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THE HUNTED

By

Susan M. Gratton





Jessica paused on a small footbridge overlooking a quiet stream, and hearing a noise, she turned, seeing Richards walking across the bridge towards her. She had an overwhelming urge to run, but rallying her strength, she decided to brave the inevitable confrontation.


Richards paused a few feet from her, but neither spoke. Silence weighed heavy in the air like an anvil. If the air were a lake, it would be frozen. Richards was the first to speak.


“Joanne said I might find you here.”


“She was right.”


“She said you come here a lot when you want to be alone.”


“I come here when I want to think,” she corrected him.


“And are you?” he asked.


“Am I what?”


“Thinking.”


“Some,” she replied.


“Me, too,” he confessed.


She turned to look at him then, eyebrows raised.


“Well, not really thinking, actually,” he told her. “More like wondering.”


“About what?” she queried.


“You.” He joined her at the railing overlooking the stream, being careful not to get too close. “I’ve been wondering why a beautiful woman like you keeps refusing to go out with a handsome guy like me.”


“And the answer is?”


“Nada. Nothing.” He glanced at her curiously. “The logical side of me says that there’s no reason for you not to go out with me. No obvious reason, anyway, so I did some checking.”


She felt the hairs rise on the back of her neck, and stiffened. “Checking?” A chill touched her spine, and inwardly, Jessica shivered. He had checked up on her! She wasn’t about to hang around for the interrogation. It was time for her to go. Turning, she stepped away from the rail, but his hand shot out to stop her.


“Don’t go.” Although it sounded like a request, Jessy knew it to be an order. It was something in the way his hand rested on her arm.


“Why should I stay?” she asked, trying to shake off his hold.


“Because I want you to,” he said, tightening his grip.


“I really don’t---“


“Jessy.” His tone was pleading.


“What?”


“I really think we should talk.”


“About your homework?”


“Exactly.”


She shook her head vigorously, and tried again to free herself from his hold, but he refused to let her go.


“Why not?” he pressed.


She looked at him in silence, though her eyes screamed.


“Afraid?” he asked.


“Of what?”


“I’m not sure,” he replied. “The truth maybe?”


“There is no truth,” she said.


“Oh yes there is, and tonight we’re going to talk about it.” A pause. “Over dinner.” With that, he started to pull her across the bridge toward his car. Jessica struggled against him, but he was much stronger.


“Where are you taking me?” she demanded.


“I know this great Italian restaurant. It’s peaceful, quiet. We’ll be able to talk there.”


“I don’t want to talk,” she protested.


“Then listen.”







Brad sighed and stretched back in his chair, raising his hands and clasping them behind his head. “Well, Jess, where should we begin?” His smile was not humorous.


“How about with the wine?” she said.


“We already talked about the wine,” he said, shaking his head. “No, I think we should start at the beginning.”


Jessy knew what the beginning was, and didn’t much feel like talking about it, and she told him so. “I really don’t feel much like talking tonight.”


“I know. You said that. You feel like thinking. So think while I talk.”


Just then the waiter returned with the wine. Brad took the bottle from him, thanking him. “Are you ready to order, sir?” the waiter asked.


“No, I think we’ll have a glass of wine first.” He waved the waiter away.


“Of course,” the waiter replied, leaving.


Brad opened the wine, and offered her some, but she put her hand over her glass preventing him. “No thank you.”


“Suit yourself,” he said, pouring himself a glass. He raised the glass to his lips, swirled then sipped the cool, fruity liquid. “The wine’s very good,” he told her, setting his glass down. “You really should have some.”


“I don’t drink.”


“Pity. You should.”


“Meaning what exactly?”


“Meaning,” he began, leaning way back in his chair, “I’m surprised you don’t, especially after all you’ve been through.”


She remained silent, wondering just how much he knew about her and her past. Oh, God, she prayed within herself, don’t let him know too much.


Just then Brad came forward in his chair, leaning slightly across the table, crossing his arms. He looked straight into her eyes. “Tell me about your father, Jess.”


She was jolted by his words. It was as if he had thrown a lightening bolt straight into her heart, only she wasn’t dead, but she felt like she was. No, she wished that she was. He knew too much. What was she going to do? He knew too much! She had to get away from him, far, far away, but that wouldn’t be an easy task. He was a cop, and from experience, she knew that cops were observant, not to mention quick on the draw.


From the way her eyes were scanning the room, Brad knew she was searching for a way to escape. They both knew he wasn’t going to let that happen. She was hurting, he could see that; could see it in her eyes, her face, even in the way she held herself. Damn, but she was going to be defensive. He understood that. She, more than anyone, had the right to be defensive. He chose his words carefully.


“I realize you probably don’t want to talk about your father, Jess---“


“I don’t have a father.” Her words were cryptic, as if she were talking from the depth of her grave.


“Maybe you’d like to think that, and you may even believe that, but I’ve done my homework, Jess, and you do have a father. True, he may not be a very good father,but---“ again he was interrupted.


“Not a very good father!” Jessy almost screamed the words and was immediately embarrassed, as several heads turned in her direction.


“You don’t like your father very much, do you?”


“I don’t like you.”


“Ouch. I‘m sorry to hear that. I was hoping we could be friends.”


“Friends,” Jessy sniffed.


“It’s a start, don’t you think? Then later, perhaps---“


“No, there’s no perhaps, and there won’t be any later,” she snapped. “I don’t need any friends, okay? Now, I’m tired, and I have to work tomorrow. Could you please take me home?”


He looked over at her in surprise. “But we haven’t ordered our dinner yet.”


“I don’t want to order dinner.”


“You’re a bitch,” he said.


“I don’t have to take this,” she stated vehemently, rising from her chair. “I’m leaving.”


He laughed, not taking her seriously. “And how will you get home?”


“I have a thumb!” she said over her shoulder as she headed for the door.


“Jessy, wait a minute! Jessy!”


But she wasn’t listening to him anymore. She was too intent on getting out of there. She was becoming claustrophobic. She didn’t even look back as she let the door slam behind her.


Once in the parking lot, alone, in the late evening air, she had a brief respite. She had made a fool of herself in there, but she couldn’t go back now. There was a slight chill in the air, and she shivered. In her haste, she had forgotten her coat. Oh, well, she thought to herself. It doesn’t matter. She’d been cold before. Many, many times before.


She started across the parking lot, just as the door swung open behind her, letting Brad into the night. He held her coat in one hand, the bottle of wine in the other. He saw her immediately.


He called out to her, but she ignored him. He ran after her. Reaching her, he grabbed her arm, but she shook him off. “Go to hell!”


“Come on, Jess,” he said, falling into step beside her. “I didn’t mean what I said back there. I was angry.” Still, she refused to acknowledge his presence. “I’m sorry, okay?” He couldn’t resist putting a light hand on her shoulder. “I’m sorry, Jess. At least let me drive you home.”


“I’ll find my own way home,” she retorted.


“Hitch-hiking is illegal.”


“Are you going to arrest me?”


“I’m tempted.”


“Don’t worry, Officer, I wouldn’t dream of breaking your beloved laws. I’ll walk.”


Exasperated, he gave up. “It’s a long walk,” he told her, tossing her coat to her. “You’ll be needing this. And I’ll be needing this,” he raised the bottle of wine to his lips and took a sip. “Have a nice walk, m’lady.” He walked away, striding across the lot to his car.


She couldn’t keep herself from watching him, and suddenly, she was saddened that he would leave so eagerly. Shrugging into her coat, she turned away, and as a gush of cool air hit her, she wished she had not refused his offer of a ride. It was indeed a long walk home.

















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