So, now that I’m back from Lori Foster’s Reader Author Get Together, I’m trying to get back into the swing of writing. Even though I wrote a few thousand words while there, it still takes a few days to get into the groove once home. There’s housework to balance with writing… kids, pets, husband, cooking, etc… It typically takes me two or three days of concentrating on home before I can start in with work, but I don’t have that luxury this week. I need to do both because I’ll be leaving again next week and will have even less time to write while I’m away than I did while at the con.
With all that being said and going on, I wanted to make sure I give you a little bit of a tempting treat on a story I’m working on right now titled Slide Down On Me…
Bella locked up the flower shop. Her boss, Mrs. Cleary, had been her mother’s closest friend up until the plane crash that had killed Marianne and William Drake when Bella was in her freshman year at college.
Mrs. Cleary had lost everything, same as everyone else in town had at the hands of Bella’s brother but she didn’t hold it against Bella and had gladly given Bella a job and a place to stay until Bella could get a place of her own.
Bella had been grateful for the help, for the kindness, but every time she looked at Mrs. Cleary, she couldn’t help feeling a little responsible. Then again, Bella felt a little responsible for what everyone had gone through. She was also grateful though that Mrs. Cleary trusted her enough to let her open and close the store.
When she was certain the lock was secure, she turned and couldn’t disguise her surprise to find Travis leaning against his truck in the front parking spot. “I thought we decided on Friday? I don’t have any more money now than I had this morning.”
“I’m not here for money. Thought you could use a ride home. It’s about ten miles out your place and I didn’t figure you’d be wanting to walk all that way after being on your feet all day.”
“Oh. That would be… You don’t have to do that. It’s out of your way and—”
“C’mon.” He cut her off and waved her forward. “I don’t mind.”
Bella stood at the edge of the curb, uncertain what to do. Travis was a secret, a wet dream, a fantasy she’d never be able to have. He was the only man in town who didn’t look at her with distain. Okay, make that the only person, aside from Mrs. Cleary, who didn’t look at her with distain. She hadn’t had control over her brother or what he did, but the way people treated her, she figured they thought she should have.
“I won’t bite,” he teased and Bella laughed. It had been a long time since she had, since she’d even felt like smiling.
“From what I remember hearing, you used to like biting.” Travis grinned and gave her a slow wink which did things to her insides she’d only wished for in the deep dark hours of the night.
“There were stories about you too, so don’t think I believe you’re anymore innocent than I am.” He leaned casually against the front quarter panel of his truck. “Let’s see. If I recall, you liked your sex a little rough and tumble. You were pretty and perfect on the outside, never a hair out of place, but behind closed doors, you were something else entirely.”
Bella blushed. She knew it, from the heat in her cheeks and the way her blood pumped through her body faster. It was summer in the South, but for the first time since she’d stepped outside the shop, she was sweating. “You heard about all that?”
“There was nothing you did that was a secret. Those private school jocks you dated weren’t worth shit when it came to keeping their mouths shut. You were a very naughty girl, Bella Drake.”
Oh dear God. Had her parents known? Her brother? The whole damn town? She wanted to look away, to look down at the ground and wait for it to swallow her whole, but she wouldn’t hide from who she’d been anymore than she hid from who she’d had to become. She kept her gaze leveled at Travis. “Were being the operative word.”
“Really?” At her nod, he clucked his tongue. “Now that’s a damn shame.”
How had they gotten on this topic? And how could they get off it? “Why?” Certainly her asking questions wasn’t the way to do so.
“Why indeed. Let’s get you home.” He moved to the passenger side door and opened it for her.
“Won’t people talk if they see us together? I know it’s only a ride home, but as we’ve just discussed, gossip is rampant around here. Not to mention, I don’t want to cause further harm to your business by you being seen with me. Guilt by association isn’t fun.”
“I can handle myself and any of my customers who may have issues. C’mon now. In the truck with ya.”
Bella couldn’t find any other way to argue with him. She wanted to but couldn’t. Hurting his garage further wasn’t something she wanted. Heck, none of this was what she’d wanted. Her brother’s actions had killed something wonderful in a small town. They no longer trusted anyone, especially outsiders, and especially her. Her family had always done right by the town, had always helped see to its prosperity, its charm, its way of life. They’d lived in the county since before the War Between the States and their money had kept the town from falling into Union hands, into enemy hands.
And now, she was the enemy. Southern pride was something strong and unyielding. As close as she’d come to breaking down, mentally and emotionally over the months dealing with the fallout from her brother’s actions, that pride had never faltered or failed her.
She nodded once and walked toward Travis, then climbed up in his truck. The door closed firmly once she was seated and he climbed up behind the steering wheel. She kept her gaze forward until they were passed the seed store on the edge of town. She didn’t want to see the accusatory looks from anyone. Oh she was used to it for herself, but those looks wouldn’t be aimed at her this time. This time they would be aimed at Travis.
“Why are you being nice to me?” she asked when the silence became too much for the small cab of the old truck. She was too aware of him seated just a few inches over. Dirt, sweat, grease all assailed her, but underneath it all was the scent that was Travis. He’d always has dirt under his nails and oil smudges, but he smelled like the country. Fresh cut grass, hay bales, freedom. It all went against the look of him; hard, inked, pierced. He’d had the tattoos and the piercings for as long as she could remember. Every time she saw him, it seemed there was some new piece of art on his body, but he still had that smell of springtime and summer all rolled into one.
The two lane road out to her side of the lake was deserted but that wasn’t unusual. She’d come to like the solitude, the privacy. She didn’t so much like the pariah stigma, but she’d gotten used to it.
Out the passenger window, the lake glistened under the late afternoon sun. She’d gone swimming in it along with the rest of the county when she was growing up. Even Travis and his friends would hang out on the water. There were several floating docks that all the kids swam out to and sunbathed on, but Travis, his brother, and their friends would water ski, or fish at one end, or swing out and jump in from long hanging ropes that dangled from tree limbs.
It was her guilty pleasure to watch him. She did it discretely so her friends or whatever boy she happened to be dating at the time didn’t notice and if they ever did, she always told them she didn’t understand the foolishness. In truth, she was in awe of him, fascinated by him, crushing on him so hard it made her bathing suit bottoms wet and her heart beat fast in her chest.
She would’ve thought growing up, moving away, living among her own kind in Nashville society, and finally the hell she’d been through would have cured her of fairy tales filled with hot, sex in a pair of jeans prince charmings. She had obviously been mistaken.
“Why shouldn’t I be nice to you? You didn’t do anything to me.”
He said it casually, easily, and Bella struggled not to look at his profile. The cold, businesslike tone he’d used on her earlier that morning and at lunchtime, and while part of her was grateful for it, it made another part of her wary.
“No, I didn’t, but that doesn’t change the fact that my name is Drake.”
“You’re not your brother or his actions.” Bella did look over at Travis then only to find him looking at her. There was something unreadable in his eyes, in the slight curve of his lips, but her heart thundered all the same. She nodded once, again grateful, and turned her head until she was looking back out over the water.
When the curve of her driveway came into view and Travis made the veer to the right that would take them to the front of her house, she couldn’t deny the pang of disappointment. She wasn’t ready to be out of his company yet. Though they’d said little after their little bantering conversation outside the flower shop, she found she wasn’t as prepared to be alone as she usually was.
He pulled to a stop and before she could say anything, even a thank you for the ride, Travis had the truck in park and the keys out of the ignition. She gaped at him, but he didn’t look at her, only got out and came around to open her door. “Thanks,” she said, hopping down from the cab.
Travis inclined his head and gave a small smile. “My pleasure.”
She thought he’d leave then, but after he closed the door to the truck and she started up the steps to her porch, Travis cleared his throat. Bella turned. He was leaning against the same front quarter panel as he had been earlier. His arms were crossed over his chest and his feet crossed at the ankle. There was arrogance in eyes, and heat. She couldn’t mistake that because it matched her own. The arrogance however, made her shiver in the humid Tennessee summer heat with uncertainty. “Travis?”
“Sleep with me.”
Y’all have a nice Tuesday and try to stay cool…