This is going to be a cluster fuck I can tell already.
Lucas is practically vibrating with tension waiting for the light to change so we can cross the street. His eyes are scanning the windows of the coffee shop on the other side, I’m sure trying to spot Ash. She stopped answering her cell twenty minutes ago and if she’s not in this cafe I’m going to have 200 lbs of tattooed male rage to try to diffuse.
I eye my … friend… warily. I guess we’re friends. I have a lot of respect for Luke and the bastard is pretty funny when he wants to be but there’s a mountain of unspoken suspicion between us which makes it challenging to form much of a friendship. He calls me when there’s trouble because he trusts me to handle it, blur rules for the right reasons, keep my mouth shut when necessary and not throw him attitude based on his past unlike a lot of guys in the department.
There’s less of the attitude since he’s become a local celebrity but we go back to long before his Top Ink win.
And I’ve got my own reasons for wanting to keep close.
Of course this situation could complicate everything.
Finally the light changes and forces traffic to stop so we can cross and enter the coffee shop. Lucas pulls the door open so aggressively I think he may pull it off the hinges and explodes through the entryway. I see him visibly relax as he crosses the room and grabs a pretty brunette, pulling her against him. She’s clearly confused by his behavior and I know she has no idea why we’re here.
Yet. Damn. I hang back, waiting for Luke to take the lead.
“The battery died. I tried to tell you it was going to but you hung up too fast. My work cell was on.”
Lucas gives a rough chuckle. “I guess I need to get that number, huh?”
The smile she gives him makes me feel like I’m intruding.
Finally, Luke pulls away and introduces us. “Ash this is Dylan Melrose.” I give her a practiced smile, one designed to inspire confidence but not overly friendly. I come in to people’s lives when bad things are happening to them. They need to like me but also know I’m not happy to be there. I’m there because I have a job to do and they can trust me to get it done.
I shake her hand and answer the first question in her eyes. “Ash. I’m a Detective with the Chicago PD.”
She frowns looking between me and Lucas. “What – what’s going on?”
I nod to one of the back tables. “Let’s sit.”
Ash glances again at Lucas. He grabs her hand and moves to the table I indicated. He guides her in first so she’s in the corner seat then takes the chair next to her, pulling her in close. I sit across the table my back against the wall.
“Lucas, you’re really freaking me out. What is going on? Are you okay?”
I note that her first concern is for him.
He exhales heavily. “I got some threatening text messages today.”
“Threatening how?” She rests her hand on his forearm, squeezing gently. “Are you okay?” She asks softly.
“They weren’t threatening me, Ash. They threatened you.”
“Me? I don’t understand.”
“Show her,” I urge, when he seems to hesitate. He scowls at me but does as I suggest.
She scrolls through quickly, face paling. “That’s from my lunch break today. I ran to the farmers market. And that’s as I was leaving the hospital.”
“I don’t understand,” she repeats.
“This happens sometimes. I mean, I’ve gotten weird fan mail, threats before. Not much but some. But this is different. This is someone who was able to get my personal cell. And knows about you.”
I lean forward. “It might be nothing. Just some crazy fan and this is the end of it. But I think we should take it seriously until we know for sure. That’s why Luke called me.”
She nods. “Right. Of course.”
“Do you feel up for answering some questions for me?”
She nods again. Lucas leans back in his chair, clearly giving me the lead. He rests one arm along the back of her chair.
“Did you notice anyone out of the ordinary today around the time these were taken?”
She shakes her head. “No. It was a perfectly normal day.”
“How many people know about your relationship with Luke?”
“Not many. Hospital staff know I was on Jax’s case while he was there but only my roommates know we’ve seen each other outside of the hospital. And the staff at Vanished.”
“Any idea who could be doing this? Has anyone been giving you a hard time?”
“No. No one.”
“No.” She sounds frustrated. “I was in Africa for almost three years. I’ve only been back about two months and haven’t dated anyone. I mean. Until, Lucas. I mean, not that we’re dating exactly. We’ve just been hanging out. But there hasn’t been anyone else dating or hanging out,” Ash rushes to explain.
I hear Luke grunt and he folds his arms across his chest staring at her. “We’re not ‘just hanging out’. Words aren’t going to scare me, Ash.” He looks at me. “We’re together. She’s my girlfriend.”
I nod. And there it is. I really hope this is just some over zealous stalker fan.
I continue with my questions. “No one who might want to rekindle something from before you left?”
She shakes her head, “No. There wasn’t anyone serious enough they’d still be pining after me three years later.”
Luke’s expression changes briefly but he remains silent.
“What about at the hospital? Could there be anyone who resents your position? Someone denied a promotion because you got the job or thinks they deserve the spot more than you?”
Shrugging, she informs me, “Maybe, but I doubt it. The position only exists because of a grant the hospital got based on the work I was doing in Africa. If it wasn’t me doing it, the position probably wouldn’t exist at all.”
“Okay.” I nod and pull one of my cards out of my pocket for her. “Here is all my contact information. Put it in your phone and memorize it. I’ll want you to come in to the station in the next few days to make a formal report. In the meantime, safety in numbers okay? Don’t go anywhere alone. I’ll see about tracing the texts. If you see anything or think of anything else call me. Even if it seems silly. I’m here to help.”
Ash nods. “Thank you.”
I make contact with Lucas and subtly incline my head.
“You be okay here for a second, babe? I’m going to walk Dylan out.”
“Yeah, of course.”
We step outside into the cooling night air. “You think you’ll get anything from the texts?”
Deciding to level with him I shake my head, “Doubt it. Anyone savvy enough to pull this off is going to know enough to use a burner. We’ll try, but…” I leave it hanging with a shrug.
“Want to tell me what’s bugging you?”
“Besides my girlfriend being stalked?”
He takes a deep breath and looks away. I wait patiently while he decides what he wants to tell me.
“There’s a guy at the hospital. Dr. William Parker. I don’t know why she didn’t mention him. I’m pretty sure they used to date.”
When I don’t respond he continues. “We haven’t really gotten to the ‘tell me about your exes’ phase but I overheard a couple conversations. I don’t know how serious it was. But they still work together and he didn’t seem pleased when he walked in on us kissing once.”
“I’ll look in to it,” I promise.
“Thanks, man.” Lucas clasps my left hand, pulling me in slightly to pat me on the back with his right. “I appreciate it.”
“I’ll keep you posted.”
He thanks me again and goes back inside to Ash.
I watch them through the window briefly before heading back to my car. It’s pretty obvious to me they’ve gotten deep fast. Lucas falling in love is… an unforeseen complication. I like her though and I’m pretty good at reading people. She could be good for him if these texts are just a small flicker and not the beginning of the raging assault I’m supposed to be preventing.
Although if it’s love and this isn’t the threat we’ve been waiting for then Ash will just be around when it does eventually come. Another person to keep safe.
My source is sure he’ll come back eventually. I’m not as convinced but I let her take the lead. I curse under my breath. It’s not like I had enough to deal with when Lucas decided to become famous and change his last name.
I slam my car door shut and pull out my cell.
Ethan and Sloane are going to be fucking livid.