I was really pleased with the entries in this category. There was a lot of great writing, but also attention to hooking the reader. I think that once we move out of the narrower genres, such as romance and mystery, writers sometimes think that it’s not as important to leave the reader in suspense. Truthfully, it’s always important to keep your audience hanging in some way. Withholding information keeps those pages turning. And from these entries, it seems like a lot of you understand that. We were impressed.
That said, let’s get to the winner. . . .
Anonymous 2:10 pm -- UNTITLED
I wasn’t sure at which point I’d be crossing that line I promised Daddy I never would. When I picked up the envelope of crisp hundred dollar bills off her desk? Or when I stuffed it in my pocket. Maybe when I walked out the door with it, onto my new life; when I was officially stealing Marcy’s dream and replacing it with mine.
I liked the heft of those forty bills in my hand. Brand new from the bank. I fanned them out like a poker hand. Daddy always liked new money. “It ain’t stealing, Noreen,” he’d tell me.
Jessica: When reading these women’s fiction entries I realized that what really grabbed my attention, besides writing and voice, of course, was potential. Where did this author leave me and what was the potential for this book? I liked this voice a lot and I definitely liked all that it left me wondering about. I’m anxious to know more about her relationship with her father, Marcy and her dream, and of course Noreen and where she’s headed. Well done and congratulations!
Kim: I just love the writing. Another example of very lean, efficient prose. On top of that we’re being introduced to a very intriguing character. Noreen is certainly flawed, but she also seems to come with a lot of baggage, which somehow makes her more sympathetic. She also clearly recognizes the gravity of her actions. She knows that she’s sacrificing her friend’s dream for her own. So what has led her to do something this desperate? I’m hooked!
Nice work, Anonymous! When you’re ready for us to critique your query letter, synopsis, and first chapter, please send them to us via the blog’s e-mail link.
On to the runners-up!
Anonymous 3:00 pm -- Lifeline
I decided I didn’t believe in lifelines when a palm reader in Tampa refused to read mine. She frowned and pushed my hand aside. “Too short,” she said, pushing my money back toward me. “I don’t deliver that kind of news.” I rolled my eyes and left.
But I reconsidered the possibility, looking down at my bloody body on the gurney, putting out a flat heart rate. “Damn,” said the tired young doctor. He sighed. “I’ll call it. Time of death, 4:20 pm.” I died on August 9th. 34 years old. I studied my palm. That is a short lifeline.
Jessica: Of course I like the paranormal element in this. I confess, I’ve always had a thing for dead people. Again, what a great setup, and there’s so much potential here for what’s going to happen next. Great voice too. As we all know, it’s all in the voice, and this book definitely has that. I really liked it.
Kim: I liked that this entry threw me for a loop. It’s not like I haven’t read books/submissions with dead narrators before. But I liked the way this one was introduced. Because the voice had a certain energy and angst in those first few sentences, it surprised me to learn he/she was no longer alive. The book could go anywhere from this point on, and I’d be eagerly turning the pages to find out what direction the author takes.
Shirley — With This Ring
Amy Kerrigan struggled to remain calm. One glance at her estranged husband made that almost impossible.
Although no longer the shy, insecure girl who came to Darkhaven as Brody’s bride, Amy feared the impending meeting. It lay over her head like the sword of Damocles.
Up ahead was Gaelen’s house, nestled in its grove of oaks.
The car turned into the avenue. The last leaves of autumn clung to the trees. Fallen leaves lay in mouldering heaps against the railings, and beneath the sod, bulbs waited for spring.
As did the malevolent secrets of Darkhaven.
Amy shivered, suddenly very afraid.
Jessica: This opening has a great gothic feel to it. I love the description, enough to give a really strong feeling for what Amy is seeing and experiencing, but not too much that it overtakes the story. And again, I love the potential for where this story might take me. Is it going to be creepy, emotional? What is going to happen with her and that house? Really, great voice and great setup.
Kim: Ummm . . . I think I’ve mentioned once or twice (or a hundred times) that I’m a sucker for gothics. This entry feels almost like an updated Rebecca. I would eat up any women’s fiction with that creepy, gothic feel, but that tackles bigger, more mature issues than just the suspense story. I’m hoping that since this entry is in women’s fiction instead of one of the romance categories that this is just where it’s leading!
Congratulations to the runners-up! Amazing work! We’ll be posting our honorable mentions tomorrow.
Now it’s time for our very last genre contest!
THE ROMANTIC SUSPENSE CONTEST IS TODAY!!!
Here are the rules — READ THEM!
1. We’ll only accept entries that are posted in the comments section of this blog article. No e-mailed entries will be considered.
2. Include your title and the first 100 words of your book. Now, we’re not saying to leave us hanging mid-sentence here. Stop wherever the previous sentence ends, but do not exceed 100 words.
3. The same work cannot be entered in more than one genre. If you think your book straddles more than one genre, you’ll have to pick one. We will, however, accept multiple works from the same author in the same or different categories.
4. Once the material is entered, it’s your final entry. We won’t allow revised versions of the same work.
5. We’re accepting excerpts of both finished and unfinished works.
6. The deadline is tomorrow, April 11th, at 9:00 a.m. EST.
And in case you’ve forgotten, the prize is a critique of the query letter, synopsis, and first chapter of the winning entry! The winner will e-mail us the additional material and we’ll provide our notes privately, not on the blog. We will, however, discuss what we liked about each winning 100-word entry on the blog, and will pull out a few honorable mentions to highlight other excerpts that came close and why.
We’ll post the winners in a few days and then recap the entire contest!!
All I can say is wow! I'm absolutely stoked to be a runner up in this competition.
There were so many good entries.
Most of my writing is dark and gothic and far from cosy comfortable.
I watched him walk into Bobby McGee’s, late.
I had been waiting for him all night.
One moment he wasn’t there; the next, blinded between strobes and pitch blackness, he faltered like a winged horse touching down on firm ground. A man who’s been drinking and no longer cares what happens.
Don’t tell me your troubles, I won’t tell you mine. I knew my kind of man by now, since I also used my sanity breaks from the High Country to lose myself in strangers who neither knew nor cared about the rest of my life.
Yes, it was dangerous.
This is what I tell my customers: “It’s written in the cards.” It sounds a lot better than saying, “Life is iffy.” But life is iffy. For example, if I didn’t have dyslexia, I’d probably have some sort of degree and a decent job instead of being a fortune teller. And if my grandmother didn’t have dementia and think she was still in 1940 and there was a German under her bed, she wouldn’t have saved my life. And if I hadn’t bet on Bittersweet Melody that day at the track, I wouldn’t have ended up stumbling onto a racing scam and stealing a million dollar race horse.
PAUL CAME AT DAWN
The San Isidro church loomed a dark hulk against the gray sky. The moon and Venus hung just over the bell tower. Paul came at dawn. He watched the old men and women shuffle to early Mass, coats and scarves pulled tight against the sharp morning air. Six times the bell shattered the clear air. Six times the echo resounded off the mountains. And six times quivers pulsed up his spine.
Again today he had awakened trembling. That damn nightmare. How did it connect? The church wasn’t in it. She wasn’t in it. Only terror and death were in it
Congratulations to the winners!
I went back on my blog's earlier post where I put my choices and seems not a one made it through.
Good thing I'm not an agent huh?
Adoption Under Fire
“Push! Come on, push!”
“You can do it, Val!”
Encouragement came from nurses and staff on all sides. Though she didn’t think she had the energy or the strength left, Val Smith pushed with all her might as the next contraction reached its peak. “Ahh!” she cried as pain, pressure, and relief came together during the final moment, leaving Val breathless and completely exhausted.
“You did it! It’s a boy!” the doctor exclaimed, wiping his sweaty forehead.
She did it. It was all over. But the moment was bittersweet, because now she would never see her baby again.
Wow! You made my day. Ok, you made my week. Hell, you made April! I had the winner and the runner up, Lifeline.
I really appreciate the chance to submit these for feedback. It's been so helpful the past few weeks reading what worked for you both. And having to pare down the beginning to 100 words made them stronger, I think.
Now there's the pesky matter of making sure the 95,000 words to follow hold your interest.
Lucky's Charm--101K words, completed manuscript, romantic suspense/thriller.
The death clock in Lucky’s head ticked silently and in rhythm with a rapid drumbeat. Two hundred yards through the rifle’s scope made the mark seem an arms length away. Each second that passed was a moment closer to the kill.
This time, what happened in Vegas wouldn’t stay in Vegas.
Keeping Conrad Andersen in the crosshairs through a small crack between the motel’s grimy curtains remained an irritation. Only a portion of the bed was in view, limiting the probability of a clean window shot. However, the opportune condition would present itself and make the job easier with the chaos left behind.
Thanks for the chance!
NEW DOCTOR IN DANGER
The huge, black SUV came barreling out of nowhere, its oversized tires straddling the double white line. Cathy jerked the wheel to the right and jammed the brake pedal to the floor. Her little Toyota spun crazily toward the ditch that bordered the narrow country road, rocking as though flicked by a giant hand.
For a moment she felt the fearful thrill of weightlessness. Then the world turned upside down, and everything went into freeze-frame slow motion. The floating sensation ended with a rending jolt.
Quiet beach, dark water barely lapping at the shore. A dim gleam of moon shrouded in clouds lit the sand in an eerie surreal glow.
“Take off your clothes.” Ephraim’s voice was an evil hiss, but it was the gleam of gunmetal that convinced me.
“Don’t do this.” I said, even as I started unbuttoning my blouse. “Please.”
His mouth slashed in a twisted grin as he repeated, “Take it off.”
I tried hard not to glance toward the dunes where Judy was hiding with her video camera. If I gave away her position he just might kill us both.
Congratulations to the winners and runners up. Good choices, as usual.
I'm looking forward to the romantic suspense entries.
The Devil She Knows
The front door slammed. The crash reverberated through the old Victorian as the plumber bolted out the front door.
Sam surveyed the third floor hall, now deceptively silent and still. It could be worse. Mr. Roberts of Roberts Plumbing and Heating could’ve had a heart attack on the landing when Aunt Helen did her thing. Who was she kidding? This sucked. She had a leaky toilet, a water stain in the middle of her bedroom ceiling roughly the size and shape of Texas, and no plumber.
Living in a haunted house could be a real pain in the butt.
SINGLE VAMPIRE MOM
Dear Sage Advice,
If I fall asleep and snore, will my date get the idea I’m bored?
Snoozing in Seattle
The date from hell was just about to finish.
Dirk Bennett had talked Kara Sands to death the whole night then had the audacity to laugh at her when she fainted at the sight of blood. This was a date not to be repeated. So here came her dilemma. He’d want a kiss. He had that look in his eye that he had no idea how badly she wanted to be home in bed.
Scars of the Prophet
The ecstasy took hold of her mind on the dance floor. I saw it dull her eyes under the blinking strobes as she spun out of control to the thumping bass. I liked her. She was like the other deviant disciples who wanted only to share the larval embraces of lust disguised as temporary love.
She would feel it tonight.
They were all the same to me. Sultry-eyed Tinkerbelle’s from fairy tales with their coy appetite for romance novel fantasies.
“You wanna go some place quite?” she asked grinding her crotch against my thigh.
“I was thinking that very thing.” I grinned.
Rachel jumped as her cell phone burst into its digital rendition of the William Tell Overture.
Late night phone calls were never good news. There were five people in the world she cared about, and she instinctively knew that something shitty was happening to one of them.
Rachel reached for the phone. The tiny screen displayed her sister’s name. Her heart skipped a beat as she flipped open the cover.
“Rachel? I’m sorry for calling so late.” Sarah’s voice shook with her apology and Rachel’s heart bled for her, again.
“It’s okay. What’s wrong?” As if she didn’t know.
This is more of a general observation and question. I've looked back over a few of the recent contest winners and it seems a high percentage are written in 1st person.
Is this a coincidence, or is it easier to grab someone's attention quickly using first person? It's certainly more personal, closer to the emotions. I'm just curious about this.
“Are you ever going to kiss me?” I heard the steel in my whisper as I tried to remember how I’d gotten into this position, draped backward over the arm of my worst nemesis. Still, to get out of this mess in one piece he needed to cooperate.
Instead, he gave me that blasted grin and asked, his voice like a breeze, “Do you want me to?”
“Of course not,” I lied. Then I clasped his face in my hands, and regained my feet as I brought my lips to his. Damn! I hoped our gunman appreciated assertive women.
The coolness of fall languished in the stale, rotting leaves at his feet, as the tall male threw his satchel to the ground. Quivering nostrils inhaled a fresh, crisp shot of air, and blew out a fine mist of warmth in return. He was well over six feet in height, and moved with a sinuous grace that was uncommon for one as large as he.
It did not bode well that Jaxon Castille was working.
In his particular area of expertise, it meant that someone was going to die.
It wouldn’t be pretty; death never was. But it would be quick.
Death. For such a small word, it sure left a world of hurt for those it touched. Today, with the bright yellow sun and cool, crisp breeze, it also mocked. If death had a voice, it would say “See, I can slither in under the door, when you least expect it, and ruin any day I want, 365 days a year.”
Lucy Mirabelle Watkins knew she’d never take life for granted again. A tear slipped down her cheek. She shoved it away. Silly to cry when she’d never met the man called Michael Cook. Not in real life, anyway.
“No way, Stinky. We posted Shuffle last week. It’s ancient history.”
“But it’s a fan fave. A boat load of emails asked for another gander.”
“Shut up. Really?”
“Fer sure. Like totally dude.”
“Well then, peeps, here goes.”
GRINDING, THIEVING AND THE QUASIMODO SHUFFLE
"What kind of burglar are you?"
My writing partner stopped fondling Jessica's pink-haired Barbie. "A really bad one. That's why I write books."
"Earth to Stinky, you suck at that too. Forget women's fiction, you never had a chance. Let's search Kim's office."
"Leave empty handed? How about this pink hat? I'd wear it."
"Pitch it. EBay has standards." I inched open Jessica's office door and pushed Stinky into the hall. "Duck below the windows."
"Too late. The neighbor's washing dishes. She's seen me."
"Quick, drop a shoulder and drag one leg. She'll think you're Kim."
"It worked. She's waving."
"That was close."
SAVE THE LAST KILL FOR HER
Hadiya ran her boat close to the undersea shelf, and cut the engines. A heavy stillness seemed to descend on the night, as oppressive as the cloak of equatorial humidity.
She was alone, apart from Ovimbi who hunkered silent on the prow watching the black blot of mainland.
There was no breeze.
Just the spatter of Milky Way across the dark vault of African sky.
Then she felt it. A silent surge beneath the hull. A sway. The life of the sea transferring motion into her body as her boat listed gently. Hadiya’s pulse quickened.
FOR HIS EYES ONLY
Lara went into the bathroom with a razor.
She looked into the small mirror above the enamel sink. Her hair was a rich mahogany -- she’d dyed it before flying into Bulgaria and catching the connection to Zurich. It was naturally blonde, her eyes an icy-blue. But the eyes that stared back at Lara tonight were hidden behind hazel contacts.
A stranger’s eyes.
The stain that lingered on her skin gave her a distinct Mediterranean look. The name she’d used to book into the Swiss pension was Hannah Klimt, the language she’d used Bavarian-accented German.
Who are you, Lara Korakovoa?
The man slouched on the edge of the bed, his fingers clutching the deadly syringe hidden in his jacket pocket. Despite the timpani drum pounding in his chest and echoing in his ears, his face was expressionless.
He stared at the naked, unsuspecting woman asleep on the bed, her slender body seductive even in repose, her blond hair a halo on the pillow.
The guilt gnawing at the man's gut did not spring from having been inside her, making love to her, earlier in the night, but from what he knew was inside her heart and mind and soul.
BLEEDING THE BEAST
Two more miles to Dark Skies.
Lily feared black magic. Maybe it was a consequence of once being held captive by The Balancer. He was a man resplendent with secrecy and shadows. She had realized this the moment he had kissed her.
In his mahogany eyes, in his long ebony hair, in his passionate gaze, her vulnerability seemed suffocating, dangerously close to revealing her desire and nearly, though not completely, blowing her cover.
One more mile to Dark Skies.
There was too much blood on her hands.
The gun slipped from her hold and landed on the marbled floor, next to his body with a clang. She covered her ears as the sound grew louder and louder and louder.
But she couldn’t shut it out--no matter how hard she tried.
You killed him. You killed him. You killed him.
She stared at the photo on the wall... the one of his wife and son. Kneeling down, she placed a kiss on his lips.
“Don’t worry,” she whispered tenderly, “I’ll take care of them, too.”
“How do I kill him?” She really needed to find a way.
Marin had been trying to figure out the best solution for hours now, but nothing worked. This guy absolutely had to die in order for her to move forward. He must be killed. It was too bad, though, since she had grown to like him. “Hmmm… maybe I’ll change his medication to a lethal dose. Yes, that’ll work.”
Marin Coltrane smiled.
Finally, the breakthrough she had been waiting for. This writing business wasn’t as easy as it looked.
Made in Hell
Today wasn’t the wedding day Julia dreamed of as a little girl. A white pony hadn’t carried her off to live happily ever after with one of the New Kids on the Block. Her hair didn’t sparkle, and her breasts hadn’t grown to d-cups. But Julia had bigger problems to worry about; namely, one too many husbands.
“Stop.” Julia waved to a houseboat attached to the pier. Paint peeled from the hull, and a flag flew from its mast. The betrayal of man and country hadn’t destroyed her belief in those colors. She was glad it hadn’t ruined his either.
Party animals, maniacs and crazies--her first New Year's Eve in the emergency room had been an eye-opener. Jana Sutherland fingered the pepper spray in her lab coat pocket. Most of the other docs on the trauma rotation at Sereno General had permits to carry concealed, but she couldn't stomach it.
She scanned the bleak waiting room, squinting at a fluorescent light. Its high-pitched buzz revved her background headache. Nineteen hours on her feet, but after this consultation, she had a couple days to sleep and--God willing--clear the stink of unwashed humanity and death from her sinuses.
The Last Magician
Norah Redfox ripped her sleeve free from the six-foot chain link fence and dropped to the ground. On her right, two pit bulls dozed, stomachs full of sirloin laced with Ambien.
Rap music blared through open windows, but Bert's angry voice boomed above the pounding bass. From inside the run-down bungalow, fear and pain radiated from her sister, LaVerne. A chill shuddered through Norah.
The bust would go down in less than ten minutes. She had to get LaVerne and the child out, or she'd have to identify both their battered, bloody corpses in the morgue. Again.
Wow, Anonymous 7:43! A winner and runner-up! Very impressive.
We look forward to seeing more.
“Do you love me?”
I liked the sound of his voice on my body. It tickled in the right places, the dead places.
“Tell me you love me.” His command was soft, terrifying.
I shook my head, slowly; the flint of anger in his eyes flared. But these were not his words to have, not from me. His long fingers wrapped around my neck, and I breathed the deep, hard breath of ecstasy. Whether orgasm or death was irrelevant, the year past had left me empty and prepared for either. And the bitter taste of ending was near.
Canyon Road -
"Are you lost?" The man's soft voice startled her. He stood in the V of her car and open door, his face in shadows, backlit by the store's fluorescents.
She hadn't noticed anyone in the parking lot. Where did he come from?
"No. I'm okay." She reached to pull the door closed but he stood in the way. Damn these helpful Midwesterners, they took niceties way too far. Oh, to be back in New York. "You need to move."
To her shock, he leaned in closer, rested an arm on the doorframe. "Well, here's the thing... I need your car."
Riley Kinney never wanted to go to war. War came to Riley. It came early one morning out the clear blue desert sky, over the gleaming minarets and so-called modern Mesopotamian architecture of the Al NaJa’ar skyline.
It came in the form of U.S. scud missiles, and it carried thick smoke into the black of night as tracer bullets glowed green arcs across the night sky and parachute flares hung surreal over the besieged and ancient city -- a city filling with the scream and thunder of tank shells.
And the terror of her animals at the Al NaJa’ar zoo.
What great winning entries!! I want to read all of those books. Great choices!
Congrats to the winners! All righty, another one in the pot. Here we go!
The man fell.
A rustling from a nearby bush, and I held my hands up as a soldier in a gas mask appeared from nowhere, pointing an M-16.
The last thing I remember after being shot was feeling dizzy as my leg gave way, meeting the ground. He stood over me, a foot straddling either side.
He kneeled, removing the mask … she, a red untidy bun. Beautiful. I hadn’t seen a woman in years.
Am I hallucinating?
She looked sharply up, hearing something. I lost consciousness, and when it came again I was being dragged along the forest floor.
Tears Before Love -
Jake Marlon cut through his corner lot and sprinted across the street. In the park, he slowed, made each step deliberate on the rain-slickened path. Thick haze dulled the park lights, and he had to strain to see the woman he followed.
She moved over the footbridge and onto the lamp-lit path; the swift and steady clip of her heels, tinny against the stone. Silently, he reached the far end of the lake where his view was unobstructed. But the humidity made the rear exit nothing more than a blotch in the haze, and her, a ghostly blur.
“Hey, August, check out that guy in card stock. He’s hot, but skating close to sketchy.” Junie paused. “Nice! He’s got a little silver hoop in one ear. And a tattoo. Wonder what he’s doing here?”
August glanced up from her laptop, from the inventory lists she’d been fighting all morning. He stood toward the front of her small shop, fingering a box of Kate Spade note cards. He was tall and huge and kinda dirty. Dusty. Like he’d stood too long in a cotton field while a thunderstorm blew in. Junie was right. He was as out of place in the shop as a can of motor oil on a perfume counter.
As Cassandra wriggled through the underbrush, wisps of fog snaked like malignant tendrils up her nostrils, filling her throat and lungs, squeezing the air out of her in short, sharp gasps. In vain, she tried to fight the panic, tried to convince herself that the fog was her friend, muffling her awkward movement and concealing her in its clammy grasp. But, her irrational mind feared it, like it feared the muzzle of her tormentor’s gun, taking her back to that earthen cell she’d so recently escaped. Damp. Suffocating. Like a grave. Her grave. Only she wasn’t ready to die.
Wow. Some great entries here.
You can’t tell from my sweet face, but I’m a bitch with a nose for corpses.
I smelled five on the mofo who was trying to pick me up—including Mama’s scent.
I bared my teeth, yapping: “Police! He took Mama!”
All in vain. No human at the animal shelter spoke Shih Tzu. So I bit the mofo’s hand and put myself on death row.
Luckily, next day, a fine-looking brotha came with a warrant for me. I wiggled my butt and licked his hand. I was going to find Mama and that cop was going to be my bitch.
Untitled WIP/Kathryn Skelton
He pulled the small red box from an inside jacket pocket. The taut leather winked under the gym lights.
“Lanie Jane,” he said.
Gary’s chocolate-colored eyes met mine. I adored that imperfect dimple, that hard to place drawl, loved that every time I suggested dirty Bingo, he scoffed – and still got his clothes off first.
Gary lifted the box, knelt down. My insides tightened, mouth dry as socks. In ten months we’d never talked about questions posed on knees. And I’d never told him everything.
“Lanie, will you – ”
A pirate sword cracked Gary over the head before he could finish.
Untitled submitted by KM
A mother wasn't supposed to watch her own daughter die.
Ester Getz stared down at the lifeless form in the hospital bed. A breathing tube, IV, and endless monitors were attached to the frail figure, turning her sixteen year old daughter into a delicate blonde Frankenstein.
Only hours before Suzanna had stormed out of the house into the night. Even the raging winter storm had not been able to convince her to forego the New Year's Eve party. She lamented that tonight was her last chance for fun.
Yes, it had been her last chance. Fate made sure of that.
The blade was sharp.
I traced my fingertip down its edge without enough pressure to draw blood. Fine steel, not stainless but tempered carbon, the kind sharpened on a stone. A hair laid across its edge would be instantly laid open.
An exaggeration, perhaps, but a small one. A spot of blood appeared; I popped my fingertip into my mouth before it started to sting. I'd misjudged again. I hadn’t been the best judge of anything lately.
In the blade, its light alive as in a mirror, I could see the image again; I could almost make it out--there--
Answer your phone tonight at 11:00. Do not pay the cost of disobedience again.
He knew she wouldn’t risk any harm to Natalie.
He controlled her life, though he’d only forced her to take the drugs for three days. Battered, Lindsay had barely been able to walk when the drugs had worn off. He decided who she spoke to, when she slept, what she ate. He watched her, stalked her, hurt her, but he hadn’t hurt Natalie.
Leave the kitchen curtains open. Sit at the table. Answer on the first ring.
Eleven fifteen, and he still hadn’t called.
Elvira had a dead-end job. Literally.
She worked at a funeral home and hated it. But it was a necessary evil and one she had to do for a mere three days, six hours and four, bloody minutes more.
A cynical smile curved her lips as she stared up at the oiled portraits of her father, grandfather and great grandfather. Three generations of bloodletting professionals encased in gold, muted frames. All educated. All rich. All dead.
And if she didn’t want to end up next to them on the wall or better yet, six feet under, she’d better greet “the family,” with a smile.
A low moan whispered through the pines. “What was that?”
“Just the wind.” John couldn’t see his friend’s expression in the soft light of the full moon, but he knew Buzz rolled his eyes just the same.
Around their campsite, amber moonlight and lightly falling snow bleached the color from the landscape, washing everything in shades of sepia. John glanced up at the star-dotted sky where the moon glowed pale orange. He knew its reddish color was a trick of light refraction, but the Blood Moon still gave him the creeps.
And that hadn’t sounded like the wind.
As Shar Bennett entered her house, the cordless phone flew toward her. It buzzed through her hair, almost scalping her, before crashing to the floor.
Her heart sprinted. Why wouldn’t her feet do the same?
Eyes consumed with rage, her husband stood in the foyer, a half empty bottle of tequila in his hands.
“You got a call,” he slurred. “Forget to tell me something?”
She shouldn’t get into it. Not while he was drunk. She knew better.
When she started to walk away, he grabbed her hair and jerked her close.
“We’re not done talking yet, sweetie.”
“I'm alive.” The words met Twyla Segreto's lips, but no sound accompanied them.
Dry, hot air reeked of death. A single breath became impossible without coating her mouth and throat from the unsettled debris. The urge to cough up the dust bunnies residing in her lungs, overwhelmed her. She suppressed and listened for enemy footsteps. In the distance, the steady pat of automatic weapons echoed. Somewhere further away, a crackling whistle sound filled the stagnant atmosphere. Explosions grumbled through the sky and the ground trembled from the assault, indicating the missile had made contact with its target.
Thanks for the contest once again ladies, good luck to everyone.
Novelists write about killing with imbrued tones to stoke their audience, but how many would take the actual plunge? Could they feel the rush and savor that most ancient of human appetites like I do?
Most would cringe and withdrawal into some hollow-husk world of regret…but not me. I need it more than the sex or romance, even though I use both to find my next one night love for pay. That’s what the lonely women want and I give it to them when they ask, and they always ask.
That’s why they come to my escort blog.
Redneck love baby.
“Another one, Mags.” Doyle said as he leaned against the framing of the door to her office.
“What’s the tally now?”
Maggie turned her chair to stare out the window and watch the river. Twelve souls in all. Twelve people who had seen the person that she had been searching for since last May.
“Coroner got it yet?”
“Yep. Al and Simon took the scene. Another blonde. Late teens to early twenties I think.”
“Thanks, Doyle. I’ll get the reports.”
We lie here on our dark liquid blanket, and the bugs crawl all around us. I hear their legs lick the earth, wings whisper against the leaves and grass.
During those moments when I go silent, he asks me: Don’t you come babe? but I don’t answer. I only laugh in secret at the question. He thinks he’s the greatest lover in the world. He’s seventeen, yet he’s Casanova.
Doesn’t he know what a cliché we are? A cheerleader and a jock?
Tomorrow, I’m going to tell his girlfriend everything.
Your boyfriend rapes me. Have a nice day.
Till Death Do Us Part
I knew Becky was in trouble by the run in her hose and the chipped black fingernails. More often than not that intuition is justified, but sometimes you shake it off like a cold chill on a warm day.
Who do you tell when you catch your wife sticking an ice pick through a pedophile’s eye socket? The cops?
Funny, she is a cop.
When there’s no easy solution and you have the inner city police covering up those unsolved murders, well…when in Rome.
An attorney and a cop, husband and wife, Bonnie and Clyde.
The things you do for love.
Sadie Cyrus was back in town. Whorin’ Lorne’s daughter had come home.
The thought made Sadie cringe as she crept slowly down the street, the invisible return that she had hoped for foiled by the slight clang of the muffler on her car. A light flashed, illuminating the upstairs window of the old Stokes house as she passed. A figure appeared, seeking the source of the racket.
She sincerely hoped that the unintentional announcement wouldn’t have a line of men waiting outside her door by mid afternoon the next day, men expecting her to live up to the family name.
Twisted Snare of Fate
“He had you handcuffed.”
Colonel St Clare’s voice from the door was as controlled as a tightrope walk between two high rises, but it didn’t fool me.
“Yes.” I heard the door click shut. Sensed him move further into the room. Told myself to be careful. “How did you hear?”
“The Security Report says you broke protocol. You never break protocol.”
Damn Security. “Guess there’s a first time for everything.”
The two officers assigned to the job hadn’t been happy with Weber’s call, but they’d done it anyway. And, apparently, tattled to the boss. Bastards.
“Are you all right?”
Arms of a Stranger
Kareena Ellis slowed for the traffic lights. She didn’t need this. Time was of the essence.
She looked about. Everything seemed fine, calm.
She tapped her fingers against the steering wheel. She would be okay, no need to panic, no reason to worry.
A shadow came across her face, and Kareena looked up.
He was big, a giant compared to her tiny size, his beard roughened face making him look ferocious.
He stood at the front of the car staring at her, his eyes challenged her.
Kareena shuddered. They’d warned her and she didn’t listen.
With dirt in her mouth and sick dread rising like nausea in the back of her throat, Mackenzie struggled against waking knowing even as she did it was too late––the pleasant dream of swimming in the ocean had already faded, replaced by a nightmare of blindfolded darkness, rough twine rubbing her wrists raw, and the hollow panic knowing she was in deep shit.
Inhale, breathe out, get up.
Her body hurt so bad. Hysteria bubbled just under the surface waiting to erupt.
“No fear, no fear, no fear,” she whispered, mantra-like.
But there was lots of it.
Nothing to Fear
C.J. Devine gripped the steering wheel and squinted through the rain-splattered windshield. Her fingers tightened as another gust of wind rocked the idling car.
Giant fir and cedar trees, their branches hung with witch’s hair, draped themselves over the twisting highway as if protecting the small village below. Through an opening in the trees, she caught a glimpse of Trinity Bay—her first in thirteen years.
It sat hunched at the base of a steep hill, looking like a morose and bitter old man, ready to spit out invectives at anyone who crossed its border.
God, I hate this place.
I stare up at the rickety door when I hear his hollow footsteps in the hallway. A single, lonely shaft of moonlight casts an eerie sheen across the aged wood. The closer he gets, the lower my gaze falls. I focus on the orange glow burning behind the ancient keyhole.
I know what happens next.
He’ll eclipse the only shred of warmth I have left.
I watch, strangely rapt as darkness descends. Had someone asked me yesterday if watching an old door be unlocked was similar to dying, I would have said no.
But before last night, I’d never thought of death as a door.
Tiffany heard the alarm in her bedroom start buzzing. She would have given anything to stay in bed today, warm and comfortable.
After turning off the alarm, she sat on the edge of the bed, closed her eyes, and took a deep breath. The image of Chad, winking and giving her a thumbs up, filled the darkness. Chad wouldn’t be doing that anymore. She swallowed hard to get rid of the lump in her throat.
She counted the cash in her wallet and scrunched up her face in disgust. Damn Mitch.
The door to the tavern nearly hit Avaia Waters in the ass when she walked in and stopped cold. It wasn't the sticky floor that made her pause. No, that she could handle. But the redneck paradise in front of her made her skin crawl. Worse yet, every drunk in the place ogled her as she headed to the bar. She shrugged it off, took a deep breath and kept walking.
What did a victim drink anyway? They should have done more victim profiling before moving forward with the operation. With luck today would be a good day to die.
Oops. The title for the Avaia Waters one is The Hunt
From THE WEEPING WOMAN
A woman stumbled in, dragging a suitcase behind her. She pushed back her dark hair, revealing large eyes and a furrowed brow.
"I'm sorry I'm late – finding a taxi was harder than rush hour in New York." She held slender fingers to her mouth. "Oh! You speak English, don’t you?"
Señor Cabrera rushed across the lobby. "Of course. You must be Señorita Patrone. Let me take that. I'll get your key and you can check in properly in the morning."
Her luminous beauty and voluptuous figure chased any thoughts of hostage takers and gun-runners from his befuddled mind.
Unlock the Truth
Dena Roman stared at her reflection in the mirror on the opposite wall of the elevator. The evening Criminal Justice classes were taking their toll. The desire to find her sister's murderer--to walk on Cabrera's land where Carli's body was found--had become an obsession.
She stepped out at the penthouse level and grimaced at the gold lettering on the doors: Steven Brennan & Associates, Public Relations. Her days here would be numbered when conservative Steve found out what she'd done. She shrugged. If Zeke Cabrera called back, if he fell for her plan, she'd deal with being fired.
“Is this your first time?”
Claudette rolled her eyes and placed a cigarette between her already pursed lips. “Of course not,” she smiled. She sucked the unlit nicotine stick seductively before allowing the man beside her to chivalrously offer his lighter.
“You familiar with the rules and all?”
“Yes.” She took a long drag from the cigarette and gave one of those deliciously satisfied smiles smokers unconsciously wore at that first inhale of carbon monoxide.
“What are you offering?”
“Fifty,” Claudette said, tossing a crumpled fifty dollar bill at the short, balding man in front of her.
Fès, Morocco; August
Naked! Naked and wet! Naked, wet, and running, the pungent stench of fear clinging to the filmy sweat covering her entire body! It was not at all how she intended to spend the evening.
Her lungs burned under the labor of the unusual effort; mortality, in a way never before sensed, willed her feet forward. The chaotic, ancient town blurred by. Was it her deepest imaginations, her pounding heart? But the echo of footsteps, not far enough behind her, still rang in her ears.
He's dead; he's dead, no tears, no tears, no time at all.
Vivid red, orange and yellow leaves, torn from their branches by a sudden gust of wind, danced wildly through the air. It would have been the perfect fall day except the leaves landed on the newly discovered bones of Detective Brina Sabourin’s crime scene.
Despite the gruesome scene her stomach grumbled. She’d skipped breakfast. And it was already well past dinner. She might miss supper too if they didn’t wrap things up here soon. Her stomach grumbled again. Louder this time. She took a quick look around to see if anyone heard.
Some booty call.
It wasn’t easy ignoring the soft skin that surrounded the brunette’s bullet wound, especially since she was unconscious on his table, but giving medical care in his kitchen sure as hell beat the enemy occupied desert of his past. And it was safer than taking Cat—or whatever her real name was—to Tucson Medical. The bastard who’d ambushed them like Rambo on meth was still looking for her.
Mike’s own blood oozed down his knee as he cleaned parking lot nastiness out of Cat’s side. He really needed to stick to blondes; brunettes were always trouble.
END OF OPERATIONS
Adrenaline put a coppery taste in Ian’s mouth as he saw a burqha-clad woman exit a taxi a block from the embassy, but his radio voice remained professional. “Eagle Six, blue burqua, await orders.” These days, women were the insurgents’ bombers of choice, but he couldn’t risk the horrific consequences of shooting a civilian.
“Sir, she’s approaching the gate.”
His heart caught in his throat as he saw the self-satisfied feminine swagger he knew so well. “Hold fire! That’s Director Stuart.” Pamela Stuart was his boss; he couldn’t strangle her for risking her life. Worse yet, he couldn’t kiss her.
There it was again.
Abby stared at the spider crawling across her laptop screen. She glanced at the time. 8:33. Just like last night.
The spider turned and fear grabbed at her. Not just like last night. This time it was carrying a knife.
Get the evidence. She pressed the PrintScreen key, pleased that her fingers were steady. Animations didn’t freak her out. Hackers with knife fetishes did.
In horrified fascination, she watched the spider rear up and swell to fill the screen. Its knife swung in a lazy arc towards her, just as the doorbell rang.
The man Catherine held at gunpoint was far too calm. That irritated her. "Over by the desk," she ordered.
"Why?" Martin didn't move. Underneath the beautifully-tailored charcoal jacket, his shoulders were relaxed. Admirable acting talent--no wonder he was such an accomplished con artist.
"I need you to stay put, and I don't have any cuffs on me."
"Expecting me to wait tamely to be hauled off to jail?" He shook his head, smiling, although the expression didn't reach his hazel eyes. "Sorry to disappoint you."
"I didn't think so." Her finger contracted on the trigger.
(Thanks for running this contest!)
Title - Double Dealing.
Clutching her throat Coral screamed.
The sound echoed around the archives room, through the high windows and out into the library, sending shivers through librarians and customers alike.
A baby cried.
The echo reverberated around the old library, sneaking around walls, like smoke from a fire.
Coral regained her composure, and stared at the old faded pages as though her gaze could penetrate the words and transport her to the world they portrayed. Her world?
'Ghosts just ghosts,' she muttered as her boss rushed in.
'I wouldn't have thought one so young would have many of those.'
KISS ME UNDERCOVER
Near the Tigris River, Iraq
They were back.
Keagan watched through broken slats of the dilapidated shack as bright yellow light from the headlights of the jeeps sliced through the cobalt desert night. The villagers were awoken house by house, as insurgents, wearing guns like badges of honor, dragged them from their homes and pushed them like sheep into the small village square.
Feeling sweat beginning to bead at his lower back, Keagan tightened his grip on the small knife he held, trying to keep his breathing even.
Janey Bright lies on her back and swears she hears herself snoring. Swears she's five years-old and being suffocated by the dentist. Crying and thrashing when he covers her mouth and orders her to shut up. His fingers stink of medicine, and when she tries to kick him, his hand melts into her face.
She will not get a lollipop today. Bad girls do not get candy. But Janey desperately wants a lollipop.
Desperately yearns to be good.
She blinks up, gasps, and shakes in her chair. Imagines candy on her tongue, sweet and sour.
I'll be good, I swear...
DEAD MAN WALKING
It was a dream. It always was.
“You were always meant for the gallows, Billy,” she whispered, her heart breaking. He looked so beautiful in the distant light of the moon, even if he wasn’t real. Even if he was dead. “You know that.”
“But I loved you,” he said, and his voice was small and far away. “Doesn’t that count for something?”
“If I’d loved you, what would it have saved? Goodbye, Billy.”
He was already fading.
“Why can’t you say you love me, Eliza? I would live my life over again, just for you to say those words...”
Wicked Little Things
They blew into Ordinary like cicadas on a blistery summer’s night. Thousands landed in trees and wood. They came, stole and ate like pigs. Yet no one knew what they were because they were never seen. Only the results of their voracious hunger left marks, like the fangs of a demon on another beast’s throat.
In this case, the victims were human.
Two by September.
Five after that.
Hundreds by Halloween.
Maya read the report until her eyes burned and she no longer thought of the victims as people, just mangled, chewed-up chunks of meat. “Great way to lose weight.”
It took time for her to realize she was dead and even longer for her to accept it. She found herself standing in a hallway with no memory of how she got there. Everything around her was blurred unless she stared hard. Concentrating was difficult so she just wandered through the house in a daze. She tried opening the front door but her hand passed through the handle. She was staring at a portrait over the mantle of a handsome older woman with long red hair when she realized the woman was her and she remembered who she was.
She was late. Juggling her satchel and shoes, Gillian McInnis locked the door and followed her dog around the corner of the house. An awkward dance of rearranging the bag and jamming her foot into one of the shoes was tricky enough, but noticing the gorgeous man leaning against a huge black SUV only exacerbated her clumsiness.
"Holy Mother of God!" And down she went.
The man stepped forward.
Gillian stalled him, sticking her hand out and muttering, "I'm fine." As she struggled to her feet, she prayed this was not the man she had hired to investigate her mother.
Title: Old Secrets
Luce nosed the car through the gateway.
Rusted wrought iron gates lay against a thicket of weeds like drunken soldiers. Gnarled oaks cast ghostly shade, despite the blistering January heat.
The car lurched from pothole to pothole and rounding the corner, she trod sharply on the brakes, breath escaping in a startled gasp.
Drumullen was a sprawling ruin, abandoned and derelict in an expanse of waist-high grass.
Gran’s voice echoed eerily in Luce’s mind. “When I die, you must return the portrait to Drumullen. Promise?”
A shiver caressed Luce’s spine.
Was the recurrence of her nightmare an omen?
CLOSE AND YET SO DISTANT
Her father’s night nurse phoned at nine. Kendra struggled with pleasantries as the woman pleaded too ill to work.
Lilies scented the apartment that served as both home and prison to her ailing father. If Kendra closed her eyes, she could see him as the healthy man he’d once been. She wanted to curse Alzheimer's for eating away his still young mind.
“Come on, daddy. Missy isn’t coming. You’re riding shotgun. We have a killer to catch.”
“Baby girl, it’s not a killer you need, but a husband.”
The tears came back. “Well then, Josh shouldn’t have murdered that man.”
The Cats of Cullaby Creek
The only thing I could think about was Kyle and those gemstone eyes of his. Like a greedy jeweler, all I wanted was to see those two glittering orbs one more time again.
“I have to see him before we leave,” I whispered.
“Are you sure you should trust him?”
I told Mom the truth, “I want too.”
“I know. But it’s probably not safe. You can’t forget he’s one of them. It’s all about money.”
“No, there’s more to it than that.”
“What else is there?”
“The way I feel about him; that’s what I can’t forget.”
Thanks for running this contest!
“Sorry, he’s running a little late,” Jim Clyde’s long-suffering secretary Gloria said.
I’d sat down and pulled out papers to grade when a loud accented voice shrieked. “You cannot cancel my class. It is an insult to me and my community.”
“Enrollment figures aren’t high enough. You knew that was the deal when we agreed to offer your class.” Though Jim spoke softly, the rejection was definitive.
I retained just enough of my upbringing to feel uncomfortable about eavesdropping. But short of plugging my ears – or leaving and missing my appointment – I had little choice.
Tall, Dark and Exotic
Prologue - Cambodia 1979
Through the darkness the child ran, dogging the woman’s heels. Short, angular legs that had never seen an ounce of baby fat, churned through the sweating foliage. The damp heat tightened, stealing her breath as the tropical jungle closed around her.
“Mama,” the child whispered and the faint sound of her own voice was comforting when everything around her breathed death. She reached for the hand her mother offered, holding with desperate strength to the only person who might save her from the evil lurking in the shrouded Cambodian night.
Last Man Standing
He floated headless in a mist of tears.
Even the river’s roar was not enough to mask the scream, so piercing was it and so unnatural that it silenced the never silent land. Overhead the Borneo midday sun skidded a brilliant reflection across the river’s surface.
Garrett clapped her hand against her mouth like she owned the scream and squinted trying to clear her tear blurred vision, as if that would shift reality. As if that would change the fact that all that stood between Malcolm and anonymity was the San Diego Chargers’ logo on his torn, water soaked t-shirt.
Not Your Average Sleeping Beauty
Victoria closed her eyes and took a deep breath waiting for the panic to pass as it always did, eventually. Her heartbeat slowed and a sense of calm spread through her as the familiar musty scent of the earth filled her nostrils. Opening her eyes with a smile, she looked over her shoulder and nodded to her assistant.
Ignoring the large intricate ceramic vessels lined along the wall, the dark-skinned man shook his head as he stepped farther in. “How does one become an archaeologist while being afraid of closed-in places?”
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