For reasons definitely related to temporary insanity, I plan to release it SOON.
In the meantime, here is Chapter 1. I hope you enjoy!
It was the first day of winter. Or so it seemed. Until now, Central Indiana had logged the mildest December on record, with daytime temperatures hovering in the mid-sixties; however, someone must have poked a sleeping Old Man Winter in the eye, because he was finally awake, and angry, it seemed.
Overnight, the temperature plunged below freezing, and with it came frozen spittle from the skies. That’s what Claire Farmer likened it too, anyway. Precipitation so fine it could almost pass as fog, until you stepped out of the car to untangle your preschooler from her medieval torture device, otherwise known as a 5 point harness. As Claire wrangled Sylvie from the seat, specks of ice pelted her cheeks with surprising velocity, and suddenly she remembered why she loathed winter.
“Mommy, are we gonna get cookies tonight? Mia said she gets cookies at church.” Sylvie’s blonde curls brushed her pink cheeks as she nodded.
“I don’t know, Sylvie. I doubt it.”
“Chocolate chip cookies are my favorite. I like peanut butter cookies, too. I’m hungry.”
“We ate before we came. I told you to finish your plate.”
“Peas are yucky.”
“But you didn’t even touch your grapes, and they’re your favorite.” Claire grabbed her daughter’s hand to help her from the car. “Be careful, it’s getting slick.”
Sylvie pushed Claire’s hand away, turned back into the car, and lowered herself to her knees. “Sylvie, what are you doing? It’s cold out here. My face is about to freeze off.”
“I’m looking for Woofus,” Sylvie said, referring to the stuffed dog her dad bought her after the fire.
“We left Woofus at home remember? He didn’t feel like coming. Now, get over here.” Claire leaned into the car and grabbed Sylvie at the waist. Despite her balance being slightly off-kilter, Claire reckoned she could tug her forty pound, endearing yet often exasperating child from the car, as she had many times prior. Except, all those other times, her feet were anchored on dry pavement, not millimeters of ice. This time as she pulled, her right heel slipped under the car, and she landed flat on her back with Sylvie sprawled on top of her–laughing of course.
“That was fun,” Sylvie said.
“Oof” was all Claire could manage.
“Need a hand?”
Claire directed her gaze toward the deep male voice. The man bent down to help her regain her footing, but not her pride. That was under the car somewhere, along with her feet. She smiled at the shadowed face gazing down at her, trying not to betray her humiliation.
“No, I’m alright,” she said. “Sylvie, get up. Get off of Mommy.”
The left corner of the man’s mouth turned up. “You don’t look alright.”
“Oh, I’m just doing yoga. It’s called the Corpse Pose. You should try it.”
Since Sylvie wasn’t budging of her own accord, Claire gave her a shove. The four year old popped up on both feet and did a little spin on the slick pavement.
“Yoga in the middle of a dark parking lot, in December, while it’s sleeting. I see.” His mouth broke into a full smile now, and even though his face was still in shadows, she could tell his teeth were white, and a little crooked on bottom.
Claire grabbed his hand and allowed him to pull her up. “It’s called extreme yoga,” she said, when her feet were finally under her.
“Is it now?”
“Yeah. Remember when planking was all the rage? It’s kind of like that. I should have asked you to take a picture for my Facebook page.”
He laughed aloud. “I have no idea what you’re talking about.”
She smiled. His laughter helped her regain some self-respect.
Now that Claire could see the man’s face clearly, her heart quickened. She chastised herself. What a ridiculous, base response…to handsomeness. Pure handsomeness. She chastised herself again. Claire, you old crow. This man was clearly too young for her, with smooth skin and broad shoulders indicating a solid, healthy build. And he was a redhead. She’d never gone for redhead’s before. A slightly balding redhead at that. But even so, he was fresh off the farm. The age difference was a no-go, not to mention the fact that she’d sworn off men for the rest of her life. One whirlwind romance, followed by a hasty marriage, followed by a heart-rending divorce was enough, thank you.
“Are you alright?” he asked.
In her humiliation, Claire hadn’t thought to determine if anything was twisted, pulled, or broken. She did a quick systems check. Her left gluteus maximus must have taken the brunt of the fall, because it was the only area of her body that ached. It would be bruised tomorrow, no doubt. But she wasn’t about to tell this fellow that her bottom hurt.
She smiled into the frozen precipitation. “I’m fine,” she said. “I may be old, but I’m resilient.”
“Let’s go, Mommy,” Sylvie said, grabbing her mother’s hand. “I’m cold.”
The gentleman nodded in agreement and the three of them made careful way to the church. At the front entrance, he held the door for them both, and once inside, they parted ways–Claire and Sylvie to the right and the handsome red-haired hatchling to the left.
As he walked to his office, Mitchell Deitrich couldn’t stop smiling. Every time he replayed the exchange with the quirky brunette in the parking lot, his grin widened.
Who was she? A congregant? A visitor? He hadn’t been associate pastor at Parkview long enough to know the difference. With over two thousand members, he might never be able to tell the difference. As it were, every face was new to him. However, in his short six weeks at Parkview, he’d definitely never seen a face like hers–ample, well-defined cheek bones. Big, slightly down-turned cow eyes. As a former farm boy with a soft spot for cows, that was compliment, though not one he was likely to share with her if he ever got the opportunity to speak to her again.
He chuckled at himself.
It had been a long time since a woman managed to make him feel this way, her mere glance inciting a tickling yearning that warmed his body all the way to his fingertips.
He shook his head. Lust. That’s all it was. Simple lust. Not something to be cultivated.
He reached his office, unlocked it, and as he turned the knob, he reminded himself, he was in a vulnerable place emotionally, and it was no place to start a relationship. Even if the opportunity presented itself.