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Her Firefighter Protector

Written by Carol J. Post

Chapter Five

"Tell me about Ivan.”

Lacey sighed. Over the past hour, several people had been in and out of the room, including the kitchen manager, the doctor, two nurses, a security supervisor and a risk management person. The Murphy police officer Jason had summoned had finished taking her and Jason’s statements but was likely still on the premises, interviewing others.

Now she and Jason were alone. Talking to him about her past romantic relationships felt weird. It shouldn’t. Years ago, they’d shared everything. But years ago, they’d been kids.

Now she was a woman, ultra-aware of him as a man. A fine one. The lines of his face had matured, boyish features developing into strong cheeks and a masculine jaw, now covered with a day’s worth of stubble. Instead of brushing his shoulders, his thick, dark hair lay against his head in soft, tamed layers. The black T-shirt he wore stretched taut across his muscular chest, and the size of his arms left no doubt that both times he’d lifted her, he’d managed her 130 pounds without breaking a sweat. Add in that whole hero persona, and she was surprised someone hadn’t already snatched him up.

Maybe someone had. She dropped her eyes to his left hand. No wedding band. But that didn’t mean anything. When she snapped her gaze back up to his face, he was watching her, expectation in his eyes.

She heaved another sigh. “An ex-boyfriend. I had to get a restraining order.”

A fierceness entered his gaze, and her stomach did a somersault. She silently scolded herself. Jason was her childhood friend. Besides, she wasn’t looking for another relationship. Ivan was the first person who’d stalked her, but he certainly wasn’t her first bad choice in men. Maybe she was broken, clueless about how to have a successful relationship due to the absence of a mother figure during those important adolescent and teen years.

She shook off the thoughts. “Any chance you’ll be staying in Murphy?” During his brief visit this morning, he hadn’t shared much about himself.

“Just till my mom gets through the worst of her chemo. Then I’m out of here.”

Lacey nodded. She wasn’t surprised. He’d always hated Murphy, probably because he’d hated his father. Sometimes the man’s drunken rages were aimed at Jason’s mother. But all too often, Jason bore the brunt of his fury.

“I’m sorry about your mom.” She’d watched her own mother fight that battle. Hopefully his would win. “Where’s your dad?”

“Prison. This time, he almost killed her.”

Lacey flinched, at both the venom behind Jason’s words and the image they evoked.

His tone softened only slightly. “I have a problem with men who abuse or threaten women.” His jaw tightened. “This Ivan character really concerns me.”

“Maybe someone saw something, or the video surveillance picked him up walking into the building.”

Before he could respond, her boss, Ruben, stepped into the room with his wife, Camille.

His brows were raised. “Video surveillance? We don’t have any. Medical billing companies aren’t a target for break-ins.”

Lacey shook her head. “Not the business. Here. Someone slipped sesame oil into my salad.”

Ruben’s eyes widened. She didn’t have to explain. Everyone at work knew about her allergy.

Ruben gripped the edge of the tray table, looking as if someone had punched him. “I stopped in a while ago. Your lunch was on the table, but you were asleep. I figured I’d come back later.” He shook his head. “I might have missed the creep by five minutes.”

After some small talk, Ruben glanced at his watch. “I hate to run, but we’ve got a plane to catch.” He frowned. “I feel guilty leaving, but this is Camy’s birthday cruise. Dad’s insisting I go, that he’ll take care of everything here.”

Lacey nodded. Stuart was more than qualified. The business had been his until he’d retired and turned it over to Ruben six months ago.

She didn’t want him to miss his trip, anyway. It was his first cruise and he’d talked about it for months. Knowing Ruben, he was as excited about the thought of easy access to a floating casino as he was about visiting the Caribbean. When the decision was made to bring a casino to Murphy a few years ago, Ruben had acted as if someone had just come up with a way to end world hunger.

He wagged a finger in her face. “While I’m gone, you take it easy. No work for at least two weeks. Boss’s orders. I’m sure the doctor will agree.”

After bidding them bon voyage, Lacey watched them walk from the room. They were on their way to a week of fun.

And Murphy police were on their way to arrest Ivan. She hoped, anyway.

Meanwhile, Jason had arranged to have a cop posted outside her door anytime he wasn’t there himself.

Rather than bringing the sense of security she longed for, it was a jarring reminder of the danger she was now in.

Ivan was through with threats. He’d stepped up his game. He wasn’t likely to give up until he was in jail.

Or one of them was dead.

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