Week 10 Finalist – First Place Winner

Author: Leslie Marshman ( Interview )
Category: Short Contemporary Romance

Nicole Parker knew life wasn’t fair. She’d learned that lesson early.

And often.

She swung her legs out of her ancient Volkswagen Beetle and stared across the crushed shell parking lot at Magruder’s Bait and Tackle.

But this was beyond unfair.

She had sworn ten years ago to never again set foot in Crystal Creek. She had run as fast and as far as her pitiful bank balance allowed and never looked back.

Until now.

Now it seemed the gods were playing some cosmic practical joke on her.

Now her future depended on returning to her past. To a town she had hated, owned by a man she had loved.

Nicole plucked at her silk blouse, plastered to her damp skin with Gulf Coast humidity. She unbuttoned the cuffs, shoved the sleeves above her elbows and marched toward the store.

Here we go.

The wood-framed screen door banged shut behind her. Her eyes adjusted slowly to the dim interior. Camping and fishing essentials filled wooden shelves. A soda dispenser and coffee maker sat on a table against the wall. Coolers of bait hummed and the minnow tank gurgled softly.

Whoa. Time warp. Everything looked exactly the same, right down to the old codgers sitting at rickety tables in the center of the room. They stopped playing cards and dominoes just long enough to turn and stare. She didn’t see Magruder among them.

A middle-aged woman perched on a stool behind the counter, flipping pages in a magazine. She squinted at Nicole through an exhale of cigarette smoke.

“Whatcha need, hon?” she rasped with a four-pack-a-day voice.

What did she need? She needed to not be here. She needed a different life. She needed…

“A large coffee, please.” Nicole handed the woman a dollar. “And I need to speak with the owner.”

“Just help yourself to the coffee. Cups are next to the pot.” She held out a palmful of coins. “Now, the owner-”

Nicole reached for her change and her sleeve caught the display rack of gum and mints by the register. It toppled and crashed to the floor.

Nicole squatted and grabbed packages of gum while cylinders of mints rolled everywhere. Chuckles filled the room and her cheeks burned with humiliation.

She kept her eyes downcast, intent on the floor in front of her. Her left hand cupped what she’d already collected against her chest as she duck-walked forward, stretching her fingers toward a tube of Lifesavers rolling just beyond her reach.

Suddenly the worn toe of a large black cowboy boot stopped the candy. Startled, she snatched back her hand, lost her balance and fell on her butt, once again dumping her stash of gum and mints.

Sighing, Nicole swept her hair out of her eyes. She concentrated on the scuff-marked boots in front of her. Her gaze crept up long, straight legs in snug-fitting jeans. And where those legs met in an inverted V, her angle of view revealed a substantial bulge that caused nerve endings deep within her to sizzle and pop.

Oh my.

Vague memories of a life that involved more than just work teased her mind as her eyes stalled below belt level.

“Need a little help, darlin’?”

The jeans bent at the knees and Nicole came face to face with her past. Her heart pounded painfully in her chest, then seemed to stop beating completely.

“Clay?” Nicole searched his face for traces of the boy she had once loved. The softness of youth was gone, replaced by angles and lines and a rugged handsomeness. The slight cleft in his chin had deepened, and his gentle gray eyes had hardened to steel.

“Don’t tell me you didn’t recognize me, Nick.” Clayton Barnett’s deep drawl made parts of her tingle that hadn’t in way too long.

“I…didn’t see your face.”

“I noticed.” A crooked smile twitched at the corner of his mouth. That sexy, perfect mouth that had long ago taught her how to kiss.

Clay grabbed her under the arms and lifted her effortlessly. Then he held her, his thumbs brazenly close to what were no longer his to touch.

But she remembered that touch. And missed it. Her nipples hardened and strained against the sheer fabric of her blouse. They burned with a need that spread south like wildfire. She gasped and breathed in his scent of soap and clean sweat and fresh air. The scent of a man who worked for a living, not a millionaire born and bred.

He held her as if entitled to. As if he hadn’t tossed her away when he had finished with her years ago, like a broken toy. Replaceable.

Nicole shrugged from his grasp and steadied her wobbly knees. Chin high, she met his gaze straight on.

“I can stand on my own two feet.”

Clay’s smile slid away.

“You always could, Nick. Too damn well, sometimes.”

He spun away and walked to the coffee machine.

She noticed his jeans looked pretty darn good from that angle, too. The muscles that stretched his black T-shirt were those of a man now. She remembered the feel of those muscles with nothing covering them but the sweat-slick skin of a first love on a hot summer night.

Give me strength.

She wasn’t here to drool over the adult version of the boy who stole her heart. Stole it. Broke it. And kept the biggest piece of it.

She was here to find the owner of this dilapidated worm farm and find out why he wouldn’t sell, despite an offer for twice its value. Her boss had the misguided idea that because she’d once lived here, she had more influence than the land developer who had hired their architectural firm. Hah!


18 responses

20 11 2007

Leslie, what really hooked me on this entry is the tension between the hero and the heroine. I like the way she took his appearance in as she let her gaze slowly travel his body, then the surprise of realizing it’s Clay. Clay’s comeback, i.e., “I noticed,” was cute, too. 🙂 This was a fun way to introduce the two, and hint at the conflict between them. Very enjoyable!


20 11 2007
Marcia James

I would love to read more of this book! The reunion story has great potential for yummy love scenes!
— Marcia James 😉

20 11 2007

Great job, Leslie! This seems like a perfect opening for short contemporary.

21 11 2007

Hi Leslie,
This is just the kind of alpha hero I love! All best wishes on being finalist!


23 11 2007

I just got back from out of town, and what a great surprise to come home to! Thanks everyone for your kind comments. And thank you, Rachelle and Leigh, for a great opportunity. I’m thrilled to be a finalist.


24 11 2007
Colleen Thompson

Nice work, Leslie! Best of luck to you.

24 11 2007
Linda Warren

What a great opening. I loved it. Congratulations and best of luck.
Linda Warren

24 11 2007

A very good start, I hope to read the rest of the story in the near future. Good Luck….you can win this.

24 11 2007
Ana Aragon

Great job, Leslie. I love alpha heroes with Southern drawls! Can’t wait to read the entire story!

24 11 2007
Bob Woolsey


Very good descriptive writing. I was disappointed with the nipple remark, I was expecting something a little better there but the rest of it was very good.

24 11 2007
Rick Cummings

Wow! I don’t get into romantic literature but I’d sure read the rest. Keep up the good work


24 11 2007
Jo Gregory

Nice going!
Congratulations, Leslie. 🙂

Best, -Jo

24 11 2007
Dawn Temple


Great job. I felt like I was in that bait job. Terrific setting details.

Reunion stories are my favorite, and I can’t wait to read more.

Best of luck!


24 11 2007
Cheryl Bolen

What a great beginning! The author has definitely studied Silhouette’s Desire line. This would be a perfect fit there. Best of luck to a very talented lady.

25 11 2007

Leslie —

Loved the story. Loved the writing craft. Loved the cadence and rhythm and beats. :-)))

Excellent job using white space. And — I noticed you used some rhetorical devices:

Anaphora – She needed to not be here. She needed a different life. She needed…
Polysyndeton – The softness of youth was gone, replaced by angles and lines and a rugged handsomeness.

Excellent! AND — I look forward to meeting you in person when I present a full day workshop in Texas in February. Too fun!


4 12 2007
Paula Eykelhof and Megan Long (editors, Harlequin)

Good opening. Although the scenario is certainly one we’ve seen before (you could even call it a classic of the genre), it’s very well handled. Hero and heroine are clearly defined from the outset and there’s a nice sense of energy. Our first suggestion is to try Silhouette Desire. Best of luck!

5 12 2007
Elaine English (agent)

Very well written and engaging from the opening. Your hero and heroine come across immediately as very strong and believable characters. I would hope that the story has some fresh and inventive twists to play off this traditional story line. Cowboy stories seem to be having a resurgence in popularity.

13 12 2007
Cheryl Ferguson

The chemistry sizzles between these strong, appealing characters and the story is interesting despite the familiar plot, which leads me to hope the rest of the story is just as creative as this scene.

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