Aly was Googling how much she’d need to tell a hacker for them to find someone for her.
This could be a problem.
I watched her bite her lip through her laptop camera as she read the article, dark eyes filled with focus, a small divot appearing between her brows as she started to frown. Her hair was in a messy bun, she had no makeup on, and her clothes were rumpled like she’d just rolled out of bed. Something inside me softened at the sight. Until now, I was so fixated on playing out a fantasy with her that I hadn’t stopped to consider what reality might look like.
I closed my eyes and pictured myself sitting across from her at the dining table, watching her sip coffee as she woke up, her hair wild and lips bruised from what I’d done to them the night before. I nearly groaned at the thought. It’d been so long since I’d shared a bed with someone for more than just a quick hookup. When was the last time I’d woken with a woman splayed across my chest as she slept, using me for my body heat? The fact that I couldn’t remember probably wasn’t a good thing.
Tyler regularly called me a recluse, but up until this moment, I hadn’t given it a second thought. So what if I was one? My aversion to leaving the apartment building was warranted, considering my past and the fallout of being recognized. But picturing myself inside a simple slice-of-life scene with Aly had me questioning my choices. How much was I missing out on by locking myself away from the rest of the world? Was it still necessary to guard myself from people and vice versa? I was twenty-six years old, and so far, I’d gone all this time without hurting anyone.
Did that mean I might never hurt someone? Dad had committed his first disturbing assault as a young teen. The podcasts loved talking about that. How an early childhood filled with abuse and a couple of head wounds had started him down his dark path. He’d passed the pain on to me before Mom managed to get us away from him for good, but at least I’d been lucky enough to escape suffering a traumatic brain injury.
The MacDonald triad was an outdated but sometimes eerily accurate prediction of violent tendencies in a person. The first point of the triangle was fire starting. Burning shit down had never appealed to me. The second was bed-wetting. I had an iron bladder even from an early age, and I’d never pissed the sheets. The third was the one I’d always worried about because I’d never wanted to test myself – animal cruelty – but since I hadn’t hurt Fred the other night or was even tempted to, I was starting to feel more confident than I had in a long time that I wasn’t going to snap one day and turn into my father.
Bro, you are literally stalking Aly right now, I reminded myself.
Yeah, there was that. Okay, so I might not be a danger to the public, but I definitely had some traits most people – my therapist included, if I ever confessed to her – would call problematic. At least I wasn’t watching Aly because I wanted to chain her up in my hypothetical basement or anything. I just needed to figure out whether or not she was into what I’d done, and then I’d stop.
I rolled my eyes. Unfortunately, I was too self-aware to believe my bullshit. I wasn’t going to fucking stop.
Aly sat forward in her seat and started typing.
Can someone watch me through my laptop camera?
Her eyes flashed wide as she read the results, then jerked to the top of the screen, looking straight at me.
“Hello, gorgeous,” I said, wishing she could hear me so I could watch the blood drain from her face in fear.
Yup, definitely problematic. We’d circle back around to analyze that later.
“Fuck,” Aly bit out, pushing away from the table.
She turned and strode out of view, and I watched her ass the entire time. The things I wanted to do to that ass. I’d always thought of myself as a tit man, but Aly was proving me wrong.
I heard her rustling around somewhere nearby before she marched back into the feed carrying duct tape and scissors. She was about to cover the camera. Fuck. Disappointment and frustration sank straight into my gut, and I couldn’t help myself. I pulled out my phone and typed a one-word message to her.
Her phone pinged onscreen, and she paused in the middle of tearing off a piece of tape to look at it. Fear flashed across her face, sweet, delicious fear, before it was quickly replaced by anger.
“Listen, motherfucker,” she said, setting her phone down and planting her hands on the table as she leaned in close. God, she was beautiful when she was mad, her dark eyes almost black as she narrowed them at me. “I am going to find you, and then we’ll see how much you like it when you come home to discover someone waiting for you in the dark.”
A thrill shot through me, zooming straight to my dick. I instantly went hard. Apparently, I’d like that a lot. I might not even try to block whatever two-bit hacker she might end up hiring if it meant the result was her waiting for me with a gun or a knife. I’d be her willing victim. Or maybe I’d test her to see how far she’d go. I didn’t have a death wish. It’s not like I wanted her to shoot my ass or anything, but I was curious about how much darkness hid beneath her beautiful façade. If she wanted to rough me up a little, I might just let her.
Actually, no. Scratch that. Instead, I’d rather put up a good defense, push Aly to her limit, and see how much she’d learned in her self-defense classes. She looked like a woman who didn’t pull her punches, and with all the muscle on her frame and how well she must know her body and its limits after all her workouts, she could probably do some real damage, even to someone like me who outweighed her by at least seventy pounds.
I grinned. Unfortunately for Aly, I’d been taking martial arts since I was seven. Mom enrolled both herself and me in them when we left my dad, wanting us to be able to defend ourselves if he ever tried to hurt us again. Even now, I practiced once a week with Tyler, who’d taken them with me starting in high school.
I’d let Aly get a few punches in, make her feel like she had a chance before pinning her to the ground and finding some way to convince her she’d rather fuck than fight.
I sat back and watched her while she tore a piece of duct tape free. Her mind had gone straight to revenge. She could have threatened to report me, ordered me not to break in again, or told me she was calling the cops. But she didn’t do any of those things. Did that mean some part of her enjoyed this as much as I did? After all, a “normal” person would go straight to the police. They’d let the professionals try to find me instead of searching me out themselves.
I hadn’t failed to notice that not only had Aly not done any of those things, but she didn’t even tell me to stop spying on her.
I palmed my erection through my shorts. She was into it. She might still be trying to convince herself she wasn’t or shouldn’t be, but she was. I just knew it. Somehow, I’d find a way to get her to accept it about herself.
She leaned in again and sent me a wink through the camera that had me gripping the base of my dick so hard it almost hurt. “See you soon,” she threatened before she lifted the tape, and the screen went dark.
Sooner than you think, baby, I promised.
Last night, I’d formulated another plan for breaking into her house, but now I had a better idea, one where she’d have just as much control as I would.
Her next Google search was for how to disable her camera entirely. I watched her screen as she went through the steps, letting out an exhale when she was finished. She’d just killed the video feed, but that didn’t disable the microphone. I heard rustling through it, wondering what she was doing before the quiet sound of a phone ringing hit my ears. Who was she calling?
An all too familiar voice picked up. “Aly?”
I yanked my hand away from my dick. She’d called Tyler? What the fuck? And why did I suddenly want to drive to his office and punch him in the face?
Get ahold of yourself, I thought. He’s your best friend.
“Tyler, hi, yeah,” Aly said. “Sorry for calling you out of nowhere. I’m not about to beg you to reconsider breaking things off or anything, but I have sort of a weird favor, and if this is crossing some line, feel free to tell me to fuck off.”
“Okaaay?” Tyler said. I recognized that tone of voice. He didn’t believe her. He totally thought she was about to proposition him.
Aly took a deep breath. “I feel like I remember you saying your roommate was good with computers?”
She wasn’t about to…
She couldn’t really be…
Tyler blew out a laugh, sounding relieved. “He is. Why?”
“Could he find someone for me? Online? I have a bit of a situation here.”
Fuck! I was a danger, after all. To Tyler. Because I was going to kill him for telling her about me.
The humor was gone from my roommate’s voice when he responded. “What kind of situation? Are you okay?”
“Uh…” Aly said, and I wished I could see her face. “I think so? Actually, I’d know for sure if your roommate could find this person.”
I jerked to my feet and threaded my hands behind my head. This was bad. This was sooo bad.
“Aly. Seriously,” Tyler said. “If someone threatened you or something, you should go to the cops, not my roommate.”
“I haven’t been threatened.” A long pause. “I don’t think.”
Goddamnit. If I knew Tyler, he was about to offer to handle things himself.
Right on cue, he said, “Just tell me what you need, and Josh and I will take care of it. Between the two of us, we’ll make whoever it is regret being born.”
“I can handle this myself,” Aly said, a hint of annoyance creeping into her tone. “I just need to find this person. That’s all. Can Josh help me or not? I’ll pay him.”
There went my dick, tenting up my shorts again the second she said my name.
“Save your money,” Tyler said. “I’m sure he’ll do it for free.”
I nearly flipped my fucking desk. Great. There was no getting out of helping Aly now. At least not without seeming like a monumental asshole and making Tyler question why I’d turn her down. It would look suspicious as fuck if I said no.
Aly let out a sigh. “Thank you. Just let me know when a good time is to come over.”
Come over? Come over here?
I whipped my head to the left, toward the distinctive couch along the far wall that I heavily featured in my videos, then to my bed and the stupid fucking custom headboard I just haaad to commission because I couldn’t go to Ikea like everyone else on the goddamn planet. No, I had to be special. Unique.
Aly was smart. She’d probably worked out that I lived nearby. The second she stepped inside my room, I’d be fucked.
“I’ll talk to him after work and let you know,” Tyler said.
“Okay. Thank you for this.”
They got off the phone, and I started pacing, feeling like a caged animal. No need to panic. I could figure this out. For starters, Aly couldn’t come in here. That much was obvious. Nor could she get a good look at my hands. My tattoos were just as distinctive as my furniture choices, and they crawled all the way up to my knuckles. Thankfully, I had a pair of fingerless gloves. I’d chuck them on before she arrived, and if she asked why I was wearing them, I’d tell her I was cold.
I paused in my pacing and grabbed my phone to start planning everything I’d need to do to avoid detection. I’d have to turn the thermostat down to sell the lie about being chilly. At least it would also explain why I wore a sweatshirt with the hood pulled up as I tried to keep Aly from getting a good look at my face, too. I’d need to move my laptop into the living room and work for her on that instead of my desktop. And I’d definitely need to swap the Utah dad I’d framed for someone within driving distance as I pretended to track myself down.
My fingers flew over my phone as I made a list in the note app. I was nothing if not organized. By the time I had it all written out in front of me, I felt marginally better. This wasn’t a total disaster, and on the plus side, I’d have a reason to spend time with Aly, learn more about her, and get a better read on what she thought about the situation I’d dragged her into.
I slipped my phone into my pocket when I was done, still feeling jittery. I had to get out of here and clear my head.
A glance at my computer screen showed me the sound monitor tied to Aly’s laptop was still measuring noise, so she hadn’t closed it. I sent the feed to my tablet, grabbed that along with my keys and wallet, pulled on sweatpants and a jacket, and headed out.
I connected the tablet to my car speakers through Bluetooth as the engine roared to life, and I waited for the heat to kick on, listening in as Aly moved about her house. Just in case she walked into her bedroom, I set my phone in its dashboard holder and pulled up the feed for the hidden camera.
Mobile stalking unit: achieved.
I felt proud of myself for all of a second before I realized what a creep this probably made me. Despite knowing I should feel guilty and wrong for what I was doing, I didn’t. All I could drum up was a slight hint of regret, but even that didn’t make me want to stop. At this point, only law enforcement or Aly telling me to fuck off would be enough to put an end to my behavior.
Twenty minutes later, I was driving past Aly’s house for the second time, laughing to myself as she spammed my DMs. My first present had arrived, and she was not amused.
Flowers? she asked. You bought me fucking flowers after breaking into my house?
Also, what the hell am I supposed to do with an entire floral shop???
These delivery men are telling me that it’s against policy for them to take them back since they’ve been paid for.
If you meant this as an apology, you failed.
I’m madder at you now than I was last night.
That last statement piqued my interest. She was more annoyed by flowers than a home invasion? Yup, Aly was fucked up, and she probably didn’t even realize how much her comments revealed because she was still trying to convince herself she didn’t want this.
I longed to say something back to her, but I wasn’t responding to anything because it would be too dangerous and leave a digital record.
“I don’t have anywhere else to put these,” Aly said, loud enough that both the microphone on her laptop and the one attached to the camera in her bedroom picked it up.
The delivery man’s response was muffled.
“No, I know that’s not your problem, but come on,” she said.
My amusement faded. Was he being rude to her?
Keep driving, stupid, I told myself. I couldn’t pull over and teach him a lesson about politeness right now. That would ruin everything. But maybe I could figure out who these guys were and find some digital way to show them the error of their ways.
“How about this,” Aly said. “Take them to the nurses’ station at Prescott Memorial.”
The response was muffled again.
“Fifty bucks to drive them ten minutes away?” she said. “Are you serious?”
I grimaced. Well, this was backfiring.
A heavy sigh came through the speakers as I parked a street away from hers. “Let me get my wallet,” I heard her say.
I yanked my phone from its dock just in time to watch her stomp into her bedroom, looking pissed. Fred was lying curled up in a ball on her comforter, nonplussed at all the noise.
Aly grabbed her wallet from her handbag and paused long enough to scratch Fred between the ears. “I hope you bit The Faceless Man.”
Fred made a little chirruping noise in response. I chose to interpret that as him defending my character. Weren’t pets supposed to have some sixth sense and could always tell the good people from the bad? He hadn’t so much as hissed at me. In fact, he wouldn’t leave me alone the whole time I was there, and I’d eventually had to shut him out of Aly’s room so I could film in peace. I took that as a sign that I wasn’t as damned as I thought, and a little light, okay, heavy stalking wasn’t enough to condemn me.
Aly paid the delivery driver and shut her front door hard enough that my speakers rattled.
Great, she typed a minute later. On top of being a pain in the ass and way over the top, your gift just cost me fifty bucks.
I slid down in my seat, wishing I could apologize but knowing I shouldn’t. Oh, wait. Didn’t Aly have a payment app? I pulled one of my anonymous accounts up on the tablet and found her on the app, sending her fifty bucks via the same stolen credit card I’d used to buy the flowers.
Seriously? she asked. You think that makes up for all this hassle?
I drummed my fingers against the dashboard, getting frustrated about my inability to communicate with her. I knew I should have brought my burner phone, but I’d left it behind, telling myself it was too early to text her from it. She was still too skittish.
A loud ding-dong came from my speakers. Her doorbell? I pulled up my tracking app, and sure enough, my other gifts just arrived.
I heard a door open and then, “Can I help you?”
“I’m here to deliver a package to Alyssa Cappellucci?” a man said, mangling her last name.
She didn’t bother to correct him. “I’m she.”
“Sign here?” he said.
“But I didn’t order anything.”
“So, you’re refusing delivery?”
“Uh…no?” she said.
“Then please sign here.”
“Who sent this?”
“No idea,” was the response. “We don’t get that information. Do you want the package or not?”
It got quiet for a minute, and I assumed she was signing.
“Here you go,” the man said. “Have a good day.”
The front door closed again, and I heard more muffled sounds.
My phone pinged a second later.
Did you send me something?
Several somethings, but she’d figure that out soon enough.
It better not be a bomb, or I’m coming back as a poltergeist and finding some way to ghost-murder you.
I grinned. Aly was just as funny as her thirsty comments made her out to be, and I was here for it.
Suddenly, she appeared on my phone screen as she entered her room. She went straight to Fred, scooped him up, and put him in her bathroom.
“Sorry, bud,” she said. “But you have to stay here. Mom is about to do something stupid, and I don’t want you to get hurt if this goes sideways.”
She shut the door on his protesting meow and left her room.
I tried to drum up some remorse as I leaned forward in my seat and listened to her open the packages, but I was too excited. Plus, I knew it wasn’t a bomb. Obviously.
“What the –” she said. “What is all this? Oh, you have got to be fucking kidding me.”
My phone pinged, and I immediately opened her message.
You sent me home defense tools?
After breaking into my house?
Are you serious right now???
Keep going, I wanted to tell her. On top of buying her burglar-proof wedges with built-in alarms that could be shoved beneath her doors, I’d gotten her titanium bars that braced against knobs way better than a chair could, extra locks that couldn’t be manipulated with magnets, and an entire in-home security system complete with cameras for her front and back doors.
Lastly, because some small part of me believed in fairness and wanted to even the playing field, I got her a high-tech camera detector. Watching her had been fun and was fulfilling a surveillance kink I didn’t even know I had until now, but it’d be even more fun if Aly decided she wanted to be watched.
I heard more rustling and then, “This mother fucker.”
Why did you get me these things? To make it harder for yourself the next time you try to break in?
Are you some sort of sick fuck who likes the challenge?
Also, you saved me the trouble of having to buy them for myself later today, like planned, but if you’re waiting for a thank you, you’re shit out of luck, buddy.
A solid minute of silence passed.
“Answer me, goddamnit!” her voice echoed through my car.
I know you’re reading these messages, you bastard. I can see the read receipts.
Before I could stop myself, I sent her a kissy-face emoji. One day, I would learn to stop being such a smartass, but apparently, today was not that day.
The growl that rumbled out of my speakers in response was adorable.
“That’s it,” she said. “I change my mind. I’m calling the cops on his ass.”
Don’t, I typed back, the same single word from before. This couldn’t be traced to anything she’d written, and if we ever ended up in court, it would be her word against mine that my response was to something she said. I really hoped it didn’t come to that. I was having way too much fun with her.
“Goddamn it! Are you listening to me somehow? How the hell do I disable the microphone on a laptop?”
Well, I’m certainly not telling you, I sent back.
“I hope you’re enjoying yourself, you son of a bitch,” she snarled.
Immensely, I responded, adding a smiley face emoji for good measure.
“I am going to find you, and I am going to make you regret this.”
A strangled laugh came through my speakers, and the grin that split my face in response felt evil. Got her. She was enjoying this on some level, too. Now, I just needed to keep pulling her strings until I found the one that unraveled her enough that she stopped fighting against her nature and joined me in my descent into darkness.
“Do not misconstrue the sound that just came out of my mouth,” she said. “It was hysterical laughter only. Brought on by stress and a murderous rage.”
Hot, I replied.
She choked on another laugh. “Goddamn it. That’s it. I’m turning off my computer.”
I sent a crying face emoji.
“You’re not funny,” she said.
Then why do you keep laughing?
“I am not laughing. Not really.”
I pulled up my photo app, double-checked that the background of the video I needed was blurry enough that her room wasn’t identifiable, and then sent her an outtake from last night, just to keep her talking.
She went quiet as she watched a shirtless me trying to film myself in her mirror, only for Fred to suddenly leap onto the bed and start meowing at me at the top of his lungs, rubbing against my hand when I wasn’t fast enough to pet him. This was a huge risk. The room might be blurry, but me pictured alongside a black and white cat could prove to be harder to defend. I was operating on instinct alone, at this point. Aly hadn’t reported me yet, and if my gut was right, there was a good chance she never would.
“No,” Aly said. “There is absolutely no way. What did you do? Cover yourself in catnip? He hates men.”
Now, why did that little piece of information suddenly make me feel like the chosen one?
He just has exacting taste, I said.
I sent her another outtake, this one of Fred stalking up behind me only to pounce at my dangling fingers, slap at them without using his claws, and then bound offscreen and start yowling like he wanted me to play chase with him.
Aly chuckled, but it turned muffled after a clapping sound like she’d clamped a hand over her mouth to stifle it.
“This means nothing,” she said a heartbeat later. “Cats are sociopaths by nature. Fred simply recognized a similar creature.”
If I’m the cat, what does that make you? I asked. The mouse?
“I’m a mother fucking wolf,” Aly said, and then her computer cut off as she killed the power.
Damn it. Well, at least I still had her bedroom camera for a few more minutes. I locked the tablet and switched my phone to Bluetooth instead so I could hear her better over the speakers.
“What the hell is this thing?”
My phone started rapid-fire chiming.
A CAMERA FINDER???
YOU BETTER NOT HAVE.
She marched straight into her bedroom with the device aimed.
Welp, here goes my last way to monitor her in her house, I thought.
It took less than a minute for her to find the camera I planted, and when she did, she just stood in front of it, staring for so long that I started to get nervous.
Unable to stand it any longer, I picked up my phone.
Say something, I typed.
She glanced at her phone screen and then back at the camera. “The other night, after you sent me that video. Did you –” She snapped her mouth shut like she couldn’t bring herself to finish the sentence.
Aly, no, I said, feeling desperate. I wanted her to be afraid of me, but not like this. I stopped.
“I don’t believe you,” she said, so low I barely heard it.
Fuck, I was starting to lose her, wasn’t I?
And you don’t have any reason to, I typed. But I’m still telling you I stopped.
“Have you been watching me change and sleep and…”
No. My moral compass might not point north, but it’s not that fucked up.
“Why should I believe you?”
I sighed, wanting to convince her but knowing that wasn’t the right move. As far as she knew, I was a stranger on the internet.
You shouldn’t, Aly.
She let out a low noise of frustration and shook her head. “Fuck.”
As I watched, she reached out and yanked the camera from the socket, and even though I knew it was coming, I wasn’t ready for the sense of loss that punched through me.
I don’t want to hurt you, I told her, knowing I might regret it when this all went to shit, and she finally reported me.
Didn’t you just imply I’d be an idiot to believe you? she responded.
I suppose I had.
Her “online” notification cut off as she logged out of the app.
This was fine. I’d expected Aly to be pissed about the camera for a little while. She had every right to be.
But if everything went to plan tonight, I was about to prove that I didn’t intend to hurt her, and she could trust me.
Copyright © 2023 by Navessa Allen
All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, distributed, or transmitted in any form or by any means, including photocopying, recording, or other electronic or mechanical methods, without the prior written permission of the author, except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical reviews and certain other noncommercial uses permitted by copyright law.
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, businesses, companies, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.