Annie Parks refused to
open her eyes. Open eyes meant facing reality. She wasn't ready
for that yet. Not when her blood still ran ice cold from her surprise
dip in the Pacific Ocean.
She'd only been in the waves a few minutes. At least she thought
that was the case. Time blended and distorted as details came back
to her in bits. Her mind suffered from the same lethargy as her
body. Sluggish muscles and misfiring brain cells made thinking and
Nothing about the last few hours made any sense. She remembered
standing in the small bathroom of her stateroom looking over her
crude drawing of the yacht's floor plan. She fiddled with her camera,
unconsciously adjusting the settings to account for fading light.
The steady beat of jazz music sounded from the main living area
and adjoining dining room. With everyone enjoying a pre-dinner drink,
or twelve, she had the privacy she needed to study the layout of
the rooms and decide where the owner would keep valuable paperwork.
She pinpointed the most obvious, the library.
She had slipped out of her stained dress. The spill of red wine
had given her a reasonable excuse to leave the party. The fact she
ruined the one fancy dress she owned ticked her off, but what was
one more sacrifice to the cause.
One minute she reached for the black outfit she set aside for snooping.
The next, someone held a bag over her head, hands went around her
waist and feet and...splash. Then a mouth full of water followed
by a hard skid to a beach landing and a second mouth full, this
time of sand.
And pain. She couldn't forget the pain. Every part of her ached.
A thumping soreness in her knee. Hell, even her bruises had bruises.
Now someone held her. Someone who scooped her up off the beach.
Sure, the guy didn’t throw her back in the water, but that
didn't necessarily mean things were looking up.
Bouncing around in the stranger's arms didn't help her injuries.
Her back teeth slammed together with each one of his firm steps.
The brisk walk cuddled against his chest warmed her, but at this
pace she'd be broken into little pieces before they got to their
destination. Wherever that was.
A naked early evening jog with a perfect stranger, well, that was
new, not to mention embarrassing. Plenty of fear ran through her,
too. She thought about jumping out of this guy's arms and running
as fast as she could in any direction but the water.
Thought about it. Even plotted out the escape. But, she knew the
smarter move was to bide her time and figure out her next step.
Nothing new there. She spent her entire life biding time. Waiting
for the right moment to get her revenge, and wearing a shield made
of pure attitude until that day arrived.
The air shifted. Gabby lifted one eyelid in the barest move possible
to figure out the reason for the change. She spied miles of muscular
forearm. Tan and she hoped connected to the safe and friendly variety
of male on the other end.
Before she could squawk, her rescuer balanced her body on one arm
and a hip and reached for a doorknob. She silently added strong
to the list of her rescuer's attributes.
A door opened and he walked through. Looking through the slit under
her eyelashes, she tried to scan her new surroundings. They stood
in the center of a small room with a red sectional sofa as the centerpiece.
Not what she imagined the home of a typical serial killer would
look like. That was her first good news of the last forty-eight
hours. The only good news since she missed out on the opportunity
to hunt down those files.
He started to move. With each step, she saw a flash of his bare
feet against oak hardwood floor below her. When they crossed a door
threshold, she poised for fight or flight. Kind of hoped for neither.
She'd rather be wrapped in a blanket and warm. Then she could concentrate
on getting the hell out of there – even though she still didn’t
know where "there" was - and back to somewhere safe.
She had to stand up first. Get out of this house second, so she
waited for him to put her down. Maybe find some clothes-
He threw her in the shower.
The world spun beneath her until her feet landed on the cold tile
floor with strong arms banded around her waist. A rush of water
echoed in her ears as steam filled the room.
Every cell in Annie's body snapped to life. The lethargy weighing
her down disappeared with the screech of the shower curtain rings
against the rod.
"Here we go," the stranger said to the room as if the
nut chatted with unconscious people all the time.
He balanced her body against his. Rough denim scratched against
her sensitive skin from the front. Lukewarm water splashed over
her bare body from the back, making her skin tingle and burn.
A gasp caught in her throat as her shoulders stiffened under the
spray. A scream rumbled right behind the gasp, but she managed to
swallow that, too.
"This should help." He continued his one-sided conversation
in a deep, hypnotizing voice.
He seemed mighty pleased with himself. And since he had stepped
right under the water with her, a bit ballsy for her taste.
"This will feel better in a second."
He wasn't wrong.
Firm hands caressed her skull, replacing the frigid ocean with
bath water. He rinsed and massaged and rinsed again. The sweep of
his hands wiped away the last of her confusion. With that task done,
his palms turned to her arms, brushing up and down, igniting every
nerve ending in their path.
His chest rubbed against her bare breasts until heat replaced her
chill. Her thighs smashed against his legs. The full body rubdown
sparked life into body parts that had been on a deep-freeze hold
for more than a year.
She didn't answer. Wasn't even sure she could speak if she wanted
"Open your eyes and say something," he said.
The husky command broke her out of her mental wanderings and sent
a shot of anxiety skating down her spine. This was the part of the
program where she ran and hid...and then ran some more.
Naked. Alone. Strange man.
Yeah, a very bad combination.
"I know you're awake." He sounded pretty damn amused
by the idea.
The jig was up. Okay, fine, she got his point.
Not knowing if her rescuer counted as a friend or foe, she played
the scene with the utmost care. Only a complete madman would attack
a vulnerable woman who didn’t know her own name. If her stranger
fell into that category she'd scream and make a mad dash into the
kitchen for the nearest sharp knife. The nearest sharp anything.
She groaned in pain that was only half false.
"Your eyes are still closed," he said.
Yeah, pal, no kidding.
"You aren’t fooling me."
She could certainly try.
His hands continued to massage her sore flesh with just the right
amount of pressure to bring her blood sizzling back to life. If
he kept this up her eyes wouldn’t open. She'd be asleep.
She couldn’t remember the last time she slept through the
night. In the almost fifteen months since her mother's confinement
in a Washington State psychiatric ward, she'd spent most of her
time looking for the man who put her mother there. She scheduled
her freelance jobs around the project.
The path led to Kauai. To that yacht. To flying over the side of
the yacht. To being in this shower.
"We can stand here all night for all I care," he said.
Nothing that extreme. Maybe ten more minutes.
He chuckled. "Doesn’t bother me."
Lucky for her she found an accommodating potential serial killer.
"Because I'm the one with clothes on," he pointed out.
Her eyelids flew open.
The deep rumble of his laugh intensified. "Thought that one
might get your attention."