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…”