A boat had slipped silently up to the bank behind Willow’s house, docking in the wild willows that grew along the shoreline.
I crept across the grass, my gun ready, my senses alert, listening for the faintest sound, scanning for the slightest movement, feeling for the barest of breaths…
I reached the willow bushes, my skin prickling as I sensed their eyes on me. They had snuck in while Willow was sprawled across me in the swing, and I’d been distracted by her.
I ground my jaw, disgusted at myself.
Distractions got people killed.
I tensed as a group of men stepped out from behind the willows, their weapons pointed at me.
I immediately recognized the sheriff who’d harassed us on the lake earlier. His four goons were all beefy, rough-looking, and looked more like hired thugs than deputy sheriffs. Who the hell was this guy and why was he here?
My inability to resist Willow had now brought her right into danger. If anything happened to her, it would be all on me. I wouldn’t be able to live with myself if she ended up getting hurt.
“Sacha Plotnikov.” The sheriff smirked at me. “I don’t think we were properly introduced earlier. My name is Malachi Russell, Sheriff Russell to you. I knew your father. I must say I’m quite disappointed to see you following in his footsteps. I had hoped you’d see the light and chose a brighter path to follow.” He sighed dramatically. “But, alas, I was wrong. Like father, like son.”
My spine stiffened. “Do I know you?”
“Well, we did meet once, long ago. You were just a boy. So, I will say, yes, you should know me.”
My gaze sharpened on Russell. A chill crept down my spine.
Russell glanced toward Willow’s house. “Looks like you’ve been getting cozy with your pretty neighbor. If you don’t want anything to happen to her, I would suggest you listen to me, and listen very carefully. Because I have a special job for you. If you don’t obey me like the good little doggy I know you are, then I’ll take out my frustration on your neighbor. And I know you don’t want anything to happen to her, now, do you?”
I kept my face expressionless, but my heart hammered with dread. My grandfather’s words about allowing Willow to become a weakness hit me hard in that moment. The thought of these men touching Willow, hurting her, made my pulse skyrocket. I couldn’t show a weakness, or they would pounce. In order to protect her, I had to act like I didn’t care.
I shrugged. “She’s just a quick hook-up like all the others. She means nothing to me.”
He narrowed his gaze at me. “Is that so?” He turned to the thug on his right. “Go get her, Diego. Bring her here. We’ll just see how little she means to him.”
A tall, beefy Hispanic dude, Diego sent me a sneer, then strode across the yard toward Willow’s house.
I did my best to tamp back my fear.
Run, Willow. Hide.
“Now,” Russell pulled my attention back to him. “While we are waiting, let’s discuss our potential new partnership.”
His remaining thugs moved closer, their guns trained on me.
“There is no partnership,” I ground out, keeping my ears tuned to any sound from Willow’s house. I needed to be ready to act quickly so I could help her, if necessary.
Russell’s gaze filled with contempt. “You’re a stubborn one, aren’t you?”
My left hand clenched into a fist while I fought to keep my right hand from pulling the trigger like I desperately wanted to do. I wasn’t ready to die yet. If I shot Russell, his thugs would kill me. And if I died, no one would be able to protect Willow.
Just then, a loud boom exploded across the yard.
And everyone scattered.
How was I supposed to get close enough to the Reclusive Songwriter to snap his picture?
Gathering up my bag, I followed the fence line back through the trees toward the front of the property. Finding a spot that gave me a good view of the front of the house, I settled down to wait, hoping he came out the front this time.
An hour passed.
I tried to get comfortable on the hard ground, reading on my Kindle and glancing up at the house every once in a while. But the man was indeed a recluse.
I didn’t know what to do. Desperation clawed at me. Should I go back to the front gate and ring the buzzer again, and keep ringing it until the man agreed to speak to me?
Right. That was only going to get me arrested.
I eyed the nearest “no trespassing” sign mounted on the fence about ten feet away. With all the surveillance cameras, he had to know I was out here. I was probably lucky the guy hadn’t had me arrested yet.
Another hour passed.
The sun was disappearing over the horizon now, darkness settling in. It didn’t look like I was going to be successful today.
With a heavy sigh, I gathered up my bag and rose to my feet, deciding to call it a day.
My skin prickled as something moved on the other side the fence.
I spun around, my heart smacking into my ribs.
The heavily-treed yard now deep in shadows, it took a moment for my eyes to take in what had appeared before me. Even then, I wasn’t entirely sure what I was looking at in the low light. He stood as still as the tree trunks surrounding him.
My hand flew to my throat, my eyes widening.
Gasping, I stumbled back, tripping over my own feet and falling into the underbrush, my bag landing beside me.
I tilted my head back, unable to tear my gaze away.
Oh. My. God.
Sasquatch was real.
And I was looking at him right now.