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Steady as the Snow Falls(13)

By:Lindy Zart

"You know I'm here."

Her cheeks went unnaturally warm, and she didn't want to analyze what it  meant. "Besides me." Oh, come on, Beth, let's analyze. You feel  special. Handpicked. Beth stared at the white ground so she couldn't  look at him. How easy her mind shifted as she spent more time with  Harrison.

"I shop out of town. I see a doctor out of town. My mail does not have  my given name on it. My parents get me the things I can't, and bring  them to me when they can. I don't go into Crystal Lake, no. It's a  pretty town, but I can observe its beauty without entering it. Anything  else you'd like to know?" Mockery was in his tone.

Yes. There were many, many more things she'd like to know.

"You see your parents?"

"From time to time, yes. They apparently didn't get the memo that all contact with me is to be avoided."

Beth looked at him from the corner of her eye, and then she turned  toward the house. He said the words without inflection, and that was a  telling sign. He'd secluded himself, yes, but maybe he wasn't as okay  with it as he seemed. She wouldn't be. If Beth were in Harrison's  position, she would cling to her parents more, not push them away.

"I'm going back."

She waited a beat, and when it was obvious he was done talking, and  wouldn't be joining her, she started down the walkway her boots and  Harrison's had made in the snow. What was she doing here? She brushed  hair from her mouth and quickened her steps, sliding forward when she  moved too quickly. She was hired to write a book, and instead she was  reading and chasing after a sick man who wanted to be left alone. Life  was rarely easy for Beth, and a lot of the time it was of her own doing.  She was too curious, and her heart cared without provocation.

Beth didn't know how to not care.

Back inside the house, she stripped off her wet stuff, including her  socks. Her jeans were damp, the chill of them driving right through her  skin, but those would have to stay that way. Finding a heat register in  the dark foyer where every move she made echoed around her, Beth set her  pink socks on top of it, and shivering, she walked with determined  steps to the reading room. She was going to finish reading that book,  and then she was going to leave.         



Reading is not a chore. Stop acting like it is, she scolded herself.

Book in hand, she stood before the window and watched Harrison carefully  navigate down the landscape, repeatedly drawing her eyes back to the  pages even as they longed to stay on his form. His voice was harsh, and  his eyes were unfeeling, and still he captivated her. He made her think,  and wonder, and that made him much too interesting. It was wrong, not  only because she was his employee, but obviously because of his  declining health. Beth's skin was ice-cold and yet her cheeks were on  fire, more from emotion than her circumstances.

She thought him beautiful, darkly lovely.

Beth stood trembling when he appeared, her hands shaking around the book  she gripped, making it hard to read the words. Her legs were icicles,  her toes numb. Harrison took one look at her and paused, his face  darkening as storms took up residence among his features. He turned and  strode from the room, returning with a brown blanket.

Harrison motioned for her to take it, his eyebrows lifted.

She hesitated, and then shook her head. It didn't seem right to take the  offering, and she'd only end up getting the blanket wet along with her.  "I'm okay."

Shutters fell over his eyes and Harrison left the room.

Beth sank her teeth into her lower lip as her eyes shifted from the  doorway to the book and back. She'd made him mad. Of course she had.  Beth was starting to think her simply breathing was enough to irritate  him. Whatever her intentions, she seemed to do everything wrong.  Shoulders dropping, with a sigh she set down the book on the bench and  went in search of him. If she explained herself, maybe he would  understand.

The foyer whispered for her to halt, to step away from the staircase her  feet were about to ascend. Beth didn't listen. This house wasn't  living, and yet it breathed. Spoke. Listened. She wondered what  confidences Harrison had unknowingly shared with it. Did the walls know  of his pain, his sorrow, his anger? Had the windows watched him break  down? Did the stairwell count each time he went up and down its steps,  had it witnessed him stumble? And the floor-how many times had it felt  him pace its length, alone and bitter?

As she walked up the stairs, they creaked in certain spots, alerting  anyone nearby of her presence. Like they wanted to warn Harrison of her  approach. No light shone over this part of the room, making the journey  dark and foreboding. Beth was stepping toward something she shouldn't,  and it made her want to run before it had the chance to disappear. Her  brain told her she was reckless, and her heart told her it didn't  matter.

She crested the stairwell, her heart hammering from the exertion and  apprehension over what she would find. Beth paused at the sight of the  long hallway lined with doors. The first door on her left was open and  she stopped, catching movement from within. It was Harrison, and he was  in the process of putting on a shirt. A view of pale skin, corded with  muscle, met her vision. She gasped at the unexpected sight of his upper  body. Her eyes widened, tightened, and she couldn't look away. She  didn't want to.

He was beautiful. Flawed, and ravaged, and beautiful.

Seeing him partially unclothed made her insides bunch up and her tongue  go thick. She was surprised by her reaction to him. It froze her with  its undeniable truth. Beth was attracted to Harrison, not just  emotionally, as she'd already suspected. But physically as well.

Thin as he was, his body was smooth muscle. Her hands fisted, her hands  that wanted to trace the lines of his shoulders and back. He wasn't as  bulky as he was in the pictures she'd seen, but Harrison had definition  to his tall frame she wouldn't have estimated there to be. And then Beth  felt stupid, once more, for passing judgment on something she didn't  understand. She only knew surface details, and until Harrison told her  anything-if he told her anything-she should think of him as being a  blank piece of paper, free of words. An idea that was easier to think  and harder to put forth.

Hearing the noise, he looked up. His cheek muscles flexed and then his  expression went through a variety of hostile thoughts, all showcased in  his sharply etched features. Harrison stalked toward the door, his eyes  holding her in place even as she told herself to move. His face was  contorted with fury, reds and blacks taking over the man and turning him  into a beast. Without uttering a word, he slammed the door in her face.

Beth flinched and sank against the wall, unsure if she should leave or  wait for the inevitable confrontation. When he slammed the door, he took  her breath with him. She pressed her hands together and held them under  her chin, her eyes glued to the closed door as though hypnotized. Her  pulse spiked up in tempo, all the cold incinerated from her body from  her overactive nerves.         



The door opened a moment later. Harrison was in dry clothes, his hair  matted down from the stocking cap, two black abysses passing for eyes.  He looked lethal, awe-inspiring. "You are not here to gawk at me," he  said in a deceptively quiet voice. It was cold, lacking any form of  warmth.

"I … I know. I just … " she trailed off, words turning to mush in her head before she could get them out.

Something went flying at her, and she reflexively caught a pair of black  pajama pants, clutching them to her chest as if they could lessen the  force of his dark mood.

"Put those on," he commanded, moving past her and down the stairs.


ON THE WAY back to the reading room, Beth decided some things. The first  was that they needed to have a better form of communication. Constant  misinterpretations of what each other meant was not the way to go about  understanding one another. The second was that she needed to stop acting  scared of him. Harrison was a man-a formidable, edgy, intense man; a  sick man, but still a man-and it wasn't doing either of them any good  for her to act like he was anything else.

The third, and the one that made her breath hitch and her palms sweaty,  was that he had to be upfront with her about what he was battling. If  she was going to be indefinitely spending her afternoons with him, he  had to give her something of him. Beth needed her questions answered,  because in spite of him saying his health had nothing to do with what he  wanted of her, it did. She couldn't write a story without knowing all  of him, even that unwell part he wanted her to pretend she didn't know  existed.

Harrison wasn't in the reading room.

Beth sighed and stood indecisively in the doorway before turning and  heading back to the entryway. Goose bumps covered her arms and legs, and  she held the pants closer to her body. It would probably be in her best  interest to not worry about Harrison and focus on the book she'd been  assigned to read, but Beth feared if she waited to talk to him, she  wouldn't. Her bravery was already diminishing, and she was trembling at  the thought of standing up to him. Trembling, but resolved.