Alex Sullivan sat behind his desk staring at the photograph of the woman smiling back at him. Her dark hair, her smiling eyes, her perfect skin was exactly as he’d remembered. She hadn’t changed in the ten years since he’d last seen her. He’d finally pulled his life together after a couple years of drowning himself inside of a Jack Daniel’s bottle when his mother had surrendered to her stage four lung cancer. She was the only thing he’d had in this world and when she had died it felt like his cruel life was slapping him in the face, again. His high school days were ones he’d rather forget and after prom, the only night he’d wanted to maintain, he’d left town as fast as he could. Over the years he would hear about her, read about her in the paper and he couldn’t help but feel a sense of pride; she was his for one night, in a red dress that even today made his mouth water.
He sipped his coffee knowing more than half the guys who’d used him as a punching bag were now fat and lazy, saddled with kids and a wife who had a secret boyfriend on the side while they worked their minimum wage job. And after his mother’s passing he’d been worse than that. He’d gone completely underground and stayed there without any communication to the outside world. He would pace the dark confines of his lair, day after day asking the same question, why? But now…now he’d pulled himself together, raising his middle finger to the sky. His company was fast growing and he was ready to take it bi-costal. Back to his hometown. Where she was. He straightened his shoulders feeling his impatience starting to creep through the adrenaline in his veins. He looked down at the pen in his hand and the series of information he’d acquired with a little string-pulling of his established connections. His first class plane ticket sat inside his passport underneath his wallet. He took a deep breath and one last look at the woman on his computer screen before shutting it down altogether. He stood up straightening his suit jacket and placing his things in his black designer briefcase, before taking the elevator down to his waiting limo.
He stared at the passing traffic, a triumphant smile growing across his lips. Memories of his only night with her surfaced, her smell, her smile, the glow in her eyes. He was a boy then, didn’t know what to do with a girl like her. But he’d grown into a man and had no apprehensions with what to do with her now.
He’d ensured that over the past year he’d gotten everything he wanted - the cushy office, the fancy car, the penthouse suite. And now he wanted her.
Logan Savage ran a hand over his face, staring out through the small round window of the plane that was taking him home from a mission that had taken double the time it should have. What was supposed to be a simple in and out had turned into a clusterfuck the moment he had stepped off the damned jet. He’d had a bad feeling in his gut from the start, but he kept telling himself it was emotions and memories that were getting too close to the surface. Pushing them aside he’d directed orders to the two other members of his team before finding themselves balls-deep in a nightmare of uncooperative targets and egomaniacal kidnappers. Reclining his chair back, he closed his eyes still feeling wired and buzzed from the adrenaline of the mission.
“You alright?” He turned to see his teammate and his best friend staring at him, his arrogant raised eyebrow filled with amusement. Ace had stuck by his side when they were kids, running the streets and causing trouble, picking fights and successfully ending them. They’d travelled the world together from the inside of a military aircraft and now Logan had successfully convinced him to join Savage Security.
“Yeah.” Logan didn’t want to admit to the moaning and protesting of his muscles and he knew the big man had to feel it too. They’d stomped through an untouched, humid jungle, spent nights hidden beneath the palms of trees before finally locating the cabin they’d been hunting for. It was one of the most dilapidated structures Logan had ever seen. Its roof completely sunken in places, moss and vines growing over the slatted wood and splintered windows. The men holding the young girl were inside; their whoops and calls from the soccer game they were watching on a handheld screen echoing throughout the rural area. Ace was in charge of acquiring the target while Logan and Greene created a distraction for her captors. What was supposed to be a simple in and out turned into the complete opposite. The girl didn’t want to leave thinking they weren’t the good guys. Her screams taking away from their distraction and when the entire thing imploded he felt nothing but frustration. But it was those moments on a mother’s face when she was reunited with her daughter that made everything worth it. Seeing the tears in her eyes the moment they landed on her little girl made Logan think of his own mother and the love she carried for her children. His mother was a saint, raising four children of her own and taking on four of her second husband’s. Logan’s childhood was anything but boring. She was always there when one of them skinned their knee, had a blackened eye, got their heart broken from their first crush; and even now when they were all grown up she still maintained her role of ruthless protector. It was those emotions, those connections that he saw mirrored in the eyes of other parent’s like the young mother he’d met today and her endless gratitude that made him get up every day with a love for his job.
As the plane descended, the only thing Logan could think about was a cold beer before falling into his bed and sleeping for two days. But it was his baby sister’s 24th birthday and there was no way he was missing the celebration. He could sleep later.
Walking up the front steps of his parent’s house, he could hear the party had already started. He opened the door silently, following the sound of the birthday girl’s infectious laughter as he snuck through the house. Rounding the corner, he was met with the back of her long dark hair. Running up behind her he scooped her up into a bear hug he reserved just for her. “Logan!” she squealed without turning around to see it was him. He let her down and she spun around in his arms, flinging them around his waist. “I’m so happy you’re here!”
“Me too. Happy birthday, sweet pea.”
Sitting at his mother’s dining table surrounded by his boisterous, mix matched family, he smiled remembering the day his mother sat down him and his brothers and sister to tell them she was getting married. Logan was eight, Nate and Stella, the twins, were six and Aiden was eleven. He couldn’t be anything but happy for his mother with tears of joy streaming down her cheeks. The twins were excited to acquire new siblings but at eleven and already holding the title of man of the house, it was Aiden who Logan was most concerned about. They had always been on their own with their own father bailing when things got too tough after the twins were born. Their mother, Juliette, had never complained with raising four young kids all on her own. Logan and Aiden did everything they could to bring in extra money; paper routes, lemonade stands, shoveling driveways and mowing lawns, but he was happy that she would now have some help. That very day Logan was placing his action figures in the cardboard box Stella had brought in for him and a few hours later packed into his mom’s beat up minivan and on their way to their new home just outside of Vancouver where David and his four children, Max, Roxy, Cameron and Luke lived.
He remembered standing on the black pavement of the driveway and marveling at the green of the grass. in the small two bedroom townhome Logan came from, a front lawn was nonexistent. The old Victorian home looked like it was cut from one of those glossy magazines he always saw his mom looking through at the doctor’s office. But it was the man standing at the top steps with his four kids surrounding him that Logan desperately wanted to be a part of. He knew, even at eight years old, that he wanted what other kids in his class had - a mom and a dad with brothers and sisters. And a backyard. The transition wasn’t a smooth one, but what could you expect with eight kids ranging from one to eleven. But they made it work, eventually.
After six months, Juliette sat down with her children alone and asked their opinion of taking David’s last name. With a unilateral agreement, Logan and his siblings became Savages.
A strong hand on his shoulder brought him out of the past. “How’s business, son?” Logan and his brothers had started Savage Security Group after each of them had put in time in a uniform; a soldier, a marine, a police officer, a private investigator, and Logan’s former career, military special ops. “Business is good Dad. How are things around here?”
“Things are always great.” Logan waited, knowing what was coming. “Your mom misses you though. You need to come around more often.” He closed his eyes against the wave of guilt and the small reassuring squeeze on his shoulder. He knew he should be coming around more, he lived close enough to attend Sunday family dinners, but he was usually away on a mission or just getting back from one. Every one that was offered he made sure he was on it. He wasn’t one to put on a fake show. It wasn’t that he didn’t want to be around his family, he loved his family. Even as a boy, it was engrained in him that everything revolved around family. But lately, the boy he’d been before he joined the military was a ghost of a memory, a stranger he didn’t recognize. It was his time on the front lines, in the heart of war, seeing things he wished he could erase from his mind that changed him from the warm, loveable kid he used to be. They took the warmth from him and to fill the empty void he was left with, he spent all his time with Savage Security. He took job after job relentlessly and left no room for anything else other than the odd woman and family dinners that were demanded and mandatory. “I know,” he admitted to his father.
“Oh David, leave him be,” his mother’s soft voice floated across the table following her warm smile. She was always so understanding, even when he knew he didn’t deserve it.
His brother leaned in. “Debrief at the Barn?” He brought the beer bottle up to his mouth and drained what was left of the liquid inside.
He shook his head. “Tomorrow.”
“Go home, get some sleep.” His brother laughed and he didn’t argue, he hadn’t even had time to have a shower since he’d stepped off the plane.
As he stood in the doorway pulling on his jacket, his mother wrapped her small arm around his waist as he bent down to press his lips against her hair. “You’re looking tired sweetheart. Maybe it’s time for a vacation.”
“Maybe.” But he knew that maybe wasn’t going to happen, and he knew his mother knew that too.
“Good Morning.” Zoe Alcott smiled at Rachel, her receptionist and best friend as she breezed through the double doors before she climbed the stairs to her office. The heels of her black stilettos echoed against the stairwell and her calves burned delightfully as she reached the top step. Pushing through her frosted glass door, she took a deep breath and relished, as she did every morning, in the space of her office of the job she adored. Before she could fire up her computer, Rachel walked in with a tea and a handful of mail placing both in front of her before she settled comfortably in one of the chairs before the desk.
“So… How was the date last night?”
Zoe rolled her eyes wanting to forget the night from hell. She fell into her seat covering her face with her hands.
“The date wasn’t. What is wrong with guys these days? I don’t think he looked at my face once, but he could probably pick out my breasts from a line up,” she told her friend. “I don’t know Rachel. I think I’m done with men… for now.”
Rachel chuckled shaking her head. “Maybe, you need to start dating men who challenge you instead of these superficial suits you keep saying yes to.”
“Well find me a guy who’s not a suit and I just might consider it.”
“Challenge accepted.” Zoe tried to fight the grin that was spreading at the new light of the dare she had just placed in between them. Rachel always took the dares Zoe didn’t mean to issue ever since she’d met her when they were six. Rachel was her first friend when she’d moved to the small town outside of Vancouver, coming over to see if Zoe was okay after she’d fallen off her bike and skinned her knee. Zoe brushed it off saying, “Bet you can’t beat me to that stop sign.” It was on those words that their friendship was born and they’d been inseparable ever since. Rachel was the yin to Zoe’s yang; she balanced her out and reined her in when Zoe needed to be tamed. When she’d offered Rachel to be a partner in her company, she’d turned it down instantly wanting only the responsibility of being her assistant, something about how no one else would be able to handle her.
Harbor Press was everything to Zoe. It was her baby; something she’d put blood, sweat and tears into, building it from the ground up. She’d started out on her parent’s couch and spent hours behind her laptop building what the Daily Post now called her empire. She was proud of what she’d accomplished, especially because she did it on her own. And because of the endless hours she’d put into her work, she was able to sit behind a desk she’d always dreamed of staring out over a view most were jealous of.
“What’s on the agenda?” Fortunately Rachel took the hint to steer the subject away from her pathetic love life as she listed off Zoe’s meetings and deadlines for the day before sending in her first appointment.
After lunch Zoe finally got around to the pile of mail still untouched since the morning. She pursed her lips before sighing against the bills that continued to pile on her desk. Clearly a meeting with her accountant needed to be pushed to the top of her to do list. She stood up and stared at the whiteboard filled with new ideas in red ink. Closing her office door she turned on her iPod and listened to the music floating through the speakers. It was a ritual she’d always maintained whenever she ran into a block or the stress became too much. She would lock herself in and blast the tunes until inspiration broke through. She felt her hips starting to move to the jazzy sounds as she closed her eyes and let herself just imagine.
As soon as she walked through the door of her penthouse loft, Zoe gracelessly kicked off her heels from her aching feet and fell down onto the plush cushions of her couch. Her leather bag fell beside her with a thud spilling out the mail she hadn’t gotten to. One envelope stood out, a yellow amongst the stark white with messy handwriting scrawled across the front grabbed her attention. She reached over and ripped open the seal pulling out the small folded paper inside. Scanning over the short letter, Zoe sat up slowly, feeling the beat of her heart pound against her temple. The immediate tremor in her hand travelled through to the paper between her fingers as her eyes refused to leave the words that suddenly brought her world to a halt. Swallowing against the rising bile in her throat, she tried to force new air into her empty lungs. She jumped at the sound of her phone ringing, slapping her hand over her mouth. She turned it over slowly and blew out a breath of relief when her mother’s number showed up on the screen. “Mom?” She cleared her throat of the shaky edge that clung to her words even knowing her mother would instantly worry. She’d always seemed to have a direct line to Zoe’s emotions and without even a word. Erin Alcott’s instinct was almost always on point. “Honey? Are you alright?”
“Of course, Mom. Listen, I have to go, I’m in the middle of something but I’ll call you back alright?” She didn’t wait for her to answer before she ended the call and placed another, the paper crumpling beneath the dampness of her palms and the strength of her fingers.
Zoe swallowed nervously at the sound of the knock on the door. “Ms. Alcott? Police,” boomed a voice from the other side. Letting out the breath she’d been holding, she opened the door to a middle aged man in a poorly fitting suit. “Ms. Alcott?” he repeated.
“Yes.” She nodded her head, opening the door wider inviting him in.
“I’m Detective Peter Ashbrook.” He held out his hand and she took his calloused fingers in hers.
“Thank you for coming.” He nodded his head, moving into her living room as he looked around the space.
“May I see the note?”
“Of course.” She handed him the small piece of paper keeping it folded and the words hidden. She didn’t need to see them anymore, she had them memorized.
You’re mine. Our time is now. I’m coming for you.
She watched as he read it over quickly before placing it in a clear plastic bag he pulled from his pocket. “I’m going to hand this over to forensics. Hopefully they will be able to pull something off of it. You’re sure this couldn’t be from anyone you know?”
“No. I’m positive,” she shook her head. She could still feel the shake of her knees but refused to give in to the fear that was threatening to consume her. She shut her eyes tightly, trying to rid her mind of the cryptic words that made her question everyone and everything.
“And when did you receive it?”
“Sometime today, it was within the pile of mail that I brought home with me.”
“And what about the past couple of days - anything out of the ordinary?” Zoe thought back on the weekend remembering only a date with a guy whose last name she didn’t know. She explained to the serious detective about her dismal and uneventful night while he took down his number and email, the only information Zoe had on him. She quickly waved it away, the suit was dull and thinking only with the flaccid member in his pinstriped pants; he didn’t have a possessive bone in his body.
“And what about fans of yours?”
“Well I certainly wouldn’t call them fans. And it doesn’t happen very often apart from dinners and galas were there are paparazzi asking for photos that end up in the paper. I mean, I get emails and letters from people, congratulating or inspiring, but never anything that screams obscure stalker.” She watched him nod his head in understanding as he wrote what she was telling him on the small pad in his hand before lifting his head with understanding eyes.
“If you don’t feel safe here tonight I can have you moved to another location. If you choose to stay here, there will be two officers watching out front.”
“Here? There will be someone out front watching me?”
“Yes. Because of your status within the community and this particular situation I want to ensure all of our bases are covered. If your choice is to stay here I have two officers waiting for my order.”
“Okay, I would rather stay here if that’s the case then.” She preferred the idea of being somewhere familiar instead of being thrown into a foreign hotel room where she would feel even more isolated. She wanted to comforts of her bed, the warmth of her home, the familiarity of her kitchen - and the knowledge of where the knives were.
Detective Ashbrook pulled out his phone, “Jones, you and Morrison are on for tonight.” He didn’t wait for a response as he put the phone in his pocket and turned back to Zoe. “Ms. Alcott-”
“Zoe, please,” she interrupted.
“Zoe. Try and get a good night’s sleep and know you are safe. I will be coming by your office tomorrow with more information.”
“Thank you so much Detective, I can’t tell you how much I appreciate this.”
“Call me Peter, and it’s my job. Here is my card, call at any time for anything. I have jotted down the number to Jones, one of the officers who will be on watch for tonight. You can call him and he can come right up if you need him.”
“That’s great. I’m sure I’ll be fine. Thank you again, Peter.” Zoe felt comfortable with Peter Ashbrook. He was a good looking man. Stress had taken a toll on his once young skin, with wrinkles marring his forehead when he frowned but when he looked at her it was without the lustrous heat she normally saw. Instead what she saw was if not warmth, understanding. He was a get to the point, no beating around the bush kind of guy and that was something Zoe could understand and appreciate, even in a situation such as this.
She closed the door behind him and secured both the deadbolt and chain in place, locking her safely away within her tower. Looking around, she suddenly felt very alone in her big loft when she normally relished in the quiet independence. She padded over to the window to gaze down onto the darkened car that looked on protectively below. Steeling herself she pushed away and moved into her bedroom. Stripping her clothes on the way to the shower she stepped under the scalding streams of water to rid herself of the dirt that seemed to accompany the words that had turned her night and her nerves upside down. She didn’t understand; she couldn’t remember anyone who would send her something like that. She always maintained professional relationships with her competitors, always left off with a smile and a mutual understanding after a hot night with a guy. She couldn’t wrap her brain around who would be coming after her. Stepping further under the hot water she placed her palm on the wall in front of her, closing her eyes against the heated stream washing over her face. It was times like this she wished she had a dog, or a cat, maybe even a fish. She hated the vulnerable emotions she was feeling, the emotions that slapped her with the reality of how alone she was. She never allowed herself to fall into that space of need; she’d always been an independent child, a rough and tough streak running hot through her veins. Her parent’s always joked about the nurses giving them the wrong baby at the hospital. She’d always been close with her parents. She was an only child and because her parents loved their jobs almost as much as they did her, she’d had to learn to take care of herself at an early age. She always made sure she stood up for what she believed in, never bowed down to the bullies and she wouldn’t bow down to this one. She shook her head; it was probably some punk playing games. She smiled, she had a lot of experience with punks treating her like a game and she always made sure she showed them how it was played.
Feeling refreshed, she climbed into bed. Her eyes heavy with exhaustion, Zoe took a strengthening breath, as was the ritual when her nerves were out of order, and told herself she never allowed anyone to rule her decisions or her life, that was all her. She was a strong, independent and confident woman. She was the CEO of a successful company, everything she owned she had bought herself and she depended on no one. And she most definitely wasn’t going to let some asshole affect her emotions to the point of affecting how she would live her life - she never had and she never would. Her mother often called her too independent and her therapist seemed to agree with her, but Zoe knew herself and knew from her past that if she relied on people, they usually only let her down. With a resolve to fight, Zoe closed her eyes with a smile whispering, “Bring it on” into the night.