Gray Lombard was asleep, his muscular form sprawled the length of a narrow bunk, long powerful legs
clad in close-fitting fatigues, the coppery skin of his torso sheened with the moisture that hung hot and
heavy in the air.
“Damn,” the young NCO muttered to himself. He didn’t want to disturb or surprise the man in any way.
Lombardwas fresh in from some long range reconnaissance mission and, like the rest of the
close-mouthed, half wild band of Special Air Service troops inhabiting the base, was bound to be touchy.
Just the thought of laying a hand on one of those massive shoulders made him break out in a cold sweat;
he didn’t have a death wish. He’d seen the way the man moved; despite his size and build, he was
cat-quick and just as remorseless.
The soldier nudged the door open a little wider, wincing at the tortured whine of unoiled hinges. A
slatted window shafted sunlight into the cramped prefab room that served as officers’ quarters,
tiger-striping the sleeping man with hot gold and inky shadow, making him seem even more savage, more
untamed, and lending credence to some of the improbable stories flying around the camp.
Yet in repose, with those cold, dark eyes shut and all the grimness smoothed from his features, he
looked almost approachable.Almost.
“What do you want?”
The soldier jumped at the soft demand.Lombard’s eyes wereopen, surveying him with a slitted coolness
that made him glad he hadn’t advanced more than a couple of feet into the room. Even with the door
wide-open at his back he felt cornered. “The Commander said – uh, he’s got something you should see.”
Dispassionately,Gray considered the soldier backing out of the room; he hadn’t been able to conceal his
fear, andGray wondered, with a rare flash of humour, if he lookedthat bad. He had showered before
he’d let himself sleep, and he’d shaved, but after weeks in the jungle he’d got used to feeling …
disconnected, and definitely uncivilised.
With a grunt, he rolled to his feet, gritting his teeth against the stiffness in his shoulders, the tiredness that
dragged at his muscles and made him long for a real bed, an ice-cold beer and a pizza.
Oh, baby, yeah.A pizza.
Instantly his mouth flooded with saliva, and he almost groaned aloud. After weeks of reconstituted food
that tasted about as appetising as it looked, he should have known better than to think about pizza.
Snagging his shirt off the end of the narrow, too-short excuse for a bed, he shrugged into it and stretched,
finally allowing himself the luxury of that groan.
Ah, damn, he was getting too old for this. He was thirty-five, almost thirty-six, and if he had one lick of
sense, he would leave this equatorial hellhole, and Egan Harper, to young pups like the fresh-faced
soldier who had just bolted across the compound as if all the hounds of hell were after him.
Harper.The last remnants of sleep dissolved in a familiar rush of fury. Sense didn’t come into the hunt for
the murderous jackal. Not now, when they were this close, so close he could almost smell Egan’s expensivecologne, feel the sinuous ripple of the killer’s wiry, street-smart muscles twisting beneath his
No. He wouldn’t be leaving Harper to fresh-faced recruits with blank innocence in their eyes. This job
was his to finish, no matter the cost.
Egan Harper was his.
Raking cursory fingers through his rough inane of hair,Gray made his way toward the shabby cluster of
huts that housed the makeshift briefing room, communications centre and cafeteria of the covert and very
temporary base. As he stepped through the door, he wondered what his brother, Blade, wanted that was
important enough to disturb the first real sleep he’d had in almost four weeks.
Blade acknowledged him with a lift of his head. “Sorry to pull you out of the sack. Hate to interrupt your
Gray’smouth twitched as he stepped over to the map table, where the documentation retrieved from
their night raid was spread out. If he looked like hell, Bladecame a close second. But then, Blade wanted
Harper almost as badly as he did. “What have you got?”
Blade stabbed a finger at the series of black-and-white photos portraying a hi-tech office crammed with
cutting-edge computer technology. “You wereright, the cocaine processing plant was only a cover. The
second team in found an underground facility outside the main compound. Harper is plying his terrorist
trade from there – military hardware and intelligence, personnel training, aviation and shipcomms . SAS
Command is going to be ticked. They’ve been operating right beneath our noses for months.”
Grayinhaled sharply, his hunter’s instincts instantly on full alert, wiping out the weariness of weeks of
surveillance and miles of heavy slogging through jungle that kept its secrets shrouded in mist and rain,
encased in a canopy so dense it smothered the senses, absorbing purpose as hungrily as it soaked up
Oh, yeah, they were close. If he didn’t miss his guess, they’d hit on Harper’s prime residence. They didn’t
have him yet; somehow, with that uncanny sixth-sense for danger that he seemed to have, he’d evaded
capture – again. But this time they had definitely hurt him.
Graystudied the photos,then systematically examined the other material on the table while Blade
provided a terse commentary. His gaze skimmed over, then jerked back to a fuzzy photocopied
snapshot of a woman.
The satisfaction he’d experienced at finally locating Harper’s operational base was abruptly blanked out
by the cold fire burning in his gut. It was fear, acrid and unmistakable. And rage.A chilling, coalescing
rage that made him even calmer, even colder, than before.
He new knew why Blade had woken him. His younger brother had seen a photo of this particular
woman before. Almost seven years ago, to be exact.
They’d expected to find evidence that Harper and the small time but brutally efficient Colombian drug
lord who backed him, Delgado, were keeping tabs onGray and his family. It had happened before, not
because he and Blade were SAS, but because of the extremely sensitive weapons research and
development business that was his own pet project and an unadvertised arm of theLombardgroup of
This was an abrupt escalation, a punch in the dark that brought the whispers and snippets of information
Gray had picked up over the past few months into sharp focus. Harper was out for blood, revenge
againstGray for the decimation of his gang and the dismantling of his family years ago. Now there could
be no doubt. He was positioning himself for a strike.A very personal, very specific strike.
Sweet hell.He hadn’t expected Egan to know abouther .
She was the one person he’d been successful at hiding from almost everyone.
A shudder moved throughGray , product of the sweat cooling on his skin and another more fiercely
primal reaction, an overriding need to shield and protect that which was his.
And Samantha Munro was his.
He considered the knowledge; it sat uneasily with him, yet he didn’t question it.Gray knew his own
nature. He was intense, single-minded; once he fixed on a goal, he didn’t let up until he had achieved it.
His mother and his baby sister would say he was bull-headed and probably add another few choice
adjectives along the way, but that didn’t change the way things were, or the way he was. Somehow,
despite the passage of time and the cold fact that he had no room for emotional attachments in the life
he’d chosen, he was still linked to Sam.
“It’s about time,” Blade murmured, as he hooked a chair close with one booted foot and sprawled in it.
“About time, what?”Gray’sattention was still locked on the shadowy image. He knew Sam had never
married, but now he wondered if she had a lover. The fury that rose in him at the mere thought of her
lying naked beneath another man left him in no doubt as to his feelings. He was naturally possessive, and
he wanted her, though he’d left her alone for seven years.Seven years . He felt like a sleepwalker just
waking up, dazed, only now realising how much time had gone by, the magnitude of the mistake he’d
“About time you went and got her back.”
Grayturned a narrowed glance on Blade. “How did you know I want her?”
Blade stretched and yawned, a wide grin splitting his face. “I didn’t – until now. You just told me.”
“I should have smothered you in the cradle when I had the chance.”
“Naw.You were only two then. You couldn’t reach.”
“Don’t bet on it. I was big for my age.”
“So,” Blade said softly, “why in hell does Harper have a picture of your old girlfriend?”
Grayallowed his fingertips to skim the surface of the cheap copy paper. Sam’s steady gaze held him,
even through the grainy matrix of the photograph. The print was black-and-white, but he didn’t need
colour to remind him that her eyes were a blue so clear and pure it was like looking into forever. Her hair
was shorter, just past shoulder length, sleek and tailored instead of long, but it looked just as dark, just as
soft. He remembered how it had felt sliding against his skin, wrapped around his hands.
Now that he’d let them in, memories he’d suppressed for years hammered him. He didn’t want them, but
he accepted their presence, just as he’d had to accept the presence of other memories that had settled
and folded themselves darkly around his soul.
Harper had singled Sam out for attention, and there could be only one logical reason: he knew how
important Sam was toGray . Because of their past association, she was going to need protection. He
silently cursed himself for not foreseeing this problem when he’d first found out she was now managing
one of theLombardhotels. It had taken him by surprise, but his mind had already been attuned to this
operation, and he’d simply blocked the knowledge out. In any case, he’d been inclined to believe the
name was a misprint. When Sam had disappeared on him seven years ago, he would have laid odds that
she would never set foot inside aLombardowned building, let alone work forLombards, ever again. “A
few months ago she took over the management of a hotel we recently purchased inAuckland. Jack
okayed the appointment. He had no idea who she is.”
Blade let out a low whistle. “Harper must be desperate. You haven’t been near her since—”
“Since Jake died,”Gray finished flatly. “I don’t know what Harper is playing at. Maybe he’s just
compiling information.And maybe not. He knew one of the reasons I went after him seven years ago was
that I thought he was holding Sam.”
Blade rocked back in his chair, his expression cool and considering. “If you think the lady needs
protection, we’ll organise protection. Who do you want to send?”
Graystared out through the slatted opening that served as a window, barely seeing the ragged cluster of
huts, the churned mud, the glare of the noonday sun bouncing off a corrugated iron hangar. He touched
the ridged scar at his throat, the ungentle reminder of his last contact with Harper, and grief and fury rose
blackly in him.
He would be the one to protect Sam. There was no other option. His options had all run out seven years
ago when his brother, Jake, had died at the hands of Egan Harper.Because ofGray’s negligence. He had
been in charge of security, and he had failed to protect his own family.
He had lost Sam then. Somewhere in the middle of that mess, she had walked, and he had let her.
Grayfixed on his brother’s gaze, a gaze as dark, as grimly resolute, as his own. His mind was made up,
had been the second he had accepted that he wanted Sam back. “The same guy that got her into this
mess in the first place,” he said in his hoarse, damaged voice. “Me.”
Blade’s chair landed with a thud, an earthy curse punctuating the sharp sound as he surged to his feet.
“Over my dead body.”
Graygripped his brother’s shoulder – a gesture meant to reassure and soothe. He could feel the tension
thrumming through Blade, the passion so like his own. They were brothers, and more. He owed his life to
Blade. If they had shared their mother’s womb, their bond couldn’t have been stronger.
He released his grip and gestured at the evidence they had collected – endless documents – while the
man who had torn their family apart remained free. “I’m through with playing a defensive game,” he
declared bleakly. “Harper has just pushed the stakes up another notch, only this timewe’re going to call
the shots. The second Harper knows Sam and I are back together, he’ll move her to the top of his hit list.
He won’t be able to resist coming after the both of us. If we engineer the situation, we can control the
The breath hissed from between Blade’s teeth. “You’re going to use yourself as bait to draw Harper into
a trap? Have you lost your mind?”
A trap.The word had an ugly ring to it.Gray would take an outright confrontation any day, but in seven
years, he hadn’t been able to achieve that goal. He wasn’t comfortable with using Sam, but he didn’t see
any way to avoid it. “In case you haven’t noticed, the bastard seems to be stalking us. If you’ve got a
better idea, I’m listening.”
Blade silently mulled over the merits and complications of the plan. If anyone butGray had suggested this
scheme, he would have told them to take a hike, butGray knew Harper as no one else did – knew the
way the man thought, the way he operated. AndGray had carved out a reputation for himself in covert
operations under various code names; his instincts were the best in the business. If he thought Samantha
Munro was in danger, or that she was the key to capturing Harper, then Blade believed him.
To any other man he would have posed the question, “What makes you think the lady will have anything
to do with you when she walked out on you all those years ago?”
The plain, unadorned fact was that his brother had women crawling all over him, fascinated by that cold
reserve, wanting to touch his big muscles and coo over his scars.Wanting him to whisper sexy things to
them in that bad ass voice of his.Gray barely gave them the time of day.
Occasionally he gave in and took one to bed, but only on his own terms. The next day the lady in
question would be satisfied but bewildered at the lack of follow-up, sure he couldn’t possibly have meant
justone night. It wasn’t thatGray didn’t likewomen, he simply didn’t have time for them.
If he had now found time for Samantha Munro, the lady didn’t stand a chance.
Still… “She isn’t going to like it.”
Grayacknowledged Blade’s reservations with a wry twist of his mouth. “Like” was a tame word to
describe the way Sam would feel about anything. Her emotions had always run as frustratingly deep and
pure as the bottomless blue of her eyes, and her trust had been, to put it mildly, elusive. The only “like”
about anything was that she would likely slap his face. “I’ll be taking the first transport out. Something
about this whole situation gives me a cold itch up my spine. If Harper isn’t here, then I want to know
where in hell he is.”
Grayleft the makeshift operations room, stepping out into the brutal heat of the sun, his mind
automatically falling into the cold, analytical cadences of problem solving.
Egan had just made a very big mistake. Up until now they had tracked him, isolated all the tendrils of his
organisation, content in the knowledge that when they finally shut him down, they would destroy his entire
poisonous network at the same time. But now he had threatened not onlyGray’s family, but his woman.
The gloves were off, figuratively, literally, any damn way you chose to look at it. The hell with finesse,
they had the advantage. In his arrogance, Egan hadn’t yet realised that the prey was now hunting him.
Now that he had made the decision to go after Sam,Gray was impatient to leave, but a sense of
disorientation gripped him. His fierce need to claim Sam directly conflicted with his need to remain
focused on bringing Harper to justice. He didn’t like the sense of being split in two one little bit. The
situation with Egan was both dangerous and intense. Seven years ago,Gray had made the mistake of not being prepared; this time there would be no room for error. Somehow, he would have to keep Sam
separate and apart from the operation to net Harper.
Walking back into her life wasn’t going to be easy. Sam had always been as remote, as self-contained,
as a cat, and sometimes just as prickly. Moving on her now went against every last shred of common
sense or logic – it would be better if she was protected by someone who was uninvolved – but common
sense and logic didn’t come intoGray’s need to get her back. He couldn’t explain the urgency to claim her
any more than he could explain why he still wanted her after all this time. He simply knew that he wasn’t
about to compound the mistake he had already made by letting the gulf between them widen any further.
Immediately he began to calculate what he needed to do to get Sam back. Something inside him relaxed
at the decision – a tension he hadn’t known existed.
Damn. Seven years.
Graycame to an abrupt halt in the centre of the muddy square around which the huts were built, once
again stunned, completely oblivious to the heavy black clouds gathering overhead, time impending
violence of the deluge. Every hair on his body lifted, as if an electrical charge had just been run through
his system, kicking reluctant nerve-endings to pulsing, tingling life. For years he had been shut down,
closed off, focussed solely on the hunt for his brother’s killer. He’d had no room for relationships beyond
the obligatory family ones, and he had been damn tardy with those.
He’d had sex.A raw slaking of his physical needs. But now he wanted more than the bare mechanics of
A shudder moved through him, and his loins flooded with heat, tightening on an unruly throb of
anticipation. He could barely remember the last time he had made love, or the woman he had made love
He had never forgotten how it had been with Sam.
He wanted her now; wanted to toss her over his shoulder and take her somewhere dim and private and
lay claim in the most basic, primitive way there was.
He still couldn’t believe he’d let so much time pass. It was a miracle he hadn’t lost her completely.
The phone was ringing as Samantha Munro unlocked the front door of her private quarters. She’d heard
the shrill summons all the way from the end of the hallway as she’d exited the elevator, and she was
tempted to let it ring. The sheer persistence of the caller meant trouble or work. In a hotel as
old-fashioned and dilapidated as the Pacific Royal, it probably meant both.
Stuffy heat engulfed her as she entered her rooms. Sam fixed the telephone with a narrow-eyed glare,
briefly entertaining the cord-yanking fantasy. She was tired, she’d missed lunch, and her stomach was
awash with an overload of the too-strong coffee she’d drunk as a sorry substitute for eating. All she
wanted to do was have a cooling shower, then relax. Preferably in a horizontal position with her eyes
She dumped her handbag, keys and briefcase down on the hall table, a part of her mind automatically
running through whatcould have gone wrong. Maybe the electrics had finally failed and they had a fire?
Maybe another pipe had burst and there was a flood? Maybe theCarsonsisters had propagated one
tropical plant too many and the whole second floor had collapsed under the weight of the potting mix
they kept sneaking upstairs?
With a sigh that was half frustration, half affectionate exasperation for the foibles of the gothic old
dinosaur of a hotel and some of its residents, she snatched up the receiver. Despite its many faults, the
Royal was her baby.She couldn’tnot answer.
“They’re here,” a dramatic voice proclaimed.
Edith. Sam’s mouth twitched as she used her free hand to unbutton her jacket. Judging from the
sixty-plus receptionist’s tone, the Devil incarnate had just signed theRoyal’s register. “Who’s here?”
“That bunch of accountants who didn’t show yesterday.”
Sam’s spurt of amusement flickered and died as Edith began reciting which rooms she’d assigned to the
“hatchet team” sent in byLombardsto decide the hotel’s ultimate fate.
So, they’d finally arrived.
Sam supposed it had been too much to hope that the new owner of the Royal had forgotten the hotel
existed.Fat chance.Lombardswas a large, incredibly successful group of companies. It hadn’t got that
way by forgetting about assets, no matter how old and insignificant they were.
“—as forLombard,he doesn’t look like any accountant I’ve ever seen.”
Sam tuned in on the tail end of Edith’s finishing remark. Her fingers tightened on the receiver. “Who did
“GrayLombard. I just booked him into the Governor’s Suite.”
Sam’s chest contracted sharply. For long seconds she couldn’t breathe. Edith had made a mistake. It
had to be a mistake. “Are you sure?”
“Of course I’m sure! That man is hard to miss.Big.Dark. Would have been handsome if he’d smiled, but
those black eyes of his gave me the shivers. Can’t say I like the look of any of that fancy crew he brought
with him, come to that. Although, if I was forty years younger…”
“Thanks, Edith.” Clumsily Sam set the receiver down, cutting off Edith’s crusty chuckle and the graphic
outline of forty-year-old seduction techniques that was sure to follow.
Her chest squeezed tight again, and she forced herself to breathe, tothink .
Graycouldn’t be here; it didn’t make sense. He wasn’t involved with the hotels. She’d made sure ofthat
months ago, before she’d taken on a job with a company she had vowed never to work for again – a job
that wasn’t going to do her career any favours.Before she had employed the admittedly desperate
strategy of forcing herself to step back intoGray Lombard’s world in order to prove to herself that she was finally over him.
Her stomach muscles knotted, and far a moment she thought she was going to be sick, as sick as she
had felt months ago in the bleak aftermath of her grandfather’s funeral, when she had been confronted
with a past she’d thought was tucked comfortably behind her and discovered just what she had done to
herself – just how she had deceived herself.
Gramps’ death had rocked her. She’d stood beside his grave at the small cemetery where he was being
buried next to her parents and her baby daughter, and realised that all the people she cared about now
lay deep beneath that crumbly clay soil – still, forever silent, unable to put their arms around her, to laugh
or cry, to share her joy and pain.
Several days after the funeral, she had been clearing out his house when she’d picked up the business
section of the newspaper she still hadn’t got around to stopping. TheLombardsadvertisement had leaped
out at her. She’d stood in the kitchen, still shaky with grief, hot and grimy and surrounded by packing
boxes, staring at the bold, black print. Without warning, the past had risen up, breaking over her in a
stark wave that had sent her stumbling to the bathroom, gasping, almost blind with tears, her empty
She’d cried when Gramps had slipped quietly away after months of illness. She’d cried at the funeral.
This was different, a keening sense of loss, a rawupwelling of grief and fury and disbelief that she’d let so
many years pass her by because a small, stubborn part of her was still waiting forGray Lombard.
She’d disguised the waiting as fastidiousness, a lack of sexual drive, concentration on her work, anything
but the truth. Once a disgruntled would-be lover had told her she was cold, and Sam had readily agreed.
AfterGray , and in the painful aftermath of the baby she’d lost, she’d been frozen inside.
The result was that she was alone now, so completely alone it hurt. She had none of the things that many
women took for granted: a husband she could love and who loved her.A home.Her child.
She was twenty-nine.Almost thirty. Maybe that had had something to do with the sudden suffocating
realisation that life was quickly passing her by.
While Gramps had been alive, he’d formed a comfortable buffer of weekly telephone calls, infrequent
letters and regular holidays. His wry common sense, his steady love, had been a lodestone, especially
when her career had demanded constant changes of location. She hadn’t realised how much she’d come
to rely on that uncomplicated love.
It had been easier than reaching out for the complicated kind. That would have taken courage, and a
willingness to once more exposeherself to hurt.
When her stomach had finally settled down, she’d forced herself to pick the paper up off the floor, to
read the advertisement, and to consider it. Her head might have been buried in sand so deep she could
barely breathe, but no more.Gray Lombard was ancient history, and Sam had decided she couldn’t allow
him to affect her life any longer.
Her resources had been severely depleted. For the last few months of Gramps’ illness, she had lived with
him and nursed him full time. The sale of the house had covered the final medical bills and funeral costs,
but she’d needed another job and a place to live. She had applied for the manager’s position and got it.
She had wanted closure from a relationship that had somehow dragged on way past its use-by date, and now she was getting it with a vengeance.
Oh God. The instinct to run, to simply pack up and leave, was so strong that for long moments she
stood, paralysed, her pulse racing. Nothing in her plan had allowed for an actual physical confrontation
“Get a grip,” she muttered to herself. Her reaction was ridiculous. Women met ex-boyfriends, even
became friends with them, all the time. She was an adult. She could do this.
Except that she couldn’t imagine ever being friends withGray . Their relationship had been … extreme,
like a wild, out of control roller-coaster ride – dizzying, at times terrifying in its intensity. Friendship had
never been included.
Sam stared blankly around her cosy, private quarters. While she’d been standing, lost in the grip of the
past, it had started raining. Large droplets splattered loudly against the windows, then cascaded down
the French doors, blurring her view of the tiny, drenched courtyard garden outside and the glossy
profusion of potted plants that shimmered beneath the steady onslaught. It was late afternoon, and the
slow, extended twilight had begun, helped along by full-bellied clouds that blocked out the heat of the
sun. The temperature, which had been hot for December, had taken an abrupt tumble.
Although it wasn’t cold inside.Shewasn’t cold. Beneath the layers of her light summer-weight suit and
blouse, she was furnace-hot, her skin clammy with moisture.
With fingers that weren’t entirely steady, Sam removed the jacket and carried it through to her bedroom,
automatically hanging it in the wardrobe alongside ranks of similar suits and dresses.
In just her blouse and skirt, she felt freer and cooler, although the small flat was still uncomfortably hot
and airless. The reason for the stuffiness added to her tension as she pulled pins from her hair, releasing it
from its neat chignon.
She’d taken to locking her flat up tight, forgoing all ventilation, after she’d discovered that someone had
broken in several days ago. The break-in had been very subtle, and it appeared that nothing had been
taken. Most people probably wouldn’t have noticed the signs, but Sam had. She was used to living alone,
and, while she wasn’t neurotic about neatness, her possessions didn’t usually moveon their own or change
the way they were folded.
The sense of violation, of invasion of privacy, had been so intense that she’d actually contemplated
shifting to new rooms, until she’d realised what she was allowing. Despite theRoyal’s constant
maintenance problems, she was settled here. She was happy for the first time in months, and she liked
her flat. It was situated at the back of the hotel, on the ground floor, and the mellow paint tones, the
slightly battered antique furnishings, somehow gave the illusion of home, if not the reality. Since she’d
been forced to sell Gramps’ house, the only home Sam could remember, that illusion had become
A spurt of mingled anger and disbelief froze her in the act of finger-combing her hair free of the confining
knot. IfGray was part of theLombardsdelegation, here to decide the future ofher hotel, she would have
to work with him, make polite conversation with him. Pretend that nothing of importance had ever
happened between them.
Sam stared at her pale reflection, too distraught to shy away from the blunt truth that, forGray , that was
exactly how it had been.
Her fury deepened. How dare he stroll nonchalantly back into her life like this? He had all the sensitivity
of a slab of granite. She didn’t know if she could even be civil to him.
One of her grandfather’s favourite sayings rose irresistibly into her mind, as clear and briskly humorous
as if the words had been spoken aloud in his shaky, whisky-deep voice.
“Be careful what you wish for, girl, you just might get it.”
Well, she thought grimly, as she opened the French doors with more force than was warranted, too
wound up to appreciate the rain-scented air flowing in, she hadn’t wished forGray , but it looked like she
was finally going to get him.
Anger still simmering, Sam changed into light cotton pants and a shirt, pulled thick-soled boots and a
raincoat on, and stepped outside. When she had locked up, she lifted her face to the rain, which had
slackened off to a light drizzle. Just the thought of staying in the hotel, knowing thatGray was staying
there, too, made her stomach knot. She would go for a walk, take in a movie,maybe check out the
bookshops for women’s magazines. She needed advice, and there was no one she could ask about such
an embarrassing problem.
Not that she was in any way confused, she allowed.Just inexperienced. Thanks to her disastrous
relationship withGray , she had never had another, and she was quite frankly at a loss as to how to
Somewhere there would be an article outlining strategies for getting rid of ex-lovers.
Hours later Sam walked out of the double feature she’d just seen. It had started drizzling again, and the
sidewalk was jammed with people diving for taxis, or pulling on raincoats and flipping up umbrellas.
Wisps of steam rose from the pavement and the road that, despite the rain, still retained the heat of the
A car cruised by, the horn blared, and a young man hung out the window, swearing his undying love to a
group of teenage girls. Sam slipped her raincoat on and belted it, her gaze drawn to a man standing near
the teenage girls, who had now become the object of their wide-eyed scrutiny.
He was turned away from Sam, studying the people climbing into taxis, a black leather jacket held
negligently in one big hand. Most people were wrapped up against the weather, although it was far from
cold. He was distinctly underdressed, and wet, as if he’d been caught in a violent rain shower and hadn’t
cared enough to seek shelter. The white fabric of his wet T-shirt clung to the broad width of his shoulders
and the heavy muscles of his back, revealing the dark glow of his skin where it touched. The taut swell of
one biceps gleamed copper as he thrust impatient fingers through his wet mane of black hair, sending a
narrow rivulet snaking down the deep indentation of his spine.
But, even motionless as he was, there was no sense of passivity to the rigid line of that back, the tense
stance of those long powerful legs. His soaked clothing moulded muscles that were coiled, ready to
spring. Most of the people on the sidewalk recognised that dangerous quality, giving him a wide berth, so
that he stood like a solitary rock amidst swirling, fickle currents.
Something about the tilt of his head, the wide set of his shoulders, his very stillness in the jostling crowd, made Sam’s mouth go dry in startled recognition. She couldn’t see his face, but for a heart-pounding
moment she was certain it wasGray .
A family strolled past, momentarily obscuring her line of sight. When she saw him again, he’d shifted
deeper into the ebb and flow of the crowd, and she caught little more than a fleeting glimpse of that fierce
dark head and one broad shoulder as he turned his attention on another section of the rapidly dispersing
crowd, systematically scanning,looking for someone.
A breeze stirred, flipping dark strands of hair across her cheeks, and she shivered under the lash of
memory. The last image she’d had ofGray had been completely, wholly sensual. He’d been naked. They
hadboth been naked. He’d been shuddering in her arms, his big shoulders damp with sweat, glistening
bronze in the lamplight as she’d wrapped herself around him in an attempt to ease the fierceness of his
desire, the raw intensity of his release.
She had closed her eyes, unable to bear the shattering pleasure, the primitive beauty of what he was
doing to her.Unable to bear the certain knowledge that he hadn’t wantedher .
For long seconds Sam remained frozen on the sidewalk, barely noticing the people brushing by. She was
caught and held by the image, appalled that it still had the power to shake her.
The breeze swirled against her suddenly hot cheeks, carrying the dampness of the rain. Sam lifted her
hand in automatic reflex, smoothing tangled hair from her face. Angry with herself, she turned on her heel
and threaded her way toward the taxi rank. Despite the striking resemblance, the man wasn’tGray . Even
from the back, he’d looked too wild, too untamed, and there had been an edgy quality to him, an urgency
to his search that shouted involvement with someone.Probably a woman.
Grayhad never worn his hair long, and he’d only arrived this evening. Besides, any reasons he’d ever had
to seek her out were seven years cold and no longer of interest to her.
The last taxi pulled out as Sam reached the kerb, and she was left standing in a queue, waiting for others
to pull in.
She glanced back. People were still exiting the big multiplex cinema in a steady stream, but even in the
middle of the mass of people, she caught the turn of that distinctive head. He was still searching, his
purpose a living thing. She wondered bleakly what it would feel like to be the focus of such purpose, and
her hands clenched against a surge of vulnerability so acute that for long moments she felt stripped bare
of all defences, her emotions naked and exposed, as tender as a babe’s.
No, she couldn’t imagine such a thing, and she was crazy even dwelling on it. Abruptly she spun on her
heel and walked blindly away, uncaring which direction she was headed.
And she didn’t want to see the man’s face, no matter how tempted she was to keep watching him. She’d
played this game one too many times, although not for years now, and the anguish she’d gone through
hadn’t been pretty. When she had first leftGray , she’d lost count of the number of times she’d seen his
face in a stranger’s.
Calling herself every name under the sun for letting the stranger get to her, Sam pulled herself together
enough to take some bearings, and fell in behind a laughing group of young people who were amiably
arguing about which café they were going to hit next. The teenagers peeled off into a café that brimmed
with laughter and light. The mouth-watering scents of espresso and spicy food wafted from the open
Sam debated whether she should go for safety and get a taxi or continue to walk. Her jaw squared. She
wasn’t going back to the taxi rank.
The Royal wasn’t far – about five minutes – and how dangerous could it be? Despite the wet weather
the tourist season was in full swing. The streets and cafés were alive with activity.
Turning the collar of her coat up, she started across the road; she had to get a grip onherself, and the
sooner the better. Her nerves were strung too tight, had been ever since the break-in. Now she was
seeing danger in every shadow.
Sam was close enough to the hotel to see a corner of the distinctive Victorian roofline where it loomed,
cheek-by-jowl with a squat parking building, when a soft scrape sounded to the side of her. Her heart
speeded up. Someone was there. A quick glance showed her nothing but brightly lit shop windows and
intermittent shadows that were all the deeper because of the light.
Sam’s head whipped in the direction of the slurred voice. A youth was slouched in a shop doorway,
clutching a bottle and grinning inanely. When she’d looked before, she’d missed him, because the recess
was so deep. Sam averted her gaze and walked briskly on. She wasn’t alone on the street. There were
people ahead of her and people behind. If she needed to, she could call out for assistance. Or run. The
boy, because that was all he was, was probably so drunk he wouldn’t be able to do more than stumble.
“Heyyy, come back!” she heard the same slurred voice call, then footsteps as he came after her.
She heard a muffled grunt and looked back to see the youth being hauled up and pressed back into the
shadowed recess, pinned there by a tall, dark man in a leather jacket.
Another two men materialised out of the shadows, one blond, the other dark. Both were dressed in dark
Where had they come from? Last time she’d checked behind her there had been two couples
meandering arm-in-arm, presumably toward the parking building next to the Royal. There was no sign of
them now; they must have turned down another street.
Sam lengthened her stride, spooked to see that now there was no one ahead of her, either. This
particular street was empty except for herself, the drunken youth and the three men behind her. She
heard footsteps, the low timbre of voices, and lengthened her stride, calculating how far she had to go,the
safest options. There was plenty of traffic cruising past, she could always try to stop someone and ask for
Maybe she wasn’t in any danger, but the tight prickling at the base of her nape said that just maybe she
Self-defence tactics she’d learned in a class just months before replayed themselves through her mind.
She was small, no more than five-four. Her first and best option was to flat-out run.If she had to defend
Adrenaline flooded her system. Make a tight fist. Don’t fold her fingers over her thumb or she would
break it. Elbows were good, kicking even better, because she didn’t have to be in so close and her boots
had solid soles.
She glancedback, saw the three men closing on her. The dark, leather-jacketed man was in front. He
had a white T-shirt on beneath the jacket. Samswallowed, her breathingshallowing out. The white T-shirt,
something about the fluid, ground-eating prowl of the man’s stride, was more than familiar.
She was almost sure it was the man who had been outside the cinema.
He was how far away?Twenty metres?Thirty?
She risked another look, not breaking her stride. The man’s head lifted sharply, as if he’d finally sensed
her panic, but she still couldn’t make him out clearly. He was walking through pooling darkness, the white
T-shirt shining like a beacon.
Light flashed across the man, searing his image in her mind. He was big, six foot three or four at least,
and grimly, fiercely male.
It couldn’t be, she thought numbly. Sam faltered, slowed,then turned to face him, almost completely
disoriented now. Itwas the man she’d watched outside the cinema. The man she’d thought wasGray .
He kept coming, his features half in light, half out of it. The drizzle and the street-lighting weren’t helping.
His features seemed at once both unbearably familiar and alien.
His voice shivered through her, the gravelled tone too deep, too raspy. The rougher cadence sent a
shuddering little frisson down her spine.
Hewas a stranger.
Adrenaline jolted her system again. Warily she backed up astep, saw the entrance to a narrow service
lane, then plunged into darkness, frantically hoping her eyes would adjust soon, before she went head
over tail. At least she knew where she was – the lane twisted and turned between tall buildings, then
came out near a service station. From there the rear entrance of the Royal was just a short lope across
the road. It wasn’t a route she would normally choose, but right now alley demons and derelicts didn’t
seem nearlyso dangerous as the stranger who had said her name.
A harsh command sliced through the shrouded darkness, and Sam found the strength to ignore the wet
drag of her raincoat and lift her knees higher as she ran, pushing for more speed. She rounded a corner,
skidded in a puddle that was rank with refuse. Her hand shot out, palm scraping against the rough side of
a building. She steadied herself, heart pumping furiously, mouth dry as she careened on.
Her name echoed, rasping eerily; then she heard him behind her, felt the ripple of irrational terror
exploding up her spine as she caught the dim glow at the end of the alley, like the light at the end of a
tunnel. Just as she burst free of the darkness, his hand fastened heavily on her arm and spun her to a
“Damn,” he said tautly. “What in hell do you mean by running?”
His gaze locked on hers. The impact of it almost drove her back a step. Grim purpose radiated from
eyes as black as sin, as cold as hell iced over. The yellow glow of the street lamp illuminated the strong,
rain-slick contours of a face she knew … and didn’t.
He was furious, she realised blankly.Furious enough to wrap one of those big, dangerous hands around
her throat and shake her.
It would be one way to die.
“Gray?” Sam sucked in a breath, still not sure that it was, and shocked at the husky alarm threading her
“Yeah, it’s me.Gray ,” he added, as if he thought she needed the reassurance.
She did. Both his hands were on her now, clasped around her upper arms, as if he was afraid he would
spook her again. The heat from his palms penetrated even through the layers of raincoat and clothing.
“I didn’t mean to scare you, babe,” he said, low and soothing, his hold firm. “I thought you’d recognised
me. I forgot about this damn voice.”
Abruptly he released her and pulled the neck of his T-shirt and the collar of his leather jacket aside,
baring the supple, coppery skin of his throat and the ridged line of scar tissue that was now clearly visible.
“A knife,” he said, soft as rough velvet.
The timbre of his voice quivered through her, and for a split second Sam forgot everything but the
evidence of pain and violence. She wanted to reach up, touch the old wound,demand to know why he’d
been attacked and who had done such a violent, senseless thing. The impulse died a quick death. He
wouldn’t want her concern, he never had, and the alarming dichotomy of facing a stranger she knew,
intimately , struck her anew.
He was bigger than sheremembered, broader across the shoulders, deeper through the chest, and
looking into his eyes was like gazing into the heart ofmidnight. They were dark, depthless, and so remote
she ached inside. There was no sign of the direct, ruthless male charm she remembered, or the sleepy
indulgent humour that had wrapped her in a dazed enchantment for weeks on end. The man she’d fallen
in love with had been like a large, sated cat – lazily sensual and playful, sometimes moodily intense, and
so absorbed with her that she’d disregarded his warnings, his refusal to make promises.
There was an air of condensed power about thisGray , a seasoned maturity that sent shivers of alarm
and unease down her spine. The iron control that tightened the tanned skin across his cheekbones and
firmed the sensual line of his mouth only made him look harder, even more bleakly ruthless.
And then another thought drove everything else from her mind. “You were looking for me.”
“Damn straight,” he said grimly. “When you didn’t answer your phone or your door, I made some
enquiries. One of the hotel staff said they’d seen you go out walking.Walking!” His voice was rough with
Her fingers curled into her palms. One palm stung, and she absently noted she must have scraped the
skin off when she’d nearly skidded over, but right now a little lost skin was the least of her concerns.
“You make it sound like walking is a crime. This isAuckland,Gray , not a war zone. Maybe it wasn’t the
brightest decision I’ve ever made, but I don’t owe you any explanations.”
His expression was hooded, watchful. “I’m sorry we frightened you, but that young thug wasn’t after
The graphic image ofGray gripping the thug’s collar while he hauled him up to eye level sparked off an
involuntary shiver. “Okay,” she said quietly. “Thanks for … dealing with him. I think.”
Grayreleased a breath, and she felt a startled awareness of the tension that was gripping him.Tension and
relief. Incredible as it seemed, he’d been worried about her. The notion was jolting. The depth of his
concern was as alien as his voice, and she didn’t know how to respond to it.
“I’ll take you home,” he stated.
Sam eyed him warily, struck now by the inescapable fact that the man who had been scouring the crowd
so urgently outside the cinemahad beenGray , andshe had been the focus of his search.Gray looking for
her at all was hard to take in; the level of urgency in his search was even more baffling. All she wanted
now was to get away from his disturbing presence, to be alone so she could think all this through. “You
don’t have to bother. It’s just across the road.”
His brows lifted in what could have been amusement. “I know,I’m staying there, too.”
He cupped her elbow before she could answer, his firm grip upsetting her hard-won equilibrium all over
again as he urged her across the deserted street. The gesture was old-fashioned and possessive, almost
ludicrous under the circumstances, and the heat from his palm, his solid, muscular presence so close
beside her, madean awareness she wanted no part of blossom in the pit of her stomach, confusing her
Sam toyed with the idea of simply shaking free of his hold, but to do so would signal how uncomfortable
she felt in his presence. She sensed he wouldn’t willingly let her go, anyway, not after all the effort he’d
gone toto find her.
Footfalls sounded behind them. Sam craned around to see the two dark-clothed men following behind
like shadows. She’d forgotten about them.
“They’re with me,”Gray said in a tone that was probably supposed to reassure her.
Sam almost choked. “Do you mean to tell me there werethree of you out combing the streets for me?”
Gray’snarrow gaze glittered over her. “Sorry, darlin’,” he murmured, humour and something very like
satisfaction threading his rough voice. “That was all I could spare at the time.”
Sam’s own gaze narrowed. He made her sound like a renegade mare at round-up time and he the
reluctant cowboy who had had been stuck with the job of reeling her in. “It’s a shame then, isn’t it, that I
His gaze lingered on her, and she could almost have sworn he was amused, but he didn’t smile.
If he had smiled, she decided bleakly, she would have done what she had planned when he had chased
her down in the alley. Plan B wasn’t foolproof by anyone’s standards, but it had its merits. It involved her
knee and a certain part of her attacker’s anatomy, and was guaranteed to render any male speechless for
a satisfying length of time.
He had her safe.
That wasGray’s first rational thought as he guided Sam toward the badly lit back entrance of the hotel.
The return of rationality was damn welcome.
When he had found out Sam had gone out alone at night, on foot, he had almost gone crazy. When that
young hood had started after her, adrenaline had slammed through him. He was still tense and edgy from
Then she had run fromhim .
He could kick himself. He had forgotten about his voice, forgotten just how many years had passed, and
if those years had scored their indelible mark on him, they had also tempered Sam. The changes were in
her face, and they rocked him. The rounded softness of youth had been replaced by a fine-boned
symmetry that added an exotic elegance to her features, a feminine strength to the firmly moulded sweep
of her jaw, and made her mouth look even more tantalisingly stubborn.
She was neither stunningly beautiful nor model perfect, but those two qualities had never turnedGray on.
It had been the dark-blue purity of her eyes, her remote, untouchedquality, that had first attracted him.
She’d been like a pristine, tightly budded rose, and once he’d noticed her, it had taken him about ten
seconds to respond to the unintentional challenge of that closed, delicately sensual face and get so hard
he knew he had to have her.
Some things, he thought with bleak humour, didn’t change.
It had always surprised him that he’d got her into his bed so easily and so fast, but after a while he’d
realised that, despite the fact that she’d given herself to him, he didn’t have her at all. The stubborn,
bone-deep reserve that had at first so intrigued him had soon made him furious. He’d never been certain
of her, even when he’d had her beneath him with both legs wrapped firmly around his waist.
Although there had been nothing reserved about her reaction tonight.She had run the gamut of panic and
fear, relief and anger, and mastered it all with cool courage.When she’d found out who he was, her
expression had turned about as warm and welcoming as pack-ice. She had looked at him as ifshe would
have liked to kick his ass.
Grayswept the shadows, his gaze intent,his senses acute. Ben and Carter stepped quietly behind him.
When this was all over, he decided, Sam could kick his ass for as long as she liked, and he would take
it. He would chuck the active operations and concentrate on the organisational aspects.Gray felt a certain
relief at the decision. Yeah, he was ready to settle down.Past ready. He wanted Sam, and he wanted
kids. He would do what his mother hadbeen wanting him to do for years: get a haircut and a real job. But
he couldn’t allow himself the luxury of a future yet. Not when his own brother was dead and the man who
had killed him was still free and hunting.
“Is there a back entrance to your rooms?”Gray asked, as they neared the private parking bay at the rear
of the hotel.
“Near the store-room, but I don’t need—”
“I’ll see you safe.”
Sam hit back a cool answer.Gray was set on seeing her to her door. Okay, she could live with that. At
night, this part of the hotel was poorly lit and decidedly sinister, and after her flat had been broken into,
she hadn’t been able to wipe the image of the offender waiting out here, lurking in the shadows, maybe
watching her until she’d finally left for work.
At a nod fromGray , one of the two men glided past, the dark one. His eyes were faintly amused,
speculative. He didn’t look like any accountant or hotel executive Sam had ever seen. Neither did the
blond guy. The two of them were like a couple of sleek, hungry Dobermans trailing their master.
She heard the metallic scrape of the latch being lifted on the gate that guarded the back entrance to her
flat. The security light she’d had installed over her door sprang to life, starkly illuminating the tiny
Sam dug her keys out of her pocket as she walked through the gate.
Grayheld his hand out. “Let me.”
It wasn’t a question. With a lift of her brows, she dropped the keys into his palm.
Grayunlocked the French doors and disappeared inside. Sam followed, flicking a light on. Seconds later
Gray reappeared, the leather jacket once more held in his hand, his damp T-shirt clinging to his chest.
The image of him grimly searching outside the cinema replayed itself in her mind, and a shiver of reaction
went through her, compounded by an unnerving sense of being shoved along with no control.
Easing out of her coat, she shook most of the drips off outside on the payers. The courtyard was now
deserted; the other two men had gone, melting away into the night so quickly and silently that she hadn’t
heard them leave.
She spun, startled.Gray was bare inches from her, which startled her even more; she hadn’t heard him
approach. Up this close he was even more intimidating; the chiselled planes of his face were leaner, more
darkly tanned, than she remembered, the force of his black gaze mesmerizing. His very presence made
her feel absurdly vulnerable. She’d gone out tonight because she needed time to come to grips with the
fact thatGray was here at all. She’d planned to be completely composed with the armour of her job, her
professionalism, fully in place when she finally met him. Having him in her flat, larger than life, bigger,
moremale than she remembered, definitely wasn’t part of the plan.
Shockingly his fingers grazed her temple, the pads warm,rough against her skin, sending another hot
tingle of sensation shimmering through her. His fingertips came away smeared with blood.
“Why didn’t you tell me you were hurt?”
His expression was accusing. Sam reached up to feel the place he’d touched, but he forestalled her.
“Let me,” he rasped softly.
His fingers brushed her temples as he parted her hair, searching for the source of the bleeding. Sam froze
at the sheer unexpectedness of his actions. The blood in her hair could only have come from her palm,
and she was standing here, letting him search for a nonexistent wound while the shatteringly familiar scent
of him surrounded her, yanking her into a past she had spent the last few months trying to bury.
Panic grabbed her stomach. She jerked free of his touch. Dear God,Gray might look and sound
different, but he still smelled the same: clean, hot,utterly male. “It’s my hand,” she said huskily.
“Let me see.”
“It’s nothing.” Reluctantly Sam extended her hand.”Just a scrape.”
She uncurled her fingers, letting him see her palm. It wasn’t bad, but the abraded area was raw and dirty.
“I’ll dress it for you.”
Sam stiffened, but he cut her off before she could speak.
“You’re still shaky. I’m not leaving until I’ve dressed your hand.”Gray’s jaw was set, unyielding. “If I step
out of line, you can slap me.”
Sam knew that expression, the iron force of the will behind it.Gray was used to getting his way. She
could argue until she ran out of breath, order him out, but he wouldn’t leave until he’d bandaged her hand.
Once again she was faced with a choice she had never imagined she would have to make – a choice
between an undignified tussle to get rid of him or taking the line of least resistance and letting him have his
The notion that he would even want to step out of line was so ludicrous that she dismissed it. “The
first-aid box is in the bathroom. It’s a red container in the cupboard under the basin.”
Sam drew a relieved breath when he left the room, hung up her coat,then sank down in one of two single
chairs in the lounge. The couch was out. No way was she having him sitting next to her.
WhenGray prowled back into the room, he had a bowl of water and a washcloth, as well as the first-aid
box. Instead of drawing the other single chair over next to hers, he pushed the coffee table aside,
snagged a footstool and sat down, bracketing her legs with his in order to get close.
Even sitting down, he was big, and Sam was abruptly aware of just how physically intimidatingGray was.
The sense of being cornered was acute, and her body was responding to his proximity in a way that was
frankly alarming; she was flushed with heat, and her skin had becomeultrasensitive , her breasts tight and
Reluctantly she placed her hand in his. He was gentle, but even so, she flinched when he began cleaning
When he was finished,Gray smeared on antiseptic cream,then applied a dressing. “Does your
grandfather still live here?”
“He died a few months ago.”
His gaze connected with hers. “I’m sorry. I wish I’d known.”
“There was no reason for you to know.”
His eyes flared at her curt reply; then his mouth quirked at one corner. “Damn, but you’ve grown some
claws. It must have been rough, losing him. Is that why you’ve lost weight?”
“I’m not thin,” she automatically denied, standing up and, in so doing, getting way too close toGray .
Awkwardly she shuffled the chair back to get around him. “And the way I look is none of your business.”
Graycame to his feet. “Don’t get in a snit,” he said mildly. “I wasn’t saying I don’t find you attractive.”
Sam stared at him in utter disbelief. “I don’t want you to find me attractive!”
He crossed his arms over his chest, his head cocked slightly to one side, and a slow smile slid across his
mouth. “Then, baby, your luck just ran out. I’m male, and I’m not blind. The plain fact is,you can’t
disguise the way you walk. I recognised you from behind, even in that tent of a raincoat.”
Sam’s pulse jumped, not so much at his words, but at the blatant male interest gleaming in his dark eyes.
She shook her head, more a reaction to her own disorientation than a denial. She must be more tired than
she’d thought; hecouldn’t be flirting with her. “What do you mean, the way I walk?”
As far as she knew, she walked the same way she did everything else.Normally.Joe average.One
hundred percent ordinary.
Graygave her a considering look. “Like warm honey flowing.Hot and sweet and slow.”
The rough sensuality in his voice hit her like a hammer blow. Sam retreated instinctively, forgetting he’d
moved the coffee table from its usual place.Gray caught her before she tumbled back, moving so fast that
she was jerked against his chest before she could even cry out in surprise.
Heat radiated from him, warming her instantly, and the clasp of his hands burned, even through the heavy
weave of her shirt. She was caught, held in his grasp, and a sense of déjà vu rose strongly in her, merging
the past with the present in a confusing kaleidoscope of emotion. She wanted to move, to escape, but the
hot shivery feel of his hands on her was too powerful. It had been so long since she’d been held by
anyone, let aloneGray . She felt weak inside, unbearably pleasured by that simple touch, seduced by the
mere thought of surrendering to more than just the possessive clasp of his hands.
Her lapse in control brought Sam up sharply, and she couldn’t control a keening wave of grief and
despair. No. Not now.And not with this man. She didn’t wantGray .
She couldn’t want him.
His hand spread more firmly against the small of her back, as if to reassure her and control her instinctive
retreat. She could feel the hard muscles of his chest, stomach and thighs, the heat blasting off his big
body.The firmness of his arousal pressing against her stomach.
“Damn,” he growled softly. “Nowyou can slap me.”
Sam knew she should push free, but the plain fact was, she didn’t want to move. Despite her protests,
his touch filled her with a heady delight. With those few soft words he’d spun back the years, established an intimacy that had once been piercingly sweet and which she’d never been able to forget.
She had been closer toGray than she’d ever been to any other human being – including her grandfather –
and the loss of that closeness had immobilised her with a grief that was still achingly familiar. Wrapped in
the warm strength ofGray’s embrace, she wasn’t sure what she was waiting for – an apology, an
explanation … something.A reason for betrayal and loss.
Of course it didn’t come. The sudden letdown left her feeling sick and dizzy.
“Sam?” His hand cupped her jaw, anchoring her against the whirling sensation.
Another low, masculine voice made an enquiry. One of the men she’d thought had left.
Grayanswered with an indecipherable rumble; then he urged her down onto the couch and pressed her
head gently but inexorably down between her knees. All the while that deep, gravely voice encouraged
and cajoled, calling her babe, and darlin’, and making her wonder if she’d finally stepped across some
invisible line and gone stark, staring crazy.
This couldn’t be happening.
Only hours ago her life had been predictable and very firmly under control. Now the last man in the
world she wanted to see was sittingbeside her, holding her head down between her legs, and she was as
close to fainting as she’d ever been in her life.
The dizziness cleared.Gray’s arm was still around her, both arms now, she realised dimly as he pulled her
against his chest. The heat and comfort he emanated went through her in waves. She shuddered, for the
moment beyond anything but simply accepting his hold.
His chin came to rest on the top of her head. “Does this happen often?”
The intimate rasp of his voice penetrated her curiously disconnected daze. She wondered why he was
holding her when he could have simply let her lie on the couch, why he seemed to be taking every
opportunity to touch her when she would have thought he would be just as wary, just as distant, as she
wanted to be.”Only when I forget to eat.”
With relief, Sam realised that low blood sugar was the problem. She’d worked through lunch, and she
hadn’t wanted dinner. She’d let herself come close to sheer exhaustion through lack of sleep and skipping
meals. That, along with the realisation of just how muchGray still affected her after all her efforts to
exorcise the past, had floored her, literally.
His hand curved around her nape. The burning warmth made herwant to lean back and rub against his
rough-textured palm, soak in the pleasure of his touch. Like a hungry cat starving for more than just a
saucer of milk, she thought numbly, and knew that,dizzyness and stupidity aside, it was way past time to
move. The embrace had started out as comfort, but it wasn’t purely comfort any longer. She was all but
sprawled acrossGray’s lap, and he didn’t seem inclined to let her go. She could feel the rapid slam of his
heart, feelhim against her hip, firmly, inescapably male.
His arousal jolted her anew, although she immediately rationalisedwhyGray was aroused. It wasn’t
because of her specifically.Gray was a highly sexed, healthy male animal. He would probably be aroused
by the close proximity of any reasonably attractive female.
Even so, she wanted to stay wrapped in his arms.
The admission was difficult, but she couldn’t hide from it, not when her whole body was quivering with
an almost painful delight.Gray had been her lover, her only lover. He’d been fierce, and so strong he had
taken her breath, but at the same time he’d cherished her with such an intense sweetness that their
lovemaking had haunted her ever since. She hadloved him, and it was ironic now that the man she least
wanted to see, to touch, to even remember, was the only person left on this earth she’d been close to,
who’d shared a piece of her past with her.
He’d asked about Gramps, and the significance of that shook her. No one knew about Gramps. Not any
of the employees or residents of the hotel with whom she had struck up tentative friendships – not even
her secretary,Milly .
Sam planted her palms on his chest and shoved. Nothing much happened.
“Easy,”Gray rumbled. “You still don’t look too steady.”
Sam pushed again. “It’s late. I want to go to bed.”
He made a sound that was suspiciously like a groan and let her push free of his hold. Immediately she
got to her feet, ignoring the residual swimming in her head.Gray rose to his feet, too. There was nothing
cold about his eyes now; they were heavy-lidded, intent, and his mouth was fuller, with a definite sensual
curve. Her heart slammed once, hard. She half expected him to say, “Come to bed, baby,” in a lazy
rumble, the way he had years ago, but he didn’t.
His expression shuttered and be said bluntly, “Why did you leave me?”
For a moment the world spun before righting itself. In all the scenarios Sam had ever imagined,Gray had
never just come right out and asked that question. Seven years had passed. Years in which he had never
contacted her, never to her knowledge made any attempt to find her. She had always assumed that be
had happily continued on with the military career he had been taking leave from when she’d first met him.
It had never occurred to Sam that a man who had been interested only in a physical relationship would
want to know why she’d taken the initiative and left, saving them both a painful scene.
Anger surfaced in a rush. She hadn’t realised the anger was still there, she’d buried it so deep. Now it
welled up, as painful, as immediate, as the day she had finally realised thatGray hadn’t made her any
promises because he knew he wouldn’t be able to keep them –that the small signals she’d been so sure
had indicated genuine caring hadn’t meant anything of the sort. She’d wilfully fooled herself, casting aside
her natural wariness of any and all relationships, allowing herself to trust.
Something in her had died that day – more than one thing, in fact – but it was the loss of that fragile trust
that still cut so deep. Few people penetrated her reserve. She had friends, acquaintances, but the people
she allowed past barriers forged in childhood by too much loss, too young, were scant. IfGray wanted to
pin her down about a past he’d been only too happy to leave behind, that was just fine with her. She
could take his injured male pride. She could take his fury. These days, she could take just about anything.
“There wasn’t any reason to stay,” she answered with equal bluntness.
His eyes narrowed, and for the barest moment he was theGray she remembered: moody, intensely
physical and demanding of her attention. “I wanted you more than I’d ever wanted any woman.”
Something very like hysteria bubbled in her throat. She was tempted to laugh, but mostly she wanted to
cry. She was terribly afraid that she might do both at the same time, and then he would know just how
badly he had hurt her. “And that was supposed to be enough to keep me hanging around until you
decided it was time to spare me a little of your precious time? I was the woman you had sex with for a
few weeks – I don’t even think the term ‘lovers’ applied to us. And don’t flatter yourself that you have any
relevance in my life now. The fact that I took a job with the Royal knowing your firm owns it underlines
my indifference. It was a mistake having an affair with you seven years ago.”
His sheer lack of expression had Sam’s eyes widening in horrified comprehension. He probably thought
he could sleep with her while he was here – that she would fall into bed with him as quickly and as easily
as she had done before. “You’re living in the wrong century if you think you can take up where you left
“I don’t want an affair.”
And he didn’t,Gray thought savagely. He wanted much, much more. He wanted to snatch Sam up and
take her someplace safe, to pull her close and simply hold her, to explain …everything , when these
days he didn’t explain himself to anyone. He wanted to find out what had put those bleak shadows in her
eyes and made her mouth look even softer, more vulnerable, than it had years ago.
He knew he shouldn’t touch her, but his hand lifted to her cheek anyway. “I missed you.” The words
grated out, hard and slow.
She felt warm and soft and fragile beneath his fingers. He shuddered at the brief contact, a burst of heat
tightening his muscles, making a mockery of his control. The sensation was beyond exquisite –halfway
between pleasure and pain.And all the way toward insanity.
Instead of jerking away, as he’d expected, she stood utterly motionless, her gaze fixed on his while she
allowed his fingers to glide over her skin, making him aware all over again of how much he wanted to
keep touching her. Then she seemed to realise what she was allowing. They were standing bare inches
apart, and he was so close to kissing her that he could almost taste her mouth.
Her breath came in sharply. “No.”
She backed up a step, spun and strode to the French doors, standing taut and still while she waited for
him to leave.
Her eyes were dark with challenge, unwavering, her mouth a stubborn line. And she still wanted him the
same way he wanted her.
Like hell burning.
The knowledge settled inside him. He no longer needed to examine the link that had held him fast to Sam
over the years. She fitted him. She could have been made for him, and he was determined to have her.
Graywas uneasily aware that stating his objective was the easy part of the equation. The hard part would
be gaining her trust. She was holding back on him, as he had expected her to do, hoarding herself behind
that maddening wall of reserve. He could understand her wariness, even if he didn’t like it.
He would give her time. By his calculations, they had a week, max, to sort out their problems. It would
be enough. It would have to be enough.
Graystepped out into the night, every cell in his body alive with a desire so raw, so hot, that all he could
do was stand in the rain and wait for the savage ache to ease. He heard the door close behind him, the
snick of the lock.
Sweet hell, he’d made a mess of that. He had been too blunt, too rough.
The plain fact was that he’d been out in the cold too long, hunting a killer who was little more than a
whisper and a shadow, moving between jungles and slums and bars and living for the piece of information
that would give him the edge to end this circular hunt. He knew the disorientation was just that – he
would adjust as he always did – but it disturbed him all the same. It made him see how different he’d
become. He’d lost touch with normal people, with women; their softness and fragility. With the way he
used to be.
The light drizzle intensified as he opened the courtyard gate, whipping across his face, soaking his
“That’s one hell of a seduction technique,” a dark voice said from the shadows.
“Reels ’em in every time.”Ben had been with them all along –Gray would have been surprised if he hadn’t
been. “Maybe I should ask you for pointers. I’m a little rusty.”
Seven years rusty, to be exact.
The glare of the security light caught the silvery slash of the scar on Ben’s cheekbone. An unaccustomed
smile slid across the younger man’s face. “My track record isn’t anything to crow about, but you’ve
definitely lost your touch on this one.”
“I didn’t know I had a touch.”Gray stared at the French doors, at Sam pulling curtains, blocking out the
night – and him. Even angry and kicking him out, she hadn’t been able to disguise the honeyed languor of
her walk, the completely feminine swing of her hips.
Instead of discussing safety precautions and bodyguards, he’d taken one look at Sam and lost the plot
completely. Not for the first time, he felt a ripple of unease. Taming Sam wasn’t going to be easy, and he
wouldn’t kid himself that it would be anything less than taming. Beneath that polite, ladylike facade she
was still mad as hell at him.And unexpectedly vulnerable.
When Sam found out why he was really here, she was going to be evenmore unhappy .Gray was going
to protect her, but the protection would disrupt her life. He sucked in an impatient breath. Who was he
trying to kid? The protection woulddismantle her life.
Damn it all to hell, he wished he didn’t have to fire her.
Carter eased out from behind a Dumpster, shoulders hunched against the drizzle. “Smooth moves, boss,”
he said in his slow, country drawl. “She was eating out of your hand. I could tell by the way she walked.”
Graypulled his gaze from the warmth and light of the courtyard. “Carter,” he growled softly, “dome a
favour. From now on, don’t notice the way Sam walks. Has West checked in?”
A shape glided from pooling shadows so dense that the swirling darkness seemed to cling to his outline.
“I thought you were gonna get us a job someplace dry,” West groused.
A reluctant smile tugged atGray’s mouth. West had been staking out the hotel, just in case Sam had
returned before they did. Sheer, black-hearted danger aside,West looked like an offended cat. He hated
getting wet unless he was supposed to get wet.
Carter peered at West’s still, shadowy form. “Damn,West ,” he muttered irritably, “do you have to keep
sneaking around like that?”
“Like what?” West asked mildly, but his teeth gleamed.
Carter led the way to the back service entrance, produced a master key and unlocked the door. He
looked irritatingly cheerful. “Did you tell her?”
“I didn’t think so. She was way too calm.”
Calm?Sam had been ready to take his head off. And he hadn’t given her all the best reasons yet.
Another wave of heat slammed intoGray as he took the back stairs to his suite. He was glad of the
gloomy lighting, glad of the hours of prep work ahead of them. His lack of control quite frankly amazed
him, but then Sam had always had the ability to disturb him, todistract him. No one else had ever
wielded that kind of power overGray . Not any member of his family. Not any other woman he had ever
been involved with – and, regardless of popular opinion there’d been damned few.
Not for the first time it occurred toGray that, if ever there was a woman who could get him killed, it was
Aslim, well-dressed man of indeterminate race – neither dark nor light – of medium height, and with no
distinguishing features, set down his drink and walked from the dimly lit bar of the Royal, seemingly intent
on keeping an appointment. He didn’t hurry, didn’t allow his urgency or satisfaction to alter his stride,
even though his pulse beat like thunder and a light sweat sheened his skin.
He took pride in his ability to blend in with his surroundings and move in almost any milieu without
attracting notice. He would be extremely disappointed in himself if he violated his own strict code. It was
an art, of course, that didn’t gather much applause, but it had kept him alive when others close to him had
been cut down.
The circles in which he moved and plied his trade were as volatile and as vicious as the deep swirling
currents that ate at the northern coast of his adopted country,Colombia. He had learned early in his
chosen trade that only the most ruthless survived.
A small, grey-haired woman arrived at the doors at the same time he did. He nodded courteously and
held the door for her, despite her brisk, dismissive demeanour. He had spent his lifetime studying the
subtle and fascinating nuances of respect. The lady was a senior citizen and therefore deserving of a
certain cursory respect. He was careful not to use his damaged left arm, not because he couldn’t use the
arm and the hand, but his incapacity would then become obvious, and the lady might remember or comment on his injury. That was something he couldn’t allow.
He smiled blandly as the woman strode past him – incredibly, at her age and in the centre of a bustling
city, wearing jeans and hiking boots, and with a knapsack slung over one shoulder. His heart beat a
savage tattoo as the door swung closed behind him. The high sent his mood soaring, until he felt as light
and buoyant as an iridescent bubble bouncing on the scintillating curve of a fountain, but he managed to
hold his glee in check.
Lombardwas here.Ahead of schedule.
The shock and delight of that knowledge pooled in hisstomach, sent delicious tendrils snaking to his
groin, almost closing out the grinding fury. Never in his wildest fantasies had he imagined thatLombard
would make this so easy.
He acknowledged that he was perhaps even a tad disappointed. He had expected more fromLombard;
after all, the man had come close to destroying him once and was trying to destroy him still.
He allowed himself a moment of disbelief and pure, distilled rage. It was almost inconceivable that a
wealthy businessman playing soldier had once not only decimated his network but had dismantled his
family and made him look like a fool. In the months after the debacle of that disastrous operation, he had
lost his wife and son.Jacinta had run back to her rich Peruvian family and their pure Portuguese bloodline,
taking Manuel with her. Not that he was now even remotely interested in that bovine creature or his
weak, cowering son, but the desertion had stung at the time, because it had been the final humiliation.
It had taken years to regain the power and respect that should have been his by right. A power originally
denied him by his wealthy English family for the inconsequential fact of hisbastardy . That power was
what he craved. To rewrite an old cliché, it was dog-eat-dog in his adopted world, and he had a truly
Now thatLombardwas in the open, the outcome was in no doubt. It had taken seven years to reach this
point – years of sweat and poverty and bowing to the demands of that cultured pig, Delgado.Years in
whichLombardhad been cloistered in his beloved seclusion, sitting in rich comfort behind a desk,
surrounded by bodyguards and administrators and the unearned fruits of his legitimacy – growing richer,
growing soft, whilehe , Egan Harper, grew ever more powerful.
This time there would be no mistakes, no distractions. Soon he would have access to technology he
could sell to a stable of wealthy bidders.
Soon there would be no moreGray Lombard.
He smiled at his own punch line, once more reaching for that effervescent high, but this time the power
didn’t flow, the warmth didn’t enfold him, and the faint tremor in his hands transferred itself to his belly. It
was as if that glorious burst of feeling had burned him out, like a fire-work exploding in a shower of
flaming sparks, then plummeting to earth in darkness.
He strode quickly across the road. The demeanour of a gentleman dropped from him like the cloak
sliding off an illusionist as he became what he was: a cold predator on the prowl.
A Polynesian with tattoos and a gang insignia emblazoned on his black leather jacket made fleeting eye
contact, then walked on by, granting a gratifying width of pavement.
Harper barely noticed. The subtleties of predator and prey were second nature to him. The young thug
had acted on instinct, and it had been the correct one: Harper would have killed him in the blink of an
eye, and barely broken his stride into the bargain.
The shaking in his belly was deep-seated now, insistent. Sweat trickled down the side of his face as he
turned a corner and found his car. He shoved his key into the lock.
An alarm screamed. Harper sprang back, spun into a crouch. A knife appeared in his right hand as if it
had grown from his very flesh.
He moved in a rapid, crouching circle, his blade a silvery arc slicing shadows. His pulse hammered; fresh
sweat broke out on his skin.
He stumbled backward, ran a hand over his face, pinching his burning nostrils. His stomach dipped
nauseously. His left arm was throbbing where the knotted flesh pulled at tortured nerve-endings; the
badly healed wound on his thightwinged , protesting the sudden violent grace of his movements. His head
swivelled, and for a dizzying second he thought he might go spinning into the night.
He whirled, almost failing on the fender of another car. His gaze fastened on the briefcase that sat at an
angle on the rear seat, the coat draped next to it.
Thiswas his car.
He glanced back at the almost identical model that was still wailing into the night and forcedhimself to be
calm as he unlocked the door, folded himself behind the wheel and pulled away from the kerb.
He had made a mistake.An understandable mistake. The sedan he had rented was very common, as
was its dark blue colour. That was why he had chosen it. He had been the victim of his own caution.
There was no danger; he’d simply tried to unlock the wrong car.
Minutes later, he pulled into the parking space beside his motel room. With tense, jerky movements he
locked the car and entered the perfectly average motel room, heading directly for the bathroom, drawn
by its only remarkable feature, the shiny, deep green surface of the vanity unit.
The two white lines of powder he carefully constructed looked pristine, almost innocent, against the
pseudojade , and he paused for a moment to admire hishandywork before bending down and applying
The power surge, when it came, wasn’t impressive, certainly not enough to blot out that momentary loss
of control,the mistake he had made , but Harper wouldn’t allow himself any more. He was meticulous
with his dosage of the drug, had been ever since he’d had to resort to using it in the months he’d been on
the run, tending his wounds, trying to save the wreckLombardhad made of his arm and the bullet wound
that had festered in his thigh.
The mistake with the cars had occurred because he had hung on too long, drunk with the glory of
strolling through enemy territory and discovering thatLombardwas already here.Awaiting his pleasure. He
had let himself get too needy.
His cocaine habit was measured, just as he measured everything, and he wouldn’t allow it to rule him.
Cocaine was as beautiful as it was deadly, a drug that only the rich could afford, and Harper was now
very rich indeed. But it was also something else,his own sweet guardian angel. It had literally saved his life by helping stop the bleeding from his wounds and staving off the pain while he healed.
He would make certain he adhered to his schedule in future.
He strolled out into the lounge, carefully stripping his jacket from his still aching arm, and idly
contemplated his next move. He had made a useful contact in the bar of the Royal Pacific Hotel.A pretty,
talkative young man – a hairdresser with the rather unlikely name of Leroy Deville.
Graystepped from the shower when he heard the first knock. Methodically he blotted moisture from his
face and hair and wrapped the towel around his hips. Before he answered the door, he picked up a
hand-gun, a Glock 9mm, which he had placed on the bathroom vanity.
He knew who was knocking, but caution was so ingrained that it would have been an unnatural act for
him to answer a door unarmed.
Ben replied to his terse enquiry.Gray opened up and stood back while the guys filed in.
Carter set a stack of pizzas down on the small dining table that occupied one corner of the lounge, then
pulled off his soaked black T-shirt and draped it over the back of a chair. He shotGray a rueful glance. “I
thought you were gonna get us a jobout of the rain. I’m starting to get webbed feet.”
Ben grinned. “That’s just your big farm-boy toes.”
“It’s his socks,”Gray murmured. “He forgot to take ’em off about two months back in the jungle.”
West shoved a hand through his hair, grimacing when a wet stream tracked down his spine. He dumped
a couple of six-packs of beer by the pizza. “Great,” he muttered. “No wonder Harper got away clean.
He could probably smell us coming.”
Carter folded his arms across his bare chest. “It wasn’t my socks he could smell, it was Ben’s soap. The
little pink heart-shaped number he packs with his toothbrush.”
Graypaused in the doorway to his bedroom. “Holding out on us, McCabe? Which lady friend sent that?”
Ben grinned as he dispensed pizza and beer.”Who else but the love of my life?”
Graypulled on fresh jeans and padded back out into the main room, where West and Ben had also
removed their wet shirts. He placed the Glock on the table, sprawled back in his chair and snagged a
slice of the rapidly disappearing pizza. “And how is my sweet little darlin’?”
“Waiting for her uncleGray to make good on his promise about the tea party.”
Graytore the tab off his can of beer and felt the tension begin to drain from him. It was hard to do
anything but smile when Ben started talking about his daughter.”Beats me how a sweet little girl like that
ended up with a big, bad daddy like you, McCabe.”
Ben took a swallow of his beer and grinned as he wandered over to the long black gear bags that were
lined up against the wall. He began unzippingthem, briefly checking that the surveillance equipment they
needed had arrived. “The usual way, mate,” he said lazily.”The usual way.”
An ache started somewhere inGray’s chest when he thought about having a daughter of his own, of what
it would be like to set violence and cold necessity aside and hold an armful of sweet smelling little girl like
Bunny McCabe. Of what it would be like to get Sam pregnant, to see her grow big with his child.
The thought was like a kick in the solar plexus.Sam pregnant.
He was glad he was sitting down, because right now he didn’t think his legs would hold him. A wave of
longing rolled over him, so deep, so complete, his head spun with it.
He wanted to make love with Sam. He wanted her wrapped around him while he sank deep inside her,
and he didn’t want to use protection. He wanted to watch her face while she came apart in his arms, and
he wanted to stay locked inside her while they made a baby.
He’d been in a state of constant semi-arousal for days. The heavy ache of desire had been riding him
hard, making him as edgy and irritable as a frustrated stallion. He couldn’t ignore the fact that she had run
from him all those years ago.
He wasn’t good at seduction. He knew how to touch a woman, to give her pleasure before he took his,
but he had no background of techniques and strategies, no easy lines that would coax a reluctant woman
to his bed. Having to coax a woman at all was an alien concept; women had always come easily to him.
Maybe too easily, he decided. The only thing he possessed was the raw, sexual instinct of a healthy
male. He knew when he wanted a woman, and he knew when she wanted him. Now he needed more.
He needed to know how to reach past Sam’s reserve, needed the words, the gentletouches, that would
allow her to trust him before he took her to bed.
He needed a strategy.
He would have to plan this as carefully as he planned a military operation. Nothing could be left to
chance; there was too much at stake. “I need a strategy.”
“Thought we had one,” Ben mumbled around a mouthful of pizza.
Graycast him a brooding look. “I need a strategy for getting Sam back.”
Ben choked. Carter whacked him on the back. West abandoned his perusal of the bags of equipment
and opened another box of pizza. “Ever try having a conversation with the lady?”
Amusement took the edge offGray’s grim mood.”Yeah. She didn’t like it.”
“Did you ever tryasking her stuff instead of telling it to her?”
Three pairs of eyes turned on West like curious spotlights.
Gray’seyes narrowed. “What kind of stuff?”
West shrugged, looking momentarily perplexed. “Ah, like what she’s been doing sinceshe , ah—”
“Walked out on me seven years ago,”Gray supplied.
West’s brows jerked together. “If you don’t want me to go on, just say so.”
Gray’sfingers tightened around his beer can, his grip threatening to crumple the light metal. “Go on,” he
muttered, shoving his chair back and going to stand at the window.
“Women are different.”
There was a moment of profound silence while they all pondered the differences.
Carter ripped the tab off another beer and settled back in his chair. “Keep talking dirty,West . We’re all
West glared at Carter. “I’m not talking about physicaldifferences, I’m talking about the way they think.
Their minds are different. There’s a lot going on in their heads that we have no idea about. I mean, have
you ever wondered why women always carry handbags with them? Or what’s in them?A guy? He’ll just
stroll on down the street with his wallet in his pocket, but a woman has to get a lot of stuff together
before she’ll even consider stepping out the door. How can you expect someone with a mentality like that
to just jump into a relationship? She’s going to need to know more about you. She’s going to need to
know a lot.”
There was a rumble of assent. Every one of them had noticed the handbag phenomenon.
West kicked back in his chair, warming to his subject. “You have to be aware of the way women think.
They don’t take their orders from what’s locked beneath theirzipper, they’re a lot more … emotional. If
you want arelationship with a woman you have to approach things differently. It’s not like a pick-up in a
bar, followed by a little healthy wrestling. They need to know you’re interested in them. You should
probably do some talking, too.” He nodded his head in emphasis. “You’ve got to open up to her.”
Ben gaveWest a brooding look. “Open up to her? Did you try this stuff out on your wife,West ?”
West went blank. He hadn’t seen his wife for a couple of years, ever since they had separated.
“Thought not.”Ben fixedGray with a direct look. “Youhave got something to offer her.”
Carter grinned.”Yeah. Women are generally agreed on one thing you’re good at.”
Three sets of eyes locked on a part ofGray’s anatomy that had not been discussed, yet was crucial to the
process of male/female bonding.
West came to a decision. “The hell with conversation,” he growled. “You’ve got to play to your
strengths. Take her to bed. Let’s faceit, sex is probably the best interactive skill you’ve got.”
There was a knock on the door. Silence descended except for the sounds of weapons being palmed and
clips shoved into magazine housings.
West picked up the case of his current favourite all-purpose sniper rifle, a bolt-action Remington, and
carried it through to the second bedroom of the suite, where it would be out of sight, before taking up a
position in the doorway.
Carter automatically took up a position on one side of the front door to the suite.
Ben flattened himself on the other side, his hand on the ornate brass knob. “We expectingcompany?”
Grayhefted one of the bags of miniaturised communications equipment that he had helped design and
that his company manufactured strictly forspecial forces use. He set it down on the table, using its bulk to
conceal the Glock.”Yep.” He picked up a street map of the area surrounding the hotel and opened it.
Ben raised his voice, “Who is it?”
The reply was high and thin and wavered slightly.”Leroy from Hair Trends.”
West and Carter snickered.
Ben’s gaze narrowed onGray . “Are we expecting ‘Lee-roy’ from…”He raised his voice. “Where did you
say you were from, Leroy?”
Ben grinned. “Looks like your makeover’s here, boss.”
Grayallowed himself the pleasure of a slow smile as his gaze touched on each one of the tanned,
broad-shouldered, lean-hipped warriors lounging in various states of battle readiness against walls and
doors. There was no disguising the fluid grace of bodies used to constant hard physical exercise, the big
callused hands more at home holding weapons than calculators, or the dangerous go-to-hell glitter in their
eyes, but there were superficial things that could be done to make his dangerous bunch of renegades fit in
on a city street.
Carter shifted uneasily. “I don’t like the look of this.” West fingered his hair, which was so shaggy it
brushed his collar. “Don’t tell me,it’s bath day?”
Ben gloomily removed the clip from his gun and shoved both items into one of the gear bags. “This is all
Carter’s fault. He should have changed those damn socks.”
“Line up, boys,”Gray drawled. “It’s your lucky day. Lee-royis gonna do each and every one of you.”
Ben groaned. West looked resigned.
Carter’s voice was a low, flat rumble that didn’t require actual words to convey his discontent. “Just as
long as thehair is all he does.”
When the door was finally opened, Leroy stepped briskly into the crumbling grandeur of the Governor’s
suite and faltered. The room was filled with men.Big, rough, half-naked men with hair on their chests.
Clothes were tossed over the backs of chairs, and several large black bags, the kind in which sporting
equipment might conceivably be transported, littered the room. It resembled nothing so much as what he
imagined the locker room of a football team might look like after the big game, except for the electronic
gadgetry that was visible in the opened bags.
The big man at the table lifted his black wolf’s head, and the messy details of the room faded asmidnight
dark eyes settled on him. Leroy had never thought of black as a cold colour. He did now. His spine
jerked straight, and he came as close to standing to attention as he was capable of doing. There was a
cold bite of command about this man that left him in no doubt as to who controlled the other men in the
room. He also had no doubt that the other men required controlling; there was something wild and untamed about the lot of them. The word “mercenaries” flashed into his mind, and a chill skittered down
his already stiffened spine as if the temperature in the room had just taken an abrupt plunge.
He swallowed the melodramatic notion and lifted his chin, fingers automatically tightening their damp grip
on his bag of hairdressing equipment.
That was it, he decided a little wildly. He’d had it with the Pacific Royal and all its eccentric clients. Last
week he had been attacked by old Jeremiah Holden’s moth-eaten cockatiel. The evil creature had taken
exception to his new Gucci loafers and dropped a load of loathsome guano on the expensive, supple
leather. To top off what had already been a trying week, theCarsonsisters had almost killed him with one
of their pottedficuses when the heavy container had tumbled from a spindly Victorian plant stand and
missed him by inches.
The cold-eyed barbarian at the table rose to his feet. Leroy controlled a nervous quiver. The man was
even bigger than he had looked sitting down, his shoulders massively broad, his arms roped with muscle.
He was darkly tanned, as if he’d spent too long in some misbegotten clime, and scars crisscrossed his
torso. Leroy wouldn’t have been surprised to see a broadsword grasped in one big hand.
He’d had it with moonlighting, too, he decided. It was just too dangerous. He didn’t care how much
money he was offered, or who did the asking, from now on he would stick with his day job and be
perfectly content with nice, safe blue rinses.
Grayeased up on the pressure on the Glock behind the cover of the black bag, which was still sitting on
the table, and nodded at West, who checked the corridor, closed the door, then quickly and casually
concealed his own gun in one of the gear bags.
Graystudied Leroy. The hairdresser had a cascade of blond ringlets that any woman would kill for, a
perfect sun-bed tan, and a small fortune in designer clothes hanging off his lean frame. He also looked
like he was about to bolt. “Thanks for coming at such short notice, Leroy,” he said as smoothly as his
rough voice would allow. “We appreciate it.”
Leroy started.Gray’s mouth twitched. He was pretty sure he had just made things worse.
“Uh, no problem.”Leroy’s Adam’s apple bobbed. His gaze darted around the room, fastened on the
bags of surveillance gear. “You boys with the, uh, telephone company?”
This timeGray didn’t try to hold back on his smile, and apparently that didn’t help their case with Leroy,
either. “Not exactly,” he drawled, “butclose enough. We are in the communications business.”
Sam slept badly and woke before dawn to the sharp certainty that someone was watching her.
She lay rigid, barely breathing, her ears straining to hear beyond the accelerated thud of her heart. Her
bedside clock glowed luminescent green, telling her it was after5:00 a.m., but only just. Faint street-light
filtered through her curtains. She could discern the outline of her dressing table, the open door.
The room was stuffy. She had kicked her bedclothes off, yet her skin was still damp, the cottonsinglet
she wore stuck to her skin. The heat seemed to press down on her, pinning her to the bed. Long minutes ticked by where nothing moved and there was no sound beyond the ones she couldn’t muffle.
“There’s no one,” she said aloud. Her voice quivered huskily, breaking on the last word, and with a
stifled gasp she jack-knifed, hand fumbling for the lamp. Golden light flooded the room. Sam blinked at
the hurtful brightness, let go of the breath that had been dammed up in her throat and folded in onherself ,
hugging her legs.
Her room was the same as when she had gone to sleep, except for the mess she’d made of the bed. The
shirt she’d taken off was still draped over the back of a chair; the historical romance she’d tried to read
was still sitting on her bedside table, a bookmark neatly inserted at the point where she’d given up trying
Shoving a hand through her damp hair, she forced herself to walk through the flat, switching on lights as
she went, checking windows and doors. Everything was still locked, still secure. If nothing else, the
stuffiness should have told her that, she thought in an attempt at wryness; if someone had broken in, she
would be breathing fresh air.
It had probably been a noise that had awoken her – a cat rummaging through the Dumpster to the side
of the parking lot, or a drunk wandering off course. Most probably it had beenher own overactive
imagination kicking back at her in the form of another bad dream.
Sighing, she grabbed a glass of water, drank thirstily,then headed for the shower. This had happened
often enough the past few nights that she knew she wouldn’t go back to sleep, so she might as well get an
early start on work. God knew there was enough for her to do. TheLombardsteam had arrived a day
late, but she guessed the planning meeting that had originally been scheduled for today would proceed.
There would be counsellors and planning people crawling all over the building. And she would have to
meet withGray in an official capacity.
As she walked out of the kitchenette, she saw a black leather jacket lying over the back of a chair, and
her stomach lurched.Gray’sjacket. He’d left it behind last night. She picked it up, automatically lifting it to
her nose. The strong smell of damp leather assaulted her nostrils, along with another faint scent that was
subtler andGray’s alone.
Sam dropped the jacket, backing off fast, only stopping when the smooth, cool fabric of the floor-length
drapes brushed between her shoulder blades and slid against her calves. Tears leaked from her eyes. She
was so tired still, her head throbbed, and she was so hot she felt like she was being slow-roasted and
suffocated at the same time.
The simple act of handling the jacket had releasedGray’s scent into the air so that it filled her nostrils with
Abruptly she spun and wrenched the curtains apart, unlocked the French doors and pushed them open.
A ribbon of light shafted across the courtyard, breaking open the night. She pulled in gulps of fresh air as
she stared out into the heavy pre-dawn darkness, eyes straining. Nothing moved; it was eerily still, except
for the faint drift of an errant breeze through the shrubbery.
With a shudder comprised of relief and self-mockery, and the chill of perspiration drying on her skin,
Sam locked up again, leaving the curtain open in defiance of her fears, and strode toward the shower.
Graybolted upright in bed, heart pounding, breath held tight in his lungs, muscles taut and sheened with
sweat. An anguished tremor coursed through him, and he swore, a short, succinct curse.
Damn. Now that he had finally gotten himself a soft bed, he remembered how much he hated beds,
hated sleep. Hated the vulnerability sleep forced on him.
Not that actual sleep was the problem; he didn’t fear that, or dreams.
Sometimes he wished he would dream about Jake’s death.Although those dreams would be better
described as nightmares. He didn’t dream about that bloody day.Ever.
He guessed he knew why that was. The stark scene, the hot anguish of guilt, were with him –part of him
– as fresh, as deeply painful, as if the killings had just happened.
The phrase “time heals” had no reality forGray . Time hadn’t healed; it had just changed the way the grief
and guilt rode him. The searing horror of the scene no longer dominated his thoughts, his days; instead it
bided quietly, sliding into his consciousness like a shark cruising calm waters, striking in the quiet lull just
before sleep or waking, sending a hot river of adrenaline roaring through his veins, making his muscles
cord and all his old wounds throb, making his jaw clench against his grief and failure, making him hate
and fear that moment of utter vulnerability.
Grayshoved himself out of bed and paced, naked, to the window. Something had woken him, catapulted
him out of sleep, and he knew better than to ignore his instincts. Maybe it had simply been city sounds;
he’d spent a lot of time in small villages and jungles lately, and his senses hadn’t yet become attuned to the
change of environment.But maybe not.
The night was inky-black and still, weighted with the dense rain-rich canopy of cloud that didn’t so much
hover over the city as sink and smother it.Another hot, sweaty bitch of a night.
Grayopened the window, relieved when a faint breeze sifted across his damp skin, cooling him. He ran a
hand over his hair, accustoming himself to the sleek shortness of it, the nakedness of his nape. As he
stared out at the cityscape, his nostrils flared, catching the aroma of bread baking, mingled with the tang
of the sea and the underlying mustiness of theRoyal’s old timbers, which evidently soaked up the humidity
like a sponge.
He wondered where Harper was at that moment, although the thought was only fleeting. Once they
dangled the bait in front of him, it would take Harper several days to obtain the people and equipment he
needed – even so, when he arrived, he would be at a disadvantage. He would be cut off from his usual
area of operations. This time he would be onGray’s territory, playingGray’s game.
He didn’t question that Harper would take the bait.Gray knew him as intimately as if they were brothers.
Harper wouldn’t be able to stand the blow they had just struck to his network or his ego. Even though he
couldn’t know thatGray was directly behind the assault, he knewGray was involved with the operation to
hunt him down.
Grabbing a glass of water,Gray prowled the confines of the suite, not bothering with lights, not needing
them. Inevitably his footsteps carried him to the bathroom, which looked out over the back of the hotel.
With a resigned oath he pushed the tiny window open and peered out and down. His heart slammed hard
against his chest. A small ribbon of light flowed across the courtyard two storeys below. Sam was
A fierce satisfaction filled him. It looked like he wasn’t the only one having trouble sleeping.
An hour later, Sam was at her desk, a cup of coffee steaming at her elbow as she began planning her
The main problem, of course, was that after this morning’s meeting, she might not have a hotel to run,
and nothing more to do with her day than look for another job, but that didn’t change the fact that there
was paperwork that needed completing, plumbing repairs to arrange and oversee, a leak in the roof that
needed urgent attention.
Edith had left a note detailing a complaint by Jeremiah Holden, a wealthy eccentric who occupied a small
suite on the second floor. Jeremiah had seen another ghost, and he wanted something done about the
Grinning, Sam scribbled a note toMilly , instructing her to call in a team of ghost busters, ASAP.
Her smile faded. Not that they would need that kind of service.Gray would probably pull the Royal
down; then the ghosts would have to leave along with everyone else. There would be nothing left to
Sam sipped coffee as she worked and periodically massaged her temples. Her concentration kept
fragmenting, and finally she threw her pen down and leaned back in her chair.
She still felt a sense of unreality thatGray was actually here; that he had gone out into the streets last
night, looking for her, that he had been in her flat and she had somehow ended up in his arms, pressed so
close against him that she could feel his arousal pushing into her belly.
Her cheeks heated at the memory, and, on cue, an older memory superimposed itself over that one.
Gray’sentry into her life, when she’d been twenty-two and working atLombards of Sydney, had been
just as explosive.She had been new and inexperienced, and trying to control her firstbar fight.Gray had
waded in and dealt with the sudden eruption of violence, pulling the men apart,then ejecting them from
That was the first time she had spoken to him, although she had been aware of his presence all evening.
He had been sitting in the shadows, shoulders propped against the wall, while he slowly sipped a beer.
He had been dressed all in black: black T-shirt, black pants,black boots. Even his wristwatch had been
matte black, with a cover that hid the face. His hair had been military-short, his eyes as dark as his
clothes, but definitely not sombre.
He had helped her right the last of the chairs, and when she had caught his gaze on her, a slow smile had
curled his mouth, almost stopping her heart.
There had been something more than just simple dark-and-dangerous about him. He had had
too-hot-to-handle written all over him, from the cool speculation in his eyes to the blatantly carnal
promise of that mouth. If she had had a mother to object, Sam had no doubts she would have been
yanked back home and cloistered until the big bad wolf found other older, more experienced game to
hunt.But she hadn’t had parents, and her grandfather was already old and an ocean away.
It hadn’t seemed to matter thatGray Lombard was every mother’s nightmare; from where she had been
standing, he was every woman’s fantasy.
He had asked what time she got off and then sat back down and waited for her. When the bar had
finally emptied, he had taken her dancing, bluntly telling her, “It was the quickest way I could think of to
get my hands on you.”
And hehad put his hands on her, not in an overtly sexual way, but he had touched her constantly, small
possessive touches – his hand at the small of her back, on her arm, or simply holding her hand as they
walked. He had staked his claim with a directness she had found impossible to counter, even if she had
She hadn’t gone to bed with him that night; she’d turned him down at her door. She had been, and still
was, too reserved to allow that degree of intimacy so quickly.
He’d grinned, dipped his head and kissed her. He hadn’t used his tongue; he hadn’t needed to. Just the
brush of that incredible mouth against hers had made her go weak inside. She had leaned against the wall,
grateful for the support as she watched him walk away.
Seven years ago she had known that it would be only a matter of time before she gave in. Two days, to
He still wanted her now.
Sam sat up jerkily. Her elbow caught a file, knocking it to the floor and scattering papers. Automatically
she reassembled the file, restoring everything to its usual neat order.
“Get real,” she muttered to herself. She had already figured this one out.Gray wanted sex. That was all
he had ever wanted. The fact that her proximity had aroused him was no particular distinction.
GrayLombard strode into the planning meeting with all the sombre, brooding grace of a hungry tiger.
Sam paused in the act of transferring files from her briefcase to the polished, antique kauri table that had
been set up in one of the small reception rooms for the occasion.
“Here we go,”Milly , Sam’s secretary, said, echoing the thought of every one of the thirty-odd
employees, residents and city planning people assembled to meet theLombards delegation.
“Lord,”Milly muttered, as they watched the aged members of the now defunct Royal Pacific board
cluster around the mysterious, reclusive head of the Lombard Group. “That man even manages to look
dangerous in a suit.”
Sam couldn’t help thinking that seven years ago he’d looked dangerous naked.
She blinked, suppressing the urge to rub her eyes.Gray looked nothing like the cool-eyed warrior who
had chased her down in the service lane last night.
He’d cut that black stallion’s mane of hair and put on a suit, although that didn’t fully explain what he had
done. Somehow he had managed to tone down, to mask, all that raw male power with what she could only describe as corporate camouflage.
Perhaps she would have been fooled if she hadn’t seen him dripping wet, his T-shirt clinging to his chest
and shoulders, hadn’t seen the cold glitter in his eyes when he’d caught her. But she had, and she was
acutely aware that, beneath the wealth and sophistication that clung like a sleek mantle about his big
shoulders, he was as broodingly dangerous as any barbarian warrior had ever been.
Millylet out a low, almost silent whistle. “That man is built for trouble. A woman could go blind just
“Then don’t look,” Sam warned, her gaze captured byGray’s hard, clean profile. “Because trouble is
exactly what he is.”
“Nothim .”Milly directed Sam’s attention away fromGray . “I’m not interested in any of those hit men. I
want the little cute one.”
Sam was more than happy to be diverted byMilly’s intent expression, her wild red hair and off-the-wall
luau dress.Milly was forty-five going on eighteen, and she’d decided it was way past time she dropped
her widow status and found herself a man. “The little cute oneis the hit man,” Sam said dryly, recognising
Jack McKenna. “He’s McKenna,Gray Lombard’s right hand man. He can do more damage with his
calculator than all the rest combined can do with their muscle.”
“He’s got real power, huh?”
“Right where it matters – in the bank account.”
“Okaaay,”Milly said, subjecting McKenna to the kind of relentless scrutiny she normally reserved solely
for the chocolate doughnuts in the bakery window just down the road. “I’m ready to be turned on by
power. You can work on those bigguys, I’ll subvert the little bad one.”
Sam studied Jack McKenna with a definite feeling of foreboding. She had met him once, when she had
been interviewed for this job, and he hadn’t changed. He was mid-forties, lean, immaculate, and he
looked every bit the coldly brilliant corporate raider she knew him to be – and he was staring at the
cracks in the plaster ceiling as if he expected the building to start disintegrating all over his perfectly
“Forget McKenna,” Sam said, noticing the small, oddly vulnerable frown pleating her secretary’s brow,
and suddenly afraid that for onceMilly wasn’t joking. “He’s no push-over. He’s here to do a job that he is
very, very good at, and if he’s got a sense of humour, no one’s ever found out about it.”
Millydidn’t answer, and Sam suppressed a pang of alarm. Like many of the other employees,Milly flatly
refused to believe that the grand old hotel, with its glorious wood floors, antique furniture and faded
oriental carpets, could soon be nothing more than a pile of dust and rubble. Sam knew that was all too
likely. When she’d taken this job, she hadn’t expected it to last for more than a few months, just long
enough, she had thought, to conclusively prove to herself that she was finally free of her old infatuation
Gray’sgaze fastened on her. He was surrounded by people, but his impatience was plain in the taut set of
his jaw, the restless shift of his shoulders.
Milly, almost forgotten beside her, let out another low whistle. “Looks like the Warrior Prince just lost his favourite concubine. If I didn’t have three children who all want to be doctors, I’d probably throw
myself in his path.Purely for research purposes, of course.”
Sam muttered something indistinct in reply, her attention all forGray , who was now cutting a path
directly toward her.
She was as prepared to meet him as she would ever be after last night. Her suit was plain but elegant,
her hair neat, her make-up understated. What she wasn’t prepared for was the burn of sensual awareness
that clenched delicately at inner muscles and sent heat sliding across her skin.
“On second thought,”Milly murmured, “since I don’t get paid danger money, I think I’ll go drink a double
espresso for both of us while you find out if the Warrior Prince is gonna save both our jobs.”
“Thanks a bundle.” Sam got out from between stiff lips. “Don’t forget to put cream in my half. I really
hate straight coffee.”
Damn him, she thought a little desperately. Why hadn’t he gotten fat?Or ugly? A beer belly would have
taken his edge off nicely. But nothing so convenient had happened.Gray was six foot four inches of raw
male power that looked more like Delta Force than Office Desk.
He came to a halt in front of her, his shoulders successfully blocking half the room. His gaze swept her,
as alarming as the gleam of light caressing a blade. “Nice suit.”
“It’s my executive stress outfit,” she said shortly. “When I put it on, all the black makes me feel really
“What did you have for breakfast?” he murmured.”Nails?”
Sam lifted her brows, disdaining to reply.
He didn’t wait for one. “I need to talk to you,” he demanded bluntly.”In private.”
Sam’s heartjackhammered in her chest.She didn’t have any problem identifying the cause; it was fear,
pure and simple. Only yesterday she had been sure she was overGray , that she had successfully cut him
from her life, and now she knew that wasn’t so. All he had to do was walk into a room and she instantly
became more vulnerable than she ever wanted to be. Deliberately, Sam transferred her attention back to
her briefcase, unloaded the last file and clicked the case closed. She frowned when she discovered her
fingers were trembling.”The meeting’s about to start.”
“Jack’s running the meeting.”
Her eyes widened. Jack McKenna and his team were the only ones who were supposed to come in the
first place. “So why are you here?”
“The usual reason.Looking after the interests ofLombards.”
“No. Why areyou here? As you so aptly pointed out, Jack McKenna is running the meeting. He does
the hotel takeovers and makeovers.”
Gray’sgaze moved around the room. She realised he was constantly doing that, and unlike McKenna, he
wasn’t looking at the cracks in the plaster, he was studying people. “Maybe I came to see you.”
Sam didn’t bother to hide her incredulity. “After seven years? I don’t think so.”
“I do have a reason, but I’m not going to discuss it here.”
Sam suppressed a shiver at the bleakness of his tone and wondered again just what had happened to
changeGray so radically. Then she registered what he had actually said. He had a special reason for
coming, and it could only be to do with the hotel. Suddenly the possibility that the Royal would be
completely demolished and they would all be out on the street without jobs was a chilling reality. “If
you’re here to give us bad news, then I’d appreciate knowing as soon as possible. Mystaff, and some of
the long-term residents, are … naturally concerned.”
“But you’re not.”
She stiffened. “I don’t have as much to lose.”
He shoved his hands into his pockets, parting the lapels of his jacket. The gesture was restless, oddly
uncertain, the small silence that followed more eloquent than words, and suddenly Sam knew.He was
going to fire her .
The blow was unexpectedly stunning. She thought she had been prepared for dismissal. When she’d
taken the job she had planned for it.
Now the thought of leaving filled her with dismay. She didn’t want anotherjob, even though she knew she
could get one. At the Royal she had found friendship and loyalty, a fragile sense of family when she’d
been more alone, more adrift, than she had ever been in her life.
Her chin came up. If she was going to be fired, so be it. She wouldn’t whine, but she wasn’t about to
take it lying down, either. “I want this job, but I do have other prospects. If you’re going to fire me, then
just say so.”
“You’d like that, wouldn’t you?” There was a hint of a snap in that rough voice. “Why, Sam? When you
went to the trouble of getting this job?”
For a moment Sam couldn’t breathe.Gray had shifted uncomfortably close to a truth she had only just
realised. Taking this job had been more than a simple purging of the past. She had thrown down a
gauntlet. She had wantedGray to acknowledge her existence, if nothing else. If he fired her, so much the
better; then all links really would be severed.
“I’m supposed to be at this meeting,” she said, ignoring his question. “If you’re going to fire me you can
do it here and now. I don’t need to be alone with you to hear bad news.”
“The hell with the meeting,” he said impatiently, the low register of his voice carrying.
Conversation in the room faltered,then stopped. If this wasGray’s version of low-key and private, Sam
decided, he was about as subtle as a hand grenade. The only compensation was that McKenna now had
something else to occupy his mind besides the rotting plaster.
Sam stepped pointedly away fromGray . She was generally quiet and well-behaved, which fooled quite
a lot of people, but beneath the manners instilled in her by years of private boarding schools and a
guardian who would have been more at home in the last century than this one, she could be as stubborn as rock when she chose. She chose now. “I don’t take orders well, and I don’t want to be close to you.”
“But then, we don’t always get what we want, do we?” Sam controlled her almost panicked need to
escape, butGray didn’t attempt to touch her; he simply waited.Along with everyone else in the room.
Sam drew an impeded breath and stalked to the door.Gray strolled along beside her as if nothing
untoward had happened.
A kitchen hand pushing a tea trolley cast them a curious glance asGray opened her office door and
stood aside for her to enter. Sam didn’t see that she had any choice in the matter, even if his manners
were a little late in showing up.
“I’m not usually such a Neanderthal,” he murmured as she swept past.
Sam dropped her briefcase beside her desk.”Only when you want your way. I bet you gave your mother
a hard time.”
“I gave her holy hell, but then, so did Blade and Jake—”
The abrupt cutting off of his sentence drew her attention. His tone had been close to warm, almost
teasing; now his expression wasback to grim.
He closed the door and crossed to the window to stare out at the odd, brassy light of another summer
storm rolling in from the coast. The sun was still shining, but it had already started to rain.
“Damn, it’s hot in here.” He took off his jacket, tossed it over the back of a chair,then unfastened the top
buttons of his shirt, as if he disliked the constriction of a collar. “So, are you going to tell me why you
took this job?”
“I needed to work. I saw the position advertised and applied.”
“There were other positions available. Better ones.”
She tore her gaze from his broad back. In the heavy humidity, the thin weave of his shirt was already
clinging to his shoulders, the deep indentation of his spine. “I wanted this one.”
“What difference could it possibly make to you?” He turned to face her, and her gaze was instantly
drawn to the open V of his shirt and the crisp dark hair that grew there.
His expression was brooding. “You’ve never married.”
She stiffened at the abrupt change of topic. “I thought we were talking about my employment with
“When you walked out on me,” he said softly, “I came after you.”
Sam’s head jerked up. If he had wanted to shock her, then he had just achieved his purpose.
“I found where you were living. I watched you walking in the park with your grandfather.”
Sam’s mind shifted, telescoped. She remembered the day. It was not long after she had come out of
hospital after losing the baby. Gramps had dragged her out for a walk, insisting she needed fresh air.
They had spent a quiet hour in the park, soaking in the sunshine, smelling the damp earth and the flowers,
listening to the birds. She remembered seeing the back of a man’s head, experiencing another one of
those stark, transfixed moments of almost-recognition, followed by her decision in that moment to stop
looking, to stop expectingGray to simply walk back into her life. “I think I saw you,” she said blankly.
“Why didn’t you…?” She stopped, shaken by what she’d been about to ask.
His eyes narrowed, and he took a step toward her. “You wanted me to come after you.”
The flat certainty in his voice burned through the hazy recollection like hot sun striking through mist. In
that moment she couldn’t mask her shock that she had hidden something so basic, so intrinsic to her
character, from herself. When she had leftGray , she had run – like every woman since Eve – in the hope
that he would give chase. She had been confident that he would come after her, if only to see how she
was. The fact that he hadn’t had altered her perception of him completely. Now she had to readjust. He
had checked on her, even if he had chosen not to approach her.
“I couldn’t come after you straight away.” He touched the scar at his throat. “I was in hospital for this and
a couple of other … complications. When I came around after surgery, they had me strapped down.” His
mouth twisted. “It was hardly necessary. I was as weak as a baby. Even so, if I could have managed it, I
would have walked out of hospital then and hunted until I found you. How’s that for primitive?”
Sam wondered briefly what the other “complications” had been.”Obviously not too primitive for you to
overcome. Correct me if I’m wrong, but ithas been seven years.”
The instant the words were out of her mouth, she knew she should have ignored the temptation to goad
Grayclosed the distance between them so fast she barely had time to catch her breath. His hands curled
around her upper arms, his face was so close to hers that her stomach tightened in anticipation of that
sinful mouth gliding against hers.
The kiss didn’t happen. She could feel his breath, warm and damp on her lips, almost taste the coffee
he’d had for breakfast and the toothpaste he’d used afterward. Her hands were spread against the
unyielding warmth of his rib cage, and she could feel the slam of his heart against her palm. The desk was
a solid barrier behind her,Gray a solid wall of muscle in front of her, his thighs easily corralling hers.
Sam knew that if ever there was a time to cut and run, this was it. Her conviction thatGray’s interest in
her was fleeting and based only on physical desire had just crashed and burned. There was nothing
fleeting about the sombre intensity of his gaze. His eyes were hot and dark, pulling her in so deep that she
felt as if she had been summarily jerked off balance and, if she wasn’t careful, would fall right into him.
Abruptly he lifted his head, but instead of backing off entirely, he caught her hands in his and raised her
fingers to his lips. The hot stroke of his mouth was subtly shocking. The force of his sensuality boiled up,
engulfing her like a wave of heat spilling from a furnace.
“I’m late, and I apologise,” he muttered in a low, dark purr. “But I’m here now. And you’reright, I didn’t
come on behalf ofLombards. And I’m sure as hell not here for this old wreck of a hotel.”
His gaze shifted to her mouth, and her lips tingled and burned as if hehad kissed her long and hard. “I came for you, Sam. I want you back.”
Lightning flashed. Sam flinched, both atGray’s words and the hot, bright flare of light. Thunder
reverberated drowning out the sudden heavy downpour of rain. On cue, the hotel’s lights flickered,then
dimmed, before returning to normal.
The door was flung open.Milly strode in. “Now thatweasely McKenna is gonna can us for sure! Why,
oh why did we have to have a storm now?” Shestopped, her eyes enormous in her thin face.
Sam blushed as she became instantly aware of how the situation must look. She was backed up against
the edge of her desk, andGray was all but on top of her. He still had hold of her hands, and even though
he had shifted his attention toMilly , the taut, heady sensuality that had pinned her in place still hung in the
air, as tangible as the frustration that burned briefly in his gaze.
Sam tugged to free her hands.Gray let her go immediately, making it look like she’dwanted to hold
hands with him. He backed off a step, but his expression had “later” stamped all over it.
She slipped sideways along the desk, breathing a sigh of relief when she was at what she judged a safe
Milly’sgaze was fixed onGray’s chest. There were crease marks on his shirt where Sam had clutched at
it, and an extra button had come unfastened, revealing some major male real estate and an intriguing
expanse of dark hair. He looked rumpled and dangerous and sexy, like he had just had a woman
crawling all over him.
Sam stared fixedly at an invisible point overGray’s right shoulder. “Are you going to put your jacket on?”
“Yes, ma’am,” he drawled, managing to make it sound as if he’d taken his jacket off at her order in the
Sam glared at him. His lashes drooped, and, as unexpectedly as the sun bursting from behind a big,
black storm cloud, he smiled back,a heavy-lidded, sleepy smile that took her breath and made her chest
Sam decided that one had “later” written all over it, as well.Gray had said that she was the reason he
was here, that he wanted her back. Her mind reeled from the concept, rejecting it. She was almost
certain she hadn’t heard right. Somewhere along the way she had missed a vital piece of conversation that
would put that statement in a more acceptable context.
None of this was in the internal script she had prepared.
He wasn’t supposed to want her.
And, Lord help her, she wasn’t supposed to want him.
Millycleared her throat. “The power’s out in thekitchen, and the chef’s threatening to put a meat cleaver
through the fuse-box. Sadie Carson says the roof is leaking all over her dragon plants.”
“Sadie lives on the second floor.”
Millycleared her throat again, her eyes wide and meaningful, as if she didn’t want to say the real problem
Grayhad no such difficulty. “If Sadie’s getting wet on the second floor, then that means the two floors
above will be getting it, too.”
“Unless it’s a burst pipe,” Sam interjected, struggling to concentrate on the hotel instead of her own
internal dilemma, and feeling faintly ill atMilly’s bombshell. A burst pipe was trouble, but not as major as
Grayshrugged into his jacket. He shotMilly a sharp look. “Get an electrician in to look over the wiring.
It’s probably just a blown fuse, but in a building this age, we can’t take the risk that that’s all it is. Sam and
I will check out the roof.”
Sam lifted her brows at the arrogant way he had assumed control of a situation she was well equipped to
handle.Gray returned a bland stare that managed to convey the sheer, immovable granite backing his will.
Not that he had to do any rewinding, Sam decided grimly. She andMilly would both do as they were
told. After all,Gray owned this building and pretty much everyone in it. “I’ll get the keys.”
She collected her set of keys for the top floor, which was presently unoccupied because of maintenance
problems. Thunder continued to reverberate as they strode toward the lift. The rain was a steady rumble
Graydidn’t try to take her arm or touch her in any way, but she couldn’t shake the feeling that she was
being hurried along, herded in a direction she didn’t want to go, and the cowboy with the cattle prod was
prowling right alongside her.
Grayopened the elevator doors.”After you.”
Sam entered, supremely conscious ofGray’s sheer size when he joined her in the elegant but small
confines of the elevator. The door grumbled closed. He punched in the fourth floor. The lift began its
upward motion with an arthritic jolt.
Graymade no comment, but Sam winced. She could feel his cool, analytical judgement, the disapproval
pouring off him in waves. “It may be old, but it’s reliable.”
Sam watched number twolight up and mentally calculated how many more seconds there were left until
she could escape the lift and the enforced proximity withGray .
He regarded her levelly, but Sam couldn’t decide what he was thinking. That poker face he pulled could
hide anything from utter distaste to indifference. The lights flickered, the motion of the lift stuttered, then
stopped altogether, as they were plunged into darkness.
Sam closed her eyes,then opened them wide, in an effort to ward off a sharp jab of panic. The panic
lasted for all of a second before she managed to bring herself under control. She’d been afraid of the
dark when she was a child. Although she had largely overcome that fear, every now and then it crept up
on her and took her by surprise. Logically she knew that the fear had grown out of her immature concept of death she’d had as a child, and her fear that her parents were locked in perpetual darkness.
Her teeth sank into her bottom lip. The similarity of this small space to a coffin was overwhelming.
“Are you okay?” The sound ofGray’s voice was a welcome distraction. “The thunderstorm must have
knocked the power out.”
Sam sucked in a measured breath, a breath that didn’t nearly fill her lungs.
“Sam?” he prompted in a low murmur.
The warm velvet quality of his voice seemed to reach out and surround her, as tangible as a touch in the
disorienting blackness, making her want to shuffle closer, to burrow her head against his chest and be
surrounded by his arms as well as his voice. The darkness, when she closed her eyes, would then be
“I’m okay.” Her pulse was still racing, her fingers locked into tight fists, the ring of keys biting into her
palm, but the rumble ofGray’s voice had somehow diffused her momentary fear.
A dim glow lit the interior of the lift. A torch, Sam thought in disbelief.Gray had a battery-operated
She sank against the support of the wall. The relief of that small beam of light was enormous. “You’ve
got a torch,” she said, shakily stating the obvious.
“I’m a regular Boy Scout,” he murmured. “Here. I need you to hold it for me.”
Sam’s fingers closed gratefully around the penlight, and instantly her fear of the dark seemed ridiculous.
She marvelled at the sudden sense of control, when seconds before her heart had been pounding. She
decided then and there that she was going to buy one of these little babies and keep it in her handbag.
You just never knew when you were going to be caught in a black-out.
Graymotioned her to step closer and direct the beam on the control panel. He studied the panel, then
opened it and checked inside. With a grunt of satisfaction, he straightened, then simply opened the first
set of doors, reached up and depressed a lever, then opened the outer set of doors.
The darkened fourth floor was about three feet above the floor of the lift.
Grayturned to her. “Hand me the keys and I’ll give you a boost.”
He dropped the keys in his pocket. She noticed he hadn’t asked for the torch, for which she was
grateful. Even though they were almost out ofthe of the lift, it was still very dark, and she was loathe to
give it up. A small amount of light filtered from beneath the room doors into the corridor, but only enough
to make her aware it wasn’t the pitch-blackness she had experienced before.
Gray’sbig hands settled at her waist.
“Put your hands on my shoulders,” he murmured next to her ear.
Sam gripped his shoulder with her free hand and settled for simply bracing herself with the other, which
was wrapped around the torch. She was intensely aware of the pliant strength shifting beneath her fingers as she was lifted and set down on the floor, her legs dangling. One of her shoes slipped off.Gray picked it
up and fitted it to her foot, not lingering over the task,then waited for her to get to her feet before flowing
up and out of the stalled elevator in one smooth, muscular movement.
Immediately his hand cupped her elbow. Sam knew she should shake off his hold, but after those
moments in the elevator, she was grateful for the warmth of his touch.
She knew from experience thatGray was naturally courteous with women. He automatically did things
that a lot of men neglected, small gestures like opening doors and holding chairs, offering a woman his full
attention when he was with her. That attention to her needs, combined with the sheer battering force of
his masculinity, had held a seductive allure. Seven years ago she hadn’t been able to resist him; she had
been dazzled by all those small attentions. This time would be different. She knewGray , knew just how
little those courtesies meant. She wouldn’t allow herself to tumble under his spell again.
Reluctantly,Gray released his hold on Sam’s elbow and handed her the keys. She unlocked the door to
the first suite, pushed it open and absently handed him back his torch.Gray clicked the beam off, slipped
the torch back into his pocket, then propped a shoulder against the doorjamb and watched as she
surveyed the damage.
Water had already soaked the carpets and continued to drip steadily. The entire roof needed replacing,
an expense that any company would balk at for such an old building.
Something very like relief lightened his mood. It wasn’t that he wanted the Royal to go under, he simply
wanted Sam, and her attachment to the Royal was standing in his way. There were enough barriers
between them; he didn’t need to be cast in the role of villain over this leaky old mausoleum. Sam was a
businesswoman; she could do the figures.
This happening on top of that damn elevator breaking down should clinch it.
His jaw tightened as he watched her wander from drip to drip, staring up at the widening patches of
damp on the ceiling, the ominous bulges in a couple of places.
“This is it, isn’t it?” she demanded.
Grayshould have guessed Sam wouldn’t tiptoe around the issue. What he hadn’t known was how much
the Royal would mean to her. Hurt shimmered in her eyes before she spun on her heel and paced to the
window, and conversely he wanted to tell her that he would fix the roof, he would fix any damn thing she
wanted if it made her happy. “The specs on the roof indicated it needed replacing.”
“But you won’t be replacing it.”
“No.”Gray let go of a breath, cursing inwardly. “You have to leave anyway,” he said gently.
“I lose my job.”
It wasn’t a question.”Yeah.”
She wandered restlessly around the room, examined the king-size bed, which was turning into a
king-size sponge – like the rest of the building – then surveyed the area of greatest damage, which was
smack in the middle of the room. She held out her hands, catching drops, her demeanour so grave he had
to fight the urge to pull her into his arms and wrap her in tight against him. The urge was male and protective,rawly sexual and possessive, and something more, something he only associated with Sam – a
deep, wrenching tenderness he’d never forgotten, an alien, disturbing emotion that had haunted him all the
years they had been apart and which he had come halfway around the world to find.
Sam let the water dribble from her palms. “Did you know that the Royal used to be one of the most
expensive, grandest establishments in the South Pacific? A lady calling herself Baroness Belle occupied
these apartments for several years. She wasn’t royalty, but she had style and money to burn. She was the
highest priced hooker in town, and she entertained only the finest clients. Apparently she adored ships’
captains, and if she was taken with a man, she would offer her services for free. This entire floor used to
be called Belle’s Palace.”
Grayeyed the bulge above Sam’s head and decided it was time to get her out of there. He stepped
around a growing puddle and coaxed her from the danger zone. “I don’t think Belle would be doing much
trade in here now.”
She gave him a fierce look. “There’s no hope? What about the people who work here?The residents?”
Her expression almost broke his heart, andGray had to steel himself against his frustration with this
whole charade. He was no diplomat; he never had been. The Pacific Royal deal was Jack’s baby.Gray
had little to do with it beyond business planning and policy decisions made at the executive level. He
wanted nothing more than to wrap his fingers around Sam’s arm and demand she leave with him.Now.
Aside from being a surveillance nightmare, this whole building was unsafe, and he didn’t want Sam here.
What would have happened if she had been in that elevator alone?
She had been frightened, even though she’d tried to hide it.Gray had felt the tension in her silence,
confirmed it in the uneven tenor of her breathing.
He’d wanted to reach out to her then, but he had refrained from doing anything more than murmuring
reassurance, because he hadn’t wanted to risk disturbing the hold she had on herself. It didn’t take a
genius to know that Sam was balanced on some precarious edge, that there were things he didn’t know
and that she wasn’t about to tell him about in a hurry.
The knowledge that she was holding out on him was infuriating. The fact that he wasn’t being entirely
honest with her didn’t come into it. Illogical or not, he still wanted to take her in his arms and soothe her,
to use the moment to try to break through that cool reserve and gain her trust. “We’re lucky the council
hasn’t condemned the building out of hand and ordered an evacuation. It’s dangerous, Sam. Everyone
will be well-compensated. They’ll find other jobs, other places to stay. We’ll give them all the assistance
Sam stared fixedly at him, as if she had just come to a conclusion that astonished her. “You really did
come to see me,” she said huskily. “Why else would you be here? Your mind was made up before you
She backed off a step, the astonishment fading, as if she had just given herself a mental shake. “If you’ll
excuse me, I need to get some tradesmen up here to do some damage control before that ceiling caves in
and someone really does get hurt.”
Graywatched her go. He didn’t like the fact that she was walking out on him – practically running from
him – but he had just enough sense not to push her any further.
She needed time to get used to having him back in her life. Seven years ago he had been young and brash and hadn’t taken the care of her that he should have. He would make up for that lack soon. After
Harper was dealt with, he would spend every moment he could with Sam – make love to her, cuddle and
hold her, cement their relationship with all the rituals of courtship he had disregarded before. He would
be free to woo her, and he wouldn’t rest until he had banished every last shadow from her eyes. But for
now his methods would, out of sheer necessity, have to be blunter, cruder.
He didn’t have time for anything else. He would have to bind her to him in the most primal way he knew.
Sam walked numbly down the stairwell. The power was still off, but the stairwell had adequate window
Of all the shocks she had had since she had answered Edith’s phone call last evening, the one she had
just received stood out above the rest:Gray had come after her – seven years too late.
She walked into her office, barely noticingMilly’s curious stare or the fact that for once her secretary
didn’t rush after her demanding to know what had happened.
A ripple of unease slid down her spine as she began to comprehend her situation; the unease extended
to an actual chill, roughening her skin and lifting fine hairs all over her body in primitive warning of danger.
Gray wanted her back, and she…
She was in trouble.
She had thought she had dealt with her hopes, torn them out like the stubborn weeds they were. But she
knew now that she hadn’t; the roots of that hope had sunk too deep, wound themselves around the very
fibre of her being, and no matter how hard she tried, she doubted she could ever kill them completely.
She couldn’t afford to be attracted toGray , let alone care about him. She had been hurt too often and
too deeply by the people she loved.
He had hurt her.
All she had to do was stay away from him. That shouldn’t be hard, she thought grimly. He had just fired
her. If she left, she would be safe.
But even while she laid it all out in her mind, Sam couldn’t dismiss the one central fact that nagged at her
and undermined all her fledgling plans. If she hadn’t been able to forgetGray after seven years of
concerted effort, what made her think she could do it now?
Millyappeared in her doorway. “How bad is it?”
“The roof is leaking. The fourth floor is uninhabitable.”
Millypressed a cup of coffee into her hands. “You want me to ring that roofing firm? They’re supposed
to be here doing the repairs now.”
“We need a whole new roof, not repairs.” Sam sniffed the coffee. There was something alcoholic in it.
“Drink it,”Milly declared gruffly. “You look like you’re ready to collapse.”
Sam sipped,then gasped. The potent mixture bypassed the usual channels and burned ahole straight
through to her stomach.
“You gonna tell me what’s going on with you and Lombard?”
Sam sipped again and shuddered. “Is it that obvious?”
Millysnorted, pulled up a chair and sat down. “Maybe I shouldn’t have put that brandy in there,” she
muttered. “Drink enough of that fire-water and next time you won’t back down from whatever it was you
were leading up to when I walked in on you earlier. Honey, I didn’t know whether you were going to
black his eye or trip him and beat him to the floor. I thought you said you barely knew the man.”
“Oh, I know him. Or, at least, several years ago I thought I did.”
“So it’s no use trying to seduce the boss to save our jobs, huh?”
Sam forced a smile at a joke that was now well past its use-by date. Seduce the boss?She was the one
in danger of being seduced. Besides, she doubted she could makeGray do anything he hadn’t already
made up his mind to do. “Hand to hand combat’s more likely.But if you want to have a shot,Milly , go for
it – although I wouldn’t recommend the aftermath. IfGray Lombard lies down with a woman, it’s for one
reason and one reason only, and, believe me, what you want won’t come into it.”
“Yeah,”Milly muttered morosely. “I know exactly what you mean. McKenna’s the same.Rich, powerful,
too cute for his own good.A real pain in the ass.”
Millytook over the job of organising emergency repairs, with Jack McKenna in close attendance. It
seemed McKenna wasn’t satisfied with Sam’s appraisal of what work needed to be done. He had to see
for himself, and he had to have Milly with him.
Sam checked on the kitchens. Power had been restored, but the chef was still irritable and sharpening
his cleavers – always a bad sign. Gray and two of his men were fiddling with the elevator, and theCarson
sisters were busily fussing around their plants. By lunch-time, everything that could be done had been,
and the sun was shining brilliantly, in blatant mockery of the disastrous morning.
The familiar heat hit Sam as she walked into her rooms. After making herself a sandwich and drinking a
glass of milk, she checked in with Edith at reception to tell her she was taking an extended lunch to deal
with personal business. Slinging the strap of her purse over her shoulder, she headed for the rear of the
hotel, where her car was parked.
Minutes later, she was merging smoothly with traffic on the motorway, her attention taken up with
avoiding the huge freight trucks that channelled through the tight bottle-neck that wasAucklandand the
mirage-like heat shimmering off the road.
A quarter of an hour later, she brought the car to a stop outside the gates of a cemetery in a suburb not far from where her grandfather used to live. After locking up, she walked through, grimacing as grass
whipped around her ankles and water from the earlier downpour trickled into her shoes, wetting them for
the second time that day.
A gust of wind flattened her blouse and skirt against her, and made her jacket flap open, but the wind
was warm, with a soft, melancholy quality, as if it shared in the lonely beauty of the grounds, the sleepy,
peaceful rows of graves – many dating back to the last century.
The sound of another car pulling into the car park had her glancing back. She didn’t recognise the man
who got out of the car, and for a moment she tensed. He didn’t look at her but headed toward another
part of the cemetery. Reassured, Sam turned her attention to the quiet mossy corner that was as familiar
to her as her grandfather’s house had been.
Automatically her breathing slowed, quieted. She always had the absurd notion that if she was quiet
enough, she would hear or feel something – a trace of her family lingering like some vital essence in the
Of course she never did. Time passed, but the peace she was looking for didn’t materialise.
Coming here was a habit, a ritual she had played out as a child and which her grandfather had
encouraged, because he hadn’t wanted her to forget her parents and how much they had loved her. She
tried to picture their faces, the timbre of voices long gone, but there was no instant replay in sharp
Technicolor. The memories were distant, faded, and the harder she tried to pull them into focus, the more
indistinct they became.
Instead her mind was filled with Gray. Tension gripped her. How could he dominate her thoughtshere?
The answer was in the elevated rhythm of her pulse, the excitement that simmered through her veins,
even now. She was alive, and she wanted Gray with a gathering momentum she felt powerless to stop,
despite the past, despite the fact that she knew she couldn’t trust him.
Maybe Gray was capable of loving her in the way she needed to be loved, but he had never delivered.
He had always pulled back, leaving her achingly aware of just how vulnerable and exposed to hurt she
She stared at the tiny grave in front of her and confronted the guilt she had never been able to vanquish
entirely, despite logic and medical fact. She had wanted her baby so much but was haunted by the
possibility that her unhappiness had somehow contributed to the miscarriage. Maybe if she’d been
stronger inside, more sure of herself as a woman, she would have carried the baby full term?
The sun beat down with a heavy heat that had her shrugging out of her jacket, folding it over her arm and
loosening the collar of her blouse. Perspiration sheened her skin, trickled between her breasts.
Gray had said he wanted her back.Her stomach clenched at the instant sharp image of Gray, naked and
aroused and reaching for her. Could she stand it?she wondered. Was she brave enough to throw herself
into that particular fire again?
She shivered, despite the heat, and knew the answer. The lonely years had forged one thing in her, at
least, a hunger to taste life, and – she closed her eyes against the almost painfulupwelling of need – finally,
the willingness to take the risks that went along with it.
Sam strolled back to her car, a measure of calm restored despite the momentous decision she had made
– a decision she shied away from examining in any close detail yet.
Her heart slammed once, hard, when she saw Gray leaning against a black four-by-four truck, arms
crossed casually over his chest, a pair of sunglasses shading his eyes.
“You followed me.”
His gaze was watchful behind the dark lenses.”Yeah. We got interrupted this morning, and since then
you’ve been hard to pin down. I figured the only way to finish our conversation was to talk to you away
from the hotel.”
“How did you know I was here?”
He jerked his head in the direction of a tall, dark man climbing into a nondescript sedan, the same man
Sam had seen follow her into the cemetery.
“You had me followed?” Last night he and two others had been out searching for her; she still didn’t
know why he had gone to so much trouble. None of it made sense.
“I have my reasons, and I’ll explain. You should get out of the sun first. There’s a bottle of water in the
As soon as Gray suggested it, she felt thirsty. Almost before she could make a conscious decision to
accept the shelter of his truck or a drink, he had the door open and was helping her up into the passenger
seat. Gray swung into the driver’s seat and handed her a bottle of mineral water. She noted that half the
water was gone. As she unscrewed the lid and put the bottle to her lips, a shiver of awareness coursed
through her at the intimacy of placing her mouth where Gray’s had been.
“It’shabit to carry water with me,” he said, half turned in his seat, his gaze on her mouth as she drank
“I’ve spent the last few years in places where it would be safer to tangle with some of the local wildlife
than drink the water. I spent time in those places for a reason. About the same time you walked out on
me, my family was facing a kidnap threat. I was overseeing security inSydney. My brother, Jake, and his
fiancée were taken hostage by a man called Egan Harper. I went after them, but I was too late to stop
He glanced away, his hand curled around the steering wheel, tightening into a fist.
“My God,” she whispered, appalled at the series of statements, the utter lack of inflection in Gray’s
voice. Sam stared at his profile, the grim set to his jaw. She knew that his older brother had died, but
she’d had no idea how – she had avoided reading anything at all about theLombards. The changes in
Gray began to make a horrible kind of sense.
“That day I saw you in the park, I walked away for a good reason. You were safe and with your
grandfather. I had just got a lead on where Harper had gone to ground, and I had to go after him.”
“You wanted vengeance?”
His expression was almost completely immobile, stark and implacable, the kind of look she imagined a
front line soldier might have, or a cop. “What I wanted,” he said softly, “was my brother back. The next
best thing was –is – justice.”
“And did you find … justice?”
“Harper is still free.” Gray’s voice was cold, his sunglasses a frustrating barrier that served to emphasise
his almost inhuman control. “Last week we tracked him to his lair. He got away, but amongst the
documentation we recovered we found your photo. I’m still hunting him, Sam, but now he’s involved you.
What I told you in your office this morning is true. I want you back, but I’m also here to protect you.”
To protect her?For the second time that day she wondered if she had heard right. She couldn’t conceive
of why anyone, let alone a murderer, would be after her. She had never done anything wrong. She’d
never even had a parking ticket!
“Aren’t you going to ask me why?”
A chill struck deep inside her as she realised that Gray was deadly serious, that the man who had
murdered his brother had her photograph. The thought of a stranger having a photograph of her was
disturbing enough to make her stomach clench with alarm, but a killer? “Why?”
“Because Harper knows you’re mine.”
The flat statement was as stark as Gray’s expression, and it shook her as nothing else could. Sam stared
straight ahead, at the timeless, unchanging familiarity of the cemetery while she grappled with a situation
that was beyond anything she had ever experienced. She was floundering helplessly, out of her depth,
and at the same time shaking with a slow burning rage at what this man, thisHarper , had done to Gray
and his family. To Sam, life was unutterably sacrosanct and fragile; that anyone should want totake a life
was almost inconceivable.
Clumsily she screwed the cap back on the bottle of water and placed it on the floor of the cab. She
reached into her bag and felt around for her car keys. The keys were cold and sharp against her skin,
and the illusion of control they gave her was just that, an illusion. Her tidy life had careened sideways and
gone wildly out of control. She was being followed. She needed protection from a murderer – a shadowy
man who had her photo, but who she wouldn’t recognise if she passed him in the street. She could get in
her car and drive, but even then, she would be followed and marshalled in the direction Gray wanted her
to go. On top of the helplessness and rage, she now felt pursued, herded.
Gray made no move to touch her. “If you want to go anywhere, one of us will have to go with you.”
“And if I want to be alone?”
“It won’t be for long.A week.Maybe two.”
“You’re going to catch him.” It wasn’t a question, it was a demand, and the answer was in Gray’s eyes –
a ruthless determination to bring his brother’s killer to justice.
Sam climbed from the truck. She heard the slam of Gray’s door as he followed her.
“You forgot your jacket.”
She fumbled with the keys, almost dropping them. Finally she got the door unlocked, tossed her jacket
and handbag on the back seat, and opened the door wide enough to help dissipate some of the heat that
had built up inside. When she turned around, she almost slammed into Gray’s chest. His hands settled on her arms, glided up to her shoulders.
He had taken off the sunglasses and slipped them into his shirt pocket. Without the lenses, there was
nothing to shield his essential nature from her. A raw shudder swept her. She’d thought that looking into
his eyes was like looking into the heart ofmidnight; now she knew just how deep that darkness went.
He cupped her neck, his thumbs stroking along her jaw. “I shocked you,” he said roughly. “I should have
found a better way to tell you.”
“I doubt there is one.” And if she had any sense, she would pull away from Gray’s touch now. His
expression was bluntly possessive and male, completely centred on her, and she knew he wasn’t going to
let her go easily this time. He had staked a claim on her; in primitive terms, he had marked her as his
territory, pledged to protect her. But despite her fear and confusion, the helpless rage, she wasn’t capable
of walking away from him.
What she had just learned had shaken her, but in a strange way it had pushed her closer to Gray. She
had never thought she would feel protective of him, but she did. His brother had lost his life, butGray had
been hurt, too – brutalised by the very manner and senselessness of his brother’s death.
He tilted her chin, as if he had somehow divined her moment of capitulation. Her lids drooped against
the glare of the sun. His head lowered, and the delicious coolness of his shadow replaced the glare; then
his mouth angled over hers, stifling a sound that was suspiciously like a whimper as she clutched at his
waist and opened for him. His tongue was hot and muscular, slightly rough; it curled around hers then
plunged deep, and seven years shimmered into oblivion.
The kiss was raw and sensual, and so needy that her whole body clenched around a shaft of desire that
actually made her go weak at the knees. A low, drawn-out moan rose from the pit of her belly, almost
smothered by the pressure of his lips.
He withdrew his mouth with reluctance, still nipping at her lips, as if he couldn’t get enough, either.
Dazed, she made no move to pull back, to think through just what she wanted fromGray and whether or
not she should be setting limits. With that one kiss she had tacitly surrendered, and he knew it. Setting
limits now would be like tying up a tiger with a piece of string and expecting it to stay.
He cupped her face with his palms. His expression was hard, intent, his beautiful mouth damp and
“Sam,” he said on a guttural note.
Her hands shifted to his chest. He was still wearing the same shirt he’d had on that morning, and her
breath caught in her throat as she tried to comprehend the passage of time since then. It felt like several
days had passed – more, a year, a lifetime. The woman who had watched Gray take off his jacket in her
office this morning had been naive in a way she now found hard to credit.
In the space of a few hours she had been fundamentally changed; every part of her life had been tipped
upside down and rendered unrecognisable. The only constant she had been left with was her inner sense
of herself.And Gray.
Gray. Her head still whirled with what he had told her, the implications battered at her like rising waters
pummelling at a floodgate. She had wondered how he had spent the last seven years, and now she knew.
He had lived them in darkness and isolation, searching for a killer. The thought hurt her. She knew about darkness and isolation, but violence was completely alien. No wonder he had become so grim and cold.
He had been out in the cold, literally.”Damn you, Gray, why didn’t you tell me?”
His fingers moved through her hair, he pulled her close, hugging her against him. “I couldn’t,” he said
simply. “How could I ask you to share something like that?”
“I would have wanted to know.”
He tilted her head, his gaze locked with hers. “You know now.”
Because he had been forced to tell her.Because somehow she had got tangled up in the serpentine coils
of violence that bound him.It wasn’t good enough, but for now she had to accept it. She understood his
need for control, to hold the darkness in, to stop it permeating everything, even if she didn’t like it.
Her hands moved reflexively on his chest, and she felt the tight, hard points of his nipples through the
cloth of his shirt, felt the shudder that wracked his body at her touch. His breath came in sharply. With a
rasping sound that was half curse, half supplication, his hand closed on her nape, and he lowered his
mouth back to hers.
His mouth was fierce, almost brutal with need. Sam wound her arms around his neck and held on, a part
of her glorying in his loss of control, that in this, at least, he was vulnerable. His mouth shifted to her jaw,
the tender skin of her throat, starting shivering streamers of fire with each caress, and she forgot about
anything but the demanding heat of his mouth on her skin, the rough glide of his hands. Her head lolled
back, the sun heavy on her closed lids.
Gray had pushed her up against the car; now his weight pinned her in place. She arched against him,
almost mindless with delight, instinctively rubbing against the muscular planes of his chest to ease the
unbearable tightness in her breasts. The heated metal of the passenger door burned through the
lightweight material of her skirt as his thigh nudged between hers, forcing her skirt to ride up. The weave
of his pants rasped against the sensitive flesh of her inner thighs, the hard ridge of his sex pressed into her
belly. He moved his hips once, twice. A hoarse groan rumbled from deep in his chest, and he swore with
a soft violence that barely penetrated the haze.
“Damn,” he muttered, as he eased himself away, his hands lingering on her waist as he steadied her. His
gaze was hot, still fierce, but his voice was unexpectedly gentle. “We can’t do this here.”
Sam blinked, still swamped by the battering sensuality of the kiss.
“If you keep looking at me like that,” he said in little more than a guttural purr, “I’m going to forget about
being sensible, and we’re both going to get arrested. Are you all right to drive? I need to get you back to
Sam straightened, jerked away from his touch. She still felt dazed and disoriented, while Gray now
looked as cool as ice. “Of course I can drive.”
“I’ll follow you.”
Sam ignored his helping hand. The seat burned the backs of her thighs when she sat in it, and she began
to perspire from the smothering heat. She started the car, wondering if she was fated to be slow-roasted
at every turn. She met Gray’s gaze with as much ice as she could manage at such short notice, but it
wasn’t much, considering that she had been bare inches away from being seduced against the side of her own car in a public place.Outside the cemetery where her family were buried, for heaven’s sake. “Do you
always get your way?”
She glanced at the tell-tale bulge in his pants. She saw with satisfaction that he was still fiercely aroused,
despite that aura of control.
Gray caught her glance. He planted both hands on her car door and leaned down to the window. His
mouth curled in a slow, wicked grin that one hundred years ago would have had dowagers calling for
their smelling salts and debutantes reaching for their fans.
“Darlin’,” he drawled, low and husky, “couldn’t you tell? I haven’t had my way in a long time.”
Grayslipped his sunglasses on the bridge of his nose as he pulled out of the parking lot and followed
Sam. His expression was grim.
He had watched her at the cemetery for only a few minutes, but according to West she had stood staring
at what must be her grandfather’s grave for close on an hour.
She had given no tangible signs of grief, unless you counted that blank lack of expression he had noted
as she had walked toward him. If she had cried, he wouldn’t have been able to stand it; he would have
wrapped his arms around her and held her, and the hell with her objections.
She had looked so lonely that he had been on the point of walking over to her anyway; then she had
started toward him, her face as remote as a porcelain doll’s.
He frowned, shifting down and muscling out a low, red Corvette that was trying to swing into the
too-small gap between his truck and Sam’s car. The passenger, a young tough with a shaven head,
flipped him the finger. Gray eyed him coolly, and the ‘vette dropped back.
Even staring at her grandfather’s grave, Sam had managed to keep that cool reserve intact.
Cool reservebe damned. West had said she had stood there, almost motionless, foran hour.
Gray examined everything he knew about Sam and her family. Her parents and an aunt and uncle had
died in a light plane crash – a crash in which Sam herself had been a passenger. Sam had been seven
years old, and, miraculously, she had survived virtually unharmed. Her grandfather had been her last living
relative. She would have had to have borne all the final rituals of his burial alone. He had been an old
man, so it was likely she had had to care for him, maybe even nurse him as his condition slowly
deteriorated. Gray hadn’t bothered to find out those kinds of details, he hadn’t had time, but he would
damn sure do so now.
The blankness of Sam’s face bothered him, when he knew how much her grandfather must have meant
Knowledge struck him like a fist between the eyes, and fury channelled through him at what Sam had
hidden from him, whathe had been too blind to see.
She was frightened, and the big surprise would be if she wasn’t. He had seen and experienced fear in
many manifestations, watched men he worked and trained with cope with it. In battle fear could be as
healthy as sweat, and it kept you alive as nothing else could. Then again, he had seen it work in the
opposite way, freezing men in battle, making them incapable of the smallest action to savethemselves .
He knew what it was like to feel crushing grief, but he couldn’t comprehend what it would feel like to
bury his entire family. What must it feel like to love with depth and loyalty,then lose not just one family
member, but all of them?
Sam shied away from intimacy because she had lost everyone she had ever loved. And that included
His jaw tightened. He felt at once relieved that he had isolated the problem … and furious. Damn, he
thought bleakly. It didn’t take a genius to figure out how Sam would react when she found out that not
only was he hunting Harper, but that Harper was doing his level best to killhim . That for the past few
years he had walked a continual tightrope of danger and risk.
That from whatever angle you chose to look at it – predator or prey – he was a man who could die any
Sam parked in her reserved space behind the Royal. Gray’s truck nosed in seconds afterward, dwarfing
her much smaller hatchback. She pushed her door open, gathered her jacket and handbag, and locked
the car. When she straightened, Gray was beside her. It was a measure of just how much she had
changed that she calmly accepted his closeness, but something about the watchfulness of his expression
made her uneasy. “Have I got something on my face?”
“Yeah.”He dipped and fastened his mouth on hers with a casual intimacy that took her breath. “Me.”
The world spun,then levelled out. Gray’s hand settled possessively at the small of her back, and she
found herself moving toward the rear entrance of the hotel, her mouth still tingling from the contact.
Gray opened the back door, and they strolled into the cool shade of the hallway. When they reached the
lobby, a surprising number of people were milling near the elevator. A man peeled off from the group and
lifted a camera. The flash momentarily blinded her.
“Mr. Lombard,” a svelte brunette declared, materialising from behind a large palm, “is it true that you’re
intending to take up residence inNew Zealand?”
A confusing barrage of questions followed. Gray stepped past the young woman, his arm around Sam’s
waist, keeping her close to his side. Taken by surprise, Sam lost her balance, half falling against him. His
arms closed around her, hugging her in close and restoring her balance. Several cameras clicked at that
point. Ben and Carter appeared, and the noise escalated as they began hustling the reporters out of the
“Who’s the mystery lady, Mr. Lombard?” one of the men yelled over Carter’s brawny shoulder. “Is she
the reason you’re here?”
“Rumour has it you’re engaged,” someone else called. “Have you set the date?”
Gray kept his arm around Sam, shielding her from the reporters as he urged her toward her office,
closing the door.
“Sit down,” he ordered, but when she did so without argument, he wished she’d bit back at him as she
She was too pale, too quiescent, and she had dark shadows under her eyes. She looked like she hadn’t
slept, and he was frankly worried. Sam had sustained more than one shock in the last twenty-four hours,
and there were more to come. “Did you eat breakfast?”
“I had a sandwich for lunch.”
He went down on his haunches besideher, even so, they were still eye to eye. It reminded him all over
again just how small she was. “Stay here. I’m going to get you a cold drink, and some food. If I find
you’ve moved, I’ll make you take the rest of the day off. In fact, I might just do that anyway.”
“I don’t see how. You fired me earlier.” Her voice was flat, almost listless.
“I said you losethis job. I didn’t fire you.” Gray picked up her hands and rubbed them between his
palms. They felt limp and icy cold, and that worried him even more. It was hot, not as humid as it had
been earlier, but hot all the same.
Sam watched Gray stride out the door. Her head was swimming, and she felt sleepy. Not surprising, she
guessed, when she had had so little sleep lately, and the day had been both dramatic and stressful.
Standing in the sun for all that time at the cemetery hadn’t helped.
Gray returned within a few minutes, a brown paper bag in one hand and two enticingly frosted cans of
apple juice in the other. He set one of the cans and a salad roll in front of her,then perched on the edge of
the desk, watching her with an assessing gleam that told her if she didn’t feed herself, he would
commandeer the task.
It was disconcerting having Gray so close, having his attention locked on her. She sipped the juice and
ate the roll, surprised at how hungry she was and how much she enjoyed the food.
“You said you were here to protect me,” she said when she’d finished the roll. “I think you had better tell
me just what the protection will entail.”
“I want you away from the Royal as soon as possible. The house is ready … you can move in
tomorrow.” Gray began filling in the basic details of the safe house and the surveillance programme he’d
A knock on the door interrupted him.
A slim, neatly groomed woman with dark, shoulder-length hair strolledin, a handbag slung over one
shoulder. She smiled at Sam,then turned to Gray. “Gray Lombard? I’m Elaine Farrell. I was told by the
lady at reception that you were in here.”
Gray rose from his comfortably propped position on the edge of her desk. He shook the woman’s hand,
then glanced at Sam, his expression enigmatic. “Sam, I’d like you to meet Detective Farrell. She’s going
to be taking your place for the next few days.”
Gray watched, narrow-eyed, as Sam shook Farrell’s hand. Her composure was unruffled, her manner
pleasant, as if she had expected the detective and was quite prepared to step aside while the other
woman took her place.
Gray wasn’t fooled. He had watched Sam carefully as he had outlined the safe house arrangements. She
hadn’t so much as blinked, simply listened.
He now knew that her very lack of reaction was a worst case scenario. If she had got upset or angry,
that would have been a normal response. The calmness meant she was too upset to react naturally, that
she was instinctively pulling inside herself, withdrawing from the hurt inherent in this situation – the loss. It
meant that she was hiding herself from him.
Concern turned to irritation as he watched her put the detective at ease, even going so far as to offer
Farrell her own seat behind her desk.
Sam’s eyes met his, her expression so remote he felt like shaking her. “If you’ll excuse me, I need to
check the damage on the top floor.”
Detective Farrellrose from her seat. “And I need to familiarise myself with the building and meet the
Gray let Sam go because he had no choice; Farrell needed briefing. He stepped out into the corridor
and watched Sam walk away, noting the straight line of her back, the rigid set of her shoulders. He knew
she was hurting, just as he knew he had to find a way to give her something back out of all of this.
Although how he could give her back the Royal, he didn’t know. The place was falling down around their
Carter and Ben passed Sam, tool belts slung around their hips. They had ostensibly been helping with
repairs. In actuality, they had installed a series of surveillance cameras around the hotel and in more
remote locations outside, linking them all to a central control unit in his suite.
Their banter stopped. Two hungry male gazes settled on the gentle sway of Sam’s hips. Gray’s jaw
tightened. He didn’t need to be told what they were thinking: he knew. They were thinking the same hot,
male thoughts that were crowding his brain.
“Just in case there’s any confusion,” he said in a low, rasping voice, “she’s already taken.”
There was a low exhalation of air, a sudden release of tension.
“Are you sure you want her?” Carter asked wistfully.
Gray turned a cold gaze on him. “I’m sure.”
Elaine Farrell gave Gray a speculative look, then eyed Ben and Carter with weary amusement. “Don’t
tell me, you guys are the cavalry?” She angled her head mockingly. “The testosterone levels are about
right, you must be.”
Carter blinked, the lust instantly disappearing from his expression to be replaced with an entirely healthy
Gray tried not to let his amusement show as he made formal introductions. Farrell was shaping up to be a martinet.
Minutes later, a trim grey-haired woman button-holed Ben and Carter.
“Sadie Carson’s the name,” she announced briskly. “Milly said you were helping with the clean-up.
Addie and I need some major muscle to move our dragon trees, and we figure you boys are bound to be
in good trim.”
Sadie then proceeded to eye them both as if they were prime specimens in a beefcake show and she
Carter cleared his throat. “Uh, what makes you think that, ma’am?’
“Oh, you’re one of those elitespecial forces teams. Addie and I recognised that straight off.”
Ben went for a blankly surprised look. “What makes you think we’respecial forces ?”
“Well, you’ve got that big gun down your pants for a start.You working undercover?”
“Can’t say, huh? It’s all right, your secret’s safe with me, but if you need any help, give us a yell.” She
whipped a gleaming Smith & Wesson out of her rucksack.
Ben and Carter both ducked.
“It’s not loaded,” she said, serenely tucking the black-and-silver pistol back amongst her cuttings and
plant spray. “Dropped it last week and the darn thing went off. Blew ahole clear through the wall. Addie
had to do some real creative plastering to cover it up. Since then, we figured it was probably safer to
leave the clip out.” Her eyes narrowed shrewdly. “I see you got Leroy to cut your hair.” She nodded.
“You fit in a lot better than you did.”
Carter eyed Sadie Carson even more warily than he had eyed Farrell.
“It really looks very nice, dear,” Sadie said reassuringly, patting her own severely cropped hair. “Leroy
does my hair, too, you know. But be careful what you let slip around that boy, he’s a real blabbermouth.
Told on that old coot Jeremiah Holden for keeping a bird in his room. Now Jeremiah has to hide Cocky
in his bathroom, which, owing to Cocky’s uncertain temper, isn’t the safest of arrangements for a man, if
you get my meaning. Follow me and I’ll show you where I want these plants moved to.”
Carter watched Sadie walk briskly up the stairs in her faded jeans and hiking boots. “Did you see that,
Ben? I’ve got the same haircut as Sadie Carson.”
“And it looks very nice, too, dear,” Ben mimicked as they obediently trailed Sadie up the stairs.
Carter turned a considering gaze on Ben. “Laugh all you want, big guy, but next time you look in the
mirror you might notice that, colouring aside, thanks to Lee-roy, we could be twins.”
Sam moved through the fourth floor, surveying the wreck of Belle’s Palace. She had showered and
changed into jeans and a white tank top that was already damp and clinging. The heat that gathered in
these upper storey rooms had dewed her skin with perspiration within a matter of seconds.
In two rooms the ceiling had been taken down completely, the mess piled on tarpaulins spread on the
floor. Roofers had made temporary repairs to the roof itself, but it was clear that the deterioration was
widespread and that the entire roof did indeed need replacing.
She stopped at a window, enjoying the golden glow of the setting sun and the way the light brought a
richness and warmth to rooms that had seen a lot of living and, according to legend, even more loving. It
was hard to accept that soon these suites, with their echoes of the past and the people who had occupied
them, would simply cease to exist. She wondered if Belle really did still haunt these rooms, or if any of
her clients hung around on the off chance of a little afterlife hanky-panky. The Royal looked like it could
house any number of ghosts.
The last of the warm light slid from her skin. Abruptly the room was plunged into deep shadow,
presaging the night to come. Sam stared out at the anonymous office block across the road, which was
responsible for blocking out the setting sun, and an odd tension gripped her, raising the fine hairs at the
base of her neck. She shook her head in an attempt to dislodge the spooky sensation, caused no doubt
by the sudden darkening, but the chill persisted, rippling down her spine and roughening her skin.
She backed away from the window purely on reflex, almost stumbling over a footstool with a tapestried
cushion. Faint but deliberate footsteps echoed down the corridor, the sound eerie in the thickening
gloom. Sam’s heart began to pound. She had been thinking about ghosts, and, silly as it seemed, she had
to wonder if she hadn’t just conjured one up.
Tiptoeing to the door, Sam checked the corridor, feeling ridiculous as she did so. The footsteps
probably belonged to one of the hotel residents who had sneaked up to look around, even though this
floor had been declared off limits, or an employee who wanted to do what she was doing, survey the
damage and say goodbye to a gracious old lady and the bawdy legend that was Baroness Belle.
The corridor was empty. Sam strained to hear, but the silence had an odd muffled quality, as if these
rooms were somehow cut off and shrouded from the rest of the world. The suite she was in was at the
far end of the corridor; she would have to pass several rooms before she reached the stairwell. Treading
lightly, glad she had had the sense to wearsneakers, she passed first one door, then another. It was
getting darker by the second, but the rooms closest to the stairs still contained the residual golden light
that hung in the sky long after the sun had finally set. She was level with the fourth door when shadowy
movement caught her eye.
Sam faltered and froze. The shadow moved again, resolving itself into a man dressed entirely in black
and seen from behind – one hand braced on the wide architrave of the window, his head bowed,broad
shoulders taut. His head came up as if he had caught the whisper of her step. He glanced over his
shoulder, and his gaze collided with hers across the width of the room.
The naked torment of Gray’s expression hit her like a blow, and Samrecoiled a step. A strong sense of
déjà vu gripped her, although why it should be déjà vu, she couldn’t fathom. The last time she had looked
into Gray’s eyes and seen a stranger had been barely twenty-four hours ago.
His expression grew shuttered, closing out the bleakness so swiftly that she wondered if that moment of
despair had simply been a trick of the fading light.
“Sam.” His voice was low and beguiling, edged with a need that altered the very quality of the air, so that
it closed around her, velvety warm and so heavily laced with sensuality that in that moment she could
almost believe in the possibility of a ghostly Belle lingering long after her death. This had been her suite;
maybe not everything in it had belonged to her – the bed was too modern, for one thing – but the
escritoire, the chaise longue and the large ornate oval mirror on a stand in one corner were vintage Belle.
Gray abandoned his leaning posture against the window frame and turned to face her. The dying light
outlined the powerful width of his shoulders, throwing his face into shadow. Her stomach knotted at the
blatant sexuality glittering from his dark eyes. An aching heat flooded her lower belly, and her nipples
grew almost painfully hard. Gray’s gaze lowered to her breasts, then fastened on her mouth. Her chin
lifted. She knew it had been futile to think he wouldn’t notice what was happening to her.
His shoulders moved, as if he had just taken a deep breath, then, incredibly, he turned back to his
contemplation of the view. The movement was stark and lonely, his dismissal of her so complete that for
long moments Sam stood transfixed, watching the brooding width of his back.
She was half-way across the room, with its intricate mouldings of vines and flowers, its air of secrecy
and liaisons, before she questioned the impulse.
For the past twenty-four hours she had been running, backtracking, looking for a way out of a situation
that had spun far beyond her control. She was bone-tired of simply reacting.
And she was through with running.
She wasn’t quite ready to be caught yet, either. That was a whole different situation, and she would face
that, too, in her own time.
Her step faltered as the reality of what she was about to do crashed in on her, but she forced herself to
follow through on the impulse that had carriedher this far into the room.
She could understand Gray’s need for isolation, but that didn’t mean she had to accept his terse
dismissal. He had laid claim to her this afternoon, but she wanted and needed, too, and right now she
needed to comfort Gray, to reach out and be the one who touched, who offered.
She came to a halt behind him. He didn’t move, but she felt his concentrated awareness of her in his very
stillness. Her hand settled on his back. She felt his shudder and flinched at the jolt of savage awareness
that just touching him caused. He was hot, so hot. A wave of longing and incredulity swept her. How
could she ever have imagined she could forget…?
“What do you think you’re doing?”
Sam swallowed at the cold roughness of his voice and concentrated on that one pulsing point of contact,
the simmering tension in his tautly held muscles.
Taking a breath, she slipped both arms around his waist. If he rejected her now, she didn’t know what
she would do.
He was stiff, unyielding, as if he couldn’t quite believe what she had just done. She could barely believe it, herself.
“What’s the matter,Lombard?” shesaid, her voice husky. “Hasn’t anyone ever hugged you before?”
His reply was low, measured. “I was giving you a chance to leave.”
He turned in her hold, his hands curving around her waist. There was something bittersweet in his
expression, an unexpected melancholy that tugged at her, made her lift her head and search for signs of
emotion in those cool black warrior’s eyes.
It was like staring atherself in a dark mirror, the terrible strength of needs and uncertainties that twisted
and pulled deep inside, producing … vulnerability. It was as if he had ripped off a mask and was finally
letting her see who he really was, and in that moment sheknew him with an inner knowledge that startled
her. He had said she belonged to him; for the first time she considered that he belonged to her.
Tears banked up behind her eyes, and grief closed in on her throat – grief for all they had lost, the years
that had passed, and the certainty she hadn’t been able to shake that the future held more of the same,
despite the deep link she shared with Gray. Would he still look at her with such burning need if he knew
she had carried his child and lost her without ever telling him?
His kiss when it came burned her with its sweetness. He whispered her name and she opened her mouth
for him, taking his tongue inside her with a familiarity that pulled at the very centre of her being. Then, just
as suddenly, the wispy melancholia tightened into something much fiercer, much more intense. She
needed him with a power that shook her. She wanted the scent and taste and touch of him; she wanted
to fitherself tightly to him, be wrapped in his strength and absorbed by him.
Grief shuddered through her again. This close to Gray, she could almost forget that he was a master at
shutting her out when he chose, and that there was no guarantee that he would be any different this time.
His physical passion was real; he wanted her so badly, and, God help her, she still wanted to believe in
His mouth slanted with increasing force over hers, demanding, giving. His hands curled around her
bottom, lifting her so that his arousal pressed bluntly into the soft apex between her thighs and her breasts
were flattened against his chest. The intimacy of his touch made her cry out.
The small, hot noise almost shattered the last vestiges of Gray’s control. He hugged Sam to him for long
minutes while he fought back his unruly hunger.
Only seconds before he had resolved to back off.
His retreat made sense on more than one level. Sam was hell on his concentration. Getting her in his bed
wouldn’t be enough, just as it hadn’t been enough seven years ago. He wanted her until he ached, but he
wasn’t about to repeat the same dumb-ass mistake he had made before.
He couldn’t lose her again.
It had been hard to admit his own vulnerability, that Sam wasnecessary to him. He had spent the last
few years shedding vulnerabilities, isolating himself in order to protect those he loved.
He couldn’t afford to reach for his own happiness, yet, and he didn’t want to hurt Sam by taking when he
wasn’t in a position to give. The deeper he went with Sam, the more fractured his concentration would become. Tomorrow their pictures would be splashed over the newspapers. His past, and that of his
family, would be picked over and examined.
Harper would take the bait.
Reluctantly he loosened his hold, but not entirely; the feel of her in his arms was too sweet, too damn
rare. The fact that she had reached out, of her own accord, and touchedhim was … more than rare. That
small touch had shaken and elated him. He caught the flash of movement in the mirror just off to the side
of the window and was instantly transfixed by the vision of Sam wrapped in his arms.
He had resolved not to take, but desire rolled through him anyway. His jaw locked against the sweet,
hot throb of arousal, and something even stronger, deeper: a need to cherish the woman in his arms, to let
her know just how much he needed her, even if they couldn’t be together just yet.
Sam’s head lifted. “What is it?” she asked huskily.
“I don’t want to hurt you.”
“You should have thought about that before you came back.”
He didn’t miss her unspoken admission. If he could hurt her, she still cared for him. His chest expanded
on a sharp intake of air. “You want me.”
He turned Sam in his embrace until she was facing the mirror. The contrast of her feminine delicacy
against his much bigger, male frame had his jaw tensing again, and for a taut moment he was caught on
the edge, uncertain that he could hold back long enough to give Sam pleasure without taking his.
Sam stared at her reflection, at Gray’s shoulders encased in a black T-shirt, his bronzed arms caging her.
She could feel his heat all down herback, feel the hard, male shape of him pressed against her, smell the
clean scent of his skin as if he, too, had just stepped from the shower.
With a groan he pushed her hair aside and laid his mouth on the tender joint of neck and shoulder. His
teeth fastened gently, and Sam sagged against him as sensation scythed through her like dark lightning.
She felt her tank top being pulled from the waistband of her jeans and watched as his long fingers pushed
up the flimsy white fabric, revealing the pale glow of her skin, the lacy cups of her bra, the swell of her
He pushed the bra up, and his hands cupped her. She gasped, arching at the shocking intimacy of his
hold, the almost barbaric picture they made, with his big hands cradling her much cooler, paler flesh,
making her seem fragile, utterly feminine, in comparison. Her skin burned at the contact, the callused
roughness of his long fingers. She felt almost unbearably swollen and tender, her nipples stabbing into the
heated centres of his palms.
His gaze locked on hers in the mirror, and when he spoke, his voice was strained. “Say that you want
Too much, and that scared her more than anything. If she let herself need, Murphy’slaw dictated that she
would lose what she needed. “Yes.”
His hands tightened. Sam closed her eyes.
“Don’t do that,” he said hoarsely.
“What?” She gasped as she watched his fingers flex again, felt the hot sensuality of his slightest touch. If
she had any sense, she would push his hands away, at least until she could figure out how she could be
with Gray and not break inside when he left.
“Don’t look like you want me to make love to you. You’re not ready, and I’m trying to keep us both out
The mirror threw their reflection back, softened by twilight and so erotic it took her breath. “This … is
keeping out of trouble?”
“This,” he whispered, nuzzling her nape and nipping at her lobe, “is driving me crazy.”
The restless glide of Gray’s mouth, his hands,trailed fire everywhere he touched. She watched him
unfasten her jeans and push them down on her hips, revealing cream lace panties that matched her bra.
She felt wanton and decadent, almost as if she belonged to another century and was being seduced by a
ruthless buccaneer. Gray’s hand slipped between her legs, and she cried out at the exquisite sensation.
Gray inhaled sharply at Sam’s soft, needy noises, and he cursed inwardly. He could feel how hot and
damp she was, even through the barrier of lace. He bent his head, burying his face in her neck while he
held on to the ragged edges of his control. She moved against him, a restless arching that stroked him to
within bare centimetres of insanity. Her breasts were so full and pretty, he longed to taste them, the dark
shadow beneath the ivory lace of her panties so enticing his entire body was clenched with need.
Framed by the ornate gilt border of the mirror, Sam looked sensual and elegant and exotic.Gray decided
that if Belle had looked anything like Sam, the port must have been crammed with ships and captains
unwilling to leave. The entire South Pacific must have ground to a halt.
He forced himself to cradle her gently, to not move when she rubbed up against him. Taking in a tight,
hard breath, he eased his fingers beneath her panties. A raw shudder rocked him at her intense heat, the
sweet moisture he found.
She wasn’t sure she wanted him yet, but her body was. Sam gasped, moving against the glide of his
fingers, and with a groan he slipped into her – one finger and then two, his thumb brushing the delicate
bud just above.
Her head fell back on his shoulder, her neck as fragile and delicate as the stem of a flower. Gray turned
her head and dipped, taking her mouth as she trembled and shook in his hands, plunging his tongue deep
in compensation for all he was denying himself.
He wouldn’t take, no matter how much it hurt him. If he had to repeat all the reasons like a damn mantra,
he would do so – anything to stop him laying her out on that bed. Sam had said she wanted him, but he’d
had to wring the admission from her. He shouldn’t be touching her now, because somehow he had to find
the strength to walk away from her until the situation with Harper was resolved.
Sam trembled and burned in Gray’s grasp. His arm was wrapped around her waist, anchoring her
against him as wave upon wave of pleasure rippled through her, as she shivered around the beguiling
stroke of his fingers, the demanding rhythm of his mouth on hers.
He withdrew his hand after a taut few moments. His breath moved across her cheek, and then abruptly she was standing alone, staring at the reflection of his back in the mirror.
Sam’s legs were wobbly, and her fingers shook as she adjusted her clothing. Unexpected tears wet her
cheeks. She wasn’t sure why she was crying, because he had made her feel more desirable, more
vibrantly alive, than she would ever have believed possible – or was it because that was all he had done?
She hadn’t felt ready to make love with him, and he had honoured her wishes. Disappointment should be
the last thing she was feeling.
“Are you all right?” He met her gaze, and the dark hunger in his expression stopped the breath in her
“Why didn’t you—” Her cheeks warmed. “Why didn’t you make love to me when you know I would
have let you?”
Something dangerous glinted in his eyes. “I want you, Sam, make no mistake. But this time I’m not going
to seduce you. If you want me, you’re going to have to ask.”
Later that evening, a dark shadow coalesced in the corner of Gray’s sitting room.
Gray glanced up from the reports he had been attempting to read, when in reality he had been staring at
the print and brooding about Sam. He consulted his watch. “You took your time.”
Blade emerged from behind the smothering length of a gently rotting velvet drape. “I nearly got spotted.
A woman came out on her balcony to water her plants. I had to wait until she’d gone.”
“Is everything in place?”
“We’re ready. You need to get Sam out, though. This building is like a damn rabbit warren. I don’t think
I’ve ever seen so many entry points. It’s giving me an uneasy feeling.”
Gray’s own unease crystallised. He’d had an itch down his spine ever since he’d arrived, which was
unusual. He had thought it was simply the situation with Sam, the odd sense of the past merging with the
present and the difficulties of juggling two goals when he needed to be concentrating only on one: Harper.
There was no way Harper could be here yet, but Gray didn’t discount the margin for error.
He had reason to doubt his own judgement. Seven years ago, that judgement had cost lives. “I’m shifting
Sam into a safe house tomorrow. Farrell, the police officer taking her place, arrived today. Everyone has
been briefed. The whole place is as wired for surveillance as we can get it and not advertise the fact.
There’s no way Harper can enter this building without being spotted.”
“Did you spot me?”
Gray jerked a thumb at the adjoining bedroom, where Ben was seated in front of a monitor. The screen
was presently split into four quarters, each showing a different view of the outside of the hotel.”Saw
Sadie Carson douse you with the watering can. That drainpipe must have got real slick, but you hung on
good. Glad to see you haven’t lost your edge.”
Blade grunted and ran a hand over his wet hair. Water trickled down his neck. “Maybe you should put
Ms. Carson on the payroll. With any luck, she’ll do the same for that bastard Harper.”
Sam came awake, her heart pounding, senses straining. Her bedroom was flooded with an almost
preternatural light despite the closed drapes, courtesy of an almost full moon. But it had been something
else that had roused her, a sound that her sleep-fogged brain couldn’t quite identify.
It came again.A small cry, a shuffling sound.
She strained to hear. If there was someone outside, she should do something about it, instead of
cowering inside, imagining any number of reasons for that sound. She should at least try to see if
someone was attempting to break in.
Slipping from bed, she pulled on her jeans, felt around for her sneakers and slipped them on. On impulse
she inched a drawer open and pulled out a dark T-shirt, pulling that on over her thin cotton singlet.
Leaving the flat in darkness, she walked from window to window, opening the curtains just enough that
she could see outside. The liquid silver light of the moon threw the back of the hotel into stark relief, so
that parts were almost as bright as day, and shadows appeared so black they were utterly impenetrable.
Nothing moved. Sam watched until her eyes ached. When she was just about to give up, she detected
movement at the periphery of her vision, over by the Dumpster.
The movement came again, followed by a thin, reedy cry.
The cry was so like a baby’s that for a wild moment she thought someone must have abandoned a baby
in the Dumpster. Then she saw the outline of a cat. Kittens! The answer made her weak with relief. The
cat must have crawled into the Dumpster to give birth, and now she was leaving her babies so she could
hunt for food.
The only problem was, the Dumpsters were picked up and emptied regularly, and if that happened, the
kittens would be crushed. Sam wasn’t sure when the next pickup was. The kitchen staff generally notified
the firm when the bin was nearly full, and the bin was emptied early the next morning.
Sam didn’t hesitate a moment longer. The kittens would be tiny and fragile, and she couldn’t let them die.
She located a cardboard box, lined it with newspaper and slipped outside, turning her security light off so
it wouldn’t alarm the cat, and leaving the French doors ajar. She would transfer the kittens into the box
and place them in a sheltered place nearby, where the mother would be able to locate them. It wasn’t
much, but it was all she could think of to do. Gray was moving her into a safe house tomorrow, and she
wouldn’t be able to look out for the kittens. She would have to get someone else to do that.
Tension tightened the sensitive skin all down her spine as she walked toward the Dumpster. Aside from
the faint mewling noises, it was unnervingly quiet. It was as if the city had been caught in a freeze frame
and everything had simply stopped. There were no cars careening late at night with stereos pounding, no
music drifting from all-night clubs, no breeze blowing to lift the weighty mantle of humid heat and disturb
the lush tropical growth fringing the car park.
Now that she had left the comparative security of her flat, she felt exposed and … vulnerable. It was
probably an over-reaction, but she figured she was due one, and she gave herself leave to move surreptitiously, keeping to the shadows as much as possible, her head swivelling continuously, her tread
as silent as she could make it.
When she reached the Dumpster, she flattened herself against the side, listening in order to locate exactly
where the kittens were. A tiny mewling pinpointed their location. She edged around to the kittens, tossed
the box in and planted her hands on the metal edge, tensing her muscles preparatory to hoisting herself
over the side.
A hand landed heavily at the back of her neck, grabbing a handful of her T-shirt and a hank of hair with
it. She was hauled back, spun around, pinned against the Dumpster, all the breath knocked from her
lungs. For a heart-pounding moment she couldn’t inhale and wondered dazedly if something vital had
been crushed. When the air finally rushed in it was impeded by cold, hard metal pressed up into the soft
arch of her throat.
Sam gasped as her assailant tightened his grip on her hair, holding it wound in his fist, pulling her head
back so that bright moonlight washed over her face. She didn’t notice pain; the shock of the assault had
numbed her senses to everything but two salient facts: she was caught and held by a large man who
towered over her, and the cold metal pushing into her throat was probably the barrel of a gun.
His breathing altered. He swore and loosened his hold on her hair.
“Sam,” a low voice rasped. “What in sweet hell are you doing out here?”
Gray. She gulped down a breath, then another, and all the aches and pains began to register. She tried
to speak, but her throat was still tight with shock. An odd gasping noise came out instead.
Gray released her completely and stepped back. The moonlight caught him as he smoothly holstered his
gun somewhere beneath his left armpit, then his hands settled on her shoulders, and he hauled her out of
His gaze swept furiously over her. “I thought you were a prowler. You could have got yourself badly
hurt or killed.”
Her eyes narrowed. She jerked loose from his grip. “Badly hurt?” she muttered, not bothering to hide
her disbelief. “My scalp is stinging where you pulled my hair. My throat is going to have a bruise on it
where you tried to feed that gun to me intravenously. By my calculations, the scare you just gave me lost
me at least ten years of my life. When I’m an old lady I’m going toneed those ten years!”
There was a moment of silence. “Uh, I didn’t mean to hurt you, if only I’d … known.”
His voice was odd, strangled, and his shoulders were moving as if he was…
Sam sucked in an incredulous breath. “I don’t happen to think this is funny.”
“Not funny,” he agreed, and this time he laughed out loud. The sound was rough and warm, and it
surprised her, sending a delicious thrill shooting through her body, but mostly it incensed her.
She pushed him. He gave a step, his shoulders still shaking. “Sam—”
She hit him and winced. “Ouch,” she muttered. “Now I’ve skinned my knuckles.” His stomach had felt
about as yielding as a wall.
“Sorry,” he murmured, still backing up as she stalked him. “I’ll try to be softer in future.”
“What future? We have no future.”
He backed up another step and bumped into the weatherboard side of the hotel, and Sam found herself
confronted with a situation she wasn’t prepared for. She had literally shoved Gray into a corner, and now
she didn’t know what to do with him.
“Don’t stop now,” he invited silkily, neatly outlining her dilemma. “You’ve got one more step to take.”
“I’ve done enough walking for tonight.”
“Amen to that.” He caught hold of her hands and pulled her against him, taking her by surprise. “I’m
sorry about pulling your hair.” His fingers slid into her scalp, massaging the sore area and effectively
holding her captive. He dipped and his warm breath shivered across her cheek just before his lips
caressed her mouth. “And I’m sorry I hurt your throat.”
Using his hands, he tilted her head back and transferred his mouth to her throat.His breath once more
warm and damp against her skin, his tongue startlingly hot as he stroked the sore area.
He lifted his head and stared down into her eyes; the moonlight struck him full on, but evidently he didn’t
think he had to make any effort to hide the wicked grin that curved his mouth. “But most of all I’m sorry
about those ten years. I was looking forward to spending them with you.”
Sam gritted her teeth and shoved. He controlled the movement with ease. Her knee came up purely on
reflex. He countered that move too quickly for her to make the satisfying contact she wanted, but his
initial grunt as her knee jabbed his thigh was better than nothing. At least he let her go.
Their eyes locked. His were darkly contained, assessing.
“Now that you’ve had your fun, it’s my turn.” She stabbed her finger at the shoulder rig and gun. “What
are you doing prowling around out here withthat? And I think it’s about time you told me more than the
half-truths you’ve been doling out. Who are you working for? Is it still the military?”
“You’ve been watching too many movies. Aren’t you scared that if I tell you, I might have to kill you?”
“I’ll take my chances.”
He shrugged. “I don’t work full-time for the military, I haven’t for years, but I am still … affiliated. I
maintain a certain level of training and weapon skills.”
“Affiliated?” She didn’t bother to hide her disbelief.
He hesitated, and then seemed to come to a decision. “I was with the Special Air Service for a time. I’m
still attached in an unofficial capacity.”
“The SAS.”Several jagged pieces of the puzzle that was Gray had just slotted neatly into place. Special
forces . She should have known.”Still attached in an ‘unofficial capacity.’ I should have known that, too.”
With a last baleful glance at Gray, she turned on her heel and strode away.
Gray caught her before she’d gone two steps. “What in bell are you talking about?”
“The secret agent role fits you perfectly. No explanations, no complications, just action and more action
– a little sex on the side – then you just…” She threw his hands off. “…disappear!”
“I wasn’t the one who disappeared.”
“Don’t split hairs!” Sam hauled in a breath.
“You’re not going to hit me again, are you?”
“You should be so lucky.”
His hand lifted as if he were going to reach for her again; then he thought better of it. “So … now that
you’ve calmed down,” he murmured in a soothing, cajoling voice, as if she was a mental patient who
needed pacifying, Sam thought furiously, “are you going to tell me what you’re doing out here?”
“Rescuing kittens.”She spun on her heel and started toward the Dumpster. “What’s your excuse?”
“I heard glass breaking and went to have a look. A couple of street lamps got knocked out. It was
probably random vandalism.”
She hauled herself over the side of the Dumpster, landing in amongst the rubbish as lightly as she could.
Even so, her foot squelched in something gross, and the squalid smell made her wish she could cancel
breathing for the next few minutes. Although the smell wasn’t nearly as bad as it could be. The bin was
filled with a large quantity of flattened cardboard boxes and newspapers, which was probably why the
mother cat had decided it would be such a good place to have her kittens. Retrieving the box she’d
chucked in earlier, she handed it to Gray. “I’ll pass you the kittens. Your job is to put them in the box. No
gun required. Definitely no licence to kill needed.”
She handed him the first squirming bundle. The kitten was absurdly tiny in his big hands. He awkwardly
but tenderly placed the kitten in the box.
“Maybe you’ve got potential,” she allowed as she picked up another kitten.
He cradled it with the same care. “I’m also nice to old ladies and young children. My mother likes me.”
Sam located another kitten.
“I do have a mother, you know.” His voice was deceptively meek as he accepted the kitten. “I wasn’t
“I’ll bet your mom’s relieved to hear it.”
There was a small silence while Gray transferred the wiggling bundle into the box. “Know what, Munro?
You’ve got a smart mouth, but you’re in luck because—” He took the fourth and final kitten from her.
Before she could draw back, he leaned forward and boldly stole a kiss, reminding her just what a pirate
he really was. “—I like that in a woman.”
Sam blinked at the swift, warm pressure of his mouth on hers, unwillingly charmed by Gray’s whimsical
behaviour and angry with herself for letting him run such circles around her. Just when she thought she was getting the advantage, he neatly turned the situation around, leaving her with more questions than
She vaulted over the side of the Dumpster, determinedly banishing the giddy delight of his mouth onhers,
glad that Gray’s hands were fully occupied with the box of kittens. She had the feeling that if he hadn’t
had the box to hold on to, he would be holding her, and she doubted her ability to handle him in his
present mood. Somehow, in the last few minutes, their relationship – such as it was – had just undergone
a major shift. She had been sparring with him. Cancel that, she had been flirting with him. And Gray had
given asgood as he’d got.
“Where do you want these?”
The mother cat slunk from the shadows. The kittens were snuffling and mewling, and she looked
Sam pointed to a loading bay, where goods were usually dropped off. The structure was little more than
a wooden overhang, but it was sturdy, and usuallydry underneath. Gray disappeared into the inky
shadows and emerged seconds later. The cat slipped by like a wraith, homing in on her babies.
Sam sighed with relief. “Thanks,” she said softly. “I’ll see if the Carson sisters will look out for them while
Gray insisted on seeing her to her door. He frowned when he saw that she’d left her French doors open
and the security light off, and insisted on checking the rooms. Before he slipped through the doors, he
palmed the big gun with the smooth ease of long familiarity.
He reappeared seconds later and switched on a lamp. Sam stepped inside, and Gray immediately closed
the doors and pulled the curtains.
The gun was back in its holster. He was dressed completely in black, as he had been the evening before,
but in the mellow glow of her lamp she could see the black webbing that held the shoulder holster in
She had listened to his terse recital of the facts, but the gun shoved the reality of the violent situation they
were both apparently caught up in into her face.
He reached out and caught her chin, lifting her head so he could examine the dark shadows beneath her
eyes, mute testament to too many disturbed nights. “You’re shaking. Damn, Idid scare you.”
She moved away from his hold. “I guess I’m not used to guns.”
“Just like you’re not used to terrorists and safe houses.”He prowled the small environs of her lounge, his
gaze drifting over her belongings, the small horde of photos of her family grouped on top of a bookcase,
the ornate Munro family bible her grandfather had kept with its last single entry, her name.
He picked up a small black and white snapshot framed in silver and seemed absorbed by the toddler she
had been clutching at her father’s much larger hand. He glanced across at her. “I’m staying with you for
the rest of the night.”
“No.” Her denial was instinctive. Gray had moved in on almost every aspect of her life. These small
rooms, her possessions, were her world, a world which would be abandoned to who knows what mayhem within a matter of only a few hours. “I thought you said you weren’t going to seduce me.”
“You’ve got a spare room, I’ll sleep there, but I’m not leaving you alone. If you know someone is within
call, you’ll probably get some sleep.”
Sam eyed Gray warily. She was tempted. Oh, she was tempted. Sleep had become a scarce commodity
lately, and she knew she would have trouble achieving more than a state of fitful dozing until it was time to
get up. She was so very tired. If Gray was here, there was a slim chance that she might relax enough to
“You need to sleep,” he said, pressing his advantage. “Are you going to show me where the linen is kept,
or do I have to look for myself?”
Sam stared at him in blank frustration. His gentleness threw her off balance. She didn’t want him being
gentle or perceptive, and despite the simple comfort of having another human presence near, she didn’t
want to have him sleeping so close that she could listen to his breathing, hear every slide of the sheets
across his skin, the rustle he made as he turned over in bed and hooked his arm beneath his pillow.
Maybe she was wrong in thinking she might sleep; chances were she wouldn’t be able to relax enough to
Graylay in the narrow single bed, listened to the gentle rhythm of Sam’s breathing in the next room and
wondered if he would go crazy before morning.
The broken street lamps niggled at him. Maybe they were just a coincidence? But Gray had never
trusted in coincidence. The only thing he trusted in was the possibility that he had missed something vital
and that all his plans would disintegrate becausehe had miscalculated.Again.
He couldn’t afford mistakes – lives were riding on the success of this operation. Sam’s life was at stake.
He shifted, kicking the sheet aside, cursing at the stuffy heat of the little flat. The rasping glide of the sheet
against his semi-aroused sex almost made him groan out loud. He was so hot, and his skin was damp
with sweat. He had half a mind to simply pick Sam up and carry her up to his rooms – at least it would
be cooler there – but he had more sense than to touch her now.
Gray surged to his feet in one lithe, frustrated movement and stalked out into the lounge, naked. He
brushed the heavy drapes aside and opened the French doors to stare out into the night, letting the cooler
air slide over his skin.
No, he couldn’t afford to touch Sam, even if he didn’t seem able to keep his damn hands off her.
He had run the logic and made the decision. Tomorrow he would install Sam in the safe house and leave
Carter on baby-sitting duty. Gray’s place was here, with Farrell. He had worked seven years for the
opportunity he had just created. An opportunity his gut instinct told him would work when nothing else
had. There was too much at stake for him to risk blowing it all by letting his focus slip.
The unease that lately had become as much a part of him as his pulse tightened the skin at the base of his
neck as he studied the moon-drenched landscape beyond the small courtyard.He trusted that unease
above anything; it had saved his life more than once.
Sam would have to wait.
Once Harper was in the bag, he would have all the time he needed to repair the mistakes of the past and
finish the job of taking down that stubborn reserve one brick at a time.
Gray locked up again and padded back to bed, but instead found himself in Sam’s room. She had
kicked back the covers and was lying on her back, one arm flung above her head on the pillow. The thin
singlet she was wearing clung to her breasts and lifted to expose the delicate hollow of her navel. Her
skin was moonlight pale and dewed with a satiny sheen of sweat, her panties thin enough to reveal the
darker shadow beneath.
His hands clenched into fists at his sides; his breath drifted from between clenched teeth. Despite the
attempt at control, his sex stirred and rose, lifting to full, painful arousal. He swore beneath his breath and
returned to his room, the too-small bed and the heated ache of building frustration.
He had trained himself to sleep in catnaps, hell, he had trained himself to sleep under fire, but he knew
now that he wasn’t going to sleep at all.
Sam was surprised to find she’d slept like a baby. She woke in the early dawn, faint streamers of light
probing the edges of the curtains. Throwing back the quilt, she pulled on her robe, finger-combed her
hair and headed for the shower. Sounds in the kitchen drew her there instead.
Gray was standing at her counter squeezing oranges, dressed in the black pants and T-shirt he’d worn
the night before. The sleek muscles of his shoulders and arms rippled with every movement of his hands.
He spared her a moody glance.”Breakfast in five,” he murmured in a low, raspy rumble.
“I don’t usually bother.”
“You need to eat.”
“I wasn’t aware you were monitoring my food intake.”
“Baby, I monitor everything about you.”
He washed his hands,then dried them on a towel, watching her all the way.
Sam eyed him cautiously. “You look like you got out of bed on the wrong side this morning.”
“Put the emphasis on ‘wrong bed’ and you’ve got it.” He picked up a glass of juice and placed it in her
reluctant hand. “I didn’t sleep worth a damn. That bed was built for an undersized midget.”
Sam pointedly set the juice back on the bench, but he just picked it up and wrapped her fingers around
it again, holding her hand against the cool, damp glass with the heat of his palms.
“Drink it,” he said, the irritability evaporating as if it had never been. “You can’t operate under stress if
you don’t give your body what it needs.”
What her body needed was standing right in front of her.
The scandalous thought brought a blush to her cheeks that had Gray’s eyes narrowing speculatively.
Instead of following up on his advantage, he released her and began poking around her tiny pantry.
“Where’s the cereal?”
“I don’t have any.”
He gave her a look of disbelief.”Eggs?”
She shook her head.
“That probably rules out bacon. How about bread? The whole of the western world runs on bread,
you’ve got to have some.”
“It’s in the freezer. I eat it one slice at a time.”
He said something beneath his breath, pulled open the freezer compartment of her fridge and extracted a
half-loaf of heavy grain bread. In his big hand the bread looked both puny and unsatisfying.
Sam sucked in an irritated breath and set her juice down on the bench untasted. “I’m going to have a
“Do that,” he muttered. “Drive the knife in deeper.”
When she didn’t move, he tossed the bread and caught it in his palm as if it were a baseball. His mouth
curled in a predatory smile that made her pulse hammer. “Go get your shower,” he prompted, low and
rough, “before I decide to forgo breakfast and join you instead.”
Sam had almost finished packing when someone knocked at her door.
When she opened up, Milly thrust a copy of the morning paper at her chest. “Have you seen the
newspaper this morning? According to this, you and the Warrior Prince are the hottest thing since that
star went super nova!”
Sam stared at the enlarged black and white photograph splashed all over the front page. She and Gray
were locked in what looked like a passionate clinch. The caption, “LombardToWed?” was splashed
across the page in bold print.
Milly snorted. “You know you were engaged, girl?”
Sam spared Milly a brief glance. “I’m not engaged.”
Instead of the snappy one-liner reply Sam expected,Milly fixed her with a level look. “Lombard gave us
a version of what’s happening. I say ‘version’ because I know a cover-up when I see one. He said you’re
in danger from some wacko and that Farrell will be replacing you for a few days, playing at being sick in your flat, while McKenna runs the hotel. McKenna! Beats me how that man manages himself, let alone
“DidGray tell you anything about the … danger?”
“Only that you were being threatened because of him and it was his job to protect you.” Milly looked
fierce. Abruptly, she stepped forward and enveloped Sam in a quick hug. “I don’t know what exactly is
going on around here, but you watch your step, do you hear?”
Sam returned the hug with one of her own. “It’s only for a few days,then I’ll be back.”
At least, she hoped she would be back. She didn’t know how long she would have to stay in the safe
house, or what would happen to the Royal while she was away. “There’s a box of kittens underneath the
loading bay. Will you ask Sadie to look out for them while I’mgone. “
“More strays?” Milly sniffed. “This place is full of strays.”
“But you’ll make sure they’re all right and leave some food out for the mother?”
“Along with the rest of the cats the kitchen supports. If that humourless man from the health department
calls,he’ll probably have kittens.”
Sam latched the chain behind Milly,then forced herself to read every word of the article about her
supposed relationship with Gray, both past and present. She’d read stories like it before and dismissed
them as distasteful but part of life. Now she felt stripped bare. Very little had been left out; the details
were stunningly accurate. She wondered who in the vast Lombard Group they had questioned to find out
so much about her past relationship with Gray.
There was a separate, rather sketchy, piece written about the Lombard family and the kidnapping. Gray
had said he’d been wounded; the article stated in black and white just how badly he had been hurt. He
had nearly died.
Sam sat on the edge of a couch. The paper began to shake in her hands.
She had nearly lost him.
In all the years since she had walked out on Gray, she had never imagined that he might die. The mere
thought of death and Gray coupled in the same sentence was obscene.
Gray hadn’t told her how or where he’d been wounded, other than to point out the visible scar on his
neck. She knew now; he had been shot. While she’d been sitting in her grandfather’s house, waiting for
Gray to come and claim her, he had been fighting for his life.
She had run from a situation that had escalated out of her control, panicked by the shock of an
unplanned pregnancy and frankly terrified by the vulnerability her relationship with Gray had forced upon
She had left Gray when she had needed him most – and when he had needed her even more.
The safe house was located in an older suburb with large sections, mature trees and high fences.
The house was large and rambling, with cool, cream plastered walls and bricked courtyards overflowing
with a profusion of tropical plants. Inside, the house was airy and welcoming, with well-worn hardwood
floors, comfortable furniture and a definite air of being lived in.
“The house belongs to a friend,” Gray commented as he carried her cases in. “He’s out of the country at
“Is he in the SAS, too?”
Gray’s remote gaze touched on her, and she could almost see him gauging what response he should
make. He had been carefully aloof when he’d come to collect her. In a pair of tailored linen pants, a thin
shirt of some fine woven stuff that could also have been linen, and leather loafers that were just as
expensively casual as his other attire, he had seemed as far distant from the moody, restive creature who
had rummaged through her kitchen this morning as it was possible to be.
That distance had suited Sam then. After the stormy scene in the kitchen, followed by the even greater
turmoil she’d been thrown into when she’d read the newspaper article, she had needed time to think.
He closed the door, shutting out the warm, humid breeze that carried the threat of yet another rain
shower. “As a matter of fact, he is. That’s why this house is so useful. Caleb’s a security expert. He’s
installed a sophisticated alarm system, and all the windows and doors have secure bolts and locks.”
Sam chose a bedroom and unzipped one of the two cases Gray had placed on the bed, extracted the
newspaper she’d slipped on top of her clothes and carried it out to the large sprawling room that
combined a state-of-the-art kitchen, dining room and lounge. She set the newspaper on the table, went
into the kitchen and made coffee while she waited for Gray to return from his circuit of the grounds.
Carter would be here shortly, and she didn’t know when she would see Gray again. This might be her
only opportunity for a very long time to question him about the past, and she wanted answers.
Gray walked in off the patio, leaving the glass doors open. The cool, moisture-laden air flowed in,
bringing the tangy scent of the garden with it. He saw the newspaper on the table and glanced sharply at
her. “Who gave you that?”
“I was hoping you wouldn’t see it.”
Behind Sam, the coffeepot began to fill with dark, fragrant liquid, adding its own rich aroma to the scents
of the garden and impending rain. “The article says you nearly died,” she said flatly. “I want you to tell me
exactly what happened.”
Gray glanced at the paper, then back at Sam. She was wearing a camisole and a full, light floral skirt of
some drifting, semi-transparent material that was driving him crazy. The swirling lilacs and blues made her
seem even more softly feminine and emphasised her delicate, pale skin and the deep, exotic blue of her
eyes; eyes that were presently levelled on him and waiting for answers he didn’t want to give her.
Milly might be Sam’s friend, but she hadn’t done Sam any favours today. The details the paper had
printed were raw and graphic. He had supplied factual information only, but the press had evidently done
some diggingof their own . “Maybe you should sit down.”
Gray’s jaw clenched against the tension that gripped him, the loss of control that had put an edge on his
already damaged voice. “The story in the paper isn’t pretty. My version isn’t much better.”
“I don’t care. I want to know what happened to you.”
Gray couldn’t conceal his surprise.”To me?”
Somehow he had never thought of what had happened as being in conjunction with himself; for Gray, the
story had always been about Jake.
“Yeah, Lombard,” she said low and flat, as if she was reining her temper in, but just barely. “I want to
know what happened toyou .”
The coffee machine finished dripping. Sam reached for mugs and began pouring. The mundane
movements, the straight line of her back underlining her quiet determination to know the truth, somehow
made it easier to start. Tersely he began outlining the bare facts of the encounter, but the simple act of
retelling conjured up stark images he doubted he would ever be able to forget.
Seven years ago in Sydney the day had been humid with the promise of rain, dark with the weight of
clouds, when he’d slipped off his Kevlar vest in order to squeeze through a small, high window in an inner
city warehouse they had raided on a tip.
It had been gloomy in the warehouse, the air close, thick with the scent of dust and packing materials
and machine oil. The place was a warren of rooms and loading bays, with one huge storage area. He
ghosted from room to room, his stomach tight with dread, still reeling from the shock of recovering Jake
and Rafaella’s bodies the day before, and with every room he entered, he feared what he would find, but
urgency drove him on. Sam was missing. And he was sure Harper had her.
He didn’t find Sam, but he located Harper, radioed for help,then hunkered down to wait. But there was
no time. Harper and his men were leaving. Gray had no choice but to act or lose them. He had to get
Sam back, and he wanted Harper with an ice-cold fury.
He took out one of the men as he walked past his hiding place. A whisper of noise alerted him, and he
spun, drawing his handgun as a second beefy man charged out of nowhere, crashing into his side and
propelling him back against a tall bank of heavy packing boxes. The pistol, a Sig Sauer, spun from his
hand. Gray rolled, evaded a roundhouse punch,then sprang to his feet in time to deflect the next bull-like
charge. The next moments passed in a blur as they grappled, neither man gaining the advantage in the
congested storage area, until the thickset brawler bounced off a steel pillar and went down like a fallen
They had made enough noise to raise the dead. Harper was waiting for him.
“Lombard,” he said as smoothly as if Gray had just turned up at his club and they were about to share a
companionable half hour over a drink. A blade appeared in his hand.
Gray could see the gleam of the Sig where it butted up against what looked like a tractor case. He lifted
his gaze to Harper, his fingers closing over the hilt of his fighting knife.
“Where’s Sam?” he demanded, sweat trickling down his temples, stinging his eyes as they circled and
parried, playing what was evidently Harper’s favourite game.
“Lost your girlfriend, Lombard? You should be more careful.”
“What have you done with her, you son of a bitch?”
Harper’s eyes were cold.”Nothing … yet.”
Tension vibrated through Gray, cording his muscles, tying his shoulder up so tight it burned with each tiny
flex of his fingers, each flick of his wrist. Harper’s knife dived, swivelled, flashed where it caught the light.
Gray whirled, and cold fire seared across his stomach. He was cut. He could feel the hot spill of blood,
the cool that followed. Fury channelled through him. He feinted, lunged. His knife sank into muscle, and
Harper stumbled back, his left arm hanging useless at his side.
With a roar, Harper charged. Gray feinted, avoiding the manoeuvre; then something smashed into his
back, throwing him forward. Harper’s knife scored his neck,then Harper himself was abruptly jerked
back. The snapping report of the two shots, then a third, echoed in the cavernous hollow of the
warehouse as the floor rose up to meet him.
When Gray came to, he knew he’d been shot.In the back.
He was aware of movement. Harper staggering to his feet, clutching his thigh with his good hand, then he
was gone from Gray’s vision. There were more gun shots, the sound of a vehicle, then … silence.
He was having trouble breathing. Something was wrong with his neck. He could feel the heat of his
blood on his skin, the coldness seeping into his very core, the deep aches he instinctively knew were bad
– like pain just waking up.
He was going to die.
A part of his mind mulled over the concept of the justice in dying while trying to fix his mistake, as if it
was an intellectual question and he was part of some impartial jury presiding over his bleeding body. The
visual was so real he could almost swear he was hovering over himself, staring down at the entry wound
in his back. Then the illusion telescoped into a point of black, the darkness swirling at the edges of his
vision as he opened his eyes and was sucked back into the grim, only-too-real present.
The floor was hard and cold, his sense of smell almost painfully acute. He could easily separate the
smells of dust and sweat, and his own blood. God, his blood, so rich and sweet, and it was draining
The thought shoved his heart into overdrive. Abruptly the life force rose in him like a ball of pure,
white-hot energy vibrating at his very core, pulsing, driving upward as if it would burst from his mouth.
He clenched his jaw; he didn’t want to die.
The hell he would die.
Gray sucked in a breath as the pain flowered, breaking through the odd, numbing stasis. The enormity,
the all-encompassing nature, of the pain forced him into a foetal position, even though the slightest
movement made his head spin. His stomach tightened, rolled, and for a moment he thought he was going
to be physically sick. An odd rattling groan was torn from his damaged throat. If he threw up now he probablywould die. Breaking into a sweat at the exquisite agony the movement caused him. Gray felt
down his body, located the exit wound the bullet had made, then rolled, trapping his hand over the
wound, applying his own pressure to help staunch the bleeding.
He must have blacked out again. When he opened his eyes, he was on his back and Blade was leaning
over him, breaking open an ampoule of morphine. There was a faint sting as he injected it directly into the
wound. Hazy warmth washed through Gray, swept him like a lazy ocean swell, rocked him gently, each
undulation easing him further from the jagged bite of the pain. With every pulse the terrible tension that
gripped him eased, and his mind drifted.
Gray tightened his jaw, hanging on fiercely. He didn’t like losing control, even to the morphine. He was
afraid that if he let go, hewould die. He had to stay awake. He had to live.
Blade was talking as he ripped open packets, telling Gray what he was doing, cursing him for getting
shot, threatening Gray with a long, drawn-out death if he did die on him.
Gray felt pressure on his belly and a fresh wave of nausea rolled through him as the pain broke through
the morphine haze.
“Give me another wound dressing.Now!” Blade snapped.
Time became elastic. No matter how hard Gray tried, he kept losing his hold on the present, slipping off
the edge into the blackest midnight he’d ever known; it pulled at him, beckoned, warm and dark, but
there was a reason he had to stay awake, a reason he had to keep going.
The reason crystallised. “Sam,” he said in a tortured rasp.
Blade leaned over him, so close that Gray could see the moisture in his eyes. It hit him like a hammer
blow: Blade was crying. Blade never cried. He was the hardest of the hard men, and he almost never
revealed what he was really thinking. Gray knewhim, they were close, so alike in many ways – intensely
private, single-minded, wary of commitment. Blade ran deep, too deep for most,who chose to see only
what he allowed them to see – the cold, utterly professional soldier when he was working, the
love-’em-and-leave-’em outlaw when he wasn’t.
“Sam’s not here,” Blade said grimly. “We’ve searched this whole viper’s nest and questioned the
scumbag who shot you in the back. She was never here.”
He had lost consciousness at that point. Three days later, he’d surfaced from heavy sedation. It had been
weeks before he was fit to travel.
Gray turned from the view out of the kitchen window that he had barely registered because the images
of his own private hell were so much brighter, so much more intense.
Sam’s face was paper-white, her eyes almost black with an inner pain that caught and held his attention.
She was still standing by the coffeemaker, her hands gripping her bare upper arms as if she was chilled,
the mugs of coffee steamed unnoticed beside her on the counter. “You thoughtI was there? You nearly
“It was a reasonable assumption to make. You went missing the same day Jake andRafaella did.
Sometimes coincidence is a real bitch.”
“You were looking for me.”
Gray’s gaze narrowed on her face. “I shouldn’t have told you.”
“I already knew most of it.” Fury replaced the blank shock that he had almost died for her and she
hadn’t known. “Take off your shirt.”
“Sam… If I’d been paying any kind of attention to what was and wasn’t happening between us, I might
have worked out that your disappearance wasn’t connected with Harper.”
Sam wasn’t in the mood to be placated. “Take off your shirt,” she repeated. “I want to see.”
Gray didn’t move. Sam stepped closer, pulled his shirt from his pants,then started on the buttons.
His hands covered hers. “Sam…”
She threw off his hands and continued. When all the buttons were unfastened, she pushed the shirt from
his shoulders, letting it peel down his arms and fall to the floor.
For a long moment she couldn’t see beyond the sheer, muscular beauty of his torso. His skin glowed
copper in the brassy light of the approaching storm; dark hair shadowed his chest and ran in a line to the
waistband of his pants. He was startlingly male and primitive in the civilised confines of the ultra-modern
kitchen. Without the concealing mantle of clothing, danger and heat poured from him, animal-strong,
intense and vital. He smelled delicious.The clean male scent of his skin, edged with an aroma that was
musky, male, filled her nostrils and almost made Sam moan out loud.
She wanted to be closer. She wanted to wrap her arms around his lean waist, burrow her head against
that broad chest and breathe her fill of the erotic, intimate scent of him. He would be hot to the touch, the
pelt of dark hair on his chest enticingly rough against her cheek, his skin satin-smooth, pulled taut across
heavy muscle. That edgy vitality would shiver and throb through her, as if in touching him she’d
transferred some of that pulsing, vibrant energy to herself.
And then she saw the scars.
An ugly, sunken welt just up from his hip that she instantly knew was the bullet wound.An arcing slice
across his flat, muscled stomach. She could actually envisage the knife slicing through the hard muscles of
his belly, the fleshy explosion of the bullet ripping into his back.
Before she could stop herself, before she could think beyond the shock of what had been done to Gray,
Sam touched the scars, her fingers running lightly over the devastating injuries as if she could comprehend
the violence, as if she could absorb some of the pain he must have felt.
He jerked at her touch, his breath coming roughly, but he didn’t move, away.
Gray was such a beautiful male animal, and someone had hurt him. Anger rose in her. Not just hurt him –
someone had done their very best to kill him. “Damn you. How dare you nearly die for me?” she
His gaze glittered down into hers, and she knew he would do whatever it took, risk himself again if
She ran her fingers over the bullet wound again. “You’re going to catch this man – thisHarper .”
It wasn’t a question, but he answered anyway. “Yes.”
She absorbed the flat intent in his voice, and something else, a new tension. She was touching Gray,
standing so close that he could encircle her with his arms if he wanted. Her hand jerked back, but she
wasn’t fast enough. His fingers captured hers, wrapping them tight. She was surprised all over again by
the rough tingling heat of his grip and the effect it had on her.
Her breath came in sharply. She was going crazy. No, strike that, she was already there. Gray Lombard
was the last man on earth she should be attracted to, the last man she should want to touch. He was too
arrogant and too rich for his own good, and he didn’t need or want her worry, or her protection. He had
nearly died for her.
And she loved him.
More, she was in love with him. She knew it, starkly, without any sense of wonder or elation. She loved
him, and she couldn’t bear a world without him in it.
“Don’t let him hurt you again,” she whispered. “Do you hear me?”
Gray touched her face; his thumb rubbed gently across her cheekbone. “I hear you.”
“But you won’t listen. You’re going after him. There’s no guarantee you won’t be shot again. There’s no
guarantee you won’t—”
“He won’t kill me.”
Sam drew in a breath, unable to hide her fear or the fury that grew out of that fear. The emotions were
too well-known, too closely married to the dark, empty places inside her, because she knew with a stark
certainty that if Gray died, she wouldn’t want to live.
Not that she was suicidal in anyway, simply that she would take no joy in life. She would live, she would
continue to breathe and do all the things that normal people do, but she would simply be going through
the motions, as she had done for the last seven years. If Gray died, it would be like a part ofherself dying,
and she knew she had to tell him that. After today, there was every possibility that she might not get
another chance. “I love you.”
He went still, his expression utterly blank; then his expression hardened, settled more fiercely against the
bones of his face. “I have to go.”
He swore, sharply and succinctly. Keeping her hand in his, he retrieved his cell phone from his pants
pocket. He stabbed in numbers and spoke, holding her gaze as he did so. Sam heard the low rumble of
Gray’s voice but had no idea what he actually said. His intent smouldered in his eyes, as blunt, as
straightforward, as the way he was physically keeping her close.
He wanted her, and he was going to have her.
Just admitting what was going to happen next turned her knees to proverbial jelly. She didn’t have the strength or the will to stop him, not when this was what she wanted more than common sense, more than
logic or safety.
Gray snapped the cell phone closed and slipped it back into his pocket. “Carter’s got a job to do before
he gets here.” One big hand curled around her nape, trapping her in a grip that was both predatory and
possessive. “We’ve got two hours.”
Elation burst through Sam as Gray’s mouth settled hungrily over hers. She could feel the blood pounding
through her veins, the sweet, heavy throb of desire pulling her muscles taut, making her skin tight and hot,
almost unbearably sensitive to his lightest touch.
Her palms came to rest against the intriguing roughness of his chest. He shuddered and groaned and
pressed closer, herding her against the counter. His mouth left hers and trailed along her jaw, down her
throat; then, as abruptly as he had kissed her, he let her go.
“If you don’t want this, you’d better say so now. I need you so much you make me shake.”
He grasped her hand and pressed it to the centre of his chest. She could feel the rapid slam of his heart,
the almost imperceptible tremors that shook him, but it was the words he’d chosen that moved her the
most. He needed her. Somehow, that was more than she had expected.
She knew he would more than likely hurt her again, but suddenly she didn’t care; either one of them
could be dead tomorrow. “If all we have is two hours, I’ll take it.”
He let out a breath; his lashes lowered over his eyes. “The first time we do it, I don’t want to be standing
up. I want to see you. We need a bed.”
He swung her into his arms and carried her through the darkened hallway to the bedroom she’d chosen,
set her on her feet and began systematically stripping the clothes from her body.
He surveyed her for a tense moment, holding her gaze as he kicked off his shoes and peeled off his
pants. His hands settled on her hips, moving up in a rough stroke to cup her breasts, plumping them up
into full mounds as he lowered his mouth to first one nipple, then the other. Sam trembled and arched
under the onslaught, the exquisite pull of his mouth, the hot, wet heat of his tongue. The backs of her
knees connected with the bed; then she was tumbling. Gray’s weight pinned her to the mattress, flattening
her breasts against the solid wall of his chest, his thighs spreading hers as he settled himself between
them. Sam shivered in his grasp, assaulted by an overload of textures that were at once alien and familiar.
His body was hot, his textures rich and varied: satin skin and crisp hair on his chest and thighs; bard
unyielding muscle and callused hands; the heavy, gliding heat of his sex as he moved over her.
Gray’s gaze locked with hers as he probed and found her entrance. Sam shivered at the tantalising
pressure, the searing liquid heat that flooded her lower belly. Her hips lifted of their own accord to
capture and contain him. The breath hissed from between his teeth. He reared back, surveyed her for a
taut moment, then retrieved his pants from the floor and extracted a foil packet. Swiftly he sheathed
himself. “I had planned to court you when this situation was over. I still will, but it will be after the fact.”
One hand cupped the back of her head, fingers locked in her hair, anchoring her in place as he reached down and positioned himself. “I’ve dreamed of this,” he whispered. “Look at me while I take you.” The
demand was low, rasping,as relentless as the pressure between her legs.
Sam gasped at the dark, hot intensity of his gaze, the burning pleasure of his touch. She dimly
understood that even now, despite Gray’s fierce arousal, the need that simmered in the banked heat in his
eyes, he was controlling their lovemaking. He’d had the presence of mind to take care of contraception –
something she hadn’t thought about, and which should have been flashing like a neon sign in her mind. He
was still holding back, while he demanded everything from her.
She gasped as he pressed deeper. Her fingers dug into his shoulders. It had been so long, and she’d
forgotten how it felt, how smoothly muscular he was, the difficulty she had always had accepting him. He
was only part way in, and already she felt unbearably stretched.
“Relax,” he crooned, stroking one hand down between her breasts, over her belly, to the exquisitely
tender flesh between her legs. His voice was rough and tender, telling her how pretty she was, how much
he wanted her, just how hot his dreams had been.
His words washed over her, as velvet-soft as the stroke of his fingers as he soothed the point of
penetration where she gloved him so tightly, then slipped up over the exquisitely sensitive bud just above.
Sensation broke through her, white-hot, so complete she arched, mindless with the terrifying power of
her climax. The intensity of feeling was shattering. There was no turning back. She had made her
decision, and there was nothing she could or would do to stop him. She was open and completely
vulnerable on every level. If loving Gray was going to hurt her, it was too late to worry about it now; she
was committed, for better or worse.
Not that Gray was giving her a chance to change her mind. He was sinking deeper, taking advantage of
the shimmering convulsions, her internal moistening, to ease his way.
His hands tightened on her hips as he lifted her to him, adjusting the angle so he could plunge deeper still,
and the feel of him buried inside her, the unadorned intimacy of penetration, tore away the last tattered
remnants of her defences.
She wanted this.
She had never felt so tinglingly alive, never taken so much joy in living. The discomfort was fading, giving
way to a hot excitement. She lifted, accepting him fully, crying out at the sweet, rasping ache. She wanted
life, shechose life, and in that moment she acceptedGray – his implacable will, his code of honour, his
smothering protectiveness – all three things that still threatened to lock her out of his life, just as they had
done for the past seven years.
“Touch me.” The demand was hoarse and raw, more a groan than actual words.
Her hands slipped along the damp curve of his back, glorying in his strength and slickness, the bunch and
slide of his muscles as he began to move. Sam flexed her limbs beneath his solid weight, feeling him
impossibly hot and heavy inside her, wanting more than his gentleness and restraint, half wild for more.
Her mouth opened over his skin. The salt taste exploded across her tongue, and she arched, shimmying
against him. A rough sound was torn from his throat; he bucked, then shuddered and drove deep. He
was like a storm, on her and over her, pounding inside her. She wanted all of him, everything he had to
give,everything he could make her feel. She had been lost for seven years, lost and so alone without him.
Gray’s weight came down on her fully, crushing her into the bed; his mouth slanted over hers, and the
concept of loss and loneliness was smothered by the sleek, hot thrust of his tongue. He tasted like salt
and musk and need. He tasted like a passion so extreme her head spun with it. He felt like the sun, hot
and heavy as he sank deep within her, burning her away until she was nothing without him.
Leroy was proud of his salon.
True, it was small, and the location was definitely dragged down by the presence of that rat-infested
hotel on the corner, but he had learned to count his blessings. The rat-infested hotel had offered him a
steady income when his trendier clientele tapered off, and he did meet the occasional wealthy eccentric
Take, for example, the man whose hair he was trimming now. He had stumbled across Mr. Soames in
the dark, musty confines of the Royal’s private bar, evidently enjoying the rather doubtful ambiance. It
didn’t take a genius to know that the man had money, real money. He was nothing to look at; in fact, Mr.
Soames was remarkably nondescript. But he still reeked of quality. His suit was Armani, and not
off-the-rack Armani, either, the tailoring was too perfect. Besides, Leroy had discreetly inspected the
label. His shoes were handmade, his nails manicured, his linen the finest.
Leroy continued trimming the gentleman’s hair, wishing all his clients could be so well-dressed, so
well-groomed. Mr. Soames had an air of real class about him. Leroy shuddered delicately as he thought
of the Pacific Royal. His clients there were nothing more than peasants and ruffians. If he didn’t need the
money to supplement his income and his upwardly mobile lifestyle, he wouldn’t go near the place.
“I hear you do a lot of business with the Pacific Royal.”
Leroy jerked, caught off balance by his client asking a question about the very thing he was thinking of –
almost as if Mr. Soames had been reading his mind. “Unfortunately, yes,” he muttered.
“Then you must cut Samantha Munro’s hair,” the man said in his light, bland voice.
Leroy’s eyes widened at the obvious search for information; then he smiled in satisfaction. Samantha
Munro was a classy lady. She stood out like a diamond amidst dross at the Royal. Perhaps that was
what – or should he saywho – had drawn Mr. Soames to spend time in the Royal’s bar. He probably
assumed that Leroy was Samantha Munro’s stylist. He wasn’t, but he didn’t see that that little point
needed explaining when Mr. Soames was playing such a subtle game. “Sam has gorgeous hair,” he
murmured resuming trimming.
“I saw her picture on the front page of this morning’s paper.Looks like she’s engaged toLombard.A step
up from managing the Royal, I imagine.”
Leroy’s scissors jerked again at the mention of the cold-eyed barbarian who inhabited the Governor’s
Suite. He was more of the opinion that having any kind of association with Lombard was a step down –
especially for a lady like Samantha Munro. It was almost inconceivable that Lombard was one ofthe
Lombards and as rich as Croesus. If Leroy had only known that, he would have charged him more for
the haircuts he’d done. He should have had danger money just to step inside that suite. “If the
engagement’s real,” he said, not bothering to hide his disdain. If Samantha Munro was engaged to
Lombard, he was a horse’s ass.
Mr. Soames smiled pleasantly into the mirror, his expression enquiring without being vulgar.
Leroy didn’t need further prompting. Something out of the ordinary was going on at the Royal. Samantha
Munro had been whisked away and replaced by a look-alike, and those barbarians in the Governor’s
Suite who claimed to be in the telecommunications business were up to something. He wasn’t certain
what, but he was only too happy to fill in the gaps with his own inventive guesses.
Graywalked into the kitchen of the safe house. He had showered and dressed and was now ready to
“I’m making arrangements to shift you to Sydney until this is over,” he said abruptly. “You can move into
my house. The security’s better than anything I can rig up here, and my sister, Roma, will keep you
Sam put down the coffeepot, which she had just rinsed, leaving it to drain, and eyed him levelly. “I don’t
want to go to Sydney. If you’re in danger, I want to be here.”
“If a situation develops, I’ll handle it better if I know you’re safe. If you’re within reach, I won’t
concentrate worth a damn.”
“In other words, I’m a distraction.”
A muscle in his jaw worked. “You know you’re important to me.”
Sam took a deep breath, swallowing her hurt,the emotions that clamoured for release, and simply
concentrated on keeping her face blank. She even managed to lift her shoulders in a dismissive shrug.
“Then I’ll see you … whenever,” she said coolly.
He went utterly still, and this time she had trouble breathing at all. There was something tense and
dangerous about that complete stillness, like the calm centre of a storm or the waiting moment before a
large predator sprang on its chosen prey, and she realised she’d finally managed to goad him beyond that
He was on her so quickly that she barely had time to blink. The world tilted wildly as she was hoisted
over his shoulder. Her belly was uncomfortably squeezed as he strode along, his arm anchored across
her legs. Her skirt flipped up so that cool air sifted against her thighs and thinly clad buttocks, leaving her
feeling vulnerable and exposed, which was odd when she considered that she had been naked with Gray
just minutes before and now she had all her clothes on.
The room cart-wheeled.She was on her back, lying across a bed, her legs dangling over the edge. It was
a different bedroom, she realised, a different bed. Gray had simply carried her to the nearest one.
For the second time that day he stripped her panties from her and tossed them aside. He tore open his
pants and pushed them down just low enough that he could free himself. He was inside her in one fierce
motion. Sam braced herself and arched into his thrust, and the raw force of it lifted her from the bed. The
intensity of pleasure that washed through her made her shake. He hadn’t bothered with a condom, and
the knowledge made her breathless with excitement; a part of her gloried in that loss of control. She
closed her eyes and lifted her hips in an attempt to contain him, but he pulled back.
“Open your eyes,” he demanded.
Her eyes flickered open and fastened on his. She moaned, lifting again, but again he evaded her attempt
to sheathe him. He caught her hands and held them above her head, and his thighs shifted, spreading hers
further apart until she was completely open to him, unable to move beyond that simple arching of her
A dark flush moved across his cheekbones; sweat sheened his face as he loomed over her. “Don’t do
that again,” he muttered, low and taut. “Don’t close yourself off from me.”
“You want too much.”
Her words tailed off in a gasp as he penetrated her again with one hard shove. The relief of the
penetration quickly gave way to the familiar heavy tension that laced her belly and lower back as he
began to move with long, powerful strokes.
There was no seduction, no teasing foreplay or gentle build-up. She didn’t want those things right now,
she realised as pleasure spiralled fiercely. She’d goaded him, and he had responded, giving her exactly
what she needed: his undivided attention. His lovemaking was raw and powerful and primitive, but itwas
lovemaking. He was frustrated that he wasn’t getting his way with her – that she had had the temerity to
dismiss him – and was fighting back the only way he knew how. But if he didn’t care for her, he wouldn’t
be making love to her now. He had been leaving; their time together had been over for the foreseeable
future. She had challenged him on the most basic level, and he had responded like the healthy male
animal he was.
His rhythm shallowed out as he pulled her more firmly beneath him, one hand still shackling her wrists
while he tilted her hips to take more of him, deeper. His thrusts became shorter, sharper, as he
relentlessly drove her toward climax. He wouldn’t allow her not to climax, she realised dimly, and it
wasn’t something she could withhold, anyway. But then, it had always been this way. How could she hold
on to her reserve when she was locked beneath him? It was a wonder she could hold on to her sanity.
The storm broke outside, darkening the already sullen day, scattering rain against the windows and
increasing the smothering heat rather than relieving it. Fresh moisture sheened her skin, and when Gray
released her wrists, she clung to his shoulders, her fingers twining in his shirt to anchor herself against his
Her clothing was twisted and uncomfortable and sticking to her skin; her breasts throbbed fiercely
against the constriction of her bra. Her breathing was fast and shallow; she couldn’t seem to get enough
air. It was as if the storm had sucked up all the available oxygen and left her floundering, her world
narrowed to the dark, slitted intent in Gray’s gaze as he pushed her further, higher, than she’d ever gone
His thumb rasped across the small, swollen bud between her legs. Her hips jerked, and she screamed
with the stunning force of her climax. A low, grating sound broke from Gray’s throat as he rode her hard
through it. Heat shimmered, furnace-hot wherever skin met skin. Sweat trickled between her breasts,
plastered his shirt to his broad, heaving chest, and still he drove into her, his gaze fixed on hers,
demanding an even greater surrender than the one she’d just given him.
Tension coiled with abrupt suddenness, and the wildness boiled up, taking her again with shocking
swiftness. He groaned as she tightened around him, but this time he shuddered, arched, his muscles
corded as liquid heat exploded deep in her belly, swamping her senses, wiping her mind clean of everything but Gray and utter, bone-melting exhaustion.
The rain continued to fall, heavier now,the dull rhythm a balm as she lay quiescent beneathGray’s heavy
weight, floating in a haze.
She was hot, so hot, but she didn’t want to move; she wanted to stay here all afternoon and wallow in
the afterglow of complete physical exhaustion, to drift in a daze that had no beginning and no end. She
didn’t want to do anything that might disturb Gray. She could feel him still, lodged deep inside her, and
she didn’t want to relinquish any part of him. He had made love to her as if he owned her. The act had
been darkly erotic, unbelievablycarnal, a primitive claiming that had satisfied something deep inside her
that she had never acknowledged. He had ripped away her feeble defence, and he had done it ruthlessly
and deliberately. She knew she should regret it, but with the scent of their lovemaking filling the room,
swamping her senses, she wasn’t capable of regretting anything.
He might have forced her surrender, but in the end she had given it gladly. She knew with sudden clarity
that she more than loved Gray; he was a part of her, whether he wanted to be or not, enmeshed in her
past and, now, in her future. Loving him had forever changed her, and she couldn’t change back.
There would never be another man for her. No one else could, or would, ever take Gray’s place – he
burned too vividly, too strongly, to ever be eclipsed.
She had waited for him for seven years, unknowingly keptherself chaste for him. If this was all she would
ever have of Gray, then she would go to her grave, if not content, then at least knowing that she had
tasted the dizzying heights.
He stirred and raised himself on one elbow. His fingers brushed her cheek, pushing hair back from her
face. His voice was soft, dark, a bare whisper. “Did I hurt you?”
Sam framed his face with her hands, his stubble deliciously rough against her palms. “What do you
He eased himself from her body, fastened his pants,then pulled her up by her hands until they were both
standing beside the bed. “I think I went a little crazy. I didn’t use a condom.”
He pulled his phone from his pocket and made a call, his voice terse as he told Carter to delay for
another hour; then he picked her up and carried her through to her room, then her bathroom, and began
removing her clothing. Sam stood quietly, her legs wobbly as he peeled her rumpled skirt from her.
When she was naked, he removed his own clothing and flipped on the shower lever, waiting until the
temperature was to his liking before coaxing her into the shower with him.
Lukewarm water cascaded down on Sam’s face, washing away the heat and sweat, dousing her in a
stream of coolness that made her shiver with delight.
His hands were gentle as he washed her, his voice a low, dark rumble, as raw as the storm outside as he
murmured his praise of her body, of how much he loved to touch her, the things he wanted to do to her,
the things he wanted her to do to him.
Sam absorbed it, like parched soil soaking in the water streaming down.His concentrated attention, the
earthy promise behind every brush of his fingers.The dark delight of his voice.
He made love to her in the shower, lifting her and setting her back against the tiled stall. She braced
herself on his slick shoulders as he wrapped her legs around his waist. Time stood still as his fierce gaze
settled on hers. “You’re mine.”
She touched his mouth, traced his strong jaw and felt that same primitive fierceness well up in her. “And
you belong to me.”
His eyes flared, his chest expanded, and she felt the rub of his chest hair against her sensitive breasts, the
hot nudge of his naked sex between her legs, and then he was pushing inside her, his entry difficult
because she was still swollen and tight from the last time. “You won’t leave me again. I want you living in
my house, sleeping in my bed. And when this is over, we’re going to get married.”
“Yes.” Sam didn’t see much point in denying what she wanted so much. The simple act of declaring her
love had cut the ground from under her feet. She couldn’t hide from Gray anymore. She loved him. She
would walk through fire to be with him. If she had to be separated from Gray while he was in terrible
danger, then she would do that, too, no matter how much she feared for his safety.
He penetrated her increment by slow increment. She was sharply aware that he hadn’t sheathed himself
this time, either, and that she didn’t want him to. Heat flushed her skin. The sense of fullness was utterly
delicious; she felt poised, on the brink, held firmly in his grasp, yet holding him inside her. He was so
powerful, and yet she contained him and ultimately eased him in a physical act that made even the
strongest man vulnerable. Maybe she would never have all of him, never have the certainty of his love,
but at least she had this.
She felt the deep prod of him snug against her womb, and then gasped as he withdrew, then surged
back into her. The storm was pulsing both inside and out. Gray held her tightly in his grasp, the powerful
flex of his hips and torso dictating the rhythm as they stood beneath the warm cascade.
When it was over, he dried them both and carried her back to bed, sliding in with her and immediately
covering her with his body. She felt his intent, knew what he was doing and couldn’t deny him. He was
making sure of her, holding her beneath him – physically dominating her in an act as old as time. She
didn’t protest, but gloried in the fact that he felt he had to be sure of her when she was the one who
wasn’t certain. In his very domination he gave her the security she needed. As he gently entered her
again, she lifted herself willingly to meet the slow, careful invasion, offering him the reassurance of her
body in return.
He hadn’t said he loved her, simply that he wanted her, and that would have to be enough for now,
because she loved him so completely that there was no choice. She knew what it was like to love and
lose, to have no one.
All the important relationships in her life had been marked by death: her parents, her aunt and uncle, her
grandfather, the baby she had conceived with Gray. Now Gray was entangled in a ritualistic, vicious
dance with death, and she didn’t think she could bear it.
“Don’t you die on me,” she said in a voice that was little more than a husky whisper. From somewhere
she found the strength to lift her head and press her mouth to his damp shoulder.
“I won’t die.” He raised himself enough that she could feel the delicious chill of the sweat that had sealed
them together evaporating from her skin, see the implacable set of his jaw, the narrow, intent glitter of his
eyes. He moved his hips, and her breath hitched in her throat. He dipped, his teeth fastened on the tender
join of her neck and shoulder, making her arch helplessly into his next gliding thrust.
“I won’t die,” he repeated. “I’m coming back for more of this.”
The phone rang. Gray climbed from the bed and strode into the en suite bathroom to retrieve his phone
from his pants pocket. When be reappeared, all the lazy warmth had faded from his expression. He was
once more the grim, cool warrior, his emotions locked beneath the iron grip of a control she was only
now coming to understand, and fear.
He left the room, naked, to complete the conversation. When he came back, Sam knew that this time he
There was the sound of a vehicle, followed by a sharp knock at the front door.
“Carter.” He swore softly. “Damn his hide. Why couldn’t he be late for once?”
He leaned down and kissed her, his black gaze possessive. “We still need to talk, but there isn’t time.
I’ve taken too much time as it is.”
Sam sat quietly, propped against the pillows, a sheet draped across her breasts, while Gray pulled on his
pants and shirt,then went to let Carter in.
When he was gone, she picked up her sadly crumpled clothes and tossed them in the laundry basket in
the corner of the room. She noticed the absence of her panties and quickly freshened up, then dressed in
jeans and a shirt from her case, before padding barefoot to the bedroom just off the kitchen, where
they’d made love. She couldn’t bear the thought of Carter perhaps choosing this bedroom, walking in and
finding her discarded underwear on the floor.
She found and stuffed the lacy scrap in her pocket, and was on her way out the door when she heard
Gray talking to Carter in low tones, his voice little more than a rumble. Sam paused just short of the
kitchen door, pleasure humming through her at the velvety cadences of that deep, hypnotic drawl. Just
the sound of his voice made her tighten up inside, the delicious languor of lovemaking giving way to a soft
burst of heat that made her breath catch.
Gray was her lover, and he wanted to marry her. She could already be pregnant.
Joy welled, threatening to overflow the bounds of her natural caution. There were hurdles to overcome
before they could be together, she couldn’t fool herself on that score.
She hadn’t yet told him about the baby she had lost.
Gray was possessive, territorial; he wasn’t going to like it that she’d kept the pregnancy and miscarriage
from him. The fact thathe had cut her out of his life wouldn’t come into it. Crazy as it seemed, as strong
as he was, Gray needed her, needed the reassurance of her complete capitulation.
It would have to wait, just as she would have to wait for an emotional commitment from Gray. She didn’t
like leaving the situation unresolved, but they had no choice.
Words began to filter through her dazed absorption, then entire sentences. Gray was discussing a change
of plan, a plan that had included her. She had served her purpose, and now he wanted her out.
Sam went still inside. She had been set up. Used as bait in a trap to capture Harper, but her usefulness
was now over.
She had become a liability.A distraction.
A small sound forced its way from her throat. Her arms banded across her stomach. She wanted to curl
around the pain, lock it in tight. She had just spent the day making love with Gray. She had told him that
she loved him, and even though he hadn’t committed himself in the same way, a part of her had hoped.
Sam stumbled down the hallway. A side doorbeckoned, and she pushed her way outside, standing in the
shelter of a broad patio, gulping in mouthfuls of damp, fresh air. She’d once likened her past relationship
with Gray to a roller-coaster ride. That was exactly how she felt now, as if she’d just climbed off a wild
ride and was still finding her legs.
The rain had slackened off to a misty drizzle; the sun was breaking through the cloud in places. Already
steam was rising from the smooth emerald lawn, wreathing the tiled patio and pool.
The door creaked behind her. She knew it was Gray before she turned her head.
His expression was guarded. “You heard?”
“I can explain,” he said quietly.
A small shudder wracked her. She was tempted to say, “I’ll bet.” She wondered how he would try to
manipulate her this time. Sex had been very effective, but even if she wanted to, she didn’t know if she
could make love again today.
“If you don’t mind,” she said, stepping down on to the wet lawn, “I don’t want to hear it right now.”
“Dammit, don’t clam up on me!”
Her pulse jumped as she heard him come after her, but she wasn’t going to run. There was nowhere to
He caught her hands, shackling her wrists gently but firmly. “Come inside, Sam, it’s still raining and you’re
getting wet.” His voice was pitched low, the entrancing roughness a cajoling purr that somehow still
managed to seduce her senses.
She jerked against his hold. “Don’t you dare try andsoothe me.”
He was barefoot. He hadn’t bothered to fasten his shirt, and it hung open, clinging transparently to his
broad shoulders where the misty drizzle had dampened the gauzy fabric. Diamond droplets of moisture
were forming on the dark hair covering his chest. Not so many minutes ago her breasts had nestled
against that rough pelt. She could see small red marks on his skin, marksshe had made.
Her cheeks heated. Carter had to know what they’d spent the last few hours doing. All of Gray’s people probably knew. No doubt it had been in theplan .
His hands tightened briefly; then he released her. “I’m sorry you were upset by what you heard. I used
you, but I couldn’t see any way around it unless I kept away from you, and that wasn’t an option. I’d
stayed away for sevenyears, I sure as hell wasn’t staying away for another seven.”
“You don’t have to explain,” she said remotely. “I understand why you did it.” Even if it hurts that I’m
way, way down on that cold list of priorities you have, she said to herself silently. Even if it demonstrates
that I may never be first on that list. “Did you organise the photographers?”
He inclined his head.
“The clinch looked good. It went well with the headline.”
“The clinch wasn’t planned.”
“Just convenient.And the seduction scene?Can you tell me our relationship has nothing to do with setting
“No,” he said curtly, “because our relationship has everything to do with it. You were already at risk.
Harper had a file on you. It was inevitable that the second he knew we were together, you would join me
at the top of his hit list. I’ve done what I’ve had to do to keep my family safe – to keep you safe.” His
voice dropped, roughened. “And that was no seduction scene. You wanted what happened as much as I
did. I’ve never needed a woman the way I need you. I meant what I said, Sam. I want you with me. I
want to marry you. If you don’t want any part of that, you’d better say so.”
In that moment Sam wished she could say just that, but she couldn’t. The unadorned truth was that she
wanted any part of Gray that he was willing to give her.
The singular strength of that notion was like a cold wave slapping her in the face. She loved Gray with a
depth and intensity that stunned her. If she could have only a small part of him, then she would take it.
She accepted in that moment that he would probably never love her as she wanted him to.
Sam closed her eyes. “You want everything.”
The risk, the shattering vulnerability, of her position shook her. If she had been stripped bare and staked
beneath the merciless glare of the midday sun, she couldn’t have been more defenceless. He was asking
too much, but it was already too late. She loved him, and she hurt.
But what did she have to lose?she thought fiercely. She knew the terrible events that drove Gray, the
long years he’d isolated himself from the people he cared for most – from the life he should have been
living – in order to protect them.
She was one of those people.
That streak of ruthlessness had probably kept him alive in places and situations she could barely imagine;
it was an essential part of the man she loved. Even though she was bruising herself against it, she couldn’t
wish it gone.
She lifted her chin and met his gaze coolly. “I said I loved you. That hasn’t changed, nor is it likely to. I’ll
go to Sydney, move into your house, I’ll even marry you if that’s what you really want—”
“Sam—” He stepped toward her.
“No! Don’t stop me. I haven’t finished.” She swallowed against the husky rawness of her throat. “There’s
something I need to tell you, before you go and do whatever it is that you do. Before you go and risk
yourself and maybe get killed. You asked me why I left you all those years ago. I only gave you half the
truth.” She paused, dragged in an aching breath. “I was pregnant. I lost the baby at four months. I
Of all the reasons for Sam to run from him, that one had never occurred to Gray.
Just the thought of Sam pregnant with his child made him weak inside. Then he remembered the day he’d
seen her in the park – that had been months later, and there had been no sign of a pregnancy then.
He swore softly, his hands curling into fists to keep from touching her, from demanding to know more
than that bare statement. She would fight him if he so much as laid a finger on her; he knew that as surely
as he knew he had to reach past this new barrier.
Another wall, another damn mystery.She hadn’t told him, not one word, not one hint that they’d made a
child together. She’d chosen to shut him out of the most intimate of bonds. His hands clenched into fists.If
If he’d known, what then?
Gray sucked in a deep breath, trying to ease the tightness still banding his chest. He was still having
trouble grasping the enormity of what she had hidden from him.
The concept shook him. Sam had been pregnant with their child.His child.
Yet, even now, she hadn’t wanted to tell him. She had given him her body, agreed to marry him, but still
she was blocking him out. Even though he was doing the same to her, through sheer, cold necessity, it
made him furious that she could close herself off from him so easily. He felt like a thirsty man in the desert
gifted with a handful of water, yet even as he lifted the water to his mouth, it slipped from his fingers,
sliding away no matter how hard he tried to hold it, and his thirst, barely slaked, raged on.
“I lost the baby,” Sam repeated in a flat voice. “I wanted her so much.”
More than she’d wanted him.
Again Gray had to restrain himself from touching her, demanding more than the distant grief in her eyes.
It made him crazy to know that she had needed him, but instead of reaching out, she had run from him.
Sam’s grief was like a punch in the place that used to house his heart. She had buried their child with only
her aging, sick grandfather to buffer her against the loss.
“Dammit, Sam you should have told me,” he said flatly. “I should have been with you. You should have let me help you.Me . Not anyone else. If I’d known, I would have married you then.”
“And what?” she challenged. “Stashed me in your house and left me alone for seven years while you
went off and hunted your brother’s killer?”
Gray’s jaw tightened on a pulse of fury and despair. For the first time he allowed himself to wonder if the
hunt for Harper had been worth it, if he hadn’t simply created more damage by trying to bring his
brother’s killer to justice. How much more would they have to lose before it all ended? “Promise me
you’ll never keep anything like that from me again.”
Sam heard the hurt threading Gray’s rough voice. “I didn’t mean to keep her from you,” she said quietly.
“I always intended to tell you, but then I miscarried. When you didn’t show I assumed that for you our
relationship had ended the moment I left. There didn’t seem much point in telling you about the baby.”
Sam studied Gray’s face, the light and shadow etching his features so that they seemed chiselled not from
stone, but from the very essence of life. There was nothing remote about him now. She realised with a
jolt of searing regret that he would have loved her child,their child. She had hurt him. Until she’d seen his
grief it hadn’t occurred to her that she could do so. “I should have—”
“No,” he said roughly. “No more regrets. The past has taken enough.” His hands settled on her upper
arms. “It’s nearly over, Sam.Just a few more days. If I know you’re safe with my family in Sydney, I can
finish this without having to worry about your safety.”
Sam stiffened. “I’ll go to Sydney. I’ll be safe, but you won’t be.” Even though she knew the question was
useless, she still had to ask it. “Why does it have to be you, Gray? Why can’t someone take your place
like Farrell took mine?”
He picked up one of her hands, which she absently noticed was knotted into a fist, and enclosed it in his
warm grip. “You look so fierce,” he whispered, “like a cornered tigress. Maybe you do love me.”
“Answer my question.”
He released her hand. “Harper is my mistake.”
“So you’re the only one who can fix it.” Her fists thudded into his chest, and he trapped them there. “It
wasn’tyour fault! Harper was the one who pulled the trigger.”
“I didn’t pull the trigger,” he agreed flatly, “but I may as well have done. Jake andRafaella died because
ofmy carelessness. Their future, the family they had planned, died with them. Instead of a wedding, my
family had to endure a double funeral. But I was still alive. Do you know how that felt? Iwanted to live, I
was glad to be alive, and Jake was dead because I screwed up.”
As if a veil had been ripped aside, she saw the grief and fury that ate at him, consuming him piece by
piece, even as he strove to overcome his feelings with the relentless hunt for Harper.
The coldness, the remoteness, had become necessary for Gray simply to function. His body carried the
scars of the battle he still fought, but those scars were as nothing when compared with his inner wounds.
He was clenched tight around that hurt, held in thrall to pressures that would crush a weaker man.
His strength and will took her breath, made her ache inside with the need to ease the burden. He had
hurt her, but his pain was beyond bearing. “You can’t bring Jake back.” Her mouth twisted in bittersweet memory of her own struggle with death. “He’s gone. You can’t reach him, and he wouldn’t thank you for
putting your own life on hold for him. Jake loved you. He would want you to live, not spend your life
Grayflinched. “The cold fact remains that when Harper was moving in on the family I’d sworn to protect,
I wasn’t doing my job well enough to stop him.”
Sam drew a startled breath. “You were with me.” Her stomach clenched with cold dread. “Is that why
you walked away from me in the park? Because every time you looked at me I would have reminded—”
“No.”His voice was hoarse. “If you understand only one thing about this whole twisted mess, it has to be
that I’ve always wanted you.”
But he had chosen to keep her separate and apart from the most traumatic event of his life. He was
closing her off from what she needed most – him – and stashing her neatly out of the way, where she
could be safe.
Sam pulled away from Gray’s hold. He loved his family, and he had loved his brother. She understood
that emotion very well, just as she understood his fierce depth of loyalty, but she was only just coming to
understand the rest.
Gray blamed himself for those deaths.
The blood drained from her face, leaving her feeling chilled, slightly dizzy in the hot sunlight that now
blazed down. The sheer force of his will had dismayed her, but now she could see exactly where the iron
had been forged.
And that didn’t change her wild need to protect him, both from the external dangers that had already
scored his flesh and altered his voice, and from the shadowy internal danger that she was only now
beginning to understand. He was a master at closing himself off, at walking away. In some ways they
were terribly alike, except that she had learned, finally, how empty walking away could be.
The necessity that drove his actions was clear, but that didn’t change the central problem. Gray had only
ever talked about want and need, never love. She had to wonder if the very iron that tempered his will
hadn’t also encased his heart.
“Oh, yeah,” she said softly. “I understand.Completely. You’re so big and strong, you have to take the
whole weight on your shoulders. Well, lighten up, Lombard! How could you – or anyone – have guarded
against a man like Harper? By your own admission, he’s stalking your family! If he hadn’t killed when he
did, he would have bided his time and killed later. Read the papers! Watch the evening news. These guys
make the headlines on a regular basis. If you had kept Jake and Rafaella safe, who would he have got on
a second attempt, before you finally realised what he was all about? Tell me who might have died in their
place? And who would have got the blame for it?”
After Gray left, it was eerily quiet. Sam unpacked,then made herself a sandwich. Carter had moved his
gear into one of the bedrooms and was now out in the garage checking something to do with alarms.
Her hands shook as she sipped an ice-cool glass of milk to help the small bite of peanut butter sandwich
she’d just swallowed go down. The tremor was half exhaustion and half a growing tension over what she
knew she had to do before she turned her life completely over to Gray.
Doggedly she worked her way through the sandwich and the milk, and gradually the tremor subsided.
The food steadied her, easing the faintly sick feeling in her stomach.
She was leaving tomorrow. Gray had organised her flight before he had left. It was close to Christmas,
so he hadn’t been able to book a seat on any of the airlines, because they were all full. That hadn’t been a
problem. Gray was a Lombard; he had simply chartered a private jet. Carter would fly with her to
Sydney,then return toAucklandonce she was handed over to whoever was assigned to bodyguard her.
Tomorrow she would meet Gray’s family, make her home with them while Gray stayed here and…
She went cold at the thought of how many times he must have put himself in harm’s way, as he was
doing now. A stubborn part of her couldn’t believe that everything would turn out all right, that after all
this time there would be any kind of a fairy-tale ending.
She gave herself a mental shake. This was the kind of thinking that had sent her running once before.
Loving Gray might terrify her, leaving the Royal, her friends, everything she knew and had clung to, might
hurt, but even hurting, she wasn’t willing to go back.
She took a deep breath. In order for her to go forward, there was one thing she had to do.Alone.
Without Carter dogging her footsteps – or perhaps vetoing her decision altogether – without the
possibility of the presshounds finding her and uncovering the most private piece of her past. Something
she should have done a long time ago. Gray hadn’t left her time for much in his light speed schedule; if she
was going to act, it had to be now.
Just the thought of what she had to domade her heart race. She wasn’t foolish enough to discount the
risk she would be taking, even if she knew that risk to be minimal. When she had unintentionally
eavesdropped on Gray’s plans for her earlier on in the day, she hadn’t missed Carter’s relief at being
released from what he termed “babysitting” duty when Sam was eventually handed over in Sydney.
No one knew where she was, except Gray and his men. If anyonewas watching her, they would be
watching the policewoman at the hotel.
Methodically Sam rinsed her dishes and placed them in the dishwasher, then wiped up the crumbs she
had made, forcing herself not to hurry, to keep her movements controlled – if she gave way to the panic
that beat inside her, Carter would know something was wrong, and he wouldn’t let her out of his sight
When the kitchen was clean, she went in search of Carter’s truck keys, praying he didn’t have them on
He had left his truck keys on the dresser. She slipped them into her pocket. Next she collected her
handbag and stored it in a cupboard in the kitchen, where she could grab it quickly on her way out. She
scribbled a note informing Carter that she would be back in a couple of hours and left that in the
cupboard with her handbag. She would leave the note in plain sight on the table when she left.
When she had done everything she could to ensure a speedy exit from the house, she hunted amongst
her belongings for a couple of old T-shirts she wouldn’t miss and jammed them down into the S-bend of the toilet bowl until they were out of sight. She washed her hands,then pulled the flush until water spilled
over onto the tiled floor. When she was satisfied that the situation looked dire enough to keep Carter occupied for the few minutes it would take her to make a clean getaway, she went to find him.
Sam slipped into the kitchen while Carter was unblocking the toilet. After grabbing her handbag, she
anchored the note beneath a glass on the dining table and walked quickly to Carter’s truck, which was
parked in the drive. Her heart was pounding, and her mouth was dry. The truck was pointing toward the
garage doors, which meant she would have to reverse out. Ruthlessly she forced that complication to the
back of her mind. Reversing would slow her down, but she would manage.
She climbed into the cab, jammed the keys into the ignition and pulled the door closed as gently as she
could. Her feet didn’t reach the pedals.
Frantically Sam searched for the lever that would adjust the seat and eventually found it. Heart still
slamming so hard in her chest that she could actually hear it, she propelled the seat forward until she
could comfortably reach the accelerator. There was no sound from the house, but as a precaution she
locked the truck doors,then turned to study the stick shift.
She was momentarily bamboozled by the twin set of gears. It was a four-wheel drive truck. She had
never driven a truck, let alone a four-wheel drive.
For a moment her brain simply wouldn’t work. She was used to an automatic shift; it had been years
since she had driven a stick shift, and she had never driven anything as big and unwieldy as this
extended-cab truck. Taking a deep breath and praying she was doing the right thing in leaving the smaller
lever completely alone, she chose the larger of the gear-shifts and checked that it was in neutral.
Whispering another prayer, she turned the key in the ignition.
The truck engine jumped to life, turning over with a vibrating rumble that made her shoot another glance
at the house. Carter would have to be deaf not to have heard that!
Awkwardly she depressed the clutch and set the gear in reverse. As she was backing out, the front door
of the house burst open and Carter sprinted toward her.
Sam stamped on the accelerator. The truck shot out into the empty suburban road. She braked,then
wrenched the gear stick into first. The truck jerked forward, almost stalling.
The flat of Carter’s hand hit the window. “Sam!” he roared, and jerked at the door. “Dammit, let me in!”
He was reaching into his pocket. He pulled out a set of keys. The set she had found in his room must
have been a spare!
Sam cast him an imploring glance and shook her head. They were travelling down the street, but slowly.
She didn’t want to hurt Carter, but she wasn’t going to let him in, either. She pumped the accelerator
enough to make the truck leap forward.
Carter’s fist thumped on the window; then he was left behind, keys in his hand. Sam sucked in a breath
and accelerated down the street. The truck felt heavy, unwieldy, as she rounded a corner. She hauled on
the wheel, barely missing a dark blue sedan parked on the side of the road. She was sweating, her heart
racing, reaction shuddering through her in hot and cold waves.
Shoving hair from her face, she wound the window down and gulped draughts of cooling air. It had been worse than she had thought, but she had done it. She felt ashamed at the deception, the worry she was
going to cause, but it was only for a couple of hours. She liked Carter and regretted pulling Gray’s wrath
down on his head, but this was one issueshe wouldn’t, couldn’t, budge on .
In just a few hours she would be leaving everything she knew, walking into a future that was at best
uncertain, and she didn’t know when she would be back. She would do whatever it took to make her
relationship with Gray work, give up whatever she must. She would fit in with his family, but not without
What she had to do now would be painful and very, very private. She had to cut loose of the past –
relinquish ties that had defined her life from childhood. She had clung to the grief as a way of holding on
to her family. As long as she felt pain, they werereal .
It was past time to say goodbye to her family, her baby, to finally accept that they were gone and she
was on her own – utterly alone in the world except for a man who might never allow himself to feel
anything for her beyond the searing physical attraction that presently bound them – and she couldn’t bear
for anyone to witness that moment.
Grayfound Jack in the dining room of the Royal, arguing with Milly about the cracking plaster. He had
taken his jacket off, his tie was jerked down, and his sleeves were rolled up. His hair was tousled, as if
he had been running his fingers through it repeatedly.
Gray had never seen Jack actually argue before, although they’d had plenty of “discussions.” He had
never seen Jack lose his cool over a building before – a column of figures maybe, but not a building.
Milly leaned closer, practically stabbing his chest with her finger to make her point. They were
nose-to-nose, toe-to-toe, andGray decided that what they were arguing about was incidental to what
was really happening.
Jack spotted him and jerked back from Milly, a flush darkening his lean face.
Gray killed any hint of a smile as he met Milly’s incensed gaze. “Mind if I steal him from you?”
“He’s not mine,” she said shortly. “And if he was, you wouldn’t have to stealhim, I’d give him to you.
Milly turned on her heel and stormed from the room.
Jack let out a breath. He looked hunted. “What’s wrong now?”
“I want you to alter the construction schedule of the new hotel. We’ll go ahead with the plans, but start
construction where the parking building is first. Eventually we’ll knock it all down, but instead of doing it
all in one hit, we’ll do it by degrees.”
“I’m almost afraid to ask why.”
“So no one loses their accommodation, or their job.”
“You want to keep the staff on?”
“Yeah.When the place is shut down they can go for training?”
Jack’s hunted expression turned incredulous. “You want me to make over thestaff? “
“Why not?”Gray murmured. “We have the technology. We can make them better than before, stronger
Jack groaned. “We must be crazy. What is it about this place? You don’t know the half of it. The
barman has one leg and an eye that pops out when he gets excited. The chef used to be in the navy, and
he’s got more tattoos than he’s got skin. He runs a soup kitchen for street kids when the restaurant
closes. Hell, sometimes he even closes up earlyon paying customers so he can give our food away for
free! The only reason we bought this joint was so we could knock it down. The odds are that it’ll fall
down before we ever bring the demolition crew in. Now look at what we’re doing!”
“Maybe the chef would like to run a soup kitchen for real? Look into the tax write off – we’re probably
going to need one anyway.And, Jack?”
Jack groaned. “This is gonna be bad, I just know it.”
“Did you know the fourth floor used to be called Belle’sPalace. “
“Yeah.Some hooker used to hang out there.”
“Sam likes the idea of that hooker.” Gray gauged Jack’s frustration level and decided to sweeten the pill.
“Milly probably does, too,” he said blandly. “Baroness Belle, her name was. Why don’t you get hold of
that fancy architect who bills us six figures every time he picks up the phone and make him work for his
money? I think he should investigate the history of this place and incorporate it into the new design,
maybe use some of the original materials.”
Jack sank back in his chair and jerked at his tie, which was already badly askew. “Have you any idea
what doing that kind of thing costs?” He grunted in resignation. “I suppose you can afford it.”
Gray had a vivid mental picture of Sam’s desolation when he’d said they wouldn’t be repairing the roof,
her blank expression as he’d driven her to the safe house, the stark sense of betrayal she couldn’t hide
when she had realised he had set up this whole situation. Her grief when she’d told him about losing their
Frustration and a deep-seated inner fear filled him because he had to walk away from hernow , when
there was still so much unresolved between them. “I can’t afford not to do it.”
Jack slumped in a chair and morosely pulled his tie down even further. He looked like he’d been
dragged backward through a haystack. “I know what you’re saying. There’s something about the women
in this place – they’re beautiful, but mouthy. Every time Milly looks at me, I feel knee high to a slug.”
“Okay, then, an ant.”
Grayhad just showered and changed into fresh clothing when someone knocked on the door to his suite.
He shrugged into the shoulder holster and a jacket, checked the clip on the Glock and holstered it, then
went to answer the door. The restless sense of urgency he hadn’t been able to shake eased slightly when
he recognised Sadie Carson.
“Have there been any more break-ins?” she demanded.
Gray’s gaze sharpened. “What break-ins?”
“Well, I’m not talking about that sleek devil who shinnied up my drainpipe last night. Knew he was one
of yours right off. Sam had a break-in a couple of weeks ago.Thought you would already know about
that, since you’re so hot on security.”
A cold trickle of sensation travelled down Gray’s spine. Every hair at his nape lifted in animal-sharp
awareness of danger. “No,” Gray said from between his teeth. “She didn’t tell me.”
So that was why she had locked up so tightly, with not even a window cracked to let in a breeze. He
hadn’t questioned the stuffiness of her flat, because at the time it had pleased him; he had wanted her
securely locked in.
Frustrating as it was, one of the things that had always attracted him to Sam was that cat-like,
walk-alone independence; he could identify with it, because he was that way himself. She didn’t cling or
demand, and she had no problem telling him when to back off. But in this instance, he wished she had
told him instead of coping alone with a situation that must have alarmed and frightened her.
Sadie glanced down the corridor, as if afraid of being overheard, then leaned in closer. “If I were you,
I’d keep an eye on that Leroy,” she said bluntly. “He was pumping Addie for information about that
policewoman you’ve got posing as Sam. He’s up to something.”
Gray didn’t bother asking Sadie howshe had found out so much. Those two old ladies were all over the
hotel and so sharp they didn’t miss a trick, even though the take-over of the hotel had provided a
convenient smokescreen for the substitution. Sam was supposed to be sick and confined to her flat while
Jack took over the day-to-day running of the hotel. Officer Farrell was supposed to stay out of sight as
much as possible. The bulk of their surveillance was directed at Sam’s quarters, because that was the
logical place for any attempt to happen. Staff who had daily contact with Sam had been given a sanitised
version of events, just enough to keep the hotel running smoothly and to scotch rumours.
He fastened his gaze on the whipcord lean woman who was waiting patiently for his response. “What do
Sadie’s expression was satisfied. “I followed Leroy. He met a man in one of those fancy little wine bars
two streets across. I’ve seen the same man in here once before, about the same time you arrived. He’s
medium height, medium build, brown hair, no distinguishing features except for a gammy arm – the left
one, and too much cologne.Calls himself Soames.” She snorted in disbelief. “May as well have called
The unsettled feeling in Gray’s gut, the prickling at the base of his neck, resolved into certain knowledge.
Harper was here.
He had been here all along, and he was watching them.
Fear slammed into him like a mailed fist, shaking him to his core. If Harper had been watching, he knew
where Sam was.
Gray hardly noticed when Sadie said a brisk goodbye and strode away.
Sam. She was in danger. And he had put her there.
He didn’t know how Harper had done it, how he could have penetrated the operation so swiftly or so
A low curse grated from his throat as everything fell into place. Harper hadn’t penetrated the operation,
he had been following hisown strategy, and he had formulated that strategy the same way Gray had, with
gut instinct, knowledge of his opponent and simple logic.
They had both known Sam was an important link, and they had both used her to arrange the
confrontation each had hungered for, for reasons that were as different as night and day, yet as alike as
darkness and shadow.
Harper had always been coming after Sam. He had homed in on her with the unerring instinct of a
predator, unable to ignore the opportunity, the simplicity, the sheer perfection, of using her to lure Gray
There was a bleak symmetry to that reasoning, a sense of coming full circle. Seven years ago Gray had
gone after Harper in the mistaken belief that he was holding Sam. The bastard would no doubt enjoy the
He slipped his mobile phone from his pocket, but before he could dial, it buzzed.
“Carter,” the caller identified himself. “She’s gone.Took the truck and left.”
Gray swore.”How long ago?”
“About thirty seconds. If I could reach my ass, I’d kick it. She had it all planned, blocked the toilet up
with a couple of T-shirts, then, while my head was in the john, she swiped my spare set of truck keys and
took off. She left a note on the kitchen table saying she’d be back in two hours.”
Gray’s hand tightened on the phone. He wondered what else could go wrong. “I think Harper’s here,” he
said curtly. “And that he knows about the safe house. Get out – now.”
It was Carter’s turn to swear.
Gray thought coldly and quickly, running through everything he knew about Sam, her habits, the people
she knew. She was completely isolated except for the Royal and the people who lived and worked here.
He knew she wouldn’t come near the Royal. That left one place she was known to frequent.The
Instantly he knew that was where she had gone. Another small piece of the puzzle that was Sam fell into
place – too late. She had told him about losing the baby, but he hadn’t been able to see beyond his own
fury that she’d run from him, that she hadn’t even let him know she was pregnant. Their baby would be buried at the cemetery.
No wonder she had spent so long staring at those gravestones. She had a lot more grieving to do than he
had ever imagined. “Get out of the house and phone your new location in to Ben. I’ll send him out to pick
you up. West will stay here to give Farrell back-up. I’m going after Sam. I’m pretty sure she’s gone to the
cemetery. I’ll call Blade and let him know what’s happening. And, Carter …watch your back. If the man
I just had described to me is Harper, he’s been here all along. The bastard got here before we did.”
He strode through to the bedroom they had turned into a temporary operations centre. West was seated
in front of a sophisticated array of surveillance equipment, methodically checking each of the security
cameras and maintaining communications with the SAS unit and the police team. Tersely Gray toldWest
what he’d just learned, leaving him to mobilise the teams. They would have to split the operation between
the Royal and the cemetery, just in case he was wrong about Harper.
As he loped down the stairs and out into the car park, he could only hope that Sam had gone to the
cemetery. And that the man Sadie Carson had described wasn’t Egan Harper.
Sam parked the truck, locked up and pocketed the keys.
The cemetery drowsed under the weighty heat of the early-afternoon sun. The warm scent of freshly cut
grass combined with the scents of honeysuckle and roses as she picked her way among the graves to the
corner plot. Two mynah birds squabbled in a nearby oak tree, almost drowning out the distant crunch of
gravel as a car, followed by a van, pulled into the parking lot.
Sam didn’t recognise either vehicle. With a sense of reprieve, ridiculous under the circumstances,
because she knew Carter hadn’t been able to follow her, she touched her parents’ gravestone. The stone
was slightly grainy in texture, encrusted with lichen and warm with the heat it had collected from several
hours of exposure to the sun. Tears sheened her eyes, blurring the bare facts engraved into the stone,
facts that had changed her life when she was barely seven years old – too young to lose her parents, and
too old to ever forget them. But the grief she felt was distant, more a sadness for what the child she had
been had had to go through.
Gramps’ grave was still mounded, the stone bright and fresh, warm to the touch, too, and as sharply cut
as his humour had been. Her fingers drifted over the smooth surface, and she found it within herself to
smile. Gramps had clocked up eighty-two years, and he hadn’t wasted one of them. He had been ready
to die, even if Sam hadn’t wanted to let him go. She could see now that she had been selfish, trying to
hold on to him when, in the most natural of cycles, his time had been up.
He had known, she realised wryly, but he had let her have her way with treatments that he had said in his
gruff voice were, “No use,just throwing good money after bad.” It had been his final gift to her, holding
on so that she could feel that she was winning, if not the war, then a small skirmish against death.
The baby’s grave was different. Her hand shook as it settled on the stone, and all the strength went out
of her legs. She sank to her knees on the soft, damp ground, uncaring that her jeans were soaking
through. This goodbye was the most difficult.
She pressed on the stone, both hands now, and the impervious surface mocked her, as it had always
done. Her baby had been tiny, delicate – in legal terms, she had never lived. In human terms, the abyss
between life and death had never seemed so broad and dark and complete.
Graysignalled and changed lanes, accelerating past a lumbering goods truck. Traffic was light, but that
didn’t change the fact that he was still long minutes away from the cemetery. Every instinct he had told
him that those minutes were important.
He thumbed the redial on Blade’s number for the third time, relieved that this time he didn’t get an
engaged signal. Impatiently he waited for the pick-up, his gaze sweeping the highway signs, searching for
Sam’s summation of events kept hammering at him. She had said Harper had always wanted revenge
and would find a way to take it no matter what. Was she right? Had he got too close to the situation and
failed to see what was under his nose? If he had protected Jake and Rafaella better that day, would
Harper have picked out some other member of his family?His mother and father?Blade?His baby sister,
He frowned, deliberately shutting the thought from his mind. One fact was inescapable; it hadn’t changed
for seven years and it wouldn’t change until he had Harper under wraps: this was his damn mess, and it
was his responsibility to clean it up.
Blade finally picked up, answering with a terse, “Yo.”
Gray supplied his location.
Blade swore. “I’ve just finished talking to West. We’re en route. Wait for us.”
“Have you got clearance?”
Gray let go of a breath. The operation was a joint one with the police, which worked smoothly as long
as it was just surveillance, but for the SAS to operate as a counter-terrorist force on home soil, they
needed an actual transfer of authority. Without a positive ID on Harper, the bureaucratic decision making
would take time he couldn’t afford. If they’d spotted Harper on any of their surveillance cameras, there
would be no problem. “I can’t wait for you.”
“Dammit, Gray. Don’t do this.”
Gray spotted the off-ramp sign and signalled the turn. “There’s no time, and I’m armed. If they’ve got
her, I have to try.”
Aheavy hand landed on Sam’s shoulder. She was hauled to her feet, her arms wrenched behind her
back, and something cold and hard was pressed against the side of her neck.
A gun, she thought with an odd sense of inevitability as a second man stepped into view.
“Very touching,” he said.
Sam stared into blue eyes as bland as that light, cultured voice and shuddered. She had no doubt that
this was Egan Harper. He wasn’t a big man, barely making average height, but with the sinewy leanness
of a striking snake.”Harper.”
“Ah. I see you know who I am. How excellent. I recognisedyou immediately. You photograph
extremely well, Miss Munro. I should know. I’ve taken several over the last few days. May I say that
none of the photographs do youjustice. But then,Lombardalways did have good taste in women.”
A third man came into sight, and Sam’s stomach sank. Even without the gun, the odds were heavily
against her. She lifted her chin and glared at Harper. “Why are you doing this?”
The man holding her stroked the gun coldly along the curve of her throat.
Harper smiled. “I don’t believe you’re that naive. Lombard and I are old adversaries, but, as entertaining
as the game has been, it had to end sometime.”
She pulled at her captor’s hold on her wrists, and he replied by exerting enough pressure to make her
Harper lifted a hand, and despite her resolve not to show fear, she flinched. But he didn’t hit her; he
stroked her cheek.”Such lovely skin. A pity to damage you, but I will if I have to. Think about it, Miss
Munro. Now, shall we proceed to the church? Not for a wedding, of course.” He chuckled at his joke,
then checked his watch. “We don’t have much time to waste. According to my sources,Lombardshould
be here in approximately five minutes.”
Sam was pushed across the lawn, up the steps and into the dim interior of the church. Harper issued
terse instructions, not bothering to glance at her as he did so. One man was going to watch the car park,
Harper would position himself in the cemetery and she was to be kept in the church with the third man as
One of the men had an accent; he was lean and dark with bad acne scars, and it was a good bet that he
was South American. The man guarding her was a New Zealander. Compared to Harper and the man
with the accent, he was solidly built, his arms and shoulders brawny. Evidently he was at the bottom of
this particular power pyramid – hired muscle, as opposed to the hardened professional that the Latin man
appeared to be. It also appeared that he didn’t like being left out of the action. His movements were
edgy, his muddy hazel eyes simmering with resentment.
The enormity of what was happening hit her. Up until now, she had been too shocked to do much more
than react to instructions. She didn’t doubt she was behaving exactly as they expected her to do. They
were all armed, and she had never even handled a gun.
Within seconds, Harper and his man had melted away and Sam was left with Hazel Eyes.
He gestured with the gun while craning to look out the small window. “Into that room,” he ordered
Sam walked into the dim little side room he indicated, taking note of the contents. It smelled musty and
appeared to be a storage place for hymn books and odds and ends of furniture. Light struck through a
narrow window, catching swirling dust motes.
A meaty hand shoved her between her shoulder blades, sending her stumbling against the wall at the rear
of the room. Sam spun to face him. Hercaptor, evidently convinced that she was completely cowed,
slipped the gun in the waistband of his jeans and pulled some kind of cotton wadding and adhesive tape
from his pocket.
Sam settled her back firmly against the wall and mentally counted off the seconds as rough hands stuffed
her mouth with the wadding.
She knew what these men were going to do to her, that they wouldn’t let her live. This washer own
stupid fault. She had slipped away from Gray’s security and in doing so had exposed him to risk. Harper
was counting on Gray coming to her rescue, as he’d done seven years ago, and Gray would do it. He
would risk himself for her again, walk into the trap, and she couldn’t allow that to happen.
Grimly she eyed her Neanderthal captor, mentally calculating his weight, the quickness of his reflexes.
When he peeled a length of tape from the roll, she took a deep breath through her nose, grabbed
handfuls of his shirt and jerked downward with all her strength as she dropped to the floor.
He grunted, his head smacked into the wall, and he crumpled. Sam crawled from beneath his buckling
frame, spitting out wadding as she went, but his dead weight sprawled sideways and back, and he ended
up slumped across her legs. Panic spiralled through her when she tried to scramble free and couldn’t. She
strained, and finally, with a twist of her hips, she managed to drag first one leg free, then the other, but
she’d wasted valuable seconds and he was already groaning, stirring.
Sam staggered to her feet, reeling to one side, sending a three-legged chair crashing to the floor. Her hip
caught on the corner of a table. Hot pain burst up one side as she stumbled to the door.
A roar sounded behind her. Adrenaline slammed through her system, anaesthetising the pain in her hip as
she ran from the dim shadow of the church into blazing daylight. She could hear Hazel Eyes coming after
her, the heavy pounding of his boots on the wooden floor. Her spine crawled, and her skin tightened with
anticipation and dread; she expected to feel a bullet ripping into her flesh at any moment.
Time seemed to alter, slow, as she ran, almost as if she was an actor in a movie and somehow reality
had shifted and she had got caught up in a slow motion sequence. No matter how fast she ran,it wouldn’t
be fast enough. Her breath was coming in choking pants. The residue of the wadding caught in her throat,
making her cough, depriving her of precious oxygen.
“Gray!” she cried out, her voice husky and hollow with panic, not caring who heard her or if she was
She opened her mouth to call again. Her gaze skimmed the vehicles in the car park as she ran, and the
cry died in her throat. Gray’s truck wasn’t there.
A sense of futility gripped her. She had failed. She was too early. Gray wasn’t here yet.
Something heavy hit her on the back of the head, sending her crashing to the ground in a shocked daze.
“Don’t kill her, idiot!” a voice rapped out.
Hard hands hauled her into a sitting position. Her head spun sickeningly.
Harper swore virulently. “Help me get her back inside.Lombard’s not here yet.”
“Get your hands off her and drop your gun,” a low voice commanded. Gray stepped into view, legs
spread, both hands curled around the grip of a handgun.
Cold metal jabbed into the sensitive flesh just below her ear. An arm whipped around her neck, jerking
her head back so that pain jagged through her skull again.
“What’s she worth to you, my friend?” Harper said softly. “If you shoot me, she dies. There’s also the
little matter of Nico.”
“That would be the dark, lean guy with the acne scars.”
“Ah,” Harper said.”A pity. He was a good man. We seem to be at an impasse. What’s it going to be,
Lombard?Me or the woman?”
Gray didn’t take his eyes off Harper. “Let her go, Egan.”
“Five seconds, or I’ll make the choice for you.”
“You know it’s me you want, and alive. That won’t happen if she’s harmed any further. Take her into the
church and leave her there, and I’ll lay down my weapon.”
Harper smiled. “Nice try, but you’re a lousy liar. You’re obsessed with the lovely Miss Munro. You
always have been. I’m only sorry it took me so long to realise that fact. We could have got around to this
charming little scene so much more quickly. Drop the weapon, or I’ll blow her brains out.”
Silence stretched, taut and loaded with menace.
Harper began to count.
With a blank look on his face, Gray tossed his weapon on the ground.
Harper’s henchman retrieved the gun. Sam was pulled to her feet and half dragged, half herded toward a
dark van. For the second time she found her mouth full of the foul, moisture-sapping wadding. Tape was
strapped across her mouth, and her hands were tied with cord.
Gray’s jacket was stripped from him, his gun removed along with the holster. He was searched, his
pockets emptied, and the contents, including his phone, tossed on the ground. His hands were tied
behind his back. As soon as Gray was vulnerable, Hazel Eyes stepped forward and punched him in the
He drew his arm back for another punch, and fury boiled up in Sam. She launched herself at Gray’s
attacker, only to be summarily jerked back by Harper. Gray grunted as the punch landed. His head lifted
and their eyes met – his calm and remote. He shook his head, an infinitesimal movement, and Sam had to
swallow her rage and anguish.
Gray had walked into this trap of his own accord, to save her. He was being beaten, yet still he was
trying to give her reassurance.
“We don’t have time for this,” Harper snapped. “Lombardhas people following. Get them into the van.”
They were pushed in to sprawl on the bare metal floor of the van. The doors were slammed and
secured, and the two men climbed in the front. Hazel Eyes, or Billy, as Harper called him, was driving.
The van moved off with a jerk that threw her against Gray. For several minutes the van careened along
city streets, and Sam had to brace herself as best she could.
Harper said something soft, his voice laden with threat. Billy slammed on thebrakes, and the van
fish-tailed, tyres squealing, before he reduced his speed.
They travelled for what seemed like hours, but it couldn’t have been more than three or four in the
afternoon. There was only one stop, so the driver could relieve himself at the side of the road. By late
afternoon they were winding their way through steep hill country. The sealed surface ran out, and they
bumped along on a dirt road.
Billy uttered an oath and swerved, swearing about livestock on the road and the wet, muddy conditions.
He accelerated, swore again and braked.
The van slewed violently, almost righteditself as Billy corrected, then hit a pothole and went sideways
across the road and onto the grass verge. Gray flung himself over her, the heavy weight of his body
anchoring her in place as the van bumped, lurched, hit a ditch and careened over.
They rolled, tumbled,then everything went black.
When Sam came to, she was lying on the grass, still bound and gagged. Every bone in her body was
aching, and she could taste blood in her mouth. Her head was pounding; one arm and a shoulder
throbbed. She turned her head. Gray was propped against a tree, watching her. The van was only metres
away, teetering on the edge of a drop-off, its roof and the side that she could see crumpled in. There was
no sign of Billy. Harper was seated directly opposite, a gun trained on the both of them, a knapsack slung
on his back. He didn’t seem to have a scratch on him.
“Ah, you’re awake,” he said as smoothly, as if she had just risen from an afternoon nap.
He noticed the direction of her gaze. “Billy ran away. He was bright enough to realise his usefulness had
just come to an end. It seems I overestimated his driving ability and underestimated his cunning.”
He came to stand over her, and she tensed, certain he was going to hurt her in some way, perhaps shoot
her. He did neither. He bent and tore the gag from her mouth.
“Sit up,” he commanded.
Sam gasped at the burning sensation and spat the sodden wadding from her mouth, coughing and
choking as she drew a startled breath of air. Harper jerked her into a sitting position, and she felt the cold
kiss of a blade against her skin. Alarm punched through her again, successfully clearing the dizziness the
abrupt movement had caused, but he hadn’t cut her, he had cut the cord binding her wrists.
For long moments she couldn’t move her arms. They had been kept in the same position for so long that
they were frozen in place. Inch by inch, she first straightened them,then brought them to her side, working
her protesting shoulder and elbow joints.
The sight of her hands shocked her. They were swollen, a reddish purple, and her wrists were ringed
with dark bruises. She clenched her jaw as the pain burning in her joints speared down her arms and into
her hands, a hot rain of needles through her veins, as circulation reasserted itself.
“TakeLombard’s gag off.”
Sam’s head jerked up at the order.
She shuffled on her knees to where Gray sat. She lifted her hands to Gray’s face, trying to ignore the
excruciating sting of pins and needles. Her fingers felt useless, weighted,too clumsy to accomplish the
task of grasping a corner of the tape and tearing it loose from his mouth. She caught the end of the tape.
The very act of squeezing her fingertips together made sweat break out on her brow. She gritted her
teeth and pulled, trying to be as gentle as she could.
Eventually the tape was off, and she turned to glare at Harper. “Are you going to free his hands?”
Harper smiled mirthlessly. “Why would I want to do that? Get up. Thanks to my friend’s poor driving
skills, we’re going to have to walk the rest of the way.”
Harper gestured toward the dark, impenetrable rain forest edging the road. “Not exactly the kind of
exercise you’re used toLombard– the going is a little rougher than a golf course.” He smiled in apparent
delight at his quip, but Sam noticed he walked a wide circle around Gray as if, even bound and gagged,
he feared the bigger man. He brandished his weapon. “Oh, and if you’re thinking of playing hero, the Sig
has fifteen rounds, as I’m sure you must remember from your time with the military. The first round has
your charming fiancée’s name on it.”
Gray tracked Harper’s every movement, fury burning with a cold flame deep in the pit of his stomach.
Harper jerked his head at the bush line, indicating that Gray was to go first.
Gray hadn’t been knocked out when the van rolled. He had seen Billy grab a black briefcase and run.
Harper had almost gone crazy, but he had been dazed by the crash and slow to react. Billy had got
away. Evidently there had been something in the briefcase that was either valuable or that Harper needed
badly, because he was still agitated.
Cold satisfaction put an icy lid on Gray’s temper as he eased to his feet, wincing at the pounding in his
head. The bastard was savvy enough to make him break the track through the bush, while he strolled
behind Sam with his gun at her back, using Sam as insurance to keep him in line. Gray would have to
expend double the effort that Harper did, but he would get his chance.
Harper had made two mistakes.
The first was an error that Gray himself had fallen headlong into – that of underestimating the opposition.
The second was in not killing him outright.
Gray caught Sam’s gaze, holding it until she was out of sight behind him, trying to infuse her with some
level of comfort, instead, she gave it to him.She smiled . The smile was shaky and incredible. She was
pale and bruised, probably suffering from shock, but her chin was up, and her heart was in her eyes.
She loved him.
The simple truth of her love hit Gray hard, triggering a moment of disorientation so great he actually
stumbled. She loved him, and for the first time he allowed himself to feel the depth and completeness of
that love, let the soft flames lick at the darkest corners of his soul. It brought something inside him to
painful life – a part of himself he’d thought had died with Jake. The agony was sweet and complete,
complicated by the threat of imminent death that Harper carried with him like a second, darker shadow.
They could die. Sam could die, and Gray wouldn’t allow that to happen. He couldn’t.
He loved her.
The magnitude of the deceit he had practiced on himself stunned him. He had always loved Sam.
A shudder coursed through him. The sweetness of the simple act of breathing had never seemed so
wondrous, or so threatened.
For years he had lived on the edge, risked himself time and again,evaded death by a hairsbreadth. He
had even worried Blade, who spent more than a little time on the edge himself. Now he wanted life with a
fierceness that poured like hot lava through his veins. And he would have it.With Sam.
He moved his hands experimentally. Billy hadn’t tied him as tightly as he could have done, but the knots
he’d used were good; he would have difficulty freeing himself. His hands were swelling, but with judicious
flexing he was able to assist the flow of blood, staving off complete numbness. His face was caked with
dried blood from a cut over his forehead. The cut was little more than a scratch, but he could imagine
how bad he looked. He was banking on it.
For the past half hour he’d hung his head and not responded to Harper’s taunts in an effort to project
defeat and a half-dazed state. It had worked, probably because Harper had made the basic mistake of
discounting his military service, writing him off as a commissioned officer in some cushy desk job.
SAS Command used “plausible deniability” to its fullest extent. Their covert people couldn’t be traced
through any available official records. That shadowy secrecy was now Gray’s best asset. He’d fought in
more hellholes than he could comfortably remember, his specialty was jungle warfare. Harper couldn’t
have chosen a better arena for this final showdown, because final it would be. Gray’s last active
codename had been a little dramatic for his tastes – he would have been happy with a letter from the
Greek alphabet and a number – but that kind of call sign was recognisably SAS. Perhaps the code name
some deskbound career officer had given him was prophetic: Jaguar.
A ripple of black humour surfaced. For Harper, he was willing to go for a little drama.
For Harper, he would be one with the jungle.
Nightfall came quickly in the bush, heralded by the swiftly fading light beneath the dark shroud of the
forest canopy, the abrupt cessation of birdsong, and the mournful boot of moreporks readying for the
Despite the subtropical lushness of the forest, there were no snakes, no large natural predators aside
from wild pigs to worry about. The danger lay in the terrain: steep, bony hills covered with a slippery layer of decomposing vegetation, streams and waterfalls lined with algae-slick boulders, sudden
drop-offs and massive granite cliffs.
Gray kept a steady pace, his ears attuned to Sam and Harper, who were directly behind him as they
climbed ever upward. With every step he had to use his shoulders to push aside tree branches and fern
fronds. His face was repeatedly stung by whipping branches, and sweat channelled into the myriad small
scratches, making them sting.
They came out on an old abandoned logging skid, a raw flattened area gradually being reclaimed by a
forest that was now apparently protected from all logging. A break in the massively tall stand of ancient
kauri gave a sweeping view of the dark valley they’d spent the last few hours traversing. There was a
glimpse of a road slashed out of the wilderness, and higher still the regular lines of a building – a cabin,
perhaps – straddling the curve of a broad spur.
Harper pointed at the distant hut. “That’s where we’re going.” He waved his gun at the centre of the skid.
“But this is where we stop for now.Lombard. Over there!”
Gray walked to the centre of the skid, his gaze coldly assessing as he studied Harper, fear and rage
eating at his restraint like acid searing through metal.
The gun jerked in Harper’s hand, as if he had actually considered pulling the trigger, then hauledhimself
back from the brink. “Sit down,” he snarled.
Gray sank down, not shifting his gaze from Harper. If he did, he would look at Sam, and that would
probably break his heart. Worse, he would do something stupid and get them both killed.
Harper sank onto a tree stump on the perimeter of the skid and eased off his pack. He didn’t look good.
He was limping and sweating profusely, and his skin was greyish, his eyes fever-bright.
Gray gave in to the compulsion and allowed his gaze to settle on Sam. She was hollow-eyed, weaving
with exhaustion, but she hadn’t collapsed – she was watching Harper, her hands clenched into fists, and
“Sam,” he warned in a voice so rough it sounded like gravel breaking.
Sam flinched, startled by the sound of Gray’s voice when she had been so concentrated on Harper. Her
eyes fastened on Gray. She had been watching his back for hours – watching his muscles bunch with
exertion, his clothes plaster to his skin with sweat, the trickle of blood from the cut on his head. With
every step she had taken, at times pushed along by the sharp nudge of that gun on her spine, rage had
built inside her. Harper hadhurt Gray.
But even hurt and bound, vitality had radiated from him, flowed in the sleek shift of those muscles, the
relentless rhythm of the pace he’d set.
And Harper wanted to kill him.
Somehow she couldn’t be frightened by her own death, butGray’s … Anguish and fury pumped renewed
vigour into her tired muscles. Her hands balled into even tighter fists. Harper would have to go through
“Sit down, Sam,” Gray warned softly.
Sam was caught and held by the low, even timbre of his voice, the staggering force of his will even
across the desolate width of the clearing. His reassurance was a tangible thing, as real as if he’d reached
out and touched her. Slowly her hands relaxed. Wearily she reached up and wiped sweat-dampened
tendrils of hair from her face. There was something else in Gray’s gaze, something that made her heart
leap with wild hope.
Harper tossed an empty water container at her feet, rudely breaking the spell. “She doesn’t have time to
sit down.” He jerked his head in the direction of the small stream that rippled between steep,
fern-covered banks. “Fill that with water, then you can start a fire. And don’t try anything stupid,” he
warned gently. “If you do, I’ll shootLombard,then I’ll shoot you.”
Sam stared into Harper’s burning gaze as she retrieved the plastic container from the sparsely grassed,
hard-packed clay pan of the clearing. If he wanted a fire, that meant they would be spending the night
here. Relief flowed through her, as cool as the water she could glimpse drifting over the shallow, broken
stream bed below.
The hut they were heading for lay high up in the hills, too far to reach before nightfall, which meant they
had the hours of darkness to catch him off guard. Anticipation made her heart pound. An opportunity
would present itself; it had to. She would bide her time until it did.
The first stars appeared, wheeling in a sky washed from buttery gold on the horizon to the clearest,
darkest, midnight-blue. The air had taken on a refreshing edge, already heavy with condensation as the
Harper motioned with the gun. Sam started down the bank, clutching the container in one hand and using
her free hand to grab at the coarse ferns to holdherself steady. The brief moments of rest seemed to have
destroyed her coordination. Her legs wobbled with exhaustion, and the clay bank crumbled beneath each
cautious step. Her heels stung, and she noted numbly that the blisters that had formed over the last couple
of hours must have lost their skin. She half scrambled, half fell the rest of the way down the bank, ending
up hard on her knees in the water.
Sucking in a shaky breath, Sam sat back on her haunches. Blood welled on one palm where she had cut
herself on a sharp rock.
A sharp rock.
She stared at the bright well of blood, then down at the whitish, sharp-edged rock. The water was as
cool as she had thought it would be, and it smelled delicious, laced with the tangy, woodsy scent of the
bush. Her mouth instantly felt as dry as a desert; she longed for a drink. Harper had kept the water for
himself through the long, hot afternoon, and she was dehydrated, but her need for water was instantly
shoved aside in favour of another more urgent need.Survival.
Harper bit out a harsh phrase, and she hurriedly began filling the water container. In the same movement,
she plunged her bleeding hand into the water and let her fingers close around the rock. It was slightly
rounded where it nestled into the stream bed, narrow and jagged on top. As she got to her feet she
scooped the rock up and slipped it into the pocket of her jeans, jerking her shirt from the waistband so
that it concealed the bulge. She was wet to her knees and her shirt was splashed with water; surely he
wouldn’t notice the wet patch spreading down from her pocket.
Harper drank greedily when she handed over the water,then watched coldly as she gathered wood for a fire. When she had finished, he tossed her a lighter. He had several candy bars in the knapsack and
proceeded to eat them while she tried to get the fire going.
After her third attempt, a small blaze flared up. Harper pushed the water container in her direction,
indicating that she could drink first,then offer what was left to Gray.
Sam lifted the container to her lips. The water was cool and brackish and tasted like heaven. She took
several swallows, careful not to drink too quickly or too much, then walked over to Gray.
His gaze was on her, dark and coolly assessing as she approached. Sam knelt, leaning close and angling
her body so she could ease the rock from her pocket without Harper seeing what she was doing.
“You’re limping,” Gray said softly.
Harper reared to his feet and advanced a few steps, stopping just short of the fire. “No talking!”
Sam flinched, water spilled down Gray’s chest, and the rock flipped to the ground with a small thud.
Breathing fast, she tilted the container to Gray’s lips, at the same time nudging the rock around where he
could reach it with his hands. His gaze flickered as he drank deeply and rhythmically. When she glanced
down, the rock had disappeared from sight.
Gray watched grimly as Sam returned to her cross-legged position several metres from him. The risk she
had taken in bringing him that rock made him break out in a cold sweat. If Harper had caught her, he
would have been merciless.
Harper didn’t need Sam except as a prod to get Gray to do what he wanted while they hiked to the
cabin. When they reached their destination, he would have no use for her at all. His eyes slitted with
barely controlled fury as Harper brought out a length of rope and tied Sam’s wrists and ankles.
Harper resumed his position. This time he sat on the ground, his back resting against the stump, his legs
sprawled out in front of him.
Gray felt the jagged edge of the rock with his almost numb fingers, and suppressed a fierce grin. Turning
the crude blade against the cord that bound his wrists, he began to saw, careful not to betray by even the
smallest movement of his shoulders, what he was doing.
Dusk deepened to a crystalline blackness pierced by the subtle glitter of stars and the rich, full-bellied
glow of a rising moon. Leaves shivered in a faint breeze, and a morepork drifted overhead, its call
Harper tossed a piece of wood on the fire.Sparksleaped in the air as the flames curled hungrily around
the new fuel. “Do you remember,”he muttered harshly, “in the warehouse? I almost killed you.”
Gray didn’t reply. His shoulders ached from the sheer restraint of holding still while he continued to saw
at the rope, and his swollen fingers burned with the exquisite agony of simply gripping the rock.
Minutes passed as he concentrated on sawing. His hands were slippery with sweat and blood; he was
slicing into his own flesh as often as he managed to connect with the nylon.
The rock slipped from his fingers. Sweat beaded Gray’s forehead as he began to search with fingers that
were growing increasingly numb, increasingly useless.
Harper got to his feet, his movements jerky, his breathing rapid. He strolled over to Sam.
“Son of a bitch,” Gray snarled beneath his breath as he recognised the wildness in Harper’s eyes and
finally understood what was happening to the man.
Gray began working systematically through all his muscle groupings, flexing and releasing, improving the
blood-flow, readying himself to spring if he had to. His window of opportunity would be small. He would
have to get Harper off guard,then take him down hard and fast before he could use his gun or the knife
he had concealed up his sleeve.
In close-quarter battle terms, it would be one wild-ass move, but in his favour was the fact that Harper
wasn’t stable. He had a habit, and he’d been separated from his supply.Cocaine, most probably. That
would account for the paranoia, the shaking hands,the hay fever-like symptoms.
“So easy to kill,” Harper muttered. “It’s a wonder more people don’t take it up.”
Gray’s jaw locked. “Any fool can pull a trigger.Why don’t you pick on someone more your size?”
Harper swung toward him. “The bigger they are, the harder they fall,” he snapped. “Do you know how
long I’ve waited for this moment?”
“Seven years, at a guess,” Gray drawled in a deliberately goading tone, relieved that he’d succeeded in
drawing Harper’s attention away from Sam. His fingers found the stone, and once more he clumsily
forced the jagged edge up against the rope.
Harper advanced another step. The sudden rage drained from his face. “You’ve got balls,Lombard, I’ll
give you that.”
“And you’re a gutless weasel, even with a gun.”
Gray heard Sam’s swiftly indrawn breath. She was behind Harper now, and struggling to her knees, but
Gray didn’t dare take his eyes off Harper.
Harper lifted the gun, sighted. “I could kill you.”
“Yeah, you could kill me, but that won’t stop what’s going to happen.”
Harper rubbed fiercely at his nose, the gun shaking in his hand. “What are you talking about?”
Gray named a series of locations fromCosta RicatoEcuadorand the upper reaches of theAmazonBasin,
giving the precise map coordinates of every bolt-hole they’d raided, every arm of the terrorist network
they had systematically destroyed.
Harper moved another step closer, the gun now held in a two-handed grip. The full moon had lifted
behind him, outlining his head and shoulders, darkening his face so that his eyes glittered. “How do you
know about those places?” he demanded hoarsely.
A section of cord gave way. Gray sucked in a breath, forcing himself to stillness while he tested his bonds. “I know about them because I was there. His voice dropped to a cool whisper, drawing Harper
in closer, closer, as the other man strained to hear. “I got close to you, Harper. That day you killed that
prostitute in Bogotá, I almost had you then. How old was she?As old as your mother when she was
pregnant with you?”
“What do you know about my mother?”
Gray flexed and tensed. The cord went slack, he eased his hands free. He stayed in position, working
his hands and fingers. Sam was on her knees swaying, her gaze fixed on Harper’s back.
Gray suppressed a violent curse. She had risked herself by bursting out of that church to warn him. She
was going to try something similar now.But if she distracted Harper, and he spun… “I know your mother
didn’t want you,” he answered softly. “She was young and pretty and ambitious, and she married a British
peer. She had another baby two years after you, only this one had a last name. I heard your half-brother
came into his title a couple of months ago.”
“That title should have been mine!”
“Is that why you killed Jake? He stumbled across your gun running operation, uncovered your half-assed
attempt at building a terrorist empire from beneath a raft of paper companies. You couldn’t stand being
exposed by a man so similar to your legitimate half-brother.”
For a moment Harper didn’t seem to hear,then he jerked. “What?”
“Is that why you killed Jake, you son of a bitch?”
Harper sucked in a sharp breath and shook his head, as if disoriented. “What do you know about the
“Carmita Chavez.Eighteen, no dependants.Worked for a scumbag called Tito Garcia.”
The gun jerked in Harper’s hands; his voice dropped to a harsh whisper. “You can’t know about her.
Nobody knows, except…”
“The agent who’s been dogging your trail for years, getting so close that sometimes he could almost
reach out and touch you. Take a real good look, Harper, because I’m that agent – your shadow. Every
time you looked over your shoulder,I was there.”
“You can’t behim .”
“Say the name, Egan. You know it almost as well as your own. You heard it whispered in bars and back
rooms, fromSan SalvadortoQuito.”
“Lombard,” he muttered.”I killed you!”
“In the brothel?You didn’t killme, you killed your own man.” Gray’s voice flattened with contempt.
“Always screwing up, Egan. You screwed up again. Maybe you should look at kicking that nasty little
habit you’ve got. How long’s it been since you snorted your last line? The man who ran away from the
van – Billy – he took your supply with him, didn’t he? You must be hurting by now.”
“I don’tneed it!”
“What are the symptoms?” Gray continued in a conversational tone.”Although you don’t have to tell me.
You’re shaking. You can hardly hold that gun straight. And you’re sweating – I can smell you from here.
Your nose must be on fire. I’ve heard that white powder eats you from the inside out.”
“Shut up!” Harper lowered the wavering gun, centering it on Gray’s chest.
“No!”Sam surged to her feet and hurled herself at Harper’s back.
Gray sprang, a hoarse cry ripping from his throat. Harper spun, already firing. Gray crashed into him,
sending him spinning. The gun discharged again and again, the popping detonations distinct in the stillness
of the night.
Gray rolled, surged to his feet and threw himself bodily over Sam, protecting her as best he could from
the wild shooting. He didn’t know if she had been hit. All he knew was that she was lying still beneath
The silence that followed was as deafening in its own way as the shots had been. The scent of cordite lay
heavy on the air, sharply acrid against the richer, softer scents of bush and river.
Gray lifted his head, expecting to see Harper, the gun once more pointed directly at him. There was …
nothing, nothing except the rustling of leaves, a distant curse, the sound of a crack – a branch breaking –
something heavy sliding down a hillside.
Harper.He had run, blundering into the bush.
Sam moved beneath him, making an odd gasping sound. “You can … get off me … now.”
For a frozen eternity Gray couldn’t move; then he clambered off Sam. The flickering embers of the fire
and the bright wash of the moon were enough for him to see the dark stain all down the front of her shirt.
She tried to get up. He put his hands on her shoulders, pushing her back down. “You’re hurt,” he said
hoarsely. “Stay still.”
“Harper?”Sam drew another shuddering, gasping lungful of air.
Gray tried to unfasten her shirt, but his fingers were still swollen and clumsy. He was sweating, shaking,
panic making his fingers even more useless. There was so much blood he couldn’t see where exactly it
was coming from.
She was having difficulty breathing. He shuddered under the lash of a wild fear. He had goaded Harper,
reeled him in, exploiting the unexpected advantage of his shakiness, driving him to the point where he
would be vulnerable enough for Gray to try for the gun. Instead, Sam had made her move, and Harper
had used the gun.
If Sam was hit in the chest, he wouldn’t be able to stabilise her; he would lose her. The shoulder he could
handle, the stomach, maybe, as long as nothing vital had been nicked…
Dammit, how could Sam ask about Harper when she…
“I’m all right,Gray – I’m…” She gasped, struggling for air.
“Shh, don’t talk,” Gray said, trying to keep his voice low and soothing.Trying not to transfer his panic to
Sam. “I’ll take care of you, baby, just—” She tried to roll away from him, impeded by the rope tying her
wrists and ankles. “Dammit,” he muttered, incensed. “Lie still!”
A button flew off, then another. He tore the shirt open and found … nothing. Nothing but gleaming white
skin, tinted a pinkish shade in places where the blood had seeped through the shirt.
“I’m only winded,” Sam gasped.
Gray stared at her in disbelief. He ran his hands feverishly over her torso, pulled her into a sitting
position, untied her hands and stripped the shirt off altogether. Not satisfied with that, he unclipped her
bra and tossed that aside. Her breasts were full and round and perfect, the centres peaking in the slightly
chilly air, her flesh deliciously soft and cool against his hands.
Sam was still breathing jerkily. Her hair was a wild tangle, her cheek smudged with dirt, her eyes dark
and faintly gleaming in the moonlight. “Find anything interesting?”
“Yeah.”His hands tightened on the silky perfection of her breasts. He still couldn’t believe she was
unharmed. “I was sure he’d shot you.”
“He didn’t shoot me.” Sam reached out and touched his arm, and the clammy wetness of the blood
streaming down. “You’re the one who’s bleeding.”
Sam untied the rope at her ankles, slapping Gray’s hands away when he tried to help. She surged to her
knees. “Let me see,” she demanded.
Graybarely glanced at his bicep, where a bullet had ploughed a raw furrow. “It’s just a scratch.”
Just a scratch.Sam’s jaw locked up as she gently pulled his arm around so that the glow from the embers
illuminated the wound. It was ugly, but the bleeding was already slowing. “Can you use your arm?”
“Of course I can use it.” He pulled free of her grasp to demonstrate. “I’ll tend to it later. We need to go.
If Harper keeps blundering around in the bush like he is, with our luck he’ll probably run in a circle and
end up back here. And I’m pretty sure he’s still got the gun.”
“We’re not leaving until I’ve bandaged your arm.”
Gray ignored her, moving to get up.
Sam caught hold of his shoulders and hauled him back down into a kneeling position. “Are you deaf?
Don’t move until I’m finished!”
He resisted. “You can bandage it later.” Then, more gently, as if he’d only just noticed her distress, he
said, “I’m all right, Sam.”
“Says who?” Picking up her shirt, she put the material between her teeth.
“What are you doing?”
She jerked at the cloth, starting a tear,then ripped the whole arm off. She did the same with the other
sleeve. “I’m finishing the demolition job you started on my shirt.”
“Shut up!” she said fiercely. “You saved my life twice today, and Harper shot you. Just a few more
inches to one side and he would have killed you.” She folded one sleeve into a pad. “Hold this over the
Sam bound the pad in place as firmly as she could, then sat back to survey her handiwork. The bloody
furrow was neatly covered by the ruins of her shirt. Abruptly the adrenaline that had bucked through her
veins when Harper had aimed that gun at Gray’s chest faded. She began to shake.
“Ah, Sam…”Gray pulled her close, pushing her face into the dark, muscular curve of his neck, banding
his arms around her naked back, his arms and hands searingly hot in contrast to her skin.
Sam wrapped her arms around his waist and sagged against him, soaking in his heat, which she suddenly
needed desperately. She was cold and exhausted. Shivers wracked her, rising from somewhere deep
inside and rolling outward in deep, shuddering waves. Gray held her closer, rocking her gently, pressing
on the small of her back and forcing her closer still, letting her absorb his heat. He felt and smelled
delicious, hotly male, sweaty andalive . She could scarcely believe they were both alive.
She lifted her head, seeking his gaze. “I couldn’t let him shoot you.”
“So you tried to make him shoot you instead.”
“I was distracting him. There’s a difference.”
“And you won’t do it ever again. Not that I’m going to give you the chance,” he muttered, easing her
away from him, hands cupping her shoulders. “That’s twice today you’ve nearly got yourself shot. Lady,
you draw trouble like a magnet draws iron filings. Once we get out of here, I doubt I’ll ever let you out of
my sight again.”
He jerked his T-shirt over his head and began dressing her in it as if she were a child and needed his
help. “We need to go.”
“What about your arm?”
“My arm feels fine. Now that you’ve bandaged it, I can hardly feel a thing.”
“Yeah,” he murmured, tilting her head back. “It stings like hell, but I’ve had worse.” He bent and brushed
her mouth with his, the touch soft and oddly sweet. “C’mon, baby,” he coaxed, “on your feet. Harper left
his pack behind. With any luck, he left you a candy bar.”
Before they left, Gray did a quick search of the camp site, just in case Harperhad dropped the gun. No such luck, although Gray did find Sam’s bra. He picked up the delicate lacy garment, slipping it into his
pocket before going to fill the water container in the stream. While he was about it, he washed the blood
from his arm and rinsed his torso and face, ridding himself of dried blood and sweat and soothing his
hands, which were still swollen and awkward. The wound on his arm was still seeping, but Sam’s
bandage had stemmed most of the flow.
His jaw tightened when he remembered the way she had flung herself at Harper’s back in a desperate
attempt to save him. Fury at the way she had risked herself mixed with disbelief and awe that she had
done so. When he got her out of here, he wasn’t sure what he would do to her first, shake her for giving
him one of the worst moments of his life, or shackle her to his side so she could never scare him like that
again. The breath hissed from between his teeth. As panicked as he had been, he had still noticed the
way her breasts had looked in the moonlight, how they had felt against the rough skin of his palms.
Who was he trying to kid?he thought as he recapped the container and picked his way back up the
bank. When they got out of here, there was only going to be one thing on his mind: holding Sam close
and never letting her go.
Sam had laid the contents of the pack out next to the almost extinguished fire. Evidently it hadn’t
belonged to Harper but to the driver of the van, Billy, who had left it behind in his rush to escape with the
briefcase, which had no doubt held a small fortune in cocaine. There was a driver’s licence, a lighter, a
crumpled pack of cigarettes and a grubby cell phone. There was also one candy bar left.
Gray tried the phone,then shoved it back into the pack. “We’ll have to go higher before we can get a
Sam split the chocolate bar with Gray; then he strapped the small pack in place, and they started
cautiously into the night.
“Hold on to the back of the pack,” he told Sam softly. “I don’t want to lose you in the dark. We’ll be
going slowly. The last thing we want to do now is break our necks tumbling into a gully.”
Gray could feel Sam’s grip on the pack as a light resistance against his shoulders. They had only walked
a few metres beneath the canopy of the trees when the transition from moonlight to darkness was
complete. Gray stopped, reaching a hand back to steady Sam when she bumped softly against him. He
could hear her breathing, still a little fast, and abruptly remembered those moments when they were stuck
in the elevator. She had been frightened by the dark, but she hadn’t said a word, simply endured.
He found her hand and squeezed it; she squeezed back. “Move closer to me,” he said in a low voice.
“We’ll stay here until our eyes adjust.”
She shuffled closer, slipping her arms around his waist and leaning into him. Gray remained motionless,
waiting for his night-vision to kick in, using the time to listen for any sound that might indicate that Harper
had somehow found his way back to them.
He didn’t think it would happen. Harper had been barely capable of sustaining his two-handed grip on
the Sig; Gray doubted his capacity to do more than stumble blindly through the bush, but he would leave
nothing to chance.
The clarity of his senses increased until they were animal-sharp; outlines became visible, but he could
have done with some night-vision goggles. It was as black as sin, and twice as dangerous. If they tumbled
down into a steep gully, or walked over the edge of one of the sheer granite cliffs he had seen from the logging skid, it was game over, no matter what Harper did.
An hour later they stopped. They hadn’t covered more than half a mile since leaving the skid site, but it
would have to be enough. Gray sat down, propped his back against a tree, using the pack as a cushion,
and pulled Sam down between his legs and in close against his chest. “Try and sleep. We’ll stay here until
it gets light.”
Sam’s breathing gradually slowed, evened out. Gray felt it the moment she went to sleep, the warm
slackness of her body pressing against his. A rough wave of tenderness swept him, and he cuddled her
closer, trying to ease her awkward position so she would sleep better. They had made love, but they
hadn’t actually slept together yet. This was a hell of a place to start.
The almost forgotten intimacy of sleeping with a woman – with Sam – enfolded him, making him forget
all his aches and pains, making him forget Harper was wandering, armed, through the forest, half-crazed
from his cocaine addiction and as likely to shoot a tree as anything living.
With a distant feeling of incredulity, he felt himself sliding toward sleep, utterly seduced by the warm
weight of Sam’s head on his chest, the silky brush of her hair on his bare arm. As he drifted, lost in the
relaxed, meditative state before true sleep, he became aware that something that usually happened right
about nowwasn’t happening.
Relief shuddered through him. The stark images that had haunted these moments before sleep for years,
making his muscles cord and his pulsepound, hadn’t come. Instead his mind was filled with other images:
fiercely protective blue eyes with a cat-like gleam; a delicately sensual face smudged with dirt and lit with
a cool courage any soldier would envy; a sultry, stubborn mouth that only hinted at the passionate,
stubborn woman inside. He should have taken note of that mouth seven years ago, because he knew
now that it was going to drive him crazy in all the ways that mattered.
His final thought as he let his head rest against the rough bole of the tree was a pleasant one; if he was
going to be haunted by anything, he couldn’t have chosen a more alluring demon.
They moved on at first light, stiff and cramped, but surprisingly rested. Breakfast was cool water from a
stream and a hurried wash.
An hour later they stopped for a drink on a rocky outcrop that offered a breathtaking view of the valley
they had just walked through.
While Sam sipped the brackish water, Gray tried the cell phone again, grunted with disgust then slipped
it back into the knapsack. “We’ll have to go even higher to get a signal.”
“What about Harper?”
A cold grin bared his teeth, and Sam suddenly had the sensation of time shifting, time lost. In the
primeval bowl of the valley, they could have belonged to another, much more ancient, time. The sun
slanted down, lighting Gray’s torso with a radiance that burnished his skin to hot gold. With the makeshift
bandage knotted around one gleaming bicep, the battle scars scoring his flesh, he looked both powerful
and wild, and completely at home in this environment.
“Harper will keep. He won’t be moving higher. He’ll be panicking and walking in streams, trying to get out. When I can get a call through to Blade, he’ll be able to pinpoint our position by triangulating our
signal with the nearest repeater. All I have to do is keep the channel open and hope that our ‘friend’ Billy
kept the batteries charged.”
A few minutes later, Gray got a call through.
An hour later, the sound of a helicopter beat rhythmically, receded,then grew stronger.
Gray paused, his head up. “They’re in,” he said coldly.
An eerie silence fell, as if even the birds were waiting for the drama unfolding to reach its deadly
conclusion. Time passed as they trudged ever higher. Finally they stumbled out onto the raw dirt road. A
cooling breeze dispersed the building heat of the day and blew Sam’s hair around her cheeks. Gray
stood, silent and remote, a grim sentinel standing watch over the hunt below.
Sam sank wearily to the ground. Her legs felt like pieces of limp noodle, and her heels burned like fire.
“You could have left me and gone after him.”
Gray turned, and the controlled remoteness of his expression made her flinch. Hedid want to be hunting
Harper. Maybe he still would.
Weariness washed through her. There was no maybe about it. Gray had been hunting the man for seven
years; why would he give up now, when Harper was so close and so vulnerable? The hut was only a
short distance away. Once he had her safe, he would go.
His gaze dropped to her feet; he studied them as if they fascinated him. “Take off your shoes,” he said
Sam blinked, for a moment unable to understand what he had said, because the words didn’t fit what she
had expected him to say.
Gray went down on his haunches beside her and gently unlaced and removed her shoes. She couldn’t
prevent herself from making a small noise as the first sneaker came off, rubbing her abraded heel. He
held up first one foot, then the other, surveying the raw patches. He was silent for so long that she began
to think he wasn’t going to say anything. Finally, he asked, “Why didn’t you tell me?”
“You didn’t complain about your arm.”
He was silent again – ominously silent, she decided.
Abruptly he swung her up into his arms, leaving the shoes where they lay. “Why should I expect you to
tell me anything?” he muttered, seemingly to himself. “You were so damnedquiet, I should have guessed
something was wrong.”
“It was onlybl —”
“I don’t care if it’s blisters,” he cut in, silkily soft. “I don’t care if it’s a broken nail. From now on, you will
tell me everything that happens to you.”
Sam eyed the square set of his jaw. “That could mean a lot of talking.”
He drew a breath that sounded strangely impeded, almost strangled. “I should have carried you the
whole damn way.”
“I’m too heavy.”
“One more word, Sam,” Gray said from between clenched teeth.
Sam examined the cabin, which, according to the notices on the wall, belonged to the Department of
Conservation and was now used as a goat culler’s hut. There was a large flat area outside, with a
windsock and ground lighting, which was obviously used as a helipad. No doubt that was why Harper
had wanted the place as a hideout. The hut itself was small and compact inside, only one room, which
contained four built-in bunks, a dusty table and chairs, and a crude counter with a large, chipped enamel
basin that served as a sink sitting on top. There were no taps. Outside, next to the hut, Sam found a
water tank with a tap at its base.
Gray had taken a cursory look inside,then strode back out to stand on the edge of the rough
outcropping, staring across the valley. His eyes had been curiously blank, his expression, once again,
remote. After his outburst on the road, Sam was confused. He was brooding and taciturn, snapping at
every word she said, and she’d had enough. If he wanted to go after Harper, she wished he would just
After opening several cupboards in the kitchen, Sam found various kitchen utensils, tin plates and mugs
inhabited by dead insects, an odd assortment of freeze-dried and tinned food – obviously left behind by
various inhabitants of the hut – a selection of can openers, a tiny solid fuel cooker and a rusted first-aid
She had just finished dressing her heels when a shadow darkened the door. She eyed Gray coolly. She
hadn’t expected him to come back inside; he had been so focussed on what was happening down in the
“If you sit down,” she said briskly, “I’ll clean your wound.”
To her surprise, Gray sat. Sam untied the bloodied bandage and peeled it gently from his arm. She drew
a sharp breath. In the light of day, the bloody gouge on his biceps looked even more painful.
Gray’s voice was infuriatingly calm. “It looks worse than it is.”
Sam opened the first-aid box with a snap and extracted a miniature bottle of disinfectant. “Then you
won’t mind if I use some disinfectant.”
He followed her movements warily. Sam decided to tip the disinfectant directly over the wound. She
didn’t want to risk introducing any more foreign tissue into the raw welt.
Gray’s breath hissed from between his teeth.
Sam recapped the bottle and returned it to the box. “Since it’s just a scratch, I won’t attempt to stitch it.”
His startled gaze connected with hers.
Sam eyed him levelly. “What’s one more scar among so many?”
“You’re angry,” he said neutrally.
Her hands shook as she applied a dressing. “That man was going to kill you.”
“He didn’t succeed.”
She fastened the bandage and stepped back to survey her handiwork. The white bandage glowed
against the sleek copper of his skin, adding a dangerous edge to all that steely control.
“You can go now,” she said abruptly.
Gray flowed to his feet. If he was in pain from his arm, he didn’t show it, but instead of shouldering the
pack and walking out the door, he came to stand in front of her.
“What do you mean, go?”
She gestured toward the door of the hut.”Outthere .Where he is.”
“Trying to get rid of me so soon?”
An incandescent rage filled her. She wanted to stop Gray, but she didn’t know how. She didn’t know
what she had to offer that was more exciting than the cat and mouse game he played with death. She
didn’t know if what he felt for her had the strength to overcome that remote core of grimness that was
such a part of him. He had brought her to safety, but he had done so out of duty; every step of the way,
his attention had been on Harper. She understood his obsession; she even approved of it, despite the fact
that it hurt her, hurtGray , so much. “It’s what you want, isn’t it?”
His jaw shifted, and his expression darkened until she felt she was being drawn into him, drowned in
black heat and loneliness. “No. That isn’t what I want.”
“Don’t you need to phone someone?”
His dark gaze swept over her face. “Jack was right,” he drawled.”Beautiful, but mouthy.”
Sam’s gaze narrowed. She had been used as bait, deceived, kidnapped, tumbled around in a rolling van,
bound and gagged, frog-marched through a steaming rain forest by a madman. Her head hurt from who
knew which bang it had received, and she had been scared to within an inch of her life by the amount of
blood that had streamed from Gray’s arm. He insisted the ugly gash on his arm was just a scratch. That
was like calling the Pacific Ocean a puddle.
The cold-eyed warrior standing in front of her had done his duty by her. He wanted Harper. He would
go after him.
She lifted her chin and eyed himcoolly, preparing herself the only way she knew how for the hurt that
would follow. The only defence she had left was her pride. “I told you before that I understand … what
you need. You can send someone to get me when it’s all over. I’ll be perfectly safe here while you go
after Harper. I don’t need you tobaby-sit me.”
Gray watched the fierce gleam in Sam’s eyes fade to that opaque blue that said the door had once again been slammed in his face. She was shutting him out, pulling back behind that wall of reserve.
The control he had been exercising for hours broke.
He had almost gone crazy when he had found out that Sam had probably fallen into Harper’s clutches.
He’d had to watch her risk herself for him not once, but three times: outside the church, by the van, then
at the logging skid. She had trekked through the bush with a gun jammed in her back, her heels blistered
and raw. She hadn’t complained once. Gray was beginning to understand the depth and strength of Sam’s
will, and the uncomfortable fact that the woman facing him was just as stubborn, just as single-minded in
her own quiet way, as he was. Now she was closing up on him, pulling that ladylike reserve into place as
neatly as if she were rearranging the fall of her skirt at a tea party. She was saying she didn’t need him.
She was telling him to go.
The hell he would go.
Sam eyed Gray warily as he advanced on her. There was something heated and reckless in his eyes, and
his jaw was set. Her confusion increased as he caught the edge of her T-shirt and began pulling it over
her head. “What are you doing?”
“There’s blood on it. It needs washing.”
He tossed the T-shirt on the counter,then started working on her jeans. Sam automatically shielded her
breasts as he stripped denim and panties from her. “I don’t understand.”
When she was naked, he began undressing himself. “You will.”
He extracted what she recognised as her bra from the pocket of his pants, before tossing them aside and
strolling, naked, to the sink. He tipped water from the bucket he’d brought in earlier over the clothes and
began washing them.
“You’re wasting time,” she said a little desperately.
He cocked his head to one side, and his lids lowered lazily, shading the hot glitter in his eyes. “Bite me,”
Suddenly the room was overheated and way too small. Sam swallowed, wondering what he would do if
she did just that.
This obviously wasn’t a good time to pick a fight with him. He was edgy, and he was naked. They were
both naked. She glanced down, her gaze drawn against her will.
Gray snagged her gaze, holding it effortlessly as he prowled toward her, the T-shirt in hand. When he
reached her, he began stroking the cool, wet cloth across her skin, her breasts, cleaning the last remnants
of his blood from her, she realised.
“I have more important things to do than go after Harper.”
The movement of the cloth was unintentionally arousing. Or was it? A moan slipped from her lips as the
cloth lingered on her breasts, and they tightened, her nipples peaking almost painfully hard. She was tired
and bruised; all she should want to do was sleep.
Her breath released slowly, softly.”Such as?”
“Make sure you don’t tackle any more terrorists. If you turn up at the altar with a bullet hole in you, my
mother will have my hide.”
The cloth glided down her belly, stroking, caressing,the gentle pressure sending tingling hot streamers of
sensation through her.
“If I had wanted Harper,” Gray continued slowly and deliberately, as if it was important that she
understand every word, “I could have had him last night. I could have had him within half an hour,
probably sooner. I’m good at that kind of thing. Do you understand what I’m saying?”
The cloth slipped between her legs. Her knees threatened to buckle. “You’re very good at your job.”
“Going after Harper’s sorry butt would have meant leaving you, and that wasn’t an option. I didn’t save
your life so you could rush off and try to get killed again the second I turned my back.”
Gray tossed the T-shirt back in the basin and ran his hands over her arms. “I don’t intend to make the
same mistake I made seven years ago. I was young and arrogant, and I let you get away. Now I’m older,
and I’m probably still arrogant, but I’m sure as hell not letting you out of my sight.”
He bent and kissed her gently on the mouth. “I’m not much good at this stuff,” he said, low and taut. “I
love you, baby. I’m sorry it took me so long to figure it out, and I’m sorry you’ve been hurt, but I’ll take
care that nothing hurts you ever again.” He eased her closer, dropped his forehead on hers. “I’m not
perfect. I can’t ever promise to be. I let Harper go for one reason, and one reason only: I wasn’t capable
of leaving you. In case you haven’t noticed, ever since we got here, I haven’t been able to leave you
Sam stared, dazed, into Gray’s fierce glare. “You’ve been outside.”
“Yeah.Trying to keep my hands off you.It didn’t work.”
She shook her head, even more confused.That was why he had been so taciturn? “Why would you
want to keep your hands off me?”
Gray’s eyes narrowed. “Damned if I know. I thought you might be in shock, exhausted, bruised,
traumatised … little things like that.”
Sam fixed on the most startling thing he had yet said, the thing she couldn’t quite believe yet. “You …
His hands came up, cradling her face, rough and warm and gentle. “I’m crazy about you. I always have
been.” He dipped and kissed her with a sweetness that made her ache.
Sam wound her arms around his neck, stunned and still not quite believing she’d heard right. She wanted
him to love her so much it was hard to take in that he actually did. A tremor rocked him as she fitted
herself against him.
He lifted his head. “If you don’t want to be made love to up against the wall, you’ll have to let me pull
some mattresses on the floor. I can’t fit on one of those sardine-sleepers.”
He dragged all four squabs off the narrow bunks, lined them up on the floor,then pulled her down with
Sam snuggled against him, mindful of his sore arm. “Are you sure you should—”
“Have I got a pulse?” he growled.
Sam slipped her palms up over his torso, feeling the heavy slam of his heart, then down further to a piece
of his anatomy that also had a pulse but was hotter, and much smoother, much silkier, than his chest. “I
don’t think you’re in any danger of suffering from heart failure.”
A rough sound was torn from his throat as she cupped and gently stroked him. “I’m not wearing a
condom again. Do you mind?”
Sam gave him a bemused look.”Who, me?”
Gray reversed positions, kneeing her legs apart and settling himself between them. “Yeah, you,” he said
deliberately, “and nobody else. I don’t have a condom with me, and even if I did, I still wouldn’t want to
wear one. I don’t want to be separated from you by anything. I want to feelyou around me, and I want to
know that I could make you pregnant.” His voice dropped, shook slightly. “We didn’t use a condom the
last time we made love, so you could already be pregnant. I want you pregnant, Sam. If you don’t want
my baby, you’d better say so now.”
Why would she want to argue about what she had always wanted? Sam smiled, tears blurring her eyes
at the same time. Sheer happiness burst inside her, rippling outward on a shimmering wave that swamped
the empty places inside her. All she had ever wanted was a chance at happiness, a beginning, and this
was it. “I’m not arguing.”
“Good.” His voice was tight with strain. He didn’t know if he could have stopped now in any case; his
control was debatable.
Drawing in a breath, he began to move, gloving himself with exquisite slowness, every muscle corded as
he held himself in check. It seemed incredible that they had made love only the day before. It felt like a
week, a lifetime, ago. Relief shuddered the length of his frame as he withdrew, then drove deep again.
Sam clung to him, lifting her hips to meet each thrust. Her response made his throat tighten. He couldn’t
bring the baby they had lost back, but they had both had their season of grieving. It was time, past time,
to move on, and he was fiercely eager to do so. The sheer hope in the simple act of lovemaking flooded
him. It was life, pure and simple – the opposite of death – and he gloried in this simple act of mating, and
Sam was his. He would never let her go. They belonged together, and he was prepared to do whatever
it took to convince her of that fact. If he had to keep her beneath him for a month, he would do so. The
thought made him light-headed, and he instantly decided they needed a honeymoon.A long one.At least a
Sam arched and clung, and he felt the moment she shivered and turned to sleek, hot liquid around him;
then the dark magic took him, too, slamming into him with all the power of an iron fist, ripping a hoarse
cry from his throat as he plunged deep and poured his very essence into the sweet, warm crucible of her
They had just finished a meal. Sam opened the window over the counter a little wider and tossed the
basin of water she’d used to rinse their plates out onto the struggling shrubs outside. The T-shirt she was
now wearing flapped around her thighs. It was still slightly damp, and so large it was like wearing a tent,
but it was all she had.
“Come here,” Gray said lazily from their makeshift bed.
Sam padded back toward him, a delicious glow suffusing her, anticipation shivering down her spine.
They had made love, gone to sleep,then made love again.
Gray was sprawled on themattresses, and finally decent now that he’d pulled on his pants. His bronzed
torso, the dark hair clinging to his chest and muscled abdomen, was primitively beautiful in the mellow
light of late afternoon.
Sam smiled, eluding his grasp. “Don’t think you’re going to get treated like this all the time.”
“You poured hot water on some dried lumpy stuff and waited for it to congeal.”
A slow smile curled his mouth. “Like I said, I cooked.”
He held out his hand again, and this time she took it, still giddy with delight that he had said he loved her,
that he had stayed with her, that he intended to stay with her.
He pulled her down beside him, not taking his alert, heavily lidded gaze from the door. A dark shadow
coalesced in the opening. The shadow was dripping.
Sam tensed.Gray’s arm stroked down her arm in reassurance. “Blade,” he said softly.
Sam had never met Gray’s younger brother before, but she would have recognised him anywhere. They
were of a similar height and build, and had the same high, exotic cheekbones and deep-set black eyes,
the same rock-hard jaws and sinful mouths. Blade also had a ponytail and a rueful edge to his smile.
He acknowledged Gray; then his gaze cut straight to Sam.”You any relation to that crazy old lady at the
“Are you talking about Sadie or Addie?”
His mouth curled whimsically.”Yeah.”
“In that case, yes. They’re honorary aunts.”
“Figures.”Blade transferred his gaze back to Gray. “Does that mean they’ll be related to us?”
Gray pulled Sam closer. “Is it done?”
Blade’s expression turned icy.”Yeah. Crazy son of a bitch did himself – ran right over a cliff screaming
something about some big wild cat coming after him. Have to say, I’m damn disappointed, I was looking
forward to doing the honours. They’re air lifting the body and the team out,then they’ll come back and
pick us up.”
Gray drew a deep, shuddering breath and pulled Sam close.
She knew then that much of his composure had been the steely restraint that would always be a part of
him. She wouldn’t want that to change; she loved him because he was so strong. Perhaps subconsciously
she had always been so attracted to him specifically because of his iron will, even though it had kept them
apart for so many years. She needed a strong mate, one who could give her reassurance that he would
survive, even against terrible odds. He had given her that reassurance, and he had given her the gift of
choosing her over Harper, choosing love and life over the obsession that hunting the terrorist had
become. Nothing could completely obliterate the purgatory of the last seven years, but they had made a
start – a beginning.
It would take time, but now they had all the time in the world.
Sam heard the distant beat of rotor blades.
“Herecome the cavalry,” Blade drawled. He consulted his watch. “With any luck, we’ll still make it home
“Christmas?What’s the date?” Sam asked,then shook her head in disbelief when she got her answer. “It’s
Gray’s arms tightened around her; she sensed his smile rather than saw it. “Merry Christmas, baby,” he
rumbled lazily. “Turn your head so I can give you your present.”
“What’s my present?”
The smile glittered deep in his eyes as he bent to her mouth. “Me,” he said simply.
Grayhad one minor detail to clear up before they caught their flight out to Sydney.
Leroy was just closing up when Gray stepped into the claustrophobic confines of the trendy black and
white salon. Leroy was dressed to match his elegant little bolthole in a loose black shirt tucked into white
linen trousers. Jewellery winked from his ears. A medallion lay against the V of smooth tanned chest that
was on display.
Leroy eyed him uneasily as he shoved items into a sleek, black briefcase. “I’m just closing.”
“I don’t want a haircut.”
Leroy went still,then tried for a professional smile. “I heard on the news that there was some terrorist guy
on the loose.Something to do with your family. Did they catch him?”
“Yeah.We caught him. No thanks to you.”
“That’s right, Leroy,you . I heard you were keeping company with a certain gentleman.A Mr. Soames.”
Leroy’s golden tan faded to a sickly yellow. “Mr. Soames was the terrorist?”
Gray knotted his hand in Leroy’s pristine collar and jerked just enough that he had to come up on his
toes. “Mr. Soames,” he repeated neutrally. “Harper was his real name. Egan Harper. He’s wanted in a
dozen countries for various crimes, including rape and murder. You told the bad guy that the woman
managing the Royal wasn’t Sam.”
Gray felt the bulge of Leroy’s Adam’s apple rippling against his knuckles as he tried to swallow.
“I didn’t know,” he gasped as Gray tightened his hold.
“No,”Gray agreed smoothly. “You didn’t know, but you managed to cause trouble anyway.”
“He – he really was a bad guy?”
“He liked knives, Leroy. He was a real artist. If I had time, I could show you pictures of just how artistic
he could be. I’ve lost count of the number of people he’s killed.”
Leroy’s eyes went wide. “He could have killedme .”
“You’re not out of danger yet.I could kill you.”
The Adam’s apple did its little trick again. Disgusted, Gray let Leroy’s collar go.
He crumpled back against the wall, hands automatically smoothing his clothes, setting his medallion to
rights. “Is Harper locked up?”
Gray toyed with the idea of letting Leroy think that Harper was still on the loose, and that he might be
looking for Leroy next, but he would learn the truth soon enough. A sanitised version of Harper’s demise
would be in the news.
Relief flooded Leroy’s features. “Then he can’t get me.”
Gray’s eyes slitted.”You don’t get it, do you, Leroy? Sam nearly died because of the information you
Leroy finally seemed to realise where the real danger lay. He licked his lips, edging sideways. “So …
what do you want?”
Gray could think of a number of things he wanted quite badly, but Sam had made him promise to give up
violence. He was trying, but Leroy just wasn’t helping. “I want you where you’ll never come into contact
with my wife again. I don’t want her to see you, or even remember you. I don’t want one single thing to
bring back the horror of what she has just been through. That means you have to leave town.”
“This is my business. I can’t leave!”
Leroy’s eyes narrowed. He named a figure.
Gray’s jaw clenched, the violence was looking better and better. “I wouldn’t be too greedy, Leroy,” he
said softly. “You’ve stepped on a lot of toes recently, Sadie and Addie Carson’s included. Those two
ladies have a real fondness for Sam, and they aren’t exactly the retiring kind. If they thought you were
being difficult, I wouldn’t put it past them to leak your name to the press.”
Leroy shuddered and quoted a lower figure.
Gray smiled coldly. “My solicitor will be in touch. I don’t care where you move. After this, I don’t want
to ever so much as think about you again. Just make sure you move to a city that doesn’t have a
Lombard hotel in it and is never likely to have one. And the nexttime you get the urge to get involved in
international terrorism, Leroy,” Gray said, letting his voice drop to a menacing purr, “squash it. You’re
better at blue rinses.”
Ten months later
Gray Lombard was asleep.
Four-year-old Bunny McCabe gave her uncle Gray a considering look. He was lying on the grass, in the
sun, in her back yard, and he just didn’t have time to be sleeping. He hadwork to do.
She poked his chest. One eye opened a slit, and she giggled. “You’re hairy.”
Gray peered up at the chubby four-year-old. Her dark pigtails swung silkily against her cheeks, and her
McCabe-blue eyes were fixed on him like a couple of lasers. “Your dad’s hairy,” he rumbled in justifiable
Ben stifled a snort of laughter from his lounging position on the porch hammock, where he had retired
after the Sunday lunch that had sent them all, except for Bunny, into lazy-afternoon-sleep mode.
Bunny regarded Gray with a level, unblinkingstare , and in her completely feminine way chose to ignore
his comment. She plonked a naked baby doll on his bare stomach to punctuate the change in subject.
“Get up, Uncle Gray, you gottapractice .”
Gray knew an order when he heard one. “Yes, ma’am,” he said, and saluted.
Bunny giggled again and pulled on one of his hands, helping him up. When he was sitting, she thrust the
doll at him. It was a faithful rendition of a male newborn, complete with landing gear.
“Watch,” Bunny instructed, as she spread out a frayed and slightly grubby diaper and began folding it in
an intricate, totally mystifying shape that Gray decided would probably stump an origami master. She
summarily snatched the doll from his incompetent hands and proceeded to truss the doll’s lower parts up
tight. When she was finished she jammed a safety pin through the front of the diaper with a satisfied grunt.
Bunny surveyed her handiwork, brushed her hands off on her overalls,then turned her laser gaze on him.
“That’s what ya gotta do. Now you try.”
Graywas almost getting the hang of it when Sam stepped out on the porch. She was in her ninth month
of pregnancy and had been napping in the cool of Ben’s spare room.
Gray looked up from the wreck of the diaper. He had bent the safety pin that time and was trying to hide
that fact from Bunny’s critical gaze. He was also pretty certain that, if the doll had been a real baby, his
reproductive future would have been sadly curtailed.
Sam’s face was flushed with excitement; her eyes were sparkling. “I’m in labour,” she stated baldly.
Gray’s heart stopped,then just as abruptly pounded back to life. A hot rush of adrenaline flooded his
system. For a second he thought he was having a heart attack.
Ben sat bolt upright in the hammock – a difficult feat at the best of times.
Gray sprang to his feet and eased Sam into the rocking chair that was set out on the porch.
Sam didn’t even try to protest. She had long since learned that sometimes it was best to simply let Gray
have his way, then calmly continue on with what she wanted.
“You can’t be in labour,” he insisted, a hint of panic in his gravely voice. “It’s too early.”
Sam couldn’t understand the panic in Gray’s eyes. She had had a wonderful pregnancy. Apart from a
little morning sickness in the first months, she had never felt so well or so happy. Gray had looked after
her like she was a piece of precious porcelain, but for the most part she had been quite capable of living
a normal, energetic life. The only reason she had let Gray coddle her so much, aside from the fact that
she just plain enjoyed it, was that he had needed to do so.
They had honeymooned on one of the remote Fijian islands, and when he had found out she was
pregnant, he had taken her back for a second honeymoon. Ever since they had gotten home, he had all
but carried her around on a satin cushion. He hadn’t wanted her to travel after that, but Sam had put her
foot down. This trip was special.
The day before they had attended Jack and Milly’s wedding, and there had been no way she was going
to miss out on that event. Besides, she had wanted to catch up with everyone at the new Lombard hotel,
which was still under construction, and see for herself how happy and content they all were with the new
premises and their new jobs.
It had also been an opportunity for them both to finally come to terms with the miscarriage she’d had all those years ago.
While they were at the graveside, Sam had had the oddest notion that they had their daughter back, that
they were being given a second chance with this pregnancy, just as she and Gray had had a second
Gray had watched her like a hawk this whole trip – as if he fully expected her to do something wild and
unpredictable, like give birth without providing him with due notice.
She had got used to his concentrated attention, although not without adjustment. He loved with a
single-minded intensity that was formidable and, at times, could be a little uncomfortable. They had their
moments, like when she had to explain that she was quite capable of doing simple tasks like lifting a
casserole dish from the oven to the table, or hanging curtains in the nursery.
She was learning to live with Gray’s natural instinct to control and protect, because she knew it would
take him a while to shed the insecurity of everything that had happened between them, and with Harper.
If he was dictatorial at times, it was only because he needed her as much as she needed him.
She took his hand and laid it against her stomach so he could feel the strength of the next contraction.
His black eyes glittered over her, and she could almost see the gears shifting in his mind as he began
formulating his plan of action. He would try to run this birth like a military operation, the same way he had
tried to run her pregnancy.
“How long?” he muttered.
Sam smiled serenely.”Now.”
Graywalked out into the waiting room in a daze. He was still wearing denim cut-offs, although he had
taken the time to pull a T-shirt on. God help him, there hadn’t been time for much else.
“Is the baby here yet, Uncle Gray?”
Ben was sitting with Bunny snuggled on his lap. Bunny had her doll pressed close to her cheek while she
listened to the story Ben had been reading her. They had all been at the hospital for a total of thirty
So much for planning this birth as if it was a military operation.Sam had blown every plan and
contingency to hell, just as she had always done.
His wife was early, and she was fast.
If they had been held up in traffic, he would have had to play midwife in the back seat. Gray broke out in
a fresh sweat at the thought of that eventuality. No point in buying trouble, they had made it – just – even
if the speed of the delivery still stunned him.
“She wants you to come in,” he said hoarsely, then held the door while Ben carried Bunny through to the delivery suite.
Sam was sitting up in bed. The nurse had sponged her down, and she was wearing a delicate blue nightie
she just happened to have packed in her handbag, along with various other items needed for an overnight
Gray was still in a state of shock. Sam looked as fresh as a daisy.
Gray realised that while he hadn’t been prepared for any of this, Sam had quietly been carrying around
everything she needed in her handbag. He would never again question why women carried handbags; he
now knew the answer: it was because they were organised.
A thin, reedy cry sounded. Gray went stock still, his heart beginning to hammer almost as fast as it had
during the hell-on-wheels ordeal of labour and birth. Just the thought of it brought back the panicky
feelings; he had never felt so helpless, so out of control.
He picked up the tiny bundle, his stomach tightening on a rush of awe and tenderness. His hands were
so big and rough, his baby daughter so soft and fragile. Rheumy eyes fastened on his; then the little head
turned, and she began nuzzling his thumb. The crying stopped.
The breath shuddered from Gray’s lungs. Carefully, supporting the baby’s head, he cuddled her on his
shoulder, dipping his head to breathe in her sweet scent.
The reality of what had happened struck him anew as he reluctantly handed his baby daughter over to
Sam for feeding. He eased himself behind Sam, pulling her in against the support of his chest and
enfolding both her and the baby with his arms as the baby’s tiny fist kneaded the plump roundness of
Sam’s breast. A tremor started deep in his belly, rippled through his big frame as emotion built and broke
over him with the rolling power of a big ocean wave. The last of the darkness that had held him in thrall
for too many years was extinguished by the sheer, blazing joy of his family.
Sweet heaven.He was a daddy.
“Welcome to the club,” Ben murmured dryly, letting Bunny’s wriggling little body down so he could
shake Gray’s hand and bend to kiss Sam on the cheek.
Bunny leaned on Gray’s thigh and watched, absorbed, as the baby fed with a single-minded, ferocious hunger, then, in the blink of an eye, fell asleep. Fascinated, she plunked her baby doll in her daddy’s hands. Dolls were okay to practice on, but she knew the difference between a doll and the real thing, and this wasdefinitely the real thing.
“Yep,” Bunny said matter-of-factly, as she surveyed the second baby just waking up in his crib, his little face screwing up while he got ready to holler. “Just as well I gave you training, Uncle Gray. You’re gonna be busy .”
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