Salome ran her fingers over the blanket on the guest bed. Whirls of patterns stood out, etched upon the fabric like her thoughts of late. Despite the streams of light that fell across her face from the brightness of the day, her thoughts were decidedly less than sunny. Her preparations for an upcoming guest had done little to shake her from the dull stupor that had plagued her as she settled into the life of a married woman.
Errant strands of black hair fell in front of her eyes and she absently pushed them back as she tried to recall where her husband, Percy, had said the fabric beneath her fingers came from. Traveling, or rather, the ability to travel had been one of the few reasons she was happy to marry a man as well off as Percy, but the reality of their marriage was far from glamorous. The familiar light footsteps of their housemaid shook Salome from her thoughts and by the time the woman appeared in the doorway, Salome’s face held a more neutral expression.
“Mrs., I have a light lunch prepared for Mr. Percy and his guest.”
Salome nodded. “Thank you, Lucinda.” She gave the woman a small smile before turning to scan the room. Everything appeared to be in place. The pillows were fluffed and propped up to showcase the stitch work on the covers and the blankets were smooth, without a hint of wrinkle. The dressers were polished and free of clutter and the floors had been swept and mopped until they gleamed. The room had a light lemony scent that Salome hoped pleased her husband and his guest. She could smell the faint scent of lunch from down in the kitchen and she knew that Lucinda would have made enough for Salome to fashion their dinner. Being in charge of a house, particularly one as large as the one Percy purchased the day after their wedding, was a challenge for her and one that she often felt ill equipped to handle.
“What are you doing?”
Salome whirled around, startled by Percy’s booming voice. His ability to tread softly enough to surprise her even with the creaking floorboards was so far unrivaled. For someone of a substantial weight, Percy still managed to move as stealthily as the cats that often patrolled the property in search of errant mice to glut themselves on. For Salome, it meant feeling a general sense of unease at being caught doing something unbecoming of a millionaire’s wife, which she often was. The books and maps of far-off places and cultures had slowly gathered dust in their bookshelves as she instead filled her days with the approved activities such as gardening or gathering with the wives of Percy’s clients and business partners.
Heart racing wildly, Salome bent her head demurely. “I’ve set up the room for your guest.” At Percy’s silence, she hazarded a look up. His dark brown eyes surveyed the room and Salome brushed her hands down over the pleats in her skirt to keep herself from rambling. Percy hated when she spoke at length and out of turn.
“Hm. Have the sheets been cleaned?”
“Yes. I had Lucinda take them to be professionally cleaned rather than using our—”
“Why did you bother having me purchase a washer and dryer if you weren’t going to utilize them?” Percy cut in. He stepped further into the room and Salome took a few steps back towards the window without thinking. She saw his eyes narrow and immediately looked down again.
Hoping to salvage things, she continued. “I know how important your friends and clients are, so I wanted to make sure everything was perfect for your guest. Our dryer is wonderful, and I appreciate you purchasing it for our home.” She reached out and clenched the windowsill in an effort to steady her legs. Percy seemed to be in a mood, based on his pinched expression. Salome didn’t know if it was nerves or something else, but his moods often left her on shaky ground and doubting everything. “I should have time to replace them with others that have been freshly laundered if you would li—”
“Don’t bother.” His footsteps—audible now even with the pounding of her heart—came closer and she tried to steady her breathing. A hand gripped her chin tightly, bringing her face to meet his. With her heels on, she had to look down a few inches in order to meet eye-to-eye. Surprisingly, Percy had never seemed to have a problem with their difference in height, her being the taller of the two. She was now well aware that her age had drawn him to her, but she often wondered if he had chosen her for her height for some reason.
As she gazed into his muddy brown eyes, her own uncomfortable expression was reflected in them, making her once again aware that this union was not one she wanted but now was unable to find a way out of. Making the best of things had become her mantra and she clung fiercely to it as an owl did to prey. It was often all that propelled her through her days.
“I really don’t mind changing things, Percy,” she whispered. Her hands gripped her skirt tightly as she waited for him to respond.
His lips twisted into a scowl. “Why? So you can mess that up, too?” He let her chin go as the sound of a car coming up the drive reached them. He fixed her with one last glare before turning away and walking towards the doorway. “And fix your hair. We have appearances to maintain.”
Salome nodded shakily, not moving until the sounds of his footsteps—now audible no doubt because he wanted them to be—reached her ears. She let out the breath she was holding and turned back to the window. The car they had heard was now visible in the driveway and she put a hand up to the window as she peered down, trying to catch a glimpse of the mysterious guest. Percy had been tight-lipped about his friend, citing him as a potential investor but not delving much into their back history. So much of Percy’s life before their courtship and marriage was still an enigma to Salome. It had been a week since Percy’s announcement of this person coming to stay with them for a few days. Guests weren’t a rarity in their home, but Salome was still trying to build her reputation amongst Percy’s friends regarding her party hosting skills, so she tried to make sure she created an environment each guest might enjoy.
This time, her questioning had seemed to backfire, with him growing increasingly agitated with each question until she finally ceased and planned to the best of her ability. Clearly that hadn’t gone too well, based on his reaction.
This is not the life I imagined for myself. The words were kept in her head, but she longed to give them voice. Her attention focused back on the car when the door opened. Sunlight seemed to reflect off the brown-haired man who exited the automobile and Salome squinted against the glare. Compared to her own jet-black hair and Percy’s mousy brown, this man’s seemed to be made of the sun itself and she found herself shifting closer until the tip of her nose brushed against the glass of the window.
The man seemed tall, though after living with Percy, every other man tended to seem tall to her. From her distance, she could somewhat make out an attractively angular jaw and his suit seemed to fit well on his frame, with none of the pudge Percy now sported. He was the type of man women would no doubt swoon over based on looks alone and Salome would have probably been one of them before her dreams of a life filled with romance had come crashing down the moment she said ‘I do’. Still, she could feel her breath come quicker, fogging up the glass as she strained to see more of his face. The thick glass made it impossible to hear the timber of his voice, but she imagined it was as attractive as the rest of him. When his head tilted towards her, revealing more of his face, Salome felt her muscles tense.
“My goodness; he is gorgeous.” The words slipped from her without conscious thought, though they were truthful. If this was her husband’s guest, she was in trouble. “How am I going to be able to talk to him without staring?”
As if having heard her, the man turned to look up at the window she was standing at and Salome had to suck in another breath. Eyes as light as the sky and just as blue stared back at her with what looked to be amusement. It was then her fight or flight instinct kicked in, propelling her away from the window and down the stairs as quickly as she had in her youth on Christmas day. Only this time there were no presents under a tree. There was only temptation in the form of the man who was clearly the man her husband expected.
Percy turned to her, arching an eyebrow at her abrupt appearance. “And Dusk, I want to introduce you to my wife, Salome.”
Dusk? What kind of name is that?
Percy held out a hand to her and Salome dutifully played her part, walking into the curve of Percy’s arms and favoring Dusk with what she hoped was a genuine smile. His smile was just as attractive as the rest of him, and when he lifted her outstretched hand to place a soft kiss on the back of it, she had to fight down a shiver of pleasure.
Why am I so affected by him?
Her reaction was confusing and new, nothing like she had ever experienced before, and she didn’t know what to do. A glance over at Percy brought her back down and she nodded before gesturing towards the dining room and beckoning the men to sit as she served lunch. As they walked away, she tried not to let her gaze linger on Dusk more than was polite, but it was in vain as their eyes locked one last time and a feeling of something passed between them. Salome forced herself to break her gaze and fled for the kitchen, turning over her wedding ring to remind herself of just whose wife she was.
The silence in the house was comforting and Salome felt she could breathe again as she dug her hands into the soft dirt. The greenhouse was often one of her safe havens—a place she could relax and indulge in the only passion Percy had deemed appropriate for a wife of her stature.
Her fingers trailed across the tips of each rose she planted. She brought the peonies to her nose to get a whiff of their exhilarating scent.
Salome sighed in contentment and was gazing at the lilies when the sound of a voice clearing startled her. Her heart pounded as she spun around.
“Percy, I’m so—” Her voice caught when she turned to see it wasn’t her husband in the doorway of the greenhouse, but Dusk. She put a hand to her head, letting out a relieved breath. “Of, Mr. Dusk. I’m sorry.”
He held up his hands. “No need to apologize.” Salome couldn’t help but notice how the knit fabric of his shirt pulled tightly across his wide shoulders. His pants hung loosely on his trim waist and she swallowed hard at the direction her thoughts wanted to skitter in. She glanced up at him from beneath her lashes. His hands were now in his pockets as he leaned against the doorframe.
She bit her lower lip, trying to remember if she had missed something. “Is there something I can help you with?” Percy’s reactions to her previous questions about Dusk’s visit had led her to believe that she wasn’t part of keeping him entertained, but she wondered if perhaps she had misunderstood. “Are you and my husband meeting in here?” She could kick herself for offering, but she didn’t want to be rude.
“No. Percy actually got called down to the bank a few minutes ago,” Dusk said gesturing behind him. “He said he would be back in a few hours.”
“Oh.” That’s a relief. “Well, is there anything I can get you? Lucinda left some devilled eggs and a meat and cheese platter in the refrigerator should you get hungry.” She tried not to stare, but it was difficult now that Dusk was in front of her and Percy was nowhere to be seen. Lunch and dinner the evening before had been difficult enough with Percy there at her side. It hadn’t helped that Dusk had eaten barely anything. Percy had spent part of the night railing Salome on her lack of planning once again and her pointing out that he hadn’t told her what Dusk liked hadn’t helped. Her ears were still ringing.
“I remember you didn’t eat much last night.”
He nodded and gave her a small smile. He almost seemed apologetic. “True, and for that I apologize. Travelling always upsets my stomach for a few days after. If I had known of the trouble you went through to plan and prepare, I would have forced down a few more bites to show my appreciation.”
His apology shocked her. Salome wasn’t used to being apologized to by anyone other than the house staff. Percy had certainly never offered up an apology. She didn’t quite know what to say.
“It’s no trouble at all,” she insisted finally. “I only wish I had known what food you preferred so I could have made it for you, upset stomach or not. Do you have a favorite food?”
Dusk smiled. “No, at least, none that can be made.”
Salome frowned. “I don’t understand.”
He chuckled, stepping into the room and making his way to the lily plant. “It’s no matter. Just know, I do appreciate your efforts to indulge my visit and please accept my apology for creating any disharmony between you and Percy.”
Salome huffed out a breath. Disharmony was nothing new in their home. “Trust me. No apology is necessary.” She stared at the breadth of Dusk’s shoulders and the line of his back. She wanted to reach out to him, a feeling that took her by such surprise that she locked her hands behind her back in fear that they would act without her permission. “I should go.”
“Don’t let me stop you, though I wish you wouldn’t.”
Salome paused in her retreat. “You wish I wouldn’t what?”
Dusk glanced at her over his shoulder. “Go.” He turned slowly and Salome glanced down at his hand as he began to play with the lily plant.
Dusk’s gaze followed hers and he lifted the book in his hands. “Do you like to garden, Salome?”
She nodded slowly.
“You like flowers?”
She shrugged. “Don’t all women like flowers?”
Dusk arched an eyebrow at her. “Perhaps, but I’m not talking about all women. I’m talking about you.”
His interest was surprising. Percy had never shown interest in what she liked unless it served him in some way. He only allowed her to keep gardening instead of hiring one because of her obvious green thumb. Their garden and yard were the envy of all of Percy’s friends. Keeping up appearances was big in their circle and the outside of their home was part of that.
Salome thought about her answer. “I suppose because of the challenge.” She tried not to let her excitement show on her face when Dusk angled himself towards her. His interest seemed genuine and so it loosened her tongue.
“Challenging? How so?”
“Well, flowers are kind of like people.” At Dusk’s chuckle, Salome smiled. “You laugh, but I’m serious. Think about it. They require food and water. They need the sun, and they will die without it. Plus, plants are temperamental. Too hot or too cold; too much water or too little and you will kill them.” She looked down at her hands. “It’s the same with people. Maybe not with sun or water exactly, but love and care. Too much or too little and things don’t turn out well.”
He nodded, looking at her intently. It was strange to have someone so focused on her, but she couldn’t deny that she liked it.
“So, which is it here?”
“What do you mean?”
He leaned towards her, his blue eyes captivating her and making it impossible to look away. “Which do you suffer from; too much love or not enough?”
The question caught her by surprise. “Oh! I didn’t mean… I wasn’t talking about me.”
“Weren’t you?” His question was asked with no inflection, leaving Salome bewildered with how to respond to it. She didn’t know what he saw in her gray eyes, but whatever it was had him moving closer to her. Salome knew she should end the conversation and tell him he was being too familiar with her, but his assumption of her lack of care wasn’t wrong. Even their short conversation had her reaching out like a flower tilted towards the sun. She had been longing for so long for a connection that now she wanted to sink her teeth in and never let it go.
The feeling was equal parts terrifying and exhilarating. This strange man had come in and brought with him the desires of her youth for sampling something new. It was a dangerous feeling.
“I…” She was still unsure of what to say. On one hand she longed to speak to someone about her loneliness and stifled dreams, but on the other hand it wasn’t proper to talk to Dusk in that way. In the face of those conflicting emotions, all she could do was offer a half-truth. “I don’t know.”
Her answer seemed to amuse him, though it didn’t quite seem like he was laughing at her. Dusk leaned away and like that, whatever spell had been weaved between them dissipated, leaving Salome feeling shaken and new. She blinked slowly as if seeing Dusk again for the first time. His blue eyes were no less hypnotizing but seemed to lack the intensity that Salome was sure had been in them moments before.
“You are a fascinating woman, Salome.” Dusk stood from the couch. “Percy is a fool for not realizing the jewel he has right under his nose.”
Her lips parted as she gazed up at him. Her tongue darted out to wet them and her eyes widened as she saw him follow her motion.
“And your name,” he continued. “What a beautiful name for a beautiful woman.”
“My parents named me after my grandmother,” she replied. “And you? Dusk? That’s an unusual name.”
Something was there between them—something that tugged on Salome to know more and move closer. It was Dusk who moved away, nodding to her as he exited the greenhouse and leaving Salome to wonder if all of the tension had only been in her mind.
Until… one of her kind is murdered by a mysterious man in a black mask.
With only Carter, an unlucky human witness, by her side, Faye must find a way to prevent the body count from rising and protect her family’s secret identity. As the man in the black mask lurks in the shadows waiting to strike again, her choice becomes a matter of life and death.
In the face of true evil, being normal is overrated.