Last week, I decided it would be fun to take a break and write a romantic short story that I could put up over here as a sort of holiday present. Something you could download for free. A very short story, maybe a few thousand words. Just a sweet holiday romance. And since I’ve always been a sucker for snowbound and trapped alone together stories, I thought that’s what I’d write.
I should have known better.
Now, before you all yell at me for wandering off on a tangent, I have completed rough drafts of both the novella and one short story and am about to start a second erotic short. So it’s not like I’m slacking off. I’ve been very productive.
Anyway, I started off thinking about this woman named Jenna, walking in the snow. No, not walking, she was hiking. I don’t know where, someplace cold and remote where there’s snow. She lives in a cabin. And she had a dog with her. No, wait, not a dog. A wolfdog that she sort of rescued last winter and calls Luna. Not really tame at all. Don’t ask why, I have no idea. Luna just showed up.
So she’s hiking along with her not-so-tame wolfdog and she’s following some tracks in the freshly fallen snow. So far, so good. Here’s the first paragraph I wrote:
Luna smelled the man before Jenna saw him, the wolfdog’s low growl served as both challenge and warning. Jenna knew they were getting close, judging by the increasingly ragged footprints she’d been tracking through fresh snow for the past half hour. Whoever he was, the man was either injured or exhausted. Maybe both. Or he might be faking injury in order to draw her closer.
And I stopped and thought, well, she certainly seems like the suspicious type. But okay, maybe she has reason to be. So I wrote some more:
As they approached the dark figure sprawled on the ground in stark contrast to the snow accumulated under a small stand of winter-bare trees, Jenna held one hand out to her side in a “stay” command. She hoped Luna wouldn’t attack the man before she could figure out why he’d ventured this far into her territory. Although Jenna knew from past experience that Luna had her own sense of survival and would do as she pleased. They respected each other’s boundaries and mostly that worked out fine.
Jenna evaluated the man as she approached him with caution, moving slowly. She estimated his height as at least six feet, with broad shoulders filling out his jacket. He was wearing a large fully-loaded pack that didn’t look new, letting her know he at least had enough sense or experience not to abandon his supplies when the going got tough. His clothing was layered and the type meant to survive extreme weather conditions, so he wasn’t unprepared. All his gear was generic and unidentifiable by brand, just like hers.
I was starting to think Jenna was reacting with a bit more suspicion than the situation seemed to warrant. And the things she noticed were making me uneasy. Then I wrote:
And he was armed, if the knife she could see at the top edge of his boot was any indication.
Okay, now the guy seemed a bit threatening as well. Hmmm. So I wrote some more stuff about how she’s standing there several feet away, patiently, one hand on her own knife, waiting to see what he’d do. If anything. And she’s thinking:
She certainly had no desire to tangle with this man and briefly considered turning and leaving the way she’d come. He’d be fine or he wouldn’t. It was no concern of hers. But she wanted to know why he’d ventured onto this land. And who else knew he was here.
And now I’m getting irritated with myself, because this isn’t really sounding like a sweet romantic trapped-in-the-snow type of story. And Jenna sounds a bit cold-blooded for someone who is supposed to fall in love with this guy. But I figured I could soften her up later. Probably. I kept writing anyway:
Luna had stopped growling and was settled into a crouch. Still attentive, but no longer in attack mode. The man hadn’t moved, other than to breathe. Not many men could force themselves to lie absolutely still in six inches of snow in sub-freezing temps for as long as she’d been standing there. And the ones who could– well, that didn’t bear thinking about.
Wait. What? Where did that come from? But I kept writing, because I just knew that any minute now she was going to fall head over heels, right on cue, and then this came next:
She pulled her knife and moved closer, close enough that she could reach out and grab the knit cap he was wearing. She yanked it off and revealed the bandana he’d tied around his head. And the wide patch of blood that had seeped through the cloth. She froze for a moment, memories washing over her as she recalled another man who had tied a bandana like that. But that man was dead. This was just a weird coincidence. There were plenty of men . . . who tied a bandana . . . just like that.
Jenna dropped the cap into the snow and grabbed the man’s shoulder, roughly turning his body until his bulky pack stopped the movement. But it was far enough that she could see his face. His gorgeous, chiseled, deceitful, lying face.
Not a coincidence after all.
Her grip tightened on the handle of her knife and if he’d moved in that moment she would have slit his throat without a second thought. But he was out cold. Max fucking Burton was helpless and at her mercy. And that thought was more delicious than was probably good for her mortal soul.
Okay, clearly, this was not going to be the sweet story I set out to write. I no longer had any delusions about this woman getting all dewy-eyed and romantic any time soon. So I wrote a bunch more stuff about how she bound his hands and feet and confiscated his weapons, and then built a crude travois (yeah, haven’t seen that word since fourth grade when we studied the Plains Indians, but that’s what she did) and tied his unconscious body to it and was dragging him through the snow to her cabin.
Snow had started to fall again. Heavily enough that the deep gouge made by the trailing poles would soon be covered and unnoticeable by the casual observer, though a tracker with even minimal experience would have no trouble following them. Unfortunately, Jenna knew that anyone who might be following them would have more than minimal experience.
She cursed and once again considered just leaving him to fend for himself. If it were anyone else, that’s exactly what she would have done. But Max was trouble. Hell, he’d been trouble even before he had died two years ago. Now here he was, very much alive. Well, mostly alive. She needed to find out why. And who was following him.
By the time they got back to her cabin the snowstorm had forced an early dusk and she was tired and cold and angry. She opened the door and pulled the travois up the two low steps, over the threshold and straight into the main room. She shrugged off both packs and set them out of reach before slicing the bindings and unceremoniously dumping Max onto the floor in front of the fireplace.
Okay, I tried to convince myself that now, in close quarters, they might have a chance to resolve old misunderstandings and maybe even give in to a passionate kiss. But holy guacamole, these two are difficult. And it seems that, in their case, “misunderstandings” is a vast understatement. The words just wouldn’t stop:
Luna reappeared with all the stealth of a ghost and followed them inside, as she was apt to do in harsh weather. She circled the still body twice, sniffing, testing the air around him, and then settled into a crouch a short distance away.
Jenna kicked the door shut and thought about dismantling the travois but decided she’d just have to re-build it if she ended up killing him and had to dispose of the body, so she propped it up against the far wall.
When she turned around, his eyes were opened to a pain-filled slit of blue, his voice a mere rasping whisper when he said, “You’re getting soft, Tanner. Thought you’d have killed me by now.”
“Hard to kill a dead man, Burton.”
He closed his eyes and was quiet for a long moment. “That wasn’t my idea.”
“What, the dying? Or lying to me about it.” She heard the pain mixed up with anger in her voice and hated herself for it.
“Neither. Both.” His voice was still a hoarse whisper. “Damn it, Murdoch was–”
“Stop talking,” she said, cutting him off. She pulled off her gloves and slapped them onto the table next to her. The room was cold and it was getting too dark to see him clearly. Max Burton was the kind of man you needed to keep an eye on. They both knew the only reason he was still tied up was because he hadn’t yet decided not to be. She lit the oil lamp on the table, keeping her face averted until she was certain her emotions were once again under control.
“I think I have a concussion.”
She turned, eyes narrowed at his attempt to sound pitiful. “I imagine you do.”
“You got anything for pain? Or maybe some whisky? A pillow?”
“I haven’t decided not to kill you. Don’t waste my time.”
And that’s where I stopped writing. Because by then it was almost 3AM and I was tired. And I had a few thousand words of a story and no idea where it was going. Well, other than it was NOT turning into what I had thought I was going to write. This is what happens when you start with character instead of plot.
I went to bed and had some very strange dreams and woke up knowing who Jenna is. She’s the daughter of one of the characters in that thriller I’ve put on hold. And Max is– honestly, I have no idea who the hell Max is. But they both appear to have “a very particular set of skills.” And a shared history.
So, this is interesting. Apparently my brain has been hard at work without me. Or something. This is not the sequel I had planned for that book. So maybe there are three books in that series.
At this point, I don’t know whether this rough beginning has enough “juice” to turn into anything substantial. I don’t know what happened two years ago, or who Murdoch is, or who gave Max a concussion and why (or what he might have done to them in return), or why he has “come back to life” and tracked Jenna down. Or even what she’s doing in a remote cabin by herself as winter is about to set in. I don’t know what made these two people so hard and why it seems they’re more likely to kill each other than not.
But I think I’m going to find out.
Just as soon as I finish that other short story I’m writing. Because, priorities.
So, anyway, I’m very sorry to report that I totally screwed up and there apparently will not be a short sweet snowbound romance for you over here, as intended. I’d make another attempt at it, except I’m not convinced chaos wouldn’t ensue. Although, honestly, that’s half the fun.
Then again, it would be so nice to have a pleasant hopeful diversion from reality right about now. Maybe this would work if I trapped two people, two different people, more malleable people, in a smaller place. A place less prone to intrigue and wild improvisation. Like a cave. Or an elevator. Or maybe . . . hmmm . . . a small town in Wisconsin?
Y’know, there might just be enough time left to write this thing. After all, it’s only a few thousand words. What could go wrong?
You all have any preference as to location?