Gold Rush (Blackwood Security #4) - Elise Noble
THERE IT WAS. That prickle at the back of my neck as somebody watched me.
I glanced at my reflection in store windows as I passed, trying to get a glimpse of who or what might be behind. There! What was that? A shadow flitting across the sidewalk? I whipped around, holding my breath, one hand on the can of pepper spray I carried in my jacket pocket.
My eyes darted from left to right, my gaze as jittery as a coffee addict looking for their mid-afternoon fix, then I sagged in relief. It was just a loose shop awning, flapping in the weak breeze that managed to find its way amongst the tightly packed jumble of crumbling apartments and the few stores that clung to life. The locals had christened this part of town “NoHo.”
As if by giving it a hip-sounding name they could stave off the need for a wrecking ball, which was the only way left of improving things. A solitary soul roamed the sidewalk—a woman on the corner, shoulders stooped as life weighed her down. Her harsh make-up and lack of clothing on an unseasonably chilly night told me what she was waiting for. I exhaled a thin stream of air then forced myself to breathe in and out, slowly, telling myself I was once again being ridiculous.
Breathe in and out.
Breathe in and out.
Put one foot in front of the other, Lara. I started towards my apartment, just another girl returning home after a night out, trying to act casual. But my feet didn’t get the message and moved faster and faster, seemingly of their own accord.
More than once over the past couple of weeks, I’d given in to the urge to run and ended up pounding along the street. I must have looked like an escapee from the asylum as I was chased by an army of monsters invisible to everybody except me.
Tonight that wouldn’t happen. No, tonight I was going to stay calm. Except when I reached the bottom of the rickety stairs leading to the shabby walk-up I called home, I almost sobbed with relief. I abandoned my attempts to look unruffled and raced up the steps two at a time, feeling them wobble beneath my weight.
The key was already in my hand, and I stabbed it at the lock.
Will you get in the freaking keyhole! I forced myself to pause and used my shaking left hand to help my equally tremulous right one to aim carefully. Twisted the key. Ran inside.
The slam of the door echoed in the hallway, and I quickly shot home the two bolts I’d begged the landlord for weeks to install. He hadn’t, of course. In the end, I’d given up and asked the creep who lived two doors down to do it with the promise of a six-pack and thirty minutes in which to stare at my cleavage.
But for now, I was home.
I’d made it for another night, and I leaned against the door and slid slowly to the floor. How much longer could I keep this up?
Believe it or not, I hadn’t always been a lunatic. In fact, until a couple of months ago, I’d considered myself relatively normal. Although in the little slice of heaven I called home, normal could be considered abnormal. I was probably the only person on the block who didn’t indulge, either recreationally or professionally, in some sort of illegal activity.
I’d lived in my one-room apartment for almost a year. A tiny kitchenette occupied the corner nearest the door, opposite a small, screened-off shower room that had seen better days. The place sat above Randy’s Grocery Store, or at least that was what the fading sign claimed. I’d ventured in there once when I ran out of milk and found a distinct lack of groceries on the dusty shelves. Everything I picked up was well past its sell-by date. Still, Randy had a steady trickle of visitors throughout the day and most of the night, silent shadows with hoods drawn up to hide their faces. I didn’t know what they were in the market for, but I suspected it wasn’t ramen noodles or a Snickers bar.
I’ll be the first to admit the apartment had a lot of negatives. But all of those were cancelled out by one huge, big, wonderful positive; I could afford it. And until two months ago, I’d never felt unsafe living there. Depressed, maybe, but not out-and-out scared like I was now.
Things changed not long after I