- Chapter One – The Danger Zone
Alex Parker was sitting at the top of the world.
Or at that’s what it looked like.
She leaned forward in her black leather chair, pressing her forehead against the cold glass window, her gaze falling far down amongst the busy streets of New York City. It seemed like millions of specks of people roamed past her building day in and day out, and she sat atop of them, forced to take a back seat to that kind of life.
Not that she didn’t love her own life. At twenty six years old and a top graduate at Bolelyn University, Lex was now a three-time best-selling author; her latest book entitled The Long Road Home was currently rising the charts of New York’s Best Seller List. She lived in a gorgeous high rise in the middle of Manhattan that presented her the most amazing view of the city. Her job as Assistant Editor to the one and only Victor Archibald was a complete dream. She had an incredible circle of friends that still included Meg Smythe and Jackson Friar. Not to mention, that Clark Lavery, the boy she’d grown up beside her whole life, had in the middle of a very expensive restaurant dropped to one knee the very night before last and informed her that she’d make him the happiest man alive if she agreed to marry him.
Yes, Alex Parker was living the life shed only ever imagined it to be.
She only wished that…..
There was no use in wishing, she realized. Life was wonderful, perfect, everything she’d ever wanted was at the tips of her fingers, and old self-doubt and panic would not deter her from achieving what she was meant to.
The phone sitting against the top of her mahogany desk buzzed vibrantly, causing her to jump back slightly. She rolled away from the window, back to her desk and the work she could no longer put off with a daydream. She picked up her favorite blue point pen as with the other hand she quickly picked up the receiver and cradled it to her ear.
Her voice sounded foreign as it escaped her lips, “Alexandra Parker.”
Immediately recognizing the voice, she instinctively straightened in her seat as though her boss was watching from afar, “Yes, Mr. Archibald?”
“Is that new manuscript ready for me to see … and all too possibly destroy?”
Alex chuckled lightly, jotting down a separate note for herself, “On your desk as we speak. Ready for destruction.”
“What would I do without you?”
She hesitated, the weight of the words taking effect, “Oh. I’m sure you’d manage just fine, Mr. Archibald. But let’s not put that theory to test.”
“Get back to work. You got another novel to make money off of.”
A warm smile graced her lips, “From your lips.”
She silently hung up the phone, placing it back on its receiver. She sighed heavily, placing her palms flat against her desk, feeling the breath deep within the pit of her stomach. Days like this she wished for a break, just a moment that she could sit back and enjoy the view instead of living out the hustle and bustle of the city life.
But she had chosen this.
Just a small town girl from McKinley. A motherless daughter and deadbeat father. A broken-hearted girl. She’d left that whole life behind when she went to Paris her sophomore year summer at Bolelyn; she mapped out her life then. She spent nearly six weeks there, finding herself in that solitude. And when she came back, she didn’t come home. She delved into her school work at Bolelyn, finishing her bachelors in nearly a year in a half. After that, she’d casually informed her elder sister Ruthie that she was leaving Boston and heading out to New York City. She’d found a small little studio in the basement of some apartment building in not the safest part of the Big Apple. She took on small jobs as a waitress and hostess, gathering up her money. In the late hours of the night, when insomnia had hit her, she’d write. The story of a young girl named Pamela Darling who’d lost her mother young and tragically and escaped to the city of Paris to find herself. She spent a year working on that book and then all too proudly stormed into the Archibald Editing Firm and slammed her manuscript on Mr. Archibald’s desk and demanded that he give her a chance.
She walked out of that office with a career and she’d never looked back.
Alex peered up from her desk to meet the eyes of her new, very young secretary. Reginald Adams was a sweet boy, with a lot to learn. He wore thick rimmed glasses that stood out against his caramel complexion. He’d started less than two weeks ago and he’d managed to nearly botch every single task Alex had given him. But he had such incredible heart, an inexplicable love for literature, that Alex couldn’t turn him away.
Her eyes softened as he stepped toward her desk, “Reggie. How many times have I told you? Please call me Alex.”
He nodded, his hands visibly shaking as he extended a pile of folders to her, “Yes, maam. Coffee?”
She smiled genuinely, retrieving the folders from his hands, “Black.”
He backed out of the room slowly, glancing up only once, “Oh. Line one for you.”
“Who is it?”
He hesitated, his eyes faltering in shame, “I, I forgot to ask their name.”
She bit back her response, waving him off, “That’s fine, Reggie. Just.” He faded out of the room as quickly as he appeared, leaving Alex nearly slamming her head against the desk. She so often wondered how she got herself into the predicaments she always did.
She scooped up the phone again, nearly sighing out her name, “Alexandra Parker.”
Dead silence on the other end.
She pressed the phone closer to her ear, “Hello?”
The man’s southern drawl sounded eerily familiar, sending an odd chill down her spine, “Yes, can I help you?”
Well, I jus’ happ’n to be your biggest fan.
Alex dropped the other work she was trying to accomplish and focused solely on the call, turning her chair back around to the view, “Is that so?”
Why, yes. I do so love the way you write.
Alex nodded into the phone, “Thank you. I, uh, greatly appreciate all my fans and their, uh, dedication. I can send you an autograph copy of one of my books if you’d like.”
Well, if you don’t mind the intrusion, Miss Park’r, I was thinkin’ somethin’ of a more personal nature.
She swallowed hard, her eyes moving slowly back over the crowd below her, “I have umm… some book signings coming up that you’d be more than welcome to attend.”
I’d much prefer one-on-one interaction.
Alex opened her lips to speak, but no words came out. She felt like she was choking on her own air, unable to find steady breath or the will to say anything. The man on the other end of the phone must have sensed Alex’s hesitation as she swore she felt his smug smile pressing against the receiver.
Are you flustered, Miss Park’r? Just how far does that blush go? Page 27. Line 24. Pamela Darling blushes all the way to her collar bone. I wonder, do you?
Without thinking, she shakily slammed the phone down, realizing that as beautiful as the view was from the top, the fall from it was a long, long way down.
Clark Lavery positively hated New York City.
He hated the swarms of people pushing in and out of buildings and taxis, making no real connections with the others around them. He hated the incredible amounts of traffic and cars that felt like they were going around in circles instead of ever really getting anywhere. He hated that not a single soul stopped to observe the view and the beauty, too busy and too self-absorbed to see anything outside of themselves. He hated the noise and the smells and the food and garbage truck at 4 a.m. and the construction and littering and everything.
He just happened, though, to love one Alex Parker more than all of that. He loved her since they were kids. Her heart was always wrapped up in another, but he knew eventually, down the long road, she’d always find a way back to him. And though he had feared he’d completely lost her for a time during their formidable high school and college years, he let his faith in their love steer his course.
In fact, loving her was the he only reason he stayed in this godforsaken hellhole, he’d decided. He stumbled into the luxury suite that he lived in with Alex, exhausted from a long hard’s day work of following around a second-class director on the set of a movie about killer vampires invading the big city.
He’d managed to plaster on an all too fake smile as he saw Alex resting comfortably on their luscious coffee-colored sofa.
Distracted out of her thoughts with the opening of the door, Alex similarly forced herself to smile as he approached her, “Hey.”
When he was close enough, he leaned down over the sofa, placing a chaste kiss against the corner of her mouth, “Hello to you.”
“How was work?”
He flopped down onto the couch beside her, tire wearing in, “Oh, it pretty much sucked, but that is the nature of the beast. Thank the Good Lord its only temporary.”
Deciding then and there to not tell Clark about the phone call earlier today, she focused solely on him and his news, allowing her eyes to light up, straightening herself further up on the couch, “You found something?”
A playful glint gleamed in his eyes, as he spoke all too matter-of-fact, “Well, Chase did call me.”
Alex dropped the magazine from her lap, “Chase? Chase Howard?”
An impeccable smile graced his lips suddenly, as he turned instantly into a fifteen year old boy again about to tell his very best friend about his dream job. He leaned in forward, talking nearly too fast for her to understand, “The one and only. He personally called me on Monday morning to inform me that he needs an assistant on his new coming-of-age teen flick. He sent me the script and I’ve been reading it for the past three days on the edge of my seat. It’s so perfect for me, Alex.”
A look of confusion passed over her eyes, “You’ve been reading it for three days? Clark, why didn’t you tell me about this?”
He threw his arm over the back of the sofa as she tucked one leg under her, facing him directly. He squirmed in his seat as his eyes somehow couldn’t meet hers, “Well, I wanted to …”
“But I know how you feel about California.”
Her jaw nearly hit the ground, “California?”
He turned back to her then, seeing how conflicted she suddenly was. He reached out, grabbing her hand in his, gently rubbing his thumb over the back of her hand, “Chase is filming in L.A. And I know we’ve discussed this, and you know that L.A. …. It’s still it for me. It’s where I want to be.”
She nodded, her eyes stuck on their joined hands, “Then, you also know that it’s not where I want to be.”
There comes the point in any relationship where the couple has to decide to push through the obstacles and hard times not knowing where it may lead or walk away to spare themselves the pain and anguish of quite possibly the inevitable.
This seemed to be the exact point that they were stuck at.
Unfortunately though, Alex knew Clark well enough to know that he would never accept either outcome. He was a dreamer, a big thinker; he hadn’t changed a wink in ten years. He continually thought their love could conquer all, overcome whatever was thrown their way; he believed in a fairy tale kind of love that Alex had given up on a long time ago. She told him that she feared they were drifting in different directions and the following week hed asked her to marry him. He didn’t see problems or difficulties; he tended to reject reality as a whole while keeping that flair from the dramatic going strong.
Her instinctual reaction told her to say goodbye to him. That despite the fact that a part of her would forever love him, her better judgment knew that they couldn’t make this work.
She looked at him, deep within his darkening eyes, challenging him to see the same, “So where do we go from there? Cause I don’t have any answers, Clark. I don’t know. This thing between us is still really new and I don’t want to push it. I just.”
She paused; he interjected.
“I would want you to come with me.”
And there he went again, good ol’ Clark Lavery rejecting reality, forging through with the fantasy.
She felt her insides twist, a nervous twitch shaking her hands in a ridiculous manner. Though she’d worked a poker face quiet well, she couldn’t hide the magnitude of what he was asking.
She spoke slowly, almost purposefully, as if she was trying to still wrap her mind around the whole thing, “You want me to move to Los Angeles? Permanently?”
He nodded without thought, “That’s the plan.”
The plan. It didn’t feel like a part of her plan. It certainly wasn’t in the plan she mapped out for herself five years ago. It was his plan. And his plan for them.
She hadn’t made a plan for them.
“That’s a huge step, Clark.”
“It feels like the next step to me.”
Suddenly, she was standing to her feet, needing distance and space, unable to catch an even breath. She tried to rationalize it all in my mind, making sense of the senseless it seemed. She spoke in a quick manner, trying to reason how to reason with herself. “My entire life is here. In New York. I took me a really long time to get here and I’m happy with the life and the career I’ve built for myself. I can’t just pick up and move across country to follow you and your dream. What about my dream? It’s here. I..”
He quickly interrupted, “What? You can’t write a book in a different state?”
She stood still in front of him, his eyes squinted and clouded with an emotion she couldn’t pinpoint.
He moved further off the couch, his head tilted back to look her directly in the eye. She was suddenly taken back at how familiar it all seemed; how nearly two nights ago he’d proposed on that knee, her hand in his, looking at her like he did now.
She still hadn’t given him an answer.
He glanced down, grasping her hand in his yet again. Then, he slowly lifted his gaze back to meet hers, “Just think it over. Please.”
She sighed, seeing before her the man she was planning her future with and the least she owed him was to think it over. So, she only nodded at his request, and pondered if she was okay with the fact that path she’d so carefully planned for her life was on a detour to the West Coast.
She hadn’t slept a wink for the past three nights.
It could have had something to do with the new manuscript Victor was asking her to work on that she positively loathed, or the complete writers block she was facing in the middle of the book she was trying herself to work on, or that one Miss Megan Smythe had not answered a single one of her phone calls in the past week, or how her grasp on life had suddenly slipped from hand.
Clark Lavery was the sole reason. For he thought it was perfectly normal to keep her up till odd hours in the morning pressing this new California matter too hard and too deep for her liking. He kept trying to convince her that this was the right move for them, and the more he tried, the less she wanted to listen.
The pressure was far too great to handle and that precious plan shed held onto so dearly felt suddenly impossible. She wondered if she could have the future she wanted and have her future with Clark. Because interestingly and scary enough, those two concepts weren’t synonymous.
Reggie appeared out of the corner of her eye, placing a cup of light-colored coffee on her desk, “Morning, Ma’am.”
He winced, as almost in physical pain as she shouted his name. Dropping a few pieces of white paper on her desk, he lowered his head like a puppy getting hollered out for chewing on his owner’s shoe, “Sorry. Here’s your mail and your messages.”
And without another word, he turned on his heel and practically sprinted from the room. Alex felt like the biggest bully ever, nearly making her assistant cry for his politeness. She was merely on edge and she couldn’t bring her personal problems into her business. She needed to draw the line between the two.
She heard a phone ring, a distant ring though. Peering outside her open office door, she recognized it to be her assistant’s phone ringing. It continued to vibrate, wearing thin on Alex’s patience, “Reggie? Can you answer that?”
When silence responded, Alex aggravatingly stood from her seat, straightening her plush red blouse against her stomach, and stormed out of her office door, preparing to see what on earth was taking so long for him to answer.
The poor boy was nowhere in sight. And the phone continued to ring. She picked it up in a frenzy, wondering how shed become her own secretary, “Alexandra Parker’s office.”
We speak again.
Ignoring the ridiculously large vase of white roses that sat atop his desk while still gazing out into the adjacent hallway to find a missing Reggie, she hardly heard the voice of the man who spoke, “I’m sorry?”
You haven’t forgotten about your biggest fan now, have you, Miss Park’r?
The way her named rolled off his tongue sent a chill down her spine; the familiarity of his voice startled her speechless.
I do apologize for my candor the other day. I just admire you so greatly.
She searched for Reggie now in a blind panic, anyone at this point. She so badly wanted to scream and somehow had lost the ability to use her voice. Her eyes darted around the room, her knuckles turning white as she gripped onto the receiver of the phone.
I do hope you like white roses. Candice Halburn, page 164, thought they were the perfect symbol of graciousness.
Too large to ignore now, the white roses before her invaded her senses.
Have I frightened you, Miss Parker?
Her voice was a mere child’s whisper, “You broke into my office?”
I merely wanted to revel in the same space as your greatness. And my dear, Miss Parker, you are gorgeous. Pictures do not do you justice. And red is definitely your color.
As she felt her knees give out from under her, the phone slipped from her grasp and crashed against the newly tiled floor, echoing down the long corridor.
“Jesus Christ, Alex.”
With a beer in hand, Detective Dexter Monroe charged toward his door, hearing the sounds of a very frustrated Alex Parker slamming her fists against it. Pulling the door open in a frenzy, he hardly had a moment to step out of the way as she stormed past him without a word, carrying a rather large bouquet of flowers, and square into the middle of his nearly empty living room.
She was breathing heavy, her chest rising and falling with each shallow breath, her gorgeous face stained red with flush and worry. She casually dropped the roses against his chestnut countertop along with a stack of small envelopes, turning back around to face him.
“He broke into my office, Dex. The flowers, the letters, the phone calls. And now, he’s obviously been watching me.”
Slamming the door behind him, he sighed as he began to move toward her, “Are you satisfied now, Alex? This isn’t just some prank, I’ve told you that before. And we’ve kept this quiet long enough. We have to get the department involved now. It’s the only way to stop this freak.”
She shook her head emphatically, tucking her hair behind her ears, “No. No, if this gets out, I’ll have to cancel all my book signings, the novel will tank. I can’t. I just….he knows where I work, what I look like. The police can’t help me.”
He stood before her now, his dark brown eyes pleading with her, “I can’t do this alone. Okay? The guys at the station are my friends. I can explain the situation. They can help me survey the area, trace your calls, maybe they’ll even place a guard on you. We’ll find the best private investigator out there. Somebody who can find this guy. Privately, if that’s what you need. But this has gotta stop. You can’t live like this.”
Her sad eyes lifted to his, recognizing the fear deep within them. She’d met Dexter Monroe over three years ago. He’d kindly pulled her over for a speeding ticket and shed managed to land a date instead. He was sweet, and funny, not to mention devilishly handsome. His charm was too hard to deny, the chemistry so obviously there. But in her Alex Parker fashion, she broke up with him six months into the relationship, telling him that they were moving way too fast, and that she wanted to focus on her career. He’d only looked back at her kindly and told her that she’d be worth the wait. Over the next year, she encouraged him to start dating again, afraid that sh’ed hold him back, and Clark had then swooped back into her life. They’d remained close friends somehow, and she so often turned to him when life was too much to handle. Sometimes she worried that he might still hope for more, but she’d convinced herself that friends was all they’d ever been meant to be.
“I’m really lucky to have you someone like you as a friend, aren’t I?”
He reached out, unhooking the hair from behind her ear, loving the way it feathered over her cheekbones, “You most certainly are.”
She tore her eyes away, backing away from his touch as though it burned her skin, “So, what do I do now?”
Pushing back whatever he felt in the pit of his stomach and heart around her, he placed his hands flat against his bar, “Well, first, Ill call down station as see if we can get you your own private investigator. And since I can’t be with you 24/7, though you know I’d love to, Ill have to get you a permanent guard.”
She nearly collapsed into his leather sofa, “That’s good. I just….the less people that know, the better. Okay?”
He ran a hand over his stubbled chin, pausing briefly, “You’re gonna have to tell Clark, Alex.”
Throwing her hand back against the cushions, she shut her eyes tightly, “I know. But he has no idea, Dex. I never told him about this guy. He’s gonna hate that I didn’t tell him. God. He’s just been so excited about this new movie and this…this’ll distract him, and hell be so worried about me. And….”
Suddenly, he was at her side, his hand gently pressing against her knee, “If he loves you as much as you say he does, he wont have a problem putting away his pride to keep you safe.”
She lifted her eyes to his, “You think so?”
He only met her gaze with an all too familiar look, “Trust me. I know so.”
Luke Walker was completely and utterly hungover. He’d spent much of last night, and early this morning as well, dancing and drinking in some local town bar with a bunch of buddies and a few quite attractive girls who had all the right moves and assets. He didn’t have to play his cards to hard to win the hand.
But now, he sat his at desk, hand slumped against it, trying to convince the room to not spin quite so fast for him, his tongue feeling like it had swelled to three times its normal size. He hadn’t combed his mop of curls, or shaven the scruff on his chin, or ironed the uniform he wore. His wrongly-and-half-buttoned shirt hung half out of his pants and half exposing his chest, his eyes were red with tire and alcohol consumption.
And all of this was the perfect opportunity for Erick Bronson to take complete advantage.
He tip-toed next to his buddy, leaning down ever so quietly, before using every bit of air in his breath to blow into the whistle lingering between his lips, directly into Luke’s ear.
At the loud shrill of the whistle, Luke jumped in his seat, and was so off his game that he leaned back against his chair, covering his ear in pain, and falling directly over the arm rest onto the floor underneath his desk.
Bronson laughed all-too-hysterically, his sides pinching and hurting him. He slammed his hand against the top of Luke’s desk, leaning his weight against it, “God, ya look like hell, Walker.”
Luke smashed his face against the cold concrete floor, finding that only then did the room stop spinning and his ear stop ringing, “When I’m in my full capacity, Bronson, beware the ass-kicking off a lifetime.”
Bronson bravely smiled down at him, “Aren’t ya an angry little thing this morning? Didja have a long night? What was her name, huh? Or did you even bother to ask?”
“What the hell are you doing on the floor, Luke?!”
As the Captain made his presence known, Bronson only scoffed underneath his breath as he scooped the daily newspaper off the top of the desk, and reported back to his desk.
Luke rolled over onto his back, staring up at the drop ceiling and a pair of angry eyes, “Morning, Cap.”
Decked out in an impeccable navy blue uniform, the Captain held a large cup of coffee in one hand, a newspaper tucked underneath his arm, and a stern look across his face, “Would you like to step in my office, Officer Walker? Or crawl if necessary?”
Luke nodded, as he slowly stumbled to his feet, pausing slightly once on them as the room once again began to turn. The Captain was already seated, with hands folded atop his desk, by the time Luke bumped against the doorframe, knocking down one of the many golden plaques resting on the azure walls.
“Close the door behind you, Luke.”
Luke did just that, his demeanor slightly lifting as he begrudgingly flopped into the seat at the opposite end of the desk, “Isn’t it kinda early to be getting into trouble already, Pauly?”
Captain Paul Walker merely smirked as he looked back at his brother, “Actually, Luke, this is some good news.”
Luke couldnt hide the shock in his voice, “For me? Really? Spill it, big brother.”
Paul leaned forward in his chair, enjoying this far too much he realized, “I got a call early this morning from a Detective down in New York City and I think I may have found a case that’s absolutely perfect for you.”
END OF CHAPTER ONE