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Diamond bay, p.10

Diamond Bay, page 10

 

Diamond Bay
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  Damn! The image was so real, so strong, that it kept creeping back. If it was only a fever-induced dream, it was the most realistic he had ever known. But if it had really happened, when and how? He had been unconscious most of the time, and out of his head with fever even when he’d been awake. Yet he kept reliving the sensation of her hands on him, stroking gently, with the open intimacy of lovers, and he had either had his hands on her or his imagination had lurched into overdrive.

  She plumped the pillows and turned to him. “Do you want to sleep in your shorts?”

  For an answer he unsnapped the cutoffs and let them drop, then sat down on the bed so she could work the shirt off his shoulder. The warm, faintly floral scent of her enveloped him as she leaned close, and he instinctively turned his head toward it, his mouth and nose pressing into her shoulder. She hesitated, then quickly freed him from the shirt and moved away from his touch. The moist warmth of his breath had heated her skin through the fabric of her shirt and played havoc with the even rhythm of her heartbeat. Trying not to let him see how his nearness had affected her, she neatly folded the shirt and placed it on a chair, then picked up his cutoffs and placed them on top of the shirt. When she looked at him again he was lying on his back, his right leg bent at the knee and raised, his right arm resting across his stomach. His white briefs contrasted sharply with his bronzed skin, reminding her that he didn’t have any tan lines on his body. She groaned inwardly. Why did she have to think about that now?

  “Do you want the sheet over you?”

  “No, the fan feels good.” He lifted his right hand from his stomach and held it out to her. “Sit here for a minute.”

  Her mind told her that it wasn’t a good idea. She sat down, anyway, just as she had done so many times since he’d been in her bed, her body angled to face him and her hip against his side. He draped his arm over her thighs, his hand cradling the curve of her hip as if to keep her nestled against him. His fingers, curving around to her buttock, began to move caressingly, and her heart started pounding again. She looked up to meet his eyes and was unable to look away, caught by the mesmerizing black fire.

  “I can’t give you all the answers you want,” he murmured. “I don’t know them myself. Even if I tell you I’m a good guy, you’d still only have my word for it, and why would I cut my own throat by telling you anything else?”

  “Don’t play devil’s advocate,” she said sharply, wishing she could find the will to break away from the seductive power of his gaze and touch. “Let’s deal in facts. You were shot. Who shot you?”

  “I was ambushed, set up by one of my own men—Tod Ellis.”

  “Bogus-FBI-agent Ellis?”

  “The same, from the description you gave.”

  “Then make a call and turn him in.”

  “It isn’t as simple as that. I’m on a month’s vacation from the agency. Only two men knew my location, both of them my superiors.”

  Rachel sat very still. “One of them betrayed you, but you don’t know which one.”

  “Perhaps both of them.”

  “Can’t you contact someone higher up?”

  Something cold and furious flashed in his eyes. “Sweetheart, you can’t get much higher. I’m not even certain I can get through. Either one of them has the power to declare me an outlaw, and calling from here would endanger you.”

  Rachel felt the icy power of his rage and shivered inside, thankful that she wasn’t the one who had crossed him. The look in his eyes was in direct contrast to the touch of his fingertips on her hip. How could his touch remain so gentle, while the wrath of hell glittered in his eyes?

  “What are you going to do?”

  His fingers trailed down her hip to her thigh and rubbed across the hem of her shorts, then gently glided beneath it. “Recuperate. I can’t do a damned thing right now, including dress myself. The problem is that I’m putting you in danger just by being here.”

  She couldn’t control her breathing, or her pulse rate. Heat was building inside her, destroying her ability to think and leaving her to operate purely on her senses. She knew she should move his hand, but the rasp of his rough fingertips on her thigh was so pleasurable that all she could do was sit there, quivering slightly like a leaf in a soft spring breeze. Did he normally treat women as if they were his to touch as he wished, or had he picked up on her uncontrollable responses to him? She thought she had disguised them well, kept them to herself, but perhaps his job had made his senses and intuitions more acute. Desperately she made herself move, putting her hand on top of his to prevent it from moving any higher.

  “You didn’t put me in danger,” she said, her voice a little hoarse. “I made the decision without your help.”

  Despite her controlling hand, his fingers moved higher and found the edge of her panties. “I have a question that’s been driving me crazy,” he admitted in a low voice. He moved his hand again, delving beneath the elastic leg of her panties and curving his fingers over the cool bareness of her buttock.

  A whimper escaped her before she bit her lip, controlling the wild little sound. How could he do this to her with just his touch? “Stop,” she whispered. “You have to stop.”

  “Have we been sleeping together?”

  Her breasts had tightened painfully, begging for that touch to be transferred to them, for him to claim them as he had before. His question destroyed what little concentration she had left. “This…there’s only this one bed. I don’t have a couch, only the love seats—”

  “So we’ve been in the same bed for four days,” he interrupted, stopping a flow of words that she had felt edging toward incoherency. His eyes were glittering again, but this time with a different fire, and she couldn’t look away. “You’ve been taking care of me.”

  She drew a deep, shuddering breath. “Yes.”

  “All alone?”

  “Yes.”

  “You’ve been feeding me.”

  “Yes.”

  “Bathing me.”

  “Yes. Your fever—I had to sponge you with cool water to keep it down.”

  “You did everything that had to be done, took care of me like a baby.”

  She didn’t know what to say, what to do. His hand was still on her, his palm warm and hard against the softness of her flesh.

  “You touched me,” he said. “All over.”

  She swallowed. “It was necessary.”

  “I remember your hands on me. I liked it, but when I woke up this morning I thought it was a dream.”

  “You did dream,” she said.

  “Have I seen you naked?”

  “No!”

  “Then how do I know what your breasts look like? How they feel in my hands? It wasn’t all a dream, Rachel. Was it?”

  A hot, wild blush colored her face, giving him an answer even before she spoke. Her voice was stifled, and she looked away from him, her embarrassment at last freeing her from his gaze. “Twice, when you woke up, you… uh…grabbed me.”

  “Helped myself to the goodies?”

  “Something like that.”

  “And I saw you?”

  She made a helpless gesture toward her neck. “My nightgown drooped when I bent over you. The neckline was hanging open….”

  “Was I rough?”

  “No,” she whispered.

  “Did you like it?”

  This had to stop, right now, though she had a feeling that it was already too late, that she should never have sat down on the bed. “Move your hand,” she said, trying desperately to put some strength into her voice. “Let me go.”

  He obeyed without hesitation, triumph stamped on his hard, dark face. She shot up from the bed, her face on fire. What an utter fool she had made of herself! He probably wouldn’t be able to sleep for laughing at her. She was at the door before he spoke, his voice momentarily freezing her to the spot.


  “Rachel.”

  She didn’t want to turn, didn’t want to look at him, but the way he said her name was a command that pulled at her like a magnet. Lying down didn’t diminish his power; being wounded didn’t diminish it. He was a man born to dominate, and he did it effortlessly, with the sheer strength of his will.

  “If I could, I’d come after you. You wouldn’t get away.”

  Her voice was as quiet as his, rising only slightly above the whir of the ceiling fan in the cool, dim room. “I might,” she said, and closed the door gently behind her as she left the room.

  She wanted to cry, but she didn’t, because crying never solved anything. She hurt inside, and she felt restless. Lust. She had identified it almost immediately, had properly labeled the source of her undeniable and, evidently, uncontrollable attraction to him. She could have handled it if it had remained merely lust, for lust was a human appetite, the perfectly normal reaction of one sex to another. She could have acknowledged it, then ignored it. What she couldn’t ignore was the growing emotional impact he had on her. She had sat there on the bed and let him fondle her, not because she was physically attracted to him, though God knew that was the truth, but because he had rapidly become far too important to her.

  Rachel’s refuge was work; it had saved her when B.B. died, and she sought it instinctively now. Her study was small and cluttered with both her work and memorabilia: books, magazines, clipped articles and family photographs crowded together on every available space. It was comfortable for her; it was here that she immersed herself in her interests, and despite the clutter she knew where everything was. It wasn’t until her eyes fell on her favorite picture of B.B. that she realized she wasn’t going to find the comfort she sought in this room. There couldn’t be any hiding from herself; she had to face it, and face it now.

  Slowly her fingers traced B.B.’s smiling face. He had been best friend, husband and lover, a man whose cheerful manner had hidden a strong character and firm sense of responsibility. They had had so much fun together! There were still times when she missed him so much that she thought she would never get over the sense of loss, even though she knew that wasn’t what B.B. would have wanted. He would have wanted her to enjoy her life, to love again with all the passion she was capable of, to have children, to pursue her career, to have everything. She wanted that, too, but somehow she had never been able to imagine having it without B.B., and he was gone.

  They had both known and accepted the risks of their jobs. They had even talked about them, holding hands in the night and discussing the danger they faced, as if by bringing it out in the open they could hold it at bay. Her job as an investigative reporter had made it inevitable that she would step on toes, and Rachel was very good at anything she chose to do. B.B.’s job with the Drug Enforcement Administration was inherently dangerous.

  Perhaps B.B. had had a premonition. His hand strong around hers in the darkness, he had once said, “Honey, if anything ever happens to me, remember that I know the possibilities and I’m willing to take the risks. I think it’s a job worth doing, and I’m going to do my best at it, the same way you won’t back down from a story that’s getting too hot for comfort. Accidents happen to people who never take any risks at all. Playing it safe isn’t a guarantee. Who knows? With the noses you put out of joint, your job may turn out to be more dangerous than mine.”

  Prophetic words. Within the year B.B. was dead. An investigation Rachel was making into a politician’s background had turned up a connection with illegal drugs. She didn’t have any proof, but her questions must have been making the politician itchy. One morning she had been late to catch a flight to Jacksonville and her car had been low on gas. B.B. had tossed her the keys to his. “Drive mine,” he’d said. “I have plenty of time to get gas on the way to work. See you tonight, honey.”

  But he hadn’t. Ten minutes after her flight left the ground B.B. started her car and a bomb wired to the ignition killed him instantly.

  Haunted by grief, she had finished the investigation, and now the politician was serving a life sentence without parole for both his drug dealings and his part in B.B.’s death. Then she had given up investigative reporting and returned to Diamond Bay to try to find again some sense of life for herself. Peace, hard won but finally hers, had let her find pleasure in work again, and in the quiet tenor of life here on the bay. She had contentment, peace and pleasure, but hadn’t come close to loving again; she hadn’t even been tempted. She hadn’t wanted to date, hadn’t wanted a man’s kiss, or touch, or company.

  Until now. Her forefinger gently touched the glass that covered B.B.’s crooked grin. It was incredibly painful and difficult to fall in love. What an apt phrase it was! “Falling in love.” She was definitely falling, unable to stop her whirling, headlong plunge, even though she wasn’t certain she was ready for it. She felt like a fool. After all, what did she know about Kell Sabin? Enough for her emotions to go wildly out of control, that was for certain! She had somehow started loving him from the first, her intuition sensing that he would be important to her. Why else had she fought so desperately to hide him, to protect him? Would she have taken the risk of caring for any other stranger? It would be romantic of her to assume that it was predestination; another explanation was an ancient one, that a life belonged to the one who saved it. Was it a primitive predilection, a sort of bonding forged by danger?

  At that point in her thoughts Rachel gave a wry laugh at herself. What difference did it make? She could sit there all night thinking of plausible and implausible explanations, but they wouldn’t change a thing. She was, regardless of will and logic, already half in love with the man, and it was getting worse.

  He was trying to seduce her. Oh, he wasn’t in any physical shape for it, but given his superb conditioning and strength he would probably recover much faster than an ordinary person. Part of her shivered in excitement at the thought of making love with him, but another part, more cautious, warned her not to let herself become that involved with him. To do so would be to take an even larger risk than hiding him and nursing him back to health had been. She wasn’t afraid of the physical risk, but the emotional price she might have to pay for loving such a man could be crippling.

  She took a deep breath. She couldn’t limit her emotions and responses to carefully measured dollops, like following a recipe. Her nature wasn’t that controlled and unemotional. All she could do was accept the fact that she loved him, or was growing to love him, and deal with it from there.

  B.B.’s photographed gaze looked back at her. It wasn’t a betrayal to love someone else; he would want her to love again.

  It was wrenching to accept the idea; Rachel didn’t love lightly. When she gave herself it was with all the passion of her emotions, which wasn’t an easy or casual way to love. The man in her bed wouldn’t welcome her devotion; it didn’t take a crystal ball to tell that he was one of those men who combined icy unemotionalism with fiery sensuality. He lived for the danger of his job, and it was a job that didn’t encourage emotional ties. He could take her with raw, hungry passion, then calmly walk away and return to the life he had chosen.

  Wryly she looked around the study; she wasn’t going to be able to work, after all. Her emotions were too turbulent to allow her to sink into either planning her class or working on her manuscript. She had gotten her hero into a sticky situation, but could it be any stickier than the one she found herself in? Actually, she could use some practical advice. A smile suddenly lit her face. She had an expert in her bedroom; why not use his knowledge while he was there? If nothing else, it would help occupy his time. To occupy her time, she could finish weeding the garden now that it was late afternoon and the sun’s ferocious heat had abated somewhat. She might as well do something practical.

  The twilight was rapidly fading and she had almost finished her chore, when she heard the simultaneous creak of the screen door at the back steps and Joe’s explosive, furious sp
ring from his position at the end of the row where she was working. Rachel screamed Joe’s name as she jumped to her feet, knowing that she’d never be able to reach the dog in time to stop him.

  Sabin didn’t retreat. Joe hesitated when Rachel screamed at him, his attention momentarily split, and Sabin used the interval to ease himself down into a sitting position on the steps. It left him vulnerable, but it also took him out of a threatening position. Joe stopped four feet away, his face contorted, the fur on his neck raised as he crouched.

  “Stay back,” Sabin said evenly as Rachel approached from the side, trying to put herself between Sabin and the dog. She was far too willing to use herself as a shield; he didn’t think the dog would intentionally hurt her, but if the dog attacked and Rachel tried to protect him… He had to reach an understanding with Joe, and it might as well be now.

  Rachel stopped as he’d directed, but she spoke softly to the dog, trying to calm him. If he attacked she wasn’t strong enough to wrestle him off of Sabin. What was he thinking of, coming out like that, when he knew Joe didn’t like men?

  “Joe, heel,” Sabin said firmly.

  Just as it had earlier, the command sent Joe into a paroxysm of rage. She edged closer, ready to leap if Joe made any move to attack. Sabin gave her a warning glance.

  “Joe, heel.” He repeated the command over and over, always in a quiet, level voice, and Joe made a lunge that brought his sharp teeth within inches of Sabin’s bare foot. Rachel gasped and threw herself at the dog, wrapping her arms around his neck. He was quivering in every muscle of his body. He ignored her, his attention locked on the man.

 
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