Authors: Lynette Eason
Tags: #dpgroup.org, #Fluffer Nutter
Brandon tucked the envelope into his pants pocket. “We’ll let you know something as soon as possible.”
“I would appreciate it.”
Brandon took her arm and she tried not to notice how natural and right it felt to walk beside him. How her head came right to his shoulder and how his subtle cologne made her draw in a deep breath and savor the spicy scent. She liked this man, but didn’t have any business doing so. However, that didn’t seem to matter to her heart. She wanted to get to know him better, find out what made him tick, but knew she shouldn’t.
On the other hand, he had secrets, a hardness about his eyes that made her wonder what he’d seen, what he’d lived. Getting behind that wall scared her even while the idea intrigued her.
She shut the thoughts down. Finding out what the baby bag and items were doing in her mother’s house was her priority. Romance wasn’t even on the table as an option right now.
The thought made her frown.
And then Brandon was holding the car door open for her. She slid in and leaned her head back against the headrest.
“Are you okay?”
“I’m tired. Just plain exhausted.” She lifted a hand to her throat. “And sore.” She tossed him a weary smile. “But very glad to be alive. If that’s all I have to complain about, I’m far better off than some people.” She thought about the women in the park. “Far better off.”
He smiled back. “I know what you mean. I’ll drop you off at home. Frankie’s exhausted. I’ve got a buddy who’s going to keep an eye on you while I run this to the lab.”
“I’ll be fine.”
“I want someone with you twenty-four-seven until we find out who’s threatening you.”
She shivered. “You’re right. I think I want that, too.” The thought of being alone, being the prey of an unknown stalker who wouldn’t hesitate to kill her, filled her with a fear like none she’d ever felt before.
“What about your friend Missy? Would she let you stay with her?”
“I’ll text her and see.” She glanced at the clock. “It’s getting pretty late. Almost ten o’clock.” She tapped out the text to Missy and asked if she could stay at her house.
Almost immediately the reply came.
Of course. Come on over.
“All right, I’ll take you home to get your stuff.”
She nodded and felt relieved. Being at Missy’s would take a little of the fear away. Having someone else listen for danger would be a big help. “Do you think he’s following us? Watching and waiting to strike again? Tonight?”
He glanced in the rearview mirror as he drove and shook his head. “I can’t say no, but I’ve been watching and haven’t seen anyone following.”
She heard what he left unsaid. Just because he hadn’t seen anyone didn’t mean no one was there.
She shivered. “I hope your friend can get the results back from the DNA pretty quick.”
“Holt’s a good guy. He’s kind of like me and works all the time. He’ll run it for us as soon as he gets a chance. When I drop this off, I’ll really stress the necessity for speed.”
She studied him. “Why
you work all the time, Brandon?”
He shot her a frown. “What do you mean?”
“You just said you work all the time. Do you have any hobbies?”
He shrugged. “Not really. Unless you count the mentoring work I do with at-risk kids.”
“Yes. Spike’s one of them. And I like basketball, but mostly I work.”
“Does it matter?”
Well, he knew how to shut a person out, didn’t he? To her surprise, she wasn’t hurt, just curious.
“Yes. It matters, but you don’t have to tell me unless you want to.”
“My fiancée left me.” His fingers flexed on the wheel as he pulled into her driveway and put the car in Park.
Sitting outside her home, silence descended, blanketing them as completely as the dark of the night. Only a small streetlight provided a bit of light. Enough to see his profile and the wrinkles in his forehead. Then the wrinkles smoothed and he let out a small laugh. “‘Oh’? That’s it?”
Sonya felt the heat flood her face and was grateful for the darkness. “I’m sorry. I just wasn’t expecting you to say that.”
“I wasn’t, either.” He sounded almost bemused.
“Why did she leave you?”
“She found someone who didn’t have as much baggage, didn’t work as many hours and had money to spend on her.” The bemusement was gone. The flat, hard statement told her how much his fiancée had hurt him. “We were supposed to meet for dinner one night. I arrived at the restaurant. She didn’t. When I called to see if she was all right, she didn’t answer. I went to her house and she was having a candlelit dinner with my accountant.”
Silence reigned in the car for a full minute.
“Well...” She drew the word out, thinking of a response.
She gave a small shrug and struggled to find the right words. Unable to think of any, she settled on “That really stinks.”
More silence, and then he gave another low chuckle. “Yes. Yes, it does. It did.” He finally turned his head toward her and she could see his eyes. Eyes that didn’t look hard or flat. Eyes that looked confused and maybe held a hint of surprise.
She gave an embarrassed cluck of her tongue. “That was a dumb response, wasn’t it? I’m sorry. I just wasn’t sure what to say.”
“Your response was absolutely perfect. Most people just offer platitudes or they get embarrassed and don’t want to talk about it.” He took a deep breath. “Or they tell me they know how I feel and I’ll recover with time. That last one is the one that bothers me most.”
Puzzled, she cocked her head and frowned at him. “Well, I certainly wouldn’t say that. I
know how it feels.” She hesitated briefly. “And I don’t want to, either,” she blurted.
This time he threw his head back and let out a belly laugh. She stared at him, wondering if he’d lost his mind. Then he leaned over and placed his lips on hers. Stunned, she didn’t move. The kiss was light, almost like a thank-you, yet with something more, something deeper, something that made her blood hum and her heart sing.
When he lifted his head, he cupped her chin. “You never say what I think you’re going to say.”
“And you just did something I never expected you to do.”
A grin pulled at the corner of his lips. “I really like you, Sonya Daniels.”
The present slammed her. She bit her lip. “Sonya Daniels? Or Heather Bradley?”
randon sat back with a jerk. What was he doing?
“This is where you apologize, right?” she asked softly.
He sighed. “Apologize? No. I won’t apologize for the kiss. I don’t know that I can explain it, but I won’t apologize for it.”
She gave him a slow smile. “Good. And it doesn’t need an explanation.”
“But we can’t let this go anywhere. Not yet.”
“What?” she asked.
“Huh?” He blinked.
“Let what go anywhere?”
“This. Us. You know what I’m talking about.” He felt the heat creeping into his cheeks. How had he found himself having this awkward conversation? He didn’t do awkward. He didn’t kiss clients, either.
“Yes, I do.” She patted his hand. “Don’t worry about it, Brandon. I’m a big girl.”
“I’m going to get some stuff. I’ll be right back.”
“I’m coming with you. I don’t want you going anywhere alone unless you just absolutely have to.”
She climbed from the car and stopped. Stared. “That’s weird.”
“It’s dark and I know I left lights on. You think the power went off?”
He frowned as he took in the house. No porch light, no soft glow coming through the blinds from the inside. Then he glanced around the neighborhood. “Your neighbors have power. Let me take a look.”
He placed his hand on his weapon and unsnapped the safety strap. She walked up the front porch and unlocked the door. He slipped around her. “Stay back.”
She stayed back. Slightly.
He made his way into the foyer, senses alert to anything that didn’t belong. The house smelled of a mixture of lavender and chamomile. Like her.
He moved into the kitchen, feeling her presence right behind him. He didn’t hit the light switch, not wanting to be blinded by the sudden brightness. Instead, he let the moon filtering through the kitchen blinds guide his way.
The front door slammed shut.
Sonya let out a yelp and spun to face the noise.
Brandon raced to the door, stood to the side and flipped on the porch light. He looked out, blinking, letting his eyes adjust while he stayed out of the line of fire.
With the door cracked, he listened. Heard a scrape.
He peered around the edge of the doorway, the porch light illuminating all the way to the driveway. Sonya stayed behind him. Good—he wanted to know where she was at all times. His adrenaline pulsed, keeping his senses sharp. Acutely in tune with everything around him, he probed the darkness beyond the reach of the light.
Movement at the back of his car, the trunk area. He lifted his weapon. “Police! Freeze!” The figure obeyed but stayed bent over. “Show me your hands!” The intruder hesitated. “Hands, hands! Show them to me!”
Two gloved hands reached up from behind the trunk. No weapon in sight. Brandon started toward him, his gun held ready, adrenaline pumping through him. Finally, he was going to get the person who didn’t want Heather Bradley found.
As he got closer, the intruder darted across the street and into the neighbor’s yard. Brandon took three steps to follow then stopped. Sonya raced past him. “Hey!” He shook off his shock and followed her. “What are you doing?”
She didn’t answer, just kept up the pursuit. He trailed hard and fast on her heels, as determined to protect her as she seemed to be to put herself in danger. They were going to have to have a serious talk when he caught up with her.
And then she stopped. Spun in a circle and slapped both palms against her thighs in frustration. “Where’d he go?” He noticed she was barely out of breath. Even after everything she’d been through that evening.
“Are you crazy?” he asked. He drew in a lungful of air and scanned the area. The intruder was gone. At least out of sight. Who knew if he was still watching them? Taking aim?
“I want to know who keeps threatening me. I want to catch him.” Frustration filled her voice and she kept clenching and unclenching her fingers.
He gripped her hand and pulled her back toward her house. “Come on. No sense in giving someone a perfect target.” Once in the safety of her house, he called it in. Officers were on the way, although what he hoped they’d find, he couldn’t say. The person had been dressed in black and wore gloves. If the front porch light hadn’t been on, Brandon never would have seen him.
Back inside the house, he looked at Sonya. “What in the world were you thinking, taking off after him like that?”
She ran a hand through her tangled hair. “I knew you wouldn’t chase him if it meant leaving me behind.”
He blinked. And stared. She was absolutely right. “So you decided to run after him.”
She shrugged and touched her throat with a wince. “I knew you’d be right behind me.”
“I run a lot.”
He lifted a brow. “I can tell.”
“I wasn’t fast enough, though, was I?” she murmured.
“That might not be a bad thing. Don’t do that again, okay?” He shuddered to think what might have happened had she actually caught up with the guy. “How’s your throat?”
She lifted a hand and touched her throat with a grimace. “It hurts.”
Two police cars pulled up, lights flashing. Sonya winced. “Could they at least turn their lights off? All of my neighbors are going to be over here within seconds.”
Brandon walked out and flashed his badge. He asked them to douse the lights then started his explanation of what had transpired over the past hour.
Sonya called Missy and let her know she’d be a little late, then went to pack her bags. When she came back into the den, the officers were gone and Brandon thought she looked exhausted. “It’s a good thing you don’t have to work tomorrow.”
“Tell me about it.”
“I hope you plan to sleep late. Just in case, I’m still going to have someone watching Missy’s house.”
She nodded. “Thank you.”
The frown between her brows didn’t bode well. “What is it?” he asked.
“I’m just wondering if I’m putting Missy at risk by staying with her.”
Brandon wanted to reassure her, but he didn’t want to tell her anything that wasn’t true. He sighed. “I don’t know. We’re not telling anyone where you’re going and we’re going to have someone tailing us to make sure you get to Missy’s house unobserved.”
“Okay. That sounds good.” The frown remained.
“What if whoever is after me knows I’m friends with her? The person wouldn’t have to follow us. He could just be there waiting for me to show up.”
Brandon pursed his lips then blew out a sigh. “Well, that’s a possibility, of course, but I’m hoping with the two guys I’ve got watching you, if anyone is planning any more mayhem, these guys will scare them off.”
Again she nodded. “Two guys?”
“Yes. One for the back and one for the front.”
“Okay.” The frown finally faded.
“So are you ready?”
“I guess so.”
He held the door open for her. The two buddies he’d asked to stay on her tonight sat in their vehicles. He pointed to the red truck. “That’s Max Powell.” She waved. Max waved back. Brandon pointed to the black Explorer. “That’s Peter Hayes, my brother.”
“Yeah. He needed a job and I told him he could help out tonight.”
“Oh. Okay. So he works for Finding the Lost on occasion?”
“On occasion. Sort of on an as-needed basis. It’s a long story, Sonya. I’ll tell you about it one day, but not tonight. Suffice it to say, Peter will do a good job, I promise.”
“All right. If you trust him, I trust him.”
Her simple faith in him made him swallow hard. He decided to tell her a bit more. “There’s a lot of history with Peter. I’ll be honest with you. He’s a recovering drug addict, but he’s been clean for months. He’s doing his best to get his life back on track and I want to help him do that.”
She shot him a warm smile. “I understand.”
Peter got out of his car and walked to the back of Brandon’s sedan. He leaned over and picked something up. Studied it.
“What is it?” Brandon asked.
“I’m not sure.” He carried the item to the front porch and held it up to the light. “Looks like some sort of wire.”
“What made you notice it?”
“When I backed up a little, my headlights swept across it. Thought it might be a nail and didn’t want you to pick it up in your tire.”
Brandon looked at the wire. Flashed back to the person behind his car. His gut tightened. “I’ve got a bad feeling about this.”
Peter lifted a brow. “Why’s that?”
“I need some light.”
Sonya set her bag on the ground. “I’ve got a flashlight in the garage.” She hurried to get it while Brandon moved to the back of his vehicle. Peter followed. Max got out of his vehicle. “What’s going on, guys?”
Sonya returned with the flashlight. Brandon took it from her. “I want to check under my car. Someone was right behind it. If there’s a tracking device, I want it. Or if someone was messing with any wires, I want to know which ones.” Brandon stretched out on the driveway behind his car and shone the light underneath it. He looked at his brother. “Do you have a mirror?”
Peter shrugged. “Yeah, in my truck. Hold on a sec.” He got it and returned to Brandon, who scooted a little farther under. His gasp jerked Sonya’s head up.
“Max?” Brandon said.
“Can you take Sonya over to your vehicle and wait a minute?”
Max’s gaze sharpened. Without another word, he motioned for Sonya to join him. Confusion on her face, she snagged her bag from the ground and walked over to Max. “What’s going on?” She looked from one man to the next.
Peter’s hands fisted and he stepped back. “Brandon, what do you see?”
Max gripped her upper arm and gently led her farther away. Brandon maneuvered out from under his vehicle, his face pale in the porch light.
“It’s not a tracker.”
“What is it?” Sonya asked.
Brandon continued walking toward her. “A bomb. We need a bomb squad.”