Authors: Jan Harman
Tags: #Science Fiction & Fantasy, #Fantasy, #Coming of Age, #New Adult & College, #Paranormal & Urban, #Teen & Young Adult, #Romance, #Paranormal & Fantasy
Is that the best excuse you can come up with?”
Hattie turned to
look up at me and winked. I felt my stomach unclench. It would’ve been awful if
whoever this was had lost his job because of me.
“It seems Trent Cassidy’s
truck slipped into gear and almost clipped his dad’s car.”
The corners of
Hattie’s mouth turned up and her deep blue eyes danced, obviously enjoying the
idea of Trent’s problem. Maybe his father owed her some hours too. Who knows,
maybe she’d hang a few hours over my head every summer I came back to visit
until I graduated from college.
The face that
went with the tight jeans had to be incredible, I decided, when startling
crystal-blue eyes reflected briefly in tiny mirrors dangling from one of Hattie’s
more bizarre pieces. How could it not be with that deep, melt in your mouth
drawl? I caught a glimpse of white-blond hair before he bent down to set the
cartons on the floor. When he straightened, my mouth went dry. This was the
same guy from the wake. Now that I had a toe out of my numb world I could fully
appreciate his features, straight out of
or off the runways of
Europe. I wondered if he knew just how gorgeous he
Even with heels I wouldn’t come up to his broad shoulders and my height was
considered average. Great biceps, I admired, taking advantage of the fact that
he hadn’t noticed me yet. I was wrong. His hair wasn’t entirely white blond. A
streak of pale, yellow blond swept across his forehead, angling down to just
above the ears where it blended with straight white hair worn slightly longer
in the back.
He turned to
face me fully. Forget
with his square jaw, chiseled cheek bones, full
red mouth, lashes to die for, and mesmerizing eyes this guy was straight out of
a girl’s imagination for Prince Charming combined with a woman’s idea of the
sexiest man in Hollywood. This guy exuded masculinity out of every saturated
pore. He raised a golden eyebrow in my direction as he shoved his way through
the narrow aisle. I forgot my own name.
Hattie was unaffected by him. Based on a rough guess of his age, I figured he
must’ve recently graduated from college and owed her hours. She poked him in
the arm with the end of a wire and said, “Where’s your manners, boy. You don’t
stare at a lady like she’s on the auction block.”
“Now see what
you’ve done?” Hattie poked him again. “This here’s Olivia Pepperdine, niece of
my friend Claire, looking for a job. So you dig out your best manners.”
Shade lifted his
hand and tipped an imaginary hat.
“Nice to meet you, Miss
Both of us kept
staring. I knew why I was, although I couldn’t see why he’d bother. If only
he’d turn those mesmerizing eyes onto something else, then I’d be able to think
coherently and maybe suck some air into my lungs.
about to tell me if she could stay this afternoon when you came clumping in
here,” Hattie said, scowling up at Shade. But when she spoke to me, she sounded
amused. “Have you made up your mind, dear?”
“I think my ride
home is having problems with his truck.”
so hard that tears ran down her cheeks. I couldn’t see what was so amusing.
Maybe it was another local thing because the two of them exchanged a quick,
amused look that sent her over the edge again.
“I’ll give you a
ride,” Shade offered, the words pouring out of his mouth like maple syrup, slow
and easy with a hint of sweetness.
I pitied the
girls in this town should Shade use that voice of his in combination with those
incredible eyes. A girl could get burned if she stood to close. Heck, I was
melting, and he wasn’t even interested. I wet my lips and finally managed to
“If it wouldn’t be out of your way?”
Shade, you clear the heavier pieces out of the window while Olivia and I decide
which of my autumn pieces would look best,” Hattie ordered.
“First, we get
you situated in your chair. Remember, what Dr. Long said about you taking it
easy,” Shade reminded her as he carried a straight back chair up front.
fainting spell and suddenly everyone treats you like you’ve got one foot in the
grave. How am I supposed to organize everything from here?” she complained
after she sat down on the chair Shade had placed out of the way, near the front
door of the shop.
“You’ve got a
clear view of the entire bay window,” Shade answered, turning to survey the
eleven by four foot space. “This should help you direct, Madam Director.” He
handed her a broom and tipped his imaginary hat. When he turned, she poked him
with the end of the broom.
They had a special
relationship. If I could get used to working next to Prince Charming, I might
like working in this quirky little shop.
What was left of
the afternoon flew by in a flurry of activity. Where Hattie the artist was as
quirky and free spirited as her creations, the small business owner obsessed
over every detail. She took pleasure in jabbing Shade with the handle of the
broom when they started arguing, which seemed to be every few minutes.
By the time we
were almost done, I was feeling brave enough to stir things up a bit. Hattie
seemed particularly pleased when we ganged up on Shade, while he continued to
be overly polite just as he had been since we’d set to work. Every time I’d
turned to pick something up, he was there grabbing it a second ahead of me. I
was all for lending a hand when needed, but his hovering was seriously messing
with my calm. Since this was my first day on the job, admitting that helping
Hattie made me feel capable again was so not a good idea.
“I can manage,”
I repeated. Naturally, he picked up the vase full of dragonfly lawn stakes and
set off to put it in the storage room. Hattie scowled at his retreating back.
She’d been pointing at an elaborate spiral mobile that she’d been trying to get
him to hang for the last fifteen minutes. She rapped the floor with the broom
handle until I looked. Then she pointed from the mobile to the hook in the
After all he’d
it was time to return the favor. I bent
over and grabbed the metal ring. Bits of metal, wire, and copper pipes were
heavier than they looked. The bottom half dragged on the floor clanking and
rattling. I dropped my crutch and scooped up the stepladder with my free hand.
As long as I kept one hand on the ladder at all times, I could do this.
not-so-well-thought-out plan fell apart when the fat ring of the mobile refused
to fit through the narrow opening of the hook that I could barely reach. My
hand started shaking almost as much as my left leg. It got worse. To reach, I
had to climb another step. A bead of sweat formed on my upper lip. I tried not
to think about the rickety stepladder or the hard floor.
“What do you
think you’re doing?” Shade yelled, sounding alarmed.
Hands grabbed me
around the waist and scooped me off the ladder. The mobile clattered to the
floor in a tangled heap.
I was set down
hard on my rear next to my crutch. A curious mixture of expressions from alarm,
to anger, to pity flowed across Shade’s features.
“Of all the
You’re lucky you didn’t topple over.”
The tips of my ears
burned. I didn’t need his pity or him telling me what I could do. With my hands
on my hips, I retorted, “I could’ve done it. The ring was too thick for the
A brow arched.
He spun about and scooped up the ring, easily holding the mobile clear of the
ground. Next, he climbed only the first two steps, and with a pointed glance
over his shoulder at me, slipped the ring onto the hook.
I shrugged my
shoulders. “It was heavier than I expected. Plus, I’m height challenged
compared to you.”
funny,” Shade said, raising his voice to her. “You know perfectly well that I
gave you that broom to direct my work. Olivia’s trying to make a good first
impression. What’s your excuse?”
“Don’t yell at
Hattie. It was my decision.” He rolled his eyes, expressing his opinion of my
reasoning skills. With a dramatic toss of my hair—mainly it was to get it out
of my eyes—I grabbed my crutch, intending to get back to work and ignore Shade
for the remaining minutes. Stiff and sore from all the bending and twisting,
not to mention ladder climbing, my leg protested further abuse. Muscles
clenched and my knee needed to be coaxed into moving. I crunched into a ball,
trying to breathe through the sudden, shooting pain.
slid under my legs and behind my back. “I’ve got you, Little One,” a voice like
velvet said in my ear.
I meant to
complain about the mode of address, but the full impact of Shade’s shattering,
crystal eyes hit me, and I forgot to be upset. Breathing became optional. He
deposited me on the work table, paused, and then confiscated my crutch.
“Hey!” I said.
“You’ll get this
back when it’s closing time.” He looked at the clock over the door. “Ten
minutes. Think you can sit still for that long?” Not waiting for my answer, he
took off, whistling softly.
spotless truck with all the latest options, Shade’s old beater had a layer of
dried mud sprayed across the lower third of the hunter green F150 and a load of
split wood piled in the bed. He’d left it parked behind the shop just off a
narrow alley that cut the block in half.
“Here, let me
help you,” he offered, easily lifting me up onto the seat. Next, he tucked my
backpack down by my feet and neatly stowed my crutch on the back seat. “You
look beat. Sit back. Close your eyes. I’ll have you home in no time,” he said,
dropping his voice to a whisper.
The ride was
surprisingly peaceful, possibly the most calming moments I’d experienced since
arriving in Spring Valley. Shade expected nothing out of me, not even
conversation. Which was probably just as well, I wasn’t sure how to broach the
subject of his strange reaction towards me at the church. The last thing I
wanted was for him to think I was touched in the head when we were just
starting to become friends. Country music played softly in the background. I
drifted off to sleep at about the same time the dusty, hard-driven truck left
A light pressure
across my neck bothered me. I stirred in my sleep and tried to roll onto my
side. The space was cramped. My legs couldn’t move, and my body was curled at
an uncomfortable angle for my bed. Not a bed, my sleep-gripped mind realized,
supplying a horrific image. Out of nowhere the quiet struck unleashing nameless
fears that plunged me straight past panic into paralyzing terror. I dreamed of:
metal squealing, gravel crunching, glass shattering, blood dripping, and
closed. I fumbled with the seatbelt, tugging frantically, but it wouldn’t come
free. A scream burbled forth.
safe,” Shade reassured as he climbed into the driver’s seat.
I buried my face
in warm flannel that I soaked with my tears. Gentle hands stroked my back,
waiting patiently until my trembling stopped.
“I’m sorry. I
your front door. You looked so
peaceful. I was going to carry you inside.”
I couldn’t seem
to find my voice, so I settled for groping behind me for the handle to my door.
Warm hands closed about mine.
“I’ve got to
start dinner. My aunt will be home soon,” I said, rushing the words. A cold
sweat broke out all over my body. I had to get out of the truck. The feeling
that came over me was more powerful than that. But I didn’t know how to put it
into words. I scrambled back across my seat. His fingers grazed my shoulder. I
shoved open the door, putting all my weight into it, forgetting in my panic
that I didn’t have my crutch and the truck was higher off the ground than a
car. I started to fall. He was there, his arms supporting me.
“I’ve got you,”
he reassured, tucking me securely against his broad chest. With one arm around
my waist, he reached inside, grabbed my backpack and slung it over his
shoulder. Just as easily he fished my crutch out of the back seat.
Like an idiot, I
blinked up at him as he helped me inside. No matter how many times I ran the
scene through my head, I couldn’t figure out how he’d gotten to me so quickly.
Finally, I rationalized the situation. The explanation made sense although I
didn’t like the image it painted in my head of awkward me. In my panicked
state, I’d only imagined my lumbering body moving quickly and easily. I turned
my face into his shirt before he could read the confusion in my eyes. One of us
questioning my sanity was enough.
“What’s on the
dinner menu?” he asked, as though depositing a panic-stricken girl on a kitchen
chair was an everyday event. He opened the refrigerator door and pulled out the
chicken pot pie. “This looks good,” he said in an easy conversational tone,
when all I could manage was to follow his movements with my eyes. He moved on
to the oven, set the temperature, and slid the pot pie onto a rack. “What time
is your aunt due home?”
minutes,” I whispered.
tipped my head up. “You’re going to scare your aunt if she comes in and sees you
like this.” He headed back to the refrigerator and dug out the orange juice. “I
want you to drink all of this,” he announced, before he set the tall glass in
front of me.
“All of it.” He
pushed it closer and threatened. “I could hold it to your lips.”
“I don’t like
you. You’re bossy.”
I returned his
glare. In the end he won because I couldn’t let my aunt find me in this state.
We’d spend another evening discussing my coping skills.