Warning: Stranger by Robin Lovett is a scorching, intense romance novel featuring an anti-hero out to get revenge against the trust-fund woman whose family destroyed his life.
This isn’t supposed to be a love story. This is not the kind of book where a girl gets swept off her feet. Where the hero is her knight in shining armor. This is a novel about ruining someone’s life. But even the simplest plans for revenge can go wrong.
I like the way he watches me, this man I don’t know. It’s something I’ll never confess to, never tell a soul. But with one look of those penetrating eyes, I feel as if he’s unwrapped me, turned me inside out, rubbed away at my trust-fund-holding, good-girl exterior until I’m raw and exposed.
He looks like he wants to destroy me. Like he wants to obliterate me and my shallow, perfect life until there’s nothing left.
And once I meet Logan, the crazy part is, I want him to.
I hate Penny Vandershall.
I hate her money and her family and her privilege. I hate her innocence and her smile and her shine. I want to annihilate her lightness and consume her with my darkness, my anger, my red-hot rage until there is nothing left of her.
I know the truth about her, the truth that will make it easy to bring her down. To ruin her for good. But through the blinding haze of my hatred, my burning need for revenge, she's starting to get to me. She looks at me in wide-eyed fear, like a girl approaching the tiger’s cage. And yet she refuses to walk away; edging closer until she can meet the beast who wants to rip her apart.
And even though I set out to ruin her, she may be the one to destroy me.
"Stranger by Robin Lovett is a dark and intriguing story about the lengths one will go to find love. A page turner from the very beginning, this story makes you question, in the best of ways, what a romance is. A five star read!" - USA Today bestselling author Jenika Snow on Stranger
“Wowza! I just couldn’t put this down." - The Jeep Diva on Stranger
"Stranger quite boldly goes where many romances don’t go...about the blurred boundaries between depravity, pleasure and despair, and how freedom...can be found in the most unexpected places." - Unstuck Pages on Stranger
This is a series of standalones by Robin Lovett that can be read separately or in this order:
Book 1: Stranger, a dark stalker romance
Book 2: Deceiver, a dark revenge romance
Book 3: Keeper, a dark captive romance
About the Author
Robin Lovett is the author of Stranger. She enjoys writing romance to avoid the more unsavory things in life, like day jobs, housework, and personal demons. Reading romance has always been her addiction of choice. When not writing or reading with her cat, she’s busy embracing untamable curly hair or adventuring into the outdoors with her husband. She loves chatting about life and romance on Twitter and Facebook, so don't be shy!
Read an Excerpt
By Robin Lovett
St. Martin's PressCopyright © 2017 Robin Lovett
All rights reserved.
He's been watching me for days.
I don't know him.
He could be a criminal out to kidnap me or rob me. Though he's only there when dozens of people are around, mostly outside during my lunch break at the hospital.
His stare — it scares me, but I like it.
The fear, the rush of adrenaline through my veins, it feels good. My vision focuses, my hearing clears, and my thoughts disappear. The distraction is a relief. A relief from the last three months of hell since ... since ...
Well, let's say it's a relief to be thinking about something besides the giant hole where my heart used to be, the one threatening to break me every spare minute. Any distraction from that, no matter how dangerous, is a high point in my day.
He stands in the same spot every day, half hidden behind the stone pillar. None of the other nurses seem to notice him. They're too busy chatting or enjoying the hospital's fountain on the patio. Me — I notice him. Only him.
He's blond. The scary types are supposed to have dark hair, but his lights up yellow in the California sun — gleaming too bright, almost lionlike. King of the jungle, stalking his prey. The tips of his hair hang over his cheek, half hiding his eyes.
His eyes — they don't match the predator.
They aren't dark; they're light, colorless, almost sightless. It's eerie, confusing yet mesmerizing. He's not trying to hide his stare or be discreet. No. He's obvious, and the chills racing down my spine run colder with every passing minute. It's addictive, the feeling of being stared at, of being frightened.
It's the most I've felt in months. It fills me like spiked oxygen, awakening me from a numb sleep I didn't know I was in. It's stunning to my senses in a terribly blissful way.
I'm his prey.
I want to be.
I want to lose myself and be lost to everything but his eyes. I want to get closer, close enough for him to burn away everything I don't want to feel. And flood me with things I do want to feel.
It's the fifth day he's done this. The first day, it creeped me out so bad I went back inside, praying he'd be gone when I left for the night. The second day he was there again. I decided to stay, to ignore him. He stared at me, unmoving. For the entire hour.
And I couldn't ignore it.
I liked it too much.
The third day, fascinated, terrified, I stared back, and the fear grew worse, more intense, more exciting than fear should ever be. Like a shock to my dormant instincts, it sent my heart thrumming and my breath gasping.
He didn't smile, didn't tip his head, didn't change his expression. But in his gaze there was this menace, this warning that drew me in. I latched on to my chair to keep myself from going to him, from leading myself to slaughter.
What about me makes him stare at me like that?
Yesterday, his fourth day, when I finished my shift, he was there outside in the shadows. My palms sweated on my bag, fearing he would follow me to my car. Except I hoped he would. And that was more terrifying.
If he chased me, would I call for help or let him catch me?
I fear the answer as much as I fear him. But I didn't find out because he didn't follow. He stayed by the entrance and watched me walk away.
I was disappointed to tears.
This morning, I woke excited — for the first time in months. To see him. My stalker. Staring at me. Me staring back.
I have every reason to. He stands, arms crossed. Below his alluring face, the seductive bad-boy hair, and the entrancing eyes, he's shaped like something you can't look at on a double take. It's more like a triple take to make sure he's really there. His T-shirt and shorts shouldn't be sexy, but it doesn't matter. The perfect V from his chest to his waist to his long legs — I get achy from looking at him.
I fix my eyes on my lunch trying to convince myself that my sandwich is more interesting than him. It's not.
There's so much power in his stare. I shouldn't give him more by staring back. Even though I want to give him more power — over me.
I close my eyes, a little shocked and a lot disturbed by my thought patterns concerning this man.
"Penny, are you okay?"
My eyes flash open to my friend Amisha pulling out the chair across from me. She sits, and concern strains her features.
The last thing I want to do is give her another reason to worry about me. "Yeah." I force a smile. "I'm fine." I'm too weirded out by my reactions to mention him. Besides, where he's standing, she'll never notice him unless I point him out.
A light breeze ruffles her dark hair, and her eyes, just as dark, narrow. "Having a rough day?"
"Nah, it's just the food." I poke at my lackluster sandwich.
She pours dressing over her salad. "Did you check in on Noreen and baby Delilah?"
The newest extreme case in the neonatal ICU. "They took Delilah off the ventilator."
"They didn't make Noreen go home, did they?"
"No." We fight hard to keep the moms and babies together as long as we can. They can't breastfeed regularly if the moms aren't staying in the hospital, and the best thing for any newborn is Mom's milk.
With her not looking, I sneak one more glance at my distraction. His light eyes could be blue or hazel, gray or green. Whatever they are, they glower, not at me but through me. Like he's looking at more than just me — or more than what I know of as me.
I like it, how he sees me. Like I'm worthy of hunting. Worthy of devouring.
A wash of heat flushes my neck, my skin sprouting goose bumps in the cool breeze.
Maybe it's my imagination, an illusion from looking at him too much, trying to detect something from him, but his chin nods almost imperceptibly. As if to say, Are you ready for me to destroy you?
I jerk my gaze back to my food. My sense of self-preservation must be on hiatus, because something flips and tugs in my stomach, like a pulling string, a desire, a curiosity.
What would it feel like to be destroyed by him?
* * *
She's everything I thought she'd be.
It makes me hate her more. Which I didn't think was possible.
I never thought the anger festering in my blood for eight years, curdling into a need for vengeance that's distorted my life — I never thought it could get stronger.
But watching her too-pretty face, those baby blue eyes screaming innocence, her flawless skin gleaming softness — everything about her disgusts me, revolts me ... makes me want to wreck her.
She's lived the sheltered life I never got, and I want to steal it.
Except ... I need her alive. Her father died too easily.
Death would be too simple, an easy escape.
I have a plan, a meticulous one, to take it all from her. Piece by piece, I'll dismantle her life until she can't live it anymore.
I should count myself lucky. She didn't call security and have me kicked off the hospital campus. It smacks of stupidity on her part, and I'll depend on it.
She's responding exactly as I planned: equal parts fear and curiosity. Soon, her curiosity will win, and she'll talk to me. Soon she'll learn the truth — a truth that will shatter her wholesome little world. I can't wait to see the horror I will put on her angelic face, the pain it will permanently plant in her eyes.
Penelope Vandershall — I wonder if the friend she eats with every day knows who she is. If Penny — such a nauseatingly sweet nickname — has a trust fund half as big as I know hers to be, she doesn't need to be working. She should be camped out at a beach house or a spa.
Like they do hourly, red anger spots cloud my vision. The need to go over there, dump her lunch in her lap, turn over her table, and roar in her face ...
I grip the railing beside me and force myself to breathe. Now is not the time for action, that will come. Even though the anger living beneath my skin writhes like a feral beast with the need for revenge.
I want her to come to me. That's how my plan begins. With her asking me to dole out her torture. Her childlike curiosity is my fiercest weapon. After the sterile, boring life she's led, she can't help being fascinated by a man stalking her.
Her little shoulders fold, her eyes puffy, like she's been crying. She looks like that every day. No one can cry that much. She talks with her friend but never laughs. She cracks a half-smile, but her cheeks never lift, her teeth never show. I know why.
Grief has been her best friend the last three months. And I'm going to make it worse for her.
There's nothing about her and her privileged life that moves me. I need her. Nothing can keep her from me.
She's my last chance to make it right.
My last chance to avenge the only family I ever had.CHAPTER 2
The baby's fist is no bigger than my pinky finger, and I can't stop staring at it, squeezing in spasms as if she can't stop. As if she's in pain. I hope not. I pray not. I want to make her better, to make her pain go away.
"Penny? Your shift is over. You can go."
I wipe the tears from my cheeks before I turn to the doctor, but I keep my eyes averted, hoping she can't see I'm crying. "I'll leave in a minute." My stare fixes on baby Delilah's name tag.
Dr. Alvarez sighs behind me. "I'm taking you off neonatal ICU. It's too much for you."
I jerk my gaze to her. "It's not. I can handle it." My heart surges. This is where I need to be — where the little ones need all the attention they can get.
Her eyes, full of compassion, are filled with the sympathy I both loathe and depend on. "For a little while." She lowers her voice and puts a gentle hand on my arm. "Maybe in a few months when you're not coping with so much."
I hate her words, though I know she's right. I hate even more the tears they bring to my eyes. "Fine." I pull away.
"It will get easier." Dr. Alvarez pushes her glasses up her nose. "When I lost my father it took —"
I don't stay to hear her finish. I shouldn't walk away from my boss like that, but the race to the locker room is a familiar one. Leaving work in a fit of tears has become a daily thing.
For the first month, I didn't cry. I was numb and spent weeks pretending it wasn't real, looking at pictures of him holding me on his shoulders as a child, watching home movies of him teaching me to ride a horse.
But now, it's become real. The loneliness is more than I ever imagined it could be. I never knew how much those ten-minute phone calls three times a week sustained me. I still reach for my phone to tell him about something that happened in my day.
Anything I can do to not think about him, to keep the truth that he is gone locked away where I don't have to think about it — I want that. I want to forget that the hospital NICU where I work every day — did work every day — was founded by his donation
Dr. Alvarez doesn't understand. No one understands. They think they do. They might say they do. But none of them know me, and none of them know how he was with me and the kind of man he was.
None of them know.
When I leave the elevator bank on the first floor, he's there — my distraction. Outside, leaning against the pillars. He looks up, and that look is in his eyes, like I'm something worthy of crushing, worthy of devastating. Fear bursts beneath my skin, and the temptation to intensify it, to feel less of this grief-sickened pain — it's too great to resist.
The entranceway is lit bright enough to still be daylight, though it's after dark. The valets help patients in and out of their cars mere feet away. It's perfectly safe. There's no reason to fear confronting the stranger who's been stalking me for five days. I have no idea what he'll do, which makes it worse. Or better.
And yet I feel it, my heart slamming harder against my ribs with each step. My hands sweating as I make out his face more clearly, those unseeing eyes filled with so much, yet empty of so much more.
The terror building in my gut is a relief. It chases away my tears and makes me forget everything but his stare. And how I want to lose myself in it. I don't care what he does. I want more of this feeling.
His severe brow lifts, registering that I'm coming to him. He straightens, the first time I've seen him at full height. He's taller than I thought, more threatening from up close. My gaze flits over the angular planes of his chest and shoulders. I'm unable not to stare.
He doesn't smile in triumph, but I can tell by the tilt of his head, the tips of his yellow hair brushing his cheek, he's pleased. He wants me to come to him. A lamb to the slaughter.
I stop a few feet away. A calculated distance, far enough he can't reach me, close enough no one will hear us, then change my mind. I want to be as close as he'll let me. To soak in his heat. To smell how much man he is.
I move to step nearer, but he holds out a hand to stop me. Not too close, it means.
His hand — long fingers, broad palm, rising from a sinew-wrapped forearm. I do as it says and stay where I am.
I don't know which I'm asking: Why are you here? Why are you following me? Why are you stopping me?
His fists clench and unclench. "I'm going to ruin your life." His voice grates, low and strained, different from what I expected. And yet more familiar than I expected. His accent — the lazy consonants and rounded drawl — reveals he's from where I'm from, the South, Tennessee precisely.
He looks young. By his face he's my age, no more than twenty-five, but by that voice, he sounds much older.
"What are you going to do to me?" I keep waiting for him to lick his lips, like he wants to taste me, bite me, eat me — like a big bad wolf. A thrilling mix of panic and excitement stirs in my chest, forces a sharp breath from my lungs. God help me, I like it. Like a junkie craves a high, and I can't help my lips quirking in a smile. It feels strange. I like that too.
His brows lower, shading his light, colorless eyes. "I know things."
"Tell me." His mouth — I will listen to everything those lips have to say. I step closer, and this time he doesn't stop me. "How do you know me?" I'm fixated on his mouth and glimpsing his tongue, when he says:
It could be the way he says it, like an accusation, a damnation, but it rams me in the stomach. Physical pain — shards of glass ripping through my veins. It reverberates in my skull like a brilliant scream in a marble hall. It shatters any control I held over my brittle emotions.
I back away.
Fury slashes across his face. "Stop." He lunges to grab me.
I pull away. "Don't." I heave it from my lungs. I can't hear it. Anything he has to say after that word — father — will cause me more damage than my fragile heart can bear.
He bites out, "Penny."
Hackles scrape up my spine. "How do you know my name?"
"Because. I do." He steps in front of the lights, shrouding his brutal expression in darkness.
"Why?" A horn blares behind me, and I turn to see the parking attendant rush to open a car door.
"We have to talk," he hisses in my ear, but he's too close. It shocks me.
I stumble backward and trip. Before I go down, I regain my feet, but not before he succeeds in grabbing me. He wraps my arm in a rough grip, his fingers digging into my bicep. I struggle but only a little.
I want to tear away but don't. I lean into him, my fingers pressing into his chest. And I smell him.
It's a fiery aroma of heat and strength, malice and danger. I don't have the wits to process that the set of his jaw, the grind of his teeth, and the flare of his nostrils should make me panic and run.
I only breathe, frozen, combatting the insane urge to bury my face in his shirt.
"You will listen to me," he growls low. The warmth of his breath on my cheek startles my mind back to its senses.
I stiffen and look into his darkened eyes. I whisper, "Let me go," even though I don't expect him to.
And yet, without protest, he drops his hand.
Disappointment claws at my throat, which I squash. I didn't really want him to hurt me, did I?
I shove away from him.
He doesn't follow. "You won't escape me."
I shiver, turn my back, and walk as fast as my wobbly legs will move to my car.
I block it out. I reject it. I pretend it's not there. I pretend he's not there. I pretend my desire to run back to him does not exist.
Your father. The way he spoke it, with the sharpness of disgust.
He knows things. I don't know what they are, but they are things I don't want to hear.
I get in my car, and rather than giving in to the endless sadness gnarling in my throat, I push it back and start the engine.
My fingers tremble on the steering wheel, and I hold tight to make them stop. Adrenaline pumps through my limbs. I close my eyes and let it wash through me, reveling in how my breath gusts in and out of my lungs.
The softness of the supple leather, the near-silent purr of the hybrid engine, the safety of its air-tightness — no sound can get inside — I am alone here. I don't want to be.
Excerpted from Stranger by Robin Lovett. Copyright © 2017 Robin Lovett. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.