Writing Challenge: Cliché Away!

by Evan Yeong

Just yesterday we dug into our archives and reposted a fantastic piece about romance plot clichés that we’ve seen far too many of. While Harlequin certainly publishes a lot of trope-based romance, it’s entirely possible to tell, for example, the story of a busy professional falling for a single parent and their child without resorting to worn out story beats. The businessperson doesn’t have to be a workaholic, and maybe the kid in question isn’t necessarily precocious!

For this week’s challenge I’m looking to put things more in all of your hands. In the past I’ve been fairly explicit about what I’m looking for, but I wanted to try offering you a bit of unfettered creative freedom.

To start with, I want you to provide me with a romance cliché that you’re tired of. You don’t need to go into any detail, but that’s what your submission should feature right at the top. Below that I’d like to see a romantic scene of 400 words or less in which you freshen it up a little!

If this were a cooking challenge à la Chopped or some other Food Network staple, this would be the equivalent of taking your least favourite ingredient and creating a dish you actually enjoy. The bones of the cliché should still be recognizable, however. Please don’t state that you strongly dislike rescues and then make no references to them at all-

The submission deadline is 11:59 PM EST on Sunday (June 28th). Of the eligible submissions, a handful will be chosen for our Editors’ Choice Top 3, with this post being updated on Monday! I can’t wait to see what you all manage to come up with, and hope you have a lot of fun with this one!


UPDATE: First off, let me say what a delight it was to read through these 28 eligible submissions! What I should mention, however, is that the reason a handful were disqualified was an instruction quite a few of you struggled with.

I mentioned last Friday that the clichés being riffed on should have been at the top of the post. There were some submissions that just barely got by, having their cliché at the end instead. As one final comment on this, I suppose I could have been more clear, but the cliché was not intended to be included in the word count (for those of you who were worried it was supposed to).

With that out of the way, allow me to announce that this is one of those very special weeks where we struggled to come up with an Editors’ Choice Top 3! Not since our April challenge on Inspirational romance have you forced us to expand our ranking to encompass the Editors’ Choice Top 5. Here they are, in the order they were submitted:

Ann Allen scene included her cliché in the very first line, and in some ways initially feels like it intends to stay the course. It’s also the rare submission that actually improves on a second reading, as you’re better able to appreciate clever details such as the heroine turning a “blind corner” and the initial innocuous detail of the hero’s dark glasses.

Taffy Marie hides similar giveaway details in her scene, like the hotdog that “tasted different” being one in particular. While the heroine’s yuletide-inspired name-to-be might lead to an eyeroll or two, the setup feels worthy of a full-length romance. While things don’t quite begin to spark between the hero and heroine, there’s a glimmer of something there in their banter.

Faith knows all too well how prevalent age-gap romances can be in Historicals, and fully flips the cliché on its head by having the heroine be 30-year-old widow. Harriet’s discomfort for “[robbing] the cradle” further shakes up the usual format, and we loved her move to grasp Désiré’s hand, instead of vice versa.

Helen injects a bit of realism into the golden morning after, acknowledging the unfortunate existences of morning breath and bedhead. She also swings for the fences by overturning the idea that so many chiseled heroes might opt for more spartan accommodations, and effortlessly pulls it off.

Jeanna‘s first description may be a tad off-putting, up until he realization that the setting is a classroom and the hero and heroine aren’t adults quite yet. Despite the short scene, Mika stands out as a bold, capable young woman with a good sense of humour, and her physical disability is respectfully described and actually drives the narrative forward.

Huge congratulations to these five writers, those who just barely didn’t make the cut, and all who participated. As I wrote in this original post, this was an opportunity for all of you to stretch those creative muscles, and wow did you deliver.

Do yourselves a favour and read everyone else’s submissions if you haven’t! And I’ll see you all back here for the next challenge-

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  1. Ann Allen

    Coming back to her hometown?
    She’d never wanted to. Had sworn she never would.
    Well, never say never.
    The miles rolled under her car wheels, too quickly, the places she passed becoming memories, not strange vistas. The familiar trees were leafy, the grass in the ditches, long and gently wafting in the breeze. She knew each driveway, each side road.
    Ten years.
    Ten years of fatigue pressed down on her as she moved ever closer. Ten years of regrets and mistakes and wasted opportunities.
    Ten years since she’d been home.
    Ten years since she’d seen him.
    She’d tamped down those memories, shoved them behind a wall of regrets, but with each familiar tree, fence and house, the walls crumbled.
    The tiny, claustrophobic town was around one last corner. She tensed, her mind projecting the view she’d have once she made the turn.
    This time, he wouldn’t be with her.
    Would she recognize him after ten years? Would he still have that dark hair too long and messy? Had he grown into that lanky frame? Would his eyes still –
    She spun into the blind corner, and her questions were answered. It took a fraction of a second for her eyes to process what she saw.
    She’d know him anywhere, even standing right in front of her.
    She stood on the brakes, pulling her gaze away as she fought to control the car. He froze where he was, hands pushed out uselessly, eyes hidden behind dark glasses.
    Finally, the car shuddered to a halt, inches from where he stood.
    Fear was pushed out by anger. She slammed out of the car in a rage, mouth open to tell him how much of an idiot he was, until she saw the cane.
    The white cane.
    A lot could happen in ten years. Not only to her.

  2. Savannah

    (We submit here? — this one is for all those “she’s with the perfect man but he’s Too Perfect” set ups!)

    As soon as Jonah leaves, Patricia is all sighs; she’s not thirsting after Jonah herself, of course — Patricia has no interest in men. Rather, she’s constantly going on about the relationship Cleonie has managed to land herself — a rich fiance who’s willing to support her artistic career, who does gentlemanly things like holding opening the car door for her, and remembering their anniversaries, and making her chicken noodle soup when she’s sick (even if it was just out of a can). He’s exactly the sort of man women congratulate someone on landing before speculating about possible flaws he could be hiding — maybe he’s gay, or actually some sort of sadistic pervert or actually involved with his sister. Cleonie has gotten used to tuning the whispers out, and if it was just that, she wouldn’t mind.

    But whatever drew her to Jonah in the first place seems to have evaporated, like mist under the mid-morning sun, and she hasn’t gotten used to the strange empty feeling that sits in her chest when he does things she used to find so charming.

    “I wish I could have a relationship like that,” Patricia is saying, and Cleonie nods along, feeling ungrateful as she begins another sketch of a different man. She’s been drawing a lot of inspiration from Greek myths lately, and it’s been showing in her artwork — the rescue of Andromeda, Hera taking Zeus into her bed after regaining her chastity again, only for Zeus to dive off a cliff in order to forget his love for her. There’s a tangled thread in her head that she’s struggling to unknot, and maybe that’s the problem between her and Jonah — with Jonah, everything seems so simple. And she’s not simple; human beings aren’t simple.

    Maybe the reason their relationship seems perfect is because neither of them are engaging with the other person as someone who can be complicated, and that little doubt has been squirming in the back of her head, prodding at her in the middle of the night.

    She doesn’t want to hear how perfect Jonah is, or how perfect their relationship is, because no matter how she looks at it, it feels like they’re on opposite sides of a glass wall, unable to hear or touch each other, only able to look at what could be. And maybe Jonah’s fine with it, but she’s not — she just feels lonely.

  3. Yvonne R.

    Hanna watched the interview from off camera. Stress made her clutch the schedule tablet to her chest, her knuckles white. This interview was going to be a bloodbath, she knew it from the beginning and yet urged Matthew to take it. The media channel needed the exposure.

    “If a man is unattached by the time he’s thirty-five, there’s something wrong with him.” Cynthia Carr, for Politically Correct allowed a sharp smile.

    Matthew McKitrick held Cynthia’s gaze for a moment. “Interesting opening. Is there a question in that statement?”

    She moved on. “Why do you think, as an unattached male you can give relationship advice to men and women?”

    “I’m merely stating my point of view on a topic. I’ve spoken on many varied subjects, and people can take it or leave it. It’s a podcast, not a life sciences class.”

    Hanna closed her eyes in anguish. She’d advised Matthew to try and get along with Carr. This interview could increase his viewership and downloads tenfold. Pay for next month’s rent. Heck, pay her!

    “What accreditations do you hold that support your opinions on these podcasts?” She glanced at the teleprompter. “Our research staff couldn’t find much.”

    Hanna’s eyes snapped open and she stared at Matthew. Willing him to be civil. “For heaven sakes.” Hanna muttered under her breath. She’d supplied Carr’s staff with Matthew’s CV.

    “Hush.” Someone shushed her.

    She mouthed the word sorry.

    Matthew gave Cynthia a slow smile. “I’d say you need better research staff. Mine is excellent.”

    Hanna felt a spike of warm from Matthew’s compliment.

    “I’ve read you are an ardent anti feminist. Aren’t you afraid of being cancelled?”

    Mathew compressed his lips into a flat line. He lifted his chin.

    Hanna winced. Oh no, here it comes.

    “This isn’t actually an interview, is it? You merely want to make me uncomfortable while putting together sound bites. Cynthia Carr ‘destroys’ Matthew McKitrick.” He used air quotes and then he flashed that devastating smile.

    Cynthia blinked. She opened her mouth to say something else, but Matthew patted her hand and continued. “Too bad I’m on to you.” He gave the interviewer a wink. She was falling further under his spell. “No, I’m not anti anything. The only thing I am against is people who don’t like ideas.”

    They cut to commercial.

    Hanna narrowed her eyes as Cynthia lean her cleavage toward Matthew.

    “What are you doing after?”

  4. Michelle

    (Secret Baby)

    Gloria slid her hand across the silk tablecloth on the dining table set for two, coming to a stop when her fingertips lightly rested on Wade’s elbow that was haphazardly planted next to his hors d’oeuvres plate.

    “You have the worst table manners,” She teased, lightly stroking the sensitive bare skin on his inner elbow barely exposed by his short sleeve. Goosebumps prickled up. Wade adjusted himself, removing his elbow from the table, and her touch, as other pricks threatened to pop up.

    A small pout formed on Gloria’s lips. She picked up her glass and took a sip, replacing the pout with a red stain of wine on the inside edges of her lips.

    Wade sighed. He didn’t want to hurt her, but his rejection had, and it was only going to get worse. He should’ve been honest with Gloria from day one, but she wasn’t what he had been expecting to find.

    He had expected a mess. Someone who didn’t give two shits about their life or anyone else’s. Someone who was broke or strung out on drugs or mentally ill or… just something. Something that would be a good reason to give up a child as perfect as Kyle. But instead he found Gloria. Intelligent, elegant, and successful Gloria.

    There was so much of Kyle in her every nuance. Wade had no doubt that Gloria was Kyle’s birth mom and Gloria was more than capable of raising a child. Hell, probably more capable than Wade. Yet somehow, her son ended up in his care. Her son called Wade “dad” and asked him to find Gloria, a mom he never knew. And now, Wade, Kyle’s dad, was falling in love with Gloria, Kyle’s mom, and it all felt so right… and wrong.

    Wade had given Gloria plenty of time and opportunities to tell him about her secret child. He had opened up about his own insecurities and life regrets in hopes that she would feel safe enough to reveal her own. And she did expose vulnerabilities that he knew were difficult, but she never even once hinted at the possibility of Kyle.

    Did she not trust Wade enough? It hurt him to think that. After all, Wade was ready to profess his absolute love and dedicate the rest of his life to her and Kyle, but first, they both needed to come clean – about everything.

  5. angelachamm@gmail.com

    Hunky Hero ‘Kidnaps’ Heroine and They Fall in Love

    Drew swore behind the gag as the car took a hairpin turn. His body rolled. One strong shoulder cracked into the trunk’s interior wall. More curses. His black hair, coated with sweat, tangled into something on the floor. Pain traced across his scalp. More rage filled him.
    When he got out of that trunk, someone was going to wish he’d died in it.
    The tires bumped over hard, rough road. His body flew upward and landed again. A sudden abrupt halt. Drew’s teeth gritted together. His fingers and wrists twisted hard against the strong plastic zip ties. No dice. He was trussed up like a Thanksgiving turkey.
    He forced his body to relax. “Think,” he told himself. “Figure out who would have done this, and why.”
    There were a lot of suspects. Being a detective on the Narcotics Division meant making a lot of enemies. Okay. Fine. Focus on the how. M.O. was often a dead giveaway.
    The problem there? Everything was a blur. The last thing he could recall, clearly, was being at the rehearsal dinner for his younger brother, Mark’s, wedding and having to go outside to keep from saying something he’d regret later.
    Mark’s start-up tech company had gone public. Made so much money Mark could afford a sky-high penthouse apartment and all the trappings of success. He’d met Bianca somewhere along the way. Drew was positive Bianca was marrying Mark for the money, not for love.
    Drew’s tongue pushed against the gag. Stickiness met the tip of his tongue, and a bitter taste filled his mouth. Tape? Yeah. Good old-fashioned duct tape. His tongue thrust forward and strained. The tape gave way near the corner of his chiseled mouth.
    “Ow!” the groan stayed lodged in his throat. Pain stung at the corner of his lip. His tongue ached. Screw it. He thrust his tongue forward again, wetting and pushing against the tape. The tape didn’t budge any further.
    The car’s engine ceased its purring. A door thumped open and closed. The trunk opened. Drew stared up at a woman with a set of pale green eyes, a nose lightly dusted with freckles, and a very kissable mouth. She raked fingers through her red-gold hair and sighed.
    She said, “Sorry buddy. But no way am I letting you wreck my sister’s wedding.”

  6. Tom Smith

    Karen hadn’t seen Jacob in years. Now, here he was in the Hot Pot Café, her favorite place to get something to eat. She used to call him “snowman” and many cruel things when they were in school, and there was that one incident that nearly got her expelled. Now, he was here, alone. As much as she wanted to avoid him, she had to face him and apologize for the thngs she did.
    “Mind if I join you, Jacob?” Karen asked, hoping he forgot the horrible things she used to do to him and the names she would call him when they were younger. The scowl on his face told her otherwise, but it softened and he gestured to the empty booth across from him. She slid into the seat and took a good look at his face. His hair was still as white as lamb’s wool, and he still wore wire rimmed glasses, but his features had filled out. He wasn’t the string bean she remembered. “What are you doing in town?”
    “I just got a job as a paralegal in the general counsel’s office for the county. I start next Monday.”
    “That’s good. How long has it been, seven years?”
    “Seven years, three months, fifteen days, twenty-one hours and…forty-three minutes, give or take.”
    “Wow…you remember that.”
    “It’s hard not to forget. It was the most humiliating moment of my life. You paid a major role in that, as I remember.”
    “Yes, I’m sorry about that. I was a horrible person and I shouldn’t have done that to you. You have a right to be furious with me, and I ask for your forgiveness,”
    He pondered her for what seemed like forever. His face changed from angry to thoughtful to relaxed.
    “While I feel that you are genuine in your desire for forgiveness, I still think you owe me one thing.” Jacob said
    “What’s that?”
    “I noticed they opened a new amusement park on the mountain north of town. I think you woe me a date. Are you free tomorrow?”
    “Yes.”
    “Great. I’ll meet you at your place at 11 o’clock. After that, we will be even and we will hopefully forget what we both want to forget anyway.”
    “Agreed. I’ll text you my address.” Karen said, wanting to put the incident behind her as much as Jacob did.

  7. Winderford Anderson

    {The rich single parent of the perfect angelic child}

    Kara sat in the principals office waiting on him to get there. She had to take off from work to come here and was in a hurry to get back. It was hard being a single mother. Especially when your child was always in trouble.

    “Ms. Kara.” Came a mans voice as she heard the door shut behind him.

    Her mouth fell open as she turned to see Camren standing there smiling at her. she was expecting Mr. Phillips. Instead here was the man she had yearned for all through school.

    “I thought that was you. It’s been a long time since I last saw you.” He said as he walked over to the desk.

    “Camren what brings you back? You said when you left that you would never set foot back in Sandhill Mississippi again?” And where’s Mr. Phillips?” She asked.

    He smiled taking his seat behind the desk. “Mr. Phillips retired and since I had decided to move back to be close to mom and help her, I put in for the principals job.”

    “Oh, I’m so sorry Camren. I forgot that your father passed away.” She said. “My condolences.”

    He nodded his head in acknowledgement to what she said but didn’t speak.

    “Look I don’t mean to be rude but I took time off from work to come here and I really can’t afford it. So tell me what Dante did this time?” She asked.

    “He’s being disruptive in class and he keeps bullying the other children.” He said.

    “I just don’t know what else to do with him. I’ve honestly tried everything to get him to straighten up, but nothing works.” She admitted.

    He leaned back in his chair watching her as she talked. “Well I think I might have an idea of what’s wrong with him.”

    “And what do you think that is?” She asked.

    “He needs his mother. He’s acting out to get your attention.” He said.

    She jumped to her feet. “I give him all the attention I can! I’m a single mother trying to hold down a full-time job while tending to Dante! Tell me, have you ever been around a child with ADHD?” She asked.

    “I have. Look Kara I’m not trying to say that you’re not doing a good job. I’m just giving my opinion on it.” He said.

    She glared at him realizing she still wanted him.

  8. Theresa Kemble

    I held my head down low and softly whispered. “Carlton, please don’t draw any attention to our table, I don’t want him coming here, I had enough of him for one night!”
    Carlton licked his lips and gestured towards Mr. 56’s direction. “Oh girlfriend, if he’s number 56, then I want to be his perfect number 100. He’s so freaking gorgeous! It’s like he’s Adonis descending from Mount Olympus! Why would you ever want turn him down?”
    I slammed my hand down on the table. “You will you stop it, Carlton! Maybe he’s not my type, okay? Please no more hooting and hollering so he won’t notice us!”
    He rolled his eyes at me. “Okay sweetheart, what Jane Austen book did you read this week?”
    I shook my head. “I don’t see why that would have any bearing on tonight’s conversation about the speed dating.”
    He took another sip of his margarita. “It has a lot to do with this since you’re so Jane Austen obsessed. So, tell me what book did you read this week? Or do I need to pull out of our senior prom picture to remind you of what you made me wear?”
    I sighed and conceded a little, he did have a point. I always did compare my boyfriends to Jane Austen’s heroes. “I read Pride and Prejudice this week.”
    He pointed his index finger at me. “Bingo! Don’t you get it Lana? “And then he raised his head in triumph! “He’s Mr. Darcy to your Elizabeth Bennett.”
    “That’s so absurd! He doesn’t resemble Colin Firth at all!” I said diverting my eyes away from Mr. 56, taking another sip of liquid courage!
    Carlton laughed raucously! “You’re making my point more and more evident. I think you need to give him a second chance! I’m telling you right now, that you need to break free from the hold that Jane Austen has over you.”
    I stuck my chin out in defiance! “I’m a young vibrant woman who makes her own choices and Jane Austen doesn’t influence me in the slightest!”
    Carlton smugly grinned and folded his arms. “Okay, prove it! I dare you to call him over to our table and have a pleasant conversation.”
    I opened and shut my mouth; I felt the warmth of the blush forming on my cheeks. Carlton annoyingly mimicked the theme song to Jeopardy, he’ such a brat!
    Word count 399

  9. Jeriann Fisher

    CLICHE: Best Friends to Afraid to Change Status Quo to Become Lovers.

    Cole backed Emma against the kitchen counter and propped his hands on either side of her. “You seriously plan to hook up with random men?”
    She looked up at him with a defiant toss of her head. “I stayed faithful to my jerk husband who didn’t love me. I want to know what I’ve been missing.”
    “You don’t need men for that, Emma. You just need one.” His eyes zeroed in on her cleavage, warming her before he looked away with a slight shake of his head.
    “Are you offering?” Those two glasses of wine and Cole’s hunky self made this an idea worth exploring. “Friends with benefits? Wait ‘till you see my list. Do you know I’ve never had sex outside?”
    Cole leaned down and rested his forehead against hers, sighing her name.
    On the other hand. . .
    “Just kidding.” She braced her hands on his chest and tried to shove. “I’m not sexy enough for you, am I.”
    “Not sexy?” He grabbed her hand and held it against his rock-hard erection straining against his jeans. Oh, God! Warmth flooded her body. Electricity zapped every nerve. His cock filling her hands was more impressive than she’d let herself imagine for four years of skyping. “Does that feel like I have no interest in you? It’s all I can do not to tear off your clothes with my teeth and lick you all over.”
    “Then what?” She tilted her head back and blinked up at him. “Would you tie me up?”
    “Dammit, Emma. It’s your thirtieth birthday, you’re my best friend, and I’m no saint.” Dark eyes searched hers as warm hands cradled her face. “You have to ask me to back off, because I can’t do it.”
    Emma didn’t want Cole to back off. She wanted him to swoop in and give her a commanding sexual experience her husband never had.
    “I can’t either, Cole. I want you.”
    He leaned over and whispered into her ear, his warm breath sending shivers deep inside as he held her against him. “Then forget ‘with benefits’, Ms. Emma Rogers MacNeil. I won’t do casual. Give me exclusive thirty days, you’ll discover I’m all the man you’ll need.”
    “Satisfaction guaranteed?”
    “Fifty orgasms in thirty days. Satisfaction guaranteed.”
    Fifty? Her heart pounding, Emma turned her head so that her lips brushed against Cole’s freshly shaved cheek. “When do we start?”

  10. Taffy Marie

    Holly strolled into the coffee shop of the bed and breakfast. Wood Lake was a weird town. It was the Friday before Christmas and nobody was around. Literally nobody. The restaurant was empty except for her and the man working the counter, who introduced himself as Chris, the son of the owners. He was a good-looking man. It was a shame he had such a bad job at his age. A man at 30 should have a professional career, like her boyfriend back in the City.

    “So what brings you to Wood Lake?” he asked, as he set down her hot dog and bottled water. He was smirking. Very odd.

    “I have come to restore the Christmas spirit to the people in town,” she said, taking a bite of her beef frank. It tasted different than the dogs she usually ate, but it was still delicious.

    Chris tried not to laugh.

    “It’s not funny. If anybody can do it, I can. My name is Holly Missel, and after I marry Nicholas Tow, it will be Holly Missel-Tow.”

    She gave Chris her card.

    “Director of Marketing for Tow Christmas Towns, huh? That’s impressive.”

    “It is. We are the #1 maker of Christmas Towns in the nation. We can restore any town that has lost its Christmas spirit within 48 hours. We come complete with choirs, Santas, trees, lights, fake ice rink, fake snow, hot chocolate stands. The works. We know the true meaning of Christmas.”

    “Uh huh. And you think you can tell the people of this town the “True Meaning of Christmas?” The smirk grew bigger.

    “Yes, and they need my help desperately. I’ve never seen such low Christmas spirit.” She took another bite of her dog. “If I succeed, Mrs. Tow–my boyfriend’s mother and the owner of the company–will approve of us getting engaged.”

    “You do know, of course, that 99% of the town is Hasidic, don’t you?”

    Holly almost choked on her water.

    “What?”

    “I said, except for us and a few old-time families, everyone is Hasidic. They haven’t lost the Christmas spirit. It’s just not part of their religion. You do know there’s a religious component to the holiday, right? Too bad Hanukkah ended last week.”

    Holly took a deep breath. “That #$%$,” she whispered. “She never approved of our engagement. And her %$$^& son would never stand up to her. #$%$#% them.”

    “That language isn’t very Christian,” he laughed.

  11. Sally Freytag

    Billionaire falling for girl-next-door type:

    Annaliese!
    Axel stood. Unseen to her, his hands clenched and dismay swept through him in an icy wave. Why was she here? How had she found out about him? He thought he’d covered his tracks well. He thought he’d found someone out of his normal social circle. Someone who’d love him just for himself, not for his social position or wealth. Closing his eyes, he gave a brief, dismayed shake of his head.
    ‘Won’t you sit down?’
    A mix of anger and humiliation twisting her expression, Annaliese, in her chain-store clothes which he loved on her, sat down in the opulent chair at right angles to his antique desk. ‘Why?’
    He raised his eyebrows as he sat down himself. ‘Why what?’
    ‘Didn’t you tell me? I saw your picture in the paper. You… you mean a lot to me. You must have been laughing your head off! Slumming with the flower shop owner. Going to cheap burger joints. Sitting in the upper circle to see shows! What was it? Just a joke to you? See how the other half live?’ As her voice cracked, Annaliese put her hand over her eyes and dropped her head.
    ‘No! Don’t! Don’t say those things. It wasn’t like that at all. Believe me.’
    ‘What on earth can someone like you see in someone like me? How could I fit into your world?’ Her voice was muffled, her shoulders tense.
    Axel’s heart felt as if it was breaking as he saw a tear escape her covered eyes and trickle down her face and he knew, in that moment, that she meant a lot to him, too.
    How could he save the situation? How could he keep her? He moved, restless, his brows drawn together..
    There was only one way, and that was the truth.
    With no more hesitation, he spoke. ‘Annaliese, listen. Listen! Imagine, if you can, what it’s like being me. Never knowing whether a woman is at my side because they like me, or because of all my money and my position. How soul-destroying, how lonely, and how sad. Yes, sad.’ He was silent for a moment, his face bleak. ‘Then I met you. By chance. And… and we liked each other. A lot. And I knew you liked me because of who you saw, not who I am. Can you blame me for not telling you?’
    (399 inc heading)

    • Eilidh Lawrence

      Oh, I like Annalise a lot! I can totally understand why she would have felt like she’d been made a fool of but I hope they work it out!

  12. Iris Swift

    Cliche: strong, brave hero rescues physically weaker heroine from challenging situation.

    Megan blinked at the swirling snow and banged her hands together for warmth. The path to the village had disappeared under a thick, white blanket.

    Great. Now she was lost as well as freezing cold.

    If it wasn’t for the sub-zero temperatures, her cheeks would have burned at her own stupidity.

    There was nothing for it but to swallow her pride and re-trace her steps back up the mountain to the hotel.

    Typical ditzy blonde, she could imagine people thinking. Fancy storming off in the middle of a blizzard.

    It was lucky that this particular ditzy blonde wasn’t easily fazed.

    Her snow shoes sank just slightly into the densely packed snow. Megan leaned her weight forwards and powered her way up, muscles pumping, heart thumping.

    Thank goodness for all that training down at the athletics track.

    Physically she was undaunted. Emotionally, that was another matter.

    How could she face Milo again?

    Maybe she’d get lucky and not see him. She could go straight to her room, lock the door and wait it out. Although she wouldn’t get a wink of sleep, knowing that her ex lover was somewhere under the same roof.

    She was so lost in her thoughts that she almost missed the tiny spool of torchlight against the snow, but her ears pricked at the holler for help.

    She paused, lifted her head and listened again.

    There is was again, louder this time.

    It was a man’s voice, faint against the whistling of the wind.

    “Hello,” she shouted back.

    “Over here,” came the reply.

    In less than a minute she’d found him. The man had fallen badly in the soft snow and twisted his ankle. But it wasn’t just any man.

    “Milo,” she gasped.

    He groaned audibly.

    She crouched beside him. “Where does it hurt?”

    His piercing blue gaze clashed with hers. “My ankle,” he admitted. “And now my pride.”

    “Don’t be silly.” She pulled off her glove and tentatively ran her fingers along his denim-clad calf. “Do you think you can stand?”

    “I can try.”

    She placed her hands firmly under his shoulders and heaved. Milo balanced, unsteady on one foot, one arm around her waist. His face was inches from hers.

    They were both breathing heavily.

    “I came out here to rescue you,” Milo said.

    Megan raised her eyebrows. “Who said I needed rescuing?”

    Word count: 388

  13. Eilidh K. Lawrence

    I am tired of misunderstandings/miscommunications/crossed wires that drag on.

    As Abigail neared the schoolroom, she caught sight of the little bell tower rising from the steeply-pitched roof. Excited about seeing Hannah again, and catching up after a long absence, she broke into a run. Forgoing the wooden handrail, she hurried up the steps and burst through the door.

    At the front of the class stood a handsome man in Plain garb, reading aloud in Deitsch.

    She started. “You’re not Hannah.”

    ***

    Eli stopped mid-stanza. A petite young woman now stood in the classroom, framed by the door. He took in her out-of-place Englisch clothing and lack of prayer kapp. The sun behind her lit up her bright blonde hair.

    At first her fresh pale skin had been flushed with excitement. But her face fell and the sparkle left her blue eyes. Confusion clouded her delicate features.

    Eli instantly lost the attention of every scholar. Some whispered, others openly gawked. What bad timing. The older children had been engaging well with the poem. This was not a given. Teaching was proving difficult.

    “Indeed,” he said, snapping the poetry book closed. “Can I help you?” The coldness of his tone surprised him. He suddenly felt on edge.

    The stranger seemed thrown by his inhospitable greeting and froze. Hannah, who had been sitting in a corner with the youngest scholars, leapt to her feet.

    “Abby!” she cried, a cheeky glint in her eye. “Is it Abby? Are you lost?”

    Hannah’s tone was fond, full of affection.

    “No,” said this Abby with a smile. “Not lost. Not found either. I guess you could say I’m looking.”

    Whoever the woman was, Hannah clearly knew her well. This was a known Englischer. Better that than a strange one, but an Englischer nonetheless. The interruption was unexpected and inconvenient.

    Hannah smiled apologetically at Eli, then turned back to the woman. “Well, we had better discuss what it is that you’re looking for, but perhaps here isn’t the place. Let’s go outside.”

    “Sure. Of course,” said Abby. Then, turning to Eli, she said, with exaggerated formality, “I apologize for the interruption.”

    Sure? Eli almost coughed. But wait. He was in front of the class and mustn’t set a bad example.

    “Thank you.” He nodded, acknowledging her apology and hoping his attempt at a smile looked sincere.

    Hannah beckoned Abby to the door and they left. Eli tried to remember what he had been talking about, and failed.
    (400 words)

  14. Cheryl Anne Graham

    Baldwin Jones was angry. Extremely angry. “Who messed up my paper! We’re going to air soon and there’s red ink everywhere!”

    “I didn’t mess it up. I remedied it.”

    He knew that voice. He’d been battling Julie Baxter for years in the ratings. Whose broadcast would the beat the other in the most pointless time slot there was, morning.

    He came right up to her and suddenly wanted to pull her hair. The golden hair she always kept in a pony.

    “You wouldn’t,” but, he would. He grabbed it and pulled.

    “Oww.” She whacked him back.

    “What’s the meaning of this?” He yelled, waving the words in her face.

    “Well I made a few changes,” she said bluntly, smirking all the way to the bank.

    “Why would you?” He bellowed.

    “Well if I’m going to be working here, I need to amend some things. I mean this opening right, ‘Hello British Columbia! We’re here, and we hope you are.’ We’ve got to come up with material stronger and more captivating than that! It’s the verbal equivalent of Muzak.”

    “Hey we had that test…” his words were blasted away like a bomb going off. One was.

    “Be working here!” he spat out like some spoiled seafood. “What do you mean? There is no universe where you and I work together, not on this planet! Or any other for that matter.”

    “Well get used to it pal, because they made me come over here. New people bought the station and think our witty banter would be delightful, and brighten up Weekday morning, Bright and Early.”

    “They just bashed both of our names together? They didn’t even come up with a new name?”

    “Well at least your name is first.”

    “Well that is true. Sorry I yanked your pony, a bit Anne of Green Gables of me. My daughters wanted to watch it last night,” he said mellowing out.

    “Well I’m sorry I marked up your copy. Thought it would be funny and kind of a welcome gesture.”

    “Yeah no, pretty egregious, really.”

    “I will make it up to you. Would you like a doughnut?” She smiled walking over to the refreshment table.

    “You know my doughnuts are better.”

    “It’s why I said it.”Her face was warm and benign when she extended her hand. He took it, and looked at her again. Maybe they would be alright after all.

  15. “My dearest kit, I will be at your side soon and evermore.” These were the words that Beatrice wrote in haste. To be with her love! So romantic she thought, barely two months they had courted and were betrothed. A private affair, just as she had imagined. Not in front of the Queen and her courtiers, but in front of her dear friend Margaret and Kit’s fellow admiral Thomas – as witness.
    The weight of the ring on her right hand upon eventuality of becoming a wife scalded her thoughts like a hot poker. Freedom would be gone, being her husband’s property. Only a possession, she thought gravely, the idea of Kit having possession over her liberty made her blood boil. What kind of man was he? A womaniser for sure (in public) lest he’d never survive the perils of court. Unfaithful or deceiving, never. This brought her back to their initial encounter, his flirting smirk and confidence to her was unreal. When other gentlemen at court displayed courtly behaviour to her, he marked her as his own. Not possessively like other men would do at court- suggesting duels. But by a mere passionate kiss.
    Boat men were particularly boisterous on the journey so Beatrice couldn’t switch off and retreat. It was certain, her endeavour wouldn’t be in vain, she’d be married in the Queen’s court. Finally, the dock was in sight skipping the queue she went straight to the gardens through the herbal garden, stopping to catch the scent of rosemary, she knelt down, to inhale the scent.
    From the angle that she was kneeling, she was innately intrigued by the rose garden. With the rosemary sprig, she went through the arch way and hid herself well. Lack of lighting through the tree covering allowed her only to see two figures. They stood, intimately together, their lips touching. The lady’s ruff was off and hanging loosely on her arm; stays were loosely clutching to her body. The gentleman’s hair pointed in all directions; ruff hanging limp on his back. Moving closer to identify them. She flushed. He betrayed her for her dearest friend. Thoughtlessly she shoved herself behind the metal wiring. It wobbled falling on Christopher’s foot. Yelling in pain and somewhat alarm, brought himself out of the position. Though Beatrice’s feet were firmly planted on the ground. It felt like Deja vu, only this time, she wouldn’t escape.

  16. WIDE AGE-GAP

    “I’ve never wished to rob the cradle. I’m twice as old as the poor child.”

    “Don’t be silly. You’re only 30, and Désiré’s turned 18,” Aunt Phyllida replied tartly.

    “And we’re cousins.”

    “Second cousins once removed. Perfectly allowable. Check the Book of Common Prayer.”

    “What if I don’t wish to remarry?”

    “Be sensible for once, Harriet! You need to remarry and have a child, or your inheritance will revert to Reginald’s family. Désiré is orphaned and penniless till he turns 25 or marries, and he has three young sisters to think about. Marrying you lets him support them, and of course you’ll be the one managing the estate.”

    Harriet sighed. Aunt Phyllida had a point, several of them in fact. Her marriage to Reginald had been arranged much like this. She’d been penniless, and he had been ten years older. They’d gotten on well enough in spite of it all, the one thorn in their side the fact that she’d never conceived. She had missed him terribly after he died on the hunting field, but in the intervening three years she had made a life for herself in Wiltshire.

    “Does he know about this?”

    “Of course.”

    “And is he willing?”

    “He knows that his choices are limited. Come now, he and his sisters are waiting for us.” Aunt Phyllida bustled to her feet, and Harriett followed her into the next room.

    Four children were huddled on the sofa. More precisely, three of them were huddled against the fourth, who sat up ramrod-straight with protective arms around them.

    “Désiré, girls, this is Harriet, Lady Crewe.”

    The young man gently disentangled himself from his sisters and stood up. He bent low over Harriett’s proffered hand. “My lady.” His voice broke, but Harriett ignored it.

    “My lord,” she replied carefully. “Please introduce me to your sisters.”

    “Camilla, Elaine, Rosamond.” As he indicated each of his sisters, the girl nodded and blushed. They looked so very young! The eldest was no more than twelve. Was she to be responsible for them, too, along with any baby this boy could give her?

    Harriett wanted to cut and run, but fear of her aunt prevented her. Suddenly she noted that Désiré was still holding her hand. She twisted it deftly so that she was now grasping his. “Come to the conservatory,” she said. “We must talk.” She turned and he was obliged to follow.

  17. Susan Flanders Carr

    Double whammy! Man wants to marry his brothers
    widow, who also has amnesia! Susan Flanders Carr
    —-399 words——

    As she sipped her morning coffee, Gillian enjoyed the
    warmness of her ceramic mug. She still couldn’t
    remember anything about her husbands
    death—who had told her?—who organized the funeral and had
    she been at Thomas’s service?

    Two months had gone by. Only now was she trying to write
    down her daily events.  The Doctor blamed it on trauma;
    she’d probably remember eventually—bit by bit—as
    time went on, and when she could face it.

    There was a knock on the door.

    It was Thomas’s brother Tim, who peeked in. The
    brothers looked so alike—she sucked in her breath
    for a moment—a bit startled.

    “Surprise for you!”

    What? A surprise? She felt her eyes grow wide
    at the sight of carnations he carried in…her favourite.
    It was a white and pink maze throughout the kitchen.
    Dozens! Their scent tickled her nose.

    “Why, thank you. How sweet.”

    “He moved a little closer. “I want the house to be
    soothing to you, in every room.”

    He circled her waist and pulled her close. He kissed
    her on her forehead, her cheeks, and ran his fingers
    through her hair. Breathing in his aftershave was
    so strong and pleasant, she allowed him to play with her hair
    so she could experience these delicious, gentle touches.  

    Unexpectedly, pulling him close, she gave him a
    half smile.  

    “Marry me,” he said.

    “Tim, what?”  She took a step
    back.

    “Aw, Gillian, we’ve become so close. I know
    you feel it too. I want to look after you—after Tommy’s
    death—especially now with your amnesia. I’ve always
    loved you.” 

    “Thank you for caring, it means
    so, so much. And I love you too, in a way,”
    Gillian said softly.

    “Please, I beg you…marry me. We’ll make
    it perfect.”

    Gillian looked at the floor, thinking. “But how can it 
    be perfect when I’m not well?”

    “You had a short but traumatic event. I understand but
    we have to move on.”

    “Before I become someone’s wife, I have to be well
    and over this trauma.” Leaning in, she brushed
    his tears away. “It has to be no. Please don’t cry, please. I have to
    get strong again.”

    “Please, Gillian please…”

    “No.”

    He squeezed her hands. “Oh, please.”

    “I’m so sorry, Tim.”

    “I can’t live without you. Please…”

    “I have to get better, Tim. No.” And then she
    wiped her own tears away.

  18. Danielle

    Cliche – Return to hometown / old love and Secret baby / children
    “Tom, if I didn’t know better I’d swear that boy in room three was yours.” Dr Thomas James slanted a flirty grin at his favourite nurse practitioner.
    “I don’t make those kinds of mistakes, Anna.” The nurse wiggled greying brows, “Let me know when you’d like to.” Happily married for fourty years, Anna was still an incorrigible flirt drawing his laughter as she walked away with a hilarious butt wiggle that would once have been a sexy swing of her hips.
    Tom knew being back in his home town after twenty years as an army doctor was going to be a big adjustment. There were a lot of memories wrapped up in places and people, even Anna. Nurse Anna had assisted at his birth. Hell she’d even been the shool nurse he’d gone to for contraception when he and…. Margaret.
    Tom grabbed up his appendectomy patient’s chart on the wall looking for the red flag he’d missed.
    Michael Thomas Rogers. Age, fourteen.
    His hand ran through his hair as he swore quietly, only looking up when a sweet voice called, “Hi Tom.”
    Maggie. Twenty years ago he’d chosen the army over her. Family tradition over love. But he could still feel those silky mahogany curls gliding through his fingers like it was yesterday. Her smiling mouth pressed a kiss to his cheek. “Welcome home, soldier.”
    Tom tried to ignore the pleasure he felt at her touch. She was a married woman. A mother. Maggie’s hand resting on his arm gave a light tug guiding him to the privacy of the parents’ room.
    “Yes, Mick is your biological son.” Tom sat heavily, feeling the weight of her words. “Thanks to you, I have two wonderful sons. Mick’s fourteen and Chad is twelve.”
    He’d asked not to be told, the decision had been easy then. He’d just lost another friend in gunfire, his parents in a car crash, and his sense of duty was calling him back to heal his fallen brothers and sisters. They would be Maggie and Evan’s children. He was just the sperm donor. But somehow he still felt cheated.
    “Do they know?” Maggie nodded, “Yes. We told them when Evan got cancer.” Her smile was tinged with sadness, “We lost him last year.”
    “I’m sorry.” Maggie thanked him for his words. But she wouldn’t thank him for his thoughts.
    My Maggie. My sons. My family.
    I’m home.

    Word count – 399

  19. April Serock

    I’m tired of the trope “Having the Billionaire’s Baby,” so I changed it to “Having the Billionaires’ Baby.”

    Meredith slammed the door to the conference room. “S.J. Cooper! You’re S.J. Cooper?”
    The handsome man in the slick gray suit smirked. “Guilty.”
    “You said your name was Shawn.”
    He shrugged one powerful shoulder. “S.J. stands for Shawn James.”
    “How would I know? No one knows the real name of the CEO of Greenr.”
    “I like my privacy.”
    “Why was one of the richest people in the country tending bar in Morgantown, West Virginia?” she demanded.
    “Why was a person who’s richer than I am drinking there?”
    “I asked you first.”
    “It’s my father’s bar. I grew up working there. I was home. He needed help.” He paused. “Now you.”
    She crossed her arms. “I-I was in town on business and felt like a drink. That’s all.” She hadn’t been desperately lonely and craving the company of someone who had no idea who she was.
    “You weren’t exactly forthcoming about your identity either, ‘Merry.’”
    She raised her chin. “My friends used to call me that.”
    He walked to a side table and poured a glass of water from a silver pitcher. “What happened to your friends?”
    “You know what they say: It’s lonely at the top.”
    He handed the drink to her. “I do know.”
    The glass was cool against her palms. “The more money you have, the fewer real friendships. You start to wonder if everyone around you only likes you for your money. I’m guessing that’s why you keep your identity such a secret.”
    “It does help. Few know the face behind the name.” He winked. “But now you’re one of them.”
    Oh, God. That wink was one of the reasons she was standing here with her stomach in knots right now. She set the glass on the empty conference table. “There’s something I have to tell you. That night-”
    He raised one eyebrow.
    She took a deep breath and looked him in the eyes. “I’m pregnant. The baby is yours.”
    Shawn froze.
    “Don’t worry,” she said quickly. “I don’t expect you to do anything. This baby and I don’t need you.”
    Could he hear her heart pounding in the silent room? He blinked slowly.
    “Yeah?” The rough emotion in his slightly Southern drawl abraded a layer of the shell around Meredith’s heart. “Maybe I need you.”

  20. Kelly K Heuser

    (Millionaire Single Parent With Perfect Child)
    “I said I was sorry. Why can’t that be enough?”
    Cameron Myles glared at his 13-year-old daughter, Bella’s reflection in the rearview mirror. They’d been living in the quaint San Diego suburban neighborhood for less than two weeks and she was already acting up. Bella had been struggling with her mother’s abandonment more in the last two years than she had her entire childhood and had expressed that struggle by acting out and getting into trouble. Cameron didn’t know what to do for her. He’d taken her to counselors, peer groups, and every type of support program available and nothing had curbed her destructive behavior. This time she’d been caught stealing. Stealing! While they didn’t have a lot of money, he always made sure she had what she needed and when possible some of those things that she wanted. He was doing his best, at least, he thought he was.
    “I’m not the one you need to apologize to! You stole! Do you understand how serious that is? This music box has a $200 price tag on it. It’s a misdemeanor!”
    Bella rolled her eyes. “I doubt Ms. Grouch would miss it.”
    “That’s not the point, Bella. You broke the law.”
    He pulled his ancient civic into the first available spot outside of the adorable bric-a-brac shop built into an old one-room schoolhouse and twisted around in his seat to face his sullen daughter.
    “You are returning the box and you will apologize. Then you will volunteer your services, after school and on weekends, for however long she feels necessary. You are also grounded. No electronics or leaving the house for two weeks…”
    “Two weeks!” Bella protested loudly. “But Dad!”
    “Keep talking and it will be a month, young lady. Get out of the car.”
    Cameron got of out the car and waited for Bella on the sidewalk. He passed her the music box and held the door open for her to enter. With his hand on the small of her back, he nudged her to the counter where a tall, slim brunette fussed with a display of tiny figurines behind the counter.
    “Excuse me, I’m looking for the owner?”
    “You found her.” The woman said and turned.
    His breath caught and he leaned toward Bella. “If I get her to go out with me, I’ll knock a week off of your punishment.”
    Word Count: 399

  21. Daisy Westenhoff

    Cliche: Princess of Miscellaneous Tiny European Country

    The handsome dark-haired man shook his head again and continued to stare down the at the map furiously. “Wait, no, I still don’t follow.”

    Maybe he just didn’t manage to catch her, but Elisabeth didn’t even appear to be looking at him when a hand landed feather-light and delicate on his shoulder; just a nudge of wool against silk.

    She still wasn’t looking when she said, “Please don’t worry, William, it’s all quite complicated and ultimately it means very little.” She flickered a sudden glance at him, and he caught and held her eye.

    William turned away first and immediately hated himself for having no idea why he’d done it. She gave him her deliberate attention and he acted with all the grace and self-assurance of a middle schooler supporting the wall at a mandatory dance.

    Elisabeth had taken her hand off his shoulder long before William thought to wonder if it was gone. Careful, just like most everything else Elisabeth ever did. Only now he was thinking that her delicacy wasn’t elegance at all; it was hesitation.

    He took a step closer, and she looked surprised but didn’t move away. That was something. Maybe the first step toward Elisabeth letting him help with whatever burden she had laying over her, because that would definitely make him feel happy, anyway.

    “I apologize for wasting your time, but please, just go over it with me one more time again. What country exactly are you a princess of?”
    (Word Count: 246)

    • Eilidh Lawrence

      Ha! Nice ending. I like it! These things are often somewhere cold and mountainous, aren’t they? And the country names are always terrible!

  22. Dakota

    Marriage set up by parents

    “You think I’m going to do what?” She asked as she looked from her father to her mother. “There’s no way I will ever marry a man that I do not love!”

    “You was promised to him when you were but a baby. Now being a lady you are required to uphold…..” Her mother began but was cut off.

    “No! I am not required to do nothing! I do not care what promises or pledges or anything that you made! This is my life and I refuse to let us being of privileged upbringing force me into a loveless marriage!” She shot to her feet pacing about the setting room furious that her parents were trying to force her into this marriage.

    “It is your responsibility to carry out the promises made.” Her father said.

    She looked at him before she swirled around storming from the house.

    He watched her strolling through the gardens. Stepping into her path he stood there, waiting.

    She ran into him and feel to the ground. Looking up she scowled at him. “Who do you think you are standing in my path?”

    He laughed as he held his hand out to help her up. “And just who are you my lady?”

    “I am lady Arya. This is my house and I asked who you are sir?” She said watching him. He was dressed in the finest of clothes and she could tell that he was nobility.

    “I am Oren the Duke of Cambridge. I think you are to be my wife.” He said.

    “I am to be your nothing! As I told father and mother I refuse to uphold this marriage!” She said.

    He smiled at her. “May I ask why my lady?”

    She glared at him. “I refuse to marry a man that I do not know! When I marry, it will be for love not because our parents decided it would be a good match!”

    He laughed at her. “And you do not think we could grow to love each other?”

    “Lord Oren I mean no disrespect to you, but I do not know you!” She said as she turned to leave.

    He caught her around the waist turning her to face him. “You could give me a chance. Get to know me.”

    He kissed her then. Taking her breath away.

  23. Two cliches hand in hand: the hero has an immaculate and sparsely furnished bachelor pad; the morning after the night before, the heroine wakes up remarkably fresh-faced and beautiful.

    Lara awoke, momentarily disorientated by the unfamiliar surroundings and the unexpected warmth of a muscular body spooned around hers. Then she remembered: Dane. After dinner there had been cocktails; after cocktails, kissing; then she had come back to his penthouse, where they had fallen straight into bed. Lara twisted in Dane’s arms, eager to wake him with a kiss for a repeat of last night.

    Then she paused. Steak, wine, cocktails, kisses… but no toothbrush. Did she really want to wake him with a kiss? Having not removed last night’s make-up, she was likely to have mascara smeared around her eyes, while her unruly curls felt more like a bird’s nest than seductively rumpled bed-head. And now that she thought about it, she needed to pee. Maybe she’d wake Dane with a kiss after visiting the bathroom.

    Carefully Lara lifted the large hand draped round her waist and slid out of bed. She almost fell as her foot caught in a pile of shirts lying tangled on the floor: clearly Lara had not been the only one who had struggled to choose an outfit for their date – her bed held a similar pile of discarded clothing as she had searched for the perfect dress. She smiled, touched at this sign of uncharacteristic uncertainty in the usually charmingly aloof billionaire.

    The cluttered vanity in the ensuite gave another unexpected insight into Dane’s life, the array of premium toiletries evidence that his impeccable appearance was the result of a comprehensive grooming routine, rather than some inherent flawlessness related to excessive wealth.

    With relish, Lara selected gorgeously scented products to wash her face, before using a comb to detangle the havoc Dane’s roaming fingers had wrought on her hair. Despite her intimacy with his mouth last night, using Dane’s toothbrush seemed too familiar, so Lara squeezed some toothpaste onto her finger instead. She had automatically screwed the cap back onto the tube but after a moment unscrewed it again, dropping it on the surface where she had found it, as if she’d never touched it. If she could sneak back into bed and wake him by pretending to turn over in her sleep, Dane would think she was one of those natural beauties who woke up looking and smelling glorious – just because she now knew his beauty secrets didn’t mean he needed to know hers!

    Word Count: 394

  24. Jeanna Louise Skinner

    Cliche: Clumsy Heroine who hates her clumsiness

    The tip of Mika Brown’s pink tongue appeared in the very centre of her pillow lips; a tortoise’s head peeking out from its shell. Cole frowned. Maybe likening your dream girl’s tongue to your childhood pet was a bit weird, but she’d always had that effect on him. He watched, fascinated, as she concentrated on collecting her things at the end of the lesson, stiff with the incoordination of a marionette. What was it she had? Dis-something. Dyslexia? No, that wasn’t it.

    Her fingers faltered on a dog-eared paperback: A Midsummer Night’s Dream, their set book for the term. It fell to the scuffed linoleum with a soft thwump.

    “Ooops,” a mocking voice said, soliciting a chorus of giggles. Mika halted halfway through retrieving the book, rising to her full height with a grace born of years of grim determination.

    She gave the speaker the full extent of her blazing eyes.

    “Grow up, Jessica. That routine was old in primary school.”

    She didn’t raise her voice. She didn’t have to. There was calmness about it that spoke of immunity. Sticks and stones may break her bones but Jessica Crawford’s words would never hurt her. Not anymore.

    “And why are you standing there with your mouth open like a paralyzed goldfish?” Mika now volleyed at Cole. “I thought I was the disabled one around here.”

    Too late, Cole realised he staring. Shrivelling under Mika’s heat-seeking gaze, he shot forward, bending for the book. At the same time, Mika crouched. Cole saw the collision coming and tried to veer off to Mika’s left at the last second, but momentum took him careening into her. She wobbled on her haunches, before landing curled up on her side.

    Oh shit. What have I done?

    “I got it.” She waved his outstretched hand away, using the desk as a crutch instead.

    “Sorry!”

    “No bother. I’m dyspraxic, not a damsel in distress.” Her words scolded but her expression twinkled.

    Cole’s arms hung limply at his sides. Heat bloomed in his chest and cheeks. It was if he was suddenly the tongue-tied, always-tripping-over-his-own-feet one.

    “Want to walk to Maths?”

    “Err…” Cole stammered.

    Mika smiled and the air was sucked from the room. Breathless, Cole couldn’t speak as she hooked an arm through his, steering them both to the door. Her perfume was powdery. Befuddling.

    “Don’t worry,” she smiled again. “I’ll catch you if you fall.”

    (399 words)

  25. Goddammit! he had become exactly what he despised the most. The pathetic person who falls in love with his boss. Talk about clichés. But here he was pining after Mayor Jeanne Bourgoin after being her PA for less than a year. Anyway, it didn’t matter, because Enzo wasn’t planning on acting on those feelings. He would never jeopardize her career like that, or his. It was still frustrating, though.
    They had been in the backyard of her house in the French Riviera with a stunning view from the Mediterranean Sea, working on paperwork, or in his case, wallowing in self-pity. He should have known this would never work, and he had no one to blame but himself. It was not like he could blame her for being attractive, smart, and married. Unfortunately, resignation didn’t equally painless.
    Suppressing a groan, Enzo lowered the tray containing their lunch on the wooden table, using, maybe, a little bit more force than necessary, which earned him a curious look from her. Gritting his teeth he shrugged it off.
    “Thank you, Enzo.” She offered him a grateful smile when he put a glass filled with cold lemonade and a vegan sandwich near her. She was always polite, distant, but gentle, because, buggar! he couldn’t even accuse her of not being a decent human being! But today the smile just seemed forced, and lately, she seemed off. He had thought she was tired, but now he worried if it could be something more.
    “Enzo?” Had she caught him staring?
    “Yeah?”
    “Would you deem me an alcoholic if I asked you to open the bar?” Surprised, Enzo paused before answering. An alcoholic, no. But a total break of character, definitely.
    “I most certainly wouldn’t, although, I’d deem you selfish if you refused to share.” As he had expected the comment earned him a chuckle, but he was saddened that her smile never reached her eyes. He wanted to ask what was going on, but he knew he couldn’t, there were certain boundaries you just had to respect, because whatever was happening in her personal life, at this moment, concerned only her.
    After that, though, it wasn’t a surprise when she dismissed him for the rest of the day. But before he left he couldn’t resist offering. “Please, call me if you need anything.”
    “Of course.” She agreed, but as he left, Enzo knew that she wouldn’t.

    *Note:
    I always struggle with the power imbalance in romances between employee and employer, so I wanted to write a scene where we would be able to see clearly that the two present people are both mature adults who have also a great deal of respect for each other, and are conscious of the situation they are in and the role they are playing in that situation. I didn’t want any of them to kind of have the upper hand – although this is almost impossible in this kind of romance – because I wanted to make sure they would both be able to meet each other half away through. Or at least that was what I intended to do, but since ‘the road to hell is paved with good intentions’, I guess ‘good intentions only’ are not worth for much, so I apologize, always, for any mistakes and thank you, greatly, for your patience in reading this. You’re awesome! (:

  26. Chrissie

    The “Oops! I bumped into you” cute meet, but I love clichés so this is just for fun:

    Birds chirruped in avid conversation outside the open hotel window. Chickens squawked and a rooster crowed at least three times. A dog barked and barked—

    “Oh hell, so much for a good night’s sleep.” Beau rolled off the bed and grabbed a towel from the bathroom, wrapped it around his hips, and stepped outside to take a deep breath of fresh Nevada desert air. The natural spring bathing rooms called to him from across the courtyard and he headed that way. If early morning was this warm, how hot would it be this afternoon? Didn’t matter. He had to be here.

    The yellow-tiled pool resembled a huge sunken tub. He tossed his towel onto the wooden bench, read the instructions posted on the wall, and turned the industrial-sized valve wheel. Water burst from a large spout above the tub, sizzling with steam. The cozy room turned into an instant sauna and the potent smell of minerals wafted into his nostrils, seducing his senses. He stepped into the beckoning pool with an appreciative groan, stretched out and relaxed.

    Beau opened his eyes and blinked. How much time had passed? Damn. He must have fallen asleep. He stretched and yawned, then stepped from the waist-high water. The aftereffect felt great, but he’d better get a move on. He grabbed the towel and wrapped it around his waist, tugging it tight. Puddles formed on the stone floor as he moved toward the door still dripping wet. He turned the handle but the door wouldn’t budge. He yanked harder to no avail. The wood door was swollen shut from the steam. Should he yell? Would anyone be close enough to hear?

    The door flew open and hit the wall with a bang, narrowly missing him but catching the end of his towel. The damp towel dropped to the floor and he bent to retrieve it.

    “Oops!” A feminine voice spoke from behind.

    It was a Kodak moment. He jerked up the towel and wrapped it around his hips. Embarrassing but he’d experienced worse. Irritated, he swung around so fast he nearly knocked over the leggy brunette standing in the doorway. She stumbled back a step and he grabbed her arms to steady her. The damn towel slipped loose and fell to the ground between them. He held her blue-eyed gaze as he stood there—bare as the moment he was born.

    Word count: 397

  27. Jaquilla Edwards

    (The Hero’s army takes over the Herione’s lands. They marry and somehow fall in love.)

    ‘This cannot be!’, was the thought of Lord Galvin Crimfield of Grimoff.
    In horror, he watched as the enemy poured into the castle like water to a sinking boat and resigned himself for what was to come. It hadn’t taken very long. In fact, after they had broken the tower door down and captured him, it felt instantaneous as they dragged him through the familiar hallways down the many flights of stairs to the Great Hall.

    He had only a moment to look over and see their emblems emblazoned on the shoulder of the knights armor. A wolf’s head. His eyes widen in recognition of the symbol. It can’t be! His home was captured by the infamous murderous House of Talmin?

    Before he could even process this dizzying fact, Galvin was pushed harshly to the stone floor.

    “We found the lord of this castle, my liege, what shall we do with him?” One of the soldiers growled.

    Liege? Galvin raised his head slowly, willing the pit of his stomach to stay still as he laid eyes on the leader of the Talmin Wolves. Their liege still wore the tarnished helmet with what seemed to be a wolf pelt around his waist. From where he was kneeling, Galvin couldn’t actually tell how tall their leader was, but he seemed a little on the small side. Though that meant nothing.

    “Do you yield?”

    The voice, feminine, yet very familiar to him. He tried to place it for a moment before being shoved rudely again.

    “Yes, yes, we yield to you, Lord Talmin.” He said through gritted teeth, “Just please spare my people.”

    “And not your life?” There was a lilting hint of humor to that,“How noble.”

    “My life means nothing without my people.” He stated.

    The lord suddenly stood and removed the helmet.
    It hits him like a horse’s kick to the chest. He knew this person. He’s known her for half his life before she disappeared without a word. Dark brown skin, darker eyes, and her hair once haloed her head when they were small was now braided closely to her scalp. She smiled brightly, walking slowly towards him. He felt all the air in his lungs vanish.

    It felt absurd and yet..

    “Delilah.” he breathed.

    “Missed me, Gal?” She chuckled softly, “Don’t worry, little lord. Your people will be spared.”
    “And?”
    “Your life will be mine.”

  28. From Hate to Love

    “What did you just call me Lashaun?” She snapped as she turned to the man speaking.

    “You’re a racists! You want to keep the flag that repersents slavery!” Lashaun said.

    “I don’t see it as repersenting slavery! It’s a Confederate flag I’ll give you that. But for all of the ones out here destroying these gravesites. Don’t you know that there where African Americans fighting for the south. And taking offense against the state flag, getting rid of all of the monuments. It’s all heritage!” Alyssa said.

    “Heritage?” He growled. “We were taught that all African Americans were slaves.”

    “You’re taught on how your ancestors were slaves! Don’t you want to know what happened in the past that brought us to this point in our lives where we don’t see color anymore. you say I’m prejudice. But I don’t see you as being African American. I see you as a man! I don’t agree that the flag stands for slavery. I say it’s history that doesn’t need to be forgotten. It needs to be remembered so that future generations will know how good men and women suffered at the hands of ignorant men.” She said.

    “You’ve never been taught anything. You only know what white men stand for.” He said.

    “I haven’t been taught?” Lashaun we went to the same school. We were taught the same reasons. We were taught of Martin Luther King Jr. and of his dream! We were taught of Rosa Parks not giving up her seat on the bus for a white woman. We were also taught about Malcome X. I’m not going to stand here and go over all we were taught. But I’ll tell you this, I believe that white, African American, Indians, Mexicans are the same. We all have the same rights. The only difference is the color of our skin. We all have feeling and we all bleed red. We all put our pants on one leg at a time. So don’t call me prejudice again!” She said.

    He watched her for a long moment before closing the distance between them. Pulling her into his embrace. He gave her a heart stopping kiss. “I’m sorry.” He said releasing her.

    “Sorry for what?” She asked confused.

    “Sorry for thinking you were such a bad person. I guess I should know that everybody isn’t the same.” He said.

    • Eilidh Lawrence

      Hi Winde. We were taught Sen. Carol Moseley-Braun’s famous arguments against the renewal of the Confederate Flag patent due to its association all the way over in Scotland and back in the mid-90s. The patent wasn’t renewed. You mention monuments. My city was built on tobacco money. Statues of slaver-owners have been vandalised. However those asking for statues to be removed have been peaceful and reasonable and those ‘protecting’ it have not. The protestors are simply asking that we all consider the city’s past, in order that it can shape our present and our future.

    • Jeanna Louise Skinner

      Hi Winde,
      I don’t want this to become a pile-on but I feel I have to respond to your submission. I made a promise with myself recently that I would call out racial ignorance whenever and wherever I witnessed it. With this in mind, I hope you understand that my feedback is supposed to constructive and teachable, and that it comes from a place of kindness. I also completely agree with everything Eilidh said above.

      You’ve created a character who is more upset about being called racist than they are at trying to understand why an African American character – a close friend – is calling them that. Imho, this is deeply insensitive. The only possible positive outcome I could envisage in this scenario would be for your female character to actually stop and listen and learn something. I’m not sure the scene would have worked even then because redemption arcs for bigots are a hard sell – but perhaps everyone deserves a second chance, I don’t know. Unfortunately, you instead made your female character the victim in this scenario where the African American ended up apologising to her and I have to say I find this extremely offensive. Having her say that she doesn’t see colour is insensitive and part of the problem. It’s not good enough to not see colour. We have to see Black people. We have to recognise the inequalities they live with every day and have done for centuries. We have to listen to them when they tell us their stories and hurt – not Blacksplain their history to them. Perhaps it could have worked if you had put the Black male character center stage instead of letting your female character do almost all of the talking and reducing him to a passive and eventually apologetic cipher for her ignorance?

      It’s a shame because I think you had a real opportunity to do something with your characters in this scenario about the confederate flag and I’m sure you didn’t mean for the scene to read this way.

      I truly hope you understand what I’m saying and that you can use this opportunity to improve your characters and writing.

    • Evan Yeong

      Hi Winde, I took some time in responding to your comment, and I can see that others have done so before I could. Acknowledging that, I would like to share a few short words as an editor.

      I’m the first person to acknowledge the immense power of literature in bringing people together, and the genre of romance is certainly no exception. While I commend the general intent behind your submission, I’m not sure that a scene of 400 words or less is the best format in which to explore (and seemingly resolve) the issue of what the Confederate flag means to so many African-Americans. Having your hero and heroine’s argument be settled by an ardent kiss and apology feels like it diminishes a conversation that has been taking place for decades.

      I would encourage you to take these other comments to heart, as well as read a post I wrote on writing outside our own experiences. This is an amazing, encouraging community and I’m glad you’re able to continue being a part of it.

    • Being from Ms. I can understand where she’s going with this, I am far from being racist, I don’t see Confederate monuments and flag as rascist objects, they are a part of our heritage. I think I speak for a large number of southern people when I say we can’t change the past. I do not agree with slavery, or killing anyone because of the color of their skin. And I also do not agree with destruction of monuments, head stones in a cemetery. I believe you have a right to protest, but you don’t have the right to riot or the destruction of property and trashing city. With that being said I hope that we can teach our children to be more understanding, and be so quick to judge one another.

    • Eilidh Lawrence

      Respectfully, we can’t change the past, but we can examine it, acknowledge it and seek to make amends. As well as the statues, there’s an entire area of my home town, The Merchant City, where all the streets are named after slave-owning tobacco merchants. Glasgow City Council commissioned a study into the city’s links to slavery before George Floyd’s death. The results and recommendations are pending. I was really shocked to learn about Glasgow’s ties to the slave trade about 10 years ago. I’m 40. It wasn’t spoken about. Glasgow University has pledged to raise funds and make reparations. I’m an alumnus, and that’s something I can get right behind. And fwiw, the police and the First Minister have been concerned about the actions of the people protesting *against* statues being removed. Obviously graffiti is illegal, but otherwise the people asking Glasgow to think about the statues have been orderly and law-abiding. And I for one, someone who does know a lot about my heritage and my country’s history, had no idea one of our Kings was a slave-owner. The BLM movement taught me that. It gave me information.

  29. Fiona Marsden

    Rory stared at the headline on his tablet. “Playboy Christopher Miles and yet another blonde bombshell at the Newtown Charity Gala.”
    Well, Sarah would be unimpressed at the blonde bombshell tag. She preferred “Up and coming trial lawyer” with no reference to her stunning looks and admittedly platinum blond hair. All natural. He was getting used to the playboy reference. An old-fashioned word but it kept them from looking closer.
    Privacy always came at a cost. If the news media couldn’t find out the story, they made it up. His long string of one-off dates made good media fodder. He never took the same woman out twice in a row, but fortunately there were plenty of professional women looking for an escort to events. Cycling through his female friends kept the media guessing and everyone’s profile high.
    Tossing the tablet onto the sofa, he dragged himself to his feet and headed through the house. The rooms were dark, the married couple who tended the house and garden in their own quarters for the night. The nanny would be asleep as well, ready to wake early.
    He opened the door to the nursery and looked down at little Claire. Twelve months old and six months since she’d appeared literally on his doorstep, he still hadn’t found her mother. Where was Jules? He couldn’t imagine the soft, almost sentimental Jules abandoning her baby. His gut clenched with the fear he’d suppressed.
    All his fault. He’d panicked when he realised his feelings were getting too strong. Pushed her away. Wouldn’t answer her calls. Behaved like a full-on jerk.
    She hadn’t persisted. Just vanished into the teaming city. He knew she hadn’t left because his investigators had checked back to her first departure, looking for clues that might tell them where she might be this time.
    The only clue had been a car capsule on his doorstep and a note pinned to the baby inside. “Look after Claire. She’s yours. If you doubt it, I’ve enclosed permission for a DNA swab to be taken. J.”
    Jules knew him too well. He’d never trusted anyone, not even the woman who’d shared his bed for three years.
    Now his bed was empty and he was playing games with the paparazzi. If they even suspected the existence of Claire, they would be nose down after the story. He had to protect Jules. He owed her that much.

    • Fiona Marsden

      That’s confusing. I don’t know if I was excluded or not. Including the cliche in the opening lines might not have been clear enough to meet the at the top request.

    • Evan Yeong

      Hi Fiona, I’m afraid that I wasn’t immediately able to grasp the cliché you were writing about based on the first line of your submission. While “Playboy seen with blonde bombshell” wouldn’t be out of place in a Dare or Desire, it didn’t seem common enough to me to fit the criterion. Maybe if it had been better framed as a billionaire hero dating yet another women once, and once only. That said, I did read your submission and I liked the twist.

  30. Marianne

    Cliché – Ugly Duckling
    Doubts swirled around Sonja’s head, blurring her vision and dislodging her focus.
    She was doing the right thing, dammit!
    Fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me. How many times had her mother touted that proverb?
    After rat-fink Derek promised to love, honour and cherish her while he had his fingers crossed behind his back, it was time she paid more attention to mama’s advice.
    She straightened her spine and adjusted the copy of Pride and Prejudice on the table. It was less obvious than a single rose and gave her encouragement that poor first impressions could still have a happy ending.
    The crowded café saw customers jostling for seats and she’d intercepted two people wanting to take the empty chair opposite her.
    Mama would have a heart attack if she knew her baby girl was meeting a man from the internet. But Simon’s kindness and openness had chipped at her fears, and now, six months and hundreds of phone calls later, they were minutes away from seeing each other for the first time.
    It was more thrilling than her debut catwalk at Milan Fashion Week.
    But deceiving him made her sick.
    The box dye had turned her trademark platinum blonde hair into mouse brown, and ill-fitting charity store garb replaced her designer clothes. Sonja, international model, was unrecognisable. Her agent would kill her.
    She could deal with that. What terrified her was the prospect that her gentle medical researcher wouldn’t be as sweet and open-hearted when confronted with the ugly duckling instead of the swan.
    “Sonja?”
    Standing on the other side of the table was a broad shouldered, wavy haired, colossus wearing dark-rimmed glasses and a tentative smile.
    Her heart ker-thumped. “Yes.”
    She stood as he reached his hand forward.
    “I’m Simon. Nice to meet you.”
    She laughed. “You too.”
    He kept her hand as they sat. His touch disconcerted her as much as his warm eyes.
    “I’m so nervous I can barely think,” he said. “I mean, what do you say to your confidante who is also a stranger?”
    He adjusted his glasses. “Sorry. That was a bit much. Let me start again. Would you like me to stay so we can try talking face-to-face?”
    Her mind exploded. He hadn’t taken his eyes off hers.
    He leaned across the table. “Please say yes.”

  31. (Back to Hometown)
    Emma sat alone wondering what had happened to her life. She had dreamed of the stars as a child does with endless possibilities, but things do not work out as we hope. Just then a glass fell from someone’s hands on the other side of the restaurant and brought her back to reality. As she turned her server came to the table, “Would you like anything else today?”
    “No, thank you. I have to get going before the snow starts,” said Emma.
    Outside the sky was a dismal grey that beckoned snow and bitter cold. The wind had started to pick up and she pulled up her coat collar. She was headed back to her hometown to try to pick up the pieces of her life. Two months ago she was planning the wedding of her dreams to the man of her dreams. That quickly changes in a split second when someone runs a red light and hits another car in a head on collision. Her fiance’, Chad, was the victim of the crash and her life was forever changed. She didn’t have anymore tears to cry and some days she could find one reason to get out of bed. Her parents were very concerned for her and had talked here into coming back home to heal.
    As she started the car the radio announcer started reading the weather report, “I don’t need any more bad news today,” she growled at the radio and shut it off. Pulling onto the interstate, she drifted again into her thoughts.
    “I wonder who got married?”
    “Will anyone recognize me?”
    Too many questions and no answers, but she guessed she would know soon enough. The one thing she was going to focus on was her writing career. She needed to finish her current book and get it submitted.
    Then the sign for her exit was in front of her, 1 mile to Yorkville. Almost home, she made it before the snow was too deep. But the road was getting a little slippery. She slowly drove down the exit ramp, but not enough, because she hit a patch of black ice and hit the car in front of her. The driver got out and started yelling at her. She sat there in a trance, her luck was holding, the other driver was Mike!
    So much for her quiet return!