Hot Line

By: Alison Grey

Acknowledgment





I want to thank the wonderful people who helped getting Hot Line published.

Sandra—for translating Hot Line. I would have taken much longer and probably driven Jae insane.

Jae—for doing a marvelous job as my editor.

Judy—for your attention to detail as a copy editor.

Susanne and Marion—for being patient test readers.

Erin—for beta reading.

Krystel—for creating yet another brilliant cover.

Astrid—for being a dedicated publisher. I wouldn’t want to have your job for all the money in the world.

Girls, you’re awesome!





Dedication





For Astrid. The best publisher you could wish for.





Author’s note





This novella is set in Germany. To help you understand Christina’s situation better, here’s a short explanation about the German school system:

A “Hauptschule” is a one of three types of secondary school in Germany. Usually, students who don’t have good grades in elementary school will attend Hauptschule. The graduates go on to do an apprenticeship or work minimum-wage jobs. They have the option to later attend an evening school or another type of second-chance education to get their “Abitur,” a diploma that qualifies them for better paying jobs or university admission.





Hot Line





“Hi, this is Chantal. Thank you for calling,” Christina breathed into the phone.

“Um, hello,” a female voice said on the other end of the line.

Christina furrowed her brow. Women rarely called her. Not that she would have minded. She even preferred female callers because women usually didn’t become obscene. The calls also lasted longer, so they were more profitable for her. At least that had been the case with the three calls that she’d gotten from women since she’d started working for the sex hotline four months ago.

“You’re calling at exactly the right time. I’m just undressing to take a hot bath.” Christina made her voice sound as if she were revealing a secret. “Do you want to join me?”

“Would it be all right if we ... if we just talk?”

The woman on the other end of the line didn’t seem aroused. Christina got the feeling that this caller wasn’t interested at all in her “service.” But then why was she calling a sex hotline at two o’clock in the morning? “Baby, you can do to me whatever you want.” That sentence, presented in her low voice, always excited her male callers.

“I don’t want to do anything to you. But I’d like to tell you about my day.”

Christina lifted her brows. That was a game she hadn’t encountered before. Okay, why not?

“What’s your name?” Christina still used her sexiest, most seductive tone.

“Linda.” The caller’s voice sounded young.

“Okay, Linda, tell me about your day, honey.”

A sigh filtered through the line. “It’s my birthday today. Well, yesterday, really.”

“Oh, so happy birthday.” It wasn’t the first time callers told her it was their birthday, hoping they wouldn’t have to pay. But women were rarely that naïve.

“Thank you. I ... I’m twenty-nine now. ”

Christina grinned. So she’d been right. The caller was young. She sounded even younger than twenty-nine. If she’s even telling the truth. It didn’t matter anyway. Twenty or eighty years old, on their birthday or their golden wedding anniversary like one of yesterday’s customers, they all brought in money, as long as Christina kept them on the phone long enough. “And? Did you have a nice party?”

It took a long time for Linda to answer. Finally, she said in a low voice, “I spent the whole day at the cemetery. When I got home, I wanted to get drunk, but then I changed my mind and stared at the bedroom wall for the rest of the night instead.”

Wow, this woman had some serious problems. But why was she calling a sex hotline instead of going to see a shrink? Christina shook her head. Every minute earned her two euros, so she might as well play phone shrink. “What were you doing at the cemetery?” Christina allowed herself to speak in her normal voice. This caller, Linda, if that was even her real name, definitely wasn’t interested in phone sex. Or if she was, it was a really perverted version of it.

“My parents are buried there. They ... they died exactly four years ago. They were on their way to see me for my birthday.” Linda sucked in a breath. “A truck driver fell asleep at the wheel and crashed into the tail end of a traffic jam. Exactly where my parents’ car was.” After pausing for a few seconds, she continued, “They never had a chance.”

Christina avoided imagining how the woman at the other end of the line might feel. In her job, she had learned to keep feelings out of it. “I’m very sorry.”

There was no answer.

“Do you have any siblings?”

“No.” Sobbing quietly, Linda said, “It was just my parents and me.”

It was probably a mistake to ask so directly, but Christina was just too curious. “Linda, why are you alone today?”

“Because I don’t have anyone.” The caller’s voice broke.

Shit. Is she crying? Christina pressed her lips together. What was she supposed to do now? She was a phone sex worker, dammit. Not even her sisters talked about their problems with Christina because they thought she was insensitive. “Hey, Linda. Don’t cry. Everything will be fine.”

Linda blew her nose and then said, “I help people.”

Huh? “What do you mean?”

“I’m … I’m a therapist. A psychologist.”

What does that have to do with anything?

“I work with people every day. I have my own practice. I leave for work early in the morning and I’ve got appointments scheduled until the evening.”

A shrink and a workaholic. Was she telling the truth? And why was she telling Christina all of this? Was she trying to show off?

“I have no family and no friends. No one. Not even colleagues.”

Slowly, Christina realized what the caller was trying to say. “And why’s that?”

For a moment, only Linda’s breathing filled the line.

“I don’t know.”

Come on. Christina shook her head. A therapist who didn’t even understand herself? “Really?”

“Since I’m a therapist, I guess the excuse I don’t like people doesn’t work, huh?”

“No, it doesn’t.” Christina laughed.

Linda exhaled. “People just scare me. It’s so easy when I interact with them on a professional basis. I like helping them, giving advice, guiding them to find the right way. But work is one thing. Meeting them in my private life is another.”

All right, then, but none of that had anything to do with phone sex. “Why did you call me?” Christina asked.

Linda laughed humorlessly. “It’s like you said earlier: I can do with you whatever I want.”

Christina moved the phone away from her ear and stared at it. The answer had caught her by surprise. After a moment of silence, she cleared her throat. “What do you want to do now, Linda?” She deepened her voice. The role of Chantal was her safety line.

“I want to imagine you holding me.”

“Okay,” Christina said. “That’s exactly what I’m doing right now.”

“Except for handshakes, I haven’t been touched by anyone in over a year.”

Christina furrowed her brow. This woman had to be incredibly lonely. “I’m holding you tightly.” She tried to sound as compassionate as possible. Poor woman. She’s telling the truth. No one could make up something like that. Why hadn’t she hired a prostitute? She could at least let herself be held if she didn’t want sex. If Linda was even into women. So far, nothing had indicated that she was. Or that she wasn’t. Doesn’t matter one way or the other.

“Thank you. Whatever your name might be.”

“My name is Chantal.”

“My name is Linda, but I’m fairly sure yours is not Chantal. I understand that you don’t want to tell me your real name, but please don’t lie to me.”

Christina was silent. Then she heard herself say, “Christina.” What are you doing? She’s a customer. She jumped off the bed, plodded over to her desk, and dropped onto the chair. It creaked even more loudly than usual. This was the first and definitely last time she ever revealed her real name to a customer. It was too personal. Now Linda was talking to her, to Christina, instead of a cybersex slave.

“Nice to meet you, Christina.”

Silence. Christina had already said too much.

“I hope I’m not boring you to death because I’m planning to talk to you for a while longer.”

Christina grinned. Who cared what they talked about as long as it was lucrative. “Okay.”

“I don’t have anyone. I just have one thing: money. I don’t care if it costs me three cents or three euros a minute. I like your voice. Your normal voice. And I like talking to you. So if I don’t bore you to sleep, I can do that as long as I pay you. Well ... until you finish work for the day.” After a moment of silence, Linda asked in an almost shy voice, “How long are you working tonight?”

Christina leaned back in her chair. “Normally until four or five. Depends on how busy it is. But there are no set working hours. We can talk for as long as you want.” It would be a very lucrative night. Christina slipped out of her house shoes and put her feet up on the bed.

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