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Steady as the Snow Falls(5)

By:Lindy Zart

Respite loosened her shoulders, but her conscience wouldn't let her be  okay with that. "No. It feels wrong. I can't accept it. Not until I've  written something, even if it's only a few pages."

"Do you need the money?"

She pressed her lips together, not wanting to answer that.

Harrison waited, unmoving, his eyes locked on hers.

Sighing, she admitted, "Yes."

He took down another book, settled onto his chair, and opened it. Head  bent, mouth formed in a thin slash of pale color, Harrison seemed to  forget she was there. His pose was casual, but he sat stiffly, as if in  minor pain or unable to completely relax. She didn't know which.

When the minutes ticked by and he didn't say anything, she realized the  conversation was over. Beth closed her eyes, took a few deep breaths,  and opened them, resigning herself to spending the next few hours  reading a book in a room with a man she didn't know and was pretty sure  she didn't like-even if she might like certain things about him.

Harrison glanced up.

His eyes.

She dropped her gaze to the pages of the book, her face burning with the knowledge that he'd caught her studying him.

Beth liked his eyes.

EYES TRAINED ON the book in his hands, he told her, "Whatever you're  trying not to say or ask, do us both a favor and get to it. Your  fidgeting is distracting."

Beth lowered the book to her lap. Her coffee was long gone, the clock  ticking off the minutes until it was time for her to go. There was half  an hour left to her designated time of departure-and eight minutes, she  silently added. It had gone by peacefully, quietly, the periodic sound  of flipping pages the only shared conversation. Occasionally she'd  glance up to find him watching her, and he'd do the same, each of them  studying the other in the way something shiny and new was considered.  Curiously. Raptly. Obsessively.         



"Do you ever get told you're rude?" Softly spoken and shaky, the words were out before she could bite them back.

Half of his mouth lifted, and seeing that made her glad for saying it.  It was the promise of a smile, at some point. "Not by anyone who  matters. That isn't what you wanted to ask me."

No. It wasn't.

She wondered what he thought when he looked at her. Did he see her  blonde hair and blue eyes, and if so, what did he think or see? Beauty,  indifference, plainness. Did he find her appealing? Did he not? Did he  think her features were too childlike, too unoriginal? Did he even  really see Beth at all? She didn't want to think the things she was, or  wonder what he thought of her, but she did. He was intriguing,  mysterious. Far too fascinating with his standoffish attitude and his  secrets. A box of mystery and ribbon she itched to untie.

Without really knowing Harrison, she knew she had never met a man quite like him before.

"I'm not getting any more interesting while we wait," he said.

Startled by his voice interrupting her unfortunate thoughts, she hastily  said, "Don't biographies usually get written when someone's life is  about over? When they're old and gray and think it's time to get the  good stuff down before it's too late? You can't be over thirty-five."

"Age has no bearing on death." The words were low, flat.

Beth's fingers tightened around the book, the hard edges of the cover  digging into her flesh. Wow. She hadn't expected those words, or that  lack of emotion. They resounded with emptiness, vibrated with whispers  of unspoken discontent. Told her the barrenness was a lie. Life, and  death, and everything in between-that was Harrison Caldwell. She inhaled  sharply, tipped upside down by his comment. His eyes were chips of  black ice and she forced her gaze away, her chest tight.

"We're done for the day. Come back tomorrow."

She turned her head and gazed at him. I want to know you more. I don't want to know you at all.

"What is it?" he demanded harshly.

"I don't … " Beth watched as his eyes hardened, the impatience in them causing her cheeks to warm.

"If it's going to take you five hours to produce one sentence, this  association is going to become quite tedious. I don't have time for  timidity. Say whatever you're thinking."

Anger sparked through her, the words fast and loud as they left her. "I  don't think I like you. You're rude without being provoked and you act  like everything I have to say is a chore for you to listen to." Her eyes  went wide at the unintended confession.

Satisfaction bracketed his mouth as his lips relaxed from their hard  line. "Just the silence. The silence I can do without. And I'm your  employer. You're not supposed to like me."

"I-I'm sorry. I didn't mean … I'm sorry," she finished quietly.

"Don't apologize either. Goodbye, Beth."

He got up abruptly, a sick look passing over his features as his face  turned ashen. Lurching to the side as if he had no control over his  body, Harrison's legs crashed against the end table near his chair, his  palms landing hard on the top of it, a slap of something pliable against  something unrelenting. His fingers gripped the sides of it as he stayed  hunched over, arms trembling and sweat beaded on his skin.

She was on her feet and to him before her brain realized what she was  doing. Beth reached out to help him, not sure what she should do, and  also alarmed that she wasn't already doing something. Her fingers grazed  his arm and he jerked away. "Harrison? Are you okay? Are you sick?"

His voice filled the air, a lash of cold, striking words hot against her skin. "Don't touch me."

Beth snatched her hand back, fear rushing through her veins, pulsing  with her heartbeat. She tried to swallow. A warning of peril swept  through her mind, told her to keep her distance. Beth backed up a step.  "I'm sorry. I just … do you need me to call someone? Are you okay?"

"I'm fine," he bit out.

"You don't look like you're fine," she commented wryly, crossing her arms to keep from reaching out to him again.

His head slowly turned and he lifted his gaze to hers. Harrison's mouth twitched. "I look like shit," he agreed.

She allowed a small smile. "I wasn't going to go that far."

"Don't try to be nice. It doesn't do either of us any good." Inhaling,  he straightened and stood motionless, the color returning to his face.  "I'm fine," Harrison said again.         



"What happened?"

"Nothing. I got dizzy. It happens. You can go now."

He wouldn't look at her and fallacy rang through his words. She didn't  press the issue. Shrugging, Beth said, "Okay. Same time tomorrow?"

Harrison nodded, his gaze refusing to hold hers.

Beth picked up her coffee mug. "I'll wash this in the kitchen quick and be on my way."

"Leave it. I can get it."

"And I can clean up after myself." She didn't want to create extra work  for him, not even for something as small as an unwashed cup. He tried to  hide it, but something was off with him.

"Don't," was all he said, his attention finally locking on her.

The air crackled with tension and challenge. Beth's skin prickled as  Harrison's eyes connected with hers. She didn't have something to prove,  but he did. She could tell by the stiff set of his shoulders, the hard  angle of his jaw. He was embarrassed. Angry. He probably wanted a fight,  needed to prove he was in control to feel strong.

She carefully set down the coffee mug. Noticing how his shoulders  relaxed, she avoided his gaze and nodded to the book. "I like it so far.  See you tomorrow."

Picking up her laptop case, Beth didn't wait for words that wouldn't  come. She walked from the room and quickly put on her coat, boots, and  hat, but not so fast that if Harrison was to see her, he would think she  was in a rush to leave-and she was. She regretted agreeing to write his  book, she was unnerved by him, even a little scared. Beth was also  riveted. She was as splintered as him, it seemed.

The compulsion to find out all she could about him was overwhelming, and  when she stepped outside and into a foot or more of snow, even that  didn't deter her. The snow had stopped, and if she was lucky, the plow  trucks had already gone by. She let the Blazer warm up as she used the  brush part of a scraper to remove the cold white fluff from the vehicle.  Her eyes continually went back to the house, her thoughts on the man  within. Beth shivered and set about going home, glad for brakes and  four-wheel drive.


BYPASSING THE BAR where she worked part-time, and subsequently, her  ex-boyfriend, Beth took side streets through the town of one thousand  and something residents who liked to converge downtown in clusters of  inquisitive eyes and flapping mouths. Anyone who didn't have anything  better to do probably already knew she was in town, and from which  direction she'd entered it. The chatterboxes consisted mostly of older,  retired people, but Ozzy had his own clan of spies looking out for him  too.

To her ever-loving frustration, nothing Beth did was unknown to him.