Authors: Jan Harman
Tags: #Science Fiction & Fantasy, #Fantasy, #Coming of Age, #New Adult & College, #Paranormal & Urban, #Teen & Young Adult, #Romance, #Paranormal & Fantasy
could continue our conversation from the safety of your porch and its comfy
swing. Not that I’m complaining. I’m happy to be of service as your handy post
or whatever else you might require,” he said in his deep drawl straight out of
a classic western film.
Had I honestly
just thought that? He was angling us towards the porch.
The anonymity of the shadows was safer.
a beat, he turned just as abruptly as I, matching his long strides to my
awkward gait as we headed back up the drive. I had this insane image of us
snuggling close together. My crutch left behind on the porch, an unnecessary
support when I had his strong arms to make me feel feather light. Now whose ego
needed a reality check? Obviously I was still suffering from an overload of
stress hormones. Either that or I was turning into a silly heroine from an 18
Century romance novel. Get a grip. Focus on the ground. Forget his firm, strong
body, the soothing vibes, and his icy . . . I refused to allow myself to
consider the qualities of his disconcerting eyes. I had the unsettling feeling
that he could stare his way into my thoughts or my soul. My fingers brushed
against the soft nap of his shirt. He made flannel sexy.
“How about I
start?” he said, breaking the silence. “I’m sorry for intruding on your date. I
didn’t mean to overstep.”
“Yes, you did.”
attitudes bother me. Chalk it up to ancient history, a family thing.”
“Fine by me.
I like knowing where I stand. Trust
neither of us will lose any sleep over it. All I ask is
that you keep an open mind as things unfold.”
understanding the sudden tension in his voice, I squinted up at him, trying to
read his expression obscured by the shadows. “I don’t want to be caught in the
middle of something.”
Cassidy couldn’t resist showing off, so I checked out his favorite racing spot.
I didn’t think. After the other day in my truck, I felt responsible for you.”
“You’re not in
charge of my life.”
“I get that
here,” he said, tapping his forehead. “It’s just that you’re delicate.”
I turned aside,
grinding my crutch into the ground. Don’t cry until you close the door in his
movie-star, perfect face.
,” he said, shortening my name.
It was difficult
to ignore how beautiful my name sounded as it rolled off his tongue. While I
wavered between staying just to hear it again, he stepped forward, blocking my
path to the porch.
“Hang on, don’t
be mad.” He rubbed his temple. “I’m making a mess of this. I don’t mean you’re
“Great, so I’m
crazy. Thanks. That makes me feel empowered. Go home, Shade.”
that,” he said in a clipped tone.
I sighed. “You’re
not making sense.”
“Do you want an
Again with the
tension in his voice that made no sense. He’d taken several steps towards the
road. Sideways to me now he paused, staring straight ahead, trying to avoid
upsetting the broken girl. At least delicate had a gentler connotation than
“That’ll do,” he
said at long last under his breath, taking my silence for an answer.
for him to say something that made sense, I crossed my arms. “That was your cue
to fill the silence.”
twitched, but when he spoke his tone was serious. “The crutch is a constant
reminder of your current difficulties, an embarrassment, and even a symbol of
weakness. Once its purpose is done the tool will be discarded. The world will
think the frail girl beneath the surface is healed. They’ll be wrong because
your mind, like your winter coat, is stuffed full of insulation. This mental
buffer is just another crutch, one stitched out of your profound sadness. It
keeps the cold in. It allows you to go through your days stifling who you were
and who you were becoming under those bulky layers. You just do or say whatever
to get through the moment.”
I’d just broken my first date rule by staying in
the car because going along was easier and in the end nothing mattered. He just
didn’t know that yet. I checked the time on my watch and asked, “Should I be
expecting a bill in the morning?”
“You’re the one
who wanted to know why I stepped in. It’s not my fault if you don’t like what
you hear. Take my advice, rip out the insulation. Put your head up. Face your
“No oozing of
How refreshingly honest.”
I waved off his
advice and headed for the porch.
Two long strides
and he invaded my space. “Don’t you have any fight left in you?”
“I see, a couple
rides in your truck and now you’re an expert on me,” I retorted, my voice cool
and strong. I kept walking, forcing him to step to the side.
“A show of real
temper, finally. That’s an improvement over the tears and self-pity.”
I stared at the
ground, breathing hard, determined not to cry. “You’re mean. Go home.”
another insightful reply. When he remained silent, I looked up through my
lashes. The spot where he’d been standing was empty. I swung my head about. I
was alone. I stared up the drive, listening for the sound of an engine
starting. I waited ten minutes, unwilling to admit to my hope that he’d
suddenly reappear. I had no idea what I’d say if he did.
As it turned
out, I had an excellent excuse to avoid the football game. Our long awaited
moving truck arrived around mid-morning. I called Trent’s house and left a
message. Twenty minutes later, in the middle of maneuvering a box of my aunt’s
private papers into her closet, I heard tires roll to a stop on the gravel
drive. By the time I got to the window, Shade was assisting an older gentleman
out of a black sedan parked behind his dusty, green pick-up truck. Swell, like
today wasn’t hard enough, now I could look forward to more of Shade’s insights.
It would serve him right if I ignored him. Hard to do when your pulse sets out
Halfway down the
hall, I recalled the streak of dust from my chin to my right ear. I pulled up a
corner of my T-shirt and rubbed. Voices floated up the stairs, heading in the
direction of the kitchen. Aunt Claire had probably offered to make tea,
obligating me to speak with our guest. I collided with something solid at the
top of the landing and bounced back a step.
“We don’t have
time for a trip to the emergency room today,” an amused voice drawled.
Shade picked me up and whisked me to the side.
Two burly movers
angling my aunt’s king-sized, four-poster bed up the stairs and around the
corner squashed us against the far wall. One of the posts dug into Shade’s
back; he grunted.
we didn’t think anyone was up here. We could try backing up,” one of the movers
I squeezed into
the corner, trying to take up as little space as possible. “There’s room,” I
said, not sure how I felt about being this close to Shade or the sudden
decrease of oxygen. The movers twisted the frame further onto its side. Shade’s
lips pinched together.
eyes tightened and dropped to mine. I nodded and he slid forward another two
inches, flattening my back into the corner. With his forearms braced on the
wall on either side of my head, he curled his long muscular frame around my
“Am I hurting
you?” he demanded.
My damp palms
gripped my thighs and I could barely speak. “I’m a little squished.”
Biceps bulged. Wood
but he didn’t relinquish the room he’d made for us. Heat from his body seeped
into mine. The confined space filled with the scent of the forest, fresh and
earthy with a hint of pine. Lungs expanded deeper with each breath. Knots
loosened and muscles unclenched, freed from months of fears that crowded into
Men and bed
cleared the landing. Footsteps faded, leaving behind an awkward silence. Shade
pushed off the wall and asked, “Are you doing ok? It wasn’t too claustrophobic
“How did you
know?” I asked, not minding that he’d figured out this truth.
“Pinned inside a car in the dark for hours.
It wasn’t a
stretch to think you’d find tight places . . . uncomfortable.”
really.” It was then that I realized my
fallen out of my ears. No music. No voice. No tension eating at my stomach. So
this is what normal felt like. I’d forgotten. “What are you doing here?” I
trying for casual interest, knowing cruel reality
would crash over me any moment, knowing I’d have to pretend even harder for the
next few days, knowing he’d see through my charade.
He studied my
face, giving my chin a gentle squeeze. “Wide shoulders, remember? You can talk
to me about anything. Now as for why I’m here, the bed you’ve been using and
your aunt’s fold out cot and dresser belong to my family. I’m half of the
I thought of the older gentleman. Surely he
wasn’t up to moving furniture? It occurred to me that I hadn’t seen the driver
of the sedan exit the vehicle.
“My brother got
conscripted. I came upstairs to make sure you were out of the way.”
“I’m not a child
“Just a rather
slim, young woman who’d be sporting several bruises had you collided with that
I remembered his
groan. “Speaking of bruises, do you need some ice?”
His smile melted
my bones. A warm hand closed about my arm. “Let’s get you settled into the
cozy,” a voice very much like Shade’s said from the top step. “I can see the
attraction. She’s a pretty little thing.
Shame on you,
brother, for holding out.”
I was staring.
It was justified. Who would’ve thought a small community like this could
produce two such utterly gorgeous guys?
“You can call
this miscreant, Shadow. We’re twins,” Shade said.
Except for the
yellow blond hair styled to form spikes across the top of his head and warm
turquoise eyes instead of cool, crystal blue, Shadow was practically a mirror
image of his brother. I realized as soon as he stepped onto the landing that
Shade was the taller of the two, while Shadow was heavier built across the
chest, although he was by no means stocky. Where Shade had opted for jeans and
a simple gray, crew-neck shirt with the sleeves rolled up to the elbows, his
twin in his button down, cotton shirt and khakis looked overdressed for moving
“Now don’t go
giving Olivia the wrong idea. I’m a fine, upstanding member of the community,”
Shadow said, his tone neutral but his eyes took me in and seemed to harden.
I held out my
hand. “It’s nice to meet you. My aunt and I appreciate the loan of the beds.”
and crossed his arms in front of his chest.
“Just doing our
which, make yourself useful; start taking the bed apart. Come on, Olivia, I’ll
introduce you to my Grandpa Fern,” Shade said, holding his twin’s gaze as we
“Anxious to be
of service, exalted one,” Shadow muttered under his breath.
Shade started to
turn around. I gripped his arm as though to steady myself. His jaw worked, but
he guided me away. I waited out his mood until we were outside the kitchen
door. “You didn’t mention having a twin brother.”
“Guess it didn’t
come up. Technically we haven’t had that many conversations.”
siblings I might run into around town?”
“Kind of unusual
names,” I said when he put his hand on the door.
“Of course not.
I can’t begin to count the number of people
I’ve met around the world with the names Shade and Shadow.”
Olivia, is that sarcasm?”
“I get it.
You’re embarrassed to tell me how you got those nicknames. If I ask your
grandfather will he tell me tales of boyhood adventures gone amiss?”
expression dissolved. “Do not ask him anything.”
My smile froze
on my face. “Well, don’t let me hold you up. I’m perfectly capable of banal
social conversations.” I twisted free of his restraining arm and shoved the
swinging door open. As it swung shut in his perfect face, I thought I heard
laughter coming from the front door.
After my aunt’s
polite introduction, she removed herself to the farthest corner of the room
where she proceeded to rearrange the silverware drawer. Shade’s grandfather
grunted in the general direction of the door, and then turned to bore holes
into the back of my aunt’s head. Maybe Shade had given his grandfather the same
friendly chat. What did that make me, a social pariah? I plopped onto a chair
and poured myself a glass of lemonade so tart that it puckered my lips. Fifteen
minutes of weighted silence crept by while I swirled my glass, creating
intricate spirals on the butcher block table that resembled art projects I’d
made in kindergarten out of paint and marbles.
and I appreciate the use of the beds,” I said to fill the emptiness with
something other than the rhythmic tinkling of silverware being placed into the
eyes—that had an eerie way of catching the light so that the green rays looked
like they were bisecting the irises—reminded me too much of what I’d seen in
Shade’s eyes the other night. Speaking for the first time in a gravelly voice
that grated on my nerves, Shade’s Grandpa Fern said, “Pepperdine’s are
substantial souls of the earth. Hard to believe the line has come down to this
scrawny sample. So, girl, are you a product of your generation’s whims with no
regards for what’s truly important? Don’t worry; a satellite dish will hook
your computer back into your precious web.”
towards my aunt as though sheer willpower could get her to turn around and
finish what I’d interrupted. “Claire, you ought to have done right by your line
and fixed that mess you made of your life. Now we’re forced to make do with
Ethan’s surviving heir.”
slammed closed. I waited open-mouthed for my aunt’s response; certain that she
wouldn’t allow the callous statement to go unchallenged. Instead, she pulled
another box closer and studiously undid its flaps. I wanted to rip the box away
and scream at her to stop.
The thumping and
banging of my bed being disassembled drew his gaze to the ceiling. “Girl, be
careful with my grandsons,” he said, adopting an aggressive stance.
I recoiled, my
hands inching closer to my
. Uncertain how to
respond to this sour old man, I looked to my aunt for guidance. From where I
sat, I had a clear view of her profile with its mottled cheek and lips that
moved as she spoke under her breath. My fingers curled tight around my plastic
cup, buckling it on one side.
Pepperdine,” Shade’s Grandpa Fern snapped. My aunt flinched. “I said
things have gone on too long.”
squared and breathing heavily, she stepped away from the counter with her hands
on her hips and her eyes locked onto his, like they were combatants sizing up
their opponent. “I will honor her parents’ wishes for their daughter’s
happiness. Ethan felt strongly on this matter. This place can be hard and
Olivia has enough to deal with. You got your look. Now try to recall your
manners,” she announced her tone barely civil.
“That’s not good
enough.” He slammed a fist onto the kitchen table, jiggling the lemonade
pitcher against the napkin holder. “Heaven help us if she’s a weak-willed,
flighty little thing like you were at that age.”
I gasped. “Aunt
Claire’s not weak. She took care of everything after the accident.”
My aunt cocked
her head towards the door. “Olivia, I think it would be a good idea for you to
start some unpacking.”
Before I could
step away from the table, a hand shot out, grabbing my arm in a tight grip.
“She’s got some spunk at least. What else you got, girl?”
For an elderly
man, who looked like he could keel over any minute the way his skin seemed to
sag off his boney body, he had excellent reflexes and was stronger than I
expected. Even so, I was afraid to pull away in case I hurt him.
“Enough! This is
our home. I trust you to remember that,” Aunt Claire said in an angry voice
that made Shade’s grandfather raise an eyebrow and release my arm. She wrapped
a trembling arm about my shoulders and propelled me to the door. “Go!”
There was no
arguing with the firm look in her eyes. “Yes, ma’am,” I replied only too glad
to leave her to deal with Shade’s senile grandfather.
had been stacked on top of the dining room table. I scooped up one the movers
had labeled oriental vases and headed to the living room. I got as far as the
archway between the two rooms and stopped. My mother’s collection had no place
amongst the early turn-of-the-century period pieces, peeling hydrangea print
wallpaper, and natty drapes. I set the box back on the dining room table and
slit open a large carton filled with contemporary artwork that had graced our
foyer and living room. I shoved the box aside and slit open another. My hands
shook as I unwrapped more of my past that didn’t fit in this foreign
gate squeaked in protest to my hard shove. A light mist raised goose bumps on
arms as I struck out for the grove of trees
at the base of the hill. In my haste, I slipped on the damp, aspen leaves stuck
to the grassy slope. Back muscles clenched, reminding me that I’d forgotten to
do my exercises this morning. Water droplets plopped onto my head. I huddled
deeper under the aspen canopy, watching their golden leaves quake and remembering,
with a lump thickening in my throat, all those places I’d called home.
tapped against the side of the gazebo. I tried not to listen, tried not to be
snagged by those brief nanoseconds of quiet. Ever since the accident, I had
issues with—well too many things—in particular, repetitive sounds. They
reminded me of things dripping, like overturned cups, gasoline, and blood.
And something else.
Something in the dark—waiting in the
I broke out in a
cold sweat. My mouth went dry and a weight settled over my chest, a prelude to
coming unglued. It kept building. Afraid this time I couldn’t stop it, I stared
up at the manor, hugging my arms across my chest. Choose normal. Just turn and
look. See, it’s just a stupid branch. Ignore it. I clenched a fist against my
lips to keep the giggle inside. Go back to the house and take part in ordinary
conversations. Take a step.
grandfather was in the kitchen, no doubt tormenting my poor aunt. For some reason,
he’d formed a low opinion of me. No need to give him a legitimate excuse.
Movers were setting up my bedroom set meant for anyplace but here. I had
nowhere else private to go except the gazebo.