PARKER COLLINS SHOVED a handful of M&M’s in her mouth, eyes glued to Saw III. A burst of light illuminated the pitch-black media room, followed by a scream of terror. Christmas, her four-year-old English mastiff, sacked out beside her on the couch, pushed his big head beneath her legs as darkness shrouded them again. Another shrill scream brought her big chicken of a dog deeper into her leg tunnel.
“Whoever said dogs were a man’s best friend was an idiot. My best friend.” Especially now that Bert’s gone. A few tears slipped down her cheek.
Christmas whimpered, pulled his head from beneath her legs, and licked her from chin to eyes, getting every last one of her tears and coming back for more. He’d been lapping up her tears for two weeks, ever since she’d lost her friend, mentor, and the only family she’d ever known. Bert Stein had suffered a massive heart attack while Parker was in Italy filming her latest movie, and she’d been moving on autopilot ever since: picking up Christmas from his housekeeper in Los Angeles because Bert had been watching him while she was away, attending Bert’s funeral, trying to remember how to breathe, and finally, coming to her house in Wellfleet to mourn—and, she hoped, to mend a fence Bert was never able to with his estranged brother.
Holing up in the bay-front home she’d built for the Collins Children’s Foundation, where no one would look for her, was the only way she could grieve without negative ramifications. God forbid an A-list actress went out looking like an average woman whose heart had been ripped from her chest. Rag magazines would pay big bucks for pictures of her puffy, tired eyes and I-don’t-give-a-shit tangled hair. She could just imagine the headlines: Parker Collins’s New Drug Addiction, or Unplanned Pregnancy for Parker, or anything else that would sell magazines. Nobody cared that she’d never even smoked a cigarette, that she needed to have sex in order to get pregnant, or that she’d gone so long without, she wondered if her best parts even worked anymore.
She pressed her hands to Christmas’s droopy cheeks, kissed her bewildered boy’s snout, and reached for the bottle of tequila she’d been nursing. She’d never had tequila before tonight, but it was the perfect addition to her chocolate–horror movie grief remedy. After pouring herself another shot, she tossed it back in one gulp, savoring the warmth as it slid down her throat and drowned her sadness.
She set the glass beside her on the couch and shoved her hand into the jumbo bag of peanut M&M’s that had consoled her throughout the evening—because a big lazy dog was great for licking tears, but nothing quenched sadness like candy-coated chocolate. And tequila. Definitely tequila. Her fingers scraped the bottom of the bag. Damn it. She tossed the empty bag to the floor. Christmas hung his head over the side of the couch and whimpered.
“Don’t judge me. It can’t be that bad.” She leaned forward to assess the damage, knocking an empty pizza box to the floor, and reached for the coffee table to stop the room from spinning. “Whoa.”
Another scream brought her eyes to the movie, then toward the movement in her peripheral vision, where a shadowy figure blocked the entrance to the media room. It took her alcohol-drenched mind a minute to realize the tall, broad man filling the doorway wasn’t supposed to be in her house. Panic spread through her veins, catapulting her to her feet. Christmas darted to the stranger with a friendly woof.
“Oh God.” She reached for the wall to steady the spinning room, fighting to push through her drunken haze. She’d seen enough movies to know she was going to die in the media room of this lonely house, wearing chocolate-stained sweatpants—or more accurately, ice-cream-, tequila-, pizza-sauce-, and chocolate-stained sweatpants—while her dog made a new friend of her killer.
“Stay back. He’s a killer. One command and you’re dead!” Not likely with her loving dog.
The man sank to one knee, his face hidden by her big, traitorous dog.
“Yeah, I can see that,” he said casually, as only a coldhearted psycho killer could.
Searching for a weapon, she grabbed the tequila bottle, only too late realizing it was spilling down her wrist. She flipped it upright, wishing this was a movie and someone would yell, Cut!
A piercing scream drew their attention to the heart-pounding terror on the projection screen. Suddenly the room was showered in light. Parker’s eyes slammed shut against the sensory invasion, then flew open to get a look at the man who would probably find fame as the Parker Collins Killer.
Her breath caught in her throat, and her hand flew to her frantically beating heart, as she took in the Greek god rising to his feet before her. His smoldering dark eyes nearly brought her to her knees. Grayson Lacroux.
“Grayson?” Do I sound scared, drunk, or like I want to jump your bones? Probably all three, which wasn’t good. Grayson had won a two-year contract in a design competition last summer, and for the past ten months he’d been designing artwork for the Collins Children’s Foundation. As the founder of CCF, Parker headed up the project, and they’d exchanged hundreds of emails—emails that felt intimate and meaningful and had pulled her through too many long, lonely nights to count.
“What are you doing here?” She cringed at how breathless she sounded. Even in her drunken state she knew it had nothing to do with her initial fears and everything to do with the towering male across the room.
His lips curved up as he surveyed the room. She’d come straight down to the media room in full-on holing-up mode after arriving from LA. Her open suitcase lay in the middle of the floor, lace and silk seeping over the sides. The clothes she’d worn on the flight were strewn across the hardwood floor. One pink high heel peeked out from beneath an empty bag of Twizzlers; the other was nowhere in sight. An orgy of fun-size candy bar wrappers and M&M’s littered the floor.
“I might ask you the same thing.” His voice was low and rich and made the room feel fifty degrees hotter.
Maybe that’s the tequila.
“I came to take measurements for the railing and heard a noise. I didn’t know you were here.”
Measurements? She couldn’t think with his dark, assessing gaze trained on her as he crossed the room. Each step was a declaration of power and control—the same air of confidence he relayed in his emails. Parker was used to beautiful people, but holy mother of hot and sexy men, Grayson brought manliness and sex appeal to a whole new level. An enticingly tempting level. She was five nine, and he had several delicious inches on her. His bulbous biceps and massive breadth made her feel more delicate than she was. His tousled, thick dark hair and unwavering air of command made her knees wobble. She took a deep, unsteady breath and backed against the wall to stabilize those wobbly knees, but he stepped closer, assaulting her senses with his musky, and somehow summery, scent.