S M Natale Writer & Novelist

Where Stories Begin

THE SHOPKEEPER, 5 Star Rated Thriller Novel

Written By: S. M. Natale

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Here is a Chance

to Sample the First

Two Chapters from

the 5 Star Rated

Thriller Novel, THE SHOPKEEPER

 

Back Cover of THE SHOPKEEPER

The axiom of an “eye for an eye” is a moral quandary many of the wronged
have contemplated, weighing the moral values of right and wrong versus the
scales of justice and accepted norms. Many conclude they do not possess the
fortitude or audacity to act. …Some men do.

When a relatively young woman is discovered dead under bizarre circumstances in her Florida home, her lifeless body exhibiting no indication
of the means of death, it signifies the beginning of turmoil in the quiet little Florida town of Delana Bend. One man perceives the level of danger to come…
This man is THE SHOPKEEPER

All Craig McNair wants to do is put his life back together after a nasty divorce. Leaving a successful construction career and a disappointing marriage in his wake, Craig’s vision of building an outdoors shop and marina along the St. Johns River is beginning to come true. But the realization of his dream will be threatened by resentment and greed. An insatiable greed fueled by contempt. Aided by her attorney, McNair’s ex-wife vowed to exact vengeance by stealing his dream and everything he holds dear, his property and his new love, Ivory Fallow.

As his life begins to flourish Craig finds he is being pulled into the flow of deceit and hatred affecting the lives of his friends and forming a
torrent through his hometown of Delana Bend. As events around him whorl into murder and dread he is forced into decisions he’d just as soon not make. In the process he discovers a centuries old secret that reveals a kinship of enduring
loyalty, and the means to act.

Delana Bend is not the type of community one would envision a sudden flurry of unexplained deaths, but these are the circumstances Sheriff “Bump” Soloman must now contend. The first, a young wife found lying dead on her garage floor. Then another presumed tragedy, and again, and again, each incident more confounding and coincidentally confusing. Bump has but one question, what’s going on in the little town of Delana Bend?

All Bump knows for sure is all the dead, in some way, are connected to Craig McNair.

Now available in Paperback or EBook.

                                                                             Can you unravel the identity of THE SHOPKEEPER?

“Evil Can Only Triumph When Good Men Do Nothing”

 

EXCERPT ~ Chapter One 


The Shopkeeper set to his work fixing the relatively new washing machine. He labored quickly converting the few upgrades to this particular model required to extricate the Shopkeeper’s patron from his predicament.

The design of any appliance is intended to steal away mundane, laborious tasks in order to free people for other less arduous and more enjoyable pursuits. Some designs are better than others and still more can be improved to an even higher purpose.

To this loftier ambition, the Shopkeeper opened a small pinhole in the nylon drain line on the underside of the washtub. Sandpaper was scraped on the underside of the washer lid handle. The paper’s abrasiveness eroded away the enameled paint exposing bare steel on the fingertip edge. The green screw binding the electrical grounding lug of the machine was removed. A clear plastic matte was inserted behind the lug and the screw reinserted then over tightened until its threads were stripped, eliminating conductivity. A wire clamp designed to hold the bundled internal wiring harness safely away from moving parts was removed. One of these bundled wires, the cycle control circuit feeder, was separated from the harness. A cigarette lighter was waved under the wire for the briefest of moments, its flame melting away a minuscule portion of the wire’s insulation. This wire was placed gently and strategically against the metal motor armature. And the repair was complete.

These upgrades individually were of no consequence. Collectively, 120 volts of electricity would be wed to the steel body of the machine. The now inoperative grounding lug incapable of doing the job of carrying away any fault current, assuring the voltage stream would be trapped in the steel framed body of the appliance, in anticipation of its prey. Arrested electricity now imprisoned its current circling, pacing, a tiger in its cage, a cornered animal sensing inevitable reprisal in condemnation for capture. Millimeters thick enameled paint on the body of the machine was the only restraint, acting as flimsy bars of inescapable captivity. Electricity incessantly probing, prodding its confinement for any avenue of escape. This caged animal constantly pacing awaiting just a slight human touch and its ideal opportunity to spring. A course once realized, the tiger would discharge a reckoning death.

The modifications subsequent to normal use with the heat and movement of the armature wore a hole through the melted insulation of the control wire. The result of the wear exposes the copper center beneath heat-weakened Teflon skin of the conductor, consummating the marriage of steel and electrical power.

This washing machine is now a faultless and undetectable electrocution machine, completing the Shopkeeper’s veritable design upgrade.

Once the tiger escaped, the appliance’s user would never be able take anything away from anyone again.

§

A breeze gently stroked the limbs of the live oaks, the body of the waft caressed by the leaves creating an almost melodic hum droning out the other sounds of the forest. Sparks from the campfire drifted aloft, mingling within the leaves. For the spark, a dance of death as the light and heat melt away, transforming it to ash, blown into the darkness. The Panhandle hunt camp was the kind of place you just could forget everything. Well, almost everything.

“Just be patient,” the Shopkeeper warned, “it will happen when it happens. You’re better off not knowing when. The surprise of it will lend credibility to your story.”

Jack had been waiting three weeks for it to happen and he was showing some signs of impatience.

“She is really getting unbearable,” Jack lamented. “It is all I can do to restrain myself from knocking her teeth down her throat!”

“Did you call the repair shop number I gave you like I told you too?”

“Yes,” was the response.

“And you called from the pay phone I told you to use?”

Again he replied, “Yes.”

“Did your wife tell you someone came to the house to fix the machine?”

“Yeah, she said she didn’t know it was broken, the damn thing is almost brand new. I told her it was a recall repair. They needed to change a part before it did break,” Jack explained.

“Then forget about it, you can trust in the assistance from your associates. Spend as much time away from the house as possible. Go to work, have a few beers after at the Ridgetop, then go home to bed. Try to avoid her as much as possible. Hunt or fish on the weekends like you always do, just like now. Always try to be around people who will notice you being wherever you are. Perfect alibi, problem solved.”

The Shopkeeper stood up, threw his cigarette into the fire, walked over to the cooler reached in and extracted a beer. Popped the top and took a long pull, surveying the air and the surroundings, all the gear in camp laced with dew.

Breathing in the freshness, he then turned and ordered, “Now, go catch up to the others and kill something, you’ll feel better.”

“Yeah I know, but what if she talks to a lawyer? I can’t afford to lose everything my father and I have worked for, just because she’s opening the door of the henhouse for every rooster in the county. Hell she’s probably got her heels pointed at the ceiling right now.”

“Has she seen a lawyer yet?”

“I don’t think so, she is too busy screwing around with that asshole from the landfill.”

The Shopkeeper glared back at him, then his face slackened into a sly smile and he advised “Trust, just trust.”

Jack looked to the ground uncomfortably then took up his weapon and headed into the brush, certain a death was inevitable.

EXCERPT ~ Chapter Two


Sunday mornings in their quiet and reverence often instill reflection; some of those are not so pleasant. For some this reflection comes in church, for others contemplation is derived from the cathedral of the great outdoors. Perched in a tree stand awaiting the approach of an elusive and wary buck, the solitude of the Panhandle forest and the length of the wait often oblige the hunter’s alertness into involuntary roving.

When he dredges up all the events that lead him to where he is now, Craig McNair was very happy he finally listened to his best friend Chet three years ago. It’s too bad he did not listen to him a little more. But that is what happens when you think you can trust someone or as Craig had said, “Trust in the law to be fair and equitable.”

Craig’s lifelong friend Chet laughed hysterically at this statement. Craig was laughing too, but only on the outside. He wouldn’t allow anyone to see he was burning inside, especially his soon to be ex-wife Miranda, or her attorney.

“It just didn’t make sense, but that was the law and wasn’t the law supposed to, make sense?”

Chet had been laughing so hard when Craig uttered that perceived fragment of logic he couldn’t breathe anymore.

“When had the laws of Florida ever made sense?” Chet chortled in response. His face screwed up tightly, his eyes tearing with hilarity.

The laws only made sense to the politicians in Tallahassee that created them. What is even more humorous is when you really research those statutes, all the ones Miranda’s lawyer kept quoting; they didn’t even apply to those pompous asses in the capitol; just the regular guy that works, kills himself every day scratching out a living.

Craig was absolutely furious. Driving home from the courthouse that day, Craig, his buddy by his side chuckling like a stuck pig bleeds, had forgotten he didn’t have a home to drive home to. Miranda, his now ex-wife owned it now. Hell, she appropriated everything he worked for all his life. She even got the damn dog.

All Craig got was the shaft.

“Wasn’t that an old Jerry Reed tune?” He pondered, running the title through his head.

‘She Got the Gold Mine, (I Got the Shaft)’

 Irate, “Yeah it was. Damn-it, why didn’t I listen? Chet told me, my attorney told me, hell, Jerry Reed told me!”

But Craig thought he knew better, he tried to be more than reasonable, to do the right thing. In the process he didn’t protect himself. He unwittingly gave her too much at the onset, fully believing that she would be rational, big mistake. Miranda and her attorney stole the rest.

Two months later holding the judge’s order in his hands at the mailbox Craig was almost relieved Chet died three weeks before the final papers arrived. As he read the words he knew were in the envelope Craig was consumed with rage, Miranda’s betrayal so absolute. The flames perpetuated by a cavernous sorrow for his livelong friend’s untimely passing.

Craig also felt partially thankful. A guilty thankfulness he didn’t have to face up to the shame of being so stupid. The shame, of not listening to his best friend, the shame of having to confess how he lost it all by being so stubborn. The guilt forcing red into his normally brilliant blue eyes, flushing a tear of the dishonor on a chiseled and tanned cheek for feeling the way he did.

Craig was left with only the possessions he originally took from his home after the separation. The clothes he had taken with him when she drove him out and the tools he went back and took out of the garage while she was shopping.

But Craig Evan McNair was happy about one thing and one thing most of all. He no longer had to put up with all of Miranda’s whining and complaining. He just hated how it all came about.

He ran the scene through his mind of when he told his friend Chet of his decision to leave.

Chet said, “It’s about time, I’ve been wondering how long it was going to take.”

Craig countered a little confused, “What do you mean?”

So Chet told him, “Hell, we all knew you wouldn’t stay together when you married her, all you could see was tits and ass.”

Craig considered that statement for a moment and decided he was angry that Chet hadn’t said anything to him sooner.

Then Chet pointed out, “You wouldn’t listen to anybody. I told the boys then, as soon as she got fat, you’d wise up.”

Craig heard a single Osprey screech interrupting his recollections. Winging its way across the sky the predator’s voice ripping more memories from their burial spot; as if the imposing hunter’s talons’ were slashing prey from the river surface.

He remembered it used to be pretty good tits and ass. Miranda had been a beautiful woman when they began to date, not bad in the sack then either, but for his age at the time, what the hell did he know from good or bad. All Craig knew was he got it whenever he wanted it and that part was good. He decided that Chet was probably right to have kept his mouth shut because Craig would not have listened anyway.

He just felt like such a damn fool. All his friends could see it and he hadn’t. Even when she started to let herself go, he was still in love with the girl he married years before. For the most part, that was the woman he saw when he came home each night. He must not have heard all the whining and complaining the way everyone else did, typical male selective hearing.

Each year the conversations got shorter, the tempers got hotter and the depression in the couch where she customarily sat got deeper. Then one morning he woke up and found an ogre sleeping next to him, one hundred and eighty-eight pounds of miserable female. He was shocked to believe it was the same person. Her once beautifully styled blond hair was kinky and dull. The shapely figure that accented painted on jeans now was the proper fit for a muumuu. And that depression in the couch was as low to the floor as the mood her constant berating put him in when he came home from work.

Then came the day he got embarrassed. He’d agreed to meet Miranda at the café in town for lunch as he often did when his business allowed him to be near town. She had been waiting for him on a bench in front of the jewelry store where he purchased her engagement ring. He bent greeting her with a kiss on the cheek as he always did and as she stood, during her bitching about having to wait for him for five minutes, he heard her grunt as she got up. He took her by the hand and they entered the café just two doors down. When the hostess seated them at a table he glanced to his left and noticed the mirrored wall that he’d never really seen before, although it was there for years. The reflection of the two of them disgusted him. He could not eat his meal. He played it off as aggravation from work when Miranda questioned him about not eating, but he could not look at her. Watching her eat was making him nauseous.

He thought of the wedding picture placed prominently at the center of the fireplace mantle and couldn’t imagine how the thing sitting in front of him could be Miranda. Craig at six foot three, two hundred pounds portrayed the air of a blissful groom, towering over a pretty blond bride, gently holding ringed hands.

Craig’s angular build and wide shoulders burgeoning the seams of a rented charcoal gray tuxedo, Redneck pride inflating the muscles of his chest, swelling the ruffled shirt tucked into a tight yet solid waist. The cut of the suit giving his torso a triangular, powerful appearance. An infectious smile emitted from tanned and handsomely carved features, blue eyes ablaze in delight, wavy dark hair trimmed not too short and neatly parted to the side.

The captured image, still the look he maintained, though his physique was amplified by years of hard construction work. A glint of silvery gray crept into his temples lending the cursory distinguished air. But the maturity was contrasted by whimsy evident with the slight hint of smile lines at the corner of his eyes that occasioned his humor.

The tenderness and compassion that were once her staple were replaced with selfishness and loathing. He suddenly felt a sense of mourning. For somehow, he realized, the Miranda he loved was gone. When he glanced back into the mirror the reflection he saw was so comical he almost laughed out loud. He hadn’t recognized until then, how repulsive she had become.

What Craig mostly felt was betrayal and something near abandonment. It wasn’t Miranda’s Rubenesque figure; that did not matter to him, because she was the woman he loved. Miranda’s attitude about life morphed into something ugly until it became the gorilla in the room. It soured and curdled, outperforming and overwhelming her appearance creating a manifestation that was less than unpleasant bordering on hideous. His love for Mirnada blinded him to her transformation until this avalanche of realization demolished the illusion he held of his wife and he finally saw the truth of his marriage. Her love evaporated and all that was left was the bitterness sitting in front of him.

Now three years later, subsequent to his financial come back, he still burned inside. Miranda owned the home he built with his own two hands, she had it all and was still coming for more. Like Hepatitis-C, she never went away, always digging for more.

“She got the gold mine, I got the shaft,” that was the name of that song.

Memories are the only things you can never leave at home, wherever you go, but sometimes where you’ve gone can help bury them back, and oft times, interring them even deeper than before.

 §

 “Jack, what happened?”

“I don’t know Bump, just get here.”

Robert “Bump” Soloman punched the disconnect button of his cell phone and pressed the accelerator in his Chevrolet Sport Utility Vehicle to the floor.

“What now?” He thought perturbed.

Bump was the Sheriff of Lake County and had been for the past nine years. He was a huge, strapping man six feet, seven inches tall, three hundred fifty pounds of pure solid beef. He was an incredibly imposing figure, every muscle defined, bulging with every movement. It was one of the reasons he was so successful. Using his immense size, coupled with intelligence, he easily worked his way up through the ranks of the Sheriff’s department, intimidating suspects and keeping tense situations under control. His head was shaved, preferring that to other Negro hairstyles, for a man of his size it worked well with his broad face. Had he been a smaller man the width of his face less exaggerating, he would have been an extremely handsome man and been able to pursue a career as a model. He sneakily believed it was the glint of intellect in his deep brown eyes, and good looks of his promotional photos, that won him election to his post rather than his skills as a law enforcement officer.

Traveling back home to his ranch just outside the City of Eustis from his hunting club’s lease in the panhandle, all Bump wanted to do was get some sleep. Instead he sped by his ranch on Highway 44 glancing to his right seeing the warm inviting lights of his home passing as quickly as the pickets in the fences surrounding his pastures along the side of the road.

“Why did I take this dumb job again?”

He was tired of the crap of being in law enforcement. It was rare to ever be involved in anything good. He longed for his days at Florida State. Everything was good there. That was where he earned his nickname, Bump. He gained it from his run blocking prowess as an offensive lineman.

“Damn knee,” if not been for a blown out knee two games before the end of his senior season Bump would be retired from the NFL now.

“Probably still be the damn Sheriff,“ he mused.

At forty-one what do you do when all you have is a degree in criminal justice, even if you had retired from the NFL?

He turned left onto Highway 42 heading to the northern edge of the county and Delana Bend. Jack Yarwood just returned home to discover his wife, Trisha, dead on the garage floor.

“How does a thirty-four year old woman get herself killed on a perfectly good Sunday?” he muttered under his breath exasperated at the call.

Preliminary reports indicated heart attack, little strange for someone that young, but it happens. Bump pulled into the open grass of the Yarwood property cutting straight across the neatly manicured yard to the garage and all the gathered emergency vehicles. As he stepped down from the four-wheel drive hunting truck a young deputy came running up to the vehicle.

Before the young man could say a word Bump growled, “Why the hell can’t I ever go anywhere without the shit hitting the fan while I’m gone?”

“Over here sir,” the young deputy used to his boss’s contrived indignation, swept an arm towards the garage door.

Bump retorted rather sarcastically, “No shit. Where’s Jack?”

“In the house sir, we’re keeping him outta there,” the young deputy replied.

“Alright Bob what happened?” Bump directed his question towards the assistant Medical Examiner.

The coroner stood up from his inspection of the body reporting, “Well sir we can find no clear cause of death here, no sign of violence, no marks, bruises or burns, or anything really, we won’t actually know until after an autopsy. Right now looks like a sudden heart attack or medical disorder, maybe an aneurism, roughly twenty-four or five hours ago. We’ll let you know when we’re sure.”

Bump turned to one of his investigators barking, “I ain’t buying it. Check it hard.”

“You got it boss, Jack is in the house. You’d better talk to him. He won’t talk with us. Said he called you, wanted to wait till you got here,” advised the investigator, acknowledging the order.

Bump turned and headed for the house. Snatching open the door he called, “Jack, where are you?”

Jack was seated on the couch in the living room sipping bourbon straight from the bottle, his hands too shaky to use a glass.

Still staring at the bottle he said, “Thanks for coming Bump, I know it’s been a long day.”

“Jack, what happened?” Bump asked.

“I don’t know. I came home, pulled in the drive, hit the button for the garage door opener. As the door opened I saw Trisha laying on the floor. I honked the horn at her and she didn’t move. Then I got scared and called your office.”

“You never got out of the truck? Not even to see if she was just hurt?”

“No I didn’t get out of the truck until your deputies got here. I saw her face Bump, she was facing me, laying there on the floor, I knew she was dead. I saw her face!”

“Okay Jack, are you gonna be okay?”

“I don’t really have a choice do I? Thanks for coming Bump, what’s gonna happen?”

“Let us check everything out Jack, but you’re okay, you were with me all weekend remember? Coroner says she has been gone for over four hours, you don’t drive that fast.” Covering up the fact, his hunting buddy’s wife died while he was out trying to kill, attempting to allay any of Jack’s guilt.

The Shopkeeper was right Jack thought, avoiding Bump’s gaze, “Perfect alibi. Problem solved.”

“Trust, just trust.”

 §

Bump’s investigators were unable to find any evidence to suggest anything other than a devastating, undiagnosed health issue. In the hours between Trisha’s death and the discovery of her body the Florida heat completely evaporated the puddle of water that ponded on the floor. The Shopkeeper’s upgrades went unnoticed with only a cursory inspection of the side-by-side washer and dryer. The electrocution machine, its killing circuit so complete in its conductance, it left no trace of the path the current traveled through her hand to earth ground.

Since the body fell backwards, away from the appliances, landing face down on a pile of laundry along the approach from the entry door it was surmised her heart attack occurred as she was carrying laundry into the garage. Working under the influence of the investigator’s scene report as a starting point the autopsy revealed a sudden heart crisis but could not determine a cause, ruling the death a tragic heart attack.

 

 

 BONUS EXCERPT ~ Chapter Five

 

“When are we going to get that son of a bitch?” Miranda screamed as she stormed into the office of Samuel Carlson P.A.

Oh great,” Samuel thought, just what he needed for a Monday was this fat bitch in his office.

Miranda McNair had a way of irritating most people. Carlson was no different in that respect, every time she came around Carlson felt like he had one nerve left and she was about to get on it. The only reason he even put up with her was because her ex-husband possessed the resemblance of a great deal of wealth and Samuel Carlson wanted it.

“Now Miranda,” Samuel said in his best legalese, “I told you it was going to take some time to get all of the proper documentation together to be able to go to court on this thing.”

“Look,” she ranted, “I found another real estate company in Alabama that wants that land, bad. And they are prepared to pay plenty for it!”

Samuel didn’t dare tell her that he had nothing to go on and he couldn’t figure out where the other party holding title to the land even was. He was busy playing the good guy for Miranda so he could get his piece of the pie.

“Miranda you have to understand that this is not an easy thing to do and it is costing me a lot of money to do it. I have been acting on your behalf for three years now and I haven’t billed you for a single hour.”

“Well, why aren’t you?”

“Miranda, I know how tough things are with you and the kids,” oh he was smooth now, he had it under control.

“I got you the house, the cars, the furniture, everything. And more. Are you getting the money from him I got for you the last time we went back to court?”

She just glared at him.

Samuel forced her ex-husband back into court and gotten a large sum of money for her just eight months ago. Samuel found out that her ex-husband was giving her cash each month for child support so he filed contempt of court charges against him for failure to pay child support.

Her ex-husband being the loving father and “all around good guy” he was, the bastard, would just stop by and give her the money. Usually the stopping by was a ploy just to see the kids since Miranda was making it difficult for him to exercise his normal visitation rights. But she never turned down money, not Miranda. He even gave her more than he was supposed to pay. A little fact they used against him when he stated in court that he did pay and that he had indeed given her more than he was supposed too.

The Judge asked McNair for any cash receipts to prove he undeniably paid. He had none. That was the hook they used to drag him in there. Miranda never signed or was asked to sign anything. He held no proof and they knew it going in. So McNair was compelled to pay two full years of support immediately and pay a penalty percentage for the time and amount of the arrearage or go to jail for five months and twenty-nine days.

Miranda walked out of that court room with $21,600.00 and an additional $300.00 per month based on the statement that McNair indeed paid more, thereby, according to Carlson, he could afford to pay more even though he could not prove he paid anything.

God, Samuel loved the court system, that judge did what ever Carlson wanted him to do that day, and he collected a nominal fee of thirty percent.

Lawyers are not supposed to charge fees by percentage of recovery for collection of child support by Federal and Florida law but the courts didn’t need to know everything. That was an arrangement between him and Miranda. All she had to do was say he never paid her and he could get her the money. Carlson also was awarded $1,850.00 from Craig McNair as cost for Miranda’s legal expenses. Not a bad a day’s pay for a little paper work and some fast-talking at the right time.

The one thing that surprised him was that McNair came up with the money so quickly. Carlson was sure he’d be in jail for a little while. McNair simply made a phone call and the money was delivered to the Clerk of the 5th Judicial Court in less than an hour.

That got he and Miranda thinking there must be more. And they were going to get it. One thing he didn’t figure was Craig Evan McNair was now an enemy, not just a patsy. Carlson also didn’t realize how powerful an enemy he primed.

“Miranda don’t you have enough right now?” he asked.

In as venomous a tone as he ever heard she bellowed, “I will never get enough from that bastard. I want you to hound him three years after he’s dead. If he doesn’t want me, he shouldn’t have anything. I don’t care what it costs.”

With that she turned and stormed out of the office. All he could think was, “You mean what ever it costs Craig Evan McNair.”

He was glad she was gone. He hated Miranda McNair. “But, she was a meal ticket, no, more like all you can eat.” Saying the final portion of the thought under is breath.

 §

Just as the sun is drifting to sleep a small skiff bumps into the floating dock below the Ridgetop. The sky framing the river view, edges of the clouds burned red from the last glimpse of the sun’s collapse, the surroundings given a pinkish, golden hue.

A slender young woman quickly hops onto the decking with rope in hand and ties up to the steel cleats bolted to the platform. With a smile she thought, “Red sky at night, sailor’s delight.”

This was the first time in Ivory Fallow’s life she has ever been happy. She skipped across the wood deck to the corner of the fuel dock, an unfettered schoolgirl, to where the stairs from the store above interconnected the dock. Excited anticipation driving her finger, she pressed the ‘DWN’ button for the dumb waiter.

She was sure Keenan delivered the message and that Craig would know she would be back by sundown. They would have an entire night together. That was what “She wants to know if she can get bait if she runs out” meant. His response of putting the bait key in the dumb waiter was her signal it was okay.

Keenan would be passed out soon and even if he wasn’t she didn’t care. Ivory was beginning to learn she might have the strength to extricate herself from the forced marriage, but at this point she didn’t know where to go or what to do. However for now, the deception was firmly embedded and had been the past three months.

As she waited for the dumb waiter to rattle down the thirty or so feet of track Ivory reminisced about the first time she met Craig McNair. He had been so cute reacting to the way she embarrassed him. He never stood a chance.

She’d seen Craig in town many times and always wondered if he was the perfect man for her. Rugged, handsome, she overheard so many people in town speak highly of him.

“He was a good ole boy,” they’d say, “but he was smarter than most.”

Everyone in town knew he and his friend helped out old man Appleton in the years before he died.

“Craig was one of the nicest guys on the river, help anybody in need,” they’d all say.

Ivory also overheard the women in town sigh to each other how, “They would love to be with a man like that,” instead of the husbands they slept with.

She interacted with him only once before, by the hardware store. She dropped her package on the way out of the store and as she bent to pick it up he caught the door before it swung closed into her. Startled by his sudden appearance, she peered up into the bluest eyes she had ever seen, yet reluctant to raise her head and meet his gaze.

Ivory was immediately smitten. He smiled holding out his hand in aid to help her up but she was too taken aback to do anything. She quickly stood without his help and scurried away, ashamed of how she looked and how she lived.

Since then she prayed for a time in which they could meet, when she could be the woman she wanted to be, instead of the one she pretended to be. That day came on the river.

Ivory had gotten into the habit of going out on the river in her husband’s beat up old skiff to pass the days affording her the option of staying as far away from that drunken bastard as possible.

She possessed no real life like other wives, no real home to care for, just a ramshackle, dilapidated dwelling falling down around her. Paint peeling away from the clapboards, the flakes, laying lifeless in the weeds like so many of her girlhood dreams.

So, Ivory hid herself on the river and in the lives of the characters in the novels she read. As she read, her body bare to the sun and her perceptions naked and open to the discovery of the freedoms the stories offered, her imagination would envelop her. Her budding unexplored sensuality was emblazoned by the words of their pages, deepened further as she permitted her soul to be caressed by the Florida sun, as she never allowed any man to do.

The morning that Craig fished his way into her cove was a day she prayed for; almost planned for. Conscious of Craig being an avid outdoorsman, she was certain one day she would see him on the river, but she hadn’t quite planned on being in the nude or as sensually eager when it occurred.

Ivory spent nights dreaming of being in his arms, the hero of her novels. Now he was right here. She remembered wondering if she owned the courage to allow him to be the hero she sought through her novelettes and in her imagination.

Ivory surprised herself in boldly pursuing her fantasy once it appeared. Her nakedness kept him off balance. Her heightened level of exhilaration fueled her bravado, permitted her to become one of the heroines of her stories.  It was a forwardness she never exhibited before and never knew she was capable of.

Ivory’s smile widened as she remembered putting her arms around him and playfully unbuttoning his shirt, then kissing him when he turned to her. That was the first time she’d ever made love to a man, and she couldn’t believe she’d done it. She shocked herself with her daring in just kissing him, but it was the kiss she’d fantasized about and it was so much more passionate than anything she read or dreamed. Ivory was swept away; she couldn’t control the emotions and the overpowering drives of offering Craig her consensual virginity.

Craig tried to slow her, to respect her, but Ivory was compelled by him overpowering his restraint with her irresistible beauty and sensual allure. Almost obsessed with giving herself to a real man, once she felt the heat of his kiss, the strength of his embrace, she was lost to her dormant and unacquainted passions. Making love to Craig the first time was the finest and only moment in her life she cared to remember.

The dumb waiter finally rattled down to the platform level, stopped where she stood. She reached into the carriage and extracted a key, pushed the “UP” button and bounded up the stairs.

As Ivory achieves the mid level stair landing, having opened and then relocked the lower gate, the dumb waiter comes to a rickety stop at her left. She returns the key to its resting place inside the dumbwaiter and dashes up the next flight of stairs leading to a large covered screen porch at the top level.

There is elegant patina wrought iron furniture set in two groups. One area is set with table and four chairs, the other has four chaise lounges around a large Jacuzzi adjacent to a wet bar. Behind and above the bar is a surround sound system connected to speakers strategically placed about the porch and large TV. Below the counter surface are a refrigerator, locked cabinets with a Jen-aire cook-top.

This is where Craig spends most of his time until the heat becomes so ungodly he only ventures out to seek the relief of the cooled water of the spa, or the woman in it. Ivory loves that she is now that woman. She has learned so much about him in the short time they have spent together.

Ivory crosses the porch to the partially open sliding glass door and slips through. The apartment is surprisingly Spartan and smaller than one would imagine when you consider the size of the store below, more a studio than an apartment. The room is painted a sanitizing white giving it a clean appearance with one door leading to the bathroom, next to the concealed laundry area attached to the kitchen. Another door is located to the left side of a queen-size bed.

The room offers a strangeness to the senses that takes a few minutes for the eye to recognize. Once studied, one notices there are no tables anywhere. Beside the bed there are no nightstands only two fold down shelves built into the wall.

As a matter of fact, the only furniture in the room is the bed, a Lazy-boy reclining love seat and two bar stools at the kitchen bar, the texture and tone of the furnishings fading into the pale of the walls. The décor’s effect creating an open and airy environment, the architecture more a hotel style suite than a home.

The only contrasting color is the dark brown sculpted Berber carpet. There is a television suspended on a revolving bracket from the ceiling and a weight bench by the front wall.

There is one oil painting hung above the bed, a very tasteful landscape of a beach scene in the Florida Highwayman style, illuminated by one track light mounted to the wall above the canvas.

On another wall, above the weight bench, is a framed life size human silhouette paper target. Eight perfectly placed bullet holes penetrating the center of a silhouetted head highlighted by a tight narrow beam from another track light. An inscription in the lower corner reads,

1st place IPSC 4.3 seconds OCT. 1993’

A large round golden clock bearing the ‘Savage Sam’ logo of the Florida State Seminoles at its center, hangs in the kitchen. Craig was bent in the kitchen staring into the refrigerator as she entered. Sensing movement in the room he spun to see Ivory standing by the doorway, the fading sun back-lighting her form with the last rays of the day, Ivory’s light cotton sundress an aura, emanating and enveloping her. She was breathtaking. He was instantly invigorated. He could not resist her. He could not do it the first day they met and it had gotten harder to do since.

Ivory welcomed the broad child like grin as soon as it was offered. She stood still in the opening except for a slight turn to the left allowing him her profile. Craig crossed the room and swept her into his arms just like in one of her novels. She couldn’t believe she was really living one of them out. She melted into his arms and held him tightly as he tried to release from the embrace. Craig held her for another moment then stepped back catching her hand as she tried to raise it to her face.

Craig’s mood changed so quickly she could not react swiftly enough to even try to lie to him. In the excitement of the anticipation of being with Craig she’d forgotten the black eye Keenan marked her with the day before. Not that she wanted to lie, but she did not really know what Craig was capable of, she was intensely aware how he would react. Ivory finally had a real gentleman, a man of value and principles, and she didn’t want to lose him by Craig doing something stupid.

She glanced at the target on the wall and confessed, “He was home too early last night.”

“That’s it!” He fumed, “never again.”

He stormed to the bed snatched up the portable phone and walked out onto the porch.

Not knowing what to do, she idled to the kitchen leaving him to his call. Crossing the kitchen she pulled a bottle of wine down from the rack in the cabinets and poured herself a glass. Craig re-entered the room in a shorter amount of time than she thought he would be gone.

He stated simply and to the point, “Keenan will never harm you again.”

She did not know whom he called or what was said, but she trusted his statement as the absolute truth, but that truth alleged for her an apprehension that was almost a specter. Ivory placed her wine glass down on the counter, hurtling into his arms. With a kiss on his cheek she placed a delicate finger inside the shoulder strap of her dress and flicked it. As her dress fell to the floor he smiled at the wealth her body held. Craig put his hands on her hips holding her in place as he took a step back, taking a moment to allow his eyes to sample the taste of her skin and the riches of her curves.

She ran her hands from his muscled shoulders down his chest unbuttoning his jeans and then sliding her hands to his rump using her wrist to ply them from him. He spun her as his jeans hit the floor, his arousal in the cleft of her backside and he lightly ran his hand up her abdomen cupping her breast. His touch engorged her nipples, his kisses on the nape of her neck and ear lobes causing her wetness to descend. Her last thought before the rapture of passion encompassed her conscious soul was, “trust, just trust.”

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