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He moved a hand from its imprisoning hold on the door to run it exasperatedly through his shaggy hair. "Rachel, be sensible…"
She took the opening he gave her, darting once more for the door. He caught her in an iron grip, yanking her against the wiry tension of his body. And then it was too late.
His head moved down, his mouth taking hers in a kiss that held the passion of a thousand years as his body molded against her trembling frame. His lips were hard and hungry as he fought against her resistance, and he pulled his head away for a moment, looking down into her desperate eyes with no pity at all. "Open your mouth, Rachel," he said.
And closing her eyes, she did, sliding her helpless arms around his body, pulling him closer against her yearning form. Just once, she told herself. Just this once. And she gave herself up to the searching demand of his kiss.
Once he'd gained her acquiescence he seemed in no hurry as he pressed her against the door. He took her mouth slowly, his tongue tracing random, delicate patterns on the soft, sensitive skin of her lip before delving between the ineffectual barrier of her small white teeth. She moaned softly, brokenly, as her tongue shyly caught his, and his murmur of approval sent a shaft of flaming desire shooting through her. And suddenly the tempo of the kiss changed, his tongue thrusting, taking, demanding her response, a response she found herself giving as she clung helplessly to his broad back.
His hands left the door to travel down the curve of her back, cupping her firm buttocks and pulling her up against him. The feel of him was hard and strong against her trembling hips; the lips that moved from her mouth to leave a trail of hot, damp kisses to her ear was one more demoralizing instrument of her destruction. Her knees were weak, her legs seemed scarcely capable of supporting her trembling body, and she wanted to sink to the floor, pulling him with her, pulling that strong, tough body over hers, into hers. She wanted him, all of him, completely, now and forever.
Her sudden panic took him by surprise. One moment she was trembling and pliant in his arms, in another she had shoved him off balance. He fell back, willingly enough, to watch her from a bare few inches away. She was leaning against the door, panting in panic and desire, her eyes wide with fear, looking like a trapped animal. "No, Emmett," she whispered brokenly. "For God's sake, you're my brother. No." And before he could stop her she whirled around and ran out into the rain-swept night.
As usual she'd chosen the wrong shoes. The high-heeled sandals buckled beneath her before she'd gotten halfway to the Land Rover, and she sprawled in the sand. She didn't take time to slip them off—a moment later she was on her feet and running again, soaked to the skin by the pouring rain, flinching in the face of the lightning that streaked across the angry sky. But the fury of the elements was preferable to the cottage, preferable to the wondrous shelter of Emmett's arms, preferable to—
The hand that caught her arm was iron, bruising her as it flung her around to face him. He looked brutal in the driving rain, his face grim, and the last tenuous bit of control snapped. She struggled like a wild animal, kicking, biting, hitting, crying helplessly. "No, Emmett. No, no, no!"
The other hand caught her arm, holding her tightly, the fingers digging into the soft flesh as he shook her until her bones rattled. "Stop it, Rachel!" he shouted over the noise of the storm. She ignored him, struggling to escape all the more, and he shook her again, more violently. "Stop it!" he yelled at her. "I'm not your brother!"
It took a moment for the words to penetrate. Slowly her struggles ceased, slowly she raised her head to look at him in a disbelieving stupor. "What did you say?" Her voice was hoarse, strangled.
There was no emotion on his face. The rain poured down on them, covering his set face in sheets of water, but he made no effort to wipe it away. "I said I'm not your brother."
She became very still, and she saw rather than felt his hands drop from their crushing grip on her arms. The marks of his fingers were white against the tan, and soon they'd be purple, she thought abstractedly. Raising her head, she looked at him woodenly through the pouring rain. "Who are you, then?"
What was one more lie among so many? he thought wearily. "My name is Jake Addams."
"Uncle Harris knows?" He didn't even have a chance to respond. "Of course he does. This was probably his idea." All traces of emotion had left her. She stood there, a cold, empty shell, watching the man who had lied to her out of bitter, unseeing eyes.
Now she understood the wariness that lurked about his unreadable face. "Come back to the house," he said, raising a hand to her and then dropping it in the face of her disbelieving grimace. "You've hurt yourself—it needs bandaging. I promise I won't touch you."
She looked down absently. Even the steady streams of rain couldn't wash the streaks of blood that had run in rivulets down her hand. She looked at him again. "If you did, I would kill you," she said very calmly. And slipping off the high-heeled sandals, she walked slowly back to the cottage, keeping well away from the man beside her, the only reality the feel of the wet, gritty sand beneath her bare feet. It was the only reality she wanted for the moment.
She stood in the middle of the living room, the thin cotton dress clinging wetly to her body, staring about her in blessedly numb disbelief. The man she had thought of as Emmett had disappeared after closing the door behind them, closing the storm out of the cottage, leaving a far more devastating storm trapped inside. A moment later he was back, bandages and iodine in his hand.
"Sit on the couch," he ordered in a subdued voice. She considered him, favoring him with a cool, untouched glare, and then complied. Her knees were scraped by the sand, and the thin sundress was soaking wet, the cold dampness making her nipples harden, pressing against the thin material. He knelt in front of her, and she could see his gaze brush her breasts, then look quickly away. She could only hope it bothered him as much as it did her. The glancing heat of his gaze only seemed to accentuate it.
"How did you cut your hand?" He kept his voice low, unemotional, as he washed away the blood. There was a moderately deep score on the tip of one finger, surprisingly small for the amount of blood it had produced.
"On a knife in the kitchen drawer." She suffered his ministrations stoically.
"I warned you about that. Sharp knives don't belong in kitchen drawers; they should be hanging up."
"I don't give a damn about where you keep your kitchen knives," Rachel said in that same cool, distant voice. "I want to know what happened to the real Emmett. Is he dead?"
The man sat back on his heels, eyeing her warily. "I don't think so."
"You don't think so?" Rachel echoed, lightly mocking. "Didn't it occur to you that he might show up, then? Denounce you and Uncle Harris and your cozy little scheme?"
"Believe it or not, that's what we had in mind. Why do you suppose we chose Kauai for Emmett's reappearance? It's the last place he was seen, and there have been rumors over the past few months that he's still here." His voice was more than reasonable.
"So you're doing this out of the goodness of your heart? To encourage the real Emmett to show up and claim his inheritance? I wouldn't have pegged you as a philanthropist," she snapped.
He looked up at her then. "No?" he countered coolly. "What did you have me pegged as?"
She opened her mouth to reply, then shut it again. She took a deep breath, reaching for that marvelous, unfeeling numbness that had washed over her at his announcement. It was fading fast, in its place a white hot anger so strong that it threatened to overwhelm her. "I think you'd prefer I spare you those kind of words, Mr.… Addams, was it? They wouldn't sound very fitting, coming from your little sister." She leaned forward, brushing the sand from her scraped knees, not even wincing at the stinging pain. "I'll take care of these," she said, holding out her hand for the iodine. The hand was trembling slightly, a fact the man opposite her couldn't help but notice. Mercifully he said nothing, merely placing the small red bottle in her outstretched hand.
She began painting her knees with the stinging r
ed stuff, part of her welcoming the pain, giving the job her complete attention. "So tell me, what were you planning to do once my real brother showed up?" she queried with deceptive gentleness. "Bow out gracefully? And what if he never did bother to reappear? I don't suppose a man of your sterling character would have been even slightly tempted by the millions of dollars Emmett Chandler is heir to. It would be a simple enough matter to pass inspection, what with the major executor of the estate swearing you're his long-lost nephew, and the besotted sister ready to say the same thing. Or did such crass considerations never enter your mind?"
"I can't say they did," he replied, for once completely truthful. Her answering snort attested to her reaction. He was still squatting in front of her, watching her out of eyes as stormy as the windswept Pacific.
Rachel leaned back against the couch, ignoring the shiver that swept over her. The man in front of her saw it, but had the sense not to offer any assistance. Rachel was strung up as tightly as a spring, and if he so much as touched her without permission, she could shatter into a million pieces. "So tell me, Jake Addams, how did you get into this line of work? What have you been doing for the past few years?"
That drawl put an end to the check he'd been keeping on his temper. She recognized the combative light that flared in his eyes, and welcomed it. She didn't need his kindness or his pity—she was much safer with his anger.
"I spent six of the last eight months in prison." His voice was cool and controlled. "Before that I spent most of my time traveling." All strictly true, he thought wearily. One cardinal rule in this sort of game: Stick as close to the truth as possible, and you're less likely to get caught.
"Sounds productive," she scoffed. "And what was Harris going to give you in return for this impersonation? Besides Emmett Chandler's sister?"
"You forget, you arrived here unwanted and unasked," he snapped. "I tried more times than I can remember to get rid of you, so there's no need to act quite so betrayed."
"Isn't there?" she countered in a very low voice. He could hear the pain in her voice, and it cut through him like a knife. "What is Uncle Harris giving you?"
"Two hundred and fifty thousand if Emmett shows up."
"And if he doesn't?"
He met her gaze calmly. "One million if I can convince the other executors, impersonate Emmett for a year, and then manage to stage a convincing accident."
"Admirable. Quite a tidy amount of money for a drifter and a convict," she murmured. "It would definitely be to your advantage if Emmett stays lost."
"Not really. The quarter of a million is a sure thing, pretty easy to earn. Or it was, until you showed up," he drawled. "The full sum is a lot trickier. I've always been one to feel a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush."
"Since we're dealing with clichés, what about it takes a thief to catch a thief?" Another shiver swept over her damp, chilled body, and she sat upright. "You know something, Jake Addams?"
"I don't believe you. Uncle Harris might, but now that I know just how deceitful you are, I don't trust you for a moment. If you're really doing this for something as simple as a chunk of money, then I really am your kid sister." She leaned back again, her triumphant expression at odds with the lost, lonely eyes.
"I can hardly tell you to believe me, can I?" He stood up then, stretching against the fitful kerosene light, the muscles working against the damp, tight jeans and the rain splashed khaki shirt. Her eyes followed the strong, tough lines of his body, and she realized she still wanted it. Boiled in oil, drawn and quartered, she reminded herself, to no avail. "You'll just have to decide what's the truth." She knew he was aware of her scrutiny, had probably deliberately stretched in front of her to remind her of what she'd been panting over earlier, she thought in disgust. Well, never again.
They both heard the engine in the distance, and they stayed motionless, listening as the car slid to a stop in the mud outside the cottage, waiting as the door slammed and a rain- and mud-soaked Harris pounded up the front steps and into the living room, shaking like a large, wet dog. His bloodshot eyes were soulful as they surveyed the inhabitants of the room, but he was too far into the rum to notice the tension.
"It is not," he announced, "a fit night out for man or beast. I thought I'd better come and check on my favorite niece and nephew and make sure they weren't swept out to sea. It's damned inconvenient that you don't have a phone, Emmett. I've told you—"
"Don't call him that."
Harris turned to eye his water-soaked niece with bleary surprise. "I beg your pardon, Rachel?"
"I said don't call him Emmett."
Harris turned to the man, an eyebrow raised. "What's she babbling on about, dear boy? Is she quite all right? The storm…"
"She's fine," He replied shortly. "She knows."
"Knows what?" Harris looked shifty, stalling for time.
"Knows what we've been doing here the past three weeks," he drawled. "Knows I'm not her brother."
"My dear boy, I have no idea what you're talking about," Harris maintained stoutly.
"She knows because I told her everything." His voice was implacable, and Harris Chandler's face fell in dismay.
"For heaven's sake, man, why did you do that?" he managed after a long moment. He snatched a quick glance at his niece's set expression, then turned back to the man. "There was no need to bring her in on it."
A bitter smile lit his closed face. "There was every need. You want a drink? Stupid question; of course you do. I could use one myself. What about you, Rachel?"
"No." She wasn't going to accept anything from him.
"You really ought to, you know," Harris attempted. "You'll catch your death."
"Your thoughtfulness overwhelms me." She bit the words off. "What have you done to find the real Emmett?"
Harris blanched before her sudden attack. "Well, we have tried, haven't we, dear boy?" he said defensively. "We tried to see your precious priest both today and yesterday, but he's been damnably elusive. He's our only lead."
"Father Murphy. Word has it that he was seen talking with your brother sometime in the last few months. We can't get near enough to him to find out whether that's typical island rumor or something more substantial."
"I'll ask him." She rose, barely controlling the shiver that racked her slender body.
"Er…Rachel," Harris mumbled nervously, "what do you plan to do?"
"About me. Us. Our little plan? The bank won't take kindly to my machinations—I doubt they'd see them in the light they're intended. Are you going to expose us?" The man she had known as Emmett had paused by the door, and he was watching her out of calmly curious eyes, as if the answer to Harris's nervous question had no effect on his future whatsoever.
Rachel smiled coldly. "I don't know yet. I'll have to sleep on it."
"Uh…do you want a ride back to the hotel? I imagine I could find a room for you."
"There's no need, Uncle. I'm planning to stay right here." She moved toward her bedroom, picking up her abandoned suitcase as she went. She was gratified to see she had finally shaken some emotion out of Jake Addams's still face, though she still wasn't quite sure what it was.
"Here?" Harris echoed in a strangled voice.
"Certainly. If Emmett is ever going to show up, I expect it will be in the next few days, and I expect it will be to you that he'll make his appearance. I wouldn't put it past the two of you to do away with him when no one's looking. I intend to stick like glue. If my brother is on this island, I want to be sure I have a chance to see him before he goes up in smoke once more."
"Rachel!" Harris was shocked. "We wouldn't hurt Emmett. For heaven's sake girl, have some trust!"
Her laugh was short, ugly, and on the verge of tears as she made her way to her bedroom. Still the man she had thought of as Emmett stood there, leaning against the kitchen door, his distant eyes watching her. He stayed there until she closed her bedroom door, and the
n he turned and continued into the kitchen, pouring himself a drink strong enough to make even Harris blanch. And without a word he strode past his conspirator, out into the stormy night, and stood watching the ocean, his face a shuttered mask.
« ^ »
Great exits are one thing, she decided disconsolately. The problem was, if you forgot something in the drama of your departure, it was damned hard to go back and retrieve it. She stood behind her closed bedroom door, letting her eyes get slowly accustomed to the inky darkness, and wished to God she had commandeered the kerosene lamp. Let those two villains sit in darkness, she thought sourly. But it was too late—she wasn't about to make another appearance that night. She had had just about all she could take; one more look at Jake Addams's cynical, wary face and she would probably lose the tenuous hold on her self-control and…
What? she demanded of herself with a wry twist of her mouth. Throw herself on the floor and indulge in the strong hysterics that greatly appealed to her at the moment? Hurl herself at Emmett-Jake and try to wipe that unfeeling expression from his face? Tempting as the latter thought might be, Rachel already knew she wouldn't get far. She was strong, and reveled in her strength, but she was no match for his compact toughness. She would quickly find herself overpowered, and that would make things very much worse. She already felt painfully powerless and vulnerable.
Dropping her suitcase on the chair, she moved carefully across the tiny room to the rumpled bed, sinking down on it with sudden exhaustion. She had no idea what time it actually was—she hadn't bothered to look at a clock when she had woken up what seemed like a century ago. Besides, as far as she remembered all the clocks in the house were electric.
Looking out her window at the storm-tossed countryside was no help either. In the rain-swept darkness it could have been four in the afternoon or the morning. With a sigh she pulled the pillows into a pile behind her, resting her head against the iron bedstead. Sleep would be damnably long in coming; she resigned herself to the fact. She couldn't decide which was preferable to concentrate on: the stinging pain of her scraped knees and lacerated hand, or the more devastating injury to her heart and trust.