The Earthly Dimension
The young woman tucked a strand of auburn hair behind her ear and sighed. “I’m not sure what I’m looking for.”
“Don’t worry. Something will catch your eye.” Ari Frasier led her customer further into Diva Unique. Soothing light-colored walls, artfully draped displays, and hints of jasmine and lavender scenting the air invited customers to linger. Of all the stores in the mall, Diva Unique contained the best selection of women’s specialty gifts.
“It has to be perfect. My mother-in-law is extremely picky.” The woman’s gaze roamed over scented candles, bath soaps and moisturizers. “Finding a gift for her is so difficult.”
“This moisturizer is nice, and it’s one of our bestselling products. May I?” Ari pumped a small dollop into her customer’s hand. Infused with sweet orange, it would help calm the woman’s rising anxiety.
The woman massaged it in. “I like it, but for my mother-in-law, who knows if it’s right?”
Ari’s palm itched. A brief touch or the lightest brush over the woman’s arm could reveal the answer. Or lead to trouble. Ari curled her hands into fists. Just like it had at the car dealership, the real estate office, the catering company, and everywhere else she’d worked in the past. Her bosses had reprimanded her for not obeying the prime rule of sales. The customer is always right. She’d steered buyers toward what she sensed was best for them which didn’t always equal a profit or a happy customer. Of course, she couldn’t tell her bosses or anyone else that her special insight led the way. Instead, she’d endured the label of failure and accepted termination after termination. But she wouldn’t bring crystal-ball antics into Diva Unique. The store was her best friend’s baby. Celine had entrusted it to her while she trekked through Bali and Tibet. She couldn’t let her girl down.
Ari and the woman moved to the jewelry display. They sorted through gold filigree rings and fashionable bangles.
“These are nice.” The woman sighed. “But I found out from one of my mother-in-law’s friends that she absolutely hated the designer jewelry I bought her for Christmas. This is a disaster. I don’t know what to choose. I can’t mess up her birthday gift, too.”
The woman’s stress engulfed Ari. Before she changed her mind, Ari clasped the woman’s arm. Fiery tingles spread into her hand. Jessica. That was the customer’s name. As a newlywed, Jessica not only agonized over pleasing her mom-in-law but feared disappointing her husband as well.
Mere seconds ticked by, but for Ari it extended into moments, allowing her a glimpse into the young woman’s emotions and fragments of thoughts. More of the fiery sensation spread up Ari’s arm. Her heart rate kicked up. She ignored a warning to let go before she passed out. So close. Just a bit longer. Something useful would surely pop up.
Blue. The rest of the clues flashed like a neon sign.
Ari let go. A held breath whooshed out of her. It wasn’t surprising to find the answer buried underneath a mountain of worry. Most people stood in the way of their own good instincts. Spots floated before her eyes. Ari coughed as she waved away Jessica’s concerned expression. “I’m fine. I swallowed down the wrong pipe. I just lost my breath for second.” Her vision cleared. She led Jessica down one of the aisles. The narrow skirt of Ari’s purple dress limited her stride. “I think I have something that will work.” She rose on the toes of her beige high-heeled pumps and sorted through a stack of folded, colorful fabrics on the shelf. She’d stocked it last night after closing. “What do you think?”
Jessica snatched the cream and blue, paisley scarf from Ari’s hand. “Oh my gosh! My mother-in-law just read a fashion article a few weeks ago about tying scarves. She loved the idea of using them to spice up her wardrobe. She just hasn’t been able to find what she likes, but she’ll love this. The blue matches her eyes.” Jessica stared in amazement. “How did you know?”
Ari feigned a shrug of innocence. “Lucky guess.”
“Seriously? Lucky guess? This is perfect. You’re nothing short of amazing.”
Joy infused Ari. “Just doing my job.” Sometimes her ability did bring some good. That’s all she’d ever wanted, but she’d sworn not to use her special insight after losing her last job two months ago. Well, maybe just one more time. “Now, what about you? After all you’ve been through, you deserve something pretty.” Ari steered Jessica toward a charm bracelet she knew the young woman would love.
The rest of the morning sped by with Saturday shoppers wandering in from the mall corridor. As the lone sales attendant, Ari did double duty helping customers and ringing up purchases. Two hours later, the store emptied. She kicked off her shoes behind the sales counter and wiggled her toes. Function trumped comfort. That’s why she wore heels no less than three inches. Without the addition to her height, she’d spend the day with a crick in her neck from constantly looking up.
She snagged a pen and pad from the counter and made a list of items to replenish. Candles, stationary, and lemon-lavender bath salts. Lauren absolutely loved bath salts as well as the other high-end bath products. After a month in the jungle, she was probably suffering from withdrawals. She’d set some aside for her. Ari added another case of bath salts to the list.
Funny. She hadn’t sensed Lauren’s decision to volunteer at a remote health clinic in South America or Celine leaving with a new boyfriend no one had met. Truthfully, she shouldn’t have had to sense it. A pang hit Ari squarely in the chest. The three of them were tight, like sisters. They should have mentioned their plans instead of blindsiding her with them. Don’t be so pathetic. Stop whining. Ari listed more items. It wasn’t like they were ditching her forever. They’d be back in a month. And right now, she had a job to do. She needed to restock before Brooke and the others showed up. They wouldn’t have time in the midst of catering to the Memorial Day weekend crowd.
Ari slipped on her shoes and hurried into the storeroom behind the counter. She dragged the stepladder in place. Of course, what she needed was on the highest shelf. Note to staff: stock the more popular spa items within reach.
She tugged up the slim skirt of her dress and stepped on the ladder. On the way up, her leg bumped the large, stuffed teddy bears they included in the new baby gift baskets. Ari stretched. Her fingertips grazed the flat carton. Shit. She climbed to the top of the ladder and rose to her toes. Another reason she needed high heels.
As she edged the box off the metal shelf, the weight shifted. The carton knocked her in the chest.
Ari fell back.
Arms flailing, she made a grab for something, anything to break her fall. The teddy bears tumbled down with her. Pain exploded in her head. Moments later a deep, male voice penetrated through the pain-filled fog.
A nice-looking guy with dark hair, and silvery eyes so brilliant they glowed, stared down at her with concern. His lips moved.
What was he saying? She couldn’t hear him. Ari’s vision blurred and she sank into darkness.
* * * *
“You’re extremely lucky.” The young, blond doctor in the emergency room wrapped a stethoscope around the collar of his white lab coat. He smiled. “The EMTs said a bunch of teddy bears saved you. Apparently, they cushioned most of the fall.”
Not that she remembered. She’d passed out and awakened with emergency personnel kneeling over her. “Guess the teddy bears are my new best friends along with the customer that found me.” Ari laughed. A sharp ache stabbed into her skull. She smoothed back her dark bangs. Luckily, her short hair would still cover the bump on her head.
A brown-haired nurse dressed in pink scrubs helped Ari up to a sitting position on the bed. As the doctor checked her over, his ID badge dangled near Ari’s face.
Brad Foster. Nice name, nice bod, nice everything. But even with the dimple in his cheek, he wasn’t as cute as the guy who’d come to her rescue. Just her luck to meet two hot-looking guys when she was a mess.
“A customer, that’s interesting.” Dr. Foster washed his hands in a sink against the wall. “I heard one of your staff found you.”
“Really? But I know I saw someone I didn’t recognize.”
“Maybe he went to get help.” The nurse smiled and handed Dr. Foster a computer tablet.
“Or you could be experiencing some confusion.” The doctor’s brow furrowed as he tapped in notes. “Bumps on the head are tricky.” No need to keep her overnight. Ice for the bump and pain reliever for the headache should do the trick.
“Good.” Ari sank back against the pillows. “I’m ready to go home.”
He chuckled. “Not so fast.”
“But you said my head looks fine.”
“No. I didn’t say that, but other than a headache, you should be fine.”
“I know. I heard you.”
He exchanged a puzzled look with the nurse.
But Dr. Foster had said it so clearly. Hadn’t he? Cold ripples moved down Ari’s spine. Usually, she picked up on thoughts as pictures not complete sentences.
Dr. Foster gave her an indulgent smile. “It’s best to be cautious with head injuries. Someone needs to stay with you tonight. Symptoms can sneak up on you.” He conferred with the nurse.
Movement caught the corner of Ari’s eye.
The guy from the store leaned against the wall with his arms crossed over his chest.
She sat up. “What are you doing in here?”
His gaze narrowed. “You can see me.” As he stalked toward her, taut muscles rippled under his shirt.
Guys with long hair didn’t catch her attention, but this one oozed prime male, bad-ass. Just the right age, too. Thirty? Thirty-five max.
“Answer me.” As he leaned over her, his body heat seeped through her flimsy hospital gown. “Can you see me?”
“Stop yelling. Of course I can see you. You’re standing right there.” All six foot plus of scowling, gorgeous man.
Dr. Foster looked around the room. “Who are you talking to?”
Even if they couldn’t hear they guy, how could they miss him towering over them? He was massive. “He’s right here.”
Her unexpected visitor glanced at Dr. Foster and the nurse. “You’re causing trouble, Little One. Stop talking. Now.”
Height jokes and commands in the same sentence. Badass sexy just lost his hottie-of-the-day card. All awards went to the doctor. “If anyone’s causing trouble it’s you by calling me names.”
The guy arched a brow. “I’m not calling you names. I’m just stating the truth.”
“Oh really? Well let me tell you what I thi—”
“All right, just relax.” The nurse gently pressed her back on the bed.
Dr. Foster whipped a penlight from his front pocket. He shined it in Ari’s eyes. “Are you seeing spots or an aura of some kind?”
“Are you feeling nauseous or lightheaded?”
Ari squirmed. “Nothing has changed from a minute ago.”
As Dr. Foster checked Ari over, he spoke to the nurse. “The x-rays could have missed something.”
“Wait no.” Ari batted away the doctor’s hands. “I’m fine. He’s the problem.”
The mysterious guy disappeared.
“Wait. Come back!” She reached out. They thought she was losing it. He couldn’t leave her in a lurch.
Dr. Foster and the nurse exchanged concerned looks.
Panic gripped Ari. She hadn’t imagined him. He existed. She could still smell his crisp, woodsy scent.
Dr. Foster’s expression turned grim. “I want her upstairs for an MRI.”
The nurse hurried from the room.
“Whoa. Wait a sec. Let’s not go overboard.” A shot in the butt with an extra-long needle. Swallowing a big, nasty pill. She’d take either of those. “I don’t need one.”
Dr. Foster pinned her with a hard look. “Ms. Frasier, you’re having hallucinations. We need to know what’s causing them. This could be a sign of something worse than a simple bump on the head.”
Her heart sank. What could be worse than imagining a hot guy that disappeared? She didn’t want to think about it.
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