He was still the same person inside no matter his yearly salary.

Some of those insecurities had reared their ugly head when he’d gotten involved with Izzy but the longer he was around her, the more he realized income didn’t matter. No matter what, he was going to convince her to move back to Savannah.

The thought of life without her was…dull, lonely.

He thought he’d taken out all his aggression on the treadmill and weights, but unbridled energy still hummed through him. The pummeling jet streams from the showerhead did little to help.

Adam twisted the knob to the off position, quickly dried off, then tugged on a pair of boxers.

Trying hard not to wake Izzy, he gently lifted her from the couch and walked her to her room.


She stirred in his arms as he laid her onto the bed. “What?” she mumbled as she shifted against one of the pillows.

“Do you want to sleep in your dress?”

“Uh uh.”

After slipping her dress off, he pulled the sheet and comforter back and over her before getting in next to her. He wrapped his arm around her as she positioned her back against his stomach and chest.

Twenty minutes later, as he was staring at the ceiling, Izzy surprised him.

“You awake?” she asked.

“Yeah.” His response was a whisper.

“Me too.”

“Something on your mind?”

She was silent for a long beat and he wasn’t sure she’d answer. Finally she spoke. “I’m sorry about what happened to you growing up.”

His first instinct was to shut down the conversation but he resisted. It wasn’t pity he heard in her voice. “It’s okay.”

“There’s something I need to tell you.”

“I’m listening,” he murmured into her hair.

She shifted and turned over so that they faced each other. He propped up on one elbow.

Her hair spilled out onto the sheets and over her chest as she lay against the pillow. “The reason I was kidnapped…was because of my family. You said you’re going to be helping your brother with his security business, right?”

His throat refused to move so he nodded.

“Have you heard of Ballantine Industries?”

At the moment, he wanted the world to open up and swallow him whole. He loathed lying to her like this. “Yes.”

“Edward Ballantine is my father.”

His eyebrows rose in shock. It was feigned, but thankfully she didn’t seem to notice. Talking about her father was the last thing he wanted to do.

“When I was fourteen, two of the gardeners grabbed me after school one day. I struggled, which is how I got the scar. They took me to a rundown house and locked me in a closet for days.”

“Damn.” He reached under the covers and grasped her waist, pulling her closer to him. That hadn’t been in her father’s report.

She shook her head. “For days one of the men talked about all the…things he was going to do to me. His partner wouldn’t let him touch me until they had the money. They never planned to let me go either. Something they reveled in reminding me.”

Everything around him funneled out but her delicate face. “Izzy, you don’t have to tell me any of this.”

“I want to. I was rescued before he could follow through with his plans, but I still have an aversion to small spaces.” She slid an inch closer and wrapped a leg around him.

“I can understand why.” He leaned forward and kissed her on the forehead.

“My father is really overprotective. Sometimes he crosses the line into ridiculously overbearing territory and I know the kidnapping is part of the reason.”

“I’m sure it’s because he loves you.”

“I know it is. Part of the reason I moved here was to get away from him, but now…” When it was obvious she wasn’t going to continue, he lay back against the pillow and pulled her with him.

Her head rested on his chest as he stroked up and down her spine. Why had she told him all of this? As if she read his mind, she spoke again. “I’ve never told anyone about that. I don’t know why I told you now.”

Adam sighed and his grip increased around her. “You’re the first person I told about my scars.”

Not even the first girl he thought he’d loved.

Maybe it was subconscious, but he’d never opened up to Amanda. He’d only let her see what she wanted. The quintessential bad boy from the wrong side of the tracks. She might have known where he came from, but he’d never let her into his world.

Izzy was different though. She wasn’t a spoiled teenager using him for anything. He took a deep breath and steeled himself for a rejection. What he had to say next he might loathe himself for later, but he had to do it just the same.

“Come back to Savannah with me, Izzy.” His words sucked all the air out of the room.

She lifted her head and stared at him. The seconds that ticked by felt like an eternity. Their breathing was the only sound in the room.

Her dark eyes narrowed. “What?”

“I leave in less than two weeks. I don’t want to go back without you.” He wanted her back home to keep her safe but he also wanted her to come with him because he loved her. He was going to tell her father the deal was off as soon as the guy after Izzy was caught. Eventually he’d have to tell her about the stupid deal he’d made with her father but his main priority was keeping her safe right now. If he admitted what he’d done and she kicked him out of her life, she’d be exposed to a maniac. He couldn’t risk that.

She chewed on her bottom lip and he could practically see a war waging in that pretty head of hers. Finally she spoke. “Why are you working here? In Coconut Bay?”

He swallowed down the bile. Now came more lies and half truths. “To get away from my family.” A lie.  “My brother and I started our own security company. We’ve been working our asses off for four years.” The truth.  “I wasn’t sure if that’s what I wanted to do for the rest of my life so my brother told me to take a couple months off and figure things out.” Another lie.  The words tasted bitter in his mouth. As soon as she was safe back home and he’d called things off with her father, he’d come clean. He had to. The lying would kill him otherwise. And he wanted something real, something long-term with her. He couldn’t start it based on bullshit.

“You sound like me.” A small smile played at the corner of her mouth and he wanted to kick his own ass.

When she laid her head back down he silently prayed she wouldn’t ask any more personal questions. A few minutes later, her steady breathing told him she was asleep. She hadn’t answered his question, but at least she hadn’t said no.

Chapter Nine

Jack took a sip of his coffee, then cringed as he put it back in the cup holder. “This coffee sucks.”

“Next time I’m buying,” Andrew muttered without looking up from his notepad.

Jack shook his head and looked out the windshield. From where they sat across the parking lot of the Motel 8, they had a perfect view of room 103. So far, there hadn’t been any movement. The motel owner swore he’d rented a room to the man in the sketch they’d sent out. If this was where their guy was staying, they were going to catch him this time. He could feel it in his bones. They were so damn close.

“Hey, Maria Martinez’s father is Cuban right?”

Andrew asked, cutting into his thoughts.

“Yeah, why?”

“Just listen for a sec. The first victim, Sasha Sorrentino, what’s your guess on her ethnicity?”

Turning, he frowned at his partner, wondering where this was headed. He had all the victims’ faces memorized. Dark hair, pale skin, sharp, exotic features. “Possibly Spanish and European descent.”

Andrew slid out a piece of paper from one of the manila folders and handed it to him. “Correct.

Spanish father and Russian mother.”

“So what’s your point? The second victim is Ann Meyers. She looks like the all-American girl next door.”

“She might not look like it, but her mother is Ecuadorian.”

Jack frowned as he took the second paper his partner handed him.

His partner continued. “The fourth victim is African American and Cuban. And I don’t know for sure, but Andrea Barclay, the woman he tried to kidnap, looks like she might have Native American roots. I’m guessing on her mother’s side considering her last name.”

“That’s my guess too.” Jack nodded as his partner jotted something down. “So our guy is targeting what, women of mixed ethnicity? Don’t you think that’s kind of a stretch? There’s got to be something else linking them together.”

“Maybe. Maybe not. Instead of just using government databases I’ve been running his ‘calling card’ in the computer, and this is what I’ve come up with. It didn’t make sense until now, and yes, it might be a stretch, but it’s all we’ve got to go on.” Andrew handed him a printout Jack hadn’t seen before.

The attacker’s calling card,  as they’d come to refer to it, was the strange symbol he cut into his victim’s backs. Except for their boss, they hadn’t told anyone else about it. Not even the civilians on staff knew about it.

The two half moons he inflicted on his victims were positioned back to back. They weren’t deep enough to scar the women permanently, but they certainly made them bleed.

“What is this?” He handed the paper back to his partner.

“It’s an old alchemical symbol used in botany.

It represents plants that are the result of crossbreeding.”

“Crossbreeding? So you really do think this guy is targeting his victims based on race?” Jack asked.

Andrew’s shoulders lifted slightly. “I’ve heard of crazier reasons.”

“So why is he harassing Isabelle Ballantine then?”

“She interrupted him. You’ve got to think that this guy puts a lot of time and effort into stalking his victims and—”