Sara's Promise(9)

By: Deanna Lynn Sletten

Straightening herself to as tall as her five foot, four inch frame would allow, Annie offered a slender hand across his desk. "Mr. Grafton, I'm Annie Paxton. I'm sorry I'm late..."

"Yes, you should be. I almost didn't wait for you," William said gruffly, ignoring her outstretched hand and walking around to her side of the desk. "I'm a very busy man and I'm not happy about having to retake this shoot to begin with. I hope you don't make a habit of being late." Standing next to her now, he looked down at her from his six foot, one inch height. She's short, he thought as he continued to stare at her.

Annie was completely taken aback by his rudeness. Self-consciously, she dropped her hand, angry that she'd apologized to begin with and giving him the opportunity to spout off. Bully, she thought, uncomfortable under his blatant stare. Keeping her back arrow-straight, she spoke in a strong voice. "No, I'm usually very punctual and careful about my time, Mr. Grafton. I realize you are very busy, and I assure you I will be on time in the future."

"Good," he said, turning and walking back behind his desk. He tossed papers into his briefcase. "We have several places to stop today, so we'd better be off. Unfortunately, we won't be able to see everything in one day, so we'll have to waste another day tomorrow to finish up," he said, his tone annoyed.

Annie was suddenly sorry she'd taken this assignment. She couldn't imagine spending the entire day with him and his attitude, let alone two days. She no longer cared if she did the shoot or not.

"Mr. Grafton, I am not the one who lost the original photos. I'm not even an employee of the magazine. I'm a freelance photographer who was given this assignment so they could get their article out on time. If this is such an inconvenience for you, then I suggest you give me the addresses of the places to be photographed, and I will go on my own."

William's eyes darted up from the papers he was shoving into his briefcase to meet those of Annie's. Her words had stunned him but not as much as her eyes, green eyes, spitting fire at him. For a brief moment, he thought he was looking into the eyes of his wife, Sara. He pushed the lid of his briefcase shut, all the while staring at her with a sort of baffled look on his face.

Uncomfortable under his stare but still angry that he'd been so rude, Annie said, "Well?"

"You have green eyes," William said in amazement.

Annie blinked, confused by his sudden change of attitude. "Well, actually, they're blue-green, but when I wear green..." she trailed off, looking down at the hunter green turtleneck she wore.

"Of course, they turn green to match your sweater." William's voice had grown softer. "My wife had blue-green eyes. They always changed color depending upon what she wore, too."

Annie didn't know how to respond to this. She knew he was a widower, but she had no idea for how long. Should she pay her respects for his loss? She wasn't sure. The tone of the conversation had changed so incredibly fast, she was at a loss for words.

William saved her by coming out of his daze, shaking his head as if clearing away a thick fog. He smiled at Annie, a wonderful smile that warmed his rich brown eyes. "I'm sorry," he said, his voice still soft. "We've gotten off to a bad start, and it's all my fault. I'm afraid I've been working away from my office for so long I've forgotten how to be civil. Of course, I'd be happy to take you around to the houses. I wouldn't even dream of letting you go alone."

He continued smiling at her, and Annie relaxed for the first time since walking into his office.

"Let's start over," he suggested, extending his hand over his desk. "Please, call me William."

Annie lifted her hand and placed it in his. His large hand enveloped her small one. It felt warm. It was at that moment she recognized him. It's you she thought, then hoped she hadn't said it out loud. "I'm Annie," she offered, "and I am sorry I was late."

"Not to worry," he said, holding her hand a moment before finally releasing it. "I made more of it than I should have. I'm afraid I've become very impatient in my old age."

Annie couldn't imagine what he meant by "old age" when he was standing there with that boyish grin. She had thought he looked young before, but now that his face had relaxed, he looked even younger.

Together, they loaded her camera equipment into his black Explorer and set off. He drove her to an affluent area of Beaverton, where impressive houses sat on beautifully landscaped lots. He'd designed several in this one area, but they only visited two, and Annie set in motion, immediately taking shots both inside and outside the homes.

She set up her tripod and larger camera for the outdoor shots, preferring to use the smaller one around her neck for inside. She had brought along extra floor lights to set up, but found the homes had such wonderful lighting from their large windows and well-placed light fixtures that she didn't need them.

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