“Yes?” Dahlia dropped her water bottle when she heard the receptionist call her name. She rose on shaky legs from her seat in the waiting area of Iron Guard Security and scrambled to catch the bottle as it rolled halfway across the room. Her nerves were jumpy ever since she came across the murder scene two days ago. She clutched the water bottle upon standing and turned to face the open door where a combat boots-wearing receptionist waited with a laptop in his big hands. “I’m here.”
“Come this way.” The receptionist started walking down another hallway. The rubber soles of his black combat boots made squish-squish sounds on the industrial carpet. “Our CEO took a look at your file. He wants to see you.”
Uh-oh. Dahlia knew her case was serious, but if the head of a billion dollar security firm wanted to speak to her personally, even he must have thought things had to be pretty bad.
The police couldn’t protect her. They were still on the lookout for the murderer who was running free somewhere in Atlanta. They couldn’t do anything to keep her safe until the murderer was caught, which meant she had no other place to turn except a private security firm.
What if the firm couldn’t help her, either?
She jogged to catch up to the receptionist. He led her down the hall to the very end, where a closed door to an office resided. He stood in front of the silver plaque on the door. His back blocked her view of the engraved name.
The receptionist made a meaty fist and knocked. “Boss, your client’s here.”
“Send her in,” replied a strong male voice. The tone sounded vaguely familiar.
Dahlia held her breath as the receptionist opened the door. He gestured for her to go in first. She exhaled and took a step forward.
When she heard her name, she recognized the other voice. Were her ears playing tricks? She lifted her head to see a broad-shouldered man in a dress shirt and tie seated at the desk. He had short brown hair that framed a chiseled face. Her heart skipped a beat as she stared into hazel eyes. Cyrus Walker. She couldn’t believe it. “Cy? Is that you?”
The man hooded his eyes and folded his arms across his chest. Even in the neatly-pressed dress shirt, she saw the outline of his muscles. “It’s been a while, Dahlia. Looks like you need my help big time.”
The receptionist came forward to hand her file to him. He took it and the receptionist departed, leaving her alone in the room with her old high school boyfriend. Was that even the right word to describe the guy she went out on a couple dates with during senior year and started to move way too fast? Now she stared at a grown man. Ten years flew by.
“Have a seat.” He indicated to the chair in front of his desk.
Dahlia settled into the straight back chair across from him. She watched him leaf through the papers in her file. “I didn’t expect to see you.”
“Same here.” He closed the file. “I’d ask how you’re doing, but I know it’s not good. You witnessed a murder.”
She swallowed a rising lump in her throat. “It was one of my clients, the actress Mary Marsters.”
Cy gave her a vague, hard stare. His jaw tightened. “Be specific. I need you to tell me exactly what you saw.”
“Two days ago, I came to her house at six in the morning to do her hair and makeup. She was supposed to appear on a local talk show.” Dahlia clasped her clammy hands in her lap. The scene was on constant replay in her mind ever since it happened. “The front door was open. She usually leaves it unlocked for me. I walked through the foyer and went into the living room where she has her makeup table. Then I heard a scream coming from the kitchen. I ran there.” She paused, taking another breath as she felt her heart rate spike again. “When I got there, I saw Mary fighting with a man.”
“Tell me about the man.”
She described his appearance just as she had done for the police. “He was about six feet tall and dressed in all black. His face was covered with one of those ski masks.”
“What happened next?”
“He shoved Mary. She fell to the floor. Then he saw me and ran. There’s a door in the kitchen that leads out to the back of the house.”
“And the victim?”
She shuddered to hear Cy refer to her friend and client as a victim. “She didn’t look like she was breathing. I called 9-1-1 on my cell. The paramedics came, but they couldn’t do anything. They pronounced her dead.”
Cy lowered his eyes to the file. “The police report says they’re still waiting on autopsy results.”
She fought the growing nausea in her stomach. She unscrewed the lid on her water bottle and took a swig. Her hand shook, but she managed to get the lid back on without spilling anything. “Mary’s home security camera got it all except for the guy’s face. This morning, I woke up to this.” Dahlia reached into her jeans pocket for a small, typed note. She smoothed the crumpled surface before handing it to Cy. “Someone attached it to a brick with a rubber band and threw it in my kitchen window.”
He opened the note and read it. Then, with care, he folded it exactly the way she’d presented it to him. He stood all of a sudden. Dahlia, startled by his quick movement, leaned back and almost turned her chair over. “You need to listen to me carefully, Dahlia. I’m giving you the firm’s highest level of security by placing you in the witness safety program. You’ll have a bodyguard to watch you during the day and a patrol to circle your house at night and weekends.”
She motioned her head in the affirmative. Witness safety program. The name said it all. As if she wasn’t already aware of how much trouble she was in. “Alright.”
“I’m not finished. Have you contacted your family to tell them about the threat?”
“My mother moved out of state. I called her yesterday to cancel my visit next week.” She took in a ragged breath. “I made it sound like I was too busy with the makeup launch. I don’t want her to know or be involved in any of this.”
He nodded. “That’s a good idea until the police find the person they’re looking for. Give me a copy of your daily schedule. From now on, any activity has to be given my approval.”
He kept talking. “You’ll need to temporarily turn over your cell phone, too. We have a secure mobile app that will be able to track you and let us send you alerts.”
Dahlia shook her head. “Track me? I can’t do that. You’re making it sound like I’m the one who’s the criminal.”
Cy folded his arms. “You came here because you needed my help. Do you want it or not?”
She bristled at his words, but he was right. She didn’t have any other options unless she wanted to take her chances on her own. After reading that horrible note with its graphic death threat, she couldn’t do it. She took out her cell phone, stood, and placed it in his large, outstretched hand. “Who’s my bodyguard?”
His fingers grazed her palm when he closed them around her phone. “I will be, since we’re dealing with a murderer and a death threat.”
“I guess it also helps that you know me personally.” A quick image flashed in her mind, of hands intertwined. Then she experienced memories in the form of brief sensory blips. Laughter. The smell of freshly cut grass. A nervous brush of warm lips in a hurried first kiss.
Cy gave her a stare again. Beneath the hard surface, something sparked in his eyes. “I’m your bodyguard and you have to do as I say so I can protect you.” He went around the desk and paused beside her. He smelled like leather and soap. “The past is history, so don’t get distracted, Dahlia. If you do, it could cost you your life.”
CY WAS SHOCKED DAHLIA showed up in his office. In the years since he left Atlanta, he thought he would never see her again, but there she was, sitting in his office, waiting for him to come back with her phone. He pushed open the door to the firm’s IT and Surveillance Department. He had three workers on staff this morning, all busy staring at their computers. He put Dahlia’s phone down in front of Pace, the department head. “Pace, got a minute? I need the app installed on this phone for a level three client.”
“You got it. Shouldn’t take me long.”
Cy didn’t bother to have a seat and wait. Instead, he remained standing and walked around the room. Ten years. The last time he saw Dahlia was when he was eighteen years old, about to head to basic training in Fort Benning, Georgia. They had been on a couple of dates towards the end of senior year in high school. He still remembered the green sundress she wore to the movies. Her hair was in a bun with a few curls loose. He recalled her perfume. She smelled like warm sunshine and fresh flowers.
Today she wore green, too. Though it was a simple long sleeve shirt instead of a sundress, it skimmed her full curves. Dahlia was all grown up. He caught a brief trace of the creamy scent of lilies when she first took a seat in his office.
“All set,” Pace announced.
Cy returned his focus to where he was standing and saw that he made his way around the room again to Pace’s desk. He took Dahlia’s phone and nodded his thanks.
On his way out of the department, he gave himself a firm pep talk. His breakup with Dahlia was a long time ago. This was a new day and she needed his help.
Man up. He began the trek to his office where the woman who once broke his teenage heart awaited.