Monday, November 14, 2005

Storm Warning excerpt

If you've read it before--is it faster now? Smoother? BTW--if you've read it before don't feel you have to read it again, it is longer than my average blog LOL :) Honest opinions welcome!!

Waves crashed and pounded the rocky shore. Bitter wind flayed her face and slapped sea-spray hard against her cheeks, but Sorcha Logan didn’t feel the cold.

Black wedges of jagged rock flashed between whitecaps twenty yards out, playing peek-a-boo with the rising tide. Salt and kelp tasted pungent on her tongue as she tossed back her hair and raised her hands to the heavens in reverence and salutation. Gulls dipped and dove; riding the storm's blast and holding position to see what the ocean cast up. The North Sea raged ferociously as Sorcha stretched out her limbs and cooled down from her five mile run.

She couldn’t run anymore.

The rocks and stones that flanked the Scottish coastline could twist an unwary ankle, or break a foolish neck. She might be strange, but she wasn’t stupid.

Balanced on a rock six-foot above the lashing waves, water swirled and hissed before being sucked back out to sea. But rather than scaring her, each pounding wave helped calm the agitation that swarmed inside her mind.

Maybe she was a witch.

The steel-gray sky reflected darker hues in the greenish tinged sea and looked suddenly menacing. Sweat rolled down her spine, chilling her body and she shivered at the contrast, drawing her arms down, tight across her chest.

Unwelcome sensations span through the air, like the tripping of a silent alarm. The pressure of all-seeing eyes probed her shoulders, snagging her glance toward the houses that lined the coast.

A hundred tiny windows stared back blankly.

Old panic fought to burst free. Anybody might be watching. Watching the storm, or the blink and turn of the light beam that guarded the May Isle.

She held her breath, blood pounding through her ears with the cadence of thunder.

A jumble of seventeenth and eighteenth-century cottages, dressed in cold stone or painted cheery white, topped by crowns of bright orange pan-tiles, crowded against the edge of the sea—as if the fishermen who’d built them had staked their claim. Anyone could be watching the gale and the waves piling over rocks with all Poseidon’s might.

Foam frothed and lashed. Wrenching her attention back to the sea, she took a quick step back, slipped and cried out as she banged against cold hard stone.

God, I’m hopeless.

The sky grew darker. Sorcha stood, gingerly rubbing the bruise on her backside and concentrated as she probed for footholds down the slippery limpet-strewn rocks. A sharp outcrop grazed her palm as she let herself down that final step.

Focus. The ground was made up of slick rocks that ranged in size from tennis balls to beer crates. She leapt across a rock-pool that was re-energized by the incoming tide, skidded on a film of green seaweed.

The piped call of an Oystercatcher pierced the roar of the waves. Usually the black and white birds, with their day-glow orange beaks, cheered her.

Except right now. She crossed her arms over her chest.

I don’t feel cheerful right now.

A pair of the little birds danced back and forth just out of reach of the waves.

Maybe scared of a dog or a person I can’t see?

Biting her lip, she scanned the area, but nobody else was out on this wild night—just her, in her sneakers, and spray-and-sweat-soaked running gear.

A voice whispered close-by, words inaudible and just out of reach. The sweat on her body froze like rimed seaweed on a mid-winter’s day. Fists curled into tight balls as she fought the urge to cover her ears even though nothing protected her from the voices inside her head.

The birds danced in agitation and gave a shrill cry of distress. Lured by an irresistible force, Sorcha took another step forward and saw him.

In the rock-pool that was cut deeply into the bedrock of the coastal margin, cut deep enough for children to jump into safely during the summer.

Her heart pounded, the race of it drumming beneath her sweatshirt even faster than when she’d been running. Her breath caught in her lungs, expelled in a huge gasp.

She stumbled, scrambled over the rocks, but kept going.

Going forward.

Toward the man.

Toward the man floating facedown in the rapidly filling rock-pool where the children played in the summer.

Oh please God, not again.

She couldn’t move fast enough. Each second lasted a lifetime as she climbed each rocky steeple, lurched across each wide granite ledge. Blistering icy water slapped her legs as she ran into the pool and slid on the treacherous surface. Hissing out a startled breath, she grabbed at the pale wool sweater that dragged the man down.

He weighed more than lead, the heavy jersey pulling him down into the freezing depths. A wave washed over the top of the ledge, cascading into the pool and over Sorcha’s head as she tore at the man’s clothing and tried to lift his face for air.

Panic gave her strength.

If I can save him, if I can get a breath into those still lungs, pump his heart. He could live. He might not be dead. He might not be dead yet.

Desperate, she grabbed the material, felt the softness of the waterlogged wool stretch and give as she heaved. Turned him over and took an instant to absorb the fact that it wasn’t him.

It wasn’t him.

How many times did she have to relive that nightmare?

He was young, not even twenty, with dirty blonde hair plastered to his skull. He didn’t look like a fisherman, more like a student or a tourist. He wasn’t breathing...

Waves filled the pool, currents trying to steal the limp body from her arms. But she wasn’t letting go.

Teeth gritted, she focused every single fiber of her being on dragging his deadweight clear of the water. If she could get him there, if she could get him breathing, there was a five-minute window where she could run for help before the tide stole him.

Imagine how crazy she’d sound if she claimed to have found another body on the beach...only this one disappeared. Like she needed a reason for anyone in this town to look at her sideways.

No way.

She shook her head, clamped frozen fingers over the stretchy wool and heaved. It didn’t matter what it cost, she would not lose this man.

Slippery seaweed fringed the edge of the pool and made her skid. She went under as the man’s body slid back down the ledge, hit her head on the granite slab. Dazed, she sucked in a breath and choked as seawater entered her airway. Spluttering she rose to her feet, hooked her hands beneath his and dragged him backwards out of the weed infested pool and collapsed clear of the water.

Frantically, she looked around at the waves creeping around either side of the rocks.

There was no time.

Rough granite bit into her knees as she knelt by his side and checked for a pulse. She searched his thick wrist, then the tender wall of his neck for the telltale beat of life. Nothing moved. No flutter of blood, no rise or fall of chest.

His lips were blue. Skin, pale and waxy. Glassy eyes stared up at her, reminding her of another face...

“He’s dead.” The voice came out of nowhere, startling and loud, in spite of the storm’s roar.

Terror shot through her and she cranked out a scream. She didn’t mean to, couldn’t help the sound that screeched from her lips as a stranger loomed in the twilight.

“Take it easy.” The stranger held out his hands, fingers spread wide as if to prove his harmlessness.

But he didn’t look harmless to her.

Tall, with dark hair curling a little in the damp air, shrewd black eyes shone from a face drawn with hard lines and sharp edges. Dark and dangerous.


  1. Ooh, I like, I like! Great writing, Toni. The only thing I suggest is take out the part about the witch and the house, etc. It seemed to take awhile to get into the story. The real action began when she finds the man floating in the water. I'd start there. Her internal conflict creates enough questions for the reader. Also, not sure if you wanted us to question whether the man who appears at the end of the scene (hero?) is guilty of this poor kids death or not. If you do, I'd have him say something more incriminating because I thought his comment was simply an observation. However, if that is suppose to be exactly that, then you nailed it. Other then that, I thought it was great! Loved the description of the Scottish coastline. :-)

  2. The discription of the waves crashing on the shore was great! This story hums along and I didn't have any problem getting into it. I do agree with Peggy about the stranger - although I am leaning towards the ambiguity of his place in the story - but saying something would make us question the hero/villain status IF we are supposed to. I got caught up in the description at the beginnning and didn't notice that it took a while to get into the story.

    Good Job!

  3. Lovely descriptions. Great imagery. And you've hooked the reader, as well! I would suggest that you start it later, as Peggy suggested. It took me awhile to get into the story. But dang, Toni, you've got talent!

  4. Well thanks girls--this is thr trouble I'm having...some people find it a little too slow to start, other people are happy with it!

    My hero isn't ambiguous, not really, but the heroine is suspicious of him because he is a dangerous man, LOL.

  5. I'll throw my hat in, too. I like the crashing waves and broody beginning, though Sorcha's internal thoughts somehow pull me out of the setting and make it less effective (for me).

    Just so you know... I love this story. Can hardly wait to buy it!

  6. I like dangerous men (in my books - don't think I'd like them in real life).

    It's always a quandary - I guess it's true that you can't please all readers all of the time. Once again - I didn't have that problem, but then again, I'm a psychopath - oh wait - I'm a specialer wicked psychopath ;)

  7. Thanks Meretta and Eve--I'll bear that in mind. Really looking for thoughts because it is these first pages that would need to hook the editor. I know Captain Corelli managed with what was described by some as 'the most boring 30 page opening in history' but I don't think I'd make it with that!!

  8. Great job, Toni! I definitely want to read more!

    The internalizing is good, it pulls you into Sorcha's character. I like that in a book. You used it like a pro by writing her thoughts without having to say "she thought" or "Sorcha thought", etc.

    Too, I really, really like the way you described the man in the rock pool when she reached him. How he didn't look like a fisherman, how he was extra heavy because of his clothes. And the introduction of your dark and dangerous man was excellent. The timing was perfect. I would definitely keep reading!

    The only suggestion I have is to cut some of the imagery from the beginning. The imagery is fantastic, but only one or two sentences, no more than a paragraph, is really needed to introduce this scene. This will make it read much faster.

    I can tell you put a lot of work into those parts, so you might not want to sacrifice any of your visual elements, but your scene is meant to be a pulse pounding grabber, so the reading should be more rapid to build tension in the reader.

    If you do get brave enough to cut some of the imagery, save it to use in another scene. That way it may not feel like you're losing any parts you might like best. :)

    Again, I'd love to read more of this. Especially about Mr. Dark and Dangerous. Just my type! *eyebrow wiggle* Keep up the great work!