Alice should have received his flowers by now. And the authorities—those clueless FBI agents and the foolish local deputies—would have found the sedan.
He’d needed to get their attention. The dumbasses had been going after Alice. As if she were the criminal.
Not Alice. Sweet Alice had been something altogether different.
He wouldn’t have let her die in front of the sheriff’s station. The intent had been to scare her. To make a show for the agents watching. So many FBI agents—they stuck out like a neon sign as they invaded the little office tha
t passed for the sheriff’s headquarters.
He’d wanted Alice to know he was there. Wanted everyone to know.
But he wouldn’t have let her die that way. Not Alice. Alice wasn’t like the others. She never had been. Alice was special, and he didn’t think that she even realized the truth about everything that had happened…all because of her.
He would have swerved. Would have let her get across the street. But the fucking FBI agent had tried to play hero. He’d rushed after Alice. Swept her away.
Heroes got on his damn nerves.
Now, though, the agents would understand that he was the one pulling the strings. They’d know he had taken and killed Julianna. Alice shouldn’t be treated like a criminal. Alice wasn’t bad.
She was so very good. Perfect, in fact.
For a whole year, he’d watched her. Alice had stayed true to Hugh’s memory. She hadn’t dated anyone. Hadn’t screwed the horny bastards who’d chased after her. No tell-all books had been written by sweet Alice, though he knew she’d gotten plenty of offers. She’d kept her silence. Hadn’t gone out of her way to make Hugh look like a monster.
The Press had been busy doing their own job of that.
No, Alice had held her silence. She’d kept her secrets.
That was why he’d gone to her the night before. But…
Where were you, Alice? He still didn’t know that answer, but he’d be asking Alice, soon enough. When he hadn’t found Alice in her cabin, his rage had taken over.
He was in control now, though.
And he’d keep his control, until he was with Alice again. He couldn’t wait to see her. To touch her. To own her.
A whole year had passed. Time for Alice to end her grief. Mourning was over.
Alice could love again. She could—she would—love him.
After all, he’d been waiting so patiently for her.
“Your cabin?” Alice stared at Zander with her wide, deep blue eyes. Her hands were fisted as they rested on her hips. “If you think I’m staying here with you tonight, you’re crazy.”
“Why?” This low question came from Randall, not Zander. “You stayed with him last night.”
Alice’s gaze cut to the other FBI agent. “Let’s be clear.” She gave an ice-cold smile to him. “I don’t like you. This morning, you were ready to lock me in a jail cell and call me guilty.”
Randall shoved his hands into the pockets of his pants as he rocked forward. “Yeah about that…” He gave a faint shrug. “I’m still not convinced that you’re one hundred percent innocent.”
No, the guy wasn’t. Randall had been arguing the possibility of her involvement with the perp for most of the evening. And Zander had argued back just as fiercely as he defended her.
“If you are innocent, though,” Randall continued with a slow nod, “then this is the perfect chance for you to do your civic duty.”
“My duty?” Alice’s delicate brows rose.
Randall smiled like a shark. “Help us catch the bastard.”
Alice sucked in a sharp breath. Immediately, her gaze flew back to Zander. He almost winced at the fury he saw in her stare. “Is that the plan? Use me to catch him?”
He should tread carefully. He didn’t want to lie to her again. He wanted her trust back, and Zander knew that was going to be one hell of a battle. He’d shattered her faith in him. And he hadn’t even realized that would damn well hurt him, not until he’d walked into that closet of an interrogation room at the sheriff’s station…and Alice had stared at him as if he were a total stranger to her.
Because that’s exactly what I am.
“Is that the plan?” Alice pushed as she strode closer. Her scent—light jasmine—seemed to envelope him. “I thought you said I was in protective custody. You never mentioned I was bait.”
His back teeth had locked. With an effort, Zander unclenched them. “I want to keep you safe. This cabin is secure. No one is going to get close without my team knowing.”
“Am I bait?” Her voice was low, husky.
And he was an asshole. “We think he will come after you. It’s obvious, based on what he’s already done—”
Her mocking laughter cut him off. It was so different from the few, precious laughs she’d given him before. Now her laughter was flat and hard. Bitter. “Then I guess I’m doing my civic duty, huh? Whether I like it or not.” Her hands fell to her sides. “Here’s the thing, though. For the record…” Her chin notched up. “I would have volunteered to do this. You didn’t have to lie to me about wanting me to be safe. Didn’t have to keep pretending. I want to stop this guy. I would have stopped Hugh, if I’d known the truth, and there is no way I can just sit back and let this monster kill someone else. If I can do anything to stop him, I will.” Her shoulders rolled back. “So maybe stop lying to me, and just bring me in on the plan, okay?”
She’d surprised Randall. Zander could see it, though the other agent worked hard to school his expression.
“All right.” Zander paced away from her. His gaze cut to the window. Darkness was already falling. Darkness came early in the mountains. “We think he’ll try going to your place first. We’ll have a female agent inside, someone who looks like you. Cara McCoy is well-trained, and she’ll be ready for any attack that comes her way.”
“We’ll be watching the place,” Randall added quickly. “Our agents have eyes on it. We’ll know if he’s getting close. The minute he steps inside, he’ll be ours.”
Zander glanced back at Alice. A furrow had appeared between her brows. “Doesn’t sound like you’re using me as bait,” she murmured. “Sounds like this Cara—she’s the bait.”
“There was a…pattern to the Secret Admirer’s attacks before,” Zander began carefully. “He sent his victims flowers—”
“Just like the roses I got in the hospital, yes, I know.” She began to pace. “He saw someone who caught his eye. He tried romance first. Sent his target flowers. He locked on to her social media profile. Learned everything he could about the woman.” She stilled. “I’m not online. Not anymore.”
So the perp would advance to the next step. “He sent texts to his victims. He called them.” Always from a burner phone. Something they’d learned after the victims had died, and they’d gone through the phone records. “He preferred to call at night, when they were at home, sometimes when they were even in bed.”
And he remembered…she’d been questioned about those calls. Because according to her own accounts, Hugh had been with her at the same time that some of the calls had been placed. Either the guy had snuck out of the bedroom, getting a few moments of secrecy…or there had been a partner. Someone else who’d made the phone calls when Hugh had been with Alice.
“He’ll call you,” Zander murmured. He wanted to get closer to her, but every time he did, she tensed. So he stayed near the window. “We want you to talk to him. Keep him on the line. Draw him in.”
Randall nodded. “If you keep him talking, then maybe we’ll get lucky and be able to trace him through the call.”
Yeah, that was option one. Option two, though…the perp would make the call, then he’d go to Alice’s cabin. Inside, he’d find Cara waiting.
“And in the meantime, you stay with me,” Zander said. Because I want you close. Protected. “You stay here where I can keep an eye on you. You stay safe. You stay with me, until we end this thing.”
She crossed her arms over her chest. Resumed pacing. “This Cara—she’ll be safe? You’re sure of this?”
It was Randall who answered, “She’s a trained FBI agent. She can handle herself.”
Alice tucked a lock of hair behind her ear. “He’s going to be angry when he goes in and doesn’t find me.”
Yes, he would be. They were counting on his rage.
“Angry people make mistakes. This bastard is going down.” Randall’s face hardened with determination. ??
?Because I’ll be damned if I have to look into the eyes of another grieving family and tell them that this bastard took away someone they loved.”
Alice jumped when she heard the low rumble of Zander’s voice behind her. She’d been staring into the fireplace, lost in those flickering flames, and she hadn’t even heard his approach.
He cursed, then said, “Didn’t mean to scare you.”
Then maybe don’t walk up behind me when a killer is on the loose.
They were alone in his cabin. Randall had left over an hour before. Clothes had been brought to her. Toiletries. All the comforts of home. Enough supplies to last for days. Because no one seemed to know how long this little visit with Zander would last.
Zander had started the fire. It wasn’t cold outside, so she didn’t even know why he’d lit it. Maybe the guy had thought the flames were soothing? If that was the case, he was dead wrong.
She made herself turn to face him. “I’m not scared of you.”
His eyes narrowed. “No, you’re just pissed as all hell, aren’t you?”
Pissed? “Not quite a strong enough word.” Her chin lifted. “I don’t exactly like it when men use sex to try and manipulate me.” She pushed past him.
But he caught her wrist and spun her back around to face him. “That’s not what happened.”
“No? From where I stand, it sure as hell seems to be.” And it wasn’t just rage that she felt. Pain. The pain was the worst. Because she’d believed he was someone she could trust. But she’d put all the puzzle pieces together and realized how truly foolish she’d been. “How many lies have you told me?”
“You know, I was thinking about it…so incredibly convenient, wasn’t it, that I needed all of those repairs at my place?”
A muscle jerked in his jaw. “Wasn’t convenient.”
No, she hadn’t thought it was. “You did that,” Alice accused. “You broke those things, just so I’d call you. So I’d need you.” Damn him. Damn him. “You weren’t helping me. You were trying to trick me all along. And I was so stupidly grateful for everything you did. So glad that I’d found someone who seemed nice.”