To criminology professor Alicia Solano, serial killers aren't just academic. A very real one is stalking her now, possibly the same madman who brought Gabe Cooper to town. The sexy Southern lawman still blames himself for an unsolved murder and this time, he'll do anything to catch the killer--and keep Alicia alive.
Not that the feisty prof wants his protection. Her protests prove useless when Gabe insists on moving in with her. And although Gabe senses getting Alicia to trust him--especially after surviving her own traumatic past--is going to be a challenge, it'll be worth it. Gabe knows better than anyone just how far this murderer will go to get what he wants. But so will Gabe. And what he wants is Alicia.
Alicia Solano looked up from the file contents spread across the table in front of her and gave a small start at the sight of her own reflection in the psychology lab windows. Inky twilight had fallen outside the building while she'd been working, catching her unaware.
Her pulse notching upwards, she gathered her papers into a neat stack, forcing herself to move with deliberation rather than speed. If she took her time now, her files would be in order the next time she opened her briefcase and then she wouldn't have to spend time she didn't have trying to remember where she left off.
And moving faster wouldn't make it any easier to step out into the darkness that loomed between her and the safety of her apartment.
Snapping the briefcase closed, she paused for a second in the stillness of the empty lab and listened carefully for sounds of other people remaining in the building. There would be few here this time of night; at a school as small as Mill Valley University, night classes were rare and usually limited to the business school or the continuing education classes that convened in the liberal arts building across campus.
As she headed for the exits, the faint sound of a cleaning crew chatting in rapid-fire Spanish floated from somewhere down the hall, easing her sense of isolation. Alicia relaxed, at least until she reached the heavy double doors of the exit. Once she stepped into the mild evening air, tension crept back into her spine.
It's not the right set-up, she reminded herself, images from her files flashing through her head. She was still within earshot of students moving about the quad a hundred yards away. There was also the cleaning crew in the building she'd just exited who could come quickly if she cried out. The other women had been utterly alone, in secluded places where nobody could hear their final screams.
She gripped the handle of her briefcase more tightly, grateful for its solid heft. It would make a good weapon if she needed one.
Her apartment was within walking distance of the campus, though secluded, tree-lined Dogwood Street was narrow and tunnel-like, an attribute she enjoyed during daylight hours but regretted now as she navigated the deep shadows inking the sidewalk between her and the relative safety of her apartment.
The four-unit apartment building came into view, a two-story structure rising up in the gloom like the phantom of an old Southern mansion, complete with tall white columns supporting a white-railed porch on the bottom floor and matching balconies on the second floor. The muddy golden glow of the streetlamp on the corner didn't penetrate the canopy of hickory, oak and pecan trees towering over the building, though somehow the ivory columns seemed to glow in the dark like moon-bleached bones.
Alicia quickened her pace at the corner, her low heels clicking loudly on the sidewalk. She had almost reached the steps to the apartments when she realized her footsteps were not alone. Her steps faltered, but the footfalls behind her kept coming, the pace even and unhurried.
She slipped her hand into the pocket of her light cotton jacket and closed her fingers around the small canister of pepper spray. Taking a deep breath, she turned to face her unknown companion.
He was little more than a silhouette in the cool purple shadows behind her, backlit by the shaft of streetlamp glow several yards beyond. Definitely male. Built well. Short hair, powerful shoulders, narrow waist, long legs.
Alicia's heart hammered against her rib cage, but she squelched the urge to run up the steps to her apartment. She knew she'd never make it...