Sam Stark is abandoned at the altar, but the caterer at the aborted wedding becomes a stand-in wife for social occasions. The business-only nature of the relationship changes and when their lives are threatened, Stark must rescue Desdemona.
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Jayne Ann Krentz is a New York Times bestselling author of contemporary romantic suspense novels. She also writes historical romance under the name Amanda Quick and paranormal romance under the name Jayne Castle. Jayne loves to hear from her readers and can be found at Facebook.com/JayneAnnKrentz.Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:
The only thing she really knew about Paul Cormier was that he was dying.
The blood from the wound in his chest had soaked through his white silk shirt and white linen suit and was running in small rivulets over the white marble tile.
The old man opened his eyes as Mattie Sharpe crouched helplessly beside him, grasping his hand in hers. He peered up at her, as if he were trying to see through a thick fog.
"Christine? Is that you, Christine?" Even in a croaked whisper, his accent was elegant and vaguely European.
"Yes, Paul." Lying was the only thing she could do for him. Mattie held his hand tightly. "It's Christine."
"Missed you, girl. Missed you so much."
"I'm here now."
Cormier's pale blue gaze focused on her for a few seconds. "No," he said. "You're not here. But I'm almost there, aren't I." He made a sound that might have started out as a chuckle but turned into a ghastly, gurgling cough.
"Yes. You're almost here."
"Be good to see you again."
"Yes." A hot, torpid island breeze wafted through the front hall of the Cormier mansion. The silence from the surrounding jungle was unnatural and oppressive. "It's going to be all right, Paul. Everything will be fine." Lies. More lies.
Cormier squinted up at her, his gaze startlingly lucid for an instant. "Get out of here. Hurry."
"I'll go," Mattie promised.
Cormier's eyes closed again. "Someone will come. An old friend. When he does, tell him...tell him." Another terrible gasping sound drained more of the little strength he had left.
"What do you want me to tell him?"
"Reign..." Cormier choked on his own blood. "In hell."
Mattie didn't pause to make sense out of what she thought she'd heard him say. Automatically she reassured him. "I'll tell him."
The hand that had been clutching hers slackened its grip. "Christine?"
"I'm here, Paul."
But Cormier did not hear her this time. He was gone.
The horror of her situation washed over Mattie again.
She struggled to her feet, feeling light-headed. Without thinking, she glanced at the black and gold watch on her wrist as if she were late to a business appointment.
With a shock she realized she had been in the white mansion overlooking the ocean for less than five minutes. She would have been here two hours earlier if she hadn't gotten lost on a winding island road that had dead-ended in the mountains. At the time the delay had made her tense and anxious. It occurred to Mattie now that if she had arrived on time, she probably would have walked straight into the same gun that had killed Paul Cormier.
The toe of her Italian leather shoe struck something on the floor. It skittered away across the tile.
Mattie jumped at the loud sound in the eerily silent hall. Then she glanced down and saw the gun.
Cormier's, probably, she told herself. He must have tried to fight off the intruder. Dazed, Mattie took a step toward the weapon. Perhaps she should take it with her.
Even as the words formed in her mind she shuddered. The last gun she had handled had been a little plastic model that had come in a box labeled, "Annie Oakley's Sharpshooter Special. For ages five and up." A friend had given it to her on the occasion of her sixth birthday. Mattie had practiced her fast draw for hours, whipping the toy gun out of its pink fringed, imitation leather holster over and over again until her concerned parents had taken it from her and replaced it with a box of watercolors. Mattie had dutifully played with the paints for approximately ten minutes and succeeded in producing a cheerful yellow horse for Annie Oakley to ride. The picture had been cute, but was not deemed good enough to hang on the refrigerator next to her sister Ariel's latest rendition of a bouquet of flowers.
Her training in handguns thus halted at such an early stage, Mattie realized, now that she had absolutely no idea of how to use the lethal-looking monster lying at her feet on the white floor.
On the other hand, how complicated could it be? she asked herself as she stooped to pick up the heavy weapon. Every punk on every city street back in the States owned and operated one. It was a sure bet most of them were too illiterate to read the manuals. Besides, it was easy to see which end to point away from herself.
Oh, God. She was getting hysterical. It was a sure sip of losing control. She had to get a grip on herself. She could panic later if necessary.
Mattie took several deep breaths while she fumbled the gun into her elegant black and tan leather shoulder bag. She paused as she noticed the bloodstains on the strap. Cormier's blood. It had come from her hands.
She had to move quickly. A man was dead and among his last words had been the advice to get out of the mansion in a hurry.
She did not doubt that the danger was still hovering. Mattie could sense it as if it were a palpable presence. She took one last look at the body of the silver-haired old man. She had a fleeting vision of white-white linen suit, white buck shoes, white silk shirt, white marble tile, white walls, white furniture. White, endless, pure, unadulterated white. Except for the red blood.
Mattie felt her stomach heave. She could not be sick now. She had to get out of here. She stumbled for the open front door, her heels clattering loudly on the marble. Her only thought was to reach the battered old rental car that she had picked up at the tiny island airport two hours earlier.
She was nearly out the door when she remembered the sword.
Halting, she glanced back into the room of white death. She knew she could not go back. Valor, the fourteenth-century sword she had been sent to collect, was valuable but not worth the trip back into that room. Nothing was worth going back into that room. Aunt Charlotte would understand.
What was it Aunt Charlotte had told her about the ancient weapon? Something about there being a curse on it. Death to all who dare claim this blade until it shall be taken up by the avenger and cleansed in the blood of the betrayer.
The terrible prophecy had apparently been fufilled in Cormier's case, Mattie thought. Not that she believed in such things. Still, Cormier had claimed the blade and now he was dead. Mattie suddenly had no interest whatsoever in locating the medieval sword and taking it back to Seattle.
She whirled around again and ran through the open door, scrabbling in her purse for the key to the rental car. Perhaps that was why she didn't see the man who stood on the veranda to one side of the open door.r
Nor did she notice the booted foot he stuck out in front of her until she tripped over it and went flying. She sprawled on the white planking of the veranda, the wind knocked out of her. Before she could get back enough breath to scream, she felt something cold and metallic against the nape of her neck.
Mattie wondered with an odd, clinical detachment if there would be any small warning sound before the trigger was pulled.
"Hell, it's you, Mattie," said a deep male voice Mattie had not heard in nearly a year. The gun was no longer pressed against her nape but Mattie was still frozen with fear and shock. "You almost got yourself killed. I didn't know who was going to come running out that door. You all right, babe?"
Mattie managed to nod, still fighting for breath. She opened her eyes and realized the wooden planks she was staring down at were less than three inches away. She could not seem to gather her thoughts. It was all too much. Stress.
A big hand closed around her shoulder. "Mattie?" The dark, rough-edged voice crackled with impatience.
"I'm okay." A strange relief washed through her at the thought. Then came another chill. "Cormier."
"What about him?"
"He's in there."
She closed her eyes. "Yes. Oh, God, yes."
"I don't think I can."
"Yes, you damn well can. Move it, Mattie. We can't lie around here chatting." Strong fingers locked around her waist and hauled her to her feet.
"You never did listen to me, did you, Hugh?" Mattie brushed aside the tendrils of tawny brown hair that had come free of the neat coil at the nape of her neck. She looked up into gray eyes that were so light they could have been chips off a glacier. "What are you doing here?"
"That's supposed to be my line. You were due into St. Gabe at nine this morning. What the hell are you doing here on Purgatory?" But he wasn't paying attention to her, not really. He was eyeing the driveway behind her. "Come on."
"I'm not going back into that house."
Predictably enough, he ignored her. "Get inside the hall, Mattie. You're a sitting duck standing in the doorway." Without waiting for a response he yanked her back through the wide opening.
Mattie stumbled after him, keeping her eyes averted from the sight of Cormier's body. She clutched at the strap of her shoulder bag in a vain effort to keep her fingers from trembling.
"Don't move," Hugh said.
"Don't worry, I won't." She hoped she would not be sick all over the marble floor.
He released her and strode quickly over to the body in the white linen suit. He stood looking down for a few seconds, taking in the absoluteness of death in one glance. The expression on his face was difficult to read. It was not shock or surprise or fear or horror -- just a remote, implacable sort of fierceness.
Mattie watched him, aware she should be grateful he had appeared at this particular moment in her life. No one else she knew was better qualified to get her out of this sticky situation than Hugh Abbott.
Too bad the mere sight of him enraged her. Too bad that after that humiliating debacle last year she had never wanted to see him again as long as she lived. Too bad that the one man she needed right now was the same one who had devastated her after she had surrendered to him, body and soul.
He had not changed much in the past year, she realized. Same thick, dark pelt of hair with maybe a bit more silver in it. Same lean, whipcord-tough body that still didn't show any hint of softening, despite his forty years. Same rough-featured, heavily carved face. Same beautiful, incredibly sexy mouth. Same primitive masculine grace.
Same lamentable taste in clothing, too, Mattie noted with a disdaining glance. Scarred boots, unpressed khaki shirt unbuttoned far enough to show a lot of crisp, curling chest hair, a well-worn leather belt and faded jeans that emphasized his flat belly and strong thighs.
Hugh glanced at her. "I'll be right back. I'm just going to get some stuff from the kitchen." He was already moving past the body. He held the gun in his hand so naturally it seemed an extension of his arm.
"The kitchen. For God's sake, Hugh. This is no time to grab a cold beer. What if he's still here? The man who shot poor Mr. Cormier?"
"Don't worry. There's no one else here. If there were, you would be as dead as Cormier by now."
Mattie swallowed as he left the room. "No, -- wait, please don't leave me here with -- " Mattie bit off the rest of the frantic plea. She, of all people, ought to know better than to plead with Hugh Abbott to stay. "Damn you," she whispered.
Mattie stood listening to the ring of Hugh's boots on the marble tiles. She heard him move down a hall into another room, and then there was nothing but the awful silence and the hot breeze.
Glancing nervously out the door, she toyed with the keys of the rental car. Nothing said she had to stand around and wait for Hugh. She could drive herself back to the airport. Right now she wanted nothing more than to get on a plane and leave this dreadful island.
But she was feeling very lost and uncertain. Practicing a quick draw with the Annie Oakley special had been one of her few forays into the world of adventure. Her artistically oriented family had emphasized more civilized and sophisticated pursuits.
Hugh Abbott, on the other hand, understood situations involving violence and danger all too well. As chief troubleshooter and free-lance security consultant for Aunt Charlotte's multinational company, Vailcourt Industries, he was on intimate terms with this sort of thing.
Mattie had privately thought of Hugh as her aunt's pet wolf long before she had met him last year. Nothing she had learned about him since had given her any cause to change her mind.
She heard his boot heels on the tile again. Hugh reappeared carrying two large French market-style string bags that bulged with an assortment of unidentifiable items.
"All right. We've spent enough time fooling around here. Let's go." Hugh glided around Cormier's body, not looking down. He saw the keys in Mattie's fingers. "Forget that junker you rented. You're not going anywhere in it."
"What do you mean? Are we going to take your car? Where is it, anyway?"
"A few hundred yards up the road. Hopefully out of sight -- but who knows for how long?" Hugh strode toward her. "Here, take one of these. I want to keep a hand free." He thrust one of the string bags into her fingers as he glanced out the door and up at the leaden sky. "It's going to start pouring any minute. That should help."
Mattie ignored the comment about the impending rain. She was too busy trying to juggle the heavy string bag and her purse. "What are these sacks for? We don't need this stuff. I just want to get to the airport."
"The airport is closed."
Mattie stared at him in shock. "Closed? It can't be closed."
"It is. I barely made it in myself. There are armed men on the road, and every plane that didn't get off the island as of forty minutes ago is probably in flames by now. Including mine, goddamn it. Charlotte's going to have to reimburse me for that Cherokee. It was a real sweet little crate."
"Dear heaven. Hugh, what's going on? What is this all about?"
"With your usual fine sense of timing, you walked straight into the middle of what looks like a two-bit military coup here on Purgatory. At the moment I have no way of knowing who's winning. In the meantime the only way off the island is by boat. We're going to try for Cormier's cruiser."
"I don't believe this."
"Believe it. Come on, let's go."
"Go where?" she demanded.
"First to the bathroom." Hugh started down the hall.
"For God's sake, Hugh, I assure you I don't have to use the bathroom. At least, not right at the moment. Hugh, wait. Please stop. I don't understand this."
He turned in the doorway, his eyes cold. "Mattie, I don't want to hear another word out of you. Come here. Now."
Deciding she was too stressed out to think clearly, Mattie trailed after him. She closed her eyes as she stepped around Cormier's body and found herself following Hugh down a white hallway into a luxurious bedroom suite done in silver and white.
"Mr. Cormier certainly didn't like colors very much," Mattie muttered.
"Yeah. He used to say he'd worked in the shadows long enough. When he retired he wanted to live in the sun." Hugh opened a door off the bedroom suite.
"What did he mean by that?"
"Never mind. It doesn't matter now. Here we go." Hugh strode into the bathroom.
Mattie followed uneasily. "Hugh, I really don't understand." She frowned as she watched him step into the huge white tub and push at a section of wall behind the taps. "What in the world -- ?"
"Cormier built a lot of ways out of this place. He was a born strategist."
"I see. He was expecting trouble, then?"
"Not specifically. Not here on Purgatory." Hugh watched as th...
"About this title" may belong to another edition of this title.
Book Description Heinemann, 1996. Hard Cover. Book Condition: Good. Dust Jacket Condition: Very Good. First Edition. DJ in plastic protective cover. Library stamps inside. Page edges tanning. Love burned them once, now they're twice as hot (H39B*). Size: 8vo - over 7¾" - 9¾" tall. Ex-Library. Bookseller Inventory # 002141
Book Description William Heinemann Ltd. Hardcover. Book Condition: VERY GOOD. Light rubbing wear to cover, spine and page edges. Very minimal writing or notations in margins not affecting the text. Possible clean ex-library copy, with their stickers and or stamp(s). Bookseller Inventory # 2739996940
Book Description William Heinemann Ltd, 1996. Hardcover. Book Condition: Very Good. Great condition with minimal wear, aging, or shelf wear. Bookseller Inventory # P020434001333