Hannah Vasilakis gazed around Liz’ expensively decorated lounge room, the uncomfortable effort to hold back a second yawn bringing tears to her eyes. The other five women were discussing the latest crime story by some up-and-coming new English author with such enthusiasm and sincerity, yet Hannah had trouble catching their words as they floated through the room. The book had taken her weeks to plough through. She’d re-read every second page as the content wouldn’t settle in her mind, and when she finally did grasp it, the murderer became obvious to her around page twenty-five.
The book debate became heated, and Hannah listened as one of the women said, “I wonder whether the part about rescuing her is at all plausible.”
Whereas another one commented, “Did anybody feel the sex scene made no sense? I didn’t think it was really necessary.” She shrugged. “I mean, I know sex sells, but it could’ve easily been cut to two or so pages.”
Yes, Hannah remembered that part of the book, and as soon as she did, an onslaught of heat shot into her cheeks. She had enjoyed flicking through the few pages, which either made her pathetic or in need of getting a life.
Hauled back from her stray thoughts, she stared at Liz, her assistant from work, who was hosting the book club meeting tonight. “I’m sorry. I got distracted.”
Liz gave a little shake of her head. “You’ve seemed absent all night. You didn’t like the book, did you?”
More heat spread across Hannah’s face. “No. No, not … not at all,” she stuttered. “It … it was okay … ish.”
Hannah had no idea, why she was going on with this farce, but she had promised her parents to get to know the people in the small coastal town in Victoria, when she’d moved to take over the small medical centre in Fermosa Bay. She had promised her family she’d make friends. And she’d promised her mother not to dwell on the past and be nice to men.
Well, she did make that last promise with her fingers crossed behind her back.
Debbie stood and reached for her jacket on the seat. “Hannah, honestly. Why are you here if you do not like any of the books we’re reading?”
The tone in Debbie’s question surprised Hannah, and distracted by everyone else getting up, it took her a moment to explain. “No, I like the idea of reading something different each month. Otherwise, I wouldn’t read at all.”
It was true. She liked reading, although if she wouldn’t force herself, she’d never read anything. Someone once suggested audiobooks to her, and it was an interesting idea she was warming up to. Alas, it was still on her to-do-list.
Liz placed a hand on Hannah’s arm and suggested with a lot of warmth — or was it pity? “How about you choose the book for next month’s meeting?”
Well, she’d just kicked herself in the butt. How on earth would she be able to choose a book when she’d dislike more or less any of the stories they’d read so far? Why on earth was she even here?
So she wasn’t stuck alone at home.
“Any genre?” she asked.
The women around her nodded, but the frowns on their faces told her everything.
“Okay, I can do that. I suppose it should be available in the library.”
Again, everyone agreed.
“Can I give you a suggestion at the meeting in two months? That’ll give me a bit of time to find something which I hope you will like.”
“Yes, that should be okay,” Liz agreed.
They left Liz’ house in a group and chatted a little more about the storm front which was on its way as they walked to their cars. Hannah gave a quick wave goodbye as she opened the car, slid behind the steering wheel, and inserted the key into the ignition.
Maya, her book friend, startled her with a knock at the car window, and it took Hannah a couple of seconds to regain her normal heartbeat as she slowly lowered the window.
“My apologies. I didn’t mean to scare you. Are you still good for the barbeque on Friday?”
Hannah had to dig deep in her memory to find the facts about the invitation, until she recalled the invite to join Maya and some friends for a barbeque to celebrate her husband’s birthday. Maya had been relentless, so in the end Hannah had given in.
“Of course, seven-thirty at your place. I look forward to it.”
“Lovely,” Maya said with a few nods and added, “I’ll see you then.” She gave a little wave before walking to her own car.
A sigh escaped Hannah’s lips. Another night out. Another effort to make small talk with people she didn’t know.
She leaned forward and cranked up the engine.
“Another person who would like to play cupid?”
Hannah jerked in her seat and hit her head on the visor when she saw a man she didn’t know sitting in the car next to her. “How the hell did you get in here?”
Instinctively and without giving him a chance to reply, she snatched her bag and almost stumbled out of the car. Fear shot through her as she fumbled with her phone, dialling triple zero. Breathing was hard and she stepped away from the car, taking another look at the man in her car to best describe him.
But he was gone.
A cold shiver ran down her spine despite the warm night. The car lights from the other club members disappeared into the distance, and a sudden sense of loneliness overwhelmed her as she fought with the whim to go back inside the house. But what would she say? Her mind had played tricks on her? She rubbed her eyes vigorously, ignoring her makeup, and looked again.
Disconnecting the call, she cautiously edged around the vehicle and even checked the boot.
The spinning in her head slowed, and she gazed into the dark distance but wasn’t able to see anything out there either. Releasing a long sigh, she leaned against the car with her hand. It took her a couple deep inhales to give her heart a chance to find its normal rhythm again. After one final exhale to calm her trembling body, she checked the back seats and then got back into the car, immediately locking the doors. Again, she checked the back seats, and blew out another deep breath when there was no one to be seen. Tears escaped and slid down her cheeks when it took her two goes to get into the right gear before racing off into the night.
What the hell had just happened? Another look into the distance, but all she saw was everyone gone and a quiet local street.
A sob escaped her from the adrenaline. She mentally prayed for a safe drive home as quick as possible, swiping the tears with the back of her hand. This wasn’t her. She usually had herself under control. Focus on your breathing. It was all in your head.
It was only a ten-minute drive, yet it was the longest ten minutes in her life. Fermosa Bay was a small township and she’d been along these streets often enough, making navigation easy. The coastal town was a safe place, she’d learnt that within the few months she’d lived here. The complete opposite to Melbourne. Yet, tonight was different. A quick glance towards the passenger and back seats told her she was still alone in the car.
She checked again: the passenger seat, then the back seats. Nothing.
Still unable to comprehend the last ten minutes, she cursed for not having tissues in her car to blow her nose and wipe the tears. Was she going insane in this small town? Was she really this stressed that she was seeing things? Or people as it’d been in this case.
Quicker than usual, she arrived at her house and quicker than usual, she clutched her bag and rushed inside, slamming the door shut right behind her. It took her another few deep breaths until her heart rate returned to anything close to normal and she switched on the light. She placed her bag on the chest of drawers in the hall and went to the kitchen for a glass of water. Alcohol was out of the question tonight, considering she was seeing things, or in this case people, already. She flicked the light switch and stepped towards the fridge.
“Now, don’t freak out again.” He let out a subtle sigh. “I won’t hurt you. I actually can’t.”
Hannah shot around. “Ah … ahh … ahh…” A mix of fear and curiosity overcame her, and as much as she wanted to step back to reach for her phone, she was frozen to the spot.
“For a highly educated medical person you seem to be lacking proper articulation.” He sat on a chair. “How about you have your glass of water and join me so I can answer your questions.”
“Ah … I … how …” Hannah inhaled deeply as she studied him. Quite to her disbelief her mouth curved into a smile as she took in his wild, curly black hair. Clearly, he was too busy breaking into houses to visit a hairdresser. His bright blue eyes drew her in, most likely the reason she didn’t scream murder and didn’t call the police. Carefully, and yes courageously, she stepped to the sink, took a glass, and filled it, never letting him out of her sight … and then inched towards the block of knives which was within her sight. Nothing about him made sense. Attractive, but at the same time neglected, the hair, the clothes, good Lord, the suit he wore was something from the seventies. But underneath, it seemed, hid a well-shaped body. Looking at his pale face, she was tempted to offer him a drink and some food.
“Ah … ehrm … did you break in because you have nowhere to go?” she croaked before finally taking a sip of her water.
He cocked a brow. “Really?” Leaning forward, he rested his elbows on the table. “This is going to be harder than expected.”
“Ah … okay … as in … what?”
“Do you really think I could’ve run from your friend’s place to here and break into your house?”
Now that he put it that way, it did sound ridiculous, but …
“Who are you? And how did you get in here?”
A mischievous smile spread across his face and suddenly he looked sexy as hell. A simple smile did that. One simple smile.
“My name is Bigalow.”
She frowned. “Bigalow?”
With a tilt of his head, he asked, “Don’t you like it?”
She shrugged. “Unusual name for a man, or anybody for that matter.”
His mouth curved upward, and the corners of his eyes crinkled. “Have a seat,” he demanded more than said as he waved his hand.
Despite the insisting tone in his voice, something about him was still close to suggesting he was trustworthy. However, not to the point that she would sit next to him. Hannah stretched forward and reached for a chair and pulled it towards her before she sat.
His smile spread across his face. “Bigalow doesn’t ring a bell?”
Raising her brows, she asked, “Should it? We didn’t go to the same school, did we?”
“You work a lot, don’t you?”
What a change of subject. How odd. “I do, that’s why I’d appreciate if you could leave so I can go to bed. You do have somewhere to go, don’t you?”
He let out a soft chuckle. “I’m afraid you’re stuck with me for a little while.”
She shot him a glare. “Excuse me? You can’t stay here.”
Amusement tugged at his lips, and it annoyed her that he used his sexy smile as a weapon. “Let’s not focus on that.”
Eyes wide, she countered, “It’s all I can focus on. I have a stranger in my house when I would like … when I’d like to …” She blew out a breath. “This is my home. I don’t have to explain. Point is, I need you to leave.”
He raked his hand through his tousled hair, a grin playing on his lips. “Okay, you’ll have me out of here in ten minutes. You have my word. You will have to promise me, though, to ask the right question.”
Hannah gave a little shake of her head as her brows shot up. She couldn’t believe what she was hearing. The words went into her ear but didn’t compute in her head. Did he want to play games? What did he mean with the right question?
Without even trying, she threw her hands in the air. She didn’t want to guess the right question. She couldn’t have cared less about the right question. “I give up.”
The bark of his laugh echoed in her small kitchen. “You haven’t even tried.”
With shoulders sagging, she grunted, “Because I am tired. I have a date with my bed.”
“An empty bed,” he clarified.
A chill ran down her spine. She stood and moved closer to the block of knives. Bigalow stood as well and stepped to the door.
“Not a problem. I’ll come back for the important questions. I will need you to do one thing though.” He gave her a wink. “Please take a photo of me.”
“You have my word. I will leave.”
By now she was too tired to be confused or surprised, so she simply pulled her phone from her back pocket and took a photo.
He gave a subtle bow. “Thank you.” Then he left.
Hannah flicked through the photos and enlarged the last one. It was an image of the kitchen entrance, but no Bigalow. Confused, she flicked back and forwards, but for the life of her she wasn’t able to find the photo she’d just taken of him in front of the door.
She worked too much and was losing her marbles. But then again, everything had been weird about … Bigalow. What kind of name was that anyway? She returned the phone to her jeans pocket and carefully removed the biggest knife from the block before she edged to the door. A quick look down the hallway told her he wasn’t there. She pulled her brows together trying hard to recall whether she’d heard the front door. Or the back door for that matter. Had he left? A cold shiver crawled up and down her back. Was he still in the house?
She needed to call the police.
Clearly that wasn’t an option. Hannah went to the lounge room and slouched onto the couch where she finally rubbed some tiredness from her eyes with her free hand. What was she going to say? A man who had just appeared out of nowhere was potentially in her house. Yes, she did take a photo of him, but he wasn’t on it. It was as if he were a ghost.
Letting out a big sigh, she closed her eyes. She was so overworked she was seeing things.
“I’m not a ghost.” The soft words echoed through the room, and Hannah shot up from the couch looking around.
But, again, there was no one to be seen.