He must’ve sensed her frustration because his lips tipped up at the corners. “Look, you may not need to hire someone. If we can track down who it is, all it may take is a phone call to scare him off. Nine out of ten times, people pull this kind of shit because they think they won’t be confronted. They hide behind bullshit.”
Hope sparked in her chest. “Even people who vandalize cars and break into apartments?”
She wanted to believe that more than anything. It would make things so much easier. “Even someone who’s followed me clear across the country?”
“You don’t know if the person followed you. He could be out here on business or whatever. And it’s easier than you think to find someone’s address. Actually, you probably know that.”
She lowered her gaze as the unspoken words hung between them. She did know how easy it was. After all, she’d tracked down Bridget by paying a few dollars to an online website. All it took was one utility in someone’s name, and bam, address and any other personal information was right at your fingertips.
Before, she had never really considered how someone would feel or realized how incredibly creepy it was when she pulled that crap.
“I’m a creeper,” she muttered.
“What?” He laughed.
Shaking her head, she leaned over and grabbed a notepad and pen. “Nothing. Give me a few minutes and I’ll give you a list.”
She could feel his eyes on her as she started scribbling down names of former clients and their associates who could potentially have a beef with her. There was Michelle Ward—a pro tennis player who had gotten addicted to painkillers after a knee injury. Alana practically had the girl kidnapped and dropped into rehab under the ruse of visiting a new health spa. Even though Michelle was off drugs and back playing professionally again, she had never gotten over it.
Then there was Jennifer Van Gunten—an actress whose hard-partying ways and bad-news boyfriend had nearly destroyed her career. The insurance the production companies had to take out on her for any of her roles was astronomical and the first thing Alana had to do was end the young actress’s ties with her boyfriend and friends. She doubted it was any of them, since the crowd Jennifer had run with was made up of all spoiled rich kids who probably moved on quickly, but she scribbled their names down anyway—namely Brent King, the on and off again boyfriend slash small time dealer. The few run ins she’d had with him in the past had not been pretty. The guy had an anger problem. Once, when she had to pull Jennifer out of a club that night before a court appearance, Brent had taken a swing at her, and she vaguely remembered him having some ties to the D.C. area. But again, he was a spoiled rich kid. She doubted he even remembered her.
There was William Manafee—a football player whose off-the-field practices, much like Chad’s, had started to gain more press than his ability to play ball. The big difference was that William had been married and, while his wife had mostly been in the dark, Alana had used his wife as leverage. William had cleaned himself up, but his wife had overheard one of their conversations, and now his monthly alimony was as much as her yearly salary. He blamed Alana for his inability to keep his dick in his pants.
There were a few more clients she had worked with who might carry a grudge for one reason or another, and she quickly scribbled each name on the paper. She was almost finished when she decided to add one more name, and then slid the sheet of paper toward Chandler.
He scanned the names, and she knew the moment he got to the end, because his brows shot up. He looked at her through his lashes. “Chad Gamble?”
Her lips twitched as she shrugged. “He wasn’t very happy with me.”
One brow continued to rise.
She fought off a giggle. “I was just joking.”
“I’d hope so. Would really be awkward if it were him.” He winked.
Her lips split into a small smile as she imagined Christmas dinners going forward if that were the case. Then she laughed as her gaze dropped to where his fingers rested on the edge of the paper. “Sorry. Just picturing that conversation.”
When there was no response, she lifted her gaze and found him watching her intently. So much so that she wondered if she had done something wrong. Holding eye contact with those clear eyes wasn’t easy. Chandler’s intensity could be intimidating, and he stared at her as if he could see right into her.
Then his gaze dropped to her mouth, and she felt her lips part on a soft inhale. She was easily reminded of how he’d felt pressed against her in the parking lot. A heaviness filled her br**sts, an almost sweet aching.
“Do you have anyone you can stay with?” he asked, pushing off the counter and slipping her paper into his pocket.
Alana almost laughed again, except it wasn’t funny. She had no one. “I thought there was a good chance this person wouldn’t be too much of a threat.”
“So I’m guessing you don’t have anyone you can stay with,” he replied instead, horrifically astute.
She felt her cheeks burn and immediately went on the defensive, which ended in her lying. “I have someone I can stay with.”
His eyes narrowed. “Then you should probably do that. Just in case. You shouldn’t be staying here.” He started around the counter and then stopped. “Do you need a ride or anything to your friend’s place? I can wait.”
Surprised by the fact that he was being so helpful, it took her a second to respond. “No. I’ll call him in a few. It’s late, and I don’t want to be any more inconvenient than I’ve been.”
His jaw clenched. “You haven’t been inconvenient.”
She laughed as she slid off the barstool. “You’re a terrible liar. I interrupted what was probably going to be a very interesting night for you.” The moment those words came out of her mouth, an irrational prick of jealousy burned in her stomach. “Wait here. I’ll get you my card.”
When she returned from the office, she saw he’d placed a card of his own on the counter. She handed hers over. “How much will I owe you to run the background checks and do some digging?”
He stopped at the door, head cocked to the side. “Who is the ‘he’ you’re staying with?”
At first, she didn’t get what he meant. “A friend.”
“A friend like Paula?” he asked.
Instead of answering the question, she smiled. “What do I owe you for this?”
Stepping out in the quiet hallway, Chandler faced her. “Let me drop you off at your friend’s house.”
Uh, no. That was not going to happen. “That’s not necessary, but thank you.”
“It’s no trouble.”
Her spine stiffened. “I didn’t say it was any trouble to you, but it’s not necessary.”
He stared at her for a long moment. “I mean it, Alana. Don’t stay in this apartment.”
Alana shifted her weight from one foot to the other. Staying here would be stupid. Frankly, the idea of being in the apartment alone right now, knowing that someone had been here, creeped her out. She was going to have to check into a hotel. “I’m not.”
His head tilted slightly. Through the layers of her starched and stiff clothing, she felt his stare move from the tips of her shoes to the top of her head. His lips curved up as his gaze locked with hers. “I’ll get back to you on that, Miss Gore.”
After Chandler left, Alana quickly gathered up a day or two’s worth of clothing and some personal stuff. She packed it up neatly and exited the apartment after calling for a cab.
She’d claimed earlier she hadn’t been a terrible person, but that wasn’t entirely honest. Of course, she wasn’t a great person, either.
Paranoia kept causing her to look over her shoulder in the brightly lit lobby as she waited for the cab to arrive. She ended up checking into a hotel within walking distance of her office.
It wasn’t a bad hotel but definitely not a four-star. The place carried a faint scent of musk, but it was the best she could do in the middle of the night.
Ten minutes later she was checked into a room on the second level that was unfortunately not far enough from the bar. She closed the door behind her, threw the deadbolt, and rolled her suitcase to the bed. Looking around the small room, the queen-size bed with small, square pillows and the generic desk next to a TV, she let out a deep sigh. The muffled conversation and laughter made it through the thick walls, traveling from the bar down the hall.
For some reason, hearing that—hearing people happy and laughing and living—while she was standing in a hotel room that smelled of…of burned matches, got to her.
She plopped down on the bed, wishing she’d had the foresight to grab a carton of ice cream from her freezer. It felt like it was going to be one of those “look at your life, look at your choices” kinds of night, and she needed chocolate to deal with that shit.
Feeling more alone than she had in many years, she scooted back across the uncomfortable bed and tucked her knees against her chest. She sighed, dropping her chin on her knees. It was going to be a long night.
At his office two days later, Chandler scrolled through the results on the names Alana had given him for a third time. He wasn’t sure what, if anything, he would find. These things were like puzzles and it never helped when the person in need of his assistance lied.
Staying with a friend.
After leaving her apartment, he’d driven around the block and then parked down the street from her apartment. Thirty minutes later and just when he was about to go right back up to that apartment and drag her ass out of it, a cab showed up and out came Alana, tugging along a small suitcase.
What kind of male would let her take a cab to his house at this time of night? he’d wondered, but then he had his answer shortly thereafter.
He hadn’t believed it at first. Alana hadn’t gone to a friend’s house. Nope. She’d checked into a hotel. Not even an extremely great one, either.
How could she have absolutely no one here? And if there was not a single person who could help her out in a time of need, why in the hell did she move to this city? She was truly all alone, and something about that didn’t sit well.
Still didn’t sit well with him two days later.
He’d almost gone into the hotel room that night, but what would he have done? Taken her back to his house? Frankly, the woman had too much pride for that, so he let it go and tailed her ass the following morning, early enough to catch her before she left for work.
She’d actually walked to work.
And then she’d walked back to the hotel later that evening. Alone. With a potential stalker watching her. Nice.
The bad thing was, he’d actually been relieved that she wasn’t staying with some tool. He rolled his eyes. There was a lot wrong with that.
It was going to take a little more digging, given that most of the suspects were public figures. What he got wasn’t much. Only Michelle Ward had any contact information, and he’d fielded a return call from her this morning.
The tennis player was most definitely not a fan of Miss Gore, but his instincts were telling him that she didn’t have anything to do with this threat. And if anything, the Ward chick was reluctantly grateful for Miss Gore’s interference and tactics.
Just like his brother.
When Alana had talked about her job, it was obvious the woman took it seriously and it meant something to her. It was also obvious that the way some of her clients viewed her got to her, which surprised him. From his previous run-ins with her, he’d thought she had bigger balls than he did.
His gaze moved to the note that had been wrapped around the brick. Could someone else have the same kind of specialized stationary? It was more than just possible, but the likelihood of the person using the stationary and not knowing that Alana had the same was as likely as a UFO landing on the Washington Monument.
He briefly entertained the idea of calling her and checking in, but she hadn’t called him. And he really didn’t have a reason to be calling her other than…
Well, other than hearing her voice, and if he called her for that reason, then he’d grown a vagina at some point.
“Joe’s Body Shop called. You know, just in case you were wondering why the phone was ringing off the f**king hook.”
He shifted at the sound of Murray’s voice. The man was leaning against the doorframe, arms folded. Murray was Chase’s age but had the attitude of a crotchety old man half the time.
Murray limped into the office and plopped down in the chair across from Chandler’s desk. “So when did you get a Lexus? Thought you were a live-and-die Ford redneck?”
He took a sip of his coffee. “It’s not mine.”
“Then who has someone so pissed off at them that thousands of dollars of damage was done to their car?” He ran a hand over his close-shaven skull, the fingers brushing tattoos running up and down his neck and throat. Murray could be one scary motherfucker if you met him in a dark alley. “I thought only you pissed off people that badly.”
Grinning, Chandler sat his cup down. “Nope. Apparently there are people out there who have a more charming personality than I do.”
Murray snorted. “Working on a new case?” When Chandler didn’t say anything, the other man was used to it. “What’re the details? Because I’m curious. You got William-mother f**king-Manafee’s name written down.”
Seeing no way of getting Murray out of his office without giving him the lowdown, Chandler told him about the possible case, quick and to the point.
“Shit.” Murray sat back, scrubbing at the stubble on his face. “You’re talking about Chad’s publicist?”