Arms folded, elbows resting on the lacquered top of the wood bar, Jake watched the woman in the corner. He was perplexed. She didn’t seem the type to spend her day in a pub. Yet that’s what she’d done. She’d been there all day.
He was also perplexed by his attraction to her. She wasn’t young and she wasn’t pretty. Although … He looked her over and decided she certainly might have been. Pretty, that is. Of course she’d been young. Everyone’s young at some point in their lives.
She smiled at him and his heartbeat tripled its speed behind the wall of his chest. Odd again since Jake Donovan liked younger women. Much younger.
So why did he take off his apron and tell Maria to watch the bar while he took a break? Why did his feet walk him over to the table where the older woman sat? What made him ask her if she minded if he joined her? Simple curiosity? Perhaps. He didn’t have the answers. He only knew it was something he had to do.
“I don’t mean to be, uh, rude. I … know it’s none of my … business…”
She chuckled at his awkwardness, making him smile at the unaccustomed attack of self-uncertainty. “But you’re wondering why I’ve been sitting here all day,” she finished for him.
She looked around the room as if seeing something he was not. There was that smile again. He felt entranced by her, pulled out of it only by the sadness quietly lingering in her eyes. Life had not handed her what she’d expected. The thought darted through his head.
“My husband … This was the last place I saw him before he disappeared. Ten years ago today.”
Jake was surprised.
She nodded and added, “He used to work here. Only … just like now, the place was often frequented by pretty young ladies. Too often they attracted the attention of my husband.” Her penetrating gaze made Jake feel as if she could see into the very core of who and what he was. “I learned of his plans to leave with one that night and came down to ask why. Seemed age had washed away what he had once seen in me.”
A single tear slipped down her cheek forcing Jake to resist gently sweeping it away. Sudden hatred simmered making him wish he could kill her husband and completely wipe away the heartache reflecting in her eyes. How could anyone have so callously hurt herlike that?
But then, she perked up. Back was that smile that caused his heart to skip. “We met right here at this very table, you know. Tomorrow would have marked 25 years.”
“Wow. So you met here, he disappeared from here, and the anniversaries are back to back?”
“And you’re thinking he might come back because of all that?”
She shook her head. “No. That’s not why I’m here. Besides, he’ll never come back.”
Something in her tone and smile made Jake shiver. He didn’t think he wanted to know but found himself fishing for the unwanted answer anyway. “You seem so sure.”
“I am sure.” She smiled again, that same smile. Not the pretty one that had tugged at his heart, but the one that made the hairs on the back of his neck stand on end. “I made sure.” Leaning toward his side of the table to assure his full attention and added privacy she whispered the words that left him speechless. “I killed him.”
While he sat in stunned silence, the woman pushed a napkin toward him then stood and walked out.
“Wait,” he yelled, nearly toppling the chair as he ran after her. Up and down the sparsely peopled street, there was no sign of her. Disappointed, he went back inside, returning to his place behind the bar before looking at the napkin still in hand.
Beauty may fade with the passing years, but the heart of that girl remains unchanged for a lifetime. Take care of what is entrusted to you.
The outline of a heart enclosed the name Destiny Donovan
“You okay, Jake?” Maria put a hand on his shoulder. “You don’t looks so well. If I didn’t know better, I’d swear you’d seen a ghost.”
Jake looked down at the note then into her worried face, his smile a weak gesture. “I’m … Can you lock up if I go on home?”
* * * * *
The morning brought a welcomed end to a sleepless night. The woman, her admission, and the words on the napkin haunted him. It made no sense. Maria had looked at him like he was insane after he mentioned the woman, planting added confusion.
“Stop!” he screamed, giving himself a good mental shake before crawling out of bed. He was glad it was Friday. That meant a much younger crowd at the pub. The smile of a man on the prowl slanted his lips.
* * * * *
It was nearly 11:45 when he noticed her - a woman with brown curls, naturally red lips, and a figure that curved with youthful precision in all the right places. The moonlight shining through the upper half of the smoked windows played over her where she sat at the front corner table. Jake was glad he’d been scheduled to leave before midnight that night. He looked at her again and licked his lips. Dinner? He smiled.
“Hi.” He slipped into the chair across from her, trying to push the thought away that this was where Destiny Donovan had held him captive the night before, but the brunette on the other side of the table made that impossible. She smiled. His heart began to pound. “I’m Jake. What’s your name?” He already knew.
She slid the napkin she’d been doodling on across the table. Encircled by a heart was the word he’d expected to see: Destiny.
“Are you okay?” she asked. “You look like you’ve just seen a ghost.”
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