First Page: Unpublished manuscript

First Page: Unpublished manuscript

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OK, so, this isn’t one of my hard-and-fast rules or anything, but I generally don’t trust men who wear red jackets. I guess a red blazer would be an exception, since he’s probably an usher or waiter or something along those lines. I mean that he’s required to wear it. But I’m definitely not trusting a man who wears a red jacket of his own free will.

Unless it’s Michael Jackson. He’s the other exception. Michael Jackson can wear a red jacket, and I will extend my trust.

But this guy? This guy who is currently at my apartment door in outwear that’s decidedly not country club-issue and who was never, to my knowledge, a member of the Jackson Five?

No trust.

And he wasn’t helping matters by leaning against the hallway wall, arms crossed, head cocked slightly to the side. This was confidence, pure and plain, and my guard shot up like the mercury in midsummer Miami.

Then, he spoke. “Are you Nora?”

Oh, but he had a lovely voice. Deep, low. And there was some sly come-hither curl to it, too, even in those few words. It felt like someone had poured pepper on my forearms. Still, the tingling only complicated things further. He was overconfident, wrongly resplendent in red, and how did he know where to find me, anyway?

So maybe I’m not Nora today, maybe not for him.

“I was told she lives here. I’m Rob.”

Rob suited him. It was a bit boyish, masculine but not macho. The jacket did seem especially dubious now, though. Maybe it was meant to be ironic. Either way, my trust was not inspired, and I stayed silent. Which meant there was nothing for us to do except stand there a while longer and look at each other, both of us not yet admitting any of it was getting awkward.

All the while, the pepper traveled up arms, across my shoulders and settled in to my spine.

Of course, I am not a fool. I recognized this ploy. All this silence is intended to make me uncomfortable, to break me, and I’m supposed to begin to fill the empty space with my blather, revealing everything. But Red Rob has only just met me. He can’t possibly know that in my 26 years, I’ve wrangled more than my share of meaningful glances, withering stares and penetrating gazes.

They’re an occupational hazard, and I’m immune to them.

And finally, after what feels like 20 minutes but was probably only four, he smiled. But it’s another ploy. Now, I am supposed to feel victorious, believing I outmaneuvered him – and begin to fill the empty space with my blather, revealing everything.

Sorry, Red, no goofy grin from me. I tried to keep my face from registering any expression. Honestly, it was hard; his smile’s pretty good, just the right mix of warmth, humility and humor.

“I don’t want to bother you,” he began. “I’ll leave a message for Nora. Could you give it to her?”

I bobbed my brain. Hey, that’s not acquiescing, after all. So far, I haven’t given him any indication that I recognize the sounds coming out of his mouth as the English language; some sign of that is overdue. And besides, I can take a message for myself without giving anything away. Surely, he has puzzled out who I really am, but unless I whip out my driver’s license, Nora is still ostensibly out.

“Thanks,” he said. “Tell her that Jane sent me. Tell her it’s about the Peregrine Blue.”

The pepper turns to ice and stiffens me where I stand.

See, I knew I was right about that jacket.