Page 12 of Secret Admirer

She spun away and rushed out of the station’s glass front door. The sun glared down on her as Alice hurried down the stone steps. She didn’t look back, not even when she heard the door opening behind her. She knew it was Zander. Knew that he’d followed her. She ran toward the road. She’d get out of there. She’d—

A car’s engine growled. Alice’s head whipped up, just in time to see a dark sedan surging toward her. Time seemed to slow down. She couldn’t look past the front of that car, the gleaming bumper headed straight toward her.

But then something else hit her. Someone. She was wrapped in strong arms, and Alice found herself hurtling across the road. The sedan flew by her, missing her body by inches, and Alice struggled to suck in a deep breath.

“Are you okay?”

Zander’s voice. Zander was right above her. He’d grabbed her. Shoved her out of the sedan’s path, and they’d both hit the pavement far too hard.

“Baby?” His hands were tight on her. “Are you okay?”

“Y-yes…”

He pulled Alice to her feet. The sedan was long gone. “The sonofabitch never even braked. And I swear, it looked like he was fucking aiming at you.”

Deputies and FBI agents were spilling out of the station and rushing toward them.

“I got the tag,” Zander called out to them. He was still holding her hand. Still keeping her close. His voice lowered as he said, “We’re going to get the jerk, don’t worry.”

But she was worried. No, she was actually scared to death.

Because someone had broken into her home. Destroyed her bedroom.

And now…

She’d almost been killed.

Alice was pretty sure the day couldn’t get much worse.

Chapter Six

The deputies found the black sedan—it was a stolen ride that had been abandoned at the edge of town. There was no sign of the driver, and as he stared at the vehicle, Zander knew things were only going to get worse.

“A hit and run,” he muttered as Randall came to his side. “Right in front of the sheriff’s station. That sure as hell takes a lot of balls.”

Randall swiped a hand over his jaw. “Technically, there wasn’t a hit.”

Only because Zander had been able to get Alice out of the way in time. “He aimed for her.” And that shit had his hands clenching. “He switched lanes just to hit her. The driver wanted to hurt Alice.”

Randall’s head turned, and he met Zander’s stare. “We both know there are a lot of people out there who think Alice needs to pay, Z.”

The families of the victims were right at the top of that list. They’d raged at the FBI offices. Pressed prosecutors. Demanded justice. But there just hadn’t been enough evidence to link Alice to the Secret Admirer’s crimes.

And Zander thought it was because…she’s not guilty.

“The one-year anniversary,” Zander muttered. “And things are going to hell.”

“You can say that again.” Randall gave a grim nod.

“Agents!” A young deputy’s voice cracked with excitement. “We’ve got something!”

They immediately raced toward the sedan just as a crime scene tech lifted a necklace out of the vehicle. Her gloved fingers trembled a bit around the evidence. “It was inside the glove compartment.” She lifted it higher, and Zander could see the face of the pendant. It was engraved with a cursive J.

His shoulders tensed. He’d seen that necklace before. “With all of my love, Mark.”

Randall swore, obviously making the connection, too.

But the deputy and the tech just frowned at Zander.

“Check the back,” he ordered flatly. “See if that inscription is there. With all of my love, Mark.”

The tech turned the necklace over. Her eyes widened. “How did you know?”

“I know,” Zander explained as his heart raced faster, “because that necklace belongs to a woman who was murdered. Julianna Stiles. Her boyfriend gave her that necklace, and it hadn’t been seen since the night she was abducted.” Abducted, tortured, then killed—in the exact same manner as the other victims of the Secret Admirer. “Fucking hell.”

“Bag it,” Randall ordered the tech. “And make sure you go over every single inch of this car.” He grabbed Zander’s elbow and pushed him back from the scene. “Sonofabitch. You know what this means?”

Of course, he fucking knew. “He left that necklace in the car deliberately. He wanted us to know what he’d done. Who he was.”

What he’d done…murdered Julianna Stiles.

Who he was…the damn killer.

“You didn’t get a look at the driver? Didn’t see anything about him?”

If only. “I just saw Alice. I was focused on getting to her.” Once he’d had her out of the road, he’d glanced back in time to see the license plate. But no, he’d never gotten a look at the driver. Alice had already told him that she hadn’t been able to see the fellow, either.

Zander released a slow breath. “He aimed for Alice.”

Randall’s eyes had gone wide. “She’s his target. The break-in…shit, he went there for her. But she was with you last night. Then we took her to the station, and he still followed. He’s after Alice.”

Zander’s whole body tensed.

“He’ll come for her again,” Randall said.

“The Secret Admirer never tried to hit someone with his car.” Didn’t make a bit of sense. Unless… “Shit, he wanted to separate her from us. We were in his way.” And now, Alice was at the hospital. She’d been sent over in an ambulance after the attack, just as a precaution. A precaution that Zander had insisted upon. He’d also made sure a deputy accompanied her. That deputy had better be sticking to her like glue.

He spun to head back to his vehicle.

Randall grabbed his arm. “If she’s really the target—”

If? Her bedroom had been destroyed. She’d been inches away from getting hit by the sedan.

“If she’s the target, then we can use her, Z.”

Zander stiffened as he studied at his friend.

“She can draw him in. We can catch the sonofabitch.” Randall nodded decisively, as if he’d just come up with the best plan ever.

“You want her to be bait for a killer?” Fuck that shit. Worst plan ever.

“You told me that Alice said she wished she could have stopped the killer before he hurt those other women.”

“Yeah? So?”

“This is her chance to stop him.”

It was also her chance to die. From what they’d seen and learned, Hugh Collins had never intended to kill Alice. He’d loved her, as much as he could love. But this perp—this perp was different.

Thi

s perp wanted Alice to die.

***

A knock sounded at her hospital room door.

Alice looked up, hating that she was in that place with its white walls and sterile smells. After arriving, a nurse had instructed Alice to put on a hospital gown, and she’d been given a room. Then Alice had been poked and prodded by a young doctor—a doctor who had asked her to stay the night for observation. Why? As far as Alice was concerned, she was absolutely fine. A few scrapes and some bruises, but nothing that wouldn’t heal.

“I have a delivery for you.” A woman with dark hair gave Alice a wide smile. She stood just inside the hospital room. Alice hadn’t even heard her enter. “An order came in through our online system. Someone wanted you to get better soon.” She held a vase full of red roses in her hands.

Alice stiffened at the sight of those roses.

She’d hated roses, ever since her wedding day.

Hated them even more when she’d learned that the Secret Admirer had sent roses to the victims he’d stalked.

“I’ll put them beside the bed.” The woman’s voice was extra cheery. She set down the roses and smiled at Alice. “Lucky lady.” The brunette appeared to be around twenty, and she gave a little hum as she carefully touched the roses. “Someone must think you are very special.”

Alice couldn’t take her gaze off the roses.

“I’m Tiffany, by the way. I work in the gift shop.”

She still couldn’t look away from the flowers. “Who…who sent them?”

Tiffany laughed. “It’s a surprise! Look at the card, and you’ll see what I mean.” Tiffany patted Alice’s arm. “Feel better, you hear?” Tiffany’s shoes didn’t make a sound as she left, but she pulled the door shut with a hard click.

Alice reached out her hand, grasping the card that had been tucked inside the flowers. She pulled the card out of its small, white envelope.

Sorry I missed you. Next time, I won’t.

Breathing became hard. Her heart nearly burst from her chest because the note ended with—

Your Secret Admirer.

Oh, hell no. Hell, no. Alice jumped from the bed. She wanted to throw those roses across the room. Instead, she ran for the door. She jerked it open, and the deputy who’d been assigned to be her shadow shoved away from the wall. “Ms. May?”

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