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Tangled Lies


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He smiled mysteriously, refusing to be drawn. "Quit stalling, Rachel. What is it you know about Emmett?"

The coffee mug was empty, the rising sun too brilliant to stare at over the ocean, and there was nowhere she could turn her gaze but at the man beside her. He's a liar and a cheat, she reminded herself sternly. Somehow this realization was sinking in with difficulty this morning. Maybe when he put a shirt on she'd have an easier time of it.

"Emmett's sent me birthday presents every year since he's been gone." She dug a toe into the wet sand, concentrating on the random patterns she was drawing.

"You mentioned that." He nodded. "It gave me a few bad moments. What has he sent you?"

"Butterflies." For some reason she scarcely hesitated to tell him something she had told no one else, something precious and private.

"Butterflies?"

"Silk ones, china ones, porcelain ones, silver ones. I used to love butterflies when I was young. I caught one once when I was five—a beautiful yellow and black one with delicate wings. My cousin Harold was visiting, and when I wasn't looking he impaled the butterfly on a pin. When I cried he pulled the beautiful yellow and black wings off it and threw them at me. I was completely shattered; I cried for days and days. Even when Emmett gave Harold a black eye, it didn't help. Ariel thought I was being ridiculous, but Emmett understood. Ever since then butterflies have been a special link between us."

The man beside her rubbed his rough chin thoughtfully. "Were there return addresses?"

"No. But there were postmarks."

"Better than nothing. Do you remember them?" He was suddenly alert, business-like, almost frighteningly so. What did he really want with Emmett?

"Not all of them. And I don't remember the years. The first was Kauai, and then there was Samoa, Australia, Rome, Paris." She hesitated, but he was waiting, his face intent. "The last one was Kauai again."

"I knew it!" His voice was low, triumphant as he leapt to his feet. "I could feel it in my bones." He disappeared into the house, leaving her staring after him. She considered following him, then decided against it. There was still one thing she hadn't told him, one tiny ace up her sleeve.

She was still sitting there when he returned, moving past her without a backward glance. He'd thrown on a rumpled pair of khakis, an aging blue T-shirt and his sunglasses, and the tattered sneakers were underneath his arm.

"Where do you think you're going?" Rachel demanded.

"To find that damned priest and shake Emmett Chandler's whereabouts out of him. I knew he was here, damn it, I knew it. And now that I've got proof I'm not going to let anything stop me."

"Stop you from what?" Her voice was cool, curious, and the man she thought of as Emmett-Jake only spared her a momentary glance.

"You stay put. I'll be back by the afternoon."

"The hell I will. I'm coming with you."

"Wanna bet?" he snapped. "Emmett might have been too much of a pansy to paddle that cute little bottom of yours, but I have no such qualms. Leave that porch and you'll regret it."

He meant it; Rachel had no doubts whatsoever. She also knew that if he put those strong, beautiful hands on her, she would be lost. For the moment discretion was the better part of valor. And retaliation would be deliciously easy. The moment he drove away she would search his room.

Smiling her sweetest smile, she gave him an airy wave. There was no way he would find Emmett that quickly, not after trying for so long. "Have fun," she said in a dulcet tone. "Give my love to Father Frank if you manage to catch up with him."

He was nobody's fool, and her sudden affability set warning bells buzzing in his head. But Emmett Chandler was first priority, and his infuriating, exasperating, delectable little sister could wait a few more hours. "Stay put," he said again. And with more than a few misgivings, he jumped into the rain-swamped Land Rover and drove away.

Chapter Fifteen

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Rachel should have known that nothing would be as easy as it should be. She indulged herself for another ten minutes, legs stretched out into the sun, watching the sun-gilded violence of the ocean, still reeling from the storm, as she drained the last few drops of her now cool coffee. Even lukewarm it was better than Emmett's—Jake's—brew, and she had every intention of savoring it to the fullest. She had the entire day in front of her, more than enough time for a leisurely search of his room.

She finally rose, stretching her arms over her head with an inexplicably contented sigh, and headed into the dim, cool confines of the cottage. Only to find his bedroom door securely locked.

"It'll take more than that to keep me out, boyo," she said softly, taking pleasure in the sound of her self-assured voice in the stillness of the house. She had always been more than capable with her hands, and the hinges to that solid door were on the outside. It took her a few minutes to locate a decent screwdriver, another fifteen of swearing and sweating over the rusty screws, but at last victory was hers. Pushing the door carefully, she was able to squeeze through the opening and she stepped into Bluebeard's chamber.

She hadn't taken much notice of it the other night. It had been pitch black most of the time, and she'd been in too much of a hurry to catch up with her supposed brother to pay it much mind in the morning. With him gone it had held little interest to her. Now, however, it was a virtual treasure horde, albeit a far from neat one.

He hadn't slept well last night, that much was obvious. The sheets were pulled from the bed, half on the floor, and the pillows were punched beyond recognition in what appeared to be a fruitless quest for a comfortable position. Clothes festooned every piece of furniture, the ashtray beside the bed was full to overflowing, and crumpled packs of cigarettes littered the floor. Wrinkling her nose in disapproval, she knelt down and began scooping up the trash, then carried the full ashtray and the two half-empty glasses into the kitchen. He had done very well with the housekeeping in the rest of the house; only in his own room had he fallen short. And it wasn't really dirty—there were no cobwebs or dust. Just a casual sort of mess that for some reason Rachel found slightly endearing. She didn't trust a man who was too neat.

She cleaned quickly, efficiently, finding in it an obscure, possibly perverse enjoyment. She searched through every pocket, read every meaningless scrap of paper, dismantled the bed, the chair cushions, his seldom-used shaving kit, the even more disreputable pair of sneakers that lay hidden under the tangled double bed. She found things that amused her—antacids and a paperback novel with the dubious title The Slaughterer. She found things that infuriated her—a picture of a very pretty teenage girl and a package of condoms. And she found something that made her melt—the wilted flower she had worn in her hair two nights ago at the bar. She stared at it for a long, perplexed moment, and a part of her wanted to shut the drawer, replace the door on its hinges, and pretend she had never intruded.

And then her resolve hardened. She had probably dropped the flower when she'd come rushing in here like a fool to comfort him during his nightmares. There was little doubt he deserved every nightmare he got, and she wished him many more. She slammed the drawer shut with more force than necessary, moving on to the next one. His story still didn't ring true, and he was unlikely to be the one to enlighten her. Rachel had to rely on her own ingenuity to find out what was behind his game of charades, and she wasn't going to let her soft-hearted romantic streak stop her. It was ridiculous that she should feel guilty, she thought angrily. But as she searched on, the feeling of guilt increased. Until it was wiped clean by the contents of the bottom drawer.

Beneath the neatly folded jeans and the clean T-shirts was a packet of papers containing a passport, issued to a forty-year-old gentleman named Ben O'Hanlon. A man who bore an amazing resemblance to Jake Addams. Also included were various press passes, identifying Ben O'Hanlon as a member in good standing of the fourth estate. And a recent newspaper clipping, complete with grainy photograph, of the same ubiquitous face, and the headline, "Reporter Released from Terrorist Capt

ivity."

Folding her legs under her, she sat on the floor, immersed in the story. Ben O'Hanlon, apparently, had been somewhere he shouldn't have been in one of the more repressive South American dictatorships. Someone took exception to his presence, and he disappeared. Only to show up, some six months later, in a more neutral country, where he was whisked back to the States. The account was irritatingly vague, with the promise that more information would be forthcoming from the State Department once O'Hanlon was debriefed, but in the meantime the former captive had gone into seclusion. There were rumors of a book deal, even a possible movie, but for the time being O'Hanlon was mum.

That explained some of it, Rachel thought, refolding the newspaper carefully. The night terrors, the hours he spent on the porch, out in the open air. Prison, indeed! And she'd been gullible enough to believe him.

But it still didn't explain what he wanted with Emmett. As far as she knew, the real Emmett hadn't even ventured near South America in the last fifteen years, or if he had, he didn't stay long. He couldn't be connected with Ben's imprisonment.

Ben. She had to admit she liked the sound of that. It fit him, far better than Jake Addams or Emmett Chandler. She wondered whether it was short for Benjamin or Benson. Probably neither—it had simply read Ben O'Hanlon on the passport. She no longer had any doubts; that was his real name. It had the good, solid ring of truth to it. And it was also more than obvious what he was doing, and it was nothing terribly frightening after all. The article had said he was a well-known investigative reporter, co-winner of a Pulitzer Prize, who'd been in South America doing research for a book on missing radicals from the sixties. He was interested in Emmett for purely professional purposes, and newspaper people were known for protecting their sources. He wouldn't turn a hapless Emmett over to the authorities on a whim.

Pulitzer Prize, she thought as she made herself a salad for lunch. She was traveling in fairly exalted company, even if his recreational literature ran along the lines of The Slaughterer.

Of course, there was no reason why he couldn't have told her what he was up to. Once she had tumbled to the fact that he wasn't actually Emmett, he had no reason to keep pretending he was someone else. And she wasn't exactly thrilled with his methods. Impersonation, bordering on criminal fraud, wasn't an admirable way to get a story. No, she wasn't quite ready to call a truce. Not when he'd followed his initial lies with another series of lies just as far-fetched as the first.

She cast only a cursory glance at the door still propped against the wall on her way back out to the porch. It was going to stay right where she left it, with his papers and passport lying neatly on top of his dresser. She was looking forward to his reaction, she thought calmly, setting her lunch on the porch railing. Maybe he'd exhibit the first ounce of shame. Too bad she wouldn't be here to fully enjoy it, but Stephen Ames was taking her out to dinner that night. And she had every intention of going, and rubbing Ben O'Hanlon's nose in it. Taking a sip of her ice tea, she tipped the chair back in unconscious imitation of the subject of her less than convivial thoughts. She was quite prepared to watch him suffer.

As it was, she barely had time to enjoy herself. She was already dressed in the slinky gold dress, her thick, sun-streaked chestnut hair in a loose bun at the nape of her neck, waiting on the porch for her date, when Ben pulled in beside the cottage. He sat for a moment, oblivious to his audience, his arms resting on the steering wheel, his head bowed as he rubbed a weary hand across his forehead. And then he looked up, directly into her limpid gaze.

"What the hell are you all dressed up for?" he growled, pulling himself out of the Land Rover with noticeable effort.

She smiled sweetly. "I've got a date, remember? Stephen Ames, Uncle Harris's friend."

He looked even more disgruntled. "Don't tell me you're still going through with that?"

"Of course I am. Why shouldn't I? I don't even have the excuse of staying home to watch over my long-lost brother. I think a night on the town would do me a world of good, particularly in the company of a charming young man."

"You don't find me charming?" His sarcasm brought an answering light to her eyes.

"Not particularly. But then, I have a peculiar attraction to honest men. You wouldn't know much about that in your line of work. It must be exhausting to be a con man."

He grimaced, stretching his arms over his head with weary, unconscious grace. "It was today."

"I take it you didn't get any further on your quest?"

"What makes you think that?" He was wary once more.

"Because I have little doubt you'd be crowing in triumph if you had succeeded in tracking down Father Frank and beaten Emmett's whereabouts from him," she said frankly. "So I can only presume that your day has been a complete waste of time."

He smiled then, that damnably infuriating smile that made Rachel want to kick him. "I wouldn't say that. Not a complete waste of time, not at all."

"And I don't suppose you're going to clarify that statement?"

Moving up the steps with leisurely grace, he nodded. "You're right. When is your gentleman caller showing up?"

"Any time now." It was a war of nerves. She could see by the tiny muscle working in his jaw that he was far from unmoved at the thought of her evening with Stephen Ames, but he seemed equally determined not to show her. She'd simply have to goad him further. She was suddenly desperate to have him lose that iron control he clamped down whenever she got too close. She hadn't seen him lose it yet, but with any luck the moment might be at hand.

"Fine." He slouched into the seat beside her, tossing his sunglasses onto the railing. They missed, falling over the other side into the sand. "It's just as well you're going out tonight; I could use some time to myself for a change."

She could feel him cast a surreptitious glance at her to gauge her reaction to the barely veiled insult. She smiled, unmoved. "A little solitude can be very pleasant. I had a lovely day today—got a great deal accomplished."

"Did you, now?" His voice was indulgent. "Like what?"

"Oh, this and that. I washed the dishes, sunbathed, did my nails, searched your room. Just boring stuff."

He turned his head slowly, staring at her out of wintry eyes. "You did what?" His voice was very soft and low, menacing, she thought.

She didn't pretend to misunderstand. "I searched your room. Honest as always, aren't you, Mr. Emmett Chandler Jake Addams Ben O'Hanlon. How did you get your Pulitzer Prize—making up stories and getting them printed?"

He rose from the chair slowly, and it took all of Rachel's willpower not to flinch. Ignoring her, he walked into the house to survey the damage to his privacy. The words that issued forth turned the air blue, and Rachel listened with profound admiration, storing away several nice turns of phrase for future use. It was little wonder he'd won a Pulitzer. The man was good with words, she had to admit it.

A moment later he was back at the door, looming over her like an avenging god. "I never thought I could sympathize with wife beaters," he said in a gravelly voice, making no effort to come closer.

"I'm not your wife."

"Thank God for small favors." His laugh was harsh. "Are you pleased with your efforts?"

"Quite," she said calmly. "Now at least I know what you want with Emmett."

The screen door opened, and he stepped out, directly in her line of vision, his expression dark and unreadable. "And what's that?"

"For your book, of course," Rachel scoffed. "You needn't think you can fool me any more; that newspaper article mentioned you were working on something about sixties radicals on the run. Emmett wasn't that important, but he was involved in the Cambridge bombings, and he is part of a fairly well-known family."

"Not to mention being heir to millions," he added dryly.

"I don't think Emmett intends to accept his inheritance."

"Don't you? Why not?"

"Because he would have shown up by now if he wanted it. He must have heard about the will—it's certainly gotten enough public

ity. He never cared much for the money when he was younger, and I doubt if he's changed that much."

"Maybe he hasn't shown up because he figures all that nice money isn't worth the price he'll have to pay."

"He won't have to pay any price," Rachel retorted. "He didn't commit any crimes—his involvement in the bombing was only accidental."

"Then why hasn't he explained that very nicely to all the men who are interested? Why would Emmett Chandler hide out for fifteen years if he didn't have something to hide from?" His voice was coolly dispassionate, and Rachel once more came very close to hating him. But not close enough.

"I don't know. But I'll be sure to ask him next time I see him," she said pertly.

"Unless I see him first." His voice was cold and implacable, and Rachel felt a little shiver of fear cross her bare shoulders. Before she could reply, the sound of a high-powered sports car intruded on the far from tranquil silence. Both of them heard the tires squeal; the sudden blare of the horn was a violent intrusion.

Ben O'Hanlon's mouth turned upward in a cynical, weary smile. "There's the little gentleman now. Best not keep him waiting."

Slowly, deliberately, Rachel rose, moving past him, brushing his taut, waiting body with a deliberate, gentle brush.

"Bastard," she murmured gently. And ran down the steps to the car.

Chapter Sixteen

« ^ »

Ben O'Hanlon watched her leave. There was a pain in his gut, one that he refused to put a name to. His skin tingled from the light feel of her body as it brushed against him, and the scent of jasmine still lingered in the air. He drank it in appreciatively, then swore, turning away from the ocean, from the sound of the souped-up sports car disappearing into the tropical night. Now was not the time to go all sentimental at the thought of Rachel Chandler. Too much had happened today; he was coming too close to his quarry to be distracted.

He probably should have risked giving her his real name yesterday. It hadn't even connected, but then, she had only been twelve years old at the time. Why should she remember what was indelibly burned into his brain? It wouldn't have made much of a difference to the skinny adolescent she must have been.




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