Laura Browning 

Teacher. Editor. Author.

The Guardian Michel

excerpt

“You have a small cut. I’ll get a cloth to clean it.”
“Michel?” Lilly’s uneasiness returned.
He paused in the act of leaving to glance over his shoulder at her, his dark brows arched inquiringly.
“How did you know where to find me?”
He shrugged, a very French gesture. “I followed my nose,” he said teasingly and laughed.
When Lilly frowned, he returned and sat next to her. He leaned closer and gazed intently into her eyes.

His voice was soft, almost hypnotic. “It was all very logical, Lilly, not at all mysterious. I simply guessed that my
house must still be between your horse and his barn, otherwise he would have gone home. So, I searched in that
direction, and was lucky enough to find a couple of hoof prints.”
He stood again, smiling angelically. “So you see, my little doubting Thomas, not so mysterious at all.”
​ He was right. She was just being silly. It was stupid and neurotic of her to believe there might be anything else, any hidden agenda. Not with him, not with her angel.
“Would you like me to clean your cut, or would you prefer to sleep?”
Lilly’s eyes widened at the mention of sleep. That was not an option she wanted to explore, especially with an audience.  “Maybe you should clean the cut. You know, so it doesn’t get infected.”
He cocked his head. “It is more than just a problem for you, this not sleeping, no? You fear sleep. I wonder why.”
No one, absolutely no one, had ever figured out this truth. Lilly had managed to convince numerous doctors that she was simply an insomniac. She had convinced several sets of foster parents of the same thing. It had never been an issue with any of the guys she dated. Lilly had never let things get to a point where they might think they had a right to watch her sleep—or not sleep in her case.
​ “What makes you say that?” Lilly asked flippantly in an attempt to cover up just how close to the truth he’d struck. “Lots of people have trouble with insomnia.”
“You’re a very bad liar, Lilly.” He laughed softly. “The truth is in your eyes for anyone to read.”
She looked down. If he saw that truth so quickly, she certainly didn’t want him seeing any others. Her life had too many truths that needed to stay buried beneath the years of lies and diversions. If he was this perceptive, then she should leave. As his footsteps receded, she began looking frantically for her clothing.
“I am washing your clothes, Lilly,” he said from the doorway. “They were filthy—covered in mud and torn. You will not be able to run away as your expression tells me you wish to.”
“Don’t be silly,” she denied stiffly. This man saw too close to the truth.
​ He arched a brow as if to ask who was being silly. After just a moment, he sat next to her again, but this time Lilly flinched. She tried to cover it by holding out one hand for the cloth.
“I can do it.” There was no doubt in her mind he knew exactly what she was doing, but he didn’t betray it with a word or gesture, simply handed her the cloth. As she dabbed underneath her hairline with it, he moved away to stand near the fireplace. His eyes were once again closed and his nostrils flared.
​ For just a moment, as the cloth came away from her head with a faint bloodstain, Lilly thought she saw something flicker in his eyes, but then it was gone, his face once again a cool, composed mask. Unease crawled down her spine like a snake slithering out from a hiding place bearing suspicions she did not want to acknowledge.