THE SECRET THIEF by Nina Lane

 

 

 

 

Behind his beautiful eyes
Lay a thousand secrets and lies.
But my own secrets are all laid bare
The twisted reality of a disgraceful affair.

I once deciphered the mysteries hidden in art
Then mistakes and desire tore me apart.

Now I’m shipwrecked at the end of the earth
Desperate again to prove my worth.

The lighthouse keeper is a stranger to me
Yet one night with him sets me free.

We find ourselves united by the stars above
Both of us needing the salvation of love.

Until our secrets and shame continue to build
And what was flourishing will soon be killed.

 

 

The next morning, I arrive at the workroom fifteen minutes before eight. Though I expect to have to wait for Flynn, he opens the door right when I walk up.

“Oh, sorry.” I pause. “I know I’m early. I can wait out here, if you want me to.”

He frowns. “Why would I want that?”

“Because you seem very schedule-oriented.”

“Come in, Eve.” With a tsk of impatience, he steps aside to let me in. “Any questions?”

“Not about the cataloguing, no.” I set my satchel beside the desk. “But I wanted to know if you would mind if I look for a particular book. While I’m doing my work, of course.”

“What book?”

“I remembered Uncle Max had once owned a fairy tale collection illustrated by Maria Wood. At least I think it was illustrated by her. If I can find it, I’ll have a much bigger scope of material to write about.”

“Go ahead.” He starts toward the cottage door. “And if you find any Hansel and Gretel stories, I need those too.”

“For…”

The door closes behind him.

“…what?” I finish to the empty room.

Even if he’d heard me, I wouldn’t have expected an answer. In fairy tales, questions don’t usually have the desired response anyway. Mirror Mirror on the wall, who’s the fairest of them all? Can your name be Rumpelstiltskin? Do you love me, Beauty?

Better not to ask any questions at all.

I organize my desk for the day’s work and start opening boxes. As I unpack and catalogue books, I keep an eye out for both the Maria Wood book and Hansel and Gretel tales. I find nothing resembling Maria Wood’s aesthetic, but I set aside several Hansel and Gretel books and criticisms for Flynn.

I work all morning, opening boxes and examining titles, all to no avail. While I’m not surprised I can’t find it right away, I’m impatient and eager. This could be my big breakthrough.

At two, I head into the kitchen to make tea. To my great surprise, Flynn shows up again right as I’m steeping the leaves. Without asking, I pour him a cup, adding milk and sugar the same way I take it, and we sit at the table.

“Did you find the book?” he asks.

“No, but I have a stack of Hansel and Gretel stories for you.”

He nods his thanks. We drink our tea without talking, but I find it strangely pleasant to have company—uncommunicative though he is. Still it’s nicer than being alone.

After I return to work, I continue to search for the Maria Wood book with no luck. But mitigating my disappointment is the fact that Flynn shows up for tea again the next day, and the next. We exchange a few words about the type of tea and where it’s from (Chinese oolong from the Guangdong province, Assam tea from India), but mostly we sit in silence with the rain falling outside.

Though our morning interactions remains the same, I start to anticipate my weird, quiet little teatime with the lighthouse keeper. I’m aware of him as ever—his lips closing around the rim of the cup, the worn leather watch strap fastened around his wrist, the unfastened top buttons of his shirt that reveal the strong column of his throat—but peacefulness surrounds our unspoken break in the day.

For me, it’s a decided relief after having spent so much time in the past few months fighting for myself. Arguing. Talking. God, the endless talking.

Answering questions. Giving statements. Delivering lectures in the burn of student judgment and barely suppressed laughter. Trying to explain my side of the story to everyone—my friends, the departmental chairperson, the university board, my lawyer, the police, my mother. It had been like talking to wall after wall until I was finally defeated.

Impenetrable though he is, Flynn isn’t like a wall. He’s a locked door. No wonder shutting doors is his preferred way of exiting a room. But maybe he’s like all other doors and can be opened with one twist of the right key.

Though we still don’t talk much, our teatime silence is neither awkward nor uncomfortable, more like we’ve both discovered that our togetherness is a kind of solitude. Every now and then, I glance up to find him watching me with that peculiar intensity, as if I’m a puzzle he’s trying to solve. I often look at him the same way.

By the end of the week, I’m selecting my teas more carefully, wanting to give him both a geographical and flavor variety. I also want to give him a reason to keep joining me in the afternoon. I don’t expect anything from him beyond his silent companionship for an hour, but for some reason it’s becoming the best part of my day. I even start making him a cup before he shows up in the kitchen, knowing he’ll be there right at two. And he is.

“Ceylon Kenilworth.” On Thursday afternoon, I set the cups on the table and take my seat.

Flynn swallows the tea and nods his approval like he always does. “What makes it Ceylon Kenilworth?”

“Ceylon is a black tea grown in Sri Lanka, known for being especially aromatic and strong,” I explain. “I think it’s also used as a base for other teas like Earl Grey, but I like it as it is. Kenilworth is the estate where this tea was grown. Apparently the leaves are picked after the first monsoon, and then processed in cooler weather. That gives the tea its distinctive flavor.”

He takes another sip. “Only a tea connoisseur would know such details.”

“Do you like it?”

“Sure, but I can’t tell anything about a distinctive flavor.”

“That’s because you haven’t had a chance to compare the different kinds of tea. I’ll brew a few varieties tomorrow and see if you can tell the difference.”

“A tea tasting?” He looks dubious.

“Think you can handle it?”

“Sure.” He tilts his head back and drains the cup. “Sounds like a par-tea.”

I laugh—a burst of amusement that surprises me as much as the sudden lightness filling my chest. When was the last time I laughed spontaneously, without thought or worry?

Flynn’s gaze is on me, and while he doesn’t join in the laugh, a genuine warmth infuses his eyes.

“So I’ll tea you here tomorrow?” I ask. “Same time.”

He takes his cup to the sink and starts toward the dining room. “I’ll be here, cu-tea.”

Even after the door closes, I can’t stop smiling.

 

 

 

 

New York Times & USA Today bestselling author Nina Lane writes hot, sexy romances about professors, bad boys, candy makers, and protective alpha males who find themselves consumed with love for one woman alone. Originally from California, Nina holds a PhD in Art History and an MA in Library and Information Studies, which means she loves both research and organization. She also enjoys traveling and thinks St. Petersburg, Russia is a city everyone should visit at least once. Although Nina would go back to college for another degree because she’s that much of a bookworm and a perpetual student, she now lives the happy life of a full-time writer.

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