My new book, “Every Breath You Take,” goes on sale February 14. Click here
for a sneak peek of Chapter 1 and check out the first look at Chapter 2 below.
Wednesday and Friday, Natalie Scott goes jogging along Chicago’s lakefront. She
likes foreign films, cinnamon gum and strawberry yogurt. She smells like
sunflowers in the summer and roses in the winter.
These are just
a few of the things Natalie’s stalker knows about her.
In fact, he
knows everything about her.
In one brutal
act of violence, Natalie’s stalker will reveal himself to her, imprisoning her
in the process, determined to own her body and soul. Now trapped in a madman’s
web, Natalie will find herself in a terrifying battle of wills where the only
way to survive is to beat the monster at his own game. . .
“Do I know you?”
“I’m not sure.”
Natalie frowned at the strange man trying to chat her up. The man, who’d wandered over to the adjacent highboy table just a few seconds ago, had been stealing sidelong glances at Natalie since she’d first arrived, unnerving her more than a little. All evening it seemed at every turn, every accidental glance in his direction, his eyes poked at her through the slender clusters of people milling about the sleek, charcoal-grey cocktail lounge, a sanitized Euro dance montage pulsing softly in the background. Every time she’d seen him staring at her, he’d offer a mysterious, crooked little smile, which meant she had to take a sip of her drink and refocus her attention on whoever she was socializing with at the moment to discourage him from hitting on her.
Clearly, it hadn’t worked.
“Sorry, sorry,” he said. “You just look really familiar. You’re not Rachel, are you?”
Natalie looked down at her name tag. “Nope.”
“It’s just that you look like a girl I went to high school with. Rachel. But you’re not Rachel, you’re—” he leaned toward her, squinting at her nametag. “Natalie. Natalie. What a beautiful name for a pretty girl. Wow. That sounded really corny, didn’t it?”
“Just a little.”
“Okay, what I meant to say is you’re really beautiful. No, no, that sounds worse.”
“Wow, okay, what I really, really meant to say is that you’re beautiful. And the name is pretty. Man. I’m really losing points here, huh?”
Natalie cleared her throat and hit “send” on her text message before downing the last swallow of her chardonnay. She offered him a weak but polite smile. “If you’ll excuse me,” she murmured as she set her empty glass on the table. She’d done her due diligence and made the requisite small talk and niceties and would be able to give her boss a full report on Monday. It was time to peace out and get on with her Friday night. She started to head for the exit when the guy shot out in front of her, causing her to jerk back a bit. He smiled again.
“I promise, I’m not some psycho stalker or something, and I’m not normally this . . . ugh. All right, let’s start over.” He held out his hand to her. “I’m Jason.”
Natalie pursed her lips and narrowed her eyes at him. He looked clean, anyway. And he was wearing a suit. An obviously expensive navy blue one with paper-sharp creases, a jaunty hot-pink pocket square, and drapes and cuts in all the right places. And unlike the hastily scribbled nametag that denoted her being pressed into attendance at the last minute, his was preprinted, meaning he was on somebody’s guest list. So maybe he wasn’t a total freak.
She hesitated a bit before snaking her hand out to shake his. A smile broke out across his face. As much as Natalie hated to admit it, he was cute—quite cute.
“Nice to meet you, Natalie.” He dropped her hand, a little reluctantly she thought, and gestured toward her empty glass. “Can I get you another drink?”
“You know, I’m actually heading out. I have somewhere else to be.”
“Oh. Right. Friday night,” he said. “Big plans, huh?”
“Yeah, yes. Big plans.”
Natalie hoped the flicker of another dateless Friday night didn’t flash across her face. She shook her head and cast her gaze to the carpet. “Ah, no, no, nothing like that.”
“Whew, okay, still a chance, still a chance. So, could I call you sometime, take you to dinner, show you I’m not a complete jackass?”
“Really, it’s okay,” she said, starting to edge away from him. “I do have to get going, though.”
“Okay, here, how about this,” he said, reaching into his breast pocket and pulling out a business card.
“You’re not comfortable with me calling you, so maybe you could call me? You could even block your number so I won’t see it. I mean, if it will make you feel better.”
He held the little white card out toward her, his face earnest with a side of pleading that made Natalie soften despite her apprehension and resolve. She glanced around, contemplating what to do. She bit her lip and turned back to look at him. Sighing a little, she took the card and he smiled again.
“Hope to hear from you soon, Natalie.”
She looked at the card for a few seconds before slipping it into the side pocket inside her purse.
“Goodbye . . . Jason,” she said as she turned on her heel and headed for the exit.
“Oh, and, uh . . . hope you have a fun night. But not too much fun,” he said, giving her one of those cheesy half winks she was never sure she could trust.
Embarrassed now, Natalie offered him a feeble smile before she hurried toward the elevator. Natalie tugged at the bottom of her suit jacket and fiddled with her hair while she waited. She couldn’t help it; as she got in the elevator, she twisted her head around a little to see if he was watching.
• • •
Natalie searched Devon’s crowded bar for signs of either Brandy or Christine. She spotted Christine taking a glass of wine from the bartender and ambled over to her.
“Boo,” Natalie said, tapping one of her best friends on the shoulder.
“Hey, chica,” Christine smiled, giving her a quick hug, enveloping her in Escada and Jean Patou. “I was just about to text you, see where you were.”
Christine. Unsullied as always, and more so when compared to Natalie’s own tousled, sweaty appearance. There were no late-day oil slicks smeared across the smooth planes of her olive skin (though if there were, she’d most certainly be “dewy” not “greasy”), no limp strands of once-luscious layers of black hair that had lost the day-long war against humidity; her dark brown eyes weren’t bobbing in a sea of red veins. It was as though she spent her days sitting in a lettuce crisper.
Natalie signaled to the bartender and ordered her own white wine. “It took me forever to get out of that event, and then I couldn’t get a cab, so I had to walk.”
“That sucks. Sorry, sweetie. So listen, it’s an hour for a table down in the restaurant, so let’s just stay up here, order from the bar menu.”
“Sounds good,” Natalie said as she took her wine and followed her friend to the lone empty highboy tucked into one corner of the cavernous room. The two women sat down, each sipping their wine as they settled in.
“She’s running late, too. Probably another ten minutes. So what was this event you were coming from?”
Natalie snorted. “So, my boss e-mails me at four-thirty to say he needs me to go to this reception that a corporate client is having at one of the Loop hotels, and he was supposed to go but can’t and could I go instead, blah, blah, blah. I mean, first of all, who has a reception on a Friday night?”
“Anyway, it was just a bunch of old suits. I think I was the youngest one there. Well, except for this one guy.”
“Okay, now I’m listening.”
“It . . . it was nothing. He was kind of weird. Of course, what does that say about me because I still took his card.”
“So, wait. What happened?”
“I dunno . . . I’m standing there, finishing my glass of wine, checking e-mail, texting you, and this guy keeps staring at me. Actually, I’d seen him staring at me all night, so finally I ask him if I know him, because I meet a lot of people, right? And maybe I’ve forgotten his name.”
“Anyway, I ask him if I know him, and he’s like ‘no, but you look familiar and you’re so pretty—’”
“Exactly. So, he goes on and on and then he asks if he can get me a drink, and I’m like, I just want to get the hell out of there. Then he asks if he can call me, and the next thing I know he’s handing me his card and saying to call him so he can take me to dinner.”
“Was he cute at least?”
“As odd as he was, he wasn’t bad looking. Actually, really not bad looking. I dunno, though. Like I said, he was weird.” Natalie shook her head. “I’m not gonna call him.”
Christine winced and took a sip of her wine.
“What? What was that look?”
“Would it hurt to have one drink?”
“I just told you, there’s something off about him. Why would I want to waste my time having a drink with him?”
“I’m just saying you never know, and, well, you gotta get back on the horse sometime. Get on the horse, period. I mean, in this century at least.”
Natalie scoffed and rolled her eyes. “Here we go.”
“All right, okay, listen. Sometimes, you gotta kiss a lotta frogs, right? Before you find the one. Honey, if you don’t kiss anybody, how you gonna get the prince?”
“Christine. . .”
“Look at Brian. He was a straight up culero. Always late for dates, calling me at all kinds of crazy hours of the night—and you know it was for a booty call—out with his boys all the damn time. I mean, that first month I was like, ‘what is this?’ And look at us now—”
“Getting married in three months,” the two women said in unison.
Christine leaned back and smiled. “He’s the love of my life, and to think, I almost passed him by. Look, I’m not saying you’re gonna marry this guy or anything. All I’m saying is . . . meet him for a drink, then decide if he’s a total perdedor. Otherwise, you’ll never know.”
Before Natalie could answer, she spotted her other girlfriend, Brandy, making her way toward them, her shoulder-length blonde curls flying out behind her, her green eyes crinkled in irritation against her tan face.
“Oh, my God,” she muttered, planting hot kisses on both their cheeks before plopping down into the chair next to Christine. “So sorry I’m late. Oh, and for smelling like I just ran with a pack of dogs, ’cause it’s so frickin’ hot outside. Anyway. Conference call ran over. Don’t these assholes know it’s Friday night? Who the hell schedules conference calls for Friday night? Oh, wait, my jackass boss, that’s who.”
“No worries, sweetie. You’re just in time,” Christine said. “I need some backup.”
Natalie slumped down in her chair, bracing herself for the double-team.
“Why, what’s up?”
“So Princess was just at this reception, and this guy, kind of slick, a little . . . let’s just say eccentric, but cute apparently, gave her his card, and now she’s all ‘I’m not calling him.’”
Oh, God,” Brandy rolled her eyes. “This again. Seriously, what do you have, a deadbolt down there by now?”
Christine choked on her wine and Natalie groaned.
“Would you bitches leave me alone already?”
“Do you know in like the five, six years we’ve known you, you’ve like barely ever had a boyfriend?” Brandy said. “Like a real boyfriend.”
“And what, two before that?” Christine chimed in.
“I’ve had boyfriends—”
“Uh, no, girlie, let’s get this straight. You’ve had guys you’ve gone out with for a month or two. But they were not boyfriends. You’re twenty-eight years old, and, I mean, come on. It’s okay to get laid more than once a century,” Brandy said.
“Would you stop? And it’s been more than once this century.”
Brandy snorted. “If you say so.”
“Why do you two care so much about my sex life?”
“Well, somebody’s got to, since you don’t,” Brandy said.
“You can’t keep shutting people out. What happened was a long time ago—” Christine started.
“Stop right there,” Natalie cut her off.
Christine and Brandy looked at each other before heeding Natalie’s command and falling silent. Natalie took a sip of wine to steady herself, that old familiar dread creeping into her veins, causing her to shake inside. The last thing she wanted to do was talk about what happened ten years ago. It was enough that she’d thought about it every day for the last ten years. Talking about it was off-limits.
“Listen, sweetie, it’s just that we love you and think you’re amazing—smart and beautiful and funny—and we just want to see you find your guy, that’s all. And the only way you’re gonna do that is to let someone in,” Christine said.
“I’m sorry,” Natalie sighed. “It’s just . . . it’s hard for me, that’s all. Really hard.”
Christine held out her hand and Natalie grabbed it. “We know, but the only way you’re gonna move past it . . . is to move past it.”
Natalie looked down, feeling a tear swell and wobble in her eye before she blinked it back. “Okay. I’ll call him. Like you said, it’s just a drink. Maybe a funny story to tell at parties one day or something.”
Brandy smiled and signaled to their server that she was ready to order a drink. “Fab. Now. Let’s talk about me and the shitty date I had last night.”
• • •
She didn’t see him sitting at the bar. She hadn’t seen him follow her out of the reception at the hotel and onto the street as she tried, in vain, to hail a cab before giving up and walking, either. She hadn’t seen him keep a safe distance behind her as she navigated the Loop’s sidewalks swollen with worker bees released from their cages for the next two days, either rushing to grab their corner of happy hour’s crowded patios or trudging home to sit prostrate in front of the one blaring window unit that brought relief to a lone bedroom, leaving the other rooms to swelter on their own during the hot July weekend.
Not that he would have expected her to notice him. She’d never noticed him.
That was all about to change, though. The plans were in place. All his patience—all those years—would pay off, and soon they’d be together.
He took a sip of his club soda as he watched her laugh with her girlfriends and thought about the petite, half-moon breasts and tiny waist hanging together on the long, lithe frame. He was mesmerized as always by the sheets of long, shiny black hair, luminous hot-chocolate complexion, and brown doe eyes framed by fluttery lashes; her pink lips like a shiny bow on top of a mouth full of freakishly straight Chiclet white squares. It was an act of fate she’d never had braces. Good DNA. Of course, her mama had been pretty herself—practically perfect—so no surprise there.
He shifted in his seat, feeling those familiar strains against his pants as he always did whenever he saw or thought about her.