Writing Challenge: The Inciting Moment

by Deirdre McCluskey

On Wednesday we published a Harlequin Romance Glossary, with terms editors use when talking about romance novels. (If you haven’t read it yet, check it out.) One definition you might not have heard frequently is the inciting moment: “The scene or situation that throws your hero and heroine together and gets those sparks flying!”

The moment the hero and heroine meet isn’t necessarily the inciting moment, although it can be. But if the conflict is generic, the meeting doesn’t provide an imperative for the characters to act – hence, not inciting. Examples of generic, “could-be-anyone” conflict that we see frequently include a career-focused heroine who “doesn’t have time for romance” or a hero who was burned by his cheating ex and is soured on love forever. In these cases the author sometimes falls back on “insta-love” to explain the characters’ sudden about-face.

But what situation or person might compel your heroine to set out on a path she never intended? What is it about this particular hero that would make falling in love with him the worst thing that could happen to your heroine?

Your challenge this week: Show us your inciting moment in a short, 3-5 paragraph scene. It could be a first meeting, an accident, a revelation, or any occurrence that forces your hero or heroine to act and sets up the conflict that will drive the plot.

Post your scene in the comments anytime between now and Sunday, October 14, 2018, and we’ll check back with you on Monday!

41 replies on “Writing Challenge: The Inciting Moment”

Then she saw him.
Bond came to mind, sophisticated, debonair, and dangerous, very dangerous. Tall, dark, and trouble. Warning signals went off in her head. Stay clear of that one, yet couldn’t drag her gaze away from him. The crowd parted like the red sea, giving him access into the grand ballroom that had been turned into a reception party, as he swaggered in further.
The women lusted after him with their eyes.
The men followed him also with interest.
Abruptly he stopped, surveying all, hands deep in the pocket of his pants. The din of hushed chatter faded away as his gaze fell upon her. Her breath sucked in sharply, chest tightening. Piercing straight through her soul, as if he knew her, stripping down all the barriers she had erected. Not good, unable to take her eyes from him, hypnotised. He had her pinned down with his gaze. Her skin prickled and scalp tingled.
“You know sis you should mingle more. Do your thing,” a voice in her ear broke the contact, lowering her eyes, releasing a breath that she had been holding without realising it. Her biggest watch dog, brother number three, once more on guard. They had a built in radar when it come to suitors sniffing around, glancing under her lashes at the stranger, almost feeling sorry for him. Almost. He was far too sure of himself. She knew the type well.
“Private function, not a meet and greet, so having the night off,” she said through gritted teeth, on edge. Not good at all. She was always in control of her emotions, yet one look from a complete stranger, and she was losing it. Feeling like that terrified girl, who had no control over anything. She pushed back that part of her life. She was in control, fingers flexing at her side. Standing straighter, throwing back her shoulders, armour in place, ready for war. War of survival.

I love how intense this passage is. You’ve really conveyed a lot by him walking in the room, and you’ve set the tone of your piece really well. Great job – I’m intrigued to know what happens next! Thanks for participating in the challenge, Jan!

Ahh! This one is hard. So much easier to spot the inciting moment in other novels. 🙂
The storm was worsening. Zac tapped his foot, his body awash with impatience, his anxious mind centered on one thing for the first time in his life: Safiya. She was out there, in the midst of this raging weather. Possibly hungry. Sick. Definitely homeless now. His stomach cramped at his guilt. He’d put her out. And now he would have to bring her back.

Before he reconsidered his actions, and the consequences of bringing his brother’s former mistress and blackmailer to his home again, Zac hurried out into the thicket of hard, unforgiving rain. It poured, the heavens rumbling with omnious thunder, and the wind picking up faster.

She was taking shelter under the awning, her head lowered, shoulders slumped, and her hand clenching the handle of her suitcase. Safiya looked up at her name. He stood in front of her, reaching for her suitcase, taking it from her loosening grasp. Open-mouthed, she regarded the other hand he held out. A peal of thunder had her gripping his hand and he pulled her along.

They legged it home. Safiya screeching when a car zipped by and sloshed them with water. Zac grumbled all the way back about insensitive drivers. His first priority when they breeched their shelter and he had the door shut on the storm was cranking the central heating. “We’ll need to strip,” he said, facing her raised brows. He heard how it sounded. But the last thing he chose to notice was how under her drenched, unbuttoned cape coat, her white blouse clung to her ample chest, outlined her breasts and clung to her curves.

Damn. Well, now he was thinking about them. Safiya mumbled her gratitude, smiling. He brushed off how his whole body tingled at her small but beautiful smile. She then shuffled awkwardly in his presence. And why not? He had kicked her out less than an hour ago. She should be wary of him. Safiya hadn’t a clue of his intentions. Hell, Zac had no idea what he was up to. Maybe that was why he chose to grumble, “Don’t thank me. Thank Mother Nature.” After all, he wouldn’t have chased after her if it hadn’t stormed so suddenly and badly.

Or would he?

Hi Hana! This is a really intriguing moment – and definitely an example of a moment that compelled your hero on a path he didn’t intend. I love that we get some insight into your hero, and the last paragraphs are great in conveying the change in him.
Great job! Thanks for participating in this challenge, Hana.

This is from my current WIP, Sunflowers In September.

“It’s about Samantha.”
“Samantha?” She took a step toward him. “What’s wrong? She was improving…”
“She’s doing great,” Jarrod rushed to reassure her. “You’ve already gone above and beyond where she’s concerned, but…”
“What does she need?”
“It’s not what she needs, but what she wants. I tried, but couldn’t say ‘no’. At least, not until I talked to you.” He met her gaze and hesitated.
“So just ask, Jarrod. What does she want?”
“To give you a hug.” He noted the flash of fear in Josie’s eyes, but pushed down his frustration “Just meet her once. It’s all she talks about and it would make her happy.” He shook his head. “She…thinks you’re a superhero.”
He hoped she’d smile at that, break the tension. But she didn’t. In fact, when she spoke, he detected panic in her voice.
Two simple words that stung almost as much as the short sentences in her Dear John note. And were just as incomprehensible. “What do you mean, you can’t?” His voice was laced with condemnation.
“Just what I said. I…I can’t,” she stuttered and this time it was her turn to swallow hard.
Jarrod narrowed his eyes. He felt her anxiety, but it didn’t soften his disposition. In fact, it hardened him even more. “I had hoped that, with the work you do and with the sacrifice you made for my niece, you might have changed.” He bit his tongue, thinking about the contradictions she displayed. *I love you – I can’t stay with you. I save lives – I can’t face the child I saved.*
He took a deep breath to quell his unexpected disappointment. “Look, it’s been long over between us – I know that. Take a hit at me…hate me. But don’t deny a sick little girl’s wish because you’re angry with me…” he stopped himself.
What was wrong with him? He should accept her refusal to meet Samantha. He should be falling all over himself, thanking her for saving her life. He felt like a complete ass now and was about to tell her when she spoke.
“I’m not angry, Jarrod,” she said softly, surprising him. “And I’m not a super-hero, either. Nowhere near it. Samantha’s far better off not knowing me. I’ll just…”
“Disappoint her?” Jarrod finished her thought, which she confirmed with a nod of her head. He suddenly felt defeated. He should’ve known better than to think she’d agree. And he should even be relieved that she’d refused. But strangely, he wasn’t. “All right. For the first time in her life, I’ll have to tell her ‘no’. End of story.”
“Blame it all on me,” Josie offered in a rush. “Tell her you don’t know me…”
“She knows you’re my…friend,” he finished, taking her hand, intending to walk her to the door. But she jerked it away and, if looks could kill, he’d be dead from the one she gave him now.
“How dare you! I wanted to remain anonymous – you had no right to tell Samantha who I was! I gave my stem cells, why couldn’t you be satisfied with that and leave me alone? It would have been easier for everyone that way…”
“Yes, it would be easier – for you and me. But not for Samantha. Believe me, I don’t want you in my niece’s life any more than you want to be there. But you’re all she’s talked about since my sister told her about you.”
“Dori knows, too?”
“I had to fill her in, just in case you bumped into her at the hospital. When Samantha asked about her donor, Dori told her.” He ran his fingers through his hair. “Do you honestly think I’d volunteer that information to my niece? Or trust you with her heart? But it’s a lose/lose situation. Either way, she ends up with it broken.”
“What are you talking about? How could I break her heart?”
“Come on, Josie,” his tone was incredulous. “What have we been talking about? You always run away…”
“Wrong! I survive, Jarrod. And what about you? You risk breaking the hearts of your loved ones every day. You could literally die on the job!”
“Correction, Josie. Every day, I live. And, while you’re busy taking the safest, easiest route, life is passing you by. You’re right – you’re not a superhero. You’re a coward.”
Her glare burned a hole through him. “I respect life and know how fragile it is.”
She had a point, Jarrod thought. But she was letting her fear stand in the way of so much. “All right. Then think about the reason you get up every morning – the patients who, despite your best efforts, have lost the fight. Don’t you think they would’ve climbed a mountain, swam with manta rays, or skydived, given the chance? Dedicating your time to saving lives is noble, but you’re sacrificing your own in the process. You’re not living, Josie, and that’s a shame. Some of the biggest risks bring life’s greatest joys.”
“Oh, you’re good,” she shot. “Is this how you reel in potential clients – challenge their bravery, then run your sales pitch? I’m not a coward – I’m cautious. But you’re as infuriating as ever! Just once, I’d love to throw caution to the wind and do all the adventurous things that you and your wonderful *business partner* Marnie do together!”
He didn’t expect the hint of jealousy – not just over some non-existent relationship with Marnie, but of his lifestyle, as well. And now that she’d opened the door as wide as the Grand Canyon he had to walk through it. “Prove it,” he said.
“H-huh?” She looked almost as confused by his challenge as he was with himself for leveling it. But he couldn’t take it back now –
Do or die.
“You said you’re not a coward. You said you’d love to throw caution to the wind. Well, prove it. Do some of the things that frighten you. And for starters – meet my niece.”

Hi Gina, thanks for taking part in the writing challenge!
This extract certainly has a lot of passion and tension! I’m really intrigued about your heroine and her reasons for resisting the relationship – some further insight into that would be amazing. I did also wonder what’s holding (or held) your hero back from this relationship, so that’s something to bear in mind!
Great job! And just as a note for future challenges, the moments should only be a short 3-5 paragraph scene.

These are only snippets. Even if someone were to take them verbatim, they would STILL have to plot the rest of their story. Snippets do not make whole manuscripts.

And truthfully, you couldn’t stop someone from stealing your idea if it were published. It happens, and it’s hard to prove when the plagiarism is carefully disguised.

You just have to trust that no one will. And understand that no one can ever mimic your unique voice.

Of course, only post if you’re comfortable. 🙂 The whole point of the challenges is to have fun! You can’t do that if you’re anxious about anyone stealing your idea(s).

Hope that helps!

I agree with what Hana said. Besides this is all for fun and some editor input. It isn’t the entire ms nor is it enough to steal.

Stranded in the Maui jungle, newly acquainted hero and heroine attempt to find their way back to civilization. Heroine just discovered hero has amnesia:

Jacqueline sat beside Dak, realization hitting her smack in the heart. Wow, so he wasn’t weird, he was lost. Well, not lost exactly, more like confused. No wonder his lifestyle didn’t make sense. How could an absolute dream guy not have women hanging all over him? “That’s why you’re so quiet about your past. You have one, but you can’t remember it.”

“And it drives me crazy. I can’t remember if I’m married or single, or even what kind of a person I was before I lost my memory. I could be a bad guy or a homicidal maniac.” He wiggled his eyebrows, making her laugh.

“That’s a comforting statement.” She rubbed her arms and refused to dwell on the creepy idea. Better yet, she would encourage his thoughts in the right direction. “Or you could be a hardworking family man with half a dozen kids and a wife who creates magic in the kitchen.”

“That’s a nice thing to say, Jaci. Thanks.” He slapped at a large flying insect, itching to suck their blood. “I feel so empty inside. It’s like I’m nothing to anyone, anywhere.”

“I’m sorry I’ve been so mean to you.” She patted him on the shoulder.

He stared down at his clasped hands, a lock of unruly hair falling across his forehead. The man had absolutely no clue how appealing he was. It wasn’t something he worried about. Not with the weight of his unknown identity consuming his soul. “I could use someone to talk to once in a while.”

Befriending Dak could be disastrous. Her parents had been friends first and look what happened—they never had anything. When her dad died, her mom was left with a little girl to raise and financial burdens she never overcame. She remembered very clearly the stress her mom went through—stress she didn’t want to experience by falling in love with a man who had little or no ambition.

She sucked in a deep breath and decided to risk it. Dak needed her help. Go for broke, her heart whispered. “I’ll be your friend, Dak,” she said, almost choking on the incriminating words. “You can talk to me about anything whenever you want. I’ll do my best to help you find out who you are so you can get your life back. Okay?”

Hi Chrissie. This is an intriguing passage that’s drawn me into the action of your plot—I want to know what happens next! Nice job giving an idea of the conflict to come (externally because neither knows who Dak is, and internally because Jaci is resistant to love). Thanks for taking the challenge!

The air crackled with the tension, emanating from the three men grouped together. “Yeah, we can use these horses Boss,” the man standing beside Tara growled, “but?” He left the rest of the sentence hanging. Tara, her slim build hid under her bulky winter-coat, glared at the tall, bearded giant in front of her. A thousand thoughts raced through her mind, some not too complementary, and she wished she could say something. But she needed this job, so she kept a lid on her temper, expression and feelings. Better to calm down and not antagonize the guy, she thought. It was a huge chance she was taking, coming unannounced or expected. The family needed income to survive the winter and she brought their last pair of draft horses up to the lumber camp, hoping for a job, dressed as a male to this all male camp.
“You don’t look strong enough to do anything except maybe drive these horses, and you’d better be good. I’ve got enough skidders, need more fallers, more tree men, not drivers!” He snapped to her, as if it was her fault, while his bright blue eyes turned to steely slate, and his fair hair fairly crackled. Controlled anger was evident, and Tara braced her shoulders, tilted her chin and gave a toss of her capped head.
“I can handle my horses sir,” she spit back at him, in her lowered voice, cultivated by many years of choir practice. She had to be convincing in her role as a young and arrogant male. If she could keep up the deception with binding her chest, her mahogany hair covered with a cap pulled down over her face, lots of baggy clothes –it should work. Being tall for a woman was in her favour, wearing gloves would hide her dainty hands. With all her padding she would look like a chunky young man.

Camellia, I like the way you’ve established tension between the characters right away. Well done hinting at the conflict also and setting up how it’ll drive the action of the plot forward. Thanks for taking the challenge!

Thank you for your encouraging words Katie. One always wonders how their “baby” will fare out in the cruel cold world.. I can rest easy now she just might be able to thrive. Thank you.

This is from a WIP. This isn’t the first time my h&h have me but I think it’s definitely the inciting moment. Sorry if it’s too long. I’m on my phone and it’s difficult to gauge the length of the excerpt on here.

The stranger turned and Emmy recognised him as yesterday’s knight-in-less-than-shining-armour, this time sporting a frilled collar, a kind of ruby coloured velvet blouson, and what appeared to be matching tights. This guy is weird, she thought without charity, hissing at the tiny, treacherous part of her that was delighted to see him again.

“Allow me, My Lady.” He knelt to help, and in the scramble to pick up the books, their fingers brushed and Emmy jumped at the crackle of static that bounced between them; the dust motes sizzling and swirling in tiny eddies. Emmy shook her head, sure she was imagining things. It wouldn’t be the first time.

“Thank you. Now that you’ve left the sword at home, is there something I can help you with?” The whispers in her head were growing steadily louder and her big toe throbbed. She wasn’t in the mood for chivalry.

“I would take great pleasure in accepting your kindness, My Lady. Your tone however, suggests I hath offended again. I should leave you in peace. I will not risk your ire further by rolling the dice today.”

He rose and turned for the door.

“What? Wait! You can’t keep barging into my shop like this, looking like you do, talking in riddles, and then flouncing off! How do you know my name? What do you want?”

The stranger faced her again, blue eyes blazing with an emotion that made Emmy weak with desire to comprehend. At least, that’s what she was telling herself.

“What do I want? My freedom. Good day, My Lady.”

Then he was gone. Again. Stymied, Emmy watched as he strode past the window and out of sight.

What on earth? Why does he need my help, no, my assistance? ‘I would take great pleasure in accepting your kindness’, yeah and I would take great pleasure in…in –

Her eyes widened at the preposterous turn her thoughts were taking. “It couldn’t be,” she breathed. ‘”I would take great pleasure in licking the sweat from your bosom, as I lay your delectable body across my table.”’ Then she remembered his comment about not rolling the dice and, with heart hammering a piano concerto in her chest, tore up the stairs. Her hands trembled and the skin on the nape of her neck prickled. She tried to tell herself to stop, that she was over-imagining things, that she needed to start her relaxation techniques: You’re stressed. You’re taking too much on. You’re grieving about Maggie. And you stupidly didn’t take your meds last night!

Thinking about Maggie was a sobering slap to the face and she paused, resting her riotous head on a low beam and panting as if winded. But Maggie reminded her of the letter, and the letter, Jonathan and The Book, round and round, so with a deep breath, she looked down at the old volume and opened it up. The familiar smell of lignin drifted up to meet her nostrils and she inhaled it like smelling salts, allowing its comforting scent to strengthen her spine and bind her resolve. The Book was heavy, but her hands were now steady, and she flashed on childhood swimming lessons, diving to the bottom of the pool to lift the dead weight. She shivered, sweat beading on her top lip and trickling down her spine. ‘A clean and natural sweat’ she thought, and with fevered eyes, read the random page she’d opened the book at:

I remove my doublet and shirt, affording me small, sweet relief from the stifling heat.

With creeping foolishness spreading through her veins and heating her cheeks, Emmy closed her eyes and waited. When nothing happened, one eyelid crept up like a roller blind. Nothing. She threw The Book back down on the bed, as if scalded, dashing away the treacherous sting of tears on the back of her hand. Jesus, Emmeline! What did you think was going to happen? Your mystery man was going to pop up out of a book as if by magic? Keep taking the tablets, Em.

Laughing through her tears, she made her way back down the spiral staircase and into the shop, glancing back up the stairs when she heard a voice call her name. Maggie?! Then the wind was knocked out of her, as she collided with something as hard as oak and turned to find herself face to bare-chest with the very real and very near naked handsome stranger!

What the???

Ignoring the voices was difficult enough but her rational side knew they weren’t real, even if sometimes they got the better of her. She could cope with them most of the time. This was different. Reason with herself she might, tell herself that it wasn’t possible, she couldn’t deny the very solidity of him in the air, the way his ribcage rose and fell with his shallow breathing, his spicy scent spiked with old vanilla and musk. Swallowing her fear along with the key to her illusory chastity belt, Emmy didn’t move away. Instead, she lifted her chin and placed a pointed finger in the centre of the dark, dense hair on the man’s torso.

“Okay, Mister. I’ve had just about enough! You’re going to tell me what the hell’s going on. Right now!” She punctuated with each jab of her finger. This would be so much easier if he didn’t have a marble chest, alabaster abs, and eyes like lost galaxies. She scrambled to pull herself together, searching for neutral territory and started when she saw he was still wearing the ruby tights. Or were they called hose? Either way, they were very tight tights.

Jeanna, I love the engaging voice in this scene. This is an intriguing and mysterious situation and I find myself wanting to know more about where the heroine will go from here! Thanks for writing in.

“I think the cat’s out of the bag now, Selma. Better to control this instead of any more surprises. We don’t want anyone to get hurt.”
Selma closed her mouth and nodded, heading for the door. Paula followed her, looking pleased. Grady was on his guard. Something was going on here, and there had been enough emphasis on the “anyone” when the sister said it that he knew there was more in that warning than he understood.
He tensed, and warily turned to follow the women into the house, the house that had been barred to him just minutes ago. Things had changed. Selma and Paula went ahead in, and Marla stood there, waiting for him to follow.
Marla’s shoulders were slumped, her gaze down. She looked…defeated. He felt some apprehension, but also a lot of curiosity, so he went through the door, wondering just what to expect.
It was a normal, nice looking house. Comfortable, some clutter but clean. Photos, a few knick knacks. No piles of hoarded garbage, no secret lair painted black. He wasn’t sure why she’d been so determined to keep him out until his eye caught a photo on the wall.
Sister Marla was in the photo. She’d paid a lot more attention to her appearance, and looked good, but Grady didn’t much care about that. He’d known Marla had a daughter, but hadn’t thought anything about her kid. In this picture though, it was the daughter that caught his attention.
The girl had blonde hair and blue eyes, unlike her mom. She had straight black brows that stood out in contrast, and as she smiled at the photographer, dimples dented her cheeks. Grady stood, nailed to the spot.
Suddenly a whole lot became clear. No wonder Selma hadn’t forgotten him. No one had needed to take a picture of him to remind Selma of what he looked like. Marla had had no trouble recognizing him, because this was his face on the girl in the photo. The girl Marla obviously called her daughter.
But there was no doubt in his mind. This was his daughter.

I was a little confused by all the characters in this scene, but intrigued as well. And you’ve definitely created an inciting scene that will change the course of the story. Thanks for writing!

He was so glad there was going to be a new manager to help run Kaleigh farm. A breeding farm was a racing stable’s right arm; besides buying the them outright it was the way the horses, and if they were blessed, champions, came to be. He enjoyed the work enormously, helping new foals get the best start in life. But the aloneness was always there, he put it away.
A car pulled up by the open area of the tack building where he was organizing supplies, seeing what they needed and what they could move along. A petite woman got out wearing a bright yellow Polo shirt and beige jeans. She ambled up to him. He assumed she was lost. They were deep in the country and didn’t get many visitors being set back from the road as much as they were.
“Do you know where Cal Aiken might be at?” She had an educated erudite way about her, he wondered what she wanted from him.
“I’m Cal, what can I do you for?” He said feigning an almost bumpkin accent. A smile broke across her face like a sunbeam. She put out her hand.
“I’m your new manager.”
“The hell you are!” He said dropping the bridle he was untangling.
“Your boss said you might have a problem with this. But I assured him you’d be more enlightened. Please don’t make me be a liar.” She had such an delightful smile and such enriching soulful eyes he wanted to live in them, but not like this! Not this way!
“What experience would you have? You ain’t got what we need,” he said roughly.
“Well you certainly have a way with words Mr. Aiken,” she said obviously unmoved. She grabbed his arm politely and said, “Why don’t you show me around.” She was a good worker and loved the horses, had experience with farms and ranches all the way from Alabama clear to Wyoming and needed this job. She needed to make it work. He looked at her, really looked. She thought maybe she was winning him over, she had that kind of way with people.
But he took her hand off his powerful arm and replied, “Why are you here?” Before stalking off to find the farm owner. She was about to follow him when her boot got caught up in the bridle strap and she tumbled to the ground. “Ohhh!”
He turned around. “Miss, what happened?” As he helped her back up, despite what she had seen, he was a gentlemen. She felt the strong arms wrap about her as he helped her to her feet. It made her weak the feel of his body so close to hers, the man smell, the way her heart pit patted like it was going to explode. The essence. She looked at him this time.
“Bethany Jenkins,” she said, reasonably mesmerized.
But Cal’s eyes were awash in hers and Bethany would need to await a reply. Perhaps things would work out after all.

The boss/employee romance is always a popular trope, and I like how you’ve switched it up so the heroine is boss. I wasn’t totally clear why Cal objected to Bethany’s being his new manager, though. Is it because she’s a woman, or is there something more? Hopefully there’s another reason, as this will make him a more sympathetic hero. Character motivation is everything when you’re employing tried and true tropes. 🙂 Thanks for participating in our challenge!

Thank you Deirdre! Yes you are right. My view was that the time and setting of the book would be a few decades ago when it wasn’t as common for women to be in positions of power in the horse world which was why Cal was shocked. But as well there is way more to it than that. I will remember about character.

If the flight attendants screaming, “go, go, go, go!” wasn’t motivation enough to get out of the airplane, the giant orange flames and acrid black smoke behind her were. Her deep desire to be someplace else compelled her to jump onto the evacuation slide despite her fear of the over thirty-foot drop to the runway below. Once she reached the ground, she ran away from the fireball that was the engine only to have her path blocked by the man that she would have dutifully ignored for the next two hours despite sitting next to just three minutes prior as he stumbled and fell across her path. “Are you okay?” she asked as she reached him while he was unsuccessfully trying to stand back up. “My left ankle,” he replied through gritted teeth. “I landed awkwardly coming off the emergency slide.” “Let me help you,” she offered as she put his arm over her shoulder. “Lets head over to that plane,” she said spotting another aircraft that stopped about 100 yards away on a parallel taxiway.
“My name’s Laura, Laura Burr,” she said. “Michael Hamilton, but you can call me Mike. What are the odds?” he responded with a single chuckle. “I don’t get it,” Laura said somewhat confused. “Sorry,” Mike said, “Alexander Hamilton, Aaron Burr, it’s one of the more obscure rivalries in early American history.” “I’ll google it when I get the chance,” Laura replied as they made their way over to the plane that wasn’t burning as quickly as two people using three legs over uneven terrain could. When they reached their destination next to the nose of the parked jet, Laura gently laid Mike down on the taxiway and took the time to assess the situation. Acrid black smoke belched in the air from the jet they were on, but the plane looked intact at least. Mike’s left foot pointed at an unnatural angle while he laid on the ground wincing in agony. A voice with a heavy British accent broke her concentration, “can I help you, love?” Laura looked around to see who belonged to the voice, finally seeing a pilot from the plane they were next to leaning out the cockpit window. “I think he broke his ankle,” Laura said to the pilot. “Can you send help over here?” “We’re talking with emergency services right now. They’re on the way,” the pilot said. “In the meantime, you’ll probably need this,” he added, tossing her a blanket inside a plastic bag.
“Thanks,” Mike said as Laura covered him with the blanket. “Can you do me a favor?” he asked. “What do you need?” Laura said. “Can you help me skip the next two weeks so I can get the year over with? This year has been a disaster,” Mike replied. Laura smiled, “sorry, my time machine’s broken. What made this year so bad?” “I lost my wife in a car crash back in February, I was laid off two months ago and now this.” Mike said. “You so sorry,” Laura sympathized. “Do you have some paper and something to write with?” Mike asked. “Sure,” Laura said, suddenly self-conscious for getting her purse when she was on the plane. She handed him a pen and a small notebook, which he took and began to write. “I’m going to give you my phone. I want you to call some people for me to let them know what happened.” “Okay,” Laura agreed as he handed her the notebook and his phone which he got from his pocket. Laura looked at the phone and noticed two children, one boy and one girl, on the wallpaper that must have been about four years old. “Are these your kids?” Laura asked. “Yes,” Mike replied. “That’s London and Paris, my twin children. They’re staying with my parents while I job hunt. I was hoping to get back to Denver to be with them for Christmas, but I guess that won’t happen now.”
Two paramedics came up to them. “Is he okay?” the taller of the paramedics asked. “I think he broke his ankle coming off the slide,” Lauren told him. “He’s in shock, we need to get him to the hospital now!” the shorter paramedic said as she tied a red tag around his wrist. “Are you his wife?” the shorter paramedic cased Laura while handing her a green tag. “Yes,” Lauren lied while putting the tag around her wrist. “Let’s get him in the ambulance. Come along, ma’am,” the taller paramedic said as they put Mike on a stretcher. Laura wasn’t quite sure why she just lied, but she knew she had to make sure Mike and his family would have a Christmas with their father. After all, Christmas was only three days away.

Salma tucked a tendril of dark hair behind her ear and cautiously waited, situated in the enormous Victorian styled study room, on a lavish chair, opposite a bulk of mahogany disk. She’d already spent two days with Carol Alcester, and the seventy year old woman liked her the best. They contrived together, the latter had reported to her son on the phone, but when she finished the call, she’d informed her she wouldn’t be hired for the job, till Blake Alcester, Carol’s son, had a meet with her.
“I reckon you’re Miss Raheel!” A deep voice, tinged with dissent, enunciated.
With the knowledge there were lots of aspirants for the job, loaded with impeccable resumes compared to her “Waitressed and Babysat” one, Salma couldn’t hold any animus toward the man a foot away from her. He was looking after his mother’s best interest.
She slowly whirled her head to the side, a beat, she took to calm her nerves before meeting the man possessed the distinctive baritone. One, if she weren’t in knots of worries, would have fathomed its tantalizing effect on her, like she’d heard it before and in not so formal place.
“Salma, please…” With decorum she raised her head to meet his eyes. A familiar set of dark green and her heart dived. This couldn’t be.
“Salma” He pushed inside. Her eyes following the threat, seconds away, from sabotaging her chance to make a safe healthy home for her little brother.
Drumming a pen to the wooden surface, he sought her attention after a minute, of her, absentminded with horror.
She ought to run, save herself but somehow she couldn’t as if she were cemented to the padded chair.
Another drum of his, and she slowly angled herself to make an eye contact with the inevitable. He was going to recognize her and the job would be history, her dreams for her brother would be nigh to mythical. Other repercussions, she was remiss to acknowledge at the moment.
“If weren’t for my mother insistence I wouldn’t be setting here,” he said bluntly “You’re the least qualified of all”. His eyes travelled to a stack of files on the disk, probably they were printed resumes of the applicants.
She didn’t know to be relived he’d not recognized her or somber he wasn’t approving of her to nurse his mother.
He raised a firm hand before she went on to make an excuse to flee. “Nonsense promises, I don’t need to hear. Even you, would acknowledge I’d be taking a big risk hiring someone endorsed only by the adoration of a fragile old woman”
“I beg to differ” Something inside of her snapped, reminiscing how her own mother was treated by her father over the years due to her ill conditon“Mrs. Alcester is not a fragile old woman, she is way more than that!”
He folded his arms and rested back into the Antique Rosewood chair, his eyes focused with no ire at her outburst but his next words were, “Oh, Miss Raheel, I’m waiting, so …..Please enlighten me more about my Mother!”
She spread two hands, it was too late to back down now, besides he wasn’t going to hire her, even so, she couldn’t risk him recognize her at some point. “My mother suffered in her late years, always dependable in every need and I loathed how my father only saw that side of her, like she wasn’t more than some kind of an onus, like she didn’t have the right to have a say or to dream. He only correlated her with her illness!”
“And you didn’t!” He leant forward pressing his forearms on the disk, his eyes staring right into her soul, for a moment she stayed mute, frozen in place. There was something in them, echoing that fateful night when he whispered heated dirty words into her prude ears. Then he opened his sensual mouth. “You have one month to prove yourself”
Exhaling a breath she didn’t know she was holding, she gathered her courage “You mean…”
Vigilance usurped the heat in his eyes “You’re the Live-in nurse… I’m trusting for my mother and niece, since Viola spends lots of times around her grandma”
Trusting, the word send a sea of shivers down her spine. Should she come clean about that incident? Well, incident was no way to describe what she’d brazenly done.
“I’ve gathered some information about you… so far I have no worries of you spending time with Viola…. Ethical, I mean!”
Her phone vibrated, and without thinking, she picked it up.
I thought I could convince him to let you stay for another month or so, but he’s determined to cash in… um…the rent….so…
So, she’d to plant a tree of money in order to keep a roof over her brother’s head, or!
Or just shake the hand of the man she tried to seduce three years ago. Who would, for sure, have ethical issues with her around his niece!
“Salma, are you having second thoughts!” He was standing in front of her, waiting.
Time to face the music. She stood and clasped her hand into his, and to act the professional, she held his gaze. “I’m very grateful for your trust, Mr. Alcester”
“Blake” He let go of her hand and she, in immediate rush, let it rub against her thigh.
And before she escaped his overwhelming company, he fixed her with a scorching stare. “Have we met before?”
Yep, when I tried to break as an escort, let you take me back to your room and took off my clothes… but when you got the note that I’m only a bombastic whore you threw me out.
But why coming clean, she didn’t know a name for him at the time and he didn’t know that her hair wasn’t a real ashen blonde or her sea blue eyes were only contacts. Unless she undress in front of him again, he’d have no clue to link her to that abrasive girl.
“I’d have remembered you!”
And that wasn’t a retort to help her case or prove her trial to be an escort was only that. A trial for once, she was in despair for money to treat her brother but sense kicked in to save her from that horrible path and the man in front of her was the main cause to set her back on the right track.
He nodded, unconvinced. And sensing he was a man who wouldn’t let grey lines tinging his life, she was sure he’d dig more till he was convinced!
But what other choice did she have at the moment!

There are a lot of different situations at play that are forcing Salma to act, including a job offer, her brother’s situation, and the identity of her new boss. It’s clear her life won’t be the same after this! One thing you might want to keep in mind is to watch for typos in your work. Errors can cause friction for the reader that will pull them out of your scene. Thanks for joining our challenge this week!

Rory didn’t wait until Gallagher returned from escorting Mrs. Evans to her car, although that act of kindness touched her more than if he had given her a dozen roses. Hiding in a corner among a group of women, some taller than her, she felt secure enough after fifteen minutes to search the crowded room for the detective. Sergeant. His insistence irritated her and she didn’t know why. Maybe because he was so sure of himself and most of the time she felt so incompetent.

Marian Pruett had him boxed into the niche where several statues perched on tall pedestals all around, her wide girth taking up most of Gallagher’s escape exit. The rest of the opening was filled by Marian’s husband Jerry who absentmindedly nodded at everything she said. Apparently Gallagher was too polite to make a run for it. Rory debated whether to leave him to make his own getaway or to rescue him.

Their eyes connected and his sent a plea for help. She crossed the room, while formulating in her mind what to say. Was she crazy to do this? Why did she care if he was trapped? Being close to him, talking to him, made her feel alive and not invisible, that’s why. That alone had tremendous pull even if he did embarrass her with his alluding to them being a couple. She shook the thought out of her head. Gallagher would be the last person she would consider a relationship with. Even if he believed her innocent of Jeff’s murder, his job would eliminate him. Too dangerous. It would be Patrick all over again.

“There you are.” She laid a hand on his arm. His face showed incredulous relief like he hadn’t expected her to rescue him after all. “I need your help moving a statue in the east room. If you’ll excuse us, Marian. Jerry.” She nodded to each in turn.

Jerry stepped back to allow Gallagher passage through. Gallagher smiled at the couple. “Good evening, Mr. and Mrs. Pruett. It’s been a pleasure talking to you.”

Rory smiled. Ever the charming gentleman, Gallagher could lie through his teeth with the best of them.

She led the way to the refreshment station on their right. Recognizing the tall man dressed in a western shirt, jeans and boots leaning on the bar, she greeted him. “Hello, Tom. How are you this evening?”

He grinned at her. “Fine, Rory. You look lovely as always.” His eyes narrowed at Gallagher. “I’d wondered if you had an escort. Been seeing him long?”

Why did everyone assume she and Gallagher were a couple? And speaking of the man, why did he have a smug look on his face? If he’d looked panicked, she would have given Tom a thorny history of their relationship. All made up, of course. That smug look took all the fun out of it. “We’re moving a statue in the east room. The horse and rider. You know. The heavy one.”

Gallagher winced, making the lie worth it.

I am so sorry for the delayed response! I really enjoyed the dynamic you set up between the characters. I loved seeing the heroine try to get a reaction out of the hero, and it was even more fun when she succeeded.

Connolly, thank you for the comments. No worries about the delay–I wasn’t able to check back on this until today anyway and I know you’re busy. Thanks again for the comments.

Kelly sighed as she watched the orange-clad prisoners file out of the spartan classroom, the stern-faced correctional officer shadowing their steps. She was getting through to them. Wasn’t she? Some of them at least? She had to believe that. Prison ministry had changed Granddad’s life. Even if it made a difference to only one, she would continue these weekly classes. That one could have been her granddad years ago.
“Ms. Blake?” A tall, lean dark-haired man stepped from the line. The guard caught her eye. At her nod, the CO exited with the other prisoners.
She’d love to be able to change the lives of all of them. But, Kelly acknowledged reluctantly, stepping forward with more eagerness than she should, if she could only change one, she longed for it to be Riley Sinclair. She didn’t want to consider herself one of those women who were attracted to men behind bars, but there was something about him. According to the guards, he’d been some kind of computer whiz before going to prison for murder. Sinclair claimed he’d been framed, that he was innocent of killing his brother-in-law; but as ninety percent what he said was accompanied with a hooked smile and self-mockery in his blue, blue eyes, Kelly didn’t know what to believe. He didn’t look or act like a murderer. But that’s what they’d said about Ted Bundy. Granddad had taught her to have a good radar on those things. Sinclair didn’t set it off.
The facetious smile Sinclair normally wore was missing from his handsome face as the distance narrowed between them. Instead, his perfectly sculpted lips frowned. Kelly’s grin, one that’d embarrassingly threatened to push all the way to her ears, faded. Drawing to a halt, her glance ricocheted around the now empty room, bouncing off the closed door before it returned to him. It lingered on Sinclair’s grim eyes a moment before sliding over his broad, orange-covered shoulder and down his right arm to his clenched fist.
Why would he bring a toothbrush to a Bible Study class?
Run! Kelly sprang toward the door before she was jerked back against a rock-hard body. A stinging pressure under her chin forced her head back. She would have bit the hand that clamped over her mouth if she could have, resentful of how the man could smell so good when he was in prison and now was obviously a loser. How could she have been such a fool?
“Sorry about the shiv, Ms.Blake.” The voice she’d previously admired murmured above her ear. “I like you, I really do. But I’ve got a wedding to stop and you’re my ticket out of here.”

I am so sorry for the delayed response! I loved this set up! You certainly created an inciting moment. Everything from the setting to the threat to the promise of an escape perfectly serves to capture the reader’s attention. Additionally, you have included several intriguing hooks in this piece. Great job!

(Johanna is on the side of the road in a remote corner of Washington State and a park ranger has appeared out of nowhere to change her tire for her. )

Aiming her flashlight at the rear wheel, Johanna bent over to inspect the spare tire. How odd. The only set of footprints around the car seemed to be her own. How had the man managed to change her tire without leaving a trace of his presence? A shiver darted up her spine.
She gestured to the ground around the tire with a sweeping motion of her good arm. “How do you do that? No footprints in this gravelly mud except mine.”
The ranger cocked his head to one side, the heat of his electric blue eyes burning her. “Old forest trick. Forget it.”
Johanna blinked and she suddenly couldn’t remember what they’d been discussing. “What was I talking about?”
“You were thanking me.” He gripped the lug wrench and casually swung it in a circle.
“Oh, right.” Grinning, she extended her hand. “What will it take for you to give me my arm — I mean my lug wrench back?”
Those blue eyes riveted on her as his demeanor grew taught, his harsh gaze stirring a memory of a similar but younger pair of blue eyes and another road, another dawn. A Glenn Miller tune had spilled out of a nearby pub. Hadn’t a man like him once grabbed her arm to save her from falling into the street? Her struggle to put more form and shape to the vague outline of a memory brought a fine sheen of sweat to her forehead.
“We went to dinner,” she murmured slowly, her voice barely above a whisper. “You held my arm and flirted with me. That couldn’t have been us.”
The ranger reached for her, his handsome features set in a grimace of longing and grief, but he yanked his hand back without touching her.
“That was really strange.” She tried to hold onto the memory and failed, the loss leaving her bereft. “Oh, it’s gone again.”
“Again? You’ve seen all that before?”
She nodded.
An owl hooted from somewhere close by, drawing the handsome ranger’s attention. When he turned back to look at her, a low hum rang in her ears, but she heard him tell her, “You’d better be going, Johanna.”
Dazed, she circled around to the driver’s side of the Jeep. She didn’t deliberately open the car door, let alone climb in, but she came to her senses staring at the steering wheel. The lug wrench was on the passenger seat.
Hold on a minute. Hadn’t that ranger called her by name? They hadn’t introduced themselves. She’d stake her reputation on it.
She opened the door and leaped out. “How’d you know my first name when I don’t even know yours? Where do I know you from?”
Silence. The ranger had vanished into thin air.

I am so sorry for the delayed response!

What a fantastic story for October! It is so spooky! I really want to know how this one ends. You did a nice job of setting up a situation that is intriguing in a number of ways. In addition to creating tension between the hero and the heroine, you successfully created an air of mystery surrounding the hero without going over the top.

Thank you, Connolly.

This is a completed paranormal romantic suspense available for submission. Can you recommend a Harlequin or Carina Press editor who might be interested?

Gavin Laidlaw had a hard time thinking straight while Tatiana held him in her cool gaze. She has long dark hair and is wearing a silver dress, he thought, trying to ground himself in unembellished fact. The description didn’t begin to touch the vision before his eyes.

Tatiana was beautiful, but as an extremely eligible bachelor Gavin was around a lot of attractive women. It was her confidence, her strength, that made her so mesmerizing. Her gaze was unwavering and direct, her eyes deep pools of blue, open and shrewd simultaneously. Her long hair cascaded loose over her creamy shoulders, blue-black waves catching the light then plunging into dramatic shadow. There was a trace of a smile on her plump lips. He thought for a second she was pleased to see him, then thought she might be laughing at him. He felt at a total disadvantage in this small room alone with her and his labored breath.

She bent toward him and extended her hand as if this were a business meeting. “Tatiana Bentley,” she said, her voice like honey.
It was his turn to smile, amused not by her but by the absurdity of the situation.

“I assumed,” he said. Then thought he might as well carry through with the charade. “Gavin Laidlaw, your potential groom.”

Dear Polly, What fun! Great job on the description of Tatiana and also on the last line where he is her potential groom. It definitely made me want to read more. –Patience

“I’m Grant; Grant Thompson. And you are?”
Oh, I know who you are. “Biz. Like Liz, but starts with a B. Biz Aralia.” He would never hear her birth name again if she could help it. She took his outstretched hand and shook it firmly before letting go and taking a step back. She had received a shock of static electricity from it but would not give him the satisfaction of reacting. “Grant. How appropriate a name for your line of work.”
He chuckled and motioned for her to sit down. She sat on the edge of the gray chair, even though he had motioned her toward the sofa. She spread out her non-profit and art portfolio onto the coffee table before her, wanting to get down to business and out of his office. Biz wasn’t worried he was suddenly going to figure out it was Elizabeth A. Lucas in front of him. Her hair was spiky short, bright red instead of long and light brown, and her bright blue doll eye contacts were a far cry from the soft green eyes underneath. Biz hadn’t been Coop’s fiancée for more than seven years. Grant’s younger cousin had barely felt the loss, she was sure, but she hadn’t looked back to find out, either. Not after what Coop had done to her. And Grant had been okay with all of it.
“My understanding is your venture capital firm is wanting to give back to its community by sponsoring a project for a non-profit organization that will benefit the community’s earliest learners. I have a project in mind that will not only enhance the creativity and culture of Riverside and its greater community, but seeks partnerships with the day care centers, libraries, health clinics, schools, and preschools of the area for long term and sustainable benefits for…”
“Biz, I’ve read all that and I’ve seen your work or you wouldn’t be here. Right now I need to know about you.”
No, you don’t. No, you can’t. Every time I look into your eyes I’m that green girl all over again. Her heart beat faster as she realized the truth of that thought and tried to ignore that truth and reply with her standard biography, the one he would have also read, apparently, but he cut her off as her mouth parted to speak. “I haven’t seen this green one.”
Green? Really? She clamped her mouth shut trying to compose herself, her eyes cast downward so he couldn’t read them. He was holding a photo, which had been in the back of the portfolio, of the mural she had been commissioned to paint in Franklin last year, and he was right, she hadn’t added that photo to the grant’s digital application. She was proud of the way she calmly told him as much, and then added her standard biography and stood.
This was a bad idea, an outright stupid one. She should have never thought she could come back to Riverside without sneaking in at night to visit Aunt Gail and sneaking right back out again a night or two later. “Now that you have everything you need, I’m afraid I have to run, as I double-booked myself and have to get to the Fairview Mall in Bristol in less than…”
“Your project is sound and sustainable. Your work and current partnerships are exactly what we’re looking for in grant recipients. You had the funding before you stepped foot into my office, Eliz…Biz.”
Biz gasped. “You know who…”
“I knew you had a low opinion of me, but I didn’t believe you thought I was stu…”
“I don’t think you’re stupid. I never did.” She left her portfolio on the coffee table and took another step back as he took one closer.
“Could we stop interrupting each other long enough to…”
“No. I shouldn’t have come here and I rescind my appli…”
“No. Don’t say it because you can’t. You’re the only applicant. I wrote up the entire prospectus and sent it only to you.”
Biz’s eye twitched and then both of them narrowed. “If you think that I…”
“No. This wasn’t something to indebt you, seduce you, coerce you into anything. I’ve followed your work. Your work should be in this community. You should be in this community. The family should have never done what it did. And you shouldn’t have to sneak around to see yours. I don’t want anything from you other than this.” He pointed at her portfolio and then swept his hand past first the paperwork and then the photos of her art. “Or I didn’t until I saw you again, spiky scarlet hair and all. I just want to talk, though, Biz. I just want to know why you thought I was a part of anything Coop did to you. I thought it wouldn’t matter, and I could pretend right along with you that you were only the artist Biz Aralia, but seeing you here,” Grant ran his fingers through his golden brown hair, “Elizabeth, we need to talk.” His voice cracked as he added, “It’s been so long since we’ve talked. I need…”
This time she hadn’t interrupted. He never finished the sentence. What did he need? What couldn’t he bring himself to say? Why did he believe he hadn’t been a part of what Coop had done? She had closed her eyes as the questions ran through her mind, her arms hugging each other whereas they had just been crossed in frustration and anger a moment ago. Her eyes abruptly opened, however, when his hands were on both of her arms, just below where the short sleeves ended. A frisson of electricity, not excitement, traveled up her arms, into her shoulders and ended with a shiver in her neck. Biz realized they had never deliberately touched before the handshake, and even that had been electrically charged.
“I’m sorry you’re so repulsed by my contact.” Grant spoke quietly. He had misconstrued the shiver as a shudder and this time he took a step back. Biz would let him think that. It was safer that way.

Dear Katterley, I always adore a heroine in disguise but I wonder how realistic it is for Biz to disguise herself enough so that Grant wouldn’t recognize her. Still, I like this idea! And I like their checkered history. Well done.

The bar at the Mayflower Hotel had been a biker bar until hipsters moved into the area and the bikers moved on. The renovation was mostly aluminum siding on the walls. It was not pretty, which was why Joe liked it and it served beer and a decent plate of fried chicken. It was Friday night and he was single.
The mirrors behind the bar meant that Carl didn’t need to turn his head to talk to me as he poured a sleeve.
“Waiting for someone, Joe?”
“I notice you watching the door, figured you arranged to meet someone.”
Carl moved away down the bar. He smiled, “she gets off at six, should be here any minute.”
I smiled, not a big smile, just enough so Carl would go help someone else.
If I was going to talk to Lyse anywhere, the Mayflower was the place I wanted to do it.
She was a regular; still everyone noticed when she walked in. When he thought that, it sounded artificial but the noise got less, and it felt more cheerful even when she was there. He had friends and people who would talk with him, but it was Lyse that he wanted to see.
The girl was blond and young, which threw him at first, he didn’t like blonds, but she wasn’t the fake kind of blond, he was used to seeing, her look seemed to change. She was confident, yet soft too, with clothes that looked couture. Sometimes she wore gloves that hid her hands so he didn’t know what they looked like but he had thought about them.
He heard that she was a painter with works hanging in a gallery. She talked coding with a group that was loud and shouted opinions. Last time he had been sure that she had noticed him and he had said he might be here tonight.
“So, you are back,” said Lyse walking over to his table. She had a nice voice, high and clear, like a flute. She looked exactly like he remembered.
“Berlin,” he said, for work.
“I know,” she said, “we should talk.”

Dear Kathryn, This is an intriguing set up. I wasn’t quite sure what was happening until the very end. I like your description of Lyse and the final hook at the end. You can tell that there is a past between the hero and heroine and at the very least, deep emotion on the part of the hero. Nicely conveyed.

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