Stalking Colton’s Family
Part of the Coltons Series
To protect her baby…
She must share her secret
A stalker’s lie came between single mother Rachel Colton and the father of her child. Now the man she never forgot has moved to their small Colorado town, and Rachel must tell James Kiriakis about the six-month-old daughter he never knew existed. But in pursuit of James, a deadly criminal has trailed him to Blue Larkspur and won’t let the fragile family have a moment’s peace–planning on only the most lethal of reunions.
Heat Level: Boat Rocker
Stalking Colton’s Family
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Stalking Colton’s Family
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The familiar voice reached her but still in the midst of trying to corraal her emotions, she didn’t trust her ears. What would her mother be doing here?
“Rachel!” At the second yell she turned from James and faced Isa, holding Iris.
“Mom! What are you doing here?” She ran to her mother’s side, leaving James. “Baby girl!” Iris had her arms up, her face an expression of pure happiness at seeing her mother again. “Come here.” She enfolded Iris in her arms.
“We hadn’t gone home yet.”
“Let me guess, the toy store?” She smiled at her baby.
“Toy aisle at the supermarket. I needed a few items. But then…I got a phone call, I mean, I found out that the explosion happened, and I had to get here, to make sure you’re okay. I wouldn’t have gotten out of the car if it didn’t look safe.” Isa pointed at her vehicle, only a few yards away.
“You sure have your ear to the ground, Mom.”
“I had to see for myself that you’re okay. Is that your date?”
“Um, yes.” James must have heard them as he walked up and stood alongside Rachel. “Mom, this is James Kiriakis. James, my mom, Isa Colton.”
They exchanged the briefest greetings, and she noted that both her mother and James had the same strained smile. Did she look just as frazzled?
“Is this a granddaughter?” James’s gaze flitted over Isa, bundled up in a pink snowsuit, the hood snapped to only reveal her cherubic face.
“Yes, this is my mom’s first grandchild.” Rachel shot her mother a stern look. Isa was no dummy and she remained quiet. Rachel prayed James’s curiosity was cursory. Her prayer was quickly answered as sirens permeated the air.
“Nice.” James’s reply was distracted as he searched the street for the response team.
“Mom, why don’t you and Iris get back in the car and stay warm until I’m ready to leave?”
Not one to miss a hint, Isa smiled. “Sure thing.” She took Iris back and retreated to the car. Rachel let out a breath and stood next to James, wondering how on earth she’d just survived not only an explosion but an explosive situation.
James had family he didn’t know about yet.
As they waited for the police, Rachel realized James was blaming himself for everything.
James wouldn’t meet her gaze; the combination of despair, resolution and determination etched on his face aged him well beyond thirty-six. She remembered he was two years older than her along with many other details she shouldn’t have hung on to. Facts she didn’t need to know about a man she thought she’d never see again. Definitely not if she was going to remain detached, perhaps just co-parenting with.
Nothing more, certainly nothing romantic. Because being with him again for such brief, albeit intense, interactions was enough to inform her that she wasn’t ready for a relationship with any man, especially James.
But James’s palpable frustration blew away her resolve as effectively as the explosion had ruined their quiet dinner conversation. And she had lots to offer him as far as dealing with stalkers went. Memories of always looking over her shoulder for the boyfriend-turned-stalker through her entire senior year of college tried to resurface, but she’d experienced enough life since then to know it was behind her. James was still going through his hell, though.
In for a penny…
“James, listen to me. You are not going to go through this alone. You’re living in Blue Larkspur now, part of our community. It’s a small city, yes, but we pride ourselves on being a city with a small town feel and an urban flair. We look out for each other around here. I know what you’re going through better than you realize. I had a stalker in college, and it took months to convince him that he was wasting his time. I was fortunate in that he never got violent, but it honestly didn’t make the ordeal less scary. He finally stopped after I moved back here, and he moved east. Plus, he got the help he needed.”
He swung his gaze from the arriving cruisers to her. She recognized the pain in his eyes, the wariness.
“That sucks, Rachel. I’m sorry you’ve been through this, too.”
“I know more now and have a different perspective, thanks to working in the DA’s office. Crimes like stalking require tireless reporting and persistence in not only getting the culprit to back off but getting them the help they need so that no one else becomes a victim. If I hadn’t had my family around me, my friends, the support of the university, I don’t know what I would have done.”
He gave a curt nod. “Yeah, it’s a multifaceted issue.” His tone was pure attorney, but his stance was 100 percent defeated victim.
She reached out and gave his shoulder a quick squeeze. “You’ll get through this, James. And no way are we going to allow Bethany, if it was indeed her, to interfere with our friendship.”
His face turned, and when their gazes met, a sudden shock of bonding, laced with awareness, coursed through her. They stood for what seemed hours but couldn’t have been more than a few heartbeats, lost in each other.
Red flag, girlfriend. The chemistry here is bigger than you.
Sirens screeched as the cruisers neared, and she forced her gaze away. What was wrong with her, getting all hot in a parking lot after she’d just been through a potentially life-threatening event?
Two words. James Kiriakis.
Blue Larkspur FD’s main engine pulled into the lot and she used all of her energy to refocus. To look at anything besides James. “They’re not messing around with the response.”
James put his hands on his hips and shook his head. “Nor should they. Whether it was a firecracker or bomb, both have the potential to become a whole lot more than a one-building event. Someone could have been hurt in the rush out of the restaurant. Thank goodness it’s been a rainy spring so far. It takes less than a firecracker to start a forest fire when it’s drier.”
“Did Bethany get charged for the illegal use of fireworks in Denver?” Short of looking up the case file for herself, she had to rely on James’s account.
“Yes, but her attorney got her off with a fine. But that doesn’t seem to affect her behavior. She broke the restraining order several times, always let off with community service and a fine. It’s my fault—I should have insisted that she have the full charges pressed against her. But I felt sorry for her and always petitioned the court for leniency. My mistake. If this really was her, she’s broken the state fireworks law. Again.”
“Maybe they’ll catch her, and the charges will hold this time. If she has any extra explosive ingredients in her possession, she’s in violation of terrorist laws, too.” Colorado did not take its fireworks laws lightly.
He sighed. “I’m not holding my breath. Bethany’s as intelligent as she is determined. It’s how she’s wriggled out of all previous violations related to stalking me. That, and a good lawyer.”
“You mean a slimy lawyer.” She hated disparaging her own vocation, but there were good and bad players in all professions. A good defense counsel for Bethany would, at minimum, suggest the woman get medical help for her ailment, if she had one.
“Yup.” Her fingers itched to sooth the furrows on his tanned brow. She drew in a breath, held it and resisted the over-the-top gesture.
“Fill me in, James. You saw her right before you ran out of the room, didn’t you?” She knew the answer but needed to know what he was thinking.
His attention on her had splintered when they were at their table. He’d been distracted, not hearing her as she’d tried to engage in small talk. She’d thought maybe it was because she’d been late, made him think she was going to stand him up. Now she saw it’d been his internal struggle after seeing Bethany. Or at the least, a woman who looked an awful like her.
“Yes.” He rubbed his nape.
“And you second-guessed yourself.”
“Yes. I can’t be certain, but I thought I saw a woman who looked just like Bethany walk through the dining area to the bar. She had the same build and facial profile but very different hair, so I wasn’t sure. I knew I wouldn’t enjoy our time together until I proved I was wrong. I went and looked, but before I got there, she was gone.” James spoke with regret. “If only I’d reacted sooner—”
“If it was her, from what you’ve told me, she’s very resourceful. It sounds like she wanted you to know she was there, to know she set the minibomb off. If it wasn’t her, you had no way of knowing something so nefarious was going to happen.”
James’s gaze met hers and she thought she recognized appreciation in its green depths. Rachel understood. When her father’s misdeeds had been fully revealed, she and her siblings had sought reassurance from their friends that no one blamed them, only Judge Ben Colton. Not everyone had been supportive, which was why she wanted James to understand she was on his side.
Especially if this Bethany character was all that had kept them from reuniting, from James finding out that he was a father.
“Hey Rachel.” Chief of Police Theodore Lawson, an attractive older man with a full mane of silver hair, stood next to them. Theo was an imposing figure no matter where he went, but especially when in his element as police chief. “I’m going to need you to tell me what you witnessed.”
“Hi, Chief.” The chief was a permanent fixture in Blue Larkspur. Rachel couldn’t remember a time when he hadn’t been a friend of her family’s. Even in the dark days of first finding out about her father’s criminal activity and then Ben’s tragic death, Theodore had never exuded an air of judgment or blame. He’d shown nothing but the utmost compassion and support to all of her siblings. Most importantly, to their mother, Isa.
A flicker of a memory flashed across her mind, momentarily distracting her. When Isa told her about having second thoughts over remaining alone for the rest of her life. Another memory triggered, from when Rachel ran into her mother with Theo at the local coffee shop. They’d been chatting away, oblivious to her presence until she announced herself. She’d thought it was coincidence that the two were there at the same time, that they’d simply run into one another. But had it been more?
“I’m the one who called it in, Chief. James Kiriakis.” James offered Theo his hand, and Rachel shoved her musings on her mother’s romantic life to the side.
“Did you, now?” Theodore nodded and accepted James’s handshake. “Well, then, come along. This shouldn’t take much time.”
James nodded at the chief, then looked at Rachel. “I’m sorry about our first date… I’ll make this up to you.”
“Please.” She waved him off, as if it were customary for a date to end on such an explosive note. A date. He’d said it was a date.
“First date, eh? I wondered where Iris was.” Chief Lawson grunted but she saw amusement in his gaze. “You don’t have to end it now. Just give us fifteen minutes.”
Rachel nodded, alarm bells clanging in her mind. Was he going to ask who Iris was? But as she searched James’s expression, there was no indication he was paying the chief’s words much attention. He was focused on how to stop his stalker, she surmised. How to survive the present was more than enough for James. She got it. Hadn’t she been unable to take her siblings’ advice all those years ago when they’d told her to stop obsessing about her stalker? To let the cops handle it? It had been impossible for her and it was clearly the same for James. He wanted all of this behind him.
At least the current traumatic incident had kept James from paying too much attention to Iris.
Self-loathing reared and she had to work to not gag at how she was behaving. Grateful that James had something else to worry about that kept him from asking the question she dreaded most. Where was her integrity? She couldn’t second-guess her original decision forget about James, and to keep Isa from him, no matter how difficult it may have proven, with his having a fiancée.
And yet she knew the time was closer than ever for her to tell James about Iris’s paternity. No matter the consequences.