Tuesday, December 4, 2007

The King's Crown - Chapter One

Sorry it's been so long since I stopped over here, but I've been scattered between life and various projects.

As a way of apologizing, I thought I'd offer you the first chapter of a romance novel I started writing back in 1996. I haven't touched it since 1998 or so, but I still like it. Maybe someday I'll finish what I started.

The King's Crown
Chapter One

“I am never getting married!” Alex said with an emphatic shake of her head. “Give it up, Mom. I swear, every time you meet someone new at the club, she has some unattached son that you try to pawn off on me.” She tossed her long waves of soft brown hair over her shoulder as she cradled the phone to the other ear. “I’m seriously thinking of becoming a nun, just to get you to leave me alone.” Alex stalked over to the picture window overlooking the winding road on which she lived and took a deep breath. Her mother could be a wonderful woman but this conversation was always a major strain on their relationship.

As her mother rattled on about the latest ‘perfect husband for her little girl’, Alex took a mental refuge by gazing out to the calm of her tree-lined front yard. In the six years since she’d bought the old mansion, she had spent many evenings just staring into the darkness. Decades before, the quiet winding road had been a busy highway and tourists from hundreds of miles around would take the highway into the mountains to their shady summer hideaways. Since the interstate was built, however, hardly any cars passed her house. It was the peaceful woodland setting of which she’d always dreamed. Tonight, though, with the sound of her mother’s droning lulling her into a daze, she could almost imagine that headlights were winding their way up her road.

“But honey, I only want to see you happy,” said the voice on the phone. “Your consulting business is going so well, but really, you can’t live your life with nothing but computers to keep you company. And you going in and out of office after office, day after day, I’m sure you get all kinds of unwanted advances from the wrong kind of man. Heaven forbid you should succumb to one of them in a fit of desperation. You know... your biological clock is ticking...”

Alex watched as a car actually did materialize out of the darkness and pass her lonesome old house. The shock of seeing a real car shook her out of her dream long enough to catch the last bit of the conversation. “Mother! I can’t believe you would even think such a thing. There is no way and I mean no way, that I am going to ‘succumb’ to any man in ‘desperation’. And, as for the clock thing again. Listen, I’m only thirty. I have plenty of time to raise children. I just read an article about a 60 year old woman who adopted twins from Guatemala.” Alex grinned at the thought of the two shy smiles she’d seen in the paper - looking up at their new mother for the first time. “ I know you don’t like it, but I just don’t see myself giving in to the ‘bonds of holy matrimony’.”

“But honey...”

“Listen, Mom, I have to go. Uh, I can smell the meatloaf burning. I...I’ll call you back next week. I love you. Bye” Walking away from the window, Alex slumped back into her overstuffed easy chair and hung up the phone. She didn’t have any meatloaf cooking and her mother knew it. Her mother knew that the only thing Alex cooked with any great accuracy was gelatin, and that was after years of practice. “Lying again, Alexandra Marie.”, she said to herself, “You ought to be ashamed.” But Alex knew that, when it came to her mother and the 45 minute marriage lecture, she’d do it again, in a heartbeat.

The “lecture”, as Alex always referred to it, was a regular occurrence in the past few years. Shortly after her father passed away, her mother felt the burning need to experience grandchildren first hand. So, whenever the occasion arose, or even when it didn’t, she would start into the “biological clock” thing and the “you must be so lonely” thing.

Alex was so deep in thought that it was several minutes before she heard someone banging on her front door. As she neared the entryway, the pounding stopped. She looked through the peep hole just in time to see a broad back striding away, down her sidewalk and towards the street. Hurriedly, she swung the front door open. “Wait!” She shouted as the stranger turned onto the street. It took only moments and a quick glimpse at the scowling features for her to rethink her decision to call after the large man. From what Alex could see he was humungous. At least 6’9” with the build of a small battleship, he did little to ease Alex’s fears when he strode past her and right into her house.

“I need to use your phone.” He growled as he walked into her living room. As large as her living room was, this man managed to make it seem tiny by comparison. “Blast! Where is the damn thing!” He turned and his ebony eyes seemed to bore right into her.

“Excuse me, sir. But I don’t believe I asked you into my home...”

“Oh, there it is!” he exclaimed as he flopped down on her couch and reached for the cordless set that she had just put down. “I’ll only be a second.” He stabbed out what looked like a long distance number and leaned back as it rang. With every ring Alex’s blood pressure rose another point or two, until finally someone picked up on the other end. “Roger! Great! I need for you to come get me. I was on my way up and I thought I’d take a short cut, when this great mangy hulk of a dog jumped out in front of my car.”

“Cargo!” Alex said in a strangled gasp, “Oh my God!”

The man looked up at her in disgust, “No, Roger, I didn’t hit it for Christ’s sake. But in swerving to avoid it I managed to neatly wrap my car around a tree... No, No I’m fine. Yes, I had my seat belt on. If you could just come get me, I’m at...” He looked questioningly at Alex.

“4335 Maple Grove”, she answered.

“4335 Maple Grove. No, its not the way I usually come out but I thought I was taking a shortcut. Yes, I’m calling a tow truck right after I hang up with you. Listen, could you call Jeannine and tell her I’m running late. Don’t give her the details; I don’t want her to worry. I’ll see you in about an hour. Thanks.” The stranger hung up and began looking around again. By about this time Alex’s blood pressure hit the boiling point.

“I don’t know what you’re looking for this time, and, frankly, I don’t care. You have been nothing but rude since the moment you pushed your way into my house. You nearly ran over my dog, then you barge in my house, without asking or introducing yourself and now you’ve made a long distance call on my phone, and you...you... OH!” Finally, Alex’s anger made her speechless and she stomped her foot for emphasis.

“Listen, lady. I was nearly killed out there missing your hairy monster. As far as barging into your house goes, I was standing there pounding on your door for nearly five minutes when I could plainly see you sitting on this couch staring off into space doing nothing. And here,” he said pulling out his wallet, “is ten dollars to cover the cost of the phone call.” And with that he threw the bill in Alex’s direction. “ Now, if you don’t mind ma’am, I need to use your phone again to call a wrecker to come and unwrap my car from around a tree out there. Now, where, if I may ask, is your telephone book?”

Alex stooped down to pick up the crumpled bill and stuffed it into her pocket, she glared at her unwanted guest and stomped out of the room. A couple of minutes later she came striding back and plopped a thin book on the table. “It’s not much but it works for us.” She walked over to the couch and sat down, propping her legs up on the table in front of her. “And by the way, there’s only one wrecker service in town and I happen to know that Rex is out of town until Monday.” Smiling wickedly she laced her hands behind her head and closed her eyes. She didn’t know why she was suddenly so mean spirited, but she felt satisfaction in knowing that this rude bully wasn’t going to get what he wanted immediately.

“What!? Its only Thursday! I need to get my car back to the city and in to a mechanic by tomorrow. I need to have my car back by Monday! I have meetings all day! This is unbelievable!” He ran his fingers through his short black hair and turned to look out the window. He stood there for a long time, just staring into the gathering blackness.

With the stranger finally standing still and giving Alex a chance to relax, she took advantage of the time to get a good look at her visitor. Her initial impression was right. He was huge. He was wearing a light spring jacket; it was a little crumpled but she could tell it was of quality material. His trousers were dark and conservative, more like ‘business casual’ than ‘weekend in the country’. His hair was jet black and cut short - as conservative as his attire. As Alex watched, she could almost visibly watch the tension drain out of him. It almost transformed him.

When the darkness had completely engulfed the world outside, he turned and looked at her. “I can see headlights coming up your road. I assume that’s my friend Roger since it seems you don’t get much traffic out here.” His voice was warm and almost friendly as he finally introduced himself. “My name is Michael Kingsley. I apologize for my behavior earlier. I was a bit shaken by the accident and I honestly did believe that you were being rude by not answering the door, but that’s no excuse for barging into your house. Now I better head outside. I never told Roger where I was.” He turned and headed for the door.

“He’ll probably assume you’re here,” she said, “Mine is the only house for about mile around. And...I’m sorry for my behavior too. You must admit you pose a pretty intimidating picture. I mean, it being dusk and all. And you were pretty angry.” She shrugged. “I also apologize for my dog. Cargo has broken every chain I put him on. The car chain was my last vestige of hope and now it looks like he’s broken that too. I guess I’ll have to put up a fence now.” She smiled and got one in return.

“A cyclone fence with guard towers, if that dog was as big as he looked. Well, thank you for your hospitality. Even though I took it without it being offered.” Michael pulled the door open and headed down the sidewalk toward the road.

Alex decided to be neighborly and, after turning on her outside lights, started after him. Neither of them made it very far when they saw the headlights stop near Michael’s wreck. They quickened their pace and trudged up the hill towards the new arrival. Suddenly, they heard a shout and a crashing of brush. Shortly afterwards, they heard another flurry of activity and barking.

“Cargo!” Alex called.

“Roger!” Michael shouted.

“I’m all right.” A voice shouted back. “Just call this monster off of me.”
They both ran toward the sound of the voice. It seemed to be coming from just off the road past Michael’s car. They hurried through the undergrowth. A few yards in they spotted what appeared to be a moving mound of loose white hair and barely visible underneath was the figure of a man.

“Cargo! Down!” Alex commanded. The mountain of fur turned two black eyes toward her and shook itself. Then it stepped over the body of its victim and rushed towards Alex. As it approached it stopped short, sat down and wagged its big fluffy tail. Alex reached forward and patted its head. “Stay.” she said softly. She then proceeded to the prone figure.

Michael was already crouched next to his friend, Roger. “Are you okay Rog?”

“I’m fine. A little startled when the ‘hound of the Baskervilles’ rushed me, but, other than nearly being drowned in dog drool, I’m just fine.” Michael leaned out of the way and Alex got her first glimpse of Cargo’s conquest. He was a small man in his early to mid-sixties. His full head of white hair was in complete disarray and was slightly wet around his ears where the dog had shown his affection. His clothing was covered in dirt and she could see a few tears here and there

Alex was horrified. “I’m so sorry. First Cargo causes this car accident and now he chases you and knocks you down. Are you hurt?”

The gentleman looked at her as Michael helped him from the ground. “It’d take more than your bundle of fuzzy energy to hurt me, I assure you. I’m quite all right.” He shook off Michael’s steadying hand. “ I told you I am not hurt.”

“As long as you’re sure.” Michael said uncertainly.

“Positive. Now, if you still want to see Jeannine tonight I suggest we get on our way.” saying that Roger straightened and brushed the loose grass off of his trousers. He turned to face Alex and reached into his back pocket, pulling out his wallet. Alex cringed at the thought that she was about to be paid for the trouble her dog just caused when she should really be paying for the ruined clothing and the wrecked car. However, she was both surprised and relieved when Roger handed her a business card. “Thank you for taking care of Michael, my dear. If there’s anything we can do for you, please don’t hesitate to give me a call.”

“Thank you, but I should be the one offering my help if you ever need it. In fact, tomorrow I’ll contact my bank and have them make out a cashier’s check for the damage that Cargo has caused.”

“You’ll do no such thing!” Roger and Michael said in unison.

“As long as you’re certain.” Alex said hesitantly. The two men nodded and the subject was dropped. Between the three of them they managed to get Roger looking presentable again. The two men then began walking toward the road.

Alex grinned as she caught the wry look on Michael’s face as he walked past Cargo, who was still sitting as instructed. He shook his head. Alex shrugged. “He really is well behaved, but you have to keep him within eyesight.”

“I’ll bet. Listen, thank you for letting me use your house and your phone. And what Roger said. He meant it...I mean it. I’d give you my card but I’m afraid they’re in my briefcase...in my car… which I’d really rather not go back into tonight. I’ll call the police and an out of town tow truck as soon as I get to Roger’s. Thanks again...Would you like lift back to your house?”

Alex thought about the short walk and the huge dog who needed tending to, “No, that’s okay. I need to herd Cargo home and I don’t think it’d be a good idea for him to get near either of you again tonight. Thanks for the offer. Have a safe trip.”

Michael turned and headed back to the road. Alex could hear Roger’s car ignition and she watched as the head lights turned back up the road. “Well, Cargo, I think we’ve had enough excitement for one evening.” The big dog rose to his feet and padded his way over to Alex. Together they headed for the bright lights of home.

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