#WritingChallenge! Weave backstory into your scene

By Deirdre

WritingChallenge imageAs Editorial Assistant Grace Thiele says in her blog post on creating backstory, “emotional conflict is the true beating heart of romance, and characters cannot be conflicted without having actually lived. Without a real emotional journey, and complex, rounded characters that we believe will be genuinely changed by love, the reader cannot be satisfied by the Happy Ever After.”

Maybe you’ve been told by an editor that there’s “too much backstory” in your opening chapters. But your backstory is great! It’s emotional, dramatic, and clearly explains your characters’ motivations.

What happened?

Imagine you’re on a first date. Your companion is smart, sexy, accomplished – and boring. He’s so focused on making sure you know everything important about him – why he went to art school, how his years in foster care affected him emotionally, everything his ex-wife did wrong – that not only has your date become one long monologue where your presence is barely required, but there’s no mystery left to explore.

Your challenge this week? Write a short scene that tells the reader something about the hero’s or heroine’s backstory without stopping the action of the scene. Remember, we don’t need to know everything about the characters’ past – just enough to explain what they’re doing now.

Tip: Try to avoid translating your backstory into dialogue. We sometimes see this in movies and t.v. shows, where one character explains something to another character that they would already know. For example: “Tiffany, you’ve taken care of Alex and me since Mom died of breast cancer last December, even letting us move in with you and your husband, Dean.”

For more on creating backstory, check out Grace’s post.

Ready for the challenge? Comment here! Add your scene by midnight Sunday, September 25 and we’ll get back to you with feedback after the weekend!

68 replies on “#WritingChallenge! Weave backstory into your scene”

“This is stupid.” Ellie told herself. Still, she pulled her Subaru to a stop by the curb opposite the familiar house and turned off the key. Dusk fell early at this time of year. Cool air began to creep in. Cramped muscles from the long flight were complaining. The sounds of tires on pavement was audible only at a distance, overlaid with the whispering of the branches in the big oaks that lined the street.
“This is stupid.” Ellie repeated to herself.
The houses were either dark and empty, or spilling light from their windows. These were mostly homes with two people working, some having just arrived home, some still commuting. This house, her house, had a car in the driveway, and a visible light. Ellie looked in through the big front window. The living room. The curtains weren’t drawn and she could see inside.
For a few minutes, no one was in view. The window showed the scenery, but no actors were yet on stage. Then a man entered. He looks the same, Ellie thought. Just like he did last time. He turned, carefully picked up a toddler, and placed her in a child seat at the table with practiced ease. He spoke to the child, tousled her hair with one hand and turned. A woman entered the scene, with a bowl in her hand, and smiled at the man and child. She passed the bowl over to the man, and as he took it for the child, she put her hand on her belly, in a caress.
Ellie stiffened. So she was pregnant again. That was new. She stared at the tableau. Her house, her husband – it should be her child, she should be pregnant. She breathed deeply. This was the life she’d given up. She quickly started the car, and pulled out into the street. She headed her car on the drive back to her hotel, promising herself this was the last time.
“That was stupid.” she repeated.

The guests would be arriving soon. Rachel smoothed the heavy embroidered covers on the old four poster bed in Fallowfield’s best bedchamber and wished to be elsewhere. Not that there were any possible retreat open to her. Her father expected his eldest daughter to play hostess to his guests as she had done any time in the fifteen years since leaving the school room. It wasn’t an onerous task, for Sir Bartley Tremaine was not a social man at the best of times, preferring to spend his days riding over the property with his eldest son, keeping a close eye on the crops and the small herd of cattle he and Bart Jr. took pride in.
Now the peace of the house was to be disturbed by a house party leading up to the engagement of young Bart to his beloved Emilia, met in the winter during his sojourn in London.
If only it weren’t Brandon West and his daughter.
Sally popped her head around the door, clutching a jug of water. “Do you know Lord Brandon?” She was the pretty one of the family, taking after Mama, who had died giving birth to her. Rachel still missed her calm good sense. Even more so, today.
She took the jug from her jiggling sister and set it down on the hearth, avoiding Sally’s bright gaze. “I met him only the once, nigh on twenty years ago. At his wedding.”
“And Emilia?”
“No. They lived in London after he married.”
“Do you think she is as pretty as Bart says?”
Rachel returned the grin. Her stolid brother, in raptures over a girl, was something to behold. The wonder of it was that he didn’t compare her to Jenny, his favourite mare. “Fine fetlocks and a glossy coat?”
Sally giggled. “I’m so glad it’s you living here and not prosy Mary.”
With a flick of her apron, Rachel sent her from the room. “You mind your tongue. She’ll be here at any moment and I want you to be respectful.”

It was hard to sit in the stands and watch. To spectate the game from an unfamiliar position, not that he had watched a game in a while – going on two years. His knee ached as he stared at the players walking onto the field, his hand squeezing it tightly trying to will the pain away. Trying to stop himself from getting up and leaving.

He shouldn’t be here. He didn’t want to be up here. He wanted to be down there.

It was supposed to be him crouched behind that plate; the one who was supposed to catch Jordan’s pitches. Frustration, anger, pain slammed into his chest as he watched Jordan warm up with the catcher that wasn’t him. Each pitch that Jordan sent from the mound to the catcher’s mitt made the ache in his knee worse; the tingle in his hand stronger missing the feel, the sound of those balls as he caught them. It was overwhelming.

He couldn’t stay here. He couldn’t do this. Panic began to surge through him, suffocating him. He needed to leave. He needed to get out of here. There was a reason why he had never been to a game; been to any of his games, since then.

Rising to his feet, he began to move, desperate to get away from the dark thoughts and emotions that haunted him. Or at least he tried as a strong arm reached out and grabbed him. A strong hand that refused to let him go even as he began to shake. He wanted to get himself free of the strong grasp, needing to get out of this place, but they wouldn’t let him go.

“You’re not leaving, Mike. Jordan wants you to be here…he’s always wanted you to be here,” his friend told him. “You can’t keep running away.”

I exited the back door of my small house and into the walled-in back garden. The yard was not much bigger than a postage stamp but Trudy and Guy Tremblay, the former owners had made the most of the small space. Guy had layered in ground cover, flowers, shrubs and bushes in artfully display of colour texture and scent. I loved the private backyard and the outdoor shower.

I opened the cedar door with a protesting squawk from the metal spring. I stepped inside and although the moon had not risen yet, I could just make out the interior.

The shower was cedar lined with a teak floor Guy had salvaged from a sailboat cockpit. The wooden grid allowed the water from the rain spout shower head to pass through to the drain that was channeled to the plants.

A row of brass hook held a fresh towel and a bath puff. I wasn’t here to shower, at least not yet. I stripped off my tank top and panties and hung them on the hooks.

I stretched my well developed arms over my head. Then bent forward to stretch my hamstrings. None of this was actually necessary, but it did feel good to loosen up my limbs. I needed to run, badly.

I had woken up from the nightmare of killing Geoff Howard, again.

As I straightened I let out a long stream of breath and some of the tension went with it. I rubbed my eyes and face trying to erase the visions in the dream. The problem was, the dream matched reality to a T.

Geoff had been a member of my pack and run pack security with me. I never liked Geoff that much. We didn’t always get along but we could work together. At least I had thought we had worked together until our alphas, Iain and Jess had discovered the beta was behind a death and poisoning of two other pack members.

Geoff had been possessed a minor demon that was preparing the way for its master. Iain, the new alphas for non wolf Shapeshifters Will Conall and Helly Cooper, and I had taken Geoff on.

He went crazy and stupid deadly. I did what I could as my wolf. My half form was not as strong then. Not like it is now. But I still managed to tear our his throat.

I could remember every detail. The spurt of his blood and the feel of his flesh as it gave way under my teeth. The taste of bile and the rank smell. It made me want to puke again.

Instead I opened myself up to the pool of magic that resided inside me. I dropped all my barriers and felt the power wash over me. It reshaped me and released my wolf.

It only took a couple of seconds for me to change shape. I hold a respectable amount of power and my transformation is swift and easy. I stood on four paws and breathe in a lung full of the heavy night air.

Everything was sharper and clearer in my wolf form. Images hidden by the night came in to focus. The tang of small animals that wanted to stay out of my way made my nose twitch. Things became less complicated in this shape and I liked that.

I turned and used my head and shoulders to push the double hinged door open. It was nothing to trot out to the back gate and clear the six foot stone wall. I could have used the gate, there was a loop of rope attached to the latch, but it was fiddly and I just wanted to run.

I landed with barely a whisper outside of the wall and let my claws dig into the soft dirt and dried grass. I wasted no time powering myself forward with my front paws biting into the turf and my hind quarters gathered under me to thrust me forward.

Running released the tension and stress, I dropped my head, laid my ears back and took the next ridge. I planned to stay on pack land. The Vancouver Island Clan had not yet announced our presence to the world, although I knew Iain, my alpha was gearing up for it.

I would still have to remain unseen at least for now. I turned and headed down to the gun range. This was new. After seeing how silver shot worked on the deadly menace that Geoff had evolved into, Iain set it up and we, the security team obtained firearm acquisition permits. Then the target practice had begun and it turns out I’m not a bad shot.

I ran along behind the target bunker and leaped over the barricades, confident no one would be here in the middle of the night.

So when a huge coal black wolf stepped out of the shadows and his black yes glinted back at me, I was surprised to say the least.

His scent drifted over to me and invaded my nose. He was not pack. He was not one of mine and he was was in my territory.

I charged. It didn’t matter that he was bigger, broader, more heavily muscled. I slammed into him and knocked him back. As I said, I’m a big girl.

I turned and slammed into him again, this time he went down. I knew he let me knock him down but unless he was going to challenge me, he had to submit.

The big black beast folded is legs and dropped down to his belly. His jaws parted and he flash his teeth, like he was laughing at me. He rolled onto his back and stretched out to his full length, tongue lulling, exposing his belly.

I narrowed my eyes and leaped on top of him with a growl. I put his throat between my teeth and gripped it a bit harder than I normally would have. He stiffened and his mood abruptly sobered.

I growled long and low in my throat and waited.

He whined an acceptance.

Slowly I released his throat and stepped off of him.

He shifted and stood up rubbing at his corded neck. “You play rough.” His smile was wide and teasing. I couldn’t make out his eye colour in the dim light, but they sparkled with mirth.

From the burgeoning moon I could see he was a large man too. The same height as Iain and a bit broader than Will. He had a riot of red hair standing out from his head and a matching bushy beard. The beard brushed his sculpted naked chest and I tracked a line of darker hair down his body. I cut my examination short of the goods. I didn’t want to be distracted.

I shifted and stood a few feet away. The distance would give me a chance to shift back again if I needed to or kick the crap out of him if that was required.

“Who are you and what are you doing on VIC Pack land?” I demanded.

“Being accosted by a beautiful she wolf, apparently,” He said pleasantly as he spread his hands like he would offer me no harm. The man had a slight accent and it tickled my ear. His grin stayed in place as he stepped toward me, closing the gap.

“Answer the question,” I bit out. I didn’t move, I couldn’t let him see he intimidated me.

“Fine, my love,” he took another step. “I’m Zavier Koering, I work for SPS and I’m a friend of Will Conall and Helly Cooper.” His eyes were traveling over me suggestively.

“I am not your love and you weren’t supposed to be here until tomorrow morning,” I said tersely. He was making me blush with his intense scrutiny. “And stop staring. Shapeshifters usually have better manners,” I snapped.

“You are very beautiful and I’m not most shapeshifters.” He took another step. How did I know he would say that?

“I can see that.” As the words left my mouth, I wanted to bite them back.

Koering chuckled smugly.

I held onto my patience by a mere thread. “What are you doing out here in the middle of the night?”

“Checking out the lay of the land. What’s you name?” He arched one copper eyebrow at me.

“Lottie Fistbinder, head of pack security.” I used my best glower on him.

“Ah, I thought you might be. This is excellent.” If anything his smile grew more wolffish. “Lottie is short for Charlotte? Yes?” He was standing only inches from me now. I could feel the heat radiating off of his skin.

“Yes, but everyone calls me Lottie.”

“Must I remind you, I am not everyone?” Zavier said as he ran one finger tip over the my skin over my collar bone.

Now I did jump back. “Keep your hands to yourself unless invited otherwise.”

“Will you Charlotte? Will you invite me?”

“Depends.” I tipped my head to the side, then swept his feet out from under him. He landed hard on his butt. “If you respect me or not.”

Wow. I don’t even like shapeshifter or first person stories much, but this story is awesome! It’s ready to be published. Right?

This is the first draft for book 3 in my VIC Shapeshifter series. Hopefully it will be a Nocturne. *fingerscrossed*

So this is kind of following on from the last post I did. They have managed to escape.

The colour started to return to Sera’s skin. Raith shifted in his seat to regain some circulation in his lower body. Looking down at her upturned face, he saw innocent eyes that couldn’t believe what she had just done. The ache in his chest, building like a balloon that was inflating to breaking point.
How could she keep a secret like that from me? I can’t let this happen again. His shoulders slumped forward and he shook his head.
“Raith?” Sera’s eyebrows knitted together. She looked like a puppy that knew it had done something wrong. “Are you okay?”
“Yeah. I’ll be fine,” he lied. The truth was, he wasn’t sure if he would ever be fine. Once bitten, twice shy, kept bouncing around in his head. Betrayed once more by someone that he had strong feelings for. The twisting worms in his stomach, knotting and writhing, were making him feel nauseous.
He took her hands in his, and raised himself off the chair, pulling her up with him. He took a deep, pained breath and closed his eyes. Helping her to get out of this concrete jail and safely home was the least, and maybe the last, thing he could do for her now. Especially as she had just been the one to save him. He couldn’t look at her, as he directed her towards the open door that Balthazar had escaped through.
“Raith. Please tell me what’s wrong?” She stopped in front of him, trying to get his attention, concern evident in her voice.
“I think you know exactly what’s wrong.” The words spat out before he could keep them in check. He turned away from her and headed towards the door himself.
“It’s about my father, isn’t it. About who he is?” Her arms were on her hips.
Raith stopped but didn’t turn towards her. “Why didn’t you tell me the truth, Sera. Why didn’t you trust me?” He whispered.
“Because you hate everything he stands for,” Sera reached out to touch him, “and because I was afraid you wouldn’t want to be with me anymore once you knew.”
She was right, he didn’t want to be around her right now. Knowing her father was the fallen one, the enemy, stirred old memories that he tried to forget a long time ago. Memories of his first wife, and the actions that ultimately lead to his demise. How could he entertain such a relationship again? A relationship with his sworn enemy’s daughter.
The situation that they escaped from, proved to him that it was too dangerous. His lips pressed together.
“Let’s get you home.” He gestured towards the door to allow Sera to leave first. His gaze concentrated on the cold hard concrete floor, refusing to look at her face. Because if he did, he knew, his heart would break.

“I’m so sorry!” Jeeli pulled her shopping cart back toward herself, her eyes round with concern.

The man merely chuckled, “You can’t hurt me.” He then reached into her cart and straightened the box of cereal that had fallen. His eyebrow arched in judgment at the pre-sweetened cartooned choice she had made, even as her eyebrow had arched at the intimate presumptuousness of his reaching into her cart.

He raised the opposite eyebrow of hers, so her left raised with his right as though in sync with each other. The thought made her have to keep from chuckling. She put her chin up and primly murmured, “Thank you.”

Jeeli now shook her head, trying to banish the memory of the moment she met MacKyle. He had lied to her the moment they met. She could hurt him. What she had done was unforgivable, and she would have to live with the loss for the rest of her life. MacKyle was well and truly in her past. Jeeli turned away from window she had been standing in front of, as though she had actually been looking out of it.

As she headed toward the pantry to check for the possibility of sandwich cookies before bed, her purse started buzzing, and a song started to play. It was MacKyle’s ring tone, the first song they had danced together. At first Jeeli froze in apprehension, and then rushed to dig her phone out of her bag.

I was a little confused, but I’m assuming the first section is her memory of the first meeting and the rest is now. I liked the cute meet. He sounds intriguing.

Yes, your only clue is “Jeeli now…” at the beginning of the fourth paragraph. With italics or something it would have been clearer, that and my nerves, as it’s the first time I’ve posted. Thank you to both of you for your replies!

I liked it, I intuited some vulnerability but also some bravado from her raising her chin to respond to the man in the aisle. She has something going on in her life which is interesting.

Jody’s jaw dropped, her eyes filled with suspicion. “So you’re agreeing to my demands? All of them?”
“Are there any more?”
“Add frozen pizza, chicken nuggets, frozen chips and apples to your shopping list. The nanny is going to need them if she has any hope of controlling the boys. Little ruffians that they are.”
A laugh bubbled up in Christian’s stomach. To see a woman so fond of her children, so clearly adoring, yet so honest about their potential for being less than well-behaved. It was refreshing.
“What?” Jody fixed him with a don’t-mess-with-me stare. “Are you about to tell me off for allowing them to eat that crap? You don’t have kids. You’ve no idea about what they will and won’t eat. Although I suppose kids like yourself who were raised with silver spoons in your mouth were brought up on caviar and snails and I don’t know… frogs legs cooked in butter milked from the finest cows and churned by hand.”
Christian threw back his head and laughed. She had no idea about his past, about where he came from. If she only knew… Not that she would. Or could. He’d figured out early on in his career that if people discovered his past they would see him as weak, as unequal, so he’d made sure to cover up his roots. More than that, he’d taken to them with a scythe until not one was left. Well. Not quite. There was one. Tied to him. Part of him. A miniature version of him.
Christian’s laugh stopped short as his heart twisted. Memories of little fingers wrapped tightly around his index finger. Eyes the same shade of grey staring into his with such trust. Too young to understand love, but old enough to realise when he was in the arms of those that would keep him safe, no matter what. The day his son was born he’d sworn he would do his best for him, give him anything and everything he wanted. He’d work his fingers to the bone to ensure his upbringing was night and day from his own.
That vow had been his demise.
“I’m sorry. Did I say something wrong?”
The concern in Jody’s voice brought him back to the room. Had his pain shown so clearly?
Christian cleared this throat, hoping the action would move the lump that had lodged itself there. “No. You’ve said nothing wrong. Though how you can feed your children that tripe is beyond me.”
Jody squirmed in her seat. “Well I did say ‘apples’. Lots of them. I really need to plant an orchard. It’d save me a fortune. Although they do have a habit of sneaking over to the neighbour’s and raiding their tree, so there’s that I suppose. Besides, I’d rather see them fed on ‘tripe’ as you called it, than starving and getting all fractious with hunger.”
Christian nodded his acceptance. He knew something about being so hungry your stomach felt like it was eating itself. Being so desperate for food that garden snails held temptation.
“I’ll ensure your wishes are on the grocery list.”
“Excellent. Thank you.”

Interesting, Kellie. Makes me wonder what he is going to do with the kids. Sounds like he’s the new nanny or caretaker?

“You aren’t listening to me, Nicole. I have to arrange care for Alexis before I go.”
Most of all, he wanted to escape Nicole as soon as possible. He was feeling things about her he didn’t want to feel. Yearnings and desire. Things he didn’t have time for right now. He’d been safe with Renée, they were just friends helping each other out. Renée was in desperate straits and needed the security a marriage of convenience provided her and her unborn child. Something Nicole was unaware of as far as he knew. He promised Renée he wouldn’t tell anyone her secret, including her younger sister. Everyone thought he was Alexis’ real father and that’s the way it was gonna be.
Nicole smiled and nuzzled the baby’s cheek. Alexis giggled and pushed her away, then grasped her t-shirt and pulled closer again. “You don’t have to arrange anything. Just give the baby to me. I’ll raise her, and you can come and visit occasionally. It wouldn’t be much different for her than it is now.”
“That’s a low blow, Nicole.” It irritated him at how close to the truth she was and damn if it wasn’t another thorn in his side. Being home as much as humanly possible over the past six months had given him the chance to fall in love with the baby. No way was he willing to give up what was legally his in the eyes of the law. “My career takes me away sometimes, and I come home when I can.”
“Do you?”
“Yes, damn it.”
“Don’t swear in front of the baby, Brett. She’ll be talking soon, and I don’t want her first words to be swear words.” Nicole tickled Alexis, and smiled as she giggled and squirmed.
“She’s my daughter.” He had to remind her of that fact quite often.
Why was he even arguing with her? Just because she was his late wife’s sister didn’t give her the right to sass him. True, she had pitched in and helped out when he didn’t know what else to do with a newborn baby during the height of rodeo season. He couldn’t have dropped out and still held onto his placement in the finals.
Nicole had been very understanding, considering her own loss. Renée was her only sibling and the last of her living relatives, until the baby’s birth. Alexis filled Nicole’s lonely hours of grief with her infant need for constant care. He’d sensed their growing attachment to each other several weeks ago. And, damn, if he wasn’t becoming attached to Nicole, too. He had to nip that feeling in the bud. Pronto.
“She’s my niece.” Nicole’s cheeks always flushed when she was emotional. But she wouldn’t get her way this time.
“That’s not the same as being her parent, and you know it.” He removed Alexis from her arms and slung the jabbering baby onto his hip as he stood. “I’m her daddy, and I’ll decide what’s best for her. If you don’t want to stay and be her nanny, then I’ll find someone else to do the job.”
She scrambled to her feet. “I don’t want my niece raised by a stranger.”
“Better than someone who plans to leave soon.”
A frown the size of Texas flashed across her face. “Yourself included? I have every right to her. You don’t want her. Be honest, Brett.”

She sure was cute, Reid had to admit as he pushed his tall, lean, and tired body up from the corner table and crossed to the counter. He took advantage of the natural downward direction of his gaze in refilling his coffee cup to flick another surreptitious glance at the strong but feminine lines of her stellar legs before allowing a sigh of regret. Too bad she was pariah on this island.

“Don’t even think about it,” Tyler murmured from where he was filling his own cup.

Reid rolled his eyes at the decaf his friend and co-worker had just poured. “For Pete sake, Ty, drink the real stuff or don’t drink it at all. And I wasn’t thinking, I was just looking.”

“It’s Washington, anyone who doesn’t have a coffee cup in his hand needs to get out of the state. And you were thinking. You’re always thinking. It’s what Ph.Ds do.”

“Well,” the word was drawn out when Reid’s ever present self-honesty surfaced. “I wasn’t thinking like a Ph.D.”

“I know what you’re thinking. I’m trying not to think the same thing. But if you get involved with her, either mentally or physically, you’ll be a persona non grata too. It was crazy of them to send her up here. This island’s pretty easy-going, but not about that. And in our field, we might always be thinking, but it will be hard to be earning, unless we get grants.”

Ty took a sip of his coffee and hummed in appreciation. Reid didn’t think any humming should be allowed with coffee that wasn’t accompanied by caffeine. He took a sip of his own brew, savoring the bold flavor that burst in his mouth in harmony with perfect temperature. More importantly, relishing the caffeine that was finally starting with the second cup to zip through his synapses. Synapses that were in the dead zone after having been up all night working on his project. He closed his eyes and wasn’t surprised to see the woman with world-class legs and hesitant smile behind his tired lids. Not wanting to let go of the vision, it was with reluctance that he opened them when Ty spoke again.

“And to get the grants, you need to have a good reputation.” His buddy gave a slight head dip in the direction behind him. “And she might give you a lot of things, my friend, but a good reputation isn’t one of them.” Ty’s eyes narrowed in accusation. “Oh, man! Did you just smile at her?”

Reid’s blue eyes crinkled at the corners in well-traveled creases as he turned the crooked grin to his friend. “I can’t help it. She looks so…earnest. Like a puppy looking for a home and approval after being ignored at the shelter for weeks.”

There was no answering smile on Ty’s face as he capped his coffee. “Don’t give her approval, buddy. Or you’ll be the one looking for a home.”

I know, I know. Upon review, I did just what you said not to do – weave a back story into dialogue. I shall put on the ‘cone of shame.’

They looked at each other for a few seconds, neither one of them speaking. In the past she’d seen him many times from a distance, but this was the first time she’d seen him up close before. He was very handsome, his broad shoulders and muscular body seemed to take up all the room, even here, in the outdoors. His dark brown eyes looked at her as if he was looking directly into her Essence, and even though she knew he couldn’t get past the block she unconsciously put up, it sure looked like he was having no trouble getting around it.

“Devlin.” Her voice was a low squeak and she could only hope he thought it was because of the ordeal she’d just gone through and not because of how his closeness affected her.

“Are you alright.” His rich, deep voice, although cool and aloof, made the muscles in her belly quiver.

“Fine.” She said as she turned from him and started to walk away.

“You don’t look fine.” He said as he grabbed her arm gently to stop her. “What just happened here?”

“None of your business.” She spoke as she turned towards him. Now that she was face-to-face with him she couldn’t make herself talk to him like she’d wanted to. Her tongue felt three sizes too big and she felt the ingrained distrust of the Protectors kick in as she looked at him. Her mind was unable to think of anything except for the heat she felt from his closeness.

“What’s going on Celeste?” He asked as if she hadn’t spoken.

“Go away, leave me alone.”

“Go away?” He looked at her with a comic exaggeration of confusion. “You’re the one who called me, honey. Either you have something to say, or you don’t. Either way, you’ve got two minutes then I’m out of here.”

They stood, looking at each other, measuring each other. The silence stretched as thoughts raced through her mind and he watched her. Earlier she’d wanted to talk to him, knew she had to talk to him because she wanted his help, needed his help really. But now, with him standing right here in front of her, his Essence taking up all the room around them, the memory of the fear she’d felt earlier fading into the recesses of her mind, she couldn’t stop her learned animosity of him, of his type, from leaping forward.

She searched his face, behind the mask of his exaggerated confusion she could see he was a good man. He’s right, she thought, I guess I did call him. She sighed.

“Alright.” She took a step back and pulled her arm from his fingers as if only just realizing he still had his hand, warm and strong, on her arm. “I need your help.”

“Sure you do.” He cocked an eyebrow at her as he folded his arms across his broad chest and laughed.

“What you saw back there,” She ignored his sarcasm as she gestured to the area behind her.
“what they were doing there, they were searching my mind.”

“I’ve heard of it.” He scoffed.

“They were searching for the proof they believe is there, the proof Jake believes is there, that I’m up to something, up to something that will cause the family problems.”

“And?”

“They know something has changed, that somehow I’ve changed, but they don’t know exactly what it is.”

“Un huh.”

“And I wanted to talk to you because I think you might be the only one who can help me.”

“Go on.” The disbelief in his voice, and his little knowing grin, were getting on her nerves.

“While they were searching I had the opportunity to do a little searching of my own. Devlin, I’m worried about Jake, he’s begun to turn them all against me, he’s planning to get them on his side by explaining to them how he knows what I’m planning. Something he’s going to have them thinking of as my defection.”

“Let me get this straight. You want me to believe that your cousin, the one you are the closest to, has turned against you?” He leaned forward and looked into her eyes. “I’ve been around long enough to have seen the truth with my own eyes Celeste, and what you’re talking about, that’s not what I’ve seen. What I’ve seen tells me that you’re the one who’s up to something, something you’re trying to involve me in, or more likely something you need to use me for. And let me tell you right now, not interested.”

“What’s the matter with you?” Her annoyance took hold of her, he backed up in the face of it, but he still had that annoying, knowing smile on his face. “Have you ever had anything like this happen before? Have you ever heard of it happening to anyone before? No Can’t you just pretend for one moment that I’m serious?”

“Sure, sure I can.” He stopped smiling then, the twinkle left his eye, and he turned to stone.

“You’re serious, I get it. Now, get on with it.”

“You’ve been around me for a long time Devlin, watching every now and again. No one else was aware of you, but I’ve felt you there.” She struggled to make him understand. “You know as well as I do that I’ve never mentioned it to anyone, didn’t you ever wonder why?”

“One minute left.” He said as he shrugged his shoulders and shook his head no slightly.

“My life has been a path of confusion for a very long time. I can’t remember a time when I wasn’t confused about everything, that’s how bad it’s been. There are just some things that have never made any sense to me. The more time that passes, the more I hear, the more I learn, the questions I have that don’t get answered. . . . I just have more questions. No answers.”

“What’s that got to do with me?”

“I’ve been looking for a long time and I think.” She paused and looked at him. She swallowed and, hoping she could trust him, carried on. “I think you’re the only one who can give me those answers.”

“What’s the punch line?”

“What do you mean?”

“Do you have backup hiding behind the bushes?” He said as he dropped his hands and gestured around them. “Do you think your little performance is enough to convince me you’re not up to no good? You’re a good actress, I’ll give you that, but you’re not that good.”

“This isn’t a joke ” She felt her anger growing. Here she was, trying to bare her soul and ask for help and he has the nerve to stand there with his smug look and tiny grin. “There’s no one hiding in the bushes, no tribunal ready to rip you apart There’s only me, asking you for help ”

“I find that very hard to believe.” He stepped forward, grabbed her by the arms and pulled her to him. “You’re trying to tell me that you, Celeste Kendrick, a descendant of Thomas Hammond, is looking for help from me, a Protector, the sworn enemy? I don’t think so.”

“Let me go ” She jerked back and he let her go and took a step back. She stood, breathing hard, looking at him. His anger was written all over his face now, the smug look and humor wiped away. He glared at her and she felt it on her skin like ice.

“Go find someone else to do whatever dirty work you have up your sleeve, I’m really not interested.”

“Fine ” Tears stung her eyes as shame, anger and frustration got the better of her and she forgot how badly she needed help in the face of his disbelief.

“Your act has been quite convincing, however I am not so easily fooled.” He stepped closer and looked her square in the eye. “I will not be the one you use in your deceptions.”

“You’re so blinded by your own beliefs, your own prejudices, that you can’t see what’s right in front of your face ”

“Do not presume to know anything about me. You do not know . . .”

“Oh, but I do know I know more than you think I do ” She crossed her arms across her chest to stop him from seeing her shaking. “I know who you are and I know who you were ”

“You are treading on dangerous ground.” His voice was as hard as steel, his look cold and imposing.

“I know what happened to your wife and I know that’s why you took up being a Protector.”

“Heed my advice and do not continue along this path.”

“Go on Get out of here then I don’t need you ” She turned and ran from him, tears hot on her cheeks. She didn’t look back as she ran, her anger giving her back the strength that had been wiped from her during her recent confrontation with Jake.

All around me life is in motion yet it feels like I’m rooted in place. I watch the smiles and the laughs that are plastered on the faces of people my age as they have their fun and I envy them. I don’t get to do that. I never get to do that. I always have to work and make money; earn my keep and pay my dues as Dad likes to remind me. Even God took a day off once a week. But I don’t even get that.

I take in the couple on my left as they talk about their evening plans. Maybe the sooner I get done; I can do something too. Dad wouldn’t have to know. I can just tell him I was still out doing my work and go catch a movie or something. I haven’t seen a movie in so long though, I don’t even know what’s good. But it doesn’t matter. I’ll be having some much needed me time. Yet to do that, I need the right person for the job. One good job and then I can be free for today. I shake my head to focus as I look around for my next prey.

As if the answers to my non-existent prayers are answered, I see it coming before it does. A little boy loses a scoop of his ice cream on the ground as he chases after his friend. A woman walks right on it and slips several feet in front of me. Her name brand bag hits the ground and erupts, her belongings springing free. My eyes zero in on the matching Gucci wallet and ruby teardrop necklace –surrounded in 1K diamonds and still in its ribboned case, I might add –and I know it’s going to be a good day.

I grab my bag off the fountain and hoist it on my shoulder as I drag my sunglasses down over my eyes. Air fills my lungs as I ready myself. It’s game time.

This is a game. It’s only a game. No one’s getting hurt.

But no matter how many times I try to tell myself this, it never seems to stick. Because inside, I know the truth. This isn’t a game I’m playing and people are getting hurt by my actions. However, realizing this and making an effort to never do it again are two separate matters entirely since I know I won’t stop until my debt has been paid.

I slowly start to approach the frantic woman. Only ten paces away. Almost there. I just need to keep going.

You don’t have to do this again, Amethyst.

I shake my head to clear those thoughts. Only eight paces away. I can do this. This is child’s play from the other things I’ve done.

It’s not too late. What would Mom think?

That gets me to stop. What would she think? She’d be disappointed in me. No, she’d be angry. Furious. Probably tan my hide until it’s as dark as night, for everything I’ve done. But it’s not like I have a choice.

Mom’s voice echoes in my mind. It’s soft, almost inaudible, as if the years since I’ve last heard it has dampened its volume. You always have choices in life, Amethyst. What’s important is what you decide to do with them.

My choice. My choice. This is my choice. I’m doing this for her after all.

My feet begin moving again as my eyes zero in on those precious targets.

Only four paces away.

Soon, I crouch down in front of the woman and smile easily; my insides nowhere near reflecting that ease as it dips in guilt. “Here, let me help you.”

She sure was cute, Reid Foster had to admit as he rose from his seat at the corner table to cross to where the urns of coffee beckoned at the counter. He winced slightly as a few rogue muscles in his otherwise eminently fit six-foot-frame complained at the insult of 24 hours without sleep.

“Hush,” Reid murmured to the whiners. “More caffeine is coming.” He rolled his shoulders before pouring a cup of the darkest brew available. It was also the urn closest to her. Two birds, one stone. His mom hadn’t raised any dummies in her brood of six. Mom had also taught her horde not to stare, so Reid took advantage of the natural downward direction of his eyes in refilling his coffee cup to flick a look at the stellar legs two urns over. Tanned legs well framed between a pair of sensible shorts and well-worn Chacos. Reid glanced behind the woman to the rain that frequently graced the Northwest, currently drizzling down the large glass windows that fronted the coffee shop, before returning his attention to the legs. He definitely enjoyed the view, but for her sake, he hoped she’d packed something else.

He took a long sip of java, closing his eyes in appreciation of the bold burst of flavor and the beginning creep of caffeine that was needed to jolt currently slumbering synapses. Opening his eyes half-mast, he took another moment to enjoy the world-class legs. Legs that were sporting goose bumps under the tan. With a sigh, Reid turned to his table, blocking out the sight and the itch in his fingers to warm the chilled skin.

Too bad that for him, she was untouchable.

Well, not untouchable, Reid amended as he strolled back to his chair. He’d learned from the pursuit and achievement of his Ph.D. and from life in general that nothing was untouchable if you really wanted to touch it. It was just that some things you shouldn’t. Not if you valued your safety, which he admittedly hadn’t always done in his youth. Or valued your job and current home. Which, Reid acknowledged with a wry smile, might be of a little more importance to him now. It wasn’t as if opportunities in his type of work were thick on the ground. Or in the water, in his case.

And he liked his work. Actually he loved his work. Reid took a seat, adjusting the angle of the chair so the woman was in his direct line of sight, before stretching out his lean muscular legs. Calloused fingers that had been outside all night working in the abnormally cold May wrapped around his coffee, absorbing the warmth that seeped through the mug.

Reid figured he could like the woman. She was just his type. Cute. He was betting she was perky. She looked a picture that might accompany the definition of perky if dictionary.com had pictures. Let his brother Reece have the sultry high-maintenance women. Reid went for perky every time. He went for them, but he didn’t keep them. Keeping women took too much time away from his work. He’d worked too hard to get this job to allow any distractions. And this one might be cute with a capital C and perky with a capital P, but she was also trouble with a capital T. At least here on the island.

The news had been out she was coming long before she’d arrived. Reid was vaguely surprised someone hadn’t pushed her off the ferry from the tone of the ensuing response. He leaned back in his chair, watching her glance around with a hopeful smile. Won’t find any smiles for you here, sweetheart.

He wondered why they’d sent her up to the island. Surely they knew it would be like sending Daniel into the lions’ den. It wasn’t that people here were mean. They were incredibly accepting. But not to her. And he couldn’t be either, not if he wanted to keep his grants and consequently his job.

But he couldn’t help the half-smile that curled his lips when her earnest glance locked with his self-amused gaze. When she started over to his table, she looked like a puppy that had finally been picked out at the pound. As she crossed the room, Reid took in the subtle and not so subtle attention of the rest of the coffee shop patrons.

Darn it, he like perky. But he loved his job. It was no contest.

Edwina threw her jacket on the bed and kicked off her heels. The work week was over and the wooden chair in the corner of the room was piled high with limp, white blouses and black polyester skirts ready for the wash. If she could find something to wear tonight, she could pretend that the Laundromat wasn’t down the street from her shared flat. Vancouver was an expensive city to live in.
Maybe it wasn’t a date. Declan played violin in the orchestra for the operatic performances. He had told her that in the break room at work, explaining why he was listening to something other than electronic as if it were a bad habit that he needed to apologize for instead of something interesting. The music pulled her out of herself.
“Mimi and Rodolfo in La Boheme, I love that aria. It’s so romantic and tragic that she lives alone in poverty.”
“Yeah.”
This was a day job, something to keep him alive until he could get into his master’s program.
“So, what’s your story?” he had asked her.
As if it was something she could put out there. He had nodded like she had gone into a long description and gone back to his coffee. His grey eyes had changed color when they looked at her.
The note was on her desk, tucked under her mouse so that she wouldn’t miss it.
“if you’re free next Friday, I have an extra ticket .”

Kelly sat there wiping sweat that trickled down her neck into her bosom when the office door opens and the boss tossed a large folder on the desk startling her.
There was a moment of silence with intense scrutiny as the boss stared at her in silence. He hadn’t even blinked once as he pushed the folder towards her. Kelly looked at it her hands shaking under the table. She had hoped no one bothered with a background check and that she could just continue working and moving on with her life.
I hired you because it seemed fitting at the time. You’ve done quite an excellent job here but then I received this. Brian Sampson pushed the folder right unto her lap. Kelly put it back on the desk. She knew what it was and didn’t bother looking at it. Who’d want to hire someone with her background?No one. Who got arrested for hustling on the streets? She did but it was for a good cause. Kelly only did those things to help her mother out who was struggling to make ends meet since their dad left them high and dry. At the time, it seemed fitting than waiting on phone calls from various jobs and not having a guarantee that she would have been hired at the time. Kelly had grew tired of waiting and waiting for a job and when she had one she worked there until the manager made an unwanted pass at her and she left only after kicking his precious jewels in the refrigerator of the restaurant where she used to work.
Look at them. Mr. Brian Sampson said.
It looks like I might be sitting here for awhile reading these so maybe another time. I still got some things to do the missing woman case.
Not today, he said standing looming over her like a big bear sniffing the air for food. Kelly gripped the arms of the chair a bit too tight until she nearly broke a few nails.
Explain to me why I don’t see a BA in journalism? I have high expectations for my company and you are lacking in some degrees here. I don’t think you are qualified enough and you have no evidence of a mock tape interview in which I clearly stressed at your first interview.
Are you saying I can’t work here because there’s a few stupid missing items? I worked really hard to get to where I am today and you can’t hold that against me.
Its not just that I’m holding against you. He said. I received a phone call from an anonymous source that you used to work for a notorious mobster.
What? Why would someone say such a thing like that? Kelly laughed. Brian is not amused.
Kelly stopped laughing as she could see the seriousness in his eyes. It was only for a short time. Nothing serious. She needed fast cash and she was fast at the wheel so she did what she had to do. It never donned on her what the boss did as long as she was paid and made it home in time to help around the house and it was also the last thing she did too. It nearly cost her brother’s life and she vowed never to return and it seems as if its caught up to her. Why did she have to pick journalism? There were plenty of safe choices out there and she got the one job that could very well end her career and her life for good. Brian Sampson didn’t want her near his business and she had to go. If the mobsters caught her, they’ll take everybody down with her and he couldn’t risk putting his staff in harm’s way.
You have to leave.
Why?
You’re going to get us all killed if I let you stay. You’re not telling me anything at all like its some big secret and therefore you need to leave. You worked for the most notorious man in the state and you expect me to let you work with this company? I can’t have them busting the place up if they come looking for you. You’re fired.
Kelly sat there. What could she do? She was masquerading as a journalist and that was a huge mistake and they could come looking for her. Especially since she saw the incident that could tear her whole world apart. She’d been running from them along time and made her escape to the other side of the country taking on a new identity and her family too.
Brian came from around his desk to sit in front of her.
I can’t guarantee your safety but I can my staff. You have to leave now before they come find you. I rather keep them all safe.
What about me? What about my safety? I didn’t mean for any of this to happen and I was just a kid back then.
Look, I’m sorry but you need to leave. These people don’t care nothing about how long it’s been. If you worked for them the stains are still there and can’t be washed off. Leave now or I’ll have the police escort you out.
Kelly stood up and headed towards the door. She didn’t bother looking back at him. Brian Sampson was right. She was really a liar but with good reason and getting on the news was the only way to get the police to investigate a possible murder even if it meant her own.

Josiah awoke with a start, sitting straight up in his bed. Not his bed, where was he? He surveys his surroundings, the floral decorated walls and blankets barely visible from the moonlight filtering through the window. Shayla’s Guest room he realizes, but what woke him? He glanced at the bedside clock, one-fifteen in the morning.
Laying back down a soft creak drifted to his ears, the sound came from the stairs. No one should be up at this hour, another creak filled the air, louder than the first.
He slid the drawer open on the nightstand, retrieving his glock, he checked the chamber to assure himself it was loaded before walking silently to his door. He slipped out, listening for the tell-tale sounds of the intruder.
A shuffling and rattling penetrated the silence to his right. He made his way to the living room, a shadowy figure was bent over digging through Shayla’s chest by the sofa.

“Hold it right there!”
The voice caught her off guard causing her to hit her already sore head on the lid of the chest on her way up.
The clicking sound of a gun being cocked and ready to shoot causing her heart to race and her face to drain of it’s color as she came face to face with a man aiming the deadly weapon at her chest.
She held up trembling hands, “Wh-what do y-you want?”
“Shayla?”
The familiarity of the voice finally registering, “Josiah? What are you doing?” Her legs gave out from under her as relief overwhelmed her. Strong arms pulled her back up and onto the sofa before she could hit the ground.
“Sorry, I heard someone on the stairs, I assumed the worst. are you okay?” Deep concern laced each word.
“I’m fine, I’d rather you did assume the worse and it’s not, then let your guard down and it turn out to be the worst when it’s too late.” She could hear the tremble in her voice, she only hoped he didn’t notice.
She stood after a minute, regathering her composure, “I’m going to fix some hot cocoa, would you like a cup?” She disappeared into the kitchen after he accepted her offer.

Josiah’s head was spinning. He rubbed a hand down his jaw, he couldn’t get the image of Shayla’s pale, terrified face and trembling hands out of his mind.
He could have shot her, ‘what a mistake that would’ve been. Definitely not a way to gain any of her trust in him back or earn her friendship.’
He leaned back on sofa, pinching the bridge of his nose, as another scene haunted him.
His mind transported him to a back alley in Atlanta. He was suited up, gun held at the ready, his comrades positioned at different places around an abandoned cafe. Everything was silent, the silence so thick it wrapped around him like blanket, but instead of warming him it caused him to shudder. Something was wrong, it was too quiet, he slid an inch to the left trying to get a better look in the cafe.
A bullet whizzed by his ear, blasting bits of brick into his face as the bullet lodged into the wall exactly where his head used to be no more than five seconds before.
The air filled with gunfire, bullets whizzed passed in all directions, some from his comrades and some from members of the drug ring they came to shut down. People started to spill out of the cafe, shooting in all directions he watched as one by one fell, he assisted as need, each bullet finding it’s mark.
A dark figure went around the back of the cafe, he followed, dodging bullets as he went. He closed in, took aim, “Stop where you are!” he shouted.
The man turned around quickly, gun in hand, he didn’t take time to look at the man’s face before he fired his weapon, hitting the man in the chest.
“No!” He shouted as he ran to his falling partner.
“I’m sorry. I’m so, so sorry.” He told his friend, but he knew Wyatt couldn’t hear him, his friend was gone.’
“Josiah, are you okay?” Shayla’s concerned voice and gentle touch on his shoulder pulled him back to the present.

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