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Author's Chapter Notes:
I came up with this one (rainy) evening and I'd love to hear what you think! Hope you enjoy...

1



Silk rustled as a black blouse slid down a pale shoulder and ended up on the expensive Italian tiles. A skirt with almost too little fabric to deserve that name, followed suit, expensively tailored material carelessly cast aside.

Her long slim legs could have been those of a dancer had life only been different. They carried her across the landing and into the bathroom, then vanished between the mountains of foam that smelled heavily of vanilla. She sighed and rolled her head on her tired shoulders, carefully lowering herself into the fragrant floods.

Listening to the heavy rain coming down outside, she remained in that position for a moment. Cascades of water were tumbling down onto the roof and the branches in front of the window. Everything was dripping. The warm summer's day had cooled down considerably and she could feel the cool night air on the exposed yet wet skin of her shoulders.

Miss Parker reached for the glass of red wine she had placed next to the tub earlier and took a small savouring sip of the heavy liquid.

She licked her lips afterwards, imagining them to turn the dark burgundy red of wine that she had never managed to recreate with any of the expensive lipsticks she owned.

She sighed again, raised one leg once and, with closed eyes, felt the water trickle down her thigh while the cool air gave her goosebumps.

She had been longing for this moment of relaxation all day long and it was definetly worth the wait. Oh yes. She reached for her glass again, anticipating the dry aroma of the wine that would start on her tongue and spread through her mouth, filling her with the satisfaction that only a good wine can give you.

Although she had lit some candles she did not need to open her eyes to find what she was looking for. In the privacy of her luxurious bathroom Miss Parker felt perfectly comfortable not being on guard for once. Even though the window stood wide open and the wind was raging among the raindrops, from time to time spraying her naked skin with water.

Slowly she raised her hand from the water and blindly blew some foam off the back of her hand, then reached for the glass.

Then a hand grabbed hers.

Miss Parker wasn't one to scream girlishly, but being caught so completely off guard, she winced and gave a yelp of surprise when her eyes flew open and found Jarod sitting next to the tub, a smug smile on his face.

"Well, good evening," he said as if it was the most common thing in the world to turn up in her bathroom in the middle of a stormy night.

"What the hell?" she growled. Knowing however long he had enjoyed an undisturbed view of her he must have seen more of her than she cared for entirely, she did not make a move to cover herself. If he was surprised her did not show it.

"Read too much and wanted to try Susanna and the elders first hand?" she asked and was rewarded with a puzzled look on his face. Yes, she did like to confuse him.

"Susanna?" he asked and she decided to play the hand she'd been given. He knew so well how to handle her when she was in a rage, it would be nice to be the one in control for once.

"A story from the bible. Two elders surprise a married woman in her bath and try to blackmail her into sleeping with them. You might want to get into literature and art a little more instead of trying to taste every flavour of ice-cream under the sun", she explained, snatching the wineglass back from his fingers and taking another sip.

Jarod smiled, still with a quizzical look in his eyes, but obviously happy to finally be able to understand what she had been alluding to.

"Well, I can assure you. I am not here to blackmail you into anything."

"Delighted," she replied and stretched out one leg. "And what are you doing here? Trying to get caught?"

Now they were back on familiar territory and he relaxed visibly.

"Nah, just here to chat."

"What about? Any secrets and lies concerning my family you'd like to rub into my face tonight? Because if that is the case I might have to ask you to fetch the rest of the bottle."

He shook his head and, being hit by some stray raindrops, she realized for the first time that he was soaked. His jeans and pullover clung to his body, his hair and face were dripping.

"You look like a wet dog", she stated and decided to be friendly for once. "You may get yourself a towel. They're in the closet under the sink."

"Thanks." He rose from his crouched position on the floor next to the tub and walked over to the sink, fetched a pink towel and dried his face with it.

Miss Parker took advantage of the opportunity, rose and quickly wrapped a large towel around herself. When his still wet head emerged from the fabric he found her standing in front of him.

She looked less tall than usual- courtesy of her being barefoot instead of wearing killer heels- and her hair was tousled, looking slightly wavy as if she'd run her hand through it many times that day. A sign of stress, he knew. If she massaged her temples afterwards you could be sure that she'd explode into your face any moment.

Now she looked collected. Quite calm actually. And radiant with the water dripping from her bare shoulders. The foam in the tub had hidden everything else but it had been enough to kick any man's phantasy into motion.

Still, what he was here for was a matter so grave that his mind was entirely elsewhere. Miss Parker who picked up on feelings far more quickly than she showed her own, tensed slightly. He could see it in the muscles on her shoulders that tightened once.

She had to look up at him but her presence was so strong that they might as well have been eye to eye.

"You were going to tell me what you are here for," she said, her voice as snide as usual.

Her hand was holding on to the towel, he noticed. Her face illuminated only by candlelight and the towel slung around her body, she might have been a model from an advertisement, he thought. At least she did not look as scary as she usually did.

"I need your help," he said.

At first she was surprised, then she laughed, walking past him towards her bedroom where he had disabled both her phone and her cellphone earlier, so he followed slowly.

When he entered she stood next to her nightstand and turned around with an exasperated sigh.

"I should have known, shouldn't I?" she said, cocking her head. "Don't get me wrong now. I am not asking you this because I actually considered helping you. It is just sheer curiosity that I reckon deserves to be satisfied after you spoiled my nice evening. What the hell do you want me of all people to help you with?"

The rain grew heavier outside with a start which made them both turn toward the source of the noise. Her bedroom window was wide open, too, allowing them a view into the dripping garden. The leaves looked a rich green even in the darkness.

"Look," Jarod sat down on her bed to create a less hostile atmosphere that he knew he needed if he wanted there to be any chance that she might help him.

She hesitated, then sat down across from him, careful to keep her distance.

She didn't seem to mind the water still dripping from her body and his wet clothes soaking the comforter.

"So?" she asked, her voice neutral. In her case that was great compared to her usual intimidating tone.

"Look, I know that you don't want to help me and that you cannot imagine any situation in which you would be okay with actually aiding me in anything, but…"

She interrupted him harshly. "We're past that, aren't we, Jarod?" And then she added in a much deeper voice that was soaked with bitter sarcasm: "In other words: Get to the point."

He took a deep breath. "There is this girl…"

He paused slightly, half-expecting her to interrupt again, telling him that she would not give him any advise concerning his love life, but she simply cocked an eyebrow at him.

"She is ten years old and I met her while I was posing as a child therapist. Her name is Amanda."

A search for any emotion in her face did not turn up any results. Miss Parker could have been a statue for what it was worth, so he decided to continue.

"Amanda suffers from severe anxiety. She does not talk to anybody but simply curls up in bed and even cries rarely. I was completely unable to get through to her. So was anyone else."

He paused, images of the sad little girl flashing through his mind. He'd tried anything but nothing had suceeded.

"I was there to find her mother's killer and I did. He'd been a collegue of her mother's and had been secretly stalking her for a while. He shot her in front of her daughter's eyes."

There was still no reaction at all from Miss Parker. She sat perfectly still and waited for him to continue. A sight to behold, he thought. Very unusual.

"It was my goal in the first place to find out who had done this and make him pay but…" he trailed off. What? He had for once not been able to help the victims? Or had he never really been able to help at all? Had justice ever been able to heal any of the wounds that people had suffered?

"… but then I realized that it would not help Amanda. I tried to get through to her for weeks but she did not respond to anything."

Miss Parker's voice was husky when she asked: "What the hell do you want me to do then?"

The sound of the rain and the distant rolling of thunder filled the silence between them that he allowed to rise because he was sure that she knew exactly what he was here for.

She pulled the towel more tightly around her body and looked away from him, now self-conscious for the first time this evening.

"If you think that I can help this girl just because I lived through the same nightmare," she stated. "Jarod, you are even dumber than I thought."

There was a momentary silence in which he pondered whether it had been futile to come here in the first place.

"The last time I checked you didn't have a heart of stone, Miss Parker," he finally said. She did not look insulted but simply shook her head apologetically.

"Oh Jarod, I never understood your pathetic little concept of hearts of stones and great heroics, but apart from that: It is not the reason."

He sighed. "Then what is the reason? You've never been shy to team up with me when it worked to your advantage."

She smiled a curt little smile.

"Of course not. But how on earth do you think would a twisted, arrogant, socially incompetent dragon like me do any good when it comes to the healing of that girl's soul?"

She paused but he remained silent, encouraging her to continue.

"Even if I was willing to voluntarily spend my time with you or some kid that doesn't talk, I would probably make everything worse. Did you ever consider that option?"

Poor romantic Jarod. Miss Parker was almost amused. A girl who had suffered a similar fate to hers and a woman whose soul was more scarred than any body could ever be. Didn't he know that inside her there was even more darkness than she displayed to the outside world?

"You are not a bad person, Miss Parker." Jarod sounded as if he was pleading and although she would have expected to feel triumphant at that tone of voice coming from him, she detested it.

"This is not about being a bad person or a good person. This is simple logic, Jarod. Even if your logic abilities seem to be incapacitated by your overwhelming desire to help you should be able to see my point"

She felt unable to remain seated next to him and got to her feet. He watched as she paced in front of him and she could not have cared less whether he was staring at her face or her bare legs. The water had dried on her skin and only left smudged traces of foam behind. The moist towel clung to her skin and she was feeling the cold from outside for the very first time that evening.

The rain was still hammering against the plastic chairs in the garden that she never used because she did not care to invite anyone to barbecues. The leaves of the trees that shaded her property from other peoples' rustled in the wind.

Why couldn't he just leave her alone? She had never gotten over what had happened in the past but she did not care to confront her demons now.

And there was something else. Although Miss Parker was not the most altruistic of persons she did hate the thought of messing a little girl up entirely simply because she was battling her own demons to come to terms with a past that was still very much her present.

As if he had read her thoughts Jarod was suddenly next to her and gently put his hand on her elbow. He knew that she didn't like to be touched so the contact between his hand and her skin was only just perceptible.

"Do you want her past to be her future?"

She looked up at Jarod and croaked: "I don't want to be pulled into one of your weird shemes, Jarod. I am not the kind of person who travels to god-knows-where just to try to get someone's head straight."

He looked at her, his face half obscured by shadows.

"You can try," he simply said. "It cannot get much worse than it is right now."
Miss Parker took a deep breath. "Where does she live?"

He smiled. "Nice try. I won't tell you where I live right now. You either come along or you don't. It's up to you."

He removed his hand from her elbow and she took a step back, unwilling to encourage him to touch her again. With her vulnerable side exposed she felt as naked as she was.

"I don't think I can help her," she tried again, but realized that her protest was weak. She really needed to get away from the Centre for a while, she thought. Even though she would never be able to fully escape, a vacation would be very welcome indeed. And being with Jarod she could be sure that he'd do anything to keep the prying eyes of the Centre away from them. It sounded like heaven.

The downside, though, was that she would have to spend time with Jarod who would probably take advantage of every opportunity to push her buttons.

"You can arrange for some time off when we're at the airport," he offered.

She could get away right now, she thought. It was very tempting to simply throw some things into a suitcase and set off to a yet unknown location.

Miss Parker thought of the little girl and found that her heart contracted again just as it had done when Jarod had first spoken of the child. Was she turning into a softy or was she just seeing herself in Amanda?

Going with him would mean giving up a lot of the security that her meaness and arrogance provided for. If she wanted to try to deal with a little girl she would have to expose her soft side. That side that had been bruised a few times too often.

"I can't," she said, a little more loudly than she had intended to.

Jarod didn't say anything and simply looked at her just like he had always done. She felt as if she had gone back in time to the times of her childhood when he had always looked at her with that knowing stare. God, she had known that he knew her better than most other people did. They'd always had that connection that comes from spending a relevant part of your childhood together.

She was supposed to hate him and catch him, but right now all she wanted was a break from all that madness. She just couldn't gather up the strength to rebuild her cold façade right now.

"You can leave whenever you want," he assured her.

She looked at him for a moment, then motioned towards the stairs.

"My suitcase is in the cupboard downstairs. Get the big one."





Chapter End Notes:
...to be continued...







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