Friday, October 31, 2008

Friday Fricassee

Ah. I love my blog readers. My extended "writing family," as it were.

Your comments on yesterday's post are amazing. Here's the crux of what was birthed from yesterday's comment box discussion: You are a group of dedicated writers who sees value in sticking to a 250 word limit, despite the inherent frustration, because of the value of the critique. I love the concept of editing an entire novel 250 words at a time. I love the analogy of the microscope. I love that so many of you are getting so much out of these group critiques -- and that it's making an impact on your writing.

I'm using the word "love" a lot.

And, you know, I was a tiny bit tempted by the suggestion of doing a whole chapter. I mean, I'm not completely heartless. (And I am drinking empathy soup, which makes me more...malleable.) But the evidence of what's going on as a result of our 250 word sessions is unmistakable -- resounding.

I'm not going to change a thing.

As for Big Things On The Horizon, here's your heads up for our next Secret Agent contest:

The call for submissions will be posted on Monday, November 10. I will post the submission guidelines early next week so you can get your ducklings in a row.

Thank you all for your willingness to be transparent and teachable. That's what it takes to become the best we can be, which means you're all on the right track.

What a stinkin' honor it is to "know" you all. (What a strange, 21st-century sort of thing it is to use the word "know" with quotes around it.)

In the spirit of transparency, share your dreams-of-where-I'll-go in the comment box. As in, where would you like to see your writing career ten years from now? Twenty? Posthumously?

I look forward to reading your responses. Have a wonderful weekend!

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Bouts of Empathy

I'm really feeling it this time -- the constraint of the 250 word excerpt.

Roped in by my own rule.

Mine is Post 26 (for the insatiably curious among you). I've appreciated the feedback and have read through the comments more than once. It's intensely interesting to read the impressions of readers dropped smack-dab into the middle of my story. It's humbling to see a poor word choice or awkward phrase jump out like a naked belly dancer at a Quaker meeting. And it's hard to keep my mouth shut when people say things like, "Why isn't anyone trying to revive Camille?"

Ah, I want to say, but in the next paragraph Kate is going to take her pulse. If only you could keep reading...

And...Everyone is stunned; no one understands, really, what just happened. Kate isn't sure she understands it herself. If only I could explain what, exactly, went on, and why everyone's reacting this way right now. I mean, they all hate Camille, anyway...

You have similar reactions to your own work posted here. I mean...don't you?

Mine is an incomplete WIP -- first draft, unedited, destined for major hacking and slashing. For all I know, the entire scene may end up evaporating. At the very least, it will be overhauled and given a fresh coat of paint. And these words of wisdom from fellow writers will be thrown into the pot.

They're incredibly valuable. Despite the angst of "oh, if only you could read just a bit more..."

So thank you all for your critique. I don't like the word "revolted" either. And I'm glad "supine" got at least one vote! I don't believe in dumbing down for younger readers.

What about you? Are you frustrated that your tension didn't quite come across? Have the critiques helped you to hone in on anything concrete? Or are you longing to share another paragraph or two?

And those who are feeling successful with the tension: What made your excerpt successful? How did you achieve the tension?

If only we could sit around on large, overstuffed chairs, sipping deep mugs of coffee and nibbling on gourmet finger foods. This discussion would surely be the apex of our week!

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

36 Drop The Needle TENSION

Title: Michaela’s Gift
Genre: Middle Grade

Michaela’s family is on their yearly visit to the grandparents, when her estranged Aunt Sharon unexpectedly shows up. Aunt Sharon and Michaela are making a run down the mountain to get groceries for dinner.

“Your mother’s afraid of your gift.”

Michaela forgot about the road. “What do you mean? What gift?”

Aunt Sharon down-shifted and swung around a tight curve. “Your artistic gift, for one,” she said. Her eyes met Michaela’s briefly. “And then there’s the other one.”

Michaela studied her aunt. “What other one?”

“The one we’re going to talk about this visit.” Aunt Sharon smiled at her. “That’s why I’m here. Normally I bow to your mother’s wishes and disappear during the week of your visit. But you’re twelve now, on the verge of becoming a woman, and it’s time you found out about your gift.”

Michaela felt her cheeks pink at her aunt’s words. She glanced down meaningfully at her boyish body. “I think I’m a ways off yet from becoming a woman.”

Aunt Sharon reached over and squeezed Michaela’s hand. “Don’t worry about that,” she said. “You come from a long line of late bloomers, but you’re going to be a beauty once your body catches up with your mind.”

Michaela considered her aunt’s words. “You really think so?”

“Hey, I know so; I’m an artist. Speaking of which, why don’t we talk your mother into letting you stay here and study under me? Our town is small, but we have wonderful schools. And since I teach classes at the middle school, I’ve seen all the boys. There are some real hunks.”

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TITLE: The True Heir
GENRE: Epic Fantasy

Lead in: Darion, an exiled prince turned mercenary, has returned to his home land to fight the invaders from Camara.

With a desperate heave, Darion flung up his shield and crouched in the saddle. The impact slammed his shield into his shoulder.

The deflected lance flashed by. Its point pierced the neck of Darion's mount. The animal staggered sideways, screaming in a high, nerve-wrenching pitch.

Darion cleared his right foot from the stirrup. As he tried to roll away from the falling animal, his other foot got tangled in the stirrup. He struggled to breathe, lost all sense of direction. He managed to kick himself free, avoiding the thrashing legs of the dying horse.

Dazed, he looked up. A Camaran officer on a black stallion dropped his broken lance and drew a sword. Darion scrambled backwards, fighting down panic. The weight of his armor and shield made him feel hopelessly sluggish. His enemy closed the distance with infuriating patience.

Then Darion bumped into his dead horse. He cursed. Trapped. I'm going to die here, on my home soil. The Camaran's stallion reared.

Everything around Darion slowed. Sound dampened to a buzz, the periphery of his vision blurred as the central image sharpened. The black beast rose gracefully, looming over him. Bits of mud floated away from its pawing front hooves. The man's sword, raised high, caught the sun in a lazy gleam. A waft of crushed grass and earth wet with blood tickled his nose. All that happened in a heartbeat. An exalted laugh escaped Darion's lips. The finality felt liberating, and with it came the absence of fear.

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TITLE: Ballet Dreams
GENRE: tween

Jade is an 11-year-old dancer who dislikes newcomer Melissa, 10, because Melissa learns dance steps quickly. Their teacher, Miss Sylvia taught both a solo for the upcoming recital, but only one will perform it. This scene is the audition in front of the other students and Peter.

Jade stomped over to the record player table and stood, arms crossed, her mouth thin. For a second time, Melissa danced to the rhythms and melodies in the piece. The notes and tones surrounded her; they swept her body into the proper movements. On the last chord, Melissa came back to reality and smiled.

The children clapped with enthusiasm, while Peter added a whistle.

Melissa knew she'd performed well. When they switched places, Melissa smirked a little at Jade as they passed each other.

Jade took a spot in the middle of the room, composed herself into the starting pose and waited for the music to begin. When it did, Jade moved in the familiar patterns she and Melissa had learned over the past few weeks.

With reluctance, Melissa had to admit that Jade had a style and grace about her. She followed the tempo of the music to the beat. As Jade swept through the solo, Melissa's confidence slipped. Jade ended with an elegant stance. Maybe she deserves the solo, after all, Melissa thought, and her stomach clinched as she clapped with the others.

"Thank you, girls, for this difficult decision," Miss Sylvia said. "You both did an excellent job, and I'd be proud to have you both perform."

As Melissa pulled on her hands and bit at her lip, the teacher paced a bit in front of the mirrors; then she stopped and faced the two girls. "All right, I've decided."

Melissa held her breath.

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TITLE: Christmas Moon
GENRE: Urban Fantasy

Amanda and Marty are on a date and stargazing. Amanda sees something
at the edge of the woods.

I whispered, "Marty, what is that? It looks too big to be a dog."

Before he could answer, we heard a low, threatening growl. I could
see the huge dog-like creature inching towards us baring its huge
white fangs. I slowly stood up, suddenly afraid.

"Marty, let's go. Make slow movements so it won't chase us." He
slowly stood up, and we both got down off the picnic table. As soon
as we both touched the ground, the dog-thing charged at us.

"Run, Amanda!" Marty yelled. I started running towards his car, but
the creature came after me. I heard Marty whip his blanket off the
table and start running somewhere behind me. Was he leaving me?
Distracted, I slipped on the dew-drenched grass and landed on my hands
and knees. Before I could scramble up, a great weight landed on my
back causing me to collapse under it. From the growling and snarling,
I knew that it was the vicious creature. I couldn't escape! I felt a
sharp pain slice down my back, forcing a scream from me. It had
managed to tear through my thick coat. Marty had caught up with us
and tried to throw the blanket over the monstrous creature. I guess
to try to pull the thing off me.

The blanket didn't wrap around it, and the dog-thing kept scratching
and biting me as I struggled to break free. I could feel a warm
liquid spreading down my sides and legs as it soaked into my clothes.

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TITLE: "Drysdale"

GENRE: Thriller

SETTING: This is the start of Chapter 12...

He wakes up because someone is saying his name. No one calls him Robert James any more, they call him R.J.

“Robert James Lewdell.”

R.J. opens his eyes and his whole body jerks in surprise and shock. There’s a man sitting next to the bed on a chair, backlit by moonlight coming through the trailer’s small bedroom window.

“Don’t move,” the man says.

“Who are you?” R.J. says, his voice shrill.

R.J. starts to get out of bed and the man points a large revolver at him. Cocks the hammer.

“Don’t move.”

“What are—Who are you?”


R.J.’s voice shakes.. “I don’t know you, mister.”

“Where’s Byron.”

“Byron? Aw shit, did he piss you off?”

“Where is he.”

“I don’t know. Aw shit, are you the guy who’s been followin’ me?”


“The blue car? Was you in a blue car?”


“I knew that was trouble.”

“Where’s Bryon.”

“I don’t get along none with my brother. Don’t see him much.”

Drysdale doesn’t say anything and the silence is deeply unsettling to R.J. He realizes why. With all the ruckus his wife hasn’t woken up. He looks over at her, a still figure under the covers next to him. She’s turned away.

“Lorna?” he says.

Usually she snores but she isn’t snoring now. She’s stone still.


No reply. He goes to take her shoulder.

“Don’t touch her,” Drysdale says.

R.J. freezes with his hand suspended a few inches over her.


“Just don’t.”

“Did you do somethin’ to her?”


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TITLE: Dream of Wolves

A fight breaks out on the train Gray is riding on. She is trapped in the bathroom by a hungry ghoul.

A distorted face pressed through the crack above the arm, a string of greenish drool hanging from the open mouth. One dark eye stared, pupil dilated and slightly hazy.

Screaming, Gray scrambled back only to come up against the toilet. The ghoul’s fingers stretched and it pressed its face tighter through the opening, its cheeks tearing with the force and exposing rotted muscle and a hint of gray bone. Teeth clench tight it pushed harder against the door and the metal groaned under the weight of the creature trying to get in.

"No, no, no,” Gray whispered, panic reaching in to steal any rational thought she might have. Pushing herself up she crouched on the toilet, eyes wide and feeling slightly sick. The arm was reaching, the face pressing close, and all she could smell was the sweetly-sick scent of death.

The blinking, twinkling red light of the panic button finally caught her eye. She stood carefully on the toilet, rocking with the train as it continued to race down the tracks, indifferent to the battle raging inside.

The ghoul followed her movement, rising out of its own crouch and pulling its ruined face out of the door. Gray leaned forward, still standing on the toilet, and carefully lifted the plastic cover over the button. The ghoul’s eyes watched each movement hungrily. With another scream Gray slammed her hand over the panic button.

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Title: Ghosts in the Shadows
Genre: Contemporary Western

Haunted by a history of violence, Brit Moonchaser just wants to be left alone to finish sixty days of parole and make peace with his heritage, but when his former cellmate demands help with a mysterious search in the desert and then kidnaps a lady rancher with whom Brit shares a contentious history, he finds himself in the middle of a quagmire from which there will be no easy exit. Here, injured and trapped between Dixon (the cellmate) and the authorities who want to find him before he has a chance to live up to his reputation, Brit feels the noose tighten.

"You don't need my help, Dix." Brit held one corner of the paper between his thumb and forefinger and passed it back to Dixon. Staring at the indecipherable mess in the grotto's half-light wouldn't make anything clearer. "You need a psychic."
Barring divine intervention or a stroke of pure, dumb luck, whatever Dixon sought seemed destined to remain hidden. Brit had bigger concerns.
The search parties were closing in. Someone would spot them soon. Helicopters scanned from above, and although Brit hadn't seen any sign of men on the ground, he was certain the sheriff had professionals tracking them by now. In this part of the mountains cover was scarce. Sticking close to the towering rocks in single file minimized the risk the group would be seen from the air, but they couldn't hide the hoof prints of four horses forever.
Water was even harder to find. Brit had come up dry twice at spots where liquid should have trickled from the ground. The people had canteens. The animals didn't.
He turned away from the other man and stared into the desert. "We can't push the horses in this heat."
Dixon grabbed Brit's injured arm and yanked him back around. His voice was a harsh whisper. "Screw the horses. We're running out of time."
Brit gritted his teeth until the urge to shriek passed. "There's a hundred thousand acres out there, and all those damn rocks look alike. We lose the horses, and none of us make it out alive."

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TITLE: Between the Shadows
GENRE: Science Fiction

John Spencer has just Fallen and is on the run, escaping into an abandoned building. Searching through the darkness, he comes upon a slouching shape, barely augmented bythe light pouring from the windows.

Its long, jagged nails were beyond saving – inhumanly thick and twisted into obscene shapes. From what he could distinguish, diseased oily skin covered its entire body, obscured at points by large brown spots that were anything but normal. John took a step back in disgust.

He realized what the monstrosity before him was. It was a Wretch. He’d never seen one on camera before, just brief glances that seemed like a figment of his imagination more than real entities, much less up close. He understood in that moment why they were so feared. While they resembled humans, in form at least, they were so distorted that it was something from someone’s most depraved nightmares. It unfurled itself and stretched out to an obscene length, completely losing its human-like visage.

It slunk toward him, breathing heavier than before, using its arms and legs to propel its body forward. He caught brief glimpses of it as the creature went from light, but never fully in it. Its eyes were a sick yellow, much the same as its hair, reminiscent of aged, rotten paper. And they were trained directly on him.

At the sight of those sickly eyes, John realized it was time to move. Taking another step back, he prepared to bolt. Running was obviously a better choice than standing there, even though the Wretch’s speed was a mystery to him. He barely mustered the strength to pull his eyes away. The Wretch’s muscles tensed up as it prepared to pounce.

27 Drop The Needle TENSION

Content redacted at request of author.

26 Drop The Needle TENSION

TITLE: Point of Origin
GENRE: "Young" YA Fantasy

Kate has just used a "special power" (to avoid going into too much detail here) to remove the disembodied spirit that was possessing Camille. In the aftermath, Kate is exhausted from the experience, and worried that she's gone too far -- that Camille is dead.

“Rufe, it doesn’t look like she’s breathing. I think she’s dead.” Devin sounded vulnerable, traumatized – not like himself at all.

Camille! Devin had to be talking about Camille. Kate fought a wave of nausea as she commanded her eyes to open, forced herself to lift her head from Rufus’s shoulder.

“Where is she?” Kate’s voice felt frayed, like an old rag.

Rufus’s grip tightened around Kate’s shoulders. “Let it be. You’re not ready to move, I think.”

“Rufus, let me go. Let me go to her.”

Rufus looked into Kate’s eyes as though trying to read them, his expression tortured, conflicted. But in a few moments he released Kate, nodding his consent. She pulled away from him and looked to where Devin was sitting, roughly ten yards away. There, on the ground beside him, Camille lay supine, her chin raised so that Kate couldn’t see her face.

Kate tried to stand, but her legs revolted. So she crawled slowly across the rough, stone-strewn ground, her eyes never leaving Camille until she had reached her. Devin was fixed, immovable, staring at Camille’s motionless body until Kate placed her hand on his leg and gave it a small shake. He slid back then, wiping his eyes with his forearm.

Kate took his place beside Camille, whose eyes were half-closed in her pale face. I did this to you. The thought came unbidden, and Kate pushed it away as she reached her hand toward Camille’s forehead. The skin was cool and moist, and Camille did not respond to Kate’s touch.

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TITLE: Molly Gumnut’s Little Critters
GENRE: Children’s Chapter book

Molly wants her mother to buy her a bunny rabbit. When she sees two guinea pigs in a rural store and hears a man saying he is going to buy them to feed his snake, she tries to save them.

“Calm down, Molly. What do you mean?”

Molly slapped her hands on her waist. “Some nasty, mean man is going to buy them and feed them to his snake. I heard him talking, but the lady won’t sell them to me. She said I have to bring a parent.” Molly grabbed hold of her mother’s hand and pulled. “Hurry, Mum!”

Mrs Gumnut sighed. “Molly, I’ve told you, you’re too young and to have a pet.”

Realising the only way to get any action was to act like a baby - Molly threw herself on the ground and kicked her legs about. “I don’t want those guinea pigs to die!” She wailed and punched the floor.

“Oh, Get up, Molly!” Her mother pulled her up by the hand. “You’re nearly seven, not three. We’ll go to the store. I need a few things anyway.”

Wiping her eyes on her sleeve, Molly followed her mother to the car. Arriving at the store, Molly ran to the counter towards the young man. “See, I’ve brought my mother with me to pick up my guinea pigs. I left a two dollars deposit yesterday.”

The man looked at Molly, then at her mother. “I’m sorry, but a man came in and bought them. I didn’t know about your deposit.”

“NO! NO!” cried Molly as she banged her little fist on the counter. “They were mine!” Tears streamed down her cheeks. “That horrid man will feed them to his snake.” She sobbed and stamped her foot.

24 Drop The Needle TENSION

TITLE: Shirracco
GENRE: Dark fantasy

One of the opening scenes of the story. Shirracco, a wolf demon (basically a large, demonic wolf) has attacked a village suffering from the Black Plague. However, a dragon- dubbed Red by the villagers, due to the color of his scales- has arrived to try to save them...

Red tilted his head, orange eyes like seeds of muted hellfire. His wings creaked as he opened them languorously- but their muscles were tense.

“I ask you again,” he said, his voice calm and slow, though belied by the swishing of his tail. “Leave. They’ve done nothing to you.”

Shirracco’s ears twitched back and forth uneasily, and his eyes flared like the ends of two cigarettes. His claws dug into the ground a little more.

No one breathed. All that stood between them and Shirracco- the wolf demon with his Faustian promise of salvation from their suffering, only at the price of their lives- was a dragon, long thought the source of the Plague, and now their only savior. Two important questions remained.
Shirracco’s mouth twitched- his expression was of an asylum inmate who could either sit and stare at the wall for hours, or suddenly leap at his captors in a foaming fury. Would he turn tail and run in the face of such an opponent, or find Red’s words so infuriating that he’d attack? Hard to fight off, even for a dragon. By Red's wary expression, he was having trouble predicting the wolf, too.

Then the other important question.

After enduring years of malignant rumors, scandalizing remarks and insults, would Red stand in front of them and fight Shirracco off…or abandon them, as they would have done in his place?
Shirracco’s fur started to bristle as his lip lifted in a snarl- muscles twitching to bite or run.

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Title: The End of Normal

Genre: Young Adult Fiction

The sound of tuning guitars and random drum taps snatched her thoughts. It was about to start, and she wanted to be front and center. She wanted to look Sebbie dead in his eyes as she booed him, from the bottom of her heart. Her feet plopped to the floor, and she opened the stall door. There was zero light in the bathroom, and she was relieved to find her way to the door handle.

Theodora now stood in the darkened school hallway. Her body turned to the left, and took a few steps when a sound came from behind; she turned completely around.

Various thoughts ran through her mind - The hallways were so dark at night. Was that Sebbie standing ten feet away? Why wasn’t he in there? His band was scheduled to go next. Was he saying something to her? Why was he just standing there, so still?

“What do you want, Sebbie?” she shouted down the hall.

He began to walk towards her. She thought he looked weird, sorta stiff or something. She didn’t like it. She turned around, quickly heading back on her path to the gym. She shouted over her shoulder, “Whatever!”

She wasn’t prepared for him to run up behind her or how wrong his face looked. She froze in place as words came slithering out of his mouth in a demented whisper.

“Don’t you know what you are? You don’t belong here, Thaorode. Get me the book. Miravale will perish. GET ME THE BOOK!”

And then he fell flat on his freckled, sixth grade face.

22 Drop The Needle TENSION

Title: Promise of a Stranger
Genre: Commercial/Literary
Set up: After barely surviving near-lethal mixture of cocaine and alcohol, Heather faces an intervention.

"My ring is gone. Where the hell is my ring?"

She barely looked up from the chart. "If they checked you in with any jewelry, Ms. Tyler, it's either with your family or in the hospital safe."

"It's Mrs. Tyler," I snapped, but my quaking voice diminished my fury.

Pursing her lips, the nurse offered a sympathetic glance to my brother before she locked the brakes on the wheelchair and approached me. Not wanting to suffer the indignity, I struggled upright, convinced myself I could walk down the hall, even though I knew I couldn't even make it to the bathroom without help.

When fatigue stripped me of independence, I slumped forward into a puddle of self-pity.
"Josh, I want to go home."

"Shut up, Heather. You don't have the right to feel sorry for yourself. You better be happy to be here. It's a miracle you aren't dead. Now get your a** in this chair so we can get this over with.”

I recoiled at Josh’s sudden command over my situation. Clenching my jaw and choking down tears, I scooted to the edge of the bed. The nurse draped a robe over my shoulders before helping me to my feet. I managed the two steps to the wheelchair, and then collapsed in the seat with leg muscles quivering like noodles in a pot of boiling water.

My stomach knotted. Josh wouldn't answer any questions about our destination while he pushed me into the hallway and down the corridor.

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Title: Book of the Baba Yaga
Genre: Middle reader adventure/fantasy

Lead-in: Sam has been taken to a room where she is told she will begin to learn about herself. She then has the following experience.

Sam saw that her chair had changed into an intricately carved wooden throne. She ran her finger over the bumps and grooves of the armrest.

"Ouch!" Pain shot up her finger as though it had been stabbed with a needle. Then another, more animal-like cry escaped her - the carvings were now tiny snakes, each one writhing in place. The snake that had bitten her twisted its tiny head to look at her through glowing emerald eyes. Sam lept to her feet, clutching her throbbing finger.

"Your life is the dream, Samantha Liffey," the snake hissed. "When you gonna wake up?"

Then the throne melted away, turning into a pool of ice on the floor. It spread under her feet, making them ache with cold. Sam slipped and fell against the wall as the room lurched and the pen dropped from the table, rolling down the floor and coming to rest at her feet.

It floated up to arm level in front of her. She quivered, otherwise unmoving. What do I do?

"Draw!" A voice boomed through the room and Sam looked down and saw Will in the ice as if he were on the other side of a window. But he’d changed. He had two clocks where his eyes had been and his mouth looked like a black hole, spinning away into nothing like the line in the Salem Boundary. The clocks in his eyes showed 11:27. The drumbeat quickened, taking her heart with it.

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Title: Travelers
Genre: YA contemporary fantasy
Joan was approaching the bed, the syringe held out in front of her, a smile on her face as she drew closer to Eleanor's sleeping form.

I was next to the small table. The little vials of liquid caught and refracted the morning light. Next to them, the bulky silver gun rested. I knew I only had a second to grab it, but just the sight of it made me grimace.

Joan must have heard me breathing because she whipped around. Before she could say anything, I grabbed the gun and awkwardly pointed it at her.

"Drop the needle, Joan." I was amazed at how calm my voice sounded; the gun shook as I pointed it at her.

"Drop the gun, Sienna, or I inject her." Joan said, giving me a 'you must be stupid' look I recognized from our reality. She'd loved to use it when I did worse than her on tests.

"Don't you dare. I'll shoot you, I swear I will!" Again, I sounded more like I meant it than I felt. Drawing some small confidence from that, I stepped closer to her.

Shooting her was not what I wanted to do, but her standing there, eager needle hovering too close to my great-grandmother's arm, I knew I could do it if I had to. Confidence flowed through me, stilling the shaking and forcing my mind to focus.

"You couldn't hit me if you tried. Put the gun down. There's nothing you can do to stop me."

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Genre: Time-travel Romance
Part of the wedding night scene. Lukas has told Lexy the marriage will not be consummated.

She took her nightgown and glanced warily at the screen. Only one thing stood between her and the comfortable clothes.

“Can you?” she asked, turning her back to him. “It’s only that Margaret normally helps. I can’t undo them by myself yet.”

He rustled behind her and the skin on the back of her neck prickled as he drew near. A sigh, exhaled in a rugged breath, ruffled her hair. She closed her eyes. Then his hands, unsure and tentative, gently undid her laces. Each slowly tugged loose, until he reached the small of her back. His fingers froze for a moment and then leisurely slid to either side of her waist. Her breath caught.

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TITLE: Sahmara's Sunset

GENRE: Fantasy

Escaped slave, Sahmara, and the ragtag soldiers she's banded with to get home, find themselves under attack.

Grabbing for the small knife in her belt, Sahmara readied herself as she had seen those around her do. Unfortunately, the only thing Sahmara had ever done with a knife was cut her meat at the dinner table. These men were not on a plate and there was no fork to hold them down. Two men came at her with short swords in hand. A line of fire erupted on her shoulder where one blade connected. She dodged backwards as much as she dared, but there were men everywhere and all of them fought for their lives. There was nowhere to run, and no one would be coming to her rescue.

Determined not to become breakfast for the crows, Sahmara made a mad stab at the closet man. The blade bounced off his mailed shirt, gaining her nothing but skinned knuckles. He laughed, a cruel rumble that reverberated in her ears. Again she lashed out with her knife, but someone smashed into her from behind, knocking the blade from her hand. She stumbled and fell.

A strong hand grabbed her shirt. “Stay down would ya? You’ll be much more fun alive.”

The man with the sword placed its point against her chest. “You listen to Poul now, we might even let ya go when were finished.” He grinned, revealing blackened teeth.

“Might let you go.” The man behind her snickered. “Might let you go to the gods, more like.”

Sahmara screamed.

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TITLE: Emergence of the Fey
GENRE: Fantasy

Lead-in: The Enchanters Council is at war with the Fey. Marian and her friends are acting as a performing troupe for cover while they spy (for the Fey) in the capital city, waiting for the Fey Army to arrive.

A child's scream brought Marian to her feet. She dashed out the wagon. The crowd was in havoc, shouting and pointing to the sky. Unisus and chimera flew over the walls. At last, they'd come. Disregarding the cold, she jumped down and ran for the cart.

The undulating crowd blocked her. She collided with another woman. Marian quickly apologized, started to move past. Cold fingers vised onto her arm.

"I know you. You're that little traitor."

The cold lanced to her heart. "Odette."

"I see you remember me. If I had known you would lead an enemy right to our gates I would have turned you in the first time we met." Her grip tightened, cutting off circulation. "Guards!"

While Odette waved for the men in uniform, Marian searched for her friends. Too many people. Her mind raced as she tried to pull away from the older woman. Too close for suffocation. Her weapon still sat in its hiding place. The crowd shifted, leaving an open path to the wagon. She reached out with the air to throw the pillows off their weapons.

She pulled her dagger toward her, throwing off the sheath in mid flight. As soon as the handle met her left palm she twisted to stab the blade below the woman's ribs. Odette screamed, releasing Marian to stumble back.

"Emelda! Isaida! Kait-" A large hand smothered Marian as her arm was yanked behind her back. Pain shot through her shoulder. The dagger dropped from numb fingers.

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TITLE: The Canicene Inheritance
GENRE: Sci-fi/fantasy
Brinn Rhodry's hired a Human co-pilot for the last leg of a 10-year voyage. Port authorities have arrested him for trying to steal her ship and she's confronting him at the notorious prison where he's been taken.

"Cost and contract be damned," she said, her eyes blazing. "You were trying to steal my ship." She took a step toward him. "That's worse than murder. Tell me why I shouldn't leave you here."

"You're half Human," he said, trying to hide the alarm in his voice. "What about species loyalty?"

"And if I show you as much loyalty as you showed me?"

"Do you have any idea what they will do to me here?" At that moment the chorus of pain rose again and the first especially blood-curdling howl drifted to their ears.

"I know exactly what they'll do. I asked at the desk."

He was getting nowhere. "Please," he said. "Take it out of my pay. Add contract penalties. But come on, get me out of here, alright?"

"And trust you on my ship again?" Her eyes were narrow.

"You don't have to trust me. I'll be wearing a wrist-band and you'll be holding the control device."

"I need someone who'll cover my back, not go behind my back," she growled. "I contracted for a co-pilot, not a prisoner."

"I can still be your co-pilot," he said, "as soon as my arm heals." The cries from the other cells were louder now, and more intense. It became impossible to tell how many species were howling. "They're amputating intestines by hand back there," he said to her with some urgency, understating the case.


"You can't leave me here," he half-whispered.

"I can," she corrected him, standing up.

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Title: State of Emergency
Genre: Sci-Fi

Maggie is a 911 operator. Her call center has been getting calls on some kind of disturbance.

Maggie glided her chair away from her desk. "Hey, Joel. What's going on in Terra Heights?"

He put a hand over his mic. "Some kind of disturbance."

She already knew that much. Maggie glided back to her desk and answered another call.

"Hello," a child's spoke into the receiver. "I think there's an earthquake and I'm all by myself."

Dear God. What hare-brained idiot left a little boy alone during the night?

"Okay, sweetie. Are you at home?"

"Yes." The boy's voice trembled amidst the low rumbling in the background.

"Can you tell me your address?"

Maggie filled in the information as the child answered her questions.

"Trevor, I need you to stay indoors until the shaking stops. Where are you in the house?"

"I'm in the kitchen."

"Okay, find a sturdy table and hide underneath it. Stay away from any glass and windows. Can you do that for me?"


The child's frantic breathing pierced through the receiver and tugged at Maggie's emotions.

"Are you under a sturdy table?"


Maggie heard a beeping coming from the other end.

"Mommy's on the other line!"

"Hold on, Trevor, don't—"

The call cut off, and Maggie immediately redialed. She got a busy signal and then proceeded to do an emergency line break.

As soon as she connected to Trevor, his high-pitched screams came through.

"Mommy! Mommy!"

The rumbling had grown into deafening chaos. She heard glass breaking, objects crashing and crunching, and the phone scratching against surfaces, tumbling about.

14 Drop The Needle TENSION

TITLE: Trapped By Destiny
GENRE: YA fantasy
Lead in: The protagonist is taken prisoner after she helped her beloved escape.

I woke much later, sore. My eyes were blindfolded, but I could guess from the faint light that it was daytime. The ground was hard beneath me, and I struggled to sit up, my arms tightly bound. I must be a prisoner of the enemy, I decided.

"Good afternoon, girrrl," said a smooth yet startling voice.

I did not speak, not wanting to give away the panic and fear inside me.

Footsteps approached, growing louder by the moment. I stiffened. These villains... what will they do to me?

"Speak up, ye idiot." The same voice spoke, sounding rougher this time. Two strong arms shoved me and nailed me to the ground.

"Who are you?" I howled in anger as pain pierced through my back. "Why are you doing this to me?"

"You'll find out soon enough." His words were followed by the sound of cruel laughter.

I bit my lips, trying to calm down. "I am the Dark Emperor's sister. How dare you treat me like this?"

My comment earned me more sharp kicks in the stomach. "His Majesty ain't carin' who ye are. Neither does I."

"Leave me alone." I tightened my fists, ready to fight back if he hurt me again.

"You killed my pals. You ain't gettin' away with it." But I could hear his footstepts fading away. I sighed heavily and fell back to sleep.

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TITLE: Panic

Diane's mother tried to kill her and she has decided to go and visit her in prison with her foster father, her boyfriend, and her mother's lawyer.

Diane, Mr. Daryl and Shawn followed Ms. Tisdale down a bleak hallway. They stopped to put all their belongings in a locker.
“Empty your pockets,” A guard demanded before padding them down when they reached the visitor’s room.
Guards sat inside cages with guns. Drab colorless walls surrounded Diane and seemed to close in. One guard pointed to a table. Diane wound her way through the maze of tables of other families visiting mothers, sisters, and girlfriends. There wasn’t any glass separating the prisoners. On TV, visitors were always led to a room with the bulletproof glass and they communicated through a telephone.
Could her mother just reach out and touch her?
“You don’t have to do this, Diane.” Mr. Daryl touched her shoulder.
Shawn had grabbed hold of her hand on her other side and squeezed it.
What if her mother tried to hurt her again? Before Diane had time to explore that thought, her mother stood in front of her.
Panic snaked through Diane. She gulped down the last of her fear and stared at her mother. Shock, surprise, and something else Diane couldn’t tell, crossed her mom’s face.
She looks old.
The orange jumpsuit made her mother looked washed out and tired. Sunken and drawn, her mother’s face was a shadow of what it was two years before. She must have lost a good thirty pounds from her already slim frame. She looked…defeated, broken.
“Diane… baby…you came –”

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GENRE: Young Adult
This is the start of the novel. No lead-in required.

I used a stiff brush to scrub the blood and dirt from beneath my fingernails. Through the kitchen window I glanced at the fresh mound in the garden along the fence. I read somewhere that serial killers begin by killing small animals. There are already a few neighborhood pets and woodland critters buried in my back yard.

I took the dented teapot from the stove and pushed the screen door open. Pouring hot water over the sticky blood stains on the porch, I scraped at the stubborn ones with my shoe. Filthy water and gore trickled down the steps into the dirt.

Inside, the phone rang. I wiped my feet on the mat and ran to get it.

“Hello.” I answered.

“This call is coming from Carlisle Prison,” said a recording.

“Talon, buddy, is that you?” came a familiar voice.

“It’s me, Dad.” I answered.

“Hey, man, what’s going down?” he asked, trying to sound cool.

“Not much. How ‘bout you?”

“Well, it sure ain’t resort living. Mom around?”

“No,” I lied.

“Good, cause I called to talk to you.”

“-This call is coming from Carlisle Prison,” said the recording again.

Dad swore on the other end.

“Listen,” he said, “I need a little cash. Can you throw any my way?”

Some things never change.

“No, Dad,” I said. “We’re really strapped.”

“Look, Talon, I need four hundred bucks quick, or they’re gonna slit my throat.”

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TITLE: The Project
GENRE: Spec Fic Mystery
Heather, having been informed her father died last Tuesday even though she saw him alive this morning, has just been mysterious transported to a valley with no sound, no movement... And she hears a sound from a bush...

The skin over my spine crawled. I moved another branch, and gasped.

Eyes, deep chocolate-brown eyes flecked with gold, stared back at me, wide with pain and fear.

A child. A girl, arms wrapped around her legs, huddled in a hollow at the base of the cliff.

My pulse raced, and I took a steadying breath. This wasn't then; this was now, and now I could help. "I won't hurt you," I said. "I promise."

The girl tensed.

My stomach twisted. I had to help her. "Will you come out?" I stretched out a hand and brushed against her arm.

She jerked.

"It's okay," I soothed.

She relaxed, just a fraction, but it calmed my stomach. It was going to be okay.

The girl peeked at me from under her arm. I gave her an encouraging smile. She relaxed further – and a harsh alarm rang out.

I jumped to my feet, scanning for the source of the threat, but the landscape remained motionless, frozen. I turned back to the girl, and my chest constricted.

Her face was contorted into a soundless scream, her eyes wide with terror.

Terror... Screams... "No." I backed away, eyes fixed on the girl. "No!" Terror, madness… Rachel.

My vision blurred and I fell to my knees. "No! No, it wasn't me!" Desperately I tried to focus on the little girl, now scrabbling backwards into the rock with bloody fingertips. "I can help you! I swear it!" I screamed, pierced by the horror of the girl.

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GENRE: Adult Urban Fantasy.

This is the opening of my MS. No back story.

"Please don't do this," Memphis whispered. She scurried backwards. "You said you love me." She fought hard against the sobs that wanted to escape.

The only light in this stark apartment came from a crack in the foil someone had placed over the window to reflect away the sun and keep out the sweltering Texas heat.

An evil smirk carried from Shane's lips to his eyes. "Oh, but I do love you. Let me show you how much." His size twelve boot pressed against her bare chest, pushing her to the floor. He lowered himself over her, pinning her arms to her side. His breath was hot, and foul with whiskey inside her mouth.

"Please, Shane," she finally cried.

"I love when you beg."

"I'll do anything you ask. I won't leave. I'll move in with you, just don't do this."

"I don't want to live with you." He touched her cheek with the back of his hand. "Now, this is all I want." And he forced himself inside her.

The dim light darkened and she seemed to disappear into in her mind. Darkness she could feel took over. Shadows were everywhere. "You will not beat us," they whispered. "We can control the weak. We can destroy you. We will destroy you. You can not defeat us, you simple little whore."

She focused on the window, straining to find some kind of light. Some kind of sense in that abandoned living room.

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Genre: Steampunk Urban Fantasy

Lead-in: Wanda has stolen something important from Henry, and he uses his mind-bending power to try making her tell him where it is. They ultimately want the same thing, but each has a different idea for getting it.

In a choked voice, she said, "Must send them back to Hell."

"But they're here to help people." Henry meant every word, though his intention was to soothe whatever had aggravated her into stealing his boxes. "They want to be here."

Wanda shook her head. "Those demons don't know. It's not right."

It was Henry's turn to scowl. "What's not right?"

A thin line of blood trailed from one of Wanda's nostrils. Not good. She had to stop resisting him!

But he had to make her tell. Those boxes held the world's future. There was Levi to think about, and Vernon…

Wanda launched herself at him and he caught her by the elbows. Her right hand pressed against his chest, fingers splayed over his heart. "Stop," she whispered.

"I will. Just as soon as you—"

There was a tugging sensation beneath his skin, then beneath his rib cage. His heart pounded, the muscle cramping and then opening as if to release something from inside. Part of him felt compelled to return to the Earth's center and the molten core where the source of his being still lived. It hungered for half of him, his demon half, pulling at one part of his soul while the other part clutched desperately at his humanity.

"No," he gasped.

They stood locked together in a stalemate of power. If he didn't release her, she'd die. If she didn't release him, his demon half would leave him forever. And he'd surely die without it.

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TITLE: Overboard
GENRE: Mystery/Suspense

FBI Special Agent Rich Stryker calls his partner, Special Agent Kylie Andrews, on her cell phone as he locates the serial killer aboard the cruise ship Tranquility of the Seas. Stryker is standing between the killer and a medical evacuation helicopter that is about land on the deck. The killer has the ship's captain tied to a chair, and he's also holding a female entertainer at gunpoint.

“Kylie, damn it, stop! I mean it. Don’t take another step. He said something about making you go boom. He dropped a device on you somewhere, and you’d better get off this ship and find it before he does something really stupid.”

“You think he’s bluffing?”

“I don’t think Najjar bluffs about much.”

Najjar overheard Stryker’s side of the conversation. “You tell Agent Andrews, I’ll show her who’s bluffing.”

“No, no. She says she believes you. One hundred percent, she believes you, Najjar.”

Stryker turned his head away from Najjar and whispered into the phone, “Get off the ship and have a bomb squad check you out.” He didn’t have the phone to his ear, but he heard Kylie ask, “What’s the bomb squad supposed to check?”

“I don’t know,” he half yelled.

“You don’t know what, Agent Stryker?” Najjar yelled.

“Just talking to myself.” Suddenly it occurred to Stryker that the security staff, Najjar’s security staff, had supplied the cell phones he and Kylie were using. For Christ’s sake, it was the phone!

“No more phone calls. Put the phone down now or I kill this beautiful girl.” Stryker had seen how easily Najjar had killed the fire fighter, so he had no choice but to terminate the call. He didn’t, though—he left the connection open, allowing Kylie to overhear his conversation if she was listening. If she couldn’t hear him speaking, this tactic to alert her was worthless.

“What did you put in our phones?” Stryker yelled back to Najjar.

“A little surprise. In my business we call that insurance, Agent Stryker.”

God he hoped Kylie could hear him.

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Screen name: Lori
Title: Dragonseeker

Set Up: Elemmire is possessed by the spirit of the elf-witch Laerwen, who has sworn vengence on the entire royal familiy. Laerwen forces Elemmire to corner his eleven year old daughter with the intent to break her spirit, one way or another.

Run, Eryn! Get away! But the possessed-Elemmire’s warnings were useless. Laerwen carried through on her threat. His body, his speech, his actions – all were under the witch’s control. He tried to reach out to his child; tried to push her away so she would be safe.

He could affect the outside world no more than the western wind could speak.

And now he had to watch his daughter walk blindly into Laerwen’s trap.

My poor sweet girl…

He saw the anger, the anxiousness and fear, burning in his daughter’s blue eyes. Fear of her own father.

No doubt, that look would haunt him for the rest of his life.

“Where have you been?” Laerwen said. Damn it! The witch had even stolen his voice. “You were told to go to your room and stay there.”

Eryn scowled. “I went to see Rosse. You didn’t tell me I couldn’t.”

Laerwen took a step forward, her voice low; menacing. It hurt his throat. Elemmire hadn’t known his voice could sound so cold. “Do you dare defy your king?”

Eryn met Laerwen’s glare with the same fire her mother had. “I just wanted to see if Rosse felt better. I didn’t do anything wrong.”

Elemmire felt Laerwen’s anger course through him, but could do nothing to stop it. “Do not ask foolish questions. You will learn obedience, child. And if this is the only way, so be it.”

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Title: Blind
Genre: YA Romance

Lead-In: Beth's soul mate, Cameron, died five years ago, before either of them could meet. He has "watched" her for those five years and began appearing in her sleep after saving her from dying in a car accident. This scene is after they've fallen in love and just after Beth considers staying with Cameron instead of waking up. (note: the italics is when they talk to each other through "telepathy", because Cameron is, in essence, in Beth's head.)

"That's why I told you," he said, grabbing both my arms and pulling me to face him. "That's why I told you to live. You shouldn't have chosen this. Beth, I can't let go, I can't move on. I don't want to move on. I'm just stuck in this half-way place. That's why you have to live now, while you can. While you still have a choice. Please." His fingers were digging into my arms, clinging to me, his life. He put his forehead to mine, trying to make his body stop shaking.

"Cameron," I couldn't raise my voice above a breath, "you appeared to me–"

He forced himself to take a breath we both knew he didn't need. "I–"

I felt his response before he said it.

He – regretted it. Me. He regretted being a part of my dreams.

You can't stay here, he whispered. It's time to wake up.

He meant it. He wanted me to wake up, to let him go, to go on the way I had been before my accident. To not stay with him.

My heart woke me up. It didn't want me to hurt like that anymore. But the pain lingered, even stronger now that I wasn't able to hold onto him.

I opened my eyes and stared at the ceiling, unable to draw in a breath that didn't shake.

I couldn't do it. I couldn't admit that my paradise, my beautiful haven, was in anyway corrupt.

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Genre: Young Adult

Sixteen-year-old synesthete DASH is unconvinced his older sister AGGIE is telling the truth about her black eye.

I grabbed her arm. “Aggie, I know you didn’t run into a door. Just tell me—“

“Let go of me! Dad’s coming!” Black lightning bolts shot through her voice.

She twisted out of my grasp and fled toward the stairs. As she passed Dad, he raised a hand to high five her but she flinched and clutched her jacket tighter.

Dad noticed me and offered me the same high five Aggie had refused. “Guess who landed a big new customer today? That’s right. Big Al. Uh huh. Doesn’t make up for the twenty customers we lost last month, but it’s a start, eh?”

I slapped his hand and he continued into Mom’s office where I heard her say, “Al! You’re home already? Gosh, look at the time ... dinner’s not even close to being ready! How was your day?”

“Better than Aggie’s, I take it.”

“She hurt herself again. Ran into a door. She’ll be fine,” Mom said to him.

“She should be more careful,” Al said.

“I know. I told her the same thing.”

Aggie slammed her bedroom door and my head swam. I returned to the kitchen and scooped the onion peels and celery bits out of the sink. I held my breath while I dumped them into the putrid compost can under the sink and wondered why Aggie’s voice added the black lightning bolts. It happened as soon as she heard Dad open the garage door.

Her voice only looked that way when she was scared.

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Title: Green
Genre: YA
Emil and Trudie have a complicated relationship--let's leave it at that.

Emil’s arm slides around my back, drawing me in just close enough so we can still speak, though I don’t know if I want to. We sway, his hand warm against the small of my back, my cheek inches from his shoulder. It’s too freaking much.

I pull away. Out of the corner of my eye I see Michel at our table, eating, and Anna, toying with a straw and looking bored.

“Let’s just go,” I say.

Emil slides his hand into mine. “Tell me, why did you do that stupid thing?”

I’m not going to pretend I don’t know what he’s talking about. “It’s complicated,” I say.

“So now you’re working for the enemy.” The corners of his mouth twist into a

grimace.“I don’t like you in that house alone with a guy you barely know.”

“He’s harmless. And I don’t really have a choice, anyway.”

“You always have a choice.”

“Unless you want to see me during visiting hours only, I have to work there.”

“Well, I don’t like it.”

I whip around, heart pounding. “Why is this important to you?”

He looks at me a long second. “Doru sent me that book last week. We’re emailing each other again. He’s my friend.”

“If he’s your friend then what am I?”

3 Drop The Needle TENSION

The Breakaway

Naomi is trying to escape from her kidnappers by climbing into a tree near the balcony of the house. Her situation isn't helped by the fact that she actually likes her kidnappers . . .

She took another step, her breath rising in thin, misty clouds around her face. Man, it was cold. This had seemed like a good idea a minute ago. Now, staring down at the fence below, she caught a glimpse of the neighbor's yard, and doubted her decision.

No grass to land on. Only stone. The drop looked farther down than she'd thought. Maybe she should go back. This was stupid. If Eric caught her. . . .

She squeezed the branch in her hand.

Keep going! For once, I have to do something brave. He's not going to catch me. I'll jump, get to my feet, and run. I won't ever look back.

Her fingers shook against the iPod in her fist. Thoughts of Jesse raced through her mind. She couldn't think of him. Not right now. If she did, she would turn around and settle right back into the armchair.

She couldn't think about any of them. She'd made up her mind. She had to keep going.

One, two, three steps.

Her body swayed. She straightened her spine.

I can't lower myself down to the next branch with this stupid iPod in my hand. Why did I bring it? I could toss it to the stones below.

Pain stabbed her heart.

No. It was the only thing she had of Jesse.

With trembling, icy fingers, she tried shoving it into the too-tight pocket of her jeans, leaned forward, and slipped.

Down . . . down . . . through wintry air, she grabbed for anything solid.

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TITLE: Untitled
GENRE: YA Mystery
Lottie is a college sophomore at a new school who joins the newspaper staff, affiliates with her sorority, and finds a dead body on campus--and that's just her first week. In this scene, she and Jack -- her handsome yet exasperating editor -- have just finished exploring a secret underground chamber where they had their first kiss, unexpectedly, in the dark. (Jack is the first speaker.)

"Lottie, listen. I'm not sorry I kissed you back there. But I am sorry I made you uncomfortable."

"You didn't. I'm fine."

He was trying to read her gaze, but Lottie kept her eyes resolutely focused somewhere over his right shoulder.

"Just so you know," he said, "Evie and I aren't together."

"Have you told Evie that?"

"I mean, we've been out a few times, but I'm just not—"

"You don't have to explain your social life to me, Jack. It's not my business and I don't care."

"I know I don't have to explain it to you." He sounded exasperated. "But I wanted to, in case that might make you feel better. I just seized the moment back there. That's all it was. No big deal."

For some reason, this made Lottie even madder.

"Is that what you did with Evie in the office? Seize the moment, no big deal?" she asked, her fists clenched at her sides. "Did it ever occur to you that women might not appreciate you just attacking them like that?"

"Attacking? What the—"

"I'm not your stupid groupie, Jack. I'm not falling all over myself to get you to notice me. I never asked you to kiss me, and now it's made things awkward."

"Unless I'm mistaken, you kissed me back."

"You're mistaken."