October 29, 2010

Inherit My Heart Chapter Eight

Gavin cleared his throat. "Katrina, you keep assuring me you have no money...not that I am interested in your money...or lack of it. I do wonder—what would you do if you had a substantial amount of money?"

She looked up at Gavin; he was watching her intently. Suspiciously, she studied him.

Finally, he spoke to her again. "Trying to memorize my face for future lonely nights, or are you trying to decide if I am going to trick you into disclosing you have money, after all? Or do you think that if you don't say anything to me, I’ll just go away?"

Katrina sat, still silent, not sure exactly how to answer him.

"Well, I can assure you silence won’t drive me away. I need to know certain things and the faster I find out the true and honest answers; the faster I’ll be gone from your life." His gaze never left her face. His quiet tone of voice gave her no clues if he was being serious or teasing with her.

She decided to answer with the truth and then perhaps he would go away and leave her alone. She lowered her eyes and spoke.

"If I had some money, and I don't know what you mean as a 'substantial' bit but, if I had some that wasn't earmarked for anything, I do have a pet project I'd like to funnel some into." She peeked up at him to gauge his reaction. He was receptive and attentive, so she continued.

"There’s a home for orphans where I volunteer frequently. I’ve been trying to think of a way I could help them raise some much-needed funds. There are things which are overlooked because they aren’t considered necessary. But…" she stopped, unsure of how to tell him of her dream for these children.

"But what?" His prompting was gentle.

Katrina looked at him again and caught a look of surprise on his face. She became embarrassed. She rarely talked about the children to anyone.

"Well?" He prompted her once more. She looked up at him again. Something in his face this time made her continue.

"Well, I'd like to do some different things for them. That's all."

"What things?" His voice softened and she watched his face lose some of its hard planes and angles. Katrina decided to tell him of her dreams. After all, what could it hurt? She wasn't going to see him again, so what did it matter if he thought she was an idiot?

She swallowed, then cleared her throat.

“Well, they have clothing, and food, and some books and toys, but they don’t get to do some of the things that children from regular families do.”

Gavin’s eyes watched her face intently. “Things? Such as what?”

“I’d like to be able to send them to summer camp, or go horseback riding once in a while. Maybe even go to museums, and art galleries, if they want to, or…or take music lessons.”

Katrina went on for some time, telling him about the children as they ate their soup. When she finally wound down, she realized he hadn't spoken during the entire time except to ask an occasional question.

She also realized she had gotten excited about it and was now embarrassed. He’d witnessed how much these children affected her. It was the only thing she felt passionately about anymore, these children without anyone who truly cared about them.

"I'm sorry, Mr. Browning. I shouldn't have spoken quite so freely or so forcibly. I apologize." She kept her eyes lowered and her head slightly bowed. Miserable, she felt he probably thought she was as dumb as Charleston had always told her she was.

"Oh, Katrina, you are indeed one of a kind! Unless you didn’t really mean what you’ve just said, you have no reason to apologize to me or to anyone else for your dreams and hopes.

Katrina raised her head a little, peeping out at him from under her thick, dark lashes. His gaze bore deeply into hers, baring her soul. She quickly dropped her eyes to her plate.

"I meant every word of it. If I had any money, that’s how I'd use a good share of it."

Gavin kept the remainder of their conversation throughout dinner to innocuous subjects and she began to relax for the first time in his presence. They talked on various topics and Katrina was glad she was an avid reader. She could at least converse with this extremely intelligent and handsome man sitting across the table from her without embarrassing herself. Some subjects had even brought an energetic debate of their different opinions, but it was both fun and exhilarating.

Nothing in her life had made her think she could ever have this much fun with a lawyer.

The lawyer part made her uneasy, but he had said he wasn't suing her. She could think of no other reason he would be here unless Charleston was in a great deal of trouble.

"What is it, Katrina? Something wrong with the food?" He smiled at her.

"What? Oh, no. The food is excellent, Gavin. Forgive me. I must have been daydreaming for a moment."

"It must have been a terribly unpleasant dream, Little One. It brought a frown to your lovely countenance."

Katrina looked up to see if he was teasing her yet again, but he looked completely serious.

"Please trust me, Katrina. Confide your troubles in me. Let me help you all I can." His eyes seemed to send warmth into her.

Katrina let it wash over her, making her feel safe. She hadn't felt safe in years, she reflected. Not really. Not since she'd found out about the preacher. Not since Charleston had laughed at her for being such a green girl and being so easily duped. Not since the night Robert came. She shuddered with the thought.

Gavin took her hand. "How bad was it, Little One? How terrible to be his wife? What did he do to you?"

Katrina saw Charleston's features swim before her eyes and the horror of her life with him lashed out at her, cutting at her momentary peace of mind. The pain of her thoughts twisted her stomach, uncomfortably squeezing the exotic food she’d just consumed. She yanked her hand out of Gavin's and shakily rose. Excusing herself, she almost ran to the ladies' room. Once there, she retched several times, losing her very expensive dinner. She felt so sick. Why, oh why did he have to remind her about Charleston?

October 27, 2010

Inherit My Heart Chapter Seven

They drove to one of the better restaurants in town. It was one Katrina had heard about from people at the office, but felt she couldn’t even walk in the door because their prices and her budget were each in a separate universe.

They entered the restaurant and Gavin gave his name to the MaƮtre d'. They were shown to a table in a secluded corner. The wine list and menus were left with them and Gavin pored over it. Finally, he broke the silence hanging between them by asking her which of two particular wines she would prefer.

She lightly blushed. "I, ah, don't drink wine, Mr. Browning. Please, feel free to have something yourself, though."

Gavin looked at her with an inscrutable expression for a long moment.

Katrina squirmed uncomfortably.

"So, we're back to formalities, are we?"

Caught off-balance by his question, her discomfort left and puzzlement took its place. Then, she realized to what he was referring and blushed furiously. "Oh. Sorry, Mr….er…Gavin." Her eyes dropped to the table, her nerveless fingers toying beneath its edge with the hem of the sparkling white linen tablecloth.

"You really don't drink wine, or are you afraid if you drink with me tonight you’ll lose a few inhibitions?"

There was a bit of sarcasm to his voice, but there was also a twinkle in his eyes as she glanced up at him. Katrina truly didn't know how to take this man. She was definitely out of her depth. Feeling breathless from his intense scrutiny, she took a deep breath and tried to slow her heart rate by mentally telling it to relax and beat normally, and dropped her eyes back to her lap. The constriction in her chest was still there. She was afraid she wouldn’t be able to eat and then he would twit her for that, as well.

"Well, Katrina? I'm waiting for an answer."

"What?" She lifted her eyes and caught his solemn regard. She blushed once again and finished her answer. "Oh. No, I truly don't drink wine, or any alcohol at all. I don't mind if you do, though. Go ahead. I...maybe I could have some mineral water…" Katrina's voice trailed away uncertainly and her eyes dropped back to her hands. She took a deep breath. "Please, Mr…Gavin, go ahead and have something if you would like."

"Thank you." This time his voice was really sarcastic.

Katrina turned questioning eyes to his, wondering if she had committed some terrible social blunder. She felt so hopelessly out of her league. She really had no experience in this sort of thing. Charleston had always been quick to point out her faults, especially in this area.

As she watched Gavin, his eyes softened and he said, "My word, you're completely serious, aren't you?" The surprise was evident on his face and in his voice.

"Yes. Did…did I say something wrong?" Katrina was truly vexed with her inexperience in his presence. Why did she have to be so limited in her worldly knowledge? She felt she had learned a lot since being married to Charleston, but when she looked at this handsome male across from her, she knew she was still woefully ignorant.

The wine steward came for their order and Gavin said they both would just have mineral water. The gratuity Gavin surreptitiously handed him smoothed over any ruffled feathers the steward may have had. He gave them a tiny bow and a sincere smile, then left with a promise to send the waiter momentarily.

Katrina looked at the menu. She gasped as she saw the exotic prices for the dinners which were proffered. They were even higher than she’d heard. She peeped over the top of the menu at Gavin to assess his reaction to the prices she termed 'exorbitant' in her mind. He had not even raised an eyebrow as he suggested an entree.

She looked back at the menu, noticing the price of his suggestion was in the higher of the brackets of the offered fare. She chose a dinner less in price, remembering with a twinge the statement she’d made to her mirror. He might be paying for dinner for her, but she could not make him pay such a ridiculous amount for food for one meal and enjoy eating. She felt guilty, knowing that for what he would spend tonight for this dinner, she could eat for a full week.

The waiter came and Katrina marveled at how easily Gavin ordered their dinner. As the waiter left, Gavin looked at her. He must have sensed some of the trepidation she was feeling regarding the prices. "Don't worry about it, Katrina. I won't go broke for this meal."

"But, Gavin, it's so expensive here."

"If it will make you feel better, I'm on an expense account. Okay?" A half-smile appeared on his face, making him look a bit devilish.

"That doesn't make it right to spend so much money on a single dinner, Gavin. In fact, you should be more careful with someone else's money than you are with your own. Doesn't your employer watch those things and question you about it? That's a great deal of money we're costing someone tonight!"

Gavin looked at Katrina and amusement lit his face. He smiled at her fully, and she caught her breath. What a dazzling smile! His dimples were entrancing. She felt her bones turn to mush.

"Katrina Lee McSwayne, you are truly unique. What an uncomplicated person you are. It’s refreshing to find someone who isn’t out for everything they can get!" He scooped her hand up in his. He patted it, then held it firmly, rubbing the underside of her wrist with his thumb as he did so. The shock that went careening through her was enough to turn her blood to liquid fire. She tried to snatch her hand away, but Gavin held it fast.

"Katrina." His voice broke into her thoughts.

"What?" Katrina tried again to get free of his hold on her.

"Please. Don't worry so much about money. I am not here to ask you for any. I have no idea where you got the notion, but it’s wrong. This dinner is not going to cause me any problems either with money or with my employer. I have," he grinned wolfishly at her, "spent a great deal more for clients' dinners."

"Clients? Am I your client?" Her face became pensive.

"In a way, but not exactly." He was fully amused at the audible gasp she let out. "Let me set your mind at ease just a little. I am a lawyer on an assignment. I think the word you would probably use is 'case'."

Then it registered in her befuddled brain what he had said. He was a lawyer.

"I…I…you…you…." She floundered to a stop, going cold all over.

"That doesn't make much sense. I, I, you, you. You're going to have to be just a little more specific. Why exactly does it frighten you that I’m a lawyer? I told you I wasn't after you for any money, and I mean that." His face was kind, his smile reassuring. It didn't help much.

"La...lawyers usually...mean that...that..." she stopped to swallow, her throat working hard to accomplish the simple task of speaking a few words.

"That what?" He held his face serious, his eyes full of something Katrina could only guess at...and she didn't like her guesses. Her eyes lowered, her head bowed.

"That people...are in trouble...getting sued...and going to jail…and things."

He used his other hand to lift her chin until her eyes came up to meet his, his face serious.

"Katrina, I'm a contract lawyer, not a criminal lawyer. I don’t send people to jail, or keep them out of it. I deal with contracts and other legal paperwork for people. And although,” he said quietly, “I do occasionally find myself in court over broken contracts, I’m not in the habit of taking people I'm currently suing to dinner."

He looked deeply into her face, once again rubbing his thumb across the inner portion of her wrist, then smiled softly.

"In this instance, however, if it were the case," he added with a wicked grin, "I might just have had to make an exception!"

Great amusement danced in his eyes, and Katrina could feel the hot blood rushing to her cheeks. She berated herself for blushing yet again.

The waiter came then, bringing a welcomed interruption and the soup course of their dinner. Katrina didn't know whether to be relieved or disappointed that Gavin had let go of her hand at the intrusion, but it was definitely easier to breathe without his touch.

October 25, 2010

Inherit My Heart Chapter Six

Katrina slammed her bedroom door and yanked open the closet to survey the meager contents of her wardrobe.

'Something classic, not too fancy.' Gavin's words rang in her brain.

"What a joke. I don't have anything fancy, nor do I have anything that could even remotely be considered classic," Katrina muttered.

She sighed as, she took out her only good dress. It was an old black knit that was tailored on good lines, so it didn't appear too out-dated. She looked carefully at it. Was it good enough? She held it up to herself, looking in the mirror, trying to judge the effect of the dress.

Quiet strains of a tune being whistled wafted through her bedroom door. Reminded of his threat, she decided it would have to do. Her dime-store pearl necklace would dress it up.

Quickly she changed clothes and hurried into the bathroom to complete her toilet, his whistle being the impetus for her high-speed motion.

Now, more than ever, she appreciated having a good cut to her soft brown hair. She smoothed on a pale, frosty pink lip gloss, added just a touch of color above her eyes and mascara to her lashes. Taking a look in the mirror, Katrina felt horribly inadequate for this evening, regardless of what he had in mind...even if it were only staying home. She did not feel up to this night in the least degree.

Katrina checked her reflected image. Was she a mouse or a marshmallow? A marshmallow just sat there, but a mouse, though timid and inclined to hide in corners and tremble, could at least move. Looking directly into her mirrored eyes, she squared her shoulders, her chin coming up just a little with renewed determination.

"Katrina Lee McSwayne, don't you dare let him get the best of you! You have paid enough. Do not let Mr. Gavin Browning scare you out of any money, or any information he doesn't absolutely have to have to get him out of your hair and out of your life. Now, go out there and make him buy you the biggest steak or the most expensive item on the menu and have yourself a grand old time. You don't get chances like this very often. And smile...a lot." She gave herself a smile that looked more confident than it felt and left the bathroom.

Katrina walked into the living room.

Gavin was standing with his back to the room, staring out the window. She stopped just inside the door, looking at Gavin. Now that he’d made her say his name, it came more easily to the mind.

“Gavin,” she tried it out, liking the way his name felt on her tongue. 'He would be marvelous to come home to each night.' Unbidden, the thought flashed through her mind. It brought a furious blush to her cheeks. 'It's a good thing that he can't read your thoughts, you foolish girl,' she chided herself.

Just at that moment, he turned. “Yes?”

Oh no! She’d said his name out loud. “I…I’m ready, if this dress will do.”

She watched his face carefully, trying to read his reaction to her dress. She saw his eyes widen a little and it seemed to her he caught his breath for a moment, but that was only a fleeting impression. She disregarded it almost as fast as it had come to her. Why would he react in that manner to a virtual stranger? Especially her? And in this old dress? It was a ridiculous thought.

Gavin stood still, just watching her. It was almost as if he was trying to memorize her in this setting. She looked down at her dress. Suddenly she was filled with many doubts.

"Am I…? Do I…? I...hope this is...all right. You didn't give me a whole lot of time, or notice, either, come to that." She looked up and offered a tentative smile.

He stood still, just looking at her.

She suddenly felt very dowdy and insignificant. She looked at her toes, noticing that even her shoes looked worn. Keeping her eyes downcast, she took a deep breath and spoke.

"If...if...” she swallowed, trying to keep her voice from showing how nervous she was. "Um...if I don't look...that is, if my dress isn't...well, if you'd rather stay here than be seen in public with me, I'll understand. I don't have any fancy clothes. I...don't go many places where I need fancy things." She finished in a rush, knowing if she didn't say it fast, she would never get it out.

Still silent, Gavin walked over to stand in front of her. He put a finger under her chin and raised her face until he was able to look directly into her eyes. He looked at her hard, pinning her gaze with his, as if he were trying to see if she were being facetious or just plain rude. His eyes still locked with hers, Gavin put his hands on her shoulders, holding her at arm's length for a moment. He shook his head.

"You're really serious, aren't you?" he asked her incredulously.

She nodded, licking her dry lips in her nervousness.

"Oh, Katrina," he groaned, "don't you know?" Without waiting for an answer to his question, he pulled her close to him, crushing her to his chest. His lips sought hers in a deep kiss, moving over them with a roughness that kindled a raging desire in her. His hands slid around to her back, moving gently but firmly up and down, molding her to him, as if he couldn't pull her close enough.

His tongue parted her soft lips and plundered the sweetness he found there. Katrina's body shivered with the fire racing through her veins. She felt she would be consumed by the heat spreading throughout her body. She could feel the desire in him mount and become more demanding, more urgent; could feel her own desire match his.

Finally, he broke away and set her at arm's length again, his hands once again on her shoulders. His breathing was ragged and his eyes were darkened with their passion. If he let go of her, Katrina knew she would collapse in a heap at his feet. There wasn’t enough strength in her legs to keep her upright under her own power. She felt she had just run a mile without stopping, her breathing as ragged as his.

Katrina opened her mouth to speak, questions filling her mind. Gavin looked in her eyes and put a finger to her lips.

"Hush, Little One. Don't spoil it with questions. Not yet. Not now. Let's get out of here." He took her hand and hurried her to the front door, picking up her jacket and purse on the way. As he opened the front door for them to leave, he turned to her, once more looking deeply into her eyes.

"Katrina, I'm both proud and happy to be seen with you in public, or anywhere. You look…" his eyes roamed over her for another moment, then a grin split his handsome face, sending additional shock waves through her system. "Delicious."

Grabbing her arm he hustled her out the door, slamming it quickly behind him. Taking her keys from his pocket, he locked the door, then handed them to her with admonition.

‘You shouldn’t leave your keys dangling in your lock,” he said with a wicked grin. “Anybody may come along and take them.”

She took the keys silently and dropped them into her handbag, snapping it closed automatically’ Normally she wasn’t being harangued as she opened her front door, so the likelihood of her repeating that mistake was small. She bit her lip to keep from answering the totally unfair accusation. She looked up at him and caught a look on his face which sent her thoughts spinning. He turned and guided her down the steps and along the walk to his car.

Katrina was in a total state of confusion. She didn't know how to take the man now seated beside her. He was so changeable. One moment, he was tender and gentle with her, the next minute he was insulting her. One thing about it, she wasn't bored by him. His mercurial changes meant she had to be on her toes with him. She found it exhilarating. And scary. Very, very scary.

Gavin drove with his eyes straight ahead and did not even acknowledge she was anywhere near him. Katrina turned and stared out the window, but was more aware of the man beside her than the passing scenery. She was highly unsettled by his actions. She didn't want to find out why he was here, because it had something to do with Charleston, but she was glad for whatever reason had brought them together. She couldn't deny the electrical shocks which bolted through her each time he touched her. Nor could she ignore the maelstrom of emotions that flew through her when he kissed her. She sighed, wondering what the evening would bring.

October 22, 2010

Inherit My Heart Chapter Five

Katrina could barely concentrate on her work this morning. Each time her phone rang, she jumped. She didn't want to answer it; worried it would be Mr. Browning. Then she’d laugh at herself because he didn’t have her work number. Then she’d scare herself again by reasoning if he found out where she lived, it made sense he’d know where she worked. What would she say if he really did call her? What would he ask about? What if he found out about the preacher? What if this? What if that? What if? What? It was beginning to drive her crazy, all the questions tumbling together in her mind.

She looked at the file in her hands, barely knowing how it got there. Sighing, she tried to figure out what it was she needed to do with it. The phone on her desk buzzed and she reached reluctantly and picked up the receiver.

"Katrina speaking."

"Katrina, my own private enigma."

It was Mr. Browning. Katrina sucked in her breath and said nothing. She tried to steady her nerves; it was impossible. Her stomach felt like it had just dropped through the floor. The silence stretched forever.


Katrina's mouth was dry; she tried several times to swallow, before finally forcing the words from her throat.

"Uh, well, what?"

"Well, what have you to say for yourself this morning?"

"I…I'm not sure…what you mean."

"Oh?" The single word came out very clipped.

Katrina sighed. "Please, Mr. Browning,” she said, her voice so shaky she could hear it in her words. "If you need something, say so. If you don't, please don't call me anymore…at least, not at work."

“I thought I told you to call me Gavin. Why don’t you try it once? It won’t hurt you to say it.”


“But nothing. My name is Gavin. Use it.”

“All right, Mr….um, Gavin.”

His low chuckle twisted her stomach into tighter knots.

"We have some things to discuss, you and I, Katrina. When can you get away?"

"Not until five o'clock. Working girls don’t have the power to set their own hours, you know." Her try for a light note fell abysmally flat, Gavin’s long silence proved that.

"Five o'clock it is. Tonight, I'd like to take you out to dinner."

"I don't think so, but thanks, anyway."

"It's only fair, you know. After all, you fixed hot chocolate for me last night, so it’s my turn to treat you."

"I don't think it's necessary. In fact, why don't you just call me tonight and we'll discuss your questions over the phone?" she pleaded.

"No, thank you. It's too easy for you to hang up on me for one thing, and for another, I want to see you." Gavin paused. "I mean, I want to see your reaction to each question. That way, you tell me twice as much as you do with only words. Your face is an open book, my dear."

"Gavin, I don't think that it’s…uh, wise for us…I mean, I think it would be much better if you, uh, just call me. I…I promise you I won't hang up until you’re satisfied with the answers I have given. Okay?" She finished her words with a rush.

Gavin chuckled. "Oh, no you don't. You can't get off that easily. Nice try, though. If you don't trust yourself, that's the price you have to pay to get rid of me…and I know how much you want to do that! I'll be at your work at five. See you then."

"It’ll be silly for you to come here. I have my car to drive and Jerilynn is riding home with me as well…."

Katrina realized she was talking to a dead line.

"Blast it!" she swore, slamming the phone into its cradle, “Now he’s hung up on me!”

Now what was she going to do? Numbly, she looked at the file still in her hand. What was she supposed to be doing with it? She could tell it was going to be a long, rotten day. Blast the man, anyway!

Her mind had spent much of the day sprinting between half-formed thoughts in jumbled sequences, as if the motion and speed would stay the impending interview.

With twenty minutes to go she finally gave up even the pretense of work and cleared her desk. She picked up the phone and dialed Jerilynn’s extension. Perhaps they could get away a moment or two early, or at least right on the button of five. Gavin might be a few minutes late. They could make good their escape and she'd be free for a bit longer.

Katrina didn't even question why the thought didn't make her all that happy. One thing she did know was the emotional see-saw she had been riding all day was driving her insane.

Jerilynn answered her call and was ready to leave. Within minutes, the two women were walking out of the building, a scant ten minutes before the hour. Katrina congratulated herself on her luck and good planning in evading Gavin, at least for another round.

Katrina looked around and, not seeing Gavin, smiled as she hurried her friend to her small, black, battered car. They got in quickly and she started the motor.

"From what, or should I say from whom, are we running?" Amusement twinkled and danced in Jerilynn’s blue eyes as she looked speculatively at Katrina.

"Oh, nobody in particular," Katrina airily lied. She put the car in reverse to back out of the parking space, looking over her shoulder to watch for traffic behind her.

Jerilynn laughed gaily and said, "Oh, Katrina! What a fib! And, if I'm not mistaken, Mr. 'Nobody-In-Particular' has just arrived and caught you." She touched Katrina's shoulder and pointed to the tall man just stepping from a car parked almost directly in front of them.

Katrina jerked her head around to look where Jerilynn was pointing. It was Gavin.

"Blast it!" Katrina swore as she put the brake on and waited for him to come around to her window.

"Going somewhere, Katrina?" His face was smiling, but his eyes were hard as diamonds.

"Ah, yes." Nervously she licked her lips and then blushed as she saw his eyes watching her tongue. "I…I was just taking Jerilynn home. She rode with me this morning." She smiled only on the surface, her heart pounding in her chest so hard she feared it would leap out of her rib cage at any second.

"Fine. I'll follow you home, then we'll go ahead with our plans." He turned so quickly, she didn't have time to decline his offer yet again, this time in front of a witness.

"Blast it!" Once more, the words exploded from her mouth. "Blast it all to pieces!" She released the brake and finished backing out, deliberately not looking in his direction.

Jerilynn was shocked.

"Katrina, I don't believe I have ever heard you so upset before in my life! Do I dare ask why you are trying so hard to get away from such a magnificent hunk as that? Or do I just direct you to the nearest mental institution, knowing full well you must have lost your senses to turn down an offer…any offer…from him." The envy now dripping from her words was unmistakable.

"You can have him with my blessings; just get him out of my life." She took a deep breath and expelled it with force.

"Is he a woman-beater?" Envy turned to incredulousness. "I mean, what other reason could you possibly have for wanting to get rid of him? None that I would ever believe! Oh, Mama, you told me there'd be men who looked like that, but I didn't believe you, until now." She turned around in her seat to look at him in the car close behind.

"Jerilynn, you have no idea…he's…he's…" Katrina faltered to a halt.

"He's handsome, he's gorgeous, he's everything you could ask for in a man. He has to be rich…did you notice his clothes? And look at his car, would you? A Jaguar, for pity sakes! He's a perfect hunk of a man and you're out of your ever-loving mind to be trying to get away from him. How long have you known him? Where did you meet him? When are going to introduce me? Does he have a twin brother? It doesn’t even need to be a twin, just tell me there’s more like him at home. Have a heart, Katrina!" Jerilynn's voice pleaded with anguish.

“Knowing you, if I did introduce you, you’d be so tongue tied it would take a stick of dynamite to pry your lips open for more than three words in a row.”

"I know," Jerilynn mourned, "but I can dream, can't I?"

Katrina had to laugh. "Oh, Jerilynn, you're such a treasure. You don't even know what he's like."

"Well," her friend demanded, "what is he like?"

"Well, he's…he's…um…well, ah…I really don't know that myself, to tell the truth. I only met him last night."

Katrina remembered the feel of his lips on hers, the electricity that shot through her veins when he touched her…the musky male scent of him.

"Katrina, you're blushing positively purple! Tell me what's he like?" She ended on a squeaky note.

Katrina mentally sighed with relief as they pulled up to Jerilynn's apartment complex. "Well, here you are. Are you going to need a ride tomorrow?"

"What a cop-out! No fair! And no, I won't need a ride tomorrow, my mechanic is delivering my car in about an hour. How about lunch tomorrow? We can talk about Mr. Nobody-in-Particular." Jerilynn gestured over her shoulder at the Jag waiting patiently behind them. She opened the door, but hesitated, waiting for Katrina's answer.

"If I think of something to tell you, I certainly will. Now you better scoot; you’ve got to primp for your mechanic."

Jerilynn blushed. "You're exasperating, do you know that? I'll see you tomorrow for lunch, you can bet on that." Jerilynn stepped from Katrina’s car, bending to look in at her friend. "Have a great evening, you two." With a giggle, she straightened and shut the door. Katrina pulled away from the curb, wishing she dared just to keep on driving and not go home at all.

She knew it would be an exercise in futility, however. The more quickly she got this over with, the better it would be and the sooner she would be free of this very disturbing man. Somehow, though, that thought did not give her the comfort it should have.

Katrina was of two minds about Gavin. She wanted to be in public, so the kissing would not take place again. Much as she had enjoyed it, she didn't trust herself and her desires where he was concerned. The man filled her veins with liquid fire and it was difficult to think. At the same time, she did not want the questions being asked in a public place. She wasn’t sure of the answers she would have to give, nor how deeply the questions would cut. Unsure of her reactions, she didn't want to cry in public.

Sighing, Katrina parked in her driveway and got out of her old black car. She stood by the car's door and watched him coming toward her. The blood in her veins picked up speed. He was, without doubt, the sexiest man she had ever seen. Jerilynn was right; he was a hunk.

He spoke as he neared her. "Okay, Katrina. Be ready to leave for dinner in exactly,” he consulted his watch, "twelve minutes. Wear something classic, but not too fancy."

"Please, Gavin, do we have to go somewhere? Can't we just stay here tonight? I could answer all of your questions and then you could be on your way. You wouldn't have to be burdened with my presence any longer than necessary." She earnestly searched his face, trying to read it.

"Do you actually want to take the chance of being alone with me for several hours? Do you trust me? Or would it suit your purposes so you can make another play for me?"

She opened her mouth to give a biting retort.

"You now have only eleven minutes,” he said. “If you aren't ready, I'll come into your bedroom and personally help you to dress. That is a promise of fact, not a threat. I'd advise you to move. Fast."

Katrina took another precious second to stare hard at his face, his look fierce, unreadable.

She decided he wasn’t being flippant…he really meant it. She turned and fled. She prayed her door wouldn't give her trouble today. It didn't. Thank heaven for huge favors.

She ran inside, not bothering to close the door properly, as she knew he was right behind her. She even left her keys dangling in the lock. The mental image of his helping her to dress was more terrifying than the fear of not checking the house, or of leaving the door unbolted.

'Ten minutes left!' her mind shouted. 'Hurry, hurry, HURRY!'

October 20, 2010

Inherit My Heart Chapter Four

A bucket of icy water thrown fully into her face could not have produced any more of a deterrent to her wayward thoughts than that last sentence. The panic returned full force. What exactly did this stranger know about her? She shoved her hands against his chest as hard as she could. She hadn’t enough strength to move him, but after a long moment, he got the idea and stepped back, releasing her from the alcove. She bolted for her chair.

Katrina was at a loss as to what to do. Her hands were moving nervously in her lap, always a tell-tale sign of her distress. When finally he spoke, she jumped at the sound.

"Do you think I could have some coffee or tea?"

"Wh...what? Oh. I...I don't have either one. I could fix you some hot chocolate. Or I have some cold juice."

"Chocolate will be fine, thank you. Make two cups." It was not a question, but an order. She didn’t really care. It was easier to bear his nearly overwhelming presence if she had something specific to do, something to keep her busy.

Katrina practically flew into the kitchen. Her hands were shaking as she filled her old battered teapot with water and set it on the burner. She turned to the cupboard for the chocolate and found Mr. Browning standing in the doorway, watching her.

She went cold all over, swayed with a sudden dizziness and reached for the counter. In an instant he was at her side, a supporting hand under her elbow.

"Are you all right?" Concern filled his eyes and softened his voice. At her nod he relaxed a bit, still holding her, but more gently. Taking a deep breath, she found her voice.

"I'm fine, really. You just...startled me. I…didn't hear you follow me in here...that's all. Sorry. If you'll go out into the living room, I'll bring your chocolate to you as soon as it's ready." She looked up at Mr. Browning uncertainly.

Still holding her elbow, he watched her intently. "What is it with you, Katrina McSwayne?" His hold tightened on her arm. "I can't figure you out." Katrina bit her lip to keep from crying out at the pain his fingers were inflicting. She'd probably have bruises tomorrow, and wondered briefly if he would care.

"I'm afraid I don't know what you mean, Mr. Browning."

"Please stop with the formality. After all, we're not exactly strangers anymore. My name's Gavin." His voice dripped sarcasm.

She examined his face, but couldn’t read his expression. "I don't know what you mean by that, either. I've never set eyes on you until a few minutes ago. To me, we are still very much strangers."

"You mean you let strangers come into your home and kiss you, just like that? My, my, my...how indiscriminate you are. You should be more careful. Somebody might just take advantage of you." His voice was hard and cruel.

The teapot began to whistle, breaking the tension. He stepped away as she moved to take the noisy pot from the burner, turning off the flames with her other hand.

Katrina retrieved the can of cocoa. Shakily, she took it, moving away from him to prepare the beverage. She took a small glass pitcher from another cupboard and dumped the ingredients into it. Her eyes were blurred with tears of confusion and panic, and it was hard for her to see how much sugar she was adding to the rich brown powder. Her hands were trembling. Her heart was beating so loudly he had to be able to hear it from across the room where he was standing. Katrina felt as if she were moving in slow motion as she struggled for some semblance of peace to her chaotic emotions.

At last it was ready, but she had gained little control over her feelings. She laid two paper napkins on the table, put cups on top of them, poured the chocolate from the pitcher, and waited until he was seated before sitting across from him.

Katrina looked away from him, concentrating on taking small sips from the cup in front of her rather than look at him again. He watched her, which only succeeded in making her more nervous than ever. Katrina could not think of a thing to say. The silence stretched forever and became nearly impossible to bear.

Finally, his cocoa gone, he spoke. "Thank you for a very nice cup of chocolate. The company was a little sparse, however. Do you never talk unless you’ve been spoken to?" He quizzed her, a quirk of a smile playing hide-and-seek with the corners of his mouth.

"I...I... didn’t quite...um...know what you want to talk about." Miserably, she looked at the half-empty cup in front of her. Her throat was closed and she was amazed she hadn't choked on the few sips she had been able to force down.

"Come now, like anyone, I talk on almost any subject. I am not an uneducated man. Surely you must have some interests you enjoy talking about? Speak to me of those."

Katrina sat, still looking at her cup. Words would not come. She really didn't know what to say to this man. She didn't know him and the things she did want to know, she didn't dare bring up. She heartily wished he would go away and let her be.

The silence stretched again and she felt more uncomfortable than ever. He stood, placing his paper napkin beside his cup. He muttered under his breath. The words were almost indiscernible, but Katrina thought she heard him say, “He was a fool to let you slip away.”

Katrina didn’t understand what he was talking about, but wasn’t about to inquire, either. She was afraid of what the answer would be. She frowned.

She stood with a sigh and started to gather the cups. His hand clamped on her wrist. Startled, her eyes flew to his face and she licked her dry lips.

Suddenly, she was being crushed to his chest, her lips once more his willing captive. This was not a soft, gentle kiss. It was far deeper, and much more; hot, hungry, nearly savage in its intensity. Answering fire raging in her veins robbed her of the will to fight.

She just stood, giving in to his kiss, knowing she would regret it later, thoroughly enjoying it now.

Her arms, of their own volition, crept up around his neck. Her senses were reeling. She had never felt like this when Charleston had kissed her, not even when she was newly in love with him. Passion burned clear through to her soul.

Suddenly, roughly, she found herself set aside. The sense of loss was as deep a shock to her as the kiss had been. Katrina looked up at him, but only saw the back of his head as he strode from the room.

What was happening? Why did he do that; kiss her then push her away? She must not kiss very well. Charleston used to tease her about her inexperience. Toward the end, he'd badgered her about it.

Katrina decided that must be why Gavin put her aside; her lack of experience must still show. Well, she hadn't kissed anyone since she had fled Charleston, so it was quite understandable. It hurt more than she wanted to admit, but at least she could understand it. Or maybe she really was the cold, unresponsive woman Charleston had always accused her of being.

Katrina sighed and took the cups to the sink. She shook her head to clear it, then slowly followed him into the living room. He was standing at the window next to the folding table she used for a desk. His back was to the room.

Katrina quietly went to her chair and sat down. She knew the questioning would have to take place, then he would go away and leave her in peace. Peace? She looked at him filling the small room with his very presence. Her tiny home would never be the same after he left. She didn't want him to go, but she was terrified he would stay. She had to know what he knew about her, though, and why he was here.

He suddenly turned to face her and she jumped at the unexpected movement. He looked at her and there was pain in his face.

"Oh, Katrina, what am I going to do with you? An enigma. That's what you are. Your kind should not be turned loose on an unsuspecting world! Do you realize that?"

Quietly, she looked at him, wondering what she did wrong.

He looked at her and groaned.

"There ought to be a law, Katrina Lee McSwayne! There ought to be one just for you!"

"I'm sorry for whatever it is I've done wrong, Mr. Browning. And I'm sorry I'm not very...good at...kissing." This last was a mere whisper, the misery heavily stamped in each word. Shocked at her own words, Katrina looked at her fingers nervously fiddling in her lap. She wasn’t brave enough to look at him.

His laughter rang out, surprising and confusing her all the more. Shame goaded a response from her.

"What...why are you laughing at me?" She blinked rapidly to keep from crying.

He stooped down, coming to a level even with her eyes. His face was all hard planes and angles again, his voice a little rough.

"What is your game, Katrina McSwayne? You obviously know why I'm here and you are going to play it for all you're worth, aren't you? The innocent, the siren, the tearful little girl, I wonder what’s next?" His savagery bit into her, tearing at her already badly frayed nerves.

"I don't know why you're here!" she protested, her tears spilling over. "I don't know anything about you except your name and that you've asked me about my husb...about Charleston. That's all I know. I don't know about a game. I don't play games. I don't even know how to play games. Not people games and politics games and that kind of stuff. I just don't know how! What I do know is that it's late and I'm tired and I wish you'd go away and leave me alone. Please!"

He looked at her a long moment then stood and removed a fine linen handkerchief from his pocket and placed it in her hand. Confused, she looked from the handkerchief to his face. He sighed, took it from her, knelt and gently dried her tears.

Finished, he shook his head. "If you’re for real, Katrina, I know how it happened." He made a clicking noise with his tongue and touched her cheek softly with one knuckle.

"Such an innocent!" He looked deeply into her eyes. "Or an excellent actress!"

As she made to protest, he held up his hand to stop her speaking. "You're right. It is late. I'm going to leave now, but I will be back after I do some more checking." He stood, collected his coat and walked to the door, unlocking it, then closing it gently behind him.

Katrina was a mass of confusion and unanswered questions, but of one thing she was certain. He'd be back.

Suddenly, her heart sang.

October 18, 2010

Inherit My Heart Chapter Three

Katrina stood looking at him, trying to judge the real reason for his being on her doorstep. She swallowed hard. He was of a much better class than most of the people who had come to her in the past in connection with Charleston.

Shakily, she held onto the door for support, swallowing convulsively.

"Please," she said. She could feel her lips trembling and bit them from the inside for just a moment before continuing. "I told you I have no money. Please, leave me alone."

“You really don’t have much of a choice, you know. I’m here on legitimate legal business and if you don’t cooperate with me now and answer a few questions, I can always return with a police officer and a court injunction which will force you to let me in and to talk with me. Then, we’d also have an audience for your answers.”

She felt the blood leave her face, but still she didn’t move, rooted with dread. She was afraid of a great many things, and a lawyer on her doorstep asking about Charleston comprised most of them.

His voice softened. "Look, Ms. McSwayne. I haven't grown a second head, at least not in the past five minutes. I also refuse to answer any of the questions churning in your pretty little head until I have been invited in and am sitting down. It has been a long and tiring day. I promise that I will not," he added with a smile, "take advantage of my greater physical strength to cause you harm or assault you. I prefer the favors I am given are just that...given. Not taken."

Hands shaking, Katrina closed the door enough to slide the chain free, then opened the door wide enough to admit his broad shoulders. Gavin stepped past her.

Katrina hastily closed the door, bolting it behind him. She wondered what the use was of locking the door with the danger on the inside of it, but her long established habit carried her fingers through their usual ritual. He might be dangerous to her mentally, but there was something about him...a feeling of safety, and...something more which caught her interest. Somehow, she knew he wouldn’t harm her person.

Katrina hoped if she gave him all the answers he thought he needed, he would go away and leave her alone. She felt a brief flicker of depression, and wondered why.

She’d barely laid eyes on the man. What would it matter if she never saw him again? If he knew Charleston, it would be much better if she didn’t. But he hadn’t said he knew Charleston. All he’d actually said was that he needed to ask her questions about Charleston. It may be a different matter entirely. If he didn’t know Charleston, it might be all right if she saw him again. The notion brought a pleasant fluttering in her midsection, but Katrina didn’t pause to examine the thought closely.

She led him to the living room and motioned him toward the couch. He set his briefcase on the floor, then peeled off his coat, laying it over the armrest before he sat.

She went to one of a pair of chairs across from him and quietly seated herself, her trembling hands folded together so he couldn’t see how badly she was shaken by his mere presence. She kept her eyes on the floor, not really knowing what to say, not even daring to look at him.

"He was out of his mind to let you slip out of his grasp," he said.

His words startled her. Katrina took a quick glance at his smiling face, then looked down at her hands. She didn't dare look up again. His eyes said things to her that she hadn't been told in a very long time.

Mr. Browning was quiet. Katrina became more uncomfortable as the silence went on and on. Finally, she gathered her courage and glanced up, catching a very soft look on his face.

The ringing of the telephone startled Katrina, but it also gave her something to do. She quickly stood and walked to the small nook which held the phone, sitting placidly on its directory, and answered it.

"Hello, Katrina speaking."

“Katrina? Jerilynn. The mechanic says the stupid part finally came in. He’ll install it tomorrow. I hate to impose again, but could you possibly…?”

"Sure, Jerilynn, no problem. I can be there by 7:20."

“Oh, Katrina, you’re wonderful! I don’t know how to thank you…and I promise to be ready on time tomorrow.”

Katrina smiled. "Okay, see you then. 'Bye." She replaced the receiver and turned back toward her chair.

Mr Browning had moved. He was standing directly behind her, close enough that she found herself almost in his arms. She felt dwarfed by him. She looked up into his face. Her startled eyes saw warmth there, and something else...but the fleeting look was gone before she had a chance to identify it.

Katrina held her breath. He was too close. He smelled...sexy. The idea was strange to her; she had never thought someone could smell sexy.

She watched him look at her. He drew even nearer. It was like a slow-motion movie. She couldn’t move. She felt like a bird, hypnotized by a snake. She could feel the danger but was powerless to resist. He slowly bent towards her and she knew he was going to kiss her.

Suddenly, she wanted just that, and tilted her face toward him. He captured her lips with his own. It was a very soft, sensuous feeling...his lips on hers, his mustache just brushing her upper lip. She felt herself whirling and drowning in his slight embrace. She wanted it to go on forever. She couldn't remember a time she had been kissed with so much feeling or gentleness.

The slight movement of his arm as it came up to hold her was a small distraction, but it was enough to restore some of her senses and she pulled away. She’d enjoyed the kiss and felt humiliated as hot blood washed over her face; she was blushing again. How could she let a total stranger into her home and then kiss him like that without a fight? She looked at the floor.

"Please." Her voice was a mere whisper. "Don't do that." She swallowed. "Please. Leave me alone. I must insist that you not...um...touch me again." She cleared her throat, keeping her eyes on the floor.

Katrina could not move away; she was trapped in the nook by his body. She wasn't really sure she wanted to move, either. The thought bothered her. She usually kept well clear of men...especially the smooth-talking, good-looking ones. You couldn't trust them; she’d found that out the hard, painful way.

Why, then, did she feel she could trust this man? What made him different? Why did she want him to kiss her again, and go on kissing her forever?

His voice was tender, soft. "Why not, Katrina?" He touched a strand of her hair with the tip of his index finger. His breath fanned her cheek. "Don't you think you deserve some tenderness after what you've been through?"

October 15, 2010

Inherit My Heart Chapter Two

Finally the ear-piercing, ringing noise of the telephone stopped. She let out the breath she’d been unconsciously holding. With the silence came release and motion was restored to her body. Katrina returned to the door and checked the deadbolt. Then she locked the handle and slid home the chain. Turning her back to the outside world, Katrina sagged against the door with a sigh. She was safely locked in.

It was an automatic reflex now...close and bolt the doors even during the day.

She’d learned the hard way to bolt doors behind her. Even after six years she’d been unable to overcome that part of the fear. It was just one of the scars left over from her 'marriage' to…how had Mr. Browning put it? Oh, yes. 'One Charleston Werner Beardsley'. Well, he was one of a kind, that was for sure.

Katrina shuddered simply from thinking about him, goose bumps peppering her arms. Her knees turning to jelly with the re-emergence of the old fears, she forced herself to walk to the couch and sit down before her legs gave out completely. Numbly she stared, not seeing the radio, the table or anything else in the house. Her mind was busy with different images; pictures from the past. Nightmarish flashes of what life had been like with Charleston for a husband.

Husband. What a joke. And the joke was strictly on her. She sighed. If only she hadn't been in such a rush to get married. If only her grandparents had given her counsel, or said she was too young, or too naive, or too...something. Anything! But they had been in as much of a hurry as she, if not more so. If only….

“Stop it, Katrina,” She spoke aloud. “You've been over all the 'if only's’ and ‘what if’s' so many times and it doesn't change anything. So forget it, and forget him!" The sound of her voice broke her daze and she roused herself.

She had no idea how long she had been sifting through the painful memories of her marriage, but as she moved from the couch, she noticed the room was dark.

Katrina walked over to the lamp and switched it on. As the light flooded the room, there was a knock at the door. She froze in fear.

The knock came again, a little louder this time, sounding impatient. Katrina wasn’t expecting anyone. She held her breath, praying it would stop.

It didn't.

The door now reverberated with the pounding and the sound startled Katrina so much that she was galvanized into action.

She stepped quickly to the window, moved the curtain a fraction of an inch, and peered out with dread, her chest heaving.

Illuminated in the porch light was the most magnificent specimen of a man she had ever seen. Dark hair waved gently back from a high forehead. A well-trimmed mustache hovered just above full, sensuous lips.

His clothes were rich-looking and well-tailored. Katrina knew she’d never seen this man at work; she would definitely have remembered him. He certainly looked like someone she wanted to know.

"I need to talk to you. Open this door, Katrina!" The command was imperious, and against her better judgment Katrina obeyed the order.

She flipped the locks and yanked open the thick wood as far as the heavy chain allowed.

His presence was overpowering even through a four-inch opening. Handsome, noble, princely; the words flowing into her mind were woefully inadequate. Her eyes finally met his, and with a start she realized they were smoldering. She trembled as she noticed he was not smiling.

They stood staring at each other for a long moment, electricity flickering between them. Finally, Katrina asked, "What…what do you want?"

The man peered at her through the thin opening. “I’m not accustomed to doing business through a four-inch crack.”

“Tough. I don’t open my door people I don’t know,” Katrina stated flatly.

The hunk smiled, his wicked grin bringing into play two rather deep dimples in his cheeks.

Katrina’s knees turned to water.

“I am Gavin Browning. I am a lawyer investigating some matters concerning Charleston Werner Beardsley. If you are indeed Katrina Lee McSwayne, I have some questions I need you to answer.”

With a sinking feeling, Katrina knew this was the man who had called her on the telephone earlier. The one she had hung up on. Twice.

October 13, 2010

Inherit my Heart Chapter One

For Becky, without whom we would not be where, or indeed who, we are today. Thanks a million!
Chapter One
Katrina fumbled with her key chain, trying to stuff the key into the lock before the phone stopped ringing. In her haste, she dropped her keys, the late afternoon sun glittering on them as they fell. She grabbed them up, located the door key, and inserted it into the lock. The mechanism didn’t work. Again. "Oh, please," she moaned, jiggling the key so it would function properly. "Don't choose now to be obstinate. Please open. Please!" With a final jog of the key, the tumblers slid into place and the lock turned. She pulled the door open, scrambled through and slammed it shut. She flipped the deadbolt into place and raced across the living room for the phone. Breathless, she yanked the receiver off the hook. "Hello, Katrina speaking." There was silence for a moment. Then a deep voice said, "Is this Katrina McSwayne?" Few people called her from work; great-aunt Monalee called every few months, but this voice didn’t belong to anyone she knew. She really had expected it to be her aged aunt. Puzzled, she hesitated. "Well?" The voice was slightly caustic. "Um, yes, this is she; with whom am I speaking, please?" "Gavin Browning. I understand you are, or were at one time, married to Charleston Beardsley. One Charleston Werner Beardsley. Is that correct?" Fear tied knots in her stomach. Katrina shivered. She hadn’t told anyone here about that disaster, so who could this man be? Time. She needed more time. 'Think, Katrina, think,' her brain demanded. She swallowed hard. "What did you say your name was?" "Browning. Gavin Browning.” “Who did you say you’re looking for?” “You. You are Charleston’s wife, aren’t you?” His tone sounded curt. “Where did you get wild information like that?” Katrina tried to sound off-hand, but her voice wasn’t cooperating. It just sounded squeaky, even to her own ears. “It doesn't matter where I obtained the information, Ms. McSwayne. Please just answer if it is true and correct." Katrina's heart felt like a huge ball of ice. Her throat was suddenly dry, preventing any words from escaping. The silence stretched. "Ms. McSwayne, answer the question. Are you now, or have you ever been married to Charleston Werner Beardsley?" The sound of his impatience lashed her nerve endings. Dismay shook Katrina to her very bones. Was this person after her to pay her husband's debts? He had been such a scoundrel. It wasn't the first time he’d told someone to collect from her, but she didn't think he knew where she had fled. Had he found her at last? ‘Please, no,’ she prayed fervently. Katrina took a deep breath. "I...I don't have any money. Please, go away," she said. The sudden bark of laughter from the telephone startled her. "Oh, Katrina McSwayne, you are priceless! You’re just what he described. No money." Again the deep laughter boomed in her ear. Katrina gripped the phone's earpiece so hard her upper arm ached with the strain, her fingers nearly numb. His laughter made her angry, and the anger gave her strength. "I didn't realize it was so funny, Mr. Browning. I'm glad you’ve had your laugh for the day. I'll thank you not to call and bother me anymore. Goodbye." As Katrina put down the phone, she heard him call out her name. She didn't want to talk to him. She didn't want to know what trouble Charleston was in this time. She stood in shock by the telephone. It had been six years since she had heard Charleston's name. It hadn't been long enough. The phone rang, making her jump. She just looked at it. It rang again, the shrill noise hurting her ears. It rang a third time. Gingerly, she picked up the receiver. "He…Hello?" "Don't try that again, Katrina Lee McSwayne. You didn't answer my question. Now, were you, in fact, married to Charleston Werner Beardsley?" Katrina felt as if she were choking from the terror boiling through her. Her pulse pounded in her ears so loudly she felt sure he could hear it through the telephone lines. She tried to think. Was this a prankster, trying to hassle her? It couldn't be; absolutely no one here in Spencer knew about Charleston. The thought gave her an idea, though, and with the idea, courage. She took a calming breath. "I don't know you, and I don't owe you any money. You have no right to call and pester me. There are laws against harassment. I don’t have to answer any questions from you, Mr. Browning. Drop whatever ploy this is and leave me alone. Good-bye." Katrina slammed down the phone and took a step back, feeling as though the instrument had become a monster and would strike if she didn't move from its near vicinity. It rang again. Terrified, she stared at it, listening to it ring. She didn't pick it up again…couldn't have answered it right then, even if her life had depended on it. She’d used her one brave moment with her argument about being harassed. It was all she had. She didn't want to answer the question Mr. Browning was asking her. How could she, when she didn’t know the answer, even for herself?

October 12, 2010


I really hope you've enjoyed reading Assignment to Earth. It has been so nice to finally let other people read it after all this time. I welcome your comments, questions, and suggestions. You can reach me by email at am_jenner@live.com, or anne@am-jenner.com. (My letterboxing friends know other ways to reach me.) You could always post comments here, as well. Sometimes, the lack of comments on the posts make me wonder if there's really anyone out there reading, or if this had been an exercise in futility. I do want to reassure you, though; there is another story coming. I'll start posting chapters tomorrow. This one is a suspense novel set in the modern world. It's named Inherit my Heart. As you can guess from the title, it's got a little romantic action going as a subplot, but I do want to reassure male readers that this is not a romance story whose only point is to get the couple together. It is a suspense story at heart. Inherit my Heart is an older story I've been working on off and on for probably something like thirty years. This is one of those "practice" stories authors write while they're learning what they're doing, and while I think it's a pretty good story, if you're really on your toes you might see some of the mistakes common to beginning writers sprinkled among its pages. I like it, and I do want to share it. If you liked Assignment to Earth, and if you like Inherit my Heart, then you might want to consider purchasing my better books. Links are on my website, http://www.am-jenner.com/. No, this isn't a high-power sales pitch, and my blog isn't going to turn into a "buy my books" whine-fest, it's just a suggestion that if you like the old stuff I wrote while learning, you'll probably like the better stuff that's published now that I know what I'm doing. I do have one question for you, for which I will post a poll over ----->>> there. During the course of posting these chapters, I was almost afraid to make any comments before or after the chapters, or even make any posts in between. There were a few things (which I forget now) that I had wanted to say. My question is this...when I'm in the midst of posting a serial, would it be too distracting to make posts on other subjects in between chapters? Please let me know what you think, I truly value your opinion. Anne

October 11, 2010

Assignment to Earth Chapter Thirty-two

Jenna took her time with her pre-flight inspection, suddenly wishing she had a little more time on Earth. She’d been here a long time…longer than any one planet, really…and it had become a second home in her heart. "Ready to go?" Skylar asked over the intercom once she had her helmet on. "As ready as I'll ever be, Captain. Let's go." They started their engines and took off. Shortly before their arrival at the Charys, Skylar broke the silence which had reigned since take-off. "Why so quiet? You're not regretting your decision, are you?" "Not really. I know I'm where I belong. I'm just missing them already. I've been with them every day for five years—it's a little tough to let go so suddenly. I didn’t even get to say goodbye to Hannah. I don’t know what story Glen’s going to have to tell her…but I don’t think she’d accept the truth, even if Glen hadn’t promised not to tell where he’s actually been. "Don't get me wrong, though, because I'm counting my blessings on being home. I thought I'd never set eyes on a Dragonstar again. Thank you…" Her voice trailed off, her throat tight with unshed tears. "You're welcome, but no thanks are necessary. We helped each other, so I can thank you, too. Now it’s time to get on with new things. How are you getting back to the Octavia?" Jenna cleared her throat. “Actually, I’m not. I’ve been assigned to the Aubria, so I’ll be transferring along with Commander Mykela when he leaves.” "Great,” he said enthusiastically. “We can use someone like you.” “It’ll be strange serving with people I didn’t grow up knowing, but I’m looking forward to telling you all the stories about Uncle Xavier. And you’ll have time to tell me all about how you got here from Timora.” Skylar laughed. A few minutes later, Skylar contacted the Charys for landing instructions and they were soon carefully guiding their ships into the landing bay. Jenna climbed out of her borrowed ship and waited while Skylar pulled his pack from the rear seat and jump down to the hangar floor. She easily spotted the Aubria's shuttle, its bright orange markings standing out among the blue stripes of the Charys' ships. A Cavalier standing nearby waved both arms in the air and shouted. "Hey, Skylar!" his voice carried across the hangar. "Come on, we're leaving!" Skylar waved to show he’d heard and hefted his pack onto his shoulder, then looked over at Jenna. “Ready to go?” She nodded. They turned as one and hurried over to the shuttle. Nearly as soon as they had the door latched, Halley threw the shuttle into motion. Jenna felt the gentle acceleration press her into her seat. Anticipation for being on duty lifted her heart. She had missed being in space so much during her enforced exile on “Sol Three”, as Commander Tyson put it, that it had been painful. No matter what came her way, Jenna knew it was going to be a wonderful day. She had a new assignment, and it wasn’t on Earth.

October 08, 2010

Assignment to Earth Chapter Thirty-one

Glen followed Jenna down the corridor. He was at once relieved and filled with regret the time had come for him to return home. The last two days had been an experience he would never forget—although being shot at by seven-foot lizards with laser guns was probably something he’d want to forget, eventually. Jenna opened a door and led him into another of the dormitory-style sleeping rooms the Cavaliers used. Apparently, they didn’t mind the lack of privacy. His army days had not included privacy, but the barracks had also not included mixed genders. He shrugged, guessing it came down to whatever customs one was used to. The room was unoccupied with the exception of Skylar, sleeping on a middle bunk. Jenna silently crossed the room and lifted a pillow, hurling it at Skylar with extreme precision. It hit Skylar's back and bounced off. Immediately waking, he rolled over and grabbed, but the pillow already lay on the floor. Jenna giggled. "Wake up, sleepyhead. You've already missed breakfast. Are you going to skip lunch as well?" Skylar slid from the bunk and picked the pillow up from the floor, throwing it back at her. She caught it with the ease of one who's been in many pillow fights. Skylar stepped to the chair where he’d left his uniform tunic and quickly shrugged into it, then began pulling on his boots, wincing at the strain on his recently repaired arm as he did so. "How's your arm, can you fly?" Jenna wanted to know. "Fine." "Liar." She shook her head at him in mock despair. He grinned. "Stiff and sore, but it'll be fine and I’ve been cleared to fly.” “Good, because we’ve been ordered to take Glen home. You’d better grab a ration bar because Tyson wants us back before noon; the Charys is already behind schedule. I’ll go hurry the crews prepping our ships. See you in the hangar.” Jenna bounced out of the room. Skylar shook his head as he finished donning his boots. “Is she always this cheerful in the morning?” “She’s always been cheerful in the mornings, but I’ve never seen her this happy.” Glen replied, shaking his head. “Must be from being back where she belongs,” Skylar observed dryly as the men moved toward the door. Glen made use of some of his new-found knowledge and smugly slapped the button to open it. Skylar followed him out of the door with a low chuckle. “I see you’re taking all this pretty well.” Glen looked around. Jenna was nowhere in sight. Skylar started off down the hall, walking easily, but with a long stride which ate up the distance rapidly. Glen followed close behind. “It’s all amazing. A whole universe I never knew existed. I’ve always wondered if there were people out among the stars, and now I know there are.” They entered the hangar together, Skylar answering Glen’s questions. Not far from them, Jenna waited between two Wyverns. Glen ran his eyes over the ships, inspecting them from a pilot’s viewpoint. “Those two are bigger than the rest of them, aren’t they Skylar?” “Yes, they are,” Skylar’s grin was broad. “The two-man design is new and I can’t wait to try it out.” Jenna had climbed the stairs to her fighter as the men approached. "Ready to go home, Uncle Glen?" Glen’s breath came a little more quickly with excitement. "Not really, I'd love to stay longer, but I am definitely ready to fly in one of those." He pointed to the new Wyvern. Skylar laughed and clapped Glen on the shoulder, then climbed up the stairs to his own ship, motioning for Glen to follow him. The ground crew chief handed Skylar and Glen helmets, then leaned over the craft, helping Glen settle into the rear seat and fasten his straps. He snapped three different wire connections to Glen’s helmet. “And don’t touch any of the controls!” he admonished Glen with a severe look on his face. “Don’t worry about it,” Glen said, “I’ll behave myself.” The crewman turned to Skylar, snapping the wires to his helmet. “You behave yourself too, and bring my ship back in one piece.” Skylar grinned and saluted. “Yes, Sir! I plan on it.” The crewman grunted and pulled the canopy closed latching it down from the outside. Glen was seized by a momentary panic, wondering how they would open the thing when they wanted to get back out. He took a deep breath, forcefully telling himself there had to be way to open it from inside. He turned his attention to the cockpit, to see if he could figure out how any of it worked. The control stick that snaked from the floor between his knees gave him a comfortable sense of familiarity. He supposed there were only so many ways for human beings to comfortably control flying machines. The similarity amid so many foreign things warmed his heart and gave him hope for the future. Humankind would grow up and eventually take their place among the stars as a member of the Fellowship; but they could do so without losing what it meant to be human. “Skylar?” “Yes?” Skylar’s voice sounded in his ears. “I don’t suppose there’s any chance I could…fly it for a few minutes?” Skylar’s laughter sounded through his helmet. “It’s good for you I’m a Wyvern instructor. Let me get us launched, and I’ll give you the controls for a while.” Glen listened idly to the radio traffic between Skylar, Jenna, and a disembodied voice he supposed was coming from some controller someplace. Shortly, they had permission to launch. “Breathe in and hang on,” Skylar said, just before a giant’s hand took a firm grip on Glen’s ribcage and forced all the air from his lungs. "Launch is right! I feel like a missile," Glen said as soon as he got his breath back. Jenna’s laughter echoed in Glen’s ears. Skylar said softly, "Glen, look up." Glen looked up…and up, feeling as though he was falling into the depths of the stars spread before him. He breathed in sharply. "It’s beautiful. The stars go on forever. They look so peaceful!" They flew side by side for a short time, then Jenna backed off a bit as Skylar allowed Glen to take the controls. Closer to Earth, Skylar retrieved the controls and they soon landed near their camp. It was virtually undisturbed, although the tents had collapsed. No doubt the stakes and lines had loosened when the Klodfon base exploded. Skylar and Jenna helped Glen strike camp, placing his equipment into the jeep, while they secured their gear in the back seat of one of the Wyverns. When everything was ready, Jenna hugged Glen goodbye, clinging tightly for a long moment. “Thank you,” she whispered, “for everything you’ve done for me.” "Take care of yourself," Glen growled in a gruff voice. Jenna nodded. "You, too. I'll miss you both, terribly..." her voice choked off and she let go, turned and ran to her Wyvern, dashing the tears from her eyes as she inspected it for take-off. Skylar shook hands with Glen. "It has been a pleasure knowing you, Sir. Thank you for all you have done...for Jenna, for me, and for your planet." Glen cleared his throat. "It's been quite an adventure knowing you, Skylar. It’s one I’ll remember always. Thank you—and your people—for all they are doing for Earth; risking their lives to keep us safe. The same goes for you as for Jenna. If you're ever in the neighborhood, you're more than welcome in our home, and I mean that sincerely." "Thank you. If I get the chance, I'll do that." With a final smile at Glen, Skylar turned and walked to his own ship, gave it a quick inspection, and climbed in.

October 06, 2010

Assignment to Earth Chapter Thirty

Skylar woke suddenly as the shuttle gently touched down on the deck of the Charys. He released his harness buckles and turned toward the back of the shuttle waiting while the other Cavaliers exited. He turned Lokin over to the black-clad security team, re-stating his advice to place him in solitary confinement and keep him under heavy guard.

He turned and left the area, frowning at what was coming next. Why did Tyson dislike him so intensely?

Walking as quickly as he could manage, Skylar headed for Tyson’s office to make his report. He could feel blood once more dribbling slowly down his arm; apparently the bandage had become saturated. It was a lot of blood. Maybe too much. He touched the fingers of his left hand. They were icy and refused now to move under their own power. His trip to the infirmary would have to wait a little longer—he didn’t want Commander Tyson finding excuses to bring him up on charges.

Commander Tyson’s door opened at his approach. As he stepped into the office, he thought his vision had been affected by his wound and the loss of blood. There were two Commanders sitting near the desk.

They both looked up at his entrance, then he realized the second Commander was his father. Skylar smiled at Mykela, then addressed himself to Commander Tyson, standing nearly at attention, his hands held loosely at his sides, praying the blood flow would not accelerate.

"Sir, the assault team is back. We lost two people on the surface, Lieutenant Josh, and Ensign Waimena; Ensign Gradan died on the journey home. We succeeded in destroying the base. We rescued five Cavaliers and took one prisoner, a man named Lokin, who will be wanted by the Council as soon as they know he’s escaped again. We can add attempted murder to his crimes. He's on his way to your prison block under heavy guard."

Skylar felt the trickling blood reach his knuckles, then drip to the white carpeting. He knew it would be difficult to clean, but he had been ordered to come and make his report immediately after his return. He certainly couldn’t be faulted for following his orders exactly, could he?

Skylar waited while Tyson accepted the information given and made a note on the computer in front of him. When nothing more seemed forthcoming, Skylar continued. "With your permission, Sir, I need to go to the Infirmary. It has been a very long day."

Commander Tyson nodded, "Permission granted, Captain."

Skylar turned to leave the room.

Commander Mykela spoke. "Wait a moment, Skylar. I'll walk with you."

"Thank you, Commander. I'll wait outside."

Moments later, Mykela left Commander Tyson's office and fell in step with Skylar.

"Where's the Aubria?"

"Not far; in the capable hands of Colonel Harlan.” Deep concern marked his voice. “What happened to your arm?"

Skylar shrugged. "A fight with Lokin. I'll be all right as soon as I get it patched up. What brings you to the Charys?"

Mykela sent Skylar a sharp glance. "I expect you’ll put the full details of your skirmish in your report?”

Skylar nodded. “You know Harlan will have my skin if I don’t.”

Mykela nodded. “I’ll read it later, then. As to why I’m here, the council asked me to see if I could help Commander Tyson run things a little more smoothly." His smile was wry. "He wasn't quite ready to take command when his grandfather died and left it to him."

"That might be very helpful," Skylar murmured, "if he's bright enough to accept your advice. His people are trying to transfer out before the mutiny comes"

"Actually, Commander Tyson recognized the danger and asked for the help. I think he’ll do fine. I’ll be returning to the Aubria in a day or so; you're welcome to ride back with us if you’ve completed your assignment."

Skylar nodded. "All I need to do is file my report and I can do that from anywhere." He paused as they reached the Infirmary door. "You know, Father, Lokin had plenty of time to get clear of the base before we blew it; he was only caught because he stopped to kill me."

Mykela nodded. "Revenge is seldom worth the cost in time or the effort spent, and generally never worth the consequences." Noting the tired lines around his son's eyes, he rested his hand on Skylar's shoulder "I'll see you tomorrow when you're feeling better."

Skylar nodded, then slipped into the Infirmary.

October 04, 2010

Assignment to Earth Chapter Twenty-nine

Skylar, left arm held close against his side, moved quietly with the others toward the hangar, his pistol held ready in his right hand. Tension high, he prayed they would meet no opposition. Left-handed, his right-hand aim was shoddy at best and he doubted he’d be an asset in a fight.

He breathed a silent sigh of relief along with his unuttered thank-you-prayer as they reached their destination safely and he awkwardly holstered his pistol. Skylar watched as Grayson strapped Lokin's limp form into a make-shift harness and hauled him up the steep slope of the broken door. He put restraints around Lokin’s wrists before dragging him into the shuttle.

Skylar grasped the rope, wrapping it around his good arm, and started up the slanted door. He slipped a little, and reflexively grabbed for the rope with his left hand. The searing pain sent shafts into his innards and brain, his left arm falling uselessly at his side. A wave of dizziness drove him to his knees. He kept hold of the rope with his right hand, and fought for control of his body.

Kiernan appeared at his shoulder holding the harness they’d used for Lokin. “Your turn, Captain,” he said, hefting the harness.

Skylar nodded and allowed Kiernan to fasten it around him. As they reached ground level, he gingerly walked over to the shuttle under his own power, swaying only slightly.

Inside the shuttle, he eased himself into the pilot’s seat. Blood was beginning to seep through the hastily applied bandage and his fingers felt cold. Skylar wondered how much blood he had lost—and how much was left.

Looking out the shuttle's window as he waited for the others to join him, he watched the sunrise. It was beautiful, the sky blossoming with various shades of pink and orange. Several flat clouds nearest the horizon flashed brilliant silver as the sun’s first rays hit them.

'Thursday morning,' Skylar thought. ‘Hannah isn't expecting us until Saturday, so she won’t be worried yet. There’s still time to get Glen back before he's missed, if the commander allows us to do it.'

Skylar shook his head as the shuttle filled with Cavaliers, jubilant with their accomplishments of the night. He listened to the reports from each team leader. There had been only two deaths and very few serious injuries. The mission had gone better than they had hoped.

A crackle came over his headset followed by Jenna's voice. "Shuttle Two to Ground Team One."

"Go ahead, Shuttle Two." Skylar answered.

Her voice continued, "Our charges are set and we're ready to go. We’ve rescued five prisoners, including Rantek. He's been badly burned, but I think he'll be all right."

"Good job," Skylar answered Jenna. "Launch when ready. We'll follow."

He looked around, addressing those in his own shuttle. "Where's our pilot?"

Lissanne replied, the tiniest catch in her voice. "He didn’t make it." She hesitated a moment, then continued. "I'll fly it if you don't want to."

Skylar moved out of the pilot's seat and held up his arm with a grimace. "Please do, Lissanne. I can't fly anything right now."

She nodded, her eyes taking in his injury. She took her place, started flipping switches and pressing buttons to activate the shuttle's systems, and announced to the empty air, "Strap in, we're launching in about 20 seconds."

The flurry of movement behind her proved the Cavaliers took her twenty second warning seriously. Skylar took the co-pilot's seat and fumbled with his harness. The fingers of his left hand didn’t want to work and he found he couldn't fasten the buckles with one hand. He braced himself for the take-off.

Lissanne unstrapped, stepped to his side and snapped his buckles shut.

"You can't afford any more injuries, Captain, and I don't want to get stuck filling out the paper work," she said quietly, moving back into her own seat.

Skylar smiled, “Thanks for the concern.”

“Besides,” she muttered as she refastened her own harness, , “I know exactly what it’s like to slide all over the place when you’re not strapped down and have a madman at the controls.”

Skylar chuckled. “Not my fault. We didn’t have enough harnesses.”

“True,” Lissanne said, “I’ll have to grant you that, but I don’t hear you pleading innocence on the mad pilot charges.”

“There isn’t enough evidence in the entire universe to convict any pilot of sanity,” Skylar noted dryly.

Lissanne giggled as she nudged the engines to full power and the shuttle smoothly left the ground. They took off into the beautiful golden sunrise and Skylar realized he'd been awake since before dawn yesterday. He checked the chronometer set in the instrument panel. They should arrive on the Charys just as the night cycle began, giving him plenty of time to catch up on his sleep, following his stop by the Infirmary for care to his arm.

After he reported in to Commander Tyson, of course, he cynically reminded himself. He chuckled aloud.

"What's so funny?" Lissanne asked.

"I'm just thinking of the pretty picture I'm going to make reporting to Commander Tyson with my tattered uniform, one sleeve flapping, covered in dirt and dripping blood all over his nice white carpet."

"He did say "immediately", though, didn't he?" She shook her head, grinning widely. "Oh, Captain, I wish I could be with you when you give your report. The look on his face would be worth at least a month’s wages."

“If he wants formality and protocol, I’ll give it to him, by the book, all over his carpet.”

Skylar turned his attention back to the screens in front of him. Halfway out of the atmosphere, he activated the radio detonators and they were rewarded with a clear view of the explosion in the desert below.

Now that the Cavaliers were gone from the planet's surface and there was no more evidence of the Klodfon base, it was of little concern whether or not the locals came to investigate the explosions during the night. Skylar drew a deep breath of relief.

He radioed ahead to have a security team waiting for Lokin, giving enough details to advise them of the seriousness and importance of the prisoner in their keeping. That duty completed, he relaxed back in his seat, content to watch the control panels and Lissanne's competent handling of the shuttle, his eyes growing heavy as his adrenaline levels dropped.

October 01, 2010

Assignment to Earth Chapter Twenty-eight

Aiming by the helmet lights, the Cavaliers made quick work of the Klodfons in the control room. An eerie silence descended upon the darkened room.

Skylar hoped the darkness was because of the destruction of the power supply by the other team. They holstered their laser pistols, activated their glowsticks and began setting the explosive charges which would be detonated later from the shuttle.

A slight scraping noise behind Skylar startled him, triggering an instinctive reaction to feint to the side and duck his head. He turned, reaching for his laser, as a solid weight hit him in the side.

Skylar’s glowstick dropped to the floor, but not before he glimpsed a silver flash near his throat. A knife? Part of a broken control? The impact threw him off-balance and he allowed the other’s weight to carry him to the floor, using the momentum to roll on top of his assailant. It was human, shorter and heavier than himself but the glowstick was too far away to shed sufficient light on the face of the person thrashing beneath him.

A knife, barely visible in the dim gleam of the glowstick, again flashed near Skylar's face and he threw up his left arm to protect himself. The sharp blade cut deeply and Skylar felt the blood flow freely down his arm, but now he knew which of his opponent's hands wielded the knife. He pinned the man's wrist down with his injured left hand, hoping he could stay out of the way of the knife long enough to subdue his attacker.

As Skylar fought, part of his brain was busy trying to figure out who was trying to kill him. Could it be a Cavalier from his team? Skylar hated even the thought of that possibility and continued the fracas in silence, unwilling to bring any other possibly traitorous teammate into the fray.

Loath to release his fragile hold on the writhing wrist of the knife-wielding arm, Skylar groped with his right hand for the laser on his left leg. He found he could not draw it entirely free of his holster and maintain his meager hold. The pistol slipped from his fingertips and the laser clattered to the floor.

Hearing the noise, the man scrabbled toward the sound to retrieve Skylar's pistol for himself, and, with a sudden lunge, managed to break partially free of Skylar's weakening grip.

In desperation, Skylar kicked out and connected with the laser, propelling it across the floor and out of reach.

The motion of kicking the laser out of reach put Skylar off-balance for a small moment, but it was enough time for his assailant to press his advantage and break completely free of Skylar's grasp. He rose to his knees, breathing heavily with the effort of fighting. Skylar rolled over before coming to his own knees, turning to meet the next rush.

Suddenly the lights flickered on, then off, then came on at less than half power, bathing the room in an eerie reddish glow.

With a semblance of vision restored, twin beams of light came from two pistols, meeting as they connected with the man. He fell to the floor, stunned or dead, Skylar could not tell which. Skylar looked about, noting all his team members were still standing, which relieved his mind as he realized his assailant had not been a Cavalier.

"Were your pistols set for stun?" He panted as he sank back onto the floor, light-headed with loss of blood and the effort of fighting. Both Cavaliers affirmed the man was not dead.

Kiernan came to Skylar's side, returning his laser to him. He picked up the knife which had dropped to the ground during the fight and cut Skylar's uniform sleeve to expose the wound on his arm. He made a small sound in his throat as he opened his aidkit and began bandaging the bloody wound.

"Should have brought a full aidkit," Kiernan muttered under his breath.

Skylar grimaced, his lips tightly compressed in an effort to control his pain. "You weren't expecting anything other than laser wounds. Don't worry about it. At least you brought a bandage." His smile was grim as Kiernan worked on.

"The charges are all set, Captain," Pasha's voice called out through the semi-darkness.

"Good," Skylar acknowledged, "then we're about ready to go."

Kiernan finished and put away the aidkit, remarking, "It was a pretty clean cut, but it’s deep; the knife was very sharp."

"You did great. Thanks." Skylar rose to his feet shakily and took a moment to steady himself. He stepped through what looked like an awful lot of blood to the side of the man still lying where he'd fallen.

Carefully Skylar rolled him over and knelt near enough to see his face clearly, the other Cavaliers close beside him.

Skylar drew in his breath sharply at the flabby face revealed in the dim light. "Lokin."

"He'll be unconscious for quite awhile," Grayson said. "You don't recover from two stun bolts in just a few moments. I take it you know him?"

Skylar nodded. "He works for the Klodfon Empire. He’s supposed to be locked in a Fellowship prison for life." He rose to his feet adding, “We have quite a history…he keeps escaping and I seem to be the one who catches him more often than not.”

"We can add attempted murder to his list," Kiernan put in. "We ought to just kill him now and be done with him."

"No," Skylar countered, looking up at his Cavaliers. "Our duty is to bring him in for trial…again. If we kill him, we'd be no better than he is."

Choosing the largest of their group, Skylar continued, "Grayson, think you can get him to the hangar? Then we'll have help to get him into the shuttle."

Grayson nodded. Kiernan stepped forward to help pick Lokin up, situating the limp form across Grayson’s shoulders.

They left the control room and headed back the way they'd come, looking for any sign of Klodfons along the way.