Jilly: Short Story–Challenge Accepted

The MacHugh saga continues 🙂 .

Last week I wrote a short story about Jordy MacHugh, the Canadian music teacher who inherits a derelict estate in the Scottish Highlands and decides to build an outdoor opera house by the sea.

Elizabeth continued the story and raised the stakes by introducing Jenny, a tourist from Kansas, who discovers twin babies in a basket, courtesy of the mysterious MacHugh Blessing Stone.

Maeve, the local seer, pronounces Jordy, Jenny and the twins a family, but as Jenny observes (via Kay) in Friday’s writing sprint, the whole setup screams Trouble with a capital T.

Read on to find out what happens next. Using the prompts from Friday’s writing sprint, our character(s) face a challenge. And the story includes the words equipment, belly, aimless, baffling, noise, bloke, fuzzy, clever, beekeeper, footwork, glass, dream, corduroy, setup, lump and artist.

Challenge Accepted

They couldn’t go on this way. Somebody had to make this village of dreamers face reality, and apparently that someone was Jenny.

Sunday service was over, and she emerged from the small stone kirk into the sunlit, postage-stamp sized churchyard. She settled the oversized wicker basket at her feet and chatted politely with the villagers, all twenty of them. They were kind and friendly, but their warm welcome wasn’t for Jenny herself. Not really. Her true value to them was as companion-dash-housemate to the new laird, Jordy MacHugh, and as carer for his adopted twin daughters.

“Swap you!” Moira from the But & Ben bistro, a vision in purple tweed and moss green corduroy, handed Jenny a covered basket and picked up the larger one that contained Elspeth and Isla, snug as a pair of bugs in their fuzzy romper suits. She deftly lifted the blanket and checked for rattles, nappies and all the equipment required to keep the twins clean, dry and contented for a couple of hours. Then she departed for the village at a brisk clip, offering Jenny a conspiratorial grin over her shoulder that said I know what you’re up to.

She didn’t. Nobody in the village did, and Jenny intended to keep it that way.

She’d fallen into her current role through a combination of her own aimless lifestyle and Maeve from the Pointing Dog’s fancy footwork. Now people were making assumptions. She had to unwind the setup with Jordy before somebody got hurt.

The laird-come-lately let himself out of the side door that led to the organ loft, bell-tower, and Maeve-the-Beekeeper’s rooftop hives. Jordy was Canadian—an incomer like Jenny—but you’d never have known. It was baffling, but from his curly red-gold hair to his Sunday best kilt, he belonged in the Highlands. He smiled at Jenny and she swallowed her nerves down deep into her belly, where they burned worse than Moira’s infamous loganberry liqueur.

“What’s that?” Jordy raised an eyebrow at the covered basket.

“A picnic. I thought we might walk out to the lighthouse.” Jenny tried to sound casual. “Moira said she’d watch the twins for the afternoon.”

“Fine idea.” He was even starting to add a Highland overlay to his transatlantic drawl. He treated her to another easy smile that faded to a concerned frown as he met her eyes. “Right. Let’s go.”

He settled the basket on one muscular arm, offered her the other, and they strolled out of the churchyard and along the cliff path that led to the lighthouse.

“What is it?” he asked as soon as they were safely alone. “Problem? Can I help?”

“No. Yes.” Jenny dropped his arm and turned to look out to sea. High in the cloudless sky a mob of bright yellow-headed gannets plummeted at high speed, one after another, toward the glass-smooth ocean. “We need to talk about the twins’ future. To find the right person to care for them after I’m gone.”

For a full minute there was no sound but the waves below the cliff, washing gently against the rocks. Then the scuffing noise of a basket hitting the turf.

“Gone?” Jordy echoed. “What do you mean, gone?”

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Jilly: Short Story–The Laird’s Legacy

I loved Elizabeth’s short story Hands Off! using last week’s Writing Sprint prompt words.

That excellent tale inspired me to try a Highland-based short story offering a nod to Jeanne’s recent trip to Nova Scotia and using this Friday’s prompts: a character who found something unexpected, incorporating the words basket, symbol, siren, bottle, freewill, baby, future, confusion, absurdly, little, grabbing, aroma, banana, vision, identical and robbery.

Here goes!

The Laird’s Legacy

“As you can see, we’re jam-packed…” Moira Douglas gestured to the dining room behind her. The But & Ben was rarely full in high summer, let alone in early October, but tonight every family in the village was there, trying to look casual and hoping Moira’s home cooking and smooth talking would persuade the visiting Canadian where Charlie the Solicitor Advocate’s carefully worded suggestions had failed.

Jordy MacHugh smiled politely. He had to duck his head to get through the doorway but now he stood tall, blocking the entrance. It was an assertive sort of politeness, worthy of his long-dead ancestors, masters of cattle raiding and border robbery. “The Pointing Dog had a kitchen fire. They had to close for the evening, so they sent me over here. They promised you’d feed me.”

Of course they did. There was a lot of him to feed, and while he’d reportedly made fast work of a full Highland breakfast complete with porridge and black pudding, that was eight hours ago. Since then Charlie had walked the incomer all the way round the boundaries of the McHugh property with little more to fuel them than a packet of oatcakes and a flask of coffee.

Right on cue, Jordy’s stomach rumbled. “I’m starving hungry, and it’s a twenty-mile drive to the next village. Can you please squeeze me in somehow?”

“Well…” Moira drew out the word like a siren call. “There’s a table in the kitchen. You could sit there and chat to me while I cook. The food’s the same.”

His face lit up like the aurora borealis on a clear winter’s night. “That’d be great. Thank you.”

Moira seized the advantage. Continue reading

Jilly: Short Story–The Great Escape

I was too busy to play along with Elizabeth’s writing sprints last Friday, but I was in the mood for something upbeat and I really liked the prompt words. So…here’s a short story featuring a character who lost something important, including the words proud, plaid, thief, viper, whisper, drawer, crazy, disguised, deceit, fictional, ideal, sibling, insecure, nerve, garden, and squirrel.

The Great Escape

It was a crazy plan, so audacious that nobody suspected a thing.

Theodora Greatly-Minted started the rumor herself. She confided in one carefully selected friend after obtaining a pledge of utmost secrecy. Then watched it snowball from a faint whisper to the hottest tidbit in the ton.

Poor Lady Theodora. Too proud to admit she’d fallen victim to The Squirrel. Too haughty to acknowledge that her family’s place in the highest reaches of the Upper Ten Thousand was suddenly— calamitously—insecure.

Society’s most poisonous vipers salivated over every humiliating detail.

The Squirrel, legendary thief and expert forger, was a master of deceit. He’d waited until Theodora was out of town, disguised himself as her long-lost older brother, and convinced the manager of Cahoots Bank that he was the heir to the Greatly-Minted fortune. The fictional sibling had emptied the vaults, mortgaged the town house and the country estate, and sold every painting, horse, and stick of furniture. He’d left Theodora so indebted she didn’t have a feather to fly with.

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Jeanne: It’s All About the Plot, ’bout the Plot, No Subplots!

sign-3228713_640Last week I started work on a short story, a prequel to my Touched by a Demon series. It features Dara’s grandparents and explains how Esther and Lonnie met and how they came to start the demon-fighting ministry that plays such a major role in Dara’s life.

I’ve had it in mind to write this story for a while, so that I’d have a free taste of my Touched by a Demon world to offer potential readers. I’ve written short stories before, even won awards with them, but they were women’s fiction rather than romance. (If you’re interested, you can find a couple of them at www.jeanneestridge.com under the Extras tab.)

As discussed previously in this post, romances are inherently more complex than other forms of genre fiction. Because you have a main plot arc, a romance arc, and character arcs for both the hero and the heroine, even the bare minimum is a lot to juggle. Because I write paranormal, there’s an additional layer of complexity with the necessary world-building.

I couldn’t quite wrap my head around how I’d do all that in 10,000 words or less, so I signed up for a short story writing class through OIRWA, the online international chapter of RWA. In the first lesson the instructor handed me the solution, which is so obvious I’m embarrassed to share it: No subplots. Continue reading

Jilly: Were There’s a Will–Sunday Short Story

Last weekend I was part-way through Elizabeth’s short story challenge when I was struck down by a surprise health problem. All’s well now, I’m glad to report, but after three days of blood tests is it any wonder my story brain turned to vampires and werewolves?

Better late than never. Here are the prompt words, and my attempt:

A scandalous family secret is uncovered during the reading of a will, using the words

Eternity                     Teeth                          Grasp                         Poison

Land                           Cocoon                      Blankly                      Haunt

Capture                      Booze                         Casket                        Faint

Bluster                      Shake                         Nerve                         Awful

 

Were There’s a Will

Annabel McCallan-Whyte stared blankly at her rapacious baby brother. She understood all the words he used, but for a moment or two there she’d failed to grasp his meaning. The sheer nerve of him made her shake with rage. Grandpa was barely in his casket, and Jonathan was already peddling his unique brand of poison.

“A private golf club? Conference facilities? A helipad? Luxury housing? It’s beyond awful. Grandpa would haunt you.”

Jonathan shrugged, but his eyes slid away from hers.

“Come on, sis,” he wheedled. “This place is huge. What else would you do with a hundred acres of prime development land?”

“Give it to the village,” she shot back. “That’s what Grandpa wanted. Use the house for a community center, like they’ve been doing for years.”

Jonathan shrugged again. “So buy or build them one from your half of what this place is worth.”

Luckily the door opened before she could brain him with a priceless Benvenuto Cellini candlestick. She knew old Mr. McLeish, who’d been Grandpa’s lawyer for as long as anyone could remember, but the curly-haired, smooth-faced young guy with him was a stranger. Probably born in the twenty-first century, or at least the very end of the twentieth.

The new kid wore a sweatshirt, a slouchy hat and a broad smile, none of which seemed remotely appropriate given the seriousness of the occasion. Mr. McLeish didn’t seem to mind, but she sent the young man a stern glare. He winked at her.

“Who’s that?” Jonathan glowered at the boy, his face dark with suspicion.

“All in good time, Mr. McCallan-Whyte.” The lawyer shuffled to his usual place at the end of the dining table and set a slim file on the polished walnut. The mystery kid helped him settle into his seat, and then parked himself in Grandpa’s carved chair at the head of the table, where he slouched, entirely at ease.

It was too much to bear. Annabel almost reached for the candlestick again, but something in the boy’s expression made her think better of it. She knew she’d never met him before, but there was something terribly familiar about the way his cheeks dimpled, as though he was enjoying a private joke at their expense.

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Nancy: International Woman of Mystery

At the time this post hits the internet, I’ll be off on an adventure in a far (from me) city, soaking up local culture and doing serious research for a long-promised future series. I’ll give you more details about my trip next week, but for now thought I’d share a few pictures, interspersed throughout this post, that might give you a clue about where I am and what I’m researching.

If you can’t figure out my travel destination from the pictures, maybe this scene, which appeared on the blog a long time ago and might or might not end up in book 1 of that future series, will provide another hint. Happy reading, and I’ll be back next week to tell you all about my travels and the stories they’ve inspired!

Murder Clues

When I slid into the passenger’s seat of Pernilla’s tiny black Puegot a little after nine that night, she didn’t spare me a glance or a word. Just floored the gas pedal and sent us zooming down the side streets of Vesterbro before I could even click my seatbelt into place. I took her dark mood to mean she’d neither forgiven nor forgotten the sins I’d committed against her over the past 72 hours. Continue reading

Jilly: Sunday Short Story–Dr. Livingstone’s Redemption

Spring is here, at last! The snow has gone (sorry if, like 8Lady Michille, you’re still knee deep in the cold, white stuff), and every day gets a little brighter, a little longer. This is usually my most productive time of year, so I have high hopes that my right brain will emerge from hibernation some time soon.

To help things along, here’s a short story using Elizabeth’s most recent Friday writing cues. This week, she gave us the theme stuck in an airport, and these prompt words:

loudspeaker                seat                                smile                            chemical

contagious                   apparatus                     skyline                         robotic

pest                               cage                               memory                       limousine

cellular                          homicide                      plague                          fashionable

 

Dr. Livingstone’s Redemption

Dr. Jean-Xavier Livingstone, erstwhile homicide detective and current jack-of-all-trades, powered down his scanning apparatus. In the time it would once have taken him to wait for the elevator, he exchanged his lightweight suit for a pair of denim cutoffs, secured the old sugar mill that served as the terminal building, and headed for his boat.

There were worse places to be than stuck in an airport, if it happened to be on a private island owned by a reclusive photographer.

Minor downsides: the robotic announcements that issued from the single loudspeaker when a flight was expected; a faint chemical tang, courtesy of the recent pest control visit.

Minor upside: the fashionable women that emerged from the private jets, all designer-casual with their long legs, long hair and dark glasses as they undulated from ergonomically designed seat to dark-windowed limousine. Many of them offered him a smile as they passed, and their good humor was somehow contagious.

Better still: no cellular coverage, moody skies over mirror-smooth water that stretched unbroken to the skyline, and an old wooden cottage over the far side of the mountain, right on the shore. A shelf of books, half a bottle of old Clynelish, and some of the best fishing he’d ever enjoyed.

No rulebook to cage him.

No memory of past failures to plague him.

Best of all: nobody had died yet. And this time, he’d make sure nobody did.