Authors: Tina Donahue
Ronnie brought back her hand from
the phone, recalling what Hunt had said when he’d just called.
“Don’t deny that I have the right
place,” he’d warned.
Ronnie should have, but didn’t.
She’d been too stunned to speak. Very few men had the agency’s unlisted number
and Hunt hadn’t been one of them.
“Don’t hang up on me either,” he
added. “I’ll keep calling back. I’m not a cop or the press. Jack
arranged an evening for me and my friends the other
night at the R Street house. And no, Jack didn’t give me this number. He knows
better than that. I found it on my own.”
Ronnie wasn’t about to ask how. With
any other man, she would have panicked, worrying about blackmail, payoffs,
money lost to keep the agency more urban myth than the reality it was.
Something in Hunt’s voice told her that wasn’t why he’d called.
for the entire evening,” Hunt said at her continued silence. “Alone.
Just her and me.”
Sounded like the opening lyrics to a
very painful love song. Although he spoke with confident strength, there was
such need behind
Ronnie told him the score,
figuring he should know. “I’m sorry. That’s not possible.”
didn’t allow herself to be vulnerable. To give any man the
chance to treat her with brutal disregard as her father always had.
“She doesn’t do what you’ve
requested,” Ronnie added.
“You mean one on one.”
“That’s bull,” Hunt countered. “She
did the other night when my buddies were asleep. Did she tell you that?”
No, she had not. Ronnie studied the
girl now. “I thought you had a good time with Mr. Prescott. Did he hurt you?
Should I have him killed?”
It sounded young and reckless. To
Ronnie, it sounded as if it was solely because of Hunt. She arched one brow.
sobered a bit. “Don’t be ridiculous. He seems like a nice
“He wants you this evening.
Just the two of you.”
A deep red blush crept up
face, its tint matching the chair’s cushions and her claret silk blouse. “No.”
rolled her eyes.
Ronnie smiled even as her heart
ached. In the years
had worked for the agency,
no man had affected her like Hunt. She wanted him badly. Ronnie saw it on the
girl’s face, the flush of her skin, the way her body seemed to wilt every time
his name came up.
Don’t throw this away,
she willed the girl.
It might prove to be more precious
than you can imagine.
“Look, I don’t want to see him,”
said, her earlier amusement replaced with what
sounded like shaky resolve. “I won’t.”
Too bad the young didn’t listen to
the unspoken pleas of their elders or simple common sense. In this,
would have to find her own way.
“Good,” Ronnie said, feigning
indifference. “Given what you’d told me the night you two met, I gave him a
firm no when he called. I—”
“Wait. He actually called?”
“He did. And I promised to book him
with one of the other ladies.”
An alarmed look skittered across her
Ronnie wondered if
concern stemmed from Hunt having the agency’s phone
number. Or was she jealous at the thought of him being with another woman?
“He’ll have a good time with
,” Ronnie assured. “Don’t you
Oh yes, she was.
The restaurant was one of Hunt’s
favorites, tucked away from tourists and hardly noticed by K
, who preferred dining fit for an emperor. The
cuisine in this place was still five-star, its specialty bacon-wrapped steaks
with a few vegetables thrown on the side to keep the guilt and cholesterol
The server led Hunt to the terrace
and his usual table when weather permitted. It was mild today, mid-seventies
thanks to global warming or simple good luck. More than the typical number of
patrons ate outdoors. Blocked off from the sidewalk by plump hedges and
carefully spaced trees, the dining area was dotted with large white umbrellas
that shielded the linen-covered tables from this afternoon’s sun. The fabric on
each fluttered in the gentle breeze heavy with the scent of flowers, a bit of
diesel from the numerous vehicles whizzing by and beef sizzling on grills.
Hunt’s stomach rumbled. He took his
seat. Behind him a group of women laughed with the joy of those who’d found
love at last or closed a great deal, adding to their bottom lines. In this part
of the world, he figured it was the latter event causing their happiness.
Leaning a bit closer, the server
spoke just loud enough for Hunt to hear him over the numerous conversations and
the R&B pumping through the sound system. “Will anyone be joining you
today, Mr. Prescott?”
David was already supposed to be
here. “Leave the place setting,” Hunt instructed the young man before he
reached for it. “Bring me my usual while I wait.”
Hunt pulled his cell phone from his
jacket and called David. “I’m here, you’re not. I’m not waiting more than ten
minutes, got it?”
“I’m heading out now.” The sound of
something hard smacking a desk or credenza came over the line, along with
David’s heavy breathing. “I’ll run if I have to.”
“Take a cab. It’s less than twenty
bucks. You can afford it now.”
“I’d rather walk. It’s only a couple
“Like I said, I’m not waiting.” He
ended the call on David’s newest apology.
“I’m sorry” wasn’t what Hunt wanted
to hear right now. He sure as fuck had heard it enough over the last days. The
senator he’d been lobbying suddenly changed her mind and decided to align with
the other side. This despite the research Hunt had provided that proved his way
was best for the woman’s constituents and her continued reelection.
“I’m sorry,” she’d said, “I have to
vote my conscience.”
Since fucking when? It was all about
walking a tightrope between the voters, special interests and ethics.
Conscience had nothing to do with it. Even freshman lawmakers knew that.
With that defeat hounding Hunt, he’d
gotten another from Veronique—or rather Ronnie, according to the information he
now had on her.
“I’m sorry,” she’d said when he’d
called again. “But
“Tonight?” he’d pressed.
The dead air gave him his answer.
What he couldn’t figure out was why
behaving this way, refusing to see him again.
“Have you told her I called?” he
Ronnie seemed genuinely regretful,
as if she didn’t understand
“Ask her again. Give me a call back.
She sighed. “I’ll do my best.”
That was two days ago. No call.
Flannigan had given him
life history from birth to now, but not her cell number, email address or her
current place of residence. That, it seemed, was a state secret even a
crackerjack investigator or an Internet search couldn’t breach.
Crap. Hunt dropped his phone on the
table and searched for his server. Where the hell was his bourbon? If ever he
needed a drink, it was—
His thoughts paused. He felt his
facial muscles going slack. There, to the left, no more than six tables away,
sat, facing a man.
Lightheaded, Hunt gripped the arms
of his chair. His pulse continued to race. What in the fuck was she doing here
of all places? Who in the shit was that guy?
From the cut of his hair and the
wrinkles on his neck, he was older, maybe late fifties, early sixties, dressed
in a dark suit similar to all the other men here. Given the rapt interest
was showing him, he might have been the love of her
life…or another client.
Hunt’s dizziness passed, replaced by
mounting frustration. Was that her thing? She liked old guys? Or was she just
pretending enthusiasm with this man as she’d done with Tim and David? Not him
though. Hunt knew her response to him had been honest from the get-go and had
grown more intimate with each passing second, especially when they’d been alone
in the bath and she’d breathed “yes”.
That one word, her husky, yet
submissive tone had changed his world. He’d gone straight to heaven, then down
to hell when she wouldn’t grant him another date, meeting, assignation,
He dug his thumbnails into the
chair’s wood, staring at her, unable to hide his disapproval. Not only had she
refused him and had the gall to eat here with someone else, she’d changed her
Why? Was she wearing a wig? She had
better be, rather than cutting it. Gone were those glossy black locks dangling
to her ass. Today, her hair was chin length, in one of those sleek bouffant
styles Hunt had seen in TV reruns from the ’60s. The way the strands captured
the light told him they weren’t cheap synthetic material, but the real deal. No
different from her striking beauty.
That night on R Street she’d worn
little makeup. Today, she had on none at all. She didn’t need it. Good genetics
had done its best job on
, preparing her for a
future as a model, actress, TV personality or a call girl, despite her many
So, did she generally meet clients
for lunch in very public places? What call girl did that? If the guy was
important, someone might see them together. Didn’t she know that? Didn’t she
care? Was she in love with him? Did she want him to leave his wife? Had he
promised to do so already?
Hunt frowned. Was that why she kept
refusing to book a night with him?
He was out of his seat before he
knew he’d be leaving it, working his way around the other tables to get to
hers, all while telling himself he could be wrong. Maybe it wasn’t
, just a remarkable lookalike.
The closer Hunt got, the more
convinced he became that it had to be her. He recalled the curve of her cheek,
the graceful arch of her brows, the tiny mole on her throat, the way she looked
in gold. Her linen blouse was the same color as the dress she’d worn on their
one evening together.
As he neared, he saw something
else…recognition in her eyes. Her glass stalled just shy of her mouth, her
drink forgotten. Tea perhaps, given all the ice and the wedge of lemon left on
a side plate. The guy with her looked over his shoulder.
He wasn’t anyone Hunt had ever seen
on the Hill or in the news. Ignoring the man, Hunt regarded her. “
, I didn’t expect to see you here.”
Her face drained of color, her
previous blush gone.
Good, he had her attention.
And something else.
Hunt saw the same heat in her velvety eyes that he had that night on R Street.
Warmth she hadn’t given his friends then or her dining companion now.
“Nice to see you again.”
He offered his hand.
She looked like she wanted to bolt,
but finally accepted his gesture.
Her fingers were ungodly soft, more
so than he recalled, making everything stop. He no longer heard the din from
the restaurant and traffic. For one crazy moment, he had to keep from lifting
her hand to his mouth. He imagined licking the length of each finger, his
tongue sweeping over her polished nails. Him gathering her close, holding her
in his embrace, indulging in her warmth and sweet scent, experiencing the hush
of her breath against his throat, her damp kisses.
Gently, he squeezed her hand. She
curled her fingers a bit more, her thumb stroking his, longing on her face.
He hadn’t been wrong. She had wanted
him that night and still did now. If anything, her hunger for him had grown as
for her. And that got Hunt to thinking about
something he hadn’t considered until this moment.
He asked, “What brings you here
He came on such a regular basis the
could set their watches by him. And yet he’d
never seen her in this particular establishment before. If he had, Hunt would
have recalled that on the night they first met.
She released his fingers, clearly
wanting him to do the same with hers. Hunt held on a second longer than he
should have to let her know he’d finally figured out what she was doing.