Category Archives: blogging

A to Z Challenge: E

EPart E, in a continuing story from A to Z  [link to the beginning]

She was curled in a soft blanket, warm and content, dozing in front of the fireplace, flames creating flickering images on her closed eyelids.

She frowned. Something was wrong with the flames. Too hot. Roaring.


Zoey came to with a start, heart racing, panic and adrenaline surging through her body. She sat up fast, hitting her head on the sloping rock wall at her back. Eyes wild as memory returned, she frantically searched the shadows beyond the circle of light cast by the small fire in the center of the space.

There. Movement on the other side of the fire. She had hoped she’d imagined it, conjured the beast from her fear, but no. There was a dragon staring at her with glittering golden eyes. A huge, scaly, winged dragon. With claws and a tail and sharp teeth. It was hideous, the stuff of nightmares.

And somehow not as mind-numbingly terrifying now that she could see it. But maybe that was because she was already dead. It seemed likely. “I’ve died and gone to hell.”

“Don’t be insulting,” said the dragon.

Zoey drew in a sharp breath. She knew dragons were dangerously unpredictable, but had never heard of one that could speak.

It spoke again, sounding oddly bored. “So, what’s your treasure? Where is it?”

Treasure? Like a tribute, or a bribe? She had nothing. Zoey just shook her head. No.

“Oy, you just got here. Already with the disagreement? Of course you have treasure. Show me.”

Was a gift of treasure the price of life, of freedom? Damn, she was in big trouble here. “I–” She cleared her throat. “I have no treasure.”

“Listen, sweetie, I’m a Cave Dragon and this is my cave. No one gets in here without treasure. It’s not even possible. So where is it?”

Great, it was getting angry. Did she dare make a run for it? She thought about the cave’s total absence of light and reconsidered. “I swear, I don’t have–”

“All these centuries guarding treasure, for this? So some puny human can come in here and tell me THE RULES OF MY OWN CAVE?”

She cringed as the dragon bellowed the last part, tiny weak flames dancing around its mouth. The roar ended with a coughing fit. “Sorry. It’s the fog rolling in. Puts a real damp-er on a proper flame.”

Zoey blinked. Did it just crack a joke?

The dragon caught its breath and resumed the rant. “You come schlepping up to MY FRONT DOOR and you have NO TREASURE? Chutzpah, is what it is, to come into my lair empty-handed. Such a thing I never heard of.”

This wasn’t happening. It was too bizarre to be real. “I- I’m sorry.” Maybe she was dreaming.

“Or maybe,” the dragon paused and narrowed its glittering eyes at Zoey as if it could hear her thoughts. “Maybe you are the treasure?”

For some reason, that sounded like a trick question. What was the right answer? She went with the truth. “No, I’m no treasure. Ask anyone.”

The dragon tilted its head and gave her a considering look, tapping one sharp claw on an even sharper tooth. “Yes, I think that’s it. Now to decide whether you’re worth guarding. It’s my choice, you see. Some treasure I agree to keep safe. Feh, some I don’t.”

Zoey didn’t find this reassuring. She had no experience with dragons and, in spite of hoping this might be a dream, it all seemed very real. Very precarious.

“I’ve never guarded living treasure before. Perhaps you’re dying? Bones, I can guard. Not a problem. I have a lovely collection of skeletons.”

“I don’t– no, not that I know of.”

“I suppose I could kill you.”

Zoey shuddered. “I’d rather you didn’t.”

“How did you get here?”

By an act of stupidity, she thought, but said, “Over the boulders.”

“Yes, yes, I know.” The dragon waved a claw impatiently. “Before that. Did you come from the sea?”

“I climbed down the cliff.”

“Ahhh, from the mansion.” The dragon seemed to smile. “So you belong to Himself. That explains it.”

Explains what? “I don’t belong to anyone. I was hired to work for him.”

“Such a nice boy. Is he feeding you? He should feed you.”

Nice boy? She couldn’t think of two words less suited to describe the man. “Are we talking about the same person?” This was insane. She was having a conversation with a dragon.

“Of course. Anton Ferraro, the Youngest. What a magnificent temper he has. Such fire.”

Zoey rather suspected he was a cold-hearted and unemotional bastard.

The dragon interpreted her expression correctly, or heard her thoughts again, and huffed out a puff of smoke like a laugh. “Ah, so you’ve only seen his iron control. I’m telling you, it’s a direct reflection of the fire inside. There are times I could swear the boy breathes it. Such a fine young man. You’re not married?”

Zoey was saved from a reply by the sound of flapping wings and that distinctive chirping noise she’d heard on the beach. Oh please, not the bats. Zoey crossed her arms over her head and curled into herself, trying to make a smaller target.

“Oh yes, here they are! Come to Bubbie, my precious babies, come show me what you’ve found.”

Did the dragon just call herself grandmother? She sounded so happy, Zoey lifted her head slightly to watch.

The dragon spread her impressive wings and dozens of bats swarmed around, dropping things on the floor at her feet before perching on her shoulders and along the top edge of each wing. “Oh, marvelous. Excellent. Such beautiful treasures you’ve found.”

Only . . . they weren’t bats, Zoey realized. She sat up straighter. “Baby dragons,” she whispered. They were shimmering green and gold miniatures, not yet scarred by life or made dull with age. Tiny baby legs and claws and tails, miniscule scales and delicate little wings, wispy fine wreaths of smoke circling their heads.

They were glorious and completely adorable.

They’d dropped smooth round stones and bits of sea glass and delicate sprays of seaweed at the old dragon’s feet. Each item beautiful in its own way, but utterly worthless.

“Don’t question the value of what others hold dear,” the dragon said sharply.

“I wasn’t– I mean, no, of course not.” Zoey felt slightly ashamed of her cynicism, remembering her own childhood treasures.

“As the elders say: Judge not, lest all that glitters be the bell that tolls for thee.”

That . . . almost made sense. “You’re right, it was thoughtless of me. They’re lovely treasures.”

The dragon reached up with a scaly claw and plucked one of the babies off her shoulder. “This little one is starting to look like his Grandpa David, alav ha-shalom. So fierce already. My mate was a War Dragon, gone these many years.”

Was it proper to offer condolences to a dragon? Zoey had no idea. “I’m sorry for your loss. Was– was he killed in war?”

The dragon huffed out a smoky snort. “Nonsense. You can’t kill a dragon, no matter what you read in stories. Agree to take a fall one time so that rascal George could win fair maiden and we’ve yet to hear the end of it.”

Zoey didn’t know what to say to that so she just nodded.

“Dragons die of two things: sorrow and loneliness. Not much for War Dragons to do these days, what with modern weapons. They’re all but extinct now.”

She sounded so forlorn, Zoey rushed to change the subject. “So, these are your babies?”

The dragon beamed with pride. “Grandbabies, yes. My daughter, bless her heart, mated a Story Dragon. She has attachment issues, not that I didn’t raise her better, and follows him from place to place. He’s in high demand. So many movies and books and plays. I warned them to stay away from the toy market, but do they listen?” She made a sound of disgust. “Plastic dragons. They’re killing me.”

Zoey wondered whether it was possible to dream and hallucinate at the same time. Play along, she told herself, you’ll wake up soon. “I didn’t realize there were so many different types of dragons.”

There was a moment of silence as the dragon stared into the fire. Not a good sign, Zoey thought. The dragon seemed pleasant enough, when she wasn’t being absolutely terrifying in the dark, but she was still a dragon.

Although, thinking about it, all the dragon had done was stomp through its own cave and pick Zoey up and bring her to this “room.” A room where there was heat and light. And baby dragons. Okay, it also shot flames and roared at her, but what homeowner wouldn’t defend against an intruder. Zoey’s own fears were what had made the entire thing a nightmare. Still. It was a dragon, one with apparent mood swings, and not to be underestimated. Plus there was the little unresolved matter of getting out of there alive.

“I’ve made my decision,” the dragon said abruptly and flexed her wings, sending all the baby dragons flying.

Zoey flinched and ducked as they circled and swooped before hovering in a cluster near the ceiling of the cave. Then flinched again when the dragon seemed to grow even taller, her massive wings still outspread, and spoke in a stern booming voice.


Talk about mood swings. Zoey stood, fearing the worst. She was going to die in this cave after all. Would anyone know to carve “Death by Dragon” on her grave marker?


Might as well get it over with. “Zoey Prescott.”


“What? But I–”

“It’s done. You didn’t ask and I give this freely, my mitzvah for this century. No need for payment.”

Payment? Zoey wasn’t sure she liked the sound of that.

“Although,” the dragon added softly, “there usually is a price for everything. Eventually.”

Exactly. Hence her concern. “Thank you, ma’am, but really–”

“Oh, call me Bubbie. We’re practically family now. I suppose you’d like to get out of here and head back to the mansion in time for dinner. You should eat.”

“Yes! I mean, thank you for having me, but if you could just point me toward the exit . . .” Zoey trailed off, at a loss for proper manners in this situation. She really didn’t want to anger the beast, even if this was a dream.

“Oy, and how far do you think you’d get if I did? God forbid she should ask for help. Ermie!” The dragon called out as if that were a name.

Sure enough, Zoey heard scuffling sounds and saw movement out of the corner of her eye. She turned to look and– “AIEEEEEEEE. It’s a rat!”

“He most certainly is not. Ermie, come introduce yourself before the girl plotzes again.”

The sleek white creature held its head high and managed to look both dignified and affronted as it approached. “‘Tis nae a proper way to address royalty, lass.”

Never mind that it could speak too, the rodent had a Scottish accent. “Are you sure it’s not a rat?”

“Do I look like I’m not sure? He’s an ermine. Claims to be a royal prince of some country with a name we can’t pronounce, so we call him Ermie. He’ll guide you out and back up top. After you apologize for the slight, of course.”

It was a sign of how very desperate Zoey was to get out of the cave, whether dream or reality didn’t even matter anymore, that she found herself down on one knee, a dragon looking on in approval, offering an abject apology to an ermine. No, a royal ermine prince.

E is for Ermine.



Filed under A to Z Challenge, Anton and Zoey, blogging, just for fun

A to Z Challenge: D

DPart D, in a continuing story from A to Z  [link to the beginning]

Zoey quickly decided that walking through the cave wasn’t going to cut it and decided to crawl. That way, she could keep one hand on the wall and use the other to feel ahead of her for random chasms. Or whatever else might be in there with her.

Maybe if she stayed low enough to the ground, the bats would leave her alone. It had the added benefit of making her shaky knees less apparent. She tried to convince herself the shaking was from the immediate 20-degree temperature drop once she’d stepped inside.

She dredged through her memory for what she knew about navigating mazes — keep your hand on the wall and take every right turn — and hoped it applied to caves as well. Or was it every left turn? Too late, she was already past the first turn and even the dim light from the opening had disappeared.

It wasn’t merely dark, it was Stygian. The urge to turn back was almost overwhelming.

Zoey thought about the equipment, including a powerful flashlight, she’d been forced to leave behind. It’s a simple mission, in and out, they’d said. You’ll only need your wits, they’d said. It was a challenge, a fucking test, is what they hadn’t said. One she was not going to fail.

Fine, so she couldn’t see. She had her other senses, plus strength and agility and intelligence and . . . all her irrational childhood fears.

Concentrating, she could hear the sound of dripping. The wall was cold and damp to the touch with what she hoped was water. She wasn’t going to taste it if she didn’t have to, but at least she wouldn’t die of dehydration. All she could smell was dirt and rock, but occasionally she felt that gentle puff of cool air on her face. She seemed to be moving toward it, at least. She stretched up as far as she could reach and didn’t touch rock, so the ceiling wasn’t closing in on her.

She was not going to get stuck in a slowly narrowing fissure like that guy in the book she’d read in fourth grade. She’d find her way out of here and she’d be fine.

She continued crawling forward, her jeans wet now from the knees down and clammy against her skin. Making good progress, moving quickly but carefully. Not rushing. She paused when she heard a distant muffled thud. And then froze in place, every muscle tensed, when she felt faint vibrations through the floor and wall of the cave.

What was that?

Several seconds later there was another thud, still muffled as if coming from a distance, followed by slightly stronger vibrations. What was going on? Thunder? Explosives? Was some part of the cave collapsing?

Every instinct she possessed screamed at her to get up and run as fast as she could, flee back to the entrance. But she knew what a potentially deadly mistake it might be to react heedlessly. To run wildly, blindly, through the dark unknown.

She forced herself to stay where she was. Wait it out. Breathe.

The vibrations faded and then stopped. She slowed her breathing and kept very still, listening intently, her eyes straining for some clue in the disorienting blackness.

There it was again. More distinct this time, like something incredibly heavy pounding the earth, followed by even stronger vibrations. Not an earthquake. She had experience with those and it felt nothing like this.

Before she could make a decision about whether to retreat, there was another thud, then another. Steady now. Louder, stronger, the vibrations increasing in intensity. It was moving, getting closer.

She tried to imagine something large enough, heavy enough to make that sound — deep, powerful, resonating through the earth — and came up blank. She suddenly remembered them telling her about monsters in the night. Warning her not to be out there alone in the night.

And that’s when she realized her mistake. They hadn’t said night. They’d said dark. There are monsters in the dark. The cave entrance had been blocked for a reason and she’d ignored it.

What kind of monster had she provoked? How could she fight something she couldn’t see? Fight, hell. She had no weapons. She was completely defenseless.

She heard a hissing sound and smelled smoke in the air. Fire. The pounding and vibration were continuous now, overwhelming, closing in. Stomping. The putrid smoke got thicker, blowing hot on her face. Breath. Smoke and sulphur and something vile she couldn’t identify. Death.

Oh God, she was going to die here in the place of her worst fears, her worst memories. Small and helpless and terrified, alone in a cold dark place where no one would hear her last gasping cries. Her heart was racing, breath coming in bursts of panic until she couldn’t breathe at all. She was paralyzed with fear.

The noise stopped abruptly.

She felt a presence in front of her, something solidly invisible in the black void. A cold shiver of hot sweat ran down her spine. Her entire body trembled uncontrollably. Something was there. Right there. She could smell it, feel its body heat. Sense its power.

Even the echoes faded into ominous silence. Everything stilled, time suspended on a knife-edge of dread. Poised for the mortal blow.

Something rough and strong grabbed her, lifted her off her feet. She heard what might have been herself shrieking with her last breath.

A stream of flame burst through the dark, blinding her, heat searing her face. An enraged roar deafened her. And just before she succumbed to the helpless terror of unconsciousness, her vision cleared and was filled at close range with the fearsome glittering eyes of a dragon.

D is for Dragon.


Filed under A to Z Challenge, Anton and Zoey, blogging, just for fun

A to Z Challenge: C

C[It occurred to me that saying “C is for . . .” in the blog title and at the beginning of each post might be a spoiler in some cases. So I’ll be leaving it off the title and revealing the word du jour at the end of each post from now on.]

Part C, in a continuing story from A to Z

Zoey reached the first switchback on the path and glanced back to see how far the tide had risen behind her. Then promptly wished she hadn’t. She raced up the next section and onto the third, finally outpacing the water that seemed to be driving her ahead of it.

She made it to the top of the path, panting, dismayed to realize it was a dead end. There was nowhere to go from here. The path was blocked on two sides by enormous stacked walls of jagged black boulders. Behind her, the sun was a shimmering orb with its bottom edge resting on the horizon, below her the path and beach were submerged in roiling seas, and straight ahead was a smooth sheer rock face not even a goat could climb.

“Now what? It’ll be dark soon. I can’t just sit here waiting for low tide.”

No, that path was too well worn to just lead to nothing. She had to be missing something. She took a few deep breaths and began examining the boulders. She was about to give up when she saw it. Standing on a pile of smaller rocks scattered at its base, she could just see several faint striations on top of the center boulder in the left wall. Almost like scratch marks. She checked what she could see of the tops of the other boulders– they were smooth and unmarred.

All right, so someone or something had passed over the top of this one boulder. Several times, from the looks of it. Trying not to think about what might be sharp enough to have made marks in the hard black stone, she started lugging more rocks over to stack into a crude, if rather unstable, staircase.

By the time she’d made a pile that looked big enough to help boost her over the top, she was sweaty and filthy and had broken three nails to the quick. The knuckles on both hands were raw and oozing blood where the heavy sharp-edged rocks had torn through her leather gloves, which she peeled off and shoved into the back pocket of her jeans.

The wind had died down earlier and as she paused to stretch her sore muscles, the last rays of the setting sun were warm on her face. That golden sphere was now neatly bisected by the horizon, the lower half glowing brightly as if shining up through the sea rather than reflected off it. She looked down at the cove and saw a dense fog had started to form, growing even thicker as she watched it slowly inching up the face of the cliff.

She was running out of time. She had no desire to be out after dark.

She’d removed her coat and hat earlier but couldn’t bring herself to leave them behind, so she climbed halfway up the pile and threw them over ahead of her. It felt like throwing bait into the den of a wild beast to see whether it was occupied.

She didn’t hear any snarling, so she took the final step and heaved her aching body up and over the boulder and braced herself for the fall.

It was a very short fall. Maybe two feet. And she landed in a soft thick bed of dried leaves. She sat up and shook leaves from her hair, laughing a bit hysterically at her good fortune. Until her gaze focused and she realized she’d landed at the mouth of a cave.

Of course she had. Because that’s where bats lived, in caves. Oh, how she hated caves. It said nothing good that someone had constructed a large wall of boulders to block access to the entrance of this one.

Yet there was no other way forward except to enter the cave. She could have easily climbed back over the boulder, but she knew what awaited her there. A dark cold night spent clinging to a rock ledge with limited visibility. Whereas, in front of her, was the opportunity to spend a dark cold night in a small enclosed space with zero visibility.

Maybe it wasn’t as bad as she feared. Maybe this cave was light and airy, maybe it had skylights and gas heat. She approached the entrance, trying to see something, anything, beyond the first few inches of the interior. Nothing but opaque blackness, the depths impervious to what little daylight remained. For all she knew, she’d take two steps and with the third fall into a deep chasm and never be seen or heard from again.

Zoey almost turned back.

But then she felt it: a small puff of cool fresh air on her face. She leaned a bit closer and felt it again. Yes, it came from inside the cave. It gave her hope there might be another entrance, a way out that led back to . . . well, hell. No doubt it’d lead her right back to the mansion and The Honorable Lord Anton Ferraro, III. Even that gloomy prospect sounded better than the alternatives. She sure wasn’t going to sit here and wait for someone to rescue her.

So she shrugged into her coat, stuffed her hair up under her hat, reached out with one trembling hand to touch the inner wall of the cave. And stepped into the void.

C is for Cave



Filed under A to Z Challenge, Anton and Zoey, blogging, just for fun

A to Z Challenge: B is for Beach, and Bats

B B is for Beach, and (by request) Bats

Zoey stood just outside the front door, the mansion looming behind her in the gathering gloom, shivering and thinking. Cursing herself for hanging around when she knew she should have just done the job and gotten out.

The road was impassable, yet Ferraro had managed to find a way in. She’d find a way out. But she only had a few more hours of light until she’d have to regroup and try again tomorrow. Her contact had instructions not to linger after dark. The area was far too dangerous and she didn’t know all the rules of this place.

And now, with Mr. Tall Dark and Gothic in residence, the need for an alternate means of escape had become somewhat more urgent.

She pulled on her gloves and turned up the collar of her coat against the cold wind, glad she was wearing jeans and sturdy boots. She walked along the side of the mansion facing the sea and noted the snow cover was sparse here, barely a dusting, even though the wind was blowing straight in from the water. Squinting against the setting sun peeking out from below slowly departing storm clouds, she made out what looked to be a faint path leading toward the edge of the cliff. She’d glimpsed parts of the beach from her bedroom window but hadn’t yet bothered to search for an accessible path.

Certain she was being watched, she strolled casually in the opposite direction for a good distance, pausing occasionally to stare at the horizon or kneeling to investigate some bit of hibernating flora — nothing to see here, boss, move along — before wandering slowly back to the faint path in the tall winter-dry grasses at the edge of the cliff. Not that she thought she was fooling anyone, but being deliberately obvious seemed so gauche.

She could have rappelled down if she had her climbing gear, but she didn’t. Nor did it appear there was anything substantial enough to serve as an anchor. Oh well, she’d just have to free-hand it and hope her skills weren’t too rusty.

She knelt again, leaning forward as far as she dared to peer over the lip of the cliff, stretching her muscles at the same time and trying not to be too obvious about that either. Satisfied by the look of the narrow rock ledge a few feet down, she grabbed fistfuls of the dry grass at its roots and nimbly vaulted over the edge, landing in a crouch.

She paused, half expecting to hear that deep commanding voice saying, Ms. Prescott. Again. As if he didn’t know many words or was reluctant to use them. Not that she’d behaved much better, with her fake ditzy-girl smiles.

But no one called for her to stop, so she started her descent. The cliff face wasn’t as sheer as she had feared it might be and there were plenty of ragged outcroppings. She was on the beach in no time.

It wasn’t much of a beach, as beaches go. Narrow and rocky, littered with fragments of broken shells that washed ashore after being dashed against the sharp pure-white rocks that ringed the small cove like a blockade against the sea. Or a fence to keep things in. In contrast, the coarse sand was as black as the soot-stained spires and chimneys of the mansion that towered starkly on the headland above it.

“What an inhospitable place,” she muttered. “It’ll never be a prime vacation spot, that’s for sure.”

It was also a very unlikely place to land a boat. Or even a raft. They’d never make it past the jagged, closely spaced rocks that rose a good 30 feet above the water in places. Great defensive feature, though. If you were worried about marauding Vikings. Or maybe pirates.

Dismissing the sea as an escape route, Zoey studied the face of the cliff, which appeared to be significantly taller and steeper than it had been just moments ago. How very . . . interesting. She didn’t think she was imagining it, so that was useful knowledge.

She noticed a switchback path rising from the far side of the beach, oddly smooth in spots and worn into the cliff as if it had been made by thousands of footsteps over centuries of time. Or as if something heavy had been dragged along it, wearing down the stone.

From her vantage point, she couldn’t see where the path ended. But it appeared to extend up well above the high water marks, of which there were several. Another oddity of this place.

Mindful of the limited time, she sprinted across the beach and was scrambling over the boulders at the base of the cliff, heading for the bottom of the path, when she heard a high-pitched chorus of sound. A faint but distinctive noise, sort of like squeaking. Chirping, maybe? She looked up, way up, and saw a handful of small creatures flying out over the water from near the top of the cliff, their small winged bodies dark against the dusky sky as they wheeled back toward land.

“Birds?” She squinted, then shuddered with realization. “No, they’re bats. Oh, no. No thank you very much.”

She turned around with the intention of abandoning the path and climbing back up the cliff where she’d come down, only to see the tide had come in. Really fast. Faster than any tide she’d ever seen. The beach was almost completely underwater and frigid waves were lapping at the boulder she stood on.

“Damn it.”

Left with no choice, she started moving quickly up the worn path. Toward the freakin’ bats.



Filed under A to Z Challenge, Anton and Zoey, blogging, just for fun

A to Z Challenge: A is for Avalanche

A A is for Avalanche

Zoey peered through a grimy pane of the tall leaded glass windows lining one entire wall of the gloomy study, frowning at the mess the avalanche had made of the road that curved down around the imposing snow-covered mountain. So much for that escape route.

How inconvenient.

She turned back to the remaining pile of papers — opened letters and formal invitations, investment solicitations, high-end catalogs — that covered a good portion of the massive mahogany desk in the center of the room and sniffed in disgust. She’d never known any one person could receive such an inordinate amount of mail. Addressed variously to Mr. Anton Ferraro, III; Lord Anton Ferraro; The Honorable Anton G. Ferraro, Esquire; and in one case, amusingly, Tony Ferrari. She’d opened that one first, naturally, but it didn’t contain any new information. Just an offer to list his home for sale in the currently thriving real estate market.

Good luck with that, she thought. She couldn’t imagine there’d be much of a market for this ancient darkly sprawling pile of a mansion, even in the most robust economic conditions.

She’d ostensibly been hired to handle Ferraro’s correspondence and had been doing so now for almost a week, relegated to this mausoleum of a room to work alone. When she wasn’t taking meals alone in one of the formal dining rooms, or sleeping alone on the third floor in one of the fussily old-fashioned bedrooms.

Mr. Ferraro, she’d been informed by the butler, had been called away on urgent business. Just as well, given her cover wouldn’t hold up under close scrutiny.

She left the interior design catalogs prominently displayed in the center of the desk. God knows, the place could use an overhaul. Then she neatly straightened the rest of the pile, picked it up carefully, and walked over to open the door that led to a surprisingly modern and well-lit file storage area. She tossed the entire armful on top of the latest precarious stack and pretended not to hear the avalanche of paper hit the floor as she firmly closed the door behind her.

Filing had never been her strong suit.

She dusted her hands together and looked around at the late afternoon shadows cloaking the study. Her work here was done and it was time to go. Past time, if she were honest. She’d accomplished her mission two days ago. The longer she stayed, the better chances were she’d get caught.

That would be beyond inconvenient.

But she’d inexplicably hoped to get a glimpse of the elusive and reclusive Anton Ferraro before she left. Almost as much as she dreaded the prospect.

She pulled the chain to turn off the quaint green-shaded banker’s lamp on the desk, grabbed her coat from where she’d draped it over a wingback chair, and walked toward the imposing double doors that opened into the equally imposing front hall. Her steps were brisk, determined, now that she’d decided it was time to leave.

The doors opened before she was even halfway across the room. They no longer looked quite so imposing, not in comparison to the man who stood grasping one doorknob with each hand, his long arms and massive frame nearly spanning the entire opening.

Oh, hell. She’d known it was a risk to linger. If she wasn’t mistaken, Mr. Anton Ferraro had returned from conducting whatever business had kept him away all week.

They stood there a moment, each silently taking the other’s measure. A test of wills to determine who would make the first move.

“Ms. Prescott,” came the opening salvo.

His voice was deep and quietly commanding. Compelling. She’d only been given a vague description of him and now she knew why. He was tall and dark and not exactly handsome. But somehow still wildly attractive. And imposing, standing there with his black wool greatcoat unbuttoned over dark charcoal slacks and a black cashmere sweater. He’d just come in from outdoors, judging by the sprinkling of snowflakes in his hair and over his broad shoulders. They should have softened the look, had it not been apparent they weren’t going to melt any time soon.

Zoey suppressed a shiver and gave him her brightest, most innocuous smile. “You must be Anton. Please, call me Zoey.”

He didn’t return the smile. His dark gaze skimmed over the dimly lit room, pausing briefly on the tidy desk before returning his full attention to her. “Ms. Prescott. You appear to be going out.”

“Why, yes, Anton. I thought I’d take a stroll around the grounds. Get some fresh air.”

He raised one dark eyebrow before nodding slightly and turning in the doorway, one arm extended in invitation for her to precede him into the front hall. Zoey was certain the man had intentionally left barely enough space for her to slip past without brushing against him. She managed it with as much grace as she could muster and was reaching out to grab her hat and gloves from the hall table in passing when his voice came from close behind her.

“Ms. Prescott.”

Damn. She’d almost been clear. Dread pooled in her stomach, but she stopped and gave him a politely inquisitive look. Not an easy feat when confronted at close range with all that masculine intensity.

“Dinner is at eight.”

With any luck, she’d be long gone by then. “I had a late lunch and doubt I’ll be hungry–”

“Eight o’clock, Ms. Prescott. Don’t test my patience.”

She dipped, ever so slightly, into a sketchy and entirely disrespectful version of a curtsey. “I wouldn’t dream of it, sir.” She turned away from his glower to see the unfailingly staunch butler standing at attention, ready to open the enormous metal-banded front door for her.

“Thank you, Benton,” she said, smiling up into his expressionless face as she shoved the hat on her head. She stepped outside as the last few flakes of the storm swirled on a brisk gust of wind, waiting for the door to thud closed behind her before she swore softly and fluently under her breath.

Anton Ferraro was not the elderly, absent-minded eccentric she’d been led to believe he was.

She needed a new plan, and fast.



Filed under A to Z Challenge, Anton and Zoey, blogging, just for fun