A snip for your enjoyment, edification, etc:
Mary jerks awake in a second. Her eyes fly open wide and she stares around the room. Something is off but she can’t put her finger on it and her senses are still fuzzy with sleep.
“Don’t scream,” a man’s low voice says by her ear.
She screams immediately, of course. And reaches for the nightstand drawer.
A hand claps over her mouth with precisely the right amount of pressure to muffle the noise without hurting her, and another hand grabs her wrist with iron efficiency. Instead of terrifying her, this actually calms Mary – whoever this is clearly knows what they’re doing, which means they have much less of a chance of freaking out and killing her in a panic. She may not be the heavy muscle, but she’s learned a thing or two in the time she’s spent at the Agency.
“Why does that always happen?” the man sighs. The fingers around her wrist vanish, and then the light switches on.
“Darren?” Mary tries to say, but it’s muffled against his palm.
He’s crouched by the side of her bed, his bulky frame looking overlarge and out of place in Mary’s pastel bedroom. Instead of his usual sharp suits he’s wearing workout gear that’s seen better days, and Mary might not have recognized him if it weren’t for those brilliant green eyes. They aren’t the kind of thing you forget, ever.
The edge of the agent’s mouth pulls up a fraction of an inch. He takes his hand away from her mouth and steps back.
“I was hoping I could crash here tonight,” he says in a perfectly even tone, as though he’s asking to borrow the evening paper.
All the adrenaline from a few moments ago slams into Mary’s veins in a rush. It collides with Darren’s expectant cockiness and she’s suddenly furious.
“How dare – You DON’T do that to people!” she says, and leaps out of bed to punch him right in the nose.
Darren looks mildly surprised and rocks his weight back onto his heels a bit. Mary thinks her fingers may be broken.
“Is your hand alright?” Darren inquires. His nose looks perfect.
“I really hate you,” Mary tells him. She pads out of the bedroom on bare feet and heads for the kitchen.
Darren ghosts along behind her and stands patiently at the edge of her vision as she dumps all the ice cubes straight into the sink and plunges her hand in. It’s too late, or possibly too early, to be any more graceful about it.
“Where the hell have you been?” she asks, more to take her mind off the pain radiating from her hand than anything else.
Her peripheral vision catches the up-and-down movement of a shrug. “Around. Back now.”
Mary grits her teeth and thinks that she liked it better when she didn’t see him in person, actually.
Gradually the pain in her hand eases off and the numb cold begins to feel worse against her skin. Nothing broken, then. When her heartbeat stops slamming into her ribcage and the adrenaline jitters slow to a crawl, Mary shoots Darren a sideways glance.
“I wondered if I’d have to find a new agent,” she says, which is sort of a joke and sort of not. If it is a joke, it’s not the sort you laugh at.
Darren doesn’t laugh. He doesn’t do much of anything but cut her a sharp-eyed look. Strangely enough, he doesn’t appear any less intimidating than usual sitting at her kitchen table in baggy gray sweatpants and a ribbed black tank. If Mary had ever wondered whether he needed the dashing suits and impeccable grooming to carry off that aura, she knows the answer now.
It isn’t just the subtle menace that’s unchanged – Darren looks almost more devastatingly handsome when he’s stripped down to the essentials, with old scars showing up white against his tan and his eyelashes lowered over those brilliant green eyes. He looks more honest this way, more raw. It’s easier to cover a tiger in pinstripes than in boxing gloves, Mary supposes.
Darren certainly seems dangerous now, almost feral. The fine layer of civility he usually wears has been ground down by exhaustion and sweat and what Mary suspects are flecks of blood clinging to his jaw.
All of which does nothing to help explain why Mary doesn’t feel afraid. Now that the shock and adrenaline has worn off, she feels almost comfortable.