Writing Challenge: Say That You Love Me

by Evan Yeong

So as it so turns out, almost a year ago today we here at So You Think You Can Write challenged you all to come up with submissions describing “the black moment” (the emotional low point of a romance). While that’s obviously a key component to any heartbreaking tale of love and loss (and love again), I thought it would be nice to cover the flip side of things!

While I didn’t quite grow up with Say Anything (as it came out shortly before I was born), who doesn’t see a boombox without fighting the urge to hold it above their head? That’s a declaration of love that speaks volumes, no pun intended, and it’s just one of the dozens I’m sure you might be able to recall at any given moment. After all, everything counts down to your hero or heroine telling their counterpart those three simple words…but what if they didn’t? After all, John Cusack lets Peter Gabriel do the talking for him- 

I’d like you to focus on capturing that magical first moment when one person reveals to the other how they truly feel. Of those 400 words or less in your submission, however, none of them should be “love.” That’s right, not only should the phrase “I love you” not be uttered or thought, that one particular four-letter word should also be avoided.

In fact, I’d like to take the full page out of Say Anything‘s playbook and stipulate that the one making the declaration can’t say anything at all. For this week’s challenge actions will have to speak louder than words, because the hero or heroine in question won’t have a choice!

Your submission might be “just a _________, standing in front of a _________, asking them to love them,” but at no point can that question actually be asked.

The cutoff for submissions is 11:59 PM EST on Sunday (August 30th). We’re going to be looking through each eligible entry and picking our Editors’ Choice Top 3 from them! The post will be updated on Tuesday. I also want to let you know that the next gap between Writing Challenges will be a good bit shorter (I’m sorry that you’ve had to wait so long between them). Good luck, and we’re excited to read what you have for us!


UPDATE: It’s always hard to return after a long weekend, but seeing so many submissions waiting for me was a delightful surprise. That said, this may have been the most challenging Writing Challenge yet, as a number of you didn’t stick to the following criteria:

  • Of those 400 words or less in your submission, however, none of them should be “love.”
  • the one making the declaration can’t say anything at all

Although it’s tragic that a handful of remarkable submissions had to be disqualified for not closely following the rules, this turned out to be a solid lesson in closely reading what a publisher is looking for before diving at your keyboard.

Our favourite eligible submissions, and our Editors’ Choice Top 3, in the order they were submitted, were:

Ann Allen starts things off with her silent hero revealing to the heroine that he’s designed a house, with her not realizing he’s building it for the two of them. We loved the heroine fighting to hide her hurt feelings (and her reaction when she sees the ring).

Lexie provided an excellent change of pace by creating a tense scene of survival several leagues under the sea. Her hero sacrifices his oxygen tank for the heroine, and honestly, what greater love is there than that? Truly a declaration that speaks louder than words.

Michelle, as it so happens, ended this round of submissions with another misunderstanding, Sasha telling a tight-lipped Grey that she got into medical school and things are probably over. Her internal monologue provided so much context for their relationship, and what a response from him!

I’d like to thank you all, as I always do, both for taking part in these challenges and for being so supportive of one another! Although this appeared to be a tough one across the board, the enthusiasm you all have for this craft has always been clearly evident. Thanks again, and I’ll be back before you know it!

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  1. Ann Allen

    He pulled out a roll of paper and laid it on the desk. She recognized the blue ink – these were blueprints. Another project to work on? He was staying? Was this something they could do together?
    He rolled off the elastic, and carefully flattened the paper. She leaned over, curious to see what he’d created, the vision in his head traced here so that she could build it in wood and stone and concrete.
    It was a house. She scanned the lines, noting things like the elevation and the size. She ran a tentative finger over the letters and numbers he’d carefully inscribed, picturing in her mind what the finished structure would look like.
    Two stories, four bedrooms. A fireplace of stone. Gorgeous. She couldn’t imagine who, here in their small town, would be building this home.
    Oh.
    Not here. Somewhere else. He was leaving. This beautiful home, his next project, wasn’t one she’d be working on.
    She kept her face tilted downward, determined not to show any feelings, any hurt.
    “It’s beautiful. You’ve done an excellent job.”
    Her voice was steady, right? She wasn’t revealing anything.
    She heard his hand on the paper before she saw it. He was sliding something towards her, something that scratched across the paper. With an indrawn breath, pulling together her tattered control, she let her gaze move to where his hand had stopped.
    The kitchen, the heart of the home.
    In his hand, a ring.

  2. Amanda Williams

    “God is such a show-off sometimes,” Anne whispered to herself as she held a steaming mug of coffee under her nose, reveling in the mouth-watering aroma. Vivid brush strokes from a divine palette lit up the Montana sky. Could she capture this moment forever?

    Heavy footsteps halted behind her right shoulder. Anne breathed deeply, inhaling the intoxicating blend of fresh morning air and woodsmoke.

    “Good morning,” she said as she turned and leaned against the porch column.

    Tilting her chin up, she gazed into whiskey-colored eyes framed in heavy brown lashes. Her fingers itched to trace the line of his jaw and smooth the worry from his brow. Thick blonde curls stood haphazardly on end, begging to be coerced into place. Resisting the urge, she stilled.

    As if sensing her need to touch him, Jake moved closer, invading her ability for coherent thought. A decade’s worth of words had been left unsaid. She looked to the right, then the left, anywhere but at his mouth. Then, his hand cupped the side of her face, and without thought, she leaned in, closing her eyes. If only their past had been different. If only their future didn’t appear to be a series of tangled webs. If only.

    None of that seemed to matter to Jake, at least. Anne desperately wanted to follow his lead, to root her hopes and dreams in the present. Last night’s argument had left her tossing and turning, aching for him as he slept in the next room. They had resolved to say good-bye, or so she thought.

    A large work-weathered hand gathered her mass of auburn curls and moved them to one shoulder. Jake’s nose and lips traced the length of her neck, then her cheek. Pausing at her forehead, the pattern of his breathing hitched. Slowly, he kissed one closed eyelid, then the other. Anne swallowed audibly, her cup of coffee forgotten on the rail. Without thought, her hands wrapped around his waist, resting on the muscular curvature of his back. His lips paused at the edge of her mouth. Then, he pulled slightly away and cupped her face in both his hands. With wide eyes, she watched as he fell to one knee, then the other, and enveloped her in an embrace that told her everything she needed to know.

  3. Pamela Kenney

    388 words

    Len never loved Becky more than when she slapped him across the face.
    “Please Len, we can make it work.” Tears rolled down her face, wrecking her mascara.
    Crossing his arms across his chest, Len put on his poker face. The one he used when he was talking to the boss. Like when his boss was telling him to break someone’s legs.
    Len knew he had no one to blame but himself. He was responsible for the decisions that lead to him becoming Tony Spinelli’s right-hand man. Being so big and tall and ugly, it was the easiest route through life. And for the first thirty-four years it had worked out pretty well for him.
    Until the day, months ago, when Becky had walked into the bar and said, “I bet your nickname is Tiny.”
    He’d never been loved by anyone else in his life and when he looked at her tear stained face, he could feel his heart splintering into a million glass shards that impaled every internal organ in his body.
    “It’s over.” Len stood up to walk away.
    Which is when the front door of the restaurant smashed open and five guys swarmed in.
    “Your number’s up, Tiny.”
    Becky leapt to her feet and ran in front of Len. She knew the score. She knew there was a war going on. All the top guys were being eliminated in two different families. But they weren’t going to get Len.
    Len was better than all the rest of them put together. He was the one who picked her up at the end of every shift to make sure she got home safely. He was the one who massaged her aching feet. He was the one who brought her flowers every day and he’d never even kissed her yet.
    Becky screamed at the five gunmen approaching them but suddenly could feel arms wrapping around her, lifting her and carrying her backwards. Len spun around and put his body between Becky and the danger.
    “No, baby please. Put me down. Get your gun. Defend yourself.”
    He only looked at her face, refusing to let her go until he reached the back door. Gunfire started up and he flinched but continued to stand in the doorway for an instant, looking down at her.
    “Run.” He slammed the door shut.

  4. Kathleen Klatte

    Brad woke blearily, automatically stretching out his hand for another tissue. He felt…well, not better. Less cruddy? Yeah, he’d go with that. He fumbled for his phone to check the time. Shit. Oh shit. He’d slept through his alarm. Dear God, he’d missed the kittens’ feeding time.

    Suddenly wide awake, he stumbled out of bed, feeling around for his slippers, then giving up and going barefoot. Why the hell hadn’t Maggie woken him? The kittens were only a few days old and so fragile at this stage. They couldn’t go too long between bottles. Every gram counted when they were so tiny. Brad couldn’t—absolutely couldn’t—lose another.

    He followed the dim glow of light to the kitchen, wheezing a little from the exertion. Then he stopped in his tracks, leaning against the doorframe to catch his breath.

    There was Maggie, sitting cross-legged in the middle of the kitchen floor. She was wearing a ratty old T-shirt and had a marvelous case of bedhead.

    The scale was near her knee, and there was a new row of weights handwritten on the bottom of the chart. There were three empty nursing bottles, and three of the kittens were drowsing in a pile on the wooly lamb cushion. There was also a package of the super-soft toilet paper that Brad bought especially for the kittens, and evidence that Maggie had been dealing with that “end” of things as well.

    Right now, she had tiny black-and-white April cradled in her hands and was coaxing her gently to finish her bottle. The kitten uttered a squeaky protest, and Maggie murmured some nonsense under her breath, guiding her back to the bottle. Sensing his presence, Maggie looked up and smiled radiantly.

    Then she got a good look at him and frowned, jerking her head back in the direction of the bedroom. Brad grinned wearily, then shuffled back down the hall. His babies—and his heart— were in good hands.

  5. Kelly K Heuser

    Logan stood on the deck, watching as Harper bobbed on the oceans’ surface astride her neon orange surfboard. While awaiting the next wave, she lifted her face to the bright summer sun. Though he couldn’t see them, he knew those smoke gray eyes were closed in reverence. The ocean was her holy place. She’d discovered it shortly after her parents’ divorce and returned to it after her own. It had healed her battered heart and restored her sense of peace but it hadn’t taken away her scars.
    It was those scars that made it difficult for her to trust. Life had taught her that words held no meaning for far too many people. They were nothing more than empty sentiments that they could use to manipulate others. Harper had been lied to and manipulated by most of the men she’d allowed in her life. So Logan hadn’t been surprised when she hadn’t taken his heartfelt confession seriously. No matter how much she wanted to believe him, words simply weren’t enough. He’d have to show her how he felt and leave no room for doubt.
    He’d spent a restless night trying to think of some grand gesture that would convince her of his sincerity. Nothing had come to mind. Not until the gray light of dawn seeped into the room and shone on the answer that had been before his eyes the whole time.
    Harper pushed herself to her feet as a wave swept toward her, she crouched, extending her arms for balance and rode the wave toward the beach. Logan pulled off his shirt, tossed it aside, and descended the stairs.
    A smile lit her face when their eyes met and Harper jogged forward to greet him. He knew the moment she saw it. Her steps faltered and her board dropped to the sand with a dull thud. Those gorgeous eyes widened and filled as they focused on the tattoo over his heart bearing her name. Undeniable and permanent proof of the depth of his feelings for her. As the tears started to fall, she crouched and yanked the leash from her ankle. Then closed the remaining distance at a run, leaping into his arms and fastening her lips over his.
    “And mine is yours,” she said against his mouth.

    380 Words

  6. Sandra Nartin

    He turned to tell her everything that happened, but she wasn’t there. The bed lay cold where she used to be. He wanted to yell at himself for letting her go. He tried to shake it off, but before he knew it his hand was grabbing at the emptiness. He could still smell her, still see her smiling eyes, still hear her laughter. He couldn’t bare it any longer. He lept to his feet and ran down stairs, grabbed his keys and went out the door. He didn’t care if it was 1 am or 1pm he would have her back warming his bed if he had to throw her over his shoulder. He thought about everything that would happen, how she’d react, and what he’d do if someone tried to stop him. He found himself at her Aunt’s house faster than he thought. He stood there frozen by the car. She was sitting on the porch swing, crying. He watched her, heard her, even thought about leaving. He opened the door.
    The man coming out of the house changed his mind. Phillip had been the people in his shoe. That one hard lump that wouldn’t go away. His temper was now far past rational. Then…she moved her hands from her face. Laughter. She was laughing not crying. He wanted to run over clock the dandy idiot that wouldn’t take a hint, but she’d never forgive him. Shit…she did tame him. Wild beast that he was. She was his everything. He walked up to the path only to stoop down when saw it. He knew he wanted a declaration, a symbol only she would know. He walked right up the stairs pass Phillip and took her hand into his. He helped her to her feet and kissed her. He felt her stiff body lay gently into his. He also felt that dumb founded look Phillip hung in his open mouth. He didn’t want the kiss to end but he had to say it. He opened her palm and placed a single wild dandelion, into her palm. He walked passed the first two steps when he heard her cry out his name. He stopped and turned. She lept into his arms and placed the dandelion in his pocket.

  7. Jkowen8

    Boots marched through the caves, following the trails of moldy hot water. Traitorous vapours gave away their vital purpose: to keep The Rats warm, so deep into the mountain. The Wesson legions had a map.

    Kane sat down next to Reyna to wait for them, completely calm, as if the only thing that could convince him they couldn’t escape was seeing The Guardian Lake blocking them.

    He didn’t come closer to her, watching the stillness of the too clear water. He could leave her behind, she thought, but he wasn’t even looking for a way. She wanted to encourage him to try, at least, but she knew he’d thought it through. A man with his abilities could’ve easily found freedom, he’d climbed her tower’s unfamiliar wall, after all. That night as well, her well-rehearsed speech had been rendered useless.

    His profile smiled as if he knew she was watching, but his dark eyes stayed faithful to The Guardian Lake. A fitting statue for the first and last Rat King. Why did she believe all his stories? About that creature who guarded the caves still being alive down there, covering the entire bottom. Not having moved for centuries, silently calling. That people just stop swimming, when too far from the stone. That they let go of crossing ropes, jump off bridges, answering.

    Unlike metal, water made no threats, luring Reyna away from the rhythm of sheaths hitting armour in military cadence. Even without fighting, soldiers still sounded as deadly as on a battlefield. In the Guardian’s Cave, they echoed closer and closer, their somber hymn fit for a cathedral. She looked up to the rounded, unreachable stone roof. It had built itself like a man-made temple, letting sun rays warm their way down its ashy grey through a perfect circle that mirrored the lake underneath it. Adding spark to the unmoving water, but not life.

    Could it be possible?

    Alone, Reyna would’ve tried swimming across, even with her weak legs, it was preferable to surrender. Now she was afraid Kane would jump to save her, and get pulled under by The Guardian. Him, she could not risk.

    He touched her hand, ending the silent music that held her mind prisoner in a mirage where war didn’t exist. The spell didn’t break so easily, she pulled her hand back, to hear a message she was desperate to believe.

    “Cross together.”

    Boots marched through the caves, following the trails of moldy hot water. Traitorous vapours gave away their vital purpose: to keep The Rats warm, so deep into the mountain. The Wesson legions had a map.

    Kane sat down next to Reyna to wait for them, completely calm, as if the only thing that could convince him they couldn’t escape was seeing The Guardian Lake blocking them.

    He didn’t come closer to her, watching the stillness of the too clear water. He could leave her behind, she thought, but he wasn’t even looking for a way. She wanted to encourage him to try, at least, but she knew he’d thought it through. A man with his abilities could’ve easily found freedom, he’d climbed her tower’s unfamiliar wall, after all. That night as well, her well-rehearsed speech had been rendered useless.

    His profile smiled as if he knew she was watching, but his dark eyes stayed faithful to The Guardian Lake. A fitting statue for the first and last Rat King. Why did she believe all his stories? About that creature who guarded the caves still being alive down there, covering the entire bottom. Not having moved for centuries, silently calling. That people just stop swimming when too far from the stone. That they let go of crossing ropes, jump off any bridge, answering.

    Unlike metal, water made no threats, luring Reyna away from the rhythm of sheaths hitting armour in military cadence. Even without fighting, soldiers still sounded as deadly as on a battlefield. In the Guardian’s Cave, they echoed closer and closer, their somber hymn fit for a cathedral. She looked up to the rounded, unreachable stone roof. It had built itself like a man-made temple, letting sun rays warm their way down its ashy grey through a perfect circle that mirrored the lake underneath it. Adding spark to the unmoving water, but not life.

    Could it be possible?

    Alone, Reyna would’ve tried swimming across, even with her weak legs, it was preferable to surrender. Now she was afraid Kane would jump to save her, and get pulled under by The Guardian. Him, she could not risk.

    He touched her hand, ending the silent music that held her mind prisoner in a mirage where war didn’t exist. The spell didn’t break so easily, she pulled her hand back, to hear a message she was desperate to believe.

    “Cross together.”

  8. Fiona Marsden

    400 words

    “You sent for me, my lord?” Ismay halted in front of the table in Robert’s private chamber.
    He stood solid and hard, a rolled parchment in one hand. A leather pouch engraved with his manorial arms lay in front of him, along with several other sheets of closely written script embellished with a large seal on each.
    “I have received word from the king regarding Harry’s titles and estates. I have here a letter confirming the safety of Harry’s person and property provisional only on his swearing fealty to the crown.”
    “You did this for my son? Why would you risk so much for a boy you hardly know?”
    “It is justice.” His large hands smoothed over the parchment in his grasp. “There is more.”
    Ismay rested one hand on the table to steady her shaking knees. “What more could there be?” Already this man had saved both her and Harry from a cruel fate. They had met as enemies, sworn to serve opposing factions. Now so many things had changed.
    “The king has granted me permission to take a wife from among the nobility.”
    Her stomach sank. She had known it was coming. A man in need of a male heir could not dally overlong with a widow of uncertain years. “I wish you well, m’lord.”
    His eyes gleamed amber in the light from the candles. “I would ask for more than your good wishes, Ismay. It is you I seek to wed.”
    Darkness swallowed the light as her knees gave way. Strong hands gripped her arms, holding her steady. She opened her eyes to meet his softened gaze. “I cannot believe it.”
    “Surely it is not such a shock. You have known my feelings these many days.”
    “But marriage, Robert? You cannot waste your chances on a woman who is past her first youth. There is no guarantee I will give you sons.”
    “My first wife was barely grown and she gave me only two live daughters. God may bless us, or he may not. It is you I seek as my companion. You who give me joy in my days and passion in my nights.”
    Warmth flooded her cheeks at his plain speaking. She evaded his look, glancing down at the unrolled parchment he’d dropped when grabbing her. One name leaped up at her. Only hers.
    His mouth claimed her lips, as he’d long claimed her heart.

  9. Chrissie

    Word count: 398

    It didn’t matter what Rafe thought. What mattered was the way she made him feel. Like a lone cloud on a sunny day about to burst and pour its soul upon the very being it desired most. Instead, that thundercloud stormed away and hid what it held inside for another day. That was how he reacted to her. Never able to say what was in his heart. How could he? The moment he opened that door, she would turn away and deny she cared. He blamed the vivid scar on his chest, a constant reminder of his playboy days. He blamed his desire to control every aspect of his life and the company he owned. But in truth, that wasn’t it at all. He was afraid she didn’t feel the same and suspecting he was right ripped the wind from his sails.

    He leaned against the terrace rail and gazed down at the sea. Far below, she emerged from the waves, her slight figure dripping salty water, her short hair slicked back from her pretty face. Ah, hell. He had to do something. It was childlike to lose courage. People feared him. His quick temper, his ability to multi-task million-dollar deals as easily as he read the morning paper. Okay, so he was a control-freak who liked to make money. High finances had become his life—until she walked in. Clarita. The one woman to uproot his stubborn heart and send chaos into his orderly world.

    “Oh. You’re here.” Clarita’s smile brightened the stormy afternoon as she cleared the top step of the sea stairs. “I thought you left for Italy?”

    “I should have but something came up.” He should just tell her. Easier to drown in her closeness as she stood with a towel wrapped about her hips, tan and beautiful. Pure temptation. “Clarita, we need to talk.”

    “This is about the kiss—”

    “Precisely.”

    “I imagine you’ve kissed many women before.”

    “There aren’t many women.” He moved in front of her, their bodies inches apart. “Only you. Right here. Right now.”

    She stared at him with intensity, searing his skin through his Armani suit. “You aren’t serious?”

    “And if I am?” He traced her lips with his fingertip, aching to kiss her. Consume her as she had him. “Tell me what you would say, dear Clarita?”

    Her words a mere whisper, “Kiss me and find out.”

  10. Corinna Robinson

    The world had shifted.

    How could it not? For the second time in her life, she faced the boy who had held her heart since she was eight years old.

    That first meeting had been a miracle, at least in her mind, for despite years of bad blood and careful maneuvering to avoid one another, someone had miscalculated; the Bellamys and the Youngs had ended up attending the same church picnic.

    Her eyes had followed Jackson everywhere. She had watched, enthralled, as he ran in and out of the nearby forest playing tag with the other boys, bounding through patches of shadow and sunlight like a young deer. She watched the way he wasn’t afraid of anything at all, his courage even pressing the boundaries of good sense at times and making his older brothers shout warnings after him.

    She watched how he laughed. How he smiled, quickly and often, with a blinding flash of enthusiastic joy.

    He held her spellbound. He had a way about him that made people stop and stare and smile back, and whatever that something was, it had her thoroughly ensnared. The very mountainsides were reflected in his eyes in a hundred shades of green, giving the onlooker the impression of gazing into a limitless pine forest. His brilliant, flashing grin seemed to light up everything around him.

    She had taken notice when grown women broke off conversation to watch him run by. “Such a beautiful child,” they’d murmur, and Amanda knew it to be true. Jackson Bellamy was a thing of beauty.

    Unfortunately, he was also bad. All the Bellamys were. Pa said so, and her pa never lied.

    Regrettably, on that day long ago when Jackson had turned that astounding smile fully on her, she’d been horrified to find her heart didn’t care one bit if he was bad, or what his last name was; it flooded with warmth and beat much too fast, and she knew in that instant she was lost. Even if he was a Bellamy.

    Now she was grown, and wary. There was only danger and heartbreak to be had here. She should turn and walk away, she knew, but her traitorous heart had conspired to make her a very disloyal daughter.

    He stared back with those pine-laden eyes, the grin she remembered curiously absent. When he held out his hand, she didn’t hesitate.

    For the world had shifted.

  11. While Hank saw to the animals, Lorette got bacon and eggs cooking and mixed up a batch of biscuits. After she slipped them into the oven, she ran out to check the remains of the fire she’d laid in the pit the night before. The coals were perfect.

    Back inside, she flipped the bacon and eggs and started preparing ingredients for the cast-iron Dutch oven. By the time the biscuits were ready, it was half full and Hank was coming in to breakfast.

    Even after three months of marriage, it was still a daily shock to have this handsome man around. He did look fine, his hair glistening from a quick wash at the pump. Lorette smiled shyly, and he smiled back, as she dished up.

    Hank washed the dishes, a chore he had taken over immediately, while Lorette finished preparing the stew. They carried the heavy Dutch oven out and nestled it in the coals in the pit, then she spread the remaining coals from the stove over the top.

    They spent most of the day in the orchards. The apples were ready to pick. The low branches meant it wasn’t hard work compared to haying. They shuttled the wheelbarrow back to the house and tipped their load into the root cellar.

    When the sun was low, Lorette got the stove going again and then fetched the Dutch oven. She had held back a bit of biscuit dough, so she tossed balls of it into the simmering stew. She’d noticed that Hank loved dumplings, and so did she.

    Hank came in with the evening milk, and they sat down to eat.

    Later, dishes done, milk separated, cream in the cellar for Saturday’s churning and shanty tidied, Hank and Lorette sat on the front step and looked at the star-bright sky.

    Suddenly Hank pointed. “Look, a shooting star! Make a wish.”

    Then he noticed her crossing herself. “Is something wrong? Where I come from, we make a wish on shooting stars. Do they frighten you?”

    “No. It’s just that where I come from, we believe that if you say ‘Jesus, Marie et Joseph’ when you see one then a soul is freed from Purgatory,” Lorette replied.

    “Hmm, that’s nice. You think about someone else instead of making a wish for yourself. I like that about your people.” He put his arm around her, a shelter against the cooling evening air.

  12. Suzie Thompson

    Natalie stood beside the yellow and red hot air balloon, sweat beading down her back. Standing in the heart of Texas Wine Country, mid-August, dressed in her business casual attire, wasn’t helping beat the heat.

    Her incredibly sexy cameraman, Aidan, pointing the camera at her did nothing to tamper down the heat coursing through her. Must he look so good after they had the worst fight of their relationship? Did they even still have a relationship? He had stormed out of her apartment three nights ago and she hadn’t heard from him since.

    Until this afternoon.

    He hadn’t spoken a word to her since they arrived on location for today’s assignment. It was going to be hard enough to report on South Texas’ most romantic date spot, as it was.

    The entire reason she was standing in an open field, next to a hot air balloon, pouring sweat and looking anxiously at the camera. Happiness and romance were the last things on her mind. She wanted this story finished, so she could put distance between her and Aidan.

    “… Stephens Vineyard and Tours is the spot for happy couples to rekindle romance.” The mic felt heavy in her hand as she gazed at the mini teleprompter under Aidan’s camera. With every ounce of concentration she could muster, she focused on the words and not the man. “Happy couples can choose between three base packages, or customize their own. The balloon behind me, for example, is waiting for its happy couple. Fully stocked with Stephens’ Kissperal Texas Rose Wine, a platter of select gourmet cheeses, and Grandma Evans’ antique wedding ring…”

    That’s oddly specific.

    “… The man who booked this package let insecurity override his faith in the love of his life when his significant other received a job offer in a different city-” Her words trailed off while she looked past the teleprompter to stare at Aiden’s blonde head peeking out behind the camera. His hand shot out and made the sweeping motion for her to continue.

    “The guy realized what she meant to him when he walked out. After three days without her, he knew he made a mistake. Now he just hopes to show her how he feels and pray that she’ll accept his apology and agree to… marry… him…”

    Tears spilled from her eyes as Aiden glanced around the camera, their gaze connected.

    “Yes, Aidan. Yes!”

  13. Fiona Marsden

    Megara stood silent in front of Lord Athel and his highborn advisors. There was nothing she could say to excuse her behaviour.
    Lord Athel bent his hawklike gaze upon her. “You were found entering the men’s compound in dark of night. Have you no thought of your safety?”
    The thin man beside him sneered. “T’is a scandal. This woman should be horsewhipped and confined to a nunnery where she cannot use her wiles to lure men from their purpose.”
    Lord Athel raised a silencing hand but Meg saw the corner of his mouth twitch. “Was this your intention, mistress, to raise havoc with my men?”
    Tilting her chin, she met his look with her own. The deep blue colour flared and for a moment Meg wondered if he would acknowledge what they had been to each other before war tore them apart.
    “Are you perhaps a spy? Have you come to find out our secrets or steal from our armoury?”
    She hesitated a moment, conscious of the other men looking on. Dipping her chin, Meg heard the sudden whispers of dismay from the others. Athel remained stoic, his face hard and unreadable.
    “I think perhaps this matter should be dealt with in private.”
    The thin man protested but another man obeyed his lord, herding the other out of the large tent.
    Athel indicated a triangular timber stool with a leather seat but Meg refused, stiffening her spine.
    He nodded. “As you wish.” He took another of the stools and sat astride. “Are you going to speak, Meg? You would be wise to explain yourself.”
    She had wasted too many words on this man in the past. Now he must interpret her actions for himself. Standing mute, she compressed her lips.
    “Staying mum, my little Meg. It’s been a long time and fortune has not been kind.”
    If he hoped to stir her anger with his reference to her worn gown and cloak he would not succeed. She had lived too long with the struggle to make ends meet since her father’s death at the hands of Athel’s allies.
    His lips curled in a thin smile. “Pride will not feed you. So, what secrets have you come for, what do you hope to steal?”
    He stood, towering over her. “Is it the secrets of my heart you seek? For if you aim to steal my heart, you had it long ago.”

  14. Emily gripped the phone, struggling against the tears. “Daddy, I need you.”

    “Baby girl, calm down. It can’t be that bad.” His calm tone soothed her nerves.

    “I’ve made a mess of everything since I left.” Her voice quivered.

    “Not everything. Did I tell you Derek came by yesterday? He asked about you.”

    “Daddy, he was being polite. I left things in such a mess with him and everyone else.” She sighed. “But I know you will forgive me.”

    “Already have. Tell me what you need.” He was always there for her, even when she messed up and drove the people she loved away. People like Derek.

    “I lost my job two months ago. I don’t have any money left and I’m going to lose my apartment. And my car.”

    Emily waited. A silence hung on the other end for a long time.

    “What happened to the guy you couldn’t live without? The one that talked you into moving out there.” Daddy spoke the words in soft tones, but they still held their punch.

    “You and Derek were right. Jim’s gone.” Her throat caught on the words.

    “Pack your things. I’ll be there as soon as I can. I’ll get you back home.”

    “I know you work shifts and I don’t want you driving if you’re too tired.” Tears welled up again. “I can’t lose you, too. You’re all I have left.”

    “More people care about you than you think. Go to sleep. I’ll be there sometime tomorrow.”

    Hanging up, Emily stared at the packed boxes. She had been sure of his answer before she called. How he would get a truck and get here tomorrow she didn’t know, but Daddy would find a way. Falling back against her pillows, the weight of her decision left her free and trapped at the same time. Facing everyone back home would be hard. Derek the hardest.

    Tossing and turning, sleep eluded her until the early hours of the morning.

    A knocking invaded her dreams. Emily rubbed her eyes and pushed her hair from her face. The knocking persisted.

    “Coming!” Stumbling to the door, a familiar voice hurried her steps. Flinging open the door, she lunged for her father’s arms, giggling in delight and relief. “How did you get here so fast?”

    “Someone drove me here at an alarming speed.” Daddy smiled wide and stepped aside to reveal her hero.

    “Derek!”

    • Kelly K Heuser

      Daddy’s little girl stories are some of my favorites. I think because I’ve always wanted to be one myself. My dad was a good man but quiet and not very demonstrative of his affection. Great job!

  15. Danielle

    Fight or flight. The irony wasn’t lost on me as the gates closed on the flight to London I had declined to board.

    Eyes darting around the airport warily I knew Sydney, London, hell even Timbuktu, it wouldn’t matter. Money had reach.

    I’d fought for justice for my sister, only to fail and expose myself to harm. With no statute of limitations on murder, as a witness I’d always be a threat to their freedom.

    So I ran. From them. And from the only man that made me feel…well anything. Dangerous and loyal, Bracken would not forgive me for betraying his trust or his family. But I wasn’t done fighting. I deserved to be safe, to be happy.

    I froze as the two faces I feared most stared at me from the television screen next to the gate, my eyes devouring the headline. Breaking news: Millionaire Adam Sorensen and a motorcycle gang member arrested for murder.

    The newsreader revelled in the story of the downfall of one of Australia’s richest and revered families’ sons. Northcombe share prices plummet with the arrest of CEO Adam Sorensen and childhood friend Bruno Parrichido, member of the Razorbacks motorcycle club for the gruesome murder of a local girl. Further charges were laid for the kidnapping and attempted murder of Parrichido’s sister, Dr Lissa Morgan, a prominent surgeon.

    A smiling photo of me faded to a shot of Bracken openly talking with the police.

    Sorensen’s twin, Black Widow Club President Bracken Sorensen provided key evidence leading to his brother’s indictment.

    The words blurred as my eyes smarted. He had broken club rules by working with police.

    For me.

    I’d told him I didn’t want a life with him at the club. I hadn’t trusted him with the knowledge of his brother’s involvement in the murder.

    But he put my safety first.

    I had run from him, rather than force him to choose.

    Still he chose me.

    A familiar warmth travelled over my back. My tattooed six foot rock was behind me, waiting patiently for my decision.

    I turned, propelling myself the four steps into strong arms that I knew would never fail to catch me. His lips firmly anchored to mine as I wrapped my body securely around my dangerously good man.

    He withdrew the heat of his lips, only to replace it with a smile that warmed my heart. “Let’s go home.”

    Word count – 399

  16. 399-
    She obviously couldn’t stay. A sassenach, in love with a laird… One forbidden kiss was certainly not enough to overcome centuries of tradition, even if said kiss had been utterly transformative. Her fingers traced her own lips in searching memory.

    She’d have to leave soon, she thought. How could she stay? It was acutely torturous seeing the object of her hearts desire knowing they couldn’t be. No, she shook her head, making her way to her wardrobe, pulling out a large leather satchel. She didn’t own many things. Packing shouldn’t take long.

    Glancing down at the slate on her desk, she paused to read her charge’s assignment. Who would have thought accepting a tutor position in the highlands would prove to be so much more than the escape from her uncle she had intended?

    The knock had been so quiet she had nearly missed it. Gathering her skirts, she flattened the wrinkles as best she could with her hands and opened the door cautiously.

    It was him. Dressed in Macrankin colours, Rory’s fiery hair pulled back into place with a leather lace. He was an object of masculinity, and her breath caught in her chest at the sight of him. He nodded imperceptibly at her, and at his side, Mr. Murray, the secretary of the estate, peeped a head around the door.

    “Ma’m,” he spoke nervously, “Might I ask you to join us to bear witness to some documents?”

    Ellen gathered herself, looking at Rory curiously. A female witness? Rory smiled at her, giving her strength to follow. The stairs to the study were hewn from stone, and rounded in a dizzying spiral to the upper levels of the castle.

    His lordship, Rory’s father, was seated stewing behind the oversized desk, eyes dark and difficult to read. His deeply lined face set in scowl.

    She watched from the doorway as Rory made his way to the desk, signing his name with a flourish to the document spread before him. Upon the beckoning call of his hand, she approached the document and blanched.

    “You’re abdicating your title? Rory, No,” she backed away, speaking so quietly she wasn’t sure anyone heard her.

    Rory turned, and looked at her, eyes shining the reflects of the candlelit quarters. He lifted a hand, moving it toward her face, tracing the slope of her neck, lingering on her shoulder. Then, decidedly, handed her the quill.

  17. “Now I’ve… had… the time of my life / No I’ve never felt like this before…”

    Ella closed her eyes as the lyrics washed over her. She wished she was curled up in Justin’s arms watching her favourite movie, rather than sitting in a heaving club watching her friends dance. What movie was Justin watching right now? Doubtless one of his cult classics rather than her beloved rom-coms. Despite his indulgence in watching her favourite films, their tastes were too different; with no interests in common, Ella had decided that their relationship just couldn’t work.

    She opened her eyes to blink back her tears, then blinked in surprise. Justin was standing over her. He smiled and said something, but as the music’s tempo picked up his words were drowned out by Bill Medley’s lyrics, “I’ve been waiting for so long / Now I’ve finally found someone to stand by me.”

    Pointing to her ear, she shook her head. “What? I can’t hear you.”

    Justin held out his hand. Was he asking her to dance? But he hated dancing. Justin hated nightclubs, loud music and crowds. He preferred staying in to going out partying – it was why they weren’t compatible. But here he was.

    Hesitantly, Ella put her hand in his. Justin gathered her into his arms and for a moment they swayed, hips melting into motion together, before Justin slid one hand up her back to support her in a dip. Ella gasped: Justin wasn’t just out dancing – Justin was dirty dancing! When had he learned to dance like this?

    As the song approached its climax, Justin span her out and let go of her hand.

    “You’re the one thing, I can’t get enough of / So I’ll tell you something…”

    Ella realised what was coming next when he gave her that perfect Johnny Castle nod. That tiny tilt of the chin that let her know he would always be there to catch her; that he wouldn’t just catch her but would lift her and would hold her, supporting her to soar above the world.

    “I’ve had the time of my life…”

    Ella didn’t hesitate and true to his unspoken promise, Justin caught her as she jumped, raising her high above his head, holding her in the iconic lift. Ella’s heart swelled as she held the pose; she had never felt like this before…

    “And I owe it all to you!”

  18. Becky Zatloukal

    “Best movie ever.”
    Damien laughed as Erin removed her jacket and hung it in the front closet. “Don’t quit your day job,” he teased.
    “What does that mean?”
    Damien tapped her nose and kissed her forehead. “It means you’re bad at giving movie reviews.”
    “Hey!” She swatted his bottom as he walked past her. He turned on her just as quick, picked her up, laughing and kicking, begging him to put her down as he tossed her over his shoulder.
    Upstairs he dropped her onto the California King. Crawling on all fours until he was over her, he smiled at her, Erin still laughing, trying to catch her breath. “This is what got us into this predicament,” she said. He leaned down and kissed her on the lips, sending her into a fit of giggles.
    “What predicament?” he asked.
    “This… predicament…,” she said between kisses.
    Damien stared down at her, she was beautiful, her flushed cheeks, her bright blue eyes, the windows to her soul.
    “What?” she asked.
    He leaned closer and kissed her again. “Nothing. I was just thinking.”
    She raised her head off the pillow for another kiss. “You think too much.”
    Gently, he laid himself on top of her, their kisses growing longer.
    Damien surprised Erin by crawling off of her as quickly as he had crawled on. She sat up curious, as she watched him make his way over to the dresser under the window. “What are you doing?” she asked as she leaned forward to get a better look at what he was doing. He grinned and turned his back towards her.
    “You stay right there,” he warned, playfully.
    He glanced over his shoulder before sliding the top drawer closed.
    “I got you something,” he told her, his eyes lighting up, hiding something in his hands behind his back.
    Erin scooted to the end of the bed, clapping her hands together. “Early birthday presents are the best birthdays presents!” she said, excitedly.
    He shook his head and told her it wasn’t a birthday present. She raised an eyebrow, even more curious than she had been before.
    Damien stood in front of her at the edge of the bed. “Let’s get on with it already!” She jumped up, barely able to contain her excitement.
    Damien dropped to his knee, revealing the small wooden box, with the pretty white bow tied around it as he did so…

  19. Susan Bixler

    Christmas! Jenna’s favorite time of year. At least it was until this year. Three days ago, Max had walked out, no, stomped out of her cabin. The argument between them was so stupid. A cut tree or a balled one they could replant. He wanted cut, she wanted balled.
    Jenna walked through the fresh fallen snow, under the lights of the Evergreen Tree Farm. It was so pretty at night. She watched as couples chose a tree with smiles, hugging and nodding yes. Maybe Max wasn’t the “one”. Yet, she couldn’t get him off her mind. What was he dong? Who was he with? She could go on without him, and needed to go back to the task at hand, a tree.
    After wandering around a bit longer, she found a bench and sat down. A family came by with two adorable kids. Each tugging on a parents hand to hurry up and find that perfect tree. The longer she sat, the sadder she became. This was probably a bad idea. Too much happiness around her. She was lonely, hurt, and hadn’t found her perfect tree.
    A chill went through her. Her heavy coat, gloves, hat and scarf were failing her too.
    Out of the corner of her eye, she caught a man from the back walking away from her. His coat and hat looked familiar but she knew in her heart, it wasn’t Max. This was the area to find a tree to replant. Max wouldn’t be here. Her heart dropped.
    Jenna sighed. She had to find her tree. Walking among the trees she caught a glimpse of the same man, still not able to see his face but still drawn towards him.
    Jenna rounded a row of trees and looked up. There it was, her perfect tree. Smiling she walked to it. Standing in front of the tree, she knew it was the one.
    Just then an arm reached from behind her and placed a tag the tree. NO, she thought and turned with fury in her eyes to see the most beautiful twinkling blue eyes looking back at her. Max!
    At that moment her eyes softened and tears threatened.
    Max smiled.
    That’s when she knew.
    Max slowly lowered his lips to hers.
    Oh yes, the perfect kiss with the perfect man.
    Max had tagged the perfect tree for his perfect girl, Jenna.
    word count 397

  20. Word Count: 400

    Lisa lay on the floor wondering if the last thing she would ever see was the gauge on her oxygen tank with the needle hoovering threateningly over red. The rusted, steel walls of the submarine that surrounded them began to fade from view and the harsh artificial lights grew brighter as she fought with every inch of her being to stay awake. What started as a safe vessel for their mission was now an underwater prison with seemingly no escape. Tommy was working on a plan, he was close, she just had to hold on for a little longer. He needed her, she couldn’t leave him.

    Gradually the act of breathing was no longer something that came naturally, every single breath was a struggle, a gift that she had previously taken for granted. Even though she lay almost perfectly still, the dizziness was overwhelming.

    When she finally began to surrender, an intense feeling of tranquility washed over her as Tommy gently took her hand in his. She gazed into his deep blue eyes and for one glorious moment she felt safe. It was almost as if he had taken every morsel of the crippling dread that consumed her and made it his own. She watched as the courage and optimism in his eyes slowly turned into terror. His hand was ice-cold, yet it warmed her soul to know he was with her at what seemed to be the end.

    Tommy slowly leaned forward, pulled down his mask and kissed her softly on the forehead. A slight glimmer of hope drifted over her as the world faded to black.

    Lisa awoke disorientated, afraid and alone. She looked around the empty room desperately trying to piece together her situation. Her mind raced with a million questions. Did he find a way out? Could he save her, save them all? Still too weak to move, she searched frantically for answers and noticed Tommy’s oxygen tank beside her, connected to her mask. Her heart stopped as the realization of his sacrifice hit her with the force of a thousand winds. Without air, he wouldn’t have much time, it might already be too late. In that instant, the torment of how he gave his life for her yet she couldn’t live without him was more than she could bear. Would she ever see him again? There was nothing she could do but wait, and hope.

  21. The kitchen lights were still on, and that was how Maya knew Olivia was still awake. Inside her old Chevy, she imagined Olivia moving within the empty house, daring to hope Olivia had been missing her as Maya did. They had met over a year ago in the café where Maya worked. Olivia had made a fuss over the fact Maya had used whole milk instead of the requested skimmed. She had been right, but Maya doubt Olivia could really taste the difference. Anyway, six months later, they were living together.
    It may seem rushed, but they were crazy about each other. Truth said they were very different. Olivia was a no-nonsense criminal defence attorney who would probably make partner before she was 30. A perfectionist, Olivia planned her life meticulously, organizing even her underwear drawers. Compared to her, Maya was a mess. Full of student loans, working as a part-time barista to put herself trough vet-school while volunteering in an animal shelter. The most she could plan was fifteen minutes ahead of time. But still, they were, exactly, what each other needed.
    And then one month ago Maya had rescued a stray cat that she named Peanut. Olivia hated cats. They fought over it, relentlessly. So two weeks later when Peanut disappeared, Maya blamed Olivia, and like Peanut, Maya left, running away too. But today she had found out the truth. It happens that Peanut was, actually, Buttercup and belonged to a six-year-old, who, according to her mother, had missed him terribly during the weeks he had gone missing. The thing was that, when Peanut had fled their house, he wasn’t running away. He was going back home.
    Her first instinct had been to call Olivia, but when she remembered their last conversation and the harsh words they had extended, Maya lost her nerve. And now she was here, in the middle of the night, waiting for what? A miracle? A sign? Something to show her she still got a chance. That wasn’t too late. But just like that, the kitchen lights went out. And she figured out it was, she had lost it. It was really over.
    Then the porch lights went on, and Olivia opened the front door. She deposited something in the ground. It was Peanut’s old bowl, filled with, probably, an expensive brand of cat food.
    And it was everything Maya needed to see.

  22. Judith Mackay

    Charlotte plucked a sprig of mint from the garden and rolled the leaves between her thumb and index finger until it released a familiar and invigorating scent. Hugh objected to the inclusion of such a creeping perennial in his formal herb garden, adamant the plant was too invasive, but she’d insisted. As a compromise, she’d kept the seedlings in their pots before planting them amongst the other herbs. She’d been surprised at his concession, considering that their relationship was also in its early development stage.

    His garden was massive, and it reminded her of the stately ones in Europe she’d admired while flipping through the pages of books with Hugh earlier in the year. He was focused and determined, and she admired his dedication to his fledgling business. She was impressed not only that he’d created the perfect garden for his landscape design portfolio, but that he’d created an edible work of art that continued to yield sustenance throughout the season. The garden had become his child, their child, and she dared to imagine a future together.

    Despite her hopefulness, her friends considered their relationship an odd mix. Hugh, a landscape architect, worked with his hands, while Charlotte, an accountant, worked with numbers. Still, she thought they complimented each other and felt a glimmer of hope grow inside herself as she envisioned their potential as a couple.

    She felt his eyes on her as she rolled up the hem of her dress to make an impromptu basket to hold bunches of mint she’d just picked. It was their date night, and she was determined to make Mojitos, and make him at least appreciate mint.

    In his kitchen, she muddled the mint, squirted lime, then a dash of honey before adding the soda and rum to their drinks. She watched him load a basket into his truck’s bed through the window before he headed to the river.

    Charlotte floated down the dirt path, and the drinks jostled in her hands. Her breath caught when she saw Hugh relaxed on a white blanket near the river’s edge. She nestled next to him, and he kissed the knap of her neck before he removed her flip flops and began to massage her feet with homemade patchouli oil. He placed a stem of Sweet Myrtle in her hand, and she knew it was meant for her bridal bouquet.

    “I do,” she said. “I love you, too.”

  23. Melanie Grace Whittington

    WIP – set in 1932 NYC
    Victor picked her feet up from the floor and set them across his lap. Slowly, deliberately, he untied the silk laces from her pumps with his dexterous fingers. She wondered what other talents they held. He tossed the shoes aside and rubbed his thumbs up and down the arch of her foot through the silk of her hosiery. Evelyn groaned with delight at the sensation. It was deep and penetrating.
    He leaned over, bracing himself with one elbow on the sofa. He used his free hand to trace every inch of her elegant neck with the back of his fingertips. Delicately contacting her porcelain skin, sending shock waves through her body. Leaning closer, his lips touched the delicate spot beneath her ear. First his breath and then the gentle touch of his lips. The warmth of his kiss made her suck the steamy air through her teeth and hold it. Evelyn arched her neck to ensure he did not miss a spot. Victor ravenously consumed the flesh on her neck.
    She never felt so safe and content as she did in this moment. His grey-blue eyes burned into hers before his soft lips warmed her mouth with its caress.

  24. Ashlynn Monroe

    Xander lay in the parking lot. He wasn’t moving, but neither was Duke.
    Tansy pushed her way through the crowd. Onlookers started heading back inside the bar since the brawl finished. Xander fell last. Even with fear for him buzzing inside her head, pride bloomed in her heart, gratitude as well. No one ever fought for her before, especially not like this.
    Finally, she made it out of the cluster of onlookers. Kneeling beside him, she shook him gently.
    Nothing.
    Maybe it was a werewolf thing but she like the ferociousness. Pheromones still hung in the air stirring an edgy excitement. Escalated worry tingled down her spine.
    He opened his incredible amber eyes and the breath slipped from her lungs unable to return. His eyes moved as if he was searching her expression for something. Her throat tightened painfully as emotions surged through her. She couldn’t speak so she couldn’t ask what he needed from her.
    He was just her friend, but when he’d been in the middle of that violent struggle, she’d wanted to take the blows and pain for him. Seeing him hurt was worse than the physical pain she’d just endured when her unwanted, yet inexplicable fated mate-bond had been severed. She was free, but something inside of her still craved that weirdly intoxicating connection.
    He reached up, cupping her cheek. And then the handsome, brave man pulled her down and kissed her.
    All thoughts of mates and fates fled. Tansy tasted his passion and fire blazed through her, waking her from shock. She kissed him back. When his tongue slipped between her lips hers played into his mouth in kind. Nothing had ever felt more natural than this dance of desire. Her mouth knew what to do so she let it lead. He kissed with such intensity that nothing mattered. Xander groaned against her mouth. Desire fluttered in her. She hadn’t felt like this for someone since before she’d been bitten. And the frailness of her feelings for that long-forgotten boy was a reminder she’d never been in love as a woman, only as a girl.
    Xander let go, pulling back to look at her. A slow smile quirked up the corners of his sexy lips.
    And she reminded herself to breathe. The resulting gasp was more about realizing she loved him and less about drawing in the air she’d deprived herself.

  25. Michelle

    Sasha took a deep breath and expelled it allowing her words to ride on top. “I got in.” She said.
    A shiver ran down her spine. Sasha had been waiting her whole life to say those three little words.

    She smiled, but she couldn’t look at Grey. She didn’t want to see his expression. He was in a ‘damned if you do, damned if you don’t’ space in her brain. She knew it wasn’t fair, but that’s just the way it was.

    If he was happy that she had been accepted to medical school, then he was happy that she would be moving… and they would no longer be together. They had discussed that when they first started dating. Neither believed in long distance relationships.

    Well, screw him, then! She wouldn’t miss him or his corny jokes or his too strong coffee in the morning either.

    But if he was sad, and showed it on his face, how selfish! He knew how hard she had been working for this. Did he just expect her to give up her dream and just hang around here, his kept woman, just because he had already accomplished his goals and owned a successful restaurant?

    Sasha finally looked up at Grey needing to quite the spinning scenarios in her head, but his expression was pensive and undecided as he tapped his fingers on a piece of cardboard lying across the bar counter. It only made her more anxious.

    “Are you going to say anything?” She asked, her throat tightening. Maybe he just really didn’t care. Maybe their relationship that neither had pushed to define had meant nothing to him while it meant everything to her.

    “I’m gonna go.” She said trying to hold back the disappointed tears. She had planned to be upset with him for sadness or happiness, but at no point had she prepared herself for ambivalence.

    She picked her purse and keys off of the counter, but before she could turn to leave, Grey grabbed her. He pressed her body and lips to his. His body was so warm, so strong. She wanted to melt into him and savor the taste of his lips, but the fear that this was him saying goodbye kept her from falling all in.
    He pulled away from her, kissed her gently one more time, then flipped the cardboard over. It read, “Restaurant For Sale.”