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Home > Night Owl (The Night Owl Trilogy #1)(4)

Night Owl (The Night Owl Trilogy #1)(4)
Author: M. Pierce

Stupid decision number one: giving Hannah my phone number.

Stupid decision number two: quoting from my own book. What are the odds Hannah would have read my books? I groaned and buried my face in my hands. Pretty f**king high, considering I'm a national bestseller four times over.

Stupid decision number three: phone sex with Hannah. I didn't even know the girl. I had a picture (one that was rapidly fading from my memory), a name and age, a few other minor details, and a growing fixation. And a girlfriend.

What kind of girl was Hannah, anyway? What kind of girl has phone sex with a stranger she met on the internet?

I had no room to judge. After all, what kind of guy has phone sex with a stranger he met on the internet? At least Hannah was single. Maybe I could consider the bathrobe incident an accident, but the phone sex was clear-cut cheating.

I was heading into scumbag territory, fast.

I grabbed my emergency Dunhills and lit one on the balcony.

I "quit" smoking five years ago, along with drinking and drugs, but I always kept a pack of smokes handy for situations like this.

At 7:00 a.m. I was still smoking and staring into the city. The morning was cool and clear; I could tell the day would be a scorcher. Denver came alive around me. Joggers crisscrossed the street, dogs barked, and car horns sounded.

I had calmed considerably by then, and I had pretty much reasoned away my stupidity.

Quoting from my own book: so what? No way would Hannah make the logical leap to me being M. Pierce. In the light of day, my minor freak out seemed ridiculous.

Giving Hannah my phone number (plus phone sex): I was taking my psychiatrist's professional medical advice, "opening myself to new experiences," "letting myself need people," and "eschewing the confines of social norms." Good enough.

My phone chimed. There was a short message from Bethany. She was in Gramado.

Don't forget to water the lemon tree. Are you eating? I won't bother describing this place since you've been. Still wish you'd come. You better not be a skeleton when I get back. Remember, the stuff in the freezer is dated. Kisses, Bethany.

That was my girlfriend, excessive maternal instincts and all.

I'd reply later.

For now, I wanted to stay right where I was, lost in thoughts of Hannah.

I stripped off my t-shirt and flopped onto the living room couch with a sketchbook and a pencil. Laurence was up, rustling in his hutch. His long ears swiveled toward me. He stretched and hopped over to his litter pan.

"Hey buddy," I said to the rabbit, tapping my pencil on a blank page.

I began to sketch what I remembered of Hannah's picture. I started with her eyes, which were large and dark, then her slender nose, moving down to her expressive, full lips. I tried to capture the sweetness in her face, the oval shape of it framed by heavy brunette coils. I shaded in her glasses. Lightly, I drew the neckline of her top and hinted at her cl**vage with a smudge.

I frowned at the portrait.

Not bad, but not quite right. I closed my eyes. I struggled to remember the picture. I remembered her voice on the phone. Not too high, not too low, velvety and feminine. What's so f**king funny? God, she was adorable in her anger. And she was sexy beyond belief...

Do it with me. Matt, please.

I drifted awake at noon. I was sprawled on the couch, my sketchbook open across my thighs and my dick hard. Of course.

I stared at the lemon tree until my wood relaxed.

Then I called Hannah.

She picked up after two rings.

"Hello?" she said. Her voice sounded a little huskier.

"Hey little bird."

"Bird?" She giggled. "Sorry babe, this is Hannah's sister. Hannah's driving."

I glowered at my sketch and considered hanging up.

"Maybe you should take a turn driving," I muttered, "or not answer your sister's phone."

"She gave it to me Mr. Frostypants."

I heard Hannah's voice in the background. She sounded annoyed, but I couldn't make out what she was saying.

"What did she say?" I demanded.

"She said I should stop trolling you. She also said hi. Hey, are you Hannah's new guy?"

"Excuse me?"

I sat up. My sketchbook flopped onto the floor. New guy? Hannah had a new guy? Anger—and rash jealousy—tightened around my chest.

"Yeah. New guy. Are you the new guy?"

"No, I..." My mouth worked speechlessly. Hannah told me she was leaving her boyfriend. She neglected to mention she was leaving him for another guy. I guess that made us both faithless a**holes. Perfect.

So why did this hurt? Why did I feel used? It wasn't like I could have Hannah. I couldn't even meet her—couldn't risk my little obsession morphing into full-blown infidelity. I wasn't that kind of guy. Was I? I felt sick to my stomach.

"Earth to Mr. Frostypants!" Hannah's sister shouted.

"Fuck off," I said, ending the call.

CHAPTER 4

Hannah

"FUCK OFF?" I stuck my hand on my hip and glared at Chrissy. "Just wait a minute. He said 'fuck off' and hung up?"

"Uh-huh. Yup. Unless it was an epically well-timed call drop. But um, Hannah, not sure about that guy. He was a liiittle bit of an a**hole." My sister squinted as she emphasized the word little. I couldn't help but laugh. "A little bit of an a**hole" was putting Matt lightly. Still, I had to figure out why he got so mad.

My sister and I were stopped at a motel in Billings, Montana. It was 2:00 a.m. I had another hour of driving in me, but I wanted to search for something in the U-Haul, and I wanted to talk to Matt.

I blamed being on the road for thinking about Matt constantly. The endless highway, the repetitive scenery, tuning out my sister's bad music—oh, and our explosive phone sex last night.

God, ridiculous! I was infatuated with a guy I knew nothing about.

"One more time," I said, yanking open the back of the trailer. It rolled up with a clatter. "You called him... Mr. Frostypants." My mouth twitched. "And he immediately said 'fuck you' and hung up?"

"Ohhh my god, yes! That is what happened Hannah. What is your deal with this asshat?"

"He's a good friend," I lied, "and I think he's actually pissed. I texted him from Perkins and called and got nothing."

"Maybe he was out. I don't know. What are you looking for in there?"

"Oh, um... I wanted some clothes." I rubbed my neck. My sister stared at me. I got the sense that she had seen through both of my lies and possibly even heard me in the bathroom last night. "So. Yeah. I don't need any help. Gotta rummage, that's all. You can check us in."

"Mhmmm." Chrissy spun and headed into the motel.

Thank god.

At this point, I knew I would spill if she grilled me. I felt like a thirteen-year-old girl, bubbly with excitement and desperate to gab about my latest crush. He said this, he did that. Spare me. I was so much cooler than this.

I boosted myself onto the edge of the U-Haul and turned on my keychain flashlight, peering into the jam of boxes and furniture. After fifteen minutes of struggling, I managed to shift out the box I was looking for. It had the word BOOKS in black Sharpie on the side.

I dug out my worn copy of Ten Thousand Nights by M. Pierce. I flipped through its dog-eared and highlighted pages until I found the lines Matt quoted.

There is no such thing as loneliness. There is only the idea of loneliness.

I sighed and swung my legs from the edge of the U-Haul. God, what lines, and what a strange concept—that the fear of loneliness is the fear of a phantom.

In the back of the book I had printouts from the LA Times book blog and clippings from The New York Times Book Review. I flipped one open and perused the first few lines.

M. Pierce remains a mystery, tops charts with Harm's Way

November 13, 2009

Almost two years after the appearance of national bestseller Ten Thousand Nights, Harm's Way, the new hardcover fiction from M. Pierce, has reached the top of the bestseller list. Like its predecessor, Harm's Way straddles (or obliterates) the boundary between genre fiction and literary fiction. Part thriller, part Kunderian inquiry and all page-turner, Harm's Way has critics going to bat...

I skimmed down a few lines.

Little is known about the author, who declines book signings, tours or any form of public appearance in connection with his or her fiction. Knopf's lips have been sealed since the 2007 release of Ten Thousand Nights. The author's agent is rumored to be at the Granite Wing Agency, though this has never been confirmed.

Perhaps, like other notable reclusive writers, including Thomas Pynchon and J.D. Salinger, M. Pierce fears the effects of publicity on his or her life and prose.

The author's decision to remain anonymous leaves fans wanting. "Official" M. Pierce fan pages have appeared...

I smirked, refolded the article, and tucked it away. God, leave the author alone.

I owned all four of M. Pierce's books—Ten Thousand Nights, Harm's Way, Mine Brook, and The Silver Cord—which had been published at semi-even intervals between 2007 and 2012. I didn't care if I never found out who the author was, and book jacket photos are universally depressing. I just wanted another M. Pierce novel, soon.

I studied my phone.

I'd told my sister I called and texted Matt from Perkins. I actually called twice. I texted four times. His silence gnawed at me.

Was he having misgivings about our... our what? Our friendship that wasn't a friendship? Our weird arrangement in which we helped one another get off?

"Fuck this," I muttered. I called him again.

The ringtone sounded four times.

"Hannah."

"Matt! Hi. Don't hang up, please. Did you hang up on my sister?"

"Yeah."

"I'm sorry. I shouldn't have let her answer. She's a little..." I frowned. Edgy? Abrasive?

"She's fine," Matt said. His tone was cool. "I was simply done talking."

"Oh. So is that your thing? You hang up whenever you feel 'done talking'?"

"Sure, why not." He gave an exaggerated sigh, like it was killing him to be on the phone with me.

"And hey, are you only in a good mood after you jerk off? Because it's starting to feel that way."

I heard Matt's hesitant, breathy laugh.

"You're funny, little bird."

"I don't feel very funny right now."

"God, you're too cute."

"What!" I spluttered. "Stop being crazy. I'm... I'm trying to—"

"Trying to figure out our situation? Give up. I don't think there are any rules for this kind of thing, or any helpful guidelines. Anyway, it doesn't matter."

There was a long pause. I held my breath. Doesn't matter? Somehow, this thing with Matt—"our situation"—did matter to me. I liked it. I wanted it. It made me feel a little out of control, but I liked that too.

"Doesn't matter," he repeated quietly. He cleared his throat. "So. Who's the new guy?"

"Huh? New guy?"

"Yeah, your sister said there was a new guy. Hannah's new guy."

"Uh... she did? I didn't hear that."

"Yeah. Well, no. She asked me if I was your new guy, which I'm obviously not, and which... obviously implies there is some... new guy." Matt couldn't keep the feeling from his voice, and the feeling wasn't curiosity. It was simmering rage.

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