Normally he liked to take his dates back to his soundproofed playroom. But not this one. She was special.

She was a message to someone.

The overgrown rosebushes and untrimmed hedge cloaked him as he crept silently along the edge of the fence until he was close to the corner of her house. He’d loosened the floodlights on her back porch the day before because breaking them would have been too obvious. It had been a risk doing it during the daytime but she was worth it. Still, he wanted to test them before moving any closer.

With gloved hands, he pulled out a small, newly planted hydrangea bush. The root was thick with soil. Tossing it at the porch, he smiled when it hit the stone patio with a thud. The soil scattered everywhere but no flood of light.


Sticking to the shadows, he crept closer until he stood right at the French doors that led into the kitchen. Belle could have a security system, but he hadn’t seen any signs on the doors or windows broadcasting that the house was protected. The last time he’d peeked through her windows, he hadn’t seen any sensors either. He’d find out soon enough if he was right. Pulling out his lock pick kit, he made quick work of the pathetic barrier.

His heart pounded wildly against his chest and his palms were damp inside his gloves. He always got like this before a kill. Watching the life drain out of someone at his own hands was the best thrill. He’d tried to find a substitute, something else to fill the dark void inside him, but nothing worked.

Hand on the slim nickel colored door handle, he froze when a bright light hit him in the side of the face.

Blind with panic, he let go of the handle when he heard him.

“What the fuck are you doing?” Grant fucking Caldwell shouted as he flashed the brightest damn flashlight in his face from over the fence.

Without pausing or answering, he turned and sprinted back the way he’d come. He knew the former detective was still recovering and suffered from a limp. The man wouldn’t be able to follow him and that was his only saving grace.

He raced across the yard, his heart pounding against his ribcage. The beam from the flashlight bounced off him and the fence he was narrowing in on, but he forced himself to funnel out the shouting behind him.

Once he cleared the fence he didn’t stop running. He just kept on until he reached the vehicle he’d stashed two blocks over. Sparing a glance behind him, he let out a shaky breath as he started the engine.

He’d stolen the older model truck, but he’d still ditch it as soon as he was in the heart of Miami. Just in case that bastard had somehow scaled the fence and followed after him, he couldn’t risk Caldwell calling in the license plate.

He’d been too careful to get caught now. Toying with the former detective would just have to wait. He’d been fucking with Caldwell for a while now. Just because the detective thought he could retire didn’t mean he was done playing.

* * * * *

Belle raced down her stairs, uncaring about her state of undress. She wasn’t sure what was going on, but she’d seen Grant chasing after a masked man in her backyard. Adrenaline punched through her, like an actual physical blow to her body.

Hurrying through the house and flipping on lights as she went, she stopped only after realizing one of the French doors in her kitchen was slightly ajar.

Panic gripped her heart in a tight fist. She could see the light from a flashlight dancing across her fence, but for some reason her floodlights weren’t on. She tried the switch by the door, but it didn’t help. When the flashlight suddenly turned off, she had to fight back full blown terror. Was the intruder coming back for her?

Taking a tentative step outside, she blinked, trying to adjust to the darkness. A few neighbors had lights on in their backyards—including Grant’s house—but her backyard was filled with trees and bushes, eclipsing everything in darkness.

“Grant?” she called out, fearful for him.

“I’m here.” His deep voice soothed her even though she couldn’t see him.

A few seconds later his large, broad form emerged from the shadows near her back fence. He wore a long-sleeved black T-shirt and loose black sweatpants. Well, they weren’t so loose as to hide his ridiculously muscular thighs. Her eyes traveled over his body, drinking in all that power before reality slapped her hard in the face. “What the hell is going on?”

Grant determinedly strode toward her, his slight limp emphasized. When he was only a few feet away she was able to see what she’d been missing before. He had a flashlight in one hand and a gun in the other.

Her eyes widened and she automatically took a step back. Not because she was afraid of him, but because clearly whatever was going on warranted a weapon. And why hadn’t her motion-sensor lights gone off? “Are you okay?” she whispered.

Jaw tight, he nodded as he assessed her from head to foot. His look was completely non-sexual, almost clinical even, but her nipples strained against her thin tank top nonetheless. “I should be asking you that.”

“Who was that?” She wasn’t sure why she asked. There was no way he could know. The question just popped out from sheer nervousness.

Grant looked over his shoulder into the inky darkness then back at her. He motioned with his hand toward her house. “Come on. Let’s get inside first.”

Not seeing a point in arguing, she stepped back and turned the dimmer switch in her kitchen so that it wasn’t so bright. It was too early and she was too shaken for the full bright lights of the room.

Wrapping her arms around herself, she waited until Grant closed and locked her door. He casually tucked his gun in the back of his pants then laid his flashlight on the small wood and tile-topped island in the middle of her kitchen. A few copper pots hung above it and he was so tall, his head cleared some of them. His face was grim when he looked at her. “Someone tried to break into your house tonight. Maybe you should tell me a little more about this Paulos.” There was such a deadly edge to Grant’s voice, she shivered.

The moment she did, he took a step forward, quickly covering the distance between them. His hand rested on her arm though he didn’t completely pull her into a full embrace. Just lightly held her and watched her with those dark indigo eyes.

She blinked, trying to gather her wits. “My back door was open. Someone did break in,” she said quietly.

When Grant’s eyes narrowed, she felt the full impact of what he must have been like as a detective. He probably scared confessions out of people with just one look. She understood on an intellectual level that the anger on his face wasn’t directed at her, but unable to stop herself, she turned away. Looking toward her now locked back door, she realized the flimsy lock was useless.

Someone had broken into her house and if it hadn’t been for Grant, anything could have happened. She’d never lived on her own before until now and she’d always felt safe because she had locks on her windows and doors and lived in normal, quiet neighborhoods. Clearly none of that mattered. Another shiver racked her body and this time Grant pulled her into a tight embrace.

Wanting to feel his strength, she slid her arms around his waist and held tight. His chin rested on the top of her head and he murmured soothing sounds as he stroked a hand down her spine. After a few minutes she felt something strong and insistent pressing against her belly. Grant stiffened as if he was suddenly aware of it too—well, he should be—but didn’t pull away.

Maybe it should have startled her, but Belle wasn’t bothered by it. As a nurse she understood it was biology. He’d just gotten what amounted to a shot of adrenaline and getting an erection was within the normal range of side effects and well…okay, it startled her a little. The feel of that hard length against her was unnerving, but not in a scary way. No, definitely not that. It unnerved her because she liked the feel of it and wondered if maybe it wasn’t from the adrenaline but her. Clearly she had issues.

“I’m sorry,” he muttered eventually and took a step back.

The timing was inappropriate but she let out a brief chuckle that seemed to dispel whatever tension was in the room. Using willpower she didn’t realize she had, she kept her gaze on his face. “How did you… What happened exactly?”

Grant’s jaw was still impossibly tight as he motioned for her to sit at the island. Perching on the edge of one of the high-backed wooden chairs, she watched him move around her kitchen with a fluid grace. As if he belonged there.

With his back to her, he pulled down a glass and started to fill it with ice from her freezer as he began to speak. “After that run in with your family friend today I decided to keep an eye on your house tonight. Some guys just don’t know how to take no for an answer.” He shook his head as he grabbed a can of soda from the fridge. “Whoever he was, the guy was quiet and he knew how to blend in. If I hadn’t been watching your house so damn intently I might not have seen him.” He slid the glass in front of her. “Drink. It’ll help with the shock of adrenaline.”

The liquid was blessedly cool as it rolled down her throat. After a few long swallows she set it down and clasped her shaking hands tightly in her lap. She didn’t think it was Paulos breaking in to her house. He was annoying and a bit of a bully, but she couldn’t see him trying to actually hurt her. Not like this. And it wasn’t as if she had any enemies. Well, not that she knew of. Her family all had normal, respectable jobs so she couldn’t imagine being targeted or singled out because of a familial relationship. For once in her life, however, she was absolutely speechless.

“Belle? Talk to me.” Grant pulled up one of the chairs and sat so that their knees were touching. The contact sent a jolt of raw awareness through her. It brought her back to reality in a way a sugar rush from a soda never could.

“I’m fine.” She was thankful she’d found her voice. “Really shaken up, but…what do we do now?” The thought of calling the cops when nothing had been taken seemed almost stupid, but…

“I’m going to call my former partner in on this. Hopefully you won’t have to go down to the station to make a statement tonight, but you need to make a report.”