Authors: Jaye Ford
About the book
When Livia Prescott fights off a terrifying assault in a deserted car park, the media hail her bravery. And after a difficult year â watching her father fade away, her business struggle and her marriage fall apart â it feels good to strike back for once.
But as the police widen their search for her attacker, menacing notes start arriving. And brave is not what she feels any longer . . . Someone has decided to rip her life apart, then kick her when she's down. But is it a stranger or someone much closer to home? In fact, is there
she can now trust?
When her family and friends are drawn into the stalker's focus â with horrifying consequences â the choice becomes simple. Fight back, or lose the people she loves the most . . .
For getting me to the finish line
âTalk to you tomorrow, honey. I love you.'
âLove ya, Mum,' Cameron said.
The ghost of a smile played on Liv's lips as she dropped the phone into her handbag and listened to the crack of her high heels echo through the quiet car park. God, she missed him.
She stepped out from the lighting on the pedestrian ramp into the dimness of the third level and hesitated. This afternoon, the lot had been full but it was after seven-thirty now and all but deserted. Dark and ominous was the only way to describe it. Huge slabs of concrete on the floor and ceiling, massive shadowy columns, intermittent pools of dull light from the overhead fluorescents. Metal cages around the fixtures reminded her there were people who got cheap thrills smashing up places like this. She dug the bunch of keys from her jacket pocket, clutched the one for her car like a dagger and started across the tarmac.
Her car was on the far side, past five lanes of nose-to-nose allotments. She took a wide berth around a lone
van in the second row, keeping a cautious eye on it as sheÂ passed.
You're fine, Liv. Keep walking.
As the light grew dimmer and traffic noise from the street more distant, she picked up the pace, struggling for speed in her Italian snakeskin pumps. They were a leftover from when she had money to spend on frivolous footwear and, with her straight skirt, were hopeless for moving fast, the heels ringing in sharp, staccato claps that ricocheted back at her. Somewhere on a lower level, a bang went off like a shot from a gun and she jumped, skittering awkwardly off an ankle, adrenaline tingling in her fingers.
Just a car door closing, Liv. Calm down.
Half-a-dozen echoing steps further into the murkiness and her feet slowed as the hairs on the back of her neck stood up.
Something had moved.
Over there, by the column near her car.
Her eyes searched the shadows. No. Just her imagination running wild. She glanced warily back at the ramp. ItÂ seemed ludicrously well lit now, making her feel as though she was marooned in blackness. An engine roared to life underneath her. There were layers of concrete between it and her but it felt like it was going to burst through the floor and swallow her up.
She took off fast, moving in short, flat-footed steps, trying not to lose a shoe or twist an ankle. Aiming the key at her car, she heard the high-pitched beep, saw theÂ tail-lights flash and silently cheered with relief. She felt ridiculous running like a crazy woman but her legs had a
will of their own and her brain was already imagining her high-speed exit from the parking lot.
Her arm was out as she rounded the bumper, her fingers reaching for the doorhandle as she saw her reflection in the driver's windowÂ â and a brief movement behind her.
Then a hand slammed over her mouth.
What came next happened too fast for thought. AÂ strong arm thumped across her chest. Fingers gouged her upperÂ arm, pinning it to her side. Knees dug into the backs of her thighs. And she was hauled backwards, feet slipping and scrabbling in her heels.
She wanted to scream but her jaw couldn't open under the pressure of the hand crushing her lips. Desperate, smothered, gasping sounds came from her throat. Fear shrieked inside her.
Then she heard him.
âYou're mine, slut.'
It was spoken in her ear. Muffled, as though there was something over his mouth. Not angry. Not panicked. Just full of intent.
Cameron's lovely, freckly, eight-year-old face flashed in her mind and a switch flipped inside her.
She tightened her fingers, felt the long, slim shank of her ignition key protruding from the base of her clenched hand and drove down hard. Something soft and resistant took the impact. There was a grunt and a flinch. She did it again. Again and again until a knee moved from behind her thigh. Anchoring a foot beneath her, she thrust back with an elbow and as the body behind angled away, she twisted towards it, aiming high with her other fist.
ItÂ found the sponginess of his throat and the hand fell from herÂ mouth.
She wasn't frightened now, wasn't feeling anything. She just wanted to get out of his hold. She stabbed with the key, swung elbows and fists.
He didn't let go but his grip loosened.
If she'd stopped to think, she might have shoved away from him and run for her life. But she didn't think. Or run. Just rammed bunched knuckles into his gut. It was a good, solid punch with the hand holding the keys and it knocked him back a step.
A second chance to runÂ â but now there was an angry, determined, red-hot burning behind her eyes. And, with a muscle memory she thought was long forgotten, she followed through with a left to his ribs. Air whooshed from his lungs. She kicked off the one shoe she was still wearing, lifted her hands in a boxer's stance and when his head came up, she swung at his face with her right.
Sharp pain shot through her hand as he reeled away. She saw then he was covered in black. Black clothes, black gloves, black balaclava. This wasn't a spur of the moment thing. He'd planned it. He'd dressed for it. He'd waited in the dark for her.
' She lunged at him.
He was prepared this time and came back with his own fist. It was more sound than pain when it hit, like a train crash in her head. She was hurled against the car. Then he was hitting her, slapping and grappling, crushing her against the chassis, tearing at her clothes. She couldn't get a hand up to defend herself, even to cover her face. He
was breathing hard inside his balaclava and the tang of his sweat filled her nostrils. She twisted her head, pulled air into her lungs and screamed.
She didn't see the roof of the car before she hit it. Just felt the crack in her neck as her head slammed sideways, the cold, rigid metal on her face then .Â .Â .
Liv was on her side. Lying on something hard and cold. SheÂ smelled rubber and exhaust fumes. Her face hurt. AndÂ her hand. Someone said her name.
She opened an eye, focused through the veil of hair over her face, saw she was on concrete, looking at the underbelly of a car. It might have been hers. It was hard to tell from just wheels and an exhaust pipe.
A warm hand touched her arm and she jolted upright. Her vision was blurry, her head spun and the light was murky, but she could see the unmistakable shape of a man crouched next to her. Christ, he was huge.
The fight instinct flared again. She rolled onto her hip, lashed out with a knee, hit him in the ribs. As he tipped and righted himself, she scrabbled backwards, scraping her bare feet on the concrete, grazing her hands, retreating until a car tyre was jammed between her shoulderblades. She held out a hand like a stop sign. âStay back.'
He held up both of his and spoke. She couldn't make sense of the words, wondered if he was even speaking
English. His dark hair was so short it was almost stubble and his eyes were like black holes in his face.
He was talking again. She forced herself to focus.
â.Â .Â . Daniel Beck. I work in the office down the hall.'
Who? What? Her chest heaved. Her hand burned.
âLivia?' His shirt was pale blue and his tie was striped. Okay, he was wearing a tie.
She licked her lips. âYeah.'
âAre you injured?'
She didn't know, she couldn't tell. Her hand was still out, holding him back, but it was shaking now. She touched it to her bottom lip, felt something damp and sticky there. The other hand, the one in pain, was clenched around the wheel arch at her back and as she released it, a hot poker shot through the middle finger. She swung her eyes briefly to it then held it out to the huge man. âI broke my finger.'
It was misshapen and already swelling around the middle knuckle. He didn't say anything, just produced a suit coat and laid it over her legs. Oh, jeez. Her skirt was ripped to the top of her thighs and her legs were bare and splayed. But at least she still had her knickers. The man in black hadn't got that far.
âI'll call an ambulance,' he said.
âMy finger snapped on his cheekbone.'
He pulled a phone from his shirt pocket, tapped the screen. âYou were lucky. It could have been worse.'
âIt was a good right hook.'
He raised his eyes.
âI punched him. Here, here and here.' She used her other hand to point to her cheek, ribs and solar plexus.
âWhen the cops pick the bastard up, they can identify him by the bruising.' The tough-girl attitude felt good. Like something from her past. Didn't sound anything like the storm of emotion raging inside her.
The guy looked a little surprised by it. His eyebrows lifted slightly and he said nothing for a good couple of seconds, only turned away to speak into his phone.
Liv pushed hair off her face and glanced around. She was dazed and confused but she could see she was still in the car park and it was her own car she was leaning against. The third floor looked just like it had when she'd walked across itÂ â shadows and columns and eerie pools ofÂ light. How long had she been lying there? And where was the bastard in black?
âI want to move you somewhere more comfortable,' theÂ man said as he returned his phone to his pocket. âCan you walk?'
He cupped a hand under her elbow and she snapped it away. A minute ago she thought he was going to kill her. She wasn't ready to let him near, so she held onto the car and staggered to her feet. Upright, he was even more startling. Liv was tall and he had a head on her. He was broad, too, all shoulders and arms in his business shirt. She stayed close to the car, tugging at the hem of her skirt. The sleeve of her jacket was ripped and her blouse was torn down the front. She pulled at the ragged edges, trying to cover the lacy bra underneath. The big man draped his coat over her shoulders. She couldn't remember his name now, just eyed him cautiously as she wrapped it across herÂ chest.
He must have seen her wariness and kept a pace or so between them as she moved along the side of the car. AtÂ the rear corner, she noticed the debris on the groundÂ â her purse and phone, sunglasses, her little digital camera, a lipstick. The keys. One of her snakeskin shoes was on top of her shoulder bag, the other was two parking spaces away. She remembered it then, the hand on her mouth, the thud on her chest and the memory knocked the breath from her.
You're mine, slut.
She reached out to steady herself, gasped as her wounded finger made contact with the car.
âOh, God,' she heard herself say, nothing tough at all in her voice now.
She put a hand to her mouth. Her stomach lurched but nothing came. She stood bent in the middle, trying to breathe, trying to stop the spinning in her head. He caught her around the waist as her knees folded. She grabbed for his shirt, felt solid muscle, a brick wall, underneath it. Then tears spilled over her lids. She'd been ready for them, had felt them threatening since she got to her feetÂ â but not the raw howl that burst from her throat or the uncontrolled outpouring that followed. It was as though all the other hurt she was holding inside had seized the moment to voice its pain. Without meaning to, she clung to him, her legs loose, her uninjured hand pulling his shirt into a fist, her lungs gasping for air. And he let her, just stood there until she was done.
It didn't take long. When her head cleared, the closeness of him unnerved her. She didn't know him from Adam. Didn't know who else was here.
âWhere is he?' She pushed away.
âThe man who hit me. The bastard in black. Is he gone?'
âI think he ran when he heard me.'
She wiped her eyes and nose with the back of her good hand, looked around to confirm it.
âCome around to the other side of the car. You can sit in here.' He opened the rear door, watched patiently as she sat down gingerly and fingered a painful lump on the side of her face.
He wasn't going to hurt her. She'd figured out that much. âWhat did you say your name was?'
There was a tiny lift to one side of his mouth before he spoke. âDaniel Beck. I work in the business down the hall from you. We've met a couple of times.'
Had they? She couldn't remember. Then a thought jagged. Teagan giggling, something about him filling a suit like a leather jacket. Oh, Daniel Beck. âRight, right. Sorry.'
âCan I call someone for you?'
âA partner? Boyfriend?'
âWhat about your business partner? Kelly, isn't it? What's her number?'
She saw Kelly in her mind, the face Liv had known since she was five years oldÂ â the green eyes and the
contagious smile. Kelly and Jason deserved a break from her disastrous bloody life. She pulled in a breath. Come on, you can handle this. It's a sore hand and a bump on the head. You don't need to dump more late-night shit on them. She combed fingers through her matted hair, rolled her lips together like she was fixing her lipstick. âYes, it's Kelly. But you don't need to call her. I'm okay. I just hurt my hand.'
As she said it, red and blue lights flashed across the car park from the street below.