Here's the first (unedited) scene from "The Picture of Perfection," coming in May as a part of the anthology The Summer of Us
Rena Lindsey enjoyed being single. It meant that she could eat mint cookie ice cream for dinner and sleep in flannel pajamas and not brush her teeth in the morning if that’s what she wanted to do.
Then there were times like these, when Gus Garringer was eyeing her from across the room with that look on his face—like he could eat her up like a pint of his favorite ice cream—that made her reconsider all her life choices.
Laughter echoed through the room, and the clink of glasses told her she’d missed best man Eric Donnelly’s toast to the bride and groom. Even though the bride, Anna Powers, had told Rena she didn’t need to photograph the rehearsal dinner, she still felt bad about missing this important shot.
Plus, focusing on her camera kept her mind off of him. She picked it up from the table and futzed around with the settings before scanning the small crowd gathered in the glass-walled meeting room facing the ocean and the 1,000-foot fish pier that jutted into it. Some shots with that as the backdrop would be stunning. A few guests had wandered onto the adjacent deck, so now she some subjects right where she wanted them.
As she held up the camera and walked toward the sliding glass doors, Gus rolled into the frame, his biceps flexing as he pushed the wheels of his chair to cross the small room. She gulped and turned away, headed for the hall. The shot would have to wait.
The photographer needed to compose herself before she could compose any photos.
There was no denying Gus was hot. Every other available woman in Darden had made that abundantly clear, whispering amongst themselves in wonder about whether it still worked—a question the busy-bodies felt entitled to an answer to since the man in question was wheelchair-bound since an accident damaged his spinal cord about eighteen months ago.
But those women had been old enough to be Gus’s mother (and one, his grandmother.) Gus had only been out with one woman since he’d moved to Darden in December, the only woman he’d expressed any interest in, as far as Rena knew, had been Rena herself.
After two dates, he’d made it clear where he’d wanted to take things. All the way. Yes, he wanted sex, but he also wanted the dreaded “R” word--a relationship. She would have considered the former without the latter being attached, giving the gap of two years since her last relationship that ended when she’d left San Francisco to return home. But that’s not the kind of guy Gus was, especially considering he had a young special-needs son.
So Rena had stopped answering his calls, no longer replied to his texts, avoided the places he frequented with his friends. In a town as small as Darden, that didn’t leave a lot of places for her to go.
Perched at a high-top table right outside the meeting room, Rena was privy to a conversation between the bride, the groom, and a third party.
Gus’s voiced boomed with laughter. “Christ, Tony. You are one lucky bastard. And Anna, what the hell are you thinking. I’m still single, you know.”
Rena turned her head in the direction of his voice. His words were for the laughing couple, but the sly wink was all for her. This was a man not easily deterred.
He took a drink from the pint glass he’d been holding up. When his tongue flicked out to lick the foam from his upper lip, Rena was grateful for the table to lean on as her entire lower body seem to dissolve into jelly.
She’d never even kissed him, but with all that confidence oozing from him, she imagined he was quite the accomplished kisser.
Or maybe it had been way too long since she’d been the recipient of any physical affection she imagined that anyone who showed her any attention would be a good lay.
She squeezed her eyes shut, took a deep breath, and walked back into the room, determined to do her job and snap a few decent shots from the deck before she lost the beautiful light. Yes, she was just a guest tonight, Anna had insisted, since tomorrow would be a craze-fest, but the artist in Rena couldn’t resist the perfection of nature just feet away.
She also admitted to herself she was much less vulnerable on this side of the camera, invisible almost--just how she liked it. If no one could see her, no one could hurt her, so she raised her camera and fired off a few shots.
“Beautiful, isn’t it?” Gus’s voice vibrated from the roots of her pink-striped hair to the tips of her freshly polished toes. Out of the corner of her eye, she noticed he wasn’t looking at the beach, but directly up at her.
The best she could hope for was the ability to run as fast as she could. But like her tongue, glued to the roof of her dry mouth, her feet were stuck, immovable. Her traitorous body overrode her logical mind, and if she didn’t get it under control, this weekend would become much more than she’d bargained for when she signed on to shoot the wedding.