"Jesus, Conrad. It's too early for you to be this chipper. And loud."
Austin threw himself down on Garrett's side of the bed and leaned back on his hands.
"Get yourself dressed, ninja. You and I are going shopping," he informed her.
Austin had taken to calling Parker "ninja" since she let the guys in on her secret of working for the CIA over drinks the other day. Out of all of them, he was the least surprised, stating he could totally see her scaling walls and sneaking up on people when they least expected it.
Parker wasn't sure if it was a compliment or not, but she figured it was better than getting the silent treatment and being avoided like Garrett did and was still doing in a way.
"Shopping? What in the hell do we need to go shopping for?" Parker asked.
"You have a black tie affair to attend this evening with your husband. I was given instructions to pick up a suit for the old ball and chain and make sure you pick out something appropriate for the occasion," Austin informed her.
With a groan and a few muttered curses about her husband, Parker stomped to the bathroom to get dressed while Austin made himself at home on the bed and turned on the television to wait.
"You know, it wouldn't hurt for you to sex it up a bit, ninja," Austin said as he sat in a chair by the dressing room and watched her walk out to the mirrors in a plain, black, Roberto Cavalli floor-length dress with capped sleeves.
Parker was in heaven at the boutique located right on the resort. They had more designers in that little store than in all of Nordstrom's back home. She twisted and turned in the mirror, thinking the dress looked good on her.
She shot Austin a dirty look. "Sex it up? Really, Conrad?"
He gave the dress the once-over and shook his head in disgust.
"That dress screams, 'I'm going to a funeral,' not 'Give me all your secrets and maybe I'll blow you.' Plus, Garrett doesn't like black."
Parker put her hands on her hips and turned to face Austin.
"What the hell do I care if Garrett likes the dress? It's a black-tie dinner. I need to look polished and elegant, like I work for a distinguished newspaper, not like a two-dollar hooker."
Austin shook his head and tsk'ed her.
"Shame on you, ninja. You'd be at least a fifty-dollar hooker," he said with a laugh as she stuck her tongue out at him. "Seriously, though, you can look hot without looking slutty. And Garrett's favorite color is blue."
Parker threw her arms up in exasperation.
"I don't give a rat's ass what Garrett's favorite color is. And for the record, I have a vagina, so I'm well aware of the fact I can look hot without looking slutty." Parker turned back to the mirror and cocked her head at her reflection. "And his favorite color isn't blue. It's red," she muttered, refusing to make eye contact with Austin.
"Uh-huh, that's what I thought," Austin said with a grin. "I see the way you two look at each other when you think no one is watching."
Parker reached her arms behind her and tried to unzip the dress she now hated.
"I have no idea what you're talking about, Conrad."
She watched out of the corner of her eye as Austin got up from his chair and walked over to her, helping her with her zipper.
"You can deny it if you want, but I know Garrett. There is no hiding the look on his face when you walk into the room. He watches your every move when you aren't paying attention. And for the record," he said as he stood behind her, staring at her reflection. "He's done that for as long as I've known him."
Parker pushed down the nerves she felt at hearing his words.
"We're just friends, Conrad," she whispered, turning away from the mirror to face him.
"And it's a good place to start. But he doesn't look at you like he just wants to be friends, little ninja. He looks at you like you're the key to his soul and like he wants to devour you."
Taken back by Austin's observation, Parker was surprised she thought the same exact thing that morning.
If an outsider like Austin saw something, maybe she wasn't imagining things. Maybe the feelings she had weren't just one-sided. The thought scared the hell out of her and made her want to run back to the room, find Garrett, and confess everything. Tell him how some days she wished more than anything that it had always been him, how she shut everyone out of her life for fear of being hurt, and that he was the only one she wanted to let it all go for. She wanted to tell him the guilt she felt over not being able to give that to Milo should eat her up inside but all she could think about was loving Garrett and having him give her everything in return.
Parker glanced up and noticed Austin smirking at her as he watched her contemplate the things he had said.
"Stop looking at me like that," she huffed in irritation as she turned to make her way back to the dressing room. "And bring me every red dress you can find," she yelled, slamming the door closed behind her.
Garrett looked at his watch for the third time as he paced the floor of the lobby in his black, five-button Hugo Boss suit, white dress shirt, red tie, and matching red pocket handkerchief. He'd given Austin his dimensions and was pleased with what he'd picked out for him.
The limo would be there in five minutes, and the only confirmation he had that Parker was even coming was a pat on the back from Austin with the cryptic words, "I picked out the dress."
Brady, Austin, and Cole were going to spend the evening scouting all of the buildings on the "Front Company List" Parker had found so they could double check they were all legit. So far Brady hadn't been able to find an address for The Target Agency.
The click of heels across the marble floor stopped Garrett's pacing, and his head turned in the direction of the sound.
"Fuck me," Garrett muttered to himself as he stood there watching his friend saunter across the room towards him.
Parker was dressed in a red, Carolina Herrera floor-length, satin evening gown. The material clung to her body and the slit up the front, ending almost at the top of her thigh, showed off one leg between the split in the fabric with each step she took. The dress was cut low in the front, and her cleavage was highlighted by the silver crystals that lined the edge of the bodice.
Garrett scanned her body, starting at the top of her head where her thick, chestnut hair was loosely pinned up in soft curls that cascaded down to frame her face. Her long bangs were swept off to the side seductively shading one eye.
He moved his eyes slowly over the swell of her breasts covered by the rich, red fabric and sparkling jewels, then they followed the curves of her hips draped in the sleek satin, and then lingered on her long, toned legs that shined with smoothness under the lights of the lobby as she walked. Her small feet were encased in four-inch crystal-covered peep toe Louboutin heels that showed off her amazing legs.
Garrett tugged at his collar as he watched her stalk towards him exuding confidence and sex
. It felt like his throat was closing up and his heart was going to burst out of his chest. He felt himself harden as he thought about running his palms up the silky skin of her thighs and sliding her dress up to her hips to see if her underwear matched. Garrett had a weakness for red underwear. Frankly, Garrett had a weakness for anything involving Parker.
Parker summoned all of the courage and confidence she had ever possessed as she walked across the floor towards Garrett. She'd been there when Conrad picked out the suit and had loved it then, but nothing compared to seeing it on him now. Parker would rather see him out of it, but she figured this would have to do for the time being.
Parker stopped when she was toe to toe with Garrett and looked up into his face while she breathed in the smell of his cologne that always made her want to press her body up against his so she could keep the smell on her skin long after he was gone.
"Hi," Garrett said softly.
Parker smiled at him, trying to convey with her eyes everything she was feeling. She spun slowly in front of him so Garrett could get the full affect.
The one inch satin straps that held up the dress crisscrossed in the back, right between her shoulder blades, and was held together with a crystal jeweled clip. The straps continued down off to the sides, leaving most of her back bare with a diamond-shaped cutout. The bottom of the diamond outline ended right where her butt began and the v-shaped crystals attached there held a satin train in place.
Parker completed the turn, facing Garrett again.
It took all of his self-control not to reach out and run his fingertips along the smooth skin of her back while she turned. He couldn't help but notice that there was no way she could be wearing any underwear with that dress. The sleek fabric clung to the curves of her, showing everything. The satin texture of the dress made him want to run his hands all the way down the sides of her body to feel the cool silky material and her warm skin underneath.
"You look stunning A…uh, Park."
Garrett needed to put his feelings in check, and instead of letting her first name slip out, he resorted to using Milo's nickname for her to keep the wall in place. He only spoke her name when he was alone dreaming about her and wishing it was her hand sliding up and down his length, bringing him to climax. Last night he was caught up in the moment, and he hadn't even realized he'd said it. If he did so now, out in the open, with her body mere inches from him, he'd lose every last thread of control he had, and he'd take her back to their room and show her once and for all what she did to him.
Parker took the compliment for what it was, watching Garrett's face as it morphed back into that of a man in complete control of the situation. She had a moment of regret before she closed her mind off from the fantasy and got ready to face reality.
"The limo just pulled up," Parker stated, looking beyond Garrett's shoulder to the turn-around drive in front of the lobby. "We better get moving."
Parker was all business on the ride over to the palace. She asked Garrett to fill her in on the teleconference he had with Risner and inquired about Brady's luck at finding an address to The Target Agency. She told him she ran into a few dead ends trying to locate it herself after she got home from shopping and hoped Brady had better luck. Garrett and Parker both knew the scouting of the buildings the guys were doing that night would pull up nothing of interest, but it was still necessary. The key was finding out about this temp agency. The coinciding dates of when this business started and when Parker was recruited to the CIA set off a lot of red flags. In this line of work, nothing was a coincidence. Things happened for a reason.
The limo pulled up to the gate of the palace right on time. Both sides of the limo were flanked with armed guards. Garrett rolled down his window and handed one of the guards their invitation, along with their press passes and fake IDs. After passing the first checkpoint, the gates slid open and the limo was directed through and was sent to the next guard house two-hundred yards down the drive. There, Parker and Garrett were required to exit the limo as their IDs were checked and a guard crawled under the limo to look around while another guard searched inside the trunk. When they were satisfied Garrett and Parker didn't pose any threat, they motioned them on.
They were ushered through yet another set of gates and the limo eased around the circular drop-off and stopped in front of the palace steps behind several other limos. Garrett and Parker got out and stared up at the building.
The National Palace was over one hundred and ninety-three thousand square feet of elegance. It was easily twice the size of the White House. The white marble building was three stories tall, the front expanse showcasing forty windows. The top of the building was graced with a dome resting on a windowed drum, sustained by eighteen pillars.
Garrett rounded the front of the limo and came to stand in front of Parker, taking both of her hands in his and leaning in to her ear.
"Don't forget your wedding ring, Mrs. Miller," Garrett whispered as Parker felt something slide onto the third finger of her left hand.
She pulled away from him and glanced down at her hand, expecting to see a boring silver band that matched the one he had covertly slid onto his own finger.
Instead, her gaze fell to a beautiful platinum band encrusted with eight princess cut stones: five diamonds with three sapphires, one nestled in between each diamond.
"Garrett," she whispered on a gasp.
Parker knew for a fact the military would never spring for something like this. They also wouldn't have known the significance of this exact ring, something only Garrett was privy to during an evening of shopping a few years ago.
Parker had leaned over the glass case, gazing at the rings and hoping something would pop out at her as being "the one".
She looked up at the sound of laughter and watched Garrett and Milo perusing the men's section. Garrett wanted to pick something up for his mom's birthday so he tagged along with Parker and Milo while they shopped for wedding bands.
Parker sighed and looked back down at all of the plain bands. She didn't want plain. She wanted something that was more her. Parker made her way down the case, stopping suddenly when something caught her eyes.
It had diamonds and sapphires, her favorite gem and favorite color, all wrapped up in one ring. It was beautiful and simple at the same time without being extravagant or flashy.
Sapphire had always been her favorite color because it reminded her of the color of her mother's eyes. This was it. This was her ring.
"It's beautiful." Garrett's voice spoke from over her shoulder as he looked down into the case with her.
Parker's fingertips traced the glass over the case that housed the ring.