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I Burn for You
*Now that I have found you In the coolth of your evening smile The shade of your parasol And your love flows through me Though I drink at your pool I burn for you, I burn for...*
* * * *
The damp, bone-chilling February cold had driven her into a national coffee chain for a cup of something warm after spending a long, fruitless day on her own on what was probably the ten thousandth wild goose chase she'd been on in six years. *I must be getting old,* she thought wryly as she sipped at her four dollar grande skim latte and recalled the days when a cup of coffee was a sixty-five cent item.
Sitting alone among the mostly twenty-something crowd, she was vaguely amused by the selection of music playing, nearly all of which dated back to when she was twenty-something herself. Ah, the Eighties, she mused, replaying a conversation she'd had with Jarod some years before, one of their more civil late-night encounters during which he'd been bemoaning the fact that he'd missed the "Al Franken Decade."
*"I can sum it up for you in four words, Jarod: Boy George and Ronald Reagan. Take my word for it, you didn't miss much."*
He had laughed; they both had, actually. Like so many of their exchanges it had been so *easy,* which ultimately made everything so much harder. That was one of the many lessons she'd learned as a result of their little adventure in Scotland a couple months earlier, about the time that the last vestiges of stability had disappeared from her life and everything had gone completely to shit.
She became faintly aware of the song playing in the background and found her attention increasingly drawn to it. She recognized the artist - he was one of her favorites back in the days when she had time to enjoy such simple pleasures as popular music - but couldn't quite place the tune. She wasn't even sure if she'd ever heard it before and, yet, felt something stir within her. A memory, maybe? No, she concluded as she continued to listen intently. It was more of a feeling of... anticipation or, perhaps more accurately, foreboding. Whatever it was, it made her uneasy and she resolved to get the hell out of there and go home.
* * * *
"That's a lovely tune, Miss Parker. What is it?"
"You were humming a tune and I was wondering what it is."
"Humming? Me? I don't think so."
"I guess I was mistaken," Sydney said, tugging at his chin, his eyes sparkling as he observed her.
She couldn't shake the feeling that he somehow knew *everything* and felt her cheeks warm at the prospect. Composing herself, she commented evenly, "You don't have to wait here with me. You remind me of a fussy parent in the waiting room at the pediatrician's office."
"How would you know of such things, Miss Parker?"
"I *was* a child once, remember?"
"Vividly," he replied with an affectionate smile then continued, "You've been through an ordeal, one of several in recent months, and I think you can use the moral support."
"It's just the standard debriefing, Syd, not an inquisition," Parker stated. *Yeah, right,* she thought to herself, *and if you believe that...*
"Maybe so, but I'll be waiting here for you when you've finished all the same."
She had just opened her mouth to respond when Lyle poked his head out the door leading into a conference room and announced, "We're ready for you now, Miss Parker."
With infinite coolness and grace she stood, smoothed her hair and skirt, and strode confidently past her twin brother, who raised an eyebrow as she passed but said nothing as he closed the door behind him to leave Sydney standing alone in the hallway. Sighing, the doctor turned and sank into the seat Parker had just vacated then stared thoughtfully into the distance.
* * * *
"Welcome back, Miss Parker. We hope a few days at home were beneficial as you recover from this harrowing ordeal. How are you holding up?"
*Well, I'm not walking funny anymore and can now sit down without wincing...*
"Fine," she replied evenly, her expression placid. "And I appreciated having the time to rest. Thank you."
"As the Chairman's daughter..." Parker shuddered imperceptibly at those two words, referring as they now did to a man whom she would never consider to be her father, regardless of what the genetic tests said. "And a valued member of the team in your own right, it was our pleasure to extend you that courtesy, which brings us to our first question... actually."
After what she deemed a sufficient pause, she lifted her chin and raised her eyebrows expectantly then offered a casual, "Yes?"
"You declined to be examined by our medical staff upon your return. Why is that?"
"Because it wasn't necessary. I was not injured."
*Far from it, you morons...*
"You were placed, ostensibly against your will, under the influence of a powerful narcotic."
"Dispensed by an expert in pharmacology... I was in no danger. And there was nothing 'ostensible' about it. I was placed, against my will, under the influence of a powerful narcotic."
*Well, it's the truth!*
"And before you waste your breath spouting pointless insinuations," she continued passively, her voice lacking even a hint of defensiveness, "perhaps it would save time if I reminded you that the reckless behavior of your walking/talking science experiment cost my... cost Mr. Parker his life." She tilted her head slightly to meet her brother's eyes and tacked on, "You were there, Mr. Lyle, tell them."
Lyle swallowed hard and replied, "This is not an interrogation, Miss Parker. We're just trying to get a handle on what happened."
"Well, that's easy. The twisted little monkey drugged and abducted me."
After a brief but awkward silence, another pin-striped lackey piped in to suggest, "Perhaps we should start at the beginning."
"Lets," Parker hissed through a saccharin smile.
* * * *
Her first instinct, before she even opened her eyes, was to reach under her pillow for her gun. It wasn't there, of course, because her head wasn't resting on *her* pillow. It couldn't possibly be her pillow because it smelled of *him.* Excitement-tinged anger coursed through her body like liquid heat as she bolted upright, her eyes snapped open, and she bellowed,
"What the fuck have you done!"
"How do you feel? Any headache?" he asked softly. His smile was warm; his eyes even warmer... too warm. His gaze felt like a caress and it made her uneasy. She drew her legs up to her chest and glanced down to find that only her jacket and shoes were missing. Meeting his eyes again, she saw amusement dancing there.
"Why, Miss Parker, whatever do you think of me?" he teased, although his voice was more gentle than taunting. His demeanor was relaxed, content, and adoring. He was happy because she was there with him and, for that reason alone, she very much wanted him dead.
"How... what... where?" Parker sputtered as she felt her pulse thundering in her temples.
"It's criminal what they charge for a cup of coffee these days, isn't it?" Jarod commented with a broad grin.
"You bastard!" she barked.
"Could be," he said with a shrug, seemingly unfazed by her anger. "Nothing would surprise me these days."
* * * *
"A coffee shop?" Lyle asked perplexedly. "What on earth were you doing there?"
"Uh... having coffee," Parker replied in a tone that suggested the stupidity of the question.
"And that's the last thing you remember before coming to in Jarod's lair?"
*Lair... what a ridiculous word. He's neither a demon nor a vampire... hmmm... he does have that naughty streak, though, and has been known to nip on occasion...*
"Correct. I do not remember exiting the coffee shop, nor do I recall any of the journey to Jarod's..." She rolled her eyes and continued, "lair."
"And Jarod was there when you awoke?" droned another empty suit.
"Yes, he was."
"And?" Lyle inquired, raising an eyebrow.
"And?" Parker shot back, unflinching.
"What did he say?"
"He offered me a common, over-the-counter pain reliever."
* * * *
"Come on," Jarod coaxed as he held out a glass of water and two tablets. "It will make you feel better."
"Really," Parker spat, her arms folded at her chest as she glared defiantly at him. "And would aspirin have done the trick when *you* were abducted? Besides," she added curtly, "I can't take aspirin. Ulcer, remember?"
"You know I do. It's not aspirin, it's acetaminophen, and here's a full glass of water." She glared at him icily.
Jarod emitted a heavy sigh and shook his head then sank down on the edge of the bed and said, "I was a defenseless four-year-old boy. You're a grown woman and anything but defenseless. Besides..." His voice grew low and deep. "What was done to me was entirely against my will, while this..." He gazed knowingly, longingly into her eyes and leaned forward to offer the glass and tablets again.
"You arrogant son-of-a-bitch!" Parker yelled, her eyes flaring with rage as she slapped Jarod's hand away so violently that it dislodged the glass. Spraying its contents over a wide area as it flew through the air, the glass shattered to pieces when it hit the floor.
* * * *
"After politely declining the medication, then what?" asked the only woman on the panel.
"Not much, really," Parker answered conversationally. "Oh, he replayed that old, tired self-pity routine."
"And?" Lyle inquired yet again.
"You must be one hell of a Scrabble player," she remarked then continued, "If it was sympathy he was looking for, then he wasted his time."
* * * *
Peering out of the corner of her eye, Parker spied Jarod as, crouching on the floor next to the bed to clean up the broken glass, he raised his finger to his face and frowned. Feeling her eyes on him, he glanced up just in time to see her quickly avert her gaze.
"I hope you're happy. I cut myself."
"I am happy. Thanks for asking."
"Shit," he muttered again.
"Nice language you've picked up out here, Jarod."
"I'll take that as a compliment from an expert. It's bleeding pretty badly. I think there may be a piece of glass in it."
"Good. I hope it festers and falls off."
He chuckled and replied, "I'll let that go because I know you don't really mean it. Ouch!"
Emitting a heavy sigh of exasperation, Parker scooted to the edge of the bed and hauled her legs over the side then growled, "Oh, for crying out loud, monkeyboy, let me see the wounded paw!"
He turned on his heels and offered his hand to her. She took it in hers and carefully inspected the bloody slit on the tip of his left index finger. He was right; it was bleeding fairly heavily, which impeded her efforts to get a good look into the wound. Cursing in frustration and temporarily forgetting the present circumstances, she raised his finger to her mouth, which she closed over it to lick the wound clean before thoroughly inspecting it a second time.
"There isn't any glass in it. Just clean it out, cover it, and it will be fine. God, you're such a crybaby," she complained as she dropped his hand and looked up then froze at the combination of warmth and pure, unadulterated lust she found in his eyes. Parker was positively certain that her stomach had turned inside out and was about to regain the power of speech when Jarod remarked softly,
"It really is a pity, though, to lose the use of a fingertip..." He lowered his head until his forehead came to rest at about the midpoint of her slightly parted thighs, eliciting a small gasp from her. "I was counting on all ten today," he mumbled, turning his head slightly so that his lips brushed the inside of her thigh. When she finally came to her senses, Parker found her hand resting lovingly on the back of Jarod's head, her fingers lost in a sea of soft, dark hair.
"Now, wait a fucking minute here!" she shouted, wondering whom she was actually addressing, Jarod or herself.
Pressing her hands to his shoulders, she shoved Jarod back violently, forcing him to flail his arms to avoid landing flat on his bottom in the pile of broken glass. Reaching out with his uninjured right hand, he managed to steady himself as she bolted from the bed and retreated to the far corner of the room.
Raising his eyebrows as he stood, he commented with a smirk, "Sending me flat on my ass onto a pile of broken glass... you know, there are *easier* ways to get me out of my pants, Miss Parker."
Ignoring his levity, her voice was grave as she declared, "No, Jarod. No. No. No."
Undeterred, he approached slowly. She turned away from him to stare out of a small window, the only one in the room. Parker shuddered when she felt his warmth as he stopped only an inch or two behind her and his arms came to rest on the wall on either side of her body.
"I've had a lifetime of 'no,'" he whispered against her hair. "We both have and I'm sick of it. Why don't we try a little..." He brought his lips to her ear and continued, "'Yes...'" Parker closed her eyes when she felt the hiss of hot air tickle her ear and spill down her neck. "For a change..." he added as she felt his right arm wrap around her waist. The inside of her head sounded like a fire station during a four alarm inferno, her mouth felt like a desert, and she couldn't breathe.
"No, Jarod," she muttered distractedly, trying desperately to recall why that was the correct answer.
* * * *
"So," began the senior member of the panel, an elderly man Parker didn't recognize. "Would you characterize Jarod's actions as a misguided attempt to influence you?"
"I believe that to be an accurate characterization of the events in question," she replied with a charming smile that she knew would work on the geezer.
And it did, for the elderly man's voice noticeably softened as he followed up with, "Now, I have to ask you a delicate question and I encourage you to please be frank with us, Miss Parker. No one will hold your answer against you under the circumstances. You were taken prisoner by a disturbed and dangerous man and..."
"Please," she broke in. "Ask away. I have nothing to hide."
Clearing his throat he continued, "In the thirty-six or so hours you were in Jarod's custody, was he at all successful in influencing you?"
*Successful? Well the boy does "influence" like a pro... all night long.*
"How do you mean?" she asked.
"Was he, perhaps, able to extract information of a *sensitive* nature by playing on your sympathy or, perhaps, by employing sleep deprivation or other mind control techniques? Again, we would appreciate your complete candor here. It is not uncommon for the captive to develop sympathy for the captor. It is well documented... Stockholm Syndrome and the like."
"I can state unequivocally that Jarod was not able to extract information of a *sensitive* nature..."
*Well, unless you count his discovery of that ticklish spot on my...*
"...if for no other reason than the fact that I have no information to share." She glared into her brother's eyes and added, "I generally discover the Centre's secrets only *after* Jarod does."
* * * *
"No," she repeated, shoving his arm away from her body. Spinning around to face him, she nodded in the direction of his left hand and inquired, "You planning to bleed all over the room?"
"Oh yeah," he replied with a shrug. "Doesn't even hurt anymore so I forgot about it." Leaning in, he tacked on, "It's amazing what you can do with your tongue, Miss Parker," before turning and strolling casually away from her in the direction of the bathroom.
Parker stood slack-jawed, momentarily stunned by his audacity. He had brought her there for one reason and one reason only and he wasn't prevaricating. She wondered what the hell had gotten into him, well, for about a second until her rage returned and she stormed across the room toward the bathroom.
"Do you really think this is acceptable behavior?" she called into the bathroom over the sound of running water.
"Acceptable behavior?" he repeated, poking his head out of the bathroom as he held his finger under the running water. "Well, that all depends on whose definition of *acceptable* we use. If, for the sake of argument, we use the Parker family definition, then I'd say my behavior falls well within the boundaries of acceptable."
"For Christ's sake, Jarod, one would think that your pissing contest with Daddy would have ended the moment he took a header out of that airplane! Which, by the way, I've given some thought to in the intervening months, and I have a question. What did you say to him, Jarod, to manipulate him into doing it? More to the point, why did you even bother to warn me about that assassination attempt all those years ago? If you were so determined to destroy our family, you could have succeeded by simply staying out of it then."
Frowning and shaking his head, Jarod turned off the tap and replied, "Oh, I don't know. I've had plenty of time to think about that and, in retrospect, I'm not so sure your... Mr. Parker was in any *real* danger."
"What the fuck are you talking about?"
"Consider the timing, Miss Parker," Jarod instructed as he patted his wounded finger dry. "Coming as it did on the heels of my little Valentine, I've often wondered if the *true* objective of that little conspiracy was taking Mr. Parker's life..." He appeared in the bathroom doorway with a freshly bandaged finger and continued, "...or if it was really all about *you,* Miss Parker."
"W...what?" she stuttered, her heart sinking into her stomach the way it did whenever she heard something uttered aloud that she'd always secretly suspected. "P...people died that day. I k...killed people that day."
Crossing his arms at his chest and grimacing, Jarod observed, "And yet, it wasn't enough for them. I seem to recall your being called before a T-Board shortly thereafter."
"SON-OF-A-BITCH!" Parker bellowed. "I don't fucking believe it! I don't know why I even care anymore, why it even matters! It doesn't but... GOD DAMN IT!"
"Parker..." Jarod stepped into the room and reached out for her.
She waved him off and paced for a few moments until her knees began to shake so violently that she was forced to sink to the floor next to the bed, ignoring the broken glass at her feet. Burying her face in her hands, she dissolved into uncontrollable, body-shaking sobs. It didn't make any difference anymore and, yet, for some reason it felt like the last straw.
Frowning, Jarod moved quietly across the room and crouched beside her. He reached out to touch her and she slapped his hand away. He tried again and, again, she rebuffed him. Sighing wearily, he wrapped his arms securely around her and, despite her wriggling in attempt to extricate herself from his embrace, as well as her slapping at him in protest, he effortlessly hauled her up into his arms.
"There's glass all over the floor. You'll cut yourself," he advised, gently laying her down on the bed.
She immediately turned away from him and curled into a fetal position so he sat down next to her and leaned over her body, resting his palm flat on the bed in front of her. Tenderly sweeping her hair out of her face with his other hand, he spoke softly,
"I'm sorry, Miss Parker. The last thing I wanted to do is make you cry. I will admit to occasionally enjoying making you angry but I hate it when you cry."
He leaned forward and pressed his lips to her temple, lingering there for a time before she uttered a soft,
Her words lacked any of their previous bite. With a small smile and the taste of Parker's tears on his lips, Jarod rose silently from the bed and set about finishing the task of cleaning up the broken glass.
* * * *
"Food? Water? Sleep, perhaps?"
"We've been over this," Parker protested mildly. "Jarod withheld nothing."
"Nothing. That shouldn't come as a surprise to anyone knowing his case history. It is completely logical that Jarod would be a humane captor."
"Not always," Lyle piped in.
"Well, I guess it *would* depend on the identity of the captive. I haven't murdered or defenestrated any members of his immediate family."
Ignoring her remark, Lyle cleared his throat and challenged, "So, let me get this straight. What you are reporting here is that he spent thirty- six hours simply trying to engage you in conversation?"
"No," she replied with a enigmatic smirk. "For most of that time, there was very little conversation."
*Very, very little...*
"Of course there wasn't," the elder member of the panel interjected. "Miss Parker is a highly trained professional, adept at thwarting an adversary's attempt to draw her out."
"Precisely," she purred, flashing a charming smile and solidifying her ownership of the silly old man.
* * * *
In her half-conscious state, Parker felt the bed dip beside her then soothing coolness of a compress on her forehead.
"What do you say we try again with the pain reliever? Will you sit up?"
She nodded in assent, holding the compress to her forehead as she gingerly rose and leaned back against the headboard. It suddenly registered that it was a lovely bed, carved rosewood.
Opening her eyes, she inquired, "Where the hell did you get this bed, Jarod? Awfully fancy for your typical rat hole, isn't it?"
"If you look around, Miss Parker, you'll notice that this place is quite a bit nicer than my typical rat hole."
He handed over the tablets, which she quickly popped in her mouth, followed by a tall glass of water, which she drained and handed back to him before leaning back against the headboard and closing her eyes.
"What do you think of it... th... the bed? Is it comfortable for you?"
"You've got to be kidding me," she muttered. "This can't really be happening," she continued as she slid down into a prone position and turned away from him, all the while keeping the compress affixed to her forehead. "Not even *you* are this fucked up."
Jarod's head dropped in dissapointment. He placed the empty glass on the floor then drew his legs up onto the bed, kicking his shoes off in the process. Parker froze, her eyes snapping open when she heard the sound of his shoes hitting the floor.
Sliding down onto the bed, he turned toward her and propped his head up on one elbow. Reaching over her, he removed the compress from her forehead and tossed it carelessly over his shoulder. He felt her body stiffen as he attemped to pull her onto her back to face him so he gave up and settled for resting his hand on the gentle slope leading from her slender waist to her hip. He felt her tremble at the contact and held his breath for a moment before beginning,
"I will tell you one thing about that day on the airplane. I'll tell you what was going through my... no, what was *screaming* in my mind the entire time I was trying to land safely. I think you'll be surprised. I know I was, given the way we left things before we boarded."
Intrigued, Parker rotated the top half of her body to look at him, her cool, tear-streaked blue eyes meeting his warm, intense brown eyes. His hand slid onto her belly but she made no attempt to remove it; she was relaxing under his touch. With a shuddering breath, he proceeded,
"It wasn't that if we crashed, I'd never again see the family I've spent five years trying to reassemble or that the life as a free man I'd fought so hard to preserve would be cut short. I wasn't even plotting my escape from Lyle and Raines."
"Then what?" she asked in the softest tone he'd heard from her all day. He unconsciously shifted his body closer to hers, his hand flexing slightly, itching to feel beneath the silk of her blouse, to move across her skin.
"You wouldn't have been aboard if I hadn't challenged you to defy Mr. Parker so this voice in my head kept chanting... loudly: 'You *have* to land this plane! *Miss Parker* is on *this* plane and it's all *your* fault, you idiot!' It was most unsettling, not to mention distracting."
"And yet, you managed to land safely *and* escape." Her voice was grave and yet he detected a hint of humor beneath the facade.
"Well," he replied sheepishly, "once we were safely landed, I did manage to come to my senses."
"Why?" she asked, searching his eyes.
"Because I'm tired and lonely and..."
"What?" she whispered as she turned completely around to lie flat on her back. Jarod lifted his hand off her abdomen and placed it on the opposite side of her body, propping himself up to hover over her and staring intently into her eyes as he continued,
"It seems absurd to me that the *happy* memories I find myself increasingly dependent upon to get through the day are of fighting for my life on a godforsaken island in the middle of a deadly storm. I want... I need something... more... and so do you."
"And you're what I need?" she whispered, her voice sending a shiver down his spine.
"Yes, I believe so."
"What makes you so sure? Are you simming me?" She turned her head to look away from him.
"Look at me, Parker." She slowly turned back to face him.
"I can't sim you. You're too close; you've always been too close. But I can feel you. I've always been able to feel you but since the... since Carthis it's stronger than ever. I can feel the battle you've been waging with yourself. It keeps me up nights; it screws up my concentration. Hell, it's nearly gotten me killed more than once. So I decided it was time to tip the scales, to let the part of you win that will allow us *both* to win. It's time to let go, Parker."
He leaned in and pressed his lips to her ear then repeated, "Let go."
"I can't," she choked out, fresh tears running down the sides of her face to disappear into her hair.
"You can," he advised sweetly before leaning in to place tender kisses all over her face, making his way to her mouth, which he claimed in due course.
He kissed her gently but insistently, softly probing her mouth with his tongue as she sobbed against him, what little remained of her resistance draining away as she began to surrender, finally putting to rest the quarrel she'd been having with herself from the moment she'd awaken in his bed. When he felt her begin to kiss him back, her hands in his hair, sensuously massaging his scalp and tickling the sensitive skin of his ears, it ignited something in Jarod, a sort of animal hunger he'd never experienced before. Tearing his lips from hers he sat up until he was kneeling over her, straddling her body.
His eyes raking possessively across her face, he caressed her swollen lips with his thumb, his fingers skittering along her jawbone to the deliciously soft skin of her neck. Her breathing quickened, her soft sighs fueling his lust as his fingers traced the sleek angles of her collarbones. Her eyes widened in surprise when, reaching the top button of her blouse, he emitted a predatory growl. He couldn't help grinning, nor could he resist leaning forward to claim a ragged kiss before yanking her shirtails out of her slacks and swiftly undoing the buttons.
Parker watched through heavy eyelids as his hands deftly worked the buttons of her blouse, the look of intensity on his face increasing her desire. His task complete, he slid the soft fabric aside and just stared for a moment, a look of awe sweeping across his face as he took in the sight of her bare skin. He delighted in the contrast of her black, lacy bra against the ivory white flesh spilling over it temptingly as her chest heaved with her breathing. Then he looked into her eyes in a way that no man had ever looked into them, conveying what this meant to him, what it meant to them both. If they could have this, just this moment, then they could endure anything.
"Yes," she whispered breathlessly.
"Say it again," he demanded hoarsely, his eyes darkening.
His face erupted in *that* smile, completely open and guileless, the one she'd seen for the first time when she was just a girl. Parker found herself wondering why she'd wasted so much time and energy fighting him when he was *inevitable.* She smiled back warmly, invitingly. His smile turning lascivious, Jarod tickled her ribs, eliciting a delightfully startled giggle from her before grasping her firmly by the waist and hauling her into a sitting position. Narrowing his eyes at her playfully defiant glare, he peeled her blouse away from her body and tossed it aside then ran his hands the length of her bare arms.
No longer content with her passive role, Parker shoved him back on his heels and reached for his belt, unbuckling it with one hand as she untucked his shirt from his waistband with the other. She leaned forward and latched onto his bottom lip, chewing and licking as she began tugging his shirt up. Reveling in his deep, throaty moans, she devoured until she was forced to break away to pull his shirt up over his head. After drinking in his warm, golden skin she met his eyes and assumed the look of desperate, wild hunger in them mirrored her own. She certainly felt desperate and wild... out of control... like she was flying. After being chained to the ground for so long, she wanted to fly.
They met, skin to skin, bodies fusing as though their lives depended on it and laughing breathlessly as they tumbled into a reclining position. Playfully struggling for control, they rolled over and over, pressed tightly together, crushing as hands skittered across sweat-dampened skin, licking and nibbling on each other's flesh. Parker sank her teeth into one of Jarod's shoulders, those beautiful shoulders she'd dreamt about ever since she'd seen him in his undershirt at Ocee's. He, in turn, practically chewed off her bra, eager to gaze upon what was only hinted at as he'd watched her undress behind a screen. When her breasts were liberated from their lacy cage, he mapped every inch of them with his fingers, tongue and teeth until Parker was whimpering incoherently, her nails digging helplessly into the exquisitely meaty flesh of his upper back.
"Now," she panted. He grunted in response, his mouth full with her maddeningly soft, insanely delicious skin. Jarod couldn't get enough; he wanted to gobble her up whole.
"Please!" she pleaded, sounding half hysterical.
"Now," he growled, her sexy plea breaking his reverie.
They frantically worked to divest each other of their remaining clothing, Parker raising her hips to assist as Jarod tugged down her slacks and panties as she worked the button and zipper of his fly. They couldn't get naked fast enough, grunting and groaning in frustration until they were free of the barrier between them, and sharing a heavy sigh of relief when Jarod finally managed to kick off his jeans and boxers. Settling between her legs, he smiled sweetly and asked,
"Is this okay?"
She nodded rapidly in response and he leaned in to give her a lingering, tender kiss before positioning himself to enter her body. Licking her lips, she watched as he pushed into her with one steady stroke. She tensed, and Jarod looked up to see a fleeting look of panic sweep across her face.
"I... I'm sorry. It's been..."
"Shhh..." he soothed as he shifted his weight to one arm, freeing the other hand to lovingly stroke the skin of her breasts, belly, hip and the outside of her thigh. Her body relaxed, opening to him as he tenderly moved deeper and deeper inside her.
"Oh... Parker," he moaned as he felt himself completely enveloped in her warmth.
"Jarod..." she whispered.
"Need you," he choked out, his body quivering with desire.
"Yes..." she hissed as he began to move slowly.
What started out slowly did not end that way. There was no particular technique to their lovemaking, except to get as close to one another as the mechanics of human sexuality would allow. It was primal, almost brutal, as they used their bodies to seal an unspoken vow. There would be scratches, bruises and pain, but only of the very best kind as she urged him on by digging her fingernails into his buttocks, drawing blood, and he responded by forcefully drawing her leg up around his waist to bring their bodies into closer contact, the pressure of his fingertips leaving tiny bruises on her thigh.
When Parker begged for release, Jarod shifted his position to give her what she needed. He took a moment to watch in wonder as she went crashing to earth before surrendering completely to the gravity-like pull of her body, slipping into an endless chasm until he disappeared completely.
Afterward, there was no retreat. Each stared wordlessly into the other's eyes, maintaining the connection their bodies had completed moments before until fatigue got the better of them. Jarod's eyelids became heavy as he caught Parker's contagious yawning.
"Rest now," he whispered. "You'll need it."
They shared a sleepy smile and a drowsy kiss before Parker curled up onto her side. He pulled the sheets up over them then curled up behind her, molding his body into the contours of her body, already so familiar and comfortable... like home. Draping his arm possessively around her waist, he sighed as she snuggled deeper into his warmth.
Being slowly lulled into sleep by the sound of Jarod's breathing and the sensation of his heart beating against her back, she marveled at how perfectly they fit together. Hadn't he called them pieces of the same puzzle once? *Indeed,* she thought dreamily as lyrics from the song playing in the coffee shop drifted back to her, eerily apropos to this one perfect moment in her life... in *their* life...
* * * *
*You and I are lovers When night time folds around our bed In peace we sleep entwined And your love flows through me Though an ocean soothes my head I burn for you, I burn for...*
* * * *
"Have you anything else to add, Miss Parker?" Lyle asked, sounding fairly disappointed with the way the proceedings had gone.
"Can't think of anything," she replied with a shrug, adding, "So, unless *you* can think of something, I'd really like to get back to work."
"As you wish, Miss Parker," the elder member of the panel offered, his eyes twinkling at her. "If we require anything further of you, we'll be in touch. I think I can speak for the entire panel when I say that we are glad to have you safely back with us. I am confident that you behaved in a manner you deemed appropriate under the circumstances and that you did us all proud under difficult conditions."
Lyle rolled his eyes.
Parker grinned and replied, "You betcha," before rising phoenix-like from her chair, spinning gracefully, and gliding toward the door. When she was halfway out the door, Lyle called out to her,
"One more thing, Miss Parker."
She turned and responded, "Yes?"
"Do you think Jarod will ever do it again?"
"No," she stated matter-of-factly.
"You sound awfully sure of yourself."
"Why is that, exactly?"
*Because when I rose from our bed to use the bathroom, I saw a different woman in the mirror.*
*Because we ate toast and jam together in our bed.*
*Because he made me laugh, and come, so many times that I lost count.*
*Because we spent an entire hour doing nothing but lying in bed in silence, watching the snow fall through our little window.*
*Because I can stand here and face you all and not be afraid.*
*Because he finally mustered the courage to take what was his and, in doing so, gave me the courage to take what was mine.*
*Because he won't have to.*
"I don't know... call it a *feeling,*" she replied with shrug then turned and strode confidently out of the room.
* * * *
"You're looking relaxed," Sydney observed as he rose from his seat. "It must have gone well."
"Of course it did, why wouldn't it?" Parker replied with a gleam in her eye. "I haven't done anything to be ashamed of."
"I'm glad you feel that way, Miss Parker," the doctor replied, bearing a quintessentially Sydney expression that fell somewhere between pensive and amused.
"Come on, Freud," she instructed with an enigmatic smile before taking his arm and leading him down the hallway. "I'll buy you lunch."
* * * *
*Stars will fall from dark skies As ancient rocks are turning Quiet fills the room And your love flows through me Though I lie here so still I burn for you, I burn for you I burn...*