A Hidden Fire Page 1

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Prologue

The man stole down the hallway, his footsteps echoing in the dimly lit basement of the library.  He made his way quietly, brushing aside the dark hair that fell into his eyes as he looked down.  The security guard turned the corner and approached, his eyes drawn to the tall figure that glided toward him.

“Sir?”

The guard cocked his head, trying to see past the hair covering the man’s eyes as he neared him in the flickering service lights.

“Sir, are you looking for the lobby?  You’re really not supposed to be down here.”

He did not speak but continued walking directly toward the portly security guard.  As he passed the guard, he held out his hand, silently brushing his finger tips along the guard’s forearm before he continued down the hall, around the corner, and up the nearest staircase, never halting in his steady pace.

The guard stilled for a moment before shaking his head.  He looked around the passage and wondered why he was in the hallway leading toward the old storage rooms.  Checking his watch to see if his break was over, he noticed the second hand seemed to have stopped.  He shook his wrist slightly before taking it off and putting it in his pocket.

“Stupid, cheap thing…” he muttered as he turned and headed back toward the break room.  In the distance, he thought he heard a door in the stairwell click close.

Waiting in the deserted stacks near the bank of computer terminals on Friday evening, the man read a periodical while he observed the student-study area.  His eyes scanned to the left, suddenly alert to the plain, blond girl who took a seat on the edge of the bank of computers.  He observed her pull out an economics textbook and sneak a quick sip of her diet soda before she put it back in her bag.  The corner of his mouth lifted, pleased by how little attention the girl had drawn from the librarian at the desk and the surrounding students.

He approached, shifting his leather messenger bag so he could sit down at the computer next to her.  Taking out his own drink, he smiled politely when the girl glanced at him.  He saw her cheeks fill with color as she took in his pale skin, startling green eyes, and dark curls.

“Hello,” he whispered, angling his shoulders toward the student.

“Hi,” she whispered back.

“Are the librarians here strict about having a drink out?  I’m new at the university.”  He leaned toward her and noticed the scent of her fruity shampoo.  He twitched his nose but remained angled toward the young woman as she responded.

“Um…not really near the stacks, but they’re kind of strict by the computers,” she said, her hands twisting in her lap.

When he smiled, she blushed and looked back to her economics textbook which still lay closed on the desk in front of her.  She fumbled it open and glanced at his bag, which lay near his feet.

“Thanks,” he said.

“Are you a student here?”

He smiled and whispered back, “I just started some research work at the university.”

“Oh, that’s cool.  I’m Hannah.  I’m a sophomore…economics.”

“That’s a fascinating subject, Hannah.”  He tried to meet her eyes, but she was still looking down at her textbook as she leafed through it.

“Oh,” she laughed.  “You don’t have to be nice.  I know most people aren’t really that interested in economics.”

“I’m interested in everything,” he said, willing her to look up.  When she did, he set his elbow next to her economics textbook and reached over with his right hand, lightly touching her forearm as he spoke.  “Are you a good student, Hannah?”

She gazed into his eyes, rapt with attention and unaware of the small hairs all over her body as they lifted, drawn toward the man sitting next to her.

“Yes, I get excellent grades.”

“Why are you here on a Friday night?”

“I don’t have a lot of friends, and boys never ask me out,” she said.  “I like to come here so I’m not alone in my dorm room.”

“Do you have time to help me?”

“Yes.  I don’t really have any school work I need to finish.”

“Excellent.”  The man leaned toward her and murmured in the young woman’s ear.  She turned on the computer as he spoke, opening a search engine and typing in the phrases he murmured.  He hooked his ankle with hers under the table, letting his pale skin maintain contact as he took notes in a small brown book he drew from his messenger bag.  Every now and then he would lean over and whisper further instructions in the girl’s ear.

A little over two hours later, he leaned back in his chair, frowning as he surveyed his notes.  He looked at the large clock on the wall opposite him and at his unwitting assistant before he closed his notebook, put it back in his leather bag, and scooted away from Hannah.  Keeping one hand on her shoulder and letting his fingers stroke her neck, he whispered in her ear one more time before he straightened and walked swiftly away from the computer terminals.

He kept his head down, striding toward the darkened glass of the lobby and the pressing heat of the September evening.  Once he reached the doors, he looked up, and his gaze briefly met a black-haired girl’s before he pushed out into the humid night and left behind the harsh fluorescent lights of Houston University’s main campus library.

He walked down the concrete steps and through the alley of darkened oak trees, taking out his keys as he neared a charcoal grey, vintage Mustang.  He unlocked the car, got in, and started the engine, listening with pleasure to the rhythm of the perfectly tuned engine.

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