Colters' Lady(2)

By: Maya Banks

“Hey, snap out of it.”

Seth turned to see Craig standing beside him, his apron in hand.

“Margie’s ordering us to stand down and eat. Grab a plate and join us. She has one of the kitchen workers taking over the line in case we have any stragglers.”


Feeling anything but hungry, Seth fixed a plate and followed his friends to a table on the far side of the room. There wasn’t a lot of talking going on. Most of the people ate in silence, though there were a few conversations from some of the regulars who knew each other or hung out together on the streets.

He positioned himself so he could see the woman and tuned out the rest of the goings-on so he could watch her and take in every detail he could.

She ate daintily and never looked up or made eye contact with any of the others. When she wasn’t looking down at her food she fixed her gaze out the window, watching the people pass on the busy street.

There was something wistful about her stare, and again, that protective surge came roaring to the surface.

“Who is she?” he blurted out.

“Who is who?” Craig asked.

Rob looked up and followed Seth’s gaze. “You mean her?”

“Yeah, I haven’t seen her before but it’s been a few months. When did she start coming in?”

Craig shrugged. “I haven’t seen her before. She wasn’t here last month. Maybe she’s new. Margie would know. She keeps up with everyone.”

Seth frowned, not liking the tired look on the woman’s face. She was young, early twenties, far too young to be out on the streets. Spring in Denver was often harsh with copious amounts of snow. She was so slight, and all she had was that sweater and a cap. She’d freeze to death.

“What’s bugging you, man?” Rob asked.

Seth shook his head. “Nothing.”

Seth forced himself to eat but watched the woman as the other people finished their meals and began to filter out. She remained, even after she’d finished eating. She pushed her plate to the side, and he frowned at the fact there was still a good portion of her food left. She rested her chin on top of her fist as she continued to gaze out the window.

He cursed when one of the kitchen workers came over to collect her plate, because even though the worker didn’t say anything to the woman, the action prompted her to rise. She looked guiltily around as if she thought she’d overstayed her welcome, and then she hurried toward the door without a backward glance.

Before he realized it, he was on his feet and hurrying after her. It wasn’t something he could even explain. He had to go after her. He had to know where she was going, if she was safe.

Ignoring Rob’s and Craig’s startled exclamations, he strode out onto the street and looked left and right to see the direction she’d gone. Seeing her retreating figure to the right, he set off after her.

He kept his distance, not wanting to spook her. He felt like a damned stalker, and maybe that’s what he was. There was no reasonable explanation for his pursuit of her. It certainly had nothing to do with his cop’s instincts. He’d reacted to her as a man, and something about her called to a part of him that hadn’t ever awoken before.


For six blocks he followed her. His hands were clenched at his sides. She had no sense of self-preservation. She never looked up, never looked back to make sure she wasn’t followed. She blended seamlessly with the busy downtown crowd, and he quickened his step so he wouldn’t lose her.

He slowed when she turned into an alleyway. His approach was cautious. The last thing he wanted was to walk into a damn trap. He turned the corner and peered down to see her hunker down between two cardboard boxes. She disappeared from view, and he stood there a moment, battling between anger and…he wasn’t sure.

He hadn’t wanted her to be homeless. He’d hoped that she was down on her luck and needed the free meal, but that she had a place to live, protection from the cold. Refuge from the streets that took lives every single day.

What about this woman fired such a response in him? In his job, he saw all manner of people. The hungry, the homeless, the abused. There were plenty of young women in need, but none had infused a soul-stirring desire to help and protect.

It was presumptuous of him. She might not need him. She might be just fine on her own, but something in her eyes told him that wasn’t so. She needed someone, and he wanted to be that person.

Crazy talk. He wondered now if that bullet had hit him in the head. But that didn’t stop him from walking with determined steps toward the boxes at the end of the alley.

When he was close enough to see over the edge of one of the boxes, he saw that she was sitting cross-legged on what looked to be old towels, and she was absorbed in a tattered paperback book. After every page, she moved one of her hands from the book and held it to her mouth while she blew to warm it, and then she returned to the book to turn another page.

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