I'll Never Let You Go (Morgans of Nashville), page 26
“How old were you when you met him?”
“You were a kid.”
“I should have known better.” She wrapped her arms around her chest.
“You know better now.”
She stared into his stoic gaze, feeling a connection. “You’re not exactly the most open person. You keep secrets. You can be cold. And yet I’ve got a thing for you. What does that say about me?”
“You have good taste.”
The deadpan answer coaxed a laugh. “Right. Or I’m just insane.”
“You’re one of the sanest people I know, Leah.”
His words tugged at her heart as if it were a kite and he the flyer. “I’ve got to get back to work. I have patients this afternoon.”
“I’ll check around here and call you.”
“How’re you going to find him? He’s been a step ahead of us.”
“What was the name of the florist that sent you the flowers?”
“It was Nathan’s on Broadway. I called them, but they couldn’t tell me much.”
“They’ll talk to me.”
Alex was en route to Nathan’s when he got a call from Deke. “What do you have?”
“I’ve been going through Deidre’s financials, just looking to see if anything popped.”
“Two listening devices were charged to her credit card. The make and model match the one we found in her town house the day she was murdered.”
“The exact same model?”
“Yeah. Exact. What we found, she most likely put there.”
“So why would she bug her own place?” Alex turned onto Fourth and found street parking. He shut off the engine but didn’t move.
“She was in a tough divorce. Maybe she wanted to get something on Radcliff.”
“Maybe.” He tapped his fingers on the steering wheel.
“If she planted the device, that means the receiver has to be close to her house.”
“Within a mile.”
“A search of the place revealed nothing that would have recorded conversations.”
“She just moved to that place.”
“Run down where she used to live and search it. And go over her car carefully. Then get back to me.”
Alex got out of the car, bracing against the wind that whipped along the buildings, which acted as a wind tunnel. He walked the half block to Broadway and turned right. Fifteen paces later he was in Nathan’s.
A tall slim man in his midforties glanced up from an arrangement of red roses. “Can I help you?”
Alex pulled his badge from his breast pocket. “Had a question about an order placed here a few days ago.”
The man raised a brow and laid down the rose he’d been trimming. “I’ll help if I can.”
“It was an order of irises, sent to a Leah Carson.”
“Name doesn’t ring a bell, but let me have a look.” He shifted a few feet to the right to his computer. A few taps of the keys and he was nodding. “We had one order for her. Happy Anniversary.”
“That’s right. Who sent them?”
“The buyer’s name was Brian Lawrence.”
“Did he give an address or phone number?”
“Phone number.” The clerk rattled off the number. “I think I got a call from Ms. Carson asking about the flowers.”
Alex jotted down the number. “Do you have a credit card number?”
“Sure.” He glanced at the computer and shook his head. “He paid cash. Did Ms. Carson call you?”
“I’ve spoken to her. The flowers weren’t welcome.”
The florist frowned. “I saw the arrangement myself. It was stunning.”
“They were sent by a man who we believe is stalking her.”
“Oh. I had no idea.”
“Do you have security cameras?”
“No. But the bar next door does. That camera might have picked him up.”
Alex left his business card with the florist and moved next door to the bar. This early in the evening the place was empty, except for a few patrons who sat at the bar. A tall, muscled man wore a black T-shirt. The guy took one look at Alex and frowned. “Cop.”
Alex pulled out his badge. “TBI. I’m looking for security footage.”
“From when?” No shock. No surprise. He knew the drill.
“Wednesday, January eighteenth. I’m looking for a guy who went into the florist shop about ten in the morning that day.”
“I can’t help you, but my tech guy shows up in an hour. I can have him pull it for you.”
Alex handed him a card. “I’d appreciate that.”
The bouncer flicked the edge of the card with his thumb. “Guy bought flowers?”
“Among other things.”
All afternoon, every noise, every ringing phone, every footstep in the hallway, set her nerves on edge. Her stomach churned and she found it harder and harder to concentrate as the minutes ticked by. When Gail locked the front door for the evening, she breathed a sigh of relief.
“Are you okay?” Gail asked as she slid on her winter jacket.
Leah’s smile was a throwback to the days when she smiled all the time to conceal her fears. “I’m fine.”
“Haven’t had a chance to ask, but what was going on with your neighbor? She sounded pretty upset. Something about a moving van in front of your house.”
“It was a mix-up. The moving company parked at my house when they should have been a few houses down. It took just a second to clear up the problem.”
“So everything is fine?”
“Of course. Why wouldn’t it be?”
“You just seem a little rattled.”
“I’m fine.” She widened her grin just a fraction, knowing overdoing it could set off red flags. Didn’t want to look desperate. She’d made that mistake with her roommate when Philip had been stalking her, and when her roommate had pressed, Leah had cried and confessed her troubles. She didn’t want to cry now, or give Philip the satisfaction of knowing she was rattled. “Really.”
Gail’s gaze settled on her an extra beat before she nodded. “By the way, when you were in your last appointment, I ran Charlie outside so she’s ready to go home.”
She teetered, feeling touched at the gesture and fear for the dog she’d be taking home to a house that had been violated that morning. “Thanks. That’s so sweet.”
“You two get on. It’s been a long day.”
“I hear ya.” She moved into her office, where she found Charlie sleeping on a dog bed by her desk. Gail’s doing, no doubt. The dog looked up at her and wagged her tail. Her gaze still had a bit of a panicked look, as if she didn’t know where she was going. Too many homes in too short a time.
Leah reached for the leash, and the dog began to wag her tail faster. As she petted Charlie on the head and fastened her collar, she worried aloud. “Let’s get home and hope it’s still there.”
The dog sprang to her feet and barked.
“That’s right. Home. For better or worse, you’re with me.”
On the drive home she detoured into a strip mall. First a stop at the ATM for cash, and then she and Charlie went into the pet store, where she picked out a proper collar and leash, and also made an ID charm from the machine. She bought dog food, a bed, and chew treats. By the time she left the store, she was a couple of hundred bucks lighter and sure that she had fallen in love with this dog.
When she pulled up in front of her house, it was dark. Normally, she left lights on so she never returned home to the dark, but today, in the rush to close up the house after the movers had gone, she must have turned off the lights.
“What the hell happened today?” She gripped the steering wheel as she stared at the dark house.
The sound of her voice had Charlie barking again, pulling her away from her thoughts. She took the dog with her to the front door and let her inside. Leaving the main door open and the screen d
When she determined the house was clear, she allowed herself a smile. “Good. We’re in the clear tonight.”
She took Charlie with her into the kitchen, where the packed moving boxes stood, a loud reminder of the day’s chaos. She wasn’t in the clear. Not even close.
“You did this to me, didn’t you, Philip? I know it was you.” The dog whimpered, clearly picking up on the tension in her voice. She smiled at the dog and rubbed her on the head. With Charlie in tow, she again checked the bedrooms and all the closets, and only when she was sure the house was indeed empty did she begin to wash out the bowls and then fill one with dried food and the other with water. She placed both on a new doggie place mat.
As Charlie ate, Leah rolled her head from side to side, realizing her back was a knot of tension. She opened the fridge and pulled out a wedge of cheese and a half full wine bottle. Turning, she reached in the cabinet to get a glass and realized it had been packed. Damn.
She studied the boxes and searched for any that might say glassware, but they were all marked simply KITCHEN. She grabbed her keys from her coat pocket and cut through the tape that held each box closed. She found her wineglasses in the fourth box. Carefully, she unwrapped a glass, rinsed it in the sink, and filled it with wine. She took a long healthy sip, savoring the cool flavor as it rolled down her throat. As much as she wanted to settle and relax in front of a movie on television, she couldn’t bear the idea of waking up to these boxes, a reminder of today’s nightmare. She turned on the television, soothed by the hum of the evening news, which gave her the sense she wasn’t alone.
She set up the dog bed for Charlie and gave her a chew stick and then set about unpacking the twelve moving boxes that had contained her kitchen. It took nearly two hours to unpack, unwrap, wash, and replace every item. Finally, just before nine, she was able to break down the last of the boxes and put them out by her back door by the recycling bins. Next, she moved into the living room and spent another half hour rehanging the pictures the movers had wrapped. More paper, more trash out by the back door. By ten she’d put her house back together, retrieved her journal, and was seated with Charlie on the couch, the television humming in the background.
She turned to the last blank page and detailed the day’s event. She began with the call from her neighbor, the movers, the credit card, the boxes, and Alex Morgan.
As she wrote the last words, she found the journaling this time did nothing to ease her worries. She’d been afraid to look back over the last couple of months and see if there were any patterns. Hesitant to fear the facts. Facts were power, and after today, she could no longer ignore the fact that Philip was finding ways to reach her.
It took her less than fifteen minutes of reading to realize just how close Philip was. The missing house keys. The flowers. The flat tire. The man at the park. The movers.
She’d been rattled by all of these incidents but she’d been determined not to freak out and call the cops. Each incident didn’t mean much, but all together they told her very clearly that someone was stalking her.
She closed her eyes, absently rubbing the scars on her palms. How am I going to do this? How am I going to battle him again?
An overwhelming weight settled on her shoulders. As much as she wanted to think Alex would help, she knew cops did what they could but often it was a case of too little, too late.
Charlie jumped up on the couch and nestled her nose in Leah’s lap.
She looked at the dog, rubbing her between the ears. “You were dropped off at the clinic and left. You’re black, like the dog I once wanted. He would have known that. Known I’d fall in love with you right away.”
A wave of nausea rose up in her throat as tears welled in her eyes. “He wants me to care so he can take you away, or worse, hurt you. Charlie, I’m afraid we’ve both fallen into a trap.”
There would have been a time when she’d have wept and worried and hidden. But not anymore.
Leah rose and moved to her computer and logged on. She looked up locksmiths and found a twenty-four-hour service. It would cost her a fortune, but there’d be no way she could sleep tonight knowing someone had copied her house key.
Phone in hand, she dialed the number of the locksmith. A man answered on the third ring, his voice gruff and a bit irritated. “Watts Locksmith.”
She glanced at the front door and wondered if she’d locked it. “Can you change the locks on my house tonight?”
“Yes. I had a break-in today and I think someone has a key to my house.”
“Sure, I can change the lock. It’s overtime rates, though.”
“Do you take checks?”
“Cash or credit.”
“All I have is a check. My credit card was skimmed and I’m waiting on the new one.” Philip had boxed her in. “I’ll pay double if you take a check.”
“How do I know it’s good? I’ve been stiffed before.”
“I’ve never bounced a check in my life.”
“I’m a vet. I can give you my work address, and you’ll know where I live. I wouldn’t be pressing if I weren’t scared. He’s gotten in at least once before.”
The words stuck in her throat. “My ex-husband.”
A sigh shuddered through the line. “Give me your address.”
She rattled off her home address and he promised to be at her place within the hour. As she waited, she moved from window to window in the house, checking and rechecking the locks. Charlie followed her from room to room, carrying her chew stick. She sat patiently as Leah went from room to room.
When she’d moved in, she’d taken a hammer and nails and secured each window in place with a single nail. It was a simple but effective trick she’d learned after Philip’s last attack.
By the time she’d checked the windows, her doorbell rang. Charlie barked, the fur on the back of her neck rising. Most dogs would be excited by a visitor, but this dog, like Leah, associated strangers with trouble.
She looked through the peephole and saw an elderly man wearing a white work shirt. The name Mike had been stitched over the right breast pocket. He carried a well-worn toolbox, and beyond him was a van that read LOCKSMITH.
“Ms. Carson,” he said. “It’s Mike Watts.”
Holding Charlie’s collar, she opened the door. “Mr. Watts, thank you for coming so late.”
He glanced at the puppy, a grin tipping his lips. “Mighty tough dog you got there.”
She picked up Charlie. “I’ve only had her a couple of days, but she owns the place.”
He laughed. “The best dogs always do. My dog Buster has me wrapped around his paw.” He nodded to the lock. “Any other doors in the house?”
“Off the kitchen there’s another door. Just the two doors.”
“Well, then, it shouldn’t be too hard.” He inspected the lock and then jabbed his thumb toward his van. “Let me grab a couple of locks. Be right back.”
She and Charlie waited as he moved slowly and easily to his van and opened the back. He rattled around there for several minutes. As she watched, she glanced around the darkened street, searching for a car or a person, anything that was there that didn’t belong. There was nothing out of the ordinary on the street, and yet the hair on the back of her neck rose, as if invisible fingers stroked her skin.
Mr. Watts reappeared with two locks and a work blanket, which he laid in front of the door. He knelt and got to work on the lock. He had it removed and replaced in twenty minutes. He moved through the house and
“Getting ready to move?”
“No,” she said. There’d been a time when she’d have chatted about her day and told him about the mix-up. Instead, she stayed silent, holding Charlie close as Mr. Watts changed out the lock.
With a grunt, he rose. He locked and unlocked the door with the key three times before declaring the lock sound. “You’re good to go, Ms. Carson.”
“Thanks.” No sense of relief because she knew this was only the beginning of a new chapter, which she thought had ended four years ago in South Carolina.
Leah walked Mr. Watts to the front door, where she dug out her checkbook. She wrote the check for double the rate, wincing at the financial hit. “Thanks again.”
He reviewed her check, folded it, and tucked it in his pocket. “Glad to help.”
By the time he’d left it was nearly midnight. Charlie was asleep in her arms and her body ached with fatigue and tension.
She locked the doors, once, twice, three times, and then put the keys in her jacket pocket before taking Charlie into the bedroom with her. She climbed in her bed, slid under the covers fully dressed, and lay back against the pillows. She might be safe for now, but now didn’t last very long.
The locksmith was a setback he hadn’t been expecting. Leah was smarter than he’d anticipated. She wasn’t as timid as she appeared.
Kinda sucks, doesn’t it, Leah? No friends, always looking over your shoulder, jumping at every sound. If you think this is all I’ve planned for you, you don’t know how motivated I am.
Monday, January 23, 6 A.M.
Leah packed the journal from the last six months into a brown paper bag. She wasn’t sure if Alex would be at the running group this morning, but she needed to speak to him and show him what she was up against. She needed him to really understand what kind of monster he was fighting.
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