Stranger

By: Megan Hart




We disengaged and took care of the things that needed to be done, but I hadn’t yet managed to rouse myself enough to climb out of bed and go to the bathroom when the distinctive jangle of my phone came from my purse.

“Is that ‘Smoke on the Water’?” Sam lifted his head to look at me.

“Yes.” I ignored it, too sated to think about getting up for a phone call, even though I knew I should.

Sam’s broad and hearty laugh shook the bed, and I looked over at him. “Awesome.” He made rock horns with his fingers.

I had to laugh, too. He seemed younger with postsex sleepiness lodged in his eyes and his hair all rumpled. Not that it mattered.

He yawned and of course, unable to help myself, so did I. He kissed my bare shoulder and rolled onto his back again, hands tucked under the pillow, to stare at the ceiling.

“I knew that fortune cookie was right,” he said without looking at me. “It said you will meet someone new.”

“My last fortune cookie told me I was going to find money,” I said. “So far, nothing.”

Sam turned his gaze to me, though his head stayed still. “You’ve got time. I don’t think there’s a statute of limitations on fortunes.”

I rolled my eyes. “I wish it would hurry up, though. I could use some money.”

Sam’s expression shifted, subtly, as we stared at each other. My phone rang again, this time with the less awesome ring tone that meant I had a message. I couldn’t ignore that, since it was probably from my answering service. Someone must’ve died.

“I have to get that,” I said without moving.

“Okay.” Sam smiled.

I leaned over to kiss him quickly, on the cheek. I felt his gaze on me as I gathered my fallen clothes and my purse and went to the bathroom. I punched in the number of the answering service as I slipped into my panties and juggled the phone while I hooked my bra. The garter belt and stockings I tucked into my bag, not wanting to bother with them when I was going home.

I took care of the call and finished dressing, then patted some cold water on my face. Sam’s bathroom looked used, a rumpled towel on the floor by the toilet and a small toiletries bag on the sink. He used an electric razor and favored a different toothpaste than I did, but this peek into his private life seemed intrusive and personal and I stopped looking. I took an extra few minutes to freshen my makeup and tie back my hair.

When I came out of the bathroom, Sam had pulled his boxers back on. The remote lay next to him on the bed, but he hadn’t turned on the television. He sat up when I came out.

“Hey,” he said.

My phone beeped again with another message. Someone had called while I was on the phone. I pulled it from my purse but didn’t flip it open. “It’s been great, but I have to go.”

He got up, towering over me even after I put on my heels. “I’ll walk you to your car.”

I shook my head. “No. You don’t have to. I’m fine.”

“But I really should.”

I looked up at him. “Sam, it’s okay.”

We smiled at each other. He walked me to the door, where he bent to kiss me far more awkwardly than he had before.

“Good night,” I said on the other side of the door. “Thank you.”

He blinked and didn’t smile. “You’re…welcome?”

So cute.

I reached up to pat his cheek. “It was great.”

Sam blinked again, those dark brows knitting. “Okay.”

I waved and moved toward the elevator. He closed the door behind me, and I heard the blare of the television almost at once.

At my car I remembered to check my voice mail. Sitting behind the wheel, buckling my belt, I punched in my password and listened, expecting to hear my sister’s voice. Maybe my best friend Mo’s.

“Yeah, hi,” said a voice I didn’t recognize. “This is Jack. I’m calling for, um…Miss Underfire. We were supposed to meet tonight?”

He sounded uncertain; I felt suddenly sick. Miss Underfire was the name I used with the agency, the name I used to keep everything discreet.

“But I’m here at the Fishtank, and…well…you’re not. Um…call me back if you want to reschedule.”

I listened to a very long pause while I waited for the call to disconnect, but it didn’t.

“Anyway, I’m sorry,” said Jack. “Something got messed up, I guess.”

A click, and he was gone, and the pseudofeminine robotic voice-mail message was instructing me how to delete the message.

I closed my phone and put it carefully into my purse. I gripped the steering wheel tight, with both hands. I waited to scream, or laugh, or cry, but in the end I only turned the key in the ignition and drove home.

I’d wanted to sleep with a stranger, and that’s exactly what I’d done.





Chapter 02


“Earth to Grace.” Jared snapped his fingers in front of my face. “Gloves?”

I blinked and shook my head a little, laughing off my lack of concentration. Jared Shanholtz, my intern, held up the box of latex gloves that had seen better days. “Sorry. They’re in the laundry room, I think. On the rack of shelves by the wall.”

He tossed the battered cardboard box into the trash. He nodded toward the body on the table in front of us. “Need me to bring anything else?”

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