Atticus by R.E. Butler

Chapter One

Lori Jones’s heart was still racing. She paced at the apartment door, one hand over her thumping heart, and the other clutching the mace she always, always had on her. Next door, her only daughterNovi—was most likely already asleep with her new boyfriend, Cael. Only a wall separated them, but it felt like miles. Novi had carved out some happiness for herself, and Lori was ecstatic for her.

But also...she was waiting for the other shoe to drop.

One night, over twenty years ago, she’d had a one-night stand with a man named Keir. He was sexy and charming, and she’d been feeling like her life was in a rut. At the time she’d thought, why not? Now, she wondered why.

Novi had been the product of that one night, and once Keir realized she was his child, he’d come for her. He’d tried to abduct her from the hospital then followed Lori and Novi to her sister’s, which had sent them on the run. He’d stalked her from one side of the country to the other, narrowly getting them time after time. Lori was a master at knowing just when to leave.

And tonight, she’d sensed that her time had run out in New Jersey. The little house they’d only been living in for a few weeks had been compromised. She hadn’t seen Keir inside the house that night because she’d felt him while she was still in her car. She’d felt his fury directed at her and knew her time was up. He wanted her dead, and Novi too. While Lori would die for her daughter a thousand times, she refused to let Keir get his hands on her precious child.

In desperation, she’d come to an apartment complex inside the walls of the Amazing Adventures Safari Park. The complex had eight units. Cael was a vet at the zoo. He and Novi had met when she’d gone on a safari tour. He was a good guy and promised to keep Novi safe. Hell, he’d already asked Lori for Novi’s hand in marriage. Of course she’d said yes. She wouldn’t stand in her daughter’s way of having a good and full, happy life. Novi wanted all the things Lori had at one time—love and family, and a real home with safety and peace.

Lori no longer knew what peace was. When was the last time she’d slept soundly through the night?

She snorted. Probably not since before Novi was born and Keir had tried to steal her from the hospital.

How could she sleep well when they both had targets on their backs?

Her pacing slowed, and she turned and leaned against the door. It had a dead bolt and twisty lock on the handle as well as a security bar. She reached a hand back and rested it against the cool metal of the security bar. She was certain it wouldn’t stop Keir. He was a man possessed. Any other guy might have just washed his hands of her after a few years, but the man was incessant.

How had he found her this time?

She turned to face the door and looked out the peephole. She could see the concrete walkway and the metal railing, and beyond that, the well-lit parking lot.

Inhaling, she pushed from the door and walked to the bedroom. The apartment had two bedrooms and was tastefully furnished in shades of blue. She preferred yellow to blue, but she didn’t plan to stay so it didn’t matter, not in the long run.

Once she knew for sure that Cael would be able to keep Novi safe, she’d leave. She’d lead Keir away from New Jersey so that her daughter could have the life she deserved and wanted. She might one day have to face Keir, and then she might die. It wasn’t that she was a fatalist, but she sure as hell was a realist. Keir was going to find her at some point, was going to appear in front of her, and she’d have to deal with it. The police couldn’t help, no one could.

In the end it would come down to her and the man she wished would just drop off the face of the planet.

If only she were so lucky. Which she wasn’t.

With a deep sigh, she went into the attached bathroom and brushed her teeth, and then she carried a pillow to the couch in the front room and lay down. She faced the door, leaving the little lamp on the end table on so she wasn’t in the dark. She’d just doze for a bit, mace at the ready.

If Keir got to her, then she’d at least be prepared.

Closing her eyes, she exhaled deeply and tried to relax. Novi was safe. And Lori was safe, at least for the moment—the tall walls around the park and the security patrols were going to ensure that. She could rest.

She should.

If only she could feel safe.