Pretend You're Safe
by Alexandra Ivy
Genre: Romantic Suspense
He Sees You
First came the floods. Then came the bodies. The victims—strangled, then buried along the shores of the Mississippi—have finally been unearthed, years after they disappeared. He remembers every satisfying kill . . . each woman’s terror and agony. But there’s only one he truly wanted. And fate has brought her within reach again . . .
He Knows You
Jaci Patterson was sixteen when she found the first golden locket on her porch. Inside were a few strands of hair wrapped around a scrap of bloodstained ribbon. Though the “gifts” kept arriving, no one believed her hunch that a serial killer was at work. Now Jaci has returned home . . . and the nightmare is starting once more.
And He’ll Never Let You Go
Back then, Rylan Cooper was an arrogant deputy sheriff convinced that Jaci was just an attention-seeking teen. It was a fatal mistake. There’s a murderer in their midst, someone determined to settle old scores and keep playing a twisted game. And it won’t end until Jaci is his forever . . .
“Alexandra Ivy gives readers a nice balance of romance and suspense in her fast-paced, well-plotted novel.” --Kat Martin, New York Times bestselling author
On some level Jaci knew that Elmer was keeping up a running conversation, but it was impossible to make out the words over the buzzing in her head. And thankfully the older man didn’t seem to expect a response as he coaxed her to drink the overly sweet coffee and eat one of the muffins she’d baked earlier that morning.
God, it seemed a lifetime ago.
Since then, a dead body had been found floating in a field. And a skull. The sheriff had dismissed her fears as if she was a whackadoodle. She’d endured a meeting with her mother. And her mysterious stalker had made a return, leaving one of his creepy lockets for her to find.
She didn’t know which was worse.
As she finished the muffin, however, the sugar kicked in and her shock began to ease. At least enough to be aware of the sound of the back door closing and Rylan moving to stand next to the sofa.
Tilting her head, she felt the familiar jolt of awareness.
The same awareness she’d felt when she’d returned home to see Rylan standing in her front yard. And again when she’d opened her eyes minutes ago to find him bending over her, his expression tight with concern.
Heck, she’d been aware of this man since she first understood the difference between boys and girls.
From a very young age, Rylan had been stunningly handsome. His features were finely chiseled, with a proud, aquiline nose and wide brow. His eyes had always been a fascinating shade of gold, but they were emphasized since his move to California, where his skin had been tanned to a rich bronze and his hair had been bleached to a light blond.
He also had the sort of body that made a woman itch to run her hands over every inch of his hard, perfectly sculpted muscles.
But it was his raw, male power that captured and held her attention. He had a potent energy that could fill a room and stir a woman’s deepest fantasy.
It was really no surprise she’d been plagued by a desperate puppy love for her gorgeous neighbor. Even when he’d made it painfully clear that he wasn’t, and never would be interested in her as more than a friend.
She was a young woman in a town where gorgeous men were few and far between. The only surprise would be if she hadn’t been obsessed with Rylan Cooper.
Now she grimly squashed her predictable response to his presence as she glanced toward the window. She could hear people moving around her porch, but she couldn’t see anyone.
“Where’s Mike?” she demanded.
Rylan’s gaze moved to the tray she’d set on the low coffee table, as if assessing whether or not he was satisfied with how much she’d managed to eat.
“He’s doling out duties to his deputies,” he at last said. “He’ll be in once he’s done.”
She frowned in confusion. “What duties?”
“Dusting for prints and taking pictures.”
“I asked Ed to photograph your driveway as well as the yard for any footprints,” Mike explained as he entered the living room, clearly having used the back door. “It’s a long shot, but it’s better than nothing.”
“Mike.” She managed a shaky smile as she watched her friend move across the room, taking a seat on the sofa next to her.
“Hey, Jaci.” He removed his hat, then reached to take her hand so he could give it a tight squeeze. “I’m so sorry. I should have listened to you earlier.”
She wrinkled her nose. “It doesn’t matter now.”
“It does, but we’ll discuss it later,” he said. Mike was the sort of person who was always harder on himself than anyone else. He glanced toward the looming Rylan. “We’ll need some privacy.”
Rylan frowned, clearly not happy. “Why?”
Elmer moved to grab his son’s arm. “Come on, Ry.” Rylan dug in his heels. “No.”
Mike narrowed his gaze. “Is there a problem?”
“Yeah,” Rylan said, his jaw tight. “Jaci just suffered a severe shock. I’m not leaving her here alone.”
Mike scowled. “She’s not alone.”
With a firm tug, Elmer was urging his son out of the room. “We’ll be in the kitchen.”
Mike watched them leave before he turned his attention back to Jaci.
“Is there something I should know?”
She gave a slow shake of her head. Rylan had always been the sort of guy who stuck up for the underdog. He’d punched the local bully, Joey Burke, in the nose for picking on the younger boys. And risked his neck to save a baby duck that was trapped in an abandoned well.
Was he feeling some need to be her protector because she’d fainted?
Or was it a symptom of his guilt because he hadn’t believed her when she’d asked for his help all those years ago?
“I think the world’s gone insane,” she said.
“Me too,” Mike agreed. He sounded like his day had been almost as crappy as Jaci’s. Quite a feat. “Now tell me about the locket.”
Jaci gave an abbreviated version of her return home to find the necklace hanging on her doorknob.
She didn’t need to share her breathless reaction when she’d first caught sight of Rylan. Or her awkward haste to get rid of him, which explained why she hadn’t noticed the locket until she was just inches from the door.
Mike nodded, reaching beneath his jacket to pull out a small notebook and pencil that he’d no doubt bought at the local dollar store. In this area, cops had a limited budget. They had to trim costs whenever possible.
“Did you notice anyone when you were driving home?” Assuming he meant after she’d turned onto the gravel road that ran in front of her house, she gave a shake of her head.
“No.” She stiffened as she recalled the SUV. “Oh.”
“I thought I saw Blake, but I can’t imagine what he’d be doing out here.” She shrugged. “Besides, I spoke to Mother when I was in Baldwin and she mentioned he was flying back from St. Louis later tonight.”
A strange expression settled on his blunt features. “What about Christopher?”
“What about him?”
“Did you see him today?”
She stared at him in confusion. “I haven’t seen my half brother for almost two years, although I heard he’s back home,” she said.
Mike didn’t bother to write anything in his notebook. Instead he abruptly changed the direction of his questions.
“Is there anyone you can think of who would want to scare you?”
It was a question that had haunted her for years. “No.”
“Any enemies?” He held up a hand as her lips parted. “Even if you don’t think they would leave the locket?”
“You’re sure?” he pressed. “You’re a beautiful woman with a growing business. That can make people jealous. Especially if they think your success has come at their expense.”
She forced herself to consider his words.
It was true that there had been a few local ladies who had their noses out of joint at the high demand for her pastries. And there had been at least two farmers who’d tried to pressure her into selling her grandfather’s land after his death.
But they certainly weren’t her enemies.
Well, not unless she counted her half sister, Payton. But she couldn’t make herself believe the younger woman would sneak around to try and terrify her. She far preferred being a bitch in public.
“I really can’t think of anyone,” Jaci insisted.
Mike tapped his pencil on the notebook. “There haven’t been any other threats?”
“What do you mean?”
“Strange phone calls? Letters? E-mails?”
She frowned with impatience. Why was he wasting time?
“Mike, we both know this isn’t about some neighbor who’s pissed off about me baking muffins or selling crafts in my garage. The locket has something to do with that body you found this morning.”
His lips flattened. “I don’t want to leap to conclusions.” She flinched, disappointment slicing through her. How many times did she have to go through this?
First the fear. The knowledge some sicko was out there playing with her emotions. Then the pain at the realization that no one believed her.
She started to stand, only to be halted when Mike placed a restraining hand on her shoulder.
“Jaci, I’m trying to protect you,” he growled. “Something I can’t do if I don’t keep an open mind and investigate every potential threat.”
There was a sincerity etched on his face that made her heave a small sigh.
“I’m sorry.” She wrapped her arms around her waist. She felt chilled to the bone. “I just can’t believe this is starting again.”
His hand lightly glided over her shoulder and down her arm. “You know you can stay with me until we figure this out.”
It was tempting. Not only because she was a little itchy at the thought of remaining in such an isolated spot on her own. But because no lunatic would dare to try and get to her while she was in the protective custody of the sheriff.
Only the knowledge that she couldn’t hide in Mike’s house forever made her stiffen her backbone.
She had a life. And this was her home.
She wasn’t going to let the mysterious jerk steal either of them from her.
Alexandra Ivy is the New York Times, USA Today and Wall Street Journal bestselling author of romantic suspense, paranormal and erotic romance. She has also written Regency historicals under the name Deborah Raleigh. A five-time RT Book Award Finalist, Ivy has received much acclaim for her Guardians of Eternity, ARES Security, Immortal Rogues and Sentinels series. She lives with her family in Missouri and can be found online at AlexandraIvy.com.
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