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Carrying an opened blue umbrella, I stepped up the curb to the sidewalk, avoiding the puddle that had formed on the unlevel concrete. Rain slapped the ground furiously, sparing no one in its deafening anger, especially not my long mess of brown hair that seemed to frizz more with each raindrop. I made my way gingerly, sidestepping dangerous amounts of potentially toxic water in ridiculously high heels. I was on my way to the most important job interview of my life. I also happened to be cold, wet, and hungry with a mood edging on Crazy Psycho B**** Does Happy. It’s really not my best look.
So it pretty much made my day when a grungy looking kid ripped my new purse out of my grip and took off like a world-class sprinter. This was the purse I had saved up for for months, sacrificing food on occasion just to hear the clink of change in a glass jar. I had dreamed about this purse, woken up literally drooling over it. Needless to say, I was not pleased to have it ripped from my loving arms.
“Get back here, you little brat, or so help me GOD, there will be h*ll to pay!” I screamed as I made a mad dash for the terrified kid. Terrified, but quick as a twister ripping through Kansas in July.
My arms pumped furiously as my legs glided over the ground, stiletto heels forgotten, and pellets of rain biting into every bit of exposed skin. I was making serious ground. I could practically smell the fear and regret oozing from his every pore. I was so close I could hear him panting, caught the splashes of muddy water spraying from the ground on my clothes as he ran.
I reached out to rescue my purse from its captor and return it to the safety of my arms.
I will forever curse those shoes.
At the moment I would have grabbed the bag, my right heel snapped and I fell heavily, hitting my head on the curb and rolling directly into the abnormally large puddle I had tried so hard to avoid. Great. I was not only in a horrible mood and missing my purse, but I was now thoroughly soaked. The day kept getting better.
My line of vision was suddenly blocked by a pair of faded blue jeans. I looked up slowly and momentarily lost my breath. The most gorgeous man I had ever seen – Ryan Reynolds included – was standing above me, his hand extended. The roar of the rain pounding concrete and the noises of the city – cars honking, shoes clacking, people arguing - faded into the background as my muddled mind attempted to process why on earth a highly attractive man was in front of me in the middle of a rainstorm, no less.
I grasped the warm hand offered in front of me and stood up slowly, shivering in my wet clothes. I did a mental double take at the electricity in his green eyes as he draped his coat over me.
“Th-thank you,” I stuttered, partially from the cold and partially from him. I frowned. There was something oddly familiar about him, not that I could ever recall seeing someone as breathtaking my whole life.
“Pretty impressive sprint you’ve got there.” He smiled, and I felt as though my stomach had turned to jelly. Gwen, I mentally scolded myself, you’re a grown woman, not a schoolgirl. So he smiled at you. What’s next? A marriage proposal?
He leaned a little closer, and I automatically closed my eyes, thinking he was about to kiss me. Instead, I felt a sharp pain on my forehead and yelped.
“You should get that looked at,” he murmured, moving my hair out of the way. My stomach had since progressed from jelly-stage to doing flips.
It was at that exact moment that I felt a warmth on my forehead, and a coppery smell filled my nostrils.
I’ve never been good around blood, especially my own, so I wasn’t surprised as I swayed dangerously as I took a step towards the curb. Nausea clouded my brain, and my vision grew fuzzy as my body trembled. I wished I could warn Mr. Stud Muffin that his shoes were about to be splattered by a highly unpleasant form of my breakfast, but I was a little preoccupied at the moment.
Instead of puking, however, I stumbled on my shaky feet. My right ankle twisted with a sickening crack as I lost my footing. I gasped as the pain shot up my leg like fiery needles. My breathing grew shallow, and black dots seemed to be closing in on either side of my eyes. The world had slowed to a gray blur as two strong arms caught me and set me down on a slick, wet bench.
My cheeks grew warm as I saw that Mr. Stud Muffin was still next to me as the world came back into focus and the possibility of my puke decorating his shoes shrank slightly.
“Easy, easy.” The gentle voice seemed to be coming from far away, echoing through my mind until I grew dizzy. “Breathe. You need to breathe.”
His hands, surprisingly warm on such a gray morning, pushed my hair away from my face and rubbed my back with even strokes. I closed my eyes and inhaled deeply, feeling the pure air rush through my body. The storm had finally stopped, and the smell of rain, of cleansing, was heavy in the slight breeze. The world had stopped rolling and my vision was completely clear when I opened them again, after what seemed like an eternity.
I turned slowly, my eyes locking with his startling green ones.
I gave myself a mental pep talk. OK. You’re all right. You just looked like an idiot in front of your potential dream guy. Hey, that’s life, right? I moaned aloud.
“Are you okay?” he asked, his voice filled with concern. What was with this guy? Any sane person would have left me shivering in that puddle with no regrets.
“Sorry,” I managed in a raspy whisper, sounding like an eighty-five year old lifetime smoker with emphysema.
He smiled slightly. “There’s nothing to be sorry about. By the way, I’m Adam,” he said, offering his hand. His voice, deep and warm, seemed to brighten the dreary gray skies, and my worries began to melt into the shadows of my mind.
“Gwen,” I said, shaking his hand.
“Normally, I’d say nice to meet you, but considering the circumstances….” Adam smiled, his face achingly familiar, and my stomach gave an involuntary flutter.
Shut up, I told myself. It was just a smile…I mean, people smile all the time, right? And just because he’s funny and nice and handsome and has a gorgeous smile…
I think I sighed outwardly at this point because Adam gave me a strange look, kind of like someone had just let out an embarrassing fart.
I cleared my throat as my body threatened to burst into flame. D*mn my overactive imagination.
“Uh, well…listen, Adam, it’s been really…uh.” I paused stupidly, my mind gone blank from another of his bone melting smiles.
Get. A. Grip. I told myself sternly. You are a self-sufficient, strong young woman on her way to a very important job interview…
“Oh s***!” The words burst from my mouth and I clapped my hands to my cheeks.
“What? What’s wrong?” Adam jumped, his face worried. Poor guy. I prayed he’d leave soon, before the waterworks started.
“What time is it?” I asked, grabbing his wrist frantically and moaning in horror as I saw his watch.
“Gwen, what’s going on?” Adam asked, visibly confused. I didn’t blame him. I’d already be on my way out of New York if I were in his situation.
“I was supposed to be at a job interview five minutes ago!” I cradled my head in my hands and willed my traitor of a body to force the rising tears back down.
“Can’t you get another one? I’m sure if you talk to whoever’s in charge, they’ll understand,” Adam offered, trying to be helpful.
I shook my head. “It was the last opening they had. This was my best shot at breaking into editing, and I completely ruined it.”
All of my dreams of someday working my way up the corporate ladder were gone, just like my new purse. My lips trembled and two traitorous tears slipped out of each eye, making twin rivers down my grimy cheeks.
“Hey,” Adam said, slipping a muscled arm – I admit it, I noticed even in my despair – around my shoulders. “You’ve had a rough day. Take it easy, okay?”
At this, embarrassing full-fledged sobs burst from my lips and my whole body shook as I tried to restrain myself.
“What did I say?” Adam asked, a bewildered look on his face.
“Why….do you…have to be so….nice?” I wailed.
Adam pulled me closer. I have to admit, he was dealing with the histrionics of a stranger surprisingly well – most people would have called the mental institution or 911 at this point. Maybe both, and the fire department. I could feel his chest shaking with pent-up laughter and punched his shoulder.
“Hey!” he exclaimed, massaging the spot in mock pain.
“Knock it off,” I said sullenly, tears still trickling down my face.
“Sorry,” he grinned, a mischievous puppy-dog expression on his face. The adorable grin was soon covered with a frown of concern. “But really…are you okay?”
I leaned back into him and breathed deeply. He smelled like soap and laundry detergent, better than any cologne I’d ever smelled.
“I think so?” It was more of a question than a statement.
I tilted my face upwards just slightly, attempting to not so sneakily get a better look at this kind, unusual man. He had unruly brown hair, mussed and glinting even in the dim, cloudy afternoon light. His nose was slightly crooked, probably the souvenir a fight, although I had a hard time picturing him throwing and receiving punches. His lips were set in a slight smile, but it was again his eyes that caught my attention. They were an unusual shade of green, too light to be considered emerald, too dark for sea green. There was a depth to them; I could barely see through the layers, hiding the core in multifaceted shades of green.
Adam pulled away gently, looking me carefully in the face. “I really think I should get you to a hospital.”
“Oh, God,” I said. “I spend twenty minutes with you, and you already think I’m crazy. I’m not normally like this…I mean, I almost never cry!”
Adam laughed. “No, I don’t mean that kind of hospital. You might need stitches in your forehead, and you should definitely get that ankle looked at.” He stood, helping me up.
I gingerly tested my right ankle, and sucked in a breath as it throbbed angrily. “I don’t think I can walk on it,” I said in a strained voice.
“Here,” Adam said, wrapping my arms around his neck. “I’ll carry you.”
“Excuse me?” I burst out, alarm clear in my voice. “Listen, it’s been nice, and I appreciate everything, but I think I can take it from here.”
“Uh-huh. I can see that.” Adam rolled his eyes.
Don’t get me wrong, I was definitely attracted to the guy, but he was still a stranger, albeit a very good-looking one. Generally, being manhandled by strangers tends to rub me the wrong way.
“Put me down!” I hissed as he lifted me as though I weighed no more than a baby – not the case, I promise. He ignored me and began walking down the street to the curb.
“I can limp, or…or crawl, or…something.” My feeble protests did nothing to stop him from walking easily with me cradled gently in his arms.
I was desperately embarrassed by this time, my squirming doing nothing to break his deceivingly soft iron grip. I was too busy protesting to fully enjoy being carried in a gorgeous man’s arms, something I thought only happened in romance novels and fairy tales.
Adam stood on the curb with me sulking in his arms as we watched taxi after taxi whip past without so much as a glance from their drivers. My mood, which had risen considerably after meeting Adam, was sinking again quickly as I was caged in the arms of a man more stubborn than I was.
“You know how stupid we look right now?” I tried a new tactic in a sorry attempt to get down.
“I don’t care. You’re not putting any weight on that ankle,” he said evenly, a faint smile twitching on his lips.
“Has anyone ever told you that you’re stubborn as h*ll?”
“Every day.” His smile flashed, lighting up his face just as the sun broke from behind the clouds, throwing glinting golden spears on the gray concrete.
“You’re impossible!” I exclaimed in frustration.
“Too bad you’re stuck with me,” he said, those eyes winking like sunlight dancing on water-drenched lily pads.
I didn’t have time to think about what that meant for me as a dented taxi the color of old mustard wheezed its way to the curb. Adam walked us carefully right up to the door before opening it and sliding me in. The dirty cloth seats smelled faintly of cigarettes, and the faded floor mats were sprinkled liberally with dirt and sand.
“The nearest hospital, please,” Adam told the driver as he got in the cab, a cold rush of wind following him. We jerked away from the curb with a honk of the horn.
“So,” he said, turning to me with a grin, “does this happen to you often?”
I laughed despite myself and shook my head, my annoyance at his stubbornness melting away like the last drops of rain on the dirty windows. “I’ve always been clumsy, but never this bad.”
There was a slight pause, a lull in the conversation.
“So…are you from around here?” I asked.
Adam shook his head. “No. I came to New York City to live the good life and get disgustingly wealthy. Didn’t…quite work out the way I planned,” he said with a wry smile.
“Same here. My shot at going into editing went down the crapper about” – I glanced at his watch – “oh, say, half an hour ago.” I smiled grimly. “I think I’ll be heading back home soon.” I glanced out the window, peering past the watery streaks into the city I thought had held my future. I winced each time the cab went over a particularly large pothole.
I didn’t know if I should feel uncomfortable at the sudden thought that I was alone – and injured! – in a cab with a man, albeit an ungodly handsome and charming one, that I had known for roughly twenty minutes, at most. I was clearly lacking the voice of reason that usually moderated my actions.
Oh, good lord. What if he was a psychotic killer, h*ll-bent on stalking, capturing, and using me for fulfillment in one of his sick and twisted little fantasies? What the h*ll had I been thinking, getting into a cab with a complete and total stranger? I was pretty sure I’d just broken rule number one in The Common Sense Manual for Idiots: Never get in a vehicle with a stranger. It seemed that my internal voice of reason had finally returned, and in full-blown panic mode, no less.
In the past minute, the cab had turned into a sauna, and I felt tiny beads of sweat break out on my forehead in a rush of adrenaline. My stomach rolled in a combination of sudden fear and nausea. I had to get out of here.
“Hmm?” I turned back to Adam and those d*mn mesmerizing eyes, back to reality.
“Home. Where’s home for you?” His voice was warm, concerned.
Despite my fears and the rationality I clearly lacked, something in my gut told me that it was okay to trust Adam, that there was no way those spectacularly layered eyes could gleam with a twisted lust for death. Like I said, d*mn my overactive imagination.
“Nowhere you’ve heard of.” I tried to pass it off as a joke, but I couldn’t help but be cautious and keep my hometown a secret, even if my gut told me Adam wasn’t dangerous. “And you?”
“Oh, you know, just some little town. Nowhere you’ve heard of,” he said, a teasing edge to his voice.
There was a break in the conversation, during which I was frantically thinking of something witty to say in the presence of my potential dream guy without endangering myself on the off chance that Adam was indeed a sociopathic killer. I think he could sense the panic practically oozing from my pores as he freed me from my moronic stupor by breaking the silence.
“So…you said you were here for an editing job?”
“Yeah,” I admitted. “At least, I was hoping to go into it or do something like it until I could catch a break, but…you can see how well that worked out.” I grinned wryly, silently thanking my brain for finally putting together a comprehensible sentence.
“Catch a break?”
“Well, I write on the side, and I’ve tried to get a few things published, but it’s hard, you know?” I shrugged, attempting to be nonchalant about my obvious failure.
A ray of sunlight shone on Adam’s face, drenching his eyes in a golden light and momentarily revealing the layers within them as he smiled. “Yeah, breaking into the business can be hard.” I must have looked confused – probably like a lost caveman, complete with a scratch to the hair and a grunt - so he explained. “My mom is a writer. It took her years to get published.”
Great. Well, there goes food for the week until I can find a new job, I thought as my stomach growled longingly.
“Wow, that’s so cool! What kind of stuff does she write? Have I read her before?” Oh, good lord. Now I was gushing like a lovesick little girl.
His lips curved into a half-smile at my outburst.
“I think you’ve probably heard of her. So, tell me more about yourself.” It was weird, the way he brought up his mom and then immediately changed the subject. I mentally bookmarked the moment in my mind and promised myself I’d think about it later.
“Haven’t we been over this already?” I smiled and rolled my eyes. “I’m just a sorry excuse for a writer. Old news. So, what do you do for a living?” I leaned towards him slightly, curious about Adam.
“I’d like to run my own business someday. I – ”
The taxi lurched to a halt in front of a soggy-looking hospital, and I slammed forward against the seatbelt.
“Ugh,” I grunted involuntarily. Oh, God, did I really just make that noise in front of him?
Adam walked around the taxi, helping me out and paying the cabbie. The dented taxi pulled away from the curb, practically making more noise than a semi truck on the freeway. Adam, keeping a steady grip on my shoulders, turned carefully so he faced me.
“So, Gwen, are we going to do this the easy way, or the hard way?”
I blushed. Leave it to me to assume the worst possible meanings of everything. “What do you mean?”
Adam slid one hand around my back and the other beneath my knees, sweeping me up in the same way he had before. Surprised, I wrapped my arms around him out of pure reflex. When I realized that he wasn’t going to drop me anytime soon, I crossed my arms in front of my chest and sulked.
“Seriously? I could walk if you’d just be a crutch or something,” I muttered under my breath.
He just laughed, his voice warm like towels out of the dryer, as I rolled my eyes and expelled an angry sigh.
“You realize you’re the most stubborn man I know?”
“I’ll take that as a compliment.” There was no mistaking the laughter in his voice. He was actually enjoying this. Stupid pr*ck, I thought.
“Men,” I muttered as a burst of warm air caressed my face upon entry in the hospital’s lobby.