Diamond Bay by Linda Howard

  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.

  “Yes, ma’am.”

  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 Kell’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?”

  “Left thigh.”

  “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 th
at. 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 remains—if 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.

  “Why not?”

  “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.

  “The veterinarian.”

  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!”


  RACHEL LIKED JANE Sullivan on sight. Anyone who calmly petted Joe, then faced Grant Sullivan’s fury without blinking an eye, was someone Rachel would like to know. The two women introduced themselves, while Sullivan stood with his arms folded across his chest, his golden eyes shooting fi
re as he watched his wife from beneath lowered brows. “How did you find me?” he rasped, his voice low and almost soundless. “I made sure I didn’t leave a trail.”

  Jane sniffed at him. “You didn’t, so I did the logical thing and went where you weren’t, and found you.” Turning her back on him, she welcomed Kell with an enthusiastic hug. “I knew it had to be you. No one else could have dragged him away. Are you in trouble?”

  “A little,” Kell said, his black eyes filled with amuse­ment.

  “I thought so. I came to help.”

  “I’ll be damned,” Grant snapped.

  Jane gave him a cool look. “Yes, you may be. Sneaking out and leaving me with the babies—”

  “Where are they?”

  “With your mother. She thinks I’m doing her a favor. Anyway, that’s what took me so long to get here. I had to take the twins to her. Then I had to figure out what you’d do if you were trying to keep anyone from knowing where you were.”

  “I’m going to turn you over my knee,” he said, and he looked as if the thought gave him immense satisfaction. “You’re not getting out of it this time.”

  “You can’t,” she said smugly. “I’m pregnant again.”

  Rachel had been enjoying the spectacle of Grant Sullivan driven to frustration by his pretty, dark-eyed wife, but now she felt almost sorry for him. He went pale.

  “You can’t be.”

  “I wouldn’t bet on that,” Kell put in, enjoying this turn of events as much as Rachel.

  “The twins are just six months old,” Grant croaked.

  “I know that!” Jane replied, her face indignant. “I was there, remember?”

  “We weren’t going to have any more for a while.”

  “The thunderstorm,” she said succinctly, and Grant closed his eyes. He was really white by now, and Rachel was moved to pity.

  “Let’s go inside, where it’s cooler,” she suggested, opening the screen door. She and Kell went inside, but no one followed them. Rachel peeked out the door; Jane was wrapped in her husband’s muscular arms, and his blond head was bent down to her dark one.

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