A scene from Ana's WIP
Erin Foster, the heroine, recently and reluctantly agreed to move in with Jeremy, a French teacher who had pursued her ardently. Ramona is Erin's assistant. Rajeev Baruah is Jeremy's co-worker at school and Ramona's new love interest. Uncle Ray is Erin and Ramona's boss. Quintos is a school janitor who has the hots for Erin. Belina is his conniving daughter.
“Six o’clock, Foster.” Ramona spun her around. “Time’s up.”
“I thought you were kidding,” Erin said.
“Rajeev is very particular. Cocktails at six-thirty, dinner at seven. And he is very traditional. In his caste, a woman must be accompanied by a chaperone until there is an understanding.”
“An understanding? What’s to understand? You like him, he likes you. You don’t need me tagging along. Besides I have piles of work to do.” She lied again. “Uncle Ray lost my last report.”
“Screw Uncle Ray. For Rajeev, this is a sign of respect. He won’t make a move on me until he gets formal approval from a family member. I told him you were my mother’s youngest sister-in-law.”
“Ramona.” Erin rolled her eyes.
“Play along, Foster. You might learn something useful, like how to get a man.”
Although he was half again her age, Rajeev Baruah greeted Erin in her office with embarrassing deference, bowing deeply three times before squeezing her outstretched hand with his good one. He was slight and ruddy with silver highlights in his wavy black hair. His clipped accent reflected his Bombay roots, and his Queen’s English was flawless. When he lectured, the scientific names of organs and microorganisms sounded like mystical mantras.
She shot Ramona you-owe-me look.
“I am delighted to make your acquaintance, Mrs. Foster,” Rajeev chirped. He escorted her into the hall. “My condolences on the recent loss of your husband. If it is not too painful, I would be most interested to hear the case history of his duodenitis. You will find that I have a very good bedside manner.”
They walked single-file to pass Quintos, who was dry-mopping the floor.
“It is sign of good health that you decided to take on new clients, Mrs. Foster. I am most excited to intercourse with a woman of your experience.”
Erin insisted on driving separately to the restaurant. She didn’t know how much more of Ramona’s eyelash batting she could stomach.
Rajeev ordered cocktails and launched into his biography. It was a fascinating chronicle going back six generations, rich with exotic characters, lost spice fortunes, and two assassinations-by-hire. With surgically precise lines, he sketched a forest of genealogical trees on a body of napkins.
“So you see, Mrs. Foster, once we severed all ties to Mahani Punjabi, the uncle from my great aunt’s hastily arranged marriage, my family has remained scrupulously reputable.” He took Ramona’s hand. “Should Nature take its course, I would bring no dishonor to your family.”
Erin searched for an appropriate response. One of Father Dominic’s baptismal blessings popped into her mind. She recited it beatifically, declined Rajeev’s offer of tea, and drove back to RISE.
She worked in her office until well past midnight.
Jeremy’s cottage was dark when she arrived. She heard an ominous whoosh, whoosh, followed immediately by two crisp thwacks. She slammed the car door a little harder than necessary and gripped the car key between her knuckles for a weapon.
Jeremy stood in front of his target holding his throwing knives. Without a word, he walked back to an invisible mark, turned his back to her, and threw. The first blade spun end over end until it embedded itself on the edge of the inner bull’s-eye. Six more knives landed around the circle in rapid succession. The eighth struck dead center and hummed eerily until it stopped quivering.
“Take what you need for now,” he said coldly. He retrieved his blades and retook his stance. “You may return later for the rest of your things.”
“Are you asking me to leave?” A sharp pain gripped her chest. “Why?”
“You have free will, ma douce. You have used it.” He whipped his knives like his words. They formed a perfect X in the bull’s-eye.
Erin forced logic over the chaos of her emotions. If she could define the problem, she could negotiate a solution. Her mind raced, replaying the hours since she had last seen Jeremy.
“Did you look for me this evening?” she asked.
“Apparently you had a rendezvous.”
“And who told you I went out?”
“Not you.” He clenched the knives so tightly that she was sure he was slicing his palms.
“Whom did you talk to?” That was twice. She prayed three times would be enough. “Who was it?”
“Belina! I was humiliated by my own student.” Jeremy whirled around. “Her father heard you and Baruah making the bargain for love.”
“Quintos.” Erin walked toward him, her grandmother’s favorite insult rising to her lips. “Belina’s father is a piggish lush of a slut-sire. Did he mention that Ramona was with me? Did either of them know I went back to work as soon as Rajeev made a formal request for Ramona’s favor? Do you really think I would sell my body?” She slapped his cheek, and her hand stung.
“You will tell me the truth.” He snaked an arm around her waist and pulled her against him.
“Let me go!” She struggled until tears streamed down her cheeks.
“Say you love me,” he demanded. “Say that you are mine, and only mine.”
“Here is the truth,” she sobbed. “You are the only man I have ever wanted.”