AMIE WAS TWENTY-SEVEN YEARS OLD and had not done anything significant in her life.
True, she’d turned her love of words into a career in the past ten years, but she hadn’t written anything profound. A best-selling series of cheesy paranormal romances coupled with her inheritance had allowed her to live in her own studio apartment. The fact she couldn’t get near a computer made her career choice interesting. It was the reason she typed all her manuscripts on a typewriter, why she drove a beat-up seventies truck and, currently, why she was mailing her latest notes to her editor, Allison.
Early-morning Texas heat fell over her like a wet second skin the moment she set foot outside the post office and back into the sleepy town. Cars mixed and splashed the aftermath of summer rain onto the pavement downtown, barely missing her sneakers when she turned onto Main Street. The town center looked the same as it had for the last hundred years or so. Shops lined the sleepy square and the old courthouse marked the grassy island in between. The jail above the courthouse had been turned into a museum fifty years before. Old men played dominoes nearby at the shaded benches like they did every Saturday. While most shops in the historic city square now catered to tourism, the atmosphere of the small East Texan town remained the same.
Amie appreciated the consistency, one of her biggest reasons for choosing to live in Hicksville and not a big city like Houston after college. She rushed past, sparing a nod to the usual folks, letters wrapped tight in her arms. Humidity and raw heat made her feel like she was breathing in a sauna, or through a snorkel mask underwater.
It was half past nine and she had to make it home in the next thirty minutes for Jo’s weekly visit, or best-friend hell would rain down on her. She picked up her pace and wished she exercised more than once a week. In fact, she wished she was as skinny as she had been in high school. She was only twenty-seven, but time was gradually starting to show in little ways.
Time to start that diet again, she vowed, cursing the cinnamon roll she’d scarfed down for breakfast. Lord knew how Jo handled running in this every morning.
Clouds were gathering overhead, ready to break. The world was silent against the pound of her heart in her ears.
“Oof!” She collided with a very tall wall that hadn’t been there two seconds before.
“Oi!” the wall shouted.
Her mail flew from her hands as she fell on her arse and—oh, yes—the pages fluttered to soak up the rain coating the concrete. “Oh, no!” She scrambled off her sore bottom and began to snatch up her assorted bills and junk magazines. In her hysteria, she almost forgot about the man she’d collided with until a pair of hands joined her fishing.
“Here,” said a rough masculine voice. “So sorry, miss. I’m generally much better at avoiding mad women,” he said with sarcasm bordering on rudeness. She didn’t miss his British accent, or the way it made her both angry and missing her dad so much she couldn’t breathe.
She kept her head down and snatched the sodden pile from his hands. “Well, you could have moved out of my way when you saw me coming down the street.”
“Pardon? Sorry I was distracted by the rubbish coming from your mouth,” the Englishman said as he held up an exceptionally worthless piece of paper. “What is all this gibberish?”
Amie gaped, pausing to decide whether he was insulting her or not. Her people skills were a tad rusty. In fact, this was the first new person she had spoken with, to her recollection, in months. There was something in his tone she decidedly did not like, almost as if he was toying with her. Yet the opportunity to further scrutinize his motives was dashed.
“Look out!” He grabbed her arm and pulled her off the street and onto the curb. Another car sped by, spraying them both afresh with water. Jerked out of her reverie, she looked up, only to bump foreheads with her new best friend.
She saw stars and held a dirty palm to her forehead. Her skin prickled with goosebumps as the man steadied her by the arm with a gentle, “Easy, love…”
“Don’t you know anything about personal space?”
“Forgive my clumsiness, I thought I was saving your life,” he grumbled as he released her.
Forced to look at the man at last, Amie was struck by a strong sense of déjà vu. The first thing she noticed was the fact his head never stopped swiveling to take in their surroundings.
“My hero,” she deadpanned.
He paused long enough to arch a single eyebrow at her, then grinned. “Much better.” His eyes were so dark the pupil blended within its iris’ shadow. Yet the longer she stared the more she saw hints and gleams of every color at their center.
“Must have hit my head harder than I thought,” she muttered under her breath and held a hand to her head.
He stood with a flourish and offered her a gallant hand. “Not every day I have the chance to rescue damsels.”
She chose to ignore his thinly veiled amusement long enough to let him help her up. Again, her skin prickled. It didn’t ease her nerves or smooth her temper when the top of her head did not quite meet his chin. “Well, you sure don’t look like any knight I ever saw.” She held her mail closer to her chest and began to walk past him.
“Aren’t you going to thank me, for saving your life?”
“No,” she called without turning back. She groaned when he took a few quick strides to catch up to her.
“Did you drop this?” he asked, dangling a very familiar golden symbol from its chain.
Amie turned back reluctantly to the tall stranger. His eyes flickered back and forth from the gleaming metal to her and a ghost of a grin shadowed his face. “Interesting,” he said as he held it up higher. “Looks like an antique.”
Amie clenched her jaw. “It’s just a piece of junk,” she said as she reached up. He lifted the chain out of her reach and squinted at the necklace against the rain.
“Give it back.” Amie tried not to panic as her eyes traced the antiquated Celtic metal. Her father’s family crest was anything but a piece of junk. It was the only possession Drustan had managed to bring from home. There was a reason she kept it around her neck. How had the stranger managed to take it? The chain wasn’t broken. Her frustration turned to suspicion.
“Could you please give me back my necklace?” Behind her struggle to remain civil she seethed.
He smirked at her before lowering the metal into her waiting palm. “Try not to lose this again. It could be more valuable than you realize.”
“Thanks.” By this point she had quite forgotten the oncoming rainstorm and the fact Jo would no doubt murder her when she arrived.
The Brit didn’t seem to hear her, however, as he gathered his trenchcoat more tightly around his velvet-vested chest and took to watching the town square once more. The man hardly looked like a gentleman, with his sturdy working boots and dusty trenchcoat. Amie had had more than enough of his sarcasm and strange clothes and strange looks…and that messy black hair! Didn’t the man own a comb?
When he looked down at her his eyes widened. “What, you’re still here? Don’t you have somewhere you should be rushing off to? Another bloke to bash into, perchance?” He reached over and tapped her wristwatch.
She followed his direction and shrieked, “Crap, it’s already ten! Jo is gonna kill me!” This time she didn’t hesitate to run away. Before she turned down the alley leading to her building, Amie snuck a peek down the square to find the stranger gone. Disappointment struck her, along with a latent fear that she’d imagined the whole encounter. What were the chances a tall, dark and annoying Brit found his way into her little corner of the world?
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