মুখ্য On Wings of Magic

On Wings of Magic

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আপনি একটি বুক রিভিউ লিখতে পারেন এবং আপনার অভিজ্ঞতা শেয়ার করতে পারেন. অন্যান্য পাঠকরা আপনার পড়া বইগুলির বিষয়ে আপনার মতামত সম্পর্কে সর্বদা আগ্রহী হবে. বইটি আপনার পছন্দ হোক বা না হোক, আপনি যদি নিজের সৎ ও বিস্তারিত চিন্তাভাবনা ব্যক্ত করেন তাহলে অন্যরা তাদের জন্য উপযুক্ত নতুন বইগুলি খুঁজে পাবে.
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Rebel Waltz

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2

Larger than Life

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english
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EPUB, 1.93 MB
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[image: ]




About the Author

KAY HOOPER, who has more than thirteen million copies of her books in print worldwide, has won numerous awards and high praise for her novels. Kay lives in North Carolina, where she is currently working on her next novel. Visit her website at www.kayhooper.com.





AFTER CAROLINE
by Kay Hooper

Two women who look enough alike to be twins. Both involved in car wrecks at the same time. One survives, one doesn’t.

Now, plagued by a bewildering connection to a woman she never knew, driven by an urgent compulsion she doesn’t understand, Joanna Flynn travels three thousand miles across the country to the picturesque town where Caroline McKenna lived—and mysteriously died. There Joanna will run into a solid wall of suspicion as she searches for the truth: Was Caroline’s death an accident? Or was she the target of a killer willing to kill again?

It wasn’t much to cause such a drastic effect. Not much at all. A small spot on the road, maybe a smear of oil that had dripped down when some other car had inexplicably paused here where there were no side, streets or driveways or even wide shoulders to beckon. She never saw it. One moment, her old Ford was moving smoothly, completely under her control; the next moment, it was spinning with stunning violence.

She was jerked about like a rag doll, and clung to the steering wheel out of some dim conviction that she could somehow regain control over the vehicle. But the sheer force of the spin made her helpless. It seemed to go on forever, the summer green of the scenery revolving around her wildly, the anguished scream of tires on hot pavement shrill in her ears. Other cars cried out in response, their tires shrieking and horns blaring, adding to the cacophony blasting her.

And then there were actual blows as the whirling car began to strike stationary objects, the overgrown shrubbery that lined the street at first, and then small trees. Harsh shudders shook her and the car again and again. The spinning slowed, she thought, but then the ; undercarriage snagged something that refused to give or let go, there was an ungodly wail of tortured metal, and the car flipped—not once, but over and over, as violently as it had spun on its wheels.

She didn’t realize she had closed her eyes until the car jolted a final time upright, rocked threateningly, and then went still with a groan.

In that first instant, she understood the phrase “deafening silence” all she could hear was her own heart thudding. Then, as though someone had turned up the volume, the sounds of people shouting and car horns filtered into her awareness. She opened her eyes cautiously, blinking back tears of fright.

The sight that met her gaze was appalling. The windshield’s shatterproof glass had simply vanished, and she could see with terrible clarity the long hood of her car now crumpled back toward her like some monstrous accordion, with unbroken headlights pointed bizarrely toward the sky. The passenger door had also been forced inward, so that she could have easily rested her elbow on it without even leaning to the right. And though the driver’s door seemed amazingly whole and unharmed, she knew without even looking back that the rear of the car had also folded in, so that she was encased in a tight box of collapsed metal.

She forced her hands to let go of the steering wheel and held them up to eye level, warily examining her fingers one at a time until she could convince herself that all ten were present and working properly. Then, as the voices came nearer to what was left of her car, she shifted a bit, carefully, waiting for a pain or some other indication of injury. She even managed to feel down her legs, bared by her summer skirt, and searched for damage.

Nothing. Not a scratch.

She wasn’t a religious woman, but staring around her at something that didn’t even look like a car anymore, she had to wonder if perhaps something or someone hadn’t been watching over her.

“Lady, are you all right?”

She looked through the glassless window into a stranger’s concerned face and heard an uncertain laugh emerge from her mouth.

“Yeah. Can you believe it?”

“No,” he replied frankly, a grin tugging at his lips. “You ought to be in about a million pieces, lady. This has gotta be the luckiest day of your life.”

“Tell me about it.” She shifted slightly, adding, “But I can hardly move, and I can’t reach the door handle. Can you get it open?”

The stranger, a middle-aged man with the burly shoulders that come of a lifetime’s hard work, yanked experimentally on her door. “Nope. There isn’t a mark on this door, but it’s been compressed in the front and back, and it’s stuck tight. We’re gonna need the Jaws of Life, sure enough. Don’t worry, though—the rescue squad and paramedics are on their way.”

Distant sirens were getting louder, but even so she felt a chill of worry. “I had a full tank of gas. You don’t think—”

“I don’t smell anything,” he reassured her. “And I’ve worked in garages most of my life. Don’t worry. By the way, my name is Jim. Jim Smith, believe it or not.”

“It’s a day to believe anything. I’m Joanna. Nice to meet you, Jim.”

He nodded. “Same here, Joanna. You’re sure you’re okay? No pain anywhere?”

“Not even a twinge.” She looked past his shoulder to watch other motorists slipping and sliding down the bank toward her, and swallowed hard when she saw just how far her car had rolled. “My God. I should be dead, shouldn’t I?”

Jim looked back and briefly studied the wide path of flattened brush and churned-up earth, then returned his gaze to her and smiled. “Like I said, this seems to be your lucky day.”

Joanna looked once more at the car crumpled so snugly around her, and shivered. As close as she ever wanted to come …

Within five minutes, die rescue squad and paramedics arrived, all of them astonished but pleased to find her unhurt. Jim backed away to allow the rescue people room to work, joining the throng of onlookers scattered down the bank, and Joanna realized only then that she was the center of quite a bit of attention.

“I always wanted to be a star,” she murmured.

The nearest paramedic, a brisk woman of about Joanna’s age wearing a name badge that said E. Mallory, chuckled in response. “Word’s gotten around that you haven’t a scratch. Don’t be surprised if the fourth estate shows up any minute.”

Joanna was about to reply to that with another light comment, but before she could open her mouth, the calm of the moment was suddenly, terribly, shattered. There was a sound like a gunshot, a dozen voices screamed, “Get back!” and Joanna turned her gaze toward the windshield to see what looked like a thick black snake with a fiery head falling toward her out of the sky.

Then something slammed into her with the unbelievable force of a runaway train, and everything went black.

There was no sense of time passing, and Joanna didn’t feel she had gone somewhere else. She felt… suspended, in a kind of limbo. Weightless, content, she drifted in a peaceful silence. She was waiting for something, she knew that. Waiting to find out something. The silence was absolute, but gradually the darkness began to abate, and she felt a gentle tug. She turned, or thought she did, and moved in the direction of the soft pull.

But almost immediately, she was released, drifting once more as the darkness deepened again. And she had a sudden sense that she was not alone, that someone shared the darkness with her. She felt a featherlight touch, so fleeting she wasn’t at all sure of it, as though someone or something had brushed her.

Don’t let her be alone.

Joanna heard nothing, yet the plea was distinct in her mind and the emotions behind it were nearly over-whelming. She tried to reach out toward that other, suffering presence, but before she could something yanked at her sharply.

Joanna? Joanna! Come on, Joanna, open your eyes!”

That summons was an audible one, growing louder as she felt herself pulled downward. She resisted for an instant, reluctant, but then fell in a rush until she felt the heaviness of her own body once more.

Instantly, every nerve and muscle she possessed seemed on fire with pain, and she groaned as she forced open her eyes.

A clear plastic cup over her (ace, and beyond it a circle of unfamiliar faces breaking into grins. And beyond them a clear blue summer sky decorated with fleecy white clouds. She was on the ground. What was she doing on the ground?

“She’s back with us,” one of the faces said back over his shoulder to someone else. “Lets get her on the stretcher.” Then, to her, “You’re going to be all right, Joanna. You’re going to be just fine.”

Joanna felt her aching body lifted. She watched dreamily as she floated past more faces. Then a vaguely familiar one appeared, and she saw it say something to her, something that sank in only some time later as she rode in a wailing ambulance.

Definitely your lucky day You almost died twice

Her mind clearing by that time, Joanna could only agree with Jims observation. How many people, after, go through one near-death experience? Not many. Yet here she was, whole and virtually unharmed—if you discounted the fact that the only part of her body that didn’t ache was the tip of her nose.

Still, she was very much alive, and incredibly grateful. At the hospital, she was examined, soothed, and medicated. She would emerge from the days incredible experiences virtually unscathed, the doctors told her. She had one burn mark on her right ankle where the electricity from the power line had arced between exposed metal and her flesh, and she’d be sore for a while both from the shock that had stopped her heart and from the later efforts to start it again.

She was a very lucky young lady and should suffer no lasting effects from what had happened to her; that was what they said.

But they were wrong. Because that was the night the dreams began.




[image: ]
Chapter 3

For one brief, insane moment, Kendall didn’t understand the harsh words. She stared up at him bemusedly, vaguely noting that the moonlight lent his face an air of stark aggression that was just slightly short of alarming. And then she realized that the moonlight had very little to do with it … which was nothing short of alarming.

Sanity rushed in to fill the cold void left by that realization, and with it temper. Damn! What was the man—a sorcerer? What was he that he could do this to her?

She tried fiercely to break away from him, and discovered his grip to be as immovable as the island they stood on. “Animals can be attracted to one another,” she snapped witheringly, pushing against his broad chest with both hands and achieving no very noticeable result. “It doesn’t mean a thing.”

“Doesn’t it?” Like a lumbering bear ignoring the puppy snapping at its heels, Hawke ignored her efforts to escape. “It means that you want me, Kendall—and that’s enough to start with.”

She stopped struggling suddenly, and lifted her chin with fiery dignity. Bright moonlight showed clearly the anger glittering in her blue-green eyes. “Be that as it may,” she shot back coldly, “I have no intention of getting involved with you. And if that means I’ll have to leave this island—then I will. Cowardly or not.”

Apparently realizing that goading her would serve no useful purpose this time, he stared down at her for a moment. “Then I’ll make a deal with you,” he told her in a very neutral voice.

In spite of herself Kendall asked, “What kind of deal?”

“You don’t run away, and I won’t—force my attentions on you.”

“There’s a clinker in there somewhere.” She stared at him suspiciously, trying to forget that his arms were still around her and his hands burning against her bare back. “What exactly do you mean by that?”

“Nothing sinister. In fact, it’s really very simple. You have the control, Kendall. I intend to make love to you at every opportunity—we both know that. But you hold the reins. I give you my word that I’ll stop when you say to.”

Kendall knew that she was a fool to even consider his “deal,” but she didn’t see any other choice. She couldn’t go back to South America, and she couldn’t leave the resort because her father was to meet her here. Surely she had enough control to hold Hawke at arm’s length! Besides that … she had never in her life run away from a fight.

And there was something exhilarating in the thought that she would have a special power in this relationship. Rather like a lion tamer must feel … because he had the gun.

It was the reckless Kendall who spoke, while the worried little voice inside her head moaned a warning. “Will you keep your word, Hawke?”

“I swear. I won’t force you into a thing.”

Well, Kendall knew, there was force … and then there was force. A small distinction with dangerous possibilities. But as the tension flowed from her body, she knew that the decision had been made. It was a new game now, with new rules. And the biggest rule of all depended on her own self-control. “All right—I agree.”

The gray eyes took on that unnervingly satisfied gleam again, and Kendall wondered what she’d gotten herself into. “Good,” he stated softly.

She tried cautiously to disentangle herself from his hold. “I’d like to go back to the hotel now, Hawke. It’s been a long day, and I’m tired.”

For a moment she thought he would ignore the request. But then he sighed heavily and stepped back, his arms falling away from her. “All right, honey—if that’s what you want.” He bent to pick up her purse and sandals from the sand, and added humorously, “I’m afraid the hem of your dress is wet.”

“So are your shoes.” She was grateful for the lightness that had replaced the turbulent emotions of passion and anger. Unobtrusively, she tugged at the bodice of her dress, realizing ruefully that the wet hem was acting as weight to pull down the material. If she were lucky, she just might make it back to the hotel without disgracing herself. If not—well, she could always borrow Hawke’s jacket….

It was a giddy thought. A moment later Hawke had turned abruptly back to her, picked her up as easily as though she were a child, and began striding along the beach toward the hotel.

“Hawke!”

“Well, you’re barefooted,” he explained reasonably, her slight weight obviously not disturbing him in the least.

Kendall clutched his neck instinctively. “You have my sandals! Put me down, and I’ll—”

“You’ll never get all the sand off your feet. And I’m sure you know how uncomfortable it is to walk in sandy shoes.”

“I’ll bear up. Hawke, for heaven’s sake! What if someone sees this caveman display?”

“People expect to see this sort of thing here. I started to name this place the Love Resort, you know, but changed my mind. Too sappy.”

Kendall ignored the information Feeling her dress slip a bit more, she said irritably, “I thought you said I could call a halt—”

“This isn’t lovemaking,” he cut her off ruthlessly in a bland voice. “It’s romancing. Haven’t you ever read the part where the heroine gets swept off her feet?”

In all the books Kendall had read, the heroine got swept off her feet and right into the hero’s bed. “Now, look,” she began, but broke off hastily as they encountered another couple on leaving the beach and starting up the path to the hotel.

Polite words were exchanged between Hawke and the other man, and the four passed one another. As the other couple stepped onto the beach and she and Hawke started to round a curve on the path, Kendall distinctly heard the young woman say enviously to her escort, “How sweet! Why aren’t you ever that romantic?”

In spite of herself, Kendall giggled. Reading the gleam of laughter in the glance Hawke slanted her way, she recovered quickly and said, “Don’t think that excuses you. Just because it’s her idea of romance doesn’t mean it’s mine.”

“You mean it’s not?” He didn’t seem noticeably dashed.

“No,” she lied, thinking of knights on white chargers and outmoded chivalry. And dodos and dinosaurs. They had all been killed by the times. “Aren’t you getting tired?” she asked with hope, knowing that it would be futile to struggle and that she would appear as helpless as a three-day-old kitten if she tried.

“Not at all—you’re as light as a feather.”

They emerged from the path into the well-lighted pool area just then, and Kendall felt a flush rise in her cheeks as she blinked and encountered the interested stares from two late-night swimmers. One of the women asked the other in an envious stage-whisper, “Does he do that for all his guests?” And the other answered sadly, “Only the lucky ones.”

Kendall giggled again, and then realized that they were nearly at the hotel door. “Hawke!” she whispered fiercely, tugging on his ear to get his attention. It seemed an absurd thing to do, but she was feeling giddy again. “Put me down this instant! You can’t carry me through the hotel lobby!”

“Why not?”

Why not, indeed. Without the slightest sign of embarrassment, he carried her through the lobby. Unfortunately, at least half the guests in the hotel seemed to be milling around in the lobby. At least, it seemed so to Kendall, although there were probably only a dozen or so people. As if that made a difference.

Conscious of her bare, sand-covered feet, damp dress, and windblown hair, Kendall resolutely kept her gaze fixed on the rather formidable angle of Hawke’s jaw. She heard a couple of giggles and literally felt several grins, but she didn’t look up. And it didn’t help that they had to wait several minutes for the elevator … which delivered another half dozen witnesses.

When the elevator doors at last hissed shut behind them, Kendall glanced around guardedly and found that they were alone. And found Hawke gazing down at her with a purely male grin and laughter dancing in his eyes.

“I don’t suppose,” she said carefully, “that anyone down there thought you were being heroic to an accident victim? A sprained ankle or something?”

“I doubt it.”

“And I don’t suppose you’d care to explain to them that this is not what it looks like?”

“No,” he answered simply, the grin still present.

“Uh-huh.” Kendall felt an insane urge to burst out laughing. “I’ll have to get busy tonight.”

“Doing what?”

“Embroidering scarlet A’s on all my blouses.”

Hawke laughed softly as he leaned against the wall of the elevator. “How does it feel to be a scarlet woman?”

“Embarrassing. Tell me”—she linked her fingers together at the back of his neck—“should I expect more of this sort of thing?”

“It’s romance,” he protested, wounded.

“Oh, so that’s what you call it. I never would have guessed.”

“You really love it.”

She sighed. “People with egos like yours should be locked up. Were you born self-confident, or was it just a little something you learned along the way?”

“Inherited. Just ask my mother.”

The elevator doors opened before Kendall could frame an adequate response. Having learned the uselessness of protest, she remained silent as Hawke carried her down the hall.

He stopped at the door of her room and lifted a quizzical eyebrow. “Your key?”

“It’s in my purse,” she informed him politely. “Which I trust you still have.”

“So I do. A bit awkward, though.” He looked up the hall as a door opened, then smiled as a red-jacketed young man emerged pushing a serving cart. “Mike,” he called out, “would you give us a hand here?”

“Of course, Mr. Madison.” Mike stopped the cart near them and chastely averted his eyes from Kendall’s bare feet, looking at his employer with a poker face that did credit to his control. “How can I help?”

“Miss James’s door key—would you get it out of the purse, please, and unlock the door?” Hawke looked at Kendall with belated, mocking concern. “You don’t mind, do you, honey?”

“Of course not.” Whether it was giddiness or sheer resignation, Kendall felt extremely detached from the moment. So what if her reputation was shot to hell? She hoped none of these people moved in the same circles as a mining engineer, so if she could whisk her father away quick enough, he need never know.

Mike located the key in Kendall’s purse and unlocked the door, then swung it open, replaced the key, and solemnly handed the purse to her. Kendall murmured an absurd thank-you, and wondered vaguely if Hawke had planned the whole damn scene.

“Thanks, Mike.” Hawke watched as the young man continued down the hall with his cart, then smiled down at Kendall. “It’s nice to have a helping hand now and then,” he commented.

“Are you dead to all shame?” she asked with the objective interest of someone searching for the answer to a somewhat puzzling question.

“Not at all.” He carried her into her room—leaving the door open—and set her gently on the foot of the bed, dropping the sandals at her feet. “Now … does madam require anything else?”

Kendall stared at him a little wildly. “A psychiatrist and a couch. I must be out of my mind.”

“My couch is vacant at the moment.” Somehow, he managed to leer with his eyebrows.

“Thanks—I’ll pass.” She could have added that having already experienced the effectiveness of his “couch,” she wasn’t eager to repeat the less-than-fun experience.

“Anything else I can do to help?” He looked ridiculously hopeful. “If you’d care to soak in a hot tub, I’ll be glad to wash your back for you. Or anything else—”

“Never mind,” she interrupted a little desperately. “I get the picture! Thanks, but no thanks.” She made a sudden grab at the top of her dress as it gave up the ghost and decided to obey the laws of gravity. “If you’d just leave—?”

Hawke grinned, interestedly watching her struggle with the dress. “Need any help with your zipper?” he asked innocently.

If Kendall hadn’t been afraid of losing the battle with her dress, she would have thrown her purse at him. “Just—leave!”

Hawke bowed with stilted dignity and backed toward the door, obviously intent on watching the unintended strip-scene for as long as possible. “If you need anything—anything at all—”

“I’ll whistle, shall I?” She glared at him, trying not to let the bubble of laughter in her throat escape.

“Or call room service—they’ll pass the message along.”

“Hawke!”

“See you in the morning, honey.” He laughed, then closed the door quietly behind him.

Kendall stared at the closed door for a moment, absently releasing the grip on her dress and allowing the material to find its own level. She thought of laughter and romance, of fragile ideals and cherished illusions. She thought of paradise, and knights riding by on white chargers and moonlight. She thought of a bruised and weary heart with too many good-byes engraved on it, and an optimism bruised from too many head-on collisions with reality.

She thought of charades and other games. Like this one—where romance was the key and the stakes were high—very high. And the joker was wild. Speaking to the man who could no longer hear her, she mused vaguely, “But in your game, Hawke … the game is wild.”

She glanced absently at the balcony door to see Gypsy emerge and favor her with a disapproving stare. “Gypsy, we are definitely in trouble!”

Muted thunder woke her up the next morning, and Kendall moaned sleepily and pulled the pillow around her ears to shut out the sound. It didn’t help, though, and she muttered irritably for someone to kill the noisy intruder. It was a moment before she identified the sound as someone pounding on her door.

Still more than half asleep, she flung back the covers and pulled herself from the bed, feeling almost blindly around for her robe and slippers and finding neither. Deciding to hell with it, she made her way to the door, more by a terrific sense of direction than anything else, and flung it open. The glare on her face—sleepy though it was—should have curled somebody’s hair.

Except that it didn’t.

Hawke returned the glare as he leaned against the jamb, one hand holding an indignantly struggling Gypsy by the scruff of her neck. “It’s about time!” he snapped, obviously not in the best of moods.

Kendall focused on the rather odd scene in front of her, and grasped one important fact. “What are you doing with my cat?” she demanded with early-morning temper.

“It isn’t love of her company, believe me.” His voice was carefully restrained. “In fact, I’ve been tempted to drown her. I just fished her out of the couple next door’s bathtub. They are not happy. And since they requested the honeymoon suite because they understandably wanted privacy, I don’t blame them.”

“Gypsy likes water,” Kendall defended her pet, again grasping only the relevant fact.

“She also likes chewing on various parts of the human anatomy, as one very unhappy hotel employee can attest to. Either put her in a cage, Kendall, or make damn sure she doesn’t get out of your room at night. The last thing I need is a lawsuit!”

“I will not put Gypsy in a cage!” The logical part of Kendall’s mind realized that her cat must have loosened the leash and leapt from her balcony to the one next door. The same little compartment of her mind also noted that Hawke had apparently dressed in a hurry without taking the time to shave. But, having been rudely awakened after lying awake for most of the night, Kendall was in no mood to heed the logical voice warning her to be conciliatory.

“Then put a leash on her.” Hawke ignored the cat’s attempts to scratch him. His glare faded suddenly as his gray eyes dropped to take in her petite figure, clothed only in baby-doll pajamas so sheer that it hardly seemed worth the effort.

Unaware that his mood was rapidly changing, Kendall reached out to grab her pet. She held the cat against her breast securely, glaring at Hawke and totally unconscious of the fact that the wet animal was bringing her pajamas one step closer to invisibility. “I did leash her!” she snapped.

“Well … try to keep her in your room, then, and not on the balcony.” It was an almost absent request, delivered in a deepening voice as his eyes continued to rove almost hungrily over her. “Dammit, Kendall—do you own a single outfit that isn’t sexy?”

The sudden demand startled Kendall, and woke her up with a vengeance. Clutching her cat, she stared at him warily, remembering the bargain struck the night before. Dumb. Oh, she had been dumb! Trying to save a hopeless situation, she told him calmly, “My clothes are none of your business.”

It was damnably hard to be dignified when one was barefoot, wearing skimpy pajamas, and clutching a wet cat, but Kendall gave it her best shot. And Hawke, devil that he was, changed moods on her again.

With a sudden grin he said softly, “I loved the slippery dress last night, but this is even better.”

Kendall felt definitely hunted when an older woman passed by the doorway just in time to hear Hawke’s remark and tossed a startled, somewhat amused glance at Kendall. Resigned, Kendall recognized one of the women who had been by the pool the night before.

Did he plan these encounters, for God’s sake, or was she simply incredibly unlucky? Twenty-five years with a spotless reputation, and everything changed overnight. The thought roused a justifiable anger. “If you don’t mind, I’d like to go back to bed,” she said stiffly, realizing too late that her word choice had not been the best.

“I don’t mind at all.” He took a step inside the room, gray eyes glittering with laughter and something else. “In fact, I’d say that it was a perfect way to start the day.”

For a panicky moment Kendall felt almost overwhelmed by the hypnotic gray eyes. And then Gypsy solved the problem by swiping angrily at Hawke with a set of very impressive claws.

Forced to step back again or be branded for life, Hawke stared at the cat a bit ominously. “You,” he informed the irritated feline, “ought to be shot.”

Unimpressed, Gypsy growled low in her throat and attempted another swipe. Smiling sweetly, Kendall closed the door gently in Hawke’s bemused face.

Securely latching the balcony door, Kendall released her pet and then tried to recapture sleep. It didn’t work, of course. She had shed the damp pajamas, thinking wrathfully that if anyone—unnamed—woke her up again, there would be a show. But sleep eluded her.

Giving up after half an hour, she rose once again and took a shower, then dressed in cutoff jeans and a short-sleeved cotton shirt, tied at her waist. Slipping her feet into a pair of thongs, she found her purse. Automatically checking her wallet, she dropped her room key inside. She had to get away from the hotel for a while.

It wasn’t so much a conscious decision as a need. Absently, she found Gypsy’s food and water dishes, filled one with water and the other with some of the dry food she’d bought in Nassau the day before, and placed both dishes by the locked balcony door.

A few moments later she was leaving the elevator in the lobby, and hoping that Hawke was nowhere around. Since it was fairly early for most of the guests, the lobby was silent, and Kendall hurried toward the doors.

“Miss James?”

She halted and turned to face Rick Evans. “Mr. Evans.” Her voice was resigned. “Is something wrong?”

“No, of course not.” He looked a little uncertain as he reached her, his smile tentative. “It’s just—Miss James, would you mind very much changing rooms?”

She looked surprised, and he hurried on to explain.

“There was a mixup in our reservations, and one of the guests who requested two rooms on your floor has only one. He’s arrived earlier than expected, and since he’s a regular guest…”

Kendall smiled faintly. “I don’t mind at all. Shall I move my things now, or—”

“The staff will move everything for you, if that’s all right. I can see you’re on your way out.” He grinned slightly. “I may have to roust Hawke to move the cat, but I’m sure he won’t mind.”

Thinking of Hawke grappling with Gypsy’s temperamental nature gave the news an added plus as far as Kendall was concerned. Smiling, she handed over her key and accepted the one held out to her.

“It’s a suite on the top floor,” the manager elaborated, “but there’s no extra charge. I’m sorry for the inconvenience, Miss James.”

“No trouble,” she said politely. Dropping the key into her purse, she waved cheerily and then hastily made good her escape before Hawke could pop out of nowhere and create another embarrassing situation out of thin air.

Emerging into the early-morning sunlight, Kendall had no very clear idea of where she was going. She looked thoughtfully at the two cabs parked outside the hotel entrance and flipped a mental coin, then began walking.

The village was easy to locate, and she wandered down the shaded streets and window-shopped for an hour or so. Sometime later her steps slowed as she followed the path toward the dignified old church not far from the hotel. She could hear the laughter and shrieks of children at play, and the sound stopped her dead in her tracks.

She loved children and emotionally had adopted kids all over the world. It was always painful to leave them behind when her father was transferred and they moved on again.

Her father had warned her years before that she would tear herself apart over “her kids.” He had used it as an argument for settling down and having kids of her own, telling her that one day she would love a child too much, and be heartbroken at the inevitable parting.

It hadn’t worked out that way though—it had been the other way around. The child she had loved had left her, and Kendall was desperately afraid to become attached to another.

“May I help you?”

Startled, she focused on an elderly man whose gentle brown eyes and serene expression gave her a very good idea who he was. The collar helped. “Father Thomas?”

“Yes.” The eyes moved over her in an unexpectedly shrewd inspection. “You’re Miss James.”

“Kendall,” she corrected him automatically, her surprise obvious. “But how did you know?”

He smiled. “Hawke brought Robbie back from the hotel yesterday afternoon and explained what had happened. I have to thank you, Kendall. If it hadn’t been for you—”

“Please.” Kendall smiled a little shakily, thrown by this man’s friendship with Hawke, although she didn’t know why. “If I hadn’t been there, someone else would have helped,” Another happy shriek drew her eyes irresistibly to the square whitewashed building behind the church. “Father—if you don’t mind, I’d like to spend some time with the children.”

“Of course, Kendall.” Smiling, he led the way to the surprisingly well-equipped playground between the church and the orphanage. Seeing Kendall’s expression, the priest explained, “Hawke provides a few extras for the children.”

Kendall didn’t want to hear that. Not that she wanted to deprive the children, but everything she heard about Hawke seemed to produce yet another bond between them, and that was the last thing she needed. She didn’t have time to worry over it, though, because she was surrounded by laughing children a moment later.

As always, Kendall lost track of time as she played with the kids. When lunchtime came, Father Thomas invited her to stay, and she did. But she almost regretted it when the priest spent the whole time talking about Hawke. Interested, and yet troubled by the certainty that she was becoming involved with Hawke in spite of herself, Kendall listened.

Father Thomas spoke of his younger friend with great affection and respect. He told Kendall that Hawke had been decorated several times in Vietnam—something the priest had learned through a mutual friend, since Hawke didn’t talk about it—and wounded once while evacuating children from a small hospital under enemy fire. He told her about Hawke’s intelligence, his sensitivity, his concern for the people around him.

Kendall listened, her first impression of Hawke as a hard man fading away. And that, she knew, was dangerous. Knowing it did nothing to change it. Father Thomas drew a vivid picture of a man who felt more than he showed, who had seen—like Kendall—too much to be innocent. A man with chinks in his armor.

It was late in the afternoon when Kendall left the orphanage, thanking Father Thomas and receiving his assurances that she was welcome anytime.

Instead of walking directly back to the hotel, Kendall wandered slowly along a path until she came to the rocky cliffs on the north end of the island. She picked her way carefully, recognizing the area from her brief flight over the island in the small plane that had brought her from Nassau. Moving south, she reached a point where she could see the hotel in the distance, and look down from the cliffs to the beginnings of the sandy beach she and Hawke had walked the night before.

Kendall sat down a foot from the edge, deciding vaguely to watch the sunset. But her thoughts occupied her, thoughts she had pushed aside after lunch with Father Thomas.

Hugging her knees, she listened to the roar of the surf and her thoughts. She had enjoyed the past fifteen years, the good times far outweighing the bad. But she felt … so weary. Not a physical weariness, but an emotional one. She had never known roots. The most stable thing in her life was her father’s love, and she had always lived with the knowledge that her father could be killed without warning.

It had made each moment precious, perhaps explaining her need to travel with him. But she couldn’t cling to her father forever. She was independent physically and mentally—but emotionally, the child inside her had not yet learned to trust other relationships. The child clung to its father as the only solid thing in a painful world.

Kendall knew herself. And she knew that it was time for her to let go of her father. His life was not hers. Her life was … what? Undiscovered, as yet.

It was a peculiar moment. She felt almost reborn. And scared. So scared. But several things were clear to her. She would no longer pretend—with anyone. The useful and easily assumed dumb blonde was gone forever. Hawke had been right; she was cheating herself, and others, by presenting a bland appearance to the world.

It was astonishingly clear to her. She wasn’t quite sure why. But instinct told her that it had a great deal to do with Hawke. It was one subject she wanted to shy away from, but Kendall forced herself to face it.

Because that was clear too. Hawke was important in her life. A man she had known just over twenty-four hours. She still intended to fight any physical relationship, but her reasons were different now. Before, she had wanted to avoid any relationship. Cut and dried. But now she knew that that was impossible. She was drawn to him mentally as well as physically. The relationship—however it could be defined—existed.

But Kendall would not commit herself. Not yet. If she had seen too much to be innocent, then she had also seen how brief and uncertain life really was. It was not a pessimistic thought, but a calm understanding. If she gave her body, she would give her heart. And she would be very, very sure. Love was too precious to waste.

All at once she was vividly aware of the roar of the surf, the sun hanging low in a burning sky, the smell of the salty sea crashing against the rocks below her. And a new sense told her that he was coming. She wondered dimly at the sensation and what it indicated.

“Kendall?” His voice was quiet, almost hushed, as though the weight of her thoughts had touched him. He sat down beside her. “I was worried about you.”

“You have no right to worry.” Immediately, she wished that she could recall the shrewish words, but he seemed undisturbed.

“No, I suppose not. Still—I was worried. You shouldn’t wander around on these cliffs.”

Kendall rested her chin on her knees and stared out at the dying sun. “I’ve climbed mountains in Europe.” It wasn’t a boastful statement. Just a statement.

“Really? Did you enjoy it?” He was serious, not mocking.

Kendall flicked a glance at him, and felt a glimmer of humor lighten her somber mood. “No. Our guide had a bit too much out of his flask the third day out and dropped half our equipment over a ledge. That was the first climb. On the second climb, it rained for four miserable days, and I developed pneumonia. Needless to say, I gave up climbing.”

“You’ve had an adventurous life, it seems.”

“Very.” She hesitated, then went on, compelled by his presence or by the curious twilight between day and night. Her voice was calm and contemplative. “I’ve attended coronations and diplomatic balls. Ridden camels and elephants. Watched oil fires and revolutions. I’ve hiked through jungles and deserts. I’ve seen a world the tourists will never see.”

His head turned slightly, Hawke had watched her profile intently while she spoke. “And now?” he asked quietly.

Kendall felt an odd jolt somewhere inside her. Was it just a simple coincidence that he had asked precisely the question she had asked herself? And now … what? She shivered.

Immediately, Hawke rose to his feet and extended a hand to help her up. He stood for a moment, still holding her hand as he stared down at her. “I’ll expect an answer, Kendall—when you’re ready. But for now, let’s head back to the hotel. I think those kids wore you out.”

Following as he led her carefully away from the cliff, Kendall asked blankly, “How did you know about the kids?” And saw him shrug.

“I called Father Thomas about an hour ago—on a hunch. He said you’d spent the day with the kids, and then headed this way.”

Falling silent, Kendall glanced down at their clasped hands for a moment, then looked away. When would he ask his question again? And how would she answer?



BANTAM-BOOKS BY KAY HOOPER

The Bishop Trilogies
Stealing Shadows
Hiding in the Shadows
Out of the Shadows

Touching Evil
Whisper of Evil
Sense of Evil

Hunting Fear
Chill of Fear
Sleeping with Fear

Blood Dreams
Blood Sins

The Quinn Novels
Once a Thief
Always a Thief

Romantic Suspense
Amanda
After Caroline
Finding Laura
Haunting Rachel

Classic Fantasy and Romance
On Wings of Magic
The Wizard of Seattle
My Guardian Angel (anthology)
Yours to Keep (anthology)
Golden Threads
Something Different/Pepper’s Way
C.J.’s Fate
The Haunting of Josie
Illegal Possession
If There Be Dragons





“What does it feel like, Kendall?” he asked.



“What does what feel like?”

“Living inside that body, behind that face. Knowing that the world stops when you walk by.” The deep, gritty voice had taken on some quality Kendall couldn’t put a name to.

She felt, strangely, that this moment was somehow important, but she didn’t know why. And she didn’t know how to respond to his words. “Don’t—be ridiculous.”

“How does it feel?” he insisted softly, stepping closer.

Yet again, something in his gray eyes seemed to draw a response from deep inside her. “It feels like a curse,” she whispered, hearing an unfamiliar pain in her voice. “And a cage…”

He reached out suddenly, enfolding her in his arms.

“What are you doing to me?” she pleaded softly.

“Introducing you to the real Kendall,” he responded almost gently, his lips moving in a feathery caress against her ear. “I think you lost her somewhere along the way.”





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Chapter 1

Hawke Madison listened absently to his manager enthusiastically reading the names of important guests for the summer, his mind only half on the conversation. His hooded gaze was wandering around the sumptuously appointed lobby, flickering with satisfaction at the restful yet luxurious atmosphere which he had painstakingly created.

Skimming over the marble floor, dotted here and there with lush greenery and comfortable chairs and divans, his gray eyes fell at last on the wide glass doors and the doorman who was standing stiffly outside them. He watched Max step forward to greet someone—apparently another guest—and smiled inwardly as he mentally went through the routine greeting. Max would be coolly polite, stiffly British, easily upholding the high-class air of the establishment.

Max was a good doorman, Hawke thought to himself. And a first-rate bouncer, although his haughty, intimidating manner rarely made physical force necessary. Yes, Max was a good employee. Max was … smiling. Smiling? Max?

Curiously, Hawke waited to see who would come through the doors. Max, Hawke was sure, wouldn’t smile at the queen of England. But he was smiling now. And it was a peculiar smile at that. Shy, bemused, like a ray of sunshine emerging. Impatiently waving his manager to silence, he stared at the door.

First through the door was a cabdriver, huffing under the weight of a ton of luggage that bore labels from every country in the world Hawke had heard of, and a few he hadn’t. The cabdriver’s face was wearing the same bemused smile as Max’s. Hawke had never, in his five years as the owner of this hotel, seen a cabdriver even offer to carry luggage.

Next through the door was Max, leaving his post and apparently not even aware of it. His graying head was bent attentively to catch the bubbling conversation of the vision who had one small, delicate hand resting confidingly on his arm.

Everything about her was an odd combination of sweet helplessness and exotic mystery. Her silver-blond hair was styled in a smooth pageboy, framing a heart-shaped face as delicate and lovely as that of a porcelain doll. Huge, innocent blue-green eyes dominated the face, and gave her the unguarded look of a newborn kitten. A lime-green silk dress hugged a figure that had heads turning all across the large lobby; it was slit on one side almost to her hip, exposing a seductive length of golden thigh with every step.

And there was a stole draped around her neck—a live stole. Hawke’s first thought was that the yellow-and-black-spotted creature was a baby leopard, but then the word ocelot popped into his mind. It was about the size of a very large housecat, with yellow eyes blinking detached interest at the commotion all around it.

Feeling anything but detached, Hawke watched bemusedly as his new guest walked gracefully across the lobby on the arm of an obviously ensnared Max, and just barely caught a fragment of her soft conversation.

“…and it was such a crush at the airport! Is it always like that, Max?” she bubbled sweetly, her voice filled with music. “I’ve never been to the Bahamas before…,”

Chaos reigned all around her. Two bellboys were arguing fiercely with the cabdriver, who was loath to give up the luggage. One guest walked into a potted palm in an effort to get a better view of the enchantress, while another ran smack into the argument going on over the luggage … and promptly became the target of blue-tinted invective from the cabdriver. Both the desk clerk and Hawke’s manager stood openmouthed with astonishment. Or awe.

And through it all walked the new guest, with an indifference that was apparently the product of innocence rather than arrogance.

She paused to speak sweetly to the cabdriver and, though Hawke didn’t hear what she said, it was apparent that the big, beefy man would willingly have killed for her. He abandoned the luggage finally, backing out the door with his hat literally in his hand.

Reaching the desk at last, she went through the formality of registering, still talking a mile a minute to both the desk clerk and Max—both of whom were patently captivated. A little boy came barreling around from in back of the desk just then, running into the new guest with a force that staggered her. Instead of being annoyed, she knelt down to be on eye level with the boy, speaking to him and smiling gently.

A beautiful, ultrafeminine woman, Hawke was thinking delightedly, who obviously loved kids. God—he had believed that type of woman to be an extinct species! Heaven knew it was a change from the coolly sophisticated, ambitious women he was accustomed to, and a far cry from those who were so wrapped up in the women’s lib movement that they fairly bit a man’s head off for opening a door for them!

He watched as she patted the boy’s cheek and rose, seeing the adoring look on the child’s face and not surprised by it. He was still watching moments later as she was escorted to the elevator. Then, leaving his silent manager without a word, he walked over to the desk and checked the register. Kendall James. Miss Kendall James. He glanced thoughtfully toward the elevator, a definite gleam in his gray eyes.

Kendall closed the door at last as the bellboy left and leaned against it with a weary sigh. God, but she was tired! The flight from Paris hadn’t been too bad, but the week before had been hectic. She’d kept herself too busy to do more than tumble into bed at night and sleep dreamlessly—exactly as she’d wanted to do. It was a sort of therapy for her.

Like the performance downstairs. After twenty-five years, she had the routine down pat. It was a rare talent, her father had once humorously remarked, a peculiar ability to be exactly what people—particularly men—expected her to be. So … if an uncertain smile or a helpless look got her the best tables in restaurants or a seat on a supposedly booked-solid flight to wherever … terrific.

Kendall was a realist. She looked like the proverbial dumb blonde and she knew it. She didn’t resent that fact, nor did she go through life aggressively demanding that people realize she was no such thing. She used it. Men bent over backward to do things for her: They certainly enjoyed it, and she didn’t have to carry her own luggage. A fine arrangement all around.

Absently setting her ocelot on the plushly carpeted floor, she watched the cat begin to explore, her mind still on her masquerade downstairs. Not that it was really a masquerade. It was more a part of herself that she allowed to take control for a time. She was a very feminine woman. Men instinctively wanted to watch over her, to protect her, thinking her touchingly innocent. That was fine with Kendall. She had nothing to prove to anyone; she felt neither inferior nor superior to any man—or to anyone, for that matter.

Besides … there was a certain devilish enjoyment in watching men fall over potted palms.

Kendall smiled as she remembered the poor man who had caused that hilarious display in the lobby, then wondered vaguely about the dark-looking man. He’d watched her, she remembered, the entire time she’d been in the lobby. There had been several men around, but he stood out in her mind for several reasons. First because of his clothing. He’d been wearing a black suit—the color unusual for the tropics, and the formality unusual for afternoon attire even in this classy hotel.

He was a hard-looking man, she’d noted, a man who looked as though he’d seen a few of life’s more than usually unpleasant truths. The strength beneath his well-cut clothing had been apparent, and the harshly drawn features attractive in an oddly primitive, compelling way. It would not be possible, she thought, to ignore such a man. He would be either loved or hated—and possibly both at the same time.

Frowning, Kendall pushed the absurd thoughts away. She was here to rest, to allow her nerves to unwind after those harrowing months in South America. Her father would join her in a few weeks, and they’d be off again. Probably to the Middle East, although her father hadn’t been sure about that. In any case, she had a few weeks to laze around in paradise.

So. She’d work on her tan, write letters to friends, and act like a scatterbrained tourist. Heaven knew, she didn’t need another emotional upheaval in her life. When one had a great deal in common with a rolling stone, it hurt too much to form attachments. And Kendall hated saying good-bye.

The sound of the bathroom faucets being turned on full force distracted her suddenly, and Kendall flung her purse on the huge bed and headed hastily for the bathroom. “Gypsy! Drat you, cat—turn that water off! I’ve told you before…”

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Two hours later Kendall had completed her unpacking and cleaned up the mess her pet had made in the beautiful green-tiled bathroom. Leaving her cat to sun herself while leashed on the balcony—where, Kendall hoped, she wouldn’t decide to test her flying ability—Kendall changed into one of her more modest bathing suits and an ankle-length terry cover-up, grabbed her beachbag, and headed for the inviting pool behind the hotel.

Emerging from the elevator in the lobby and pausing to get her bearings, she overheard a snatch of conversation between the desk clerk and one of the bellboys, and felt her interest pique.

“Did you see the gleam in his eye?” the young woman was laughingly asking. “Mark my words— the hawk’s going hunting!”

The blond bellboy responded mournfully. “Yeah—but this time he’s going after a hummingbird! The poor little thing won’t stand a chance. Think we should warn her?”

“And miss what’ll probably be the best entertainment of the summer? No way!”

The elevator doors opened behind her, and Kendall hastily slung the beachbag over her shoulder and crossed the lobby. She smiled sunnily at the pair by the desk, waved, and immediately noted their twin expressions of consternation. Oh, no! she thought with rueful amusement. That means I’m the intended prey! A hummingbird, huh? Well, she’d probably been called worse. Translated: a pretty, helpless, fluttery creature.

And, quite suddenly, her father’s parting words to her made far more sense than they had at the time. “Beware of the hawk!” he’d told her with a laugh as she’d boarded the plane in South America. But who was the hawk? And how did her father know him—or know of him?

Kendall had a sudden uneasy feeling that her father had been in one of his infrequent alarmingly scheming moods when he’d chosen this resort for her. And the last time that had happened, she’d found herself very nearly engaged. It had taken some fancy footwork to get herself out of the mess, and she’d retaliated by doing some unsubtle matchmaking of her own. Alarmed, the elder James had stopped pushing.

It wasn’t that he wanted to get rid of her and figured that a husband was the best way, Kendall mused wryly as she stepped out into the bright sunlight and headed for an unoccupied lounge by the pool. It was simply her father’s belief—unequivocally stated more than once—that following him, a mining engineer, into some of the more godforsaken areas of the world was not the life he wanted for his daughter. She didn’t really blame him for that; she understood completely. But she enjoyed travel and was perfectly capable of taking care of herself—even her father admitted that.

The past fifteen years had complicated her love life, though. And not just because she was rarely in one place long enough to form more than a surface relationship. Through wry experience, Kendall knew that her ability to take care of herself had jarred more than one male ego. It probably had a great deal to do with the fact that she looked so feminine and so ridiculously helpless, she thought. And her near-constant charade hadn’t helped.

Pushing the thoughts away, Kendall dropped her bag on the lounge she had selected, untied her cover-up, and allowed it to drop to the multicolored tiles surrounding the tremendous pool. She stepped out of her thongs and strolled to the edge of the pool, never noticing that one rather paunchy guest choked on his drink and another grossly offended his female companion by staring at Kendall for a full minute.

The black bikini was the most modest one in Kendall’s wardrobe, but only the liberal-minded would have believed that. The best thing that could have been said for it was that it probably wouldn’t get her arrested. It was a string bikini, with tiny black triangles covering what absolutely had to be covered and not a fraction of an inch more. And since her petite figure was surprisingly voluptuous, the effect was distinctly eye-catching.

Unconcerned with the attention she had attracted, Kendall cautiously stuck one toe in the water, then took a deep breath and dived cleanly off the side. Without pausing, she swam the length of the pool twice, displaying the smooth coordination of a skilled swimmer. Her earlier weariness dissipated by the brisk exercise, she headed for the shallow end of the pool feeling refreshed and alert.

A male hand was extended to help her up the steps, and Kendall took it automatically, her widening eyes fixed in utter fascination on the colorful bird drawn with a skillful hand on the tanned forearm. No doubt about it—it was a hawk.

“Oh,” she murmured, still staring at the tattoo. “Then that’s the hawk!”

“No—I am,” returned the amused and startlingly deep masculine voice that obviously owned the tattoo.

“Hawk like the bird?” she inquired innocently, raising her gaze to meet a pair of striking light-gray eyes, and thinking insanely, Oh, no! Anybody but him!

The dark man from the lobby laughed and assisted her up the steps. “Hawk with an e. I’m Hawke Madison, Miss James. I own the hotel.”

“Kendall—please,” she murmured, holding on to her charade with an effort and wondering ruefully if the next few weeks were going to be as restful as she had supposed. Without bothering to dry off, she moved her beachbag and sank down on the lounge, feeling more than a little unnerved and wondering why.

“Only if you’ll call me Hawke.” He sank down on the lounge beside her own, smiling with devastating effect.

Kendall’s veiled gaze swept his muscular length, noting that he had changed out of the suit and into a pair of casual slacks and a knit sport shirt. Trying to ignore the rapid-fire pace of her heart, she said sweetly, “That shouldn’t be hard to remember,” and nodded at the small but colorful tattoo.

One large hand brushed over the hawk as he laughed. “I’m afraid I can’t be held responsible for this, Kendall. A couple of army buddies decided years ago that I should wear my name on my arm, so to speak, and they took care of it.”

“Didn’t it hurt?” she asked curiously.

“To be perfectly truthful, I can’t remember,” he confessed with an absurdly shamefaced expression.

She considered his answer for a moment and bit the inside of her lip to keep from laughing. “You were drunk?”

“They never would have gotten me into the tattoo parlor otherwise,” he explained gravely.

As Hawke talked more about his past, Kendall’s first instinct was to abandon her charade and get to know this fascinating man, but she swiftly discarded the notion. She did not want a summer fling, and after overhearing the desk clerk and bellboy in the lobby, she was fairly certain that was all Hawke Madison had in mind. And if she were, by chance, wrong about what he wanted from her, the situation could become dangerous for her peace of mind.

Smiling at him sunnily, she began to chatter, knowing from experience that few things put a man off quicker than an extremely talkative woman. She talked a great deal without saying a thing, sprinkling the one-sided conversation with questions she barely gave Hawke time to answer and jumping from topic to topic bewilderingly.

Half an hour later Hawke was called from the poolside to answer a phone call. Rummaging in her bag for her sunglasses, Kendall shoved them onto her nose and decided a bit grimly that she was definitely in trouble. Hawke Madison had the patience of Job. He’d answered each breathless question with amused indulgence, and seemed fascinated by her empty chatter. Now what?

Kendall wasn’t vain by any means. She knew that men found her to be attractive and she knew that her figure was good. But she’d always admired darkly exotic beauty, and her own reflection in a mirror always reminded her of a startled kitten. Startled kittens were cute, but they weren’t beautiful.

A lot of men, apparently, liked cute women. Kendall had met some ranging from polished charmers to blunt, few-worded engineers. There had even been an Arabian sheikh who had very nearly swept her off her feet in an unguarded moment. But she had generally managed to emerge scatheless from the romantic interludes.

She had an awful feeling, though, that Hawke wasn’t going to fit into any of her neat little categories. And that meant that past experience wasn’t going to do her a damn bit of good when it came to dealing with him.

It made her distinctly uneasy to be playing a game in which she hadn’t the foggiest idea of the rules. And something told her that Hawke was an excellent gamesman.

So … her safest bet would be to stick with her protective coloration. Play dumb—at least until she figured out the rules of this game. And the stakes…

Hawke returned to her side on the heels of this decision, and she managed to greet him with an unclouded smile. Innocently, she asked, “Should you be taking the time to talk to me like this? I mean—you’re obviously busy, and—”

“I’ll make the time to talk to you, honey,” he replied easily, reclaiming his lounge.

Kendall was tempted to snap that a forty-five-minute acquaintance hardly gave him the right to call her honey, but bit back the words with an inward sigh. It wouldn’t be in character, after all, for her to object. Dammit.

“Besides,” he was going on calmly, “I don’t have much time where you’re concerned, do I? Relationships generally take months to develop, but you’re planning to be here for only a few weeks. I have to move fast if I plan to get anywhere.”

Kendall glared through the shielding sunglasses and wondered if he openly stalked—or was it hunted?—every woman he set his sights on, or if this was simply his tactic for dumb blondes. Either way, she didn’t like it. Abruptly deciding not to be as dumb as all that, she raised one eyebrow above the rim of her glasses and murmured blandly, “Where have I heard that line before?”

“All over the world, I’d imagine,” he responded dryly, a definite gleam in his eye. “Judging by your suitcases, you’ve been pretty nearly everywhere, and men are the same no matter where you go.”

She pulled the sunglasses down her nose and peered over the top of them at him. Ignoring the rueful statement on his own sex, she said with all the sweet innocence she could muster, “I’ve never approved of summer romances, Hawke. They tend to fizzle out as soon as the weather starts to cool.”

“But we’re in the subtropics.” He smiled slowly. “It’s hot all year round.”

Kendall hastily pushed the glasses back up her nose, torn between irritation and amusement and unsure which emotion was showing in her eyes. Oh, she would have to watch herself with this man! She sensed that he was utterly determined … and determined men were dangerous. Dumb, she reminded herself sternly. Play dumb! “I came here to rest, Hawke,” she told him earnestly.

“Rest from what?” He was smiling, but his eyes were intent.

Caught off guard because he had taken her words literally, Kendall automatically told him the truth. “There was some trouble in South America.”

“South America? I understood you flew into Nassau from Paris.”

Which would teach her not to be so expansive with bellhops and taxi drivers, Kendall thought ruefully. “Oh, I did. But I spent only a week in Paris; before that I was in South America.” She had no intention of telling him why she had given in to her father’s demand that she leave South America after the revolution broke out.

“What was in South America? Or is that an indelicate question?”

Kendall couldn’t see any reason why she shouldn’t tell him that—she couldn’t see any reason why she should either. “My father,” she heard herself replying. “He’s a mining engineer.”

“I see.” He leaned forward to brush a hovering insect away from her upper thigh, and Kendall felt an unfamiliar shiver radiating outward from the base of her spine. “What kind of trouble, Kendall?”

“A revolution.” The answer came without her volition, and sounded stilted even to her own ears. She stared into the curiously intense gray eyes, and felt suddenly that she had stepped into deep water and something—someone—was trying to pull her under.

It was his eyes, she realized abruptly. This man possessed more power in his eyes than most men could boast of in their entire bodies. Once, some years before, a friend of her father’s had gotten into a long, involved discussion with Kendall about what he called a “leadership quality” in men. There were some men, he had insisted, who were born to lead. They were “alpha” males, dominant, powerful. Striding through life with absolute self-knowledge and certainty.

Kendall hadn’t really been able to grasp the concept—probably because she hadn’t been able to relate it to anyone she knew. But the man had insisted that she was a member of that curious group of dominant personalities. He’d told her that it was her “alpha” instincts that allowed her to play the feather-headed innocent with such ease and to such good effect. She was so certain of herself, he’d said, that she felt no need to prove anything to anyone. And he’d expressed a wistful desire to be a fly on the wall when she finally bumped into an “alpha” male.

He hadn’t warned her what to expect in the unlikely possibility that such an event would occur. But she distinctly remembered him muttering something about the clash of the Titans.

Now she knew what he meant.

Hawke Madison was an “alpha” male. For all his charm and amiable conversation, for all his polished, sophisticated manner—probably garnered in his trade as a hotelier—his was a pose just as deft, and just as unreal, as her own.

Kendall couldn’t help but wonder which of them would abandon the charade first.

She tore her eyes from his with a silent gasp and thanked heaven for the sunglasses. Trying desperately to get the conversation back to unimportant things, she said lightly, “I didn’t expect this island to be so large. How large is it, by the way? When I flew over from Nassau in that little plane, I just closed my eyes.”

Hawke was still regarding her with that smile that was doing peculiar things to her nervous system. “It’s big,” he murmured, giving Kendall the unsettling impression that his mind was on something else. “There’s a decent-size village a couple of miles away that caters to tourists, half a dozen churches, a nice harbor with sailboats for rent. There’s even another hotel on the other side of the island.”

“Competition?” she asked innocently.

“Friendly competition.” He laughed. “They cater more to families. With the casino here, we attract a slightly more sophisticated crowd.”

Kendall looked toward the shallow end of the pool, where several dark-skinned children were playing noisily, and then looked back at Hawke with a questioning lift of her brows.

“Kids from the village,” he explained with a slight shrug. “I let them use the pool in the afternoons.” He gestured toward one of the little boys. “Robbie—the one who ran into you in the lobby.”

Looking back at the children, Kendall noted silently that Robbie hadn’t, apparently, been scolded or forbidden the pool for nearly knocking down a guest. A little thing, perhaps, but it told Kendall a great deal. Hawke liked kids. She was vaguely irritated with herself for finding something they had in common.

“Excuse me, Hawke.” A fair-haired man with an easy smile was gazing down at them both apologetically. “You confirmed some of these reservations personally, and I need to know—”

“Of course, Rick,” Hawke interrupted calmly, reaching for the sheaf of papers in the other man’s hand. “Kendall, this is my manager, Rick Evans. Rick—Kendall James,” he said absently as his eyes scanned the papers.

Kendall smiled at the manager. “Mr. Evans. It’s nice to meet you.”

“Miss James.” His cheerful brown eyes swept her bikini-clad figure with pure masculine appreciation, even as they laughed in familiarity. “My pleasure—believe me!”

Wishing vaguely that Rick’s boss could be as uncomplicated as he was, Kendall listened as they began going over the reservations list. A few minutes later she absently pushed her sunglasses up to rest on top of her head, her gaze fixed on the children in the pool as she tuned out the conversation going on beside her. She watched the kids splashing happily and, unbidden, her mind wondered how some children could have so much and others so little. Did any of these happy, healthy kids know what it meant to barely have enough, water to drink and none to wash in? Surrounded by what most people would call paradise, did they know that there were children in the world who lived on a heartbeat, hungry and cold and scared in war-torn lands?

A tiny face, pinched from too many years of an empty belly, swam before her inner eye. A face with a smile like sunshine and brown eyes sweet enough to melt a stone statue, eyes innocent and loving in spite of the cruelties they had seen…

Kendall winced and gently pushed the face and the memory back into the dark corner of her mind once again. She wasn’t ready to face that. Not yet.

“What’s wrong, honey?”

Startled, she surfaced from an inescapable past into an equally inescapable present. The manager had gone; she and Hawke were alone. And his gray eyes were filled with concern. “N-nothing.” She corrected the stammer immediately, astonished that her lifelong control was slipping rapidly, inexplicably from her grasp. “What could be wrong?”

“I don’t know.” His deep voice was serious. “You looked so sad. And there was something … old in your eyes.”

“Old?” Kendall laughed lightly, more shaken than she wanted to admit—even to herself. Deliberately misunderstanding him, she went on sweetly. “I’m only twenty-five, Hawke—my eyes can’t possibly be any older than that.”

For a moment she thought that he was going to press her for a reasonable answer to his question. But then heavy lids dropped to veil his strange eyes. “My mistake,” he murmured with an almost imperceptible hint of dryness in his tone. “It must have been sunlight glinting off the water. Or something.”

A wise little voice inside Kendall warned that she could land herself in a hell of a lot of trouble by playing too dumb with this man. For the first time in many years, Kendall ignored the voice. Her motivation for the decision wasn’t very rational, and the little voice sneered at her.

She was afraid of Hawke Madison. Not physically. She was afraid because her body was sending strange signals to her brain, because his eyes were making wordless promises. She was afraid because he saw too much and sensed even more, because he was damnably attractive. Because he was an “alpha” male, and she didn’t know how to cope with him. She was afraid because the desire she saw in his eyes was echoed by nameless yearnings in herself, and that had never—ever—happened before.

And she clung to her charade because it possessed the comforting familiarity of a well-worn shoe.

“Have you always traveled with your father?” he asked casually, breaking into her thoughts.

They were back to square one. Dammit. “Ever since I was ten,” she answered sunnily.

“And your mother?”

Kendall reached up to pull her sunglasses back into place. “She died when I was five.” Before he could make any response, she went on chattily. “What about you, Hawke? You’re obviously American—how did you wind up here in paradise?”

He sat back in his lounge and shrugged slightly, the gray eyes still hooded. “I saw quite a bit of the world when I was in the army. When I got out, it seemed natural to go into the hotel business; my family owns a string of hotels in the States. I came here, liked the area, and bought this hotel. That was five years ago.”

With a certain deliberation he went on. “I’m thirty-four, unmarried, reasonably intelligent. My favorite color is green, I love Italian food and mood music, children and animals. I don’t bite my nails, grind my teeth, or snore.”

Trying not to laugh, she said, “Well … that takes care of the vital statistics.”

“I’ve also recently discovered a weakness for pint-size blondes.”

“How recently?” she demanded suspiciously, forgetting the role she was supposed to be playing.

“A few hours ago. At precisely one-fifteen, as a matter of fact.” His deep voice was amused, but not in the least teasing.

Kendall didn’t have to think back to remember where she had been at one-fifteen. She’d been walking through the door of this hotel. “Weaknesses like that could become dangerous,” she retorted, reaching to brush a strand of drying blond hair away from her face.

“Only if a man doesn’t know what he’s getting into. I do.”

Annoyed by the certainty in his voice, and not entirely sure that they weren’t talking at cross-purposes, Kendall hastily reverted to the scatterbrained tourist. “I’ll bet you’ve said exactly the same thing to hundreds of other women since you started running this hotel!” she exclaimed with a giggle.

“Nope. Just you.”

“Didn’t that line work with the others?”

“I didn’t try it.” He leaned forward suddenly, heavy lids lifting to reveal gray eyes glittering with a curious laughing intensity. “Because it isn’t a line, Kendall. Consider yourself warned—I’m going to do my damnedest to sweep you right off your feet.”

She stared at him blankly for a moment. Right offhand the only thing she could have said about his tactics was that they were certainly original. Hadn’t he just announced his intention of seducing her? “I—consider myself warned,” she managed to say at last, only dimly noticing the breathlessness of her voice.

Having made his point, Hawke—oddly enough—didn’t press. He started talking casually about the island, promising cheerfully to take her sailing in a few days. Or shopping or sight-seeing—whatever she liked. The moment of intensity had passed.

Kendall was grateful for the opportunity to relax a bit—although her instincts warned against relaxing too much around this man. She responded to him lightly, talking a great deal without saying very much. Absently, she noticed the children being herded away from the pool by a tanned young man—apparently a lifeguard—and didn’t think much about it when one of them slipped away from the group.

The poolside guests had all headed back inside sometime before, and Kendall was beginning to think about going in herself. As she chattered brightly, her eyes wandered around the now-deserted pool and back to Hawke’s face. And then something clicked in her mind, and she knew that the dark shape near the pool’s bottom didn’t belong there. In a single motion she ripped the sunglasses off and rose to her feet, her chatter shutting off as though a switch had been thrown. Two swift steps took her to the edge of the pool, and she dived cleanly, intent only on reaching the child in time.


LOOK FOR THESE BOOKS FROM
Kay Hooper
IN PAPERBACK

AFTER CAROLINE

AND

FINDING LAURA

Turn the page for a sneak peek
at these two novels.




[image: ]
Chapter 8

The next three days were companionable ones. Cheerfully ignoring her occasional weak protests, Hawke kept her busy from morning until late at night. They played tennis, swam, sailed, went diving. They even spent an uproarious afternoon trying their hand at windsurfing. Hawke was good at it, but Kendall spent more time in the water than on the board.

The nights were spent in various ways. He took her dancing—at both his hotels. They walked on the beach. One reckless night was spent in the casino, where Hawke staked Kendall and watched her win and lose a small fortune at blackjack. They sat in the bar and listened to music—where Kendall amused Hawke no end by fiercely telling the bartender that if he served her anything but fruit juice, she’d carry out the threat of days before.

With the curious probing of a new relationship, they pitted their skills against each other in various ways. He defeated her at tennis with a powerful serve and a devastating backhand. She won at poker, cheerfully telling him that she’d learned to play from her father while they were held as political prisoners in a foreign jail—a tale that quite probably destroyed Hawke’s concentration.

He won at chess. She won at archery. He was better at skeet shooting, but when he set up a makeshift pistol range, he found Kendall to be the better shot.

Companionable. He teased her, cheerfully picking her up and carrying her whenever she stubbornly dug in her heels. He held her hand or put an arm around her waist constantly. He kissed her constantly—no matter where they were. Or who was watching.

And that was it. He escorted Kendall to her suite each evening, leaving her at the door with a kiss and an easy good-night. He didn’t try to come in. Didn’t try to force her into anything.

By two A.M. on the third night Kendall had ruined three fingernails and had taken to muttering to herself. She was absolutely certain that Hawke was trying to drive her out of her mind. And she was every bit as sure that he was succeeding. Her sleep was fitful, her nerves raw. She felt as if he’d lit a fuse somewhere deep inside her, and she was going to explode any minute.

Pacing the floor of her sitting room with a vengeance, Kendall spared a rueful moment to consider Gypsy’s defection. Since Hawke had won her over, the cat had divided her nights between the two of them. Hawke hadn’t complained; it seemed to amuse him. And since Gypsy had no trouble opening the connecting door, there wasn’t much that Kendall could do about it. The cat was in his suite.

Sighing, Kendall kept pacing. The soft rustle of her long silk nightgown was the only sound in the room. She knew what Hawke was doing. He was leaving the decision up to her. And her body had been shrieking at her for the better part of a week to have done with the useless soul-searching and grab him with both hands.

But she was still afraid. Afraid of making a mistake. Afraid of being hurt. She had missed the teenage years of learning to test and trust relationships, the later years of learning what she wanted from relationships. Her emotional dependence on her father had cost her dearly; she saw that now.

She wanted Hawke. She loved him and wanted him. And she wanted to belong to him. But that was now. She didn’t want to think about the future. That was the scary part.

As she paced, her eye was caught by the angel bell on the desk. Warily, she watched it as she paced to the balcony doors, then back to the hall door.

It’s a magic bell, Kendall When you ring it, it will always bring you a hawk.

It was absurd, of course. Utter nonsense. Fairy tale or not, she didn’t believe in magic. She eyed the bell as she passed it again. He couldn’t even hear it through the door. And he was probably already asleep anyway. Ridiculous.

And her imagination was playing tricks on her. The bell seemed to be whispering to her. She gave the desk a wide berth and paced to the balcony doors, staring out. She’d feel like a fool. And he would not come.

The next thing she knew, she was beside the desk. Detached, she watched her hand reach out steadily and pick up the little bell. It seemed to return her stare solemnly. “I’m not going to ring you,” she whispered firmly. “It would be absurd.”

She didn’t ring the bell. She was certain of it. But there was a soft, delicate sound, like the music of elves. And the angel was smiling at her.

Carefully, Kendall placed the bell back on the desk and looked up. And he was there. The connecting door was closed; there had been no sound. He was looking at her gravely, questioningly. Darkly handsome in a deep blue robe. She watched him cross to her slowly, feeling her heart pounding madly. For once the sneering little voice inside her head was silent. This was right.

“Kendall?”

She couldn’t respond, could only stare up at him, her need written on her face. With a soft, rough sound deep in his chest, Hawke swung her up into his arms and started for the bedroom.

Kendall stared into the gray eyes, telling him dreamily, “I didn’t ring that bell, you know.”

“Of course not.” Hoarse though it was, his deep voice was amused.

“It rang itself.” She smiled at him slowly. “Magic.”

“Romance,” he countered softly, lowering her gently onto the bed in the dimly lit room. His heavy weight immediately followed.

She welcomed him eagerly, thrusting her fingers through the thick dark hair and lifting her face invitingly for his kiss.

The past days had only heightened a desire that had been explosive from the very beginning, and Kendall gave herself up totally to that feeling. She was burning, on fire with sensations she had never known were possible. The touch of his mouth was like a brand, and she needed the searing pleasure of it.

She felt his tongue explore her mouth and met it with her own, her body shuddering in his arms. Her hands pushed the robe off his shoulders, and she was unaware when he threw it to the floor. His lips left hers at last, rough hands snapping the straps of her nightgown and slowly pushing the silky material down.

“Is this what you want?” he grated softly, his mouth hot on the sensitive flesh of her neck.

“Yes,” she whispered. “Oh, yes…” She repeated his name over and over in her head, amazed to find that it sounded different. It sounded like a part of herself.

Hawke was slowly removing her gown, his mouth caressing bare skin an inch at a time. His lips toyed gently with first one nipple and then the other, his hands stroking, caressing. He seemed ravenous for the taste of her.

Kendall watched his absorbed face through half-closed eyes, her own hands exploring wonderingly the muscled strength of his back and shoulders. Her fingers clenched involuntarily on his shoulders when she felt his tongue dip hotly into her navel, and a soft moan escaped her trembling lips.

His caresses slid lower still, and she gasped, her senses going wild. She felt suspended, some instinct inside her waiting for something beyond her experience. Tension built within her like a coiled spring, a pleasure that was very nearly pain, and her body shuddered under the impact of it.

She was aching, empty, and she knew that only he could fill that emptiness, ease that pain. She shifted restlessly as he rose above her, her arms clinging around his neck. “Hawke…” she murmured huskily. “Hawke…”

He slid between her thighs, the gray eyes shot with silver as he stared down at her, his face taut. “Kendall,” he rasped, his voice thick, impeded. “Take me and make me yours….”

Kendall didn’t wonder at the words. Not then. She was too caught up with what was happening between them. She felt him move suddenly, strongly, and her body arched involuntarily, her eyes widening with the primitive feeling of being known, fully and completely, for the first time in her life. It was a strange sensation, exciting and bewildering … and right.

She saw something flicker in the gray eyes as he went suddenly still, something startled and oddly fierce, and she wondered dimly if she should have warned him.

“Kendall?” he breathed.

She wound her arms tighter around his neck and pulled his head down, murmuring throatily against his lips, “Not now!”

With a soft groan his mouth clinging hungrily to hers, Hawke began to move. Instinct told her that he was keeping a tight rein on his passion, being gentle and careful and, though she loved him all the more for it, it wasn’t gentleness that Kendall wanted.

Her body took fire in his arms, surrendering to him with yearning hunger and a demand of its own, a wild demand to have done with gentleness. Restraint dissolved, and Hawke took her as passionately as she offered herself, possessing her utterly.

And in that moment a bond was forged between them, stronger and deeper than either of them would realize for a long time. Forged in loving and needing, in knowledge and innocence, in a need so powerful that it swept all before it. They were tied together in the most basic way possible between a man and a woman. And nothing would ever be the same for either of them.

Drained, they rested in each other’s arms, hearts gradually returning to normal. Kendall had never felt so wonderful, content to remain in his possessive embrace forever.

Hawke reached down to pull the covers up around them, then rose on an elbow to gaze at her with smoky eyes. “You’ve never been with a man before,” he murmured wonderingly, his voice rough. “Why?”

Kendall felt suddenly amused, and soft laughter gleamed in her turquoise eyes. “You mean—why not? Or why now?”

He smiled crookedly. “Both.”

She absently traced the scar on his chest. “Why not … because it never seemed to matter. Why now … because it does.”

“Why does it matter now, honey?” he asked intensely.

“Because I—I need you.” Her eyes shifted away from his in confusion, her own words jarring her oddly. Why did the simple statement make her feel suddenly dizzy?

“Well, that’s something,” he muttered in an odd voice. “And I guess something is better than nothing.” Before she could respond, he went on lightly. “At least you rang the bell.”

“I didn’t,” she objected immediately. “I swear it rang itself.”

“Sure it did.”

“Are you calling me a liar?”

“Yes.”

Kendall giggled softly. “Well, I don’t remember ringing it.”

“You were in the throes of blinding passion, I expect,” he told her gravely. “I think it’s called amnesia.”

She eyed him resignedly. “I think it’s called malarkey.”

“You weren’t in the throes of blinding passion?” He sounded wounded.

“I didn’t have amnesia.”

“Ah—! An admission!”

Kendall flushed and glared at him. The man was enough to drive a saint to drink. “I wasn’t in the throes of anything,” she told him firmly, and then added with more dignity than accuracy, “I never let emotions rule my actions.”

He started laughing. “Oh, really? And what about that little scene in the lobby a few days ago? Are you trying to tell me that your sweet little question was motivated by anything other than an emotional desire for revenge?”

“Of course,” she said stoutly. “I just decided very logically that it was time to get even with you. Period.”

“Uh-huh.” Hawke lifted a quizzical brow. “Now explain why you rang the bell.”

She stared at him, goaded. “I was out of my mind. Obviously.”

“I resent that.”

“Sorry.”

Hawke grinned faintly. “You won’t give an inch, will you? Why don’t you just admit that you’re crazy about me?”

Since the question was a light one, Kendall took it lightly. “Crazy is a good word for it. It’s very difficult to keep one’s sanity in the middle of a fairy tale. That tiara, for instance. Would you care to explain that to me?”

He accepted the change of subject without a blink. “I thought that the symbolism was obvious.”

“That’s not what I meant. Where did it come from, and why didn’t you tell me that it was real?”

With a sigh Hawke answered, “It came from my namesake, and I didn’t tell you it was real because I knew you’d never accept it.”

She latched on to the first part of his answer. “The pirate? I thought so! Then it is an heirloom?”

“Who told you about the pirate?”

“Rick—when I asked him about the name of this island.”

“Some friend. And, no, it isn’t really an heirloom. In fact, it was probably stolen originally.”

“Terrific. My crown is hot.”

“Cute.”

She sighed. “Well, really, Hawke—you shouldn’t have given it to me. It belongs in your family, and—”

“And I wanted you to have it. Every fairy-tale princess deserves a crown, and now you’ve got one.”

“This isn’t a fairy tale!”

“You just admitted that it was. You said that it wasn’t easy to keep your sanity in the middle of a fairy tale. Therefore—”

“Therefore, stop twisting my words! You know what I meant.”

“No. Tell me.”

Kendall frowned and tried to form her jumbled thoughts into some kind of reasonable order. “A fairy tale—isn’t real. It has to end sooner or later. The story ends, the book is closed. It can’t go on forever.”

“Why not?” He smiled slightly. “Leave the book open, keep on writing the story. It doesn’t have to end.”

She gave him a frustrated look. “Hawke, I’m talking about reality. And storybook romance doesn’t belong in a real world!”

As soon as the words left her mouth, Kendall was astonished by them. Was that why she was so afraid of the future? Did some tiny part of her mind stubbornly believe that what had happened between them couldn’t be real and, therefore, couldn’t last? Had she seen too much reality to believe in lovely dreams, to believe that romance could go on forever?

“Then we’ll make our own world!” Hawke told her with sudden fierceness. He surrounded her face with warm hands, staring down at her intensely. “Kendall, don’t you understand? I won’t let the romance die.”

“You can’t keep it alive,” she whispered, the child inside her finally understanding what happens when the book is closed. “The world closes in on you, and dreams are pushed aside.”

“We’ll close out the world.”

“That’s impossible.”

“Is it?” He shook his head. “I don’t think so. We’ve both seen too much of reality, honey. So we’ll make our dream the reality.”

She wanted to ask him how they could do that, but a wise little voice warned that the conversation was becoming too serious. If she didn’t end it now, she would probably say something foolish and reckless. Deliberately keeping her voice light, she murmured, “Castles in the air.”

Giving her a look of rueful understanding that was faintly unnerving, he followed her lead. “There’s nothing wrong with that,” he told her cheerfully. “As long as you build a firm foundation underneath.”

“Out of what—clouds?”

The intensity was completely gone from his manner now as he laughed. “What else?”

Kendall thought vaguely that she had never met a man like him before. He seemed to have an uncanny ability to read her mind, to know when to push and when to back off. It was as if he were determined that she would make up her own mind. He had not said that he loved her or wanted to marry her, yet both had been implied in his words and actions.

He seemed almost to understand her confusion and uncertainty—even better than she did. And he seemed to feel—to know—that she would work it out herself, given time.

But Kendall wasn’t so sure. Her love for him was too new, too fragile to put to the test. She was still afraid to take a chance. On him. On romance. And, most important, on herself.

Hawke laughed suddenly, looking down at her, his hands still warm on her face. “Do you realize this is the third time I’ve been in your bed?”

Her lips quirked involuntarily. “Well, they say the third time’s the charm.”

“I never thought I’d be grateful to an old adage.”

Kendall found herself tracing the scar on his chest again. “You walked out on me the last time.”

“You walked out on me first.” His lips twisted. “Figuratively speaking, that is.”

“That was your fault. If you’d warned me about that damned Purple Passion—”

“—I probably wouldn’t have made it as far as your bed,” he finished wryly.

“You make it sound like a race,” she accused, laughing.

“Believe me, it’s felt like a marathon. I’d very nearly decided to chain you to my bed and to hell with your psyche.”

“Charming.” She stared at him.

“I’m a charming guy.”

Kendall choked. “What an ego!”

“I’ve never believed in hiding my light under a bushel.”

“Any other interesting qualities I should know about?”

Hawke reflected for a moment. “I don’t think so. Except one, maybe. It’s only fair to warn you about that one.”

“Which is?”

“Well, in addition to being charming, I’m also very determined. Very, very determined.” He went on, his voice light and almost—but not quite—teasing. “And I always get what I want.”

“Always?” When he nodded with a strange, glinting smile, Kendall felt extremely nervous.

“Always.” He raked his fingers gently through her hair, gray eyes compelling as he stared down at her. “Struggle all you want, honey. Argue and protest, swear at me if you like. Find a thousand reasons to leave this island with your father.”

It was what he didn’t say that made Kendall swallow hard. She had seen his determination that very first day, and now she knew the full scope of it. “Hawke, I—”

“Not now.” He lowered his head and kissed her almost playfully. “We can’t spend all night talking.”

Kendall wondered dimly what she had been about to say. She wasn’t sure. “There isn’t much of the night left,” she told him now, beginning to feel dizzy and not particularly concerned with what tomorrow would bring.

“All the more reason not to waste it talking.”

He kissed her again, not at all playfully this time, and Kendall responded eagerly with a fire and demand to match his own.

She decided, quite suddenly, that she deserved this night with him. Every woman had the right—didn’t she?—to spend one night with the man she loved. To love him freely and without reservation…

And let tomorrow take care of itself.

She wound her arms around his neck, shivering with pleasure when his tongue delicately probed the sensitive inner flesh of her lips. She could feel one of his hands still tangled in her hair, the other sliding warmly down her body. The covers were thrust away and she felt the cool air on her skin.

“I think,” he muttered hoarsely, “that your eyes are lodestones. Turquoise lodestones. I can’t get far away without being drawn back to them.”

Her eyes opened and stared into the gray ones only inches away. With a need beyond reason, her fingers began slowly to explore his face. She felt his cheek tighten beneath her touch, but he was still, watching her. She moved her fingers over his face carefully, adding to the image already imprinted in her mind. And felt strangely moved when his lips quivered as she touched them softly.

“Kendall,” he groaned almost soundlessly, abruptly burying his face in her throat. “I need you so much,” he whispered against her soft, scented skin. “I need you to be a part of me.”

She made a kittenlike sound of pleasure, holding his head between her hands, twining her fingers in the thick darkness of his hair. Her skin felt incredibly sensitive, the slightest touch of his mouth sending her nerve endings into tingling delight. And she wondered dimly how she had lived twenty-five years without knowing these feelings were possible.

Before, they had both been driven by a passion held under restraint too long, but it was different this time. With the sharp edge of their hunger blunted, there was time to savor each moment, to explore and learn each other’s bodies.

For a long time Kendall remained perfectly still beneath his touch. Rough hands traced the curves of her breasts, shaping and stroking the swelling mounds. His fingers tugged gently at the hard nipples, until his mouth took over, satisfying a hunger in both of them. Languidly, as though they had all the time in the world, his lips and tongue concentrated on the throbbing nipples.

Then his caresses moved lower, spreading tingling kisses on the sensitive flesh just beneath her breasts. His large hands spanned her tiny waist as he continued downward, his mouth sliding hotly over the flat belly and the sensitive skin below.

Kendall was breathing shallowly between barely parted lips, her concentration completely focused on him. His hands, his mouth, what he was doing to her. And then his mouth found the warm, womanly center of her, and an electric current raced through her.

“Hawke,” she moaned, suddenly desperate to move, to touch his body as he was touching hers. But he wouldn’t allow it.

“Be still,” he whispered roughly, the feel of his words on her flesh nearly driving her crazy. “Don’t move … just feel…”

She tried to obey the deep command, closing her eyes and letting the feelings wash over her. She felt waves of heat moving outward from the core of her being, a curious icy heat. Tension built within her, coiling tighter and tighter. Desire went spinning into madness, and Kendall could no longer remain still.

She moved to his touch, breathing in rapid little pants, her need a living thing, desperate to escape. The feeling built to an impossible peak and she moaned deeply, her hands holding him until the knuckles went white. The world dissolved, and she was flying with wings that burned.

Kendall felt herself drifting for a timeless moment, and then the feeling subsided. Hawke moved back up her body to take her in his arms, his body tense against her damp flesh. He kissed her heated brow gently, pushing back a strand of silver-blond hair with fingers that weren’t quite steady. Warm lips touched her closed eyes with butterfly softness.

She opened her eyes slowly, gazing up at him with the enigmatic mystery of a Siamese cat. The hunger in his eyes blazed with a silvery fire, and she felt her own need rise to meet it. Strength flowed back into her limbs, and she knew suddenly that she wanted more than anything to give him the same kind of pleasure he had given her.

With a strength and abandonment that surprised her, Kendall pushed against his chest until he rolled onto his back. She rose on his chest and then lowered her mouth to his, nibbling playfully on his lower lip, savoring the sweetness of their passion.

Feverishly, she explored his face and throat with her mouth, delighting in the clean, faintly salty taste of his skin. She tugged on his earlobe with her teeth, then flicked her tongue into the swirling inner ear, letting him feel her warm breath.

“Blow in my ear….” The absurd jingle popped into her mind, and Kendall fought an insane desire to giggle. Her hell-bent humor …!

Thrusting the thought away, she let her lips trail down his neck until they reached his hair-rough chest. It rose and fell in time to his harsh breathing, and she spared a moment to look up and meet his eyes, her own darkened with desire.

“Witch,” he grated softly, his hands shaping her shoulders and then sliding down her back. “Where did you learn this?”

“Ask my teacher,” she murmured huskily, a particularly feminine little smile curving her lips.

Without waiting for a response, she dipped her head again, her lips searching for and finding the flat masculine nipples. She heard him groan softly and the sound spurred her on, a dizzying sense of power mounting to her head.

More than once in her life Kendall had been called upon to defend herself physically, and she had learned to do so quite skillfully. As she’d half seriously told Hawke, she knew several methods of causing pain, nasty little tricks picked up from several somewhat questionable acquaintances. But that ability to defeat someone twice her size had never given Kendall a feeling of power. That had been survival, pure and simple. But this…

This feeling of power, of having Hawke at her mercy, was strange and exciting. A brief illusion to be cherished for its brevity.

Glorying in the feeling, she caressed his nipples, using her tongue and teeth, and aware of an avid hunger she’d never known before. Her fingers tugged at the fine black hair on his chest, and then she moved lower, her mouth following the trail of hair arrowing down his flat stomach. She felt a heady need to explore every inch of his body, to know it as well as he knew hers.

Instinct guided her, curiosity fueled her desire. She had never known that a man’s body could be so beautiful, and she went a little crazy in her attempt to imprint each strong characteristic on her mind and heart.

Her fingers trailed over his stomach and beyond, something inside of her dimly astonished at the soft, satiny feel of his skin. Gently now, she touched him, only half aware when he drew in his breath sharply, harshly. Just as she had concentrated before on what he had been doing to her, she concentrated now on what she was doing.

She bent her head suddenly, tasting his strength. She heard a groan rumble from deep in his chest, and that evidence of his pleasure increased her own. Knowledge came from somewhere, from deep in herself or from the desire to please him. She was completely uninhibited, no reluctance marring this experience for either of them.

The feeling of power remained, urging her on. She was in control, and that was a fascinating experience. In no other way could she control so completely, and the woman in her reveled in that.

“Kendall!” he rasped heavily, and then the room swung crazily and she found herself on her back, staring up at him. The gray eyes contained a hot glitter. “Witch … beautiful witch. God, you’re driving me out of my mind!”

There was no gentleness in his kisses then, only driving need and a hunger that rose in a flaming fury to meet her own. Kendall clung to him eagerly, branding him with her mouth, her nails unconsciously digging into his back. She felt him move strongly and welcomed him, her body arching against his, beneath the weight that trapped and possessed.

Kendall felt herself rise to meet him, impatient, driven. She held him with all of her body, using muscles she’d been unaware of until then, and saw the surprise and sudden flickering excitement in his eyes. His face was hard and taut, the lamplight casting shadows and highlights, and Kendall wondered dizzily if there would ever be enough time to know his face in all its expressions.

Together, they moved in a graceful rhythm, as if each were a part of the other. Time vanished … or stood still … or had never existed. Only the two of them and this piercing, spiraling excitement existed. Like a runaway ocean wave, it swept them up and carried them along in a fierce rush.

Kendall moaned raggedly when the wave reached its peak, calling out his name mindlessly and hearing her own name torn from his throat with a shuddering groan.

And then the wave burst on the shore, leaving them spent and very nearly numb, damp bodies tangled together.

The air-conditioned room felt almost cold to her heated body, but Kendall felt too pleasantly exhausted to move. As a matter of fact, if somebody had yelled fire, she wouldn’t even have opened her eyes. Apparently, Hawke felt the same.

Stirring slightly beside her, Hawke murmured, “Do you always sleep in an icebox?”

“It’s your hotel,” she pointed out, rousing herself enough to snuggle closer to him.

“It’s your room. What’s the thermostat set on?”

“What strange things you find to talk about … and at such strange moments.” She sighed sleepily. “I don’t know what the thermostat’s set on.”

“I like my creature comforts. And it’s like the fringes of Siberia in here.” He began to run his fingers through her hair. “You’re better than a cat though.”

“I beg your pardon?”

He chuckled softly. “Well, your cat’s been sharing my bed, you know. Almost as good as an electric blanket. But you’re better.”

“Gee, thanks.”

“You’re welcome.” He raised his head suddenly, looking down toward the foot of the bed. “Hell. No wonder I’m freezing. What did you do with the covers, you brazen hussy?”

Kendall giggled, nuzzling her face into his neck. “I didn’t do anything with them. An impatient male foot kicked them away.”

“Liar.”

“I swear.”

“I don’t remember that.”

With another sleepy giggle, she told him, “I’m not surprised. You had other things on your mind. It’s really very flattering. To me, I mean.”

“Get the covers.”

“Get them yourself.”

Hawke sighed. “Didn’t you hear the voice of your lord and master?”

“Lincoln freed the slaves.”

“You’re going to let me freeze on a technicality?”

“No, you’ll freeze on a bed.”

“Cute. That’s cute.”

Kendall delicately bit the side of his neck. “It’ll teach you not to make dumb conversation with a woman you just seduced.”

“I seduced? Who rang the bell?”

“What bell?”

Hawke released a sighing laugh. “Are you going to get the covers?”

“No.”

“You should be whipped.”

“Feeling energetic?”

He chuckled softly and managed somehow to pull the covers up around them without dislodging Kendall. “Maybe later.”

“I can hardly wait.” She smothered a yawn against his neck, feeling herself drift and letting sleep come.


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Chapter 6

Kendall wished miserably that a Florida sinkhole would migrate south and swallow her up. Clutching her dress and her dignity, she managed a choked “Hi.”

“Here, let me do that.” The older woman stepped over to fasten Kendall’s dress. “There.”

“Thank you.” Gathering her scattered wits, she went on. “I’m sorry for bursting in on you, Mrs. Madison, but I thought—” Her voice broke off abruptly as she realized that her thoughts had been painfully clear. And damning.

“Sarah, my dear.” Hawke’s mother seemed amused. “And it’s quite all right. Hawke isn’t back yet, I’m afraid.” She led her reluctant guest to the sofa and indicated that she should sit down. “It will give us a chance to talk.”

At the moment that was the last thing Kendall wanted. But she sat. “You’ve … spoken to Hawke?” she ventured.

“Several days ago. Just after you arrived here, I believe. He mentioned you then. And since I was in the area, I decided to stop by and meet you.” She smiled easily. “Just a f