UPDATE: And the winner is…Latifa Morisette!
If you ever start writing romance, there’s one question you’ll inevitably hear. “How did you research that? Heh, heh.” And the person asking the question will think they’re so original and so funny. They’re neither, but what they don’t understand is that there can be a lot of research required when writing romance.
For my story, “Out of This World,” in the Stranded: A Boys Behaving Badly Anthology, I read a lot about life in space. I learned about how the human body reacts to microgravity and the things that astronauts have to do to live in that environment.
That’s why I came right out of my living room chair and started yelling at the television last holiday season when I saw a commercial. I can’t remember what the product was, but the story was about a mom who’s missing the holidays with her family, because she’s heading to the space station as an astronaut. (What a coincidence, right?) Her daughter gives her a package to open on Christmas, and it turns out to be a snow globe. And awwww, all the packaging popcorn floats out of the box, and it appears as if it’s snowing inside the space station. The end.
Only, no. Not awwww. When I saw that, it was AAAAAAGGGGG! No, no, NO! While the commercial was going for sentimentality, all I saw were those Styrofoam bits floating all over the place. Those aren’t going to eventually settle onto the floor, so they can be swept up. They’re going to keep floating, and they’re going to cause problems. Potentially catastrophic problems. They could get into critical machinery. They could contaminate research projects. Someone might inhale the little bits and get ill. It would take forever to clean that stuff up, because it’s not going to stay put. They’d be finding Styrofoam popcorn on the space station for a very long time. A scenario like that would be bad. Very bad.
Yes, this was how I reacted to a schmaltzy holiday commercial, because I happened to be writing an erotic romance story set in space for Delilah’s collection. And I’d done my research. The things you learn when you’re a romance writer…
Excerpt from “Out of This World”
When an astronaut is stranded without a research partner, her mission’s bad boy commander volunteers to help her complete her studies…on sex in space
Megan sat in the conference room, her knee bouncing up and down beneath the table. Three days. The day was almost here. After all the years of hard work, she could hardly believe she was about to achieve a life-long goal. She stared at the famous logo on the wall. In three days, she’d be blasting off into space. She was going to the International Space Station for the next three months as an astronaut.
The flight director walked into the room, and she forced her leg to stop its nervous motion. Excitement or not, there was still work to do.
“Heads up, everyone,” the director said. “I have news that affects our mission.”
Chatter in the room stilled. They’d been prepping for this for months. In some cases, years. Any change at this point would be significant.
“I’m sorry to inform you that Flight Engineer Zylstra had an emergency appendectomy early this morning. He’s expected to make a full recovery but won’t be medically cleared in time for launch.”
Megan inhaled sharply, the ball of air forming a sharp pain in her throat. What? But…no. Zylstra was key for the experiments she was scheduled to run.
“Science Officer Ramirez will be replacing Zylstra. As you’re aware, she’s been training with all of you as a contingency for a situation such as this.”
Ramirez. Fully qualified, but female. That wouldn’t work… at least not in Megan’s case. Her brain started racing. This change wasn’t just significant for her; it was catastrophic for her study.
“Zylstra’s responsibilities should be fully covered for those experiments in which he was the designated lead, but we need to discuss any additional work he was expected to perform.”
Heat crept up from the knot in Megan’s throat until her entire face was suffused. After all this time, she shouldn’t be embarrassed. She’d submitted the proposal for the mission, and she was a doctor for heaven’s sake. But Zylstra’s performance was precisely what she’d needed—and everyone knew it. As medically significant as the study was, she knew that under their breaths, everyone was calling this the “Sex Mission.”
“Chung? What are the implications of this change?”
Attention swung her way like a two-ton mallet.
Implications? She’d just lost the male part of the male-female equation. Not that female-female wouldn’t work, but she was straight. Her vital statistics readings wouldn’t be correct during the tests and, surely, neither would her partner’s. Feeling the attention on her grow, she reined in her panic. “I can switch to Plan B protocols.”
The flight director rubbed the back of her neck. “Remind everyone what that means, please.”
Megan sat up straighter. While the subject matter might be uncomfortable, she was doing important work. Her study was key for long-term missions, such as the manned mission to Mars or the establishment of any space colonies. People couldn’t be expected to turn off their sex drive for eighteen months. Thirty-six, actually, including the trip back. They were going to have sex, whether they were allowed to or not. Missions had to be designed to account for that eventuality. “I’ll conduct the work independently.”
A payloads officer made a sound in the back of his throat.
“None of your other crewmates could…step in?” the flight director asked.
People shifted in their seats. Unwillingly, Megan’s gaze flicked up. It collided with Commander Bridges’ dark gaze, and the heat that had set up house-keeping in her cheeks flashed throughout her body. She pressed her thighs together to stop herself from squirming, too.
No. Just… No.
“I don’t think it would be wise to make that kind of a change this late in the game,” she said, her words raspy.
“All right, Plan B protocols will be established. Let’s move on. Akhil, wasn’t there an educational component Zylstra was going to perform for your fungi experiment?”
Megan’s heart was racing nearly as fast as her thoughts. It wasn’t as if she and Zylstra had been an item. They weren’t even dating. She’d asked him if he’d like to collaborate merely because of his expertise in astronautical hygiene. Astronauts operated in a confined microgravity space. Waste had to be handled properly, whatever it was. Everything down to dust particles could affect the health of the people onboard and the performance of equipment.
And he was kind of cute in a bookish sort of way…
With him, she could have kept her studies on track and under control. With Aaron “Flyboy” Bridges? Her knee began bouncing again. The guy was a jock—a Naval aviator on his third space mission. He was brilliant, but he had a cocky attitude to match. The guy had been a thorn in her side ever since she’d begun training, constantly challenging her, egging her on beyond her limits.
Replace Zylstra with Bridges? Not viable. He was way beyond her type. Too masculine, with rope-like muscles and dark hair that always tended to be mussed. Not to mention those dangerous, teasing eyes.
No… Just no.
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