My hand crept towards a copy of Dante's Inferno. Leather bound, with a gold, gilt-stamped title on the cover and spine, and more gilt lining the edges, it looked like a book collector's dream. I stared at it, rapt, letting my hand caress the cover, feeling the rough leather against my fingertips. The book had a crisp smell with a tinge of masculine warmth, like a freshly worn man's leather jacket.
There was no possible way Asher Landseer had read this. Absolutely none.
Except when I opened it, it wasn't stiff. And there were dogears on a few of the pages. I moved to the first, wanting to see what he'd found so interesting, and...
"Midway upon the journey of our life, I found myself within a forest dark, for the straight forward pathway had been lost," a calm, confident voice said from behind me.
I panicked, tossed the book back onto the bookshelf, and turned to face the unknown speaker. That would have been it, except I was confronted by Asher Landseer himself. He stared at me with his cool, steel blue eyes. He looked none too happy with me intruding on his private space, browsing through his bookcase. His pristine, pitch black suit without a wrinkle anywhere, his short-cropped hair, barely an inch in length, and his sharp, powerful jaw making him look unlike anything I ever imagined a businessman should look like. I briefly imagined him stepping out of a helicopter in a spy movie, playing the role of a debonaire CIA secret agent.
My heart skipped a beat, my pulse soared, and my stomach fluttered. My knees grew weak and I almost couldn't stand to look at him anymore, like I needed sunglasses to stare at him head on. I tried to step forward and apologize but one of my high heels caught on a bevel in the tiled floor and I toppled forward.
Asher swooped forward and caught me. This isn't happening, I told myself. This is too strange, too unknown. I must have fallen asleep, or become delirious in his office.
No, I wasn't. No sooner than he caught me, the collector's copy of Dante's Inferno fell from the shelf I'd tossed it on. I watched it hit the floor, cover and pages splitting open as it descended, and then... crack!
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