Hourglass, Page 2Myra Mcentire
Lily’d been my best friend since the day we met in third grade. She’s always accepted me for who I am, whatever that involves. I do the same for her. I wasn’t exaggerating when I told Thomas she was the only reason going back to school in Ivy Springs would be okay.
Lily and her grandmother lived in the apartment above their restaurant. Using the back entrance, I let myself in. I found her in the middle of her living room, stretching her long legs into a Pilates pose. It looked painful. I preferred to run—put in the earbuds and go, keeping my eyes focused on the ground and trying not to run through anybody—or to spar. I needed to find the nearest karate studio. Earning my brown belt before I left Arizona made me hungry to train for my black. And as a side benefit, ass kicking can be very relaxing.
“Hey, did you decide what you were wearing tonight?” I asked when she twisted her body in my direction.
“Don’t be mad.”
“If you aren’t going, it’s too late. I’m already mad.”
“Please?” She dropped to her knees and held her hands together like an orphan begging for more porridge. “I got called in to a night shoot. Some cavern wants stills for their Web site.”
Lily works a camera as easily as some people work a toaster. Her talent had snagged her a summer job as an assistant to one of the Appalachians’ most successful nature photographers. “Tell me you know I wouldn’t bail if I thought I could get out of it and keep my job.”
I rolled my eyes. “I know you wouldn’t bail if you thought you could get out of it and keep your job.”
“Thank you, thank you.” Lily scooted across the room on her knees to wrap her arms around me in a hug. “Oh, look at that, I’m practically your height now.”
Laughing, I gave her a shove in the direction of her exercise mat and went to her room to put my stuff down, laying the dress my sister-in-law had coerced me into wearing on Lily’s bed along with shoes, purse, and jewelry. Dru had given me very specific instructions about how to put it all together. Sometimes she made me feel like I wasn’t capable of dressing myself. I am; it’s just that I’ve always been a minimalist. And accessories confuse me.
While Lily finished her contortions, I took a shower, then used her computer to do a quick Internet search on the Hourglass. I liked to be prepared when it came to my brother and his parade of physicians, therapists, and witch doctors, but aside from an assortment of shopping results and one particularly embarrassing link to a strip club, I got nothing. I didn’t have time to look extensively because I knew Thomas would kill me if I wasn’t on time.
Dru really did have exquisite taste. The black velvet dress had a ruched waist, three-quarter length fitted sleeves, and a short skirt that swung like a bell when I walked. Assuming I would be able to walk once I put on my shoes. They were killer. I don’t mean they looked good, even though they did. I mean, they were really high and pointy, and although I’m not clumsy, they were potentially lethal both to me and anyone in my general vicinity.
Lily came into the room fresh from her workout—or not so fresh if you were standing downwind—just as I blotted my dark red lipstick.
“You look dramatic and mysterious,” she said, sucking in her cheeks and fluttering her lashes, much like Scarlett had earlier this afternoon. “I like to see you live up to your potential.”
“Wow, that’s high praise coming from you.”
She crossed her eyes and started messing with my hair.
A classic beauty with skin the color of caramel, Lily’s the kind of girl who causes men to run into street signs and trip over chairs because they’re too busy looking at her to walk. If she didn’t have a wicked sense of humor and more loyalty than a Saint Bernard, I would probably hate her on principle alone. I felt for the necklace Dru had sent with the dress, sure I’d put it on, while Lily pulled and twisted pieces of hair around my face.
“The necklace is still on the dresser,” Lily said, not taking her eyes away from me. “Your earrings are in the bag on the bed.”
I smacked her hands away. “How do you always know where to find things? And are you sure you can’t go? You could meet the boy of your dreams.”
“There’s not a boy alive like the one in my dreams,” she muttered, glancing toward the dresser before reaching out to fiddle with another wayward strand of hair. “All the rest are too much trouble.”
“Well, if he were alive, he wouldn’t be able to get past the smell. Hit the showers.” I smacked her playfully on the backside. “I don’t want to absorb your stink.”
She laughed and left the room in an exaggerated runway walk, but stuck her head back around the doorframe to flash her killer smile. “You really do look gorgeous. Try not to hurt yourself in those shoes.”
I turned to assess the finished product in the mirror. After spraying myself with my favorite perfume, a light lilac scent with a hint of vanilla, I scooped up my wrap and purse. I was almost out the door when I remembered my umbrella. It didn’t color coordinate. Maybe they wouldn’t let me in.
No such luck.
When I entered the Phone Company, I got two thumbs up from Dru and an obnoxious catcall from my brother. After explaining that I was flying solo, I politely said hello to all the “important people” as Thomas introduced me, the images of their faces erased by the glare from more sequins, beading, and diamonds than should ever be allowed on a human who isn’t walking the red carpet. As soon as I could get away, I hid behind the jazz trio, practically under the spiral staircase near the bar, sipping on some kind of sparkling fruit juice and trying to blend into the wall. Watching the show.
And I had slipped out of the killer shoes.
I’d always leaned toward the shy side but was never unsocial until I started seeing visions of people from the past. It’s a really strange existence, not knowing if the person you’re talking to is physically there or not. Not knowing if you’re one hallucination away from a psychotic break. Once I began having visions on a regular basis, I would watch to see if someone wasn’t getting any attention, which was a big clue that that person might not actually be there. Of course, I usually ended up feeling sorry for those people and talked to them anyway. Although I made sure no one was watching.
Just in case.
A long time ago I’d decided against popping the people I saw like balloons. Sticking my hand out into what looked like a person, only to meet thin air … it had to freak them out as much as it did me. I tried to leave the visions alone, unless I had to walk through them.
At least things had been normal so far tonight. I was beginning to relax when I saw a young guy standing by the back patio doors at the other end of the room. His broad shoulders showed off a very well-cut black tux, which looked amazing on him but was unfortunate for me. Sizing him up, I ran through the usual checklist of details that helped me determine if someone was alive or not. First was clothing style. Black tie was way harder for me than street clothes. It was called classic for a reason, and he was as classic as they came.
His black hair was on the longish side—no help there either. Casually sexy, but no definitive style. I focused on his face. Clean shaven, but I’d bet his five o’clock shadow was heavy. Wickedly arched eyebrows accented long-lidded dark eyes. Olive skin suggested Mediterranean ancestors, and his defined cheekbones were congruous with the angles of his face. The exception was his very full mouth. His lips disturbed me.
I really hoped he was alive.
I gave myself a mental shake. What was I doing? Lips weren’t on my checklist. And when it came to guys—drop-dead gorgeous or not—I never got caught staring. But if the slow grin spreading across his face was any indication, I just had. Shoving my feet back into the killer heels, I searched the room for Thomas and Dru but couldn’t see them. I looked back at Tuxedo Guy. He was walking straight toward me.
Time to go. I reached out to leave my glass on the edge of the piano, then watched, shocked, as it went right through and crashed to the ground, a thousand little gliste
ning diamonds on the ceramic tile.
My brother materialized immediately. “Are you okay?”
“No. Unless you see the jazz trio?” Please, please …
“Don’t see them.”
“Then no, definitely not okay.” The phantom musicians kept playing. I hadn’t attempted to come into physical contact with any of them—probably the only reason they didn’t fade away.
They. Three at once? And a piano? I’d never seen a whole scene before. I couldn’t breathe. “I need air. I need air!”
“Excuse us.” Thomas smiled at the real live people nearby, the gracious host aiding his slightly hysterical sister. He guided me across the wide room to the French doors that led outside. It was a horrifying journey. I tried to pretend I didn’t see all the eyes following us. We exited onto the patio, empty due to the chill in the air from the earlier rain.
I took a deep breath, willing the adrenaline rush coursing through my system to slow down. “How many old buildings do you plan on renovating for public consumption? Just so I can prepare myself.”
At least I didn’t live in Europe. Whole centuries of long dead people walked around over there. In the U.S., I only had to deal with a few generations of those who could be confused for living in the present time. When Thomas and Dru had tried to plan a day trip to the annual Cherokee Indian Fair in North Carolina, I had flat refused. No historical reenactments. Ever.
“I can’t believe it’s this bad,” Thomas said, patting my arm in an attempt to extend comfort. I just shook my head. Now wasn’t the time to come clean about the meds.
Especially since the guy in the tux was walking through the open double doors.
“Do you see him?” I whispered, covering my eyes with my hands and peeking out between my trembling fingers, shaken by the thought of another vision so soon after the jazz trio.
“Do I see who?”
“Him.” I motioned for Thomas to look over his shoulder. If Tuxedo Guy wasn’t a living, breathing human being from this century, I was going to beg to be recommitted.
“Yes, I see him,” Thomas answered, the words ripe with relief. “That’s Michael.”
“He’s the new consultant I was telling you about.”
Tuxedo Guy looked even better the closer he got to us—tall, wide shoulders, smooth skin, those lips. I couldn’t believe he worked for a place called the Hourglass. Fifty-year-old bespectacled men with paunches should work for the Hourglass. Not a prince too gorgeous to be walking around with the peasants. He couldn’t be much older than me. Maybe he was an intern. Maybe Thomas got him on the cheap because he played in the minor leagues instead of with the big boys.
“Were you going to tell me he was here?” I said under my breath to Thomas, my emotions raging in the space between anger and horror.
“I was going to let him observe you first.”
“Like some kind of specimen?” I hissed. “Where’s my glass jar?”
I was ready to launch into a tirade but stopped when I realized Tuxedo Guy stood two feet away, eyeing me as if I might suddenly burst into flames.
“Michael Weaver, meet my sister, Emerson Cole.” Thomas’s hand on my back pushed me slightly forward, the motion suggesting he thought Michael and I should shake.
Michael looked from Thomas to me and tentatively held out his hand. I shuddered, turning away to hide my face in my brother’s shoulder. Even if Thomas’s acknowledging his presence proved he was currently alive, I didn’t want to touch Michael. When I looked back at him, he’d slipped his hand into his pocket.
The door to the patio opened once again, and this time it was Dru. I assumed Thomas hadn’t given her the latest news about my hallucinations, with all the preparations for the opening they’d done that day. I didn’t want her fussing over me.
“I’m sorry I’m so clumsy.” I waved her away as she started to hover, the motion helping to hide the shaking of my hand. “Everything is fine, go back inside.”
Dru has the kind of blue eyes most people describe as icy, which I really don’t understand, because ice is clear. Right now they exuded worry.
“You’re not clumsy; that’s why I’m concerned,” she said, ignoring my protests and placing her hand on my forehead before moving it to my cheek. “Are you sick? Are you feeling faint? Do you need food? Do you need to sit?”
“Couldn’t be better. Really,” I lied through my perfect teeth. What I needed was a way to escape the jazz trio I could still hear and the gorgeous consultant standing beside me. I really wished he were a little less male model, a little more tax auditor. I felt distracted enough already.
“In that case, Thomas, I hate to pull you away, but Brad from the bank wanted to talk to you regarding that property on Main.” She raised her well-groomed eyebrows, so I knew it must be a lucrative deal. “I can stay here.”
Thomas’s pained expression exposed his inner battle. I let him off the hook. “Go. You too, Dru. Make money.”
“No, I’ll stay with you, sweetie. I want to make sure you’re okay.” Dru tucked her arm around my waist to give me a quick squeeze.
“No. Really. Go. I’m fine,” I insisted.
“Will you stay with her?” Thomas asked Michael, his voice as serious as if he were negotiating my dowry. Or a real estate deal. “I don’t want to leave her alone.”
I shot Thomas an evil look. He was so going to pay for that later.
“Absolutely,” Michael answered.
I jumped at his voice, the sound putting every cell in my body on alert. It was mellow, husky. I’d bet he could sing. After I assured Thomas and Dru again that I was fine, I watched the only familiar people in the building walk away and wished desperately to be anywhere else in the world … except maybe Colonial Williamsburg.
I exhaled deeply, looked up at Michael, and offered a smile. When he returned it, my breath caught in my throat.
Buttered biscuits and honey.
“You’re not what I expected,” I said, hating the way my voice broke slightly in the middle of the sentence.
“I’ve heard that before,” he said, scoring major points by pretending not to notice.
“I’m glad you’re close to my age.” Please be close to my age. “Makes me feel like we’re on an even playing field.”
“I didn’t realize we were playing a game.” His dark eyes narrowed slightly. He was probably already wondering if he was getting paid enough to deal with me. “Should I call you Em or Emerson?”
I frowned. I didn’t recall anyone calling me Em in his presence.
“Emerson will be fine for now. Are you Michael or Mike? Or Mikey?”
“Do I look like a Mikey?” he asked.
“Um … no.”
“Michael will be fine. For now,” he said, pressing his lips together. Not in a prudish way. In a very sexy, trying-to-hide-hissmile way.
He reached out to run his hand over the wrought-iron fence that lined the patio, and then turned to face me, shaking the rain from his fingers. “Your brother has a gift. I’ve never seen someone put so much effort into recapturing the beauty of a place. Did he renovate all of these buildings?”
The patio displayed a bird’s-eye view of the award-winning restoration prominently featured in the town square. Warm light shone behind many of the second- and third-story loft windows, home mostly to young professionals and empty nesters, with the occasional family thrown in for balance. Replicas of antique gas lanterns lit streets lined by quaint businesses, antique shops, coffeehouses, and galleries. Window boxes and planters spilled out brightly colored seasonal flowers. Even though it currently ranked in the top ten of America’s best small towns, it was too easy to imagine it as it had been a century ago, which was proving to be a problem for me.
No way was that horse-drawn carriage real.
The beginning notes of Rodgers and Hart’s “Bewitched” floated through the rain-scented air, mixing with the smell of the purple sweet peas climbing t
he iron fence. I looked away from the overactive town square and refocused on Michael.
“Yes, Thomas had a hand in every single renovation. His vision is very specific.” And expensive … yet somehow always profitable.
“How’s your vision?” Sneaky. His tone was light, but I could sense the deeper question behind the words. I wondered what Thomas had told him about me.
I reached out to wrap my fingers around the iron bars, avoiding the damp sweet peas. “Why are you here, Michael Weaver?”
“To help you.” The concern on his face was a welcome difference. He looked like he wanted to know what my problem was. I almost wanted to tell him.
Instead, I let out a derisive laugh. Leaning away from the fence, I held on with one arm and swung back and forth slightly, like I’d done on the poles that held up my swing set when I was a little girl. “‘To help you.’ That line is so tired.”
“How many times have you heard it?”
“Let’s see, there were the two sisters who claimed they could see into my past and my future. Apparently I’m a descendant of Mata Hari, who is somehow next in line for the Finnish throne.”
“There’s not a—”
“Ouch.” A sympathetic crease formed between his eyebrows.
“I made Thomas give me the refund on that one—and his credit card—so I could go for some shopping therapy. I tried really hard to bankrupt him.” I grinned at the semihappy memory, and Michael smiled with me. It almost made me forget what I was saying. “Um … then there was the shaman who thought I needed to be exorcised. That one was fabulous; he claimed he could do it with pickle juice and ashes.”
Michael shook his head in disbelief. “Where does your brother find these people? He’s clearly a shrewd businessman—why would he hire such obvious frauds?”