The sand was still warm from having the merciless sun bake it all day. Sabrina dug her heels into it with each step as she moved backward, not taking her eyes off the three men approaching her.
“Guys? It’s not funny anymore. Stop it.” She tried to keep her voice firm, but their decisive moves as they spread out in front and on both sides of her made her wary. If she only knew who they were, but they all wore pantyhose masks and made awful low, catcall noises as they homed in on her.
“Please. Stop this. We’re supposed to be heading for the bus.” All she could think of was how to get back to the bus waiting to drive them all back to campus. She would be safe there. “Come on?”
Now she had her back against the steep dunes behind her and tried to climb backward, letting her eyes dart between them. Loose sand ran over her feet as she kicked at it, trying to find her footing. She was out of breath now, and sweat poured down her back despite the cooling night air.
Where were Callie and Dawn? She had danced with her best friends all evening around the campfire, laughing and getting tipsy on beer. That had sent her on a quest for the toilet area among the dunes, but going there alone had been a big mistake. After Sabrina left the bonfire area, she’d realized too late how dark it had grown. She’d decided to go back and find Callie, her roommate, when the three men appeared dressed in generic beachwear for preppy young guys.
The men were only a few yards away, and she could tell they were wearing what looked like nylon stockings over their heads. Sabrina panicked. This wasn’t a joke. These guys were either out to scare her or…worse. She pivoted and ran up the dune, knowing that was her only chance. She drew in a new breath to scream for help, but a hard shove against her back silenced her as she fell face forward into the sand. It filled her entire mouth and she could hardly breathe.
Trying to spit the sand out, Sabrina tried to claw her way up the dune, grunting against the hard knees and hands pressing her down. She kicked, but their hard grip of her ankles made it impossible. There were too many of them, and they were so strong.
“No use fighting, bitch,” one of the men hissed, his voice right at her ear. “No one can hear you. Just keep munching on that sand and enjoy the ride.”
The other men laughed as they tore the shorts and tank top from her body. Sabrina fought them with every ounce of her strength, scratching at them, even biting. She heard them curse her, and when she was naked down to her bikini bottom, she managed to spit the last of the sand from her mouth. This didn’t stop them from pulling off the last piece of clothing.
Deeply terrified and in shock from being naked in the sand with three men bending her arms and legs until she thought they’d break or be dislocated, Sabrina screamed hoarsely for help. At first her voice was barely audible, and the men didn’t seem to care. They growled and laughed behind the nylon stockings, and one of them even made a hole where his mouth was and wagged his tongue at her.
“No, no, no, no…please. Oh, God. Don’t do this,” she moaned.
“But you’ll enjoy it, bitch. I promise. Just spread those amazing long legs, and you’ll find all you need is a good fucking from some talented bastards to get off your high horse, Sabrina.”
Sabrina? They knew her? She coughed up more sand, and now she had more air. Screaming as loud as she could, she could tell her voice carried much farther. “Help! Please, help! Help!”
“Shut up!” the closest man hissed. “Shut the fuck up!” He pressed his hand over her mouth, and she panicked. She had to keep screaming or they’d never find her. These guys…they could kill her and…Sabrina bit down hard on the edge of his hand and refused to let go before he pulled back. Then she screamed again, this time so loud her voice cracked.
The men appeared to panic and tried to silence her. Blows to her abdomen, her head, and to her face rained all over her. Certain they would kill her, Sabrina curled up and protected her head and abdomen. Her arms and legs took the brunt of the violence, but she’d stopped caring about that as long as they didn’t cut her or hit her head.
Suddenly it all stopped. Their hands were no longer on her body. Were they still there? Lying still, she listened, but all she could hear was her husky, sandy gasps. She opened her eyes, blinking against the grains in her tear-drenched lashes. She was alone and felt her aching, naked, sandy body grow cold. Sabrina lay there still, listening to her breathing, trying to match the sound of the distant waves.
Thoughts of her brother made new tears stream down her face. Daniel was the only person in her family she could relate to, and he felt the same way about her. He was merely sixteen, and this, her being attacked and hurt, would destroy him.
After what seemed like hours, the sound of distant voices approached. Were the men coming back? Grabbing at her clothes, Sabrina found only her shorts and held them against her, curling up around them. Trying to hide her naked breasts, she whipped her head back and forth to make sure the men weren’t there, hiding in the dunes. She couldn’t see anyone. Sobbing now, she fell onto her side in the sand. Now she wasn’t screaming anymore, but wailing, as she wanted to hide from everyone forever.
“Sabrina? Sabrina! Oh, my God, Sabrina!”
Callie and Dawn appeared out of nowhere, crying out as they fell to their knees and wrapped their arms around her. As Sabrina looked up, she saw what seemed like hundreds of faces like a wall around them. The thought hit her that the three men might be among the onlookers. Any of the guys could be one of them. Only college kids had stayed this long at the beach.
More screams broke free from her sandy vocal chords and echoed along Crane Beach, and only when Dawn, sobbing and hushing, held her tight did they turn into a frantic murmur.
“What was that, Sabrina? I can’t hear you.” Callie patted Sabrina’s back, sounding shocked and confused. “Sabrina?”
“D-don’t leave me. Don’t leave…me. Don’t leave me alone…with them.” Sabrina hid against Dawn. All she wanted was to go home to her dorm room and shower her aching, bruised body. She wanted to lock the door and crawl into her bed—perhaps never come out of there.
Nothing in her life would ever be the same.
How could it?
“You off now?” Meghan glanced up at Darcy as she passed her desk. “When are you going to realize you’re burning your candle from both ends by working two jobs?”
“Hey, I’m young and strong, dear cousin. I can pull all-nighters, no problem at all.” Darcy pulled on her cap and buttoned her uniform jacket. Every time she donned the night-guard uniform, her heart twitched painfully. She used to wear her police uniform proudly, and now, wearing this, she felt like such a fraud. Being a night guard was a respectable job, but she missed being on the police force so much she ached sometimes. Carrying out two jobs, as a private investigator for her cousin Meghan’s firm and as a night guard for SecLife, did indeed wear her out when she was needed at one place right after another, like today.
“Yes. You are, I admit,” Meghan said. “But one of these days you’ll stretch yourself too thin, and then I’ll have to scrape you up with a spatula.”
“Ew.” Darcy crinkled her nose. “Then what? Make an omelet out of me? Sounds delish—not.”
“I was going to say, as fine dining to the closest cannibal, yes.” Meghan stuck out her tongue. Five years older than Darcy, Meghan had always felt close to her, but sometimes her cousin assumed the “concerned older sister” role, which she had done a lot ever since…Darcy stopped her train of thought before it sent her into a full-blown pity-party.
“The closest cannibal, huh? That desperate to get rid of me?” Donning her gun belt, she then unlocked the top drawer in one of the file cabinets and pulled out her Glock. She made sure the clip was full and the spare as well. During day shifts at SecLife she didn’t carry a gun, but as she was normally on her own in her wing of the building she worked in during nights, it was required.
“Never. Business has only become better since you joined me here. You know that.” Meghan stood and walked over to her. “Your knack for surveillance and skills with the camera have increased our efficiency by twenty percent.”
“Really?” Darcy stopped adjusting her belt. “You sure it isn’t because your business is more established now? I came into it at the end of its first year. That year’s always an uphill battle, so I’m told.”
“Don’t be so modest.” Meghan crinkled her freckled nose. “Yes, that’s part of it, but now we can take on a lot more cases because you’re so efficient. If we didn’t have you, we’d have to turn some customers away.”
“Wow. Okay. I’m glad my coming to work for you has paid off despite everything.” Grabbing her leather tote, where she kept a thermos of coffee, some magazines and books, and a container of diced fruit, Darcy was ready to head out. “Speaking of working a lot, don’t stay here too late again. You know how that kid of yours goes nuts when you’re late too many nights in a row. He thinks you’re dead.” Meghan’s son Dominic was sixteen and what Darcy referred to as an old soul. “He still has some sort of vision of you dodging bullets and going toe-to-toe with ninjas.”
“Tell me about it.” Meghan glanced at her phone and then wiggled it. “I’ll set the timer for another thirty minutes, and then I’m out of here. Stay safe tonight, Darcy.”
“Sure thing. Hug the kid for me.” Darcy did a one-finger salute and walked outside. The sun was already setting, painting the sky purple, orange, and pink. This time of year, she enjoyed the last warm days as they headed toward October. Eventually, East Quay would become rainy, gray, and cold. Then the snow would hit, and if the last few years were anything to go by, she would have to invest in a new snowblower in early November at the latest. But right now, it was still summer, even if the nights were colder.
Driving her beloved red Silverado, she pulled into the almost-nonexistent traffic. The summer guests had vacated this part of New England a few weeks back. That was both a blessing and a curse, Darcy surmised. Traffic was lighter, stores were not as congested, so less queuing. But tourists brought money to the region, and the merchants and hotel owners counted on the coast of Rhode Island to stay as popular as it was.
Humming to Noelle Laurent’s latest hit song playing on the radio, Darcy pulled into the ever-growing financial area of East Quay. She drove past her list of smaller buildings, which she knew by heart, externally scanning them on her way back to the main road farther down. There, a large office complex loomed, with its six floors and ultramodern glass paneling. How the builder had managed to twist the local politicians’ arms to get permission to erect such a monstrosity, she had no clue. Connections and money exchanging hands? Promising tons of new jobs? Yeah, that’d get it done.
Turning into the parking lot, Darcy saw only one more vehicle besides her truck, a gray, metallic Ford Focus hatchback. She knew it well and realized she was working late. Again. Darcy parked right next to it, which had become a habit, and cautiously exited her Silverado.
The she in question was the president of the small but reputable accounting firm on the fourth floor, Sabrina Hawk. As far as Darcy knew, Hawk’s Accounting consisted of Sabrina and four employees. Usually the employees were gone when Darcy started her shift, but Sabrina often worked late. Tall, with strawberry-blond hair of undeterminable length, as it was always up in a low bun or a severe twist, Sabrina Hawk tended to dress in black or gray skirt suits. Darcy had yet to see the woman ever wear slacks or anything bright, but she wasn’t complaining, as Sabrina had the most gorgeous set of legs she had ever seen. Wearing minimal makeup, the hardworking accountant usually sported black-rimmed glasses and two-inch pumps.
Apart from a mere nod in passing, or an occasional “Have a good evening, Ms. Hawk” from Darcy, which usually rendered her a short “thank you” in return, Darcy had never really spoken to Sabrina. That didn’t mean she didn’t keep extra tabs on the stunning woman when Sabrina worked late and had to cross over to her car after dark. Nothing would happen to Sabrina Hawk on Darcy’s watch.
Pulling her tote out and slinging it over her shoulder, Darcy locked her truck and scanned the area around the business complex. Several offices kept expensive equipment and sensitive documents on the premises. The area was usually calm, but East Quay had its fair share of criminality.
Entering the building using her master keycard, she headed over to the desk where she spent most of her night when not doing her rounds. A short, stocky Asian-American man stood and greeted her with a friendly grin.
“You’re early, Darcy. No crooks to catch in the PI business?”
“Ha! Funny that, Ken. Very humorous. I’ll be glad when the day comes that I don’t have to keep tabs on cheating spouses from here to Providence. A real case wouldn’t be bad.”
“Be careful what you wish for,” Ken said, putting his thermos into a much-loved backpack with a Red Sox logo on the front. Darcy stealthily peered down at Ken’s feet and thought she glimpsed actual red socks peeking through just above his shiny black shoes. He was such a baseball aficionado.
“True enough. Actually, I enjoy working with Meghan. It gives me a lot of freedom to add more hours to this gig.” Darcy let Ken pass and then rounded the desk. Six monitors, on which she could bring up live surveillance from everywhere in the building, filled the entire left side of it. On the other side, she had a small switchboard phone where she could alert the police or fire department if need be. The building had an automatic alarm system for most eventualities, but she was glad she could manually reach the authorities on speed dial if need be. “Anything to report before you head home to that gorgeous wife of yours?” Darcy looked down at Ken’s immaculately typed log on the computer. As far as she could see, his rounds had been uneventful.
“A couple of teenagers thought it would be funny to stop by and press their faces against the glass doors. I stood just inside and and patted Lulu once, and they ran like the wind.” Ken demonstrated how he’d patted his side arm. “Like this and swoosh!”
Darcy laughed. “You macho dog, you.”
“Don’t you forget it.” Ken grinned and pulled on his jacket. “Stay safe tonight, kid. It’s going to rain later.”
“Thanks, Dad.” Darcy knew she looked younger than her actual twenty-eight years and didn’t mind Ken calling her “kid” every now and then. He knew of her background on the police force and what she’d gone through three years ago. She was ready to cut him a lot of slack for never judging her.
She placed her fruit in the mini-fridge under the desk and the thermos of coffee on the shelf next to it. Making sure once more that the clip in her Glock was loaded and the safety on, she holstered it next to the baton. Her comm radio and cell phone were both freshly charged and tucked into their respective holders on her belt as well. Grabbing her large Maglite, she prepared to do her first round after checking the front door to make sure it was locked behind Ken. She could see him in the distance on the street, where he bicycled toward the harbor where he lived with his wife and two teenage daughters in an old, light-blue house on stilts.
Darcy’s steps echoed through the corridors, the marble floor barely dampening her footfalls. She let her Maglite shine into the offices that had glass doors and felt the handles on the rest of them to make sure the locks had clicked into place. She was aware of the high-tech locks in the buildings, but as far as she was concerned, technology malfunctioned on a regular basis.
She took the stairs from floor to floor and listened intently for unfamiliar sounds before she opened the doors to their respective corridors. Stepping onto the fourth floor, she immediately saw the light coming from the glass doors leading into Hawk’s Accounting. Carrying out her routine, she kept flicking her flashlight on and off into the other offices, and when she reached the corner offices, she glanced inside as she saw a light on farther in, past the reception area. She wasn’t expecting to see anything, as Sabrina Hawk’s office was in the far corner, out of her field of vision. At first, she didn’t spot anything out of the ordinary, but then a slight movement to the right in the semi-dark area made her frown and direct her Maglite in that direction.
Sabrina Hawk just stood there, seemingly lost in thought, staring out the window. She held onto a white mug, twisting it between her hands, something so desolate about her rigid form that Darcy kept the beam from her flashlight down and remained where she was. Slightly older than her, perhaps thirty-five to Darcy’s twenty-eight, the classy, stunning woman had a quality about her that made Darcy feel strangely protective.
Sabrina jerked and slapped the window hard with the palm of her hand, bowing her head as if in defeat. From where Darcy stood, it looked as if the woman by the window was shaking. Concerned now, Darcy rapped her blunt nails against the glass door and redirected the Maglite toward the glass, careful not to blind Sabrina, who flinched and turned, her eyes wide and her body appearing tense enough to crackle. Darcy felt like an idiot for frightening the woman and smiled reassuringly, even if she wasn’t sure Sabrina could see her facial expression from all the way over there. Not entirely certain what prompted her next action, she slid her master keycard through the lock and pushed the door half open.
“Sorry there, Ms. Hawk.” Darcy raised her voice, trying to sound casual. “Didn’t mean to startle you. Just wanted to make sure you were all right.” Darcy utilized every ounce of the confidence she’d once had as a police officer, making her voice low and assertive, when in reality, her knees felt somewhat unstable.
“I’m fine, thank you,” Sabrina said coolly. Darcy didn’t point out the fact that Sabrina was trembling visibly.
“Good. Just let me know if you need assistance. I’m here until seven in the morning.” Her cheeks warming, Darcy was about to duck out when Sabrina spoke again.
“I’m leaving soon. Will you be in the lobby?”
That had to be a record amount of words from Sabrina. Some of the business people liked to chat when they ran into Darcy, but not this one, normally. Darcy tried to wrap her mind around that fact and forgot that Sabrina had asked her a question. Only when Sabrina tilted her head and walked toward her did she snap out of it.
“Lobby? Yes. I’ll be done with my rounds in ten or fifteen minutes.” Darcy knew she probably sounded like an idiot, but she was busy wondering why Sabrina wanted to know in the first place.
“Very well.” Sabrina walked to the counter by the front desk. Clearly the audience was over. But then she looked over her shoulder, and Darcy thought she could detect a haunted expression on Sabrina’s finely chiseled features. “Thank you.”
“No problem, Ms. Hawk.” Darcy wanted to swat herself on the head. Since when did she sound breathless like this? And since when did she feel like a teenager in front of a hot teacher, though she couldn’t remember any of her teachers ever looking this amazing in an expensive, off-white skirt suit. Sabrina wore a plum blouse underneath, and at the shallow indentation at the base of her neck, a small emerald gave off an understated glow against her pale skin.
Utterly self-conscious, Darcy walked toward the door to carry out the last of her rounds. Her legs remarkably wobbly, she willed them to take her out into the corridor without stumbling into furniture or doorposts. Turning her head as she closed the door behind her and making sure the lock engaged, Darcy saw Sabrina walking toward her office, her gait efficient and self-assured. Huh. So, the tormented woman she had just seen a glimpse of had been pushed back beneath the surface again.
Filing the sight away for future reference, Darcy carried out her duties on the last two floors in a rush and then took the elevator down to the ground level. Stepping out of it, she spotted Sabrina Hawk already standing very close to the large windows overlooking the parking lot. She kept glancing from side to side, one hand resting against the glass and the other holding her briefcase so tight, the skin on her knuckles was colorless.
“Hello again,” Darcy said in a muted voice, hoping not to startle Sabrina yet again. The woman still jumped and turned so fast, she momentarily had to support herself against the window.
Darcy hurried forward, but Sabrina regained her balance and straightened to her full length, probably around five foot ten. At a mere five foot four, Darcy squared her shoulders and casually walked toward Sabrina. “So, I’m here. What can I help you with, Ms. Hawk?”
“I don’t mean to sound overly dramatic, but would you please watch while I walk to my car?” Jutting her chin out, Sabrina looked as if she expected Darcy to question her request, or even be a smart-ass about it.
“No problem. I usually do anyway.” The words were out of her mouth before she realized what she’d meant to say. Darcy closed her eyes briefly after watching Sabrina’s eyebrows go up.
“You do?” It was barely a question, more like a “please tell me you’re kidding and not a stalker.”
“A woman going through a semi-dark parking lot alone late in the evening and sometimes even during the night—what kind of guard would I be if I didn’t pay attention,” Darcy said, trying to explain.
“I see. Well then.” She pulled out her keycard and slid it through the door opener. “Good night.”
“Good night.” Darcy walked over to the window, not taking her eyes off Sabrina as she hurried to the Focus. She noted how Sabrina circled the car and peered in through all the windows. This was new. Usually, she tossed her briefcase in and quickly stepped into the driver’s seat. Now Sabrina acted as if she expected something to be amiss—or even some unwanted presence. Darcy almost thought the woman would check under the car with a makeup mirror. Finally, Sabrina opened the door and glanced around toward the lobby, nodding briefly toward Darcy, who in turn gave a short wave.
As Sabrina drove away, Darcy found herself standing inside the doors, her mind whirling with possibilities as to why Sabrina suddenly was so skittish and concerned. Something was seriously wrong—she just knew it.
Sabrina stopped outside the building where she owned a large, luxurious condominium. The bottom floor consisted of eight double garages, from where you reached the stairs leading up to the two-story condo. There was also an entrance to each condo on the back, reached via a path through a small garden. Sabrina drove into the garage and kept her eyes unwaveringly in the mirror as she closed the door behind her remotely. As it locked into place, she drew a deep breath and finally relaxed. Her entire body ached from the stress of the last few weeks, which had increased tenfold today.
Her cell phone beeped and she jumped, immediately on edge again. When it turned out to be a text message from her brother, Daniel, she moaned from sheer relief.
R U working? How about this weekend? Lorna suggests bar-b-q on the new deck.
Her stomach clenching, Sabrina knew she couldn’t turn her brother and sister-in-law down again. They had asked her four times during the last two months to come and visit with them and their twin boys. Sabrina adored Ethan and Kevin, but considering the last few weeks’ events, all Sabrina wanted to do was hibernate in her condo.
She got out of the car and headed for the door leading into the stairwell. As she walked up the stairs, her feet felt as heavy as if she were wearing rubber boots rather than Jimmy Choo pumps. The door at the landing had its own set of locks and alarm. With the keys ready, she opened it and slipped inside, locking all three locks, including the massive new deadbolt. Resetting the alarm, she felt entirely safe—for the time being.
As Sabrina walked toward the kitchen, she took out her cell phone again and texted Dan, affirming that she’d join them over the weekend. The big-grin emoji and four hearts he returned made her smile and shake her head. Dan was three years younger than her, and he always claimed he was the black sheep of the family as he didn’t work with numbers. Instead, he owned a successful construction company and was often hired by East Quay and surrounding towns.
Sabrina had followed in their parents’ footstep in the sense that she did crunch numbers, but not at their level. She wasn’t into day-trading either, like Glenda and Ian Hawk, who were considered royalty in the Boston financial district. The famous Forbes magazine had coined a quote that her father loved. “Everything they touch turns to Californium.” Sabrina couldn’t agree more, since Californium, not indigenous to Earth, was as toxic as it was rare, due to its radioactivity, much like her parents. They owned properties in Boston, Providence, and East Quay, and their stock-market firm was one of Boston’s most successful enterprises. Sabrina couldn’t count how many times she had declined to work for Glenda and Ian.
Instead she had started her own company, initially as its sole employee, but now she had four other fulltime accountants working for her. If things progressed the way they had until now, she would soon need to double that number. She maintained she was the black sheep of the family, not because she stood up to her parents regarding her career, which was Dan’s impression. The reason was much darker than that.
She shook off the looming thoughts, something she truly didn’t need after working her ass off all day and then receiving yet another anonymous email. She was going to have to get her IT contact to make sure her computers weren’t hacked. Drawing a trembling breath, Sabrina entered the kitchen area, normally her favorite place in her condo.
The refrigerator didn’t hold anything tempting, but she forced herself to pull out some blueberry yogurt. She hadn’t eaten since lunch, and if she went to bed on an empty stomach, experience told her she would suffer badly around four or five a.m.
Sabrina walked into her bedroom while she ate the yogurt. Pulling off her clothes between each spoonful, she shivered when the air-conditioned air reached her naked skin. She quickly donned her silk pajamas and finished off the yogurt. While brushing her teeth, she avoided her reflection in the mirror, knowing full well what her haunted expression looked like.
After she crawled into bed, she closed her eyes, and the words from the first email she had received three weeks ago appeared as if blazed against the inside of her eyelids.
The time has come for you to do as you’re told. Be prepared. Don’t do anything stupid, such as involving the cops. We will be in touch.
Sabrina shivered despite the thick duvet. What the hell did that even mean? She had found similar-sounding emails on her laptop and her stationary computer six other times during the last three weeks. Rationalizing their presence, she had told herself they were just spam, or someone trying to be funny, but deep down she recognized the signs of denial. She kept up that façade until she found a letter on top of her computer keyboard at work. It contained only words printed on regular printer paper.
Regard this as proof.
Completely freaked out, she had debated whether to call the police, but instead she took the middle-of-the-road approach and contacted the security firm that had put in the alarm systems at her condo and her beach house. Al Karimi, the president of the company, had of course tried to convince her this was a police matter, but when Sabrina had refused to involve law enforcement, he had agreed to help her as much as possible. So far, he had nothing to report.
The intrusion into her office had happened yesterday, and for the rest of the day and today she had looked over her shoulder and remained in her office. When she had to work overtime this evening, she’d cursed herself for not doing that from home. She hadn’t counted on being so afraid, but old ghosts added to the mix, and her nerves played constant tricks on her.
When the night guard had knocked on the door to her office, Sabrina had been so startled, she’d nearly cried out. Spotting the familiar face of the woman who always treated her with friendly professionalism, Sabrina could have wept with relief. Of course, as usual, she withdrew behind her shell of “cool, calm, and collected” and projected what her brother called her regal persona. This guise didn’t seem to completely deter the night guard. What was her last name again? It said on her name tag, for heaven’s sake. Flynn? Yes. That was it. Flynn clearly did not scare easily—and she had been quite accommodating when Sabrina had asked her to monitor her journey to the car. Of course, the woman had to wonder. Would she ask about her request? Would she perhaps tell her colleagues or any of the other tenants at the business center? For some reason Sabrina couldn’t explain, she didn’t think so.
She pulled a blanket on top of the duvet and huddled underneath, finding it almost impossible to get warm. On days like today, when the present was causing her grief and the past loomed on the horizon, Sabrina had to fight against her instinct to hide.
She had come too far to fall into that trap again.
“Okay, cousin. Time to spill the beans about Sabrina Hawk.” Meghan rounded Darcy’s desk and sat down on the corner of it, looking pointedly at her. “And don’t you dare skip any details.”
“There’s nothing to tell. Honestly. She asked me to keep an eye on her while she walked to her car, since it was late in the evening. That was it.” Darcy pulled her shoulders up in a deep shrug.
“And going from ‘good evening’ to ‘please guard me with your life, oh handsome night guard,’ is nothing?” Meghan gestured wildly. “From what I’ve heard, Sabrina Hawk isn’t exactly the warm and fuzzy type. For her to say more than two words, let alone ask you for something so extraordinary—it’s what we gossip girls live for.”
Darcy groaned and covered her eyes with her free hand. With the other, she held onto a mug of green tea as if it were a lifebuoy. What had possessed her to tell Meghan about what had happened at the business center two nights ago? She knew her cousin was curious to a fault, hence her local success as a private investigator. Meghan had gone to the police academy eight years before Darcy but had already opted for the private sector at graduation.
“You can’t gossip about Sabrina Hawk to any of your friends,” Darcy said with a moan. “SecLife has strict regulations regarding customer privacy, which in this case extends to the tenants of the building they protect. I can’t lose yet another job.”
Immediately serious and contrite, Meghan held up her hands, palms forward. “Hey. I wouldn’t do that to you. Ever. You know that, right? Whatever you tell me about the gorgeous Ms. Hawk stays between us. Promise. I’ll just gossip inside my head.” She drew a cross over her heart and then kissed her fingertips, a gesture from when they were younger.
“All right. I trust you.” Darcy did. As outgoing and exuberant as Meghan was, she was unwaveringly loyal. “She didn’t say much, really, but the way she acted was strange as hell. She even examined her car, inside and out, while keeping an eye on the surroundings, as if she expected someone to launch himself at her any moment. She’s very private, normally, but I’ve never seen her skittish like this.”
“Perhaps something happened to her?” Meghan looked serious now. Her professional demeanor was in place, and she pursed her lips like she did when she thought of different solutions to a problem. “When did you last see her before this?”
“A week ago. She worked late on that Tuesday. No sign of this kind of behavior.”
“So, judging from that, something might have happened between…” Meghan leaned sideways to check Darcy’s calendar. “September sixth to fifteenth.”
Darcy nodded thoughtfully. “I don’t know what it is about her that makes her impossible to ignore. I mean, she’s not my type. At all.”
Meghan snorted irreverently. “I’ll say. You normally go for sad-looking emo girls, or, which boggles my mind, my straight friends.”
“Oh, please. One straight friend.” Darcy huffed and tossed her low ponytail back over her shoulder. “She did say she was curious.” Now she couldn’t keep from laughing at Meghan’s pained expression.
“God, no more details. It’s enough that she always says you were, to date, her most thoughtful lover.” Meghan stood. “But as your Ms. Hawk doesn’t fit any of your preferred categories, I admit that you have cause for concern on both fronts. Something bothers her—and something seriously bothers you.”
“I know.” Meghan was annoyingly right, as usual. Darcy pulled up her ongoing case files on her computer but couldn’t concentrate. Instead, she opened an empty folder and wrote Sabrina Hawk at the top. Intending nothing more than to keep tabs on her observations, she wrote down what she knew of the woman she couldn’t stop thinking about, including what had transpired two evenings ago.
Sabrina stood in her office looking at the mess and destruction before her. Her desktop computer was missing. Every binder was pulled from the shelves and lay in a pile on the floor. The window was broken, and the cool September wind ruffled the loose papers flooding the desk and floor. The perpetrator had even slashed the armrests and the seat of her leather desk chair.
Making sure she remained calm on the surface, Sabrina feared her thundering heart might make her pulse points visible. Each heartbeat echoed in her ears, drowning out the gasps from her employees that stood behind her.
“I’m calling the police.” The decisive voice belonged to Brian, the tall, dark-haired father of four who was the first one she hired when her business took off.
Sabrina wanted to object. She didn’t want the police there to ask questions, prod and poke her, second-guess her. Pulling herself together, she turned on slightly unsteady feet. “Thank you, Brian. If you can handle that contact, I’m going to call security and find out why no alarms seem to have gone off.” She motioned for everyone to leave her office.
“Go check your work stations. Make sure nothing’s been touched or tampered with. Don’t forget the storage room or Heather’s and Fabiana’s desks.” The desks of the two absent accountants looked pristine, but it was still prudent to make sure no one had bothered them.
Going into the kitchenette behind the reception area, Sabrina looked up the supervisor for the building on her cell phone. To her dismay, a woman who couldn’t give her any answers merely referred her to the security personnel. Annoyed as well as anguished now, Sabrina dialed the number the woman had provided.
“Security, front desk. This is Darcy,” a vaguely familiar voice replied at the other end.
“My name is Sabrina Hawk. I want to talk to the security manager, please.” Sabrina could tell her voice wasn’t entirely steady.
“Ms. Hawk?” The woman at the other end sounded surprised. “This is Darcy Flynn. We spoke a few nights ago.” Darcy Flynn sounded kind and concerned.
“I remember.” In fact, it wasn’t hard to conjure up the image of the compact night watch with her chestnut hair kept in a ponytail. “Is your manager available?”
“I’m afraid my trainee Lacey and I are the only ones available here today, Ms. Hawk. I normally don’t fill in during days, but they were short-staffed—”
“We’ve had a break-in at my office. We have called the police, and I want you up here as well, to explain what’s wrong with the alarm system.” Though realizing full well that none of what had happened was the security guard’s fault, Sabrina couldn’t keep her anger—or concern—out of her voice.
“I’m on my way, ma’am.”
“Good. Thank you.” Sabrina disconnected the call and tried to harness her nerves. She had built her entire life, her future, around this business. She couldn’t allow an incident like this to destroy all the hours, all the sacrifices, no matter who was behind it.
Less than two minutes later, Darcy strode through the door, taking charge. She directed Sabrina’s staff toward the kitchen area, where they sat down by the small bar table.
“I’m sorry this has happened. I can’t imagine how or why the alarm system failed, but I’ll report all findings to SecLife, the security company that provides the alarm service and my employer.” Looking serious, she turned to Sabrina. “Was only your office ransacked?”
“As far as we can tell, nothing else has been moved or stolen.” Sabrina wanted to pace, move around, and shake off some of her jitters, but she remained in the doorway to the kitchenette, having to resort to drumming her fingers against the doorframe. A sound by the outer door made her jump. Two uniformed officers and what she surmised was a plainclothes policewoman stepped inside.
“Sabrina Hawk?” the woman said. “I’m Detective Nadine Lomax.” Tall, with short, mahogany hair, she was dressed in a black leather jacket over a charcoal turtleneck and black jeans, and she gave the impression of being strong and professional. Lomax pointed with her thumb behind her. “Officers Ivers and Taylor.” The two men in uniform nodded politely.
“Thank you for coming so quickly,” Sabrina said, forcing herself to shake Lomax’s hand as she nodded toward the officers. The woman’s grip was firm, but not painful. Sabrina loathed jelly-hands as well as the people who aimed to show you they could break the bones in your hand if they wanted to with their grip. “As Brian told the dispatcher, someone broke into our office. My office. Over there.” She motioned at the closed door farther down the hall.
“Anything missing in there?” Lomax pulled out her notebook and flipped over a few pages.
“At the very least my desktop computer. It’s such a mess in there that I can’t be sure about anything else.”
“Did any of you touch anything in there this morning?” Lomax asked.
“No. We stepped away and called the police,” Brian said from behind Sabrina.
“Good.” Lomax looked around the kitchenette, and when her eyes fell on Darcy, she seemed surprised. “Flynn? Didn’t expect to see you here.”
“Lomax,” Darcy said calmly, but it didn’t escape Sabrina’s attention how the security guard clenched her jaws.
The ambiance in the small room was thick enough to drip from the walls, but then the detective and her officers walked down the corridor to Sabrina’s office.
“Why don’t you sit down for a bit, Sabrina? You look pale,” Brian said and rose from his stool. He motioned for the other accountant to join him as he left the kitchenette.
“Thank you.” So relieved she could barely move, Sabrina sat down on one of the vacant stools.
“You can stay here with your security officer,” Lomax said, shooting Sabrina’s employees a look. “I want you to wait outside the office. I saw some couches farther down the corridor. Sit there. We want to talk to all of you, one by one.”
Brian sent Sabrina an apologetic glance, probably because he had promised to deal with the cops and was now unable to.
“Do you think this has anything to do with the other night?” Darcy asked once they were alone in the kitchenette, blindsiding Sabrina enough for her to flinch.
“What do you mean?” Sabrina tried to forestall the barrage of questions she was sure Darcy was ready to level at her.
“I couldn’t help but notice your safety measures in the parking lot. You did ask me to observe you until you reached your car and drove away, after all. Could this break-in have anything to do with that?”
“How would I know?” Sabrina flung her hands up. “How the hell would I know?”
“Well, hypothetically speaking, if you were afraid of someone in your personal life, it would be kind of a stretch to think that such a person would break into your office like a pro.” Darcy smiled gently. “Then again, if you have had threats made to you because of your business, they’re more likely to be connected.”
Sabrina swiveled on the stool, facing Darcy head-on. “Did you contact the people you spoke of yet?” She pressed her trembling lips together, which she knew gave her a stern and unforgiving expression. At least according to her mother.
“Right. I’ll go do that.” Darcy pulled her phone from her pocket. Before she left the kitchenette, she stopped and said, “The police will ask much the same questions. The more open you’re willing to be, the better the chance of them finding out who did this. Just saying.”
Sabrina waited until Darcy was out of sight, but then she had to lean against the high table next to her. She could hardly breathe again and wondered if she was coming down with something or if this shortness of breath was only because of her stress level going through the roof.
She couldn’t tell whether her bad case of nerves was because of the emails, the break-in, or the presence of law enforcement. As she clung to the edge of the table, she heard the police returning from her office. Quickly, Sabrina straightened and pushed her shoulders back. She placed her laced hands on her lap and watched them closely as they joined her.
“I’m going to have some technicians brush for prints. You can help by going through everything in there and deciding what else might be missing.”
“All right. Thank you, Detective.”
“Detective Lomax.” Darcy came into view again but remained in the hallway. “Here’s some information you might find useful. The alarm manufacturer, the security company, and its CEO, my boss—this is their contact information. As far as I know, the system this building uses is very hard to tamper with. The discs from the security cameras will be available shortly.”
“Thank you,” Lomax said and took the note.
“Still trying to be a cop, Flynn?” one of the uniformed officers, Ivers, asked, his tone scornful. “A bit late for that, don’t you think?” Compact and of average height, he had sandy hair and a face that could have possessed a boyish charm if it hadn’t boasted such an ugly sneer.
“Just trying to be of assistance, Ivers,” Darcy said calmly, but her eyes clearly signaled for the officer to back off.
“Perhaps you shouldn’t. We’ve all seen what can happen when you ‘help.’” Officer Ivers made quotation marks in the air with both hands. “That’s usually when the shit hits the—”
“That’s enough, Ivers,” Lomax snapped at her subordinate. “Go get initial statements about routines etcetera from the employees. I’ll follow up with them when you’re done.”
Ivers and Taylor both shot Darcy hostile glares before they left to carry out their orders.
“Sorry about that, Flynn,” Lomax said, looking uncomfortable. Sabrina didn’t think the apology sounded very heartfelt. “You know how it is.”
“Yes. Nothing new.” Darcy pushed her notepad into her back pocket and laced her hands behind her. At first, Sabrina thought the security guard looked unfazed, but then she saw her swallow hard. “Unless you need me for anything else, I need to get back to my duties in the lobby. My trainee still needs supervision.” She relaxed marginally and smiled politely toward Sabrina. “Don’t hesitate to contact me if you have any questions, Ms. Hawk. Anything at all.”
Sabrina merely nodded, and only when Darcy had exited the outer glass doors did she excuse herself to Lomax and stride into the outer corridor. She caught up with Darcy by the elevators. “Excuse me, Ms. Flynn.”
“Call me Darcy, please.” Darcy turned around. “Was there something else?” Her tone was warmer than it had been while addressing the officers.
“The security tapes from your station in the lobby…I want to watch them. Is there any way I can do that?” Refusing to fidget even if her fingers wanted to tangle with each other and pull hard, a habit from when she was younger, Sabrina watched Darcy’s eyebrows go up in surprise.
“The cops will analyze them,” Darcy said slowly. “I’m sure they’ll have you watch them too if they don’t see anyone they recognize.”
“I know. But they don’t seem too concerned, not really, and I’d like to take a look by myself, if it’s possible.” If she could see the burglar, or burglars, she might find an explanation for the messages. She refused to upgrade them to threats.
“Do you expect to see something—or someone—in particular?” Pressing the button for the elevator, Darcy tilted her head, looking up at Sabrina through her eyelashes. Her eyes of undeterminable color were as stunning as they were inquisitive.
Sabrina didn’t know how to explain without giving too much away. In fact, she loathed to give anything away at all. The corridor around them was cold, with its white walls and marble floor. She had never liked hard, glossy surfaces. “Perhaps,” she admitted reluctantly. “It’s probably nothing, and I wouldn’t want to waste the detective’s time and…” She motioned exasperatedly with her hands.
Darcy stepped closer. “And it could be sensitive.” She lowered her voice. “I do get that, Ms. Hawk—”
“Sabrina.” Never one to care for stilted etiquette, Sabrina waved her hand impatiently.
“I’ll be happy to help you, Sabrina. Truly. My boss would probably want me to watch them with you, but you have the right to view them alone, naturally.”
Sabrina pinched the bridge of her nose for a moment. “Why not? I might have questions after all. It would save time.”
“All right. I’m off at three p.m. If you have time, you can join me in one of the first-floor conference rooms. We won’t be disturbed.” Darcy turned as the elevator pinged, announcing its arrival.
“Which one?” Sabrina placed a hand on the sensor that kept the door open.
“Not sure which one’s free, but I’ll put a note on the door.”
“All right. Thank you, Darcy.” After she removed her hand, the doors closed, and the last things Sabrina saw were Darcy’s gentle smile and the sparkle in her multicolored eyes.
Darcy hurried into the office behind the front desk area. She quickly glanced at Lacey, who manned the desk, relieved to watch her carrying out her responsibilities with ease. Lacey was only nineteen, fresh out of high school. She would be working for the security company part-time while attending community college. Tall, gangly, and wearing wire-frame glasses, she looked like a geeky type of girl, but Darcy had watched her throw Derek, SecLife’s owner, to the ground with an accomplished judo move. “All okay, Lacey?” Darcy asked through the open door just to be sure.
“Nothing much going on, Boss.” Lacey did a thumbs-up without turning around.
“Cool.” Darcy began to pull out discs to copy the video from the security cameras in the building. She didn’t take any chances but made sure all the video was transferred to the discs and that extra copies were made for Sabrina. What did Sabrina suspect had been going on in her office? Did she know the perpetrators? Or at least know of them? Did it all have to do with her skittishness the other night? Too many coincidences for her taste. From her years as a police officer, she knew that coincidences were less common than you think.
As she kept changing discs back and forth, Darcy’s thoughts persistently drifted back to Officer Steve Ivers. Only a rookie when Darcy had left the police force, he had apparently developed into the type of cop Darcy despised: full of himself and ready to pass judgement without knowing all the details—if any. Steve had been very unsure of himself at the academy, but also very cocky in other ways. Five years ago, he had tried to ask her out, and her kind rejection hadn’t sat well with him. He had been foolish enough to ask her in front of his peers, and losing face for being turned down was never fun.
The surveillance equipment spat out the last discs and broke Darcy out of her reverie, for which she was grateful. She hated dwelling on Steve Ivers or any of her former colleagues.
After placing the discs in two large manila envelopes, she tagged them carefully. She then leaned back in her chair and thought of how Sabrina had looked when she caught up with Darcy by the elevator. Today she’d been dressed in yet another jet-black skirt suit, but with a cobalt-blue wrap-around blouse. Sabrina didn’t usually show so much of her décolleté, but the way the blouse was cut, it displayed a great deal of her flawless fair skin. Then there was that gloriously rich, blond hair. She kept it in an austere French twist, which reminded Darcy of a young Tippi Hedren. Hitchcock movies were one of Darcy’s weaknesses, and having watched all of them a gazillion times, she knew every single one of the suspense master’s favorite leading ladies. Tippi Hedren and Ingrid Bergman were two she liked best. If Sabrina had put on the old type of skirt suits that women wore in the fifties and sixties, she could have been mistaken for either of the blond goddesses.
“The police are here, Darcy,” Lacey said after poking her head in. “They’re asking about some discs.”
“Here. Give them this.” Darcy handed over the envelope marked Detective Lomax. She wasn’t too keen on going toe-to-toe with the self-righteous Steve Ivers.
“Sure thing, Boss.” Lacey grinned and took the envelope. “This about the burglary?”
Darcy nodded and put new discs into the machine before her. As a safety measure, the technology also transferred copies of every clip to the company’s servers, which were located at their headquarters. There, they were kept for a month before being automatically erased. Even if Darcy had given the police a copy and made one for Sabrina, she also followed company policy when law enforcement was involved and flagged the video clips in question as Do Not Erase.
Lacey returned and plopped down on the other desk chair next to Darcy. “Well, that was pleasant. Not.”
“What do you mean?” Darcy frowned and turned to her trainee.
“The cop. The young, blond guy. Why do some men have to be such freaking dicks?” Lacey pulled a leg up and fiddled with her shoelace.
Darcy groaned. “Ivers? What did he do now?”
“You know him? I hope he’s not a close friend of yours because he’s seriously creepy.” Lacey tied her shoelace tightly with angry movements. “Ow. Too tight.” She undid the bow on her black shoe and tied it somewhat looser. “That guy, Ivers, tried to crowd me by leaning very far in across the counter. If his superior officer hadn’t been there, I think he would have asked me out. And he kept staring at my boobs during our three-sentence conversation. It’s the second time it’s happened today. There was an even bigger creep before who looked like he had x-ray eyes, the way he practically drooled on the counter. And he was an older guy, which makes it even creepier. Yuck. So, you know this younger dude? The cop?”
“He’s an asshole. Honestly. And yes, I know him, but there’s no love lost, trust me.” Darcy grimaced. “He’s not my type.”
“Mine either. He probably thinks he’s irresistible to all women. I mean, he’s good-looking if you go for the blond, preppy type.”
“And you don’t, you mean?” Darcy had to smile. She liked Lacey more and more as the young woman turned out to have a mind of her own and the ability to use her head—and judgment.
“Nah. I’m more into the brooding, kinda-geeky type. I have my eyes set on my older brother’s roommate at Yale.”
“Your brother goes to Yale? That’s impressive.”
“Yup. Impressive and with some pressure added. My grades are better than his were in high school. My family wants me to go for one of the Ivy League schools. I’m not so sure, hence the light courses at URI.”
“University of Rhode Island isn’t considered light by any stretch of the imagination,” Darcy said. “It’s a renowned school.”
“Yeah, but still…it’s not Yale or Harvard. To my family—it’s light. Not to mention my gig here, which I’m thoroughly enjoying. They think I’m ‘playing cop’ or something.” Lacey huffed.
“Know the feeling,” Darcy muttered. “All right, we should—”
Someone rang the bell at the desk and Lacey bounced out of her chair. “I’ll get it.” She went out but came back right away. “It’s for you. Sabrina Hawk?”
“Oh, right. She’s early. Man the desk again, okay? My colleague will arrive at three p.m. and then I’m off the clock.” She checked her watch. That was less than twenty minutes. “Just buzz me on the radio if you run into something you don’t know how to handle. Creepy guys of all ages included. I’ll be in conference room 1B.” Darcy gripped the envelope that had Sabrina’s name on it and tucked her personal laptop under her arm. “And, of course, if the cops or the brass want to talk to me.”
“Gotcha, Boss.” Lacey sat down on the tall stool by the front desk, looking very professional as she greeted a new visitor.
Darcy turned to Sabrina and winced when she noticed how exhausted the other woman looked. Her makeup and hairdo were meticulous, but no concealer in the world could cover the dark shades beneath her light-gray eyes. It was as if her colorless eyes emphasized the dark semicircles, or perhaps vice versa—the dark shade beneath Sabrina’s eyes made what color her irises retained seep out.
“I apologize for being early,” Sabrina said quietly. “I just couldn’t deal with the mess upstairs. Guess that’s not very impressive.” She shook her head, smiling sadly.
“Who needs to be impressive when they’ve been burglarized and had their space violated? Let’s have a look at the discs. Have the cops asked you to come watch them with you?”
“Maybe we can find out fairly quickly who’s behind this.” Darcy tried to sound encouraging, but she feared she might only sound nerve-grating at this point.
Still Sabrina returned the smile faintly. “Perhaps.”
Darcy guided Sabrina to the conference room, which was located down the hallway on the first floor, past the elevators. “It’s one of the smaller rooms, but I figured it’s just you and me in there, so…” She shrugged, suddenly self-conscious.
“It’s fine.” Sabrina stepped inside and merely stood there while Darcy plugged in the power cord to her laptop and booted it up. She looked at the envelope bearing her name with trepidation. “How many discs are there?”
“Three. These are Blu-rays, and they hold much more video than a regular DVD, which you, of course, know. Sorry for lecturing.” Darcy pressed the button to open the Blu-ray player in her laptop, feeling a bit silly. Something about Sabrina being in this small room with her made her nervous, and her fingers trembled as she opened the video player. “Ready?”
Sabrina sat down next to Darcy, her shoulder brushing against Darcy’s, making her forget to breathe for a moment. Sabrina’s scent immediately grew in strength and suggested the notes of fruits, florals, and a soft sort of musk. Darcy had always had the ability to break down scents, and she found the fragrance emanating from Sabrina very seductive.
“Darcy?” Sabrina turned to her, frowning lightly.
“Sorry. Here we go.” Pressing Play, Darcy sat quietly next to Sabrina, her eyes glued to the four video feeds of the corridors leading to Hawk’s Accounting. Accustomed to letting her gaze travel back and forth between the screens, Darcy could tell by Sabrina’s frustrated sigh that she wasn’t used to such activity.
“Tons of people are milling about. Should we try to forward to after the offices closed in the building?”
“If you want, but then you might miss something, perhaps someone scouting out the area ahead of time. I’m not saying that’s the case, but it’s not such a far stretch either.” Darcy smiled, trying to sound encouraging. “But you can take these copies, as I made them for you, and watch the rest of them at home. Just a suggestion.”
Sabrina nodded reluctantly. “When you said that someone could have been around ‘scouting the area,’ you sounded like a cop. Or perhaps security guards speak the same language?” Sabrina’s voice was full of obvious contempt.
“I suppose so.” Darcy wasn’t going to open the can of worms that was her old career. Nothing good would come of going into why she’d left the force. “I don’t think anything took place before dark, so we’ll fast-forward until eight p.m.”
Sabrina nodded and gripped the seat of her chair with both hands. “Very well.”
Darcy clicked on the symbol that fast-forwarded the video. When they were at eight p.m., she changed it to move ten times faster. They kept watching it for half an hour, which was five hours’ worth of the recording. A cleaner worked his or her way through the corridor, and Darcy reminded herself to check out this person’s personnel file later. At one p.m., the entire screen went black. “What the hell?” Darcy paused and rewound the video to the moment of the blackout. Exactly at one a.m., all the security cameras went black at once.
“What happened?” Sabrina leaned closer, staring at the dark screen. “How can this—”
“I have no clue. Let’s see when they came on again, because they worked fine when I arrived at work this morning.” Fast-forwarding, Darcy found the cameras came back on one hour later, at precisely two a.m. Everything looked all right from the different camera views. “One hour. Somehow, they managed to stop the cameras from working or found a way to erase everything that exact time. Sounds like professionals to me.”
“What do you mean?” Sabrina shot Darcy a quick glance, looking paler.
“Don’t you think they might have known just what they were after? It was only your company that was targeted, as far as we know. And what’s more—it was your office within your company they ransacked.” Darcy shook her head. “I bet when the cops examine the footage, they’ll reach the same conclusion. And when they let a forensic IT specialist go over the computer in charge of the cameras, they might find out how it was compromised.”
“That sounds like it was planned well ahead of time. It must’ve required money as well as expertise.” Standing up, Sabrina paced the small room back and forth. She kept her gaze on the floor, as if she could find the answers in the graphic pattern of the wall-to-wall carpet.
“You must have something they really, really want. Can you have stumbled upon something? Or any of your employees? Do any of your clients commonly try to move money to, like, the Cayman Islands or Panama?”
“You clearly have followed this in the papers. But, no, none of my clients come to mind.” Sabrina smiled wryly. “People make mistakes with their bookkeeping—I mean, it happens. But nothing criminal and certainly nothing of the magnitude that would make any of them risk breaking and entering like this.” Sabrina placed her hands on her hips. “Honestly, I’m starting to think they may have raided the wrong company. We cater to a fairly small group of people, at least if you compare us to firms in New York and Boston. Mainly old money belonging to families here in East Quay and the surrounding towns.”
“The police will ask you for a list of your clients.”
“I cannot betray my clients’ confidence in me. I’ll be out of business in a heartbeat.” Sabrina frowned. “I mean, nobody was physically hurt. It was my office that was ransacked. I can simply withdraw the charges, right?” Now Sabrina looked a few moments from panicking.
“Hey. That’s a terrible idea. Don’t withdraw any charges.”
“But I have Al Karimi as my security consult—”
“Karimi is great. I’ve met him when his firm and SecLife have collaborated, but listen to me. They might try again, and what if you’re in the office when they do?” Darcy knew she sounded close to begging. “It’s not safe.”
Sabrina shook her head and raised her chin. “If they’re as savvy as they appear to be, considering they needed to hack the building’s system and everything, I don’t think they’ll risk anyone being present.”
“Just the mere fact that these people act so professional, getting inside a heavily monitored building and managing to bypass the surveillance makes this truly a police matter. And besides, since the break-in also involved the business conglomerate who owns this building, I don’t think you can singlehandedly withdraw any charges. As soon as they got into the security system and stole from one of the tenants, i.e. you, it was a matter for law enforcement.” Slowing down her flow of words, Darcy continued in a softer tone as Sabrina looked almost shell-shocked. “I understand you must really feel vulnerable and targeted. “
“I can live with that, but having to deal with the police on a regular basis isn’t my forte.” Sabrina stood. “Well, since we’re not going to see any so-called smoking guns, I’ll work from home.”
“I’m sure the police will be done with your office pretty fast so you can use it again. Once the security system has been rebooted and controlled, that is. It’ll take them at least twenty-four hours. After you’re back in the building, I can talk to SecLife and have them place a security guard in your office as long as anyone is still working.”
“If this person doesn’t hover, I don’t see why not. If SecLife won’t allow it, I’ll take it up with Karimi.”
“Good idea.” Darcy nodded. “If you work from home, I’ll let you know when they finish cleaning up your office.”
“All right,” Sabrina said and turned as if to leave. But she stopped in mid-motion and turned to Darcy, extending her hand. “Either way, you’ve been most accommodating. I’m very grateful. Thank you.”
Darcy took Sabrina’s slender hand in hers, squeezing it gently. “Any time. Here. Let me give you my card.” She pulled her business card from her wallet. “You can call me whenever you need…help.” Darcy almost said “need me” but changed her words before she made a fool of herself.
Sabrina took the card and glanced at it. “Private investigator? Really?”
“Yes. That’s my day job, you could say. I work at my cousin’s firm. I’m only here about ten nights a month.” Darcy felt as if she was babbling, but having been subjected to Sabrina’s presence and enticing scent in the small conference room was getting to her. She had no idea what it was about the posh-looking, elegant woman that made it impossible for her to simply remain professional.
Sabrina tapped the corner of the business card against her lower lip. “Who knows, Darcy. I may have use for your talents in more ways than one.”
Darcy blinked. “Oh. Okay. As I said, any time.”
Perhaps Sabrina only now realized how she’d phrased what she said because a pink flush erupted on her high cheekbones. “Well. I’ll be on my way. Thanks again.”
“You’re welcome. By the way,” Darcy said, remembering what she was holding. “These are your copies. You can keep them if you want to watch again for some reason.” She put the discs back into the manila envelope and handed it to Sabrina.
Clearly having had enough of Darcy and the entire matter for now, Sabrina nodded briefly as she accepted the discs and then left the room.
Darcy ran a hand over her face, sighing deeply. Why did this stuck-up woman have to be so gorgeous? And she wasn’t only stuck up. She had something vulnerable about her that wasn’t immediate, but it was there. Perhaps the whole incident exposed it more than normal. If it hadn’t been completely unprofessional, Darcy would have liked to know more about why Sabrina had acted so strange that night when she worked late. What if her behavior was related to the break-in?
Getting up, Darcy took her laptop and walked back to the front desk. Lacey nodded and greeted her with a smile as she helped a tall man get a visitor’s pass. Darcy continued into the office area and placed her laptop on the desk. As she poured herself some coffee, she wondered about Sabrina’s comment about the police. Not her forte? What was that supposed to mean? Surely someone like Sabrina hadn’t been arrested or anything? This woman was a mystery, and the best Darcy could do was to keep it professional and not imagine Sabrina’s long legs or curvy, full lips. Such fantasies wouldn’t lead to anything but trouble.