Maggie's Hunt, page 14
“Fine,” Maggie replied in a tight tone. “Come up to my suite, I’ll call for coffee. But, I have no intention of holding this discussion in the lobby.”
John smiled slightly. “That might be for the best.”
“Sit down,” Maggie invited tightly after she had called for room service and had turned on her portable CD player. “Now we can talk.”
John looked uncomfortable as he settled down into the armchair across from the sofa where Maggie and Hunt had taken seats.
“Okay,” Maggie stated firmly. “I don’t want to hear any of that overly protective big brother nonsense. As a rule, I’ve heard from you exactly four times a year for the last six years: a card on my birthday and maybe a short letter at Christmas, and a couple of telephone calls. We aren’t close enough for you to have any right to interfere in my life. I’m a big girl, John. What I do, and with whom I do it, is none of your business,” Maggie said.
John looked at Hunt. “So help me, Thomas, if you hurt my baby sister, you’ll regret it.”
“In case, you haven’t noticed, the lady in question is wearing my ring,” Hunt replied.
John did a double take. Then he smiled broadly, only to have the smile diminish drastically to become a look of utter concern. “Oh, Magpie,” he asked, “Are you certain about this?”
Hunt looked at Maggie’s brother. “Listen, Colonel, your sister is a remarkable woman. Don’t underestimate her.”
“Margaret,” John said, “Please be careful.”
Hunt took Maggie’s hand. “Your brother is concerned about your safety, Maggie mine. I don’t have a savory reputation. In fact, I’m considered something of a dangerous character. If one of my sisters had decided to marry someone like me, I would have been concerned also.”
Maggie looked at Hunt, then transferred her gaze to her brother. She sighed and nodded slightly. “I’m angry with you, Johnny. How dare you put Hunt in the position that you did? Asking him to worm his way into my heart so that I would let him be my bodyguard? And now this production. Don’t play games with me, Johnny.”
“Maggie,” Hunt pleaded. “I . . . .”
A knock came at the door. Maggie rose to answer it with a terse “Excuse me”. She didn’t see the expressions that passed between Hunt and John. Room service had brought the coffee.
John cleared his throat as Maggie poured them each a cup of the steaming liquid. “Magpie, you really can’t blame me for being concerned about you.”
Maggie shook her head negatively. “No, Johnny. I can’t. I understand your brotherly instincts coming out, albeit a little late in my life. But, it isn’t your concern that angers me. Instead, it is the way that you have demonstrated that concern.”
Hunt looked at Maggie questioningly. “Where does this leave us?”
“At about the same place we were before, I suppose,” Maggie said.
John smiled at her. “Emily will want to give you and Hunt a party. Although, she really shouldn’t work herself that hard in her condition. So, don’t give her a very large guest list, okay?”
Maggie smiled broadly. “Is Emily pregnant?”
John shook his head in amusement. “We’ve been married over fifteen years. We had both almost given up on the thought of parenthood.”
“When is the baby due?” Maggie asked quietly.
“June 1,” her brother told her.
Maggie’s smile became very broad. “I am so happy for you. You’ll be a very good father, John.”
John cleared his throat. “Magpie, I’m sorry that we’ve grown apart during the past few years. Do you think that we could be family again?”
“I’d like that, John. I fully intend to spoil that niece or nephew of mine thoroughly.”
“That’s a privilege which should be reciprocal,” John stated with a smile. “Have the two of you set a date?”
“Not yet,” Maggie replied tightly. “We aren’t in any tearing hurry.”
John looked at his sister. “Why didn’t you tell me that you were coming to London?”
“I called,” Maggie replied. “You were out of the country.”
“Yeah, you called after you had been here almost three weeks,” John countered.
“I’ve been busy. And I haven’t been here for three weeks. I’ve been hopping fairly regularly between the continent and England. I did call you a couple of times and always got your machine. I hate those things, so I hung up. Finally, I decided that the only way I was going to get to talk with you was to leave a message.”
Hunt laughed. “You and Emily have plans for tomorrow night?”
“Not that I know of.”
“Good. You can come to dinner at my place. It’s past time for you and Maggie to get reacquainted during more than a time of crisis.”
When John had left, Maggie turned to Hunt. “You really are a nice man, Hunt Thomas.”
“I’m glad that you think so, Maggie mine,” he said gently.
She took his hand. “I do. I’m very fond of you, Hunt.”
He brought her hand to his mouth and lightly kissed it. “That’s a start. Go get cleaned up and change. Let me show you London.”
Maggie and Hunt were at work in his kitchen. John and Emily would be arriving soon. Dinner was well underway. A beautiful standing rib roast was in the oven. It would be served with crisp, buttery potatoes, glazed baby carrots, and sautéed mushrooms. The cream of brie soup which would begin the meal only needed the last minute blending and addition of heavy cream. A spinach salad was in the refrigerator. A wedge of Stilton would be arranged on a board with ripe pears. A chocolate torte was in the refrigerator. Lovely homemade crescent rolls were in the oven finishing baking.
This Sunday had been a relaxing time. Hunt had picked her up at her hotel, taken her to Mass, then they had come to his apartment to begin planning and preparing dinner.
Maggie often had found working with other people in a kitchen to be a trying exercise. But, she was comfortable working with Hunt. He made her laugh. Since she had seen him cook on Friday evening, his skill in the kitchen was no surprise. The only surprise was how much she enjoyed his company. Marriage to him was becoming a more and more attractive option.
Conversely, that growing realization frightened her. Marriage was a big step. Did she really know Hunt well enough to contemplate that? The more time that she spent with him, the more fascinating that she found him. But, would the fascination pale, or grow, over the years?
She was standing at the range, stirring the soup, when Hunt walked up behind her. He wrapped his arms around her waist. “You look deep in thought. What are you thinking about?”
Maggie laughed. “Guess.”
“You haven’t asked any questions about my connection to your brother,” he said as he pulled away from her.
Maggie turned around. “Look, Hunt, I really don’t want to know. My brother is in military intelligence. I’ve known that for years. All I want is for you to be careful. I’d hate for anything to happen to you.”
“You do care about me.”
“More than it is safe, Hunt. It would be too easy for me to build my world around you.”
He smiled broadly. “And you are afraid of anything that is that easy, aren’t you?”
“You see entirely too much at times, my friend,” she said dryly.
Hunt drew her to him, gently, tenderly. “Maggie mine,” he said, almost reverently. “I’m not a patient man. I want you as a permanent part of my life. You know that. But, I’m not going to push you. Or, at least, I’m going to try not to push you.”
“You can’t push me around, Hunt. I’m the original immovable object. We need to give ourselves some time to get to know one another, before we even think about being more than platonic friends.”
“I know that you have some old ghosts to work around. You want to tell me about Jarod?”
Maggie sighed. “There isn’t much to tell. Really. It’s a familiar story, I suppose. Young woman from a very protected environment falls in
“He hurt you pretty badly,” Hunt offered.
“He did,” Maggie replied.
“And you’ve been gun shy about relationships ever since,” Hunt replied.
Maggie looked at Hunt. The old pain was in her eyes.
“What did he do to you, Maggie?”
“Did he-did he hurt you in bed?” Hunt asked, hesitatingly.
“We never . . . .” Maggie broke off her reply and blushed brightly. She looked away from Hunt.
“Maggie?” Hunt asked, his voice tender as he placed his hand under her chin. Gently, he moved her head slightly so that she was looking at him. “Maggie mine, are you a virgin?”
Maggie smiled tightly. “That’s a blunt question,” she answered.
“It is,” Hunt replied gently. “It requires an equally blunt answer.”
“I was raised to believe that sex was a wonderful gift. Something special enough to reserve for one important partner,” she replied quietly. “That conviction makes me incredibly old fashioned. But, it is the way that I feel.”
Hunt smiled at her, broadly. “I love you, Margaret Mary O’Shay.”
“I know that you do, Hunt. Let’s give ourselves some time to see what develops between us. This could be something lasting. But, truthfully, I need time to learn to trust you. When I discovered you had sought me out because John had asked you to look out for me, it hurt. It still hurts. I’m willing to give us a chance, Hunt. Mostly, that’s because I have never felt for anyone the emotions that I feel for you. I’m vulnerable to you, Hunt, in a way that I’ve never been vulnerable before,” Maggie said, her eyes moist.
“Don’t cry, Maggie,” Hunt whispered.
“Let’s change the subject. Tell me about your first real love,” she said. “The woman whom you proposed to.”
Hunt sighed. “That would be Regina Greer. Dad had just retired. We were settling in to the Inn in Vermont. Regina lived a mile or so down the road from us. She was one of the first to drop in and wish us well.”
“There is still affection in your voice for her,” Maggie said, before she asked, “She was Doctor Greer’s daughter?”
“Yes, she was. Regina died when we were both seniors in college. We were to have been married after graduation. She worked in a convenience store at night. A thief with a sawed off shotgun killed her when she handed over all the receipts from a very quiet night,” he said. “I was called to identify the body.”
“It wasn’t fun.”
Maggie closed the distance between them. She wrapped her arms around him and held him for the longest moment.
“Ah, Maggie mine, under that fierce exterior beats a very tender heart,” he whispered just before he kissed her.
The doorbell rang.
“I’m going to have that thing disconnected,” Hunt growled.
Maggie laughed as she picked up a towel and wiped the lipstick off of Hunt’s mouth. “That shade does nothing for you.”
Hunt laughter joined hers. “Your brother is waiting.”
“John always was punctual. But, then again, the General would not have had it any other way.”
The meal went well. John and Emily seemed to be having a good time. After dinner, they adjourned to Hunt’s living room. The conversation had stayed on general subjects. No one had gotten too personal. They all could have been strangers having a simple meal with one another.
Yet, they weren’t strangers.
Maggie put down her after dinner liqueur. “All right, John. This has all been so pleasant. But, this sophisticated front of yours isn’t how you act with family. So, cut it out. Don’t treat me like a stranger. You want to be family, so be family.”
John and Emily exchanged glances then laughed nervously.
Emily’s blue eyes sparkled with mischief as she threw back her head, shaking her mop of blond, almost white, curls. “I guess that you haven’t lost any of your outspokenness over the years, have you, Magpie?” she asked affectionately.
Maggie laughed. “I used to be rather a pain to you, didn’t I?” she asked in a tone which was apology laced with remembrance.
“I don’t blame you. Your Dad had died, your Mom had remarried, and then John and I married. It must have seemed as though your whole life had become unmoored,” Emily said quietly.
“That wasn’t particularly my favorite year,” Maggie admitted.
Hunt took her hand.
Maggie smiled at Hunt.
Emily sighed. “So, have you two set a date yet?”
Hunt cleared his throat.
“Not yet,” Maggie answered lowly. “I really need to get these joint ventures with Faulks a bit more organized before I will have the time to be able to concentrate on marriage. I should have been pouring over paperwork all weekend instead of goofing off.”
Hunt nodded negatively. “Nonsense. You were so tired on Friday night that you fell asleep right after dinner. Here we were sitting enjoying the music from the CD, and suddenly I realized that you were asleep with your head on my shoulder. You’re working too hard.”
“She’s almost impossible to wake when she is asleep,” John remarked quietly. “She used to wear all of us out when we were on vacation. We always looked forward to the time when she would conk out. She has a lot of energy. But, when it wears out, watch out. She would probably sleep through an earthquake.”
“Tell me about it,” Hunt replied with a small smile. “I had to leave her asleep on the sofa.”
John laughed. “And then I came on like the heavy on Saturday morning. I’m surprised that you didn’t throw me out of your suite on my ear. Why didn’t you?”
“Probably for the same reason that I didn’t throw Michael out when he cornered me at Chuck and Natty’s a few weeks ago,” Maggie said honestly. “You and he are the only real contact that I have left with my parents.”
John shook his head sadly. “I know that it hurt you when Patty died. I wish that we could have taken you, then. But, I really thought that you were better off with Michael.”
Maggie shrugged. “That’s all in the past. You made the decisions that you thought were best. And I did actually have a good time in Switzerland. It wasn’t always pleasant, but I did learn to stand on my own feet.”
“So,” Emily asked curiously, “You and Michael did finally kiss and make up?”
“I don’t know that I would go that far,” Maggie replied. “Let’s just say that things are on a more amicable footing between us.”
Emily laughed. “I never did understand why you moved out on him so quickly. Michael called us in a panic. He was worried about you.”
“That’s another thing that should be left in the past,” Maggie said firmly. “For all of our sakes.”
John looked at her. She met his eyes. Neither of them spoke. Neither of them needed to.
“Well,” Emily said strongly, changing the subject, “You’ve certainly made it. A vice president of your company before you are thirty. John always said that you would make something of yourself. Although, we both thought that the name would be in music instead of drugs. Do you still play?”
“Not playing would be like cutting off my arms,” Maggie said quietly. “But, after Jarod died, I simply couldn’t face performing. That was all too tightly tied up with him.”
Emily nodded. “I can understand that.”
Much later in the evening, they were gathered around a Scrabble board. Maggie had kicked off her shoes and had sat with her feet tucked under her. John
“You’ve taken to working out barefoot, Magpie?” he asked, as he saw the thick calluses on the edges of her feet.
“Some time ago.”
“One more way to protect myself,” Maggie said quietly.
“You’ve been that afraid for a long time?” John asked.
“Let’s just say I’ve learned to be careful,” she replied thoughtfully. “Very careful.”
“Even the best martial arts skills are no good against an automatic weapon,” John warned.
“I know that, big brother. Ease off, will you. Rusty ran up several other sets of the body armor for me. I wear it most of the time,” she said as she placed ‘sub’ before ‘script’. Then she smiled at Hunt. “Your turn.”
Hunt laughed. “You rat. I was going to put ‘post’ there.”
Maggie took his hand. “I’m sure that you will get over your deep disappointment.”
“Do you still go to a dojo?” she asked her brother.
“I have a group with whom I practice,” he answered.
“I was looking for a good dojo.”
Hunt offered. “I have a small practice room here. I’ll be glad to partner with you whenever you want.”
“You aren’t always around. You still have a business to run. I have my obligations. How often are we going to be in the same city at the same time?”
Hunt sighed. “Too true.”
“So, let’s just relax and enjoy the time that we are able to steal from our various tasks. Tomorrow will come all too soon,” Maggie urged.
Hunt dropped a kiss on the top of her head. “One of these days, Maggie mine, you are going to have to start counting on other people,” he said, his tone serious.
Maggie shook her head. “In the final analysis, Hunt, the only person who I can absolutely depend upon is myself,” she said.
“Maggie mine, I’m going to change your mind, if it is the last thing that I do,” Hunt said.
Maggie smiled sadly. “It just may be, Hunt.”
December gave way to January, January to February, February to March. She and Hunt spent time together whenever they were both in London. Sometimes, they even managed to touch base with each other in other cities. In Paris, they had a late dinner in the Relais-Plaza restaurant in the Plaza Athene after seeing a play. The dinner had been far better than the dark, modernistic, play. In Munich they had dined and danced in the elegant Vier Jahreszeiten hotel’s bar. A thirty-minute drive outside of Zurich, took them for a memorable grand cuisine meal at Eichmuhle. Of all their arranged meetings, this one lived in her mind. Eichmuhle was a restaurant practically hidden out in the country, but well worth the effort to have found. It had been a perfect evening.