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The blank page stared back as if it had eyes. It was an eerie feeling that gave Sophie Michaels the chills. She reached over and flipped the light switch but nothing happened. She grimaced and remembered the bulb had gone out a couple of days before. The storm clouds had long ago hid the sun and the room was getting dark. As the one lamp in the small room flickered, Sophie tried to think where the flashlight was, in case the power went out.
She rummaged around in the small closet for the flashlight and another light bulb. Organization was something foreign to her and it showed. Schoolbooks, sports equipment, papers and shoes filled the shelves. Stuck in a corner was the empty light bulb package. The house shook from the sudden clap of thunder. Or was it from the way she slammed the closet door? Shadows flickered on every wall from the non-stop lightning.
Rain pelted the windows as the storm intensified. A bolt of lightning struck the old maple tree in the backyard and split it in two. As the branches crashed to the ground, they fell across a power line, sending sparks through the air. Sophie screamed at the instant blackness in the room as the storm raged on.
A sudden intrusion of lights several minutes later scared Sophie even more. With her eyes shaded against the brightness, almost afraid to check, she made her way to the closest window. Through the sheets of rain, she could see two fire trucks, and an assortment of emergency personnel. Men were standing next to a car and pointing to the fallen wires. Sophie watched as some of the crew turned a hose onto the neighbor's garage. Flames and smoke spewed out of the small building.
Without thinking, she ran towards the door, afraid for the people living in the house next to her. After stumbling into furniture, she turned the knob, flung the door open and ran outside. The smoke was thick and curling into the air from the fire. People were coming out of their homes to gather in the front yard. Sophie watched the organized chaos as she hurried to join the group.
"Sophie, over here!" she heard from the crowd.
"You're lucky that tree didn't fall on your house, too," another voice called out.
"I swear it was the loudest thing I ever heard," someone said.
"Where are the Calhouns? Has anyone seen them?" Sophie asked no one in particular.
"They're with the fire chief. One of their kids smelled smoke and woke Mrs. Calhoun up," the first voice replied. "Thankfully it was the garage and not their house."
Sophie stood next to the growing circle of concerned neighbors. She heard one of the firefighters telling another how fortunate the homeowners were. It occurred to her that it could have been much worse if the garage hadn't been a separate building. She shivered and wished she had thought to grab a jacket. Even though the rain had let up, and it was a warm night, her blouse stuck to her skin.
A man with a jacket identifying him as being from the local electric company walked their way. Sophie heard his velvety rich voice as he spoke to an older man from down the block. Soon he turned her way and smiled. Her heart pounded when she saw how gorgeous he was.
"Excuse me, ma'am. I'm Luke Flynn from the electric company. I understand you live next door here," he stated.
"Yes," Sophie confirmed.
"I wanted you to know the men will get your power back on as soon as possible," he explained.
"Okay. I couldn't find my flashlight though," she blurted.
"Your flashlight?" Luke asked with a confused look.
"I was looking for it because the light bulb burned out and then I heard the tree and saw the lights and it was too dark," she rambled.
"Are you alright? You didn't fall and hit your head..."
"No, I'm just nervous," Sophie mumbled.
"There's nothing to be nervous about. Things should be in order by tomorrow," he told her.
"Tomorrow? How do I see tonight?" she questioned. "I mean, it's dark in there and..."
The chuckle Sophie heard was warm and friendly. She blushed as she realized how dumb she must have sounded and tried to think of something smarter to say. Luke excused himself to talk with another worker and soon walked back to the truck. Sophie gave a quick wave to her neighbors and ran back into her house.
After feeling her way to the bedroom, she stripped off her soggy clothes, slipped on some pajamas and stumbled back to the living room. Sophie forgot all about the new story she had been trying to write earlier. For the next hour, sitting on a chair by her window, Sophie watched the crews work. When her eyes drifted shut, she settled lower in the chair, pulled a throw over her shoulders and slept.
A crick in her neck from sleeping in the chair woke her up several hours later. The sun was shining as if the storm of the night before had never happened. She took a fast cold shower since the power was still off and dressed for work. The clock had stopped so Sophie checked her watch. Running late was typical for her even without any excuses. Shuffling through her purse, grumbling at the junk inside it, she grinned when her fingers touched her keys.
It crossed her mind that it was a good thing her garage was too messy to fit her car inside. Without any power, her electric garage door opener would be useless, and she would be stuck at home. Hearing her stomach rumbling reminded her she missed breakfast. Several miles away she decided to grab some coffee and a donut from one of the convenience stores. Zipping in should take almost no time she told herself.
Sophie pulled into the store's parking lot and aimed for the empty spot near the door. Still cursing at herself for running late again, she slammed the car into park and grabbed her purse. It didn't matter how early she woke up, or how good her intentions were, something always happened to make her run late.
Scrambling out of her car, her mind on the meeting she was due at in half an hour, Sophie swore when she felt her nylon catch on the seat. Almost afraid to look at the damage, she stood up, slammed her door shut and twisted to check it out. The hole already had a run going from her ankle to above her knee.
"Great, now I have to buy a new pair," Sophie muttered. "What next?"
"Were you talking to me?"
Sophie thought she knew the voice but couldn't quite place it. She turned as she straightened up and found Luke Flynn standing a few feet from her. Sophie was mortified that he heard her talking to herself.
"Hello," she said. "You're from the electric company."
"That's right. We spoke at the fire last night." Luke explained.
A deep breath calmed Sophie's nerves. "I'm Sophie Michaels."
"Good morning, Sophie. I hope you didn't struggle too much without power last night."
"That was nothing compared to the cold shower. I had goose bumps all over," she replied.
The look she received from Luke at that statement brought a blush to her cheeks. Sophie knew she was built decent, but in her opinion, she was just average. Her short auburn hair framed her face enough to draw attention to the startling green of her eyes.
"I can imagine you did," Luke said. "Yes, I can imagine it."
The subtle flirting surprised Sophie. Luke had been working last night and had talked to so many people.
"Luke, it was nice to see you again but if I don't get to work on time my boss will have a fit," Sophie explained.
"No problem, Sophie. I really should be at work already myself," he confessed.
"Have a great day, Luke."
Sophie hurried into the store and scoured the racks for the panty hose. With a pair in hand, she cut down the rows, looking for the coffee machines. Lucky for her there was no line. While filling a cup with the dark brew she pulled a few napkins from the dispenser. Adding a lid to the cup, distracted when it failed to go on straight, she bumped someone on her left.
"Excuse me," she apologized.
"Following me, Sophie?"
Luke stood so close that Sophie could smell the lime cologne he wore. She saw the gleam in his blue eyes as he smiled down at her.
"Would you like me to?" she teased.
"There are many things I'd like you to do," Luke whispered close to her ear.
Sophie felt the chills go down her spine at the implications in his words. Several images popped into her mind as he looked at her. When another customer wanted coffee it reminded her where they were.
"I'd like to hear about them sometime, but right now, I should be at work," she said.
"Good point. I don't want to rush when I tell you either," Luke grinned.
They each paid for their purchases and walked to the door together. Sophie tried to think of a reply. Luke saved her as they reached her car.
"Is it alright if I call you sometime?" he asked.
"I'd like that, Luke," Sophie told him.
Luke opened her car door for her and waited until she had settled to close the door. He leaned into the open window as she started the car. Scrounging for some paper, she ripped a piece off her grocery list, scribbled her number on it, and handed it to Luke.
"Have a good day, Sophie," he said. "By the way, you have gorgeous legs."
As soon as the words were out of his mouth, he stood up, waved and walked over to his vehicle. Sophie sat there stunned that he had noticed at all. She was wearing a calf-length skirt since she was on her way to work. Then it occurred to her he must have been watching when she pulled it up to check the run in her hose. As she drove to work, she remembered the heated look he gave her in the store. She was still smiling when she parked her car at work.
The day flew by for Sophie and soon she was on her way home. A quick stop at the market provided the makings for a salad for her dinner. Sophie pulled into her driveway a short time later still unsure if the electric was on. The chaos from the night before was gone only to reveal the burned out shell of her neighbor's garage. She could see just how close some of the tree branches had landed to her house and shivered at the thought.
Sophie brought her groceries in and dropped them onto the counter. The blare of music greeted her from her bedroom. Afraid for a moment that someone was in her house, she hesitated to go further. She kicked off her heels and picked one up as she made her way silently through the rooms. Her computer blinked at her from the desk. With a laugh, she remembered the radio had been on when the electricity went out the night before.
A quick change of clothes and Sophie was back in the kitchen fixing her dinner. Her mind was on the work she had tried to do the night before. Only a few people knew that Sophie dabbled in writing in her spare time. They had read a couple of her romantic stories and enjoyed them. None of them had an idea she also wrote erotica. Sophie wasn't ashamed of it. She was just a bit unsure how others might take it. It was her secret for now.
An idea had formed during the course of her day and she went to work getting it onto the computer. Sophie finally turned it off at midnight and went to bed. The next several days followed a similar routine of work and then home to write. Over the weekend, she cleaned her house, did the laundry, and caught up on errands.
Monday was a busy day at work and Sophie left exhausted. Once home she decided to order a pizza for delivery instead of cooking. The telephone rang minutes after she hung it up.
"Sophie?" she heard through the receiver.
"It is," she replied.
"This is Luke Flynn, Sophie. Am I interrupting anything?" he asked.
"Hello, Luke. No, I'm just waiting for my pizza to get here," Sophie said.
"Then I won't take up your time," Luke told her.
"Did you eat yet?"
"No, I just got home," he answered.
"Come on over and join me then," Sophie offered.
"I'd love to. Are you sure—" Luke began.
"It's a super supreme, Luke," Sophie stated. "There will be plenty for two."
"It sounds great. I can be there in fifteen minutes," he said.
"Perfect. The pizza will be here about then. I'll see you soon," Sophie replied.
Sophie ran through her small house picking up things. She looked down at her jeans and sweater and decided not to change. The doorbell rang just as she finished checking her hair. Luke stood on the steps holding a pizza box and grinning. A bit confused, Sophie opened the door, stepped aside, and let Luke in. He laughed at her expression and explained how the pizza driver pulled in right behind him.
"I intercepted dinner," he said.
"You shouldn't have, Luke," Sophie told him.
"Our first date and you were going to buy dinner?" he teased.
Sophie blushed when he mentioned a date. It reminded her of the story she had been working on. Two strangers bump into each other at odd places around town, date and soon fall in love. She knew it was a fantasy based on how she met Luke.
Luke told Sophie a bit about his family. He was the youngest of five children and the only one that didn't live in the same town his parents did. She laughed when he told her about the latest trip home. His mother had arranged a single woman from town to attend the family dinner in the hopes Luke would like her. According to Luke, she was loud, rude and obnoxious. Sophie almost felt sorry for him until he winked.
Around nine o'clock Luke got up to leave. Sophie walked him to the door and thanked him for the pizza. She had enjoyed herself and hoped Luke had as well.
"This was fun, Sophie," Luke said.
"It was very relaxing, Luke. Dinner was great," she teased.
Luke chuckled and waved as he walked to his truck. Sophie locked the door and headed to her computer. She was disappointed he hadn't mentioned seeing her again. For the next hour, she had her imaginary couple going all over town together. When she stopped for the night, she was pleased with the progress of the story, already thinking ahead to the next part.
Sophie put in a few extra hours at work the next couple of days. She kept busy in the evenings by mowing the lawn, weeding the flowerbeds, and writing. Soon it was the weekend all over again and Luke still hadn't called. She reminded herself he was a busy man and would call when he had time. What she didn't expect was to see him at her door Saturday afternoon.
"Luke!" she exclaimed.
"Busy, Sophie?" Luke asked.
"Not at all. I was just writing. Come in," Sophie said.
"Thanks, but if you're in the middle of something, I don't want to bother you."
Sophie opened the door wider and motioned for Luke to enter. A quick glance showed the computer screen no longer showed the story she was working on.
"I'm ready for a break. How have you been, Luke?"
"I'm sorry I haven't called. We're in the middle of more training at work. It's been a crazy week," Luke explained.
"Have you had dinner?" Sophie questioned. "Shall I order something?"
"Dinner sounds great. We can go out if you'd rather," Luke offered.
"I was going to call that new Chinese place in town," Sophie told him.
"You're on," he agreed. "Chinese is perfect."
The two worked out an order and Sophie called it in. She offered Luke a drink and they went into the living room to wait for the food. Conversation went easy just as it had the night they shared pizza. Then Luke brought up her writing. Sophie wasn't sure how much she was ready to tell him on that subject.
"Have you published anything?" Luke inquired.
"It's just something I do for fun," she hedged. "I don't let many people read it."
"Why is that, Sophie?"
Sophie looked at Luke and made a quick decision. "I write erotica."
"How did you get into that?" he asked.
Sophie explained how she had been bored one afternoon and began to write. The finished product wasn't very good, she added with a laugh. From there she had kept at it and discovered erotica was fun. Luke's raised eyebrow and grin made Sophie blush. Lucky for her the doorbell rang just then. They dug into the boxes of Sweet and Sour Chicken, Crabmeat Rangoons, Moo Goo Gai Pan, Spring Rolls and Pork Chop Suey. Conversation stopped only while they were enjoying the multitude of food in front of them.
They went into the living room after Sophie cleared the table. Stories of family, school years and work filled the next couple of hours. Luke checked the time and told her he should be leaving. He grinned as he walked past the computer.
"So when can I read your stuff?" he asked.
"Um, I'll have to think about it," Sophie hesitated.
"Embarrassed about it?" Luke teased. "Or are you afraid it isn't good?"
"I'm not ashamed of it and I never said if it was good or not," Sophie defended herself.
"There's nothing wrong with that genre, in my opinion."
"You really want to read some of it?" she asked. "It's something you're interested in looking at?"
"I know we just met and haven't learned a lot about each other. One thing about me you'll discover is I don't lie," Luke stated.
"That wasn't what I meant, Luke," Sophie apologized. "I'll find one for you."
Sophie scrolled through the titles of her stories on the computer to find the one she thought was her best. A few clicks and it was ready to read.
"This is a recent one," she explained. "I'll wait in the kitchen while you read it."
She scurried out of the room before he could reply. Luke went over to the desk and sat in front of the computer. It didn't take him long to realize that Sophie was a talented writer. She had a way of pulling the reader right into her story. After he was finished, Luke stayed where he was, trying to piece together the parts of Sophie he knew so far. Soon it occurred to him she was waiting for his reaction and went in to join her.
"You are very talented," he told her softly.
"I don't know about that," Sophie replied.
"Have you looked into publishing anywhere? I'm sure someone out there would love to see your work," Luke told her.
"No, I haven't. Then people would know..." she admitted.
Luke looked at the woman in front of him for the longest time. He wanted to hold her but was afraid she would take it the wrong way. The content of the story was erotic as she said. It also brought a stirring to Luke's groins that shocked him. He hadn't read anything with sex in it for years.
"Sophie, I know what you do now, and I still respect you," Luke said.
Luke took a few steps closer to Sophie. He lifted her chin with his finger and looked into her eyes. The uncertainty he saw in them hit him deep in his gut.
"You're a beautiful, sexy, caring woman. Writing what you do doesn't change any of that to me," he reinforced.
Sophie licked her lips and tried to think. All she could think about was how beautiful the blue was in his eyes.
"Thank you for sharing it with me," he began. "I had fun today although next time we go out."
Sophie felt her uneasiness leave and laughed. "We can do that."
"My schedule is a bit crazy again this next week. I'll call you," Luke promised.
"Good night, Luke," Sophie whispered.
Sophie locked the door and went over to her desk. The story Luke read glared back at her on the computer screen. She closed it and opened the current piece she was working on. Fantasy and reality wove together as she added to it. When her eyes began to burn, she went to bed, only to dream of sparkling blue eyes.
The week was typical for Sophie. Work kept her busy each day. One evening she went to see her sister Toni. She was considering telling her what she wrote. Maybe it was time to stop hiding it. Luke saw nothing wrong with it, she reminded herself. With those intentions, she drove across town, a weight lifted from her shoulders.
Toni was eight years older than Sophie was. Her husband of almost twenty years worked in construction. He had built them a beautiful home with plenty of room for their three children. Sophie often wondered what it would be like to have a husband and kids. She wasn't jealous of her sister. More envious, she admitted. Sophie thought for sure she would be married before she hit thirty.