Special note: For those that remember my Christmas Life Lesson (click here lesson 3 if you don’t) where Nikolas was introduced, please be aware that Nikolas’s name has changed to Micah. This was an editor request because they did not like Pandora’s Box having two main male characters with names that began with the letter “N”…Nikolas and Nix (short for Phoenix). So, to avoid any confusion, Nikolas is now Micah!
Madison stared at the hole where Jack Moore’s pale blue casket glittered in the midday sun throughout the funeral. In the hour she’d stood there since everyone departed the cemetery, she’d watched the workers lower his casket into the earth. Now, they used a backhoe to cover it with good ole’ Alabama red clay. Sitting on the top of a tombstone, she didn’t worry if the deceased inhabitant was offended. She figured dead folks had more to worry about than if she sat on the granite marking their spot.
“I’ll leave you alone.” Momma squeezed her arm. “I’ll be in the car waiting when you’re ready.”
Surprised her Momma hadn’t already demanded they leave, Madison remained mute, staring at the hallowed out earth where Jack was being buried. Struggling with the frailty of life and how quickly it could end—there one hour and gone the next—she couldn’t digest the injustice of God allowing one so young to die. Death had never visited her family, so it had always been something suffered by other people. She felt guilty for Jack’s death, even though she’d done nothing specific to cause it.
“Did you know Jack?”
Madison wrenched around at the sound of the male voice. At the sight of him, her heart rammed against her ribs and her belly churned.
“Everyone knew Jack.” She tried to calm her rioting reaction to his presence. The last person she expected to see here was Micah—the man that’d done funny things to her libido in church on Christmas morning. Uncomfortable and excited at the same time, she turned away and sucked in long steadying breaths. She hoped he didn’t notice his effect on her, while swearing she didn’t see the way the wind tugged at his neatly cut blond hair.
“True,” he agreed in an amused sounding voice.
From the corner of her eye, she saw Micah walk around the headstone, his gait self-assured and confident. Nothing like the insecure boys that attended her school, many of them full of bravado and struggling with their identity in the world, most of them too silly to take seriously.
Madison resisted fidgeting or the impulse to tug at her hemline. Way too much thigh was exposed. Micah leaned against the granite beside her and crossed an ankle over the other one. A casual stance, but his perceptive gaze reminded her of one of those Jaguars she’d watched on the safari channel—totally aware of his surroundings even in a relaxed state and ready to sprint into action at the first sight of prey. She predicted he could take his quarry down as fast as a Jaguar too.
The last time she’d seen Micah, he’d been dressed in an Armani suit and tie. Today he wore a pair of relaxed jeans that showcased the muscular definition of his long legs. A royal blue button-down cotton shirt stretched taut across his shoulders. The material detailed his impressive physique; brawny somehow failed to accurately describe his particular build. Two months after their initial meeting, she was no less affected by his charisma than she had been Christmas morning. Her skin prickled like a static charge danced along her flesh. She’d never been this aware of anyone in her life and wasn’t altogether certain she liked it now.
“How well did you know him?” Micah asked, resting his elbow on top of the headstone beside her. Too close to touching her hip and she imagined she could feel his body heat radiating from his arm.
Madison shrugged. “I guess you knew him too?”
Why’d she get the feeling he declined voicing his real thoughts just like she did?
“You could say I’m friends with his parents.”
Frowning, she looked at him. “That’s a strange way of putting it, Mr. –” She realized she didn’t know his last name and she refused to let him know she remembered his first.
His arctic blue gaze shifted from the now dirt-rounded gravesite and captivated her. “Call me Micah.”
She didn’t think she should, it felt too personal. Way too intimate.
“I’m his family’s legal counsel.”
A cool breeze snagged strands of her hair into her lipstick and she snatched at the offending locks. Glancing over her shoulder, she spied her mother seated behind the steering wheel of her red two-door S-series Mercedes. Momma stared in the other direction. As Madison turned her attention back to Micah, she slid off the tombstone taking special care to hold her skirt in place so it wouldn’t ride up.
Micah adjusted his arm and placed his hand against his jean clad thigh. No wedding band. Single. She bet he got a lot of female attention.
Relaxed against the headstone, she realized he was as tall as her. Used to staring people straight in the eye, it was a novel idea knowing she’d be forced to gaze up at him.
“You don’t look old enough to be an attorney.” With a face devoid of lines, she couldn’t discern his real age.
“I’m older than I look.” A lopsided grin tilted one corner of his freaking sexy lips and she resisted thinking about them on her mouth, the way Jack had kissed her. “You don’t look old enough to have fallen in love.”
She thought she could fall hard and fast in love with Micah. Or at least worship him like she did her favorite actor, Brad Pitt. Puppy love is what her Daddy would call it.
“I didn’t know Jack well enough to love him,” she admitted. Micah’s eyes glinted in the sunlight. Could he be pleased by her admission? She gave a mental snort. Such fancy served her no purpose. Micah was too old to be interested in her. “Can I tell you a secret no one but my mother knows?”
“Of course, secrets are safe with me. I can’t exactly tell yours if I don’t know your name.” He peered at her while fingering his hair off his forehead. She preferred the messy look before he straightened the strands.
“Jack dropped me off at home an hour before he died.” She shouldn’t be telling him this. It was easier telling a complete stranger her thoughts, and she didn’t have to worry about seeing the blame in the eyes of someone she knew. Momma wouldn’t understand and Daddy would most likely call her the spawn of Satan again. “He was the first boy to ask me to go anywhere with him. I’m having a hard time understanding why God would allow someone at the prime of his life to die.”
Micah’s gaze narrowed, and his eyebrows drew together to create a furious frown. “What makes you think God had anything to do with it?”
“That’s what Daddy said.”
“Ah…” He nodded, as if no further explanation was needed. “God wasn’t involved in his accident. If you think you’re to blame for his early passing, you’re wrong. Very wrong. It was Jack’s bad choices and improper actions that brought about his death.”
Madison stared at Micah. She shivered and not from the cool breeze, but his wintry gaze. His sensuous mouth flatlined with displeasure. She never wanted that look turned on her. “That sounds very insensitive.”
“That’s not the way I intended it.” Micah’s attention shifted to Jack’s burial site. “Jack’s father is running for Mayor and Jack left his family in a precarious situation. Not only was Jack hunting illegally, he was trespassing. All matters I’m delegated to settle with as little scandal as possible.”
Madison shook her head, appalled by the idea that Jack’s father worried more about his political career than the loss of his son. Could she expect anything different from her father in a similar situation? Doubtful.
“I see the repugnance in your eyes. Humans are inherently cold natured. It’s cases like this that give me no expectation of humanity’s survival. But when I look into your innocent blue eyes, I see the hope for the world staring back at me.”
She tried to interpret that in a platonic way, but came up with nothing so innocent. Her hands grew sweaty, and she would’ve ripped her gaze off his, but she worried it’d show her disequilibrium to his attention.
Something of her greenness must have shown, because he said, “My apologies for my forwardness.”
He lifted his hand to swipe his hair off his forehead and she caught his wrist. Shocked by her impulsiveness, she stared at her fingers wrapped around his wrist, suspended mid-air between them. The touch of his skin against hers smoldered along her pulse points and moved low into her belly. Their eyes met, she snatched her hand away and she whispered, “Leave it.”
Micah’s blue eyes grew a shade darker and blazed with satisfaction. With one spontaneous act, she’d expressed her awareness of him and she could kick herself for it.
“Are you ever going to tell me your name?” he asked, his voice having grown whiskey-rough. Such a sensual sound that made her knees wobble and her hands shake.
“I don’t think I should.” She flattened her palms against her thighs so he wouldn’t notice them shaking and cast a quick glance in Momma’s direction. Momma primped at her reflection in the car’s rearview mirror. She turned back to Micah and executed a one-shoulder shrug. “It sorta feels like if I tell you my name, it’ll somehow invite power over me.” A crazy notion, she knew, but true nonetheless.
A wide grin showed off his perfect straight teeth and Madison almost lost all thought. His full-blown smile inspired giddiness, like she’d located the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. Or as giddy as the schoolgirl she was with a handsome older man turning all his charm on her. Sheesh, he could be lethal to her untutored passions. Madison was unsure how to handle her awkward emotions, and was equally unsure if she read Micah’s behavior wrong.
“There is power in a name. Certain names hold more power than others.” Micah pushed off the tombstone and she tilted her head back to maintain eye contact. What a novel experience to look up at someone. Made her feel small and in need of protecting. Micah captured a lock of her hair, and caressed it between his fingers before tucking it behind an ear. Madison shivered. “Until you privilege me with your name, I’ll give you a nickname…how does kitten sound?”
That sounded more like an endearment than a nickname. “I don’t think that’s very appropriate.”
She knew it wasn’t! If Daddy found out—
He winked. “You’re fault.” That’s what Daddy would say too. “You won’t trust me with your name and I have to call you something.”
They didn’t run in the same circles so the plausibility of them bumping into each other again was slim.
“Are you flirting with me?” Madison almost swallowed her tongue for asking such a bold question.
Micah stuffed a hand into a jean pocket and stared at her a long time. Sheesh, with his penetrating stare, she felt like he could read every want she tucked away deep in her soul. “You’re a pretty girl, why wouldn’t I flirt with you?”
Until recently, no one seemed interested in her. Suddenly, everyone gawked at her. Micah gazed at her with emotions she couldn’t identify, but they melted her wariness. She felt safe and significant in his regard, a heady experience when she received nothing but ridicule from her father and disdain—until today—from her mother. She’d felt the same weird notion from him on Christmas morning and it made no more sense now than it did then.
“You’re too old to flirt with me and I don’t need my ego fed, Mr.—” She sent him a pointed stare.
“Dominus. Micah Dominus.” He chucked her chin and her pulse spiked. She took a step back, away from his too potent demeanor, as he said, “You know my name. The polite thing is for you to give me yours.”
Her lips twitched and she bit back the grin. “I don’t think so, Mr. Dominus. My daddy warned me about talking to strangers and you’re a stranger.”
Micah didn’t object. Instead, he procured a business card from his back pocket and held his hand out, offering it to her. “If you wish to alter my ‘stranger’ status, call or email me anytime. No romantic pressure, just friends.” His concentrated gaze said they’d be ‘just friends’ so long as she desired their relationship to remain platonic. When she didn’t take the card, he cocked a questioning eyebrow at her. “I don’t bite, kitten.”
The familiarity of his endearment buzzed across her skin and warmed the base of her spine. Madison licked her lips. Indecision warred with good sense. Instinct warned her to walk away now without accepting his offer. Impulse screamed at her to take the card and live on the wild side.
Finally, she accepted his offer and shivered when her fingertips brushed his. Micah invited no other contact, his expression unreadable as they stared at one another. Madison swallowed hard, wagged his business card at him and said, “I make no promises.”
He nodded. “Fair enough.”
“Goodbye, Mr. Dominus.”
“I’ll see you later, kitten.”
The idea of seeing him again left her all sorts of nervous. She attempted an eloquent turn, wobbled a little on her high heels, and walked across the cemetery toward her mother’s Mercedes. Senses tingling, she thought he watched her leave. She resisted the compulsion to glance over her shoulder and determine if he did.