“I just want some time to gather my thoughts. You can come over later—”

“I’m not talking about in your house! When are you going to let me be part of your life?”

“This isn’t about you. I just need time to think.” Another shiver rolled over her as the wind seeped through her jacket, chilling her bone deep. Something inside her core told her the tremble had nothing to do with the weather.

“It’s never about me or us. You only let me in whenever you feel like it. If we’re going to get married, we have to start acting like a team. Let me help with this.” His voice rose a few octaves.

Something she’d never heard from him before. She didn’t blame him for being angry, but she couldn’t give him any more. Not now. Maybe not ever. She’d let a man into her life once and when he’d left, he’d taken a huge chunk of her heart. Even though she was marrying Michael, it scared her to think another man could have that kind of emotional power over her again. She just couldn’t let him in. “Do you really want to have this conversation here?”

“I don’t care if we have it on the middle of Main Street. We’re getting married in a few weeks and I don’t even have a key to your place! I’m so sick of…” He rubbed a hand over his face and shook his head, immediately calming down. “Forget it. I’ll call you later.” He brushed past her without a goodbye kiss and got into his car.

Part of her wanted to tell him to stay, but she couldn’t find the words. When he pulled out of the driveway, she noticed her neighbor across the street blatantly peering at her through open blinds. She quickly fished her keys out of her purse and let herself inside.

Before she could even think about anything else, she called Gwen.

“Hey, sweetie, I thought you were at your fitting.”

“Listen, can you pick up Jonathan after school?” She threw her purse on the foyer table and walked down the hall to her kitchen.

“Of course. What’s going on?” She heard the sound of rustling papers in the background.

Alexis forced the words out. “I just saw Hunter Cassidy.”


“Did you hear me?”

Gwen cleared her throat and Alexis could picture her tapping her finger on her desk, something she did when she was nervous. “I don’t even know what to say.”

“Join the club.” She pulled out a dusty bottle of red wine from one of the cabinets. She rarely drank, and never before noon, but something had to dull the agitated, restless sensation swarming through her.

“What are you going to do?”

“As soon as I figure that out, I’ll let you know. If you don’t mind, can Jonathan stay the night too? He’s been bugging me to stay over there for weeks anyway. I’d owe you big-time.”

“Hush up. You don’t owe me anything, you know that.”

“You’re a lifesaver. I’ll call the school and let them know what’s going on.” She wasn’t about to tell them everything, but she needed to give them a heads-up.

As soon as they disconnected, she rubbed the back of her neck and dialed the school. How was this possible? And so close to her wedding no less. Talk about Murphy’s Law.

The wall clock told her it was just past twelve. Perfect. Now she didn’t feel too guilty about the wine. After a brief conversation with a school administrator, she poured herself a small glass, then started a bubble bath.

Since buying her house four years ago, Alexis had slowly renovated each room. Her bathroom had been the first major overhaul. As she slipped into the whirlpool tub, she was thankful she’d decided to spend the extra money on the massage jets. She stayed under the water until her fingers turned to prunes. Still, a fracturing headache lingered at the back of her skull.

The dull throb in her head rapidly spread through the rest of her body when she stepped from the tub. She felt as if the imaginary bandage she’d kept on her heart for the past six years had been ripped off.

In one quick swoop.

No warning, nothing. Just bam, Hunter shows up out of the blue. A million times she’d practiced what she would say to him if she ever saw him. In none of those scenarios had she frozen like an idiot. She should have confronted him, yelled at him or…done something.

After brushing her hair and wringing out the dampness, she pulled her terry-cloth towel tighter around her body and opened the door to her bedroom. A movement from the corner of the room caught her eye, and she let out a startled shout.

On the other side of the room, a dark, muscular man held a vicious-looking knife in his hand. He wore a black sweater, black jacket and gloves, and a black ski mask had been pushed back up on his head. Exposing his face. He obviously didn’t care if she saw him. Her throat seized as the knowledge sank in. She gauged the distance to her bedroom door. She’d never make it out.

It felt as if time stood still. Her palms turned to ice and a low roar started in her ears. She was not going to become a victim.

Somehow she found her voice. “My jewelry is on the nightstand, and I have money in the safe.” She clutched her towel tighter and backed up a step. Never before had she felt so exposed. So vulnerable.

Her body alternated between flashes of hot and cold. She couldn’t take her eyes off the deadly blade in his hand.

“I’ll take that and more.” He spoke in a clipped accent.

Terror forked through her body like jagged lightning at the implication. She opened her mouth, but her tongue seemed to swell.

His empty eyes hardened when she didn’t respond. “Where’s the kid?”

“What?” Her voice came out as a whisper.

He held up the knife and twisted it slowly in his hand. The metal gleamed wickedly in the light, illuminating his expression. The dark flash of lust in his eyes made her want to vomit. He is enjoying this.

Ignoring her question, he took a step closer. Alexis didn’t pause. She lunged back into the bathroom and slammed the lock into place. If he wanted in, he would have to shoot through the door to get to her. And she hadn’t seen a gun. Of course he could try kicking through but the door was solid oak. It had cost a small fortune and now she was thankful for it.

She moved behind the huge wooden linen cabinet and pushed it over until it fell in front of the door. Then she pulled out a can of hair spray and huddled behind it, using her legs to push against it and the door, adding extra weight. If he did blast into the room, she might be able to catch him off guard enough to spray him in the eyes and escape. It wasn’t pepper spray, but it could do some damage.

Before she had time to even think of any other plan of action, there was a bang on the door. She heard muted movements and loud shouts just outside.

Then nothing but silence. Eerie silence.

Finally, she heard a soft knock on the door, and a voice she knew all too well called her name.

“Alexis? Are you okay?” Hunter’s deep voice hadn’t changed.

A burst of relief blossomed in her chest, but it was short-lived. She didn’t move. For all she knew, he could be back to kidnap her son.

“It’s okay to come out… Answer me, Alexis.” Genuine worry laced his words, somewhat alleviating her fears that he was part of this. He pounded on the door. “Alexis! Please answer me. Are you hurt?”

“Give me one good reason why I should trust you.”

“Damn it, woman, you were always so stubborn. Open the door…please.” Even through the thick wood, she could hear the strain in his voice.

Alexis weighed her options. It wasn’t as if she could stay there forever. Despite her painful history with Hunter, she knew he’d never physically hurt her. That was the deciding factor in her decision. After pushing the fallen cabinet out of the way, she swung open the door. “What the hell is going on?” She shoved against his chest. Too many emotions swirled inside her and anger seemed like the best outlet.

Hunter stared hard for a moment, then his mouth curved into a small smile, which only infuriated her more. “You haven’t changed a bit. I expected to have a half-hysterical, crying woman on my hands.”

“I’m glad you find all of this so amusing. What is going on? Who is that man?” He opened his mouth but she continued, “And what are you doing here a few weeks before my wedding?”

His expression hardened at the mention of her wedding. “I’ll explain everything later. We need to get out of here. Now.” His tone didn’t invite argument, but she wasn’t his girlfriend anymore.

She wasn’t his anything. Memories threatened to surface, but fear rose up inside her, overriding them. She clutched her towel as if it were a lifeline. “Where is he?”

He paused. “Downstairs.”

“Is he…” She couldn’t finish because she already knew the answer.

“Yes. He’s dead.” His voice was flat, emotionless, and for a moment he looked like a stranger to her. Hell, for all intents and purposes, he was.

“Who was he?” Not that it mattered. Her ex-lover stood right in front of her and had just killed someone. In her house. Everything that had happened today seemed surreal, almost inconceivable. A hysterical laugh escaped before she could rein it back in. This was insane.

“I’ll explain everything later, but first we need to get out of this house.” He sighed and rubbed a hand over his face. A very tanned face—as if he spent a lot of time outdoors—that had only grown more handsome over the years. He leaned against the door frame and crossed his arms over his chest. With his sleeves rolled up to his elbows, he showcased sinewy lines and corded muscles that some primitive, traitorous part of her itched to run her hands over. And he expected her to do exactly as he said. Like the past six years hadn’t happened.

She tensed as another thought occurred to her. “Is there more than one of them?”

“For a contract like this, only one person is generally sent, but I don’t want to stick around and wait for someone else to show up.”

“Contract? What are you talking about? Why are you here?” She couldn’t keep the waver out of her voice, and she desperately needed to sit down. Without her heels on, she was almost a foot shorter than him and she hated his advantage. He had a distinctive male air about him. When she was younger, she’d found it sexy and exciting. Now she knew better.