Devil Moon: A Mystic Romance
Welcome to the mystical town of Beaver Cove, Arkansas where country ghosts offer homey advice and the moon makes lovers of total strangers! Maddie Harris left Boston in humiliation. She hopes the job as assistant principal in a small Arkansas town will keep her too busy to notice the hole where her heart used to be. Phil Wilcox, divorced former NFL star, returns to his hometown as the new football coach. He hopes to repair the tattered relationship with his eleven-year-old daughter, despite his thorny ex-wife.
Set-up: After several acrimonious encounters, Maddie and Phil have their first friendly lunch date.
Mama Corleone's Italian Bistro smelled of garlic and rich marinara sauce. Classic checkered cloths covered the tables. Wax-dripped Chianti bottles held flickering candles. Snuggled next to each other in a far corner booth, Maddie and Phil dipped cheese bread in plates of olive oil and balsamic vinegar as they finished heaping plates of spaghetti.
"Fear of Flying, huh? Refresh my memory, what's that about?" Phil asked.
"It's a biography of Amelia Earhart," she said with a straight face and picked up her lemon water.
"Uh-huh." He leaned against the rounded vinyl seat back, spreading his arms and stared at her as if studying a puzzle.
Feeling warm under his gaze, the rigid Miss Madeleine attempted staring him down. "Mr. Wilcox–"
"Mister, oh, all right, Phil, I wish you wouldn't look at me like a bug under glass."
"I'm just trying to figure you out."
"I've told you before. There's nothing to figure out. I'm a very straightforward, controlled person. No still waters running deep here."
"That's where you're wrong." He leaned his muscular forearms on the table. "Sometimes you really bust loose. Like your little performance at the game the other night. And that kiss in the bleachers. I didn't notice much control going on, sweetheart."
Maddie wilted. Keeping her assistant principal starch could be such a strain. She covered her face with her hands. "There's something about you that brings out the worst in me. It's very embarrassing."
Phil leaned into her, slid her hands down, not letting go. "Maybe I bring out the best in you. I know being with you makes me feel good, real good. Not like the usual screw-up Phil Wilcox at all."
She squeezed his hands back. "You're not any kind of a screw up. I know you've had your ups and downs, but who hasn't? You've given up a lucrative career for a high school coaching job to be near your daughter. Do you realize how rare you are? And from the looks of it, you're shaping up into an excellent teacher and coach."
Releasing her hands, he said, "I'm a drunk who's paying for past sins." His lips thinned to a bitter line.
"Well, at least you're paying. Most people never take responsibility for their mistakes; they only go around blaming others for their problems. The more I'm around you, the more I see admirable qualities."
A grin tugged at Phil's lips. "Damn, Maddie, I think you've got a crush on me."
She flushed, flapped her mouth wordlessly and then found her voice. "Why do you do that?"
"Say things to deliberately embarrass me."
"Because I like to see the real you, the soft Maddie beneath the stiff-necked Bostonian pill."
"Well, I wish you'd cut it out."
"No you don't. You want out of that straight-jacket personality you've manufactured." He leaned in closer. "Who did that to you, babe? Turned you into a prickly, punctual, pain in the ass?"
Maddie stared straight ahead. She knew when she'd turned hard and sharp. After the humiliating Thomas Smithton affair, she'd carefully built a brick facade around her heart and this slob football jock was causing giant cracks in it. Fear kept her from letting the walls tumble, exposing her heart to fresh injuries.
Phil took her hand again. "Come on, give. You evidently know my background pretty good. Spill it. You didn't get to be thirty-something without picking up some scars along the way."
"I'm thirty-two and, yes, I did have one rather unfortunate experience."
She gulped a deep breath as Phil simply sat and waited, circling small caresses over her knuckles with his thumb.
"I was engaged a few years ago to a college professor, Thomas Smithton. He was older than I. Very cultured and witty–when he wanted to be. We met my first year teaching freshman composition. He was the head of the English department. I thought he hung the stars and the moon. I suppose that was my biggest attraction for him, my absolute adoration of him. The Woodbridge pedigree also went in my favor, along with the Harris money. My mother adored him. Dad tried to warn me he was a user. But I learned that lesson the hard way. Anyway, we had a lovely romance enjoying the best culture that Boston had to offer. He seemed to be a perfect fit in my polished world, all of which proved to be an illusion."
She told Phil everything. Told him of her naiveté, her subjugation to a misogynist lover and the final public humiliation that drove her to Beaver Cove. She recalled her dark days after the newspaper story broke revealing Thomas' immoral behavior and total lack of remorse. And something in the telling freed her.
The baggage of betrayal and disgust slipped off her back for the first time in over three years. Every time she looked back into the strong brown gaze of Phil's eyes she felt him releasing her from the burden. The monolith Thomas represented in her mind began shrinking to the true proportions his petty personality deserved.
After she finished her recitation, they sat side by side in the round booth for a moment and then Phil said, "Well, that guy is yesterday's news. He was a liar and cheat and you're well rid of him. He doesn't sound like your type at all, a lightweight who goes to the ballet and drinks wine."
"Oh really? And what is my type?"
He pulled her so close to him their thighs touched and his voice seduced her with whiskey tones. "You go for more beefy guys nowadays. Someone who's been around the block a few times and knows a good thing when he sees it. Someone who won't lie, cheat or let you forget you've got eyes as pretty blue as an Ozark sky. Someone who will never call you Madeleine, only Maddie, honey, sweetheart or babe."
Maddie said softly, "Don't forget 'cupcake.'"
A grin tugged Phil's lips. "You like that?"
"I shouldn't. It's condescending and politically incorrect."
"Come here, cupcake." He drew her into his arms and kissed her in front of the Mama Corleone's wait staff and God. His touch was soft, tender and perfect. Giving, not taking. Healing, not hurting. Her mouth opened to capture all his flavor. A spectrum of light burst behind her closed eyes breaking into a rainbow of blue, red, and violet through the dark spaces in her heart. Yes, this is what I've needed.