Eight hours earlier
Miranda Steele gazed in wonder out the window of the 757 at the expanse of impossibly blue ocean below her. As the green islands took shape under wispy clouds, she wanted to pinch herself.
“I can’t believe I’m really going to Maui.”
Beside her, Parker took her hand and gave it a tender squeeze that sent a shiver up her arms. “Do you see the part of the island shaped like a human head?” His deep Southern voice echoed with magnolias, mint juleps and delight at her pleasure.
“It’s facing that way.” She pointed downward. “Looks sort of like the chalk outline of a murder victim.”
He chuckled softly. “You would put it that way. That’s where we’ll be staying. Just along the shore.”
“Camping on the beach?”
Of course, it would be nothing but the best for the wealthy and well-bred Wade Russell Parker the Third, CEO of the successful Parker Investigative Agency—where she was now a Level One Investigator.
“Cool,” she sighed. But she’d never cared for his money or his status. What had won her over was his heart of gold.
Excitement prickling her insides, she turned to her new husband with a big smile.
She could think the word now without the familiar rush of sheer dread.
There he sat in all his Southern gentlemanly glory. The best catch in Atlanta. She still didn’t understand what Parker saw in her, but here she was married and going on a honeymoon with him.
Her heart thumped giddily as she took in his dark, neatly-styled salt-and-pepper hair, his mature, middle-aged air of wisdom, the sensual gleam in his Magnum-colored eyes.
His fit, hard-muscled body was casually clad in a pair of dark, straight-leg fashion jeans that he definitely didn’t pick up at the dollar store and a form-fitted shirt with a geometric pattern that made the gray of his eyes more intense than ever.
She rarely saw him in casual clothes. But he was determined this honeymoon would be a vacation.
Meaning no work for either of them.
“Has it really been a whole week?” she sighed with the uncharacteristic dreaminess that had crept into her voice since she’d said, “I do.”
A flicker of a frown crossed his handsome face. “You mean only a week, don’t you?”
She cocked her head. “Being married to me is a bore, huh?”
The frown deepened. “You know what I mean, Miranda. As I’ve said several times, a week is hardly enough time for you to heal.”
“And as I’ve said several times, I’m okay.” Though she still had headaches from her concussion and the gash in her leg did ache every so often.
Before she’d taken the plunge with her sexy boss she’d had to use all her strength and skill to fight a crazed killer. Parker had wanted to postpone their honeymoon a few more weeks for her to recuperate from the injuries she’d sustained during that fight, but Miranda found herself truly excited at the idea of going to Hawaii and couldn’t wait.
He’d given in.
“Very well,” he said on an exhale that told her he’d be guarding her health while they were vacationing.
Parker put her hand to his lips and kissed the old-fashioned Art Deco diamond-and-sapphire engagement ring that had belonged to his mother. That at last had a matching ring beneath it. Satisfied at the sight, he raised his gaze and studied this woman he cherished more than his own life.
Those lush, deep blue eyes with the blackest of lashes. Her thick, wild hair that he adored. He had almost lost her too many times. He would never let that happen again.
He rubbed his fingers over her palm, recalling the calluses from road crew work that used to be there before he’d tempted her to join his firm as an investigative trainee. Her hands were softer now.
As was her heart.
And if all went well with this trip and he accomplished his secret purpose here in Maui without her knowing it, her heart might heal completely at last.
“Tired?” he murmured.
Miranda let herself get lost in his eyes. They were warm with passion and she felt her libido spike. As if it had ever died down since she’d gone down the aisle. “How can I be tired if I’m dreaming?”
“Oh no, my darling. You’re very much awake.” His smile grew sly as he leaned over and kissed her.
She kissed him back, the sweet delirium of sheer joy coursing through her. She was so much in love.
And yet, even as she ran a hand over his handsome, rugged face, even as her heart did a polka in her chest, she could hear that quiet, nagging voice in the darkest recesses of her brain.
What makes you think you deserve to be so happy? What makes you think this can last?
She pulled away, her mind flashing to her ex-husband’s ugly figure slashing at her with a bloody knife. Automatically her fingers felt for the scarf at her chest that she was using to cover the scars he had given her.
The monster who had ruined her life and stolen her only child from her. The man who, for the past three months, had been lying comatose in a hospital back in Atlanta.
Where she’d put him.
“Penny for your thoughts?” Parker’s tone told her he knew what she’d been thinking.
Miranda cleared her throat and shifted in the seat with an awkward laugh. “Penny? Hey, this trip must have put you back a pretty one. I guess the bill I owe you now is about as big as the national debt.”
She’d always insisted on paying him back for all the things he’d bought her. She’d never catch up on the payments. Part of his maneuvering to get her to marry him, no doubt.
“Oh, I’ll make sure I’m adequately reimbursed.” He took a strand of her long, unruly hair and put it to his lips.
She sucked in a breath. From any other man, that comment would have earned a front-snap kick to the groin. But from Parker, it only made her melt. She was definitely now putty in his capable hands.
As if determined to kiss away her troubles, he leaned forward again and grazed his mouth across her cheek. Shivers skittered down her neck, up her arms, across her solar plexus. Wade Russell Parker the Third had to be the sexiest man alive.
Could you become a member of the Mile High Club in a first class seat? She thought that was usually done in the john.
Her cell phone buzzed and reluctantly she pulled away again to dig it out of the pocket of her new skinny jeans—that she did buy at the dollar store—and straightened the bold print top that she’d tied at the waist per the instructions of her new fashion consultants, Coco Hinsley and Joan Fanuzzi, who had been her bridesmaids and had helped her pick out her clothes for the trip.
She looked down at the text message. It was from Wendy.
Geography class is so booorinng. Why do we have to know the capital of Argentina? Mackenzie’s getting ready for the Regional. She’s sooo excellent. Miss you.
“That’s not work, is it?”
Since Parker had insisted she rest and heal from her fight, she’d only worked a couple of days last week. She’d come into the office over his protests. But she couldn’t stay away. Making Level One Investigator was the first accomplishment she’d ever been proud of. Or ever wanted.
She shook her head. “I told Becker and Holloway they were on their own for two weeks.”
“As did I.”
She arched a brow. Man, he could be bossy. “It’s from Wendy. See, nosy?” She held up her phone for him to see.
“I believe you.” He frowned at her, then his eyes grew tender. “How is she?”
After her bloody pre-wedding brawl, Wendy’s mother decided it was too dangerous for her daughter to hang around Miranda and forbade the teen to see her so much—conveniently forgetting that it wasn’t a Sunday school picnic that had brought the two of them together in the first place. Wendy must be texting her on the sly. Miranda missed the kid.
She thumbed a reply, thinking of the time difference. Stop complaining. Get your homework done and get to bed.
Parker watched her tenderly. “I’m sorry about what Iris did.”
Miranda shrugged. “I’m just glad she’s paying more attention to the girl. It’s about time.”
Iris was a busy executive. She and her golf pro husband had both neglected their daughter. But that neglect had thrown Miranda and Wendy together and they had forged a special bond. A bond she’d begun to believe could replace the loss of her own daughter. But Wendy wasn’t hers.
“It’s good she’s started classes again.”
“Yeah.” It had been hard to find a school that would take Wendy after the trouble she’d been in. Miranda hoped she could find some decent friends there. Not snooty girls like Mackenzie Chatham. Even if she was a top-notch figure skater and skating was Wendy’s new passion.
“Don’t stress over her, Miranda.”
He studied her with those penetrating gray eyes. “I mean it when I said we were both going to relax these two weeks. You need it. And I do, too.”
Parker knew how to keep the job from getting to him. That was a lesson she had yet to learn. But he didn’t have to be a nag about it. “I know, I know. No work. No murder cases.”
Feeling sassy, she gave him a smirk. “What about my penchant for finding dead bodies?”
“We’re going to an island paradise. There won’t be any dead bodies.”
“Maui doesn’t have murders?”
“Not any we’ll be involved in. You won’t be finding any dead bodies on our honeymoon. I promise.”
Her lip curled. “Wanna make a bet?”
His brow rose. “A bet?”
“You know, where each person puts up a stake to lose?”
He gave her a wry look. “If you insist, very well.”
She twisted around, eagerly taking his bait. “Okay, buster. What’s the ante?”
He looked thoughtful for a moment. “Let’s see. If I win, for two weeks…” He stroked his chin.
“Yeah?” A delicious shiver went up her spine. What kind of sexual contract was he dreaming up?
“You’ll stop worrying about whether this marriage will work out or not.”
She snorted her indignation. How in the world did he do that? She poked him in the ribs. “And if I win, you’ll stop reading my mind for two weeks.”
“Deal.” He chuckled as he pressed his lips to hers, this time hard and strong.
They were almost on the floor when the pilot told them to sit up and buckle their seatbelts for landing.