© Copyright KIMBERLY DEAN, 2013
Lifting the lid on his coffee, Zac blew on the hot liquid. He glanced again at the windows, but he couldn’t see next door for squat. The angle wasn’t right, and a table of regulars blocked what little view he might have had.
Hotter than his coffee and much harder to get.
He rubbed the back of his neck. He was usually better at these things. Before moving here, he’d made his living infiltrating drug rings and earning people’s trust, but Maxie wasn’t a target. Of an investigation at least. She was a drop-dead gorgeous, quiet woman.
And that somehow had him stymied.
Maybe he could go into her shop and talk about security measures or something. But the last thing he wanted to do was scare her and make her even more wary. He tapped his forefinger against the insulated cup. Why not buy flowers? He squashed the idea before it had even fully formed. Guys bought flowers for women, and he wanted to make it crystal clear to her that he was available.
He took a cautious sip of the coffee, and the bitterness made him wince. He had to find a way to break the ice with her and fast. His digestive system couldn’t take much more of this.
Today. He had to find a way to go over there today.
Moving around the line of people, he stepped outside. Before he could come up with a plan, a blast of heat nearly melted his kneecaps.
Shy little Maxie had come outside to water her plants.
Bless those thirsty buds.
His gaze swept helplessly down her figure. The hanging planter she was working on was overhead, and she had to stretch to reach it. Her blue sundress swished around her legs, emphasizing her lean calves and pointed toes. God, he wanted to lick her right up. Sneak under that raised arm, press against those full breasts and eat at her mouth until she was wet and soft…
She stiffened, and her head turned towards him.
Zac stopped where he stood.
They were no closer than they’d been when he’d first stepped out of his cruiser, but there wasn’t anything separating them now. No windows stood between them, no bricks and mortar got in the way, and the difference was palpable. He could feel the attraction in the air. It was like gravity, heavy and insistent.
But then she smiled at him, and he forgot how to breathe.
He started moving towards her mindlessly.
He was going to kiss her. He didn’t care that they hadn’t said boo to each other. He was going to kiss her. He’d take her inside that shop and lock the door.
“Hi,” she said softly when he was only five feet away.
“Hi,” he grunted.
Movement behind her caught his eye. Lust might be short-circuiting his brain synapses, but he was still a cop. He took a second to check out the situation.
And was stopped in his tracks again.
The muscles in his thighs simply quit functioning.
He stared. Two women were walking up the street and talking in hushed voices. Two women with long, dark hair… Two women with rockin’ bodies and delicate features…
The coffee. It had to be the coffee screwing up his vision, because the scene unfolding in front of him wasn’t possible.
The two women walking up the street were dead ringers for the woman he intended to kiss.
Maxie felt the sheriff’s gaze click onto hers, and she forgot her plan. It flew out of her mind and into the wind. She stared at him, unable to look away.
He’d caught her.
As well as if he’d put his hands on her, he’d caught her. She hadn’t seen him come outside. She’d taken one glance away and he’d appeared. She’d known because she’d sensed him. Waves of attention had floated over her, warm, bold and undisguised. Her nipples had hardened, and her thighs had clenched.
Now that she’d looked his way, she felt well and fully pinned.
She lowered the watering can to her side, but then his gaze was captured by something behind her. The loss of eye contact brought her back to earth with a rude bump, especially when it didn’t return. He stood in front of her, a look of confusion settling onto his handsome face.
She shifted uncomfortably. Her sandals slid against the cement, and she rocked one back onto its heel. Had she gotten the wrong idea? Maybe he’d been walking back to his car. Maybe he’d been being friendly with that hi.
Or maybe he wanted to buy a garden gnome.
Footsteps clicked behind her, and embarrassment ran through her like hot lava. He’d been greeting someone else. She’d just assumed and had gotten in the way. Desperate to get out of the awkward situation, she turned to see who she’d stepped in front of. She kept her weak smile plastered on her face, ready to welcome a customer, a friend or, God forbid, his coffee date.
What she found was nothing she would have expected. Herself.
No, make that two of herself.
Maxie’s brain stutter-stepped. Two women were approaching her shop, and they looked like clones of each other. And of her.
What did they have to do with Zac?
No, that didn’t make sense.
She stopped and tried again. There were definitely two women in front of her, two women who looked like her. How could that be?
“Oh, my God,” one of them whispered.
“It’s her,” the other one said.
Unable to process anything, Maxie frowned at one stranger and then the other. They were the same height as her, and they all had the same, what she’d thought was unique, auburn-highlighted hair. Their faces could be interchanged and nobody would notice. The only thing that was different was their style. One woman was in a lavender sheath dress, while the other wore a silk tank and short shorts. Lavender girl looked like she’d stepped out of a boardroom. Her jewelry was understated, but gold. Her makeup was subtle, except where her mascara was starting to run. Short shorts, conversely, was total rocker chick. A chunky sterling silver necklace hung to her waist and leather bands circled her wrists. The only thing that didn’t fit her tough look was the way she clutched at her doppelganger’s hand, while alternately fisting and opening her other hand at her side.
Still not computing.
“Maxie?” one of the reflections said.
She sucked in a short gasp. The voice even sounded like hers. How did they know her name?
Maxie’s brain tripped again, this time falling flat on its face. It was like looking into a funhouse mirror and having two reflections stare back at you—only there wasn’t a carnival in town. Was this some kind of practical joke? She shook her head to clear it, but they were still there, these figments of her imagination.
Time started slowing down as her brain struggled to get back on its feet. Tap, tap, tap. Water dripped from the watering can onto the sidewalk. A breeze swept through, ruffling her hair and ruffling her reflections’ hair too. She tried to take a deeper breath, but the scent of flowers overwhelmed her. Flowers and perfume and coffee.
Her brain wasn’t going to make it. The edges of her vision started going dark.
The thorn. Something must have gotten into her system when she’d been pricked. A poison. No, a hallucinogen. That had to be it. What she was seeing wasn’t real.
Only Zac had appeared to see it too.
“Damn it, Maxie,” rocker chick said more sharply. “Breathe!”
The thorn. She felt her knees let go. Twin pricks… Twin wounds…
Twice as lucky.
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