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Diamond bay, p.21

Diamond Bay, page 21

 

Diamond Bay
 


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  Kell’s face was set like granite. This was exactly what he’d wanted most to avoid, one of his worst fears coming true. Rachel’s life was being threatened because of him. Damn! Why hadn’t he left last night, as he should have? He’d let sexual desire override his common sense, and now she was in danger.

  “Sabin!” The voice came from the pine thicket.

  He didn’t answer, but his eyes narrowed as he surveyed the thicket, trying to find the speaker. He wasn’t going to answer and reveal his position; let them find out the hard way.

  “Come on, Sabin, don’t make it any harder than it has to be!” the voice continued. “If you surrender, I give you my word none of the others will be harmed!”

  “Who is that joker?” Grant grunted.

  “Charles Dubois, alias Charles Lloyd, alias Kurt Schmidt, alias several other names,” Kell murmured.

  The names meant nothing to Rachel, but Sullivan’s brows lifted. “So he finally decided to come after you himself.” He looked around. “We’re not in a good position. He’s got men all around the house. There aren’t that many of them, but we’re hemmed in. I checked the phone—it’s dead.”

  Kell didn’t have to be told that their situation wasn’t good. If Dubois used the rockets on the house, as he had on the boat, they were all as good as dead. But then again, he was trying to take Kell alive. Alive, he was worth a lot of money to a lot of people who would pay anything to get their hands on him.

  He tried to think, but the cold fact was that there was no way out of the house. Even if they waited until nightfall and tried to sneak out, there was little available cover to use except for the bushes, which were right against the house. Away from the house, it was open for a good distance in all directions. That meant it would be difficult for anyone to catch them unawares, but it also meant the same thing in reverse. Even if he walked out and surrendered, it wouldn’t save the others. There was no way Dubois would let any witnesses live. He knew it, and Sullivan knew it; he could only hope Rachel and Jane didn’t realize quite how hopeless the situation really was.

  A glance at Rachel dispelled that idea. She knew, all right. That had been the problem from the first; she was too aware, with no veil of ignorance to shield her. He wanted to take her in his arms and hold her head on his shoulder, assure her that it would be all right, but with those clear, level gray eyes on him, he couldn’t lie to her, even to give her momentary comfort. He never wanted any lies between them.

  There was a shot from the bedroom, and all the color washed out of Grant’s face, but before he could move Jane called him. “Grant! Is the kneecap where I’m supposed to shoot these people?”

  If anything, he went even whiter, swearing long and low.

  “Well, it doesn’t matter,” she added philosophically. “I missed, anyway. But I hit his gun, if that counts.”

  “Sabin!” the man yelled again. “You are testing my patience! This cannot go on much longer. It would be such a pity if the woman was harmed.”

  “Woman,” instead of “women.” Then Kell realized that Rachel hadn’t gone out on the porch; they had seen Jane and thought she was Rachel. They were both slim and had dark hair, though Jane was taller and her hair was a little longer, but at a distance no one would have noticed. It didn’t give him much of an advantage, but it might help that Dubois would be underestimating the number of armed people.

  “Sabin!”

  “I’m thinking!” Kell yelled, keeping his head away from the window.

  “Time is a luxury you can’t afford, my friend. You know you can’t win. Why not make it easy on yourself? The woman will go free, I promise you!”

  Dubois’s promises weren’t worth the air it took to make them, and Kell knew it. Time. Somehow he had to buy a little time. He didn’t know what he was going to do, but every extra second gave chance an opportunity to step in. Timing was always critical, and if he could stall Dubois it might throw the man off in some way.

  “What about my other friend?” he yelled.

  “Of course,” Dubois lied smoothly. “I have no quarrel with him.”

  Grant’s lips twisted back in a feral grin. “Sure. There’s no way he didn’t recognize me.”

  What a coup it would be for Dubois to capture both Sabin and the Tiger, the big tawny warrior with the wild, golden eyes who had ranged the jungle with Sabin and later been his prime agent. Each was legendary in his own right; together they had been incredible, so attuned that they acted as one man. Sullivan had had a run-in with some of Dubois’s men a few years back; no, Dubois wouldn’t have forgotten that, considering how Sullivan had made a fool of him.

  A movement in the trees suddenly caught Kell’s attention, and his black eyes narrowed. “See if you can get him to say something else,” he told Grant, sliding the barrel of the .22 just a fraction of an inch outside the broken window and keeping his eyes fixed on the spot in the trees.

  “Come on, Dubois,” Grant yelled. “Don’t play games. I know you recognized me.”

  Kell’s finger tightened slightly on the trigger as silence reigned; was Dubois really surprised to find out they knew who he was? It was true that he had always operated from the background rather than risk his own safety, but Kell had been after him for years now, ever since Dubois had begun selling his services as a terrorist.

  “So it is you, Tiger.”

  There it was again, that slight movement. Kell sighted down the barrel and gently squeezed the trigger. The report of the rifle echoed in the small house, drowning out any cry of pain, but Kell knew he hadn’t missed. He also didn’t know if he’d hit Dubois or someone else.

  A hail of bullets tore into the house, shattering all the windows and gouging long splinters out of the walls and window frames, but the steel-reinforced doors held. “Guess he didn’t like that,” Kell muttered.

  Grant had ducked to the floor, and now his head came up. “You know, I never liked that nickname worth a damn,” he drawled, then swung his rifle up. It was an automatic, and he fired it in the three-shot bursts of a well-trained soldier, making good use of his firepower without wasting his ammunition. Pistol shots came from both the bedroom and Rachel’s office; then all hell broke loose again. They were tearing the house up, and cold fear filled him, because Rachel was caught in this barrage.

  “Rachel!” he yelled. “Are you all right?”

  “I’m okay,” she answered, and her calm voice made

  him ache.

  “Jane!” Grant yelled. No answer. “Jane,” he yelled again, his face gray as he started for the bedroom.

  “I’m busy!”

  Grant looked as if he might explode, and despite everything Kell found himself grinning. Better Grant than him. Still, Jane’s life was in jeopardy, too, and the thought of anything happening to her was almost as hard to bear as the thought of anyone hurting Rachel.

  There was another lull, and Grant pulled out his empty clip and slapped another one into place.

  “Sabin, my patience is at an end,” Dubois called, and Kell grimaced. Damn, it hadn’t been Dubois he’d hit.

  “You haven’t made the right offer yet,” he yelled in return. Anything to buy time.

  Jane crawled out of the bedroom, her hair all mussed and her eyes big. “I think the cavalry is coming,” she said.

  The two men ignored her, but Rachel scrambled to her side. “What?” she asked.

  “Men on horseback,” Jane said, waving her hand toward the bedroom. “I saw them, coming from that way.”

  Rachel felt like crying or laughing, but she couldn’t make up her mind which. “It’s Rafferty,” she said, and now she had their attention. “My neighbor. He must have heard the shots.”

  Grant crouched low and ran through the kitchen to the back, where he could see. “How many?” Kell asked.

  “Twenty or so,” Grant said. “Damn, they’re riding right into automatic f
ire. Start shooting and draw Dubois’s fire!”

  They did. Rachel crept up to a window, held the heavy pistol out it and fired until it was empty, then reloaded with shaking hands before emptying it again. Kell was making judicious use of the .22, and Jane was revealing remarkable skill herself. Had they given Rafferty enough time to get behind Dubois and his men? If they kept shooting, they might hit their rescuers.

  “Hold it,” Kell ordered. They lay flat on the floor with their heads covered while the walls were shredded by bullets. The light fixture crashed to the floor, sending glass flying. Grant cursed, and they looked over to see blood streaming down his face from a cut on his cheek. Jane gave a thin, high cry and made a move toward him, despite the continuing gunfire; Kell grabbed her and wrestled her to the floor.

  “I’m all right,” Grant yelled. “It’s just a little cut.”

  “Stay close to the floor,” Kell told Jane, then let her go, knowing that she’d fight him like a wildcat if he tried to keep her from Grant.

  Then, suddenly, it was quiet except for a few scattered shots, and they were abruptly halted, too. Rachel lay on the floor, hardly daring to breathe, the acrid smell of burned gunpowder filling her nostrils and even her mouth. Kell put his hand on her arm, his black eyes drifting over her pale features as if he would burn her into his memory.

  “Hey!” a deep voice roared. “Rachel, are you in there?”

  Her lips trembled, and tears suddenly blurred her eyes. “It’s Rafferty,” she whispered, then lifted her head to call, “John! Is it all right?”

  “Depends,” the answer came. “These bastards here don’t think it’s all right.”

  Kell slowly climbed to his feet and pulled Rachel to hers. “He sounds like my kind of man.”

  Rachel felt like the survivor of a shipwreck as she walked out on the porch with Kell supporting her. Grant and Jane followed, with Jane dabbing at the cut on Grant’s cheek, crying a little as she fussed at him. Without the arm around her waist, Rachel was sure she wouldn’t have been able to stand.

  She gave a ghostly cry when she saw three of the geese lying in the yard, blood on the white of their feathers, but there was no way she could make a sound when she saw Joe lying on his side at the edge of the porch. Kell turned her into his arms, pressing her face into his shoulder.

  Big John Rafferty, armed with a hunting rifle and surrounded by his men, who were likewise armed, herded about fifteen men before him. Rafferty’s eyes were fierce and narrow under his dark brows as he prodded a slim, gray-haired man before him. “We heard the shooting and came to see what was going on,” John drawled. “I don’t like riffraff shooting at my neighbor.”

  Charles Dubois was white with rage, his eyes fastened on Sabin. Beside him was Noelle, her beautiful eyes full of boredom.

  “It isn’t over, Sabin,” Dubois hissed, and Kell gently put Rachel aside, handing her over to Grant. Kell had business to attend to, and explaining it to the law, then keeping it quiet would take some doing.

  “It’s over as far as you’re concerned,” he said briefly.

  Beside Charles, Noelle smiled her slow, sleepy smile, then suddenly wrenched free; because she was a woman, the cowhand behind her hadn’t been holding her securely. And, somehow, she had a gun in her hand, a small, ugly revolver.

  Rachel saw it, and everything moved in slow motion. With a cry she tore free of Grant’s arm, hurling herself toward Kell. A man grabbed for Noelle’s arm, and the pistol exploded just as Rachel hit Kell, knocking him away. She cried out again at the burning pain in her side; then there was only blackness filling the world.

  CHAPTER THIRTEEN

  SABIN LEANED AGAINST the wall in the hospital waiting room, his nostrils filled with the sharp smell of antiseptic and his dark face cold and remote, even though there was screaming hell in his eyes. Behind him were Jane and Grant, waiting with him. Jane was huddled over, her expressive face pale and full of misery; Grant prowled the confines of the room like some great cat.

  No matter how he tried, Kell couldn’t get the picture of Rachel, lying on the ground awash in her own blood, out of his mind. She had looked so small and fragile, her eyes closed and her face paper white, crumpled like a child’s discarded doll, one slender hand lying palm up. He’d fallen to his knees beside her, oblivious to the scuffle and shots going on behind him, and a low, rough sound had exploded from his chest. Her name had echoed in his mind, but he hadn’t been able to voice it.

  Then, incredibly, her eyes had opened. She was dazed and in pain, but those clear, clear eyes had fastened on him as if he were her lifeline, and her trembling lips had fashioned his name. It wasn’t until then that he’d realized she was alive. Seeing her take the bullet meant for him had been a nightmare come true, and he still hadn’t recovered. He didn’t expect ever to recover.

  Yet he had managed to rip her clothing away from the ugly wound in her side and apply rough first aid, with Jane kneeling beside him and helping. Grant had taken over with the others, doing what was necessary, making certain that no hint of what had happened was leaked.

  Dubois was dead, Noelle critically wounded and not expected to survive. Ironically, it had been Tod Ellis who had shot them. During the ensuing scuffle after Noelle had shot Rachel, Ellis had pulled free and grabbed a rifle. His motives were murky. Perhaps he had wanted to get rid of Dubois so no one would know the extent to which Ellis had helped him; perhaps, in the end, he hadn’t been able to stomach what he’d done. Or perhaps it had been because of Rachel. Sabin could identify with that last reason; he could gladly have killed Dubois and that treacherous bitch with his bare hands for what they’d done to Rachel.

  Honey Mayfield had been fetched to take care of Joe, and she thought he would make it. Rachel would need something, someone to hold on to, even if it was just a dog. Her house had been so badly damaged that it would take weeks to restore it; her pets had been shot, her life turned upside down, she herself wounded, and the man she loved was the cause of it all. Cold, piercing agony filled his chest. He’d nearly cost her her life, when he would have died himself rather than have her suffer this. He’d known the danger, yet he’d stayed, unable to tear himself away from her. This once he’d let his heart overrule his mind, and it had almost killed her. Never again. God in heaven, never again.

  He would stay only until she was out of surgery and he knew she would be all right; there was no way he could leave until he knew, until he’d seen her again and touched her. But then he and Grant would have to leave. The situation was critical; he had to get to Washington before the news of this leaked back and the traitor, or traitors, could cover their tracks.

  “Jane,” he said quietly, not turning around. “Will you stay?”

  “Of course,” she responded without hesitation. “You know you didn’t have to ask.”

  It had been all he could do to get the local authorities to cooperate; if it hadn’t been for one of the deputies, a man named Phelps, who knew Rachel, the whole thing would have blown sky-high. But Phelps had known what to do, and he’d done some long, hard talking to get the lid put on this. Rafferty had guaranteed the silence of his men, and Kell doubted that there was a one of them who would dare cross Rafferty.

  The surgeon entered the waiting room, his lined face tired. “Mr. Jones?”

  Kell had identified himself as Rachel’s husband and signed the release forms for her to be treated to speed things up. Legality be damned. Every minute had meant the loss of more blood for her. He straightened away from the wall, his entire body taut. “Yes?”

  “Your wife is doing fine. She’s in recovery now. The bullet nicked her right kidney. She lost a lot of blood, but we got some back in her, and her condition is stabilizing. I had doubts about saving the kidney, but there was less damage than I’d anticipated. Barring complications, I don’t see any reason she won’t be home in about a week.”

  The relief was so great that all h
e could do was croak, “When can I see her?”

  “Probably in about an hour. I’m going to keep her in ICU overnight, but it’s just precautionary. I don’t think that kidney’s going to start bleeding again, but if it does, I want her there. I’ll have a nurse come for you when they get her moved.”

  Kell nodded and shook the doctor’s hand; then he stood rigidly, unable to relax even now. Jane came to stand beside him, slipping her hand into his bigger one and squeezing it comfortingly. “Don’t tear yourself apart over this.”

  “It was my fault.”

  “Really? When were you put in charge of the world? I must have missed the headlines.”

  He sighed wearily. “Not now.”

  “Why not now? If you don’t snap out of this you’re not going to be in any shape to do what needs doing.”

  She was right, of course. Jane might not get where she was going by the same route the rest of the world would take, but in the end she was usually right on the money.

  When at last they let him see Rachel, he was braced for the shock; he’d seen too many wounded people not to know that the paraphernalia of hospitals often made it seem worse. He knew about the machines that would be hooked up to her, monitoring her vital signs, and he knew there would be tubes running into her body. But nothing could have prepared him for the blow of walking into the room—and then she opened her eyes and looked at him.

  Incredibly, a weak smile spread over her bloodless lips, and she tried to hold out her hand to him, but her arm was anchored to the bed with tape, while an IV needle fed a clear liquid into her vein. For a moment Kell was frozen in place, and his eyes closed on the burning sensation that filled them. It was almost more than he could do to walk around the bed and lift her other hand to his cheek.

  “It…isn’t that bad,” she managed, her voice almost soundless. “I heard…the doctor…say so.”

  God, she was trying to reassure him! He choked, rubbing her hand against his temple. He’d have given his own life to have spared her this, and he was the cause of it.

 
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