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Perfect Victim (Nadia Stafford 3.6) Kelley Armstrong 2022/7/22 14:36:33

A smile lights his eyes. When I stay until closing, I usually end up in the apartment over the bar. His apartment.

"You should," he says. "Looks like you could use a break."

I'm sure he's about to make some smutty suggestion about ways to relieve my stress. Then his gaze slides to Diana, and instead he heads off to wait on another customer. He thinks he's being discreet, but Diana knows about us, and she's just as horrified as he suspects she'd be. Diana does not approve of casual sex, especially not with an ex-con bartender who works at the docks by day. She has no idea what she's missing.

Normally, she'd make a smart comment as Kurt walked away. But tonight she's lost in the mysteries of her lemon drop.

"Fuck," I mutter, and sit back on my stool.

Graham Berry is Diana's ex-husband. Respected lawyer. Community pillar. Also one of the most goddamn brilliant psychos I've ever met. He knows exactly how to stalk and torment her while keeping his ass out of prison. Restraining orders? Sure, we can get them. But any cop who's spent time in SVU knows they're as useful as cardboard armor in a gunfight.

She downs her martini and signals Kurt for a refill. Diana rarely has more than one, and when he comes over to deliver it, he gives me an Is everything okay? look.

When he says, "Maybe tomorrow will be better," I know he isn't talking about Diana.

"Graham's in town," she blurts out when Kurt leaves. "He claims he's here on business."

"And he wants to see you, because he loves you and he's changed."

I look her in the eyes as I say this, steeling myself for the guilty flash that says she's considering meeting with him. Like many abusive relationships, theirs is a complicated one. He'd beat the shit out of her, and then he'd be so very sorry, and she'd go back to him, and the cycle would start again.

It's been two years since she left him and convinced me to move to a new city with her. I'd resisted, not because I was reluctant to help but, honestly, because I expected I'd relocate my life for Diana and then find myself alone in that new city when she went back to Graham. But I'd decided to give her one last chance . . . and she'd finally decided he'd had enough chances. She's been free and clear of him ever since, and now I don't detect any guilt in her eyes, any sign that she wants to see him.

"Okay, step one," I say. "You'll stay at my place tonight and work from there tomorrow. Call in sick."

She doesn't suggest a longer-term stay, though, and I feel like a bitch for that, for even thinking it at a time like this, as if she'd manufacture a story about Graham to move in with me.

"With any luck," I continue, "it'll take him a while to track your home or work address, and if he really is on business, he won't be here long . . ." I catch her expression. "He's already found you."

"He--he stopped by the office. The usual crap. He just wants to have coffee, talk, work things out."

"And then?" I say, because I know there is an and then. In public, Graham plays the besotted ex-husband. But as soon as no one is around

"He waylaid me in the parking garage."

I reach for her wrist, and she flinches. I push up the sleeve to see a bracelet of bruises.

She gives me a whipped-puppy look.

"Graham showed up at your office, and you didn't call me? You walked into the goddamn parking garage--"

"Don't, Casey. I feel stupid enough."