Diamond Bay (Chapter Eleven)
And whatever they did, they talked. He was reticent about himself, both naturally and as a result of his training, but he did have a lot of fascinating inside details about the political and economic considerations of governments around the world. He probably also knew more than anyone would want him to know about military forces and capabilities, but he didn't talk about those. Rachel learned as much about him from his omissions as she did from the subjects he would talk about.
No matter what they did, whether weeding the garden, jogging around the house, cooking a meal or arguing politics, desire ran between them like an invisible current, linking them together in a state of heightened awareness. Her senses were filled with him; she knew his taste, his smell, his touch, every nuance of his deep voice. Because he was normally so expressionless she watched him closely for each small movement of his brows or twitch of his lips. Even though he was relaxed with her and smiled more often, sometimes teasing her, his laughter was rare, and therefore doubly treasured, the occasions pressed into her memory. Their desire couldn't be quenched by lovemaking, because it was more than a physical need. She immersed herself in him, knowing that she had only the present.
Still, physical desire couldn't be denied. Rachel had never been so thoroughly enjoyed before, even in the early days of marriage. Kell had a strong sexual appetite, and the more he made love to her, the more they both wanted it again. He was exquisitely careful with her until she became more accustomed to him, his lovemaking both sophisticated and earthy. There were times when they lingered, savoring each sensation like sexual gourmets until the tension was so strong that they exploded together. There were also the times when their loving was fast and hard, when there was no foreplay because their need to be together was too urgent.
The third day after he'd called Sullivan, Kell made love to her with barely controlled violence, and she knew that he was thinking this might be the last day they had together. She clung to him, her arms tight around his neck when he lay on her in heavy, damp exhaustion. A lump lodged in her throat, and she squeezed her eyes tightly shut in an effort to deny the march of time. She couldn't bear to let him go.
"Take rne with you," she said thickly, unable to let it lie, to simply let him walk away from her. Rachel was too much of a fighter to let him go without trying to change his mind.
He stiffened, then withdrew from her to lie on his back beside her, his forearm thrown up to cover his eyes. The ceiling fan whirred overhead, wafting a cool breeze across their overheated skin and making her feel a little chilled without the heat of his body pressed over her. She opened her eyes to stare at him, her gaze burning with desperation.
"No," he finally said, and left it at that, the single word filled with a finality that almost broke her heart.
"Something could be worked out," she pressed. "At worst we could see each other occasionally. I'm mobile. I can work anywhere!"
"Rachel," he interrupted tiredly. "No. Leave it." He took his forearm down from his eyes and looked at her. Though his expression changed very little, she could tell that he was annoyed by her persistence. She was too desperate to stop. "How can I leave it? I love you! This isn't a game I'm playing, that I can just pick up my marbles and go home when I get tired of it!"
"Damn it, I'm not playing games, either!" he roared, bolting upright in the bed and seizing her arm to shake her, finally goaded past his limits. His eyes were hot and narrowed, his teeth clenched. "You could be killed because of me! Didn't it teach you anything when your husband died?"
She went pale, staring at him. "I could be killed driving into town," she finally said shakily. "Would that make me any less dead? Would you grieve any less?" Suddenly she stopped, wrenching her arm free and rubbing it where his fingers had bitten into her flesh. She was so white that her eyes burned darkly in her colorless face. Finally she said with an attempt at lightness, "Or would you grieve at all? I'm being rather presumptuous, aren't I? Maybe I'm the only one involved here. If so, just forget everything I've said."
Silence stretched between them as they faced each other on the bed; her face was strained, his grim. He wasn't going to say anything. Rachel inhaled sharply at the pain squeezing her insides. Well, she'd asked for it. She'd pushed him, fighting to change his mind, to get a commitment from him, and she had lost… everything. She had thought that he cared for her, loved her, even though he'd never said anything about love. She had put it down to his natural reticence. Now she had to face the unpleasant truth that it was his brutal honesty that had kept him from saying he loved her. He wouldn't spout pretty words that he didn't mean just to soothe her feelings. He liked her. She was a reasonably attractive woman, and she was convenient; he was highly sexed. The reason for his attentions was obvious, and she'd made a complete fool of herself.
The worst of it was that even facing the hard, unpalatable reality didn't stop her from loving him. That was another reality, and she couldn't wish it away.
"Sorry," she mumbled, scrambling off the bed and reaching for her clothes, suddenly embarrassed by her nudity. It was different now.
Sabin watched her, every muscle coiled tightly. The look on her face ate at him, the abrupt embarrassment, the sudden extinguishing of the light in her eyes as she fumbled with her clothing in an attempt to cover herself. He could let her go. She might get over him more easily if she thought he had just used her sexually, without returning any of her emotion. Emotion made Sabin uneasy; he wasn't accustomed to it. But damned if he could stand that look on her face! Maybe he couldn't give her much, but he couldn't leave with her thinking she'd been nothing more than a sexual convenience.
Rachel was out of the room before he could catch her, and then he heard the screen door slam. Going to the door, he saw her disappearing into the pines with Joe right beside her, as usual. He cursed steadily as he jerked on his pants and started after her. She wasn't going to be inclined to listen to him now, but listen she would even if he had to hold her down.
When Rachel reached the beach she kept walking, wondering how she was going to find the courage to go back to the house and act as if everything were normal, as if she weren't a shriveled knot of pain inside. Still, it was probably only for one more day; she could manage that. She could endure it for twenty-four hours. Part of her was glad that it could be measured in hours; then she could forget about a stiff upper lip and cry until the tears were all gone. But the rest of her screamed silently at the thought of not seeing him again, no matter what he feltor didn't feelfor her.
A pastel pink shell was half-hidden by a clump of seaweed, and she paused to push the seaweed aside with her foot, hoping to find something beautiful to lighten her heart.
But the shell was broken, most of it gone, and she kept walking. Joe left her side, trotting up the beach to do his own exploring; he had been changed by Kell's arrival, too, for the first time allowing a man to touch him and learning to accept someone other than Rachel. She watched the dog, wondering if he would miss Kell, too.
A warm hand closed on her shoulder, bringing her to a halt. Even without looking around she knew it was Kell; she knew his touch, the rasp of his roughened fingertips. She felt him at her back, tall and warm, so intense that her skin tingled whenever he was near. All she had to do was turn around and her head would fit right into the hollow of his shoulder, her body would fit into his arms, but he wouldn't allow her to fit into his life. She didn't want to treat him to tears and hysterics, and she was very much afraid she would if she turned around, so she kept her back to him. "This isn't easy for me, either," he said roughly.
"I'm sorry," she broke in, wanting to make a quick end to it. "I didn't mean to start a scene, or put you on the spot. Just forget it, if you can."
His hand tightened on her shoulder, and he turned her around, sliding his other hand into her hair and tilting her face up so he could see her eyes. "Don't you see that it couldn't work between us? I can't leave my job. What I do… it's hard and it's ugly, but it's necessary."
"I haven't asked you to give up your job," she said, her face proud.
"It's not the damn job I'm worried about!" he shouted, his dark face furious. "It's you! God, it would tear my guts out if anything happened to you! I love you." He paused, took a deep breath, and continued more quietly. "I've never said that to anyone before, and I shouldn't be saying it now, because there's no use in it."
The wind whipped her hair around her face as she stared up at him, her gray eyes fathomless. Slowly his fist loosened in her hair and he moved his hand down to her neck, rubbing his thumb over the fluttering pulse at the base of her throat. Rachel swallowed. "We could try it for a little while," she whispered, but he shook his head.
"I want to know that you're safe. I have to know that, or I can't function the way I should. I can't make a mistake, because if I did it could mean that people died, good men and women. And if you were kidnapped!" He stopped, his face almost savage. "I'd sell my soul to keep you safe."
Rachel felt herself shattering on the inside. "No, it can't be like that. No negotiation!"
"I love you," he said harshly. "I've never loved anyone before in my life, not my parents, any of my relatives, or even my wife. I've always been alone, different from everyone else. The only friend I've ever had is Sullivan, and he's as much of a lobo as I am. Do you really think I could sacrifice you? Sweet hell, woman, you're my one chance in a lifetime!" He broke off, a muscle in his jaw twitching as he stared at her. "And I don't dare take it," he finished quietly.
She understood, and she wished she didn't. Because he loved her, he didn't trust himself not to betray his country if she were kidnapped and used as a weapon against him. He wasn't like people who had loved before and would love again; he was too remote, too chillingly alone. For whatever reason, whatever particular chemistry and circumstance, he loved her, and it was the only time in his life he would ever love a woman. Living with him would make her vulnerable to attack; merely loving her would make him vulnerable, because for a man such as he, love was something both wonderful and terrible.
He took her hand, and they walked silently back to the house. It was time for lunch; Rachel went into the kitchen with the intention of trying to busy herself cooking so she wouldn't be able to think. Kell leaned against the cabinets and watched her, his black eyes burning her flesh. Suddenly he reached out and caught her hand, removing the pot from her grasp and setting it back on the countertop. "Now," he said gutturally, pulling her toward the bedroom.
He stripped down her shorts but didn't take the time to remove her shirt; nor did he take the time to shed his pants, merely opening them and shoving them down. They didn't make it to the bed. He took her on the floor, so desperate to be inside her, to sheathe himself in her and eliminate all distance between them, that he couldn't wait. Rachel clung to him as he pounded into her, every inch of her flesh, every cell, branded by his possession. And even then they both knew it wouldn't be enough.
Late that afternoon she walked out to the garden to gather a few fresh peppers to add to the spaghetti sauce she was cooking. Kell was taking a shower, and Joe, oddly, was nowhere in sight. She started to call him, but decided that he must be asleep under the oleander bush, taking refuge from the heat. The temperature had to be pushing a hundred, and the humidity was high, prime conditions for a thunderstorm. With her hand full of peppers she crossed the small backyard to the house. Later she could never decide where he came from; there had been no one in sight, and no place for him to hide. But as she went up the back steps he was suddenly there behind her, his hand clamping over her mouth and jerking her head back. His other arm went around her in almost exactly the same movement Kell had used when he had jumped her from behind, but instead of a knife this man carried a gun clutched in his fist; it glinted in the sun with a dull blue sheen.
"Don't make a sound and I won't hurt you," the man murmured in her ear, his voice easy on consonants and pure liquid on the vowels. "I'm looking for a man. He's supposed to be in this house."
She clawed at his hand, trying to scream a warning even though Kell might still be in the shower and wouldn't be able to hear her. But what if Kell did hear her? He could be shot trying to help her. The thought paralyzed her, and she sagged against the man, struggling to organize her mind and think of something she could do. "Shhh, that's right," the man said in that low, soft voice that made chills run over her body. "Open the door now, and we'll go in nice and easy."
She didn't have any choice but to open the screen door. If he had wanted to kill her he already would have, but he could still easily knock her unconscious, and the end result would be the same: she would be unable to help Kell if the opportunity arose. The man pushed her up the back steps with his big body, holding her so securely against him that she couldn't struggle. She stared at the gun in his hand. If he tried to shoot Kell, she could hit his arm, throw off his aim. Where was Kell? She tried to listen for the shower, but her thundering heartbeat made a roaring in her ears that blotted out sound. Was he dressing? Had he heard the back door close? Even if he had, would he think anything of it? They relied on Joe to let them know if anyone was close by. Hard on the heels of that thought came another one, and pain welled in her again. Had he killed Joe? Was that why the dog hadn't come around the house when she went out to the garden?
Then Kell walked out of the bedroom, wearing only his jeans and carrying his shirt in his hand. He stopped, his face very still as he looked first at the man holding her, then at her terrified eyes above the hand clamped over her mouth. "You're scaring her to death," he said in a cool, controlled tone.
The hand over her mouth loosened, but the man didn't completely release her. "Is she yours?"
Then the big man let her go, gently setting her away from him. "You didn't tell me anything about a woman, so I wasn't taking any chances," he said to Kell, and Rachel realized who he was.
She held herself very still, fighting for control and taking slow, deep breaths until she thought she could speak without her voice trembling. "You must be Sullivan," she said with admirable calm as she gradually relaxed her clenched hands.
She didn't know what she'd expected, but it wasn't this. He and Kell were so much alike that it staggered her. It wasn't the way he looked, but they both had the same stillness about them, the same aura of power. He had sun-streaked, shaggy hair, and his eyes were as piercing and golden as an eagle's. A scar cut across his left cheekbone, testimony to some past battle. He was a warrior, lean and hard and dangerous… like Kell.
While she had been looking at him, he'd been giving her the same treatment, studying her while she struggled for control. One corner of his mouth kicked up in an almost-smile. "Sorry for scaring you, ma'am. I admire your self-control. Jane would've kicked me in the shins."
"She probably did," Kell commented, his tone still cool, but now with an undercurrent of amusement.
Sullivan's dark brows snapped down over his golden eyes. "No," he said dryly. "That wasn't where she kicked me."
That sounded like a fascinating story, but though Kell still looked amused, he didn't pursue it. "This is Rachel Jones," he said, holding out his hand to her in a quiet command. "She dragged me out of the ocean."
"Glad to meet you." Sullivan's drawl was soft and raspy as he watched Rachel immediately go to Kell in response to his outstretched hand.
"I'm glad to meet you, Mr. Sullivan… I think."
Kell gave her a brief, comforting touch, then began pulling on his shirt; it was an action that still caused him some difficulty, as his shoulder was stiff and sore. Sullivan looked at the tender, red, newly formed scar tissue where the bullet had torn into Rell's shoulder. "How much damage?" "I've lost some flexibility, but there's still some swelling. Part of it may return as the swelling goes down."
"Did you get it anywhere else?"
"Will it hold up?"
"It'll have to. I've been jogging, loosening it up."
Sullivan grunted. Rachel sensed the man's reluctance to talk freely in front of her, the same ingrained caution that characterized Kell. "Are you hungry, Mr. Sullivan? We're having spaghetti."
That wild-animal gaze turned on her. "Yes, ma'am. Thank you." The soft slurring of his drawl and the grave courtesy of his manners made such a contrast to the fierceness of his eyes that she felt off-balance. Why hadn't Kell warned her?
"I'll finish while you two talk, then. I must have dropped the peppers when you grabbed me," she said. She started toward the door, then turned back, distress in her eyes. "Mr. Sullivan?"
He and Kell were walking into the living room, and Sullivan stopped, looking back at her. "Ma'am?"
"My dog," she said, a faint trembling in her voice. "He's always there when I go outside. Why didn't he"
Understanding was in those wild golden eyes. "He's all right. I've got him tied up in that pine thicket. Had a helluva time outsmarting him. That's a nice animal."
Relief made her weak. "I'll go untie him, then. You didn't…hurt him in any way?"
"No, ma'am. He's about a hundred yards down, just to the left of that little trail."
She ran down the trail, her heart thudding; Joe was right where Sullivan had said he would be, tied securely to a tall pine, and the dog was furious. He even snarled at Rachel, but she talked softly to him and approached him at a slow, measured pace, calming him before she knelt beside him to untie the rope around his neck. Even then she kept talking, giving him small, quick pats, and the snarls diminished in his throat. Finally he accepted a hug from her, and for the first time gave her a welcoming lick. A lump rose in her throat. "Come on, let's go home," she said, getting to her feet.
She collected the peppers from where she had dropped them on the back steps and left Joe prowling around the house. She washed her hands and began preparing the sauce, listening to the quiet rumble of the men's voices from the living room. Now that she had met Sullivan she understood Kell's confidence in him. He was… incredible. And Kell was even more so. Seeing them together made her realize anew the caliber of the man she loved, and she reeled under the shock of that realization.
It was almost an hour before she called them to the table, and the sun was a fierce red ball low on the horizon, a reminder that now her time with Kell was truly running out. Or was it already gone? Would they be leaving soon?
Deliberately, to get her mind off her fears, she kept the conversation going. It was remarkably difficult, with both men being the way they were, until finally she hit on the right subject. "Kell told me that you're married, Mr. Sullivan."
He nodded, a curious lightening of his expression making him seem less formidable. "Jane is my wife." He said it as if everyone knew Jane.
"Do you have any children?"
There was no mistaking the look of intense pride that came over the hard, scarred face. "Twin sons. They're six months old."
For some reason Kell was looking amused again. "I didn't know twins ran in your family, Grant."
"They don't," Sullivan growled. "Or in Jane's, either. Even the damn doctor didn't know. She took everybody by surprise."
"That's not unusual," Kell said, and they looked at each other, grinning.
"The hell of it is, she went into labor two weeks early, in the middle of a snowstorm. All the roads were closed, and I couldn't get her to a hospital. I had to deliver them." For a moment there was a look of desperation in his eyes, and a faint sheen of perspiration broke out on his forehead. "Twins," he said faintly. "Damn. I told her not to ever do that to me again, but you know Jane."
Kell laughed out loud, his rare deep laugh making pleasure shimmer through Rachel. "Next time she'll probably have triplets."
Sullivan glared at him. "Don't even think it," he muttered.
Rachel lifted a forkful of spaghetti to her mouth. "I don't think it's Jane's fault that she had twins, or that it snowed."
"Logically, no," Sullivan admitted. "But logic flies out the window when Jane walks in the door."
"How did you meet her?"
"I kidnapped her," he said offhandedly, leaving Rachel gasping, because he offered no other explanation.
"How did you get away from her?" Kell asked, provoking another glare.
"It wasn't easy, but she couldn't leave the kids." Sullivan leaned back in his chair, an unholy light entering his eyes. "You're going to have to go back with me to explain."
Kell looked alarmed, then resigned; finally he grinned. "All right. I want to see you with these babies."
"They're already crawling. You have to watch where you step," the proud father said, grinning in return. "Their names are Dane and Daniel, but beats the hell out of me which one is which. Jane said we can let them decide when they get older."
That was it. The three of them looked at one another, and Rachel gulped helplessly. Kell made a rough choking sound. In a perfectly choreographed move three forks were laid down on the table and three people held their heads and laughed until they hurt.
Charles read the hastily gathered intelligence report on Rachel, frowning as he rubbed his forehead with one thin finger. According to both Agents Lowell and Ellis, Rachel Jones was a good-looking but otherwise ordinary woman, even though Ellis was enamored of her. Ellis was enamored of women in general, so that wasn't unusual. The problem was that the report painted her as anything but ordinary. She was a well educated, well traveled, multitalented woman, but again the problem went even deeper than that. She had been an investigative reporter of extraordinary talent, nerve and perseverance, which meant that she was more knowledgeable than the ordinary person about things that were usually kept from public knowledge. According to her record she had been very successful in her field. Her husband had been murdered by a car bomb meant for her when she began investigating a powerful politician's connection with illegal drugs; rather than backing down, as many people would have done, this Rachel Jones had kept after the politician and not only proved that he was involved with drug smuggling and dealing, she had proved that he was behind her husband's death. The politician was now serving a life sentence in prison.
This wasn't the rather unsophisticated woman Lowell and Ellis had described. What particularly troubled Charles was why she had projected such an image; she had to have a reason, but what was it? Why had she wanted to deceive them? For amusement, or had there been a more serious motivation?
Charles wasn't surprised that she had lied; in his experience most people lied. In his profession it was necessary to lie. What he didn't like was not knowing why, because the why of something was the heart of it.
Sabin had disappeared, possibly dead, though Charles couldn't convince himself of that. No trace of him had been found, not by Charles's men, a fishing trawler, a pleasure boater, or any law enforcement agency. Even though Sabin's boat had exploded there should have been some identifiably human remainsif Sabin had been on the boat. The only explanation was that he had gone overboard and swum for shore. It almost defied belief to think that he could actually have made it in his wounded condition, but this was Sabin, not some ordinary man. He had made it to shore, but where? Why hadn't he surfaced yet? No one had found a wounded man; no unaccounted for gunshot wounds had been reported to the police; he hadn't been admitted to any of the hospitals in the area. He had simply disappeared into thin air.
So, on the one hand he had Sabin, who had vanished. The only possibility was that someone was hiding him, but there were no clues. On the other hand, there was this Rachel Jones, who, like Sabin, was not ordinary. Her house was in the prime search area, the area where Sabin would have most likely made it to shore. Neither Lowell nor Ellis thought she had anything to hide, but they didn't know everything about her. She had projected a false image; she was more familiar than could have been suspected with undercover agents and tactics. But what reason could she have for acting like less than what she was… unless she had something to hide? More to the point, did she have someone to hide?
"Noelle," he said softly. "I want to talk to Lowell and Ellis. Immediately. Find them."
An hour later both men were sitting across from him. Charles folded his hands and smiled absently at them. "Gentlemen, I want to discuss this Rachel Jones. I want to know everything you can remember about her."
Ellis and Lowell exchanged looks; then Ellis shrugged. "She's a good-looking woman!"
"No, I am not interested in her looks. I want to know what she has said and done. When you searched the beach in her area and went up to her house, did you go inside?"
"No," Lowell replied.
"She's got this damned big guard dog who hates men. He won't let a man in the yard," Ellis explained.
"Even when you took her out to dinner?"
Ellis looked discomfited, as if he disliked admitting that a dog had scared him off. "She came out to the car. When I took her home the dog was there waiting, ready to take my leg off if I moved in the wrong direction."
"So no one has been inside her house."
"No," they both admitted.
"She denied any knowledge of seeing a man, a stranger?"
"There's no way Sabin could have gotten anywhere near that house without the dog having him for breakfast," Ellis said impatiently, and Lowell nodded in agreement.
Charles tapped his fingertips together. "Even if she took him into the house herself? What if she found him? She could have tied the dog up, then gone back for Sabin. Isn't this possible?"
"Sure, it's possible," Lowell said, frowning. "But we didn't find any sign of Sabin making it to shore, not even a footprint. The only thing we noticed was where she dragged shells up from the beach on a tarp!" He stopped, his eyes meeting Charles's.
"You fools!" Charles hissed. "Something had been dragged up from the beach and you didn't check it out?"
They looked uncomfortable. "She said it was shells," Ellis muttered. "I noticed that she did have some shells on the windowsills."
"She didn't act like she had anything to hide," Lowell put in, trying to gloss things over. "I ran into her the next day while she was shopping. She stopped to talk, about the heat and things like that…"
"What did she buy? Did you look in her cart?"
"Ah, underwear and, uh, women's things. When she checked out I saw a pair of jogging shoes. I noticed them because…" Suddenly he went a sickly shade.
"Because?" Charles prompted dryly.
"Because they looked too big for her."
Charles glared at them, his eyes cold and deadly. "So. She dragged something up from the beach, something you didn't investigate. Neither of you has been inside the house. She was buying shoes that were too big for her, possibly men's shoes. If Sabin has been under our noses all this time and he's escaped due to your bungling, I personally promise you that your future won't be pleasant! Noelle!" he called.
She appeared immediately in the door. "Yes, Charles?"
"Call everyone in. We may have found Sabin."
Both Lowell and Ellis looked sick, and both fervently hoped that this time they didn't find Sabin.
"What if you're wrong?" Ellis asked.
"Then the woman may be frightened and upset, but nothing more. If she doesn't know anything, if she hasn't helped Sabin, then we have no reason to harm her."
But Charles smiled when he said it, his eyes cold, and Ellis couldn't believe him.
The sun had set, and twilight had brought out a loud chorus of frogs and crickets. Ebenezer Duck and his flock waddled around the yard, reaping the late afternoon harvest of insects, and Joe lay on the porch. Kell and Sullivan were now at the table, drawing diagrams and discussing plans; Rachel tried to work on the manuscript, but her mind kept wandering. Kell would be leaving soon, and dull misery throbbed inside her.
The flock of geese suddenly scattered, honking wildly, and Joe gave a single bark before he lunged off the porch. Kell and Sullivan acted as one, ducking away from the table and running soundlessly, on the balls of their feet, to the living room windows. Rachel bolted out of her office, her face pale, though she tried to be calm.
"It's probably just Honey," she said, going to the front door.
"Honey?" Sullivan asked.
A white sedan pulled up in front, and a woman got out. Sullivan peered out the window and all the color washed out of his face. Resting his head on the wall, he swore quietly and at length. "It's Jane," he groaned.
"Hell," Kell muttered.
Rachel opened the door to dart out and catch Joe, who was planted in the middle of the yard. But before Rachel could get out the door, Jane had walked around the car and into the yard. "Nice doggie," she said cheerfully, patting Joe on the head as she passed.
Sullivan and Kell came out on the porch behind Rachel. Jane put her hands on her hips and glared at her husband. "Since you wouldn't bring me with you, I decided to follow you!"