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“You think Rico was my stalker? He was there when the guy came up to me—”

“No, I talked to Rico.”

Something about the way Hunter said it didn’t seem like it was a light discussion.

“Rico is clear.” Hunter gestured to the corner of the room. “He has nothing to do with the stalker.”

I turned, shrieked, and jumped out of the chair.

Rico sat in the corner tied up by rope. Duct tape kept his mouth shut. A dark wet spot stained his jeans. Embarrassment covered his face.

“Oh my God.” I searched for scissors to release him. “Rico, are you okay? Come on, Hunter. You didn’t have to do this.”

Hunter handed me a hooked gold knife with a rainbow handle. He’d simply pulled it out of his pocket like it was no big deal. Had it not been such a shocking moment, I would’ve asked if he’d bought the multicolored weapon from a friendly fairy.

With a bored tone, he said, “A stalker is after you, and Rico lets himself get tied up by anybody?”

“You’re not just anybody.” I grabbed the heavy knife and cut at the rope, doing a piss-poor job.

Hunter took the knife and freed the guard himself. “Stop giving this guy excuses. He’s getting paid to protect you, not be your best friend.”

Once Rico was free, he stood. Anger blazed from him. I stepped in between them and reached out to undo his duct tape. Rico backed away and yanked it off himself as he walked off.

Hunter said from behind me, “If you have to protect Rico from me, then he sucks at his job.”

I turned around. The door slammed shut. Rico must’ve fled.

The last time I’d seen Hunter flashed in my head. It had been five years ago, our last Christmas together. I hadn’t seen him since.

I stood in the middle of my mom’s doorway begging him, “Please don’t go.”

My voice cracked.

I hated when Hunter ran away. Everything about him screamed strength and power. But then these moments came when something triggered him to flee.

“Please, don’t leave, Hunter.”

“I’m sorry.” He cupped my chin with his big hands. “Don’t cry, Zola, don’t. I’m so sorry.”

I leaned into his hands, trying to inhale him.

He brushed a tear away with his thumb.

“I don’t understand,” I whispered. “Did I do something?”

“No.”

It sounded like a lie slipping off his tongue. He wasn’t telling me all the truth. Deep in my gut, I knew that it was more.

“The holidays are hard for me.” Loneliness flashed in those icy eyes. “I’m sorry…”

I shook the moment out of my mind.

“Are you okay?” Hunter asked, bringing me back to this new odd reality—him here right in front of me after five years.

Why did you leave? Why are you back?

Unable to process everything so fast, I asked, “So, you’re giving me a new guard?”

Hunter appeared unfazed. “No, I’m taking your guard’s place.”

I gulped at the news. I thought it would be years before I saw Hunter again. York and Mom updated me from time to time, but overall, I’d tried to push him out of my mind. If he wouldn’t text or email me back, then I wouldn’t send them. If he couldn’t answer the phone, then I wouldn’t pick it up to call him.

Resentment wrapped around my heart even though a large part of me was happy to see him again. And now he stood there explaining he would be my guard, protecting me every day from dawn to dusk and even later.

I cleared my throat. “For how long?”

“Until your stalker is gone, and then I’ll assign one of my men to you fulltime.”

“Your men are scary.”

“That’s a good thing.”

I kicked off the heels that had been causing my feet to ache. Even with the heels and being six feet, I didn’t meet him eye level.

Hunter watched my movement. “Thoughts?”

“I’m glad you’re taking over.” I walked over and sat back down in the chair. “I have no doubt you’ll…do something about it. I just don’t want anybody being…”

“You don’t want me to kill him?”

“Yes.”

He sat down too. “Let’s consider this.”

Oh, here we go.

I tried not to stare at him. I did my best to not look his way, but I did. I studied the changes in his face and body since I’d seen him last. He’d gotten bigger—more muscular. And his face had gone from young god to fallen angel—carved angles and sculpted lines.

Holy Jesus. Why must this man always look so delicious?

“So, you think that if I break your stalker’s legs, that it will be the end of it?” he asked.

“You don’t have to break his legs.”

“Of course.” He gave me a skeptical expression. “I can just talk to him.”

“No, but we can hand him over to the police—”

“Or him and I could meet at Starbucks.” Hunter shrugged. “We could bond over unicorn Frappuccinos.”

Frowning, I crossed my legs.

Hunter directed all his attention to them. “Your stalker is not leaving you alone, not after a talk or even a smack against his sick head. The cops won’t do enough. There will be more that needs to be done.”