메인 Zach's Law

Zach's Law

0 / 0
이 책이 얼마나 마음에 드셨습니까?
파일의 품질이 어떻습니까?
책의 품질을 평가하시려면 책을 다운로드하시기 바랍니다
다운로드된 파일들의 품질이 어떻습니까?
년:
1987
출판사:
Loveswept
언어:
english
시리즈:
Hagan
파일:
EPUB, 167 KB
다운로드 (epub, 167 KB)

귀하의 관심을 살 수 있습니다 Powered by Rec2Me

 

주로 사용되는 용어

 
0 comments
 

To post a review, please sign in or sign up
책에 대한 리뷰를 작성하거나 귀하의 독서 경험을 공유할 수 있습니다. 다른 독자들이 귀하가 읽은 책에 대한 의견에 귀를 기울일 것입니다. 개인적으로 책이 마음에 들었거나 그렇지 않았거나 정직하고 상세한 호평은 다른 독자들이 자신에게 적합한 책을 찾는데 도움이 됩니다.
Contents

Synopsis

One

Two

Three

Four

Five

Six

Seven

Eight

Nine

Epilogue





Synopsis




When her car died on a deserted road high in the Rockies, Teddy Tyler half expected danger--but being captured by Zach Steele was terrifying... and thrilling. The strong, silent investigator was a man who worked alone-and he hadn't planned on Teddy crashing his stakeout. Now shed have to stay in his cabin until his prey was caged, but was he keeping his beautiful hostage for safety's sake, or because he couldn't let her go? Once he touched Teddy, the fire trapped in her body lit a fuse that ignited his desires, making him helpless in the only way a strong man could be--and battering them both with waves of pleasure. Teddy was elated by the devastating power of her feeling for Zach, but when she realized her fierce warrior never meant to let her stay in his life, she risked her pride on a reckless gamble. Could she coax the lone wolf to walk willingly at her side once she held the key to his soul?





“Now this is the Law of the Jungle –

as old and as true as the sky;

And the Wolf that shall keep it may prosper,

but the Wolf that shall break it must die”

– Kipling





One




Theodora Suzanne Jessica Tyler realized she'd made a mistake. Not a big one, really, except that it now looked as though she'd landed herself in a first-class mess. She was miles away from civilization, it was after midnight, and her beloved old Impala had just given up the ghost.

Swearing, Teddy got out of the car and slammed the door, annoyed at herself rather than the Impala. She'd been warned, after all, that the car probably wouldn't be able to stand the trip across the Rockies. And the poor thing had groaned and wheezed when she'd started the engine hours ago in that little town.

"So what if their only hotel was a crummy one?" she told the car in disgust. "At least it had a roof. And there was a telephone. I could have put you in for repairs in that garage for a couple of days. I should have. Then we wouldn't;  be stuck halfway down a mountain and miles from everything." She glanced around at total darkness, adding a bit louder, "And on a deserted road, dammit. Except for us, there's been no traffic for fifty miles."

Dispiritedly, she kicked a tire gently and began to swear in a steady voice. It made her feel better. Her voice was a rational sound in the utter quiet of a deserted night, and comforting for that reason.

Teddy was accustomed to being alone, but she didn't like being this alone. And since panic was alien to her nature, she began to get angrier.

"There must be somebody in this godforsaken wilderness. Maybe if I blew the horn—"

There was somebody in the wilderness.

When he reached out, the last thing Zach expected to gather to his massive chest was a small, soft, decidedly feminine armful with a fine talent for creative cursing and great survival instincts. He'd heard a woman speak, but she'd sounded taller somehow, and it was too dark to see clearly.

He clamped one big hand over her mouth, cutting off the loud and colorful swearing, and tried not to hurt her while also trying to protect vulnerable parts of his anatomy from her rage.

"Hold it!" he growled hastily. "I'm not going to hurt you!"

She chose not to believe him. She also chose to bring her small, booted heel down squarely on his left foot, and since he wasn't wearing boots himself, the contact was definitely painful. She also bit him.

"Dammit!" He grunted with pain, shifting his feet and momentarily releasing her mouth.

"Let go of me, you big oaf!" she said, then drew a deep breath.

Since he couldn't afford to let her scream, Zach covered her mouth again. Her response was a series of indignant kicks and a few violent and improbable wiggles. A bit indignant himself, he lifted her completely off her feet and tightened his grasp with the care of a large and powerful man who knew his own vast strength to the last ounce; he was still hoping he wouldn't hurt her.

Speaking in a soft voice near her ear, he said, "I'll uncover your mouth if you won't scream—and if you do scream, I swear I'll deck a woman for the first time in my life!"

She bit him again.

Hampered by having to hold her and desperately determined that she make no sound, Zach briefly considered his options. They weren't promising. The last thing he wanted to do was knock her out. She was reacting fairly reasonably to her situation as she saw it, and had done nothing to deserve a forced nap. Besides, if Zach had any soft spot at all, it was for little women with more courage and temper than sense. Like her.

"I won't hurt you," he repeated, switching to a soothing tone and managing to set her on her feet just long enough to pull a handkerchief from his pocket. Before she could start kicking again, he distracted her by removing his hand from her mouth and quickly replacing it with the handkerchief. He had her gagged in just a few seconds and had her back off her feet before she could give vent to her renewed rage.

The sounds she made now were muffled and unintelligible, which was all he could hope for; he was silently praying the noises reached no more than a few yards in any direction. He had to work quickly and quietly, and his mind was racing over those few options.

He couldn't let her go even if he could get the car running again. In her mood, she was sure to drive straight to the nearest town—a scant ten miles away—and report her encounter with a murderous fiend on the roadside. Even if he could explain his behavior, which he couldn't, he didn't dare attract attention. He couldn't tie her up and leave her in the car; if anyone found her, it would likely be the wrong people. And if he kept her with him, she was sure as hell going to prove a royal pain in the rear— whether or not he could convince her he was on the side of the angels.

Lousy options.

Swearing softly and being unconsciously fierce about it, Zach finally managed to wrestle her over to a slender tree and used his belt to bind her wrists together behind it. Then, ignoring the blue-tinted noises coming from behind the gag, he approached the car and used his pencil flashlight to check it out. The rusting Impala was over twenty years old; it didn't take Zach five minutes to realize the car had died and that its resurrection depended on nothing less than a new engine.

He stood beside it for a moment, gazing thoughtfully in the dark down the straight stretch of road. Finally, with a philosophical shrug, he reached inside and got the keys. The unlocked trunk revealed a couple of swollen suitcases, which he retrieved and put by the side of the road. Then he got in and methodically went through the car, gathering every shred of paper he could find and stuffing them into the pocket of his flannel jacket.

There was a large leather handbag inside, as well as a thermos and a tote bag filled with various snacks, and he put those by the side of the road. Just to be sure, he also searched beneath the seats and under the floor mats. He found a roll of electrician's tape in the glove compartment and used that to lock the steering wheel in place, then knocked the car out of gear and released the emergency brake.

He got out and went around to the rear of the car, standing still for a long moment as he listened. Sound carried in the mountains, and he knew he'd hear if another car was within miles. There was no sound. Bending, he pushed hard, his considerable muscles bunching with the effort. The car began rolling, and thirty seconds later Zach watched the last faint glint of it disappear silently into the darkness.

This stretch of road ended, he knew, in a gentle curve overlooking a small lake. The car wouldn't make the turn. Several minutes passed before Zach heard the distant splash of something heavy finishing off a high dive into the lake in grand style.

A muffled wall came from behind him, and Zach sighed as he loaded up the woman's stuff and carried it into the woods. It didn't take long to get the bags to his place. Minutes later, he was back at the tree, gazing at her. Despite highly developed night vision, he couldn't see much, but judging by her movements, the lady was still furious.

He couldn't really blame her.

He was more worried at the moment, however, by their proximity to the house. He glanced in that direction, relieved to find no light shining through the trees. With any luck at all, he decided, they hadn't made enough commotion to attract attention.

Wondering what in heaven's name he was going to do with her, Zach unfastened the lady's wrists, avoiding her kicking and managing to get her away from the tree. He bound her wrists behind her back again, then hoisted her easily over one shoulder. It was simple to hold both her tiny ankles and prevent her from kicking him, but her struggles slightly upset his balance. He slapped her smartly on the rear with his free hand, muttering softly, "Be still!" Not that she did; an indignant note was now added to the furious sounds still emanating from behind the gag.

He carried her through the woods and away from the house and road. Within moments they were deep into the forest. Zach could move quickly and quietly, especially for a man of his size and weight. He slowed at last, pushing his way through a tangle of undergrowth, ivy, and brambles that hid a small rickety cabin. He opened the surprisingly well-fitted door and carried her inside, closing the door behind them.

It was pitch dark inside, but he moved unerringly across the small room and dropped her gently onto a wide, sturdy cot. Then he double-checked to make certain the heavy shades still guarded the two small windows before he turned on a large, battery-powered lamp. The light was strong, and Zach turned with a great many misgivings to contemplate his unexpected—and unwelcome—guest.

The first thing he noticed was her hair. There seemed to be a great deal of it for so tiny a woman, and it was such a bright red as to seem unreal. Above the strip of white linen guarding her mouth was a delicate nose sprinkled with freckles and large, spaniel-brown eyes. Her eyes dominated her face, giving her a waif-like appearance. Her skin was the creamy white of a true redhead, and though she was certainly a small woman, Zach knew there were quite a few eye-catching curves beneath her heavy sweater and jeans. He'd felt them.

She wasn't beautiful, but there was something endearingly sweet and fresh about her face. Cute. She was cute, he decided judiciously. She was also, he realized, staring at him in alarm. Fear.

He didn't have to ask what had altered the rage to fear even as he'd turned to face her. The scar. He never quite forgot he bore that scar, even though he wasn't self-conscious about it. The thin silver mark ran from the comer of his left eye to his jaw, and though it wasn't disfiguring, he knew it lent his face a look of menace, perhaps even cruelty.

Especially in a situation like this.

Zach sighed a little and moved to sit on the edge of the cot. She didn't shrink away from him, but he could feel her stiffen. He untied the gag, then released her wrists. He spoke finally, keeping his voice even and calm.

"I said I wouldn't hurt you, and I meant that. But you've stumbled into something dangerous, and I can't let you go until it's all over." He glanced down to watch her massaging her wrists, and felt a pang of regret when he saw the red marks that the belt had left on her white skin.

Frowning a little, he got up again and went over to unearth a first-aid kit from a cluttered shelf by the door. He opened the kit and found a tube of salve, then carried it back to the cot and sat down again. "Here—" He reached for her wrist.

Instantly, she drew away from him until her back was against the wall. And for someone who'd sworn steadily for so long, she was surprisingly silent now.

Zach's face settled into its habitual bland expression. He dropped the tube onto the blanket at her side. "Use that on your wrists," he said impersonally. "It's a commercial first-aid cream." He rose and went over to where her bags were piled under one window, picking up the thermos. Finding reasonably hot coffee inside, he poured some into the plastic cup and carried it to her. "It's your coffee," he reminded, still impersonal. "And you may have noticed I neither drugged nor poisoned it."

After a moment she sat up and gingerly took the cup from his outstretched hand.

Zach watched her sip the liquid, still bothered both by her red wrists and the wary alarm in her eyes. "You don't have to be afraid of me," he said finally in a softened tone. "I'd let you go right now, but it could be dangerous for you. And don't let the scar fool you—I'm not as mean as I look."

Her eyes flickered, and her gaze slid away from his to stare at his cheek. She seemed surprised. And she sounded both surprised and curiously annoyed when she finally spoke.

"I didn't even notice that. It's hardly visible." Her voice, robbed of the fire and brimstone, was musical, faintly husky.

Zach was surprised. "Then why did you suddenly look afraid when I turned to face you?"

She pointed at him and grimaced. "That."

He looked down and saw that his flannel jacket had fallen open to reveal the gun he wore in a shoulder holster. "Oh." He looked back at her, smiling a little. "I'd forgotten."

She continued to look wary, but something seemed to have eased her mind. "How could you forget a gun that big?"

"You get used to it."

After a moment she said in a small voice, "Tell me you're a cop."

"Sorry."

"No badge?"

"No badge."

"But you aren't going to hurt me?"

"I swear."

Her gaze wandered around the room, settling on the jumble of electronic equipment weighing down a makeshift counter. She recognized what looked like a portable computer, but there was nothing else she could identify. She thought vaguely that the square things on the floor could be batteries. Maybe. And there was something that might have been a radio, complete with headphones.

The remainder of the room was also filled with equipment—and other things. There were two rifles propped against a wall, with boxes of ammunition stacked beside them. There was a small refrigerator and a butane stove and some kind of heater that whirred softly. Open shelves revealed canned goods and other foodstuffs, along with stacks of paper plates and plastic cups and utensils. The battery-powered lamp sat on a small wooden table boasting two sturdy looking chairs. There was a sink with an old manual pump, and there was the bed she sat on.

It looked like this man had been here for a while. And that he was ready for just about anything. Including a siege.

Teddy looked back at him finally, trying to weigh her various impressions. He was definitely an Intimidating man, partly because of his sheer size and the raw power he exuded. His voice was soft and effortless, and his gray eyes were serene—deceptively so, she thought. And though that rugged face was bland, it was also hard.

What on earth had she stumbled into?

"Why would it be dangerous for me if you let me go?"

"It's ten miles to the nearest town."

Teddy was frowning a little, working only on instinct as she tried to read his expressionless face. "That isn't what you meant."

Zach had been prepared for a kind of "prisoner of war" reaction from her, something he was familiar with. He'd expected a logical progression in her reactions to being held against her will. First, the frightened silence and suspicion of his every move. Then nervous questions and promises that she wouldn't tell anyone about him. When that didn't work, she'd be quiescent for a while before attempting to escape. Failing to escape, she'd be enraged and frustrated by helplessness.

And if he was forced to keep her prisoner long enough, her reaction would be one that would make him despise himself. There would be a gradual progression to shock, apathy. There would also come a time when she would likely develop a sort of emotional dependence on him; he had seen it happen. And that final response could easily leave more scars on the "kidnapper" than the victim.

He had known that to happen too.

Zach didn't want any of those things to take place. And he was somewhat encouraged because after her first rational fear passed, she seemed more curious and thoughtful than anxious. It would, he knew, be greatly to her benefit if she could accept the situation calmly and feel relatively unthreatened by it. If he could keep his own attitude low-key and reasonable, maybe they'd both get out of this all right. Maybe.

Now those shrewd brown eyes waited for a response, and Zach weighed his words carefully. "That was partly what I meant," he said slowly.

"But there was more to it." She glanced around the room, then back at him. "What're you doing up here?"

Zach had never been one to trust easily and so he didn't answer, but merely said, "Put some first-aid cream on your wrists."

After a moment she set her cup aside and picked up the tube. Rubbing the cream into her bruised and chafed flesh, she asked, "How long do you expect to keep me here?"

Zach was pouring himself a cup of coffee from the pot on the small stove. "No longer than necessary."

Her eyes followed him as he sat in a chair by the table. "Then you'll turn me loose? You drowned my car," she reminded him. "How will I get out of here?"

He shrugged. "I'll take you to a town."

"You have a car up here?"

He smiled faintly. "No."

Teddy abandoned the possibility of stealing his car. "Well, dammit," she muttered. The amusement in his eyes irritated her, and she went on aggrievedly, "If you were a cop, I could probably get a new car out of this. You know, official appeasement of a defenseless woman attacked on the roadside by a cop who subsequently trashed her car."

He shrugged again, still amused. "You car was already dead. I just buried it."

She stared at him. "D'you have a name?"

"Zach Steele." If she got away, he decided, it was all over, anyway—her knowing his name wouldn't matter.

"At least you didn't say John Smith."

"I'm a very truthful man. What's your name?"

"Theodora Suzanne Jessica Tyler." She said it with a trace of defiance that was almost automatic.

He blinked. "Quite a handle. Is there a shortened version?"

"Teddy."

Zach liked that; it suited her, he thought. But all he said was, "I have to do some work, Teddy—mostly inside this cabin. A day, maybe two. I don't want to have to tie you up or gag you again, but you'll have to be quiet. And even if you get outside, you won't know where you are. You could easily get lost."

Teddy was slowly recapping the tube of salve and looking at him thoughtfully. "Or I could run into someone who is meaner than he looks?"

He was a little surprised and wondered if she was simply guessing. "Why do you say that?"

Obviously annoyed, she said, "I'm not blind." She nodded toward the rifles and ammunition. "As I understand it, the game up here doesn't shoot back. And then there's your handgun—hardly standard hunting equipment. Unless you're hunting something that walks on two legs and does shoot back. Stop me if I'm getting warm."

"Stop," he murmured.

"I don't suppose you're a modern-day bounty hunter?"

"No."

"Good. The kind of cop that doesn't carry a badge, maybe?"

"What kind is that?" he asked neutrally.

She studied him. "Oh... one who's undercover. A federal cop, maybe. Or one who's on a stakeout. That's equipment designed to listen in on something," she added with a nod toward the electronic jumble.

Zach returned her stare, his own growing unconsciously harder, suspicious. "Just where were you headed when your car died?" he asked.

Teddy couldn't help swallowing hard, though she managed not to look away from his suddenly icy gray eyes. "Not around here, that's for sure. I was heading back East to visit relatives."

"I don't suppose you can prove that?"

Her chin lifted, and her own eyes grew stormy. "No. I don't suppose I can."

After a moment Zach reached into his pocket and began pulling out the papers he'd gotten from her car. He looked through them carefully, all the while keeping an unobtrusive eye on her. She didn't stir, but those brown eyes were still stormy.

The papers were the innocent ones found in most cars. A registration slip in her name. A few road maps: California, Nevada, Utah, Colorado. Three years' worth of inspection slips. Four tattered shopping lists, half a dozen crumpled receipts tangled with green stamps, a dusty mileage log filled with entries and bearing both her name and an unreadably smeared official looking stamp inside the front cover.

Zach looked at her for a moment, then reached out a long arm to snag the big leather purse. She never changed expression, but Zach nonetheless hesitated. There was something so damned personal about a woman's purse, he thought, and he felt ridiculously in the wrong about rummaging through it. Then, to his surprise, he caught a sardonic gleam in her eyes, and she gestured slightly.

"Go ahead."

He had to be certain she wasn't involved In this; there was too much at stake. Accordingly, Zach opened the purse. Three seconds later he understood her faint mockery. And since he had never in his life opened a woman's purse, he had to wonder in astonishment if Teddy's was par for the course.

The pocket calendar made sense, he thought, as did the hairbrush, compact, and lipstick. He lifted these out carefully and set them on the table. Then, one bit at a time, he lifted out the rest. There was a flimsy string bag, bunched in a knot. There was an overlarge, decidedly bulky leather work-glove—left-handed. There was a small notebook with lined blank pages and three pens clipped to it. There was a dog leash designed to restrain anything up to and including a rabid St. Bernard. There was a folding leather case holding a selection of darts and a small vial of liquid labeled "tranquillizer."

Somewhat thoughtfully, Zach buttoned that into his pocket.

There was an electric bill, stamped paid, a phone bill, also stamped, an address book, two packages of chewing gum, a book of postage stamps, a long silk scarf, a braided leather belt, a toothbrush in a plastic case, a small penknife, a large and crowded ring of keys, a contact lens case, a much-handled deck of playing cards, one pair of sunglasses, and one pair of dark-rimmed corrective lenses—both in cases.

In the very bottom of the purse, lying in a nest of coins, paper clips, and rubber bands, was a leather billfold. Zach drew that out and opened it. He didn't bother to check for cash but looked instead for identification. Behind the plastic sleeve containing a picture of Teddy on an elephant were other sleeves holding credit cards, a donor card, a California driver's license, a social security card, several business cards, and an identity card naming Teddy as an Animal Control Officer for the city of San Francisco.

"Can I go through your pockets now?" she asked politely.

Zach replaced everything in the purse, then drew out his wallet and tossed it to her in silence.

She was obviously surprised, but that didn't stop her from opening the wallet and looking through it. She, too, ignored cash for other things. She found several credit cards—including two major ones authorized to Zach but in the name of a company she recognized, partly because it was constantly in the news.

"Long Enterprises." She looked at him quickly. "Joshua Long's company? You work for him?"

Zach made a silent mental note to tell Josh he was getting too damned well-known outside business circles—as if he hadn't always been famous. Or infamous. "Yes. But I'm presently on vacation."

After a moment Teddy went back to examining the wallet. A New York driver's license. Social security card. A permit to carry a concealed weapon. Identification naming Zach as a security consultant. A donor card. No photos.

Teddy closed the wallet and tossed it back to him. Detached, she said, "We both know any of this stuff could have been faked. So where did it get us?"

"I believe you were just passing through," he told her.

She was curious. "What convinced you?"

"I think it was the dog leash."

Teddy blinked. "Oh. And what am I supposed to believe?"

Zach looked at her and quite suddenly wished they were in another place at another time. "Whatever you want to believe, I guess."

She finished her coffee in silence and set the cup aside, trying to read his bland, hard face. It was impossible. His expression was unnerving—but not frightening. Not really. She felt peculiarly safe with this stranger.

"How long?" she asked abruptly. "You must have some idea."

"A week, if we're lucky."

"And if we aren't?"

"Then it'll be longer."

Teddy drew a soft breath. "And if I told you that my sister is expecting a call tomorrow to let her know I'm all right?"

"I'm sorry," he said sincerely.

She bit her lip. "Look, my sister is five months' pregnant, and she's miscarried twice. She knows the car isn't—wasn't—running too well. If I don't let her know I'm okay, she's going to worry."

Zach gazed into those pleading eyes and wished for the second time that they were somewhere else. After a moment he sighed himself. "I’ll think of something. For now, why don't you get some sleep?"

"I'm not sleepy."

He sat back and sipped his coffee, watching her.

Teddy stirred restlessly. In a tone of foreboding she said, "If you're the strong and silent type, we're in trouble. I'm a talker. Silence drives me crazy." She stared at him, adding sardonically, "Don't tell me, loose lips sink ships?"

"Well, they do." His tone was mild. "As it happens, though, I just don't have anything to say."

"The situation's getting worse. All right, accepting—not that I do—the fact that we're not going to discuss what you're doing here, there must be some safe topic. Ummm... let's talk about your famous employer. Or is he involved in this thing you're doing? No, you wouldn't answer that, would—"

"He's not involved," Zach Interrupted firmly. "I told you, I'm on vacation."

"Then let's talk about him." Teddy clasped her arms around her upraised knees and leaned back against the wall. "The press has been going hot and heavy for months over the possibility that Long has gotten involved with that Island dictator. They seem to think he's about to invest in President Sereno’s country."

Zach remained impassive.

Teddy eyed him. "We're not going to talk about that?"

"I'm not."

"It violates national security, I suppose?"

He said nothing.

With a sigh Teddy said, "You're worse than a clam. What can we talk about? The weather requires no discussion, and things like politics drive me nuts. What does a security consultant do?" she asked abruptly.

Zach shrugged. "Consults. Checks out security systems, designs and installs them, solves security problems."

"You do that for Long Enterprises?"

"Yes."

Her gaze wandered around the room, focusing on the computer. "You work with computers?"

"Yes."

"I mean, really work with them? Program them and stuff like that?"

"Yes."

Quite suddenly, Teddy snatched up her empty plastic coffee cup and threw it at him. Zach deflected the missile with the quick instinctive reflexes of a fighter and stared at her stormy face in surprise.

"Did I miss something?" he asked dryly.

Her only response to the question was a deepening of her glare. "A clam. You'd make a lousy talk-show guest, you know that? One-word answers! Instruct the witness to answer just yes or no, please, Your Honor. We don't want to waste the court's time."

Zach, who had never gone in much for small talk or social conversation, shrugged somewhat helplessly. "Sorry."

Teddy rested her forehead on her upraised knees, and her voice emerged muffled. "I can see this is going to be a long incarceration."

She awoke to faint jingling sounds and sat up, rubbing her eyes sleepily and blinking away the morning dryness of her contact lenses. When she could focus, she saw Zach unbuckling a tool belt from around his waist, and watched while he sat down and began removing spiked boots from both feet.

"Have you been climbing telephone poles?" she asked in a voice still thick with sleep. It was then that she realized he'd been out of the cabin and that she could have escaped. Her disappointment was mild, which surprised her.

"You wanted to let your sister know you were all right," he reminded her, hanging his coat on a peg by the door and going over to sit before the computer.

Teddy pushed away the blankets, wondering if he had covered her and removed her boots after she'd fallen asleep; she couldn't even remember falling asleep. "Yes, but there's no phone. Is there?"

"Next best thing," he murmured, turning on the computer.

She got to her feet, stretching, and padded over to stand beside him. She was only partially awake but was still able to understand what he was doing. Access codes. He was using a connection to the phone lines to communicate with another computer. Teddy opened her mouth to comment, then decided there was no earthly reason why this large man should know the extent of her own knowledge.

"What're you doing?"

"Leaving a message," he answered absently, still typing.

"My sister doesn't have a computer."

"Long Enterprises does."





Two




A gleaming high rise in New York City housed the "home base" of Long Enterprises, and the entire fifteenth floor contained what was, In essence, the technological brain of the organization. Every room and office held a computer console, each tied to the central data base that Zach Steele had designed. Every worker could request data from the central bank, but various security systems and access codes prevented anyone from gaining access to anything restricted without the proper permission. And only those with top clearance could use computers to call "outside" the system through the telephone lines and via a modem—a practice that even with every precaution taken could leave the system open to tampering.

Lucas Kendrick, as chief investigator for the company, was one of the few with a top clearance, and he sat now in his office, yawning and drinking coffee, while he watched the blank screen of his humming console. His silvery blond hair bore the appearance of having had fingers run through it several times, and his blue eyes, though sharp, were also a bit sleepy.

It was just before eight A.M. New York time, on a mild Tuesday morning.

"Anything?" Rafferty Lewis came in and rested a hip on the comer of Lucas's desk, holding a cup of coffee and, like Lucas, looking as If he'd been awakened rudely and before he was ready to face the day.

"Nothing yet." Lucas checked his watch. "Should be coming through shortly, though."

"Any idea where he is?" Rafferty asked him, impatiently brushing back a lock of coppery hair that insisted on falling over his forehead.

Lucas shook his head. "I only know what I told you over the phone. Tracy was working in the central computer room as usual last night, and she called me because when she checked the mainframe, there was a message flag. Zach wanted me to stand by this morning, leaving my console online." His voice was low and curiously compelling, a voice that could charm the devil out of hell.

"I don't suppose we could trace the call?" Rafferty's lazy voice successfully hid the fact that he was one of Harvard Law School's more brilliant graduates—something various courtroom opponents had discovered at their cost.

"From Zach? No way. Hell probably have the call routed through so many dead ends that we wouldn't be able to trace it if we had a month."

Rafferty looked at his friend thoughtfully. "Is that why you called me? Because he's covering his tracks?" "Something's up. And I have this hollow feeling that it has to do with our federal nemesis."

"Hagen?" Rafferty frowned. "We haven't heard from him in months, not since Kadeira."

Lucas grunted. "Want to bet he's found some assignment that just cries out for a man of Zach's vast talents?"

"I wouldn't waste my money. I do wonder how he managed to convince Zach, though. Josh and Raven won't be back for another week, right?" He waited for the nod. "I’ll call Sarah a little later and see if she can find out anything. She's the only one of us in a position to get quick information, since she still works for him."

Lucas looked up at him; he seemed especially solemn. "How's the mother-to-be doing? Is she still serving you crackers in bed every morning?"

"Shut up," Rafferty told him politely, but he took a hasty sip of coffee as if to ward off nausea. Then, aggrievedly, he added, "I don't care if it is a common phenomenon, I could sure do without it. Sarah bounds out of bed looking radiant every morning and eats anything she wants, and I walk around looking like a corpse."

Lucas eyed him. "Uh-huh."

There was no opportunity for Rafferty to retort, since the computer beeped just then, demanding attention.

"It's coming through now," Lucas said, humor fleeing.

Rafferty leaned forward to watch the screen, serious as well. "About time."

Teddy was hardly aware her forearm was resting on Zach's broad shoulder as she leaned forward to watch intently. Never very appearance-conscious, she was unconcerned that she had slept in her clothes, that her hair hadn't been brushed this morning, and that she wore no makeup. And if she'd been told that she looked glorious this morning, she would have been amused and disbelieving.

Zach had almost said as much to her. After the first contact well before dawn, Zach had waited to give Lucas time to get to the computer in New York. He had been silent, Teddy had been half asleep, so they had said very little to each other.

Now they could get a message through. She spelled her sister's married name for him and watched the silent conversation on the screen continue, commenting only, "Isn't it illegal to use language like that through the telephone lines?"

Trying to ignore her nearness and the elusive scent that reminded him of a mountain meadow in spring, he said, "Lucas isn't happy with me, I'm afraid."

"Obviously." She watched a moment longer." 'Just because the boss is in Canada'—who's the boss? Long?"

"Um." Zach quickly typed a response to Lucas's reprimand.

"Have permission, do you?" Teddy murmured, watching words appear on the screen. Then she added, "I don't think your friend is buying that."

Zach typed a final decisive sentence, then turned the computer off before Lucas could berate him anymore.

"Will he deliver the message to Jennifer?" Teddy asked, straightening as she abruptly reminded herself this man was still wearing a gun.

"He’ll deliver it. And he has the charm to reassure her that you're fine."

Teddy hastily removed her arm from his shoulder. "Oh. Good." She looked around, spotting a narrow door at the back of the cabin. "That wouldn't happen to be a bathroom, would it?"

"It would, such as it is."

She went to check out the room, looking around the doorjamb a moment later to say resignedly, "There's no shower or tub."

"Sorry. There's a stream not too far away."

Teddy looked at him with the obvious horror of a city girl asked to do the unthinkable. "You mean you bathe in a freezing mountain stream?"

"Sure."

She shivered elaborately, muttered, "No way," and vanished back into the tiny room, closing the door behind her.

Zach wasn't worried she'd escape; there was no window in there. Besides, he had a feeling he could leave the front door wide open and she wouldn't try to get away. Not in her current mood, at any rate. She had fallen asleep last night with the suddenness of a child and slept deeply until morning. An unconscious sign of trust, he thought. And she had certainly accepted him to the extent of leaning on him companionably for long minutes while watching him work at the computer.

It had been unconscious, and he had shrewdly noted the moment she'd become aware of her action and had somewhat hastily withdrawn from that closeness. Zach looked down at the large hands resting on either side of the keyboard, and his jaw tightened.

With a movement that was almost savage, he turned the computer back on. Useless, he thought, to wish again they'd met in another place and time.

And useless to hope this entire situation turned out happily for all concerned.

Zach didn't believe in fairy-tale endings.

He was busy working at the console when she came out of the bathroom to get a few things from her suitcase, so Teddy didn't disturb him. She dug out a change of clothes, her toothbrush and toilet articles, then returned to the bathroom and did the best she could to freshen up.

Her movements were automatic, and she hardly looked at her reflection in the cracked mirror above the bare porcelain sink. She was thinking, and since she was surprisingly logical for so emotional a woman, she was listing her conclusions mentally.

She believed Zach Steele wouldn't hurt her. She had gone to sleep naturally in his presence, which meant she instinctively trusted him. He had gone out of his way to find some means of contacting her sister to provide reassurance—granted, though, that could have been merely because he didn't want an alarm raised.

Teddy was intrigued. She stopped brushing her unruly hair and gazed blindly into the mirror. She had dreamed about Zach. And the dream had left her with a feeling of safety and security—but there had also been a peculiar excitement and an unfamiliar, vivid awareness of the man. He certainly wasn't a man one could ignore. And her reaction to him was... confusing. It was a combination of three separate responses. Intellectually, she was intrigued by the puzzle of what he was up to and frustrated by how taciturn he was; physically, she was highly conscious of the raw, almost animal virility of his big body; and emotionally—what? Emotionally, she was powerfully drawn to him.

Why? Why? What had happened during their brief hours together that had destroyed her fear and created these other feelings?

Had it been because the marks on her wrists had obviously disturbed him? Because he had hesitated to look into her purse? Because he had seemed to believe almost automatically that the faint scar on his face had frightened her? Because there were no pictures, no indications of his past or personality in his wallet?

Teddy swore quietly and set her brush aside. She looked into the cracked mirror, really looked, and the slightly distorted reflection of her face was disquieting.

She didn't recognize herself.

When she went back into the main room of the cabin, he was still working at the computer. Keeping her distance from him, she asked tentatively, "I don't suppose I can watch what you're doing?"

"I'd rather you didn't," he answered immediately, without turning around.

"Well, then, d'you mind if I do something about breakfast?"

"No, go ahead." He glanced around at her then, and for an Instant there was a flicker of humor in his gray eyes. "When this is over, you can write a book about being held hostage and forced to cook your own breakfast."

"Don't think I don't appreciate the irony of the situation," she told him, walking over to study the small stove and shelf of canned and dry goods. Continuing absently, she said. "I guess I could make things harder on us both, but that idea doesn't appeal to me much. By the way—why is there only a pump out here but a regular faucet in the bathroom?"

"Beats me. I think this used to be a hunter's cabin, built twenty or thirty years ago from the look of it. The bathroom is a recent addition. I suppose there could have been some idea of turning this place into a guest cottage or something when the house was built—" He broke off abruptly, a mixture of surprise and Irritation flashing briefly across his face.

Teddy looked at him but didn't ask the natural question, "What house?" Instead, she said merely, "Oh. Any preference as to breakfast?"

"Suit yourself." He returned his attention to the computer, still annoyed with himself for mentioning the house. Behind him, Teddy worked quietly, humming all the while. Zach found himself thinking of what a lovely voice she had, and his irritation grew. He frowned at the screen, absorbing the detailed descriptions of a dozen paintings, four necklaces, six rings, and a score of unset gemstones that had been stolen the previous week. "Interpol?" she exclaimed from just behind him. Zach turned quickly.

"All right, I snooped," she agreed hastily, "but I couldn't help it." She was standing a foot away, her eyes flickering from his face to the computer screen. "Interpol has a computer? I didn't know that. I guess they'd have to, though, wouldn't they? I mean, since they're an international organization?" She was babbling nervously and knew it. There was something about the expression on Zach's face that unnerved her.

"Shut it off," he said softly.

Instantly, she did, falling silent and staring at him.

Zach drew a deep breath, holding her gaze steadily. "Look, I know you didn't ask to get mixed up in this, but the fact remains that you're stuck here for the duration. How long that'll be depends on several factors beyond my control, but you can help shorten the time by leaving me alone to do what I have to— and by not asking questions. I know you're curious, I know that's natural, but I simply can't afford to satisfy your curiosity. And, to be blunt, it'll be better for you to know as little as possible. Now, if you can't live with that, I'll have to waste a hell of a lot of valuable time and probably ruin weeks of work by getting you out of here and having a friend of mine keep you under house arrest somewhere until I've finished what I came here to do. Understand?"

It was the most she'd heard him say, but it was the faint chill in his gray eyes and the snap to his voice that had the stronger effect. She nodded, then went back to her work at the stove, utterly silent.

Zach ran the fingers of his right hand through his thick black hair, unsettled by his own display of temper. He was rarely irritable; his anger, when it was roused at all, took the form of usually violent action with little words.

He gazed at her slender, stiff back, wondering what had happened to his Intentions of being low-key and reasonable. Even though his reasoning had been accurate, he hadn't meant to scare her. He could hardly fault her for having no idea what she'd stumbled into, and it was perfectly natural for her to be curious.

And he just might have wrecked even her unconscious trust in him—which he didn't know how he'd earned in the first place—and put them right back where they'd started.

He hesitated only a moment, then rose and moved to stand just behind her. "Teddy? I'm sorry, I didn't mean to snap at you."

She had made a batter from flour and thinned evaporated milk, and was preparing pancakes. She didn't turn to face him. "You were right, it isn't any of my business. I'm just the hostage." Her voice wasn't meek or frightened—it was tight and furious.

Zach was almost relieved but also wary. He was certain her spirited temperament would see her through this with a minimum of emotional scars, but it seemed likely that he'd find a few new marks on his own hide before they were through.

He responded carefully. "The door's unlocked, and I neither tied you up nor locked the door when I left earlier to patch into the phone lines. I'm trusting you, Teddy."

Some of the stiffness left her shoulders, but she didn't turn around. "Sure you are," she said sardonically.

He reached over her to set the pan off the burner. Then turned her around, his hands on her shoulders, dimly surprised that he was so intent on convincing her. "Teddy..." His voice deepened and a fierce note entered it. "If the timing weren't so critical, I'd get you out of here, someplace safe. But I can't afford to leave. And that means you have to stay here and do as I say."

Eyes stormy, she said, "So I have to accept blindly and follow orders? If that's the kind of macho crap you're used to, pal, you're in for a sur—"

He shook her, hard. "It's got nothing to do with | being macho, dammit!" he growled. "It concerns keeping your pretty little butt out of one hell of a dangerous sling!"

"That's right," she mockingly, "scare the poor silly woman to keep her quiet and obedient! Just what century did you grow up in, anyway? I can take care of myself, dammit. I don't need some over-grown, overbearing, arrogant, son of a sexist dog telling me, what to do!" She was almost shouting on the last words, angrier than she could ever remember being and not exactly sure why, especially since she wasn't a feminist and knew perfectly well that he wasn't being sexist.

It was very puzzling.

When she drew a breath to continue her tirade, Zach muttered, "Ahhh—hell." and used a rather old, timeworn, and arguably sexist solution to the problem of her noisy defiance: He kissed her.

Teddy found herself lifted completely off her feet and held against his massive chest in an Immensely disconcerting bear hug. It wasn't painful, but her senses hadn't suffered a shock like this since— her senses had never been shocked like this.

Out of sheer automatic self-preservation she fought him, but it was like a puppy yapping at the heels of a lumbering bear: The ammunition was hardly adequate for the battle.

The layers of muscle padding his shoulders easily absorbed the blows other small fists, and she couldn't seem to get the necessary leverage to kick him. And struggling out of his grasp was Impossible, given his enormous strength.

In any case, the battle lasted all of five seconds. Teddy felt her own strength draining away, as if he'd managed to uncork a dam inside her, and she became vividly conscious of her body's response to his. There was an instant of shocked Immobility, and then a passion she'd never known before rose in a tidal wave. Her mouth opened almost wildly to the fierce Insistence of his, and the possessive thrust of his tongue sent a curl of fire licking at her senses.

Teddy promptly forgot everything else. Her arms curved around his neck, her fingers delighting in the thick silk of his hair. His arms were around her, one hand curving around the swell of her bottom to hold her against him and the other across her back so that his fingers lay beneath her arm, touching her breast.

She was hardly aware that the outer curve of her other breast was pressed against the gun he wore.

The searing demand of his mouth branded her, and she could feel the most deeply buried responses her body could claim rising to meet him, to give what he demanded of her. Her breasts throbbed and ached intolerably, and when she felt the swelling response of his body, her own quivered with readiness. For the first time in her life a hollow need whispered yearningly that her female body had been designed for this. Intended, fated for this, and that instinct was a seduction she couldn't fight.

It was insane, of course, wild, mad, inescapably crazy. It was something that didn't happen. Not like this, not so quickly and violently. Not with a stranger— and a dangerous one, at that. But Teddy could no more fight the turbulent awakening other body than she could move mountains or halt an earthquake. It was a force of nature, one never intended to be understood or mastered by so frail a thing as a human.

The realization flitted briefly though Teddy's mind, and she accepted it. Her body knew more certainly than her Intellect that this was right.

She held back nothing. Her small, slender body moved sensuously against his hard frame, and her mouth fed his hunger while demanding with her own. She wanted him.

Zach had acted on Impulse, kissing her because it would quiet her and because he wanted to kiss her, had wanted to since the middle of the night while he sat and watched her sleep. But he had not been prepared for this. This explosion. This detonation of something raw and devastating.

If it had been only his own response, he might have been able to fight it, but her fiery reaction was more than even his great strength and control could master. Though generally holding himself aloof, he was a physical, sensual man and not in the habit of denying himself. And with this slender, feminine woman moving seductively against him, he wasn't prepared to start now.

Teddy wasn't aware of movement but automatically identified the softness of the cot when she was lowered onto it. A dull thud told her he had managed to get out of his shoulder harness and had dropped the gun to the floor. She felt bereft when his mouth left hers, but Instant pleasure replaced the loss as his lips trailed down her neck. She could feel the heavy weight of his leg thrown across hers, and her fingers delightedly explored the corded power of his muscled back.

He was raised on an elbow, one hand beneath her neck and the other parting the buttons of her flannel shirt and tugging it from the waistband of her jeans.

Teddy had wondered how she would respond in sexual passion—or even if she would. Since she had never felt more than a mild tingle, she had begun to wonder if that was in the cards at all for her. But she had thought about it, as women do, wondered if she would be awkward or self-conscious. Wondered if she would be passive or passionate, mindless or detached and analytical. It had always been the latter during the kisses and fumbling caresses of the past.

Now she knew. She hadn't imagined herself frantically coping with stubborn buttons, hadn't dreamed that the sounds of an overpowering need could tear loose from her throat as if they were alive and on the wing.

She felt his hand deal with the final button and sweep the flannel aside, and her eyes opened, dazed, to fix themselves on his taut face. Out of habit she had worn no bra, and Zach caught his breath when her small, full breasts were bared to his hungry gaze. His hand slid slowly up over her quivering middle until it closed gently, fiercely, on one creamy mound, and Teddy gasped at the instant, searing pleasure of that touch.

Her eyes closed briefly as a surge of hot weakness flowed through her, and a moan followed the gasp when he drew a tightening coral nipple into his mouth. Wildly, she pushed his unbuttoned shirt off his shoulders, and as he yanked the garment off and tossed it aside, she was exploring the powerful, hair-roughened expanse of his chest with fascinated hands.

She wanted to touch him, had to touch him, but the sensations rocketing through her body sparked a total absorption in what his touch was doing to her. She could only hold on to him, her nails digging into his shoulders, while wave after wave of pleasure assaulted her.

Her body had a mind of its own. The hungry pull of his mouth seemed to be drawing something out of her and replacing it with fire, and she moved restlessly, impatient. The deep muscles of her belly contracted strongly when his hand slid caressingly downward, and she didn't realize he had unfastened her jeans until his hand slid beneath them to toy with the elastic edge of her panties.

She felt as well as heard him speak, the vibration of his words a new pleasure against her breast.

"This isn't the time or place," he murmured huskily, "but I want you, Teddy. Right now... I have to have you."

She bit her lip and forced a heartfelt agreement out of her tight throat. "Yes. Yes, Zach..."

His lips were still at her breast, stringing hot kisses and tiny stinging bites that were driving her mad, and his voice was deeper, more hoarse, when he spoke again.

"I didn't come up here prepared for this. I can't protect you."

Teddy didn't much care, but the question in his voice was clear, and she answered it honestly, warmed by his concern and concentrating on just getting the words out. "I've never had a reason to worry about that. But it's all right, I think—it's the wrong time."

If she'd had the breath, she would have confided that the women in her family had difficulty in conceiving, anyway, and that her doctor had warned her she would probably have the same difficulty. But she didn't have the breath or the patience to explain about that.

"Zach..." Something was wrong, she realized. He was lifting his head, staring down at her with something wild in his eyes.

"What are you saying?" he asked tightly.

She looked at him, a chill of bewilderment cooling her passion. "I—that it's all right."

"You said you'd never had to worry about it before. Why?" he bit out.

Teddy could feel the hard tension in the nape of his neck, tension her fingers instinctively tried—and failed—to ease. "I never had a reason to," she confessed finally, her voice small and husky.

"You're a virgin?" he demanded bluntly.

"Does it matter?" It was an answer.

Zach abruptly pulled away and jerked into a sitting position, his broad back turned to her. "Hell, yes, it matters!" he snapped violently. "I want you, Teddy, but I'll be damned if I'll be the first man you take to your bed!"

"Actually, it's your bed," she murmured, drawing her shirt closed with trembling fingers and hastily fastening her jeans before she sat up.

He threw one searing look over his shoulder at her, a scornful refusal to respond to that.

Teddy was coping fiercely with the coldness of rejection, even as she tried to understand what had caused it. Her pride was spared the possibility that it was lack of desire on his part, so it was either her virginity or their lack of protection. And since it was something she could explain away, Teddy chose the latter, even though she had a hollow feeling that wasn't it.

"I wouldn't get pregnant, Zach. The women in my family have been lucky to produce even one child each generation, going back over a hundred years. It's... it's a chemical thing or... or something."

He said nothing.

She buttoned her shirt slowly, staring at his broad, tense back. Oddly enough, she didn't feel self-conscious, and there was no regret at all for what had almost happened. Only that it hadn't. Her body still ached for him. And Teddy, though Zach couldn't know it—yet—was a very tenacious lady. So she concentrated on getting to the bottom of this.

"Afraid I'd yell rape to the police?" she asked lightly.

"No."

"Well, that's something, anyway. What, then, Zach? Afraid I'd hang around your neck forever because you'd be my first lover? Is that it?"

Zach refused to look at her. He was holding on to control with every muscle and gritted teeth, and only his certain knowledge of the dangers inherent in their situation allowed him that fragile command. His body pulsed heavily and his heart was still pounding against his ribs, but his mind was cold and clear.

He wouldn't go through it again. He wouldn't.

"Zach?"

But if that wasn't it, he thought, then maybe... "Why me?" he asked harshly. "Just tell me."

She hesitated, licking her dry lips, sensing her answer to his question was terribly important. And she didn't know the answer he needed to hear. "Because... I want you. Because I've never felt that way before. Because I—oh, dammit, Zach, what d'you want me to say?"

They had known each other less that twelve hours. Zach knew he had been right.

"You've said it." He reached down for his shirt, then rose quickly and shrugged into it, striding toward the door. "If I catch you outside this cabin," he said, "I'll turn you over my knee."

Angry and bewildered, she snapped, "If I were into that sort of thing, I'd take you up on it!"

He turned at the door, his face hard and remote, a glitter of promise in his eyes. "Don't push me, Teddy," he warned. "You wouldn't like the results. I meant what I said about shipping your little butt out of here."

Sweetly, she said, "My pretty little butt, remember?"

For a moment, just an instant, she thought that would get a laugh out of him. But then he was gone.

Teddy leaned back against the wall and hugged her raised knees, frowning. She didn't think much about her motives, partly because things looked confused in that direction and partly because she knew understanding wouldn't change anything.

Firstly, it didn't matter that she knew next to nothing about him or about what he was doing here. She had always relied on her instincts—they had never yet failed her—and her instincts told her now that Zach was a man she could trust.

Secondly, Teddy was damned if she'd allow the first man who had ignited her senses to reject her.

She let the question of motive stop right there.

What remained, logically, was the question of what she could do about the problem. Obviously, she first had to find out why Zach was so rabid on the subject of virgins. And she'd have to walk a fine line to keep from interfering with whatever he was doing here so that he wouldn't send her away.

So. She had a few days, possibly a week or more, in which to convince a tremendously strong, taciturn man of stubborn disposition, uncertain temper, and powerful desires—who might or might not be doing something on the shady side of legal— that her virtuous state held no dangers at all for him.

And to aid her cause were the simple facts that he was more or less stuck here, more or less stuck with her, had already admitted In word and deed that he wanted her, and was obviously a highly sexed man who was unaccustomed to living a celibate life.

Teddy caught herself giggling, and she wondered what her mother would have said if she'd been aware of her daughter's methodical summation of the problem.

"Go for it, Teddy."

Yes, she decided, that's what her mother would have said. Their names had changed through marriage over the generations, but Teddy could indeed trace her bloodline back through a long line of women who had been thrifty in almost every way. They tended to love only one man whom they always married—she had no idea about lovers—produce one child, invariably a girl; live in one house from marriage until burial; possess at least one slightly unusual trait or talent—Teddy's was an Instinctive communication with animals—use their hormones for things other than growing tall—not one had been taller than five-foot-three; were red-haired, left-handed, myopic, resistant to most illnesses; and always stronger than they looked. Her mother had broken this pattern in only one respect: With great effort she had managed to produce a second daughter.

The genes handed down all these years from a long-ago and highly improbable mating of a highland Scot and a fiery-eyed Gypsy girl had remained dominant regardless of the fact that two Englishmen, a Spaniard, an Italian, two Cherokee Indians, a cowboy from Montana, an industrialist from California, a politician from New Hampshire, and half a dozen other hopefuls had all thrown their very best into the genetic pool.

Teddy's father—the industrialist from California—had insisted that he'd tried his best but hadn't managed to bequeath to his daughters his height, his excellent vision, his right-handedness, or his inborn ability to make a decent pot of coffee. And since Teddy was their first offspring, gleefully produced after ten years of trying, and since logically, her parents had expected her to be their solitary one, her father, in a rare burst of loquaciousness, had bequeathed to her instead a grand name which by rights should have been divided between at least three girls. (Jennifer was Jennifer Leigh, so it seemed her father had gotten it partially out of his system with Teddy and was too shocked by Jenny's surprising and successful arrival to be creative.)

At any rate, Teddy had a solid line of slightly offbeat, definitely determined, prudent ladies at her back, and she had no intention of shaming them by meekly accepting rejection.

Zach Steele didn't have a chance.

She smiled to herself, then suddenly exclaimed as a memory prodded her. She leaned forward to look down at the floor. It was there as she'd thought, looking deceptively Innocent and unthreatening in its holster.

What had he said? He'd forgotten he wore a gun because he'd become used to it? A man like Zach, she thought, would be aware that his gun was not in its accustomed place. He'd feel the lack of it automatically.

But Zach had been upset when he'd left, she realized. Upset enough to walk out of the cabin and leave his gun lying on the floor. And that told her two things. He did indeed trust her enough to leave her, awake and aware, in the cabin with weapons another "hostage" would have turned on him. And he had had to fight himself—as well as her—to reject her.

Teddy leaned back against the wall, smiling. It was a start.





Three




When Zach returned to the cabin, the appetizing scents of bacon and pancakes filled the small room, coffee was bubbling on the stove, and Teddy was whistling cheerfully as she set the small table with paper plates and plastic utensils. He closed the door behind him and just stood there for a moment, watching her. She had put her hair up in a ponytail, which made her look ridiculously sweet and innocent, and about sixteen. Zach had automatically checked the dates on her driver's license and knew she was ten years older.

He glanced toward the bed, seeing that she had hung his shoulder harness over one of the posts and getting the point of that: She hadn't forgotten it, she knew it was there, and she had no intention of using the gun.

Zach couldn't figure her out. Other than during the first hour or so of her captivity, she hadn't reacted in any expectable way to the situation, and God knew she looked calm enough for a woman who had so nearly taken her first lover half an hour ago.

As for himself, Zach was more than a little grim. The icy water of the stream had done little to cool his desire, and even with a mind hell-bent on avoiding sex, he knew just how precarious his control with her really was.

He wanted her. In fact, he couldn't recall a time when he'd wanted a woman more. Her soft, delightfully feminine body had fit into his arms with utter perfection, and the fire caged in that slim, delicate form had ignited his senses in a way he'd never known before. He didn't doubt she was a virgin, and yet her innate capacity for passion was staggering and intriguing, tantalizing his mind with its promise.

She looked across the room at him just then, and Zach knew without a shadow of doubt that she had read his mind. He could literally feel something inside him turn over with a thud but had no idea what it was, or what it meant.

"Breakfast is ready." Her voice was light and casual. "You'd better taste the coffee with care, though."

Welcoming the distraction, Zach moved to the table and lifted the cup she indicated. The first sip of hot liquid nearly choked him, and he looked at her in disbelief. "I thought I'd tasted the worst coffee ever made, but this—! What the hell is this?"

Unoffended, Teddy sat down at the table and shrugged. "My father says that making good coffee is an inborn talent. Unfortunately, it isn't one of mine. Sorry." She began buttering the sack of pancakes on her plate, adding, "You really did come prepared to stay a while, didn't you? Even butter and syrup. Who made out the shopping list?"

"I did." He carried his cup to the sink, calmly emptied it, dumped the rest, then made a fresh pot. When it was ready, he carried his refilled cup back to the table and lifted a questioning brow at her.

"I'm used to it," she said, indicating the remains of her own coffee.

"You must have a cast-iron stomach," he commented, sitting down.

"Probably. I'm a good cook aside from coffee, however, so you don't have to worry about food poisoning."

She had made enough to feed an army, and after the first tentative taste confirmed her promise, Zach, in silent appreciation, cleared away most of what she'd prepared. Teddy waited until he had nearly finished before she quietly dropped her bomb. "What was her name?"

After an instant's hesitation he grunted, "Who?" and sat back, sipping his coffee.

Teddy met his stony gaze squarely, her own eyes calm and reflective. "That woman whose first lover you became. The one who somehow burned you. Did she get too demanding, Zach, was that it?"

"Drop it, Teddy."

She smiled just a little and softly quoted: " 'He went back through the Wet Wild Woods, waving his wild tail and walking by his wild lone. But he never told anybody.' Kipling. You don't tell anybody, either, do you, Zach? You just go your own way, alone and dangerous and stoic. Have you ever let a woman get close to you? Have you ever let down your guard that much?"

"Once." He hadn't meant to say it, and the bleak sound of his own voice startled him. And then he saw that her eyes had softened, gone impossibly tender, and even though he knew it wasn't real, he couldn't look away from her small, vital face.

"I'm sorry she hurt you."

He found himself responding without thought, lost in the satiny brown depths of her eyes. "It wasn't her fault."

"What happened, Zach?" she asked gently. She almost held her breath, painfully aware of just how important it was that he tell her about this.

"It... happened, that's all. It just happened."

"Tell me." She had unconsciously lowered her voice almost to a croon. Instinctively using the tone that almost magically caused animals to trust her. Even wild ones. And she never thought—then—that it was the jungle-born part of Zach that was responding, that it was there he caged the hurts of his life.

Still without thought, he told her.

"I had set up a security system for an American businessman in South America. His family was there, and he worried about their safety. Rightly, ass it turned out. His daughter was kidnapped. They'd breached my security system, and I felt responsible. So I went after her."

Teddy felt her eyes widen at his flat tone, the utter simplicity of his words. What he had done was matter-of-fact and reasonable to him, as if every man was sometimes called upon to wade into shark-infested waters to retrieve something the swirling currents had carried away from him.

"They had taken her deep into the jungle, but I managed to get to her. And get her safely away from them. But they were after us, and we had miles of jungle to cross before we reached safety. It was hellish and dangerous, and the conditions were primitive in a way she'd never experienced before. She had no one to turn to but me. So she did."

Zach's mouth twisted, but he never looked away from Teddy's eyes. "I found out too late she'd never had a lover. Still, it didn't seem to matter. She said she'd never been in love before, either. And even though I knew the jungle was no place for love, I believed her. I believed her."

Because I felt it too.

He didn't have to say it, but Teddy heard it. She drew a deep breath. "What happened?"

His smile was bleak and rather frightening. "We got back to civilization. And with the mists of the jungle gone, I didn't fit her image of what her husband should be. I was hard, she said. I frightened her. So I left." And his next words seemed wrenched from him with a raw, torn sound. "I found out later— she had an abortion."

Teddy stared into the diamond-bright sheen of his gray eyes and felt a throb of pain for him. No wonder, she thought dimly, he was rabid about being a woman's first lover and distrustful of "the wrong time" for conception.

"I understood," he said, calmer, his voice going remote. "What happened between us was an accident, a mistake. She didn't want to pay for that mistake, and it was her right to make the decision."

"What if she had told you?" Teddy hadn't realized she was going to ask him and almost held her breath for his answer.

For the first time Zach looked away from her. His eyes were blind, opaque. He shoved his chair back and rose to his feet, his lean face expressionless. "I love kids," he said abruptly, and turned away to go over to the clutter of equipment on the makeshift shelf.

Teddy sat where she was, staring at his back. She was unaware of the hot tears brimming over her eyes and searing their way down her cheeks. She was aware of nothing but what her heart was crying out to him.

How long has it been, Zach? How long have you tortured yourself? How many times have you asked yourself what you would have done if she'd told you about your child? Do you wonder if you would have had the right to ask that she give birth to your baby? Do you wonder if you would have asked, rightfully or not?

She got up slowly, stiffly, and began clearing the table. Zach was sitting at his equipment, earphones in place and closing her out, signaling flatly his refusal to talk anymore. And Teddy respected his wishes, partly because he had withdrawn so completely and partly because he had told her what she guessed he had told no one else. Or at least no other woman.

It was enough. For now it was enough.

She occupied herself in quiet, hearing the occasional clicking of three different tape recorders that seemed to go on and shut off in response to some silent signal. She dug out her deck of playing cards and sat on the bed, playing solitaire and thinking. He had told her, and in telling her, he had triggered something deep inside her. What was it? She wondered. There had been something deep in his eyes...

And then she remembered. Years before, she had helped to track a cougar that had escaped a small circus and disappeared into the hills. She had found him, and her tearful, bitter swearing had brought the others to see what she had found. The cougar, young and powerful, had two legs caught and mangled by the cruel steel traps that some fool had set, and he'd had to be destroyed.

But during her few moments alone with the big cat, Teddy had looked into the eyes that held such terrible pain and yet were stoic, proud. Those proud, anguished eyes had seemed to say, "It was my own stupid fault"; he hadn't blamed the cruel human who'd set the trap. The eyes of an intelligent creature with a wild heart, a creature that would have dragged his mangled body away and licked his wounds alone, given a choice.

Alone...

Teddy felt a wave of dizziness pass over her suddenly, and she seemed to be somewhere else. Behind her closed eyes. Images flashed like a film reel gone mad, then slowed and steadied, and the focus sharpened.

A young soldier, his fatigues drenched and muddied, pushed his way cautiously through a cloying Jungle, his gray eyes red-rimmed with weariness but sharp. On his left cheek was a long, thin slash that still trickled blood.

The same man, but older now, worked among a bank of electronic equipment, his long fingers moving with expert precision. But he was still in fatigues.

The street was crowded—it was New York—and the man moved with the silence of a shadow in that concrete jungle, yet his fatigues set him apart from the casual and business dress of the hurrying mass of people all around him.

An office. No, a boardroom. And men with the hard, tough faces garnered in living in a corporate Jungle. A dark and handsome man sat at the head of the table, and his rather cold blue eyes warmed when he looked back at the man in fatigues standing to indicate a set of blueprints on display.

Another place, screaming of danger. Men with guns, and a dark-haired woman and two teenage girls with terrified faces. A swift, hard battle, with the man in fatigues taking down a gunman with effortless silence.

A storm-tossed island and a flimsy vessel. A blond man and a man with copper hair and a woman with a beautiful face and sea-green eyes. And the man in fatigues carrying guns and explosives, and another man brought out of a cell. And a large vessel that became an even larger one, and champagne to celebrate—

A rotund little man with brilliant eyes in a cherub's face, a man with a voice of authority who thought he was Charlemagne and Richard and Lincoln and Machiavelli... And the man in fatigues gathering equipment and going to war again, because it was wrong not to, and this time he would fight alone.

The images whirled madly, confused, as if some capricious winds snatched at them. And then they steadied, focused, and she saw him again. And he was no longer set apart by the clothing of a warrior. He was no longer alone.

Teddy opened her eyes, the images gone as swiftly as they had come. She was sitting up, hugging her knees, the cards forgotten. She was shocked, as anyone would be when confronted by the inexplicable, but she was not frightened. She had, in a sense, been pi sparing for that dizzying journey all her life.

It happened only once, her mother had told her. And who knew if it came from a Scot with second sight or a Gypsy with an enigmatic gift. But it came once in a lifetime. An intense vision of past and present and future. A gift of understanding when that was most needed.

And Teddy looked at Zach, seeing that her silent journey had not disturbed him. She looked at him— and understood.

He had worn no uniform in the streets of New York. No uniform in boardrooms or in small houses where dangerous things happened. He had worn no uniform on a storm-battered island. Those parts of the images had been symbolic.

He was a warrior, a man of hard danger, born in the hazardous jungles of the world. A lone wolf who had friends but who stood apart from them by choice. "He walked by himself, and all places were alike to him." Kipling again. Wise Kipling.

She knew now why her memory of the cougar had risen in her mind. Because Zach was like that big cat. He didn't blame the woman who had hurt him so badly. He blamed himself. It was his own stupid fault for getting into that mess. And now he'd be damned if he did it again. He wouldn't let himself step into the jaws of a trap and watch it mangle a part of him.

Teddy drew a ragged breath, even her determined nature staggered by the odds against her. She guarded the small nugget of hope nestling inside her, the promise of the final Image that had flashed before her, but she also knew how tough the battle would be.

She had to tame the wild heart of a jungle warrior, had to chip away at the suspicious, protective layers of iron he had wrapped himself in. She had to coax a lone wolf to walk willingly at her side.

She knew what her motive was now.

And she knew he'd never believe her.

"I have to go out for a while," he told her.

Teddy was still sitting as before, but her forehead was resting against her raised knees. She didn't dare look at him, struggling to master a tumult of emotions every bit as primitive as the physical sensations of the morning had been. Her understanding of him and of what he was to her had somehow severed the threads of her control, leaving her nakedly vulnerable.

"All right," she responded. "You won't—?"

"I won't try to leave." She felt more than heard him step closer, and grappled against the urge to look at him.

"Are you all right, Teddy?" The stiffness was leaving his voice, replaced by concern.

She hugged her knees harder. "Yes." How insane! I've never been less right in my life! Or more right. Oh, God, help me. She could feel his hesitation, the instant's suspension. Then he was shrugging into his shoulder harness and gathering a few other things. She kept her eyes closed, but she could almost see what he was doing. The door closed quietly.

Teddy looked up—and froze. "That's cheating," she whispered.

He was standing at the door, staring at her. He had known she wouldn't look up until she thought him gone, she realized. And now he was gazing at her, his brows drawing together in a frown, and she knew her face was white, her eyes wild.

Well, dammit, she thought half hysterically, a woman didn't fall in love with a lone-wolf warrior every day. It was bound to be a shock to her system.

"Something is wrong," he said, taking a step toward her.

She was quite literally gritting her teeth, fighting a powerful, wild, mad urge to grab him with both hands and hold on for dear life. Somewhere in her was a small astonishment that she could feel with such devastating strength, but another part of her was gloriously elated by it. It would require, she thought, a strength like that to catch and hold a wolf.

"Teddy?"

She felt herself smiling, and wondered what kind of smile it looked like. It felt dreadful. In a wonderfully conversational tone with only a trace of huskiness, she said, "If I were you, I'd leave. You see, I'm not quite safe at the moment."

He looked bewildered—as well he might, she thought.

She drew a deep breath and held on to her knees tightly. "Zach, I don't want to make you mad just now, and if I told you what I'm feeling, I'm afraid you'd get mad. You'll get mad, anyway, of course, but I can't handle it at the moment."

"Dammit, Teddy—"

As the lesser of two evils, she told him part of what she was feeling. "I want you," she said baldly. "Rather badly. So would you go away for a while, please?"

A hot flare of response lit his eyes almost instantly, but then he swore softly and quickly turned away. And this time he really did leave the cabin.

Teddy just sat there trembling for a long time, trying to find some way of controlling these incredible feelings. She was finally able to get up and went into the bathroom on shaking legs to splash cold water on her face. It didn't really help. She hadn't really expected it to.

Good Lord, she thought bemusedly, how could a body that didn't fully know what it was all about want it so badly? And what about these other feelings, the tangle of love and tenderness and pain and longing? How did people survive this? She was aching, trembling, hot inside with a need that seemed to be tearing her apart.

She wanted Zach. It sounded so simple, but everything she felt told her it wasn't. She wanted to sob, to laugh, to cry out wildly In order to release whatever was tearing at her to get out. She wanted to hold on tightly to Zach because he would anchor her in the chaos of a world gone mad.

If a bargain with the devil would have assured her of his love, she would have fought her way to hell and demanded it.

Teddy paced. She walked the confined space of the cabin, jerkily at first, then methodically, groping for control, for exhaustion, for anything that would ease the torment. She ate three apples and half a bunch of bananas, instinctively trying to assuage an aching hunger that no amount of food would satisfy.

And finally it was exhaustion that she found. She curled up on the bed, hugging a pillow that was too soft and not nearly large enough, her eyes stinging hotly and her body throbbing with the dull soreness of something battered. Her world had narrowed to this, and no one had warned her that it hurt so much.

It was stillness that woke her. Stillness inside of her. The emotions that had scratched and clawed to escape were quiet now, waiting for... something. She could still feel them, but what had battered before stroked gently now. As if a storm had passed, leaving quiet and peace in its wake.

No, she thought, not quite peace. She was just in the eye of the hurricane, that was all.

She sat up slowly, pushing the pillow away, realizing that she had held it so fiercely in sleep that her arms and shoulders ached. She stretched stiffly, feeling tired, looking at Zach where he sat at the table and watched her silently.

She glanced at the equipment, murmuring, "You aren't listening anymore."

"The tapes are voice-activated," he said. "I won't miss anything." And then he frowned, staring at her curiously pale face and wondering what it was about her casual questions that pulled things from him with such effortless ease. It was a fleeting concern, however; he was worried about her.

Teddy misread the frown. "Oh, I don't care what you're doing up here, Zach," she said wearily. "I probably know, anyway. Not why, maybe, but certainly what. There's a house through the woods, near where my car died, and you've got it bugged. I heard an engine in the distance just before you went out. You knew they were gone and you went out there to check on something. Okay? If somebody pulls out my fingernails, that's all I could tell them."

"It's serious, Teddy," he said, a little harsh. "And damned dangerous."

"Right," she murmured, pulling the rubber band from her hair to free the ponytail. "Stolen gems and art treasures, I'd guess. I don't know why they'd be way up here. Because it's unlikely, I suppose. Because that house out there is a conduit, maybe, passing the stuff through to somewhere else."

Zach gazed at her for a long moment, bothered by this new, vulnerable mood of hers. Bothered by the way she had slept, hugging the pillow with a kind of desperation. And he was also disturbed because she didn't seem to grasp the danger of this, and that could get her killed. He didn't like what he felt at the thought of her being in real danger.

"You've got part of it," he admitted suddenly. "Gems and artwork stolen recently are finding their way to that house. But if that were the only thing, the police could move in now."

"And you suspect there's a good deal more to it." She leaned back against the wall, watching him and very aware of the dull ache of need inside her. The storm...

"Yes. The valuables in the house have been carefully acquired and are intended to be used in barter."

"For what?"

"Guns."

Teddy frowned. "You mean that the people in the house gather up a bunch of priceless art and jewelry and then trade them to somebody for weapons?"

"That's what I mean."

"But why? How?"

"Those are the questions I'm up here to answer. The best guess for 'why' is that they're going to turn around and sell the guns to needy armies in Third World countries—or terrorists. Or maybe that's what they are themselves. We don't have any guess at all for 'how,' but since it's not all that easy to get large shipments of weapons out of this country, it's a safe bet that somebody official is being well paid to turn a blind eye."

She stared at him wonderingly. "But who would be able to get a shipment that big into the country in the first place?"

Zach wondered fleetingly how long it had been since he himself might have asked that innocent question. Years. A lifetime. He sighed a little. "Anybody with enough money and the right connections. In this case, we think there are two men, both very wealthy and as pure as the driven snow. Each is a collector of rare artwork and gems, with private vaults built expressly for everything not acquired legitimately. They covet art and don't give a sweet damn how they get it."

After a moment she said slowly, "So you're up here to trace the—route? Where the artwork' goes from here, who gets it, and how the guns get out of the country?"

"That's it, roughly. The valuables are stolen by a well-organized ring of thieves; Interpol has them pegged but is waiting for us to get this end of the mess nailed down. A professional courtesy. We know how the stuff gets this far. Another—someone else is working on the matter of how so many arms are being sold to private citizens."

"Another agent," she murmured.

Zach hesitated, then said firmly, "I'm temporary. Paying back a favor, you might say."

"I see. No badge."

"Not officially, no."

Teddy nodded. "So, you're going to follow the artwork when it's shipped out?"

"That's the plan. I've had the place bugged hoping to hear something interesting about how the trade will be made, but so far there's been nothing. They're waiting for a few more things to arrive before the stuff is moved."

"Do you know where the shipment of arms is?"

"We know. And somebody will be watching carefully to see how it's taken out of the country. Needless to say, the guns will never reach their destination."

After a moment he said, "Sheer luck that we found a trail to follow. People who steal artwork don't usually involve themselves with arms—and vice versa. But we know this is one organization: The thieves and the men who trade the valuables for arms. We also know they've completed trades successfully in the past."

Teddy looked at him, conscious of the stillness that remained. It encased her, as protective as a blanket of peace. But she could feel the storm. Waiting. Swirling all around her. The threat of it was the promise of that terrible need. That aching anguish that she could feel now only dully.

"Why tell me this now?" she asked finally, quietly.

His mouth firmed, and a muscle tightened in his jaw. "I said we knew they'd been successful before. They've also killed. Coldly and with utter business-like professionalism. They don't leave loose ends dangling, Teddy. They're killers, pure and simple. I wanted you to know that, to believe that. Every hour they remain in the house increases the chance that somebody'll find one of the bugs. And if they do, they'll start looking. For us."

She thought about that. They were close enough, she knew, to be easily found. She wasn't frightened by that, though, because Zach was here; with danger threatening, he was an immensely comforting man, and she knew without even thinking about it that he would take care of her, protect her.

Oddly enough, her only reaction to Zach's disclosure of his lawful, if unofficial, reason for being here was a mental Well, of course. Some inner part of her had never believed he was here for a nefarious purpose.

Teddy listened to the distant thunder of her inner storm and wondered how long she could hold it at bay. Not long. Not long at all. And her mind methodically considered the sequence of events that measured the time left to her.

"I see. So when the artwork is shipped out, you'll follow?"

"Yes."

"I thought you didn't have a car up here."

"I don't. I have a Jeep."

She considered berating him for splitting hairs earlier but dismissed it as unimportant. "Oh. And you'll drop me off somewhere along the way?"

His mouth firmed again. "I'll put you on a plane to your sister. And I'll see to it that there's a replacement for your car waiting for you."

Teddy looked at him, feeling tired, feeling too many other things. "Remember the Alamo," she murmured.

"What?"

She was realty too tired to fight him, to fight his mistaken belief—and it had to be that—that she was being overwhelmed by the unusual circumstances surrounding them. That she was being seduced by those circumstances, rather than by him. Too tired. But she didn't have a choice.

"I'm a sucker for lost causes," she said, clarifying nothing except to herself.

"Teddy, what are you talking about?" he asked with vast patience.

She held the storm at bay. "Some women are stupid," she said. "That doesn't mean we all are. Some women can be deceived by their own emotions—that doesn't mean we all can be."

He knew what she was talking about now, and his face closed down into remoteness. In a flat, decisive tone he said, "You haven't been listening to me. This is a dangerous situation, and you will be out of it just as soon as possible."

And out of my life.

Teddy rolled the dice and watched to see how they landed. "I love you, Zach."

His head moved faintly, an uncontrolled and unconscious gesture of negation. "No. This time yesterday you didn't even know me."

She laughed softly, almost without being aware of it. "Yes. But things always happen fast in my life. I should have expected love to be no different."

"You don't know anything about me," he told her flatly.

It would not be a good time to prove that she did indeed know a great deal about him; it would be too difficult to explain just now. Instead, she shrugged. "That doesn't seem to matter."

"It should matter. It would—if we were somewhere else."

Teddy shook her head. "No, I don't think so. I know what I feel."

His eyes narrowed, and his entire body looked taut. In a voice that was harsh he said, "Then know you'll get over it. Know it won't last the time it'll take to get down off this mountain. Know that, Teddy."

It was my own stupid fault, and I won't let it happen again.

She fought a rising despair, wondering how she could convince him. And then she knew that only time would convince him—if she were granted that time and the ability to use it—and the storm pushed inward to remind her of the anguish of uncertainty and waiting. She could literally feel herself pale, and she saw his hard eyes flicker.

"What if I don't get over it?" she asked.

"You will." He swore suddenly, harshly. "Don't look at me like that!"

Teddy dropped her gaze to focus on her knees. Instinct told her that no amount of arguing with Zach would help. Not here, at least, and not now. And the only avenue left open to her was the disturbing, painful one leading to the storm she felt... and which he felt at least partially. She wanted him; he wanted her. That was all she had.

"All right," she said softly. "Let's assume for the sake of argument that I'll get over it. Maybe you're right and I will." Every word was a stab, but she bore the pain. "Still, neither of us can deny that we want each other. And there's no risk of pregnancy."

"There's always a risk," he said, interrupting curtly.

She looked at him then, and in her eyes was the pain of someone who loved children and knew only too well that she would be lucky indeed to have even one of her own. "No risk," she repeated softly. "It took my parents ten years to get me, and Jenny was nothing less than a miracle—the doctor said so. Jenny's miscarried twice, and my doctor tells me I'll be lucky if I get even that far."

She squared her shoulders and met his unreadable eyes with a bedrock certainty in her own. "Everyone has their own beliefs and their own right to them, and I would never judge them by my own standards. But there is one thing you have to know, Zach, one thing you can be certain of. If, by some incredible bit of luck, I managed to conceive, there wouldn't be an abortion. That's something I could never do."

He looked away first, jerkily, something hot and a little wild flickering suddenly in his eyes. "All the more reason," he said roughly.

She drew a deep, shuddering breath. "Then you won't make love to me?"

"No." It was a bitten-out sound.

Teddy felt the surge of the storm and chewed her lip briefly. No pride. Dammit, it even stole pride. But that was only a fleeting realization, a distant pain.

She had rolled the dice and lost. But she wasn't finished. She would gamble everything she had, keep rolling the dice until there was nothing left.

She looked at her watch, struggling to bring it into focus and absently realizing that she'd slept for several hours. "Those men are still gone?"

For a moment Zach seemed startled, as if he'd braced himself for argument, for persuasion. "Yes," he said finally, sending her an oblique glance.

Teddy slid off the cot, straightening her clothes with automatic movements. She was aware of his eyes following her, and strove to keep her face calm.

But behind the facade she was thinking with a clarity born of need.

He wouldn't believe her, wouldn't let himself believe her. All right, then. So be it. If she couldn't convince his stubborn mind, she'd work on other parts of him. Somehow. The big, tough body that she knew wanted hers. And the heart she was sure lay hidden deep within him, encased in the protective metallic armor of a warrior.

She wondered if the Gypsy had fought for her Scot and thought that she probably had.

Teddy wished she had seen just a bit more of that final image, wished she could be sure. But how often was certainty of the future given to mortals?

Silent and at least outwardly calm, she began preparing an evening meal for them.





Four




Sarah Lewis was a familiar sight in the building housing Long Enterprises, and she knew her way around quite well. Greetings followed her as she made her way up to the fifteenth floor, where she expected to find her husband despite the fact that his own suite of offices was two floors up. She hardly needed an identification badge to gain access to the security-conscious fifteenth, but she wore one nevertheless—and the security guard at the desk near the elevator didn't even glance at it.

"Morning, Mrs. Lewis."

"Hi, Phil." Her voice was soft and a bit shy, and the guard looked with pleasure at her bright hair and serene eyes.

While she signed the register he asked how Junior was doing on this fine morning, and the glow in her eyes seemed to intensify even as she laughed.

"Fine, thanks." She patted her rounded stomach, over which a gay yellow sign imprinted on her terrycloth shirt proclaimed the presence of a baby on board. "Rafferty's here, isn't he?" she asked. "Yes, ma'am. In Mr. Kendrick's office." Sarah waved her thanks and went on down the hall. She could hear the steady humming of computers in the offices she passed, but didn't pause until she reached a corner office. The door was open, and she went in, saying as a greeting, "We're going to have to name him Junior; everybody expects it."

"Over my dead body," her husband promised, looking up to smile at her.

"It sounds original to me," Lucas decided without looking up from the computer screen busily flashing data.

"Nobody asked you," Rafferty told him, then lifted a questioning brow at his lovely wife.

"I used a bit of blackmail," she said, sounding not in the least perturbed about it. "Emotional. Looked teary-eyed and anxious. He's treating me like glass these days, so I thought I could probably get away with it. I think pregnant women make him nervous," she added thoughtfully.

Lucas turned from the computer to face them, grinning a little. "Then by all means let's make him nervous."

Rafferty caught his wife's hand and led her to one of the chairs in front of the desk, sitting on the arm of the second one himself. "So what did your esteemed boss cough up?" he asked.

"Not much," she admitted, an expression of frustration briefly crossing her delicate face. "He did confess that Zach is working for him, in Colorado of all places. He promised that—this time—he had been completely truthful about the assignment. Zach knows exactly what's going on, according to Hagen, and is in possession of all relevant information." She stopped, looking suddenly uneasy.

Lucas sighed and ran a hand through his silvery hair, while Rafferty cursed quietly.

"All relevant information," the investigator repeated dismally. "Great. If Hagen were directing Grant's army, his idea of relevant information would be to tell him to head south."

"I vote we go kill him," Rafferty said in a dispassionate tone.

"Zach will take care of that later," Lucas decided. "If he lives through this. Hell."

"There has to be some way we can find out what's going on," Sarah told the men.

Her husband rubbed his jaw thoughtfully, then looked across the desk at Lucas. "Wonder if Kelsey's in this one."

"He seems to turn up every time we do," Lucas agreed.

Correctly reading the men's faces, Sarah objected, "He'll be low-profile, surely, even if not actually undercover; how will you find him?"

Lucas lifted a brow at Rafferty. "Raven?"

"She could probably find him, even now. And Josh wasn't at all happy to find out that Zach's 'vacation' is nothing of the kind. They'll be flying in from Canada tonight."

Lucas shook his head. "You know, I sometimes wonder if Hagen really does plan to get all of us into his little games."

"Don't even think about that," Rafferty begged, horrified.

After a moment Sarah said, "I can tell you one thing about Zach's assignment. He surprised Hagen. A coded message came from Zach last night. I didn't decode it, but it was on Hagen's desk this morning, and he was muttering the last word of the message as if he couldn't believe it."

"What was the message?" Rafferty asked.

Sarah's retentive memory enabled her to recite the message verbatim. "It said: 'Essential you replace with new '66 Impala destroyed in unavoidable circumstances. Have replacement car waiting at Logan Airport, Boston, Friday latest. Held in the name of T. Tyler, noncombatant.' That was it."

Lucas, who had flown up to Boston the day before, winced slightly and said, "I'm glad I didn't know about that when I talked to Jennifer Morton and told her that her sister was fine. Wonder how the car was destroyed? And, even granting that Hagen wouldn't want to replace the car, why would that message surprise him so much?"

They looked at one another uneasily, and Rafferty said, "Hagen kept repeating the word noncombatant?"

"Over and over," Sarah confirmed. "As if he simply couldn't believe it."

All of them felt it should mean something, but since they weren't privy to Hagen's thoughts, none of them knew just what that something was.

Zach was proof against most things. Once determined on what was, in fact, a logical and reasonable decision, few had been known to change his mind. Argument rolled off his back like water off a tiled roof, and gentle persuasion failed to penetrate his tough hide and even tougher will. Strong men had been known to pale at the mere thought of attempting to alter his will, and women had exercised their wiles in vain. Even Josh Long, whom Zach respected and loved like a brother, knew better than to try to sway his friend from some personal decision.

So Zach, though grimly aware of his own desire, had little doubt that he could keep things between him and Teddy platonic. But he braced himself for the storm of her persuasion, nonetheless, because he knew women well enough to have accurately read the determination in Teddy's firm little chin.

He braced himself for a storm, mentally blocking the chinks in his willpower and fiercely leashing his own blustering beast. And he settled down to wait it out. But Zach had forgotten that sometimes a gentle rain can seep into places where a gusty downpour would merely batter and roll off in vain.

She said little that second night together, not sulking or brooding, merely thoughtful and silent. She watched him when she thought he didn't see, her great velvety eyes as deep and soft as a doe's. She remained pale, and sometimes she winced, as if something inside her twinged in pain, but to his questions replied only that she was fine. And she said nothing else about wanting or loving him and made no objection when he rolled out a sleeping bag and got into it late that night when the denizens of the house slept.

Nor did she try her hand at seduction. She changed for sleeping but wore a sweatshirt-type nightgown that fell to her knees and fit loosely. And she said good night in a quiet voice when the battery-powered lamp was turned off.

It was some time later that Zach learned there were things more dangerous to chinks than downpours.

There were tears.

He had allowed his own breathing to deepen and become even but remained awake, staring up at the blackness of the raftered ceiling. He had gotten no sleep the night before and he was tired, but the power of his desire for her tormented him and made sleep Impossible. The small room seemed to close in on him, reducing the few feet between his bed and Teddy's until he felt as if he were standing over her and listening to the faint sounds of her breathing.

And they were faint sounds; even in the silence of the cabin, average ears would have heard nothing. But Zach had trained his ears in jungles, and he heard.

He heard the soft, steady breathing, and his mind tortured him with images of her breasts rising and falling. The images taunted him: Creamy mounds that just filled his palms, tipped with coral and heavy with desire. He closed his eyes, fighting himself, remembering why he had to.

Because once, he hadn't. Because once, he had believed eyes looking at him in excited wonder, believed his own tangle of emotions. Desire, as heated and primitive as the jungles it was born in, had deceived him, just as it had deceived her. And deception had not cushioned those final blows. They might not have loved, but the stiffness in her, the fear in her eyes when she looked at him in her father's elegant house, had hurt. And the knowledge that she—

He didn't want to think about that. Didn't want to think about what it had done to him to find that out.

That was why he had to fight himself. Because he couldn't allow anything like that to happen again. What Teddy felt, she believed to be real, and he knew that. But he also knew far better than she could ever know how circumstances and surroundings could deceive the mind, color the emotions.

And he knew he wouldn't be able to bear its happening again. Not with Teddy. Even if there were consequences of the act, if they became lovers a she afterward looked at him in fear, in the uneasy recognition that he didn't belong in her world, the real world, he thought it would probably tear him apart.

Odd that he knew that. Odd that he felt so certain.

Zach stiffened suddenly, and something deep inside him lurched with a painful movement. She was crying.

There wasn't a sound to betray her. No sobs of sniffles. Just a break in the even sound of her breathing, a catch that was almost silent. But he knew. As if he were indeed standing over her and watching silver trail of tears, he knew.

Zach had done many difficult things in his life, from the physically exhausting to the mentally and emotionally draining. But he had never done anything harder than lying there, muscles taut, body aching, listening without moving to the heart wrenching sounds of Teddy's quiet tears.

She had fallen asleep around an hour later, but it was much longer before Zach followed suit. And he slept heavily, waking with a start just after dawn to find that she was already up and dressed—and hem hadn't heard.

How had he not heard, or at least sensed, movements all around him? Did he trust to the point of feeling completely unthreatened in her presence? To the point of allowing the ever-vigilant senses born in the jungle to sleep when they had never before slept with someone nearby?

It was a jarring shock to realize that he did trust her that much.

With its windows covered and door tightly fitted, almost no light could find its way into the cabin. Teddy had turned on the battery lamp, and she dropped to one knee beside his sleeping bag before his eyes could no more than begin to open.

Through his lashes he saw only part of her. He saw her hand, braced on her thigh. He saw it lift, reach toward his shoulder, then hesitate, withdraw as a tremor shook the slender fingers. He saw those fingers close over her leg just a