Chapter One

TEN MORE STEPS. Just ten more steps and Olivia Sinclair would reach the front entrance to her apartment building. Then she'd slip inside the comfort and safety of her home with her bag of groceries—why had she gone out alone?—and be relieved of the paranoia that someone was watching her. But ten measly steps suddenly felt like a million.

She tried not to hurry, but she couldn't help it. The hairs on the back of her neck stood straight up and her breath gusted out in shallow, anxious puffs of air as she closed the distance as quickly as possible. Nine steps. Eight steps. Seven. Six. Almost there. Five—

Olivia heard the door swing open a mere second before a hard, merciless body crashed into her, knocking her off her feet. The air whooshed out of her lungs as she hit the ground with the same force she'd been hit, both her cane and her bag of groceries slipping from her grasp. Momentarily stunned, she didn't have time to panic. She couldn't even breathe!

As she gasped for breath, she heard a rough male voice mumble an apology, but there were no hands there to help her up or to help her retrieve her scattered groceries. Whoever had run into her left her to fend for herself. Now it was time to panic.

Pushing up onto her hands and knees, she winced at the sharp pain in her hip, but tried to ignore it as her hands moved along the cold concrete in search of her things. Tears pooled in her unseeing eyes behind her sunglasses, her panic rising by the second. She felt completely disoriented. She didn't know where her cane or groceries were and she had no idea if she needed to go left, right, forward, or backward to get to her apartment building.

The worst part of it was she still had this needling sensation along the back of her neck that someone was watching her every move. You're just being paranoid, she thought, angry at herself for letting her imagination go wild, and even angrier that she'd left the apartment without her sister. Sadie would be livid with her.

Her chest heaved as she sucked in a deep breath, trying to center herself so she didn't full blown panic. Lifting a hand, she shoved up her sunglasses just enough to swipe the tears from her eyes with the heel of her palm then let them fall back into place.

She could do this. Just because she was blind didn't mean she was helpless. Funny, her mind wanted to taunt her. She sure felt helpless. And sad. Surely someone had seen what had happened. Yet no one helped her. She didn't like asking for help, but she knew she needed it. Still, the stubborn, independent part of her refused to pull out her phone and call her sister.

Running her hands along the ground, hope surged through her when her fingers closed around a plastic bottle—most likely her ketchup. But dread replaced the hope in an instant. If she was holding her ketchup bottle, her bag had probably ripped wide open. How would she find all of her groceries? How would she get them all inside her apartment? She had no choice but to call her sister and ask for her help.

Before she could pull her phone out of her back pocket, she heard the scrape of boots along the concrete. They were approaching her. She immediately froze. Like tightly wound bands, fear constricted her throat, strangling her.

"Hey," a voice carried to her ears in a low timbre full of concern. "Are you alright?"

A sliver of air pulled through her lips to enter her lungs before she sighed in relief. She almost couldn't believe it. Someone had come to her aid. She just hoped this someone wasn't the one that had been watching her. Chills raced down her spine at the mere thought.

That thought also possessed her to turn down the man's help before he could offer it. Forget the groceries and her cane. She'd cut her losses and go inside where it was safe. That could prove to be a difficult feat without help, she realized, but she could do it. Hopefully. It was better than trusting a complete stranger that could mean her harm.

"Yes, I'm fine," she lied through her teeth.

He sounded puzzled as he said, "You don't look fine."

"Who asked you!" she snapped before she could stop herself.

"I'm just a concerned neighbor," he answered calmly. "You live here, don't you?"

Instinctively, she wanted to say no, but it seemed he already knew she did. She chose not to answer, anyway, and slowly began pushing up to her feet. A soft cry escaped her lips when she felt a hot, searing pain in her hip, stopping her ascent. Just as her hand grasped her aching hip and she lost her balance, a strong but gentle hand took hold of her elbow, steadying her and sending a jolt of something undefinable up and down the length of her arm.

"Easy," he murmured quietly.

Her other hand had somehow found its way to his chest, fingers gripping his shirt. She swallowed thickly as she unraveled her fingers from the material and felt hard muscle beneath it. His heady, masculine scent enveloped her, making it more difficult to breathe, and his warm breath fanning across the side of her face caused goose bumps to crawl all over her flesh.

She'd only been this close to a man that wasn't family once in her life and that man had raped her, stealing her innocence and destroying her life and her trust in men. Sobering up quickly, she pulled away from him and crossed her arms over her chest in a defensive manner.

As if sensing her apprehension, he spoke in a soothing tone, "It's alright. I'm not going to hurt you. Just stay right there and I'll get your groceries."

She didn't respond. She just stood there nervously chewing on her lower lip, wondering if he would get her groceries then try to follow her up to her apartment. What would he do then? Force his way inside? Force himself inside her like Gavin had done? Not all men were like Gavin. She knew that. Her father and two older brothers were good men. But knowing that didn't erase her fear. Neither did time.

It'd been seven years since that fateful night. She remembered it like it had happened yesterday. Her brother, Hunter, had invited some of his friends over one evening when their father was out of town. She'd been startled awake in the middle of the night by a big hand crashing over her mouth. When she'd tried to scream, he'd pressed a knife to her throat, then ripped off her panties and brutally raped her. Afterward, he'd threatened to kill her if she told anyone. And that was where he'd messed up.

While she could vividly remember his hot, foul breath against her face and his huge body pinning her down, the only reason she'd been able to identify him was because he'd spoken. But even though he'd been arrested and found guilty, the damage had already been done. He'd taken her virginity and she would never get that back.

Her fingers pressed against the scar across the front of her throat where the knife had sliced through her skin. It hadn't been a deep cut, but it had left a reminded she didn't need. It was a good thing she couldn't see it.

"I'm Wyatt Andrews," the man suddenly said, dragging her out of her thoughts and back to the here and now. "I just moved into apartment 213 last week. Which apartment do you live in?"

Her heart thumped wildly in his chest. He lived in 213? Crap. That meant he lived in the apartment right across the hall from the one she shared with Sadie. She frowned. Did that also mean he already knew she lived right across the hall from him? He could have seen her coming in and out for all she knew. He could have been the one watching her.

Carefully, she took a step back. Then another. Then she pulled her flip phone out of her back pocket and, with a trembling thumb, punched in 9-1-1. "I—I'm calling the police," she declared stupidly. This man could easily take the phone from her.

"Wait, what?" he shouted, his shock obvious from his tone. "Why?"

"You—you're stalk—stalking me!" she exclaimed, and the phone began to ring.

WYATT ANDREWS STARED at her as if she'd grown another head; although she couldn't see that—God bless her soul. She thought he was stalking her? She couldn't be serious. He was just trying to help her! Oh, but she looked serious, and once he heard the operator answer with, "Nine-one-one, what's your emergency?" he knew he had to do something. And fast.

He didn't want to scare the daylights out of her, but what choice did he have? Dropping her bag of groceries, he rushed toward her and quickly snapped her flip phone closed. She shrieked in surprise and fear and tried to jump back, but he caught her by the arms.

"Shhhh, please calm down," he breathed out desperately. "I'm not stalking you. I swear I'm not. I was just trying to help. I've got your bag of groceries right over there. There's a rip in the bag so you'll have to hold it carefully, but it's all together now. Let me get it for you." He released her, retrieving her bag and bringing it to her. Awkwardly, he handed it over, making sure to place her hand right over the rip to keep things from spilling out.

"My cane," she choked out, her chin trembling. She looked on the verge of tears.

"Your cane," he repeated, inhaling deeply and looking around.

He spotted it off in the distance and hurried to get it. The quicker he got her things, the quicker he could get away from her. Did 9-1-1 have caller ID? Would they try calling her back? He definitely didn't want to stick around to find out. But once he handed her cane over, Wyatt had a difficult time walking away from her. Not only was she blind, but she was clearly upset.

"Do you need to call anyone besides the police?" he asked.

She shook her head.

"Do you need help to your apartment?"

She shook her head again.

"Do you need help with anything?"

"The door," she croaked out, as if it was the hardest thing she ever had to say.

Taking her gently by the arm, he guided her toward the entrance and opened the door for her, only letting go once she stepped through. He didn't follow right away; he just watched her approach the stairs. Once her cane hit the bottom step, she turned and slowly sat down. Why wasn't she going up?

Wyatt bit down on his lower lip, unsure how to proceed. He'd never met a blind person before. Did he just go around her and head up to his apartment? Clearly she didn't want his help, but he couldn't just leave her here, could he? He wouldn't feel right about it, even if she was fully capable of getting to her apartment by herself. Did she live alone? Could blind people live alone? That seemed kind of dangerous for a blind woman. Surely she lived with someone. A family member. A friend. A boyfriend. He frowned at the thought of a boyfriend.

Cautiously, he approached and sat down next to her. She tensed at his presence, but didn't whip her phone out to call 9-1-1 again. Progress.

"What's your name?" he asked softly.

She hesitated. He couldn't see her eyes behind her sunglasses, but the hard twist of her mouth spoke volumes. She didn't trust him. Perhaps that was his cue to leave.

"Olivia," she said when he shifted in preparation to stand.

"That's a pretty name," he remarked with a smile. Too bad she couldn't see it.

Like her name, she was pretty too. She had straight, shoulder length hair the color of rich caramel, a fair complexion, and her lips looked soft, full, and kissable. He wished he could see her eyes, but there was no way he'd ask her to remove her sunglasses.

"Thank you," she murmured, visibly relaxing a little before her face flushed a becoming shade of pink. "I'm sorry for accusing you of stalking me."

He chuckled dryly. "It's okay, but… why did you think I was stalking you?"

Exhaling loudly, she turned her head in his direction. "I had this uneasy feeling that someone was watching me."

"Oh." That didn't sound good. "Do you get this feeling often?"

"No," she whispered quietly, and had he not been sitting so close, he might not have heard her.

Scrubbing a hand over his jaw, he waited for her to continue on. She didn't. Frowning, he asked, "Have you told anyone about this?"

"I have to go," she announced suddenly, ignoring his question.

Balancing her bag of groceries and her cane in one arm, she reached for the stair railing to pull herself to her feet. Wyatt shot up next to her, watching her wince in pain and feeling an unexpected urge to take care of her and protect her. He didn't even want to contemplate why.

Gently, he grabbed her bag, but he didn't pull it away from her. "Let me carry this for you," he said softly, waiting for her to refuse his help again.

She surprisingly relented, letting him take the bag from her. Then without a word, she climbed the steps to the second floor. His floor. Momentarily, he wondered why she didn't live on the first floor. Wouldn't that be easier? Maybe she didn't like easy. As he quietly followed behind her, questions were flitting through his mind about her and her affliction. He couldn't help but be curious, but he didn't want to offend her with his questions either.

"What apartment is yours?" he inquired as they neared his.

When she failed to answer, he frowned and silently studied her. She looked extremely tense with her stiff gait and the tight grip she had on her cane. He wished there were some way he could alleviate that tension, but it probably wouldn't dissipate until she got inside her apartment and away from him.

"My apartment is just up ahead," he informed her.

"I know," she said.


A dark brow lifted in confusion as she came to a stop beside his apartment and the one right across the hall—214. Turning toward him, she surprised him with a small, forced smile, like she was trying to be brave. But why? His intuition told him something awful happened to her. It also told him someone had been watching her. His father always had gut feelings that were never wrong. At a young age, Wyatt had learned he got them too. Learning to listen to the feelings had been the hardest part over the years.

"Thank you for walking me to my apartment," she said.

He glanced over her head at apartment 214, incredulous. She lived right across the hall?

Wait! His buddy, Jake, had told him last week his girlfriend lived in 214. Dark brown eyes dropped back to Olivia's face, his jaw gaping. No way. She couldn't possibly be Jake's girlfriend. Jake would have told him she was blind. Right? Wyatt suddenly didn't know.

He felt a stab of jealousy as he imagined Olivia locked in Jake's embrace.

No, no, no, no, no, no.

Cursing low under his breath, he carefully passed over her bag and exhaled noisily. "You're… welcome," he muttered. "It was nice meeting you, Olivia."

Her lips curved downward into a frown, obviously sensing that something was off, but she didn't question him. "You, too," she replied instead, and turned toward her door, pulling out her keys and fumbling with them.

Wyatt should have simply turned around and slipped into his own apartment, but he watched and waited while she unlocked her door and disappeared inside. Only when he heard the deadbolt slide into place did he turn to his own door, wondering what a blind woman saw in a party animal like Jake and wondering why the hell he even cared.