Diamond bay, p.17
Diamond Bay, page 17
She closed her eyes, hating her own weakness for trying to hold on to him when she’d known from the first that she couldn’t. “I’m sorry,” she said quietly. “Of course you can. We’ll go now, if you want.”
Kell watched her silently; if there was any one moment that revealed the strength of the woman, it was now, and it only made the leaving harder. He didn’t want to call Sullivan; he didn’t want to hurry the day when this would have to end. He wanted to stretch time to its utmost limits, to spend the hot, lazy days lying on the beach with her, getting to know every minute facet of her personality and making love to her whenever they wanted. And the nights…those long, warm, fragrant nights, spent tangled together on the damp, twisted sheets. Yes, that was what he wanted. Only the sure knowledge that she was in increasing danger could force him to make that call to Sullivan. His instinct told him that time was running out.
He was silent so long that Rachel opened her eyes and found him looking at her with that intent way of his. “What I want,” he said deliberately, “is to make love again.”
That was all it took, just that look of his and the words, and she felt herself growing warm and moist as her body automatically tightened, but she knew that she wouldn’t be able to comfortably accept him. She looked at him with poignant regret. “I don’t think I can.”
He touched her cheek, his hard, rough fingers stroking the contours of her face with incredible tenderness. “I’m sorry. I should have realized.”
She gave him a smile that wasn’t as steady as she wished. “Let me change clothes and brush my hair, and we’ll leave.”
Because she wasn’t the type to linger in front of a mirror, they were on their way in five minutes. Sabin was alert, his dark eyes noting every detail of the countryside and examining every car they met. Rachel found herself watching the rearview mirror in case they were being followed.
“I need a phone booth off the main drag. I don’t want to be seen by six hundred people on their way to buy groceries.” The words were terse, his attention on the traffic.
Obediently she searched out a phone booth next to a service station on the edge of town and parked the car next to it. Kell opened the door, then shut it again without getting out. He turned to her with a smile of real amusement on his lips. “I don’t have any money.”
His smile relieved the tension inside her, and she chuckled as she reached for her purse. “You could use my credit card number.”
“No. If anyone checked it could lead them to Sullivan.”
He took the handful of change she gave him and went into the phone booth, closing the door behind him. Rachel watched as he fed coins into the slot, then looked around to see if anyone else was watching him, but the only other person in sight was the man at the service station, and he was sitting in a chair in the front office, leaning back against the wall with the front legs of the chair off the ground while he read a newspaper.
Kell was back in only a few minutes, and Rachel started the car as he slid onto the seat and slammed the door. “That didn’t take long,” she said.
“Sullivan doesn’t waste words.”
“Yeah.” Suddenly he smiled again, that rare, true smile. “His biggest problem is getting out of the house without his wife following him.”
The humor, on that particular subject, was unexpected. “She doesn’t understand about his job?”
He snorted. “It isn’t his job—he’s a farmer. And it’ll make Jane madder than hell that he didn’t take her with him.”
“He retired from the agency a couple of years ago.”
“Was his wife an agent, too?”
“No, thank God,” he said with real feeling.
“Don’t you like her?”
“It’s impossible not to like her. I’m just glad Sullivan has her under control on that farm.”
Rachel gave him a dubious glance. “Is he any good? How old is he, anyway?”
“He’s about my age. He retired himself. The government would have been glad to keep him another twenty years, but he got out.”
“And he’s good?”
Kell’s dark eyebrows lifted. “He’s the best agent I ever had. We trained together in Nam.”
That reassured her; even more than her dread at his leaving, she feared the danger he would have to face. Not a hint of it would ever surface in any newspaper, but there would be a small war in the nation’s capital. Kell wouldn’t rest until his section was clean again, even at the cost of his own life. The knowledge ate at her. If she could, if he would let her, she would go with him and do whatever she could to protect him.
“Stop at a drugstore,” he instructed, swiveling in his seat to check behind them.
“What do you want at a drugstore?” She looked at him again and found him watching her with faint amusement.
“Birth control. Or haven’t you realized what a chance we’ve been taking?”
“Yes, I’d realized,” she admitted in a low voice.
“You weren’t going to say anything or do anything about it?”
Her hands tightened on the steering wheel until the knuckles were white, and she concentrated on the traffic. “No.”
Just that one, calmly uttered word had the power to jerk his head up, and she felt his gaze burning on her. “I don’t want to get you pregnant. I can’t stay, Rachel. You’d be alone, with a baby to raise.”
She braked for a red light and turned her head to meet his gaze. “It would be worth it, to have your baby.”
His jaw tightened, and he swore under his breath. Damn, he was hard again just at the thought of getting her pregnant, of her bearing his child and nursing it at her pretty breasts. He wanted to. He wanted to take her with him and go home to her every night, but he couldn’t turn his back on his job and his country. Security was critical, now more than ever, and his services were invaluable. It was something he had to do; endangering Rachel was something he couldn’t do.
Her gray eyes were dark with mingled love and pain. “I won’t make it easy for you to leave me,” she whispered. “I won’t hide what I feel and wave you off with a smile.”
His profile was hard and unreadable as he turned back to watch the road; he didn’t answer, and when the light changed to green again she drove carefully to the nearest drugstore. Without speaking, she took a twenty from her purse and handed it to him.
His hand clenched on the crisp bill, and he looked like murder. “It’s either this or abstinence.”
She drew a deep breath. “Then I suppose you’d better go in, hadn’t you?”
No, she wasn’t making it any easier; she was making it so difficult that it was tearing him apart. Damn it, he’d give her a baby every year if things were different, he thought savagely as he went into the drugstore and made his purchase. Maybe he was too late; maybe she was already pregnant. Only the naive or the careless could discount the possibility.
He left the cash register and had started for the door, when Rachel came through it, her face strained, her eyes wide and urgent. Without hesitation he turned and walked several aisles over to intently examine a high stack of insulated beverage coolers. Rachel walked past, to the cosmetic department. Sabin waited, and a moment later the door opened again. He caught a glimpse of sandy hair and ducked his own head down, automatically reaching behind his back for the pistol, but his waistband was empty. The pistol was in the car. His eyes narrowed, and a cold, deadly look settled over his features; moving silently, he began trailing Ellis.
Rachel had seen the blue Ford driving down the street and had known immediately that it was Ellis; her only thought had been to warn Kell before he walked out of the drugstore and let Ellis see him. If Ellis had been following them it was already too late, but she was fairly certain that wasn’t the case. This was just an unhappy coincidence; it had to be. Sh
“I thought it was you. Didn’t you hear me call?” Ellis asked behind her as she surveyed the array of lipsticks.
She jerked around, pretending that he’d startled her. “Tod! You scared me!” she gasped, holding a hand to her chest.
“Sorry. I thought you knew I was behind you.”
He seemed to be thinking a lot this morning; she hoped it didn’t strain him too much. She gave him an abstracted smile. “I’ve got so much on my mind I’m just walking around in a daze. I’m trying to get everything together for my trip, but I left my shopping list at home, and it’s driving me crazy trying to remember everything.”
He looked at the display, his easy grin flashing. “I guess lipstick is essential.”
“No, but lip balm is, and I thought it would be here.” Condescending mongrel! She wondered how he’d look if she told him to shove off. The problem with someone with an enormous ego was that any slight sent them around the bend, hell-bent on revenge. Still, she couldn’t keep the tartness out of her voice, and he looked at her in surprise.
“Is something wrong?”
“I’ve got a vicious headache,” she muttered. She caught sight of Kell, moving just behind Ellis; his face was set, his eyes narrowed and cold, and he moved like a stalking panther. What was he doing? He was supposed to stay out of sight until she got rid of Ellis, not attack the man! All the color drained from her face as Ellis peered at her.
“You do look sick,” he finally admitted.
“I think it was too much wine last night.” She turned on her heel and marched down the aisle, away from Kell. Damn the man! If he wanted to jump Ellis, he’d have to chase him down to do it! She didn’t stop until she got to the insect repellent section; she grabbed a bottle and scowled as she read the directions on the back.
Ellis was still right behind her. “Do you think you’d feel like going out tonight?”
Rachel ground her teeth in frustration. She couldn’t believe he was that thick-skinned. It was an effort to take a deep breath and answer calmly. “I don’t think so, Tod, but thanks for asking. I really feel rotten.”
“Sure, I understand. I’ll call you in a day or so.”
From somewhere she dredged up enough control for a wan smile. “Yes, do that. Maybe I’ll feel better then, unless this is some sort of virus.”
Like most people, he backed off a little at the mention of anything contagious. “I’ll let you get back to your shopping, but you really should go home and take it easy.”
“That’s good advice. I just might do that.” Would he never leave?
But still he lingered, chatting, being so obviously charming that she wanted to gag. Then she saw Kell again, silently working his way around behind Ellis, his eyes never wavering from his prey. Desperately she grabbed her stomach and said clearly, “I think I may throw up.”
It was really amazing how fast Ellis retreated, looking at her warily. “You’d better go home,” he said. “I’ll call you later.” The last words were said as he went out the door. She waited until he got in the Ford and drove off before she turned to look at Kell as he walked up to her.
“Stay in here,” she said curtly. “I’ll drive around the block to make certain he’s gone.”
She walked off before he could say anything. She was seething, and driving around the block would give her time to cool down. It made her furious that he would take that sort of risk right now, when he wasn’t a hundred percent physically fit. When she was in the car she leaned her head on the steering wheel for a moment, shaking. What if Ellis had seen Kell go into the drugstore and had just been playing it cool, making sure it was Kell so he could report back to his superiors? She didn’t think so, unless Ellis was much more cunning than she’d given him credit for, but even the possibility was horrifying.
Shaking, she started the car and circled the block, looking up and down all the streets for a blue Ford parked anywhere. She didn’t just have to look for Ellis; she had to look for Lowell, too, and she had no idea what he might be driving. And how many other men were in this area now?
Returning to the drugstore, she pulled up close to the door and Kell came out, sliding into the car beside her. “See anyone?”
“No, but I don’t know what kind of cars the others might have.” She pulled into traffic, heading in the opposite direction from the one Ellis had taken. That wasn’t where she wanted to go, but she could always cut back.
“He didn’t see me,” Kell said quietly, hoping to ease some of the tension evident in her face.
“How do you know? He could have decided to report you and wait for backup, catch you out later rather than trying something in the middle of a crowded drugstore.”
“Relax, honey. He’s not that smart. He’d try to take me himself.”
“If he’s so stupid, why did you hire him?” Rachel shot back.
He looked thoughtful. “I didn’t. Someone else ‘acquired’ him.”
Rachel glanced at him. “One of the two men who knew where you were?”
“That’s right,” he said grimly.
“That narrows it down for you, doesn’t it?”
“I wish it did, but I can’t afford to take that for granted. Until I know for certain, both of them are suspects.”
It made sense; if he had to err, it would be on the side of caution. He couldn’t afford even one mistake.
“Why were you trailing him like that? Why didn’t you just stay out of sight until I’d gotten rid of him?” she demanded, her knuckles showing white again.
“If he had seen me, it could have been his plan to grab you for bait, to draw me out. I wasn’t going to let that happen.” The quiet, calm way he said it made Rachel shiver, as if the air had suddenly turned cold.
“But you aren’t up to something like that yet! Your leg could give out on you, and your shoulder is so stiff you can barely move it. What if you’d torn everything open again?”
“It didn’t happen. Anyway, I didn’t anticipate a fight, just one good crack at him.”
His male arrogance made her want to scream; instead she ground her teeth together. “It didn’t occur to you that something could have gone wrong?”
“Sure, but if he’d grabbed you, I wouldn’t have had any choice, so I wanted to be in position.”
And he was willing to do whatever was necessary, despite his stiff shoulder and lame leg. He was one of a rare breed, able to see the cost and still be willing to pay it, though he would do everything he could to tip the scales the other way.
She was still pale, her eyes shadowed, and he reached over to slide his hand down her thigh. “It’s all right,” he said gently. “Nothing happened.”
“But it could have. Your shoulder—”
“Forget my damned shoulder, and my leg. I know how far I can push them, and I don’t go into anything unless I think I can win.”
She was silent for the remainder of the drive, until she parked the car under the tree. “I think I’ll go for a swim,” she said tightly. “Want to come along?”
Joe came up to her car door as always, his dark eyes trained on her even though he remained just out of touching distance, and he walked beside her as she went up the steps to the porch. He accepted Kell, but if the two of them were outside he was never far from Rachel. He was one warrior who was content to stay, she thought wistfully, then resolutely pushed away the creeping self-pity. Life would go on, even if it was without Kell. It hurt to think about it, and
She changed into her sleek black bathing suit and Kell put on his denim shorts, and after grabbing a couple of towels, they walked through the pines down to the beach. Joe followed them and lay down in the scant shade of a clump of sea oats. Rachel dropped the towels on the sand and pointed out to the bay, where the water was rising and breaking over the submerged rocks. “See the line where the water breaks? That’s where the rocks are. I’m pretty sure you hit your head on one of them that night. The tide was just starting to come in, so the water was low.” She pointed again. “I dragged you out here.”
Kell looked at the beach, then turned and stared up the slope, where the pines were standing tall and straight, a thicket of wooden sentinels. She had somehow dragged him up that slope and gotten him into the house, a feat that he couldn’t imagine when he looked at her slender body. “You damn near killed yourself getting me up there, didn’t you?” he asked quietly.
She didn’t want to think about that night, or what it had cost her physically. Part of it had already been blocked from her brain; she remembered that she’d been in pain, but the exact nature of the pain escaped her. Perhaps adrenaline was responsible for both her strength that night and the selective amnesia that followed. She looked at him for a long moment, then turned and walked into the sea. He watched until the water reached her knees, then pulled the pistol out of his waistband and carefully laid it on a towel, covering it with the other to keep the blowing sand out of it. Then he dropped his shorts and walked naked into the water after her.
Rachel was a strong swimmer, having spent most of her life living on the Gulf, but Kell stayed even with her despite his stiff shoulder. At first, when she realized he was in the water, she had started to protest that he shouldn’t get his wounds wet, but she swallowed the words. After all, he had swum with open wounds, and the exercise would be good therapy. They swam in the bay for half an hour before he decided that he’d had enough, and Rachel returned to the beach with him. It wasn’t until the water reached his waist that she realized he was nude, and the familiar quiver shook her insides as she watched him wade out of the water. He was so lean and hard and perfect, darkly tanned and roped with muscle, even his tight buttocks. She watched as he moved the pistol and lay down on one of the towels, his glistening body offered to the sun.
by Linda Howard / Romance / Mystery & Thrillers have rating 4 out of 5 / Based on32 votes