Wednesday, January 18, 2017
Today's muse: Oh, wouldn't you just like to know!
* * *
A glance out her office window told her that she’d worked too late. Again. The office tower across the road had dark windows which meant that it was at least midnight and the automatic timers had engaged.
Emily turned her wrist, narrowed a look at her watch. Yup. Twelve-fifteen.
She hooked her bag over her arm and walked out to the elevator. Working late was not an anomaly for Emily Grant, so walking through the office in complete silence, flanked by dark offices, didn’t bother her. She rather liked it. There was a general exodus around six o’clock, which made it easier to accomplish tasks that required her undivided focus. By eight, the place was empty. It was bliss.
She pushed through the secure glass doors into the corridor, pressed the down button. She was tired but had accomplished much more than she had expected. The proposal was finished and she could present it to the board on Monday. She was confident they would like her ideas and move to make the changes she was suggesting.
She closed her eyes, took in a cleansing breath, and let it out in a disappointed sigh when she heard footsteps. She knew everyone in her office was gone—had been gone for hours—so whoever was working late was with the investment firm across the hall.
Emily cursed the slow elevator. Now she would have to share the ride with a stranger. Not that she was concerned for her safety. She could look after herself. But she would have to make Small Talk and, dammit, it was too fucking late for that.
“Oh, hey.” Tall and lean, he wore a charcoal suit with a vibrant yellow and orange tie. He carried a leather briefcase. She recalled his name was Frank. He’d introduced himself the first time they’d met at the elevator several months ago. She’d had the hi-how-are-you-nice-weather-we’re-having conversation with him almost every day since then. The mundane had recently shifted to flirting, but it was still late. Not to mention, she had a chardonnay chilling at home that was calling her name.
He grinned at her. “We seem to be on the same schedule.”
She noticed the dimple this time. It softened his look, which was all dark and broody, a little dangerous. God help her, but bad boys had always been her weakness.
He pressed the down button.
“Why do people do that?” Emily asked.
He frowned at her. “Do what?”
“Press the elevator button when it’s already been pushed. The elevator isn’t going to get here any faster if you push the button several times.”
“Yes it will.” And to make his point, he pressed the button once more.
Emily let out a surprised laugh when the elevator chimed its arrival. “Well, it appears you have magic hands.” Oh god! Did she just say that?!
He held his arm out to keep the doors open. “I do,” he murmured as she eased by him.
She licked her lips. Okay, maybe it wasn’t that late. Should she ask him out for a coffee? A drink? More?
Frank’s finger hovered over the service button and he glanced over at her, lifted one eyebrow in question.
No, it wasn’t late at all, Emily thought, and nodded her consent.
Her smile bloomed as the elevator stopped between floors and the lighting shifted to a dim emergency glow.
He pressed her against the elevator wall, pulled her chin down with his thumb. His mouth was hot and greedy against hers, his tongue offering promises.
Oh god, she thought, naughty, naughty boy.
Wednesday, January 11, 2017
Today's muse: Three Word Wednesday
Today's words: jockey, kindred, lopsided
* * *
It had been a pretty good week, in Amanda’s opinion. She landed the Miller account and collected on receivables that she’d been chasing for six months. Both brought in over six figures. She’d have a quick drink to celebrate, then head home.
She crossed at the light in long strides, despite the narrow pencil skirt and three-inch heels she wore. She’d always thought that stepping into The Master’s was like walking onto a movie set. Walls were trimmed with warm wood. Sofas were covered in dark fabric. Music was quiet and comforting. The place just begged you to sit and enjoy a drink.
As she edged onto the last empty high top, Frank bustled over. “Do you want a table, Amanda?”
She shook her head, set her clutch on the bar. “I came to have a drink.”
Frank—the owner and occasional bartender—nodded. “Rough day?”
“No, actually, a good day. This is a celebration drink. Not a crying drink.”
He beamed a smile at her. “The usual?”
The man next to her leaned over. “I’ve always wanted to go to a bar and order ‘the usual’.”
He was about her age, Amanda judged, wore dark trousers and a linen shirt in robin’s egg blue. The cuffs were rolled a few times, revealing what she judged was a tattooed sleeve on his left arm. His eyes were trusting and danced with laughter. She decided he was harmless.
“In my case, it either means I’m predictable or I drink too much.” She shrugged. “Probably both.”
“That depends. What’s ‘the usual’?” He turned to face her, his body language telling her he not only asked the question, but wanted to know the answer. Okay, she’d play along. After all, he was cute and she was in a dry spell right now.
“Dry Martini. Bombay Sapphire. Neat. Three olives.”
“A kindred spirit.” He nodded his approval. “Stirred, I presume.”
Amanda smiled. The man knew martinis. “Of course. Bond doesn’t know what he’s talking about.”
Tattoo Boy snorted. “Right. Vodka. As if.” He lifted his glass in toast when Frank delivered her drink. “To a good day.”
She lifted hers in response. “Cheers.”
She jutted her chin at his tumbler. “Scotch?”
He nodded. “Laphroaig.”
He offered his hand. “I’m Sam.”
“Amanda.” She took his hand, pleased with his firm shake. Setting down her glass, she turned his palm. “Calluses.”
His eyes seemed to lose their luster then and he pulled his hand back. “I’m not a desk jockey.”
Instantly contrite, she apologized. “That’s not what I meant. It’s just that, well, you’re wearing that gorgeous shirt and with the ink.” She waved her hand and up and down. “It all doesn’t fit together.” She let her shoulders slump. “What do you do?”
“I’m a mechanic.” Sam all but barked out the reply, as if he dared her to ridicule him.
“Automotive or industrial?” She sipped her drink, could see her response surprised him. “My brother’s a mechanic,” she explained.
That seemed to relax him. “Automotive. And motorcycles for clients that have them.”
“Oh yeah? I’ve been taking my bike to Murphey’s for service, but it’s a little far. Where’s your shop?”
“You ride?” She could see he was stunned by this revelation, but he quickly recovered and smiled. His grin was crooked and showed a small dimple in his right cheek. He was rapidly moving from Cute to Hot.
She smiled. “I have a Triumph America.”
“Nice.” Sam narrowed a look at her. “Wait. You named it, didn’t you?”
She laughed. “Gertrude. It sounds British.” She smiled into her drink, watched him shake his head. “You didn’t answer my question.” She pulled an olive off the skewer, popped it in her mouth.
“What? Oh. Right. My shop’s in Malvern, off Windsor Road.”
He signaled Frank, waved a hand between them, lifted two fingers. “You’ll join me for another.” It wasn’t a question and she found she liked his authority. “What do you need done?”
She gave him a blank stare as her mind raced. Oh, she could think of a lot of things she needed done.
“With your bike,” he clarified.
Oh. Right. “Just regular maintenance. Get it ready to put away for winter. Fuel Stabilizer. Oil change.”
He smiled at her use of the term. “I’ll give you my number. Call me and we’ll set a time for you to come in for an oil change.”
Was he flirting?
“If you want, we can enjoy a ride first. Then I’ll look after,” he sipped his scotch, “...changing your oil.”
Oh, yeah. He was flirting.
She arched one eyebrow. “We’re still talking about motorcycles, right?”
He shrugged, gave her his lopsided grin. “Sure.”
Wednesday, December 28, 2016
Today's muse: Three Word Wednesday
Todays words: dappled, elaborate, filthy
* * *
Most days she could stand in the backyard and let the sun wash over her, burn away the shame. Once, she could throw back her head, spread her arms to the sky and ask for forgiveness. Even receive it.
No more. Filthy girl.
She hid beneath the large oak, rubbed at the dark finger marks that peppered her arms and legs. The aching had not yet started, but she knew it would come.
She deserved it. Filthy girl.
She could hear Mama calling for her, promising it was safe. Olly, olly oxen free! She should run, dance toward the soft voice, touch home and be safe. But she couldn’t move. Couldn’t breathe.
Keep quiet. Filthy girl.
She would stay curled in the dapple shade of the oak tree and devise an elaborate story. A tale that would explain everything. One that she would tell for years. One that everyone would believe.
Monday, December 19, 2016
Today's muse: First 50 Words
The prompt: A good book
* * *
A Good Book
She reached for the notebook she kept on her night stand. More than forty years and she still had nightmares.
She relived her childhood horrors in the words she scribbled down, then flipped back several pages. She smiled when she realized that she had the makings of a good book.
Wednesday, December 7, 2016
I started a new job recently. Yesterday morning started with a bit of an adrenaline kick. If nothing else, I will have to thank the partner down the hall for providing great writing fodder.
* * *
She arrived at work much earlier than everyone else. She said it was because she could get caught up on work before her boss waltzed in, but truth was, the commute was more bearable at that hour.
There aren’t many people on the train at five-thirty in the morning. Most days, she could sit in a quad alone and not have anyone near her. Touch her.
At rush hour, it was an orgy of bodies sausaged together, talking, breathing, pressing.
The last panic attack had her bolting out the train doors, racing across the platform to retch onto the eastbound tracks.
That was months ago.
She had a new job now, a new routine. She hadn’t made any friends yet, but it was better that way. Fewer questions.
She looked forward to mornings now; the routine, the quiet, the normalcy of it all. She lost herself in books on the train, reinvented herself as the strong protagonist in her favorite novels. The nightmares hadn’t stopped, but it was getting better. She had slept through the night last Tuesday, hadn’t woken in a cold sweat, gripped in fear, listening for him.
The new office meant she stopped at a different Starbucks in the morning. They knew her order now—Grande black Americano—and started brewing it when she walked in the door.
A few years ago, it seemed impossible that she would feel so content.
She waved her security pass over the sensor and breezed through the door. She no longer watched behind her and waited for the door to lock in place to be sure no one followed her in. To be sure he hadn’t followed her.
She shrugged off her sweater and hung it over her chair, sat down and kicked off her walking shoes, slipped on the strappy pumps she kept under her desk. She had started wearing heels again—it wasn’t easy to run in them, but then, she hadn’t had to bolt for a while.
She pulled out her book, opened it to where she had left off on the train and sipped her Americano, lost herself in the Irish setting of her current read. She was well into the next chapter when she heard him behind her.
She cursed herself for wearing the heels, then forced herself to sit still when David came into her line of view.
“Jesus!” Her heart pounded and the ringing in her ears was deafening. She hadn’t paid attention, had felt so comfortable that she had stopped being aware, stopped looking behind her.
The senior partner was laughing until he saw her face. David stepped back, hands up in submission. “Hey. I didn’t mean to scare you. No one here is going to hurt you.”
She forced a smile, managed to pull off easy banter and joked with him about her reaction. He was the only other person who arrived at work at the same ridiculous hour. Though they didn’t work in the same department, she felt a kinship of sorts; had exchanged a few words about the demise of the current generation and felt at ease with him. Maybe it was because they were cut from the same era, had the same work ethic. Maybe because he was so different from the other one.
She knew that David maintained the idle chat with her until she calmed, and she was grateful.
He turned to walk back to his office, paused before turning the corner. “No one here is going to hurt you,” he repeated.
As his footsteps retreated down the hall, Monica put her book away and analyzed the layout of her desk. Tomorrow morning, when she came in, she would re-arrange it so that her back was not exposed to the hallway. She would pack away the strappy pumps and replace them with loafers. She would hang a mirror at her desk so she could see anyone coming up behind her.
And she would call her therapist for an appointment. She wasn’t over him. She realized that now.
As she took a sip of her coffee, she accepted that she never would.
Tuesday, November 29, 2016
This piece was a semi-finalist in the WCDR's Whispered Words competition and appeared in the printed Anthology (there is a link in the bar on the right).
* * *
Depending on which side you’re standing, the carpeted aisle between the church pews stretches for miles. It was much less scenic from this side of a marriage certificate. Not at all what Jake had imagined so long ago.
In a dark corner of a quiet bistro, Shayla sat across from Jake. They laughed and talked with a natural ease that surprised them both. Oblivious to the other diners, unaware that coffee was long-ago cleared, they were more than a little embarrassed when the waiter cleared his throat.
“Pardon me, but the staff will be leaving soon.”
Shayla glanced at her watch. “It’s after midnight.”
Jake apologized to the waiter. “We were talking and I guess we lost track of time.”
The man shrugged, flashed a smile. “You shouldn’t rush love, my friend.”
No, Jake thought now, you shouldn’t.
Reluctant to bring the evening to an end, Jake took his time driving Shayla home that night. He parked on the quiet street, in front of the little yellow cottage she called home. Brilliant flower beds flanked the stairs that led up to the porch.
Jake led Shayla to the house. Her palm was warm and dry as she locked her fingers with his. Beneath the single coach light beside the front door, he pulled her close. His eyes tracked her face, committing every feature to memory.
“I had a wonderful time,” he said, cupping a hand behind her neck.
Framing her face, his fingers wrapped in her thick curls, Jake dipped his head down as Shayla tipped her face up to him.
Just a light kiss, he told himself, a chaste goodnight.
Their lips hovered a breath apart, pressed lightly. Shayla breathed a sigh. Then it changed.
Jake was freefalling, the air roaring in his ears. Shayla’s arms crept up his back as he pulled her in, changed the angle of the kiss, took it deeper. Teeth scraped, tongues searched and he fell further, darker.
Jake was abruptly aware that he had Shayla pinned to the front door, the strap of her dress hanging off her shoulder, the crest of one glorious orb glowing in the warm coach light.
He held her away, shame tearing through him. How much further would he have gone? And on her front porch for chrissake.
Her breathing, he noticed, matched his: fast and uneven. Shayla’s hazel eyes were wide with surprise and—he could see a hint of it—fear.
“What was that?”
“I don’t know.” Jake shook his head. “I’ve never...”
Shayla leaned into him and he wrapped his arms around her, pressed his cheek against the top of her head and willed his heart to steady.
No, Jake thought, as he walked down the narrow church aisle, this kiss wasn’t going to be like that at all.
The planning for this day began almost a year ago. At first, there were vague notions, like the ambience and tone they wanted to set for the day. Jake smiled as he thought of how often Shayla had changed the music selection. She was determined this day would be perfect.
“After all,” she’d said, time and again, “it only happens once, right?”
Yeah, Jake thought. Only once. As soon as they knew the date, they met with their priest.
“This will be a trying time for you,” said Father Jim, his voice soft and soothing. “You will argue, and there will be tears, but if you rely on the strength of your love for each other, it will carry you through.” Jake squeezed Shayla’s hand. “We won’t argue, Father.”
And they didn’t. Jake couldn’t see the point. It was Shayla’s day and, as far as he was concerned, she would have whatever she wanted. Shayla had a vision of how she wanted her day to be and Jake found it easier to agree. When anyone questioned their plans, his firm response was always, “It’s what Shayla wants.” His tone left no room for discussion.
Despite the cheerful façade he had maintained, Jake could now admit that Father Jim had been right. This past year was trying.
He stood with Shayla at the front of the tiny chapel. The arc of colour cascading from the stained-glass windows seemed to dance in celebration.
Behind him, Jake could hear family and friends shuffle in their pews, their hushed voices drifting up to him. A year of careful planning had come down to this moment. A whole year, and he still wasn’t ready.
He glanced at Shayla, her face relaxed and serene. Diamond earrings—a gift for their one-year anniversary—winked at her ears. The ivory dress she had selected so many months ago, now fit just a little too loose.
Everything is going to change, he thought. It’s never going to be the same. Ever.
He wanted to go back to the way things were, before it all went wrong. Every instinct told him to run, burst through the chapel doors, and rush into the sunlight. He thought he was ready for this. He needed just one more year, one more month.
Just one more goddamned day.
It was too late, and there was nothing he could do to change it.
Jake closed his eyes for a brief moment, then nodded at Father Jim. Silence shuddered through the small chapel when the priest raised his bible. As Father Jim’s gentle voice floated over them (‘Friends, we are gathered here today…’), Jake covered Shayla’s delicate hands with his.
“I love you,” he whispered, as he bent down and pressed his lips against his wife’s cold, lifeless mouth.
Sunday, November 27, 2016
I attended a workshop today: Master Class - Page Turning Fiction taught by Kelley Armstrong.
We were given the opportunity to read the first two pages of our WIP. During the lunch break, I re-read my work and realized that perhaps the first chapter would read well with just a handful of paragraphs and a hook ending. So I read the "edited" version to the group and it was well-received.
Kelley asked, "What happens after this?"
I gave a quick synopsis and then she asked a question that changed everything.
"Why can't the story start when Madison arrives at the house in Maven?"
I thought about it for about three seconds and realized she's right. Madison's Avenue should start at what is currently Chapter 3.
I was in a slump with the book, but now I have focus and I'm excited. Thank you, Kelley!
This is what I read in the class. It's not how the book will start, but a revised version of this excerpt will appear somewhere in Chapter One. Or, perhaps, in Chapter Two. The possibilities are endless. Who knows where the characters will take me now!
* * *
Madison's Avenue - A Revised Excerpt
Madison Fields wasn’t sure how she felt about moving into the cottage in the small town of Maven. All her dreams—no, they were nightmares—were about Gerry shouting and hitting. Most mornings she woke gagging on the memory of whiskey and stale cigarettes.
She remembered her room had one dresser. The paint was chipped and most of the drawer pulls were missing. Her bed was a worn mattress on the floor with a thin, faded blanket that did little to keep her warm. She remembered the dank basement with its bare concrete floor and moldy walls. She remembered hiding in her mother’s closet among the worn dresses. She had a vague memory of the woman who lived across the street, the one who gave her homemade oatmeal cookies.
But she had no memory of the last day in that house, the day she was whisked away by Child Services and brought here to live with her grandparents.
Just as well, Madison thought, her parents were murdered that day.
Thursday, August 4, 2016
Today's muse: Three Word Wednesday
The words: minor, nebulous, oily
* * *
Prime Real Estate
The living room was large, boasted floor-to-ceiling windows which offered an impressive view of the water from the penthouse suite.
Rick Emerson imagined his furniture in the space: Sofa against that wall, a couple of club chairs and a big-ass television over there.
The smell wasn’t that bad—nebulous, at best—once you got used to it. Despite the lingering odor, the charm was evident. Crown moulding enhanced the jewel-tone paint of the walls. Of course, there were a few marks in that one section, but he was sure he could wash those out. He didn’t have time to repaint. Besides, he liked the color. The rich hue added elegance to the space.
Hardwood floors, still oily from recent treatment, glistened throughout the three-bedroom unit. He crossed over to the window to take in the view. From this height, the marina was nothing more than a tub filled with toy boats bobbing in bath water. He wondered if a slip was included.
He was pretty sure no one would be interested in the space. Of course, filling out the paperwork for this unit would be a fucking nightmare.
His mobile buzzed in his pocket.
As the voice on the other end peppered him with questions, Rick turned away from the window.
“That’s right, three bedrooms,” he confirmed. “Yes, it is a great location. No, units in this building rarely come on the market. It’s empty, ready to move in. Yes, I would love to show it to you. There’s this one thing I should mention…”
When Rick pressed end and pocketed his phone, he smiled at the young woman who lay sprawled in the center of the floor of the living room with the million-dollar view.
As he dialed nine-one-one, he decided the paperwork was a minor burden for prime real estate.
Wednesday, August 3, 2016
Today's muse: First 50 Words
The prompt: "Secret"
* * *
He has been dead more than twenty years, but some things are best left unsaid. I am not protecting him, you see; I am sheltering those I love. It would destroy them if they knew.
So I lie awake each night, ride the panic attack. And keep his dirty secret.
Monday, July 11, 2016
Today's muse: First 50 Words
Today's prompt: "Apartment 204".
* * *
Amber lights ricochet off the darkened windows of the gated complex. Neighbors gather to speculate in excited whispers. Most wear pajamas, though a few are caught wearing less.
Where is the super? What is taking the police so long? And is that blood smeared on the door of Apartment 204?
Thursday, May 5, 2016
Today's muse: Three Word Wednesday
Today's three words: unselfish, winding, amoral
* * *
If you interview every woman he’s slept with—and there are a lot—each one would say the same thing: “He’s an unselfish lover.”
This declaration is often punctuated with a blush and a knowing smile. It is always followed with a sigh. And the sigh is always wistful.
Everette Beale provides a much needed service to neglected women. Neglected married women, to be specific. He has countless letters from former lovers (he doesn’t call them clients) thanking him for saving their marriage; for saving them.
He studies each woman’s interests—learns about her family and friends, her hobbies—so that he can have a meaningful conversation with her. He courts her: takes her out to dinner, a movie, even the opera, if that’s what she likes. He snuggles with her on his sofa and strokes her hair while they discuss a wide variety of subjects.
Or he simply sits with her in complete silence.
Some would think this is amoral. After all, these women are married. But Everette doesn’t look at it that way. He thinks of himself as a modern-day hero, a champion of relationships, if you will. Without the cape, of course. Unless she’s into that. In which case, he’s all in.
Everette’s lovers hire him because they are neglected by their partners. This desertion is not as simple as a spouse who works too many hours and has no time for his wife. It’s about contact and communication.
“He doesn’t talk to me anymore,” is the most common complaint.
So Everette listens. And eventually, the conversation shifts from talking to contact. How she longs to be touched again, misses how he used to look at her; when a mere glance across a room at a crowded party would make her wet.
As she confides her desires, gives voice to her hidden cravings, Everette’s mouth takes a winding trek down the column of her neck and across her shoulder. Her head falls back as she gives in to the hedonistic need that has tortured her for months—years—and he takes with a ferocity that reminds her of how it used to be with her man.
The agreement is terminated when he fucks her. It’s not a secret; he’s quite up front about it.
He tells her it’s because she will want to reignite the passion she once had with her man; that the sex—the glorious, liberating sex—that they just shared will be a pivoting moment that will strengthen her marriage.
He tells her that she no longer needs him. And he sends her home, back to her husband. It's the same routine each time a contract is terminated.
When the agreement ends, and before the next one engages, Everette sits at home alone. He holds a tumbler of scotch in one hand while the other one strokes his cock.
And he thinks of her.
He always thinks of her.
Wednesday, May 4, 2016
Today's muse: First 50 Words
The prompt: "Good morning"
* * *
A muscled arm wrapped around her, dragged her across the mattress to be pressed against a hard body and a hard cock.
She liked his voice, the gravelly sound of it, the way it skimmed across her skin and made her wet.
She just couldn’t remember his name