Diamond bay, p.4
Diamond Bay, page 4
Honey set the two grocery sacks on the floor and watched as Rachel carefully locked the front door again. “What’s going on?” she demanded, planting her strong, freckled fists on her hips. “Why am I disguising my bag as quilting squares?”
“In here,” Rachel said, leading the way to her bedroom. He still wasn’t moving, except for the regular motion of his chest as he breathed. “He’s been shot,” she said, going down on her knees beside him.
The healthy color washed out of Honey’s face, leaving her freckles as bright spots on her nose and cheekbones. “My God, what’s going on here? Who is he? Have you called the sheriff? Who shot him?”
“I don’t know, to answer three of those questions,” Rachel said tensely, not looking at Honey. She kept her eyes trained on the man’s face, willing him to open his eyes, wishing he could give her the answers to the questions Honey had asked. “And I’m not going to call the sheriff.”
“What do you mean, you’re not going to call?” Honey fairly shouted, shaken out of her usual calm capability by the sight of a naked man on Rachel’s bedroom floor. “Did you shoot him?”
“Of course not! He washed up on the beach!”
“All the more reason to call the sheriff!”
“I can’t!” Rachel lifted her head, her eyes fierce and strangely calm. “I can’t risk his life that way.”
“Have you lost your sense of reason? He needs a doctor, and the sheriff needs to investigate why he was shot! He could be an escaped felon, or a drug runner. Anything!”
“I know that.” Rachel drew a deep breath. “But the shape he’s in, I don’t think I’m taking that much of a risk. He’s helpless. And if things aren’t that…cut and dried…he wouldn’t stand a chance in a hospital where someone could get to him.”
Honey put her hand to her head. “I don’t understand what you’re talking about,” she said wearily. “What do you mean, ‘cut and dried’? And why do you think someone would try to get to him? To finish the job they started?”
“Then it’s a job for the sheriff!”
“Listen,” Rachel said insistently. “When I was a reporter, I saw some things that were…strange. I was on the scene one night when a body was found. The man had been shot in the back of the head. The sheriff of that county did his report, the body was taken in for identification, but when the one-paragraph report appeared in the newspaper two days later it said that he had died of natural causes! In a way, I suppose it is natural to die of a bullet in the brain, but it made me curious, and I poked around a little, looking for the file. The file had disappeared. The coroner’s office had no record of a man who had been shot in the head. Finally the word filtered down to me to stop snooping, that certain people in government had taken care of the matter and wanted it dropped.”
“This doesn’t make any sense,” Honey muttered.
“The man was an agent!”
“What sort of agent? DEA? FBI? What?”
“You’re on the right track, but go deeper.”
“A spy? You’re saying he was a spy?”
“He was an agent. I don’t know for which side, but the entire thing was hushed up and doctored out of existence. After that I started noticing other things that weren’t quite what they seemed. I’ve seen too much to simply assume that this man will be safe if I turn him over to the authorities!”
“You think he’s an agent?” Honey stared down at him, her brown eyes wide.
Rachel willed herself to answer calmly. “I think there’s a chance of it, and I think we’d be risking his life to turn him over to the sheriff. It would be a matter of public record then, and anyone hunting for him would be able to find him.”
“He could still be a drug runner. You could be risking your life by protecting him.”
“That’s a possibility,” Rachel admitted. “But he’s wounded, and I’m not. He doesn’t have any chance at all, except what I can give him. If the DEA has busted up a drug ring there’ll be something about it on the scanner, or in the newspaper. If he’s an escaped felon it’ll be on the news. He’s not in any condition to hurt anyone, so I’m safe.”
“And if a drug deal has gone sour, and some other unsavory characters are after him? You wouldn’t be safe then, from either him or the others.”
“That’s a chance I’ll have to take,” Rachel said quietly, her gray eyes level as she met Honey’s worried gaze. “I know all the possibilities, and I know the risks. I may be seeing shadows where there aren’t any, but think how terrible it would be for him if I’m right.”
Honey drew a deep breath and tried again. “It just isn’t likely that a wounded spy would wash up on your beach. Things like that don’t happen to normal people, and you’re still within the bounds of normalcy, even if you are a little eccentric.”
Rachel couldn’t believe what she was hearing, from Honey of all people, who was usually the most logical person in the state. The night’s events were rattling everyone. “It isn’t likely that a wounded man would wash up on my beach period, regardless of his occupation! But he did! He’s here, and he needs help. I’ve done what I can, but he needs medical attention. He still has a bullet in his shoulder. Honey, please!”
If possible, Honey went even whiter. “You want me to take care of him? He needs a doctor! I’m a veterinarian!”
“I can’t call a doctor! Doctors are required to report all gunshot wounds to the police. You can do it. No vital organs are involved. It’s his shoulder and his leg, and I think he has a concussion. Please.”
Honey glanced down at the naked man and bit her lip. “How did you get him up here?”
“Joe and I pulled him, on this quilt.”
“If he has a severe concussion he may need surgery.”
“I know. I’ll handle that if it’s necessary. I’ll think of something.”
They were both silent for a few minutes, looking down at the man who lay so still and helpless at their feet. “All right,” Honey finally said, her voice soft. “I’ll do what I can. Let’s get him up on the bed.”
That was as difficult as getting him up from the beach had been. Because Honey was larger and stronger, she got him under the shoulders, while Rachel slid one arm under his hips and the other under his thighs. As Rachel had noted before, he was a big man, and roped with muscles, which meant that he weighed more for his size than a less muscular man would have. He was also deadweight, and they had to be careful of his injuries. “Good God,” Honey panted. “How did you manage to get him up that slope and into the house, even with Joe’s help?”
“I had to do it,” Rachel said, because that was the only explanation she had.
Finally they got him on the bed, and Rachel slumped to the floor, totally exhausted by the night’s efforts. Honey bent over the man, her freckled face intent as she examined him.
IT WAS THREE o’clock in the morning. Honey had left half an hour before, and Rachel had held her weariness at bay long enough to take another much needed shower and wash the salt out of her hair. The heat of the day had finally abated enough that the air was comfortable, but soon it would be sunrise, and the heat would begin to build once more. She needed to sleep now, while she could, but her hair was wet. Sighing, she propped herself against the vanity and turned on the blow-dryer.
The man was still asleep, or unconscious. He was definitely concussed, but Honey hadn’t thought it was severe, or that he was in a coma; rather, she’d decided that his continued unconsciousness was due to a combination of fatigue, loss of blood, shock and the blow to his head. She had taken the bullet out of his shoulder, stitched and bandaged his wounds and given him a tetanus injection and an antibiotic; then she and Rachel had cleaned him up, changed the bedding and made him as comfortable as they could. Once she had decided to help, Honey had become her usual capable, unflustered self, for which Rachel wo
Her hair dry, she put on the clean shirt she had brought into the bathroom with her. The face in the mirror didn’t look like her own, and she stared at it curiously, noting the colorless skin and the mauve shadows under eyes dark with fatigue. She was punch-drunk from weariness, and she knew it. It was time to go to bed. The only problem was: where?
The man was in her bed, the only bed in the house. She didn’t have a regular-sized couch, only two matching love seats. There was always the possibility of making a pallet on the floor, but she was so tired that even the thought of the effort involved was almost beyond her. Leaving the bathroom, she stared at her neat bed with its snowy white sheets, and at the man who lay so quietly between those sheets.
She needed to sleep, and she needed to be close to him so she could hear him if he awoke. She was a thirty-year-old widow, not a trembling ingenue; the most sensible thing to do would be to crawl into bed beside him so she could rest. After staring at him for just a moment longer she made her decision and turned out the lights, then went around to the other side of the bed and slipped carefully between the sheets, trying not to jostle him. She couldn’t prevent a low moan as her tired muscles finally relaxed, and she turned on her side to put her hand on his arm, so she would wake up if he became restless. Then she slept.
It was hot when she awoke, and she was drenched in sweat. Alarm flared briefly when she opened her eyes and saw the dark masculine face on the pillow next to hers; then she remembered and rose on her elbow to look at him. Despite the heat he wasn’t sweating, and his breathing seemed a little too fast. Quick concern rose in her; she sat up and put her hand on his face, feeling the heat there. He moved his head restlessly, away from her touch. He was feverish, which wasn’t unexpected.
Quickly Rachel got out of bed, noticing that it was past noon. No wonder the house was so hot! She opened windows and turned on the ceiling fans to get some of the hot air out of the house before she turned on the air conditioner to cool things even more. She didn’t use it that much, but her patient needed to be cooled down.
She had to take care of him before anything could be done. She dissolved two aspirin in a teaspoon of water, then gently lifted his head, trying not to jar him. “Open your mouth,” she crooned, as if he were a baby. “Swallow this for me. Then I’ll let you rest.” His head lay heavily against her shoulder, his black eyelashes still resting on his cheeks. His hair was thick and silky beneath her fingers, and warm, reminding her of his fever. She put the spoon against his mouth, noting the clear-cut line of his lips; the spoon pressed down on his bottom lip, opening it just a little. “Come on,” she whispered. “Open your mouth.”
How many levels of consciousness were there? Did he hear her voice? Make sense of the words? Or was it just the low, tender tone that got through to him? Was it her touch? The warm, sleepy scent of her flesh? Something reached him. He tried to turn toward her, his head nuzzling against her shoulder, and his mouth opened a little. Her heart pounded in her chest as she coaxed him to swallow, hoping that he wouldn’t choke. It worked so well that she managed to get three more teaspoons of water down him before he lapsed back into deeper unconsciousness.
She wet a washcloth in cold water, folded it and placed it across his brow, then turned the sheet back until it was low across his hips and began sponging him down with the cold water. Slowly, almost mechanically, she drew the wet cloth over his chest and shoulders and down his powerful arms, then to his lean, hard belly, where the hair on his chest narrowed to a thin, silky line. Rachel drew a deep breath, aware of the slight trembling in her body. He was beautiful. She had never seen a more beautiful man.
She hadn’t let herself think about it the night before, when it had been important to get help for him and tend to his wounds, but she had realized even then how attractive he was. His features were even and well formed, his nose thin and straight above the mouth she had just touched. That mouth was firm and strong, with a finely chiseled upper lip that hinted of determination and perhaps even ruthlessness, while his lower lip curved with disturbing sensuality. His chin was square, his jaw firm and darkened with a stubble of black beard. His hair was like thick black silk, the color of coal and without any blue shininess to it. His skin was darkened with an allover tan, a deep, olive-bronze hue.
He was very muscular, without having the off-putting bulk of a body-builder. His were the muscles of hard work and physical exercise, the muscles of a man trained for both strength and speed. Rachel picked up one of his hands, cradling it between both of hers. His hands were long fingered and lean, the strength in them apparent even though he was completely limp. His nails were short and well tended. Lightly she felt the calluses on his palm and fingertips; and she felt something else, as well: the hardness of his flesh on the outside edge of his hand. Her breath became shorter, and wariness prickled along her spine again. Cradling his hand against her cheek, she reached out tentatively and touched the scar on his flat belly, a curving, silvery line that almost glowed against the darkness of his tan. It went across his stomach and around his right side, curving down out of view. That wasn’t a surgical scar. She went cold, visualizing the terrible ferocity and viciousness of a knife fight. He must have whirled away from the blade, leaving it to slice his side and back.
A man with a scar like that, and with those tell-tale calluses on his hands, wasn’t an ordinary man working an ordinary job. No ordinary man could have swum to shore wounded the way he was; that had required incredible strength and determination. How far had he swum? She hadn’t been able to see any lights at sea, she remembered. She looked at his hard, lean face and shivered at the thought of the mental toughness hidden behind his closed eyelids. Yet for all his toughness, he was helpless now; his survival depended on her. She had made the decision to hide him, so it was up to her to nurse and protect him as best she could. Her instincts told her that she had made the right decision, but the uneasiness wouldn’t leave her until she had some hard facts to back up her intuition.
The aspirin and sponging had lowered his fever, and he seemed to be sleeping deeply, though she wondered how to tell the difference between sleep and unconsciousness. Honey had promised to come by again that day and check him, to make certain the concussion wasn’t worse than she had first thought. There was nothing else Rachel could do, except go about her normal business.
She brushed her teeth and combed her hair, then changed into khaki shorts and a sleeveless white cotton shirt. She started to change in her bedroom, as she normally did, then cast a quick glance at the sleeping man in her bed. Feeling foolish, she went into the bathroom and closed the door. B.B. had been dead for five years, and she wasn’t used to having a man around, especially a stranger.
She closed the windows and turned on the air conditioning, then stepped outside. Ebenezer Duck and his band of waddling followers rushed up to her, with Ebenezer squawking his displeasure at having to wait so long for the grain she usually scattered first thing in the morning. Ebenezer was the grouchiest goose living, she was sure, but there was a certain majesty about him, so big and fat and white, and she liked his eccentricities. Joe came around the back corner of the house and stood watching as she fed the geese, keeping his distance from them as he always did. Rachel poured Joe’s food in his bowl and filled his water dish with fresh water, then stepped away. He never approached while she was still near his food.
She gathered the ripe tomatoes from her small garden and checked the bean vines; the green beans would need gathering in another day or so. By that time her stomach was rumbling emptily, and she realized that it was hours past her normal breakfast time. Her entire schedule was shot, and there didn’t seem to be much point in trying to regain it. How could she c
She went inside and checked on him, but he hadn’t moved. She freshened the wet cloth and replaced it on his brow, then turned her attention to her growling stomach. It was so hot that anything cooked seemed too heavy, so she settled for a sandwich of cold cuts and slices from one of the fresh tomatoes she had just picked. With a glass of iced tea in one hand and her sandwich in the other, she turned on the radio and sat down next to it to listen to the news. There was nothing unusual: the standard political maneuverings, both local and national; a house fire; a trial of local interest, followed by the weather, which promised more of the same. None of that offered even a glimmer of an explanation for the presence and condition of the man in her bedroom.
Switching to the scanner, she listened for almost an hour, but again there was nothing. It was a quiet day, the heat inducing most people to stay inside. There was nothing about any searches or drug busts. When she heard a car coming to a stop in front of her house she turned off the scanner and got up to look out the window. Honey was just getting out of her car, carrying still another grocery sack.
“How’s he doing?” she asked as soon as they were inside.
“He still hasn’t moved. He was feverish when I woke up, so I managed to get two aspirin and a little bit of water down him. Then I sponged him off.”
Honey went into the bedroom and carefully checked his pupil responses, then examined her handiwork on his shoulder and thigh and rebandaged the wounds. “I bought a new thermometer for this,” she muttered, shaking it down and putting it in his mouth. “I didn’t have one for humans.”
Rachel had been hovering worriedly. “How does he look?”
“His pupil responses are better, and the wounds look clean, but he’s a long way from being out of the woods. He’s going to be a sick man for several days. Actually, the longer he stays quiet like this, the better it is for him. He’s resting his head and not putting any stress on his shoulder or leg.”
by Linda Howard / Romance / Mystery & Thrillers have rating 4 out of 5 / Based on32 votes