Chapter 3.2 Clean!

 

Wow, it’s amazing how much easier it is to read without all the read squiggles.  And as I got further into the piece, I appreciated RH’s comments more and more – it’s a good lesson – when you are going over the critique of a partner, make sure you have two versions – their comments, and a cleaner one to help you really evaluate them.  I made more changes…and this is going in the Final Rough Draft Vault.  Hope you like it!

Next week, we’re going to shift gears and approach this like we might be sending it out as a proposal to agents and editors.  I’m going to start with showing you how to put a synopsis together, using what I call the “Plotting Roadmap.”  Then I’ll show you the synopsis I’ve written for the story (with RH’s help), and finally the query letter and pitch I might use. 

Just a note:  when an editor or agent asks for three sample chapters – they are referring to the FIRST three sample chapters.  That’s why it’s important to really get them down solid. 

Okay….here we go: Chapter 3.2….Clean

Luke didn’t know who to strangle first – the blonde sitting beside him in the cab of his truck, or his cousin Greg at home at his place in LA; neither of whom could mind their own business and leave him alone.

            “I was just trying to help,” Mackenzie said.  “I just hate the fact that they think they can rule the world.”

“It really wasn’t any of your business, Miss Grace.” 

“It’s Kenzie.  And…I know.”   She sighed, looking away.  “Reporters just…get under my skin.  A hazard of the job, I guess.”  

“A hazard of your job?” Luke glanced at brace on her wrist. He had to admit, he hadn’t the faintest idea who Hayes O’Brien, 006 might be, or why she wore the brace, but judging by Cooper’s expression – full out admiration – Hayes O’Brien was clearly someone.

            Enough of a someone to be the subject of a stalker, according to Greg.  Just keep an eye on her, look out for anyone or anything out of the ordinary.  She’s mostly spooked, and just needs a place to relax.   

Perfect.  And he’d get to play tour guide/bodyguard/innkeeper. 

Luke looked away, back to the road, barely missing a pothole that yawned across the road.  “Be glad she didn’t recognize you. Greg said you’re supposed to stay under the radar.”

            MacKenzie had to brace her hand on the dash, lurching toward him as the truck jolted.

            “Sorry.” 

            She glanced at him, her expression soft.  “I really am sorry I butted in.  And you’re right.  The last thing I need is some reporter recognizing me.  We’d have the national media on our trail in a second.  You just looked…” She shook her head…  “Never mind.”

“What – how did I look?” 

She pulled in a long breath.  “Can we just…start over?”

            They’d turned off the main highway, and even the winding side road, and now trekked a dirt trail that led to his cabin – or he should say the Alexander family cabin, as Greg’s side of the family technically owned it also.  But most of his clan had moved on – further west, others down to Georgia.  He’d thought the place free and clear for his use…

 “Not until you answer my question – What did you see in my expression?

“Look Luke, I am around actors way too much, probably.  I probably see things that aren’t there.  And, really it isn’t any of my business, like you – “

“Stop stalling, Miss Grace.”  Luke glanced at her, his chest tightening.  He’d spent years grooming his expression to hide his past.  How could she —

“Tortured. You looked tortured.  There, happy?

 No, not especially. 

“The reporter mentioned a name and you got a look on your face that made me think she probed too deep, maybe touched a dark place.” 

How Luke hated that, in an instant, this stranger had glimpsed a piece of the darkness he’d tried so hard to hide. Or perhaps run from.  Or both, depending on the day.

 He’d simply frozen when Candy had mentioned Darrin’s wife,  Patsy Gerard.  And the fact she’d written a book about Darrin, and the raid in Mexico. Or, at least about what she believed  happened. What had she called it?  Something about Dark Secrets?  Yeah, that was an understatement.

 “Why did you say that to me?” 

Luke cut his eyes her direction.  “Say what?”

“Earlier, back at the office, about not being a hero?  You said you were a…murderer.”  

The rain bulleted the windshield and he turned the wipers up higher. “I think now is a good time to start over.” 

So, clearly he wanted to change the topic. She considered him for a moment. “Okay.  Sorry.  It’s the actress in me.  I see something in a person, and I like to know where it came from. It’s a part of getting inside someone’s skin to understand them, and perhaps, eventually, emulate that emotion for the screen.” 

She couldn’t emulate the torture of watching a child die in front of her eyes.  Or the desperation of your best friend’s blood hot and pouring through your fingers.

Still, she did seem to be able to read someone at a glance, while he had the sensitivity of a moose.   He’d practically called her a tramp.  Even as he thought it, one eye closed in a half-wince.  “By the way, I can’t believe I said…well, what I said to you earlier. I’m sorry about that.”

She must be trying as hard as he because she offered a laugh.  “Yeah, I had to admit, it threw me. But I’ve been called worse…recently.”  Her voice ended with a sigh. 

“Oh, really?”  He slowed the truck as he came to a narrow bridge.  Under it, an offshoot of the Doe River rushed in a white, angry swirl over rocks and downed logs through the woods.  Sometimes, after a hard day’s work, he’d come down here, find a notch in the rocks and let the rapids pour over his aching muscles.  But after a rain like today, it could sweep him right over, slam his head against a boulder, drown him in three feet of water.  “Media?”

“How’d you guess?” She offered him a brothers-in-arms smile.  So, maybe they could be friends.  Of a sort.

The wooden bridge creaked as he eased over it.  Kenzie glanced down, out her window.  “Is this thing safe?” 

 “Yes.  I check it every spring.  It’s just fine.”

She had taken her hand off her brace and now it whitened on the door handle.

“Really, we’ll be fine.  It’s sturdy enough.” 

“Where are we going?” 

“My cabin.” 

“Your…cabin? ” She shot him a look.  “Greg told me it was a vacation home.” 

            Uh oh, Greg had called the old log homestead a vacation home?  Perfect.  Yep, it was decided – he’d strangle Greg first.

  “I guess you could call it that.   It’s a two room cabin with outdoor plumbing and a wood fireplace useful for hunting and hiding out.  Of which, I think you’ll be doing the latter.” 

She glanced at him with wide green eyes.  Pretty green eyes, he noticed. Yes, they’d make an impression if you saw them on the big screen.

“Did you say outdoor plumbing?” 

He grimaced, hating his answer.  “Yes. We have a hand pump over the sink, but the facilities are behind the house…” 

 She closed her mouth, and by the angle of her jaw, he guessed that he’d have to stand in line for dibs on Greg. 

She shook her head.  “I guess it does sound like a good place to hide.” 

“Greg didn’t say much – just that you’d been in some sort of trouble.”  Actually, he’d used the words stalker, and spooked.  He kept his words casual, light.  No need to spook her more.  A wounded wing and no plumbing – he actually felt a shard of pity for her.

She lifted a shoulder.  “Greg thinks someone tried to kill me.”  Her voice matched his – light, easy, as if hoping not to spook him, either.

Tried to kill – “What?  Someone took a shot at you?” Okay, stalker might not have been the word he’d have used.  Clearly Greg needed an overhaul on his communication skills.

“A bomb.  In my living room. We think it’s a stalker from the past, but the police aren’t sure.”  She said it without the emotion he expected from an actress.  As if she might be, as Greg suggested, very spooked, and trying to hide it.  

He’d play along.  “That looks like it hurts.”  He nodded to her brace. 

She slid her hand over her arm.  “It hurts, but I’ve done worse.  Like, the time I jumped out of a moving car and missed the landing pad.” 

“Jumped out of a moving. . . you’re a stunt woman too?” 

She laughed.  “No, just a young and overzealous actress when I first started.  I thought I should do all my own stunts.  Not anymore.  Now I let the professionals do all the heavy lifting.”

 “How long have you been in the movie business?” 

“About six years.  I got a lucky break out of college – found Greg, and he landed me a bit part in an action adventure movie – maybe you saw it? – it was called Lethal Chase.  From there, they cast me as Haley O’Brien, 006.”

            “I’m sorry, I haven’t heard of it.  But it sounds like a James Bond movie.” 

She gave him a long, almost disbelieving look.   

“Sorry, I don’t watch movies.” 

 “Oh.  Well, she’s a….take off of Bond, only she’s American…whatever.  I’ve done three of them now.” 

Silence pulsed between them. 

He had to slow the truck to ease around a deep puddle. One wheel dipped in, lurching her toward him.  Low hanging tree branches scraped the top of the cab.

 Kenzie righted herself.  “Why not?” 

“Why not…what?”

“Why don’t you watch movies?”

“I prefer quiet.  Reading. And, the cabin doesn’t have electricity.” 

She closed her eyes as if in pain. Then shook her head.  “That’s just awesome.” 

He smiled.  “You’ll get used to it.  I live off the grid, so I still have lights – via the river we passed.  And gas lights if I need them.  But you learn to go to bed early and get up with the sun.” 

“Get up with the sun—that’s usually when I’m going to bed.”  But she said it with a tone that suggested she might be stretching the truth.  And, underneath that glitz and sparkle – and especially since she still wore Cooper’s raincoat – he suspected that she was a read-a-book-in-bed, get-up-early-and-run kind of girl. 

“Umhmm,” he said.  They rolled into a clearing and stopped before the Alexander family cabin.  Luke sat in the seat, watching Kenzie out of his periphery as she surveyed her…vacation home.

A low-hanging porch with smooth-as-tanned leather, polished wood beams holding up the roof disguised much of the cabin’s beauty – the leaded glass windows, the hand-carved door, the riverstone fireplace that cut through the center of the cabin for heat, as well as cooking. 

“How old is this cabin?” 

“About…maybe, a few…decades.” 

She slowly turned in her seat.  “Guess for me – how many…decades?” 

“Eight?” 

“Nice.  It looks like something out of an old western.  A real live log cabin.”

“Well, it…is a real live log cabin.  My grandfather cut the trees right here,  from the property. In fact, the Alexander family passes down a sort of superstition about great, great grandpa still lurching about the eighty acres of Cherokee forest, putting tar in the gaps in the logs, or fixing the roof, especially on cold nights when the wood moaned.  It makes for delicious  ghost stories for my nephew.” 

And yes, it might have something to do with the fact that Luke had never installed electricity.  Or plumbing. 

Besides, he also had the silver stream, parked on the other side of the house, if he got desperate.  

She sat still, holding her arm, staring at the house.  He couldn’t read her expression – curiosity?  Horror? “Ready?” 

Oh no, her gaze appeared stuck on a small building down a thin trail toward the back of the house.  “Is that the…”

“Biffy.  We call it a biffy.  Or throne, depending on your mood.” 

She winced.  “Right.”

“Ready to face the “vacation home?” 

            “Clearly, Greg’s definition of a vacation home and mine need to align more.”

He hid a grin.  “Stay put – I’ll come around and—“

But she’d already hopped out, made a dash for the porch.  Ho-kay. 

He caught up just as she eased open the door and stepped inside. 

Calling it two rooms veered on the side of generous – no one really considered the loft a second room since it didn’t have a door.  Or walls.  As he peered over her shoulder, he shot a small prayer of gratitude to the army for teaching him how to make his bed and keep his room clean.  In front of the fireplace – on one side of the two-sided hearth, an overstuffed denim sofa faced the heat, flanked on either side by homemade hickory furniture.  Books stacked beside the chair balanced a cold cup of coffee. 

His gaze whisked across the Hudson Bay blanket over his double bed in the corner, the duffle of clean clothing he had yet to fold and put in the trunk at the end of his bed.  A bowl of hardened oatmeal remains sat on the sink – he hadn’t pumped water yet into the kitchen sink – although now his rain-barrel on top of the cabin would surely be filled to overflowing.  A red picnic table he’d rescued from a park cleanup crew filled most of the space on the other side of the hearth. 

The pungent odor of kerosene mixed with creosote and wood polish, and for the first time he realized how backwoods the place smelled. 

“You have a big family,” Kenzie said, stopping at the wall near the door, surveying the generations of photos taken.  She peered close to a group of teenagers.  “Is that Greg?” 

“He was a redneck.  Don’t let him ever forget that.” 

She tapped the photo, then sighed and turned, surveying the place in silence.  He watched her face.  Yes, she did have freckles, and underneath all that bling, a solidness about her that intrigued him.  Did her own stunts, huh? 

And, despite his annoyance, okay, it did feel just a smidge good to have someone take up for him.  As if she might be on his side. 

MacKenzie Grace, movie star.  Maybe it was time for him to watch a movie. 

We think it’s a stalker from the past, but the police aren’t sure.  Whoever it was, they’d gotten away with it the first time.  But Greg had clearly been worried enough to ask Luke to babysit.  Which meant this stalker just might find a map and head east, to Tennessee. 

And that scenario could only be slightly better than the one flashing through his mind since Candy had dropped the little bomb about Cindy’s book. 

Luke pushed away the image of reporters stalking him through town…

And, right behind that, the image of the people he’d left behind in Mexico, tracking him down through the Cherokee forest right here to this cabin, to finish what they started. 

He blew out a long breath, leaned against the doorjamb, folding his arms.  Yes, maybe he should be doing the hiding, right along with Kenzie.  Because if his whereabouts really got out – not in Tennessee, but into the world at large, she wouldn’t be the only one hiding from someone trying to kill her.

 

For comments about this chapter, or to talk about Chapter 4, don’t forget to hop over to VOICES and add yours to the discussion!  Every Voice Counts!

 

 

 

 

Chapter 3.2 – Luke’s POV!

Chapter 3.2….rough draft – here we go!

 

Luke didn’t know who to strangle first – the blonde who looked like she could level him with one straight on glare in his direction or Greg, the cousin who just couldn’t seem to leave him alone. 

            “I was just trying to help,” Mackenzie said.  “I just hate the fact that they think they can rule the world.”

“It really wasn’t any of your business, MaKen –Miss Grace.” 

“It’s Kenzie.  And…I know.”   She sighed, looked away.  “Reporters just…get under my skin.  A job hazard, I guess.” 

A job hazard.              Luke glanced at her wrist brace.  Something had happened, enough for her even now to put a protective hand over it.  He had to admit, he hadn’t the faintest idea who Hayes O’Brien, 007 might be, but judging by Cooper’s expression – full out admiration — clearly she was someone.

            Someone enough to be the subject of a stalker, according to Greg.  Just keep an eye on her, look out for anyone or anything out of the ordinary.  She’s mostly spooked, and just needs a place to relax.   

Perfect.  And he’d have to play tour guide/bodyguard/innkeeper.  Luke looked away, back to the road, barely missing a pothole that suddenly gaped in the road.  “Be glad she didn’t recognize you. According to Greg, you’re supposed to stay under the radar.”

            MacKenzie had to brace her hand on the dash, lurching toward him as the truck jolted.

            “Sorry.” 

            She glanced at him, her expression for the first time soft.  “I really am sorry I butted in.  And you’re right.  The last thing I need is some reporter recognizing me.  We’d have the national media on our trail in a second.  You just looked…”

She shook her head, as if self-editing. 

“What – how did I look?” 

She pulled in a breath through her teeth.  “Can we just…start over?”

            They’d turned off the main highway, and even the winding side road, and now trekked a dirt trail that led to his cabin – or he should say the Alexander family cabin, as Greg’s side of the family technically owned it also.  But most of his clan had moved on – further west, some of them down to Georgia.  He’d thought the place free and clear for his use…

Until today. 

“Not until you answer my question – how did I look?” 

“I am around actors way too much, probably.  I see things that aren’t there.  And, really it isn’t any of my business, like you – “

“How did I look?”  Luke glanced at her, a sick feeling needling his chest.  He’d thought he’d done a masterful job of packing down his feelings, his guilt, his –

“Tortured.  That woman mentioned someone, and you got a look on your face that made me just…oh nothing.  I’m sorry.  I’ve been around some dark places lately.  I’m probably over sensitive.” 

Luke swallowed past the burr lodged in his throat, hating that, in an instant, this stranger had seen everything he’d been trying to hide.  Or perhaps run from.  Or both, depending on the day. 

And he simply froze when Candy had mentioned Patsy Gerard.  And the fact she’d written a book. 

In part, about him. 

Or, at least about what she supposed happened.  Dark Secrets?  Yeah, that was an understatement.

“Why did you say that to me?” 

Luke cut his eyes her direction.  “Say what?”

“About not being a hero?  About being a murderer.”   The rain bulleted the windshield and he turned the wipers up higher.

“I think now is a good time to start over.” 

She considered him for a moment.  “Okay.  Sorry.  It’s the actress in me.  I see something in a person, and I like to know where it came from. It’s a part of getting inside someone’s skin to understand them, and perhaps, eventually, emulate that emotion for the screen.” 

She couldn’t emulate watching a child die in front of her eyes.  Or seeing your best friend shot down, his blood warm on your hands.  But Luke nodded, searching for a topic change. 

Like…the fact that while she could read someone at a glance, apparently he had the sensitivity of a moose.   “I can’t believe I said…well, what I said to you.”  Even as he thought it, one eye closed in a half-wince.  He’d practically called her a tramp.  “I’m sorry about that.”

 She must be trying as hard as he because she offered a laugh.  “Yeah, I had to admit, it threw me. But I’ve been called worse…recently.”  Her voice ended with a sigh. 

“Like what?”  He slowed the truck as he came to a narrow bridge.  Under it, an offshoot of the Doe River rushed in a white, angry swirl over rocks and downed logs through the woods.  Sometimes, after a hard day’s work, he’d come down here, find a notch in the rocks and let the rapids pour over his aching muscles.  But after a rain like today, it could sweep him right over, slam his head against a boulder, drown him in three feet of water. 

The wooden bridge creaked as he eased over it. 

“Is this thing safe?” 

“Probably,” he said. 

She had taken her hand off her brace and now it whitened on the door grip. 

“Really, we’ll be fine.  It’s sturdy enough.” 

“Where are we going?” 

“My cabin.” 

She shot him a look.  “I…Greg told me it was some sort of vacation home.” 

Luke shook his head.  Yep, it was decided – he’d strangle Greg first.  “Uh…I guess to some.  To me, it’s a two room cabin with outdoor plumbing and a wood fireplace useful for hunting and hiding out.  Of which, I think you’ll be doing the latter.” 

She glanced at him with wide green* eyes.  “Did you say outdoor plumbing?” 

“Uh…we have a hand pump over the sink, but the, er, facilities are behind the house…” 

She closed her mouth, and by the angle of her jaw, he guessed that he’d have to stand in line for dibs on Greg. 

She shook her head.  “I guess it’s a good place to hide.” 

“Greg said you’d been in some sort of trouble.”  He kept his words casual, light.  No need to spook her more. 

She lifted a shoulder.  “Greg thinks someone tried to kill me.” 

Oh.  But her voice matched his, light, easy.  As if hoping not to spook him, either. 

“That looks like it hurts.”  He nodded to her brace.  

“A little.  But it’s not as bad as the time I jumped out of a moving car and missed the pad.” 

Jumped out of a moving  – “Are a stunt girl?” 

She laughed.  “First movie.  Overzealous.  I thought I should do all my own stunts.  Not anymore.” 

“How long have you been in the movie business?” 

“About six years.  I got a lucky break out of college – found Greg, and he landed me a bit part in an action adventure movie – maybe you saw it? – it was called Lethal Chase.  From there, they cast me as Haley O’Brien, 006.”

“Is that like James Bond’s partner or something?” 

She gave him a long, almost disbelieving look.    

“Sorry, I don’t watch movies.” 

“Oh.  Well, no, she’s a….take off of Bond, only she’s American…whatever.  I’ve done three of them now.” 

Silence pulsed between them.  Then, “Why not?” 

“Why not…what?”

“Why don’t you watch movies?”

“I prefer quiet.  Reading.  And…I don’t have electricity.” 

She closed her eyes, shaking her head.  “That’s just awesome.” 

He smiled.  “You’ll get used to it.  I live off the grid, so I still have lights – via the river we passed.  And gas lights if I need them.  But you learn to go to bed early and get up with the sun.” 

“Get up with the sun—that’s usually when I’m going to bed.”  But she said it with a tone that suggested she might be stretching the truth.  And, underneath that glitz and sparkle – and especially since she still wore Cooper’s raincoat – he suspected that she was a read-a-book-in-bed, get-up-early-and-run kind of girl. 

“Umhmm,” he said.  They rolled into a clearing and stopped before the Alexander family cabin.  Luke sat in the seat, watching Kenzie out of his periphery as she surveyed her…vacation home.

A low-hanging porch with smooth-as-tanned leather, polished wood beams holding up the roof disguised much of the cabin’s beauty – the leaded glass windows, the hand-carved door, the Riverstone fireplace that cut through the center of the cabin for heat, as well as cooking.  “How old is this…cabin?” 

“About…maybe, a few…decades.” 

She slowly turned in her seat.  “Guess for me – how many…decades?” 

“Eight?” 

“Nice.  And I suppose those logs are hand hewn?”

“Cut right there, from the property.”  In fact, the Alexander family passed down a sort of superstition about great, great grandpa still lurching about the eighty acres of Cherokee forest, putting tar in the gaps in the logs, or fixing the roof, especially on cold nights when the wood moaned.  It made for a delicious ghost story for Trevor.    

And yes, it might have something to do with the fact that Luke had never installed electricity.  Or plumbing. 

Besides, he also had the silver stream, parked on the other side of the house, if he got desperate.  

“Ready?” 

But her gaze stuck on a small building down a thin trail toward the back of the house.  “Is that the…”

“Biffy.  We call it a biffy.  Or throne, depending on your mood.” 

She winced.  “Right.  I don’t think I’ll ever be ready.” 

He hid a grin.  “Stay put – I’ll come around and—“

But she’d already hopped out, made a dash for the porch.  Ho-kay. 

He caught up just as she eased open the door and stepped inside. 

Calling it two rooms veered on the side of generous – no one really considered the loft a second room since it didn’t have a door.  Or walls.  As he peered over her shoulder, he shot a small prayer of gratitude to the army for teaching him how to make his bed and keep his room clean.  In front of the fireplace – on one side of the two-sided hearth, an overstuffed denim sofa faced the heat, flanked on either side by homemade hickory furniture.  Books stacked beside the chair balanced a cold cup of coffee.  

His gaze whisked across the Hudson Bay blanket over his double bed in the corner, the duffle of clean clothing he had yet to fold and put in the trunk at the end of his bed.  A bowl of hardened oatmeal remains sat on the sink – he hadn’t pumped water yet into the kitchen sink – although now his rain-barrel on top of the cabin would surely be filled to overflowing.  A red picnic table he’d rescued from a park cleanup crew filled most of the space on the other side of the hearth. 

The pungent odor of kerosene mixed with creosote and wood polish, and for the first time he realized how backwoods the place smelled.  Like he really might be Daniel Boone. 

“You have a big family,” Kenzie said, stopping at the wall near the door, surveying the generations of photos taken.  She peered close to a group of teenagers.  “Is that Greg?” 

“He was redneck.  Don’t let him ever forget that.” 

She tapped the photo, then sighed and turned, surveying the place in silence.  He watched her face.  Yes, she did have freckles, and underneath all that bling, a solidness about her that intrigued him.  Did her own stunts, huh? 

And, despite his annoyance, okay, it did feel just a smidge good to have someone take up for him.  As if she might be on his side. 

MacKenzie Grace.  Maybe it was time for him to watch a movie. 

What if someone really did want to hurt her?  Clearly, they’d gotten away with it the first time.  But Greg had seemed just enough worried to ask Luke to babysit.  Which meant this stalker just might find a map and head east, to Tennessee. 

And that scenario could only be slightly better than the one flashing through his mind since Candy had dropped the little bomb about Cindy’s book. 

Luke pushed away the image of reporters stalking him through town…

And then there was the people he’d left behind.  The ones who would love to track him down, right here to this cabin, and finish what they started in Columbia. 

He blew out a long breath, leaned against the doorjamb, folding his arms.  Yes, maybe he should be doing the hiding, right along with Kenzie.  Because if his whereabouts really got out – not in Tennessee, but into the world at large, she wouldn’t be the only one with someone trying to kill her.

Chapter 3.1 rough draft

Sorry it’s taken so long to get chapter 3.1. out!! I taught at a retreat last weekend, but after a grueling week of prep, I finally had a chance to brainstorm out and write the rough draft of this first scene of chapter 3. I wanted to make Kenzie a bit more sympathetic, as well as raise more questions about Luke. Also, I wanted to raise another story thread that I’ll pick up later – the one that said that Luke might have secrets – and that someone might be out to get him. I also took a few ideas from the Voices (thank you!) about raising the issue of having the reporter recognize him.

 

Thoughts? Suggestions? Post them in the Voices Forum, Chapter 3 discussion!

 

Chapter 3.1

 

Of course, Greg didn’t have the courage to pick up his cell phone – Kenzie’s call went immediately to voice mail. “Just what did you tell your cousin?” Kenzie said under her coiled breath, all the while smiling at the large, dark-haired man who had finally acted with some chivalry, given her a blanket and made her a cup of tea.

            Not that it tasted any better than the coffee offered by Mr. Lewd Suggestion – at least that’s what Luke’s I’m…not that type of guy comment felt like

It had taken her a long, reeling moment to sink in what he’d meant, and well, she wasn’t either, thank you very much.

What had Greg gotten her into…and, with whom? She pressed end on her phone and snuck a look at him. Luke Alexander. She remembered his name now – thanks to the memo on her phone. Park ranger. Local, Untamed Wildlife seemed a better description. Who, perchance, needed more monitoring that she did, because her so-called protector appeared a little on the unhinged side the way he paced in tiny circles, his ear pressed to his cell phone, glancing at her like she might be a wounded deer who wandered in under his watch.

            Not that he didn’t look capable of taking care of a wounded deer. Or elk. Or black bear. Easily over six foot, he had the lean, broad-shouldered appearance of many of her leading men – with the exception that his probably came from good, old fashioned hard work as opposed to the gym, and occasional body-enhancement surgery now popular in her neighborhood.

            He wore his hair military short – brown as coffee, a solemn set to his clean shaven jaw as he now turned away from her, cutting his voice low, nearly growling in to his phone.

            She certainly wouldn’t want to be the person on the other end of the line.

            “So, what brings you to Normandy, Miss Grace?”  Cooper – or, “Coop,” as she had been instructed to call him, handed her the cup of tea.

            Makenzie glanced again at Luke, a cosmically unfortunately piece of timing giving the fact he’d chosen then to hang up, turn and stare at her as if the might be a mess of road kill he had to clean up.

            Nice. Her thumb hovered over Greg’s speed dial. “I’m here on…vacation.” She said, breaking away from his rather lethal, unfriendly gaze and stirring the tea with a spoon, then spooning out the bag, pressing it against the side of the cup.

            “Vacation? In Normandy?” Cooper, who reminded her a little of a much younger Jim Belushi, pulled out a chair and sat down opposite her, as if ready to hear her life story. “No one ever comes to Normandy to va-cate.” He bit off the end of his word with a smile, and a chuckle. “At least not big movie stars.”

            She held up her hand. “Actually, I’d like to keep my presence here on the down-low. That’s why I…picked Normandy.” She smiled at him, a conspiratorial look she dragged up from 006, and pressed a long, manicured finger to her lips.

            “Oh,” he said, his mouth a round O. He mimicked her. “Gotcha.”

            Luke strolled over to her, every step weighted with a sort of sigh. He leaned against the doorjamb, folding his arms over his chest. Considered her a long moment as she sipped her tea.

            “Should I be apologizing for something? Because it seems to me that you were the one with the ugly assumptions,” she said.

He ran his hand up his cheek. She couldn’t read the emotion in his eyes – half frustration, maybe annoyance?

What did he have to frustrated about? It wasn’t like he would have to camp out on her doorstep. And he wasn’t the one who had to pick up his life and ran half-way across the country. He didn’t have his name and face splashed across every rag in the country Mackenzie Grace in hiding. She’d nearly wanted to clean out the entire rack when she stopped for a soda and gas at the local airport.

Good thing she’d insisted on renting her own car, or she’d be trapped here – or whatever backwoods location he decided to dump her.

“No, I didn’t get Greg’s message until now.”

            Oh. She replayed their unfortunate conversation and didn’t know where to unsnarl it. Worse, from his death-row expression, looking after her for a month appeared to be the dead-last thing Luke Alexander wanted to spend the next month doing.

            And now she gone from a victim, to a hassle. Perfect.

“I’m sorry to put you in this position, Mr. Alexander—“

“Luke is fine.”

“Then, Luke. Maybe I should just call Greg and tell him –“

“No, He briefed me on the situation.” Luke’s gaze flitted to Cooper, back to her. “I’ll take you up to the cabin, make sure you’re snug as a bug, and keep an eye on you until Greg tracks down some fulltime security.”

“But I don’t want someone babysitting–“

The front door opened, and with it, a peel of thunder. Rain splashed into the room as a yellow-slickered form entered, shaking off a red umbrella. “Is Luke Alexander here?”

Luke leaned up from the door, a sigh escaping.

Kenzie watched as he sulked over to the woman – a petite brunette with eagerness written all over the way she introduced herself – Candy Sloan – and practically lunged for Luke’s proffered hand.

Luke offered her a cup of coffee, and then, glancing at the conference room, gestured toward his desk.

Mackenzie could have been dreaming it, but the guy had gone from tightly wound to about to snap.

Interesting.

“Who’s that,” she asked Coop, keeping her voice light.

“A reporter for the VFW Voice. Luke saved his nephew from being pancaked by traffic last week – and he’s sort of a local hero, so they wanted to do a story on him. “

A local hero. He’s former military. Greg’s words pinged in her mind as she watched Luke sit down, fold his hands over his chest. He looked at the woman as if he wanted to devour her for lunch.

She pulled out a tape-recorder, and he tried to incinerate it with a look.

A smile touched Mackenzie’s lips. So, apparently she and Luke had something in common – a hatred of the press. Or at least, a vivid wariness.

“If he doesn’t want to be interviewed, why is he doing it?”

“His dad’s a vet. He sorta feels it’s his duty to his country. Once a soldier, always a soldier.”

A crabby soldier, by the looks of it.

Candy – really, that was the byline she wanted to use? – began to pepper Luke with questions – although, from the conference room, Kenzie couldn’t hear or see Luke’s nearly monotone, one-syllable answers.

“What did he do?”

“His nephew was making a quick get-away on a boosted wheelchair and drove into traffic. Luke tackled him just as it flew into traffic.”

            “No, I meant in the military.”

            Cooper sat down across from her, having found a package of Lorna dunes. He opened them and set them in front of her.

“He was a special forces solder, and he and his team went into rescue this DEA agent a few years ago. Only, he and another guy got taken. He was held hostage for about six weeks – everybody thought he’d died. And then, he escaped. With the DEA agent. He was a hero – except for the face his buddy died trying to escape. Luke’s never really gotten over leaving him behind. “ cooper helped himself to a cookie. “It made the news – big time magazine article, exposing the drug lords of south America. Luke even appeared on GMA and the Today show. “

“Why did he leave the military?”

“He was injured, too, in the escape. Nearly lost his leg. Took years of physical therapy.”

Kenzie watched him now as Candy, leaned in, asked something that made his breath intake. He shook his head.

She raised an eyebrow, and then pulled out something from his files. Asked him another question.

Even from here, Kenzie could see his recoil. His eyes flashed, then, with some sort of pain.

She didn’t know why, but Kenzie found herself on her feet, edging toward the door.

“I’m not going to talk about that.”

“Is it true that you’ve never talked to his widow about what really happened? Because in her book, Dark Secrets, she says that you left her husband to die– “

“Is this what this is really about?” Luke had now found his feet. “I’m not doing this—“

“What are you hiding? The public deserves to know the truth!” Candy, an ironic name for the woman who now stood and jabbed the recorder at Luke, clearly didn’t see – or didn’t care, at the torment that raked across Luke’s face.

But Kenzie saw it. A raw, bone-deep pain that rocked him back on his heels, and if she wasn’t mistaken, slicked sweat across his face. “This interview is over,” he said tightly. “Get out.”

Get out. How many times had she wanted to say that to some reporter. Or, better yet, say – how would you like to have your life exposed for the world to see? And seeing Luke turn away, stalk toward the back windows, nearly shaking, well, something akin to comradery turned inside her.

Why did the press think they could take a rumor and turn it into a headline? Why did they get to own a person’s privacy?

Candy shook her head to Luke’s less than polite request, and Kenzie had the sudden urge to shake her.  But the woman pocketed the recorder with a, “we’re far from done, Mr. Alexander.”

She turned on her heel and headed toward the door.

Almost without realizing she was moving, Kenzie headed toward the door, on Candy’s tail. “Excuse me—“

Candy turned, her eyes landing on Mackenzie with some disgust. Kenzie had already put together the fact that perhaps she didn’t look quite herself – what with her hair plastered to her head, her makeup splotchy. Still, the redneck disdain stirred her ire, not to mention the rather snarky, “What?”

“You know, maybe you should just leave him alone. What gives you the right to pry into someone’s past? He clearly doesn’t want to talk about it. How would you like someone to dig around in your back-story, maybe drag up a few skeletons?”

“The public has a right to know what really happened.”

“That’s baloney. You’re only interested in selling magazines – or—“ She leaned down close to Candy – “Or, are you intending on selling this article somewhere…else?”

Candy had a lousy poker face.  “You tell your friend that this thing isn’t going to go away. The truth will find him out.” She looked over Kenzie’s shoulder. “He’s not the hero everyone thinks he is.” She banged out the door.

Kenzie watched her go, splashing through the puddles as the rain slicked her coat to her body.

Everything in Kenzie tremored.  She shook her head, turned, ready to launch into a loud dissertation about the evils of unchecked journalism when her gaze landed on Luke.

He sat, propped against the desk, his arms folded across his chest, and the look he wore she wouldn’t define as friendly. Then again, she wouldn’t exactly peg it as hostile either. More…Annoyed. Even, Confused.

“What?” she said. Excuse her, but she’d been watching his back. Which, after their rather rocky start, should earn her a few points.

He pushed up from the desk, walked toward her. “You’d make my new job a lot easier if you’d refrain from taking down the local reporters.”

“Your new job?”

“As your tour guide-slash-bodyguard?” He said without a smile. “According to Greg, you’re supposed to stay under the radar.” He raised an annoying eyebrow.

“I would have thought a thank you is in order.”

“Oh, I have no doubt she’ll be back.” He picked up a baseball cap from a hook, then slid his coat Especially since she’s right. Let’s go.”

He left her standing there, the rain spattering her legs as he stomped out to the truck.