“Am I free to go?” I asked calmly.
He put his face closer to mine. “You think I can’t see how bad you want to slap me right now? You think I don’t know exactly how much it’s costing you not to react?”
“You think I can’t see how much it drives you insane that I don’t?”
He stepped closer, eating up that last bit of distance between us.
“I’d really back up if I were you. You’ve been so focused on me that your cop senses didn’t pick up on the people who’ve been creeping closer. I’ll be surprised if there isn’t at least one person recording this with their cell phone.” I must have been right, because after his eyes swept the crowd, he took two slow steps back. But the bastard smirked at me.
“Always a pleasure, Miss Lyons. Drive safely.”
I slid into my car, switched on the engine, and merged into the traffic. Only then did I let out my anger in a long hiss. I was definitely getting a voodoo doll.
I fantasized about all the delightful ways I could hurt him as I drove home, where I then showered and changed. I was just about to make dinner when Sarah arrived.
Without even a hello, she barged right in and said, “Okay, I did some digging on Blake Mercier.”
I closed the door. “Why?”
“Because if a guy is showing interest in you at the same time that another person is fucking with your head, I want to be as sure as I can be that the two people aren’t one and the same. Besides, Blake’s been asking questions about you—I figure turnabout is fair play.”
I inclined my head, conceding that.
“I know you don’t think that Smith is Blake. You’re probably right. At this point, I think we can be sure that Ricky is our guy. But I wanted to learn what I could about Blake anyway.”
I sighed, uninterested. Okay, that was a total lie. I was extremely interested—I just didn’t like said interest. He was so unreadable that he gave my curious streak a serious workout. “Well, what did you hear?”
She sat on the armchair. “Not a lot. He’s very private. Kind of like you. Considering he’s loaded, I thought he might have come from a wealthy family. He hasn’t. The Merciers are firmly middle class—his dad ran an antique store up until he died, and his stepmother is an event planner. I couldn’t find out anything about his biological mother—she doesn’t seem to be in the picture.”
Pausing, Sarah crossed one leg over the other. “But he has his fingers in a lot of pies. He invests in some businesses, making them better. Others he goes after like the owners fucked his mother or something; then he takes those businesses apart.”
I felt my brow furrow. “Really?”
“You’ve probably heard the rumors that not all his businesses are entirely legal. People also say he has some really shady connections, but I don’t know how true those things are. I know he built some of his businesses from the ground up. And get this: the guy owns the Vault.”
My brows shot up. The Vault was one of the biggest hotspots in Redwater City. The exclusive, 24-hour club hosted special events and brought in local celebrities. It was also a club that catered to many tastes. Sadly, neither me nor Sarah could afford the membership price.
Dueling Pianos shows were held on the rooftop area, where comedians also regularly performed. The main floor was allegedly amazing, complete with fog machines, spotlights, and top DJs. There was also a Burlesque floor, which was wildly popular. “Do you think the rumors about the basement are true?”
Sarah grinned. “You mean that it’s a sex club—or sex floor, I should say? Maybe. I mean, I’ve heard that people have to pay a whole other membership fee to have access to the basement. I’d sure like to go see for myself. It’s said that a little BDSM activity goes on down there, but nothing heavy or dark—it’s apparently all about fun. That’s what I heard anyway. It could be just speculation.”
I found myself wondering which, if any, of the Vault’s floors catered to Blake’s tastes. “I had coffee with him at Cash’s diner yesterday.”
Sarah gaped. “And you’re only telling me this now, why?”
I shrugged. “It didn’t seem important.”
She edged forward in her seat. “Well, who asked who to go for coffee?”
“Blake pulled up outside the convenience store near the diner and asked me to get in the car. Said he wanted us to talk. I refused to go with him, so he suggested we talk in the diner.”
Sarah waved her hand, encouraging me to continue. “And? What did he want?”
“In sum, one night.”
Her nose wrinkled. “You’re worth more than that.”
I nodded. “He said he couldn’t give me a relationship even if he wanted to, whatever that means.”
“I never heard any women’s names mixed with his. From what my cousin told me, Blake is a hit and run kind of guy, which is very disappointing.” She took a long breath. “Nothing about Blake screams ‘potential stalker’ to me, but I think you can agree we should be looking at Ricky Tate. It has to be him.”
“I agree. You remember what he looks like, right?”
“Hard to forget someone who once screamed at you like a freak while holding a sledgehammer.”
True. “Good. We’ll both keep our eye out for him.” Someone would spot him sooner or later. Then I’d pounce on the little fucker.
Halfway up the path leading to the bar, I turned to see a balding man with close-set eyes and a jowly face coming toward me, wiping a hand down the blazer of his gray suit. My inner alarms dinged. “What do you want?”
If he was fazed by my rudeness, he didn’t show it. “I left some voicemails on your phone. I’m Noah Linton.”
I didn’t shake the hand he held out. “Goodbye, Mr. Linton.” I spun on my heel and headed for the bar.
“Wait!” He hurried to match my stride. “Your stepfather did warn me that you don’t do interviews, but I’m not looking for a story. I wish to explore—”
“I really don’t care, Mr. Linton. If you want to ponder the workings of Michael Bale’s mind, you don’t need me for that.”
“Interesting that you refer to him by his name, not ‘my stepfather,’” he mused.
“I’ve spent many years delving into the criminal mind. I think sociopaths are wildly misunderstood.”
That brought me up short. I double-blinked. “Misunderstood?”
“Not all of them kill, just like not all killers are sociopaths. What they like is power. People have different definitions of power—money, fame, respect, etc. For some, the ultimate power is the control over whether someone lives or dies.”
“Then those particular people should have been surgeons. Now, if you’ll excuse me …”
“Perhaps we could have coffee together. I have a cab waiting just there. We could go wherever you’d like and—”
“No.” I reached the bar, but I didn’t open the door. I didn’t want him stepping a single foot inside. “Leave, Linton. Don’t waste time out of our lives again.”
“Everything okay here?” clipped Cade, walking out of CCC while rubbing his hands on an oily rag.