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Paige Phillips - The Stranger's Wife

Paige Phillips - The Stranger's Wife

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Published by: Raverasun on Nov 21, 2010
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The Stranger's WifePaige PhillipsChapter OneHe had been following her since she left the market. Sure now, MegLindley quickened her pace. Only two blocks to go, but the dark streetwas deserted and a muffled footfall told her he was gaining on her.Dead leaves, a legacy of an unseasonal Santa Ana wind, crunched under her feet as she broke into a run. Overhead, drifting clouds formed avaporous army, overpowering the moon.Gripping the grocery bag tightly, she heard the can of beans clunk against the jar of peanut butter. She twisted the handles of theswinging plastic bag twice around her fist.She knew she couldn't maintain her speed; her right foot was alreadydragging. Splints and casts in early childhood had stretched her Achilles tendon to the point that no one would have guessed she'd been born with a clubfoot, and she rarely limped unless she was extremelytired. But she'd been on her feet for twelve hours, and adrenalinecouldn't overcome the aching fatigue.Even if she made it to the house, there was no way she'd be able tounlock the door before he caught up with her.My only chance is to surprise him, she thought. I've got to do theunexpected.Stopping dead in her tracks, she wheeled around to face him.She had a quick glimpse of a man whose shoulders strained the leather  jacket he wore, and whose expression registered surprise as she swungthe grocery bag as hard as she could.He was too tall for her to reach his face, but she heard him grunt asthe bag struck his chest, winding him. Groceries crashed to the pavement, the jar shattering, as Meg and turned sped away.Headlights turned the corner ahead, the twin beams momentarily blindingher. Desperately she ran out into the street, waving her arms. Thecar swerved, accelerated around her and roared off into the darkness.Meg raced down the center of the street, breath grinding in her throat,right past her house. He wasn't going to trap her on the shadowed porch, she decided.
 
 Nobody walked after dark in this neighborhood of modest houses, mostwith security bars on the windows. She doubted anyone would come toher aid if she screamed.A barking pit bull leapt at a chain-link fence as she sprinted past.She briefly considered flinging herself over the fence and taking her chances with the dog, but fending off ravaging teeth seemed moredaunting than lighting off a rapist.She was certain that was what her pursuer had in mind, since he musthave known from observing her in the market that she wasn't a candidatefor robbery--she'd spent her last ten dollars on groceries and had torummage through her pockets for enough change to pay the bill.Meg forced herself to run faster. If she could circle back to the boulevard, with its traffic and lights, surely he'd give up the chase'Wait a surprisingly civilized voice called after her."I'm not going to hurt you."Right.She didn't see the gray cat streak across the street until it was toolate. The cat darted under her feet, tripping her. She sprawled onthe ground, wincing as she scraped her hands on the blacktop.In the seconds before her pursuer caught up with her, she grabbed her keys from her pocket. Damn him, he wasn't going to get his way withouta fight.His shadow loomed over her and she rolled aside and scrambled up on her knees, her keys raised ready to rip his face.The moon sailed out of the clouds, its pallid glow illuminating hisface. Her heart pounding, Meg was surprised to see there was nothingsinister about his features, which under other circumstances she mighthave described as pleasantly rugged.He took a step backward, reached into his pocket, withdrew something."I'm sorry, Mrs. Lindley. I didn't mean to scare you. I've not beenable to catch you at home and I didn't want to approach you at work.I'm a private investigator. "She saw now that he was dangling some sort of badge from hisoutstretched hand. He extended the other hand toward her.
 
"Please, let me help you up. My name's Mike Aragon."Meg hesitated, then stood up on her own, keeping her distance."What do you want? And what's the big idea of stalking me?""Could we at least get out of the street? This isn't the choicest of neighborhoods."She backed away, keeping her eyes fixed on him. He followed her to thesidewalk."Just what are you investigating, Mr. Aragon?" Meg asked."If you're a skip tracer looking for my husband, you're out of luck.I've no idea where he is.""I'm not looking for your husband. I was sent to offer you a proposition that would be mutually advantageous to you and myclient.""And who is your client?" Meg asked, curious."Look, we can't talk out here on the street. I noticed an all-nightcoffee shop back there near the market. How about I buy you a cup of coffee and explain? I'll be glad to replace those groceries you tossedat me, too."Torn between curiosity and bone-weary fatigue, she rubbed her grazedhands on her jeans. Curiosity, and a sense that her situation couldn'tget any worse, won out."Okay, let's go."They walked back down the street. Several lean cats were licking atthe spilled peanut butter; the dented can of beans had joined theflotsam in the gutter. She made a mental note to come and clean up themess in the morning.The coffee shop was empty except for a bored-looking waitress and acouple of short-order cooks arguing in Spanish behind the kitchen partition. Meg led the way to a table in the window, but Aragon said,"How about that booth in the corner?" and made for it without waitingfor a response.Once seated, he asked, "You want something to eat? Go ahead and order anything you want. I'm on an expense account."Meg ignored the offered menu.

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