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I could feel the eyes.
Restaurant sounds blended to a buzz of nothing. Shivers electrified the hair on my skin and a chill cut to my bone. My fork, with a catsup-soaked French fry stabbed on the prongs, froze in mid-air.
Senses alert, I glanced around, my gaze a searchlight sweeping the room.
Country Kitchen Restaurant at dinnertime brimmed with conversation and the low clatter of silverware. Candles sconces affixed on cheerful yellow flowered wallpaper created a cozy atmosphere. My parents, younger sister and I had been seated quickly and our order had been taken with a gracious smile.
I should be safe here.
But a sick-gut feeling told me otherwise.
I tuned out my sister Adrianne as she complained to Mom and Dad about a homework assignment. From the corner of my eye, I studied the family at the nearest table. Two noisy toddlers giggled as they played catch with a dinner roll. Their stressed parents paid no attention to me. At another table, two women were cooing over a baby in a high chair. And the elderly couple who toasted with wineglasses, lost in loving smiles, weren't likely watchers either. Then I saw him.
Half-hidden behind a potted fern far in a corner, a dark-blond guy sat alone. He didn't seem threatening. At least not at first glance. He was of average height and build, wearing a casual blue shirt, and black jeans. Like a hundred other guys at school, he wouldn't rate a second glance.
Except he was looking at me.
And I knew.
His dark-eyed assault was bold and personal. He ignored the steaming plate of pasta set before him, his attention fixed onme. He didn't waiver, staring as if in a trance.
I felt attacked, as if his gaze was a weapon. What was his game? Why target me? I wanted to turn away, but shock stole my resistance. I felt trapped. Exposed.
Through a fog, I heard my mother say, "Haley, what's wrong?"
"Huh?" I blinked, the spell broken. My fork fell from my fingertips, clattering to the table. Catsup splattered on my younger sister.
"Hay-ley!" Adrianne jumped up and plucked at her stained dress. She tried to brush off a blob of catsup, but the stain only spread. She glared at me. "You ruined my dress!"
"Sorry." My voice sounded hollow. "I didn't mean to."
"Like that makes it any better! I'll never get this clean! And this is my favorite dress–I've only worn it once before. Now I'll never be able to wear it again."
"Calm down, Adrianne." Dad spoke in a controlled, gentle tone. He was the only male in a household of three women and often took the role of family peacemaker. "Your sister said she was sorry. It was just an accident."
"But I look like a bloody mess!"
"It'll wash out." Dad handed Adrianne the cloth napkin