The remainder of Tenwyck’s words faded when a tall, lean, ride-em-cowboy slid into the empty stool to my left. With my eyes cast down, I glanced at his shiny boots and tight denim jeans—narrow at the hem and all the way up his muscular thighs. My heart rate sped and a lonely ache thrummed against my rib cage. Yep, too long without a man.
It struck me at that moment; most women looking for a tumble in the sheets would detect a hot, moist sensation between their legs, a normal precursory to fucking. Yet all I could think of was his strong arms holding me, the sound of his heart beating in sync with mine, and his warm breath against my ear. Perhaps the doc is right. It isn’t about the physical joining of bodies for me, but the fusion of hearts, of minds. I had journeyed down the same road all my life, walked a never-ending path of lost souls looking for acceptance and devotion.
“You counting the hairs on my forearms?” the clear, resonant voice said.
I drew my gaze from his arm and looked into his eyes. Blue. Bluer than a cloudless sky at morning. “Sorry, I drifted there for a minute.”
“You are one, aren’t you . . . a drifter? I mean, not born and raised in Clarence?”
“No, not born in Iowa. I’m from New York, here visiting my aunt Pearl.”
“Pearl, your aunt is Pearl Waldron?”
“Buried her husband not long ago.”
“My Uncle Max, yes.”
“My condolences,” he said, extending his hand. “Name is Cleve, Cleve Porter.”
I felt my lips twitch into a shy smile. “Cleve from Clarence. I like it. It has a . . . a homey, wholesome ring to it.”
Straight, white teeth smiled back. “That’s us, wholesome top to bottom.”
I liked him, and he looked into my eyes as if the feeling could be mutual.
Now came the sticky part, or maybe icky part. Never one to stand on pretense, and having learned long ago to ask for what you want upfront, I drew a silent, deep breath. “So Cleve, you live near by?”
The bartender dropped a newspaper onto the shiny bar in front of Cleve, smothering his answer to my question. “That makes four, or is it five now?” the man said. “Iowa City has one sick son of a bitch on their hands.”
I looked at the headlines and an icy chill ran down my spine. Another Woman Found Dead Along County Road.
Cleve looked up from the newspaper. ““What does a man have to do to get a beer around here?”
“Sorry, Cleve, had a little run on thirst for a minute. The usual?”
The bartender returned with his beer and I spit out the questions hanging on my tongue. “How do they know the killer lives in Iowa City? Have they got a suspect?”
“They don’t know,” Cleve interjected. “And that’s why they don’t have any suspects. Most of the cops in this neck of the woods struggled through Criminology 101.”
“Ah, that’s not fair, man,” the bartender said with a frown. “They’re dealing with a professional, a serial killer who’s been plying his trade for years.”
My mouth went dry and I swallowed, hard. “What is his trade?”
“Knives,” the bartender said. “He likes to carve up his victims before he puts their lights out.”
My stomach flipped. I’d had enough of death and dying; didn’t want to spend my one night on the town talking about knives and serial killers. In fact, the entire conversation had sapped my prior thoughts of passion and love.
I dug in my purse for my billfold and keys, dropped a five-dollar bill on the bar and turned to Cleve. “I best get going. Aunt Pearl will start worrying soon.”
After sliding from the stool, I started for the entrance and called out over my shoulder. “Nice to meet you.”
Before I made it to the truck, footsteps fell behind me. “Wait up a second.”
I drew a deep breath and turned to face Cleve.
“Sorry ‘bout all that talk of killers and knives. Sort of spooked ya, huh?” He took a few steps toward me, his killer smile calming my rattled nerves. A bronze hand came out and warm fingers stroked my cheek. “Before all that stupid talk, you asked me where I lived, and I didn’t have a chance to answer you.”
“I did . . . but I think . . . .”
“Don’t think. Just go with your gut feeling. You came into Clarence for a reason, and I don’t think it was for a glass of beer. Besides, you look more like a wine lady to me. Am I right?”
God, he was a smooth talker, and the most handsome men I’d seen in eons. Under an umbrella of bright stars, the blue eyes sparkled like shiny gems.
“You’re right about the wine. I do prefer Chablis over beer.”