Fear is Louder Than Words
First Two Chapters:
Christmastime is near
Happy time of year
But Princess … you deserve to die
A mouthful of hot mocha spewed from Rochelle’s mouth, burning her chin and bathing the counter. Fingers tense, she set down her cup then shredded the note into file thirteen.
The guy was no Thoreau. Another wacko. The city was full of them and a great many had found their way to her door, her email, and her Twitter account.
She grabbed the edge of the counter, smoothed the long, blue sweater over her leggings, and forced a smile. Did her phony calm fool their receptionist or resemble a bad imitation of The Joker?
Behind Stella’s desk, a cheerful Christmas carol on WNIC mocked Rochelle—contradicted the fact she’d been threatened—again. Six letters now. She should call legal.
“What is it?” Stella looked up through thick bangs, a wavering grin on her frightened-little-mouse face. Had Rochelle ever looked that young? That naïve? No, she’d jumped from sixteen to ninety the day her folks died.
“Which favorite fan is it this time? Are you all right? What did it say?” Stella nibbled the edge of her nail.
Rochelle laughed a little too loud to squelch the sick feeling snaking through her gut. “That I deserve to die.” She mopped at the counter with a wad of tissue and then waved her hand. Bye-bye.
“Say what?” Stella’s jaw dropped.
“Aren’t you glad all my fans don’t feel that way? So long ratings.”
Stella chewed her cheek and nodded while Rochelle debated how to best spin this.
“Don’t give the crazies a thought, Stell. I have enough of those letters to paper an entire room. Just sayin’. First one nut job, then another.” Had she sounded sincere? No one ever really got accustomed to the vicious comments.
Rochelle dropped another strained smile, but the girl’s huge, almond eyes appeared ready to cry. “Understand one thing, Stella. They all think they’re your favorite fan. And can say whatever they like.” Her thumb rubbed over the other envelopes.
“I’m sorry you got that letter. Will you be all right? I’m so sorry about the fave fan and all. I can call security. Do you want someone to walk you out, Ms. Cassidy? It’s getting late. It won’t be a bother. I promise. My coat’s right here.” She fingered the jacket sleeve.
Stella’s anxious rambling wasn’t helping to put the letter to rest. There was nothing to set aside the hateful venom that seemed to come so easily to another person’s lips. And for the life of her, she didn’t understand why.
“I’ll be leaving in a while, and it’s Rochelle, not Ms. Cassidy. And, no, I don’t need anyone to walk me out.”
Rochelle caught her breath and dropped the rest of the mail back in her slot, not intending to read any more tonight. Perhaps never.
Clearing the lobby, she scrambled for the safety of her office. Instead of tears, she closed the door, slammed her shoulders against the heavy wood, and sucked back an unsteady breath. Too many high-profile stories of late had the sting of a bull’s-eye. The darts pierced between her shoulders.
Why, again, had she taken this job?
Oh, yeah. Pay off the mortgage and student loans.
The intercom buzzed. Rochelle flinched, bringing up the spicy soup from lunch into her throat. She leaned forward and flipped the switch on the intercom. “Yes?” With a one-handed tug on her desk drawer, she searched for a tin of antacids as her teeth worried her lower lip.
“A man to see you.” Stella lowered her voice. “He said you need to sign for a package. And don’t worry. I checked his credentials. Driver’s license and all.”
Yeah, like a man would have I’m bad stamped on his license. Right next to organ donor. Rochelle smiled. Where had the station found such a sweetie?
“What package? Never mind. Send him over.” Ignoring the nervous sound of her voice, she smoothed her top again, tugging at the edges.
Pen clutched in her hand like a weapon, Rochelle waited outside her door. A man too old and tired-looking to be suspect turned the corner.
She exhaled. “May I help you?”
She nodded, and he stuck out his hand, tapped at a blank line.
“Your John Hancock.”
She scribbled her signature. “What is it?”
A scowl formed as he scrutinized her signature. He popped the signed receipt in a black folder. “Don’t know. Don’t care. Here.” Then he shoved a manila envelope in her direction and disappeared the way he’d come.
“Merry Christmas to you, too.” She hated to link Christmas with sarcasm, but sometimes it fit. Ho-Ho-Ho.
Her fingers grasped the thin envelope to her chest. Calm down. Can’t be a subpoena, he wouldn’t have needed a signature. She backtracked to her desk, never stealing her gaze from the packet. Surely her favorite fan wouldn’t go to this much trouble.
Rochelle laid it on her desk. Staring didn’t help. She sat down. Maybe she should call legal before opening it. Another search through the drawer uncovered not only the mints but a pewter letter opener.
Raised letterhead … Blackwell, Merriweather, and VanHume. Daniel VanHume. That name. Where did she know it from? Fingers shaking, she withdrew another paper.
A letter and … a check?
A city bus rumbled past, a bigger-than-life photo of Rochelle Cassidy defiling the side.
Smoke belched. Kyle punched the air and flipped his finger toward the back of the bus. Like he needed a reminder of the princess.
Every other day this week, she’d left the building hours before now. What kept her today? Reading his card. That’s it; she was reading his card. Wondering if he was watching.
That must be it.
But he didn’t like waiting.
Not for anyone. Or anything.
Darkness fell in sketchy outlines. He smirked. Even the weather was on his side, but still, he shivered.
Some stiff bumped him, dropped a box as he rushed past.
“Hey! Watch where you’re going. Here.” Kyle kicked the box. “You forgot something.”
The guy didn’t make eye contact. Just grabbed the package and ran like the little girl he was. Kyle laughed.
Anxious for some action, he bulleted a gaze at his dollar-store watch and slapped his arms against a jacket that had been an uncle’s hand-me-down. Uncle Rory.
His throat tightened. His gut clenched. He’d have ripped the jacket off but for the cold.
Kyle refocused. A little after five.
Where was she?
Worrying that he was looking for her?
The vision of her slender fingers opening his note drove the ice from his veins, filling him with warmth.
Tonight, he’d do more than watch.
Another shiver, this time from the thrill, riveted the thin jacket to his spine.