Once the car pulled away, she heard Reed yelling her name.
Reed’s first thought was to call Danny, but then he switched gears.
He picked up speed on the freeway in an effort to catch up to the black sedan taking Lori home. The desk and valet at the hotel delayed him long enough to give Lori a fifteen-minute head start.
The phone through the system in his Jeep rang several times before Cooper picked up.
“It’s Reed. I need you to be at Lori’s when she gets there.”
“Is she okay?” The tone in Cooper’s voice said he was waking up.
“No. I fucked up. She’s not thinking straight.”
“I’m sure you’ll hear the details, but what you need to know is she is still being watched. Petrov has a woman following her. Five seven, looks like a Russian movie star, complete with an accent, although she spoke at least two languages. Who knows how many more. So she might be able to disguise herself.”
“How do you know all this?”
“Not important. Just be there, Cooper. Lori should be back home within the hour. If she won’t let you in her place, park yourself in the hall.”
Reed disconnected the call and weaved through the light early Sunday traffic.
Twenty minutes into his drive, he spotted the sedan and slowed down.
He kept pace several cars behind, not that he cared if Lori knew he followed her home. Once they hit the city, he pulled in closer, running red lights to keep up.
The driver pulled into the turnaround at Lori’s building and opened the door.
She’d put on sunglasses, even though the sky was littered with low clouds and fog.
He’d crushed her.
Lori lifted her head and stared directly at his car, parked on the opposite side of the street. She paused, lifted her chin, and walked away.
Reed’s grip on the steering wheel turned his knuckles white.
He had no one to blame but himself, but the need to punch out his frustration overwhelmed him. It was times like this he wished he’d taken up boxing. He could throw himself into a ring and let someone beat the crap out of him, just because he deserved it.
Tears overwhelmed her until she hit Ventura. That’s when she noticed Reed lagging behind. She had considered asking the driver to speed up, but to what end? Reed knew where she lived. He knew where she worked, and he knew her secrets.
Once inside the safety of her home, she slammed the door, closed her eyes, and leaned against it. She slid down the door until she was sitting on the floor, her knees to her chest, and cried.
How stupid. How could she be so stupid? They met at a bar on a cruise ship. She remembered their first look, the first flirt. He said he’d looked at the bill to capture her name and follow her around. Even joked that he was stalking her.
She fisted her hair in her hands as she held her head. Everything felt so normal, completely by chance.
But it was all fabricated.
She lifted swollen eyes toward Danny. Cooper stood at his side.
“What are you doing here?” she managed to ask.
“Reed called me.”
She forced her jaw to stay closed and squeezed her eyes shut, as if that alone would erase him from her mind. She scrambled to her feet, leaving her purse, which had spilled all over the floor, and her suitcase where she’d dropped them, and stormed to her bedroom.
Inside, she wiped her tears away with the back of her hand and smelled him. The scent of Reed was still on her skin.
The blouse she wore was silk, one of her favorites. She yanked it from her back and marched into her bathroom. There, she filled her wastebasket with the clothes she wore. She stood under the hot stream of water until it turned cold, all the while thinking of everything that had happened since she met Reed. They’d made love in her shower, on the counter in the kitchen, against the damn front door. Never again. She vowed to herself that she’d never again allow a man to enter her personal space. Burning the clothes she’d been wearing when he used her for the last time was easy, cheap, but moving wasn’t an option.
She tossed on an old shirt and panties and crawled under her sheets. Thankfully, her cleaning service had been there since Reed visited last. The thought had crossed her mind that she needed to make some calls, make sure Sam was aware that Alliance was compromised. She needed to order their private investigator to find out who Reed Barlow really was. If that was even his name. Had she ever seen anything with his identification on it? There were photo IDs on the ship, but she couldn’t say for sure she ever glanced at his. They charged things to their rooms, didn’t need credit cards. When they went out, he paid in cash. No ID needed. And no need for a waiter to thank a Mr. Barlow.
A soft knock on the door stopped her stream of thoughts.
A tiny click and the door opened. Without asking, Avery walked in and crawled up on the bed beside her.
Those damn tears returned. “He lied to me.”
Without asking questions, Avery opened her arms and Lori crawled in. “Just cry,” Avery encouraged her. “We’ll figure out how to kick his ass later.”
Lori hiccupped and sobbed.
In a biometric safe under the back seat in Reed’s Jeep was his gun. He removed it and tucked it into his waistband before entering his apartment.
He considered the lock on the door, one he had reinforced when he’d moved in but knew it wouldn’t take him a full minute to break into. A twist of the handle and sure enough, it was unlocked. No reason for Sasha to cover her tracks when she’d already admitted by photograph that she’d been inside.
Still, he crept into his own place with his 9 mm poised. It was time to stop being a PI and start being a cop. He pushed the door open, waited, and swung in. No one pointed a gun back. Still, he moved slowly, room by room, closet by closet, under the bed.
He returned to the living room, closed the door with his foot, and set his weapon on his kitchen table. The room looked relatively normal with one exception.
A bottle of champagne sat on the counter, open, with a wineglass carrying some of the contents of the bottle.
Red lipstick stained the rim of the glass.
Beside that was a burner cell phone.
Not only had the woman broken into his home, but she drank the champagne he’d forgotten to take with him up to Santa Barbara. And she’d sent him the message from his kitchen.
He left the glass and phone alone with the intention of having them dusted for prints. He still had friends in the department who owed him a favor or two.
In his office, the out of place element was his hidden wall. She’d left his camouflage wide open.
He’d modeled his evidence wall after the one in the police station from when he was on the force. They’d post pictures, notes, evidence, and where it was collected like a road map. Every time he looked at it, another piece fell into place.
It had worked for him then, and it worked now.
Except now he was solo and only a Home Depot door lock and a grumpy next-door neighbor protected his place when Reed wasn’t there.
He grabbed the metal trash can by his desk, turned it upside down on the floor, and started ripping apart his evidence.
One at a time, he fed the contents of the board into his shredder until it was nothing but a memory and a snapshot on his phone. He didn’t need anyone else happening upon what he’d learned.
When finished, he looked around the room. She’d planted bugs. He would have.
He moved to his bedroom, emptied his duffel bag, and proceeded to fill it with clothing to last a few days.
Back in his office, he fished out cash, a new passport, new ID, and a new credit card from a hidden compartment in his filing cabinet. Outside of the slight felony of having identification that wasn’t truly his, he wasn’t a criminal, just pushing the legal envelope. Or so he justified to himself. He did understand the streets and what he needed to blend, however.
And right now Reed Barlow needed to disappear to do everything he could to keep Lori safe.
He placed a holster on his shoulder, shoved extra clips in his bag. He’d call Jenkins to come over and retrieve the wineglass and Sasha’s cell.
He made it to the end of the hall when two men who looked like they lived at the gym stopped him.
“Good morning, Reed.” The man who greeted him chewed gum and smiled.
“Do I know you?” He calculated how fast he could draw his weapon and what the likelihood was that the men in front of him weren’t carrying.
Slim to no way in hell.
“You called my employee this morning.” The second man was all business.
His pulse slowed slightly. Lori’s people, not Petrov’s.
“Going somewhere?” Mr. Smiles asked.
“My place is compromised,” he said.
Mr. Serious nodded toward the stairs.
Without a choice, Reed followed. He wouldn’t be able to take them both, so he wasn’t going to try. If Cooper was any indication of the kind of men these two were, he wasn’t at risk of ending up in cement shoes in the bottom of the ocean.
Inside the parking garage, Mr. Smiles relieved Reed’s shoulder of his bag and shoved it into the back of a blacked out sedan. The second man lifted his hand, palm up.
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