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Diamond bay, p.23

Diamond Bay, page 23

 

Diamond Bay
 


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  Rachel had been watching him, not even blinking as she drank in his appearance. He was thinner, harder, that black fire of his even more intense. “You came because you thought I was pregnant?”

  “Yes.”

  “Why bother now?” she asked, and bit her lip to stop it from trembling.

  Well, he’d asked for that. He looked at her again. She had lost weight, and her eyes were listless. It startled him, hit him hard. She didn’t look like a happy woman, and all he’d ever wanted was for her to be safe and happy. “How are you?” he asked, concern deepening his voice to a rumble.

  She shrugged. “Well enough, I suppose.”

  “Does your side bother you?”

  “No, not at all.” She turned away, going toward the kitchen. “Would you like a cup of hot chocolate? I was just going to make some.”

  He took off his coat and tossed it over a chair before following her. It gave him an overpowering sense of déjà vu to lean against the cabinets and watch her fiddle with pots and measuring cups. Abruptly she stopped and bent her head down to rest it against the refrigerator door.

  “It’s killing me without you,” she said in a muffled voice. “I try, but I just don’t care anymore. One day with you is worth more to me than a lifetime without you.”

  His fists clenched again. “Do you think it’s easy for me?” His voice rasped the air like a rusty file. “Don’t you remember what happened?”

  “I know what can happen!” she screamed, whirling on him. “But I’m an adult, Kell Sabin! The risk is mine to take if I think it’s worth it! I accept that every time I get in my car and drive to town. A lot more people are killed on the highways every year than by terrorists or assassins. Why don’t you forbid me to drive, if you really want to protect me?”

  His eyes burned on her, but he didn’t say anything, and his remote silence goaded her. “I can live with the risks you take in your job,” she continued. “I don’t like it, but that’s your decision to make. If you can’t give me the same right, then why are you here?”

  Still he stared at her, frowning. The hunger for her was growing in him, like an obsession. He wanted her, more than he wanted his next breath. He could either live with her, or live without her, and the past six months had shown him just how poor the quality of life was without her. The flat, unvarnished truth was that life wasn’t worth living if he couldn’t have her. Once he accepted that, his thoughts moved ahead. He’d have to take steps to make certain she was safe; he’d have to make changes and adjust, something he hadn’t done before. It was odd how simple it looked all of a sudden, just because he admitted to himself that he had to have her. God bless Jane for getting his attention and giving him an excuse for coming down; she had known that once he saw Rachel again he wouldn’t be able to leave.

  He faced Rachel across the kitchen. “Can you really take it, the risks I take and the times I’ll be gone when you won’t know where I am or when to expect me?”

  “I already have,” she said, lifting her chin. “What I need to know is that you’ll come back to me when you can.”

  Still he watched her, his eyes narrow and piercing. “Then we might as well get married, because God knows I’ve been a wreck without you.”

  She looked stunned; then she blinked. “Is that a proposal?”

  “No. It was basically an order.”

  Slowly tears filled her gray eyes, making them glitter like diamonds, and a smile began to brighten her face. “All right,” she said simply.

  He did what he’d been hungering to do; he crossed the floor to her and took her in his arms, his mouth fastening hungrily on hers while his hands rediscovered the sleek curves of her body. Without another word he lifted her and carried her into the bedroom, tossing her across the bed just as he’d done the first time he’d made love to her. Swiftly he pulled her jeans down and off, then shoved the sweatshirt up to reveal her pretty round breasts. “I can’t take it slow,” he whispered, jerking his pants open.

  She didn’t need for him to take it slow. She needed him, and she held her arms out to him. He spread her thighs and mounted her, controlling himself just long enough to slow his entry so he wouldn’t hurt her, and with a low cry of pleasure Rachel took him into her body.

  They lay in bed the rest of the day, making love and talking, but mostly just holding each other and reveling in the other’s nearness. “What happened when you got back to Washington?” she asked sometime during the afternoon.

  He lay on his back with one muscular arm thrown above his head, drowsy after making love, but his eyes opened at her question. “I can’t tell you too much,” he warned. “I won’t ever be able to talk a lot about my work.”

  “I know.”

  “Tod Ellis talked, and that helped. Grant and I set a trap, and one of my superiors walked into it. That’s about all I can tell you.”

  “Were there others in your department?”

  “Two others.”

  “They almost had you,” she said, shuddering at the thought.

  “They would have had me, if it hadn’t been for you.” He turned his head on the pillow and looked at her; the glow was back in her eyes, the glow that only he could produce. He never wanted to see that light go out. He reached out to touch her cheek. “I was disappointed that you weren’t pregnant,” he said softly.

  She laughed. “I may be after today.”

  “Just in case,” he murmured, rolling onto her.

  She caught her breath. “Yes, by all means, just in case.”

  EPILOGUE

  THEY SAT ON the porch of the big farmhouse where Grant and Jane lived, enjoying the warmth of the late summer sunshine. Kell was leaning back in his chair, his booted feet propped on the railing, and Grant was sprawled in a position of total relaxation. Both men looked sleepy after the heavy meal they had just eaten, but nevertheless two pairs of alert eyes monitored the children playing in the yard while Rachel and Jane were in the house. Presently the two women joined their husbands on the porch, sitting down in big rockers.

  Kell straightened abruptly as Jamie, who was no more than a toddler, fell down in the yard, but before he could open his mouth the four little boys crowded around her, and Dane—or Daniel?—helped her up, brushing the dirt from her chubby little legs. The five children looked unusual together, with the three Sullivan boys almost white haired, they were so blond, while both Brian and Jamie were dark, with black hair and eyes. Jamie was the queen of that particular crowd, ruling everyone with her big eyes and dimples. She was going to be small, while Brian had his father’s build.

  The children ran shrieking toward the barn, with Dane and Daniel each holding one of Jamie’s hands, and Brian and Craig behind them. The four adults watched them go. “Can you believe,” Kell said thoughtfully, “that we’re in our forties and have five preschoolers between us?”

  “Speak for yourself,” Rachel returned. “Jane and I are still young.”

  Kell looked at her and grinned. He still didn’t have any gray in his hair, and neither did Grant. They were both hard and lean, and more content with their lives than they had ever been before.

  It had all worked out rather well. Married to Rachel, and quickly aware that there was indeed a baby on the way, Kell had accepted a promotion and was no longer such a prime target. He was still in a position to use his knowledge and expertise, but at much less risk to himself. It had been a trade-off, but one that was worth it. He glanced over at Rachel. Oh, yes, it had definitely been worth it.

  “You never did tell me,” Jane said idly, rocking in her chair as if she hadn’t a care in the world. “Did you forgive me for lying to you about Rachel being pregnant?”

  Grant chuckled, and Kell stretched out even more, closing his eyes. “It wasn’t much of a lie,” Kell said peacefully. “She was before the next day was out. By the way, how did you get my number?”

  “I called
you for her,” Grant confessed, putting his booted feet up on the railing, too. “I thought some of the good life was just what you needed.”

  Rachel’s eyes met Kell’s, and they smiled at each other. It was nice to have such good friends.

  Keep reading for a sneak peek

  from Linda Howard’s next thrilling romance,

  TROUBLEMAKER

  Coming Summer 2016 from William Morrow

  Chapter One

  Washington, D.C., Area

  IT WAS ONE of those bright, early-­March days that made you think spring had to be here, even though you knew the winter bitch wasn’t yet ready to loosen her grip and move completely out of town. Morgan Yancy sometimes lost track of what season it was anyway. He’d have to stop and think: was he in the Northern Hemisphere, or the Southern? His job demanded that he travel to hellholes at a moment’s notice, so he could find himself going from the Arctic to the Iraqi desert, from there to South America—­wherever it was in the world that his talents were needed.

  Thirty-­six hours ago he’d arrived at the small condo that passed for home these days, slept the first twenty-­four hours and awakened to the discovery that his days and nights were mixed up. Wasn’t the first time, wouldn’t be the last. So he stayed up a while, ate some peanut butter smeared on stale crackers, worked on his gear, ran seven miles in the dark city to tire himself out, then conked out again.

  When he woke, it was spring—­or as good as.

  He took a cool shower to blow the rest of the cobwebs out of his head, then rummaged in the refrigerator and found that his last bag of ground coffee had enough in it to make half a pot. Good enough. He opened the carton of milk, sniffed, winced, and poured it down the drain. There was some fuzzy green cheese in the fridge too, so he tossed it. No doubt about it: he had to do some grocery shopping while he was home this time. He could do without cheese and milk, but things got dicey if he didn’t have coffee. Funny how he could go days, weeks, without it, drinking whatever was handy, but when he was home he damn well wanted his coffee.

  The bright sunlight lured him out onto his postage-­stamp patio. Coffee cup in hand, he stepped out and assessed the situation.

  The weather was perfect: just cool enough not to classify as warm, but warm enough that he was comfortable without a jacket. There was a light breeze, and a few cotton-­ball clouds floated by.

  Well, fuck; life was tough sometimes. He didn’t have a choice about it: he had to go fishing. He’d lose his man-­license if he let a day made specially for fishing slip by without taking his boat out.

  Besides, the old Shark needed to have the cobwebs blown out of the motor every now and then. He did upkeep on it whenever he was home, but it hadn’t had a good run in about five months—­which, come to think of it, might have been how long it had been since he’d had more than a day at home. The team sure as hell had been on a grueling stretch.

  He fished his cell phone from the cargo pocket on his right thigh, and called Kodak, a buddy from his GO-­Team. Kodak’s real name was Tyler Gordon, but when you have eidetic memory, what the hell else could ­people call you besides Kodak?

  Kodak sounded a little groggy and froggy when he answered, not surprising considering he’d been on the last job with Morgan. “Yeah, wassup?” The combination of hoarseness and borderline consciousness made the words barely intelligible.

  “Fishing. I’m taking the Shark out. Wanna go?”

  “Fuck, don’t you ever sleep?”

  “I’ve been sleeping. I’ve slept for most of two days. What the hell have you been doing?”

  “Sometimes not sleeping. I’m sleeping now. Or I was.” There was the sound of a huge yawn. “Have fun, buddy, but I won’t be there having it with you. How long you going to stay out?”

  “Until about dark, probably.” He should’ve expected this; Kodak was a horn dog, pure and simple. He’d have thought about getting his rocks off even before putting some decent food in his belly. Not that Morgan hadn’t thought about getting his own rocks off, but that had come after food, and he hadn’t gotten any further than the thought.

  There was another yawn. “I’ll give it a pass this time. Catch you later.” The air went dead as Kodak disconnected.

  Morgan shrugged and slipped the phone back into his pocket. So he’d be fishing alone today. He didn’t mind. Most times, he preferred it. The sun, the wind, the water, the blessed solitude—­it was great, especially when he was unwinding from a job.

  Within five minutes he’d downed enough coffee to get him by, pulled on a shirt and some socks and boots, and was in his truck heading for the marina. Breakfast came from a fast-­food drive-­through, but hell, it wasn’t as if he didn’t eat crap most days of his life anyway. Besides, in his opinion America had some great-­tasting crap. If the fat police really wanted to complain about food, they should go to some of the shit-­holes he’d visited; after that, then maybe they’d have a deeper appreciation for tasty crap.

  The marina where he kept the Shark was on the old, run-­down side and a fairly long stretch down the river, but he liked it because it was small, and he could keep better track of any new boats or any suspicious vehicles in the parking area. If he were able to get the boat out on anything resembling a regular schedule, he’d be able to keep better vigilance, but so far he’d never had any trouble—­no reason he should, just that habit was habit—­and he had a talent for spotting vehicles that were out of the ordinary for their surroundings. Nothing stood out today, though he did take the precaution of driving up and down all the aisles before stopping. There were no vehicles parked facing out and no rentals or anything else suspicious.

  He backed his truck into a parking slot, got out and locked it, then double-­checked that it was locked. It was second nature; he double-­checked everything when it came to security. As he stuck his key into the padlock on the security gate that blocked entrance to the docks, the marina owner, Brawley, stuck his head out of the shack thirty yards away and shouted, “Been a while! Good day for fishing.”

  “Hope so,” Morgan replied, raising his voice to cover the distance.

  “You heading out to the bay?”

  “Don’t think I’ll go that far.” The Chesapeake was a good forty miles down the Potomac; he’d use up most of his fishing time running there and back.

  “Catch one for me,” Brawley called, then ducked back inside the shack. Through the glass, Morgan watched him pick up the phone, an old-­fashioned corded job that had probably been there since the day the marina was built, and cradle it on his shoulder as he dialed. You didn’t see many of those phones these days.

  Morgan snapped the padlock closed again, then continued down the dock to the slip he rented under the name of Ivan Smith, which he’d chosen because the name amused him, Ivan being the Russian “John.” Hell, this was D.C.; probably half the population expected that the other half was using aliases.

  He scrutinized all the boats he passed, looking for anything unfamiliar—­not so much the boats themselves, though a small, out-­of-­the-­way marina like this one tended to have a slower turnover rate than the bigger marinas—­but equipment, such as an expensive radio array on a shit-­can boat, or ­people who didn’t quite fit in. Maybe their shoes were hard soled, or maybe they were armed, anything like that.

  Nothing. The place was just as it should be. The smell of the river, the sound of the water lapping against the boats, the creak of the docks, the gentle bobbing of the boats—­all of it soothed his soul, and he felt his permanent reservoir of tension emptying just a little. He’d definitely been born with an affinity for water. Once, noticing that he was doing something with his left hand, a teammate had asked him if he was ambidextrous, to which an instructor standing nearby had retorted, “No, he’s amphibious.” That was close to God’s truth: give him gills, and he’d have been a happy camper.

  He’d grown up around Pensacola, so he couldn’t
remember a time in his life when the ocean hadn’t felt as if it were a part of him. The Potomac was a far cry from the Gulf of Mexico, but any water would do. Hell, he’d be content paddling around a lake in a canoe—­for a little while, anyway; then he’d start itching for some action. There was nothing like blowing shit up or getting shot at to give a man a real jolt of adrenaline.

  He went onboard the Shark, feeling the familiarity of the boat wrap around him. Because he respected the water as much as he loved it, he checked the gas and oil, the battery, the radio, and the bilge pump. He got his tackle from the locked storage and checked it. He checked that he had his cell phone, though he knew damn well that he did; same with the knife in his pocket, the pistol in the holster at the small of his back, plus the backup on his right ankle and the backup to the backup in the bottom of his tackle box. Everything was a go.

  He freed the Shark from its moorings, then slid into the seat and turned the ignition key; the reliable motor fired up immediately. He turned his cap around backward on his head, reversed out of the boat slip, and turned the steering wheel toward freedom. The choppy water reflected the blue of the sky today, with murky green depths sliding along below him. He felt every bounce and slap of the hull on the surface, then the ride smoothed out as he gained speed.

  Man, this was the life. Now if he could just haul in some fish—­for bragging rights if nothing else, so he could rub his success in Kodak’s face—­he would count this a damn good day.

  Even though he was just going fishing, he couldn’t turn off the habits ingrained by sixteen years of intensive training, live combat, and plain old feral instinct. He hadn’t reached the age of thirty-­four without learning how to stay alive. He gave the water the same attention he’d given the parking lot; his head constantly swiveled back and forth as he studied everything rushing by on both sides of the boat. He noticed every craft on the water, who and how many were on board each craft, what they were doing, how fast they were going and in what direction. He noticed if anyone paid any particular attention to him, which almost no one did, because there was nothing flashy about the Shark.

 
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