Astrid shot straight up in bed.
Her panic eased when familiar surroundings sunk in. With a relieved gasp of air, sagged into the fluffy black silk pillows of Calder’s bed. She had no clue what time it was having left her phone in the living room and her smartwatch charging back home. Her mission to find a safe place away from Remy when she ran from her house did not include a spare change of clothes.
Calder strolled in holding two cups of coffee, eyebrows dipped in concern. He wore Rick and Morty drawstring pajama bottoms she found adorable on his burly frame. “Good morning,” he softly said, offering a cup, “I heard you. Bad dreams?”
She greedily accepted the hot brew, “Something like that. Thank you. It’s exactly what I need right now.”
“You’re welcome,” he perched on the edge of the mattress, “You were exhausted, Astrid. Hell, you still look it. Go back to sleep if you want. I’m due at the office in an hour but I’ll come by for lunch.”
Her muscles tightened, nervous at the thought of being alone. Sipping the coffee, she kept her eyes off of him. Calder stared as if she were a mirage. His tender gaze became too much, and she swallowed a lump in her throat at the sudden onslaught of tears. He’d confessed his love, and she blew him off. Even then, he allowed her access to his home. She didn’t deserve his kindness, but wouldn’t refuse his support either.
“Hey, it’s okay,” he slowly lifted his hand not to startle her, caressing her hair with a tenderness she craved, “You’re safe. I’ll call you later. Just sleep.”
Astrid felt protected when Calder was near. His essence wasn’t hateful or conniving. He made her feel secure when speaking to her. Remy turned her into a plaything and she may have enjoyed it earlier in their relationship, but he crossed a line.
“Calder,” her voice betrayed her fears as it broke, “I’m sorry you felt second best all this time.”
He sighed with a perplexed frown, “What do you mean?”
She took his coffee mug and placed both on the side table so she could snuggle against his bare chest. “I wasn’t ready to accept your kind of affection. Remy was already inside my head when you tried to show me I was worth more. Am I?”
“Yes,” he earnestly exclaimed, “So much more Astrid! You quit your job, but damn good at it. You should see Florence and Mallory try to keep up with Cameron. Plus, Flo keeps giving me the cold shoulder believing I fired you.”
“Fired me?” she smiled, “Didn’t you tell her the truth?”
“Of course,” he returned her smile, brushing wayward strands of her dark hair from her face, “But you know she trusts no one except the person the story belongs to. That’s why my father hasn’t let Chris sack her. She’s a feisty old-school broad with morals. I wish you’d return.”
Astrid snorted, “Broad. As if Chris would ever allow that!”
“No, he would. It’s easier than replacing and training a newbie. Plus, everyone misses you. You belonged there as part of the company. Our team. I’d really like you to consider it.”
She nodded, her spirits lifting as they’d talked. Calder healed the damage Remy caused her psyche. She grew assured by Calder’s positive reflection of her work at the firm. She missed Mallory’s nosy, good-natured prodding and Florence’s attentive care to details about Astrid’s needs or moods. In part, Flo had been a caring but wary friend for the last three years. Still, Astrid walked out of the 3 C’s without a goodbye.
“Can I go tomorrow? To visit?”
Calder beamed, “Excellent idea. Now, I’ve got to get my ass in gear, or I’ll be late. I’m meeting my first client today.”
“Ah,” she dropped her arms, “Great. Good luck.”
He kissed her on the cheek before standing, “Please, sleep. The meetings at nine, but when I come home, I’ll bring food. I don’t have much, but help yourself.”
Astrid relaxed onto the plush pillows, “Cool, Thank you.”
He laughed, walking to the closet, “This is nice. I like this. My beautiful girlfriend waiting for my return.”
She mustered a forced chuckle, “So do I.”
* Meanwhile *
Remy banged on Astrid’s door until certain she wasn’t home. Then, remembering she stashed a key, retrieved it before letting himself inside, the night concealing his movements. He went through rooms, finding the air stale and the bed cold.
The bitch took off!
Where had she gone? Was she with him again? The rage that built up as he inspected the house had sweat beading his forehead by the time he locked up. He pocketed the key, then climbed into his car.
Did Astrid run to that little prick? She hadn’t seen him in a while that much Remy knew. He’d spied on her, and she stayed in every night. It had been almost too easy to restart their relationship since she was so lonely.
He drove to Calder’s condo, noting the Porsche. If Calder was home and with his girlfriend, he would have to stake the place out to be sure. So, he headed to the corner market for food and drink, then quickly returned to sit out of sight.
He kept the anger burning to stay awake. The nerve of Astrid! Remy fucked her good, dumbfounded she still desired other men. Did he treat her lovingly, only to result in her tripping out? Once again, she flew the coop instead of telling him what bothered her. She was a pain in the ass, but his.
She would always belong to him.
Bad things happened to women who left Remy.
At eight, Calder exited the building dressed in a slick gray suit. His gaze drifted upward to a window before unlocking his vehicle. Astrid must be up there in the apartment. Had to be by the look he inadvertently gave. The prick was fucking his girl and shacking up with her!
Remy stepped out onto the sidewalk after he sped off. He stretched, hearing his back pop. With a menacing grin, dialed Astrid’s phone, letting it ring once before hanging up. He continued to do that in spurts, sure it was driving her crazy.
He casually walked up to the secured entrance, pretending to search for a resident when an elderly lady and her tiny dog came out. She beamed when he held the door ajar, trying not to tangle the leash of her fur-baby.
“Oh, thank you,” The woman smiled, patting his arm when passing, “Very kind of you. She always tries to slip out.”
“You’re welcome,” he flashed a charming smile, “She sure is a happy pup. It’s a lovely morning for a walk.”
She nodded, focusing on the dog yanking at its lead, “Yes. Yes.”
Remy sauntered inside, sighting the elevator. His pulse raced with adrenaline as he contemplated what he’d do to Astrid once he got his hands on her.
He hummed a tune as he waited for the lift.
* Upstairs *
Astrid heard her phone ring in sporadic waves, so dragged herself from the bed to find her purse, locating it on top of the kitchen island, groaning when Remy’s name flashed across the screen. She walked over to the full-length window facing the street with dread, peering down in trepidation. A strangled cry tore from her throat when she spotted Remy.
He strolled towards the building before disappearing from sight.
Astrid hurriedly dialed Calders cell and when he picked up her panic made it nearly impossible for her to speak, “Remy! He- he’s here.”
“Take a breath,” he gently ordered, “It’s okay. Tell me what happened. What do you mean he’s there?”
“He-he called. I-I saw him outside. Calder, I’m scared. He-he kept telling me if I left he’d never let me do it again!”
“I’m coming back. I can’t believe that asshole! My place is secure. Don’t unlock the door. I’m a few minutes away.”
“He’ll get in!” she cried, “He wants me. I’m so sorry I brought this mess to your doorstep.”
“Astrid!” he barked, “You did nothing wrong! He’s the one who fucked up. Stay calm.”
She steered clear of the doors and windows, anxiously pacing, tears falling as she sobbed. Why wouldn’t Remy leave her alone? Sure, she pretended everything was fine when they were together, but he had to know he hurt her.
The last time they talked had been when she was in the taxi on the way to Calder’s. She asked if he respected her when all he seemed to do was boss her around or hit her. The previous three days with him resembled a tortured daydream. Love, hate, yearning, hopelessness, and fear bled into her speech, pleading for him to stop testing her affection for him. She could only stand so much! He told her to be home or else he’d make her pay for the games she played. She ran to Calder instead.
She tried to let Calder’s reassuring voice steady her courage. The loneliness she’d experienced stemmed from Remy’s own inadequacies. He was a cruel bastard who’d preyed on her because she had no one. Well, he hadn’t counted on Calder Lewis.
“I’m here,” Calder said over the phone, “I see his car, but he isn’t there.”
“Remy’s inside!” she gasped, “What if he hurts you?”
“He won’t. You’re safe, honey,” he soothed, “Hang up, I’ll be with you soon.”
Astrid ended the call, then pressed her eye to the peephole. She didn’t spot anyone in the elevator alcove, but he could still be out there. Waiting…
On the second floor of the building, Remy looked up at the ceiling, picturing Astrid up there freaking out. He pocketed his phone before heading towards Chris Lewis’s door. He already checked out the man’s wife, planning ahead.
Chris’s spouse was a boring blonde bombshell. She had huge, fake breasts and a sexy body she took to the gym twice a week. Julia lived a bored and lonely lifestyle because Chris was never around, and they sent their kids abroad.
Remy approaching her at the gym she frequented three weeks prior, all smiles and sweaty abs on display. It wasn’t hard to charm the woman since he did it for a living. Julia caved right away, spreading her liposuctioned thighs within hours. It sucked using her, but that was his life.
He hammered on Chris’s door, smiling a sexy half-smirk when Julia opened it. She wore a white silk nightgown and layers of makeup coated her face even though it was early morning.
“Mike!” Julia yelped, looking pleased as she knocked her boobs together in an attempt to draw his eyes there, “How did you get up here without calling?”
“Surprise,” he winked, “Can I come in?”
She moved aside, “Mike, I thought about you all week, but you never called me. I really need a workout spin class can’t provide.”
He smirked at her excitement, “Honestly, you haven’t even crossed my mind. I have a girlfriend and require your help, Julia.”
Calder did not see Remy when he checked the lobby or on his floor. He unlocked his apartment to discover Astrid shaking like a leaf.
“Everything’s cool,” he murmured when she buried her head against his chest, “I won’t go to the office. I’ll stay here with you. It’s okay. You’re safe.”
“N-no,” she pulled away, embarrassed, “Your first client came in today. I don’t want to ruin your job because of my problems.”
“I already called Cody. He’ll reschedule for me,” he assured her, “And besides, there are things I need to explain which may cause you to call the police.”
Her doe eyes widened, “What are you talking about?”
He ran a hand through his styled hair, messing it up the way she liked, “I… um… I hired a private investigator to find shit on Remy.”
She looked startled, walking across the room to sit. With her knees curled up to her chin, face poking out, she whispered, “Okay. Okay. I guess you had a reason for doing that.”
Calder’s shoulders sagged in relief she didn’t freak out… yet. “Yeah, it was after he threatened me. Warned for me to keep away from you, but I couldn’t. Anyhow, the PI only gave me the report a few days ago. The day you hooked back up with him, actually.”
Her hands shook, and although he wanted to hold her, he sat on the other end of the sofa so she’d not feel influenced by his nearness.
Astrid needed to know the truth.
She had to grasp the danger Remy posed.
“Remy loves me,” she softly said looking down, “I hurt him but it was my decision to get into his car. I was so alone and confused after you left that night. H-he drugged me, Calder.”
His hands clenched into fists, “Fuck! Something else happened, didn’t it? You don’t have to say right now, but I can tell you about his background. What he’s done to other girls exactly like you.”
She issued a mournful sigh, wiping away fresh tears, “Are you saying he’s treated other women this way?”
Calder wanted to grab the folder from his office, but that would mean leaving her alone. “The police record on Renold Meys cleared him of involvement in the deaths of Joyce and Alice, two former girlfriends in the last ten years.”
Astrid gasped with a haunted look on her pale face, showing him she understood the seriousness of the situation. “No fucking way. Are you telling me his previous girlfriends died? Calder, are you implying he murdered them?”
He swallowed, then scooted closer. She wasn’t taking the news well and feared she might go into shock. He did not know what Remy did to her before she turned up at his place, but the asshole tested the girl’s breaking point. He hated to stress her more, but she no longer had the luxury of pretending he didn’t pose a threat. To either of them.
“Astrid, I have the report at my office. I planned to bring it back with me. They dropped the charges, but the detective in charge informed my guy he considered Remy their number one suspect by his lack of concern. He had broken up with both women weeks prior to their vicious murder-rape. Both girls had that in common. Raped and beaten to death.”
“No!” Astrid wailed, wrenching his heart, “No! Not Remy. He’s only rough during sex. He couldn’t do that to anyone! H-he’s just a little different because of the job.”
“At the Armor? Yeah, he’s worked there for a long time. His clients are into sadomasochism. My PI spoke to one when she came out of the emergency room.”
Astrid shook her head, “Don’t…”
“Babe, I want to show you that fucking report so you’ll see it in plain text. Remy will not leave you alone. You should file a restraining order.”
She snorted, eyes wild, “Are you suggesting he’ll kill me because his exes have died? Who knows what those girls were into or who they were seeing. He’s possessive, but… he loves me, Calder. It’s overwhelming and confusing attention, but he wouldn’t murder me!”
“Are you willing to bet your life on it?” he spat, “I won’t sit here and wait to find out.”
“I’m sorry,” she hugged her middle, eyes searching his with a confused, exhausted gaze, “I just can’t get my mind around what you’ve said. To think he would… violate and slaughter someone? To even consider he would do me like that… I can’t. I can’t! He’s not that twisted!”
“Isn’t he?” Calder pressed her body close, “You have bruises, but he’s innocent, right?”
Astrid’s brain hurt from the information Calder landed at her feet. It was too frightening to acknowledge. Remy was a freak in bed, sometimes uncaring if she were uncomfortable with the things he did, but she never imagined him capable of murder.
She ran to the window. “Calder, is his car still there?”
“It was when I arrived,” he rose, following her across the room, “Why?”
“He has to be inside. Where is he hiding? Where did you look?” she sounded pissed instead of scared.
“I took the stairs, looking into the foyers on each floor,” he told her, “My father insists Chris and I lock our foyer doors, but I don’t in case of a fire. My brother does sometimes.”
“They live on the second?” she walked to where he stood, wrapping her arms around his waist, peering into his piercing green eyes, “Don’t be afraid. When I fought, he got angry, but I managed him.”
“I’m NOT frightened,” he gave her a stern frown for assuming Remy intimidated him, “You want me to check the hallways again?”
Calder squared his shoulders as if ready for confrontation, instructing her to bolt the door behind him. She did. He returned twenty minutes later, saying there was no sign of Remy or his vehicle. He asked if she needed anything, eyeing her awkwardly after proclaiming her boyfriend a stone-cold killer.
Astrid shook her head, trying her best not to let the knowledge Remy had two dead girlfriends he never once mentioned overwhelm her overactive imagination. Not like the bitter dread which made her shiver, wondering if Calder wished he hadn’t met her.