Authors: Rochelle Paige
Two days had passed since Gramps had asked me to help Chloe with her stalker problem, but I was no closer to finding her than I had been then. I’d tried tracking her down myself using the information her grandmother had given me, but it seemed like Chloe had done a decent job covering her tracks. Brody hadn’t replied to any of my texts or calls, so I hopped a flight this morning to Los Angeles to see if I could dig up some leads on my own.
My first stop was to the police station to see the detective in charge of her case. Detective Lancaster hadn’t wanted to share anything with me until I called Edith and had her talk to him. He couldn’t ignore Chloe’s only living relative when she told him she’d hired me as her granddaughter’s bodyguard, especially since he was the one who’d suggested she get one in the first place.
“Sorry about that,” Detective Lancaster muttered. “But you gotta understand why I doubted your story. You’re not with any of the agencies the celebrities use, and for all I knew you could have been one of those damn bottom-feeders looking for details for one of the gossip rags. Photos of her along with a stalker story equals big bucks.”
All of my anger at the guy disappeared when I realized he’d been an ass because he was trying to protect my girl.
Where the fuck had that come from? I couldn’t exactly call her mine when I hadn’t even met her yet. Hell, I shouldn’t even want to since I’d never felt the need to claim a woman as my own before. Then again, Chloe had been messing with my head for months already. I hadn’t even so much as looked at another woman since I first saw her picture. I guessed I shouldn’t be too surprised to feel territorial over her since she seemed to have the ability to make me act completely out of character.
“Yeah, I get it. I appreciate you looking out for her.”
“It’s all part of the job around here,” Lancaster replied as he reached for a file in a stack of folders on the corner of his desk. “Besides, I figure it’s the least I can do for Miss Porter since there’s been jack shit for me to follow-up on with her case.”
I flipped through the content of the file, feeling more agitated as I read each complaint she made to the police. It included copies of the emails she received, which I’d expected based on what my gramps had already told me. I was surprised to find screenshots of harassing texts which started almost two weeks ago.
“You didn’t have any luck tracing the phone used to send her these messages?”
Lancaster shook his head. “He used a burner phone. Prepaid, no calls made to or from it. The only texts sent were to Miss Porter, none received since she never replied.”
“Her grandmother said she keeps her number private.”
“Yeah, it was our first indication that this guy is closer to her than we thought. He’d have to be in order to get his hands on her number since the list of people with access to it is smaller than you’d expect. Then she got that last email before she left town,”—he pulled a page from the bottom of the file and handed it to me—“and it confirmed my suspicions. It’s definitely someone in her circle.”
I read through the graphic description of what Chloe’s stalker wanted to do to her sexually. My blood boiled, and it took everything I had in me to keep my voice level when I spoke. “He knew the studio ended the contact with their security firm, and it made him feel safe enough to threaten her with every sick thing from his fantasies.”
“It was enough to make her run.”
“Can’t exactly blame her for it.” I left the ‘even though I wanted to before I read this crap’ part unsaid. I’d been frustrated as hell at my inability to find her, but after reading that email I was happy as fuck that she’d gone into hiding. If I couldn’t find her, then this sick fuck shouldn’t be able to either.
The contents of Lancaster’s file on Chloe’s case renewed my determination to find her. I knew I needed help, and I was done waiting around for Brody to answer my calls. With that thought in mind, I stood and reached a hand out to shake Lancaster’s.
“No blame here, but it would be helpful if I could speak with her.” He handed me his business card.
“I’ll be in touch.” I tucked the card into my wallet without promising to let him talk to Chloe. He’d have to be happy speaking with me instead because I was going to be her go-between with the whole damn world, including the police, from here on out.
I strode out of the station and headed straight for my rental car. It might sound paranoid, but I didn’t want to make my call out on the street. As soon as the driver’s door shut behind me, I yanked my phone out of my pocket and jabbed my finger against it.
“West,” Blaine barked in my ear.
“Hey, man. It’s Kael Stewart. I need your help.”
“Shit,” he hissed. “Hold on a second.”
I heard the rustling of sheets and the sound of a woman’s voice in the background. Blaine said something in response, but it was muffled. It sounded like I’d interrupted him at an inopportune time, but I couldn’t let myself care too much when Chloe was out there somewhere and needed my help.
“Sorry about that. What’s going on, Kael? I haven’t talked to you in forever.”
Forever seemed like an apt description, even though it had probably only been a couple years since our paths last crossed. Brody, Blaine and I had all been in the same BUD/S class together in Coronado, but I’d been placed on a team stationed in Virginia while they’d remained in California. We saw each other from time to time, but they’d both been medically discharged about a year and a half ago after an IED explosion during a mission. They were an odd pairing back in BUD/S, but the military must have seen something nobody else noticed because they’d been best friends ever since. If anyone knew how to get a hold of Brody, it was Blaine.
“I hate to bother you, but I’ve been trying to get in touch with Brody and he hasn’t been answering any of my messages. Do you know how I can reach him?”
“Fuck,” he sighed. “Under normal circumstances, I’d say yes, but Brody hasn’t been himself lately. I got his voicemail when I tried him after I got back from my honeymoon yesterday, but he hasn’t called me back yet.”
“Honeymoon?” That was a shocker since Blaine had never struck me as the relationship kind of guy, but it certainly explained the rustling sheets and woman’s voice when he’d answered the phone. “Fuck man, congratulations.”
“Yeah, I finally managed to talk her into marrying my sorry ass and rushed her down the aisle.”
“It sounds like you treated it like a mission where failure wasn’t an option.”
“Considering how we met, that sounds about right,” he chuckled. It sounded like there was quite the story there, but now wasn’t the time to get into it. Finding Chloe had to be my priority.
“Damn it,” I groaned. “I’ve got a situation and could really use Brody’s help.”
“How about you tell me what’s going on and we’ll see if we can figure out another solution?”
“I’d appreciate any help you can give me.”
“Fucking A,” he breathed out after I explained what was going on with Chloe and how she’d dropped off the map. “Working for Damian Slater, I’ve got connections, but it sounds to me like your first instinct was right on target. You need someone with Brody’s unique set of skills.”
“Too bad the fucker isn’t anywhere to be found.”
“You could call Tex,” Blaine suggested. “From what I’ve heard, he’s had his hands full helping out the guys from his team since he left the Navy. If the stories are right, he’s gotten plenty of experience tracking their women down when they’ve found themselves in trouble.”
I’d heard plenty about John “Tex” Keegan from other SEALs, too. The Texan had a reputation for finding people, no matter where they were. I’d never met him myself, but if Blaine could get me in touch with him I had a feeling it wouldn’t take long before I knew where Chloe was hiding. Lucky for me, Blaine had his number and it was only a couple minutes later when I punched it into my phone and waited for Tex to pick up. Unlike all my calls to Brody, he didn’t make me wait long.
“You’ve got Tex.”
“My name is Kael Stewart. I know this is strange as fuck because we’ve never met, but I’m in a bind and need some help. Blaine West suggested I give you a call.”
“What kind of trouble are you facing?” His Southern twang and the sound of typing on a keyboard distracted me for a moment before I answered.
“My gramps asked me to help the granddaughter of a friend with a stalker problem. The cops haven’t had any luck figuring out who it is, and he’s escalating quickly. She’s on the run, and I have no idea how to find her. The ink on my separation papers are barely dry, so I don’t have any civilian resources I can tap. I tried reaching out to Brody Slater since we went through BUD/S together, but he’s MIA at the moment.”
“Sounds like one hell of a problem,” Tex drawled. “But from what I managed to pull up in your Navy records, it looks like your gramps did good asking you to help. And lucky for you, I have a personal problem with stalkers since my wife was almost killed by one.”
I sputtered, not knowing how to respond to how easy it had been for him to access confidential records. He didn’t seem to mind my lack of response, though.
“I’ll need everything you have on her. All her personal information, the name of the detective working her case, and anything else you can think of.”
“I’ll send you what I’ve got, but it hasn’t done me a lick of good. I’m headed over to Chloe’s house now, if I find anything I’ll let you know.”
“Works for me,” he agreed. “How about you give me Chloe’s last name and I’ll see what I can hunt down while you’re doing all that.”
“Porter. Chloe Porter.”
There was a moment of silence on the other end of the line. “Chloe Porter, the actress?”
“The one and only,” I confirmed.
“Shit, Kael. You should have started with that. With who she is, I should be able to find most of what I need online since she’s in the public eye. There isn’t much a celebrity can hide nowadays.”
“She’s managed to do a damn good job of it for the last week or so. Her cell phone hasn’t been used in all that time. No transactions on her credit card. She left her car at airport parking. Her grandmother’s the last person who saw or spoke with her, and she refused to tell her where she was going. The cops don’t even know where she is.”
“Give me the grandmother’s number.”
I rattled it off, and the next thing I knew he’d disconnected the call. Heaving a deep sigh, I plugged Chloe’s address into the GPS on my phone and pulled out of the parking lot. It took me about twenty minutes to get to her house, and I’d just let myself inside using the key her grandmother had given me when my phone rang.
“Hello,” I answered distractedly while I looked around Chloe’s living room. It was beautiful, but nothing like I’d expected. The furnishings were expensive, but the place looked well lived in. In fact, it was downright homey and comfortable. It was too easy to picture myself living here, with the oversized leather furniture and big screen television set.
“Found your girl,” Tex boomed into the line, surprising the hell out of me.
“Holy shit, you really are as good as they say.”
The ringing of the phone on the bedside table pulled me out of a deep sleep. Light was streaming through a crack in the curtains, and I groaned when it hit me straight in the eyes. A quick glance at the clock confirmed it was almost noon, but I’d only gotten about four hours of sleep since I’d stayed up reading until the wee hours of the morning. When I reached for the phone, my brain wasn’t fully functioning yet. If it had been, I would have stopped to think about why the landline in my motel room was ringing when nobody knew where I was.
“Hello?” I grumbled, my voice raspy with sleep.
The sound of my name being said in a deliciously deep rumble was enough to snap me out of my drowsiness. I jerked up to a sitting position and gasped, dropping the phone in my lap. My heart raced with fear as I heard my name repeated again. I yanked the handset out of the base to stop the noise, and then I pulled the cord out of the wall for good measure.
“Oh my gosh, what am I going to do?” I whispered to myself, pacing back and forth alongside the bed. Only one possible solution came to mind. “Pack up and leave. Run.”
I nodded, the decision made. It wasn’t rare for me to talk to myself, but actually answering my own questions was a new thing. The stress of the situation must have gotten to me more than I’d realized. Considering I’d hardly slept or eaten in the last couple weeks, it wasn’t much of a surprise. I thought I’d feel safe enough to relax once I got out of Los Angeles, but I’d been wrong. I’d also figured nobody would be able to find me at this god-forsaken motel, but that phone call had proven how mistaken I’d been. It stood to reason, if someone knew where I was then it meant they’d worked hard to track me down. I needed to get out of here. Pronto.
I yanked my suitcase out from under the bed and tossed it onto the mattress. Pulling out a pair of jeans and a sweater, I was headed for the bathroom when there was a knock at the door. I froze, petrified to take another step in case the person on the other side of the door was able to hear me.
“I know you’re in there, Chloe.” It was the same voice from the phone call. He spoke just loudly enough for me to hear him, but in a gentle tone. “Shit, that came out wrong. I’m not here to hurt you. Your grandmother is worried about you. She mentioned your problem to my gramps, and he asked me to help.”
I tiptoed towards the door and peeked into the peephole. There was a tall, muscular guy standing there, someone I was certain I’d never met before. He wasn’t the kind of man I was likely to forget. He had dark hair, cut super short on the sides and slightly longer on the top, light brown eyes and golden brown skin that made me think he spent a lot of time in the sun. There was a quiet strength about him, a confidence in the way he held himself, as though he knew he could take anything life threw his way.
“My name is Kael Stewart. My gramps is your grandmother’s neighbor, Niall. He said you'd met him a few times.”
I pressed my hand against the door, resting my head against it while I processed what he was telling me. My instincts were telling me to answer him, that he was telling the truth. But I’d lived in fear too long to trust myself. There was a little voice in my head telling me he could be the stalker. Finding my grandmother and looking into the names of the people who resided in the assisted living center wouldn’t be too hard to do after all.
My silence didn’t seem to deter him, though. He kept talking. “I’m a retired SEAL. I just got out of the Navy last week. The first thing I did was go home to see my parents. A few days later, I visited my gramps and he asked me to find you and protect you from your stalker.”
I lifted my head and tilted it to the side, trying to remember what Niall had told me about his grandson. I was almost certain he’d mentioned he was in the military. Hope blossomed in my chest. Maybe, just maybe, this Kael Stewart was the answer to my prayers.
“I talked to Detective Lancaster yesterday, and he showed me your case file. I get why you’re too afraid to open the door, but I’d really appreciate it if you’d at least say something to let me know you’re okay in there.”
“I’m here,” I answered softly.
“Thank fuck,” he sighed. “I was starting to think I’d freaked you out too much with my call and you’d had a panic attack or something and couldn’t speak.”
I wasn’t about to admit aloud that he wasn’t far from the truth. Fear and panic had been my constant companions ever since I received the first threatening letter.
“Your grandmother was worried you wouldn’t trust me when I explained why I tracked you down. She told me to call you Chloe-bear, and you’d know she really did send me.”
My eyes filled with tears at hearing his husky voice say my old nickname. I hadn’t been called Chloe-bear in a decade, not since before my parents died in a car crash and I went to live with my grandmother. My dad had come up with the nickname because I’d refused to go anywhere without the teddy bear he’d given me for my third birthday. He was the only person to ever call me that, and the odds of my stalker digging it up were slim to none. I was pretty sure my grandmother and I were the only people alive who knew about my dad’s pet name for me.
I slid my hand down over to the chain and slid it out of place. Gripping the door knob, I took a deep breath before I turned it to open the door. I almost forgot to release it when I caught sight of Kael. He was even more impressive without the peephole impacting my view of him.
“Hi,” I exhaled, managing to sound completely lame.
“Hey,” he replied.
His gaze swept me up and down, making me remember what I must look like. I ran trembling fingers through my hair, trying to smooth it out. His eyes crinkled at the corners as he tracked my movement. I couldn’t stop the blush which swept across my cheeks, but I forced my hand to drop back down to my side.
“Any chance you’d like to let me in?”
“Oops, sorry,” I said, stepping to the side to let him move past me. As soon as he was inside, I closed the door and slid the chain back into place. When I turned to face him, the room seemed much smaller than it had been while I was alone. I glanced around nervously, trying to figure out what to do next. There wasn’t anywhere to sit other than the bed or on top of the dresser, and my eyes darted back and forth between them a couple times while I considered which option was best.
“Go ahead and sit before you fall down,” he suggested, nodding his head in the direction of the bed. “You don’t need to be nervous around me. I’m here to help, remember.”
His reminder would have helped calm me down if my nerves stemmed from fear instead of my awareness of him as a man. My long-dormant libido had picked the absolute worst time ever to roar to life. I took a few deep breaths as I walked over to the bed and sat down on the edge, but I quickly realized my mistake when his masculine scent hit me. I shook my head and tried to focus on what he was saying.
“It was harder to track you down than I expected it to be.” He looked at me expectantly, and I wondered what I’d missed before I’d started paying attention to his words instead of just listening to the sound of his voice. I avoided asking him to repeat himself with a well-timed question of my own.
you manage to find me? I haven’t used my credit cards since I landed at LAX, ditched my car because of the GPS in it and destroyed my cell phone. I really thought I did everything I needed to do to disappear.” Worry crept into my voice because if he’d found me, then maybe it was possible for my stalker to track me down too.
“I had a couple aces up my sleeve,” he reassured me. “Access to your grandmother and a former SEAL who can work miracles on a computer.”
I still didn’t understand what I’d done wrong until he walked over to the iPad laying on the bedside table. The one I’d figured I was safe taking from my grandmother’s junk drawer since she never used it. Using the wifi at the assisted living center, I’d downloaded the Kindle app, synced it with my account and downloaded a bunch of books onto it. Then I’d disabled the GPS feature before I’d headed to the airport for my flight back to Los Angeles. I assumed it couldn’t be used to track me, but I hadn’t factored in the skills of a former Navy SEAL. Sitting here staring at Kael Stewart, I was thrilled to have been wrong, but only because it meant he’d been the one to find me.