Excerpt for Through a Dark Mirror by , available in its entirety at Smashwords

Through a Dark Mirror

By Linda Wisdom


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Linda Wisdom on Joyride Books

Through a Dark Mirror

Copyright © 20I7 by Linda Wisdom

Smashwords Edition License Notes

This ebook is licensed for your personal enjoyment only. This ebook may not be re-sold or given away to other people. If you would like to share this book with another person, please purchase an additional copy for each person you share it with. If you're reading this book and did not purchase it, or it was not purchased for your use only, then you should return to Smashwords.com and purchase your own copy. Thank you for respecting the author's work.

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Chapter I

Women like her never walked into his office. Women like her never requested his services. Hell, women like her never existed in the rundown and murky world he inhabited.

And here he thought only the fictional Travis McGee and Philip Marlowe met gorgeous women.

The women who came to him for help were sad, sometimes downtrodden. They were there looking for answers they hoped he could give them, even if the answers weren't the ones they wanted to hear. Their clothing came from thrift stores instead of designer boutiques and their cologne was whatever was on sale. They wouldn't have dreamed of smelling like something that probably cost a couple thousand dollars an ounce or sporting expensive French manicures. In essence, this lady looked as if she could easily afford his fees.

Things were looking up, and he hadn't even had to take out an ad.

He figured he'd just sit there and enjoy the ride. And the view.

"You came highly recommended as someone who works discreetly and gets the job done," she explained in her cool, calm voice as she sat in the lone visitor's chair. Her glance around the room told him she couldn't imagine why he came so highly recommended when his office looked as if it had been furnished by picking up whatever he found abandoned on the sidewalk.

Mac nodded. "I do my best." He wanted to sound humble and self-assured. Let the client believe you can do anything, was his rule of thumb. So far, it had worked pretty well.

He leaned back in his chair with his hands folded over his flat stomach. While she was giving him the once-over, he was doing the same to her.

He doubted her hair, the rich color of honey, came from a stylist's bag of tricks: styled no-nonsense short, parted on the right side and curved behind her ears. Her cobalt silk sheath dress fit her businesslike demeanor, just as her body language stated loud and clear she wasn't to be toyed with. Eyes that matched her dress faced him squarely. The scent of expensive perfume floated in the air between them. Definitely better than any brand of air freshener he'd ever used to chase away the lingering scent of cheap cigars left by a previous client.

Her immaculate appearance was a far cry from his more casual dress consisting of jeans and a rumpled white cotton shirt with the sleeves rolled up to his elbows. His dusty brown hair shot with silver was combed by his fingers and long overdue for a haircut. There'd been more important things to do than finding a barber. He'd been up all night on a surveillance. Right now, he wanted nothing more than a few hours of sleep and a hot meal that didn't arrive via a drive-thru window. Trouble was, interviewing a prospective client, who could actually pay, was more important than catching some much-needed shut-eye. Which resulted in his gray-green eyes looking bloodshot. He probably looked like he'd just gotten off a weeklong drunk.

All he needed was a beat up fedora, snubnose 38 in a shoulder harness and maybe a falcon statue on his multi-scratched fake mahogany desk.

Dana Madison slowly turned her head as she surveyed the small office. A hint of distaste crossed her face. He had a pretty good idea what she saw. Office was a relative term, since Mac always thought the space had once housed brooms and mops. Luckily, his kind of business didn't require a lot of space. Just room for his desk, a file cabinet and a couple of chairs.

"For a man reputed to be successful in his line of work, you don't like to show it outwardly, do you?" Dana Madison commented.

Mac shrugged. "Success isn't always measured by a person's bank account. It's results that count, not what surrounds you to make you look successful. If you want the outer trappings, I can give you the names of a couple of good agencies that have offices in one of those fancy high-rises. They'll trot out all their spy goodies, tell you exactly what you want to hear and gladly take your money. That doesn't mean they can give you what I can." His catlike eyes met hers squarely.

She didn't even flinch.

"Tell me why you're here, Ms. Madison," he said, when he finally figured she wasn't going to get all huffy over his blatant attempt to unnerve her. Nope. She hadn't gotten up and walked out the door.

Good thing. Rent was due tomorrow, and he was a little cash poor. Okay, a lot cash poor.

"I'd like you to follow me," she replied. "I don't feel I require twenty-four-hour surveillance. Just from, say, six p.m. to eight a.m."

"All right, you want me to follow you," he repeated, just to make sure he got it right. And here he thought he'd heard it all.

She nodded.

"Any reason why you feel the need to be followed?" Mac asked. "Protection from an old boyfriend who doesn't understand why you broke off the relationship?"

"The reason why is no concern of yours." She coolly put him off. "Naturally, I would like a daily written report as to my activities between those hours."

"Everything to do with a case I take on is my concern, Ms. Madison. When someone comes in here and asks me to put a tail on a person, they usually are talking about me following someone else."

"Then there's always a first time, isn't there." She opened her bag that doubled as a briefcase and pulled out a checkbook. "What are your fees?"

Mac shook his head. "I think we need to get something clear here, Ms. Madison. I don't operate on a need-to-know basis. In my line of work that kind of thinking can get a fella hurt, and I've got to be honest - I'm not into pain."

In his estimation, her tension level upped a good fifty points. Whatever she was hiding must be a doozy.

"This isn't easy for me," she admitted in a tight voice.

"You're not the first person who's been in a little trouble." He softened a little. He figured the lady wasn't used to not being in charge. She probably preferred to handle things her way. Now she was forced to come to someone else for help. Something must have happened to spook her big-time. The usual scenario was an ex-husband or ex-lover stalking the lady. Either way, a guy could get hurt if he didn't know what could be waiting for him around the corner.

"I'm not in trouble," she hastily denied.

Dana's tongue appeared, dampening her lower lip. Judging from the death grip she had on her bag, she was not only nervous, she was scared to death of something or someone. The question was what.

"For the past two months I have experienced some strange things," she said slowly, apparently reluctant to disclose any of this. "Unexplained things that involve me, yet I have no recollection of them happening." She paused and waited for his nod for her to continue. "People I have never met come up to me and claim they know me. Clothing I have never seen before has shown up in my closet. Some mornings I discover that my car's gas tank is almost empty, yet I know I had filled the tank the night before and I hadn't gone anywhere but home after that."

Mac nodded. "Is there any history of sleepwalking in your family?" he asked. "I knew of one woman who carried on a complete second life while sleepwalking. Any mental disorders you're aware of?"

She shook her head. "No, nothing. And I do not have a split personality, if you're going to ask about that next. There has to be a logical explanation for what is happening to me. I need to know what that is."

Mac silently agreed. But then, his years with the police force told him even the looniest of people could look as normal as ... well as normal as him.

"Logic is nice, but that doesn't mean what's going on is logical." He pulled the yellow legal pad toward him and picked up his pen. He glanced up. "First off, how many people have keys to your house?"

She thought for a moment. "Myself, my housekeeper, my mother. I keep a spare in my office, but that's in a locked drawer. I believe that's it."

"Were you the original owner?" She shook her head.

"When you moved in, did you change the locks?" She nodded.

"Any brothers or sisters who might be playing some sick joke on you?"

She shook her head. "I'm an only child."

He wrote on the pad. "Do you have an alarm system?"

Dana nodded. "I had it installed before I moved in. Our community also has a private security patrol that is very vigilant. Our neighborhood has an almost nonexistent crime rate."

"Maybe that's what they tell you, so they look good. If you think someone's breaking into your house, there's a big need for an alarm. If nothing else, the noise will alert your rent-a-cops," Mac said flatly. "I'd like to look your place over first before making my recommendation for one. Also, I might be able to get an idea how someone's breaking in without setting off the alarm. If it is someone else."

She leaned forward, her face an icy carving. "That is what is happening!" She opened her purse and pulled out a small paper bag. The name of a well-known jewelry store was written in tasteful script, teal ink on gray paper. She pushed it toward him. "I found these yesterday, and I can assure you they are not mine."

Mac immediately withdrew a pair of latex gloves and slipped them on. He doubted there would be any usable prints after who knows who handling them, but he wasn't going to take any chances.

Once he'd looked at the contents, he couldn't imagine they conformed with the woman seated across from him.

It wasn't anything he hadn't seen before. Two foil wrapped condoms, a matchbook from a bar across town--­one he knew had a fairly wild reputation---a small bottle of perfume and a hotel key card. He laid them out in a row. He picked up the perfume bottle, opened it and sniffed. The scent was heavy, musky - something a woman would wear if she was in heat. He couldn't imagine the woman seated across from him wearing this fragrance.

"None of these ring a bell with you?"

"No." Her tone could have turned a heat wave into a blizzard.

He picked up the hotel key card. The name was stamped on one end. "Yeah, this place isn't exactly known for its ambience. More for its hourly rates. I've heard they don't offer room service, either. Unless you're talking about the kind that doesn't exactly come on a linen tablecloth."

He should turn her down. The lady might be easy on the eyes, but she was also loony tunes. Not something he needed after dealing with Raymond Cutter for the past month. The guy had wanted Mac to follow his wife. There was only one problem. He had never been married. But that didn't stop him from being convinced he was married to the woman in the next apartment. Luckily for the woman, Cutter was harmless, but Mac still didn't waste any time having a talk about the situation with an old buddy at the police department. He also contacted the woman and helped her obtain a restraining order. Last he heard, Raymond Cutter moved out of the state.

Yeah, even with the rent due to a landlord who didn't believe in a grace period, Mac didn't need a case like this. Of course, he could recommend someone who would come to the same conclusion he had. Except, they'd gladly take her money and probably not even do a proper job.

Fact was, Mac believed that when a woman asked for help, a man did whatever was necessary to keep her safe. Dana Madison had come to him. That meant it was up to him to find out what was going on.

He rattled off his fees, he figured she could afford the extra he tacked on and what he required for a retainer.

"All right, Ms. Madison. You have yourself a watchdog. I'll send you reports at the end of each week," he explained. "There are some things I'll need right now. I want you to give me your housekeeper's schedule and a list of anyone else who's on your property on a regular basis. I also suggest you keep a log of your mileage. Write it down every time you park the car in your garage and even when you leave it at your office. Keep the mileage log in your purse."

She looked relieved. Obviously, she hadn't expected him to accept.

"Anything you need," she replied.

He nodded. "As I said, I'll want to go through your house. And your office."

"You have to understand that I must have complete secrecy in this matter. No one can know about this," she insisted. "Since the death of my father, my business has taken some nasty hits. He'd been the heart and soul of it, and some of the long-term clients are having trouble shifting their loyalties to me. I'm having to prove to them I can do just as good a job as he did. If word of this got out, I'd be finished."

"Maybe I don't have the fancy office, but I do have my honor. Nothing said between us leaves this room." He squinted at the squiggles he'd made on the notepad. Damn, pretty soon he'd need reading glasses. Not a good image for a tough private investigator. "If someone's trying to gaslight you, I'll find out who it is."

"And why," she said. "Right now, I'm not sure which is more important. Who or why. But I need to know." She quickly wrote in her checkbook, tore the slip of paper out and handed it to him. She wasted no time in writing out the information he requested. She passed it over, along with her business card on the back of which she'd jotted numbers. "This should cover a month. Here are my cell and office numbers."

"Yes, it will." Mac was proud of himself for not whooping with joy at the amount written on the check. His retainer and one month's worth of his daily rate. He was positive this check would clear first time around. Not like other checks he'd banked then had to chase down the client. "Don't worry about your office staff. They won't know anything you don't want them to know."

Dana looked at him squarely. "When can you start?"

What was another night without sleep?

"Tonight," he said promptly. "But don't bother looking for me. Surveillance doesn't work if the subject is busy looking around for the watcher. From now on, you're to let me know immediately when you find anything else of a questionable nature. Don't touch it or pick it up with your bare hands. Use a handkerchief to pick it up and slide it into a clean envelope. If we're lucky, we'll get some workable fingerprints."

"Of course." She rose to her feet in one fluid motion.

She held out her hand. Fingers sleek with a French manicure, the skin silky to the touch. A fire opal ring on one finger flashed orange, blue and green at him. Funny. A woman with a no-nonsense image should be wearing pearls to match her cool collected exterior. What was the ring trying to say about her? He'd be curious to find out. Not that he'd try to think of her in any way other than as a client. Getting emotionally involved with a client, no matter how beautiful she was, would be breaking the Eleventh Commandment he'd instituted the day he opened the office.

Thou shalt not mess with gorgeous clients.

"I'll be in touch in a couple days," he told her. "From now on, you don't need to worry about any of this. Go about your business the way you always do. Above all, don't change your routine. You have to act as if nothing has changed."

She nodded. The uncertainty that flitted across her features before she composed herself was proof she wasn't as in control of herself as she'd like.

She stood up and offered her hand, which he took. "Thank you," she said softly.

The scent of her perfume still lingered in the air hours after she'd left the small office. Yep, better than Roscoe's cheapass cigars.

* * *

"Dammit!" Dana pounded her steering wheel with the heel of her hand. Anger was something she rarely displayed.

The last thing she'd wanted to do was hire a private investigator. She didn't want anyone prying into every corner of her life. She knew this man would do just that, citing it was his job. She knew he wouldn't find anything scandalous in her background. It was just that she preferred keeping her life private.

Why did this have to happen to her?

There was no answer to that question. But she could clearly remember the day it started. The telephone call from Harold Curtis that distressed her. She hadn't detected even a hint of the warmth she usually associated with the man. During that call, he'd kept a cool distance as he abruptly informed her he would not be renewing his contract with her firm. It took her some time to find out exactly why he was severing a business relationship that had begun with her father more than twenty years ago when her father managed Harold's first building. Now Curtis was going elsewhere because he claimed to have seen her acting very improperly at a downtown hotel. Harold was an upright conservative citizen who refused to tell her exactly what he'd seen because, as he explained, he didn't want to think about what he'd seen. No matter how much she protested that it couldn't have been her, he hadn't budged an inch. In the end, she'd sadly closed his file.

She realized there was nothing she could say to convince him that it hadn't been her. Further, how could she convince someone he was sadly mistaken when she feared he could be right?

There had been too many mornings when she'd left for work and discovered her car's gas tank was registering almost empty, when she was positive it had been more than half-full the night before. And there was the morning she found a nightgown casually thrown on the floor of the closet - a nightgown she knew wasn't hers. But it was finding the matchbook in her wastebasket that upset her the most. Especially after she drove past the bar in question. There was no way she would have entered such an establishment.

That was when she knew it was time to do something about it. She knew most women would have discussed their troubles with their friends. Confessed their worries in hopes one of them would have a solution or at least been willing to listen to her worries. Except, Dana realized she had virtually ignored her few friends since her father's death and then her mother's stroke. She'd buried herself in her work and pushed them away. All she had were acquaintances and business colleagues in whom she wouldn't dream of confiding.

She was completely on her own as she started making discreet inquiries about private investigators. With each inquiry, John McKenna’s name was brought up with the recommendation that if anyone could solve the problem, he could.

She hadn't discovered a lot about the man, other than that he was a former police detective. That he'd received many commendations - even if he was known as a cop who didn't mind flaunting authority if it meant getting the job done the right way. All his arrests were done by the book, and woe to any prosecutor who screwed up one of John McKenna's cases.

"You wouldn't know it to look at him just how successful he is in his work. He's too committed to helping people who can't afford his fees and he doesn't seem to care if his rent gets paid or not," one person told her. "But I can't think of anyone else I would want on my side."

No one really knew the complete story as to why he finally left the police force and opened his private investigation office. But everyone who recommended him said they would trust him with their life. She knew that that was the highest praise any man would receive.

She hadn't expected a private investigator who was so highly regarded to have an office that looked like something straight out of a Raymond Chandler novel. She wouldn't have been surprised if he had a bottle of whiskey in the bottom drawer of his desk. Even the neighborhood was highly suspect. After leaving, she didn't breathe a sigh of relief until she found herself in the parking garage of her office building. Security personnel patrolled on a regular basis, magnetized key cards were required for the entrance gate, excellent lighting and cameras were also placed at strategic spots. The knowledge that no one who wasn't authorized could get in here was a relief to the building's occupants, who gladly paid the high fees to feel secure.

Dana didn't consider herself someone who was easily spooked. She prided herself on allowing nothing to unsettle her.

Then her life had started to turn itself upside down.

Someone was out to get her, and she had no idea who, or why.

She pulled into her parking space and stopped but didn't shut off the engine.

She didn't want to leave the safety of her car. The walls of the garage seemed to crowd around her, constricting her breathing. That was when she knew she had to get out of there.

She pulled her cell phone out of her purse and hit the speed dial. The ringing on the other end sounded unusually loud in her ear. Even the sound of her administrative assistant's voice didn't calm the shivering deep in her bones.

She made a decision. "Marti, I need you to cancel my three o'clock appointment with Terence little." She spoke crisply. "No, there's no problem. I just won't be in for the rest of the day."

She wasted no time in backing out of her parking space, and almost raced out of the parking garage. She couldn't face returning to the office just yet. Right now, she needed fresh air so she could banish the uneasiness clouding her mind.

She hadn't expected her meeting with John McKenna to leave her feeling so unsettled. His strong personality seemed to shear through her defenses like a hot knife through butter. She didn't like that.

She was used to men who dressed in Saville Row suits, not jeans. They were always clean shaven, not sporting a face that had missed a blade for the past few days. Their hair was expensively styled, not hanging in thick strands that looked ready to be shorn like that of a sheep. But one thing John McKenna didn't lack was self-assurance. The man had enough for an army.

There was something about him that sent strange feelings through her. He gave her a quivery sensation she'd never encountered before, and she wasn't sure she liked it. His eyes, a misty gray-green color, seemed to look deep within her and ferret out all her secrets. And find her lacking.

She shouldn't care what he thought of her. She'd hired him because he had the skills she needed, not because he liked her as a person.

So why did his opinion of her matter?

She needed to put such thoughts aside. Ordinarily, she would have driven to her old family home. There, she would have sought the comfort of her mother's arms. She always knew what to do and say to make her feel better. Except that Alice Madison had been felled by a stroke, and right now, any kind of stress was detrimental to her recovery. Dana couldn't go there to find her father working or reading in his study. She had always enjoyed the spacious comfortable room where she could curl up in one of the large leather chairs and discuss her problems with him. She reminded herself that she shouldn't feel the need to tell him her worries. Past experience told her what his advice would have been had he still been alive. He would have told her that she was an adult and she could handle this herself. It hurt that the only way she could talk to her father was to visit his grave.

The way Dana looked at it, she had no one to turn to. She was used to handling personal and professional problems on her own. It stung that this time she couldn't.

She hoped John McKenna would find out who wanted to make her life so miserable.

It was dark by the time Dana finally made her way home.

She pulled into the garage and looked around as the garage door slid down behind her. She had always considered her home a quiet refuge. A place she could retreat to and renew her energy when her work proved to be too much. Now, even that had been violated. She hesitated as her hand covered the doorknob. She couldn't find the strength to turn it. Not when she didn't know what she would find on the other side. The thoughts raced through her mind like dark clouds obscuring the sun.

Would she find her things moved around?

At first glance, her kitchen looked the same as it always did. She stopped long enough to leave her packages on the counter and put her groceries away. Even that simple task couldn't erase the sense that an unauthorized visitor had probably looked through the cabinets.

"Stop it," she ordered herself. She picked up the mail Connie, her housekeeper, had left on the counter, and sorted through the envelopes. There was no way she could tell if anyone other than Connie had looked at these.

Dana turned on all the lights as she walked down the hallway to her bedroom. Before, she wouldn't have bothered because she'd never felt afraid to be alone in her home. Now, she didn't feel safe unless lights were blazing in just about every room - just as she couldn't stop silently asking herself if someone had come in here between the time Connie had left and Dana had arrived.

Dana pretended her life was absurdly normal as she hung up her dry cleaning and changed into a robe. She had no appetite, but since she hadn't eaten much for lunch she warmed up the casserole Connie had left for her.

While the food was excellent as always, she ate little.

Keeping up her self-imposed charade of spending a quiet evening at home, she curled up on the couch and watched the news. Watching people whose lives were in worse shape than hers helped her get things in perspective: her life wasn't all that bad, after all. She knew it didn't make for an exciting evening, but she didn't care. The last thing she needed was anything to upset the balance she'd worked so hard to achieve.

She kept up her pretense as she called her family home to speak to her mother's nurse. The woman's report that Alice Madison had had a restless afternoon left Dana wishing she could do other than provide excellent medical care for her mother. She'd hoped she would feel assured she was doing everything she could. She informed the nurse she would be out to see Alice the next day.

Dana usually prided herself on not imagining sounds that weren't there or fearing there was someone lurking just outside her property line. She'd always considered herself a brave woman who met life head-on. Her father had brought her up that way. But now she prayed John MeKenna would do what she couldn't.

Dana took a pre-bedtime glass of wine into her bedroom and settled in bed with her drink and a book. The thought that her new watchdog wasn't far away eased her mind in a way she hadn't felt in some time. After reading a few pages, she set her book on the nightstand before she fell into a deep sleep.

If anyone entered her house, she was sleeping too heavily to notice.

Mac had the seat pushed back as far as it would go so he could stretch out his legs. Stakeouts used to be his least favorite activity, since department-issued cars didn't provide enough leg room for a tall man. The first thing he did when he set up on his own was make sure he had a vehicle that wouldn't give him that problem.

Since he'd promised Dana Madison prompt service, he hadn't wasted any time before driving over to her office building. What he hadn't expected was to see her car shoot out of the parking garage like a bat out of hell. He told himself it was a good thing he hadn't waited until evening to keep tabs on her. He kept his distance as he followed her, while she performed fairly normal errands before driving to her house. He noticed that while she smiled at whomever she dealt with, there was still a hint of tension tightening her features. Something bothered the lady, all right.

He studied his surroundings - at least what he could see beyond the streetlights. Dana Madison lived in an upscale neighborhood where he guessed the residents paid a hefty price for woodsy areas that might have looked as if they'd been there for years, but were only a part of the developer's designs. Each home was set back from the road with a lush lawn rolling before it. Discreetly placed signs in the woods indicated paths set aside for walkers and joggers. He guessed it gave the homeowners the feeling they lived in a rural area. As a security expert, all be could see was that the surroundings were heaven sent for burglars who could sneak in from those well-kept woods and then get out before anyone knew what was going on.

Of course, there were discreet signs advertising armed response. His new client let him know she notified the community security patrol about his presence.

He'd bet the streets were busy during the day with gardening crews who kept the lawns and shrubbery a rich green. He wouldn't be surprised if a few nosy neighbors checked out any unknown cars loitering in the area. He'd learned long ago that people who kept themselves abreast of what went on with their neighbors made his job a little easier. He didn't worry about his position that night since this side street didn't have any houses nearby, just the woods. From here, he could easily watch Dana's house and not worry about being seen by neighbors.

His musings were interrupted by a low growl coming from the back seat.

"Again?" he muttered, looking over his shoulder. "It's only been ten minutes since the last time. It's a good thing those rent-a-cops don't drive past as often as our client thought they did. Of course, what's so dangerous about a guy walking his dog, right?"

A massive black-and-white head lifted upward and propped itself on the seat's headrest. A broad muzzle bumped the back of Mac's head in a canine demand for attention.

"Okay, okay." Mac dug a beefy dog biscuit out of a small plastic bucket he kept on the floor of the passenger side and tossed it over his shoulder.

The dog's jaws snapped open long enough to catch the treat. It was devoured in one bite.

"You may work cheap, Duffy, but you sure don't make it easy," Mac told the St. Bernard, who was happily drooling all over the blanket draped over the seat to keep it relatively fur and drool free.

Mac had just shifted his position when he noticed Dana's garage door gliding upward. He checked his watch. It was just a little after midnight. Two minutes later, her spiffy Jaguar convertible backed down the driveway and out onto the street.

"My guess would be you're not going out for milk," he muttered, starting up the engine.

Five hours later, Mac was back on the side street near Dana's house. He watched as she drove her car into the garage. Within moments, lights winked out and all was quiet.

He muttered a few choice curses. When she'd said she wanted him to follow her he'd had no idea just where her request would take him. Now he had the task of figuring out how to word his report in a way that wouldn't sound downright insulting to the lady.

How do you tell your client that she turns into a major party girl after dark?” And not just any party girl, either. This one hit some pretty heavy-duty clubs and didn't seem to mind whom she spent her time with. She even cruised a few of the sleazier motels he didn't think he'd even heard of when he worked vice many years ago.

He spent the night feeling as if he'd entered one of those weird films that tried to disguise itself as art.

Except this wasn't a movie, and there was no way he could call what had gone on any kind of art. He wasn't looking forward to giving this particular report.

He reminded himself that what he'd seen wasn't anything new. Just because Dana Madison looked the part of a nicely dressed, corporate type didn't mean the lady didn't have a wild side that came out after dark. He'd seen proof of that wild side tonight. Few things surprised him anymore. His years with the police department carved that out of him in no time. But after his meeting with Dana Madison the previous day, he hadn't expected the reckless behavior he'd witnessed the past five hours.

"What's wrong with this picture, Duff?" he said out loud. "Do you think she's doing all this for kicks? Do you think she decided to go one step further and find a PI to follow her and watch what she does? Maybe she likes to be watched. Do you think she's sleepwalking? Has a split personality? Any of those sound good to you?"

A contented doggie snore was his answer.

Mac sighed and hunched down in the seat. Even though he doubted his client would be going anywhere until it was time for her to leave for her office, he didn't dare catch a nap. He'd do that later. He'd have plenty of time to sleep after his newest client received his report - and, in all probability, fired him. He swallowed a yawn. At least his retainer paid up the rent and office utilities.

Please God, no. She just couldn't handle a migraine first thing in the morning.

Dana fumbled with the prescription pill bottle and finally managed to get it open. She tossed two tablets in her mouth, followed by a healthy swallow of water.

Here she thought she'd slept so well, yet she woke up feeling fuzzy-headed and out of sorts. After she'd gotten up, she'd started to feel the stabbing pain in her head and had feared the worst. If the old-fashioned work ethic hadn't been drummed into her from a young age, she would have called in sick and pulled the covers over her head.

Her sense of feeling out-of-it intensified when she went downstairs. She knew immediately that something was wrong. There was the faint hint of cigarette smoke in her kitchen that she knew hadn't been there the night before. She told herself it had to be her imagination, since she didn't smoke and her housekeeper was allergic to cigarette smoke.

But she couldn't blame her imagination again when she opened her closet and found a bright pink lacy bra wadded up on the floor. It wasn't hers.

She picked up Mac's business card and left a message insisting he call her as soon as possible.

If he was doing his job the way he'd said he would, she'd have some answers today.

Chapter 2

"Call your office and tell them you'll be late."

"Excuse me?" Dana groped for her coffee cup. She figured she didn't have enough caffeine in her system to grapple with John McKenna first thing in the morning.

''I'll be over there in about ten minutes to look over your house." He hung up.

"Goodbye to you, too," she muttered.

She watched the minute hand sweep ten times before Mac rang her doorbell. He nodded a silent greeting and walked past her toward the kitchen. He opened the back door and inspected the lock.

"A five-year-old could get in here with little effort," Mac muttered.

"Last I heard, five-year-olds weren't listed on FBI’s Most Wanted." She sipped her coffee. The caffeine wasn't proving to be enough to keep her alert.

Mac looked up. "You need a dead bolt on this door and your front door." As he crossed the kitchen, he glanced at the immaculate counters. "You must use paper plates." He thought of the dishes from a week ago that still resided in his own sink.

He took stock of his surroundings. Fancy counters that looked as if they were made out of gray granite, cooking island, bleached cabinets with etched-glass doors. Nothing out of place here. He resisted the urge to wash his hands before continuing. Instead he slipped on a pair of nitrile gloves. Under Dana's watchful, and wary, eye, he went to work.

Drawers divulged little other than that he couldn't find anything remotely resembling a junk drawer. Her personal phone book noted numbers for the usual medical needs, various repairmen, her housekeeper, and a few names and addresses he gathered belonged to friends.

He noted there were a few times when she looked as if she wanted to snatch something out of his hands, but she managed to restrain herself. She remained seated as he left the kitchen.

He bypassed the family room and living room, and headed straight for her home office.

It was just as he expected. Desk drawers were all neatly arranged, all the files in order. Even her correspondence was arranged in chronological order.

No wonder she looked shell-shocked when she saw my office, he thought, glancing at the tiny boxes holding stamps, paper clips and rubber bands. He doubted she ever had to tear her desk apart to find a lousy stamp.

Dana was standing in the hallway as he headed for her bedroom.

"Do you have to go through every room?" she demanded tautly.

"Only if I want to find out who's harassing you," he replied. "Don't worry. I won't make a mess or mishandle any of your delicate lingerie."

"That's not what I'm worried about."

The minute he stepped into her bedroom, he detected the same scent he remembered from his office.

If he expected to find it decorated with ruffles and lace, he was sorely disappointed. But not too much. What he found was even better.

The carpet underfoot was plush and a muted shade of spearmint green. He couldn't imagine a dog in this room. Especially his dog. Big mistake even thinking like that. The silk bedspread was a rich cream color with an abstract swirl design of green, pale pink, peach and soft blue. Solid color throw pillows decorated the head of the king-size bed. He hated to think what Duffy would do to a bed like that. Actually, he shouldn't even think of himself anywhere close to that bed.

He inched open the closet door and studied the variety of clothing that hung there. The contents were all well-made and expensive. Work clothing and casual clothing divided. Dresser drawers disclosed lingerie that momentarily had him visualizing the silk and lace on her. He tucked that thought out of the way the minute it appeared. Not a good idea thinking of your client wearing a black lace bra, panties and garter belt. Tended to take away the professionalism. He was headed for the bathroom, when a bright color caught his eye.

"Well, well, well," he murmured, reaching into the wastebasket and pulling out a hot-pink lace bra that screamed sex. It wasn't remotely like the ones he'd found in her dresser drawers. The ones that were demure yet seductive. Victoria's Secret versus Frederick's of Hollywood. He pulled a plastic bag out of his pocket and secured it inside. He tucked it inside his jacket pocket.

The bra didn't go with the clothing he found in the closet. He did a quick search of every closet in the house.

He couldn't find anything else that went with the underwear.

He returned to the bedroom and went on through to the bathroom. Here the colors weren't soothing soft pastels, but colors of the ocean. Brilliant turquoise, bright lime and a smattering of deep lavender for accent.

Mac doubted a professional decorator had stepped one foot in this house. No, Dana would have done all this herself. That way she could keep her house under her control just as she kept control over her workplace.

Since she'd hired him, she obviously felt her life wasn't behaving the way she'd planned.

There. It was so subtle, it could easily have been overlooked. Especially by a man. Even by Mac. But he'd been looking for another clue to go with the underwear and had hoped he'd find it here. He got lucky.

A former girlfriend had once set him straight about a woman's cosmetics. There were those who were strict about what brands and colors they used. Dana was one of these. All the lipstick cases he found were black and all the same name brand. But one silver case stood out among the others. He carefully picked it up and studied the label, then twisted the tube so the lipstick would swivel upward.

"Passion," he murmured, checking out the color. "Interesting name." He held the tube upward, the shimmery red shade almost blinding his eyes.

Not one of Dana Madison's, that's for sure.

He dropped it in a second plastic bag and stuffed it in his pocket.

A cursory search of the living and family room didn't tell him anything other than that Dana Madison seemed to live a pretty quiet life.

Maybe the lady needed a shrink instead of a private investigator. Still, his curiosity was growing by the moment.

He returned to the kitchen, where Dana was again sitting at the table. Her delicate features were still taut and her lips were pressed together tightly. He guessed it was so they wouldn't tremble. He wondered if she ever dared show any emotion. Maybe she did have an alter ego that could only come out at night. It might be something he'd have to discuss with her.

"Well?" She faced him with a challenging stare.

"First off, buy some timers for your lamps. Set them up in each room and program them for different hours. Make sure at least one lamp comes on just before it gets dark," he instructed.

She nodded. "What else?"

"I'll call you when I have my report ready," he said, before striding out the door.

As Mac walked to his truck, he thought about what he'd seen in the house. Except for the bra and lipstick, nothing there indicated a woman who liked the nightlife.

One thing was sure. The past twenty-four hours was more than enough to tell him Ms. Dana Madison was turning out to be one hell of an interesting case.

"You've been very popular this morning."

Dana paused at her assistant's desk long enough to pick up her phone messages. She swiftly checked the name on each one but didn't see anything that required immediate attention.

"Anything else I need to know about?" she asked. "Scott wants to see you about the contracts for the Brand Corporation," the silver-haired woman replied. "I told him you'd be free at three, and he could have fifteen minutes."

Dana smiled. Marti Cameron had kept her father's office running smoothly for more than thirty years. After his death, Dana had asked Marti to remain with her, since her own assistant had resigned when her husband accepted an out-of-state transfer. It was a decision Dana had never regretted.

"What will I tell him during those fifteen minutes you've allotted him?" she asked.

Marti arched an eyebrow. "You won't need to tell him anything. All you'll have to do is sit there and let him tell you why he feels the amendments to the contract are in our favor. Then you'll explain to him they aren't in our favor. When he asks you why you feel that, you can tell him he needs to do some more homework."

Dana perched herself on the corner of her assistant's desk. The smile she flashed was natural and warm. It was a smile few were allowed to see.

"Are you sure you wouldn't rather keep this meeting for me?"

The older woman looked horrified. "As if I would presume to do such a thing." She picked up her reading glasses with the multicolor frames and slipped them on. "Now go on and return those telephone calls. I have correspondence to finish so you can sign them before the end of the day."

"Yes, ma'am." Dana saluted her and slipped off the desk.

Dana couldn't enter the office that had been her father's without feeling as if she were entering a sacred area. At first, she feared she wouldn't be able to run the large management leasing company as well as he had, but with Marti's help and many hours of work, she felt more confident with each passing day.

It helped that one of her father's last instructions was to redecorate his office the day she took it over. He'd told her to make the space her own. And she had.

The heavy mahogany furniture and hunter-green drapes were replaced with a lighter-shade wood furniture, more modern in design, and sage-green drapes. A green-and-rose tweed sofa was placed against one wall with a coffee table in front of it and a chair on either side. Her father had refused to use a computer, claiming he didn't trust them, but now a laptop sat on Dana's desk. Though she'd put her stamp on the space, she felt her father's spirit still existed in the large office. That feeling helped her gain the confidence she needed to lead the company.

That confidence, so hard won, had begun to ebb when strange things started happening.

Dana sat at her desk and laid the pink message slips out like a deck of cards. She ignored them as she picked up her phone and punched out a number.

"McKenna Investigations. Leave a message. "

"As always, cryptic to the point of rude," she murmured, waiting for the tone. "Mr. McKenna, this is Dana Madison. I'd appreciate hearing from you."

A click sounded in her ear. "What would you appreciate hearing?"

"What happened last night?" She could be just as blunt.

"Like I told you, you'll get a weekly report. I'd like more than twenty-four hours before giving you my observations. See you at the end of the week, Ms. Madison. Come by around five, and we'll talk." He hung up before she could say a word.

Dana looked at the phone receiver as if it had somehow betrayed her.

"If this is how he treats paying clients, I hate to think how he treats the world in general," she murmured, using her fingertip to push one of the message slips away from the others.

She thought of the bra she'd found that morning. She had been instructed to contact him if she found anything. Instead, she'd thrown it away because she couldn't stand to look at anything so disgusting. Should she call him back and tell him about it? Or just pretend it never existed?

Lately, she preferred acting as if nothing happened to her between dusk and dawn. Safer to keep it that way.

As the afternoon lengthened, the curt tones of John MeKenna's voice reverberated through her head. She didn't know how or why, but she was positive his first night working for her had given him clues about what was going on. Clues she was not going to like hearing.

She plunged into her work. Long ago, she'd discovered it was the best way to keep her fearful thoughts at bay. Keeping her current clients confident that she could manage their buildings as well as her father had was proving to be more than a full-time job. One she was now grateful for.

By the time she felt she could take a break, her eyes were burning from staring at the computer monitor and her back ached from staying in one position too long. It was dark out, and only the lamp on her desk was lit. Deceptive shadows hung from every comer of the room.

She imagined her father lounging on the couch.

"You chose something much too soft, daughter," he'd tell her, shifting around to find a comfortable position. "This kind of couch is only handy if you want an afternoon nap. Don't think about making your clients too comfortable. They might think you're as soft as your couch."

"You're wrong, Dad. I use it to soften them up for the kill," she murmured, saving her work before she closed the files and shut down her computer. She stretched her arms over her head to relieve some of the ache that had settled in the small of her back, and stood up.

She walked through the dark empty offices and relocked the main door on her way out. As she descended in the elevator, she felt the silence of the entire building surround her. She felt the stark solitude as she crossed the parking garage to reach her car. The yellow lights cast a harsh glow over the area, as if she had been thrust inside something dark and evil.

Dana tried to cast off the apprehension that flowed through her mind as she grew closer to her car. But it increased as a chill skittered along her spine.

She felt a pair of eyes focused on her. She turned around in a tight circle to view everything around her. She tried to peer into every corner, but the shadows mocked her with their stillness.

"Is anyone there?" She hated it that her voice trembled.

"Ed, are you out there?" She called out the name of one of the security guards who routinely patrolled the parking garage.

The answering silence was equally mocking.

Dana disarmed her car alarm and got in. She started up the car and hastily backed out of the parking stall, her tires squealing as she raced around the corner toward the exit.

She was so intent on escaping that she didn't see a figure detach itself from behind a post and stand there watching the car's taillights disappear.

"Run little mouse, run." The figure laughed throatily. "But no matter how fast you run, you still won't be able to escape me. Before you know it, the day will come when you'll be the one in a cage, and I'll be the one with all the cheese."

Dana might not be able to see John McKenna, but she knew he was nearby no matter where she went.

As she left her office each evening, he was out there somewhere. He was nearby when she stopped at the dry cleaners, when she walked through the drugstore, picking up a prescription and necessary sundries, or when she made a quick stop at the gas station. It wasn't easy to resist looking around to see if she could find him.

The feeling of John McKenna watching her was different from the unsettling sensation she felt when she sensed someone else watched her. With McKenna she didn't sense any unease or nasty prickling of fear. She wasn't sure what to label the feeling; it was something she hadn't experienced before.

But no matter how comfortable she felt during those hours, she still suffered during the few minutes just before she fell asleep. She was overwhelmed by a terrifying sensation that her life was spiraling out of control. A cold feeling that warned her her slumber would steal the control she'd always held onto so tightly. And worries she'd never had before.

Of course, she'd never before had to worry about someone trying to destroy her life.

Now, Dana drove down the winding driveway. She'd always thought of the trees lining the drive as comforting. Tonight, they felt as if they were closing in on her. She breathed a sigh of relief when she reached the house. After she shut off the engine, she pulled down the visor and stared at her reflection in the lighted mirror. Lines of stress were lightly carved along her mouth and eyes. She smoothed her fingertip across them and reapplied her lipstick, deciding the color gave her a much-needed boost.

She got out of the car, and carriage lights along the steps showed her the way to a front door she knew well. She unlocked the door and stepped inside. A woman in her sixties appeared from a side room. Her silver hair was cut short and feathered around her face. Her plump body was clothed in a floral print blouse and dark blue slacks.

"Dana." She held out her arms for a hug. "Have you eaten, dear?"

"Even if I say yes, you'll tell me I don't eat enough and insist on stuffing me with food." She welcomed the embrace that brought memories of afternoons spent in the kitchen learning to bake cookies and cakes. Over the years, the woman had gone from a trusted employee to a valued family member. Dana couldn't imagine what it would be like if she lost her, too. "How are you, Harriet?"

"Pretending my arthritis doesn't bother me in the mornings," the housekeeper joked.

"Which is why I insisted someone come in to clean," Dana told her. "You know very well you're not expected to do all that work. You should be taking it easier now instead of trying to work harder."

"Lord, child, I don't have enough to do now," she protested, laughing. "Even those nurses don't cause that much work. Most of them seem to think a small salad is a huge meal."

"They're doing all right?" She knew she could get the truth from Harriet.

Harriet nodded. "They're just fine. They seem to prefer keeping to themselves, but they always take excellent care of...your mother." Her smile disappeared.

Dana could feel the area around her heart tighten. "She's worse?"

"Not worse, not better," the older woman said gently, keeping her arms around Dana. "Honey, the doctor told you there was a good chance your mother wouldn't fully recover."

Dana shook her head, refusing to listen. "Mom's always come back before. She will this time. She's had excellent care."

Harriet's eyes softened with the love she felt for the young woman she'd cared for since childhood. "Sweetheart, please don't take this the wrong way, but the last time your mother was very ill, your father was here."

She wouldn't take it the wrong way. She knew just how strong the bond between her parents had been. She envied them their love, but knew she never lacked for love of her own. Now her mother lay in a hospital bed, her mind trapped in a frail body. How sad her body could never keep up with her mind. And now, her mind had trouble even keeping up with her body. Every time Dana sat with her, she silently willed her mother to come back to her. To be with her.

She looked upward. "Do you know if she's awake?"

"I'm sorry, dear. She had a difficult afternoon. She just dropped off to sleep about an hour ago." Harriet kept an arm around her. "Why don't you come with me and I'll fix you something to eat. We can go upstairs afterward to see if she's awake."

As the housekeeper guided her toward the kitchen, Dana purposely pushed her troubles out of her mind. For the next hour or so, she would let Harriet fuss over her and she would pretend nothing had changed.

Time enough to worry when she left the house.

Mac stared as the pages slid into the printer's paper tray. Funny how words could change a person's life.

The report he was printing would tell a woman that her husband wasn't her husband, after all. She might have the marriage license and the wedding video, but her alleged husband had a secret she knew nothing about. He had a wife living in another city. A wife he'd married some years before before their marriage.

She'd come to him because she feared her husband was having an affair and she needed to know the truth. Mac normally didn't like following errant husbands. It never seemed to do any good, only bringing pain to the one needing to know. Except, she was so young, so vulnerable that he felt as if he'd kick a puppy if he gave her a flat no. He also didn't want her looking for another private investigator and ending up with one with few scruples. So he followed the man who held an executive position in a medical supply corporation. Mac soon learned the man traveled extensively between two offices. That way he could stay part of the time with wife number one. Mac did some nosing around and learned that wife number one believed he had to travel a great deal. Wife number one gave him a boy and a girl. Wife number two was currently five months pregnant with their first child.

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