I’ll bet you’re wondering – what happened to Blog-A-Book? (Heretofore referred to as BAB). No, it didn’t die. It simply took a hiatus while I finished a different book, and went to teach at a conference, and while Rachel also worked on a book….
but we’re Baaaack! With the next installment of the story. So – here it is, go post your questions and suggests and comments at http://www.mybooktherapy.ning.com/ Chapter 2 discussion!
As I wrote this, I tried to find a scene where we could put Luke and Kenzie together, and I wanted a case of mistaken identity. Also, I wanted to introduce the idea that meeting a famous woman might be an issue for Luke. Might try and work that in more as I go. Also, wanted to intro the idea that Greg pulls his hollywood world into Luke’s life occassionally. We’ll have a great arguement with Greg and Luke and why Luke will help Greg in an upcoming chapter. I also wanted to lay out both Luke and Kenzie’s values, for each other, and for the reader. Looking forward to RH’s comments tomorrow!
Ch 2.2 – Luke’s pov
Fate knew how to make a man suffer. It wasn’t enough that Luke had sacrificed his pride nearly sprinting out of the nursing home. Or that he’d managed to get his mug in the paper, again, after rescuing his rascal-of-a-nephew from traffic. But now, it wanted him to replay his past, everything he’d spent the past five years hiding from.
Couldn’t the world just leave him alone?
Luke stood at the window, cupping his microwaved, lukewarm coffee, listening to the rain pellet the roof of his NPS office. Outside, the torrent turned the parking lot into an ocean, although it had given his F-150 pickup a decent bathing, scouring the red clay and pine needles from the wheel wells. The price of living on a dirt road back in the hills.
Overhead lightning veined the steel gray sky and mist capped Roan Mountain. No wonder he hadn’t been able to receive cell service, even after he’d emerged from his mountain cabin. Seven messages beeped when his phone came to life – two from his sister, one from an unknown and three from Greg. Clearly, being a hermit had it advantages. Like, not having people pry into his life. He couldn’t believe he’d let Ruthann talk him out of fishing in the Watauga, or even — thanks to the thunderstorm — reading one of the books stacked by his stone fireplace, and into the insane idea of letting some reporter interview him for the VFW Viewfinder, Tennessee edition. What was her name? Katie? Kimmy? Karen?
Not like he would seriously consider turning his back a chance to support the real heroes in the world, but having his privacy invaded, again, made him ever so grateful that he lived off the grid, without telephone, or electricity. Thanks, but he liked the stone age. But, despite Kathy’s, or Kacey’s agenda, he’d had full intentions of turning the interview over on its end, focus it instead on his father, on the medals the old man won, and finally honor him for his courage.
It was the least he could do after all his father had done for him.
Besides, he didn’t know how much longer he could spin the lies behind Captain Luke Alexander, without having the truth break free.
He watched a forest service truck pull up, splashing through the puddles. Cooper Hale emerged, pulling up the green hood of his slicker as he ran inside.
The office shook as he shut the door behind him. The guy had the grace of a black bear, and the girth to match it.
“Like to drown me out there,” he said, shooting a glance at Luke. “What ‘er you doing here? I thought you had the weekend off.”
“I’m meeting someone.” Luke took a sip of coffee, made a face. “This stuff is awful.”
“Did you make a new pot?” Cooper shrugged out of his jacket, hung it up, and ran a hand through his recently mowed black hair. He walked over to the pot, the coffee more sludge than liquid, picked it up and made a face.
“Then it’s yesterday’s dregs.” He poured it out. “I’ve been checking the service roads. So far, the Doe hasn’t washed out any roads, but it’s getting nasty out there.”
Luke walked over to the sink, threw out his coffee. Coop had no idea.
“Hey, is that your coat ringing?” Cooper asked as he pulled out a coffee filter.
Luke glanced at his own still soggy rain slicker, hanging on the hook next to Cooper’s. “Probably. I don’t know why I got a cell phone. People can find you everywhere.”
Cooper gave a harsh laugh. “Oh yeah, I know your celebrity status is a real pain. It’s so hard to have women writing to you from around the nation, offering their hand in marriage, and what not.” He raised an eyebrow at Luke and grinned.
Luke gave him a narrowed-eye glare.
Cooper laughed, measuring out the coffee. “It’s not like you’re actually participating in the twenty-first century, Daniel Boone. Do you even know how to answer it?” He gestured toward the still buzzing phone.
Luke reached over and filled the coffee pot with water. “Funny. I know who it is. Greg left me three voice mails, and he’s called me twice more without leaving a message.”
“Your cousin Greg? Old Budweiser? I still remember when he played middle linebacker. He hit like a bulldozer. How’s he doing?”
“He’s some hotshot in Hollywood. I don’t know how a good ole boy like Greg hooked up with the movie start industry, but apparently, he still likes to get me into trouble. He’s probably calling about our annual fishing trip – “
“Didn’t he bring out a couple of sissy actors last time?”
“Yep. Nearly got us all killed. They made a camp fire, nearly set the Cherokee forest ablaze.”
Cooper reloaded the coffee and filter into the machine. “Didn’t they lie about hanging the bear bag?”
Luke poured the water into the coffee maker. “Um hmm. I caught a black bear rooting through our shore lunch batter. We finally had to hike out a day early because one of the genius’s snagged a hook on his ear.”
“Oh, yeah. He was screaming about his pretty face, Greg was trying to keep him calm. I wanted to dump them both into the river.”
Luke reached into the pocket of his jacket, hit the ignore button for the call to go to voice mail. “I don’t think I’ll be answering Greg’s messages, thanks.”
Cooper scanned the bulletin board for the day’s weather reports, and other USDA updates. “So, who are you waiting for?”
“Some reporter with the VFW – I can’t remember her name. Evidently, she couldn’t find me, so she called my sister. Caught my name in the article in the Voice.”
“Captain Luke Alexander to the rescue, saving cats and small children.” Cooper grinned at him as the coffee maker gurgled.
“Funny. What was I supposed to do? Let the kid get flattened by a semi?”
“Of course not. I’m just saying that even a redneck like me can figure out this reporter isn’t just interested in an interview, if you know what I mean.” He glanced at Luke. “Another reason to stop hiding in the woods, pal. Your non-existent social life.”
Luke shot him a please, don’t, but Cooper clearly still possessed the ability to out blitz him, honed during their high school football days.
“Last time I saw you at a social event was last year’s First Baptist annual Sunday School picnic. With…hey, how about that – your sister.”
“Back off, Coop. I don’t need any help meeting women.”
“Women? How about one woman?”
Luke sat down at his desk, opened his computer and started a game of spider solitaire.
After a moment, Cooper picked up on his silence and sat down at his own computer. “I’m just saying, it wouldn’t hurt you to engage in a little female companionship.” He chased his words with a wink.
Luke shook his head. “Thanks, but I’ve known near ‘bout every girl in the county since birth, and frankly, that’s too much information for all of us. If I ever meet anyone, it would have to be someone who didn’t know me. A fresh start.”
“Good luck with that, pal, because last time I checked, there isn’t a woman this side of the Mississippi who hasn’t heard of the brave Captain Luke Alexander.”
Yeah, that was the problem, wasn’t it? Luke moved a black eight onto a nine of hearts. Or, rather, everyone thought they knew him.
No, they knew what the army told them. He freed an ace and moved it into an open position.
The front door opened, the cold huff of rain scattered papers from the reception desk. Luke looked up.
Drenched to the bone, in her sodden white – was that leather? – jacket, wearing a pair of light blue suede boots, and designer jeans, a too-skinny woman stood in the doorway, a expression of what looked like annoyance on her face. Water dripped from the ends of her blonde hair, and mascara ran down sculpted cheeks, dripping from her flashing blue eyes. “I’m looking for Luke Alexander.”
Wearily, Luke raised his hand. “Found him.” He closed out his game. Pushed up from his seat. “And you are –“
“Kenzie.” She plunked a rather large, shiny red purse/suitcase onto the reception desk.
Luke held out his hand, and she stripped off her coat, handed it to him.
Under the jacket, she wore a low cut teal blue, sleeveless blouse, ruffles running up around her neck. A triple strand of what must be costume jewelry held an array of faux sapphires. Someone had come overdressed to the party, especially in comparison to his faded jeans and flannel shirt. Did she think this was New York? Hello, someone needed to point out where they were on a map, sandwiched between Virginia and North Carolina, in the far east tip of Tennessee, an inch west from the Atlantic seaboard, smack dab in Smokey Mountain land. Land of bluegrass and honkytonk, not gems and fancy leather.
“Is it always like this?” She tipped her head back, ran her hands down her hair, then tilted her head to the side, squeezing out the moisture onto the floor.
Luke watched it puddle at her feet, still holding her fancy coat.
“Oh, I can’t believe I’m out in public like this.” She shivered, head to toe. “And this place isn’t exactly easy to find. I was lost for an hour.”
That accounted for the delay at least. But not the lack of apology.
Still, Luke hung up her coat on a hook.
“Oh, can you find a hanger? I hate having poke marks in my jacket collar. And it wrecks the leather.”
Cooper rose from his desk. “I’ll get one.” He seemed to be hiding a smirk.
“Would you like a cup of coffee?” Luke moved over to the machine, pulled down a mug from the cupboard. Checked it for residue.
“Oh, yes. I’ll take a Venti sugar free vanilla latte with lite whip and an extra shot of vanilla. And, oh non-fat, please.” She rubbed her hands on her bare arms, now pebbled with gooseflesh. “And one of those butterscotch scones would be epic.”
Luke stared into the mug. “Um…I think we have some leftover blueberry cobbler? But I’m afraid we’re reduced to just plain old Folgers.”
“Oh.” She lifted a shoulder. “I guess that’ll do. Thanks.”
He handed her the full mug and she wrapped her fingers around it. “Oh, warm. I’m frozen to the bone.”
Luke watched her blow on her coffee. “Um, so where do you want to do this?”
She looked up, raised an eyebrow. “I…I thought you would know.”
Oh. Well, “How long do you think it’ll take?”
She took a sip, made a face. Clearly the fresh batch wasn’t an improvement. “I guess I was thinking…maybe a month? I don’t know. Depends on how I feel.”
How she…. “A whole month?”
She nodded. “I mean, probably I’ll get bored by then. You know, I have a pretty full plate right now.”
“Bored?” He set the coffee cup down without filling it. “I would hate for you to get bored.” Apparently, his story was older news that he’d thought.
“Me too. Although frankly, after the excitement of the past couple weeks, I am ready for a little ho-hum.”
Ho hum? A month in a prison camp, a top-secret rescue of DEA agents, and the capture of one of the world’s darkest drugs lords, and that was ho-hum? Luke glanced at Cooper, who gave him an eyebrows up, you got yourself into this, message.
“Well, we wouldn’t want anything too exciting would we?” Luke shook his head, moved toward the conference room, hoping Miss Low Expectations would follow. Except, wasn’t this what he wanted? The world to forget?
Which meant that maybe someday he would forget?
Kenzie followed him, but instead of sitting in the chair, she sat on the oval conference table, her feet on the chair. Her purse, she’d left in the other room.
She continued to clutch her coffee like a security blanket. She did look cold. The woman needed to look out her window before she got dressed for the day.
“So, what’s your first question?” Luke sat, folded his arms over his flannel shirt, stretching out his legs.
Kinsey looked over at him. “I just want to make sure this isn’t going to be too invasive. I mean, I don’t need people following me, taking pictures, intruding into my life. You think you can handle that?”
For crying out loud, it wasn’t like she was Woodward or Bernstein. She certainly wouldn’t find fame from interviewing a hero who’d squandered his own with prescription drugs. Or maybe she’d gloss over that part. “Oh, I think so. I don’t think anyone is even going to care.”
She frowned. Opened her mouth, closed it. Then, “Well, I don’t think that’s a very nice thing to say. I mean, I realize that it’s not big news anymore, but do think people will care. I mean, it’s not like people won’t find out.”
“That’s the point, isn’t it? For people to find out?”
Her mouth opened in a sort of horror, as if he’d told her that she looked like a drowned rat. With freckles. Definitely with freckles. “I don’t know what you were told, but no, I don’t want anyone to know.” She got up from the table, put her coffee down. She appeared like she might be shaking.
“Then why even come here? Why even meet with me?”
“Because I thought you were trustworthy.” She tightened her jaw, as if sucking in a measure of control. Then, crisply, “I’m sorry this has been a terrible mistake. Clearly, you’re not the man people think you are.”
Well, that was the first thing out of her mouth that made sense.
She put her coffee down. “And this is terrible coffee.”
Luke stared at her. Was this some sort of trick to rile him into the truth? Did she think that by not caring, he’d lower his defenses, get rattled, maybe spill out something new? Sorry, but he knew the rules, thanks to the endless military briefing. “Oh, you’re going to have to do better than that, honey.”
She frowned at him, disgust on her face. “I didn’t make it, if you remember. You made this horrible brew.” She picked up her coffee and walked back out into the foyer. Dumped the coffee into the sink. She wiped her hands on her pants. “Fine. Listen, I don’t know what you were thinking, but I am not thrilled about hanging around with you, either. So let’s just go wherever the cabin is, and get it over with.”
Hanging around with –Luke stared at her, running his conversation with Ruthann through his mind, groping for anything that might have suggested he’d spend a month letting a crazy reporter pick through his brain. Or maybe, like Coop suggestion, this so-called reporter didn’t have reporting on her agenda. “This was your idea! And frankly, I’m a little offended by it. I’m not sure what my sister told you, but I’m not…well, I’m not sure what you are insinuating, but whatever it is, I’m…not that type of guy.”
She took a little intake of breath, like a pained gasp, and looked as if he’d slapped her. Her eyes even rimmed with moisture. “Excuse me?”
“Yes, excuse you. I think you need to leave, Miss,…”
“Grace,” she said, barely over a whisper. “Mackenzie Grace.”
He frowned. Was that her last name? He thought he remembered it being something more –
“Are you kidding me? You’re Mackenzie Grace?” Cooper stood up, and Luke turned as he hurried toward them both, his expression morphing from a sort of smirk to something akin to adoration. His voice even grew soft, less growl, more purr. “What are you doing here, in Normandy?” He picked up a dry, insulated coat from one of the hooks and draped it around her shoulders. She pulled it around herself, and looked over at Luke as if he’d sold the family farm out from under her. Some sort of dangerous emotion simmered in her blue eyes, her blonde hair hung in wet, slightly drying coils. Her jaw tightened as if trying to keep her mouth from opening and devouring him.
He experienced a sort of queasy, raw feeling, not unlike the one he’d felt nearly five years ago, moments before everything exploded, as he watched little Luis approach the camp, a bag of so-called potatoes over his shoulder.
This was going to get ugly, fast.
“Yes, Mackenzie Grace, the movie star,” Cooper said, a sort of between-clenched-teeth-while-smiling stage whisper. “Haven’t you ever heard of Hayes O’Brien, 006?”
Kenzie continued to stare at him, something murderous now entering her eyes.
Luke shook his head, slowly. “Uh…You don’t happen to know my cousin Greg, do you?”
Her lips tightened to a tiny knot of fury.
His coat pocket began to buzz.
Cooper led Mackenzie back to the conference room. “Hey Luke, I think I’d get that, if I were you.”