“Claire Abigail Madsen,” comes the stern voice from my phone over the car speakers as I navigate through the hectic Las Vegas morning traffic flow.
I grimace. Oof. The full name. That’s not a great sign.
“Hi, Mom,” I say, trying to sound chipper. “How’s it going?”
“Where are you?” she asks. “Your father and I already ordered mimosas.”
“I’m in the car, can’t you hear it?”
“Oh, is that what that awful rushing sound is?” she asks, and I can just hear the frown on her face.
“Yeah. I’m on the freeway. I’ll be there before you know it.”
“I just don’t understand how you manage to be late every single time. Are you late for work? No. Are you late to see your friends? No. But a lovely brunch with your beloved parents? Late. Every time. Without fail. I’m trying very hard not to get my feelings hurt, but—”
“Mom, I’m sorry. I overslept,” I cut her off, rolling my eyes.
“Didn’t you set an alarm?” she scoffs.
“Yes. Of course. But I slept through it at first,” I say, relieved that at least I’m not lying to her this time.
It’s not an excuse. It’s a real reason. Of course, that’s never really enough for my mother.
I can hear my father’s booming laughter in the background. As usual, he couldn’t care less that I was going to be tardy.
Mom, however, is a little bit more on the neurotic side. “How is that even possible? Are you not going to bed at a reasonable hour, Claire?”
“Well, no. Not really,” I reply. “I worked late again last night.”
“Oh, honey. That’s so bad for your health.”
I grin, stifling a laugh. “I have to pay the bills somehow, Mom.”
“But couldn’t you, I don’t know, just tell your boss you won’t work at night or something? I worry all the time that one of these days you’re going to get mugged while you’re walking to your car late at night,” she complains.
“It doesn’t work that way. I can’t just tell my boss what to do,” I explain, getting frustrated as I change lanes carefully. “He makes the schedule. It’s his world, I’m just working in it. Besides, I—”
Suddenly, a shiny black Porsche convertible jerks into my lane in front of me on the freeway, and I have to slam on my brakes to narrowly avoid scraping his back bumper. The tires of my little old Volkswagen squeal. I yelp in fear, gritting my teeth and slamming on the horn.
The convertible speeds off as I lean out the window and shout, “Watch it, buddy!”
“What was that? What happened? Oh my God. Claire, are you okay?” Mom asks, her voice urgent.
“Yeah, yeah. I’m fine. It was just some asshole, cutting me off on the freeway.” My blood still runs a bit cold, but my heart rate is slowing down to normal.
“Be careful, honey! You never know what kind of jerk might be driving that car. Road rage is the number one cause of fatalities on the road, you know.”
“Thanks, Mom. That’s very comforting to hear,” I answer, grateful she can’t see me rolling my eyes again. “I’m going to let you go now, okay? I’ll be there soon. I need to focus on the road.”
“Okay. See you soon.”
“Bye.” I hang up.
The convertible has sped away and disappeared into traffic, and I ride along nervously gripping the wheel, eyes wide. Nothing like a near-miss to wake you up in the morning.
I begin to get lost in my thoughts again until I happen to look up at my rearview mirror. I realize with a jolt that the convertible has ended up behind me somehow, and is now tailgating me closely.
The guy driving looks startlingly gorgeous with his dark hair and designer aviator shades. A strong, clean-shaven jaw. A straight nose. It’s not fair that so many beautiful features should belong to the same person.
If I weren’t too annoyed at his erratic driving, I would’ve ranked him at the top of the attractiveness scale. But he looks like the kind of cocky guy who knows exactly how hot he is anyway.
I watch him nervously as I pull off onto my exit . . . and to my horror, he follows.
In fact, he continues to follow me, no matter which way I go.
There is no way this is just a coincidence.
What’s this guy’s deal? Is he stalking me?
Maybe my mom was right to be worried. I press down on the gas pedal, trying to shake him off. He falls behind a little in traffic, and I hurriedly whip into the parking lot of the brunch restaurant.
I turn off the engine and bolt from the car to the entrance, holding my little pocket knife in my hand in my purse as a weapon, just in case.
I’m still clearly wild-eyed and shaken when I look around the restaurant like a crazy person and finally find my parents’ table. Both of them, as well as the middle-aged couple they’re sitting with, all stop talking and give me a double take as I hurry over to them and sit down.
“Claire? What’s wrong?” Dad asks, setting down his mimosa with a frown.
I breathlessly blurt out, “Th-there’s a guy who was following me on the freeway. I thought he was gone but then I noticed he was following me and I think I lost him but maybe not and now I’m scared he’s going to follow me home and murder me or something.”
“Calm down. It’s okay. I’m sure it was just a coincidence,” he says, putting a soothing hand on my back.
But as I look through the window of the restaurant, my heart sinks. That very same convertible is pulling into the parking lot. Feeling sick to my stomach, I raise a shaking hand to point at the car and mutter, “Oh my God, that’s him! He’s here!”