Monday, July 1, 2013

Guarding the Line ~ Chapter 10 The Monday Night Bleacher Report

Though the Braves great season continues, I didn't watch one game the entire month of June. Just realized that. The third De Marco book is kicking my ass. That story now has four versions of the first three opening chapters--all good and yet ....(sigh). They'll make good fodder for a 'Deleted Scenes' page one of these days. Meanwhile, I need to pick one and go with it, if I hope to have this story out by September. 

I know Jennifer Simpkins' post today is about her daughter's All-Star experience, and I almost dread reading it. When she messaged me to say her child had been selected for the post-season team, I got all teary-eyed. Both my kids played, and both played All-Stars. Good times, when the focus moves from letting each child play to playing-to-win. I'm all for participation-style youth sports, but I confess, my fondest memories are of this time of year, when the casual players go home and the cream of the crop takes the field and it matters whether you win or lose. I recall driving for hours, spending entire Saturdays hanging out at some field, waiting to play your third or forth game of the day and hoping you won so you could come back on Sunday and do it again. Get some sunburn for me, Jennifer. 
Now my kids are having kids, leading my daughter to demand yesterday, "What in the HELL will I do if this child wants to sign up for cheerleading?" 
My reply of "Duct tape will stop that in it's tracks," was only half in jest...
Speaking of competitive natures, Mike showing his tenacious side to Verity in today's partial Chapter 10.

Verity disconnected the call and stared at the crystals in front of her. No matter how many times she threw them, they stubbornly revealed nothing. Scowling, she placed them back into the box and waved her hand. Something was blocking her, but what? The box disappeared, leaving her to think about what to wear. A dress, of course, but which one?
She found a beaded flapper dress in a shade of violet she knew set off her eyes to perfection. Easing the tiny straps over her shoulders, she twirled in front of the mirror, pleased with the way the beaded fringe accented each small movement. She’d always adored the way the beads caressed her thighs when she walked, and the silky lining was heaven to her bare skin. She found the matching heels and slipped them on her feet before turning to grapple with the zipper. Done, she sat down to buckle the straps on her shoes and tried to decide whether to drive, which she usually preferred, or to tell him she’d taken a cab, in case she decided to bring him home. Too bad Rosemary turned up at the club tonight. It’s never a good idea to fool with magic when seeing a human. Sage had proven that. She’d drive to the restaurant. She grabbed a deep purple pashmina and headed down the stairs. Jerking open the front door, Verity came to a dead stop, staring in disbelief at the man on her porch. Caught in the act of raising his hand to knock, her visitor froze.
“What are you doing here?” she demanded. He eyed her boldly, seeming unintimidated by her tone. “We established a long time ago you do not just drop in on me.” With each word, she drove her finger into his chest. Fury tightened her skin, and before she thought, she gestured to the roses.
“Darling Verity, you look ravishing. That dress has always been one of my favorites. Here, I brought you a gift.”  He held out a small leather bag.
The long, thorny vines wrapped around his legs. His eyes widened and he dropped the bad imitation of some old movie star. “I see you missed me.”
“Stone, get off my porch before I have them attack. And I have no interest in your gift.”
Moonlight glinted off his dark hair when he cocked his head. “I come in peace, Verity. I found this in Rome and knew you’d love it.” .
She ignored his outstretched hand. “As you can see, I’m going out.  Some other time, Stone.”  She twitched her index finger and the thorny vines tightened.
“I’ll just leave the gift, then.” With a snap of his fingers, the bag in his hand disappeared.  She knew she’d probably find it later on her dresser. He gave her a mocking look. “No kiss good-bye?”
Before she could shred his legs with the wild rose vines, he disappeared, becoming one more shadow in the darkness. Impatiently, she motioned the roses back to their normal position.
“Thank you Mother dearest, wherever you are,” she whispered, trying not to scream. “If you want that damn ring, you need to stop screwing with me.”


Jesus F. Christ, she’s gorgeous. Mike watched Verity approach through the glass restaurant doors. Admiring the dress and her legs as she walked was making him stupid, she was reaching for the handle by the time he remembered to open the door for her.
“I do love a man with manners.” She tipped her lips up for his kiss.
After they were seated and placed their orders, he found himself staring into her eyes thoughtfully. Better to wait until after the champagne arrives.
“What are you thinking?”
“I was trying to decide which question to hit you with first,” he admitted.
“Ask away, but my turn’s coming.”
“What do you do for a living, Verity? I suspect you don’t spend your time working for Sage at her nightclub.”
Her eyes danced wickedly. “I write romance novels. Naughty little things read by women whose men don’t pay their needs much attention, I suspect.”
“How naughty?”
“I’ll give you one to read and you can decide for yourself. How about you? What do you do that lets you stay out so late two nights in a row? Or did you skip work today?”
“Not that you didn’t do your best to wear me out, but I did go to work, thank you very much.  I play third base for the Braves, the pro baseball team in town. Had an excellent day at work, too, thanks to you. That’s what we’re celebrating, by the way.”
They paused as the waiter brought the champagne he’d ordered. Touching the rim of his flute to her, he made a toast. “To my lucky charm.”
“Luck is usually just a matter of believing in oneself.”
Spoken like one who doesn’t know how the baseball gods can bring a man to his knees. “Verity, if I get two hits tomorrow night, or even one, we’ll have this talk again. Back to my list of questions. Why is it your sisters are named after herbs, but you have such an unusual name?”  He wanted to know everything about her.
She rolled her eyes. “My middle name is Lavender, and their first names are mouthfuls.  Our father has a wicked sense of humor.”
She neither looked nor sounded amused. “What’s funny about it? They’re all pretty names, unusual, but pretty. Is Verity a family name?”
She sighed and set her glass back on the table. “Verity isn’t quite my name, but its close enough.  It’s actually Veritas, which is Latin for truth. Lavender is an herb associated with virtue, so my name means ‘Truth and virtue’.  Sage’s full name is Veneratio Sage, with her first name translating to Honor and sage a symbol for longevity, so it means roughly ‘Long life through honor’.  Rose got stuck with Sanctimonia, meaning ‘purity’ and rosemary is traditionally thought to mean ‘remembrance’, giving her name the meaning of ‘purity will be remembered’. We used to say she needed a long memory to recall hers.”
He chuckled, and then asked, “So, what’s your father do? Is he some kind of history professor?”
“Something like that. I dabble names and meanings. Did you know your name means ‘Who is like God?’ Saint Michael, according to Hebrew tradition, was one of the seven archangels of Heaven. He’s considered to be the patron saint of soldiers, since Saint Michael is mentioned in Revelations as the leader of Heaven’s armies. Interesting that you are what might be seen as a gladiator. The name has been used by many emperors and rulers throughout history.  Is it a name used often in your family tree?”
“Well, yes, now that you mention it.  Both my father and grandfather are named Michael.”
Wicked violet eyes flashed, and a seductive smile played on her lips. She tilted her head to one side. “So, can I call you Trey? Are you a Third?”
He shot her a glance and she laughed merrily, reading the guilt on his face, no doubt.“Trey it is,” she said through laughter.
“You call me Trey and I’ll spank you. There’s a bit of truth for you.”
“Promises, promises, Trey. How did that ointment work?  Did you try it?”
“You know what?  My tattoo hasn’t itched a bit today. I think it’s healed.  You should sell that stuff.”
“How do you know I don’t?”
            “How did that work, having two half-sisters the same age as you? Did you fight or get along?” He read the flash of surprise in her eyes. “Rosemary explained about your uh…unique family situation.”
Her gaze dropped to the table and she fiddled with her napkin. When she raised her eyes, he saw defiance and pain. “It doesn’t seem to bother them much.”
“But it bothers you?” He was damn sorry he’d brought it up, but needed to find a way to comfort her. He didn’t see a way to do that until he understood the situation better.
“Not anymore.”
“But it used to?” He persisted, taking her hand in his so she’d stop messing with the napkin. The linen square was twisted in knots. The suspicion she felt the same way inside gnawed guilty holes in him. “We can change the subject if you like, but I want to get to know you better.  A lot better.”
Her gaze was shuttered now.  If she was upset, she’d mastered the emotions on her face. He didn’t like the thought she’d shut him out so quickly. “Why? What makes you think knowing about my freak show of a family tells you anything about me?”
“Because knowing about my family tells you everything there is to know about me, everything important anyway,” he explained. “It doesn’t mean I’m like them. It means I look at things the way I do because of them. Everybody does. But I kind of resent the fact you seem to think I’m going to judge you for their sins.”
To his surprise and relief, he felt her stiff fingers relax. “I listen to other people talk about their families, and it makes me so jealous sometimes. I bet I can guess what yours is like. You have two parents who care about each other. They’re probably still together. You know beyond the shadow of a doubt, they care about you. And you can’t fathom any different situation, not really. Heck, you might even be an only child.”
            Her accurate assessment stunned him. “How did you know that?”
            “It’s not so hard, really.  I know you called me from Sage’s office. That means you saw the portrait. You said Rose explained that we’re exactly the same age, and from the look on your face, the idea was so foreign to you, you keep asking me questions even though you can tell family history’s a sore spot for me.” He wanted to interrupt, but she hurried to explain. “You’re intelligent and that means you’re curious. I’m a curious person myself. I dislike people whose curiosity is easily satisfied.  But how hard is it to guess you have a normal family somewhere, especially when you say they shaped you and you make their example sound like a good thing?  You’re used to getting your way, so that makes me think you’re an only child. I can tell by the look on your face you wish you hadn’t brought the subject up, but you can’t let it go. I assume that means you wish you had siblings.”
“Psychology major?” he guessed. “I’m impressed. I am an only child and yes, my parents are still together. I have an adopted sister, but I was in high school before she came to live with us. My parents are both the intellectual type, and even though I took another path after college, I was taught the only wrong question is the one you don’t ask.” Lifting her hand to his lips, he kissed her fingers. “We can change the subject. I can wait. But I can tell you right now, I don’t think I’ll stop until I know everything there is to know about you, Vee.”
There was both defiance and hope in her eyes. “What if those answers you seek only make you want to run as far and as fast as you can and never look back?”
He grinned, hoping she’d forgive him. She needs reassurance, not confrontation. He was fascinated by this woman, and she was going to know it if it took his last breath. Every one of his senses screamed for him to stake a claim. “All I see is me running toward you. After the game tonight, all I could think about was being with you again. That’s a lie, as soon as I left this morning all I could think of was seeing you again. And not that the sex wasn’t incredible—because it was and you know it—I don’t think that’s going to be enough for me. I see intelligence when other men probably don’t look past the gorgeous face. I see a strong, independent woman who stimulates things besides my cock. And I gotta tell you, if you told me you used to be a man, I don’t think it would matter. Because the most amazing thing of all is that you have the just plain guts to reach out and take what you want, and what you wanted was me.  To be on the receiving end of that kind of self-assurance is overwhelming and I’m not easily overwhelmed.”
“It was just sex.”
He shook his head. “You know better. You’re building a wall right this minute. You believe my normal family life will make me think you’re like your father somehow? Because that’s ridiculous.”
Her expression tightened. “You’re right about that much. I’m nothing like him.”
“You aren’t denying building that wall. Admit right this minute, last night was more than just sex or I’m going to cause a scene.”
She laughed. “You’re bluffing. You aren’t the scene type. Too laid back.”
Mike saw the challenge in her eyes as she relaxed in her seat, certain she was right. He’d never backed down from a challenge in his life, and he wasn’t about to start now. He slowly stood, watching her expression become wary, but she didn’t speak. Time to get under that cocky attitude.  “Excuse me.” He raised his voice, looking over her head. “I hate to interrupt everyone’s meal, but I could use a little help here, folks.”
People turned to stare. She yanked her hand from his, crossing her arms over her chest. Her cheeks showed no sign of embarrassment, and her eyes still held a challenge. Of course, she had no idea he was used to being in the spotlight. And liked it. As the small restaurant came to a virtual standstill, he pressed his advantage, indicating her with a sweep of his hand. “Thanks, I’ll be brief. What I need you folks to do, is help me convince this lovely woman I might actually be a decent guy.  I know all you ladies have had your heart broken at some point, but do I look like that guy? How about a little trust?  Guys have it tough, you know?  We get to pay for the sins of every idiot that ever hurt you, right guys?”
Whistles, groans and claps filled the air. He grinned, letting the room grow quiet again before leaning over with both hands pressed against the table. His eyes were locked on hers, but he addressed the room. “The guys are with me, but you ladies are holding back.  Let her know she should take a chance on me, please?  I sure could use a little help.”
Verity’s mouth fell open when women began calling out encouragement. Shouts of ‘go for it’ and ‘take a chance’ and more than one ‘I will if she won’t’ rang out.
The noise grew louder, and she seemed to realize everyone expected some indication of acceptance on her part. She pushed her chair back and put her own hands on the table. The look in her eyes made his gut clench. “Be careful what you ask for, Trey.” Every millimeter she leaned closer made his heart do another somersault. She touched her lips to his, to the sound of cheers and wolf whistles.
Mike raised his hands for silence as she flopped into her seat. “Appreciate the help, folks.  Sorry for the interruption, but you’ve restored my faith in mankind. And womankind,” he hastened to add. “Mostly womankind.”
Laughter erupted, but the small restaurant returned to normal quickly. He sat down, looking at her with a mixture of stubbornness and tenderness she didn’t quite understand.  “Never dare me where you’re concerned, Verity. I don’t think I’m rational about you. I dreamed about you before we met.”
“Maybe you’re just irrational, period,” she suggested. “Escaped mental patient, perhaps?”
He pretended to glare.  “Don’t make me stand up again.” He half-rose from his seat and she hurried to put her hand on his arm.
“Okay, I get it. You’re used to getting your way.” Her brows drew together, but he thought he saw a ghost of a smile. “So what do you want to know?”
“For starters, I want to know why you don’t think you’re worth making a fuss over.”
The smile faded. Any trace of amusement disappeared from her eyes. He wished he’d let the topic drop. She picked a spot over his shoulder to look at and her voice was barely audible. “Look, this might not make any sense to you, but where I come from, I’m not. Worth making a fuss over, that is.”

To be continued...

Thanks for dropping in! 

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