Welcome to my portion of Tuesday Tales. This selection is from my work in progress, Everlasting Echoes, which is a prequel to my Echoes of Orson’s Folly series (Lifeline Echoes and Elusive Echoes), and tells the story of Justin and Beth.
“What’s it like?” she asked softly. “Living here? Is it lonely?”
A bemused expression crossed Justin’s face. Then his mouth widened into a pleasing smile. “No, not so much. Not lately, anyway.” The glance he sent her sizzled along her exposed skin, little electrical charges of awareness.
Beth’s heart stuttered and heat crept into her cheeks. She lowered her gaze, her brain a jumbled mass of confused thoughts writhing against each other. Was Justin hinting at something between them? The notion was insane. They’d known each other just a little over twenty-four hours. And even if she had thought about how much Justin had managed to turn her world upside down in that time…that didn’t mean he felt the same way. He had to mean something else.
She forced her breathing to slow and feigned a relaxed attitude as she scooped up a forkful of mashed potatoes smothered in butter. Once the bite was in her mouth she chanced a look across the table while she chewed. Justin watched her with a flare of intense heat in his eyes and all of Beth’s newfound bravado fled. Warmth suffused her cheeks, making her grateful for the dim lights. With effort, she tore her gaze from his and shifted her concentration to her plate.
The plate that had maybe two bites of potatoes left on it. When she had scraped the last of these in her mouth and swallowed, Beth took a sip of iced tea, hoping the cold liquid would provide some relief from the conflagration that had begun in her veins. But the icy drink seemed to have the opposite effect. Beth dabbed at her mouth with her napkin and slid her chair backward.
“Dinner was delicious,” she murmured, standing and gathering her dishes. “I’ll get these washed.”
Justin picked up the remains of his own meal, and they ended up bumping into each other at the sink. A nervous giggle escaped and Beth was quick to press her fingertips against her mouth as if she could push the childish sound back in. The last thing she wanted was for Justin to regard her as a child.
One of his mysterious smiles tugged on his lips and his bright blue eyes crinkled at the corners. “Why don’t we clean up together?” His arm brushed hers as he reached beyond Beth and twisted the hot water tap. Her heart gave a little leap at the brief contact. Water spurted and then gushed forth into the white enamel sink. Justin shoved the stopper into the drain and the sink began to fill. Steam from the cascading hot water rose to blanket the window above.
When he squeezed a measure of green dishwashing liquid into the water, white suds built like puffy clouds on a summer day. After a moment, Justin turned the tap and the water stopped.
Beth sighed with the sheer bliss of spending an evening doing something so completely normal and homey as making a meal, sharing it, and cleaning up afterward. Soft piano and guitar blended on the radio behind her, and soon Elvis began crooning about falling in love.
“Mmmm. Oh, yeah.” Justin slid the dishes into the bubbly water, and then picked up a dishtowel with a giant sunflower on it. After he dried his hands, he hung the towel on a bar in front of the sink. Then he turned from the sink and held out his hand, a tender smile curving his lips upward.
Slightly mystified and off balance with it, Beth slipped her hand in his and found herself drawn into a loose embrace. He began swaying in time to the music and it seemed the most natural thing in the world to move across the kitchen floor with the dance partner she’d waited her entire life for.
Beth laid her face against Justin’s chest and inhaled. He smelled so good, a pleasing mix of soap, fresh piney woods, and worn leather. The strong pulse of his heart beneath her ear seemed to complement the tender strains of the song. Beth lost herself in the moment, enjoying the heat of his hand as it wandered up and down her spine in leisurely time to the music. Their steps matched perfectly, and he rested his cheek on top of her head as Elvis’s smooth tones flowed over them like the river he sang about.
As Beth melted in his arms, Justin’s heart stuttered briefly then settled into a steady pounding that seemed to echo the gentle rhythm of the song. He wished to heck he knew what he thought he was doing. No one had ever felt so right in his arms, even though he knew from the things they’d talked about that any feelings he developed could go nowhere. She had a life to return to. She was going to go places. She had dreams.
And he was already in the life he’d been destined for since his birth.
A sigh escaped his lips. None of that was going to prevent him from enjoying their time together. The cloud of golden curls beneath his cheek was soft as combed cotton. Justin inhaled her light perfume. He’d remember that scent, whatever it was, for the rest of his life. Then he exhaled slowly and—just for tonight, he warned himself—allowed his heart to lead the dance. As Elvis offered up his whole life, Justin experienced the odd realization that the sensations rocking his body were less heatedly sensual and more tenderly caring. He filed the unusual recognition away to take out and ponder later, intent only on enjoying the dance, the moment.
All too soon, the music came to an end and the mood dissipated in the jingle of a soft drink commercial advising America to look up and “find the real thing.” Beth seemed reluctant to leave the embrace. As she pulled away, one hand lingered on his waist, the other left his hand slowly with a long brush of fingertips that sent a tingle up to his brain and then down to his toes.
At the same time, she angled a glance upward and smiled almost shyly. “Thank you for the dance,” she murmured.
There was only one logical course of action. Justin steadied Beth’s with his fingertips, and then he bent to skim his lips over hers. For just an instant, some indefinable emotion flashed, but then she closed her eyes and, exhaling softly, leaned into the kiss.
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