Miranda sighed as she sank back into the sudsy warm water of the sunken tub and against Parker’s muscular, wet chest.
After landing at O’Hare International and taking a taxi into the city, Parker had fed her a too-lavish meal of Irish Salmon with Lobster Mashed Potatoes at a late night steakhouse, while he dined on a prime cut sirloin. Then he’d checked them into a luxury hotel off Michigan Avenue.
Typical behavior for the suave investigator. He liked to spoil her. Besides the tub, the suite included a small kitchenette, a sitting area with a marble fireplace, and a bed almost as big as the one in the Parker mansion.
“You know,” she said, sipping from the flute of Dom Pérignon that had become Parker’s signature prelude to a night of glorious lovemaking, “I think this tub is a little smaller than the one we use at home.”
She felt his smile against her cheek. “Do you?”
They’d been living together in the big house for over a month now—if you didn’t count the second time she’d left him. She put her nose in the air and put on a snobby tone. “I think I’m going to have to call the manager and complain.”
She felt him chuckle. “But in a smaller tub, you won’t be able to escape so easily.” He ran his hands down her wet arms, making her shiver, despite the temperature of the water. It had taken her a long time to let Parker get close.
But tonight, she needed escape of another kind. She took another swallow of wine and set the glass down on a tray. “You know, you might be the one who wants to escape tonight.”
“Oh? What do you intend to do with me?” He leaned in and brushed his lips against the nape of her neck. Little ripples of sensation trickled down her spine. Oh, that felt good.
But she broke away and turned to face him, sending an undercurrent through the water. She gazed into those solemn gray eyes, so full of understanding and wisdom. She knew he was distracting her with everything he had from the idea of going back to her old home.
She decided to let him. “Hmm. I’m going to have to think about that.”
“Hmm,” he echoed.
She studied his mouth a long moment. His lips, so skillful and delicious. Then she bent her head to kiss him and gave his lower lip a quick little bite and drew away.
His face lit up.
Grinning, she swooped in and gave him another little bite.
“So you’re going to tease me, are you?”
She laughed low. “Why not?”
His eyes flashed with passion. “We’ll see about that.”
“Yes, we will.” She dove in for another bite, but before she could reach his lips, his hands grabbed at her. Giggling like a schoolgirl, she slid away, the soapsuds making her slippery.
There really wasn’t a lot of room for swimming in the tub. She turned around in time to see Parker charging right for her. “Uh oh.”
With one swift move, he trapped her against the other end of the bath and braced his muscular arms on either side of her, hemming her in.
He grinned wickedly. “Now we’ll see who teases whom,” he murmured in his sexy, low, Southern drawl.
She could have fought him, but she was already quivering with anticipation.
A gleam in his eye, he gazed at her lips, the way she had at his. The gleam grew evil and her stomach shuddered.
Slowly, he bent his head and lay his mouth over hers in a kiss filled with more raw sensuality than he’d ever given her before. She sucked in air, fighting for breath as his mouth fairly devoured her. His tongue teased her lips open, thrust inside her, raking over the roof of her mouth.
She gasped a muted cry of pleasure and went as wet as the water surrounding them. She let him linger for a long moment. Then panting, she broke free of his authoritative mouth. “That’s not fair, Parker,” she warned.
“Who said we were playing fair?” He let go of the tub and ran his fingers up her sides, making her dizzy with sensation.
He laughed. “I told you, you couldn’t escape.”
She made a move to get around him, but he simply blocked her with a strong arm and took her breast in the other hand. “Not so fast.”
Her body went weak as he rolled his thumb over her nipple. “No fair,” she whispered in a hoarse voice.
“So you keep saying.” He angled himself between her legs and gently slid inside her.
“Oh,” she moaned. She was a goner now.
He began to thrust and unbearable pleasure surged through her. “Give up?”
He thrust harder. Her body coiled around him like a greedy boa constrictor. She wanted to beg him not to stop, but that would be too humiliating. And then his lips were on hers again, even more fiery. They moved over her mouth, fanning the blaze burning below her navel. His tongue thrust inside her, matching the strokes of his body.
He thrust faster.
Water splashed onto the tile around the tub. Her whole being throbbed and writhed with delicious, titillating sensation. It built and built to unbearable pressure, until she came so hard, she thought her pulsating could cause a tidal wave in China. The tremors seemed to go on forever. Then her body relaxed in utter satisfaction. Parker had won.
But she’d never admit that to him.
Parker came with her. As he watched her spasm with delight, his heart overflowed with the love he had for this marvelous woman. Learning to make love to her, what aroused her, what tempted her, what drove her insane, had been a sheer delight over the past weeks.
Resting her head on the tile at the edge of the tub, she groaned loudly. She opened her lovely blue eyes, looking up at him groggily through her thick, black lashes. Tenderly he kissed her forehead. “Time for bed?”
“I think so.”
She let him pull her out of the tub and dry her off with a thick towel, a favorite occupation of his, and they strolled into the bedroom, arms around each other.
She climbed onto the large mattress and as soon as Parker was settled next to her, turned the light off. She’d had a long day and hadn’t realized how tired she was until just now.
Parker slipped a comforting arm around her, stroked her cheek to soothe her.
The man was a psychic. She knew he had wanted their lovemaking to chase away her fears, but the sight of the hotel room brought them all back. She leaned her head against his shoulder, trying to forget why they were here. Her stubborn nerves got the best of her. She had a decision to make.
So she made it. Right then. No sense being a baby about it. “I’m going to take you up on your idea.”
He stopped stroking her face. “The one we talked about on the plane?”
She nodded. “I’m going back to my old house tomorrow.”
“Are you sure, Miranda?” Worry riddled his voice.
She was quiet a moment. “What choice do I have? You said we need all the evidence we can get.”
His chest moved against her as he inhaled. “But at what expense?”
“I’ve already paid over and over for the things Leon did to me. What’s a few more bucks?”
“It might undo the weeks of therapy you’ve been through.” He had finally gotten her to see a shrink. A good one. Dr. Valerie Wingate was helping, and she didn’t want to start all over again.
But Parker was right. She had to find more evidence about her mother’s death, or the judge could deny her petition to open Amy’s adoption records.
She held up her hands. “I’ll have to just suck it up and deal with it. Besides, if I do find something we can use in that house, it would be a kind of poetic justice.”
He took her chin in his hand, admiration in his eyes. “I love you, Miranda Steele. I love your strength, your resiliency, your determination. I’d do anything to ease your pain.”
“I know that, Parker.”
“But I’m afraid this time, I’ve only given you more of it.”
She scoffed. “Don’t be silly. None of this is your fault. No one’s ever helped me like you have.” He’d given her a job she’d fallen in love with. He’d given her personal training. He’d given her love. He’d given her a life.
His smile was sad. “Are you finally starting to see that?”
“Maybe I am.” And with that declaration, she laid her head on his chest again, closed her eyes and fell asleep.
# # #
She lay crumpled in a heap on the floor, holding her arms over her head. But they did little to shield her from the blows. The strikes crashed down against her shoulders and sides, sharp and stinging and relentless. He was using a coat hanger this time.
“You. Stupid. Bitch.” He punctuated each word with a lash. “Why didn’t you iron my shirt? What am I going to wear to the station?”
“I’m sorry. I forgot. I’ll do it now.” She tried to get up.
He shoved her back down. “You’ll do it now? It’s too late to do it now.”
The blows came harder. Faster. They hurt so badly. He was going to break a rib.
“Stop,” she cried out in pain.
Then somehow, she saw herself scramble across the carpet and crawl to the edge of the staircase.
“Run,” she whispered to herself.
She did. She forced her body to clamber up the steps. Just as her foot hit the top stair, she heard a baby cry. “Amy.”
“She’s gone, Miranda. You’ll never find her again.” His strong hands snatched the tail of her robe, and she stumbled back.
Her heart hammered in her chest. She’d never seen him this mad. He was going to kill her.
Slowly, she turned around. Her breath coming in snatches, she took in his greasy black hair, his black eyes glaring at her with pure hatred.
All at once, her body changed. She grew strong, muscular. Her mind became filled with years of the karate moves she’d studied, the judo, the dirty fighting tricks she’d learned in bars.
She pushed him off her. He slipped down.
“Go away, Leon.” Her voice was strong and commanding now.
“How dare you speak to me that way?” He started up the stairs again.
She waited. Just as he got close, she thrust out a leg and kicked him hard in the chest. He rolled to the bottom. But as soon as he hit the floor, he bounced, reversed course, and rolled back up again, like a plastic ball in some maniacal mechanical game.
She gasped as his hands reached for her, caught her by the arms.
She grabbed his throat with both hands. They tumbled back down stairs, head over feet. Over and over each other, until they landed on the living room floor with a heavy thud.
Without even stopping to catch their breaths, they thrashed across the carpet, arms and legs flailing. She got him in the ribs. On the side of his head. In the groin. Then they rolled again and she was on top of him.
Now. She’d stop him now. Stop him for good.
She hauled her fist back and with all her might, she thrust at him, throwing the hardest punch she ever had in her life. Something caught her wrist like a vice.
Miranda’s eyes shot open. “Oh, my God.”
Parker lay beside her, holding her arm in a death grip. Her fist was only an inch from his alarmed face.
“At last,” he breathed.
“You woke up.”
She blinked at him and trembled, her heart still pounding against her sides. “I tried to hit you.”
“You didn’t.” He let her arm go and put his around her, drawing her close.
Her mind cleared. She was in the hotel. She glanced at the clock. It was early morning. She’d been dreaming about Leon. About a vicious battle with him. And she’d almost smashed Parker’s handsome jaw. Good thing he had sterling reflexes.
A shudder went through her. “What if you hadn’t woken up in time to stop me?”
He raised a brow. “I couldn’t sleep with you thrashing about like a wrestling alligator.”
She ran a hand over her face. She couldn’t believe what she’d almost done to him. “Oh, Parker.”
“I’ve faced worse before. I think I can handle it.” He pressed her close to him.
She laid her cheek against his chest, kissed it, amazed at his patience with her. “God, I wish…” She didn’t want to say aloud that she wished she were more normal.
He stroked her hair, her face, kissed her forehead with a determined pressure. “Oh, my darling. If only I could change your past. If only I could take away your pain.”
That would be nice. She sniffled against his bare skin. Her cheeks were wet. How embarrassing. Beat up your lover in bed and then break down in tears.
“Just keep up your black belt.” She pushed away from him and got up, heading for the bathroom. “Be back in a minute.”
She hoped Parker didn’t see her slip her cell off the nightstand.
She closed the door behind her, slid down to the floor, her whole body trembling. She hadn’t had a bad dream in weeks. It was the idea of going back to that house that had triggered it, she knew. In her mind, Leon was still there, waiting for her. After all, hadn’t he stalked her for years?
Parker might want to help, but only one thing could truly ease her fears right now. She steadied her phone and dialed the number to Brandywine-Summit Memorial Hospital in Atlanta.
“Third floor,” a voice answered after the second ring.
Miranda looked at the time. Five-thirty. Almost shift change. “I’m wondering if you can tell me the condition of a patient?”
“I’m sorry, ma’am. We can’t give out that information to anyone but close family members.”
“I don’t need details. Just his general condition. I’m his sister.” The lie had worked before. “I was there to visit him a few weeks ago. I don’t live in state.”
There was a pause as the staff member spoke to someone in a murmur. Hopefully asking permission of a lenient supervisor. “Who’s the patient?”
Miranda suppressed a sigh of relief. “Leon Groth. Could you hurry please? I’m on my way to work.” Parker would figure out what she was up to if she stayed in here too long.
She heard computer keys and hoped the woman wasn’t checking out her identity. After a moment, she spoke again. “I’m sorry ma’am, there’s no change in that patient’s condition.”
“He’s still in a coma?”
“And the doctors have no idea when he’ll come out of it?”
“No, the doctors can’t say. I’m so sorry, ma’am.”
“Thank you for your help.” She clicked off and let out a long slow breath as her shoulders began to relax. At least Leon Groth wasn’t going to bother her while she was awake.