Diamond Bay by Linda Howard

  He lay there, breathing heavily, his brow still furrowed as he stared at her. His gaze didn’t flicker as she retrieved the tray from the floor and placed it on the bedside table; his attention was locked on her, as if he were trying to make sense of things, to fight his way out of the mists that clouded his mind. She talked quietly to him as she propped him up on her extra pillows; she didn’t know if he understood what she was saying, but her voice and touch seemed to calm him. Sitting on the side of the bed, she began to feed him, talking to him all the while. He was docile, opening his mouth whenever she put the spoon to his lips, but soon his eyelids began to droop as he tired. Quickly she gave him aspirin, elated at how easy it had been to feed him.

  As she supported his head and pulled the extra pillows from behind him so he could lie flat again, she had an idea. It was worth a try. “What’s your name?”

  He frowned, his head jerking restlessly. “Whose?” he asked, his deep voice full of confusion.

  Rachel remained bent over him, her hand under his head. Her heart was beating faster. Maybe she could begin getting some answers! “Yours. What’s your name?”

  “Mine?” The questions were making him fretful, agitated. He stared hard at her as he tried to concentrate, his gaze slipping over her face, then moving lower.

  She tried again. “Yes, yours. What’s your name?”

  “Mine?” He drew a deep breath, then said it again. “Mine.” The second time it was a statement, not a question. Slowly he moved, lifting both hands, wincing at the pain in his shoulder. He molded his hands over her breasts, cupping them warmly in his palms and rubbing her nipples with his thumbs. “Mine,” he said again, stating what he plainly considered to be his ownership.

  For a moment, just for a moment, Rachel was helpless against the unexpected pleasure burning her flesh at his touch. She was frozen in place, her nerve endings going wild, her body flooding with warmth as his thumbs turned her nipples into hardened nubs. Then reality returned with a thud, and she jerked away from him, bolting off the bed. Exasperation at him—and anger at herself—filled her. “That’s what you think,” she snapped at him. “These are mine, not yours!”

  His eyelids drooped sleepily. She stood there glaring down at him. Evidently the only things on his mind were partying and sex! “Damn it, you have a one-track mind!” she angrily accused, half under her breath.

  His eyelashes fluttered open, and he looked at her again. “Yes,” he said clearly, then closed his eyes and went to sleep.

  Rachel stood beside the bed with clenched fists, torn between laughing and swatting him. It was doubtful that he had understood anything she’d said; that last provocative word could have been in answer to her accusation, or to some question that existed only in his own foggy consciousness. Now he was sleeping heavily again, totally relaxed and oblivious to the upheaval he had left behind.

  Shaking her head, she picked up the tray and quietly left the room. Her insides were still quivering with mingled indignation and desire. It was an uncomfortable combination, uncomfortable because she wasn’t one to delude herself, and she couldn’t deny that she was attracted to him more powerfully than she could ever have imagined. Touching him was a compulsion; her hands wanted to linger on his warm skin. His voice made her shiver deep inside, and one look from those black eyes made her feel electrified. And his touch…his touch! Twice now he had put his hands on her, and each time she had turned molten with uncontrollable pleasure.

  It was insane to feel so intensely about a man she didn’t know, but no amount of self-lecturing could change her response. Their lives had become linked from the moment she had dragged him out of the surf; in assuming responsibility for his safety, she had committed herself to him on a level that went so deep she was only now beginning to realize its reaches. And he had become hers, as if that act of mercy had created a marriage of their lives, binding them together regardless of their wishes or wants.

  Though he was a stranger she already knew a lot about him. She knew that he was hard and fast and well trained; he would have to be, to survive in the world he had chosen. He also possessed a tough-mindedness that was awesome in its intensity, a steely determination that had kept him swimming in the night-dark ocean with two bullet wounds in his body, when a lesser man would have drowned almost immediately. She knew that he was important to the people who were hunting him, though she didn’t know if they wanted to protect him or kill him. She knew that he didn’t snore and that he had an extremely healthy libido, despite his physical incapacitation. He was still when he slept, except when his bones and muscles ached from his flaring fever; that stillness had bothered her at first, until she realized that it was natural to him.

  He also answered no questions, even in his delirium, not even one as elemental as his name. It could be the fever-induced confusion, but it was also more than possible that his training was so deeply ingrained in his subconscious that even illness or drugs couldn’t override it.

  Soon, tomorrow or the next day, or perhaps even during the coming night, he would wake up and be in full possession of his senses. He would require clothing, and answers to his questions. She wondered what those questions would be, and thought of her own questions, though she was beginning to wonder if he would provide any answers. She couldn’t prepare for what he might or might not say, because she felt it would be useless to try to predict his actions. Clothing, however, was a problem she could do something about. She had nothing there that would fit him; though she often wore men’s shirts she had bought them specifically for herself, and they would be far too small for him. She hadn’t kept any of B.B.’s clothing, though that would have been useless in any case, as B.B. had weighed a good thirty pounds less than this man.

  Mentally she made a list of the things he would need. She didn’t like leaving him alone for the length of time it would take her to drive to the nearest discount store, but it was either that or ask Honey to do the shopping and bring the things out. She considered that. It was tempting, but the arrival of the two men that morning made her reluctant to involve Honey any deeper in the situation. It should be safe to leave him alone for an hour. She would do her shopping early the next morning, which would give those men time to move out of the immediate area.

  SHE CAREFULLY LOCKED the house when she left, and told Joe to stand guard. Her patient was sleeping quietly; she had just gotten him settled, so he should sleep for several hours. Her gun-metal Regal ate up the miles as she pushed her speed as fast as she could, anxiety gnawing at her. It should be all right to leave him alone, but she wouldn’t breathe easy until she was back home and could see that for herself.

  Though it had just opened for the morning, the local K mart was already swarming with customers who had all decided to do their shopping before the worst heat of the day was upon them. Rachel got a shopping cart and maneuvered it through the crowded aisles, dodging the darting preschoolers who had managed to escape their mothers and were headed, one and all, for the toy department. She steered around browsers, idled behind a frail white-haired woman who walked with a cane, then spotted a clear aisle and broke to the right.

  A package of underwear, a few pairs of socks and a pair of jogging shoes, size ten, went into the cart. She had measured his feet that morning, so she was fairly certain the shoes would fit. Two button-up shirts and a cotton terry pullover shirt were piled on top of the shoes. She was uncertain of what size pants to get, but finally selected a pair of jeans, a pair of black denim cutoffs in case the jeans were too uncomfortable on his leg and a pair of khaki chinos. She was ready to head for the checkout counter when a tingle ran up her spine, and her head lifted. Glancing around, she saw a man casually examining some sale items, and the tingle became a full-fledged chill. It was Agent Lowell.

  Without breaking stride, she diverted her path to the women’s section. The men’s clothes, though androgynous enough that they couldn’t be recognized as men’s unless the sizes we
re examined, would be a dead giveaway under close scrutiny. Unfortunately Agent Lowell was exactly the type to subject everything to just such an examination. The undershorts, socks and shoes, beneath the pants and shirts, could have no logical explanation.

  Ruthlessly she went through the underwear section. Several pairs of panties, all lace and satin, were thrown on top of the pile. A frothy confection of a bra and a matching half-slip were added; she hoped she could trust in the normal male’s aversion to handling female lingerie in a public place to keep Agent Lowell from examining the contents of her shopping cart. Out of the corner of her eye she saw him casually moving closer, pausing every so often to examine certain items with absent interest. He was good; he slid through the crowds without attracting notice. He tracked, while giving no appearance of being a hunter.

  A grim look entered Rachel’s eyes. He would have to be determined indeed to get to the bottom of her cart. Wheeling around, she headed for the drug-and-health section. Intimate female items, some of which she never used but chose now for their conspicuous packaging, were thrown into the cart. If he dared reach for anything she would accuse him of being a pervert in a voice loud enough to bring every store security guard at a run.

  He was closing in again. Rachel chose her moment, then turned her cart and all but rammed it into his knee.

  “Oh, my goodness, I’m sorry!” she gasped in apology. “I didn’t see you—oh,” she said again, startled recognition in her voice. “Ag—” She stopped, looked around, then lowered her voice to little more than a whisper. “Agent Lowell.”

  It was an Academy Award–winning performance, but it might have been wasted on Agent Lowell, who was preoccupied with rubbing his knee. He straightened, a look of pain still in his eyes. “Hello again, Ms….I don’t believe I got your name yesterday.”

  “Jones,” she said, holding out her hand. “Rachel Jones.”

  His hand was hard, but his palm was a little moist. Agent Lowell wasn’t quite as relaxed as he appeared.

  “You’re out early,” he commented.

  “With the heat the way it is, it’s best to either get out early or wait until after sundown. You really should wear a hat if you’re going to be walking around today the way you were yesterday.” His face was already sunburned, so her advice was too late.

  His expressionless eyes drifted down to the contents of the cart, then jerked back up abruptly. Rachel felt a moment’s grim satisfaction at her choices. His presence could be pure coincidence, or it could be deliberate, but he was automatically curious; it was part of his job. She sensed that he had been less disarmed by her studied nonchalance and innocence than the other agent had been.

  “You, uh, may have to float a loan to pay for all that,” he said after a slight pause.

  She ruefully examined the cart. “You may be right. Every time I go off on a trip it seems as if I never have what I need.”

  His eyes sharpened with interest. “You’re going on a trip?”

  “In a couple of weeks. I’m doing some research on the Keys, and it always helps to see an area firsthand.”


  She shrugged. “I dabble in several things. I have my souvenir shops. I do a little writing, teach a few night courses. It keeps me from getting bored with myself.” Looking at the checkout counters, where the lines were growing, she said blithely, “I’d better get in line before everyone in the store gets ahead of me. Oh—did you find anything yesterday?”

  His face was a blank mask, though his eyes were once again peering at her cart. “No, nothing. It may have been a false lead.”

  “Well, good luck. Remember to get a cap or something while you’re here.”

  “Sure. Thanks.”

  She joined one of the lines at the row of checkout counters and selected a magazine to flip through while she waited, gradually nudging the cart forward. He had moved to the side and was looking at paperback books. Damn, would he never leave? When it came her time, she unloaded the cart and tried to keep her body between Lowell and the counter. The clerk picked up the package of undershorts and held them in front of her while she punched in the code number on the computerized cash register. Rachel shifted to that side, and when the clerk set the package down she pushed a shirt over it. Lowell was moving closer.

  “One-forty-six eighteen,” the clerk said, reaching for a large bag.

  Rachel checked her wallet, inwardly grimacing. She seldom carried that much cash, and this was no exception. Disgruntled, she plunked down a plastic credit card and the clerk ran it through the imprinting machine, then called to get an okay on the amount. Lowell had walked around to the front of the store and was coming down in front of the checkout counters. Rachel grabbed the bag the clerk had laid on the counter and began shoving her purchases into it.

  “Sign here,” the clerk said, pushing the credit slip toward her. Rachel scribbled her name and a moment later the bag was stapled shut. She loaded it in the cart and began wheeling it out of the store.

  “Need any help?” Lowell asked, falling into step beside her.

  “No, rolling it in the cart is easier than carrying it. Thanks, anyway.”

  The humid heat settled on them like a suffocating blanket as soon as they left the cool confines of the store, and Rachel squinted her eyes against the almost painful brightness. After opening the trunk of the car she dumped the bag in and slammed the lid shut, agonizingly aware of Lowell’s acute interest.

  She pushed the cart to a buggy-return stand, then walked back to the car. “Goodbye,” she said casually.

  He was still watching as she drove out of the lot. Rachel wiped the perspiration off her face, aware that her heart was thudding in a panicky rhythm. She was out of practice for this! She only hoped he hadn’t been too suspicious.


  THE DREAMS WERE still so vivid that it was several minutes before he realized he was awake, but awareness did not necessarily bring understanding. He lay quietly, looking around the cool, dim, unfamiliar room and groping for any details in his mind that would give him a hint of what was going on and where he was. There seemed to be no connection between his only memories and this silent room. But were they memories, or dreams? He had dreamed of a woman, a warm and pliant woman, with eyes as clear and gray as a highland lake under cloudy skies, her hands tender as she caressed him, her velvety breasts swelling against his palms. His fingers twitched on the sheets; the dream was so real he almost ached to feel her under his hands.

  Still, that had been only a dream, and he had to deal with reality. He lay there until certain things began to return, and he knew that they weren’t dreams. The attack on his boat; the endless, agonizing swim in the dark, driven on by his own sheer inability to give up. Then, after that… nothing. Not even a glimmer of what had happened.

  Where was he? Had he been captured? They would give almost anything, risk almost anything, to take him alive.

  He moved cautiously, his mouth setting grimly at the amount of effort it took. There was pain in his left shoulder and lacing through his left thigh, and he had a dull headache, but both his leg and arm obeyed his mental command to move. Awkwardly using his right hand, he threw the sheet back and struggled to a sitting position. Dizziness assailed him, but he gripped the side of the bed until the feeling subsided, then he took stock once again. A pristine bandage was wrapped around his thigh, thickly padded over the wounds. The same treatment had been given to his shoulder; gauze had been wrapped around it, then anchored around his chest. He was totally naked, but that didn’t bother him. His first priority was to establish his mobility; his second was to find out where the hell he was.

  He stood, the wounded muscle in his thigh quivering in outrage at being forced into motion. He wavered, but didn’t fall, merely stood there until the room stopped swaying and his leg was steady under him. Despite the coolness of the room a fine sheen of sweat began to form on h
is body.

  There was no sound except for the gentle whir of a ceiling fan that hung over the bed and the distant mechanized sound of an air conditioner. He listened intently, but could detect nothing else. Keeping his right hand braced against the bed, he took a step toward the window, grinding his teeth together at the searing pain in his leg. The closed slats of the old-fashioned blinds drew him. Reaching the window, he used one finger to lift a slat and peer through the crack. A yard, a vegetable garden. Nothing unusual, but nothing in sight, either, human or animal.

  An open door was in front of him, revealing a bathroom. Slowly he moved to the doorway, his black eyes taking note of the items on the vanity. Hair spray, lotions, cosmetics. A woman’s bathroom, then. Perhaps the red-haired woman who had been on the boat? Everything was neat, impeccably clean, and there was a certain spare luxury to both the bath and bedroom, as if everything had been chosen for maximum comfort while still leaving a lot of what was simply bare space. The next door over was a closet. He pushed racks aside and checked sizes. Again, everything was for a woman, or a small, very slender man of undecided sexuality. The clothes ranged from remarkably ragged to sleekly sophisticated. A disguise?

  Cautiously he opened the next door slightly, putting his eye to the small crack to make certain there was no one out there. The small hallway was empty, as was the room he could see beyond it. He eased the door open, balancing himself with a hand on the frame. Nothing. No one. He was alone, and that made no sense at all.

  Damn, he was weak, and so thirsty that the fires of hell seemed to be in his throat. Limping badly, occasionally staggering, he made his way through the empty living room. A small, sunlit alcove was next, and the glaring sun streaming through the windows made him blink as his eyes adjusted to the sudden excess of light. Next was a kitchen, small and sunny and extremely modern. A colorful array of fresh vegetables lay on a counter, and there was a bowl of fresh fruit sitting on the center work island.

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