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Tangled Lies


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There was no sound from the room beyond, no whispering from the conspirators, no furtive movements, though Rachel wasn't certain she would have heard them anyway. The storm made an admirable cover for nefarious activities. They could always decide to drop her over the Na Pali cliffs, she thought idly. After all, the Chandler millions were more than motive enough for something as minor as murder. They may have already found Emmett, silenced him effectively, and…

No, she decided fairly. The man calling himself Jake Addams might be an amoral, cold-blooded jailbird, but he wasn't a murderer. When it came right down to it, she wasn't certain she believed he was amoral, or even a jailbird. And perhaps, she thought, a stray hand brushing her lips, not cold blooded either. He didn't need to tell her; he could have let her continue thinking she was desperately in love with her own brother. Exactly why did he tell her the truth?

If truth it was. One blessed relief in the whole matter: the moment he'd told her he wasn't her brother that burning overwhelming attraction died as swiftly as it was born. So much for eternal love, she thought with a tiny shrug of her shoulders. It hadn't borne up under such intensive duplicity, even if it had withstood the strain of incipient incest. The moment the words "I'm not your brother" were out, the fires that had threatened to consume her had died into cold, wet ashes, leaving her numb with pain and betrayal.

That icy numbness hadn't lasted nearly long enough, she sighed. It had turned into a white-hot fury in minutes, a white-hot fury that wasn't allowing her to think straight, to sort through the maze of lies and half-lies to find out what she really believed. She needed to replace that intense rage with a cool, deliberate anger that was strong enough to keep her from getting hurt again and reasonable enough to help her find the real Emmett.

Leaning forward, she pulled her knees up to her body, suppressing a small moan when the scraped skin protested against the movement, and reached for the cotton blanket at the foot of the bed. She draped it around her chilled, wet shoulders before leaning back. And what was the truth? Certainly not what the man had told her, she knew that much. The moment doubt had entered her mind a great many things had become clear. She was usually far from gullible, though she did her best to accept people for what they were. But she had been blinded by her delight in finding Emmett once more, blinded by her stupid infatuation for that…that con man.

She didn't believe he was in it for the money. Not that she suspected him of any humanitarian motives, either. But now that the blinders were off and she could see him clearly she was developing a much-belated sixth sense about him. If his name was Jake Addams then hers was Mae West. And if he was out for money he never would have let her stay, never would have told her the truth without far greater provocation than her throwing herself at his feet.

The prison story didn't ring true either. Or maybe she just didn't want it to ring true, she thought, prodding her already lacerated self-esteem. Are you looking for excuses, Rachel? So he doesn't look like a hard-core criminal who just got out of jail. Looks, as you very well know, can be deceiving. And the ability to deceive innocents like yourself is part and parcel of the trade.

Was she making a mistake, staying on here? She was a lamb in a den of very experienced wolves who probably wouldn't think twice about devouring her if she got in their way. Uncle Harris had always been charmingly, blearily amoral. Jake-Emmett had stopped her from running off into the night, but if push came to shove and she was a real threat to him and a million dollars, would he feel any such compulsion? Would he feel any regret?

The windows rattled with the force of the wind; a bolt of lightning illuminated the room, followed by the inevitable roll of thunder. Rachel slid down against the pillows, wrapping the blanket more tightly about her. Where was Emmett? Was he watching all this, laughing at their ridiculous charades? She wouldn't put it past him—he had always had Henry Emmett's somewhat disconcerting sense of humor.

But if he was still alive, if he was there on the island, she would find him, with or without those two felons' help. She would also find out exactly whom she had been sharing a house with for the last few days, whom she had shared a bed with. What she would do with the information, she still hadn't decided.

It was a blessed relief, she thought, snuggling down further into the warm bed, that she no longer wanted him. Heavenly to be free from that aching, burning need that had threatened to consume her, wonderful that it had been replaced with a cool, calculated anger. Never again would she be vulnerable to him, never again would she shiver and tremble with wanting when he looked at her out of those unfathomable hazel eyes. Thank God, she thought sleepily, her hands reaching to delicately brush her bruised lips. She didn't even feel the brand of him on her mouth, couldn't even remember that shattering demand of his kiss. Could no longer feel the hard, strong imprint of his body against hers as he'd held her against the door.

All she knew was the raging storm outside, the sleepiness brought on by emotional exhaustion, and the warm, pulsing feeling in her body as, ignoring her mind's stern orders, it replayed that devastating embrace. And then she was asleep.

It was very still and quiet when she woke up, and for a moment she lay there, huddled in the cotton blanket, trying to remember what was different.

Her first realization was a pleasant one. The storm had passed; the silence was only broken by the soft swish-swish of the palm trees, the cries of the birds, the distant sound of the surf. It was still very early—the sunlight pouring in her window had barely come over the horizon. She considered pulling the blanket back over her head, when the second wave of memory bit her. And then she was fully awake.

A hot shower, a cup of good coffee, she decided, before she faced the myriad problems this day would bring. She wouldn't even think about it till she felt more human, but heaven help Jake Addams if he got in her way before she was ready for him.

She needn't have worried. For the first time since she'd arrived, his bedroom door was tightly shut, and there was no sign of him lounging lazily on the front porch, none of that hideous stuff he called coffee sitting on the old gas stove. The power had come back on sometime during the night—the recalcitrant electric clock was moving merrily backward. Moving in a fog, Rachel started the coffee, wincing slightly at the pain in her finger, then wandered into the bathroom.

It was the longest shower she had ever taken, and she needed every minute of it to brush the cobwebs out of her brain. She could only hope she took all the hot water, and that Emmett… No, damn it, his name is Jake. Maybe. Anyway, she could only hope he wanted to take one too. A blast of cold water would do wonders for his sensibilities, she thought, scrubbing her scalp with needless energy.

There was still no sign of him as she headed for the front porch, mug of coffee in her hand. She had chosen her clothing quite deliberately, picking her briefest pair of shorts. They exposed every inch of her long, tanned legs, and hugged the round curves of her buttocks in what she could only hope was an enticing manner. It was cooler after the storm, but she still wore only an abbreviated halter top. She wanted to get some early morning sun, she told herself with righteous innocence. She also wanted to make him suffer.

Shaking her thick wet hair around her shoulders, she took a seat on the bottom step of the porch, took a deep, grateful swig of the coffee, and surveyed the morning.

It was absurdly beautiful. The bright sun was climbing in the deep blue sky, its glistening rays turning the wet sand into a field of diamonds. The tangled jungle that surrounded the cottage shimmered in the brightness; crystal drops of moisture beading the deep green leaves. It was a fresh, new world, just born from the raging torrent of the night before, and even the birds that wheeled about in the sky seemed younger, happier, more beautiful. Stretching out her long legs in front of her, Rachel leaned her elbows on an upper step, cupping the mug of coffee in her slender hands. Small hands, she thought, like all Chandlers. Why hadn't she realized when she'd noticed his beautiful, long-fingered hands? No Chandler ever had hands like t

hat.

That was the wrong thing to think about, she told herself sternly, ignoring the sudden warmth that started just below the pit of her stomach at the thought of those hands. Don't think about his body, think about his lies.

That was easier said than done when the vibration of his footsteps could be felt in the small of her back. She heard the screen door open behind her, but she kept her face out toward the ocean, determined not to give him the benefit of her attention.

Of course, she hadn't expected him to ignore her. Without a glance in her direction he bounded down the stairs, heading straight out toward the ocean. He was wearing the faded cutoffs, most likely as a sop to her presence, she thought irritably, and unwillingly her eyes drank in the sight of his tanned, broad back and his muscled legs, with their fine covering of golden hair. He walked straight into the ocean, diving through the surf and swimming out, away from her, with single-minded concentration. She could see the muscles working in his powerful shoulders as he plowed through the waves, and a small shiver passed over her, one she tried and failed to attribute to her abbreviated attire. Taking another sip of her rapidly cooling coffee, she watched him out of unabashedly hungry eyes. Eyes that could always go carefully blank once he came out of the sea.

If he ever did. Rachel began to feel a stirring of unease as he continued to swim, straight out into the ocean, driven by worse demons than she had ever known. Her mouth went suddenly dry as he disappeared from view behind a swell, and her hand tightened unconsciously on the mug of coffee. What the hell was he thinking of, swimming out so far when the ocean was still rough from the storm? If he thought she would be able to save him, he had another think coming; her swimming abilities were definitely limited—nothing compared to the Olympic-style stroke he was using to eat up the distance. Was this his way of trying to get his own back? Was he going to disappear into the ocean, turn up a mile down the beach and fade into the tangled undergrowth? Or was he going to foolishly overestimate his capacity and end up drowning in front of her eyes? Damn the man, why wouldn't he come back?

He was only about twenty feet from the shore when she saw him next, and the wave of relief that washed over her was completely inappropriate for someone who cared as little as she did. She accepted it stoically enough. Maybe a tiny part of her did care. Anyway, it was only natural not to want to watch someone drown. Simple human courtesy. She wished she'd taken the time to get another cup of coffee while he was swimming; it would have given her something to concentrate on while he walked out of the ocean directly toward her. If she hadn't been so terrified that he'd disappear, she would have. Her temper wasn't improving as she squinted up at him through the bright sunlight.

He moved well, she had to admit that. His muscles were in all the right places and in the right shape, and if his body lacked the golden beach-boy prettiness that she was used to in California, it had a certain tough, battered grace that sat well on his forty years. Or was he forty? she wondered belatedly.

Looking up into his face as he crossed the sand, she was disconcerted for a moment. He looked like hell. His eyes were bloodshot, his chin stubbled, his forehead lined with what seemed like a very bad headache. His whole expression was bleak, cold, and distant, and he stopped a foot away from her perch on the steps, watching her silently. His body was glistening with seawater, sparkling in the sun, and she had a sudden, absurd longing to take him in her arms and tell him it was all right. Absurd indeed. He couldn't care less what she thought.

"There's coffee in the kitchen," she said finally.

"I noticed. I thought you might have added rat poison." He sounded tired, resigned.

She shook her head. "Too fast. I have a longer, slower revenge in mind."

His eyes swept over her scantily clad body, and heat followed in their wake. "So I noticed," he drawled laconically. "Do you want a refill?" Her empty mug was in plain sight.

A refusal sprang to her lips instinctively, and she swallowed it. Some sort of truce would have to be called if they were going to continue on here for a number of days. She wasn't going to go until she had picked both his and Uncle Harris's brains and done her best to find Emmett. Her best bet would be to aim for a kind of cool impartiality. She held out her mug. "Please."

If she had hoped to fool him for even a moment, she was doomed to disappointment. The amused light in his eyes was unpleasantly mocking. "A cease-fire, is it?"

"For now. And an exchange of information," she added boldly.

"Sounds more and more promising. What have you got to exchange?"

Rachel leaned back against the steps, tossing back her damp mane of hair. It was a good feeling, to have even a small modicum of power over the man in front of her. "Get the coffee," she said lazily. "And then I'll tell you."

Unfortunately his cynical mouth widened in a smile, effectively wiping out her temporary feeling of victory. He didn't say a word; he didn't have to. His body language was eloquent enough.

She had a vague hope he'd take the time to change before bringing the coffee out on the porch, but the hope was in vain. Instead of taking his usual seat at the railing, he came and sat down beside her—at the far end of the steps, to be sure, but still too close for her peace of mind. The water on his body had dried in the early morning sunlight, except for a few errant drops in the thin mat of sandy-colored hair on his chest. It was all Rachel could do to keep her eyes off those drops. She was acutely aware of him, of his body sprawled next to hers, his long, bare legs stretched out beside hers. Perhaps her scanty shorts hadn't been such a good idea after all. It was more than slightly disturbing to be sitting there in the hot sun with both of them wearing a minimum of clothing.

"So what do you have to tell me?" His voice was a casual drawl as he eyed her over the coffee cup. His earlier bleak expression had disappeared, and Rachel had the uncomfortable feeling that it was her barely disguised reaction to him that had cheered him up. She resolved then and there to be as hostile as possible.

"You first. don't trust you one tiny bit. If I told you what I know, you'd probably tell me it's useless information. You tell me what you know first, and then I'll decide whether it's worth what I know." She kept her voice cool and hostile, but her contemptuousness only seemed to increase his amusement.

"Sounds fair. We know Emmett was last seen here officially in 1969. He was growing dope on the north end of the island, hanging out with various transients, until the police caught wind of his whereabouts." The humor left his eyes for a moment, Rachel felt oddly chilled. "You remember the Cambridge bombings?"

She nodded, wondering why she suddenly felt so cold. "Of course. Emmett was involved in a student radical group connected to the bombings. He was wanted for questioning about the whole thing. Not that he probably knew very much. Emmett, as far as I can remember him, wasn't the most hard-core radical. He was more interested in theory than revolution."

"Theory's fine in its place," he said savagely. "A girl died in that blast."

"I remember," Rachel said softly. The girl had been one of the radicals, and Emmett's current girl friend. She had only been nineteen when she died, and sadly enough, Rachel couldn't even remember her name.

"The government traced him to Kauai, and Emmett went underground. He probably disappeared into the Na Pali cliffs area—they were always a good place for outlaws to hide. He hasn't been seen or heard from since, apart from rumor."

"Do you think he's still there?"

"He could be." He squinted out at the sun-gilded ocean, still choppy from the night's storm. "People have lived there for decades and never been seen. But I think it's more likely he's come back out and reentered life under an alias."

"Wouldn't he leave the island then? Why should he hang around here when this would be the obvious place to start looking?" she argued.

He shrugged, and Rachel's eyes strayed to his broad, bony shoulders. "He probably put down some roots during the last fifteen years. Hell, I don't know. I just have a gut-level feeling he's still here. Couple

that with the fact that he's been seen by that priest, the gardener at the church, and a couple of taro farmers, and it's enough to go on."

"He might be married, with children," Rachel mused. "Most people are by the time they're forty." A sudden, horribly unpleasant thought entered her mind, one she tried to shut out by concentrating on her coffee.

"No," he said quietly.

"You don't think he's married?" She looked up curiously.

He shook his head. "No, I don't think so. But that wasn't the question I was answering."

"What question?"

"I'm not married."

"Who cares?"

"You do." He leaned back, very self-assured. "Anyway, I don't think your brother's married, but if he is, it won't make any difference."

She decided to ignore his earlier gibe. "Any difference to whom?" she queried.

He didn't answer. "So, what's your information? Admittedly, ours is pretty sparse, but then, Emmett's an elusive fellow."

The hell with it, she thought. "How old are you?"

He didn't even seem surprised at her sudden question. "The same age as your brother. Forty. Why?"

"And you've never married?"

The corner of his mouth turned up in a wicked smile. "Such curiosity, Miss Chandler. Yes, I've been married. Once, a long, long time ago, in a different world."

"What happened?"

"She disapproved of my profession and she divorced me. I think she's married to an accountant in Wichita."

Rachel tried to stifle a giggle at the incongruity of such a fate, failed, and almost choked in the attempt. "Well, I can't say I blame her. I wouldn't want to be married to a con man either."

"Is that what I am?"

"Aren't you?" She couldn't keep the curiosity out of her voice.




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