Home > Still Waters(6)

Still Waters(6)
Author: Anne Malcom

And popular.

Not popular enough to quit my day job, but I got attention and freelance offers from online women’s magazines.

I was twenty-six—not exactly young and fresh, but I could still chase my dreams. In order to do that, I’d have to leave Amber. My best friends. My family. A career didn’t mean enough for me to do that.

Yet.

But my feet were beginning to itch.

And also yearned for more pairs of shoes that I couldn’t afford, even with cheap rent, discounted designer shoes and supplementary income.

Plus, the demons were chasing me around this place, ghosts lurking in every corner. The whole town was turning into a graveyard. I’d eventually have to leave, if only so I could escape the memories. The ghosts.

But not now. Or even soon.

Someday.

“Very happy to see that you didn’t turn into a pumpkin,” a deep voice declared from behind me, jerking me out of my thoughts.

I jumped, mostly because not all my motors were running without caffeine, especially after only thirty minutes of actual consciousness.

I knew who it was before I turned. The accent was the first giveaway, rough and unnatural, filtering through the air in a way that should have rubbed me the wrong way but instead curled around the words perfectly. Uniquely. And curled around other places. Places that obviously didn’t need coffee to wake them up.

I turned, but not because I wanted to. I wanted to run, but Shelly was still making my coffee so I was somewhat of a prisoner until then.

Plus, I’d promised myself that the only running I’d do was from ghosts in the figurative sense. My life would be in shambles if I ran from all of my corporeal problems too. I just had to figure out how to stand my ground.

“What?” I asked, my voice scratchy like I’d smoked a pack of Marlboros the night before.

I wished. Giving up five years back was the hardest thing I’d done. And I only ate chocolate twice a week. Mostly because I had wine the other five days.

But still.

Man, did I want a smoke.

It would stop me from licking his jaw.

He was wearing a simple, crisp white tee that molded around his muscles, stark against his latte skin. The stubble of the previous night was gone, revealing the very jaw I was contemplating licking.

“Cinderella?” he continued, his voice light, eyes dancing with too much amusement for that time of the morning. The only time I was amused before 8:00 a.m. was when I hadn’t been to sleep from the night before. Or I was being woken up by a man’s mouth that was not being used for speaking.

Getting woken up by Keltan’s mouth between my—no! Snap out of it.

“Cinderella who?” I asked, screwing my nose up and trying to follow the conversation while waiting on coffee and struggling against the pull of this man.

It was unnatural, the naturalness of the conversation, of my need for a practical stranger.

He thought for a moment. “Well, I don’t rightly know her last name. She’s like Cher or Bono, doesn’t need one. Most people just know her,” he answered, then gave me a once-over. “Then again, it’s people, not zombies. And though you look good enough to eat, sweetheart, I’m thinking that my Cinderella didn’t get enough winks last night, despite running off before the clock struck midnight. I didn’t even get a glass slipper. So, I had to resort to shamelessly pumping your best friend for information.” He paused. “Though I wouldn’t call it an interrogation. No torture needed. In fact, she gave me your address, and your social security number. Thought this would be less creepy.”

I scowled at him, barely following the conversation. “You thought turning up at the coffee shop where I come to slip into my suit of humanity and stalking me and prattling on about fairy-tale characters is less creepy?” I clarified.

He rubbed the back of his neck, grinning sheepishly. “When you put it like that….”

I rolled my eyes. “I think I need to be recording this conversation so when they find my body buried in a shallow grave wearing gold slippers, the authorities will know where to look.”

“Glass,” he corrected.

I frowned. “What?” I snapped.

“They were glass slippers.” He grinned wider. “Cinderella’s.”

“You’re fucking kidding me,” I muttered. “It’s barely a reasonable time for someone to breathe in my direction, and you’re still talking about fictional characters.”

“Yeah, I’m thinkin’ Cinderella is nowhere in sight. I’m stickin’ with Snow.”

There was a loaded pause that I refused to fill, so I just glared into the chocolate irises that worked like magnets to keep my gaze.

“You’re scary in the morning,” he observed. “I could have used you in battle—just woken you up and pushed you out into the field. No weapons needed. You’d scare even the most ruthless of insurgents away. But then again, I couldn’t risk it, considering you’re so fucking beautiful they’d kidnap you, despite the terror you instill in them.”

I glared at him. “How does one person have so many words at this time of the day? Or at all?”

I wasn’t used to hot macho men speaking so much. They all spoke in grunts, apart from Lucky. But I considered him to be somewhat of a freak of nature.

Here was another one.

And not just because of his extended vocabulary, but because somehow he managed to affect me in a way no man had… since him.

No. We aren’t allowed to think of him.

“You can take the army out of the boy,” he answered with a shrug. “Plus, growing up on a farm, you get trained to wake up with the dawn.”

My eyes popped out. “You wake up at dawn? Why?”

“Because, it’s a new day. Most beautiful thing to look at in the mornin’ is a sunrise.” His eyes flickered over me. “Or was. Now I’m thinkin’ it’s an angry Snow wearin’ black, who swears more than most of the men in my unit. Puts the sunrise to shame.”

I gaped at him.

Yeah. Macho men didn’t say things like that. I wasn’t aware any men said things like that.

“Lucy!” Shelly called from behind me.

I continued to gape.

“Coffee,” she called again, sounding uncertain. She’d never had to call me twice when coffee was involved. But then again, a man such as this one, saying things such as this, all the while penetrating every one of my defenses, had never been in the equation before.

I jerked like someone had struck me. “Oh, thank God,” I exclaimed, spinning so quickly I gave myself a head spin.

I was too busy snatching the hot cup off her and burning my mouth from taking enthusiastic gulps that I didn’t notice Keltan handing bills to a grinning Shelly.

I swallowed the hot liquid with effort. “You aren’t paying for my coffee,” I rasped against the pain in my throat. “Shelly, don’t take that,” I ordered.

She grinned even wider, putting the bills in the register.

“Traitor,” I hissed.

“Sorry, doll, not in my nature to not take things a hot guy hands me.” She winked. “Should pass that advice on to you,” she said before turning her back and escaping to the back.

Bitch.

I’d never say that out loud, though. She made my coffee; I’d sooner sacrifice my Chanel bag than offend her.

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