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Her Mistletoe Protector

By:Laura Scott

Her Mistletoe Protector
Laura Scott

       ONE

"Ms. Simon, wait! I have a letter for you."

Rachel Simon, CEO of Simon Inc., froze, despite the fact that she was running late for her nine-o'clock meeting. The sick feeling in her stomach swelled with dread as she forced herself to turn and face the receptionist.

"Here you go," Carrie Freeman said with a wide smile.

Rachel stared at the thin envelope with her name typed neatly on the front, the dread congealing into a mass of fear. The letter looked exactly like the one she'd received in her mailbox at home last night, and she instinctively knew there was another threat inside. She swallowed hard and took the envelope from the receptionist, being careful to hold it along the edges. Then she cleared her throat. "Who dropped this off for me, Carrie?"

"I don't know... It was sitting on my desk chair when I came back from the restroom. There was a sticky note, telling me to deliver it to you first thing."

Rachel tried hard to keep her fear from showing as she cast a worried gaze around the lobby. Was the person who had left the note watching her right now? "Do you still have the sticky note?" she asked.

Carrie's expression turned perplexed. "I tossed it in the trash bin." Rachel glanced over the receptionist's shoulder at the large stainless-steel trash container standing near the lobby door. "Do you want me to go through the garbage to find it?" Carrie's tone indicated she wasn't thrilled with the idea of pawing in the trash although Rachel knew she would if asked.

As much as she wanted to see the note, she shook her head. Asking Carrie to search through the bin would only bring unwanted attention to herself. She wasn't ready to go public with the weird phone calls and the threatening letter she'd received. The last thing she needed was some sort of leak to the media, as if her company hadn't been through the wringer already.

"No thanks, just curious to see if I recognized the handwriting, that's all. Thanks again, Carrie."

Rachel turned back toward the elevators, her mind focused on the contents of the letter rather than on her upcoming meeting with the two top research scientists in her pharmaceutical company.

The ride to the tenth floor, where her office suite was located, seemed to take forever. She smiled and chatted with various employees as if the envelope in her hand didn't matter.

"Good morning, Rachel," her senior administrative assistant, Edith Goodman, said as she entered through the glass doors. "Dr. Gardener and Dr. Errol are waiting for you in the conference room."

"I'm sorry, but please tell Josie and Karl that I'll need to reschedule our meeting."

Surprise flashed in Edith's eyes, but she quickly nodded and crossed over to the conference room next to Rachel's office. As her assistant delivered the news to the two researchers, Rachel ducked inside her office and closed the door, dropping the envelope on her desk as if it might burn her fingers.

She didn't have any gloves, so she put another piece of paper over the envelope and used her letter opener to slice beneath the flap. Inside was a single piece of paper with a computer-printed message, exactly like the one she'd received at home. Her stomach knotted with anxiety as she carefully opened the paper and read the short message.

"You will scream in agony, suffering for your past mistakes."

She shivered, the words searing into her mind. She opened her purse and drew out the letter she'd received last night, when she and her son, Joey, had come home from basketball practice. The wording was similar, yet different.

"You will repay your debt of betrayal."

The two letters, spread out side by side on her desk, seemed to mock her. She couldn't ignore the threat any longer, not when she knew, with grim certainty, the source of the veiled threat.

The only person she'd ever betrayed was her ex-husband, former State Senator Anthony Caruso. A few months after they were married, the joy of discovering she was pregnant was marred by learning Anthony had ties to organized crime. At first she couldn't believe he was involved in anything illegal. She was embarrassed that the man she'd fallen in love with was nothing more than an illusion. His fake charm covered a black soul.                       
       
           



       

All too soon, Anthony was openly talking about his Mafia association as if nothing she did could touch him.

But he'd been wrong. She'd lived in fear for months, but one night, he'd lost control and hit her hard enough to give her a black eye and a minor concussion. The evidence of physical abuse, along with her father's money-and the fact that her father's best friend was a judge-helped her buy her freedom.

And Joey's, too. She received sole custody of their son and a no-contact order. Joey was nine years old now, and she was eternally grateful Anthony hadn't seen his son since Joey's first birthday.

But since Anthony's untimely death last year during a crime bust, it was obvious he couldn't have sent these letters. So who had? She could only assume they'd come from someone inside the Chicago Mafia. Most likely from Anthony's uncle, Frankie Caruso.

She buried her face in her hands and fought the rising wave of helplessness. How long would she continue to pay for her naive mistake of marrying Anthony? This past year, since her ex-husband's death, she'd thought she was finally safe. But now it seemed the Mafia wasn't going to leave her alone.

Ever.

Taking several deep breaths, she did her best to control her fear. When she raised her head, she knew she had to take action. With trembling fingers, she went through her files to find the business card of a Chicago police detective who'd questioned her about Anthony last year. She needed to talk to someone who knew the truth about Anthony. Someone who understood how deeply infiltrated the Mafia was in this city.

Someone who would believe her-like Detective Nick Butler. They'd only met a few times, but she remembered him well. He was tall, broad shouldered with light brown hair and amazing blue eyes. In so many ways, Nick was the complete opposite of her ex-husband.

To be honest, Detective Butler hadn't been very happy with her last year during his investigation of Anthony, but that knowledge wasn't enough to stop her from picking up her phone and making the call.

If there was one thing she knew about Detective Butler, it was that he sincerely cared about justice. He'd worked against the Mafia before. She could only hope that he wouldn't turn his back on her now.

* * *

Nick stared at the various reports spread over his desk as he tried to figure out a way to breathe new life into his dead-end cases. With his partner out on medical leave and the upcoming holidays, he hadn't been assigned anything new. But working their old cases felt pretty much like beating his head against a brick wall.

When his phone rang, he answered it absently. "Detective Butler."

"Good morning, Detective. I don't know if you remember me, but my name is Rachel Simon."

Nick straightened in his chair, his instincts on full alert. "Of course, I remember you, Ms. Simon. How are you and your son, Joey, doing?"

"Fine. Well, sort of fine. I, uh, have a problem I'd like to discuss with you. I think it's linked to your past investigation...."

The subtle reference to the Mafia wasn't lost on him. He was surprised to hear from Rachel after all this time, yet he couldn't ignore the underlying hint of fear in her tone. He rose to his feet and glanced at his watch. "I can meet you now, if that works."

"That would be great. Do you remember where my office is located?"

"Yes. I can be there in fifteen minutes."

"Thank you."

After ending the call, Nick slid his cell phone into his pocket and strode to the door. He remembered Rachel Simon very well, as he'd questioned her last year related to a missing-person's case. Her ex-husband had been the prime suspect in the twenty-two-year-old model's disappearance.

Rachel hadn't been much help to his investigation, because she claimed she hadn't seen or spoken to her husband in seven years. Which, based on the divorce settlement and the no-contact order he'd uncovered, was likely true. But at the time he'd felt certain she was holding back on him, that she knew far more about her ex-husband's connection to the Mafia than she'd let on. And even then, her fear of her ex had been palpable.

Ironic how she'd contacted him now that she needed his assistance. And he couldn't deny being curious as to what was going on.                       
       
           



       

The ride to the office building of Simon Inc. took less than his allotted fifteen minutes. He walked into the lobby and smiled at the perky redhead sitting behind the receptionist desk. "Good morning, I'm here to see Ms. Simon."

"Yes, she mentioned you were coming." The redhead wore a name tag that identified her as Carrie Freeman and she was young enough to make him feel ancient at thirty-seven. "Just take these elevators here to the tenth floor."

"Thanks." He pushed the elevator button, already knowing Rachel's office was on the tenth floor. Once he arrived up there, he was greeted warmly by Rachel's assistant, Edith Goodman. A far cry from the last time he'd been here, when the sixty-something-year-old had protected her boss like a mama bear hovering over her cub.

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