Stranger

By: Megan Hart


“I’m sorry,” he said at once, properly apologetic though I’d been the one to mess up the meeting. “I was running late, and then…”

I wasn’t going to tell him I’d been an idiot and mistaken a real stranger for the faux. “It was a mistake. No need to be sorry. Can we reschedule?”

“Yes! Sure, sure. Great.” He sounded eager, and I thought of Mrs. Smith’s description. Dark hair. Earring. Slim build. Damn. I was thinking of Sam again. “Um…do you want the same…?”

“I don’t, actually. I think I’m kind of soured on strangers.”

He laughed, just a little, as if he wasn’t sure I was joking. “All right. So what would you like, then?”

I’d paid quite a bit of money for the use of his time and conversation, and since I couldn’t get it back, I might as well use it up. “Do you like dancing, Jack?”

A pause. I heard an intake of breath. Not a hiss or a gasp. Something deeper. A peculiar huff-breath-hold and a subtle sigh. He was smoking. “Yeah. I like to dance.”

Mrs. Smith had assigned a smoker to me? Interesting. Well, I had requested someone different than my usual. I didn’t like smoking, as a rule, though it did look sexy.

“Great. I want to go dancing. Does Friday night work for you?”

Another pause. I heard the shuffle of papers. “Yes.”

“I’ll meet you just outside the parking garage on Second Street at nine o’clock.” I didn’t have to check my calendar. “Listen, Jack. Since the arrangements have changed, can you tell me what you look like?”

Jack’s deep voice became a low chuckle. “Sure. I have black hair and blue eyes. I’ve got two earrings in my right ear and one in my left, and a ring in my left brow.”

I must have made some sort of noise, because he laughed again. “Is that okay?”

“It’s fine.” If I’d known all that, I’d never have mistaken Sam for the gentleman I’d contracted. Then again…yeah. A stranger.

“Let me ask you something else, Jack.”

I heard the distinctive huff-breath-hold again. “Yeah?”

“How tall are you?”

“I’m almost six feet. Is that okay, too?”

“Perfect,” I said, since any other answer would have sounded rude, and we both hung up.

He was definitely not going to be Sam.





Chapter 03


“Where’s your head, Grace? Up your rear?” As usual, my dad didn’t pull any punches. He waved the folder stuffed with bank statements in my direction. “C’mon, talk to the old man.”

Somehow I couldn’t imagine confiding in my dad that I’d picked up some guy in a bar and spent a few hours fucking him in a hotel room, and that my concentration was for shit since all I could think about was doing it again with somebody else.

“Sorry, Dad.”

“Sorry?” My dad shook the folder again. “You think I don’t have better things to do than spend my time balancing your checkbook?”

I managed a genuine smile for my dad at that. “What else would you be doing?”

“Fishing.” He peered at me over the rim of his half specs. “That’s what I’d like to be doing.”

“Since when do you fish?” I leaned across the desk to yank back my folder, but my dad grabbed it out of the way.

“Since I retired and your mother told me I’d better find something to do to keep me out of the house.”

I sat back in my chair with a laugh. “Uh-huh.”

Even nearly three years later, it still felt wrong to be on the other side of this desk while he sat in the chair meant for clients. I don’t think he liked it much, either, if the way he waved that folder was any indication. I didn’t need my dad to go over the books for me, just like I didn’t need him to ask me if I had enough gas in my car or if I needed someone to come in and fix my sink. I didn’t like feeling second-guessed. He didn’t entirely want to let go. It was half on the verge of ugly.

My dad grunted and pushed his glasses back up on his nose. He spread out the statements and stabbed one with his finger. “See, there? What’s this for?”

Two clicks of the mouse brought up my accounting program, a system my dad had never used. “Office supplies.”

“I know it’s office supplies. The charge is from the office-supply store. I want to know why you spent a hundred bucks!”

“Dad.” I tried to keep calm. “It was for printer ink, computer paper and stuff like that. Look for yourself.”

He didn’t do more than glance at the monitor before he dived back into the pile of papers. “And why are we getting a cable bill?”

“We aren’t.” I plucked it from his hand. “That’s mine.”

My dad wouldn’t ever come out and accuse me of trying to slip my personal bills into the funeral home’s accounting. He’d hammered hard the idea that the home’s expenses had to be kept separate from family bills enough times that I had no trouble remembering it. Considering the fact I’d be expected to cut my salary should the business require it, I didn’t see any issue with paying for my cable bill out of the same bank account, especially when it was ridiculous to have two separate cable Internet accounts to serve one location. I lived just upstairs. I could share the home’s wireless.

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