The Plain welcomes romance author Leigh Daley, here today to write about the challenges of building romantic tension in a short story. Leigh also shares an excerpt from her new short story, Storm Duty, recently released as part of Musa Publishing’s Finally Ever After line. Take it away, Leigh!
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Someone asked me recently if writing romantic short fiction is harder than writing novel-length romance. I have to say that for me the answer is yes and the reason why is sex.
When two well-adjusted adults fall in love with each other, the relationship typically takes on a sexual dimension. That physical attraction we feel is such a wonderful part of falling for somebody and I love to read and write about it!
In a longer romance, I get to build the tension between the two people, delaying the payoff for the moment when they truly get it—when they both know they are meant to be together. Or I can throw them together too soon and have them make a mess they have to detangle before they get their happily ever after.
In short romance, like in Storm Duty, the courtship process has to be compressed. I am personally not a fan of throwing my hero and heroine into bed right away—though sometimes the attraction is immediate—because I think it’s just a very bad idea to throw down with a stranger! In a romance it tends to turn out just fine, but in real life it’s not at all smart!
Speaking from personal experience, I highly recommend putting sex off as long as possible to avoid those entangling messes that come with sleeping with the wrong person or even the right person too soon. The heartbreak can be devastating when you realize "he just wasn’t that into you."
So with short fiction, for me as a writer, the pressure is on to achieve a happily ever after pretty quickly without the leisure of a proper courtship period! I LOVED the call for the Finally Ever After series because these short pieces are about second chances. These are couples who already have a past history together that we can build off to bring them around to a new chance at love together.
Storm Duty for example takes a divorced couple and reunites them after several years. Kyle still carries a torch for Jenna—even if he won’t admit it—and Jenna has grown up during this time. When a terrible storm makes them reassess their priorities in life, they are both ready to rekindle their relationship. That way when the sex comes—and it does—the two of them are at a place where it’s good for them. And that’s good for me.
* * * * *Storm Duty Blurb:
Their careers drove them apart—could disaster bring them back together?
In the aftermath of a series of tornadoes, Kyle Mathis just wants to guide his linemen to restore power to the devastated town of Milton. When reinforcements in the form of corporate deskjockeys come to work storm duty, he's glad for the extra bodies to help serve food and support the crews working eighteen hour days.
But Kyle is not prepared to face one of the latest arrivals, his ex-wife Jenna. Jenna left him years ago, choosing her career over their marriage. However, being back together in their home town brings back memories and desire—for both Kyle and Jenna.
Can Kyle and Jenna find each other again in the midst of the devastation? Or will their jobs pull them apart and leave not only their homes but their hearts shattered?
The instant Jenna Harlow heard her ex-husband’s voice, she wished she hadn’t agreed to come.
She certainly wanted to help and Cedar Hill had been home once. But as she stood up and saw Kyle face to face, she wished she hadn’t. There were just too many memories.
"Yeah, I’ve got some made already," she answered him, aware that his eyes had widened at the sight of her. She covered her own desire to stare by pouring him a cup. "Do you still take cream and sugar?" she asked, trying to keep her tone light even though her heart pounded so hard she could feel it in her fingertips.
"I’m drinking it straight black these days," he answered, his tone just as even.
As she passed him the cup, her hand started to tremble. He took the coffee, but the hot liquid splashed out a little over the side. His hands were shaking too.
He cursed under his breath as he sat the cup down on the table and grabbed a napkin to mop up the spill.
"Don’t worry," she insisted. "I’ll clean it up." She looked up at his face in the dim light. His eyes were still that same dark green, his hair the same light brown—still cut the same as she remembered from seven years ago.
But his shoulders were broader, and he stood taller and more muscular. His jaw had a strong, determined set, and little sun crinkles had begun to frame his eyes. She’d always thought he was good-looking, but now in the fullness of manhood, he was downright gorgeous.
He frowned at her.
"I didn’t expect to see you here, Jenna," he stated in the direct fashion she remembered so well.
"That’s storm duty for you. I just go where I’m sent," she explained with a little smile. "How bad is it?"
"Milton looks like it’s been bombed. You remember Mama Cherie’s diner?" At her nod he added, "It’s gone. It’s an empty cement slab. There’s nothing left."
"Was anybody hurt?" she asked, horror in her voice. Mama Cherie had always been such a sweet woman. Jenna had never eaten a peach cobbler anywhere else to compare to hers.
"They were all in the city hall storm shelter down the street," Kyle replied with a relieved sigh of his own. "We pulled at least fifteen people out of collapsed houses. So far no deaths though. But I hear in Hackleburg the fatalities are in the double digits."
Jenna sighed. Hearing the statistics on the radio was one thing, but hearing it from Kyle made it real. Back when they were first married, they’d drive up to Milton on Sunday afternoons. They’d go eat at Mama Cherie’s after church, then head over to the lake to fish or swim or just relax on a blanket. They used to talk about buying a cabin out on the reservoir. But that hadn’t happened.
Now Mama Cherie’s was gone. She blinked back the tears that stung her eyelids.
Kyle picked up a coffee stirrer and twirled the stem in his fingers with a frown. When he picked up his cup and gave the black coffee a pointless stir, she noticed angry-looking scratches on his face and down his arms. Dirt and yellow fiberglass streaked his skin and shirt, one sleeve sporting a jagged tear. "What have you been doing?" she asked, coming out from behind the table to get a better look at his injuries.
"Just helping out in Milton," he replied with a yawn.
"Come inside and I’ll get the first aid kit and clean those scratches," she offered.
Kyle shook his head. "I’ll dump some alcohol on them at home."
"No hydrogen peroxide?" she teased, their old debate springing back to life. He used to pour hydrogen peroxide on everything.
He gave her a curious glance, then a half-smile. "I’m into the hard stuff these days. Real men pour alcohol into their wounds."
"Well, I’m a hydrogen peroxide kind of girl now," she admitted. "I avoid unnecessary pain. Life hurts bad enough as it is."
Her glib retort hung awkwardly between them for a long moment, neither quite knowing what to say. Finally, he sat his coffee cup back onto the table untouched. "I better go get some sleep," he declared.
"See you tomorrow?" Her intended statement came out as a question.
He gave her a nod and a tentative smile and walked away. She watched him as he crossed the parking lot and climbed into a black pickup truck, nothing fancy, but a nice vehicle. He pulled out into the dark street and turned the way she knew he would, toward home, to the house they’d started building together before they broke up. She wondered how it looked finished.
* * * * *About Leigh Daley:
Leigh Daley lives with her husband and kids in the wilds of West Alabama along with her dogs Bruno and Jack. Now on her fourth career, she has spent most of her life writing for other people, but these days she is writing for herself.
She eats like a cavewoman, posts crazy fanfic as Arcole, and tries to meet her creative needs by writing romance as Leigh Daley and fantasy as Arley Cole. She’s a really big fan of happily ever after.
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Storm Duty / Available from