He was already moving forward before he realized what he was doing. It had been a long time since he found something that stirred his interest like this, and it made Ethan realize just how empty his life had been lately.
Anah was still lost in a world of serial killers and smart, handsome detectives when a deep male voice broke into her thoughts.
The sound startled her, and she automatically responded even before looking up. "Hel...lo." Her voice caught at the end, with Anah finally seeing who it was that had addressed her.
The dark-haired stranger was incredibly tall and impossibly attractive, but it was his hazel eyes that had her heart nearly stuttering into a stop. There was something sinfully mesmerizing about them, and they gleamed at her in such a way that had Anah's pulse leaping crazily under her skin.
"New intern, right?"
Anah's eyes widened. "How did you know?"
"I saw you yesterday at the community hall."
Anah didn't quite know what to feel about this. He had seen her yesterday, and he still remembered her?
"Aren't you a little too young to be working away from home?"
Anah's brows furrowed. "Am I?"
"You must be what? Fourteen? Maybe even---" Ethan stopped upon seeing the girl shake her head.
"I'm sixteen," Anah corrected him with a smile.
Ethan didn't bother hiding his surprise. "Seriously?" A nod, and Ethan could only grimace in return. "I'm sorry. You seemed a lot younger."
"It's fine," Anah was quick to assure him, and because she could no longer contain her curiosity, she then asked in a rush, "Are you a resident here?"
"For some months of the year, yeah." Ethan offered his hand afterwards. "Ethan Blackwood."
"Anah Blakely." She placed her hand in his, and a jolt of electricity sparked through her body at the hard warmth of his clasp.
"It's nice meeting you, little Anah," Ethan said with a smile. "See you around."
"See you around," she managed to respond in a steady voice, but as soon as Ethan turned his back, she released her pent-up breath and practically sagged in her seat. She watched him walk away, and the way her heart was still racing like mad scared and excited her at the same time.
Prior to this day, most of her crushes had been on boys her age, and ones so famous that they might as well have been living in a different planet. Ethan, however...he was different. He was real.
That night, Anah found it ridiculously difficult to sleep. Her senses were still stupidly tingling, and her mind unable to forget the man she had met in the library. Ethan Blackwood struck her as the kind of man who could charm the socks off anybody, but at the same time, there was a bleakness in him that she sensed, and it made Anah wish she could just wrap her arms around him and say...
Stupid, Anah thought as she flipped to her back and stared at her bedroom's ceiling. She was being stupid, to think such stupid, unrealistic thoughts. Ethan Blackwood was too gorgeous to need someone like her to comfort him, and she'd only be hurting herself to think otherwise.
No more thinking about men out of her reach, Anah vowed as she tried willing herself to sleep. But when the next day came, and Ethan showed up at the library once again, the promise she had made to herself was promptly tossed out of the window.
"Good afternoon, little Anah."
Anah wrinkled her nose. "Little?" He had called her that earlier, too, and she wasn't quite sure if she liked it. "I'm not a child," she pointed out as soon as he reached her counter.
"I was referring to your height," Ethan said with a smirk.
"Oh." Anah couldn't help grimacing. If that were the case, then he had every right to call her 'little'.
Ethan glanced at the book Anah was holding. "Still not done?"
"Just three chapters to go," she answered.
"I read him, too," Ethan commented.
Anah was pleased, thinking it was a good omen if they had the same taste in books. "Really?"
Ethan was amused. "Do I look like I don't read?"
Anah choked. "Don't put words in my mouth," she protested.
"Then what did you mean?" he asked with a chuckle.
"Just...you..." Too late, Anah realized she shouldn't have bothered correcting him, since the truth was open to even more misunderstanding.
Ethan smirked again. "Can't think of a lie, can you?" He reached over the counter to ruffle her hair. "It's fine," he said generously. "You'll see soon enough that I'm more than just a pretty face."
With Ethan even punctuating the outrageously vain claim with a suggestive wiggle of his eyebrow, Anah could only choke, torn between laughter and exasperation.
Ethan was fighting back his own grin. The look on Anah's face was priceless. She appeared almost sick actually, as if she was unable to stomach the amount of vanity in his words. He was just about to remark on this, too, when they both heard the door of the meeting room at the back suddenly open.
Anah saw the mayor's secretary poke her head out of the meeting room. "Calling Mr. Ethan Blackwood!"
Ethan glanced over his shoulder and saw Frankie frowning at him. "In a minute."
"Mayor O says now, Mr. Blackwood."
Ethan turned to Anah. "You heard the tyrant..."
Frankie rolled her eyes. "I totally heard you, too."
But Ethan pretended not to hear this and flashed Anah a brief smile instead. "I'll see you around then?" Ethan began walking backwards. "I'd have loved to spend more time talking about books---" Frankie snorted loudly at this, which Ethan ignored even as Anah couldn't help giggling. "But duty beckons..."
Back inside the meeting room, Ethan was bemused to find the other members of The Hartland Initiative gazing at him with interest. "What?"
Instead of answering, everyone instantly became busy, with Oliver Winterbourne, the town mayor, suddenly finding something to ask his secretary while the others rifled through the daily reports as if their lives depended on it.
Ethan shook his head as he returned to his seat. Crazy motherfuckers. He picked up his own copy of the day's agenda but was unable to concentrate. Instead, he found himself remembering Anah's expression when he referred to himself as a pretty face.
She really was an intriguing little thing, Ethan mused. She was like a little sister he never knew he wanted, and for the rest of the summer, he found himself indulging his explicable whim for her company.
He liked how quiet she was without being shy. Most people mistook her for the latter, but Ethan had sensed from the start she wasn't what everyone thought, and his time with her proved that. The kid simply didn't believe in speaking unnecessarily, but it didn't make her any less friendly - or troublesome - when she was so inclined.
When he was with Anah, it was hard to remember she was just sixteen and almost a decade younger than his twenty-five years. He could talk to her about anything, and in times when there wasn't anything to talk about, her presence alone settled the disquiet inside of him. If someone were to tell Ethan she was an enchantress in disguise, he would've been half-inclined to agree, with how Anah practically had him under a spell.
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