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"It was perfect," I reply.

And so are you.

But of course I don’t voice that last thought.

Instead, I escort Willow back to her apartment after the recording session, hyperaware of her proximity. She chatters on about the song while I scan the surroundings, ever vigilant.

As always, I make her wait in the car while I survey the surroundings before letting her out.

And it’s a good thing too because at her door, a package waits. I pick it up, noting the lack of return address with unease. Inside, I find a disturbing letter and black rose. My jaw tightens. Not again.

This is the third gift like this I've intercepted in recent weeks, each more unsettling than the last. I haven't told Willow about them. She's seemed more carefree with me around, and I don't want to shatter that.

But this has gone too far. Someone is targeting her, and I need to find out who.

After securing the apartment, I leave Willow with a promise to return early tomorrow. I have plenty of men stationed outside her door. Hell, most of the time I sit outside it myself, but I’ve got research to do. I’ve got to get to the bottom of this.

Back in my spartan home, I add the package to a growing collection of disturbing deliveries. I'll find whoever is behind this if it's the last thing I do.

No one threatens Willow on my watch.



The shadows seemto reach for me as I step into the dimly lit lounge. My eyes scan the room, searching for any sign of a threat, but all I see are the hazy silhouettes of patrons immersed in quiet conversations. This is the meeting place he requested, and my senses are on high alert.

He thinks I don't know who he is, but I do. I'm good at my job. His name is Vincent Barnes. That's about all I've dug up so far with a bit of DNA I gathered from one of his "gifts," but I'll found out more.

Poor Willow is currently unaware of what's going on. There was no way I was actually going to let her receive one of his sick envelopes depicting the vile things he wants to do to her. My hands ball into fists just remembering the last one he sent.

My eyes finally fall on an envelope sitting on a dimly lit table. I open it, and my blood turns to ice.

It's Willow. Candid shots of her going about her daily life, completely unaware she's being watched. The final photo is her bedroom window at night, curtain open, silhouette visible.

Granted, all of these were taken before I was brought in to guard her, but still. Just the thought that he's been watching her all this time. It makes my blood boil.

My heart pounds with impotent fury as I look around the empty lounge. I've dealt with monsters before, but none like Vincent Barnes.

He's toying with me now. Taunting me with these photos.

This is only the beginning. I can feel it. And I know one thing for certain—I'll do whatever it takes to stop him and keep Willow safe, no matter the cost. For her, I'd burn the whole world down.

* * *

I find Willow in her dressing room, preparing for the show. She's humming softly, lost in her own world, as she arranges her golden curls in the mirror. So innocent. So unaware of the danger that lurks, waiting to strike.

My gut twists. How can I tell her?

"Hey," I say softly from the doorway.

She turns, her face lighting up when she sees me. "Maverick! I didn't hear you come in."

I force a smile, moving to perch on the edge of her vanity table. My fingers brush hers lightly. "How's my girl doing? Ready to wow the crowd tonight?"

Her eyes cloud with uncertainty. She knows me too well. "What's wrong?"

I hesitate. Do I tell her everything and shatter the illusion of safety she so desperately clings to now that she has me as her bodyguard? Or do I shield her from the harsh realities closing in around us?

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