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Keith was a nice guy, but throw a leather jacket on him and he'd still only be a nice guy. He lacked that charisma, that swarthy charm, those vibrant amber-gold eyes of a man like Caelan Harlowe.

To be honest, I was actually relieved when the doorbell had rung. Keith had draped his arm over my shoulder, his lips hovering two inches from my own. I'd eased as far down the couch as I could to escape my date (it was a mistake, I knew it the second I agreed to let Lisa set me up) and had run out of room, and time.

We'd been watching The Two Towers. Keith was bored with watching. His favorite fantasies were the kind you could reach out and touch, he'd explained, curling a strand of my brown hair around his finger.

"So...," he said in his mellow, book-on-tape voice.

"So," I replied, squishing the popcorn tub between us as he leaned. "This isn't—"


The sound was a pleasant jolt of lightning through my bones. I flung myself off the cushion so fast I didn't see the spilled popcorn or feel the pain in my shin from smacking into the ottoman until I was halfway to the door.

Keith sat up as if in a broken trance, blinking owlishly as I scrambled down the hall in my desperation to dodge a kiss from the human incarnation of soggy lint. 

Before she had skipped away to her car, Lisa'd whispered into my ear Keith thought I was hot. Then I got nervous because I didn't think he was my type, but he wasn't a terrible person. So I'd spent the evening politely discouraging his interest: picked my braid into a frizz, snorted my pizza like a wild hog, hell, I'd even slipped into the kitchen to crunch a garlic clove.

My first mistake had been agreeing to Lisa's 'cozy, stress-free' date at home: I had no escape, especially when she and her boyfriend ditched us to go to a real movie after we'd already ordered pizza.

My second mistake had been the absent minded declaration, "I'm going to change into something more comfortable." I should've said, 'I'm changing into a shirt so old and ratty you could pull it fresh out of the dryer and it'll smell like the rags used to wipe down the men's locker room.'

I was focused on the stink. Should've been focused on the fact that the buttons were loose and the fabric had been worn to a thin sheer, so much so that it was easy to see I'd been wearing a cute bra this evening (in case the date had progressed more along the lines of the something something Lisa implied). 


"Sounds important," I insisted, re-buttoning the top of the baggy, paint-splattered monstrosity I used as a smock.

Keith frowned. "Sounds exactly the same as when the pizza guy rang."

Ignoring him, I checked for my sneaky cats, then opened the front door and came nose-to-chest with the sort of man I'd been hoping Keith would be: tall, muscular, tan, dusted by the five o'clock shadow of hard-work. Hair as dark as a raven's wing. Svelte. The rangy sort of handsome that makes sexy adjectives like 'svelte' hijack your brain. He wore a brown leather jacket, a grey vest over a dark button-down, and jeans. In a smooth motion he shifted his jacket back to reveal a gold badge and a holstered gun. 

"Uh, hi," I said most eloquently, meeting his eyes. 

"'Evening, Ma'am," he replied. With a ballpoint pen he tipped a worn stetson hat. His other hand gripped a small notepad.   A drop of the honeyed South sweetened the typical New Englander tone as he continued. "Sorry to bother you."

"It's fine. You're fine." I laid my hand on the door frame and rested my head against the white paint gently, admiring the view. "But you should know I'm a mess."

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