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Wednesday, September 2, 2015

THE TEDDY BEAR DANCER -- Excerpt #7

Tuesday night, instead of their regular Bible study, their group met for a picnic down at Williams Lake in the Metroparks. Rene teased Vic for bringing three quarts of seafood salad from Heinke's instead of actually making something. He just laughed. After all this time, probably everyone who mattered in town, and especially in their circle of friends, believed Vic didn't cook unless he was out of frozen dinners and all the restaurants in town were closed. What they didn't know was that he liked to cook and experiment. His kitchen was custom-made with gourmet gizmos and he recorded the latest cooking shows and enjoyed cooking competitions more than other people enjoyed "Dancing with the Stars" and "Survivor." However, sharing those experiments with anyone besides Baxter and Rene was a step he wasn't willing to take. Mostly because he got his cooking talent from his great-grandmother, and a cousin of his who looked enough like him to be a twin ran a five-star restaurant in Manhattan. The fewer people there were in the world who could connect him with gourmet cooking, the safer he would be. By extension, that meant Rene and Baxter's safety.

Still, it was nice to be teased and know that Rene protected his secret, even if she didn't know why he preferred to keep his cooking skills hidden. She had more than enough talent for both of them, and always seemed glad to whip up treats whenever they were needed. For example, Rene and Bekka had signed up for desserts for tonight's picnic, and the back of his car was loaded with Tupperware containers full of cookies, cupcakes, and pudding-type concoctions that would probably melt before anyone got to them.

"That's why I say, eat dessert first," Shane said, as he helped Bekka unload the car.

He had volunteered to take care of the beverages, and had loaded their portion of the picnic in Vic's trunk at the gym. Shane rode a motorcycle, which was not conducive to carrying much of anything besides him and Bekka. Shane without his motorcycle would seem as strange as Shane without his signature gray Stetson, and the build of a steel worker.

"My philosopher," Bekka said with a sigh. It turned into a laugh a moment later when her fiancé pinned her against the car, a tray of cupcakes between them, and stole a kiss.

Sunday, August 30, 2015

THE TEDDY BEAR DANCER -- Excerpt #6

"Want to talk about it?" Her roommate sighed when Rene shook her head. "How are you going to move on until you talk about it? Have you told Vic, at least?"

"Tell Vic?" Her voice cracked. "Why would I tell him?"

"Because Vic is a great guy and you're the most important person in the world to him. I figure it's something a guy should know -- whatever it is -- so he can help the girl he loves."

"Max has got you reading too many romance novels. Vic is not in love with me." Rene shoved herself to her feet and stomped back to the kitchen. She bit her lip against adding, "no one will ever be." As the swinging door thumped behind her, she called, "You've just got romance on the brain! There are too many engaged and newlywed women in this town. You and Max and Bailey and--"

"Bailey? Since when is Bailey engaged?" Bekka stomped into the kitchen.

"Nearly. Jake's taking his good old time, as usual, but those two are headed for a showdown with Pastor Glenn." She sighed and refused to meet Bekka's gaze. Something shivered inside and she put down her glass of milk to keep from dropping it. "What makes you think Vic would ever be in love with me?"

"Anybody who looks at the two of you together can tell. You click, you know? He's always watching out for you."

Thursday, August 27, 2015

THE TEDDY BEAR DANCER -- Excerpt #5

"Oh." Rene studied her hands, clenched together so tight her knuckles turned white. "Sorry. I thought I woke up before…"

She had forgotten about her nightmare in the greater problem of her handsome, sweet partner being chased by husband-hungry women. At Bekka's words, it came back.

The hands slapping her when she protested. Punching her right under her sternum so she couldn't breathe to scream. Tearing at her clothes. The rich, lazy voice that told her she deserved it because she wouldn't "pay up."

During her stay in the hospital, those words had haunted her, and she had calculated how much money Jefferson Williams had spent on her during their four dates. Her virginity had been worth just under $180. Slightly better than most prostitutes on the street charged -- but then, she had never been for sale.

She slapped his hands when he tried to pull her blouse open. When she struggled -- screaming -- from his car, he chased her through the park, knocked her down, beat her and raped her.

The head deacon's son and the new pastor's daughter.

"Hey," Bekka whispered, and dropped to her knees in front of the couch. She caught hold of Rene's hands. "It's in the past."

"Yeah." She swallowed hard and tugged a hand free to wipe away the chill sweat that always came when she thought of that unreal night. The recriminations, the lies, the accusations and spiritual destruction that followed.

Monday, August 24, 2015

THE TEDDY BEAR DANCER -- Excerpt #4

"Vic's not the dating type. So that means he's not the marrying type." Rene fit half the remainder of her toast into her mouth. Her words choked her more than her breakfast did.

She didn't date, either. Had anyone come to the same conclusion about her? What a depressing thought -- if it weren't so true and so... safe.

Sometimes, being safe wasn't all it was cracked up to be. Especially when careful control of her thoughts still didn't keep the occasional nightmare away.

"Uh huh. Maybe the right lady hasn't shown any interest," Bekka said. She squirmed around in the basket chair until she lay sideways and looked at her roommate from upside down, over her eyebrows. "Shane spends more time at the gym than I do, and after careful and extensive observations, he has a theory."

"Vic should start an order of Protestant monks?"

"Ewwww!" She giggled. "Shane thinks -- and I agree, after careful observation of my own, as an up-and-coming novelist -- that Vic already knows who the right lady is. He's just waiting for her to realize he's there."

"Any woman who can look at Vic Thomas and not know he's there... she's not good enough for him." Rene stuffed the last of her toast in her mouth and mumbled through it, "Most of the women after him aren't good enough for him anyway."

"What's his name?"

"Hmm?" She swallowed and looked around for her milk. Right -- she left it in the kitchen when she came out to see what Bekka was laughing about on the phone with Shane, and why it turned so quickly to a growl.

"His name. The guy who hurt you." Bekka twisted herself around so she righted herself and got out of the chair at the same time. "You were having those nightmares again last night. I could hear you crying, right through the wall. It's a good thing Kat was working over at her folks' and stayed the night, or she would be nagging you with me."

Friday, August 21, 2015

THE TEDDY BEAR DANCER -- Excerpt #3

"She's after Vic."

"Vic's a big boy. And intelligent." Rene sighed and brushed a tangle of pale curls out of her face. "He can take care of himself." Even though she shrugged and firmly believed what she said, she felt a twisting sensation in her gut and a chill down her back. Warning, or just weariness over an unpleasant situation that just seemed to bother her more as time went on?

Why did it seem like half the women in town were after her best friend? She suspected she knew the correct answer -- because Vic wasn't interested in any of them. People always wanted what they couldn't have, and Vic wasn't available to anyone.

He wasn't a loner or an outcast, but he just didn't seem to reach out to the community. Yes, he gave away lots of cash and gym memberships to civic fund-raisers, and he opened the gym up to the school's athletes and their church's use. Sometimes he gave away a little too much, Rene thought. He'd do anything for kids, but it had been a major step after a year of running the gym with him and Baxter to get him to start going to Chamber of Commerce meetings, or work out front at various community activities. Working behind the scenes was fine. Vic always gave two hundred percent. But stand on the stage to hand the winner a certificate for a scholarship sponsored by the gym? Pose for a picture of him, her, and Baxter, for the "Hometown Business" tab in the Tabor Picayune last year? Even though Vic joked that he was just afraid of breaking the camera, it seemed more as if he was afraid to show his classically handsome face in public. Or at least have anyone outside their church and gym membership know what he looked like. Two years of pushing him forward and coming to the point of nagging finally got him involved, meeting people, introducing himself as more than just, "Hi, I'm one of the owners of Gold Tone." Now Vic was known on the street and greeted by almost everyone he passed in the shopping areas or just walking the neighborhood around the old armory building that housed the gym. Even if he wouldn't admit it, he was hooked on being known and earning smiles and greetings. Rene sometimes patted herself on the back for that accomplishment, whenever she thought about all the hard work that went into that change.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

THE TEDDY BEAR DANCER -- Excerpt #2

"Charlene is on the prowl again. Showed up at the gym five minutes after Shane got the door open. With croissants and fancy coffee and the loudest pink sweat suit you ever saw." Bekka chuckled and hoisted herself from her cross-legged position in front of the oval basket chair, into the chair. She tugged her oversized, blue flannel nightshirt down over her ankles. "That weirdo cousin of hers was nowhere to be seen. If she wasn't dragging the Technicolor Blob back into hiding, it proves she's after Vic."

"Bekka, be nice," Rene scolded softly.

She had yet to meet Charlene's cousin, who had arrived two weeks ago, and according to rumors was staying for the summer because she was trying to "find herself." Translation: she had either been fired for what some at the gym termed "new definitions of quirkiness," or like Charlene she firmly believed she was the arbiter of all that was right and true, therefore anyone who disagreed with her needed constant correction. Therefore, she had quit her job because -- also like Charlene, who changed jobs every eighteen months like clockwork -- she could not abide the "mental sloppiness" and "moral laxity" of those around her. All Rene knew for fact, reported by Bekka and filtered through what the other gym employees and members said, was that the woman was an overweight bleached blond with an eye-bleeding sense of color, a klutz, and she always fought with Charlene. Or rather, Charlene constantly fought with her because she considered her cousin an embarrassment. That was enough to endear the unseen stranger to Rene, if Charlene continued her predatory circling of Vic. If she could arrange for this cousin to stay permanently, she would, because up until now the woman's presence had kept Charlene from harassing Vic.

Up until now.

"She wanted Vic to help her with a new workout routine," Bekka offered, and rolled her eyes.

"New?" Rene snorted and nearly got bits of toast up her nose. "She has to have one before she can have a new one," slipped out before she remembered what she said a moment ago. "Be nice, Rene," she muttered. The two roommates exchanged grins.

Saturday, August 15, 2015

THE TEDDY BEAR DANCER -- Excerpt #1

"How can you stand it?" Bekka Sanderson growled, slamming down the phone. The reverberation echoed through the living/dining room of the two-bedroom apartment.

Rene Ackley stopped, toast in her mouth, caught in the doorway coming from the kitchen. She gasped as the swinging door slapped her rear, and stumbled over to the saggy old couch a little faster than she intended. She sat as she chewed three times and swallowed, barely tasting the peach preserves. A shower of crumbs spattered across her green summer pajamas.

"Excuse me, but aren't you supposed to be starry-eyed and cooing when you get off the phone with your fiancé?"

Her roommate gave her a narrow-eyed glare. Then she looked down at the phone sitting on the molting olive green throw rug next to her. A grin replaced her exasperation.

"You're right, but Shane called to warn you, so you could avoid the gym for a while. He warned Vic, first, since he's in the danger zone." Bekka raked sleep-tangled brunette strands out of her face with both hands.

"Warned Vic?"

Rene took another bite of toast and wondered if she needed to get some coffee. Mondays, she didn't open the Gold Tone Gym, so she preferred to stay in her pajamas at least until seven a.m. Maybe her brain was getting soggy from sleeping in. She wondered what kind of trouble Bekka and her fiancé thought she and her business partner, Vic were in. Their other roommate, Kat, was the more dramatic one. Lately, thanks to weirdness going on between the students of the BWU experimental summer theater program and something she called a slaughter blog, Kat saw danger and threats everywhere she looked.