Diamond Bay by Linda Howard


  Chapter One

  Chapter Two

  Chapter Three

  Chapter Four

  Chapter Five

  Chapter Six

  Chapter Seven

  Chapter Eight

  Chapter Nine

  Chapter Ten

  Chapter Eleven

  Chapter Twelve

  Chapter Thirteen


  An Excerpt from Troublemaker

  Chapter One

  Chapter Two

  About the Author

  By Linda Howard


  About the Publisher


  THE CLEAN GOLDEN sun still burned its heat into his flesh, all along his bare chest and long legs, even though it was near sundown. The lengthening rays threw dancing sparkles onto the tips of the waves, mesmerizing him as he stared at them. No, it wasn’t the glittering water that mesmerized him, it was the fact that he had nothing more important to do than simply stare at it. He’d forgotten how peace sounded, how it felt. For a long, wonderful month of pure solitude he could relax and be only a man. He would fish when he felt like it, or cruise the warm, hypnotic waters of the Gulf if he felt restless. The water drew him on endlessly. Here it was midnight blue; there it was brilliant turquoise; over there it was a pale, shimmering green. He had money for fuel and provisions, and only two people in the world knew where he was or how to reach him. At the end of the month’s vacation he would return to the gray world he’d chosen and lose himself in the shadows, but for now he could lie in the sun, and that was all he wanted. Kell Sabin was tired, tired of the endless struggle, the secrecy and maneuvering, the danger and deception of his job. It was a vitally important job, but for this month he would let someone else do it. This month was his; he could almost understand what had lured Grant Sullivan, his old friend and the best agent he’d ever had, to the quiet mystery of the Tennessee mountains.

  Sabin had been a top agent himself, a legend prowling the Golden Triangle and, later, the Middle East and South America, all the hot spots of the world. Now he was a department chief, the shadowy figure behind a group of crack agents who followed his directions and his training. Little was known about him; the security surrounding him was almost absolute. Sabin preferred it that way; he was a loner, a dark man who faced the hard realities of life with both cynicism and acceptance. He knew the drawbacks and dangers of his chosen career, he knew it could be dirty and vicious, but he was a realist and he had accepted all that when he took the job.

  Still, it got to him sometimes, and he had to get away from it, live for a little while like a normal citizen. His private escape valve was his custom-made cabin cruiser. His vacations, like everything else about him, were highly guarded secrets, but the days and nights at sea were what kept him human, the only times when he could relax and think, when he could lie naked in the sun and reestablish his link with his own humanity, or watch the stars at night and regain his perspective.

  A white gull soared overhead, giving its plaintive cry. Idly he watched it, free and graceful, framed against the cloudless blue bowl of the sky. The sea breeze brushed lightly over his naked skin, and pleasure brought a rare smile to his dark eyes. There was a streak of untamed savage in him that he had to keep under tight control, but out here, with only the sun and the wind and the water, he could let that part of himself surface. The restrictions of clothing seemed almost sacrilegious out here, and he resented having to dress whenever he went into a port for fuel, or whenever another boat pulled up beside him for a chat, as people were wont to do down here.

  The sun had moved lower, dipping its golden edge into the water, when he heard the sound of another motor. He turned his head to watch the cabin cruiser, a little larger than his own, cut leisurely through the waves. That was the only way to get around out here: leisurely. The warmer the clime, the slower the time. Sabin kept his gaze on the boat, admiring the graceful lines and the smooth, powerful sound of the motor. He liked boats, and he liked the sea. His own boat was a prized possession, and a closely guarded secret. No one knew it belonged to him; it was registered to an insurance salesman in New Orleans who had no knowledge at all of Kell Sabin. Even the name of the boat, Wanda, had no meaning. Sabin knew no one named Wanda; it was simply a name that he’d chosen. But Wanda was completely his, with secrets and surprises of her own. Anyone who really knew him wouldn’t have expected anything else, but only one man in the world had ever known the man behind the mask, and Grant Sullivan gave away no secrets.

  The sound of the other boat’s motor changed as it slowed and turned in his direction. Sabin swore irritably, looking around for the faded denim cutoffs he usually kept on deck for such situations. A voice drifted to him over the water, and he looked at the other boat again. A woman was standing at the forward rail, waving her arm back and forth over her head in a manner that held no urgency, so he guessed they were just looking for a chat and weren’t having any sort of trouble. The afternoon sunlight glinted on her red hair, turning it into fire, and for a moment Sabin stared at it, his attention caught by that unusual, glowing shade of red.

  A frown put furrows in his brow as he quickly stepped into his cutoffs and zipped them. The boat was still too far away for him to see her face, but that red hair had aggravated some hidden little memory that was trying to surface. He stared at her as the other boat idled toward him, his black eyes glittering with intensity. There was something about that hair….

  Suddenly every instinct in Sabin shrilled an alarm and he hit the deck, not questioning that spine-tingling uneasiness; it had saved his life too many times for him to hesitate. He spread his fingers on the warm wood of the deck, acknowledging that he could be making a fool of himself, but he’d rather be a live fool than a dead wise man. The sound of the other motor dropped off, as if it had slowed even more, and Sabin made another decision. Still on his stomach, with the scent of polish in his nostrils and the scrape of wood on his bare flesh, he snaked his way over to a storage compartment.

  He never went anywhere without some means of self-defense. The rifle that he pulled out of the storage compartment was powerful and accurate, though he knew it would be a temporary deterrent at best. If his instincts were wrong, then he would have no use for it at all; if his instincts were right, they would have far more firepower than this rifle, because they would have prepared for this.

  Swearing under his breath, Sabin checked that the rifle was on full automatic fire and crawled back over to the rail. Coolly choosing his cover, he let the barrel of the rifle be seen, and he eased his head around just enough to let him see the other boat. It was still closing on him, less than a hundred yards away.

  “That’s close enough!” he yelled, not knowing if his voice would carry clearly enough to be understood over the noise of the motor. But that didn’t matter, as long as they could tell he was yelling something.

  The boat slowed, barely moving through the water now, seventy-five yards away. Suddenly it seemed to be swarming with people, and none of them looked like the ordinary Gulf fishermen or leisure boaters, because every one of them was armed, even the red-haired woman. Sabin scanned them quickly, his extraordinary eyesight picking up details of shape and size. He was able to identify the types of weapons without having to think about it, he was so familiar with them. It was the people he watched, and his eyes darted back to one man. Even at that distance, and even though he stood a little behind everyone else, there was something familiar about him, just as there was something familiar about the woman.

  There was no doubt now, and icy, deadly calm settled over him, just as it always did in combat situations. He didn’t waste time worrying about how badly outnumbered he was; instead he
began weighing and discarding options, each decision made in the flash of a second.

  A flat CRACK! split the twilight—the sound of rifle fire over open water. He caught the faint, warm percussion of the bullet as it split the air over his head and splintered the wood of the cabin behind him. With a motion as smooth as oiled silk Sabin took aim and fired, then pulled his head down, all in one continuous flow. He didn’t need the involuntary sharp cry that pierced the air to tell him that he hadn’t missed; Sabin would have been both surprised and furious if he had.

  “Sabin!” The amplified voice echoed tinnily across the water. “You know you don’t have a chance! Make it easy on yourself.”

  The accent was very good, but it wasn’t quite American. The offer was only what he’d expected. His best chance was to outrun them; Wanda’s speed was just one of her unusual features. But to outrun them, he had to get to the controls up top, which meant exposing himself to their fire during the climb up the ladder.

  Sabin weighed the situation and accepted that he had perhaps a fifty-fifty chance of reaching the top, maybe less, depending on how surprised they were by his move. On the other hand, he had no chance at all if he simply sat there and tried to hold them off with one rifle. He had a lot of ammunition, but they would have more. Moving was a risk he had to take, so he didn’t waste time worrying about his diminishing chances. He took a deep breath, held it, then exhaled slowly, coiling his steely body in preparation. He needed to get as high up the ladder with the first jump as he could. Gripping the rifle firmly, he took another breath and leaped. His finger pressed the trigger as he moved, the automatic fire making the weapon buck in his hand and forcing everyone on the other boat to take cover. His outstretched right hand caught the top rung of the ladder, and his bare feet barely touched before launching him higher. Out of the corner of his eye he saw the white bursts even as he swung himself over the top and two red-hot sledgehammers slammed into his body. Only sheer momentum and determination carried him onto the deck, and kept him from falling to the lower one. Black mist almost obscured his vision, and the sound of his own breathing was loud in his ears.

  He’d dropped the rifle. “Goddammit.” He’d dropped the rifle! he thought furiously. He took a deep breath, forcing the black mist away, and summoned the strength to turn his head. The rifle still lay there, clutched in his left hand, but he couldn’t feel it. The left side of his body was washed with his own blood, almost black in the dwindling light. His chest heaving with his rapid breathing, Sabin reached across with his right hand and got the rifle. The feel of it in his hand made things a little better, but not much. Sweat broke out and ran off him in rivers, mixing with his blood. He had to do something, or they’d be on him.

  His left arm and leg wouldn’t obey the commands of his brain, so he ignored them, dragging himself over to the side using only his right arm and leg. Bracing the rifle against his right shoulder, he fired at the other boat again, letting them know he was still alive and dangerous so they wouldn’t come rushing in.

  Glancing down, he took stock of his injuries. A bullet had gone through the outside muscle of his left thigh, another through his left shoulder; each was serious enough on its own. After the first burning impact his shoulder and arm had gone numb, useless, and his leg wouldn’t support his weight, but he knew from experience that the numbness would soon begin to fade, and with the pain he would regain some use of his wounded muscles, if he could afford to wait that long.

  He risked another look and saw that the other boat was circling behind him. The upper deck was open at the rear, and they would have a clear shot at him.

  “Sabin! We know you’re hurt! Don’t make us kill you!”

  No, they would much rather have him alive, for “questioning,” but he knew they wouldn’t take any chances. They would kill him if they had to, rather than let him escape.

  Grinding his teeth, Sabin dragged himself over to the controls and reached up to turn the key in the ignition. The powerful engine coughed into life. He couldn’t see where he was going, but that didn’t matter, even if he rammed the other cruiser. Panting, he slumped back to the deck, trying to gather his strength; he had to reach the throttle, and he had only a few moments left. Hot pain was spreading over his entire left side, but his arm and leg were beginning to respond now, so he figured that was a fair trade. He ignored the growing pain and levered himself up on his right arm, forcing his left arm to move, to reach, until his bloody fingers touched the throttle and shoved it into forward gear. The cruiser began sliding through the water with slowly increasing speed, and he heard the shouts from the other boat.

  “That’s it, girl,” he panted, encouraging the boat. “Let’s go, let’s go.” He stretched again, every muscle in his body shaking from the effort, and managed to reach far enough to push the throttle wide open. The boat leaped beneath him, responding to the surge of power with a deep-throated roar.

  At full speed he had to see where he was going. He was taking another chance, but those chances were getting better with every foot of distance he put between himself and the other boat. A grunt of pain exploded from his throat as he hauled himself to his feet, and salty sweat stung his eyes; he had to keep most of his weight on his right leg, but the left one didn’t buckle beneath him, which was all he asked. He glanced over his shoulder at the other cruiser. He was rapidly pulling away from them, even though they were giving chase.

  There was a figure on the top deck of the other boat, and he was settling a bulky pipe onto his shoulder.

  Sabin didn’t even have to think to know what it was; he’d seen rocket launchers too many times not to recognize them on sight. Only a second before the flash, and barely two seconds before the rocket exploded his boat, Sabin went over the right side, into the turquoise water of the Gulf.

  He went deep, as deep as he could, but he had very little time, and the percussion rolled him through the water like a child’s toy. Pain seared his wounded muscles and everything went black again; it was for only a second or two, but it was enough to completely disorient him. He was choking, and he didn’t know where the surface was. The water wasn’t turquoise now, it was black, and it was pressing down on him.

  The years of training saved him. Sabin had never panicked, and now wasn’t the time to start. He stopped fighting the water and forced himself to relax, and his natural buoyancy began carrying him to the surface. Once he could tell which direction was up, he began swimming as well as he could, though he could barely move his left arm and leg. His lungs were burning when he finally bobbed to the surface and gulped the warm, salt-scented air.

  Wanda was burning, sending black smoke billowing into a pearlescent sky that held only the last few moments of light. Darkness had already spread over the earth and sea, and he seized it as his only available cover. The other boat was circling the Wanda, playing its spotlight over the burning wreckage and the surrounding ocean; he could feel the water vibrating with the power of the engines. Unless they found his body—or as much of it as they could realistically expect to remain—they would search for him; they’d have to. They couldn’t afford to do anything else. His priority remained the same: he had to put as much distance as he could between himself and them.

  Clumsily he rolled to his back and began a one-sided backstroke, not stopping until he was well away from the glare of the burning boat. His chances weren’t good; he was at least two miles from shore, probably closer to three. He was weak from loss of blood, and he could barely move his left arm and leg. Added to that were the chances that the predators of the sea would be drawn to him by his wounds before he got anywhere close to land. He gave a low, cynical laugh, and choked as a wave hit him in the face. He was caught between the human sharks and the sharks of the sea, and damned if it really made any difference which one got him, but they would both have to work for it. He didn’t intend to make it easy for them.

  He took a deep breath and floated while he struggled o
ut of his shorts, but his twisting efforts made him sink, and he had to fight his way back to the surface. He held the garment in his teeth while he considered the best tactics to use. The denim was old, thin, almost threadbare; he should be able to tear it. The problem was in staying afloat while he did it. He would have to use his left arm and leg, or he’d never be able to manage it.

  He had no choice; he had to do what was necessary, despite the pain.

  He thought he might pass out again when he began treading water, but the moment passed, though the pain didn’t lessen. Grimly he chewed on the edge of the shorts, trying to get a tear started in the fabric. He forced the pain out of his mind as his teeth shredded the threads, and he hastily tore the garment up to the waistband, where the reinforced fabric and double-stitching stopped his progress. He began tearing again, until he had four loose strips of cloth attached to the waistband; then he began chewing along the waistband. The first strip came loose, and he held it in his fist while he freed the second strip.

  He rolled to his back and floated, groaning as his wounded leg relaxed. Quickly he knotted the two strips together to get enough length to wrap around his leg. Then he tied the makeshift tourniquet around his thigh, making certain that the cloth covered both the entrance and exit wounds. He pulled it as tightly as he could without cutting off circulation, but he had to put pressure on the wounds to stop them from bleeding.

  His shoulder was going to be more difficult. He bit and pulled until he tore the other two strips from the waistband, then knotted them together. How was he going to position this makeshift bandage? He didn’t even know if he had an exit wound in his back, or if the bullet was still in his shoulder. Slowly, awkwardly, he moved his right hand and felt his back, but his water-puckered fingers could find only smooth skin, which meant that the bullet was still in him. The wound was high on his shoulder, and bandaging it would be almost impossible with the materials he had.

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