Annelise had hoped for more time before her past finally caught up with her. It was bound to happen eventually. Nobody could live the life she had lived and reach the modest heights of prominence she had scaled and then disappear altogether into obscurity. Not when she chose New York in which to resume the life she had put aside when an agent of fortune had offered her a chance to be an actress on the grandest of stages, that of history in the making.
Moreover, it was ultimately her fault. She could freely admit it in the privacy of her own heart. With the wealth she had amassed, she could have rebuilt her life in any city on Earth. Though London was denied her, and Paris still too close for safety, New York was most perilous of all, for it was not only her hometown, but that of the einherjar[fn:1] who had claimed to love her. The world was full of cities that would have offered the affluent clientele she craved. Even the antarctic domed city of Asgard would have suited, though that too was too close for comfort for other reasons. She had known as much, and yet the call of home was a clarion she could not ignore. Though she had come to fear Morgan Cooper, she was determined not to let him drive her away. This city was big enough for both of them.
Now it was Winter Solstice, and /he/ was here. He had come inside, but stood at ease beside the entrance as if unsure of his welcome. Snow melted in his gleaming blue-black hair, and on the shoulders of the double-breasted navy blue peacoat he wore over a forest green turtleneck sweater that brought out his slit-pupilled and thus not-quite-human eyes. He had cropped his hair short, as if he had been fighting recently, and it brought the angles of his face into sharp relief. When he spoke, it was in a clear tenor tone. "Hello again."
Reason demanded that Annelise turn Morgan away, that she ask him to leave, and to depart herself if he refused. Summoning the police would had done no good; should Morgan had chosen to defy them, the authorities would have had to use overwhelming force to subdue him, and Boutique Annelise would most likely lay in ruins afterward. Instead, it seemed best to speak civilly with him. /At least he's not visibly armed,/ Annelise thought, and took courage from the knowledge. "It's been a while. You're looking well."
Morgan flashed a quick smile. "Thank you. Are you still open? May I look around?"
Surprised by such mundane questions, Annelise checked the time. It was almost noon, and she had planned to close at one in the afternoon since nobody was putting in a full day today. Besides, she had promised her family she'd be home to help with dinner. "Surely you're not here to pick out a new suit."
Annelise refused to believe that this particular man had chosen to do business at her establishment. Most men believed they had better things to do, and had been content to provide their measurements and requirements, and then visit for their final fittings and to collect their new clothes. It was mainly women who came in to browse, occasionally with masculine partners in tow who would avail themselves of the armchairs she had placed around the boutique.
Nonetheless, here Morgan was silently examining a winter-weight three-piece suit of her own design. He considered the fabric and the stitching with almost the same care with which she'd judge her own work, and eventually gave an approving nod. "I'd like to place an order."
Before she could think better of it, Annelise spat out her refusal. "I don't want your money. I don't want anything from you. I don't even want to know why you're here."
She was sure Morgan would accept the rebuke as he had always done before, that he would yield to her without protest. Instead, he narrowed his eyes in anger and set his jaw in defiance. For a moment she thought he would lash out, but he seemed to master himself. "Fair enough. I was wrong to come. Joyous Solstice."
"Joyous Solstice," said Annelise, not trusting herself to say the rest. Though Morgan surely remembered the hatred into which resentful years had curdled, she did not want to remind him. It was not until the door was safely closed behind him and he had disappeared into a swirling snowy gust that she let her true feelings out. "Asshole."
[fn:1] The name comes from Old Norse, and can be taken to mean "army of one" or "one who fights alone". The einherjar of Norse myth were warriors slain in battle, chosen by the Valkyries and brought to Valhalla where they train in preparation for Ragnarok. In this novel's setting, einherhar are biomechanical androids designed to fight demons. At least one has decided they'd rather make rock, not war.