“He’s not dead, you know.”
Chad stopped short and faced Zoe. “What?”
“Jason Southby—my father.” As soon as the words left her mouth, Zoe wanted to cut out her tongue. Chad would think she was a lunatic. A peek at his face confirmed her fears.
His face a mask of disbelief, he gave a shaky laugh. “You and Heath would have made a great team.”
“What do you mean?”
“Heath refused to accept the fact that his friend was dead. He told me numerous times he felt Jason’s presence.”
“How well did he know…my father?” Zoe had difficulty thinking of this unknown man as her father.
“He and Jason went down in the same Phantom. Heath was the commander, he sat up front. Protocol is that the backseat ejects first, but Jason had problems and told Heath to bail from the aircraft first. Viet Cong captured Heath within twenty-five minutes after he hit the ground. Heath swore to the day he died, he saw Jason bail from the aircraft. The report of one of the other pilots in the flight replay tapes backs this up. The pilot told authorities he saw two objects eject from the aircraft after Heath. The assumption is that one object was the canopy of the parachute, the other was the seat.”
“So Heath just bailed out and left my father in the backseat to crash?”
“No. The Phantom can be flown from the back or the front. Both pilots have access to controls.”
“What happened to Heath after he was captured?” Did she want to know the answer?
“He spent the next five years at the Hanoi Hilton, before he was released as part of Operation Homecoming.”
Chad chuckled. “A prisoner of war facility. The POW’s nicknamed it Hanoi Hilton.”
“Oh.” Her ignorance about the Vietnam War bothered Zoe. She had a lot of homework. Perhaps if she’d known her father was part of the war, she’d have been more interested in learning about Vietnam in school.
“What’s the story about you having a blackout today?” He shouldn’t have been surprised when Zoe stiffened beside him. She obviously didn’t want him involved in that part of her life.
“It was nothing.”
Okay. So she doesn’t want to talk about it. Second thoughts about putting her on the back of his Harley plagued him. What if she blacked out and fell off? “ Ah, Zoe,” he said and stopped her by grasping her shoulders. “Maybe I spoke too soon about taking you home on my bike. If you were to black out…How far do you live from here?” The hurt in her eyes sliced through him like a sharp knife. He felt small.
“About a mile.” She shoved her hands in her pockets. “I understand. I’ll walk.”
“I’ll go with you.”
She set off at a brisk pace. He fell into step beside her. He’d taken a well deserved vacation from work. He’d never seen the Maine coast and decided to take a vacation and fulfill his friend’s request at the same time.
Instead he’d opened a can of worms and regretted ever knocking on Betty Zanardi’s door. Now a certain responsibility for this woman at his side niggled his mind. If not for him, she’d still be unaware that Jason Southby was her biological father.
He observed her from the corner of his eye. The long, tawny hair and those topaz eyes reminded him of a lioness. Right now a wounded one. Everyone knew how vicious a wounded animal could be. What was wrong with her? Did she have a seizure disorder? If so, she shouldn’t be driving at all.
“How can I find my father?”
He almost stumbled at the softly spoken words. Tread carefully, Chad. You don’t have a clue what you’re dealing with here. “I understand the need to believe Jason is alive, but, Zoe, look at the facts. The man’s been missing for twenty-eight years. Even if was a prisoner of war, he more than likely died in prison.”
Her chin jutted forward. “The fact is…my father is still alive.”
Great. Stubborn as well. He prayed for patience. “And you know this because…?”
“Because I have a special gift…or a curse. I’m not sure which.”
He’d been prepared for a number of answers. This wasn’t one of them. Jason touched her arm and forced her to stop. “Are you saying you’re a psychic?”
Zoe’s shoulders slumped. “I guess so. I don’t know. It’s not like I can tell the future or anything, but weird things happen to me. It’s hard to explain.”
“Have you ever consulted a paranormal institution?”
“No. I’ve managed to live with it. Hide it from everyone.”
Zoe moved on. He fell into step beside her and thought about what she’d said. “Does this gift have something to do with Jason’s POW-MIA bracelet?”
“When did you get it?”
“After your blackout?”
From the corner of his eye, he saw a slight nod of her head. “Something led me…no forced me into this junk store and then straight to a certain box. That’s where I found it. In the box with a bunch of other junk.”
“So your blackouts are connected to your…ah…gift?”
“Yes. Turn here.” Zoe stepped right through a narrow opening amongst some wild roses.
“The cottage is at the end of this path.”
The smell of the sea filled Chad’s nostrils and lifted his spirits. Tomorrow, he’d be on his bike exploring the coastline. He’d forget everything else in his life for a few weeks.
Craig, his partner, could take care of their P.I. business. Chad needed time to unwind and find a new lease on life.
His gaze slid back to Zoe. There were a million questions he wanted to ask, but tonight was not the time…perhaps never asking them would be a wise choice.
Hell, she was gorgeous. His eyes openly scanned her body, ending at her long jean clad legs. The sooner he left this town, the better. He’d always had a nose for smelling trouble, and the scent was strong right now.
“Here we are.” Zoe tilted her head and looked up at him. “Thanks, Chad, for your company. When you pick up your bike, could you let my parents know I’m home?” She unlocked the door and stood in the threshold, as if reluctant to say goodbye.
Concern filtered through him and pissed him off. “Will you be all right?”
He pretended not to see the lack of enthusiasm in her smile. “Of course. I’ll be fine. I’ve got a lot of stuff to work out.”
“Okay, good night.” He took two steps and pivoted back to face her before she’d shut the door. “Do you have a computer?”
She raised a brow. “Yeah. Not that it gets much use. Do you need to use it?”
“How about I show you how to search the web for information about Jason Southby? There’ll be a picture of him. An old one, but a picture, nonetheless.”
The sparkle in her eyes did strange things to him. He felt as giddy as a teenager expecting his first kiss.
“You would do that for me?”
“I’ll go get my bike. How about some Chinese for supper? I’ll pick some up and be back in an hour or so.”
Damn! He’d always been a sucker for homeless dogs and cats. And right now, he lumped Zoe into that same category.