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Sunday, October 07, 2012

October Romance


My husband and I were married thirty-eight years ago this month. My son’s wedding is this Saturday. Forget about June being for lovers; as far as I’m concerned, October is the month for romance.

As it happens, this is also the month we announce the winner of the Contemporary Romance category of our Launch Pad contest.

A perfect fit for this category, this heartwarming romance meets contemporary issues head-on. 

One of the judges felt irritated with the protagonist’s situation until the character’s motivations became clear; then the judge was won over. Both judges were impressed with the vividness of characterization. They said it was as if they knew the protagonist personally and recognized her right away as a real, flesh-and-blood person.

The winning story is Afraid to Dance by Bethany R. Kaczmarek of Jarrettsville, Maryland. She joins our previous category winners as a final contender for this year’s grand prize.

One more category remains in this year's Launch Pad Contest: Science Fiction/Fantasy/Horror. If you’d like to participate, you’d better hurry, because the submission deadline is in two short days (Wednesday, October 10 at 11:59 pm). Check out the official rules on the Launch Pad Contest tab above, and get your entry to us right away. Questions? Contact us at NovelRocketContest@gmail.com for a prompt reply.

Meanwhile, we hope you’ll enjoy the first 3400 words of month’s Contemporary Romance winner:


Afraid to Dance
by
Bethany R. Kaczmarek

Chapter One

Photo by K. S. Buffaloe
Kasia Bernolak was on her own.
Her father always said she’d been born with sunset in her hair and fire in her veins—all hope, all conviction, all passion. If he were here now—her daddy, her Tatusz—the sight of her would break his heart.
She hardly recognized who she’d become.
Perched on a boulder and soaked to the bone, Kasia stared out at the western South Carolina mountains, unable to dredge up enough motivation to get out of the downpour. Huntington Valley’s moss green canopy spread like an afghan over acres and acres, right up to the edge of the city. She climbed the ridge that morning hoping to breathe in some of Spring’s vitality, but she’d only managed to call down the rain.
Kasia tugged her ponytail over her shoulder, plucking a few stubborn tendrils from her neck and wrapping them around her finger. Thanks to the rain, her hair had dulled from sunset red to mud brown, and her curls lay as limp as her spirit. They suited her better now.
Nothing about her was fiery.
She wished she could somehow call out the girl she used to be—the girl whose heart overflowed with music, the justice-seeker, the champion of the underdog. The Kasia who wasn’t afraid to fight.
These days it was easier to nod and paint on a smile. Blake rarely compromised.
But keeping him happy shouldn’t cost her everything.
Her gaze traced the winding road on the far side of the valley. According to any GPS, home was a thirty-minute drive up through Langston Gap. Maps lied. True home—with its piping hot herbal tea, whispered Polish conversation, and strong-armed hugs—was forever out of reach. Mama and Tatusz would argue that homecomings were always a good idea, but some mistakes couldn’t be undone.
Hopping down from the rock, she pulled her clinging t-shirt from against her skin and stretched. It would be nice to have something to dry her face off, but even now, a hushed drizzle fell. She’d wasted the morning trying to rally her heart. Over the past year, it had become almost as unfeeling as the granite beneath her—tough enough to withstand the storms, detached enough to cope.
She wiped her hands on her shorts out of habit and glanced at her wrist. Her bare wrist. She’d left her watch in the room at the last minute. She simply needed room to breathe until—
Panic knocked the wind out of her. The clouds. The sun. She’d lost track of time. Blake hated when she was late. She wound her way down the mucky dirt trail, rubbing the rain from her eyes with the back of her hand. As the path leveled out, she broke into a sprint.
Toeing the trail, she veered to the right and cut down through a tilted stand of trees and paused. She wasn’t ready to leave yet. Her fingers gripped the slick bark of a birch as the scents of damp earth and mountain laurel conjured images of a time when she had the freedom to lose herself in the mountains for hours.
A gift she’d taken for granted.
Above the treetops, the rain’s pitter-patter morphed into a drum roll. Every other living creature in the vicinity had taken cover. Kasia closed her eyes and wrapped herself up in the solitude.
Twenty minutes later, Kasia walked past the outermost buildings of Beasley University’s old, brick campus. Cold raindrops pricked her skin.
She shivered.
Step after step closer to Blake. Closer to the sneer that would greet her explanation, closer to some sarcastic remark about her disregard for punctuality.
Closer. Closer.
Every step sapped her energy.
Blake was easier to stand up to when he was a couple miles away.
Kasia shoved open the cafeteria door and stepped inside. She took a moment to collect herself beside a small palmetto, transplanted into these South Carolina mountains just like her and her Polish family. Chatter and laughter ricocheted off the marble floor and walls around her as she bent to wring out her hair over the soil of the potted plant.
The clock on the stucco wall mocked her. Quarter after one. Blake might not have waited. Her sneakers squeaked across the floor and into the warmly lit cafeteria. The smell of garlic and oven fresh bread pulled her in as she scanned the room, spotting him right away.
Appetite decimated.
He eased back in his chair, hands clasped behind his head. Surveyor of the world.
Willing her heart to match the steady cadence of her footsteps, she prayed a calm façade would hide her discomfort. Under the surface, her mind composed a discordant symphony of flat explanations and sharp words.
 Blake greeted her with a squint and a smirking once-over. “Drowned rat isn’t your best look, Kosh. Good thing the lunch rush is over.”
Maybe. She nodded and shifted her weight, balling her toes in her soggy shoes. She might welcome the distraction a crowd could offer.
He eyed his prized Armani watch. “It started raining at quarter ‘til. If you’d been here on time, you’d be dry.”
Kasia tightened her ponytail. “I needed a walk to clear my head.”
“Hope it worked. You’ve been off lately.”
She scraped at the hem of her shorts. All that had mattered was the climb—conquering something rather than being the one to lose again. Lifting her gaze, she noticed an empty plate smeared with tomato sauce near his elbow. “You ate already?”
“Well, I wasn’t going to wait for you indefinitely.” He brushed his bangs out of his eyes.
“Sorry.” She touched the hard, angular stone on her finger, holding the ring firmly in place. “You plan to stay though?”
He pointed to a chair. “Sit down, Kosh. I’ll go get you some lunch.”
She blinked in surprise, and he was gone.
(Click here to continue)



Yvonne Anderson writes fiction that takes you out of this world.

Check out what readers are saying about her space fantasy series, Gateway to Gannah. Book 1: The Story in the Stars “…captivates readers from exciting start to satisfying finish…”
Book 2: Words in theWind is “…a thoughtful and nuanced piece… remarkably solid…”




9 comments:

Martha W. Rogers said...

Very good beginning. Only one thing jumped out at me and ruined one paragraph. She can't hop down from the rock, pull her t-shirt from her body and stretch all at the same time. Those participle phrases will really get you if you don't think them through. It may be small, but too many of them will cause me to stop reading a book. Still, this story intrigued me, and makes me want to read more.

BTW: I think October is a great month for weddings, too. We celebrate 53 years October 24.

Bethany Kaczmarek said...

Ah, and God keeps me humble. :) Thanks, Martha, for the encouragement, though. I've always got room to improve.

Gina Holmes said...

Bethany won?! No big surprise. I discovered her too at the BRMCWC in May. She's going to be a star!

Bethany Kaczmarek said...

Yea! I don't think it's hit me yet. I am so deeply thankful to God for instilling this passion in me and for giving me stories to tell. Novel Rocket, thank you for both the opportunity and the recognition. There's no way I'd have gotten here without the insight and encouragement of other wiser better writers than I. :) (But that's not going to keep me from dancing!)

As for the judge that needed winning over, I completely get that. (Thank you for reading on!) ;) I've been frustrated with people in Kasia's position--even walked a mile or two in her shoes--and I'm thankful that God used that little jaunt to instill a sense of compassion and empathy in me. It's the reason I'm telling the story. . .

I love you, Novel Rocket!

Bethany Kaczmarek said...

Shoot. *shuffles feet in the sand*

Hey, Gina, PS. When you say "She's going to be a star!" can you say it like Blake Shelton on the Voice? ;)

Heather Day Gilbert said...

Definitely pulls you right in. I'm a big fan of red-headed heroines/heroes. Great job, Bethany!

Erynn said...

Yay!!! I'm excited and proud. Can't wait to see what God does with this one.

Martha W. Rogers said...

Don't we all, but what an encouragement to win the contest. I immediately felt compassion for Kasia. Makes me want to see how the situation will resolve.
Blessings on you and your writing.

Mary said...

Fantastic writing Bethany!! I love it!! Congrats!!!!!