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Authors: Sable Hunter

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BOOK: Pretty Face
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She exhaled. The introduction had taken a lot out of her.

Marnie turned on the charm. “Well, hello, good-looking. It sure is a pleasure to meet you.” She twisted and turned, and Cody wanted to slap the crap out of her.

“Don’t mind her,” Trinity injected. “She’s retarded. But it is good to meet you.”

Hunter shook both their hands. “It’s nice to meet both of you.” He looked from one woman to the next. It was obvious he was missing something, but for the life of him he didn’t know what it was. “Well, I guess I’ll leave you ladies to your visiting. My work day is over. Cody, if I could see you in the kitchen for just a minute to show you something, then I’ll be on my way.”

Cody nodded. “Sure.” She looked pointedly at her friends. “Make yourself comfortable, I’ll be right with you.”

Hunter waited for her in the kitchen. He needed to apologize. When she joined him, he was almost tongue-tied. Cody glanced around, noting his progress. “It’s looking good. Now that you’ve got some of the frames built and the doors assembled, it will go up fast. Won’t it?”

“Yea,” Hunter agreed. “Look, Cody, I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to upset you.”

Not happening. She stepped away from him. “Don’t worry about it for a second. I tend to say more about almost anything than I should.” Pasting a smile on her face, she looked over his right shoulder, not at him. “Comes from lecturing people for a living, I guess.”

“No, it was—”

“Please, let’s just forget it.” She went to the refrigerator. “Here, take the rest of the jambalaya home. I’ll have to take those two out for dinner, that’s one of the reasons they come. We go to a little Italian restaurant, their favorite. This will go to waste.”

Hunter took it. “Thanks. Okay, well, I’ll be back tomorrow.”

Cody’s breath hitched in her throat. She was so confused. This was getting more and more complicated. Sage seemed farther and farther away. “Have a good night, Hunter.”

Gathering his tools, Hunter headed for the door. “Cody, for what it’s worth, you have no reason not to date. There’s a man out there who’s going to think you’re perfect just the way you are. It would be a crime if you didn’t find one another.”

Somehow she managed to keep from dissolving into a puddle of self-pity. Watching the man she loved walk out the door while he gave her a dating pep-talk was almost more than she could handle. “I’ll keep that in mind.” She stood still until he shut the screen and moved around the corner of the house by the window. Cody moved to look out of it, watching him climb in his truck and back out of the driveway. She watched until he disappeared down the street and then she began to cry.

“Hey, Cody, don’t cry.” Marnie had slipped into the kitchen. Cody turned into her arms.

“I can’t help it, I’ve made a mess. A total mess.” She let her friend lead her back into the living room where Trinity was picking up and cleaning up. Her friend practiced good-housekeeping when she was upset. “Trinity, just leave it. The whole house is in disarray.”

“Come on, let’s sit down and talk.” Marnie led them to the couch and recliner that sat in front of the fireplace. “Just sit still, I’ll fix coffee. Trinity, get Cody something to blow her nose on.”

Cody sat there while her friends scooted around, doing little things to make her feel better. “I’m so glad you two came,” she hiccupped. “I feel like I’m in the twilight zone.”

Marnie brought a tray and set it on the coffee table. “I can imagine trying to be two different people at the same time is exhausting.”

Trinity hit Marnie with a sofa pillow. “Be nice.”

Cody wiped her face, then poured them all a mug of strong java. “No, she’s right. I created this monster and I have to see it through. One way or the other, I have to finish it, come clean, beg his forgiveness and say goodbye.”

“Now wait.” Marnie cuddled up on the end of the couch with her feet tucked under her. “Let me get this straight. Hunter just showed up one day? How did he get here and how did he end up renovating your kitchen?”

“Yea,” Trinity said. “I’m sorta curious about that myself.”

Cody took a deep breath and explained. “We were playing one day and like he has before, he poured out his feelings and begged to see me. I gave him the usual runaround, and he shocked the stuffing out of me when he up and announced he had already bought a ticket and was coming to Louisiana—hell or high water.”

Trinity almost choked on her coffee. “Oh, my Lord, what did you do?”

“Honestly, I debated whether to get on a slow boat to China or face the music.” She ran a finger around the rim of the cup. “I faced the music. I went to the airport ready to meet him. I thought he’d halfway recognize me because I did send him some old photos from college. Of course, they were before my stepbrother redesigned my face.”

“Oh, girl, we’re so sorry.” Marnie got on her knees and hugged Cody. “What happened?”

“He walked right by me, even pushed me aside when I tried to talk to him.” At their affronted looks, she defended him. “It wasn’t his fault. He was intent on finding the woman of his dreams and I didn’t fit the bill.”

“Sounds like an ass,” Trinity mumbled.

“No.” Cody shook her head. “That’s not the way it was. Remember, this is all my fault, he’s innocent.” The other two looked skeptical, but they let her talk. “I chickened out at the airport and ran, just left him there. He called on my Sage phone, and I told him it was all a mistake, that I couldn’t see him.”

“Well, how did he get here?” Marnie gestured toward the kitchen. “In your house?”

“Hunter told me he wasn’t leaving till we met. He’s a carpenter and I had put up a help-wanted sign. Believe me, when he called on my landline and I recognized his voice—I almost died.”

Trinity bugged her eyes out. “I guess so. I’m sorry, Cody. This sounds like fate to me. The man just lands on your doorstep. I think it’s a sign from above that you’re supposed to keep him.”

Cody grabbed a sofa pillow, laid it in her lap and buried her head in it. “You can’t keep someone who doesn’t want to be kept.” Her words were muffled. Taking a deep breath, she raised her head. “It’s been weird, being with him during the day and talking to him as Sage at night. And worst of all…” She slid down on the couch, putting her feet on the coffee table. “Sage gave him the idea she was going to work something out, some way to meet him.”

“What did Sage tell Hunter was the reason she wouldn’t meet him? I know you didn’t tell him about the scar.”

“God, no. It’s bad enough that he has to look at it on Cody…although...” She got quiet.

“What?” Marnie demanded.

“Hunter’s been nice about…everything.” She ran her fingers over the raised ridge as was her habit. “We’ve really connected. He even almost nearly kissed me, I think.”

Trinity busted out laughing. “Even almost nearly, you think?”

“Hush.” Cody laughed. “Sage didn’t give Hunter a reason that she couldn’t see him other than she just couldn’t, and that she’d been lying to him. He asked if she was married and I almost said yes, but I didn’t. I have to find some way of telling him the truth and asking his forgiveness. I know our relationship won’t survive on any level, but he’s meant too much to me not to try and make amends, let him know that I never meant for this to go on so long or end up in such a mess.”

“You still want him, don’t you?”

Cody looked at Marnie like she was crazy. “I want him more now than ever. I’ve been near him, talked to him, he’s more wonderful than I’d ever imagined.” Wrinkling her nose, she admitted, “Although, he can be a toot. But I like that part of him too.”

“Sounds like you need to do something drastic,” Trinity spoke, deep in thought.

“Yea, but what? Sage has promised to meet him. But Cody can’t just show up out of the blue. So, what am I going to do? I have to tell him the truth, but I can’t just march in the kitchen and announce that I’m Sage, the big fat liar.”

“Well, you could.” Marnie drew out the last word. “But I know you want to do this gently and preferably with some mind-blowing sex mixed in somewhere, something to remember him by.”

“Oh, yea, I think I can pull that off.” Cody blew her nose. “I’ve rehearsed it in my mind. Put a bag over my head, screw his brains out and then jerk the bag off. Tada!”

“Stop it.” Trinity grabbed her hands and forced Cody to look at her. “This has been the problem the whole time. There’s nothing wrong with you. You don’t need a bag over your head. Your family was messed up, especially your brother. They hurt you, but they didn’t destroy you. You’re beautiful, Cody. And if Hunter can’t see that, it’s his loss.”

“At this point in time, after everything…” Cody looked from one to the other. “It’s not the scar I’m afraid of him seeing, it’s me and the lies I’ve told. Hunter values honesty. He hasn’t lied to me, I’ve lied to him.”

“Well, let’s think of a plan. We can do this.” Marnie, always the problem solver, put her finger to her chin and tapped it. “We need to think of a way that you can get Hunter’s attention, have him in a romantic setting where you explain it all, hopefully with appropriate amounts of alcohol.”

“Yea, but what?” Trinity asked. “I guess she could fix a romantic dinner here and just lay it all out.”

Cody wasn’t saying anything, she had grown very quiet.

“What are you thinking?” Marnie touched her on the shoulder.

“The other day I was at Dr. Rowan’s.” Cody began, only to be interrupted by Trinity.

“Oh, how is that going?”

Cody made a face at her. “She annoys the heck out of me. Anyway…she mentioned that she is hosting one of the balls at Mardi Gras. There’s three of them this year, three different themes where everyone is supposed to stay masked until the last night.”

“Sounds great. I love to get dressed up.” Marnie was about to go off on a tangent, so Trinity pinched her knee.

“Stay on subject.” She looked at Cody. “What are you thinking? Do you think Sage ought to invite him to the ball?”

“Oooooh, I like that idea.” Trinity gushed. “You could use the time to gradually explain things, reveal a little more of yourself…and enjoy him a little bit—if you dare.”

“Sounds like more deception to me.” Cody didn’t think it would work.

“No, you’re wrong,” Marnie stated bluntly. “Sage is you too, you’re that amazing woman he fell in love with. You need to show him how wonderful you really are. Everyone will be in costume. We’ll get Sage a beautiful wig, you can wear some darker blue contacts, get your nails done, wear some killer gowns. Take him in your arms and love him, let Cody shine through. And then when you reveal who you are—”

Cody put a hand over Marnie’s mouth. “When I reveal who I am, he’ll hate me.”

Trinity piped up while she set everyone’s mugs on the tray to take to the kitchen. “Maybe. Maybe not. But I think it’s a better plan than just springing it on him with the jambalaya or whatever.”

Cody put her hands over her stomach. “I sorta feel sick. The balls start in two days.”

“Yes, two days, we can work miracles in two days. I think you’re hungry, let’s go eat and we can go over this plan one more time.” Marnie pulled Cody to her feet. “I want to know how he knew about TRO, where he’s staying, and how long his cock is.”

“Ha!” Cody snorted. “You don’t want much, do you?” She let herself be led along. “Okay, I feel like I’m about to partake of my last meal, like some death row inmate who has to pay for his crimes.”

“Quit feeling sorry for yourself, Hunter is richer for having known you. Come on, you can tell us more while we chow down.” Trinity pushed Cody toward the door. “The whole world looks brighter after you’re full of pizza.”

 

 

 

Chapter Five

 

 

 

“Where are you, Sage?” Hunter mumbled as he checked his computer for the fortieth time in the last hour. She’d left a message that she wanted to talk and then she just vanished—again. He’d left Cody’s and came straight home, still feeling like a heel about the way he’d picked at her about dating. If he wasn’t worrying about one of these women, he was worrying about the other.

After an hour of frustration, he’d given up and gone for a drive, anything to take his mind off of his problems. First, he meandered around New Roads, taking in the scenery. Everywhere people were gearing up for Mardi Gras. There were decorations on every corner, evidence of floats being decorated caught his eye. He didn’t know much about it, but he did know the celebrations were already starting. The next time he talked to Sage, he’d have to ask her about them. After he left town, Hunter had driven by Parlange Plantation, gazing wistfully at the French Colonial architecture. Now, this was what he’d wanted to see. When he’d envisioned visiting Sage, he’d imagined her sharing her life with him, taking him to places that meant a lot to her, things that she’d told him about in their conversations.

As he had many times before, Hunter tried to imagine why Sage didn’t want to see him. There had to be a good reason. For the life of him, he couldn’t imagine what it was.

Over at Mama Mia’s, the TRO girls were deep in marinara sauce and wine coolers. “So, how did Hunter find out about The Right One?” Trinity asked as she chased a bit of Italian sausage around her plate with her fork.

“When Hunter and I would talk, I always talked about the real me when I could. So, he knew that I and a couple of my friends had formed TRO. He’d seen the website and knew all the details, not our names, thank goodness.”

“So, you two really shared your lives, didn’t you?” Marnie could see Cody was suffering.

“As much as possible, yes. That’s what makes all of this so hard.” She sniffed, staring down the neck of the near empty bottle of wine cooler. “So, earlier he went to use my phone in the living room and found one of our welcome folders, and instead of connecting the dots that I was Sage, the owner of TRO, he assumed Cody was hunting a man.”

“So?” Trinity couldn’t see the problem.

“I got all nuts and told him I didn’t date because of the scar. We were having that conversation when you arrived.”

Trying to lighten the mood, Marnie winked at Cody. “Is Hunter good with his hands?”

“Well, he does good carpenter work, if that’s what you mean. Other than that, I only know what he’s told me he’d like to do with his hands.” She held the cool bottle next to her warm forehead. “I want to do something for him. Something big to make up for what I’ve done—a grand gesture, you know?”

“Other than sex?” Trinity questioned, her mind never far from the more erotic side of life. (A polite way to say ‘never far from the gutter’ – ha!)

“Yea, other than sex,” Cody mused.

“What else does he want?” Trinity kept pushing.

Cody thought. “Well, he loves to restore old homes. He expressed a desire to work on a plantation. He said that would make him a happy man.”

Marnie sat up straighter, a smile coming over her face. “Why don’t we get him a job? My friends, the Pevetos, just bought Starlight, the old plantation at the north of False River. They’re planning on a major restoration. Is he any good?”

Cody had no qualms about supporting him. “He’s the best. I’ve seen photographs of the work he’s done in Denver.”

“Okay, consider it done. They’ve been looking for a good carpenter. I’ll make the phone call tomorrow and you can tell him when you’re ready.” Marnie looked pleased with herself.

“As long as the Pevetos understand that this isn’t a sure thing. He might not want to stay, especially after he finds out Sage is a fake and I’m all that’s left. I’m just hoping we can be friends when all of this is over, although I doubt that’s possible.”

“Quit being such a damn pessimist.” Trinity whacked Cody with the end of her napkin. “Just look who you are, what you’ve accomplished. You’re the youngest department head in the South. You literally bend matter to your will in that freakish laboratory of yours. And you’re nice and cute to boot!”

Cody had to laugh. “Foot.”

“Yea, foot.”

She hugged them both. “I gotta go home. I have a big day tomorrow, a lot of decisions to make. Where are you two off to, do you want to stay with me?”’

“No, we’re headed to New Orleans, but we’ll be back the day after tomorrow with three magical gowns for you to wear to the Mardi Gras balls. Put your faith and trust in us. All you’ll need to do is invite Hunter. He’ll have to get a tux and a mask of his own.” Marnie explained as she stuffed the last bit of garlic bread in her mouth.

“Now, wait a minute, I haven’t agreed to do this.” Cody protested.

“Yes, you have, it’s the perfect plan.” Trinity stood up and struck a pose. “This is Mardi Gras season, cher. Let the sinful good times roll!”

 

*  *  *

 

Cody hadn’t been home but about five minutes when her Sage phone rang. She hadn’t taken it with her, knowing she couldn’t talk to Hunter in front of her friends. Fortifying herself with a deep breath, she picked it up and sat on the bed. “Hey, Hunter. How are you?”

“Better now that I can hear your voice.” His voice went from stern to warm in a heartbeat. “How are you? I missed you.”

“God, I missed you too. You have no idea how much.”

“I drove all around New Roads, wondering if I was passing your house. I’m sitting here alone in this damn hotel room when I ought to be in bed with you!”

Cody could hear how upset he was. She wanted to comfort him so much. So, she fell back on one of her tried and true methods. “I’ve been thinking about you too, Hunter. I’m on the bed and I need you to make me cum. Would you do that?” She began pulling off her clothes, getting comfortable.

Hunter closed his eyes in exasperation. She wasn’t playing fair, she knew he couldn’t resist her. “Making you cum is my favorite thing in the whole world, I just want to do it with my lips, hands, and cock and not my voice.”

“Please?” she whispered as she rolled on her tummy, propping the pillow under her chin, holding the phone to her ear. “I’m lying on my stomach and my fingers are between my legs. Do you know what I found?”

“What?” She’d peaked Hunter’s interest. His fingers were already at his zipper, freeing his cock. “It only takes the sound of your voice and I’m hard. Imagine what you’re going to do to me in real life.”

“Oh, I have high hopes.” She swirled her fingers around her clit. “I’m wet, Hunter. I’m wet for you.” Cody let her Sage voice come through loud and clear. “I’m so creamy for you, cher.” She used the term of endearment Trinity had used on her. “Just thinking about your big, hard cock makes my little pussy feel so empty.”

“Fuck,” Hunter groaned, already fisting himself. “You know what I want to do to you, don’t you, baby?”

“You want me to take you in my mouth, to lick you. You want me on my knees and looking up at you with my pink lips stretched over your cock.” Her voice was sultry, sexy and the moans she was making weren’t pretend.

“God, yes, I want to choke you and not with my hands. I want you to take me deep and suck me hard.” His hand was moving faster and faster. “I want to cum on your skin, decorate that pretty ass. Do you want me to spank you, Sage?”

Cody couldn’t be still, she was riding her own hand, her bottom humping the bed. “Yes, Hunter. I want you to smack my ass until it’s red.” It felt so good, she couldn’t be quiet. “Um, um, God, yes, oh, Hunter, please…” she whimpered and purred, the noises getting more sensual, erotic, hungry.

Hunter’s hand was flying now—up and down, up and down. Feverishly he pumped his cock, his own bellows and groans answering her sweet sounds. “God, I love to listen to your voice. Cum for me, baby. Let me hear you scream. Imagine I’m over you, behind you, filling you up, fucking you so hard the bed is shaking.”

Cody pushed two fingers up inside of her, pretending it was him touching her, him fucking her, him pinching and twisting her nipples. “Hunter!” She gave him what he needed. He came as she exploded and their groans and cries were intermingled.

“I love you, Hunter. I love you so much.”

Hunter lay there, panting, exhausted. He looked at his hand, covered in his own cum. It was all over his leg and the sheets when it should have been inside of the woman he loved, dripping down her thigh. “That’s the last time, honey. I can’t do this anymore. I need you. I need you now.”

Cody felt his words like a blow to the heart.

But they gave her the courage to do what she had to do.

“Yes, that is the last time. I just needed a bit to think. The next time we cum, we’ll cum together. Really together, in person.” Cody began pulling at the bedspread, hoping to high heavens she was doing the right thing.

Hunter sprang up. “Do you mean it? Just say the word. Tell me where and I’ll be there.”

Cody crossed her fingers, pressed her eyes together and prayed. “How would you like to go to a Mardi Gras ball?”

 

*  *  *

 

“Hey, honey, I’m home.” Hunter’s voice rang out through the house. Cody had to laugh. He sounded so happy, and she bet she knew why.

Quickly, she skipped through the living room to find him. “You sound chipper.” She wondered how much he’d tell her.

“I am, I feel good. What’s for lunch?” He followed his nose into the dining room.

“Crawfish etouffee.” She waited a few heartbeats to see if he’d say anything more about his good mood, but he didn’t.

“Sounds perfect, you are the best cook.” With that compliment, he headed back to start his day.

“I have to go to the lab. We’re running a new experiment today. If I’m not back for lunch, be sure to leave me some.”

“Okay,” he called out, and she was a little disappointed he didn’t come see her off.

“Get a grip, Napier.” She was getting her wires crossed. She kept expecting him to treat her like Sage, but when he looked at her all he saw was Cody. Oh, well. The lab experiment wasn’t her only pressing issue, she also had another therapy session with Dr. Rowan. Actually, she just wanted the tickets, but it wouldn’t hurt to talk to her, especially in the light of all the new things going on in her life.

Letting herself out of the house, Cody went about her day. The drive to campus relaxed her. She rolled the window down a bit and let the cool February air calm her nerves. When she arrived at the lab, she parked and scooted in. A faint drizzle was falling. Several of her students waved, one even ran to open the door. “Dr. Napier, it’s good to see you.”

“Hey, how are you, Raul? How’s your paper coming?”

“Not so good, I’m stuck. I can’t seem to find that last resource I need to back up my theory.”

Cody patted him on the shoulder. “Come see me next week, I’ll help you.”

“Great, thanks!” Raul waved as Cody hurried on to the security keypad and let it read her retina for entrance. “I’m here!” she called out as she walked over the threshold. Two of her assistants came to greet her. “Do you have something for me to see?”

“We sure do.” They led her to the back, and she put on a pair of safety goggles they handed her. In a few moments, she was so engrossed that time passed as quickly as if she’d slipped through her own wormhole. After she’d satisfied herself they were on the right track, she gave them some instructions and left them to it. Most of the time they did their best work when she wasn’t looking over their shoulder. This was a teaching atmosphere, any discoveries that Cody made she would share with her colleagues and the university.

Now, she had to change hats and go from being the analyzer to the one being analyzed.

Dr. Rowan stood as Cody entered her office. “I was surprised when you phoned for an appointment.”

“Yes, I’m sure you were.” She took her usual chair across from the good doctor. Since she was on a path to honesty, she decided to start now. “I want to purchase those tickets for the Mardi Gras ball that you saved for me.” Cody pulled out her checkbook.

“Not so fast.” The therapist leaned back in her chair. “I think I’ll hold them hostage so you’ll answer some questions for me.”

“Such tactics, Dr. Rowan. Surely I’m more cooperative than that.” At her raised eyebrow, Cody had to laugh. “All right, you’ve got me. What do you want to talk about?”

“Okay, since you’ve left it up to me, are you still communicating with Hunter?”

“Hunter is here.”

There was nothing better than shocking a therapist, even if it wasn’t with electrodes. Cody gave her a minute to close her mouth. “That’s why I want the tickets.”

“You’ve told Hunter about your deception?”

“No, I didn’t say that.” She briefly explained how he’d arrived and what circumstances they were operating in at the moment.

“So, you plan on telling him? I think you must, or you’ll never be able to move forward. No matter which direction you finally decide is best.”

“I do plan on telling him, when we unmask at the third ball.” Even as she voiced her plan, Cody had grave doubts she could pull it off. She went on to explain how and why he was working in her home and how hard it was to be with him and Hunter not realize who she really was.

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