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Fog Light

by J. C. Conway

Shelly should have been a shoe-in for the Master’s program. She was smart, her professor’s liked her, she knew how to write … but she met Justin her sophomore year, and for twenty months she decided her social life was more important than school. She still had a shot at it, but only if she proved herself this final semester.

That meant no social life and frequent visits to University Library.

So when Kevin offered to walk her back to her sorority through the dense fog, she hesitated. He was not like Justin—quite the opposite really. But he was cute in his own way, and too nice. She didn’t need the distraction. Besides, if Kevin was looking for a date from her, she needed to deliver the message unequivocally that there was no room in her life right now for a young man.

But the November fog was thick as peanut butter.

They said almost nothing as they proceeded along the grass walkway seeing, at most, two maples at a time. When they finally reached the cement walkway just a curve away from the house, Shelly stopped and turned.

“Thank you,” she said. “That was very nice of you.”

Kevin shrugged. His hands were tucked into his jacket pockets. His book bag hung like a forty pound potato sack from his shoulders.

“I don’t know if I would have seen my way,” she added.

“Sure you would’ve, but … you’re welcome.” His eyes flicked over her face. He seemed to drink in every nuance, every freckle. Or was she just imagining that?

Shelly’s pulse quickened. She felt if she gave a signal—any signal—things would heat up. And maybe that wouldn’t be so bad. Kevin was handsome and sweet. There was a mature boyishness about him that made her shiver. But no. She was not going to make that kind of mistake again. Not now. Not this close.

Her research was hard enough with half the necessary materials checked out from the library by other students. She had to focus. Not start a fling with a tall, dark grad student—no matter how adorable. The whole purpose of this library visit was to find material the others had overlooked. It was not a pickup spot, and she was not a pickup.

“I guess I’ll be going now,” said Kevin.

Shelly tightened her lips and drew a breath. She watched Kevin’s Adam’s apple move up and down. Was he hesitating? It seemed so. And he looked nervous. There was something irresistible about that innocent look of uncertainty.

Shelly blinked. Say “okay” and “good night,” she told herself. This was her chance to dismiss him; to get on with her work and escape complications. It was the right thing to do—the necessary thing. But she wanted him to keep looking at her, for just a little while. Not too much. She felt her head tilt and heard the words, “So soon?” escape.

Her stomach clenched. Was she listening to herself at all?

Then again, wasn’t she overreacting? What harm could a few seconds do? She stepped close to him. Her eyes were about even with his chin. She gazed up and inhaled. Even a little kiss might not be so bad. One kiss, and then say goodnight…?

She saw his chest rise and fall. He tried to clear his throat quietly. “I um … I have something you uh …”

Her mind raced. A strong and irresponsible part of her wanted to hear any of a dozen different things. But then what? She needed strength. She needed to dig deep and shut this down. She forced herself to break eye contact and take a step back while her other half screamed ‘Nooooo!’

“What is it, Kevin?” she asked. She had to stay friendly. That was okay—just not too friendly.

“You … uh … you’re working on the Jogues and Rowlandson accounts of captivity for your dissertation, right?”

She squinted. “Yeah …?”

He shrugged his pack from his shoulders and unzipped it.

“My roommate, Jeff … he did something like it last year … he actually bought this because he couldn’t check it out …”

He slipped a thin book from the bag. It was the modern translation of the Cabeza de Vaca account—the perfect contrast to the source materials she’d been able to gather.

“But …”

“I just … I remembered what you were working on, and asked him if you could borrow this …”

Shelly took the small, beaten edition as gingerly as a priceless treasure.

Kevin re-hefted his book bag and stepped back. “Anyway … for as long as you need it. See you maybe tomorrow?”

“Yeah,” said Shelly, dumbfounded. He actually remembered, and took the time to find something that would help her with her research?

She stepped toward the house and stopped. “Hey!”

“Yeah?” said Kevin, almost invisible already in the fog.

“I usually have coffee at around ten. Maybe …”

He was already in the fog, but she thought he smiled. “Might see you there, then,” he said.

“Good night.”

She turned and walked to the house, smiling as the line between social and academic life obscured in a fog.

Copyright (c) 2012 J. C. Conway
First Published: Romance Flash

Battle Dress

by J. C. Conway

At the break, Derek excused himself and fled the preliminary hearing to the windy marble sun deck at the end of the courthouse corridor. What a disaster. He needed the refuge of a peaceful view–patchy clouds, hazy mountains, a beautiful golf course bordered by a thick, green stand of maple and pine.

He inhaled.

It made no sense. He recalled their first meeting at Justin’s. Carla impressed him. She was a natural beauty. No makeup. No pretenses. She had a confident, assertive exterior and a soft, warm center. They spoke into the night, confiding everything and anything–except work and his personal legal problems. It was the best he’d felt about a woman in a long time; maybe ever.

How could he have been so wrong?

Later that week, when she entered the deposition, dressed to kill, they’d both done a double take.

He read her thoughts like a billboard across her face: “You’re that Derek?!”

His own thoughts had been something like, “You’re her new attorney?!”

Battle DressThey composed themselves. No one caught on. The deposition proceeded.

That was when he learned she was a killer. She didn’t care about the truth. She didn’t care about right and wrong. She was a hired gun, and he was in the crosshairs.

Wasn’t that a conflict? Shouldn’t she have resigned? He didn’t know. But they hadn’t spoken since–until her cross-examination of him today.

What a nightmare.

The door swung open.

Oh, great.

Carla hesitated as she stepped onto the deck in her heels and tight dress. They locked gazes. Her chest heaved slightly. Then she walked to the other side of the small deck striking at her cell phone–bap, bap, bap.

Derek turned slightly away, vowing to disregard her stunning beauty. She seemed uneasy. Good. Not that it mattered.

She listened to messages, jotted a note and shoved her cell into her handbag.

He would say nothing.

Carla folded her arms and stared out over the view. “Nice day.”

He swallowed. “For some, I suppose.”

She turned her head. “It’s not personal.”

“You made me look like a liar.”

She brushed a loose lock of black hair over her ear. “I point out inconsistencies.”

He turned toward her. “I didn’t lie. How do you justify doing that?”

She lifted an eyebrow. “It’s called ‘impeachment.’ Your lawyer does it, too.”

“Yeah, but–”

“We shouldn’t be talking about this.”

Derek glared, unsure what to think. It was all play acting to them. No personal responsibility. They represented their clients. They wore their roles like suits of armor, immune from truth, unaffected by right or wrong.

He wanted nothing to do with this world of amoral rules.

“And I didn’t betray your confidence,” she added in a softer tone.

For a beat, the warm, beautiful woman peeked through the attorney veneer.

“I know,” he admitted. He didn’t feel like giving her credit for that. He’d already demonized her. He didn’t need to question that decision now. But she had indeed steered clear of his mother’s suicide, and the years of guilt and regret, the rehab–everything he told her about that night when he thought he understood her. She could have used it. It would’ve strengthened her examination. But she refrained.

But did that matter? She was still ruthless. She treated him like a criminal, embarrassed him. Her every question oozed with accusation.

Maybe it wasn’t betrayal. But it felt like it.

Carla’s handbag buzzed.

“Time to get back,” she said.

She took a step. He stood firm. “I’ll be there in a minute,” he said. He was in no hurry to return.

She gripped the handle and glanced inside. She seemed to pause for something, drawing a deep breath and letting it out slowly. Without looking directly at him, she said, “Derek … we’re not discussing this, but … just be yourself.”

“I don’t even know–”

She cut him short with a flash of her intense, brown eyes.

His knees weakened.

“Just listen,” she urged. “I will do my job. That’s all it is. Don’t let it get to you. The judge likes you. If you’re you, you’ll win. It will be over.”

Her cheeks flushed. He fought the urge to touch her.

She twisted her mouth, turned and reentered the courthouse.

The door clunked shut. He frowned, staring at it.

Don’t let it get to him?

Maybe a few minutes ago, when he believed he was wrong about her. But now he feared he’d been right. She was deep and sensuous and caring and warm, a gentle and loving soul hidden beneath a hard suit of armor.

Where did that leave him?

Blindsided by a wrecking ball, that’s where.

Derek shook his head.

He yearned to heed her advice. But he couldn’t. It did get to get to him. It spanned the depth and breadth of his being. More than she could ever know. And it would remain for a very long time.

===

Copyright (c) 2012 J. C. Conway
First Published: Daily Love (www.dailylove.net)