Playing With Fire - the sequel to Melting Ms Frost.
The steamy story of Annabel Frost and Aidan Flynn continues … Can you handle the heat?
Before Aidan Flynn had swept into her life with the destructive force of a wildfire, Annabel Frost had thought she'd had all she needed from her life. A successful career, financial independence, emotional restraint. Things that were safe, secure, steady. Everything her childhood hadn't been.
Aidan represented none of that. Reckless and risky he'd been the red hot flame that melted the icy layers of her long-frozen heart. Having run from him once, Annabel should have learnt to leave trouble well enough alone.
But now Aidan is back, turning up the heat. And regardless of the danger of getting herself badly burned, Annabel can't seem to resist the temptation to play with this particular fire.
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It was happening again.
Please, no. Not again.
A bubble of fear inflated in Annabel’s chest, trapping the air in her lungs as it rose to clog her throat. She fought to release it, to cry out, but the dark shape looming over her shifted closer; a crushing vice tightened around her neck, squeezing off her voice, cutting off her very breath.
She didn’t understand. How? How could this be happening?
Panic flared as she tried to get her bearings, to work out where she was. But dimness rendered her surroundings murky, indistinct. In the shadows, even the threat bearing down on her with such suffocating weight remained faceless. Terrifying.
No . . . no. Horror-spiked memories of pain and helplessness flooded her mind, jolting her into action. She couldn’t do this. Not again.
Lashing out, she rained a storm of wild swings and strikes upon her attacker. But not once did she connect with solid form. Her fists seemed to pass through the nebulous shape as though her enemy was no more substantial than mist. She renewed her efforts, tried to pinpoint her aim, but black spots began to bloom around the edge of her vision and the watery blur of tears made it impossible to focus on what it was that she needed to fight.
Move, every atom of her being screamed. It was her only chance. She had to move, to get away. Scrabbling and heaving, she fought frantically to escape. But the weight held her pinned. So heavy. Far too heavy to allow her to struggle free.
Second by desperate second, her flailing efforts weakened as the strength leached from her body. Try as she might, she could find no energy in reserve. With her lungs ready to explode, the blackness tainting her vision thickened, threatening to extinguish the last of the light from her world . . .
The force of her own defiant cry snapped her awake. In an instant, the fog of darkness was dispelled, the malevolent shades of her nightmare extinguished by the soft golden glow of the bedside lamp that revealed familiar surroundings to her darting, fear-widened eyes.
Muscles locked stiff with shock, she lay temporarily frozen in her bed, the sound of her gasping breaths amplified in the blanketing stillness of the night. Displaced, the bed covers tangled low around her calves, leaving the winter air to chill the sweat that filmed every inch of her skin and stuck her nightshirt to her damp chest.
It took only a moment to register each of these details, to process them and ground herself in reality. Just a dream. A bad dream. Not real.
The sudden wave of relief that broke over her brought a rush of weakness that turned every locked joint and tightly knotted muscle to quivery jelly. She was OK, she assured herself as she exhaled a shaky breath’. Of course she was. Shaken, but safe. Because, despite her sleep being haunted by memories of the awful attack she’d suffered at the hands of her mother’s ex-lover, in reality the man himself was no longer a waking threat.
Instinctively, protectively, her hand went to her right forearm, the sensitivity of the skin there a reminder that the limb had been cut free of its cast only earlier that day. She traced with her fingers the line of the newly knit bone. No, Tony Maplin couldn’t hurt her any more. The drunken violence he’d unleashed upon both herself and her mother, coupled with a long list of outstanding court summonses and unpaid dues, had put him where he belonged – behind the bars of a prison cell.
Releasing another slow, unsteady breath, Annabel blinked at her alarm clock. Not even midnight. With a groan, she raised trembling hands and scrubbed them over her clammy face. It was going to be a long time until dawn.
Keen to rinse away the thick aftertaste of fear, she pushed herself to a sitting position, careful of her weakened arm. Reaching for the glass of water on the bedside table, she stalled as the sight of the photograph standing at the edge of the pool of lamplight brought a further rush of memories and powerful emotion.
While the frame itself was new – an elegant, unfamiliar replacement for the original, which had been broken at the same time as her arm – the image it held was one she was thoroughly acquainted with. A perfect picture of her five-year-old self, held aloft in her father’s arms, the two of them laughing in the summer sunshine in front of the inn that had been her childhood home. It was the most important record she had of that distant time. A frozen snapshot of love and laughter that she’d been forced to use as a weapon in the fight for her life. A glimpse of forgotten happiness that had smashed and splintered, leaving her believing it damaged and lost for ever.
Until Aidan had walked back into her life and returned the precious gift of the past as well as offering the unnerving promise of a future.