She didn’t move for a moment, listening for any sign the intruder had heard her. It struck her as deeply unfair that she was the one sneaking around her house while he slept soundly in it. But life wasn’t fair, as her gran had been too fond of saying, and with that Floree tiptoed down the hall past the open door of the bedroom where he lay, and reached the stairs.
She kept her step light while she descended. Passed through the short hallway of the house she knew like the back of her hand—and banged her foot against wood she hadn’t expected to be lying at the kitchen entrance.
Her gasp was too loud before she muted it. And the pain from her toe jamming sideways rang through her body, freezing her for long seconds. When the worst of the pain ebbed, she could hear him on the stairs.
Don’t panic! Just move.
She danced over the rest of the wood—visible in the kitchen where moonlight shone through windows. After pulling open the inside door, she pushed on the outside door. And it stuck.
She threw herself against it and the screen ripped, but before she could make her way through it, hands came down on her upper arms, gripped her hard, and yanked her backwards. The sensation of large hands wrapping around her arms shocked her body rigid, and she screamed.
He released her, thank God, but a light came on to blind her, and she winced, shielding her eyes with a hand.
She stepped away, to open up space between the intruder and herself, and almost stumbled as her heel hit more wood. She finally managed to make herself stand still.
Neither of them moved.
The man was breathing almost as hard as she was. Squinting against the brightness, she could see his chest heaving. As her eyesight adjusted to the light, she slowly raised her gaze and stared into blue eyes. He looked as stunned as she felt.
“Who are you?” she demanded, glancing around at the mess of the kitchen. The old floor was gone! Her throat threatened to close up on her with all these changes to her beloved house. “What have you done?”
It wasn’t the question she should have asked, even if it felt wrong to have no floor, only unfinished wood, in a kitchen. Still, she had to be more aggressive, and demand to know what exactly he was doing in her house.
But his expression remained baffled and intense, and he didn’t answer her questions. Instead, he asked, his tone incredulous, “Why are you wearing my clothes?”
Not much was making sense to Sam at the moment. This had all the nonsensical elements of a dream—except he was awake and this young woman was real.
And dressed in his clothes, sweats too long, bunching at the ankles… At least he knew what had happened to them, although he hadn’t known till now that she’d also stolen his green hoodie.
She’d become accustomed to the kitchen light, as had he, and she no longer cringed. He felt bad that he’d grabbed her so hard, but he’d been expecting some teenaged kid, not a young woman who looked a little ethereal, swallowed up by his hoodie, with wary gray eyes and dark, almost black hair.
It didn’t appear that she was going to answer his question, so he tried another one, the one she’d asked him. “Who are you?”
She straightened, drew herself up proudly and spoke, almost enunciated, “I am Floree.”
“Short for Florence?” Why the hell had he asked that? Who cared?
She blinked and said, “No.”
“Okay. Well. I’m Sam.” He opted not to offer his hand for shaking. He was too taken aback, and she seemed pretty skittish—even while she stared, or perhaps glared was the better word.
He cleared his throat. “So, Floree, can I ask what you’re doing in my house at midnight?”
She grew taller at the question. He got the feeling she thought it presumptuous, which was ridiculous. She gestured imperiously, a circling of her hand taking in their surroundings. “What have you done to this kitchen?”
“This is not your house.”
Not really the tack he’d thought she’d take. “Uh, yes, in fact it is.”
“Prove it,” she demanded.
He felt his eyebrows lift up. “I don’t have to prove anything.”
“You’re an intruder.”
“I think you’re getting us mixed up,” he said dryly.
“Where are my dresses?”
“What?” Enough was enough. “Look, I don’t know what your game is—”
She placed her hands on her hips, nerves apparently gone and in full-fledged self-righteousness, which kind of unnerved him at this late hour. “There was a chest upstairs full of dresses. They belonged to me. They certainly weren’t yours.”
That gave him pause. There had been a chest upstairs that held ancient clothing. He’d thrown it and its moldering contents into the dump last week.
“Where are they?” she demanded.
“Yes,” she said impatiently. “I want to retrieve them. Did you sell them?”
Good God, they hadn’t been salvageable much less salable. But despite that, he answered the question seriously. “I didn’t sell them and you can’t retrieve them. And you shouldn’t be storing your clothes in an abandoned house you don’t own.” If that’s what she’d been doing. Surely no one actually did that?
She went very still. In truth, she looked a bit like she was going to cry. Sam was getting more and more uncomfortable. He rather wished she’d disappear and he didn’t have to deal with her. Not a terribly grown-up wish, but he was tired and he wanted to go back to bed peacefully. Not deal with this bizarro conversation.
“My grandmother made those for me,” she said in a small voice.
Sam had to admit she was very convincing. Quite the actress, in fact.
“You’ve destroyed my house.”
“Look,” Sam said rather loudly. “I don’t know who you are or what you’re playing at. But I’m calling the police.”
“Go right ahead,” she told him. Her expression had turned mulish. “This house belongs to me.”
“Jesus,” he muttered under his breath, then strode out of the kitchen and up the stairs to retrieve his iPhone from the bedroom. He found himself loath to actually call the police station though, with such a strange story. When he marched back down to talk reason to her, and to make sure she still existed…
…the kitchen was empty. He closed his eyes. Idiot. She’d released the new latch he’d put on the storm door and disappeared into the darkness.