I know what you did.
Blake Morgan stared at the piece of paper in his hand, pulse accelerating, a tiny finger of ice slithering down his spine. Again. Someone had left it again. A message with the same words.
He looked around to see if he could spot whoever this was, the familiar fear gripping him, his stomach knotting. But he knew he’d see nothing. He never did. Whoever this was moved like a ghost, silent and unseen, leaving his taunting messages. If he wanted to keep Blake on edge, he was doing a damn good job of it. In a fit of anger, Blake crumpled the paper and stuck it in the drink holder of the car. He wasn’t going to let some unknown asshole frighten him. He’d faced worse than this.
He’d found the damn stupid note stuck under his windshield wiper when he went to get his car from the hotel parking garage. Anyone could have done it. Who paid attention to cars in a parking garage, anyway? And why would they? But Jesus. How the hell had someone known which car was his? It was a rental, for crap’s sake.
Wait! Were those footsteps? Was someone running toward him? Away from him? A car door slammed somewhere and an engine turned over. He looked around, wondering if he’d see someone hiding in the shadows, every nerve on high alert.
Okay, get your shit together. You aren’t a character in one of your books.
Anyway, whoever was doing this wouldn’t be quite so obvious. He—or she—would be careful and silent. He closed his eyes, drew in a deep breath and let it out slowly. Calm, he told himself. People were waiting for him. His readers. He couldn’t freak out on them.
Crap. Double crap.
Who in the fucking hell was doing this? Who could he have pissed off so much they’d do something like this? A reader he’d offended? Reviewer? Blogger? Not anyone he’d been dating, for sure. He was so busy these days that dates weren’t even on the horizon.
So really. These messages. What the fuck?
He’d blown off the first note as a prank, a harmless joke, although he didn’t think it was very funny. Or maybe even a case of mistaken identity.
Just the one sentence on a plain sheet of paper, typed on someone’s computer.
I know what you did.
He had no idea who it was from. There was no signature, no return address. The postmark was Boston, but he was pretty sure none of the people he knew in that city would be sending him a message like this. He had a lot of readers from that area, but he never gave out his address or phone number. And nothing had been coming in to his public email.
So how the fuck did whoever this was know where he was staying?
Maybe they’d followed him to the hotel, a thought that brought another attack of the creeping chills.
I know what you did.
His agent had made light of it. “The price of fame,” Henry had joked. “It brings the weirdos out of the woodwork. This is your third best seller so you’ve got a lot more eyes focused on you. You’ve had nutty stuff like this happen before. Okay, maybe not quite like this. But eventually, when you don’t make a big deal about it in the media, they give up and move on to someone else. Whoever this is will get tired of the game and disappear.”
But that hadn’t happened. The notes kept coming, showing up in different cities wherever he was signing. Different hotels and venues. Someone was tracking his tour. Not just the cities but also the facilities—bookstores, event centers, wherever.
The police weren’t much help. They were courteous, but the events all happened in different cities, so nobody really had jurisdiction. And, as one overly polite detective told him, he didn’t think this was a case for the FBI.
I know what you did.
Five words that plagued him.
In the past three weeks, the frequency increased. He found notes left everyplace for him. When he checked in at his hotels there was one waiting for him at the front desk in an envelope. No, no one could remember who left it. In a restaurant, he went to the restroom and when he came back a note sat at his place setting. And of course no one had noticed anyone leaving it. None of the notes were handwritten. They were either printed with marking pen or typed on a computer like this one had been.
Then came two emails, but when he tried to reply to them they bounced back.
And phone calls, four of them now, at the hotels where he stayed.
“I know what you did.”
Just a whisper, but unnerving in its very anonymity.
He rubbed his forehead, willing away the headache blooming just beneath the surface.
Just last week both his agent and publisher told him to toss his existing cell and get two new ones—one for business and one for personal. But then, this week, something new was added—text messages on his cell. His damn personal one. How the hell had anyone gotten that number? When he tried to reply, his message came back undeliverable.
Today was his last stop before a one-week break. He just needed to get through this afternoon and then he could regroup.
He pulled out of the garage on to the street, heading for Slater’s Books, where today’s signing was scheduled. He had less than an hour to get there, get set up and make sure to thank the people hosting it. The manager had called an hour earlier to let him know the store was already full and a line was forming. He really wanted to enjoy his success. Bask in it a little, after the hard climb to get to this point, one book at a time. Having some asshole tarnish it and throw him off his game really pissed him off.
He sure couldn’t let all that show. He needed to get his shit together before he faced everyone.
Other authors had told him horror stories about fans who stalked them, or people who were jealous of them and tried to make trouble. He considered himself both blessed and lucky. After slogging in the trenches with his first three books, at thirty-five years old he’d finally hit the best-seller lists with number four and number five. His current release, Deep Cover, had been in the top ten for five straight weeks.
Now it seemed in his celebrity he’d acquired a stalker. Apparently someone was determined not to let him enjoy his success.
He wasn’t a man easily frightened, but so many incidents in such a short time could sure make a person uneasy. If he could just figure out who the hell was doing this to him and why.
And then, of course, he had to deal with Annemarie leaving, with almost no notice. She would have known what to do about this. She knew what to do about everything. She’d been the personal assistant from heaven for four years, efficient, not rattled about anything, able to juggle multiple chores and situations and relieve him of any stress. All he had to do was write, go over research with her, and show up wherever she told him to. She’d handled his social media, kept his schedule, assisted him with his research, kept his notes organized. And on the weeks he didn’t need her, he’d arranged for her to have paid time off. In all that time, they’d hardly had a disagreement.
He still hadn’t figured out why she’d had to leave. And those were the exact words she’d used.
“I have to leave,” was all she said. “I’m sorry, Blake. I have some personal things I really have to deal with.”
He had no idea what those things were, because she never discussed her personal life with him. He’d asked her if it was family and she said no, she had no family, a situation he found sad in and of itself. She’d never mentioned any socializing she did on her days off, and he wondered now if he should have queried her more. He just hated to invade her space. Everything with her was always about him and the writing and the books. She was as excited about each success as if it was her own. And, in a way it was. He never could have done this without her, and he made sure she knew that.
He had noticed a slight edginess to her in the days leading up to her departure, as if something was bothering her. They were hip deep into the research for his next two books and going crazy. He didn’t think the stress had been any greater than usual. But every time he asked her about it she just pressed her lips together, shook her head, and repeated she just had to leave.
So what the hell had upset her life so much that she had to leave? He really needed to take some time and hunt her down. Find out what was going on. He’d do it just as soon as he got past today’s book signing and could take advantage of the upcoming break in the tour.
A horn blared, startling him, and he realized he was still sitting at a light that had turned green. Oh, great. If his stalker wanted to find him, all he had to do was look for the stupid driver at the green light.
Finally he pulled into the parking area behind the bookstore. As he climbed out of his car and locked the door, he couldn’t help looking all around, searching for…what? Did he really think whoever this was would be lying in wait here, to strike without warning?
Holy shit, Blake. He wrote mysteries for a living. He knew so much of this stuff was made up. Things were different in real life.
Except this wasn’t fiction and someone kept doing things and leaving him these notes.
I know what you did.
Sticking his professional smile on his face and hefting his messenger bag, he pulled open the back door to the bookstore and was immediately assaulted by a raucous din of voices. A tall brunette with a big smile spotted him and came forward to greet him.
“Welcome, Mr. Morgan. I’m Jocelyn Ayres. We’re so glad to have you with us today.” She waved a hand in the general direction of the noise. “We’re packed to the walls here and I wanted to make sure I got you safely to your table.”
He shook hands with her, thinking, holy cow! With the huge success of Deep Cover, his agent had told him to be prepared for an overwhelming response. He guessed his spot on one of the local television shows that morning had also contributed in part to this.
“Thanks for having me.”
“Are you kidding?” She flashed her grin again. “Everyone’s so excited about this. I hope the store employees don’t mug you in their eagerness to meet you. Come on.”
She led him down the short hallway into the main portion of the bookstore and Blake had to blink his eyes. The entire store was wall-to-wall people. They were jammed into the open areas and between the shelved displays of books. Off to his right against a wall a table had been set up with a stack of his books, water, and pens. Ropes and stanchions partitioned it off from the crowd so he’d have a little breathing space.
As he reached his station another woman came forward, hand extended.
“Margaret Breakstone. I’m the manager and have to tell you how delighted we are to have you. I hope you don’t get writer’s cramp, because when you’re done we have a ton of presolds for you to sign.”
“Great. My publisher will be pleased.”
She laughed. “Oh, I’d say they’re already pretty happy with you.”
He placed his messenger bag against the wall behind him, pulled out the chair, and sat down. When he took another look around he thought it was a good thing he didn’t get claustrophobia. People were jammed together so tightly they were a solid wall behind the ropes and stanchions.
“This is…amazing.” He looked back at Margaret. “They don’t bite, do they?”
She laughed. “We haven’t had that happen yet, although I suppose there’s always a first time. Your publisher was quick to let us know you still hadn’t gotten used to your celebrity. It’s nice to meet someone who isn’t way over the top.”
“Thank you. I think.”
She waved a hand at the table. “The confirming email told us to be sure and have bottled water for you, and a supply of the pens you like to use. Jocelyn will be your guardian. If you need anything else, just let her know.”
“Thank you again.”
He picked up a pen and got ready to greet the first person in line. After that there was no time for conversation except with the people waiting so patiently. He lost track of time, as the readers kept on coming. Each one had a smile and a compliment and he tried to think of something special to say to each of them. And then, finally, he was done. He looked around and saw most of the crowd had cleared out. A few souls were still browsing but the mob had dispersed.
“You’re a hardy soul, Mr. Morgan.” Jocelyn smiled at him. “Thank you again for this.”
“No, thank you. For having me.” He leaned back in his chair, wound his fingers together and cracked his knuckles.
“You have to stop doing that, Blake. It drives people crazy.”
He could hear Annemarie’s chiding voice in his ear. In the past few weeks he’d come to realize exactly how much of his life she was involved in, and how much he’d come to depend on her. Another item high on his list during the break was finding her replacement. He hoped to hell there was someone out there as good as she was.
“Mr. Morgan?” Margaret Breakstone interrupted his mental wanderings.
“Yes.” He dug out his professional smile. “Presolds, right?”
“Before that a reporter is here and would like an interview for the newspaper. He said his photographer got some great shots with you and the crowd.”
“Oh, sure. Of course.”
“We have a conversation area set aside for it,” Margaret told him. “Come on.”
He rose from the chair, turned to pick up the messenger bag…and froze. On the flap of the bag someone had affixed a sticky note.
I know what you did.
What the hell?
Blake closed his fist around the note, the little icy finger stroking his spine again. He looked around, but all he saw was the end of the crowd still wandering around the store. Did he expect whoever this was to be standing there waiting to be recognized? He wanted to ask if someone had seen anything, but he was pretty sure it was hopeless. With people jammed against the velvet ropes and everyone focused on him, placing the note had to be easy.
He hated the fact that his pulse ratcheted up and his nerves were getting the best of him. Someone was playing a joke, was all. And not a very funny one. If he caught them—when he caught them—he’d find out what the fuck was going on. Then he’d beat the shit out of them.
“Mr. Morgan? Blake? Is everything alright?”
He turned to see Jocelyn standing by the table.
“Yes. Sorry.” He dredged up a smile. “Just lost in thought for a moment. Reporter’s waiting, right?”
“Yes. If you don’t mind.”
“Not at all.” He’d labored for too long in anonymity to blow off publicity. “Let’s do it.”
By the time he finished with the interview, signing the presolds, and autographing special books for the store employees, the afternoon was long gone. He shook hands with everyone again and headed outside right into the dark. He gave thanks for the lights in the parking lot. He tossed his messenger bag in the car, climbed in, and started to back out of the parking space when he realized the car was bumping along.
Sighing, he put it in park and climbed out. He’d missed the flat tire because he’d only seen one side of the car when he came out of the store.
He turned off the engine, tossed his sport jacket in the back seat of the car and rolled up his shirt sleeves. He thought about calling road service, but he could easily change the tire in the time it would take for someone to show up. Swallowing a sigh, he opened the trunk to pull out the jack and the spare.
Neatly stuck to the spare was yet another note.
I’m watching you. I know what you did.
I know what you did and I’m going to make you pay.
Okay, now his nerves kicked in full force. Blake had heard of the little electronic gizmos you could buy cheap online that opened any car lock. He just never thought it would play into his life. Enough was enough. He didn’t rattle easily but if some maniac was stalking him, even going so far as to use electronic devices to access his vehicle, how much longer would it be before there was a physical attack?
He looked around the parking lot, trying to spot someone, even as he realized how stupid that was. What did he expect? A man popping up wearing a T-shirt that said Hey! I’m your stalker? Whoever left it was probably long gone. Or not. He wanted to scream or throw something but that wouldn’t be very productive. He had to figure out what was going on here.
He crumpled the note and stuck it in his pocket. He’d finally stopped throwing them away and now he had quite a collection, if he ever found the fucker doing this. Then he sighed and went to work changing the tire. Thank the Lord he was turning the rental in tomorrow at the airport.
No one left the store through the back entrance the entire time it took him to change the tire. By the time he finished a light rain was falling, the dampness and chill in the air only adding to his foul mood. He tossed the jack in the trunk and wiped his hands on his handkerchief, then slammed the trunk closed.
As he reached to open the car door, the light in the parking lot made it possible for him to see himself reflected in the window. His thick dark hair was disheveled where he’d run his fingers through it staring at the flat. He had a smidge of dirt on one cheek and the late day scruff of beard was beginning to show. His beard was so dark he probably should have shaved again early afternoon before leaving for the signing. Hardly the image of a polished, successful author.
Right now, all he wanted was a hot shower and a stiff drink. And food. He’d eaten very little for lunch and he was suddenly hungry. Room service sounded very good to him.
He tried to watch the traffic around him as he drove back to the hotel. Then realized how stupid that was. He had no idea how he’d spot someone following him. He could write about it with no problem but doing it in real life was a whole lot different. Maybe he could write his next book about this when it was all over. Whatever it was.
He was damn glad to get back to the hotel. He found a parking spot in the garage close to the elevator and he hurried to it. A nervous ninny, for God’s sake.
He had just returned to his room when his cell rang. He looked at the readout.
“Yeah, Henry.” He closed the door, put his messenger bag down and dropped into a chair.
“So how did it go?”
“Great. It was great. Big crowd, lots of enthusiasm.” He chuckled. “Lots of pictures for Facebook. You should like that.”
“Social media works,” Henry agreed. “So, anything else happen?”
“If you want to know about any more notes, then yes, something else happened. Two somethings.”
He related the details, biting down on the anger at the unknown stalker.
Henry was silent for a moment.
“Listen, I know you aren’t going to like this, but I think we need to get you a bodyguard.”
“Are you kidding me?” Blake bit off the words. “Because some joker is sending me some notes?”
“This joker,” Henry pointed out, “is persistent. He may be no more harmless than leaving these notes for you. Maybe he gets his jollies thinking he’s frightening you. But then again, maybe he’s not. And you’re too valuable a commodity to ignore this.”
Even as he said the word, Blake saw the wisdom of Henry’s position. Attacks on celebrities in all venues were far from uncommon. Having his trunk broken into wasn’t all that unusual, either. Obsessed fans did a lot of crazy things.
“Let me make a couple of calls,” Henry told him. “Some of my other clients have needed bodyguards, and either agency they used will work just fine. Depends on who has someone free right now.”
But the word bodyguard pinged something in Blake’s brain.
“Never mind. I’ve got an agency I can call.”
“Blake, you can’t just hire anyone off the street,” Henry protested.
“Depends on the street. You familiar with Vigilance?”
“Are you shitting me? Of course I am. I’ve tried to hire them a couple of times but they’re very selective about the contracts they take. And while I love you, buddy, you aren’t quite up there in the Vigilance stratosphere yet.”
Blake snorted a laugh. “Shows you what you know. Do you happen to remember where they’re located?”
“Well, they were in New York, but I heard they relocated.”
“Uh-huh. To Arrowhead Bay, Florida. The place where I grew up.”
“Huh. Well, then, I’d say it might just be time for you to go home for a visit.”
Blake nodded, even though Henry couldn’t see him. “My thoughts exactly.”