Writing Challenge: Alpha-Beta Soup

by Evan Yeong

I can’t believe it’s been almost a full month since my last Writing Challenge! You all deserve a huge apology, as I know that so many of you enjoy participating in these (and hopefully those who don’t are getting something out of reading them, since I know I sure do).

In searching for inspiration this week, I came across Katie Gowrie’s amazing post on how to write alpha heroines. The veteran Harlequin readers among us are all too familiar with the popular pairing of alpha hero and, what we’re calling for the purposes of this post, beta heroines-

For the uninitiated, on one side we have a strong, domineering man, an unquestionable bad-ass who may even verge on cruel (depending on the book). On the other is a woman who tends to be sweet, but also meeker, less experienced, and on the innocent side. The attraction is always mutual, but it’s also clear who thinks they’re in control (or who should be, anyway). It’s a tried and true formula, and it’s one I don’t want you to write about.

In your submission of 400 words or less I’m looking for you to create a pairing where it’s crystal clear which character embodies which personality. Do we have two bold, bullheaded people who are just as likely to use their mouths to argue than exchange passionate kisses? Do we have a fierce and fearless female who may have just met her match in a charming,  mild-mannered man?  To go beyond that, do we have a duo with two mismatched heroes, or even two mirrored heroines?

If you’re looking for more help here’s another post by Katie about writing beta heroes, and another from the archives on creating the perfect alpha hero.

All submissions are due at 11:59 PM EST on Sunday (July 26th). Each and every eligible entry (emphasis on eligible) will receive editorial feedback from one of our editors later on that week! This is yet another Challenge where you’re mostly limited by your imagination, so I can’t wait to see the range of scenes that come pouring in. It’s wonderful to be writing to you all again, and I hope you’re excited to be writing back!


UPDATE: It was absolutely incredible to come back and see 28 amazing submissions waiting for me! As with many of our past challenges, editorial feedback will be left for every one, and all of you should have received something by Wednesday (July 29th). 

I want to thank everyone who participated, and all those who didn’t but still took the time to leave their own lovely feedback! It’s wonderful to see all of you supporting one another and hope to see it continue.

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  1. Amanda Williams

    Mara Malone dropped the fork on the empty salad plate with a clink and folded her trembling hands in her lap. Upon looking at Seth, her older brother’s best friend, unmistakable fire lit her eyes.

    In measured tones, she replied, “You do not get to tell me what to do.”

    In response, the infuriating man stared at her with such patronizing patience, she stifled the overwhelming urge to scream. In deep, velvet tones, he urged, “Calm down, Mara. At least try to act like a grown-up. You must see the boy, and that is what he is, doesn’t deserve you.” Finally, all pretense of dignity flew out the french doors and over the bay.

    Her eyes narrowed. “Is this what tonight is about? she asked, shaking her head as it all became clear. “You didn’t pick me up from my apartment to celebrate my twenty-first birthday. You made a babysitting call to tell me who I can and can’t date!”

    Tossing her napkin on the white tablecloth, she ignored the stares from the other tables. It wasn’t every day this five-star establishment received a show worthy of daytime television. Well, they might get their money’s worth tonight.

    Seth grasped her arm, and she stopped, for once towering over him. “Don’t worry, Seth. I’m of age—officially. Consider yourself off duty. Go back to your life.” Seth began to say something but thought better of it. His grip tightened, but she jerked away.

    Mara ran down the steps and made her way down to the boardwalk. The intoxicating combination of rippling water and cool breeze allowed for gratifying deep breaths. Several moments passed before the cadence of her heart slowed.

    Then she jumped as Seth stepped to her side. A hand flew to her heart. “The time in the FBI has made you annoyingly stealthy. I could always hear you coming from a mile away when we were kids.”

    He chuckled and nudged her shoulder, playfully. “That’s probably because Marshall and I were fighting.”

    She mumbled. “Probably.”

    “Mara,” he began.

    When she ignored him, he tilted her face toward his. “Mara.”

    “What?” she bit the word out.

    “I’m not trying to ruin your birthday. And no one sent me to talk to you. I care about you. You know that.”

    Slowly, he closed the space between them and planted a kiss on her forehead.

  2. Michelle

    Jacob groaned as he jiggled the key in the lock of his new apartment. He couldn’t get the door to budge.

    It was time to downgrade to his Neanderthal roots. With a low growl and loud thud, he smashed his shoulder into the door making it bounce and vibrate, but not open. He sucked in a frustrated breath and rubbed his shoulder.

    “I’ve called the police!” A female voice yelled from the other side of the door. “You should leave now!”

    Jacob jumped back and stared. There was a woman inside his apartment. Jacob rubbed his temples. He couldn’t deal with this too.

    “Listen, lady, I don’t know how long you’ve been squatting here, but I just signed a lease. You’re gonna have to leave.”

    The door jerked open a couple inches stretching a metal chain lock taught across the women’s forehead. She was short, very short, and she didn’t look homeless. She looked… pretty damn cute, actually.

    She wore a messy auburn bun piled high on top of her head, as if that would make her taller, and an oversized t-shirt that said “The Hulk” across her chest. He also couldn’t help but notice that she wasn’t wearing a bra. It made him feel pervy the way his cock immediately responded to the tear drop silhouettes even as she glared at him.

    “What are you talking about? This is my apartment.”

    “Well, I hadn’t planned on a roomie, but I’m a flexible guy.” Jacob flashed his dimpled smile that won over most ladies, but she didn’t smile back. He couldn’t blame her. It wasn’t the most appropriate time to flirt, but his brain was fixated on the no bra thing.

    “Let me see your key.”

    Jacob handed it over and she rolled her eyes. “This is apartment six.”

    “No, it’s apartment nine.” Jacob said looking at the key that clearly had a nine written on it from his angle.

    Her eyes flickered with annoyance. “You’re really going to argue with me even after this key didn’t fit in this lock and I’m obviously living here?”

    Jacob grinned. She wasn’t scared to put him in his place.

    “You’re completely right.” He said taking his key back. “Well, if you ever need a cup of sugar…” He continued to flirt unable to help himself.

    The women cocked an unimpressed eyebrow, but Jacob swore he also saw the hint of a smile.

  3. “It doesn’t belong there.” Laura sighed and shook her head.
    Allan moved the bottle a few feet across the kitchen counter. “Does it work here? Will that make you happy?” He chuckled and tossed his napkin away. “You know what the first line in our divorce decree is? That I don’t have to put up with your nonsense anymore.”
    Laura crossed her arms.
    “And you know what else? I had the lawyer put a picture of your face right there on the side of the paper so that if I go senile in my old age, I still know to stay the heck away from you.”
    Laura smirked and held up her right hand. One by one, four of her fingers unfurled. “Four kids, Daddy. Let me know how that works because you do have to put up with me for the rest of your life. You proved that in a court of law with those despicable paternity tests you ran.”
    “Our kids are grown, Laura, and I already apologized for that.”
    “There is no apology for that, and you know it.”
    Allan rose from his seat. “What do you want?”
    “Why are you here in my kitchen?”
    “You know why. Did you talk with your brother yet?”
    “I don’t need to talk with him.” She walked away. “And neither do you.”
    Allan nodded. “And that’s why I am here.”
    “I’m not your problem anymore. You just said so.”
    “I know what I said and, if you’re not going to reach out to your own family to help you after what happened the other night, then welcome to my version of the next thirty days of your life.”
    “You have no right…”
    Allan held up four fingers. “I have four reasons to have that right, Mom.”
    Laura crossed her arms again. “It was just one night…”
    “Laura, if you are about to lie to me like you did for the decade we were married, save it.” He moved in front of her. “You had a choice. That choice is now gone. You’ll live by my rules and my expectations while I am here, and we will get you well. I promise you that.”
    A tear slipped down her cheek. “You broke your promises to me a long time ago.”
    Allan’s hand found her shoulder. “So, did you. Now, let’s try it again, shall we?”

  4. Anna Christine

    Karleen reaches across the bed and pulls an extra pillow from the other side then places it over her mouth screaming into it. It’s seven in the morning and that big jerk next door is running what sounds like a backhoe, a saw, and a drill. This work should be done during weekdays and not on the weekends when the rest of the world is trying to sleep in.
    Pulling on a pair of cut-off denim shorts along with an old white tank, she runs barefoot downstairs, through the front door and cuts through her backyard. Her long, naturally curly, strawberry blonde hair is swinging as she stalks to the edge of her property line.
    “It’s Saturday morning,” she screams. “Some of us would like to still be sleeping.”
    All noise ceases and three dark haired, muscular men walk over to where she stands. All eyes appear to be on her chest. Remembering she didn’t put on a bra before the tank, she crosses her arms over her chest to cancel the free show.
    The three men smirk and the biggest one, Quillon, steps forward.
    “It’s one weekend,” Quillon winks one of his green eyes and wiggles his eyebrows. “You don’t need beauty sleep anyway. You’re already foxy.”
    “Gimme a break,” she moans. “You’re pickup lines haven’t worked since you moved in and they aren’t going to work at this ungodly hour of the morning either.”
    “You can’t blame a guy for trying.”
    “There’s quiet hours in this town until eight so you can’t make noise until then. I don’t want to have to complain to the borough, but I will.”
    “C’mon Karleen. How do you expect me to get this house fixed up?”
    “Monday through Friday or during the hours there isn’t a noise ordinance like I do. My contracting company works in this town too and we aren’t working outside of the quiet hours.”
    “Now you know my construction company has work through the week. This is the only time I can work on my own house.”
    He takes another step forward, “How about a truce? Let’s play nice and be neighborly.”
    She can’t take her eyes of that six pack abdomen and the dark hair that’s heading south. Struggling to raise her eyes to his face she sights, “We’re business competitors. I don’t think we can be neighborly.”

    391 words

    • Maurine

      Funny, there is a crew of six shirtless men working on construction of houses down the street from my house this summer. Some weekend mornings they are out there making lots of noise at 7:30 am so I can relate to Karleen.

    • Connolly

      One of my favorite things about this scene is that it feels relatable. Hasn’t everyone been disturbed by a construction crew at one point or another? Partly because of that, from the outset, you’ve created a great dynamic between these characters. Nice job!

  5. Shannon

    “You can’t be serious. I can’t let you go out there alone,” Tony argued.

    “Oh, you can’t? And why is that?” Sam slammed her palms on the desk and leaned toward him. “Please enlighten me. Is it because I’m female? You think I can’t cut it out there with the men? Or is it simply because you are under the impression that I’m not nearly as experienced as you are, Mr. Chairman?” Her eyes narrowed as she waited for his reply. Trust me Mr. Chairman, my experience would blow you away.

    Tony dreaded dealing with Samantha Carter on a good day and today was anything but good. “Look, that’s not what I meant,” Tony raked a hand across his face with an exasperated sigh before looking into Sam’s icy blue eyes. “We have ten minutes until the hearing starts and I just don’t think you should do it alone.”

    Sam laughed, “I don’t think you get to decide what I should and shouldn’t do, Mr. Chairman. You may be in charge of this committee, but I doubt you could ever have what it takes to control me.” Sam stood, smoothing the front of her Tom Ford mini dress. The dress did little to hide her supple body and she was accustom to using that to her advantage. Challenge filled her eyes as she appraised the man who sat in front of her. “Of course, I might welcome you to try, but I’m not sure you could ever quite meet my standards.”

    Tony kept his eyes locked on hers, gathering his thoughts. “Miss Carter, I’m not sure that anyone would be good enough to meet your standards,” Tony sighed, while searching her eyes, “You may not understand this right now, but I really do care about what happens to you and this company. I don’t think you’re angry with me at all. I think you’re scared.”

    Scared! Just who does this little prick think he is? Sam fumed.

    Tony noted her silence and continued, “You have no reason to trust me, but I think I know how to save you and this company. Not everyone here is working against you.”

    Sam stared at him for a moment before lowering her gaze. Her shoulders slumped and she sat back down. She didn’t want to get her hopes up, “Do you really think that you can help me?”

    “Yes, I really do.”

  6. Pamela Kenney

    Timmy stared at the smoking embers of the town stables and the blackened earth beyond it, as far as the eye could see. In all his eight years on earth, Timmy had never seen the sky filled with so much smoke before. Grandpa used to tell stories about grass fires and how they could ‘travel faster than a horse and consume everything in its path’ but Timmy had never believed him before now.
    “Timothy Michaels! Join the others. Right now!” Timmy turned to see Ms. Smythe, standing with the rest of the children near the river. Her hands on her hips and the fierce look on her face was one Timmy had seen many times before but in this instance he didn’t mind doing every single thing she said. He didn’t know how she managed to get everyone all the way from the schoolhouse to the river but it was nothing short of a miracle.
    “Yes’m.” Timmy said, hurrying over.
    “Are we going to be all right?” Little Kathy Watson clung to Ms. Smythe’s skirts.
    “Everything is going to be just fine, Kathy. Don’t you worry. Now keep holding hands with your partner, just like I told you. Lisa, you know how to swim, don’t you? Then you switch places with Eliza. Keep the cloth over your mouth, everyone. Timmy, where is your cloth?”
    Timmy shrugged and opened his mouth to tell a fib but Ms. Smythe didn’t wait to hear it. Ripping a strip of cloth from her hem, she wrapped it across his mouth and nose, tying it off at the back.
    “Emma!” Everyone turned to see Doc Peasley hurrying towards them. Timmy didn’t know what was more shocking: hearing someone call Ms. Smythe a name other than Ms. Smythe or that the Doc ran up to her and grasped both of her hands in his.
    “Is it almost gone past?” Ms. Smythe asked, straightening her shoulders and raising her chin, but still biting her lip.
    “This little upstart bonfire can’t hurt anyone anymore. Don’t you worry.” The Doc grinned and winked. “Everything’s going to be all right.”
    But when Ms. Smythe fell into his embrace, Timmy could see the back of the Doc’s overcoat, where blackened marks told a different tale of just how close it’d come to causing irreversible damage.

    • Patience Bloom

      Dear Pamela, How interesting to show the “alpha-beta soup” through a child’s point of view. I liked Timmy’s introspection as Ms. Smythe and the doc interact during an urgent situation. You show both alpha and beta through these well-rounded characters. Nicely done. –Patience

  7. Chrissie

    Word count: 399

    Brett had never come into her bedroom before. The room was small but appeared much smaller when overwhelmed by his bold masculine presence. Nicole shivered. She stood her ground in a silk nightshirt, her bare toes freezing on the hardwood floor. This rodeo cowboy was not going to win anything tonight. “What are you doing?”

    “We need to talk.” His rough hands settled on his hips, emphasizing that all he wore was a damp towel. Beads of moisture pebbled on his muscular shoulders and water droplets drizzled from the dark curls on his chest. His nipples hardened–

    Oh, God. Was it hot in here? She collected her thoughts. “Talk about what?”

    “A few things. You can’t change me, Nicole. If I want to have a drink now and then, I will. If I want to stay out all night, I will. You asked for this fool arrangement and I agreed to it. But I won’t stop living the way I want to live.”

    “I don’t want to change you, Brett. But you do need to grow up.” She was amazed she could speak so frankly when he towered over her with his intimidating attitude.

    He cocked his dark head closer. “I need to what?”

    “You’re acting like a teenager, not a man. You have a child now, whether you like it or not. You’re her father. Yet, you don’t care what kind of image you set for her to follow.”

    “She’s not gonna be crawling around bars at her age, Nicole.”

    “Neither should you be.”

    He harrumphed. “Out to fix the world and take care of all my problems too? Darlin’, you created the biggest problem by insisting on this here fake marriage.”

    She wished she was snug in her bed and he was rodeoing far away again. “Is there something wrong with having common sense?”

    He moved closer. “Not if you don’t judge others, there isn’t.”

    “I’m watching out for my niece. Baby Alexis needs a firm foundation. Not a father who wanders the countryside like an unruly tomcat.”

    Brett drew her into his arms. His midnight eyes grew stormy with emotion as he lowered his mouth to within inches of her face. One quick flash of a charming grin before his warm lips met hers in a hot curl-the-end-of-her-toes kiss.

    Damn him. She refused to budge an inch. “Is that the best you can do?”

  8. Kelly K Heuser

    A plane crash. Perhaps he should be grateful that he survived, but Blake couldn’t get beyond the inconvenience. He didn’t have time to be stuck in the Rocky Mountains with a pilot who was too prickly for her own good, and too hot for his. Blake glared at the back of Talia Nichols auburn head and fumed.
    “This is stupid,” he declared, pushing himself to his feet. “I can’t just sit here and wait for a rescue plane that may or may not come looking for us.” Blake shouldered the door of the plane open and leaped to the ground. He growled when he realized that Talia had followed him and turned to face her.
    “Where exactly do you think you’re going to go, Mr. High N’ Mighty?” she asked, her hands resting on nicely rounded hips.
    His eyes swept over her, taking in the fire in her eyes, the stubborn set of her jaw…the way her t-shirt stretched over ample breasts. Blake shook his head. Don’t go there, Cochran, he ordered himself. “There has to be a road or something that I can follow to civilization. I’m going to find it.”
    She snorted. “You do that city boy…”
    A low rumbling growl floated over the air a second before the source appeared in the clearing. A mountain lion. A big one. The cat dropped its body close to the ground as it moved toward him. Blake inched backward, careful not to make any sudden movements. When Talia stepped in front of him with a rifle in hand, he reached out to drag her back.
    “What the hell do you think you’re doing?” he demanded in a harsh whisper.
    “I’m saving your ass,” she answered, lifting the rifle to her shoulder.
    He reached up and grasped the barrel. “Give me that thing before you get us both killed.”
    “Do you even know how to fire a gun?”
    He didn’t respond. He hadn’t the foggiest idea of what to do with a gun, but it was a man’s job to protect the woman in his company. His father had taught him that, but he doubted his father had ever met anyone like Talia Nichols.
    Talia smirked. “Yeah, that’s what I thought. Let go and keep moving back toward the plane. Unless you’d rather I just leave you here to get to know your new pal.”
    Word Count: 394

  9. Theresa Kemble

    394 words
    Funny how something you thought was a brilliant idea at the time, became the worst decision you ever made. Especially at the crack of dawn! There was Casey Phillips maneuvering around to the back yard of her next-door neighbor. She was shock that Old man Genovese’s house sold so fast under 10 days. She almost tripped over a sign that read Webber’s construction. Well at least she knew the name of the offending neighbor now-Mr. Webber.
    Now, she needed to get Mr. Webber’s undivided attention. This shouldn’t be too hard especially since she was still in her PJ’s and bunny slippers. She waved to a worker entering the property from the back door. He stopped and walked over to her. He raised his eyebrow, “Si, senorita?”
    She deeply regretted that she only got a C+ in her high school Spanish class. She stumbled over her words. “Um, Me Hablar Con Su Jefe” The worker nodded and stopped her before she embarrassed herself any further. “Okay, I’ll get the boss man, Un momento por favor.”
    What she didn’t bargained for was that Mr. Boss man stepped into the sunlight and was freaking gorgeous! He sported a beige cowboy hat, a pristine white t, and a beige painter’s pants. She looked down at herself. A warmth washed over her cheeks as Mr. Sexy Cowboy Boss man approached her. She secretly hoped that maybe he was really into ‘Just fell out of my bed fashion’ with cool bed-head hair.
    Within, a minute Mr. Hot Cowboy Boss man was in front of her. She gulped as upon her further assessment of his hotness. His sandy-blond wavy hair peeked perfectly through his cowboy hat. Sparkling Blue Sapphire eyes, lush full lips and a perfect dimple on his chin completed her inspection. Now, if she could speak in full sentences and not look like a deranged idiot that would be a plus.
    He tipped his hat to her and his soft southern accent drew her in like bees to honey. “Good Morning, I’m Shane Webber, and I’m the supervisor of this project. How can I be of assistance to you?”
    Charming and polite. How could Casey be so disarmed by a glint of a smile and a nod of a head?
    Casey open your frigging mouth! She scolded herself as she hesitated while drinking in the sexy cowboy’s growing concern.

    • Evan Yeong

      Let me start out by saying how much I loved the comedic exchange between Casey and the construction worker. It felt very true to life, the way we make embarrassing unfortunate assumptions.

      That said, unfortunately I’m not getting a strong sense of what the dynamic here is supposed to be. Is Casey meant to be an alpha heroine? While she clearly has the wherewithal to confront Mr. Webber, she didn’t strike me as bold enough overall to embody that personality type. We also aren’t shown enough about Shane Webber to be convinced that he’s more of a beta hero, either.

      Lastly, I would urge you to do a quick check for spelling and grammar before submitting. While the errors aren’t egregious, there were enough of them to pull me out of the story as I read through it.

      (Apologies for the late feedback, as I didn’t know the editor I assigned to your submission is away)

  10. Melanie G. Whittington

    {set 1932, NYC}
    “No! No! I’m fine.” She tried to find a place to put her hands to get up.
    It was no use. Victor was over to her in a second and bent over to grab her hand as it was flailing around. The feeling of his warm hand on her forearm interrupted her attempt to right herself. She looked at the hand clutching her arm. There was a black onyx pinky ring and cuff links on a white starched shirt. Her gaze followed his arm up where she noticed his tie had a ridiculous pattern. Maybe he did have a personality after all. The initials ‘VV’ were embroidered neatly on the breast pocket. His face was shaded under his fedora, but she could see it was softened by a smile and his sad grey eyes had a glint in them. She had just fallen on the floor landing on her rump. She assumed the glint was an attempt to not laugh directly in her face.
    He pulled her up from the floor easily. She had not noticed during their previous meeting he must have been over six feet tall. She was 5’8” and he was considerably taller than her. His hand lingered on her arm just a second longer than she expected. She glanced up and caught him staring at her. His hand came towards her face. She flinched, not sure why he was about to touch her. She snatched her arm away and jumped back, bumping the wall with her already sore backside. He brushed a loose curl back from her temple, attempting to tuck it back into the scarf wrapped around her head. “You have a loose curl,” he said with a soft tone and a tilt of his head.
    The delicate touch of his fingers on her skin sent sparks down her body. It had been a while since she had been with a man, and she did not think ‘Mr. Teetotaler’ from across the hall was up for the job. She hoped her face had not reacted to his touch. Under normal circumstances her poker face was rather good, but this was an unexpected event.
    She remembered her laces were still untied and glanced down at her shoe.
    “You should probably tie your shoe,” he said rather seriously.
    “You should probably get wherever you were going,” she said equaling his tone.

    • Evan Yeong

      It’s always a pleasant surprise to come across a period piece when the historical time frame hasn’t been specified! I very much enjoyed the little details like how the hero is dressed, and how you’ve portrayed them both as being more on the reserved side.

      You also nailed the shared attraction and the tension between them. Overall a really excellent submission!

      (Apologies for the late feedback, as I didn’t know the editor I assigned to your submission is away)

  11. Catherine

    “I can explain,” the vision in white whispered.
    Her voice.
    It couldn’t be.
    Alec refused to accept this. He refused to accept the picture forming before him. “You have ten seconds to explain yourself.” He stood in the arch doorway of the small chapel and swept another hard stare over the bride. She remained motionless, seated before the vanity mirror and he felt the muscle just below his left eye twitch convulsively.
    Alec’s hand clenched with increasing tension over the door jamb. Nostrils flaring, he fought to keep himself in check. Far too aware of their audience to this little scene, he ignored his bride’s hyena pack of brothers, crowded at his back, breathing down his neck and ready to pounce at the first sign of blood.
    “You dare summon me moments before walking down the aisle for what? Clear your conscience? Or save the skin of your morally and financially bankrupt family?”
    The bride remained utterly still, a sculpted statue overflowing with lace, beads and satin silk. She was the very picture of a beautiful bride.
    But it was who wore the dress and veil and everything else he took issue with.
    Her gaze met his unblinking in the glass. “I know. I owe you an explanation.”
    His housemaid, who’d stalked his dreams nightly, stared serenely back at him through the mirror glass. His fist clenched around the wooden door. Without breaking eye contact, Alec took one long legged stride into the room and shut the door firmly in her brothers’ faces.
    “You are not my bride,” he rasped, his disbelief ringing around the antiquated room.
    This was impossible.
    She was making a mockery of his wedding day.
    A mockery of him.
    “On the contrary, here I am.”
    Alec finally found his tongue and his voice thundered out of him. “You summon me here moments before we are to be married-.”
    “Fifteen minutes,” she corrected, softly. Her wedding bouquet lay discarded on the vanity next to her.
    The perfect bride except for the small white lines of tension around her perfectly lipstick coated lips, the strain in her tightly wound shoulders and the pinch of her elegant brows drawn tight together.
    Only this was all wrong.
    This was not his bride, he’d arranged at their mutual convenience.
    He glared down at her. “Who are you?”

    • Evan Yeong

      Although, like Maurine, I loved the way you described the heroine’s brothers, I read this as a powerful, dominant hero and a soft-spoken and reserved heroine, which is the one pairing I asked writers not to submit.

      I do see a sort of quiet strength in her responses to his angry questioning, but overall it never felt like the two were on a level playing field.

      (Apologies for the late feedback, as I didn’t know the editor I assigned to your submission is away)

  12. Victoria

    “What the hell do you —?”

    “Ah ah ah.” Propping her Converse All-Stars up on her desk, Adriana leaned back and readjusted the microphone on her headset. “Is that how you greet your favorite collections agent?”

    “Oh, it’s you. Hey, Adriana.”

    “This is your monthly reminder to pay your student loan bill.”

    “Shocking update: I’m still flat broke.” His sigh was heavy against the receiver. “I don’t know what you want from me.”

    Adriana glanced at the computer monitor where Ryan Copeland’s profile photo was staring back at her. She could think of a long list of things she wanted from him, none of which was appropriate for the workplace.

    “You haven’t made a payment in over seven months.”

    “Don’t you think I would if I could?”

    “Can’t you like . . . I don’t know. Call a relative or something? There’s got to be someone who can help you out.”

    “Nope.”

    “No friends?”

    “Okay, did you miss that I’m paying back a student loan for a BFA in Acting? Do you really think any of my friends are in a better financial situation than I am?”

    Adriana huffed out a laugh, scrolling through the call script on her screen. She’d been Franklin Securities top collections agent for three years running because she could talk a good game. But she didn’t want to talk a good game with Ryan. His parents had been paying his tuition until medical bills had left them bankrupt. Unwilling to let the last three years go to waste, Ryan had taken out a hefty student loan that he now couldn’t repay.

    Them’s were the breaks.

    But they shouldn’t have been. Not for a nice guy like Ryan.

    “How are you at cooking?” she asked, peeking around her cubicle walls to make sure no one was listening in on their conversation.

    “What?”

    “How. Are. You. At. Cooking?”

    “I’m okay. I can throw together a good gumbo in a pinch.”

    “You free tonight at seven?”

    “Why?”

    “I have a personal chef vacancy that only you can fill. And the salary just happens to be enough for your student loan payment.”

    Silence on the other end. Adriana worried that she might have overstepped; the last thing she needed was for him to call her supervisor. But then —

    “You could’ve just asked me out, you know.”

    She grinned.

    “Sure, but then how would we fix your credit score?”

    • Evan Yeong

      I’m a sucker when it comes to cooking being a huge part of the narrative, and found the repayment of student loans to be all too familiar an experience.

      Adriana is sassy and clearly holds the power in their relationship, but she never struck me as embodying an alpha personality (or its inverse, for that matter). In that same way, although Ryan is the one who’s down and out and not in a position to face her head-on, he didn’t really seem to take on the role of beta hero, either.

      This is a very well-written exchange between two compelling characters, but unfortunately I don’t think it was the best fit for the prompt.

      (Apologies for the late feedback, as I didn’t know the editor I assigned to your submission is away)

  13. Suzie Thompson

    Sasha stepped into the cool, dark interior of Shenanigan’s bar, escaping the evening summer humidity as much as escaping the jerk she just walked away from. She needed a scotch… or three.

    Whoever said you couldn’t relive the past knew what they were talking about. Sasha never should have doubted them.

    Mark Glass was a grade A jerk, she didn’t give a darn how hot he was.

    “Evening, what can I get you, doll?” The bartender asked, as he wiped down the already gleaming marble counter.

    Sasha stopped mid-step, “Doll? What are you? A 1950’s journalist?” Sasha rolled her eyes, closed the distance to the bar, and slid into the leather high back stool, “A scotch. Neat. Make it a double.”

    “You got it, doll.” He quirked his lip and emphasized his reply.

    Sasha didn’t want to admit he was cute. Admitting anything positive about men at this moment was off limits. They were all jerks, and she needed to numb her frustration with them.

    Mr. Blue Eyes slid her neat, double scotch in front of her, “What has such a pretty lady so sour on a Tuesday evening?”

    “I’ll give you three guess, but if you’re a good bartender, you’ll only need one.”

    He nodded, “A man.” It wasn’t a question but a statement.

    Sasha matched his nod and took a long sip of her drink. The liquid burned her throat in the most satisfying way. “A jerk,” she muttered.

    Sasha glanced into the mirror on the back wall, mostly obscured from the bottles of liquor on shelves in front of it. The limited interior view from the mirror allowed her to see she was the only patron. Made sense. Few people would frequent a bar on a Tuesday evening. Only the true hard cases.

    Sasha rolled her eyes, downing another swig. “Let me ask you something, Blue Eyes. Why are men such pathetic creatures?”

    “Are you making a general assumption? Or targeting one man in particular?”

    “Both, though assumption implies I have no proof and I have 32 years of proof.”

    “Maybe you’re letting the wrong men in your life, doll.” Blue eyes twinkled back at her and Sasha felt she was being challenged.

    Sasha’s skin flushed, maybe Blue Eyes here had a point. Perhaps she shouldn’t lump all men in the completely worthless category, they were at least good for one thing.

    • Evan Yeong

      Sasha’s bold and bristling from an unpleasant encounter when she meets the blue-eyed bartender. I enjoyed their conversation, but it wasn’t immediately apparent to me if he was intended to be an alpha or a beta. His dubbing her “Doll” felt more impetuous than anything. It didn’t feel consistent with the dominating personality that’s associated with the former, while also being more brazen than the latter would suggest.

      (Apologies for the late feedback, as I didn’t know the editor I assigned to your submission is away)

  14. Polly Burton

    For the first time Alexis found herself out of the action. Tall, blonde, bubbly and extroverted, she found it easy to be the life of the party. Shifting in her seat, she adjusted her foot to rest more comfortably on the stool and sighed in relief when the pain eased. The ankle sprain wasn’t a bad one, though it was serious enough that she needed crutches, preventing Alexis from being her sister’s bridesmaid in today’s wedding. Looking around the ballroom she smiled softly at the new bride dancing with her husband, entranced with each other to the exclusion of all else. The way it should be. And what Alexis secretly hoped for.

    “Do you want some company?”

    Alexis’ turned to look at the man standing to her side, hands in his suit pant pockets, not quite meeting her eyes. Seated, she had to tilt her head considerably to take him all in; he would be even taller than her when she wore high heels.

    “Sure, it’s not as if I’ll be dancing anytime soon,” she replied smiling, patting the seat next to her.
    The man sat, hitching his suit pants with practised ease, still not meeting her eyes.

    “It’s been a long time, Alexis.”

    Alexis turned to consider him in more detail. He had a strong jaw and piercing blue eyes. Surely she would have remembered this man? Her brows drew together in thought.

    “Excuse me for being forward, but I think I would remember a man as good looking as you!”
    She grinned, meeting his eyes briefly and winking cheekily. His cheeks warmed with a slight blush, and he dropped his gaze to his hands in his lap. The movement was so familiar to Alexis that she immediately recalled who he was.

    “Chris? Wow! You have certainly changed since high school. My sister never said her best friend turned into such a hunk!”
    Alexis laughed and playfully poked him in the arm, making him look at her.
    “Err…”
    “I remember now. You were always quiet and shy, weren’t you?”
    Chris straightened in his chair, took a breath and met Alexis’ eyes.
    “Around you, Alexis, yes I was shy.”
    Alexis’ breath caught in her chest. Chris reached over and took her hand in his, a small smile on his lips.
    “I spent every day wishing I could have the courage to speak to you, and now I have.”

    • Deirdre

      This is a fun, flirty scene between a bold heroine and slightly shyer but no less strong hero. I love how you’ve found the vulnerability in your alpha and the strength in your beta – and made them both very believable. That’s not easy to do! If the situation were more high stakes, we might get a chance to see the alpha/beta qualities played out more strongly, and the couple’s interaction pushed beyond flirting to passion. What if Alexis’s sprained ankle prevented her from playing a crucial tennis tournament? (Think of the strength, determination, beauty and passion of Serena Williams!) And perhaps her beta hero is the supportive tennis coach she’s appreciating for the first time? Don’t be afraid to raise the stakes in your story – go all in! Thanks for writing, and good job!

  15. Sally Freytag

    (391 words)
    Dominic laid his knife and fork down on his plate, and took a long drink from his wine glass before reaching out to refill it from the bottle.
    Christina nodded at the bottle. ‘Driving home?’
    He looked at her, surprised. ‘I thought I’d made it clear… I booked a room.’
    Christina sighed. ‘For one, I hope.’
    She was tired of his arrogant assumption that she wanted to be here, and not at all happy about his proposal they should spend the night together.
    ‘No,’ Dominic replied shortly. ‘For us both. You already know that.’
    Enough was enough. Christina looked at him, suppressing her fury. ‘Have I time to pop to the cloakroom, before our next course?’ she murmured, laying her hand on his.
    A narrow-eyed look of speculation crossed his face. ‘Of course,’ he murmured politely, standing up as she left the table.
    As she went into the magnificent hall of the hotel, she smiled grimly. Dominic Winchester was going to learn she had a brain, and teeth as well. She crossed to reception. A far better idea than ordering a taxi had occurred to her as she’d sat at the table.
    Five minutes later she re-emerged from the ladies’ cloakroom, her wrap over her arm, and went through the large oak door, opened for her by the doorman. In front of the steps lay Dominic’s sleek sports car. The car-park attendant was just getting out of the driver’s seat.
    Christina held out her hand for the keys. ‘Thank you,’ she said, giving him a dazzling smile. She slid into the soft leather seat, thanking heaven that she wore, due to her height, low-heeled shoes.
    A car. It was only a car. It had gears, brakes, a clutch and accelerator, like any other car. Christina was a good driver. She had the key to Annabel’s cottage in her bag. By the time he wondered where she was and sent someone to go and look for her in the cloakroom, she would be long gone, and he’d have to wait for a taxi before he could follow her.
    Turning the key in the ignition, Christina felt, rather than heard, the deep-throated murmur of the powerful engine. She slipped the car into first gear and eased out the clutch, moving smoothly off down the drive, a smile of pure wickedness on her face.

    • Deirdre

      I enjoyed the way your alpha heroine took charge of this situation. A reader might need more context to explain the hero’s booking a hotel room for himself and the heroine without her consent in a way that would create sympathy. One of the challenges of creating a romantic alpha hero is finding the balance between strong and commanding, and dominating and manipulative. If you were to keep this scenario in a full length romance, the key would be deepening your characterization enough to make the reader understand and sympathize with his motivations. Thanks for taking part in our challenge!

  16. Fiona Marsden

    He was here, in the palace. Federica stiffened in place, forcing her back ramrod straight. “To what do we owe your presence?”
    Aubrey Moncrieff raised one exquisitely manicured hand in a half salute. “Greetings, my love. It’s such a pleasure to see you looking so well.”
    The implied rebuke didn’t hit its mark. Federica had no intention of showing any weakness. Certainly not any pleasure in seeing her estranged husband. “You’re not welcome and it’s pointless to pretend any different.”
    “Shall we be seated, or would you prefer to conduct this conversation as an audience?” He indicated the throne immediately behind her.
    It would have been so easy to sit down and leave him standing, submissive to her will as ruler. However, she remained conscious of the footmen at the open door of the throne room, the armed guards at the sides and her lady-in-waiting hovering out of her line of sight. “No. We’ll take this conversation to my private chambers. Elissa, I’m leaving. The audience session is now closed.”
    Her lady-in-waiting scurried to gather the papers and personal items together, clutching them to her breast. “What about the rest of the petitioners?”
    “They can wait.” She hesitated, eyeing Aubrey’s nonchalant demeanour. There was something about it she mistrusted. Though trust had long been in short supply between them. “Ensure they have refreshments.”
    Assured of Elissa’s cooperation, Federica swept from the room, a stoic footman opening the door at the rear of the hall and watching them exit with a gleam of interest in his eyes. This is what she hated. Her personal life on show to the world. All the fault of this man who followed her soft-footed and relaxed. He had been supposed to be the perfect consort. Even now, in his formal grey suit, discrete Oxford tie and his dark hair impeccably cut, he was the image of a well-dressed banker about town. He was beautiful, well educated and most important, incredibly rich. Even a princess could be impressed by the vast wealth he brought to her ailing principality.
    Her lip curled. He was also weak. She’d discovered it too late.
    Dismissing the footman, she arranged herself carefully on an padded satin chair with gilt arms and legs. Aubrey folded his long length onto a matching settee, resting his arm along the backrest.
    “My dearest Freddy, when were you going to inform me of our impending parenthood?”

    • Deirdre

      There’s a lot to like about this scene. We learn about the heroine’s alpha qualities not only because we’re told she’s royalty, but because we get to see her interact with others. And the hero’s ease with her shows us that the two are on equal footing in terms of power dynamics, even if they may differ in rank or class. Plus, the emotional stakes are high, so the couple is in a situation where the best (or worst) of their character will be forced to the surface. Very nicely done, Fiona!

  17. Jkowen8

    “He’s a sociopath,” the captain warned Mala, as if any great agent had to be one. “And he expects this test.”

    Mala wasn’t as impressed, but couldn’t exactly say that to the old man. So she tacitly accepted the surveillance report USB, as always. A thin folder waited on the desk, containing IDs and a backstory she’d have to destroy, once memorized. She smiled automatically when she took it, a lingering reflex from that long year she had to play hostess. The captain liked it, he dismissed her with a nod.

    Finally, new work to do.

    On her desk, half-drank coffee cups guarded her encrypted laptop better than any password, as there was no way to touch that keyboard without spilling something that could potentially start a new type of life form. The USB could wait, the file containing her new personality was more accessible.

    Yoga instructor. Whenever she had to break a couple up, her physical attributes got emphasized by her job. Divorced, no children. Smart girl, on both counts. Allergic to fur. At least she didn’t have to spend time with pets, they depressed her. No family, no friends. Low self-esteem. Ready to run into Kane at his gym, making his day.

    Zero pictures of him, only pixelated blobs under black caps on CC stills, next to Carrie Lowell’s blonde silhouette, half his size. They never showed their faces on camera, avoiding all angles, even in places they’d never been before. How did they do that? Why?

    The agency had an open door policy: an employee could leave anytime, return anytime. Missions were usually solitary and short-term, so personnel was easy to remove and integrate again. The problem was the information one learned on the job, if they could be trusted with it. Although the default answer was yes, when their top agent resigned to marry a guy who didn’t exist before he was twenty-two, the agency called Mala to test him.

    Elias Kane, twenty-eight, owner of some woods he was born and raised in. Never left the state until he suddenly started travelling all over the globe. Met Carrie at a bar and made quite an impression, as she resigned not even a full month later. The official reason she gave was simple: she wanted a life where she didn’t have to lie in every conversation.

    Mala didn’t think being lied to was better.

    • Deirdre

      I’m intrigued by this setup, although I’m not quite sure what this “agency” does. I like the potential for a clash between the strong agent and her target, but I would have liked to have seen that rivalry played out through the action and dialogue. If you’re going to hook the reader with a “sociopath” in your first line, we want to meet him! I loved the detail about Mala’s automatic smile and how it hides her thoughts and feelings – an authentic observation many readers can identify with. Well done!

  18. Tami Roach

    Meeting her as soon as she was on board Triton, “What are you doing here?” he demanded. The rest of the team stopped dead in their tracks and became silent. The only sounds were the waves lapping at the boat’s hull, the shrill cries of the sea gulls overhead, and the heavy breathing of Triton’s captain. “I thought I made myself perfectly clear to the Foundation that you were not to be directly involved in this expedition, but were to remain behind the scenes to do your job.”

    Forcing a smile on her lips and steeling her spine, Jade firmly planted her feet on deck with hands upon her hips as her defiant eyes met the furious glare of Colin Campbell. “Nice to see you again, Mr. Campbell. Although, I don’t recollect you being so rude at previous meetings. In fact, if I didn’t know better from your behavior now, I would have called you rather charming. In any event, to refresh your memory, I have a copy of the Foundation’s contract regarding your expedition, and the reinstitution and extension of the exploration permits obtained on your behalf. In order for you to continue, it is necessary that I accompany you per your specific request.”

    There was no mistaking his anger with his face so clearly red and distorted. Gritting his teeth, “Allow me to remind you, Miss Antiquity, that I am the leader of this expedition. What I say goes. Period.”

    “Ms. Carter, please. Understood, Captain. As I am sure you understand that I am part of your crew for the duration. My presence is the only thing keeping your venture afloat. Figuratively and literally.” He silently had to concede; she was right. In order for him to move forward, he had to have a marine archaeologist on board. He had to have her on board. How dare she throw any kind authority in my face, on my vessel, and in front of my team!

    Bending down to face level with the slender brunette, “You may be on board my vessel, but you are not one of my crew. When this expedition is over, you’re out of here.”

    Jutting her jaw forward to meet his fiery gaze, “Finally, we agree on something. Shall we get on with it then? We are wasting precious daylight because of your posturing.”

    389 words

    • Hannah

      Hi Tami,
      Thank you so much, for taking part in this week’s writing challenge!
      You show us, from the very first line, that sparks are, well and truly, about to fly, between Jade and Colin. It’s fantastic to watch two, alpha characters who, we just know, are ready to challenge each other. Jade, in particular, is a stand-out character; and, you give us, in just a short extract, a clear sense of who she is, as an individual – which is great! We would love, next, if you could take the idea, that this isn’t the first time, that Jade and Colin have met, and dig a bit deeper, into their joint past.
      Thank you so much for participating, Tami!
      Hannah

  19. Maurine

    Kansas, 1865
    Jake rose early and started a fire in the stove for coffee and breakfast. They’d eaten the last of the bacon the day before so he retrieved a dozen eggs from the spring house. It would be a long day and they needed their strength. He set the eggs in a bowl near the stove, handy for Elizabeth to beat. He found the wooden spoon she used and laid it beside the bowl. She liked things a certain way and he was okay with that. All he wanted was her happiness.
    After setting the copper kettle over the fire pit, he took the two buckets to fill at the creek. On the return from his third trip, Elizabeth had started the coffee boiling and had set plates and utensils on the table. Another two trips to the creek and he had enough water to start a fire under the copper pot. When the fire began to roar, he went inside to eat.
    Elizabeth set three biscuits left over from breakfast the day before on the edge of his plate. She shifted in her chair and he knew what she was about to say made her uncomfortable. “Thank you for getting the water.”
    Shortly after his arrival, he’d learned accepting help was hard for her. She had always done things her way, on her own. “You’re welcome.”
    As soon as they finished eating, he began to wring out the clothes she’d set to soak the night before.
    “What are you doing?” she asked.
    “Getting laundry ready.”
    “That’s women’s work.”
    “Didn’t bother you last week to help with the plowing. That’s man’s work.”
    “It needed to be done.”
    “So does this.”
    “Adam never–” She stopped as though admitting he’d never helped her with chores would tarnish the man’s memory. Much time would pass before she would be ready to love someone new. But he could wait.
    Elizabeth stirred the sheets over the fire with an old broomstick while he scrubbed their clothes.
    Soon he smelled burning cloth. “Your skirt!”
    She backed away from the pot and attempted to extinguish the fire. He tackled her and threw them both on the ground, then slapped at the flames, singeing his hands.
    “My dress!” she cried. “It’s ruined.”
    “Well, now that new dress will come in handy.”
    She laughed, making his heart sing.

  20. Kate Frey

    “I’m flattered, but no” the woman had spoken definitively when Beth had bumped into her at the bar.
    Beth looked incredulously at the tall, slim woman. Taking a step back, she studied her appraisingly. Dressed in dark skinny jeans, slit at the knee, and a white v-neck showcasing a modern tattoo of a winding ivy snaking up from the base of the neckline, she couldn’t help but wonder where that tattoo started.
    The eyes were startling, vivid green, and confident in her dismissal. She was undoubtably pretty, yet entirely unconventional in comparison to Beth. Beth’s soft yellow ringlets, heart shaped face and modern summer dress were hardly unorthodox.
    “No?” Beth immediately laughed and smiled pointedly. “If that’s some kind of reverse psychology, it won’t work. I’m not here to meet people”.
    Looking at the bartender, Beth ordered a whiskey neat, promptly ignoring the woman.
    “You’re not here, at a bar alone, to meet people?” the woman questioned, as if to herself. She signalled to the bartender seemingly surprising herself by putting this Beth’s drink on her tab.
    “Thanks,” Beth said, with some surprise, “but I meant it, that’s not why I came”. She looked appreciatively at the stranger, thinking maybe she had come for the wrong reasons…
    “Getting out of a bad break up?” the stranger spoke with a smirk. “Did your Ken-doll leave you?” She raised a beer to her lips not taking her eyes off Goldilocks.
    “Not that it’s any of your business, but Erika left months ago”. Beth was tired of these gold-star lesbians assuming she was going through a college phase just because she liked to get her hair done and wore pretty dresses. She knew who she was, and what she wanted, and she would not apologise to anyone for it.
    “I’m sorry to hear that,” she answered before introducing herself as Paige, meanwhile not looking sorry at all.
    The lights dimmed, and Beth raised her glass in mock cheers before headed to the stool at the front of the room, pulling a guitar from behind the bar.
    She noticed with great satisfaction, Paige appeared shocked.
    Adjusting the mike, she spoke, introducing herself as the entertainment.
    “Don’t feel you need to go easy on me, it’s fun being misunderstood”.
    And she winked at Paige.

  21. Taffy Marie

    Drake Mallard could not believe his luck. He never expected to find such a woman at Murphy Huntsford’s CEOnly New Year’s Eve ball. Wearing a simple black dress, she gave a demure but sexy appearance. He had to have her! As CEO of Apex Amusement Parks, when he saw what he wanted, he went for it.

    She would be his bride, he decided. As a CEO, she would be almost as rich as him. He wouldn’t be put into that awkward position that his father was when his stepmothers ran off with their lovers and half his money. They could have a nice prenup with no hard feelings.

    A few hours later, they were kissing as 2019 ended. Sandra could not believe her luck. She almost hadn’t come. She knew the other CEOs wouldn’t be wearing the cheapest dress and shoes from JCPenney, that they could see through her. But she was wrong.

    “This time next year, at the countdown to 2021, I will propose to you!” he said.

    “You hardly know me!” she giggled.

    “I know that you are the CEO of a company! What’s the name of your company, again?”

    “Sandratizers. It’s an artisan hand sanitizer company.”

    Drake’s face fell. “Oh no, I can’t marry you. I never heard of that company. You’re not rich enough.”

    Sandra felt a jolt of anger. How dare he?

    “Fine. I’ll give you a bet. By this time next year, I will have more money than you. And you will marry me.”

    He laughed. “My bonus is based on my park’s attendance. There’s no way a hand sanitizer factory can generate more than my theme parks!”

    “We will see!”

    ——————————————————————————————————————
    Drake was like a different person, so funny and charming. He was the life of the CEOnly New Year’s Eve Dinner Party. Sandra was having a better time than she had expected.

    “So,it’s almost midnight,” Drake said. She checked her new Rolex watch.

    “Yes, it is.” She reached into her Gucci bag and took out the purse size bottle of the product that had made her a millionaire. She offered some to Drake.There was a big bottle of it by every ride. She had negotiated an excellent price with him.
    “You are one tough businesswoman,” Drake said. “A real dragon woman. And I am a man of my word. So, will you marry me?”

    • Hannah

      Hi Taffy,
      Thank you so much, for taking part in this week’s writing challenge!
      It’s fantastic to read a story, that focus’ on an in-control woman, who’s not afraid to get what she wants, in life. I’d love to see more stories, that feature female CEOs! I like the idea, also, that Drake and Sandra reunite, a year later, on New Year’s Eve. Drake, however, is quite disrespectful and rude to Sandra, on the night they first meet, so it is a little difficult to understand, why she would want to marry him. It might helpful, Taffy, to re-think the reason why Drake can’t marry Sandra – why, for instance, does he need to find a wealthy bride? – and dig, that bit deeper, into Drake and Sandra’s emotional connection.
      Thank you so much for participating, Taffy!
      Hannah

  22. Iris Swift

    With a roar of outrage, Otto plunged into the forest after the cloaked thief. The rogue bounded before him, leaping over roots and twisting around trees. He was slight and fleet of foot, but Otto had no fear of being outrun. He was the leader of the Knights of Alimar. No man could escape him.

    Sure enough, after a fierce pursuit the villain slowed. Cornered like a rat. Otto drew his sword and held it high against the answering flash of steel.

    Who dared to challenge Otto Sholdragen?

    “Surrender fool,” he ordered, “you have no chance against me.”

    But the thief, still hooded, darted forwards and Otto parried a blow that would have landed true. The clash of metal rang through the darkened forest.

    “Who are you?” Otto demanded.

    “I am one who will defeat you,” came the reply.
    His voice was soft and high. The lad was but a youth.

    Anger surged trough Otto’s veins. In another moment his sword was pointing at the thief’s chest.

    “Drop your weapon,” he said.

    But the thief did not submit, his blue eyes flashed with defiance.

    “I will never surrender to you, Otto Sholdragen.”

    Otto took a breath. He towered above the youth who should, by rights, have been begging for his clemency. His grip on his sword tightened. If the thief would not yield, there was but one way this could end.

    But there was something about those blue eyes.

    A sudden gust of wind revealed all. The hood fell back and a cascade of dark hair fanned out around a face that belonged to no boy.

    Those were the soft lips he had tentatively kissed but hours earlier.

    Otto lowered his sword, his face mirroring the tumult of confused emotions surging through his battle-weary body.

    This traitor was none other than his new bride.

    The woman before him met his bewildered gaze with steely determination.

    “You,” he gasped.

    “I,” she confirmed, stepping backwards and raising her own sword once again.

    “You dare to stand against me?”

    “I dare to stand against the rule of Alimar,” she spat.

    He flung his sword to the ground, strode forward and grasped her by the wrists.

    “You are my wife.” He spoke forcibly. “You belong to Alimar.”

    Moving swiftly, Ariana slipped out of his hands and levelled her sword against his heart.

    “I belong to no one.”

  23. Marcie McEachern

    Gavin stared out the floor to ceiling windows at the blue expanse of ocean in the distance. Owning his own surfboard company was a dream come true, but man, what he wouldn’t give to be out in the water.

    At the knock on his door and the faintest whiff of jasmine, Gavin’s pulse surged like a wave headed for shore. Now THERE was a good reason to stick around the office. A lovesick grin tugged at his lips, but he schooled his expression into a pleasant but professional mien.

    His business partner, Suzette, strode into his office, working her fitted dress and sky-high heels like a runway model. Until Gavin had met her, he’d been a flip-flops and cut-offs kind of guy, but now… There was something so beautifully powerful about her, like a perfect wave.

    Suzette’s blue-gray eyes flashed. “Doug Carson called again. I swear, that man makes me want to throw things.”

    “Still offering to buy us out?”

    “Yes, and I told him—again—where to shove his offer.”

    Gavin chuckled and leaned back in his chair. Suzette was a sight to behold when she was in warrior mode, which, come to think of it, was pretty much always.

    Narrowing her eyes, she ran her gaze over him, assessing. “Any weekend plans?”

    He resisted the urge to squirm under her scrutiny. “Just catching some waves.” For a second, he pictured Suzette paddling out beside him, flashing that rare but stunning smile of hers. Gavin clenched his jaw. No. He had to keep his business and personal interests separate. He couldn’t jeopardize their partnership.

    “No set-in-stone agenda then.” Suzette lifted her chin. “Good, because you’re attending a wedding with me tomorrow.”

    Gavin shook his head, as disoriented as if he’d taken a header into the soup. “Say what now?”

    “A friend of mine is getting married. Unfortunately, Chad is buddies with the groom.” At the mention of her jerk of an ex-boyfriend, anger flared in her eyes. “My date canceled, and you’re a better option than rent-a-date. Your tuxedo was dry-cleaned and delivered to your house earlier today, and my address is programmed into your GPS. Pick me up at five.” With that, Suzette pivoted and sashayed out the door. “And make sure you shave!” she called over her shoulder.

    Gavin stared after her, his heart racing. A date with Suzette? That was a wipeout waiting to happen.

    (399)

    • Evan Yeong

      Suzette’s type A personality comes through in the way her eyes flash, but absolutely soars when we find out just how she thoroughly planned out their wedding date together. The strength of your submission also highlights its lone weakness, in that Suzette is such a dominating character that we don’t get to learn very much about Gavin. The way he resists squirming under her scrutiny is an excellent touch, and I wanted to see a little more of that throughout.

  24. “You look like you’re in need of a drink.”

    The leggy blonde strode into Dylan’s new office without knocking, placing a strong coffee on his empty desk.

    “If you need something stronger, Elspeth keeps a bottle of scotch in the bottom drawer.” Perching her peachy behind on the edge of his desk, she nudged the drawer in question with the back of her sky-high heel.

    Dylan tried to appear unruffled as he met her appraising stare. Was it that obvious he needed a stiff drink after meeting his new colleagues? Employees, he hastily corrected himself.

    Dylan had been surprised when, on announcing she was pregnant, his older sister Elspeth had asked him to run her successful advertising agency during her maternity leave. But having met the senior staff, he now knew why Elspeth had chosen him as temporary CEO: her loyal younger brother would run her company according to her wishes, whereas Dylan had the suspicion that some of her employees, who were as formidable and fearless as Elspeth herself, would love to take the company in their own direction.

    Take this blonde bombshell, brazenly perched on his desk so she could look down on him, clearly signalling her contempt for her new boss. Luckily, growing up with Elspeth had given Dylan some experience in handling strong women.

    “Thank you, uh…” Dylan paused, remembering full well who she was – who could forget a stunner like her – but allowing her the chance to assert herself.

    “Alessandra Crane. Creative Director.”

    Dylan shook her proffered hand, flashing his most charming smile and hoping her icy demeanour would thaw as the warmth of his large hand engulfed her smaller one. However Alessandra’s slender fingers met his with a firm grip, refusing to relinquish control of the gesture.

    “Thank you, Alessandra. Will you join me in a scotch?”

    Alessandra inclined her head in assent without moving from her perch on the desk, meaning that Dylan was virtually bowing before her as he lent to retrieve the liquor from the desk drawer. When she flexed her ankle, drawing attention to the red soles of her Louboutins, Dylan wondered whether she was signalling that she planned to trample all over him? And was it weak of him to think that, if she was going to do it in shoes as sexy as these, he might have no choice but to let her?

    Word Count: 396

    • Evan Yeong

      You pulled off Alessandra leveraging her physicality in her professional relationship with the new boss with ease! Given that men are more often than not taller, there are few scenarios where a woman can look down on a man, but this is certainly one of them.

      I also appreciate that while his personality don’t come across as strongly, Dylan’s introspection and past experience with his sister (presumably an alpha heroine in her own right) makes him more than just a pushover. There’s a lot of nuance here that didn’t go unnoticed.

  25. Iris Farrah

    Word Count: 395

    Mark pulled into the parking lot at Feisty Burger. His agent was always on his case about that—it was hard enough to find acting work at forty-eight without a junk food habit. But if no one was calling, who cared if he destroyed a shake?

    He was just debating whether to start with the fries or burger when his car’s display lit up with a call from Nadia.

    Nadia (Lawyer), specifically, though she was the only Nadia he knew. Perhaps his assistant had, aspirational, imagined Russian supermodels and wanted to avoid confusion when he had a woman calling he wasn’t paying to speak to in six-minute increments.

    He answered on the second ring. “Hi, Mark Winter speaking.”

    “Were you chatting to the rep from Ackeroy?” she barked in response.

    Mark took a bite of burger, hoping that would give her time to reflect on why she began every interaction in the most hostile way imaginable. “Good to hear from you. How’s it going?”

    “Don’t. Did you or did you not speak to Haig from Ackeroy? Don’t lie to me.”

    She sounded genuinely upset. Surprising. Besides her dark glamour, there was something about Nadia’s intensity that got him. Perhaps because he’d drifted through life buoyed by his good looks and good cheer. Perhaps because she was so unfashionably earnest.

    “I did,” he said.

    “For God’s sake. Look, do you want them to settle or not?”

    “Of course I do. Why?”

    Her answering silence was appalled. “Mark,” she said at length, “you can’t talk to those people until this is resolved. Period.”

    “It was small talk.”

    “It doesn’t matter! It doesn’t matter if you were talking baseball. It compromises our position. Knock it off.”

    “Okay,” he said, trying to sound apologetic while dipping fries into his shake. “I get it. I’m sorry.”

    “That’s fine,” she said sharply. “I work for you. You don’t have to do any of this.”

    Of course he didn’t. She would get paid; she could whisper to prospects that she’d represented him. He didn’t begrudge her that. He’d floated, but some people had to claw.

    Nadia hesitated, and for a moment he thought another criticism was coming. But she surprised him. “Listen,” she said, “The firm is having a barbecue on Wednesday. If you’re that desperate for company, come.”

    His smile had nothing to do with Feisty Burger this time. “Sure. Sounds… fun.”

    • Evan Yeong

      Very impressed with how you used something as innocuous as how Nadia appears in his caller ID to give readers a better idea of the state of his acting career. It also felt very much life real life, from dipping fries in milkshakes to how when people talk on the phone they only have the other person’s tone of voice to go off of.

      I would have maybe liked a few more hints of a potential romance around the edges, maybe in how he remembers her good looks, but across the board a very enjoyable read!

  26. Sarah Shaw

    Helena eased the cork out of the neck of the champagne bottle with a satisfying pop.
    ‘Here’s to us, eh?’ she said, filling first Mark’s glass, then her own. ‘Looks like we’re all go.’
    Mark smiled and lifted his glass to chink against hers.
    ‘Here’s to us.’ He took a sip then sat back, a smile curling his soft, full lips. Those lips that Helena was longing to kiss.
    It had been an intense evening, with the public meeting finally voting in favor of the community center going ahead. It was a win-win situation as far as Helena was concerned: Hooper’s Creek got its shiny new purpose-built facility, and she got to manage the project. Plus it was a big commission for Mark, the architect.
    ‘I’m so glad we’re going to be working together,’ she said, settling herself on the sofa close, but not too close to Mark. She needed to keep things mostly professional. But now the meeting was over he’d loosened his tie and undone the top button of his shirt, and his curly, chocolate-colored hair was delightfully rumpled.
    Dammit, she might just have to kiss him after all . . .
    Before her sensible side could talk her out of it, Helena leaned over and kissed him on the cheek, low down, so the edge of her lips brushed against his. She held her breath, as if she’d just done something a little bit naughty and wondered if she’d get away with it. Eyes closed, she felt Mark turn towards her, his breath warm and lightly champagne-scented.
    She went to kiss him again, full on the mouth this time, but before their lips could connect he moved away.
    ‘Helena, I don’t think we should . . .’ Mark ran a hand through his hair. His cheeks were pink beneath his caramel skin. ‘I think we need to keep things professional.’
    ‘Of course, of course — I’m sorry.’ Helena looked down at her neatly lacquered nails, nervously smoothing her skirt. She felt more frustrated than embarrassed. She could tell her was attracted to her, but if he wanted to be a good boy . . .
    ‘No need to apologize.’ Mark reached out and placed his hand over hers, his fingers tantalizingly touching her knee. ‘It’s just that this project means a lot to me, and to this community. I’d hate to derail it just because I did something I shouldn’t have.’

    • Evan Yeong

      I think the direction you were trying to take this was two betas, and if so, I think you were largely successful! It’s always a delight to see a hero blush, and her nervously smoothing out her skirt really helped to cement them as a more timid duo.

      Since it can be hard to endow a character, let alone two, with a lot of personality in 400 words or less I will admit that I wasn’t sure whether or not Helena was meant to be more of an alpha from the outset. One way you could have made her character more clear would be to add more descriptions to her kiss, like her heart pounding in her ears as her lips approach his cheek. That would’ve gone a long way in showing how much her actions rebel against her sensible nature.

  27. Naomi ran a hand through her hair. Her first time in Rarotonga, and she’d finished the day’s work—three black and white sketches. She looked forward to transforming them into marketing material, but now she wanted a coconut.
    This tree stood only three metres high. Nothing fell when she shook it. Bother. It was a long time since she’d climbed anything. But nobody would see her, especially not her new boss, who seemed to think levity was beyond the pale.
    She kicked off her sandals, laid the sketchpad on the ground. The trunk’s ridges slipped under her feet. Knees gripping, she inched upwards. Exhausting.
    ‘What are you doing?’
    Damn. It would be him. Samuel. Her annoyingly easygoing boss with the surfer’s body, who’d got her work in this amazing place. Her face warmed.
    ‘Getting a better view for drawing, of course.’
    ‘Is that so?’
    Too late, she remembered the sketchpad on the ground.
    ‘Okay, okay. I’m stroking—‘ she drew the word out—‘stroking coconuts. What are you doing?’
    Deep breath. She glanced down. His hair was damp and curling. Did he know she was taking the mickey?
    ‘Stroking coconuts?’ He sounded strangled.
    ‘Well, these are a new experience—I’ve only ever seen the brown hairy ones, you know, from the supermarket? These green balls are quite something.’
    Gripping the one coconut she could reach, she jumped. It gave way easily. Some advantages to being tall. She landed with her arms locked around the fruit.
    He examined her as if she were a strange one-eyed fish.
    His shirt was open to the third button. Blond chest hair peeked out. A promise of lean muscle. Her fingers itched. No. Not the boss. Not matter how gorgeous.
    ‘See?’ She caressed the green shell.
    ‘Are you very experienced with the brown—‘ he choked—‘Um, the hairy ones?’
    ‘No,’ she said promptly. ‘But they have these holes that squirt juice, right? You don’t so much caress them as stab the holes straight through, hmm?’
    He folded a little, angling away from her.
    ‘This one’s just so smooth.’ She rolled it between her hands. ‘You’ve been swimming. Aren’t you always working?’
    ‘I’d come out more often if I always got that view.’ He indicated the palm. ‘Do you want to go up for another?’
    Well, there you go, she thought. The man does have a sense of humour.
    ‘Reckon it’s your turn,’ she said.

    • Evan Yeong

      As the other comments have outlined, you really nail the comedy here! Naomi is bold and brazen and and a heroine who demands attention, both from the hero and the reader.

      I want to applaud your ability to write your submission from only one perspective while still giving us a clear picture of what emotions the hero is experiencing. Loved his strangled responses.

      My one note would be the awkward juxtaposition between him being described as “annoyingly easygoing” but coming across as a bit socially awkward. That initial description didn’t appear to match the character we end up meeting.

  28. Jamie stared at the pile of files he needed to review until tomorrow. It was daunting, but he would be fine, he had worked with worst deadlines, all he needed was silence. He closed his eyes, took a deep breath, and that was when he heard the piercing scream.
    He instantly got up and ran for the door. Twenty feet from him, just out of the elevator, Charlotte Williams, his one year partner, was holding a wailing baby. She seemed distressed, her eyes closed, her face in an expression of pain, maybe she was praying? Well, he sure didn’t want to figure out, Jaime was closing his door when Charlotte opened her eyes and saw him. They stared awkwardly at each other.
    “Your baby is cute.” He said, if not just to say something. He hadn’t any idea Charlotte had a life outside this office, let alone a baby!
    “Oh, no! This screaming monster is my niece Parker. She’s not my baby, thank God!” She paused, realizing what she had just said. “I-That’s not… Thanks? She really is the cutest thing, especially when she isn’t trying to deaf us.”
    “She probably just needs a nap.” He suggested, trying to be helpful, but when Charlotte eyes dangerously narrowed, he immediately added. “Maybe.”
    “Do you think?”
    “Ah…”
    “Maybe you want to try it?” she snarled tosing the baby in his arms.
    Five minutes later, Parker was still painfully crying.
    “It’s really impressive how good you’re at it, Jaime.”
    “Please, spare me the sarcasm.” He spat, still desperately cradling Parker. “What do you think she wants?”
    “Fuck me If I know!”
    “You’re a woman! Aren’t you supposed to be motherly?”
    “Ha! And you’re gay! Aren’t you supposed to be effeminate?”
    “Who told you I’m gay?”
    “Aren’t you? I thought… in the Christmas party, you brought that guy named Xena, so I assumed…”
    “His name is Sheena, like the Ramones song. And, yes! I’m bisexual if you must know, but I don’t understand why my sexual orientation has anything to do with this situation?”
    “It hasn’t! Jamie…”
    “Whatever.” He mumbled as he shoved the brightly red Parker back on Charlotte’s arms, it wasn’t like she was his problem anyway. He turned his back without giving Charlotte a chance to say anything else. As he started to walk away, though, he listened to Charlotte’s helpless groan as Parker carry on crying even louder.
    Jamie grimaced.

    • Evan Yeong

      You do a great job of ratcheting up the tension in this scene, and while initially Jamie seemed like the more timid of the couple, the strength in his personality became readily apparent before too long.

      Although you did a wonderful job creating conflict between two alphas, unfortunately I don’t think this is a particularly effective romantic scene. There aren’t really any hints that the two are even attracted to one another, and tonally the submission focuses on their aggression and frustration. I also found myself concerned when Charlotte snarls and tosses the baby into Jamie’s arms! A bristly personality is just fine, but be careful that your hero and heroine don’t cross the line into being unlikable-