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By Delinsky, Barbara
One minute there was nothing but a cloud of fog before him; the next she was there, materialized from the mist. Stunned, Michael Buchanan came to an abrupt halt. He hadn't expected to encounter anyone on the beach at such an inhospitable time of year, much less as striking a figure as the one before him.
She was a vision of loneliness standing there, with the March wind tucking her long skirt around her legs, whipping strands of hair across her cheeks. As he watched, she pressed her pocketed hands closer to her body, enveloping herself more snugly within the oversized jacket she wore.
He took several steps forward and, still unnoticed, stared. She was lovely. Smooth of skin and with a delicately sculpted profile, she was young enough, old enough, just right. And she was slender. Even the protective folds of her clothing, whose mist-softened hues of hunter green and plum contrasted smartly with her fair skin and the sandy hair that escaped the confines of her stylish wool cloche, couldn't hide that fact.
In her solitariness she was regal; at least that was what he fantasized as he stood, spellbound, studying her. She bore the weight of the world on her shoulders, while at the same time she remained apart, isolated from the masses. Even the fog kept its distance, as though in awe.
Regal... stoic... brave... each thought came to him through the mist, then another. Vulnerable. Body braced against the cold, she shivered from time to time, but she didn't move either to seek warmth or to escape the threat of the pounding surf. She'd fallen victim to the sea, he knew, and he felt an even greater affinity for her. He wondered who she was, this woman who stood alone, tall yet humbled, seeking strength from within. Bidden by a curiosity that went beyond the purely male, he tugged his collar higher and started slowly forward.
Eyes downcast, she didn't see him at first. He paused, hesitant to intrude on whatever thoughts possessed her, but moved on again when his own need nagged. When he came to a halt several feet from her, her head snapped up. With a quick step back, she pressed a hand to her heart.
"You startled me!" Her voice was little more than a ragged whisper above the thunder of the tide.
Michael drew in a sharp breath when he found himself looking into the most stunning violet eyes he had ever seen. It took him a minute to find his tongue.
"I'm sorry. I didn't mean to frighten you. It's just that you looked so alone."
For an instant he thought she was going to cry. Her eyes widened and tears gathered on her lower lids. He saw it then, the haunted cast that fear had momentarily overshadowed, and he wondered what dark thoughts had upset her so. Then they were gone-the torment, the tears-replaced by a composure that suggested he had simply imagined the cracks.
"My fault," she said in a voice whose tremor might well have been caused by wind. "I was miles away." She gave him a sheepish half-smile by way of apology, and he felt something new and special curl up and glow inside him.
"I hope it was somewhere exotic."
"Exotic? No. Not exactly."
"Exciting, at least?"
She searched his face, then shook her head quickly, almost as if in guilt at her admission.
"Your secret's safe with me," he teased on a note of conspiracy that ended in a smile, "as long as you're back here now."
"I am." Her whisper was carried away by the wind, but she continued to stare at him. When she finally spoke again, she sounded confused. "I'm not even sure what happened. One minute I was here, and then...
"The ocean has a way of doing that. Of transporting you from one place to another." Tucking his hands in his pockets, he tore his eyes from hers and gazed toward the waves. "It's very sneaky, actually. First you're lured by the sense of freedom of the open beach and the fresh salt air...Continues...
Excerpted from Within Reach by Delinsky, Barbara Excerpted by permission.
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