Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Glory Road, Chapter 1

Ok, since you asked. Here's the UNEDITED first part of the first chapter of the new novel. Before you even THINK of copying or stealing it: it's with the publisher already. So HANDS OFF. It's only for my friends.

1.

He watched her rise to get another cup of coffee.

The grace of her movements astounded him and kept him staring even after she had returned to her seat in the corner of the large couch, right in the shade of the palm tree. She sat there as if she wanted to hide, ankles crossed and head lowered, so lost in her thoughts that she did not notice him at all.

She was dressed very simply, in jeans and a shirt the color of a ripe tomato. Her hair was wrapped into a tight knot at the nape of her neck, but a few curly tendrils had escaped and bounced on her shoulder every time she moved. Parker wondered how long it was, and for a wild, exhilarating instant he felt the urge to go over and pull the pins out of that coil and dig his fingers into the tumbling strands.  He held his ice tea tightly between his hands, hoping the cold of the glass would transport itself to his heated blood.

The moment she had walked into the lounge she had captured his attention with the way she carried herself and the stillness that seemed to hover around her like a fine mist. A hush had fallen over the large room as nearly every man in it watched her. He had felt an insane spike of jealousy right behind his eyes and held his breath, wishing every other male away so he could have her all to himself, savor her presence without having to share his thoughts with others.

His flight was called. Full of regret Parker rose and picked up his briefcase, tossed a tip on the counter and made ready to leave when he saw her move toward the door, not once looking his way, not once even noticing he was there. As hasty as a schoolboy, nearly ripping his jacket on the back of his chair, Parker followed her, curious where she might be headed, hoping that she might be on his plane, since she had reacted to the same call. He followed her down the length of the terminal, followed right in her trail until she stopped before the gate and handed over her boarding pass.

In the gangway, he nearly caught up to her. She had to stop and wait for a wheelchair to be pushed inside, and she stood, as still and silent as she had sat in the lounge, until the way was open again and she could move on. Inside, she was led to one of the comfortable  seats in first class, as he had hoped, one right by a window, and he could hardly believe his luck when he was assigned the one right next to her, just across the aisle.

It took quite a while until the plane had filled up and everyone had settled down and he could see her again properly.

Her head was turned away, her chin propped on her fist, as she looked out onto the tarmac. Never in his life, Parker was quite sure, had he seen such a clear profile, such a delightful curve in a woman’s neck or a body quite as perfect. He guessed her to be in her early thirties, a bit young for him, but he was beyond the point of caring. There were seven hours ahead of them, crossing the Atlantic, and he was resolved to at least talk to her, or maybe get her to agree to a lunch date.

The flight attendant came by to check on their seat belts, which made her look up and smile briefly. Her lips crinkled in a way that made him want to get up and kiss her, inhale that smile right into his heart and lock it away there for all times. She noticed him when the attendant moved on and threw him a cool, distanced glance, nothing questioning, no interest, not even impatience in it, and then turned away again, giving Parker the impression that to her he was no more than a fleck of dust on the back of his seat, nothing she would ever bother about at all.

“I’m Parker Hamilton,” he said quickly, before she got lost in her own world again, “Pleased to meet you.”

There was no response for the longest time. Then, a quick nod without looking his way.

“So you are going to London too?” It was the only question he could come up with, inane as it was.

She ignored him.

“I am actually from London,” he plodded on, “And I’m glad I’m going home. Washington is so hot at this time of the year.” And, after a short pause, “Are you going home too?”

Very slowly, like rising out of water, her head came up. “Yes,” she replied, and her voice was as soft and melodious as he had hoped it would be, “In a way, yes.” But she did not go on to explain.

The plane moved away from the terminal, its big body shuddering as it rolled over the tarmac toward the runway, a harnessed beast ready to be set free. Looking past her Parker could see the land rush by and then drop away as they lifted off. He had flown this way so often, there was hardly anything exciting left about it, but being so close to a woman he thought was beautiful beyond words gave the trip a new spiciness.

Deplorably, there were rings on her left hand. They were expensive rings too, rings a wealthy man would buy for a cherished woman to show off he had won her.

She did not watch the movie, nor did she buy any of the duty free things the flight attendant offered them, she barely touched her meal and refused the wine, but she asked for a bottle of water and drank a lot of it as they flew into the night, a sure sign that she had traveled a lot.

“So where in London do you live?” He had never felt this stupid before, approaching a woman, but, he realized, he had never before wanted to impress one as badly as this one, either.

Again she looked at him from large, very dark eyes. “I don’t live in London.”

Drinks were offered, and he ordered a double brandy. He needed a fortifier badly.

“I’m joining my husband.” There was just enough inflection in her voice to emphasize the last word.

Parker, on an impulse, decided to ignore it. He knew he wanted her, and in a very bad way, wanted to break through that cool, passive resistance and find out how she would react to passion, reserve all gone, hair down and her pale skin flushed.

“Are you from Washington, then? It’s a nice town, only the heat is incredible. We never get that kind of weather in England.”

“No.” In a polite attempt to clarify she added, “No, I’m not from Washington.”

“I thought not.” More comfortable now, he settled back in his seat and raised his glass to toast her. “Your accent is different. You sound almost English. You are European, right?”

This time she actually turned and regarded him for a thoughtful moment. “I am not. I’m Canadian.”

“Ah.”

Her hands folded neatly in her lap, she said, “Excuse me, but I would really rather not talk. I’m tired,and I’ll try to sleep now.”

“I’d love to share a last drink with you then,” Parker answered quickly, “Maybe some champagne? You look like you would enjoy some good champagne. Please? I’d enjoy that very much. It’s not often I have really lovely company on one of these flights. Tell me what you’ll be doing in London. Are you going there to shop?” He signaled to one of the flight attendants. “Will you tell me your name? Then I would not have to call you “mystery woman” all the time. Your name is surely prettier than that.”

Her lips pressed together. Then, very softly, she replied, “My name is Naomi.”

Somehow, in a part of his memory he did not visit too often, the combination of the face and name rang a bell, but he could not pin it down. He thought he recalled some act of violence, something that he had seen on TV and that had shocked him at the time, but he could not call up the image.

“Have we met before?” he asked instead, and that brought the first smile to her face.

“Certainly not. Or at least I do not remember talking to you. Maybe, on one or the other party…” Her eyebrows raised, she watched as the champagne was poured, a very good brand and in an aged bottle.

“Oh that’s right, it might have been a party.” Relieved, he handed her one of the glasses. “Somewhere in Washington? Somewhere around the White House? You look just like that, like you belong there.”

That made her laugh. The sound made his heart beat a little faster and his palms sweat. Carefully he picked up his own wine and toasted her across the aisle.

“Not the White House, certainly not. No.” Mirth shook her voice. “No, I don’t belong to the Washington noblesse. Sorry.”

“You look as glossy as a movie star. I’m totally enthralled. I hope we have to take a detour to Australia or something so we won’t get to London too soon and I’ll have the joy of your company for just a few hours longer. What a great good fortune.”

“I’m married,” she reminded him gently, “And I’m flying to London to meet my husband.”

“But he’s not here now. And I’ll take advantage of that.” He reached over to refill her glass. “He will surely not begrudge me a few hours of friendly chat with you.”

Instead of an answer she gave him a small, mysterious shake of her head.

Parker loved the way the overhead lights reflected in her black hair and gave it a rich sheen.

“How long will you be in London?” The brandy was more to his taste than the Dom, but he drank it stoutly, seeing she seemed to enjoy it.

“Only a few days.” Her shoulders came up in a gesture of rejection.

“Well, maybe you would me to show you around a bit? There are quite a few great things to see. You know we have a queen, and…”

“I’ve been there before,” she interrupted, “Thank you.” With a nod of thanks she returned the glass and pulled out the quilt provided by the airline. “I’ll sleep now. I need to be fresh tomorrow morning. Good night.” And lowered her seat into a bed before she switched out her light and turned away from him.