As I continue to immerse myself in the edits for Caught Inside, I thought I’d share a sneak preview with you all. This is the very first scene I ever came up with, and where the story started to take root . . .
I swallow against the dryness in my throat. “We need to talk.”
Slowly, as though wading through deep sand, I cross the room until I’m standing right behind him. He grips the edge of the worktop.
Still nothing. Only the convulsive tightening of his fingers shows he even heard me.
“Theo”—my voice cracks—“don’t do this.”
Theo sucks in a breath. When he replies, his tone is even. “Do what?”
“This. Shutting me out.”
“And don’t say you’re not, because we both know that isn’t true.” I’m aware of my voice rising, and lower it with an effort. “Just . . . don’t.”
Theo exhales in a long sigh. He turns to me, his expression distant but not unkind. I wish he’d glare at me, shout . . . whatever. Anything to show he gives a damn.
“Luke, I’m sorry about this morning. I shouldn’t . . . it was a mistake. If you got the wrong impression—”
“The wrong impression? You kissed me. What impression was that supposed to give me?”
He casts a nervous glance at the window.
“What’s wrong, Theo? Worried Giles might hear? I don’t blame you. He’d probably make you bath in disinfectant for a year if he knew you’d kissed scum like me.” Theo starts to protest, but I shake my head. “You know what? Forget it. So sorry I embarrassed you.”
I need to get out of here. Humiliation, hot and clammy, coils like tar through my veins. Still, what did I expect? Theo’s made it perfectly clear how he sees me, that he thinks I’m beneath him. I grab for the nearest glass, intending to pour myself a liver full of whatever’s in that jug, but my hand shakes so much it slips through my fingers. Glass collides with oak in a minor explosion, glittering fragments flying.
“Shit.” I drop to my knees, begin picking up the larger pieces. I fumble, a jagged shard slicing my palm. “Shit.”
“Luke?” Theo crouches beside me.
“I’m fine.” I turn away from the phony concern in his eyes, fist clenched around the cut to hide it from view. Blood trickles through my fingers and onto my jeans. The pain is almost a relief.
“Let me see.” Theo holds out his hand, but I jerk away.
“I said I’m fine.”
He ignores me. With gentle firmness, he Takes hold of my wrist, uncurling my fingers to examine the wound. My body stills. I scarcely breathe. Every nerve ending, every particle of my being is aware of him, the pressure of his fingers on my wrist, his warm palm supporting the back of my hand.
“What’s going on?”
Zara’s voice filters through to me from a long way off. In slow motion, I twist my head to find her framed against the evening sky.
As though it’s the most natural thing in the world, Theo lays my hand in my lap and stands, motioning to her. “Whoa, blood alert.”
“Oh.” Zara pales. “We heard something break. Are you okay?” Her gaze seeks mine, expression concerned. She keeps her eyes on my face, averted from the blood.
I nod, not trusting myself to speak.
“He’s fine,” Theo says. He lifts the tray from the worktop and carries it over to Zara. “Here, get started on these while I patch Luke up.”
He nudges the door to behind her and reaches down to take my uninjured hand. I’m beyond resisting. I let him help me to my feet, steadying me as my legs threaten to give way, and lower me into a chair at the table. He tears off a square of kitchen roll, which he wads up and presses against my cut, folding my fingers over it.
“Just hold that there. I’ll clear up the glass.”
“I should do that. It was my fault.” My tongue feels too big in my mouth and the words emerge indistinct.
Theo shakes his head, glancing at my hand with a faint smile, and turns to rummage in the cupboard under the sink.
I stay where I’ve been put, watching Theo sweep the broken glass into a dustpan. The quiet wraps itself around me. Voices waft in from the patio, muted and indecipherable, snatches of dialogue from another planet. A clock I’ve barely noticed before ticks from the wall behind me. If not for its hands counting off the seconds, I could have been fooled into believing time had halted, waiting. I picture myself perched on the edge of a cliff, unsure whether I’m about to step back from the precipice, or fling myself forward into the unknown.
Glass dealt with, Theo returns to me with the first-aid box. He turns his chair so that he’s sitting at right angles to me, his knee a whisper from mine. “Let me see.”
This time, I don’t even pretend to object. Theo takes my hand in his, peeling the kitchen roll aside to inspect the cut. “I think you’ll live.”
Will I? It seems to me I’ll die if he lets go of my hand, and die if he doesn’t.
He does let go, but only for a moment to rummage in the first-aid kit. Then he’s back to cradling my hand in his, while he smoothes a plaster over the cut. It’s the lightest of touches, a mere brush of fingers against my palm, but it sends all the blood to my groin. I bite my lip on a gasp. I’m trembling . . . or perhaps it’s Theo. Impossible to tell.
He should have released me by now, but he hasn’t. His thumb keeps rubbing my palm, although the plaster must be well and truly stuck. Has he any idea what he’s doing to me? I look at him, and he returns my gaze, his expression softer than it’s been since that night—the night of whisky and confidences.
“Theo?” It’s all I can croak out, but it’s enough. I’ve never begged in my life. Never needed to. It’s always been the other way around, girls chasing after me, doing the running. All I had to do was stand still and wait for them to catch up. It’s only now that I realize the power they were giving me, the power I’ve just handed over to Theo.
He knows what I’m asking; it’s obvious in the way his eyes flicker to my mouth. I moisten my lips with my tongue. Theo leans in, and I sway towards him. He’s so close his breath mingles with mine.
In a sudden decisive movement, he drops my hand and gets up, stepping away from the table. “I’m sorry.”
His rejection punches me in the gut. The air whooshes out of me. I can feel my face hardening, shutting down. I let him see my vulnerability—Christ, I practically threw myself at him—and he chucked it back at me, like it meant nothing.
I push my chair back, heading for the door to the hall. When I speak, I’m amazed how composed I sound. “No problem. Sorry if I . . . how did you put it? Got the wrong impression.”
“No.” Theo puts out a hand, then lets it fall to his side. “Don’t apologize. It was—”
“A mistake. Yeah, you said.” Without looking at him, I escape from the kitchen and up the stairs before I can humiliate myself any further.
This is the stupidest thing I have read lately. Those are not guys, but damsels in distress with male names.
I like stories with emotional conflict and vulnerable characters. This little bit shows that well. I feel the narrators anguish!
Really powerful excerpt! Love it.