Authors: Susan Sleeman
A scream pierced the air. Shattering glass followed.
The kitchen. Morgan.
Adrenaline rekindled in his veins. Hand on his sidearm, he closed the distance to the kitchen in a few strides. He stepped inside, his boots grinding over broken glass. Morgan stood by the sink, physically unharmed, but her face was whiter than the snow of a Minnesota blizzard from his childhood.
“Someone was here. He leftâ” Her words were barely more than a whisper.
Brady turned off the running water and looked around. He saw nothing odd other than the glass she'd dropped on the floor. “Left what?”
“Those.” She pointed at the countertop. “I didn't leave them there.”
Brady looked at the counter, then back at her ashen face. His pulse kicked into high gear, and he drew his weapon. It was a good thing he'd walked Morgan home. A very good thing.
rady needed to check the other rooms for an intruder, but he also wanted to take a better look at the photograph lying under a long-stemmed red rose. He positioned his body so he could keep an eye on the door and still check out the picture.
The downright creepy photo was of an engagement announcement from the
newspaper. A man sat next to Morgan, but his body had been erased with a picture-editing program, leaving only a silhouette with the words Your One True Love superimposed on it. The caption below read,
You are mine. You will marry no one but me
“This looks like a real announcement that someone modified.” He quickly checked her hand to see if he'd missed a big sparkling ring. Her finger was bare.
“It's from my engagement to Preston Hunter. I broke it off a few months ago. Apparently some sicko thinks it's funny.” She stared at the counter.
“Not funny. Stalkerish.”
A flash of horror widened her eyes. “You think I have a stalker?”
“That's what I aim to find out.” He headed for the door.
“Wait,” she called out, looking like she might be sick. “Where are you going?”
“I need to make sure no one else is in the apartment.”
Grim realization dawned on her face. “You think whoever left this is still here.”
“It's a good possibility. I didn't notice any signs of forced entry. Any chance this is a current boyfriend with a key who has a sick sense of humor and wanted to surprise you?” he asked, not liking the fact that she might be in a relationship.
“I don't have a boyfriend.” She wrapped her arms around her slender waist.
“The message doesn't point to the former fiancÃ©, but I have to ask. Is he mad that you ended things with him?”
She shook her head. “No.”
“And no other boyfriends?” he asked again, to be sure.
“I haven't even dated since I broke off with Preston, and I haven't given anyone a key to my place except my parents.”
So, stalker it is.
“Then stay put while I check it out. And don't move or you could cut your feet.” Brady eyed her for a long moment to be sure she would follow his instructions.
“Be careful.” She clutched her arms tighter and chewed her lip.
After the second shock of the night, he hated to leave her alone, but it would be foolish not to check for an intruder. A few strides across the hall and he was in a bedroom. The space was neat. Organized. The same colors as the family room. He checked the closet and under the bed, then made sure the windows were locked even though the apartment was on the fifth floor. He glanced into a small bathroom with a pedestal sink, claw-foot tub and subway tiles. Also empty.
He stepped to the front door and searched for any signs of forced entry. The wood was smooth and free from pry marks.
Odd. Very odd
He dug out his phone, called Jake and relayed the incident so they could report it to the Portland Police Bureau. The FRS responded to emergencies across the entire city, but they didn't have jurisdiction to investigate crimes within city limits.
“I've got the detective's card from the shooting,” Brady continued. “But I don't get the feeling that this is related to the train incident or another disgruntled plaintiff. Do you think I should call Rossi or should this be handled separately?”
Jake didn't answer right away. Brady knew he was thinking. Pondering. The usual Jake. He cleared his throat. “With no sign of forced entry, it seems more like you have a relationship gone bad. You really want to bother PPB this late at night with that?”
“Normally I'd agree with you, but Morgan says she doesn't have a boyfriend and hasn't dated in months. Plus, I'm getting a stalker vibe here.”
A long hiss of air. “I'll have to call in favors to get a quick response so you'd better be right.”
“Not sure I am, but then, her life could depend on us taking the right action here.”
“You're right. Can't be too careful. I'll call the watch commander. Rossi is likely the detective on call and if he's finished at the scene, the commander will send him over. Otherwise you'll have to hang out there until someone else arrives.”
Not a hardship
, Brady thought and it surprised him. “I'm off tomorrow so I can stay as long as needed.”
“I'll text you when I know something.” Jake disconnected.
Brady kept his phone in hand so he wouldn't miss the text and returned to the kitchen. A hint of color had returned to Morgan's face, and she was talking on the phone to someone named Lacy. He suspected this was the woman who'd taken the train with Morgan. It sounded like they were good friends.
Not wanting to interrupt, he leaned against the counter and took the opportunity to study her while she was distracted. He couldn't put his finger on the word that best described her. Maybe
. Her features were fine, hence delicate, and her skin was creamy and flawless. Maybe from expensive beauty treatments. He could be wrong, of course, but he suspected she'd been pampered all her life.
His phone chimed, and he read a message from Darcie.
You get Morgan home okay?
He didn't want to tell Darcie about this incident via text.
In her apartment safe and sound.
He phone chimed another message and he switched to Jake's profile
Rossi on the way. ETA 5 minutes.
Morgan hung up, and glanced at him, seeming surprised to see him still standing there.
“Why don't we go into living room to talk about this?” He didn't give her a chance to respond but lifted her into his arms to carry her over the glass.
She pushed back and gaped at him. “What are you doing?”
“The glass. You'll cut your feet.” As he continued walking, her scent wrapped around him. Soft, feminine. Fresh, like a spring breeze after the rain.
She scowled. “You could have gotten my shoes instead of taking over and manhandling me.”
It was his turn to gape. “Manhandling? I'm simply helping you out.”
The minute they hit the living room she squirmed out of his arms and planted her hands on her hips. “That kind of help I don't need.” She stormed across the room, moving as far from him as possible.
He liked the fire in her eyes as she stared at him. Liked her animated expression. Liked that the vivid fear was gone from her face.
He glanced at his watch. Four minutes remaining until Rossi's arrival. If he continued to let his interest in her distract him, it'd be four very long minutes.
Distance and professionalism. That's what he needed.
He gestured at the sofa. “Let's sit down and talk about the rose and picture.”
He expected an argument, but she perched on the edge of a red chair.
He took the far end of the sofa, feeling like a giant. He didn't know how to start this conversation other than bluntly stating his opinion. If she was lying, he'd soon know. “There was no sign of forced entry. Whoever left this surprise either had a key or is a master at picking locks.”
“As I said, only my parents have a key.” Her tone remained terse and irritated. “I suppose that means their live-in staff would have access, too, but I've had little to do with my family since I moved out of their guesthouse three months ago.”
Live-in staff. Just as he'd suspected. Pampered. He'd have to make sure Rossi knew about the staff. Maybe one of them had a thing for her or resented her. “Would you mind calling your parents to see if their keys are missing?”
“Mind?” Her eyes narrowed. “Honestly, yes. If my father hears about this, he'll drive over here and demand I move back home.”
“At your age?”
She sighed, a long, drawn-out breath, her eyes lifting to the ceiling. “I think I could be headed for the retirement home, and as his only child, he'd still insist on taking care of me. By his definition, that means keeping me where he can see me.”
“We need to know if they still have the keys or if they've been stolen and the intruder used them to gain access.”
Her shoulders stiffened. “Then I'll have to call them, but only after I figure out what to say that doesn't bring Dad running over here.”
“Okay, so give it some thought, but be sure you make that call tonight.” Her response was a clipped nod so he moved on. “Is there a building superintendent or manager here, who might have a key?”
“Obviously the rental company would, but they're off-site.”
“They could have had a break-in where keys were stolen, I suppose,” Brady said, thinking aloud. “Though they'd likely inform you of such and replace your locks. Did you ever leave your keys unattended?”
“Unattended?” She chewed on her lip, something he was beginning to think was a habit. It was full and plump and far too distracting.
“You know,” he rushed on, though no explanation was necessary. “You left the keys out where someone could get to them when you weren't watching.”
She tapped her chin with a slender finger. “I suppose I've dropped the ring on my desk at work. Who doesn't do that? But I'm sure no one took them long enough to get a duplicate made.”
He wished. “Unfortunately, keys can now be duplicated by sending a digital picture to an online locksmith.”
“You're kidding, right? They just have to take a picture?” Fear widened her eyes. She seemed even more vulnerable, tempting him to cross the room to take her hand.
He planted himself more firmly on the sofa instead. “I'm afraid it's true. That's why I need you to think of any place you could've set the keys down long enough for someone to snap a picture.”
She tapped her chin again, her fingernail painted a light pink and perfectly manicured. “Work, like I said. And the gym.”
“You leave your keys unattended at the gym?”
“Not really. Just set them on the bench in the locker room as I dress. Or on the counter when signing in and out, but from what you say that's long enough.” She stared at him. “I've left them out at church, too, though I doubt anyone there would do this.”
“You never know.”
She arched a perfectly plucked brow. “I doubt it.”
Fine, she didn't believe him. Most people wouldn't, but he saw people at their worst and knew what they were capable of. He also suspected the ex-fiancÃ© had been alone with her keys at some point, but the message didn't lead Brady to believe this Preston guy had left the note.
“So how do we find out who might have a key?” she asked.
We? There's no
“I've arranged for Rossi to come over. He'll be here any minute to take your statement and go from there.”
“What?” She laughed. “Aren't you a police officer? Can't you handle thisâwait.” She covered her mouth for a moment, then circled her arms around her waist. “You think this is related to Craig. That it's not over.”
He held up his hands. “Slow down. I'm not saying that at all. It's just a jurisdictional matter. I'm County and you live in Portland's city limits. It's the Portland Police Bureau's responsibility to investigate this incident.”
“Oh,” she said, sounding disappointed. “Does that mean you'll be leaving?”
“I'll wait for Rossi and make sure you're in good hands before I leave.”
As if on cue, the doorbell rang. Morgan startled.
“Relax. I'm sure it's Rossi.”
She started to rise.
“I'll let him in.” Brady shot to his feet before she could get up. “Do you have a photocopier?”
“On my printer, why?”
“You should make a copy of the threats you received. Then you can give the file to Rossi so he can get started on it ASAP.”
“Oh, right, okay.”
Brady headed for the door. She'd have plenty of time to make the copies as he intended to have a conversation with Rossi before the other man entered the apartment. It would be better if this conversation happened without Morgan, because Brady suspected without evidence of an intrusion, Rossi would think Morgan was lying about not having any relationships gone bad. And if Rossi thought the items were from a disgruntled ex-boyfriend, he wouldn't take this threat seriously, leaving her in potential danger. Relationships gone bad made people say stupid thingsâsometimes even do stupid things like leaving a rose and note for the former girlfriendâbut it was less common for actual physical harm to occur.
Brady grabbed the doorknob. An image of a man turning the same knob flashed into his brain. A sick man, focused on Morgan. Doing everything necessary to gain her affection. Stalking. Hunting when she was alone. Unprotected.
What if Rossi blew her off like Brady suspected? Left her to fend for herself?
Brady couldn't let that happen. Wouldn't let that happen despite his desire to put distance between them. This was no longer about a promise to Darcie to see Morgan home. About guilt for hesitating to pull the trigger. This was about a woman's life. Plain and simple.
If he couldn't convince Rossi to help Morgan, he'd have no choice. He'd force down these feelings that kept surfacing around her and step in. She could count on him to be by her side and keep her safe.
* * *
Waiting for Brady to return with the detective, Morgan shoved her phone into her pocket and sent the threat letters feeding into the printer. She'd called her mother and learned that the keys were right where her father had left them. She'd also managed to raise her mother's suspicions, but Morgan had avoided telling her the truth. If her dad had answered, it might have been a different story.
Morgan listened to the hum of the copier and looked around the room she'd so carefully decorated. The space was neutral on purpose. No photos. No mementos from time spent with her family, which would only remind her of their disagreement about where she should live.