Today’s Grimm Guest… Anne Hope…don’t forget to read down to the bottom for info on entering for today’s giveaway and for information on how to enter for the Grimm prize I’m giving at the end.
“It looks like a painting.” Jenny gazed at the lighthouse perched on a shelf of ultramarine blue and burnt umber rocks, as they circled San Juan heading for the harbor.
“That’s Lime Kiln Lighthouse.”
Kelp and driftwood floated at the foot of the bluff, framing the shoreline. The cool salt water breeze kissed her face, left a salty taste on her lips. “It’s so beautiful, and so lonely.” The tall, solitary structure, set against gray mountains and encompassed by blue sky and water, reminded her of Daniel—solid, quiet, admired from a distance. How sad that something so enthralling should be so isolated.
“We’ll reach Friday Harbor soon.” Daniel steered the boat, his back turned to her, his expression vacant.
She was happy he’d let her come with him, even if he had only invited her because he’d felt sorry for her. What an enigma he was. Yesterday when they’d danced she’d sensed a connection between them. There was nothing indifferent about the way he’d held her, the way his fingers had stroked her back, the way his hand had clasped hers. But today miles separated them. She might as well have been alone on this boat.
She absorbed the sight of him. His features seemed chiseled in stone. She longed for the gentleness of the man who’d comforted her late at night when the nightmares had risen to ensnare her, the man who’d helped her decorate a Christmas tree and who’d held her in his arms so tight she hadn’t known where her heartbeat ended and his began.
“Do you come here often?” she asked above the deafening whoosh of the waves.
“Once a week,” he replied.
A gust of wind whipped his hair, raising it from his face. Briefly, she caught a glimpse of the scars he went to great lengths to conceal. White grooves dug into his flesh, crisscrossing his cheek. Her fingers itched to trace them, to heal them with the loving care of a tender touch. But she couldn’t. Daniel didn’t want her looking at him, let alone touching him.
As they rounded the island they drew nearer to Friday Harbor, where a line of fishing boats and pleasure yachts floated patiently. Seagulls screeched overhead, flapping their wings as they spiraled above the bustling port. A brilliant procession of boats, decorated in shimmering Christmas lights chugged around the harbor. Jenny leaned over the bow, impressed by the sight.
Her face must have reflected her enchantment, for Daniel said, “It’s the annual Parade of Lights.”
The whole town—what she could see of it—twinkled with a rainbow of Christmas lights. “It must look incredible at night.” She felt as if she’d stepped into one of those gleaming villages people placed under their Christmas trees.
“I don’t know. I’ve never seen it.”
They finally managed to dock. Daniel secured his boat, and Jenny followed him to an old red brick building facing the waterfront. A short, plump man with round glasses and prominent cheeks came to greet them.
“Daniel, I was starting to worry. You’re late.” The man slapped him amicably on the arm. “In the four years we’ve worked together you’ve been like clockwork. I can usually time your arrival to the minute.”
“Sorry, Saul. We got stalled by the parade.”
“Ah, they hit the water earlier in the day this year.” Saul’s gaze settled on Jenny. Surprise spread across his round face. “You two came together?”
Daniel’s stoical expression faltered. “This is Jenny, my assistant.”
“Is that what they’re calling ’em these days?” Saul cackled at his own remark, winking at Daniel.
Heat suffused Jenny’s cheeks, perspiration pearling in her joints. This Saul had taken one look at her and known what she was. Not an assistant, but a hired companion.
He can’t know, she reassured herself. Only she and Sam Leland were aware of their deal. Guilt sank like a bucket of rocks to settle at the pit of her stomach.
“The shipment’s in my boat. Can you send a couple of guys to help me unload?”
Thank God Daniel had steered the conversation away from her. Even though the pragmatic side of her brain told her she was overreacting, her crushing conscience made her foolishly paranoid.
“Sure, I’ll send them right out.” Saul smiled at Jenny. “You come back again soon.”
“That’s up to Daniel.” Stealing a glimpse of him, she noted the firm clasp of his hands, the darkness cloaking his eyes. He had no intention of bringing her back, unless it was to escort her to the ferry that would carry her out of his life.
Jenny had never much believed in prophecies, but that moment she had a vision. She saw herself standing on the deck of an open ferry, staring at the fading silhouette of a dark-haired man, feeling her heart break with each new wave that crashed against the hull as she floated further and further away. Floated back to Prospect Valley, to Leo, to self-effacement. If she went back there, the glitter inside her that made her the person she was would dim and die. She’d become a robot wearing human flesh, a programmed machine, with all emotion banned from her life.
Perhaps she would have been able to live that way before, but not now. Not after tasting peace, security. Not after savoring the warmth of Daniel’s kindness. She’d never thought a man’s presence could be so comforting. Before Daniel, Jenny had believed men inspired only fear, submission. But Daniel made her feel protected, cared for. He gave her hope, and she hadn’t had that in a very long time.
As they stepped outside, she eyed the numerous restaurants and cafés dotting the waterfront, all outfitted with glimmering lights. Although the small town wasn’t crowded, the sight of bikers and pedestrians filling the quaint streets was a welcome change from Daniel’s secluded cottage. “Can we stay and walk around town?”
“No.” Daniel’s reply was curt and dry, almost frantic. He seemed out of his element here amidst society—tense, uneasy. “We have a deadline to meet.”
Jenny understood. She caught the real reason in the way he averted his eyes. He wore the unworthiness he felt the same way he wore his scars. As much as he tried to conceal it, it was a part of him and it refused to stay hidden.
In a few minutes they’d boarded his boat and pulled away from the dock, Daniel skillfully bypassing the parade. Jenny leaned back against the railing, watching him. He seemed anxious to get away, eager to drift on to the wide, flowing ocean.
“Why are you staring at me?” He hadn’t as much as slanted a glance her way and yet he’d sensed her gaze.
“Just wondering why you feel so uncomfortable around people.”
He looked at her then, taken aback. “I don’t. I told you we have work to do.”
She approached him, placing her hand on his shoulder. “You don’t have to pretend with me. I understand how you feel. I just don’t understand why.”
He stared at the rippling water, his expression unreadable. “Please don’t touch me.” His voice was gruff, strained.
“Why not? Don’t you like being touched?” Boldly, she ran the back of her index finger across his right cheek. He jerked away as if she’d grazed him with a burning flame.
Compassion squeezed her heart. “What happened to you, Daniel?”
A light drizzle began to fall, but the sun continued to shine. Up ahead on the distant horizon a rainbow glowed. She’d never seen anything so magnificent—a prism of sparkling color diving into the boiling waves.
“Maybe you should go below deck.”
She shook her head. “No, I don’t mind the rain. I don’t get to see a view like this everyday. Isn’t it incredible? How two total opposites can form something so breathtaking?”
Daniel didn’t reply. He just continued staring blankly ahead. Moving to his left, she did something terribly brazen. She touched the hair that veiled his cheek, brushing it aside. In an instant his fingers clenched hers. “What the hell are you doing?” Panic flared in his voice.
“I just—I wanted to see your face.”
Realizing how tightly he clasped her hand, he loosened his grip, releasing her. “Don’t ever do that again.” His clipped, non-negotiable tone delivered the message loud and clear.
In the past, Jenny would have backed off, retreated into silence, but not now. “Why not? What are you so afraid of?” she asked. Then, unable to stop herself, she added, “You’re the most beautiful person I’ve ever met.”
Her words touched him; she could tell. His taciturn expression vanished, and for a brief instant before doubt set in, she sensed he almost believed her. “Beautiful? Have you looked at me?”
“More than you know.”
Something blazed in his eyes that made her gut clench and heat stir in her belly. To her delighted surprise, he raised his hand, tenderly cupping her face.
He was going to kiss her.
The ground beneath her feet moved at the thought. Or maybe it was just the boat hopping along the waves, but right now she didn’t want to think about that. She just wanted to think about the way his thumb trailed up her cheek to settle at the corner of her mouth, stroking it. Something deep and primitive told her Daniel’s kiss would be as magical as everything else about him. She closed her eyes, leaned into his wide, rough palm…
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Dying is hard enough… coming back to life is brutal.