Honor of a Hunter

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The Seekers, Book 6

Harlequin Intrigue
November 2007
ISBN 978-0-373-69295-8

For the girl who had everything, he was the one thing she couldn’t buy

Noah was a full-blooded kind of challenge every woman dreamed of taking on. He was the best agent available, but he wasn’t for sale. Not even to heiress Faith Byrne, who was used to getting her own way.

But when a stalker’s obsession grew to dangerous levels, Noah answered the call of duty–and once this Seeker took a job, he didn’t bother playing by the rules. Soon Faith’s high cost of living raised the stakes to uncontrollable heights, and Noah found himself in a game in which anything–and everything–was fair play.

EXCERPT

Faith Byrne pushed open the steel-core door to her condo and let out a sigh that drained away the bottled up tension that had made her head pound and her shoulders scream and her feet ache. She didn’t have two functioning brain cells left to put a cohesive thought together, let alone a long overdue dinner. Microwave popcorn would have to do. Again.

Nights like these, after an endless day, made the two million she’d spent on the twenty-second-floor penthouse seem like a bargain. Home. She was finally home.

She relocked the door behind her and entered her code on the alarm pad. Shedding her four-inch Manolo heels, that added needed height to her five-foot-three frame, and the charcoal suit jacket, with no-nonsense lines that were supposed to add authority to the squeaky-clean face even makeup couldn’t make look grown-up, she crossed the Brazilian cherry floor to those awe-inspiring views of Elliott Bay that had made her fall in love with the place.

She flopped onto the club chair that wrapped around her in raspberry-colored marshmallow softness, and lost herself in the wide black swatch of the sky outside her floor-to-ceiling windows. The slow winking of stars and the festive twinkling of lights from the ships slowly drifting along the bay made her forget the crazy-busy madness of the day and believe that everything would turn out right.

Pulling a fleecy throw around her shoulders, she sighed again. Her detour to the hospital on the way home wasn’t encouraging. Her father seemed to be slipping instead of improving, and the doctors couldn’t pinpoint why. The disappointing October sales report wasn’t going to do anything to speed his recovery either.

With only one store, Byrne’s would never roar through the retail world with Godzilla power, but her efforts were paying off; Byrne’s was finally starting to maximize its brand locally with its distinctive line of products. She was working on accomplishing the same success with their online presence, only to have some of her father’s recent decisions plunge them back into the red.

She didn’t want to be swallowed up by a stronger competitor–or worse–see her family’s heritage die like so many other historic family-owned retailers. The tactics that were successful two generations ago when her grandfather had started the store weren’t going to work in today’s fast-forward world. If only she could make her father understand that without him shutting her out.

As crass as it sounded, while he was out of commission, she had her chance to prove she could manage the store efficiently–put it back in solid black–and make him proud. Maybe then, he’d see he could retire–or at least slow down–without a worry, that the store’s future and the family’s honor were in good hands.

Reflex had her reaching for the remote on the coffee table to catch the eleven o’clock headlines before crawling into bed. Six would come around faster than she wanted. If she was going to keep her promise to pull off a minor miracle, she’d need sleep. She aimed the remote at the plasma TV in the corner, but her thumb never pressed the power button.

Three pink orchids hung their perfect tiny heads from the television’s rim. The blush of their plump lips both exquisite and obscene. Below them, etched in the dust of the screen were the words, “I’m watching you.”

Someone had been here.

She jumped to her feet and spun around. The throw whirled off her shoulders and landed at her feet like a molted skin. Was he still here? The urgent whispers of menace swarmed over her scalp and down her spine, chilling her blood. Her gaze flittered over the open floor plan of her condo.

No movement in the nook. None in the kitchen. Only the slow tocking of her grandmother’s clock in the entrance, beating an ominous pulse. Nobody was here. Nothing to fear.

Then why was her mind manufacturing the musky odor of male sweat in the air?

The alarm hadn’t been tripped. All the doors were still locked tight. There had to be a logical explanation.

Someone probably scrawled those words in the dust as a joke. But then where had the orchids come from? They hadn’t been there this morning–or at least she didn’t think they had. She’d overslept and left in a mad rush. Who would have done such a thing anyway? It wasn’t as if she had company over every night. This was her haven. She couldn’t remember the last time she’d invited anyone up.

Her father’s voice boomed in her head. Don’t make a fuss. Don’t make a scene.

Was she just being paranoid? Maybe, but it didn’t hurt to check.

Armed with the remote, she strode to the phone beside her stash of take-out menus and called the security desk in the lobby. “Hi, Albert, this is Faith Byrne in 2201. Was anyone up to my condo today?”

Computer keys clacked with brisk efficiency as Albert searched for the information she’d requested. “No, Ms. Byrne. No visitors. No deliveries. The housekeeping service won’t be in until tomorrow and the gardener until Friday. Is there a problem?”

Don’t make a fuss. Don’t make a scene. We take care of our own problems privately. We don’t splash them all over the headlines.

“No, thank you, Albert.” But the clutch knotting her chest wouldn’t let go. Someone had been in her home. Someone had broken through the fortress of a lobby manned by a security guard, an elevator that required a special security key card, her locked and bolted door, and an alarm system.

Call the police, Faith. What if he’s still here?

If he was still here, she argued with herself, he’d have shown himself.

Or he could be waiting. The much too vivid image of a shadowed stranger hiding in the closet, watching, waiting, sped a race of ice down her body.

What if he’s outside on the terrace right now?

She spun around to the living room. The white sheers that gave the room a light and airy feel now seemed too transparent. He could be there, hiding behind one of the huge terracotta pots that dotted the terrace. That both the door lock and safety lock on the slider track were engaged didn’t reassure her. The open expanse of the condo made her feel like exposed prey.

Don’t make a fuss. Don’t make a scene.

I’m watching you.

Someone’s been here.

She scrunched her eyes against her father’s imagined displeasure. “On second thought, Albert, please call the police. I believe someone’s broken into my condo.”

“Right away, Ms. Byrne. Do you want Eddie to come up and wait with you?”

Eddie, the building’s second security guard, on duty in the garage. “That would be great, thank you.”

This couldn’t be happening. Not to her.

Armed with a butcher knife, huddled and shaking in the nook with a clear view of her whole living space, including the terrace doors, she waited.


If You’re Being Stalked…

Over a million women are stalked every year.  Experts say stalkers stalk because of a personality disorder.  The why doesn’t matter when the end result is so terrifying for its victim.  But there are some things that you can do to help yourself.

If you think you’re being stalked:

1.       Avoid the stalker and his overtures Say “no” emphatically to any communication, cards, gifts, etc.

2.       Contact law enforcement Let them know that someone is stalking you.  Keep your contact officer up to speed on events as they happen.

3.       Document everything.  Keep a list of every contact, every event as it happens.  Start a log book and note the date, time, type of contact, what was said, what occurred, evidence collected (i.e. if you taped a call or took a picture of him puncturing the tires of your car), and if there were any witnesses to corroborate the incident.

4.       Keep the information you collect in a safe place.  Make copies and leave copies in some place other than your home and/or work.

5.       Buy a disposable camera and keep it with you at all times When the stalker confronts you, snap a picture.  Try to include a recognizable landmark.  This photo becomes corroboration of the incident if there are no witnesses, and it often tends to slow your stalker’s activity.  If you can videotape an incident, that’s even better.  Of course, if you think this will cause a violent response from your stalker, don’t do it.

6.       Collect all items your stalker sends you.  If possible, take a photo of the item as you found it.  Handle the item as little as possible so as not to destroy fingerprints.  Bag the item, preferably in a paper bag, mark it with the date and time you recovered the evidence.  With perishable items, such as blood, secure by putting a box over it until an officer can come out and collect the evidence properly.  Pay special attention to packages.  If you’re not expecting anything, don’t recognize the return address, or if the package has a greasy residue on it, contact your local law enforcement.

7.       Tape record conversations.  Put an answering machine on your phone line or save the messages on your cell phone to record later.  Print out a copy of any email sent to you.

8.       Update your security Let your family, friends, employers know what’s happening so that they can be an extra pair of eyes looking out for you.  Get a post office box for your mail, so that your stalker can’t steal it.  In some states, you can apply to have your personal information, such as voter registration, kept confidential.  Have a peephole and double-locking deadlocks installed on your doors.  Install security lights.  Secure your windows.  If possible, have home and car alarms installed.  Demand identification from any repairperson who comes to the door.  Don’t be afraid to check with the company before you allow entry.  Keep your vehicle well maintained.

9.       Vary your routine Try to change your patterns of activity to throw off your stalker.  Change the route you drive home.  Leave at different times.  Survey your neighborhood as you near home.

10.   Keep a cell phone on you at all times.  This allows you to call for help even if the stalker cuts your landline, and allows 911 to track you through the GPS unit in the device.

11.   Plan escape routes.  Plan escape routes out of your home and out of your neighborhood.  Keep an overnight bag packed and ready to go in your car.  Put in a change of clothes, medications and spare cash.  Know where you’re going and think ahead to possible escape routes should the need arise.  If you’ve never been somewhere before, map it out, have a plan.

Most of all, don’t give up.  You can get your life back.

For more information, you can check out these websites:

–          National Domestic Violence Hotline:  1-800-799-7233.

–          Victims for Justice Coalition Stalker Information Page.

–          National Violence Against Women Prevention Research Center:

–          Office of Violence Against Women.

–          Specialized Training Services.