Chapter One

Lightning ripped, ragged through the night sky.
For the briefest of moments, the countryside lit up before her. The strange, flattened shapes in the corn seemed darker and more eerie than they had under the scorching Oklahoma sun.
Standing at her bedroom window, Jessie McLeod couldn’t tear her eyes from the scene before her. Electrical storms were common around these parts, but she’d never seen anything like this. The day had been clear and bright, and, even now, no storm clouds hung fat and low in the sky. Yet still, the lightning continued, jagged forks splitting the sky right down to the horizon, combined with continuous, strobe-like flashes which left her blinking against their strength.
At her feet, her dog, Buddy, whimpered, his body pressed up against her legs.
“Hush, boy,” she said, reaching down to stroke his scraggly fur. “It’s only lightning.”
Jessie wished she had someone she could turn to; someone she could exclaim, ‘Wow, have you ever seen anything like this before?’ and actually get an answer.
Unconsciously, her eyes flicked to the photograph on the bedside table, the blond, shaggy-haired man with the blue eyes, his arm wrapped around a brunette, both with relaxed, happy smiles on their faces. Jessie tore her gaze away from her own image, pain stabbing through her afresh. Two years had passed now, yet still the pain hit her, unexpectedly, winding her, leaving her gasping for breath.
I’ll leave, Jessie told herself for the thousandth time. She would go to a city—a town at least—and find herself a nice little house with neighbors who were less than three miles from her.
The thought of being in a city, surrounded by people, sent pain spiking through her soles as her body flooded with adrenaline. For a moment, she swayed, unsteady on her feet, before she got hold of herself.
She told herself she stayed in the big farmhouse because the isolation was good for her writing, but the truth was she’d not written anything new since Jeremy passed. Only the backlog of manuscripts on her laptop kept her nosy editor and agent from her door. As far as they were concerned, as long as she still produced a new manuscript for them every six months, then all was well. How were they to know the books she’d been delivering were all several years old?
Jessie sighed and turned her attention back to the storm.
She realized something and frowned. No thunder. Had she ever seen such lightning without the roll and crash of thunder following? Was such a thing even possible? It must be, she decided. After all, that was exactly what she was seeing.
Fields of crops stretched out before her, maize, wheat, barley. She didn’t farm the fields herself, but rented them out to a local farmer who made better use of them then she ever would. He’d been pissed lately because kids had been mucking around, creating flattened shapes in the crops. He’d told her to watch out for them, but she’d no idea what she was supposed to do should she see someone. She’d seen no signs of anybody and doubted she’d do anything if she did. Life weighed her down lately and sometimes it was all she could do to get her ass out of bed and into the shower.
The shapes contained a certain symmetrical beauty; a semi-circle with increasingly smaller circles dotted around its perimeter. Another like a labyrinth, with a circle containing an intricate pattern in the centre. Jessie understood the farmer’s dismay—each sheath of corn, so precisely flattened, had been ruined—yet for Jessie the shapes created a point of focus when she looked out across the seemingly never-ending expanse of dusty yellow crops. Despite the obvious vandalism, their curves and precision were striking.
The night drew on. Though she had nothing to get up for in the morning, she was constantly tired. Sleep came easily, but left just as quickly. Often, she found herself wandering the house at four a.m. knowing she would never get back to sleep again, simply waiting for the morning to come. Even so, she kept to her routine—in bed before midnight—and the witching hour was fast approaching.
Her small lamp cast a soft glow across the room. She shed her clothes as she headed toward the bed, popping the button of her jeans and pulling the pants down her long, slender thighs. Wearing only her panties and vest, she slid beneath the cool sheets. Jessie reached out a hand and flicked the switch on her lamp.
Instead of plunging the room into darkness, the lack of light only served to increase the drama of the lightshow happening outside. Her thin, cream drapes did little to block out the lightning
I’ll never get to sleep with this going on, she thought. But even as the words crossed her mind, she sank into the arms of sleep.
Jessie blinked awake, pale morning sunlight filtering into the bedroom. Her eyes flicked to the small bedside alarm clock, which she never needed to use. Five-fifteen. Another forty-five minutes and she could tell herself it was morning.
She rolled over, her hand straying to the empty space where her husband used to lie. So much time had passed, yet she’d still kept to her side of the bed, curled up on her side like a fiddlehead. The other white pillow lay smooth and flat, no imprint of a head denting its centre.
Closing her eyes again, she willed sleep to return. Sometimes her dreams were of happier times, when Jeremy had been alive and they were simply excited about their future and were busy planning their lives together. Thirty-three had been too young for him to die. Twenty-nine was too young to become a widow. Sleep, when it came, offered her an escape from the empty expanse of her days, but it eluded her.
With a sigh, Jessie opened her eyes and pushed herself to sitting. Though still exhausted, she knew she was up for the day. What she needed now was coffee and lots of it.
The hour was still young, but already there was heat to the new day. Jessie’s thin cotton vest clung to her curves, her perky breasts and flat stomach unintentionally highlighted in the skimpy outfit. She’d grown slim over the passing years.
Jessie headed into the kitchen. Buddy sat at the kitchen door, his back to her and ears pricked, and didn’t even acknowledge her entering the room.
She frowned. Normally Buddy was all over her, as though he’d not seen her for a month instead of just a few hours.
“All right, Buddy,” she said, addressing the dog. “I’ll let you out in a minute. Mommy needs caffeine.”
Jessie piled coffee granules into the espresso machine, followed by fresh water. The machine boiled and hissed as it brewed her much needed caffeine injection.
Taking her coffee, she went to the backdoor and opened it, letting the dog out. But Buddy didn’t move—only sat, frozen in the doorway.
“Go on, Dummy,” she said, nudging him with her foot. “What are you waiting…” Her words tailed off and her breath caught in her chest.
Someone was in her yard.
With a pounding heart, she stepped out of the doorway. A man lay curled up beside her pool, naked, his skin glistening in the early morning dew. Curled up upon himself, his knees tucked into his chest, his arms wrapped around her legs. She took in the firm muscles of his ass, the strong length of his thighs. His skin was pale, his arms and legs covered in a fine down of dark hair. Though she couldn’t see his face, his hair was so dark it was almost black, and stuck wildly from his head.
Goosebumps prickled her skin, yet his naked flesh stirred something deep inside her, something she’d thought had long since died.
Don’t get distracted, girl, she admonished herself. The guy is either a lunatic or a drunk.
She pulled open the nearest drawer and rummaged around, her fingers searching for a weapon, her eyes never leaving the naked stranger on her property.
Her hand closed around a long barbeque fork that hadn’t been used since Jeremy died. She pulled the fork out, its two sharp prongs glinting in the early sunlight.
Tightening her grip around the wooden handle, she gritted her teeth and braced her shoulders. Jessie burst from her back door, onto the porch.
“This is private property,” she yelled. “Get the hell out of my yard or I’m calling the cops.”
At the sound of her voice, the body on the patio stirred. Jessie’s heart lurched, blood rushing through her ears. What would she do if he rushed her? Would she really have the guts to stab him?
Like a fern, the man unfurled, his head rising to look at her with sleepy, blinking eyes. She took in his full mouth, straight nose and strong jaw, but his catalogue model good-looks weren’t the thing that focused her. Instead, it was his eyes that caught her attention. Something about those eyes made her falter. Their blue depth held no menace; she felt more as if she were watching a child wake.
“Who are you and what the hell are you doing here?” she shouted again, brandishing the fork. She wondered why she was even asking—shouldn’t she be on the phone already?
At the sound of her shouts, the man didn’t flinch. The corners of his full lips twitched and he tilted his head to one side, as if taking her in.
She noticed he shivered. Despite the early warmth of the day, the man was cold.
Suddenly, Jessie realized she stood, wearing only panties and a thin vest, her nipples poking through the material. Self-consciously, she folded one arm across her breasts.
In front of her, the man continued to unfurl. Right before her eyes, he stood, naked. His cock nestled against his balls, framed by a thick thatch of dark curls.
“Jesus!” she exclaimed, shocked, embarrassed, trying desperately not to look. “Cover yourself up.
Towels hung from the washing line stretched across her yard and she grabbed one, throwing it at him. He watched as the towel hit his legs, making no move to try to catch or pick it up.
Jessie twisted her head away, trying to suppress the smile threatening to spread across her face.
“Pick up the towel, damn it,” she said, pointing to the rectangle of twisted cotton. She almost laughed, “You can’t just wander around without any clothes on.”
Sneaking glances, she saw him finally glance down at the pile of cotton at his feet. He looked back up at her and seemed to realize what she wanted. Bending down, he picked up the towel and held it over his perfectly proportioned groin.
“Thank God for that,” she said, allowing her gaze to fall back on him. Still, his body was beautiful; curved pecks with dusky nipples, a line down the center of his stomach, running between several rows of abs. His shoulders were broad and strong, his biceps cut without being overly muscular. If she had of asked someone to create a perfect male specimen, this would be it.
Jessie gave her head a slight shake.
She really shouldn’t be thinking like this about some strange man who had shown up, naked, in her back yard.
He lifted his gaze, his blue eyes settling upon hers. He still shivered, his body trembling.
She stepped closer, expecting a wave of alcohol fumes to wash over her. But none came; he smelled like cut grass and vanilla. Whatever he was, he wasn’t a drunk.
Drugs, maybe, she thought. But this was hardly drug country. The biggest city was miles from here. Again she was brought back to his eyes; he didn’t have the expression of someone who was spaced out.
Before she knew what she was doing she said, “You look cold. Why don’t you come inside and I’ll find you something to wear.”
He took unsteady steps toward her. It didn’t matter that he had turned up in her yard in the middle of the night. He didn’t look as if he could harm anything. Despite the appearance of his perfectly toned, strong physique, he also seemed weak and fragile, like a newborn deer learning to walk.
Jessie backed away, stepping back through her back door and into the kitchen. The strange man followed. Buddy yapped at him a couple of times, while backing out of the kitchen door and disappeared. She heard the scrabble of his claws on the wooden floor as he scurried upstairs.
“I think I should get you some clothes. You don’t have any nearby, by any chance, do you?”
He raised his eyebrows at her, a hint of a smile adorning his handsome face, but didn’t seem to understand anything she said.
“Okay, just wait here.” She put her hands out in front of her, steadying him like a horse.
Jessie turned and rushed out of the room. Would he be there when she got back? Maybe he’d clear out her purse and leave.
She went to her bedroom and opened the closet. All of Jeremy’s shirts still hung from their hangers, his pants still neatly folded in the drawers, his socks still balled together. No one knew she still had all his old things. When her parents—who lived miles away and didn’t really give a shit about her anyway—asked, she told them she’d donated everything to charity. They’d never know the difference. They’d made it down here for the funeral, but in their minds they’d done their part.
She pulled down a short-sleeved, blue and white shirt and a pair of jeans. They might be a little snug on this guy—Jeremy had been smaller by about two inches and thirty pounds—but considering his body, she didn’t think she’d mind them being a bit tight. She smiled at this and then reprimanded herself. She shouldn’t be thinking such things, especially not when he was about to be dressed in her dead husband’s clothes….
~*~
Copyright © 2012 M.K. Elliott
All rights reserved. This is a work of fiction. All names, characters, locations, and incidents are products of the author’s imagination, or have been used fictionally. Any resemblance to actual persons living or dead, locales, or events is entirely coincidental. No portion of this work may be transmitted or reproduced in any form, or by any means, without permission in writing from the author.




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