Copyright © 2012 Mary Hughes
All rights reserved
Vickie’s heart pounded as she panted up the narrow stairs of the Middle Eastern boarding house. Hot dry air seared her lungs. “I am not panicking,” she told herself firmly. The slam of a door behind her made her heart skip. She started taking the stairs two at a time. Cracked plaster walls flew by.
“Not panicking. So what if gruesome guys are chasing me? It’s no worse than Mel Pinlow hounding me for his TPS reports.”
She paused on the second floor, holding her cramped side and puffing air. The incongruous picture of Pinlow’s mealy face topped with a keffiyeh, his spindly arms toting a gun Rambo-style and demanding his reports distracted her for a moment.
Feet hit the stairs below. Vickie startled, all her muscles jerking tight. She shook it off as best she could and leaped up the next flight of stairs
A dank corridor stretched before her, low watt bulbs making the ratty red carpet look like a sluggish stream of blood. The hall was lined with narrow wooden doors. None of them shouted “Hide here”. Vickie glanced between the corridor and the stairs, her mind clicking through and
[MH2] possibilities fast
[MH3] as a dual core processor. Her escape
from the thugs had been luck; she was making things up as she went along.
First time in her life that reality was more exciting than a computer game.
Of course in a computer game she could have paused to think. Not to mention the major advantage that, if she were killed, she could restart. The footsteps on the stairs pounded closer and her throat tightened. Why didn’t life have a restart button? Or at the very least a save game? With a deep breath for courage, she scurried into the hallway. Running to the first door to her left, she cranked on the yellowed glass knob.
The door was locked.
“Smack me with a Dell.” Rattling the knob did no good, nor did kicking the door, which, since her feet were bare, hurt. She hopped around trying to bring the pain under control, until she heard voices yelling in the stairwell. No time for pain. Act.
She lunged across the narrow hallway, grabbed another door knob, turned and pushed. It gave. She half‑ran, half‑fell into the room and dragged the door closed behind her, her chest heaving with relief.
Hiding place. Vickie turned into the room—and froze.
She had not considered that the rooms might be occupied. This one certainly was. Though the lighting was no better than the hall, it was enough to see that he was big, he was half‑naked, and he was staring at her with eyes of pure cobalt fire.
Vickie froze, the deer in the headlights. How could this be happening to her? Except for her red‑gold hair, she considered herself average, for heaven’s sake. Dull and boring, a mundane computer geek. She tossed a quick glance at the door behind her, then again at the man in front, who had as yet done nothing but stare. Maybe she could still escape. Maybe she could…
Men jabbered in the hallway. Shoes scuffled up to the door and the loud rattle of the doorknob snapped Vickie straight. Hope died as quickly as it had come. With her kidnappers behind her, this, this truck in front of her, wearing this useless bit of lace they had forced her into, she had no ideas and no time left.
Then he moved.
The speed of his thought and action numbed her. Somehow he had deciphered what was going on, for in the instant before the door opened she was on the bed under him, his body covering hers. With one hand he twisted her telltale strawberry hair into a knot hidden behind her neck, and when the door opened, he pressed his mouth against hers.
Vickie had never been one for mystical experiences. Programmers tended to be practical. But this man, in the brief seconds of his kiss, burned himself into her soul.
He lifted his head. “What the hell! Can’t a man have any privacy?” Since the man was still hiding her with his mass, Vickie felt his voice more than heard it, as if someone had put bass speakers on her chest.
The footsteps shuffled a bit, apologetically. In English, one of her captors said, “There is a criminal fugitive on the loose. We are seeking her.”
“Well, your criminal certainly isn’t here. Now get out, before I throw you out!”
There was a stream of Arabic. When the first voice answered, it was again in English. “Yes, of course. So sorry to have disturbed you, sir.” Shuffling feet left the room.
As soon as the door closed, the man leaped off the bed and locked the door. Vickie felt a chill draft in his absence. He glanced at her, slash eyebrows drawn together in an assessing gaze. Then he was a whirlwind of action again, striding to a tilted chest of drawers, sliding a drawer open and pulling something out. “You’ll need something a bit more, ah, practical, to wear.” He held a huge black T‑shirt.
Vickie managed to sit up, but then started trembling uncontrollably. I can’t lose it yet, she thought furiously, but she was losing it, shivering, her eyes watering. Not just the kidnapping, not just the escape and near recapture. But sitting here, covered only by the lace of the teddy she’d been packaged in, her breasts swinging free and her flaming curls below barely covered, while this powerful man filled the room…
[MH4] the last impossible
He moved nearer, his gaze piercing her. Her kidnappers hadn’t touched her because their boss Fahrrad wanted her in pristine condition. This man didn’t have those constraints.
But he only sat on the bed next to her, bringing their eyes more or less level. His gaze had softened to warm azure. He crossed his leg toward her and casually cocked his head. “Black not your color?”
Vickie stared. A joke? She snorted. If she hadn’t suffered through two days of forced plane rides and muzzle‑prompted hotel accommodations, culminating with her escape on the eve of her presentation to the dictator of this
East hellhole, she would have thought she was in a computer
game. “No, black goes very nicely with the mood. Then‑que[MH5] .”
She plucked the shirt from his hand, trying to avoid touching his smooth bronzed skin. Her body was already tight and tingly from his kiss. She certainly didn’t need any more of that feeling.
The big man stood as she slipped on the T‑shirt. The bed sprang up a good six inches. She stood too. The T-shirt fell, ungainly, halfway to her knees.
“That hair.” He considered her, tapping one long finger against the dent in his chin. He pulled another T‑shirt from the drawer. “Last one.” He hefted it in his hand before throwing it to her. “Wrap it around your head.”
She caught it midair and used it to turban her hair. “What are you going to wear?”
He didn’t answer her, gathering a rope around his flat waist. As he tucked in the ends, she saw a flash at the waistband of his black silk pants. He turned briskly toward her. “Come on, they won’t stay fooled forever.” He picked her up with one arm and with the other swung them both out the window, into the night.
Vickie dangled from the man’s arm like a baby. Below her feet—far below—feeble lights illuminated a narrow cobbled courtyard. Her eyes widened and she jerked her head up instead. That direction held better news. Gray against the indigo sky of the moonlit night was the roof’s ledge, only one story up. She toed for the window ledge but couldn’t quite reach it. “Could you lower me a little…” She trailed off, perplexed, as she felt his muscles bunch.
[MH6] and she
scanned frantically for a nearby platform or fire escape or stair landing or
anything less than ten feet away.
Then they were sailing through the air, with a suddenness that made her clutch for a handful of brawn. They landed with a jarring clang on the fire escape across the courtyard.
She slipped in his grasp, and began whispering fervent prayers that he would find a shirt or grow chest hair to hang onto, or at least put her down on something solid.
“Stop squirming.” He hoisted her up over his shoulder.
Her teeth rattled together, biting off the choice names which raced to the tip of her tongue. She drew breath to scream her frustration, only to have the air knocked from her as he jumped up the stairs.
Vickie raised her head, her awkward position turning it into more of a twist. Her captors were tumbling out into the courtyard below. “It’s them,” she hissed. The man didn’t seem to hear her, still springing up stairs. “Those guys who captured me,” she said a little louder. “Four of them, in the courtyard.” He still didn’t answer. The men were milling around, obviously still searching for her. “Look, you steroid Santa, we’re going to be seen!” She kicked at him a bit for emphasis.
[MH1]This originally was part of the above paragraph. There's a school of thought that increases importance through the paragraph to the bazinga at the end.
Fact is, though, a lot of readers skim. They'll miss any action not at the beginning of the paragraph.
[MH5]Sometimes what I hear in my head doesn't translate to the page. I wanted The voice was a very proper Thehn-kyu (thank you) but it looked more like Then the que happened--what?? Confusing. Rather than fool around with different spellings to get what was, at most, a personal affectation that had no importance later, I changed it to a simple thanks.
[MH6]This was originally "Realization dawned too late." Realization of what?? The problem here is one of cause and effect. I presented had the effect--her realization--hitting the reader before the cause--she scanned frantically for something nearby to land on.
While an author CAN do this, it makes the reader work harder. Unless I want the reader's pace slowed--and the reason better be important because when reader's pace slows, that means she can put the book down--I try to write cause before effect.