Leaning over to wedge the platter between two cookie sheets in the dishwasher, Lily caught a slight movement in her peripheral vision, at the same time she again felt that odd trembling vibration from earlier in the evening.
Slowly looking over her shoulder, she stiffened in shock to see a large, disheveled man standing at the threshold, one hand holding the swinging door open, the other gripping the strap of a battered leather messenger bag where it crossed over his chest. The ambient glow from the street lights shining through the beveled glass of the front doors, outlined his tall, muscular body in a surreal aura of splintered rainbows against the shadows at his back.
She straightened and turned to face him. They stared at each other across the kitchen as bizarre, inexplicable thoughts tumbled through Lily’s mind: how tired he looked; how much she wanted to run her fingers through the long, tangled strands of his dark hair; why did his green eyes darken with an emotion she couldn’t read as his gaze swept over her face, down her body? He was angry about something too, jaw flexing as he ground his teeth. Since she didn't believe in coincidence, the odds that two strange men—Dominic and this one—would both arrive at her bookstore in the same week, on the same night, clearly pointed to a connection of some kind.
Strangely, Lily felt no fear of him, and in fact still harbored more misgivings about Dominic then the man scowling at her from the doorway. What was scaring her, making her tremble as she fought the impulse, was the overwhelming, irrational urge to leap into his arms. If he’d give her an opening, any opening at all, she would throw herself at him.
Narrowing her eyes, she scrutinized him, from the tips of his scuffed boots to the wild, unruly hair that kissed his shoulders, then she studied his face. They had never met and yet…there’s a place inside me that knows him.
Daniel took in the long, straight black hair, the dramatic makeup and clothes. She was tall, with fine features, full lips and large, warm brown eyes, and unusual golden-red eyebrows. He blinked, his confused sense of her changing in an instant as he realized she was wearing a wig as part of her Halloween witch persona. Distracted by the image of what she might look like without the costume, he had to shake his head to clear it, then couldn't stop staring at the woman he knew so intimately; this woman who was so entrenched in his life, and would be again, though she didn't yet know it. If she ever forgives me. And there it was, the reality bite in the ass he needed to get focused.
His voice, low and rough, sent a slight shiver down her spine as he growled, “Your instincts are right not to trust that bastard.” Stepping closer, but not leaving the relative safety of the doorway, Daniel sucked in a breath then said quickly, “This is going to sound so outrageous and crazy, I won’t be surprised if you think I’m mental.” He glanced toward the back door. “Cantrell can't know I'm here. My life—and yours—are at stake, and possibly that of your friend as well.”
At the widening of her eyes, the alarm that crossed her face, he muttered under his breath, “Not the best way to inspire confidence, you ass.” One more step into the room, at the limit of holding the door open, Daniel dropped his voice, his eyes again darting to the back door. Urgently, he said, "Please, please give me a change to explain. Please trust me long enough to talk to you, because I swear, cross my heart and hope to die—though I sincerely hope it doesn’t come to that—I’m here to protect you.”
Lily opened her mouth to ask him why she needed protection, and from a total stranger, when both their heads swung toward the back door as they heard muffled voices coming toward the house, Katy’s giggle underscored by a deep chuckle from Dominic. The door knob began to turn, then abruptly stopped. In the silent kitchen, the soft groans clearly explained what was happening on the other side of the door.
Somewhere deep in her mind warning bells were clanging, but Lily ignored them. Without hesitation, out of character and completely reckless, she yanked a ring of keys out of the pocket of her skirt and tossed them in his direction. “Up the stairs to the third floor,” she whispered. Another breathless murmur from outside caught her attention, but when her head snapped back to warn the man to hurry, he was already gone.
Dominic and Katy rushed into the room, a cold blast of October air swirling in behind them. Bemused, Lily wondered if she had conjured the mysterious man, imagined the intensity in his manner and words. She turned from the laughing couple and caught the almost imperceptible swing of the kitchen door as it settled into place, and knew with a bone-deep certainty that everything in her life was about to change.