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Steady as the Snow Falls(3)

By:Lindy Zart



There were lines around his chiseled mouth, darkness beneath the  fathomless eyes staring at her. He dissected her as she did the same to  him. The air got colder, as though his gaze sucked everything warm from  the room. Beth swallowed, and swallowed again, fighting for air that  wasn't there. Her stomach swooped, settled, and dipped again. He was  lovely, like the sharpest blade, the agilest panther. The most  destructive tornado. Lovely and deadly.

The man's cheekbones were slanted slashes of bone across an intimidating  face, his jaw narrow yet strong, proud. He was cuttingly attractive,  but the coldness evident in his face detracted from it. And he was too  thin, the height of his frame making it more so. Beth was five and a  half feet tall, and he had to be close to a foot over that. She guessed  him to be in his mid to late thirties, the hardness of his appearance  possibly adding years that weren't there.         

     



 

Beth felt like she should know him, recognize him from somewhere, but there was nothing there.

Something happened to his eyes. They narrowed, lightened to the darkest  brown, crinkles forming around them. If eyes could smile, she'd say his  were, faintly, grudgingly. "You have no idea who I am, do you?"

Brushing a hand over the top of her blonde hair, she shook her head and  dropped her hand. "Other than you obviously being a guy … "

His eyes narrowed.

"I mean … " Not knowing what she was trying to say and deciding the least she said, the better, she ended with, "Not a clue."

A grin, crooked and unexpected, flashed across his mouth. "That's what I was counting on. Follow me."

It took her ten seconds to remember to draw air into her lungs, the hint  of boyishness she'd witnessed in his smile making her stomach swoop and  fog form in her head. It tossed away years from him, and built up a  wall of ammunition against her sensitive bearing. She'd always been a  sucker for a pretty smile-one twist of Ozzy's lips and Beth forgave him  almost anything. This man's smile was more disarming than pleasant, and  she instinctively knew he wouldn't do anything that he felt necessitated  an apology.

Beth tugged at the hem of her shirt that was down as far as it could go,  needing a shield that wasn't available, and hurried after him. He made  her feel inside out and upside down. She didn't want to get lost in the  house, fearing if she did, that would be the end of her, and any future  contact with the outside world. She'd be stuck with a brooding,  intimidating, unstable man. She didn't want that unless it was by  choice.





"HOW DO YOU like the area?" Beth asked lamely as they walked.

He shot a look over his shoulder, showing swooped down eyebrows and a  frown. Without a word, he faced forward, clearly dismissing her and her  question.

"I take it, really well then," she muttered to his back.

The stranger's shoulders stiffened and released within the span of a second, but she caught it.

"I've lived here my whole life. The most entertainment we have is trying  to determine if the current gossip of the day has any truth to it or  not. It usually doesn't," she added.

He didn't reply.

Her mouth, without first asking her brain, had decided to fill the  awkward silence with even more awkward conversation. Beth pressed her  lips together and hoped they stayed that way, at least for a little  while.

She studied his shoulders as they walked, her footsteps sounding  uncannily like her pounding heart. His shoulders were wide, telling a  tale of muscle, once known even if no longer there. Hair curled up on  either side of his neck, like the strands were trying to hug his skin.  He didn't walk-he ambled-a predator lazily prowling its domain, knowing  prey was near, and his. Like Beth was his. She blinked. She wasn't  completely repulsed by the thought. There was something about the  broadness of his shoulders and back, the multifaceted strands of his  hair, the darkness in his eyes and the distance in his expression.

Everything about him told her to stay away, and yet, something in the  man called to her on some level she didn't entirely understand, but also  didn't think she should ignore.

"Stare any harder and maybe you'll get lucky and see all of my secrets," he taunted without turning.

Her eyes jerked away from him as he took a turn down the hallway she'd  earlier avoided. She didn't want him to think she was watching him with  such intensity because she was fascinated by his appearance of mystery  and aloofness, although she was. Beth wanted to know his secrets. She  wanted to delve into the blackness of his mind and find the light  within, however small, however dim, and learn his thoughts.

They walked through a dining room with sky blue walls that housed only a  rectangular table and six chairs, not even a picture on the walls.  Every room was missing something, as if someone had started to set them  up and then abandoned the mission. She wanted to ask why, and instead  made a flippant remark. Damn her nerves that made her talk first and  think second.

"I like your minimalistic decorating sense. It shouts: space is underrated."

The man paused and lifted an eyebrow, his expression telling her she'd  have to do better than that to get a verbal reply out of him.

The tall windows let in blinding white light, showing a view of a  snow-capped countryside. The outside was overtaken by a blanket of white  fluff, like someone stood in the clouds and dumped powdered sugar on  the world. Unease weaved down her spine and dwelled in her stomach,  growing into a pool of worry. How would she make it home later?         

     



 

"Do you know how much snow we're supposed to get?" Her voice was faint, scratchy. Beth cleared her throat.

"No," he replied abruptly, continuing through a doorway on the right.

She frowned. "Don't you keep track of the weather?"

"Do you? If so, you wouldn't be asking me if I know how much snow we're supposed to get."

His offhand answer was correct, and it put a sour taste in her mouth.  She ignored his words. "How do you ever know if it's okay to go  anywhere?"

"I don't need to know what the weather's like. There's no reason for me  to go anywhere." The words were hard, and brooked no further discussion.

"Why not?" she demanded, pretending she hadn't heard the closed off tone  in his voice. When he didn't answer, she went on. "But you have to have  a radio, or a television … "

"No television."

Beth's footsteps momentarily faltered. It was inconceivable. Who would  intentionally go without a television? Not that she watched a lot of it,  but she liked knowing that if she wanted to plop down in front of her  television and vegetate, the option was available. How did he know what  was going on outside of his house? Maybe that was the point-maybe he  didn't want to know. She opened her mouth to comment on it, but then she  saw where they were.

The trophy room.

And it was full of trophies.

Stagnant air constricted her throat, thick from being still for too  long. She tried to breathe through her mouth, but the unpleasantness  made its way up to her nose. Plaques and statues took up most of the  space, gleaming gold, copper, and silver under the gauzy overhead light.  There was no order to them, almost like they'd been dumped wherever and  forgotten. Uncared for; an obligated, unwanted display.

Beth tried to focus her eyes, to remove the fuzzy lines from everywhere  she looked. She coughed, realizing it was dust. She was breathing in  dust, smelling it, looking at it, being suffocated by it.

"There's a fan." He brushed past her, flipping a switch.

His shirt sleeve barely touched hers as he swept by and it felt like a  spark ignited in the space between them. Beth shivered and rubbed her  arms in the chill that followed. He paused, his eyes shooting to hers as  if he felt the charge too. The whir of blades sounded, pushing around  the dusty air. Neither spoke, neither moved. It was a perfectly tense  instant full of unmentionables.

Beth was the first to look away, training her attention on the mess  around them as she fought to steady her nerves. She didn't have to ask  how often he came here. Rarely, if he ever had. Why boast about a trophy  room he didn't care enough about to enter? Why show her something he  clearly neglected? Rubbing at her stinging eyes, Beth leaned down and  squinted at the closest award. It said something about a national  football league and was addressed to a name.

Harrison Caldwell.

"Your name is Harrison Caldwell." It was a question, but it came out as a  statement. The name didn't mean anything to her; sparked no knowledge  of who he was. It wouldn't, though, if he was a football player. She  didn't follow sports.

Beth looked at his clenched fists, tried to imagine them wrapped around a football.

"Yes."

Harrison stared unseeingly at a spot beyond her shoulder. She studied  his dark brown eyes; wondering what they saw, because it wasn't anything  in this room. His eyes were glazed, like he was only halfway with her,  the other part of him in some faraway place only he could witness. He  was fractured. It seemed an apt description of the man.

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