Friday, October 24, 2014

Chapter Three Free Romantic Suspense

DID I SAY THAT OUT LOUD?
CHAPTER THREE
A gentle hand traveled over my arm, lingering a second too long, and my stomach did a couple cartwheels. I turned, expecting to see Dek who commanded such a physical presence, but it was Adam’s touch that had sent sparks shooting through me like Fourth of July fireworks. My throat clamped shut and I was, believe it or not, speechless.
“You all right?” Adam slid closer, his breath warm against my forehead.
“Hmm?” I blinked and my heart did some goofy little extra beats like I’d had way too much caffeine that morning. Only thing is, I’d skipped it in favor of orange juice.
 “Yeah, sure.” If he’d let go of my arm, I’d be better yet. What triggered the rapid-fire in my chest? Who was I kidding? Adam always caused me to catch my breath after just one glance.
Not to attract attention, he whispered in my ear, “I hope Arnie didn’t give you a bad time. I know how you two feel about each other. Sorry it had to be him who answered the call.”
“I’d feel the same about any man with such attitudes toward women. He’s something from the Dark Ages.” I crinkled my nose and shrugged. “I only wish I knew what that something was.” But in my work, I’d come across it all the time. Adam, himself, had been a gigantic pain when we first worked together.
He grinned and winked causing more fireworks. “Some of us outgrew it, some of us didn’t. What can I say?”
“Don’t laugh. Believe me, you haven’t a clue. He doesn’t beat his chest when you’re around. He knows better, but put estrogen within ten feet, and it’s a whole different Deputy Disgusting.” I blasted out a huge sigh as Adam’s brow deepened. “No, he didn’t give me a hard time, no more obnoxious than usual.”
His hand lingered on my arm. Unsure of what to do, I figured maybe I should step away and break the contact. Instead, he moved his hand from my arm to the small of my back and directed my steps nearer the crime scene while he talked and gestured toward the sauna. “He showed you the body, I take it.”
I’ve always loved the hand on the back thing. It’s reassuring, protective, and comforting in a weird sort of way, and he did it so well. “Yes. Did a few preliminary sketches on what I thought the team might move, but once they’re out of the room, I’ll finish.”
“They won’t move a thing ‘til you’re done. They know better. But, thanks.” His gaze rested on my eyes and he didn’t look away, causing me no end of uneasiness.
I suddenly felt like the thirteen-year old wallflower asked to the junior high dance by the cutest boy in the class. And Adam was cute. Yikes! Cute.
“Susan, I appreciate the help. With such a small department, we don’t have need of a full-time sketch artist.” He added a mouth-watering smile to the gaze, and I had to clear my throat.          
“Thank you.”
“As I’ve told you in the past, your sketches get the feel of the scene that a camera misses. I’m not even sure how to explain it.” He shrugged. “Just that it works.”
I ran my fingers through my hair and stepped back, breaking the comfort of his warm touch. “No problemo.” I made some ridiculous sappy happy face to cover what I felt inside where no one was allowed to look. Since the divorce, I didn’t allow anyone inside my head, my heart, or anywhere else for that matter. Couldn’t trust myself. I rifled fingers through my hair again.
“Well, there is a slight problemo.” He chuckled and stared at the top of my head, his hands swirling in the air. “You have horns now.”
“What?”
“Your hair. It’s standing on end and I don’t think it’s the spiky punk look that was fashionable on women for a while. After all, you’re hair’s not blue and green.”
I did a one eighty and checked the mirrored wall to the left. Eeouwww. He was right. I straightened my shoulders and turned back. “That’s all you know.” My face flamed red hot, but I lifted my chin as high as it could safely go without choking to death.
“I’m a trendsetter.”

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Chapter Two Did I Say That Out Loud...a Susan Bassett Suspense



DID I SAY THAT OUT LOUD?
CHAPTER TWO
Hot pink and bright yellow promo T-shirts hyped Endurance Point, What’s Yours?
Giggly girls in their twenties and early thirties, with figures my ex would have pointed out were a cross between “va-va-voom” and “yeoww”, strutted their shirts, tied at the waists, barely covering thong leotards. I thought of my extra twenty or so pounds and groaned. Mature females all got the picture without the visuals. An inordinate number of those giddy girls dreamed about a nod from the owner, Dek Phillips. Blond hair but he kept his head shaved, had a forty-eight inch chest, thirty-four inch waist, impressive blue eyes, and a smile to absolutely die for, to coin a phrase from my younger days. He was also only thirty-two.
Dek paced the floor of the gym, his face longer than my anthropology lectures had been in college. When he spied me lounging next to the juice bar, his eyes softened and he hurried over. I was the recipient of an envious stare from one of the gigglers bursting out of her lo-cut body suit. She snapped her gaze back and climbed aboard the stairstepper as if she didn’t care one bit.
When Dek and I found ourselves bored and couldn’t drum up better offers, we often went out together for Mexican food and a movie. No strings. I paid my own way. Of course, I wasn’t fond of the practice. Not how my mother had raised me. A crack over the noggin with a wooden club while being dragged to a cave would have been all righty with me. I wasn’t sure who started that pay-your-own-way nonsense in the sixties and seventies, anyway. A rich feminist, no doubt. Give me an old-fashioned guy with a passionate sense of chivalry and enough money to generously tip the waitress. Locked in the last century? I admit it. I like to have the man open a door for me, help me with my coat, chauffeur me to dinner, and take me home followed by a protective walk to my door.
But right at the moment, I had other concerns. I wanted nothing more than to execute an about face as Arnie Benson barreled past Dek. He grabbed my arm and dragged me across the floor to the women’s locker room.
Not exactly the Neanderthal tactic I had in mind.
“You’ve gotta see this.” He lowered his voice. “Got your sketch pad?
Oppressive steam from the sauna poured out of the locker room in a suffocating rush, smelling of fresh, white spruce and…I wasn’t sure what else. One of the workers must have cranked the heat all the way up and I almost said as much to Arnie, but he slipped a quieting finger to his lips.
I narrowed my gaze. “What?”
He swiped his broad nose on the edge of his cuff. “Listen babe, we got the body of a hottie about twenty, twenty-five years old. Looks to be—”
“Where?” My head bobbled when we entered. I wiped at my eyes as if doing so might let me see better but it didn’t. The remaining steam was still thick enough to form a wall.
“In the sauna. Didn’t Casey tell you anything about the murder?”
“Not much. He said you’d fill me in.” Plus I hadn’t wanted to talk with Adam Casey any more than necessary. His voice still made my stomach flutter. “Do we have anything about her other than the fact she’s a hottie?” My eyes widened. He hadn’t changed in all these years.
“Still sensitive, eh?” He clicked air through his teeth and glared. He ogled me with his secret x-ray vision. Side note to me—remember to wear lead undies around Arnie.
Still tugging my arm, he pushed me forward. “Let me show you. Over there.”
Gliding past him deeper into the locker room, I battled to quell the nausea. In my small town, major crime scenes were a rarity. Almost non-existent. As the steam cleared, I saw horrible graffiti smeared on the walls, spelling out the murder with expletives. The girl’s body lay crumpled on the floor.
Instantly my inner self quickened and I thought I might be ill. How could I do a good job here when my heart wrenched just looking at the young woman? I shook off the doubts.  Really helping meant keeping a distance, doing my job, and assisting them in discovering her killer. I glanced again at the disgusting words on the wall. “Unbelievable.”
Arnie shook his head. For a brief moment, the notion crossed my mind he might be as moved by the murderer’s obscenities as I was, but as I paused to speculate on one of the expletives, he belched one of them aloud and pounded his chest.
I rolled my eyes and a groan escaped my lips. I hated to tell him, but I’d seen it performed better at the zoo. Having worked the force, I understood that cops do whatever is necessary to put distance between themselves and the seamier side of life, but Arnie went above and beyond in protecting his inner child.
I nudged his side. “Let me get closer.”
By way of my pad and pencils, I outlined the immediate area around the body. The letters scribbled in peach lipstick brought bile to my throat. How could I draw the scene and ever feel the same? Poor girl. Lord, this is my job. Please help me.
Standing on his toes to peer around me, Arnie pointed. “You notice the way the ends of the rope lace in and out of her ankles? When she struggled, that would have added to the tightening of the leather at her throat. Man, the guy was good at what he did.” He whistled through the slight gap in his front teeth. “Really good.”
“Good? She must have suffered horribly. What’s wrong with you, Arnie?”
 “What?” He grinned and grasped his chest. Gave a shake of his head. “No. Really. That hurts.”
 My lip curled of its own accord before I could force my mind back on point. Then as he was leaving, Arnie reminded me not to disturb anything, to only get a feel for what had happened before the coroner arrived; then to do what I did best—sketch.
“Before I start the drawings, I’d like to talk to Dek Phillips. He have any idea what happened? Do you know who was here at the time they found the body? Is anyone being held?”
With his hand over his holster, striking his practiced professional pose—he was so good at it—Arnie was clearly annoyed by all the questions. “What do you want answered?”
I scowled. “All of the above.” This wasn’t a test in school, not that he’d pass anyway. I still found it hard to believe he’d passed the police academy—MCOLES—Michigan Commission on Law Enforcement Standards.
Then, again, even the higher ups could have small lapses in judgment from time to time.
“Well, if you’re gonna be so finicky, he’s been with that Buckner kid most of the time. I’ve been in here, made a couple calls, and talked to a few of the patrons. As for the other details, don’t worry your pretty little head. That’s my job. You draw. I take statements.”
“Thumping your chest again?”
“What?”
Never mind. I sighed. “Buckner? You mean Bobby, Dek’s handyman?”
Arnie eyed me in a calculating manner. “You know him?”
“Some, why?”
“Phillips says he works at all three gyms. Work? That’s a joke. Must be the owner’s charity case. He was blubbering a few minutes ago about the pretty girl who died. He’s a couple bricks short of a BBQ pit if you ask me.”
As if...
He cocked his head toward the door, indicating Bobby. “There’s a story to be had about that loser. I’d put money on it.”
“You sleep through sensitivity training at the academy? Oh, that’s right, they didn’t have it when you went through, did they?”
Arnie chuckled and avoided the obvious. “Even told me how much he likes girls,” he said, arching his fingers into quotation marks. “The kid was spilling his guts when the owner marched up and told him to keep his yap shut. He said Buckner’s parents should be notified first. Went to call them. Now, just what do you know about him other than he’s suh-low?”
“Not much.” I hedged. Because I figured I would delve into Bobby’s connection before I offered an opinion. Anyway, I preferred to talk to Dek first. And right at the moment, I had my own work to start.
Arnie knelt over the body as I fingered one of the painted letters on the wall and immediately jerked my hand away. I pulled back peachy skin that only served to draw attention to my gnawed nails.
Hoping he wouldn’t notice the blunder, I yanked a paper towel out of the dispenser. Then, as I tossed the paper into a receptacle, I spotted the way the girl’s soft, brown hair swirled like silk. Arranged as though by an artist. Intentionally? Who did that?
I glanced over at Arnie, whose eyes locked onto the victim’s body in an intimate way. Goosebumps popped up all over my arms. Did he know her from somewhere? “Hey, Arnie. Was she a regular member here? Are you a member here?”
 “What?” He looked up, startled. “Oh, yeah. You bet she was. Phillips identified her as Cassandra Brutowski. And according to a couple guys, she liked to flash around a big stone she said her boyfriend bought her. Phillips knows ‘im. He snagged the number from the office file and I’ll be paying the guy a visit as soon as Casey arrives. The rock’s not on her finger, but there’s a classy rose tattoo on her ankle. Right here, see?”
“Classy? As opposed to the tacky kind?” I bit back another remark before the last of my cool could float away on puffs of steam. My mind, as always, drifted to my girls. Would they get tattoos now they were at school? A growl vibrated in my stomach. “So the ring was stolen?”
Indicating mucho dinero, Arnie rubbed his fingers and thumb together. “Big bucks, babe. One of the girls here we took a statement from said the victim bragged the rock was two carats. And even I know that’s a lot of lettuce.” He snorted; I gagged.
I stared again at the woman’s empty hand. “I’m going to talk to Phillips. Be back in a few minutes.” I spun on my heel anxious to leave, but Arnie’s increased interest in the girl caught my attention once again.
With another sneak peek at the sweetheart rose, Arnie clucked his cheek at me and winked. I convulsed inside and realized he never told me whether or not he was a member here.
My few steps over the slate floor toward the lobby carried me past Bobby where he sat alone on a treadmill wringing his pudgy hands between sobs. Like a recording, he repeated the apparent instructions from Dek. “Don’t say nothing about pretty girls. Mr. Dek said don’t say nothing and Dad said to mind Mr. Dek. Oh, but she was pretty before she was dead.” He glanced up, shocked when he saw me and closed his mouth.
Poking his head around the corner, Arnie asked, “Whud he say?” He may have played the buffoon, but in reality, he missed very little. Taking a pencil from behind his ear, he jotted a note in his field book and ducked back inside.
Shifting my attention away with a shrug of my shoulder, I overheard Dek on his cell. He spoke in a low voice, perhaps to Bobby’s parents. Did Bobby have the wherewithal to kill the girl…to kill anyone? And if he did, why would he? From I’d seen, he had a content life with his folks and his job with Dek.
In a moment the call was finished. “Dek?” I reached for his arm as I sauntered around from the front of the counter.
“What?” He jumped. “Man, Susan, I’m sure glad you’re here. Do you know what that officer thinks?” He pointed toward the sauna where Arnie worked.
“Calm down. No need to get upset. The important question is what you think. Is Bobby capable of murder?”
A frown spoke before his words. “Absolutely not.” But he didn’t make eye contact with me. Instead, his line of vision aimed squarely at Bobby. Then he gave a shake of his head and turned back to me.
“Dek, I understand you’re his friend, but are you being objective? Are you sure you can speak for him without bias?” I didn’t know a lot about Bobby personally, only that Dek and Bobby’s parents were good friends. Dek had once told me he’d offered to let Bobby work at all three of the gyms as a handyman. And that he was good at his job. According to Dek, he hadn’t had even the slightest problem with him.
“Yes, I’m sure.” He stared into space as if he pondered some past incident on which he chose to remain silent. “Fairly sure, anyway.” He bit the edge of his lip.
“Dek?”
Then, as his gazed drifted once again to where Bobby waited on the treadmill, he mumbled something to himself.



Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Serial Suspense Novel...Did I Say That Out Loud?

            SERIAL FICTION

                DID I SAY THAT OUT LOUD?
             A Susan Bassett Suspense
CHAPTER ONE
Weapon next to me, I turned up the volume on the small TV that woke me each morning with the local news.
“ . . . allegedly str-an-gl-ed at Endurance Point Gym in Barrington. Our crew will remain at Endurance Point until we hear from the Camden County Sheriff’s Department. Stay tuned for further updates. This is Karen Richards with breaking news from Barrington.”
What?
Microphone jammed against collagen-inflated lips, Ms. Richards enunciated strangled as if it had half a dozen syllables. Dressed in an outdated blazer and scarf, she fumbled with her handheld microphone; wind blitzed her like an NFL sack. She licked her lips—it took two swipes—between each sentence as if this were her debut news opportunity.
 My attention glued to the report instead of to myself, I struggled with first one leg and then the other into a pair of jeans that fit only six days ago. Whirling into a solitary mambo, I caught my foot in the wastebasket and knocked the speaker off the dresser. Splat! Face first on the bed, sweat poured over me, but at least I hadn’t shot my foot off. Score one for me. I flipped, drew my breath in, and zipped.
 With a flick of my hand, I righted the wastebasket and leaned closer to the TV. Through the swirling leaves, I recognized Endurance Point Gym, a popular fitness center owned by Dek Phillips. A friend. Couldn’t be End Point, could it?

I imagined Dek, surrounded by a bevy of beauties while giving a statement to the police. His workout suit would be stretched over his shoulders, his blue eyes bright and clear, and his hair, well…not there. He kept his head shaved and the look was beyond Vin Diesel awesome.

All at once, a commercial for foot odor filled the screen, and a giant foot talked about its problem as if the size ten were alive, toes wiggling, nails neatly trimmed. But not…strangled.
My focus switching from fungus to the work day, I retrieved my Colt where it had flopped on the bed. Weapon still in hand, my gaze locked on the image in the floor-length mirror, a sigh ripped from my chest. How had the attractive, slim young wife with the American dream and two toddlers vanished? Who was I kidding? She had disappeared long before Elliott darted out the door after seventeen years in search of the perfect ten. Seventeen years of marriage, a record amongst many of our acquaintances. A marriage long enough for me to have given birth to twin daughters, to own an amazing home, and to consume a lot of antacids.
But murder!
Not possible. Not in my boring community. As the screen returned to the report and a picture of End Point, a shiver scooted along my spine—a not so good shiver. Dek must be turned upside down over this. The shiver reached my heart where I immediately imagined one of my girls being hurt like that. According to them, they practically lived at the college gym.
I clicked the remote and shut down the visuals.
Then my gaze flicked to Jake. Had he noticed? We locked eyes. Lean and self-centered as the first day I’d encountered him, he stretched out, oblivious to my blossoming fears. Not as bulked as Dek Phillips, not quite as handsome as Sheriff Casey, not quite as insipid as my philandering ex-husband, Elliott Gray. However, at home on my white down comforter, Jake understood my pathetic life. And the fact that he owned me. I was a sucker for that beautiful face.
Without a sound, he yawned as his gaze drifted to the .380 Colt Pony automatic I now positioned under my arm. He had no clue what my job entailed once I sauntered out the door. Didn’t understand, didn’t care. He didn’t even give a hoot whether or not I snared the bad guys or they snared me. One minute “What’s for dinner?” and the next minute “See ya ‘round” and out the door carousing again.
I groaned; some things never changed in my life. I always seemed to make bad choices when it came to males. But in the beginning, the haunting look in his eyes had cried, “Please take me in.”
Two years ago I had given my daughters the warning, “Just call him Cat. That way, we won’t get attached and eventually he’ll wander off.” I had preferred to leave unsaid what I really meant. “I don’t want a pet or the extra responsibility at this chaotic time in my life.” And until that eventful Sunday afternoon when, bloody and scraped, he inched his way to our porch after losing the battle in a horrible hit and run, the girls and I had successfully avoided cementing the relationship.
Now, three casts, one neutering, and twelve-hundred dollars later, he was Jake and we loved him as one of the family.
“Hey there big guy, you hungry?” My mind coasted from Kitty Bites back to news bytes. How would this murder affect Dek’s business? I hadn’t seen much of him lately. Our hectic lives and my phobia about our age difference prevented me from allowing any kind of real relationship. Dek—the type of guy a woman dreamed about but didn’t take home to meet Mom.
I’m a pathetic excuse for the modern female. My name’s Susan Elizabeth Bassett—the woman in the noose. Yes, the great, great, great…nine times over niece of Elizabeth Bassett Proctor, the Salem witch trial wife saved from death by hanging because she was pregnant. Elliott had made plenty of jokes about my being a witch, particularly during the divorce.
I live in Barrington, Michigan, the southeastern portion of the state on Lake St. Clair, and my two daughters are in their first year of college at Michigan State in Lansing. So I’m not only single, but my nest is totally empty, leaving me to wonder as I push forty what I want to be when I grow up.
My cell phone buzzed, snapping me out of my daydream. “Yes?” I balanced the phone on my shoulder while offering Jake a scrub around the back of his ears.
“It’s Adam Casey. I presume you heard the news, Susan.”
Adam Casey, sheriff of Camden county. My one-time nemesis. After the police academy, where I graduated second in a class of eighty-five, I’d applied to Camden, a fact that had really irritated a bunch of the good old boys. And Adam, the big, stinky cheese.
Following the class photo, where I had my hair pulled back into a prim and tidy bun, I immediately cut it to a more professional length. The chic do hasn’t changed in the last eighteen of my thirty-nine years. In all honesty, spending much time fussing with hair that doesn’t blow dry in thirty seconds or less isn’t at the top of priorities.
I was a born-again woman living a dead-all-over-again existence. Divorce by an unfaithful spouse will do that to you in spite of your best efforts to the contrary. It had nearly destroyed the girls and me, at least, until I found a renewed faith. Okay, I turned into a Jesus freak. I readily admit it. But guilt continued to plague me like locusts and frogs. What had I said wrong? What had I done wrong? Why wasn’t I as pretty as the younger women in his life? Unending self-analysis that produced few positive breakthroughs.
Adam offered a mental slap. “Susan, you still there?”
“Yes? Oh, what?” I swallowed hard as I mumbled, a bad habit reinforced by frustration. “I heard something on the news, Sheriff.”  I wasn’t sure what had gotten into me. I’d known Adam Casey since I was a senior in high school. He’d been the one who’d warned me away from Elliott. But in my own superior seventeen-year-old wisdom, I’d rolled my eyes and attached myself to the handsome young soccer goalie with all the right moves. I didn’t know every girl in town had seen all those same moves.
“Sheriff? Why so formal?”
I chewed the inside of my cheek. “Oh, you know.”
“You hear about our find at End Point?”
The details may have been sketchy, but the breaking news had spelled it out: she was young, she was beautiful, she was dead. And Adam filled few of the holes other than she’d been strangled with a thin strip of leather. I sought to avoid imagining one of my daughters sporting a lasso necklace. At State, the girls were out of sight, but never out of mind. Strangled. I gulped back bile. Having skipped fourth grade, they were some of the youngest in the freshman class. Just sixteen—too innocent and inexperienced to already be in college. Would they know if a man was attempting to put the moves on them?
“I only know what the report said. And what you mentioned about the leather.”
Adam cleared his throat. “Could you take a few days off the job?”
“What do you need?”
“If McCracken and Borlas can manage without you, I’d appreciate you poking around and doing some of those chicken scratches you’re so famous for.”
Before marrying Elliott, I’d worked for Camden County, in spite of the fact that Sheriff Casey had challenged the notion of a female rookie being on patrol with his department. It had been one thing for me to be part of his youth group at church, but he drew the line when it came to law enforcement. At least for a while, until I found a way to weasel my way in.
One might have thought the sheriff would have been relieved to hire me and strike a blow for quotas in our small county, years behind many of the others, but, at twenty-six, he was the youngest county sheriff in the area, and he had aimed to make a strong impression on the higher ups. A woman didn’t fit with his idea of tough.
And even though I’d placed near the top of my class, the department longed for number eighty-five, instead. Butch Flaherty. Butch looked more the part: two hundred and thirty pounds, six feet plus, five o’clock shadow by ten each morning, and male goon—all Bubba from the inside out. I hadn’t heard anything bad about him, no complaints at school, but right from the get go, Butch barely squeaked by. I’d bet to this day, he didn’t know the difference between a clock and a Glock, only that one ticked and one ticked you off in the wrong hands.
Then, just as my marriage wheezed its final death rales, I’d accepted a freelance assignment with Cumby, McCracken, and Borlas, an investigative firm located on the outskirts of Motown. Anxious to prove myself again after all those years, I worked night and day to be invaluable to the company.
“Well, can you help me out or not?” A tapping noise against the phone. “Susan, I’m talking to you. You with me, here?”
A slight irritation in the otherwise gentle, baritone voice tickled my brain with warm fuzzies. To be completely honest, since my divorce, I’d had a bit of a crush on him. Was that what it was called when you were closing in on decade number four? Anyway, I was pretty sure he didn’t know I was alive beyond my job skills.
 “I can probably arrange it. Tell me, who answered the call?”
A low chuckle followed. “Benson, and before you start groaning, promise me you won’t get your shorts in a knot.” He understood as well as I how repulsive Arnie could be. The deputy spelled sleaze, no matter how the letters were arranged on the board. And I knew his attitude had created problems for the sheriff more than once in the past. I was honestly surprised Adam had kept him on the payroll this long.
“So? Will you sketch?”
“I’ll go right over.”
“Should I be frightened? That was a little too easy.” His laugh, deep and rich, fluttered through my stomach.
I twisted some hair into a knot and tucked it behind my ear where it curved into a perfect arc around my lobe. “I try to be a team player every now and then.”
“Right. If I believe that, you have a bridge in Canada you’d like to sell me. But your sketches are good. Your drawings see more than the lens captures. You’d have made detective in min time if you’d stayed with us instead of marrying Elliott.” His voice lowered into an almost sinister growl. “But I digress.”
“Is that a backdoor compliment?” Before he could answer, I caught myself giggling like a kid. “Well, I’m not proud. If it is a compliment, I’ll take it.” I pictured his rough face: a half-inch scar over the right side of his forehead, perfectly even white teeth, and a small nick in his upper lip. From what, I wasn’t sure; he kept his personal life just that, but the overall look was pleasant, masculine, especially since the scar was sandwiched between huge dimples that gave away his soft side. A face I’d grown comfortable with over the years.
He cleared his throat again, a bit louder this time. “Say, isn’t the manager at Endurance Point your boyfriend or something?”
“What?” Oh boy. “You know better than that. We’re just acquaintances. His name is Dek Phillips, and no, he’s not my boyfriend. Come on. I’m almost six years older than he is. How could he be my boyfriend? That doesn’t even make sense. Good grief, Adam. Forty-year-old women don’t have boyfriends.” I finally stopped and took a breath.
“Well, I’m five years older than you are. Would my five years cause a problem?”
“Y-you?” Trapped, stammering like an idiot. How had the conversation turned in my direction? My personal life. I choked back what I wanted to say. “None of your business. How about if I forget you mentioned Dek Phillips?”
He laughed outright this time as he stuck it to me. “Methinks thou dost protest . . .”
           “Enough, Shakespeare!”
            And I hung up the phone.

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