On the second floor, Aria stopped at a door and opened it. "You can use this shower. It's for guests," she said.
I peeked inside, and sure enough, saw it was a bathroom. A very large and flashy one. Marble floor. Marble basin bench. Multi-head shower. The stuff in a five-star hotel.
"Thanks, Aria," I said, feeling a bit overwhelmed. I was actually thinking I'd get a quick wash with the hose in the backyard. And Sammy beside me, who was suddenly very friendly to me, snuggling at my legs, would join me.
"That's okay," she replied. "You can come to my sitting room when you're done."
"Actually, I have a meeting with your grandfather," I said.
"Oh?" she cocked her head to one side. "Okay. But you can come to see me in my sitting room anyway. We can have dinner together. The housekeeper is making us spag--" She paused and tried again. "Spaghetti bolognese."
The word dinner and spaghetti bolognese caught my attention, and my eyes brightened immediately. I couldn't really turn down a meal offer, now could I? After all, Aria looked like she needed company.
"Okay," I said, walking into the bathroom. "See you later, then."
She nodded at me with a big grin. "Have a nice shower," she said. Then to Sammy, she encouraged, "Come on, boy."
* * * * *
Once she was out of sight, I shut the door and busied myself finding a pair of clean jeans and T-shirt. Personal stuff fell out of the backpack in the process, including a packet of muesli bars I'd made myself two days ago back home in Mystic Spring, a small town no one knew existed in America.
On cue, the sound of my empty stomach churning reached my ears, and I hastily unwrapped the packet. I quickly munched one up as I stripped myself naked. I hadn't eaten since yesterday evening, my last meal, and it had been more than fifteen hours.
Still chewing, tasting the sweetness of cereal, dried fruits, and nuts in my mouth, I turned my attention to the shower. Twisting the handle to the right, a burst of cold water sprayed at me, making me jump. I turned it a little farther to the warm section. A few seconds later, it was at the right temperature, and I sighed in relief.
It felt so good, and the water temperature was just right. Sticky brown goo ran down my body, leaving my skin once again clean and milky white. I unbraided my long, black tresses and rinsed away the dirt. I wished I could shampoo my hair. As if God had finally for once answered my prayers, I happened to turn and see the bottles of shampoo, conditioner, and body wash. There was even a body sponge. My heart sang. Well, Ms. Lane did say she'd tell a maid to prepare the necessities for my shower.
"Thank you, Ms. Lane," I said softly. "Thank you, maid."
I quickly grabbed the shampoo and then thoroughly washed out my long hair. Once it was rinsed, I proceeded to condition it. Then I turned my attention to the body wash. A few minutes later, I was nearly done. But what the heck? I didn't want to get out. I just wanted to stay in there forever. I was just closing my eyes when a bark came at the closed door. I blinked. Odd, this one sounded a little different from Sammy's.
"Dogs," I murmured to myself. I wasn't a fan of them. Even since I was a child, I'd been afraid of them, regardless of the size. The encounter with Sammy previously hadn't been pleasant. Though the dog did warm up to me, and it kept nosing at my backpack.
The sound of barks grew more aggressive, followed by a low growl. I wondered if Aria was outside with the dog. Perhaps I should have stayed put, at least until the barking stopped, but I was stupid and I didn't. I quickly turned off the shower, grabbed a towel, and wrapped it around me. Then I tentatively headed to the door.
The barking stopped then, and relief swept through me. I'd always been a curious girl, and against my better judgement, I grabbed the knob and opened the door slightly.
That was when all hell broke loose. Loud barks blasted at me, followed by a whirlwind of a white fluffy body throwing itself at me. Freaked out, I staggered back, landing on my backside--hard--on the marble floor. I groaned and swore under my breath.
Pain fled my mind the moment I saw the dog heading my way, baring its sharp canines. It followed me until I was cornered between the basin and the toilet. Suddenly, it cocked its head to one side as it stared at me, its black eyes glistening against the light.
I was told if you want to make a dog your friend, let it smell you out by giving it your hand. Well, if I wanted to get out of this bizarre spot, I had better become friends with this little beast right now.
So with hand shaking, I reached out, letting it sniff at me. It watched me for a moment, and I thought it was going great. That was until it started barking again and growling at me, snapping its mouth at me as if it were about to bite off my hand.
I withdrew with lightning speed. Suddenly, it turned its attention to my backpack, sniffing at the thing with interest.
"What are you doing?" I asked the dog. It was a stupid thing, of course, since the canine wouldn't have been able to understand me.
I leaned over, more concerned it was interested in my bag. It turned and growled at me again. Then it dipped its head into the bag and stuff flew out--my panties, bras, T-shirts, shorts. You name it. Then it got what it wanted. My bars. My delicious muesli bars.
"Hey, give it back!" I demanded passionately. That was my only source of food for the next few days. When they ran out, I'd resort to spending a tiny portion of my three hundred dollars for buying burgers and chips to survive until I went home. The return flight to Mystic Spring was in five days. I hoped to get this two million dollars business sorted out by then.
The dog turned its attention to me, and knowing I'd fight it to the death for my belongings, it grabbed onto my backpack and sprinted out the door.
"Shit!" I swore under my breath and hastily got up. Clutching the towel against my chest so it wouldn't unwrap itself from me, I slipped out the door and raced after the little thing.
"Come back here!" I demanded. "Give it back to me!"
The little beast refused to heed my pathetic commands and sprinted even faster across the hall. It turned and then was out of my sight. I forced my legs to go faster, too, and turned before realizing it was climbing the stairs. I went after him, my anger flaring at the little canine who'd stolen my belongings.
Finally, I came onto the next floor and, without thinking, raced after the little beast. It turned a corner and then slipped in through a slightly ajar door.
"Come back here, you little beast!" I ordered. "Give me back my backpack!"
I burst through the door, and before I could catch my breath, I slammed hard against a male body. I closed my eyes as I puffed out a sound and bounced back from the brick wall of pure muscle. I felt myself falling backward, when suddenly, warm hands wrapped around my waist, pulling me back. In the process, I automatically let go of my hands about the towel and wrapped them around the muscular, hard body. The towel slid down and landed in a pool of fabric on the soft carpet around my feet.
Finally, I opened my eyes and stared at the pale-blue shirt that seemed oddly familiar to me. My heart pumped loudly within my chest as I drifted my eyes from the broad chest up to the muscular neck, to the firm jawline, the sensuous lips, and then the aquiline nose.
I stopped there because I knew I just couldn't go any farther. I knew I'd seen that face already, a mere hour ago, in fact. I knew if I were to go farther and meet those Prussian blue eyes, I'd become breathless again with a sort of electrifying excitement as well as foreboding apprehension. Of course I wouldn't be able to think clearly.
To be sure, I wasn't thinking clearly now. I mean, I never even thought about why the man with gorgeous Prussian blue eyes, the man who had nearly driven into me, was here in this house that belonged to Mr. Maxwell in the first place. Or the fact that I was in his arms, naked and dripping wet. I didn't consider it was odd I found nothing wrong with the situation and, rather, felt very natural. I felt like I belonged there, naked and in his arms.
The dog barked again, securin
g my attention. I turned my gaze to it and glared. Butchered pieces of my bars were scattered on the floor and the dog's mouth, evidence of the beast devouring my limited resources for survival. My backpack was ripped and torn, with damaged panties and bras and other pieces of clothing lying haphazardly on the floor.
I was pissed. Had no one in this humongous, expensive house fed this starving little beast of a dog? And my clothing and one and only backpack was ruined.
I stepped back and rushed out of the tight embrace of the man. I didn't even care to even think what I'd look like as I rushed over to the dog, naked, bending down on my hands and knees, with my rear on full display for the hot stranger to see.
I realized my mistake after I'd gathered my clothes, clutching them in front of me. The moment I lifted myself and met his eyes, I wanted to die.
There was blue fire there. His gaze was hot and intense, and it made my body respond in a way I could never be able to describe. A hot rush of excitement and pure agony and dread whirled through my being, making me want to be anywhere but here. I swallowed, my whole body now trembling as he paced toward me.
His gait, powerful and sexy, made me take a step back, ready to bolt.
He stopped right in front of me. When I just stood there, staring at the broadness of his amazing chest, he said, "Mia Donovan?"
I slowly tilted back my head and stared at his chin. That strong, beautiful chin that suddenly made me want to touch and stroke it. The urge in me was so strong that I felt pure pain aching within me.