Authors: Elizabeth Sinclair
Tags: #Romance, #Paranormal Romance
Frank was stunned and for a moment could only stare at her. Her sweet breath feathered his cheek, warm and inviting. Before he could stop himself, he cupped her cheeks in his palms and gently drew her to him. Their lips touched, tentatively at first. Despite the fact that the kiss was sending shards of heat racing through Frank's body, her lips were cool beneath his.
When Carrie didn't protest, he slowly gathered her into his arms and increased the pressure of the kiss, still keeping it gentle. It had been a long time since Frank had held a woman in his arms and kissed her. It felt good, too good. But it felt oddly right, too. As right as it had felt holding and kissing Sandy.
The thought of his dead wife sent a cold chill down him. He pulled back and set Carrie away from him. What had he been thinking? He'd only know this woman for a few hours. Frank stared hard at Carrie, wondering what there was about her that had made him forget who and what he was, what he'd done, but most of all, that he loved Sandy.
Carrie had a bit of a problem getting her bearings. She had no basis for comparison, seeing as how she had no idea if she'd ever been kissed or what it felt like if she had. However, she believed that nothing could have been better than Frank's kiss. He was so gentle and the kiss so tender that it had left her as limp as a newborn kitten.
Then a terrible thought struck her. Did she even have the right to kiss him? She might be married or engaged. She might have children.
"I'm sorry." Frank looked shell-shocked, as if he had been thrown as much off kilter as she had. "I don't know why I did that. I had no right."
Carrie didn't know what to say. Did she regret it? No. Would she have let it go on? Yes. Definitely. Did either of them have the right? To her regret, she couldn't answer that question.
She looked at her hands, then at him. "Please, don't apologize. That would ruin… " What was she saying? She couldn't admit to him how much that kiss had affected her. "I was as much a part of the… " As she sought for words that would help her avoid saying
, she felt her cheeks heat up. "… of
as you were. It happened. That we can't change. But we can see to it that it doesn't happen again." Knowing she was babbling, she looked anywhere but at Frank. "We don't even know if I've betrayed someone." Then she heard him heave a resigned sigh, and she turned to him.
Frank nodded, looked away, then back to her. "I'd like us to be friends, if that's okay with you."
Relief rushed through her. "I'd like that very much." The kiss may not have been a good idea, but she was not willing to let this man walk out of her life because of it. "And to seal the bargain, I want you to have this." She extended the painting to him.
"Oh, I couldn't."
"But you must," she said, forcing it into his hands. "After all, if it hadn't been for you, I might not have tried to paint anything else and stopped with that horrible first attempt." She pointed at the painting of the faceless man.
He laughed, and the sound rippled over her like a morning breeze. "Okay. Thank you." He smiled. "Can we meet here again tomorrow?"
The warm rush of pleasure returned to her insides. This time, her blood sang through her veins. "I'd like that very much."
Frank lay back on his bed, his arms crossed behind his head, waiting for sleep to come, but it remained as elusive as it had for the last few hours. His gaze drifted to Carrie's painting on top of the dresser where he'd propped it against the wall. The mist. The village. The flowers. The thick growth of trees. All of it was so serene, so calming, so beautiful, just like the artist. But it wasn't just the subject or the artist. Something about the artwork itself was so real, as if any moment he'd hear the babble of the stream and smell the scent of the flowers. It made him want to sigh in contentment, a sensation that had become foreign to him of late, and he knew deep down it was because Carrie's hand had not only created the painting, she'd also painted her love of her creative talents and her subject into her art.
Yet, she'd also created that grotesque rendering of the faceless man. What was that all about? Where had such a painting come from? Certainly nothing that evil resided inside this sweet, sensitive woman who had painted the picture on his dresser. But it
come from Carrie. Carrie, the woman with hair the color of flames, eyes that sparkled like emeralds, and a smile that lit up the cold places in his heart.
Without warning, the kiss they'd shared escaped his subconscious and sneaked into his mind. He vividly recalled the shape and texture of her lips and how they'd conformed to his as if they'd been made especially for that purpose. He remembered how they'd tasted. So warm, so sweet.
Frank smiled at his whimsical musing, and then shook his head to clear it of all the nonsense. What in hell was wrong with him? He hadn't thought this way about a girl since high school. He was well past that age of dreamily longing for some attention from the girl in the next seat in study hall. For God's sake, he was a mature adult with a medical degree and a flourishing practice.
Then something caught his eye. A movement? In the painting? He propped himself up on one elbow and stared at the painting. Deep in the trees, he thought he saw a flash of white. He sat up and slid to the foot of the bed to get a closer look.
The flash of white came again between two of the tree trunks in the foreground. He leaned closer, and then jumped back when a woman stepped into the clearing on the bank of the stream. Her white gossamer gown flowed and swirled around her as she walked, as though captured by a gentle spring breeze. Long black ringlets cascaded down her back. She paused. Turning, she looked straight at Frank and frowned.
It couldn't be
Was it… Sandy
Frank blinked to clear his vision, but when he looked back, the woman was still there. He grabbed the painting from its resting place and stared hard at it. Sandy smiled. Not trusting his own eyes, he blinked again. The stream bank remained just as Carrie had painted it, and the only thing on it was grass and a splash of flowers. Sandy was gone. If she'd ever been there.
Frank collapsed on the end of the bed, the painting still clutched in his shaking hands. Was he going crazy? Had he actually seen his dead wife in the painting? Or had it just been a trick of the moonlight shafting through the window?
The next morning, Carrie almost floated down the stairs to Clara's keeping room. She'd had a full night's sleep, untroubled by faces she couldn't identify. Instead, her mind had been filled with dreams of Frank and a reenactment of their kiss.
"You look pretty chipper this morning," Clara offered, smiling mysteriously.
Carrie twirled in a circle. "I feel wonderful. The sun is out. The birds are singing. There's not a cloud in the sky."
And I'm going to meet Frank
, she added to herself, still unwilling to share this tiny bit of happiness with anyone else. "What more could I ask for?"
A shadow passed over Clara's face. "What more, indeed?"
Carrie paused in her exuberance. "Clara?"
The older woman sighed. "Perhaps you need to be looking for an answer to those dreams that trouble you."
"How did you… "
The mysterious smile returned to Clara's face. "I have my ways, dear."
She moved across the room and took her customary place at the loom. Soon the
of the shuttle passing through the threads and returning to be caught by Clara, then the
of the loom snugging the fibers into place, filled the silence.
Carrie knew Clara had
, as she put it. If Carrie hadn't learned anything else in the brief time she'd been in Renaissance, she'd learned that not everything that happened here had an explanation, at least not one she could understand, and everything that happened had a purpose. She just hadn't figured out the rationale behind her nightmarish dreams. And today, she was not going to even try. Today, no matter what Clara or anyone else said, she would meet Frank, and she refused to let anything steal her happiness from her time with him.
Without further conversation, Carrie wolfed down her breakfast. After gathering her paint case and another blank canvas from the stack Sara Spencer had sent over from her shop, Carrie hurried out to the rock by the stream where she would eagerly await Frank's arrival.
When he finally came tromping through the bushes, she noted the way his shoulders seemed to sag today as if a tremendous weight had settled on them during the night.
"Is everything all right?" she asked tentatively. If it was something he didn't want to discuss, she didn't want to appear to be prying.
He smiled, but it lacked the easy spontaneity he'd displayed yesterday. "Everything's fine. Just fine."
The slightly sharp reply told her he did not want to talk about it. "Okay. I wasn't trying to pry. It was just a friend asking a friend." Hoping that he would eventually trust her enough to confide, she returned his smile.
Frank stared into her sparkling eyes, and instantly his day seemed brighter, his emotional burden lighter. He couldn't bear the thought of destroying her good mood by relating what he'd imagined the night before—that her painting had been the cause or, at the very least, the vehicle that had been responsible for his night of disturbing dreams.
Forcing a smile, he sat beside her on the rock. "What would you like to do today? I don't know about you, but I'm finding it hard to cope with all this leisure time."
"I'm sure you are. Your days must be very hectic at the hospital."
He sighed, realizing for the first time how much he missed being in the operating room. "'Hectic' is putting it mildly. They often start in the middle of one night and end in the middle of the next, but I really love it."
Carrie studied the flowers growing near the rock. "It must be wonderful to know you hold a life in your hands and that you have the power to—"
He bolted to his feet and held out his hand to her. "Let's take a walk in the woods."
Frank didn't want to get into a discussion about his ability to save lives. After all, the lives that had mattered most to him had been anything but safe in his hands. The image of Sandy in the painting ran through his mind. What was she trying to tell him? Had she been there at all, or had she just been a figment of his imagination, a product of the supper of bread and cheese Alvin had left for him?
Carrie looked down at her paint case. "Let me take this inside."
Frank grinned. "Do you really think it won't be safe here?" He looked up at the clear blue sky. "It doesn't look like rain, and I doubt there's a thief within miles of this village."
She giggled. The sound skipped over his nerves like fingers strumming the strings of a harp. How did she have the ability to change his mood so drastically simply by laughing?
"You're right, of course." She bent over and stood the case against the rock, then leaned the blank canvas against it. "Let's go."
Several hours later, Carrie and Frank sat on a fallen tree, resting. From their vantage point, they could look down on the village nestled snugly in the glen. A soft breeze carried the heady aroma of cedar to them as it blew through the pines above their heads. The resulting sound was almost like a sigh. Nearby, a squirrel scampered up a tree, causing a cascade of loose bark to tumble to the ground. They hadn't ventured far enough from the village to leave the eternal spring that embraced it, making it hard to imagine that just a few hundred yards away winter still held everything in its icy grip.
Carrie had gone quiet, deeply immersed in thought.
"Penny for your thoughts," Frank said, digging in his pants pocket and then holding out his hand. A bright copper penny rested in his palm.
Carrie stared at the penny, and then snatched it up. "Sold," she said, but then immediately fell silent again.
"Oh, no. You can't take my money, then renege on the deal." Frank shifted his position to face her squarely. His features softened. "Friends talk to friends."
"If that's true, then why did you sidestep talking to me about what was bothering you this morning?" When he opened his mouth, she read in his eyes the excuse that hovered on his lips and added, "And don't tell me
because I won't believe you."
Frank sighed, and then told her about the painting and seeing Sandy in it. "I can't make up my mind if I really saw her or if I'm just going bonkers."
Carrie laughed. "I've only known you for a short time, but I doubt you're going bonkers."
He stared at her. "Then how do you explain the part about seeing Sandy?"
She stood and walked to a large pine tree a few feet away. Turning and leaning her back against its rough trunk, she studied him. "A lot of strange things have happened to me since I came here. Seeing a moving figure in the painting is just one more to add to the list of the inexplicable." She glanced at a squirrel that scurried away at the sound of her voice, then back to Frank. "I think we should just accept what happens to us. Accept it at face value. Don't question it. There is probably an underlying reason for it. Just as there was a reason Sara gave me those paints, there was a reason you saw Sandy in the painting." When he opened his mouth to voice what she knew would be a protest, she stopped him with a raised hand. "Or
you saw Sandy. How Sara knew about the paint case when I didn't and how she got it and why you saw Sandy are not important. What is important is that I discovered my name and a part of Carrie Henderson through the paints. You will learn something, too. I'm sure of it."
Frank looked at her with one eyebrow arched skeptically so that it almost blended with his hairline. "Yeah. I may learn I'm really a certifiable candidate for the funny farm."
Carrie frowned at him, her irritation with his flippant remark written clearly across her face. "Make fun, but I truly believe you saw Sandy and that there was a reason for it. The reason may not be clear now, but it will be. You'll see."