Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Coming Soon! Temptation by Shirley Martin (excerpt)

                                                                     by Shirley Martin
    Jennifer stepped outside onto the brick patio, needing to escape the continual bragging of the stockbroker whose only subject was himself.  Closing the French doors behind her, she shut out most of the noise and laughter from the party inside, a welcome relief. Surprised she had the patio to herself, she rested her hand on the iron railing and inhaled the cool November air, her gaze absorbing the magnificent houses and lush foliage of this elegant Coral Gables neighborhood. Some day, she hoped to have a home of her own, but she knew she could never afford a spacious mansion such as this. Yet that was fine with her; a more modest home would suit her nicely, like the one she lived in now. 
    Alone with her thoughts, she considered how well things were going for her now. An only child, she'd been spoiled all her life. Things had gone so easily for her. Pretty and popular, she'd been a cheerleader in high school, dating the football players. Her grades in high school and college had been good. She wondered what would happen if she ever met a real challenge. How would she handle adversity, if it ever came to that?  And then she wondered what had prompted this introspection.
    The fragrance of night-blooming jasmine drifted her way, carried by a light easterly breeze.  She stared upward at the clear sky, where a sprinkling of stars and a couple of planets overcame the competition of bright city lights. She'd return to the party in a few minutes, but for now, she wanted time to herself. She'd had a rough week and wanted just a few moments alone.
    "A beautiful night, isn't it?"
    "Oh!"  She swung around to stare at the stranger.  "You scared me!  You shouldn't sneak up on a person like that. I didn't hear the doors close."  Dressed in a dark suit, white shirt and tie, he stood a few feet away, next to the doors. Tall, dark, and handsome.  The cliche slipped easily from her mind, yet it was true.  At least his hair was dark, but his skin was the palest she'd ever seen, as if he never got enough sunlight. On him, the combination was fascinating.  If Helen of Troy had a face that could launch a thousand ships, this man had the good looks to send a rocket to Mars.
    He smiled. "Sorry, I didn't mean to frighten you."  He nodded toward the party inside.  "It was getting much too noisy there." 
    She tilted her  head at him.  "I didn't see you there."
    "But I saw you across the room, and I wanted to meet you. I hope you don't mind."
    His dark eyes focused on her. Those eyes!  She could gladly sink into them and never come up for air. 
    Even here, she caught a faint trace of laughter form inside. "Normally, I like parties, but sometimes--"  She shrugged. "--sometimes I like to be by myself." 
    "I, also.  Present company excepted." He smiled and moved closer.
    Frowning, she backed away a few steps. 
    "I won't hurt you," he said, as if he could read her mind.
    "Well, I didn't think that for one minute."  She fussed with the buttons of her white silk blouse and shifted from one foot to another. She gave him a closer look in the darkness, his devilish gaze meeting hers. Devilish. Why did that word spring to her mind?  She admired his dark looks, but she'd learned long ago that looks meant nothing if a person was empty inside, or worse, harmful to others. Just look at Bruce, the scumbag. 
    "Do I meet with your approval?"
    Her face warmed, and she opened her mouth to say something, then thought better of it. 
    He inclined his head.  'Permit me to introduce myself.  My name is Varik Kruger."
    "Varik?  Never heard that name before."
    "I fear it's a long story."  He raised his eyebrows.  "And you are?"
    "Jennifer."  No point in telling him her last name. After tonight, she'd never see him again.  For some inexplicable reason, a rush of disappointment clutched at her stomach.
    'Jennifer, tell me about yourself."
    She shook her head.  "Not much to tell."
    "I want to hear it, anyway."
    She hesitated, licking her lips.
    She took a deep breath. "To begin with, I teach English at a local high school."
    "Literature and grammar, mostly."
    "Ah, yes.  And you're from Miami?"
    "Originally from Pittsburgh, a town called Fox Hollow."  She smiled.  "You find a lot of funny place names in Pennsylvania."
    He waved his hand. "Same all over the world."  A pause.  "Your family still lives in Pennsylvania?"
    "Yes, and I miss them very much."  Why was she telling him all of this?  There was something about him that made her want to tell him everything, to bare all her secrets, reveal all her hopes and dreams. And she'd only just met him." 
    "But you--"
    "Just wanted a change," she said, gripping the railing.  Never mind telling him the real reason, that she'd come to Miami to get away from an abusive boyfriend.  Jealous because she'd dated another man, he'd slapped her face so hard she'd suffered a bruise for days. That night, he'd said he'd never let her go.  Bruce was such a charmer at first. He'd sure charmed her mother, who saw no fault in him. 
    What if her mother gave Bruce her address?  Hell, no!  Jennifer knew too well she had to be more discriminating, not fall for every sweet talker who came her way.
    Trying to dismiss her dismal thoughts, she brought her mind back to Varik and smiled in his direction. "You're from this country?"
    "Why, yes," he said after a slight pause. "Why do you ask?"
    "Your speech sounds a bit different, kind of formal."
    "I spend a good deal of time in Europe," he said as if that explained everything.  Which it didn't.
    A period of silence followed. As if by mutual agreement, they both looked up at the night sky with its sprinkling of stars and a cloud that slid in front of the moon. A cool breeze picked up, fluttering her silk skirt around her knees and blowing a lock of hair across her face.  Hibiscus bushes on the spacious grounds rustled in the breeze. For the first time that evening, she felt at peace, and why, she couldn't say. She tucked a strand of hair behind her ear, thinking she really should go back inside. 
    His low voice snatched her attention. "Did you come by yourself?"
    She turned to look at him.  "Why, yes, I drove."
    He pressed his hand to his heart in mock sorrow. "You have deprived me of the opportunity to drive you home. But seriously, it would have been my pleasure to do just that, had you needed a ride."  He leaned her way, his voice cascading over her like a warm shower.  "I should like very much to see you again."
    "Thanks.  I appreciate your sentiments.  But I don't ride with strangers. And I'm real busy right now."  Aware of how abrupt she must seem, she smiled to take the sting from her words. "What's that expression about ships that pass in the night?"
    "Ah, yes, Shakespeare.  And very true, I'm afraid, except that this is a lovely moonlit patio."
    "Besides, I don't know a thing about you."
    He smiled lazily. "What if I told you I'm a vampire?"
    She laughed. "You're too late for Halloween and too early for April Fools Day."
    He laughed, too, a husky chuckle, as if they'd shared a huge joke.
    A wicked sense of danger stirred inside her. She knew she should leave, but something kept her glued to the spot, as if by her departure the world would stop spinning, the sun would turn to ashes.
    Sighing inwardly, she turned toward the door. "It's been nice meeting you, but I should get back inside."  She fluttered her fingers at him.  "See you."  How empty the night seemed now, all pleasure gone from the evening. And she'd never see him again. She wondered why that outcome should bother her so,and besides, she should know better. After Bruce, it would be just as well if she stayed away from all men.
    She turned away from him, a faint scent of floral perfume wafting in the air. 
    "Goodnight, Jennifer."  Varik admired her supple walk, her high heels clicking on the bricks, her dark skirt rippling around her knees. He liked the way her light brown hair bounced across her shoulders as she moved. Her fresh, clean looks captivated him, absolutely the most enchanting he'd ever seen. Was she aware of what a lovely image she presented, one that made him want to hold her and kiss her to drive them both breathless? 
    He wanted to see her again. He would see her again. By the time the party broke up, he'd approach the host, use his mesmerizing charm to discover Jennifer's address.  And see her again, this woman he couldn't drive from his mind.     

This is as yet unpublished. Any comments or crits are welcome.