The Heart of Christmas(2)

By: Brenda Novak



He’d make a nice subject for a painter, she mused, someone looking for refined masculine beauty—a man who could even be called elegant.

But not everything about him was elegant. When she looked closer, she could see that he had some very unusual scars....

What types of injuries could’ve caused those? she wondered. It seemed to her that he’d been shot, and more than once. Several round, bullet-size marks dotted his chest. Then there was a long, jagged scar on his side that must’ve come from something else....

Out of nowhere—he didn’t open his eyes first, so she had no warning—he grabbed her wrists in a crushing grip and slammed her onto her back.

Eve gasped as she stared up at him. Gone was the image of an angel, fallen or otherwise. Shocked at being so easily and unexpectedly overpowered, she couldn’t even scream. His fierce expression, as if he was intent on causing her bodily harm, made it worse.

Had she brought home a homicidal maniac? Was he about to kill her?

The terror that surged up must’ve shown on her face because he suddenly came to his senses. He gave his head a shake. His expression cleared and, letting go, he eased off her and slid back onto his side of the bed.

“Sorry about that. I thought...” His words trailed off, and he covered his eyes with one arm as if he needed a moment to pull himself together.

Her heart was now pounding in unison with her head. But once she could speak somewhat normally, she prompted him to finish his sentence. “Thought what?”

His lips turned down. “Never mind. I was dreaming.”

She pressed a hand to her chest as though she could slow her galloping pulse. “It couldn’t have been a pleasant dream.”

“They never are,” he muttered.

He dropped his arm and looked over at her, and—intriguing as that statement was—she was too concerned about her nudity to pursue more of an explanation. She drew up the blankets, but he didn’t seem interested in ogling her. His gaze circled the room, taking in the gauzy fabric that wound around the top of her canopy bed, the Christmas gifts she’d already wrapped and stacked in the corner, the many photographs of friends and family scattered across her dresser and the plantation shutters she’d recently had installed. He seemed to be taking stock of everything, weighing it, evaluating it—especially the closet and the door leading into the hall—as if he might encounter some threat.

“Where am I?” His voice, although more commanding than before, hadn’t quite lost the rasp that came from having just awakened.

“Whiskey Creek.”

He held three fingers to his forehead. She guessed he had a headache, too, although, suddenly, she could scarcely feel hers, thanks to that recent burst of adrenaline.

“I can remember the town,” he said wryly. “It’s not like I think I’m in China.”

Fortunately, he sounded as normal as he looked. “Really? Whiskey Creek is where you’re supposed to be? Because I’ve lived here my whole my life, and I don’t ever remember seeing you.”

“You say that like you know everyone.”

“I do. Or just about.”

As he proceeded to rub his face, she wished he’d cover up. The bedding had fallen away when he rolled on top of her. She could see far more of him than she wanted to—at least now that she was sober. But he didn’t seem to notice or care about his state of undress.

“I’m new here,” he said.

“When did you move in?” she asked.

“I didn’t. I should’ve said I’m visiting.”

A lot of tourists came through. The quaint shops beyond the graveyard next door to her B and B catered to them, particularly in the summer. So an unfamiliar face in town, even in the first part of winter, wasn’t remarkable enough for anyone to make a fuss.

“Where are you staying?”

He hesitated. “I don’t remember the name of the place,” he muttered. He had to be at her competitor’s or one of the small inns or B and Bs out in the country. She hadn’t seen him at her place. “How long will you be in town?”

“A short time.”

His answers were clipped, terse and noticeably skimpy on the details. She might’ve asked what had brought him here. But he was being so evasive she didn’t see the point. Was he putting her on notice not to expect any follow-up to their night together?

Eve told herself she didn’t care that the first romantic encounter she’d had since her big mistake with Ted Dixon wasn’t shaping up to be any more promising than the false starts she’d experienced before. She just wanted to make sure that her “no way am I going to stay home and watch TV on my birthday” mutiny hadn’t left her with an STD. As soon as she felt reasonably assured that she hadn’t ruined her life, they could part ways—and she’d try to forget that she’d felt desperate enough to sleep with a stranger.

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