Pale Series Box Set: Contemporary Romance - Mac Flynn - ebook
Opis

The entire PALE series in one complete package!Trixie is a wise-cracking waitress trying to work her way through college when a late-night storm blows in a stranger. He’s not like the usual customers with his pale skin and dark clothes. Her kindness to him is rewarded with an invitation to his house in the country, and she finds herself in a sticky relationship when he returns her kindness with more than just a thank-you. A three-part series featuring love, lies, and laughter.

Ebooka przeczytasz w aplikacjach Legimi na:

Androidzie
iOS
czytnikach certyfikowanych
przez Legimi
Windows
10
Windows
Phone

Liczba stron: 425

Odsłuch ebooka (TTS) dostepny w abonamencie „ebooki+audiobooki bez limitu” w aplikacjach Legimi na:

Androidzie
iOS

Pale Series BoxSet

Contemporary Romance

Mac Flynn

Copyright © 2017 by Mac Flynn

All rights reserved.

No part of this book may be reproduced in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means, including information storage and retrieval systems, without written permission from the author, except for the use of brief quotations in a book review.

Want to get an email when a new book is released? Sign up here to join the Wolf Den, the online newsletter with abite!

Wanting to find the rest of the series and check out some of my other books? Hop over to my website for apeek!

Contents

Pale Stranger

Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Chapter 6

Chapter 7

Chapter 8

Chapter 9

Chapter 10

Chapter 11

Continue the adventure

Other series by Mac Flynn

Pale Companion

Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Chapter 6

Chapter 7

Chapter 8

Chapter 9

Chapter 10

Chapter 11

Pale Lover

Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Chapter 6

Chapter 7

Chapter 8

Chapter 9

Chapter 10

Chapter 11

1

It all started with ketchup. I wasn’t scheduled to work that night at the diner, but one of my coworkers slipped on a packet of ketchup and sprained her butt. That’s why I was called in to fill her position that dark and stormy night when heshowedup.

It was the usual chaos around the diner, a dirty little place off the intersection of Going and Nowhere, which, like this book, was the story of my life. I’d worked at the small, cramped, old-fashioned rectangular building for the last seven years and saw myself coming near the end of my college years without any way to brake and put the car of life in reverse. I was plump, but not fat, witty, but not mean, blond haired, but not dumb, and made more friends than enemies with whom I met. It was a comfortable life, other than the stress of college and work, but not one with much prospect of becoming a millionaire and living a life of retirement at age forty. If I kept up this pace I could retire at four hundred and spend the rest of my days on life-support.

One of my friends, Sheila, was helping me run the diner that night. The rush hour of regulars was over, the hour was late, and our muscles were tired from scampering from table to table all night taking orders. Sheila, a skinny young girl of twenty with as much ambition as a sloth, plopped herself down in a chair beside the door to the kitchen. She glanced outside and shook her head. “What a night,” she sighed.

She wasn’t kidding. A storm raged outside the windows the likes of which I’d seen once or twice before. I’d just washed the outside of the windows yesterday, so that ensured that the wind blew leaves and rain against all of them. The wind blew so hard people had trouble staying on their feet, and I swear I even saw a cow fly by, which was strange considering we were in the middle of thecity.

“Trixie?”

“Huh? What?” That was my name, and Sheila was callingit.

“I said do you think the power will go out? We don’t have any way to keep the burger patties frozen if the fridge dies,” she pointedout.

I shrugged. “Then we’ll have to take one for the team and eat them all ourselves,” I toldher.

She snorted. “As if. I’d be so bloated I couldn’t fit through thedoor.”

I shuddered; being stuck at work all night wasn’t my idea of fun. Maybe somebody else’s idea, but I wouldn’t have been a part of that planning process. “If the power does go out just don’t open the doors.”

“Or hope it goes out after we leave,” she added. “How much longer do wehave?”

I glanced at my watch, and around the diner. Two diners were finishing up their meals. “We have an hour left and then it’s rough sailing through the storm.” I walked around the counter to one of the booths and glanced out the window. The streets were running with water. “Looks like some of the city’s fine sanitary infrastructure isn’t working right,” I told Sheila.

“The whats-it?” she askedme.

“The sewer drains are clogged,” I rephrased. “At the rate the rain’s coming down we might need to flip one of these tables over and use it as a boat to get home.” I glanced over to our two remaining customers. “Sirs, you might want to get a move on or you’ll have trouble getting through the streets.” The two men were nice enough to finish their meals, pay and get out, leaving Sheila and me alone with just the cook in the back. He was as friendly as a bear awoken in mid-hibernation, so we didn’t include him in our conversations.

After I showed the last man out and made sure the door shut behind him, I glanced at my watch. Half an hour left. Outside the storm raged like a toddler hell-bent on destroying a model city, and the night was so dark I couldn’t see more than a yard past the doors. The decrepit streetlights were broken, and the rain came down in sheets of thick silk. The owner of the diner was very strict about closing and opening on time, but the weather was so bad made me so nervous that my hand hovered over thelock.

I didn’t even see the man until his face was pressed against glass. My loud, vibrating scream registered on the Richter scale, and I stumbled back onto the floor when the door swung open. Sheila, my brave and bold friend, ducked down beneath the counter and the cook stuck his head out of the kitchen.

The man who stepped inside was almost six feet tall with a fedora hat on his head and a heavy trench coat over his body. On the floor I could even see his shoes; simple and black with pointy tips. What really scared me was his skin; it was as pale as paper, the white printer kind, not that colorful construction kind that’s fun to cut up. He had a pair of bright blue eyes that stood out against the white color like Christmas lights on a snowman. This guy didn’t look jolly enough to be Frosty, not with those pursed lips, though he was dripping on the floor I’d just cleaned an hour ago out of sheer boredom.

I started back when he bent down and offered his hand to me; it was covered in a thick black glove. “I’m sorry to have startled you. Are you all right?” he asked me in a deep, firm voice. It was the kind that would make a girl swoon to the floor if I hadn’t already been down there.

I took his hand and was surprised how warm it felt through the glove. He pulled me up with more strength than I’d give a man who looked like he had one foot in the grave, or a serious accident with flour. “I’m fine, just this stupid weather,” I replied as I brushed myself off. “But what can I do for you?” At this point I normally let the customers seat themselves, but he wasn’t a normal customer. Hell, he didn’t look like a normal person, not with those bright eyes staring unblinkingly at me. Gave me the willies, creeps, heebiejeebies, and made me a touch nervous. I also wanted to close up early, now more than ever with Dracula standing there. I wouldn’t have minded a bit of ravishing because he wasn’t bad looking without the pale skin, but the bloodsucking was a bit of a drain on a relationship.

“Coffee, your strongest,” he requested. He shuffled over to the counter and took a seat in the very center. That was my work area for the evening, so I sighed and went around the counter to find Sheila still cowering beneath there.

I glared at her and gestured for her to get up, but she shook her head. I glanced up and caught the customer staring at me funny, probably because I’d been mouthing words of warning at my cowering coworker. I plastered a wide, terrifying grin on my face and fetched a cup of our drink. At this late in the evening it wasn’t so much coffee as it was sludge filled with coffee grounds. It was guaranteed to keep the drinker awake for five days, or bring them back from the dead. The guy didn’t look like he needed a remedy for the second, so I figured he wanted to be up during theday.

I filled the cup with the oozing mess and plopped it down in front of him; the surface jiggled. The damn thing had attained sentience. “Careful, it’s, well, alive,” I warnedhim.

The stranger was mesmerized by the jiggling. “Is it safe to drink?” he askedme.

“Yeah, but you’d better hurry and drink it before it demands citizenship,” I advised. At that moment I felt a tug on my leg; Sheila was wanting my attention. “Excuse me for a moment, I think the rats want to talk to me about their union dues.” I had enough time to see his bewildered expression before I slipped beneath the counter. I dropped my voice to a low, hissing whisper so he couldn’t overhear. “What are you doing? Getup!”

Sheila shook her head, and her eyes were wide and as round as diner plates. “Not with that creepy guy! Did you get a look at his face through the door?” she squeaked.

“I’m pretty sure I got a good look at him from five inches away,” I replied. “Now get up and show what kind of a man you canbe.”

“But I’m not a man, and I just want him to leave!”

“Then it’s time you traded in your breasts for some balls, and stood up,” I hissed back ather.

“Is there a problem?” the stranger spokeup.

We both froze; we hadn’t been quiet enough to escape his sharp ears. I grabbed Sheila’s shoulders and hauled her with me as I stood. We both plastered smiles on our faces, and startled the man. “Sorry about that, my coworker here lost a power saw and needed help findingit.”

“A…power saw?” the man repeated.

“For cutting our way home through this storm,” I told him. “We get off in half an hour and want to be prepared for anything.”

The man looked concerned. “Am I keeping you from leaving? I can leave, if you want.” He got as far as one leg off the stool before I sighed and shook myhead.

“No, it’s all right.” Sheila’s clinging hands on my arm begged to differ. “We don’t mind staying open for a few more minutes while you finish your, um, sentient life.” I couldn’t bring myself to belittle the coffee by calling it a drink; that would hurt its feelings.

We all jumped when a door slammed at the back of the diner.

“What was that?” the stranger asked.

I rolled my eyes. “Apparently the cook minded staying and just went home for the night. I hope you didn’t want a meal with your drink because the most we can do is scrambled eggs, and I’m not so sure about the scrambled part,” I warnedhim.

“No, this coffee will do.” He was being kind; the sludge blinked at him. I worried it thought he was its mother. “But are you sure you don’t want me to leave?”

“No, it’s fine.” There was that tugging on my arm again; I’d have to have that nervous twitch looked at after he left. “You must have been pretty desperate to come inhere.”

“To be honest I’m not too familiar with this part of town and your lights looked the friendliest, so I came inside,” he told us. “A sort of sailor adrift who catches sight of land and swims toit.”

“I hope you can still swim because if this storm gets any worse we’re all going to be needing to,” I quipped. The rain still beat on the windows and an old farmhouse flewby.

The stranger took his mug and downed the rest of the contents; I hoped I hadn’t just poisoned him. “I really appreciate your kindness. Not many would serve me on this sort of night,” he mused with a sad smile.

I shrugged. “I’d keep serving at this place even if the world was coming to an end. Nobody should have to face the Rapture on an empty stomach.”

He chuckled, and those eyes twinkled. “I’d like to do something nice for you as a token of my appreciation.” He pulled out a card from an inner coat pocket and slid it over to me. I glanced down, and saw an address and the letter B in a circle printed on the front. “That’s where Ilive.”

My mind proceeded to conjure up images of bad porn films; not that I’d seen any, of course. “I don’t really make house calls, so you’ll have to pour your own coffee,” I told him. I pushed the card toward him, and he pushed itback.

“This isn’t anything like that,” he assured me. “I’d like to interview you for a job I have in mind, and would prefer a more private surrounding.”

I leaned over the counter and stared him straight in the eyes. “This isn’t a sex job, isit?”

He grinned. “Quite the opposite, but are you looking for suchwork?”

I straightened and opened my arms to show my flabby body. “There’s plenty of folds to put the dollar bills, but I don’t think the pole could supportme.”

He chuckled; this guy was easy to please. “I can see what you mean, but my offer still stands. Come to my house for the interview at eight o’clock tomorrow evening and we’ll see what we can work out.” That worked for me; I didn’t have any college classes that late. He tossed down a twenty dollar bill for a fifty cent cup of coffee and slid off the stool.

The fellow wasn’t giving me much time to think about this offer, and he’d given me even less information to decide what to do. “Wait, I don’t even know your name!” I protested as he walked toward thedoor.

He paused and glanced over his shoulder with a dazzlingly pale smile on his face. “It’s John Benson,” he replied.

“And don’t you want to knowmine?”

He shook his head. “I don’t need to know it. I’ll just call you my little Angel.”

I wasn’t modest enough to dispute the angel tag, but the little was not quite accurate. He was out the door and gone before I could say anythingelse.

Sheila came up to me with her hand raised and a finger pointed at the door. “H-h-he’s-”

“-gone, I know,” I finished forher.

She whipped her head to me and frowned. “Didn’t you hear his name?” she snapped atme.

“My memory hasn’t slowed up these long minutes with him,” I countered.

I noticed Sheila’s attitude had changed from a cowering coward to a giddy schoolgirl. “Then don’t you know who he is?” she whispered.

“The only things I need to know is that he’s a guy offering me a job, and I don’t have to strip to doit.”

“He’s the John Benson, of Benson Investments,” Sheila explained tome.

I stared at her blankly. “He’s who ofwhat?”

Sheila rolled her eyes. “It’s only one of the largest investing companies in the country, and he’s the head ofit!”

I raised an eyebrow. “I’m pretty sure I would have heard about a business with an albino at the head of it. News like that’s too good for the papers to ignore.”

“It’s because he doesn’t let anyone see him. He works from home and rarely travels.”

“Then how do you know it’s him? John Benson isn’t exactly a rarename.”

She snatched the card from my hand and pointed at the B. “See? That’s his company’slogo.”

I snatched the card back and stuffed the card into the front of my blouse. The damn thing stuck out and I abandoned my attempt to look cool by shoving it into my pocket. “So how come you know so much about him?” I asked her. She was the type of girl who only looked at a man’s business to assess his bank account.

“Because he’s young, eligible, and I knew he lived somewhere around the city,” she told me. “So are you going togo?”

I shrugged. “Maybe, maybe not. I don’t work tomorrow, so I may as well see what he’s offering.”

She pressed against me and clasped her hands together. “Can I go with you? Pretty please?”

“You work tomorrow,” I remindedher.

“Yeah, but if he really likes me I may never have to work again,” she countered.

“How about you catch your own wealthy businessman and leave him to me? Besides, you’re scared of him, remember? Pale skin and creepy blueeyes?”

We jumped when something hard knocked against the window and reminded us of the end of the world outside. That scared the gold-digger out of Sheila, and she nervously glanced at the windows and nodded. “Yeah, on second thought he’s all yours. I’ll wait for the nextone.”

2

Truth be told I wasn’t sure I wanted this rich man, either. The way his blue eyes looked at me made me feel nervous, and that’s why the next day I brought Old Unreliable out of the closet. It was a handgun of ancient lineage, sometime before Elvis, and hadn’t been properly cleaned since the King’s death. That made it a very unreliable gun and possibly a dangerous gun. It was probably more likely to shoot a person behind the gun than in front of it. Still, it was all I had for protection against this odd rich man and his strange propositions.

The next thing I did was call my mom. She lived in the same city but clear across town, much farther from my college than I wanted to commute so I lived in my own dingy apartment. She answered the phone after two rings, probably because she recognized the number and knew she wouldn’t be harassed by a telemarketer, just her daughter. “Hey, Mom,” I greetedher.

“What do you want now?” she askedme.

“Advice. Is that free or do I need to give you my debit card number?” I joked.

“Trixie Calhoun, don’t you dare say that number of the phone. Goodness knows who will hear it,” she scolded.

I rolled my eyes. “Probably just us and the rats in my apartment.”

She sounded exasperated. “And I wish you’d move back home. I know you wanted to be closer to the campus, but that filthy place is just disgusting.”

“It won’t be home for much longer if I can just finish these next two years of homework and dirty looks from the teachers,” I pointed out. “But I called to ask your advice about something. I met a guy last night-”

“Finally!” she exclaimed.

“-who for all I know is married,” I continued. I heard the steam escape her inflated hope. “And he said he might have a job for me, maybe a better one. I said I’d come by his home tonight and see what he’s offering.”

Mom didn’t sound happy about this at all. “Where does helive?”

“According to the address he gave me, somewhere out in the middle of nowhere, or a fifteen miles out of town,” I replied.

“And how long have you known thisMr.-?”

“We talked for about fifteen minutes,” I guessed.

My mom sighed. “Trixie, this sounds really bad. How old is this man? What does hedo?”

My heart sank, but I wasn’t going to take the safe route out; fortune favored the bold, and I was hoping for a small fortune from this rich benefactor. “He’s about thirty and Sheila told me he runs his own company. Some Benson Investors or something”

“That doesn’t bring me comfort,” Mom dryly commented.

“I know, that’s why I’m taking Old Unreliable. If anything goes wrong I can make the situation worse.”

“For you or him?” she wondered.

“If I’m the one in back of the gun it might be more me,” I admitted. “But he was sickly looking, so if push comes to rape I think I can takehim.”

Mom groaned. “Trixie, I know I can’t convince you to not go, but please, please be careful, and don’t forget your cell phone.”

“I’m a college student, Mom, I have that with me twenty-four seven.” I often forgot it in my car. “And I’ll call as soon as I get back from the house.”

“Promise?”

“Promise.”

I ended the call and sighed. I hated to admit it, but Mom was right, this was a dangerous undertaking. The big problem was I was a little desperate on cash. I had a big rent payment coming in a month along with a new semester of book-buying that was sure to drive me into poverty, and my pay at the diner couldn’t cut through soft cheese, much less these large expenses. If I went without food I could make things work, but my body refused to die for my college tuition.

There was always the option of asking my mom for money, but my pride wouldn’t allow it. No matter how much I’d begged Pride, it always said no; damn stubborn thing. That meant my last hope was this unusual offer from an even stranger man to drive out to his place far in the country to see about the unknown job. What could go wrong?

That evening I got into my car that smoked so bad it looked like it ran on coal, and drove out to Mr. Benson’s house. Thanks to Google maps I knew where I was going, otherwise people would’ve seen my skeleton driving by still searching for that damn road. I took so many lefts and rights that I was cross-eyed and upside down by the time I hit the final road up to the place. When the house came into view I was pretty impressed, and horrifically terrified. It was an old Victorian mansion complete with ghoulish gables, ominous eves, and spooky steps. The lawn around the house was well-kept and a circular driveway ran up to the front porch. There was a garage on the left side of the house with a heavy cloth that ran from the exterior door of the house to the garage side door. I parked at the steps, but made sure not to hit the parking brake just in case I needed to make a quick getaway.

I stepped out of the car and was surprised when lightning didn’t ominously flash across the sky behind the house. The stairs up to the porch squeaked like they needed oil, and an old Marley knocker sat in the center of the door. I gingerly grabbed the knocker and banged it against the entrance. The noise echoed through the hollow-sounding house, and in a minute I heard a quick tapping noise. It grew louder and faster the closer it came to me like a bomb about to go off, and I was just about to duck for cover when the door swung open. Rather than a bomb there stood a bombshell in the form of a beautiful woman. She was average height and a mathematical improbability of 36-24-36. A lot of women would have killed to have those measurements, making a lot of women murderers. Fortunately for this woman I was not one of them, and I smiled at her. “Hi, um, is this where Mr. Benson lives?”

She looked me over with the only displeasing part of her: narrow, suspicious eyes set behind a pair of small, square glasses. I knew we were going to be good friends when she sneered at me, and her voice sounded like she’d rather let the dogs loose on me than talk to me. “You must be Miss Angel,” she spatout.

I wiped the spittle off my face and my smile got a little thinner. “Miss Angel is too formal. Please call me Miss Calhoun.”

My joke fell flatter than a buttered piece of toast dropped onto the floor. “Follow me, and remember to close thedoor.”

She probably thought I was born in a barn, which showed how little she knew about me; I was born in a tool shed. I stepped inside and saw that the decor was done up in late eighteenth century Dracula, complete with no mirrors. On my left and right were the dining and living rooms. In front was a long hallway that stretched to the back of the deep house, and beside the hallway rose a narrow staircase with a landing to reach the second floor.

Miss Measurements led me upstairs where the hall curved back to run in line with the long hallway on the bottom floor. We stopped in front of a door that looked like every other one, and she knocked. “Mr. Benson, your-” she glanced at me with venomous snake eyes, “-guest is here.” With this woman I felt like a meal waiting to be eaten.

“Bring her in,” came the familiar voice of the pale stranger. I almost bowled the woman over to get at him; I preferred Dracula over this She-Beast any day. At least he’d make love to me before eating me. The room we stepped into was a bedroom done up in a spartan style complete with Greek vases on a shelf. The bed sat opposite the door beside a window, and Mr. Benson lay under the covers with a smile on his face. “Good evening.”

I wanted to ask if he drank wine, but the situation was uncomfortable enough with viper lady beside me. “Um, good evening. Nice place you have here. Must be popular with the trick-or-treaters.”

The woman rolled her eyes, but Benson chuckled. “It would be very popular if there were any children this far out.” He glanced to the woman. “You may leave us now, Miss Sievers.” She nodded, cast another wishful look of death-and-horrible-pain at me and left us alone, taking some of the tension with her. I breathed a sigh of relief loud enough for the sharp-eared man to hear me. “Does she make you uncomfortable?” he askedme.

She’d make a psychopath nervous, but I had to act professional in this very unprofessional room. “A little,” I replied.

“I must admit she isn’t very friendly, and as my personal secretary and diplomat I need someone more personable who isn’t afraid of both my opponents andme.”

I thought I heard a job opening in his words. “Personal secretary? Is that the job you want mefor?”

He nodded. “Yes. As you can see I’m not a very photogenic person myself and need a face to act as a go-between for me to the outside world.”

“But you were out last night,” I pointedout.

“A doctor’s appointment, and you can see the success.” He gestured down to his sheet-covered self. “But I don’t believe you came here to discuss my medical matters. How are you with in writing down notes?”

“I’ve caught several pencils on fire from taking orders,” I replied.

He chuckled. “This I have to see.” He grabbed a pen and pad beside on the nightstand and held them out to me. I hesitated, but he wasn’t insulted. “It’s fine, these don’tbite.”

“Have you ever had a paper cut?” I countered, but took the items.

“Now try to write down everything I say.” He spoke a few lines about stocks and bonds, and I took them down as well as I could manage. “Now let me see what you wrote.” I handed back the pad, and a puzzled expression swept across his face. “I can’t read this atall.”

I shrugged and smiled. “It’s my own shorthand for taking orders. No cryptographer or cook has ever decipheredit.”

“So that’s why waitresses always yell the orders,” he mused with a grin. “Read back the contents and let me see how well you wrote down my words.” I took back the pad and repeated the lines. He gave a satisfied nod. “Very good. Now do you know anything about investing or stocks?”

“You do remember where we met, right?”

He shrugged. “It was worth asking, but I suppose this will keep you from-” There was a sudden noise outside the bedroom door. Benson performed a miracle when he flung aside the covers and crossed the room in a few strides. He swung open the door to find nobody there, but he stuck out his head to check thehall.

I checked my watch. Ten past eight. “I though the union rules said spooks couldn’t wander until midnight,” I mused.

“They walk these halls even during the day…” he muttered. He closed the door and turned to me with a smile. “But when can you start?”

I held up my hands. “I just serve food that makes ghosts. You’re going to have to call someone else for the extermination.”

He crossed over to me and grabbed my shoulders. His warm hands burned holes through my sleeves and into my skin; that was a new shirt, too. “But you’re just who I need to help me. No one else willdo.”

I blinked in bewilderment. “Dowhat?”

“Your new job with me here as my personal secretary,” he explained. “When can you start?”

“First you need to explain your miraculous recovery,” I replied. I jerked my head toward the bed. “You were in invalid one minute, and the next you looked like Jessie Owens. What’s thedeal?”

He sighed and released me. “A conservation of energy, a focus of the mind, and-”

“-and being really angry at someone,” I finished. “That noise we heard was Miss Whats-Her-Name, wasn’tit?”

He regretfully nodded. “Miss Constance Sievers.”

“Her name is right. She’s constantly around,” I quipped.

“Yes, I’m afraid I can’t-” he didn’t get to finish his sentence because his legs buckled and he dropped forward. I caught him before he ate floor and let him down the rest of the way. He had a shaky, wry smile on his face. “I’m sorry you had to see that. A consequence of my over-exertion justnow.”

“I’ve seen worse,” I assured him. He raised an eyebrow in question. “Let’s just say it involved alcohol and a ping pong paddle.”

“I shall ask no more questions, just help me up to the bed,” he promised. I hefted one of his arms over my shoulder and dragged his limp body onto the bed, where he sat up but leaned his right shoulder against the wall. His ghostly pallor was as white as bleach and not nearly as useful in cleaning. “Now you see why I am in need of a strong, young, helpful woman.”

“You’re in need of a better doctor. If this is what happens after every visit then the one you’re going to is an aspiring murderer,” I toldhim.

“Perhaps, but I need a set of clear eyes to tell the frauds from the real ones. I don’t trust Miss Sievers’ eyes any longer, but I believe I can trust yours.” He caught me in those deep pools of blue. I felt myself slipping into them, which was very unsafe without a life jacket. “Will you take on the job? I’m begging you to helpme.”

I held up my hand to stop him from saying any more; if he did I’d fall for his blue eyes hook, line, and wriggling fish. “First, mind if I ask a few questions before I remove Miss Scary-Lady from her position?”

He smirked and gave a nod. “Go ahead.”

“First off, how much is thepay?”

“In a year’s time you could probably buy the diner I found you workingat.”

I tried not to squeal with joy. “Sounds fair enough, what about the hours?”

“What are your current hours?” he askedme.

“From the butt-crack of dawn until closing time hits, whether I’ve collapsed by then or not,” I toldhim.

“I refuse to believe the day exists before noon, and I go to bed when my health forces me to,” he explained to me. That worked with my class schedule; I was done before noon to work at the diner.

“And I work all those hours?”

“No, only four of them, and a few odds and ends when the need arises.”

“Like it did just now?” I wondered, and he nodded. “Anything strange and kinky you need me todo?”

He laughed and shook his head. “None that I can think of. Did you have something inmind?”

“Plenty, but let’s keep my mind out of the gutter while we’re talking business. It dirties up the verbal contract,” I replied.

“Then we have a deal?” He was as desperate as a teenager on his first night in the Paris nightlife. I couldn’t say no to a man in such desperate need to rid himself of such a woman as Miss Sievers, but I didn’t want to dive into a pool until I was sure there weren’t any sharks; I didn’t want to spend the rest of my days with the nickname of Lefty.

“We have a deal, but on one condition,” I answered.

He stiffened. “And that wouldbe?”

“I get a trial run. At the end if I’m not happy then I go back to work at the diner,” I explained tohim.

Benson furrowed his brow, but nodded. “Very well, but how will you get away from your currentjob?”

I shrugged. “I’m up for a vacation.” Seven years behind on a vacation; I’d never taken one except when I was sick, which didn’t happen often. “My boss will miss me dearly, but I’m sure Sheila won’t blow the place up while I’mgone.”

“Sheila?” he wondered.

“The girl you met last night. She’s Sheila,” I replied.

“Ah, I see.” He looked me over with a contemplativegaze.

I glanced down at myself to see if there was a spaghetti stain; it was all clear. “What? I have a booger hanging out or something?”

Benson shook his head. “No, but there’s one very important question I’m surprised you haven’t askedme.”

I pointed at his face. “You mean about your rolled-in-flour look?” I asked him. He didn’t look mad, just nodded. “Well, are you going to die on me because ofit?”

He shrugged. “Perhaps, perhaps not, but we all die sometime.”

“Yeah, but I don’t want to have a heart attack after finding you and make it a double funeral,” I countered.

Benson chuckled. “Well, I can assure you I am as healthy as a horse right now.” I looked him up and down; only if the horse was on its last leg out of four and going blind. Still, he had shown a lot of spryness when racing to the door, so that was a point on his side; the horse could still run when it wantedto.

“Then that’s all the questions I had for you. You have any forme?”

He stroked his chin in one hand and looked me over with those sky-blue eyes; he would have made a diabolical and dashing villain if he had a goatee instead of that scruff. “Have you any boyfriend or husband?”

I folded my arms across my chest and smiled at him. “None that I know of. Is that required for the position?”

“No, but one must know how many liberties one can take with their employees,” he countered.

“Don’t take too many liberties or I’ll give you death,” I playfully warned.

He smiled and nodded. “Fair enough. Would you like to stay here for your week of experimentation?”

I shook my head; no sense getting so attached that I find myself joined at his hip. “I’ll commute. The scenery isn’t thatbad.”

“Very well. I believe that’s all the questions I have foryou.”

“Then I’ll see you at eight o’clock tomorrow morning,” I promisedhim.

He held out his hand and I gave it a good shake; he gave one better and I got back sore fingers. “Be attentive when you’re driving out here. These roads are rather winding and it’s easy to getlost.”

I shook my head. “Nothing more than city blocks of corn and wheat. I can handleit.”

3

I didn’t handle it; the trip back took an hour longer, and by the time I shuffled into my dreary apartment it was past ten. The peeling wallpaper and cockroaches welcomed me home, and I wondered if I’d been thinking when I refused his offer to stay at that fancy, albeit creepy, house.

“Too late now…” I muttered to myself.

I plopped down in my dusty old recliner and dialed the phone number to the diner to call in my vacation for the next week. Sheila answered. “Dan’s Delicious Diner. How can I helpyou?”

I don’t know how Dan hadn’t been sued for false advertising; maybe he’d invited his critics over for some of his Lasagna Surprise and murdered them that way. “Hi, Sheila, it’s Trixie. How did everything go today?”

I pulled my ear away from the phone when she let out a squeal of joy. “Trixie! You’re alive! Dracula didn’t killyou!”

I risked “No, I’m a few pints less than before I went but I’m healthy otherwise,” I replied. I rolled my eyes when there was a gasp on the other line. “I’m joking, Sheila. Besides the phone, is the rest of the diner still standing?”

She put on her best pouting voice. “It’s all fine. The boss wouldn’t let me handle the shift, so Denise is in charge of the diner,” she told me. The diner was saved.

“I want you to tell the boss that I’m taking a vacation for a week starting tomorrow.”

“Tomorrow? I don’t think the boss will allow that, Trix. That’s awful short notice,” Sheila worriedly replied.

I chuckled. “He owes me enough overtime pay that I don’t think he’s going to complain.”

“But what are you going to do for a-” Sheila let out a gasp. “You’re not taking him up on that offer he made you, are you? Please don’t doit!”

“Sheila, you don’t even know what I’m doing,” I countered. “All I’m going to do is be his personal secretary for a week. If things don’t work out I’ll go straight back to the diner.”

“You promise?” she chokedout.

“I promise, and I’ll come check up on you a few of the days to make sure the diner isn’t burnt down,” I laughed.

“Hardy-har-har. I’ll have you know I haven’t done anything-” there was a sudden crash in the background and screaming. “Um, I gottago.”

I slapped my face. “Before you go tell me if somebody isdead.”

“Um, no, but I have to go call the hospital. Bye.” The line went dead; I hoped nobody elsedid.

I sighed and hung my arms over the side of the chair while my head leaned back so I could look up at the ceiling. The ceiling was so badly water-stained it could’ve been mistaken for a Rorschach ink blot test. I traced out what I was thinking about through those little blots and realized I’d drawn a picture of Benson. A pair of deep stains stood in for his glacier-river blue eyes, and the rest of the pasty ceiling was a good mimic of his own skin. I sighed and dragged my hand over my face. The last twenty-four hours had been the strangest in my life, but I could see how the next week would beat that record.

Now I had to call my mom. I needed to comfortably lay down for this one, so I went into my room, tossed the card with his address on my dresser, and flopped down on the bed. I hardly noticed when the card slipped into my underwear drawer as I dialed and she picked up after the first ring. “Hey mom, I’m alive.”

“You don’t sound alive,” she countered.

“I’m just tired.” I glanced over at my kitchen table and saw a stack of homework waiting for me. “But I’ve got a temp job with the guy that might turn into something permanent.”

“How’s the pay?” My mom was shrewd with these things; she could haggle an elephant out of its trunk.

“Really good.” I wish I knew exactly how good, and I recalled we hadn’t mentioned anything about money for this experiment.

“And…and what do you have to do?” Mom always had a funny sense of priorities; money first and work later.

“Not anything your dirty mind is thinking of,” I told her. “It’s just some secretary work. You know, making phone calls and filing. Nothing sexual in any way unless you count licking the envelopes.”

“And you think this is legitimate? He’s not trying to get at you for, well,-”

“-for immoral purposes?” I finished for her. “Nope. He just seems kind of lonely.”

Mom sighed. “Well, if anyone can bring comfort to another person other than their own mother that would beyou.”

I smiled. “I’ll be all right, I promise. It’s not like I’m going to fall in love with him or anything.”

The next morning after classes I drove out to the house and was greeted at the driveway entrance by a speeding vehicle careening down my way. I swerved, complete with screaming action, and avoided a bad double car crash by nearly wrecking my car against a tree. The other car drove past and I saw Miss Sievers at the wheel; she glanced at me and in those eyes I felt a thousand and one fires try to consume me. Fortunately the car window somehow didn’t melt from the heat, and she drove out of sight.

I drove the rest of the way like an old lady late for a date with her maker, and arrived at the house ten minutes late. The place looked deserted, which reminded me that I hadn’t had any breakfast, but I boldly went where I’d gone before and climbed onto the porch. I knocked, but nobody came to the door. Fortunately the knob was unlocked and I let myself in. The place was quiet but for a consistently irritating noise from upstairs that sounded like feet stomping on the floor.

I went up and noticed the door to Benson’s room was open, so I crept down there and peeked inside. The man himself paced the room and grumbled to himself. “Damn her! Stupid son ofa-”

“-dog,” I finished forhim.

He jumped at my surprise intrusion and whipped his head to the door so hard I heard a crack. “Angel! Is it that time already?”

“Noon is usually at this time,” I toldhim.

“Ten past twelve. You’re late,” he scoldedme.

I shrugged; what was he going to do, fire me? “Miss Sievers was so glad to see me she nearly caused our cars to hug each other.”

“That must have been her parting gift to you,” he replied. “She’s left my employ, and I’m glad for it. I’ll need you to be her replacement until I can find anotherone.”

I wasn’t happy for the promotion. “Wait a minute, we agreed on a week, remember? This is a dry test run to see if I can do this.” I hoped the rest of this test wouldn’t be dry; I could have really used a drink right aboutthen.

He sat down on the bed and ran his hand through his thick hair, giving him a wild look. It didn’t help that he hadn’t combed it and was still in his pajamas. “I expect to get another secretary within that time, but I must plead with you to stay with me until then. I have a head for numbers, but for schedules and cooking the connection to the neck is severed.”

“When that happens I’ll be sure to have the duct tape ready,” I promised.

He snorted. “You have some wit about you, but I can see your hands are shaking. The near-miss with Constance must have been very close.”

“Any closer and our cars would have been a car,” I toldhim.

He slapped his knees and jumped to his feet. “Well, let’s get this day started. I was at least careful to have Constance make the schedule light so we have most of the day to play.” He opened the drawer to a nightstand beside his bed and pulled out a black booklet, which he handed to me. “This is my schedule book. I follow it exactly to the letter. Everything else you’ll need is in my desk drawer in the study located down the hall from the living room.” I opened the book and saw that neat handwriting had written down everything from when meals would be served to an exercise hour in the afternoon. It left me feeling constrained, so I slammed the book shut and held it out to him. He glanced from my hand up to my face. “Is something wrong?”

“I’ve memorized all the appointments for your business, so I don’t need this until tomorrow,” I replied.

He didn’t take the booklet. “Are yousure?”

I tossed it at him and he juggled it in his hands. “Positive. The other stuff is mostly just food and exercise.” His stomach grumbled, and mine joined his to make a chorus of hunger. “Speaking of which, where’s the kitchen?”

He chuckled, took the book and put it back into its drawer. “I’ll show you after I dress.” He changed his clothes and led me downstairs, through the dining room on the left and into the rear of the house. Back there was an impressive kitchen filled with all the amenities I wasn’t used to having, including ant-free fridge and rodent-less sink. Benson sat himself down at the island in the center and gestured to the fridge. “Let’s see how you cook breakfast,” he invited me. I envied a person able to make a living and get up at noon for breakfast.

I cringed. “Remember that joke I made about the scrambledeggs?”

“Yes, why?”

“I wasn’t exactly joking when I made thatjoke.”

“Well, give it a try and I’ll tell you what I think,” he invited me. Thus began the second mishap of the day after the near-car crash. After the flames were put out on the stove and the pan deposited in the sink, Benson looked at me in amazement. “I had no idea you could catch eggs onfire.”

“Yeah, one of my specialties is flambeing everything out of existence, or at least edibility,” I explained. “You should have seen what happened when I boiled water.”

He glanced over at the still-smoking pan with the charred remains of the eggs. “I have an idea of what happened. Perhaps I’d better cook my own food while you’rehere.”

“For our own survival that would be a good idea,” I agreed.

We exchanged places and he managed to make a decent, safe meal of toast and milk. With the fire danger known as breakfast out of the way we had some time to kill and bury before a scheduled phone call from someone named Greg Monroe. “Would you like to be shown the grounds?” Benson suggested.

I shrugged. “Sure.”

I expected to be led outside, but instead Benson guided me upstairs. “There’s a few things I need to take care of before I go outside.”

“Things?”

“You’ll understand when you see it.” That sounded ominously kinky; I wasn’t sure whether to be excited or nervous, so I opted for stoic.

We stopped at a door before his bedroom and he opened it to reveal a modern bathroom complete with jacuzzi. I would have killed to try that thing out, but first I needed to see the grounds to know where to put Benson’s body. He took out a large bottle from beneath the sink and sat down on the edge of the jacuzzi; that’s when things got wild. Benson slipped his shirt over his head and revealed a pale but finely chiseled chest. My eyes roamed over those nice, hard abs and down to the waistband of his pants. Heat pooled between my legs, and for a fleeting moment I dreamed of two people in the jacuzzi.

I must have squeaked because he glanced up and smirked at me. “You’re drooling,” he informedme.

I shut my drooling mouth and blushed. “Sorry.”

“I’m sure you’re surprised by my physique.” Yeah, surprised, that was the word… “I exercise on my machines as much as I can to keep fit.” He held out the container to me. “Do youmind?”

My mind was long gone, turned to ooze at his nakedness. “What mind?” I murmured. Then I snapped myself out of my daze and shook the dirty thoughts from my head. “I mean mindwhat?”

“Applying this sunscreen to my body.” My inner slut squealed. “I burn easily without it, especially on this nice aday.”

“Um, sure.” My shaky hands took the bottle, and he angled himself so I could sit behind him and apply the sunscreen to hisback.

“I can get the front,” he assuredme.