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Destined for the Dom(5)

By:Jan Bowles



“Why?”

Searching for the right words, Hunter swished the bourbon around his glass, before downing a large slug of the potent liquor. Right now he needed it. Zoë looked at him like he’d lost his mind. Maybe he had. “I guess I wanted to see if you’re happy and settled.”

“I see, so you were satisfying your curiosity. Since I’m the happiest girl in Pittsburgh, Hunter, you can go now. There’s no need to feel obliged or anything.”

Hunter watched Zoë for a moment. There was a time when he knew exactly what she was thinking. They’d been so close when they were kids at St. Mark’s. He shook his head. That was fourteen years ago. A lot had happened since then. Was she putting up a defensive barrier? It was something she’d done to block out the evils of the children’s home. He decided to call her bluff. “If I thought for one minute you were really happy, I’d have left without talking to you.”

In all honesty, Hunter genuinely wanted Zoë to be blissfully content. It would ease his conscience, and another ghost from his past could be laid to rest. He certainly wouldn’t have made his presence known. Instead he would have just slipped quietly from the club, and left her to carry on with her wonderful life.

His initial impression was that Zoë appeared calm and at ease with herself. Perhaps he’d wanted to believe she was. It certainly would have made things easier. On the point of leaving, he’d noticed the tension in her body. She’d always had a nervous habit of tensing her fingers into tight bundles, and he spotted her doing precisely that as she walked over to the bar. It betrayed her otherwise calm exterior. Growing up together, she’d done exactly the same thing during times of stress and anxiety. It was her coping strategy when she’d been worried or apprehensive. That’s why he’d decided to stay and talk to her. He had to make sure she was genuinely happy and contented with her life. He owed her that much at least.

She fixed him in her gaze. “Whatever makes you think I’m unhappy, Hunter?” Her words were said calmly, but he had a feeling that was just bravado.

At that moment, a pretty blonde-haired waitress, wearing very little indeed, appeared at their table, defusing the situation. “Would you like to order drinks, Sir?”

“Another bourbon, please. Make it a double will you, and whatever the lady wants.”

Zoë shook her head. “I’m teetotal. I don’t drink anymore.” Her shoulders stiffened as she spoke, and he guessed she may have a problem with alcohol, or maybe she just hated the effect it had on others.

When the sexy waitress turned and walked away, Hunter continued, “I know you’re unhappy, Zoë. I could tell the moment I saw you.”

She laughed mockingly. “So what did you see that makes you so confident, Hunter. We haven’t seen each other for fourteen years for Christ’s sake.”

“It may be a long time since we last met, Zoë, but I’ll tell you what I see when I look at you. I see a woman who’s wondering where her life has gone.” She wore two chunky bracelets, one on each wrist, and he could just make out bruising beneath. He had a hunch she was in an abusive relationship. Hunter continued, “I see a woman who’s got man trouble one way or another. A woman who’s wondering what she has to do to feel happy and alive again.”

For a brief moment or two she looked stunned by his observations. Her mouth opened and closed several times before words finally came out. He knew he’d hit the nail on the head when she said, “Have you been stalking me?”

“Jesus Christ, Zoë, I only flew into Pittsburgh two hours ago. This is the first time I’ve seen you in fourteen years. Besides, I’m not such a sad bastard that I need to stalk vulnerable women.”

Zoë grabbed her orange juice, and gulped down a large mouthful. Her jewelry glinted in the subdued lighting as she tipped the glass to her lips. In a calmer, less confrontational tone, she asked, “So what are you doing these days, Hunter?”

“I’m an Air Marshal. I spend most of my time flying at thirty thousand feet. After the Twin Towers went down, it was something I felt I needed to do.”

“You don’t look like a typical Air Marshal.” She pointed to his tattoos.

Hunter smiled, and smoothed a hand over his forearm. “Oh, I’ve had these for years. I cover them up when I’m working.”

“I’m not surprised, they make you look like an assassin.”

Maybe that’s exactly who he was. “I got these done in the Marines. All of us young bucks wanted something permanent to show what we’d been through.”

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