It was happening again.
The gifts. The mementos. The notes.
I thought I’d been rid of those when I moved away from Orlando.
That’s when Trevor Sikes ceased to exist for me. Or what I would have liked to have had happen.
It petrified me that the man may have found me. Some of the gifts were like those he used to get for me—his sick way of apologizing after terrorizing me—and others were odd and not what I’d have thought Sikes would ever have thought to send. Those creeped me out the most.
When I moved to Jacksonville, I’d made sure that my restraining order encompassed a no contact clause. I had one for the state of Florida, and another for North Carolina. And I renewed both religiously.
The burning question in my mind, however, was why hadn’t my lawyer contacted me about him being let out? He shouldn’t have been allowed for parole for another six months.
“Unless he’s got someone doing it for him,” I thought aloud, sipping my cup of tepid coffee as I stared at the small white box I’d discovered on my front step, just moments ago. The thing sat haphazardly on the kitchen island’s edge.
Regardless, the whole thing was giving me the willies. What’s more was the fact that my home now felt uncomfortable.
I no longer felt safe.
Shane’s a cop.
Maybe I could mention what’s been going on to him, or maybe I could just get him to give me a few leads on a decent security company to install a system in my place. Either way, knowing that he was there—across the street—appeased my mind somewhat.
Setting my coffee down, I grabbed my latest eerie gift and made for the garage. I hadn’t even stored the large bin up on its original shelf after I’d added yesterday’s delivery in it. Lifting its lid, I dropped the tiny box in it, snapped the top back on, then hefted it back in its intended place. One I hoped to God and all things holy, that I’d never have to fetch again.
“Where were you?” I heard the little girl ask me when I walked into my little cottage.
I’d decided to work on invoices and tagging product I hadn’t yet packaged for the day, and hadn’t touched the production side. It just so happened, I had left a few boxes that were to be delivered tomorrow in my little craft den, when I stumbled upon the little girl.
I jumped, clutching at my chest. “Rosie, you scared me half to death!”
She had the contrite look down pat, pout included. “I’m sorry, but I was so excited that you said we’d make some lip gloss together that I couldn’t wait any longer.”
This had me smiling, despite my heart breaking. I felt for the little girl, having lost her mother, and never really having a relationship with her. She looked up to me. She genuinely enjoyed my company—and I did hers—so I really didn’t mind her regular interruptions. They broke up my day and served as a reminder that there was more to life than just work.
“You’re right.” I bit my lip. “Tell you what…How about we get together tomorrow? I never got around to picking up my supplies today, so I don’t have some of the ingredients to make it just yet.” The disappointment in her eyes cut me to the quick. “But tomorrow, I’ll have so much more that I’ll even show you how to make your very own lotion, how does that sound?”
I swear she beamed from head to toe. “Really? My very own lotion?”
I nodded, unable to keep my smile at bay. “Really. You’ll have to come up with a name for it too, because I’ve never made lotions for little girls before.”
“Can it be cotton candy like the gloss?”
I crouched down to where she was sitting and cupped her cheek. “I think that’s a wonderful idea. Maybe you can help me figure out other things little girls like and we can create an entire line.”
As soon as I nodded, she jumped up on a squeal and into my arms. The scent of her strawberry shampoo filled my nostrils, and I curled into her a bit more. She was such a precious character.
Pulling back, I noticed her school bag right next to where she’d been sitting. “Lana Rose,” Her nose scrunched up, it was comical. I remained serious however, “Why is your book bag with you?”
“Because I came here right after school,” she mumbled to her shoes.
“Does anyone know you’re here?”
She hesitated before shaking her head to indicate the negative. “Nuh-uh.”
“Rosie!” I scolded. “You can’t do that, honey. Your grams and daddy are going to be worried.”
Tears filled her eyes. “Am I in trouble?”
“Tell you what…” I grabbed her bag, throwing it over my shoulder, then grabbed her hand. “I’ll talk to your Grams and smooth things over. I’m sure she’ll understand that you were excited.” Pulling her toward the cottage’s door, taking the time to lock it too, I led us toward her home.
It wasn’t Grams that opened however, it was Shane.
A very pissed off Shane.
“Daddy!” Rosie seemed to completely miss the fact that her father was staring at me with daggers.
“Go inside, princess. I need to have a talk with Emberlyn,” he ground out.
“It’s my fault,” she confessed. “I went to Ember’s so we could make lip gloss, but she doesn’t have the stuff, so I’ll go back tomorrow, and–”
“Slow down, baby girl.” He crouched down to her level. “Haven’t we talked about this? You’re supposed to come straight home from school, young lady.”
“We’ll talk later, Rosie. Now go inside and help your Grams.”
“Yes, Daddy.” She pouted. Looking back at me, she smiled shyly. “I’m sorry I got us in trouble, Ember.”
“No harm done, honey.” I smiled for reassurance. “Thanks for visiting.”
When the little girl disappeared, Shane stepped out onto the front porch, his intimidating stance making me take a step back, and closed the door behind him.
He lifted his hand to cut me off. “Thank you for bringing her back, but it doesn’t excuse the fact that she’s been with you for well on two hours.” He was furious, as he should be. I don’t know the first thing about being a parent, but I suspect that worry can sometimes bring out the worst in us. It seemed to be doing that to Shane.
“I-I didn’t know she was there,” I told him.
His eyes rounded in surprise. “What?” he hollered. “How does a grown-assed woman not know when a kid is around? Are you that self-absorbed that all you care about is your business?”
That got my back up in a hurry. So I made my advance. “Now wait a fucking minute, you jerk!” I poked him in the chest. “I work from home, and my business is based in that cottage out back, but it doesn’t mean I spend my days there every day. I was working from the house today; invoicing, if you must know.” I huffed. The gall of the man! “Why the hell am I telling you this anyway?”
“She went straight to the cottage and waited there for me,” I told him. “I figured out that she’d come to see me, instead of going home first, because I noticed her book bag. If I hadn’t needed those boxes, she’d still be sitting there.”
Emphasising my point with another poke, I added, “It’s because of me that she’s here right now, and that you’re not out there worried sick and still searching for her. So fuck you for insinuating that I had concocted some elaborate plan to kidnap or hold your daughter captive. I promise, next time she stops by, I’ll send her right back. You have my word on that.”
Without waiting for his reply, I turned on my heel and stormed off, crossed the street, and headed up my front steps. After unlocking the front door, I entered my home, slammed the fucking thing, and turned the deadbolt.
Fuck him! Fuck men! Fuck them all!