I was just about to sneak in a much-needed nicotine fix after that waste of a conference call when Elaina rang through to my office. She didn’t do it very often, and my curiosity was triggered immediately.
“Ethan, I think you might want to come up to reception.”
“Yeah? What’s going on?”
“It’s Muriel . . . from the newsstand. She’s up here to deliver a package to you personally, and she won’t leave it with anyone but—”
I was out of my office and running to the front before Elaina could even finish her sentence.
My heart started to thump and the insta-worry flooded my system. I slid to a halt as I busted through the doors into reception. There was Muriel in all her horse-toothed, mustached glory waiting for me. She held a packet in her ink-stained hands, and leveled a green-flecked gaze over me as I rushed up to her.
“Mister, I got summat for ye.” She waved the envelope. “Ye said, anyone an anythin’.”
“I did. Did someone leave that at your newsstand just now?” I pointed to what she held.
She nodded and flicked her eyes around the room, taking in the décor and probably calculating her fee. “Yeah, near an hour ago now. I could’na leave t’ stand. ’Tis written out ‘Blackstone’ an I know ye said number forty-four.”
I tried not to be shocked that she could read and nodded back, the adrenaline starting to race around inside me. What was it this time? More death threats for Ivan? “You have an excellent memory, Muriel. Thank you for leaving your stall to come all the way up here to deliver it in person.” I reached into my pocket to retrieve my wallet. “I appreciate your dedication.”
I handed her a twenty and we switched. She gave a short nod and turned to leave. I tore open the red string, releasing the flap on the envelope—acutely aware it was identical to the one I’d received on the day of the Mallerton Gala—the same envelope that contained the photos of Ivan plus a cryptic message that read “Never attempt to murder a man who is committing suicide” or some incoherent bullshit I didn’t have time for right now. Still, I couldn’t take the chance on my cousin’s life. He would be front and center at the Games in another week, announcing all the archery events, deep inside the media circus, being interviewed, in the public view all over. If someone was targeting him, I needed to have precautions in place.
I stuck my hand inside and pulled out photos, again, just like the last time—glossy black-and-white, eight-by-tens. I felt terrible fear slice into me. These were not pictures of my cousin at all. They were photos of Brynne . . .
Fuck no! No. NO!
The pictures were a sequence of photos shot on the street—Brynne and me on the day we went to our first appointment with Dr. Burnsley, and then afterward when we ate lunch outside before we stopped into Fountaine’s Aquarium. Us hugging on the sidewalk after we came out of the doctor’s offices. Me touching her belly and kissing her. Us eating our sandwiches and talking about our run-in on Christmas Eve in the snow. There was even a photo of Brynne taking a picture of me with her mobile and laughing because it had been right after I came out of the shop with the shit-smelling baby. I would have noticed someone snapping photos, though. I would have seen them. How did I miss it? How in the f**k did I miss this?!
I’d been distracted. Distraction is enemy number one in the security business and I had failed miserably. I had been distracted by the doctor’s visit and then by the insanity of the aquarium shop—too unfocused on where we were and who was around us to even notice someone trailing us!
I groaned and flipped through them again. I couldn’t find any message or ambiguous note on the back of any of the photos. I looked up and realized Muriel had left.
I barked at Elaina, “Get Brynne on the line and tell her to hold for me! I need to speak with her now!” Then I ran for the lifts.
“Muriel, wait!” I chased her down in the lobby as she was exiting the building. I’m sure others must have thought I was insane for all the spectacle I was giving them, but it didn’t matter. They could think whatever they liked.
“Who? Did you see who left the envelope?”
She flicked her eyes up and they flared a little. This was it—the moment of truth where she either helped me because she was a good person or she took advantage of me because she wasn’t.
“I did as he walked away. I seen the back of him.”
“What do you remember about him? Build, hair color, anything to give me at all? It’s so very important,” I begged. “My—girl—my wife’s pictures were in that packet. Her life could be in danger.” I lowered my voice. “Please, Muriel? Any small thing you may remember could help.”
She pondered it for a moment, her eyes moving infinitesimally. “He were talkin’ on a mobile an I only seen ’is back walkin’ off. ’Is hair were brown an he were not as tall as ye.”
Brown hair and shorter than me. Not much help in a place with millions of the same right now. I needed to get back upstairs and make sure Elaina had found Brynne. “Thanks again,” I said halfheartedly and turned to go.
“There were summat I did notice, though,” Muriel called out to me, “ ‘is voice . . . he weren’t native. He were a Yank.”
The stalker is an American. It has to be coming from Oakley’s people . . . or maybe Fielding isn’t dead after all. Maybe he’s here in London. Oh no! Please no!
My blood ran cold at what Muriel had told me, all the possibilities and scenarios spinning in my head in a terrifying entangled rush.
And then my legs started moving.
My phone went off just as I was heading out of the dressing room. I could tell it was Elaina calling from work by the ringtone, so I let it go to voice mail without listening to the message. I sent her a fast text instead:
Can’t talk . . . on photo shoot now. Call u later. —B
I silenced my cell but left it powered up as Ethan had told me to—something about the GPS app he’d activated—slipped it into the pocket of my robe, and didn’t give it another thought. I had a job to do and found my focus.
The hair extensions tickled my back and the floor was downright cold under my ass. I wasn’t wearing any string thong today either, but I did have some really gorgeous black stockings with pink ribbons laced around the top of my thighs and tied into bows.