Saturday, September 27, 2008

Loving True by Marie Rochelle

Construction industrialist Hayward Campbell walked across the porch of his newly remolded home and squinted in the bright morning sunlight. It was July and up in the mountains, it means scorching sun and cool breezes. He let his robe hang open, enjoying the breeze across his naked chest and the slight flapping of his green silk boxers against him. He sighed and stepped on the dew-covered grass. It felt wonderful to his bare feet as he sauntered along.

He was in no hurry; the peacefulness of his home was just the thing he needed. Hopefully, in time, it would help to mend his battered heart. Nothing could ever fix the damage that she’d done. If what everyone had said was true, maybe he could learn to live with it.

Hayward slowed his gait. Unconsciously, he caught the edges of his robe and pulled them together. Someone had moved into the house next door because the ‘For Sale’ sign was gone. He felt a burst of anger towards the intruder; this was his piece of heaven. Who would dare invade his paradise?

How could he have not noticed that someone was moving in next door? Was he so isolated inside his house that he not once noticed the sound of a moving truck echo through his ears? Just how long had the ‘For Sale’ sign been missing from the yard? He really couldn’t remember. His real estate broker had made the owner an offer for him, but the guy never accepted it.

He had lost count of how many females had rented the house only to leave after two months. Rural Montana wasn’t a place most women wanted to live in the first place, so he still didn’t understand why so many had moved next door.

There weren’t any clothing stores or restaurants for miles, and he loved that. The unfortunate women who had moved next door had found that out rather quickly.

The further away he was from the fast-paced speed of the city, the calmer his life was. That kind of life had cost him something precious, and he wasn’t about to fall back into the lifestyle again, for anyone, no matter how much his family wanted it.

His brother called him last week and tried to coax him into coming back for a little visit, but he turned him down instantly. He loved his brother; however, it was past time for Clinton to stop trying to heal his wounds. He relished the pain. The memories made him realize that focusing only on the money had shattered his life.

Rubbing his dark blue eyes with the back of his hand, he blinked some of the sleep from them and wondered about his new neighbor. Would it be another woman this time? The last two females who had lived there within six months of each other thought he might need a little ‘extra’ neighborly hospitality, but he shot their ideas down very quickly. He didn’t move out here to find a hot body to warm his bed during the winter months.

Hayward couldn’t wait to find out whom the next person was that decided to take on the challenge of living in that huge house. It didn’t matter if it was a family, a man, or a woman. As long as they left him to his own devices, he would be the best neighbor that anyone could ask for. He was about to turn and go back into the house when the sound of a speeding car coming down the street caught his attention.

A firecracker red mustang pulled into the driveway next door, and the roaring engine became a soft purr before it turned off. Well, his question was about to be answered in a few seconds. Please don’t let it be another lonely female looking for a man, because he wasn’t about to fill that role ever again.

The car door swung open as he watched a pair of well-toned cocoa legs appear followed by a nicely firm bottom encased in blue jean shorts. She crawled out of the car, stretched, took in a long full breath, and his blood warmed at the sight. He would swear a plain white t-shirt never looked so good.

* * * *

True Williams paused in the middle of her new, blacktopped driveway. Her ebony eyes stared at the two story custom-made house, the beige siding completed the distinctive style. Her vision shifted to the forest of trees, blowing lightly in the warm late July air. Can I do this? Am I crazy for leaving all my friends back home?

With a soft sigh, she slid her hands into the back pockets of her snug denim shorts. Turning from her car, she spotted her next-door neighbor staring at her from his yard. His dark eyes traveled the length of her body; a tingling sensation started in the pit of her stomach and worked its way up. He bent over to pick up the rolled newspaper, and he greeted her with a nice view of a tight firm butt pressed against a silk robe. He looked over his shoulder, and she arched one eyebrow at him, his brows drew together as he gazed back. He was gorgeous; his dark eyes flashed with curiosity, and his thick black hair brushed back from his face, enhancing a powerful jawbone. Then she did it; she winked at him. His brows shot up in response.

Without saying a word, he turned away and retreated into his house. She glared at him. He didn’t seem too pleased with her moving next door. She lifted her shoulder, a small snort slipped from between her lips. Well, that will teach him to stare at me. She strolled toward the trunk.

Hell, she didn’t care if he wanted her as a neighbor or not. She was here, so he would have to deal with it. In the last two years, she had moved three times. Every place she moved never felt quite like home to her. Hopefully, living out here in Big Sky Country would change that. At the back of her car, True unlocked the trunk and flinched when the smooth, slick, freshly waxed surface burned the tips of her fingers.

With the tips of her fingers, she lifted the white banker box with the word ‘bears’ scribbled across the side. Balancing the box on her hip, she took small steps toward the front porch so it wouldn’t slip. Her hands held five years of yard sales, thrift stores, and late night eBay searches. Her mother started her collection with her very first bear at her eighth birthday party, and she had been collecting them ever since.

“Okay, Baby, we are almost there.” She rubbed the side of the box with her left hand and glanced down, making sure there wasn’t any kind of debris in her way. “Thank God.” She breathed a quick sigh of relief and raised her foot toward the first concrete step when a noise behind the wicker chair drew her attention. She almost jumped out of her skin when out of nowhere, the flying squirrel from Rocky and Bullwinkle cartoons flew over her right shoulder.

The furry-tailed creature hit the ground with a loud thump and dashed across the grass, back into the dense forest. The creature shocked her. Her tight grip on the box slipped and it crashed to the ground then rolled away from her, stopping by the edge of the grass.

“Shit!” True cursed, looking over at the dented box. She sent out a silent prayer that the contents in the box were still intact. She lifted the box off the ground and carried it inside the house. Once inside, she placed the damaged box on the antique, ebony glass table her aunt left her.

“I pray the bubble wrap worked,” True sighed, reaching for the box cutter next to the damaged box. She carefully ran the knife across the packing tape and flipped open the box. Taking out one of the K’ Collection bears, she untaped it and let out a sigh of relief. It wasn’t broken. She unpacked the rest of her bear collection to make sure they were all undamaged. “Thank God none of them broke.” She rewrapped the bear statues and placed the box under the table out of her way.

Standing with her hands on her hips, she surveyed the difference between her new home and the over-priced one bedroom apartment she had rented in California. Four bedrooms with a large master suite and a whirlpool bath was a lot, even for her, but she had the money for it, especially, after the half a million-dollar lawsuit settlement from Starr Technology.

Her eyes narrowed in the spacious living area that her old apartment could have fit in. A residence in the mountains wasn’t her forte. She felt a little out of her element; however, she loved a challenge. Living in a new town, where no one knew her name or the scandal linked to it, left the possibilities for a new life wide open. “Well, nothing will get done if I keep daydreaming.” She wandered in the direction of the four unopened boxes underneath the bay window.

Biting her bottom lip, she cringed at the boxes positioned by the cream-colored walls. It would take her a while to separate the contents. She didn’t mind the extra time it might take, but she still had to go grocery shopping.

Hours later, True brushed the remaining clingy packing peanuts from her hands. Her eyes glowed with satisfaction at the neatly arranged room around her. Family pictures of her parents hung on the walls along with an older, faded picture of her aunt. Several African artifacts covered the area behind her black couch and a medium white shelf displayed her unique bear collection. A small smile tugged at the corner of her mouth. Finally, she could start on that grocery list and head to the store. She hurried from the living room to her favorite part of the house, the breakfast nook.

She adored how the sunflower wallpaper added a warm, sunny feeling to the spacious room. Taking a seat at the granite table, she pulled the ladybug notepad towards her. The low rumble of her stomach echoed in the kitchen. “I’ll feed you soon so stop all that noise.” Her fingers brushed her empty stomach; she hadn’t eaten since breakfast.

Ten minutes later, she tossed the pen on the table. Her eyes scanned the rose-colored paper for any missing items. Brown’s grocery was a long drive, and she didn’t want to make another trip into town for a small item if it wasn’t necessary. “Well, I guess I better hit the road.” She snatched the car keys off the table in the hall and rushed out the door.