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Authors: Sable Hunter

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BOOK: Pretty Face
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Chapter Three

 

 

 

When Hunter returned to his apartment, he opened a can of chili, heated it, and ate while drinking a cold beer. Once, he tried to call Sage but there was no answer. After he took a shower, he sat on the bed and went onto the Internet. He halfway expected to be blocked from her account, but he wasn’t, so he left a message.

Hunter
: Sage? Are you there?

Several minutes passed. Nothing. He laid his phone down and turned on the television, seeking something that would numb the pain slicing through his heart like a serrated knife. Choosing a movie about a bank robbery, he tried to lose himself in the action and inane dialogue. A soft ding almost caused him to levitate from the bed.

Sage
: I’m here.

Hunter grabbed the phone, read the message and began to type. His hands quivered with nerves.

Hunter
: I’m still in town. Where are you?

Sage
: I’m home.

Hunter
: Give me your address. Let me come over. Please.

Sage
: No. There’s no use.

Hunter
: Tell me what happened. What’s changed? Please? Are you married? Have you been lying to me all of this time? Is there someone else?

Seeing an out, she almost took it. It would be so easy to tell him she was somebody else’s wife. It would hurt him, but at least he would go home and quit searching for her and suffering. But she couldn’t. She had lied, he was right. The truth was useless, but she didn’t have to keep piling sins on her soul.

Sage
: No. I’m not married and there’s no one else.

Hunter
: Then why? I ask and I know you’re not going to tell me. There’s something wrong. I don’t know what it is, but you’re too important for me to just throw up my hands and quit. I’ve got a job and an apartment, and I’m going to stay here for a while and wait for you. Please, see me. For God’s sake, you’re killing me, honey.

Sage
: I’m crying, Hunter.

And she was. That was no lie. Big, fat tears ran down her face.

Sage
: I love you. I love you so much. But our being together isn’t possible.

Hunter
: What do you mean? If you aren’t married, if you love me, what could possibly keep us apart?

Sage weighed her options. What to say? She waited and struggled, trying to find words to make him feel better, to soothe him.

Hunter
: Talk to me, baby. Tell me what’s wrong. I can fix it if you’ll just be honest with me.

Sage
: That’s the problem, Hunter.

Hunter
: What do you mean?

Sage
: I haven’t been honest, and I don’t even know where to start to make it right.

After she dropped that bomb, Cody shut the computer, turned off the light and wept in the darkness alone.

 

*  *  *

 

Hunter knocked on Miss Napier’s door bright and early the next morning. He hadn’t slept worth a crap the night before. Visions of Sage and questions about their relationship had him completely torn up. Part of him wanted to catch the next flight back to Colorado and forget her, but he knew that would be impossible. She was hiding something from him and for the life of him, he couldn’t imagine what it could be. Whatever it was, it didn’t matter. Hunter wanted Sage, no matter what.

“Come in.” Cody Napier came to let him in, holding the door open and greeting Hunter with a shy smile. Again, her fingers hovered over the scar on her face. He wondered how she’d gotten it and why it seemed to bother her so much. If she would quit drawing attention to it, no one would notice it as much.

“Thanks.” He moved ahead of her and walked toward the kitchen. “I don’t know what your work schedule is, but if you could make yourself available toward the end of each work day to go over any questions I might have, I’d appreciate it. Until then, if you don’t mind, I’d rather work alone. It helps with distractions.” These two requests were policy as far as Hunter was concerned. He couldn’t work with a woman hovering over him, questioning everything he did, and he wanted daily sign-offs. A couple of clients, early on, had let him get far into the project and then insisted he tear it all out because it wasn’t exactly the way they wanted it. So, he insisted on frequent inspections. That way he knew he was on the same page as the client.

“No problem. My work keeps me busy. If I’m not on campus, I can work in my office here,” she spoke softly, keeping her face averted.

“Oh, really? What do you do?” he asked off-handedly as he studied the plans.

At his casual enquiry about her work, something inside of Cody flamed to life. Sage might not be here, but Cody was and this was her strong point. She wasn’t beautiful, but she did have value. “I teach at LSU.”

“Oh, really? What do you teach?” He was still looking down.

“Physics.”

He was already spreading out his tools. “Wow. You’re Big Bang level brilliant.” He glanced at her and smiled.

“I don’t know about that, but I can say their social skills are better than mine.”

Her dry answer made him laugh. He liked her sense of humor. “I can’t imagine that. Okay, I guess I’ll get to work.” Hunter turned his back on her. “I have to say I’m looking forward to working on this old house, it’s a beauty.”

“I’m glad.” At least he appreciated her home. “I’ll check back on you about four.” She stood for a few more seconds, wondering how she was going to function while the man she adored was in her house and completely off limits to her. “Make yourself at home. There’s bottled water and soft drinks in the fridge. And fruit,” she added lamely.

He just nodded, so she turned and made her escape. Mechanically, she got through the morning, lecturing for two hours on the rates of nuclear reactions in stellar explosions. Her students, for the most part, were a joy. With them, she didn’t have the same qualms about her appearance. What she offered them was more than her looks. After class, she made herself available for office hours. Until someone showed up with a question or a problem, Cody turned on her computer. To her surprise, there was a ding! A message. It was Hunter.

Hunter
: I’m at work and I can’t stop thinking about you. I want to know how you haven’t been honest. Tell me.

Her fingers hesitated over the keys. What could she say?

Sage
: It doesn’t matter. I can’t fix things.

Hunter
: Try.

Evasion.

Sage
: Where are you working?

Hunter
: What does it matter?

Sage
: I was worried. I just wanted to know.

Hunter
: Do you care about me?

Sage
: Of course I care. My feelings for you haven’t changed. They won’t ever change.

Cody realized she wasn’t helping anything, she was prolonging the agony.

Hunter
: You’re torturing me. When you tell me your feelings won’t ever change, you’re giving me hope. As long as I have hope, I won’t give up.

Sage
: See, that’s the thing. I don’t want to give you up. All of this is tearing me apart. You’re not the only one who’s suffering.

Hunter
: Nothing you’re saying is making any sense. Look, I have to go back to work before the client thinks I’m slacking off.

Sage
: I doubt she’ll think you’re slacking off. Everyone is entitled to breaks.

Hunter
: Can I call you tonight?

Sage almost said no, but she was weak, so weak.

Sage
: Yes.

Hunter
: Good, at least I have that. I love you.

Sage
: I’ll always love you.

Hunter didn’t respond. Sage knew she was frustrating the hell out of him. After the allotted office time was over and she’d conferred with two upperclassmen about their term papers, Cody walked across campus to the lab she’d been assigned to review one of her assistant’s experiments with photons, a glass fiber, and a bottle resonator. They were attempting to force two photons of light to interact with one another. Their work looked promising. Cody had been lauded for her vision using quarks, photons, and quantum entanglement. Bottom line, she was trying to create a small wormhole in the lab. If she did that, well, the sky was the limit—literally.

When she returned home, Cody pulled her little red car into the driveway, parking next to Hunter’s truck. The animals heard her and she could hear them calling her from the yard. They weren’t in the elements, she had a heated outdoor kennel with pet doors which led into the fenced in area. When she was home, she allowed them in the house, so they had the best of both worlds. Once she arrived home, Cody usually spent time with them in the yard, throwing balls and playing chase.

Today, however, everything was different. As she opened the back door, she could feel the change in the atmosphere. Hunter was here in Louisiana, in New Roads—in her home. Both excitement and dread bubbled in her veins.

When she unlocked the back door, Cody could hear Hunter’s power tools humming. She fought the urge to go spy on him, just look in, and catch a glimpse of his fine form. But she couldn’t do that. As promised, she’d check in with him at four and go over the progress. Placing her hands on her head, she parodied a silent scream—Hunter was here! How could she function when the man she desired more than life was in her house? Turning to the wall, she gently beat her head against it. God! How could she get herself into such a predicament?

Better to take herself out of the range of temptation. Slipping through the house like a troubled spirit, she made her way to the side door that led to where the animals waited. As always, they were ecstatic to welcome her home. Cody laughed—it was good to be wanted.

After speaking with Sage and getting nowhere, Hunter had thrust his phone in his back pocket and returned to his job. His first step was to tear out all of the old cabinets and appliances. The work was back-breaking but required no real thought. How had Sage known his client was a woman? Hmmmm. He shrugged. Strange. He must be losing it, he couldn’t remember telling her.

Soon the pile of boards and Formica was too large for him to work around. He’d have to carry it to his truck and haul it to a nearby dump or dumpster. Propping open the side door, he began toting it outside. As he threw the refuse into the pick-up bed, he heard the most entrancing feminine laughter one could imagine. Pure joy. The sound sent chills over his body. Was Ms. Napier back or had he been invaded by a fairy princess? Despite the work to be done, he found himself drawn in the direction the noise was coming from.

“No, you don’t,” she squealed. “No kissing.”

Did she have visitors? Was Cody’s boyfriend with her in the backyard? Even though it was none of his business, he found himself walking by her car, an eye-opening red Mazda Miata, to peek through the fence at the back of the driveway. Nope, no boyfriend. Hunter laughed. His client was jumping and running, even playing on the cold ground with two dogs and two cats, who were scampering and cavorting like little children while she giggled helplessly, enjoying their antics. Hunter loved animals and he respected anyone else who did. His client’s stock rose a little higher in his eyes.

Shaking his head and smiling, he walked back to the kitchen and hauled out two more loads. When that was completed, his work area was a little neater. Next he had to tackle dismantling the bar. As he used his reciprocating saw, his mind kept going between Cody playing alone in the backyard with her animals and what he was going to say to Sage tonight. How he wished she’d allow him to see her. What he wouldn’t give for it to be her laughter he could hear coming through the window. What argument could he use to convince Sage he was sincere and would never hurt her under any circumstance?

“Shit!” His concentration slipped and so did the saw, which cut a deep gash in the side of his thumb. “Damn!”

The cry from inside the house caused Cody to freeze, then immediately run. Hearing Hunter yell with pain made her heart slam in her chest. “What’s wrong?” she asked as she came barreling through the kitchen door, afraid of what she’d find. “Hunter, Mr. Reed, are you all right?” Her voice was shaking.

His face was tight with pain. He stood over the sink and bright spots of blood dripped onto the white porcelain. “I just need a bandage and some tape.”

“Let me take you to the doctor.” Cody reached for his hand.

“No, no.” He was emphatic. “It’s not that bad. Just hand me something to wrap around it.”

“You need more than that. Hold on.” She hurried to the bathroom and got some gauze, tape, and ointment. The very act of caring for him was momentous. When she returned, he was still standing where she’d left him and didn’t react when she approached him other than reaching for the supplies. “Thank you.”

“No, I’ll do it. You can’t manage by yourself.” She scooted in next to him. “Let me see.” Cody held out her hand for his, steeling herself, biting the inside of her lip. When he placed his big warm beloved hand in hers, Cody wanted to melt at his feet. She trembled all over at the thrill of her body pressing against his. Removing the paper towel he had wrapped around it, she winced at the painful looking wound. “Let’s clean it out and I’ll fix you up.”

BOOK: Pretty Face
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