Excerpt from Involuntary Reflex
COMING APRIL 2014
I watch as he leans over, reaching across the table. He wants my hands. He seems so comfortable. He just wants to touch me, give a little squeeze.
He doesn’t see it for the turning point it is: Our first date won’t be our last.
Smoothing out the mutilated paper napkin I’ve been twisting in my lap, I pay attention to my hands. At least I won’t have sweaty palms. Everything else can go wrong, but I’ll have dry hands through it all.
Spencer’s thumbs act of their own accord as they caress my knuckles. “I’m having a really hard time trying to play it cool,” he says, as if this is a deep, dark secret.
I want to look up, acknowledge his remark, but my eyes have other ideas. They are glued to our clasped hands. Mine dwarfed in his. The gentle circling mesmerizes me as they move up and down and across. A figure eight on its side. Eternity.
My characters would know exactly what to say, of course. They’d play a demure, calculated card and get their man to do exactly what they wanted. They always get their man. It’s the nature of the romance novel beast: Happily ever after ’til death do us part.
As if that’s how it really is. My love life is about as appealing as a broken down car on blocks. It’s the kind of love life friends and neighbors try to ignore.
Come on, Donna. Do something. Say anything. Make him laugh. My eyes cannot stray from those thumbs. I’m tongue-tied and red faced.
He doesn’t seem to mind.
A hint of a Southern drawl, not heard much in Denver, punctuates his words, “When my daddy met my mom for the first time, they ended up spending the entire day at the beach.”
The circling thumbs stop briefly and tap a few times. Spell broken, I raise my eyes to meet his.
“The Redneck Riviera. That’s what they call it. When my mom got into her car to drive home, my daddy laid down in front of her tires until she promised to see him again.”
Heart racing, I feel the warmth of desire rise. Now it’s impossible to look away.
Grinning, Spencer’s cheeks make him look chubby. He’s little-boy cute, with dimples, no less. A little boy in a bear’s body.
Squeezing my hands, he lets go. My own hands dart underneath the table. Twisting, turning, fretting below the surface.
He sloshes the remains of his margarita before taking a final swig.“You can use that if you want. In one of your books?”
I write books. Romance novels, to be precise. My characters are those perfect specimens who’ve never walked the earth except in my imagination. Beautiful people. Rich people. Happy people. The kind of people who while away their days walking hand in hand down cobblestone streets with palm trees swaying against an azure sky.
I hate them.
Who wouldn’t grow tired of living vicariously through characters without experiencing any dreamy delights firsthand?
Spencer’s parting kiss on my doorstep came pretty damn close to dreamy. Licking my lips at the memory, I catch a hint of salt. Ocean spray from the Redneck Riviera.
He’s so tall, I had to hold on to his arms as my pounding heart knocked me off balance. His soft lips parted, and traces of tangy margarita sweetened my mouth.
In sync. That’s how I would have described our first kiss if it was in one of my books.
Opening my mouth, a slight flicker of tongue darted in and out as his hands dug into the nape of my neck. I loved those hungry hands. I loved that hungry mouth.
No matter how badly I wished for it, the kiss did not last forever. He’s on his way home now, but it wasn’t a dream. The rat’s nest at the back of my head is all the evidence I need. I wonder how much lip gloss stained his collar?
Tucking a few stray hairs behind my ear, he had whispered, “You know, I’m capable of drastic measures if necessary to get you to go out with me again.”
Pretending to be shocked, I giggled into his shirt. Stalling for time. What should I say? It felt good resting my forehead on his broad chest. Did he notice I was hiding the crimson rising my cheeks?
He wasn’t finished.
Taking my face gently in his hands, cupping my chin, forcing me to look at him, he said, “My old man taught me a trick or two.”
The cat gripping my tongue dug in its claws. My cheeks burned beneath the strain of smiling all day. Between a few tortilla chips and guacamole, I had nodded and smiled the entire time. Letting him do the talking. Letting him in. It’s been a long time since I’ve felt the tug of love’s promise.
For the heroines in my books, the steady rumblings of a deep infatuation always turn to true love. It’s fate and it’s forever. What it does not turn into is fear.
Watching Spencer walk back to his car, I had reached up and touched the earlobe he had just squeezed. I could fall for this man. I really could. I could fall for him and scrape much more than a knee. I know first hand that broken hearts sting longer than a bruise. No amount of Band-aids could put me back together if I give myself to this man.
He seemed jovial and charming, but maybe he’s like that all the time. This was only a first date. He seemed so taken with me even though all I did was smile.
What do I do now?
For all of my skill in making fictional love blossom and bloom, my real love life has mostly withered on the vine. Sure, I’m petite and plump, but let’s be honest here, I know I put up walls, keeping people out. Most days I’d much rather sit with my laptop and home-brewed latte making up friends and lovers instead of putting in the hard work to nurture real ones.
Now I’ve met Spencer, I have no choice. Calling him two seconds after he left seems desperate. Waiting is impossible. I need to act.
When face-to-face, words may escape me, but I am a wordsmith at heart. It’s time to use the written word for myself. Sitting down, I start with some simple words. Memories from our day together.
That’s better. Feeling the flow from my head to my hands, I let my mind wander. Maybe one of Spencer’s stories can make its way into a new novel.
It’d be a different kind of book, of course. More like a Cialis ad than the typical kind of romance I write. Would my readers be interested in older, more lifelike characters? Maybe.
Sometimes truth is crazier than fiction. So many of my friends do things without thinking. It’s like a gut reaction. Out comes all sorts of nonsense just because they’re caught up in the moment with a new man. Or even their husbands.
I do it too. Ludicrous notions swing up at me like a knee getting hit with a mallet.
Then I blurt them out.
Then I regret it.
It’s an involuntary reflex.
If I try to write about real love instead of traditional romance, my friends’ lives might not be so bad. They’re not the kind of people you see gracing erotica book covers, but they have their moments.
Natalie and Frederick sometimes make me sick, they seem so perfect together. They married each other almost immediately and seem to sustain their passion after all these years. How many now, thirty?
I have no idea how.
I’d hate to see anything come between them, but then again, why not?
Stir up their goose bump happiness and add a splash of Tabasco sauce.