PBW Stories

Paperback Writer's Fiction Blog

Friday, June 05, 2009

An Excerpt from Dreamveil
A Novel of the Kyndred
by Lynn Viehl

“So I do not salt the eggplant or the zucchini,” Bernard said, “or cook in separate pots. Chef, this is America, not Nice. Everything here, it is quick. No one could tell a difference.”

Jean-Marc Dansant turned away from his sous chef, mainly to keep from throttling him. “I could tell.”

“The fat woman no complain, or send it back. She no care.” Bernard threw out his hands in his favorite gesture, a combination of frustration and helplessness. “It was fine. The best . . . .” he paused as he groped for the correct English, but failed. “The best courgettes á la Niçoise I make.”

Naturellement.” He removed his white jacket and tossed it in the laundry bin. “The problem, Bernard, is that she ordered ratatouille.”

Je m’en fiche.” His sous chef stalked out of the back door. A few moments later the sound of squealing brakes and crashing metal came from the alley.

Dansant didn’t feel alarmed by the noise. No doubt his sous chef had knocked over the garbage bins with his car again. Bernard in a temper was nothing if not predictable. After inspecting the immaculate kitchen for the last time, Dansant shut off the light switches and went out into the alley to survey the mess.

He expected the smell of garbage, and the sight of it spread from one side of the alley to the other. He did not expect to see a motorcycle lying on the ground in front of Bernard’s Volvo, or his sous chef standing over a tall, skinny boy whose leather garments appeared badly scuffed. Then the biker removed his helmet, and under a mop of disheveled dark curls revealed the thin, furious face of a dark-eyed, pale young woman.

In profile she was all angular bone and creamy white skin; the stately line of her nose at odds with the decadent contours of her mouth and the stubborn set of her jaw.

“Bernard.” He spoke sharply to cut off the sous chef’s stream of obscenities in their native language.

His voice drew the girl’s attention for a moment, and he saw that her lashes were like her hair, black, thick and curly. They framed eyes that seemed too dark to be so bright. She stiffened as if bracing herself for more trouble, and then saw his face. Whatever she saw made her body change, and she shifted on her feet, moving as if she meant to come to him.

Dansant understood; the feelings rising inside him made nothing in that moment more important than going to her. “Did you knock her down?” he asked Bernard without looking at him.

Non. She crash into my car.” He stabbed a finger at the motorcycle. “Look at the bumper, the grill. They are ruin.” He turned his finger on the girl. “You pay for this.”

Bernard had to repeat his demand for payment twice more before the girl heard him and turned to face him. “The hell I will. You shouldn’t be parked out here in the dark. It’s illegal and dangerous.”

Hearing her speak made Dansant’s situation worse. The girl’s low voice had a faint rasp to it, and brushed against his ears like silk cord. Silk, yes, that would suit her more than her boyish leather. He imagined wrapping her in yards of scarlet and gold, weaving it around the length of her torso, coiling it along her long limbs, knotting it so that her hands were bound to his, and everywhere he touched her she would feel twice, on her body and against her slim fingers . . . .

Never had he thought such things about a woman, Dansant thought, appalled. Not even with Gisele.

How could she do this to him, this girl? She’d barely glanced at him, and he was ready to grab her and drag her inside and lay her out on the closest flat surface.

He breathed in deeply, hoping the stench of the alley would clear his head, but smelled a familiar, coppery scent. At last he saw more than her eyes, her face. Her gloves were in shreds, and both of her knees showed, scratched and bloodied, through tears in her trousers.

Here she was hurt, in pain, and all he’d thought of was having her for his pleasure. He was no better than the idiot berating her.

“I work here,” Bernard was telling her. “I park here every night. Bah.” He pulled out his wallet and offered her an insurance card. “You give me yours.”

“I’m not responsible. Someone hit me from behind.” The girl ignored the card, hobbled slowly to where the motorcycle lay beside the car and crouched down. She ran her hand over one misshapen tire, then the other. “Damn it, they’re both blown.”

“Miss. Miss.” When she didn’t respond, Bernard stalked over to her. “We call the insurance; let them say who pay.”

She bent over to look under the car. “I don’t have any.”

His sous chef did the same. “What do you say?”

“Insurance.” She stood, bracing one hand against the hood of the Volvo to steady herself. “I don’t carry any on my bike.”

“So now I must pay for everything. Such convenience for you.” Bernard straightened and took out his mobile. “I call police now.”

“Wait a minute.” She gave Bernard her full attention. “There’s no need to get the police involved. We can work this out between the two of us.”

She tried to sound more amicable, but for the first time Dansant caught a glimpse of fear in her eyes, and moved quickly over to stand beside her.

“I am French,” Bernard informed her before Dansant could say a word. “No stupid. I know your game. You crash into my car on purpose, force me give you money.”

“No, Bernard,” Dansant told him. “Clearly it was an accident.” And if the man didn’t soon shut up, Dansant was almost certain he was going to beat him senseless.

His sous chef folded his arms. “She is scumming me.”

“Scamming,” she corrected. “And no, I’m not doing that. Look, this was an accident, that’s all. Why don’t we just call it even and walk away?”

“You ruin my car. You have no insurance. You are no walking away.” Bernard began to dial.

Ta gueule.” Dansant took out his wallet, eyed the car, and removed a handful of hundreds, which he put in the sous chef’s soft hand. “This will pay for the damages, plus two weeks’ pay.”

“Chef.” Bernard frowned at the money. “I do not need my pay tonight.”

“Yes, you do. You’re fired. Good-bye, Bernard.” Dansant turned to the girl, who stared at him with visible disbelief. Over Bernard’s sputtering, he said, “You are hurt, but I can help you. Come with me.”

“I’ll be fine, thanks.” She seemed genuinely unconcerned about her injuries. “Who are you?”

“Jean-Marc Dansant. I own this restaurant. Come, mademoiselle.” He took her arm, and when she pulled back he gestured at her knees. “Look, there, you are bleeding. I have a first aid kit inside.”

“My name is Rowan.” She turned her head. “My bike—”

“It cannot be taken, not as it is now,” he assured her.

Rowan stared at the hand on her arm and then into his eyes. “Why are you doing this? You don’t know me.”

She is afraid – of me?

Oui.” He didn’t have the words to tell her, not yet. Not when he didn’t understand what was pulling him to her. Whatever it was, he could not let it vanish into the night. He released her as he tried to think of something to say. “It is the kindness of a stranger, yes?”

“Not something I usually depend on.” Rowan looked down at herself and sighed. “But I do need to clean up.”

He clenched his teeth as images of his hands undressing her and washing her filled his mind. “Then come inside with me, please.” He offered her his hand this time, and after a long, silent moment, she took it.

Jamais dans ma vie,” Bernard called after them as Dansant guided her through the kitchen door and into the restaurant. “You be sorry you fire me. I am best sous chef in—”

Fortunately the heavy steel door cut off the rest of what he shouted.

“Wait, please.” Dansant left her by the long prep table and retrieved the first aid kit from the dry storage room. When he returned she had stripped off her jacket and the shreds of her gloves, and was washing her hands at the rinsing sink beside the industrial dishwasher. Under a black T-shirt she wore a long-sleeved white thermal shirt, the cuffs of which were stained red with blood.

For the first time he realized how very tall she was – only an inch or two shorter than he was – and how perfectly her long body would fit to his. He’d never made love to a woman who matched him physically. Nor would he if he left her standing and bleeding in his kitchen while he indulged in such fantasies.

“Let me see,” he said as he put the kit on the sideboard.

“They’re not too bad. My gloves took the worst of it.” She showed him her grazed, reddened palms before looking down. “My knees are a mess, though.”

Dansant pulled an empty crate over by the table. “Sit here.”

She didn’t move. “Thanks, but I think I can do this by myself.”

Dansant removed some gauze pads and a small bottle of peroxide from the kit. “You are still shaken, ma mûre.”

She limped over to the crate and perched on it. “So are you usually this kind to strangers?” Before he could answer, she added, “I’m not going to sue, if that’s what you’re worried about.”

That she thought of herself as a stranger to him was perplexing. From the moment he’d seen her face, he’d known her. Not who she was, or why she had come to him now, but everything that mattered between a man and a woman. All he had to do was be patient, and wait for her to give herself over to him. Then he would show her what they were meant to be together.

Doesn’t she feel it?

“I do not worry about this.” He knelt before her to inspect the damage to her knees. “There is debris in the wounds. From the ground.” He would need scissors to cut away her trouser legs. “I must remove it.”

As soon as he put his hand on her leg, Rowan stiffened. “I don’t think so.”

He glanced up. “You do not like to be touched.”

“Oh, sometimes I like it fine.” She stared at his mouth before lifting her eyes to his, and he saw a glimmer of heat and longing. “It’s the stranger part I have trouble with.”

"So do I.” More than he could ever tell her. “Perhaps just for tonight, we should think we are friends.”

“Friends.” She seemed amused by this, but leaned back on her elbows. “All right, Dansant. Do whatever you want.”

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