Diamond bay, p.9
Diamond Bay, page 9
“Sit down so I can reach you better,” she said, taking the shirt from his hand. He held the corner of the cabinets for support as he slowly limped to the table in the dining alcove and eased himself down onto one of the chairs. Rachel carefully worked the shirt up his arm, a look of intent concentration on her face as she tried not to jostle his shoulder. When she had it in place she said, “Put your other arm in the sleeve while I keep it from pulling on your shoulder.”
Without a word he did as she directed, and together they pulled the shirt over his head. Rachel tugged it into place, much as a mother would dress a toddler, but the man sitting motionless under her ministrations was no child in any sense she could imagine. She didn’t linger over the chore, well aware of his dislike for having to rely on her aid. Briskly she got the bread out of the oven and put it in the napkin-lined breadbasket, then placed the basket on the table and took her own chair. “Are you left-handed or right-handed?” she asked, not looking at him, even though she could feel the burning energy of his gaze on her face.
“The spoon could be difficult for you to handle if you were left-handed,” she replied, nodding at the stew. “Would you like bread?”
He was very good at one-word sentences, she thought as she put the bread on his plate. Actually, she should have thought of asking him if he could handle the razor, too, but his clean-shaven face said that he evidently could. They ate in silence for a few moments, and he really did justice to the stew. She hadn’t expected his appetite to be so good so early in his recovery.
The bowl was nearly empty when he put his spoon down and pinned her with the ebony fire of his eyes. “Tell me what’s going on.”
It was a demand that Rachel didn’t feel like meeting. Carefully she put her own spoon down. “I think it’s my turn to ask a few questions. Who are you? What’s your name?”
He didn’t like the counterdemand. She sensed his displeasure, though his expression didn’t flicker. The hesitation lasted for barely a second, but she noticed it and had the immediate impression that he wasn’t going to answer. Then he drawled, “Call me ‘Joe’.”
“I can’t do that,” she replied. “‘Joe’ is what I call the dog, because he wouldn’t tell me his name, either. Make up another one.” Driven by the electric surge of tension in the air she began clearing off the table, moving swiftly and automatically.
He watched her for a moment, then said quietly, “Sit down.”
Rachel didn’t pause. “Why? Do I have to be sitting down to listen to more lies?”
“Rachel, sit down.” He didn’t raise his voice, didn’t change the calm, dead-level inflection of his tone, but suddenly it was a command. She stared at him for a moment, then lifted her chin and returned to her chair. When she merely waited in silence, looking at him, he gave a little sigh.
“I appreciate your help, but the less you know, the better it is for you.”
Rachel had always hated it when anyone presumed to know what was best for her and what wasn’t. “I see. Was I not supposed to notice that you had two bullet holes in you when I pulled you out of the surf? Was I supposed to turn my head when two men pretending to be FBI agents came looking for you, and just turn you over to them? Was it supposed to pass my notice that you held a knife to my throat this morning? I’m a little curious, I admit! I’ve nursed you for four days, and I really would like to know your name, if that isn’t too much to ask!”
One level black brow lifted at her sarcasm. “It could be.”
“All right, forget it. Play your little games. You don’t answer my questions and I won’t answer yours. Deal?”
He watched her for a little longer, and Rachel kept her gaze level, not backing down an inch. “My name is Sabin,” he finally said, the words slowly drawn out of him, as if he begrudged every syllable.
She absorbed the name’s sound, her mind lingering over the feel and form of it. “And the rest of it?”
“Is it important?”
“No. But I’d like to know, anyway.”
He paused only a fraction of a second. “Kell Sabin.”
She held out her hand. “Glad to meet you, Kell Sabin.”
Slowly he took her hand, his callused palm sliding against her softer one and his hard, warm fingers wrapping around hers. “Thank you for taking care of me. I’ve been here four days?”
“This is the fourth day.”
“Fill me in on what’s happened.”
He had the manner of a man accustomed to command; rather than requesting, he ordered, and it was clear that he expected his orders to be obeyed. Rachel pulled her hand from his, disturbed by his warm touch and the shivery way it affected her. Clasping her fingers together to dispel the tingling in them, she rested her hands on the table. “I pulled you out of the water and brought you here. I think you hit your head on one of the rocks that line the mouth of the bay. You had a concussion and were in shock. The bullet was still in your shoulder.”
He frowned. “I know. Did you take it out?”
“Not me. I called the vet.”
At least something could startle him, though the expression was quickly gone. “A veterinarian?”
“I had to do something, and a doctor has to report all gunshot wounds.”
He eyed her thoughtfully. “You didn’t want it reported?”
“I thought you might not want it reported.”
“You thought right. What happened then?”
“I took care of you. You were out of it for two days. Then you started waking up, but the fever had you out of your head. You didn’t know what was going on.”
“And the FBI agents?”
“They weren’t FBI. I checked.”
“What did they look like?”
Rachel began to feel as if she were being interrogated. “The one who calls himself Lowell is thin, dark, about five foot ten, early forties. The other one, Ellis, is tall, good-looking in a toothpaste-ad sort of way, sandy-brown hair, blue eyes.”
“Ellis,” he said, as if to himself.
“I played dumb. It seemed the safest thing to do until you woke up. Are they friends of yours?”
Silence fell between them. Rachel studied her hands, waiting for another question. When none came she tried one of her own. “Should I have called the police?”
“It would have been safer for you if you had.”
“I took a calculated risk. I figured the odds were more in my favor than yours.” She took a deep breath. “I’m a civilian, but I used to be an investigative reporter. I saw some things in those days that didn’t add up, and I did a little digging, found out some things before I was warned not to go any deeper. You could have been a drug runner or an escaped convict, but there wasn’t any hint of anything like that on the scanner. You could also have been an agent. You had been shot twice. You were unconscious and couldn’t protect yourself or tell me anything. If… people…were hunting you, you wouldn’t have had a chance in a hospital.”
His lashes had dropped, shielding his expression. “You’ve got quite an imagination.”
“Haven’t I,” she agreed mildly.
He leaned back in his chair, wincing a little as he tried to get his shoulder comfortable. “Who else knows I’m here, other than the vet?”
“Then how did you get me up here? Or did the vet help you? You’re not Superwoman.”
“I put you on a quilt and dragged you up here, with help from the dog. Maybe he thought it was a game.” Her gray eyes darkened as she thought of the Herculean effort she had made to get him inside the house. “When Honey got here, we lifted you onto the bed.”
“The vet. Honey Mayfield.”
Sabin watched her quiet face, wondering at what she wasn’t
They both heard the approaching car at the same time. Instantly she was out of her chair, her hand on his shoulder. “Go to the bedroom and close the door,” she said evenly, not noticing the way his eyebrows lifted at her order. She went to the window and looked out; then the tension visibly left her body.
“It’s Honey. Everything’s okay. I guess she stayed away as long as her curiosity would let her.”
“HOW’S THE HEADACHE?” the veterinarian asked, peering into his eyes. She was a big, strong-boned woman with a friendly, freckled face and a light touch. Sabin decided that he liked her; she had a good bedside manner.
“Hanging in there,” he grunted.
“Help me get his shirt off,” she said to Rachel, and the two women gently and efficiently stripped him. He was glad that he’d chosen to wear the cutoffs, or they would have had his pants off, too. He didn’t have any modesty to worry about, but it still disconcerted him to be handled like a Barbie doll. He dispassionately observed the purpled, puckered skin around the stitches in his leg, wondering about the extent of the muscle damage. It was essential that he be able to do more than hobble, and soon. The damage to his shoulder, with its complex system of muscle and tendons, was likely to be more permanent, but mobility was his greatest concern at the moment. Once he had decided what course of action to take he would need to move fast.
Fresh bandages were applied, and he was put back inside his shirt. “I’ll be back in a couple of days to take out the stitches,” Honey said, repacking her bag. It struck Sabin that not once had she asked his name or any other question that didn’t deal with his physical well-being. Either she was remarkably incurious or she had decided that the less she knew, the better. It was a view that he wished Rachel shared. Sabin had always made it a rule not to involve innocent citizens; his work was too dangerous, and though he knew the risks of his job and accepted them, there was really no way Rachel could comprehend the extent of the risk she was taking in helping him.
Rachel went out with Honey, and Sabin hobbled to the door to watch as they stood by Honey’s car, talking in low voices. The dog, Joe, took up a position at the foot of the steps, a low growl working in his throat as he turned first to watch Sabin at the door, then back to Rachel, as if he couldn’t decide where to place his attention. His foremost instinct was to guard Rachel, but those same instincts couldn’t allow him to ignore Sabin’s alien presence at the door.
Honey got in the car and drove off, and after a final wave Rachel walked back to the porch. “Calm down,” she admonished the dog softly, daring to give him a swift touch on the neck. His growl intensified, and she looked up to see Sabin coming out on the porch.
“Don’t come too close to him,” she warned. “He doesn’t like men.”
Sabin regarded the dog with remote curiosity. “Where did you get him? He’s a trained attack dog.”
Astonished, Rachel looked down at Joe, standing so close by her leg. “He just wandered up one day, all skinny and beat-up. We reached an understanding. I feed him, and he stays around. He’s not an attack dog.”
“Joe,” Sabin said sharply. “Heel.”
She felt the animal quiver as if he’d been struck, and blood-chilling snarls worked up from his throat as he stared at the man, every muscle in his big body quivering as if he longed to launch himself at his enemy but was chained to Rachel’s side. Before she thought of the danger she went down on one knee and put her arm around his neck, talking softly to him in reassurance. “It’s all right,” she crooned. “He won’t hurt you, I promise. Everything’s all right.”
When Joe was calmer Rachel went up on the porch and deliberately stroked Sabin’s arm, letting the dog see her. Sabin watched Joe, unafraid of the dog, but not pushing him, either. He needed to have Joe accept him, at least enough to let him leave the house without attacking.
“He was probably abused by his owner,” he said. “You’re lucky he didn’t have you for breakfast the first time you walked out of the house.”
“I think you’re wrong. It’s a possibility that he was a guard dog, but I don’t think he was trained to attack. You owe him a lot. If it hadn’t been for him, I couldn’t have gotten you up from the beach.” Suddenly she realized that her hand was still on his arm, slowly moving up and down, and she let her arm fall to her side. “Are you ready to go back inside? You must be tired by now.”
“In a minute.” He slowly surveyed the pine thicket to the right and the road that curved away to the left, committing distances and details to memory for future use. “How far are we from a main road?”
“About five or six miles, I guess. This is a private road. It joins the road from Rafferty’s ranch before it runs into U.S. 19.”
“Which way is the beach?”
She pointed to the pine thicket. “Down through the pines.”
“Do you have a boat?”
Rachel looked at him, her gray eyes very clear. “No. The only means of escape are on foot or driving.”
The faintest smile lifted one corner of his mouth. “I wasn’t going to steal your car.”
“Weren’t you? I still don’t know what’s going on, why you were shot, or even if you’re a good guy.”
“With those doubts, why haven’t you called the police?” he returned, his voice cool. “I obviously wasn’t wearing a white hat when you found me.”
He was going to stonewall it to the end, the ultimate professional, alone and unemotional. Rachel accepted that she wasn’t entitled to full knowledge of his situation, even though she had saved his life, but she would very much like to know that she had done the right thing. Though she had acted on her instincts, the uncertainty was gnawing at her. Had she saved a rogue agent? An enemy of her country? What would she do if it turned out to be that way? The worst part of it was the undeniable and growing attraction she felt for him, even against her own better judgment.
He didn’t say anything else, and she didn’t respond to his provoking mention of his lack of clothing when she’d found him. She glanced at Joe and turned to open the screen door. “I’m getting out of this heat. You can take your chances with Joe if you want to stay out here.”
Sabin followed her inside, measuring the unyielding straightness of her back. She was angry, but she was also disturbed. He would have liked to reassure her, but the hard truth was that the less she knew, the safer she was. He had no way of protecting her in his present condition and circumstances. The fact that she was protecting him, willingly endangering herself even though her guesses ranged uncomfortably close to the truth, did something unwanted to his insides. Hell, he thought in disgust at himself, everything about her did something to his insides. He was already familiar with the scent of her flesh and the tender, startlingly intimate touch of her hands. His body still felt the press of hers against him, making him want to reach out and pull her back. He had never needed another human being’s closeness, except for the physical closeness required for sex. He eyed her bare, slender legs and softly rounded buttocks; the sexual urge was there, all right, and damned strong, considering his general ph
He leaned in the doorway and watched as she efficiently finished cleaning the dishes. There was a brisk, economical grace to her movements, even while she was doing such a mundane task. Everything was organized and logical. She wasn’t a fussy woman. Even her clothing was plain and unadorned, though her beige shorts and simple blue cotton shirt didn’t need any adornment other than the soft feminine curves beneath them. Again he was aware of the tantalizing image of those curves, just as if he knew how she looked naked, had already had his hands on her.
“Why are you staring?” she asked without looking at him. She had been as aware of his gaze as she would have been of his touch.
“Sorry.” He didn’t explain, but, then, he doubted that she would really want to know. “I’m going back to bed. Will you help me with the shirt?”
“Of course.” She wiped her hands on a towel and went ahead of him to the bedroom. “Let me change the sheets first.”
Fatigue pulled at him as he leaned against the dresser to ease the strain of his weight on his left leg. His shoulder and leg throbbed, but the pain was to be expected, so he ignored it. The real problem was his lack of strength; he wouldn’t be able to protect Rachel or himself if anything happened. Did he dare remain here while he healed? His brooding gaze remained fixed on her as she put fresh linens on the bed, his available options running through his mind. Those options were severely limited. He had no money, no identification, and he didn’t dare call to be picked up, because he had no idea of the extent to which the agency had been compromised, or who he could trust. He wasn’t in any shape to do anything anyway; he had to recuperate, so it might as well be here. The small house had its advantages: the dog outside was a damned good defense; the locks were strong; he had food and medical care.
There was also Rachel.
Looking at her was easy; it could become an uncontrollable habit. She was slim and healthy-looking, with a honeyed tan that made her skin look luscious. Her hair was thick and straight and shiny, a dark ash-brown so completely lacking in any warm highlights that it almost had a silvery sheen. It went well with her wide, clear, lake-gray eyes. She wasn’t tall, less than medium height, but she carried herself so straight that she gave the impression of being a tall woman. And she was soft, with rounded breasts that nestled into his palms….
by Linda Howard / Romance / Mystery & Thrillers have rating 4 out of 5 / Based on32 votes