Authors: Jayne Ann Krentz
Like a moth to a flame...
From the moment Shannon
met Garth Sheridan she was inexplicably drawn to him. The dark, handsome stranger stirred something deep and primitive within her.
Garth seemed to sense the same almost mystical link, and together they embarked on a voyage of passion. But it wasn't all smooth sailing. Despite his strong feelings for her, Garth was reluctant to let her fully into his life. Shannon had to find out why.
SHE HAD WATCHED HIM from her kitchen window for three mornings in a row. The routine varied little. He came out of the back door of the nearby cottage wearing a dark windbreaker, the collar pulled up against the chill of the early morning summer fog, and headed for the pebbly beach. There he disappeared into the mist, a stark, somber figure of a man enveloped by an eerie atmosphere that somehow suited him.
stood at the window sipping her tea and wondered why she felt so oddly torn about introducing herself. It was a natural enough gesture to make. After all, he was a visitor here in this small community on
Then again, a lot of visitors came and went during the summer around here, drawn by the spectacular coastal scenery, the quaint Victorian architecture of the tiny towns and the array of art galleries. Shannon reminded herself that she certainly didn't make an effort to introduce herself to all of the tourists who passed through the area.
But this man was different, and it wasn't simply because he happened to be staying in the immediate vicinity. Last summer the cottage had been filled with two vacationing mothers and their noisy brood of children. Shannon had had very little difficulty keeping her association with that crowd to a minimum. She was reasonably friendly by nature but not the sort who felt compelled to seek out others for companionship.
Perhaps it was the artist in her that made her content to spend long periods of time alone with a sketch pad or laboring over her silk screen. And perhaps that was what she sensed in the strange man who seemed so at home in the fog. He, too, was probably an artist. Shannon considered that possibility and then shook her head. No, it was far more likely the man was a writer or a poet. Yes, she could easily imagine him as a poet. There was a harsh, austere quality about him that told her he had discovered life to be a battle in many ways. Poets and other impassioned writers often found themselves at war with the world. Out of that inner conflict, Shannon supposed, sprang the fierce energy needed to put words together to form intense images. Idly she wondered how many restless, raging poets or writers drove silver-and-black Porsches like the one parked in front of her neighbor's cottage. The man must have had some measure of worldly success with his writing.
Shannon sipped her tea and reflected on the subject. Whatever his craft, she was certain of her analysis of the dark, brooding spirit that animated him. It touched a chord in her, and she couldn't ignore it. Only a man with a great capacity for passion would have to go through life with such a tight leash on himself.
With sudden decision Shannon set down her mug of tea and walked to the hall closet to pull out her plum-colored quilted jacket. It would be warm later on when the fog burned off and summer returned for a few hours, but this morning there was a distinct chill in the air.
The screen door slammed shut behind her as Shannon stepped out onto the back porch of her small, rustic cottage. For a moment she hesitated, inhaling the scent of the thick ocean air with absentminded pleasure. She had lived here for two years now, but she never ceased to enjoy the tangy smell of the sea. There was a raw, primeval richness to it that made her feel gloriously alive. Shoving her hands deep into the pockets of the jacket, she started down the short bluff to the beach. It was an easy descent in the daytime, and she didn't pause as the fog closed around her. Shannon knew where she was going. She had found her way down the short incline almost every day for two years. She thought she could probably do it in the dark now.
When she reached the rough beach she stopped, trying to decide in which direction her neighbor would have gone. The fog had reduced visibility to a matter of a few feet. The surf crashed a short distance away, sending lacy, curling tendrils to lap at her shoes. Shannon stepped back a few paces to avoid splashing her jeans. Then, on a whim, she turned to the left and started striding briskly along the water's edge.
She told herself she would handle this casually. After all, the beach was hers to use, too. She would be friendly and polite and see what happened at that point. Shannon was so busy deciding exactly how she would handle the introduction that she didn't even notice her quarry until he suddenly loomed up out of the fog. She nearly collided with him.
"Oh, excuse me, I'm sorry," she said quickly, reeling awkward now that the moment was upon her. This wasn't quite how she had planned the initial encounter. Hastily she recovered her balance and stood looking up at him. It was definitely a case of looking up. Shannon was a hairbreadth under five foot five, and as she lifted her eyes to his, she decided the stranger must have been close to six feet in height.
There was a certain sense of massiveness about him, although he was clearly built along lean, hard-edged lines. Her artistic eye automatically registered the overall impact of the dark, remote aloneness that seemed to radiate from him. The somber quality was reinforced physically by the near blackness of his hair, the ice-gray eyes and the roughly hewn angles of his face. Shannon did not find conventionally handsome men attractive. There was a shallow, uninteresting flatness about them that she had discovered was often accompanied by an equally shallow and uninteresting personality. The creative element in her instinctively responded to the more complex and the less easily defined, both in physical characteristics and in emotional makeup. At this moment everything in her was reacting with fierce awareness to the somber stranger.
"My name is Shannon
," she finally said when he made no reply to her awkward apology. "I'm your neighbor. Are you going to be staying long in the area?" She smiled, reaching up to push a curve of breeze-tossed hair out of her eyes.
"I'll be here for a while."
She nodded, accepting the ambiguity of his answer while she absorbed the deep, rough-textured sound of his voice. Its resonance made her want to reach for a sketch pad to see if she could find a visual representation of the dark textures. Already she could imagine an elaborately worked initial in the Carolingian style, classic and strong in overall proportion, but with intricate and complex details decorating the whole. The sort of image that compelled the viewer to keep studying it, every glance detecting a new element.
"I live here," she offered. When there was no immediate response, she added, "I walk down here most days. I hope you don't mind if I join you."
"Do I have any choice?"
She blinked, a little taken aback by the rudeness in spite of herself. "Well, I suppose I could go back to my place and wait until you're finished. Or we could walk in opposite directions."
He tilted his head slightly as if distantly amused by the touch of asperity in her voice. Then he shrugged and rammed his large hands back into the pockets of the windbreaker. "Suit yourself. I was just going to walk to the point and back."
"That's what I usually do." Shannon felt more confident now as she fell into step beside him. She had to move quickly in order to match his pace. He had a long, powerful stride, one that was curiously fluid in a purely masculine sense. She tried another smile on him, watching for some sign of response in his hard face.
There was no reaction to her smile as far as Shannon could tell, but after a long, thoughtful moment he said, "My name is Sheridan. Garth Sheridan."
Feeling as though she'd just gained a tremendous victory, Shannon nodded and launched into an innocuous discussion of the weather along the Mendocino coast in summer.
"We're famous for this fog, but the afternoons are usually quite pleasant. Most of us who live here like the fog, of course."
She was surprised by the flat question. She had always assumed the appeal of the fog was obvious. "Oh, I suppose because it's good for the artistic temperament," she said with a small laugh. "A lot of people who live around here are artists and writers."
"Which are you?"
"Sort of an artist," she admitted whimsically.
"Sort of an artist?"
"Some people might call me more of an illustrator. Or a designer. I design my own line of silk-screened greeting cards. I'm also experimenting with some silk-screen designs for tote bags and T-shirts. That sort of thing." She grinned suddenly and opened the front of her jacket to show him the coral-colored sweatshirt she was wearing underneath.
He stopped for a moment to stare down at the intricately worked design on the front of the shirt. It was a modern interpretation of the first character of an illuminated medieval manuscript. Shannon had chosen the letter S and embellished it with a wealth of fanciful flowers and birds. The colors were rich and strong, ranging from gold and red to an intense royal blue. Garth Sheridan studied the sweatshirt for a while and then asked blandly, "Is there much of a market for your work?"
Not everyone liked decorated sweatshirts, Shannon reminded herself as she closed the jacket. Still, for some reason she felt a vague disappointment. She had hoped he might like the design. It was one of her best. "Well, the greeting cards are starting to do all right, at least locally. A lot of shops in the area carry them, and the tourists seem to like them. I've only done a handful of the T-shirts and sweatshirts so far, but they sold out, so I'm hoping for a fairly good summer. I'm excited about my new line of tote bags. How about you?"
He resumed his ground-eating stride. "I haven't yet seen any of your tote bags."
Shannon pursed her lips. "I didn't mean that."
He hesitated. "I know." But there was no apology. He simply said, "I'm hoping for a fairly good summer, too."
She nodded. He was probably working on a book. "Are you going to spend the whole season here?"
"Unfortunately I can't do that."
"Ah," she said with a knowing smile. "Still trying to hold down a job while you wait for your big break?"
His mouth kicked up wryly at the corner. It was the first hint of a smile Shannon had yet seen, and it disappeared almost immediately.
"Yes, I'm still trying to hold down a job."
"It's tough trying to work a regular job and still find the time and energy you need for your art. I finally decided to take a chance a couple of years ago when my cards started selling on a fairly regular basis."
"What were you doing before you quit your job to become a card designer?"
Shannon's brows came together for an instant as she tried to determine whether there had been an underlying note of mockery in his question. Then she decided she was jumping to conclusions. "A little of this and a little of that. The usual things struggling artists and craftspeople do to make enough to pay the rent and buy supplies. I waited tables for a while, worked part-time in a library, did a stint in a department store-" She broke off and chuckled. "That didn't last long. I was only there for three days."
"What happened? Couldn't hack the regular hours?" Now she was almost certain there was a hint of disapproval in his voice. "Not exactly. I flunked cash register training."
Garth's head came around abruptly. There was an incredulous expression on his face. "You what?"
Shannon waved one hand airily. "I flunked the training session that was supposed to teach the new employees how to handle the computerized cash registers. It was very humiliating. I mean, there I was with a college degree..."
"In fine arts, I presume."
"Uh, yes. At any rate, there I was surrounded by my fellow employees, many of whom hadn't gone any further than high school, and I just couldn't get the hang of handling all those little numbers. It's very complicated, you know. There are charge-card sales and refunds and exchanges and cash sales, not to mention inventory-control numbers and employee codes. And you have to be so precise. It must have been hard enough in the old days, but now with those computers all the big department stores have, it takes a mathematical genius to work as a salesclerk."
"A mathematical genius or a high school graduate," Garth said dryly.
Shannon sighed. "Yes, well, anyway, I flunked. But I managed to find work fairly routinely until I felt I was at a point where I could take the risk of going out on my own with the cards. It just takes perseverance. One of these days you'll reach the stage where you'll feel you can quit your regular job and devote yourself to what you really want to do."