Obsessed (Lizzy Gardner #4)


by T.R. Ragan

CHAPTER 1

Sitting in his Honda Civic, his gaze focused on the two-story house across the street, he listened to Dr. Blair’s voice come over the airwaves, soft and soothing as she wrapped up the night’s show. A tremendous urge to call her swept over him. He wanted to let her know all was clear—nobody was creeping around her house tonight. But he refrained—perhaps another time, when he wasn’t so darn cold.

Whistling winds made the tree branches dance as rain splattered against his windshield. Seth had been parked in the quiet Sacramento neighborhood for over two hours. The back window wouldn’t roll all the way up, so the cold flowed directly through the window and into his bones. He turned the key and put on the heat, which came out in bursts of frosty air. His joints were stiff, his knuckles puffy and swollen. He would be forty-two next week, but he might as well be sixty-two.

Seth adjusted his glasses on the bridge of his nose and tried to get comfortable. He scanned the neighborhood, then settled once again on Dr. Blair’s house.

He’d been listening to her radio show for months now. After his wife confessed to having an affair with a coworker and then promptly begged his forgiveness, his first inclination was to put a bullet through his head. But he’d refrained. Days later, while flipping through radio stations on his way to work, he’d heard the voice of an angel. Dr. Madeline Blair was talking to another shattered man. Their situations weren’t identical—this man was struggling to make it through the anniversary of his wife’s death—but it was still as if Dr. Blair were speaking directly to Seth. The connection was instantaneous. She understood him. She knew what he was going through.

As far as he was concerned, Dr. Blair had saved his life.

And now it was his turn to repay the favor. Ever since Dr. Blair had told her listeners that a madman was stalking her, he’d been keeping a close eye on her property, looking for his chance to put an end to the craziness. Someone, she told her listeners, was leaving “gifts” at her house while she was at work. He wasn’t sure what sorts of things were being left, but the fear he’d heard in Madeline’s voice left him shaky and tense. Clearly, the items being left behind were not truffles and flowers.

Last week, the man assumed to be the stalker had called in to the show. His voice was deep and throaty, with lots of exaggerated breaths between each sentence.

A shadow drew Seth’s attention to the house—nothing but wind blowing through the trees.

The first time he watched Madeline’s house, he’d worried about his intentions, but after some reflection, he’d realized he only wanted to protect her and keep her safe. She had rescued him and now he would do the same for her.

Did he love her? He had no idea. Wouldn’t trust himself to say. He thought he’d loved his wife, and what had that gotten him? A kick in the gut when Janelle came clean about her affair. Seth all but doubled over behind the wheel now, just thinking of it.

They had been married for fourteen years. They’d met in college. Her passion was nursing and his was medicine. His dream was to become a doctor. Together, they’d studied physiology and anatomy, biology and biochemistry. They’d spent long nights studying and making love. But it was all for naught. Despite Janelle’s help, he’d failed to pass the med school entrance exams.

If not for a frontal-lobe injury caused by a skiing accident when he was a young boy, he was certain his life would have turned out very differently. After the accident, he’d become irritable and frustrated easily, unable to concentrate due to the constant flashing of lights inside his head. The doctor told his mother she’d need to take care to monitor the effects of his injury, especially any changes in his decision-making ability. More than likely, Seth wouldn’t be a danger to himself or his family, but he might have trouble gauging right from wrong.

The notion that he might not understand right from wrong worried Seth greatly. And there were some incidents that fed that worry. But thankfully the episodes, as his mother used to call them, became less frequent as he grew older.

And besides, people who did know right from wrong chose to do wrong all the time. Take Janelle, for instance. It hurt when he thought of Janelle and what they’d once shared. Up until the day she told him about her affair, he had loved her like no other.

The man she’d hooked up with no longer worked at Sutter General, where Janelle was head nurse.

No matter.

Once she’d taken a bite of that forbidden fruit, a part of him died. Nothing would ever be the same. His heart no longer belonged to his wife. It belonged to Madeline Blair, a woman he’d never uttered two words to. Well, that wasn’t exactly true. He’d called in to her show a couple of times. On one occasion, the board operator put him through. After untangling his tongue, he’d managed to ask her a question, but that was months ago and he couldn’t remember what he’d said.

Dr. Blair’s show dealt with everything from insomnia to relationship problems. He quickly learned it wasn’t easy being a popular radio host. The job entailed long hours. Most nights her Toyota 4Runner didn’t pull into the driveway until after midnight.

A movement in his rearview mirror caught his attention. This was no dancing tree branch in the wind. It was a man on the sidewalk carrying an umbrella and he was coming straight for him.

Straightening in his seat, Seth let out a ponderous breath. It was too late to drive off. The man leaned over and knocked on the passenger window. He was a large fellow with a barrel chest and short, silver-streaked hair.

Seth opened the window a few inches.

“My wife says you’ve been parked here for some time. Is there something I can help you with?”

The man’s gaze swept over the interior of his car, making Seth perspire even though he had done nothing wrong. “I’m sorry,” Seth blurted. “My mother passed away recently and that house right there is where we grew up. It’s been an emotional time.”

The man with the umbrella relaxed; his eyes softened. “Are you one of the Johnson boys?”

Forcing a smile, he continued to lie. “As a matter of fact, I am.”

“I’m sorry for your loss. Sit here as long as you need to.”

“Thanks, but I should get going. I’m sure my wife is worrying about me by now.” He quickly pulled away from the curb. As he drove off, he could see the silver-haired man standing there, watching him.

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