Thursday, February 7, 2008

Valentine's CYOA, Chapter 7

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Chapter Seven

I lurched to a halt. “Did you say a pink van?”

He let go of my arm and turned to face me. “Yeah, why?”

“Because I saw one pull up in front of Mrs. Peterson’s house this morning.” The driver, dressed in a bright red jumpsuit and red cap, had delivered the old lady a big heart-shaped box of chocolates. And to think I’d hoped that delivery was for me. No such luck. I got all the crazies, none of the chocolate. Then again, I ended up with Special Agent Hunky McMuscles and poor Mrs. Peterson ended up with a package of god-knows-what. Based on my experiences thus far, she probably intercepted explosives. With luck, she and her teacup poodle were still alive. “Is the package dangerous?”

“Yes.” Brant guided me away from the river toward an invisible path between the foliage. “Money always is.”

“Money? How much money?”

He shrugged one leather jacket clad shoulder. “Half the payment.”

I lifted my eyebrows. He remained mum. No way was I letting him get away with his strong silent crap.

“Which, in people terms, is...?” I prompted, nudging his bicep with my shoulder.

His fingers threaded through mine. Maybe because he wanted to hold my hand, and maybe because he didn’t approve of impromptu moshing. His dark-lashed eyes lifted slowly. “Two million.”

Dollars?” I screeched.

He slapped his free palm over my gaping mouth, filling my nostrils with the increasingly familiar scents of man and danger.

“Euros,” he corrected softly. “Nobody asks for dollars anymore.”

“You sent Mrs. Peterson two million euros?!” I demanded. Or tried to demand. With the warm strength of his hand still pressed against my lips, it came out mostly like, “Ew smurrgle smurrgle oh?!”

He apparently found my garbled outburst preferable to my usual commentary, because he kept his palm cupped over my mouth, tightened the fingers of his other hand around mine, and led me deeper into the woods.

No dappled sunlight streamed through leafy green branches. No leafy anything in February. Matted brown weeds and dry grey sticks covered the grassless ground. The skeletal branches of the densely packed trees loomed over us, their knobby limbs creaking like rocking chairs on a hollow porch.

Being the spooky time of night where the last of the sun’s light sank below the horizon but the stars had yet to make their appearance, I didn’t remotely mind clutching Brant’s hand like a teenage girl at a haunted house. I did, however, mind the continual presence of his palm curved across my face.

So I bit him.

To his credit, he didn’t scream like my brothers used to do when I had to get dental in retaliation. Nor did Agent Brant stumble. He was probably used to people taking a bite out of crime fighters. He swore under his breath and soldiered on. Fine. I’d give him something he wasn’t quite so accustomed to.

I licked him.

Not any quick, sloppy, eager-puppy nonsense, either. A long, slow glide of my tongue across the length of his palm. He tasted like salt, like man, like... popcorn? Just to make sure he knew it was no accident, I licked him again, partly because I’m a sucker for popcorn, and partly because licking him sort of turned me on. I traced a Valentine’s heart on his palm with the tip of my tongue. Slowly. Softly.

He stumbled. Score.

Then he yanked his hand from my face, jerked me into his arms, and covered my lips with his. By the time my back thumped against the closest tree, I had my fingers jammed into his hair and he had his rock hard thighs plastered against mine.

I suckled his lower lip, teasing him. He slid a hand beneath my shirt, teasing me. My front-clasp bra proved no match for a man whose survival skills made Evil Knievel look like a sniveling wuss. Before I could say, “Good God, take me right now, up against the bark,” his five o’clock shadow scraped across the underside of my breast and my nipple elongated itself into his mouth.

I would happily have continued in that vein for another twenty or thirty minutes, were it not for a faint metallic tinkling on the other side of a thatch of trees.

“What’s that?” I whispered. “Sniper?”

Brant’s lips paused around my nipple for a split second before he breathed, “No... bicycle bell!” and jerked me through the shadows toward the noise.

He refused to let go of my hand, which is why I was still fumbling with my bra clasp when we emerged onto a rutted bike trail. Brant may think he commandeered that royal blue ten-speed, but I take full credit for distracting a pre-teen boy with my bare nipple.

After tossing a couple twenties at the dumbstruck kid, Brant leapt onto the bike and hauled me into his lap. Well, the crossbar between the handles and his lap. His arms locked onto the handles, his legs pistoned the pedals, and we careened through the woods so fast it took me five minutes to get my boobs situated properly.

I leaned back against Brant’s chest. “Are we safe yet?”

“No.”

“Damn.”

“Why?”

“You promised as soon as we were safe, you'd let me bitch at you the rest of my natural life. Thanks to you, I flashed a twelve-year-old. I’d like to scootch the timeline up a bit so I can start my bitching now.”

“Raincheck. I promise.” He kissed the top of my head. The zipper of his black leather jacket dug into my shoulder and the barrel of his gun pressed into my rear, but I snuggled against him anyway. The heat from his body spread across mine. “First we have to find Imelda Branchos.”

“What does she look like?”

“Right now?" He hesitated for a split second. "Like you.”

He couldn't see it, but my eyes just narrowed. “How much like me?”

“Check my jacket.”

I slid my hand into his pocket. I felt some keys, a few coins (probably euro), and a crumpled photograph. I pulled out the photo.

“Holy crap,” I breathed, staring at a familiar pixie cut and dimpled smile. “It’s me.”

“No, it’s Imelda Branchos. She just looks like you.”

Exactly like me. Is she... is she my secret twin?”

“Um, no. How cliché would that be?” He pedaled a little faster. “Imelda is the famous Latina double agent known to the U.S. government as 1000 Faces. She must’ve borrowed yours for her last assignment.”

“Borrowed it?” My fingers dug into his thighs. “How do you ‘borrow’ someone's face?”

“Plaster of Paris.”

Ah. Why didn't I think of that?

“You didn't think maybe I was the original, not the copy?”

“Once I saw you shoot a gun, there was no question.” He paused, no doubt to lament the loss of his safety glass. “But when you told me your name was Cara...”

I twisted around to stare at him. “What does my name have to do with some Latina 007 who let me keep my identity but stole my face?”

“Cara is Spanish for ‘face’. I thought it was an inside joke.”

“You secret agents are a laugh a minute.” I glanced over his shoulder, half-expecting to see Stripper Girl following us on a pair of roller blades. “Who was the crazy chick chasing us?”

“Official intelligence believes her to be Nikita Kournikova, a lethal rogue operative and part-time ice cream truck driver. Or maybe it's Imelda having a little fun with another face.”

My jaw clenched. “She’s a laugh riot, all right. If I ever meet that woman, I'm shanking her with a machete.”

His deep chuckle ruffled my hair. “You have a machete?”

“In my closet,” I admitted. “Next to my collection of thigh high vinyl stilettos.”

Brant sucked in his breath and said nothing.

We coasted in silence until I wiggled against him and murmured, “You have something against a woman's legs being encased in shiny, cherry-red vinyl?”

“Cara mia,” he growled, “that’s no gun pressing into your derrière, but it still might go off if you keep talking about vinyl stilettos.”

Every man has his weakness. Glad as I was to have found his, I’d prefer his “gun” going off somewhere we both could enjoy it.

“I’ll talk about something else,” I promised. “I’ll talk about work. That’s plenty boring.”

“Good.” He shifted. Ostensibly to get comfortable, but I was pretty sure he just wanted to make sure I felt what I was up against. Literally. I hadn’t been this close to third base since... well, let’s just say it’s been a while.

“I spend my nights as a researcher at a sleep clinic,” I told him. “I stroll down the quiet halls in a little white nurse’s outfit with bare legs and high heels and I bend over each patient to—”

One of his arms left the handlebar to lock around my waist, nestling my heinie tight against his... gun. “You’re not funny.”

“I’m actually not joking,” I admitted. “The costume alone added a zero to my salary.”

“No wonder,” he muttered. “I could be talked out of my paycheck easy for a chance to see you dolled up like that.”

I grinned into the breeze. “Swing by the sleep center any weekday after dusk and show me what you’ve got.”

His hips tilted against my rear. “There’s beds?”

“Lots.”

“I’m there.”

But we weren’t there. When our bike burst free from the woods, we were:

A) Half a block from Mrs. Peterson’s backyard. I couldn’t see her, her poodle, or the two million euros, because approximately one zillion flashing cop cars cluttered the block. She must’ve heard me ask her to call 911 when I thought I was being kidnapped. Now we’d never get the damn package.

B) On the bridge heading back into town. His car was still smoldering on the river embankment below. Firemen and cops dotted the river. Brant ditched the ten-speed for a police-issue motorcycle and beckoned me to join him.

“Are you sure stealing a cop vehicle is a good idea?” I asked doubtfully.

“Of course not,” he said with a sexy grin. “Get on.”

C) Face to face with my twin sister. Er, I mean the Bitch of 1000 Faces, who took mine without asking.

“Next time you wanna borrow someone’s face,” I shouted, “say ‘pretty please’!”

Her smile was feral. I mean feral-feral, like a rabid cougar. And the way she leapt into the air at us... I was pretty sure I shouldn’t have provoked her.

D) Oh. Wait. Yeah, that’s definitely the sleep clinic. He obviously wasn’t kidding about his desire to get horizontal (and I had to admit I wasn’t against that plan, in general) but I had to believe a focused secret agent like Brant had an ulterior motive for instigating Bring A Hottie To Work Day. Were my employers somehow wrapped up in the evil schemes?

YOUR TURN: You decide what happens next! Leave your vote in the comments by 7pm EST (4pm Pacific) every day between now and Valentine's Day---Tomorrow's story continued by Terri Reed with the twist YOU choose!

Today's installment brought to you by Erica Ridley. Vote to win a great prize!

Don't forget to join the Manuscript Mavens' quarterly newsletter on the right for advance notice of other exciting upcoming events!

33 comments:

lacey kaye said...

THANK GOD you finally posted it so I can comment!

A!!!!!!!!!!! All the way, baby. This is hysterical. Great, great job, E!

CJT said...

This is the best one yet! I been reading all day to catch up. I vote A!!! whoo wheee!!

Bridget Locke said...

I like B. :)

Maggie Robinson said...

C. And this was really good, esp the crack about the euros.

CJT said...

"dental retaliation" that is a classic, I laughed so hard I scared my dogs
and "flashing the twelve year old for a bike" is just to funny

Carrie said...

Hilarious! Awesome job Erica -- I loved it!!!

B.E. Sanderson said...

Woohoo! Good job, Erica. I pick C!

MsHellion said...

B, definitely B.

Isabel said...

“Euros,” he corrected softly. “Nobody asks for dollars anymore.”

Good thing I was not drinking anything while reading this morning. "Wake everyone up in the neighborhood laughter" ensued while reading this line and several others.

Amazing, E!

I'll go with A. I'm concerned about the teacup poodle. *G*

Hunky McMuscles? A fantabulous reason to visit McD*nalds.

My vote is for "A".

Isabel said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Amanda said...

I vote for A. This is a lot of fun.

Bill Clark said...

...I don't know what to say.

I'm speechless.

I'm wrung out with laughter.

I'm in total and utter awe of Erica's storycraft.

What can you say about a work of sheer genius?

Words fail me.

I vote for A, B, C, and D. I just want to read every word Erica writes from now until the end of time. That's all. As Oscar Wilde said, "I am a man of simple tastes. I am easily satisfied with the best."

Erica, you are the best, best, bestest ever!!!

Mary said...

Loved it. Need more! I vote A. Need to know what happened to poor Mrs. P.

Jackie Barbosa said...

OMG, too many great lines to count!

All the options have possibilities, but I have to choose A. I want to know what's up with poor, unsuspecting Mrs. Peterson and her poodle...

Stephanie H. said...

Great job Erica! All the options are really good, but I'm going to vote for B.

byrdloves2read said...

Loved the bit about licking his palm after biting it. heh heh

I vote for B.

Erica Ridley said...

This was a blast to write--so glad I got to participate!! =)

Anonymous said...

I tried to link an article I found on Yahoo this morning. It's apropos with Mr. McMuscles's line...

Shops in NY are taking Euros. I tried to link the story but I forgot how to do it, sorry!

Isabel

BernardL said...

Very entertaining, Erica, great dialogue. :)

LeeAnn said...

I vote for B

Patricia W. said...

This one is ripe with great lines but the best has to be:

“Euros,” he corrected softly. “Nobody asks for dollars anymore.”

I vote for B.

Writer & Cat said...

Erica, this is fabulous! I vote for this line: "He was probably used to people taking a bite out of crime fighters."

Oh, and A.

Jody

Angie Fox said...

OMG - I about fell out of my chair, several times. This is great, Erica.

I have to vote for A. We need to know what's been happening with that poodle.

tetewa said...

I'm going for C today!

Vicki said...

This was great Erica. Reading this at work is dangerous. Everyone wants to know what you're laughing at. :D

My vote is B!

Darcy Burke said...

I too loved the Euro line with the fire of 1000 suns. I'm having a hard time choosing, but mostly becuase I love the idea of Bring a Hottie to Work Day. And seriously, the Cara/face thing is freaking brilliant!

All right, I'm going with A. Like all of you, I want to see what's up with Mrs. P and potentially her face...

Karen Lingefelt said...

OMG, Erica, this is fantastic! I don't know whether to choose between B or C, but I do know at least one thing--I'll never look at the lady who drives the neighborhood ice cream truck quite the same way again.

Katherine C. said...

This story is fantastic!!! :) I started reading after the link from the riding with your top down site, and I've been hooked. I don't know if the mavens do this on a regular basis, but they should definitely do it more often. Anyway, my vote is for A. Definitely A. And I'm looking forward to seeing the little old lady kick a** and take names.

KimW said...

ahhh...I'm late. Just got home. I'm choosing C.

Lenora Bell said...

Great episode, Erica! I say episode because you made me see the action in a cinematic way. So hot and funny!

I vote for A. I like the package/money/poodle angle.

Debra Dixon said...

Erica- Great chapter! I'm on the road and too late to vote, but I like A.

aBookworm said...

A it is. Poodles, police, panic, - all good!

Amie Stuart said...

lethal rogue operative and part-time ice cream truck driver

LMAO!!!!!!!

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