In the shadows, someone is always watching

Aspiring screenwriter Jessica Jensen grew up on movies starring heartthrob Reece Winchester, the eldest brother of a Hollywood dynasty. She never thought she'd meet the man in person, though. Actor, director, millionaire, and gorgeous mystery man-he's every woman's fantasy. 

Reece wants Jessica the moment he sees her, and he's a man who always gets what he wants. At first he was only after a night in her bed, but as he comes to know the smart, confident woman beneath the stunning exterior, he realizes once will never be enough. 

Unfortunately, Jessica's real-life Cinderella story is about to take a deadly turn... 

Reece's world is filled with fierce ambition and dark family secrets the Winchesters desperately want to hide. But he and his brothers aren't the only ones who know those secrets. Someone else is out there, waiting to strike. Waiting-and always watching. 

When danger finally steps out of the shadows, Reece will have to face his past. And Jessica will have to decide just how far she can trust the man she loves with her heart...and her life.

Excerpt from WATCHING YOU

 

Chapter 1

 

As a film director, Reece Winchester was used to watching life through a camera lens, picturing angles, depth, color and texture. He lived as a voyeur, removed from the action he oversaw, the unseen god of the worlds he created for moviegoers everywhere. Yet there were some shots he’d never imagined seeing.

The charred remnants of his house, with wisps of smoke still rising from the ruin in the early morning light, was number one on that list.

“Damn, Reece, I’m so sorry,” said his brother Rowan, who’d been the one to call him at two a.m. to tell him about the fire. He’d repeated the phrase about a dozen times.

Reece had been shooting in the New Mexico desert, so his Beverly Hills home had been empty when it went up in flames last night. He’d spent most of the flight back being thankful he’d left his dog with his brother, and had given the couple who looked after the place two weeks off. During other trips, he’d left Cecil B., his golden retriever, at home with the Scotts. He didn’t even want to think about what could have happened if they’d been there.

Shit could be replaced. Lives could not. The loss of a couple of statues of a guy named Oscar was nothing compared to the singeing of one hair on the heads of his employees or his dog.

“Any idea yet what started it?” he bit out.

“I talked to the fire investigator. He already found accelerant.”

Accelerant. Arson. Jesus.

“Somebody hates me enough to burn down my house?” Reece murmured, a little stunned.

“It could have been a frustrated stalker who expected to find you at home.”

“And when I wasn’t, they decided to make sure I didn’t have a home to come back to?”

“You know it’s possible.”

Yes, it probably was. He’d had overzealous fans before, mostly during his acting days. They occasionally slipped from pushy into obsessive. He’d been dealing with a particularly bad one lately, who’d found out where he lived and had been leaving notes stuffed into the security gate. Perhaps that was who had gotten past the fence last night and decided to send his home up in a giant ball of flame that had, reportedly, been seen by people miles away.

“Do you ever wonder if we’re damned?” he asked. He’d thought about it many times over the years, but had never shared it with his twin.

“Don’t say that.”

He didn’t push, knowing Rowan had done a better job moving beyond all the dark episodes of the past. Reece, though, had found letting that go extremely difficult to do.

“You know you can stay with me for a while. At least until you find another place,” Rowan offered.

Reece nodded. “Dad has a spare room, too.”

Reece, his twin Rowan, and their baby brother, Raine, had bought their hard-working father, who’d supported them all his life, a big place on the beach a few months ago. His dad would hate to hear about the fire, but would probably love some company.

Falling silent, Reese watched as firefighters walked the site. They carefully looked for any sputtering embers trying to reignite. With the drought, they also had to be sure no sparks landed on a nearby roof, spreading the conflagration to the entire neighborhood.

“Why don’t we get outta here?” Rowan asked. “You’ve given your statement. You don’t have to stay. Want some breakfast? We can pick up Cecil B. and take him out for pancakes.”

Seeing his dog sounded like a great idea to Reece. “Sure.” He was hungry, as, he suspected, were the sweaty, exhausted firefighters. He’d already put in an order for cold drinks and food for the guys who’d tried so hard to rescue his 6000-square-foot house. Just a house. Just a building.

Right. Frankly, the worst part wasn’t the fire, but the realization that someone had set it. He was in somebody’s crosshairs. The knowledge unsettled him.

“Surfing after?”

They hadn’t surfed together in months, both of them having busy schedules, and Reece being too easily recognized to hit any of the local beaches. One of the many pleasures his fame had cost him. “Maybe later. I think I’ll stop by and see how Aunt Sharon’s doing at the gallery.”

“Okay. Pancakes, followed by weird art.”

Their aunt did have eclectic taste. She also had a good eye, which was why Reece had been glad to finance the gallery in Venice Beach. Considering she had helped raise them after their own mother had been committed, there wasn't much he wouldn’t do for her.

Which was why, three hours later, he stood with her in the office of Venice on the Beach Fine Arts, actually smiling. The gallery was filled with pieces that only the pretentious, rich southern California type could afford. To him, many paintings looking like plates full of spaghetti smeared around by preschoolers. Sharon, however, loved all types of art, and was thrilled with the gallery, which pleased him. 

“You’re sure you have everything you need?” he said. “You know you only have to ask.”

She ruffled his hair like he was still a thirteen-year-old kid…not that he’d felt like a kid at thirteen. “You’ve done enough! Now stop thinking about me and start focusing on yourself. I still can’t believe you  came here, today of all days.”

“I’ll be fine.” He’d already asked an agent to look for a house he could rent—one with great security—while he started the process of rebuilding.

Sharon kept talking, but he didn’t hear her. Because something bright and colorful on the security monitor in the office suddenly caught his attention.

Red hair. Shiny, glorious red hair, with gold highlights.

Captivated, Reece turned to fully face the image. He immediately went into director mode, glad the state-of-the-art security system displayed everything in full, glorious color.

The woman had come into the public part of the gallery downstairs, jogging in off the beach. She was young, mid-twenties at most, with that long mane swept up into a bouncy ponytail. She did things for spandex that would make cotton lie down and weep with jealousy. Yet it was her face he kept staring at. Her body might be perfect, but her face wasn’t, at least not classically so. But it was interesting…arresting. Strong—so determined, it told tales of struggle and adversity not often seen in faces so young. Most of all, she was different.

The nose was a little crooked, a little pronounced. Most self-respecting southern California women would have had that straightened and daintily tipped before entering high school. The eyes—he couldn’t determine the color—were a bit too far apart, but big and heavily lashed with highly arched brows above. The mouth was wide, the lips full. Kissable. She had a cleft in her chin that he wanted to taste, as he wanted to taste the slick sheen of sweat riding across her chest, gliding down into the hint of cleavage shown by the scoop-necked jogging top.

It had been a dark and difficult morning. But the sun had come out and it was wearing running shoes. “Who is she?” he murmured, not taking his eyes off the screen.

Sharon bent to peer over his shoulder. “I have no idea.”

“Not one of your artists?”

“Does she look like an artist?”

“Not exactly.”

“But not a typical beach bimbo, either.”

“Definitely not.”

She appeared to be the type who would be much more at home in a place like this than on a boardwalk. He pictured her in a gown and jewels, hair up, one long curl hitting her shoulder. Or screw it, no dress and the hair down and loose draping over her bare breasts.

He watched her through the camera, saying nothing, envisioning how he’d position her, how she’d move, how she would take direction. It was how he always reacted to initial encounters with strangers, picturing a series of shots and takes, cuts and stills.

Those who didn’t know him might view him as cold and calculating, always the director, no longer an actor, on film or on the world stage. His brothers, though, and closest friends, saw the real Reece. He was a man of long vision, not the quick, immediate scene. He saw the key moments, the turning points, the journey, the climax, the resolution, and how to get there.

He wondered how to get there with the redhead, and was determined to find out.

A minute later, after showing the floor manager, Sid, some invisible-from-here photos on her cell phone, the woman frowned, nodded, and departed. “Can you find out what she wanted?”

“I was just waiting for you to ask,” his aunt said, tapping a text her phone. Sid looked down at his own, receiving Sharon’s message. He jabbed at the screen, typing something back.

“Her name’s Jessica. She has a sister who’s in the arts.”

Doesn’t everyone in L.A.?

“She sent Sid a link to a photo gallery of the sister’s work.” Sharon was silent for a moment, and then she whistled, swiping her finger across the screen, her eyes growing round.

Reece watched her react to whatever she was seeing. He could have feigned disinterest, but Aunt Sharon knew him well enough she’d have seen right through it. “What is it?”

Her brows were up, her expression a bit awed.  “The artist hasn’t had any professional showings, and the sister is trying to help her set something up,” Sharon explained, handing him the phone. “And she’s good. Damn good.”

Reece took the phone, glancing at the screen, far more interested in the woman than in the artwork. At least, until he took a closer look. “Holy shit.”

“Tell me about it.”

The sculpture displayed on the phone was of a life-size naked woman. But it wasn’t a classical, museum-type study of the female form. No. This one was sexy and erotic, displaying a woman in the full throes of pleasure, with her hand between her legs and her head thrown back. Something about the model looked familiar.

“The throat,” he whispered. “The shoulders, the hips, the legs.” He recognized them. He’d been staring at them through the security monitor for the past several minutes.

“Interesting, no?” Aunt Sharon asked.

“Interesting, yes.” He swiped the screen, seeing another piece, and then another. All were stunning nudes, though most were not as sensual as the first. Only that initial one had a recognizable—to him—model. The artist had talent and reason to be proud. So did her sister.

“You’ve been looking for new and newsworthy pieces,” he said, handing back the phone.

The older woman nodded. “This would certainly get attention.”

Yes, it would. All kinds of attention: press, buyers. Having a display of nude art wasn’t unusual, but the raw talent of the artist made her work stand out. It could help Sharon make a go of this place. Reece didn’t really give a damn if the gallery made him his money back, but he knew his aunt was too proud to remain indebted to him.

She definitely shouldn’t feel indebted. She’d stepped in as a mother figure when his own had been too busy, too unhinged, too dead. He would have given her the money for the gallery, no questions asked. He’d become a silent partner only because she’d insisted it was the only way she would accept his cash.

“You want me to have the artist come in for a discussion?”

“Yes.”

Aunt Sharon smirked. “I suppose you want me to ask her to bring her sister?”

He didn’t reply. He didn’t need to. His anticipatory smile was probably answer enough.

Thinking about how his day had started—with a phone call saying his house had burned down—he couldn’t help but be surprised by his own good mood. All because of the beautiful stranger he’d spied through a camera. One he would never have seen if not for the fire, the late-night flight, his presence here in the gallery this morning, at the perfect moment.

He couldn’t have planned the scene better if he’d tried.

It was as if it were meant to be.

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