Week 5 Finalist – Third Place Winner

Author: Ann Hinnenkamp
Category: Paranormal Romance

So, this is what it feels like to die.

Funny, Jude thought. She’d expected it to hurt. She watched as a circle of dark crimson spread out from her body over the pavement. It traveled in small channels through the bumpy, imbedded gravel, creating miniature blood rivers. An ant was swept away by the flood. Poor little thing.

Jude tried to move her hand to help the struggling ant, but her body wouldn’t respond. All she could manage to move was her head. “Sorry, little ant,” she whispered. “You’re on your own. Head for high ground.”

She rolled her head right to check the other side of her body and found it a mirror image of the left. She was on her back, her arms thrown out from her body, her legs spread wide. The force of the gunshots hitting her body had propelled her backwards off her feet to land spread-eagled. It was a miracle her glasses had stayed on, but she wished she could raise her hand to push them up her nose. Her left shoe had gone flying off somewhere, and she’d watched it spin away with a feeling of detachment.

Shouldn’t she be reacting to this? Twenty-eight years old, and her life was over. Ten feet from the back door of her apartment building, in the upper peninsula of Michigan, on a beautiful June evening, all alone. It’s wasn’t fair, was it? She searched inside for some emotion—even panic would have been welcome—but found nothing, just the calm acceptance that had defined most of her life. Her ability to take whatever life threw her way with stoic passivity had always been her greatest strength, and at the same time, her worst flaw.

Never get too excited, never draw attention to yourself, never let anyone know what you’re feeling. If they don’t know you, they can’t hurt you, not really. Stay under the radar. This philosophy had worked just fine for her. Until today.

Today, a man in a mask, standing in the shadows of her apartment building had called out her name. When she’d turned to answer, he’d raised a gun and shot her twice in the chest. He’d stood over her for a moment surveying his work with cold, grey eyes, the gun pointing at her head. Without a word, he’d tucked his gun in his shirt, took a quick look around, and left.

Why? He hadn’t even taken her purse. Why now? No one knew her well enough to want her dead. She didn’t matter that much to anyone, not even herself.

Moving her head again, she looked at the sky. The sun was setting, and warm oranges and reds trailed up from the west to fade into darkness as they headed east. She had a fleeting moment of regret, a flicker of what might have been, but she quickly pushed it aside. I’m ready God, she thought to the sky. You can take me now.

A man’s head came into view above her and she let out a bubbly gasp. His chestnut hair fell around his face and neck to form a halo. The fading light spread intriguing shadows across chiseled cheek bones and a strong chin, with a hint of a cleft. But it was his eyes that drew her in. The light from the sunset reflected out from creamy butterscotch, infusing his eyes with a warm glow. They looked down at her kindly, twinkling a little.

“I bet that smarts, doesn’t it?” he said.

Jude tried to answer, but she didn’t have enough strength left to speak. She wanted to thank him for being there, for not letting her die alone, for finally showing up in her life. Even if he was too late.

Another head came into view. This time Jude managed a croak of amazement. Could God have sent her an angel? The second man had blue-black hair that fell in soft waves to his shoulders. Full red lips contrasted with his flawless pale skin. His eyes were dark blue, almost black, with hardly any white around them. There was something not right about his eyes, but they were so beautiful. A woman could lose herself in those eyes.

As he held his right hand over her injured chest, his eyes lost their focus. Jude felt a tingle in her chest, a slight burning sensation that caused pain. The first pain she’d felt since she’d been shot.

He drew his hand away, blinking his eyes back into focus. The burning stopped. The man stared down at her, a puzzled look on his face.

“Well?” the first man asked.

The dark one sighed and shook his head. “I do not know. I do not think she knows. I sense no evil in her, no guilt from wrong doing. She had no part in this, or if she did, she does not comprehend what she has done.”

The first man took her chin in his hand and gently moved her head to face him. “Do you know who shot you, or why?”

Jude looked up at him, struggling for enough air to form an answer. When that didn’t work, she settled for shaking her head. For some reason she’d started crying. She never cried. Not since she was little and had cried for days waiting for her parents to come back for her. That’s when she’d learned crying did no good. All it did was draw attention. The bad kind of attention that landed you in the crazy ward of an orphanage.

“She cannot speak. The damage is too severe,” the second man said.

The first man searched her face again. “Can you help her, David?”

David’s eyebrows shot up. He examined the other man’s anxious face. “Two bullets entered her body. One went straight through, missing all her vital organs. The other pierced her left lung and continued on to sever her spinal column just beneath her neck. She is dying, Aiden.”


22 responses

16 10 2007

Love your opening line, Ann. You’ve also got some unique twists that made me want to keep reading – like, the fact that she’s dying and feels nothing. And so many seeds successfully planted that make me ask “why?” – in a good way. Like, why’s she been shot? Why is she ready to die? Why has she lived her life under the radar? Who are the two men? Is she really going to die?

And, I thoroughly like the heroine and am cheering for her to make it, as I’m sensing that great adventures that will change her current outlook on life (and death) are in store for her. Given her attitude, you could have made her come across as a “Pitiful Pearl” (I think I got that phrase from Leigh in one of her classes, and on one of my submissions – LOL), but she doesn’t. You’ve managed to make her come across as sensitive and caring woman.

Great job, Ann. I’d definitely read more.


16 10 2007
Marcia James

I agree with Rachelle that the opening line hooked me and your heroine is very appealing. Thanks goodness your genre is paranormal romance, so we know she will survive and will have a relationship with at least one of these men! ;-D I look forward to reading this book once it’s published!
— Marcia James

16 10 2007
Contest Finalist Picked in Iowa « Chase the Dream Writers Contest

[…] and in between eating and traveling, we did manage to pick this week’s finalist and mini-critique […]

16 10 2007

Hi Ann! Congrats! I love the power in your writing, very arresting with a compelling hook and I’m dying to know which (unless it’s both? 😉 of these heroes she falls for.


16 10 2007

A wonderful read, loved the opening and the way you’ve described the hero/s. I’d definately want to read more of this. 🙂

17 10 2007

Thank you Rachelle and all. It’s an honor to be included in such a talented group of writers.

20 10 2007
cathleen ross

great start made me want to read on

21 10 2007
Ashley Ladd

I can’t wait to read the rest. I hope it’s published. What a unique heroine and such sexy heroes…

21 10 2007
Leigh Michaels

Ann, I’m fascinated by your opening scene, and I found the details you used compelling. I thought Jude’s shocky reactions were plausible and convincing, and I really liked that she was thinking about the ant. It’s the kind of small, obscure, and irrational detail that one might think about in such a shocking moment, and it was such a concrete way to show what sort of person she was.

I’d definitely read on.


25 10 2007

You hooked me with this opening and I want to know more. Who shot her? Why? What’s going to happen next?

3 11 2007

Ann–Congratulations! Your opening is so realistic, and the slide into paranormal events is so convincing. I love Jude already.

21 11 2007
Jade Taylor

Excellent writing. Great opening. Just enough information to make me want to read on. Let me know when this is published. I do want to read it.


21 11 2007

Loved Jude….especially the little touches like the ant and the fact she wears glasses……hey a real person. Can’t wait to read the rest.

21 11 2007


As always, you did a spectacular job.


21 11 2007
Jim Pounds

Wow, Ann, you hooked me! I can’t imagine not wanting to read more. I knew you were talented but this opens up a whole new door of admiration from me.

21 11 2007

Ann, Incredibel writing! Love the part on Jude getting shot and her intense feelings to go with it. Please publish the rest.

22 11 2007
Kristin J


I love the detail in this excerpt! I like the plot twist and want to read more. I can’t wait to see it published and be able to read the whole book!

23 11 2007
Hude Ward

Jude seems like a great character, I can’t wait to read more about her.

25 11 2007
Julie E

Ann, I am hooked. You’ve been able to give me so much detail on Jude in a short excerpt that makes me want more.. who are these men watching over her..

3 12 2007
Paula Eykelhof and Megan Long (editors, Harlequin)

We found this an intriguing, if slightly distressing, opening. Very focused on the heroine’s reactions, which do seem believable. We like the clarity and simplicity of the writing, and we were left interested to know where this was going. Will this be submitted to Nocturne?

5 12 2007
Elaine English (agent)

You created some very interesting and fresh descriptions. creating a very immediate sense of events that grab the attention of a reader. I liked that you explained the heroine’s lack of feeling, but when all was said and done, I just didn’t feel that her reactions overall were believable.

12 12 2007
Cheryl Ferguson (agent)

Interesting premise and very solid writing, but the sense of urgency is missing–she’s dying and the men want to chat. Heal first, chat later; or at least acknowledge the seriousness of the situation. However, I still enjoyed the read.

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