Broken Pasts
Author:C.M. Stunich

chapter 6

By six o'clock that same night, I had taken most of Nathaniel's suggestions. I had gone to the police station, changed my phone number and my e-mail, installed chain locks on the doors, and asked Glen to take Rhea for the week. I just hoped she wouldn't hold it against me, but I knew it was for the best. It was either that or hire another guard to follow her to school and I knew she'd never forgive me for that. I had decided not to stop by the office and check in which meant tomorrow, there would be chaos. Right now, however, all I was concerned with was getting into something comfy and relaxing with a glass of wine. Or a bottle.

“I could get used to this,” I said as I sat in the back of Nathaniel's Chrysler. “Having someone drive me around, I mean. This is nice.” I caught his smile in the rearview mirror and even though his eyes were fully focused on the road, I would swear that he was looking right at me. Since I knew that was impossible, I took a moment to straighten out my dress and fluff my hair. When I'd finally gotten the chance to clean myself up and come out of the bathroom, Nathaniel's eyes had definitely lingered. And I mean more than in just a professional sense. He checked you out, Theresa. There was no doubt in my mind about that.

“I'm glad you're enjoying yourself,” Nathaniel said and his voice was low and sexy, like we were lovers rather than strangers. “My partner, Cedric, likes to tell his clients that they should try to think of him as a help rather than a hindrance.” He paused and as I watched him in the rearview, he ran his tongue gently over his lower lip. “Sometimes it's hard to adjust, especially for people that are used to doing everything for themselves, but that's what we're here for, to take the burden off your shoulders so that you can relax.” We hit the roundabout near my house and started looping around towards my street.

“I'll try,” I said as I watched the neighborhood flash by. Most of the houses still had their Christmas lights up, twinkling like tiny stars on the eaves of houses, across the fences that were never meant to keep anyone out, and strung over bushes and mailboxes in a sea of green and red. “A glass of wine or two should go a long way to accomplishing that goal. I think that – ” As we approached my house, I saw the white car parked across the street. It was the same one Gary had been driving the night before. “That's him,” I told Nathaniel, trying to stay calm. I couldn't pretend that Gary was just heartbroken, that he was just a lonely man desperate for attention. Not anymore. The note had been … horrible, sick even. Seeing that car there terrified me more than I wanted to admit. “What do I do?” I looked into the rearview mirror for help. Nathaniel was frowning and his face was back to that serious stillness he had exhibited with the package.

“Unfortunately,” he told me and I knew I was not going to like what he had to say. “The difficulty with stalking cases is that we can't do anything. As bizarre as you and I know his behavior is, the law can't and won't get involved unless he actually does something illegal. Sitting on a public street is not illegal. We can't prove he's doing anything wrong.” I stared at him, hoping his radar vision would pick up on the shock in my face.

“So he just gets to sit outside my house and scare the shit out of me?” Nathaniel pulled his car into the driveway alongside mine.

“We'll take some photos and record the incident. Once I think you have enough evidence, we'll take it back to the police and they'll help you get an order of protection. If he breaks that, then they'll have an actual crime to charge him with. That's how we get him.”

“What if … ” I paused, swallowed. “What if he tries to shoot me or something?”

“Well then,” Nathaniel said as he looked over his shoulder and tried to smile at me. “You'll have me.” He took a big breath and his smile faded just a bit, bared a little of his soul for me. He was doing it on purpose, I could tell, although I hadn't the slightest idea why. Nathaniel didn't know a thing about me, but he seemed genuinely concerned. Was this the way he was with all his clients or was there something special about me that had grabbed his attention? “If you'll excuse me for a moment?” I nodded and he climbed out of the vehicle, long legs unfolding beneath him, dark slacks cutting perfect lines down the sides of his muscular legs. He locked the car and disappeared around the edge of the house. Moments later, Gary came stumbling out from behind the hedges.

“Who the fuck are you?” he said as he moved down the driveway. Nathaniel was walking towards him, not touching him, not talking to him, just walking. Gary was moving back like he was being threatened and maybe he was. It was hard to tell through the tinted window in the back, but if I was seeing what I thought I saw on Nathaniel's face, then Gary had a right to be afraid.

Those green eyes were burning with hatred, no, loathing. The way Nathaniel was looking at Gary, you'd have thought they were arch enemies, childhood nemeses, soldiers on opposite sides of a fierce battle. There was definitely something going on beneath Nathaniel's picture perfect exterior. Despite Gary's proximity, I felt a little thrill of excitement. There was a mystery in that man and I wanted to solve it.

“I suggest you exit the premises,” Nathaniel said, perfectly professional, voice polished and smooth as onyx. “Before I escort you off of them.” He reached into his jacket and for a second there, I had been convinced he was about to draw a gun. Instead, out came a camera which he promptly raised and snapped several photos of Gary with. He even took a few of the white car, following my ex until he unlocked the vehicle and climbed inside. Nathaniel took a few shots of the license plate and moved out of the road before Gary could run him over in his haste to get away. Once he was gone, I climbed out of the vehicle with a big grin on my face. If Gary ever showed up again, I'd be surprised. He was a bit of a coward, after all.

“That was incredible,” I said as Nathaniel turned to me and smiled. His face was wicked sexy in the glow from my neighbor's white Christmas lights. They highlighted the strength in his jaw, the definition of his cheekbones and the smooth, straight planes of his nose. “I've never seen anyone be so … aggressive without actually being, you know, aggressive.” I wasn't making any sense again. I was like a tongue tied teenager, outside after a first date, wondering if I should let the boy kiss me chastely on the lips. Only Nathaniel wasn't trying to kiss me, he was trying to save my life, and even though it was just for money, it was admirable. I blinked a few times, trying to throw off the horrible white knight syndrome I was currently experiencing, and smiled. I'd just met the man, but I was interested.

“Thank you,” he said as he moved through the grass and paused next to me. “It's not often that I get complimented for my work.”

“You risk your life for people and you don't even get a 'thank you?'”

“I get a paycheck,” he said and maybe it was my imagination, but I think he took a small step closer to me. I had to raise my chin a bit to meet his eyes. “And satisfaction.” My eyebrows rose a bit. If that didn't pass for sexual innuendo then I had no idea what did. “Job satisfaction, that is,” he corrected himself with a small, overtly innocent smile. “That makes it more than worth it to me.”

“Well,” I said, pausing as I started to turn back towards the house. “Thank you anyway, Nathaniel.” His smile dropped into something more genuine, taking away just a bit of that practiced perfection. It took him from handsome to downright fascinating. I knew then that even if it was a bad idea, a horrible idea, a terrible, disastrous mistake that I was going to try to solve the mystery that I had seen in Nathaniel.

Here's to hoping that it wasn't going to be Mr. Sutherland in the library with the candlestick.

***

I picked out the sexiest pajamas that I owned which actually ended up depressing me since they were nothing more than a clean, sky blue tank top and a pair of silky, cream colored pj pants. At least he won't think I'm trying to get his attention, I thought. Because I wasn't, truly. Just because I wanted to find out what had put that hatred into his eyes and that pretty smile on his face did not mean that I was romantically interested. Sexually maybe, but then that was another issue altogether.

“Glass of wine?” I asked as I poured myself a heaping goblet. Nathaniel shook his head.

“Under a different set of circumstances, I'd have loved to have said yes. As of right now, I'm sorry, but I can't.” I nodded.

“No drinking on the job, eh?” I looked up at him as I sliced myself a piece of bread. “What about eating?” He smiled.

“I've got granola bars to hold me over until Cedric gets here.” I frowned at that and spread a lump of brie cheese across the bread before trying to hand it to him.

“Stop being so professional,” I said as I shook the food at him. “You're here to calm me down, not make me nervous, right?” Surprisingly, Nathaniel took it and held it gingerly between his long fingers.

“I want to apologize to you,” he said as he took a small bite of the bread, chewed it and swallowed it, all without getting a single crumb on the dark lines of his suit. “Because I haven't exactly been very professional. I shouldn't even be eating this. And I shouldn't have said some of the things that I said.” I watched him carefully from the opposite side of the kitchen island. I'd only turned on the single light above the stove, letting the warm yellow glow bathe the room in gold. White light just seemed too invasive for nighttime. It was making his dark hair gleam and his green eyes sparkle, giving him an almost ethereal sort of look that I liked.

“Why?” I asked as he finished the piece of bread and recrossed his hands in front of himself. “I mean, I haven't been offended by anything you've said, but if you thought it was unprofessional, why did you do it?” Nathaniel's eyes softened a bit around the edges, taking his bad ass look down a notch. He still looked tough standing there with his clothes clinging to his muscles like only a really expensive suit can, but there was also this vulnerability shining through. It wasn't much, but I saw it. And only because he let me. Honestly, although we had just met, I was certain that Nathaniel Sutherland was a man who did not let his emotions get the better of him. If he wanted to hide them from me, I was sure that he could have at the drop of a hat.

“You remind me of someone,” he said and from the tone in his voice, I could tell that it had been someone important to him. “Quite a lot actually, enough to make me forget that they're not around anymore.” He paused and a frown cut across his face like a wound. There's your first clue, Theresa. Nathaniel has a past and from the look on his face, it isn't a very good one. “I apologize, Ms. McMaster. I haven't felt at all like myself today.”

“Theresa,” I said as I refilled my wine glass, stuffed a container of ice cream under my arm and started towards the living room. “Please, call me Theresa.” Nathaniel nodded but didn't speak. I think he'd somehow decided that he'd crossed the client/employee line more than enough for one day. I let him follow me and sat down on the couch, pulling an emerald green throw over my legs as I turned on the TV and tried to find something to watch. I glanced up until I found Nathaniel's chin. He was standing directly behind the couch, eyes focused not on the screen but on the mirror above the fireplace. He wasn't looking at his reflection either; he was just staring as if he were looking at everything and nothing all at once. He must've been in this business awhile to have picked up that kind of skill. “Would you like to sit down?” I asked and got an instant smile in return, a really nasty, dirty, delicious smile. My heart started to thump in my chest and I found myself clenching my thighs to keep other parts of myself in check. Holy crap. I could not believe the effect he was having on me.

“You're trying the limits of my self-control, Ms. McMaster,” he said and that was it. He remained standing behind the couch as if he hadn't just flirted with me. And he had. There was no way I was imagining it.

“Why's that?” I asked as casually as possible, tilting my head back down so that I was looking at the TV and not at him.

“I'm sorry,” he said and his voice was neutral this time, almost too neutral. “But you'll be safest if I maintain my position here.”

And you're trying the limits of my self-control, I thought. You can't just throw me a few clues and then take it all back. I will figure you out, I swear it.

“Suit yourself,” I said and then paused. “I'd rather have you behind me anyway.”

How's that for a little sexual innuendo?