Like I said last week, I'm writing this story by the seat-of-my-pants and already I've made a change. I started the first chapter in first person POV. The story will continue here on out in 3rd person because I want to have a second POV. (I'll go back and fix the first chapter when I get time.) Enjoy!
Chapter Two – Normal is not supposed to be this hard.
Zane paced the cabin in utter boredom, feeling unsettled and embarrassed. For the last several months, five days a week he went to the pancake house for breakfast, finding that he enjoyed the atmosphere. He took his notebook with him and wrote down possible lyrics or music. A couple days ago, the waitress at the restaurant he frequented called him by name. Immediate and overwhelming panic had risen. He'd spooked, leaving without ordering and before he knew it he'd left the eatery and was driving home before he realized what he'd done. He couldn't run every time some called out to him. He truly wanted to be familiar with people in town, but the reality of it grated against the instincts that had kept him alive thus far. He felt like an idiot. If he wanted to remain invisible he would have moved to a large city. Routines got assassins killed, plain and simple. He had to keep reminding himself that normal people did have routines and he wanted to be normal.
Although he acknowledged these truths, he stayed on his mountainside, wallowing in humiliation, refusing to leave his cabin. This self-consciousness was new. This gawkiness had seemed to come out of nowhere. He didn't know how to handle the unfamiliar emotion. He knew fear, resolve, determination, lust, hate. He had survived some harrowing situations and come out surprisingly unscathed, at least physically. Surely he could get past his own awkwardness.
He loaded the dishwasher with last night's dishes before heading to the studio. But once he stood in the doorway, he didn't want to enter. For the first time in months he had no interest in writing down the words swirling through his mind. Which was a first since he moved in. So far, he'd written dozens of songs and sent them off to his manager, Ella Shuler, who in turn was able to sell most of them. He was surprised, he thought it would take more time, not that he was complaining. Although, when Ella suggested he come to the west coast to attend a couple of mixers he'd flat out refused. He had no desire to rub elbows with… with… he didn't know who in order to sell more songs. He wrote because he'd shown an aptitude for it when he was a kid and because he enjoyed it. He didn't need the money. He already had plenty, enough to last a life time or two, more if he invested well. He didn't need to meet people to further his career which his agent struggled to understand.
Frustrated, he turned his back on the room. He prowled the house like a dissatisfied cat looking for something to pounce on. Every room was immaculate, everything just so. One of the many habits he found increasingly hard to get rid of.
The cabin sat on just under two thousand acres. Some fifteen years ago, Zane had purchased Paddy Flat Summit Ranch with the first money he'd made on his own. At that time, calling it a ranch was being generous since there was nothing built on the property. No, it didn't come with a cowboy or twelve, more's the pity. Zane had designed then contracted this cabin to be built… which four thousand square feet of home made using 'cabin' a loose term. He'd meant this to be a safehouse, if and when he needed one, and hired a property manager to oversee the ranch, renting out the house during tourist season. Later, the property manager talked to Zane about hiring an outfitter to guide hunters during hunting seasons. Zane had agreed and two smaller cabins were built, one close by and a hunting cabin further up the mountainside. In addition, as a couple of barns to house the horses of guests were included. He had the roads grated and upgraded to allow for drainage instead of dealing with repairing the washouts during the rainy season. Right now, there were people on his property higher up and he never saw a soul, not even the outfitter who stayed on the property year around.
Usually Zane was comfortable with silence. But months living on the mountainside, of never moving out of sight of the cabin, had worn him down. The discomfort of staying in one place for such a long period of time caused him to feel as if his skin was on too tight, almost like he was wearing an ill-fitting suit. He'd started going into town on the weekdays. He hadn't realized how the activity filled his time or how much he enjoyed being around others until he'd grounded himself. At the moment, he would take a chat with a surly hunter over his own company.
He checked the weather. At around five thousand feet above sea level the temperature wasn't going to reach much higher than the mid-thirties. He needed to stock up the pantry and freezer because there would come a time that he would be snowed in and unable to make it into town. Grabbing a pad of paper, he went through the pantry and started making a grocery list. To be on the safe side, he estimated he'd need to at least have three month's supply of canned and dry goods. He moved to the walk-in freezer, an extravagance that hid a couple of secret rooms. He was a retired assassin, not in idiot. He didn't give up the tools of his trade just because he wanted to have a normal life. He would defend himself. The other room hidden by the freezer was the panic room. He hadn't managed to put in escape tunnels when the house was originally built. Since living there, he wondered if he should go ahead and have them dug. Always have a backup plan within a backup plan.
Zane grabbed a nine mil out of his stash and a holster that fit on the back of his belt under his heavy sweater before he left the walk-in. In the kitchen he checked the perimeter program before grabbing his grocery list and turning on the house alarm. In the three-car garage, there was only one vehicle, a blue Dodge Power Wagon. The other two stalls held equipment he would need to get through the winter. A snowmobile, a four-wheeler, and a snowplow along with other items he thought would be useful if stranded. So far, there was only about an inch of snow on the ground, nothing that would keep him from reaching the valley. He drove down the winding mountain road. He thought briefly about paving it, but he didn't want to encourage people. If he made the road decently passible, people's curiosity would get the better of them and they would drive up just to see where the blacktop stopped. A couple of teenagers had already ignored the private property signs as it was.
Zane snorted at the memory. Two thousand acres was a lot of land to keep track of. He had the police out after two boys wrecked their dirt bikes near his cabin. They were lucky he was close by. If they had been stranded in one of the more remote areas, they might not have made it out without more injuries, if they made it off the slopes at all. He didn't press charges for trespassing, but the officer did escort the kids home, letting their parents know what they had been up to.
In a resort town of just under four thousand permanent residents, it was inevitable people would come to know him. He didn't want to start out on the wrong foot with the locals. The community was close knit, and they looked out for each other. That was one of the reasons he'd chosen to live there, but at the same time that familiarity he craved terrified him.
When Zane finally pulled onto Highway 55, he headed north to McCall, and before long he pulled into the parking lot of the pancake house. He didn't think about what he was doing but took the steps up to the wrap around porch. The restaurant looked like a luxury cabin, and like most of the other buildings in town had so much stained wood you couldn't throw a rock without hitting it.
The hostess met him at the door, smiling broadly. "Good to see you again, Zane." His skin tightened, the flight instinct kicked in until Zane ruthlessly stomped it down. "You left of here so quickly last time. I hope everything is all right."
Zane stared into her concerned eyes. What kind of emergency did she think he had? It didn't matter. "Yes, everything is fine."
She looked as if she didn't believe him and he realized he was frowning. His face felt stiff as he made himself smile, which she returned before leading him to what he had considered his table by the front window. He could watch both the entrance and see the parking lot from this location. He almost asked for another table, indecision eating at his resolve to stay. The hostess was oblivious to his internal struggle, flipping over the coffee cup. He'd been there enough times the wait staff knew he always asked for coffee and water. An itch formed between his shoulder blades.
He made sure to smile at the waitress when she stopped to fill his cup. But then he frowned when he started to give her his usual order. "What would you suggest?" He hoped he wouldn't regret the question.
Her eyes brightened. "Oh! My favorite is the Mexi-Cani Omelet."
"I'll have one of those and a couple of buck wheat pancakes on the side."
"Gotcha," she chirped happily.
After she left, he took a quick look around the restaurant. It was midmorning and there were only a few tables occupied. One by an older man, Mr. Whitaker, the grandfather to one of the teen boys who'd he caught trespassing. Zane tipped his head in greeting. A woman in her mid-twenties sat against the back wall, a laptop open in front of her. He suspected she was there most days, all day. It didn't matter when he came in, she was at the same location with her head buried in the computer. There were several other familiar faces that he made himself acknowledge with head tips when they met his gaze. Even though he's told himself he wouldn't, Zane had done cursory background check on some… okay most of the people he saw regularly. He used to eat and breath caution. That didn't seem to be a habit that would go away anytime soon.
He sipped his coffee, black and bitter, frowning again. He's spent so many years trying not to have preferences that would single him out. He used to wonder what a latte tasted like. He'd only started drinking coffee since he settled. He drank it black because it was efficient. Would he like any of the flavored creamers in his morning joe? That was something to consider since his next stop was the grocery store.
Damn it. Normal wasn't supposed to be this hard.
Someone stopped next to his chair. "You are looking into that coffee cup like it's withholding secrets from you." The voice was deep and when Zane looked over his gaze was met with a huge rodeo buckle… and the bugle that sat right below wrapped in tight wrangles. He gazed up the lean body to meet warm brown eyes. "Are you Zane Cortese?"
He frowned, unease skittering over his skin. Zane reached for his spoon but gripped the butter knife. "Yes. You are?"
The cowboy grinned and held out his hand. "I am Alonzo Cardosa. Do you mind if I sit down? I don't want to take up too much of your time."
"Oh! Nice to finally meat you." Zane recognized the name. He was the outfitter. When Zane had originally purchased the land under a different name, one of the things he had approved was a contract with a guide who'd escort hunters during the different hunting seasons. When he bought the property under his new alias part of the agreement was to take on the five-year contract with Alonzo. Zane hadn't seen him since moving into the cabin. He bit back a smile. He had a cowboy. Well, not technically since Alonzo wasn't in his bed but… He dragged his gaze away from Alonzo's dark rugged face and cleared his throat, waving at the chair across the table. "Have a seat. Eat with me. The season is almost over. What are your plans for the rest of the year?"
Alonzo stared down at Zane with a blank expression. Was he slipping so bad that Alonzo could read his thoughts? Fuck! When was the last time he got laid? Oh God, he couldn't remember.
The outfitter removed his heavy shearling coat, hanging it over the back of the chair before sitting across from Zane. "That is what I wanted to talk to you about. I'll be closing up the hunting cabin right before Thanksgiving. In the past, I have rented either the main house or the lower cabin for a couple of months. The property manager only asked that I let him know which one so he could send me a short-term lease."
Zane waved to the waitress and motioned to Alonzo. He swallowed thickly, catching a pleasant, masculine scent coming from Alonzo. When he'd chosen to live in Valley County, he hadn't taken into consideration the lack of sexual partners. He'd learned to live without needing sex, for the most part. Not that he was asexual. Having sex meant making himself vulnerable to another person, and that he couldn't abide by. He liked sex, enjoyed the feel of someone else's skin next to his when he allowed himself to indulge. And now that he was thinking about sex, he really wanted to have some but had no intentions with sleeping with a local. He wasn't interested in a relationship outside the bedroom. He would have to take a trip to Boise or perhaps the Twin Cities to scratch that itch. The thought cooled his blood.
When he turned back, Alonzo was regarding him in a curious manner. "What?"
"You are not… as I imagined." Alonzo's eye lashes were thick and the same jet-black color as his hair. Looking at Alonzo wasn't helping him to keep his thoughts in check. Those full lips looked soft.
"As in?" Zane rasped after the waitress poured Alonzo a cup of coffee and took Alonzo's order.
"You dropped a lot of money on that property. People who can do that aren't…" Zane didn't need him to finish. He knew what Alonzo meant. He didn't fit the mold of someone who had a couple of million dollars to throw around. Alonzo frowned down into his coffee, pursing his lips together. "My madre would smack me for being rude and for making assumptions. I apologize."
When did he become fascinated with lips? Zane gulped the scalding coffee and swore, grabbing the complimentary glass of ice water. What was wrong with him? "I'm not offended, but your apology is accepted."
Zane was given a reprieve from conversation when a couple of people stopped by to say hello to Alonzo, inviting him to dinner. Zane watched the interaction, smiling on queue and shaking hands when Alonzo introduced him.
The waitress brought out both of the meals at the same time. Zane wolfed down his buckwheat pancakes, foregoing the maple syrup. He gave a sheepish grin when he glanced up and caught Alonzo staring at him. "So you want to lease the lower cabin?"
"If it's still open, yeah. Should have said something when you bought the ranch but wasn't thinking ahead at the time." Alonzo carefully cut into his steak and eggs, smearing everything with catsup before taking a bite.
Zane's pants were suddenly uncomfortable. "It's yours. I'll stop by the property manager's office and get a copy of the old lease before I go grocery shopping. Do you want me to pick you up…" Alonzo glanced up from his plate and gave Zane a slow smile. "Something… uhm… pick you up something from the store… for the hunters… in the cabin." Was that smile an invitation? Or was he laughing at Zane's sudden awkwardness? Perhaps a trip to Twin Cities was called for, especially if he couldn't keep from reading things into Alonzo's expressions.
Chapter One - Retirement
Chapter Two - Normal is not supposed to be this hard
Chapter Three - Caught
Chapter Four - Crimson Comet
Table of Contents
Chapter One - Retirement
Chapter Two - Normal is not supposed to be this hard
Chapter Three - Caught
Chapter Four - Crimson Comet
Thank you for stopping by and reading!!