Diamond Bay by Linda Howard

  She left the water, too, bending over to wring out her hair. When she straightened again she found him watching her. “Take off the bathing suit,” he said softly.

  She looked out to sea, but there were no boats in sight. Then she looked at him again, lying there like a bronzed, naked statue, except that she’d never seen a statue in a state of arousal. Slowly she reached up for the straps on her shoulders and drew them down, and immediately she felt the heat of the hot sun kissing her wet breasts. A slight breeze suddenly kicked up, whispering across her nipples and making them pucker. Sabin’s breath caught in his chest, and he held his hand out to her. “Come here.”

  She pushed the bathing suit down and off, then walked to the towels. He sat up and reached for her, drawing her down beside him and stretching her out. Amusement was twinkling in his dark eyes as he looked down at her. “Guess what I forgot to bring.”

  She began to laugh, the sound pure and deep in this world where only the two of them existed.

  “Ah, well, you’re too sore for that, anyway,” he murmured, sliding his hand over her breasts and bringing her nipples to tingling awareness. “I’ll just have to…improvise.”

  He leaned over her, his shoulders so broad that they blocked out the sun, and his mouth burned on hers, then down on her body.

  He was very good with improvisations. He lingered over her as if she were a willing, sun-kissed sacrifice offered up for his delectation, until her body finally arched to his rapacious mouth and she cried out in intolerable pleasure, her cry rising to the white inferno of the sun.


  RACHEL DIDN’T LET herself think about time, though she knew they had only a few more days at the most, however long it took this Sullivan to make his arrangements and travel down to meet Kell. She lived completely in the present, reveling in his company whatever they were doing. He began helping her gather the vegetables from the garden, and he worked some with Joe, gaining more of the dog’s trust and showing Rachel how highly trained Joe was. After the first swim they also spent a lot of time down at the bay; they swam every morning and again in the afternoon, after the worst of the heat was over. It was marvelous therapy, and every day he got stronger, his shoulder more flexible and his limp improving. He also did other exercises, continually working to bring his body back up to par, and she could only watch in amazement. She was athletic and strong herself, but her endurance was nothing compared to his. He was often in pain; she sensed it, even though he never said anything, but he ignored it as if it weren’t there. Ten days after she’d found him he was gingerly jogging around the house, his thigh tightly wrapped to brace the injured muscle. After a moment of anger Rachel joined him and jogged along beside him, ready to catch him if his leg gave out and he fell. It wouldn’t have done any good to yell at him, because it was important for him to be able to meet whatever demands might be placed on him when he left.

  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 me 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 felt—or didn’t feel—for 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, hold
ing 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?”

  “She’s mine.”

  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.

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