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Steady as the Snow Falls(4)

By:Lindy Zart

"You asked why I hired you."

She started to nod, and then stopped. He wasn't looking at her.

"You had no idea who I am. You still don't, although I am smart enough  to realize your ignorance won't be for much longer." His tone was faint,  and then hard. He shifted his gaze to her. The singular focus with  which he watched her was unnerving. "That's why I contacted you, and  that's why I hired you."

Beth swallowed. "But … how would you know that? I don't-I don't  understand." She heard the tremble in her words, and wished he hadn't.

He shook his head, nothingness replacing the heat of seconds before. He  raised a hand, and just as quickly let it drop. "You don't need to. But  when you leave here, Beth, and you do your research, just remember that  you already signed a contract to write my story. There is no backing out  at this time. It's too late."

Shocked to hear her name pass his lips, and not sure why, she lowered  her gaze. Her pulse beat out of tune, electrocuted into a song it didn't  recognize. Beth's name on Harrison's mouth sounded like an endearment  to her ears, which was silly. It was her name. All he did was say her  name. But that voice, with just the right inflection, and it went from a  name to more.         



"You're a football player."


She crossed the room to put greater distance between them. Standing that  close to him felt dangerous to her. He'd suck her up into his vortex,  and that would be the end of Beth; she might not even care. She stopped  near the door, her limbs firmer with an escape only a few steps away.

"I don't know a lot about sports, but aren't you young to be retired?"

He didn't reply, moving toward her. Beth went still, her pulse  escalating. He got closer. And closer. His face was a mask, giving away  nothing of his emotions, but his eyes did. They burned, scalded. Made  her body weightless, spun her heart around and around in her chest. Her  lungs were singed, and she feared if she didn't break eye contact soon,  there would be nothing but a pile of ashes in her place. And yet her  eyes remained a hostage of his.

When he was close enough to touch her, he abruptly turned and left the  room. She blew out a noisy breath of relieved air and rubbed her  forehead. He made her jumpy, and she couldn't breathe properly when he  looked at her a certain way-the way he just had. Beth dropped her hand  and frowned, studying how it trembled. She clenched it into a fist,  refusing to consider what her reactions to him meant. They weren't all  bad. His words told her to stay away, but his aura said otherwise.

"Are you coming?" Harrison called, irritation prickling his words.

She flinched at the barbed tone and went in pursuit of him, finding him  back in the initial room in which they'd met. Her eyes flicked to the  coffee in longing. Coffee was good on cold days, but coffee was just as  good on all the days.

He stood facing the bookcase, his long fingers traveling along the  spines of the books. It was a gesture that could be easily overlooked if  someone wasn't paying attention, but she was. It was reverent, loving.  Harrison was a reader, which meant he was a thinker.

She'd always felt a certain kind of loneliness, a trickle of sadness,  with Ozzy, who didn't read. Beth was never able to discuss books with  him and how she interpreted them, or find out what he thought they  meant. Beth wasn't able to talk about likes and dislikes of the story,  and what knowledge was learned from reading it. She read, and she kept  the magic of the stories locked inside her, cherished only by her. Books  needed to be shared with others. She longed for that connection,  however small it seemed. It meant something to her.

Beth was a thinker as well, a dreamer. Knowing she and Harrison had  something in common made her head spin. She was in the presence of an  anomaly, a contradiction. There were words, and there was tone, and  there were expressions, and there was body language. All of his were at  odds with one another.

"Help yourself to the coffee."

Not needing further encouragement, Beth poured a cup of the steaming  black liquid, adding a hefty amount of creamer and sugar. She stirred  it, the coffee tone changing from black to milky chocolate. Biting back a  moan of ecstasy at the strong, smooth flavor, Beth resumed her place  near her laptop. The coffee warmed her, muted the cold clinging to her  frame.

Harrison's fingers paused on a black, hardcover book, and he pulled it  from the row, leaving a slim crevice to mark its spot among the others.  He paused with the book in hand, his head bowed. Time ticked off a  nearby clock, holding his large body enthralled. Though he stood stiff  and unmoving, Beth noticed weariness about him, possibly bleakness. His  shoulders weren't straight; a twist of discord seemed ever present on  his mouth. She shook the illusion away. Her eyes were malfunctioning,  probably from the lack of coffee needed to jumpstart her senses.

Harrison turned and outstretched his hand, nothing but shadows and  blankness meeting her gaze. "I want you to read this until it's time to  go."

"But I'm not-I'm here to write, not read." Beth set down the coffee cup and stared at the book. "I don't understand."

"Yes. You've said that. I remember, and I hope that isn't your favorite  saying, but if it is, find a better one." He looked from the book to  her, carefully motionless while the energy around him hummed with the  need to move. "Take it. And read it."

"You're giving me homework?" Confusion formed a line between her  eyebrows. Beth barely got through having to do homework during high  school and college, and that was to graduate. Homework from anyone else  was abhorrent, even if she was getting paid to do it.

"Think of it as a personality enhancer."

Beth studied his hand as she stood and slowly accepted the book. The  palm was wide, the fingers unbelievably long. It was a graceful hand,  elegant and strong. A dusting of red and gold hairs covered the base of  it. His hand fell away, like an unfelt caress against fevered skin, and  Beth swallowed, feeling the touch in the air between them.         



Impossible, she told herself.

"Yours or mine?" Beth grumbled.

Harrison blinked. "What?"

The book was heavy, bulky with unread words. Beth took a much needed  breath of air and trained her attention on the book. Her eyes traced the  gold cursive letters that spelled ‘In the Storm'. Just looking at it  made her depressed. She was betting it was dull rubbish that made the  reader either contemplate life a great deal, or fall asleep-not the kind  of light, fun entertainment she went for. Beth wanted to read about  happy things, because reality was full of a lot of unhappy ones.

"Nothing. Why am I reading this?" she asked, her eyes down.

"Before you can write about me, you have to understand me."

Beth looked up, found Harrison's dark eyes locked on her. There was  tightness around his eyes, and again she noted the purple underneath  them, the tiredness evident in the lines and bleakness of his face. He  ran an absent hand through his hair, disrupting the vibrant red and  blond locks and making his appearance more appealing. What kind of a  life had he lived, to bring him to where he was? Secluded, shut off from  everyone. By choice, or because he had none? He was giving her clues  she could either ignore or chase down.

"I'm supposed to learn about you from reading a book?"

"That is my favorite book," he specified. "It could be worse. Don't make me point out that I am paying you to read."

"You just did."

One pale eyebrow arched, giving Harrison arrogant appeal. He had the  features of an aristocrat, highbred and pompous. She fought to keep a  smile from her face, somehow knowing he wouldn't appreciate her present  characterization.

"I'd rather learn about you from asking you questions than reading a favorite book," she pointed out.

"Work with what you're given."

With the book in hand, Beth sat back down on the couch, wiping away the  scowl before it completely formed. She put everything she'd taken out of  the laptop case back into it, closed it, and opened the book. The print  was small, the first lines blurring as thoughts raced through her  brain. What was the point of this? Reading a book wasn't going to help  her learn anything useful. Confusion and frustration built inside, but  she tramped it down. The questions wouldn't cease, and along with them,  came anxiety.

If Harrison wasn't going to tell her anything about himself, how would she know what to write?

If she wasn't producing words, how would the book ever get written?

If the book wasn't written, how would she get paid?

"You'll get the first of six payments within the next two weeks."

Beth's eyes flew to his. He'd accurately read her thoughts on her face.  "I haven't done anything yet. You can't pay me for doing nothing."

A flash of humor lit up his eyes. "I can do whatever I want. And you can  relax and not worry about the money. You'll get it regardless of how  fast the book gets written."