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Steady as the Snow Falls(2)

By:Lindy Zart

The smell of strong, black coffee was present, with underlays of spices  and hazelnut. Her eyes followed her nose to the stand where a  coffeemaker rested, half a pot's worth of the delicious brew inside,  beckoning her forth. Creamers and sugar packets abounded from a basket  beside it, spoons and cups nearby. Beth's mouth watered and she  swallowed, turning away before she was tempted to help herself without  asking.         



Windows lined the farthest wall directly from her, showcasing the winter  scene outside. A wooden bench with a plump cushion in cream, abundant  with light and dark blue pillows-all the different variations of the sky  found in the paddings-rested beneath the row of windows. It would be a  perfect place to snuggle up and enter another reality through the pages  of a book.

She looked up, and her breath caught at the beauty of the snow on the  trees and earth, sparkling like millions of tiny diamonds littering the  terrain. It was simple, and majestic. She inhaled deliberately, deeply,  committing the sight to memory to later attempt to bring forth in words.  Words were Beth's friends, the truest form of understanding herself  available to her.

Caught up in the wonder on the other side of the windowpane, it took her  a while to realize she wasn't alone. Beth went still, feeling the  heated look of someone watching her a moment before a voice spoke.

"You're late."

Beth froze at the sound of the raspy male voice, and then she carefully  turned, her heart following her body at a slower pace, and stared. In  the one corner of the room where shadows played and teased, sat a man.  His legs were long and clothed in jeans, sprawled out like he was  carefree, or bored. The biting quality of his tone countered that. He  didn't have the voice of an old man, but it was hard to place his age  without a clear view of his face.

"Hi. I'm, um, Beth. Beth Lambert. You hired me to write your book," she  said shakily. She wanted to sigh at the lameness of her greeting. Of  course he knew who she was, and that he'd hired her.

"Beth Lambert who I hired to write my book … you're late." There was no humor in his voice, no emotion to give away his thoughts.

More curious than afraid, she took a step toward him, wondering why he'd  watched her for as long as he had without letting his presence be  known. His legs stiffened, as if silently telling her not to come  closer. Beth opened her mouth to refute his claim, but a glance at the  antique grandfather clock said it was true. It was eight minutes past  one in the afternoon. She hadn't been late when she'd first arrived at  his house, but by the time she entered this particular room, yes, she  was.

Beth bowed her head. "I-yes, I am. I suppose. I apologize."

"You were scheduled to be here until five this afternoon." He paused. "Now it's until eight after five."

She shrugged nonchalantly, even as her pulse sped up in faint  irritation. From the communication with him over email, she'd gathered  that he was a control freak, a man who needed power to feel important.  All the same, it chafed being told when she was allowed to leave.

"We both know I'm paying you a more than adequate amount. Because of  that, I expect you to be here when you're supposed to be. It isn't  asking much."

Ignoring that, Beth gestured to the couch diagonal from the chair he  occupied. Her face burned, her next words stiff and sharp. "May I sit?"

"You may," he bit out, his voice a low rumbling thunder.

Once seated, she unzipped the laptop case, setting it on the plump  cushion beside her. She used the motions to calm the rampaging nerves  within. His voice was harsh, as were his words, and yet, she wasn't  entirely put off by them. There were undertones of velvet and power that  spoke to her body, flipped a switch of awareness. It was easy to be  attracted to someone's physical appearance-a voice that could demand the  same took something more.

Notepad and pen out, she returned her attention to the enigma before her  and asked a question she hadn't planned on asking. "Why did you?"

The entity paused. "Why did I what?"

"I don't have any references, no credentials, nothing really, other than  college transcripts and awards to back up my writing. I'm a novice,  barely out of school, and other than a part-time job, I'm pretty much  unemployed. You could have hired anyone. And you're right-you are  overpaying me. Why?"

He leaned forward, revealing pale forearms covered in fine red hairs;  his facial features were blurred edges without distinction. All she  caught was a flash of black, hollow eyes with dark smudges beneath, and a  glimpse of a long, proud nose. The slice of a hard mouth before he  resettled against the back of the chair, away from her eyes. She let out  an uneven exhalation. It disconcerted Beth, made her feel like she was  looking at something out of focus with the shades claiming most of his  face.

Something feral, something magnificent.

"You said it yourself."

Beth went over her words in her head, but nothing she'd said made it  obvious why he'd hired her. If anything, it made it that much more  ridiculous, when spoken out loud. "What part do you-"         



"We're wasting time," he interrupted, his hand lifting and lowering as if pulled by an invisible cord.

Focusing on the lined white paper on her lap, she nodded. She wondered  if her face showed exactly how put off she was by his attitude. Beth  hoped she adapted quickly to his rough demeanor, or it was going to be a  long, tense winter. She understood control, and the need for it. She  hadn't had enough of it in her life. It was her own fault-she gave it  away.

But what about this man? What part of his life was so misconstrued in  chaos that he felt he had to act in such a way to her? She was a  stranger, and one with whom he'd initiated contact. Being rude didn't  make sense, unless it was about power. Control. Was the control taken  away, or given? Beth wondered. She wondered too many things.

"Still wasting time," the man mocked, causing Beth to drop the pen as her thoughts were interrupted.

"I thought it would be beneficial for you to tell me about yourself,  your views on things." She scooped up the pen and looked in his  direction, her eagerness to begin hurrying the tempo of her words. "What  are your goals? Where do you want this book to go? What parts of your  life do you want to cover? What do you have to say? What do you want the  world to know about you?"

He flicked his wrist before raising a hand to his forehead, the gesture  absentminded. He didn't speak until his arm was lowered at his side once  more. "How about I show you the trophy room?"

Trophy room? Why would he want to show her a trophy room? Without  knowing his real name or what he looked like, anyone could be reclined  in the chair a few feet away. She knew he had money, and now she knew he  was exceptional at something. Beth stood on legs that felt heavy and  uncooperative. She supposed if he didn't want to talk about himself, she  could get a feel of him from the objects that made up his world. Of  course, maybe the trophy room would be empty of anything, much like the  entryway. A trophy room without trophies. It wouldn't surprise her.

"Okay. Whatever you want."

"Whatever I want," he repeated slowly. A bitter sound left him. "If only it were that easy."

His response was puzzling. What did he mean by that? The longer she was  in the same room as him, the more peculiar he seemed. Beth didn't like  anything that could not be explained. To her, there had to be an answer  for everything. Even this man whose face and name she did not know.

He placed his hands on the armrests in preparation of standing. His  muscles bunched, repressed strength visible in the forearms. His form  hardened to stone. "When you signed the contract, you agreed to keep my  anonymity. No one is to know you're here, or who I am."

She wanted to tell him that in a town like Crystal Lake, his identity  probably wouldn't remain a secret for long. The town was like a swarm of  aggressive bees, and they stung before they were aware of what they  were stinging.

"Do you understand?"

Beth's lips parted at his words, more because she was finally going to  be able to put a face, and possibly a name, to the voice. She studied  his arms, noticed the faint tremble as his muscles held a pose they no  longer wanted to. Who are you? What face do you hide? Her heart pounded a  dull, heavy beat.

Around a dry throat, she said quietly, "Yes. I know. And I won't tell anyone who you are. I promise."

In the silence that followed, she knew he weighed her words, her tone,  deciding if he would trust her. And then when she felt like she would go  mad from the stalemate, he stood, revealing unkempt red hair that was  sun-streaked with lighter shades of red, blond, and a hint of gold. It  was like looking at fire. Rumpled waves hung over a high forehead, a bit  of mutiny on an otherwise reserved man. Pale eyebrows were presently  lowered over empty eyes-black eyes.