Fire and Ash (Immortal Touch) (9 page)

They didn’t know that he could possibly be much more dangerous than anyone realized.

“Well, if anybody’s still hanging around your patio door, Tag will find him. He’s retired military. We take security here very seriously.”

“Oh, hell,” Sami exclaimed, bringing a frustrated hand to her forehead. “I don’t have my keycard.” She’d evacuated in such a hurry, the key had been the last thing on her mind.

“No problem.” Retrieving a compact wallet from his pants, he pulled out his own card and used it to open the door to 122. The room was just as she had left it, innocuous and unthreatening. Television still on with the volume low, teal throw blanket bunched up on the couch, plastic cup on the coffee table with melting ice diluting the soda inside. Ash walked over to the back door and flicked the light switch.

“I think the bulb’s burned out,” Sami told him unnecessarily.

Finding the door still secure, he unlocked and slid it open to step out onto the dark patio. Sami followed on his heels, sucking in her breath when she glimpsed a huge, shadowy figure with a flashlight approaching them.

“Nobody back here, Mr. Reid,” the
gruff voice said. He drew closer and Sami could make out Tag, the beefy security guard who was built like a tank. She’d met him her first day here and immediately pegged him as a gentle giant. “If anyone was screwing around out here, they’re gone now.”

“Okay. How about keeping a close surveillance on this area for the rest of your shift?” Ash
requested.

“Yes, sir.”

“You working tomorrow?”

“Yes, sir.”

“How about asking Jeff when he comes in to hook up a security camera back here. Just in case.”

“Will do. Anything else?”

“No, that’s all. Thanks, man.”

“No problem.” He nodded with a lopsided grin. “’Night, Miss Porter. Just dial 101 if you need me.”

“Thank you, Tag.” She gave him a grateful smile as Ash reached up to unscrew the bulb from the porch light. They stepped back inside, and she watched while he replaced it with a bulb snagged from her reading lamp. That done, he pulled the sliding glass door closed and locked it.

“The phone calls…did they come to your cell phone or the land line?”

“Cell.”

“So you haven’t had any direct calls to your room?”

“N-no.” Feeling a sudden chill, Sami began to shiver. She crossed her bare arms, and the skin was hot as a sidewalk in July. She wondered if she should pop a couple of aspirin.

Ash was casually scanning the room, his sharp eyes absorbing the random items that gave a glimpse into
her personal life. The World War II memoir on the end table with a Peanuts bookmark sticking out of it…a framed photo of her parents smiling over an anniversary cake…pink flip-flops sprinkled with white sand on the floor where she’d kicked them off…bottle of cocoa butter lotion on the coffee table.

“I could be wrong, but I’m guessing your ex doesn’t know where you are since he hasn’t called here directly,” he deduced. “Your trespasser was probably just someone who had the wrong room. But we’ll make sure this doesn’t happen again.”

“You’re probably r-right,” she agreed, talking through her teeth so they didn’t chatter.

He gave her a strange look. “Are you okay?”

“Yeah. Just a little s-sunburn.” The arms folded over her chest trembled.

For the first time he noticed the pink hue. “Damn, you are, aren’t you.” He felt one of her arms lightly with his fingertips. “Hang on a minute, I’ll go get you something for that.”

He left, returning a few minutes later with a plastic bottle of bright green aloe gel.

“Where’d you get that?” she interrogated, knowing he wasn’t gone long enough to make it to the sixteenth floor and back.

“Gift shop.”

“I didn’t know they were open all night.”

“They’re not.”

Oh. She kept forgetting he had the run of the building.

“Sit,” he instructed, pointing to the couch.

“Just give it to me. I can put it on myself.” What did he think she was, a three-year-old?

“Sami, sit down or so help me I’ll smack your sunburn.”

“No
, you won’t.”

To her amazement, he reached over and gave her arm a
slap. “
Ow!
” she yelped. “That hurt, you asshole!”

“It’s gonna hurt worse if you don’t sit your butt down.”

Calling him every unflattering name she could think of underneath her breath, she perched on the edge of the couch. “You try that again and you can kiss your chances of fatherhood goodbye.”

“Turn sideways a bit.” He opened the bottle and began to lightly rub the gel into the seared flesh of her arms. She was surprised at how gentle he was. “Fatherhood was never in my future anyway,” he informed her. “Kids aren’t my thing.”

“That doesn’t surprise me,” she snapped. “You’d have to focus on someone besides yourself then, wouldn’t you?”

“You seem to have formed a pretty lousy opinion of me in a short time. Did it ever occur to you that I’m not as bad as all that?”

“No. It didn’t.” She sighed contentedly as the cool, soothing gel began to take the heat from her arms. Oh yes, that was
much
better.

“Having a civil conversation with you is like trying to nail Jell-O to a wall,” he remarked dryly. “Is your back burned, too?”

“Yes, but it’s not as bad.”

“Why don’t you take off your pajama top.”

“Why don’t
you
take a bungee jump without a cord!”

“Do you think you have anything I haven’t seen before?” He sounded amused.

“Yes, I do. And believe me, you won’t be seeing it now or ever!”

“Mm-hm.” His hands reached underneath her cotton pajama top to rub some of the aloe
into her back. “We’ll see about that.”

Presumptuous, overconfident degenerate! He really believed he could have anything he pointed his finger at. Up until now, he probably
had
always gotten his way. Well, he wasn’t going to have his way with her. She wasn’t naïve enough to fall for his bright and shiny coating. His money and good looks didn’t impress her one damn bit. “Yeah. We’ll see.”

“Care to make a little wager?”

“What?”

“A bet. I’m betting you I’ll have you in my bed within a month.”

Her mouth dropped open, and for a moment she was too stunned to reply. “You are un-freaking-believable,” she finally sputtered.

“So make the bet. What do you have to lose?” His hands continued to massage her back tenderly. It felt nice, but she would just as soon have died before admit it.

“I’m not…that’s just perverted. You’re a sick man, you know that?”

“One month. Thirty days, and I’m guessing it won’t take that long. A couple of weeks and you’ll be on your knees begging for the chance to be my whore.”

Leaping up, Sami turned to face him. “All right, that’s
enough.
It’s time for you to go. I’m not listening to any more of this.”

He stood slowly, that
Cheshire grin spreading across his arrogant face. “I’ll put up my car.”

Wait.
What?
“The Maserati?” she asked in disbelief. “You can’t be serious!” She’d seen that gorgeous black convertible in the parking garage. It was cherry.

“I’m dead serious. Do you have a towel I can wipe my hands on?”

Snatching her attention from the bizarre topic at hand, she grabbed a beach towel that was draped over the back of one of the dining chairs and tossed it to him. “You’d give me your car. You’d seriously sign it over to me.”

“That’s what I said.” His eyes never left hers as he wiped the aloe from his
fingers. “I’ll even make it easier for us both. You don’t have to sleep with me. All you have to do is admit you want to.”


That’ll
never happen!”

“So you say.” He tossed the towel on
to the couch. “How about this. If you can abstain from confessing that you want me for a period of thirty days, you get my car. But if I can break you down and make you admit it…then I get you.”

“What do you mean, you
get
me?”

“I have you for twenty-four hours, to do with as I please.” He
stepped towards her, and she instinctively edged backwards. “And that means anything.”

This was, without a doubt, the
strangest conversation she’d ever carried on in her life. It was something right out of a lewd movie script. But wouldn’t it be something to see the look on his smug face at the end of a month when he had to hand his keys over to her. The keys to that hot convertible.

“You have a deal,” she said in a voice that didn’t seem to be her own.

He held out a hand. “Shake on it?”

She shook his hand, amazed by his audacity. Was he really so used to getting what he wanted? Had he never been refused, rejected, denied? No, probably not. He must have been born into money. Men like him were spoiled brats as children and never outgrew it. “Okay. Well…I appreciate your help and all.” It was an overt invitation for him to leave.

“Anytime.” His blue eyes sparkled like sunlight reflecting off the gulf. “Call security if you have any more issues with prowlers.” His voice grew softer. “Call me if you have any other needs.”

“Good night, Ash,” she said, opening the door pointedly.

He finally took the hint and left. And she gingerly settled herself back on the couch to see what was on TV.

Because there was no way under the
Florida sun that she’d ever be able to sleep tonight.

 

CHAPTER FIVE

 

It was four-thirty in the morning and she was sound asleep on the couch when Asher returned. He wondered curiously why she was sleeping there instead of the bedroom. Maybe she was still afraid of strangers in the night.

How
very ironic.

“Wakie, wakie…eggs and bakie,” he sang softly. Her eye
lids fluttered open, widening in confusion at the sight of him leaning over her. She opened her mouth to scream.

“Shh…” He placed a finger over her lips. “None of that.”

A smoky fog descended over her eyes like a stage curtain falling, and she gazed up at him hypnotically.

“There we go. Now why can’t you be this cooperative all the time?” he
scolded, his voice menacingly quiet. “Frigid, sanctimonious bitch. Do you really think I won’t get the upper hand in the end? You have no idea who you’re dealing with here.
No
idea. I’ll tear your world apart while you watch.”

He
snatched her pajama top down on one side to bare her shoulder, cocking his head to one side. “What makes you think you’re above me, Samara Porter? You’re just stereotypical Alabama trailer trash. Nothing special about you. Even your blood is inferior. O-positive…are you kidding me? That’s the most common type there is. Did you know that?”

His eyes narrowed as he
studied her features, pliant and submissive for a change. It gave him a measure of satisfaction that he could exert his will over her, make her yield to his desire. But not nearly as satisfying as it would be to have her come freely to him - and she would. Oh, yes, she would.

It was all about control, he reminded himself as he alleviated his hunger.

Without control, you had nothing left but chaos.

~*~*~*~

Sami finally stirred into wakefulness early Sunday afternoon, stiff and achy and sluggish. The bright midday sun streamed in cheerfully through the white curtains, making last night’s scare seem like little more than a fading dream.

Slowly she
pulled herself up from the couch and shuffled lazily out onto the patio, breathing deeply of the salty air. She watched as groups of vacationers splashed back and forth across the shore. In the deeper water, they snorkeled and windsurfed. Even farther out still, she could see the multicolored parachute of a parasailer gliding high in the air behind the boat that pulled him. It was a contrast - so much energy and activity in such a serene environment.

The sounds that were
already becoming a familiar fixture reassured her warmly. A distant hum of voices on the beach…the caws of screeching white gulls as they circled overhead…and always,
always
, the soothing, ceaseless crash of waves rolling onto the shore. God, she loved it here. There was nothing in the world like it.

Dr
opping into a plastic patio chair, she lifted one of her arms for inspection. It actually didn’t look bad at all this morning…correction,
afternoon
. Still pink, but the sting was gone. Maybe if she had a long soak in the bathtub with some apple cider vinegar, she could avoid peeling. It wasn’t her intention to resemble a blistered onion if she could avoid it.

Her thoughts strayed back to the previous night’s events.
The things that seemed so frightening in the dark no longer held that element of dread. In the comforting light of day, her fear now seemed disproportionate and out of place. How could there ever be anything to fear in a place like this, a sunny and peaceful Shangri-La?

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