Authors: Lisa Marie Rice
Grace was freezing cold. The temperature in the house was normal but she seemed to have a frozen core that simply wouldn’t warm up.
It was all starting to catch up with her and she longed for the comfort and familiarity of home. Yearned for it with all her heart.
But when Drake told her that whoever had come after him would come after her, she’d felt a shock of recognition. She’d seen with her own eyes how ruthless the men who’d come after Drake were. How they hadn’t hesitated to use her to get to him.
Finding her address would be easy. Harold’s office had her address on file. If they knew her name, she was in the phone book. She shook at the thought of being alone in her apartment with killers coming for her.
Drake took her elbow and again, where his skin touched hers, heat bloomed. He bent his head to hers, face still, voice low and courteous.
“Would you like to wash up before eating something? It might make you feel better.”
Oh God, a bath! Right then, Grace wanted a bath more than she wanted food or the oblivion of sleep. Sinking into clean, warm water, soaking her aching muscles—bliss. She nodded, clenching her jaws so her teeth wouldn’t clatter.
“Come with me.” He led her down the enormous corridor. Ben had disappeared and they were alone. She looked around, really noticing her surroundings for the first time.
It was the most…sumptuous home Grace had ever seen. And filled with color. They were walking on antique Persian rugs in the deepest reds and greens and blues she’d ever seen. Huge enameled vases in deep, bold hues held thriving plants as big as trees. They passed an open door that obviously led into the living room, so enormous the other end of it was lost in shadows, with comfortable, masculine-looking furniture arranged in groupings, one around a huge lit fireplace.
Finally, they reached a big wooden door. Drake reached around her to open it, then ushered her in.
It was a bedroom. His bedroom. “The master bathroom’s through there,” he murmured, nodding his head at another door at the end of the huge room. “I’ve had the bath drawn for you.” He looked at her torn and dirty clothes and smiled faintly. “You’ll want to change, but nothing of mine would fit you so I had one of my
s laid out for you. I hope you’ll find it suitable. It’s brand new, I’ve never worn it. It’s the only thing I can think of to give you. At least it will be comfortable and clean.”
“Thank you,” she said politely. “That’s very kind. What’s a
Again, that little half smile. “A
is a training uniform for a number of martial arts. It has a kimono-like top and pants with drawstrings, so you can just cinch everything more tightly around you. You’ll find it on top of the towel cabinet, together with everything you’ll need for a bath.”
He obviously had somehow found the time to give instructions to the army of servants he undoubtedly had to run such an enormous household. But when? She’d have sworn that she’d heard every word he’d uttered since arriving here.
He nodded his head and, cupping her elbow, led her toward the door on the far side of the room.
It felt like it took half an hour to cross his bedroom. She’d never seen a room so large. It was at least as large as the loft of one of Harold’s sculptors in Tribeca. Only this wasn’t minimalist black-on-white Manhattan décor; it was almost barbaric in its splendor.
There was a huge antique four-poster that could sleep a basketball team, with rich emerald-green sheets made of expensive polished cotton. And they’d definitely have to have been custom-made: no commercially made sheets would fit that huge bed. Her hands itched to touch the material, it looked so thick and soft. With an emerald-green custom-made down comforter on top.
Her own bed was nice. She’d splurged on a big bed with an orthopedic mattress, and she liked pretty sheets, but it was nothing like this.
Plants here, too. Huge and lush and thriving. The air had that freshness only plants could give a room.
Plush carpets in jewel tones were everywhere, and living-room sets were scattered throughout the huge space, creating intimate little corners.
They passed by a hearth made of black marble that was big enough to roast an elephant in. Someone had lit the fire at least an hour ago, because the fire was mature, its smokeless red-orange flames licking greedily upward.
Colors. There were so many rich, deep colors everywhere, and she realized how color starved she was in Manhattan, where everything seemed to be either black or white or—when designers went really wild—taupe and ecru.
Color was a gift from the gods, and how anyone could live in a black-and-white environment puzzled her endlessly. Here there was no dearth of colors. Colors and textures and—she had to keep from gasping—a view to kill for. They were very high up. The lights of Manhattan were spread out like an array of diamonds all across one wall. Thick green curtains hung at the edges of the big windows. At midday, the place must be flooded with light. She could see the Chrysler Building and the Empire State Building in the distance, and a deep black square close by that must be Central Park, so they were in a serious money zone. This kind of space in these zip codes was way up there in the mega-rich category.
She’d been so busy taking in her surroundings she hadn’t spoken, but Drake seemed perfectly comfortable with silence. This was unusual. Most men weren’t comfortable with silence. They wanted to hear the sounds of their own voices and they wanted to hear women echoing what they were saying. Luckily, Drake seemed as immune to that as she was.
They’d reached the far wall and a big white laminated door with a shiny brass handle. “Here we are,” he said, opening the door.
Grace nearly gasped. It wasn’t a bathroom, it was…it was an apartment. Certainly as big as her own apartment, with acres of rich green marble countertops, emerald green tiles, several amazingly elaborate shower stalls with an array of nozzles and…yes, a tub as large as a small pool with fingers of steam rising from it. And about a billion jets around the rim, promising a water massage guaranteed to ease the ache in her muscles.
Every cell in her body yearned to be in that tub, but there was something she absolutely had to know first.
She turned around to look Drake full in the face. She’d been stealing glances at him, fascinated by his hard face, but had been too embarrassed to stare. Now she studied him openly, studied those firm, almost ascetic features, the features of a strong man who’d seen and done hard things.
She looked him straight in the eyes. Eyes that were dark brown, with no striations at all. Just that solid color, as if a child had filled in his pupils with a crayon. The whites of his eyes were the clear white of someone who lived healthily. But one never knew.
She wrapped her arms around her midriff, a little scared because if he gave the wrong answer to her question, the answer she was dreading, she was in big trouble. Terrible trouble. Alone in a building with a man who seemed to be so powerful in so many ways, so very capable of crushing her.
Here goes nothing.
She drew in a deep breath, the words coming out in a trembling rush. “I’m sorry to have to ask this, but I can’t stay here a second longer without knowing the answer. Please tell me that whatever all that violence was about, it wasn’t about drugs. That this—” She waved her hand, encompassing the baronial splendor of the apartment. “—this isn’t about drugs. I—I need to be certain about that.”
Because otherwise, she’d just vomit her misery up and leave immediately, though she had no idea where she could go. Not with thugs possibly gunning for her. Assuming he even
Drake didn’t say anything for a long moment, just watched her, eyes cool and calm. Her heart drummed wildly, like that of a trapped bird’s.
Then he took her hand and placed it against his chest, right over his own heart. He’d had a clean black shirt waiting in the clinic and she could now feel that it was made of thick raw silk. Underneath she could feel slabs of hard muscle, his wiry chest hairs and the slow, strong beat of an athlete’s heart.
“Put your mind at ease. What happened today had absolutely nothing to do with drugs,” he said in a low, even voice. His gaze held hers, steady and direct. “I abhor drugs as much as you do. Maybe more. I would die rather than have anything to do with them.”
Grace was an observer, used to living on the sidelines of life. She’d developed a good understanding of people. He was either telling the truth or he was a world-class liar.
“However,” he said softly, “what you saw had everything to do with money and power.”
“Money and power.” She shrugged her shoulders, hand still on his chest. All of New York ran on money and power. “That’s nothing. I just couldn’t bear the thought of being in the home of someone who is involved in drugs.”
“I’m not.” He dipped his head briefly, eyes locked on hers. “You have my word.”
Christ, she must be insane, because she was buying this, totally. She had the distinct impression he rarely gave his word and when he did, he kept it. Whoa, maybe she
concussed. She searched his eyes for a moment longer and found nothing but directness, some sadness and some pain.
Against all the odds, she believed him.
“Okay. I’m sorry I asked, but I had to.” A huge weight had been lifted from her chest.
He dipped his head again. “I understand completely.”
Slowly and carefully, he lifted her hand from his chest and brought it to his mouth, placing a gentle kiss on the back. Even his mouth was hot, the soft brush of his lips painting a small circle of flames on the back of her hand.
Her body blossomed.
She drew in a deep breath and he released her hand.
She felt behind her blindly and grasped the shiny brass handle. “So I’ll, um, take a bath. And I think you should sit down, right now. Are you in pain?”
He looked surprised at the question, eyes flaring briefly. “Nothing I can’t handle. Don’t worry about me, you go take your bath and soak your muscles. You were tossed around pretty brutally. I’m going to take a bath of my own in another room. And here—” He dug into his pants pocket and held some kind of electronic device in the huge, callused palm of his hand. She looked it over carefully. It was sleek and essentially featureless save for a big button on one side. “Take this with you. Put it on the side of the tub within easy reach. If the hot water makes you feel faint in any way, just press it and I’ll come. Don’t lock the door. I’ll come as fast as I can.”
Well, she was going to be naked in that tub, so there wasn’t much of a chance of her pressing that button. She was a big girl. If she felt faint, she’d just get out. Still, to make him happy, she grasped one end. He held on to the other. They were linked by five inches of plastic.
“Call me if you need me.” His voice was insistent. A muscle rippled in his jaw, as if he were clenching his teeth against saying something more.
She looked at the lines of his face—harsh, strong, totally unlike any male she’d ever met—and realized something terrible. Something that shook the foundations of her world.
She was attracted to this man. Massively. Wildly.
This was clearly insane. Being shot at had made her crazy. That was the only explanation possible. This had never happened to her before, ever. She had to be in bed with a man for her body to bloom as it had just done, by the simple touch of his lips to her hand.
A hot flush had shot through her, head to toe, and it wasn’t menopause. It was the real deal. As if by merely kissing her hand, he’d speeded up the rate at which the blood circulated in her body. Actually, that sounded about right because her heart had speeded up as well and was now pounding so hard it was a miracle he didn’t hear it.
Pools of that heat centered in intense flashes in her breasts and between her legs. When his lips touched the skin of her hand, she’d clenched tightly between her legs, the first time that had ever happened to her, so startling it took her a second to even recognize it as desire.
Desire for a man who was scary. She knew nothing about him except that he appeared to be rich and powerful. Powerful enough to have men gunning for him. Powerful enough to have men with guns protecting him.
In her experience, rich and powerful men were obnoxious creatures, completely concentrated on themselves, oblivious to others. This man, Drake, had proved himself to be the exact opposite. He’d disarmed himself for her, shielded her with his body, insisted that she be treated for scrapes and bumps before Ben dealt with his bullet wound.
Rich, powerful men had obnoxious vibes coming off them in almost palpable waves. She wasn’t getting this from Drake at all.
What she was getting from him was desire. Rich, powerful
vibes, like some intense spice, centered on her.
And—whoa—she felt them right
This was absolutely nuts. What did she know about him except that he was lethally dangerous? He’d fought like a trained soldier, yet he didn’t act like one. Soldiers were trained to obey and this man looked like he would obey no one. An army of one.
Whatever he was, whoever he was, he was way too rich for her blood. She was going to get mangled. She had no defenses whatsoever against the solid male power she could feel streaming from him.