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He thought of himself as a predator -someone possessed of keener senses and more ruthless abilities than the ordinary, contained

beneath a veneer of meticulous civility. Like a tiger in the circus that isn't hungry. Yet. His reflexes were so fast it was as if he could see stimuli before they happened. A heightened sense of smell gave him an awareness of the flavor of his quarry's energy: running scared, say, or aroused, or antagonized. Muscled, sculpted, gifted with animal beauty, he found that his pastiche of skills allowed him to do more than simply respond superbly or track unerringly. They allowed him to manipulate. He could, by

subtle shifts in tone or posture, induce in others the responses he desired. It was a kind of selective charisma -- the power to attract or repulse. He enjoyed the feeling of confident superiority his abilities gave him. He knew himself to be unstoppable. A force of nature. But the girl -- she made him . . . uneasy was perhaps too strong a word for it. He recognized that she had some kind of strength, about which she was largely, stolidly unaware. He'd noticed it at that ridiculous party celebrating the women of her family. As if staying in one house for generations and sewing quilts or daubing paintings were cause for distinction. Yet the house was something special. Its air was electric; he had never felt so alive as he had there. He had determined he would possess it, soon, despite the woman's unwillingness to sell. And the girl too -- he'd seen that she was also special. It rose off her like waves of

colored gas. He sensed that forces converged in her as if she were a nexus. He found it an uncongenial quality, particularly in someone not on his team. She presented a threat that might need to be contained, to be handled. So he had been waiting and watching. Prowling. Not hunting so much as herding, and remaining prepared. This time, he'd caught her scent first -that juvenile citrusy cologne she favored. He picked it out even amid the heavy odor of incense that seeped from the metaphysical store on the main street of this pathetic town. He'd idled in a nearby shop, then followed her after she'd emerged. She'd led him to the public library. An undistinguished building with its typical mishmash of books, many of them burnable. A mutt library for a mutt people. Not like what was called a "library" at home. He went inside, curious as to her purpose. Through the glass in the doors, he saw

her head directly to the card catalog and disappear among the tall ranks of its stacked drawers. He slipped inside, flustered the elderly librarian with a dazzling smile. He stood quietly a moment, looking and listening. The only other people in the building were a teenaged couple flirting in a corner and an overweight man who had already worked his way though part of a sixpack that morning and slept with his head on a table. No one to be concerned about. He found a spot where he could watch her as she flipped through the catalog. He ducked back whenever the weight of his eyes made her turn. It entertained him that even the dullest person could sense being watched. It added an enjoyable edge of tension to the game of seeing without being seen. When she went into the stacks, he trailed her, allowing her to feel herself stalked. He spied on her between books; he slid a scarf from the collar of the coat over her arm. He could smell the increase in her adrenaline -- a sour undertone in the citrus.

He slipped close enough so that his own scent would reach her. He'd found that a disembodied smell unnerved people quite effectively. And she noticed it. Her movements quickened, betraying panic. She found and yanked a heavy book from the shelves and scurried back to public spaces. She went to a central table and began to sketch on paper something she'd found in her volume. He felt impelled to discover what that was. He positioned himself in front of her, silently, as yet unnoticed. He scanned her upside-down book and paper while he let the pressure of his presence build, waiting to speak until the second just before she would lift her head to look -"You are interested in architecture, Miss Parsons?" She jumped. And she resented it. He smiled slightly. She flipped her drawing face-down when he asked politely if he might see it and slammed the book closed when he leaned pointedly to look at it. He smiled more widely.

It was -- significant -- that she was sketching a floor-plan of the Metropolitan Museum. Much like the one he had executed two days earlier, if a little cruder. The fact that she volunteered that she was making it for her "little brother" only confirmed its significance. "Such a solicitous older sister," he said. The one thing he could not understand, seeing her here, was why he had ever thought her so much of a threat. That sense of collected power waiting to be tapped -- it was all gone. "When I met you in Amber House," he told her, "you seemed almost to have an aura around you." She made dismissive noises, which irritated him, but she was right. "Now I can see in the bright daylight of this fine library, you are a very ordinary girl after all. Aren't you?" "Very ordinary," she'd agreed as she gathered her things and left. But not quite all of her things. Not the scarf in his pocket. He returned to his Mercedez, in no rush. He drove slowly out to the road in

front of her family's estate and waited just opposite where the path from town emerged from the parkland there. He double-checked the mechanism of the blade tucked up his sleeve. Then he smoked a thin cigar to pass the time, musing, contemplating the enjoyable encounter ahead of him. When she finally joined him, and stood at the end of the path, staring at the scarf dangling from his fingers, he saw that he had been right the first time, and had been right to be proactive. She was not ordinary, not in the least. There in the shadow of Amber House, power rippled from the girl like the gold light of dawn.

TO BE CONTINUED JANUARY 7, 2014!!!

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