Stranger

By: Megan Hart



I looked over Mr. Dennison’s still form. “No. I think he’s just about done.”

I leaned forward to brush the hair back from his forehead. His skin, cool under my fingers, had a faint dusting of powder. It didn’t quite match his natural skin tone. “On second thought, grab me the box of foundation, okay? I want to redo this.”

Jared nodded and said nothing, though I’d already spent an hour on Mr. Dennison. I stared down at him. He couldn’t care if he looked like he was wearing makeup, but I did. Even if his family didn’t care, I still did.

Pride didn’t do diddly for my fingers, though, that kept fumbling with the small pots and brushes I used on the corpses. I’d nearly made a mess of the embalming, too, but turned it around by giving Jared the “opportunity” to do most of it himself while I supervised. Jared was the first intern I’d ever hired and though it was hard for me to give up control of what went on in my business to give him the chance to learn, I was glad he was there then. Thank God he was good. If he’d been a bumbling disaster, we’d have been screwed.

Screwed.

I turned away from Mr. Dennison’s placid face. I had to take small sips of air to keep from bursting into a flurry of giggles I would’ve been hard-pressed to explain to Jared. The stifled laughter twisted in my gut and made it hurt. Coffee would help. Maybe.

Shit, nothing would help. I’d fucked a stranger the night before, but the wrong one. Not the stranger I’d paid to play with. Dammit, not only had I taken a huge personal risk, I’d wasted a hefty chunk of change, too.

“Grace?”

I turned, again caught up in my own thoughts. I took the box of miscellaneous pots and jars from Jared, and set them on the table. “Sorry. My mind’s wandering.”

“If you wanted me to take over,” Jared offered with a gesture at Mr. Dennison, “I could. Give you a break.”

I looked at the man on the table, and at Jared. “No, thanks.”

“Want to talk about it?”

I looked up. Jared gave me a look that told me I hadn’t been as nonchalant as I’d thought. But…huh? Talk? To Jared? “About what?”

“Whatever it is that’s bothering you.”

“Who says anything is?” I stroked my cosmetic sponge down Mr. Dennison’s cheek.

Jared didn’t say anything until I looked up at him. “I’ve been here for six months, Grace. I can tell.”

I stopped what I was doing to give him my full attention. “Do you want to take over with this? I mean, if you really want me to give you something to do, Jared, I can tell you the hearse needs to be washed, and I’m sure Shelly could use a hand with vacuuming the chapel.”

Jared liked washing the hearse. I hated it. It worked out perfectly, and if he thought I was being nice by letting him do that instead of the hundred other tasks of running the funeral home, I was happy to let him think so.

He grinned, taking a bit of the wind out of my sails. “Sure, boss. If that’s what you want. I just thought I’d offer.”

He tipped me a salute. I smiled. “You could make sure there’s some fresh coffee, too. You know Shelly doesn’t have a clue how to brew it.”

He nodded. “Late night, huh?”

“The usual.” I shrugged.

“You know, Grace, I’d be happy to take more call time.”

I concentrated on putting away my pots and jars and washing my hands as I answered. “I know. I appreciate it.”


“Just thought I’d offer,” Jared repeated, and left.

Quick and eager to learn, Jared was excellent with the clients and unafraid to take on new tasks. I was seriously considering offering him a position after he graduated. The problem was, though Frawley and Sons had grown every year since I’d taken over from my dad three years before, I still couldn’t afford to hire another full-time funeral director. Not if I wanted to eat, anyway. I could make him take more call, but I’d have to pay him more and trust him to provide my clients with the same level of service I could give them myself.

Nobody could give them the same level of service I could. After all, I had very big shoes to fill. My dad and his brother, Chuck, both retired now, had taken over the business from their father. Frawley and Sons had been the only funeral home in Annville for fifty years. People could and did go to funeral homes in the adjoining towns, but that didn’t mean I couldn’t keep trying to be the best.

I busied myself with cleaning up the supplies I’d used on Mr. Dennison, glad for the chance to work in silence. I couldn’t stop thinking about the stranger. Sam. The hair, the eyes, the smile. Those long damn legs. The way he’d gotten harder when I said his name. I hadn’t even asked for his number.

Hell. He hadn’t asked for mine, either. I don’t blush easily, but I blushed just then, thinking what he must have thought. No wonder he’d looked so strange when I thanked him. He hadn’t known it was an accident.

The first time I’d paid for sex had been an accident, too, though the date was on purpose. For years my parents had supported a local preschool’s dinner-dance fund-raiser, but since taking over Frawley and Sons, I’d also taken on the social obligations that went along with the position. With no boyfriend in the picture and no desire to get one, I’d done what any organized woman would do. I’d hired a man to take me.

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