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Free Reads From the Genre-istas will close to story posts in February of 2015.
Until we close, we w
ill do Encore Postings each Friday beginning Jan. 9th. Thank you for your interest and support!


Friday, February 27, 2015

Spring Fever

I chose "Spring Fever" for my Encore short because it represents what the romance genre means to me - support and encouragement from fellow authors. It is also the last Encored short story in our three year run. Please check out the posts that have appeared each Friday since January 2nd. Enjoy!!!

Spring Fever
By Judith Ashley and Helen Little with contributions from Sarah Raplee

April 10, 2014
Mineral Springs, OR

Alfred Porterhouse relished the wind blowing through his hair as he drove his red Mazda convertible at the legal thirty-five mile an hour speed limit. Well, not mine exactly. Jared’s the best friend ever because he let me borrow it so I can make a good impression on Allie.

The leafy canopy over the tree-lined road dappled the pavement with spots of sun. “Bfftt!” Frantically Alfred waved the little white puffs swirling about him away from his face and plucked out the offending piece of fluff stuck in his mouth. “Bfftt!” What is that? He slowed down noticing the spots on the road were not just from the sun. Breathing through slitted lips, Alfred glanced around the borrowed car. The stuff was everywhere. Got to be careful. Don’t want to choke to death on one of those cottony snow things. I have important things to do today.

At his destination, he parked at the curb in front of Allie’s house. Taking Jared’s advice to heart, he checked his appearance in the rear-view mirror and quickly finger-combed his hair into some semblance of order. Remembering his co-worker’s admonishment to make sure his eyebrows were straight—a quick finger lick and swipe and he was done. Another moment to savor Jared’s, “You look great in the driver’s seat,” and he was ready. Chest puffed out with pride, he grabbed the bouquet of wildflowers off the passenger seat and headed towards the front door.

Who knew I could land a date with someone as cool as Allie Borders? Without Jared’s help—he paused at the bottom step before jogging up. The list “Tips for a Successful Date” popped into his mind, circling through it line-by-line.

Bring her flowers – he took a sniff at the bouquet in his hands and sneezed.

Open the door and help her into the car – like a gentleman does for a lady.

Compliment her appearance – geez. He blanked out on the rest of the list before he reached the porch. Wiping his sweaty palms on his pants, he chanted under his breath. I can do this, I can do this, I can do this.
On the porch, a frisson of panic stopped him in his tracks. Beads of sweat dotted his forehead and trickled in rivulets down his face. Gotta keep breathing, A-Freddie. Pulling a handkerchief from his pocket, he blotted his face and dried his hands again before stuffing the damp crumbled cloth back in its place. Taking the last few steps, he knocked—tap, tap—tap. He shifted from foot to foot, the anxiety building as he waited.

Side-stepping to the window, he peered in and squinted through the glass. What’s keeping her? Where is she? A strange figure glided into the room and headed toward the front door. Startled, he jerked back like he’d been shot! Who’s that?
Allie Borders adjusted her protective mask as she crossed the room to the door. A serious flare of allergies this morning had almost caused her to call and cancel. Her gaze took in her mustard colored sweater and brown tote on the chair by the front door. Mentally she checked the contents: packets of tissue, rescue inhaler, back-up masks. Why didn’t I cancel if I need all this stuff to go out for coffee? Because I’m going out with Alfred! And we’re just going for coffee and that cute bistro down the street is just the place. I can do this, I can do this, I can do this.

A smile on her face, she opened the door. “Hi, Alfred,” she said. “Let me grab my things.” He looks weird with his black eyebrows scrunched into a straight line. I wonder if something’s bothering him. Allie stepped away from the door and picked up her sweater and tote. I’m not going to ask because I’ve wanted him to notice me forever. He’s a bit quirky and really shy. It could scare him off. Turning back from locking up, she saw the red convertible with the top down at the curb.

Allie’s lungs seized, her hand flew to her chest, “Is this your car?”

“Sure is! Well, not really. Jared let me borrow it. The feel of the wind in your hair is great,” he rattled on. “I like your hair.”

Panic tightened her chest, her breathing labored. I can do this. “Thank.” I can do this.” You.” I can do this.
Alfred opened the passenger door. Anxiety bounced through him and he rocked on his feet. Should I ask her why she’s wearing a mask? Will she be insulted? Geez, Jared didn’t say anything about this? He stood to the side and Allie slid into the seat. What now? “Let me help you with your seat belt,” he said already matching actions with words. The buckle secured with a click. What else? Jared’s list was nowhere in his memory banks so he quickly rounded the car and got in. The mask barely moved - in and out, in and out, in and out. Was she talking?

“Ready?” he asked pulling away from the curb. I’ll just take her for a little drive, take advantage of this great car. It’s a beauty!

Two blocks away, Alfred stopped at a red light. Allie’s hand clutched his arm. His eyes widened. The mask bellowed in and out and her eyes gleamed with an eerie light. “What?” The street noise drowned out anything Allie might have said. She gestured behind her and he saw the coffee shop over her shoulder.

“That coffee shop?” Did she nod? The light changed and he drove off. “Not just yet. I’m taking you for a drive so you can enjoy this cool car.” Where? The park! That’ll do it.

Blinker on, Alfred turned left into the city park. Of all the things Mineral Springs was famous for, the city park was in the top ten attractions. It boasted the largest flower garden in the state and this time of year it was ablaze with blooms. The white floaty stuff he’d noticed in the air earlier was thicker here. The roadway was carpeted with it and a fine yellow dust. A glance in his rearview mirror showed a swirl of yellow and white lifting into the air as he drove. He slowed to a crawl so she could take in the full beauty of the apple blossoms, the lilacs, the—he didn’t know what everything was called but they were beautiful. He took a deep breath of the many flavored scents. “Aacchhooo!”

Allie’s fingers dug into his arm and she jerked. “What’s going on?” he yelled. His grip tightened on the steering wheel. He looked over at his passenger. Yellow dust crusted her mask, a wild look flashed in her eyes, rapid sucking motion moved her mask and her free hand flapped around, waving in all directions. He pulled to the side of the road and stopped.

“What?” he asked, one brow arched in question, giving her his full attention. “Is something wrong?”
Allie’s lungs labored with the effort to breathe. With the traffic noise, she hadn’t been able to make Alfred understand she needed to be inside, somewhere the air was filtered. Here in the park, her personal hell, all she could manage was waving her hands around. How to make him understand?

She grabbed his hand and wrote H O M E on his palm. He shook his head, a confused look on his face. She tried again, marking his palm more slowly. No progress. Desperate for some way to communicate with him without taking off her mask, she slumped back against the seat, eyes closed.

“What’s wrong?”

She heard the worry in his voice. If she removed the mask so she could answer him, she’d have to use her rescue inhaler. Is there another way to tell him what I need? Opening her eyes she looked at his face etched with concern.

The dashboard!

H O M E – the white letters showed up plainly in contrast to the pollen coating the surface like golden snow.

“You want me to take you home now?” Alfred asked, obviously perplexed.

She nodded vigorously.

“But we were going for coffee,” he said, a bit of a whine in his voice.

H O M E she underlined the word.

His shoulders slumped but he started the engine and pulled away from the curb.

He escorted her to the door and she invited him in. Once inside, she removed her mask. “Aaaccchooo!”

Alfred pulled his handkerchief from his back pocket and shoved it into her hand.
“Aaaccchooo! Aaaccchooo!” Allie held the damp piece of cloth to her face. Taking a deep breath between one sneeze and the next, Allie realized her mistake as her lungs seized. She shoved the hankie at Alfred, waved him toward the couch, dumped her tote on the table and grabbed her inhaler.

Allie expelled all the air from her lungs, fit the mouthpiece between her lips, pushed the lever and slowly breathed in, filling her lungs with the steroids. The tightness in her chest eased, her body sighed. Her breathing returned to some semblance of normal. What a comedy of errors. Crossing the room the few steps to the couch, she sat next to Alfred.

          “I’m so sorry to have spoiled our coffee date,” she started.

          “What happened?” Alfred blurted out. “I thought you’d like the car. Jared said everyone likes it.”

          “It wasn’t the car,” Allie said. “I’ve a bad case of allergies so being outside when the pollen count is so high is bad for me.”

“You mean that white stuff and yellow dust make you like this?” He cocked his head to the side, his gaze considering as if he were examining the results of a laboratory experiment.

“Yes.” Allie’s eyes watered, her nose ran. She stuffed tissue up her nose to stem the flow. “I need to shower and change. You know, wash the pollen off me so I’ll get better.” Alfred looked so earnest so concerned for her. He didn’t do anything on purpose. He just didn’t know.

“I’d better go,” he said.

“I hate to have you go but I’m not fun now and I know I shouldn’t go out again.”


She smiled at the panicked look on his face. “No, silly. I have to be very careful outside until the pollen count is down.”

“Hey, I have an idea. I think I can fix this,” he said, his eyes bright with excitement.


“Promise me you’ll go out with me next weekend and you’ll see.”

He was still Alfred, that quirky guy who pricked her interest. “I’ll be ready,” she said, a lightness or maybe lightheadedness overcoming her.
Saturday Alfred Porterhouse pulled his red Mazda convertible to the curb in front of Allie’s house. Well, not mine exactly. Jared let me borrow it again so I can make a good impression on Allie. The top was up and the inside gleamed. Before getting out of the car, he checked the rear-view mirror. He grabbed the box of candy he’d brought her and another package off the passenger seat. Allie Borders is going out with me. He exited the car and took the steps two-at-a-time. She’s something else. Way cool.

At the top of the stairs, he stopped a moment and went through his list.

1. Something to give her – check

2. Something to surprise her – check

3. Make sure she agrees to what we are going to do on our date – I will do that.

He knocked on the door and rang the bell for good measure. This time he didn’t look in the window because he knew she was coming.

The door opened and there she was–Allie Borders looking like a princess in a long flowing midnight blue dress, her soft auburn hair piled in a riot of curls on her head, her green eyes peering at him over her mask.

She stepped aside and he walked in. The door shut behind him as he turned and thrust his packages towards her.

“What’s this?” she asked, taking both objects. She unhooked one side of her mask letting it hang down.

“Open them.”

They sat, knees together on the couch. Her warmth filtered through his slacks and his cheeks pinked.

The opalescent green polish on her finger nails flashed as her fingers grappled with the ribbon tied securely around the first box.

“Oohh, I love chocolate covered macadamia nuts!” She popped a treat in her mouth. Her eyes closed in ecstasy and she chewed slowly. “Want one?” she asked, licking her lips and grabbing a second candy. With her free hand, she held the box out to him.

Alfred took the offered candy and put the box on the couch between them.

“And this?” she asked holding up the mystery package. Her eyes sparkled, her rosy lips turned up in a smile of anticipation.

Alfred stood and paced a few steps away before turning back to face her. “Open it and see.” He clasped his hands behind him and rocked back and forth on his feet.

Allie tore open the wrapping and found a plain brown cardboard box. “Alfred?”

He smiled at the confused questioning look on her face but kept his hands clasped. It was all he could do to keep from reaching out and helping her. She’s never had anything like this before.

“Too much tape, I have to get a knife to open it,” she said and headed for the kitchen.

He followed, waiting in the doorway while she plucked a knife from the rack and slit through the tape.

“Oh my,” Allie said delight and surprise in her voice. “I’ve never—”

“Words fail you?” he asked, bouncing on his toes.

She nodded and grinned. “I’m confused, there are two.”

“One for you and one for me. Want to try them out?”

“I do,” Allie said handing one to him. She grabbed her tote along the way. “Are we going for a drive?”

“We are but today the top is up.” Alfred helped her adjust the straps just right before putting his own on.

“Why don’t we put it down,” she said, her voice now having a mechanical edge to it.

“Really? Are you sure?”

She nodded and headed toward the door.

His hand on her elbow, Alfred escorted Allie to the car and helped her in. Top down, he drove off. The strange looks from people as they drove by meant nothing. She’s a little odd but I like her.
Allie Borders relaxed against the while leather seats of the red Mazda convertible. White fluffy stuff and golden pollen swirled in the air and made mini-dirt-devils as they drove through the Arboretum. The crisscross of straps kept her hair somewhat contained. She glanced over at Alfred’s profile and chuckled. The Darth Vader-like-shape protruding from his face was the image of the perfect man for her. It can’t get more perfect than this.

Copyright © 2014 Judith Ashley and Helen Little

Thanks to my writing friends, Helen Little and Sarah Raplee, for brainstorming the core elements of this story, adding content and editing. This story is so much better because of your involvement.

Learn more about Judith, Sarah and Helen at 

Judith's blog: www.judithashley.blogspot.com features a new post most Mondays
Judith also posts the first Friday of each month at www.Romancingthegenre.blogspot.com

Friday, February 20, 2015

Allegro - by Deanne Wilsted

This is one of my all time favorite Free Reads Stories. I hope you enjoy the re-post!

By: Deanne Wilsted
Sandra took a final swipe at the make-up on her face and then let her hand fall to the faux granite vanity where she sat. She stared at herself in the mirror, a wall of glass which spread the length of the room. Her image taunted her; shoulder length curly auburn hair pulled back with a glimmer headband, skin, pale from her many hours spent indoors practicing piano or composing, short nails, like stubby exclamation points at the end of a ten run-on sentences.
After years of being known as a child prodigy, it was so much a part of her identity that she barely recognized herself as the twenty-six year old woman she had become. An image of her younger sister, Marie, skimmed through her thoughts. Marie had played the dark angel to Sandra’s light one. Sexy as soon as she had grown breasts, her appeal had only become more sophisticated and classy, leading men to trail her like notes lingering on the piano.
It had been weeks since she’d seen Marie. Weeks, in fact, since she’d seen any of her family. She picked up the phone which she had tossed onto the vanity before heading onstage. The text from Marie was still there- the words still as nonsensical as when she had first read them.
Sandy… Dump the gig and come meet me in Barcelona. You need a break and I need an excuse to escape Antonio.
                  As if she could just back-out of a concert, thought Sandra. Marie’s way of looking at the world was so different as to be incomprehensible to Sandra. And yet, there was something about the text which nagged at her. She’d been studying it for days now. And as the weekend closed in on her the niggling idea that she could, indeed, sneak away if she really wanted to floated its way into her consciousness. It was preposterous. But aside from the girlish hair, pale skin, and filed nails, the dark circles under her eyes made a compelling case.
                  She pulled up the calendar on her phone and studied her schedule. She’d need travel time, she calculated. And time to practice when she returned. It didn’t leave much of a break. Maybe two days, max- assuming she could reschedule the recital for the local school. Still, two days was better than nothing. Her fingers played unconsciously with her phone, like keys on the piano, until the decision was made.
Okay. She typed; then pressed reply.
Sandra made it to the airport with minutes to spare. Her plan to meet her sister in updated clothes had been discarded alongside the plan to reschedule the recital. The school’s disappointment had simply been too severe to ignore. Instead she had re-jiggered her flights and run, literally, to make it.
“Excuse me.” The tall man in front of her didn’t seem to hear her plea to pass. “Excuse me,” she said, more loudly this time.
The stranger continued to face forward, holding up one finger at his shoulder to let her know he’d heard but chosen to ignore. Sandra tapped her toe, peeking around him at the ticket desk where she had hoped to upgrade at the last minute. She had a finger she’d like to show him, she thought. Sighing in frustration she accepted that she would have to stick with the cramped middle seat- the only assignment available on such short notice.
They called the flight for boarding and Sandra moved away from the crowd at the ticketing desk and into the crowd at the gate. Behind her she heard a man’s baritone talking on his cell phone. One glance over her shoulder told her it was the same man who had blocked her way to the agents. The annoyed words running through her brain dyed on her lips. He was- beautiful. Like when she heard a piece of music played flawlessly, her heart beat was a recognition of his perfection.
Bright blue eyes stared out unseeingly from a face darkened by a 5:00 o’clock shadow. The V opening of his dark shirt highlighted his strong jaw; a jaw which formed the foundation for his rugged cheek bones. But more than anything it was his mouth which had Sandra staring. The flat, clearly annoyed lips, hinted at straight white teeth underneath, and quirked up to one side as if perpetually mocking life.
Sandra would have dropped her eyes, if she could have. So it was with a horrifying blush that he caught her unintentionally listening in on the last of his conversation.
“It’s not enough to put them on the cover. You need to give them credit. ”… “Of course they said they can’t fit it. What else would they say?”… “Right. Well, I don’t care if they threaten to cancel your contract; we’re talking about a hospital of kids here. Get their name and information on the cover or find a new agent.”
“Idiots,” he mumbled, hitting the end call button with his finger and finally noticing Sandra.
The red crept up her chest, climbed her neck and felt like a glowing spotlight on her cheeks. Sandra prepared herself to apologize. But before she could get a single word out, his glance skimmed right over her and landed on the open doorway to the gangway.
Sandra spun on her flat, ballet style shoes and shuffled toward the door, even more embarrassed to have been so completely discounted by him. She fumbled with her luggage, checking her ticket and comparing the seat numbers with her assignment. At least she wouldn’t be at the back of the plane, she consoled herself. She threw her purse onto the seat and got ready to heave the suitcase up to the overhead. Before she could raise a finger, though, strong arms lifted it into the small space.
“There you go, miss.”
Sandra scooched into her seat and turned to say thank you, but was again tongue tied when she realized the same, sexy man was lowering himself into the seat next to hers. Was this a good thing, or a bad thing? Two hours would surely be enough time to find her voice, wouldn’t it? She watched the way the man tapped his cell phone on his flat palm and thought, perhaps not.
So, what do you do? Sandra was trying out opening questions when the flight attendant began her emergency spiel.
“So,” she began; then noticed the rapt attention with which the man listened to the flight attendant. In front of them the woman, clicked and unclicked a fake seatbelt, and Sandra wondered what could be so engaging about that. Until she noted the way the woman’s breasts squeezed together every time she fit the two pieces together. Sandra had been on her fair share of flights, but this was the first one where the emergency directions felt ‘R’ rated.
Sandra stared down at the pearls which lay against her own, black silk blouse. It was certainly feminine. But sexy? The buttons which hit above her collarbone hid any sign of cleavage. She tried scrunching her elbows into her side like the flight attendant had done, and proceeded in bulging the blouse, but not much else. She looked up and caught the passenger on the window side of her watching her with a bemused expression. The older woman smiled briefly, and then returned to the book which lay open on her lap.
“I’m Sandra, what’s your name?” Even the voice in her head sounded like a little girl now. She had yet to come up with a conversation starter- let alone the courage to ask it. You can do it, Sandra. You perform in front of thousands of people all the time. Just do it. The Nike quote was a favorite of Marie’s and finally motivated Sandra to go for it.
“Do you have cranberry juice?” Directed at the flight attendant who was waiting for her order, the question also finally got the man’s attention. His curious eyes were more like, does she need it in a sippy-cup, than, how about a shot of vodka for to go with it.
His own, low voice rumbled out an order of diet coke- with a side of rumpled sheets and a steamy shower. The flight attendant was back before Sandra had a chance to regain his attention. And, although Sandra had her hand out, ready to take the pink cup of juice, the flight attendant leaned across the man. She placed it on Sandra’s tray table, never taking her eyes from the man’s.
He, on the other hand, was busily drinking in the mounds of skin which threatened to topple out of what should have been the very conservative blue dress shirt on the flight attendant. She stood back and raised her arms over her head in a stretch, as if her job serving beverages was that strenuous.
A jolt of turbulence sent her swaying toward the man, who reached out to stop her from falling.
“Oh, thank you,” she said, apparently surprised that at 5,000 feet, with her hands over her head, she might lose her balance.
“Happy to help.” His smile was warm. And the little quirk at the corner now appeared ironic and knowing. It didn’t seem to bother him that the woman was obviously working him. His amusement created the intimacy of a shared joke.
While he was otherwise engaged, Sandra decided to take a cue from the very obvious flight attendant. She reached up and casually flipped open the top two buttons of her silk blouse. Waiting until the two of them were alone again, Sandra shifted her body toward him and with fingers graceful from playing piano, lifted her glass of cranberry juice to her lips. Perhaps the red color would dye her lips a luscious red like the flight attendant’s.
With her free hand she pulled the hair band from her head and shook out her curls. The movement reverberated down her neck, across her shoulder and through her arm, sloshing the cranberry juice out of the cup and into her lap.
“Damn.” She leaned forward to set her glass on the tray table, but when she leaned back to dab at her skirt her pearls got caught and she found herself jerked forward again. She bumped the tray table, and more of the pink juice spilled from the plastic cup.
“Perhaps a juice box next time,” the man suggested with a chuckle. He laid his spare napkins on her tray table and Sandra watched the drips from the juice circumvent it and continue to drip into her lap. Marie would have had a snappy reply, Sandra was sure. But Sandra was at a loss. Playing a man was nothing like playing a piano. She threw in the towel, metaphorically, and called for the flight attendant to return. As she had guessed, the woman was at their seat before Sandra’s fingers had left the call button. Sandra consoled herself with the thought that at least she would get good service on the flight.
Sandra woke up to heavy breathing in her hotel room. Near her on the floor, her sister, Marie was doing some sort of Pilates pose which must have required some intense effort to hold. She dropped down to her side, and hugged her knees to her chest, before rolling up to a sitting position.
“How long have you been awake?” Marie asked.
Sandra yawned and lay back against her pillow. “I just woke up,” she admitted.
“Good. I was trying hard to stay quiet.” Marie’s stretch was far more demanding and less calculated than the flight attendant’s had been the day before. “But, now that you’re awake, what should we do today?”
Although Marie had been at the hotel waiting for Sandra when she arrived from the airport, she had promptly gone out when it became clear that Sandra’s objective was room service and an early bedtime. “Kinda seems like it misses the point of a weekend away,” Marie had huffed, before spritzing herself with a musky scent and shimmying out the door.
Her late night had clearly done her no harm. Marie was as perky as ever, even without cosmetic surgery.
Sandra played with the edge of the sheets and considered how to answer her sister’s innocent question. She’d reached an uncomfortable conclusion while sitting silently on the airplane. A twenty-six year old woman should know how to talk to a man. Should know, in fact, how to entice him to bed. But not only was Sandra clueless, she also lacked confidence that the word entice could be used around her with anything but humor.
“So, I was thinking,” she began hesitantly. Marie was known for extremes, and Sandra was looking for a subtle change, not a train wreck. “Maybe we could go out shopping.”
Marie clapped her hands and spun in a circle. “Fantastic. A sexy dress for me and…” she stared at Sandra for a moment and then huffed. “Forget it. It’s too depressing to go shopping with you.”
Sandra put her hands on her hips. “That’s not nice,” she said. “And anyway, I was thinking you could help me pick out some new, more, uh, mature clothes.”
Marie snorted. “Mature? God, please don’t tell me you want to replace the headband with a red hat.”
“I’m serious.” Sandra jumped out of bed, filled with purpose. “Tease me all you want, but with or without you I’m going out to find something fun and sexy to wear tonight.”
Marie slowed her with a hand on her arm. “You’re serious, aren’t you?” She sounded amazed and a bit alarmed. “Sandy, what’s wrong?”
“Nothing’s wrong,” she said, pulling out of her sister’s hold. “I just, I’m tired of being overlooked. I’ve handled the pressure, the expectations, the image for 20 years now. Did you realize that?” she demanded. “I counted it up. For twenty years I’ve been known as the child prodigy. Well, guess what? I’m not a child anymore.”
Marie stood right in front of her and placed both hands on her shoulders. “Sandra, you haven’t been a child in your whole life. Since you were six you’ve never had a tantrum, broken a rule, done anything crazy, other than writing that really weird piece you called Taco.”
“I didn’t know the other meaning of the word, I swear.” Out of steam, Sandra lowered herself onto the bed.
Marie laughed and sat down next to her. “I’m just saying, if changing your clothes makes you act more care-free, then I’m with you a 100%.”
Sandra bit her lip and considered what Marie had said. She was ready for new clothes, maybe even a new hair style. But a new outlook seemed like a bit much.
“How about we keep it at 80%,” Sandra said. The last time her sister had given a 100% to anything she’d disappeared for two months. She still wouldn’t talk about that period of her life, though she’d once mentioned it had something to do with Richard Branson.
“Deal. Go shower and I’ll make some calls.”
Sandra didn’t even want to think about what sort of shopping would require phone calls.
Four hours later, head covered in foil, Sandra wished she’d asked a few more questions and limited Marie’s involvement to 30%.
“If my hair is purple, I swear…”
“I told you, nothing too crazy. You have to trust me.”
Sandra raised her eyebrows skeptically but kept quiet. The hair person had already done something with her hair that required a sharp looking razor and a heated stone. Okay, that last part had been sort of nice. Still, she wondered how much money, and time, it was going to take to revert back to her original hair style.
Marie leaned against the counter, flipping through a fashion magazine. Every now and then she’d hold a picture up for Sandra to judge. So far the pictures had received four head shakes, two emphatic “no’s”, and a laugh so loud the other customers had shot them curious stares.
Confronted by a pair of suspenders made out of fur, Sandra got ready to ask what on earth she was thinking.
“Not that page, dimwit,” Marie said. “This one.”
Sandra stared at the photo of the woman, head down, hair covering the top of the cocktail dress. It was obvious why she’d overlooked it. The photo was meant to be about the large gold watch on the skinny wrist. But taking in the dress Sandra understood what her sister was getting at. The short dress was a bright emerald green and landed in graceful folds above the model’s knees. Peeking from the very bottom edge was a line of light purple lace which hinted at something sexy and forbidden underneath. One purple silk ribbon at the ankle managed to somehow suggest bondage, even in its fragility.
“Yep,” Sandra said. “That would work.”
Marie got a Cheshire cat grin on her face and began to dial again.
If it weren’t for the loud bass in the music pumping through the clothing shop Sandra imagined the song might have been worth listening to. She shifted her weight in front of the dressing room mirror, admiring how the fabric of the newest dress she had tried on slid up slightly as she moved.
“Are you going to let me see?” Marie huffed. “We’ve been shopping for, like, two hours and I’ve seen a total of three dresses on you.”
Sandra considered making her wait for fun, but couldn’t stand the excitement of her sister seeing her in this dress. She stepped out of the dressing room, stomping to the beat of the loud music in spite of herself. At the three way mirror, she executed a perfect turn, placed a hand on her hip and shot Marie a sassy look.
Her sister’s open mouth was enough acknowledgment. This was the dress.
Sandra spun back to the mirror and Marie walked up behind her with a long necklace. She placed it around Sandra’s neck, hooked the clasp, and stepped back. Sandra’s now short, straightened black hair clung to her neck, seamlessly flowing into the metal link chain of the necklace. The look was both hard and sexy at the same time.
“Now for make-up.”
Sandra’s confidence fled and was replaced again by alarm. There was no time to argue. Marie had her paying for the dress and out the door before she could explain that the only time she wore make-up was when a professional make-up artist applied it before a big performance.
Sandra was glad the club they went to didn’t have any mirrors. Given the amount of black eye-liner Marie had applied she was sure her eyes looked like two smeared half notes. Dinner had been a rotation of tapas spots. Sandra couldn’t remember what she had eaten and had lost count early on of her normal 2 drink limit. She felt nothing like herself, disembodied from the pixie-like rock-n-roll creature that had stared back at her in the hotel room mirror.
                  “Over here.” Marie grabbed her arm and pulled her toward the bar, as if either of them needed more sangria. “Two Cosmopolitans,” Marie told the bartender then turned to look out at the night club, people streaming toward a cookie.
“So, who’s Antonio, anyway?” Sandra asked the question she’d wondered about for days.
“Who?” Marie’s eyebrows rose dramatically, and Sandra wondered if that was what hers looked like now that her sister had defined them? “Oh, right, Antonio.” She rolled her eyes as if it weren’t even worth talking about. “Some businessman who thinks he can buy everything.”
The pointed look Marie gave her raised Sandra’s protective hackles. Had the guy hurt her sister?
“I’m fine.” Marie waved away the worry she must have noticed on Sandra’s face. “He should be out of the apartment by the time I return.”
 Sandra made a somewhat drunken note to herself to double check that all was fine when they both went back to reality. Struck by a sudden closeness with her little sis she threw an arm around her shoulder and gave her a kiss.
“Oh yeah.” A disgusting jerk standing near them was practically slobbering on the bar counter.
Instead of getting upset, though, Marie laughed and kissed Sandra on the neck. “Come on babe… let’s find someplace more private.” She grabbed their drinks, hooked an arm through Sandra’s and pulled her away from the bar.
“Seriously, I don’t get how you do that.” Sandra shook her head, taking the drink Marie held out. “Weren’t you at all embarrassed?”
“By what that idiot thought? Right! Now if had been that gorgeous guy standing near the musicians I’d have been totally embarrassed- that is, embarrassed to be hanging out with my sister.”
Sandra rolled her eyes and glanced over to see what sort of mega-star Marie had set her sights on this time. She nearly dropped her drink. It was the guy from the plane. The one who’d ignored her like she was twelve but who now couldn't seem to tear his gaze from her cat eyes.
“Well, well, well… it appears it’s my big sister who’s 'gonna get lucky tonight.”
“Of course not Marie,” Sandra started. But her sister was already wandering her way back toward the bar. Sandra was happy to note that the pervert had at least left the spot he’d held. She scanned the crowd, debating whether to follow after her sister, or find a quiet spot to hide, and came face to face with the airplane guy.
“I’m sorry,” he said. Brows furrowed he seemed truly perplexed. “Do, I know you?”
She would have laughed at the overused line, if she hadn’t known that, in fact he did know her from somewhere. And it only confirmed what she’d thought… she’d been pretty well overlooked by him the first time around. She decided this time he wouldn’t get off quite so easy.
“Perhaps,” she said, scanning her excellent auditory memory for what he’d said on the phone conversation she’d overheard. “You’re an agent, right?”
Oops, that must have been the wrong direction. His body language changed from interested to closed-off in the blink of an eye.
“Ahhh. I see.”
This time she did laugh out loud. As if she needed an agent. She’d never needed to pursue anyone. Agents, artists, producers, other performers, they’d all thrown themselves at her- or more precisely her mom- since she was eight. Her laughter confused him. Once again he looked at her curiously. The quirk in his mouth gave the impression that he was calculating the odds of being wrong about her. It amazed Sandra how one little muscle could be so expressive.
“What are you drinking? Can I get you another?”
Sandra squinted at her glass, surprised it was almost empty. “It was some sort of cranberry drink,” she said, belatedly realizing the connection with the drink she’d ordered on the airplane. “But I’d rather have water, if you don’t mind. I think I’ve had enough.”
“Huh!” He rubbed his chin and studied her face intently. “Stay here. Don’t move. I’ll be right back.” He turned to walk off then spun back as if to check that she was still there. “Don’t move,” he said again.
Sandra barely took a breath before her sister popped up in front of her.
“So, it turns out I sat next to that guy on the plane here and he never even noticed me. In fact, even now he doesn’t remember who I was. I mean, it was just yesterday,” she huffed.
“Cool, so you have the advantage then.” As usual Marie’s reasoning was both smart and also a little lopsided.
“But, what do I say?”
Marie cocked her head and gave the question serious consideration. “Well, I know what I’d say.”
“Okay, what? Hurry, He’s coming back.” Panic gripped Sandra. She held Marie’s arm so she wouldn’t escape.
Marie smiled. “No… I don’t think my way would work for you. But hey, what if you treated him like a composition? What’s that first part again?”
“A prelude…”
“And you told me a prelude introduces the main movement and sets the theme. Right?”
“Okay, yes.” Sandra tried to return the guy’s smile as he wound his way toward them.
“So, this is your prelude. Your theme isn’t my theme. But if I had to take a guess, it would have something to do with a new stage in your life, something anyone could relate to. Good luck.”
She pulled from Sandra’s death grip and shot her a parting smile and a last piece of advice before gliding out to the dance floor. “Probably you should start with your name.”
Sandra set down the sweating glass and rubbed her palms down the side of her dress.
“So, I’m Sandra,” she said when he got close enough to hear her. “And I’m not the girl I was yesterday. That’s why you don’t recognize me. What’s your name?”
“I’m Sam.”

He still didn’t recognize her, but that didn’t matter. Sandra realized it gave her the freedom to be whomever she wanted. The thought was as freeing as a lively allegro. A new composition began to circle in her brain, something with sultry tones and a strong beat. Something that sounded like the woman she could be.

If you liked this story, you can find more by Deanne at her website:
Journeys Insprised by Love

Thank you to all of the Genre-istas for letting me be part of this terrific Free Reads blog. I am so sad to see it end, but wish each of them amazing success.

Friday, February 13, 2015

An Unexpected Valentine -

My encore story at the Free Reads is a Valentine story I wrote two years ago and posted on this site.

An Unexpected Valentine
Paty Jager
Spencerville, Oregon

Someone pounded on the back door of his twin sister’s home as Willem Kerk stepped into the kitchen.
“Janna, I need to hide! Janna, please!”
Willem’s heart picked up speed. He knew that pleading voice well. It was the reason he hadn’t returned to Spencerville after becoming a doctor. He hadn’t wished to open wounds this woman had made. The desperation in her frantic plea and pounding fists tugged at his heart and his feet, drawing him crossed the room.
Willem opened the door.
The blustery January wind blew in snowflakes, chilling his hands and face. A thin woman dressed in a baggy cotton dress fell into him. The moment his hands gripped her cold, boney arms she glanced up into his face. He barely recognized the woman who’d stolen his heart and turned to another when he set out to make a life for them both. If not for her full head of red curls, he would have guessed her to be another woman.  
Her wide, frightened, green eyes narrowed and she shoved out of his hands. Her arms lifted as if protecting her head from blows. “Where’s Janna?” she asked, turning her back to him and side-stepping deeper into the kitchen.
Willem had worked with battered women at the hospital in Chicago. His heart sputtered almost to a stop to think the man Molly had chosen over him was hurting her. He counted to ten, inhaled deep, and slowly released his breath to tamp down the flaring rage this realization sparked.
“She went to the mercantile to get the powders our father needs.”
Shivers not of fear or revulsion snaked up Molly Lawrence’s backbone and warmed an empty space in her chest. When she’d realized she’d fallen into the arms of a man, she’d thought it was Janna’s husband Ronald. But the face she peered into and the soft voice with an accent just like Janna’s visited her dreams. There hadn’t been a night since marrying David Lawrence that she didn’t think of the man who left her for a profession as a doctor.  Had Janna told her brother about the beatings?
Before she made the decision to turn and let him see the damage David did this time, large hands gently grasped her arms. She started to struggle, knowing only hurt from a man’s hands the past five years.
“It’s all right, Molly. I won’t hurt you. It is I, Willem.” His hands remained, but the grip loosened.
 The calm, deep voice reassuring her took her back to the carefree days when she and Willem were inseparable. She peered up into his face.
His bluish-gray eyes studied her. His expression never changing, but the color of his eyes grew brighter. She remembered how they would darken when his mood changed. But mostly right before he kissed her. His grip tightened, and she sucked air, preparing to flee.
He released her arms but stood steadfastly in front of her.
“Who did this to you?” He motioned for her to sit at the kitchen table.
Molly’s legs shook from her run and the realization the one man she’d always wanted had just witnessed the mess she’d made of her life. She shuffled to the chair and plopped on the hard surface. The last few months her body had lost much of her padding and the wood smacked against her sitting bones. She grimaced at the slight pain and jarring.
Willem’s back was to her as she settled onto the chair and pulled her sleeves down to hide the bruises on her wrists and lower arms.
The only man she’d ever loved knelt beside her, holding a glass of water.
“Who did this?” His fingers skimmed over the older bruises on her face. The touch was soft, like a feather caressing her cheek. The complete opposite of her husband’s touch. How many nights had she lain in her bed, spilling tears down her cheeks, and wishing this man lay beside her?
He skimmed her face again, drawing her gaze back to his. “Who hurt you?”
“David. I didn’t have his dinner ready. I’d been helping old missus Crandall and lost track of time.”  She hated to admit to the mess she’d made of her life, but she couldn’t lie to Willem. Had never been able to hide her feelings, which was why it had hurt so bad when he chose doctoring over her. She choked back a sob as the last horrid half hour played in her mind.
Her arms trembled remembering the vibration of the skillet when it connected with David’s head. Fear shot her out of the chair. “I have to go. I need to borrow a coat from Janna.”
“No.” Willem gently settled her back down on the chair.
She didn’t hear the words coming out of Willem’s soft lips, only the calm, deep voice as terror clawed at her throat. She’d killed her husband!
“I can’t go to jail! I didn’t mean to…he was… I couldn’t take another beating.”
“Shhh…” He forced the glass of water into her hands. “Drink, then tell me what happened.”
She stared into his kind eyes. Eyes that as a young man had crinkled at the edges when he laughed at her silly comments. Her gaze dropped to his lips, now pressed together in a stern line. There was a time when those lips turned up at the corners and made her heart skip. The softness of them nuzzling her neck and kissing her cheek…
The swallow of water stuck in her throat and she coughed, spewing across Janna’s clean table cloth.  What have I done?
A large, warm hand leisurely rubbed circles on her back. She leaned back into the warm, gentle touch.
“Why are you set on running away? If your husband is beating you, you have grounds to divorce him.”
Willem’s calm demeanor helped to settle her rattled state.
Molly drew in a breath and peered into his eyes. “I may be a widow.”
His hand stalled, then resumed the circles. “How is that?”
“Janna has been badgering me to stand up to David. She said a man who beats a woman is a coward.” Molly shuddered as the vision of David roaring blasphemies and coming at her with his fists raised played in her mind. “When I told him I was going to leave him if he didn’t stop beating on me, he charged like a rank bull. I grabbed the closest thing…a skillet…and struck him alongside the head.” She turned to the man sitting on a chair beside her. When had he sat on the chair? Shaking her head she continued. “He went down to his knees then sunk to the floor, blood spilled over the floor by his head.” She grabbed his shirt. “I didn’t know what else to do, so I ran over here. Janna’s always been here for me.”
Willem cursed as the back door opened and shut. His sister returning couldn’t have been timed any better.
Janna crossed the room at a run. “Godverdomme, Molly, he’s been beating on you again.”
Willem stared at his sister. “I’ll speak with you later. Right now I want you to get a blanket to wrap around Molly. Give her a cup of tea and some broth. I have a patient to tend.”
Both women stared at him when he returned to the kitchen with his doctor’s bag in his hand and dressed to weather the cold. If Molly knocked her husband out, he’d patch him up and give him the same talking he did the husband’s of the women he’d patched up in Chicago. Give the wife a divorce and move on or he’d press charges. While there were still many men who believed a wife deserved a beating, the women were starting to get more voice in politics and with their husbands. Spencerville wouldn’t tolerate a wife beater, which brought up the question—How had Molly kept it a secret from everyone but Janna? If the man was dead…he’d find a way to keep her out of jail.
It didn’t take him long to traverse Main Street and find the path to the Lawrence house. Janna had pointed it out when he’d first arrived to help with their ailing father. His strides shortened and his gait slowed. How would he respond to the man if he was merely injured? He’d never liked David even when they were schoolmates together. He’d seen the brutal side to him then. But he hadn’t been here to talk Molly out of marrying the man. According to Janna she’d tried to explain her brother would be back and to wait for him, but Molly didn’t believe her best friend anymore than she believed him. It still ate at his pride that she didn’t believe he would come back and marry her.
He knocked on the wide open door. “Mr. Lawrence? David?” Willem called out before stepping across the threshold. The house was eerily quiet. The scent of blood hung in the air. It had taken him nearly a year to get used to the scent when repairing mangled bodies at the hospital. The factories and warehouses maimed many men…and boys.
“Mr. Lawrence?” He stepped into the kitchen. David didn’t lie in a heap on the floor, but the evidence of Molly’s fear congealed on the floor. A cast iron frying pan larger than he thought Molly could lift lay on the wood beside a fair-sized spot of glistening blood.
Where was David? Terror squeezed his chest. Looking for Molly!
His first instinct had been to clean up the mess so no one knew what had happened, but the knowledge the man could be searching for his wife and would be even angrier at her fighting back, sent him back out the front door and running to his sister’s house.
Molly huddled over the steam from the tea and the broth Janna had placed in front of her. Pulling the scratchy wool blanket tighter around her body, she moaned. Her life had turned out so different from what she’d planned. And now, she could be going to jail for killing a man who had beat on her since two weeks after their wedding five years ago.
The back door banged opened and she froze. Was David still alive? Fear started trembling at her toes and worked up her body until her head started shaking. She fought to keep her vision from blurring. What did death feel like? It had to be better than the past five years.
Willem hadn’t meant to bang the door open so hard. In his fear for Molly, he’d hit the door at a run, slamming it against the wall.
Janna jumped and scolded him, but his gaze was on the woman shaking like a wagon on a rutted road.  He closed the door quietly and walked over to the chair.
“Molly, you didn’t kill David. He wasn’t there.” He placed a hand on her shoulder, and she jerked away her body vibrating.
“Molly, sweetheart, liefje, I won’t let him touch you.” Willem scooped her shaking form up in his arms and carried her into the parlor where he sat on the settee with her on his lap and rubbed her arms and back, trying to bring her back to the present.
“Janna, bring tea with lots of sugar,” he called into the kitchen.
When his sister entered the room, he flashed her with a stern look. “Lock all the doors and only let your husband in.”
Janna nodded and scurried from the room.
Liefje, look at me.” He tipped Molly’s chin up so her beautiful green eyes stared into his. “I won’t let anyone hurt you.” Placing her small hand on his chest over his heart, he said, “This heart still beats for you, and I’ll do whatever it takes to get you away from that man.”
He saw a brief flicker in her eyes.
“Drink this.” Willem held the tea up to her lips. She sipped, her eyes steady on his. By the time the cup was empty, her body had stopped shaking. He continued to rub her arms and back. She was so bony. Even her adolescent body hadn’t been this thin. It would be hard to not take a cast iron skillet to David’s head himself when he saw him.
Molly squirmed and he realized he’d stopped rubbing and was squeezing her arm.
“Sorry. I’ll keep my thoughts only on getting you well and keeping you safe.” He kissed her forehead.
Tears trickled down her cheeks.
“Do you hurt somewhere I can’t see?” His hands felt her ribs, slid down her abdomen, and started to descend her legs.
She stayed his hands with hers. “No.” She sniffled. “I’m not hurt anywhere else. Why are you being so kind? You walked away from me.”
His neck cracked as he brought his gaze up to meet hers. “I never walked away from you. I told you I’d be back in four years and we’d marry. You’re the one who didn’t wait for me.”
Her eyes snapped with indignation. “When my parents died and I had nowhere to go, I sent you a letter, asking if you still wanted to marry me, could we do it then, so I wouldn’t be at the mercy of the only other man who was asking for my hand, David.”
An invisible hatchet split his heart in two. She’d reached out to him and he’d let her down.
“I never received a letter from you. Only the one from Janna saying you’d married David Lawrence.” He gathered her into his arms and held her close. “Liefje, I’m so sorry. I would have married you and figured out how to support you and get through my schooling.” His heart ached for all she’d endured.
She snuggled against his chest, and he thought he heard a sigh. He wasn’t going to let her get away again. He’d fight whoever he needed to get her out of her marriage and into his arms every night.
The next two weeks, Molly remained in the Kerk household. Willem had told the marshal what had happened between David and Molly. The man said he’d had his suspicions, but Molly hadn’t come out in public much, and when she did, she appeared happy.
Willem didn’t care what the town thought. He escorted Molly to dine at the hotel restaurant. Janna had loaned her a dress for the occasion. It fit Molly better now that she was eating well and not in fear all the time. She was blossoming into the young woman he’d dreamed about every night since he went away to medical school.
“You didn’t have to bring me out like this,” Molly whispered, scanning the room.
“You have nothing to worry about. Everyone in town knows what David did to you.” He wanted to reach across the table and smooth the worry lines from her brow, but she was still a married woman. He’d take care of that whenever that coward of a husband turned up.
“But I am still married to him. We shouldn’t be acting as if you’re courting me in public,” she whispered and sat back as the waiter set their meals in front of them.
“Everyone also knows my intentions and that you are living with my sister, her husband, and my father. You are worrying too much.” He smiled and nodded to her plate. “Eat.”
She grudgingly started eating. Halfway through their meal the marshal strolled into the restaurant followed by Janna and Ronald.
“Mr. Kerk, Mrs. Lawrence, I need to speak with you.” The marshal held his hat in his hands. A dour expression darkened his face.
Willem glanced at Janna. She nodded slightly, but her worried gaze rested on Molly.
“Of course.” Willem stood and held Molly’s chair as she rose. The color drained from her face, and Janna hurried to Molly’s other side. Willem and his sister escorted Molly out to an alcove in the lobby.
Willem turned to the marshal. “What did you wish to speak to us about?” He held Molly’s hand, squeezing it to show his support.
“I just got word that Mr. David Lawrence is to be hung on February 14th for the murder of a prostitute over in The Dalles.” The marshal kept his eyes on Molly. “From what I gather he showed up in town, got roaring drunk, found a red-haired woman, and killed her. Wasn’t no need to go to trial since there were witnesses to the attack.”  He ducked his head. “The witnesses say he was shoutin’ that it would be the last time she smacked him with a fryin’ pan.”
Molly teetered and Willem put an arm around her waist, easing her down onto the chair behind her.
“He killed that woman thinking she was me, didn’t he?”
Her whispered question froze Willem’s heart.
“Yes, ma’am I reckon he did. He was looking for a woman with hair the color of yours.”
Molly started shaking.
“Thank you for carrying out your duty, marshal.” Willem picked Molly up and headed for the door. Janna held it open, and he headed for his sister’s house.
Molly would be a widow on February 14th.  It was a tragic end to Molly and David’s marriage, but an unexpected Valentine’s gift for him and Molly. They only had to wait a respectable time after that and they could marry.
In the meantime, he planned to prove to her she would be cherished for the rest of her life.