The Magic Touch

By: Dara England


For my boys, Chris and Sampson.

Chapter One

The door opened and a bleary-eyed, unshaven face beneath a shock of dark hair appeared. Squinting into the brighter light of the hall, the young man looked dazed as he took in the sight of her standing before him, but Ambrielle wasn’t fazed by that. It was one o’clock in the morning and in her business you didn’t exactly call ahead.

At the guy’s feet, a little red dachshund poked its inquisitive nose out into the hall and viewed her with the same sleepy eyes as its owner.

“Can I, uh, can I help you?” the guy asked.

She had always liked his voice. It was blunt and honest, just like the man to whom it belonged. Even groggy, half asleep, and reeking with the sour odor of old beer, or maybe because of all these things, he was very readable. She could have traced the worries written across his face like lines on a page, even if she hadn’t watched over him all of his twenty-eight years.

His eyes were ambient gold, not just a simple shade of brown but the unique hue of autumn maple leaves under the glow of an early morning sun. They could hide nothing, those eyes. The contours of his face were lean, but attractively so, his high cheekbones contrasting with a wide jaw and a long, tapering nose with a slight hump in the middle where he had busted it falling off a slide as a kid. He bore a matching scar from the same accident across his left eyebrow. Both dark brows were drawn together now in a puzzled expression.

He was still waiting for her to answer. Ambrielle smiled. “No, Danny, I don’t need any help. As a matter of fact, I’m here to help you.”

He didn’t open the door any further but suddenly looked alert. “I don’t understand. Have we met?”

She tilted her head. “Let’s just say I’ve watched you, but you haven’t seen me.”

“Okaaay…” He looked uneasy and she felt his tawny gaze sweeping her up and down, from the tips of her pink painted toenails to the top of her dark head of curls. She was well aware her figure showed nicely under her fitted blouse and short, white skirt. She had wanted to make a good impression for this first meeting and had dressed with more care than usual.

Oddly, he didn’t seem impressed. “Uh, thanks anyway,” he said, backing away, “But I don’t need help with anything. I’m doing just fine.”

As simply as that, he would have shut the door in her face, had Ambrielle not been quick thinking enough to stick one high-heeled shoe in the door. “Now you know that’s just not true, Danny. How can you be fine when you’ve just broken up with Charlotte? Again.”

The look he turned on her was a mixture of surprise and annoyance. “Listen, I don’t know how you know my name or about me breaking up with my girlfriend, but it’s none of your business. I don’t even know who you are.”

She wasn’t to be deterred that easily. “My name’s Ambrielle,” she introduced herself.

When he simply stared at the carefully manicured hand she offered, she shrugged. She hadn’t expected this to be easy.

Luckily, she still had her high heel wedged in the door and she used that leverage now to squeeze her petite frame through the doorway, careful not to step on the curious little dachshund sniffing around her feet.

“Hey, what are you doing?” Despite his protests, he had no alternative but to give ground. It was either that or stand toe-to-toe with her, allowing her to thrust her face within inches of his. It was clear he wasn’t eager to be that close to her. But that didn’t mean he was giving up.

“Listen,” he said as she shouldered her way into the apartment, “I don’t know what you’re trying to do but you can’t just force your way in here. I’ll call the landlord, don’t think I won’t. If you’re a tenant here, I can get you evicted.”

Ambrielle ignored his threats, surveying her surroundings under the dim lighting of several glowing lamps scattered throughout the space. Her nose wrinkled with distaste. “What is that smell?”

No answer was necessary. A quick scan of the living area and the open kitchenette told her the moldy odor could have originated any one of a dozen places. The kitchen sink overflowed with filthy dishes, the garbage was spilling refuse out onto the hardwood floor. The black linoleum countertop dividing the kitchenette from the living room was smeared with what may or may not have been peanut butter. And that was just the start.