Talk Dirty To Me
There's a reason they tell you not to talk to strangers. Him.
Stranger Lowe—the monster under the bed, the ghost in the wind, the shadows in the night. He's a hit man without a conscience who works alone and never misses his mark.
Until her. Mia Reed, with her hot pink wallet and her dirty filthy writing and her hundred thousand secrets. She's the first mark he can't bring himself to kill. Unable to stay away, unable to tell the truth—their imperfect union begins with a lie—a fake online identity, stolen messages in the night. Direct messages turn to text messages, and text messages turn to steamy phone calls, until steamy phone calls aren't enough. Together, they are electric.
She's everything he never wanted, everything he's always needed. But in order to have her, he has to figure out who wants her dead, and if there's one thing Stranger is very good at, it's eliminating all threats. They rollercoaster from heat turned toxic to an undeniable longing for the one thing they can never have—a future. Who could ever love a hitman?
Talk Dirty with Me is a steamy standalone Romance, heavy on the steam, heavy on the romance, heavy on the dirty talk.
Release date: June 10, 2019
Publisher: Mindless Muse Publishing, LLC
Print pages: 372
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Talk Dirty To Me
Get ready to read with one hand
MOST PEOPLE have never hired a contract killer. So, if they get around to deciding they want one, they go on the dark web, find some junkie, a local hack, pay a few thousand dollars, and the vic gets knifed down or bludgeoned at random.
That’s not me.
I don’t kill people on the streets.
I go in at night. They never wake up. Nobody sees me, hears me or even knows I was ever there. I’m a ghost. Nothing more than a shadow in the wind.
And I don’t work for normal people. No housewives or lawyers. Usually it’s a government, and whoever I kill, they deserve it.
This is no truer than with my last mark, a man who treated his six wives worse than his camels, or the man before, a corrupt dictator, who lived off the backs of the starving, the desperate and the hopeless.
As their bodies gave their final death throe, feet twitching, I felt nothing.
I never feel anything.
This next job is…strange.
Ender9551: Her name is Mia Whitten. It has to happen in March. Not before.
Usually I have two to three months to vet the client, study the target, cover my back.
But March is a long time away.
It’s barely September now, the sun still hot, the trees thick with summer leaves, still in their brightest stage of green. Who takes out a hit for seven months in the future? And why? Someone either dangerously deranged or meticulously organized. Or both.
“New contract?” My brother, James, shifts on his wheelchair, the vinyl seat making a sound like a fart under his ass. From this distance and angle, no way can he see the screen.
“What do you mean?” I turn to face him.
He tosses his book at the coffee table, his nostrils flaring. “You just got a new target, right?”
I make a non-committal face. He doesn’t know what I really do. He thinks I run private security hacks, probe protective service plans for flaws. It’s what I tell everyone who asks.
Right now, he’s either fishing. Or I’m projecting.
He rolls his chair closer to me, his thumbs on the rims, and I minimize my screen just in case.
“Who are you going to kill this time?”
My stomach tightens instantly, and I draw a long, slow breath. From the set of his shoulders, there’s no point lying.
“How long have you known?”
“Since the last time. I read the news.”
I meet his eyes, hazel like mine, like our mom’s before she left us. Shadowed by dark brows, thick and black like mine, like our dad’s before he left us, too.
The silence between us is loud. I have no idea what to say. Yes, James. I’m a killer. I kill people. That’s what I do.
Gogo—don’t ask, I didn’t invent that monstrosity of a name—my hound dog, groans from her spot on the floor by his feet. She showed up here a few weeks after I bought the house, skinny, tail wagging, those soft liquid eyes staring up at me, no identification beyond a single blue tag with her name on it. A ridiculous name for a dog with a face that looks eternally unimpressed. She looks bored, but acts like a live wire.
Somehow, I started feeding her, and she never left.
Her tail thumps when I glance at her, but she doesn’t rise. No support on the canine front.
I glare at her.
Her tail thumps.
The silence thickens.
“You don’t have to do it,” he finally says.
I push up from my chair and cross the living room.
I stop at the windows overlooking what I’ve come to think of as my mountain. “Tell me then, go on. What am I doing?”
The leaves haven’t started changing yet, but the green has darkened. The colors will come soon.
“I’ll have the prostheses soon. A few months. Then I can start working again, get a place of my ow—”
“This is your place.” I bought it for him, two days after he was injured. I have no use for all this furniture. Rugs and chairs and pillows and shit. Houses and cars and mountains are for normal people.
I’m not normal.
“No.” His voice comes out loud, maybe louder than he expects because he pauses before continuing. In the six months since his accident, I’ve barely heard him speak in more than a hush or a whisper, as if he’s eternally trying not to be a burden. “This is your home, Stranger.”
“I have no home.” Don’t need or want one either.
He tosses out a hand, like he’s physically rejecting my words.
“Then make one. Start writing again. Stay—” He breaks off sharply, like he’s trying to pick his words carefully. “Stop, before you get yourself killed, or arrested, or become a sociopath.”
I’m probably already a sociopath. I slide my hands into my jeans pockets. “I’m happier alone.”
“You’re not happy. You’re a robot.”
“I don’t blame you, Stranger. I never did.”
The surge of anger, unexpected and hot, has me turning to face him, my fists clenching. “This has nothing to do with Mom.”
He tilts his chin back, surveying me. “I didn’t bring her up. You did.” He glares at me. “You still think that was your fault.”
I don’t think it. I know it. She wouldn’t have left if I’d been different. I could have gotten a job, helped out. Instead all I did was get myself kicked out of school, arrested, landed my ass in and out of juvie.
“This has nothing to do with her,” I say again.
“Then why bring her up?”
“I shouldn’t have left.” He’d been barely fifteen, with peach fuzz on his upper lip, and I left him in a group home filled with a motley assortment of drugged-up bullies and budding criminals.
“I was fine. I got it then. I get it now. I’d have done the same thing. I did the same thing as soon as I could.”
That sends a fresh wave of pissed-off racing through my blood. If he hadn’t joined the Marines, he’d never have ended up in that chair.
He rocks his chair toward me. “Stop punishing yourself. Move on with your fucking life.”
“There’s no ‘punishing’. Just want to get you set up so I can move on.”
And I’m close. I’m a hundred thousand shy of the eight million mark. A conservative 4% return would only net 240K per year—a secure living. Enough for someone with ongoing medical bills, and who knows about inflation. That would set him up for life, with a little left over for me.
He can live here in comfort with a roof over his head, a soft bed, and a nurse to wash his stumps until he’s old and gray.
And me? I’ll be far away. Where I can’t do any more damage.
His mouth forms a tight line. “I won’t take your money. As soon as I get the prostheses, I’m leaving.” He wipes his hand over his mouth, and his biceps bulge.
He’s gotten big in the months since the accident. The constant physical work of lifting his body, the obsession he’s developed with weight training, it’s paying off. Where once he had the same rangy body-type as me, now he’s thickly bound. Like a reverse Pop-eye, his biceps are swole up, thick as bowling balls.
He rotates one rim and spins his chair so I can’t see his face. “Don’t you dare kill someone and tell yourself you’re doing it for me.”
I can only see his face in profile as he stares at the empty mountain.
I say nothing.
Gogo rises and, toenails ticking, goes to stand by the door, panting pointedly. She wants a walk.
“Who’s the target?” James asks, voice quiet again. The apologetic tone is back.
I open the door, and Gogo races out, her tail waving like a pendulum, her black and brown fur shining under the blinding sun.
The target. I tug on my earlobe. What do I know about her?
A lot, actually.
Providence, 27, wealthy family, engaged, went to an expensive private university where she met the man she plans to marry.
Thanks to the combined efforts of social media and wedding websites, everything I wish to know about this woman is online, easily accessible. I even know that she has a penchant for insanely colorful things, judging by her registry. Pink platters. Tea saucers with turquoise, yellow and hot pink flowers. A cookie tray painted with every color under the sun. Napkins embroidered with bold birds, leaves, more flowers. Her registry is like a fucking walk through a fake rainforest, full of fake fancy flowers. Expensive, useless shit, all painted up and pretty.
I also know who her bridesmaids are, her parents, her siblings.
Stalking gets easier every day.
I would know.
She’s a writer too, who writes under a pen name, Mia Reed.
That made me laugh. It’s too damned perfect. Like fate dropped me down the easiest mark I’ve ever seen. No security. In country. No passports needed. No struggle to get weapons under a foreign government. And she’s annoying. I don’t know her, but already the colors and the flowers and the birds are spinning in my head like an overload of rainbow-bright noise. And she’s a writer.
I’ve been writing for about as long as I can remember. Stupid ass journals and angsty poems as a kid, but later, in the Marines while posted up, real stuff. Stuff that helped me forget, let go, move past all the bad shit I’ve done.
She’s not just any writer. She’s a sex writer.
One review read, “so smokin’ hot, you’d better get ready to read with one hand, and the AC jacked down as low as it goes.”
She’s the job that’ll end this all.
It’s got to be fate.
So what do I tell James?
Her face is sweet, classic, not flashy. Her photos speak to a cushy, easy life, as if she’s floated above the shit pile of poverty, terror and pain the rest of the world experiences.
I’ve lived in that shit pile, clawed my way through it and killed some of the worst pieces of shit inside.
“Just a woman,” I say, and instantly regret telling the truth. He’ll be pricklier about killing a woman.
Mia Reed, what did you do to piss off Ender9551?
He blows out a long puff of air. “Who is she?”
I lift a shoulder, scratch the back of my neck. “Just a woman somebody wants dead. Doesn’t matter who she is. You hungry?”
Because I want this conversation to be over yesterday, I head for the kitchen.
James doesn’t follow. “I can make my own sandwich.”
He can, but it’s easier for me to do it. So, I make two anyway. Whole wheat bread, muenster, sliced turkey, spicy mustard, apple slices, with carrots on the side. Just like our dad used to make.
When I bring them back in, I slap the plate down on the coffee table in front of him, and sit beside him to eat.
He doesn’t touch it. “I don’t want to be your reason to kill a good person.”
The apples crunch as I take a big bite out of my sandwich. “Who says she’s good?”
“You did.” Reluctantly, he takes a bite of his own.
“I don’t know she’s good.” She has terrible taste in decorations.
“I can tell from your tone, the way you sighed, how you won’t talk about it, that something bugs you about her. Which means she’s not some foreign dictator or terrorist.”
“Maybe she’s an asshole.”
His lips curl. “You kill people just for being assholes?”
I shrug, take a big bite of my sandwich and speak around the words, “Maybe she’s a really big asshole.”
He doesn’t laugh. “You don’t have to take care of me.”
He’s wrong. I do, so I look away. “Who said I was doing this for you?”
“Show you what?”
I finish my sandwich.
Finally, when I can’t really come up with any good reason not to, I go get the laptop. This is surreal, really. Showing pictures of a woman I will kill to my brother over sandwiches like it’s no big thing.
He stares at her picture for a while. “She’s pretty.”
“What difference does that make?”
“None. Can I talk you out of this?”
On screen, the woman stares back at me, that almost-lazy smile, the honey-gold hair.
James rests his elbows on his knees, leans in close. “Just… find out why they want her dead. What she did, if she did anything at all. Just one thing that makes her worth killing.”
I tug on my lower lip. “I don’t care what she did. I don’t want to know some woman I’ll have t—”
“What do you do? Spend a week on recon, getting to know the target? Seems like it wouldn’t be a big deal to spend a day trying to figure out why you’re doing it in the first place.”
I could tell him to fuck off, ignore him. We were close once, but that was a long time ago. We barely talk anymore. It would be the end. A clean end to this pretense of family. Then, on the day he first walks on his prostheses, I could just leave the money here, the deed to the house in his name, take off, sever the final cord in this world that connects me to anyone, to anything, disappear like a ghost in the wind.
Instead, for some unknown reason, I find my lips forming the shape, and my throat making the sounds. “Fine.”
I pick up my computer and disappear into my bedroom, hole up, stalk her some more.
The writing is the way in. Best way, unless I want to pose as a salesman for flowery junk.
She mentioned a writer’s website in the foreword of her latest book. WritersWrite.com. That’s the key.
So I sign up myself, and I become its newest member. Stranger Lowe.
I dig out my latest scribbles.
Not half bad, actually. That’s a relief. I haven’t looked at my work in a couple years, so I see it fresh, almost get caught up in the reading of it.
It’s important that it’s good, so I rework it several times. A woman like her is unlikely to be interested in chatting with a man whose professional work she can’t respect.
If I’m going to pretend to be a writer to flirt with a pretty girl so she’ll tell me all her secrets, I’d better be a damned good one.
And I need to think up a good opening line. One a writer can’t resist responding to.
Simple, I decide. And complimentary.
Writers love compliments.
A stranger named Stranger
Mia: Check it out! Just passed 1K sales!
Annie: Ahhhhh… Nice work my smug friend. Got my copy. I’ll leave a review in a few.
Mia: What! I’m not smug.
Annie: You are the smuggest of the smug, but I love you anyway.
That makes me laugh as I text her back. Annie’s my closest friend, and my fiancé’s sister.
Mia: Okay, fine. I’ll admit it. Maybe I am just the tiniest bit smug.
I can’t help it, though. I’m just so happy.
Annie: You deserve it, friend. Enjoy the smug while it lasts. Kisses and hugs.
Congrats on the release. Let’s pop bubbly with the guys soon.
Mia: Done! Give those babies some kisses for me! Hugs!
I set my phone down and push around the clutter on my desk to give it at least the appearance of order. The diamond on my engagement ring flickers and I smile. Sigh.
Yeah, I know. I almost annoy myself.
But not quite.
It’s release day of my seventh book. By all reasonable projections, by day’s end I’ll be able to pay off my initial investment. That’s huge. I’m making money!
I have the first act of my current work in progress to upload to WritersWrite.com. I’m engaged to my best friend’s brother, Jeremy Dixon. I love his family. And he’s the perfect man—even if he works so much, we almost never see each other. Actually, that’s perfect too, because it means I spend most of my time writing. A solid two-karat solitaire sits on my ring finger, gleaming away—I’m still not used to it!—my parents are incredible, and my best friend had twin babies two weeks ago. They’ll call me Aunt Mia.
I’m this close to being successful.
In a few months, I’ll walk down the aisle for the perfect winter-white, pine-tree-studded, glittery and perfect wedding, and become Mrs. Dixon.
This is the life I’ve always worked toward.
So, yeah. Maybe I am a little smug. I do try to hide it though.
No one likes a smugface.
I sip my coffee from my favorite monkey-shaped mug—complete with a big green palm frond and a silly yellow banana. Annie got it for me on her honeymoon. It always makes me laugh. I scroll through the writers’ forum. There’s a fight about adverbs, a discussion about the role of gender in media, a cat thread, another about fantasy wizards, one about cursing, one about how only snobs use semi-colons.
At the top of the screen is a red circle with a number 1 inside. There is a message from a writer named Stranger Lowe.
I’ve never heard of him which means he must be new. I’ve been on WritersWrite for a while now and we mostly know each other.
Stranger: I read Wrecked. It’s good.
Wrecked is my current work in progress.
It’s about shifters and love and sex. Okay, it’s mostly about sex.
I lean back in my chair and tuck my feet under me, tap my nails on the desk’s pink surface.
Sometimes guys hit me up because they think the fact that I write about sex is an invitation. I could just ignore him. I usually do, but it’s a nice compliment, simple, open, non-creepy.
I click on his profile page. Not much to see. He’s standing in front of a mountain somewhere, wearing a baseball cap, sunglasses and a thick fleece, rolled up to his elbows, revealing brightly colored tattoos. I won’t lie, he’s pretty hot, not like the type who needs to harass women online.
And he just read a book with some vivid, graphic sexual content, written by me.
Not sure how to feel about that.
He’s got only one chapter posted. I start to skim and get caught up reading it. It’s good. A little scary.
The opening scene is of an assassin preparing to kill a corrupt politician in Africa. Stalking his prey, learning his habits, covering his tracks. Something about the narrator scares me though. He seems dark, cold, inaccessible. I can’t help but wonder at the person who can create that character. Even though I don’t love horror or mystery, I can tell it’s good writing.
And… he likes my work.
So now I’m extra smug!
And I can’t not respond, so I type back:
Mia: Really? Yay! That’s so nice of you. Thank you!
He responds almost instantly:
Stranger: I’m never nice. Just telling the truth. Where’s the rest?
Mia: Of Wrecked? So far, I only have the first half posted.
Stranger: I know. Do you have more?
Is he serious? Why would he want to read romance?
Mia: Definitely. Sure. Yeah. Give me ten, and I’ll post a few more chapters. It’s a little weird though. Kinda kinky. Just warning you. Seriously, don’t judge me! I swear I’m not a sex freak.
I get busy uploading my new work, and when I’m done, that red circle is there at the top of my screen.
Stranger: Hmm… Do people call you a sex freak often?
Mia: No! It’s just… sometimes people get the wrong idea. They think I’m like my characters or something. And I’m not!
Stranger: Nothing wrong with sex. What kind of kinky are we talking about?
Mia: I mean, I write dark romance, so… you know.
Stranger: I do not know.
Mia: Have you ever read a dark romance?
Stranger: I’ve never read any romance at all.
Mia: It’s a little twisted.
Stranger: How so? Be specific.
I catch my lower lip between my teeth, and tell myself to be honest, not to be ashamed of what I write. It’s hard though. Only five people on earth know what I really do. My two closest friends, Annie and Erica, and their husbands. Plus Jeremy. Well, and a whole slew of internet people on WritersWrite.com. But my whole family, and all my other friends think I work in publishing.
I lie to them all the time. Jer helps me lie because he thinks my romances are embarrassing too. But right now, online, I don’t have to hide.
Mia: Ummm… Some pretty aggressive dub-con, rare but occasional anal play, random spankings, a few buckets of cum. You know… the usual.
There’s a pause. A long one. Long enough to make my cheeks get so hot all my smug just melts away like a snow cone in the summer sun and slides straight on down to the floor in a great big slushy puddle of shame.
I go get water from the fridge, replaying the words, hoping he'll know I was kidding—sort of. Ugh. Why can’t I write something nice? I hate talking about my work with non-romance writers. I should have gone for cozy mystery or fantasy or something normal. Not dark erotic shifters who have constant intense angry sex.
Everyone just thinks it’s porn. And they’re not even entirely wrong.
Now I hate that he read it. I’m going to delete it all.
As I pass the dining table, headed back toward my desk, I bump into a chair which hits the table, shaking the candles in the candle-holder so hard a candle falls off, rolls into a pile of things I keep meaning to go through. The heart-shaped photo frame I made in grade school crashes to the carpet with a dull thud, and the splits in two right down the center.
I pick it up the broken heart and hold the two pieces together. A little glue should fix it? Maybe?
When I sit down, there’s that red circle winking at me at the top of my screen again.
Stranger: Buckets of cum? That’s “the usual.”
Mia: Yes. Buckets. And I refuse to be embarrassed. (butIstilltotallyam)
Stranger: Lol. Don’t be embarrassed. Sounds good.
Is he saying “sounds good” the way I say it when someone sends me a new chapter to critique? Just all normal. Sounds good. Or does he mean it like he likes the sound of cum buckets?
I click on his picture again. Green mountains, white misty sky. Northwest? Appalachia? South America? Take off those glasses, Stranger Lowe. What color are your eyes?
The red circle is back.
Stranger: Do you mean buckets literally? Like a pail? A whole pail full?
Mia: No! Of course not. Gross.
Stranger: It’s a thing. A porn thing. It would be okay if you did. What are cum buckets then?
Mia: Ohmygod. It’s just… it’s just a term I use because there’s a lot of it. It’s a trope of the genre. The guys are extra (ohmygodthisconversationisawful) …productive.
Stranger: So this is what you meant when you said your characters like stuff but you don’t.
Stranger: Yeah. Okay.
I close the screen but something about the exchange keeps pulling at me. I keep opening the message’s window and staring at the black sans-serif typeface.
Mia: It’s just part of the genre. It’s what’s expected. Like how you write about killing people and stuff. You don’t actually kill people, I’m assuming.
I hit enter. And instantly regret it. That sounded so defensive, so rude.
I should apologize. That would make me look weirder, though.
I force my hands to get to work, my fingers to type, but the scene I build is weak. My heart’s not in it.
I sigh. Open the website to apologize. There’s that red circle.
Stranger: Tons. My body count is deep.
Mia: Ha. I might almost believe it the way you write.
Stranger: It’s not the same thing. Writing sex and writing killing are different. Killing people is inherently wrong. A person like that…there’d have to be something wrong with them. There’s nothing inherently wrong about you being into weird sex shit.
Weird sex shit makes me picture handcuffs and whips, chains and hot wax, spankings and ball-gags, people putting food in their vaginas. None of that stuff even remotely turns me on.
Well, maybe spanking. A little, but I’m not going to tell him that. My last male lead spanked the female lead, but that wasn’t formalized or anything. He just did it, and she liked it.
I liked writing it so much I asked Jeremy to spank me the night after I wrote it, and he swatted at me awkwardly.
It made us both uncomfortable.
I toy with my ring. I never know when to share personal information online. It makes me uncomfortable for myself. Privacy on the internet is an issue, as is trust, so I don’t want to pry or push or overshare. And he’s a man and we’re talking about sex… But still, he seems so blasé, so non-threatening.
Mia: But I’m not! I don’t want to be whipped or tied up. Or treated like a pet. And I definitely don’t want to be strung up in a sex swing or pooped on. Ever!
Stranger: Poop? Who said you did?
I did. I said poop. I bury my face in my hands. What am I doing? Am I flirting with him? If so, I’m terrible at it. I shouldn’t be flirting with anyone.
Mia: You said I was into weird sex shit! Aaaaaand… it was ME. I said poop. Headdesk.
Stranger: I didn’t say you were into weird sex shit. Reread our convo. Aaaaand I said shit before you said poop. Relax.
Mia: Oh. That’s true. I guess it’s just awkward. People always think I’m a pervert.
Stranger: Who thinks you’re a pervert?
Mia: You should see my mom’s face whenever romance novels come up.
Stranger: I mean… did you tell her about the buckets of cum?
Mia: Ha! No. She doesn’t even know I write. Let alone romance. She thinks romance novels are for the recklessly stupid and the dangerously perverted. Anyway, the next act of Wrecked is up if you’re interested. But no pressure. And go away now. You’re distracting me, and I need to write.
I wait, but he doesn’t respond. Nothing. Because he’s letting me focus? Or because I offended him by telling him to go away? Ugh! I shouldn’t care. I don’t care. He’s a stranger named Stranger, and I’m engaged to the perfect man.
I shake my head, close the browser, open my document, finish my crappy scene, which will need to be gutted and reworked later, and go to meet with some lawyers to make the man I love sign a pre-nup he really doesn’t want to sign.
I can’t help myself though, I keep looking at the top of my screen, dreading and hoping for that blinking red circle to appear, and amassing a mental list of questions about this stranger that keep on growing.
Day glow panties
SHE LIVES in a brick townhome in a trendy neighborhood in downtown Providence. The lighting fixture above the front door was clearly designed for the light bulb to be easy to change. No problem to reach up with one gloved hand and twist it until lights out.
And I am shrouded in darkness. No can see as I feeler pick inside the lock.
A second later, it snicks, and I slide open the door.
I freeze, listening. The fridge hums, the air conditioner whirs. But otherwise, silence reigns throughout the house.
The air moves with something sweet. Peaches.
No doorbell camera. No security alarm. The lock’s a joke.
I shake my head, standing in the darkness, invisible to passersby, as I tuck my lock kit into my ass pocket and take my first step inside.
A staircase sits on the right, a living area on the left, with a kitchen at the back. A rear exit that leads to the private courtyard I scoped out earlier.
She left a light on for me.
It illuminates the space well.
And what I see... gives me pause. I think I’d expected normal, traditional, based on her photographs, what I know about her, the soft, slightly-awkward banter we exchanged earlier. Safe beige or gray, navy maybe. Classy.
I should have known because of the crazy shit on her registry, but still, it’s so at odds with the personality she’s revealed to me so far.
This is… loud.
The rug is pink. Not the pale pink you see on baby commercials or wedding magazines, but bright stripper pink. The sofa and chairs are piled in those dumb pillows women like, a rainbow cacophony.
The walls are stacked with bright paintings, the tables and shelves are stuffed with books and what my friend Lex calls tchotchkes. A zebra sculpture, a Chinese waving gold cat, picture frames, vases, bowls, clocks… crap fills every space.
So much crap.
It’s the exact opposite of the farm house, with its empty shelves, and scant furniture. It’s not messy or dirty, or overbearing like those hoarders you see on TV, but it’s definitely packed.
I prowl to her purse, tossed lazily across a dining table I can tell she doesn’t use to eat. She uses it to store more of her crap.
I’ve never been in a space like this. It’s like she’s got something from every single place she’s ever been, a tether binding her to this place, this time in her life, weighing her down.
What does she do with all this shit?
I paw through her purse, but there is nothing too interesting inside. I take pictures of all her credit cards, ID, a check. The routing number might come in handy later.
A bulky red ceramic picture frame, the kind kids make in kindergarten, sits on the table next to her purse. Two half hearts. I push the pieces together idly with a gloved-finger, building a picture of this nervous, bubbly, Mia Whitten woman in my mind. Writer, collector… what else? Why take out a hit on this happy fluttery woman?
I move closer to the shelves. There are so many photos it makes my head spin. Smiling people. Laughing people. Old people. Young people. Babies. Happy people. At the beach. In the mountains. In front of the Eiffel Tower, the Taj Mahal, the giant Buddha in Hong Kong, on safari.
Mia is in most of them, that same warm, open smile. As if she’s never been hurt. Not once in her whole entire life.
So much stuff. So many people.
She’s the anti-Stranger.
I seek privacy, she seeks people.
I seek emptiness, she seeks crap to fill it.
Her computer sits in the center of a loud pink desk. The chair looks suspect at best, flimsy with legs like twigs and elaborate carvings in an aggressive blue. I don’t want to risk it snapping under me, so I just lean over it. There’s no password.
Her search history is hilarious, though unsurprising given what she writes, and I take a moment to amuse myself skimming through her latest searches.
Description of a vagina?
What’s so great about anal sex?
Are blue balls real?
The last one makes me laugh silently.
It takes a few minutes to download the software that will allow me to screen share without her knowing.
There’s nothing else to find on her computer.
Nor on this floor.
So, I make my way silently upstairs, placing my feet on the outer edges of the steps to avoid creaks.
There’s a hall bathroom, two bedrooms. I shine a penlight inside. They are also filled with color, packed with paintings, and more books and sculptures and trinkets—this woman’s got more shit than anyone I’ve ever seen. I pity the sad fool who has to help her move at some point.
At the end of the hall is an open door that can only lead to her room.
There’s no light in here and I can’t risk waking her with the torch on my phone, so I wait for my eyes to adjust, breathing in the honey-and-peach smell.
Scant light spills in from the street lamps outside, soft and rosy through sheer drapes.
She’s breathing, soft, steady, even. I listen for a moment to make sure she hasn’t sensed my presence.
This room is no different from the rest, full of hothouse colors so bright even the darkness can’t dilute them beyond recognition. Pink and green wallpaper, pink carpet, a floral bedspread. And the lamps on her bedside tables are—I’m not kidding—gigantic parrots in green, orange and turquoise.
What is with this woman and color?
I creep away from the warm body on the bed and down the short hall to her bathroom. Some evidence of a man in her life is at the second sink, an extra toothbrush and a razor, men’s deodorant. But mostly, this is as much a woman’s world as the rest of her home.
The walk-in closet is a surprise. Based on the rest of the place, I expected it to be full of hippy shit, flowered scarves, annoying belts, loud necklaces, bold shoes, a jewel-box of colors, but it’s the opposite. Mostly white, beige and black, a bit of navy blue. Simple solid colors. The air is thicker with her smell in here, her clothes saturated with it. Not just the sweetness of peaches and honey. More. A deeper smell. The smell of a woman.
A slim drawer holds jewelry, mostly simple gold. A larger drawer houses a kaleidoscope of lacy panties and bras. I pick up a thong—naturally day glow orange between my thumb and forefinger, let it drop back into the drawer.
I’m building a bizarre impression of a woman who shows herself to the world as prim and classy, but inside revels in the bold and the bright. Her place is vibrant just shy of garish, like her underpants. She’s flashy, but only when no one can see. Like the stories she writes in secret.
I leave the closet and cross to her bed, moving slowly so as not to disturb the air around her.
She’s on her back, an arm tossed over her head, the covers loose around her waist, her hair curling across the pillows, lips slightly parted.
Her phone sits on the table beside her, next to one of the bizarre parrot lamps, on a stack of paperback books. Again, no password.
Making my job so easy, Mia. Even a baby would cry if you stole its candy. She doesn’t even offer up that much defense.
It takes me two minutes to activate an app that will allow me to track her movements, and a second that will give me access to all her activity.
I can go now. I’ve done what I came to do, but instead I find myself standing there, staring at her.
My eyes have adjusted to the dark. I can’t see her perfectly, but enough to get a feel for her.
A narrow nose with a slight arch to it, soft brows, pretty lips. The blanket is pulled up to her ribcage. The soft curves of her breasts are visible in the dim light, the shadows of her clavicle, her slender throat, fine jaw. An elegant face.
She makes a noise, a soft hum in her throat and rolls onto her side. But she doesn’t open her eyes, and I feel a moment of regret.
She’d have screamed if she had. She’d have known she wasn’t safe. She might have been prepared. Not enough, but maybe enough to make it at least a challenge.
Tomorrow, I’ll know all her secrets.
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