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Since moving to Salt Lake a year ago, former Navy SEAL Chaz Roylance had developed a craving for the glazed donuts sold at SweetSpuds on Foothill Drive. They were better than any other donuts he'd ever eaten. He'd discovered that the small store wasn't that far from his work.
After buying a dozen for the guys, he headed for the Lufka P.I. firm located farther south where Foothill Drive turned into Wasatch Boulevard. Mount Olympus provided the backdrop. As Chaz pulled around the back past the shop filled with their equipment, he realized no man could ask for a more glorious setting, especially on a warm summer morning with a clear blue sky overhead.
In fact, no man worked with better guys or a more brilliant boss. Roman Lufka owned the agency and was great to work for. Chaz's P.I. job forced him to concentrate on other people's problems and blot out his own for a while. He dealt with lots of missing-persons cases, embezzlement and industrial espionage.
But lately he'd reached a point where the disease eating away at his soul was taking over again. He'd been losing sleep and didn't know the meaning of joy.
He felt it particularly strongly this morning because he'd just finished solving an insurance-fraud casenot a good place for him to be since it gave him too much thinking time.
After parking his green Forerunner in his space, he entered the office through the back door and nodded to Lisa Gordon, an ex-cop and Roman's assistant, who was making coffee in the kitchen. "I was counting on the java being ready."
She eyed his sack of donuts. "Hmm. I had hopes someone would bring me breakfast."
"Here. Take one. We make a good team, Lisa."
"That we do. Thanks." She flashed him a searching glance and put her hands on her hips. "You don't look so good. I know what's wrong with you. All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy. You need a little fun in your life. How about letting me introduce you to this very attractive brunette accountant who's a friend of my daughter."
"No, thanks, but I appreciate the offer."
She studied him with concern. "Maybe you need some professional help for what's ailing you."
"I recognize the signs because I've been there."
Wrong. Even as an ex-cop, she hadn't been where he'd been. Certain work he'd had to do in the SEALs shouldn't be part of the human experience. He flashed her a jaundiced eye, then picked up a coffee before heading to Roman's office.
Lisa, the mother of two whose last child had just gone away to college, never quit when it came to Chaz. She and her husband had a tight marriage. So did Roman. Before cancer had taken Chaz's wife ten years ago, he'd been happy, too, but her death had changed his life and had prompted him to join the military, where he'd ultimately become a navy SEAL.
The work had been challenging and he'd enjoyed the camaraderie well enough. Then came his last mission in South America with Special Forces, where he'd come up against something that had torn him apart. The warlords forced their women to carry out their atrocities. Chaz's orders were to kill them, but the very thought of killing women went against everything he believed in. He couldn't do it and realized it was time to get out.
Since then, nightmares had plagued him. With his parents dead and his wife gone, there was nothing for him to go back to in Arizona, where he'd been born and raised. Desperate to find meaning in his life, he'd moved to Salt Lake. He'd taken his wife to the Huntsman Institute there for her last two months of cancer treatment.
He'd liked the city well enough, and there was an opportunity for work in a civilian setting that needed his intelligence-gathering skills. Roman's P.I. firm kept him constantly busy in an environment that gave him purpose without destroying him.
"Roman?" he called from the doorway. "You busy?"
"You're the man I wanted to see this morning. Come on in."
Chaz sat down, sharing the goodies with him.
"Thank you. Much more of this and Brittany's going to put me on a diet."
Anyone looking at Roman, who stayed in great shape, would think he was in his late thirties instead of mid-forties. He and his brother Yuri came from Russian roots and grew up in New York. They were both dark haired with fascinating personalities.
"Congratulations for winding up that insurance-fraud case so fast, comrade. Planting the camera was a master stroke. The guys cracked up when they watched the film. I did, too, when I saw the paralyzed guy get out of his bed and start walking around the minute the door was closed." He broke into laughter and consumed his donut in one swallow.
"It was a lucky hunch that paid off."
Roman eyed him frankly. "All your hunches are lucky, which proves to me it isn't luck with you. The SEALs' loss was my gain, but I've sensed something's been wrong for a while. What can I do to help?"
Chaz grimaced. "I must be transparent. Lisa's trying to find me a woman, convinced it will heal all wounds."
"Brittany changed my life, but since I know love has to happen on its own, I won't go down that path with you. Lisa cares about you. We all do. But I know there's something else. If you ever need to unload, I'm here."
"Thanks. Maybe one day," Chaz murmured. If anyone would get it, Roman would, but Chaz wasn't ready to talk about his troubles yet.
"I'm glad you came in because a dozen new cases need to be assigned. You can have your pick. But before I tell you about them, I wondered if you'd find out if the man who left this number on our answering machine is legitimate." Roman handed him a note with the name Barry Winslow on it.
"What do you mean by legitimate?"
Roman sat forward in his chair. "I mean, I don't know any details, which is a first. It's a Salt Lake area code, but the number's unlisted. If it turns out the call was some sort of prank, then come back in and we'll go over the new cases."
"I'll take care of this right now."
I can hardly wait to see your blood on my hands, you bitch. So watch out and keep looking over your shoulder, because I'm right behind you and plan to cut out your freakin' heart first. Then I'll start on your daughter.... Both will be an in-the-body experience you won't forget.
Those horrifying words left in a message on her cell phone yesterday afternoon stabbed through Lacey Pomeroy over and over again as she walked her three-year-old to her bedroom. "Come on, Abby, honey. Time for your nap."
After Lacey put her daughter under the covers with her favorite stuffed frog, she lay down on the twin bed and cuddled her close. While she sang to Abby, she stared at the ceiling in mortal fear of what was going on in her life right now. The morning before yesterday, she'd received the first phoned death threat, but it had come on her condo's landline.
Get ready for your next paranormal experience. It'll happen when you least expect it. This one's going to burn up your brain. Literally.
Since then, the landline hadn't rung again. The calls on both phones had come from the same man. Both gruesome messages reminded her of the death threat she'd found before leaving Long Beach, California, and moving back to Salt Lake a year ago. Salt Lake had been a safe haven, the place where she'd grown up, and where her mom and sister still lived.
The death threat had happened the night of the viewing for her husband, Ted, who'd been in the Coast Guard and had died in an accident at sea.
A big crowd had come to the mortuary in Long Beach to offer their condolences. When she went out to her car later, she found a note put under her windshield wiper. It had said that aliens were responsible for her husband's death. Now they were going to set her daughter on fire one body part at a time before they did the same thing to her.
She'd assumed the depraved monster was a listener of her paranormal radio program that was broadcast out of Los Angeles. After showing the note to her mother and sister, who'd come to Long Beach for the funeral, she'd told her boss about it. He'd assured her it was a sick prank, probably done by some messed-up teenager in her neighborhood who knew her car and had seen the obituary. He'd told her not to worry about it unless she got another one.
But Lacey hadn't waited to find out. With her husband gone, she quit her California radio call-in show. When she moved back home, Barry Winslow, a Salt Lake radio producer, contacted her to do the same show here because it was so popular. She hadn't thought about the note again until she'd gotten that first phone call.
Lacey had never needed her husband more, but Ted had been dead a year. With no father to turn to, she'd called Barry. He wasn't only the head producer for the network sponsoring her radio call-in show here, the married father of three had been like a favorite uncle to her since she'd moved back to Salt Lake.
When she'd told him she was being stalked and gave him proof, he'd taken her seriously, but told her not to try to trace the calls back to their source yet. Since they both knew the police couldn't do anything until some kind of crime had been committed, he'd told her he had an idea and would get back to her today.
Once her daughter was asleep, Lacey got off the bed and walked through the one-story condo to the kitchen. She'd left her cell phone on the counter and was still waiting to hear back from Barry. The window above the sink looked out at the other condos in the Parkridge complex where she lived in Cottonwood Heights. Hers was one of the second-story units in a three-story building that housed six condos. The stalker could be out there watching her condo this very second.
When she'd moved back from California, she'd chosen this place to be near her mother, Virginia Garvey, who taught math part-time at the University of Utah, and lived only a half mile from Lacey's condo. Lacey's sister, Ruth, had been staying with their mom for the past month after losing her job as an air cargo pilot in Idaho. With Ted gone, Lacey had needed her family.
She hoped to make enough money to sell her condo and buy a house in a nearby residential neighborhood by the time Abby was old enough to start kindergarten. In the meantime, twenty-six-year-old Ruth stayed over with her on weeknights and went to their mother's on the weekends.
While Abby slept, Ruth babysat so Lacey could do her three-hour radio show. In return, Lacey paid her well, so her sister didn't have to take a part-time job. Their situation was temporary because Ruth would be getting another job soon, but it had been working out fine. Until two days ago, when some maniac had disrupted their lives!
Lacey's family believed the horrendous threats had to have come from one of her radio show listeners who delighted in frightening her. Maybe it was the same person who'd put that note on her car in California. The possibility that this insane person had followed her here and had been watching all this time terrified her.
The bloodcurdling part for Lacey was the fact that he knew both her phone numbers. On her way home from the park with Abby yesterday, her cell phone had rung. Since she hadn't recognized the caller ID, she hadn't picked up.
When she reached her condo, she was so filled with dread it took her a long time to gather the courage to listen to the voice message. It was the same man's voice, but the death threat had been more violent and graphic. At that point she hadn't hesitated to phone Barry, who'd promised to help her.
Why hadn't he called her yet?
There was no way she would leave the condo to do her show tonight. Barry would have to get Stewart, the nighttime intern producer who also ran the phones, to play another of her taped programs from the archives. She'd told her sister to stay at their mom's tonight.
While she stood in the middle of her kitchen trapped by her thoughts and fears, there was a knock on the front door. She heard her mother's voice and rushed through the living room to open it.
"Thank goodness you're here." She hugged her hard. "I've been going out of my mind waiting for Barry to call."
"Shh," her mother said. After she closed and locked the door, she turned to Lacey. "We have to whisper." Lacey frowned. "Your condo might be bugged."
Her mother led her to the hallway. Still whispering, she said, "Barry isn't going to phone you, honey. Mr. Winslow called a P.I. firm to help you."
Lacey blinked. "Are you serious?"
"Yes. The man in charge of your case is Chaz Roy-lance. He told Barry not to have any more phone conversations with you. Then he called me."
"You've already talked to this P.I.?"
"I just got off the phone with him. He said the fact that we haven't contacted the police works in our favor. With a high-profile person like you, the minute the police hear, the news will leak to the press and any hope for secrecy will be lost."
"That's true, but isn't it going to cost a lot of money?"
"Barry said the network will pay the expenses. To quote him, 'We're not letting the paranormal-show host with the fourth-highest ratings in the nation be hurt by some fringe lunatic.'"
Lacey's eyelids prickled. "Barry's wonderful."
"I agree. So is this P.I."
"How did he find him?"
"Barry says he's from the top P.I. firm in the In-termountain West, bar none. This Mr. Roylance has already assigned his people to keep you under twenty-four-hour surveillance."
"That fast?" She was incredulous
"Yes. But of course this is your decision. I'm just relating what Barry told me to tell you. If you want to call this off, just say so, honey."
"No, Mom. I know he's doing everything he can for me and I appreciate your help more than you'll ever know. Do you know what I'm supposed to do now?"