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Meredith spoke into the void. “Was it romantic? I bet it was romantic.”

Meredith would bet that. Except for Ginger coloring her world gray every once in a while, Meredith’s world was rose-hued. This had a lot to do with Meredith being Meredith, rarely having a bad day and always looking on the bright side of life.

This also had a lot to do with the fact that Meredith was and always would be head over heels in love with my father. She’d met the man of her dreams and she knew it the instant she saw him. That was why she fainted about two seconds later. And her fainting was why Dad caught her. She woke up cradled in his arms, her ass in his lap while he gently stroked her hair out of her face and looked down at her like a prince would gaze upon his newly revived princess.

I knew this because I was there when it happened, it made my toes curl then and, anytime I recalled it, it still made my toes curl. It was the most romantic thing I’d ever seen and we were in a fast food burger joint.

Hawk and my meeting was nothing like that.

But Meredith would want it to be that way, not for her, for me, and I loved her more than life so, when I swallowed, as stupid and embarrassing as it was going to be, I gave her what she wanted.

And what I gave her, incidentally, was also the truth.

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With my eyes glued to her, my heart racing and my mind trying to pretend Hawk wasn’t there, I said, “When Tracy was working at Club, and screwing up the drinks all the time and breaking all the glasses, I was there one night because she needed moral support. I was drinking at the bar and suddenly I felt something strange, like I knew something big was about to happen. Then I looked at the door and I did it the minute Hawk walked in. I saw him and I knew what that big thing was because I thought right away, ‘That’s the man for me, that man is the perfect man for me. If I could choose any man in the world, it would be that man I would choose for me.’ Then I drank at the bar while Hawk ate dinner and I tried to get his attention and failed. So when he got ready to leave, it hurt because I didn’t want him to leave without him leaving with me. But he didn’t leave without me. He came up, put his hand on my back and talked to me. And when I felt his hand at my back and turned to see him standing close, I felt like every wish I’d ever wished was granted.” Meredith was staring at me, lips parted, eyes bright and I finished, “So that’s how we met.”

Meredith’s eyes were bright because they were filling with tears, she kept staring at me then she sucked in breath, she looked down the table at Dad then back at me.

“That’s sweet,” she whispered.

Dad cleared his throat.

I looked down at my plate and forked into my salad. I tried, I really did, to keep my eyes to my plate but even though I managed to keep my head bowed, my eyes lifted and I glanced at Hawk.

The minute I did, my eyes dropped back to my plate but my breath came out of me in a whoosh and the look on his face, even catching only a glimpse of it, was burned on my brain in a way I knew the scar of that burn would live there forever.

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This was because when I looked at him Hawk didn’t look like Hawk or not the man I was growing to learn was Hawk.

Hawk looked like the Hawk of my daydreams. His face was gentle but his eyes were intense, heated and I felt them burning into me even then as I shoved salad into my mouth and looked anywhere but him.

“So… um… Hawk,” Dad said into the silence, “did you see any action when you served?”

I heard Hawk’s deep voice answer but I had decided to concentrate on shoveling food in my mouth, chewing and swallowing without getting tomato sauce on my tee, lettuce stuck in my teeth or strangling on an unchewed bite of garlic bread so, even though I wanted to know Hawk’s answer, I didn’t listen.

As if sensing my mood, Meredith quietly engaged me in conversation about the books I was editing while Dad and Hawk bonded over Army stories. Lucky for me, this took us to the end of dinner, which didn’t last long and also didn’t include me explaining things about Ginger.

Meredith was apologizing for not having made any dessert when we all stood and Hawk announced dinner tasted great but he had “shit to do”.

Then his eyes cut to me. “Babe, walk me to my car.”

I didn’t know if this was an order or a request and I really, really wanted to run to a closet and barricade myself in it because after I told that story, I really, really didn’t want to be alone with Hawk. But I couldn’t do that with Dad and Meredith watching so I nodded.

Farewells, thank yous and come agains were called as Hawk and I moved to the door. Then we were through it. Then the door closed firmly behind us, the latch making a definitive noise, Dad’s way of giving Hawk privacy, telling him he and Meredith were going to let Hawk and me walk to the car without spectators when I knew Dad and Meredith were so going to watch through the curtains (or at least Meredith was). But at this point I didn’t care. At this point I felt so self-conscious it was a burn emanating from deep inside me as another burn, the one in my brain, the one that carried that look I saw on his face, made its presence felt.

Therefore, I had no reaction when Hawk took my hand and walked me down my parents’ walk to his Camaro and I had no reaction when he used my hand to position me with my back to his car and I also had no reaction when he pinned me in with his big body and his hands settled on either side of my neck. I didn’t even have a reaction when his thumbs put gentle pressure on the undersides of my jaw and forced me to look up at him.

In the cold, February dark of a Colorado evening, I saw his black eyes lit by streetlamps and finally had a reaction. And that reaction was to instigate avoidance tactics without delay. And the avoidance tactics I decided on were picking a fight.

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“I didn’t tell them about Ginger,” I stated hurriedly. “I need to set up my laptop and get in a few hours of work but because I didn’t do it at dinner, now I have to go in there and explain things about Ginger. That’s gonna suck. I had it all planned out. I was all psyched up. Now I’ve totally lost my mojo because of you. You ruined my plan by showing up.”

Clearly not feeling like fighting, Hawk took no umbrage and his thumb swept the curve of my jaw as he replied, “I briefed your Dad before dinner. You can go in and get right to work.”

I blinked up at him. “You briefed Dad?”

“Yeah.”

“What did you say?”

Hawk answered an answer that was far from complete, “He knows more than you, you know more than your stepmom.”

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