The Long Road Home

By: H.D. Thomson


John grunted. His hands tightened on her arms…

His breath, warm and smelling of coffee and peppermint, brushed her ear and ruffled her hair.

Mortified, Clarisse arched backward and met John’s pained expression. “I’m sorry! Are you all right?”

“Give me a second,” he murmured.

She tried not to think how her nipples touched the hard wall of his chest or how the familiar scent of his aftershave made her remember...

No. She’d concentrate on his Adam’s apple and the indentations of his collarbone. No. That wouldn’t work either.

“Are you all right now?” She grew uncomfortable.

“I—yes.” He retained a grip on her arm. “What about you? You almost took a nose dive.”

She glanced away. A curtain of her blonde hair fell forward, obscuring her face and the pain she knew lay carved there.

“I guess my legs must have fallen asleep right along with everything else.”

The sound of footsteps made Clarisse turn. She found an unsmiling Vivian on their side of the truck. Guilt sent a warm blush to Clarisse’s cheeks as she and John drew away from each other. His hand dropped to his side, but the heat from his fingers still burned into her flesh.

“I—” Clarisse closed her mouth. There was no reason for her to explain, especially when there was nothing to explain. “I’ve got to check a couple of things in my bag. It might take a minute. Why don’t I meet you both inside?”







DEDICATION

I would like to thank Marion Ekholm, Sandy Lagesse, Shelley Mosley and Kim Watters. Without their dogged determination, I wouldn’t be where I am now.

Thanks, guys!





CHAPTER ONE

“For all I know the man could be a rapist or-or…”

“Don’t you think you’re getting a little carried away?”

At Jennifer’s raised brow, Clarisse Madison relented and gave a rueful laugh. “I guess you might be right. But this guy’s a complete stranger. I don’t know anything about him, other than what you’ve told me.”

A cool morning breeze drifted through the living room window of Jennifer’s house, bringing the scent of lilac. Clarisse peered through the lace curtains from her chair. In center of the lawn, a large, majestic maple tree, its leaves glistening from last night’s rain, shaded the empty driveway from the rising sun.

Her ride was late, and she didn’t know whether or not to be relieved. She glanced away from the window and eyed her friend with disgust. “You know. You’ve been an absolute miser when it comes to information on this man.”

Jennifer gave her a reassuring smile. “Like I told you before, he’s a friend of a friend. He’s responsible, kind, and even loves animals. You can’t go wrong with that. Don’t worry, you’ll like him.”

“That’s easy for you to say. You’re not going to be stuck in a car with him from New York to San Diego. I haven’t a clue as to what to say to this guy.”

“You used to be able to talk to any stranger,” Jennifer declared.

“That was years ago, when I was young and didn’t have this.” Clarisse pointed at her right leg stretched out in front of her, a self-deprecating smile curving the corners of her lips.

“You could have flown to California and avoided all this.”

Just the mention of flying made Clarisse’s stomach cramp. “That’s impossible. No amount of pushing, shoving, kidnapping or coercion will get me on another plane. The last one nearly cost me my life.”

Jennifer released a loud sigh, lifting her chestnut bangs from her brow. “Well, that’s it then. Getting across the country by train is impossible, and a bus is too cramped and tiring with all the stops and transfers. And since you won’t fly, the only other way to get to your sister’s wedding is by having someone else drive.”

Clarisse smiled fondly at her friend of six years. “I’m sorry. I should be thanking you for finding me a ride to my sister’s place instead of acting the brat.”

The sound of tires crunching across gravel filtered through the open window. Clasping the arm of the chair with one hand and her cane with the other, Clarisse rose unsteadily to her feet. A red, Ford Explorer rolled to a halt in Jennifer’s driveway.