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First pages

Chapter One

As Elle stepped through the fire door and into the parking lot, she paused and closed her eyes, allowing the crisp night air to cool her overheated skin. A smile played at the edges of her lips as she recalled her set, which had gone perfectly!

If only they could all go so well.

Of course, tonight’s performance was just two songs for a small cable channel, on a magazine-slash-chat show that aired at 11:00 p.m., but she had never cared about audience numbers, that was for the Suits to worry about. She just loved performing. Hand her a microphone, point her to a stage and she was in heaven.

She inhaled deeply, filling her lungs with the chilly air.

The sound of running disturbed her relaxing moment but because they were in soft running shoes, she didn’t really notice them until they were close enough to hit her. A fist connected with the side of her face, making her see stars. Another fist felt like it went through her stomach, driving the air from her lungs and making her double over in pain. One quick push on her shoulder and she was on the ground.

She felt something wet hit her face, blinding her for a moment but finally regaining a sliver of her wits, she lashed out with her right foot.

She connected and it sounded like her attacker was cursing through clenched teeth and hopping on one foot.

As she frantically tried to wipe the liquid from her eyes, she heard him say something like, “Gonna flipping kill you, you flipping witch!” although it was probably nastier than that.

Like hell you are!’ she thought viciously. She seemed to have regained the ability to breathe and she inhaled deeply, although she had no time to savor the air this time as she screamed at the top of her lungs.

She heard him swear again, then the fire door flew open and although she still couldn’t see properly, she had cleared enough of the liquid away to squint. She saw light spill out across the tarmac before she heard those soft shoes run away.

“Ella, are you all right?” It was Marcus, kneeling on the tarmac, hands hovering over her, flapping uselessly.

She really didn’t know the answer to that; she wasn’t seriously hurt, but she definitely was not ‘all right’.

“Here,” he pushed a handkerchief into her hand, which she used to wipe her eyes. “It’s all right, I’m here now, you’re safe.”

Only he wasn’t the one she wanted to be here.

The door opened again, so fast it slammed into the wall with a resounding thud.

“Christ!” he exclaimed, and she instantly relaxed.

“David?”

“It’s me.”

She managed to open her eyes as he got down on one knee beside her.

“What happened? Where are you hurt?” He began pulling her clothing away from her skin, looking for something.

“I’m fine,” she assured him, her voice shaking.

“You’re covered in blood!”

The lighting out here was minimal and what little there was the dim orange of sodium lighting, so she hadn’t recognized what she was covered in but with the fire door still open she held the white handkerchief into the light from inside. It was dark red, like blood.

David had pulled his phone out and was making a call. “Yes, ambulance please. I think my friend has been stabbed.”

“No!” She grabbed his arm. “He threw it on me, I’m fine.”

“He threw blood on you?” David asked.

She felt her stomach area, just in case he’d stabbed rather than punched her, but that felt dry, her face and shoulders had received most of the fluid.

“Yes, I’m fine.”

“Okay, sorry, false alarm,” he said to the operator. “No, it looks like she’ll have one hell of a shiner but she doesn’t need an ambulance, we’ll get her to a hospital.”

“No, really,” she pleaded once he’d hung up. “I just want to go back to the hotel and take a long shower!” She was starting to shake now and she really just wanted to be alone so she could curl up and cry.

“Even if you are fine, you need a hospital report for the police.” David said sternly.

“I’ll take her,” Marcus offered.

David was silent for a moment, thinking quickly and eyeing Marcus doubtfully.

“All right, thank you. Don’t leave her alone, do you understand?” David ordered.

“I won’t.”

“Which hospital will you take her to?”

“Um . . . my sat nav will know the closest.”

“Great, text me and let me know which hospital and I’ll have the police meet you there to take a statement. I have some calls to make so I’ll meet up with you at the hotel tomorrow morning.”

“I’ll take care of her.” Marcus assured him.

Each man took an elbow and they helped her to her feet. As she stood she realized that there was a small crowd by the fire exit, watching the show.

Elle could feel her eyes filling with tears and blinked furiously to hold them back. She would not cry, not yet, not in front of people.

“She’s fine,” Marcus told the small crowd of observers as he led her over to his car.

“What about my driver?” she asked. A car service had brought her here.

“I’ve sent him home,” Marcus said as they reached his car. “After a shock like that, you should be with friends.”

She was too shaken up to know what she wanted so she simply said, “Thank you.”

“My pleasure,” he smiled warmly at her.

***

David scanned the gloomy bar until his eyes alighted on a familiar form, the man he’d come here to find, Captain Robert Conrad.

He was far from the strapping young man David had taught, although his military training could be seen in the sharpness of his gaze. Conrad had been a cut above from the start however, which is how he ended up as a Captain in the Special Boat Service, the naval equivalent of the SAS, or a British Navy Seal, if you will. He might be well on his way to being drunk, but he hadn’t lost his edge. Good thing in a place like this too, it wasn’t exactly a licensed premises.

As soon as he moved deeper into the bar, the other man’s eyes cut straight to him, taking in his haircut—expensive, his suit—very expensive, his watch—don’t even ask, and his limp—the reason he’d left the Marines.

His eyebrows rose slightly as David slipped into the chair opposite him, but he didn’t offer any greeting.

“You look like shit,” David said as an opening gambit.

Conrad just shrugged and sipped his drink. Probably bourbon or whiskey, unless his tastes had drastically changed.

“What do you want, Stephens?” he growled.

“I want to hire you,” he said.

“I’m not for sale.”

“Not what I heard,” David goaded him.

Conrad slammed his tumbler down hard enough for some of the liquid to slosh out and he leveled a glare at his new companion that would turn milk sour. Clearly David had touched a nerve.

He knew that since he’d left the SBS, Conrad had been working for Blackwatch, a private military group out in Afghanistan. Until recently, that is.

“And I’m a civilian now, I go by David.”

“Well, David,” the name dripped with scorn, “Take your offer and leave me be.”

David reached into his inner pocket and pulled a picture of a young woman out, which he slid across the table. Conrad only glanced at it but as David hoped, his gaze was quickly drawn back to the beautiful young woman pictured.

“Who is she?” he asked with reluctance.

“The closest thing I have to a daughter.”

Conrad’s challenging gaze met his, but David didn’t flinch.

“What’s that got to do with me?”

“Someone wants to hurt her.”

“You can protect her,” Conrad said indifferently.

“Fifteen years ago, maybe. Now I’m middle-aged, missing most of a calf muscle, and I was never in your league to begin with. Besides, I have a wife, a company and two sons. She needs full-time protection from the best.”

“Why? Sweet looking thing like that, who did she piss off?” Conrad asked cynically.

Instead of answering, David withdrew a sheaf of photocopied letters from his opposite pocket and unfolded them before handing them over. He’d helpfully highlighted the worst phrases.

‘ . . . cut you into pieces . . . ’

‘ . . . feed your flesh to the dogs while you watch!’

‘ . . . hack your lying neck off your pretty little shoulders and-’

Conrad pushed the letters away.

“Since then he’s broken into her home and left . . . well, he sprayed semen all over her bed and left another lovely love note on her pillow—”

“Can’t the police trace him from his DNA?”

“The semen wasn't his and honestly, the police aren’t very interested. I sent a sample myself to a private lab, which told me it was bull semen” David explained grimly. “The police don’t have the manpower to take every threat seriously, and even if they did, they can’t provide round the clock protection, which is why she was attacked tonight, leaving a studio.”

Conrad’s eyes cut straight to his as he asked, “Studio?”

“She’s a singer, one of my artists, and she’s doing a promotional tour for her first single. Her album comes out in about five weeks and she’s got TV shows, interviews and events booked regularly for the next three months.”

“Tell her to cancel, a singing career isn’t worth her life.”

“Even if I suggested it, she wouldn’t. She’s not one to run away and hide when things get tough, besides, the music company has invested too much money in her to let her quit. Until recently she was a session singer, she’s never going to be able to buy her way out of her contract on that sort of money.”

“Why don’t you buy her out?” his gaze dropped to the fancy watch.

David took it off and passed it over to Conrad. The second hand ticked rather than moving smoothly. It was a fake.

“My wife and I are growing the business which has left us rather . . . overextended.”

“Then how do you intend to pay me?” Conrad asked.

David withdrew a thick envelope from another pocket and passed it over, exchanging it for the fake Rolex.

“Why do you think I pawned the watch?” he asked as he put the fake back on his wrist.

Conrad counted the money and whistled. “She must mean a lot to you.”

“She does. Please, I’m asking as a friend, look after her for me?”

Conrad sat silently for a long moment, then he picked up the photograph.

Elle was sitting on a large rock in a field somewhere, wearing loose, slightly hippy-ish clothes, her black hair hung over her shoulders in soft waves, a guitar poised on her knee and she smiled as she looked into the camera. She looked so sweet and innocent, and just so damn nice! That shot had taken his breath away when he first saw it, it completely captured the essence of who she was. Of course the record company went with something edgier and had moved her image from country girl to something sleek and sophisticated, but that didn’t change who she was at heart.

“Why me?” Conrad skimmed a finger along the curve of the woman’s cheek, his eyes still on the photo. He set it down again, distancing himself from the temptation to play hero to the innocent face he saw. He wasn't anyone's hero.

“Because you’re the best . . . or at least, you used to be.” The man before him still seemed sharp, but he’d lost . . . something. “What happened to you?”

He knew some of it. The disillusionment that came with having been sent into an illegal war in Iraq. The horror of seeing war-torn towns shot to pieces. The civilian casualties, the women and children maimed and wounded . . . and they were the lucky ones! The body count increased daily, and the people responsible for those deaths resided thousands of miles away, happily giving kill orders from behind the safety of a desk.

Only from what David had heard, Conrad hadn’t enjoyed civilian life and had soon returned to the Middle East, this time paid handsomely by one of the civilian-military operations, or mercenaries.

“Don’t ask,” Conrad answered, then downed the rest of his drink.

David recognized the haunted look in his eyes, almost everyone he’d ever served with had that look. What caused it differed, but he knew better than to pry, just as Conrad knew better than to pry at him. The warrior’s code never really left them.

“She’s not some spoiled brat, is she?” he asked, reluctantly drawn back to the photo. His eyes narrowed as he stared almost accusingly at the woman in the picture.

“No, she’s as sweet as she looks.” A slight smile ghosted over David’s lips.

“So what happened at the studio?”

“As she was leaving someone attacked her. When I got to her she was covered in blood. I thought he’d stabbed her, but she said he’d thrown something on her. Probably animal blood again, but I think he landed a couple of blows before he was chased off.”

“She okay?” he grunted the question abruptly.

“She says so, but I know she’s shaken up. I had the record label executive take her to the hospital to get checked out and they released her about an hour ago.”

“So she’s alone?”

“No, the executive from Sonic Music is staying with her until I can get there.”

Conrad sighed as if he should know better, shaking his head. He did know better, but he was going to do it anyway. He gritted his teeth.

“Give me the address, I’ll meet you there in the morning.”

David already had it written out and handed a slip of paper over.

“She’s staying at a hotel for her London commitments. I’ll book you an adjoining room.”

“Don’t,” Conrad warned as he pocketed the paper. “I’ll handle the accommodations.”

“Have a shave and wear something that looks like it’s been ironed, please.” David implored.

“Yes, Mother,” Conrad flashed a wry smile.

David reached for the copies of the threatening letters, he didn’t want the story getting out, but Conrad was faster.

“I’ll keep those, they’ll give me an idea of what we’re dealing with.”

David relaxed; Conrad might have issues but his game was still strong.

Conrad hesitated for a moment before speaking. “I was sorry to hear about your leg. I meant to call, write . . . something.”

David waved away the comments, his expression saying it was nothing. It wasn't nothing, but he understood why Conrad, and so many others, had been silent after his run-in with an IED. For athletic, active, alpha males, of which the armed forces tend to attract more than their fair share, injury and especially disability were frightening things. He’d behaved the same way a time or two, when not knowing what to say kept him silent, so he could hardly rake Conrad over the coals for the same crime.

“I’ll see you tomorrow.” David said as he got up from the table and headed out. He paused by the door, pleased when he saw Conrad putting his jacket on rather than ordering another drink.

***

Elle stared at the nasty shiner. The swelling was mostly confined to her cheekbone, but the bruising had extended to under her eye. Still, she’d been getting so little sleep recently that the purple circle under her other eye was nearly as dark.

She didn’t need a mirror to see the bruise forming on her stomach but that didn’t hurt as much, it was more of a dull ache. Her cheekbone on the other hand, was very tender to the touch and she could feel it throbbing in time with her heartbeat, which was faster than it should be.

She knew David was keeping the true extent of the threats from her, and part of her loved him for trying to protect her, but she wasn’t some wilting wallflower. If someone was coming for her, she wanted to know as much as she could. Ignorance was no preparation, but David was adamant that he could keep her safe and handle it, she just needed to focus on her singing.

Well, getting killed will probably boost my sales,’ she thought with a wry smile.

Someone knocked on the bathroom door and she jumped, then shook her head in exasperation.

“You okay in there?” Marcus called.

He’d been really good to take her to the hospital and stay with her last night, but she did wish she could be alone for more than a few minutes!

What she really would have liked was to return to her little cottage in Essex and curl up in her own bed with her own things, but she needed to stay local for all her engagements.

“I’m fine,” she called back.

“You’ve been in there a long time.” There was an unnecessary note of concern in his voice. Her stalker wasn't from a Mission Impossible movie, she was perfectly safe in a locked bathroom!

He was sweet but his constant worrying was starting to grate on her nerves.

“I like long showers,” she replied. She’d showered for half an hour last night, trying to not just wash the disgusting blood off, but the memory of it. A shower was a good excuse to be alone for a while, so she’d fudged an excuse this morning about still feeling unclean. She shivered; it hadn't been far from the truth.

It was kind of him to stay, especially since he’d had to sleep in a chair, but she needed time to herself, sometimes. Well, often, if she was honest. She was all right when people were quiet, but Marcus liked to talk to her and she found that draining after a while.

“As long as you’re okay . . . ”

“I’ll be out soon,” she assured him.

“I was just thinking, there’s a little cafe down the street. If you wanted, we could pop out for some breakfast. What do you think?”

She thought it sounded frightening, not to mention that she wasn't in the mood to make polite chit-chat, but Marcus seemed utterly oblivious to her need to be quiet and alone in order to recapture her balance and confidence after such a terrifying experience.

“I thought I’d order room service,” she lied as she pulled the shower cap off—she’d already washed her hair three times last night—and undid the plait she’d slept in, hopeful when brushed out it would look like those soft waves some women seem to have so effortlessly. Unfortunately she was not one of those women and it looked awful; she’d either have to straighten it or plait it again, so she opted for the latter, tying it off with the same hair elastic.

Marcus didn't reply immediately but she eventually heard some kind of noise which she took to be an affirmative.

She changed into the clothes she’d brought in, jeans and a jumper. She knew the record company wanted her to look sophisticated but she was still a nobody and who was going to care if she was dressed down?

“Ella?” Marcus called through the door.

“Yes?” Why did he always use her stage name? She’d asked him to call her Elle more than once, but he always called her Ella.

“Your agent is here.”

“Coming.” She sighed. Was half an hour alone really too much to ask?

She pulled her socks on, adjusted her bra under her sweater, then opened the door and prepared to face the music, a fake smile plastered on her face. She wished she’d had time to put her makeup on, but she hadn’t thought to bring it into the bathroom with her because she preferred to make up using natural light if possible.

David winced as he saw her.

“Does it hurt?” he asked, enveloping her in a warm but careful hug.

Wrapped in his caring arms she almost teared up but she managed to blink them back.

“No, it’s fine,” she lied.

She noticed that a stranger stood behind him and she stiffened. He was in his mid to late thirties, his light brown hair just a touch too long to be professional, and unlike David and Marcus, who never wore less than a suit, he was dressed rather like her, in jeans, a blue sweater and a light coat. He was even wearing boots, although his didn’t have a heel like hers did.

He was doing that thing David did, checking out the exits and windows. She wondered if he was ex-military, like her agent. He had that air.

Even scowling, he was rather attractive, but she was sure that if he ever smiled he’d be devastating. ‘A real heartbreaker,’ her gran would have called him.

She released David and stepped back, plastering a fresh smile on her face for him, since he was sure to be looking for signs of distress.

“How are you holding up?”

“I’m just fine, Marcus has been taking excellent care of me, although there’s really no need, I’m perfectly safe with the chain across the door, even in a hotel.”

“That’s your first mistake,” the new man said, stepping back towards the door. “Thieves have a way around every chain, a stalker could easily learn those tricks since there are tutorials on sites like YouTube these days. Besides, most chains aren’t worth the money because they’re installed using short screws.” He grabbed the chain and with one swift yank, it came out of the door frame. “They’re really more a cosmetic thing than a true safety feature.”

The chain was swinging from his hand as he walked back towards them. He handed it to her.

“Sorry,” he said blandly.

She looked at the chain, which had indeed been held in place with tiny screws, no longer than half an inch.

If he was trying to dent her confidence, he had succeeded.

“Are you all right, Ella?” Marcus asked as she stared dumbly at the chain in her hand.

“This is Captain Robert Conrad, a private security expert,” David explained. “He’ll be your bodyguard from this point on until this creep is caught and jailed.”

“I . . . ” she swallowed down the lump of fear in her throat. “I don’t want a bodyguard.”

“Too bad, because you’re getting one.” David scowled at her, something he rarely did. He decided to lay down the law before she could argue with him, a tactic that worked very well with his own children. “No arguments, Ellen! Stacey wouldn’t forgive me if anything happened to you, and the boys would be devastated.”

“Pack your bags,” Conrad ordered.

“Um, sorry, Rob was it?” Marcus stepped forward.

“Conrad,” he corrected, looking Marcus over as if he was coolly assessing him and figuring out how best to take him down with the least amount of trouble.

“I’m Marcus Blake, from Sonic Music. We’re looking after Miss Ray.”

“Obviously not very well,” Conrad said with derision, looking at Elle’s bruises. “From this point on, I handle her accommodations and transport. I’ll pay for them from my own pocket so her location isn’t common knowledge, and bill you for expenses.”

“We can’t afford—”

“To keep your artists safe?” he interrupted, raising a haughty eyebrow. “The tabloids would love to hear that.”

Marcus had the good grace to blush but he still tried to argue. “But we—”

“I spoke to Rupert,” David interrupted Marcus’s objections. “He agreed.”

“You went over my head?” Marcus pouted.

“How old are you?” Conrad asked, rolling his eyes at the petulant behavior of the music executive.

“Thirty,” Marcus said defensively, standing taller.

Unfortunately, he did look younger than his age. He tried to mitigate it with a utilitarian, slicked-back hairstyle, and impeccably tailored suits, but honestly, he often still resembled a teenager going for his first job interview.

Conrad raised his eyebrows but didn’t comment further.

Everyone stood where they were for a moment, looking around the circle.

“What are we waiting for?” Marcus snapped.

“For Ms. Ray to pack,” Conrad stated. “Then we’ll go out the staff entrance and find her a new hotel for—”

“Excuse me, but is anyone actually going to consult me about what I want to do?” Elle demanded, crossing her arms defensively.

David turned to her. “Sorry darling, but in this instance, no. Conrad knows what he’s doing, he’ll keep you safe and take this bastard down if he gets the chance.” His stance softened and he stepped closer to her. “I know you hate this, but please, it’s just for a little while and it’s for your own good.”

“He’s sent more letters hasn’t he?” she asked, trying to mask the tremor in her voice.

“He’s moved onto emails now,” David admitted.

She frowned. “I haven’t seen any emails from—”

“You saved your password on our home PC. I’ve set your account to send them straight to your junk file and I’ve been deleting them periodically.”

“You did all that, but you didn’t bother to tell me?!” Her outrage was palpable.

“I didn’t want you to worry,” he said grimly.

Elle rolled her eyes and ground her teeth in frustration.

“Elle, I know you don’t like this, but please, do it for me?” David asked, taking the wind from her sails.

She was silent for a while, then she gave a tiny, almost imperceptible nod.

“Thank you,” he said with relief.

She took a deep breath and headed for her suitcase.

“We’ll take it from here,” Conrad told Marcus, clearly dismissing him.

Marcus was silent for a moment. “All right, just send me the hotel details.”

“No can do. No one knows where she’s staying but me,” Conrad stated firmly.

“But I have to arrange cars—”

“I’ll handle all that, just keep me updated on her appearance schedule,” Conrad said brusquely.

Marcus ground his teeth, but acquiesced. “Well, we’re clear until this afternoon, when she has an interview and quick photoshoot for Blues Matters, promoting Sound of Silence, her first single.”

Conrad nodded sharply. “Just text me where and when, and I’ll make sure she’s there.”

“Well, we’ll get out of your hair.” David said, gesturing for Marcus to go ahead. The other man hesitated looking frustrated, but eventually he realized he was outvoted and headed towards the door.

“Marcus?” Elle called after him.

He turned back inquiringly.

“Thank you for looking after me last night.” He'd gone to a lot of trouble for her, even if it had been completely weird and uncomfortable to have him watching her sleep all night. Not that she’d actually slept for long.

He smiled. “You’re welcome, Ella,” he said warmly.

He left, David following after him, closing the door quietly behind them.

Elle began to pack her case.

“So, is it Ellen or Ella?” Conrad asked, going to the window and pulling the net curtain aside with a long finger and peering out as he spoke.

“Ellen is my birth name. My stage name is Ella, because it puts people in mind of Ella Fitzgerald, apparently, but most people call me Elle.”

“Elle, like the supermodel?” he asked, turning to face her, one eyebrow arching.

“Yeah, or like Kal-El.” She shrugged.

Conrad’s head tilted very slightly at the Superman reference, but he said nothing else and went back to looking out of the window, scanning the parking lot below.

“Which would you prefer I used?”

“Elle,” she shrugged, haphazardly stuffing more clothes into her case. “People usually only call me Ellen when I’m in trouble,” she tried to joke, but her accompanying smile was hollow.

Conrad didn't smile, just nodded his understanding, but he recognized the attempt to ease the tension.

He didn't want it eased though, he wanted her tense, at least until they were safely ensconced someplace safe.

She packed much faster than he expected, and fitted everything into one large, wheeled case, which surprised him. He’d expected a pile of trunks and vanity cases or something.

She also pulled her own case off the bed and wheeled it towards the door, then she pulled her boots on.

“Ready?” she asked.

He nodded and approached her.

“I’ll take that,” he said, motioning towards the case.

“I’ve got it.”

“No, let me,” he insisted, and she reluctantly let it go. She was perfectly capable of carrying her own bag, she fumed.

He put the wheeling handle down and turned the case on its side, using the carrying handle so he had more freedom of movement. It would make a very effective club, if necessary. He then slipped the ‘do not disturb’ sign onto the external door handle.

“Why did you do that?” she asked curiously.

“This way,” Conrad ordered and headed towards the lift.

She followed but once they were in the lift and alone, she asked again why he’d put the do not disturb sign out and he greeted her with silence.

“You know, I’m happy to do this for David, but I really would like to know why we’re doing something. It’s so much easier to follow orders when they make sense,” she said reasonably.

Conrad gave her an appraising look for a moment then decided to answer.

“You’re not checking out. Because you’re registered here under your name, people searching for you will come here, so I don’t want the maids realizing you’ve moved out.”

She considered it for a moment. “Like a decoy? That makes sense.” It would certainly slow someone down.

“While we’re talking about orders, I need you to follow mine without question,” he said, his eyes fixed on the floor number. “I won't always have time to explain and I need to know you won't talk back.”

“As long as you explain when you have time, then sure, because I’ll know I can trust you.”

“You can trust me.” he insisted.

“And as long as you’re open with me, I’ll know that,” she stated firmly.

Conrad glanced at her. She looked like a strong gust of wind would knock her over, but she obviously had a strong core and she wasn't letting him ride roughshod over her.

Which was a shame, this would be much easier if he could.

To Elle’s surprise, he pressed two on the elevator buttons at the last moment, and the car came to a halt.

“I thought we were leaving?” she said as he exited and began striding along the hallway. Elle had to jog to keep up with his long legs.

“We are, but your friends haven’t left the parking lot, so we’re taking the fire exit that comes out at the side.”

He entered the stairwell and they ran down to the ground floor and through a fire door, out onto a side street. He immediately raised his hand to hail a passing cab and the second one to pass them stopped. Conrad ushered her inside.

“Grey’s Hotel,” he told the driver as he took a seat, and as the cab drove away, Conrad looked behind them to make sure no one had watched them depart.

“Here,” he said, pulling something from his jacket pocket and passing it to her. “Put these on.”

It turned out to be a baseball cap and sunglasses.

“Isn’t this a bit muc—”

“Put them on,” he said softly but firmly.

She complied, then they rode in silence for the rest of the, thankfully short, journey.

Grey’s was a nice, sort of mid-range establishment that called itself a boutique hotel.

Elle looked around as they entered and went to remove her sunglasses.

“Don’t,” Conrad warned. “Go sit over there.” He pointed to a small seating area opposite the reception.

“Why?”

He sighed, and leaned in close to her ear, taking her elbow.

“Because I don’t want anyone here remembering you, and the reception staff is much less likely to do that if they don’t interact with you. Go sit down!” He growled slightly.

“All right!” she did as he said, grinding her teeth and wishing that this wasn't happening, or if it was, that he was a bit more personable! He finished quickly and guided her to a corridor off reception, then to the first door, which was hardly very private.

“Before you ask,” he said as he closed the door behind her, “this room can be seen from reception and by the CCTV cameras there, making someone much less likely to try and pick the lock when they’re in full view.”

“I hadn’t thought of that.”

“Which is why it’s my job, not yours,” he answered with a huff.

The room was very nicely decorated and had a sitting area, basically a very nice living room, and a door leading to the bedroom.

“I don’t think the last people have checked out,” Elle said, pointing to a suitcase outside the bedroom door.

“That’s mine, I checked in before I came to collect you.”

“Oh,” she frowned. “So why did you have to talk to reception when we got here?”

“To let them know my asset was here. This place is well known for being accommodating, and having excellent security. It plays host to a lot of people who need additional security.”

“Like who?” She asked curiously, looking around.

Conrad rolled his eyes then he turned to her. “You ask a lot of questions.”


AUTHOR Q&A

About me

Cat Winchester was born in East Anglia. After her wanderlust finally abated, she settled in Edinburgh with her family and two dogs. She’s been writing stories since she was a child and has always enjoyed crafting new tales and sharing them with the world.

Q. When did you decide to become a writer?
A.
I’ve been making up stories since I was young and sharing them online, but because of my dyslexia and the self-esteem issues that come with it, it never occurred to me that I could ever publish anything. It was my mother who first put the idea into my head and she helped me with my first book.
Q. Why do you write?
A.
I write because I think I would go mad if I couldn’t. I have always made up stories. Before the net I scribbled in notebooks, then I started typing them up and shared them with friends, and now I publish my stories but even if I never sold another book again, I would still be compelled to write.
Q. Where did the idea for this book come from?
A.
11 years ago I had a stalker of my own. Being stalked is like living under a Sword of Damocles, constantly waiting for it to fall. I suppose I always knew I’d draw on that experience one day but only now do I feel sufficiently healed to revisit it without triggering my PTSD.

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