That moment I'd seen while sleeping eventually turned into the section below: the moment Wren first meets Rhys Donovan.
I am reaching under the counter, searching for another pad of hold tags, when I hear the floor creaking. I give up my search and look up in time to see Essence of Darkness in front of me. I hold in my groan at the sight of the book. I have no idea why this particular novel is so popular, but it’s been flying off the shelf – at least, according to Helen. This is only the second copy I've sold and I've been here for a week.
I look up from the book cover to give my general welcome-to-the-store smile, and find myself taken aback. Because the customer is not a woman like I’d assumed. The man who put the book on the counter is probably in his late-thirties. And he is striking.
Tousled black-brown hair with just a brush of gray at the temples, piercing dark eyes, features that are too rugged to be classically handsome, the barest shadow of stubble on his jaw past the confines of his goatee. He’s wearing a soft, cream-colored dress shirt with rolled up sleeves, which makes the darkness of his features stand out even more. Christina would wrinkle her nose at him; she prefers blonde beach bums. I can’t seem to breathe.
He is definitely not a regular.
“Good morning,” I say softly, hoping I don’t embarrass myself.
He doesn't smile, but he gives me an appraising look as I start to ring up the book. “Don’t you like it?”
The minute gesture of his hand helps me realize what he means.
“Oh! The book?”
His head tilts slightly, an assent. He’s still studying me. I can’t decide if I like it or not, to be subjected to this intense perusal.
I try for a friendly smile, but I’m afraid it comes out as nervous instead. “I’m sure you’ll enjoy it.”
“I highly doubt that.” The sarcasm in his words is biting, but isn't directed at me. He seems to be enjoying some private joke.
“Then why are you buying it?” I can’t help myself. I’m intrigued.
“It’s for research.” He sees my curiosity and answers my unspoken question. “I’m trying to learn how to write better.”
He’s a paying customer, otherwise I’d tell him to run as far from this book as possible if he wants to become better. That it’s not worth the time or money, especially since it’s only in hardback right now. Instead, I swallow down my opinions and shoot for a bland, “Oh.”
I tell him the total, but his reaching for his wallet takes such minimal movement that he is still able to observe me. The intensity of his gaze is unnerving. I feel an unwanted flush rising in my cheeks, and for the life of me, I can’t stop it.
He holds out two crisp twenty-dollar bills. As I take them, he asks, “You wouldn't suggest this book for that purpose?”
Now he has me trapped. I can’t imagine myself lying to this ridiculously attractive man, one whom I will probably never see again. But if Helen heard me trying to talk him out of a purchase, I don’t think my job would be safe for long.
“It’s been a best seller for weeks,” he adds.
Which really doesn't mean anything. He’s watching me expectantly, as if he knows I want to disagree with him. I glance around the store quickly, checking to make sure Helen hasn't snuck back upstairs.
“Look,” I say quickly, “Michaels is a decent writer. The book has an interesting main character and some great descriptions. The word choice is impressive; he’s intelligent without being off-putting. But the love interest of the story is vapid – and that’s putting it nicely – and his pacing is terrible. The beginning drags on with too much expositional dialogue, the rising action is too short, and the climax is more like a…like a…”
His lips purse…in amusement, I think. “I believe,” he says smoothly, “that one reviewer claimed it was akin to a fake orgasm.”
I think I’ll burst into flames as that word leaves his mouth. I exude some kind of hitched sigh, one that raises his eyebrow, before turning it into a strangled, “Yes.” Another moment and I've collected myself. “That’s true. And the ending is almost non-existent.”
Another head tilt, this time asking for clarification.
“It’s like he wanted to set it up for a sequel, but there isn't enough substance there to pull it off. So it just stops.”
“And this disappoints you.” He phrases it as a statement, but I can hear the unspoken question in it. I manage a slight nod and bite my lip as I realize how foolish I must look. He focuses on my mouth, and the flush is back. It draws his attention back up to my eyes, where he fully meets my gaze for the first time.
His eyes are nearly black, with the faintest suggestion of gold edging the iris, and I can see their minute movements as he studies my face. I look down at the cash drawer and put his money in with shaky hands. He needs change. Which means that I may accidentally touch his hand.
I instantly berate myself for my giddiness at that thought. I’m not some kid in elementary school. There’s no reason to be so nervous. A deep breath. I manage an uncomfortable smile and pass over the change.
He takes it without checking the amount. But his fingers brush against mine – not my doing, but his – and I end up sucking in a breath at the charge I feel. He notices it; his lips curve up in a private smile. Like a gentleman he doesn't comment though.
I quickly put his book in a bag and hand it over. He’s careful to avoid touching me this time, but he still lingers at the counter. Eventually he asks, “Are there any other books you’d suggest?”