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"What do you say about day after tomorrow, Rachel?" Ames was saying. "I could show you things about this island you didn't even dream existed. A woman like you shouldn't be wasted on a brother and an uncle."
Where had he perfected that line? she wondered dimly. It must have worked before, though how any intelligent woman could have fallen for it was beyond her comprehension. Opening her eyes, she avoided looking at Emmett, smiling up into Stephen Ames's undeniably handsome face. He really was much better-looking than Emmett, and he had the perfect body seldom seen outside of underwear commercials. If he'd just keep his mouth shut, she'd manage it, and in doing so blot Emmett out of her mind. "That would be lovely," she agreed serenely, feeling the waves of anger radiating from across the table.
That encroaching hand made another foray across her exposed skin, and for a brief moment she imagined it was Emmett's hand. No, not Emmett, she cried inwardly. Some man that looked like him, talked like him, but wasn't her brother. A small burning knot of desire began to flame down low, and she allowed the fantasy to take hold for a brief moment. "I'll pick you up at seven then," he murmured in that hoarse voice. "Harris, you'll give me directions, won't you?"
Harris was looking uncomfortable. "Of course, dear boy. I'm sure my niece could do with a little diversion for a change."
"Oh, I'll divert her all right. And that's a promise." The hand was removed from her naked back, and he sauntered, no, swaggered back to his barside companions. Harris turned an apologetic face to Emmett, but he was already on his feet.
"We're going," he announced abruptly, his hand closing over Rachel's forearm. It wasn't a light grip, it was a hard, bruising, angry clasp, and she felt herself yanked to her feet unceremoniously. "I think my little sister has accomplished what she set out to do."
"But I haven't finished—"
"Believe me, you've finished." His entire body was rigid with rage as he began dragging her toward the door.
"I'm coming," she muttered hastily. "Stop dragging me—everybody's staring."
"I wouldn't think you'd mind making a scene," he shot back, his grip never loosening as he hauled her out on the front porch. "You certainly came dressed for attention."
She stumbled slightly as he pulled her across the sandy drive toward the Land Rover. "I don't see what you're in such a fit about," she argued lamely.
"I don't particularly like watching my sister act like a tramp." He thrust her into the passenger seat, moving around to climb behind the wheel, his face still a mask of fury.
"I wasn't acting like a tramp," she defended herself hotly. "I just thought it might be a good idea… I mean, I thought I might like to go out on a date."
He laughed unpleasantly. "A date? Is that what you call it? It seemed more like you were setting an appointment for stud service." He pulled out of the hotel drive with dangerous speed, taking the corner rapidly. Rachel clung to the frayed seat of the Land Rover with clutching fingers as he took off down the road with a speed she hadn't realized the old vehicle was capable of.
And then suddenly she was very calm beneath the twilight skies as a feeling of intense joy filled her, even if it was tempered with despair. "You're jealous, aren't you?" she said quietly.
"Jealous?" He didn't bother to move his eyes from the road, something she could only be grateful for, considering the speeds at which they were traveling. "Rachel, I'm your brother, for heaven's sake. Why should I be jealous?"
Why, indeed, she thought. "Just because you're my brother doesn't mean you wouldn't want my complete attention. I would think you'd enjoy being loved the way I love you."
The headlong pace of the Land Rover was slowed perceptibly; the grim set of his mouth relaxed a tiny bit. He still didn't look at her, but his hands no longer seemed to clutch the steering wheel so tightly. They were beautiful hands, she noticed for the first time. Long-fingered, with well-kept nails; strong, capable-looking hands. Funny, she had never remembered Emmett having such large beautiful hands. But then, there was a lot about the man beside her that she didn't remember.
"You love me, do you?" he drawled, and some of the tension drained from Rachel's sunburned shoulders. It was a dangerous subject, but in her relief at the sudden disappearance of his temper, she ignored the risks.
"Yes," she replied. This would be the only time she'd tell him. In a couple of days she'd be caught in a torrid affair with Stephen Ames, and Emmett would once more be nothing but a cherished brother. She turned to watch his profile, and her voice was earnest. "I love you more than anyone I've ever loved in my life. I can't imagine why, when you're such a pig to me, but I do love you, Emmett. Anyone else I choose to spend time with is only a second choice."
There was a long silence. "Is that why you honed in on Stephen Ames, Rachel?" His voice was low in the gathering darkness, low and caressing.
Panic clutched at her. "What do you mean?"
"You know exactly what I mean." He paused. "All right, Rachel, go out with him. But I suggest you be careful. I don't think he's quite the knight in shining armor you seem to think he is."
"I'm not planning to marry him, Emmett." She tried to inject a caustic tone into her voice.
"No," he agreed. "Just exorcise some demons." Before she could respond to that provocative statement—not that she knew what to say—he had pulled up beside the darkened cottage. "Why don't you go on in? I'll probably go for a walk, maybe drive back into Lihue."
"What for?" she asked, not moving.
He looked at her then. The moon was rising across the sea, sending a silver-white shaft across the water, gilding her hair, reflecting in her eyes. "Did it ever occur to you I might have my own demons?"
There was nothing she could say. Opening the door, she slid out of the Land Rover, slamming it shut behind her. Her spiked heels sank precariously into the deep sand, and he watched as she delicately slid first one, then the other from her slender feet. She moved gracefully across the sand to the front steps of the cottage, and he could tell by the set of her shoulders that she was using all her willpower to keep from turning around to look at him.
She was more beautiful than ever to him, silvered by the moonlight, that damnably provocative dress clinging to her slender, rounded body. The ache that was never far from him nowadays seemed to increase. Two could play at her game, he thought grimly. Melea was a lot warmer and more accommodating a lover than that brainless jock at the bar could ever hope to be. With a sudden, violent motion he spun the wheels in the soft sand, backing out of the drive with the same furious speed that had hounded him earlier. Out of the corner of his eyes he saw Rachel turn on the porch to watch him. And it was probably only sheer romantic fancy on his part that made him think the reflection of the moon caught a faint silver trickling of tears across her cheeks.
Rachel waited until the Land Rover disappeared from view, racing down the road at breakneck speed, before continuing on into the house. With a surreptitious hand she brushed away the damning tears, and her shoulders cried out in agony. All evening she'd tried to ignore the pain of her overindulgence in the strong Hawaiian sun, but it was finally catching up with her. Well, at least it would keep her mind off her troubles, she thought with a grim hopefulness. If her back hurt too much she wouldn't be able to think about other aching parts of her body.
She turned on a light against the encroaching darkness before heading into the kitchen in search of baking soda. It was an old remedy for sunburn, tried but true: A nice cool bath with baking soda to soothe the injuries of the day. She should have known Emmett wouldn't have any such thing.
The bathroom cupboard was equally bare, and she stared at the empty shelves in frustration. The skin across her back felt tight and stiff with pain, though her reflection was deceiving. The deep, reddish hue beneath the golden tan would only be discernible to an experienced eye—Emmett's, perhaps? It was just as well she hadn't turned her back to him in the bar.
At least she'd had the foresight to pick up some Vitamin E cream when shopping earlier. T
hat would have to do, as long as she could reach the afflicted area. If she couldn't, she would simply have to suffer in silence. She certainly wasn't going to ask Emmett to smear the cream on her naked back. If he even bothered to return before morning. She had the strong suspicion that he had no intention of doing so, and she accepted it stoically. More stoically than she accepted the sunburn.
There was no way she was going to be able to wear even the lightest of nightgowns. Stripping off the new dress, she dropped it over a chair, tossed her underwear after it, and turned off the light. She was too tired to cream off her makeup, too tired to do anything more than find her way to bed and try to will sleep to come. She hadn't been sleeping well the last few nights; last night in Emmett's bed was the closest she'd come to a sound sleep since she'd arrived in Hawaii. That, of course, was no longer an option. She would simply have to lie on her stomach and think of something cool and soothing. And hope she didn't hear Emmett when he chose to return.
Moving across to the bed, she ran into the chair, stubbing her toe painfully. Suddenly a very short, obscene word broke the inky stillness. That word had come from her own mouth, and sudden tears of pain and frustration followed it.
"Are you all right?" Emmett's voice startled her into a panic as it came from the living room, and without hesitation she dived into the bed, pulling the covers up over her nude body.
"I'm fine," she called back. Her voice was still husky with unshed tears, and she sounded anything but fine. A moment later the door opened, and Emmett stood there, the light from the living room a halo around his shaggy blond hair. She couldn't see his expression against the light, but she huddled deeper into the bed, her raw shoulders scraping against the sheet. She gave an involuntary moan of pain, and he moved into the room, switching on the overhead light.
"I wasn't expecting you back so soon," she stammered, for lack of something better to say. She felt impaled by the cool intensity in his eyes, like a butterfly caught on a pin.
"I changed my mind," he murmured, moving closer. "What's wrong, Rachel?"
"Nothing…" she began, but the scowl deepened on his face. "Nothing much," she amended. "I just got a little sunburned today. And don't say 'I told you so'—I know you did. I guess I wasn't paying enough attention."
He stared at her for a long, silent moment. "Do you have anything for it?"
"Just some Vitamin E cream, but I—"
"Where's the burn?"
"On my back, but I—"
"Could you reach it yourself?" His voice was cool, unmoved, as he reached for the tube of cream that lay unopened on her dresser. "Obviously not. Roll over, Rachel, and I'll put it on for you."
Deep color suffused her face, deep panic filled her heart. "Emmett, I really don't need it. Besides, I'm not wearing anything."
"Because it hurt too much…" She let her voice trail off in the face of his knowing expression.
"I repeat: Roll over." He moved closer to her, his movements slow and deliberate, and determinedly she moved her gaze past his strong, lean body to his face.
"Emmett, I told you, I'm not wearing anything," she protested breathlessly.
"Rachel, you haven't got anything I haven't seen many times before." There was a hint of amusement lurking in those hazel eyes.
She glared at him, affronted. "I don't care. I happen to be modest, and you happen to be my brother."
"Yes, I am, aren't I?" he said gently. "Well, why don't you wrap the sheet around you, roll over, and then push the sheet down to your hips? Your modesty will be intact, I'll be able to put this cream on your back, and then we can both get a decent night's sleep. Though I do think it's a little early."
"I was tired," she said, sniffling just a tiny bit. The tears had dried up at his unexpected invasion, but the burning misery still hovered just behind her large brown eyes.
"Are you going to do as your big brother says or will I have to turn you over myself? I might be tempted to administer a good spanking at the same time. You strike me as someone who didn't get enough spankings when she was young."
Rachel's embarrassment fled her for a moment as she looked at him curiously. "Don't you remember what you did when Cousin Harold tried it?"
Emmett just returned her gaze blandly. "Nothing more than he deserved," he hazarded. "Turn over, Rachel."
With a sigh she did as she was bid, rolling onto her stomach, her naked breasts pressing into the rough cotton sheet. A moment later she felt his hands on her: cool, gentle hands, pushing the top sheet down around her hips, exposing the narrow, delicate curves of her back. She felt the bed sag beneath his weight, felt him move the heavy curtain of hair away from her neck. A moment later the cool, soothing cream flowed onto her painful back, the fingers feather light as they smoothed it into the injured flesh.
"You don't have anything more effective for sunburn?" He queried in a low, soothing voice.
Rachel had closed her eyes, reveling in the soothing, peaceful movements of his hands on her skin. "Vitamin E's wonderful stuff," she murmured hazily.
"You're even more of an aging hippie than I am." The amusement in his voice was tempered with a tenderness that pulled at her. "You should have bought some nice, clean chemicals."
"Peasant," she murmured. "Natural medicines are always preferable."
"I don't know if I agree with that," he said, and his voice was low and seductive. The hands were moving over her back with a devilishly skillful touch, the fingers light and sure and knowing. He was very good at this, she thought sleepily. He knew just how to touch a woman, just how to move her. She could picture those hands, the fingers long and tanned as they moved across her back. She wanted to roll over on her back, feel those clever, clever hands do their magic on her breasts. A sudden wave of horror washed over her, horror and guilt. But no revulsion. She still wanted what she wanted, even if it was wrong, terribly wrong.
"Why did you tense up?" Emmett's voice was no more than curious as his hands left her. "Doesn't the cream help?"
She managed a nod. "I guess I'm just overtired. Thanks, Emmett." She didn't dare look at him, couldn't look at him. If she did, she was sure he would see the shameful longing in her vulnerable face. "I'll see you tomorrow."
He didn't move for a moment, just sat beside her. She wondered what he was thinking as he looked down at her. But he didn't say a word. She felt the cotton sheet drift lightly down on her back, and then he rose. "Good night, Rachel." A moment later the light was off again; the door closed quietly behind his departing figure. Rachel raised her head then, staring through the darkness at the closed door. The pain in her back was nothing compared to the pain in her heart.
"Damn," she whispered, her voice thick with tears. "Damn, damn, damn."
« ^ »
Her bedroom was dark and gloomy when she finally gave up the fruitless battle for sleep and dragged herself from her bed the next morning. For the first time Hawaii was in shadow, the palm trees swaying in an angry wind, the tangled underbrush whipping against the house. The tiny cottage was almost unpleasantly cool, and she dressed in old, faded jeans rather than the shorts she'd been favoring, pulling on a long-sleeve cotton overshirt and a sweater against the unexpected chill. Last night's makeup still lay on her face, and she scrubbed it away with more vehemence than necessary. For a moment she regarded her reflection in the bathroom mirror. The intense scrubbing had reddened her cheeks, and the dark brown eyes looked out at the world with troubled solemnity. She looked about fifteen, she thought, braiding her hair in two thick braids to accentuate the effect. Think young, think prepuberty. And maybe it will all go away.
Squaring her shoulders, she moved out into the shadowy living room. Emmett was staring out at the ocean, his broad back at her, and she watched him longingly for a moment.
"What can I make you for breakfast?" she called out briskly, rubbing her hands together in nervousness and chill.
He turned slowly, and his wary eyes seemed to imp
ale her across the length of the room. There was an uneasy silence in the room, and then he seemed to rouse himself. "Nothing." He turned back to stare at the angry waves that were pounding on the beach, much closer than usual, even at high tide. "I've had coffee."
"Yuk. I know your coffee." She shuddered dramatically. "Come on, that stuff will curdle your stomach if you don't let me make you something to cushion it. How about scrambled eggs? Or toast, at least."
"Nothing, Rachel." His voice was low, abstracted, and he kept his gaze out the window. For some reason she didn't like him calling her by name. Kid was so much safer than the gentle, loving sound of her name on his lips.
"You never used to be so disinterested in food," she joked, moving closer to him. "I remember you were already growing a little bit of a paunch when you were twenty-five. Ariel always used to warn you you'd get fat if you didn't watch it."
"I guess I took her warnings to heart the last fifteen years," he murmured. She was standing directly behind him, and he turned to stare down at her then, his eyes bland and unreadable. "We're due for a storm."
Now it was her turn to look away. She moved beside him, staring out at the high waves crashing onto the beach. "It looks like it," she said inanely. "How bad is it going to be? Are we in any danger down so close to the water?"
"I don't expect so. I'll check with Harris—he'll have heard the latest weather reports. We don't usually get hurricanes out here; I imagine we'll just have a bad blow and then it will all die down. Are you frightened of storms?"
She laughed then, the sound slightly rusty in the late morning stillness. "How did you guess?"
His reluctant grin answered her, and she allowed her tense shoulders to relax slightly. "I know, I know, I'm a devout coward. I think I'm scared of just about everything."