Moonlight slithers into the darkened room through the skylight, making the steel blade of the knife pressed against my throat gleam.
His vise-like grip around my chest squeezes my lungs together to the point where I can barely suck in a breath.
I never saw it coming.
“Look at yourself, Tatum,” he hisses against my ear. “You think the entire world outside of your little bubble exists solely to kiss your ass. You don’t give a fuck about anyone but yourself and your career.”
My teeth chatter as the blade digs into my flesh, but I don’t dare make a sound. Luke Lansing, if that’s even his real name, has proven to be as unstable as the damn wind, and I’d prefer to leave this whole decapitation scene on the silver screen instead of in my living room.
Mascara runs down my face in thick, black streaks, my face almost white in stark contrast. Luke’s beady, black eyes narrow to slits. “You never bothered to give me the time of day. I tried to get your attention so many times, but you treated me like gum on the bottom of your fucking designer shoes.”
I can see the grimace on his face in our reflection. His lips are moving, spewing hate, but the sounds fade to white noise. The only things I can hear clearly are my own desperate pleas for someone, anyone, to barge into my large Calabasas home and rescue me from certain death.
Because Luke Lansing is not about to walk away without finishing the job. Not this time. I thought I’d been smart the first time around when I got that restraining order, but it was a bullshit attempt for some degree of sanity.
He was never too far away, and he made sure to let me know. The only problem is, I could never prove it.
A sinister smile curls his lips upward, and a shiver shimmies down my spine as he drops his hand from my throat and spins me around to face him. “Are you scared yet, Tatum? Because you should be. And I’m going to take my time with you because I know we’re alone, and you’ve got no shot in hell of getting away. Let me give you a little play by play in advance. First, I’m going to fuck you senseless, something I’ve dreamed of doing for so long, and then I plan to slit that beautiful throat of yours and watch that bright and shiny life fade away into nothingness because that’s what you’ve reduced me to…nothing. But before that happens, you’re going to feel my hard cock in that golden pussy of yours, in your ass, and in your mouth. I’m going to fill you with everything I have before everything you have is yanked away.”
I swallow hard, my eyes darting left and right, searching for anything I can use as a weapon. This crazy motherfucker is going to rape and kill me unless I can escape.
“There’s nowhere to go.” Luke grasps my wrist and points to the couch with the knife. “Get on the couch. Now.”
I back up toward the plush leather sofa in the middle of the room, careful not to turn my back. I need to keep my eyes on that knife, in case there’s even a sliver of a chance I can kick it out of his hand and get the fuck away from him. My foot catches on the corner of an area rug and I stumble into the arm of the couch, slamming my shin into the wooden frame and twisting my ankle. I choke back a yelp, afraid to show any sign of weakness.
His hard body collapses on top of me, yanking my arms over my head, his hot tongue dragging over my skin. Bile rises in my throat and I press my lips together, praying to wake up from this nightmare.
He cuts away my shirt and bra with the blade and attacks my breasts with his greedy, disgusting mouth. Tears pool in my eyes, my breaths sharp and fast. His thick fingers unbutton my jeans, pulling them down, giving him access to plunge into my body, and it burns like a motherfucker. His touch is rough, hateful, and full of rage, just like him.
I never saw it coming.
My sister Jules would say it’s because I trust too easily and always see the good in everyone, even when there is none.
In this case, she’d be right. There is nothing remotely redeeming about this psychopath on top of me. And now, with the blade resting against my chest, I have a decision to make. Fight like a hellcat to get away from this crazy motherfucker or wait for him to slice me into Carpaccio.
Tears roll down my cheeks and my fingers are losing feeling from being stretched above my head, but I know if he wants to fuck me, he’s going to have to use one hand to get his pants off. And it’d be pretty damned impossible to do if he’s clutching a butcher knife. He realizes the same thing seconds later, and releases my hands. My throat constricts. I know my window is about to slam shut, so I flex my fingers and they feel heavy…like they’re moving in slow motion.
Luke pulls his jeans apart and forces them down to his ankles. I can’t look, I don’t want to see anything. My body rockets upward and I put both of my hands out and push with every ounce of strength I can muster. Luke loses his balance and falls backward with a loud grunt, but that knife is still clutched in his hand. He slices at the air, and I can hear the whir of the knife, close but thankfully not too close. I swing my legs around the side of the couch and prepare to run my ass off.
But I’m a millisecond too late.
He swings the knife at me again, this time catching my upper abdomen. I cry out as the steel blade lances me, digging into my flesh. Sobs wrack my body and I fall to my knees, crawling away while pressing a hand to my wound. It hurts like a bitch, and I know I won’t get far slinking around on the ground.
“You stupid cunt. You can’t get away from me.” Luke’s voice is right above me. He yanks my long hair and forces me onto my back before he presses his naked body on top of me.
“Please help me!” I shriek as he brings the blade to my throat. I feel a trickle of blood drizzle down my neck. “He’s going to ki—“
The laptop next to me blares with a Face Time call, and I lurch upward from the mountain of pillows behind me, momentarily forgetting where I am, my breaths coming fast and furious. I rake a hand through my hair, my eyes darting in every direction. Empty. The brightly lit villa is completely empty, save for the mountain of luggage in the corner.
I rub the sleep from my eyes and hit the Accept button before Jules panics and gets ready to hop a flight down here.
“Hey,” I struggle to make my voice sound as normal as possible, even though my heart is racing like a thoroughbred after that jaunt down memory lane.
“What’s up, bedhead? Life is tough, huh?”
I manage a smile. “The sea air makes me sleepy, what can I say?”
“Is everything all set for tomorrow? I tried to contact Louise, but I haven’t heard back from her yet.”
“Of course. Louise will take care of everything.”
“Well, why don’t you put her on real quick, so we can just go over the details?”
“She’s, um, grabbing lunch.”
“At four o’clock?” Jules makes a face. “It’s almost dinner time there, right?”
“Yeah.” Dammit, why does she have to be right all of the time? I bite my lip. “I’ll have her give you a call with the rundown later, okay?”
“Sure.” Jules furrows her brow. “Are you alright, Tatum? You seem…I don’t know, spooked.” Her eyes widen. “Did something happen that you’re not telling me?”
I chew the inside of my mouth. Something did happen, not that I can tell my sister. She’d have a complete shit fit if she knew. “Of course not. This resort is probably the most remote one I’ve ever been to in my life. You picked well.”
“I knew you’d love Lanai. I wanted you to be able to relax without photographers jumping out of trees to get a picture of you in some skimpy, inappropriate bikini.” She sighs. “It’s better that you stay out of the media for a while, anyway. You need to lay low until everything blows over.”
I run a hand through my tousled hair and pad into the large, airy bathroom, laptop in hand. I set it down on the granite countertop and fish around in my makeup bag in an attempt to make myself look somewhat presentable. “Jules, I promise to be careful. Nobody on this island has a clue who I am. Trust me.”
“I do, sweetie. It’s everyone else that makes me suspicious, and with that crazy bastard on the loose—“
“Okay, first, you know I’m not alone.” Yeesh. Lie number two in less than thirty seconds. “Second, yes, Luke turned out to be a complete loon, but they’re going to find him.”
“You sound pretty confident about that.”
“I have no choice, Jules. I can’t let him keep me from living my life.”
“You can’t afford to be so flip about your safety. I’m worried about you, and I know you’re scared, too.”
A chill zips through me and images I’d worked so hard to erase from my memory reappear, wallpapering my mind. What had started out as an innocent meet and greet, morphed into something very dangerous. I didn’t see it coming, but then again, Jules always says I live life like it’s one extended happy hour. And this time, the bouncer wasn’t around to stop the belligerent and emotionally tortured drunk who crashed my party saddled with obsession, rage, and jealousy.
I squeeze my eyes shut. I am scared. Fucking petrified is more like it. My fingers fly to the side of my abdomen, the events of that fateful night bubbling into my conscious. But life goes on. I mean, thankfully for me it does. Things would be very different if my assistant Louise and her boyfriend Todd hadn’t chosen that exact time to pop into my house unexpectedly.
I can almost hear Jules’s screeching cries over the phone lines when Louise made the call.
I should have been smarter, recognized the signs. But I didn’t. I believed his intentions were good, that he was actually looking out for my best interests, that he was my friend…until he pulled a knife on me.
Pressing my fingers to my temple, I let out a shaky sigh. “I’m okay, Jules.” Lie number three. I’m not okay. I’m just desperate for normalcy, something I agreed to give up when I plunged into the Hollywood scene a few years ago.
“Look, I don’t want you to live in fear for the rest of your life. I just want you to be more aware of your surroundings. Don’t always think the best of people. There’s a lot of evil out there, and you’ve got a big ass bull’s eye on your back.”
“You’re so jaded.” I peer into the large mirror in the massive white marble bathroom and smudge the black eyeliner under my eyes so they look smoky. The makeup gives my eyes a sultry look, so different than my normal all-American squeaky-clean and fresh-faced appearance. My natural blonde hair is dyed a deep reddish auburn, and it’s chemically straightened to eliminate any traces of my signature curls. Colored contacts turn my crystal blue eyes a deep shade of hazel, and dark framed glasses finish my new look. “I’m completely unrecognizable.”
“Only until you’re spotted on the cover of a magazine in that new getup. It’s only a matter of time.” Jules sighs. “Just be careful. Don’t talk to strangers. Don’t drink anything alcoholic. Don’t go for walks on the beach alone at night. Don’t—”
I grab a deep plum lip liner from my makeup bag. “Jules, if there’s more of a list, just fax it to Louise. I promise to read, review, and initial it for you.”
“Tatum—“ I hear it, the impatient sigh. My sister, who also happens to be my attorney, does not appreciate my cavalier attitude about life. At all. I know I need to be more careful, more suspicious of people, but I can’t change who I am. I won’t turn into one of those basket cases who refuses to leave the house because some loony-toon might jump out of a bush and attack.
I plaster on a smile and make a kissy face at the screen. “Don’t worry. I’ll be safe. I promise.”
Jules rolls her eyes. “Blah, blah, blah. Now, who’s going to dinner with you?”
“Jeremy,” I say, crossing my fingers behind my back. I know Jules will be relieved to hear it, since Jer is my largest and most menacing bodyguard.
She grins and claps her hands together. “That’s great! Okay, I feel much better now.”
“Jules, it’s one more night. You know we leave tomorrow for the shoot. I’ve been absolutely fine here. You can’t get more remote. Please stop worrying. It’ll give you premature wrinkles.”
“Having you as my sister pretty much guarantees I’ll look like I’m eighty when I’m forty. So, thanks for that.”
I line and fill in my lips then pucker before sweeping a peachy shade across them.
“Beautiful. I love that lip color on you.”
I smack my lips together. “Thanks, sis. Now, don’t you have a date or something?”
She rifles through a pile of papers on her cluttered desk. “Nah. I have a huge caseload right now. I need to work through some depositions tonight.”
I frown. “You work too hard. You need to enjoy life a little more.”
“I’ll take it under consideration. Give Jer a kiss for me.” She waves. “Night!”
“Night!” I blow her a kiss and hit the end call button on my laptop.
I feel a little bad about lying to her, but this week has been so fantastic. Anonymity is such a blessing. I’d always worked so hard to make sure everyone knew my name, it’s a nice change to fly under the radar. I’d forgotten how liberating it felt.
I just want one night of freedom, one night to escape my Academy-award nominated famous self. One night. And now that my undercover entourage has moved on to get everything set up for the film shoot, I’m probably one of five guests left here anyway. Jules really doesn’t need to worry.
A tiny shiver runs through me. I’m finally alone.
Unfortunately, that means I have no choice but to listen to the voices in my head, and right now they’re chanting.
Be careful what you wish for…
I roll my eyes. Traitors.