Visions of Sugar Plums

By: Janet Evanovich

ONE





MY NAME IS Stephanie Plum and I’ve got a strange man in my kitchen. He appeared out of nowhere. One minute I was sipping coffee, mentally planning out my day. And then the next minute . . . poof, there he was.

He was over six feet, with wavy blond hair pulled into a ponytail, deep-set brown eyes, and an athlete’s body. He looked to be late twenties, maybe thirty. He was dressed in jeans, boots, a grungy white thermal shirt hanging loose over the jeans, and a beat-up black leather jacket hanging on broad shoulders. He was sporting two days of beard growth, and he didn’t look happy.

“Well, isn’t this perfect,” he said, clearly disgusted, hands on hips, taking me in.

My heart was tap-dancing in my chest. I was at a total loss. I didn’t know what to think or what to say. I didn’t know who he was or how he got into my kitchen. He was frightening, but even more than that he had me flustered. It was like going to a birthday party and arriving a day early. It was like . . . what the heck’s going on?

“How?” I asked. “What?”

“Hey, don’t ask me, lady,” he said. “I’m as surprised as you are.”

“How’d you get into my apartment?”

“Sweet cakes, you wouldn’t believe me if I told you.” He moved to the refrigerator, opened the door, and helped himself to a beer. He cracked the beer open, took a long pull, and wiped his mouth with the back of his hand. “You know how people get beamed down on Star Trek? It’s sort of like that.”

Okay, so I’ve got a big slob of a guy drinking beer in my kitchen, and I think he might be crazy. The only other possibility I can come up with is that I’m hallucinating and he isn’t real. I smoked some pot in college but that was about it. Don’t think I’d get a flashback from wacky tobacky. There were mushrooms on the pizza last night. Could that be it?

Fortunately, I work in bail bond enforcement, and I’m sort of used to scary guys showing up in closets and under beds. I inched my way across the kitchen, stuck my hand into my brown bear cookie jar, and pulled out my .38 five-shot Smith & Wesson.

“Cripes,” he said, “what are you gonna do, shoot me? Like that would change anything.” He looked more closely at the gun and shook his head in another wave of disgust. “Honey, there aren’t any bullets in that gun.”

“There might be one,” I said. “I might have one chambered.”

“Yeah, right.” He finished the beer and sauntered out of the kitchen, into the living room. He looked around and moved to the bedroom.

“Hey,” I yelled. “Where do you think you’re going?”

He didn’t stop.

“That’s it,” I told him. “I’m calling the police.”

“Give me a break,” he said. “I’m having a really shitty day.” He kicked his boots off and flopped onto my bed, scoping out the room from his prone position. “Where’s the television?”

“In the living room.”

“Oh man, you don’t even have a television in your bedroom. How crapola is this?”

I cautiously moved closer to the bed, and I reached out and touched him.

“Yeah, I’m real,” he said. “Sort of. And all my equipment works.” He smiled for the first time. It was a knock-your-socks-off smile. Dazzling white teeth and good-humored eyes that crinkled at the corners. “In case you’re interested.”

The smile was good. The news was bad. I didn’t know what sort of real meant. And I wasn’t sure I liked the idea that his equipment worked. All in all, it didn’t do a lot to help my heart rate. Truth is, I’m pretty much a chicken-shit bounty hunter. Still, while I’m not the world’s bravest person, I can bluff with the best of them, so I did an eye roll. “Get a grip.”

“You’ll come around,” he said. “They always do.”

“They?”

“Women. Women love me,” he said.

Good thing I didn’t have a bullet chambered as threatened because I’d definitely shoot this guy. “Do you have a name?”

“Diesel.”

“Is that your first name or your last name?”