Guarding Sierra(Soldiering On #2)

By: Aislinn Kearns

(Soldiering On #2)

Chapter 1

The roses were the colour of blood.

That was Sierra’s first thought when she saw the bouquet sitting innocuously in the hallway in front of her apartment door. The splash of scarlet was particularly vibrant against the two-toned grey of the walls.

She wondered if he had intended that.

Blood roared in her ears as she took a hesitant step forward. She didn’t want to get close. The rich array of flowers might have been a hissing snake for all she cared. She didn’t want to touch them.

As she got closer, her heart pounding relentlessly in her chest, she noticed the dark curl at the edge of the petals. The roses had obviously been sitting out there for a few hours. She hoped that meant he wasn’t nearby.

Maybe they weren’t even from him.

Sierra considered this thought. She pulled out her phone, still eyeing the bouquet nervously, and texted Gary. The two had gone out on a few dates recently before deciding to end it amicably. They both knew there was no chemistry there.

Did you send me flowers? She asked him. Nausea swamped her. She wanted to flee, but knew that was ridiculous. If she couldn’t face a bunch of flowers, then what good was she? Her nerves had been too highly strung for the last year, ratcheted up as she vacillated between being sure she had a stalker, to being certain that it was all in her head. Her paranoia pushed her closer to the edge.

Gary texted back almost immediately. No. Should I have?

Tension squeezed in her gut, tighter now. Sweat broke out on her neck.

No. Thanks. It was all she could manage.

She had to know.

In a sudden rush, Sierra stepped forward and crouched down near the flowers. Her breathing was too shallow. Dizziness teased the edges of her consciousness. She deliberately took a deep breath, and reached out to touch a petal.

The world didn’t end; the building didn’t come crashing down. She was still alive. They were just flowers, and she felt increasingly stupid about her fear.

No turning back now.

The dam had broken once she’d touched the rose, so Sierra searched the bouquet for any note or card that might have been left. Nothing.

A sharp prick lanced through her finger and she reared back. Blood welled from a small cut on the pad of her index finger, sliding over the paleness of her skin. She glanced at the bouquet, looking closer without touching.

All the roses still had their thorns.

She fell back, landing with a thump on her butt and scooting away to the opposite side of the wide hallway. Not far enough. If she stretched her stockinged legs out in front of her, her feet would knock the bouquet over.

Those roses hadn’t come from a commercial florist. If they had, they would have trimmed the thorns off. Either the florist who sent them was sloppy at their job, or her stalker had gone to a lot of trouble to acquire roses with the thorns still attached.

Horror slammed into her. This was the most forward her stalker had been. Until now, for an entire year, she’d been unsure that he existed. But now, surely, this was proof. She wasn’t going insane. He was real, and he was a threat. An escalating threat.

Behind the horror welled a deep pit of fury. How dare he? How dare he terrorise her like this, make her question her sanity.

In a fit of bravery, Sierra scooped up the bouquet and strode to the window at the end of the hall. She’d lost her heels somewhere in her shock, so she padded softly in her stockings, sinking into the thick, expensive carpet.

She reached the window and looked for a way to open it. Nothing. It was just a pane of glass in the wall, not an operational window. Damn it. She was sure it was supposed to be a security measure, but it was inconvenient in her current rage.

Coasting on her fury, Sierra jogged to the elevator. A few petals slipped from the buds, drifting to the floor to make a trail behind her. She ignored them. Someone would clean them up, but for now she just needed to get this evil symbol out of her domain.

By the time the elevator had reached the ground floor, Sierra was trembling. Not entirely from anger, either. Fear had crept back in. A lump had settled in her throat.

She carried the bouquet towards the spinning doors at the front of the lobby. A thought occurred to her, and she stopped in front of the security desk.

“Sid?” she greeted the middle-aged security guard. He glanced up, a frown marring his brow as he looked at her. She must look a fright compared to her usual impeccable appearance. She tried to smile reassuringly. “Were you on duty when these flowers were delivered?”