From Crux by Moira Rogers
A few months ago, Mackenzie wouldn’t have noticed the man following her.
Of course, a few months ago, Mackenzie had never been followed before, not with any real dedication. From time to time a customer looking to score would wait for her outside the bar, but she’d had no trouble dissuading them from following her home.
Then Marcus had walked into her life, and a whole new world of paranoia opened up for her. She’d gotten very good at noticing a footstep where one shouldn’t be, and even better at remembering faces she saw a bit too often to be coincidence.
It was a credit to her stalker’s skill that she didn’t notice him at first. She’d walked almost a quarter mile toward her motel before she realized anyone was following her at all, a fact which chilled her to the bone. It was so dark she couldn’t see more than a vague outline–tall and lean, wearing nothing fancier than jeans and a T-shirt. That reassured her at first, since all of Marcus’s men had all worn the same black slacks and button-down shirts, some sort of quasi-uniform straight from the pages of Creepy Insane Stalker Monthly.
Her relief faded when she walked another quarter mile and caught sight of him again. She knew she was being followed.
What she didn’t know was why. The small container of pepper spray in her pocket gave her the courage to turn and face him, and she made no attempt to hide her suspicion. She didn’t move, didn’t speak, just stared challengingly at him and waited to see if he would step into the circle of light cast by the streetlight above.
He did. “Busted, huh?” he drawled, one hand rubbing at the strong line of his chin.
She started when she recognized the man from the bar, the handsome one who’d been talking to Nick. He was taller than she’d realized, with broad shoulders and an easy grace. Though it was blanched and yellowed by the harsh glare of the streetlight, she clearly remembered the sandy shade of his brown hair, and the startling blue of his eyes.
He was gorgeous, all right, but that didn’t mean he wasn’t dangerous. Marcus had been gorgeous too. So she did her best to ignore his looks as she curled her fingers around the pepper spray in her pocket. “Why are you following me?”
He took a step closer. “Your boss asked me to. She was … well, I suppose ‘concerned’ is probably as good a word as any.”
Nervousness drove her back a few paces, and she immediately regretted showing fear. She straightened and struggled to reclaim her challenging expression. “Nick told you to follow me?”
His voice softened, turned almost gentle. “She was worried you didn’t have anyplace to go, and she said you’ve been acting jumpy. Like maybe you were in trouble?”
“I have a place to stay.” The response came too fast, too forced, and she almost cringed at how defensive she sounded. He didn’t look like the sort of man who would consider her motel an appropriate dwelling. She didn’t like it either, but it was all she could afford on her limited budget.
He was still watching her, so she moderated her tone. “It’s nice that you’re worried, but I’m fine. I promise.”
He stared at her as if considering the veracity of her words. “All right. But at least let me walk you home.” His lips curled into a charming smile that made her heart beat faster. “Don’t know if you’ve noticed, but we’re not in the best neighborhood at the moment.”
Mackenzie opened her mouth to turn down his offer. The last thing she needed right now was trouble, and the absolute best-case scenario involved him talking to Nick about how unsuitable her current living quarters were. But when her gaze found his again, the words died on her tongue.
She should say no, but she didn’t want to. Loneliness and fear had become so ingrained that she sometimes wondered if she remembered how to feel anything else. His presence would give her the illusion of companionship, for however short a time. Something about his eyes made her want to trust him, made her long to tell him everything that had happened. Or maybe I just want to tell someone so I won’t have to be alone.