New Guy in Town
by Jeff Salter
My sixth novel completed, this comedic romance was my second to be published (about six weeks ago). This excerpt comes from just past the middle of Chapter One — right after the mysterious stranger makes his way to the latched wooden cage that Kristen is trapped inside — the fund-raising jail ... in the old Armory building. They’ve exchanged a few words as he has stumbled closer in the pitch-dark, but she knows absolutely nothing about him.
Think about what YOU might do in such a situation.
With a few stumbles, another splinter, and some uncreative curses, the mystery man finally reached the cage door. “Okay. I’m here.”
I already knew that because I smelled his breath as he panted from the exertion. “Can you un-do this latch thingy?”
“Where is it?”
I realized he couldn’t see my hand pointing directly at the fastener. “I’m holding it. My arm’s through the bars and I’ve got the thingy in my hand.” I realized that could sound, um, unusual if overheard by anybody. I heard his hands roam over the outside of the cage door. He was too high. “Lower.” Suddenly his fingertips touched my forearm. He yelped and recoiled.
It startled me too, but I wasn’t going to act like a sissy. “That’s nearly my elbow. Go the other way about a foot or so and my hand’s on the latch dealie.”
“Okay. It threw me a bit to touch flesh.”
This stranger was tall — I could tell from the source of his breath, which surely needed a mint. His hands gently explored my forearm to re-establish the location of my elbow. Then he walked his fingers the other direction. If he intended to grope me like this, he owed me dinner. Large hands and long fingers. Short nails. Some calluses on his fingers and the pads of his palm, but not like a lumberjack. Just a man who knew how to work with his hands but probably didn’t rely on those skills for his paycheck. “Will you get on to the latch?” I truly needed a restroom.
“Well, let go of it and give me a chance.” A slight bit of spittle when he sighed again.
Not sure I wanted to share spit from a tall stranger in the dark.
“Okay, I have it in my hands, but I don’t understand how it goes.”
I thought men could undo anything except left-handed buttons. “It felt like a doo-hicky that latches the overhead door on a rental van or something.”
“Oh!” The light came on — in his head, that is. “One of those. Okay. No sweat.” Two smooth movements and it was open.
I pushed on the door, apparently before he’d moved away. It caught him somewhere on his trunk.
“Sorry. Like I said, I need a powder room.”
He made noise backing up. “Okay, take off … for wherever.”
“Where are you going to be?” Didn’t want a strange man lurking in the dark.
“On your tail or as close as I can, without tripping.”
“I don’t want a stranger following me.”
“I need to use that same facility.”
“Whatever. Well, the door ought to be way over there where that exit sign is.” It was the kind with three or four small bulbs normally, but that particular one had only one dim lamp glowing. The signs over the other doors must have burned out completely.
“Oh, yeah. Switch by the exit door. Makes sense.”
So the tall man also had some cognitive powers. Wonder what he looks like? “Do you remember what’s between us and that door?”
“Nope. Never been here before. I’m new in town. Plus, I don’t know what part of this place we’re at right now.” His feet made a shuffling sound as he changed the subject. “So how come nobody let you out of that cage?”
“Karla was supposed to call my brother, but I guess Eric couldn’t be bothered to drive over here from Marrowbone.” I’d moved forward a few careful paces as we talked. “So what are you doing here ... and how’d you get locked in?”
Another heavy sigh, from slightly farther behind me. “Long story.”
I focused on the dim, distant exit light and the restroom not far beyond it. “Yeah, well, I’d like to hear it sometime. But for now, we need to speed up before I bust open a bladder gasket.” My arms stretching forward, I remembered a dunking booth against one wall and a huge overhead door nearby. Several small booths around the perimeter. A large inflatable castle dominated the middle of the space.
Whap. My right hand grazed something and my fingers felt coarse rubberized fabric. “Found the castle. I think the area right around this is clear, unless somebody stacked something on the floor. We’ll bear left to reach the corner.” I sped up a bit, figuring we had a good forty feet after turning the corner of the inflatable.
Suddenly his hand touched the side of my neck and gripped my shoulder! “What the…”
“Sorry. I’m a little dizzy and my head’s pounding. Just had to steady myself a bit.”
“Well go steady with that castle wall. I don’t want strangers groping me in the dark.” Actually his touch made my heart beat faster, but the extra adrenaline didn’t help my bladder any.
He’d pulled his hand away quickly. “Good grief. You act like I grabbed something.”
“You did. My neck and shoulder.”
“I meant something else.”
Hmm. Interesting conversation. But I’d need to see his eyes before I let him anywhere near my else… or my others.
When Kris awakens in a costume, behind wooden bars inside a pitch-black community center, her only available rescuer is the hung-over new guy in town
(who’s dressed as a pirate). Problem is: she’s sworn off men, especially buccaneers.