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A Wall Street Journal bestseller.
From New York Times bestselling author Susan Stoker comes a scorching Silverstone installment that finds a former military man racing to save the woman he loves as danger closes in on them both.
Former military man turned government assassin Kellan "Eagle" Trowbridge isn't looking for love. He'd rather keep his head down at his cover job as an employee of Silverstone Towing. That all changes, however, when he meets Taylor Cardin.
Beautiful, smart, and witty Taylor instantly falls for the mysterious tow truck driver, who comforts her both in the aftermath of the car crash she sees firsthand and when the police dismiss her as a credible witness because of her prosopagnosia, or face blindness. Eagle, on the other hand, can remember every person he's ever met-and the two counterparts forge an immediate connection. But someone else is just as intrigued by Taylor's unique condition as Eagle is…and his intentions are downright deadly.
Soon, Eagle and Taylor are too caught up in each other to see the danger that's approaching. But as time runs out, they'll discover their love isn't the only thing fighting to survive.
Release date: March 2, 2021
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Listen to a sample
Eagle sighed in frustration. He really hated grocery shopping. It was a task assigned to Shawn Archer, Silverstone Towing’s newly hired cook, but he’d been given the week off with pay to spend with his daughter. Both of them needed it after what they’d been through. It would be a very long time before the man was comfortable letting Sandra out of his sight again.
Eagle couldn’t blame him. If his child had been kidnapped, he’d have a hard time letting her do anything without him. It had been a very close call with Ricketts. The man had almost taken the most important thing in Shawn’s life.
But the time off for their new employee meant that Eagle was back to doing the grocery shopping for the week. He could ask one of his friends to do it, and they would without issue, but since he’d always shopped for Silverstone Towing, he felt an obligation to continue.
He turned down the street where the grocery store was located and pulled into the lot.
The moment he parked, the lot suddenly filled with police cars.
Clearly something had happened, and Eagle sighed again. Of course he couldn’t go to the store without there being some incident or another.
He got out of his Jeep Wrangler, glad that he’d parked in one of the farthest spaces from the store and wasn’t in the thick of whatever was happening, and waited a few minutes before slowly walking toward the chaos, letting the officers do their thing. Eagle and the rest of his teammates knew a lot of the officers who worked for the Indianapolis Police Department. They didn’t work side by side with them, but Silverstone had offered its services a time or two.
As Eagle headed for the two closest officers, he noticed a woman standing by herself nearby with her arms around her stomach. She was biting her lip . . . and the expression on her face hit him like a punch to the gut. It wasn’t that he hadn’t seen nervous or scared women before. He had, both in his job at Silverstone Towing and when he had been in the military. But this woman seemed to be holding herself. She was uncomfortable, but he could also see resignation in her body language. As if she expected everyone in the vicinity to turn on her at any second.
It bothered Eagle deep down. He didn’t like to see anyone look so . . . alone.
He’d never seen her before. Eagle would know if he had. He remembered every single person he’d ever met. His brain was wired differently from most people’s, and he had a photographic memory when it came to names and faces. It was one of the reasons he was so invaluable to his team at Silverstone. He’d spent hours studying most-wanted lists, and if they ever came across someone on the lists, Eagle would know it.
The woman was average height, probably around five-seven or five-eight. She had on a pair of well-worn jeans, scuffed Converse sneakers, and a long-sleeve T-shirt. Her brown hair was curly and held back by a hairband, but even that couldn’t seem to contain the curls.
Eagle had the insane urge to touch it, to see if his fingers got tangled in the wild strands.
She glanced up for a split second and caught his eye, and Eagle barely contained a gasp. The resignation was even stronger in her eyes. As if she expected him to judge her. Her eyes were dark brown—from this distance almost black. Even as he stared, he saw her bite her lip again, uncertainly.
And oddly, he hated that too. Hated that she was nervous, especially after seeing him. She didn’t know it, of course, but he was as dangerous to her as a rock. He didn’t hurt women . . . well, not those who weren’t criminals. And Eagle’s gut was telling him that this woman had lived a tough life and that she was no threat to him or anyone else.
“Hey, Eagle!” one of the officers called. Eagle recognized him as Emmanuel Brown, an officer he’d worked with in the past. The greeting snapped him out of his inspection of the woman. He had no idea who she was or why she was standing there . . . but he was going to find out.
He turned toward the policeman and gave him a small head jerk. “Hey. What’s going on?”
“Altercation in the parking lot. Apparently two people wanted the same parking spot, and when one guy pulled into the space, the other guy took exception. He claimed he’d been waiting for it. They started fighting. One guy pulled a knife, and they both ended up bleeding. After they go to the hospital, they’re both getting charged.”
Eagle whistled. “Sounds messy.” He really wanted to ask about the woman, but bit his tongue.
“It was. Crazy thing was that there was an empty space just two cars down. I’ll never understand people,” Officer Brown said with a shake of his head.
“Luckily there were lots of witnesses,” another officer added. His badge said Nelson. Eagle hadn’t worked with him before.
“Yeah?” Eagle murmured, encouraging the man to keep talking.
“Yup. Got statements from five bystanders, and it seems clear the man who was pissed he didn’t get the spot started the whole thing.”
He couldn’t stand it anymore. Eagle motioned to the woman who’d caught his eye. “She a witness?”
Both officers looked over at the woman, then back to him.
Officer Nelson nodded. “Yeah.”
“What’s she waiting for?” Eagle asked. “I don’t see any other witnesses around.”
“Most have already left. We got their contact information if need be. But we’re waiting for the approval of the captain to let that one go. She was right there from the second everything started, so she’s the best witness, but there’s an issue.”
Officer Brown snorted. “That’s an understatement. She’s claiming she’s got some disability—I don’t remember what she called it—where she can’t recognize faces. I guess it’s some kind of 50 First Dates kind of thing . . . remember that movie? With Adam Sandler and Drew Barrymore? It’s hilarious. Anyway, sucks that she’ll be no use as a witness. She won’t be able to pick out the two perps in a lineup or if this shit goes to court. So we’re trying to figure out if we should officially turn in her statement or just go with what we’ve already got.”
Eagle couldn’t help the surge of curiosity at hearing the officer’s explanation. She couldn’t recognize faces? God, there were times he wished he didn’t immediately recognize people. “How long has she been standing there?”
Both officers shrugged.
Irritated on behalf of the woman, he made sure his facial expression showed nothing of what he was feeling. “Any problem if I go talk to her?”
“Nope. We expect to hear from the captain any minute now, and I’m guessing she’ll be off the hook. No lawyer’s gonna want to bring her in as a witness. She’d be torn apart by the defending attorney.”
“What’s her name?” Eagle asked.
Eagle hadn’t heard the woman’s name before, but because of his unique ability, he knew he’d never forget it. “Thanks. Stay safe out there,” he told the two men before turning and heading for the woman.
Taylor had been watching him talk to the officers and kept her eyes on him as he approached. She didn’t wait for him to get to her before she spoke.
“I’ve already told the officers everything I saw.”
“I know,” Eagle told her. He held out his hand once he was in front of her. “I’m Eagle. Well, my real name is Kellan, but no one calls me that.”
The woman looked down at his hand, but didn’t reach for it. Her arms stayed wrapped around herself.
He continued to speak, dropping his hand. “I’m not a cop. I’m acquainted with a lot of them, as I work for Silverstone Towing, and I’ve gotten to know them over the years. Are you all right?”
She stared at him for a long moment before saying quietly, “You’re the first person to ask me that.”
Alarmed, Eagle’s eyes raked over her slender frame, trying to determine if she was injured. “You’re hurt?”
She shook her head. “No.” She glanced over at the policemen, then back at him. “And I’m nothing like Drew Barrymore in 50 First Dates,” she said, quietly but firmly.
Eagle was surprised at the ferocity in her tone, especially considering how fragile she looked.
She went on before he could comment. “I have prosopagnosia, otherwise known as face blindness. There’s nothing wrong with my memory. Tomorrow, I’ll remember everything about what happened here, I just won’t be able to identify the men who were involved.”
Making a mental note to look up prosopagnosia the second he got to a computer, Eagle nodded. “I’ve got the opposite issue. I’ve never forgotten a face or a name in my entire thirty-six years. Sometimes I have trouble if I met someone when they were a kid and now they’re grown, but I’ve never forgotten a name.”
“Ever?” she asked with a tilt of her head.
“Ever,” he confirmed.
Then Taylor smiled.
And it blew Eagle away. It transformed her face. He hadn’t thought she was anything special, looking at her earlier. She’d seemed just average. But when she smiled? Holy shit, her whole face lit up, and it was almost as if he could see a bit of her soul shining through. A little cheesy, and people would tell him he was crazy, but Eagle didn’t care.
“What are the odds?” she asked.
“The odds of what?” Eagle asked, still somewhat in a daze.
“Of us meeting. I don’t recognize anyone, and you recognize everyone.”
“Seems to me it’s fate,” Eagle told her.
Taylor rolled her eyes, and he could see her arms relax a fraction. The fact that he could relieve her stress meant a lot to Eagle. She was a stranger, but he could see a lifetime of pain in her eyes. Heard it in her voice when she had to defend her medical condition to him. He hated that.
He was concentrating so much on Taylor that Eagle didn’t hear one of the officers he’d been talking to earlier come up to them. Jerking in surprise at the officer’s voice, Eagle could only mentally laugh at himself. He couldn’t remember the last time someone had snuck up on him.
“Talked to the captain. She said we have what we need from the other witnesses. If we need to talk to you later, we’ve got your info,” Officer Brown said.
Taylor nodded at the officer, then turned and headed for the grocery store without another word.
Surprised at her abrupt departure, and somehow amused by the fact she’d completely turned her back on him, Eagle nodded at the officer and ran to catch up with Taylor.
“What’s the hurry?” he asked as he fell into step beside her.
“I hate grocery shopping. I always seem to run into someone who knows me, and it sucks when I have no idea who they are. I thought coming early might prevent that from happening, but instead, all it did was put me smack in the middle of two idiots fighting for a damn parking spot. I’m tired, hungry, and sick of people looking down on me because of something I have no control over. I’m going to get my food, go home, and eat a dozen doughnuts to try to forget this disastrous morning.”
“Mind if I tag along?” Eagle asked.
At his question, Taylor stopped in the middle of the entranceway to the store. She turned to look at him with a frown. “Why?”
“Well, because I have to shop too. And like you, I hate it. Not because people might recognize me, though. But because I hate to cook. I suck at it. I’m also responsible for shopping for Silverstone Towing, and I always buy the wrong shit. It’s like a game to everyone who works there, telling me everything I forgot to buy or how I bought whole wheat flour instead of the regular crap.” He shrugged. “I thought maybe two people who hate grocery shopping could muddle through if we worked together.”
Taylor stared at him for so long, Eagle was afraid she was going to turn around and leave him standing in the doorway like a fool. But she took a deep breath and held out her hand. “Hi. I’m Taylor Cardin.”
Eagle grasped her hand in his and shook it. “Kellan Trowbridge, but my friends call me Eagle.” Her palm was warm and smooth. His was covered in calluses from working on the tow trucks and from the missions he and his team went on.
She dropped his hand, and Eagle immediately wanted to grab it right back, haul her close, and see if her hair was as soft as it looked. But he did none of those things. He was attracted to the woman, but it was more than obvious she needed a friend. It was presumptuous of him to assume so, but there it was.
“I’m not sharing my cart with you,” she quipped as she headed for the row of shopping carts. “You’ll have to push your own.”
“I’m okay with that,” Eagle told her. “We just met—can’t have our food touching.”
She chuckled and shook her head at him, and just like that, Eagle wanted to get to know this woman. He wanted to know everything about her. What it was like growing up with prosopagnosia, who her friends were, where she lived, what her job was—everything.
He had a peculiar feeling that knowing her would change his life . . . for the better.
“I can hear you thinking,” Taylor said as they walked through the produce section.
“It’s just . . . I have about a million questions,” Eagle admitted. “I’ve never met someone like you.”
“Prosopagnosia is rare,” she explained. “Only about two percent of the population is born with it. I can’t recognize faces, even my own. If you showed me a lineup of pictures and included mine, I wouldn’t be able to tell you which picture was me. I can make out individual features—like the fact you have blue eyes—but if you then showed me ten pictures of blue eyes, I wouldn’t be able to pick out yours. But otherwise, I’m just like anyone else. I can make sound and rational decisions, and I wince when someone mixes polka dots and stripes in their outfits.”
“And I’m the opposite,” Eagle told her. “I wouldn’t be able to tell you what’s fashionable and what isn’t, but if my second-grade teacher suddenly showed up in front of us, I’d not only be able to recognize her, but tell you her name.”
He blindly reached for a bunch of bananas, and Taylor reached out and put a warm hand on his wrist.
Eagle glanced at her. He liked her hand on him. A little too much.
“You aren’t seriously getting those, are you?” she asked with a little frown.
Looking down at the bundle of bananas he was about to put in his cart, Eagle shrugged. “Yes?”
“No,” she said firmly, taking the fruit out of his hand and putting it back on the stand. She reached for another bunch and held it out to him. “Here. These are much better.”
“Why?” Eagle asked.
“You said you were shopping for a group of people, right?”
“Yeah. There are over a dozen employees at Silverstone. They don’t all work at the same time, but they’re allowed to stop in whenever they want to hang out or to eat. Their families are welcome too.”
“Right, so if you got that first bunch of bananas, they’d be bad within a day or two. If you get them a little greener, like those,” she said, nodding to the ones she’d picked out, “they’ll last longer. Besides . . . who wants to eat mushy bananas?”
“Hadn’t really thought about it,” Eagle told her honestly.
Taylor shook her head. “You really do suck at this shopping thing.”
“I told you I did,” Eagle said.
“I know, but I thought you were just hitting on me or something.”
Eagle chuckled. “Unfortunately, no. I mean, I have a feeling you’re pretty astute and would see right through any kind of flirting I might attempt. But I do suck at shopping. I just don’t have the patience for it.”
“Flirting doesn’t really work with me,” Taylor told him in a matter-of-fact tone, as if she was talking about the weather.
“What does work?” Eagle blurted, wanting to take the words back as soon as they were out of his mouth.
“Giving me time. Showing me with more than words that I can trust you.”
Eagle stared at the woman next to him. At six-two, he was at least half a foot taller than her, and he had the urge to beat the shit out of anyone who’d broken her trust.
Inexplicably, he wanted to stand between her and the rest of the world. He couldn’t decide if it was because he was sexually attracted, if her condition had him so intrigued, or if it was simply a matter of how vulnerable she seemed.
But regardless, one thing Eagle knew . . . he was going to do everything he could to prove to this woman that she could trust him. If that meant being a friend and nothing else, so be it. Earning her trust seemed more important than anything physical . . . at least at the moment.
“You can trust me,” he told her.
She shrugged. “I’ve heard that before.”
Eagle didn’t like being lumped in with the other assholes who’d obviously let her down in the past. “You can,” he insisted.
“What else is on your list of things to buy?” she asked, changing the subject.
Eagle let her, because at the moment, he had no idea how to convince her he was one of the good guys, let alone why he wanted to.
Well, not completely a good guy. He had a feeling if he told her that he and his friends traveled the world, ridding it of the worst of humanity, that wouldn’t exactly earn her trust.
Instead of telling her what was on his list, he showed her. With Archer away, the employees took turns cooking, and they’d made a list of things for him to buy so they could put together meals. It was a hot mess, with ingredients scribbled in no particular order on the notepad kept on the refrigerator. Most of the time when he shopped, he just started at the top and worked his way down, having to backtrack several times throughout the store to get stuff from an aisle he’d already been down. It was a pain in the ass, and part of the reason he hated the chore.
“What is this?” Taylor asked, squinting at his list.
“Everything I need to buy,” Eagle replied, telling her something she obviously already knew. “The employees at the station write down what they want, and I shop.”
“Holy crap, this is awful,” she told him. “No wonder you hate shopping.”
Eagle couldn’t help it—he laughed. “I was just thinking the same thing.”
“Okay, first things first, we need to put some order to this,” Taylor said, grabbing her cart and heading for an empty part of the produce section, out of the way of the other shoppers. She reached into her purse and rummaged around for a moment before pulling out a pen and a receipt.
“This isn’t ideal, but it’ll have to do,” she mumbled. Then she propped his list on top of her purse, which was sitting in the child seat of the cart, and bent over the receipt. She’d turned it over and was writing on the blank back side.
“Okay, you’ve got muffin mix down twice, but they didn’t say what kind, so I think you should get blueberry and cinnamon raisin. If they don’t like it, tough, they should’ve specified. Eggs are on here three times, so maybe if you get two dozen, that should be good enough for a week. And if it’s too much, they’ll keep until next time. Fresh fruit? What kind? Jeez, they need to be more specific. No wonder you hate this; no one tells you exactly what they want, so they’re setting you up to fail. Fine . . . how about apples, peaches, and grapes? If they want something else, they’ll have to be more specific next time. Ground hamburger, chicken breasts, and shrimp . . . that’s easy enough.”
Eagle observed Taylor as she completely took over his list. She was scribbling furiously on the back of the receipt, and he couldn’t help but smile as she continually mumbled under her breath while she wrote. It was as if the rest of the world ceased to exist. It was cute as fuck—but it also concerned him as well.
“Taylor?” a voice called out, making her jerk in surprise.
Eagle turned and saw a middle-aged woman coming toward them, smiling brightly.
“I thought that was you. How are you? It’s been forever since I’ve seen you!” the woman enthused.
Glancing at Taylor, Eagle saw that she hadn’t been lying about her condition . . . not that he’d thought she had. She had absolutely no idea who the woman standing near them was—the woman who was waiting to be acknowledged.
It truly dawned on him for the first time how frustrating and difficult not recognizing anyone might be.
Plastering a smile on his face, he stepped forward and held out a hand to the woman. “I’m Eagle, a friend of Taylor’s. I don’t think we’ve met?”
And just as he knew she would, the woman turned her attention to him. “Oh, hi. I’m Wanda Wright.”
“Nice to meet you. How do you know Taylor?” Eagle asked as he shook her hand.
“We used to live in the same apartment complex,” the chatty woman volunteered. “I moved out last year to another complex closer to my son’s. His wife left him and their two kids, and I wanted to be closer to help out.”
“How are Gail and Bobby doing?” Taylor asked softly from behind him.
Eagle dropped the woman’s hand and took a step back.
“Oh, they’re doing great!” Wanda gushed. “They’re flourishing in school and are growing like weeds.”
“And your son? He’s okay?” Taylor asked.
“He had a hard time of it for a while, but I think he’s finally realized the bitch he married did him a favor by leaving. The divorce went through, and he got full custody . . . not that she contested it at all. She was more concerned with her new twenty-year-old boyfriend to want to deal with kids. Her loss. And how’re things going with you?”
Eagle tuned out the conversation and concentrated on observing Taylor. As soon as Wanda had approached, she’d tensed, her fingers curling into her palms. But she looked relaxed now. The two women talked about some of Taylor’s neighbors and commiserated about the woes of apartment living.
“I’ve taken up enough of your time,” Wanda said after a while. “It was great to see you again. I was happy to move closer to my grandbabies, but I was sorry to say goodbye to you.”
“I’m glad things are working out for you,” Taylor told her.
Wanda smiled huge and said her goodbyes.
After Wanda had pushed her cart away, Taylor turned to Eagle. “Thank you.”
“For what?” Eagle asked, playing dumb.
Taylor frowned. “You know what. I had no idea who that was, and you seamlessly stepped in and made her introduce herself.”
Eagle looked into her dark-brown eyes and said, “You don’t know me, and like you said, you have no reason to trust me. But you absolutely can. I’m going to prove it.”
She didn’t say anything, but didn’t drop her gaze either.
They stared at each other for a long moment before he nodded to the list still in her hand. “Is that salvageable?”
Sighing, Taylor shrugged and then said in a wry tone, “I’m not sure. I really did think you were throwing me a line about the not-good-at-shopping thing.”
“I wasn’t. I’m not.”
“I see that now. I think I’ve got the original list reorganized according to the aisles in the store. We might still have to do a bit of backtracking, but hopefully not much. You really ought to get your employees to make an electronic list. I can barely read some of their handwriting.”
“Archer will take care of it,” Eagle told her.
“He’s the new guy. Shawn Archer. He’s currently got the week off, but when he gets back, I have no doubt he’ll take charge of all this, and those haphazard lists will be a thing of the past. Not to mention, he’ll be the one shopping . . . thank God!”
“Good. Well, come on. I’ve already been at this damn store much longer than I’d planned, and if I’m going to help you, we need to get on with it.”
She grabbed her cart and was about to turn it to continue shopping when Eagle put his hand on her arm, stopping her. “Thank you. For helping me. I’m man enough to admit when I’m in over my head. I’d have eventually figured that list out, but I’d have been in a piss-poor mood by the time I did. So thank you.”
“No, thank you for making me not dread being here for once in my life.”
And with that, she pulled away and headed back toward the apples. With no other choice, Eagle followed . . . not that it was a hardship to watch her from behind.
* * *
Taylor couldn’t remember a time that she’d felt so relaxed in public. Normally she dreaded every single second she spent outside her apartment. Inside her safe space, she was Taylor Cardin, highly educated, much-sought-after proofreader, and confident in her abilities. She loved watching cooking shows and trying out new recipes. She had good relationships with her regular clients and was witty and funny in emails and on social media.
But the second she stepped outside, she turned into someone she didn’t like very much. Meek, unsure, and standoffish.
She’d put off grocery shopping for as long as possible, finally setting out for the store that morning. Taylor knew she could shop online and do the curbside-pickup thing, but she didn’t like the thought of someone else picking out her food. She was particular about her meat and fruits and vegetables. Besides, many times when she was wandering the aisles, she got inspired to try something new in the kitchen.
But she hated running into people she knew. Or rather, who knew her. It was always awkward. She either pretended she knew the person, or she had to admit that she didn’t recognize them. People hated that. She’d lost too many friends to count over the years because she simply didn’t know who they were when she saw them.
Forcing the depressing thoughts to the back of her mind, Taylor turned her attention to the man behind her and what had happened in the parking lot.
She could identify the men who’d been fighting based on their clothes, but as soon as they went home and changed, she wouldn’t know them from Adam. Taylor was well aware that the officers were skeptical about her condition. Maybe even thought she was lying to get out of testifying, if it came to that. She’d felt awkward as hell as they’d discussed her disability, with regard to what they should put in their report about her, in front of the other witnesses, who, one by one, were allowed to go about their day while she’d been detained.
She felt as if she’d done something wrong, when all she’d been doing was trying to buy some damn food.
Then Eagle was there.
She’d known people like him existed; they were called super recognizers in her world. People with the opposite ability to what she had. She’d pretty much expected him to blow her off too, to make her feel as stupid as the officer had when he’d compared her to Drew Barrymore’s character in 50 First Dates. She hadn’t meant to blurt out to Eagle that she wasn’t like that character, but he hadn’t even blinked.
She also hadn’t expected him to introduce himself to Wanda. He could’ve stood there and watched her struggle to figure out who the woman was. But instead, he’d taken the initiative to help. She’d known that was what he was doing the second he’d introduced himself.
That conversation had been the most “normal” one she’d had with someone in a very long time. She’d actually enjoyed seeing Wanda again and hearing how she and her grandkids were doing. There wasn’t any awkwardness on either of their parts.
Taylor didn’t know anything about Eagle, except that he apparently was clueless about cooking and shopping for food. She also knew he worked at Silverstone Towing, which in itself said plenty, because the company was well known around the Indianapolis area. The police officers obviously knew him and were comfortable with him.
Hmmm, maybe she knew more about the man than she’d thought.
“Why the hell are there so many kinds of flour? It makes no sense,” he grumbled.
Taylor couldn’t help but chuckle.
He turned to her. “What? Look at this shit. There are rows and rows of fucking flour. It’s stupid. All-purpose, cake, bread, self-rising, whole wheat, gluten-free . . . jeez.”
Taking pity on him, Taylor reached for two bags of all-purpose flour and put them in his cart. “There’re different kinds for different kinds of baking. But because your people didn’t specify what they wanted, they get the normal everyday kind. If they want something else, they’ll learn to be more specific.”
Eagle simply grunted.
It was such a guy thing to do, she couldn’t help but giggle.
“Are you laughing at me, woman?” he asked, his brows shooting upward.
“Yup,” she admitted easily. And suddenly Taylor realized she was having fun. For the first time in what seemed like forever, she was enjoying herself while out in public.
“Before I lose my mind about all this food shit and how complicated it is, tell me more about yourself,” Eagle ordered. “What do you do?”
Taylor knew she could blow him off and he’d let her change the subject, but she didn’t want to. She liked Eagle. He was blunt, but he’d also made her laugh. That went a long way with her.
“I’m a proofreader.”
He glanced over at her. “A what?”
“A proofreader. I take things people have written and read them to make sure there aren’t any errors. Commas, spelling, grammar, that kind of thing.”
“Yes. And speeches. And manuals for products, and even textbooks. You name it, I proof it.”
“I didn’t know that was a thing,” he admitted.
“Most people don’t. But you’d be surprised at the number of errors I find. Even if something’s been edited over and over, there are still errors that slip through. I don’t promise to find everything, as I’m human, but things like homophones, for instance, are some of the hardest things for people to catch.”
When he stared at her blankly, Taylor explained, “Homophones are words that sound the same, but have different meanings. They’re spelled differently depending on what they mean. Like, right and write . . . the first is a direction, and the second is a verb to put something down on paper. Or they can be spelled the same way, but mean something different. Like pen. It could be a writing utensil or a holding area for animals.”
“I hadn’t thought about it . . . except when I’m reading a book and the author’s used their, t-h-e-i-r, when they meant they’re, t-h-e-y-apostrophe-r-e.”
“Or there, t-h-e-r-e,” Taylor added.
It took Eagle a second, then he smiled. “Exactly.”
“Right, so I’m a proofreader.”
“I’m gonna be crass here, but it’s just because I’m curious . . . does it pay well?”
Taylor didn’t take offense. “Not at first. I took whatever jobs I could get, but after a while, I got a reputation for being superpicky, which is good for a proofreader. I got more and more work, and could raise my rates accordingly. I was working independently for a long time, but then got hired on by a textbook company. But I’ll still proof just about anything. Websites, pamphlets, signs, books, speeches.”
“Wow, that sounds interesting,” Eagle told her.
Taylor chuckled. “It can be. But it’s also really boring sometimes too. I remember when I had to proofread a biochem textbook. I thought I would never get through that thing.”
“And it’s something you can do from home,” Eagle said with uncanny insight.
“Yeah. I’ve gotten really close to some of the people I work for, but I’ll never go to any book conferences or anything. No one would understand how I could be so friendly online and completely standoffish in person. They’d think I was ignoring them, and it could hurt my business.”
“I’m sure if they understood . . . ,” Eagle started.
Taylor shook her head. “They don’t. Think of your best friend,” she requested. “Now, imagine coming face to face with them, and you have no idea who he is, even though you’ve spent hours and hours together, drinking, shooting the shit . . . doing whatever guys do when they hang out. How would that make you feel?”
“It would be hard,” Eagle said without hesitation. “But if he was a true friend, someone who cared about me and loved me as I was, we’d have talked about my condition, and I’m guessing he’d just tell me who he was, and we’d continue on as normal.”
“That’s really easy to say, but it’s not so easy for people to do time after time after time after time.”
“Wrong,” Eagle told her, stepping closer. But Taylor wasn’t scared of him being in her personal space. She trusted him not to physically hurt her in a public place, like the middle of the cereal aisle in the grocery store. “It’s not hard at all. When someone has a disability or a condition they were born with, like you were, true friends learn to do whatever’s necessary to make each other comfortable. You adapt. For instance, from here on out, when we see each other after being apart, I’ll call you Flower so you’ll know who I am.”
“And who are you?”
“I’m a man who sees you, Taylor. I see your distrust and your wariness, and I don’t like it, even though I understand it. You know why I’m called Eagle?”
“Because I’m eagle eyed. I see everything. I know everyone. And I see you, Taylor. And I like who I see.”
“You don’t even know me,” she protested.
“I know you’re tough as hell. You’d have to be. You’re funny and compassionate, but you keep the real you buttoned down in public. I’d like to get to know the Taylor you are when you’re by yourself. When you don’t have to worry about who you know and who you don’t.”
“I’m nothing special,” she told him.
“I don’t believe that.”
“My mom gave me up when I was two,” she blurted. “I guess I cried all the time. She couldn’t deal with the fact that I couldn’t recognize her. I’m sure it made it easier for her to separate herself from me emotionally.”
“That’s on her, not on you,” Eagle told her. “And I hate that it’s made you look at yourself differently. You say you’re nothing special, but I firmly believe those people who’ve had the roughest times growing up end up being the most extraordinary adults. So . . . Flower,” he repeated. “When you see me, that’s what I’ll call you so you’ll know it’s me.” He grinned. “And not the flour you helped me buy,” he clarified, adorably pointing out the homophone. “The way I see it, you’re like a flower . . . an evening primrose. It’s a flower that blossoms only at night, in the dark. You hide yourself away because of the way people treat you . . . but you still blossom. And I can’t exactly go around calling you all-purpose flour.” He winked. “So flower—meaning the beautiful plant—will have to be our code word instead.”
Taylor swallowed hard and forced herself to take a step backward. He was overwhelming her. He was saying all the right things, but she’d heard them before. People telling her that her disability didn’t matter. But eventually, it did matter. Girlfriends when she was in grade school, boys she’d dated, even a few clients who she’d opened up to . . . they’d all let her down.
“If we’re going to get through this list of yours anytime soon, we’d better get on it,” she said shakily, ignoring the whole flower thing.
For a second she didn’t think Eagle was going to let it go. But he finally nodded. “Okay, Taylor. I can take a hint. You’ll learn that I never say anything I don’t mean.” Then he grabbed ahold of his cart and continued down the aisle, throwing some oatmeal and Cheerios into his basket.
Taking a deep breath, she followed him.
The man in front of her was lethal. Smart. Funny. Considerate. She had a feeling she was in big trouble.
* * *
Brett Williams let himself into the home he shared with his mother and went straight to the basement. Anticipation flowed through his veins. It had been a while since he’d found a woman who’d interested him as much as the one today at the store.
He’d overheard her attempting to explain her disability to the officers.
He’d never heard of it, but the second he’d gotten into his car and looked it up on his phone, he’d known she was the one.
She didn’t have the ability to recognize faces.
Which meant if she saw him tomorrow, she wouldn’t know who he was.
Wouldn’t know that he’d been a witness to the two idiots fighting in the parking lot.
He would always be a complete stranger to her.
But he knew who she was.
Eagerness rolled in his gut. He could have so much fun with her. He could mess with her mind for weeks . . . and she’d have no idea she was in his sights.
It had been almost seven months since he’d felt the high that came from having a woman completely at his mercy. He’d had the last one for five days, and at first she’d been fun to psychologically torture. She’d been scared out of her mind. It had made him feel incredibly powerful to watch her beg for her life, to see her cry as he’d choked her into unconsciousness time and time again.
After dumping her body, he’d had to lie low. Give the cops time to run in circles trying to figure out who’d killed her. But now that their investigation had grown cold, it was time.
He’d found his next plaything.
He could take his sweet time, play cat and mouse. All the while, she’d have no idea she was interacting with a serial killer again and again.
Smiling with anticipation, Brett looked at the pictures on the wall of his basement sanctuary. Old-school Polaroids of the women he’d killed. There were eleven.
He couldn’t imagine not remembering them. He could recall every single second with each. How they’d begged. How they’d promised him anything he wanted if he’d just let them go. Every little sound and expression. Their faces were burned into his memory. He thought about them when he jerked off and when he simply needed a good memory to get him through his monotonous days.
And Taylor would be lucky number twelve.
Soon, he’d have her picture to add to his remembrance wall. Taylor might never remember his face . . . but he’d always remember hers.
“This’ll be fun,” he whispered to the sightless eyes staring back at him from the pictures on the wall. “Now to decide where and how to start my game with little Taylor.”
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