by Gerri Hill
Danielle Stevens is Hollywood’s “next big thing” in a long line of next big things. When she goes to Dallas to prepare for a role—shadowing Detective Harper Jeremiah—she’s not only running from her fame…she’s also running from a stalker.
Harper Jeremiah wouldn’t recognize a Hollywood actress even if she bumped into one on the street. The last thing she wants to do is to get pulled from her current case to have an actress follow her around. But the perceived babysitting gig quickly turns into a protection detail as the threats against Dani escalate.
The two women form a bond as secrets are shared, trust builds, and the stalker turns into a hunter. As the stalker’s pursuit becomes relentless, Harper becomes even more determined than ever to protect Dani at any cost. But could that unwavering conviction get them both killed?
“Detectives…Jeremiah, Springer, I need to see you.”
Harper and Reid exchanged glances. “What did you do now?” he asked with a grin.
She stood and pushed her chair from her desk. “Yeah…it’s usually me, but this time it’s probably you. He found out you’ve been dating that hooker.”
He held his hand up. “One date! And I didn’t know she was a hooker!”
“Yeah, yeah.” She shook her head. “Can’t believe you slept with her.” She tapped the lieutenant’s door. “Sir?”
“Come in, Harper.” Lieutenant Mize looked past her to Reid and shook his head. “A hooker, Springer? Really?”
Harper laughed as Reid’s face turned bright red. “I swear, Lieutenant…I didn’t know.”
Lieutenant Mize turned his attention to her. “And what’s got you so jovial?”
“I’m always jovial.”
“Yeah…in what universe?”
She shrugged. No, she wasn’t normally jovial, especially with Lieutenant Mize. The man rarely cracked a smile. “Well, you know, I’m trying to chill out.”
“So the anger management class has helped, huh? Good. Keep that in mind when I give you your new assignment.”
“New assignment? We’ve got a serial rapist. Springer and I—”
“Springer’s got a serial rapist. You’ve got an actress.”
She frowned. “An actress?”
He tossed a file on his desk. “Orders from the top, Detective. Danielle Stevens is going to shadow you for a week or so.”
Reid’s eyes widened. “Danielle Stevens? Oh, my God! She’s going to be here? In our squad?”
“Looks like it.”
Harper narrowed her eyes. “Who…is Danielle Stevens?”
They both looked at her as if she’d grown a second head. “Come on, Harper,” Reid said. “The Cruise? The Manhattan Dance?”
“Blond…sea-green eyes,” the lieutenant added wistfully, his mouth almost lifting in a smile. “Beautiful. She’s like a combination of Jennifer Aniston, Meg Ryan, and Sandra Bullock. Beautiful, smart, sexy, lovable.”
“No offense, Lieutenant, but you’re showing your age with those comparisons.”
She stared at both of them and shook her head. “No. I’m not doing it. Find someone else.”
“I’ll do it! I’ll do it!” Reid said quickly, raising his hand and practically dancing in front of Lieutenant Mize.
“Sit down, both of you,” he said. “Detective Jeremiah, you’ve been selected. You don’t have a choice.”
“What do you mean I don’t have a choice?”
“It means exactly what I said.” He motioned to the chair. “Sit down. Apparently they’re going to shoot a movie here. We’ll get some exposure, some of our officers will get to be extras—whatever the hell that is—and it’ll give us a chance for a little community outreach and some positive PR for once.”
She leaned forward in her chair. “So you’re saying that catching a serial rapist, one who’s been terrorizing our citizens for six months now, is taking a backseat to some goddamn Hollywood actress? Yeah…that’s good for our community outreach. What idiot decided that?”
He stared at her, that same cool expression on his face that she’d seen for the last year. “Calm down, Detective. Most people would jump at this chance.”
“I’m not most people. This is a goddamn waste of my time.”
He took his glasses off and tossed them on his desk. “I swear, Harper…every day you remind me more and more of Tori Hunter. It’s uncanny, really.” He picked up his glasses again. “And that’s not really a compliment.”
“So you keep saying.”
“Hunter? From Homicide?” Reid shook his head. “No, I don’t see it. Harper’s too nice. About the only thing they have in common is their track record with partners. They say Hunter went through like ten of them or something. Most of them got killed too. Pushed one of them out of a two-story window, I hear.”
She glared at him. “Well, you’re still alive. For now.”
He laughed. “It’s only because I’m such a good guy that I put up with your shit, Harper. I do believe since you’ve been in Assault, I’m like your fifth partner, right?”
“They’re all still alive,” she said dryly. “I think.”
She’d never met Tori Hunter, but this was the third time Lieutenant Mize had mentioned her. The first time was after she’d thrown a suspect out of a window when he spit on her.
“Seven days or so, Harper. Again, it’s not a choice.”
“She’ll probably be asking herself that question after she meets you.”
“What does that mean?”
“That means she selected you from all of the files that were sent over. If it’s any consolation, I think Detective O’Connor in Homicide was a close second.” He shoved the file closer to her. “That’s her. And a briefing of what she hopes to accomplish while shadowing you.”
Harper picked up the file and she literally stopped breathing when she saw the photo.
“Wow,” she whispered.
“Uh-huh,” Reid said as he peered over her shoulder. “Wow is right.”
Jesus…no wonder he wanted this assignment. Long, blond hair, parted just off-center, dark eyebrows and…sea-green eyes? No, more deep ocean blue. The lips were turned up in a smile revealing perfect white teeth. The smile was a…a hauntingly beautiful smile, one she didn’t want to look away from. The eyes, however, weren’t quite smiling. They were guarded, shadowed. As striking as Danielle Stevens was, the somewhat pensive look in her eyes made her even more so, in Harper’s opinion. What were those eyes hiding? she wondered. She finally moved the photo out of the way and looked at the one-page directive instead.
“A car chase? She wants a car chase?” She shook her head. “And a murder scene?” She closed the file and tossed it back down. “She does know that we’re not Homicide, right? Maybe you should give Detective O’Connor a call.”
“Why are you driving all the way to Dallas? That’s crazy. What if there’s a storm or something?”
Danielle impatiently closed the trunk of the car she’d rented. February in Dallas was practically spring, she’d been told. She turned to Shelly, her assistant. The fact that she wanted to drive didn’t seem to be a good enough answer. “We’ve gone over this twice already.”
“So you hate airports.”
She sighed. “I told you, I don’t like people staring at me.” And demanding autographs and pictures, she added silently.
“Dani, you’re an actress. You’re hot. You’re it right now. Take advantage of it while it lasts. Once you hit thirty, it’s all downhill from there. How many times have you heard that?”
So in less than two years she should be home free, she thought wryly. She stared at the modest house she was renting. “You’ll get the locks changed while I’m gone?”
“Yes, I told you I would. And I’ll look for something else for you.”
“Something small, quiet. Gated community would be good.”
“I know, I know.” Shelly shook her head. “But why rent? Why don’t you just buy something? You’re on the verge of superstar status, Dani. I don’t know why you refuse to act like it.”
Danielle blew out her breath. Superstar status? No, she wouldn’t go that far. And it would do no good to tell Shelly that she didn’t want to be a superstar. That would be blasphemy.
The truth was, she didn’t want to be an actress at all. She wanted to be anything but an actress. Yet here she was, about to head to Dallas to prepare for a new role…and her fifth movie. She hadn’t told Shelly. She hadn’t told anyone—not even her agent—but it would be her fifth and final movie. She simply couldn’t continue to live like this.
She’d had no aspirations of stardom. No aspirations of living a public life. She had always been a very private person, even when she was a child. She always guarded her feelings, her emotions, her thoughts. Private. Yet there was nothing private about her life now. In fact, she had no life. The friends she’d had before all of this were gone for the most part. She rarely saw or even spoke to her parents. Even with her sister, she remained distant. Because the world she lived in now…it wasn’t real. She wasn’t real.
No. She was this caricature created by the movies, by the parts she played. She wasn’t Rachel from The Cruise. She wasn’t Brianna from Manhattan Dance. She wasn’t Clair from Shores of St. Clair. She wasn’t even Danielle Stevens.
“Are you okay? Has this stalker thing really gotten to you that much?”
Dani gave her a half smile. “I thought you didn’t believe me.”
“The police don’t believe you. I do. I’ve seen the dolls.”
“Yes, the stalker thing has gotten to me,” she admitted. Which was one reason she was heading out early for Dallas. She would take three days to drive there. Three days to clear her head. Then she would have a week or so with Detective Jeremiah—she absolutely loved that name—and hopefully her stalker will have moved on to someone else by the time she got back.
“They say you haven’t really made it big until you have a stalker.”
“Well, according to the police, I don’t have one.”
Yet, she did. At first, she thought she was imagining things—or losing her mind. A picture was moved. Books out of order. Dishes rearranged. But she couldn’t explain fresh flowers waiting for her on the dining room table. Or the box of chocolates that were sitting by her coffeepot one morning. Or the love letters that started appearing. The police thought she was a diva wanting attention. There was no evidence of a break-in. No fingerprints. Nothing taken. She’d had the locks changed three times. She had a security camera installed. A security camera that mysteriously stopped working at the most inopportune times…like when a dozen roses were left in her kitchen during the night. Black roses this time. Or when the doll was left just inside her front door…the doll whose hair had been chopped off and its belly ripped open, revealing benign cotton stuffing inside, stuffing that had been spray painted red. The police took notice after that, but she suspected the detective assigned to the case thought she might be doing it all herself, like stopping the camera long enough to plant the flowers…the doll.
She got a gun after that incident. That didn’t help her fall asleep though. Especially not after reading the latest love letter that was left for her. She couldn’t tell who he was in love with or who he was mad at. At first, she thought it must have been Brianna. Brianna had been fun and flirty…and sexy. But after reading the last letter, she thought maybe it was Clair. Clair had been engaged. Clair met someone new…her fiancé’s best friend. Clair fell in love…and broke a heart in the process.
Her stalker had a broken heart, he said. Her stalker, while saying he loved her, was mad at her. Her stalker thought she needed to be punished.
She thought she needed to get away. And fast.
“I can’t believe you’ve never heard of Danielle Stevens. She’s like the hottest thing out there right now.”
“I don’t go to movies,” she said as she dodged two officers bringing in a guy in cuffs.
“Standing in a grocery store checkout, surely you’ve seen her picture on magazines,” Reid said as he struggled to catch up with her.
“Look, I get it. She’s a big star. All the guys love her, blah blah blah.” She shrugged. “Means nothing to me. My only concern is I’ve got to babysit her while freakin’ Hernandez works our case with you.”
“It’s not like it’s going anywhere, Harper. The last three victims can’t even agree if he’s black or white.”
She stopped and ran a hand through her hair. “You’ll keep me in the loop, right?”
“I will. We should get the lab results back this afternoon.” He looked at his watch. “So when’s she meeting you?”
She smiled at him as she started walking again. “Come on, Reid. Mize already laid down the rules. No harassing her, remember.”
“Yeah…but you’re going to introduce me, right? I mean, Danielle Stevens. I get a chubby just thinking about her walking into the squad room.” He nudged her. “Don’t you?” he teased.
“Yeah, right. She is so my type, isn’t she?” she asked sarcastically.
“Sadly, you don’t have a type, Harper.”
An image of Jan flashed before her eyes. Her light brown hair a shaggy mess, as usual, her mouth lifted at the corners in a smile, her dark eyes twinkling as they looked into hers. Yeah…she had a type. Once.
“And I don’t know why,” Reid continued. “You’re cute. You’re too cute, really. You know…for a tomboy and all.”
“Shut up, Reid.”
“Hey, that was a compliment. Your attitude could use a little adjustment though, that’s all I’m saying.”
She stopped and stared at him. “What’s wrong with my attitude?”
“Well, you know. You’re a little…abrupt sometimes. You’re all business. You could stand to lighten up some and smile more. I mean, you’ve got a really pretty smile. You should use it.”
“What’s to smile about in our line of work?”
“That’s your problem. You never get away. You work 24/7. I keep telling you, you need to get a personal life. You need to get laid.”
“Like you? And the hooker?”
He laughed. “Not going to let that one go, are you?”
“No way.” She stopped again. “Why do you think Mize dislikes me?”
“He already told you that he wasn’t the one who gave you this assignment.”
“It’s not just that. He’s been my boss for nearly a year and he still keeps me at a distance. He doesn’t do that with you.”
Reid looked around them, then pulled her off to the side. “You want to know what I heard? His wife left him…for a woman. A cop.”
“Great. And he takes it out on the only lesbian in his squad.” She shook her head. “So who’s this Tori Hunter that he keeps mentioning?”
“Bad ass,” he said with a grin. “In her younger days, anyway. She’s mellowed, they tell me. She left Homicide and went to the FBI for a few years, but she’s back. And man, you should see her wife.” He whistled. “Now that would be your type. Samantha Kennedy…she’s over at CIU.”
“How do you know all this?”
“I worked Homicide before I came here. Jesus, don’t you listen to anything I say?”
“Yeah, that’s right. You tried to impress me with all of your skills.” She smiled at him and patted his cheek. “And I believed you. Right up until the time we came across the man whose wife cut off his penis.” She laughed. “Your second week on the job, if I recall. First partner I ever had who—”
“—threw up, yeah, yeah,” he said. He gave an exaggerated shudder. “God…that was awful. I had nightmares after that.”
“Hell, I had nightmares.”
“You…you think they salvaged that thing? It was pretty mangled.”
“I try not to think about it.”
“You probably don’t want to tell that story to Danielle.”
“A whole damn week,” she groaned. “What the hell are we going to talk about for seven days?”
“I’m still trying to figure out why she picked you in the first place.”
“Well, obviously, she wanted the best.”
He laughed. “Yeah, now there’s that cocky attitude that I love so much.”
Dani took a deep breath before opening the door. She was told she wouldn’t be flooded with requests for autographs and pictures. She was told it would be very professional. She was also told that Detective Jeremiah wasn’t thrilled with the assignment and that she shouldn’t take it personally if the detective was short or rude to her. In fact, they’d offered to assign her to someone else if, after they met, she wasn’t happy with her choice. They were being extremely accommodating. The fact that Detective Jeremiah didn’t want her to shadow her made her more confident that she’d made the right choice.
She took a moment to look at her attire. A black T-shirt. Her favorite pair of jeans. A black leather belt. Dark gray Saucony running shoes. A black jacket. And a Dallas Cowboys cap that she’d picked up just that morning. It wasn’t enough to hide who she was, but with her hair pulled back in a ponytail, she hoped she looked less like a celebrity and more like an everyday person.
She finally pushed open the door and walked inside the squad room. Activity and conversation ceased immediately as all eyes turned her way. She put on her famous façade, she smiled brightly—a smile that no one but her would know was forced—and faced them all. As promised though, no one rushed forward.
“Hello, everyone,” she said cheerfully. “Lieutenant Mize? I’m supposed to meet with him.”
They all seemed to look at each other, no one speaking. She raised both eyebrows questioningly.
“Down…down there,” someone finally said, pointing. “Second door.”
“Thank you.” She headed in that direction, then turned back around. She gave another smile. “Relax, everyone.”
Nervous laughter followed and she mentally rolled her eyes. Men.
Lieutenant Mize’s door was ajar, and she knocked twice on the glass before pushing it open. Two men turned to look at her. One older, sixtyish she would guess, the other younger, a handsome man with sandy blond hair, perhaps in his early- to mid-thirties. They both stared openly, neither speaking. She turned to a woman who was seated. Dark, thick hair, parted on the side and swept across her forehead—Detective Jeremiah. The scowl on her face was only slightly less than the one in her photo. The eyes, however, were the same…the dark brown eyes that had drawn her in the first place.
“Judging by the idiotic looks on their faces, I’m assuming you’re Danielle Stevens.”
Dani nodded. “Yes. And you’re Detective Jeremiah.” She held a hand out. “Pleased to meet you.”
“Yeah.” The woman hesitated before standing and shaking her hand. She was taller in person than she’d appeared in the photo.
“Yes, I heard you weren’t thrilled when you accepted this assignment.”
“Yeah…that’s not exactly how it went down. You know, accepting it and all.”
Dani nodded. “I know. Your people told my people.”
“Oh? We have people?”
Dani smiled, so wishing she didn’t have people. “We do. And I’m sorry if this is an inconvenience.”
“An inconvenience? Yeah, I’m sure for my five rape victims, it’s an inconvenience that I’m being pulled off the case…you know, to babysit you for seven damn days.”
Dani was surprised by the hostility in her voice, and it must have pulled Lieutenant Mize from his trance. He came around his desk and held his hand out.
“Pleasure to meet you, Ms. Stevens. I’m Lieutenant Mize. This is Detective Springer,” he said, motioning to the other man, who still hadn’t found his voice. “And I assure you, Detective Jeremiah,” he said, casting a glare in her direction, “meant nothing by that. We have her workload covered while you’re here.”
Dani shook his hand firmly. “That’s good to know, thank you.” She turned to Detective Springer and held out her hand to him. “Detective, nice to meet you.”
He shook her hand, holding it a second or three too long. “I must be in a dream,” he muttered as if to himself. “Danielle Stevens. Oh, wow. You’re…you’re—”
“Take a deep breath, Reid,” Detective Jeremiah said. “It’s okay, buddy.”
The man blushed and took a step back. “I’m sorry. It’s just…”
“I understand.” She turned her attention back to Detective Jeremiah. “So? How does this work? Do we hang out here and wait for a call or do we hit the streets?”
“Oh, yeah. You wanted a car chase and a murder scene,” she said dryly.
“Well, that’s what they told me to request. I’m really more interested in getting a feel for how you react in different situations, things like that.”
“Her reaction? I don’t think you should model your character after Harper here,” Detective Springer said with a laugh. “She’s like…so not you.”
“Shut up, Reid. You’re acting like an idiot.” Detective Jeremiah headed for the door. “Come on, Ms. Stevens. Let’s get out of here. Maybe we’ll get lucky and stumble upon an assault or something.”
Dani hurried after her, then remembered her manners. She turned back, giving both men a smile. “Nice to meet you. Thank you for lending her to me.”
“Don’t thank me yet,” Lieutenant Mize said. “You may be begging for someone else by the end of the day.”
“I’m fairly certain I can handle her.”
“You coming or what?”
Dani caught up with her before she reached the outer door. “Sorry, Detective.”
Harper Jeremiah held the door open for her. “In case you couldn’t tell, I am the envy of every man in here.”
“Yes. And you’re probably the only one in here who would have said no to this assignment, if given the choice.”
“You’re right about that.” She paused. “Is that why you picked me?”
“Being female was the main criteria, obviously. But no, I picked you because of your eyes,” she said honestly.
“The profile picture they sent me,” she explained. “In that photo, you looked like you wanted to be anywhere other than sitting there for a picture. Your eyes…it was like you had better things—more important things—that you should be doing.” Plus, she was really, really cute, she added silently.
Detective Jeremiah gave her a smirk. “Yeah. Like now, for instance.”
“Ah. Your rape case. Five victims?” she asked as she followed her outside the building. “Same guy?”
“That’s the assumption. Same MO. Wears a mask, gloves. No evidence left behind. Not even a pubic hair.” She pointed to a drab green Ford Taurus. “This one.”
“So, are you and Detective Springer partners normally?”
“Yeah. He’s not usually such an idiot.”
“I’ve seen worse.”
“You mean when people meet you?”
“I imagine so.” She pulled out onto the street, merging with traffic. “So, Ms. Stevens, you want to pick my brain or you just want to drive around or what?”
“How about let’s not use Ms. Stevens? Danielle—or better yet, call me Dani. I’m kinda tired of being Danielle Stevens. I wouldn’t mind leaving her behind for a week.”
“Okay. You can call me Harper.”
“Is that your real name? Harper Jeremiah?”
“Why wouldn’t it be?”
“I was just curious. I love your last name. And Harper? After Harper Lee?”
She nodded. “My grandmother was so taken by the book that she named my mother Harper Lee Monroe. Everyone calls her Lee though. Technically, I guess I was named after my mother and not the author.” Harper glanced at her. “My grandmother wanted to name me Scout.”
Dani laughed. “That would have been precious.” She tilted her head. “I was told you were hard to get along with. In fact, your lieutenant said that I might be begging for a change after today.”
She shrugged. “I don’t see it.”
Harper looked at her quickly. “Well, you just met me. I guess I need to try harder, huh?”
A car pulled up so close to them that Dani could have reached out and touched it had her window been down. She turned, looking at the driver. She gasped when all she saw was a clown face…an evil, creepy clown face that stared back at her. She screamed as something was thrown at her window, splashing it with a red, gooey substance, then the car sped off, turning down a side street and disappearing into traffic.
“What the hell was that?” Harper demanded as she pulled over to the curb and stopped.
Dani was shaking when she turned to look at her. “I…I guess I should have told you. I kinda have a…well…a stalker. That might have been him.”