I was heading up to the tenth floor of the building, to check out the target’s apartment. But there was a coffee shop on the ground floor and I figured I should get some coffee as a prop. The first rule of a job like this is: wear a suit, because no one stops a guy in a suit. But a guy in a suit carrying a cup of coffee from the coffee shop downstairs? People will actually hold the door open for you.
The place had big plate glass windows that were running with October rain, turning the street outside into a rippled gray blur. Inside, it was all warm golden light and polished beech wood. I shook off my coat and stood there for a second, soaking up the music and the heady tang of coffee.
I bought a black Americano, pure and uncomplicated, the way things should be. And I was just burning my lips on it when I turned around and almost ran into her.
I didn’t know it then, but nothing would ever be the same again.
I didn’t really want to take a break but I’d been at my screen for ten hours and the other two—Lilywhite and Yolanda—were starting to chant in the chat window: TAKE A BREAK, TAKE A BREAK and refusing to talk to me until I did. So I grudgingly went downstairs to get a coffee.
The coffee shop had become an extension of home, so I didn’t bother to change. I knew it would be warm down there so I just put on some sneakers and went down in the leggings and tank top I had on. Hell, I debated whether to bother with the sneakers. I knew I probably looked a mess, but no one was going to see me and, if they did, they weren’t going to notice me.
I headed towards the counter. A big guy in a raincoat was ahead of me in the line, so I twisted and looked out of the windows while I waited. A gray world—even the yellow New York cabs looked muted and cold. Who in their right mind would want to go out in that? Besides, I was crazy busy and it would be dark soon—
My stomach lurched at the realization. Another day gone. It was now forty-two days since I’d left the building.
I was getting worse.
It’s fair to say I was distracted. I heard the big guy move, in front of me, and just assumed that he’d move to the left, towards the little rack of milk and sugar and wooden stirrers. It was only when I took a step forward that I found he’d just turned around, and now we were practically touching.
I looked up.
My first impression was one of hardness. Everything about him was brutal, but not brutal and ugly. Brutal and beautiful. His suit was so black and its creases so sharp that it looked as if it would hurt, if you ran your hand down it. His gray raincoat glistened like a wet sword blade. The sheer size of him—a head taller than me and heavily muscled—made me think of some military machine, all power and strength. He looked as if he could go through a brick wall.
His shirt may have been white and pure, but it only worked to contrast the danger underneath. A powerful chest swelled under the soft fabric, pushing it out, drawing my eyes to follow the hard lines of him all the way to his shoulders. The collar almost hid his tattoos—I could see the very edge of them, a hair-width line of blue-black on his tan skin. There was no way to know what they were. But the very fact they were designed to be hidden meant they must be some sort of code, only to be revealed to the right people. I wanted to be one of those people.
He was gorgeous...but in a way I’d never seen before. His face was utterly uncompromising, as if a sculptor had carved it from ice-cold granite, filing away rock to form the high cheekbones, chiseling out that solid jaw. The fact he was still wet from the rain only added to the effect. It was like watching raindrops slide down a rugged cliff face, chasing each other over the valley of his upper lip, sliding down over the swell of his full lower lip—the one part of him that looked soft—and breaking up as they hit his darkly-stubbled jaw. He was thunderstorm-beautiful.
I heard coffee hit the ground and realized he’d spilled it towards himself, rather than spill it down my front. I looked down at his shoes, now steaming and wet. Then I looked back up and—
This time our eyes met and I felt a wrench. Like something had caught hold of my soul as it flitted along in life and brought it to an immediate, shuddering stop.
His eyes were steel-gray, shockingly light. I’ve never seen eyes like them, bright and clear but completely without warmth. Eyes that decided your fate in a millisecond. They had such an utter sense of purpose that they made everyone else look as if they were sleepwalking. Being under his gaze was scary as all hell. If I could have remembered how to move, I would have taken a step back. They were eyes that made you run.