Vampire (Dark Protectors #12.5) by Rebecca Zanetti

Chapter 1



A pristine bouquet of white roses lay gently across the Happy Autumn welcome mat on her weathered front porch. Mariana froze mere feet away, grocery bags in her hands, as the breeze lightly lifted a couple of petals.

He’d found her.

She dropped the bags and dug her gun out of her purse, swinging her gaze around the peaceful neighborhood. Nothing but lively trees bursting with red, orange, and yellow leaves met her gaze as the clouds rolled in above. The houses were spaced a couple of acres apart, and from what she could see, most folks were still at work for the day. As usual, the traffic on the country road was non-existent.

Even so, she side-stepped carefully, gun pointed at the ground, up the stairs and to her door. It was locked. Good.

Entering the cottage, she locked the door behind her and swept the one-story, two-bedroom home. Even though she’d practiced for this, she still held her breath before looking under the beds and behind the shower curtains.

Nothing. She was alone.

Thunder rolled outside, promising a good storm.

She sagged against the wall and let her arm drop. Okay. She was all right. So much for statistics. Usually a stalker gave up and found somebody else to harass when his victim moved across the country. Not this time. She ran for the closet in her bedroom and whipped the doors open to reveal the camera system and punched up the video. Blank. They’d been wiped clean. Her ears started to heat, and she shrugged out of her jacket. She fumbled for her phone in her back pocket and dialed a direct line in the Dallas Police Department.

“Cooley,” came a distracted voice.

“Hi, Laura. It’s Mariana.” She slid down the wall to sit on the polished wooden floor.

Silence erupted across the line. “M? What the hell? Why are you calling? We decided—”

“He found me. White roses across my front porch,” Mariana said wearily.

Papers rustled. “Shit. How did he find you? Have you kept in touch with anybody?” Laura’s voice lowered.

“No. I stuck to the plan.” Most of the plan had been over the top, as far as Mariana had thought. Turned out she was wrong. “I only have a burner phone, and I change it every month. Haven’t talked to a soul from Texas, haven’t used credit cards, and I’ve stayed off the Internet. He’s better than we thought.” Her stomach cramped.

“Crap,” Laura muttered. “I’ve continued working the case, but I have nothing. No clue who this guy is, still. If it even is a guy. If I can’t find him, how did he find you? I don’t even know where you are.”

“Indiana,” Mariana said quietly. “Nice town. You should come visit.” While her knees were trembling, it was still nice to be talking to her best friend again. “We were wrong that he’d move on to somebody else.”

“No kidding,” Laura said. “Tell me you caught him on camera. Tell me you installed cameras first thing.”

Mariana set her head back and shut her eyes, trying not to vomit. “I installed cameras, and I did not catch him. He found them and wiped them clean. I bought the best I could afford.” Which hadn’t been much, unfortunately. She opened her eyes and laid the gun on her thigh. “What now?”

“Well, you could come home,” Laura said. “If he found you, I’d much rather you were here with me. You can have my spare bedroom.”

Mariana stared at the floor she’d lovingly restored after hours and on weekends. She’d made this home hers. “No, but thanks. I obviously can’t run from this guy, because he’ll keep finding me. I love this small town, and I’ve gotten some good clients even without using my credentials. Since he’s found me, I can register and get licensed with the state and really get back to work.”

“You are a great shrink,” Laura agreed. “I don’t have any time off, or I’d head your way and help you. For now, how about I reach out to the local authorities and collaborate?”

Mariana let a small laugh escape. “Give it two weeks, would you? The current sheriff is a dumbass, but the guy running for the position is excellent. I’m actually helping with the campaign.” It probably wouldn’t hurt to let Evan in on her problems, since he’d been a good cop before being fired. Especially since he’d seemed so much healthier the last couple of months than when she’d arrived in town. For a bit, she’d been afraid he was really ill. Guess not. He would make a great sheriff, if he won.