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FOUL PLAY

Excerpt

***Content subject to change***

Prologue

When the giant Swede crashed into Peri, it was the stash of contraband she carried that saved her.  

She hadn’t planned to smuggle snacks into the theater; she’d intended to accompany her date–the man she’d driven all the way into the city to see–which meant trafficking corn puffs, circus peanuts, and miniature mints would be neither appropriate nor necessary.

And then said date had canceled on her.  And she’d decided to see the movie anyway.

Because she’d driven almost a hundred dumb miles to get here!

And the grocery store was only a block away….so why not?

It was a good thing, too.  Because who knew corn puffs, circus peanuts, and miniature mints could be so effective at breaking a fall?

Well, not her.

Lesson learned!

And even if her snacks were now a mass of inedible goo beneath her, her tailbone wasn’t broken, and considering how hard she’d hit the concrete sidewalk beneath the marquis, that was kind of a miracle.

Because the man who’d plowed into her had been running like a Green Bay Packer headed for the end zone, and when he’d slammed into her, she’d gone airborne and bounced along the concrete like a stone skipping across water.  Only her bootleg had saved her from serious bodily injury.

The man skidded to a halt above her–as big as any Packer–and the expression on his very blond, very Nordic face seemed torn between annoyance and contrition.

“My apologies!” he exclaimed, the words shaped by an unfamiliar accent.  

Big hands reached down and lifted her to her feet like he was setting a child right again.

“No worries,” Peri told him, brushing herself off.  “I have a tough hide.”

He looked around the busy street.  “I did not see you.”

She stepped back.  “It’s all good.” 

“Wait.” He caught her elbow.  “You were going into the theater, yes?”

He didn’t look at her as he asked the question, but stared down the busy street, instead.  Peri tugged at his hold, irritated, and when he finally glanced down at her, the annoyance and contrition in him were gone.  Instead, he looked tense.

Worried.

“You okay?” she asked him.

He blinked, as if coming out of a trance, and focused intently on her. He cut a fine figure, big and broad and blond, with high cheekbones and a strong jaw, probably somewhere in his thirties.  He wore an expensive, fitted gray suit and black trench coat; his fine leather boots were handmade.  Stylish, moneyed.  

“Come,” he exclaimed, “I will pay for your ticket.  It is the least I can do.”

“That’s not necessary,” she protested.

“I knocked you to the ground; you could have been hurt. Of course, it is necessary.”

“That’s a nice gesture,” she conceded and wondered where he was from.  “But I can pay for my own ticket.”

“Please,” he said earnestly and squeezed her elbow gently.  “You must allow me to make amends.”

His gaze was the same pale blue as the sky behind him, steadfast and unwavering.  Seemingly sincere.  

It was…nice.

And rare.  Which automatically made her suspicious.

Which was sad.  But necessary.

“Really,” she said and pulled again at his hold.  “It’s fine.”

“I’m afraid I must insist.” He tugged her stubbornly toward the theater.  “My mother would not forgive me if I did not make it right.”

“I won’t tell her if you won’t.”

A small smile curved his mouth as he pulled open the theater’s ornate wooden door. “She will know.  Mor always knows.”

Who was this guy?

Peri sighed and surrendered the fight.  “What kind of accent is that?”

“I am a Swede,” he said.  

He smelled like cedar and some kind of Christmas spice.  As they entered the theater, he towered over her, and he stood very close.  Too close.  But she didn’t know if that was a boy-girl thing or a cultural one.

She stepped away and pulled once more at his hold.

“What film would you like to see?” he asked as they halted before the small booth in the lobby where tickets were sold.  “Ah, the love story, I bet?”

He looked down at her.

“Lethal Blood three,” she told him.

His brows rose.  

“One and two were really good,” she said and shrugged.

He released her to reach into his suit and pull out his phone.  “Then Lethal Blood three it is.”

Peri waited while he paid for the ticket–which she again wanted to protest, even though she knew it likely wouldn’t do any good–and when he handed it to her, she smiled politely.

“Thank you,” she told him.  “You’re very obstinate.”

He smiled again, his blue eyes glinting.  “So I have been told.”

“Well, have a good night.”  She backed toward the roped-off entry.  “Don’t run over anyone else.”

He watched her retreat with an expression she couldn’t read. “Perhaps we will meet again?” 

Unlikely!  Still, he was…different.  

Polished, polite, charismatic. If a little pushy.

A Swede.

“Be careful,” she told him, not sure why.

His smile faded.  “You, as well.”

And then he turned and left.

COPYRIGHT 2022 Hope McKenzie