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  • Writer's pictureCathryn Grant

Novel excerpt: The Woman In the Hotel

Updated: Nov 11, 2023

I wasn’t in the habit of talking to anyone about anything going on inside my head.

But Damien wasn’t anyone. Talking to him was different because he would never repeat the secrets I told him. Not verbatim, anyway. He would pick up a phrase here and there, he might choose an appealing word and repeat it over and over, telling everyone who came into the apartment what was on my mind, but they wouldn’t understand because he would keep the critical details locked inside his tiny brain.

When I spoke to him, his eyes peered back at me as if he knew more than he was saying.

I was careful to keep the names and identifying details of other people to myself, of course. If I named names, he might give away more than he should.

But I really liked talking out loud, going over the things that were spinning viciously inside my mind until I felt as if four life-threatening blades were positioned inside my skull, a blender turning the flesh and blood vessels and nerves of my brain to pulp.

“I don’t know what he knows,” I said. And inside my mind, I whispered his name—Ned. Lately, he was always in my apartment, even though he didn’t belong there. My agreement with Eileen had been that the two of us would live together. But Ned had become a constantly hovering presence.

“He acts as if he knows something, as if he knows everything. I’m almost certain he doesn’t know anything at all, but I can’t be sure. He looks me right in the eye, and that’s unsettling. Do you know what I mean? Not many people can do that and lie at the same time.”

Damien cocked his head and looked directly into my eyes with his beady, black ones.

I nodded at him. “You know.”

He gave a single nod in return.

“He wants me to ask what he knows. He wants me to be upset. He wants me to think he’s figured me out. He knows there’s something different about me, and his instincts aren’t wrong.”

Delicious mango!

“I know he can’t begin to guess the truth, but I really don’t like that he’s talking to … well, I know who I mean.” I smiled at Damien.

He bobbed up and down. Guess the truth!

It startled me when he squawked out those words. I hadn’t heard him speak them before. He was listening more closely than I’d realized. Usually, he limited himself to two-word phrases. Maybe I should be more careful with what I was telling him. I laughed, considering how that thought would sound if I spoke it to another human being.

“Even if he knows nothing at all, even if he doesn’t think there’s anything scary or worrisome about me, I don’t like that he keeps poking at me. It’s annoying. Is it just a game to show me he has the upper hand? Maybe all he wants is to make me uncomfortable and he thinks that will do it. Who knows? He’s strange. But I can’t assume that, can I?”

Damien bobbed his head. He turned and began walking around the living room, looking for the rest of the food pellets I’d hidden for him. He was obviously tired of my circular speculation.

I continued talking in a softer voice. I needed to listen for the sound of a key in the lock, so it was better not to talk quite so loudly.

“There’s also …” I finished the sentence in my mind—Diana. “She’s going to keep thinking and talking and asking questions. There’s no way she would ever think … you know. People just don’t think that way. They don’t assume someone they know could ever do something like that.”

I stopped talking as Damien’s crown rose higher. Maybe I was upsetting him.

But it was true. People don’t ever think someone they know is a killer. Even when they find out someone they know actually did commit murder, they never want to believe it. So there’s not a lot of risk. Despite that, she was going to keep asking the same questions and thinking about the unsolved murder of James. She might have suspicions she would tell the police. And the police are the opposite of normal people. They think everyone they know is a criminal.

Damien returned to searching for food.

“And then there’s …” I sighed. “He’s a problem I created all by myself. A problem that’s not really a problem, and one that I don’t want to cut out of my life. How did I manage that?” I laughed. I picked up my iced latte and took a sip. I’d left it too long, and the drink was watery. I put it on the coaster, leaned against the back of the couch, tilted my face toward the ceiling, and closed my eyes.

Even thinking about Hunter made me feel the sensation of his hand on my thigh. I felt the resonance of his voice traveling through my bones. The sound of it made them vibrate as if his voice was the perfect pitch for my body. I couldn’t explain it in a way that didn’t sound like something out of a fantasy story. As if I were creating a fairy tale.

Hunter wanted to know everything about me, and I wanted to know everything about him. At the same time, I wanted to tell him absolutely nothing about me and everything.

It was like a Rubik’s cube, which was actually a Rubik’s octagon. Absolutely impossible to solve.

This was why my thoughts were spinning like they were caught in a blender. Without Hunter always at the back of my mind, I could manage Ned. And I would hardly be thinking about Diana and her dead employee slash former one-night stand at all. Hunter was the one who had knocked me entirely off balance.

Now available on Amazon.

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