Sakura set the phone aside and stood to walk around the coffee table. Earlier she had rolled out an exercise mat in the middle of the floor and prepared to do some stretching, but calls interrupted the plan. Work often waylaid her, which meant she’d yet to complete the area she’d chosen as a workout room. Of course, she wouldn’t do the redesign herself. She had the means to hire a contractor, but she needed to supervise, and back-to-back travel made that impossible.
“Sakura? Are you still there?”
She sighed and raised her hands over her head in a long stretch, then bent over to press her forehead to her shins. “I’m here, Dad. Just—”
“Am I on speaker? You know I don’t like being on speaker, sweetheart.”
She rolled her eyes but didn’t respond.
“I don’t see why you’re going to Miami,” he complained. “There are plenty of leads for shifters in various other places.”
“Are you going to launch into another speech about how great Roger, the new guy is? I’ve heard it. He’s brilliant. He recovered tons of data from what Shiya dumped, right?”
Her father harrumphed over the line. She pictured his face, scowling, temper rising. Sakura knew how far to push the man before he blew, and she treated him with kid gloves—her dad and her brother, for that matter. They all respected her dad as head of the family and powerful leader of the Keith shifter hunters, but she also recognized how her dad felt about her and her sisters.
Anticipating his reprimand, she continued. “I’m taking a small break, Dad. No big deal.”
“Miami though? Honey, there are many exotic locations you could enjoy for your vacation. If it’s a matter of money…”
“Please.” She chuckled. “The last thing a Keith needs is money.” Her father didn’t understand the more he protested her flying to Miami, the more she desired to go. She’d been honest about her travel plans but not her reasons. Shae’s call took her by surprise, and at first Sakura intended to ignore it and seek out Shiya in Juneau to set her stupid sister straight. Shae, not even being human anymore was a lost cause, and Sakura still wrestled with whether to fly to Tokyo to hunt her and her lover down. However, when Shae arrived in Tokyo, she had faxed Sakura the picture of their mom, one she’d seen a few times when their brother Kasen tried to shove it down their throat as motivation to do their job. Sakura had kicked him in the throat and dared him to try that crap with her again.
When she took the time to examine the picture, along with reading her sister’s message, she came to the same conclusion Shae had. Something wasn’t right, and she needed to get to the bottom of it. She could simply go to her dad and ask him straight out about what really happened to their mother, but if he were willing to come clean in the first place, they wouldn’t be wondering what happened. Now that she considered it, she had no idea why they believed him in the first place. Then again, what reason would she and her sisters have had to think he would lie?
Five years ago, when she got the news her mother was dead, killed by a shifter, she had abandoned her assignment at the time and come home, devastated just like the others. Grief-stricken, they had stood together at her mother’s funeral. She remembered she hadn’t wanted to go on, didn’t think it were possible, but she had hidden it from the others. Shae had been enraged just like Kasen, and Shiya had disappeared behind her computer screen, more determined to root out the enemy. Eventually, Sakura found her strength and renewed her dedication to ridding the earth of the unnatural beasts.
Now, she’d been studying the picture of her mother lying in a hotel room bed, her body in tatters. They had blamed the bear shifter all this time, whoever he was. Shae’s lover, a cop, had said the wounds were not made by a bear, but she had no intention of going by his word alone. The one fact she did accept after verifying it was that the bridge in the background was located in Miami, not Vegas. That much made it clear things were not as they seemed, and who knew, maybe her dad was in the dark as much as she was about what really happened to her mother. Whoever had been the cause of her losing the woman she had idolized and loved more than life itself, they would answer to her.
“Daddy,” she said, placating the man, knowing he’d have kept all three of the girls in pigtails and patent leathers if he could, “it’s just for a little while. Don’t sweat it. And if Miami turns out to not be the place for me, then I’ll fly to… somewhere…maybe Madrid.”
Her father sighed over the line. “Okay, honey. One of the men should go with you to keep you safe.”
“I’ll be fine.”
“I’d feel better if—”
“Okay, I’ll ask Adam.” Her heart sped up with just the mention of the man’s name. Adam was her protector and her current lover. She didn’t mind him tagging along. Over the last few months, they’d hardly been apart.
“Good,” her dad said, and she heard relief in his tone. “Call me when you’re settled in.”
“Will do. Bye.”
She straightened from a lunge and walked over to tap the disconnect button on her phone. Right away, a sound caught her attention, a creak in the floor. Rather than look toward the hall, she pretended not to hear it. Every muscle in her body tensed, but she forced herself to stay loose. Although she strained, she heard no new sound, but she was no longer alone in the house.
Sakura reached for her hairband and pulled her hair back behind her head. With a few twists, she had secured it into a ponytail and rolled her shoulders. When the attack came, she was ready for it. The man leaped over the back of the couch from behind her. She gave him credit for her not seeing him enter the room. At the last second, she sidestepped, and he went hurtling past. He shoulder rolled and landed on his feet, eyes narrowed and trained on her. Sakura took in his build, six feet or a bit over, muscular, short black hair, translucent brown eyes, and a firm jaw.
Before he could move again, she pulled the knife from beneath the couch cushion and hurtled it at him. The man ducked, and the weapon sliced into the far wall at the level where his face had been seconds earlier. His brows rose, but she spun away to retrieve another knife, taped beneath the coffee table.
“Oh no you don’t,” he groused, his Latino roots clear in the lilt to his words. “You are not getting away from me, mami.”
His arm came around her waist, and before she could stomp his foot, he hauled her off her feet. She elbowed him in the side, and his grasp loosened. A fist to his chin sent his head snapping back, and she broke free, dropped to the floor, and swiped a leg out to trip him. His stance was so strong, her kick did nothing but send vibrations of pain up her leg, and she gritted her teeth. The attacker wrapped her ponytail around a large fist and brought the bulk of his body down on top of her, pinning her to the floor. Sakura gasped.
“Bastard,” she growled, and tried to jab two fingers into his eyes. He caught the hand and jerked her arm across her body. She tried again, but he released her hair and caught that hand too. Now she lay beneath him, her arms crossed over her head and completely at his mercy. He shifted to hold both wrists in one palm, and then his hips rose off hers. She prepared for another move, but the clink of his belt brought her up short. The next instant, he snatched the seat of her panties aside and sank his cock deep into her pussy. Sakura cried out.
“Mm,” he moaned in her ear. “You feel so good. Do you see how hard you made me fighting me like that?”
Sakura bit her lip and shut her eyes. She stopped struggling and let her forehead rest on the exercise mat. “Adam, you bum, you play dirty.”
He chuckled and kissed her ear. “I think I deserve a lot more than this. You didn’t hold back with that knife.
“That’s my job.” She moaned. His deep thrusts drove her insane. The feel of his shaft inside her, combined with his natural male scent, the hardness of his muscles, his voice, all of it worked together to give her ultimate pleasure, which was one reason she hadn’t sent him packing like she’d done with past lovers. None of them compared to Adam, but she refused to admit it to him. Let the man think he could be replaced today or tomorrow.
He released her wrists and brought his hands down to her waist. A swift movement rolled him to his back and her straddling his hips with her back to him. Sakura gripped his thighs and began riding his cock.
Her security system was rock solid, and when the alarm didn’t go off, she’d known it was him who entered the house. They played these games almost from day one when she began sparring with him, but more and more the fighting led to hot sex. What pleased her just as much as having him make love to her was knowing she could no longer best him. He was right. She’d tried to get the upper hand and bring him down, but somewhere along the way, the greenhorn her dad had brought on to work with the Keith family had grown beyond what anyone ever expected. Sakura hated admitting it, but even with her own dirty tricks to win a fight, she found it impossible to beat Adam. He both frustrated and turned her on.
Adam sat up behind her and brought a hand around her belly. His splayed fingers teased her flesh, making her hotter. She trembled on top of him, desperate to come. When he grabbed her hand and curled her fingers around her panties, he spoke a harsh command in her ear. “Hold them.”
She did as he asked, keeping the panties out of the way while he squeezed her waist in a tight hold and drove her up and down his shaft, at the same time pushing upward into her pussy. She screamed his name and rocked hard on him, wanting it all. Her clit throbbed, and she rubbed it, sending sensations of pleasure pulsing through her core. Adam swore in Spanish, and just as she came, shaking and moaning, he emptied himself inside her.
“Ay, tù tan caliente,” he murmured, and she fell back against his chest.
She climbed off him and headed down the hall, stripping as she walked. Adam’s light step sounded behind her, and she smiled. “You’re sloppy, Adam Michael Martinez. I heard you in the hall. You’re supposed to be stealthier than that.”
“All three names, huh?” he asked, amused. “If your house wasn’t so old…”
She glared at him over her shoulder. He’d stripped as well, and she almost missed a step taking in the rich, taut, skin that made him look like he had a year around tan. Adam’s knowing glance, his brow raised, said he knew the affect his body had on her. She turned away quickly. One thing she’d learned over the years, and that was never to let a man get control. Not real control anyway. She didn’t mind Adam ordering her sometimes when it came to sex, but that was as far as she’d ever let it go. Loving Adam would mean weakness, and that wasn’t happening.
They showered together, Sakura riding him once more while he held her up in front of him. Then they dressed and returned to the living room. She figured she wouldn’t get any more exercise in that day, so she rolled up the mat. Besides, Adam had given her more than enough.
“I’m going to Miami,” she announced when she was done. “Want to tag along?”
He dropped on the couch, his shirt still open. She resisted going over to sit on his lap or at his side and took an armchair instead. “The thing with your parents?”
“My mom, yes.” She eyed him. “You haven’t told anyone, have you?”
“Of course not. I’m still reeling that you shared the details of your concerns in the first place. Sakura Keith doesn’t open up easily. I’m going to enjoy it while it lasts.”
“Whatever. Anyway, do you want to come along? I told Dad I’d take a protector.”
“I’m your only protector,” he said, and she smirked. He patted the chair beside him. “Come here.”
She raised an eyebrow at him.
She sighed and stood to move to his side. When he raised his arm, she gave in to the urge to settle into his side and breathe in his scent. He smelled of her bath gel and shampoo. She pushed fingers into his damp hair, loving how he kept it cut short, almost as if it had been hacked off in stunted spikes, but with order and sexiness.
“Marry me, Sakura.”
All thoughts of his hair fled her mind. “Adam, you’ve asked me a million times…”
“Well, this makes the third time.” She straightened. “And don’t say that charm thing, or I’ll punch you.”
He opened his mouth to say something, but changed his mind. A stubborn set she recognized came over him, the light in his eyes and the stiffness in his jaw. “I’m not giving up on you.”
“You might as well because it’s not happening!” She considered cutting off their relationship, but the words to dump him locked on her tongue. Instead, she tried another tactic to drive the message home. “I helped refine your skills when you were a newb.”
“I can’t see you as anything but well…”
“Beneath you,” he growled and surged to his feet. “You think I’m not on your level because I work for your dad and because when we met you put me on my back with a well-placed kick. Is that it?”
“I don’t think you’re beneath me.”
He bent almost in half, standing in front of her. “Look me in the eyes and say that.”
She waved a hand and stood. Pushing him back both failed and turned out to be a mistake. Touching Adam at any time woke desire in her body, even if they’d just had sex, and the man’s strength far exceeded her own. She tried moving away. He caught her and spun her to face him.
Damn, how she enjoyed her name on his lips. She’d always hated the name, feeling it did not define who she was. With the way Shae lived now, a Japanese lover, the name Sakura would be perfect for her.
“Okay,” she admitted. Maybe she needed to offend Adam to make him back off. “I do think you’re beneath me. I mean you’re right. I can’t beat you anymore, but all I still see is the scrawny little weakling that came along begging my father to give him a chance.”
Adam flinched. She’d lied. He branded his image on her mind and body on a daily basis. A scrawny weakling was not what she saw.
“You’re still begging, but now it’s me you want. You already got the job.”
His nostrils flared, and he released her to step back. “That’s what you think, huh? I’m using you?”
Regret tightened in her chest. “I didn’t say that. Look, Adam. We’re not right for each other, okay? The sooner you accept it, the better.” She dared look at him but didn’t see the hurt she expected. His face a mask of anger, his nostrils flared, he spun away to pace. Sakura straightened her shoulders. “Are you going with me to Miami?”
She blinked. “What?”
He stopped pacing and faced her. She still couldn’t read his expression and what might be on his mind. “You said yourself this isn’t work related, and I’m just a protector, correct? I’m under no obligation to join you.”
“Are you for real? You’re going to be that way?”
“What way, Sakura? Did you expect me to trot along behind you, to kiss your ass?”
Her temper flared, and she raised a hand to smack his face, but he caught it. They eyed each other in silence a few minutes, and then she wrenched her arm from his hold. “You’re free to get the hell out of my house.”
As she stomped down the hall, she waited for him to follow or to call after her, but his steps echoed in the opposite direction. Soon the front door opened and closed, and Sakura found a tear running down her face. She swiped at it, scrubbing her cheek until it hurt and then began packing a suitcase. From this moment, she needed to dismiss Adam from her thoughts and concentrate on gathering information about her mother’s death. When she returned San Diego, she and Adam would talk.