The One in My Heart

By: Sherry Thomas

Chapter 1

THE LAST THING I EXPECTED on that miserable August evening was a one-night stand. I expected even less that my accidental lover would swoop back into my life, metaphoric guns blazing. Though what really did me in was our subsequent fake relationship, which turned everything upside down even before the nude scandal erupted.

But it all began, for me at least, on the back lanes of Cos Cob, Connecticut.

A shower fell steadily. My hair was plastered to my skull, dripping water down my neck. My stomach had given up sending polite signals of hunger and was moodily folding in on itself. It must be nearly midnight. Had I eaten anything today? Had I eaten anything at all since I found Zelda four days ago in the grips of a major manic upswing?

A gust blew. I shivered, the chill of my drenched clothes sinking deep beneath my skin. But I kept walking. The lane wound between houses on heavily wooded lots, some hidden behind impenetrable tall hedges, others set apart by low stone walls. Was I tired enough yet? How much farther did I need to go, before I could sink into a dreamless sleep?

The bright headlights of an oncoming car startled me. I hurried to the edge of the narrow lane, my tired toes digging into waterlogged and slippery flip-flops.

As it passed, the low-slung, sporty model slowed to a crawl. Probably someone who lived in the area, coming back from a Friday-night party and wondering why a woman was out by herself in this weather, at this time of the night.

Come on. Keep moving. I didn’t want any neighborly concern.

The car stopped, aerodynamic curves gleaming faintly, windows completely dark. It reversed a good fifteen, twenty feet. Now it faced me again, its headlights flooding the rain-slicked asphalt between us.

Alarm jolted me. What if I wasn’t about to deal with neighborly concern? What if…I yanked out my phone, swiped to unlock the screen, and tapped 911.

The driver-side door opened and out came a large umbrella, followed by a man. Instinctively I stepped back—directly into the bulk of a low stone wall. My pulse hammered.

The man straightened, closed the car door, and didn’t move for a few seconds, as if he too had second thoughts about the situation. Or was he merely figuring out the best way to overpower me?

He started toward me. I groped blindly for a weapon, my fingers closing around a loose rock from the top of the wall.

Stop. Stop right now.

He stopped six feet away. His face was in shadows, but against the flood of light from the car he seemed the size of a linebacker. “Evangeline, right?” he asked, his voice low yet clear against the percussion of rain on his umbrella.

I blinked, caught between hope and even greater suspicion. “Yes?”

“I’m Bennett. I took care of Collette Woolworth’s dog for you this week.”

“Oh,” I said, my death grip around the rock unclenching a little.

I was in the neighborhood for the summer because Collette, Zelda’s good friend, was overseas on a work assignment, and needed someone to keep an eye on Biscuit, her rat terrier. When Zelda’s mania swung into high gear and I didn’t want to leave her alone, I’d called a list of emergency contacts Collette had left me. Everyone was out of town except Bennett, who had sounded harried, but had agreed to look after Biscuit.

“Thanks for helping me out,” I added.

“You are welcome,” he answered.

I said nothing else. Had I met him in broad daylight, my gratitude might have been more effusive—in fact, I meant to get him a nice thank-you present. But it was the middle of the night, we were on a deserted lane, and a man who was nice to a dog could still commit a crime of opportunity.

After a moment he turned to look at his car, as if longing for its safety. As if he, rather than me, were the exposed and vulnerable one here.

As he did so, the headlights illuminated enough of his features for recognition to kick me in the chest. His name had meant nothing when I called, but I’d come across him a few times when I was out walking Biscuit. He was usually on a bicycle, though I’d also seen him running, fast and with a beautiful gait.

Once he stopped his bike, pushed his aviators up, and asked me the time. His demeanor was courteous, but not interested. In fact, he seemed wary, as if he suspected that the clock on my phone might be fifteen minutes off.

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