet Rudolph.
    “Rudolph” she whispered as she rushed on.
    Marie pictured his handsome face and couldn’t wait to be with him. Rudolph was 20 years older than her and married but she couldn’t help the feelings she had for him. He was a man where her other courters had been mere boys. Every thought she had was of him, she adored and obsessed over the man. She would do anything to be with him. She knew it was wrong. She feared being caught.
    Marie arrived at the cabin and saw the light on, smelled the wood smoke. She rushed through the door arms outstretched as Rudolph caught her in a quick embrace lowering his lips to hers.
    “I love you so much” she said and she sunk into him.
    “and I you.” Rudolph whispered against her lips his beard tickling her chin. He wrapped his arms around her and held her tightly.
    Suddenly the door flew open and footsteps thundered. Shouts and accusations rang out. Marie felt a blow to the back of her head. Her hand quickly went to her bonnet where blood was seeping through. The room was spinning, she tried to grip Rudolph’s arm as she began to fade into unconsciousness. His eyes were wide with horror when the shot sounded.
    “Made it look like a suicide?” asked the women
    “Of course.” answered the man.
    The footsteps receded and the door slammed shut. The two lovers lay dead on the floor of the cabin. Reunited in death.

    1889- Austria

    • Patience Bloom

      Dear Renee, I *love* this kind of dark story! The heroine’s point of view is exciting, how much she wants to get to her lover. And the anticipation of their meeting. I wasn’t sure if he felt the same way or if she was just obsessed. The ending is quite a twist. Nicely done! –Patience

  4. Caiden Wood

    Kobayashi Haruki stood on the battlefield. Six hours ago the land was full of spirited men shouting war cries and bravely running towards their enemy, determined to win. With the battle over, the only noise in the air were the moans of dying men, and the caws of Carrion Crows waiting to swoop down and eat. As Haruki limped through the broken and bloodied land, his spirit should have been high. His body was full of cuts and bruises, but he had survived and his lord, Tokugawa Ieyasu, had won. The only problem? He couldn’t find Sato Reiji. His best friend, his unrequited love, the one man he would truly die for. Reiji had taken Haruki under his wing two years ago, and the warmth in Haruki’s heart for Reiji had slowly morphed from a glowing warmth to a raging fire.

    As time passed, his panic quickly rose. He started rolling over the bodies, his hands shaking until he could barely grip onto the dead. With each body that he turned over that wasn’t Reiji, he should have started to feel relief, but the dread in his heart was continuously growing. His breaths now shallow and labored, not due to the amount of energy he had exerted over the day, but from the growing panic he felt.

    The sun was starting to set, and with a weary heart Haruki sat in front of a large tree, his head resting against the tough bark. His mind raced, all of the memories he had of Reiji flashing through it. His eyes burned and his lips trembled. He tried to keep back the tears, knowing that if he let out even a single tear drop, he wouldn’t be able to stop. No luck with that. Before he knew it, tears were rushing down his cheeks, washing the blood away. He closed his eyes to the setting sun, trying desperately to slow his breathing before he hyper-ventilated.

    “Wow, you look like hell.” At the sound of that deep and sultry voice, Haruki’s eyes popped open. Standing before him was Reiji, his Hitatare was cut in many places, and there was a shallow cut running diagonally across his chest.

    “I thought I had lost you.” Haruki’s voice came out in barely a whisper as Reiji reached his hand down and pulled him up to his feet.

    “I would never, ever leave you.” Reiji spoke more seriously than Haruki had ever heard before, the look in Reiji’s eyes just as serious as he stared into Haruki’s. Slowly, Reiji pushed Haruki so his back was flush against the tree. Haruki’s heart banged against his chest as Reiji slowly moved in, and kissed Haruki softly.

    -Japan, October 21st 1600

    • Patience Bloom

      Dear Caiden, I love this whole entry! I love the setting. I love the time period. I love the situation. And I love the characters and I love the love! I really was on the edge of my seat, hoping that Haruki would find Reiji so this is a definitely HEA. I hope you continue with this emotional story. — Patience

  5. Kathy Servian

    He stared at the crashing waves, their white caps whipped to foam. Never having been asked to tell his story before, he was unsure how to begin. It was not a happy tale and much of it was unsuitable for the ears of a gentlewoman such as Maddie. But perhaps if she knew the truth, she would begin to understand. “I was born in the slums of Sydney to a freed-convict mother who worked as a prostitute. I have no idea who my father was and I doubt she did either. She was not a caring woman. She used to drink, entertain her customers in our one-room basement flat at all hours, and she was not averse to giving me regular thrashings. But to be fair, I probably deserved them.”
    “No child deserves to be beaten.” Maddie stood with her back to the wind, her hair flying about her face and her eyes fixed on his.
    Frank faltered unable to hold her gaze. He looked out to the water stretching in an unbroken plane to the horizon and it occurred to him he was that farthest he’d even been from his birthplace and his past.
    He swallowed, forcing a smile. “Don’t worry; I got a reprieve. She fell ill. I cared for her as best I could. There was no money. I would pick pockets and commit petty crimes. She never appreciated my efforts though, always finding fault. The last thing she said before she passed was ‘You’re rotten to the core. I wish you’d never been born.’”
    “How old were you when she died?”
    “I was nine.” Frank turned to her. Expecting to see shock and perhaps disgust in her face, he blenched when he realised her eyes were brimming.
    She shook her head. “She was wrong. You are a good person.”
    As if in response to her tears, the backs of Frank’s eyes burned. He swiped at them, chuckling. “This sand really is a curse.” He strode away from her. Removing his hat, he let the tiny particles batter his face relishing the distraction from the lump that had firmly lodged itself in his throat. He increased his pace, needing to put distance between them. He should not have told her. Now she felt sorry for him. The last thing he wanted or needed was her pity. He turned back.
    She had not followed him and was now standing on the water’s edge. The wind pressed her dress to her body revealing every detail of her figure. He watched her, transfixed, and silently cursed his body for its base desires. His mother had been right, he was rotten and Maddie deserved better.
    1855 – Colonial New Zealand

    • Mena O Neill

      Oh, Kathy. This scene is a heart breaker. Poor Frank. But Maddie is just the woman for him. Very evocative, emotive writing. Please keep going with it. I certainly would love to read more.

    • Patience Bloom

      Dear Kathy, This is such an emotional entry where the hero discloses important details of his life to this kind woman. It’s a touching scene and I like how it goes from his talking about himself to his fully noticing her. Well done, and lovely descriptive details of their surroundings. Nicely done. –Patience

  6. Anna T.S.

    The warm summer wind blew dirt and loose grass in Noah’s face, but he didn’t care. He knelt on both knees, as if preparing to pray and bowed reverently on the small patch of land. He grasped two handfuls of earth, slowly raised them to his face and inhaled deeply. The rich loamy smell filled his lungs.

    Loamy.

    He’d learned the word from books he’d secretly read by night. To be caught reading was against the law for slaves. Anyone caught was brutally beaten the first time; sold off the next. But he didn’t care. He knew one day he’d be free and knowledge was worth any number of beatings.

    He inhaled the moist aroma again, this time filling his mind – not his lungs – with thoughts of hope, of freedom…of love.

    To his left he saw Sarah standing before the soddy, watching him, smiling; perhaps sharing his thoughts, his emotions.

    She came over and knelt beside him. Her eyes glistened with tears. Her lips rippled in a line threatening to break apart in laughter one moment and sobs the next.

    He held his earthen treasure toward her.

    “This is ours,” he said, his own voice unrecognizable for the pride lacing each syllable. “This is our land and it’ll be our children’s land and their children’s too.”

    Sarah nodded, a tear slipping down her cheek.

    “Thanks to you loving me and letting me love you,” she whispered.

    “And you’re my wife,” he said. “I never thought love would be mine. Never thought a woman as fine and cultured as you would ever look my way.”

    She cupped his cheek, tears slipping down both cheeks now. “I’m so glad you broke down and let me try.”

    Stubborn pride had kept him from believing Sarah could love him, could want him. But her feisty Northern freeborn persistence would not accept defeat. He gladly surrendered. His chest swelled with pride. He had a right to love, had a right to be loved, had a right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

    “Sorry I couldn’t provide for you like you were accustomed to up North,” he said.

    Sarah shook her head. “Not your fault the federal troops pulled out, leaving us to the mercy of Black Codes and night riders.”

    “We could have gone North. To New York.”

    “No. You’d have chafed under the prejudices we free Blacks have endured there for generations.” She gazed lovingly into his eyes. “Starting fresh in this place new to both of us is where our love will grow.”

    Noah leaned forward, drawn by love and hope and plans for their future, and kissed his wife.

    Kansas 1879

    • Mena O Neill

      Very tender and evocative, Anna. well done. I love the very emotional connection both between them and with the land. The importance of having something of their own is very well portray and draws the reader into that emotion in a real way. Well done.

    • Patience Bloom

      Dear Anna, I love how you show us right away Noah’s feelings of pride and reference over his ability to survive and educate himself in the face of overwhelming obstacles. This reveals so much about him as a character. The tender exchange between him and his wife will move readers and encourage them to keep turning the pages. I want to know more about how they make a new life together. Well done! –Patience

  7. Catherine E. Chapman

    “Happy Christmas Mr O’Flynn,” Millie said, approaching him with an unavoidably melancholic look in her eye. It saddened her that he felt unequal to the high-spirited goings on inside the house.
    “Miss Millie,” he replied, rather coldly.
    “How are you?” she asked, for want of a better question.
    “As well as can be expected,” came his well-worn response.
    Millie now stood beside Ryan, their hands close as they both stroked Kerry’s sleek coat.
    “I’m glad to see you,” Millie said.
    “Really?” Ryan replied somewhat confrontationally.
    “Of course. Aren’t you pleased to see me?”
    “I don’t know,” Ryan admitted bitterly.
    Millie looked him in the eye. She was uncertain what to say next but Ryan spoke for her.
    “The way you were with me in the hospital led me to conclude you didn’t care for me any more,” he said.
    “But I do care for you Ryan–” Millie insisted.
    “You don’t love me,” he maintained. “You don’t want me as a lover.”
    Stepping forward, Millie took hold of his hands, and said, “I do though, Ryan. I love you more than ever.” She reached up and kissed his cheek, allowing her cheek to linger against his as she whispered, “And I want you more than ever.”
    There was no point in trying to explain why she’d behaved the way she had in the hospital – or maybe that was an explanation for another time. All that mattered now was to let him know that she loved him. “And I want our future to be together,” Millie said.
    “Which is why you’re going to live in London,” he replied cynically.
    Millie looked at him quizzically, unsure how he knew about her plans.
    “Your Aunt Rose was only too pleased to reveal that fact to me,” he said.
    “But, don’t you see, you’ll be able to visit me in London and we’ll be able to go about like any other courting couple–”
    “Only that ours will be a courtship that will never result in a marriage,” he complained.
    “Why are you being obstructive?” Millie asked, sensing there was more to this than his obvious objections.
    Ryan hung his head. “Millie, I’m not sure I’m fit to be anyone’s husband these days, let alone yours. I mean, look at me.”
    Millie shushed him gently as she kissed him once more – this time his lips. “Then I’ll just have to remain a spinster, won’t I?” she said light-heartedly, before kissing him again.
    Drawing back from that kiss, Millie was glad to briefly see a smile on Ryan’s face; it was a brief glimpse because, no sooner had she witnessed it, than she was swallowed by his embrace.

    England, 1917

    • Patience Bloom

      Dear Catherine, I enjoyed the dialogue in this entry and we learn a bit about the characters this way. I would have loved to see more setting details to bring out the time period and what the characters look like, also how each character felt. But you convey a lot in a short few paragraphs. Well done. –Patience

  8. Christina

    “Bluidy hell.” Fiona Graem eyed the sky to the west with disfavor. Dark billows hung over the firth, threatening to roll in and unleash their fury. “Can one thing not go right this day?”
    She scanned the throng of her father’s men, and listened for a hint of distant thunder, but the pounding of their horses’ hooves drowned out any would be rumbles. She sniffed the air and prayed to whichever saint chose to listen that rain would be the only thing soaking the ground.
    With barely enough time to don her jack she had snagged her steel bonnet and settled it on her head without a fetter beneath her chin. The damnable thing kept slipping over her eyes. The quiver of arrows flung over her shoulder bounced against her back in an annoying cadence. Damn the English bastards for intruding on what had promised to be a rare peaceful afternoon.
    The top of the round tower rose a little higher in the horizon with every surge of her mount. Still half a league away, she urged Larieen to move faster. It wasn’t enough. Her palms moistened, clinging to the fabric of her gloves, and she itched to yank them off. Fiona struggled to force a calming breath into her lungs past the stone size lump in her throat. The harsh air met with resistance, burning a trail deep inside her chest.
    Her nerves were taut. The sword at her side alleviated them naught at all. Yet she drove Larieen hard toward the lone tower where she hoped her brother Feagan remained hidden.
    Cresting the summit, they halted, five hundred mounted men behind her. The horses heaved, snorting and hoofing at the ground. Though the sun remained visible, a few sprinkles began to settle on her cheeks as the whipping wind threatened to rip her bonnet from her head. Taking the moment of pause in their pursuit, Fiona secured the straps beneath her chin. She glanced with a semblance of relief at the pele tower nestled high on the hill surrounded by a copse of trees.
    Across the valley, a loud commotion drew her attention as a multitude of armed riders descended the opposing hillock and flooded into the lowland. Rays from the waning sun glinted off hundreds of English bonnets. Their horses churned the earth, sending clumps of mud into the air.
    Enemy riders pulled weapons from their sheaths, some with arrows poised in their bows. Others swung maces above their heads. Shouts of English sent a shiver down her spine. Was this the moment her father had prepared her for? The moment she would finally prove her worth in his eyes and the eyes of his men?

    Northern Cumbria
    1604

    • Patience Bloom

      Dear Christina, I feel as if I know what this heroine is going through. You do a great job of describing the scene, the time period, and how she’s feeling. What a unique setting, as well and I enjoyed the element of suspense. Nicely done! — Patience

  9. “Quit fighting me woman,” Ulf whispered harshly in Freya’s ear. “If you wake the guard, I’ll be forced to do battle and I can assure you I won’t lose.”
    Freya froze she didn’t want anyone to die but she didn’t want to be taken either. Her father had denied this man an alliance, but apparently, he wasn’t taking no for an answer. She continued to struggle but didn’t make a sound wanting to escape and hide in the keep.
    Ulf knew she was afraid, but he needed her to get all he wanted accomplished. Marrying Freya had been his intention, which gave him the alliance as well as a strong trade agreement, but it had been her that he was truly after.
    Since her father refused Ulf had prepared for the possibility taking Freya was easy even with her struggling. He made it to the underground tunnel where his men waited on the other side with the horses. To keep Freya dry he tossed her over his shoulder and waded into the water.
    Freya struggled over his shoulder but stiffened when her capture swatted her bottom. She stiffened but quit struggling knowing that his sheer strength worked against her. They reached the outside of the keep and she was lowered to the ground. Freya didn’t wait but tried to run, she didn’t make it far before Ulf captured her around the waist pulling her to him. She struggled against him trying to free herself, but he held her tight against his solid chest, carrying her to his waiting horse as if she wasn’t struggling at all.
    Seeing her last chance at escape fade for she knew she was trapped if they made it onto the horse, Freya attempted to scream. She only managed a small sound before Ulf covered her mouth with his hand cutting off the sound. Everyone in the group stopped to listen for footsteps even the horses seemed to get quitter. Nothing happened so the group began moving again. So that she couldn’t make any more chances at escape Ulf gaged and tied her hands before mounting his horse and placing her in front of himself. Turning his large warhorse, they headed for the forest knowing their tracks would disappear with the coming storm.

    Vikings 930 Scandinavia

    • Evan Yeong

      Hi Samara! Unfortunately I had excluded scenes set in a Viking setting in my Writing Challenge instructions. Sorry to say, but that means your submission won’t be receiving editorial feedback.

  10. Janie stepped off the stagecoach and glanced around the dusty little town of Dry Gulch, Texas. She would rather have ridden in on her horse, but a woman travelling alone attracted enough attention without her riding into town.

    Scanning the immediate area, she had noticed a man eyeing her. He stepped closer, clearing his throat. “Ma’am. Are you Mrs. Winkle?”

    Caught off guard by the tall stranger’s captivating good looks, she almost forgot her undercover alias. “Yes. Thank you. Has my husband arrived? We had a little misunderstanding and he was in such a rush to get here. I just waited for the next stage.”

    The way his eyes bore into her, she wondered if he saw through her. No, his eyes held too much compassion. If it weren’t for her job, how she would love to tell him the truth. She wasn’t Mrs. Winkle. She wasn’t Mrs. Anybody.

    “Nice to meet you, ma’am. My name is Dylan Wright. I’m the Sheriff here in Dry Gulch. Would you mind stepping into my office for a moment?” His hand gently touched her back as he guided her through the crowd gathered around the stagecoach. The Pinkerton Agency hadn’t said anything about a contact in Dry Gulch, but she remembered his face from somewhere. Such a face would be hard to forget, but had she seen it in the Rogues’ Gallery mug shots, or from another case she worked. She would have to find out all she could before giving him any information. She had a way of putting people at ease and getting them to talk. It was what she did best, what she was known for.

    Once seated inside his office, he propped himself on the edge of the desk nearest her. Leaning closer, he placed a hand on top of hers. “I’m sorry to have to tell you this. Your husband wasn’t on the last stage upon arrival. When the stage made it in, we learned there was a holdup and started out immediately. Your husband was found just outside town. We did all we could, but he didn’t make it.”

    His deep, blue eyes held hers. Expecting her to break down, or wanting to comfort her? Unsure, she brought her hankie to her face, giving her time to think of her next move. Play the distraught widow or the coolheaded one? She hadn’t been exactly fond of her partner, but neither did she wish him dead. And now, whoever attacked him, probably looking for the papers she carried, would come for her. Willing tears to come, she dared not look up.

    “Don’t worry, Ma’am. I’ll keep you safe.”

    She hoped he meant it.

    Texas, 1872.

  11. Frances Everly

    The night wind whipped her hair about her face. She struggled not too run in fright of the forbidding shadows. Danger loomed everywhere these days. She thanked the heavens for the protection of the garrison. Some days it seemed as if they were the only things standing between civilization and the barbarisms of the Scotti and Picts.
    “Seraphina,” a hoarse voice cried from the bushes causing her to jump.
    “Ambrosius?” Her voice was barely more then a whisper.
    The bushes parted to reveal her love standing there, looking strong and intimidating even without his helm and armor. He wore a sword strapped to his hip, but no other weapons that she could see. She breathed out a sigh of relief as she raced towards him, heedless of the uneven ground.
    “I thought I might never see you again,” he breathed, wrapping his strong arms around her in a hard embrace.
    “Ambrosius, what is happening? There have been so many rumours, I scarce know what to believe,” Seraphina tilted her head up to look at him.
    “Emperor Constantine has recalled the Legions to defend Rome,” he answered, his expression hardening as he tightened his hold on her.
    “Which Legions?” She asked shakily, afraid to know the answer. She feared she might never see him again after this night.
    “It might as well be all of them.” Ambrosius cursed when he noticed the moonlight glistening off the tears on her face.
    “All?” Seraphina cried, incredulous. “Will I never see you again?”
    “There is talk of rebellion. Some of the soldiers… we cannot bear to leave knowing the whole of Britton would be unprotected. Emperor Constantine is making a grave mistake recalling us to Rome. Our homes, our families, our lives…. You are here. I love you Seraphina. I will not abandon you.”
    The night came alive with the pounding of sandals on cobblestone, and torches light up the darkness. Soldiers surrounded them, and Ambrosius forced her behind him, using his body as shield.
    “What is the meaning of this?” He shouted.
    “General Aurelius, you are hereby under arrest by order of the Legate.”
    An armored soldier on horseback barked orders to his subordinates. Clearly reluctant to arrest their commanding officer, the soldiers were slow to approach. Somewhere nearby, someone began to bang their spear against a shield, the drumming sound reverberating through her veins as more and more soldiers joined in. Seraphina clutched at Ambrosius’ cape, fear freezing her in place. The commander repeated his order, and one by one the soldiers turned their backs, facing the man who would arrest their Commander.
    “It would seem that you are the one who will be arrested this night,” Ambrosius shouted.

    Roman Britain, circa 410 AD

    • Frances, I love your choice of setting and time period! There’s a lot of opportunity for both romance and action. And I think you’ve done a good job of evoking the setting without too much explanation. This feels very much like it’s from a work in progress, and I had quite a few questions about the relationship between the couple, as well as the hero’s role in the rebellion. But I definitely felt it could be developed into a compelling historical romance!

  12. ChallengeAccepted

    The brown stetson hat typically drew the adoration of females from miles around, but today, it didn’t make Leia so much as bat an eyelash. The man was handsome, of course, red serge fitting snug on his long, lean body, but she was all too aware of the pair of handcuffs in his kit. She carefully patted at the discreetly hidden coin sack in her skirt.
    “Ma’am, have you seen anyone suspicious come this way?” the officer towered over her, “We’re searching for a thief.”
    “Oh? Well no, I certainly haven’t seen anyone today,” she smirked, channeling her inner dramatics, “What’s been stolen?” Planning today’s heist had taken several weeks of carefully monitoring banking schedules, lunch breaks and shifts at the North-West Mounted Police detachment. She certainly hadn’t planned on encountering a lone Mountie on their way back from unscheduled patrols at Klondike City.
    Luck was never on her side.
    “There’s been a robbery at the bank,” he adjusted his footing, taking a step closer, “Someone’s made off with several coins.” She watched his lips move as he spoke and briefly imagined what it would be like to kiss him, moustache tickling her nose.
    “That so?” She licked her own lips absentmindedly and brushed away a rogue hair, carefully glancing around. She was fast. She could make a run for it and survive in the wilderness for several days on her own if need be. She was feisty and downright stubborn and she knew it. She had encountered devastating snow storms and floods on this gold rush adventure; surely she could survive the mere good looks of a man in uniform.
    “I really must be heading home. My father will be looking for me,” she lied. She took a step forward and the Mountie blocked her path.
    “And where is it do you live, exactly?” his eyes narrowed. It was now or never. She turned to make her move just as he reached out, grabbed her arm and pulled her close.
    “Please!” she begged, “It’s a measly two dollars, barely enough for provisions. If I’m going to jail, let it be for something better than this!” She could feel the heat from his body through his uniform, their noses nearly touching. He was quiet, surely deciding what his next course of action should be. Public humiliation? Time in cells? Taking her back to his barracks?
    “Go,” he said quietly, blue eyes fierce, “Don’t turn around and don’t tell anyone you were in Dawson City today.” His gloved hands released her and she seized the opportunity to break into a run, “And don’t dare tell anyone you ran into me!”
    Klondike City/Dawson City, 1897

    • There’s lots to love about this submission! An interesting “anti-hero” heroine, enjoyable dialogue and chemistry between the couple, a fun and compelling premise, and great setting skillfully evoked. And the writing doesn’t feel constrained by too many historical references, so it feels fresh without sacrificing authenticity. Excellent job!

  13. Cheryl Anne Graham

    Emmy looked down at the paper. Expand the West. Be part of history. Men wanted to complete the railroad. See a Canadian Pacific Railway manager today.

    “But why William? Why are you going?”

    “Emmy. We’ve been over this. We need to stake a claim. This could be a great thing for me and you. We can have a proper wedding.”

    “I love you. I don’t need a proper wedding. Besides it’s dangerous. Men have died, been injured. I want you to come back to me.”

    He held her sweet face in his hands. “I will Emmy. But, our new life.”They talked about it for a while. Ever since William came to this new land and they met, this Alberta. He would go and earn some money and they wouldn’t have to live with her parents and their ranch.

    “My dad is glad to have you. He’s going to make you a partner. The ranch will begin to make more money. We can sell the cattle. More people are coming to Canada all the time. We can live here.”

    “No. I make my own way.” Ever since he lost his parents on the way over, he was fiercely independent. His awful upbringing made him know he wouldn’t rely on anybody ever again. He would buy his own ranch, his own cattle, and give Emmy the life she deserved.

    “But I will miss you so much. You’re the love of my life,” Emmy whimpered as she willed herself to keep the tears in check that seemed poised to pour like the great Bow river down her cheeks.

    “I will come back,” with that she searched his face, would he?

    “The train is leaving,” he said while the sound of the engine blew all around them. She could feel it in her bones. They embraced like they wouldn’t see each other again. Then he held her hands like the precious gold they were and jumped on the train. She looked desperately as it left the make shift station and vowed to remember his words.
    “I will come back Emmy.”

    Alberta Canada 1880s

    • Cheryl Ann, you’ve managed to deliver lots of information in a short scene, and included some strong emotion (I really liked your image of William holding Emmy’s hands “like the precious gold they were” – nice!) A bit more conflict and drama would have provided extra punch. While the hero’s departure is a key moment, it feels like the couple’s emotions are explained, rather than demonstrated in an active scene. Thanks for participating!

  14. Gripping her brother Henry’s arm, Eliza calmed as she walked past the dock men loaded large oak cask of ale and rum. The smell forced her to grip her handkerchief to her nose.
    “Do we have to meet one of our new servants here, brother?” Bethany’s blue eyes darted to the back corners as they approached the small tavern.
    No more than twenty herself, Eliza was to make her society appearance at a solicitor’s home later this evening. It wouldn’t do to be seen in such a place like this.
    “Come sister, where is your heart of courage?” Henry had their father’s smile and Mother’s level head.
    “We were children, Henry and I had both of you to look after me.”
    Henry dismissed her concern with a nod and coming to a rough-hewn table directed her to sit. Both glanced around as the patrons laughed and drank and told the latest news from England or Virginia.
    The shattering of bottles and overturning of a far table forced Eliza to look for the door or Henry.
    “Well lads, if you fancy going home with your teeth missing. I’d soon oblige ya!”
    Eliza turned toward the voice. A large sun-brown haired weathered young man stood toward the back. His sleeves rolled up to his elbows as he crossed his arms. A large red whelp had singed his left forearm.
    “You are a thief, man!”
    Eliza shook her head as she watched four burly men surround the brash young man. The man’s sharp green eyes held a fire like her old…
    The young man dodged a grab by one man and buried his two hands as a mace into the man’s stomach. The poor man’s retching after the blow sound as a mewling cat.
    “I warned ye.” The man smiled thinly, “Now let me be off, I’ve affairs to attend…”
    “Eliza, lass! How wonderful to see you!”
    Eliza stopped as she was addressed.
    “How do you?”
    “And Henry here as well, splendid! Tuatha Tanah! to you both!”
    Both soon approached the young Scotsman.
    Henry spoke first as Eliza’s own voice caught in her throat.
    “Nathan MacNair! It’s been…how many years?”
    The young man named Nathan MacNair nodded toward both siblings eyeing Eliza with appreciation. No more the clinging child, she had become a gentle beauty.
    “Too long since my last letter, sorry to say!”
    “What brings you here to Pennsylvania, sir?” Eliza recovered her voice.
    Nathan reached into the folds of his shirt and pulled a sealed letter.
    “For your father, if he is still favorable to it.”
    Both looked at the sealed note in question waiting.
    Nathan’s smile fell to a grim line.
    “He’s favorable to my service?”
    Pennsylvania 1770

    • Phil, I like how you have included the five senses to immerse the reader in your setting! I had some difficulty following the action at times. There were a lot of characters for such a short scene, and sometimes the transitions in dialogue and point of view caused confusion. But your choice of setting and characters is intriguing. Thanks for responding to our challenge!

    • Mrs. Deirdre,
      Thank you for your response. This was a rushed first attempt at one of Harlequin’s Writing Contests.
      I thought about doing the DJ contest, but I couldn’t decide on what song to choose.
      I fear that many of my other WIP & Ideas in Progress have been submitted by others in different ways. Also, I think/write in longer single-title serials. (Think the old Super romances)

  15. Ann Allen

    He fidgeted his hat in circles, uneasy in the fancy room. He didn’t dare sit, and he didn’t want to walk around, leaving mud from his scuffed boots on the carpet.
    He was at home outside, where people were outnumbered by cattle and trees. Not inside, here in Kansa City, where rich people had too much stuff to be knocked over in their rooms.
    The door opened, and a woman entered. She was tall, almost as tall as he was. Her brown hair was escaping from her bun, and her clothes were plain. Not to be mean, but her face was too.
    “Hello, Mr. Landry.” She held out her hand to him. “I’m Amelia Mathews.”
    He automatically raised his own hand, but she was the one who shook it. He was in shock.
    This wasn’t the pretty, delicate woman he was meant to deliver.
    She sat on the couch. “I’m so glad you’re here. I’ve read everything I could find, but I still have so many questions. I’ve purchased a wagon and some oxen, and here’s a list of the goods I was told to bring. Does this look right?”
    He shook his head, coming to terms with the woman in front of him. She was holding a piece of paper towards him, but the marks on it were meaningless to him.
    “I can’t read, ma’am.” His cheeks heated.
    She bit her lip. “I can read it out to you, but maybe on the trail there will be time that I could teach you? There are so many things I need to know in return. Perhaps you could teach me to shoot? And build a fire from scratch?”
    Mr. Attison would not care for a wife who shot and built her own fires.
    “Oh, and does Cedar Grove have a school?”
    “Ah, yes ma’am. But the schoolteacher started farming, so there’s no one to teach now.”
    “Oh, I could do that! It would be perfect!”
    He had to say something. This woman didn’t understand what was going on.
    “Ma’am – Miz Matherson – Mr. Attison won’t want his fiancée to be a teacher.”
    She shot him a sunny smile. “Oh, I’m not going to marry him. I just let my family think that so I could get away. You don’t need to worry.”
    His instinct for danger was raising goosebumps on his skin. Attison was not likely to let her go once she got there. Not after he’d been talking about his big city bride.
    That instinct told him Amelia Matthews was going to provide more trouble than the rest of the train he was leading west.

  16. Miriam Carter

    “Great One, I am your servant, a soldier fighting for Pharaoh and Egypt. How can I expect reward for doing my duty?” General Khafra’s voice sang to her soul, shaking her from within.

    Iset stole another glance at the handsome general and caught him watching her closely. Uneasy, she turned away and squirmed in her seat.

    “Come now, General. Loyalty and victories are to be rewarded.” Queen Mutnodjmet reached over to grasp Iset’s hand, offering silent comfort and reassurance.
    “Yes, tell us, how can we show our gratitude?” Pharaoh Horemheb asked as he stood from his throne. Dressed in a gold collar and fine linen, Pharaoh exuded an air of power even though he was not born royalty. Pharaoh gained his seat of power through military accomplishment, not bloodline connection.

    The general nodded and glanced around the room, and then his eyes settled on Iset once more. Stepping closer, he towered before her. Heat pouring from his finely oiled copper skin seduced her body and the scent of myrrh intoxicated her thoughts. He raised his hand and touched the white lotus she wore in her hair. Tracing her face with his fingertips, he lifted her chin. He gently forced her to meet his gaze, and she shivered and a moan caught in her throat at the heat within his dark malachite eyes.

    “I want this woman as wife,” he announced, his voice clear and distinct as his gaze burned her to the core with heated desire.

    She wrapped an arm about her waist, fear and shock rippling through her.

    “No! Iset is to be my wife!” Meren yelled as he lunged forward and grabbed the general’s upper arm.

    Khafra glared at Meren, a predatory light in his eye. “Remove your hand from me, or I will remove it for you…permanently.”

    “Enough.” Pharaoh sliced the air with his scythe.

    Meren released his grip.

    “‘Tis true, Iset is intended to marry our royal architect; however, due to your great victory and fealty, I will grant your request.”

    Meren fell to his knees before his king. “No, Great One, Iset is mine.”
    “Silence!”

    Meren lowered his head.

    Standing over his architect’s bowed figure, Pharaoh continued in a low tone, “Speak wisely or I will have your tongue cut from your head.”

    “My Lord Husband,” the Queen said in a soft voice, breaking through Pharaoh’s anger. “I believe if the Priestess of Isis, Iset has two suitors, perhaps we should let the gods decide who she shall marry.”

    “How so, dear wife?” he asked without breaking his fiery glare at Meren upon the floor before him.

    “Have them fight for her. Only the favored of the gods will win her hand.”

    Egypt, Thebes, 1315 B.C.

    • Mena O Neill

      I found this intriguing Miriam. Great imagery and outside the norm. I read it over a few times to understand who the different characters are and while all make it a very powerful scene I was a bit thrown off by the ‘Great One’ address at the start as I thought that was in address to the Pharaoh himself rather than his Queen. But the re-read sorted that for me and I’d read more. well done.

    • Mena O Neill

      Not at all, Miriam. After reading a few in succession I was probably not giving enough attention with the various characters so re read again. I loved it and a great setting. Very best of luck with a great feedback. x

    • Ancient Egypt is such a fascinating period! There’s lots of drama in this scene, and we can feel the attraction between the hero and heroine. I must confess I love a strong heroine and would have liked more conflict between the two mains. As much as women’s roles were restricted at the time, our modern sensibilities enjoy seeing how women might have pushed against those restrictions. Thanks so much for writing!

  17. Iris Swift

    “If you value your life,” Captain Pascoe had said on their first ever meeting in the library of Trevithick House, “you will stay inside your bedroom with your door bolted at night.”
    He’d raised his eyebrows enquiringly and Polly felt herself shrinking under his fierce gaze.
    “Yes Sir,” she’d mumbled, bobbing a curtsy in reply.
    She’d known better than to ask any questions. Everyone in the village had warned her against taking up the position of Governess for young Morwenna, Captain Pascoe’s ward. But Polly needed the security of a regular wage and a roof over her head. And when she stood in the presence of Captain Joss Pascoe, she couldn’t believe the stories about him were true. He was a tall, powerful man, no doubt physically capable of great misdeeds, but there was an integrity to him as well. And he’d won a great many medals in the War.
    Despite the gossip, Polly knew in her heart that Joss Pascoe was someone she could trust.
    Her first few nights at Trevithick House had passed peacefully enough, with Polly lulled into a deep sleep by the sea crashing onto the cliffs below her window. But on the fourth night she’d been awakened by a series of bangs, and crossing to the window, had seen a procession of lights moving out into the bay.
    On that night, Polly had heeded Captain Pascoe’s warning, and returned to her warm bed. But tonight, after a long day of teaching French verbs to a recalcitrant 9-year-old, Polly’s curiosity couldn’t be stifled. She felt trapped in this vast, echoing house and longed to feel the balmy night breeze on her skin.
    What harm could it do to slip down the stairs and out onto the lawns? She’d keep to the shadows, making sure no one saw her.
    Greatly daring, Polly lit her candle and stepped out onto the landing. The house was in darkness and Morwenna’s door, beside hers, was safely closed.
    Hardly daring to breathe, Polly tiptoed down the grand staircase, paused for a moment to ensure the hallway was empty and then silently let herself out of the side door.
    Instantly she was plunged from the quiet sanctity of the house into a wildness of a Cornish night. The wind whipped up her long red hair and caused her thin nightgown to billow out around her legs. Her candle blew out instantly and Polly was swallowed up into the darkness of night.
    Suddenly she was pulled against a hard, masculine body. One strong arm went around her waist and a hand clamped firmly over her mouth.
    Then a deep, gravelly voice spoke into her ear.
    “I told you to stay in your room.”

    Cornwall, England, 1780.

    • Iris, I really wanted to know what happened next! You’ve pulled me into the action and in a few short lines I’ve learned enough about the two main characters to become invested in what happens to them. The description and dialogue give subtle but vivid clues to the time period. Great job!

  18. Lori Anderson

    “Hurry up Margaret! We’re going to be late and I detest that”, Conrad told his wife who was almost finished combing her hair. ‘Good grief! It’s only a party “, Margaret said wondering why she had ever married him. ‘This is not just a party as you so commonly put it. It’s a very important gala and I will not be rude by arriving late. Do you understand ?’ New Orleans 1776

    • Well, I think we could have used more! I had trouble establishing the setting in this short paragraph. Whenever I hear the expression, “Good grief,” I think of Charlie Brown, so at first I thought maybe it was the fifties or sixties. Sometimes cultural associations can have a stronger impact on us than actual history (although I’m not sure how old the phrase is.) Thanks for participating, Lori!

  19. Sarah Mitchell

    The fragrance of orange blossoms hung in the air in cheerful defiance. Antonio paced, agitating the shadows in the moonlight. He didn’t hear Sofía’s soft footfalls approaching and started when she laid a gentle hand on his shoulder.

    “Antonio?” She whispered. “Speak to me…what is troubling you?” She asked, her hand halting his pacing.

    Antonio said nothing. He sighed deeply and turned to face her. Strands of dark curls had escaped their tight bun and peaked out from beneath the lace mantilla covering her lily white neck. Antonio felt the urge to tuck them back. He imagined her hair free about her naked shoulders.

    “Antonio?” She asked again, grasping his hand and ripping him back to reality.

    “I’m joining the resistance,” he answered her slowly, shifting his gaze to avoid her piercing brown eyes. He felt Sofía stiffen, her already pale face lost its color.

    “Why?” She asked, her voice broke as she swallowed back tears.

    “I will not live in a French Spain. I am a Spaniard. I will stand against Napoleon with my fellow countrymen,” Antonio’s eyes flashed passionately.

    Sofía reached a shaking hand up to touch Antonio’s face. The courtyard was silent save the spring breeze, scattering orange blossoms in its wake. Sofía’s heart pounded in agony. Abandoning all decorum, she flung herself into his arms. Maybe if she held him tight enough she could stop her world from shattering. Sofía melted into him as his strong arms enveloped her. The tears she had tried to stifle began to flow against her will.

    “Sofía…it is an honor if I should die for my country,” Antonio said softly.

    “An honor? Is it an honor to leave me Antonio? Is it honorable to leave me wondering if you live or die?” Sofía cried angrily.

    Antonio kissed her deeply, tasting the salt from her tears. “I will return to you,” he said firmly.

    “What an arrogant promise,” Sofía fumed.

    “I know,” Antonio chuckled. “Let me make it anyway.”

    Sofía leaned her head on his chest in defeat. She focused all of her thoughts on the beat of his heart and the way his chest rose and fell against her cheek. She refused to imagine him any other way.

    “Stay with me beneath the orange trees tonight,” Sofía pleaded, looking up at Antonio in desperation.

    “Tonight belongs to you,” he murmured in her ear, breathing her in like expensive wine. “Tonight is yours.”

    1808, Spain

    • Mena O Neill

      I like this, Sarah. Love Antonio. So principled but witty. He promises to be a much loved hero while Sophia promises to be the brains behind them both. She is wise enough to soak up her last moments with Antonio, not waste them with silly words but to brand the feelings, sounds and smells of him on her heart. Memories she can open up, dwell over and treasure while he is away. Well done.

    • Sarah, I like the emotion in your scene. For this challenge, I feel you could have evoked the setting and time period with more details. Apart from Antonio telling us about the Spanish resistance to Napoleon, we don’t get a strong sense of the time period from the description or dialogue. I appreciate the inclusion of humour; the exchange between Antonio and Sofia regarding his promise was tender and sweetly funny. Well done!

  20. Taffy Marie

    Rachel lay down on the floor of the straw hut. Next to her on one side was Isaac’s mother; on the other side, Isaac himself.
    “You’ll be surprised how comfortable it is in here,” said Mrs. Van Wart, fluffing her blanket. “Every time we hear a report of Redcoats walking around Tarrytown, we sleep out in the hay.”

    There was very little air in the straw hut and Rachel wondered for a minute if they’d all suffocate. She turned her head towards the straw wall and hoped for the best.
    She must have dozed for a minute or two because the next time she woke up, it was to the sound of footsteps
    Rachel gasped and sat up. Isaac sat up behind her and placed his hand over her mouth.
    “Hmm mmmm mmmm,” she protested.
    “Quiet.” He pulled her closer and she suddenly had an image in her mind of him with his hand on her bosom and not her mouth.
    I must be going insane, she thought. I’m engaged to another man.
    “They got a cow,” she heard a voice say. An unfamiliar voice. A Redcoat?
    “Maybe they’re on our side,” another voice said.
    “Not likely. They’re Dutch.”
    The Redcoats were stealing the cow! Bessie! She heard her mooing, heard the bell clanging, heard them break a window of the house.
    Rachel and the Van Warts lay perfectly still as the Redcoats ransacked their small farmhouse. She hadn’t seen the purpose of sleeping in a haystack, but now she understood perfectly.

    “There’s nothing else we can use,” one Redcoat said. “Just a bloody haystack back here.” She saw the hay rustle where he put his hand on the “roof.” Nobody made a sound,
    “Let’s set it on fire, then.”
    Rachel felt bile rise in her throat. So this is how it ends? she thought. Twenty years old, never married, never even did her wifely duty. And she wanted to. She wasn’t proud of it, but her body sometimes told her to do something that their pastor would not approve of. Ben didn’t give in to such urges, of course, but she was a bad, bad girl, at least in her mind.
    Isaac loosened his grip on her, just a bit, enough for her to flip around. If she was going to die, she’d die happy. Turning to face him, she planted a firm kiss on his lips. He was surprised at first, but after a split second he began to kiss her back, a lover’s kiss. A lover’s kiss!

    • Evan Yeong

      I really love this, Taffy! Very impressed with the economy of your prose, as you spend just enough time providing us with a clear picture of the scene. Tension and action are likewise introduced in a way that doesn’t feel at all rushed, given the word count constraints.

      I enjoyed the way you slowly filled in Rachel’s backstory, revealing that she’s engaged to another man just as she fights her sudden desire for Isaac.

      Finally, last lines are very important to me, and I thought you chose yours well. The refrain of “A lover’s kiss” led me to believe that this is something that Rachel has dreamt about, maybe even gossiped about with her friends. In spite of the obvious danger of being burned alive, her joy still shone through in that moment. Really excellent overall!

  21. Jindriska Mendozova

    Anna hadn’t been taking notice of the faces around her. She heard only the fire that was roaring at the stage of the National Theater. That theater opened only two months ago.
    Anna knew that her condition of a girl from a good, burgher family was not the best one to be here. But she wanted help.
    Before she stood an old and delicate man. He handed her things that the firefighters had managed to save from the building.
    “The fire is in the first plant foyer!” someone shouted. “Paintings, sculptures, everything will burn.”
    Anna didn’t think twice. She entered the building and run towards the foyer. Carefully combed hair flowed freely around her face, and an elegant straw hat was lying somewhere in the dust. Over her long white summer dress, now full of smudges, her mother and her nanny would cry.
    “No, young lady, doesn’t enter! It’s dangerous!” someone yowled behind her.
    But she continued running. Whatever the reason for the fire was, Anna was sure she wouldn’t let the flames to ruin the theater where she was going to play one day.
    The smoke thickened. Anna was coughing but went on. The stairs seemed endless. She finally reached the first floor. Some wooden chairs were burning.
    Anna tore her gaze away from the disaster and began to remove from the painting. She looked around to see if anyone had come up behind her. She needed to create a human chain.
    No one was there. Suddenly Anna heard a silent sobbing.
    “Someone’s here?” she shouted. “May I help you?”
    No answer. If someone was here, this someone was in serious danger.
    “Hey!” yelled Anna.
    No answer. Anna knew she should go down. However, she headed towards the nearest box. Abruptly she opened the door and there he was.
    A young man crouching at the railing and sobbing.
    “Get out!” he whispered.
    Anna felt she couldn’t leave him there. He looked so desperate. Dirty, with clothing and hair flamed by fire. Something on him seemed her familiar.
    “Hans?” whispered with awe, filled with joy.
    So many days and nights, she was hoping to see him again. From the day her father threw him out of the house. Ordinary plumber flirting with his daughter.
    “What happened?”
    “Saying that was my colleague and me, who set the theater in the fire. It’s not true. I prefer to—”
    Anna caressed his hand. His face. Their eyes met. And their lips. Then she stood up.
    “Come and help me… Help me with the painting…and then we will clear your name…” her voice forced him to get up.
    Neither of them knew it, but their biggest struggle had just begun in the smoke-filled corridor.

    Prague 1881, Fire of the National Theater

    • Evan Yeong

      You did an excellent job with your descriptions. Mentioning that Anna’s “carefully combed hair flowed freely around her face” tells us 1) that she took the time and effort to look good for the evening and 2) is willing to sacrifice all of that in her efforts to save the painting from the fire.

      Although I really liked the premise of your scene, I did feel like it faltered due to issues with grammar and awkward word choices.

      That said, and as mentioned, the ideas behind the scene itself, as well as the general execution, really work. Anna’s motivations are crystal clear, and you did an great job fleshing her out as a character and introducing readers to Hans. My primary suggestion would be to run even a standard spell check in Word, if available, as that would catch a number of the grammar issues littered throughout.

    • Jindriska Mendozova

      Thank you so much for your lovely comment. I found this theme doing research on absolutely different topics. I have a synopsis written now and I would like to continue writing. As I am not a native speaker I know it will be a long and difficult journey and I really appreciate your comments about how my writing feels ”grammatically” now. Sincerely, Jindriska to

  22. Sarah Richards

    Helio was silhouetted against Mediterranean sun. His face was in shadow,, yet she ran to him like a blind person towards the light—all the light she could not see—running her hands over him like a relief map, for all other senses eclipsed her sight. She dug the nails that were like little half moons into his back, strong as marble, warm as amber. His chest hair was soft and sparse,, and his heart beat like a bongo drum.
    As her eyes adjusted, she saw that Roman nose that was as perfectly-formed as the Pythagorean theorem, those full lips that seared her mouth, swallowing up her doubts.
    “I am the ray to your beam, Selene,” Helio said. “When you are near, my blood becomes like the tide, rushing towards you.”
    “I cannot hold a candle to you, Helio. You outshine them all, but I have a dark side—one that you must never see.” The scars of betrayal from Odysseus had left its mark. She had allowed Helio to see the breasts that were perfectly symmetrical—full moons he called them—to draw nourishment from them, but he had never seen the shame she concealed. He worshipped her body like a temple, and though he had not built this particular temple, he kept it warm inside.
    “I love every part of you,” Helio said, though Selene couldn’t imagine such a fine-looking man still loving her if he saw the side of her she never showed anyone.
    In the twilight studded with stars, she turned her back to him, and he pulled her close, gritting her teeth as he kissed her neck.
    It was time to let him see.
    Her garment fell around her ankles like a cloud, and she let the tears come quietly as he ran his finger down the scar. His sinewy hands cupped her soft globes as he kissed her neck. “My hands are filled with joy and my eyes are filled with beauty. This mark is not on you, Selene, it is on them.” He traced the scar down her back. “Who did this to you?”
    Selene relaxed. “He was my husband, and he is dead. He did not wish to make me ugly where the citizens could see, and he always made love to me where I had to face him—for he could not face what he had done.”
    “Oh, my love.” As he entered her, his chest to her back, she knew, even though she couldn’t see his face, that he loved the woman her husband had turned her into—a challenge, a battle to be won, and a wonderland to be conquered.

    Ancient Rome, 315 B.C.

    • Evan Yeong

      Loved the choice of setting! Ancient Rome is a fantastic place to set a romance in, and while most think of gladiators they don’t often consider much else beyond them.

      That said, we then run into the problem of Helio, Selene, and Odysseus all being Greek names, with the latter in particular being quite recognizably Greek due to the titular epic poem. With Historical Romance especially readers who are well-versed in the genre will be quick to find these inconsistencies.

      While I loved many of your descriptions, I do think you run the risk of falling into using purple prose. Selene running her hands over Helio’s body like it’s a relief map is fantastic, but it gets lost in allusions to half moons, marble, amber, and a bongo drum. Sometimes less is more, and paring back in this regard would have allowed you more words to dedicate to the action of the scene itself.

      As far as the actual interaction between Helio and Selene, I liked it a lot. The way he was able to look past any physical flaws she might have had, and her even valuing how her husband changed her, really worked for me. It’s a compelling story idea, and you chose a great scene to help spotlight that.

  23. Mena O Neill

    Warm westerly winds fed the already red embers. Sparks rose like depraved fireflies high into the late afternoon air, thick and blackening from the smoke. A terrific roar, like nothing he had ever heard before, rent the air and flames burst all around him until Freshwater Road became a sea of fire roaring its way towards Harvey road and down Longs Hill. An all merciful sound surrounded him. Throngs of screaming women and wailing children filled the streets and he fought to make his way beyond them. His one thought only for Maggie. Please God! Maggie. Let her have got out!
    “Tom!”
    Relief flooded through him as she all but fell into his arms. Tears ran in black smears down her face, but she seemed otherwise unharmed.
    “Tom. We must help. We must get people to safety.”
    He barely heard her; her voice choking from the acrid smoke. All around them the sounds grew louder. Timbers crashing and giving way. Horrified screams of confusion and terror as people didn’t know where to run.
    She was right of course but his first concern was for her. He had to get her to safety. Dear God, had it only been a short few hours ago that she lay beside him in the half-light of morning, his fingers caressing the smoothness of her skin as she told him she was pregnant with their first child? Fear ceased his heart so suddenly he couldn’t breathe. Nothing could harm this woman. He would die making sure of it.
    He had to think of the best way for them to get away from the danger. They had to cut across the flow of people and take a different direction westward away from the crowd. It would be their only chance to outrun the rapidly spreading fire. Once he got Maggie to safety he could double back and help in whichever way he could. Until then he would be of no use to anyone, not until Maggie and his unborn child were safely away. He turned quickly to grab her arm and guide her through the crowd but Maggie was gone.

    St Johns Newfoundland. 8th July 1892. The day of the Great Fire.

    • Evan Yeong

      Always great to read about a little snippet of my own country’s history! It’s also quite the coincidence that I assigned myself both your story and Jindriska’s, as they both feature characters who run towards a fire and save a loved one.

      As action goes this was quite straightforward, and I would have liked to have seen more revealed about Maggie and Tom’s relationship. We know that he wants to protect her and that she’s pregnant, but not much else.

      That said, it was a great bit of characterization having Maggie be more concerned about others than herself. It’s an uncommon character trait, and made me want to find out more about where it might have stemmed from. What would compel a pregnant woman to run off to help others as the flames draw ever closer?

  24. Emmeline

    Today, Yiskah was attempting a new pattern, one inspired by the dark brown eyes of Elisheva. Elisheva had arrived like a story – wrapped in a carpet in her sister’s dowry cart, running from her father’s threat to marry her off.
    “I would rather glean the fields alone for the rest of my life than be married!” she’d announced when discovered.
    Elisheva now made her home in Odem’s compound, where Yiskah lived as well. No one expected Yiskah to marry; they thought her twisted lip was a sign of bad fortune. Yiskah thought it was a blessing, because God had made her different. She had long ago decided that her face was not a mistake, but evidence that God had been trying something new when he created her. Wasn’t that the way with her weaving? The snarls, the mistakes in the pattern, only emerged when she was attempting a new pattern.
    Yiskah stood back from her loom. She’d made a mistake. The unravelling would take her all afternoon. She looked through the open door into the courtyard, where rain turned the packed earth into mud.
    Unhurried, Elisheva walked into the weaving room. “What a beautiful day!” she said, smiling. Water dripped through Elisheva’s curls. The rain had soaked her kethoneh and it clung to her shoulders and breasts.
    Yiskah blushed. Whenever Elisheva was around, her whole body blushed.
    “Do you need something dry?” Yiskah asked. She looked around the weaving room for something suitable – everywhere but at Elisheva.
    “If you don’t mind,” Elisheva replied.
    Yiskah found a set of robes and turned away to give her privacy. She drummed her fingers along the tops of her thighs, trying not to imagine Elisheva naked, just a few feet behind her.
    “You can turn around now,” Elisheva said.
    Yiskah turned and Elisheva smiled. It was a crooked, mischievous grin; Yiskah found herself grinning back.
    “Would you believe,” Elishiva said, “that I never learned to weave?”
    “Never?” Yiskah couldn’t imagine not having flax between her fingers, warp and weft, a place to pour her creativity.
    “I was wondering if you would teach me?” Elisheva’s wet hair had already begun to soak the shoulders of the white robes. She reached out to touch the pattern Yiskah had been working on and her voice grew quiet. “It’s so beautiful. Like you could wrap yourself up in…I don’t know how to say it. Like a dream, like you could wrap yourself in the weaver’s dream.”
    Yiskah had forgotten to breathe while Elisheva spoke, and she drew in a ragged gasp.
    Elisheva looked from the weaving to Yiskah and Yiskah knew, in a spark that echoed in her very bones, that Elisheva was different too.

    Bethlehem, ~1200BCE

    • Of all the incredible snippets to read, this one B L E W me out of the water. The drama, the tension, THE SETTING (oh my gosh BETHLEHEM? I literally never even considered), the slow seduction, the metaphor, the lesbianism. I am in absolute love with this.

    • Evan Yeong

      Let me just say, Emmeline, that there’s a good reason so many people have commented on your submission and sung its praises.

      One hallmark of a good historical is that the setting is created in the minute details. Reading that the rain has soaked through Elisheva’s kethoneh underscores that this is a time and culture that is different from our own, but given the context (that it’s a piece of clothing) readers shouldn’t feel the need to look it up. This obviously carries on to your descriptions of weaving, made all the more effective by the way they reflect Yiska’s character.

      Lastly, though obviously hugely notable, is the chemistry you were able to develop between both heroines in such a short span of time. Their connection is electric, and truly does make me want to keep reading to see what’s next-

  25. The Aethiopian Sea is quiet tonight, which is unusual for this time of year, where it roars and claims ships like they are ants to a horse. It is also very helpful, because Brunhilde’s crew is deep in their cups, celebrating their most recent battle against some merchant ships. She’s perched on a chair in only her stays and trousers, decorum be damned, nursing a mug of sweetened rum as a band begins to play. The first mate, a Caribbean man, is testing out a bedraggled fiddle, their resident Scotsman blasting away all semblance of calm on some bagpipes, and their powder monkey, a short Iapamese woman with one eye, joining in on a dulcian. The rest of the crew, the fighters, the fixers, the chefs and the carpenters and the brutes and the spies, are all dancing a jig like their life depends on it.
    Except for their resident stowaway.
    Leonora, the runaway bride, who had snuck on in her wedding gown and begged to be kept aboard, tucked beside a barrel, hand-me-downs too loose, eyes wide at the company she now keeps. Brunhilde places down her cup – she has never been one to hesitate. The crew part like a sea when she steps, not directly through the dance, but enough to the side that Leonora knows where she’s going.
    Leonora, bless her, stands, almost dropping her own mug. “Captain.” She says, voice shaking a little bit.
    “Mug down.” Brunhilde holds out her hand. “We have few rules on this ship. One of them is that everybody dances. You’re with me.”
    “Oh. I- ah, I’ve never danced with a woman before.” Lenora says, attempting to hide her reddening face by tucking a strand of thick curls behind her ear.
    Brunhilde grins. “Trust me. You’ll never go back.” Leonora, not convinced, takes her hand anyway.
    The crew clears the floor, dragging a few tipsy pirates off the deck and to the side. The fiddle slows into something that could be called a waltz if they were in a ballroom and not on a ship. Brunhilde’s hands slide easily into position, one clasping Leonora’s tightly and the other firmly on her waist, feeling her stays through the blouse. Leonora’s free hand rests gingerly on Brunhilde’s scar-streaked shoulder, not yet meeting her eyes.
    “Follow my lead.” Brunhilde steps back, and Leonora follows on instinct, their steps barely making any noise over the sound of the dulcimer and fiddle as they spin, Brunhilde’s hand firmly on the slight curve of Leonora’s waist, hair tangling in Leonora’s rings, chests heaving, pulling each other closer and closer and all of a sudden so close they could kiss at this distance. But they couldn’t. But they shouldn’t.

    What is now known as the Atlantic Ocean, early 1700’s

    • Evan Yeong

      I’m a huge fan of pirates, so this submission had instant buy-in from me. A bride that’s both runaway and stowaway is also a fantastic hook, as is a female pirate captain.

      Having her name be Brunhilde, however, brought me out of the setting a bit. It’s a name that’s too firmly tied into the Viking genre to me.

      Really enjoyed the rule that all crew members have to dance, and Brunhilde taking the lead with Leonora, their romance is taking its first steps forward. I also really appreciated how diverse you made the rest of the crew.

  26. Sasha Greene

    Vela placed her offering at the foot of the bronze statue and looked up at the deity towering above her. Outside the July sun beat down with an evil glare, but inside the temple all was cool and quiet.

    Please take care of my son. He’s so small.

    Would he grow in the afterlife? She tried to picture him at five or ten, running around happily with other children. But when her thoughts shifted to what he might have been like as a man it was too much for her and she broke down and wept.

    A small shuffling sound just behind her was a reminder that others waited to lay their gifts. She turned to apologise, but the man spoke first.

    ‘I am sorry for disturbing you. Grief should not be hurried.’

    His face looked as if he had suffered himself. She glanced down instinctively, ashamed of how puffy her eyes must seem, and was drawn to his hands, which were as worn as her own. A tradesperson like herself, almost certainly.

    She moved off to the side, but something kept her watching while the man laid his offering and bowed his greying head. When he looked around and saw she was still there he came towards her. ‘I am sorry for your loss. Was it your husband?’

    She shook her head. ‘My son. Only six months old. A fever took him and all my skills were not enough to save him.’

    She had said these words to so many people in the last two days, but the telling still ripped through her heart every time.

    ‘All your skills?’ He gave her an enquiring look.

    ‘I am an apothecary.’ Whether she would ever have the confidence in her work again remained to be seen, but life went on, somehow. She gestured to the statue. ‘And yours?’

    ‘My daughter. She was three.’ His voice wavered, and he took a deep breath. ‘Her sister keeps asking me when Tita is coming back. She’s only five. She doesn’t understand.’

    Vela’s first instinct was to reach out and comfort him, but years of having to fend off strange men while her husband was away in battle stopped her hand.

    ‘I must go. I will send some prayers for your little girl.’ She swung around to leave, then something made her turn back. ‘My shop is on the second marketplace. If you are ever in need, come to me and I will do my best to help.’

    He nodded, looking slightly suprised. ‘My thanks.’

    Her soft boots made no sound on the stone floor as she hurried away.

    – Fiesole, Etrusca, 535 BC

    • Evan Yeong

      This obviously takes place quite early in the relationship between these two strangers, but it sets a solid foundation with their shared grief.

      I liked the detail of her noticing how his hands are like her own, and that she has to fight the impulse to comfort him in public. This may be a bit of a nitpick, but I think I want to see just one more hint at what might eventually form between them. Something as simple as her keeping her eyes straight ahead when she hurries off, refusing to glance back at him.

  27. Himlico wiped his blade on the wet grass to clean it. Like the wet leaves on the wet trees, the wet mud weighed down his boots, making a quick escape out of this water-logged terrain impossible.

    Ictis, known to his ancestors as the land of the tin gatherers, was a land forsaken by the sun. Only a barbarian race could exist on a few paltry wet stalks of corn.

    He longed for the cerulean skies of home, but the gods had turned their backs on Phoenicia, and all that remained of the civilisation that gave his heart reason to beat was one city, Carthage.

    The sooner he finalised this trade agreement, the sooner he could lift anchor and sail for home, away from this land where the sky constantly leaked water. He had forgotten how sunshine felt on his face.

    ‘Welcome, stranger,’ He was not expecting a woman’s voice. Especially not one speaking his language. Most barbarian hordes were controlled by powerful men but as long as the leader controlled their people, that was all he needed.

    Himlico desired an alliance, but he would take the tin by force if necessary, to create an unassailable power base from which to control the lucrative world-wide demand for tin. The world was desperate for tin, and with it he would re-build his homeland.

    ‘My lady,’ he did not sheathe his blade as the owner of the voice entered the circle of trees whose branches provided some meagre shelter. Ambush was rife among barbarians. ‘You must make many sacrifices to the rain god in Ictis,’

    ‘The rain goddess has been bountiful of late,’ He heard the smile in her voice as she responded to his ironic words, drawing him in. As she pushed back the hood that covered her head, Himlico blinked at the alluring brightness of her hair: long as a waterfall and shiny as a new-honed blade fresh out of the fire.  

    It was the only bright thing he had seen since he had set foot on this damp land. But he had been ensnared in this way before. His hand tightened on his blade, and the lady’s gaze followed it.

    ‘I have no fear of your blade. It is my duty to give my life for my people,’

    Once before he had experienced the earth move beneath his feet in a foreign land. He remembered the terror of the ground opening up and swallowing him. But as he looked into her eyes, as blue as the sky above Carthage, he realised there were other ways of falling far more dangerous. 

    ‘I will not take your life as long as you are useful to me,’

    Cornwall, England, the legendary land of ‘Ictis’ in the first century BC

    • Evan Yeong

      The heroine’s soft correction that it’s a goddess who is responsible for the rain did an excellent job of setting the tone of their relationship going forward.

      While I can see what you may have been going for with your repetition of “wet” in the first paragraph, its appearance in the second ends up weakening that. I also thought the paragraph on tin felt a touch too exposition-heavy.

      When she speaks I would have liked more context, as far as where her voice comes from and when he first sees her. We read that she pushes back her hood, but don’t know what she’s wearing until that moment.

      Himlico realizing that there were other ways of falling really worked for me. That entire paragraph speaks volumes about his character.

  28. If there had been a school for charlatans, the very first lesson would be to lie and lie well. Summer Penton would sit at the top of her class and in a league of her own. Unfortunately for her, there was no such school and not much at all of her own. Even her name had been given to her by a stranger, borrowed from her one flawless characteristic and then finished with the name of the street where she had been dumped as a child.
    She remembered very little about her life before Pein Chen had come upon her trying to steal food from a fellow who had already pilfered far more than a loaf of stale bread that morning. Occasionally in her darkest nightmares she snatched glimpses of a toothless man, heard a baby’s cries and a woman’s screams, smelled the salt of the ocean as though she had been born by the water’s edge. Pein Chen had helped her with those awful dreams that had her waking cold and wet with sweat and dread, her toes already twitching, her feet cycling as if to run again.
    But now it was more than twelve years later and Summer no longer had the dreams. She no longer had to run from anything or anyone. She was content, happy even. Or so she’d thought.
    She eyed the man who identified himself as a Duke’s Coachman over the glass counter of Chen’s Apothecary and Chinese Traditions and curled her lip. “You tell your duke if he has an ache, he can make an appointment for an examination. Just like everyone else,” she felt inclined to add.
    The man wrung his hands and shifted from foot to foot, his eyes swinging nervously from one corner of the small shop to the other as though spectres might suddenly appear from the striped wallpaper to scoop out his small brain with an even smaller teaspoon.
    Pein Chen chose that moment to materialise through a curtain that led from the back room. “Can I be of some assistance?” she asked the young man, her Chinese accent heavy, her tone soft enough. For now.
    Relief didn’t even register as the man grew ever more agitated. “The Duke of St Albans requests the services of a healer immediately.”
    Pein smiled and moved her gaze from the coachman to Summer. She almost flinched under her mistress’s scrutiny but held firm and said, “I’ve just finished explaining that we do not make house calls. If the Duke wishes to be seen, he must present himself the same as any other man.”
    Regency England 1813

    • Evan Yeong

      Unfortunately the Regency era was the first I excluded when it came to submissions. Regretfully that means this submission isn’t open to editorial feedback, so sorry about that.

  29. Judith Paolercio

    The heat is intense, even as the sun is hidden behind the rising pyramid. Habibah is up early every day with the other young girls, working beside the elder women as they prepare food for the thousands of slaves, toiling tirelessly for their Pharaoh. Her young fingers are not as confident as her mother’s and would sometimes fumble a water bowl or dish, trying to keep up with the others.
    At the end of each day, men trudge over the dry, cracked sand toward the encampment. The elders begin to scurry, barking orders at the young girls to help with water jugs, food and dishes. Habibah is tired, but looks for Jabari among the boys and elders as they fill the encampment for the evening.
    “Quick, child,” her mother, Mosi, says. “Take this jug and don’t spill a drop.”
    Habibah’s fingers cling to the jug as she maneuvers through the men and women until she sees Jabari and his father, Amsu, sitting on a large stone. Offering them the jug, she waits as the water quenches their thirst and washes away the dirt and sand from their mouths.
    Her green eyes meet Jabari’s as he hands her the empty jug. “Thank you, Habibah,” he says.
    She smiles. “I’ll be back with your food.”
    She waits while an elder, grouchy from too-little sleep, fills two plates with fish and grains. “Careful, Habibah,” she snaps. “We can’t afford to have you dropping more of our food for the dogs to eat. Another spill and I’ll have your mother deal with you.”
    With a clay plate in each hand, she hurries back, and squinches as her unsandaled feet feel the stones and pebbles scattered on the dirt floor of the encampment.
    “Eat well,” she says to Amsu, handing him the plate.
    Jabari notices the dirt on her slender fingers and says, as he takes the plate from her, “Some day, I will take you away from all this.”
    The years pass and Pharoah’s tomb rises. Habibah feels as if it will swallow up the sky. She looks for Jabari every night, and her heart leaps as he sees him among the men making their way back from the pyramid. Her eyes no longer see a young boy. His broad shoulders and tanned skin awaken desires in her that were sleeping her years of adolescence.
    Placing a clay plate in the frail hands of Amsu, she says, “Eat well.”
    Jabari’s fingers touch hers as she hands him his plate. “I love you, Habibah.”
    “Come to me tonight,” she whispers, and scurries back among the women.
    In the quiet hours of that evening, their love lingers until the rising sun summons them from their newfound love.

    Ancient Egypt: 2850 BC

    • Evan Yeong

      You do a great job of bringing readers into the scene, and it’s easy to imagine the beating sun and the sand and dust all around.

      I liked Jabari’s promise that he’ll take Habibah away from her hard life, but felt like the transition into the timeskip was too abrupt. There’s so much that’s unseen between the two of them as children and as young adults. The two even spend a night together, but it’s contained in a single sentence. With the word count constraints I would have preferred a focus on one scene, instead of stretching it to two and having the latter suffer a bit.

      All in all this has a strong hook and sense of setting. The world feels lived in, the story just needs to be able to take its time in that world.

  30. Fiona Marsden

    Light flared off the water as the mid-morning sun shone directly in their faces. She dipped her head so the brim of her bonnet shaded her face. Emily found herself quite at a loss as to which direction they would end, the river winding almost back upon itself. A murmur of sound came from some of the other passengers and she followed the direction of their pointing fingers. They had rounded the bend and their destination was at hand. Another ship, sails furled, marked the wharves and beyond, a fine building with a roof that gleamed copper bright in the sunlight.
    True, it was not a great city like London, or even Manchester, but Mr. Audley’s comments had not prepared her for the sight of a large number of buildings of stone and brick with quite elegant proportions. Some were even three or four stories high. In the distance the spire of a large church demonstrated the spiritual side of life was a matter of importance for the colonists.
    The sailors scurried to prepare to make port, bare feet pattering on the deck. The couple standing beside her moved closer, pushing Emily against Mr. Audley. She looked up at him, shocked at him putting his arm around her waist to steady her. He smiled down at her with a laugh in his brown eyes. “You are a good sailor, Miss Padgett. You have not lost your footing yet.”
    Looking away from his disturbing mockery, trying to edge from his hold unobtrusively, she scanned the rapidly nearing docks. A man stood solitary at one end, booted feet spread as if he too were on a ship, arms akimbo, resting on narrow hips over bulging thighs. *Under the spreading Chestnut tree, the village blacksmith stands*. She smiled at the sudden recollection of a poem learned in the school room. A solid man in a dark, closely fitting suit that showed unfashionably bulky shoulders. Instead of the felt topper she expected, he wore a broad brimmed straw hat trimmed with a plain dark band, shadowing his face. All she could see below the brim was a dominating nose and the bushiest beard she had ever come across. Thick and black with two streaks of grey, the glossy growth hid his collar and the top buttons of his jacket.
    Even as she stared, he looked up, startling grey eyes meeting hers. They crinkled, as if he smiled but when his gaze drifted to the man beside her, they cooled, dark brows meeting in a scowl. Wrenching herself away from Mr. Audley’s hold she looked once again at the stranger but his brim dropped to hide his expression.

    Brisbane, Australia. 1890

    • Hannah Rossiter

      Hi Fiona!
      Thank you so much for participating in our writer’s challenge.
      It’s always fantastic, as a reader and editor, to find yourself in an unfamiliar location or time period. The joy of reading is that it allows you to gain a new perspective and step, for a few hours, into the shoes of someone else. You did a great job, Fiona, of transporting us to nineteenth century Australia.
      Whilst the tension, between Emily and Mr Audley, was clear, I would like to have felt more of a romantic connection between the pair.
      Hannah

  31. Fiona Marsden

    “Lucy, you are hit. Where?”
    “Thigh…hip…right…” Lucien’s mouth felt choked with feathers, his head spinning. But David had found the spot, dragging off his neckcloth to press against the wound.
    “A flesh wound only.” David’s relief was palpable.
    “Pity, I was aiming for between his legs.” Mayberry of course, looming over but then kneeling behind. The feel of strong hands supporting his head, lifting him, oddly comforting.
    Lucien pulled himself together, moistening his lips with a swipe of his tongue. “A close shave. There was nothing to it, Tom.”
    “Fool boy. I knew that.” Mayberry chuckled, “Else the bullet would have found a more vital spot.”
    “My heart?”
    “Do you have one, lad?”
    “I don’t think so. I did once. Left it at Culloden, I’ll wager.”
    “Hush, Lucy.” David. Good Whig that he is. Loyal to Hanover. Protective all the same. “Where is the damned apothecary?”
    Mayberry spoke, a tinge of anger colouring his voice. “The coward ran off. Afraid of the law once someone was injured. You’ll have to take Lucy to Sutterfield.”
    Lucien closed his eyes. It was easier. Let them sort it out, he and David.
    “Why Sutterfield, Tom? Why not Maybury Place?”
    “March Addington’s property. He’s a scholar, a historian, but Mistress Prue is there. She will know what to do for Lucien. The nearest surgeon is at Horsham, or perhaps Cuckfield. But the roads are poor. He can’t travel far and Sutterfield is less than a mile away beyond the woods.”
    They moved him and pain exploded, fire in his veins, burning. He knew he must have cried out for David hushed him, soothing his brow with tender fingers. There was nothing after that, until they lifted him from the chaise. David at his head and the two servants supporting his legs. The world spun, settling on a plain, red brick building, the facetted glazing catching the morning sun with a thousand shimmering diamonds. It reminded him of home.
    He tasted blood, the coppery tang wetting his chin and sticky against his teeth, still embedded in the soft flesh of his lower lip.
    “Take him upstairs. The front bedchamber will be most suitable.”
    A female voice. Low and husky and strangely beautiful. Forcing his lids to open, Lucien could see a pair of green eyes under a broad white brow, broken by a widow’s peak of black hair. Her chin was too pointed and her nose over long. Youthful, but not a pretty face by any means, marred as it was with a sprinkling of pox marks above the winged eyebrows and on one cheek. In her untied cap and frayed robe, she must be a maidservant. At this hour the master and mistress of the house should likely be abed.
    England 1751

    • Evan Yeong

      Hi Fiona! In retrospect, I suppose I never stipulated anywhere that each contestant should only submit one scene. That said, in the interest of fairness we will only be providing your first submission with editorial feedback.

  32. Alonso froze, stalling movement to ensure his chainmail and heavy armour made no sound. His hand on the hilt of his sword, shield high, he waited. Yes, he hadn’t imagined it: a muted tinkle. It was much too quiet to signal the approach of one of his compatriots. The heavy iron sabatons he and his fellow Castilian soldiers wore on their feet were not built for stealth.

    Instead, it was a gentle metallic chime, reminiscent of music and dancing, billowing fine silk and bittersweet orange. It tickled his ear from across the ornate courtyard, coming from one of the anterooms. A soldier of King Boabdil lying in wait to exact revenge on the victorious conquerors of Granada?

    With the instincts of battle, Alonso drew his sword and took the ten paces across the courtyard with swift steps. He darted between the carved pillars and through the cusped arch of the doorway, shield raised. Inside the room, sound alerted him to the location of the enemy. He whipped aside an embroidered silk curtain and pointed his sword.

    “Get up and show yourself.”

    His eyes adjusted to the dim light in the room that was only lit through carved window screens, casting intricate shadows on the floor by the feet of the mysterious robed figure. Alonso’s eyes caught on the elegant, exposed feet. A woman…

    Thin silver coins adorned delicate ankles. A silver toe ring drew his attention to her slim feet. His sword wavered as the desire to fall to his knees and bathe her soft skin with olive oil and kisses flooded his body.

    He swallowed and forced his gaze back up. Enormous black eyes met his and cleaved his chest as effectively as the blade of a Moorish nimcha. She wore a cloth and headdress, but he couldn’t have said what colour it was, because he was captured by her face: arresting, dark brows, fine-cut cheekbones and pink lips. But mostly it was her eyes—fierce and sharp and huge with fear.

    A Nasrid woman… One of King Boabdil’s concubines? Why hadn’t she left with the rest of his court? She would likely be captured as a spy. He clenched his jaw to realise that was his duty.

    “Who are you?” he asked, switching to his poor and stilted Arabic. His sword wavered.

    “Please,” she replied, her voice rough. “We are at your mercy.”

    We? She drew back her robes slowly to reveal a small child with thick dark hair and a richly embroidered tunic.

    “My name is Soraya and this is my son, Ismail… brother to the king.”

    Granada, Spain, 1492

    • Hannah Rossiter

      Hi Leonie!
      Thank you so much for participating in our writing challenge.
      I really liked, Leonie, the intensity and drama you brought to this submission. You had me, from the first sentence, intrigued. And, more importantly, you had me, by the final line, itching to read more! I was, in particular, eager to learn more about Soraya. She managed, in just a few words, to leave me with so many questions. Who is Soraya? Why is she standing in front of Alonso? What’s her relationship with the royal family? This has the potential to be the start of a compelling Historical Romance.
      Hannah

    • Leonie, This is my fav of all the entries. The description is done well without interrupting the story. You did a wonderful job of drawing the reader into the action right from the start. Lots of unanswered questions and so many possibilities to go from here. I love it! Good luck with this one. 🙂

  33. Thoughts raced as I tried to take deeper breaths to steady myself.
    “Mae, you have to unders—,” I angrily deflected the hand George was reaching out towards my shoulder. Seemingly annoyed by my not allowing him to touch me, he ran his hand through his slicked coal black hair.
    “Understand?! Everything you and your wife wanted to happen, has happened but now you are backing out and I am the one left to deal with the outcome.” This was not of truth and I was aware, but I am trying to be harsh towards him. Something that is not within my nature. I cannot clear my head and body of the panic it feels.
    “Mae! You know that simply is untrue.” His dark blue eyes flickered toward the bookcase before coming back to meet my plain hazel. “Rachel is deeply ill. We cannot pass the pregnancy off as her own and have you two disappear to a country side for delivery. The plan has changed. Rachel is barely of breath, how would anyone believe she is with child? It simply is not possible.”
    “I am not a baphoon, George. I know this.” My chin begins to tremble from the fear lashing words of hate and terror within my mind.
    Fraud. Charlatan. Adulterer. Whore. You shame your family. You knew his words were farce.
    “I’ve fallen in love with you, Mae, and I do desire to have a child, our child.” Everything echoing in my head and I felt them. The tears. They are building.
    “We should not have continued the affair after Rachel fell ill. It was ill advised. I know of someone that we can have alter the,” Unwilling to finish his words, he waved a hand toward my stomach. Rage overtook me.
    “You are a coward, George!” His eyes widen a fraction of a moment as his hands paused midway down his suspenders. “What I ever saw in you, I will never understand.” I turned to storm off but he captures my wrist in his hand and spins me back to face him. With swift action, I swing my free hand up and meet the side of his face with a loud thwack. He releases my wrist from the surprise allowing my escape, I quickly moved throughout the estate while my chest aches and hot tears trail down my cheeks.
    Back in my servant quarters I pull the pre-packed suitcase from under my cot and added some final items. It was to be cold outside but I knew where I was going. A shaw, overcoat and hand covers would assist. This was it. I was leaving everything, forever, but I would not look back.

    England, 1903

    • Hannah Rossiter

      Hi Lara!
      Thank you so much for participating in our writing challenge.
      You start this submission, Lara, with a real bang! I was immediately caught up in Mae and George’s heated argument. It’s important, however, that, even if your hero and heroine are not, always, likeable, we are able to empathise with them. We are, currently, getting quite a negative view of George and I would like to have seen, in this extract, a touch more romance.
      Hannah

  34. Rachael Johnson

    “What are your plans after exams, if I may ask? Will you move forward with surgical studies?”
    Patrick shrugged. “In exchange for my tuition and board, I must fulfill a three-year work commitment to my patron. Mostly work in the state asylums, workhouses, and prisons. The work no doctors wish to perform.”
    “A noble choice. Every person deserves adequate medical care no matter what their station in life.”
    “I suppose. What about you, Annie? What are your plans?”
    She was fascinated with the way he spoke, especially the way her name sounded in his native voice.
    “My original plan was to return to Pittsburgh. I have a keen interest in preserving the lives of women giving birth.”
    “You say your original plan, have you changed your mind?”
    She opened her travel bag and rummaged for the paper she tucked inside earlier and passed it to Patrick. His eyes scanned it and his eyebrows lifted. “Philadelphia School of Law?”
    “The school holds one seat per term for a woman…not officially of course.”
    He visibly exhaled.
    “You don’t feel that women should pursue higher education? We are at the start of the twentieth century. Change is all around us.”
    “My personal feelings aside, Annie, this is…unprecedented. A woman with degrees in both medicine and in law? With your moxie, you could become the state’s first woman coroner.”
    A wry smile crossed her lips. “Do you say that in jest?”
    “Not at all.”
    His hint of a smile exposed his white lie. It made her even more determined to become successful.
    “I disappointed my papa when I chose medicine over law,” she averted her eyes. “If he dies, I will never forgive myself.”
    Patrick leaned forward and focused his blue eyes on her brown. “Tell me, Annie, with all your admirers, the boys who will gain their wealth from their fathers and not their brain, but admired for their status, why did you choose me to escort you home when every one of them hoped to gain your favor?”
    She examined her fingernails, taking an achingly long time to answer the question that likely had plagued his mind for hours. “Because, Patrick, you are the most intelligent man in our class.”
    A brilliant smile crossed his lips and his blue eyes took on a gleam of pride. “That is true, Annie Vaughn, but I say this with my words and my heart, and I will deny it to my death if it escapes this train car. You would never be happy if you didn’t follow your heart and pursue what you love, which is medicine. If you choose law school, I have no doubt you will find success. I may be the most intelligent in our class…except for you.”
    Philadelphia, Pennsylvania USA -1902

    • Hannah Rossiter

      Hi Rachael!
      Thank you so much for participating in our writing challenge.
      Your first sentence, Rachael, is an opportunity to grab the reader’s attention! Whilst you do a wonderful job of transporting us to 20th century Philadelphia – your submission felt very well researched – it did take a paragraph or two to settle into the story. I do, however, really like Annie’s determination to pursue a higher education – it’s a right every woman should have! – and I can imagine her being, as the story continues, a character with real gumption!
      Hannah

  35. James Montgomery

    In the fantasy I was always picking wildflowers, never realizing how far I’d traveled from the main house. But it was as if I had been guided by the flowers themselves, as if they’d shed their petals onto some predestined path that would always take me to a row of slave shacks at the back of our extensive plantation.

    Then I’d become lost in an unfamiliar forest – his forest of unimaginable danger – where he’d been waiting for me for hours, so he could pull me into his crumbling little slave shack and render me utterly helpless against his powerful farm strength. I’d be scared, yes, but I’d never fight him. I wanted to, of course – if only as a show of terror and disgust – even if I wasn’t really terrified and certainly not disgusted. I had been waiting for this moment too, for months, for Mr. L.T. to force me against my will, thereby allowing me to retain my innocence.

    Once inside his cabin, after he’d dragged me up a short flight of wooden steps, I’d finally get to my feet and look down at myself, at the ripped lace and the scuffed heels of my nineteenth century boots, and think only of Mama and how she was going to react. I’d have to create a story to explain it, yes, a story with lots of thorns and perhaps an accidental slip on a gravel embankment.

    Every inch of Mr. L.T.’s cabin was cypress, though every board knotty and undesirable, his entire house built with the warped lumber some sawmill had rejected. The inside was always hot and small, and a table shoved against the wall still had its original coat of buttermilk paint. There were candles too, their fragrance still lingering in the room, even after they’d been snuffed out with a single, quick breath.

    And it was here where he always took my virginity, and every time I’d pretend to be horrified. I’d scream, though mostly out of pleasure, and let my back arch up against a thin, hay-stuffed mattress.

    After that, the fantasy would end, usually with me running back to the house, pulling all that torn lace back into place and rehearsing in my mind the story I’d tell Mama – the story of the beautiful roses and their cruel thorns – and every time she’d believe me.

    I have never shared these fantasies with anyone because it would be impossible for them to fully understand the fake terror in my heart and how stimulating it can be, or to literally smell that hay-stuffed mattress, or hear the heavy wrought-iron legs of a noisy cot digging ruts into the floor while his powerful hips settled into a comfortable, instinctual rhythm.

    Lower Mississippi Territory, 1815

    • Evan Yeong

      Hi James! While I was doing some last-minute word count checks I noticed that you were a bit over the line. I’m so sorry about this, but it would be unfair of me to disqualify others for not sticking to my era requirements and letting this one slide. Hope you understand and that you’ll join us for our next challenge!

    • James Montgomery

      Let me guess. Is it the addition of the “Lower Mississippi Territory, 1815”? That would probably put it a little bit over. Is that it? But it doesn’t matter anyway. You’re not going to read it. So let’s move on . . .

    • Evan Yeong

      Hi James. Of course I didn’t include the setting. I’ve attached a screenshot of one of the four word counters I used here, but this will be my last comment about this. I’m sorry we weren’t able to agree.

  36. Michelle

    Molly stood as far out on the bow of the boat as the captain had told her she could go. She peered across the foam tipped waves of the ocean. There wasn’t a spec of land visible in front of her. A small shiver of excitement ran down her spine as the salty wind whipped through the accentuated sleeves of her shirtwaist.

    She smiled. It was the first time that her life wasn’t going to be planned and predictable.

    “You can’t be out here.” A deep voice broke into her thoughts. Molly turned to find a man, about her age, standing behind her.

    His raven black hair was unkempt, and his thick jaw wore the stubble of a man who hadn’t shaved in days. Oil stained the front of his shirt.

    He must be one of the deckhands she thought.

    “Oh, no. I’m fine out here. The captain gave me permission.” Molly smiled at the man reassuringly. She held out her hand to him. “Molly Grey.”

    “I know who you are.” The man grumbled at her. “It doesn’t matter how much gold you’re putting in the captain’s pockets. This spot isn’t safe.”

    Molly’s mouth fell open for a moment, shocked at how he was speaking to her, but she quickly shut it with a clench of her jaw muscles.

    “You obviously don’t know who I am as I do not have any gold.” She spoke slowly and firmly. “My father is a wealthy man, yes. But I am not him. I am on this boat like everyone else trying to gain my own fortune.”

    The man laughed. “You’re not like everyone else.”

    Just as Molly was about to lay into him, the boat lurched, and Molly was forcefully swayed toward the edge. The man raced to her. He hooked one arm around her waist, pressing her into his body, as he pulled her from falling into the vastness of the ocean.

    Molly’s heart raced. She had almost died. Right then. She would’ve drowned if he hadn’t been there. And he was there. His arm still around her waist. The hard muscles of his chest pressed into the softness of her breasts. The heat of his heavy breathing pulsed on her neck with the same adrenaline coursing through her own body.

    Her cheeks flushed. She had never been this close to a man. Not like this.

    “Jake! All hands-on deck!” An older man with the same gruffness as the one, who’s arm she was still wrapped in, yelled toward them.

    “Jake?” Molly looked up into his eyes that were as blue and deep as the ocean. “Please don’t tell anyone who I am. I’m still trying to figure that out.”

    1890’s – Yukon Gold Rush

    • Hannah Rossiter

      Hi Michelle!
      Thank you so much for participating in our writing challenge!
      I really like the start of this submission. We immediately find ourselves standing with Molly on the boat, staring out into the ocean. I was struck, also, by Molly and Jake’s instant connection. I could tell, from this brief interaction, that they a great love story ahead of them.
      Hannah

  37. Billie sighed in relief as the men ahead of her resumed their plodding trek up the trail. She lifted her leaden foot to the next ice step up the snowy mountain trail and as she shifted onto it she felt the weight of her pack pull her downhill.
    But then she was upright, two hands on her hips keeping her moving up the hill.
    “Lean into the hill,” muttered Thomas from behind her.
    “Thanks.” She breathed, trying to focus on the upward motion of her feet, and not on his hands at her hips.
    “You should go home,” he renewed his argument that she was too young for this dangerous trek to Dawson. Her problem wasn’t that she was too young. It was that she was a woman. But then, he didn’t know that.
    “I can’t. You’re pushing me up this infernal mountain.” She grumbled, glancing at the top.
    Thomas chuckled, “I’m not pushing, I’m just trying to keep you on this trail so you don’t start an avalanche.”
    His hands on her hips gripped her more tightly as the upward line wobbled again, some poor soul falling sideways out of the line pulling two more with him as he did.
    “Like that.” He growled and then his hands abruptly left her hips and she sighed, focusing on continuing ever upward.

    The line of men she’d followed up the trail dissipated as they each headed to their caches in snowy piles scattered around the pass. Billie stumbled to her own, relieved to be done.

    Thomas dropped his gear at his cache next to hers, turning to face her.
    “What the hell is going on ‘Billy’?” He asked, striding to stand in front of her. She gaped at him, noticing that his handsome face was clenched in anger.
    “I’ve followed a young boy up that mountain, trying to be helpful.” He ground out through clenched teeth, “Only, you’re not a boy are you?” He growled low.
    She gasped, examining his face. How did he know?
    “None of your business,” She fired back indignantly.
    “Where’s your husband?” He snarled.
    “I have work to do, and you have another trip.” She retorted defensively. He had helped her, but the risk to her father if it was known she was here was too great.
    He grabbed her arm as she turned, “I’m done, and you’re not getting away that quickly,” he snapped, pulling her closer.
    “Now, what is your real name ‘Billy’?” He challenged.
    “Petunia” She spat, yanking free of him, “I’m leaving.”
    “Fine,” he sighed, “later it is.” And he turned to his gear, also preparing for the next leg of this interminable trek through the snow.

    Chilkoot Trail 1897

    • Hannah Rossiter

      Hi Jenny!
      Thank you so much for participating in our writing challenge!
      I really like the idea, Jenny, that Pertunia is pretending to be a boy. It reminded me, instantly, of Twelfth Night! I love, also, Pertunia’s grit. It’s easy to tell that she is a character of real strength – just what I like in a heroine.
      I did feel, however, that your submission felt, in a few key places, a little disjointed. It can be helpful, Jenny, to read your writing aloud, to ensure that your writing is flowing well.
      Hannah

  38. The sunrise in the Nubian desert was the most beautiful thing she had ever seen. Ayo prayed to the Gods that it was not the last one.
    “It is time.” Said Ekene approaching in her horse. The general face was closed, and her voice cold. Once, she had been Ayo’s closest friend. But as she had learned, a queen does not have friends.
    Seven days ago, Ayo had buried her father and with him any hope of peace. In less than 24 hours, she had abandoned her steel warrior clothes and replaced then for the gold of the royal garb. She also had been betrayed.
    “Let’s go.” Ayo incited her mare to continue. She was followed by fifty more women, her most trusted warriors. The Nubian Kandake Guard. They ride for almost 3 miles inside the desert till they finally found the Usurper Camp. Or like she had called him till a week ago, Khari, her beloved cousin.
    Lekan, her younger brother’s best friend, was the one who received them, occupying the messenger position that until three days ago had been her brothers. The young foul had joined the Usurper troops. Sweet Kojo, his treason was still a fresh ache in her heart. But even more fresh was the pain for his death.
    Two nights ago, he had brought a message from the Usurper ordering her to surrender. They had probably hoped that a family member could soften her heart. She had sent his body back in pieces. His head hung in the gates of Meroe. As a warning to traitors.
    “The King requests a meeting with Princess Ayo.”
    Ekene spat on the ground. But Ayo stopped any words that could leave her mouth. In silence, Ayo dismounted and followed Lekan till Khari’s tent. Her cousin was sitting in a chair, playing with a seme dagger in his hands. He received her without any ceremony.
    “Cousin…” He began with a mockery smile. But she cut his words. “Please, spare me the horseshit.”
    Khari laughed. “Fair enough.” He said and got up. He wasn’t smiling anymore. “I have a proposition for you.”
    “Talk.”
    Ayo listened as he exposed his proposal. With every word, her angry grown bigger.
    “You dare propose married to me?”
    “An alliance.” He corrected her. “And even you can see the advantages in this deal, Princess.”
    To be fair, she could. And while she had been listing to his logical arguments, she had been tempted to accept. His mistake had been to call her princess. She was a Nubian Kandake. A Queen. And he would kneel to her.
    “Chose your weapons, Khari.” She stated calmly. “We are at war.”

    Nubia – Africa – 50 CE

    • Hannah Rossiter

      Hi Joice!
      Thank you so much for participating in our writing challenge!
      I love the concept for this submission, Joice! I could just picture Ayo surrounded by fifty of her most trusted female warriors. I was also struck by Ayo’s strength – she is a character of incredible will. You brought real pace to your writing and I was constantly finding myself asking what was going to happen next – just what you want from your reader! My favourite part, though, was the final line. It left me desperate to keep reading!
      Hannah

  39. R.L. Merrill

    Cherish every moment with your loved one as if it were your last.
    Jacob ran along the waterfront, cursing himself the entire way. He’d always found the saying ridiculous. But on this dark day, as the unthinkable happened, the thought of never seeing his brother alive again brought on crushing despair that sucked the air from his lungs.
    He turned the corner and saw the blockade. Am I too late?
    “Jacob!”
    Robert’s voice filled him with relief. He spotted him and attempted to push through the crowd—
    “You can’t get through.”
    The young woman’s voice stopped him cold.
    How was it possible?
    “Mariana.”
    He never thought he’d see her again. Her father moved the family to the Caribbean to build a new industrial alcohol facility. Jacob knew it was likely to keep them apart. A poor Irishman would never be good enough for a wealthy businessman’s daughter.
    “Jacob! I thought you’d gone to war?”
    “No, lass. I’ve been working at the docks with Robert. When I heard that horrible sound, I worried he’d been caught up in the flood.”
    Rescue workers dragged the injured and dead out of the waist-deep brown muck. The air was sickeningly sweet this mild January afternoon and the cries of children and mothers echoed through the streets of the North End.
    Mariana’s black hair was pulled back and wisps of the silken strands floated around her lovely face. One he’d dreamed of for two years.
    “Why didn’t you write?” The corners of her lovely mouth turned down slightly as she stood before him in a defiant posture. She’d blossomed since she’d been away, her tawny skin darker now, likely from the sunny climes where she’d been sent to save her from a marriage beneath her standing.
    “I wrote every week,” Jacob replied. “You can ask Robert. He told me I was daft, but I hoped maybe…”
    Maybe her father would see Jacob had the means to support a wife.
    Her deep brown eyes widened briefly before she frowned once more.
    “I received none.”
    Once more oxygen fled Jacob’s lungs. She had no idea the sacrifices he’d made for her, of his plans to finally convince Giovanni Pasquale that Jacob O’Leary was worthy of his daughter’s hand.
    “Clear the streets so rescue teams may work!”
    The giant metal tank owned by the United States Industrial Alcohol Company had been a ticking time bomb. The breach poured millions of gallons of molasses into the streets and destroyed buildings and lives alike.
    “I’ve got to find my fiancé,” she said, worrying her hands against her apron.
    Jacob’s stomach roiled as much from the sickeningly sweet smell as her words.
    “Say that again?”

    Boston 1919

    • Hannah Rossiter

      Hi!
      Thank you so much for participating in our writing challenge!
      I was immediately caught up in the intensity of Jacob and Mariana’s connection! I felt, quickly, invested in their relationship and curious as to who had stood in the way of their love. The twist, at the end of your submission, felt really unexpected and left me certain that this story would be full of emotional highs and lows.
      Hannah

  40. Tanya Dawson

    “Another Husband? So quickly after your last has died?” My head maids’ woman gasps as she pulls her hands back from pinning my dress. 
    “His body has barely grown cold dear sister.” Princess Lena broke from fanning herself near the balconette as she raises her thinly plucked eyebrow toward me. 
    I barely hid my smirk as I ran the brush through my thick red hair. “Irish blood runs proudly through these veins. I need a King to stand beside me. A worthy one. If for appearance only. You know the older generation, their fear of a woman reigning over them.” I observe my svelte figure in the floor to ceiling mirror. I lift my shoulder’s up, back and down and raise my chin. Any King would be proud to stand by my side.
    “The last four wouldn’t do?” My sister slumps back on the couch with a sigh as she hands her fan to my servant, who obliges. 
    “I’ll rest when I produce an heir.” I offer, knowing that wasn’t the truth. I could breathe easier, but not rest.
    “Then another ball?” Princess Lena, took a swig of her wine, her glass not disguising her smile.
    The door swings open and a servant scurries over to my head maid to whisper in her ear. The head maid pushes her out of the room and approaches me, with her back to my sister. 
    “He’s here, My Majesty.”
    “At the Castle?” 
    “Outside the door.” The head maid says with an upper stiff lip.
    “Oh.” I look back to the mirror and straighten my dress and pinch my cheeks. Bold of him but not surprising. He’d have been amused at my offer, if not intrigued. “Well, show him in?” 
    The head maid nods to the guard at the door, and he swiftly opens the large oak door. King Melvin enters the room with a few strides of his long muscular legs. Of all the potential suitors, he had always been on my list. Our past made it forbidden – until now.
    “King Melvin.” He would expect me to curtsey to him, however, it was I who demanded the power. I sat down and offered my hand for his affection.
    After some hesitation, he bows and clasps my hand into his roughly. “It has been too long, Dear Queen. I have such good memories of our last encounter.” He remains on his knees until I pull back from him. 
    My cheeks redden at the memories of our last meeting. The eve of my last wedding. The weight of his body on top of mine, as we prepared for it to be our last intimate encounter together.

  41. Gina Bell

    The moon was almost full. Lucy knew this was dangerous, but the night air was delicious. It felt like silk against her skin as she stripped off the dusty pants and bulky shirt and tossed them next to her boots and revolver. She ran her fingers through her short, dark hair. It was starting to get a little too long. She would need to cut it soon.

    She’d ridden Jasper over 75 miles since dawn. Her entire body ached and her eyelids were sandpaper against her eyes. She needed sleep but every part of her yearned to wash off the dirt and grime. She’d spied the lake through the trees as she galloped the mustang into the station. It was risky, but she hadn’t taken a decent bath in 8 months. “Risk be damned,” she murmured, sliding into the cool water.

    “Well this is a first.”

    Lucy froze at the masculine voice, instinctively reaching for her gun. God help her, it was on the shore with her clothes. She turned around slowly, keeping only her head above water. “Whaddaya mean?” she drawled in the deep voice that was by now, second nature.

    He let out a rumble of laughter and she recognized the blacksmith who should be shoeing her horse right now instead of spying on her taking a bath. “Ma’am, I haven’t been out here in this wasteland shoeing every horse that comes through for so long that I’ve forgotten what a woman looks like.”

    “Don’t know what you’re talking about. You got my horse ready to go?”

    “Last I heard, the Pony Express didn’t take women.”

    Lucy studied the man. Tall, at least 6 feet, and broad shoulders. Before she’d started this charade, he’d have made her knees weak. Now she didn’t have time for this foolishness. She was making $100 a month and she needed every dime of it if she was going to get her ranch back.

    “I guess you’re just too smart for me then,” Lucy smirked. She stood and walked slowly and deliberately toward her clothes and her gun. Her entire body sizzled. She knew without looking that his eyes burned over every inch of her. She bent down, felt the reassuring weight of the revolver in her hand and aimed it at him. Keeping the gun pointed at his heart, she grabbed for her shirt and clutched it to her chest.

    “I’d like to dress in private please. It’d be best if you headed back to the station.”

    The grin that split his face jumbled her insides.

    “Not yet little lady. Not until you hear the proposition I’ve got for you.”

    American West, 1861

    • Katie Gowrie

      Wonderful scene, Gina! You’ve established so much in these few paragraphs. I got a vivid sense of the setting (and of course guessed the American West :)) and I got a really solid idea of the type of heroine this is as well as the chemistry between her and the blacksmith. Nice job!

  42. Jude Knight

    The Roman fort was all she expected and more. Even in the gathering dark, she marveled at the projecting towers, the tall stone walls, the elegant arch over the huge gate. The tall officer hauled Claudia by her upper arm past a series of anonymous buildings – barracks or workshops? Her panic at landing in the wrong place, possibly even in the wrong time, subsided under excitement and curiosity. When would she be allowed to explore?
    In the headquarters building, Praefectus Kabidius handed her over to a woman servant – a slave, probably. “You will bathe before dinner. You will eat with me, then you will tell me what a lady of your standing,” a swift glance took in her carefully-selected patrician appearance, “is doing alone in my forest.” The accent was not quite what she expected. Because he was not Roman-born? He was black, with close cropped curly hair, as were some of the legionnaires who escorted him. In fact, they were as diverse in race and color as any crowd from her own time. Or perhaps it was because Latin had drifted since his time and she was the one who sounded like a foreigner.
    An hour of being pampered didn’t help her to come up with a story to explain her presence. In the end, back in the atrium seated on one side of a low table while the Praefectus lounged on the other, she still had nothing. Still, she couldn’t tell him the truth. “I am a visitor from another century. I’m in the wrong place. I have no idea how to get back where I belong.” The three-part amulet they’d used as a focus for Janet’s calculations should have taken her to the place it was found – a villa in Rome. But this wasn’t Rome.
    She put her hand on the piece of the amulet she had been given to focus her travel. She wore it on a thong around her neck. It should have taken her to the original, as had the family memorabilia of their earlier experiments.
    “Where did you get that,” Kabidius demanded, leaning forward to remove her hand so that he could see the amulet. She wished he’d stop doing that. The last thing she needed was to get the hots for a man who’d been dead for sixteen hundred years before she was born. Even if he was tall, ripped, and gorgeous. Even if she had been putting off dating while she finished her PhD.
    He leaned closer, and she held her breath, then let it out when an identical, and much newer, amulet piece slipped from his tunic.
    “So that’s why I landed here! Well, shit. Now what?”

    Britain, 341AD

    • Katie Gowrie

      Nice twists throughout this, Jude — I wasn’t expecting a time travel story, but this is lots of fun. I love all the details you’ve parsed throughout this scene that are indicative of the time period this heroine finds herself in. I also enjoyed your merging of this modern-day heroine’s engaging voice (dating, getting her PhD) with this historical backdrop. Thanks for participating!

  43. Elizabeth R

    I swept up the stairs of Ballard Manufacturing Company, a plume of dust in my wake. Emily coughed as she struggled to keep up. She was small with sickly tendencies, but she made up for it in sass.

    Stopping on the third floor, I turned my attention to the dirty hem of my silk skirt while I waited for Emily to catch her breath. But the girl was undeterred. She jostled past my bent frame on her way to push a button that bathed the floor in electric light.

    “Welcome to the weave room.” She made a dramatic sweep of our surroundings before resting those expressive hands in strange contrast on her drab, cotton dress. Together, we gazed upon row after row of massive looms sitting idle at the end of the work day.

    “Is there any fresh air in here at all?”

    I pulled out a paper fan bearing the words “Keep Cool and Raise a Breeze for Suffrage.” Stepping to the nearest window, I found it opaque with grime and impossible to open.

    “Mr. Ballard moistens the air and keeps the windows nailed shut to keep in the humidity,” Emily explained. “Otherwise the threads can break.”

    I uttered a harumph and, using my finger as a pen, spelled out my mission on the dirt covered glass. I smiled as the waning rays of sun illuminated the words. It was a fine message to greet the masses in the morning.

    “Votes for Women,” Emily breathed approvingly. She was reaching over to add her own flourish when the door to the stairway slammed behind us and a voice rang out.

    “What do you think you’re doing?”

    I turned with a start to see two men walking toward us. One made Emily smile shyly with his slightly harried countenance and the single lock of blond hair escaping thick pomade. The other was tall and dark with a billy club. I knew immediately which one had spoken.

    Calling on both good breeding and my more recent training in militant tactics, I extended a conciliatory hand to the police officer.

    “A pleasure to meet you,” I trilled. “My name is Josephine Yates, of Boston.”

    His eyes narrowed as he looked at the dirt encrusted fingertips curling out to him. I steadied my wrist, blue veins pulsing under his scrutiny. With an almost indiscernible shake of his head, he lifted his chin.

    “Captain Michael Halloran.”

    His large hand slid into mine, the calluses finding nothing to catch on. I closed my thumb and pressed down tightly.

    He stilled for a moment. I could feel his heartbeat in the palm of my hand. Then he quickly pulled away.

    Lowell, Massachusetts – 1912

    • Katie Gowrie

      Elizabeth, wonderful job establishing the setting in this scene! So many fantastic details here that really put me in this location in the weave room and in this heroine’s head. I love that she checks his pulse when shaking his hand, and I was so intrigued by the mention of suffragette signs that said “Keep Cool and Raise a Breeze for Suffrage” (thinking you’d slipped in a nod to the various “Keep Calm” signs we see today) that I had to Google it and was excited to find out they’re real! 🙂

    • Elizabeth R

      Thank you for the feedback. I love researching bygone eras to find so many fun reminders that as much as things have changed, so much remains the same. And there are so many real-life stories out there in which to find inspiration.

  44. Poppy Dubois

    Finn jumped off his horse at the sight of Lottie sitting on the ground, her back against a tree. Fiadhaich—Sweets—ran past to lunge at his mistress, yipping in delight as he covered her face in licks. If not for that dog, Finn would have spent much longer searching for his wife. Who knows if he’d even have gone in the right direction though the dense forest.
    “Took you long enough.” Her words were barely more than a whisper carried to him on the breeze. She buried her face in the thick fur of her favorite dog. Lottie was alive. He laughed as relief washed over him. But something else mixed in with that relief. Jealousy? He couldn’t possibly be jealous that she’d rather cling to the beast and than him. And yet, he did want just that.
    He crouched down in front of her. “Are ye hurt, Faodail?” Finn gently checked her for signs of injury.
    “I’m in far better shape than he is.” She gestured to the man with the black-handled dirk protruding from his neck who lay beside her. Finn had never wanted to kill an already dead man before.
    “You stabbed him?” Finn asked.
    “I did.” She raised her head and stared straight into his eyes. “I had no choice. I asked several times for him to take me back and he refused.” She laughed.
    “You jest, yet you’ve just survived a kidnapping. You’re covered in blood, yet you’re not swooning. ”
    “Just an innocent English rose, m’laird.” Her green eyes twinkled with merriment. Finn needed to get her back to her room before she collapsed. The sheer shock from the events of the day were wearing on her. As soon as the blood settled within her, she’d be exhausted and, Finn feared, overcome with emotion. He knew the experience from battle when the high took time to calm. But he’d fought many battles. Been forced to defend himself and others. To kill. Lottie had lived a quiet life until he invaded her peace and took her to his Highland home.
    “Come. Let’s return to the castle.” Finn prepared to pick her up.
    “Wait.”
    “For—” Lottie grabbed him by the hair, pulled his lips to hers. The movement so stunned him that it took him longer than he’d like to admit to respond to her kiss. He pulled her into his lap, never breaking contact as he deepened their connection.
    The sound of approaching horses brought him back to his senses. He needed to get her home, not take her on the pine needle covered dirt.
    “Not exactly the scene I expected to come upon,” Iain snickered.

    —————————–
    Scottish Highlands, 1716

    • Katie Gowrie

      Great historical scene, Poppy! I also love a Scottish Highlander story and appreciate the details of the dark forest. Quite a day this heroine’s had — good thing the hero came when he did to get her home, though I love a heroine who can save herself. 😉

  45. Negar Arvanaghi

    He and Allessandra, like most children of their class, had been raised to be seen, when convenient for their parents, and never heard. Not so Tommy. The second morning after their
    arrival, he had been woken by a small yet bony knee poking him in the kidney. He had shot straight up in bed, the only thing keeping him from jumping three feet in the air being the weight of the boy.

    Giggling could be heard from the doorway. Miss Anderton appeared, wearing a rather threadbare dressing gown that at one time might have been lavender. In the morning light peeking through the drapes, her gown was almost translucent. He felt himself getting aroused, which was problematic since he also had to relieve himself. Thankfully, Tommy pierced his trance-like state when he turned to face her.

    “Mama. I woke up Oliver, so we can have breakfast now.”

    “Thank you, darling. That was being helpful, which is always polite. However, you entered his bedroom without permission. That was very impolite. And you may not call your
    elders by their Christian names, remember? He is Your Grace or Sir.”

    “Oh, let him call me Oliver.”

    “I am sorry for the intrusion. He had the run of the house in New York. I will endeavor to keep him with me until breakfast, from now on.” She bit her lip, as if fearing that he would yell.

    “No need to imprison the poor chap. Perhaps instead of sitting on me, if you wish to awaken me, you could shake my shoulders?” His only worry was if Tommy entered while he was in the throes of a nightmare. He saw a solution. He climbed from the bed to face his son, who now stood next to his mother, mindful of the fact that he was wearing only a nightshirt. “I give you permission to stomp up to the bed, young man. Make some noise, yes?”

    Tommy looked intrigued, but looked to Miss Anderton for permission. She was obviously confused at the strange request,
    but gave it. And so a daily routine commenced.

    England 1770

    • Katie Gowrie

      Very intrigued by this scene you’ve set, Negar, and curious to know why the parents of Tommy seem like strangers! I’m picturing a long voyage that took the hero away for a time before he came back. Nice details here — thanks for doing the challenge!

  46. Eilidh Lawrence

    “Come with me.” Robert stopped walking, turned and took her hands.
    “Niahm, come to America.”
    “You know I can’t, Robert. You know what’s expected. Whom I must marry. Maybe not a Marquess! But a Catholic noble; or landed, at least. You’re a Protestant with almost no land.”
    “And you’ve almost no dowry.”
    She laughed. “The cheek of you.”
    “We can settle on new land. There’s nothing but land in The West. Good farming land.”
    “You could farm any land my Love, you’re…” Her stomach clenched. He couldn’t farm _any_ land. Not diseased land. What an utterly thoughtless thing to say.
    He looked away, tugging at the cuff of his simple shirt. “Everyone is gone. I can’t blame those who were able to walk away.”
    “We none of us would’ve expected this, when we were young. This loss.” She picked up a stick and struck it against a tree. “My cousin and her husband left in ’44. Went to Canada. ‘I could never leave,’ that’s what I thought then. But now everything seems bleak. Sometimes, on dark days, before I met you, it seemed like life would never get better.”
    She touched his cheek.
    “There’s such misery in our country,” she continued, a catch in her throat. Their eyes met. Her pain was reflected in his.
    “Then join me. Start over. Where no law nor man will call our children bastards. It can easily be arranged. We’ll sail from Liverpool.”
    “Please no. Don’t! God, don’t make that crossing. You know they call those boats coffin ships.”
    “Think of a new life for us, darling. New hope.”
    “I doubt those dying in Boston feel much hope.”
    “Were they any better off in the workhouses?”
    “All I know is my father cares for his tenants. He’ll probably bankrupt us before long.” She couldn’t see the castle through the trees but she felt a stab of trepidation for its future, for the future of the estate. “Then I will truly need to marry well. Or go to a convent.”
    “You’re no nun,” he teased.
    “Be serious. Please. We helped some of the tenants leave for America. They wanted to. But the stories that come back to us…” She shook her head, her heart filled with regret. “Little Molly Murphy, barely off the ship. Buried three thousand miles from home. Continuing, if they’re lucky, in wagons? The dysentery, the accidents… the snow.” She crossed herself.” I can read, you know.”
    “I am well aware of this. His voice was firm now, brooking no more objections. “Niahm I want you by my side. As my wife. You know this. You want it too.”
    She did. But did that matter? And must they cross the Western Ocean?

    Galway, Ireland, 1849

    • Katie Gowrie

      Agreed with Sasha, you’ve done a great job giving us a snapshot of the tough choices these characters are facing, Eilidh! I was intrigued by the opening lines when Robert asks her to come away with him to America. Lots of great history here and it’s great the scene is carried by dialogue but don’t be afraid to add some narrative exposition as well and some inner monologue to further set the scene and show us what these two are feeling. Well done! 🙂

  47. Caroline Warfield

    It seemed to David that the entire population of Macau, pushing and shoving, dragging carts and wagons, seethed toward the port. Even as he struggled against the traffic, he knew that only the English had been ordered to evacuate after Commissioner Lin threatened to surround every English house with soldiers if the British consul failed to hand over the men who had murdered two of Lin’s.

    “Damn it, Kate, why can’t you behave reasonably!” he shouted, drawing stares since he obviously had no companion, female or otherwise, as he shouldered his way back to the English quarter.

    Most of the European community, and even the Americans, chose to close themselves up in their houses to wait out the crisis. Even the Chinese population hovered in uncertainty, fearful of being accused of aiding and abetting the opium traders. The traffic thinned when he got closer.

    When he rounded the corner and ran up the front steps of Commodore Wagner’s mansion, the door hung open, and the house lay silent.

    “Kate! Where are you?” The lower floor appeared to be utterly deserted; he bounded up the steps, not even pausing at the top. He knew she wouldn’t be in the family’s private quarters. He ran up the narrow staircase to the nursery floor shouting her name.

    “Kate!” He burst through the door to the nursery. “The Wagners boarded ship without you, and that damned woman didn’t even have the courtesy to worry. She said her you made your bed and—” His mouth gaped. The fool woman was doing just that; making beds as calmly as if it were the most normal thing to do.

    “David!” she responded, eyes wide. “What are you doing here? Please tell me you didn’t desert your post.”

    “Captain Miller gave me a half hour to find you—thirty minutes and I used most of them getting through the crowd. We have to go now.”

    “But I told you I’m not going. I’m leaving in a moment for the Quaker school. I’ll be safe there.”

    He reached up and cupped her cheek, feathering his fingers across her skin. “If Commissioner Lin unleashes his troops, or worse, loses control of the population, they won’t distinguish Americans from English. Count on it. Resentment of the opium traders runs deep and everyone will pay for it. You have to leave. Come with me.”

    “You’re the one that has to leave, you idiot. If you’re caught on the streets of Macau in that Royal Navy uniform, Lin may happily make an example of you.”

    He pulled her into his arms and kissed her. It was all he could think to do. “I’m not going to leave you here.”
    Macau, 1839

    • Evan Yeong

      What a refreshing locale and time period! You handily give readers enough context to understand the underlying conflict between the British and the Chinese, so that even without knowing too much about Macau’s history I didn’t feel lost.

      This has strong parallels to Mena O Neill’s submission, with a man fighting to rescue a woman from impending catastrophe, but each are distinct in their own ways. Kate calmly fixing a bed in light of what’s about to take place is a fantastic image. As a whole your scene feels like the briefest of calms before a storm.

  48. The horse stopped at the edge of the grass ten feet from the porch steps. Using both hands Elizabeth aimed the Colt at the rider. She leaned her back against the post for support. Dressed in a tan shirt and dark trousers, not a Union or Rebel uniform, the stranger could possibly be one of Quantrill’s Raiders. The full beard added to the outlaw image. Even though she hadn’t seen any of them for a year, she didn’t trust this man not to be one. Quantrill’s massacre in Lawrence nearly two years earlier had been too close to this homestead. With Adam gone, she couldn’t take chances with strangers.

    The man held his hands in the air. He didn’t reach for the rifle from the scabbard mounted to his saddle nor one of the revolvers at his side. “I’m not here to cause trouble, ma’am.”

    Her throat felt as parched as the hot June air and she moistened her lips before she spoke. “What do you want?”

    With one hand he reached into his shirt pocket. “I have a letter from Corporal Adam Reed to Elizabeth Reed. Is that you, ma’am?”

    Fighting back tears, she slowly lowered her shaking hands until the revolver no longer pointed at the man. Even though she’d received a letter from Adam’s captain six months before, informing her of his death, it hadn’t seemed real until now. Adam. Gone. “You knew him?”

    With the threat of being shot eliminated, he must have decided he had permission to dismount. He eased closer, a package wrapped in brown paper under one arm and a folded paper in the hand he held out to her. “I was with him at the end, ma’am. Captain Jacob Woodridge. He gave me a letter for you.”

    She took the letter but didn’t read it. That could wait until she was alone. In his letters, Adam had told her about his captain, how he would follow the man into the bowels of hell if necessary. His gentleness and the concern and sympathy in his brown eyes made her believe she might too.

    The captain cleared his throat. “Adam said a second horse would be a hardship for you, to sell his and buy the dress he’d promised. Blue’s your favorite color?”

    When she didn’t take the proffered package, he rubbed his jaw and focused on the plow abandoned in the field. His gaze swung back to her. “Where’s your horse?”

    “Stolen.” She swallowed the lump in her throat. “By one of Quantrill’s Raiders a year ago.”
    What would she do with a new dress now? “Adam almost always kept his promises, but I’d rather have had the horse.”

    Kansas/Missouri border—1865

    • Evan Yeong

      Full disclosure, I’m a sucker for Civil War era stories, but I would have thoroughly enjoyed this regardless. I’m obviously writing this in the wake of feedback from your fellow contestants, but they’re not wrong. This feels like a mere snippet of a fully-realized novel, that the characters’ stories continue on from this point.

      There are a number of emotions on display here, from fear and trepidation to grief and grim acceptance to a kind of muted shock at the turn of events, all presented to great effect. If I had any criticism it’s that the prompt was for a romantic scene, and I don’t quite see any hints of that connection quite yet.

    • Thank you for the comments and feedback. They are very helpful. I wish I could say this story is plotted out, but since I don’t normally write historical, I’ve only visualized this beginning scene. I thought I’d hinted at a romantic relationship to come but I see that needs work. Thank you for making these challenges stretch our creative muscles.

  49. Andree Cusson

    Graceful as the puma, she alighted from her litter into the crowded throne room. Surveying the mixture of subjects and foreigners, she stepped into the large circle of light created by the portal in the ceiling. With her, she brought all the pomp and circumstance she dared: two adoring yet hyperactive chihuahuas bedecked with jewelled collars, three musicians playing a farcical tune, four dancers in lewd costumes, and nine servants bearing gifts. Wearing her finest red cotton dress embroidered with the symbols of her lineage, she shone. Gold adorned her curvaceous pubescent body from head to toe, tinkling as she stopped fifty steps from her brother, Emperor Atahualpa. Pointedly glaring at him, she was perversely pleased when he raised an indignant eyebrow at her obvious impudence. Atahualpa flicked his regal wrist. In a flash, dogs were collected, and her entourage removed to the far wall, leaving her alone to meet the looming silence.
    “My sister, Quispe Sisa.”
    Conquistador, Francisco Pizarro, rose from his chair beside Atahualpa, drawing her attention. She stiffened. He strode to within two steps of her and without ceremony, tilted her delicate face to his. Shorter than the legends that preceded him, but still taller than any Incan she had ever known, she felt unbalanced by his intimate intrusion. A calloused thumb caressed her chin, gentling her, as his large brown eyes studied her high forehead, fine cheekbones and plump heart-shaped lips. Beneath his thick, sculpted facial hair, a style the Spaniards favoured, she spied soft laugh lines and a full mouth. He smelled of spicy soap, scented leather and horses. She pondered what it might be like to kiss him. Calculating his wide shoulders and muscular chest hinted by his molded armour, she assured herself her head would pillow there nicely. When he stepped back a few paces to bow and kiss her hand the earth trembled, and she wondered if the gods grew restless with her boldness or if her limbs lost their strength.
    “Your brother has not exaggerated your beauty, Princess.” His voice. So sonorous it reverberated through her core, removing the last note of her rebellion.
    “Gracias, Señor.”
    “Father de Luque tells me you have a talent for languages and are doing well at Spanish.”
    Brushing her fingers over the condor feather in her headband, Quispe released the perfume placed there by her mother. She trailed manicured fingernails down a strand of dark brown hair and across her neckline. Her eyelids softened and her lips curled into a sensuous smile.
    “Si, Señor. I have skill… for many languages.”
    The Conquistador’s eyes widened. Throwing his head back, he filled the room with his laughter.
    ~
    Peru, circa 1532, Word count: 433

    • You are clearly a very talented writer. I was immediately immersed in this story and setting, and I feel as though I have a strong understanding of the characters, despite the short length of the scene. My one critique here would be that it seems like Quispe’s perception of Francisco changes greatly over the course of a single paragraph. While this might partly be a result of the word count limit, I would typically hope to see this type of change be more gradual, particularly when power dynamics are in play.

  50. I first heard the name Charles Macintosh when he wrote to me and asked to sit for a photograph to send home to his mother. His handwriting was elegant and it made mine look like the scrawl of a street urchin. It seemed grand, a likeness of a man grown from a youth to make old eyes smile, but I thought little of it at the time.
    Later I learned that I had seen him before, even if I didn’t know his name then.

    Henrietta Spence had a photographic studio in a tiny brick house that she owned. It was near where the streets ended. She liked that she could see the path through the window when people came by to sit for a photograph.
    The man who walked up was tall and wore fine clothes. His walk was that of a young man.
    “Miss Spence?” he asked his hand extended. “You are expecting me?
    A courteous man, he had written to her asking for an appointment. She was surprised to find his hand was calloused from rough work but he made no apology for it. Instead, he looked around the room.
    “Where do you keep them?” he demanded.
    She felt confused.
    “This is my camera equipment. I develop negatives in the shed.”
    Perhaps he did not know photography?
    He walked through into the scullery, past the wet clothes and counted the chairs stacked there.
    Honestly, children were better behaved she thought t to herself.
    “Sid Morrison, his wife and eleven children photographed in this room with only six chairs.”
    “There was no complaint!”
    Why on earth was she putting up with this nonsense?
    “Please sit when you are ready.”
    A faint smile moved his mouth only the slightest fraction.
    She looked for greed in his eyes, but she saw none. Some men made you want to talk to them though sometimes what you saw was a lie. Mr. Macintosh was one type or the other.
    “Working the goldfields?” she asked making conversation.
    “Up by Bathurst since 1853.”
    “Lucky?”
    “Not particularly, no wife anyway.”
    “There’s a photographer on High Street, why come here?”
    “A pretty girl in a flowered cotton dress why choose another?”
    It was a relief to take his photograph.
    The faint image on the plate was well composed. He had turned his head to the left foreshortening a slightly wide forehead. At last his behavior was good.
    “Come and take a look.”
    “Fine,” he mused, “but how about outdoors?”
    “I don’t do…” she replied.
    “The steps of the Museum of Art on Swanston Street, I will collect you tomorrow.”
    He was gone before Henrietta could refuse. He had left no payment for her work.
    Melbourne, Australia, 1861

  51. Madeleine Gawron

    New Orleans, 1867

    The floor to ceiling window slid open easily despite the house having been unoccupied for a decade. Andre stepped aside to let Jolene enter. Her hands were so busy managing her skirt that he was unable to offer assistance as she shimmied through the window. Oddly, he regretted it. He stepped in after her, finding her searching for something.
    “Match?” She held a stump of candle out to him.
    Andre leaned toward her to light it. The candlelight flickered over her face creating ghastly shadows. Charmingly ghastly. “Ouch!” He dropped the spent match that had scorched his fingers to the ground and stamped on it where it fell on the threadbare carpet.
    “I take it you’ve been here before,” he said.
    “Yes, this is one of my favorite places to bring beau. Second only to a midnight stroll in Lafayette cemetery.”
    “I’m not one of your beau. I’m only here because I couldn’t let you traipse off unaccompanied to a haunted mansion.”
    “Allegedly.”
    “What?” She always said shocking things. He wasn’t accustomed to being shocked.
    “Allegedly haunted. You don’t actually believe in ghosts, do you?” She poked his arm.
    While he puzzled over how one touch of her finger affected him, she turned to him and raised her eyebrows. “No, of course I don’t.” Great, now she’ll believe I’m afraid of ghosts.
    Andre watched as Jolene pushed mouldering drapes aside, revealing moonlit crepe myrtles hung with Spanish moss. And then she sneezed. And sneezed. And sneezed again.
    “Three sneezes. That’s good luck. Let’s pray it’s enough to keep the spirits at bay.” She teased.
    To protest would only increase her enjoyment of the joke. Instead of answering he walked over to the leaning piano in the corner, and began to torture a melody out of it’s stained keys.
    “I love this song! I’ve never heard it before,” she said as she began to whirl in slow circles across the dusty floor. It was lovely to see. So lovely that he forgot to play. She stopped turning and walked toward him. He caught the scent of gardenias and… tobacco?
    “How can you love a song you’ve never heard before?”
    She laughed. “I love all music. What was it anyways, something of yours?”
    “No, it was this.” He held up the sheet of music he’d found on the piano.
    “Perfect,” she said, “We can bring this back to Ethal to prove we were here. If we hurry back, you may be able to save a shred of your reputation.”
    “Yes, let’s head back. It’s nearly the witching hour, and I fear that’s when the spirits are strongest.” He winked at her. The smile that lit up her face wasn’t ghastly at all.

    • I particularly loved the characters in this story! Andre’s uncertainty and confusion paired with Jolene’s direct yet befuddling manner felt so fresh and fun. I also enjoyed how the characters’ discussion about ghosts brought life to the New Orleans setting.

  52. Jennifer Nichole

    Tristan woke at days first light with Alex asleep in his arms, innocent and trusting in his ability to save them from the consequences of their reckless actions. Heat existed everywhere their bodies touched, everywhere else was damp with the dew of the swamp’s mossy floor. A familiar irritation that had been absent through their drunken adventure-until this sober waking, rose in him and he itched to shake her.
    She’d been so vulnerable last night it had made him angry. He remembered again the desire reflected in her eyes by the burning light of the Romani fire. She had drunk too much. Danced too much. Been too damn pretty to tempt him like that. She shouldn’t do things like that to him. He didn’t love her the way she loved him, and yet, she wanted him to. She always had, no matter how he pushed her away. You weren’t supposed to love your future servant that way. She never had known how to stay in her place. Now here they were in trouble, on the run, and he was to blame.
    “Wake up.” He whispered sharply in her ear, trying not to kiss it. It was so delicate and soft against his lips.
    She moaned. Silver green eyes opened, contrasting the tan of her skin and the darkness of her long hair. Hair that should be pinned up tightly so she could work. Her eyes glowed in the electric blue of the dawn and she turned in their cocoon so that they were face to face.
    Her lips parted but no words came out, instead she kissed him with no warning. He grabbed her. His punishing kiss pressed her innocent body into the earth. His taste branded her and she whimpered in want of what she asked for.
    He pulled back cruelly from her body. “We have to go. Now. Before we are found.” He said standing and pulling her up more harshly than he meant to. She held her slightly stinging hand, looking down.
    “What did you want me to do? Take you right her in the swamp?” He said indicating the wetlands surrounding them. “Have you no pride at all?” He picked up her cloak and put it around her shoulders.
    Something snapped inside of her. She lifted her chin and closed her mouth. Distain arched her brow and she bore the pain of his words silently. Everything about her was stiffer and she felt every curve of her body react with shame. With an ache in her chest she followed his quick steps through the tall grass of the backwoods all the way to the of the brown green water of the Mississippi.

    Alexandria Louisiana, 1757

    • Mena O Neill

      Lovely, Jennifer. I want to keep reading. Excellent scene full of passion and anticipation. I bet Tristan’s in for a bit of ‘cold shoulder’ after that statement. Wish we had more to read.

    • You have created some really fascinating characters in this scene. Given how much Alex clearly cares about Tristan, I’d be fascinated to know what Tristan’s like when he’s in a better mood. As Mena said, I suspect he’s in for a cold shoulder after this interaction!

  53. Myfi Roberts

    Elin Lloyd, no not Lloyd now but she could barely think about being Mrs. Joe Charet, looked around the small log cabin. It was neater than she had expected from a fur trapper but it was only one room with everything in it, including one bed that seemed barely large enough for her husband and no evidence of enough blankets for her to sleep on the dirt floor. She was beginning to doubt the safety this marriage would provide but it was too late. The vows had been spoken.

    The door opened and Elin jumped at the sound. In walked the large trapper who was now her husband. Joe Charet was tall and dressed in the buckskins that one would imagine a fur trapper would wear. He carried the one trunk of Elin’s belongings that she couldn’t bear to sell, even to survive. He placed it gently at the foot of the bed. The sound made Elin jump again.

    “Easy, cherie,” Joe said. “There is no reason to be as nervous as a long tailed chat in salle full or rocking chairs.”

    “I’m sorry,” Elin said. She couldn’t look him in the eye. In fact she couldn’t take her eyes off of the bed. “I’m just nervous.”

    “Oui, I guessed that,” Joe said softly as he stepped closer to her side. “I don’t mean to press my rights tonight.”

    “Oh, then we won’t be sharing the . . .” Elin trailed off.

    “The bed?” Joe finished for her. “We will. But only because there is no other place to sommeil.”

    “Sommeil?” Elin asked. She had been able to guess the rest of the French he had spoken but she was unsure just what he expected with ‘sommeil’. She doubted she could measure up to the Frenchwomen he must have been used to.

    “Sleep,” Joe said as the English word finally came to mind.

    “Ah, cysgu,” Elin said with relief. Sleep. She could do that. Before her sisters had married and her parents had had the idea to move, seeking new fortunes again, she had shared a bed with both sisters. Surely one husband in a bed would be more comfortable.

    “I’ll just go get some more firewood and let you do, what ever you need to,” he gestured to the trunk and hastily left the cabin.

    Elin watched the door shut before going to the trunk and pulling out her one nightgown. It was her wedding night after all, if there was ever an occasion to wear it, it would be tonight. Even if nothing was going to happen.

    Oregon Territory, October 1842

    • Mena O Neill

      Beautiful scene, Myfi. Great setting and love your Characters. Joe promises to be a gentle giant and I love the imagery of the cat in a room full of rocking chairs.:) Ihadn’t heard that before.

    • This was such a great scene! I loved seeing how the heroine’s feelings and actions subtly began changing over the course of the story. I simply wish I could keep reading to see how their relationship progresses!

  54. Masculine shouting reverberates down the hall as I walk toward the storeroom in back, voices loud and angry and only two that I recognize as safe in this bunch of drunk blottos.

    “It’s tainted.” One of the men yells as flesh slaps flesh. Rumbles blend together… “No good…” “Bad hooch!”

    I shouldn’t be back here this late when booze has been flowing for hours already, but my feet are cement blocks, frozen at the first enraged shout. With the whales in the back with daddy, I’m stuck out front managing tickets and that damn goat and pig. I mean… I know it’s the rouse but being surrounded by animal stink all night stays with a girl long after leaving this place.

    A sudden thud hits the door to my right, jolting electricity down my spine as my pulse skyrockets, my heart pounding so heavy in my chest that breathing is near impossible. Was that a body?

    “Daddy?” Gasping, I worry he’s finally taken in the wrong drunk.

    I take off toward the backroom despite the strap of my too-tight Mary Janes digging into my foot, but before I get to the door a muscled arm wraps around my waist yanking me backwards against a rock-hard chest. I squeal involuntarily at the shock, but it never reaches air. A large, calloused hand locks over my mouth as I’m pulled into the shadows of our storage room.

    “Breathe, Jo.” A familiar voice growls in my ear. “I don’t wanna hurt you, woman, but if you don’t stop fighting me, both of us gonna be in a mess.”

    If I wasn’t so sore at being manhandled, I might admit the tingles racing through my midsection now have less to do with panic for my father and more about the male scent enveloping me or the warm breath brushing along that sensitive part of my neck.

    He grunts when I twist again to get free. “Love, relax. I’m not going to hurt you.” He whispers, slowly relaxing the hand on my mouth, even as his arm stays wrapped tight around my middle.

    Unfortunately, relaxing is not happening, my breath could match a sprinter. Slowly, Will turns me in the circle of his arms, holding one finger to his lips in a silent request to hush, his face deliciously close to mine. Despite my annoyance, I listen but it seems the commotion is done. Tears fill my eyes at the thought that someone hurt my dad… he’s all I’ve got. But, Will hugs my head to his chest, stroking my hair lightly as I try to hold in the sobs while we both listen to heavy footsteps passing our hiding spot.

    1925 Detroit

    • This scene is so intriguing! I want to know if Jo’s father is all right. You also did a fantastic job of setting up the chemistry between Jo and Will, particularly amidst the other kinds of tension in the scene. Well done!

  55. Patsy Conway

    “Do not be ungrateful, Tahmet,” her mother said as she extended her left hand, the one she used to harvest the crops, and invited her daughter to join her in celebrating the Five Gifts of Hathor.

    Tahmet knew that ingratitude lead to other evils and she respected her mother. But it would be difficult for her to name the five things she would miss the most if she were to die right now, as the priestess had instructed her.

    “Speak the first things that come to mind,” her mother said as she gently placed her hand on her daughter’s shoulder.

    “My sister,” Tahmet said, opening her left hand and one finger. “The dog. Our home. The Nile.” Before she continued and named her fifth gift, the girl swallowed and whispered. “And User.”

    Hearing the trembling in her daughter’s voice, Tahmet’s mother locked eyes with her first born.

    “User will return,” she said. “His name means strength.”

    But hearing this did little to comfort Tahmet, who had dreamed that he would not return. He had been gone since before the last moon and she had heard stories of the great armies of men who had returned to the eternal stream. In her dream, Tahmet had seen User’s body return home to be buried near the river, on the land he had farmed since he was a boy.

    The priestess interrupted her thoughts.

    “If you lose any of these things,” the priestess said, “Hathor will give unto you another. But these gifts will be protected,” she said. “User will be protected.”

    Hearing this gave Tahmet a glimmer of hope. As she slept that night, her dreams reunited her with User, and the next morning when Tahmet returned to the same spot near the river where she had dreamt of seeing User’s body. She took her scythe and chopped at the emmer wheat, leaving the stalk to fall to the ground so that her sister could pick it up in her basket as she came along behind her. As she did this, Tahmet reached out with her left hand and was reminded of all of the reasons that she had in life to be thankful.

    It was then that Tahmet heard the voices whispering up ahead. At first she believed it to be the wind rushing through the wheat but as she stood tall to look she saw the men gathering by the water’s edge. Immediately she ducked down to avoid detection. She could not believe the gods would allow her to be so close to the son of Pharaoh, and she prayed that she had not been seen. But as she heard their footsteps approaching she realized that everything was about to change.

    Egypt, 1336 B.C.

    • I find it fascinating seeing how you were able to build romantic tension without the hero even being present. I also thought you did a great job with the ending! It certainly left me wanting to read more.

  56. N. Mosley

    Where was Ellis?
    Heart thundering beneath her ribs, Carolina pressed her back against the big Magnolia tree that had become the site of their late night rendezvous. If anything had happened to him…
    No. She shook her head, refusing to think such black thoughts. Nothing had happened to Ellis. He would be here, he was simply late. Hadn’t she herself been late on occasion? Back in those carefree days when she was simply the polished daughter of Atlanta’s most affluent businessman?
    A twig snapped somewhere close and Carolina faded further into the shadow of the tree. “Ellis?” Her voice was barely a whisper, but it carried in the still night.
    When no boyish voice answered back, she closed her eyes, willing Ellis to be okay; for him to simply be held up somewhere. A faint rustle of leaves made her freeze. There wasn’t even a trace of breeze to cool the heavy summer air, let alone disturb the copse of trees she and Ellis used for their clandestine meetings. An animal, or…?
    Panic seized her. She needed to get out of here. If Ellis had been intercepted he’d have not had anything incriminating on him, but if he’d been forced to give up their meeting place – if she was caught here – he’d not have a chance; they’d both hang.
    Stepping away from the Magnolia tree Carolina tried to determine the direction she’d heard the noises from. Likely an animal, but, Ellis was late, and she wouldn’t be the cause of an eight year old boy being charged with treason.
    Thwack!
    A hand slapped across her mouth before she could move, a strong arm dragging her back.
    “Don’t scream.”
    No! Carolina struggled fruitlessly against the arm that held her.
    “Carolina!” She stilled at the sound of her name. Ellis was just a boy, but he wouldn’t have given her up to the Confederate army. Not knowing that the deranged Brigadier General Alexander Calhoun was her fiance and what Alexander would do to her if he found out she was using him to gain information to help the Union army.
    “It’s me. Caleb.”
    Caleb? Caleb Decloutte was the son of a wealthy planter. She’d heard rumor his parents had paid to avoid him serving in the war, that he had been sent off to study abroad because once the war was over the newly formed Confederacy would need good leaders who understood the heritage of their land. Clearly that wasn’t the case.
    “You won’t scream?” he asked.
    Carolina shook her head, and as he released her, she couldn’t help but remember one enchanting night, when a war between the states was speculation, and his name had filled much of her dance card.
    Georgia; Circa mid 1860’s

    • This scene really kept me guessing! I loved the twists and turns you took readers through, first showing that Ellis was simply a child and then showing that she’s providing information to the Union. I would be fascinated to learn where Caleb has been and why he has returned. I wonder if he’s her new contact… Great job!

  57. Jodie DeMarco

    Brushing her long dark hair from her face Yi Seon-mi glanced around nervously, again. Walking closer to the rivers edge she stopped to pull the hem of her hanbok up a little higher. Dipping her bare feet into the cool water she felt the tension leave her shoulders.
    Her father would take her life where she stood if he knew she’d snuck off again but he was hundreds of miles away on his ship and these few moments of peace were worth the risk. The thought of entertaining even one more matchmaker with beady eyes made her want to continue deeper into the water and just let it carry her away.
    Closing her eyes she tipped her head back and let the heat of the sun warm her face. The rumors of a looming war kept her closer to her mother’s side than she cared to be. Taking a deep breath she filled her lungs with the sweet smell of trees and water. The sound of metal clinking towards her sent a chill down her spine.
    Whirling around she dropped her skirt into the water and rushed to hide in the dense shrub that lined the river. Heart pounding she peeked out to see who could have followed her. Shock stole her breath as a tall Japanese Samurai warrior approached the clearing she’d stood in not moments ago.
    Cupping his hands he knelt by the water’s edge and drank deeply. Creeping further into the brush as slowly as she could Seon-mi kept her eyes on the warrior’s back. The stench of a dirty body filled her nose as a filthy hand closed over her mouth. Screaming and kicking her feet Seon-mi tried desperately to free herself. The sound of a sword being unsheathed near the water sent a new fear rushing through her body. This was it. Her father and brother’s were right. The Samurai warrior was going to kill them both. A heavy fist crashed into the side of her head, stunning her.
    The arms wound tightly around her suddenly went slack and she was dropped as quickly as she’d been picked up. The ground rose up quickly to meet her and she hit it hard enough to force the air from her lungs. Gasping in deep lungfuls of air she struggled to pull herself into a sitting position.
    Standing above her, sword still in hand, the Samurai warrior looked down on her. Pausing, as if hesitant to do it, he reached for the strap under his helmet and removed it. Dark piercing eyes met her own and an awareness she’d never felt before flooded her body. Who was this man and why was help helping her?
    Korea 1592 – Joseon Dynasty

    • You have such a beautiful writing style! I would be fascinated to know what happens next! You’ve done a great job of building out the scenery and really immersing your reader in the setting you have created. Well done!