Spread across the recently polished coffee table, twenty letters were open and faceup. The faint smell of lemon lingered in the air, a scent that reminded Alana Gore of her grandmother’s house. Granny Gore had been obsessed with Pine-Sol like it was a geriatric version of crack coc**ne. Everything, including the hardwood floors, had been doused in the stuff. As a small child, Alana had spent many of her afternoons after school using the hallway downstairs in the quiet home as a Slip’N Slide.
Granny had always kept everything neat and clean, to the point that it was borderline disturbing, which explained why Alana, as an adult, couldn’t stand things to be displaced or messy. Everything had to be in order and have a purpose.
And what was resting on her coffee table definitely was not a part of the plan—of any plan.
Alana took a deep breath and let it out slowly. “Well, shit on a shitter.”
Granny rolled over in her grave.
Cursing was unladylike, and while Alana strived to maintain a sensible, responsible image, in private, she cursed like a street thug in the middle of a drug deal gone baaaad. A habit she’d picked up in high school and hadn’t been able to break since.
She leaned forward and picked up the most recent letter, the one that had arrived in the mail today—the one she had been dreading since February.
After working to repair the notorious reputation—which she had done so spectacularly, like always—of Chad Gamble, all-star pitcher for the Nationals, she’d decided to stay in Washington, D.C. There was something about the nation’s capital that had drawn her in, and she really hadn’t put roots down in L.A., not the kind that had her yearning to return home while traveling for work. All she had there was a small condo, and besides, she’d wanted out of the city for other reasons.
Like the letters lying on her table.
In her mind, moving to D.C. should’ve stopped this, because who would’ve seriously put effort into finding her clear across the country, in a different time zone? Someone who was absolutely psychotic.
And, well, that was problematic.
Smoothing the stray hairs at her temples, she cursed again. A nice, juicy little F-bomb. Her hands were not shaking. She was fine. They were just stupid letters from someone who was obviously on the deranged side of things. Letters couldn’t hurt people.
But these letters…
Alana picked up the newest one, her lips compressing into a tight, tense line that would surely give her premature wrinkles. A shudder worked its way down her spine as she read the letter for the tenth time.
“God,” she whispered, shaking her head.
This letter wasn’t much different than the nineteen that had come before it. All had been annoying and slightly disturbing, but nothing major, because after all, she’d made more enemies than friends over the last couple of years. But this one terrified her. Made her feel overexposed and paranoid, as if someone were stalking her.
“Obviously someone is, dumbass,” she muttered, willing her hand to stop trembling.
The envelope the letter had come in was white and this time, unlike all the other times, it was postmarked from Arlington, Virginia. Before, they’d come from the San Fernando Valley, California.
The letter itself was plain, cheap printer stock. Thin and without any embellishments. Didn’t she deserve at least card stock and some elegant flowery border? She snorted, but the humor was short-lived. The words on the paper weren’t funny.
Bitches like you don’t deserve to live when all you do is ruin lives.
What a charming opening line, she thought. The letter went on from there, like the others, rambling about how she shouldn’t be able to sleep at night and that he—she assumed it was a he—would be watching. The big difference this time, besides the fact that he’d found her in D.C., was the ending.
I’ll be seeing you tonight.
Her breath caught and pressure seized her chest.
It didn’t matter how many times she’d read that last line. Each time her eyes crawled across those five words, she felt the burn in her throat, the building in the back of her mouth. She wanted to scream, and she never screamed.
Placing the letter beside the others in a neat line, she then stood on weak legs. Her fingers icy and numb, she walked across the living room to the window overlooking the teeming street below. Traffic was snarled due to the rush hour and sidewalks were packed. Branches on a few late-blooming cherry blossoms in the distance swayed.
Her gaze moved from the faint pink blossoms to the people scurrying along the sidewalk and darting across the street, dodging taxis and towncars.
Could he be down there right this second, watching her?
She stopped herself from backing away from the window, from caving into fear, and squeezed her eyes shut. No way could she allow herself to think that. She’d end up like her mother then. She wouldn’t let this…this f**ker do this to her. Only she had control of her life and her choices.
“Focus,” she said, rubbing tiny circles along her temples.
She twisted away from the window and opened her eyes. The room was minimalistic in design, muted colors of black and gray. As a kid, she’d wanted everything to be in Rainbow Brite colors. That was before she’d developed something called taste.
Or before she’d ended up with the stick up her ass.
Wasn’t that what Chad had said to her once during her assignment? He wouldn’t have been the first to say it. Or the last.
Her heels clicked off the hardwood floor as she went back to the coffee table. She dropped her hands to her hips, her eyes narrowing behind her glasses. She had to fix this, gain control of the situation. It was the only option. But doing so required that she take the threats seriously. Ignoring these letters, like she had been for the last year, was like ignoring an ache that wouldn’t go away. No good shit comes from that.
She needed to figure out who was behind these letters, and that wasn’t going to be easy. Granny always said that her brass balls—lovely—were never going to win her any friends or a husband.
Apparently, they had won her a stalker, though.
That had to count for something.
Alana had quite the list of people who had reason to be upset with her, too. But to send her threatening letters for a year? The latest even going as far as to warn that he’d be seeing her tonight? Sure, she ticked people off with her hard-nosed tactics, but those facts had to narrow down the pool of suspects. While she had excellent sleuthing skills, that’s not what she needed tonight.
She needed protection.
And she knew who to go to.
Hopefully he would be wearing more than boxers this time around. Although, she wasn’t going to complain about the eyeful she had gotten when she’d tracked down Chad to his brother’s house nearly three months ago.
Through the course of her career working with sports stars and actors, she had seen a lot of good-looking men—men who would have sensible women all across the nation dropping their panties. But that man, the eldest Gamble brother, had officially been the hottest male she’d ever laid eyes on. She wasn’t sure if it was the wild shoulder-length hair or those startling blue eyes. Or it could’ve been those incredibly wide shoulders that would make any woman feel petite, or that rock-hard chest and those abs…
“What am I doing?” She smacked her forehead with her palm, pushing those thoughts aside.
Going to him for help had nothing to do with envisioning him in those boxers or showing off those hard, na**d abs, no matter how touchable those abs appeared to be. And the last thing she needed to be doing right now was mentally molesting the man. It was highly unlikely that he’d be happy to see her, but he sort of owed her his services. She had played a rather excellent matchmaker when it came to his brother and Ms. Rodgers.
She was still waiting on that wedding invitation.
Scooping up the letters, Alana placed them inside a file folder labeled ass**le and shoved the folder into her leather satchel. She left her apartment, in search of a very different type of ass**le.
Chandler Gamble’s phone vibrated in the pocket of his jeans for the second time in the last hour. He needed to continue ignoring it. He should ignore it. What was going on in front of him should have his undivided attention. Any other time, it would.
On her knees between his widespread legs, Paula was in a position he doubted she was normally in when it came to her day job, being a district attorney and all. She ran her hands up and down his thighs, each pass bringing the tips of her red-painted fingernails to the center of his legs. Her movements were well practiced. She knew what he liked.
The red corset she wore was laced up tight, practically shoving her caramel-colored br**sts up to her chin. Some men were into br**sts, others more about the ass. Chandler was into the female body in general. All of it. But when he was with Paula, he turned into a breast man. Those things were the stuff that wet dreams were made of.
But tonight? The last couple of months? The head on his shoulders was doing more thinking than any other place on his body, which was kind of a damn shame.
Paula slipped a hand up the inside of his thigh. “I’ve missed you.”
He laughed, sliding farther down in the oversize cushioned chair, spreading his legs farther. “No you didn’t.”
Her pretty lips pouted. “You haven’t come to see me since February. Or anyone, from what I’ve heard.”
A brow rose. He didn’t like the idea of anyone keeping tabs on him.
“You haven’t even been to the club,” she said.
“That’s not like you.” She placed her hands on the chair between his legs, drawing his eyes down to her impressive chest. For some reason, he imagined much smaller br**sts plumped up over the lacy trim and little bows.
And there were about a million different things wrong with that.
Irritated, he scrubbed the palm of his hand along his jaw. The faint stubble pricked his skin. What the hell was wrong with him? He’d been at Leather and Lace for almost an hour now and by this time he would’ve already been behind a woman, his hands on her hips, sliding in and out.
“Want to talk?” she asked, pushing back from the chair and clasping her hands demurely.
He laughed drily. “No, honey, but thanks.”
One delicate, satiny shoulder rose. “You sure? You’re moody and quiet by nature, babe, but disappearing for months? I was worried.”
Chandler bit back another laugh. That wasn’t likely. Paula was good, great even. And their sexual…tastes matched, but when he wasn’t around, there was always someone else. Like him, she enjoyed sex. Lots, really, except lately, he’d been only getting it on with his hand.
“I don’t want to talk,” he said again.
Thick lashes lowered as she toyed with the knot between her br**sts. “No talking? I can do that.”
He watched her rise fluidly. Paula was a tall woman, and in her “come f**k me” heels, she nearly reached his six feet and four inches. She pivoted gracefully, and he got an eyeful of her ass. The scrap of lace between her cheeks revealed more than it hid as she swayed her way over to the chaise longue across from him.
It was a nice view—a beautiful view. Paula’s skin was like smooth coffee, and he knew from personal experience that an hour with that woman could make you forget a year of life, but…
Any other time he’d be as hard as a brick wall and ready to go…and to go again, but the lust stirring in his veins wasn’t anything to write home about. He definitely wasn’t feeling what little Miss Paula was.
She cast a look over her shoulder as she bit down on her lip. Still nothing at all. She placed a shapely knee on the lounge and bent over, planting her hands near the top of the chair, and then brought her other leg up. Nice—very nice.
And yet there was really nothing happening in his jeans.
Bending down, she stuck her ass in the air. “I think I’ve been naughty, Chandler.”
He cocked a brow. “You have?”
She blinked innocently. “I think I need to be punished.”
Fine, barely there tendrils of lust stirred in his gut. Okay. It was official. His c**k had taken a vacay into celibacy land. Fuck. Him.
Tipping his head back, he stifled a groan. What in the f**k was he even doing here? It was either this or hang out with his brothers, and who in the hell in their right mind wanted to do that shit? All Chase and Chad talked about were their women. Not that he begrudged them their happiness, but shit, it was like hanging out with two old women. Especially since Chad was knee-deep in wedding plans.
And if he had to hear about the difference between ivory and white one more time, he was going to shoot someone.
Hell, ask him a year ago if he thought the playboy of the three of them would be the one to marry first, and he would’ve laughed straight in your face. But Chase was in love. And so was their pro baseball player brother, Chad. Despite the shit they’d dealt with growing up.
The thing was, and contrary to everyone’s assumption of him—including his brothers— Chandler didn’t have any problems with the idea of settling down. While those who were unaware of the Gamble brothers’ upbringing thought Chandler was the most affected by it due to his…habits and the fact he rarely stayed with one woman, truth was, he had enough common sense to know that not all relationships were like his parents’. Spending time with the Daniels family—Chase’s fiancée’s family—had helped prove that men and women could live happily together and all that shit. In reality, he had always been the least affected by his bastard of a father and train wreck of a mother.
He just hadn’t met the woman he wanted to be with for more than a few hours here and there or involve in any aspect of his life.