One More Sunset
Some people run for exercise. Others run for fun. Abby Stone spends most days running for her life.
After Abby Stone’s ex-boyfriend shows up at her new hideout and she uses a bottle of wine as an impromptu weapon, calling the police is out of the question. His family has a knack for erasing charges and pesky restraining orders. Desperate, she prays for help. A magical suitcase appears and she’s compelled to play an unsettling game involving a sexy, kind stranger while staying one breath ahead of her stalker.
Dylan Reece has overcome tragedy and now enjoys life as a single Key West handyman and fisherman. Yet Abby’s sad, wary eyes hold secrets and a chance for his redemption, if not more…
Will the magic of their love be enough to save them?
Enjoy an Excerpt
One More Sunset
Where’d I put that damn key? Abby Stone juggled two grocery bags on her hip and watched the elevator light jump from the lobby to the second floor as she scooped the lone key from her coat pocket.
The elevator stopped, and the doors slid open. She stared at a man running down the hall toward her. Her hair stood on end, and she held her breath, unable to think, unable to look away. Was it him? She jabbed the elevator button again and again, each press of her finger using more force than the last. Close. Close. Close. Should she have walked the three flights instead? She shuddered, recalling another stairwell in another building not long ago. No, the stairs weren’t any safer.
“Hold the door!” The man threw her an apologetic smile as he slid in next to her in the cramped space. “I was waiting but then realized I’d forgotten this.” He indicated the coat draped over his arm, leaning across her to push the eighth floor button. “So sick of winter weather.”
She caught a whiff of his cologne, the same scent her ex-boyfriend wore. She tried to smile when he glanced sideways at her but failed. The memories were etched in her mind and would take a long time—maybe even a lifetime—to fade. Relax. He won’t find me in a city of seven million people. He’s not going to risk it, not after what happened last time.
The number three lit up overhead, and the doors slid open. Abby scrambled out of the elevator and raced down the hall. She glanced over her shoulder, making certain no one was following her, slowing to a stop at Apartment 305. Trembling, she dropped her key. I need to calm down, get inside where it’s safe. She crouched to retrieve it while protecting her week’s worth of meals and one splurge item—a bottle of her favorite wine.
An apartment door clicked open down the hall.
Her stomach clenched. Sweating beneath her cable knit sweater, she slipped the key into her door’s lock and turned the deadbolt, one eye peeled for danger.
A couple stepped out.
I’ve got to get a grip. I covered my tracks this time.
Poking her head around the grocery bags she clutched to her chest, she pushed open the door and nodded at the strangers as they passed.
They smiled but didn’t say anything.
It was just as well. She hadn’t lived anywhere long enough the past two years to bother making friends. Sooner or later, he always showed up and she found herself on the hunt for another city, another home.
Abby used her shoulder to click on the overhead light of her new hideout and set the bags and her purse on the utility table near the door. She sucked in a breath through her nose, exhaling slowly through her mouth, centering herself like she’d learned in yoga class back in Seattle, and repeated.
In through the nose, out through the mouth.
Seattle. That was before her stint in Chicago, and after Topeka, Denver, and Salem. She shivered and concentrated, taking slow, steady breaths before emptying her lungs of the stale air and her mind of those final fear-ridden moments in the Windy City.
She turned to close the door the same moment musk wafted in from the hall, but she didn’t move fast enough. A black boot planted between the door and the jamb as she pushed against it with all her might.
Her heart filled her throat, blocking her cry for help. Adrenaline coursed through her veins, her body quaking like the occasional tremors that had shaken their former California home. He’s back. Her mind whirled. What would he do to her this time?
He snaked a hand through the widening crack of the door. “C’mon. I just want to talk.” He petted her long hair before grasping the back of her head, pulling her toward him. “I didn’t mean it. It was an accident.”
His scent smothered her. Like hell it was. You stalked me until I tripped and fell down those stairs. It wouldn’t have happened if you’d left me alone. She yanked her head back and gritted her teeth as desperate tears squeezed beneath her lashes and onto her cheeks. “Go away.”
He inched forward. “You don’t mean that, babe. C’mon. I didn’t mean it. I swear. I wouldn’t chase you if you didn’t run.” His voice grew impatient. “What are you playing at?”
“I’m serious, Kyle. Let me go.” Her muscles burned from exertion. He could send her flying backwards with a fraction of his strength. They both knew it. For some reason, he was holding back, his temper leashed. Did he think he could fool her into thinking their relationship stood a chance? Worse yet, did he believe his own words?
She couldn’t hold on much longer. She had to decide.
“Let me in.” He huffed with annoyance.
He didn’t love her; he wanted to control her. How far would he go to get her back? The last time she’d underestimated him she’d landed in the ER with a broken wrist. She shuddered and shot a furtive prayer to the heavens: Please, Nana. Get me out of this mess. You’re my only hope.
Before she could change her mind, she took a deep breath, slid to the right and bumped against the table with the groceries, one of the bags spilling to the floor.
Without her weight holding him back, Kyle stumbled into the room. “Damn, baby.”
She rushed toward the door, toward freedom.
He was too quick. Grabbing her hair with one hand, he pulled her back into the room and flung her against the wall next to the table and slammed the door with the other.
Her scalp was on fire. Hot tears blurred her vision and splashed onto her cheeks in spite of her resolve not to give him the satisfaction. That’s when she saw it, raw evil flashing across his face, visible only for a split second, but long enough for the gravity of her predicament to sink in.
It’s not over.
He stared down at her, his breath hot on her forehead. “I’ve spent too much money and effort tracking you down.” He slammed her head back against the plaster wall for emphasis, and her world turned black for a moment. “You should be thankful I can forgive you.”
In spite of her pain and fear, or perhaps because of it, she put on her best doe-eyed expression. “You forgive me?” She waited, feeling around on the table for anything she could use to protect herself. Ah, perfect. She wrapped her fingers around the neck of the bottle nestled inside the grocery bag beside her. Steady, breathe. She had to time it right. Wait. There’d be no second chances. “I thought we were over.”
He relaxed his grip, sliding his hands from her hair to her shoulders. “C’mon. Of course I do. We were good together. Remember?”
Her skin itched under his touch, as pleasant as a thousand infected mosquito bites. “Yeah, I remember.” Her fingers tightened around her weapon.
He smiled, a cruel curling of the lips that left her cold. “Now you’re talking sense. New York’s no place for us.”
Strange how she used to think he was attractive, with his thick blond hair and intense brown eyes. She bit the inside of her cheek and tasted the metallic salt of her own blood. “You’re right.” Was she brave and quick enough to do the deed? “It’s not the place for us.”
He leaned in close and kissed her, covering the length of her body with his larger, more powerful one.
“Let’s go in the bedroom,” she whispered, the words like acid in her mouth, burning her throat with repulsion.
“You have no idea how happy that makes me.”
The moment he tilted his head back with a self-satisfied smirk, she struck.
He crumpled—out cold—onto the worn carpet.
“And you have no idea how happy that made me.” Her satisfaction was short-lived. She couldn’t call the police. Been there, done that. She couldn’t stay here, of course, but she had nowhere to go.
Abby grabbed her handbag. On the run again, with nothing but the clothes on her back and a purse that held lip gloss, a granola bar, pepper spray, cell phone, and a wallet with forty dollars.
She put her hand on the doorknob to flee when the doorbell buzzed. Had someone heard them struggling and decided to check on her? How would she explain the guy on the floor behind her? Icy fingers of fear seeped into her pores.
Heart pounding, Abby risked a look over her shoulder. No movement. The buzzer chimed again. She took a deep breath, squinting through the peephole. A man wearing a tan uniform and bored expression tapped an electronic clipboard with a pen.
Afraid to leave any evidence behind, she tucked the Riesling in her bag and opened the door a few inches, blocking the delivery man’s view of her unwanted guest. Pulling on a smile, she whispered, “You must have the wrong apartment. I didn’t order anything.” She never did. She didn’t buy luxuries—unlike when she’d lived in Silicon Valley.
She closed the door.
The bell buzzed again.
She cracked open the door. “I’m sorry, but I’m—”
The man’s voice was gruff. “Are you Ms. Stone, Ms. Abigail Ellen Stone?”
Now it was her turn to huff. So much for thinking I travel incognito. Every Joe Schmo knows I live here.
“Yes?” She clamped her mouth shut to control her teeth’s nervous chattering. If she didn’t get out of here fast, her life would be even more complicated. Even if she managed to convince this guy to help her, she’d have to deal with the police and the media. Kyle’s political family often made national headlines—always in their favor. She snuck another peek at the still form behind her. Why would this time be any different? She’d be the one the police charged with assault and battery, despite the bruises on her body attesting to self-defense. She stared at the man’s clipboard, beige as the rest of him. “What is it?”
“This,” he gestured at a rather large red suitcase between them, “was in the Unclaimed Department at JFK, and it’s my job to return such items to their owners.” The tone in his voice indicated he wished he had any other task in the world to fulfill beside this one, but it was his job nonetheless.
She stared at the unique piece of luggage. “That isn’t mine.”
“Are you Abigail Stone? You live at this address?” He held up the luggage tag attached to the suitcase handle.
She blinked in surprise. The tag bore her full name and current address. “Yes, but—”
“Then it’s yours.” He thrust the electronic signature pad and pen in her direction.
She read the tag again to be certain her eyes hadn’t played a trick on her. They hadn’t. The writing looked familiar, too, bringing to mind birthday cards and to-do lists from much happier days. Clapping a hand to her mouth, she stepped back. It couldn’t be.
“C’mon, lady. My truck’s double-parked.”
“I’m sorry.” Anxious to be on her way before Kyle regained consciousness, she scribbled her signature on the screen.
The man tipped his tan hat in a manner at odds with his New York attitude. “Have a good one.”
She ran her fingers over the suitcase, more substantial than any luggage she’d ever owned. The red, supple leather exuded an ethereal presence and infused her with an eerie sense of calm she hadn’t felt since leaving her childhood home.
A weak groan behind her snapped Abby out of her fog. She grabbed her bag with one hand, the handle of the suitcase with the other, and closed the door on yet another home. She had to leave. Immediately. Without looking back, she ran down the hallway in the opposite direction as the delivery man.
Breathless from bumping along downstairs with the bulky suitcase, she sped through the lobby as fast as she could manage while dragging the red monstrosity and raced outside onto the curb to hail a taxi.
“Want that in the back?” The driver peered at her from the front seat. He pointed to her luggage on the sidewalk.
“No, I’ll keep it with me.” She heaved the suitcase across the vinyl backseat, squeezed in, and pulled the door closed behind her.
He shrugged his indifference and merged into city traffic. “Where to?”
“Penn.” She took a deep breath. She had no particular destination in mind, but she could afford the fare to the station and lose herself in the crowd while she decided whether to hop a subway or Amtrak. Whatever her future held, it definitely included a one-way ticket out of the city she had once imagined would be the place to hide her from her crazy-ex-turned-stalker.
Abby clenched her hands in her lap and gazed out the window, unseeing. She was his prey, his possession. How dare she try to leave him? If he couldn’t have her, no one would. She’d heard about guys like that but never imagined in her wildest nightmare Kyle would turn out to be one of them. Not even after what had happened in Chicago. Ironically, her injury had saved her from further harm, and he had hightailed it out of town. She stifled a bitter laugh. It wasn’t as if she were going to file charges. No, she couldn’t depend on the law, or anyone else for that matter, to help. She was on her own.
The taxi stopped at a red light, next to the building where Abby had run into an old friend a few days ago. That was the first she’d seen Jessica since ditching her hometown and everyone in Clintonburg to pursue her acting dreams.
The light turned green, and the building slipped out of view as her cab turned the corner toward the Major Deegan. Abby sighed and wiped the moisture from the corners of her eyes. New York had seemed so promising. She may have been too proud to tell Jessica things hadn’t turned out the way she’d expected—not even close—but she had admitted she needed a job. Well, she kind of had to, since she’d been filling out an employment form at the nightclub where Jessica was the assistant manager.
Damn him for screwing up my life again.
Her cab wove its way from the Bronx through Manhattan. Abby unclenched her hands and ran her nail-bitten fingers across the smooth, rich leather of the mysterious suitcase. She traced the gold embossed monogram in awe. Her monogram.
Okay, Red. You’re with me come what may, or at least until I find where you really belong. Who knew? Maybe there’d be something of value inside. Winter clothes and some cash would be nice. She had learned not to expect much from life.
Abby held her breath as she opened the case, the zipper gliding like butter over roasted corn. The real owner of the suitcase must have been headed somewhere tropical. She sighed as flowing sundresses, skimpy bikinis, and delicate under things filled her vision. Not a stitch of practical winter clothes in sight. Curious, she glanced at the tag inside a pair of crisp white linen shorts. Her size. She picked up a sandal with a designer label. Her size, too. She gazed at the open case.
I appreciate the sentiment, Red, but you do realize I’ll have to sell most of these gifts to pay for a train ticket.
She opened an inside luggage pocket and stared at the thick envelope, sealed and labeled with her full name. The writing was similar to the luggage tag, but the ink was gold instead of black. If she didn’t know better, she would say her grandmother had addressed it. She sat back, shaking her head, covering her mouth with one hand to keep the bubble of hysteria in her throat from escaping. She had enough problems; she didn’t need to make a scene in the back of a yellow checkered cab.
Tingles zipped through her as she tore open the envelope. A spray of bills and a plane ticket fell onto her lap, and she gasped, glancing at the driver to be certain he hadn’t witnessed her miracle. Her prayers had been answered. Thank you, Nana and Red.
Why had the suitcase appeared at her doorstep, and who had sent it? The rational part of her mind knew it couldn’t be Nana’s doing, but divine intervention was the only answer that made sense. Or was it? She wouldn’t put it past Kyle to enjoy a twisted game of Hide-and-Seek at her expense. Would he have planned for the possibility of her escape and used this suitcase to lead her into a trap?
Abby shuddered inside her winter coat. Breathe, in through the nose, out through the mouth. Kyle was obsessed. Did it really make sense that he’d help her get away—especially with all these beautiful clothes and money? He had always spent on himself but had been quite stingy with everyone else.
She shook her head again.
With trembling fingers, she stuffed the bills back into the envelope and the envelope into her handbag then pored over the details on the ticket. She tipped her head back to the heavens and let out a holler.
The driver’s head swiveled toward her. “You okay, Miss?”
She smiled. “I’m wonderful, but I’ve changed my mind. Take me to JFK instead, and fast.”
He shrugged. “No problem. It’ll cost you.”
“No problem.” She grinned for the first time in months and held up a few C-notes. “I have cash.”
The two old ladies huddled together at the front display window of their fragrance shop, their arms linked together as much for balance as comfort, while the taxi carrying their latest charge whizzed by.
“We were almost too late.” Elpida’s gray eyes snapped at her sister. “I knew we should have interceded back in Chicago.”
“Did you see how she whacked him with that bottle?” Lysis cackled, hiding a grin behind her scarf. “She’s a fighter, I tell you.”
Lysis nudged her. “C’mon. You know the rules.”
“I know, I know.” Elpida sighed. “We have to be asked for help, and then, only give guidance when absolutely necessary.” She eyed the empty sidewalk. “Let’s sit. My feet are aching.” She rubbed spindly arms through her wool cardigan, the same hue as her shrewd eyes and long, wiry hair she wore clipped back on either side of her wizened face, hobbling past the candles and lotions to the little gas burner at the back of the shop. “Must be the weather.” Taking the briki from the heat, she poured fresh drinks into matching espresso cups.
Lysis strode to the small table behind the counter and sank onto a chair.
“We need to do more.” Elpida placed a cup on each placemat then sat, too, shaking her head, long hair swinging in response to her frustration.
“I will do all that’s allowed for this girl, this kori.” Lysis sipped the frothy liquid.
Elpida gazed at her over the steaming cup. “Remember what happened to that other young kori?”
Lysis shivered in spite of the coffee warming her insides. Elpida, out of everyone in their family, had always been the most optimistic. What comfort could she offer her sister? “That was centuries ago. We can’t control free will. Each woman has to want change badly enough and find the power within to overcome what it is that traps her.”
“The poor thing’s been floundering, ever since her grandmother passed.” Elpida pushed away her cup.
“You may not interfere.” Lysis leaned forward. “This one’s my responsibility, my kori.”
Elpida sniffed. “She has no one.”
“They rarely do.”
“But you know how these mortals are. They need others.”
Lysis set down her cup and snorted. “Thee moy! I won’t have any part in guiding her toward another man. That’s how she came to be in this predicament in the first place.”
“Still.” Elpida reached out and gripped her hand with surprising strength. “Wouldn’t it be nice if she found her mate?”
Lysis patted her sister’s wrinkled hand. “Don’t be silly. We both know that’s outside of our realm.”
“Yes, of course.” Elpida leaned back, nodding. “You’re right.”
Lysis eyed her sister. Elpida had always been the more emotional of them, and she rarely gave in. What was she up to? Lysis would have to keep a close watch on her. Freedom came first. Love could wait.