Hunter of Her Heart – Excerpt

Candi reached for the picnic basket just as a motorcycle turned the corner of the lonely little street. She glanced at her watch again, trying to decide if she should salvage the evening like an adult or go home, which was what she really wanted to do.

Zane pulled up to the curb and cut the bike's engine. He swung a long leg over the seat and sat there for a moment, as if trying to collect himself. She studied him, feeling that same old rush of emotion. It wasn't just love she felt when she looked at Zane. It was also fear. It was scary to love someone so much, and know at the same time they weren't really yours. And maybe never had been.

When he looked up, his face was troubled, his dark eyes hooded. She put the picnic basket back down and sat on her heels again.

"Hey, baby," he said as he walked toward her.

She smiled in spite of herself. He wore a pair of faded Levis and a red plaid shirt rolled up to his elbows. He was at least fifteen feet away, but the dark skin at his throat looked smooth and lickable.

He'd been acting so strange lately, so unlike himself, that she couldn't even be properly mad tonight. The look on his face was proof something was wrong.

"Hey," she said. "You're late."

"I know. I'm sorry."

"Sit." She patted the blanket just as a warm gust of wind buffeted her bare shoulders. It would rain soon. The air smelled delicious. Like summer itself.

Zane sat across from her, bringing his knees to his chest, careful to keep his boots off the blanket. "You look beautiful."

"So do you." That was the understatement of the century. He was an absolute fox. Sometimes she felt so overdone next to Zane, like she was trying too hard with all the jewelry and makeup.

They sat there for a moment, thunder rumbling in the distance. She reached for his hand. He brushed his thumb over her knuckles, but wouldn't look at her. There was definitely something wrong.

"Zane."

"Hmm."

"What is it?"

He stared at their hands as if an answer would materialize there in writing.

"Zane?"

He looked up. His eyes were strange, glassy.

"What's wrong?" she asked.

The sky lit up in the distance. The steel blue clouds were electrified for a brief moment, and another gust of wind blew across the park. The swings rocked back and forth, their chains clinking against the rusty iron bars of the swing set. The sound magnified the emptiness of the entire street, giving Candi a sudden case of the creeps.

"I'm going through something right now," he said. "Something I can't explain…"

A chill crept up her back, leaving goosebumps in its wake. She squeezed his fingers. She'd known something was wrong. She'd known for the last several weeks. But she'd just chalked it up to Zane being Zane. Now, she was truly scared of what he might be hiding. Cancer? A brain tumor? Another woman?

She took a breath and braced herself. She'd be appropriately supportive, or appropriately furious, whatever it was. "You know you can talk to me. You can tell me anything."

"Not this. You have to trust me."

"We always said we'd be honest with each other. We promised."

"I know."

"Are you sick?"

He searched her face, his mouth set in a solemn line. "Do I look sick?"

"Of course not." But even as she said it, she couldn't help but notice the bruise-like circles under his eyes, the sunken cheeks. He looked like he'd lost some weight, but gained muscle. Strange. His shoulders were practically straining at the seams of his shirt.

"I am sick," he said softly.

"What? With what?"

He was silent for a minute. Thunder rumbled, closer this time. A few stinging drops of rain pelted Candi's arms.

"I don't know."

"Have you been to the doctor?"

He laughed. It was bitter sounding.

"What's so funny about that? If you think you're sick, you need to go."

Shaking his head, he looked up at the sky. "We should leave."

"Zane." She touched his chin until he looked at her again. "Please don't shut me out. If there's something wrong, I want to help. If you're sick, I can take care of you."

His black eyes were empty all of a sudden. "I don't think we should see each other for a while. Not until I can figure some things out."

She sat there for a minute looking at him. "Excuse me?"

"I need time to get my shit together."

With that, he pulled away. She watched as he stood, his newly muscled physique looking familiar and unfamiliar at the same time…