Miranda Steele stepped into her boss’s brightly lit, blue-and-gray corner office on the fifteenth floor of the Imperial Building in Atlanta and exhaled her anxiety.
“You wanted to see me?”
Parker glanced up at her from the computer screen he was studying. “Yes. Have a seat.”
He indicated the plush blue chair in front of his elegant glass desk.
Miranda settled herself into the seat without too much pain.
A little over six months ago she’d faced down her psychotic ex-husband—the man who’d regularly beaten her and who’d stolen her daughter from her when she was just a baby. The battle had taken its toll. She’d suffered a gunshot wound to the chest, a gash in the back of her head, and a bunch of bruises. She’d nearly died from the injuries. But after months of physical therapy and another five weeks of easing into workouts in the company gym, she was almost as good as new. Good enough for light duty at the Agency, anyway.
Parker continued to peer at the screen. She couldn’t be in trouble. She hadn’t done anything. Or at least she was pretty sure she hadn’t. She hadn’t jumped anyone while serving subpoenas. She hadn’t cussed out any clients. Okay, she’d taken a few long lunches with her buddies Becker and Holloway, but Parker usually didn’t mind that.
Waiting for him to start the scolding—or whatever he planned to do to her—she took in his good looks, his distinguished salt-and-pepper hair, his pricey suit, his delicious features. He was Old Southern wealth. Well-bred, classy, well-heeled, successful. The sexiest man she had ever laid eyes one.
After almost a year, it still took her breath that she was married to him.
At last, he finished whatever he’d been doing and turned to her with an expression in his gray eyes she couldn’t read.
“Do you remember my proposal?” he said in his sensual, mint julep voice.
Her breath caught. “You mean the one about us going out as investigative consultants?”
“That’s the one.”
How could she forget it? Parker hadn’t mentioned it since they got back to Atlanta, but she’d been counting the days until she’d recovered enough to get started. “What about it?”
Parker sat back in his chair and studied his wife. Her wild, dark hair. Her lean, muscular body he knew so well. Her crisp white shirt and black slacks that expressed her Spartan tastes. He loved her more than his own life. And he wanted more than anything to share the thrill of his profession with her in this new way. To feel the excitement that came with new cases and new challenges with Miranda at his side.
But she was just fully recovering from her injuries last fall. A bullet to the shoulder near the heart and a deep gash in the back of her head. She’d been unconscious over three days. He’d thought he’d lost her. If something were to happen on one of these new cases? If he lost her because of this new plan of his? He’d never forgive himself.
But he’d also never forgive himself if he didn’t give Miranda the chance to be all she could be. She was a fine detective and he knew she’d been looking forward to this venture.
Besides, the case from the first client promised to be fairly innocuous. More publicity than danger. And he wanted to see his wife’s reaction to it.
“I put out some feelers last week just to see what sort of response I could get,” he said.
Miranda gripped the arms of her chair. “Did you get anything?”
She watched him inhale, as if he were struggling with something.
“I got a call from a former Agency employee this morning.”
Her blood began to pump with excitement. She thought of the dream she’d had in the hospital all those months ago. A hazy vision of some sort of bright spirit telling her she had a gift and a destiny to fulfill.
Back in her hospital room, she’d told herself there would be no more nightmares. There hadn’t been since that ordeal. Still, something lurked in the dark recesses of her subconscious, just beyond her grasp. Something she hadn’t yet figured out. Something she hadn’t yet faced.
She wasn’t sure she wanted to.
All she knew was that she never felt more alive than when she was on a case.
“We’re taking the job, aren’t we?”
Parker raised a dark brow. “Don’t you want to hear what it is first?”
Okay, maybe she was jumping the gun. She sat back, trying to look skeptical. “Sure.”
“Do you remember Ambrosia Dawn?”
She frowned. “Who?”
“She was a popular singer about fifteen years ago.”
Miranda only shrugged and lifted her palms.
“ ‘The Love I Have for You?’ ‘All Eyes on Me?’ ”
She thought a moment. She wasn’t a big music listener. Fifteen years ago she’d still been married to Leon. No wonder she couldn’t remember any love songs from then.
“Coco sang some of her hits.”
Now one of those titles came back to her. “All Eyes on Me.” It was about a singer, duh. One who had enjoyed outrageous fame and fortune, but who was now down on her luck and had lost it all. And all she wanted was for her true love to look at her and really see her. It was touching when sung right.
She started to hum the tune she remembered her friend singing at the Gecko Club. Of course, Miranda sounded more like a frog.
Parker cleared his throat. “It went something like that.”
“So what about her? Ambrosia Dawn, I mean.”
Parker’s face went grim. “She’s dead.”
“Oh, my God. That’s awful.” Miranda vaguely remembered seeing the singer on TV. “She wasn’t that old was she?”
“I’d have thought she was younger. She had a variety show, didn’t she?”
“A few years ago, yes.”
Now the image of the singer came to her. Always in long, flowing gowns, with lots of background singers. She had a set of pipes, too. “What a classy lady.”
“Indeed. And she was still popular. She’s been performing in Las Vegas.”
Miranda let out a sad smirk. “The place where all old singers go?”
“Perhaps.” Parker inhaled. “Sergeant Sid O’Toole of the Las Vegas Metro Police has asked for our help.”
Miranda sat up again. “That’s our case? Wait. Ambrosia Dawn was murdered?”
Parker nodded. “Her body was found in the desert. One of her eyes had been gouged out with—a melon baller.”
Miranda’s lip curled. “With a what? That’s disgusting.”
Instantly her mind shot into work mode. Had the killer taken the eye for a token? Was he making a statement of some kind? “Does O’Toole think it’s a serial killer? Wait a minute.” She snapped her fingers. “‘All Eyes on Me.’ Wasn’t that her signature song?”
“I believe so.”
“That’s got to have something to do with it.” She got up and paced all the way to the far end of the huge office.
She felt hot and cold and antsy all at the same time. She couldn’t wait to sink her teeth into this case. She’d find the person who murdered the famous singer. After all, hadn’t one of her best friends sung her songs? Come to think of it, Coco reminded her a little of a modern version of Ambrosia Dawn.
“Miranda,” Parker said, caution in his tone.
She stopped pacing. Uh oh. She knew there was a catch. “What?”
For a long moment he studied her, as if considering his next words carefully. At last he said, “Are you sure you want to take this case? We don’t have to.”
She thought about the cautiously gentle way he’d made love to her since she’d come home. Like she was some sort of fragile glass doll. Okay, maybe that was necessary the first few weeks, but lately she’d wanted to rip those expensive clothes right off his luscious body and get hot and sweaty with him.
Good grief. Hadn’t she hauled bricks and pounded shingles alongside the burliest of men? Hadn’t she beaten a co-worker in the ring with her martial art skills?
She scowled at her husband. “Don’t baby me, Parker.”
Parker rose, strolled to the window with that maddening patience of his, and folded his arms. “I wouldn’t dream of it, my dear. I’m simply trying to ascertain your state of mind.”
She wagged a finger at him. “Well, ascertain this. My state of mind is ready and raring to go.”
“Are you sure you’re ready? Are you sure you want to leave home?”
Her mouth opened then shut again at the tenderness in his voice.
Okay, it was a fair question after what she’d been through. After what Parker had been through because of it. She stepped toward him to the table along the wall where several new photos were on display and ran a finger over one of the silver frames.
She smiled down at Mackenzie’s picture. The daughter she’d found after a thirteen-year search. Thanks to Parker.
And next to her was a photo of Wendy Van Aarle—the girl Miranda had once thought was her daughter—who was now Mackenzie’s best friend.
When she came home from the hospital, the two girls had celebrated their fourteenth birthdays together with a big party given by their families. Then came the holidays with gifts and parties. Miranda never thought she could be so happy. But then the New Year came and went. The girls went back to school and became lost in their activities and the world of the young.
She loved both of them, but they had their lives. And so did she. She was well enough now to work a case.
She took his hand.
He squeezed it and put it to his lips. All her anxiety melted away.
“Of course, I’m ready, Parker,” she said softly. “How could you think I’d want to turn this opportunity down?”
The wrinkles around Parker’s sexy eyes creased into a grin. “Just what I thought you’d say.”
“So we’re going? We’re taking the case?”
He turned back to his desk. “I’ll notify our new client right away. I must warn you, though. O’Toole wasn’t the best employee the Agency ever had.”
That was odd. Parker didn’t usually turn out duds. “What was his problem?”
“I felt he never really applied himself.”
Lazy? Or more than that? Parker always loved to understate things. But who cared? They were going out on their first case as consultants together. She wanted to dance around the room.
Instead she folded her arms and gave Parker a cocky smile. “Well, that’s why he needs us, isn’t it?”
“I suppose so.” He eyed her again and she could see the wheels in his head turning.
“I think it’s best we keep our personal relationship undisclosed.”
“Okay.” Evidently O’Toole hadn’t kept up with Parker since he left the Agency.
It sounded like a smart idea. A married couple might not command the same respect as two investigators. O’Toole could accuse Parker of favoritism, and she’d be relegated to Parker’s wife, instead of the professional she’d become. She’d kept her maiden name for business purposes, so they could pull it off.
The corner of his lip turned up. “And as a matter of protocol, one of us should be in charge.”
She put a hand on her hip. “Protocol, huh? On a police case?”
“On our part of the investigation. It will ensure things go smoothly.”
“Uh huh. And I suppose that should be you?”
With a sly twinkle in his eye, Parker turned to his credenza, opened a drawer and took something out. “I thought we’d roll for it.”
He opened his palm to reveal two red dice.
Miranda laughed out loud. “You’re on.”
“Brace yourself.” Parker took the dice in one hand, shook and let them fall onto the shiny desktop. The cubes spun and settled.
A five and a one.
“Easy six.” Could she beat it? “Okay, buster.”
Miranda picked up the dice, blew on them, shook. Nerves of excitement coursing through her, she let them go.
They seemed to spin forever then finally came to rest in the middle of the desk.
Two sixes. Miranda let out a hoot.
“Boxcars. I win!” She gloated with a little dance and Parker couldn’t hide his amusement.
She came around the desk and slid her arms around his neck. “Don’t be a sore loser. I’ll let you win next time. When do we leave?”
“I can get us on a flight this afternoon.”
She couldn’t wait to get there. “Hot dog. City of Lights, here we come!”
Then she grew somber as a zealous indignation rose up in her breast, fueled by the excitement. A woman was dead.
“Ambrosia Dawn’s killer won’t get away with this,” she said darkly. “We’ll make sure of that.”