* * * * *

Sitting in his van, he watched the pretty nurse step outside the supermarket with her arm loosely linked with Grant Caldwell’s. They looked like such a happy couple it was nauseating. But it was also a miracle in a way. The good detective would never admit it, but this woman’s presence in his life had brought him out of his pseudo-depression. He couldn’t be completely sure, but it had seemed like Caldwell had been on the brink of falling into an abyss and now he was a changed man. For the last six months he’d lived like a hermit after leaving the hospital—only going to his physical therapy sessions and necessary places like the grocery store. Now he was acting like the man he’d been before the accident that ruined everything.

The only downside of the nurse’s presence in Grant’s life was that he was so focused on Belle that nothing else mattered. And that was absolutely unacceptable.

Steering out of his parking spot when Grant pulled away, he followed them at a safe distance until it was obvious they were returning to their neighborhood. Grant kept Belle under lock and key ever since he’d almost drowned her. She was always safe. So untouchable.

Well, for now.

But she couldn’t stay hidden forever and when the time was right, he’d strike. Turning down a side street, he cut through a local neighborhood as he headed toward the hospital where Belle worked. Using shortcuts, he was there in fifteen minutes.

After parking, he strode through the emergency room doors. He could have used the quieter, general welcome entrance, but he preferred this area of the hospital. It was busier and there was always the chance he’d find easy prey. A lot of victims of domestic abuse could be found here. Not that they were his preferred type, but he would make an exception if the situation was right.

Seeing mainly males and a few elderly people, he quickly dismissed anyone in the waiting room as a potential playmate. He had work to do today anyway. Some that pertained to his actual job and some that pertained to finding out more about Belle Manikas.

After going through security, one of the nurses buzzed him in past the main doors. Their security was usually tight but there was a different buzz in the air today. Everyone seemed edgy. He noticed the tense, stiff walk of the two security guys as they eyed him cautiously. He wasn’t at the hospital often, just for on call situations, so he wasn’t familiar with any of them.

The nurses, however, were a different story. He’d fucked a few of them, mainly just to pass his time in the last six months. Unfortunately none of them had gotten him really geared up. Enough to have sex, but that was it. None of them had that innocent quality he liked in his favorite playmates.

His shoes were silent as he strode toward the elevators. As he reached the closed doors, a blond annoyingly bubbly nurse sidled up next to him. The scent of her cloying perfume wrapped around him before he’d even looked down at her. His quick glance confirmed she was one of the last people he wanted to see, but maybe he could use her.

“Haven’t seen you in a while,” she said softly, her voice bordering on a whine. She didn’t have that nasally tone he found nauseating in a woman, but everything about her grated on his nerves. From her fake blond hair to her giant fake tits.

They’d already fucked. He hadn’t called. Why was she talking to him? He pasted on a practiced smile he knew came across as charming. In his business, he had to appear sincere. “I’ve been swamped with work.” That much was actually true, but he set his own hours. He was in control of every aspect of his life. Just the way he wanted it.

She pushed out her bottom lip in a way he supposed she meant to be pouty, but was revolting. “So what are you doing here?”

“Just doing a follow up, but I was hoping to run into Belle Manikas while I was here.” The first part of his statement was true. The second was a lie as he knew she wasn’t working today. It was also guaranteed to piss off Nurse Nancy—God, what a stupid name—but he was almost counting on that.

Nancy’s blue eyes narrowed venomously as the elevator doors dinged. “Why do you want to see her?”

He shrugged as he stepped inside. As he predicted, Nancy followed. When he didn’t answer, she continued. “Well, you’re out of luck. She’s not working until this weekend and I know you never come in on weekends.”

The elevator car stopped on the next floor where he promptly got out after murmuring a not-so-polite goodbye. He didn’t care what Nancy thought of him, but at least he knew Belle’s next work date. Now he could focus on finding out even more about her personal life. He’d done a little digging but not nearly enough. And the erotic dreams he’d been having about her weren’t enough to satisfy him.

Even though he was incredibly patient, the more he thought about her, the hotter he became. Seeing that bruise on her face earlier made him smile at his handiwork. He’d been tempted to ease some of his tension in his van, but that would have been stupid and risky. He’d been careful for so long. Unlike many other criminals, he had no desire to ever get caught. He just wanted to keep playing his games. Resisting the urge to rub himself, he shifted uncomfortably and forced Belle’s image to the back of his mind. Soon enough, a few bruises would be nothing compared to what he’d do to her. Then he’d have all the time in the world to relieve his tension using her body.

* * * * *

Belle sat at Grant’s kitchen island, her legs crossed as she watched him cook. He was browning ground lamb in a frying pan for their gyros rather than baking it. She’d never had it this way, but she wasn’t complaining. He’d been very creative in cooking for them the past couple nights and she was beginning to feel a little spoiled. She’d tried to help in the kitchen, but he’d refused to let her. At least she’d been able to help clean up—once. He was pretty insistent about taking care of the dishes too, which was incredibly sweet. She enjoyed him taking care of her, but she didn’t like sitting around doing nothing. Of course after that run-in with Paulos, she didn’t mind a little relaxing tonight. All she wanted to do was unwind and get to know Grant a whole lot better.

Preferably while they were both in his bed, naked.

She took another sip of her white wine as she eyed his broad, muscular back. He wore another long-sleeved shirt and even though she wanted to tell him to stop worrying about his scars, she respected him enough to let him make the choice in his own time. It bothered her that he didn’t trust her enough to bare himself like that, but then she reminded herself that she’d only started wearing two-piece bathing suits at twenty.

Revealing her scar to the world had kind of been like a giant middle finger. She’d finally gotten to the point where she didn’t care what anyone thought anymore. Of course her situation was different. Her scar was surgical and hidden beneath clothes most of the time. His face was scarred and she could understand Grant’s hesitancy to bare himself. Even if she did think he was ridiculously sexy.

Feeling bold by her second glass of wine, she carefully set it down in front of her. “So…you’ve been pretty vague about your scars.”

He went almost preternaturally still. His back went ramrod straight for a moment and it was as if all the air was sucked from the room. Just when she was about to take the question back, his shoulders loosened and he shrugged. It was definitely a touchy subject but she wanted to know everything that had brought him to this point in his life. How he’d become this man who for some reason seemed to think he needed to hide any part of himself from her. And that’s exactly what he was doing with the long-sleeved shirts.

He cleared his throat and half-turned to look at her so the non-scarred side of his face was visible. “You know I was a cop.” At her brief nod, he continued. “We’d received a tip about a cocaine lab about to be relocated within days. There wasn’t time to wait to move on it. Long story short, we raided the place, I accidentally tripped a rigged bomb and…” He made a vague gesturing motion at himself with his hand.

Something about the quick way he’d told her the story didn’t sit right. Last night he’d talked about his time in the Marines, then the couple years he’d spent on the SWAT team for the Miami PD before making detective. And he’d accidentally tripped something? “Grant, I’m not trying to sound like a jerk or anything, but I don’t really see you making a mistake like that. Not with all your training. Did something else happen?” God, she really hoped she hadn’t stepped in it with her question. Belle felt as if she was walking on those proverbial eggshells right now. There was just a note in his voice that had sounded off and some part of her wouldn’t let this go.

Sighing softly, he added diced onions into the pan and started sprinkling everything with one of the three spice jars he had set out. “There was a kid involved. My focus was on him as I cleared one of the rooms. I was distracted and…when I stepped on the trigger I knew I was screwed. But I didn’t want some innocent boy to pay the price. I used my body to shield him as best I could.” Grant shrugged again but this time he didn’t look at her.

A vise tightened around her heart, squeezing painfully. He never would have told her if she hadn’t pushed. Right now she wanted to walk over to him and draw him into a big hug, but she held off. His body language was very clear. He did not want her touching him. Not to mention they weren’t exactly at that point in their relationship anyway. Whatever their relationship was. “I’m so sorry for what happened to you, but that’s incredibly brave. I’m not surprised you were thinking of someone else over yourself.”

He grunted at her words, like she’d known he would. He’d been ridiculously protective of her ever since her attack in his pool. Almost as if he blamed himself for it. Grant had this way about him where he seemed to think he should be able to protect everyone.

She couldn’t help asking one more thing. “What happened to the boy?”

Grant turned, a big smile on his face. “He was fine. A little bruised, but okay. I was knocked unconscious but I got to see him later. His name’s Daniel. Came to visit me in the hospital and I found out a few days ago that he’s being adopted into a good family. His mom was one of the women at the house and she gave up her rights. Probably the only decent thing she’s ever done for that kid,” he murmured as he turned back to the stove.