from Book Three of Catherine Spangler’s dark and
touched by fire
Coming from Berkley in June 2009
With a sigh, Julia pushed up from the chair and grabbed her cane, intending to have a long soak in the tub. She started for her bedroom and the adjoining master bath, then turned and picked up her phone. Digging in her purse, she pulled out her Beretta. The phone and gun were both going into the bathroom with her. God, would she ever feel safe again?
And, even though she'd had two bourbons earlier, she was also getting a glass of wine to drink while she was in the tub. No, null that. She was taking the entire bottle of merlot in with her.
If she was going to experience hell on Earth, at least she'd be buzzed while she burned.
The hot water and Epsom salts eased her throbbing leg and aching muscles, but two glasses of merlot hadn't done squat to take the edge off the fear or blur the memories. Laying back against the vinyl tub pillow decorated with a poodle print—a gift from Marla—Julia gave in to the tears, something she rarely allowed herself to do.
Reynolds women were made up of stern stuff; always forged ahead in life, regardless of pain or hardship. But today's events had been beyond even Julia's stoic endurance. She clenched her eyes shut, felt the slow, hot slide of tears over her damp cheeks. Told herself it was a damned good thing that these ultra-special days came along only once every twelve years or so.
The faint stirring of the air, or maybe it was the hairs standing straight up on her exposed arm, jolted her to a state of hyper awareness. Something wasn't right . . .
“Good evening, Julia.”
Her eyes shot open, but couldn't quite focus. Feeling as if her heart had just become a battering ram against her chest wall, she came upright with a gasp.
Adam sat on the closed commode, elegant indolence, his arm resting on the vanity.
“What—” Julia sputtered, her attention momentarily derailed by the wine glass slipping from her hand and smashing on the ceramic tile floor. A red stain spread across the beige surface.
“We still need to talk,” Adam said.
She'd never been a slow thinker, and she rapidly processed the facts. He'd broken into her home and into her bathroom—she knew she had locked that door. He'd invaded not only her privacy, but her personal space. All while she was naked, adding insult to injury.
Sudden, blinding fury roared through her, obliterating sanity and reason. She was going to kill him.
She jolted over the edge of the tub reaching for the gun she'd laid nearby, but it skidded from her reach, as did the phone. She twisted toward her cane, which was propped by the tub; it levitated out of reach and drifted toward Adam.
“You son of a bitch!” She got her hand around the neck of the merlot bottle, but it was wrenched away from her slippery fingers, and scraped across the tile to him. All the while, he sat there, seemingly relaxed, as if he hadn't just telekinetically moved four items.
Her chest heaving, she stared at him, dark and dangerous in black slacks and a black silk shirt, his calm façade a deceptive cover for his merciless nature. His cool gaze swept over her, midnight eyes burning with power and an alarming possessiveness. Her anger receded, giving way to a frission of fear and another, more feminine reaction. Oh, God, she was naked.
She grabbed the shower curtain and yanked it as far forward as she could. Then she drew her knees toward her chest, ignoring the painful protest in her left leg. Mortification swept through her.
“I think it's a little late for that,” he drawled from the other side of the shower curtain.
Her anger resurged, now indignant outrage. “You sorry, arrogant bastard!”
He ignored her outburst. “We have a situation calling for extraordinary measures.”
“Oh, this goes far beyond that. Stalking, paralyzing, breaking and entering—”
“And what would you call fracturing my nose?”
She heard the edge in his voice. She'd crossed the line with that action, so he hadn't hesitated to also cross a personal line with her. He was playing hardball, but what she'd done to him made it difficult to point fingers. Some of her anger dissipated, but damned if she would apologize to him now.
“I'd say it wasn't nearly enough,” she muttered, thinking she should have castrated him while she had the chance. “Get out, Adam.”
“I don't think so. We are going to talk tonight, Julia.”
In her mind, she saw a stadium-type scoreboard and Adam was winning, three to one. And she was too wrung out to battle him head on. “I won't talk unless you get out of here and let me get dressed first.”
“I rather like having you at a disadvantage. It makes things more manageable.”
She glared at the shower curtain. “What, you can't handle me under normal circumstances?”
“Julia, there's nothing at all usual and customary about you.”
“Look who's talking. Lots of normalcy in the Sentinel realm.”
“Touché.” There was a hint of amusement in his voice. It always surprised her when he displayed a sense of humor. After a moment of silence, he said, “If I give you few minutes of privacy, will you agree to have a calm, rational conversation with me?”
“I'm always calm and rational.” Okay, except around him.
“We're not even going to debate that one. But I'll wait for you in the living room. Let me do something first.”
There was the sound of glass clinking, then a soft thud. “Step on the towel when you get out,” he said. “Most of the glass is now to the side, but this will protect you from any stray shards. Don't keep me waiting too long.” She heard the bathroom door close.
She peeked around the shower curtain, although she knew he was gone, because the vibrant energy that always crackled around him was absent. The bathroom was empty. One of her bath towels was folded double and on the floor by the tub.
Surprised by his consideration, she pulled herself up, using the handicapped bar she'd had installed when she moved in nine years ago. A wave of dizziness hit her, brought on by too many things—news of William Bennett's release, too much to drink, Adam Masters barging into her home and seeing her nude. A winning combination, guaranteed to unbalance any woman.
And if he'd been put off by her rounded figure and generous thighs, then wasn't that just too bad?
The thought sent a surprising twinge of regret through her. She wasn't a vain woman, had long ago accepted that Reynolds women tended toward plump bodies and plain looks. Since the attack, she had made no attempt at makeup or any other vanity. It shouldn't bother her that a sophisticated, savvy man like Adam Masters might find her unattractive.
Maybe the visual of her in the tub would be off-putting enough to make him go away. She suspected the statistical odds of that were slim. He wasn't here because of her looks. Drawing a deep breath, she held on to the bar until she was steady.
She stepped from the tub, careful to stay on the towel, and began drying off. This is totally unfair, she thought. After everything that had happened today, she still had to deal with Adam.
Fate was definitely in full bitch mode.