By: Cynthia Eden

Elizabeth pulled into a public parking lot. She hadn’t seemed to notice that he was tailing her. He figured she’d been driving too fast to notice. His car idled by the curb. He didn’t see any threats around there. When he lowered his car window, the beat of music filled the air, and laughter floated in the wind.

Time to stop seeing trouble everywhere. She’s just hitting a club. Going for a drink, with someone else.

She’d sure been in an awful big hurry for that drink.

Elizabeth headed toward Rustic, a bar he recognized. Not the worst place, but not the best, either.

Shaking his head, Mac—

Elizabeth ran into the alley. The alley, not the bar. Mac straightened in his seat. What the hell was she doing?

Leave. I should leave. No one is threatening her.

The alley entrance waited, and Elizabeth had vanished.

* * *

SOMETIMES YOU KNEW when you were making a bad mistake. When she stepped into that alley, Elizabeth knew she should turn around. She should get the heck out of there as fast as her feet could carry her.

It was fear that stopped her from turning around and fleeing. She was terribly afraid that something had happened to Steve Yeldon. That last gasp kept replaying in her head.

As far as alleys went, she figured this was a relatively nice one. The smell was manageable—mostly the scent of garbage and cheap alcohol permeated the space. There were a few garbage bins around the area—big green metal monsters. The alley was dim, and the only lights seemed to be coming from the nearby buildings.

She inched forward, trying to see in the shadows behind some of those big bins. “Steve? Um, Steve Yeldon? Are you here?” Elizabeth took a few more steps into that darkness. He didn’t answer her, so she pulled out her phone and dialed his number again.

There were a few moments of tense silence and then...

Ringing. Very distinct ringing that seemed to be coming from directly behind the bin to the left.

She lowered the phone. “Steve?”

There was the faintest rustle then. Like clothing that had brushed against something.

“Steve? Are you hurt?” She risked another step toward the big bin. Maybe it was Steve over there or...maybe it was that scary guy who’d taunted her.

Trying to be ready, she yanked her pepper spray out of her purse. Then she leaped to the side of that garbage bin, ready to attack.

But you didn’t attack the dead. One look, and Elizabeth knew she was staring at a dead man. His body was slumped, twisted, too still. And even in that dim light, she could see the dark pool beneath his body. Her fingers swiped over her phone, and she turned on her flashlight app. The light from her phone flooded the scene and revealed Steve’s face. A little older now, a little leaner and very definitely dead.

Blood was everywhere. So much blood. She backed away, stumbling a bit. She was still holding her phone and her pepper spray and—

A rat crawled from beneath the garbage bin and raced past Steve’s body. She screamed, the cry breaking from her even as she realized that rat must have caused the strange rustling sound she’d heard before. It must have been him and—

“Got you.”

Hard arms wrapped around Elizabeth and yanked her back. The phone fell from her fingers but it didn’t matter. What mattered was her pepper spray. His arms were a fierce band around her stomach, and he had her lifted up so that her legs dangled. She couldn’t kick back at him, but she sure tried. She twisted her body, flipped her hand around and she closed her own eyes as she shot that pepper spray back at him.

He yelled, a guttural cry, and released her. Elizabeth hit the cement, scraping her hands and finding herself way too close to a dead body.

“Elizabeth!” Her head jerked up at that roar. It was a cry that wasn’t coming from her attacker. Instead, that fierce bellow had come from the front of the alley. She could see the outline of a man—tall, strong—and he was rushing forward.

Her attacker fled, his footsteps pounding by her. She pushed up to her feet, ignoring the sting on her hands and knees as Mac hurried toward her. He locked his arms around her and pulled her close. “Elizabeth! Are you okay?”

Yes. No. Mostly. She wasn’t the dead one, so that was something. “He killed Steve.”