Free Reads

Divine Deception is my novella set in Western New York. It’s part of Ellora Cave’s succulent series that included stories with fruit as their central theme. This story involves grapes and more specifically … wine. It’s meant to be a fun little read. I hope you enjoy this excerpt from chapter one.

Obtaining his life’s dream may very well destroy hers …

Nicholas Gradin III splashed three more fingers of thirty-year-old scotch into the crystal tumbler sitting on the mahogany desk, not bothering to add ice. He didn’t need some watered-down version of liquid courage. He needed straight up, balls-to-the-walls bravery for the weekend ahead. Even though it was all of his making, Nicholas didn’t really want to face the huge obstacle that stood between him and freedom. Gulping a generous portion of the scotch, he turned and stared out the study window. He’d chosen this room on the east side of the mansion specifically so he didn’t have to stare at the goddamn ugly vines that tortured his very existence.

One month, six weeks at the most and the last of the grapes would be harvested and the vines left to wither. Nicholas could only hope all the lies would die along with them.

Nicholas watched the lush lawn sway in the early autumn breeze, hoping it would soothe the frayed ends of his nerves. He laughed derisively and swallowed his resentment with a hefty shot of alcohol. Who was he kidding? It wasn’t lush-it was overgrown and unkempt. Without the benefit of the lawn service that he’d fired last spring, it looked like shit. Perhaps he should be staring at the vineyard. At least a skeleton crew still meticulously tended the vines.

No, even that thought slid him deeper into a morass of self-pity.

In his youth, the vineyard had been his playground full of fertile soil that not only nurtured the grapes but a foolish boy’s vivid imagination. As he’d grown it had become his gym, offering hours upon hours of backbreaking work that honed his muscles and allowed him to dream of a different life. Now, he was a middle-aged man imprisoned by its incessant demands. As happened to his late parents, the vineyard was sucking the very marrow from his bones and leaving him wilted and apathetic. He had no doubt it would kill him one day. He figured drowning himself in the intoxicating oblivion of liquor was a preferable path to death.

Nicholas finished the scotch and turned to stare at the bottle taunting him from the desk.

“You worry too much, my love.”

Turning to the comforting sound, Nicholas stared at his young wife lounging elegantly against the open door. Her ebony hair curved over her bare shoulder, the ends nestling in her plentiful cleavage. The white top she wore was sheer enough to show off the pink lace beneath. Black patterned leggings hugged her hips and her legs to just below her knee. He had no doubt she wore nothing beneath the exotic second skin.

Even after seven years of marriage, the woman was a walking hard-on.

Knowing the spell she cast over him, Carmine smiled and lifted the bunch of red grapes in her hand to her full lips. Curling her tongue around one, her mouth made love to it before she sank her teeth into its flesh. Juice dripped down her chin and she gathered it up with flick of her tongue before she spoke. “Two and half days. You can do anything for two and a half days.”

Grapes, the fruit of hell itself. Most of the time, he hated the damn things-the smell, the texture, the sight. But when Carmine held them, Nicholas remembered all the reasons they were known as the fruit of gods. Even she could turn the despised globes into a delicate food of seduction.

Capturing his gaze, Carmine stared intently at him as the pink tip of her tongue caressed the dangling fruit. In and around each swollen berry, her tongue darted and tasted. A low moan keened from her throat as she snatched another and took it into her mouth with a loud “pop”. “Really, I don’t think it’s going to be as bad as you’re anticipating.”

Nicholas swallowed hard, trying to find his voice. “I’m not anticipating anything more than a quiet family weekend.”

With a doubtful arch of her brow, she pushed from the doorway and walked to him. Black stiletto heels clicked softly across the hardwood floor. Carmine slinked up to him, her lithe body molding to his. Her breasts pressed against his chest and his body sprang to attention. Sliding her palm across his shoulder, she looked into his eyes. “The tension rides on your shoulders…” A long, red nail dragged up his neck and over his jaw. “It knots right here…” Her nail continued its journey across his forehead, the other fingers tickling across his face. “And it leaves deep lines on your brow.” She came up on her toes and her teeth grazed his chin. “But I know how to help take your mind off the homecoming.”

BUY the BOOK

Here is the tenth installment of Test Drive a short story about a car salesperson and the two men who have kidnapped her.

**********   TEST DRIVE   ********** 

Brent’s hand shot out and connected with a sickening thud against Paul’s jaw bone. The impact snapped Brent’s head to the side and it came up hard against the driver’s window, rendering him momentarily unconscious. Fearing for her life, Margo fought to control the car careening into oncoming traffic. Brent lunged for the wheel. Quick reflexes on everyone’s part, kept the cars from colliding and the other driver communicating his protest with his horn.

Brent maneuvered the slowing Saturn to the opposite side of the road. He pulled the gun from the waist of Paul’s pants and fell against the back seat, ragged breathes matching Margo’s.

“Sorry about that. I told you, my brother has a wicked temper.” Brent tucked the gun in his pants and slid to the door behind Paul. “Not the first time I cold-cocked him. I have a feeling it won’t be the last.” As he slid out of the backseat, Margo opened her door and bolted for the road.

“Margo!” Brent’s shout didn’t slow her down as she ran across the road into the safety of the trees. Feet thudded behind her, but she would not get back in the car. Not with two fighting brothers with short tempers and a couple of guns behind them. How had one test drive gotten her to this place in her life?

Panic pushed her without caution. Her foot slipped between two rocks hidden beneath the carpet of dead leaves and Margo came down hard on her knee. Pain shot out of her mouth on a scream. Despite the knives of agony shooting up her leg, Margo worked to free her foot so she could get away from these madmen who had come into her life less than an hour ago. 

It was no use. Brent was upon her before she could work her foot out of the useless high heel.

“Margo, stop.”

Brent came up behind her, his breathing coming in ragged pulls. She wondered if he had the gun pointed at the back of her head now. She wasn’t brave enough to look over her shoulder to find out. If he was going to kill her, he’d have to do it like a coward and shoot her in the back. She closed her eyes and the ruined images of her life played like a slideshow in her mind.

The withering body of her mother. Her dreams of a college education. Giving up her life for her father’s happiness. Settling for a loveless relationship with Dylan. There was no happiness in the movie playing in her head. Only sadness and heartache. She had nothing to live for. Margo fell forward giving into the inevitability of the end and prayed it would come quickly and without pain.

But it wasn’t the report of a gun she heard, it was the quiet crooning of Brent’s voice as his strong hands ran down her calf and eased her foot gently from the rocks. She rolled over on her back, the pain causing waves of agony that nearly made her wretch.

“Don’t move. I think you’ve broken it.”

Tears rolled down her temples. She hadn’t wanted to cry, but everything was so wrong. Wrong with this situation–wrong with her life.

He misinterpretted her sadness, she could see it in the depths of his eyes and the lines furrowing his brow. “Margo, don’t cry. I won’t let Paul hurt you.”  Brent knelt down next to her. “He’s just uptight. We’ve worked a long time on this and you’ve made things a little more …” He smiled at her. “Complicated.” He brushed the tear away with his thumb. “We just don’t know how to get you back through the border, you can’t use these plates.”

“I’m not going back.” 

This is the ninth installment of my short story Test Drive. If you would like to read the first 8 installments please click on Test Drive in the right hand column.

**********   TEST DRIVE   **********

The silence hanging heavily in the car made it hard for Margo to fill her lungs. Perhaps it was the sight of the brick building receding in the side mirror or the hills of Canada looming in front of her, but something made her dizzy with inescapable despair.

“Margo, I’m sorry that frightened you. But we’ve come so far, I couldn’t let you talk to the Border Patrol and ruin our plans. This did seem to do the trick. I promised not to hurt you and I meant it.”  Peter held a screwdriver in Margo’s face.

She realized it was the handle that had been pressed into her ribs and not another gun.

“What the fuck?” John shot Peter a scathing look over his shoulder.

“Oh, don’t blow your wad, dear brother. No harm, no foul. We all agreed getting through the border would be the toughest part. I could see Margo getting antsy and just helped her through it. It’s all down hill from here.”

John narrowed his eyes at Margo. Obviously, he considered her the most difficult part of whatever they were doing.

“Damn, this thing itches,” Peter said. “I’m glad to get rid of it.”  Margo turned to see Peter ripping off the baseball cap along with the scraggy hair. He picked at the goatee on his chin.

“You idiot! You fucking idiot! What are you doing?” John kept turning around, the car bumping off the shoulder before he turned back and brought it under control. He shoved Margo’s face, forcing her to look forward. “Don’t look at him. Keep your eyes forward.” Spittle flew from his mouth with the words. “Stop! You asshole. What the fuck, man?”

“For Chrissake, brother. Breathe. The damn thing was only for the border patrol. I think Margo’s cool.” He reached forward and laid a reassuring hand on her shoulder. “When this is over, I have a feeling she won’t say a word.”

Cold panic slithered down her chest and coiled in her belly. Now she could identify them. Hope sank as Peter pulled his hand from her shoulder.

“We’ve got everything covered Paul, just chill,” Brent said, settling back into the seat.

“It’s John. You idiot! You fucking idiot! If I weren’t driving…”

“Oh, but you are big brother. That was the deal, I was only the wing man, remember?  The front guy. But it seems to me I’ve done all the work. Everyone at the furniture store can identify me, what’s one more, especially when she’s as classy as Margo?” He leaned forward between the seats. “And by the way, my name is Brent, nice to meet you again.”

Margo didn’t want to look at him, but he captured her chin and pulled it so their noses were only inches apart. Chestnut curls framed a clean shaven face with a square jaw. The deep blue eyes scanned her face and she couldn’t help but return his mischievous smile with a trembling one of her own. In another life, at another time, she might find his boyish charm appealing. But having no idea what they intended for her, this moment wasn’t about anything more than having this man care about her enough to keep her safe.  

“Oh, what the fuck are you doing?” Paul pushed Brent to the backseat and broke the tenuous connection.

“Brent, you’re a fucking idiot!” His fist thumped the steering wheel emphasizing every word. “This whole thing is unraveling. First this bitch decides to go on a joy ride with us and now you’ve opened you’re fucking mouth. What the hell’s next Brent, a fucking four way split? I’m sure you know who will love that.” Paul gave up on the disguise and pulled the Fedora off, slamming it and the gray wig on the console between them. “Fuck. Fuck. Fuck. It wasn’t supposed to go down like this. A whole fucking year, and for what? A fucking bitch who couldn’t mind her own business. I say we get rid of her now.” Paul’s hand went for the gun just as Margo grabbed the steering wheel.

Copyright Kara Dunn 2008

I hope you’ve been enjoying this short story. If you’re just finding this for the first time, feel free to click on “Test Drive” in the left hand column and read the previous 7 entries. Please enjoy the next excerpt:

*******   TEST DRIVE   ********

“Ever the knight in shining armor aren’t you dear brother?” John asked sourly. Looking at Peter over his shoulder, he threw the car into reverse, the gears grinding like the tension roiling in the air between them. Margo had no idea what she’d fallen into. As dirt and rocks flung backwards, she wasn’t sure whether it was the extreme acceleration or the fear, but her stomach lurched and she swallowed the bile as they turned onto the main road.

“Listen, we’re not too off schedule, we should be at the border in ten minutes. We’ll figure out what to do with this beautiful lady.” Peter tapped Margo on the shoulder.

“Shut up! Just shut up! Will you, let me think?” Spittle flew with the unexpected explosion of anger. Peter had warned her of John’s volatile temper, but this was the first time she’d seen him get angry without cause. John flipped on the radio, the crooning oldies a stark contrast to the turmoil in the car.

With the volume hindering any further dialogue, Margo focused on her breathing. At least she wasn’t tied up and in the trunk. Between the screaming music and the terror pounding in her ears, she found it hard to string together two rational thoughts through the emotional fog. Nervously she cracked each of the knuckles of her right hand, hoping to mask the tremble in her hands.

Peter had rifled through her pockets and taken her cell phone and wallet. She didn’t like that she had no identification. Did they intend to kill her and dispose of her body, hoping it would take longer for them to link these men to her? She shook her head, refusing to give into those kind of thoughts.

She pondered how long it had been since she left her office; thirty minutes, more? She doubted anyone had even noticed. Once, on a beautiful summer day, she’d taken a convertible out with a girlfriend. They were gone close to an hour. Only the receptionist had commented. She missed her only because it had run into her lunch hour. There was a chance no one would give her a second thought until the police showed up asking them to identify her body.

Dylan wouldn’t realize she was gone until late tonight when he was looking for dinner. She never bothered to call her boyfriend during the day, knowing his lazy habits would only upset her. So even he wouldn’t wonder where she was.

The hill leading up to the border was lined with trees blazing with crimson leaves. But she wasn’t on a fall foliage tour, she was headed to some unknown destination. On the other side of the border could be nothing for her but danger.

With this tiny crossing in northern Maine, getting into another country would require nothing more than a piece of identification and answers to a few questions. 

John slowed the car and turned to Margo, evil mapping ugly roads across his features. “Don’t say a word. Don’t smile. Look straight ahead. Don’t even draw a deep breath. Nothing to bring attention to yourself.” Venom dripped with the words he pressed through clenched teeth. He hit the switch for the window as he pulled up to the brick building.

The glass window on the side of the building slid open, the elderly gentleman barely looking at them as he ticked information off on the registration sheet in front of him. “Beautiful morning. Everyone a U.S. citizen?” Canadian border patrol were always pleasant.

“Yes, all of us are from Willowdale, we’re having lunch in Great Falls.” John replied.

“I need driver’s licenses, birth certificates or passports.”

Peter handed two things to John who passed them onto the grandfatherly man leaning out the window. Obviously Peter had pulled her license from her wallet.

Margo’s head spun. What was she doing? Scream. What would these men do to her in Canada? The reality of her situation crashed down upon her once again and she refused to cower under its weight. Scream. The word echoed in her head. Do something. She sat back up and turned to the border patrol. Her mouth opened, but fear for her life kept the sound locked in her throat. 

The barrel of a gun pressed painfully through her jacket, digging into her ribs. Peter had it pressed into her right side. She slouched back into the warmth of the leather. Her glazed eyes of defeat once again stared straight ahead. 

The man perused the licenses in his hand. “Wait.” He readjusted his glasses and looked at the identification and then into the back window. “Peter, this you?”

“Yes, sir.”

Hope soared even as Peter pressed the gun painfully into her side. Perhaps they would be asked to go inside.

“You were born on Christmas Day same as my youngest,” the older man stated. His tongue clicked on the roof of his mouth. “She always hated not having another day to celebrate. You’re about the same age.”

“Yes, sir. It is a disappointment.”

“Guess we all live with disappointments.”

As he handed back the licenses, Margo wanted to scream out her own disappointment. But the gun in her side may as well have been wrapped around her vocal chords. No air would pass over them. Even as she screamed for help in her head. Only silence filled the car as she waited for the man to realize something was terribly wrong.

He handed back the licenses and in a monotone voice ran through the obligatory questions. “No mace, pepper spray…”

“Nope, nope and nope.” John smiled through the window for the first time since arriving at the dealership. He certainly knew how to toy with people.

“Have a nice lunch.” The gentleman waved them through.

The Sebring rolled out of the shaded protection of the building into the blinding fall sun. For the first time in her life, rather than the giddy anticipation of a vacation, crossing into Canada brought with it a sense of finality.

Copyright Nina Pierce 2008

Here it is, the seventh installment of Test Drive my short story. Last we saw car salesperson, Margo, she was trying to escape two men who kidnapped her during a test drive.

Please enjoy …

*****  TEST DRIVE  ***** 

“What the hell’s the matter with you?” The taller man stepped between Margo and the gun and offered her a hand. “Put that fucking thing away, John. That’s how people get hurt you idiot.” He pulled Margo to her feet. “We’re wasting time, we need to get moving. We have a short window of opportunity here.”

“She was running away, we can’t have that. I don’t know what the hell to do with her, but having her jumping in the river isn’t the solution.” He tucked the gun at his waist under the jacket and picked up the heavy duffle still sitting on the ground in front of the car. “If she isn’t going to behave …” He let the threat fill the air before he strode to the back of the car.

Margo had a hard time filling her lungs.

“My brother’s a good guy. He’s just a little on edge. I’m Peter.” He bent and looked into her eyes. “Don’t do that again. I can only buffer you from his temper for so long. Do you understand?”

Margo nodded.

“You won’t get hurt. Just let us get through the next couple of hours.” He led her to the back of the Sebring. The trunk was open and John stood with a length of rope, his eyes searching Peter’s expectantly.

Fear rolled over her, a nauseating tsunami that washed her in a rib-crushing wave that stole the air from her lungs, and had her heart pumping hard. She tasted the bitter flavor of bile as her stomach lurched. She wondered if they would put her in the trunk. Perhaps that was why John insisted on opening it at the dealership. At least she knew where the trunk release was in this model. She never thought of it as a useful safety feature until now.

“No way in hell, John.” Peter emphasized the man’s name. She’s not going in there if that’s what you’re thinking.”

John snapped the rope. “Peter,” he said the name with venom. “Where you going to put her? The back seat like we’re some taxi service?”

“Fuck you. She’s not going anywhere. She’ll sit in the front and I’ll be right behind her.”

John stepped up to her, his eyes narrowing to tiny slits, but the daggers flying through them made her wince. “One wrong move …” He slammed the trunk shut walked to the other side of the car.

Amazing how is wordless threats hurt more than the slap to her face.

“Just get in,” Peter said. “Don’t screw with him, Margo. He’s serious.” Peter opened the passenger door and she slipped hesitantly into the seat. Going with them didn’t seem like a good idea, but fighting them when they were armed … hardly seemed like a good life decision.

Copyright Nina Pierce 2008

Welcome to the sixth installment of my short story. If you’ve just found me, please feel free to scroll down the “Categories” list on the left hand side of my blog. Click on “Test Drive” and you will be able to read the first five installments.

Last week left Margo, a car salesperson, running for her life from two men who had kidnapped her during a test drive of a new vehicle. Please enjoy this next installment.

******   TEST DRIVE ****** 

Fear pushed her forward with the singular focus of making it to the water. Margo’s stocking feet were no match for the jagged gravel and sharpened points of broken shrubbery. But the pain cutting through the soles of her feet barely registered as adrenaline shot into her bloodstream, pumping her leg muscles at a fevered pitch.

Shouts erupted behind her. She blocked out everything save for the sound of rushing water. Fifty feet. Fifty feet of brush separated her from the depths of freedom.

Running through the tangle of long grass, she prayed. Prayed she’d be faster than her captors. Prayed she wouldn’t get snared in the brush. Prayed the bone-chilling waters of the river would swallow her before a bullet pierced her skull.

As if her thoughts had conjured a gun, an explosion tore through the pounding in her ears and instinct doubled her over. Still her body pushed forward through the maze of branches slapping at her face. Twenty five feet. Close enough to smell the fetid aroma of farm silage running toward the ocean. Nothing had ever smelled sweeter.

Just as she believed freedom was in her grasp, a strong arm snatched it from her fingertips. Margo fought against the vice-grip of the forearm wrapped around her waist. Her feet left the ground as he swung her back toward the car.

“Jumping in the river will get you nowhere but wet.”

She flailed against the red-haired man. Kicking at his shins and flinging her head back, she connected with nothing but air. Still she fought. Her class of defensive maneuvers rushed back in a hail of memories and survival instinct. 

“Now, that’s not very nice,” he said into her ear as one hand clamped her face and the other pulled her arms tight against her torso. She struggled against the steel wrapped around her torso, but to no avail. “I suggest you settle down before my brother decides to aim the gun at you. He’s got a rather nasty temper. I’m warning you now–don’t test its limits.”

He both carried and dragged her struggling body back toward the car. Margo shouldn’t have been fooled by the man’s small stature. The arms that held her were forged with iron. She wasn’t breaking from his grasp.

“My boss knows where I went! You can’t get away with this!” she yelled. When the words didn’t seem to have any impact she screamed. His hand slid up to cover her mouth and the next scream was swallowed by his wide palm. Her eyes bulged as she tried to draw breath. Panic swept through her as her lungs refused to fill. 

“Shut up! Shut up!” John ran to them, the gun waving in his hand. “If you don’t shut up I will put a bullet in your skull. Right here. Right now. You were a pain in the ass the moment I walked onto the lot and I have no compunction taking you down right here.”

That took the fight out of her.

“Put that damn thing away before someone gets hurt, you idiot,” he said to John as he set her none to gently on the ground and released her mouth. She drew a deep gulp of air as he spun her to face him. “Stop fighting me. We have no intention of hurting–”

Margo’s fist shot out, connecting with a sickening thud against the bone of red-haired guy’s jaw. The ball cap fell to the ground, but didn’t move the man. The shock of pain radiating up her arm was unbearable and she cried out at the sudden sting of it.

She had only a moment to register the pain before another wave rang through her face. John backhanded her. The force of contact sent her to the ground. The heat of terror burned her throat and eyes.

The barrel of the gun pointed at her nose blurred in the wash of uninvited tears.

She was going to die.

Copyright Kara Dunn 2008

This is the fifth installment of my short story, Test Drive. I hope you enjoy this free read.

********** TEST DRIVE **********

John stopped the car. “Don’t move, or…” He didn’t finish his sentence. He just sat there staring at her, his bobbing index finger inches from her nose. Emotions fluttered over his face in waves and finally settled on a mix between anger and confusion. John’s mouth opened and closed, but no words tripped over the thinned lips. Blowing out frustration, his cheeks puffed before he gave up on any explanation and bolted from the car. Margo didn’t know if she shook from fear or the slamming of the door.

A willowy man stepped out of the shrubbery, a worn army surplus duffle bag thrown over his shoulder. The baseball cap he wore backwards, covered red hair pulled back in a pony tail. Thin fingers rubbed at the dark soul patch below his bottom lip.

John had given up the pretense of the cane and the limp that had slowed his walk at the car dealership was no longer apparent as he strode to meet the man. Anger lifted their voices and sent fear skittering up her back.

“You brought company,” the red haired man said.

“What the hell was I supposed to do with her?” John pointed back at Margo through the windshield. “God damn it all to hell, this is not how it was supposed to go down!” He pulled off the fedora thumping it against his thigh, emphasizing the words.

“Calm down. It’s not a big deal. We can deal with this.” He laid his hand on John’s shoulder, but John shook it off and began to stalk.

“What the fuck? How can you be so calm? We’re screwed! You just don’t get this do you?” John spun around to face Margo, his arms spread wide and his eyes shooting darts of malice through the glass. “I wanted to leave her, but she’d go to the police and it just wouldn’t give us enough time. We’ve got to do this today!”

“It’s a little glitch. Nothing we can’t handle.”

John whirled and stepped up to the man. “Little glitch? What the fuck? This is a huge, callosal, mother fucking, SNAFU dear brother.”

The tall guy pushed at the air trying to tamp down the anger roiling between them. “Everything else is working with precision timing.”

“The car?”

The red haired man turned to the river. “Can you see it?”

John shook his head.

“They’ll never find it until the spring floods. If it shows up then.” He swung the duffle to the ground and pulled license plates from the bulky contents. “Now calm down and keep moving. Take this and put it on the back.” He handed John a plate and a screwdriver. “We’ll just get rid of her before the border. That’ll give us enough time. Stop worrying.”

John stalked past her window without a sideways glance, but the hatred sluicing off him chilled her and she pulled the leather jacket tighter around her body. The tall man shot her a quivering smile before bending down to attach the plates.

Margo only needed a moment. She mentally measured the distance to the lake–one hundred feet through tall grass and shrubs. She could do it. Slipping out of her pumps, she eased the door open and slid out of the car. The brisk autumn breeze slapped reality at her with the cold force of fear. People had lost their lives after their boats had dumped them into the swift current of the river. But she’d rather suffer that fate than endure what she suspected these men had in mind for her.

Bolting for the refuge of the swampy river bank, she prayed her trembling legs could carry her as far as the water. 

Copyright Kara Dunn 2008

Welcome to the fourth week of my short story Test Drive. I hope you’re enjoying this free read as much as I’m enjoying writing it. Feel free to offer suggestions in the comments. It’s a work in progress and I’m willing to take the story wherever you’d like it to go!

**********  TEST DRIVE **********

“Yeah, a dozen yellow.” Rob smiled at Margo, and waved at her as she headed to the lot. No doubt he was ordering flowers for his wife–again. She didn’t even want to imagine what he’d done this time. Something told her she should interrupt, let Rob know she was getting in a car with this guy. But perhaps she was overthinking this whole thing and was being foolish. Besides, the customer seemed impatient.

Pushing down the trepidation inching up her throat, she smiled at John as she attached the dealer plate and handed him the keys. “Looks like we’re all set.”

“Could I look at the trunk before we go?” Without waiting for a response, he limped back and popped the trunk with the key she handed him. He took a cursory glance and shut it. “Looks just right for groceries and the occasional trip to the grandkids.” His smile warbled with the words.

With surprising agility he slipped behind the wheel and settled himself next to her. The man was a walking enigma–literally. Looking around as if lost, he stared at the cane in bewilderment before tossing it haphazardly on the back seat.

“We can go right over to get your wife, if you’d like.” Margo offered helpfully.

“That’s fine, but I live out in the country.” He sounded annoyed. The skin on his jaw was taut and without wrinkles, save for the occasional tick of a muscle. He stared straight ahead and pulled the fedora low on his head so Margo couldn’t see his eyes.

“No problem. We’re not in any hurry. I’m happy to pick up your wife wherever you live.”

His knuckles pulsed white as he clenched and unclenched the steering wheel and pulled into traffic. 

They drove in silence.

Margo didn’t show him the unique features on the radio, or the buttons which operated the moon roof. She prided herself on reading the moods of her customers and she knew it was neither the price of the car nor its fuel economy causing the frown on his face. She wasn’t sure where she was headed, but it definitely wasn’t to pick up Mrs. Anderson. Fear rippled up her spine and she worked hard to keep from shivering. This whole thing had been such a bad idea.

He turned onto a road that ran along the river, heading to the outskirts of town. Ten minutes out, he pulled off the main road and followed a dirt track down to the water. The dark river churned, the sun glistening menacingly off its boiling surface. Margo had no idea what was happening. But when John shoved the car into park with vehemence, she understood with the certainty that night would fall–she had wrapped herself in trouble.

Copyright Kara Dunn 2008

This week, I’m going to start something new. I keep talking about the writing process. How it works for me, how fluid it is. So starting this week, I offer 500 words (give or take) of a short story I’m titling Test Drive.

I invite you to share your opinions with me. How do you see the characters? What would you like to see happen? This is going to be our story.

So far we have only two characters: Margo and her father. My ideas are flowing, but I’d love to hear yours.

Test Drive

Leaves scattered aimlessly as Margo’s convertible sped recklessly down the back road. This was her time and her favorite part of the day. The place where she was liberated from the uncertainty at home and not yet engulfed in the conflicts at work. Margo shifted, anticipating the tight curves just over the knoll.

But careening around corners wasn’t in the cards today. “Damn!” she yelled over Tobi Keith pounding through the stereo speakers. “Great way to ruin a good drive.” Slamming her fist on the steering wheel and her foot on the brake, the car slowed. Her mood dropped with the gears. “Doesn’t this just suck?”

The behemoth in front of her crawled along at an old woman’s pace. “A real County traffic jam.” Margo muttered to herself as she closed in on the potato harvester moving between fields. Man, she hated this time of year, not as much as winter or spring, but this definitely sucked. The kids on the back leaned sleepily against the piece of equipment. One boy raised his head at the sound of her squealing tires. He slapped his friend on the back and pointed to the yellow sports car, giving the thumbs up sign to Margo. She couldn’t help but smile.

Funny how she thought of them as kids, even though they were only four or five years younger. Margo remembered her years on the harvester. Bundled up against the cold, she and her friends shared hopes of brighter futures. She was going to leave this God-forsaken, end-of-the-earth hell-hole for true culture, worldly adventures and intelligent dialogue. Joining the Peace Corps after high school she could do all of that, plus save the world. When her mother died the summer after graduation, she’d buried her dreams with the casket.

The youngest of three, she was left to pick up the pieces of her father’s shattered heart. There were days she could barely coax him out of bed. The burdens of his sorrow nearly drown her. While her friends spread their wings at college, she sought refuge at a local car dealership as a receptionist. She was hired at the interview. It was only part-time, thirty-five hours a week, no benefits. Margo didn’t need the money. Her mother had been saving for her college education, and Margo had planned to use it until she could support herself, but with her frugal nature, she’d left most of it in the bank.

That had been four years ago. Now, she was head of sales and going nowhere fast. Margo had hit the proverbial glass ceiling. Not because the dealership didn’t promote woman, but because only the manager and owner held higher positions. In a Maine town as small as Provence, they weren’t going anywhere, so, neither was she.

Copyright Kara Dunn 2008

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