By: Melanie Harlow

“You did. I was nine. It was after you robbed my lemonade stand. Remember that? The one I was having to raise money for children’s cancer research?” I wasn’t normally so combative, but this was already a bad night, and Charlie Dwyer knew how to push my buttons. He always had.

“Oh, right.” He laughed. “I held it up with a squirt gun.”

My mouth fell open. “A squirt gun! You told me it was a Taser.”

“A Taser? Where the hell would I have gotten a Taser?”

“I don’t know, but that’s what you said it was. And you said if I didn’t give you all eleven dollars and fifty cents you’d zap me and I’d wet my pants.”

He laughed again. “You even remember how much money it was?”

“Yes!” I sat up taller, my spine rigid with anger. “It’s a very traumatic memory. And you don’t look a bit sorry for it.”

“Why should I be sorry? Serves you right for being so gullible.”

Yeah, this was old Charlie Dwyer all right. How totally unfair he got that jawline and those blue eyes! His hair was nice too—thick, sandy brown and close-cropped, all the better to showcase the symmetry of his handsome features. What a waste. “Can we get on with this, please?” I sniffed.

“Fine with me. So you hung up the phone,” he prompted. “What’s your cell phone number, by the way? And who’s your carrier?”

“Verizon.” I recited the number and went on. “I hung up the phone, and I was so upset I forgot about locking the door.”

“You forgot?” He shook his head, shaming me. “You’re a woman living alone, and there’s been a rash of home invasions in this area.”

A woman living alone? What an asshole! “What difference does it make that I’m a woman?” I snapped. “This could have happened to anyone.”

“Agreed. Anyone who left their back door unlocked after dark.”

I wanted to defend myself, even though part of me agreed with him. “Look, I made a mistake, OK? I feel bad about it. And you’re making it worse.”

He glanced around. “I noticed you don’t have curtains on the windows in here.”

“I just moved in recently. I took the old ones down because they were hideous, and I have new shades, but I haven’t had time to put them up yet.”

“I’d make time. It’s like a fishbowl in here. Anyone can see right in.”

“I’ll take care of it,” I said evenly. Weren’t police officers supposed to make you feel safe? Be a comforting presence after something like this? “You know, you need to work on your people skills a little.”

“Noted. OK, what did you do after the phone call?”

Chugged wine. Ate a bag of pretzels. Ogled sexy men in tunics. “I had dinner.”

“And then you went upstairs?”

My face warmed. “Yes. Um, I turned off all the lights, went up and took a shower, but when I was drying off, I heard a noise down here. I threw on my robe and came down to check, and I noticed right away my laptop was gone, along with my phone, iPad and purse.” My stomach pitched and rolled at the memory, and I shivered. Someone had been in here, in my house while I was upstairs in the shower. I hadn’t even locked the bathroom door, which caused a fresh wave of nausea. Closing my eyes, I held my aching belly. My God. This could have been so much worse.

“And were you going to arrest him yourself?”

My eyes snapped open. “Huh?”

“Those cuffs up there in the bathroom. I assume they belong to you?” With a wicked gleam in his eye, Charlie raised his brows. “Maybe you were going to shock him with your little Taser in the black box first. I didn’t know Lelo made self-defense products.”

It was one of those moments where I’d have welcomed a nice catastrophic event—an earthquake, perhaps. An F5 tornado. A volcanic eruption. Anything that would cause the earth to split and swallow me whole so that I would not have to respond.

I gave it a minute.

I gave it a Hail Mary.

No luck.

I cleared my throat to break the painful silence and mustered my last remaining shred of dignity. “You know, a nice guy would have just let that go.”

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