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At Nightfall by Joan Bramsch
"Why the hell can't people just leave me alone?" The man stumbled angrily toward the front door, irate at being forced to wake from his prescribed midday nap because some damn fool kept hammering on his door. He stubbed his bare toes on the deacon's bench in the darkened hall and filled the air with a string of seething expletives, his fury echoing the crashing thunder of the approaching summer storm. The discolored scar over his right temple pulsated a staccato beat as he yanked open the door and glared at the impudent intruder.
The woman jumped back nervously; her hand had been raised to knock a fourth time.
He continued to stare at her from the shadows. "What the devil is it?" he barked. "Can't you read?" He pointed to a Do Not Disturb sign fastened to the heavy oak barrier.
Ignoring his outburst, the woman forgot her momentary alarm and smiled serenely as she gazed upon his glowering countenance. "Matthew Duncan! What a pleasure finally to see you in person. I've waited so long, and now at last it's come true. I've only seen your book jacket photographs."
He sliced the air with an abrupt movement of his strong hand, signaling his agitation. "Well, I can't say I'm glad to see you." He swore silently. All he needed, on top of everything else, was a dimwitted groupie ... or a would-be model willing to do absolutely anything for a chance at a job. Well, he'd take care of his unwanted caller in short order. He never lost control in any situation, and most were more challenging than this one. "Who the hell are you anyway?"
She continued to smile confidently; sure he would apologize for his abrupt manner as soon as he learned her identity.Besides, she had traveled too far and too long to be stopped now. "I'm Wilhelmina Theodore, Mr. Duncan," she answered calmly. "Didn't you get my last letter?"
An expression of annoyance coupled with tension flashed across his lean features as he thought of the stack of unopened mail on his desk. He had ignored everything these past few weeks, especially since his assistant was no longer there to help him wade through his correspondence. He'd have to field this one alone. "Look, Ms. Theodore." Why did that name sound vaguely familiar? he wondered. "I don't know you, and I certainly would remember any letter from a strange woman." He purposefully emphasized the word strange. He was not above using intimidation to get rid of her.
"I'm your new intern." She had the decency to blush at his gasp of disbelief. "I signed all my letters Billy Theodore," she added quietly.
Billy watched in detached fascination as the light of recognition shone from Matthew's hooded eyes. He lifted a well-defined brow, distorting an angry-looking scar at his temple. More ruggedly handsome than his photographs revealed, at close range his face was a roadmap of every disappointment, each challenge, and all his struggles against the odds. She wanted to photograph him ... in natural light, she decided suddenly, simultaneously wondering what had caused his recent injury. Then the moment of quiet contemplation was past.
"You're Billy Theodore?" His roared question was accompanied by a sharp crash of thunder.
She forced herself to stand her ground, but her body trembled with the combined force of human and natural elements. Her voice would not waver, she vowed. "Yes."
Again his dark brow lifted, this time with suspicion. "What's your little game, Ms. Theodore? I don't use female assistants. Surely you knew that."
?Of course I knew that," she replied, taking a step forward, actually entering his personal space, but he didn't flinch or step back. If ever there was a time for her to be strong and assertive, she thought, this was it. "I decided it was my turn to have an internship with the best photographer in the country. Maybe the world. Don't you see, Mr. Duncan?" she asked persuasively. "It's so clear. You approved my portfolio. You liked my work. You encouraged me to travel halfway across the United States for a three-month internship because you believed I was advanced enough to learn what you could teach me. I'm so eager to work--?
"No, I do not see your point!" he shouted, interrupting her in mid-sentence. "And the only thing that is clear to me is that you're a little sneak. You're just a girl who's used lies to invade my peace and solitude."
It was Billy's turn to look disdainful. She drew herself to her full height and took a deep breath for control. But her blazing cat eyes narrowed, ready and alert for the ensuing battle. "I am not little, Mr. Duncan. Surely you noticed. I'm almost as tall as you. And I am no longer a girl. I'm a thirty-year-old woman. And a damn good photographer," she added, lowering her voice a full octave. She would not fall victim to that neat chauvinistic trick of getting her to wail like a fishwife.
"You can't deny my credentials," she went on firmly. "You thought it would be a great opportunity for me to study with you. I still believe that. You can't close your eyes to my skills simply because I'm a woman. I've fought that archaic attitude most of my life, and I've earned this chance to study with you." Her voice carried the force of her determination to win this point. Pulling in another deep breath, she stood quietly before her idol, wait-ing for his rebuttal.
Matthew Duncan tried hard to control the grin tugging at his straight, serious mouth, but he was not totally successful. He could not deny that he admired her spunky, pugnacious spirit. Her attitude was reminiscent of his own during the long battle for artistic recognition. When a sudden gust of moist wind ruffled his thick, dark hair across his forehead, it carried with it the distinct essence of her musky fragrance. His nostrils flared as he breathed in the heady perfume, and he had to admit, at least to himself, that she interested him ... as a student who had the will and desire to learn, but also because something had begun to stir in him as a man. She was a woman different in some way from any other he had met in the past. Again the wind blew across his face, carrying with it not only her scent, but the first mist of the storm.
"Get inside, wildcat," he ordered. "This cloud-burst is likely to put out your blazing temper." He turned around and walked away, tossing another command over his broad shoulder, which strained against a soft blue polo shirt. "Close the door and follow me." He led the way into the living room and immediately sat down in a large, comfortable chair.