Salome watched Mark Crawford leave the cold beer and wine store, head down while fidgeting with his keys. He climbed behind the wheel of a dusty pick-up truck and tore off with tires kicking up gravel.
She kicked the ground. This didn’t seem fair. Mark Crawford had the very definition of a “checkered past.” He used to beat people up for money. Sure he’d been trying to stay on the straight and narrow lately but this one skewed the game away from her in a big way.
Getting to him wouldn’t be hard. At least when it came to men she had a built-in advantage, it wasn’t hard to impose yourself in their lives at least a little. But getting him to change his ways and repent for his past life … that would be the tougher trick.
She passed through the automatic doors of the store herself, heading for the wine selection. Since it was girls’ night she might as well pick up a couple bottles of red and white.
“… next time you ask him out for coffee or I’m doing it for you.”
Salome rounded the end of an aisle, her interest peaked by a young little stunner standing next to the open register, jawing away at an older, plainer woman.
Reading people wasn’t just a nuance with her; Salome could feel and sense when people had good or bad intentions. The younger girl was honestly radiating friendship and pity at the same time. The other woman was glowing with fear and a big-time crush.
“He barely even noticed me,” the older woman insisted, burying her face in a newspaper with a pencil in hand. She could brush it off to her friend all she wanted: Salome could all but feel her heartbreak.
Salome guessed the woman’s age at around thirty. Her mousy-brown hair was in a ponytail. She wore no makeup and she was slouching in clothes that were too big for her. She wasn’t ugly, she just honestly didn’t seem to care what she looked like.
This woman was at complete odds with her younger co-worker. The blonde dressed to impress and likely never disappointed, even if she maybe was a little overdone for a day shift at a cold beer and wine store.
The older woman was as innocent as souls come. She’d never had a bad word to say about anyone, Salome could tell. And yet the poor thing had a crush on a man like Mark Crawford.
It was just swell when the universe served up a real whopper of an assist.
Salome carried her bottles of wine to the register, smiling back at the other two women when they glanced her way. They were both frozen, the younger one with her mouth open.
Salome was used to this. She didn’t look like other people. Sure she had two legs, two arms, feet and hands and a head. But people always seemed to sense she was just a bit different from them.
Salome froze too, then wiped the corner of her mouth. “Sorry, do I have food on my face?”
“Oh, no. Sorry. I don’t mean to stare,” the mousy one said, taking the bottles and punching in the prices before sliding them in to paper bags.
“Are you a model?” the younger one asked.
Salome gave her best I’m so flattered laugh. “Me? No, no. I wish. No, I just moved here.”
“That’ll be fifty-eight ninety,” the older woman said, done packing the wine.
Salome presented a debit card. The transaction happened without a word, and when it was done the machine printed her receipt. The woman ripped it off and handed it to her with jerky movements.
“Hey, I’m new in town,” Salome began. “What is there to do in this place anyway?”
“Nothing,” the younger one lamented. “The only real bar we have is the High Wire.”
“It looks like there’s no shortage of good-looking men, though.”
The younger girl laughed. “You saw him, did you? Well mitts off – he’s Jaime’s boyfriend, he just doesn’t know it yet.”
The older woman gave an embarrassed laugh. “Shut it, Taylor.” She shook her head at Salome. “He’s not my boyfriend. I don’t even know his name.”
“So you’re not interested at all?”
The woman’s face turned red immediately. “Well … I mean, it’s not that … it’s just … well …”
“You’re shy?” Salome offered.
“That’s a mild way of saying it,” Taylor muttered, returning to her register and hiding away the closed sign.
Salome pointed with her receipts. “Don’t be shy. You’re very pretty. Next time you see him, talk to him.”
The woman was trying to come up with a reply as Salome left, not looking back. In the parking lot she stored her wine in the trunk of her car, and as she closed the trunk someone said her name, making her give a short yelp.
Zaavan laughed, crossing his legs at the ankle as he leaned against a jet black sports car parked next to her little hatchback. “You’re just too easy, Salome.”
She ignored the skip in her pulse brought on by that laugh. “Don’t tell me you’re my competition on this one.”
“Aren’t you lucky?”
She didn’t comment and tried her best to ignore him. Of all the possible enemies to be squaring off against for Mark Crawford, this was the one she’d hoped she wouldn’t see in this town. Not only was Zaavan dangerous and fighting for the other side, he was just about the most beautiful thing she’d ever seen.
“Nothing to say to me? After everything we’ve had in the past?”
She sighed impatiently, crossing her arms. “What we have in our past is hatred, Zaavan.”
“Hatred is a very strong emotion, though. You know what it closely resembles?”
His voice had dropped low, and she shivered. The memories that flooded back when he used that tone were private, intimate and graphic. And he knew it, too.
“I’m remembering that, too,” he said, voice close to her ear suddenly. She hadn’t realized that she let her eyes close. They flew open to find him just inches from her.
His skin was darker than olive, perfect, unmarked. Large dark eyes that were always laughing somehow. Strong features: nose, brow, chin and cheekbones. This close she could see a beard starting to grow in. His near-black hair was haphazard and dishevelled in that devastatingly perfect way some men had.
“Get away from me, Zaavan. We’re not on the same team, remember?”
“We don’t have to be to enjoy that,” he ran a cold finger up her bare arm.
She made herself proud and backed away. “Don’t you have somewhere to be?”
“You’ve found him, haven’t you?” Zaavan was back to business, returning to the other side of her car.
“Not yet, but I can feel that he was here. And I can feel the twitter-passion from inside that store. Someone have a little school girl crush?”
Dammit. There goes her edge.
“Interesting. I have to say, this guy’s history doesn’t read like one of your golden boys, Salome. I think I might have the edge on this one.”
“I’m not worried. Anyone can change.”
“Not anyone. Not us.”
“Yeah well, we’re not human, are we?”
Zavaan laughed again, raising the hair on her arms. “No, thank God.”