Rural New England

Grace could scarcely believe the filthy drunk sprawled on the table in the bar was the man she’d spent weeks searching for.

She closed her eyes in a brief moment of disbelief before she approached. Scuffed floorboards groaned beneath her booted feet. The stench of booze and smoke hung in the air and she resisted the urge to wrinkle her nose. She stopped in front of his table, folded her arms across her chest and didn’t try to hide her disgust.

The bearded, gray-haired bartender and several rugged patrons stared at her. A couple muttered lewd comments and chuckled. Grace mentally prepared for an attack by at least one of the two-legged swine. The gun hidden beneath her worn leather jacket offered cold comfort and the knife in her boot added back-up. Yet neither weapon made her feel as safe as her knowledge of hand-to-hand combat that she’d put to the test too frequently of late. All to find him.

If not for the rise and fall of his broad back as he breathed, he would have appeared dead. He rested face down on the nicked wooden table, his slack hand curved around the neck of an empty vodka bottle. Dark, wavy hair plastered with grease and heaven knew what else clung to his nape and matted against his scalp. Sweat darkened the back and armpits of his dirt-stained blue shirt. The incredibly long legs stretched beneath the table were covered in faded jeans with a tear in one thigh, revealing lightly tanned flesh roughened by dark hair. The sole of one of his ancient hiking boots had separated from the top, revealing the tip of a thick gray sock.

“I don’t believe it,” Grace muttered, drawing another deep breath of stagnant air. The bar needed a fan--or at least a window. The tiny, dim room felt even hotter than the hundred degree weather outside. She said louder, “R. C. Benson!”

He didn’t move.

Only when she slipped the bottle from his hand did he lift his head. Bloodshot blue eyes, the flesh beneath bruised from hard living, squinted at her and he growled, “Who the hell are you?”

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