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Authors: Sable Hunter

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BOOK: Pretty Face
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When she’d set up the page and begun posting and accepting friends, Cody hadn’t expected to meet anyone special. She only wanted to flirt, the favorite pastime in cyberworld. Cody hadn’t anticipated on the lie perpetuating itself.

But it had. Her relationship with Hunter had progressed from casual teasing and flirting to caring. They had a real connection, they spoke the same language.

They were in love.

Being in love was a difficult place to be when they were separated by thirteen hundred miles and one of them wasn’t even ‘real.’ Now, she was caught in a web of her own deceit.

Knowing her mistakes, she advised her business partners to create a safe place online where men and women could feel comfortable revealing whatever they considered to be their faults or imperfections. Whether it would work, it was still too early to tell. What she did know was that living in a world of smoke and mirrors was no way to exist.

And it was too late to change.

Hunter valued honesty above all things, he’d said that over and over again. He couldn’t abide liars and she was certainly that—in spades. Still and all, as her nana always said, she couldn’t back off, not yet. He was as necessary to her as the air she breathed. All she wanted was just a little more time and she’d let him go. She’d either tell him the truth or just…disappear. Even as she considered the idea in her mind, Cody knew she wouldn’t do that. She would rather risk Hunter’s disdain than have him worry and wonder what had happened to her.

Setting the computer on the bed, she went to the bathroom to get comfortable. The black pantsuit she’d worn to the therapist would have to go. Jeans were much more her style. And her hair! Deciding a braid would get the long tresses out of her face, she stood before the sink to weave it into submission. Only in the privacy of her home did she pull her hair back. When she was around anyone else, even Marnie and Trinity, her hair always hung forward, providing a protective covering. Right after the accident first happened, she’d even worn a big floppy hat and a scarf, trying desperately to hide from the world. Standing at the bathroom vanity, Cody forced herself to look in the mirror. Really look. This wasn’t something she did often.

The face reflected in the glass wasn’t really scary. Her countenance wouldn’t send small children screaming to their mothers. Instead, it was sad. A raised red ridge ran like a fish hook from the corner of her eye down to the middle of her cheek. The man who’d given it to her sat in a jail in south Texas. At least he wasn’t free to torture someone else.

Ding! Ah, social media was calling Sage. Tying her hair off with a ribbon, she went to climb on the bed. Arranging herself amidst the pile of plush pillows, she looked to see what was happening in Facebook land. It could’ve been any number of online acquaintances—after all fake Sage had to have ‘friends’ or she wouldn’t be believable. It was amazing how many men, married or otherwise, were drawn to a female with a decent looking profile picture. It didn’t have to be stunning. So many people were just starving for attention, which didn’t speak well of the state of marital and monogamous bliss in the world. Dr. Rowan could have a field day with this, if she ever chose to study it. Over time, though, she’d culled out ninety percent of them. Only a few remained—women with whom she shared the most basic interests, like reading or cooking, and of the men, there was only Hunter. After she’d met him, no one else existed in the world for her. When she checked the screen, his name appeared. A smile lit up her face. There was no one in the world she’d rather hear from than him.

Hunter
: How’s Sage?

God, just seeing his name and profile picture made her tremble.

Although they spoke on the phone and by email, most of the time they talked in private message on Facebook. It was immediate. It was hidden from prying eyes. In fact, it was almost like they were having a face-to-face conversation. The only drawback was how hard flat black words were to interpret sometimes. Hunter tended to be cocky, but Cody liked him that way. Many times he would tease her and she would overreact. Then he would fuss and tell her not to act like a girl. A giggle escaped her lips. It was hard to act like anything else.

Sage
: Hey! I’m perfect. How was work?

Hunter
: Fine. I finished up Mrs. Garrison’s cabinets today.

Hunter was a carpenter. Every time she imagined him stroking or finishing wood with those beautiful hands of his, she would almost orgasm. He sent her videos all the time. Videos of him talking to her, touching himself—videos she’d watched over and over. He’d begged her to send some of herself, but she couldn’t. She just couldn’t. Most of the photos she sent him weren’t real, not the person she was now, anyway. For her face, she used headshots of herself as she was before, so there was a limited number of those from years before because in a fit of rage Cody had destroyed most of them. For her body, there were only certain angles she could send. Most of the others were of models or random people she found on the internet who resembled her as closely as possible, only without the imperfections.

The sad thing was, this relationship with Hunter had become much more than she ever intended. Their online flirtations blossomed to the point where she lived for the time when he came home from lunch or work and contacted her. They shared all of their hopes and dreams. All of the emotions and feelings were true. Hunter loved Sage and Cody worshiped the ground he walked on.

It was never Cody’s intention to hurt him, she never wanted that. He was the first thing she thought of in the morning and the last thing at night. Cody loved Hunter above all things. She’d die for him in a heartbeat. The only thing she couldn’t offer him was the truth. If he ever saw her face, what they had would be over.

And she wanted to hold on to him for just a little bit longer.

Sage
: You did? That’s great! I just went into Baton Rouge to run some errands.

Hunter
: I don’t like for you to be on the road alone. You don’t take very good care of yourself.

His concern made Cody’s heart ache. She touched the screen, wishing she could touch him. Sometimes at night, she’d lie in bed and run her hands over her own body. Except for the blemishes, it was okay. Fantasies of Hunter making love to her would fill her mind. Her heart would ache wanting to be with him. She would hug herself tight, pretending he was with her. Pretending his arms enfolded her rather than her own.

Sage
: Thank you for worrying about me. I worry about you too.

Hunter
: You don’t have to worry about me. I’m fine. It was cold where I was, though. Not much heat. Wanna warm me up?

The very words he typed thrilled her heart. What she wouldn’t give to be with him in person. He begged her to let them meet, telling her he wanted them to get together, but there was no way she could pull it off.

Cody had imagined scenarios where they would meet in a darkened hotel room and make love. And then what? She would slip out before morning? Oh yea, she could just imagine flying to Colorado Springs for a one night stand where they were just shadows in a dark room.

Hunter wouldn’t be satisfied with that. And neither would she. So, there was no use starting something she couldn’t finish.

Sage
: Yea, I’ll warm you up. Take your clothes off for me.

She began to type. They had such a good time. He would tell her what he wanted her to do, and she would describe in detail all of the ways she would love on him. Cody could always tell when he was about to finish, his typing would get erratic and the spelling would deteriorate. She didn’t care. This was Hunter. He was perfect in her eyes.

Hunter
: You get naked too. I’m putting up one of your pictures to look at. Nothing can get me harder faster than your epic ass.

Sage
: Okay. I will. And while I do that, you start to rub yourself for me. Pretend it’s my hand and my mouth making you feel good. Know that I would give the world to be on my knees in front of you on the bed, you taking me hard from the back. You are the most amazing man in the whole world.

Cody couldn’t resist. She slid off the bed and stripped. One of her hands immediately went to her breast, plumping it, playing with the nipple. All she had to do to get turned-on was imagine Hunter lying on his bed, rubbing his erection and thinking of her.

Hunter
: Touch yourself, Sage. Spread those pretty legs and tell me how wet you are.

Sage
: I always get wet for you, Hunter. I adore you. You are so good-looking. And you’re sweet, I would lick you from head to toe.

Hunter
: Come up here and do it. I need you so much. I’m tired of just fantasizing about you.

Sage stalled. It was her modus operandi.

Sage
: I want to come to you, so much. When I do, I’ll show you how much I want you. I can’t wait for you to let me sit on your cock or you take me in the shower.

She continued teasing Hunter and herself with all of her dreams and fantasies of what they would do together—should they ever get a chance.

Hunter
: You are so sexy.

He wrote once he’d cum and cleaned himself up.

Hunter
: How about sending me another photo? I love to look at you while I play.

Cody sighed. She didn’t have any more photos. And it made her ill each time she misled him by sending the fake ones, the ones she right clicked, cropped and sent to him, hoping and praying he’d never be the wiser. Oh, she’d snapped a couple like the one of her in yellow panties, but for the most part they were other women’s selfies she found in image searches. The scar on her face wasn’t the only blemish on her body. When Joe had beaten her, he had wielded that belt buckle like the cruelest of weapons. Not only did he hit her in the face, he’d also whipped her breast and hip. There were harsh red ridges across the left side of her body, one just over her left nipple and the other across her left bottom cheek.

Sending full-body photographs over the web scared her to death, but she’d taken a risk and sent just one. Careful not to show her face, Cody had posed on the bed on her hands and knees. One of her breasts clearly visible and one complete side of her body and bottom—from that angle, she looked normal. Unfortunately, the photograph didn’t tell the whole story.

Sage
: I’ll think about it.

Putting him off. She hated to do it, but she didn’t have a choice. Hunter let her get away with it, even though she knew she frustrated him no end.

In her quandary, she became lost in thought. Until another ‘ding’ sounded. She glanced down.

Hunter
: When are you going to come to me? We’ve shared everything...our past, our present, our plans for the future. Hell, we’ve shared everything but a bed. And I need you in my bed. I don’t want to wait anymore.

Sage
: Call me.

She typed and waited. He meant so much to her. She needed to hear his voice. Sage Donovan had a cell phone, one Cody carried with her for this express purpose. At first, Cody hadn’t wanted to speak on the phone with Hunter. Her speaking voice wasn’t very pretty. It was a little too husky and she had a southern drawl so thick it would make syrup seem runny. So, when she finally agreed to talk to him, she’d used the same accent her grandmother used. One her family spoke when they were all together. Cody could slip in and out of Cajun French at will. Even while speaking English, the lilt made her voice more appealing, she thought.

Immediately her cell rang and as soon as she picked up the phone, she heard his sexy voice. “Sage, baby, I need you,” he began, causing Cody’s heart to pound. “I know you have some vacation days. Why don’t you catch a plane and fly to Colorado? I’ll buy the ticket.”

Cody trembled. Dear Lord in Heaven, how she wanted to say yes. But she couldn’t. “I can’t.”

“Can’t?” he asked. “Is it your grandmother?”

Nana. The perfect excuse. “Yes, it’s Nana. I can’t leave her. She doesn’t have anyone else.” How long could she get away with lying to him? Hunter was a catch. And he was settling for an online relationship with absolutely no future. And Cody didn’t have the heart or the guts enough to tell him the truth.

“No problem.” He let out a sigh.

She breathed her own sigh of relief right along with him. Another reprieve. “Thanks for understanding.”

“I’ll just come to you. I know I’ve said that before, but this time it’s different. I knew you would say you couldn’t come, so I’ve already bought my ticket. I’ll be in Louisiana in a couple of days. Just in time for Mardi Gras. You’ve always promised to show me Mardi Gras.”

“You’re coming here?” Cody’s heart almost stopped.

The gig was up.

 

 

 

Chapter Two

 

 

 

Panic. Complete and utter panic washed over Cody. Hunter had her mailing address, a post office box. He didn’t have her street address, but he sure knew which town she lived in. They’d exchanged gifts for their birthdays and Christmas.

For two years, they’d spent at least two to three hours a day talking. He’d always been so supportive of her. He knew about Nana, about the books she read, and what kind of music and movies she preferred. Since Cody couldn’t talk about her research without divulging her identity, she discussed ideas and philosophies with him. He was so intelligent. Every way he could ingratiate himself into her life, Hunter had done it gladly. Willingly. Cody had done the same, as much as she could. She’d taken an interest in his daily schedule. When he went to play football or basketball, she would text him. If he was watching a television program, she watched it too. Any job he took, they discussed the particulars. She even helped him pick out his clothes when he would buy a new shirt or shoes. When he was at the store, he’d send her photos and text, getting her opinion before he purchased anything.

Cody had even kept a diary, just like a love-sick teenager. Every time she’d spoken to him, she wrote in it. Every time she’d daydreamed about him, she wrote it down. She’d even collected pictures of houses he’d like or books she wanted them to read together or places she wanted to go with him on vacation. The journal, or diary, or wish-book—whatever you wanted to call it—had the words THE RIGHT ONE on the cover. He was her RIGHT ONE. She kept it locked, hidden away, full of the treasures of her heart.

Pacing up and down her big old-fashioned kitchen, she began to pack boxes just to calm her nerves. Cody was in the process of renovating the whole cottage and the kitchen was next. She wanted to get rid of the Formica and the linoleum, update the cabinets and put in new appliances. In fact, she’d already posted a notice on the bulletin board at the hardware store. ‘Needed—carpenter work.’

As she worked, she worried. “What am I going to do?” She’d spoken to Hunter twice since he made his startling announcement that he was coming to Louisiana, and she couldn’t talk him out of it. So, Cody had a couple of options. Either she could leave town, maybe stay in Baton Rouge when he came—which would be just cruel. Or she could stay and face the music and let Hunter meet the real Sage Donovan or Cody Napier or whoever the hell she was. Either way, Cody was not the woman she claimed to be.

 

*  *  *

 

Hunter smiled as he packed his bags. He was going to Louisiana! How long he’d stay he didn’t know just yet. But he ached to have Sage in his arms. He was in love with her, completely and irrevocably. She was in love with him too. He could tell. When they would whisper to one another on the phone, he could hear the adoration in her voice. And those other little noises she would make—the whimpers, the purrs, the sounds of her release—were burned in his memory forever. Now, he wanted to hear them for real, up close and personal.

He’d finished his current job. There was nothing holding him back. Renovating period homes was his passion and he couldn’t wait to see a few plantations in person. If he ever got the chance to work on one of those, he’d be a happy man. Other than a few buddies he played flag football with, there was no one he’d really be leaving behind. Hunter had no family, just a few distant cousins. He’d quit dating not long after he’d started ‘seeing’ Sage, and he didn’t regret the move. No woman he’d ever known meant as much to him as she did. She was the one for him. “Look out, baby. Here I come.” He fastened his pack and headed out the door.

Hunter Reed had a plane to catch.

 

*  *  *

 

Damn, his flight was on time. Cody sat scrunched in one of the plastic chairs, huddled up from the cold. A blue norther had blown in to Louisiana, bringing cool temperatures to the pelican state. She sat near the front of the waiting room, so Hunter would see her first thing. Getting it over with seemed the best way, like ripping a bandage off quickly.

Cody had no idea how he’d react. He had every right to be angry. Hunter had every right to hate her. But there was also the possibility he might like her—just the way she was. And that was too tempting of a possibility to pass up. There was a slight chance he’d recognize her, after all, the headshots were her own, just nearly a decade old. It would be like looking at a bad before and after photo, and those are never very flattering.

A voice came over the loudspeaker. “Flight 782 from Denver has landed at Gate 16.” A hard knot formed in Cody’s throat and her stomach started spinning like a top. She went to the window to see if she could spot his plane. There was a big one getting ready to unload passengers, so she stood there patiently and waited. After what seemed like an eternity, she saw him. Her knees almost gave way at the sight. He was so beautiful. With broad shoulders, a muscular chest, his dark hair looking unruly, as always, he came sauntering off the plane. She ate him up with her eyes, never seeing him like this before. The video snippets didn’t do him justice. Hunter looked much bigger and more imposing in person. He was wearing that slight scruff of beard she liked so much, or it looked like it from here. He was still a little too far away to tell. Cody couldn’t see his eyes either, not yet. But she knew what they looked like—warm, caring, intense. How many times had she stared at the pictures he’d sent her? Countless.

When he disappeared from view, she turned around. Since she’d gotten up from her chair, Cody was farther back in the crowd. He’d have to look for her. Good. Now the small distance seemed like a safety net. She needed it. Cody was queasy with nerves.

People started filing in, the noise level increased. Families were reunited. Couples kissed. Businessmen connected with drivers via placards held up with their names drawn in big black letters.

And then, there he was.

Cody’s stomach clenched like a fist was squeezing her insides. She held her purse in front of her protectively. Nervously, she fumbled with her hair, pulling a few strands down over her scar. To battle her doubts, she’d applied a little cover-up makeup to the blemish but it wasn’t enough. It was never enough. The damage was still visible. Regardless, she was determined not to use the big sunglasses and hat or scarf she’d resorted to in the past. If he was going to see her, he might as well see all of her from the start. That way, he could decide if she was worth the trouble.

Hunter glanced around the room, his eyes slowly moving, studying each person’s face.

And then he looked at her. Right at her.

Cody smiled tentatively.

There was no reaction, his gaze brushed brusquely over her and moved on.

Hunter hadn’t recognized her, of course. She was a sad facsimile of the woman he was looking for. Okay, she’d try again.

He appeared anxious. She moved closer. With his backpack slung over his shoulder, he looked like a soldier returning from war. Cody walked up to him and then he moved forward, bumping her out of the way. “Hu—” she began, but he cut her off.

“Excuse me. I’m looking for someone.” He pushed by her.

She stood still, frozen, while Hunter walked further into the room, looking for Sage Donovan.

Cody Napier had been dismissed.

For a second she was torn. Should she walk up and grab his arm and make him listen? Tell him it was her? Or would it be kinder to just walk off?

Rising up on her tiptoes, she bounced, struggling to make a decision. Taking one glance backward, she made eye contact with Hunter once more. She looked at him beseechingly. But again, his eyes slid off of her like she was invisible. A ghost.

God, she had to get out of there.

Spinning around, Cody left the building—no, she ran from the terminal, tears building in her eyes. No sooner had she pushed through the doors into the outside throng, her Sage phone rang. Not thinking, she answered, choking back a sob. “Hello?”

“Sage? Where are you? I’m at the airport. I thought you were going to meet me.”

I did.
Her heart cried out.

“I’m sorry. Something came up. I can’t see you.”

And then she just hung up…

 

*  *  *

 

Hunter stared at the phone with disbelief. His heart was pounding like a jackhammer. What the hell was going on? He hit redial.

Holding the phone up to his ear, he waited.

No answer.

After a few more rings, the call went to voice mail. “Sage. What’s going on, honey? I thought you wanted to see me.” He paused. “Baby, talk to me. I came all this way just for you.”

Frustrated, he put his phone away. Sitting down in one of the airport chairs, he slung his backpack between his legs and hung his head. What was he going to do now?

Dialing Sage again, he let it ring. Hell! Still no answer. Voice mail.

“Sage, I’m not leaving until we talk. I came all this way for you. You’re the only thing that matters to me.” He took a deep breath. “Look, I’m going to get a hotel room. I’ll let you know where I’m staying. Don’t do me this way, please,” he pleaded, then slid the phone in his pocket.

Standing outside the airport, hidden in an alcove so no one could see her, Cody cried. With tears running down her cheeks, she listened to the messages Hunter left for Sage. Her heart was breaking. She’d hurt him.

Disgusted with herself, Cody trudged to the parking garage, got in her car, and drove home. All she could do was try and lose herself in work.

She made the trip without seeing anything. Cody was operating on automatic. She let herself in through the side door, threw her purse on the floor, and waded through the dogs and cats to get to her bedroom. Sitting at her desk, she attempted to focus on her upcoming lecture. She’d only penned a few sentences before the familiar sound of a PM sounded. Someone was trying to get her attention. She almost didn’t look.

It was Hunter.

Hunter
: Sage, talk to me. This is our safe place. Please, honey.

Sage
: I’m glad you’re okay.

Hunter
: I’m not okay. I’m alone. What happened?

Sage
: I’m afraid.

Truer words had never been spoken.

Hunter
: Oh, God, baby. Afraid of what?

He knew nothing of her history, only that she’d been in a bad relationship in the past and was now alone.

Sage
: Disappointing you.

Hunter
: You could never, ever disappoint me. What are you talking about? I know everything about you but the taste of your kiss, the touch of your hand, the feel of your skin…

Sage
: STOP!

She pounded out the letters on the keyboard.

Sage
: I can’t explain this. Just trust me. Go home. Meeting me would be a mistake.

Hunter
: You stop! I am not leaving until I talk to you

in person.

Sage
: You’ll have to. It isn’t going to happen.

Hunter
: Don’t say that. The only thing I have to do is see you. God, please, Sage. Please.

He was breaking her heart. What was she going to do? Remorse and guilt made her whole body ache. Unfortunately, she could see no remedy. She didn’t respond to his pleas.

Cody shut the lid of the computer and left him there.

 

*  *  *

 

“Fuck!” Hunter flung the phone book across the room. It hit the opposite wall and fell to the floor with a thud. There was no Sage Donovan listed in New Roads. No one he asked in town had ever heard of Sage. It was like she didn’t exist.

And she was ignoring him online.

He’d written emails, text messages, made numerous phone calls, but she wasn’t answering. Hunter was lost. He didn’t understand what could’ve happened. But he wasn’t about to give up. He’d traveled halfway across the country to meet the woman he loved, and he wouldn’t leave until he did.

He’d hailed a cab and made the trip from Baton Rouge to New Roads where Sage lived. The motel room he’d rented was cheap, but if he was going to be staying for a while, he needed to find somewhere to live more in line with his budget. Sighing, he went onto the computer and found an extended stay facility nearby. In a few minutes, he had them on the phone, reserving a room.

Almost mechanically, Hunter went through the motions of renting a truck, getting directions, driving to the new place, and signing the papers. He would give it a few weeks. If Sage was still ignoring him at that point, maybe he was wrong about their having a future. But something wasn’t right, he could feel it in his gut.

Hunter knew Sage. He knew her heart. He knew her sigh. He’d lain in bed many nights listening to her whisper her hopes and fears to him. There was nothing about that woman that didn’t flippin’ turn him inside out. And he wasn’t about to give up on her. Not without a fight.

Knowing money was going to be an issue, he checked the local paper. There was an ad at the hardware store for contract carpenter work, so after settling himself in the motel, he went down to check it out. He carried photos of his work and copies of his references, so proving his capability and getting checked out wouldn’t be an issue. Mr. Treadaway, at the hardware store, was impressed with him and his work, and to Hunter’s relief handed him a job posting from the bulletin board.

BOOK: Pretty Face
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