A Red Rose in the Desert

By J. Arlene Culiner, author of All About Charming Alice

All About Charming AliceDark is coming in. Alice is sitting on the sagging wooden steps of her front porch in Blake’s Folly, Nevada, staring out onto the dusky landscape. At her feet, five dogs are sleepily stretched out in the dust. What a beautiful calm evening this is. Only a feeble little breeze rattles the spiny twigs of Four-Wing Saltbrush and Gopher’s Comb, and the air has that fragrant hint of spring. Shouldn’t the promise of warm weather and longer days make Alice happy? It doesn’t. Because every passing day, every hour, every minute, brings her closer to Jace’s departure.

Jace. The man who has her mind spinning, her knees wobbling and her heart aching. And where is he now? Somewhere in this ramshackle, rambling village. Perhaps talking to nosy Erma Left — Alice has been avoiding that woman’s beady eyes and impossible questions for days now. Or maybe he’s in the clutches of Erma’s daughter Jade, a shameless hussy who prefers snagging men who belong to someone else. Alice fights the little jab of jealousy spearing her heart, then tells herself to stop being silly: Jace doesn’t belong to her. Jace belongs to no one. He’s a free agent. And that thought doesn’t make her feel better either.

Think positively, she orders herself. Perhaps he’s simply having a beer and a chat with some of the local men over in the hotel; she can even see the lights of that shambling old place from here, and she fights the impulse to wander over, take a look. It’s none of her business what Jace is doing with his evening. Isn’t she the one who’s trying to keep some distance between them? She has to. She knows this relationship won’t last forever, and how many times in life do you want your heart broken? Been there, done that.

Why wait out here anyway? Why can’t she get Jace out of her mind for more than three minutes at a time? Why does she only want to feel his arms around her right now? He’s probably not even thinking about her. She should go inside the house, work on that article she’s been trying to write for weeks; put the finishing touches on dinner; read a book.

Suddenly, all the dogs start wagging their tails simultaneously. Dogs: aren’t they the best truth tellers around?

And a figure materializes in the deepening night. It’s Jace, coming up the path, heading home, heading in her direction. When he’s only a few feet away, Alice sees the warmth in his eyes, his pleasure in finding her here. And her heart melts like chocolate under the desert sun.

There’s something in Jace’s hand. A rose? A red rose? Where did he get a rose in Blake’s Folly? Finding a huge, pure gold nugget would be far easier. Smiling, he hands her the flower, lowers his lips to hers…

*

A clock is chiming. I blink. I know that sound, all right. It’s the clock up on the 13th century church tower just across the village square. Is it already so late? Yes, it is. And I’m in France, thousands of miles away from Blake’s Folly, from the state of Nevada.

Alice, her porch, her dogs, the rose, the kiss, all vanish. Jace is also gone. The wonderful, terrifying, heady feeling of falling into new love dissipates, and I’m back in the real world. Yet, it was all so real a few short minutes ago!

But isn’t that the beauty of both writing and reading romance? We get to fall in love over, and over, and over again.

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