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Probably just wishful thinking, Rachel thought as she wandered down to the water. She had wanted him to come so badly, had longed for it with every fiber of her being, that it had metamorphosed into not only a possibility, but a certainty. And she should have known by now, nothing was certain in this life.
Perhaps Emmett really was dead. For some foolish reason she had thought she would know if he died, that some small, silent part of her would die too if she felt his loss. But her instincts had been wrong about her birthday; they could just as easily be wrong about that, too. He could have died any time in the last year, lost in some South African jungle, dead in a stockbroker's bed of an early heart attack. There was no guarantee that he was still alive.
Of course there was always the chance that a small package containing a silk or china butterfly was awaiting her in the Berkeley post office that was holding her mail. Emmett might be nowhere near Kauai; perhaps they had all been on a false trail. But somehow, comforting as the thought might be, Rachel didn't believe it for one minute. Either Emmett was near, or he was dead. She didn't allow for any other possibilities. And since he hadn't come, he must be dead.
What would Ben say when she told him? Or Uncle Harris, for that matter? They seemed so certain that Emmett was somewhere around, waiting to appear like some magician. They would believe what they wanted to believe, and she doubted that included her hazy feelings. She would be alone in coping with his certain loss, while Ben and Harris still scurried around, chasing ghosts.
The water was warm to her bare toes, and she dug them into the wet sand, squinting into the horizon. She wanted Ben, needed him with every cell in her body. She needed his arms around her, his strong body pressing against hers; she needed to hide her face against the warmth of his shoulder, to howl away her grief and abandonment. She needed someone to give her trust and love to completely, without question; she needed his mouth, his hands, his loins, his legs, his heart and soul. And she needed a love that he was far from ready to give.
It was late when Ben returned that night. Darkness had already enshrouded the small cottage, and a few solitary stars lit the inky black sky. Rachel was very quiet as she waited for him on the front porch, curled up in the hammock, her body folded in on itself. She should have known, she told herself with only a trace of bitterness. Things seldom go as they should. Emmett Chandler had forgotten his sister's birthday for the first time in fifteen years.
"What are you doing out here?" Ben was looming over her, exhaustion and something else shuttering his slightly battered face. She must have fallen asleep waiting for him—the moon was already beginning to rise over the whispering ocean.
She smiled up at him, at least half of her sorrow vanishing at the sight of him, unwelcoming as that closed expression was. "Waiting for you," she murmured. "Did you have a good day?"
A cynical smile curled his lip. "It was a waste of time. A wild goose chase, set up by someone with an interesting sense of humor. Possibly your priest."
"He came to see you today."
Ben looked unimpressed. "Sure he did. After sending me chasing over Ne Pali with his gardener. Did he have anything to say about your brother?" He threw his tired body into a nearby chair, stretching his legs out in front of him. It was hard to believe that the last time she had seen him that morning he'd been kissing her with that twisted, cynical mouth, that those hard, hazel eyes had been soft and warm with something akin to love, that he'd been stretched out over her love-flushed body, holding her…
Depression settled over Rachel, and determinedly she fought it off. No one had ever said Ben O'Hanlon was an easy man to get along with; the demands of a relationship with him would be extraordinary. So would be the rewards.
Pulling herself into a sitting position, she crossed her legs under herself, swaying back and forth in the canvas hammock. "He didn't say much," she admitted slowly. "He didn't seem very surprised that you weren't really Emmett, but then, we expected that. We really talked more about me than about my brother. I guess Father Frank may have met Emmett in the last few years; he wouldn't say." Rachel's voice was doubtful.
"Why wouldn't he tell you any more?"
"He said it was information sealed under the confessional." She wanted to reach out and smooth the hair away from his lined brow; she wanted to kiss his eyelashes. She remained right where she was.
"That's as good an excuse as any." He sighed. "I guess I'm just going to have to camp on his doorstep and beat it out of him. I'm getting damned tired of chasing around after shadows."
A faint smile lit her face. "He won't be around for you to beat it out of. He's leaving for El Salvador tomorrow afternoon."
"El Salvador? Why the hell is he going to El Salvador?" Ben seemed to take it as a personal affront.
"Because he wants to, and his superiors gave him permission. I guess he feels he's needed."
A bleak look had settled over Ben's face, the dark shadows of memory haunting his eyes. "More likely he's got a martyr complex. What's he got to atone for?"
"Nothing!" Rachel snapped, beginning to get angry. "He just wants to help people. Is that so strange?"
"It is in my experience," Ben said wearily, leaning back and shutting his eyes. He was gray with exhaustion, the marks of Stephen Ames's defense standing out against the sweat-stained pallor of his face. "Especially risking your life to do it."
"Maybe you've had the wrong sort of experiences."
"Maybe I have," he agreed shortly. "Well, I'll give your martyr priest a nice, safe way to help people. He can tell me where and when he last saw Emmett Chandler. What time's his plane?"
She considered lying for a moment, then dismissed the idea. Ben O'Hanlon contributed more than enough lies to their tenuous relationship; she should do her best to avoid adding to the spider's web of falsehoods.
"Two o'clock," she said finally, leaning back in the hammock. "But you needn't bother. Emmett's dead." Saying the words out loud was surprisingly easy, considering how hard she had avoided them the last few hours. She could say it; she just couldn't accept it.
That caught his attention. "Why do you say that?"
She didn't answer him. "Why do you suppose I let you go off to Ne Pali without me?" she countered. "I knew you were leaving this morning…I could have forced you to take me with you."
"You couldn't have forced me to do anything I didn't want to do," he contradicted flatly. "All right, why didn't you say anything when I left?"
"Because I knew you wouldn't find him. If Emmett were still alive he would have come here today, not been roaming all over the cliffs."
"Because it's my birthday, and he hasn't missed one in fifteen years," she said in a quiet, pain-filled voice. "Until now."
Dead silence settled over the porch. "You didn't see fit to tell me that?" His voice was cold and still, and she wanted to weep for the double loss. That of Emmett, and the man who had loved her last night. In his place was the cold, hard man she had seen too much of.
"I wanted to see Emmett alone."
"You wanted to make sure it was safe to let me see him," Ben countered. "You still don't trust me." There was no surprise in his voice, no disapproval. Just a statement of fact.
Rachel opened her mouth to deny it, then closed it again. No lies, she told herself again. Much as she wanted to, she didn't trust him. Not yet.
Quietly she changed the subject. "What does it matter to you? Emmett is small potatoes compared to some of the other radicals still on the run. He just happened to be at the wrong place at the wrong time—he never did anything terribly criminal. It was just bad timing. Bad luck."
Ben's face was carved in granite, and he looked right through her, as if she were as inconsequential as the butterflies Emmett used to give her. "Bad luck that someone was killed? Wouldn't you say that's putting it mildly?"
"It was an accident. Emmett didn't know what was going on when he brought her there; he was just visiting friends."
"And he left her there,
alone, to die in the rubble while he was off getting pizza." Ben's voice was rich with disgust.
Rachel stared at him. "How did you know that?"
"That Emmett had gone out for pizza? That wasn't public knowledge."
"Reporters don't have to settle for public knowledge," Ben said with a harsh condescension.
"But what would it matter? Why should you remember a tiny detail like that?" she persisted. Something was wrong, horribly wrong. She could feel a dark feeling of dread begin to grow inside her.
"It wasn't a tiny detail. It cost an innocent nineteen-year-old girl her life." Something in her stunned expression must have penetrated his anger, and suddenly all temper had vanished, replaced by an extreme weariness. Running a tired hand through his rumpled hair, he took a step toward her. She remained motionless, staring.
"Look," he said, "let's not argue about it. I'm tired and in a bad mood. I'm going to take a shower. Have you eaten?"
She didn't say a word, just continued to stare at him. He swore then, a short, ugly word. "Listen, I'm sorry I snapped," he said wearily. "I'll be more human after I've had a shower and a drink. I'm sorry," he said again. She just looked at him.
The door slammed behind his retreating figure, and a few moments later she heard the shower running. Very slowly she moved from the porch railing, staring down at her hands with a detached air. They were trembling.
Rachel had only met her once, when Emmett had brought her home for a weekend that coincided with a demonstration at Berkeley. Rachel couldn't even remember her name, Kathy, was it? Cassie? Something like that. Nineteen years old, and she absolutely worshiped Emmett Chandler. Not for one moment had she left his side, and the eleven-year-old Rachel had been torn with jealous anger.
Krissy. That was it. Pretty, nineteen-year-old Krissy, who had done her best to get past an eleven-year-old's fearful jealousy by telling her all about her life and how much they had in common. They had both lost their parents when they were children; they were both devoted to their older brothers. Krissy's brother was a journalism student at Columbia, and they were just as close as Emmett and Rachel. She had told Rachel about their life, growing up with grandparents as loving, if not nearly as wealthy, as Ariel and Henry Emmett, slowly winning the young girl's interest and dissolving some of the barriers. The next day they were gone; two months later she was dead, and Emmett was on the run.
She moved through the house like a zombie, past the bathroom with the shower still pounding, past the dismantled doorway into Ben's room. The picture was where she left it, in his top drawer. She drew it out, and looked back fifteen years into Krissy O'Hanlon's face.
She hadn't even heard the shower stop, the door open, or the footsteps approach the bedroom. She could feel him there, staring at her, and slowly she looked up.
He had a thick towel knotted around his waist, and water still clung to the hair on his chest. His hair was damp and rumpled, and the hazel eyes that watched her were wary. At last she understood the reason for his wariness.
"She was your sister." Her voice came out hoarse and rusty-sounding in the stillness.
"And you don't want Emmett for any book, do you? You want to hurt him."
Each single syllable was like a nail in the coffin of her heart. She didn't even flinch before the pain. "Were you going to kill him? Or just turn him in?"
For a moment she thought he wasn't going to answer. Moving into the room, he took the picture out of her lifeless hands. "I was going to beat the hell out of him. And then turn him in. He wasn't worth the price I'd have to pay for killing him, no matter how much he deserved it. He's already ruined enough lives—I wasn't going to let him ruin mine."
"I think he already has," she said softly. He was so close, she could feel the heat from his body, smell the scent of soap still clinging to his damp skin. "And where did I come in? Or do I even need to ask?"
He said absolutely nothing, staring down at her with a shuttered, unreadable expression on his face.
A small, sad smile flitted about the corners of her mouth. "You lucked into the perfect revenge, didn't you? If I hadn't showed up so precipitously you would have had to make do with that rather mundane vengeance. But this must have been really sweet. You think Emmett destroyed your sister, so you very kindly returned the favor. I presume you weren't flunking of actually killing me, either? Just performing a neat, slicing, twisting murder of the heart and soul. Emmett's sister for yours. An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth. Very poetic."
Still he said nothing, his mouth a straight line, his hazel eyes bleak and haunted.
Rachel smiled again, the smile faint and distant, and drew herself up to her full height. "Would you care to deny it? Do you deny you took one look at me and the perfect revenge fell right into place?" Deny it, she begged silently. Tell me I'm crazy, that you love me, that you don't want to hurt my brother.
"No," he said, his voice flat and toneless. "I don't deny it." He looked as if he were about to say something else, and she waited, breathlessly, one last hope still clinging desperately to the threads of her being. And then he said the worst thing he could have said. "I'm sorry."
She slapped him then, so hard that her hand was numb. The sound of it was shocking in the still room, and she stared at him in distant surprise. She hadn't even remembered raising her hand.
She turned and walked away from him, out of the room, out of the cottage, her pace slow and calm. She was a few yards down the beach when something broke, and she began to run. She ran until her heart pounded painfully against her ribs, until her legs cramped, until her breath was a rasp in her throat, and still she ran. Until she tripped, sprawling facedown in the sand on the deserted beach.
She lay there, crying, crying for her flighty mother and the father no one had known, for Ariel and Henry Emmett, for her brother and for Krissy O'Hanlon, for all the people who'd left her and all the people who'd stayed behind. And most of all she cried for Ben O'Hanlon, who lied and lied and lied. And she cried for Rachel.
« ^ »
Ben stood there, motionless, watching her walk slowly away from him, out of the cottage, out of his life most likely. He could still feel the stinging imprint of her hand on his cheek—she'd managed to connect quite soundly. His first instinct was to go after her, to try to explain.
Explain what? he jeered at himself silently. Explain that he'd dismissed the idea of using her shortly after it had come to him, explain that though he had every intention of crucifying her brother, he still wanted to salvage something of their relationship. Fat chance. Listen, honey, once I finish destroying your brother, why don't you and I go to bed together again? She'd take to that real well, he thought, yanking clean clothes out of his drawers.
Last night was a mistake, but then, everything he'd done with Rachel Chandler had been a mistake. Not that he'd been thinking at all, but if he had he would have hoped that making love to her would take the edge off the aching longing she brought out in him, would destroy the mystery of her attraction for him. It had done just the opposite. He wanted her more than ever, wanted her with those stricken brown eyes staring up at him, wanted her when she slapped his face, wanted her as she turned her back on him and walked away.
His gaze fell on Krissy's picture. Rachel was another innocent sister, destroyed by stupidity and possibly noble motives. Was he any better than Emmett Chandler, when it came right down to it? Even if he did think twice about it, he was more than ready to sacrifice Rachel for the sake of justice and revenge.
She couldn't get very far on foot, he thought, wandering out on the porch. Her footsteps led off to the left, in the direction of the point. No houses that way, just progressively rockier shoreline. She wouldn't get into much trouble out there; sooner or later she'd have to turn around and head back. And he'd be waiting for her.
With a sigh he sank down on the porch railing, lighting a cigarette. Sometime
he'd have to give the damned things up, but right now he needed one almost as much as he needed Rachel Chandler. He inhaled deeply, and the scent of jasmine mixed with the strong tobacco. He swore then, sharply, and stared down the beach in the direction of her footsteps. The moon wouldn't be coming up till late; he hoped she wasn't afraid of the dark. She was afraid of so many things—airplanes and the ocean and storms. The one thing she hadn't been afraid of was loving him. Maybe he should go after her after all.
Don't be a fool, O'Hanlon, he told himself. The last thing she needs right now is you and your feeble excuses. If you can't give up going after Emmett, the least you can do is leave her in peace. For the time being.
Leaning back against the post, he took another drag on the harsh cigarette, then sent it spinning into the sand in disgust. He wouldn't go after her; he'd wait for her to come back, even if it killed him. He owed her that much.
Rachel had managed to pull herself into a huddled position against a small outcropping of rocks. The sea was rougher this far down the coast, the shoreline wilder. The crashing of the surf against the rocks drowned out the sound of her tears as she sat curled in on herself.
She would have to learn to carry tissues with her if she intended to indulge in periodic fits of weeping, she told herself numbly. Chances were tears would become a habit in the next few weeks. Who was she kidding: the next few months, or years. Now that the dam had broken, it seemed that she was going to cry forever, and the running nose that accompanied it needed more than the worn scrap of Kleenex she'd discovered in the pockets of her shorts. So she sat there, for what may have been minutes or may have been hours, and wept and sniffed and sniffed and wept. When she finally decided she had cried enough for the time being, she fell asleep, resting her head on the arms draped across her knees. Ben found her that way several hours later.