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Friday, February 10, 2012

Saved By the Ring

By Diana McCollum

He had just been dumped. Dumped by Elizabeth Barrett Steller, his college sweetheart, and not for just any reason, but because he signed back on with the Army.
Ben stomped to the car, his anger making it hard to get the key in the lock of his old 1989 Chevy pickup.
Yanking the door open, he slid into the driver’s seat. Leaning his forehead against the steering wheel, he took deep breaths as he fought to control his emotions. At twenty-four he could damn well make his own decisions. The sweltering June sun only added to his temper.
God, he felt like his heart had been ripped out. He had re-upped for her, for a chance of a future together. He didn’t want to end up pumping gas like his brother or doing some other menial job. That was no way to support a wife and family. The Army would insure he could afford college, and get a degree in computer science. He’d be able to get a VA house loan someday and take care of his family. That didn’t matter to Lizzie, spoiled self-centered Lizzie.
“Ben, Ben…wait!” Lizzie ran towards the truck barefoot, her long brown hair flying behind her. He paused for a second as he glimpsed the college cheerleader he’d fallen in love with four years ago.
He turned the key and floored the gas. She’d had her say. His pride didn’t need any more abuse from her about how he should live his life. He fingered the ring box in his pocket, as he glanced in the rear view mirror. The road was empty. Good thing he’d had sense enough not to ask her today.
Her words burned in his memory.
“Ben, if you re-enlist there is no guarantee you won’t be sent to Iraq. I can’t go through it again, not knowing if you are safe or not.” Lizzie had turned on the tears, always a good move, only this time they didn’t work. “I want to be with you. Don’t I mean more to you than the Army?”
When he told her why he had re-enlisted, she took her final stand with her arms crossed, “I’m not waiting for you, Ben. You do what you have to do, but I’m not waiting. I’m not an Army wife and I don’t plan on ever being one. The stress was too much during your last deployment. When you went missing for four days…I couldn’t eat or sleep. I almost lost my job. I can’t do it again, I just can’t.”
She turned away from him and stared out the kitchen window. “Go. Just go.”
He turned to leave. His hand on the doorknob, he paused, waiting for her to tell him to stay, that they could work it out. She didn’t.
Six months later in the Iraq desert the Cougar Ben was riding in set off an IED. As Ben lay in the sand listening for the whirl of the Medevac copter to arrive, he thought of Lizzie. He had thought of her almost daily since the breakup. Once he got to the war zone, he’d tried to put her out of his mind. The sadness of losing Lizzie gripped him and a tear slid down his face.
The fire in his core engulfed him. He gasped. The sweat ran down his face, he wiped at it and came away with blood. Now with the potential of death, he prayed, a low whisper of a prayer, “Lord, let me see her one more time.”
Helicopter rotors kicked up a cloud of dust and in seconds a medic was by Ben’s side. His ears rang from the blast and that along with the noise from the copter made it impossible to hear what the medic was saying. The last thing he remembered was being strapped onto the litter and hoisted into the Blackhawk.
Wounded Warrior, that’s what the staff at Walter Reed Hospital called him. A respectable title for what he and many other wounded soldiers had been through. Ben worked hard at recovery. Physical therapy kicked his ass.
The doctor came in carrying a small book. “This is yours soldier. It just might have saved your life.” He handed the small Bible to Ben.
“What‘d you mean it saved my life?”
“Turn it over.”
Ben turned it over and saw the jagged hole in the cover.” His eyes misted over, his voice trembling with emotion he said, “Thanks Doc, thanks a lot.”
His mom called that night. Her recuperation from a mild stroke was as good as it was going to get. She had trouble with her speech but the doctor hoped it would clear up eventually.
They wanted him home, his family. When he could walk on his own, he’d be going --not before. His goal was to walk off the plane on his mom’s favorite holiday, Valentine’s Day.
On February fourteenth he headed home. He walked off the jet, picked up his luggage and hailed a taxi. He couldn’t wait to see the look on Mom’s face when he gave her the box of chocolates and told her he was taking her out to dinner. He chuckled remembering how much she loved Valentine’s Day. That was their special day, ever since he drew her a Valentine’s card in first grade.
When the cab turned down his mom’s street Ben let out a low whistle. “Looks like someone’s having a party.” Both sides of the street were filled with cars. A few he recognized. His brother’s and Aunt Tilly’s were parked in front of the house.
“You can just drop me here.” He handed the cabbie the fare, and got out. The heart shaped box of chocolates he’d bought for mom tucked under his arm. He turned towards the house and stopped, not able to pass the car that sat in the drive.
His eyes must be playing tricks on him. Nope, it was Lizzie’s unmistakable mini-Cooper in the driveway. What was she doing here? He wanted to see her, but not now, not here. His heart beat out a rat-a-tat-tat and his palms were suddenly sweaty. He glanced towards the end of the street but the cab was gone. No escape. Man up, Ben. He readjusted his luggage and marched up the steps. Before he could ring the doorbell, the door swung open.
“Ben!” Mom said.
“Ben’s here.” She shouted over her shoulder. His mom embraced him, tears of joy slid down her rosy cheeks. “Come in, come in.”
The entryway was filled with pink heart shaped balloons. A Valentine’s party? The living room was filled with all his aunts, cousins and friends. There was definitely a party going on.
“What…” Did he forget a birthday or something? “Here, mom.” He held out the heart shaped box of chocolates.
Everyone stared at him. His shirt collar seemed too tight, and he was beginning to sweat. He looked at his mom for an explanation.
“Ben, Ben dear boy,” She plopped down in an overstuffed chair and fanned her heated face with her hands. “Why don’t you put your bags down in the hall and get me a drink of water? I’m feeling a bit faint from all the excitement.”
She winked at Aunt Tilly. He tried to figure out why while he stashed the bags in the hallway, and rounded the corner to the kitchen.
“Hello, Ben.” Lizzie’s voice was tentative. She sat on a stool on the other side of the counter, filling little bags with candy and tying them with pretty pink ribbon.
“Lizzie…” He reached up and unbuttoned the top of his uniform shirt.
“I’m glad you made it home. I was so sorry to hear you were injured.” Her voice quivered as if she barely held back tears.
“What are you doing here?” She was so pretty. He couldn’t catch his breath. Well, he’d got his wish.
“I was invited.”
“Why?” He ran his fingers through his hair.
She stood up then and he could see she was expecting. His heart galloped in his chest.
“Your mom is giving us a baby shower. I’m pregnant with your daughter.” She ambled over, and placed his hand on her belly. “I found out the week after we broke up. I didn’t tell you because one, we broke up and two, I wanted you to focus on coming back alive.”
He felt a movement. His daughter! He removed the small bible from his pocket and held it out to her.
“Lizzie, will you marry me?”
A puzzled look crossed her face as she opened the Bible and stared at an engagement ring dented in half. “What…”
“I was going to ask you before I left for duty. Then we fought, I kept the ring in the pocket flap in the Bible. The Doc said it saved my life, you saved my life.”
“Yes, yes I’ll marry you.” Her eyes sparkled with tears of joy.

© Diana McCollum 2012 All rights reserved.
A special thank you to artist Nick Pino
© Nick Pino 2012 All rights reserved.

The Worth of a Kiss

by Christy Carlyle

Jaw clenched, long fingers rapping an insistent rhythm on the polished arm of his aunt’s sitting room chair, Lord Lucien Grimsby struggled to control his emotions. It was an unusual sensation. Normally a master of his feelings, Lucien found that simmering irritation had become his constant companion. His aunt Nora, Dowager Countess of Stamford, seemed oblivious to his distress and blithely carried on praising Miss Wright, the source of all of Lucien’s frustration.  Without even a second thought, Lucien could easily declare Jessamyn Wright to be the most infuriating and outspoken woman – he could hardly call her a lady - of his acquaintance.  

He cut across his aunt’s words, his voice louder than he intended. “Come now, Aunt. She reads to you. It is hardly drudge work. Nor does it require the kind of talents you ascribe to her.”

Lady Nora fussed with an elaborately laced handkerchief and glared at her nephew.  “It’s more difficult than it might seem. I have high standards and she must read it just so.”

Lucien made a most uncharacteristic sound - somewhere between a snort and a chortle.  Aunt Nora’s brows shot up into her increasingly white hairline.  The echo of footsteps drew their attention to the sitting room door.  Without knocking, the source of Lucien’s ire and his aunt’s adoration stepped across the threshold.  

“Ah, Jessamyn. My nephew was just making light of your oratory skills.”  Lady Nora smiled as she said the words and shot Lucien a look of challenge.

“Aunt.”  Lucien’s voice was low as he bit off the word, infusing it with as much menace as he dared to direct at the woman who knew him better than his own mother.  Straightening in his chair, he studied the wallpaper directly above his aunt’s head.  Out of the corner of his eye, he noticed that Miss Wright wore blue, a dark, drab dress that had nothing to do with fashion or feminine curves. Somehow, it suited her and served to highlight her pale complexion and auburn hair. 

She did not acknowledge his presence, but merely glided soundlessly across the room and took a place on the divan nearest his aunt.  She picked up a book as if she meant to ignore them completely, and he thought that she might actually sit silently for once.

Then her rich, warm voice interrupted his musings.  “Perhaps his lordship would like to have a go.”

            “I beg your pardon?”  He arched one dark eyebrow, simmering irritation beginning to boil.

            “You could show me how it should be done.” Her expression was unreadable, her grey eyes clear.

            “I never claimed superiority at reading anything.”  Though he was certain his reading habits were superior to his aunt, who opted for poetry and horridly gothic romance.  “I simply said...” 
            Aunt Nora’s sing song voice lifted with enthusiasm. “Oh, yes, Lucien. Do read for us.”

            He closed his eyes, sensing defeat before he had even begun to fight.  Miss Wright’s lavender scent was tickling nose and his aunt was watching him with the look she used to give him as a boy when he had done something utterly witless.

            He unclenched the fist he did not realize he was making, opened his hand, palm up and held it out to Jessamyn.  “Let’s have it then, Miss Wright.”

            She lifted the slim volume and laid it in his hand.  As their fingers touched, he felt a jolt of heat down his body, though her fingers were cool.  Their eyes met and he saw amusement in her expression.  With a jolt of shock, he realized that he liked seeing that flicker, that ember of joy.  He found that he wanted to stoke it and bring it to life, so that it would light up her eyes and shine onto him too.  

            He opened the book, a volume of poems by Percy Bysshe Shelley. His fingers flipped the pages to Queen Mab, a poem he’d read at university and recalled enjoying. He cleared his throat, took a fortifying breath and began to read.

            Lady Nora's voice stopped him before a single syllable could escape his lips.  “How can you begin reading, Lucien?  I have not even told you which page.”  

            “I had taken the liberty of choosing a poem, Aunt.”

            Lady Nora made a sharp snapping sound with her tongue. “No, I must choose. That is the way of it.”
            He glanced at Jessamyn as if she might come to his aid.  Sitting ramrod straight, perched on the edge of the divan near his aunt, she merely nodded her head.  “It is true. That is the way we do it.”

            He thought of demanding his lordly rights, but demurred.  “What page, dearest aunt?”

            “Page 103, if you please.”  He turned the pages until he was near the end of the volume and landed on page 103.  A single, short poem took up the space of the folio page.  It was titled Love’s Philosophy. Lucien skimmed the words he was about to read and finally felt the strands of the web in which his aunt had ensnared him.  He speared her with an icy gaze above the book’s page and narrowed his eyes at the Cheshire grin that crested her lips.

            “Come, Lucien.  It is fitting for such a day, is it not?”  Lucien’s brow creased in confusion, but before he could ask, his aunt added archly, “St. Valentine’s Day.”

            The poem might as well have been written in a foreign language, so strange was its meaning to a man used to stifling his emotions.  He stammered through the poem’s first stanza, every line causing him to stumble.  Full of sentiment and intimate meaning, the words tripped his normally steady tongue while his mind wandered into places he rarely let it venture.

            Mercifully, his aunt stopped him short.  “Oh, that is not right at all, Lucien. It seems my clever Miss Wright surpasses you in poetry reading after all.  Do go and rescue him, my dear.”

            Miss Wright hesitated before obeying her employer, but then he sensed her moving toward him.  He could not look at Jessamyn as she retrieved the little book from his hands.  He thrust it towards her and sank down into his chair.
            Lucien had always acknowledged the beauty of Jessamyn Wright’s voice.  It was not high pitched and interspersed with giggles, nor too deep and unfeminine.  It was smooth and rich, just the sort of voice to serve a poetry reader well. 

            Miss Wright began to read, “The fountains mingle…”

            Lady Nora stopped her.  “Don’t start again, dear.  Just continue on.”

            Lucien knew what came next and could not resist watching Miss Wright as she read.  He watched her full lips lovingly caress the kind of words that had caused him to stumble.  He watched her neck, the smooth white line of skin that arched up across her cheeks.  As she read, her cheeks gradually flamed into a blush as pink as her mouth. She spoke of kissing, and he was struck with the memory of her lips on his as vividly as if she stood before him, the taste of her fresh again on his tongue. At that moment, he knew the worth of that kiss.  It had changed him, changed everything.

            “What are all these kissings worth if thou kiss not me?” As Jessamyn spoke the last line, her voice wavered and the book started to slip from her hands.  She caught it and looked up at Lucien.  Her eyes glowed in the gaslight and Lucien felt drawn by their light.  He started to stand, but she stopped him.

            “No.  I…” For a moment, she seemed confused, disoriented.  Then she approached Lady Nora and handed her the book of poetry.  “Forgive me, Lady Nora.  I need a breath of air.”

            The dowager countess’ voice was quiet, nearly a whisper.  “Of course, my girl.”
            The silence that descended in Lady Nora’s sitting room was stifling. Lucien tugged ungentlemanly at his neck cloth.  He could not stop his foot from tapping, though the aubusson carpet was so thick, he made no sound.

            “Lucien?”  Lady Nora’s voice had lost its sing song tone. 

            “Yes, Aunt?”  He stopped tapping his foot, but his fingers immediately began to trace the carved pattern in the arm of his chair.

“You are not a fool.”  She said the words firmly, without a sliver of doubt.

“Am I not?”  Lucien did not share his aunt’s faith in her assertion.

            “No.  So you must go after her.”  He lifted his head and met Lady Nora’s eyes.  She looked haughty, ready to command and be obeyed. But a smile softened her lips, and he knew in that moment that she saw through his veneer of cool detachment.  “Only a fool would stay here with me at a moment like this.  Go and get her.”

© Christy Carlyle 2012
To Be a Writer Blog
Portland Romance Novel Examiner

Steamy Proposal of Love

by Mae Pen

Victorian Meets Modern
Aven looked up from the intricate gold pocket watch she was meticulously repairing. The soft tick-tock of the tall mantle clock echoed in the otherwise quiet room. Blinking owlishly into the gas lamp next to her workstation she listened for the sound that had disturbed her. The harsh grating of metal against metal mixed with the hiss of steam caught her attention. Removing her magnification goggles, Aven slid off the high stool she sat on to repair watches.

She stretched out the kinks in her back as she scanned the room. Everything looked to be in the proper place. She hoped the heating system that had been recently installed hadn't sprung another leak. The sound of metal against metal came from the floor a few feet in front of her. She looked down and gasped. Totterng toward her was a shiny copper man holding a silver tray on his outstretched hands. She knelt down wincing as her knees popped.

The automaton was covered from the round top hat to the miniature dress shoes in copper plating. He only reach edup to her knees. She was surprised it could stand with the large silver dome sitting on the silver tray. The dome was almost as large as the mechanical man. It came to a halt immediately in front of her knees. The arms moved upward, as if offering her the tray.

The sound of soft boot steps drew her startled gaze up to the doorway. Gaelan leaned against the doorjamb. She inhailed and smiled. She loved looking at him. Whenever she saw him her heart ramped up like a pocketwatch being wound. He smiled one of his rare smiles at her. Her insides melted.

"When did you arrive? Sarah didn't inform me."

"Sarah is busy. It looks as if you have an admirer." He nodded at the automaton.

Aven looked back to the toy. She peeked through her lashes at him wondering if this was a trick. Despite his quietness, Gaelan loved to play tricks on people. Especially when he believes he's being ignored. She stood up and stepped around the toy. Gaelan frowned straightening away from the dark wood jamb.

"Aren't you going to look under the dome?"

"So something can blow colored smoke in my face?" She asked him glancing back at the silver tray. She was tempted to give in, but if she did that all the time she'd never get him to curb his impulse.

"I swear on the lives of my people, nothing will explode on you. Besides, it's Saint Valentine's Day, not April Fool's Day. Please open the dome."

"Did you do this?" Aven turned to watch the still toy. Amusement and joy crept in beneath her suspicion. Gaelan loved to leave her presents where she least expected to find them. One time he'd left her an emerald bracelet on her washstand. She had the feeling her maid, Sarah, liked to help him.

"Perhaps. You'll never know unless you open it."

Aven sighed, but she knew he was correct. She returned to the automaton and with shaking fingers and a little hesitation she grasped the little silver knob at the top. As she lifted the lid she held her breath waiting for the joke to explode on her. Nothing popped out, no smoke billowed from under the lifting lid. Breathing a sigh of relief, she yanked the dome completely off. She froze at the sight of a red painted mechanical rose that laid across the silver tray. Aven held her breath as a beam of moonlight filtered through the window landed on the tray.

Gaelan approached her and took the dome from her frozen fingers. Aven heard the silver dome ding against the tabletop to their right. He came around her and picked up the rose. Her eyes lifted to his serious face. He held out the rose to her as if offering her the world. Her heart pounded against her ribs with so much force she was sure he could see it beating against her skin. With shaking hands she took the rose from him.

It was heavy, probably made from brass or steel. The stem and leaves were painted a deep green while the rose was painted a vivid red. She held it up inspecting it. She noticed that each petal was a separate piece of machinery. Somehow it opened. Feeling a tingle of excitement she searched for the lever or button that would open the petals. Accidently she pushed her thumb down on a thorn.

The sound of gears turning and metal scraping against metal filled the room. Aven watched in amazement and rising anticipation as the petals unfolded. A glimmer of pink and red sparkled as each petal fell open. Finally, after what seemed like minutes, but was more like seconds, all of the petals settled. Aven gasped. Her gaze flipped to Gaelan who watched her intently. When she couldn't read anything on his handsome face, she looked back at the open rose.

In the very center of the open metal blossom sat a ring. It was the most exquisite ring she'd ever seen. The band was a sparkling silver and twined in a circle like two vines wrapping around a finger. The center of the ring was a rose made of pink diamond with a pinky sized ruby at the center. Her heart felt as if it was bursting from her body as she looked at Gaelan. Gaelan knelt on one knee before her. His face very serious as he watched her.

"Aven Selwyn, would you do the honor of being my wife?"

"Oh, Gaelan. Of course, I will." Aven breathed.

Gaelan stood up with a smile, took the rose from her and disengaged the ring from the metal casing. Aven held out her hand watching as it trembled. Gaelan took her hand in his and squeezed lightly before slipping the ring on her left ring finger. The weight of the ring felt so right, Aven couldn't imagine being without it again. The room shimmered as tears filled her eyes. Gaelan lifted her face tenderly and took possession of her mouth.

Mae Pen

© 2012 Mae Pen  All rights reserved

Heart of Gold

by Paty Jager

Jenny Wolcott’s heart raced as she scanned the heart-shaped lace and gold edging of the card on her desk. It was too beautiful and expensive to be from one of her students. She slipped a finger between the sturdy papers, opening the card. There wasn’t any writing, just the elegant store bought card. Who had placed it on her desk while she visited the outhouse? She hadn’t heard a horse or wagon approach.
Peering out the one window of the schoolhouse, she stared at the empty road. The children had left nearly an hour earlier. She’d remained at the school, preferring the quiet to the chaos of her brother’s house to read her students’ essays.
The sun was quickly nearing the horizon. If I don’t hurry I’ll be walking home in the dark. A shiver crept down her back at the thought. While this part of Montana was relatively civilized there was the occasional outlaw, drifter, or renegade Indian that wandered through Twin Forks, not to mention how fast the temperature dropped once the sun disappeared.
As badly as she wanted to savor the Valentine, she tucked it into her grade book to treasure later and donned her wool cape and bonnet for her two mile walk. Jenny closed the door, tucked the grade book to her body with one arm, and sloshed through the freezing slush holding up her skirt. The cold quickly slipped under her skirt seeping through her flannel pantalets. Jason delivered she and her nephews to school that morning wrapped in buffalo robes in the wagon.
Arizona winters hadn’t been as harsh as her first winter at the foot of the Rocky Mountains. Her breath puffed in front of her face in a white veil.
Surely, Jason would come looking for her. Jenny tucked her gloved hand holding the book tighter against her body and trudged on.
A crunching sound caught her attention. She peered through the graying dusk as the shape of a horse and buggy emerged on the road. It wasn’t her brother. Jason didn’t own a buggy.
She stepped to the side of the road, standing in a foot of cold, crusty, snow. Shivers started at her feet and slowly climbed up her limbs until her whole body shook.
The buggy stopped. Evan Carey, the local sheriff, pulled his hat off his curly brown hair.
“Miss Wolcott, could I give you a ride?” 
Jenny’s throat tightened.  Of all the people to come to her rescue, she could easily envision Evan as her knight in shining armor. Ever since her arrival to Twin Forks last fall her heart raced and her tongue thickened when she laid eyes upon this lawman.
She thought back to their brief chat at the Christmas social. It had been their first chance to talk, just the two of them, even if it was in a room full of people and noise. She’d cherished the noise for it enabled them to lean close to hear one another.
While she ruminated, Evan hopped out of the buggy. “Are you all right?”
Since her tongue had once again turned to cotton she nodded her head.
“You’re sure? You look cold. Here, get in the buggy.” His strong hands settled at her waist, and he easily lifted her onto the buggy seat. Once he was settled beside her, their legs touching, he placed a blanket over both their laps and flashed her with his knee-melting smile that crinkled the edges of his hazel eyes.
He clicked his tongue and slapped the reins on the horse’s rump, setting the buggy forward.
When he didn’t turn the buggy around, Jenny found her voice.
“My brother’s house is behind us.”
“I know I just came from there.” He winked and her stomach quivered.
“What were you doing at my brother’s?” Jenny couldn’t think why the sheriff would be visiting Jason.
“Waiting for you.” He raised a hand, tucking a loose lock of her hair back under her bonnet.
Her heart skipped in her chest and her cold toes warmed from his touch. “Why?”
“To take you to dinner in town.” His gaze traveled over her face. Worry lines on his forehead wrinkled. “Your teeth are chattering. Here.” He slipped an arm around her, drawing her shivering body tight to his and tugging the blanket up around her. “Can’t have my valentine getting cold.”
“Y-your valentine?” She squeezed the grade book still clutched to her chest.
“Didn’t you get my invitation?” For the first time since meeting Evan his voice held a note of uncertainty.
Jenny flipped open her book and took out the valentine. “Is this your invitation?”
“Yes. You haven’t read it?” His voice rose in pitch.
Now it was her turn to be uncertain. “I found it on my desk but there wasn’t anything written on it.” Jenny held the heart to her chest to still her racing heart. “It means a great deal that it’s from you.”
The scowl on Evan’s face made the excitement bubbling in her freeze.
“I don’t understand…” Evan stared at her.
“Don’t understand what?”
“I wrote in it and asked Robby Bennett to give it to you yesterday.”
“Robby hasn’t been to school for two days.” Worry replaced her elation. Since school started, Robby had missed more school than anyone else and came to school with bruises he said he received from horsing around.
Jenny grasped Evan’s arm. “We should go check on Robby.”
Evan nodded and moved the horse at a brisker pace. They entered town at a trot, hurrying down main street, and out to the tent city along Allan Creek.  
Jason had told her that before gold was found along Allan Creek, Twin forks was a quiet town with no need for a sheriff and no one had to worry about drunks, stealing, and family contention.
Evan stopped the buggy in front of a dark tent. “You stay here.” His tone told her there was no need to argue, he didn’t want her venturing into the tent.
“Be careful.” Worry for Evan and what he might find bubbled in her belly.
He returned with Robby cradled against his chest and gently placed the boy in her lap. The gentleness and caring Evan showed the boy opened her heart even more to the man. Jenny wrapped the blanket around Robby’s slight body and prayed they hadn’t arrived too late.
Evan started the buggy back into town. His hands fisted tightly on the reins as he stared straight ahead. The street to the doctor’s was coming up and he didn’t attempt to turn the horse. “Evan, the doctor’s is over there,” Jenny said, placing a hand on his arm.
He shook his head and his glazed eyes, dark with hidden anger, focused on her before her words appeared to seep into his consciousness. Evan pulled the horse around, trotted back to the right street, and eased to a stop in front of the doctor’s house. Jumping down, he took Robby from her and hurried toward the porch. Jenny beat him to the door, knocking rapidly.
“Doc Raeburn!” she called and knocked again.
The door opened and the doctor held up a lantern. “My word. Sheriff Carey and Miss Wolcott, come in.”
“Doc, Robby needs your attention.” Evan carried the boy into the examining room and placed him gently on the table.
Evan turned to her. The steel and anger in his eyes would have moved her backwards if his hands hadn’t captured her shoulders.
“Stay with Robby until I return.” 
The torment in his eyes and the stern set to his jaw set her stomach to churning. She nodded and asked, “Where are you going?”
“To find Mr. Bennett.”

Copyright ©2012 Paty Jager

You can find the rest of this story at my blog and website by clicking on the tab "HEART OF GOLD" 

A Knight Resurrected

By Robin Weaver

Please don’t let him see me.

After a full day of mommy duty, Annie Addison couldn’t conjure up enough energy to deal with Lance Walker. She ducked behind her open trunk, praying for a bit of luck. The appearance of a size twelve Nike indicated good fortune would not be forthcoming.

Busted, she lifted her head, whacking her noggin on the raised trunk. “Yeow. Quit stalking me.”

She massaged the top of her head, only slightly mollified when he began to sputter. “I…I’m not stalking you. Just wanted to make sure you got into the building safely.”

“Oh, pleeaaase.” Her southern twang emerged with her temper. “It’s a secure parking lot with a guard less than fifty feet away.”

The parking lot light revealed the pinkish glow creeping over Lance’s face, making Annie regret her verbal attack. The man annoyed her simply by breathing, but he wasn’t that bad. Not if one liked the intelligent, hunky sort.

Delete that thought. Lance purchased his clothes at Nerds ‘R’ Us and refused to open the blinds because the mean ole sun created a glare on his computer screen.

She focused on the negatives, doggedly ignoring his body, ripped from regular workouts, and refused to envision the way his gray-green eyes twinkled when he smiled. If she didn’t concentrate on his pesky nature, she might have to admit he was better than not bad.

No way. Her life precluded having time, or use, for a man, even one that seemed nice. Her efforts centered around two jobs, a degree yet to be earned, and a three-year-old angel who reminded Annie each day that men couldn’t be trusted.

Maybe she should just tell him about Natalie. Even a pursuer as ardent as Lance would run if he discovered her maternal secret.

After grabbing her tote, she scurried toward the building, hoping to escape both Lance and her thoughts. At the gate, she set down her bundle to swipe her badge. A hand grabbed her canvas bag before it touched the ground. “Let me carry that.”

She smirked when Lance stumbled at the unexpected weight. “If you had half a brain, Walker, you’d stay away from me.”

“Brains are overrated.”

So was the cute grin he flashed.

“Let’s grab a coffee during break.”

Annie made a production of her sigh. “Giving you credit for half a brain was fifty percent over-inflated. The answer is no.”

She passed through the revolving bars, leaving Lance to manage her oversized tote. His long legs enabled him to catch her at the elevator, even lugging her bag and his backpack. “Is it my breath?”

“Yeah. That’s it.” She bit her lip to keep from laughing when he ran his tongue over his teeth.

She jerked her bag from his hand. “It isn’t your breath, it’s the body odor.”

He sniffed at his armpits. “Body odor?”

“I’m kidding, Walker.” His downcast face caused her tone to soften. “I can't afford fancy coffee.” The company paid well for her voice-overs, but between tuition, daycare and rent, she still needed to waitress to cover expenses.

“Come on. My treat.”

“I’m not going out with you. Period, the end.”

He raced for the door, grabbing it just in time to smack her shin.

“Ouch!” She pierced him with a nasty look. “You don’t take rejection well, do you?”


She ignored the concern etched on his features. Red whelp or not, his eyes stared at her calf and partially exposed thigh. She jerked her skirt down. “Don’t.”

Lance blinked. “Annie, I wasn’t…ah, forget it.” He lifted his head, staring at the ceiling, but continued to hold the door open.

She hadn’t been so “anti-men” during her first month at Interactive Action, but as Romeo wannabes grew bolder and pick-up lines grew more ridiculous, she’d wrapped herself in protective iciness. Bob from the accounting department would use the accident as an excuse to stroke her knee and Lance’s buddy, Arnie, would look up her skirt. To be fair, Lance wasn’t like those bozos.

Of course he is. After he got her in the sack, she’d become a statistic. She’d learned that lesson the hard way. Courtesy of Natalie’s dad.

“I’m perfectly capable of opening my own doors.”

His eyes met hers. “Duh. Trying to be chivalrous here. And you couldn’t open anything carrying that bag. I’m surprised you can even walk. What’s in here anyway?”

Her hands clutched the bag protectively. In her haste, she’d grabbed the wrong tote. No way would she tell him the bag held her daughter’s things: roller skates, clothes, and dumbbells, because Natalie wanted to lift weights like mommy.

To distract his attention, she snapped, “Chivalrous? This is your idea of chivalry?” She pointed at her shin, the bump already making the transition from red to blue. “In the Middle Ages, men opened doors for women because the doors were heavy. Chivalry wasn’t just a grand gesture, it had a purpose.”

“Really? Then chivalry is dead because there’s nothing I can do for you that you can’t do for yourself.” A boyish smile erased the dejection on his face. “Except, maybe, buy you a fancy coffee?”

She wanted to kick his shin with her uninjured limb. Men thought spending a little cash solved everything. “Surely your genius brain can come up with something more original than holding a door open, especially if you must break my leg in the process.”

“I could say ‘thank you’ when you let me buy you a fancy coffee.”

“Nice try, but that’s just courtesy.”

“Ah ha! You said courtesy.” He grinned a Cheshire Cat grin. “The dictionary defines chivalry as ‘bravery, courtesy, honor, and gallantry toward women.’”

Her eyes widened. “OMG! You looked the word up? You need to get a life. You're becoming a terminal nerd.”

The pun hadn’t been intentional but they both laughed. The propeller-head probably memorized the definition of chivalry for the game he worked on, Gwain’s Ghost. Not to impress her.

“Courtesy is important, Walker, but chivalry is a combination of all the things in your definition.”

“Tell you what, I’ll come up with an example of modern chivalry if I can explain my idea over dinner. On Tuesday.”

She narrowed her eyes. Tuesday would be her first day off in weeks. And Valentine’s Day. “Why would I do that?”

He gulped. “Because if I can’t come up with an appropriate gesture, I won't bother you again. Ever.”

That notion didn’t pack the expected punch. And the idea of spending another Valentine’s Day alone possessed even less appeal. “If it will get rid of you once and for all, I’ll do it.”

No way would he impress her. So she’d finally be free of his uninvited attention. That was what she wanted, right?

His voice intruded into her self-argument. “But if I win, we go on a second date.”

“No. If you win, we’ll go for that fancy coffee, and…you have to sponsor my 5K Race for the Cure.” She amended quickly, “And you still have to stop bugging me.”

“You’re on. It’s a date.”

“It is so not a date.”


Lance’s restaurant choice surprised her—it was perfect. Instead of trendy and slick, candles and soft music created a romantic atmosphere. Half-round tables forced patrons to sit side-by-side while a delicious aroma stimulated anticipation.

She stiffened. It would take more than haute cuisine and fancy wine to impress her. “Very nice. But this isn’t chivalry; it’s just expensive.”

He laughed. “Nah. This is just good food. The chivalry comes later.”

After they were seated, he asked, “I bet you think I was a geek during my formative years?”

“You weren’t?” Annie didn’t quite manage a straight face.

“Nope. If I show you my anti-geek shot records, can I meet your daughter?”

She choked, knocking her water goblet over. “You know about Natalie?”

Lance rescued the glass before it spilled. “I’ve seen your screen saver. Got any recent photos?”

“You want to see pictures of my kid? That is chivalrous.”

“That’s not my gesture. I just like munchkins.”

The waitress interrupted. “Sir, I’m required to check your I.D. before I can serve the champagne.”

Lance’s face turned valentine red as he reached for his wallet. Annie stifled a giggle. Her giddiness turned sour when she remembered he wasn’t only a baby-face—at twenty-six he was a virtual toddler. Four years her junior.

Something on his driver’s license caught her attention, drawing her gaze like a Holy Grail. When the waitress left, she grabbed the card from his hand.”

“What? So I’m younger than you. Big deal.”

She ignored his whine, continuing to stare at the license. Perhaps he could be trusted. Lance Walker just might be the man to restore her faith in the male species.

 She raised her lips to kiss his cheek. "Alas,” she whispered, “chivalry does indeed live."

“But you haven’t even seen my gesture?"
“Doesn’t matter.”

The words on his license, Organ Donor, shone like armor.

Copyright © 2012 by Robin Weaver