Broken Pasts
Author:C.M. Stunich

chapter 4

I stared at the phone number on the notepad that Jamie had left me.

PPSD was scrawled across the top of the white and pink lined paper with the tiny butterfly silhouettes. I had bought it for Rhea to take to school, but she hadn't wanted it.

“Butterflies are for pussies,” she'd said defiantly. Glen would've burst an artery to hear her talk like that. I'd just ignored it and let Jamie pull it from my hand where she'd jotted down the information for Personal Private Security Detail.

“They are awesome,” she'd told me as she tapped the paper with her bright, red fingernails. “During our last case, we had a whole slew of psychos picketing around the office. They were so convinced that this guy was innocent that they were attacking anybody involved with the case. So,” she slapped the pad with the back of her hand. “We hired PPSD. They sent over these big burly guys in camo.” She noticed my twitching lip and paused, putting her hand on my arm for reassurance. “If you prefer a guy in a suit, they've got that, too. They're all ex-military or martial arts geniuses or whatnot and most of them are tight.” I rolled my eyes.

“Jamie, the last thing I need is a new man. Trying to get rid of my old one here, remember?”

“They'll protect you, Theresa,” she protested. I was already shaking my head. “Just until you learn to use that gun, get some new locks, change your phone number … ”

“How much?” I asked skeptically. Employing a trained soldier twenty-four/seven could not come cheap.

“I'll give you some money,” Jamie had said and then paused. “And if you need him longer, you could always dip into your house money.”

“No.” That was that. Jamie had written me a massive check that I felt horrible for taking and had taken Rhea to school for me only after I had sworn on my life that I would call as soon as she had left.

“This is nuts,” I told myself as I picked up the phone and dialed the number.

“Personal Private, this is Emily. How may I help you?”

“I, uh.” I had no idea what to say. That my ex-husband may or may not have been purposely driving down my street last night? That he'd been a little weird in the parking lot the night before? That my best friend was paranoid and it was really nothing and I had no idea what I was doing. “My husband is stalking me.” Emily tsk-tsked and I could hear keys pounding a million miles an hour as she typed.

“You were right to call us,” she said, taking control of the conversation. I couldn't have been more grateful. “We have a couple employees who specialize in stalking. They can act as a witness to your case and help you document the incidents. Without that, the police can't do a thing.” She paused. “Have you gone to the police yet, Ms. … ” It took me a moment to realize I hadn't given her my name.

“Theresa McMaster. And, uh, no. I haven't gone to the police.” I hadn't even thought about doing that. I mean, it wasn't such a big deal yet, right? “I feel silly,” I admitted as Emily continued typing.

“Why's that?” she asked me as she made a little ooh in the back of her throat. “Nathaniel is free and he's absolutely lovely. What's your budget, darling?”

“Um,” I didn't know which question to answer first. I told her the amount on Jamie's check.

“Per week?” she asked. I stared at the four figures in front of me and tried not to choke.

“Um, total?” I asked more than told her. “I just need him until I get the house secured. I mean, I don't even know why I'm really calling. I mean, Gary hasn't exactly done a whole lot other than call me.” And corner you in a dark parking lot. Remember the threats he made to you before you left? What if he acted out on them? What about Rhea? No amount of paranoia is too much to keep her safe. Emily stopped talking and I could just imagine her sitting in front of me, gray hair coiffed atop her delicate head, blue eyes twinkling as she took my hands in hers and tried to reassure me. Maybe I was way off course, but that's what I saw in my head. Emily was an excellent saleswoman.

“When it comes to your personal safety, there's never a reason to feel ashamed. You have the right to take advantage of your destiny, don't you, Theresa? If it turns out that this is nothing, that you're overreacting, then this will pass and you'll go on with your life. If you're not and this man attacks you, you'll be safe and you'll still have a life. Isn't that worth the expense?” I sat there in silence for a moment before sighing heavily.

“Nathaniel, was it?” I asked. Emily chuckled and an hour later, a man in a dark suit was standing on my porch, ready to flip my world upside down.

***

Three times I picked up the phone to call and cancel. Three times I put it back on the counter and paced while I waited for my very own bodyguard.

“This is just too weird,” I said as I grabbed the phone one last time. “And way too expensive. What was I even thinking?” I stared at the screen, at the eight missed calls from Gary and then dialed the number for PPSD.

“Personal Private, this is Emily. How may I help you?”

“Emily, I – ” I started to speak when the doorbell rang. A brusque knock followed, loud and authoritative, strong.

“Ms. McMaster?” she asked and I was surprised she recognized my voice. “Is everything okay? Nathaniel should be arriving any moment. Are you in trouble?” I moved to the doorway and checked out the peephole. It was indeed the infamous Nathaniel. At first glance, the man looked exactly as I'd suspected. Tall, clean cut, dark hair, dark glasses, dark suit. Average, normal, tough. But that was through the wavy, admittedly cobweb infested peephole.

“Um, no,” I said as I unlocked the door and started to open it. “Actually, I was just calling to – ” As soon as I saw him fully in the flesh, I was paralyzed. Nathaniel Sutherland was not average, not normal, and he wasn't just tough, he was a fucking bad ass. “Oh my god.”

“Ms. McMaster?” he asked as he kept his hands crossed in front of him. I nodded and only then did he reach out and take my hand for a shake. Electricity slithered up my fingers and pooled in my chest, stopped my heart, and started it back up again at breakneck speed. Nathaniel gripped my hand firmly and shook it like my father had always said a strong person should before releasing me. “It's a pleasure to meet you,” he said and I wasn't sure if I were hallucinating or not, but I'm almost certain he emphasized the word. Pleasure. “My name is Nathaniel Sutherland and I'm from Personal Private Security Detail.” Here he paused and removed his glasses. He didn't tear them off his face and shake his head of deliciously soft, dark hair like they do in the movies. He just removed them gently, folded the arms up and stuck them in the front pocket of his suit. His eyes made my breath catch in my throat and sent my body temperature skyrocketing. They were dark green, smooth and polished like emeralds, deep, thoughtful. Sexy. “Is that Emily on the phone?”

“Uh.” I was at a loss for words. Without another word, he reached out, plucked the phone from my fingers and put it to his ear.

“Everything is fine here, Emily,” he said with the most wicked smile I had ever seen on a man. “I'll call you later and update you with Ms. McMaster's new phone number.” He ended the call and passed the phone back to me. “May I come in?” I stepped aside without a word and he came inside, eyes scanning the room like a predator searching for prey. His muscles were tensed and even with the clean, sharp lines of his suit covering him, I could see that he was ready for action. I closed the door behind him and locked it. He glanced over one of his broad shoulders and flashed me an admirable smile. “Good,” he said as he turned his attention back to my house. “We don't have to start at ground zero with you. That's excellent.”

“Huh?” That's all I could think to say. Jamie had said the men she'd hired were tight. But … wow. Nathaniel wasn't just tight; he was deadly. He was clean shaven with pale, not pasty, just pale, skin and full lips. His dark hair was just this side of brown, toeing that line between black and chocolate. Nothing about his appearance was out of the ordinary per se, but all together, the perfection that was Nathaniel Sutherland was hard to ignore. It was the little details that made this man: the well pressed suit, perfectly tailored to his body, the crispness of the shirt beneath, the way his hair fell just slightly onto his brow, like it had been sculpted there. He was so well put together that had he had the face of a Neanderthal, he would've looked good. And that's not to say he did. Nathaniel Sutherland had a strong face, but it was in no way reminiscent of a caveman. He straddled that metrosexual line, but in a good way. He was clean, he smelt good, and he was probably gay. Had to be. Had had had to. Or else he was married. Or both.

“You'd be surprised how many people forget the simplest of things.” He gestured at the handle of the doorknob. “Like locking the front door.” He paused and, satisfied with his survey of the living room/kitchen area, he turned fully to face me. “Would you mind giving me a tour?” he asked and I nodded, mouth dry, hands shaky. I even think I was starting to break out into a sweat. Am I wearing deodorant? I wondered. Did I forget deodorant? I decided that now was not the time to check, not with Nathaniel just a few, careful inches behind me. I moved to open the bathroom door first when he put out his hand to stop me. “May I?” he asked with a smile. “Just in case. That's what I'm here for.” I nodded again, still not trusting myself to form coherent sentences.

He put his side against the door, keeping me behind his broad back, and twisted the knob slowly. With reflexes I could barely follow, Nathaniel had flung the door open and there was a handgun gripped in his long fingers. He was pointing it into the room like he expected Gary to be standing there, knife in hand. He then proceeded to check behind the shower curtain and then moved over to the window where he tested the lock.

“Um,” I said as I swallowed hard and finally found my voice. Nathaniel left the bathroom, closing the door behind him as he went. He immediately moved around me and pointed at Rhea's door. Just the proximity of him was making it hard for me to think. Never before had I had this reaction to a man. Not once in my entire life had I been tongue tied and loopy. Five minutes after meeting him, I was practically smitten. Not good.

“Is this a bedroom?” he asked me and I nodded around the rush of blood to my head. Nathaniel held out an arm and gently used it to push me against the wall beside him. The feel of his bicep against my ribcage was hard to ignore. It was so … firm.

“I don't think this is really necessary,” I said as I watched him repeat his sweep, this time on my daughter's bedroom. I was still struggling to get my thoughts in order, but at least I was finally speaking. I tried to use the situation at hand to deal with the horrible rage of lust that had bloomed in my belly and dug its claws into lower places. “Gary hasn't really done anything. I mean, I'm just doing this for my friend. She's pretty paranoid. I don't really think there's anything to worry about.”

“Emily informed me that he assaulted you in a parking lot,” Nathaniel said as he paused so close to me that I could smell the minty freshness of his breath. Wow. I remembered then that I absolutely had not brushed my teeth. Heck, I'd barely combed my hair and I was still wearing sweats and a ratty, old tank top. I had expected a tough guy, almost sexless, with a permanent frown and a balding head, not a thirty-something heartthrob with perfect teeth and a deliciously dirty smile.

“He … I … ” I didn't know what to say to that. I had sort of spilled everything to Emily during her questioning. I guess she'd written it all down and given it to Nathaniel. I mean, that made sense. Of course that's what she was doing. I flushed. Somehow I had played our conversation off as just two girlfriends out to lunch. Wow, that woman is good at her job.

“And has he made death threats before?” I blinked my eyes and looked directly into Nathaniel's gaze. There was a heavy pain resting there, like he was carrying the weight of the world on his shoulders. It was … intriguing.

“Death threats?” I said, wondering how he knew about that. I had only told Emily about the incidents of the past few days, not about the end of our marriage when Gary had said things that still made my spine tingle with fear. I wasn't sure if I wanted him to know. I played dumb. It wasn't difficult with my body doing its best to short circuit my brain. And he probably hasn't even noticed me. How embarrassing. I'm a client for goodness sake. “What do you mean?”

“Most often, when it comes to stalkers, there is no paranoid and there is always something to worry about.” He paused and the lines of his face became harsh for just a moment as he frowned. As quickly as it had come, the expression passed and he continued talking. In his voice though was an intense passion bordering on hate. “They start off with little things: letters, phone calls, e-mails. And then they start following you, vandalizing property, trying to tarnish your reputation. After that, there's nowhere to go but down.” Gary closed Rhea's door and started down the hallway. “Are these two doors bedrooms?” he asked as he checked the two hallway closets.

“Yeah,” I said and before I could form another question, Nathaniel was talking again.

“Most stalking cases last less than two years,” he said as he opened another door and swept my office with me behind him. “Do you know why that is?” I shook my head as Nathaniel tested the locks on the windows.

“No,” I said and despite my instant attraction, I was almost annoyed with him. He's acting like he knows more about my situation than I do. I crossed my arms over my chest and realized for the first time since meeting Nathaniel that I had forgotten to put on a bra. I was not wearing a bra. I tried not to blush. How would that look? A thirty-two year old double divorcée blushing like a kid?

“Because,” he said and his voice dropped from dark, almost sensual, to sad, morose even. “Once they're worked up enough, something's got to give and it's either you or them.”