She shrugged. “I just haven’t met the right person.”
The way she looked at him, he could have sworn she was going to say, Until now. The thought made him take a deep breath.
She pointed to the street sign. “This is me. Jack-O’-Lantern Lane. Stairs are around back down a little alley.”
He grunted softly as they made the turn onto her street. “That’s not very safe. Is it well lit? What kind of foot traffic does this street get? Do you have a security system?”
“It’s fairly well lit, I guess. No clue on the foot traffic. I mean, it’s right off of Main, and there’s a dentist and an accountant’s office on this street so…honestly, still no idea. And yes, I have a security system, but I never use it. I probably should.” She went into the alley and stopped in front of a set of wooden steps that ascended to a small covered landing on the second floor.
He shook his head as he checked out the lights at the bottom and top of the stairs. “The bulb on the landing is out.”
She nodded. “I just noticed that, too.”
She crossed her arms. “Um…do you want to run a perimeter check or something? Would that make you feel better?”
She smiled wryly. “It’s sweet that you’re concerned, but I rarely use this door. There’s another set of steps inside that lead down to the office in my shop. That’s how I usually come and go.”
His gaze stayed on the landing, his eyes narrowing as the soldier in him went on alert. “So did you leave this way when you met me or did you go through the shop?”
“I went through the shop, why?”
He tipped his chin toward her apartment. “Because your door is open.”
Willa twisted her hands together as she waited for Nick to make sure everything was all right in her place. Her only real worry was that something had happened to Jasper. Her jewelry supplies were valuable, but they could be replaced.
After a few minutes, lights came on. Then he stuck his head out and waved her up. “All clear. Sort of.”
She jogged up the steps, too worried about Jasper to look at the broken lock. “Sort of? Did you see a big orange cat?”
She sucked in a breath and pushed past Nick. “I have to find him.”
“We will, but—”
“No buts. We find him now.”
With a singular focus, she looked around the apartment. “Jas, where are you, baby? Are you okay? Here, kitty, kitty.” She clucked her tongue and made kissy sounds, but he didn’t show. In desperation, she grabbed the bag of treats from the side table in the living room and gave them a hard shake.
A distant, desperate meow answered her.
“I heard that,” Nick said. “Sounds like he’s trapped somewhere.”
“I can’t tell where it came from. Maybe the pantry? Check the other rooms,” she commanded Nick. She left him to it while she headed into the kitchen. She yanked open the pantry’s bi-fold doors. No cat. She started going through cabinets. “Here, kitty, kitty. Where are you, baby?”
“Is this who you’re looking for?” Nick walked in holding Jasper like a baby. His paws were kneading the air as Nick rubbed his belly.
“Jasper! Is he okay? Actually, I can tell he’s okay because he’s in big baby mode. He loves being held like that.”
“Yeah, he just kind of curled up in my arms like this.” Nick handed her cat over. “So Jasper’s a cat.”
“What?” She pressed her cheek against Jasper, hugging him hard. “You poor thing,” she whispered in his ear.
“Nothing.” Nick shook his head, looking as relieved as she felt. That was sweet that he’d been worried about Jasper, too.
Jasper’s purrs vibrated through her. “Where was he?”
“In the closet in the other bedroom.”
She sighed into Jasper’s fur. “My poor boy. Are you okay? How did you get in there?”
“I have a pretty good idea.” Concern filled Nick’s eyes. “We need to call Sheriff Merrow. Someone was definitely in here.”
“Granted, the lock is broken but…” She glanced around. Her jewelry supplies were untouched. What she could see of them. “Doesn’t look like anything was taken.”
“Follow me. Don’t touch anything. Merrow might want to dust for prints.”
“Now you’re freaking me out.”
“Sorry, but…” He nudged her bedroom door open with his elbow.
Her chin dropped, and it took her a moment to process the scene in front of her. Rose petals were strewn over her floor and bed, and on the center of her quilt was a box of drugstore variety chocolates. A note sat on top of it.
She hugged Jasper a little tighter. “If he touched you—”
“He?” Nick’s brows shot up. “Who did this, Willa? You know, don’t you?”
“I have a pretty good idea.” She picked her way across the rose petals to get close enough to read the note.
See you soon. - M
Frustration racked her body, and a low groan resonated out of her throat as she turned to face Nick. “I have a stalker. A client. He ordered a custom piece. I thought I handled it, but now…not so much.”
“Doesn’t look like he’s going away any time soon.” Nick whipped out his phone. “I’m calling Merrow.”