Jenny Oliver is so emotionally wounded following a bad breakup that she feels like the living dead – until the day an anonymous note containing an outrageous proposition is slipped under her door. Despite the danger, she follows the note’s instructions.
The enigmatic author approaches her from behind, speaking in a whisper, and proceeds to touch, seduce and arouse her before disappearing as mysteriously as he appeared. It’s the beginning of a liaison that will unleash dark desires that change everything – for Jenny and the whispering stranger.
Publisher’s Note: This steamy mystery contains elements of power exchange.
Jenny Oliver chewed on a knuckle absentmindedly as she read over the scribbled lines of an advertisement she’d been working on. Sitting at her dining table in an oversized sweatshirt, yoga pants and her favorite multi-colored fuzzy socks that would have been at home in a Doctor Seuss book, she looked more like a grad student working on a paper than a twenty-eight-year-old professional. It was Saturday, so she wasn’t wearing any makeup, and her dark blonde hair had been carelessly pulled into a ponytail.
“Roommate wanted,” she read aloud. “Non-smoker. Neat, professional person to share two-bedroom apartment in historic district.” Or should it be historical?
She puffed out her cheeks and blew out a breath. What she actually had was a one bedroom with a bonus room the size of a large walk-in closet. That was the room she would have to move into if someone answered the ad and wanted the room. It would suck because she liked her room and she liked her privacy, but she needed additional income and no one would pay much for a room the size of a horse stall.
The biggest challenge would be that there was only one bathroom, so they’d have to share. It was a spacious bathroom with a claw foot tub that doubled as a shower. Her lip curled at the thought of cleaning up after someone else’s mess before she indulged in one of her therapeutic soaks with candles and bubbles and music and wine. Ooh, and what if a roommate desperately had to use the toilet when she was soaking? Yuck!
Her cell phone rang and she reached for it, checking the caller id before hitting the talk button. “Hey, Mom.”
“It’s the third of December,” Carla Oliver started in without preamble. “Do you have your rent taken care of for the month?”
Jenny sighed audibly. “I already told you it was covered,” she reminded her in a singsong voice.
“I know what you told me. I also know how stubborn you can be.”
Jenny tossed her pen down. Like she wanted a damned roommate, anyway. “Mom, look. Mitch stole from me, but he didn’t completely devastate me. Okay?” She pushed back in her chair and got up to go check her thermostat. “My rent is paid, so please stop worrying.”
“Because you know we could help. We’d be glad to help.”
“I know that and I appreciate it, but I don’t need it right now.” It was not quite the truth, but her mom and dad didn’t actually have the money to spare. She bumped up the thermostat a couple of degrees. She’d been keeping it low as a cost cutting measure, but she was sick of being chilly.
“Well, if you change your mind—”
“Mom,” Jenny complained, stretching out the word. “I won’t.”
“Fine. I won’t say another word.”
Jenny sighed as she started back to her dining room table. “Good. Thank you. I’m pretty sure you have better things to do than worry about me.”
“Not really. I only have one daughter.”
“Uh-huh,” Jen replied, plunking back down in her chair. “And one son and one daughter-in-law and two grandsons and a husband and a dog the age of Methuselah and—”
Carla chucked. “Speaking of which, the vet says she has arthritis in her hip.”
“Of course she does. So, you’ll end up carrying her around and throwing out your back.”
“I think you have better things to do than worry about my back,” Carla replied playfully.
“Oh, I don’t know. Seems like a pretty good thing to worry about.” At least the subject had changed from her ex and her finances.
“Are you going out tonight?”
Jen barked a laugh. “Puhleaze,” she drawled. “Me? Not go out on a Saturday night? Are you kidding?”
“Jen,” her mom chided.
“Actually, I was invited to a party.” That wasn’t exactly a lie. She had been invited and decided not to go. But if she didn’t come up with an excuse, her mom would insist she come over for dinner and, face to face, Carla Oliver would sniff out the whole truth and that was not a scene she was up to. Her mother was one of her favorite people in the whole world, but the woman was half bloodhound, half psychic and all mother.
“A holiday party?”
“No, it’s a birthday thing.”
“Are you getting dressed up?”
“Nah, it’s casual. I’ll probably wear jeans and a sweater. In fact, I was just about to pop in the shower when you called.”
“I’ll let you go so you can get ready, but what about tomorrow? Supper?”
“I don’t know. I don’t think so. I have got to do some Christmas shopping tomorrow. Not that I can do much this year, but I haven’t gotten a single thing.”
“Oh, honey, will you look at that?” Carla said excitedly. “It’s snowing. It just started.”
Jenny looked to the window and, sure enough, a light flurry of snow had begun falling. She smiled at the sight of the first snowfall of the year. “Here, too. Aww, it’s so pretty.”
“It sure is.” She paused before adding, “Tell you what, sweetie. Let’s forget Christmas presents this year. None of us need anything, anyway. I’ll talk to Chris and Meg about it.”
Jenny’s eyes prickled. Her mom was trying to make things easier because of what Mitch had done, but the idea of changing their family tradition because of her was unbearable. “No,” she replied in a thick voice. “Let’s keep things normal. I don’t want anything to change because I was an idiot.”
“You were not an idiot, Jennifer Lynn. You were taken in by somebody who didn’t have the decency we thought he had.”
Jenny didn’t trust her voice for the moment. She shoved a fist against her lips and turned her head, waiting for the urge to burst into tears to pass. Her eye caught on an envelope that had been slipped under her door. People weren’t supposed to solicit in the building, but they did anyway.
“You go out and have a nice time tonight,” Carla said with forced cheerfulness. “Okay? And drive carefully, especially if it’s snowing.”
“Everything will be fine, Jen. You just have to put Mitch right out of your mind.”
“I know. I am. I promise you, I’m okay.”
“All right, babe. Love you. Talk to you later.”
“Love you, too. Bye.”
“If you change your mind, I’ve fixed lamb stew.”
“Bye, Mom,” Jenny repeated with laugher in her voice.
Jenny ended the call and sat back with a prolonged sigh. Her mother’s stew sounded good. Running home and pretending she was a safe little girl sounded good, too, but she wasn’t a child.
On her depression scale of one to ten, she was a six today. Nine and ten physically hurt, six just felt dull and worthless. “And weepy. And weak,” she muttered as she got up to see what had been slipped under her door. “And pathetic and fucking stupid.”
The grim truth was that her ex-boyfriend, whom she should never have trusted, although he’d mostly seemed trustworthy over the eight months they were together, had pretty much cleaned out her checking account. Her mother knew that because she’d called home bawling when she found out. What Carla Oliver didn’t know was how totally wiped out she actually was.
It wasn’t like Mitch had gotten rich from what he’d taken. As a speech therapist, she earned just under thirty-five thousand dollars a year. She’d only had three thousand dollars in her checking account. But it wasn’t like he’d needed the money, either. He made good money, at least double what she made. He didn’t have gambling debts to pay off or a drug habit that made him crazy. No, it had just been a last little fuck you to her. Fuck you and don’t ever forget how stupid and trusting you were. And it was true. She was the idiot who’d shared her pin number with him. The thought of it still made her burn with embarrassment at her stupidity.
If there was any silver lining, it was that she’d learned her lesson. Never, ever would she be taken in like that again. She only hoped he paid for it, somehow, somewhere. She was sure as hell paying for it.
She bent and picked up the standard, white envelope. There was no writing on it. Probably more solicitation from a local tanning salon. “Beat those winter blues with a golden tan,” she muttered as she opened it. “Like I can afford it.” She pulled out a folded paper and was surprised to see a computer printed letter to her.
I’m sorry for the trouble you’ve had. A person like you should never have had to go through what Mitch put you through. When I see you, I think there’s nothing I wouldn’t give to be in his place.
Jenny took a step backwards, her mouth ajar, her heart hammering.
You are beautiful, inside and out.
She blinked, shook her head and swallowed.
I know you’re in need of money right now because of what happened. I have a fantasy about us and I’m willing to pay to bring it to life. I hope you’ll be willing.
“What—” she breathed, but she couldn’t tear her eyes away from the letter.
If you’re willing, go down to the old laundry room tonight, the one no one uses anymore. Go to the row of dryers on the side and put your hands on top of the machine in the middle of the row. Keep your back to the door. I want to touch you, only to touch you. For that, for only a few minutes of that, I’ll leave you a hundred dollars. Bring your phone along or whatever you want to make you feel safe. I won’t hurt you, Jenny. I won’t ever hurt you. I only want to be near you and touch you.
“What the fuck,” she mumbled. She glanced at the lock on the door and then stepped forward and put the deadbolt in place. Turning and leaning against it, she shook her head, her eyes wide. Whoever had written this was obviously someone who lived here. It was supposedly a high-security building, meaning guests had to be let in by a resident. But no one here knew about Mitch. She’d only told her mom and her best friend, Zoe. She’d been too humiliated to tell anyone else.
Her mom wouldn’t have told anybody, other than her dad and possibly her brother and sister-in-law, nor would Zoe. Ah, but maybe Mitch told somebody. He wouldn’t have admitted everything, because that would make him look like the asshole he was, but he might have boasted about dumping her. She could see him doing that. Maybe the letter writer was talking about that. But, no, because he’d mentioned that she was in need of money. “Yeah,” she said under her breath. “But I’m not ready to walk the streets.”
She turned and peered out the peephole in the door to an empty hallway. She rubbed her arms, chilled, and backed away from the door, feeling very alone. The emptiness of the apartment suddenly pushed in on her, mocked her. She went into the kitchen and opened a bottle of chardonnay, feeling self-conscious, as if someone was watching her every move. She drank half the glass and then reread the letter.
The author had to be somebody who lived here. Otherwise, how would he know about the old laundry room? The new one wasn’t really that new; it was, at least, five or six years old. Most people in the six-floor, sixty-unit building had their own washer and dryer, so she rarely saw anybody when she traipsed down to the basement to do laundry. But had she seen and been seen by someone when she was there? She racked her mind for who it could be. She shook her head and huffed. Did she have a stalker? A stalker who had called her beautiful. He’d said she was his fantasy.
Oh, wow. What if it wasn’t a ‘he’, she suddenly wondered. She read the letter again and a shiver raced through her. It was craziness. It was probably the craziest thing that had ever happened to her. She began to pace. “There’s no need to overreact,” she mouthed. She’d just ignore the letter and, if more came, she’d either ignore them, too, or maybe get the cops involved. She imagined herself walking into a police station, holding up a stack of letters and declaring there was a serial letter writer on the loose. She grinned at the absurd thought and the humor helped defray the strain.
She took another drink. Maybe she’d call Zoe and go out, after all. Why was she staying shut up all the time? Mitch had high-tailed it two months ago, but a strain had come between them months before that. And now, she was acting like a nun and a hermit? As if she’d done something wrong that deserved this penance? It was bullshit. “Bullshit,” she muttered as she went for her phone. Suddenly, she was way too restless to stay in.