Writing Challenge: Culture Clash

by Evan Yeong

Those of you who tuned in two days ago know that five Harlequin Historical authors took time off from promoting and writing their impending Sons of Sigurd miniseries and shared a little bit about what draws them to the Viking genre. There was a broad range of different reasons, from the era being a fantastic parallel to our own to the fact that this was a time of great technological leaps and bounds. 

What I want to focus on, however, is what Michelle Willingham had to say about the contrast between a “raw, masculine alpha male” and the heroine who’s more than a match for him. A hallmark of Viking romances is having one of these seasoned, seafaring warriors paired with someone who is their opposite, often a lady or member of nobility. 

The very best of these go beyond the surface-level differences and delve into what makes the hero and heroine’s respective cultures distinct. Maybe he is shocked by how women are considered in Saxon or Irish society, or she elaborates on how a leader is traditionally placed in a position of power. There’s so much more to these books than a burly raider hefting an axe opposite a maiden in fancy dress.

For this week’s writing challenge I’m asking you to write another Historical scene (with the same upper limit of the early 1900s as last time). Taking a page from the Viking genre, in 400 words or less you need to write a romantic scene where the two leads are from vastly different cultures.

It should go without saying that Vikings are off the table. As an additional stipulation, no royalty or nobility. That means I don’t want to see any duchesses, khans, queens, Caesars, sultanas, pharaohs, or any kind of lord or lady. Yes, culture clash can and often does include a wide gap in social and economic class, but in this case that’s not an available option.

I encourage writers to think beyond the concept of race for this prompt! In our modern age most would consider someone from Denmark to be the same ethnicity as a person from the United Kingdom, so skin colour isn’t the sole deciding factor.

Submissions are due on 11:59 PM EST on February 23rd, Sunday. Just like with the last challenge, all eligible submissions will be receive feedback from a Harlequin editor!

Finally, if you’re looking for inspiration, Andree Cusson wrote a submission for the last Writing Challenge that presented a novel take on a couple from two vastly different worlds.


UPDATE: Thank you so much to everyone who contributed to one of the 24 eligible submissions we received over the past weekend! The rest of the editors and I will be hard at work reading them and giving feedback, and you should receive yours no later than this Wednesday (February 26th).

Having skimmed through them let me just say how excited I am to once again dive into your work, especially at how you’ve each approached this particular prompt!

Leave a Comment

Comments

  1. Diarmid squatted near the water’s edge. He wet a rag from his pocket to rub away the dirt from the backs of his hand and spent a few extra moments to clean his around and underneath his nails. It was a hot day and he wouldn’t have minded taking a late afternoon swim. Instead he cupped the cool ocean water, splashing it on his face, on top of his head and behind his neck.
    He heard the singing before he saw her. Though sometimes he found it difficult to distinguish the sweet singing voices of one person from another. Music in the lowlands bellowed and had a rough tone to its edges. Here, the voices of the men and women were harmonious to the landscape. Their songs danced with the wind and skipped along the tops of the brush.
    The children giggled and then scattered into the tall grasses when they spotted Diarmid. It had become an unspoken game. When the large man with the gentle crooked smile and the soft eyes came to visit their young aunt charged with caring for them during the days, they would hide. The children would reappear again whenever he pulled from his pocket the rare treasure that he spent his days gathering, gold.
    The children would ohh and ahh and as Diarmid exchanged silent glances with their aunt. Their relationship had been going on since he arrived some months ago. At this time, on this day every week, if they were both in this spot near the water, they would meet again by moonlight.
    “I have a gift for you,” she said to him as she heard him approach in the darkness.
    “How do you always know that it’s me?” He asked.
    “You are careful when you walk. You respect the earth. Your stride is quiet but confident.” She turned around and handed Diarmid a bundle.
    “What’s this?”
    “Clothing for the cold months. The children have been helping me decorate them during the day. We are hoping that it will be an incentive for you to stay.”
    Diarmid caressed the soft worn leather with his hands and pressed the soft fur to his cheek. The coat smelled of her.
    “Where would I go?”

    Nova Scotia, 1870s

    • Katie Gowrie

      Hi, Fortune! You’ve got an interesting setup here with the hero and heroine meeting at the same time every week, and I like how you’ve brought children into your scene and introduced an element of exchange. I would’ve liked to have known a bit more about these characters personally, to understand the different worlds they come from but also to know what draws them together. Thanks for participating in our challenge!

  2. “I would not want to be the object of your resentment, Mr Markham. The passage to the colonies will be tedious enough.” Convinced his remarks of last evening suitably avenged, her rudeness surely marked the end of their brief association. 
    Georgia glanced ahead at the fine, three-masted sailing ship. “The ship is large enough to avoid each other. From this moment, you need not waste a single thought on me.” 
    “We shall see, Miss Summerhays.” 
    In his eyes, she saw the reflection of her one and only bridge, now an impassable charred ruin. Daniel Markham, notorious shipping owner on one side, and opposite, she, from what she learned eves-dropping, a pretty but unfortunate, penniless soul. Really!
    Stepping back, she dipped her head feeling her bonnet wobble. Don’t let your voice tremble. Don’t let your step falter. She jutted out her jaw to tighten the ribbons under her chin, then pivoted on one heel into the prevailing wind. With her dark blue crepe skirt battering against her strut, long dark curls bouncing at her shoulders, and fists gripped tightly at her sides, she headed toward the gangplank. 
    Her future. Her unknown. Her, dear God, she knew not what. 
    Brother Robert, please be there to meet me at the end of my journey. Please. Please.
    Back ramrod-straight, Georgia automatically stepped one boot in front of the other without faltering. Feeling the steely glare of a pair of eyes low on her back, she gripped the safety rope, stepping up the wooden incline. Her muscles screamed for mercy, screaming for her hand to release its stranglehold. Cried, for her to let go of her single-minded stubbornness. To just this once, take the path of least resistance. Show her vulnerability, show she was a defenseless female who needed help.
    But that wasn’t how she’d been brought up. She had to stand on her own two feet. Not settle for less than was her right. 

    A sleek battleship in full sail. Under his breath, Daniel Markham whistled a slow march while watching Miss Summerhays’s shapely figure, in yards and yards of buttoned-up, billowing fabric glide up the gangplank ahead of him without so much as a backward glance. Impressive.
    God help the man who ends up with her in his bed. He’d be driven mad from the curiosity within hours, for sure.

    Southampton, London 1862
    A ship bound for the colonies

    • Ruth Daniel

      I love a good heroine with as much spunk as a hero who doesn’t know when to cut his loses and run. I want to see how that journey ended and if Georgia finally met Brother dearest or was waylaid by the annoying Mark. I want to see how their battle for will led to an obvious hot steaming romantic scene. I want to see how she managed to keep him at arm’s length for so long he literally cracked before she ever did.

      Interesting story… If only I could read to the end.

    • Katie Gowrie

      Hi Margie! You’ve done a great job introducing the heroine in this scene – I’m intrigued by her journey and I like how you’ve shown her vulnerability and inner struggle as she walks up the gangplank toward an unknown future. I would’ve liked to have learned a bit more about your hero; even though it’s her POV, perhaps condensing some of her inner monologue and showing a bit more dialogue between them could’ve helped us learn more about both characters and the differences between them. Well done, though, and thanks for participating!

  3. Ruth Daniel

    Her arm shot out to grab the lapel of the young man, who in his haste to move forward, shook her off, unaware that his wallet had remarkably disappeared into the skirt of the young woman.

    Henrik Arvid watched her. High, elegant cheekbones, eyes a tawny brown with a probability to seduce, ebony luster of hair, her expensive, English ensemble didn’t fool him.

    As he got up to join the queue, he saw the young man from earlier, his face, a mask of fury, his eyes, contemplating murder.

    Stemming from years of practice with his brothers, he bumped into her. His hand was in and out of her pocket before she had time to realize his intent. He turned, keeping her hidden behind him, just as the young man, red-faced, came face-to-face with him.

    ‘I believe you dropped this, sir.’

    His anger deflated, the young man gladly accepted his property, thanking him.

    Henrik didn’t spare her a glance and went to await his turn.

    While he passed his ticket to the attendant, someone gracefully linked hands with his and he turned sharply to see her looking innocent.

    He lifted one eyebrow at her, completely taken aback at her brazenness. She smiled sweetly at him, her eyes promising retribution.

    ‘Your ticket, ma’am.’

    She made a helpless sound. ‘Darling!’ She pouted in open disapproval. ‘Where’s my ticket? Aunt Adelaide said you barbarians are so uncultured…’

    He sighed and counted out the money.

    ‘Ticket for my wife, please.’

    And made the singular mistake of glancing at her. Her eyes sparked in triumph. Hiding his discomfort, he stirred them through the melange and located their cabin on the train.

    He shed his coat, looking forward to a nap.

    She stood poised at the door. ‘I want you to know that you’re simply my ticket back to the States. Once we arrive, you are no longer of use to me.’

    He almost laughed out loud and told her he had no use for her at all. He restrained himself, closing his eyes instead. He evened his breathe, watching out of the corner of his eyes as she tried unsuccessfully to unlock his bag.

    Being a businessman, he always kept his traveling bags securely locked to protect his documents and sometimes, money.

    It was going to be a long trip and wondered if his quarry would not steal him dry before they arrived at their destination.

    Hønefoss, Norway, 1916.

    • Katie Gowrie

      Hi Ruth, I really enjoyed reading your scene! I’m intrigued by these two characters and wanted to know what happened next on their journey. You’ve done a nice job establishing your evenly matched and cunning hero and heroine here, and touching on the different worlds they seem to come from; I like how you’ve also shown something unusual that they have in common, which has me interested in learning more about them. Thanks for participating!

    • Ruth Daniel

      Katie Gowrie, thank you so much for the feedback. Honestly, when I finished the scene, it had a lot of tension and realized it was over 500word count. I began to remove paragraphs (weeping in the process since I felt it was destroying my scene). I was very skeptical about getting a review at all but I’m more very glad for this feedback. I’m already looking forward to the next challenge and wondering if I should simply start the book about these two or wait to see the next challenge first. Thanks again

  4. Lori Anderson

    The sounds of battle were all around her, but nurse Betty didn’t let it distract her. “Just rest soldier. Your body needs to heal”, she told the wounded union Sargent lying on a cot. “I haven’t seen you before, You must be new”, Sargent Smith said as she put a cool towel on his face to keep him cool. “You’ve been out on the battlefield. I have other patients to attend to. You just relax.” He watched her go to another cot wondering if having a enemy solider in the hospital tent concerned her. She was a Confederate nurse, and he was the enemy in a war noone wanted. He wished it would end. He licked his dry lips. She walked over and poured him a cup of water. :Please drink slow. I’m going to check your bandage”. Betty carefully unwrapped the bandage covering the wound on his leg. She went to get a new one and more antibiotic. “This may sting a little, but it’ll help heal the wound”,she told him gently wrapping the wound with the clean bandage after cleaning it. Virginia 1783

    • Katie Gowrie

      Hi Lori, I like how you’ve written about a Union soldier and Confederate nurse for this challenge – I think this is an interesting cultural difference to look at, and I like how you’ve shown the heroine having to put those differences aside to help the hero heal. I would’ve liked to learn just a touch more about these two characters personally, beyond their situation at war and being on opposing sides, to understand them a bit more on a deeper level. That said, thanks so much for participating!

  5. Rose slipped from the shadows and ran alongside the high wood pole fence until she reached the entrance. Fort Roberdeau was the last place she ever expected to meet the man she could love. A man of a different background than her strict military upbringing or her Scots-Irish heritage. Being the Major’s daughter had been special until they moved to the Pennsylvania wilderness.

    A tall lean figure appeared at the forest’s edge.
    Straight black hair fell to his mid-chest with a spray of yellow feathers at his crown. Wearing only deerskin pants, his striking facial features with high cheekbones were complimented by his darker skin. Obsidian eyes twinkled when he motioned for to her to join him.

    Moonlight hindered by clouds was her shield as she ran toward the trees. If her father caught her, she would be isolated under lock and key. Fraternizing with the Indians was forbidden. The fort was built to protect the lead miners from British and Indian attacks. But she didn’t care.

    “John,” she whispered as he embraced her.

    “Rose, come talk.”

    The tenderness in his voice spoke volumes. He’d learned English from the British soldiers during his capture, but he was Shawnee and proud. She had defied her father for months with these clandestine meetings, but she was smitten with John. A name she’d given him since she could not pronounce his own.

    “Be with me now. My tribe moves westward. I must follow.”

    Winter was coming. The Indians were preparing to move away from the Allegheny Mountains. Their meager tree limbs and foliage huts would not withstand deep snow and icy temperatures. Could she leave everything behind and run away with a man whose culture was far different from her own?

    John mistook a shiver of fear for the chilly evening. He pulled her closer, enveloping them in their own private world. His skin warm beneath her hand and cheek. For a moment, she wanted to walk away from the familiar and welcome the unknown but she couldn’t.

    “John, I—”

    His lips caressed hers enticing her to say “yes”.

    Shouts erupted from the fort as several armed rangers ran toward them. “There she is!”

    “Come!” His urgency brought her to her senses.

    “I cannot. Run! Run for your life, John. My heart is yours—always.” A tear trickled down her cheek as he disappeared into the forest.

    Colonial Pennsylvania – 1778

    • Ruth Daniel

      I feel like weeping, my heart already bleeding for the love that couldn’t be. I never liked the story of Romeo and Juliet but this changed my perception.

      The Indian wanderer and the Major’s daughter, definitely Romeo and Juliet story… A love that couldn’t be. My heart bleeds for them both

    • I really enjoyed the imagery in the scene, as I could visualize everything you described. However, I would have liked to see a little more about how the societies of the hero and the heroine differ. Per the note in the prompt about thinking beyond race, I would like to know how these characters experience and view the world, as I think you’re relying a bit too much on information readers bring to the table.

    • KIMBERLY A WEISS

      I thought this was very well-written. While it’s true you didn’t spell out all the differences between Native American and European cultures in your short paragraph, most Americans would have a pretty good idea of what they are from years of Westerns and Pocahontas cartoons. Good job.

    • Katie Gowrie

      At Harlequin, we want to be cognizant of the diverse cultures that appear in our works. If authors include diverse characters in their stories, we encourage them to research appropriately and strive for proper representation and cultural accuracy. Our post by author Vicki Essex offers great advice on avoiding stereotypes and building complex and memorable characters: http://www.soyouthinkyoucanwrite.com/character-101-building-complex-interesting-memorable-characters/.

  6. Theresa Kemble

    Annabelle hesitated prior to opening the door to the patient’s room. She heard the stories coming from the other girls who helped the orphanage. He was a monster with bandages all over his face and hands, and he generally threw out most of the servant girls with his vile behavior. It seemed only the Sisters of this orphanage could manage him. Of course, there were rumors about him. That he was a confederate spy and he was fooling everyone including the nuns here. Perhaps he was a demon from hell sent to tempt the young girls. It was a month since that horrible battle at Gettysburg. A few of the union soldiers were here too healing from their wounds. But this patient, the servant girls feared the most. She flinched as she heard a man’s booming voice. “For the love of God, would you just open the bloody door!”

    She turned the cool brass doorknob ever so slightly. As she entered the hair on the back of her neck started to stand and pricked her. What she saw surprised her. He was young man. Wavy pieces of brown hair jutted out from his bandages, his face was covered except for his nose and mouth. And his hands were covered as well. No horns protruding was from his head. That was good news.

    She cleared her throat. “I’m here sir to provide you some nourishment. Sister Mary Margaret asked me to sit and feed you.”

    She went to a solitary chair that was beside his bed, it rocked a little where she sat. Even though this patient couldn’t see her, her cheeks flushed with embarrassment.

    He shifted and grunted. “Thank you, but please tell the good sister that I’m not hungry.”

    His lie was evident as sound of his stomach gurgled, and she giggled.

    He turned his head towards her, and his lips pulled into a tight line and he scowled. “Do I amuse, you? My pain is real, I earned every bandage that is wrapped around my body.”

    She stammered. “I, I’m sorry I didn’t mean to cause you any distress. It’s just- “

    “Just?”

    She clucked her tongue. “You lied. Your headstrong brain is saying no to this good food. But your stomach sure wants you to take a bite.”

    He sighed deeply. “If I open my mouth for a morsel of food, will you leave?”

    “Perhaps.”

    • Ruth Daniel

      I’m a sucker for comedy. The Diablo that every sensible young girl wants to avoid, and the meek, yet, no-pushover who refused to cower like he expected… Hmm, give me this full story at 2am and I’d finish it before the break of dawn. Just makes you want to get comfortable, cross your legs and keep reading. Can’t wait for the full story

    • I really enjoyed the humor in this scene. It generates an opening for the hero and the heroine to get to know each other. However, I wish I knew a bit more about the hero and the heroine. I grasp that the hero is different from what the heroine expected after hearing rumors, but I’m not positive about how their backgrounds influence their relationship, particularly since the information we know about the hero primarily comes from the rumor mill.

  7. Andree Cusson

    It surprised Emile Poulin that the longhouse was cool at the height of July. Inhaling, he smelled sweet earth and savoury herbs. It relaxed his frazzled nerves. Nothing Emile received from his superior at Fort de la Montagne prepared him for this initial encounter with Iroquois. The blackguard was no doubt having a good laugh at Emile’s expense.
    The tribe’s negotiator was a prime example. His first mistake, upon meeting her — demanding to speak with the chief, whereupon they informed him that men knew only of hunting and war, trade being women’s work. His second faux-pas — assuming the voluptuous, middle-aged woman with doe-like eyes was easy prey. Hence, the long afternoon debate was not the quick and profitable transaction he once envisioned.
    Yodagent, she who saves, wore a fine cotton man’s shirt, unbuttoned to her navel. A win from an earlier trade? For the tenth time that day, her graceful hand reached forward picking random items displayed on the blanket between them, affording Emile a tantalizing view of her ample bosom. Subtly, he tugged his waistcoat over his breeches. When she lingered over the ornate silver candlestick, he suppressed the victorious grin that threated to surface.
    “Tell her, for the beautiful lady, I’ll include its twin for the pile of furs.” He said gesturing to the translator beside him. “This is my final offer.”
    A slow, sensuous smile graced Yodagent’s full lips followed by a mischievous twinkle. The foreign words she uttered in response to the translation drew him like The Pied Piper’s flute. He considered releasing his tight cravat.
    “She wants to see what more you have, in that case.” The squat interpreter said.
    “The rest is for my dealings with the other tribes.” Annoyance seeped into his voice. “I break company protocol by offering the added item.”
    Raising her dark eyebrow, Yodagent studied his face. Emile mirrored her expression. She nodded once, which elicited an explosion of chatter and activity from the women behind her. They presented an elongated pipe to Yodagent who drew deeply then passed it to Emile. Closing his eyes, he sucked in the smooth, heady smoke, savoring the feeling of accomplishment.
    “She says, she chooses to have you for a husband.”
    Emile’s coughing fit was epic.
    ~~
    Quebec, circa 1750. Word Count: 370

    • I really enjoyed the way that you took the ending in an unexpected direction. However, I would recommend thinking a bit about the power dynamics at play here. The way you’ve portrayed the differences in the characters’ societies seems to be primarily along the lines of the strength women play in the heroine’s society, which feels engaging. Yet, that feels a bit undercut by the way the hero responds to the heroine physically and the heroine’s choice to marry the hero, despite not knowing much about him. Perhaps this is impacted by the short length, but I wish there was a bit more of an emotional connection between the characters.

  8. Sarah Richards

    Laureena had found the soldier in her garden, which had been ransacked by the Yankees. She’d considered leaving him there to rot—to add nutrients to her soil—but, as a Christian lady, she hadn’t been able to.
    She had Nathaniel help her place the man on the bed she had once shared with her husband, who had been killed by a Yankee, though she didn’t believe by this one. She sighed. Nathaniel, Ginny, and Polly were all the family she had left, besides the little one she was carrying now.
    She would never understand these Yankees, freeing the slaves, when her husband had been so kind to them—giving them a good home and honest work—even working alongside them, as she had. He had never been cruel, like some others.
    As she sponged off the soldier’s face, she saw that he wasn’t a young man, but neither was he old. His face was practically unlined, but his hair was gray.
    As his eyes opened, she noticed they were as blue as his uniform.
    “Why, hello,” he said, smiling through his pain as she tended his wounds. “Are you an angel?”
    “Hardly. Found you in me garden, which your kind stole from. They took all the chickens, too, leavin’ a poor lass and her slaves to starve.”
    “I’m sorry.”
    He said it so sincerely, that she almost believed him. There was something about him that made her want to. There was something fine and proper about him—something she had never learned to be. When one was just trying to survive, those little niceties didn’t matter so much.
    “Tell me about yourself,” she said, to keep from having to do the same.
    “Name’s Grant Hepworth. I’m from Boston.”
    “I see. And what was your trade?”
    “I was a Harvard man before the war. English literature.”
    “You are a gentleman, then,” she said, turning away from him, not wanting him to read in her eyes that she had never learned how, for in her hardscrabble life, words were something spoken, not written.
    Her husband had been teaching Nathaniel to read, and she had sat in that room as she knitted, listening always and watching when she thought her husband wasn’t looking. She hadn’t wanted Patrick to know, or Nathaniel, for how would he still respect her as the lady of the house?

    South Carolina, 1864

    • I really liked the way that you tied in both characters’ backgrounds here to show the differences between them. I think the differences in the characters’ education levels are really fascinating, so I would recommend focusing more on elements like those, as it could otherwise borderline on romanticizing slavery.

  9. Faith Cormier

    “Are you serious?”

    Matante Lucienne’s arm twitched as if she wanted to slap Rosalie, but thought better of it. “I’m always serious. You won’t do better than Maurice Clavette. Now, go!”

    Rosalie straightened her spine, threw her shoulders back, took a deep breath and went to meet her fate. She opened the door to the parlor – if you could call the cold, drab room a parlor. No piano, no flowers, not even a fireplace to keep the chill off. Nothing like the parlor in Trois-Rivières. She hesitated, but her aunt’s foot was tapping. She let out the deep breath in something very like a sigh.

    The man standing by the window turned as she entered. “Mademoiselle.” He inclined his head.

    “Monsieur Clavette.” Now what was she supposed to say?

    “It is cold for May.” Did he sound nervous? He couldn’t be nervous, could he? He had the whip hand. He was the one picking and choosing, and if he found her suitable she wouldn’t have much of a choice. Marriage to a fisherman, or the convent. Not much of a choice at all.

    “It was still cold when I left Trois-Rivières. But I thought that it would be warmer by the Baie des Chaleurs, the Bay of Heat.” Two whole sentences. Rosalie was surprised at herself.

    “The Baie only warms up in June or July. Our summers are short. But your father came from here. Did he never tell you about his home?”

    It would be cruel to repeat the little her father had said about Anse-Bleue. “Poverty, ignorance, stupidity and seaweed. Why do you think I left? I’m sorry you have to go there, I’m sorry I have nothing to leave you, but the recession has ruined me. At least my sister will take you in.” An hour later he was dead.

    “No.” The short answer was kindest. “He looked always to the present, never the past.” Nor the future, either, or he might have left her better provided for. But there was no sense thinking about that. Rosalie forced herself to smile. “Has the fishing been good this spring?”

    This brought some animation to the man’s windburnt face. “Yes, as far as it goes. We will be setting the lobster pots soon, once the last of the ice is out.”

    Matante Lucienne stepped into the room. “Rosalie, you forget your manners! Invite Monsieur Clavette to sit down.”

    • Patience Bloom

      Dear Faith, What an interesting culture clash here. I like this tense scene with Rosalie facing her future as a married woman in a fishing village and leaving her old life behind. One thing I would have liked to see is more description of Monsieur Clavette, just to get more of a visual sense of him and her reaction to him. Nicely done overall! –Patience

  10. Francesca waited until nightfall before venturing into the streets. Venice was crawling with spies and while she’d learned to move through the city discreetly, the circumstances required her to elude detection altogether.

    Carnival season had just begun, so she wore the traditional white mask and tricorn hat with a heavy black cloak, concealing her identity as she hurried through the narrow stone corridors, her path lit only by the torch in her hand. She’d paid her own spies handsomely to retrieve the address of the smuggler’s agent, who, she’d learned, was due to leave in the morning. This was her last chance.

    She knocked on the door and held her breath as she waited. When it opened, she rushed inside to find herself in a narrow stone entry hall, candles flickering on a wooden table. She hung her torch on the wall and straightened her cloak as she turned to announce herself to the servant, but there was no servant there. Instead, she was confronted by an imposing man in an unlaced shirt, his dark hair loose over his shoulders, like a foreigner.

    She averted her eyes. “I would like to do business.”

    The foreigner studied her for a moment with his arms folded across his chest, then spoke with a subtle accent she couldn’t quite place. “You sent your spies to find me, Signora. What is your name?”

    “I would like to do business, nothing more. Are you—“ She couldn’t bring herself to say the smuggler’s name aloud. “—the Signor’s agent?”

    “I have no agent, Signora.”

    Her heart stopped. This man had escaped prison in Rome and was rumored to be wanted in France. She could have been arrested simply for being in his presence. “I see.”

    He studied her for a moment, then lifted a brow as he turned toward the stairs. “I’ll show you to the French silks.”

    “No,” she said quickly, refusing to step further. She retrieved a heavy pouch of gold coins from the folds of her skirt. “I wish to buy the books.”

    His expression hardened at the gravity of her request as he turned to face her. “Kindly remove your mask, Signora, and state your name.”

    Under no circumstances would she identify herself to a criminal while committing a crime of her own. With a shaking hand, she offered the gold. “The books. I wish to buy them all.”


    Word count: 396
    The Republic of Venice, 1760

    • Note: Since it’s probably not common knowledge, I wanted to mention a few historical details for context. In the eighteenth century, Venice was largely a surveillance state with strict sumptuary laws and heavy restrictions on the book trade. Owning contraband (like Voltaire’s Candide) came with steep penalties. Also, masking was a common practice. We think of masks in terms of costume parties, but back then masks were often worn as a way to get through the city anonymously during the carnival season, which spanned several months. This snippet of a scene is between a wealthy (and generally law-abiding) Venetian heiress and a Spanish smuggler, who sells contraband on the black market.

    • I had to look up the word “sumptuary” in my oxford concise dictionary. I did not know that there were limits on private expenditure… in the interest of the state. Cool.

    • Yeah, it’s a pretty interesting period. I spent a few years working in the archives over there and always thought it would make a fun setting for a romance. Lots of Intrigue and secrecy.

    • Patience Bloom

      Dear Margot, I’ve always wanted to go to Venice! But that’s for another story. I get a clear idea of this heroine, how savvy she is about her world yet unprepared for what she faces with this intriguing, potentially dangerous hero. The pacing is well done and you describe the characters. I like how you bring us from the sights in Venice through secret hallways to a less posh place where they meet. Nicely done! –Patience

  11. Jodie DeMarco

    “Hold tight, lads,” Lachlan shouted as another violent wind snatched hold of the sail, tossing them mercilessly into the next set of ravenous waves. Bracing his legs and quickly adjusting the ropes he kept the ship upright, this time.
    Lightening cracked against the black sky casting an ominous glow against the towering waves. His men worked frantically to bail water from the hull. Each crashing blow threatened to break apart the wooden ship and send them all to an early, watery grave. Not if he could help it.
    The hours crept by as he barked orders and encouragement to his exhausted men until he could no longer hear his own voice above the roar of the sea. Finally the waves calmed and sunshine peeked through the clouds.
    Lachlan surveyed the still waters. Broken bits of ship and cargo littered the sea. His heart sank as he realized that not everyone had been so lucky during the storm.
    “Captain! A survivor! There!” an excited shout sent him rushing to the back of the birlinn. A small dark-haired figure struggled to hold onto a floating chest. As they watched a wave crashed over her and pulled her beneath the surface. Tossing his boots aside Lachlan plunged into the freezing water and within a few strokes was next to the chest. Diving below the surface he wrapped his arms around the petite woman and began to make his way back the boat.
    The poor lass was pale and shivering. Standing her up he wrapped her in the only dry item he had available, his plaid. Her almond shaped eyes gazed up at him with a mixture of fear and exhaustion. He felt a possessive instinct to protect her rise up in him.
    Standing tall, Li Yitong struggled to keep on her feet. The terrifying events of the last few days replayed again in her head. Everyone she loved was home in China, how would she get back to them? How could ever tell them about Li Yifeng?
    “You’re safe now.” The man from the water’s deep voice broke through her panicked thoughts. He stood before her, rubbing warmth back into her arms. His kind eyes reassured her more than his words ever could.
    “You promise?” she forced the foreign words out past her dry lips. Unable to wait for the yes she knew was coming she closed her eyes and slipped into darkness.

    North Channel, Ireland 1307

    • Patience Bloom

      Dear Jodie, Wow! You have a gift for showing the realities of the ocean. The pacing is fast and I could feel the tension of the crew trying to survive. You also bring in the heroine quite nicely since where else would she appear than right in the middle of the ocean? One suggestion I have, is that in describing ethnicities, we want stay away from dated stereotypes such as the Chinese heroine’s having “almond-shaped” eyes. This is an easy fix, and I like how you place us in her POV toward the end of the entry. She wants to go home, but first, she has to survive the sea. Both Lachlan and Li Yitong already seem like three-dimensional characters and there’s such potential for a lovely romance here. –Patience

    • Jodie DeMarco

      Thank you for the excellent feedback! I love the you didn’t shy away from calling it outdated, as I read it back after reading your feedback I can see exactly what you mean. Thank you!

  12. Taffy Marie

    After we finally disembarked the vessel we were trapped upon, we were met by Mr Key’s friend from law school or such. Mr Carroll apparently lived in the wooded part of Maryland, and whilst traveling to Baltimore, had met with an unfortunate fate, a fate nobody wished to comment upon. We sat in a small restaurant, Mr Carroll, Mr Key and I, while Mr Key prepared my legal document, writing with an uncommon vigor. He barely noticed his other two companions.

    “What is Frank writing?” Mr Caroll asked me.

    “He is writing a legal brief to be sent to the king when I return to Great Britain, assuring him that I did not take liberties whilst trapped upon that vessel after I fell off of my own British ship. Without that document, I can never again enter polite society.”

    I explained my situation, my inability to land a husband in England, my mother’s wish to attend balls in Baltimore, where the soldiers were so lonely for female companionship, they wouldn’t mind a plain woman with spectacles and a personality that was neither gay nor witty.

    “I don’t think you look that bad,” he said.

    “Trust me, I am very plain. The women in England are like roses, especially my sisters.”

    “Huh.”

    I had to tell him. If he were kind enough to critique my spectacles, I could save him the embarrassment that nobody else would alert him to.

    “Sir, it pains me to say this, but someone must tell you. It seems as though in your travels, a small woodland animal chose to rest upon your head, and it met its demise, its tail partially obscuring your countenance.”

    “What?”

    Mr Key finally looked up. “I think she’s telling you there’s a dead raccoon on your head and its tail is in your face.”

    “You don’t like my hat, huh?”

    “You mean you turned that mammal into a chapeau on purpose?”

    “Don’t they have hats like that in England?” He was getting angry.

    “No, the men in England are gentlemen.”

    “The men in England are a bunch cock robins who can’t take a fort!”

    I felt a sense of unease. Thanks to their ineptitude, I would be trapped in this colony for a long time.

    “Are you done with your legal brief?” I asked Mr Key

    “Oh, I forgot all about that. I’ll do it later. I’m writing a poem.”

  13. Gina Bell

    She was lying face down.

    Emma moved her arms gingerly. The surface was rough beneath her fingertips and against her cheek. She raised her head and licked her dry lips, only to end up with a mouth full of sand.

    What was this place? Panic started to billow through her.

    Images raced through her mind faster than she could keep up. Lightening, enormous waves, screams, the ear splitting sound of breaking wood. They were sinking!

    Emma pushed herself up, clawing the damp, salt-sticky hair out of her eyes. Where was she? Where was she!

    The sun beat down like an anvil and the vivid blue sky showed no evidence of the storm of last night. Waves lapped softly, gently pushing pieces of wood, part of a sail and random bits from what was once a ship to settle on the shore.

    Surely her father’s partner would come looking for her? They owned one of the biggest sugar plantations in Barbados and she was on her way to marry his son. But how far were they from Barbados when the ship sank? She should never have listened to her father’s urgings and agreed to leave England!

    “So you’re finally awake?”

    Emma whirled at the deep Scottish accent. The man was tall, with dark stubble on his face and eyes as blue as the Caribbean Sea. Was he one of the sailors on the ship? She didn’t associate with the crew so wasn’t sure.

    “Where are we?” she struggled, her voice sounding hoarse and weak to her ears.

    “We’re on an island somewhere in the Caribbean. Beyond that, I couldn’t say.” He dropped an armful of wood at her feet. “We’ll need more firewood. I’m going to see if there’s anything washing up that we can use.”

    “You want me to collect firewood?”

    He nodded. “I checked you carefully after I dragged you to shore.” His lips lifted at the flush that bloomed on her cheeks. “There’s nothing broken. Just a few bruises.”

    Emma pulled herself up to her full 5 feet 2. “I do not take orders from – ”

    “I just saved your life lady. And on this island, I’m the one in charge.”

    “Wait,” she stumbled backwards. “Aren’t you that prisoner they were taking back to face charges for murder?”

    His jaw clenched. “I’m innocent and I’ll prove it! In the meantime, this is a mighty fine reprieve.”

    The Caribbean, mid 1800’s

    • Mena O Neill

      I love your scene, Gina. Very well written. I’d love to read more. Your Characters are very engaging and he sounds just who I’d want to be washed up with. 🙂

    • The plot device of a shipwreck to bring two disparate characters together is an imaginative response to our challenge. “Forced proximity” is one of my favourite romance tropes! Gina, although your two mains don’t quite illustrate the vast cultural differences prompted by our challenge, you’ve skillfully shown how the class difference between your hero and heroine influences their expectations creates tension and conflict. I wanted to read more – well done!

  14. Dasha James

    She stole to the rocky edge where the land submitted to the sea – her private peace – and leaned into the whetting wind, her eyes raised to the sky. The short mooseskin tunic that hugged the young slope of her strong, soft body kept her warm enough. Still, she kicked off her moccasins to feel the icy earth revealed by the passing winter solstice beneath her feet. The string of shells hanging from her neck sang; her onyx hair flew. Free.

    She studied this water that flowed from a source beyond where her eyes could see or her mind could imagine. What lies where she could see no further? Perhaps a world where her duties to her people would not command her join with one for whom no passion burned insider her? She posed her queries in prayer.

    Just then, a man rose from the north where land met sky. Stout and stalwart, skin light as this day, his hair was low and wavy like the sea, ruddy like the earth. It traced his lips, hung from his chin, yet did not move. His robing was layered and long, tattered by winter, yet grand. Was he a God?

    He stopped where he stood at the sight of her. Gripped by something stranger and stronger than fear, they looked for others. None. They were alone at this place; in this moment.

    Separated from his fellows in their excursion to find food, he should avoid engagement with natives to this strange land. But she captured him, this woman, almost naked, beautiful, breathtaking. He took a careful step in her direction, watching her for permission?

    She knew stories of men that came by sea to take food, wood and stone from the land. Friends. Enemies. Gods, benevolent or angry. Who they were or what they wanted remained unknown. Thus, they should be met with self-preservation. Yet, she saw nothing in him but the answer to her prayer.

    Though trembling and terrified, she smiled at him. He took another step. She smiled still.

    She bowed her head as strange sensations pulsed through her when he finally stood before her. He held out his hands, assuring her he meant no harm. She dared look up and met his eyes; the color of the sky and sea. She had never seen one with eyes like these? He must, she thought, be a God, indeed.
    New Brunswick, 1020

    • The early history of the continent we call home is fascinating. But there are a lot of challenges to writing about the meeting of indigenous people and the first European settlers in a way that is fresh, authentic and respectful to both cultures (especially if we’re writing from the dominant culture). Thorough research and thoughtful characterization (and a sensitivity read if we’re not writing an “own voices” story) are key. Thanks for taking on our very challenging challenge!

    • Dasha James

      Thank you both, so very much, for taking the time to leave feedback. I fear perhaps Deirdre’s feedback is to advise that I may not have been as sensitive as possible to choosing to write of the “First Nations” people of Canada. I was attempting to write a young woman of the Mi’kmaq tribe. Because of the time period, there was not the wealth of information one might hope, but I was able to learn these people were patriarchal and somewhat transient based upon seasons, erecting wigwams to hug the coast where fishing was a critical endeavor. I was able to find a photo of a descendant of the tribe wearing what would have been customary dress and hair et all and based my description of Belin upon her. I also found her name among names of descendants of the tribe. I would want no more than to honor the tradition and history if writing of people such as the Mi’kmaq. So I am grateful to the feedback in laying a deeper challenge for next time! Thank you both, again, so much.

  15. Iris Swift

    “Look who I found sneaking around outside Tommy,” Jeremiah snarled. “It’s your lovely lady piano teacher.”
    Jeremiah flung Isabella into the centre of the circle of men with a sneer. His cruel grip left red bands of pain on her upper arm, but Isabella straightened her back and bade her lip not to tremble. She knew that whatever happened next, she mustn’t allow them to sense her fear.
    Tommy Black was standing alone at the other side of the bare room, his face illuminated only by candle light. Isabella rose her eyes to his in an unspoken plea for clemency, but knew in an instant that none would be forthcoming. The Tommy she’d known, who had rung for tea in the library and proudly applauded his niece’s halting progress on the piano, had vanished. The man before her was every inch the Thomas Black her father had warned her about: the gypsy, the master criminal, the leader of the infamous Scuttlers.
    She saw his chiselled jaw clench tight as he stalked across the room towards her, long coat flapping around his powerful thighs. Isabella’s heart pounded so violently that a flush spread across her body, despite the chill of the cellar. Tommy came to a halt by her side, his eyes black with fury, but when he spoke his voice was soft and gentle, just as she remembered.
    “You’re hardly dressed for an evening stroll Miss Hathaway.” His mocking face took in her thin nightgown, which she knew had been dragged low over her bosom in her struggle with Jeremiah. “May I lend you something more suitable?”
    As Isabella hesitated, the villainous men around them started to laugh and Tommy shrugged off his heavy overcoat and draped it solicitously around her shoulders.
    “There now,” he said, fastening the buttons with slow and steady fingers. “That’s better. We can’t have Inspector Hathaway’s daughter catching a chill, can we boys?”
    Isabella’s face burned as she realised that Tommy had guessed her true identity long before tonight. She was exposed. What would become of her now? The Scuttlers’ reputation was ruthless.
    Please God, help me, she prayed silently. Her hand automatically went to the gold crucifix hanging around her neck, but Tommy got there before her and ripped it savagely away.
    “Do you really think your God can save you now?” he whispered, his breath hot on her face.

    Manchester, England, 1880s.

  16. Jindriska Mendozova

    Antonio got out of the boat and looked around cautiously. He carried a roll of paper and charcoal in his hand. That was why they took him to South America.
    He was neither a great soldier nor a wealthy nobleman, but an excellent painter. People in Europe were wondering what these exotic landscapes looked like. They wanted to see people and animals and places where new cities were to be born.
    After weeks on the boat, Antonio felt the ground rocking under his feet. A light wind blew his black hair. He imagined a city to be here. Cathedral, town hall, marketplace, houses, the bustle of the harbor …
    The voices of the sailors behind him and of the Indians returned him to the present. They appeared from nowhere. How could they pass undetected among the sparse, low bushes?
    Antonio felt fear. What if they want to kill them? But the locals approached slowly and hesitantly. There was curiosity in their faces. Curiosity and fear.
    “For God’s sake, watch out for them. They’re nifty,” whispered one of the sailors.
    Antonio ignored him. His look attracted sharp-cut faces, shimmering stones in headbands and bracelets. He took a few steps aside, settling on a rock washed with seawater.
    He spread a roll of paper on his knees and began to draw people in front of him. He regretted that he couldn’t catch the colors. They WERE colorful and curious … curious as little children.
    With this childish curiosity, one of the Indians held out his hand to the one sailor’s dagger. A horde of Spaniards swarmed around him immediately.
    Antony’s hands and forehead were sweating. He was scared. But his hand continued moving, and he drew. Then he penciled her. The most beautiful girl he had ever seen.
    She stepped between the raging men with calm and authority. A large amulet hung on her neck. She was wearing the most ornate headdress of the entire tribe. The Shaman.
    Indians and Spaniards were silent. Then she looked toward Antonio. The only one who didn’t fall into conflict. She approached him and looked at the pictures. She laughed as she recognized herself.
    Then their eyes met again. Antonio knew he was lost. Spain ceased to exist. From now on, his soul and heart belonged only to an unknown girl, with whom he could only talk with the eyes.

    South America, future Ecuador – Guayaquil, 1536

    • There’s lots to like about this scene, including the smooth writing, natural tone and the heroine’s sense of humor. Having said that, there are a lot of potential pitfalls in writing about the indigenous experience from a European point of view. For example, how might an indigenous romance reader feel reading a book where the “Indians” are described as “childlike”? Before setting pen to paper, an author might want to ask, why do I want to tell this story? What point of view do I want to use and why? What is it about this story that hasn’t been told before, and what makes me the person to tell it? Thank you for writing!

    • Jindriska

      Thank you a lot for your comment. With childish I wanted to describe a genuine curiosity, for me it is a very valuable commentary, because in my language it sounds very different. So, I’m learning to think in English :-). Great! Thank you and thanks for these opportunities to read editor’s comments! Jindriska

  17. A small smile turned the corners of Tali’s lips as a man’s frame filled the entrance to her barabara. It had been months, but she knew that silhouette. She had memorized how the sunrays peaked around the thick muscles of his shoulder and caressed the tight angles of his jaw during an evening sunset.

    “How was the hunt?” She asked.

    “Everyone will feast.”

    “Congratulations.” She bowed her head and waved a hand for Anton to kneel by the smoldering embers of the fire where her needle and ink were warming. He did as she requested.

    When Anton’s boat had first docked on the island, their communication was limited to gestures and nuances. Now, they could speak to one another in small phrases Tali had learned in his native language mixed with words Anton had learned of hers. A dance of tongue only they understood.

    Tali kneeled beside Anton and pointed to the buttons of his shirt then watched as his thick fingers worked diligently on obeying her, exposing more defined muscle with each unbutton.
    She placed her hand on his chest searching for where she could feel his heartbeat strongest, but instead she felt his breath shorten as their flesh grazed together.

    Tali looked into his eyes for a moment searching for a word that he would understand.

    “Breath.” She finally said.

    Anton nodded, closed his eyes, and inhaled deeply. His chest rose toward her as if his spirit was reaching out.

    Tali’s center warmed at the idea of their spirits intertwined, dancing together for eternity, but she had to put that thought aside. She couldn’t let her heart weaken to him just yet.

    She picked up her needle and, without warning, pressed the inked tip into him, piercing the flesh above his heart. He tensed his muscles but said nothing. Tali continued her work transferring ink to his flesh with numerous tiny stabs. Little pin pricks of blood mixed with the ink and spread across his chest.

    Traditionally, tattoos for a first successful hunt were placed by openings such as ears, noses, or mouths. Her people believed this prevented evil from entering those openings.

    Anton’s people had shown a great deal of evil since their arrival. Not Anton, though, but Tali feared he may also be capable of it. That is why she had chosen to place Anton’s tattoo on his heart, so no evil could steal his kindness.

    Aleutian Island, 1840

    • Thanks, Mena! The writing on these are always so clunky for me (I’m definitely a better rewriter than writer), but I love the brainstorming and fun ideas that come from the challenges.

    • Hannah Rossiter

      Hi Michelle!
      Thank you for taking part in our writing challenge!
      You do a fantastic job, Michelle, of showing, immediately, the powerful connection Tali and Anton share. It’s clear, in their desire to communicate with each other, that your hero and heroine are driven by the affection they have for one another. That love, ultimately, is translated into a mix of their native tongues, with Tali and Anton trying to speak, and show, their feelings.
      Thanks!
      Hannah

  18. “Hello?” Ben called, seeing no one behind the front counter of the General Store. He noticed a woman behind the back counter and almost spoke again. But she twisted sideways a bit as she reached up for a box and Ben sucked in his breath. She was stunning.
    A loud thumping from behind him startled him.
    An exceptionally loud thumping, actually.
    So strong that he felt the floor of the store shake under him. The woman didn’t even start, merely called, “Be right with you!”
    Ben looked behind him to see an older woman standing in the doorway.
    “You have to make something vibrate or she won’t know you’re here.” The older woman said, stepping further into the store.
    The young woman turned to face them, smiling at the older woman.
    “Mrs Cartwright, Good afternoon, how can I help you?”
    “I’M HERE TO COLLECT MY SHIPMENT FROM THIS MORNING’S TRAIN HANNAH,” Mrs Cartwright yelled slowly.
    Ben twitched from her unnatural volume, confused.
    “Certainly Mrs Cartwright,” Hannah replied, calmly retrieving a package and handing it across the counter.
    “THANK-YOU. HANNAH,” the older woman hollered again and turned away. Looking at Ben as she exited, she added, “She’s bright enough I guess, but you gotta talk slow so she understands.”
    Ben gaped after her and then returned his gaze to the young woman, Hannah, who murmured,
    “I do believe she must yell when she talks to me.”
    Smiling, she looked at Ben, stating, “You must be the new Doctor.”
    He watched fascinated as her hands appeared to almost flutter as she spoke, “I’m Hannah Samson. Welcome to Cheyenne.”
    “A pleasure, Miss Samson,” he replied, gazing around the room, “I’m here for my clinic supplies.”
    “You have to look at me so I can see what you’re saying, please.” She stated.
    His gaze snapped back to catch hers. That wasn’t fluttering, she was signing.
    “You’re deaf.” He said in surprise.
    “I’d rather you called me Hannah,” she laughed, “Deaf, is a silly name.”
    He chuckled, “Indeed,” pausing before adding, “Hannah.” She smiled and he said, “I’ve treated deaf patients in Boston, but I’ve never met a signer.”
    “Now, you, have,” she retorted, signing slowly to teach him the signs as she spoke.
    “Now, I, have” he mimicked.
    She beamed, “Most people won’t sign.”
    “I’m not most people.” He replied, and leaning forward, added, smiling, “you aren’t either.”

  19. ‘There were so many colors.’
    Elizabeth Murray watched mesmerized as the Nautch Woman danced in front of her. Only it wasn’t merely dancing. It was something more. Something so powerful. So beautiful. That she didn’t even have words for it, and that was saying something for an archaeologist specialized in linguistics.
    Dr. Elizabeth Murray – University College London professor – had been called by a colleague – Dr. Chadha – to assist in the translation of almost two hundred documents found last year in the Mohenjo-Daro Site by the Archeological Survey of India. She had just arrived when she had listened to the Sitar music playing and had felt compelled to find the source of that melodious sound. And then she had seen her.
    The Indian woman was dancing barefoot. It was so beautiful it hurt. Elizabeth thought – as she watched the woman’s languid arms graciously moving – that would never be words to describe what she was feeling.
    And then their eyes met. Elizabeth’s breath got caught in her trough, and the world seemed to disintegrate. A single word came to her head. Forelsket. A Norwegian word without translation meaning: ‘the blissful stat of wonder one feels when they fall in love forever.’ Instantly, the woman stopped dancing and the music ended. Elizabeth stood there, the silence echoing in her ears. And all she could say was.
    “That’s was very beautiful.”
    “I do not speak Bengali.” Replied the woman in Tamil Brahmin.
    “I’m sorry.” Elizabeth apologized also in Tamil Brahmin. “I said that your dancing was the most beautiful thing I ever saw.”
    When the woman’s answer was only a contempt look, Elizabeth felt hotness creeping in her neck. Trying to break the uncomfortable silence, she offered her hand for a shake while introducing herself. “I’m Eliz…”
    “I know who you are.” The woman interrupted her while ignoring her hand.
    Confused, but without time to analyze the woman’s attitude, Elizabeth turned away at the right moment that Dr. Chadha arrived.
    “Dr. Murray, here you are.” He said in English, smiling at her.
    For three minutes, he spoke non-stop about how happy he was about her presence there, then he seemed to notice they were not alone and turned to the woman on their back. “I see you already met Nayantara.” He said. But was his next two words that made Elizabeth’s heart stop in her chest.
    “My wife.”

    Calcutta – British India, South Asia – May of 1911

    • ***Only read this if you are a really curious person, and also a very patient one.
      – After I finish writing this, I realized I needed to write a paragraph to clarify some points that due to the word counting was impossible to put on the original text.
      1. The Nautch girls were women (sometimes really little girls, and this is horrible) that made a living dancing for people entertainment. (sometimes there was prostitution too, but I really recommend reading about this, cause it’s complicated and there’s no way I can explain this here in a few words). They were kind of common on India, so that’s why Elizabeth thought Nay was a Nautch dancer, which she isn’t, but somehow Elizabeth life would be easier if she were.
      2. The Archeological Survey of India is a real government agency founded in 1861 by Alexander Cunningham that works until today.
      3. The Mohenjo-Daro Site is also real. It’s one of the largest settlements of the ancient Indus Valley Civilisation and stays in the province of Sindh, Pakistan. One of the first archaeologists to explore the site was the Indian archaeologist R. D. Banerji. However, the site was not discovered until 1920 and for what I know there were no registers of documents found in there (so sorry but I needed to adapt a bit).
      4. The Sitar is an Indian string instrument, I could say it similar to an acoustic guitar, but I would be lying. Even not being mentioned that was a person playing the instrument, the person was there. I guess Elizabeth didn’t saw him, cause she was focused on Nay (sorry for that too).
      5. Forelsket is a real Norwegian word. I may have exaggerated a bit on the translation, but the word exists.
      6. In 1911 Bengali was the Indian dialect most spoken in Calcutta, that was why Elizabeth chose to talk to Nay in Bengali. Nay probably speaks Bengali, and English too, since she is a very clever woman. Still, as we could see, she was a little bit reticent, to put it mildly, towards Elizabeth, so she spoke in a very exclusive dialect because maybe she wanted to embarrass our linguist. However, Nay native language really is the Tamil Brahmins, since she is a Tamil Brahmins, so perhaps she was just speaking in the language she felt most comfortable with (I really doubt that).
      7. The Tamil Brahmins are Brahmins – the highest caste in Hinduism, usually teachers and priests, that are protectors of the sacred learning across generations – that lived in the region of Tamil. They have their own dialect derived from the Sanskrit, that is the classical language of India and the liturgical language of Hinduism.
      8. Margaret Murray was an Anglo-Indian Egyptologist, Archaeologist, Anthropologist, Historian and Folklorist that lived between 1863 and 1963. She was the first woman to be appointed as a lecturer in Archaeology in the U.K. And she worked at University College London from 1988 until 1935. I hope she doesn’t mind me borrowing her surname and her job. Thank you for your role in history, Mags!
      9. Last but not least, I’m so so sorry for my verbosity! I know it was supposed to be a small scene with only 400 words. But I have to say word count is every verbose writer nightmare! Cause I had this idea, and then there was a lot of things to explain, and then I had to explain everything, and I just couldn’t stop writing! Also, I apologize for any mistake. I’m so sorry. I blame everything on my overly imaginative mind!

    • Hello, Emmeline. You have no idea of how much your words mean to me. Seriously, mostly because I kind of hatted the final version of this (the original version had like one thousand words more. OMG). But I’m glad I could keep the tension, it means I was able to maintain the essence of the scene even after so many edits. Thank you very much for your words!

    • Hi, Jenny. Is it good fun or bad fun? I must admit I’m impressed, my Bachelor is in Biology (I still didn’t finish it by the way), so there’s nothing to do with this. I’m just a curious person, but while I was researching to write this, I saw how difficult it could be to keep true to the facts or even keep aware of all the facts (and girl, there is a lot of facts!). So what I want to say is thank you for your comment, and that I really admire you, it’s a beautiful carrier that you chose!

    • Hi, Ruth. Your comment put a smile on my face. I love that you loved it (due to the word count I didn’t like very much of the final result)! And I have to say when you wrote “when” instead of “if” like publishing was not something I only think as a possibility while daydreaming you won my heart! Seriously, you have my friendship forever! Thank you so much for your appreciation!

    • Hannah Rossiter

      Hi Joice!
      Thank you for taking part in our writing challenge!
      I was captivated, Joice, by your submission! You managed, in just a few words, to provide so much detail and tension. The final line, in particular, left me desperate to keep on reading! I was so impressed by this submission, Joice. I was very happy, also, to find the historical note you had provided. It helped to provide an even greater level of depth and dimension to your entry.
      Thanks!
      Hannah

  20. “You don’t wish to come to my bed?” Alonso asked. He had not imagined the spark in her eyes when he had removed his tunic. And, young as she looked, she had a son. She was not a stranger to the pleasures of a man’s bed.

    “I can’t,” she muttered, her eyes determinedly downcast. He willed her to lift her gaze, if only so he could experience that shock of need once more.

    He took a step closer, but she didn’t raise her eyes to his. “Surely your master is dead and you are a free woman. Or have I misunderstood the position of concubine to a powerful man?”

    Her nostrils flared and he dared stretch out his hand and lift her chin so her eyes could finally blaze into his. She pulled away from the touch, but not before he registered soft skin and the glow of warmth that was not one-sided.

    “What do you know of free women in the Kingdom of Castile?”

    “I am the subject of a Queen—Isabella.”

    Soraya’s lip curled in derision and Alonso had the uneasy feeling that he was out of his depth, wanting this woman the way his body so insistently did. She had told him her background, but there was much more to her that he doubted she would ever share. How had she come to be in the ownership of the old man, let alone in his bed? Had it been by her own choice? She was intelligent enough. She had had his son. Was she also ambitious?

    But her words were unexpected. “Yes, your illustrious Queen Isabella. That is a woman enslaved to duty. Do you imagine her marriage to King Ferdinand is a happy one?”

    “You belonged to a man twice your age who forced you to bear him a son although he would not marry you.”

    “Do not judge what you don’t understand, capitán. Concubine or not, a woman is rarely free in either of our societies. A concubine at least has some status—in our culture.”

    “You went to him willingly?” His tongue felt thick as he asked the question. “But you will not come to me?”

    She raised her head. “Yes. You have nothing to offer me.”

    Alonso stilled, studying her wary gaze and the slight quiver of her lips. Then he slowly removed his undertunic, tugging the rough linen over his head. “Nothing?”

    Granada, Spain, 1492

    • Hannah Rossiter

      Hi Leonie!
      Thank you for taking part in our writing challenge!
      You had me, Leonie, hooked from the first line! You managed to fill your submission with twists and turns aplenty and I was constantly wondering what was going to happen next. You also did a great job of showing that, despite their circumstance, Soraya and Alonso can’t help but be drawn to one another.
      Thanks!
      Hannah

  21. Caradonna hadn’t been her father’s first choice for the errand, but her brother was ill, the messenger insisted the physician was needed immediately, and the clock on the mantle was ticking steadily towards the time when the gates would be shut and no Jew could pass into the city. So Caradonna carried her father’s medical bag and stared as their gondola piloted under the Ponte delle Guglie and onto the Grand Canal. She should have been scared to be beyond the walls walls for the first time, but Cara was, as her mother said, mahlil rigish – passionate. She burned for something beyond the Ghetto Nuovo.

    As they climbed from the gondola, Cara’s father broke the silence. “You will speak to no one.”

    While her father was taken to the patient, Cara examined the entry chamber. She touched the brocade on the walls and leaned forward to examine it: the pattern showed cupids engaging in carnal acts. Cara withdrew her finger and looked around. She had heard of the cortigiane oneste –women who wooed powerful men and lived independently. She turned the thought in her mind. These women had power themselves. And owned property.

    “Who are you?” a musical voice broke Cara’s concentration.

    Cara turned towards the voice. A woman with long, dark red stood in the doorway. She wore a velvet dressing gown but her bare shoulders suggested she was naked beneath it.
    Cara tried to speak but could not find her voice.

    The woman took two steps forward and Cara caught a whiff of her scent – lavender and bergamot – and Cara knew, without knowing how, that this woman was a cortigiane oneste, and that she wanted her – wanted to touch the white shoulder, to run her hands through that red hair, to hear the woman laugh.

    “I am the physician’s daughter,” Cara said finally.

    The woman came closer and tipped Cara’s face with her finger. She was taller than Cara by a few inches. Up close, Cara could see traces of black paint at the corners of her green eyes. Cara felt a fiery rush in her belly at the intimacy of the moment – the tiny circle of contact, the brightness of the woman’s eyes, the feeling that she was seeing a face normally hidden from the world.

    “Ebrea,” the woman said, and she smiled with a mouth Cara could think only of kissing.

    • Evan Yeong

      In just shy of 400 words you did a spectacular job of describing the worlds your two leads come from. The romance between a courtesan and a young Jewish woman is an intriguing premise, and the chemistry you built up between the two of them made me want to read more.

      To offer a bit of criticism, I would love to know how Cara withdrew her finger from the brocade on the walls. Was it hurriedly to avoid being caught staring so intently at the colored silks? With a touch of embarrassment at what she had been touching? I would also encourage a quick edit to catch a few repeated words and minor errors, but on the whole I loved this!

  22. Caroline is thankful that her mother forced her to take up embroidery, because her fingers don’t shake as she stitches up the gash between Esmerelda’s shoulder blades, the result of a lucky soldier who got one good swing before being taken care of by Esmerelda’s own swords.
    Their medic should be doing this, but he’s currently in the process of dealing with an amputation, and Caroline trusts her hands enough to be steady when sewing up her captain.
    Her Captain.
    When did this happen? It certainly wasn’t when Caroline snuck on board, challenged in front of the entire crew, sword at her throat. Was it that first dance on the deck, a tradition that every foot move in celebration of them not being dead? Was it the fighting lessons? The stories? Perhaps Caroline is so overjoyed by the ability to wear pants that she’s confusing this for love.
    Esmerelda hisses, and Caroline is drawn out of her thought to the work beneath her hands. “Sorry.”, She says, quickly untangling the thread where it’s gotten caught on itself, loosening the thread with practised movements.
    “These stitches better be straight.” Esmerelda says, attempting to hide the fact that her fist is shaking in pain. Caroline passes over some rum – the same bottle she’s using to occasionally clean the scar – and Esmerelda takes a long swig, the motion catching the knotted scar on her shoulder. It’s twisted and gnarled like a knot in a tree, stretching and twisting the lines of Esmerelda’s dark skin into a whorl. It should be terrifying to see such a wound on somebody, and if Caroline had bothered to maintain her social respectability she would probably be running for the nearest port.
    Instead she is filled with the violent urge to press a kiss to the mark. Which is absurd. On what planet would a feared pirate captain such as Esmerelda look twice at Caroline, somebody who had never swung or sword or lifted a finger in effort, living an entire life being passed from one position to the next.
    The last stitch is sewn, then double knotted flush against a dark beauty mark on her lower back. “All done, Captain.” She says, washing her hands in some water. Esmerelda turns to look over her shoulder, with a look Caroline can’t quite place.
    “Thank you. You can go.”
    Caroline does, and regrets it.

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

    • Evan Yeong

      I’ll admit to not expecting a sequel of sorts to my last Writing Challenge, but I am a bit confused due to the names of the characters being changed in spite of the premise remaining the same. That said, you may have been simply following my recommendation that the name “Brunhilde” felt too reminiscent of Vikings, and I do like the captain now being named Esmerelda. (As a side note, my being assigned to your submission yet again was pure kismet!)

      Given the prompt I would have liked to learn more about Caroline and the life she left behind. We already know so much about Esmerelda due to the fact that this story is set on the pirate ship she captains, but Caroline largely remains a mystery. We get snippets of that through her knowing embroidery, but going a step further by describing the softness of her own hands (especially in comparison to Esmerelda’s scarred body) would go a long way in helping cement the differences between them.

      I’m sorry to say that the next Challenge won’t be explicitly Historical and as such your continued narrative may not fit, but I hope you continue working on this regardless!

  23. Mena O Neill

    Fremantle – April 1876.

    Last to climb from the longboat, Ellen shied behind the men who climbed before her. Fully aware she had more to lose, she scanned the deck, seeking and finding the man who would demand all her attention. The Captain stood mid-deck his stance affecting nonchalance but to her over-attentive eye his mixture of urgency, excitement and trepidation were infectiously apparent.
    “Welcome, Brothers. Quickly. Below decks at once. Our lives depend upon it and God willing; we sail for home and for freedom.” He could barely contain the victory in his voice or the smile that creased his face.
    A suppressed excitement swept through the entire deck but each to a man knew the importance of the Captains words and each obeyed his command. Ellen followed as they were directed below, relief beginning to sweep through her as she began to hope her plan had worked.
    “Not you, Brother. I would have a word.”
    The Captain’s tanned hand grasped firmly around her forearm as she passed and she raised her eyes to his, almost drowning in the dept of two pools of pure molasses. Unfathomable pools that at that very moment were staring intently into hers.
    “The quarters are tight. You will share my cabin. Come.”
    Following silently, the breath left her lungs. Had he seen through her disguise or selected her because she was last to climb aboard? She considered she looked no different to the others. Her hair was sheered short, her skin covered in dirt, her masculine clothes just as rough and bedraggled as the others. Her heart hammering out of her chest, she began to steel herself to fight. He would not put her off this ship.
    “Captain, I would not burden you. I am sure there is somewhere I can rest without you having to give up your privacy.”
    His answer was a grunt of derision. Reaching his quarters he opened the door, standing aside for her to enter.
    “It will be no burden… Ma’am!”
    “I beg your pardon?” Ellen swung to face him with practiced indignation.
    “You heard me. But I will repeat myself. It will be no burden to share my bed with you. I will quite enjoy a woman’s company until we reach New York.”
    Shock robbed the breath from her body as a strong hand cupped the curve of her chin and undeniably male lips claimed her mouth. It was all she could do to stay standing.

    • Evan Yeong

      A stowaway, especially one trying to hide their identity, is an excellent setup for a romance. I will say that my personal preference for the genre skews more towards explicit consent, but your submission does fall closely in line with plenty of books on the market. It’s also a mere 393 words, so who knows what might happen in the following line!

      What I was looking for with this Writing Challenge was for submissions that highlight the different worlds the two leads come from. The problem here is that we don’t know anything about Ellen aside from the fact that she has snuck aboard this vessel. No, she’s not the captain of a ship, but what else are we given to help build the idea that her and the Captain are from distant classes? The added comment that this is a “Fenian prisoners escape plot” shouldn’t be necessary for added context.

  24. Glancing up from the money box where I’ve been counting tonight’s cash haul, I force a smile to my face as the rowdy soldiers in the corner throw up another cheer, tapping their mugs together with a smash.
    Ugh. We can’t afford for one of those to bust with their shenanigans, but I’d never be allowed to tell them to calm their asses without backlash from Murph. I’m only filling in while Jo is home with her new baby boy, and basically, I was on the nut after pa died last year, feeding my younger brothers and taking care of their stinky butts. My pockets desperately need the cash so no good would come from my mouth popping off.
    Those blasted men are slurring Irish lyrics again about a big strong man home from the sea, slapping each other’s backs like they aren’t busting my ears. But, when I look again to make sure there’s not trouble in their corner, I see one of the fellas is staring me down.
    He’s a bit buttoned from the men I’m used to, obviously uniformed from the strict buzz chopping his ear, the perfection is a pretty package for a man. But it’s his eyes that pierce me. Fierce blue. So bright they cut through the dim bulbs that Murph swears adds mood since the mugs come in here to drink with barn life.
    Loud, booming laughter fills Murphy’s Blind, the final nail screw into my pounding head. I officially tap out, leaving the soldier with the pretty eyes to party with his mates up front. He’s outta my league anyway. Obviously living the straight and narrow, not selling bootleg hooch in a friend’s bar.
    Hell on wheels… tomorrow I head to the plant for the day job that keeps the rent paid for the boys and me.
    Glancing down at my simple cotton dress and apron covered in goat hair, I resign myself that life doesn’t treat all of us fair. Detroit is a hard city and I’m surviving, no matter how good it would be to know a man who doesn’t spit on the floor at my feet or with a temper hotter than a hooker in church. It’s just not my life and the handsomeness in the corner is not my life either.

    • Evan Yeong

      While I gave an upper limit of “the early 1900s,” I will admit that I didn’t specify an exact range. The last challenge did include the line: “If you’re sitting in a time machine and you can see the Great Depression directly ahead and the Jazz Age fading in the rearview mirror, you’ve gone too far.” But this one didn’t, so I’ll let it slide.

      Being set in a more modern time period really helped this submission to stand out, and I found the highlighted details of both parties to interesting choices. On one side is the unnamed heroine, who is wholly focused on making ends meet. On the other is the unnamed hero, whose compatriots are boisterous, rowdy, and drunk.

      What I would have liked to have seen is how these traits happen to be mutually exclusive for these two. The heroine thinks about wanting to lambaste the soldiers for their manners, but not about lacking the freedom to let loose like they do. She reminds herself that they’re making her money but not at all about their financial freedom and ability to effortlessly throw cash away on bootleg hooch.

  25. Kay Marie Emerson

    The Yoder’s Barn Raising.

    Abraham helped his brothers and sisters down from the family wagon. His Dat was heading towards the house with the Muller tools.
    “Abraham, dear will you please bring in the food to the kitchen? “
    “Yes, mother.”
    He lifted Rachelle down from the back of the wagon Just as she was placed on the ground Rachelle cried out, “Oh, Molly ! Where is Molly?”
    Abram looked down at the 5 year old, he smiled and kneeled. “Don’t worry, dear I will get her. “ he jumped up into the back of the wagon and looked for the doll. Molly was a wood doll Abraham had carved for her to add to her doll house. it was one of the dolls he had carved for his little sister to play with. His mother may have given Michelle a cloth doll, she seemed to cherish his carved doll family that he made years ago for a birthday present. they were small and easy to shove in her pocket if she needed.
    He saw it laying amongst the bottles of milk and bale of hay at the back of the wagon. Grabbing Molly he jumped down to the ground. He slipped her in his pocket as he grabbed two hampers full of food and carried them into the Yoder’s house. Buggies and wagons started to fill the yard as the sun started to rise on the horizon.
    Stepping into the kitchen he placed the hampers onto the kitchen table he started to turn to leave when he stopped in the middle of the room. Directly across from him , unloading baskets was Becca. Her hair had come a bit messy in the busy morning rush of arriving food and trying to get the breakfast made up for the men.
    Becca’s bangs had come undone and were frizzing around her face. She pushed them out of the way just as Abraham Muller came in the kitchen with two over flowing hampers of food. Putting the hampers on her table his hand brushed her outstretched fingers, sending an electric shock of pleasure that radiated through her whole body..
    They looked in each other’s eyes and held a moment. Becca looked down at the basket she was unloading , shy and uncertain what to do next. She had dreamed of how she might meet that first love. This was so much different than what she imagined. Becca pulled her hand away quickly, Her heart sped up as she watched Abraham walk out the screen door.

    • Evan Yeong

      Hi Kay Marie, I’m so sorry but your submission did not meet the deadline. It won’t be eligible for editorial feedback this time around, but I hope you try again next time!