16...Shot Through The Heart...
The fact that he killed people for a living and his name was Hunter was pure coincidence. He was quite certain when his mother held her newborn son in her arms and decided to name him Hunter, she didn't foresee his future career as a professional killer. But that's what he was and he was a force to be reckoned with. He could take a life, snuff it out, and walk away guiltless. Yet for the incredible threat he was to his targets, he appeared frighteningly normal. He was a good looking man who knew how to dress. His manners were impeccable and women found him refreshingly respectful and chivalrous. Even the liberated women couldn't help but be drawn to his charms.
But though one might think this all an act, a carefully construed facade to fool those around him, Hunter was not an actor or an impostor. He was all he appeared to be and then some. Killing was simply his job. It was what he was good at. A talent he was born with. He didn't hate his fellow man, or harbor resentments towards his mother, and he certainly wasn't infected with a diseased mind that drew sexual gratification from torturing and butchering other human beings.
Hunter was an all around good guy who simply made a living as an assassin. Had he been married, he could've easily maintained a normal family life without his wife and children, friends or neighbors ever suspecting he was anything other than a loving husband and father. Because it wouldn't have been a ruse. He could see himself falling in love, raising healthy, well adjusted children. He wasn't a psychopath or even a sociopath. He didn't just assimilate into society as a fully functional human being, as a criminal profiler might deduce. He was a fully functional human being.
He was just good at his job. And he enjoyed his job. Not because killing excited him, but because he saw it as an art. Much the same way a true fighter will fight to refine his skill rather than for the thrill of simply beating the shit out of another person. Those who did it for the thrill and excitement of harming a fellow human being was not a true artist, rather a sick son of a bitch.
Hunter was not a sick son of a bitch.
The wind blew through his neatly cropped sandy blond hair as he sped down the two lane road in his vintage 1964 Shelby Cobra convertible. He would only drive the classics. Modern cars repulsed him. They had no shape, no character. Classic cars had heart and personality. You didn't treat a classic like a piece of machinery, but rather like a lover. A sweet classic car was quicker to create a sexual charge in him than taking a life. When he ran his hand down over the smooth swelling curve of the Shelby's fender, it was akin to caressing the soft curving hip of a beautiful woman.
At times, while caressing the car, he'd actually developed an erection. But not once during or after killing another person, whether male or female, had he felt the urge to masturbate. He might have an unusual attraction to his car, but he was no sexual sadist.
Hunter smiled at the thought as it passed through his mind. He wasn't plagued with twisted, violent sexual fantasies. He might fantasize about having sex with a beautiful woman on the sloping curve of the Shelby Cobra's hood, but he was certain that engaging in sex on the hood of a muscle car was a common male fantasy. So it didn't disturb or worry him.
He glanced at the tracing device secured to his dash. There were no blinking lights. No indication that Orlando's blood hound was on the move yet.
He rounded a curve and instantly shifted his foot from the gas to the brake, slowing ever so slightly as he spotted the woman thumbing for a ride. She was tall and slender but with full, not too big, just the right size breasts. She was wearing faded denim jeans with a frayed slit just below her left butt cheek, showing just enough of her firm butt to be appealing but not vulgar. She wore a fleece lined denim jacket over a white button up shirt that was unbuttoned just enough to reveal the swell of nicely tanned tit flesh beneath.
Her long, honey blond hair swirled on the light breeze as she spotted him and emphatically waved her thumb in the air. At her feet was a small army green back pack. When she noticed the car slowing, she grabbed it up and trotted towards him.
His eyes drank her in, the way her soft hair flowed in the breeze, the gentle rise and fall to her lovely breasts as she hurried towards the Shelby Cobra. His crotch swelled with a fierce erection.
About time the woman reached the hood of the car, he remembered the handgun laying on the passenger seat and quickly stuffed it away beneath the driver seat. The woman smiled as she approached the passenger door. She was pretty in a natural way. He was as repulsed by plastic women as much as he was by modern cars. But this woman was all natural.
"Hey, can I catch a ride?" She asked, already reaching for the door handle. Her face was flushed from the biting chill on the air. Even if he hadn't found her devastatingly sexy, he would have still offered her a ride. After all, he was a good guy and believed whole heartedly in helping out his fellow man, or woman.
"Hop in." He offered her just enough of a smile to show himself friendly. She was certainly no stranger to men lusting after her, and he was sure that many of those men had been lewd and vulgar in their behavior. He hated to admit it, being of the same gender, but his fellow man could be rather primitive when dealing with the fairer sex. A woman like this, in fact every woman, deserved to be treated like a lady and with respect. He might be a professional killer, but he was also one hundred percent gentleman as well.
The woman opened the door and slid smoothly into the passenger seat as if she were tailor made for this car. She stuffed her pack down between her feet then closed the door and turned to him. She held out a slender, pretty hand. "I'm Charlie, well Charlene, but my friends call me Charlie. At least they would if I had any." She laughed lightly at her own joke and Hunter smiled. She wasn't just sexy, she was adorable as well. He imagined if he ever did fall in love and settle down, it would be with a woman like this.
He shook her hand. "You can call me Bob." He said. Bob wasn't his name, but he liked it. It was a very nonthreatening name. And the last thing he wanted people, especially this woman, to see him as was threatening. "So do I call you Charlene...or Charlie?"
"Well." Charlie smiled thoughtfully. "Since you're rescuing me from a long freezing walk up the mountain, I think you've earned the right to call me Charlie."
She laughed again. And once again, Hunter found her adorable. She was beautiful to say the least, but she didn't have the characteristics of a woman who relied on her looks to gain her leverage. This woman had to know she was truly a sight, but still she didn't possess that look in her eyes that just assumed he wanted her, that every man would want her. She was light hearted and free, much like a child but with all the maturity of an intelligent, secure woman.
Good God, he thought, I think I'm falling in love. He'd never had this reaction to a woman before, even the ones he'd truly enjoyed in bed and out. This one was unlike any he had ever met. For the first time ever, he actually dreaded the fact that he was on a job.
"Do you always drive a convertible in the winter, Bob?" She asked lightly, putting emphasis on his name as if she truly enjoyed saying it. But then, who didn't enjoy saying the name Bob? It had pop.
He smiled. "I like the fresh air."
She looked thoughtful as she cocked her pretty face to the side. "You know what, Bob? So do I. I think I will get me a convertible and drive all over in the winter."
He chuckled. He couldn't help it. This woman had him thoroughly mesmerized.
"Of course," She went on to say. "I might have to steal one since I don't have any money. Or," She looked at him with deliberate sweetness. "I could just con a handsome guy into driving me. Say, a guy named Bob."
"When and where, darlin'." He said and flashed her a genuine smile. She laughed and met his eyes, holding them for a brief moment. He had learned to read people, it was part of his talent, and her eyes were telling him she found him as appealing and intriguing as he found her to be. He thought about asking her if she'd ever fantasized about having sex on the hood of a classic convertible car before but decided that might be a bit too forward this early in their relationship. Although something about her told him she wouldn't be offended and might, in fact, take him up on it.
That thought enforced the pressure in his crotch. He was almost disgusted with himself for sporting an erection as if his only working thought about this woman was bedding her down. When in truth, he could spend hours, days, in her company just listening to her talk and laugh. Yes, he wanted to take her to bed, that was a given. But it wasn't all sexual. He could see them cuddling in one another's arms after a heated session of love making, talking or not, just basking in each other's presence.
"Do you live out here?" The woman asked, bumping him out of his drifting thoughts.
He cleared his throat and shifted in his seat. The tightness in his jeans was becoming a bit uncomfortable. "No." He said. "Just out here on business." Before she could ask him about his business, he added, "How about you? You headed home or something?"
She shrugged. "Or something." Then smiled. "A guy I know got me a job at a small ski lodge. I wasn't doing anything else at the time, so I thought it might be fun."
"A guy." He raised one eyebrow and looked at her. "Boyfriend?" An unexpected sinking feeling weighed down his gut.
"No." She laughed softly. "He was just a friend from college. He knew I was looking for work."
"Just a friend, huh?" He nodded slowly. "Does he know he's just a friend?"
"Of course." She laughed again. "Why do you ask?"
"And he's okay with that?"
"Yes." She smiled.
He shrugged. "Well, I don't know if I believe that."
She looked at him with wide, inquisitive eyes. "Why would you say that, Bob?"
"Well." He glanced at her and smiled charmingly. "Because I can't imagine any guy being okay with having you as just a friend."
She smiled and narrowed her eyes a bit. "But I thought we were just friends."
He didn't miss the probing tone in her voice or the feelers in her words. "I don't remember establishing that." He said quietly, a smile tugging the corner of his mouth as he stared straight ahead. He knew where this repor was taking them and he couldn't say he wasn't in favor.
Charlie smiled and sat back against the passenger seat, chewing her thumbnail thoughtfully.
He chuckled low and shook his head. "That didn't sound like a cheesy line." He gave Charlie a genuine charming smile. "Don't get me wrong. Any guy would be lucky to have you as a friend. I didn't mean to imply anything chauvinistic or sexist."
She returned a genuine sweet smile. "I know that isn't what you meant, Bob."
"Good." He said. "Because I want you to know I'm not that kind of guy."
Charlie chewed her lower lip then glanced at him and smiled again. God, she had the most tantalizing smile. "So you're not attracted to me, Bob?"
"I didn't say that." He chuckled.
"So what would you say?" She asked softly, almost hesitantly. It was clear to him that she wasn't in the habit of coming onto strangers, and that her attraction to him was as startling and powerful to her as what he was experiencing.
She was in uncharted territory and she could be spooked easily if he came on too strong. He had no desire to take advantage of her, but neither did he want to scare her away. He was as eager to explore this sudden attraction as she was, but he had to proceed cautiously.
"Well." He said slowly. "I would say that I think you're a very lovely, charming woman that I, indeed, find quite attractive. But where some beautiful women are the type that men only want for one thing...you make a man want more than just that one thing." He looked at her. "You make a man just want to be with you, even when sex isn't an option."
She stared at him, a smile playing around her full, kissable lips.
"Is that saying too much?" He asked, knowing the answer before she gave it.
"No." She spoke quietly and leaned across the tiny space between them. "Just the right amount." She kissed the corner of his mouth and for a moment he thought she was going to take it further, but she drew back and sat straight in her seat, a cute smile on her lips.
He licked his lips and smiled and looked at the road ahead of them. To his surprise, that tiny kiss affected him more powerfully than any full on oral sex he'd received from other women. And some had been damn good. But nothing had ever done this to him.
This was far from over. And he eagerly awaited the next move.
He glanced at the tracer device. It was still dark and quiet.
He willed it to remain so.
"I need you to tell me the rest of the story."
Clarice cuddled next to Jonathon on the sofa. A roaring fire blazed in the fireplace. Outside, the snow had stopped falling and the air had turned intensely brittle.
"I don't really want to know anymore." She said quietly. "But if I die at Alec's hands, I at least want to know why."
Jonathon tightened his arm around her shoulders. "You're not gonna die." He murmured against her hair.
"Tell me anyway." She whispered.
She felt a tension grip Jonathon. He didn't have to say it aloud for her to understand that the story would only get worse. And he loved her enough not to want to drop anymore weight on her shoulders, especially right now. But he surely knew she would eventually ask him to tell her the rest of it.
When he didn't start in right away, she asked in a low voice, "What happened to Alec that he would become..." She faltered momentarily. "...a brutal killer?"
There was pity in Jonathon's voice when he finally spoke, but also a trace of bitterness and anger. "Alec...was my friend once." He spoke low, his eyes sad and distant, then added in a whisper, "In another life." He cleared his throat as it began to thicken with emotion, then looked at Clarice. "He could feel you...almost from the start. When I was just twelve, Alec showed you to me for the first time." He gazed at Clarice and the gold specs glowed. "That's when I fell in love with you."
Clarice gazed back at him, her eyes warm. "How did he show me to you?"
"I used to..." Jonathon faltered as dark memories clouded his eyes and dimmed the glow in them. "I used to sneak into his room sometimes, especially on the nights after..." He looked away and blinked at a sudden well of tears. "After a particularly bad session."
"What do you mean a bad session?" Uncertainty laced her words.
When Jonathon looked at her again, his eyes were wet and shimmering. "He was put through endless tests...far beyond what you could imagine. Every day..." He released a breath. "...was a living hell for him. I would hear him afterwards, in his room, thrashing about in his sleep, in physical and mental torment."
Clarice stared at him as he talked. Her eyes focused and brimming with tears. He could feel her sympathy for her tortured brother. It was sympathy Alec deserved.
"I would go to his room." Jonathon said. "And I would put my arms around him until he calmed." Tears slid down Jonathon's face. His eyes were distant as he stared into a past that had been wiped away. "And that's when he began to take me to you."
"Take you to me?" She whispered thickly. Her tears flowed freely.
"In his mind." He said. "We would stand next to your bed and watch you sleep. You were...the prettiest thing I'd ever seen." He focused and met her glossy eyes. "I couldn't help falling in love with you."
Clarice sat up straighter, an uncertain frown pinching her brow.
"What is it?" Jonathon asked.
"I..." Clarice's frown deepened. "I used to dream that Aaron would come to my room and watch over me as I slept." She whispered. "And sometimes..." She looked at Jonathon. "There was someone with him, someone I couldn't really see, but I could feel them there. When I asked Aaron about it, he would just say that he didn't come in my room, that it was just a dream. But..." New tears formed behind her eyes. "It wasn't just a dream...was it?"
Jonathon smiled and leaned closer, kissing her softly on the lips. "No."
"If you and Alec were friends." She whispered. "What happened to him?"
"One night, when we came to see you." Jonathon said quietly. "Alec told me something bad was going to happen to you. He said that...I could save you. But I first had to learn how to...jump."
Clarice frowned. "Jump?"
He looked at her. "Time jump." He said. "Somehow Alec knew I had the ability, even before I knew it. So I started practicing, trying to make small jumps, just a few minutes back. The first time it happened..." He smiled and shook his head. "I almost shit myself. But then I thought it was cool. I kept practicing, going a little further back each time. And then..." His smile faded as a sick look came over his face.
He swallowed tightly. "And then your family was attacked." He whispered. "And...being linked to you the way he was...Alec saw it, felt what you went through." He looked down at the floor, his chest tight. "And I witnessed it through Alec. Every...detail." He stood up suddenly and went to stand by the fireplace, his back to her. "I wanted to go back, right then, and change everything for you." His throat clenched with emotion. "But I couldn't yet. And everyday that I was unable to make that crucial jump...was a day you spent in torment." He turned and looked at her. Tears wet his face and a look of pure anguish darkened his eyes. "Twenty years." He said tightly, anger searing his words. "Twenty fucking years it took me before I could make that jump. Twenty years. And every single day of those twenty years...Alec and I had to stand back and watch you suffer." He smashed his fist down on the mantel. "Every fucking day." He choked out. "And there was nothing we could do."
Clarice was crying when she went to him and wrapped her arms around him, pressing her face against his throat. "But you did it." She whispered. "You made it back, and you saved me. You saved us all. You erased twenty awful years and replaced them with twenty wonderful years."
The anguish was still in his eyes as he looked down at her. "I didn't save everyone." He whispered. "I didn't save Alec."
"What happened?" She asked quietly. "What happened to Alec?"
He shook his head and cleared his throat. "When I jumped back...everything was different. Alec was gone. But I could feel him, I could feel the anger and rage in him, a deep sense of abandonment and betrayal." He closed his eyes against the grief and loss he felt deep inside. "I didn't understand it. I didn't know what had happened. All I knew was that it had to have been caused from the changes I made. I blamed myself." He sank down to the hearth and sat with his back to the fire. "By the time I located Alec, he was already on the way to your parents' home. I knew I couldn't stop him in time, so I tried to jump back just far enough to save them, or at least warn them. But," He shook his head. "When I tried to jump, I couldn't. I knew you were on your way to their house and I went after you instead, certain I could catch up to you before you got there."
He lowered his head to his hands and shuddered. Clarice touched his shoulder. "You did everything you could." She whispered. "If it wasn't for you, I would be dead as well. You saved me. Again." She kissed his shoulder. "What do you think happened that changed Alec?"
Jonathon released a deep sigh. "I didn't have any idea then." He whispered tightly, then looked at her. "But I know now."
"What was it?" Clarice asked slowly.
"Only one person, other than Alec, knew the things I could do. But when I made that jump," He said quietly. "Someone else figured out what had happened. They figured it out back then. And they changed things. But I didn't know that because I was still a part of the previous time line...the first one that hadn't yet been changed or altered."
Clarice frowned. "I'm not following this." She whispered.
"When I made my jump and came back." He told her. "I was the only one who hadn't been altered by the changes I made when I saved you. When I returned, I wasn't dealing with the Alec from my time line...but the Alec from the altered time line."
"But how did that make him different?"
"The one who had figured out what had happened..." Jonathon said. "He subjected Alec to a series of brutal mind manipulation therapies. He was trying to sever his link to you. As part of the so called therapy, he caused Alec to associate you, and your family, with the most unbearable pain and torment he'd ever suffered."
Clarice covered her mouth with her hands and cried softly. "Why...why would someone do that to him? What would be the purpose?"
Jonathon stared at his hands. Because Victor is a twisted son of a bitch, he thought. But he knew what the reason was. "You were a distraction." He whispered. "You, your family...and me. And in their tests, they couldn't afford distractions. Especially not with Alec. He had the abilities, they were certain of it, but they needed his focus. He wasn't giving them what they wanted like the others were. So the only solution was to eliminate the distractions." He looked at her. "Eradicate us from his mind."
She wiped at her eyes. "But...why did he come after my family then?"
Jonathon rubbed his hand over his mouth. "I don't think their therapies worked out the way they planned. I think that..."
"That Alec's link to you...even his connection with me...was so vital to him that when they tried to remove it all." He shook his head. "I think it began to fragment his mind. His need for love and friendship was battling their brutal therapies until I think it all just cracked and crumbled. Spiraling him into a violent state of mind where all he could do was react. He still retained his link to you and your family, but he no longer understood it. All it would do was bring back the severe torture he had suffered. If he connected that to you and your family...then when he attacked them...I think he was just trying to stop the pain and suffering inside himself. I think that's why..." he hesitated.
"Why what?" She whispered thickly, fresh tears wetting her cheeks.
"Why...their murders were so brutal." Jonathon slid his arm around her and pulled her close, kissing her hair. "I believe he thought that they were the cause of his torture and torment...and he was trying to make it stop."
Clarice cried in his arms. She wasn't only crying for the loss of her family, but for the loss of a brother she had never been allowed to know and love. "And now." She whispered through her tears. "He thinks I'm the cause of it."
Byron "Bubba" Hollandsworth controlled the big rig with a skilled hand as he sped down the long straight stretch of two lane highway. His rear end was empty, having left the last trailer and load back in Denver days ago. He had a few days off before he had to pick up another load and he couldn't wait to get home to Sarah and the girls.
He glanced at the family photo wedged into his dash near the speedometer. Sarah was a sight and the two small girls at her side were her spittin' image. Bubba was what most people referred to as "burly", some even described him as a mountain of a man. He certainly didn't look like he fit with those three beautiful angels and some had even joked and accused him of photo shopping himself into that picture.
Bubba chuckled and gazed adoringly at the three most important people in his life. He certainly didn't appear to belong with them, hovering over them with his huge frame and rough features, but he thanked God in heaven that those three ladies couldn't disagree more. They were his refuge, but he was their rock.
Up ahead, a man walked along the shoulder of the road. His clothes sagged a bit and looked damp. He walked with his arms at his sides, staring straight ahead. Bubba slowed the truck and pulled up next to the man. The big rig rolled slowly along at a snail's pace. The man continued to walk as if he wasn't even aware of the huge rig rumbling loudly beside him.
Bubba reached over and popped open the passenger door. "Hey, buddy." He called out. "Need a lift?" Chilled air swept in through the passenger door. The man would catch his death if he stayed out in that cold in those clothes. "C'mon, fella, climb on in and get outta the cold."
The man finally looked up. He was a nice enough looking guy, though he seemed a bit lost. His blond hair was unruly and slightly dirty, and his clothes weren't just wet, but caked and grimy. Before Bubba could reconsider his decision to give the guy a ride, the man was climbing up inside the cab.
"Buddy, you look like someone just dragged you out of the river." Bubba shook his head and shifted gears as the big rig rumbled on down the road, slowly picking up speed. He stuck out his hand to his passenger. "Byron Hollandsworth." He chuckled. "But you can cell me Bubba."
The man stared straight ahead. He didn't shake Bubba's hand. Didn't even look at him.
Bubba shrugged and withdrew his hand. "Not a talker, huh?" He nodded. "That's okay. I can talk enough for the both of us."
The 1964 Shelby Cobra turned off the main road and into the parking lot of the Shadow Pines Motel. Hunter parked the convertible in front of one of the bungalow rooms. "How long till the van from the lodge arrives?"
Charlie pushed up the sleeve of her denim jacket and looked at her watch. "About an hour. I was supposed to be here by two. It's barely one."
"What if you hadn't caught a ride with me and missed it?"
She shrugged. "Guess I woulda had a long, cold walk up the mountain. Or eventually caught a ride with someone else."
He turned towards her. He knew it was fate that they were here at a motel an hour early. He couldn't believe how bad he wanted this. He dug out his wallet and handed her a few bills. "Go get a room."
She took the money tentatively and looked at him doubtfully.
He stared back her, reading her thoughts in her eyes. She was trying to decide if he was suddenly taking the situation for granted. He wasn't. "You can't stand out here in the cold for an hour." He said. "You might as well be warm and comfortable while you wait for your ride."
She just looked at him and he couldn't help but smile. Her cheeks flushed a light pink when she realized he knew what she'd been thinking. She opened her door and stepped out, leaving her pack on the floor board. "You won't leave yet?"
"I'll be here." He assured with a smile. "Now go and pay for your room."
She trotted to the office and slipped inside. He watched the door. He knew exactly how this was going to play out and he desperately wanted to play it out, right to the very end. But something was different about this woman. Different enough to change his life. And if he just went with it, he wasn't certain he could complete the job at hand.
Charlie returned a few minutes later with her room key. She reached over the passenger door and picked up her back pack from off the floorboard. Hunter got a clear view down the front of her shirt as she bent over, and it was a beautiful sight to say the least. Her lovely rounded breasts swelled beneath her shirt and pressed out against her bra. His pulse quickened. His groin throbbed like never before.
Charlie straightened and rested the pack on the top of the passenger door. She looked at him with those pretty eyes, so inviting. "Do you want to take a break from driving?" She shifted her feet in the gravel. "Hang out with me for an hour?"
He stared at her for a long moment, wondering if he would ever see her again after today. If he continued along his path in life, he knew he could never allow himself to see her again. "At this moment in time, there is nothing I would rather do than spend the next hour with you."
She started to smile, but it quickly faded when he continued.
"But I have business obligations."
"Of course. I'm sorry." She looked down at the pack. "I just thought..."
"You thought right." He said. "I want to go in that room with you and live out every fantasy I've had about you since I saw you standing there on the side of the road. I want it so bad I can taste it."
"So why don't you?" She whispered.
He released a low groan and got out of the car, walking around to the passenger side. He took her face in his hands and kissed her deep and long, exploring her sweet mouth with his tongue. A deep groan rose involuntarily in his throat as a severe throbbing ache spread through his crotch. He pressed his body against hers, pinning her firmly against the side of the car, the rock hard hunger between his legs unmistakable.
He broke the kiss with a gasp, his mouth dropping to her slender throat, sucking and biting at her soft skin. His hands moved over her body with a will of their own, slipping beneath her shirt and up over her full breasts. He could hardly resist the urge to shed her clothes right there in the parking lot and lay her beautiful naked body on the hood of the Cobra and bring his fantasy to life. But it was out of the question.
He drew back just a bit, his hot breath panting against her neck, his hands still gripping her soft, sensual tits, the thin lacy bra not nearly enough to prevent her hardened nipples from digging into his palms.
"Please stay." She gasped softly against his ear.
He groaned in literal agony and kissed her sweet mouth again, wanting her like he'd never wanted any woman in his life. He squeezed her breasts firmly as she moaned into his mouth. Such perfect breasts, just enough to fill up his hands.
In all his life he had never had a moment of weakness, so this one caught him by surprise. He swept Charlie into his arms and headed for the rooms. He took her key and fumbled with the door as her tongue snaked around inside his mouth. As soon as the door popped loose, he kicked it open, stepped inside then kicked it shut again.
The hitchhiker turned his head slowly and looked at the picture of Bubba's family tucked into the dash. Despite the man's shoddy appearance, his attention to Bubba's picture didn't raise any red flags. The man studied the photo like someone studying a find-it picture, like he was searching for something that wasn't obvious to the naked eye.
Bubba smiled. "That there is all a man really needs to be happy." The man didn't respond or even give an indication he had heard Bubba speak. "The love of family."
Something shifted in the man's eyes and Bubba was sure he saw a longing that boarded on agony. Perhaps the man had lost his family. Sadness filled Bubba's huge heart. He couldn't imagine anything more hellish than losing the ones he loved. And by the depth of pain resonating out of this man, Bubba suspected he hadn't a soul left on this earth to love.
The big rig sped past a roadside motel. A classy little blue sports car was parked in the gravel parking lot along with a couple other less eye-popping vehicles.
The hitchhiker's head turned as he watched the motel whisk by outside. A sudden alertness seemed to grip him. His eyes turned back to the road ahead. He sat more tensely in his seat.
Bubba shot him a sideways glance. Something had suddenly gotten the man's attention.
They weren't barely twenty minutes past the motel when Bubba's passenger suddenly popped the latch on his door.
"Whoa, there." Bubba instantly began gearing down and slowing the big rig. "If you want out, you gotta tell me first. You don't just jump out of a moving truck, buddy. Not unless you got a death wish."
The rig finally slowed to a crawl. The man opened his door to climb out.
"Hey, buddy." Bubba said, grabbing up his thick jacket. "Take this. It's cold out there."
The man looked at him, although it felt more like he was looking through him. He took the jacket and climbed down out of the rig, crossed the road in front of the truck and headed for a gravel road with a sign that read Rocky Mountain Guide Station. Bubba watched him for a long moment.
"Strange fella." He shifted the rig into gear and cast the hitchhiker one last glance. "God speed, my friend."