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She lay on the sofa, reading a book. She was naked.
John Murdock closed the front door and placed the keys in his trouser pocket.
"Hello?" he said.
Slowly walking down the hallway, he placed the bunch of flowers he was carrying on the hallstand.
"Helen?" he called as he walked closer towards the lounge room and to her. His footsteps echoed in the quiet of the house.
But he knew it wasn't Helen. He could tell. There was no doubt about it.
The girl lying naked on the sofa was not his wife.
She was stretched out on her side, her back towards him. She was reading a book and ignoring his calls.
John didn't know what to do, or where to look. Her brown-blonde hair was shoulder length. Tied back in a ponytail, it hung to one side of her right shoulder. The way she was laying, propped up with one arm with the other holding the book, accentuated her shoulder blades and her spine.
His eyes followed her spine down her thin and muscular back. The girl was fit and strong, there was no doubt. Her buttocks hung slightly over the edge of the sofa, sticking out, pointing in his direction. The round tanned cheeks looked soft and tiny as he walked closer.
It was almost as if she had positioned herself that way. So that when he entered the lounge room he would be drawn to her buttocks and then, just a little further down, he would catch a small glimpse of the folds of her vagina.
Her legs, bent to fit on the sofa, were long and tanned. He could see her muscles under the smoothness of the skin. Even her feet looked athletic in the lamplight that shone from the corner table.
And then she turned a page.
Taking one last look along her body, his eyes resting on her most secret parts once more, John's mind regained control and he focussed on the question of why some stranger, some girl, some naked girl was in his lounge room.
"Er…excuse me, Miss?" It sounded so stupid, but what else could he say?
She turned to look over her shoulder at him, and smiled.
He couldn't help it; he had to smile back. Her face was small but almost perfect in every way. Her eyes were dark brown and her stare enveloped him. Her nose was slightly bent, as if it had once been broken, but her smile was lively and infectious. Her hair fell around her ears, some of it escaping the ponytail as she turned over.
Her whole body moved in one fluid movement and suddenly she was facing him, stretching her arms over her head and laying the book on the table by the sofa.
Her breasts were small and round, perfect, and delightful to look at. Her stomach was muscled and tight, even tighter than his own, and her tan seemed to shine in the light, to make her glow. The top of her bellybutton was pierced with a gold ring and hanging from the ring was a small diamond, sitting neatly and comfortably in her bellybutton hole, as if it was a perfectly natural place for a diamond to reside.
Further down, John couldn't help but see what was only hinted at when she had her back to him. With her legs apart as she stretched to place the book on the table, he could see it all. She was completely shaved between her legs, leaving nothing to the imagination. Even her tan spread between her dark folds. John's eyes darted back to her face and he noticed she was watching him. Her smile had turned into a sly grin.
"Hi, Johnny," she said in a soft and lulling voice.
John leaned against the doorway and looked around the lounge room. They were alone. The rest of the house was dark.
Where's Helen? he thought.
The sight of the girl still laying there, naked and on display and enjoying it, made it hard for him to get his thoughts in line. He didn't know what to say; he didn't know what to do. All he knew was that there was a strange girl in his lounge room and he felt like he was swimming, and possibly drowning, in her beauty.
He grabbed one of the dining chairs and sat down. At least now he could get his thoughts together and hide the erection that was beginning to grow.
She moved again then, sat up into a normal sitting position and looked him over.
John stared back. She wasn't as tall as she had looked when she was lying down. Now she seemed quite small, certainly smaller than him.
The light caught on the tiny diamond dangling in her bellybutton, the reflection caught his eye from across the room. His eyes were drawn there again, and then once more, lower to the other regions she was making no attempt to cover.
"You're not very talkative," she said.
John shook his head, trying to clear the mist.
"Do…I'm sorry, but…do I know you?" he stammered.
Her grin grew bigger as she leaned forward and stared across the room at him.
"I'm Zoe," she said.
There was a pause, as if she was waiting for some reaction.
"Yes, and…?" was all he could come up with.
"Zoe. Zoe Barber?" she continued.
John shook his head.
"You mean Helen didn't tell you about me?" she spread her arms in surprise. As she did so, her breasts jiggled in the air, her nipples hard.
"Er, no, actually." John replied. "No, she didn't."
"Hmmmm, weird," Zoe said. "That's not like her at all."
The conversation stopped. Zoe stared back at John, the smile still on her face like a schoolgirl with a secret. John's mind whirled with question after question, but seeing her sitting in front of him made his mouth go numb and he couldn't get the words together.
As they sat there, Zoe pulled her hair out of the ponytail and ran her fingers through it. It bounced in the lamplight and fell around her ears and head, finally resting into position, framing her face with a brown-blonde border.
"She didn't say anything," John managed after a minute.
"Well, that sure is strange." Zoe leaned back into the sofa, her hands on her hips. She grabbed her left foot and tucked it up on the sofa in front of her. Then she grabbed her right and tucked that in front too. Suddenly, she was sitting in a yoga-like position, her elbows resting on her knees which were spread wide in front of her, exposing her most secret folds to his view again.
"I mean, I know I dropped by unexpectedly, but you think she would have mentioned it."
"Yeah, you would." John replied. And then he saw his opportunity. "Where is Helen?"
"Oh, sorry," Zoe giggled to herself. "I should have said! You must have been worried."
"Well, I was -"
"You know how she said she'd be late tonight?"
"Well, she'll be even later now."
John wasn't surprised. It happened all the time. Late nights, working back - they'd argued about it in the past. And there was the time Helen's sister suddenly appeared one night and said she'd be staying for a month. They'd argued about that too - and that had been a bad one. Helen had said she'd forgotten to tell him, she'd been too busy. But he wondered if it was planned that way. John didn't like Helen's sister and she didn't like him that much either. They'd argued about her staying for a long time. Another argument - one of many.
But they got over it - as usual.
But now it had happened again. Another one of Helen's plans she'd forgotten to tell him about? John knew only time would tell.
Still, at least Zoe wasn't Helen's sister.
She sure isn't! he thought.
John sighed deeply. Why was he so surprised?
"Something wrong?" Zoe asked.
"Anything wrong?" she repeated.
"No, no. Just thinking, that's all…"
"I'll be in town for a few days and I dropped by to surprise her," Zoe continued. "We haven't seen each other for years and I got a kick out of knocking on the door and giving her the surprise of her life. I like to surprise people." She smiled.
John smiled back. Finally, all the pieces were coming together.
"Anyway, we had a good long chat and I sort of asked if I could stay with you guys while I'm here. I don't have a lot of money and I don't want to stay in some seedy hotel." Her face fell into a look of uncertainty and vulnerability. All signs of the smile were gone as her eyes left John's face and fell to the floor.
"I hope you don't mind," she said, glancing up at him, worried. "Helen said it was okay."
John smiled at her, wanting to make her feel comfortable.
What the hell, he thought. They could argue about it afterwards. He knew they would.
"It's okay if Helen said it is. You can stay as long as you want."
Zoe's face broke back into a huge smile. She sprang from the sofa and was over the other side of the room before John had a chance to move. She grabbed his hands and pulled him to his feet and placed both arms around him, hugging him tightly.
John didn't know what to do. He didn't want to pull her away, but he couldn't just hug her back. This girl was naked after all. He patted the back of her head, which came up only to his chest, and he looked down at her shiny hair. It smelled fresh and fruity; a wonderful fragrance he'd never smelt before.
"Thanks Johnny," she said as she took a step back to look up into his eyes. Her smile was beaming.
John hoped she hadn't felt his erection. "And Helen?" he asked.
"Ah, duh!" Zoe slapped her hand into her forehead. "Sorry. She's gone out to get some extra food and champagne to celebrate my glorious arrival!" She broke into a giggle once more as she turned and headed back to the sofa.
John's eyes followed her small, wiggling buttocks. The backs of her shapely legs were finely toned.
That's what I call a hard body, he thought.
Then he tore his eyes away and looked at his watch: 11:34pm.
"At this time of night?" he said. The streets could be dangerous and he didn't want Helen getting into any trouble.
"She said she'd only be a few minutes. She'd only just got home herself, you know, from working late. It was mighty cold sitting on your front doorstep for hours, I'll tell you." Zoe giggled. "She was going to go down to some all-night food place a few minutes away by car."
"Oh, I don't know. I don't know Parkhurst too well. As I said, I've only just blown in." Zoe repositioned herself on the sofa, on display for John to see all. She was still smiling. "She only just left when you arrived. She won't be long."
"Okay." John sat down again but he still felt uncomfortable. "Er…aren't you cold?" he finally said.
"Me?" Zoe pointed at herself. "No, why?"
"Well, ah, you're sort of naked," was all John could manage.
Zoe burst into laughter and rocked back and forth on the sofa. "You're funny, you know that?" she said. "Helen told me to make myself comfortable. And, well, this is me comfortable."
John stared at her. He couldn't believe how out of control of the situation he felt. In his own home, a naked stranger could leave him stumbling like an old man for his glasses.
"Why? Does it make you uncomfortable?" she asked.
"Slightly, yes," John said.
"Oh, okay. Sorry. I don't want you feeling on edge in your own home. I'll go and put on some clothes. Why don't you make us some coffee while I get changed?"
Lacking any better plan, John agreed. He stood and walked to the kitchen, and as he did so, he watched out of the corner of his eye as Zoe disappeared into the main bedroom.
Maybe having unexpected guests isn't so bad, he thought.
John got the coffee started and tried desperately to get the images of Zoe out of his mind.
She was just sitting there naked, he thought. Like it was a perfectly natural thing to do!
The last thing he needed was Helen to come walking in with a sack of groceries in her hands only to find him with an erection and Zoe sitting naked in the lounge room.
Even flowers wouldn't help that situation!
John remembered putting them on the hallstand as he entered the house. Sidetracked by Zoe, he'd forgotten about them. He left the coffee brewing and headed back down the hall.
He may not be able to hand them to Helen, but he could at least make them look presentable when she came in. All he needed was a vase.
Grabbing them from the hallstand, he turned to walk back up the hall. Stopping for a moment, he decided to check the front door. He'd been distracted when he had entered, and who wouldn't be if they found a naked stranger on their sofa?
He checked the door.
It was unlocked.
Typical, he thought. Anyone could have got in.
He threw the bolt to lock the front door. Then he placed a hand in his pocket. He dragged out the front door keys and placed them on the key holder on the wall by the door.
He put them on his hook, right next to Helen's car keys.
Helen's car keys?
John started at the key holder for what seemed like a long time. Both sets of keys now resided there.
He turned to see Zoe leaning against the wall at the other end of the hall.
"Is the coffee ready?"
John took one more look at the keys and then turned to face her.
"Ah, almost, yeah," he said.
He turned and walked back up the hall.
Zoe was wearing black button-up jeans now. Each of the silver buttons glinted in the light and reminded John of the diamond positioned snugly in her bellybutton. She wore a black top too, tight and figure hugging. It had no arms, so her muscled forearms and biceps were still on display. The neck of the top was cut into an L shape, showing some of her neckline and left shoulder.
Her hair was back in a ponytail again, with only a few strands escaping to the side of her face. She wore nothing on her feet and for the first time John noticed her toenails were painted bright red.
"Great! It will be our first coffee together," she said. She smiled at him as she turned and headed back to the sofa.
As John walked into the kitchen, Zoe said over her shoulder, "You know I've heard all about you. It's like I know you already."
John glanced at his watch: 11:47.
But the keys!
He put the flowers to one side.
"Did Helen say she was driving?" he asked.
She looked up from the book now back in her lap and stared at him through the archway dividing the kitchen and lounge. Her face smiled but he was sure there was something different about it.
"What do you mean?"
"Well, you said she'd gone to get some food." John poured the coffee into two mugs.
"But her car keys are still in the hall."
"Ahuh?" Zoe looked at the book again, and then met his gaze as he brought the coffee around to her. "Don't worry too much," she said. "Helen took my Jeep. It was parked out the front anyway."
"It seems like a strange thing to do."
"Nah, not really," Zoe took the coffee. "It's literally a brand new Jeep, only a few weeks old. It's red and very, very cool. Helen was staggered when she saw it. I just threw her the keys and said 'Knock yourself dead'! She couldn't resist taking it for a spin. But she shouldn't be long now. Maybe she's driving around, having a free spin, getting the feel of the Jeep! You know, she's probably lost track of time. You know how she can be sometimes."
John nodded. He knew alright.
"She should've called me before I left work, I could have picked up something on the walk home from the train station."
"She probably didn't want to bother you. Sugar?"
"Huh?" John said.
"Do you have any sugar?"
"Oh, okay, sorry." John walked back into the kitchen.
Something didn't feel right. Something, something…
He grabbed the sugar bowl and brought it to the table by the sofa.
"Hope you didn't mind me grabbing one of your books." Zoe said, pointing at the hardback with one hand while she scooped sugar into her coffee with the other. "But when Helen went out there wasn't much to do."
"No problem. I'm surprised you didn't go with her."
Zoe shook her head and yawned. "Nope, I'm too tired. It was a long trip you know. I've been driving since Wednesday. Non-stop. I wasn't even sure I'd make it here for the weekend."
"So," John said as he settled into an armchair by the sofa, "you and Helen have been friends for a long time?"
"Yep, ages!" Zoe smiled.
"She's never mentioned you…"
Zoe put the coffee down on the table and placed the book next to her. She pulled her legs up onto the sofa and crawled to the end where she rested her elbows on the side-arms and stared directly at John.
"Did I make you feel uncomfortable before, Johnny?"
"Er..look I -"
"I didn't mean to. Helen said get comfortable and that's how I am when I'm comfortable. I'm sorry if I made you on edge or nervous. I really didn't mean to."
John watched as a range of emotions swept across her face. Her smile broke into a worried frown and then into a look of sadness. She almost looked as if she was about to cry.
He had only known her for a few minutes, but he already felt as if they had been friends for a long long time. His suspicions and worries were slowly slipping from his mind. And he was letting them.
She sat back in the sofa, "I'm sorry," she said.
"No, no, no," John felt the need to let her know everything was fine. "Don't be like that. It was just a shock, you know. I come home and I think I'm going to see Helen and then I find you…"
Zoe smiled again as if everything was solved. "Good, I'm glad."
She sat back, reached for the coffee and took another sip.
"You make great coffee."
"I like your coffee."
John looked at his watch: 11:53.
"Helen should be back by now," he said as he frowned.
"Well, she only just left here before you got home."
"Still, if she's driven down to the closest store and got some food, she should've been back about ten minutes ago. They're never too busy on a Friday night."
"Well, you know Helen can get a little crazy sometimes," Zoe leaned forward and patted his arm. Her smell wafted over him again; that fresh, fruity fragrance. Or was it just the coffee?
"I've never known Helen to go crazy," John said. "She's never like that. Quite the opposite, in fact."
"We all go a little crazy sometimes." Zoe giggled once more, and spilled some coffee onto her jeans, "Oops," she said as she wiped away the spill. "You'll learn I giggle too much."
"So, how long are you in town?" John asked, hoping to fill in the time and make it pass quicker - bringing Helen home sooner. An easy conversation could make them both feel more comfortable.
"I don't know yet. I've got some matters to take care of. It shouldn't be long though. It depends how difficult it all becomes. At least by arriving here tonight I can rest over the weekend and then get down to business on Monday. Don't worry, though, I won't stay too long."
"No, I didn't mean it like that."
She smiled, "It's okay, Johnny. I won't outstay my welcome."
He smiled back.
How could you ever outstay a welcome? he wondered.
"What do you do for a living?"
"I'm a researcher!" Zoe replied eagerly. "You want things found out - I find 'em! For a price, of course. I do freelance stuff mostly."
"Yeah, it can be. But mostly it isn't. And when it's slow, it's really slow. Usually I spend my time serving coffee in a shopping centre somewhere just to make ends meet."
She giggled again. John couldn't help it and he joined in too.
Then there was a pause.
"You haven't asked me what I do?" John said.
Zoe waved a hand at him, "No need. Helen has told me everything! You're the Engineering Manager for American Eagle Electonics, right here in Parkhurst."
"Wow, you know your stuff. So, how do you know Helen?"
"We met years ago - best buddies in school."
"Funny," John scratched his head as he thought back. "I'm sure she's never mentioned you."
Zoe shrugged her shoulders, drained the last of the coffee from her cup and crawled once more to the end of the sofa. She stared deep into his eyes and John found himself mesmerised by the deep brown pools.
"I'm probably a secret, Johnny," she said. "We all have secrets, you know."
John sunk backwards and broke her stare. He took a gulp of coffee and looked at her again, at her smile, and at her perfectly formed straight white teeth. Her smell wafted over him again. He noticed for the first time that she had a small scar running across her left eyebrow.
"It all depends who we tell about them," she said as she sat back and picked up the book.
John looked at his watch: 12:04.
After midnight? This has gone on too long.
"Okay, I better go and find Helen," John said as he stood and placed the coffee mug to one side. "She's been gone way too long."
"Don't have a fit, she'll be back soon."
"No, I better -"
"Now you're going a bit crazy."
John turned and headed down the hallway, grabbing a coat off the hallstand as he went.
"Johnny, I wouldn't," Zoe called after him.
"Don't worry, I won't be long. I'll take my car and be back in a few minutes."
"She's probably got caught up somewhere. Or taken that drive I told you about! The moment you leave she'll arrive and we'll have to search for you!"
John grabbed his keys from the key holder by the door and turned to face her, "I'll be back soon."
Zoe was standing at the other end of the hall, "Don't go crazy on me, Johnny."
"I'm not going crazy. I'm just going to find Helen and then we'll both be back," he said.
"Don't do it!"
"Just relax and I'll be back in a few minutes."
"I don't think so…"
John stopped and stared at her. Her face was a mix of emotions again, making it hard for him to read her. The silence between them was heavy.
"You can't stop me," he said.
Zoe's hands went to the back of her jeans and then swung around quickly. The blur of movement solidified before his eyes.
He stared at the revolver pointed at him.
"Yes, I can."
LOVE LIES DYING will be available
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