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Faith knelt in the center of the room, her copper curls tumbling down her back. Black jeans cupped her bottom as she crouched, aiming her camera at a chair. The sound of the shutter going off seemed loud in the silent house. A jolt of recognition shot through him as she grabbed a handful of her lovely curls and flung them over her shoulder. The gesture was expected. Familiar.
"I didn't know chairs were part of the business." He smiled when she jumped. A soft snapping sound filled the silence as the shutter went off again.
"Don't sneak up on me like that." Faith knew irritation tinged her voice. The sudden, wild beating of her heart didn't help. "I thought you were working," she said.
"One of the benefits of being your own boss. Johnny is handling it." He looked around the room. "Pretty fancy place."
She stood silent, waiting for a spark of recognition in his voice. Disappointment filled her when he showed no reaction. This wasn't the place to be alone with him. "Opal, you've got a customer," she called. The woman failed to materialize from around the corner.
"Opal?" Faith walked back to where the older woman had been sitting. The chair was empty. Odd, there had been no other visitors since she'd arrived. "I don't know where she went. I'm sure she'll be right back."
"Why don't you give me the tour?" He looked down at her in silent challenge. "You could tell me more about your work."
She didn't want to be alone with him. "I don't think that's a good idea."
"Oh, I do." He slowly walked toward her.
He stood too close. Surely he was the one sucking up all the air in the room. His eyes were close enough for her to see the deep blue color.Hastily, she stepped away. "I don't really know that much about the history without my notes."
"That's okay. I'm not exactly a history kind of guy. Just give me the abridged tour."
His thumbs slid into his belt loops, stretching his shirt tight across his chest. She had enough difficulty concentrating, now this. Did he have the slightest inkling of what he was doing to her?
"Th ... this is the parlor." She turned away from him and gestured to the room behind her. "That chair is from France, imported over a hundred years ago. All the furnishings and fixtures are original to the house." She found herself relying on Opal's well-rehearsed speech she'd heard yesterday.
"So, what? They had nice furnishings. Tell me about the people who lived here. Isn't that what you said you were interested in, the people?" He didn't bother to look at the antiques she'd described. He stared directly at her.
"Yes." She edged toward the door to the dining room. The look in his eyes made her feel like prey being sighted through a scope.
"So who lived here?"
"Ladies of the evening?" he teased.
"Yes." She quickly turned and walked through the door to the dining room. "This room was used for formal dinners. As you can see there are doors that close it off from the rest of the house. There's an outer door in that wall used by prominent gentlemen who came here for thousand dollar dinners, including the governor. They didn't want to be seen by others who might be in the house." Faith knew she babbled, but his stare and close, warm body made her nervous.
"Where is the stairway up to the girls' rooms?"
"You're not going to convince me that they came here only to eat dinner." His words were filled with laughter.
"No. I'm sure they didn't." She gulped back the images forming in her mind. "I guess you'll have to ask Opal when she shows up. I never really thought about it."
"Never thought about it? What'd you think they did?" There was more than laughter in his voice now. He was taunting her.
"Very funny. Do you want a tour or not?"
"Yes. Please proceed." He bowed slightly at the waist and gestured for her to go into the next room, which was the salon.
"The wallpaper in this room was also imported from France. In 1890 it cost a hundred and fifty dollars a foot. There's supposed to be real gold in it." She had wanted to touch it, and with Opal's watchful eye absent, she did. It felt the same as modern wallpaper, and she found herself disappointed.
"Expecting something?" he whispered, and she jumped again.
She hadn't realized how close he'd come. But once he'd spoken, she was surprised she hadn't noticed. He stood so close that she heard the air moving smoothly in and out of his lungs. The rugged scent of his cologne wound around her, and she breathed deeply, savoring the spicy tang. She'd seen him, felt him, and touched him in her dreams, but he had never had a scent.
"Maybe we have met before, Ms. McCoy. Before last night, I mean."
"Maybe. I ... I don't know." Faith swallowed against the dryness in her suddenly parched throat.
"You do look familiar," he whispered close to her ear.
She wasn't about to let him know just how familiar. A hot flash slipped over her as the thought passed through her mind that this man--or his dream twin--had seen her without her clothes, had actually made love to her only hours earlier. She struggled with her sanity and moved away from him. Looking through the viewfinder of her camera, she effectively hid from him.
"Maybe in another life?" he said, and then he laughed.
His words hit her hard. She nearly doubled over from the impact. Could that possibly be where her dreams came from? No, it couldn't be. She looked up at him and his expression looked as startled as she felt.
To escape her own thoughts as much as his presence she turned abruptly and nearly fell over a chair. His warm hand curled around her arm to steady her. "Thank you," she whispered.
He nodded and stepped away,
Relieved by the absence of his disturbing hand, she said, "I'm sure you're curious about the upstairs." She made her way up the steps toward the observation room. Perversely, she wanted to see his reaction. Needed to see it.
The smell of polish and time sifted through the air. She took a deep breath and stepped up, instinctively reaching to move her skirts aside. Silly, she was wearing jeans. Where had that idea come from?
Even before she reached it, she knew the sixth step would creak. It made the expected noise, and she shivered. Reaching the landing, she stopped and looked back at him. Shadows shifted around her, and she curled her fingers around the wooden rail. For an instant, she thought she saw a beautiful woman standing in the foyer--a woman dressed in old-fashioned clothes. A big, black man appeared and nodded as he flashed a subservient smile.
Faith stumbled. Cord's strong hand steadied her again, and the shadows vanished. She looked up and met his frown. The faint scent of an unfamiliar perfume hung in the air between them. She shook her head and closed her eyes, letting the momentary darkness soothe her frayed nerves. He hadn't seen them, had he? He'd been looking at her, not down at the foyer.
"Careful," he whispered when she opened her eyes and pulled away.
"I ... I'm fine."
"Could have fooled me." This time he didn't step away, and his breath fanned across her skin. "Tell me--who takes care of you?"
"No one. I'm not helpless."
His laugh was soft and deep. "Is that why you run around barefoot in the middle of the night?"
So he had noticed.
He leaned closer, his body heat teasing her. "And let strange men give you large sums of money?"
She recalled the chips on the roulette table. Slowly his meaning soaked in. She narrowed her eyes at the inference.
"I told you I wasn't there to gamble," she whispered in denial.
"Ah, so you did." He reached up and ran his finger down her heated cheek. "What do you think most men would expect for such a favor?"
Stunned she stood there, her blood boiling with anger and something else, which she chose to deny, ignited by that finger.
Her breath caught in her chest and then came out in a rush. She fought the longing this man inspired in her and moved past him. Somehow, she had to regain control of her mind and the situation.
"Oh, I don't know..." She backed away from him, her footsteps oddly loud on the carpet runner. "Perhaps this?"
She grabbed the wall hanging and shoved it aside. She lifted her chin and met his stare.
He gasped. Reaching out, he touched the painted glass. A breath's time later, he spun around and grabbed her. The fabric tumbled back into place.
His fingers bit into her arms as his words slashed through the air. "What the hell are you trying to pull?"