3.8 7
by Megan Hart

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Ever hear of wanderlust? 


Every other weekend, Stella buys a ticket on the next flight out of town and leaves her life behind. Home is a place with too many memories, and departure is the sweetest possible distraction. 


As soon as she arrives at her destination, Stella visits the airport bar. She orders a drink and

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Ever hear of wanderlust? 


Every other weekend, Stella buys a ticket on the next flight out of town and leaves her life behind. Home is a place with too many memories, and departure is the sweetest possible distraction. 


As soon as she arrives at her destination, Stella visits the airport bar. She orders a drink and waits for the right guy to come along. A bored businessman, a backpacker, a baggage handler just off shift. If he's into a hot, no-strings hookup, he's perfect. Each time is a thrilling escape from reality that gives the term layover a whole new meaning. 


When Stella meets the enigmatic Matthew in Chicago one weekend, she hits some serious turbulence. Something about him tells her she's not the only one running from the past. The connection between them is explosive, and for the first time, one taste is not enough for Stella. But returning to find a gorgeous man waiting for her is the easy part—facing the reason she's there is a whole other matter…. 


"Hart's beautiful use of language and discerning eye toward human experience elevate the book to a poignant reflection on the deepest yearnings of the human heart and the seductive temptation of passion."  

—Kirkus Book Reviews on Tear You Apart

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
In this nontraditional emotional romance, Hart (Dirty) writes more of sorrow than love. Stella Cooper uses her access to free airline tickets to roam airport bars, pursuing her private life of finding one-night stands free of identities, feelings, and repercussions. Stella is a remarkable character: a divorced mother struggling with the challenges of a teenaged son, a troublesome ex, and the pain that she carries from a past that brought her to a cold, isolated present. Hopeless and unwilling to ask for help, Stella attacks herself and everyone around her with an unforgiving attitude. Her escapist habit leads her to Chicago, where she meets Matthew, who can help heal her pain, but though there is the suggestion of hope in the resolution, little is done by Stella to earn such a prize. She receives far more understanding and forgiveness than she offers the world, and her story is wrenching but unsatisfying. (Apr.)
From the Publisher
"Fans will find much to praise in Hart's handling of her characters' pain and emptiness and their tentative steps toward redemption." —RT Book Reviews

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Red lips.

Smooth skin. Perfume.

These are tricks a lot of women know. Men like silky hair and clinging dresses, high heels and gartered stockings like the ones she wears now. In her twenties Stella had taught herself how to be sexy for a man; it wasn't until she was older that she discovered it was so much better to be sexy for herself.

Her feet whisper on the cool industrial tiles as she tips her scarlet-soled pumps into the bin and pushes it along the rollers toward the X-ray machine. Next, her bag, which she affectionately calls the TARDIS. Like the traveling police-box time machine from her son's favorite TV show, Stella's bag is bigger on the inside. It can hold a weekend's worth of everything a woman needs to make herself beautiful, plus a book in case she doesn't find anyone worth being beautiful for.

Her coat goes next. She'd prefer to keep it on, but even if they let her through the scanner with it, the buckle will set off the alarm. Then again, so will the clips on her garters, probably. At this point, Stella knows most of the TSA agents who work at the Harrisburg International Airport by name. They still have to pat her down, of course, but by now it's become sort of a game for them and for her.

"Hi, Pete." She doesn't miss the way his gaze dips to her seam-stockinged toes and lingers on her calves when she turns to add her cell phone to a second bin before pushing that one through behind the first. She can't see him do it, but she's sure he takes a good, long look at her ass too.

This is good.

It doesn't matter that Pete is at least her father's age and wears a walrus mustache. Or that he's married with kids and grandkids whose pictures he proudly displays on his phone. Or even that the gum he chews constantly can't cover up the pervasive odor of bad breath. It doesn't matter that she will never take Pete home and fuck him.

It only matters that she could, if she wanted to. If she tried hard enough. If she let him stand a little too close, breathe a little too hard, if she shifted just the right way so the slit in her dress parted just enough to give him a glimpse of her bare thighs.

Stella is pretty sure Pete thinks she's a relatively expensive call girl, or at the very least some rich man's mistress. It's the clothes, hair, the manicured nails. It's the shoes. There's no way for anyone to mistake anything about her for a woman on a business trip, unless her business is pleasure. Pete doesn't know she doesn't get paid for any of this, at least not with money.

"Where you off to tonight?" Pete lets the wand move up and down her body as she holds up her arms. The wand beeps around her thighs. He moves it again, slowly. Up and down. "Sorry about this, Stella."

"No problem." Her warm smile isn't forced. He doesn't know it's as much artifice as the fake lashes and fingernails. The only difference is she doesn't need glue to hold it in place. "I'm used to it by now."

He waves her to the side, where a pair of TSA agents will pat her down, explaining the process every step of the way and asking repeatedly for her permission to touch her in places that no longer even feel intimate. Stella makes it easy for them. They're just doing their job.

The agent bending to slide her fingers up Stella's calf is new, or at least has never worked the Friday night shift before when Stella's passing through. Her name tag says Maria. She has dark hair slicked into a tight bun that can't disguise the natural curl. Big dark eyes fringed with lashes that don't need to be glued on. Her mouth isn't painted red, but it's lush and glistening just the same. She does her job efficiently, barely cracking a smile. Not unfriendly, but definitely distant. When she looks up, Stella, who's looking down, thinks she understands why.

Stella's never been with a woman, but that doesn't mean she hasn't thought about it. These tricks-sometimes they work on women too. That gleam of interest, however faint and trying to be ignored, calls to her just as much as it does in a man's eyes, because all of this effort Stella makes isn't so much about the wanting as of being wanted.

When Maria's fingertips skate along the inside of her thighs, Stella's reaction is immediate but not unconscious. Her feet shift on the blue-painted marks on the floor, the rough paint that could snag her stockings if she's not careful. The tiniest movement, not enough to draw attention to herself, but the agent notices. Their eyes meet. Under the layers of silk and lace, Stella throbs. Maria looks away.

What would it be like to hide yourself that way, so the world can't guess something that is such a basic part of you? Such a defining thing? Stella understands. Everyone has secrets, and most of them are about sex.

Maria doesn't look at her again, not throughout the entire rest of the inspection, and her voice doesn't falter as she gives, in monotone, the speech and instructions Stella could recite from memory. Stella's voice, however, has gone husky when she gives her permission for every single pat of Maria's hands against her. By the time it's over, Stella feels flushed and shivery; she fumbles with her belongings and Maria has to help with her coat and bag.

"Take your time, ma'am," Maria says in a neutral voice. "Have a nice day."

Stella slips into her shoes and pulls the bag along behind her, her coat over her arm. She doesn't look back, keeps her head high, draws in breath after breath to keep herself steady. In the bathroom, she locks herself inside a stall and leans against the chilly metal, eyes closed, and pushes her hands into the slit of her wrap dress. Up the insides of her thighs, over the stockings and bare flesh, to press her clit through her panties. Her back arches. Her nipples are hard. She lets herself imagine for a few moments what it would be like to have that woman's face against her flesh. Those lush lips on her cunt. Would it be different than the beard-rough touch of a man? Probably. She laughs at herself, but silently, and at the sink splashes water on a paper towel before pressing it to the back of her neck.

She studies her reflection. Dark-lined eyes against pale skin, those red lips. Her hair is naturally auburn and hangs to her shoulders, usually worn with the ends curling up, but not tonight. She wears it in a deep side part now, pinned behind one ear and hanging loose on the other. Because she's alone in the bathroom, she allows herself to give the woman in the mirror a sly smile and an assessing gaze. Stella doesn't stare at herself because she's vain. She does it so she knows how she looks to other people. She does it so she can be sure the expressions she feels on her face look real, her smile bright or sexy or sympathetic as needed and not some Joker-faced grin. She used to never have to think about how she looked, but that was a long time ago. She was a different woman then, one who never worried about her makeup or hair or if she was going to scare someone with her smile.

She's gotten better at it.

She touches up her lipstick and powders her nose. She adjusts her stockings and her push-up bra, opens the neckline of her dress just a little bit more. She slips into her coat and belts it. By the time she gets to the gate, her plane is boarding and she waits patiently in line to take the seat that's left. Sometimes when she gets to the gate she finds out she won't be going where she thought she was, that she'll have to try another flight, but that's the price she pays for flying free. It doesn't happen often. Harrisburg's airport might be international, but it's also very small and hardly ever busy. Tonight, there's no problem.

Tonight, she's going to Atlanta.

It will be warmer there than it is in central Pennsylvania in late September, and that's fine. Stella doesn't plan on sightseeing. She'll barely even leave the airport. One night in, the next out. She has that book if she's not lucky…but she almost always is.

She likes the Hartsfield-Jackson Airport in Atlanta. It has a couple of nice bars and coffee shops where she can sip iced tea or coffee or the occasional hot cocoa, depending on her mood. Like every airport she's ever used, it has a wide selection of hotels no more than a quick shuttle ride from the terminal. She belongs to all the rewards programs. It only ever takes a quick call to confirm a cheap vacancy.

Stella is still thinking of Maria when she sits at the bar in Atlanta and settles her bag at her feet. Having to keep it with her is one inconvenience about these trips, but also the easiest escape route. She can always say she's on her way to catch a plane if she needs an excuse to get away. She's used it a few times, though there's the possibility she'll be caught in the lie when the man whose attentions she's fleeing sees her in a different bar with a different man-but really, what does she care? She doesn't owe them anything, even if they do buy her a drink or three. Even if she does lean a little close, fluttering her lashes, or crosses her legs artfully so that her dress gives them a glimpse of her unspoken promises.

Today isn't the first time she's ever been checked out by a woman. Women look each other over all the time. Women assess each other with bright and knowing eyes that broadcast their approval, envy, disdain. The tricks of gloss and glitter are meant to lure men but impress other women. Stella might have to study her reflection to know if her expression is portraying what she means it to, but all she has to do is look at other women to know if her body's doing the same thing.

Still, there is something different about being looked over and checked out. That fleeting glimpse of desire in Maria's eyes, coupled with the too-polite way she went about her inspection, have lit a familiar fire inside Stella. Sometimes she likes to flirt and be coy, to dance around her desires and draw them out. Make the outcome uncertain. Sometimes she likes to be pursued. And sometimes, like tonight, she wants to be the one making someone else cross the line they might not even know they had.

A man sits down beside her. One always does. He doesn't try to hide his assessment of her, and it's nicely appreciative. He's conventionally attractive-square jaw, good haircut, a few feathery lines of crow's feet and a glint of silver at his temples. Businessman, suit and tie, white shirt, nice watch. Class ring on his wedding finger. He smells good.

He's not what she wants. Other nights, definitely, but not this one. Stella makes a quarter turn with her body away from him and focuses her attention on her cell phone. He gets the hint, orders a drink and lets his focus fall on a woman on the other side of him. Stella eavesdrops on his opening line. It would've worked on her on another night. Almost all do.

She sees what she wants. He's sitting at the other end of the bar with a pint glass of beer in front of him. He's watching the sports channel on the flat-screen above the bartender. He's youngish, at least a few years younger than her. Clean cut, dark hair cropped close, no hint of a beard. He wears a long-sleeved black shirt and black trousers, and yes, she looks for it-the peek of a white collar from his pocket.

Stella has made an art of observation. She studies him surreptitiously, noting the black bag nestled at his feet like a faithful dog. The bag's the sort you get at a conference, emblazoned with a dove and the words Episcopal Diocese Fall Clergy Conference circling it.

Episcopalian, not Roman Catholic. No vow of chastity, but still a priest. Still the sort of man who shouldn't do what she wants him to do.


He doesn't look around the bar even when a couple of women pass right behind him on the way to the bathroom. Not even when one of them brushes his shoulder with her bag as she passes. He looks up long enough to move his chair when there's a little bit of a roadblock between the kitchen and bathroom, so he's not totally oblivious or entranced by the week's sports highlights. But he's definitely a guy who's there to enjoy a beer and some food, not company. Especially not random female company. If the tucked-away collar didn't give that away, the onion rings do.

Stella finishes her drink and gathers her things. She gets little more attention from him than the other women did, but when she sits next to him, he does give her a quick glance and a small, polite smile. Stella returns it with the same lack of heat and interest. When the bartender tells her that yes, they do have iced tea, she orders a glass, and when it arrives she makes a show of looking for the sugar.

"Oh…excuse me." A smile with the right amount of friendly, gaze indirect enough not to be threatening. She points to the small dish of packets to his right. "Could you pass me the sugar?"

She's already seen that the dish contains a rainbow of artificial sweeteners. He pushes it to her with a murmured "Oh, sure." Stella frowns. This time when she looks at him, she makes sure to catch his eye completely. Another smile, this one a little slower.

She holds his gaze a little longer than is comfortable before she says, "Is there any real sugar?"

He looks again to his right, but this is a bar, not a diner. She's judged him right, though. Before she can say anything, he's waving at the bartender and asking for real sugar, which the bartender has to hunt for beneath the bar for a moment before he passes over a handful of white packets. They spill from the man's hands, across the polished top of the bar, and Stella laughs as she helps scoop them up and tuck them into place alongside their chemical cousins.

"Thanks," she says. It's enough. She thought it might be.

He smiles at her. "You're welcome."

She tears two packets at the same time and stirs the sugar into the tea, then takes out the long spoon and tucks it in her mouth to suck the sweetness before setting it on the napkin in front of her. He looks away, but not quickly enough. She leans a little close, but not too much.

"I hate the taste of artificial sweeteners." This is a dance. Maybe he knows it. Maybe he doesn't. But Stella does, and she's very careful with the steps. "They're terrible."

"Yeah, I know what you mean." He lets his gaze tilt toward her again, but not his body. His hands close around his glass, but he doesn't drink.

Gloss and glitter. It's like dangling a sequined worm in sun-dappled waters, letting it drift and catch the light until the fish decides it wants to bite. The question is, will he bite? Will he?

"Some crazy weather, huh?" The second he opens his mouth to speak, it doesn't matter what he says. It means he's hooked. He points at the TV, across which a banner is running. Freak tornados have swept the Midwest and also odd places on the East Coast that don't usually see them.

He doesn't quite look at her and she's most definitely not looking at him, but she can feel him sneaking a peek.

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