Diamond Bay (Chapter Five)
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 his 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.
Cotton lined his mouth and throat. He groped toward the sink, then opened cabinet doors until he found the glasses. Turning on the cool tap water, he filled a glass and turned it up, pouring the water into his mouth so thirstily that some of it spilled down his chest. With that first terrible urgency satisfied, he drank another glass of water and this time managed to get it all in his mouth.
How long had he been here? The blanks in his memory made him furious. He was vulnerable, uncertain of where he was or what had happened, and vulnerability was one thing he couldn't afford. But he was starving, too. The bowl of fresh fruit beckoned, and he wolfed down a banana, then half an apple. Abruptly he was too full to eat another bite, so he tossed both the banana skin and the half-eaten apple into the trash.
Okay, he could get around. Slowly, but he wasn't helpless. His next priority was to find some means of self-defense. The most available weapon was a knife, and he examined the kitchen knives before choosing the one with the sharpest, strongest blade. With that in his hand he began a slow, methodical search of the house, but there were no other weapons of any sort to be found.
The outside doors all had extremely strong dead-bolt locks on them. They weren't fancy, but they would damned sure slow down anyone trying to get in. He looked at them, trying to remember if he had ever seen any locks exactly like them, and decided that he hadn't. They were locked, but what sense did it make to put the locks on the inside, where he could get to them? He turned the lock, and it opened with a smooth, almost silent movement. Warily he reached for the knob and opened the door a little, again checking through the crack to see if anyone was in view. The door was heavy, too heavy to be an ordinary door. He opened it a little more, running his fingers along the edge. Steel reinforced, he guessed.
It was a snug little prison, but the locks were on the wrong side of the doors, and there were no wardens.
He opened the door completely, looking out through a screen door at a neat little yard, a tall pine thicket and a flock of fat white and gray geese searching for insects in the grass. The heat coming through the screen door was thick and heavy, hitting him like a blow. A dog appeared as if by magic from beneath a bush, leaping up onto the porch and staring at him with unblinking eyes as its ears went back and snarls twisted the canine muzzle.
Dispassionately he examined the dog, weighing his chances. A trained attack dog, German shepherd, weighing eighty or ninety pounds. In his weakened condition he didn't have a chance against a dog like that, even with a knife in his hand. He was effectively caged, after all.
His leg would barely support his weight. He was naked, weak, and didn't know where he was. The odds weren't in his favor, but he was alive and filled with a cold, controlled rage. Now he also had the advantage of surprise, because whoever had brought him here wouldn't be expecting him to be up and armed. He closed the door and locked it again, then watched the dog through the window until it left the porch and resumed its position beneath the bush.
He had to wait.
An enormous, purplish-black thunderhead was looming in the sky when Rachel turned into the driveway. She eyed it, wondering if it would dump its load of rain out at sea or hold it until it was over land. The rain would be torrential, and the temperature would drop sharply, but as soon as the cloud had passed the heat would rise again, and the rain would evaporate in a suffocating cloud of steam. Ebenezer Duck and his flock scattered, honking irritably, as she pulled the car under the shade of the oak tree where they had been lazily pecking at the grass. Joe lifted his head to look at her, then returned to his snooze. Everything was calm, just as it had been when she'd left. Only then did she feel an easing of the tight constriction in her chest.
She got the bag out of the trunk, unaware of the sharp black eyes that followed her every move. Holding the bag in one arm and the keys in the other hand, she climbed the steps to the porch, paused to shove her sunglasses on top of her head, then held the screen door open with her hip while she unlocked the door and pushed it open. The air-conditioned coolness was such a shocking contrast to the searing heat outside that goose bumps rose on her flesh, and she shivered. Taking deep breaths, she dropped the bag and her purse on one of the love seats and went to check on her patient.
Just as her hand touched the doorknob a hard arm circled her throat and she was jerked backward, her neck arched unnaturally. A brightly gleaming knife was held in front of her face. She had been too stunned to react, but now sheer terror flooded her as her gaze locked on the knife. How had they gotten in? Had they already killed him? The anguish that rose in her was wild and ferocious, consuming her.
"Don't fight and I won't hurt you," a deep voice murmured in her ear. "I want some answers, but I won't take any chances. If you make a wrong move" He didn't finish the sentence, but he didn't have to. How calm the voice was, as cool and unemotional as stone. It made her blood congeal.
The arm under her chin was choking her, and she automatically raised both hands, clutching at him. The knife moved menacingly closer. "No, none of that," he whispered, his mouth close to her ear. Rachel shrank from the knife, her head digging into his shoulder, her body crowding frantically against his in an attempt to put distance between herself and that shining blade. Every detail of his body was imprinted against her, and suddenly her dazed senses realized what she was feeling. He was naked! And if he were naked, then it had to be…
Sharp, piercing relief, as painful in its own way as the fear and anguish had been, made her muscles suddenly tremble as the tension left them. Her hands relaxed on his forearm.
"That's better," the low voice growled. "Who are you?"
"Rachel Jones," she said, her voice breathless because of the pressure he was putting on her throat.
"Where am I?"
"In my house. I pulled you out of the surf and brought you here." She could feel him hesitate, though perhaps it was simply that he was growing weaker. His strength was astonishing under the circumstances, but he had been very ill, and his stamina must be wavering. "Please," she whispered. "You shouldn't be out of bed."
That was the truth, Sabin thought grimly. He was exhausted, as if he'd run a marathon; his legs felt as if they would give out on him at any moment. He didn't know her, and he couldn't trust her; he had only this one chance, and a wrong guess could cost him his life, but he didn't have much choice. Damn, he was weak! Slowly he relaxed his right arm from around her throat and let his left hand, the one holding the knife, drop to his side. His shoulder throbbed, and he doubted that he would be able to lift his arm again.
Rather than jerking away from him, she turned cautiously, as if afraid of startling him into an attack, and wedged her shoulder under his right arm, while her arms went around him and supported him. "Lean on me before you fall," she said, her voice still a little breathless. "It would be a mess if you tore all those stitches out."
He didn't have much choice except to drape his arm over her slender shoulders and lean heavily on her. If he didn't either sit down or lie downsoonhe was going to fall, and he knew it. Slowly she helped him into the bedroom, supporting him as he virtually collapsed onto the edge of the bed, then holding his head in the crook of her left arm as she lowered him into a supine position while she reached around him with her other hand to arrange the pillow. Sabin drew a deep breath, his senses automatically reacting to her warm female scent and the softness of her breast against his cheek. He had only to turn his head to press his mouth against her nipple, and the image teased at him with a curious urgency.
He lay with his eyes closed, breathing rapidly in exhaustion, while she lifted his legs onto the bed and pulled the sheet up to his waist. "There," she said softly. "You can rest now." She stroked her hand over his chest, as she had done so many times in the past few days, an action that had become automatic because it seemed to calm his restlessness. He was much cooler; the fever had finally lost its grip on him. The knife was still clutched in his left hand, and she reached to take it, but his fingers tightened at her touch, and his eyes flew open, his gaze black and fierce.
Rachel kept her hand on the knife, levelly meeting his eyes. "Why do you need it?" she asked. "If I meant you any harm I've had a lot of opportunities to do something about it before now."
Her eyes were gray, completely so, without any hint of blue. They were almost charcoal in color, but warm, and with an utter clarity that made them seem fathomless. He felt a shock of recognition. The eyes, and the woman, had filled his recent dreams with a tender eroticism that made his loins tighten. But… were they dreams? The woman wasn't a dream. She was real, warm and firm of flesh, and her hands had moved over him with the ease of familiarity. She didn't act like a guard, but he couldn't afford to take the chance. If he relinquished the knife he might not be able to get it back. "I'll keep it," he said.
Rachel hesitated, wondering if she should press the issue, but there was something in his quiet, flat tone that made her decide to let it go. Even though he was weak and barely able to get around on his own, there was something about him that told her he couldn't be pushed. He was a dangerous man, this stranger sleeping in her bed. She moved her hand from his.
"All right. Are you hungry?"
"No. I ate a banana and an apple."
"How long have you been awake?" He hadn't checked a clock, but he didn't need a clock to give him a sense of time. "Almost an hour." His gaze hadn't wavered from her. Rachel felt as if he could see through her, as if he were probing her mind.
"You woke up a couple of times before, but you were still feverish and talking nonsense."
"What kind of nonsense?" he asked sharply.
Rachel regarded him calmly. "No state secrets or anything like that. You thought you were going to a party."
Was there a double meaning to that crack about state secrets? Did she know anything, or had that just been a coincidence? Sabin wanted to question her, but he hardly had the upper hand at the moment, and his exhaustion was changing into acute sleepiness. As if she knew, she touched his face, her fingers cool and light. "Go to sleep," she said. "I'll still be here when you wake up."
It was, ridiculously, the reassurance he needed to let him relax into sleep.
Quietly Rachel left the room and went to the kitchen, where she leaned weakly against the work island. Her legs were shaking, her insides quivering like gelatin, in reaction to all that had happened to her already… and it wasn't even noon yet! Nor did she have any of the answers she had promised herself she would get as soon as he woke up; rather than asking questions, she had been answering his. She hadn't been prepared for the intensity of his gaze, so piercing that it was difficult to meet his eyes for any length of time. Warlock's eyes… She certainly hadn't been prepared for having a knife held to her throat! And she had been helpless, unable to do anything against a strength that was far superior to hers, even though he was undoubtedly weak from his wounds and illness.
The terror that had held her in its icy grip for those few moments had been worse than she had ever imagined. She had been frightened before, but not to that degree. She was still shaking in reaction, and her eyes burned with tears that she refused to let fall. Now wasn't the time for tears; she had to get herself under control. He might sleep for half a day, or he might wake up in an hour, but she was going to be in complete command of herself whenever he woke. He would also need feeding, she thought, seizing gratefully on something practical to do. Banana and apple notwithstanding, his system would probably demand frequent feedings until he had recovered.
Her movements jerky, she set beef tips simmering for beef stew and began dicing potatoes, carrots and celery. Maybe the meal would be ready by the time he awoke; if not, he could settle for soup and a sandwich. When everything was in the pot she darted out to the vegetable garden and gathered the ripe tomatoes, then ignored the heat and began pulling up weeds. It wasn't until she finally fell to her knees on a wave of dizziness that she realized how erratically she had been behaving, spurred on by the overdose of adrenaline her system had absorbed that morning. It was insanity to work out in the broiling sun, especially without a hat!
She went inside and washed her face with cold water; she felt calmer now, though her hands were still trembling slightly. There was nothing to do but wait: wait until the stew was ready; wait until he woke up; wait until she got some answers… wait.
It was a tribute to her self-possession and concentration that she was actually able to do some research for the course she would be teaching in the fall. Like a manuscript, the course would require pacing and plotting to hold the students' interest, to make them stretch. Yet even though she was deeply involved in her reading and notes, she was so attuned to him that she heard the slight rustle made by the bedcovers when he moved, and she knew he was awake. Checking her watch, she saw that he had slept for a little over three hours; the stew would be ready, if he was hungry.
He was sitting up, yawning and rubbing his bearded face, when she entered the bedroom. Instantly she felt his attention settle on her like a beam of pure energy, tingling on her skin.
"Are you hungry now? You've slept for three hours."
He considered that, then gave a brief nod. "Yes. I need a bathroom, a shower and a shave first, though."
"Sorry, the shower is out while you still have stitches," she said, hurrying to his side as he threw back the sheet and eased his feet to the floor, wincing in pain and holding his left thigh. Rachel put a supporting arm around him until he was steady on his feet. "I'll put a new blade in my razor for you, though." Sensing that he preferred to get across the room on his own power, she let her arm drop and watched anxiously as he took each painful step. He was a loner; he wasn't accustomed to aid and didn't welcome it, though he had to know that he simply wasn't capable of some things right now. He would let her help him only when it was necessary. Still, she felt compelled to ask. "Shall I shave you, or do you think you're steady enough to do it yourself?''
He paused at the door to the bathroom and glanced over his shoulder at her. "I'll do it."
She nodded and started toward him. "I'll just put the new blade"
"I'll find them," he said quietly, stopping her before she could reach him. Rachel accepted her dismissal, turning instead toward the other door.
It hurt to have him reject her help after the days he had been totally helpless and dependent on her for everything, after the nights she had spent leaning over him, sponging him down to keep him cool, and especially after the mental strain she had endured. As she set the table she tried to deal with that hurt, to push it away. After all, she was even more of a stranger to him than he was to her, and it was only natural that he would try to regain control of himself as soon as possible. To a man like him, control would be vital. She had to stop hovering over him like a mother hen.
It was easy to tell herself that, but when at last she heard the water cut off in the bathroom she hesitated for only a moment before giving in to the compulsion to check on him. He was standing in the middle of the bedroom floor, looking around as if considering his options. A towel was knotted low on his lean hips, and contrary to logic it made him seem even more naked than when he had been completely unclothed. Rachel's pulse leaped. Even with the stark contrast of the white bandages on his leg and shoulder, he still seemed immensely powerful, and so male that she felt her mouth go dry.
He had shaved, and the clean line of his jaw made her fingers twitch with the urge to stroke itanother gesture he wouldn't appreciate.
"Is there anything I could wear, or do I just go around naked?" he finally asked, when Rachel made no move either to approach him or to speak.
She groaned as she remembered and hit the heel of her palm against her forehead. "I have something for you to wear. That's where I was this morning, picking up some things you would need." The shopping bag still lay where she had dropped it in the living room; she grabbed it and carried it into the bedroom, where she deposited it on the bed.
He opened the bag and a curious expression crossed his face; then he pulled out a lacy pair of panties and held them up to examine them before Rachel could explain. "Size five," he commented, and looked at her as though measuring her for the fit. The scrap of lace and nylon dangled from one finger. "Nice, but I don't think they'll fit me."
"They weren't meant to," Rachel said calmly, still tingling from the once-over he'd given her. "They were camouflage, that's all. Anything you find in there that you don't ordinarily use, put back in the bag." She refused to be embarrassed, since she had only done what had seemed necessary. The "camouflage" had been darned expensive, too! Leaving him to dress in whatever he chose, she returned to the kitchen and popped buttered fresh bread into the oven, then ladled up the stew and poured tea into tall glasses full of ice.
"I need help with the shirt."
She hadn't heard him approach, and she whirled, startled by both his nearness and what he'd said. He was standing right behind her, clad in the black denim cutoffs and holding the terry-cloth pullover in his hand. His chest filled her vision, tautly powerful muscles covered with black, curling hair and the white bulk of the bandage wrapped around his left shoulder. How long had he struggled with the shirt before admitting that he couldn't manage it by himself? She was astonished that he hadn't simply exchanged it for one that buttoned, so he wouldn't have to ask for her help.
"Sit down so I can reach you better," she said, taking the shirt from his hand. He held the corner of the cabinets for support as he slowly limped to the table in the dining alcove and eased himself down onto one of the chairs. Rachel carefully worked the shirt up his arm, a look of intent concentration on her face as she tried not to jostle his shoulder. When she had it in place she said, "Put your other arm in the sleeve while I keep it from pulling on your shoulder."
Without a word he did as she directed, and together they pulled the shirt over his head. Rachel tugged it into place, much as a mother would dress a toddler, but the man sitting motionless under her ministrations was no child in any sense she could imagine. She didn't linger over the chore, well aware of his dislike for having to rely on her aid. Briskly she got the bread out of the oven and put it in the napkin-lined breadbasket, then placed the basket on the table and took her own chair. "Are you left-handed or right-handed?" she asked, not looking at him, even though she could feel the burning energy of his gaze on her face. "Ambidextrous. Why?"
"The spoon could be difficult for you to handle if you were left-handed," she replied, nodding at the stew. "Would you like bread?"
He was very good at one-word sentences, she thought as she put the bread on his plate. Actually, she should have thought of asking him if he could handle the razor, too, but his clean-shaven face said that he evidently could. They ate in silence for a few moments, and he really did justice to the stew. She hadn't expected his appetite to be so good so early in his recovery.
The bowl was nearly empty when he put his spoon down and pinned her with the ebony fire of his eyes. "Tell me what's going on."
It was a demand that Rachel didn't feel like meeting. Carefully she put her own spoon down. "I think it's my turn to ask a few questions. Who are you? What's your name?"
He didn't like the counterdemand. She sensed his displeasure, though his expression didn't flicker. The hesitation lasted for barely a second, but she noticed it and had the immediate impression that he wasn't going to answer. Then he drawled, "Call me, 'Joe'."
"I can't do that," she replied. "'Joe' is what I call the dog, because he wouldn't tell me his name, either. Make up another one." Driven by the electric surge of tension in the air she began clearing off the table, moving swiftly and automatically. He watched her for a moment, then said quietly, "Sit down."
Rachel didn't pause. "Why? Do I have to be sitting down to listen to more lies?"
"Rachel, sit down." He didn't raise his voice, didn't change the calm, dead-level inflection of his tone, but suddenly it was a command. She stared at him for a moment, then lifted her chin and returned to her chair. When she merely waited in silence, looking at him, he gave a little sigh.
"I appreciate your help, but the less you know, the better it is for you."
Rachel had always hated it when anyone presumed to know what was best for her and what wasn't. "I see. Was I not supposed to notice that you had two bullet holes in you, when I pulled you out of the surf? Was I supposed to turn my head when two men pretending to be FBI agents came looking for you, and just turn you over to them? Was it supposed to pass my notice that you held a knife to my throat this morning? I'm a little curious, I admit! I've nursed you for four days, and I really would like to know your name, if that isn't too much to ask!"
One level black brow lifted at her sarcasm. "It could be."
"All right, forget it. Play your little games. You don't answer my questions and I won't answer yours. Deal?"
He watched her for a little longer, and Rachel kept her gaze level, not backing down an inch. "My name is Sabin," he finally said, the words slowly drawn out of him, as if he begrudged every syllable.
She absorbed the name's sound, her mind lingering over the feel and form of it. "And the rest of it?"
"Is it important?"
"No. But I'd like to know, anyway."
He paused only a fraction of a second. "Kell Sabin."
She held out her hand. "Glad to meet you, Kell Sabin."
Slowly he took her hand, his callused palm sliding against her softer one and his hard, warm fingers wrapping around hers. "Thank you for taking care of me. I've been here four days?"
"This is the fourth day."
"Fill me in on what's happened."
He had the manner of a man accustomed to command; rather than requesting, he ordered, and it was clear that he expected his orders to be obeyed. Rachel pulled her hand from his, disturbed by his warm touch and the shivery way it affected her. Clasping her fingers together to dispel the tingling in them, she rested her hands on the table. "I pulled you out of the water and brought you here. I think you hit your head on one of the rocks that line the mouth of the bay. You had a concussion and were in shock. The bullet was still in your shoulder."
He frowned. "I know. Did you take it out?"
"Not me. I called the vet."
At least something could startle him, though the expression was quickly gone. "A veterinarian?"
"I had to do something, and a doctor has to report all gunshot wounds."
He eyed her thoughtfully. "You didn't want it reported?"
"I thought you might not want it reported." "You thought right. What happened then?"
"I took care of you. You were out of it for two days. Then you started waking up, but the fever had you out of your head. You didn't know what was going on."
"And the FBI agents?"
"They weren't FBI. I checked."
"What did they look like?"
Rachel began to feel as if she were being interrogated. "The one who calls himself Lowell is thin, dark, about five foot ten, early forties. The other one, Ellis, is tall, good-looking in a toothpaste-ad sort of way, sandy-brown hair, blue eyes."
"Ellis," he said, as if to himself.
"I played dumb. It seemed the safest thing to do until you woke up. Are they friends of yours?"
Silence fell between them. Rachel studied her hands, waiting for another question. When none came she tried one of her own. "Should I have called the police?"
"It would have been safer for you if you had."
"I took a calculated risk. I figured the odds were more in my favor than yours." She took a deep breath. "I'm a civilian, but I used to be an investigative reporter. I saw some things in those days that didn't add up, and I did a little digging, found out some things before I was warned not to go any deeper. You could have been a drug runner or an escaped convict, but there wasn't any hint of anything like that on the scanner. You could also have been an agent. You had been shot twice. You were unconscious and couldn't protect yourself or tell me anything. If… people…were hunting you, you wouldn't have had a chance in a hospital."
His lashes had dropped, shielding his expression. "You've got quite an imagination."
"Haven't I," she agreed mildly.
He leaned back in his chair, wincing a little as he tried to get his shoulder comfortable. "Who else knows I'm here, other than the vet?"
"Then how did you get me up here? Or did the vet help you? You're not Superwoman."
"I put you on a quilt and dragged you up here, with help from the dog. Maybe he thought it was a game." Her gray eyes darkened as she thought of the Herculean effort she had made to get him inside the house. "When Honey got here, we lifted you onto the bed."
"The vet. Honey Mayfield."
Sabin watched her quiet face, wondering at what she wasn't saying. How far had she dragged him? How had she gotten him up the steps to the porch? He had carried wounded men out of battle, so he knew how difficult it was, even with his strength and training. He outweighed her by at least eighty pounds; there was no way she could have lifted him. She could be lying about not having anyone else help her, but there wasn't any reason for her to do so; all he could do was read between the lines. Almost anyone would have called the police immediately on finding a man unconscious on their beach, but she hadn't. Few people would ever have considered the options and circumstances that had occurred to her. People just didn't think about such things. It wasn't a part of their normal lives; it only happened in movies and books and therefore wasn't real. What life had she led that would make her so cautious, so aware of something that should have been beyond her experience?
They both heard the approaching car at the same time. Instantly she was out of her chair, her hand on his shoulder. "Go to the bedroom and close the door," she said evenly, not noticing the way his eyebrows lifted at her order. She went to the window and looked out; then the tension visibly left her body.
"It's Honey. Everything's okay. I guess she stayed away as long as her curiosity would let her."