Another 1k challenge winner! I had fun with these two characters.
The deep whiskey smooth voice broke Annabelle’s concentration and she looked up from the pottery shard she was uncovering. Well-worn black cowboy boots hung over the edge of the excavation pit. Looking higher, she met burnished brown eyes. Those amazing eyes were in a face with bronzed skin, prominent cheekbones and thick black hair worn in a single braid down his back, characteristics of a Navajo ancestry. He wore a white shirt open at the neck, suede jacket, faded jeans and a turquoise studded belt. Definitely a mouth-watering picture.
Caught gawking, Annabelle flushed. “Sorry. Yes, I’m Dr. Grainger. But, please, call me Annabelle.”
She placed her hands on the edge of the pit to heft herself out, but he leaned down and offered her a hand. Before accepting help, Annabelle brushed her dusty hands on her khaki pants. Not that it did much good since her clothes were almost as dirty. His large hand not only swallowed up her smaller one but contrasted with her paler skin. His long fingers and palm were callused.
He easily pulled her out but hesitated before letting go of her hand. Even free of the small pit she had to look up to meet his gaze. Unlike her, he looked and smelled fresh, like leather and spice.
“Thank you,” she said but it came out more like a breathless squeak and she winced.
His mouth curved into an irresistible grin. “I’m sorry to interfere with your important work but my uncle asked me to speak with you.”
“Pardon my lack of manners. I was…” His gaze raked boldly over her. “Distracted. I’m Mason Nakai. Ben Yazzie is my uncle.”
Ben Yazzie was a tribal elder and Annabelle’s liaison between her archeological team and the Navajo Nation. “Yes, he mentioned he had a nephew but he didn’t tell me…uh…that…that…”
That you were such a hunk. “That, umm, he was sending you to help with the excavation.”
“Oh, I’m not here to dig. My uncle said you had expressed concerns regarding security after some vandalism.”
“Oh that.” She wrinkled her nose. “I didn’t take it seriously but felt it my duty to report it to Mr. Yazzie. He certainly didn’t have to send us a security guard.”
Mason Nakai pushed his jacket aside and rested his hands on his hips. The bulge from a gun became apparent beneath the jacket, under his shoulder. He regarded her with open amusement. “I hate to be such a disappointment to you, Annabelle, but I’m not a security guard either. I’m a criminal investigator for the Navajo Nation Police.”
“But that’s even worse.”
He lifted a dark eyebrow. “How is that worse?”
“Because there’s no need for police involvement. It was a silly prank.”
“But Coyote enjoys creating mischief.” He leaned closer and lowered his voice. “Do you think it’s the work of Coyote?”
“More like bored kids.”
“What about skin walkers? Could they be responsible?”
“No, that’s…I mean—” She caught herself before blurting out the idea of shape shifters was silly. As a guest of the Navajo, she had no right to trample on sacred beliefs.
He laughed, revealing perfect white teeth. “No need to panic. I don’t believe it was skin walkers either. Like you, I think it was youngsters. So does my uncle. Nevertheless, he fears the hòzho has been disturbed.”
“I see.” She knew how important hòzho was to the Navajo. They believed that to be happy you needed to create peace, harmony and balance in your life. “Does Mr. Yazzie want us to stop digging?”
“Not permanently, no. My uncle doesn’t want you to leave. He is quite taken with you.” His eyes sparkled with interest. “Now I understand why.”
Maybe she should hire Mason Nakai to help her dig, considering how adept he was at shoveling it. After a day in the high desert sun, she didn’t need a mirror to tell her the freckles across her cheeks and nose had multiplied exponentially or that the wind had whipped her curly cinnamon hair into a tangled mess
“So you’ll honor my uncle’s wishes and stop until he is satisfied balance has been restored?”
“What? Oh, stop…yes.” It wasn’t like she had a choice. She believed in hòzho too and arguing with the tribal elders would be counterproductive.
“Thank you. As I token of my gratitude, I’d like to take you to dinner. I’ll pick you up, say around seven.”
“Sorry but I don’t date policemen.” Good grief insult the man’s occupation why don’t you, Annabelle.
His brow pulled into an affronted frown. “How unfortunate for me.”
“Well, it’s just that practically all my male relatives are in law enforcement. I see what that does to marriages.” Keep digging, Annabelle, keep digging.
He nodded slowly. “And do all your admirers propose on the first date?”
Annabelle could almost smell the charred skin on her face as it burned with embarrassment. “Got so bad I had to declare a moratorium on dating.”
His laughter was low, throaty. “Tell me, are you always this candid?”
“Fortunately for me, fossils are a tight lipped bunch.”
“So I’d be wasting my time hauling them in for questioning?”
“Pretty much, yeah.”
“Will it help if you think of tonight as dinner and not a lifetime commitment?”
Realizing she wanted to accept, her stomach fluttered.
He put a hand over his heart. “How about if I solemnly promise not to propose?”
Her sense of humor took over and she laughed in answer. Always more comfortable with her nose in a history book or up to her elbows in sand, shards and bones, she didn’t have much experience with living, breathing men. Especially ones as sinfully handsome as Mason Nakai. “All right, but I’ll need time to go home and get cleaned up.”
“Now you’re deliberately trying to make this difficult for me,” he chided, mischief back in his brown eyes.
“To keep my promise of not proposing on our first date.”