And On That Crazy Note…

I finished the wip tonight.  Yep, I know.  It’s crazy.

I was on fire.  Drunk on words.  I couldn’t stop.  The story consumed my every free moment.  Even when I was working or cooking dinner or picking up kids from school, I could hear Ranay and Charlie in my head.

And surprisingly, I finished under the 35K mark.  Granted that’s first draft, but IF–and that’s a huge if–I want to submit it for the antho call, I met the size requirement.

I flirted with the road less traveled but didn’t quite go there.  Or rather, I went there, but it’s so subtle and woven into the narrative in little ways that I don’t think you would know.  Until I write the next book that’s in my head.

7756 words for the day.  Yeah, I know.  I haven’t written that much in… I can’t remember.  Combine that with yesterday’s total, and it’s insane.  When the story’s right (write) though, it just goes.  I couldn’t type fast enough.  In this case, I’m thankful I’m a pretty fast typist, because I didn’t want to lose a single moment.

Another snippet, continuing from yesterday.

Yet I couldn’t stifle the kernel of anticipation that had sprouted in that dark secret corner I’d fought so hard to control this past year.  Even worse, that little sprout threatened to grow into Jack’s beanstalk when he and Sheba followed me into the break room.  Clients never came back here, but I didn’t think Dr. Wentworth would mind.  She claimed not to have any favorites, but Sheba was too perfect not to make it high on our office’s most beloved list.

I wasn’t sure what Mr. MacNiall did for a living, but we often had the pleasure of boarding Sheba while he was out of town.  Truth be told, we spoiled her rotten and gave her the run of the office when she was ours for a few days.

I started to scoop him a cup from the crockpot, but I decided I’d better warm him first.  “This didn’t come out of a box.  It’s a concoction I came up after making it over and over and now it’s become a sort of tradition.”  I took a deep breath, forcing myself to stop babbling like a nervous twit.  “It’s got coconut milk in it.  Is that okay?”

He shrugged off his coat, treating me to hints of the powerful cuts of muscle beneath his sweater.  “As long as it’s hot and chocolately, I don’t care.”

And then he looked at me.

I mean, he really looked at me.  Not through me, not in my general vicinity required through polite social interaction.  He looked at me like he could see everything inside me.  Everything I’d fought to fix, and if I couldn’t fix it, the things I ignored and pretended weren’t broken and painful.  Some days those things ached so badly I was afraid I’d shatter into a thousand pieces.  His eyes saw that darkness in me.  He saw how damaged I was.

And he didn’t turn away.

He didn’t look at me with pity.  Or revulsion.  His gaze didn’t skitter away.  He didn’t start making excuses so he could retreat unscathed before my compulsions trapped him in a web of crazy he’d do anything to escape.

Oh, the way he looked at me…

I couldn’t move.  I couldn’t blink.  I couldn’t breathe.

With all that scorching intensity, he was either all in or completely out.  No in between.  No safety net.  No flirting.  No escape.

A lot like me.

Which makes him entirely off limits.  I jerked my gaze away and the effort made sweat bead on my forehead.  Too dangerous by far.  Neither one of us would be able to escape a relationship unscathed.

He took a long drink, giving me respite from his gaze, enough that I was able to suck in a loud breath.  I managed to get my heart beating again.  My fingers were icy, my hands shaking, and as hot as my face felt, I was probably glowing as brightly as Rudolph’s nose.  Desperate to hide my reaction, I bent down on my knee and concentrated on Sheba.

The dog gave me a knowing look, as though to say, I know he’s a great master, but he’s all mine, human.  I scratched behind her big perked up ears and under her jaw.  Her long ebony coat was immaculately groomed.  If she jumped up on her rear legs, she’d be almost as tall as me.  Yet like her master, she was unfailing gentle despite her power.

“Ranay?”

The soft tone of his voice made me close my eyes, even as I wanted to turn my face up to him and let my hunger show on my face.  Hunger for him, for the control he wielded so effortlessly.  I was already on one knee.  It’d be so easy…

Too easy.

I buried my face against Sheba’s neck and made a sound I hope he took for “Yes?”

“May I ask you a personal question?”

I clutched the big dog harder.  Luckily she didn’t mind.  In fact, she licked my cheek and made a low whuff in my ear.  “Of course, Mr. MacNiall.”

“Mac,” he chided.  “Hell, you could even call me Charlie and I wouldn’t mind, even though the only other person who calls me that is Mom.  I’ve been coming to Dr. Wentworth for years and I’ve known you since the first day she hired you.  Surely you can call me by name now?”

He remembered when I’d been hired?  Had Dr. Wentworth talked to him about me?  How much did she know about my unsavory past?

Considering she was Mom’s best friend, probably way more than I wanted her to know.  She’d probably only given me the job out of the kindness of her heart, though I think I’d more than earned her trust.  I was never late, I loved the animals, and I was determined to do my best work every single day.  I was holding it together.  Nobody had any cause to suspect I might have a few screws loose.  “Dr. Wentworth likes us to be professional at all times.”

“She calls me Mac.  Why can’t you?”

He didn’t have to remind me.  For a while, I’d burned with jealousy when I heard the easy familiarity between them, until I understood there was nothing between them but friendship.  The first few months at my new job, I’d been oblivious to the clients–concentrating instead on their animals.  Eventually I’d realized those animals only came to us via their human counterparts, and I’d found myself reconnecting with the world.

I wish I’d never looked into Sheba’s human’s eyes.  I wish I’d been able to crush that first hint of attraction.  I wish he wasn’t such a dedicated pet owner who brought Sheba in faithfully every single month for grooming.

How could I even begin to explain it to him?  If I cracked that door open even just a little, the whole avalanche would slip free and bury me beneath dozens of feet of roiling, uncontrollable emotion.  It took all my will and effort to keep all that locked away so I could function.  It’d taken me two years to get over the last man I’d dated.

Although “dating” wasn’t exactly the right word for such a disastrous and dysfunctional relationship.

“I have to get back to the front desk.”  Without looking at him, I pushed to my feet and carefully edged around him.  Part of me was afraid he might lay a hand on my arm to halt my escape.  The other half of me frantically pleaded that he seize both of my arms and haul me against him until I had no choice but to tell him the truth.  I refused to be disappointed that he merely followed me back to the front of the office.

I took my seat, firmly entrenched behind the high counter that walled me off from the world.  Only then could I attempt to meet his steady, piecing gaze again.  Nope, I couldn’t do it.  Not yet.  I settled my gaze on his sweater, tracing the weave of each thread, the way the colors met and blended.  That distracted me enough to answer him.  “What do you want to know?”

He merely stared back at me, waiting.

Waiting.

Oh God.  This man was so dangerous.  He knew how to play me.  How to tempt me.  Without ever talking about more than Sheba’s next appointment, he knew secrets about me that I tried so hard to hide.  Secrets I buried, denied, and prayed I could erase, but they were always there to torment me.

I didn’t want to let him in.  I didn’t want to play his game.

That’s a lie.  I want to play his game so badly I’m scared to death.

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