Just when architect Lindsey Ferrell thinks she’s gotten her life back on track, the terrible nightmares return, and out of nowhere, a stalker sends a note to her office. Photos follow, then emails, and she can’t dismiss the threat any longer. Hiring security seems the logical answer, but there’s nothing logical about her body’s reaction to the sinfully sexy expert bent on keeping her safe.
Guardian Security partner Nick Vanetta believes there’s more behind the situation than a simple fixation, and he wonders if the answer is buried somewhere in her past. As they dig deeper into her family history, the sizzling attraction between them burns hotter and the job becomes much more than playing bodyguard to this headstrong woman. To protect the woman he loves, he must find the stalker…before it’s too late.
This has been so easy I almost laugh. This is so delicious. The prey has no idea that my eyes follow her everywhere. Her office. Her appointments. Casual lunch dates. I watch her avidly while she shops. Even when she has her car washed. I coordinate everything with her office routine, which has been simple for me to learn. Watching her with her dinner dates, the well-dressed professionals who court her, is almost a joke. She always keeps them at arm’s length, thinking she’s too good for them.
That little piece of nothing who ruined my life. Why would anyone want her, anyway?
Sometimes it’s hard to contain the suppressed rage that has always lived within me. It grows constantly, fed by the hate and jealousy that has been my lifelong companions. I can feel the hot fury thrumming through my blood, racing through my body from head to toe like a wild wind. It isn’t fair. It just isn’t fair. None of it.
There. I’ve said it, but it doesn’t relieve the awful feeling of hatred, the bile that rises when I think of her name or hear it mentioned.
Bitch! Bitch! Bitch!
That’s what you are, Lindsey Ferrell. You’ve had all the advantages and deserved none of them. And you came by them so damn easily. Well, it could just as easily be taken away. How would you like that? I even found a doll that looks like you, and at night, I amuse myself by dismembering it. One of these days it will be your turn.
I lift the camera again, focusing on her walking down the street. What an easy capture for the camera’s eye, the pampered princess always walking so freely, moving about so easily. She never suspects that my eyes are always vigilant, always watching.
Sometimes the urge to kill is so strong I can barely control it. But the time is not yet right. I still have work to do.
But soon, Lexie. Very soon.
It will all be over but not until you know the fear and pain that should be yours.
I focus the camera again.
Lindsey Ferrell strode down San Antonio’s Commerce Street, her high heels clicking like castanets. Designer sunglasses shielded her eyes, and a classic suit hugged her trim, five-foot-two figure without being too revealing. Thick, shiny dark brown hair swung against her shoulders with each step. A single pin on her lapel and tiny gold earrings reflected back the hot Texas sunlight. Definitely dressed for success.
And why not.
Tucked in her purse was a contract and retainer from the wealthy industrialist, Richard Marquez, to design a new home for him and his wife. A few more contracts like that and her reputation would be solidified.
Twisting her way through the sidewalk crowds, she realized just how much she loved San Antonio. Austin had been great, and she’d had the chance to cut her teeth at two prestigious design firms, but coming back here was a no brainer. If only it hadn’t been prompted by her mother’s sudden death from a stroke and heart attack. She was still adjusting to that tragedy, one that left a huge hole in her heart.
The heart attack had been completely unexpected. Her mother had been making great strides at the nursing home, working hard with the physical therapist to recover her motor skills. Every day, she showed more and more improvement, and her spirits were high. Lindsey was looking forward to bringing her home. The day she went to visit her mother after work to find the room crowded with medical personnel and a crash cart was one of the worst in her life.
The medical staff tried everything to bring her mother back, but in the end, even Lindsey realized it was futile. For days, she badgered everyone for answers, doctors and nurses alike. But all anyone could tell her was that it wasn’t uncommon for someone to be nearly recovered from a stroke and then suffer a fatal heart attack. She couldn’t explain why she had a weird feeling about it. No, unsettled, as if she’d missed something. No matter who she asked, no one could recall any incident that might have triggered the heart attack. She finally just chalked it up to a generally uneasy feeling.
Tired of arguing with her, the doctors gave in when she insisted on an autopsy. Unfortunately, the results were inconclusive and left her even more unsatisfied. She finally backed off, but the whole episode continued to niggle at the back of her mind. That made her mother’s death even harder to live with, though. Somewhere deep inside, her subconscious told her there was an answer, and she’d find it no matter how long she had to look.
At least, the revisiting nightmares had finally stopped. Again. She hoped for good this time. They’d first hit when her father died, visions of her swimming under water, nearly drowning, fighting to get her breath. They disappeared when she moved to Austin, then roared back to haunt her with her mother’s death and her return to San Antonio. For weeks, she’d been skewered on the twin agonies of grief and fear, until they’d buried her mother at last. The nightmares had ended as abruptly as they’d begun and she was looking forward to a good night’s sleep.
And today was Friday. That meant tonight she’d be going home to the ranch. Week nights she often stayed in the apartment she’d created out of the space adjoining her office, but she loved being pampered by Ruben and Mary Medana. They’d run the ranch for her family as long as she could remember and were now all she had left. She was really looking forward to riding Jingo, her bay, and indulging in one of Mary’s fabulous meals.
Her thoughts were disrupted by the ringing of her cell phone. She fished it out of her purse, noting the call was from her office. She stepped out of the path of the foot traffic to answer it. “It’s me. What’s up?”
“Lindsey?” The voice of Brianna James, her assistant, was unusually tight and strained.
“What is it?” Her hand tightened on the phone. “You sound weird?”
“Are you finished with your meeting?” The words rushed out. “Are you on your way back here?”
“Yes.” Lindsey frowned. “Why? What’s going on?”
“Just get back here right away. There’s something you need to see. Right now.”
Brianna hung up without saying good-bye.
Lindsey’s stomach knotted with anxiety. Brianna never got rattled about anything. She shifted direction at once, crossing to the opposite corner to catch a VIA trolley, then fidgeted until it stopped directly in front of her office building. She could not begin to imagine what was so urgent. Her next appointment, a short one at that, wasn’t scheduled until after four o’clock, and she couldn’t think of any emergencies waiting to ambush her.
Inside her building, she impatiently watched the numbers change as the elevator rose to the fourth floor.
Mark Hatcher, her draftsman, and Brianna stood at the desk in the reception area. Both wore strained expressions, and Brianna held a large envelope in her hands.
“Okay, kids.” Lindsey dropped her portfolio case on the floor. “What’s the big deal? I didn’t even get to have lunch.”
“You won’t want any lunch when you see this.” Brianna’s voice was tight with anxiety as she held out the envelope.
Lindsey felt her own surge of apprehension when she opened it. Inside was an eight by ten photo of her leaving her building, swinging her portfolio. Across the bottom, someone had written in black marker, “I’m watching you.”
She dropped both envelope and picture on Brianna’s desk as if they’d burned her hand. Someone was spying on her, and she felt a total loss of privacy. Violated. Was this some kind of sick joke?
“Where did this come from?” She tried to swallow back a bubble of hysteria. “Was it in the mail? Did someone bring it?”
“I found it when I came back from getting a sandwich.” Brianna couldn’t seem to stop twisting her hands. “Mark was right behind me. Someone must have slipped it under the door while we were gone.”
Lindsey picked up the envelope again and turned it over, but nothing there gave her a clue. In the same marker, someone had lettered Lindsey Ferrell, Architect, and her address.
“I opened it because I thought it might be from a client,” Brianna said.
Mark stood wordlessly watching the two of them.
“I can’t imagine who sent this.” Lindsey forced herself to look at the picture again. Her stomach pitched, a queasy feeling crawling through her. Someone was obviously paying enough attention to her to take this picture. The thought of a stranger spying on her was unsettling. Why would someone do this?
“You need to call the police,” Mark told her. “This should be reported. You don’t know what kind of nut is doing this, or how much further he could carry it.”
“Yes, yes,” Brianna added quickly. “I agree. This is from some psycho, I’m sure of it. You need to let the police know about it.”
“I don’t know.” Lindsey frowned. “Maybe this is just someone’s idea of a prank. A one-time thing.” But even as she said the words, her gut told her she was wrong.
Mark shook his head. “This is no joke, Lindsey. Someone did this deliberately. You shouldn’t try to laugh it off.”
She stared at the photo again. “I guess you’re right,” she sighed. “Bri, get me the number for the San Antonio Police Department, would you, and buzz me with it?”
After a couple of false starts she was finally transferred to a detective. It was hard to miss his obvious lack of enthusiasm with her sketchy information. She wondered again if she should have just ignored the whole thing. He did, however, ask for her address and said someone would be along to take a report.
“Probably thinks I’m some kind of crackpot,” she muttered to herself, then buzzed Bri. “I got a feeling the guy at the SAPD thought I was having some kind of spat with a boyfriend, but he grudgingly agreed to send someone over here. You’d better reschedule my four o’clock, anyway.”
“That’s ridiculous,” Brianna blurted out. “You don’t have a boyfriend.” Then she sucked in an embarrassed breath. “Oops, that didn’t come out quite right. Sorry.”
“No problem.” Lindsey shook her head. “It’s only the truth. Anyway, call the client, then hold any calls. Maybe I can get some work done before whoever they send gets here.”
No boyfriend for sure. Maybe not ever again, after the last few disasters. Her ‘problems’ seemed to chase people away faster than if she had an STD.
For the next couple of hours, she occupied herself with busy work. But her eyes kept straying to the envelope with the photo, sitting at the corner of her desk. Maybe whoever showed up would dismiss this as the work of some harmless crank, like the policeman on the phone had wanted to. Then they could all forget about it.
At quarter to four, Brianna buzzed her to say a Detective McCune had arrived, and Lindsey put away her work.
She judged Patrick McCune to be in his late forties. He had a stocky build, graying hair, and was neatly dressed in a sport jacket, tan slacks, a button down shirt, and a tie that one of his kids probably gave him. His air of quiet competence immediately put her at ease.
She held out the envelope to him.
“Let’s protect what’s left of the surface,” he smiled, pulling a pair of latex gloves from his pocket.
Lindsey motioned for him to sit down on the couch with her.
“I feel really stupid and somewhat embarrassed about this.” She smoothed her skirt nervously over her knees. “It’s probably nothing, but my staff insisted that I call the police and report it.”
“They’re right about that. Let’s see what we’ve got here.” With his gloved fingers, he carefully removed the photo. “How did this get here?”
“No one seems to know,” she told him. “We were all out of the office. I had an appointment, and the others were at lunch. Someone slid it under the door when the office was empty.”
“There’s no postmark, so it didn’t come through the mail.” He turned the envelope over in his hands, examining it carefully from all angles. “And there’s no indication of a messenger service. Tell me again exactly who found this and how.”
“Brianna James. My assistant. It was under the door when she came back from lunch.”
He studied the envelope again. “Then I’m going to assume everyone in this office has their fingerprints all over it. But we’ll see what we can get “
“I’m sorry.” She tugged at her bottom lip with her teeth. “My assistant thought it was a regular delivery. By the time we knew what it was, three of us had handled it. I thought maybe it was just some prank.”
“No problem. I’ve got a small fingerprint kit I carry with me. I’ll print you and your staff so we can eliminate all of you.” McCune shook his head. “I’ve been doing this a long time. Unfortunately, I have to say this doesn’t feel like a prank. Someone definitely has his—or her—eye on this place and knew exactly when no one would be around.”
“Then you think this is serious?” She locked her hands tightly together to control their trembling. Fear and anger boiled inside her, fear of the unknown and anger that someone was disrupting her life this way.
“It may well be. The way things are these days, we can’t afford to discount anything.” McCune took a small notebook out of his jacket pocket and began to make notes. “Have you had any arguments or disagreements with anyone lately? Maybe a disgruntled customer?”
“Client,” she corrected with a smile, his matter-of-fact attitude easing her tension. “And no, my client base has been extremely pleasant to deal with.”
He rubbed his chin, thought lines creasing his forehead. “Nobody mad about what you did to their house or anything?”
Lindsey actually laughed. “No. And anyway, I just design them. Once they leave here and take the plans to the builder, it’s on his shoulders. I’d know before we finished if they were unhappy.”
He studied the sketches on the wall, drawings of her most recent designs. “What about the builders? Any of them have a beef with you for some reason?”
“No,” she said again, shaking her head. “It’s not that kind of relationship. If they have questions about the specs, they call me and I give them whatever information they need.”
“Okay.” McCune flipped to a clean page in his little note pad. “What about socially? Maybe a discontented boyfriend in your past? Something like that?”
She sighed. “Detective McCune, my social life would bore anyone to tears. My mother passed away recently, and between settling her estate and developing my practice here, I haven’t had a date in so long I’m not sure I’d know how to act.”
He smiled. “Old boyfriends? Or just someone who wanted to be one?”
“Not even a hanger on,” she told him. “If I’m not in town working, I’m home in Cibolo, on the ranch my parents left me. And before you ask, I have two employees out there who have been with my family since I was born. Besides, Cibolo is a very small town. If anyone there had it in for me, I’d know in a minute.”
Closing his notebook, he lifted his gaze to Lindsey’s face, studying her as if seeking some kind of answer, some clue to the situation. “Well, someone appears to have something against you. This may just be a one-time thing. If so, good riddance and you can put it out of your mind. I’ll start a file, just in case.” He picked up the envelope and photo. “And I’ll take these with me, although I can almost guarantee you we won’t get anything usable from it.”
Fingerprinting took only a few minutes. Brianna and Mark were eager to cooperate and offered no objections. Finally, McCune put everything away.
“Thank you for your time, Detective.” Lindsey held out her hand.
“No problem.” He reached in his pocket and handed her a business card. “I’ll check back with you in a few days, just to follow up. Call me if anything else pops up or you think of something.”
Lindsey studied the pasteboard rectangle. “Of course. Thank you.”
“If you get any more envelopes, don’t let everyone handle them,” he warned. “Tell whoever finds it to pick it up with a tissue or paper towel and set it aside until I can come over to get it.”
Lindsey nodded. “I understand. We’ll be careful handling anything that shows up. Although I hope this is a one-time thing.”
They shook hands, and she walked with him to the reception area. When the door had closed behind him, Brianna said, “Well?”
“Well, nothing. I told you.” Lindsey shrugged, trying to appear more nonchalant than she felt. “It’s just one episode, and it may never happen again. He took down all the information, but I really didn’t have any to give him. We’ll just hope this is the end of it. I’m sure it is.”
“Lindsey, you shouldn’t brush this off so easily,” Brianna protested. Her forehead wrinkled with worry. “Someone could mean you real harm.”
“I don’t think so. Like I told Detective McCune, I really can’t think of a single soul who would be after me like this. I’m chalking it up to malicious mischief.”
“Still,” Brianna said, “you need to be careful. Are you leaving to go to the ranch now?”
“Yes. I might as well cut out early. Everything I have can wait until Monday when I can really get into it.” She grinned. “This new house is going to be fun to design. The Marquezes are nice people, and if we do a good job for them, they’ll refer us to others in their circle.”
“Well, you pay attention this weekend,” Bri cautioned. “I still don’t feel right about all this.”
“Nothing will happen at Cibolo,” Lindsey assured her. “A stranger would stick out like a sore thumb. I’m just going to relax and ride and try not to think about this.”