The opening scene from TAOAB

Sep 20, 2023 by Cheri Krueger, in Teasers and Snippets

Love is the ultimate outlaw. It just won’t adhere to any rules. The most any of us can do is sign on as its accomplice. ~ Tom Robbins 


Chapter One: Dangerous 

Adrienne knelt in her rose garden, gripping a shiny trowel in both hands high above her head. With a strangled samurai cry she stabbed the tool deep in her husband’s throat, expelling a low grunt as the metal bit and buried to the hilt. The soil was as reluctantly yielding as human flesh, the image bright in her brain. Vibrations from the tool sinking into the earth resonated in her fingers, in the bones and tendons, calling up a bloody memory that made her shudder and slam a mental door. Adrienne focused on her breathing, substituting visions of murder for a calming exercise some therapist from her past suggested: write down what you cannot change and throw it away. Let it go. She drew in the dirt:  

I want 

I need 

Sweeping her hand across the words, she scattered them into oblivion. What did she want or need? Not Dustin’s glib reply to her suggestion of a vacation. “A vacation from what?” His sneer echoed in her brain and kept her anger boiling, a reminder that her wants and needs are irrelevant. Adrienne loosened the trowel, dropped it to one side and yanked a feathery weed from the bed of mulch. The fragrance of damp earth layered with the velvet musk of the red roses was usually calming, but she couldn’t quiet her thoughts. Furious with Dustin, and impatient with herself for expecting anything else from him. Why be angry at a dog for behaving like a dog? 

Dustin had left for work hours before she woke up, and the crunch of footsteps on decomposed granite did not compel Adrienne to turn around; he amused himself by sneaking up on her and she played her part by acting surprised. He would apologize for the heated discussion (nothing so passionate as an argument) of the night before, not quite sure why he was apologizing, but feeling it was required—and life would go on as it had for years.  

A hand fell heavy on her shoulder; Adrienne turned with a ready false smile, expecting bland blue eyes but seeing pale green-gold hazel. She rose, stumbling on the knee pad.  

“Gabriel.” Her voice breathy with surprise.  

“Hello, Mrs. Berg.”  

“Please, call me Adrienne,” she said automatically. “Did you bring Dustin home?”  

“I dropped Dustin and his crew in Santa Barbara. They expect me to fly them home this afternoon.”  

Adrienne shaded her eyes and craned her neck to see his face. She had only met Gabriel once, at a cocktail party a few days before. He was out of context in her backyard. Surreal. Electrifying.  


The night they met, Adrienne was doing her practiced best to avoid conversation. Positioned at the fringe of a large group, she was close enough that no one felt obligated to rescue her, but far enough that she could feign interest without active participation. Eyes scanning the room, she paused on a man leaning in a shadowed doorway—a big man, broad-shouldered and tall. When her gaze landed on him, they locked eyes and a jolt shook her, as if she had touched her tongue to a lightning bolt. He had the clean-shaven jawline of a marble statue, a craggy nose that had been broken at least once, and a hint of curl in his black hair; light hazel eyes glowed in the olive of his skin. His mouth curled in a slow smile and Adrienne’s heart skipped a beat, butterflies took flight in her lower belly. She jerked her attention elsewhere.  

When she looked back, he was gone. She had time to feel simultaneous frissons of relief and disappointment before a presence loomed over her. Even before she turned, Adrienne knew it was that man. The man with the golden eyes. He radiated heat, his scent earthy, warm and spicy. Dark chocolate and peppercorns.  

“I know what you’re up to,” he murmured in a voice like rough silk.  

Her skin humming like a tuning fork, Adrienne half-turned and raised an eyebrow. “Am I so obvious?”  

“You look bored,” he said, with that lazy curl of a smile. His lips were nearly a parody of the perfect mouth, marred only by a purple scar in the divot of his top lip. “Let’s make up stories about these people.” 

“I know all their stories.” Adrienne took a sip of her drink. “They’re all boring.” She looked him up and down and turned back to her restless scan of the room. “Tell me your story.”  

“Nah, you’ll probably think I’m boring, too. You have that look.”  

“What look?” She narrowed eyes briefly before smoothing her face to social neutral.  

“Like you’re often bored.”  

A puff of amusement escaped her. “Things I find interesting are usually done alone.”  

“Please tell me what you do alone that is so interesting?” His smile was an eloquent smirk.  

“Reading, writing, painting, gardening.” Adrienne opened her mouth as if to add something and sipped her drink instead, avoiding his mischievous eyes. She was keenly aware that she attracted cattiness; there were people here who would waste no time gossiping about Dustin Berg’s wife flirting openly at the Marin Civic Center fundraiser. “Now you know everything about me,” she said. “Your turn, whoever you are.”  

“I’m Gabriel. Lawrence Fife’s chauffeur.” He shrugged. “See? Boring. And poor.”  

She flicked a glance at his perfectly tailored Armani suit. “Hello Gabriel, I’m Adrienne. Does Mr. Fife buy your clothes, you poor man?”  

He flashed a quick grin that showed strong white teeth and a crooked right incisor. “You know your labels.”  

“It’s part of my job.” She waved her glass in a brief salute to the room.  

Gabriel slipped his hand under hers and brought the martini glass to his mouth. Adrienne was too surprised to stop him. The contrast of his thick, dark fingers, hairy knuckled and calloused, against her thin, smooth white hand was provocative, elemental and raw as a Mapplethorpe photo or O’Keeffe painting. Shaken, she could not take her eyes from him. 

“Straight vodka?”  

Adrienne took a sip from the same spot where his lips touched. “It appears so.” She moved a step away; the heat of his body was overpowering, and she knew her cheeks were flushed. “What do you drive for Mr. Fife? Does he have any interesting cars or just boring old limousines?”  

“A Bentley, a limo and a Cessna.”  

“Ooh, you’re a pilot. That’s interesting.”  

“Not really, the chauffeur only sees the airports.” He cast a roving eye across the room before returning his heavy-lidded gaze to her.  

“You’ve probably met my husband, Dustin Berg.”  

“Yes, I know him.” Gabriel’s eyes shifted and he shot her a quick smile. “Sorry to throw you to the wolves but I have to go.” He slipped away before she could form a reply.  

Mystified, Adrienne scanned the vicinity to see Dustin headed her way with Lawrence Fife in tow. She had met Fife a few times and was not a fan; his smiles never reached his muddy eyes, and she couldn’t bring herself to call him Lawrence no matter how many times he insisted. She pasted on an appropriate smile, noting a number of baby sharks in Fife’s wake, and she was soon surrounded by cutthroat young men in designer suits.  

Dustin claimed his trophy with a possessive hand on the small of her back; Adrienne fluttered at his side, a canary in a gilded cage, pretty and pointless. The men talked in vague terms about an upcoming business trip and Gabriel’s name was mentioned. Dustin didn’t always share his schedule with her, and she didn’t really care where he went, but Adrienne actively avoided looking ignorant, so she didn’t ask where they were flying. She scanned the room with surreptitious glances over the top of her martini glass, but she never saw Gabriel again.  

Until now.  

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