Saturday, September 30, 2006

Sample Saturday

Man is the head of the woman. Only man is the image and glory of God.

Bella Williams folded and unfolded the already worn note, until she caught herself and forced her fingers still. She’d hastily palmed the cheap white paper note when she’d spied it in her bridesmaid bouquet. After reading it once, the biblical words wouldn’t leave her mind. They echoed shaking loose new fears with every repetition.

It was the second such note she’d found in a week. The first one had been left on her windshield while she was at work in the shop.

She chided herself for getting jumpy over a quote from Corinthians.

The notes qualified as strange – but threatening? Threatening was a stretch. She tried to dismiss them as nothing more than a bazaar form of proselytizing. She was getting paranoid and silly – spooked by printed words. Sticks, stones, and all that jazz. She chided herself for being such a coward.

She sucked in her stomach tightening the muscles the way Nana taught her for better posture concentrating on the wedding ceremony.

From where she stood on Merci’s left, the glass wall acted as a frame for the woods behind the church. The majesty of the forest, backlit by summer twilight, added nature’s approval to the holy union of man and wife.

Reverend Tom’s red hair clashed horribly with the burgundy robe he wore over his cassock. But his voice was strong, as if given extra power by the beauty of the words he intoned.

“The union of husband and wife in heart, body, and mind is intended by God for their mutual joy; for the help and comfort given one another in prosperity and adversity; and, when it is God's will, for the procreation of children and their nurture in the knowledge and love of the Lord. Therefore marriage is not to be entered into unadvisedly or lightly, but reverently, deliberately, and in accordance with the purposes for which it was instituted by God . . .”

After the couple had declared their readiness to exchange vows, Bella stepped forward taking custody of the bridal bouquet.

Rod turned to Merci lifting the sheer veil to reveal shining eyes and trembling lips. He took Merci’s hand pledging his heartfelt vows. Looking directly into her eyes and speaking only to her. “My honor, my heart, my body, my soul, is yours . . .”

Every man and woman in the congregation sat at attention.

Chills skittered along Bella’s arms.

Merci’s face was so radiant – Bella’s worries crept into the recesses of her mind. As the tender vows continued, a bittersweet yearning grew in her heart.

She didn’t want to ruin the professional makeup Merci had insisted on. She blinked fast to keep tears from spilling. As the-maid-of-honor, it was her job to keep it together. She would not spoil this moment for her best friend.

Her attention riveted on the newlyweds. Rod leaned closer in slow motion, pressing Merci’s mouth with his. From where Bella stood, the kiss felt respectful, loving and certain. She sighed.

Merci’s perfect white satin dress, the perfect church and, of course, the perfect groom were wonderful and exactly as Merci deserved. Poignant feelings Bella didn’t want to examine brimmed making her blink away more tears.

To regain her composure, she scanned the church for a distraction. She homed in on Derrick Jameson. He was an easy target. Taller than everyone present, he naturally drew her eye. But it was more than his height that held her attention. He embodied the lure of the forbidden with way more than his rightful share of masculine appeal.

His gaze locked with hers. His smoldered with sexual energy.

A traitorous corner of her heart wished she were the kind of woman who would enchant him. After too long, she looked away from those dark eyes.

Bella was too sensible to flirt with a known player, or so she told herself. He must have a mile long trail of discarded women, or so she told herself. He was a distraction from the emotional moment threatening to overwhelm her, or so she told herself.

She dared another glance. His eyes issued a challenge searing every nerve from her head clear down to her toes. She tensed. She knew his kind. A predator. She didn’t blame him for the blatant invitation he couldn’t help his natural instincts.

A lust devil must have possessed her. She’d been flirting. She looked right for the part he was casting. She’d inherited her mother’s striking coloring and voluptuous figure. Normally she dressed carefully to counteract the false impression of sensuality. Tonight she wore the bride’s fashion choices. Tonight a wild reckless possessed her. Tonight she courted danger.

Maybe it was the dress. Merci had chosen a dress of pure simplicity. A little nothing slip of peach silk that clung to every curve with a soft draping neckline that gave a man hope. If seduction were the goal, it would’ve been perfect. Underneath it all, a barely there bra and matching thong made her ample shape appear better than reality.

The clothes weren’t the problem. The lust devil, who’d possessed her wasn’t the problem. The warm fizzles spreading through her body – those were the problem.

Bella pictured Derrick undoing her lingerie, his big hands sure and skillful, knowing just where to touch to give pleasure. Heat streaked up from her breasts singeing her cheeks. Perspiration dampened her neck. Bella stared at her flowers to avoid staring at Derrick. He wasn’t even handsome. Attractive, very attractive, in a hard-edged way. He wore wicked masculine appeal like a signature scent. He was compelling, if a woman went in for tall dark and dangerous.
She didn’t. Shouldn’t – not if she had half the sense God gave her.

Derrick had said nothing to her than “How do you do” and “Pleased to meet you” and even then, he had sounded completely bored. Here she was creating a whole seduction fantasy around a hot look. All right, a couple of hot looks. But they meant nothing. For all she knew he was near sighted.

He deserved to star in some woman’s fantasy, but not hers. She wasn’t a fantasy kind of girl, or so she’d thought. She never pictured men naked. The ease with which she imagined him naked shook everything she’d believed about herself.

A new worry, that she’d inherited more from her mother than coloring, tightened the corners of her mouth. Maybe she shared her mother’s weakness for men. Fresh licks of fire turned up the heat on her face, neck and breasts.

Derrick watched Bella’s cheeks get redder and raised a brow in silent speculation. What was she thinking? Could she read his mind? Not likely. If she knew his thoughts, she’d be running as fast as those endless legs could carry her.

He was famous for his unreadable face. He was confident none of the erotic images he hadn’t been able to stop from playing in his mind reflected on his features. Doubt prickled, maybe something had leaked. Derrick consciously relaxed his face – irritated at the break in his natural defenses. He’d never had this strong a reaction to a woman. He brought his analytical mind to bear on the problem.

She was pretty, in a doll like way with gold curls escaping from a topknot. Her eyes were an unusual golden brown – whisky eyes. Nice skin, creamy, a great foil for a pretty blush. A killer body, too round to be in style. Lush breasts and curvy hips were exactly what he liked best. Scent was a powerful aphrodisiac and there was no denying she smelled good – a clean fragrance with a hint of something floral. A nice package, beyond nice, spectacular.

None of her attributes explained the strength of his response. He’d dated some amazingly beautiful women. Not one of them had the same impact as Bella with the sweet face and dangerous curves.

Instinctively he knew there was more in play than her appearance. She had an electric undercurrent. A whispered promise of molten pleasure only she embodied. He’d felt it when they’d shook hands and a disproportionate power surge hit nearly sending sent him to his knees.
He felt it now, a primal urge to paw the ground, pound his chest and roar his desire. At the same time, everything thing he knew about staying in control was threatened by each breath she took. To become involved with her would be professional and personal suicide.

Plainly, his reaction to Bella was nothing more than an inconvenient response to his self-imposed celibacy. Completely understandable – he hadn’t been with a woman in months.

Nora Turner and he had been heading for a break up before she left for Europe. Nora was spoiled. Her sleek beauty ruined by arrogance. She was an imaginative and energetic lover. But no amount of originality made up for her mean streak or her drama productions. Breaking up was a choice he was no longer sure he could afford. In theory, the trip gave them both time to reconsider before the official announcement of their engagement.

He wished.

Derrick resented her. Resented her assumption he was hers to command. Resented her even more for being right.

No matter how hard he tried to sell himself on marriage to Nora, it was still a business deal – plain, simple and ugly. With each fresh disaster he uncovered at Jameson Enterprises, the option of saying no to Nora shrank.

He swallowed hard. Pride didn’t go down easy.

Financial security for his family rested in Nora’s pale hands, a powerful inducement he couldn’t afford to ignore. His side of the bargain wasn’t as obvious. He knew part of his appeal lay in the unknown. If he made things too simple, she’d grow bored and discard him. She wanted a challenge – the thrill of taming the wild male.

His gut tightened protecting his core from threat. Games weren’t his thing. With his family’s future hanging in the balance, playing was close to intolerable. Getting out of the box he was in would take monstrous luck and iron balls.

If it were just him, he’d tear off the dog collar Nora wanted him to wear in a flat second.

It wasn’t about him.

The reminder of what was at stake grounded him.

Rod caught his attention and waved him closer for the wedding party photos.

Derrick smiled for the camera.A woman’s laugh teased his ears and lightened his heart. His eyes sought the source of the happy sound and found Bella’s enticing lips curving into an alluring smile. His smile grew reckless to match hers. The rest of the wedding photographs clicked by painlessly. Minutes later the photographer was packing her equipment.

“Thanks for everything bud.” Rod clapped his shoulder.

“It’s been a real pain in the ass, but someone had to do it.” Derrick pulled a sober face.

Not that it mattered how he looked or what he said. He figured it would’ve taken a nuclear blast to wipe the happy grin off Rod’s face. Envy nipped at Derrick. But Rod was too good a friend for him to hold resentment for more than a few seconds. He remembered long nights of hanging out when Rod’s happiness was nothing more than wishful thinking. His best friend deserved every moment of joy.

“Can you give Bella a ride to the club? She’s bringing Merci’s suitcase.”

“Sure.” Derrick agreed, determined to acquit every one of his duties as best man, even those requiring him to escort the too tempting Bella.

Rod walked away to claim his bride from a crowd of well-wishers. Derrick waited, while Bella stepped back from a bevy of excited women moving forward – jostling for advantage as Merci tossed her bouquet.

Bella must’ve felt him watching her. When their eyes met and locked. Derrick fought to remember his priorities.

Dark lashes lowered veiling her thoughts. “Thanks for waiting for me.”

“My pleasure, where’s this luggage?”

“Upstairs, but please don’t worry about it. I can handle it fine.”

“Don’t be –” Silly, Derrick finished silently. His mother raised him right. There was no way he’d let any woman struggle with heavy suitcases. Bella’s assumption that he would rankled. Following her satin covered bottom, drained his resentment, but led to worse problems.

Dresses like that should be illegal.

“It’d make me feel good to help.” Derrick mentioned with admirable tact.

“Okay, hold this.” Bella thrust her bouquet at him.

A lecture on letting others help was ready to leap off his tongue, when a square of folded paper fell from her open hand. Derrick snagged the creased note. He offered her the scrap back.

Bella shrank away from him. Her eyes wild in a paling face.

Derrick moved toward her without thinking, wanting to protect. The sound of heavy footsteps on the stairs stopped him cold.

“Hello there. I thought everyone had left.” Reverend Tom held out a hand, breathing heavy.
Derrick slipped the note into his pants pocket before clasping the Reverend strong hand. He held his own through a harder than expected test of manliness as they shook.

The Reverend trailed a musty air, like a stack of old hymnals. He still had on the same clerical robe and white collar he’d worn for the wedding ceremony. The outfit was faintly scholarly, as if he were an honoree at a graduation ceremony. Rather than a mortarboard, the reverend sported a full head of springy red hair. Built like a linebacker and, at first glance young enough to play the game. A closer inspection showed white sprinkled among the red hairs and squint lines too deep for youth.

“Derrick Jameson, right? Never forget a name or a face. Lovely service wasn’t it? Just lovely. Such a nice couple. I don’t know the groom like I do our own sweet Mercedes, but he seems a sound young man. Right Isabella?”

“You don’t have to worry Reverend. He’s the perfect man for Merci.”

“He’s a great guy.” Derrick added his assurance to Bella’s.

“Good to hear. Though I thought as much.” Reverend Tom bobbed his head sagely.

“Excuse me, Reverend we’re picking up the bride’s luggage.” Derrick edged by Bella scanning the dressing room.

“I’ll let you get on with it then. Mustn’t let anything interfere with the honeymoon.” Reverend Tom gave a dry laugh as he lumbered away.

“These?” Derrick angled his head toward the three cherry decorated bags neatly parked in front of an old-fashioned freestanding mirror.

"Yes.” Bella darted in front of him grappling with the largest.

“Here,” he handed her back her flowers. “Let’s trade.”

“Okay.” Bella muttered taking back her bouquet and picking up the smallest of the three cases.
Derrick followed Bella outside. After placing the suitcases in the back of his truck, he ran around and opened the passenger door.

Bella glanced at the truck and back to him. Doubt etched her pretty face.

Derrick felt heat snaking up the back of his neck. The truck wasn’t his idea of a great ride either. It was what he had. It was clean and ran good. He’d seen to that himself.

“Problem?” He raised one eyebrow, daring her to complain.

“I can’t get in.” Bella’s expression implored him to come up with a face saving solution.

Her eyes got him.

Pretty women made him think about things he had no business thinking about. Pretty women dressed in barely legal dresses were even harder to resist. Pretty women with whisky colored eyes and sulky mouths wrote the music. All he could do was dance.

By the time he got her safely seated in the Pickup his smooth demeanor had a major bump. She seemed unruffled. He resisted the urge to smooth her dress. His hands itched to touch her, but he held out.

He wasn’t cut out for noble resistance.

The best thing was to bite the bullet and marry Nora. That’d cure his troubles, give him a new set of problems, and cut down on temptation.

Derrick figured life with Nora would include a lot of parties where all the women looked like her. Well groomed, toned, slender and sleek the way rich women were. The effect was supposed to be subtle, but screamed money.

He took his time, walking around the back of the truck and double-checking the luggage was still there. He got out bungee cords and secured the cases. Fishing for his keys, his fingers brushed the folded note.

Simple curiosity made him open it. Man is the head of the woman. Only man is the image and glory of God.

Weird. She didn’t look like the kind of woman who clutched bible verses. But what did he know? She was a Sunday school teacher.

Derrick climbed into the truck. “Here’s your note.”

The hand Bella extended trembled.

“It’s yours, right?”

“I don’t know.” Bella cupped her elbow as if arm needed extra support for the task.

“Come again?”

“I guess it’s mine. I mean – I think it was meant for me. The note was stuck in my bouquet.” She paused, doing a small shudder shimmy thing that damn near made him forget the question. “The other one, the first note, was on my windshield at work. That has to mean they’re for me. Doesn’t it? Silly question.” Bella laughed unconvincingly. “Of course, the notes are meant for me.”

Her whisky colored eyes clouded with doubts and fears making him want to puff up and play champion to her maiden in distress.

Nora played these kinds of games and he hated them. Somehow, he didn’t think Bella was pretending and that made all the difference.

“What did the other one say?”

“Who can find a virtuous woman?” Bella gave a half-sob laugh. “I am being silly. I keep telling myself there’s no harm in words –” She shook her head staring at the paper in her open hand. “How could someone put a note in my bouquet? Why would they want to?”

“A disappointed boyfriend?”

A peal of rich, full, genuine laughter bubbled. “No, I don’t think so.”

“A co-worker, then?”

“Definitely not.”

“A religious nut.”

“You’re probably right.” She agreed with a cheerful smile. The clouds didn’t leave her pretty eyes. “Shouldn’t we get going?”

“Yeah.” He pushed the key in the ignition. Glancing at her as he automatically checked behind them.

She opened her purse, dropping in the note and pulling a hankie. She used it to dab at her eyes. The hankie went back. Out came a fancy little mirror. Bella studied her face with a small furrow between her brows.

“Darn, the lash line is smudged.”

He had no idea what that meant, but it didn’t sound good.

Licking her ring finger, she patted delicately under her eyes until she was satisfied with the effect. The mirror disappeared back inside the small sparkly purse. Everything she did was fresh, feminine, fascinating.

A blur of motion snagged his attention. A large man, dressed in camouflage, disappeared into the woods behind the church. The hairs on Derrick’s nape jumped to code yellow, changing the level of threat.


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