Friday Snippet: Vicki & Elias

This snippet comes from Chapter Four, where Vicki has a heart-to-heart with Elias.  She’s scared, confused, and they’re just trying to figure out what’s going to happen to their relationship now that Jesse is intruding. 

Background:  the first night, she made Elias sleep on the couch and Jesse slept downstairs.

Her phone rang, making her jump. Elias. Sick at heart, she hit the button. “Please don’t tell me that you can’t make it tonight.”

What’s wrong, Vik? Is your houseguest starting to scare you?”

He laughed, telling her he wasn’t really serious. “You were right, Elias,” she whispered, fighting back the tears. “You were right, and I’m in trouble.”

Trouble like you need me to come over and bust his mouth open again?” His voice sharpened, all cop, ringing with intent. “I can be there in twenty minutes. If you’re in danger, then I’ll send the closest squad car to pick him up.”

No, no, I’m not in danger. He is. I’m scaring myself.”

Hold on a minute, Vik. Let me find a private room.”

She heard the chatter of the office and finally the door shut, sealing off all noises.

Okay, spill. What has you so freaked out?”

He does love me. He told me. Even the birthday card—that he made months ago—says that he loves me.”

Yeah,” Elias said slowly, drawing the word out. “How’d you react to that earth-shattering news?”

She squeezed her eyes shut and held the phone away from her ear in case he started yelling at her. “I kissed him.”

It took her a minute to realize the muffled sounds coming from his phone weren’t curses, but might actually be laughter. “You are not laughing at me, are you? I kissed him. No, I slammed him up against the wall like you did last night, only instead of splitting his lip open, I damned near bit it off.”

Elias laughed harder. “Did he thank you for it?”

Yeah, yeah he did. In fact, he begged me to do it again. Why aren’t you pissed?”

Oh, Vik, I don’t know. It’s not like I have any right to be pissed at you for kissing another man when I haven’t been around in months. Besides, you’re too upset for me to be mad, and he’s not a bad kid. No, he’s a real good-looking kid, a nice tender morsel.” He laughed harder, like one of his buddies had just told him the most hilarious joke he’d ever heard. “Making love to you has always been like wrestling a hungry crocodile. Did you shock the hell out of him?”

Stricken, she blinked back tears. Her chest felt too tight to breathe. “I’m that bad?”

Aw hell, no, Vicki,” he said, his voice as tender as she’d ever heard him. “You’re the hottest, sexiest, most passionate woman I’ve ever had the pleasure to meet. But you’re not a soft, passive woman in bed, far from it. Half the fun is wrestling you for dominance, and the other half is making sure you enjoy the consolation prize as much as I am. Any smarter man would never have left you simmering all these months. It’s as much my fault as yours that you’re so attracted to Jesse.”

So you’ll come over tonight? Please?”

He let out a wicked, low laugh that made her blood smolder. “Oh, I don’t know, Vik. Your couch isn’t that comfortable. Besides, you’ve got that hot cabana boy to tend to you now. Why do you need me?”

I won’t make you sleep on the couch tonight. I swear.”

We’re going to be loud, babe,” he purred, drawing a rough groan from her. “I’m going to make you scream. We’re going to hit every surface of your bedroom, hell, your whole apartment, and your boy’s going to hear every whimper, thud, curse, and shout of release. Are you sure you’re up for that?”

Her nipples were so hard the lace of her bra felt like sandpaper. “Can you come home now?”

Now it was his turn to groan. “I wish I could, but I’ve got a meeting with the Lieutenant in five minutes. I expect we’ll go out on a tip this afternoon, so don’t hold dinner for me.”

Elias, please, you have to come tonight.”

I will,” he promised. “It might be late, but as soon as we’re done with the bust, I’ll drive straight to you.” He hesitated, an edge coming to his voice. “You know he’s probably loaded with STDs or worse. God only knows what he’s been exposed to in prison, let alone the streets.”

I know,” she whispered, lying back on her bed. “I’m taking him to the clinic tomorrow. I already made an appointment.”

You’re serious, then. Jesus, Vik.”

I know,” she repeated, closing her eyes and rubbing her temple with her free hand. “What does this mean for us?”

Hell if I know. I’d say I should simply take the hint and get the hell out of Dodge, but you’re begging me to come over tonight.”

I’ve missed you,” her voice broke but she refused to bitch and moan about the past. Elias had chosen to bail on her. He’d played both judge and jury and blamed her for everything that had gone wrong, but she couldn’t stop loving him. Even when he’s an uncompromising ass. “I don’t want to lose you all over again.”

But you want him too.”

Her relationship with Elias had always had a lot of failings, but one thing she’d never done was lie to him. “Yeah, I do.”

Vicki’s Colors

This snippet is from Chapter 3.  As you’ll learn in Victor’s book, Vicki is trying to establish her own fashion line.  She’s working hard to launch her line next month, but she’s not happy with her pieces so far.  Something’s missing, but she can’t put her finger on it.

Until Jesse arrives.

Any color will go with black, white, and gray. How about green to complement the red?”

Closing her eyes, she fought not to lean back and rub her entire body against him. She hadn’t been held, touched, in months. That’s all this was. A night with Elias, and she’d forget this insane need that had risen its ugly head. “Too Christmasy.”

The colors you’ve chosen so far are hard and dramatic, a bit like you and Reyes,” he mused aloud. “He’s harsh and grim. As a cop, everything is black and white. Right or wrong, law and order or utter chaos. I bet he despises the gray. Gray is where people begin to tell lies. All too soon, gray leads to black. There can be no middle ground, no compromise, or black wins every time. Everything has to be in its proper place, right or wrong, and he’s always right.”

His analysis was spot-on, but then again, Elias wasn’t that hard to read. She wasn’t too concerned, until Jesse began analyzing her.

Meanwhile, you’re definitely red: passionate, uncontrolled wildfire. You clash with black because of those passions and you never give up without a fight.”

His gentle voice didn’t sound aggressive or inflammatory, but he dared a soft brush of his lips against her ear that damned near made her knees buckle.

Maybe you need a buffer between you and him. Someone softer, gentler, who can absorb all the dramatics without falling apart, who would never try to set one against the other, and will always do exactly as you say, when you say, how you say, no questions asked. Someone who’d relish getting burned by your sparks, and isn’t afraid of the harder black, either. In fact, you just might like someone who can take it hard, real hard, as hard as you want.”

She knew, then, that she was in serious trouble. Street-smart and worldly in ways she couldn’t even comprehend, Jesse had just voiced the crux of her relationship problems with Elias. In the great war of passion between them, Jesse offered himself as Switzerland.

What he didn’t get at all was that Elias would go all shock-and-awe on them both if she even thought about it.

So why am I thinking about it?

She couldn’t tell Jesse that he was wrong, because he wasn’t, and she couldn’t refuse him, because he had to know how fast her heart was pounding. She couldn’t seem to catch her breath.

Ironically, now she knew exactly which color to use in her line.

Without saying a word or turning toward him, she stepped away. He let her go without trying to hold her back. Trailing her fingers along the fabrics, she walked down to the opposite end of the shelving, straining up high to reach a shimmering bolt of blue-lagoon silk.

It’d been an impulse buy, rather embarrassing, actually, because she’d never thought she’d end up using it, and it’d cost her a small fortune. The color was too bright, too jewel-toned for business wear, and too seasonally restrictive for all-year wear. Or so she’d thought as she’d shoved it on the highest shelf out of her way.

Bracing herself mentally, she raised her gaze to his face as she walked toward him. His eyes, so bright, so hot and intense, made darker and richer by the silk in her hands. Her chest constricted and she felt that answering surge of attraction again, deeper and more compelling every time she looked at him. If he’d stop looking at her like that, begging her with his eyes to devour him whole, then maybe she could pretend nothing had changed.

He was just a good guy who’d fallen on hard times.

She was just a good Samaritan.

He didn’t have to get in the middle of her romantic mess.

Her cheeks burned at the thought. The image of him and Elias both touching her seared her mind, burning her to ash. She’d never once thought about such a thing, but now…

She draped the silk over the center rack and stepped back to look at her entire collection. If she made a simple turquoise shell to wear with the black pantsuit, and maybe something with gray and turquoise mixed together, it might work. She just needed to settle on the signature piece for herself.

What do you think?” She didn’t turn to look at him, afraid that he’d see the growing need in her eyes and take the next step himself. “Is it too much?”

Nothing’s too much for you.”

A lump crowded her throat, making it impossible to breathe. “Jesse—”

Hear me out, please.” He stepped closer, hovering slightly behind and to the side without touching her. “Keep your cop. I don’t care. Just keep me, too.”

Vicki’s Vow

I said I wasn’t going to post any more, but I still don’t have blog fodder.  My mind is consumed by Evil Day Job fun and Vicki.  So I guess you get a little more Vicki. 
;-)
This scene takes place in Chapter 2 (I didn’t paste all of this section).  Elias and Jesse are sitting at the breakfast bar while Vicki makes chili.  Here, you see Jesse’s background, and Elias isn’t such an asshole.  You also see Vicki’s vow…and yes, her mistake.  She doesn’t fully understand what she’s promising Jesse in this scene.  For him, this scene shifts from “nice lady helping a homeless person” to “my lady, my whole world.”

I left home when I was fifteen, just a proud, stupid kid who thought I knew better than my old man. He was a washed-up wannabe country singer doing bars in Nashville, trying to catch a break, and I thought he was a mean bastard. I hung with the wrong crowd, made some bad decisions, dropped out of school, got arrested for shoplifting, drugs, you name it.”

Vicki turned so she could see his face. He smiled, a strange, beautiful twist of his mouth that made her want to cry for him, and then dropped his gaze to his hands wrapped around his cup.

When you’re young and stupid, you don’t think the bad stuff could ever possibly happen to you. You can drink and drive and not get caught, certainly never wreck your car or hurt anyone else. You can go to class or your job high and no one will ever know. You can walk out on your old man, call him every name in the book, and laugh when you find out the mean SOB died of a heart attack. Then you realize that you were the only one stupid enough to buy your bullshit, and the only person left in the whole world who ever cared about you is gone.”

She couldn’t help but take his trembling hand in hers. He clung to her but didn’t look up.

I’ve done bad things. I’ve seen and lived worse. I’ve tried to leave those things behind, but they aren’t as easy to wash off as the dirt.”

There are shelters…” Elias began in a gentle voice, but Jesse only shook his head on a harsh laugh.

I’d rather go back to prison. At least then I’d know the man raping me would protect me in the yard tomorrow.” He raised his head, his eyes pleading for understanding. “When I got out of prison, I was clean and I’d earned my GED while behind bars. I had two minimum-wage jobs and I gladly worked my ass off. I had an apartment—wasn’t much and I paid by the week, but it was mine. I could lock the door and sleep almost through the night without waking up in a cold terror that someone was coming in.

But then I got sick. Just the flu, but as soon as I missed a day of work, they fired me. I didn’t have much money saved, and I lost my apartment as soon as I missed the first week’s rent. I didn’t have any place to go, no family left, no one to take me in but the drug dealers I’d known before jail.

I could have gone back to running drugs for them, selling on the corners and in the schools, but I didn’t. It would have been a hell of a lot easier. I live on what I earn with my art, drug-free and legal, but once you lose everything, it’s hard to get people to see you. If I walk in for an interview in the only decent pair of jeans I’ve got left, it won’t matter if I shaved or if my fingernails are clean, because I still stink of the streets.”

She didn’t realize she was crying, until Elias slipped an arm around her shoulders and drew her against him. Jesse loosened his fingers on her hand, but she gripped him tighter, refusing to let him go. “See?” She sobbed against Elias’s shirt. “See why I had to help him?”

I know,” he whispered, rocking her gently. “You were right. I apologize, Jesse, for slamming you up against the wall like that. I should have trusted her judgment.”

You saw me. Me,” Jesse whispered, but his voice rang with intent. “You’ve already given me a chance to get a real job just by letting me take a shower. I look like a normal, decent person, someone who is hire-able, and for that, I can’t thank you enough.”

You’re going to stay here.” Wiping her eyes, Vicki straightened and shot a firm glare at Elias, silencing whatever arguments he might throw at her. “I’ll help you find a job and get back on your feet. No matter how long it takes, you won’t end up on the street again. Do you hear me?”

A ghost of a smile flickered on Jesse’s lips and he ducked his head, as though tipping his hat to her. “Yes’m.”

If something happens to you again, if you’re ever out there, lost, alone, then you call me.” Her voice broke but she didn’t soften her stance. She leaned across the counter, squeezing his hand to make sure he met her gaze. “Call me. Anytime. Anywhere. Reverse the charges. Mail me a letter [hahaha, had to get a Dear Sir reference in somewhere]. Whatever it takes. I’ll come get you and bring you home. You can count on me to be there for you.”

His eyes gleamed with unshed tears, crystal jewels in spring water. “You…I…” He bowed his head, shoulders shaking, and she felt his tears falling like rain on her hand still gripping his. Raggedly, he whispered, “I’ve never had a real home.”

You can always come home to me.”

Elias Meets Jesse

Okay, this section ends Chapter 1.  This is the last I’ll share for awhile — hopefully things will settle down and I’ll be inspired by new blog topics.  If there’s anything you’ve been wishing I’d blog about, feel free to ask in comments.

Elias heard her shouting at him as she ran down the stairs, but he didn’t stop. He threw open the door to the rear living quarters, grabbed the invader, and slammed him face first against the wall with a satisfying crunch.

The kid didn’t put up a fight. Man, Elias reminded himself. Not a kid, no matter how scrawny and slender he was, not at twenty five years of age.

Vicki screamed, a high, shrill wail like nothing he’d ever heard from her. “Jesse!”

Her terrified voice pierced through Elias’s rage. As a kid huddled in a narrow bed with his younger brothers and sisters while his drunk father beat the shit out of his mother, he’d sworn to never make a woman scream like that. He slapped cuffs on the man and forced himself to ease off. He had to be the cop in this, not the enraged, jealous, overprotective—and almost always absent—lover.

The junkie stayed against the wall, legs automatically spread. He knew the drill all too well.

“You don’t smell like a bum, so I guess you’ve already taken advantage of your hostess’s hot water. Do you have anything stashed in these nice clean pockets?”

“No, sir.”

Damn it, he even sounded like a kid, his voice breathless and shaking with fear. Elias twisted his lips into a furious snarl. Fear of being caught. Fear of being thrown in jail instead of enjoying a nice cushy night under Vicki’s roof, stealing everything not locked down while she slept.

She stepped between them, her face white and her mouth tight with strain. “I gave him those pants. How dare you come in here and throw him around like this? He’s hurt! Look at him, Elias, he’s bleeding!”

Crying, she cradled the jerk’s face in her hands and wiped the blood from his split lip with a tissue snatched from the bedside table. “Jesse, I’m so sorry. I didn’t know he’d come over like this. I didn’t know he’d hurt you.”

“It’s okay. He’s protecting you.  I’ve had much worse done to me.”

The nicer he acted—pretended to be!—the worse Elias felt, which pissed him off even more. He grabbed the ratty duffel bag lying at the foot of the bed and dumped it out, using an ink pen to separate items so he didn’t get poked by a dirty needle. “Any weapons? Drugs? Paraphernalia?”

“No, sir. Just my straight-edge razor. I have used it as protection a few times, but no knives or guns. I haven’t touched drugs in five years. I’ll take a drug test right this minute if you order it.”

Elias flipped open a small wooden case, but all it contained was tiny whittled down pencils and precious little nubs of chalk, so used up that a normal person—with money—would have thrown them out and replaced them long ago. Feeling more and more like a heel, he methodically emptied the pockets of everything. Wadded up small bills littered the bed. A five in each denim pocket, a twenty in the threadbare shirt, several more bills tucked into the rolled socks, but certainly no nice wad of cash that a dealer would carry. Spreading the bills out across the meager belongings would make it more difficult to steal his precious savings.

“I have a hundred dollar bill in each boot hidden beneath the insole.” Jesse leaned against the wall as though the entire building would crumble around them without his weight propping it up. The pants sagged low on his slim hips, and he didn’t have on a shirt. Bones moved beneath his skin in sharp, painful relief. The kid was half starved and malnourished. In despair, he hung his head, his streaked golden-brown hair falling down to hide his face. “Took me a year to save that much because the punks on the street keep stealing it. They know I don’t have a weapon.”

Elias knew the answer, but he wanted to see how many lies the kid might weave. “How do you know Vicki?”

“She used to come to the park where I hang out. When she quit coming, I asked one of her friends what had happened. I missed her, and I just wanted to make sure she was okay. She was always nice to me, but I never thought she’d help me like this.”

“Get these cuffs off him.” Vicki said in a deceptively pleasant voice that sent shards of ice skittering down his spine. This was the defense attorney, not a woman who’d called him to check out a friend. “He’s answered your questions satisfactorily and you have nothing to charge him with. He’s not trespassing and he’s not a danger to me or himself.”

When he hesitated, she narrowed those glittering dark eyes on him and lowered her chin, preparing for the charge. “I might not work for Leeman any longer, but I’ll have him crawling in every orifice you’ve got unless you release Jesse immediately.”

Vicki Calls an Old Friend

I don’t have any brain cells to spare for fresh blog content today — it’s shaping up to be a major week at the Evil Day Job — so I decided to post the next section of Vicki. 

Warning:  some language, sexual situations discussed. 

Vicki dialed the number and laid the phone down on the counter in speaker mode. Chopping chocolate, she counted the rings, mentally arranging her questions in the most logical order that would lead to the best possible outcome with the least amount of suspicion.

“Reyes.”

By the sharp bark of Elias’s voice, she knew he was already frustrated. Hell, he was always frustrated. Working on a narcotics task force overwhelmed by the Mexican drug cartels tended to frustrate even the most patient of men. A lot could be said about Elias Reyes, but he wasn’t exactly patient.

She decided to be professional and not friendly. He hadn’t been by in months, and she couldn’t remember the last time they’d had sex. Okay, that was a lie; she’d never forget a moment with Elias, even though they’d fought constantly about their jobs. Then his partner had been killed in a drug bust gone bad by one of her old clients.

He still hadn’t forgiven her.

Now that she’d started her own business, she was still too busy, and he certainly hadn’t bothered to come by. “I need you to run a name through your database.”

“Vik,” he drawled out his nickname for her in that low, sexy voice that always made her want to throw her head back and moan deep in her throat. “I thought you quit defending assholes I put away.”

“I did,” she said evenly, refusing to allow her tone to sharpen defensively. “I need a background run on somebody and you’re the only person in the Dallas PD who will still take my calls.”

He grunted. “What’s the name?”

“Jesse Dean Inglemarre.”

“What exactly are you looking for?”

She heard him typing. He must be at work and already looking up the data for her. Who was she kidding; Elias was always at work. “Any warrants, recent arrests, known gang affiliation. Standard stuff.”

“Got a soc?”

“Nope.”

A few moments went by. She didn’t hear any voices. Usually his office was loud and rowdy at any hour. The war on drugs never slept.

“Looks like your boy last got in trouble five years ago, but nothing recent. No known address. How do you know him?”

“He’s a street artist.” She tried to keep her tone casual and strictly to the truth. Elias could sniff out a lie quicker than a bloodhound. “I used to see him when I worked at Wagner & Leeman Thanks, Elias. I hope you’re not out in this snow tonight.”

“Not so fast, Vik.” Mentally, she groaned. He always was too damned smart for his own good, which meant he was a fine cop who always suspected the worst in people. Unfortunately, he was almost always right. “Why the sudden interest in a homeless street artist in the middle of a snow storm? Surely you’re not thinking about letting this punk into your home.”

“Thanks,” she said firmly. “I’ll talk to you later.”

“Fuck.” In her mind, she could see him at his desk, jumping to his feet and raking his hand through his hair. “You did. You invited this asshole into your home. Are you insane? He’s a druggie. A scumbag. You know they can never come clean. Give them a ten and they’ll buy a hit instead of food.”

“He’s not like that,” she said quietly, trying to calm him down before he decided to get on his white horse and charge over here like a knight in shining armor. “He just needs a little help.”

“Jesus, Vik, does he have any weapons? Did he bring drugs into your house?”

“No!” Although she hadn’t thought to check. “I can handle this, Reyes.” Deliberately, she emphasized his cop name, the cold and formal relationship they’d used at their jobs even when they shared a bed once in awhile. “I don’t want you to interfere.”

“You should have thought of that,” he said tightly through clenched teeth, “before you invited a homeless junkie to spend the night.”

“I have my phone right here and you’re on speed dial. I promise I’ll call you if I get even a hint of a weird vibe from him, but he’s barely more than a kid, Elias. He’s not going to hurt me.”

“You’re damned right he’s not.”

“What the hell does that mean?”

“He’s not a kid, Vik, even if he looks helpless and innocent to you. He hasn’t been a kid in a long time. One of his raps was for prostitution when he was barely sixteen. Yeah, he must be a real pretty boy, huh? I’m surprised he came on to you; seems like a rich queer is more up his alley.”

The thought of Jesse’s brilliant eyes scrunched up with pain or staring up at a jerk forcing him to give a blow job made her knees quiver hard enough that she had to sit down in a bar stool. She’d known he must have had a hard life, but the reality made her stomach heave. “He didn’t come on to me.”

“Maybe he’ll come on to me, then.”

“He’s not like that,” she insisted, but her voice quivered. “I saw him in the snow and cold—he was helping me because I fell on the ice!—and I just couldn’t leave him out there.”

“If you used to see him over at the park near Wagner & Leeman, then why the hell was he way out by your place? He was staking you out, Vik. He knew exactly what he was doing when he just happened to walk by. I bet he seemed real shocked to find you, didn’t he? They’re damned good actors when they need to be.”

Torn between outrage and concern, she tried to remember if she’d ever told Jesse where she lived. Would he really come dozens of blocks in the cold just to give her a birthday card? Surely, he couldn’t have pretended that much surprise when she asked him to come inside. She was a good judge of character. She’d seen more than her share of bad guys willing to sell their mamas if it would get them out of prison.

“Jesse’s not like that. He’s not one of the bad guys, Elias. I can see it in his eyes. He just needs someone to give him a break.”

Wheels screeched on the street below so loudly that she jumped up and ran to the window. Elias jumped out of his truck and stormed up to the door of her building. “I’ll give him a break. I’ll break his fucking arm if he even lays a finger on you.”

“Bastard,” she retorted, glaring down at him. “I told you I could handle this!”

“Let me in, Vik, or I’m going to owe you a new door.”

Friday Snippet: Jesse

Okay, I wasn’t going to post any more, but the next section is short and gives a glimpse into Jesse’s head.  And hey, it’s still Friday, and I’m celebrating because I got the revisions turned back in on the Maya story (early! whee!).

So here’s Jesse.

Oh, there’s something about me all right, Jesse thought sadly, waiting until she shut the door before looking about the room.  Simple, spartan, and the most glorious thing he’d seen in years, until he found a stack of clean clothes on the shelf.  Even musty from storage, they smelled like heaven.  Then he saw the shampoo and soap in the bathroom, and he found himself crying beneath the steaming hot water. 

      God, so incredible.  People just didn’t know what a luxury it could be simply to be clean.  To have a spare set of clean clothes.  To be in a safe enough place to risk taking his filthy clothes off and washing completely.  Bliss.  Pure bliss.

      It all came from the most gorgeous, unforgettable woman he’d ever met.  He had no pride left, or surely he’d be ashamed that he’d come to her like this and she’d taken him in like an abandoned puppy.  He’d depended on seeing her every day, but then she’d quit coming to the park.  He hadn’t even known her full name or where she worked.  One of the women he’d seen her with occasionally had dropped the fact that Vicki had left the firm to start her own business.  Somewhere on [street], so he’d started hanging out in this neighborhood, hoping to find her.

      Never in a million years had he thought she’d let him inside her home.  All he’d wanted to do was see her again, find her place, and maybe stop by once a week or so, just to talk.  Just to see her smile at his latest work.

      I know where to find her now.  He scrubbed his hair a second time.  I can’t stay long.  She’s sheltering me from the cold, that’s all.

      She has no idea that I’m hopelessly in love with her.

Friday Snippet: Vicki

I’m a little nervous about sharing her already, simply because I’m still revising and layering like mad as I write.  I don’t know how “erotic” this story will really end up being–it’s more about impossibly complex relationships, what home means, and how the characters see each other. 

For now, this is the opening section of Vicki’s story, subject to heavy revision.  Vicki is Conn’s (Dear Sir, I’m Yours) and Victor’s (Hurt Me So Good) sister.  There are still a few minor [notes] that I’ll figure out later (place names).

It didn’t snow very often in Dallas, TX, but when it did, everything came to a halt. Walking carefully on the icy sidewalks, Vicki Connagher paused at the deserted intersection. Shivering, she drew her coat tighter with her free hand. What a stupid idea. She should have just stayed in tonight instead of braving terrible roads and the chilly night for a few groceries, even though the store was only three blocks away.

Just one more block, she told herself, trudging across the slushy road. Snow still fell thick and wet, dulling the usual noises of the city. The hot cocoa was going to taste especially good tonight. She’d bundle up on the couch in her favorite quilt and stay up all night watching cheesy horror movies. It sounded like a blast, if only she wasn’t alone.

But she was alone, miserably alone, and so she knew she’d end up working downstairs all night to avoid the emptiness of her apartment. She still had to come up with one more evening gown design before the gala.

Her foot slid out and she fell with a curse that would have brought Mama with a bar of nasty soap to wash out her mouth. Getting wetter and colder by the minute, she muttered, “Not even chocolate is worth getting out in a freak Texas blizzard.”

“Are you all right?”

The male voice startled her, but she quickly recognized him as a street artist, Jesse.  She’d bought several of his charcoals and dropped a few bucks in his hat every time she was over by the park, which unfortunately, she hadn’t seen in months. Not since she’d quit her job at Wagner & Leeman. “I’m fine. Nothing hurt but my pride. How are you, Jesse?”

Beaming that she remembered him, he helped pick up the canned beans that had escaped her shopping bag. Despite the ragged clothes and general grime, he was a handsome young man. He managed to appear so wholesome and down-to-earth that she’d instantly liked him from the start. “Haven’t seen you around [park] in a while.”

“I quit my job and started my own business. Corporate life got to be too much for me.”

“I’ll say.” Chuckling, he handed her the last can, and then shyly pulled a small square out of his bag. “I made something for you.”

She held the folded paper up to the streetlight. On the front, he’d used watercolors to paint dozens of butterflies, laid on top of each other in carefully detailed layers so the entire page was covered in wings. Inside, he’d written a simple message: Happy birthday, Vicki.

“Sorry, I know your birthday was months ago, but I didn’t know where you’d gone.”

“Oh, Jesse, thank you. How did you know?”

He smiled and shrugged, shifting the strap of his back higher on his shoulder. “I overheard you tell your friend that you were planning a special dinner with your family for your birthday. I didn’t mean to eavesdrop; you were standing behind me while I sketched. Anyway, I’ve got a few new pieces you might like. Come over to the park when you get the chance.”

“I will.” She stared down at the card, thinking about how many weeks he’d carried it in his bag, protecting it from getting torn or dirty, hoping to see her. He’d made her a card, when some of her best friends hadn’t remembered her birthday at all. “Thank you, Jesse. This really means a lot to me.”

He tipped his battered, lopsided straw hat, gave her a another smile, and turned to head down the street. Alone. His skinny shoulders hunched against the cold.

Vicki had built all sorts of reasons that he was on the streets in her mind, but she’d never had the courage to ask him. He only had on a jean jacket, no gloves, and the knapsack tossed over his shoulder, exactly how she’d seen him countless times. Everything he owned in the world was in that bag.

“Jesse?”

Immediately, he turned around and came back, his eyes wide and hopeful. It was too dark and gloomy to make out the remarkable turquoise shade of his eyes, but she remembered. “Yes, ma’am?”

“Do you have someplace to go?”

“Oh, sure.” He nodded, but she didn’t like the way he ducked his head. “Don’t worry about me. Just come over to the park when you get the chance. I miss seeing you.”

She took the last few steps toward her building, her mind screaming all the reasons it would be stupid to ask him inside. She was alone. He was a man, bigger and stronger than her even if she had a few years on him. She had a damned good security system on both the shop and her apartment upstairs, but if he chose to overpower her, she wouldn’t have a chance to call for help.

She didn’t really know him at all. He was homeless, for God’s sake, and had probably seen more crime and violence than she’d even dreamed of despite working all those years as a defense attorney. But there was something undeniable in his eyes, a deep, soul-piercing light that she couldn’t forget. Without saying a word, he managed to reach inside her and tug, hard, amplifying her guilt and worry. It wasn’t her fault that he was homeless, but it would be her fault if he froze to death tonight.

Putting on her best formidable cast-iron face that had intimidated many a shady character into providing better testimony, she turned and faced him squarely. “If you promise to behave yourself, you can come home with me tonight.”

His eyes flared wide with horror, which instantly made her feel better about asking him. His mouth opened, but it took him several times before he could say anything. “Oh, no, ma’am. That wouldn’t be right. I just wanted to make sure you were okay—it didn’t even occur to me that you might… No, please, I couldn’t.”

“I couldn’t sleep a wink if you were freezing out here all night.” She opened the door to the shop, her key immediately disabling the security system, and flipped on the light. He hovered behind her, staring at the warmth and shelter longingly. “I’m making a huge batch of chili and cornbread.”

His shoulders shook, stiff and reluctant, but he didn’t move closer.

“What I really wanted was hot cocoa; that’s why I went out tonight before the weather got too horrible. Not cocoa from a mix or powder—I want the real thing. I’m going to make some first.”

“With real milk?” His voice sounded hoarse. He took a step closer, but kept his shoulders down, hunched, as though he were trying to make himself smaller and less threatening. “And marshmallows?”

“Real milk, real chocolate,” she promised. “But I don’t have marshmallows. I think they’re disgusting. Come on in, Jesse. I’m not the world’s greatest cook, but I can make a mean pot of beans.”

He hung his head, one hand fisted on the strap of his bag so hard his fingers were white. “I’ve been in trouble before, ma’am, but I haven’t been arrested in more than five years, and I’ve been clean since. Call one of your old contacts in the police department and check up on me.”

She was surprised at his willingness to share his unsavory past—and a little disconcerted that he knew so much about her from the few times they’d talked so casually. “I can do that. I should also warn you that my very mean and much bigger older brother could be here in minutes.”

Leading the way through the long tables stacked with fabrics and trim, she flipped on another light. Now I know why my security guy insisted I have a separate system for my upstairs apartment. “I set up this place so that my seamstress could sleep over when we’re on a time crunch. There’s a bed, clean linen, and a full-sized bathroom.”

Jesse risked a quick glance at the room but otherwise kept his head down, his shoulders so tight that he was as short as her, when she knew he was actually several inches taller. Lightly, she touched his arm. He flinched, but at least his head came up. She was struck again by the intensity of his eyes, so clear and innocent despite the harshness of his life.

“Are you sure?” He asked, his voice shaking. “I didn’t mean–”

“I’m sure,” she smiled, gently squeezing his arm. Lord, he was so thin, just bones and tight wiry muscle laid over the top. “Look around on the shelves in the closet—I think I stuck some of my brother’s old clothes in there. Take a shower and come upstairs when you’re done. I’ll have the cocoa ready in no time.”

“My full name is Jesse Dean Inglemarre and I’m twenty five. Check me out. If you’re not comfortable, tell me to leave. I swear on a stack of Bibles that I’ll leave immediately, no questions asked. I won’t ever bother you again.”

He was several years older than she’d guessed, although still five years younger than her. She smiled to put him at ease. It felt right, so very, very right, to help him. “You’re not bothering me.”

Solemnly, he stared into her eyes, searching her face, even though he didn’t ask. Why me? Why are you doing this?

How could she explain it? Sometimes after a particularly bad trial, the only bright spot in her day had been walking through the park to see what new drawing he might be working on. On this cold, lonely night, he was a welcome surprise. “There’s just something about you, Jesse.”

Transitions and Sequence

Another downside to “dream writing” is the transition from scene to scene (or night to night).  e.g. I’m dreaming the big scenes, not the passage of insignificant moments that explain how the characters got from one event to another.  I don’t have a good sense of time.  I have to connect those dots eventually and move seamlessly from one scene to another, which isn’t always a quick fix.

Last night, my mind kept jumping ahead to a scene with Victor.  (Gee, I have no idea why.  haha)  I know this scene takes place in the first half of the book, but where, exactly?  Is it Act I, or the midpoint of Act II?  I don’t know.  I have a feeling it might be sooner than later, especially since I don’t know what happens in between.

And here’s where writing without an outline gets frustrating.  I have no idea how long the story will be, because I don’t know the details of Act III so I have no way of gauging how far down the road I am.  I’ve been writing careful chapter and scene breaks, but that may have to change because I don’t know what to fill the gaps with yet. 

It’s sort of like excavation, and there are major parts of the skeleton still buried.  I can only see the tips of bone protruding, and I’m going to have to spend some time digging them out.  The trick is balancing my compelling urge to write down the bone sticking out part–it’s so clear in my mind right now, but I’m afraid I’ll lose the clarity.  Like waking up from a vivid dream and feeling it fade away no matter how hard you grasp at the wisps.

But now that I’ve talked about it and aired some of the issues, I think I have an answer to my question about that scene with Victor.  I’m pretty sure it’s the “crossing the threshold” scene for Vicki to end Act I.  Either she’ll accept the journey or she won’t.  (Who am I kidding, you know she’ll accept the journey–but I need to cover her doubt.)  So now I have the goal to write toward for the end of Act I.

Hope some more bones start sticking up soon.

Of course, the other problem I’m battling is time constraints and other commitments.  My first priority this week is The Bloodgate Codex.  First round of revisions are due back by 2/28 and they are not tiny little fixes, but changes that affect multiple scenes (trickle-down effect).  I didn’t work on it yesterday because I needed to let my mind adjust to Xbalanque = Balam = Ruin in my mind.  The dust has settled, and I’ll be tackling a second bullet today.

Vicki will be my reward tonight.  But maybe I should jot a few notes about Victor before I forget…

Layering

The downside to “dream writing” is that I have to do more revising as I write than I normally do.

When I see the story in my head from start to finish, then I can spend time to build the details in my mind.  I don’t have to backtrack as much, because I already know the main thoroughfare to “the end.”  Revision, then, is a pass straight through the story, start to end, where I smooth.  I might shift things around a little, but the roadmap is already pretty clear in my mind.

When I dream a scene, I can see it clearly, but I may not see much further.  Then the next night, I dream another scene, and another, and it’s going so great, and I’m so excited…

Then I’m cooking dinner and I think, OH.  I should totally have Jesse give her a birthday card.  That would be perfect, because Elias forgot her birthday entirely.  It will become another little detail, notes and special things that only Jesse does that will add personality and depth to the story.

Great idea, right?  Except the whole birthday card element made me go back to the opening scene in chapter one and revise it.  I had to lay down that thread, and bring it through to chapter two, where the ouch element slapped Elias up side the head.  This kind of detail will affect the plot too much for me to leave it to later.  It had to be revised.  Now.

6600+ words this week as the story unfolds.  I’ll probably share a snippet on Friday.

Process

I think it was Patti O’Shea who mentioned once that her process is slightly different for each book.  I find myself agreeing whole-heartedly with this latest project.

I’ve blogged enough about my process for you guys to know that I typically plot out the main points of the hero’s journey extensively.  Just look back at the character clinic posts to see how much work I do to build my characters before I ever write a word.  I’ve filled up binders, created spreadsheets, and even done Post-its on the wall.

But not for Vicki.  No, she doesn’t want any of those things.  All she wants is my dream time.  For the first time in a very long time, I’m dreaming a book again, not snippets here and there, but a clear, cohesive movie in my hazy not-quite-asleep moments.  I figured out the last puzzle pieces with her hero situation Sat. morning, sleeping in so late that my Beloved Sis almost got here before I was even up (and she had an hour and a half drive to get here!).  I saw the opening scenes as clearly as a movie.

Last night, I dreamed another scene, again, as clearly as though I watched a DVD.  That hasn’t happened since the early years, probably the very first terrible draft of Road.  What does it mean?  I have no idea, other than this book wants to be written.  Now, not later.  Not after careful character work.  NOW.

And the characters are speaking to me so vibrantly and loudly, it’s scary.  I already have Jesse’s static trait and it’s meaningful and perfectly explained by his past.  Vicki has already given me some terrific dialogue.  Elias just roared to life between one paragraph and the next.  I knew it was time for his POV, and BAM, there he was, shouting at the door, literally.  He calls her Vik, by the way, which I didn’t know until tonight.

Where they’re taking me, I don’t really know.  Oh, I know the romance angles and conflicts, but I have no idea what the external plot is.  Just a few vague ideas.  I don’t know how long the dreams will continue, but as long as they do, I’ll trust them.

They’ve given me over 4K in two writing sessions, and pages that have made me laugh and cringe at the same time.  Chapter One is touching on some rough real-life crap and I can only hope I’m doing it right.