God, he felt like a giant ass for outright dismissing her.
He wasn’t convinced that her life was in danger—letters and a vandalized car didn’t equal deadly intent—but something was definitely going on. What exactly and how far this was going to go, he wasn’t sure yet. The note was folded in his pocket, practically burning a hole in it. He wanted to look at it again, see if there was anything else except the one word. His initial assumption could still be spot-on. Nothing too serious—maybe a pissed-off ex-boyfriend or client, and not something to hire a bodyguard over. But if her apartment really had been broken into, then that was a different story.
There was a part of Chandler, he recognized, that just wanted this all to be a bunch of nothing. The thought of someone seriously wanting to hurt the woman sitting quietly next to him twisted his gut in ways he didn’t want to consider. It was much better for his peace of mind to figure this was the prank of some disgruntled ex-client than something far more dangerous.
Chandler pulled his truck into the parking garage attached to the high-rise apartments. His immediate observation of the building noted several security hazards. It was a good district, not known for a lot of serious crime, but there was no doorman that he saw, which meant anyone could come and go as they pleased. There didn’t appear to be any security cameras at the garage entrance or inside, at least none that was obvious and would deter potential perpetrators. The lighting sucked in the garage, making it easy for anyone to be hiding. He didn’t like any of it.
As he parked the truck and killed the engine, he looked over at her. “You doing okay?” The question made him strangely uncomfortable.
She finally met his gaze and nodded curtly. “I’m fine.”
That was debatable.
Clearing her throat, she reached for the door handle. “Thank you for taking me home, but I can call the police and let them handle it from here on out.”
“I came all this way, so I’m going to check out your apartment.”
She was out of his truck with surprising quickness, slamming the door.
He cursed under his breath and climbed out, finding her standing near his side, hand extended.
“I’m going to need the note, please.” Her voice was clipped, professional, and cool.
His eyes narrowed. Instead of handing it over, he walked around her and headed toward the elevator entrance. “I’m checking out your apartment and then we’re going to talk. And I’m serious. I’m not arguing with you.”
There was a moment when he thought she was going to stand there and he was going to have to go back and drag her to her apartment.
“Damn it, you’re annoying.” She huffed, catching up to him. “Pain in my ass.”
His lips twitched as he fought the smile. “I would love to be in your—”
“Don’t even finish that statement,” she snapped.
He chuckled, happy to see a little color returning to her cheeks. “What floor?”
“Sixteen.” She was quiet as they stepped into the elevator. “Are you taking me seriously now?”
Chandler didn’t immediately respond, and she made a sound that reminded him of a disgruntled animal—a small, helpless animal. When they reached her floor, she told him her number. “Stay by the elevator until I give you the okay,” he said.
Her eyes narrowed. “Why?”
“Because I say so.” He started toward her door but stopped. “I mean it, Alana. Stay here.”
She inhaled deeply. “Fine. Staying.”
He held her stare for a moment and then headed toward her door. Trying the handle, he found that it was locked. That was a good sign. “Throw me your keys.”
Reaching into her pocket, she pulled out the keys, smiled, and then threw them.
Right at his face.
He caught them a second before impact. She smirked when his eyes narrowed. He had a feeling that if he were in her presence for another fifteen minutes, she was going to end up over his knee.
Grappling for patience he typically didn’t afford people, he unlocked her door and then slipped the keys into his pocket. He needed his hand free for something else. Reaching around to his back, he withdrew his Glock.
“You have a gun?” she hissed, eyes wide.
He shot her a droll look. “My job sort of requires that, and I said, stay by the elevator.”
She opened her mouth, but then clicked it shut as she backed away, holding that damn file to her chest. He sent her one last look of warning and then edged into her apartment. It was doubtful that anyone was still here, but he wanted to make sure before she stepped one annoying foot into the apartment.
Moving silently down the short entryway, he checked out the kitchen. A sliding glass door led out to a balcony, which was attached to a fire escape. Not good. The door was latched from the inside, but he knew from experience that anyone could strong-arm one of these mothers right open. He then shifted his attention to the living room.
A small lamp was on next to a couch, casting a soft glow. He wasn’t surprised by the simple, minimalistic design and how there didn’t seem to be a pillow out of place on the couch or a single piece of anything on the floor. Ms. Stick-up-her-ass probably never had a shoe out of place.
Ruling the living room and kitchen empty, he proceeded down a hallway, checking out a bathroom and an office before entering the master bedroom. The room smelled of Alana. Lilac and vanilla, he realized, spying the small bottles of lotion on her dresser. And then his gaze fell to her bed.
“Christ,” he muttered.
Lying across the neatly tucked comforter was a black nightie. A barely there slip of material that he imagined wouldn’t cover much.
He forced himself toward the adjoining bathroom and then the walk-in closet. Both were clear. He’d just faced that damn bed when a voice came from the recesses of the hallway.
“Did you find anything?”
“Jesus!” Chandler whirled around, shoving the gun in the holster along his back. “Didn’t I tell you to wait outside?”
She ignored that question as she peeked her head into the bedroom. “Did you?”
Walking past her, he caught her by the arm and ushered her back into the living room. “Did you leave the lights on?”
“Yes.” She wrenched her arm free in a move so dramatic, he wondered how she didn’t yank her own arm out of its socket. “So, there’s nothing out of place?”
“You tell me.” He watched her look around, totally picturing her in that nightie. Yep. His c**k was hard again.
“Everything looks fine to me,” she said.
Her lips pursed, and then she stalked off down the hallway. He lingered for a moment and then followed her, finding her standing before a medium-size oak desk. The file was still clenched in one hand, and she was holding a pad of stationary in the other as she faced him.
“See,” she said, and gestured as though she were holding the shredded files from Watergate. Her glasses were slightly askew on her nose. The urge to fix them came out of nowhere, and what the f**k was up with that? “This is my stationary. I had it specially made,” she added.
Wondering who actually took the time to get personalized stationary made, he pulled out the note and unfolded it. It was definitely a match. The word was written in childish, blockish handwriting.
His eyes met hers. Part of him wanted to tell her that it could be coincidental. Obviously he hoped that was the case. Even though Chad believed that the publicist was the antichrist, Chandler didn’t like the idea of this being anything more than a harmless, run-of-the-mill lunatic.
But he was a logical man. Unless Alana wrote the note and threw the rock through her own windshield, someone had slipped into her apartment at some point and retrieved the stationary from her desk.
That had to be taken seriously.
Alana fixed her glasses, her bottom lip trembling as she spoke. “Someone’s been in my apartment.”
His chest tightened as real fear snaked up his spine. “I think it’s time that I look at those letters.”
So many different emotions swirled through Alana as she sat in her living room, watching Chandler pore over the letters in her kitchen. Anger. Frustration. Fear. They mingled together, causing her to go from furious to terrified in seconds and giving her one fierce headache.
Someone had been in her apartment.
Her heart dropped at the thought. When? While she had left to go find Chandler or before then? How many days could’ve passed and she’d never known? Better yet, how had someone gotten into her apartment?
“How long have you been receiving these?” Chandler asked, drawing her attention.
She took off her glasses, placing them onto the bar. The clock on the stove said it was after midnight and her eyes felt full of grit. “For about a year.”
“Any idea who it could be? An ex-boyfriend?”
A dry laugh escaped. “No.”
“You’ve never had an ex-boyfriend?”
“Not anyone in the last couple of years who hates my guts.” The look of disbelief on his striking face irked her. “All my breakups have been amicable.”
“No,” she said.
She rolled her eyes.
A brief grin appeared, and she was surprised to see it. Something about it told her that a lot of people probably lived their whole lives without seeing that grin. “What about clients?”
Rubbing her temples, she shook her head. “There have been people…upset with me in the past.”
Lifting her lashes, she felt a nasty retort forming on the tip of her tongue, mostly out of habit, but it died off before she could open her mouth. Their gazes locked, and she could easily recall how much Chad had loathed her existence. No doubt Chandler felt the same out of association. It bothered her.
“I’m not a terrible person,” she said, her voice low. “I know that’s hard to believe.”
He blinked. “I didn’t say you were.”
“I take my job seriously,” she continued, drawing in a shallow breath. When she spoke again, her voice was hoarse. “I’ve built a—a stellar reputation in a very short time. And if that means I have to make people do what they don’t want to do and they’ll hate me for it, so be it. But in the end, everyone—everyone—is in a better position after I leave them.”
Something flickered across his face, and then he looked away, a muscle working along his jaw. “Obviously someone doesn’t feel that way.”
An old, familiar ache pierced her chest at those words. Alana loved her job and it meant everything to her, but sometimes it required her to do things she didn’t want. During her short career, she had hurt and used people. Most thought she was apathetic about it all, but that was the furthest from the truth. The things she had to do kept her awake at night. As a publicist, there were times when she had to climb into the muck and drag her clients out of it, ensuring that they came out all shiny. That wasn’t easy. And some of her clients didn’t want to be dragged out.
Looking at Chandler, she knew in the deepest recesses of her soul this was something she probably had in common with him. He looked like there were dark things in his past, things he had to do—didn’t regret, but wished he hadn’t had to.
Regret and wishing for something else were two very different things.
“The best thing you can do is write down a list of people you think have a reason to go this far.” He gathered up the letters, placing them in the file. “I can run some background checks once you get the list. Mind if I keep these?”
“So does this mean you’re going to work for me?”
He stared at her. “First off, I don’t work for anyone.”
She needed a strong drink to deal with him. “Okay. Wrong word choice or whatever, but I need more than a few background checks done. I’ve accepted a job with a local firm that works with politicians and companies—”
“Basically doing damage control?” he asked, sounding genuinely curious.
“That’s one way to look at it, but it’s more than that. It’s working with media, scheduling events, and prepping for interviews and preventing a problem before it occurs.” Excitement thrummed through her, and she sat a little straighter. “It’s a huge opportunity. I won’t have to do as much traveling or dealing with so many, well, crazy people. No offense, but playing babysitter to people like your brother wasn’t nearly as fun as you’d think it was.”
“No offense taken,” he commented drily.
“Anyway, I can’t have anything interfering with this position. There’s absolutely nothing worse than a publicist with drama. Plus, I’m going to be around important individuals, and I can’t put them in danger if this ass**le tries something. I need someone who can blend in when I’m in public, just in case, and can be discreet. No one can know about this.”
Dropping his elbows onto the counter, he leaned forward. “Hiring a member of CCG Security isn’t cheap, Alana. You’re talking after hours, which is double, and travel if necessary.”
“I know and…and I’ve made good money. I can afford you.” She curled her hands into fists, moving them into her lap. She hated being in this situation, having to rely on someone. It had been many years since she’d had to. “So are you going to take the job?”
Chandler’s deep-blue gaze turned thoughtful. “Write down the list of people and let me check out a few things first.”
That wasn’t the answer she was looking for. Irritation flushed her skin, but she fought the urge to demand a yes or no.