Watching her suffer tore his heart in two. The helplessness was something he’d felt all his life, living with an alcoholic father.
As a child, he’d been scared. As an adolescent, he’d tried hard to protect her, which often redirected his father’s wrath to him. As a teenager, he’d blamed her for staying with a man who abused them both. As an adult, he realized his mother was as much of a victim as he’d been.
When he reached his own room, he pulled his phone from his pocket. It wasn’t even ten yet. Lacey would still be up. He wanted to check in with her once more.
Or maybe he just wanted to hear her voice before going to bed. When he was a child, he’d found her presence calming. He’d drawn strength from their time together. Her friendship somehow made going home bearable.
None of that had changed. His mother had a trying road ahead. In the coming weeks, he would have to be her rock. He needed someone to be his. Or at least a sounding board.
When he’d left Lacey’s house tonight, he’d actually wanted to kiss her. He’d scolded himself halfway to his mother’s place. By the time he’d arrived, he’d almost been able to justify what he felt.
She was already someone he liked and admired. At twelve years old, she’d been cute. At twenty-seven, she was gorgeous. At thirteen, he’d just begun to notice girls. Now that he was twenty-eight, a woman like Lacey had the ability to rock his world.
But it didn’t matter how well he could justify what he felt. After what Lacey had been through with Ivan, jumping into another relationship would be the last thing she’d want to do. And he wasn’t going to be in town long enough to pursue anything, anyway. Ten years ago, he’d escaped the prison of his childhood, and he had no intention of returning. Once Lacey was no longer in danger and his mom could live on her own again, he’d return to his life in Oregon.
He sat on the down comforter and dialed her number. Her “Hello” sounded a little breathless.
“Were you in bed?” Maybe she’d had to jump up and run for her phone. If so, he’d have to give her a gentle reprimand. It needed to be within easy reach at all times.
“No, I’m in the living room.” Her voice was tight.
“Is everything all right?”
There was another sound in the background, high-pitched but distant. He strained to listen.
“Are those sirens I hear?”
She heaved a sigh. “I’m sure it’s nothing.”
His jaw tightened. “I told you to call me if anything happened.”
“Cassie saw something.”
“Could it have been an animal?”
Another sigh came through the phone. It didn’t take much to drag the truth out of Lacey. She’d never been good at hiding anything from him.
“I think someone unscrewed the bulb in the back door fixture.”
He jumped from the bed. “I’ll be right there.”
“Don’t leave your mom.”
“She’s in bed for the night.”
After letting his mother know where he was going, he headed out the door. When he pulled into Lacey’s driveway, a Murphy police cruiser sat at the edge of the road, lights flashing.
Moments after he knocked, the door swung inward. Lacey was still dressed in the sweats she’d put on after swimming. An officer wearing a dark Murphy police department uniform stood nearby, holding a pen and notepad. If he’d come with a partner, the other officer was outside.
“Find anything?” His question was as much for the officer as for Lacey.
“A couple of footprints around the side where the grass is thin.” His demeanor was all business. “In the back, the bulb was unscrewed. My partner is dusting for prints now.”
The back door opened, and the second officer walked in carrying a fingerprint kit in one hand and a small evidence bag in the other. Inside was what looked like an action figure.
He held up the bag. “This was standing up on top of the light fixture. Does it belong to you?”
The blood drained from Lacey’s face. Jason looked more closely at what the officer held. Dressed in full battle gear, wearing a horned helmet and holding a sword, the figure looked more cartoonish than terrifying.
He put a hand on Lacey’s shoulder. “What’s wrong?”
“So?” He didn’t see the significance.
“Ivan is a major Marvel fan. He owns every one of the movies.” She turned to face him more fully. “He was here, and there’s a reason he chose this character. Heimdall is the all-seeing, all-hearing guardian sentry of Asgard.” She drew in a deep breath. “It’s a message.”
“What kind of message?”
“He’s telling me he’s watching.” A shudder shook her shoulders. “He’s telling me he sees and hears everything I do.”
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