Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Excerpt #2- Blood of His Fathers

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The party was in full swing when Jess and Claire arrived at the old school. Their entrance hadn’t gone unnoticed and Claire was immediately swooped upon by a gaggle of chatty females. But she managed an apologetic smile before being whisked away to the other side of the Banqueting Hall. Jess brushed a nervous hand down the front of her long dress and sighed. Claire had left her alone to face ex-classmates and former tormentors. She pasted a small smile on her face and meandered through the crowded hall, gently kicking at the black and white balloons at her feet.
She could boast some modicum of success as a freelance journalist, and although she’d had numerous pieces published on subjects ranging from the arts to the environment, Jess could find no one who recalled having read any of her articles. That was quite demoralizing. But she took comfort from the fact those who once teased and mocked her during her school years were now busy envying her metamorphosis—jealously guarding husbands and boyfriends on their arm. Now, uncertainties were reversed.
Never one for crowds, she soon sought refuge in the hollow, quieter corridors of the old school, far away from the noise, endless questions and insincere comments.
The school hadn’t changed. Stairs still creaked where they had creaked eons before. Powder blue paint still peeled from the same old places on the same old powder blue walls. Except the ceilings were not as high, corridors not as long and rooms not as eerie and hollow as captured in the blueprint of youthful perceptions.
Jess ambled further through the vaulted hallways, absorbing the ambience of a distant past and battling painful reminders of her own. She left the upper classrooms and returned in quiet contemplation to the ground floor. And then slipped out the emergency exit door leading onto the central quadrangle.
Her strappy high-heeled sandals were hardly appropriate for a brisk, snow-filled night. And she’d left her pashmina in the Banqueting Hall. Head bent, she braced herself against the biting cold and scurried along the stone colonnade to the library at the other side of the quadrangle. The caretaker had promised to unlock the library door. She hoped she’d not be disappointed.
She pulled open the door and was immediately hit by a gulf of air escaping across her face and shoulders. She relished the brief rush of warmth and entered the place where she’d spent plenty of school hours hiding and masking her loneliness. She closed the door behind her and, adjusting her eyes to the darkness, concentrated on listening to the silence.
Faint shafts of moonlight streamed through the high windows, although she didn’t need any light to fuel her memory of the room.
She walked the length of the central aisle, her heels clicking softly over the black and white tiles. Past row upon row of towering bookcases adorned by marble busts of dead poets and literary scholars. Some sitting atop pedestals like bookends and others aloft, gazing down upon their late night guest. Then standing before her under a beautiful stained glass window was the full-length marble statue of the school’s benefactor and namesake. She rubbed her hands over her bare shoulders, warming the chill settling once again upon her skin, and studied the alabaster face shining in the moonlight.
The library door opened and then closed loudly behind her. She froze. Her heart jumped painfully in her chest and blood rushed loudly in her ears. Someone had entered and moved with heavy, measured steps toward her.
Jess spun about. She angled her head and tuned her senses for some clue, some hint of recognition. There was none. She backed away as her panic surged, her breath escaping on a tight whisper.
“Who’s there? Mr. Henry?”
The footsteps drew closer. Eyes wide, she watched the figure of a man draw near without breaking stride. He was too tall to be the elderly caretaker.
She scrambled backward and gasped. “Who are you? What do you want?”
She glimpsed his face in the half light and knew him at once. Her breath locked in her chest as he backed her toward the full-length marble statue.
“Tell Tom I won’t give Jake up,” she blurted with a defiance she didn’t feel.
He stilled. Jess lowered her gaze to his mouth, her memory filling in what she couldn’t clearly see. She shook off the incredible desire to touch him, to have his lips on hers and know his taste. She drew in a shaky breath. The air was cold and dry in her throat and her voice rasped.
“I won’t give Jake up.”
The bright white of his eyes narrowed. “I haven’t come to take your son away from you, Jessica. Tom didn’t send me. I’m here because of Sean.”
She reached a steadying hand behind her and grasped the cold stone there. Her other hand went to her breast as she tried to quell the erratic beat of her racing heart. Her questions, her confusion, were lost under the loud roar of Sean’s name exploding through her brain.
“Sean.” She whispered her disbelief.
She berated herself for the weakness in her voice. She didn’t want to give this man any impression other than that of someone in complete and utter control, but…Sean? She hadn’t seen or spoken to her brother in almost fourteen years. Sean’s name belonged to the past along with everything else she wanted, needed, to forget. Yet in a matter of moments its very utterance had brought the past back in one powerful, painful surge.
Sean had always been uncontrollable and unpredictable, but it was only after their father died that he truly changed. He’d joined a local street gang, rising through its ranks within months to become their leader. Yet every week he would send money. Money Jess had refused to touch, although her mother had no such qualms. Their mother had chosen her own path and Sean’s side—closing her eyes to his violence, his aggression and his criminal dealings.
Jess raised her gaze to the lambent eyes steadily watching her. She had nothing to do with her brother’s life, but would this man hold her accountable for it anyway? She could try racing for the door. He stepped closer, placing his body squarely in front of hers as if she’d spoken the thought aloud.
“I haven’t seen Sean in fourteen years,” she said. “I-If he’s done something…if he owes you money…please, a-allow me time—” She closed her eyes, hating her stutter. “I have a son.”
The air warmed upon her face and she frowned at the slightest touch of his hand against her cheek. She opened her eyes into his. She found it hard to breathe when he looked at her with such intensity. His gaze dropped to the soft rise of her breasts and she touched her tongue to her glossed lips. She pressed her back against the cold stone, welcoming the diversion of its sobering effect against her bare skin. His eyes flitted upward to hers.
“If I was going to hurt you, Jessica, I would’ve done so already,” he murmured.
“Then, what do you want?”
“I want you to come with me,” he said.
He was too composed, his voice too calm. Jess swallowed nervously. He wasn’t giving her a choice.
“Why?”
“The why is for later,” he parried.
Goosebumps rose on the back of her neck and crept down her arms. Sean had been at his most dangerous, too, when his voice was most quiet.
“And if I choose not to come?”
He stepped forward. “I don’t want to think of what might happen to your son if you don’t.”
Jess gasped. Her eyes widened, searching his in the darkness and pleading for him to understand. She dug her fingers into the cold stone behind her certain it was the only thing keeping her upright.
“Jake has nothing to do with Sean. And I can’t pay Sean’s debt.”
“That’s not what I’m asking, Jessica. But I need you to trust me.”
“To come with you?”
“Yes.”
She shook her head and frowned. “Why can’t we talk here?”
He placed a hand beside her head on the plinth and leaned forward. He watched her, his expression unreadable even across the part of his face illuminated by moonlight.
“This isn’t open to negotiation, Jessica.”
Fear and uncertainty roller coastered through her veins, and yet she couldn’t deny the vortex of desire churning inside her too. It was absurd. It was crazy. And in her predicament, it made absolutely no sense at all. But he felt their attraction too. She was sure of it.
She heard it in the way he said her full name and had felt it as a shiver passed through him to her when their fingers first touched. She saw it in his eyes every time he looked at her, and it was there now in the way his breath exhaled hotly against her lips. She raised her hands to his chest to draw him closer…to push him away. She didn’t know. His mouth lowered to hers and then stopped.
Frustration, disappointment and relief warred in her heart as she sensed him pull back. She shivered from the rush of cool air hitting her skin, hardly knowing what to make of the onslaught of wanton feelings coursing through her.

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