I wake in the middle of the night, convinced someone’s in my apartment. Holding my breath with my heart pounding, I freeze, praying to God I’ll hear no more. When a floorboard creaks in the hallway, I duck my head under the covers and reach for the iron frypan under the bed.
Shit. Shit. Shit.
I cooked a steak yesterday and the skillet is drying on a towel next to the sink.
Dammit, where the hell is my cell phone?
It’s charging on the kitchen table, Isabella.
I am so screwed.
A shadow-man opens my bedroom door and I rotate my head ever-so-slowly to check my nightstand. Perhaps, a weapon will miraculously appear but my inventory consists of a plastic lamp, my eReader, and a bottle of Advil.
All that’s left is tooth and nail. If I must die, I’ll go down fighting, making sure they’ll find his DNA.
Regular breathing indicates to me that my intruder’s not overly afraid or excited and I put that in the plus column. Maybe, if I’m lucky, I can survive this.
The dark form moves closer and a bright light blinds me.
“Help! Fire! Fire!” I bolt for the bathroom but am jerked back by my ponytail.
Dropping to my knees, I shriek from the pain in my scalp.
Xavier Cross, my former boss, leads me back to the bed by my hair while I try to force a rational thought into my brain. With the cold muzzle of his gun poking into my forehead, I sit and stare, adrenaline racing. Four weeks ago, this guy chased me up Bear Mountain and I almost died. Now, he’s back to finish the job.
“I called 911.” When my lower lip quivers, he snorts out a laugh, and holds my cell phone up to my face.
Shit. So much for that lie.
With his index finger curled around the trigger, I shudder, shut my eyes, and picture myself on the Eleven PM News. A headline scrolls on the bottom of the screen as EMT’s bring me out of my building in a black body-bag.
Billionaire’s Girlfriend Found Dead in Bushwick.
I take a deep breath and let it out slowly. “Xavier, think. You must’ve stolen over a hundred million dollars. Why risk all that? I swear I won’t say anything. Just go.”
His tanned face skews as the barrel of his gun slams into my jaw. My teeth cut into my cheek, I taste my own blood, and tears pool as I picture my fiancé finding my cold, dead body. Will he place a red rose on my coffin?
Xavier’s ugly chuckle brings me back to the present. He’s three fries short of a Happy Meal as he sits down on the bed and kisses me on my sore, bleeding lip.
He doesn’t even notice me gag as he places the gun back to my temple. “I had everything under control until you opened your big mouth. This is all your fault. I want to come home and you’re the one that’s going to make that possible. Here’s what you’re going to do. I want you to call the district attorney. Tell him you lied about Bear Mountain.”
A little hope takes root because if he needs me to do that, he’s not going to shoot me anytime soon.
When his free hand cups my breast, I slap it away, and scoot back onto the bed. “Don’t.”
“I’m not going to rape you, Isabella. Frankly, I couldn’t get it up if I tried. I hate geeky females who think they’re so smart.”
I pray the gun isn’t loaded as he stands and waves it around in the air. “I tell you what you’re going to do. You’re going to convince Grayson Patten III that you’re only fucking him for his money. That shouldn’t be so hard, should it?”
That grating voice sends chills down my spine. “He’ll never believe me.”
“You’ll see to it that he does. You even hint to anyone about my little visit tonight and you’ll be sorry. Do you understand?”
I nod but will send his stupid ass to jail if it’s the last thing I ever do.
Unfortunately, my face has always been too easy to read because he says, “I don’t think you do understand. Not really. Let me help.”
He opens his cell phone and flashes a picture of my four-year-old niece. She’s all bundled up in her pink snowsuit, swinging in the church playground in International Falls, Minnesota.
At the thought of this monster hurting her, my heart sinks and my stomach churns. “You wouldn’t. She’s just a little girl.”
Xavier’s demon-like eyes shine deep within the shadows of his face and he speaks with venom. “All it would take is one call and this little girl could be lost forever. Get my drift?”
“You bastard.” Not really thinking it through, I kick him in the balls, he drops the gun, and I make a dive for it.
We struggle on the floor and for a brief moment, I think I’ve got the upper hand until he rolls on top of me and punches me so hard I almost lose consciousness. Then, he lords the weapon over me while I moan, curled up on the hardwood floor, holding my jaw.
“If you ever try something like that again, she dies. I’ll be monitoring your calls, your emails, your everything. You can’t take a piss without me knowing. Understand?”
After the worst of the pain subsides, I swallow hard over the lump in the back of my throat. “Why come back now? You got away with millions.”
He scratches at his short blond beard and pushes a lock of greasy hair out of his eyes, no longer resembling the cool executive of just a few weeks ago. “Grayson Patten needs to learn his place.”
Rubbing his sunken eyes, circled with deep, dark rings he continues ranting. “I’m expecting you to break up with him in the morning. Understand? You try anything and you can say goodbye to this sweet little girl. I believe she’s called Stacey?”
Her name on his evil lips makes me shiver. “Please, don’t hurt her. I’ll do as you ask.”
“Well, that’s more like it.” With the barrel pointed at me, he backs out of the room. “Remember, I have eyes and ears on you.”
My door slams, footsteps fade away, then everything goes quiet.
At first, I’m so shocked, I can’t believe what just happened. Coming to my senses, I turn the deadbolts and drag my couch in front of the kitchen door.
How the hell did he get keys to my apartment?
The rest of the night I just sit there in the dark and think. I should call my brother and warn him about his kid. I should call nine-one-one. I should do something. Instead, I just sit there doing nothing but waiting for the sun to rise.
Because I work in security, I have a better idea than most. Our lives are constantly monitored. Emails, phone calls, and internet, are pretty easy to bug. Electronics are so small that they can be inserted under the skin with a needle. All it takes is money and Xavier has plenty. He could check on my every move and make good on his threats, even worse.
If only my spare computer wasn’t in pieces in the other room. With that, I could maybe set something up and notify the police. Maybe not. What if my place is bugged?
Oh my God.
I turn on all the lights and like a maniac, begin to check every inch of every wall and cubby hole. It doesn’t take long to locate a tiny metallic spider on my bedroom ceiling. Shit. That’s one of Patten’s best-sellers. I pick it up, ready to smash it, then stop.
Even now, Xavier may be watching.