I thought, after, about that moment, over and over, what would have happened if I had simply taken his arm and gone home with him. But, like Lot’s wife, I had to look back at the familiar, at the river. I liked to walk beside it in the daylight. “Look at the moon,” I whispered. Clouds streamed across its face. The wind carried a scent of dry leaves and frost and distant smoke. Something on the air, something on the way.
“I’ve already eaten. I’m just going to have another glass of wine. She’d like coffee,” he said to the waitress.
We sat in companionable silence. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw the lights of the bookstore go dark. “Oh, shit,” I said. “What time is it?”
“After eight,” he replied. “Your friend is going home, so now you’re alone with me. You aren’t going to turn into a mouse or a pumpkin or some other damned thing and leave me sitting here with nothing in my hands but a glass slipper, are you?”
I laughed. “No, I’m afraid that you’re stuck with plain old me.”
She looked as if she was about forty-five. Her eyes were dark and absolutely amoral. Her lips were full, her nose was long and regal, and her hair was dark red, like cinnamon sticks. She had heavy bangs that fell precisely to the tops of her eyebrows. Her hair was twisted up on the back of her head, and she wore a sleeveless black evening dress with a beaded top and a stiff satin skirt. A bib of diamonds glittered on her décolletage.
The vampires all had on the same clothes as the night before except for Vivian, who had changed into a black peignoir set for reasons I didn’t want to know. She even wore a pair of open-toed black slippers with high heels and fluffy black pom poms. The polish on her toenails was almost black, and shiny like a beetle’s back.
Oh, how I envied that, and the way his hand hovered at her elbow so carefully, and how the whiteness of her skin matched his so perfectly, as if they were a pair of china dolls that I could set up on a shelf and admire and take down to caress, but only in the moonlight, only in the darkness.
“I fucking hate the rain,” Cheryl said.
“You probably shouldn’t be living on an island,” I replied.
“Yeah, well . . . up yours.” She tucked her blonde hair behind her ears and came around the counter to the coffee machine. Her ivory sweater and tan slacks complemented the store’s beige carpet and white bookshelves. The store was hers. The storefront looked out on downtown Riverhead. The fact that she had named the store Cheryl’s Book Nook made me cringe inside, but the tourists from the city seemed to like the kitschy name, the coffee bar, and the proprietor’s cleavage.
It was early October, and it had been pouring every day for a week. The book club had cleared out early because they didn’t want to drive east into darkness and pummeling winds off the ocean. Rain ran heavily down the windows and blurred the sidewalk and street lamps. “It’ll probably clear up tomorrow,” I said, to make her feel better. I loved the autumn rain and nearly everything else about eastern Long Island.
Cheryl held up the coffee pot. I shook my head. I had been standing around in the store playing hooky from work for the past hour and downed two cups already. “I don’t know how you sleep,” I said. “I’m going to be up all night.”
“That’s why you need a man in your bed,” Cheryl replied. “Give you something productive to do.”
I mentally composed my rebuttal because I knew that she was about to start in on my state of perpetual spinsterhood. The jingle of the brass bell over the door saved me. A man came in, pausing to shake off his umbrella under the awning. The wind turned it inside-out. He righted it, then turned and favored us with a smile.
He was Cheryl’s height, about five foot eight. His hair was black, curly and unruly, with quite a few silver strands. His eyes were intensely blue. Cheryl had big, pretty blue eyes, but his were extraordinary . . . vibrant and graced with long, thick, black lashes that I couldn’t have accomplished with the most expensive of mascaras. He had laugh lines around the corners of his eyes and mouth. His eyes met mine. I smiled back. It was impossible not to. Raindrops clung to his gray wool coat. I had a shocking urge to put out my finger, catch one, and bring it to my lips.
He raised a dark brow, tucked the umbrella under his arm, and started browsing the shelves. “Oh, my God,” Cheryl said. “Did you see the way he looked at you?”
I watched him wander down an aisle. He stopped and picked up a book, then glanced over his shoulder at me. I broke out in a sweat.
“I think he likes you,” Cheryl whispered.
“You’ve got to be shitting me,” I whispered back. Her tits are falling out of her sweater, I can practically read the size on her underwear because her slacks are so tight, and this guy, this hot guy, he’s going to look twice at me? My long, reddish-brown hair was frizzy from the humidity. I had on a green sweater, black leggings, and plaid galoshes. I was five foot two. Even without her high heels, Cheryl towered over me.
“He’s checking you out,” she insisted.
“You want I should go ask him for a date?”
“What am I supposed to say? Hi, Mr. Dark Mysterious Stranger, would you like to father my children?”
“Excuse me.” His voice was right at my shoulder. I had a brief episode of heart palpitations. Cheryl laughed, then fake-coughed. I turned around.
He had one of my books in his hand. He held it up so that I could see my face in black and white on the dust jacket. “Cassandra Dunn. You’re the author?”
I had a spiel prepared for fans, but it had all flown out the window. Up close, his blue eyes were devastating. A dreamy calm overcame me as I wondered how he had happened to put his hand on that particular book out of all the volumes in the store. Selinda’s Castle was not something the average man would find interesting.
“What’s it about?” He had the slightest of European accents. I couldn’t quite place it. I struggled to pull my thoughts together.
“It’s about a woman from the United States who inherits a castle in Wales. She goes to see it before it’s sold . . .”
“Ah.” He smiled even more broadly. “It’s a romantic suspense novel. Are they popular again?”
“Mine are.” I was stating a fact, not boasting. I could have shown him on the laminated bestseller lists beside the cash register.
“Mysterious castles, damp moors, dark, brooding heroes?”
“A lot of people still like that genre.” I started to twirl my hair around my finger, but made myself stop.
“They made one of her books into a movie.” Cheryl had to butt in. She pointed with a long pink nail. He strolled over to the shelf and came back with Dark Homecoming. It wasn’t my book’s title. The screenwriter made it up for the movie.
“I’m ashamed to say that I’ve never heard of this film,” he said, leaning against the counter about a foot away from me.
“It went straight to video,” I admitted. “But they play it all the time on Lifetime and the other Lifetime.”
“Lifetime Movie Network,” Cheryl whispered
“Shut up,” I whispered back.
“Those are the channels for women, right?” His eyes ran up and down my body.
I leaned into him. “Is there something wrong with that?”
Cheryl caught her breath.
“Yes. The other programming must be boring compared to your movie. I’m going to buy both of these.” He took a leather wallet from his inside coat pocket and handed a credit card to Cheryl. She graced him with her own toothy, radiant smile as she rang up the purchase. She lingered over sliding the DVD and book into a plastic bag. He seemed to enjoy the show. He glanced from her to me with blatant lust burning in his blue eyes. I had never seriously considered a threesome before that moment.
But he just walked away, unfurling his umbrella, and headed back out into the wind and the rain. He raised the little plastic bag with its cheery Have A Nice Day! logo as he went out the door.