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Jerri Matheson is not interested in love. When she leaves New York for Camaroche, a lush island in the Caribbean, to escape an intolerable situation, love is the last thing on her mind. Years of abuse in a loveless marriage has left her wounded, and wary of men. But in Camaroche, when Kerrel Waring--a member of a breed of people who call themselves weavers, mysterious people, with strange abilities--enters her life with warmth, tenderness, and a gentle touch that brings her to life inside, the intense attraction between them draws her to him against her will.
But Kerrel has his own secrets. As he gets close to Jerri he steals her heart and changes her in subtle ways, while keeping from her his true identity, and the fact that his people want to use her in a last-ditch desperate attempt to heal one of their own.
Unexpected love, or her greatest threat? Should Jerri trust this charming enigmatic man? Her head says no, but her heart whispers, "Take the risk."
The direct flight from New York to Camaroche was on time. Concerned and relieved at the same time, Jerri stared out the window and watched the clipped grass at the side of the runway rush past her as the plane touched down.
It was foolish to buy a house without seeing it first. She wondered if it was there, and in good condition as she had been told, or if she had paid for something that didn't exist. But she was finally in the island, miles away from New York, and she couldn't suppress a feeling of relief.
Passengers filed off the plane several minutes later, waited with weary resignation in a line that seemed to crawl at Immigration, crowded around the baggage conveyor, collected their luggage, then headed for another snake-like line at Customs.
Searching for her own luggage, Jerri took her garment bag from the carousel, put it beside her two suitcases, and started as a voice said beside her. "Small world." The voice was deep and easy.
Controlling a thread of anxiety, she turned and looked at the man who had spoken. The face seemed familiar, the eyes too, fathomless and gentle. She had seen them somewhere before; wondering vaguely, where, she stepped aside for a woman with two bulging shopping bags, acknowledged her soft-spoken thanks, and said to the man, "Excuse me?"
He smiled. "It seems that I have the advantage," he said wryly. "And here I was thinking I was unforgettable. I'm Kerrel Waring. We met at a party a few months ago. You came with a friend. Ariel. You were the only one in modern dress ..."
A smile replaced the guarded look on Jerri's face as he spoke, and an image of him in another setting came to mind. No wonder she couldn't place him before. About six foot four, in jeans and a white polo shirt now, his party attire had been more ceremonial. "I've never felt more out of place in my life," she replied. "Thanks to Ariel who took me there and disappeared as soon as we entered the door. In case I forgot to say it that night, thanks for rescuing me."
"It was a pleasure."
"So what are you doing in Camaroche? Were you on this flight too?"
"I live here. And yes, I was. Vacation?" he asked, indicating her luggage.
"If I'm lucky, and the house that I bought really exists."
"You bought a house that you're not sure is there?"
Jerri said, "It sounds silly doesn't it? It does to me too, now, but at the time ... I bought it in Manhattan, sight unseen, from a high-octane real estate agent who was visiting from this island. A friend of a friend of Ariel's. I did it with my eyes open, with sound mind and memory, on a day that I should have been seeing a doctor for a serious cranial overhaul, instead of visiting another one of Ariel's friends. To put it another way, you're looking at a woman who should have her head and her judgment examined."
"A woman who buys houses that she's never seen, from people who she's never met before."
"That's me. I see you have your luggage. When you get through at Customs, could you direct me to the taxi stand? Shauna, the dynamic real estate agent, promised to send a taxi to take me to the house."
"I'll take you, if you know the address. After we settle with the taxi driver. If you don't mind riding with me that is. My car's outside. I had someone leave it there earlier."
"Thanks. I accept. But if I'm coming with you, drive slowly, very slowly. I'm not sure I want to see what I bought."
Kerrel smiled, waved over a passing porter, and looked back at her. "And some people can't commit to a glass of water. Why did you buy something as important as a house without seeing it first?"
"Because I was out of my mind," Jerri answered. "I have three months to myself in which to do absolutely nothing," she added, as the porter put their luggage on his cart. "And I wanted to spend them in a quiet, peaceful, friendly place, somewhere. This island came to mind. I've always wanted to visit. My maternal grandparents were born here. They left as children, small children, but I've heard wonderful things about it, about its friendly people, and their laid-back attitude.
"The more I thought about it, the more I wanted to come. Unfortunately, my relatives moved away long before I was born, the relatives on both sides of the family, there's nobody left here, so I couldn't come visit them, and I didn't want to go to a hotel. I wanted my own place, to own my own place here. A place I could go to when I wanted to get away, and rent out the rest of the time.
"Well, that was the plan. To make enquiries, to do things gradually, and check out everything first. But I have a tendency to leap before I look. So when Shauna promised me heaven in the form of a house, 'a spacious, gorgeous, fully furnished brick ranch, with high ceilings, large windows, and covered terrace,' and added that it was a stone's throw from the shopping area ..."
"You opened your arms and jumped."
"Without a parachute. Into what could prove to be a sand hill, in some godforsaken place."
"Well, let's go see if we should throw you a party, or have you committed."
Taxis collected passengers, family and friends greeted each other, and the din of voices drummed in her ears as Jerri followed him and the porter to his car a while later.
Twenty minutes later, after a leisurely drive from the airport through Grovetown, past pastel colored houses of every size and description, to a hillside village on the outskirts of the town, Jerri was standing on the front walk of a house that she had wondered about, but until then she wasn't sure existed, marveling at the thought of aggressive real estate agents who mean what they say, and life in general. "Brick ranch," she murmured.
"With covered terrace," Kerrel said beside her.
"You could even say, gorgeous."
"Good area. No sand."
"Maybe it's piled up inside. You coming?"
"I wouldn't miss it for anything." He picked up her suitcases.
That's right, treat him like a good friend and bosom companion, Jerri thought, as she went ahead of him up the front walk. Forget that you were born and raised in New York, and why you really wanted to get away. Trust everybody. Ask him in. You've only known the man for what, a few hours? Including the ones that you spent at that party he reminded you about, and he already knows more about you than you do about him.
Never mind his gentle eyes and thoughtful friendliness, especially the thoughtful friendliness, for which you're truly grateful, seeing that except for Shauna, you don't know a soul on this island, or, that you're not opposed to attractive, and he's extremely attractive. For all you know, the man could be a present-day Jack the Ripper, walking around in a black man's body in the British Caribbean. Wonderful!
Now all of a sudden you're worried about being alone with him. This is a fine time to be doing that, Miss Stupid, especially since you brought him in on this little adventure. You can't do that to someone, then refuse to share the ending. And the state of the inside of this house you've bought, lady, could be one hell of an ending to this little adventure. Jerriann Matheson, you're an idiot!
Ignoring the house, Kerrel watched Jerri walk up the front walk, his sharpened senses drowning in the scent of her, from her faint perfume to the unique scent of the heat of the life force coursing through her body.
She was striking. About five foot ten, with smooth chocolate and cream skin, lovely face, nice shape, dark hair a little below shoulder length. She was very, very good to look at. The faint huskiness of her voice when she spoke added to the appeal.
She had large dark tranquil eyes, a mouth he had trouble keeping his eyes off of, and a straight nose that gave her face a haughty look, projecting an air of aloofness that her eyes belied when she smiled. Filled with sparkling warmth, mischief shimmered in their depths and beckoned, making him long to answer, to climb inside and go play.
Back off! he warned himself, as his mind started to reach. She asked you in. She did not ask you to play with her. The way she affects you, you shouldn't even be near her right now. Just see that she's settled, and get the hell out of here.
Jerri closed the door of the fully stocked refrigerator and returned to the living room. Kerrel was seated on the sofa; she sat down in an armchair across from the sofa, and kicked off her shoes. "You know," she said, contemplating her toes, "there's a word for what I'm feeling right now, but I can't seem to find it."
"Relieved?" Kerrel supplied.
"Astonished is more like it. Everything works. Including the phone."
"It's not supposed to? Didn't you say that Shauna said that the house was ready to be occupied? That she promised to take care of everything?"
"I did. But I don't really know her, do I? People say things, and forget them, and you're usually stuck with the outcome. I expected a shack at best, and instead I find, this." She glanced around the sunny cream-colored living room, threw her arms
wide. "Roomy house, gleaming hardwood floors, every room nicely furnished."
She looked around the room again. Her eyes touched on the handmade area rug, on a burnished wood side table. "Beautiful rattan and mahogany furniture, the cushions and pillows on the chairs, deeply padded for comfort, entertainment center, TV, DVD/VCR, top-of-the-line stereo... It all looks new, and so elegant, so neat and normal, and everything in colors that I would have chosen. Ticking like clockwork. There's nothing left for me to do. Even the curtains are hung right. Life is not usually this uncomplicated."
"Apparently it is when Shauna's in charge."
"Apparently. It does my heart good to work with someone who is a woman of her word. But I don't understand. A house like this, furnished to the last teaspoon. It wasn't cheap, but the owner could have gotten far more than I paid for it if she'd held out longer."
"Maybe she couldn't wait. Maybe she was short of funds."
"Maybe. Shauna was right. It's a steal. A ... Oh hell!"
"Something I completely forgot," Jerri said, sitting up straight. "It comes with strings attached. The house, I mean. It's tied to a job. The job comes with the house. It was a part of the deal. I agreed to it, in writing. If I bought the house, I also agreed to take the owner's job for a few months. Helping out in a health food store. I figured, three months of doing nothing could get to be really boring, and I know about stores. I'm the manager of a discount store, so ..."
"Yes. You think that that's the catch? Something shady about the job? The store? How could I have forgotten about it?"
The corners of Kerrel’s mouth twitched upward. "I don’t know. But lady, when you commit, you don't fool around. I don't think it's the job though. My bet's on the house. Maybe it has ghosts."
"Bite your tongue!" Jerri said, and stood up. "Would you like some wine? It's my apology for monopolizing your time. There's a bottle in the fridge."
"Can I get you something else?"
He stood up and walked toward her. Jerri watched him cross the room. Tall and lean, he walked with the casual grace of someone who was sure of himself, someone who was completely at ease in his skin. She took in the graceful body, the vibrant good looks, the gentle eyes. A walking advertisement for healthy choices, he radiated a robust energy she could almost reach out and touch. "You could invite me to come by any time," he said, and stopped in front of her. "Right now, I have to go."
Surprised at the twinge of disappointment she felt as he said it, Jerri replied, "I'm not sure I want to do that. Invite you to come by. Hanging out with someone who jumps without a parachute could be extremely dangerous."
"But think of the fun I'd have being scared to death. Life would be a whale of a high."
"Sure. If you're an adrenaline junkie. Kerrel, thanks for being there earlier, for bringing me here. It was easier with someone there."
He stared at her eyes, almost as if he was studying their structure, then he smiled briefly. "Glad to be of help." He reached into a pocket of his jeans and took out a pen and a small notebook and scribbled something. "I want you to have this." He tore out the page and handed it to her. "My phone number and address. Call me if you run into anything you can't handle."
Jerri glanced at the sheet of paper. Call him, he says. And if a woman answers? She looked back at him.
He was looking at her eyes again, his eyes gentle, probing, searching for something. Abruptly he said, "Welcome to Camaroche, Jerri. I hope you find what Shauna promised you. Not only in the form of this house, but on the entire island. Heaven." Bending, he touched his lips to hers.
As he touched her, Jerri's scalp tingled. The feeling spread through her body, leaving goose bumps in its wake, and ended in a small itching pain, deep in her lower sides. Rubbing her goose-bumped arms in vague confusion, she followed him to the door. He drove a white Buick Regal. She watched as the car left.
Kerrel entered the living room as the housekeeper left. He had showered and changed. Christopher Waring and Shauna Brodie watched as he headed for the serving cart the housekeeper had brought into the room minutes before. Two years older than Kerrel, and as tall, Chris had the same graceful build and robust energy; a distinct family resemblance existed between the two men.
A fireball in a small package, Shauna's delicate figure projected an image of softness and helpless fragility that the strength of her face, her cool intelligent eyes and determined mouth dismissed as sheer illusion. A foolish fancy.
As he reached for a glass and a jug of orange juice on the cart, Kerrel felt the gentle touch of the link as his brother touched his mind. He stilled, allowing the mind-link. The youngest of five siblings, they had communicated like this since they were children, severing the link or veiling the grid when something was too personal. With the link severed, privacy was respected; the other one did not intrude.
Now, Chris walked without comment across the landscape of his younger brother's mind, then said, the words a mental chuckle, Rough day. No wonder you had to get out of there.
Commercial airline flights. They always do that to me, Kerrel responded. Heightens everything. Too many bodies too close together for too long a time. A river of energy, and I soak up the overflow like a sponge. And the way this lady affects me ... Till I got rid of it, her house was not the right place to be.
Accustomed to them, to all of the weavers that she knew—strangely gifted enigmatic people of different races and nationalities who, abandoning their real name, had named themselves "weavers" and thought of themselves as one, as a family, regardless of race or national origin—conversing like this at times Shauna walked to a chair as the brothers carried on their silent conversation, knowing they were not deliberately shutting her out. This was just their way.
She was one of the handful of normals who really knew these strange people and their even stranger abilities, one of the privileged few whom some of the younger ones had allowed to get close to them.
A business manager in the clan's employ—They were wealthy people, with vast business interests worldwide—Shauna worked closely with several weavers. But even though she knew they would rather cut off their arms than hurt or scare a normal person, or "sleeper," as they called normals, in some parts of herself, Shauna was still afraid of them.
She was drawn to Chris in a way that she hadn't been to a man in a long time, but these people seldom mated outside of their own kind, and never with people who were afraid of them.
This made things a whole lot simpler, for sexy though they were, and they were extremely sexy, with a sensual quality that was almost tangible, and it could be a lot of fun to make love with one—She had heard that when you made love with a weaver, whether male or female, you had an orgasm from the top of your head to the tips of your toes, that went on and on forever. More lie than truth she was sure, but she wouldn't mind checking it out for herself—she wouldn't want to be romantically involved with, or to marry one of them.
No woman should have a husband who could read her mind, who could invade her thoughts at will and leave her a gibbering idiot if what he saw there did not please him. Especially when she, a normal human being, could not return the favor. Far better to let the eagles fly with the eagles as they wanted to, and stick to your own kind on the ground. It was safer that way. But nobody said you couldn't be strongly attracted to, or feel affection for them, while giving thanks on your knees that they weren't equally attracted to you.
Settling in the chair, Shauna crossed her legs and waited.
Jerriann. I like her name, Chris said to his brother, as he continued to walk across Kerrel’s mind. Ariel was right. About everything. This is not a spiritless woman.
Kerrel said, She likes children.
She has no idea why she wanted to spend the next few months in the Caribbean. She felt the pull of the bond, and thought of her grandparents. She wanted to see their birth country, and own something in it.
Chris said, She follows her heart, and doesn't give a damn who approves. I like this woman. He poured a glass of juice and touched the glass to Kerrel's. To health.
Kerrel said, To health. The link severed.
Chris turned to Shauna as she coughed softly. "I'm sorry," he apologized. "We didn't mean to shut you out. We tend to forget ..."
"It's not important," she interrupted. "How did it go?"
"It went well. Thanks to you, and Ariel."
"Ariel said there's pain there. Buried so deep that she couldn't reach it. Did Kerrel find out what caused it?"
Chris nodded. "Jerri is barren, according to her doctors. A medical problem. She adores children. To hear that she'd never have any of her own ... It was devastating. She buried the pain."
"And Kerrel went where Ariel couldn't go, and found it."
"Ariel is gifted, but she doesn't have Kerrel's gifts."
"Or yours. My aunt lost a good man because she couldn't have children. Her need to have a child consumed her to the point where she made the need more important than the marriage. Was that why Jerri's marriage broke up?" She looked at Kerrel questioningly.
"No," Kerrel answered, and finished the juice in his glass. "There were other things involved. And her ex-husband has kids by a former marriage."
Replacing his glass on the cart, Chris wandered across the room to an open window as they spoke, and gazed outside.
"I know I don't know everything that's going on here," Shauna continued to Kerrel, "that you've only told me what you want me to know, and that as a sleeper, I shouldn't be putting my nose where it doesn't belong, but, what does Jerri know about you?"
"Except that we met once before, nothing." Picking up the jug with the juice Kerrel poured himself a fresh glass.
"But you're interested in her for whatever reason, so you're going to let her get to know you, trust you, and other little things like that."
"Yes. Her marriage hasn't left her in the greatest shape where trusting men is concerned, so wish me luck."
"I think that Jerri is the one who'll need it. But if you think that you do, maybe you shouldn't do it right away," Shauna said dryly. "Let her get to know you, I mean. It might send her screaming in fear back to New York. Especially when she finds out that if you touch her at the wrong time or under the wrong circumstances you could kill her, and if you do it at other times, she could get so high from the charge, people might think she's on drugs. Something like that can create real panic in a person."
Kerrel gulped a mouthful of juice and stared at her. "When did I kill you, or make you high with my touch?"
"You didn't. But I know you."
"You'd never hurt me. But I was scared witless till I got to know you. Scared of all of you."
"And that's our fault? And what does your fear have to do with Jerri?"
Shauna said, "She's human."
"And we're not?"
"Yes, you are. The same way a shaddock and an orange are citrus fruits. You're good at concealment, all of you. You've had to be. If you want this woman, I suggest you keep the knowledge of the citrus family branch to which you belong to yourself. At least for now. Act normal for awhile. Who knows? She may be made of stronger stuff than I am."
"Trust me, she is. She thinks of things that would floor a lot of women as adventures. Act normal! What did you think I was going to do, make it snow in her living room?"
"No. Just make her think that it's snowing; or forget sometime and kill her with a touch. Did she see you on the plane?"
"No. We ran into each other at the airport here. I reintroduced myself, and drove her home. She's delighted with her house, by the way, though she's not sure about the job that it's tied to. And she thinks that you're a wonder on two legs."
Shauna said, "Poor woman. But, lest the women on this island should overhear me and stone me for blasphemy, let me add, lucky woman. I know some who would kill to be in her shoes. Kerrel Waring not only gets her a nice house—a house that he owns mind you, that he sells her through his aunt Maxine (no dealing with greedy, deceitful real estate agents for her) and sees to it that things are just the way she wants them, but he drops everything and flies to New York, to escort her to Camaroche. The question is, why? When there are so many equally gorgeous women here who would snap him up in a minute?"
Kerrel smiled. "Maybe I'm looking out for the women here. Maybe I'm keeping them at arm’s length, so I don't forget and kill them with a touch, or scare them silly by making it snow in their living rooms. Or, maybe I'm just thinking like a Boy Scout, and doing a good deed for someone. Take your pick. They all sound good to me."
In the gentle flow of a cool breeze that came through the window, Chris listened as their voices washed over him, and thought about his people, and the rules that governed their lives. And of a woman who had no idea that she was the only key left to the opening of a lock that had long since rusted shut.
The night had turned chilly. Jerri closed three of the four bedroom windows. Getting back into bed, she picked up the journal Ariel had given her. Sitting with her back against the headboard, she wrote:
Ariel said, "Write down your thoughts." Write down my thoughts. I've never kept a diary before. I don't even know how to begin, but I have to say something to somebody, so it might as well be you. Though you're not a "body" are you? Whatever.
I can't believe that I'm sitting up in bed in the Caribbean, the Caribbean, writing in a journal. I want to pinch myself. I followed a crazy notion with crazier action and actually bought a house here. My God, I ought to have my head examined, but I don't care. I took a chance and it paid off, and I love it, I love it, I love it that it did!
Spacious, and wonderfully airy, the house has air conditioning, and is much bigger than I thought it would be; the rooms are larger than I saw them in my mind. It has four bedrooms, and both a large front and backyard. It's near the end of a tree-lined street in a hillside village, and there's a glorious view of the sea from here.
I'm still waiting for someone to tell me why it didn't cost more, but I'm not going to knock on any doors to find out. Maybe it is haunted. But, no problem. If the ghost leaves me alone, I'll leave it alone. It was here before me after all. Live and let live ... well, you know what I mean.
The front of the house is ablaze with low-growing flowering shrubs. They line the front walk, form a lovely hedge, and dot the yard here and there. There are a couple of trees in the backyard. One is a lofty looking genip tree. It's beautiful, the house I mean—and what pretty house in a nice area wouldn't be, when I expected a sand hill?—From the little I've seen of it, so is the island.
While the people here are mostly of African descent, an assortment of other races completes the picture. Formerly an island with an agricultural economy, nowadays agriculture shares space with tourism. An island where most of the people look like me—I feel at home already.
I can't wait to see what the job I agreed to entails. What if "health food" is a cover for something illegal? Sinister? Something that will make me wish that I had given this move more thought? Trust me to get myself into something like this. Jerriann Matheson. Two gallons shy of a keg of beer.
I haven't met any of my neighbors yet, but I glimpsed the one on the right in her backyard earlier.
I already know one other person here. Well, I don't really know him, just as I don't know Shauna. I met him three months ago and liked what I saw, but scared of the feeling, I ordered myself to forget him, and did, then I ran into him at the airport here. The man keeps crossing my path. He has nice eyes. Golden eyes, expressive, with a hint of something in the background that sets them on fire. They glow with a soft radiance. Jeez! I sound like an ad for a fluorescent light bulb. Soft radiance!
He's attractive, very attractive, and if I really wanted to screw up my life, I could be interested. Which would be a mistake.
A big mistake. I didn't come to this island to be "interested" in anyone. Still, those golden eyes in his honey-brown face are arresting. I could easily ...
The phone on the night table rang, startling her. Jerri glanced at it as it rang again. Curious, she picked it up, and started as Kerrel's voice said in her ear, "You didn't call."
A soft smile curled her lips. "I didn't run into anything I couldn't handle," she answered.
"You could have called and told me so."
Jerri grinned, and settled the phone closer to her ear. He had a pleasant voice, easy on the ears. She could listen to it all night. "Ah, you just like to talk on the phone, and couldn't care less if Lucifer Himself is on the other end."
"Not true. My phone thinks that it's been hired under false pretenses. It's threatening to quit because it rarely gets used."
"Poor thing. And you have such an honest face too. Who'd think that you'd be guilty of lying to a helpless object?"
"Not my phone. Are you all right there, alone?"
"Yes, I am. Shauna called and asked me that too."
"She wanted to apologize for not being there to meet me earlier. Something about a problem that needed her immediate attention. But as I told her before I left New York, it wasn't necessary for her to meet me. She had mailed me everything I needed, and promised someone would come get me at the airport. Besides, if the house was going to be a wreck, I wanted to see it by myself. Not with other eyes there looking on."
"Then you ran into me, and blew that one to hell."
"Who? You? You didn't count. I felt so at ease with ... This wasn't about you. You were just the good Samaritan, helping out the flaky stranger. Now Shauna, standing in front of me, showing me a wreck that good money had bought and teaching me a lesson that I should have learned in kindergarten, that not every jackass has long ears and a tail, that would have been something else. I'd like to rent a car. Is there a car rental agency nearby? I forgot to ask her about it."
"There are three of them in town. I'll take you to one in the morning."
"No!" Jerri said quickly. So quickly she felt the need to apologize. "I er, I didn't mean that the way it sounded. I appreciate the offer, but I don't want to hog your time. Just point me in the general direction and I'll find it. They have bus service here, don't they? And a phone book?"
"Yes," the easy voice said in her ear. "You can catch the bus at the head of the street. Just stand on the corner. The bus is red and white, and smaller than the ones in New York. It takes you into town, past two car rental agencies on Main Street. Walk a short block over, and the other one is on Grant Avenue. There's a phone book in your living room. In the magazine rack near the sofa. I saw it there today. And Jerri? Let me worry about my time. I'll give you time to wake up, and come take you wherever you want to go."
"I'd like to go check out this job that I've locked myself into. See who they want me to kill, and how soon they want me to do ... I'm sorry. I'm really having a problem with this."
"You don't think you'll be selling 'health food' in a nice little health food store."
"No. People need work. Sales clerks are not hard to find. You don't tie a job like that to a house you're selling if everything's on the up and up. And look at this house: the furniture looks custom-made. Take a look at the kitchen. It has all the amenities. New stove, microwave, washer, dryer, dishwasher, and lord knows what else. The woman I bought it from didn't buy and furnish it with a sales clerk's salary. I thought I could handle it when I agreed to it, you know? But now that I'm here I'm not sure; and the more I think about it ..."
"The more you wish you could chuck the damn agreement."
"'Chuck' is not the word I'd use. It doesn't come close to saying what I feel. About the car. What's it cost to rent one here?"
Kerrel said, "It depends. But don't worry about it. You know someone who knows someone who owns a car rental agency."
Jerri asked, "Who?"
"This, on top of everything else. Why?"
Humor in his voice, Kerrel said, "Why, what?"
"Why are you being so nice to me? You hardly know me."
"I'd hardly call it being nice."
"What would you call it?"
"I wouldn't call it anything. I know the island, you don't. I can help. And I like you, I enjoy being with you. I'd like to get to know you better."
"And taking me around would help. Now what do I say?"
"Say that you'll accept my help. I could do 'nice' if it would make it easier for you."
"You don't have to."
"That's a relief. I'm good at some things, but 'nice' isn't one of them. See you tomorrow?"
"Good night, Jerri."
Jerri hung up the phone, and closed the journal. Kerrel Waring. "I must stay away from that man," she told herself softly, and turned off the bedside lamp. "He's too attractive, and much too easy to like."
Settling back against the headboard, she thought about the first time she had seen him; at a party on Long Island, given by friends of Ariel. They had told their guests that each one could bring a friend. Ariel, the fixer, who had never met a homebody that she didn't want to cure, had taken one look at Jerri, imagined she was looking at a woman in dire need of a good time, and decided to "bring" her, then she had searched around in Jerri’s closet for the perfect party dress.
The calf-length, form-fitting, lace over satin halter dress she took from the closet and urged Jerri to wear, an overstated white creation that only the closet had worn since she’d bought it, made Jerri wish she’d had the good sense to admire, but leave it in the store where it belonged. But claiming the dress was "perfect," that it made Jerri look like a bride, Ariel had practically dragged her out of her apartment and taken her to the party, never mentioning once that Jerri should have done some special shopping. A costume party. With a Middle Ages theme.
Feeling like a hot plate at a wood stoves' gala, Jerri had gravitated to the nearest chair as Ariel wandered off and left her, then seemed to disappear completely. She'd fought embarrassment by admiring the costumes the other guests were wearing, costumes that looked like the long-ago garb of seemingly every nation on earth. They had looked authentic, as if they were really made back then, and their owners had just taken them out of storage, freshened them up, and put them on.
The couple who were hosting the party, a husband and wife in their thirties, served no alcohol, no coffee, and no meat. The music, performed by a sextet on instruments that she had never seen or heard before, wrapped itself around her, held her close and melted into her bones, creating in her such a natural high that she felt as if she were liquored up with a dozen straight shots.
But as she was admiring everyone else's clothes, they were also watching her. People kept looking at her and smiling kindly, as if she were some rare oddity set down in their midst. Also, she had felt, and was sure that she'd looked, spacey. Having neither eaten nor drunk a thing there up to then, to this day she still didn't understand why she had felt so spaced-out.
Just as she'd started to make some off-color comments about Ariel, who was still nowhere to be seen, Sir Gorgeous of the gentle glowing eyes, dressed like a monk, his expression at once serious and whimsical, rode up, er, strode up to rescue her.
Not, in all honesty, that she'd really needed rescuing. She was more ticked off than anything else, on principle, at being dragged to the party and abandoned. For after the first few minutes, except for the weird spaciness that made her worry about standing up suddenly, and being left to herself among people that she didn't know, she had felt strangely at ease. The air throbbed with the sensation—a feeling of ease, well-being, all-encompassing perfection, and harmony. It was as if everyone there was connected somehow, that they all shared one heartbeat under the skin. The warmth in Sir Gorgeous' eyes as he introduced himself and struck up a conversation had underlined the feeling.
"You should have seen the skins," Jerri murmured, and slid down in the bed, preparing for sleep. "They seemed to belong to every race on earth."
Strangely, the feeling of ease that she had experienced that night had never left her. In some odd way she couldn't describe, she had begun to feel completely at ease with herself, comfortable in her skin. So much so that there were times when she felt that she could do anything, accomplish anything with minimum effort and a total lack of struggle. It was as if she had been freed to experience herself in a whole new way.
Weary of questioning the new feelings rising inside her, she had ignored the questions and had acted on a few of the feelings, knowing in her heart that she could trust them, that no matter what she did, things would work out exactly as she wanted them to. They had helped her to buy a house where she wanted it, in an island in the Caribbean.
And yet, despite the impression the event made, she had put the people, their party, and the man who had helped her to forget herself and enjoy what had proved to be an enjoyable evening, out of her mind, till he reminded her about them today.
He had come out of the rain and made her feel safe; filling her night with tenderness, passion, and a kind of happiness that she had never felt before, he had left her with memories that kept playing and replaying themselves in her mind.
Memories of heated kisses, of unrestrained caresses, and deep, achingly sweet fulfillment. He had made love to her as if he wanted to imprint her touch, her taste, her scent, the sound of her voice and her softest breath, everything about her on his heart. When they let go of each other for the last time, she knew he had done the same thing to her. He had stamped himself so deeply on her heart, that no matter how long she lived, or where, he would always be a part of her.