Clifford and Claire, Scene 7
Hi, folks. I had a great weekend hiking around the North Carolina mountains, and I’m pleased to say that more of the story of the Red Wolf was revealed to me while on my quest.
Today I have another excerpt from my upcoming novel, Red Wolf Rising.
But first, a quick reminder: Today’s the last day to get my books free on Smashwords. Just use the coupon code to the right of the Smashwords link at the bottom of this post.
Now, more of Clifford and Claire…
I’ve only hinted at it in the first two books, but those who’ve read them may have gleaned that Claire (aka, Claws-on-the-Foot), has had a disappointing history with romantic relationships over her thousand-year life. (I think that makes her a perfect match for Clifford Crane.) She’s a bit surprised to find she has an attraction for this man, and it keeps getting in the way of the business she has with him – to turn him into the Red Wolf of Prophecy.
In the last post, we saw her invite him to her apartment. Her plan is make him feel comfortable by feeding him breakfast and chatting a bit, as she looks for an opportunity to propose turning him into a werewolf. They’re in the kitchen talking while she cooks. Let’s see how it goes…
Clifford inhaled deeply. “Smells good,” he said.
She turned and smiled. “Glad you came?”
He liked her smile, the way it made her high cheek bones dimple and her eyes sparkle. He felt warmth expanding in his chest. He nodded and grinned. “Yep,” he replied.
He watched her smile widen at his response, and he fought a sudden urge to kiss her. He might even have taken a step towards her. Did she lean forward expectantly, or was it just his imagination? He cleared his throat. “Ahem, can I help with something?”
She started, blushed, and turned back to the stove. “Oh, let’s see…” She was trying to focus, but she could hear her own pulse pounding in her ears. “Would you pull a couple of paper towels off that roll over the sink?”
He did, and he handed them over. Their fingers touched. He pulled his hand away quickly and jammed them both in his pockets. “Anything else?”
She turned back to the stove, spreading the towels across a clean plate for draining the grease from the bacon. An after-image of herself standing in front of him, eyes closed, lips puckered, spatula in hand, lingered in her mind. It hadn’t been that obvious, had it?
Okay, he’d just asked a question. What was it, can I go now? “Huh?” No, it wasn’t exactly that, it was… “Oh, no… I mean, yes. The juice. In there.” She pointed to the refrigerator. She took a breath. “There’s some orange juice in the fridge. Would you pour us a couple of glasses, please?”
“Sure. Uh, where are the glasses?”
“Cabinet.” She pointed. “There.”
Conversation stopped. Bacon popped and sizzled. Glasses clinked. There was the faint rising tone of liquid being poured. She felt the heat from his body as he passed behind her, leaving the kitchen to take the juice to the dining table. She took a deep breath. Quick, think.
The whole idea behind breakfast had been to make him feel comfortable. Now he was freaking out. Hell, she was freaking out. He was married and obviously had scruples and she was throwing herself at him again. There couldn’t possibly be a worse time to broach the subject of his wolf, but after the stunt she’d just pulled she doubted she’d get another chance. She’d be lucky if he stayed for the meal.
She flipped the pancakes out onto a platter and turned the burner off. She broke the eggs into the other pan and watched them begin to sizzle before she pulled the bacon from the grease and laid the strips out on the paper towels to drain. She flipped the eggs over.
Okay, she needed to do some serious damage control. “It’s almost ready,” she called, her voice feeling strained and unnatural. She placed a stack of three pancakes on two plates and flipped the eggs onto them. She dropped a few pieces of bacon on the side of each. She picked up the two plates and took a deep breath. Here goes. She carried the plates into the next room.
Clifford had been further examining the figurine, and he set it aside on the table as she put his plate down in front of him. “Enjoy,” she said. She set hers down and sat down in front of it, across the table from him. “There’s syrup, but have you ever tried apple butter on pancakes?”
“Yes,” she pointed to one of the mason jars. “It’s homemade, too.”
“Really? I’ll have to try it, then.” He spooned some out onto his pancakes and sampled them. “Mmmm,” he nodded, “that is good. The bacon, too. You have serious skills.”
She smiled. His praise seemed genuine. Perhaps the food, and some light conversation, would ease the tension a little, make them both forget what had just happened. “Thanks,” she said. “I love to cook. I had to get my kitchen set up first thing.” She indicated the boxes stacked along the wall. “Everything else is secondary.”
“Good to see you have your priorities straight,” he grinned. “But, really, I’m impressed. You cure your own meat, make apple butter, you’re an amazing artist…” He nodded towards the centerpiece carving. “I have a feeling that’s just the beginning?”
She took a bite of her pancakes, smiling and blushing.
“Oh,” he continued, “and you live in the national forest, which I am totally envious of. So, I have to ask again, because I really don’t think you’re here just to cook me breakfast, why have you moved to Charlotte?”
To be near you, Clifford Crane. “Well,” she replied, “I originally came to town looking for someone, back around the first of October. A young niece of mine ran away from home. One of her friends told me she might have come to Charlotte.”
“Oh, that doesn’t sound good. How old is she?”
“Fourteen. She’s a good kid, really, but she fell into the wrong crowd and started using drugs. Her parents were about to send her to a rehab facility. It seems she got wind of it and took off.”
“I don’t suppose you’ve had any luck?”
“She knew a young man here. Now, they’ve both disappeared.” She sighed. “I don’t think they’re in town anymore, but I thought I’d stick around for a while, in case they come back.”
“Oh, wow. That’s tough.”
“I know.” She chewed silently for a moment. She took a sip of her juice. “Anyway,” she continued, “I kind of like it here, so…” She trailed off, shrugging. She tried to think of some light and comfortable subject to steer the conversation towards. She thought about inquiring about his home life, which hadn’t been going well the last time they talked, but such an inquiry might be taken in any number of wrong ways at this point. The silence dragged on.
Eventually, Clifford reached over and picked up the figurine. “This,” he said, “is really interesting. It’s incredibly detailed, but it’s not as… accurate as yours there.” He pointed at the centerpiece. “I mean… it’s not a wolf, is it? It’s something different. Not a real animal, I imagine, but a representation of something?”
She swallowed. Uh oh, this is it, and neither one of us is ready. “Yes and no,” she said.
He raised his eyebrows.
“Um,” she continued, “it is a representation, of sorts. It’s my totem, or a representation of my totem, but… it’s a pretty accurate representation, because…” Dare I say it?
He was looking at her expectantly. After over five hundred years of living with the prophecy, and having nearly reached the end of her supernatural lifespan, she found herself at a crossroads, or at least a fork, and she was uncertain which path to take. But, if her path was to coincide with that of the man in front of her, like she thought it was, then she owed it to both of them, indeed to all humanity, to strike ahead. It felt unnatural to reveal her secret to a human. In nearly a thousand years, she’d never done so and knew of no others of her kind who had. But, if what had been foretold was truth, shouldn’t it just work out for the best?
“… it’s me,” she blurted, “in my shifted form.”
“Huh? What do you mean? I don’t get it.”
“It’s what I become, when I let my totem out.” She watched his face closely. Realization dawned as he put two and two together. Uncertainty crossed his features as the rational part of him rejected the conclusion. Finally, denial settled in.
“You’re a werewolf,” he smirked. “That certainly explains a lot.” He choked off a chuckle at the expression of seriousness on her face. His eyes cut back and forth between hers and the figurine. “Okay,” he murmured, “that’s interesting.”
“Clifford,” she said softly, tentatively, “you are, too.”
He laughed. “Well, damn, you found me out. Whew, I’ve been hiding it for years. What a relief to have it out in the open, finally! Heh-heh.”
“I’m not surprised you don’t believe me,” she said. “You need proof, and that’s understandable. Here, I’ll show you.” She stood, moved a few feet away, and began to remove her shirt.
He pushed himself away from the table and stood also. “No, Claire, stop. Don’t, please.” He went to her. Her shirt came off over her head and her snow white hair fell glistening about her bare shoulders. He stepped back at arm’s length. “Look, Claire, I’m sorry. I like you, but, really, I can’t do this.”
“No, I didn’t mean it like that. I was only…”
He backed away, trying not to focus on the nipples that were peeking through the long tresses over her chest. “I admit I’m attracted to you, and I’ve probably been sending out the wrong signals, but…”She bent over and pushed her shorts down around her ankles. “No, wait, I just…” She heard the front door slam as she stepped out of the jogging shorts. He was gone. She stood looking at the door, naked to her panties, her shorts dangling from her fingers. That did not go at all well, she thought.
No, it didn’t go too well, did it? But, how do you go about telling someone you’re a werewolf? Hmmm. I’ll let you know later.
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Coming up later this week…
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