Authors: H. D. Thomson
Tags: #romantic comedy, #road trip, #Contemporary, #Fiction, #Romance, #Contemporary Romance
John grunted. His hands tightened on her arms…
His breath, warm and smelling of coffee and peppermint, brushed her ear and ruffled her hair.
Mortified, Clarisse arched backward and met John’s pained expression. “I’m sorry! Are you all right?”
“Give me a second,” he murmured.
She tried not to think how her nipples touched the hard wall of his chest or how the familiar scent of his aftershave made her remember...
No. She’d concentrate on his Adam’s apple and the indentations of his collarbone. No. That wouldn’t work either.
“Are you all right now?” She grew uncomfortable.
“I—yes.” He retained a grip on her arm. “What about you? You almost took a nose dive.”
She glanced away. A curtain of her blonde hair fell forward, obscuring her face and the pain she knew lay carved there.
“I guess my legs must have fallen asleep right along with everything else.”
The sound of footsteps made Clarisse turn. She found an unsmiling Vivian on their side of the truck. Guilt sent a warm blush to Clarisse’s cheeks as she and John drew away from each other. His hand dropped to his side, but the heat from his fingers still burned into her flesh.
“I—” Clarisse closed her mouth. There was no reason for her to explain, especially when there was nothing to explain. “I’ve got to check a couple of things in my bag. It might take a minute. Why don’t I meet you both inside?”
The Long Road Home
COPYRIGHT © 2012 by H. D. Thomson
All rights reserved. No part of this ebook may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission of the author or Bella Media Management except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles or reviews.
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales, is entirely coincidental.
Contact Information: [email protected]
Published by Bella Media Management
Previously published with The Wild Rose Press, 2008 under Carol Webb
Published in the United States of America
H. D. Thomson
I would like to thank Marion Ekholm, Sandy Lagesse, Shelley Mosley and Kim Watters. Without their dogged determination, I wouldn’t be where I am now.
“For all I know the man could be a rapist or-or…”
“Don’t you think you’re getting a little carried away?”
At Jennifer’s raised brow, Clarisse Madison relented and gave a rueful laugh. “I guess you might be right. But this guy’s a complete stranger. I don’t know anything about him, other than what you’ve told me.”
A cool morning breeze drifted through the living room window of Jennifer’s house, bringing the scent of lilac. Clarisse peered through the lace curtains from her chair. In center of the lawn, a large, majestic maple tree, its leaves glistening from last night’s rain, shaded the empty driveway from the rising sun.
Her ride was late, and she didn’t know whether or not to be relieved. She glanced away from the window and eyed her friend with disgust. “You know. You’ve been an absolute miser when it comes to information on this man.”
Jennifer gave her a reassuring smile. “Like I told you before, he’s a friend of a friend. He’s responsible, kind, and even loves animals. You can’t go wrong with that. Don’t worry, you’ll like him.”
“That’s easy for you to say. You’re not going to be stuck in a car with him from New York to San Diego. I haven’t a clue as to what to say to this guy.”
“You used to be able to talk to any stranger,” Jennifer declared.
“That was years ago, when I was young and didn’t have this.” Clarisse pointed at her right leg stretched out in front of her, a self-deprecating smile curving the corners of her lips.
“You could have flown to California and avoided all this.”
Just the mention of flying made Clarisse’s stomach cramp. “That’s impossible. No amount of pushing, shoving, kidnapping or coercion will get me on another plane. The last one nearly cost me my life.”
Jennifer released a loud sigh, lifting her chestnut bangs from her brow. “Well, that’s it then. Getting across the country by train is impossible, and a bus is too cramped and tiring with all the stops and transfers. And since you won’t fly, the only other way to get to your sister’s wedding is by having someone else drive.”
Clarisse smiled fondly at her friend of six years. “I’m sorry. I should be thanking you for finding me a ride to my sister’s place instead of acting the brat.”
The sound of tires crunching across gravel filtered through the open window. Clasping the arm of the chair with one hand and her cane with the other, Clarisse rose unsteadily to her feet. A red, Ford Explorer rolled to a halt in Jennifer’s driveway.
The driver stepped out and slammed the door behind him. He was tall, with long legs and wide shoulders. Thick black hair flowed past his collar to brush his shoulders. He strode across the yard with an inherent grace and confidence that had Clarisse frowning. There was something...
Gripping the windowsill with one hand, Clarisse leaned forward and watched the man reach up and thrust his hair back from his brow. The gesture pulled at her heart, and a tiny bud of apprehension formed in the pit of her stomach. When he drew closer to the house, Clarisse’s alarm escalated. She recognized his blunt facial features and athletic build. The hand on her cane whitened at the knuckles. No. It couldn’t be. It wasn’t possible. She swung around and met Jennifer’s guilty expression. “What’s John McDonnell doing here? Is this some type of a joke?”
“He’s your ride to California.”
“What!” Clarisse stared back in horror. “You can’t be serious!”
“When David told me that John was going to California, I naturally thought of you,” Jennifer replied. “Unlike you, I haven’t lost touch with my old friends.”
Clarisse looked back out the window in stunned disbelief. He was halfway across the front yard. She took in a couple of ragged breaths, but nothing could steady the wild racing of her heart.
“I can’t believe you had the nerve to try to get us together again.” Cane tapping against the saltillo tile, Clarisse limped rapidly across the room and away from the window. “There’s no way I’m going.”
Jennifer rose from her chair and moved to the front door.
“Don’t you dare open that until I’m in another room,” Clarisse warned. “I swear if you do, I—I’ll hit you with my cane!”
Jennifer’s eyes widened in alarm.
“I wasn’t serious,” Clarisse said with a mixture of frustration and dismay. Nervous laughter threatened to bubble up past her throat. “Please just tell him something came up. I’m not prepared to see him.” She brushed her clammy palm across the side of her leg. “You never told him about me, did you? Please tell me you didn’t mention my leg or the crash. I swear—”
“Calm down. I never told him anything.”
“Good. That’s good.” Clarisse nodded. She took another deep breath. “But now you’ve got to make him leave.”
“I can’t do that.”
“You have to,” Clarisse replied in a determined voice, “because there’s no way in hell I’m going to be stuck in the same car with him for over twenty-five hundred miles.” She rubbed impatiently at her brow with the heel of her palm. An unpleasant thought came to mind. “Does he have any clue who he’s picking up from your house?”
“No. I told him a friend of mine hated flying and needed a ride.”
“Do you have any idea how angry he’s going to be? He’ll think I planned this whole thing.”
Flushing, Jennifer avoided her gaze. “Ever since you broke up with him, you haven’t been the same. I know you still love him.”
“I never told you that!”
Jennifer snorted. “Well, it’s obvious you have feelings for the man, for God’s sake. You still have a picture of him in your bedroom. And don’t tell me you don’t!”
“I don’t want to hear this!”
“John isn’t as shallow as you think. He’ll look past your leg. If you’d just give him a—”
Clarisse didn’t wait around to listen to any more of Jennifer’s ravings, but stumbled into her friend’s bedroom and closed the door. Leaning against the oak wood, Clarisse closed her eyes. She needed to calm down. Seeing John so unexpectedly had mangled her composure beyond recognition.
At the sound of the doorbell, Clarisse glanced at her reflection in the mirror then looked away. She disliked the dark turbulent emotions in her sea green eyes and the flush to her high cheekbones.
John didn’t have to find out, Clarisse told herself. Like the mirror, he would see the image she presented to the outside world—flawless skin, a model-thin figure and thick, blonde hair that fell in waves past her shoulders. Nothing more. He would fail, like the mirror, to uncover the imperfect body beneath the clothing.
Unconsciously, she brushed the material of her jeans across her right thigh. She looked down at the cane in her hand, the only visible sign of how her life had changed since last seeing John three years ago.
Laura, her only sister, expected Clarisse to show up in San Diego a week before her wedding. Clarisse’s responsibilities as maid of honor were to assist with the final preparations, and of course, play hostess to her parents, aunts and uncles, and other relatives arriving for the wedding. But most importantly, she needed to be there because Laura had asked for her help and support. And Clarisse wasn’t about to ignore such a request. Laura was family, her only sister. It was the least Clarisse could do after Laura stood by and helped her cope during those nightmarish weeks following the plane crash.
From the living room, a man’s voice penetrated the wooden door Clarisse leaned against. John. She couldn’t make out the words, but she’d know that husky baritone anywhere. Memories of that voice, urgent with need and longing, whispering in the dead of night across crisp cotton sheets, sent a shiver stampeding across the flesh at the nape of her neck.
His voice rose suddenly, indistinguishable but laden with anger. Jennifer, her tone equally angry, retorted something that made John swear. Clarisse cringed, catching herself pressing an ear to the door. Obviously, Jennifer just told him who he was taking to California. If Clarisse’s pulse rate weren’t so chaotic or her mind so dilapidated, she could almost find the situation funny. Maybe next time Jennifer would hesitate before meddling.
Suddenly, the door opened. Stumbling back, she just missed being hit by inches. Jennifer slipped into the room and closed the door behind her.
“Did he leave?” Clarisse asked.
“No, he’s still out there—no doubt pacing the floor and wanting to wring my neck. I don’t think he likes me anymore.”
“I wonder why! It sounded like you were yelling at him from the top of your lungs.”
Jennifer’s lips twisted into a wry grimace. “Yes, well, I did manage to convince him to take you to California. Though, I think I should’ve let him walk out of here.”
The frown puckering Jennifer’s brow rattled Clarisse’s nerves even further. “Why?”
“I’m sorry, Clarisse. When I heard he was going to San Diego I thought it a perfect opportunity for the two of you to get together. I’d always thought you were meant for each other. We were all shocked when everyone heard you’d broken up—”