Obsessed (The Lizzy Gardner Series)

BOOK: Obsessed (The Lizzy Gardner Series)
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Also by T.R. Ragan

Abducted
(Lizzy Gardner Series #1)

Dead Weight
(Lizzy Gardner Series #2)

A Dark Mind
(Lizzy Gardner Series #3)

Also by Theresa Ragan

Return of the Rose

A Knight in Central Park

Finding Kate Huntley

Taming Mad Max

Having My Baby

An Offer He Can’t Refuse

Here Comes the Bride

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, organizations, places, events, and incidents are either products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously.

Text copyright © 2014 T.R. Ragan

All rights reserved.

No part of this book may be reproduced, or stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, without express written permission of the publisher.

Published by Thomas & Mercer, Seattle

www.apub.com

Amazon, the Amazon logo, and Thomas & Mercer are trademarks of
Amazon.com
, Inc., or its affiliates.

ISBN-13: 9781477824153
ISBN-10: 1477824154

Cover design by Scott Barrie
Interior composition: Greg Johnson/Textbook Perfect

Library of Congress Control Number: 2014902718

DEDICATION

In memory of my dad, Jim Cunningham, and Mary Regan, better known as Aunt Mary. I miss you both.

CHAPTER 1

Sitting in his Honda Civic, his gaze focused on the two-story house across the street, he listened to Dr. Blair’s voice come over the airwaves, soft and soothing as she wrapped up the night’s show. A tremendous urge to call her swept over him. He wanted to let her know all was clear—nobody was creeping around her house tonight. But he refrained—perhaps another time, when he wasn’t so darn cold.

Whistling winds made the tree branches dance as rain splattered against his windshield. Seth had been parked in the quiet Sacramento neighborhood for over two hours. The back window wouldn’t roll all the way up, so the cold flowed directly through the window and into his bones. He turned the key and put on the heat, which came out in bursts of frosty air. His joints were stiff, his knuckles puffy and swollen. He would be forty-two next week, but he might as well be sixty-two.

Seth adjusted his glasses on the bridge of his nose and tried to get comfortable. He scanned the neighborhood, then settled once again on Dr. Blair’s house.

He’d been listening to her radio show for months now. After his wife confessed to having an affair with a coworker and then promptly begged his forgiveness, his first inclination was to put a bullet through his head. But he’d refrained. Days later, while flipping through radio stations on his way to work, he’d heard the voice of an angel. Dr. Madeline Blair was talking to another shattered man. Their situations weren’t identical—this man was struggling to make it through the anniversary of his wife’s death—but it was still as if Dr. Blair were speaking directly to Seth. The connection was instantaneous. She understood him. She knew what he was going through.

As far as he was concerned, Dr. Blair had saved his life.

And now it was his turn to repay the favor. Ever since Dr. Blair had told her listeners that a madman was stalking her, he’d been keeping a close eye on her property, looking for his chance to put an end to the craziness. Someone, she told her listeners, was leaving “gifts” at her house while she was at work. He wasn’t sure what sorts of things were being left, but the fear he’d heard in Madeline’s voice left him shaky and tense. Clearly, the items being left behind were not truffles and flowers.

Last week, the man assumed to be the stalker had called in to the show. His voice was deep and throaty, with lots of exaggerated breaths between each sentence.

A shadow drew Seth’s attention to the house—nothing but wind blowing through the trees.

The first time he watched Madeline’s house, he’d worried about his intentions, but after some reflection, he’d realized he only wanted to protect her and keep her safe. She had rescued him and now he would do the same for her.

Did he love her? He had no idea. Wouldn’t trust himself to say. He thought he’d loved his wife, and what had that gotten him? A kick in the gut when Janelle came clean about her affair. Seth all but doubled over behind the wheel now, just thinking of it.

They had been married for fourteen years. They’d met in college. Her passion was nursing and his was medicine. His dream was to become a doctor. Together, they’d studied physiology and anatomy, biology and biochemistry. They’d spent long nights studying and making love. But it was all for naught. Despite Janelle’s help, he’d failed to pass the med school entrance exams.

If not for a frontal-lobe injury caused by a skiing accident when he was a young boy, he was certain his life would have turned out very differently. After the accident, he’d become irritable and frustrated easily, unable to concentrate due to the constant flashing of lights inside his head. The doctor told his mother she’d need to take care to monitor the effects of his injury, especially any changes in his decision-making ability. More than likely, Seth wouldn’t be a danger to himself or his family, but he might have trouble gauging right from wrong.

The notion that he might not understand right from wrong worried Seth greatly. And there were some incidents that fed that worry. But thankfully the episodes, as his mother used to call them, became less frequent as he grew older.

And besides, people who
did
know right from wrong chose to do wrong all the time. Take Janelle, for instance. It hurt when he thought of Janelle and what they’d once shared. Up until the day she told him about her affair, he had loved her like no other.

The man she’d hooked up with no longer worked at Sutter General, where Janelle was head nurse.

No matter.

Once she’d taken a bite of that forbidden fruit, a part of him died. Nothing would ever be the same. His heart no longer belonged to his wife. It belonged to Madeline Blair, a woman he’d never uttered two words to. Well, that wasn’t exactly true. He’d called in to her show a couple of times. On one occasion, the board operator put him through. After untangling his tongue, he’d managed to ask her a question, but that was months ago and he couldn’t remember what he’d said.

Dr. Blair’s show dealt with everything from insomnia to relationship problems. He quickly learned it wasn’t easy being a popular radio host. The job entailed long hours. Most nights her Toyota 4Runner didn’t pull into the driveway until after midnight.

A movement in his rearview mirror caught his attention. This was no dancing tree branch in the wind. It was a man on the sidewalk carrying an umbrella and he was coming straight for him.

Straightening in his seat, Seth let out a ponderous breath. It was too late to drive off. The man leaned over and knocked on the passenger window. He was a large fellow with a barrel chest and short, silver-streaked hair.

Seth opened the window a few inches.

“My wife says you’ve been parked here for some time. Is there something I can help you with?”

The man’s gaze swept over the interior of his car, making Seth perspire even though he had done nothing wrong. “I’m sorry,” Seth blurted. “My mother passed away recently and that house right there is where we grew up. It’s been an emotional time.”

The man with the umbrella relaxed; his eyes softened. “Are you one of the Johnson boys?”

Forcing a smile, he continued to lie. “As a matter of fact, I am.”

“I’m sorry for your loss. Sit here as long as you need to.”

“Thanks, but I should get going. I’m sure my wife is worrying about me by now.” He quickly pulled away from the curb. As he drove off, he could see the silver-haired man standing there, watching him.

He probably should have told him the truth—he was there to protect Dr. Blair. The fear in Madeline’s voice during her last show had been palpable. Her voice had quivered as she explained to her listeners that she’d called the police but was told there wasn’t much they could do. Her property had not been damaged. No locks on her windows or doors had been tampered with. Until her stalker made a move, she said, her voice cracking, he was free to do as he pleased.

And that’s why Seth had sat outside her house every night for the past week. He was going to find the bastard and let him know he’d chosen the wrong woman to toy with.

CHAPTER 2

Hayley Hansen drove into the middle of what was known as the Nightclub District and parked her 1973 Chevy Impala at the curb. She climbed out, slammed the door shut, and headed down the pitted road looking for a bar . . . preferably a bar filled with unsavory characters. She knew this shabby end of the district offered several candidates. She’d been feeling a lot of tension lately and needed to release some of it before she did something really stupid—like, say, walk down the middle of a dangerous street after midnight looking for a fight.

Her boots clacked against pavement as she passed by a homeless man. He was sitting on the broken sidewalk, his back against a weather-beaten fence, his head bent forward, his stringy gray hair covering his face.

Without looking up, he extended a thin arm for a handout.

She went to him, bent down on one knee, and placed a five-dollar bill on his filthy, callused palm. “Get something to eat,” she said before continuing on, heading for the grungiest establishment in sight.

Today marked two years since her mother’s death—two years, and she still hadn’t found Brian Rosie, the man who’d killed her. Where the hell had the bastard gone? She’d leveraged every contact she had to help in her search for him, but she had nothing, not one clue as to where he was hiding out. The man was a goddamn ghost, which made no sense, since Brian had never struck her as a clever man.

A couple of assholes whistled the moment she entered the Blue Moon.

She gave them the finger as she walked straight for a stool as if she’d been coming to this shithole for years. She rested an elbow on the well-stained bar and asked the bartender for a shot of whiskey.

He asked for her ID and she showed it to him.

He held it to the light. “By the hair of your chinny-chin-chin,” he said.

She said nothing.

He handed back her ID. “I don’t know if this is the right place for you, honey.”

“Trust me,” she said without emotion, her body weightless, her bones hollow. “This is where I’m supposed to be.”

He shrugged, grabbed a bottle from the shelf behind him, filled up a shot glass, and placed it on the bar in front of her.

It wasn’t long before the bartender was busy with other customers and forgot all about her. Her focus remained on the contents of the glass—the gold liquid swirling about. For the first time in her twenty-one years, she felt the pull, the desire, the craving to let the whiskey burn a fire down her throat and take some of the pain away.

No, not pain. More like hatred and disgust.

For the world? For mankind?

No, just for Brian, the man who had managed to wreak havoc on her life, time after time, before he dissipated like the morning fog.

She heard a scuffle at the back of the room. There was a
slap
and a
crack
. The sounds made when the palm of a hand makes contact with flesh.

Hayley turned and discovered a greaseball of a man with a big mouth and lots of missing teeth in the process of methodically hitting on his woman. She was tough, taking the openhanded blows pretty well, not even rising from her seat beside him. She had streaks of gray in her dark hair—thirty going on sixty. Hayley watched the woman take three slaps to the face without complaint, but when the prick used his knuckles, it was too much for her—she came to her feet so fast she upset the table and the toothless man lost his drink.

“Sit back down, whore,” he shouted, “so I can teach you a lesson.”

Despite the woman’s haggard look and the haunted eyes, Hayley fully expected her to fight back. Instead, she merely stood there. She had already given up.

“Put your hand on the table,” the man demanded as he raked his fingers through long, greasy hair.

The woman did as he said and he promptly leaned over and put his cigarette out on her white flesh.

Her cries were muffled beneath the hand she held over her mouth.

Hayley could smell the burned skin from where she sat. Letting her gaze drift around the room, she noticed that most of the people in the place didn’t give a rat’s ass about what was happening.

“Leave her alone,” Hayley said. She should’ve interceded before now, before the cigarette, but she’d just sat there, dead on her stool. Now, though, she felt a bit of life creep up her hollow spine. She pulled out a ten-dollar bill and slid it next to her drink.

It took him a minute, but Greaseball finally looked at Hayley and grinned a wide, mostly toothless grin.

“Whatchya gonna do about it, girly?”

“Apologize to the lady,” she said without moving from her stool.

He stopped grinning and took his sweet time getting his ass off the chair. Then he stepped slowly around the table and grabbed his woman in a choke hold. Why the lady hadn’t left while she had the chance, Hayley couldn’t imagine.

Hayley looked toward a group of big, beefy men who could easily take Greaseball out with their breath alone. “Is anyone going to help the lady?”

“She ain’t my bitch,” one of the beefy men said.

“Yeah,” another one said with a laugh. “She ain’t my bitch either.”

Original.

The woman’s face had turned a light shade of red, her eyes bulging as the life was choked out of her.

Blood rushed through Hayley’s body—exactly what she’d come for. She lit a cigarette of her own, then stood and walked toward the grinning son of a bitch until she could literally count the exact number of rotted teeth he had left. Seven. He had seven teeth left. Not for long. “Let her go, asshole.”

He backed up a half step, holding the woman in front of him as a human shield, big hands still gripping her throat. She was turning blue. The woman’s eyes met Hayley’s and despite the good chance she had of passing out at any moment, she choked out the words, “You don’t want to do this.”

“Oh, yes, I’m afraid I do.” Hayley took another long hit off her cigarette and then jammed the hot tip into the guy’s arm and held it there as he squealed like a pig, stepping after him as he tried to pull away without loosening his hold around the woman’s neck. When he finally had to release her, his drunken state got the best of him and he fell on his ass.

While the woman stumbled backward out of reach, holding her throat and catching her breath, the idiot scrambled to his feet. He wasn’t grinning now. He pulled out a shit-for-nothing switchblade and held it in front of him. “You’re gonna pay for that, darlin’.”

Hayley had an aversion to being called
darlin’
, so she jammed her right foot into his crotch, crushing his worthless balls so hard and fast he didn’t know what hit him. His switchblade slid across the floor and before he could get hold of it, Hayley reached for her ankle and her newly sharpened five-and-a-half-inch Choker fixed blade, a gift from Kitally for her twenty-first birthday. A few more steps and she had the man in a choke hold of her own with her blade to his throat.

His eyes were bulging now.

A drop of sticky blood slid over Hayley’s fingers and onto his shirt.

“Say you’re sorry.”

He grunted.

Hayley pressed the knife deeper. More than a few drops of blood dripped onto his already-stained pants. She glanced around to make sure the man had no friends willing to help him out, but it was as she expected. Everyone in the place was enjoying the show too much.

“I’m sorry,” he croaked.

She looked at the woman standing with her back to the wall. “You might want to leave now.” When the woman began making her way to the door, Hayley told the idiot, “If you ever touch her again, I promise you I will hear about it. And if I do, you’re going to lose every rotted tooth in that mouth of yours—one by one, which would suck because there’s nothing I hate worse than watching a grown man cry.” She dropped her hold on him, twisted him hard aside from her, and headed across the room toward the exit, her blood pumping rapidly through her veins.
Finally.

“What about your whiskey?” the bartender called after her.

“It’s all yours,” she said. “I don’t drink.”

BOOK: Obsessed (The Lizzy Gardner Series)
6.19Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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