Grant's Flame (Shark's Edge #5) - Angel Payne

Chapter One


Watching over Rio while she slept calmed my nerves. She was a respite for my weary soul, which was ironic, really, because I’d been alternating between pacing around the stateroom, feverishly checking my phone for on the fire at Clear Horizons, the mental health facility I’d sprung her from the afternoon prior, and joining her. Molding my body against hers on the large bed that occupied about half the room was a balm for my invisible wounds, and my God, a spoonful of sugar really did help the medicine go down.

My normally restless little nymph had been sleeping for close to fifteen hours. Even now, as I pulled her close and gently kissed her nape, she barely stirred. Whatever sedative the hospital staff had given her had really knocked her on her ass. Other than a couple of bathroom visits throughout the night, the woman had slept more since we’d cast off from the dock in Los Angeles than I’d seen her tally in the past month.

The observation both comforted and alarmed me. On one hand, I was happy that our floating haven of tranquility was an ease to her jumbled mind and not another agitation. But that was where my comfort stopped, and I became a worse basket case by the hour. Was she sleeping too long? Was this normal, or was there something else wrong—something I needed to be concerned about? Should I wake her and insist she eat? When had she’d last eaten? And by that, I meant actual food. When she worked at Abstract, she often denied herself anything until after the lunch deliveries, despite being surrounded by nourishing options. Even then, she usually scarfed a protein bar or some equally inadequate meal substitute while she drove.

It was settled. She needed to eat, and this time, I was positive about the decision. So, with a steadying inhale, I gently curved a hand over the ball of her shoulder and prepared to wake her. But just like last time—and each of the times before that—I quickly pulled my hand back, second-guessing the resolution.


It was the act—well, the non-act—of a coward. I knew that, damn it. But it changed nothing. The second I thought about waking her, my mind instantly went down a complicated, thorny path—right to the conversation we would need to have when I did so. No matter what kind of verbal clover we planted to make the subject prettier, it would be a bramble-covered mess underneath.

We had to talk about the clusterfuck I’d pulled her from yesterday.

All of it.

Even if all the brambles poked back out again, re-exposing the truth. Because sometimes the truth was just the ugly, unavoidable truth. It was burning and irritating and aggravating and downright awful, no matter how many ways we danced around it. And the persistent resin of this particular topic would stay around long after its source was gone.

I huffed loudly and scrubbed a hand down my unshaven face and continued the movement until I gripped my tense and knotted neck.

My movements caused Rio to turn over and open her groggy eyes. It took her a few moments to focus in my direction, then around the cabin, silently taking in her surroundings. At least she didn’t bolt from the bed. That was a win I would greedily count.

“Where are we?”

A beat of silence went by, mandated solely by my selfishness. Her voice, husky from so much slumber, made me think of sexy love songs. The typical whiskey hue of her irises had gone dark and glassy from the medication she’d been given. She seemed challenged by maintaining a fixed gaze on a singular point. But according to the abundant—okay, obsessive—research I’d gotten in while she slept, all these conditions were completely normal, considering what she’d been through.

Riiiggghhttt. Normal.

I just had to keep reminding myself of that.

“Are you thirsty, baby?” The term of endearment slipped back into place so easily, and I inwardly chastised myself. I had no idea where things stood between us now, but the last thing I wanted to do was spook her or distract her with an innocent tangent at the moment.

Move on. I had to simply move on.

The purpose got me to my feet again. With a determined stride, I moved to the nightstand. A tray with a hand-painted terra-cotta ewer of ice water and several glasses sat in invitation. One of the galley crew members had artfully wrapped a white linen napkin around the jug, absorbing the condensation that formed on the exterior,