After tossing a bottle of water and her MP3 player into her bag, she locked up and started the short trek toward the apartment complex’s pool.
The small pool was nothing compared to her father’s Olympic-size monstrosity, but it provided a place to soak up some sun.
She slathered sunscreen on her fair skin and settled onto one of the lounge chairs. Except for two other women, the pool area was empty. It was warm enough to lay out, but the water was undoubtedly too cold. In a month or two the place would be teeming with kids and other residents.
Just as she got comfortable, the shrill ring of her phone shattered the quiet atmosphere. She didn’t recognize the number, but answered on the off chance it was Adam calling from another line.
“You’re going to pay for your interference last night.” The voice of the caller was male, but one she didn’t recognize.
She shifted slightly in her seat. “Excuse me?”
Maybe this was a wrong number.
“You heard me. You get to replace that whore from last night, Isabelle. ” His voice was without inflection and the way he said her name gave her the creeps.
Izzy sat up and pushed her sunglasses on her head. “What did you say?”
“You looked like a slut at the museum today so I’m guessing you’re a whore too.”
A flash of hot then cold skittered over her skin.
This guy had seen her? She glanced around, worried he might be watching her.
“Get ready, bitch. Your time is coming.”
The line went dead before she could find her voice.
An icy chill washed over her and grasped her chest in a tight, unforgiving hold. She tossed on her cover-up, picked up her towel and other belongings and hurried back to her place. That couldn’t have been the man from last night, could it? How had he gotten her phone number? And what did he mean “replace?” It couldn’t be what she thought, could it?
The implication of his words sent shivers snaking down her spine. Once she was back at her apartment and the deadbolt was in place, she allowed herself to breathe easier, but her pounding heart didn’t abate. Maybe this was a prank.
The phone was still grasped tightly in her hand.
The thought of calling the police crossed her mind but she knew they couldn’t do anything about a phone call. They’d just file a report. And if she called her father he’d flip out and probably drive down to see her. Or worse he’d hire a bodyguard—or ten. She tried calling Adam twice but it went straight to voicemail. Next she tried Carolyn but she didn’t pick up either.
Even though she was safely locked behind a door, she couldn’t shake the nerves that had overtaken her body. She set her phone on the kitchen table and wiped sweaty palms on her legs.
Growing up, her father had always worried about her safety. Over the years she’d taken multiple self-defense classes so she knew she could take care of herself. Still, to have someone call her personal cell and actually threaten her was damn terrifying. She tried Adam one more time. It rang this time but still went to voicemail. She started to leave a message but ended the call instead. After a quick shower she was going to head to work early.
The call might be nothing but she’d rather be safe than sorry. Being surrounded by people was the only way she knew to stay safe.
Adam’s cell rang as he steered into the parking lot of Mad Dog’s. For the past few hours all he’d thought about was Izzy and that damn kiss. A five-mile run had done nothing to take the edge off. Neither had a cold shower. Now he had to endure the torture of working with Izzy for the rest of the night. She’d called him while he’d been out running but hadn’t left a message. Since then he’d tried to get hold of her but she hadn’t picked up.
His phone buzzed in his pocket and after a glance at the caller ID, all that edginess tripled.
For a split second he considered ignoring the caller.
He suppressed a sigh as he flipped his cell open. “Hello, Mr. Ballantine.”
“Hello, Adam. And for the last time, call me Edward. How are things progressing?” he asked.
“Well sir, you know your daughter better than I do. This is tougher than I’d originally planned.”
Talk about an understatement.
Ballantine chuckled. “Yes, I imagine it is.
She’s a stubborn woman. Gets that from her mother.”
Stubborn, sexy and sweet. A deadly combination. He nodded even though the other man couldn’t possibly see him.
“Do you think you’ll have her convinced by the deadline?” Edward asked.
“Honestly, I don’t know, sir. She likes it here.”
“Keep me updated.”
The other man didn’t like to bullshit on the phone, something Adam appreciated, and he knew their conversation was almost over. He might be sabotaging himself, but if he didn’t speak up now, he didn’t know if he could live with himself. “She lives in a safe area, she’s working at a normal restaurant and she has good friends.” He paused for a moment as he thought about last night’s attack on the other woman. The guy hadn’t gone after Izzy and the truth was, no one was truly safe.
Not all the time. Adam decided not to mention the incident to her father. Not yet. He veered the conversation in a different direction. “Sir, it’s becoming more difficult to keep my intentions from Izzy.
“We’re friends, we work together and…damn it, she’s a good person. I don’t like lying to her.”
He couldn’t exactly tell the man he was intensely attracted to his daughter.
Edward was silent for a long moment. “Do you or do you not want the Forester contract?”
He gritted his teeth. After high school he’d enlisted in the Marines, and stayed in for eight years. After that he’d done two years of grueling security work in a war zone. He’d been shot at too many times to count, had been hit once and still had slivers of shrapnel embedded in his back from a roadside IED. Nothing he’d done—training stateside or covert operations overseas—had prepared him for this kind of “mission.” He’d rather be dropped behind enemy lines than continue with this façade. Lying to Izzy made him feel like the scum of the earth. Everything had seemed so simple before, but realizing Izzy was an actual person, not part of some deal, put everything in a different light. No matter what he’d done in life, he’d prided himself on his honesty. If it wasn’t for his brother, he’d seriously consider walking away from this deal right now.
“Well?” the other man persisted when Adam didn’t answer.
“You know I want the contract. I’m also fulfilling my part of the bargain. Five weeks protection detail. If she won’t move back, I can’t force her.”
“I know that. It would be a lot better for you if she did, though.”
Adam gritted his teeth. They’d signed a contract but something told him that even though he wasn’t technically required to convince Izzy to move home, Edward was expecting just that. A miracle. “I’ll contact you if anything changes.”
As he got out of his truck he noticed Izzy’s car sitting across the parking lot. He’d hoped to arrive earlier than her, but fate wasn’t on his side tonight. If it had been, he’d never have put himself in the position to kiss Izzy. In reality, he knew he couldn’t blame anyone but himself for that.
Once he stepped inside he expected to see her standing behind the bar, but Carolyn was there instead.
“I didn’t think you were bartending anymore.”
He walked around the bar and clocked himself into the computer.
“I’m not. Toby asked me to cover for a few minutes. He’s talking to Izzy in his office,”
Her tone set an alarm bell off in his head. “Is she okay?”
The petite blonde shrugged, but Adam didn’t miss the hint of worry that crept into her eyes. “I don’t know. She seemed a little shaken up when she came in, but she wanted to talk to Toby first.”
That’s all he needed to hear. If it involved Izzy, it involved him. He pushed open the kitchen doors and continued through the expansive room toward the back of the restaurant until he stood in front of the office door.
The door was shut. Something that rarely happened. As he raised his hand to knock, the door flew open and he found himself face-to-face with Izzy.
Surprise on her face, she took a step back.
“Hey. You okay?”
She nodded, then glanced at her feet. “I’ve got to relieve Carolyn. See ya in a bit.”
She brushed past him and had made it halfway through the kitchen before he could protest. A second later the door opened wider and Toby stepped out. “Got a second?”
“Yeah. What’s going on?” He followed his boss back inside the small office.
Toby motioned for him to take a seat in one of the chairs in front of his desk. Then he perched on the edge of the desk. “Starting tonight, I want everyone keeping an eye out for anything or anyone suspicious, and I don’t want any of the servers walking to their cars alone after work.
Male or female.”
“What the hell is going on?” Had something happened to Izzy?
Toby sighed and rubbed a hand over his face.
“It could be a prank, but Izzy received a strange call this afternoon. Some guy said she was going to pay for her interference last night and inferred that she was going to replace the woman from last night. Or at least that’s what she thinks he meant.
I’ve already called the cops and let them know what’s going on.”
Shit, maybe that was why she’d called earlier.
“Is she okay?”
“She’s physically fine, and she only seems a little shaken up. I think she wanted to alert me in case this turned out to be real.”
“Do you think this is a prank?”
Toby shook his head. “The guy knew her name. He had her phone number, and he knew about last night. Only a handful of people know what happened here so odds are this is real.”