Diamond Bay by Linda Howard

  Oddly, that sight added a little more to Rachel’s inner pain. “They made it,” she whispered.

  Kell’s arms slid around her waist, and he pulled her back against him. “He isn’t in it now, remember? He was retired before they ever met.”

  Rachel wanted to ask why he couldn’t retire, as well, but kept herself from voicing the question. What had been right for Grant Sullivan wasn’t right for Kell Sabin; Kell was one of a kind. Instead she asked, “When do you leave?” She should have been proud that her voice was so steady, but pride didn’t mean anything to her at this stage. She would have begged him on her knees if she thought it would work, but his dedication was more than lip service.

  He was silent for a moment, and she knew she wouldn’t like the answer, even though she was expecting it. “Tomorrow morning.”

  So she had one more night, unless he and Sullivan planned to spend most of it working out the details of their objective.

  “We’re turning in early,” he said, touching her hair, and she twisted in his arms to meet his midnight eyes. His face was remote, but he wanted her; she could tell it by his touch, by something fleeting in his expression. Oh, God, how could she ever stand to watch him leave and know that she’d never see him again?

  Jane and Grant came inside, and Jane’s face was radiant. Her eyes widened with delight when she saw Rachel in Kell’s arms, but something in their expressions kept her from saying anything. Jane was nothing if not intuitive. “Grant won’t tell me what’s going on,” she announced, and crossed her arms stubbornly. “I’m going to follow you until I find out.”

  Kell’s black brows lifted. “And if I do tell you?”

  Jane considered that, looking from Kell to Grant, then back to Kell. “You want to negotiate, don’t you? You want me to go back home.”

  “You are going back home,” Grant said quietly, steel in his voice. “If Sabin wants to fill you in, that’s up to him, but this new baby gives me twice the reason to make sure you’re safe on the farm, instead of risking your neck chasing after me.”

  There was a glint in Jane’s eyes that made Rachel think Sullivan would have a fight on his hands, but Kell forestalled that by saying, “All right, I think you deserve to know what’s happened, since Grant’s involved in it now. Let’s sit down, and I’ll fill you in.”

  “On a ‘need to know’ basis,” Jane guessed accurately, and Kell gave her his humorless smile.

  “Yes. You know there are always details that can’t be discussed, but I can tell you most of it.”

  They sat around the table, and Kell sketched in the main points of what had happened, the implications and why he needed Grant. When he had finished Jane looked at both the men for a long time, then slowly nodded. “You have to do it.” Then she leaned forward, planted both hands on the table and bent an uncompromising look on Sabin, who met it squarely. “But let me tell you, Kell Sabin, that if anything happens to Grant, I’ll come after you. I didn’t go through all that trouble to get him for anything to happen to him now.”

  Kell didn’t respond, but Rachel knew what he was thinking. If anything happened it wasn’t likely that he would survive, either. She didn’t know how she knew what was in his mind, but she did. Her senses were locked on Kell, and his slightest gesture or change of tone registered on her nerves with the force of an earthquake on the most sensitive seismograph.

  Grant stood up, drawing Jane up to stand beside him. “It’s time we got some sleep, since we’re leaving so early in the morning. And you’re going home,” he said to his wife. “Give me your word.”

  Now that she knew what was involved, Jane didn’t argue. “All right. I’ll go home after I pick up the twins. What I want to know is when I can expect you back.”

  Grant glanced at Kell. “Three days?”

  Kell nodded.

  Rachel got to her feet. In three days it would be over, one way or the other, but for her it would end in the morning. In the meantime she had to make sleeping arrangements for the Sullivans, and she was almost grateful to have something that would occupy her time, if not her mind.

  She apologized to Jane for the lack of an extra bed, but it didn’t seem to bother Jane at all. “Don’t worry about us,” Jane soothed. “I’ve slept with Grant in tents, caves and sheds, so a nice living room floor isn’t any hardship to us.”

  With Jane’s help Rachel gathered quilts and extra pillows for a pallet, taking them from the top of her closet and stacking them on Jane’s arms. Jane eyed her shrewdly. “You’re in love with Kell, aren’t you?”

  “Yes.” Rachel said the one word steadily, not even thinking of denying it. It was a fact, as much a part of her as her gray eyes.

  “He’s a hard, unusual man, but top-quality steel has to be hard to be top quality. It won’t be easy. I know. Look at the man I chose.”

  They looked at each other, two women with a world of knowledge in their eyes. For good or ill, the men they loved were different from other men, and they would never have the security most women could expect.

  “When he leaves tomorrow, it’s over,” Rachel said, her throat tight. “He won’t be back.”

  “He wants it to be over,” Jane clarified, her brown eyes unusually somber. “But don’t say that he won’t be back. Grant didn’t want to marry me. He said it wouldn’t work, that our lives were too different and I’d never fit into his world. Sound familiar?”

  “Oh, yes.” Her eyes and voice were bleak.

  “I had to let him go, but in the end he came after me.”

  “Grant was already retired. Kell won’t retire, and the job is the problem.”

  “It’s a big problem, but not insurmountable. Loving someone is hard for men like Grant and Kell to accept. They’ve always been alone.”

  Yes, Kell had always been alone, and he was determined to keep it that way. Knowing and understanding his reasons didn’t make living with them any easier. She left Jane and Grant to bed down in the living room, and Kell followed her into the bedroom, closing the door behind him. She stood in the middle of the room with her hands tightly clenched, her eyes shadowed as she watched him.

  “We should have left tonight,” he said quietly. “But I wanted one more night with you.”

  She wouldn’t let herself cry, not tonight. No matter what happened she would wait until tomorrow, until he was gone. He turned out the light and came to her in the darkened room, his rough hands closing on her shoulders and pulling her against him. His mouth was hard, hungry, almost hurting her as he kissed her with savage need. His tongue probed at hers, demanding a response that was slow in coming, because the pain was so great inside her. He kept on kissing her, sliding his hands over her back and hips, cradling her against the warmth of his body, until finally she began to relax and yield to him.

  “Rachel,” he whispered, unbuttoning her shirt to find her naked breasts and cup them in his warm palms. Slowly he circled her nipples with his thumbs and enticed them to hardness; the warmth, the tightening sense of excitement and anticipation began to intensify inside her. Her body knew him and responded, growing heavy and moist, readying her for him because she knew he wouldn’t leave her unsatisfied. He slid the shirt off her shoulders, pinning her arms to her sides with the fabric while he lifted her, arching her over his arm and thrusting her breasts up to him. Deliberately he put his mouth over her nipple and sucked at her, the strong motion drawing hot tingles from her sensitive flesh. She made a faint, gasping sound of pleasure as the sensations swept from her breasts into her lower abdomen, where desire was pulling at her.

  Her head swam, and she had the sudden sensation of falling, which made her clutch at his waist. It wasn’t until she felt the coolness of the bed beneath her that she realized he had been lowering her to its surface. Her shirt was caught beneath her, with the sleeves trapped and twisted midway between her elbows and wrists, effectively pinning her arms while her upper tors
o lay bare for his marauding lips and tongue to savor. He looked down at her with a tortured, hungry expression in his eyes, then bent and buried his face between her breasts, his hands squeezing them together around his face as if he wanted to lose himself in the scent and feel of her satiny flesh.

  She moaned as her body throbbed in need, and tried futilely to wrest her arms free. “Kell.” Her voice was high, strained. “Let me get my arms out.”

  He lifted his head and appraised the situation. “Not yet,” he murmured. “Just lie there and let me love you until you’re ready for me.”

  She made a rough sound of frustration, trying to roll to one side so she could free herself, but Kell subdued her, his hard hands holding her flat on her back. “I am ready,” she insisted before his mouth came down on hers and stifled any further protests.

  When he raised his head again it was with hot satisfaction stamped on his taut features. “Not like you will be.” Then he bent to her breasts again, not stopping until they were wet and gleaming from his mouth and her nipples were red and achingly tight. Gently he bit the undercurve of her breast, using his teeth just enough to let her feel them but not enough to bring pain.

  “Let’s get you out of these.” The strain was evident in his voice, too, as he tugged at the fastening of her shorts. It came free, and the zipper rasped quietly as he slid it down. His hand went inside the opened shorts, burrowing under her panties to find the warm, moist, aching flesh he sought. “Ah,” he said in quiet satisfaction as his fingers explored her and found her ready, indeed. “You liked that, didn’t you?”

  “Yes.” All she could do was whimper the word.

  “You’ll like it better when I’m inside you,” he promised huskily, and slid her panties and shorts down her hips and thighs, but not off. He left them just above her knees, and her legs were trapped as effectively as her arms. Slowly he ran his hand over her, from her breasts down over her flat belly, to linger at her naked loins.

  She writhed under his probing fingers, her heart thundering in her chest and interfering with the rhythm of her breathing. “Don’t you even think it,” she cried, her hands clutching at the sheet beneath her. He was looking at her in a way that told her he liked holding her helpless while he teased her and enjoyed her body. He was more than a little uncivilized, his instincts swift and primeval.

  He gave a low, rough laugh. “All right, love. You don’t have to wait any longer. I’ll give you what you want.” Swiftly he stripped her, even of the shirt that bound her arms, and took off his own clothes, then settled his weight onto her. Rachel accepted him with a sigh of painful relief, her arms wrapping around him as he spread her legs and entered her. She reached her peak quickly, convulsing in his arms, and slowly he built her to pleasure again. He couldn’t get enough of her that night, returning to her over and over, as if time slowed when they were locked together in love.

  It was shortly before dawn when she woke up for the last time, lying on her side with her back to him, snuggled into the warm curve of his chest and thighs, just as they had slept every night since he’d regained consciousness. This was the last time he would hold her like this, and she lay very still, not wanting to wake him.

  But he was already awake. His hand moved slowly over her breasts, then down to her thighs. He raised her leg, draping it over his thigh, and slid into her from behind. His hand flattened against her stomach to brace her as he began moving in and out of her. “One last time,” he murmured into her hair. Dear God, it was the last time, and he didn’t think he could stand it. If he had ever been happy in his life it had been during these too short days with Rachel. This would be the last time her soft body would sheathe his hardness, the last time her breasts would fill his hands, the last time he would ever see the misty look of passion in her lake-gray eyes. She trembled beneath his hands, biting her lips to keep from crying out as the pleasure built within her. When the time came he clasped her to him, holding himself deep within her while she turned her face into the pillow to stifle the sounds she made, then he thrust deep and hard and shuddered with his own release.

  The room was growing light now, the sky glowing with the pink pearl of approaching sunrise. He sat up in the bed and looked down at her, her body damp and glowing like the sky. Perhaps this last time had been a mistake, because he hadn’t taken his usual precautions, but he couldn’t regret it. He couldn’t have tolerated any separation of their bodies.

  Rachel lay exhausted on the pillows, watching him with her heart in her eyes. Her body still throbbed from his lovemaking, and her pulse was only gradually slowing. “You may never come back,” she whispered. “But I’ll wait here for you, anyway.”

  Only the slight jerking of a muscle beside his mouth revealed his reaction. He shook his head. “No, don’t waste your life. Find someone else, get married and have a houseful of kids.”

  Somehow she managed a smile. “Don’t be a fool,” she told him with aching tenderness. “As if there could be anyone else after you.”

  THEY WERE READY to leave, and Rachel was so stiff inside that she thought she would shatter if anyone touched her. She knew there would be no goodbye kisses, no final words to burn into her memory. He would simply leave, and it would be finished. He wasn’t even taking the pistol with him, which would give him an excuse to contact her again to return it. The pistol was registered to her; he didn’t want anything that could be traced back to her in case things didn’t go as planned.

  Sullivan had hidden his rental car somewhere down the road; Jane was going to drive them to it, then return to their farm. Rachel would be left alone in a house that echoed with emptiness, and she was already trying to think of ways to fill the time. She would work in the garden, mow the lawn, wash the car, maybe even go swimming. Later she would go out to eat, see a movie, anything to postpone coming back. Perhaps by then she would be so tired she would be able to sleep, though she didn’t hold out much hope for that. Still, she’d get by, because she had no choice.

  “I’ll let you know,” Jane whispered, hugging Rachel.

  Rachel’s eyes burned. “Thank you.”

  Grant opened the door and walked out onto the porch, which brought Joe to his feet, and snarls filled the air. Calmly Grant surveyed the dog. “Well, hell,” he said mildly.

  Jane snorted. “Are you afraid of that dog? He’s as sweet as can be.”

  Kell followed them onto the porch. “Joe, sit,” he com­manded.

  There was the peculiar, high-pitched CRACK! of a rifle being fired and the wood exploded on the post not two inches from Kell’s head. Kell turned and dove for the open door just as Rachel leaped for him, and he knocked her sprawling. Almost simultaneously Grant literally threw Jane through the door as another shot exploded, then he covered her with his body.

  “Are you all right?” Kell asked through clenched teeth, anxiously looking Rachel over even as he lashed out with one foot and kicked the door shut.

  She’d banged her head on the floor, but it wasn’t anything serious. Her face white, she clutched at him. “Yes, I’m f-f-fine,” she stammered.

  He rolled to his feet, crouching to stay below the windows. “You and Jane lie down in the hall,” he ordered tersely, getting the pistol from the bedroom where he’d left it.

  Grant had helped Jane to a sitting position, brushing her hair out of her face and giving her a swift kiss before he pushed her toward Rachel. “Go on, move,” he snapped, drawing his own pistol from his belt.

  There was another shot, and the window closest to Grant shattered, raining shards of glass all over him. He cursed luridly.

  Rachel stared at them, trying to gather her thoughts. They were armed only with pistols, while whoever was shooting at them had a rifle, stacking the deck against Kell and Grant. A rifle had the advantage of accuracy over a greater distance, allowing their assailant to shoot from outside the range of the pistols. Her .22 rifle didn’t have much power, but it di
d have a greater range and accuracy than the pistols, and she crawled into the bedroom to get it, as well as what ammunition she had. Thank God Kell had told her to buy those shells!

  “Here,” she said, crawling back into the living room and sliding the rifle toward Kell. He glanced around, his fist closing over the weapon. Grant was moving through the house, checking to make certain no one was coming up on them from behind.

  “Thanks,” Kell said briefly. “Get back in the hall, honey.”

  Jane was crouched there, staring at her husband with an odd fury in her chocolate eyes. “They shot at you,” she growled.

  “Yep,” he confirmed.

  She was fuming like a volcano about to blow, mutter- ing to herself as she dragged the nylon overnighter she’d brought to her, unzipping it and throwing clothing and makeup to one side. “I’m not putting up with this,” she said furiously. “Damn it, they shot at him!” She produced a pistol and shoved it into Rachel’s hand, then dug back into the bag. She dragged a small case out of it, about the size of a violin case, and threw it at Grant. “Here! I don’t know how to put the thing together!”

  He opened the case and glared at Jane even as he began snapping the rifle together with swift, practiced movements. “Where the hell did you get this?”

  “Never mind!” she barked, tossing a clip of ammunition to him. He fielded it one-handed and snapped it into place.

  Kell glanced over his shoulder. “Got any C-4 or grenades in there?”

  “No,” Jane said regretfully. “I didn’t have time to get everything I wanted.”

  Rachel crawled to the side window, cautiously lifting her head to peek out. Kell swore. “Get down,” he snapped. “Stay out of this. Get back in the hall, where it’s safer.”

  She was pale, but calm. “There are only two of you, and four sides to the house. You need us.”

  Jane grabbed Grant’s discarded pistol. “She’s right. You need us.”

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