by Denise Willson
— “Secret Garden,” Bruce Springsteen
The estate came into view and Claire inched forward, squinting to see the numbers engraved on the elaborate stone and wrought-iron entrance. She’d been here before, once, but not after dark, not so late. Stopping at the bend in the driveway, she put the car in park and eased her seat back, eyes closed.
“Hmm…” escaped her lips, the low hum vibrating in her throat. She could still feel him, smell him. She fidgeted in her seat, muscles contracting in response to the ache that threatened to devour the entire day. His deep moans echoed through her memory, her hands itched to glide over his damp skin.
She’ll let you in her mouth, if the words you say are right.
The stereo spoke the truth, every song revealing new meaning.
They’d made love before, Claire and Cameron, numerous times in fact. But this time was different. Any reservations she’d had about their relationship had been lost in lust, a connection unlike anything she’d ever experienced. Last night they’d parked overlooking the city lights and uttered words they’d never confessed.
“Mrs. Cameron Stokes,” she’d murmured in his ear, his name flowing from her tongue like liquid gold. Pulling her knees tight to his frame she sank deeper, ignoring the confines of the Porsche’s cockpit where he’d lifted her onto him. He’d stared into her eyes.
He whispered, lips wet, swollen, “I like the sound of that.”
Claire’s stomach took flight and her breath hollowed out, the musky smell of sex filling her lungs. Images she’d never allowed herself to consider danced through her peripheral vision: a lovely home, kids running through the yard.
If you pay the price, she’ll let you deep inside.
“This is why you’re late,” Claire said to her reflection, distorted with the curve of the perspiring window. She’d spent the entire day lost in her head, in the music, Cameron’s Springsteen CD set at maximum volume. At some point she’d managed to shake loose from euphoria and get some work done: see a few clients, collect a signed contract, but where the time had gone, she had no idea.
Reaching for the door handle, Claire eyed the folder on the passenger seat, the contract with the eight o’clock deadline. It loomed large, urging her to revisit the clock, the green 10:20 illuminating the dashboard. It was nice of Lou, Claire’s boss, to allow her to drop off the paperwork at his house, after hours. But she was really late.
“He’ll understand,” she muttered, leaning to peer at the six thousand square foot custom-built Tudor owned by the boss and his wife of ten years. “He knows love.”
Claire had seen them together – the boss and his wife – at the company barbecue. They’d held tight to each other, toes aligned inches from the makeshift baseball diamond, watching their son take his stance at home plate. “Hit it home, Bobby,” the boss called out before kissing the woman in his arms. Bobby lifted the child-size bat from his shoulder to stare at the script that ran the length in black marker, a smile peeling back his lips. The bat, signed by Alex Rodriquez, was Bobby’s most prized possession.
Claire pulled the keys from the ignition and stepped into the crisp September air, slamming the car door behind her. The sharp silence couldn’t drown out the music still playing in her head.
But into her secret garden, don’t think twice.
Tonight the woods swallowed the neighborhood whole, lamplights casting an eerie glow that clung to glass, not even attempting to break through the mix of fog and night. Tugging her blue cashmere sweater – the one Cameron said lights up her eyes – tight to her frame, Claire made her way up the driveway, avoiding the shadows of sports equipment left by little hands. Two steps from the limestone arched entryway she stumbled and the sound of timber skidding over stone reverberated in the mist before colliding with the first step, a popping conclusion.
An exasperated breath pushed its way past Claire’s teeth with a dramatic swoosh.
Just a kid’s baseball bat.
A rustle crept from the dark to Claire’s right and she froze, mid-step.
It happened quickly. The dog, barely visible in the lamplight, darted out of the bushes and past the porch. It sprinted across the driveway, mouth agape with two feet of honed wood. It stopped in the grass, back end up, the bat between its teeth distorting playful whimpers.
“Not a chance,” said Claire, more to herself than the dog. The papers in her hand seemed to vibrate, calling her attention.
The dog released a muffled bark and Claire took a second look at its swishing tail. Wisps of golden locks shimmered, catching light.
The dog turned and ran, stopping further down the driveway. The tinkle of wood hitting concrete rang loud in the night. The dog barked again, an invitation.
Claire’s mind flashed images of the boss’s son idolizing the bat.
“Oh, hell,” she mumbled, her Jimmy Choo’s echoing click clack click clack as she paced towards the bat.
Claire set the folder on the hood of her car, tilting her head to the left, eyes attempting to pierce the darkness. Where’d the damn dog go?
Paws stomped anxiously on soft ground.
“Drop the bat,” said Claire, jabbing a finger towards the sound.
The dog huffed, his coat catching a glimpse of lamplight while flying across the yard.
Claire’s heels sunk into early summer grass, still moist from yesterday’s torrential downpour. Long ebony hair flowed behind her. The dog crossed a small gully into the neighbor’s yard, passing under one of the contemporary lanterns that ran alongside the winding driveway, bat still held tight in his mouth.
“Stop!” Claire yelled, mid-stride.
The dog paced over another property, Claire in tow.
Claire ran across another manicured lawn, slowing only when the thump of paws seemed to fade into nothingness. Her breath beat loud, billowing.
An ominous growl – another dog, a bigger dog – cut the night, raising the hair on Claire’s arms.
The bat hit stone and rolled.
A nasty snarl ripped from behind a fence and the golden retriever she’d been chasing took off, a streak of yellow.
Claire leaned forward and picked up the bat, her labored breath catching in her throat. One hand fell to her knee to stabilize her swaying body, the other, unsteady, reached towards a vehicle hardly distinguishable in the dark.
A car alarm sounded, pounding Claire’s panic stricken head.
A series of house lamps ignited at once, illuminating everything within a twenty-foot radius, including Claire. The alarm died but her heart continued to throb in her ears. Her arm hovered around her forehead, protection from the sudden bright light.
“Who the hell –” a man grumbled from the house.
His tone sent a familiar shiver down Claire’s spine. Instinctively she rose to the voice, eyes narrowing.
She’s got a secret garden where everything you want, where everything you need, will always stay a million miles away.
Cameron Stokes stepped out from the shadows, bathrobe hanging at his sides.
Claire’s eyes opened wide, her mind struggling to digest the sight before her.
A woman called from the house, “What is it, honey?”
“Nothing,” said Cameron. His stare jumped from Claire, to the bat held tight in her fist, to his car.
“Turn off the lights,” said the woman, her voice broken with a yawn. “You’ll wake up the kids.”
Claire stood tall, strengthening her grasp on the bat. Sweat covered her palms. She followed her lover’s stare. The baseball bat’s black marker scrawl reflected in the silver gleam of his Porsche.
Hit it home, baby.
DENISE WILLSON can be found among evergreens, numbed by the beauty of Ontario’s escarpment country, a book or laptop in hand. She’s in search of a love connection, an agent willing to be lured by a vibrant redhead and her paranormal romance, A Keeper’s Truth.