Clifford and Claire, Scene 3

    Hi, folks! As I shared a few weeks ago, keeping up this blog and working on the new novel has put a strain on my already poor time management skills. So, I’ve been cheating by posting some excerpts from the new novel instead.
   It’s working, because I’ve been getting sooooo much done on Red Wolf Rising that I’m really excited about. If I can maintain this momentum I might actually meet my completion deadline later this year.
  So, picking up where we left off last time, here’s how Clifford Crane and Claire Deerfoot first met. Having just found her naked and starving in the park while he was jogging, and assuming her to be homeless, Clifford has taken her to IHOP for a meal…
Her name was Claire Deerfoot and she loved pancakes. She really loved pancakes. She was now sopping up the syrup on her otherwise empty plate with the last fork full of her second short stack. Clifford had never seen a woman of her age and slight stature put it away like she did.
Other than those two things, Clifford knew little or nothing about the woman sitting across the table from him. She had been very close-mouthed and vague about who she was and where she came from. Her facial structure was slightly exotic, possibly Native American, but he wasn’t good at recognizing that stuff. She appeared to be somewhere in her late fifties or early sixties, going by the lines of character in her face, but there was the vibrancy in her movements of someone much younger.
Her hair was beyond gray. It was long and white as snow. And the straw-like, disheveled quality he thought he’d observed earlier in the park was gone now. At some point during the meal he had begun to notice how it glistened as it hung straight and framed her face. It was beautiful, and he’d been disappointed when she’d complained that it was getting in the way and pulled it back and banded it into a pony tail.
But the most striking feature about her was her eyes. They were clear gray, and seemed to hold an ageless intelligence. And they were familiar, so familiar, but he could not jog his memory into recognition. He had her pegged as an academic, maybe a forensic anthropologist fallen from grace because of some bizarre theory she proposed but none of her fellows supported. Perhaps she had been driven to insanity and dereliction from the ostracism of her peers, eventually finding herself living in the greenway.
But that was all wild, fantastical speculation. She had revealed next to nothing about herself. He, on the other hand, had spilled his guts all over the table. She had managed to draw him out easily, and he had just about told her his life story in the last twenty minutes or so. In fact, he realized his own stack of pancakes lay largely untouched in front of him because he’d been running his mouth so. He now took a bite. They were stone cold.
She dabbed at her lips with a napkin and frowned. “Is something wrong?” she asked.
Her question drew his attention back to her face. Hers was one of the prettiest frowns he’d ever seen. For an older woman. In fact, he may have over-estimated her age. Some of the wrinkles he’d thought he’d noticed before now seemed to have disappeared. He shook himself mentally.
“Oh,” he said, “My food’s cold. I can’t believe I’ve been talking so much.”
“You have been going on a bit.” She smiled, which removed yet another decade from her face.
He could feel himself blush. “Sorry, I…”
“No, no,” she chuckled. “Don’t be. You merely answered my questions… in great detail.”
His blushed deepened, and her chuckle expanded into genuine laughter.
“Sorry,” he murmured. “Jeez.” He cut another fork full from his pancakes, put it in his mouth, and began to chew silently.
Her laughter subsided. She took a deep breath and pushed her plate a few inches away. “Whew,” she said. “Thanks for that.”
Clifford watched her lean back in her seat and wipe a tear from her cheek, still flushed from laughing. He swallowed and blurted without thinking, “How old are you?”
She started. “Uh…” The question had caught her off guard. She thought a moment. Nine hundred ninety-two? Or, is it ninety-three? Best not to tell him that. “Is that something a gentleman should ask a lady?”
“No,” he said, “definitely not. I’m sorry, please. I didn’t mean… It’s just that, I thought you were older back in the park, and now…” He cut himself off. From the look on her face he was just making it worse.
She shrugged and sighed. “I am pretty old,” she said. “And when you found me this morning I was really feeling my age. But this,” she waved her hand over the remains of her meal, “has done wonders. I feel young again.”
She had effectively dodged the question. He decided not to push it. Instead, he took another bite of cold, soggy pancake, and regarded his plate as he chewed. When he looked up again, her eyes were on him. Their gazes locked for a moment. He felt as if she could see into his soul.
She was the first to break eye contact. Dropping her eyes to the table she said, “Um, while we’re asking personal questions…” She ran a forefinger through a puddle of syrup on her plate that she’d missed and raised it to her lips. She looked back up at him to see a smirk on his face. “What?”
He shook his head, smiling. “Nothing. You were saying?”
She liked his smile. This was the third or fourth time she’d seen it during the meal, and she was quickly becoming addicted. “I was saying,” she began, putting the syrupy digit into her mouth and sucking on it. His smile widened.
Oh, my god, she thought, I’m flirting with him. She blushed and removed the finger from her mouth. Get a grip. It’s not too late… yet. She cleared her throat and forced a note of seriousness into her tone. “I was wondering, actually, what it is that makes you so unhappy.”
“Huh?” His expression was startled. “What makes you think I’m unhappy?”
“I’ve been watching you…” For months. during the meal. It shows in your eyes when you talk about some things. Your life, your family…”
The question flustered him. He set down his fork and stared in the direction of his plate. “I-I don’t think of myself as unhappy. I…” He looked up. “Does it really show that much?”
“Your struggle to hide it shows,” she said, and from his reaction she could tell she’d struck a nerve. Reflexively, she reached across the table. “Don’t worry. I’m more… sensitive to these things than most. I doubt much that anyone else can tell.” Her hand settled onto his.
He flinched at her touch, as if he’d received a shock. She felt it, too, and she gave an involuntary gasp of breath. His fingers curled reflexively against the table top, forming half a fist against her palm. The tips of her fingers passed lightly over the hairs on the back of his wrist.
The touch was electric. Her pulse quickened instantly. She tried to pull her hand away, but her brain wasn’t sending the signal to her fingers. He lifted his hand slightly, as if to pull it from under hers, and the tips of his fingers brushed across her palm.
“Oh,” she murmured. She couldn’t let go, mesmerized as his fingertips slowly moved across her palm, underneath her fingers, up to their tips and back down. Her fingers responded of their own volition, entwining with his and squeezing almost to the point of pain before releasing and entwining again. Her breathing became shallow and quick.
For a moment their fingers continued a dance of incredible intimacy. Then, suddenly, he pushed his palm against hers and withdrew. He took a breath and exhaled with a shudder. Her eyes locked with his, and she could feel the heat of a deep blush explode under the skin of her face.
He cleared his throat. “Um, I better go or I’ll be late for work. Can I, uh, give you a ride… somewhere?”
She took a deep breath and nodded. They both seemed to recognize the double entendre at the same time. He blushed, and hers deepened. “To my car, if you don’t mind. I parked in the lot off Sardis Road.”
“Oh,” he responded. Your car? That was unexpected.
She immediately wished she hadn’t said it. She’d just blown her cover and now there would be more questions she wasn’t prepared to answer. “If you’ll excuse me, I need to use the restroom before we go.” She slid from her chair and walked towards the back of the restaurant.
He watched her go, admiring the graceful sway of her hips as she walked. “Uh, sure, go ahead,” he murmured. “I’ll get the check.” Who was this woman? I should just take her to her car, let it go, and never see her again.
       But he wanted to know more about her. Much more.
   Okay, that’s probably a good place to stop. I’ll have the final portion of the excerpt for you next week. And, by the way, I love to read your comments, so please don’t hesitate to leave one below. Just drag the cursor over the word, Comments, click, and you can probably figure out how to do it.

   And, if you haven’t read the first two books, there are links below to sites where you can purchase them in various formats. The ebooks are only $2.99! Check ‘em out.

The Draculata Nest -----------------------------------------------------------------------
Click on the link to order:
ebook for Kindle    ebook for Nook     ebook for Kobo     in Paperback         
in Charlotte   Smashwords

The Dragon of Doughton Park ----------------------------------------------------------
Click on the link to order:
ebook for Kindle    ebook for Nook    ebook for Kobo    in Paperback  
in Charlotte    Smashwords
Until next time, happy reading!


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