VENGEFUL SHADOWS


I’ve missed you, Tessa.

Icy fingers of unease trailed down Tessa Maycroft’s spine as she read and reread the note. Her gaze strayed to the empty manila envelope lying on the desk. The sender had written her name in neat, block letters across the front. She glanced at the note again. No signature or any other identifying marks. Nothing but the precise lettering and the vast, empty whiteness of the page mocking her with its anonymity.

She sighed. It wasn’t as though she’d never received odd notes. As a volunteer at the Oakdale Women and Children’s Shelter, she received almost as many as the actual therapists. Occasionally, offenders or parents who’d lost custody of their children needed someone to blame or punish. The staff at the shelter were often recipients of their anger.

This one was different. It contained no overt threats, but her skin crawled anyway. Her fingers tightened on the paper. Who would have thought a garden-variety death threat would be preferable to this seemingly innocuous message?

“Secret admirer or freak mail?” Marybeth, one of the therapists, leaned against the office door.

“Yes,” Tessa answered, forcing a smile and willing her hands to relax. She shrugged. “You know, the typical social worker’s love note. No big deal.” Usually, the shelter employees and the police ignored anything that wasn’t a blatant threat. As much as the note discomfited her, it didn’t qualify as that.

“Neat,” Marybeth’s tone dripped with sarcasm. “Do you know who it’s from?”

Tessa shook her head. That’s what bothered her the most. She generally had an idea of who had sent her questionable correspondence. But not this time. She hadn’t worked with any offenders or parents for quite a while. For the last few years, she’d assisted the therapists by mentoring rape victims. She couldn’t imagine any of her clients sending a message like this.

“Well, don’t forget to fill out a report,” the other woman said as she headed into her own office.

Following protocol, Tessa documented the note’s arrival, filed it then tried to forget about it. She had too much work to worry about something that was probably a sick joke.

Flipping open her planner, she scanned it. September twenty-seventh. Only one appointment and a whole stack of reports to fill out before she had to work the afternoon shift at the library. She ought to be able to catch up on her book orders and still have plenty of time to get ready for her date.

She’d been looking forward to this art show all month, but she really didn’t want to deal with Greg tonight—or any other night, she admitted. Maybe, she should have gone with her instincts and invited her neighbor, Zander, instead.

She’d contemplated attending the gallery opening with him but scrapped it almost immediately. Though they were friends, there was a wealth of unspoken attraction between them. Attraction and awareness that would never be acted on. She couldn’t deny how her pulse quickened at the thought of him, but there was no way she’d get involved with him. He’d be too easy to fall for, and falling for him would inevitably mean dependence. She refused to lose control like that. Besides, she was the only woman he confided in. Ruining a perfectly good friendship for a relationship that would fail in the long run was stupid at best. Going to this particular art show with Zander, in fact indulging in anything that resembled a date, would be asking for trouble she didn’t need.

Her life would be so much simpler if she could actually manage more than polite interest in guys like Greg. He was a nice enough guy. Good looking. Safe. She sighed. Greg was just the latest entrant in the Dull and Boring Date Parade. The polar opposite of Zander.

Pushing the thought from her head, she listened to her voicemail and stifled a laugh. Greg had canceled.

I guess that settles that.

Before she listened to the next message, a quiet knock sounded on her door. Her nine o’clock appointment had arrived