“Some people do. But not enough to make them real moneymakers.” Shanna lifted the champagne bottle. “You can’t be judged in a literary world, dear girl, by how much money you make!” she said in perfect imitation of Renate.

“Which really means she wants more money.”

“Why doesn’t she just always admit it?”

“I don’t know. We all want something we don’t want to admit, I guess.”

“I’m not at all averse to admitting what I want,” Shanna said.

“And what’s that?”

“A decent male.” She looked at her sister and grinned. “I used to want a fabulous male. Now I just want a decent one. We’re willing to settle for less and less as time goes by. Isn’t that sad?”

“Shanna, you’re twenty-four.”

“Twenty-five next month.”

“That’s young.”

“That’s right. I want a life now, while I’m young, while I’ve got the energy to enjoy each and every second of it!”


“I want to meet, date, fall in love, get married—and have kids before I’m thirty. Okay, so I’ve got a little time left. But if I can’t even find ‘decent’ to date, how am I going to find the love of my life to marry? Of course, I suppose I could just get married, have children—and get divorced, get rid of the bum, as seems to be the fashion these days. Or maybe the bum can just run out on me. But hey! You do have Mr.

Perfect—and he’s coming back, right?”

“Yeah, but late.”

“Hell, I’m leaving.”

“He’s not here now.”

“But you’ll want to chill more flutes.”

“He’s a beer man at heart.”

“So chill a stein. But get in that bubble bath. Make it special!”

“Of course, I intend to.”

Shanna was already on her way to the door. Jade rose to follow her. Shanna kissed her cheek, gave her a hug, then stared into her eyes.

“What’s wrong?”

“Wrong? Nothing.”

“Are you afraid?”

“Of what? Oh! If you mean about the newspaper articles on the event in New York, no. I’m all right.


“Of course. Your cop is coming back.”


“He is special.”

“I know.”

Shanna studied her another long moment. Jade felt as if her sister could read her mind, as if she somehow realized that...

She wasn’t feeling a thing; she was just desperate to make it work.

Jade widened her smile. “Thanks, sis. Thanks for everything.”

“Thank you. I can’t wait to talk tomorrow! Call me the minute you’re alone. I mean it!”

“I promise.”

She closed the door on her sister. She leaned against it for a long moment. Then she locked the door and pushed away, determined.

She set steins in the freezer to chill.

Then she headed for the bathroom, determined to enjoy a good, long bubble bath.

She started the water. Hot steam rose as she studied the various bath fragrances in the wicker toiletry cabinet. She chose an Oriental bath oil and poured it into the water.

She crawled in, closed her eyes, and leaned back. The heat permeated her. Silence surrounded her.

She felt the silence as if it were as soft and sleek around her as the scented water. Sweet, sensual. As if it caressed. The water was luxurious; it lulled and seduced. She so nearly slept; she so nearly dreamed.

There was a figure in her dream, walking through the mist and steam that rose above the tub.

You are there, in the water.

I am here.

I am coming.

I am waiting. . . .

The words weren’t real, just part of the steam. But she could see him, the lover that she awaited. He strode with smooth, sleek confidence, he had the fluidity of a cat, a muscled cat, agile, sinuous, grand....

“Come, yes, come to me....”

She jumped, startling herself to full attention by speaking aloud.

The water was cooling.

The steam had faded.

“I’m going to drown in here,” she said with exasperation. “Jesu, Jade what is the matter with you?” She sat up, cupped her hands, and swept the scented bath oil around her, then rose, grabbed a big terry towel, dried off, and wrapped it around her. She saw her reflection in the mirror over the sink. She was pale and drawn.

“Am I losing it because I’m afraid?” she whispered to her reflection.

But she wasn’t afraid—not to any kind of a panic point, certainly. With that thought, she opened the door to her bedroom, glad she had left the lights on in there. Nothing.

She walked out to the living/dining room, into the kitchen, then into the second bedroom—her home office.

She walked back to the doors leading to the balcony and thought back.

Yes, she had closed and locked them when Shanna left.

She tested the doors. Yes, still locked.

The front door was bolted.

Rick had a key.

With a sigh she walked back to the bedroom and turned on the television. One of the premier cable stations was showing the old Errol Flynn version of Robin Hood. She halfway listening to the movie as she contemplated the grave question of what to wear when Mr. Perfect spent the night for the first time.

Short or long? Somewhat concealing or totally revealing? Flat-out sexy or subtly sensual?

Long, somewhat concealing, subtly sensual. She didn’t really have anything out-and-out revealing.

Amazing, when she lived in a land of adult-toy shops. She hadn’t come upon the occasion to warrant such an outfit.

She did have a long, black, low-cut gown. Silk. Soft as a whisper. Perfect. Not too obvious. Of course, how much more obvious could she be? Still . ..

She doffed her towel, donned her gown, brushed her hair and her teeth, powdered, lotioned, and at last realized that she was nervous as hell.

She crawled into bed, determined to watch Errol Flynn. He had been a great Robin Hood.

Her eyes began to flicker. She had awakened early that morning. It had been a long day.

It was late....

I really need to wait up! she admonished herself. She had given Rick the key, but . . .

This was it. A big night. A big, big night. She needed to be awake, to greet, to charm, to seduce, to know the man who could just be the rest of her life. ...

Something just hadn’t been right. It would be right. She would make it right. She was tired. So tired.

Concentrate on Robin Hood, she told herself. Robin Hood. Errol Flynn was great. His leading lady a perfect foil . ..

Her eyes began to close. Too much champagne. Or not enough ... Stay awake . . . stay awake. . . .

Daniel was accustomed to the morgue.

New Orleans could be a tough place.

He hadn’t minded being called in to assist; he had learned the job, following the orders of the medical examiners, having the right tool at the right time.

There was no real pressure that he might make a horrible mistake.

He was good at his job, but it was a job. He needed the income from it, and he didn’t mind odd hours when the M.E.s needed to work late, when something was so horrible it couldn’t wait, when someone just felt they had a huge caseload and wanted to get cracking.

He’d seen old men and women, some as peaceful as if they slept, some contorted by the final pain of a heart attack, or racked by the ravages of cancer and emphysema.

He’d seen children, so sad.

Babies. Two that had been shaken to death by parents.

Murder victims. Husbands with knives in their gullets. {No problem determining cause of death there, eh, Doc?) Wives beaten black and blue. He’d seen it all in the three years he had worked there.

He’d seen it all.


When the sheet was pulled off the young accident victim, he almost vomited on the spot.

He hadn’t seen anything. He’d seen nothing at all. Not until that moment...

Jade became slowly aware of a change ... something different around her. Had she awakened in the night? If so, she didn’t know why at first. The room around her remained in darkness, the only light in the room coming from the television. Robin Hood was no longer playing. Not unless they had added footage in which Robin and Marion were . . .

Sighs and whispers. A man and woman together. Making love.

Fog filled the room. She lay within it, wrapped within it. Soft and warm, it encased her like the silk. She heard music, a sound so soft it might have come from within her; the beat could have been her pulse. She had been waiting for him. Yes.

And he was there.

With her.

She felt him touching her, felt his face against her flesh, breathing in her skin. There was something incredibly sensual about the way he appreciated the scent of her, the feel, the taste. His fingers brushed her flesh, and they might have been a hundred degrees. She moved against him, amazed that it was so easy, astounded that she could want him so much. Her body rippled, ached, burned. His fingers moved, liquid lightning, touching, stroking, a seduction so slow ...

“You’re here,” she whispered.

Should I be?

“I invited you.”

You’ve been inviting me, you know. I shouldn’t have come. I shouldn’t be here. But you have invited me.

“I’ve waited; I’ve wanted you.”

The silk moved against her. Silk and shadows and fog. She felt his weight, the brush of knuckles against her cheek, silk rubbing against her flesh, his body, the subtle power of his chest... his kiss.. ..

It aroused as she had never been aroused before. Life awakened within her. She felt colors all around her, shades of red and flame, searing, dancing, leaping against a field of fog and darkness. The coolness of mist and breeze touched her, fire lapped her, and the fire was his kiss, traveling the length of her. Fire, color, mist undulated; she felt his strength, his warmth, his chest....

A pulse.

The beat of his heart.

No, the beat of her own . ..

Then . . .


The sun, the stars, the burst of a nova . .. Fire exploded within her; she couldn’t breathe, couldn’t think; the searing was sheer decadence, fierce, pulsating, undulating.. .. She could barely keep afloat in the sea of sensation, yet she was aware of a whispering. . . .