Tai Chi on the Beach, an excerpt (anyone want to win an ebook?)

Good morning!

This is one of my favorite sequences from Loving Luki Vasquez, (available at Dreamspinner) and I’m not sure if I’ve ever posted it as an excerpt before. Regardless, a big step in their rocky path toward loving each other, and in the book the jumping off point for some action. I hope you like it. I always welcome your comments!(I’ll be back this afternoon with an excerpt from Delsyn’s Blues, too.)

Oh yeah! I forgot, giving a book away in exchange for a comment here or an email to lou(dot)sylvre(at)gmail(dot)com. Names go in the hat for a random cat-chosen winner. Loving Luki Vasquez, Delsyn’s Blues, or Yes: A Vasquez and James Novella when it comes out this summer (winner’s choice).

RIVER sounds climbed the muddy bank where Luki stood shivering in moonlight so bright it glared, and he had to shield his eyes. He knew there were other kids in the water, though he couldn’t hear them, could barely make out the dark shapes of their heads, like shadows. He heard a call from a short distance off to his left, and when he turned his head, there was another shape. A boy, and something gleaming silver in the air.

Again he heard his name. “Luki, come on over here. I’ve got something for you.”

“Not again, no,” he whispered to himself.

“Yes,” Ronny said. “Again, and again, and again….”

Luki cried out, woke, and rolled instantly off the bed and onto his feet. Sweat soaked him, and the left side of his face burned as if newly slashed. Fear, then grief took their brief turns with him, each like a punch to his throat, cutting off his air. He hurried past them and embraced rage, stood in its white-hot flame until, for this time, it burned itself out.

He knew the drill, knew the dream, knew how to shake off its remaining shards.

Seconds after he woke, he gauged the light and estimated, morning. Which, he knew, demonstrated his brilliant powers of deduction. “Better than Sherlock Holmes.”

As an alternative to testing his detective skills, he looked at the clock. Eight thirty. Still early by his standards, but he never contemplated going back to bed. He stumbled into the bathroom to vomit—an old and bothersome reaction—not even trying to hold it back this time.

Thanks to his invisible housekeeper, who came every day in his absence, somehow always knowing when he‟d be gone, he had coffee ready to brew by the cup. He brushed his teeth so he could enjoy the taste and did just that. Two cups of black and sweet, into the shower, out again in no time. He put on his old and ragged clothes. Yes, he had some. He remembered Sonny’s blunt question. “Why the getup?” He almost smiled, almost wished the intriguing… frustrating and intriguing man could see him now.

Meanwhile, he got out three handguns of various sizes and capabilities, placed them in a case designed for just that purpose, and added ammunition. He kept his firearms, always, clean and in perfect condition. None of his weapons were intended for sport. Intimidation, protection, and defense constituted the mainstay of his profession and of his habits; a life, even his own, could depend on them. And honing all his skills, working them to stay in top form, fought off the dream and the havoc it would otherwise wreak. Guns and targets this morning, and then perhaps tai chi—which he considered the best and deadliest of his martial arts.

By the time he’d driven to the range outside of Port Angeles, reassured himself, and impressed his fellow shooters, the need for breakfast finally caught up, so he stopped at Front Street, a corner restaurant that served steak and eggs seasoned and cooked to perfection. On the way back to Port Clifton, he set his phone on speaker and delegated the day’s work to his various staff, using his fabulous office admin as a go-between.

“They won’t listen to me, boss. You know that.”

“Contrary, Jude. I know you put fear in their hearts every time you speak, and they wouldn’t dare go against you. Make my nefarious plans your orders, and they’ll get it done.”

“Are you coming back soon?”

“No.”

“That’s all I get, just no?”

“Yes.”

After an exasperated groan, Jude hung up. For the second time that day, Luki almost smiled. Which made him think maybe he should go back. Port Clifton was turning him soft.

FOOD digested, business taken care of, cigarette half-smoked, he decided to go straight down to the beach. He could have gone home. He had plenty of room in his condo, or on the balcony, for tai chi. He had a key to the top floor gym, a luxurious space that boasted a three-sixty view. But luxury had never seemed right for tai chi, and, Nebraska child that he was, saltwater still fascinated him.

Besides, this was the closest he’d ever come to a vacation. He might as well at least make a pretense of it.

He drove a little way past town to a stretch not lined by houses and not crowded with people—in fact, it looked deserted. Perfect. For the first part of his tai chi practice, he always worked carefully and slowly through forms; for the next part, he “fought” target posts of various sizes, each about two inches in diameter. In early days, the posts had been wrapped with padding and duct tape, but once he’d mastered the art, he left them bare. The “give” had to be in his own hands, his own stance, and that’s what imbued his blows with deadly force.

He took the targets out of the car, removed his shoes, and walked across the beach to the edge of the water, where the wet sand provided a perfect base. After he’d set his poles and taken a minute to perfect his state of mind, he began the first form, working thoughtfully, slowly, aware of every muscle, every move.

By the time he’d finished, the sun had risen almost midway. With heat and exertion, he’d broken into a profuse sweat. He turned his face into the breeze, let it riffle his curls, took his shirt off, and tossed it to hang on one of his targets.

A dot in the distance moving up the beach toward him. A person. Sonny, no flags in sight.

Crap.

Oh well, no problem. If there was anything he knew how to do, it was shut out emotional disturbance. He’d just continue with his practice, maybe work another form first, as if Sonny weren’t there. But with Sonny’s long legs, he covered a lot of distance in a short time, and now he’d come almost close enough for eye contact. My God, the man is beautiful.

“Hey,” Luki said.

“Hi.”

“Nice out, huh?” Oh, yeah. Great. Talk about the weather.

Sonny ignored the comment.

Thank you, universe.

“It‟s like dancing.”

The conversation seemed like some kind of mirror image of the last time they spoke, when Sonny was checking out colors, which certainly weren‟t all the same, or so Sonny informed him, leaving him to feel foolish. Nice thing was, now they were in his territory. But he had no taste for retaliation.

“It‟s been called that. Tai chi.”

“Oh. Yeah. I’ve heard of it. Sort of dancing that can kill. Seems exactly right.”

Luki didn’t know what he meant by that last remark, so he stayed silent.

“It’s graceful, the way you do it.”

Luki remained at a loss for a response. Was that a compliment?

“I‟ve even thought about trying to learn it. But I could never get away from my studio—or maybe I should say get my studio out of my head—long enough for anything like that.”

Luki still said nothing, but now he subtly eyed Sonny from head to toe—a pleasant undertaking but one with purpose. “You’re in good enough shape to do it well.”

“I suppose.”

Luki didn’t know how he could speak and hold his breath at the same time, but it felt that way. “I could teach you a little,” he said, “right now.”

To his surprise and nervous delight, Sonny agreed after only a second’s hesitation. Soon Luki had him barefoot and mastering a perfect opening stance. From there, he taught him some traditional warm-ups—not part of the forms but a good way to get the feel of the art. Though his long, loose limbs gave him some trouble and made Luki want to secretly and fondly laugh, and though Sonny giggled—yes, giggled—at a few of the early warm-ups, he attended well and learned fast.

They’d reached the last of the warm-up exercises: Pushing Chi. A little more complicated than the ones that came before, it took focused coordination. When Sonny could Push Chi with acceptable grace, Luki decided to introduce him to at least part of the Chen form: First, he revisited the simple but all-important Opening Movement. Then, Pound the Pestle, Lazy Tying Coat, and Six Sealing,
Four Closing.

Single Whip led into White Crane Spreads Its Wings, the name of which made Sonny adorably… all right fine, adorably happy. The sequence involved motions that at first felt counterintuitive. Like probably every student in the centuries tai chi had been around, Sonny needed help with it. As he would with any other student, Luki stood behind him, using his own hands to guide Sonny through the move. He wondered if he could get away with teaching him all the rest of the moves in just that way. Perhaps for hours. Every day. For a long time.

As he was teaching and wondering and probably even almost smiling, a wind rose up, splashing spray and sand and whipping Sonny’s long hair at Luki’s face and right into his mouth. On the word “open,” appropriately enough.

Sonny spun around, gathering up his luxurious baked-earth red hair. Before Luki had a chance to close his mouth, Sonny kissed him. A passionate, seeking sort of kiss. A kiss that Luki instinctively returned, though kissing wasn‟t a large part of his intimate life, and especially not kissing on the beach.

As suddenly as he started it, Sonny ended it, leaving Luki bereft… frustrated and bereft.

Sonny turned away, refusing eye contact. “I’m sorry,” he said. “I shouldn’t have done that.” Without any further explanation, he stepped away.

Luki knew fear, could spot it from afar and pick it out in a crowded room. Right now, it ran hot through Sonny’s veins. He reached for Sonny’s arm. “Sonny, what….” What are you afraid of? he ended the question silently. Sonny had already gone.

Luki hated roller coasters, both the mechanical ones and the emotional. In response to hating it, he relaxed completely, letting his tension be soaked up in the wet sand. Then he took that emotion out on his targets. Using tai chi fajin in a rapid-fire assault, he took every one of those posts down before they knew what hit them. Especially the last.

“You never even saw me leap, you stupid post.”

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