Sequel excerpt: Promises to Keep

I have an excerpt from the sequel to Dark and Deep, Promises to Keep. I am 32K words into this one, so it will be a while coming, but stay with me. It’ll come. I promise, it’ll come.

Alex came in from the fields later than usual. He was damp and clean, indicating that he had had a full submersion in the chilly stream rather than wait to sponge off with warm water at home. He held his shirt in one hand and nodded to me as he walked in the door.

“Damned oxen got a notion to run. I think they scented something in the woods. The nigh ox turned and nearly ran me over—ground me into the dirt. I’ve a rent in my shirt.”

“Give it here.”

I turned the filthy garment over in my hands. It had torn along one side seam, which was easy to repair. The possible damage to my husband worried me more.

“Are you bruised at all? Let me see.” He turned his back to me for examination. Miraculously, there wasn’t a mark on him.

“Daft animals.” He gingerly prodded his kidneys and ribs. “I’d prefer to drive horses but Angus doesna want to break their hearts and the oxen need exercise. I may drive horses tomorrow all the same—the kine are Angus’ team not mine, they’ll mind him better.”

“Please, after what we’ve been through, don’t be killed doing farm work.”

He flashed a grin and kissed me on the cheek, then bent over to rummage in the blanket chest for a fresh shirt.

“Everything’s a compromise, Anna dear. You shallna lose me on a highway or a train or an airplane, take solace in that.”

“Cold comfort.” I watched his back as he buttoned the new shirt. His words about the old world had evoked a memory, and it made me smile.

“I saw you. Before.”

He turned around, eyebrows raised. My smile grew complacent.

“At the hotel bar, the night before we left. You were wearing a navy blue sweater and jeans and leather shoes. Your hair was wet. You were drinking scotch, neat.”

A slow smile spread across his face and he moved toward me, enjoying the story.

“You were on the prowl.”

That made him smile outright. “No. Not when you saw me I wasn’t. I had thought to look for a final lumber, but in the lift I found I hadn’t the stomach for it. That’s why I went to the empty hotel bar instead of a busy one downtown, aye? I was looking for scotch.”

“Scotch not snatch, huh. The bar wasn’t empty. I was there.”

He was very close now. He stood eight inches taller than me, and I had to tilt my head back to look him in the eye. He inhaled slowly before speaking, as if testing the air around me.

“Yes. And I saw you. Before. You were sitting at a table in the corner, alone.”

“You didn’t act like you saw me.”

“I’m a tactful fellow. You werena behaving as if you wanted attention.”

“What if I had? Would you have picked me up?”

He exhaled and hummed in the way he did when he needed time to think something over, and tilted his head slightly, examining me. His gray eyes glittered in the evening light.

“Is there any possible world in which you’d want that kind of attention, Anna?”

“Well. I don’t know. But wanting it and wanting to know I could get it are two different things.”

“Aye. True enough. Well, I’ve already said that I’d decided against finding company for the evening. When I finished my scotch I went back to my room, had a second and very long shower, and went to sleep.”

My breath was becoming shallow, whether with fear or anger or arousal I didn’t know. “That doesn’t answer my question.”

“Sitting in a dark corner instead of being social at the bar isna the way to be noticed by a man looking for a one night stand.”

“That still doesn’t answer my question.” I jumped as my bottom hit the edge of the table. He had been backing me across the room without my knowing it. He moved closer still, close enough that I could feel the heat radiating off of his face, and without warning he lifted me onto the table. His fingers slid up the outsides of my legs, tracing the edges of my quadriceps and rucking up my skirt. I swallowed.

“You have done that, haven’t you? Picked up strangers?”

He gave a tiny, barely perceptible nod.

“Well? Would you have picked me up?”

Small muscles under his face worked a little. “Not that night. I thought that maybe you were going to be in the group. You had the last-night-on-Earth look about you.”

“What look was that?”

“Observant but detached. No telephone. And very frightened.”

“We could have known each other when we came here. We wouldn’t have been alone.”

The smile was very faint and only around his eyes now. “And what if we’d done that and fallen in love with other people once we got here? Or what if I’d slept with someone else in the group and then met you?”

I was quiet for a second. “I would have been jealous.”

He gave another faint nod. “It was far too important that we be neutral with each other at the beginning—if possible. I knew that. So did you.”

“You still haven’t answered my question. Would you?”

His hands had moved upward and untucked my shirt. He stood up straight, pulling his face away from mine a little and bracing a hand on either side of my waist.

“There’s no ‘would’, Anna. I didn’t, and I wouldn’t. Never in a million years would I have gone to your room that night, even if we hadn’t been leaving the next day. Do you know why?”

I frowned. “Why?”

“Because I wanted more from you. I wanted to have plenty of time with you, and I got it. I wanted you to know me in the everyday before anything else, and you did. I wanted you to become fond of me for your own reasons, and you became so. Lastly I wanted for you to ask me to your bed. And you did. So rest assured, Anna dear,” I gasped as he pulled me to the edge of the table, pressing my thighs apart with his hips and putting his lips to one ear.

“You had my attention.”

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