This excerpt is from Chapter 2 of Missing Magic, where Finn and Annie meet for the first time. Finn, operating under the alias Alfrid Steinsson, is investigating Annie and her family. The setting is a barbeque in the backyard of her family home.
Annie found Neve holding court from the chaise lounge up on the broad and shady flagstone patio. A glowing Madonna, Neve had dressed for the humid day in a white knit sundress that celebrated her ripely pregnant state. Her husband, Alan, the linebacker turned poetry professor, sat with his chair pulled close at Neve’s side, her right hand enveloped in his. Both busily chatted with the lean stranger lounging in the chair to Neve’s left.
Annie stopped on the patio steps. Her eyes blurred for a second and she blinked. He was Steinsson? Oh. My.
For some reason she had expected him to be Dad’s age, but the man could only be a few years older than herself. His computer-geek sunglasses concealed his eyes. He wore his light brown hair tied back in a sleek long tail. Angular facial bones, an intriguing mix of youthful, dignified and rough-hewn, sent her fingers itching for a pencil, charcoal, something-–
Annie felt the instant his gaze met hers and caught. He straightened with a quick intake of breath and rose to his feet. He was tall, like her brothers. A slow, surprised smile tipped the corners of his mouth.
Oh, he had dimples.
Warmth enfolded her, gently possessive, directionless.
“There she is!” Alan’s rich orator’s voice jolted Annie out of her entranced gaze with Steinsson.
Filled with the odd, dizzying impression they had stared into one another’s eyes for hours instead of mere seconds, Annie managed the last few steps to Neve’s side and stooped to kiss her. “Sorry I’m late, Sis. I totally lost track. Why didn’t anyone come pound on the door sooner?” From the heat in her cheeks she had to be glowing like a lobster.
Neve smiled. “Because it’s more fun to guilt you, baby.”
Alan hugged a fatherly arm around her shoulders. “Annie, honey, I’d like you to meet Alfrid Steinsson. He knows Gwennie Barnes at the Ruehl.”
Steinsson gave an old-fashioned nod of a bow “I am most pleased to meet you, Miss Doran. I wish you blessings on your birthday.” A charming accent colored his resonant, easy voice.
He held out his hand.
A cold undertow of apprehension rolled through her. Get a grip, Annie. You can’t go through life not touching people. The weird psycho psychic thing didn’t happen every time she touched a stranger. Do it. She stepped away from Alan’s sheltering arm and slipped her hand into Steinsson’s.
Having expected the worst, his firm, warm grip and the pleasurable energy buzz between them at their contact left her tongue-tied. He felt . . . nice. Better than nice, amazing actually. Comfortable. Safe. Like expecting a ice storm and getting a cozy down comforter. Would his eyes be light or–
Focus, Annie. He’ll think you’re an idiot the way you’re staring.
“Thank you. I apologize for keeping you waiting. Only meant to work a bit. The next thing I know, half the day’s gone.”
He nodded in knowing commiseration. “I very well understand how a project can consume one. No apology necessary. I have passed a most enjoyable time in conversation with your family.”
“We’ve talked poetry, but saved the painting tour for you. Neve’s convinced Alfrid to stay for supper. There’s plenty of time before the food’s ready,” Alan patted her shoulder. “Run along and have fun.”
Steinsson glanced down at their still-clasped hands with a puzzled expression. “I am most thankful for your time, but I do not to wish to take you from your party.” He released her.
Annie smiled. “It’s no trouble at all. Come on with me for the ten-cent tour.” Hold my hand again, she wanted to add.
He halted at the backdoor threshold, looking puzzled, and rummaged in the pocket of his tan chinos. He handed her a dime.
Annie paused, at a loss for a long, awkward moment. Her cheeks burned. “Oh, sorry, not literally ten cents. That’s just a silly saying.” Real smooth, Annie, embarrass the man.
Alfrid broke into a boyish, forgiving grin that left Annie utterly charmed. “No, my error. Every now and again my English avoids me stubbornly.” He shook his head. “Ten cent tour–-must tell him that one,” he murmured to himself and stepped into the house.
She led him through the kitchen. “So, how did you get interested in Granda Art’s work, Mr. Steinsson?”
“Please, call me Alfrid. I have been studying of recent your father’s poetry and take much pleasure from his words. Your grandfather’s illustrations of The Near Green Country caught my interest, but I must confess, I found your enchanting painting on the cover to be . . . inspirational.”
“Dad loved Green Country, too. It’s in the parlor. We have a good selection of Granda’s work here in the house. I have his last self-portrait and several other pieces hung in the studio. He was prolific, a ton is in storage, we really need to properly catalogue it. Most of his commercial work was fantasy and romance illustration. Someone described his style as Boris Vallejo meets Bouguereau, but really, his style was his own. He painted his dreams.”
Stop babbling, Annie.
She opened the door. The parlor’s heavy spruce green drapes, drawn against the sun, left the room in cool shadows. She touched on the lights, illuminating the paintings around the room, and stepped aside for Alfrid to enter.
At seeing Green Country Alfrid’s face lit up like he’d had a religious vision. He studied her painting with a curious mixture of awe and puzzlement.
“Awake I do imagine my green country near, as a kiss of memory, the gloss of a tear.” Dark emotion roiled in his resonant voice as he recited the line of her father’s poem.
He swung around and regarded her with the same intent expression as he had her art. Indoors, the dark tinting of his glasses had cleared, revealing changeable blue-gray eyes.
“Beautiful. I thank you for sharing your painting with me. Where is this lovely island found, Anna?” His lyrical accent transmuted her plain name into an exotic creation, delicate and bright, as if he’d gifted her a new name.
As if he’d claimed her by the word.
She shivered. “Oh, nowhere. I wish it was real. It’s just a dream I had. That’s me, Awake I dream unending–” She turned, abruptly unable to bear his calm, inquiring gaze and her wild urge to babble on to him, a total stranger, about that lovely, painful dream, about all her weird dreams, about everything.
He’ll listen, a quiet voice purred in her mind. Tell. . .
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A few of the many wonderful writers from varied genres to explore are:
Adelle Laudan, Romantic Suspense (PG 13)
Inez Kelley, Rom Com (R)
Jeannie Lin, Historical (PG)
RF Long, Fantasy (PG)
Mel Berthier, Urban Fantasy (PG-13)
Cate Hart, YA (R)