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"I'd love to see the gardens," she murmured, casting one last, curious look in the direction of the intruder. There was no sign of him as she followed Father Frank's portly figure out into the shady garden, and she dismissed it, still caught up in her own problems.
"Tell me, Rachel, did your brother send you here to me?" he inquired once they'd seated themselves beneath a shady candlenut tree.
"Whatever made you think that?" Rachel was startled. And even more startled to realize that Emmett, in fact, had done just that.
"Just curious. Did he?"
"He suggested I might stop by here on my way around the island," she replied hesitantly. "Did he have any special reason to send me here? I thought you didn't know him."
"I don't. Is he the reason you're here?" Leaning back in the wicker chair, Father Frank resembled nothing so much as a benevolent Buddha, and Rachel felt her misgivings melt away in the warmth of his concern.
"Yes, and no. I didn't come because he suggested it—I've been meaning to be in touch ever since you dropped me off, but I've just been too busy."
"Getting to know your brother all over again," the priest supplied, nodding. "I understand. And is it working out well? Is he the way you remembered him?"
"No," she said instinctively, then recovered herself. "I mean, it's working out well…far better than I could have expected. But he's not at all the way I remembered him. Of course, it's been fifteen years since I've seen him, and I was only twelve at the time, more interested in movie stars than my own brother. But there's something… different about him, something that almost frightens me. And yet it pulls me too, Father. And that's what worries me."
"Worries you? Why should it?" His voice was soft and soothing, inviting confidences, and Rachel's final doubts left her.
"I love him," she said simply. "More than I've ever loved anyone, though I can't really say why. We don't have anything in common, except a few ancient memories, and he's a cynical, closed-up man. I suppose it must be the blood tie that makes me feel so close to him."
"Perhaps. People have been trying to define what love is for centuries, and I don't know if anyone has succeeded yet. Love can exist with absolutely nothing in common, and of course the opposite is true. Quite often what people dislike most in other people are their own characteristics." He leaned forward, putting a gentle hand on her arm. "So what are you worried about, Rachel? Why are you worried that you love your brother?"
"Do you suppose… Is it possible that I might love him too much?" she questioned softly.
"I don't know that someone can love too much," he mused. "Are you afraid you'll suffocate him with your affection? Demand too much of his time and attention? If you truly love him, you can be wary of being too demanding; give him the room he needs."
"That's not what I mean," she said quietly. "I know to give him enough space." She steeled herself. "No, I'm afraid of something quite different. You see, Father, I have no interest in other men right now. The very thought of my ex-fiancé or any man touching me gives me the shivers. I don't want to be around any man, I don't want any man touching me. Except my brother." There, it was out in the open, spoken, and the world hadn't collapsed. She stole a glance at Father Frank's moon face, expecting shock, disgust, and condemnation.
Instead she saw compassion and a blessed hint of amusement. "In other words you're afraid you've got an incestuous longing for your brother. You're afraid that you don't just love your brother, you're in love with him. Is that it?"
"I was trying not to put it quite so bluntly," Rachel muttered, her face red to the roots of her hair.
"But why not? You can't free yourself of these worries unless you face them, Rachel. Not that I think you have a thing to worry about," he added.
"Why not?" She was more than willing to take any kind of assurance, even vague ones.
"It's only natural for you to be temporarily obsessed by your brother. He's your closest relative, and he's been gone from your life for fifteen years. Didn't you tell me that since your grandparents died you've essentially been alone? No one to care about, no one to care about you? It's only natural that you'd fall upon the reappearance of your brother like a starving man falling on a feast. It will pass, Rachel. Any stray feelings of physical longing will dissipate as time passes and you become accustomed to having him back with you. That is, if he's planning to stay around."
"Of course he's planning to stay!" Sudden panic filled Rachel at the thought that Emmett might just suddenly disappear once more, wander off into the tangled jungles of Kauai without a word to anyone. She didn't think she could bear it if that happened again, not after having found him. "What makes you think he wouldn't?"
"Well, Emmett Chandler hasn't got the reputation of staying put for very long. Of course, he stands to inherit quite a sum of money… Perhaps that will help him put down roots."
"I'd never even thought of the money," Rachel mused. "I can't imagine that Emmett would really care one way or the other about it."
"Most men care a great deal about several million dollars," Father Frank observed. "Isn't that why he decided to reappear?"
"That's what he said," she replied uncertainly. "I suppose the money will keep him around." She raised unhappy eyes to Father Frank's benevolent hazel ones.
"And that will give you plenty of time to get used to his presence and turn your attention back to eligible young men around you. A time of physical and social celibacy spent tending to your brother will most likely prove very beneficial."
"And what if it doesn't feel celibate?" she whispered, closing her eyes, the image of Emmett's tough, strong body flitting through her mind.
Father Frank patted her hand again. "Take my word for it, Rachel. Don't worry. You're not going to commit any mortal sins with your brother. The sooner you relax about this, take it in stride, the sooner it will pass."
"I suppose so," she said doubtfully, wanting to believe him but not quite daring to.
"In the meantime I think you should spend some time by yourself. Go for a drive out by Haena…sunbathe on the beach…meditate. Meditation can do wonders for a troubled spirit."
"Now you sound like my brother," she laughed. "He was into things like meditation long before they gained popular acceptance. And I plan to spend the day exactly as you suggested, lying in the sun and clearing my mind of everything but how beautiful Kauai is. Does that meet with your approval?"
He nodded benevolently. "An excellent plan. But watch our hot sun—even with a tan you can still get badly burned."
Rachel laughed, rising to her full five feet six. "Between you and Emmett I don't have to worry about myself at all. He practically forced sunscreen on me before I left. I promise, I'll take care of myself."
"You do that. And come back and see me before I go."
"Before you go?" she echoed, startled.
"I'm being reassigned. Something I've wanted for a long time, I'm happy to say. I'm being sent to El Salvador." He sighed. "It's been a dream of mine for longer than I can say. Life will be very simple there, even primitive."
"And dangerous?" Rachel found herself asking.
"Possibly," Father Frank allowed, unmoved by the prospect. "I'd like to feel you were settled before I went, Rachel. It won't be for a few weeks, I expect. You'll be feeling positively blissful by that time. If you're not, you send that brother of yours to me, and I'll sort him out for you."
"I doubt you could," she replied wistfully. "Emmett's more than a match for anybody."
"Oh, I might have a few tricks up my sleeve," Father Frank said serenely. "Priests are required to come equipped with an ace in the hole on occasion." He rose, taking her hand once more. "Take care of yourself, Rachel."
Acting on sheer impulse, Rachel put her arms around his rotund figure, hugging him tightly. Unlike Emmett, he didn't pull away, shocked. He returned her hug. "Go in peace, Rachel," he whispered.
The beach at Haena was a marvelous expanse of thick white sand, dotted heavily with tanning bodies. Ra
chel had considered going back to the small private beach she'd shared with Emmett yesterday, then thought better of it. Much as she wanted to continue exploring the marvelous underwater world of snorkeling, the thought of swimming alone had been a deeply ingrained tabu. Besides, Emmett had kept the wildlife away; alone she just might become shark bait.
She did what she promised Father Frank she would do, clearing her mind of all the bitter entanglements that twisted through her coiled emotions. She would do as he suggested, simply relax and love her brother to the best of her abilities. Those small, strange, unbidden longings were simply a matter of hormones, a normal enough reaction when two virtual strangers were sharing a small space and an intense emotional relationship. The less she worried about it, the safer she'd be. Wouldn't she?
She could have done a little bit better in obeying Emmett's and Father Frank's instructions concerning the burning power of the sun. She covered herself dutifully with sunscreen, but the Hawaiian rays proved more than equal to that feeble defense. She'd only been lying on the clean white sand for a few hours when the skin on her back began to tingle and burn.
Swinging into a sitting position, she pulled an oversize shirt across her shoulders, a sudden determination filling her. Despite Father Frank's assurances, that nagging guilt pulled at her, destroying her peace and her happiness with her brother. It would be a simple enough matter to relieve that guilt and anxiety, scratch an itch she hadn't even realized existed. If it was just a simple matter of hormones gone awry, she could find someone safe to help her relieve her frustration. She would do what she had never done before: Find the most attractive, single man at the hotel bar and set her sights on him. A one-night stand should provide her with more than enough animal lust to keep her mind off her brother.
Of course, there was the depressing thought that doubtlessly the most attractive single man at the hotel bar would be Emmett. She'd simply have to settle for second best. Though how she was going to manage it with any kind of savoir faire was another matter. Her sexual experience consisted of some adolescent fumblings, a restrained graduate student at Berkeley, and Ralph's athletics. She hadn't even been in a singles bar, didn't know the first thing about picking someone up.
Well, it was about time she learned, both for her sake and Emmett's. It would do them both good. Maybe she could even find someone for her brother. He hadn't struck her as someone who went without feminine companionship for long. Her first step would be to stop in town on the way to the cottage and buy something to wear, something appropriately flattering and "come hither," with a neckline down to there. Heavier makeup, perhaps a flower in her hair.
Sternly she squared her shoulders as she headed back to the Land Rover. If she felt more like a virgin sacrifice than a woman anticipating a night of carnal pleasures, she had only herself to blame.
« ^ »
The bar was crowded, a blur of noise and light, when Rachel made her appearance. She paused on the threshold long enough for the mostly male customers assembled to get a good look at her before she headed toward the Chandler table. If she felt like a prize heifer up for auction, there was nothing she could do but throw back her head and ignore it.
The dress had been a great piece of luck. It had been the first thing she'd tried on, and she'd immediately fallen in love with it. The deep yellow-gold brought out the warm tones of her tanned skin, the latest bit of sunburn only giving her a more burnished, tawny look. The neckline was deceptively demure: her small, firm breasts pressed enticingly against the thin material, their tops just barely visible, and the straight skirt had slits halfway up her long, leggy thighs. She'd even bought a pair of high heels to show off her admittedly good legs and let her thick mane of hair hang in an unruly curtain around her burnished face. Her eyes were artfully made up, with shadows of gold and green, the eyeliner giving her a sooty, sultry gaze, and the lip gloss was Passion Peach. She'd even taken the time to paint her nails, her toes peeping out of the spiky sandals in a way calculated to drive some poor man wild.
Not that she was in the mood for a foot fetishist, she thought with a grim attempt at humor. Just someone marginally attractive, with enough sex appeal to drive forbidden thoughts out of her mind.
As she threaded her way through the tables she could feel the eyes on her, knew that all her work hadn't been for nothing. Even Emmett was staring up at her, those hazel eyes of his dark with something indefinable. Or perhaps it was something she didn't dare to define. He watched her in silence as she slid into a chair, his wide, cynical mouth snapped shut disapprovingly.
"On the prowl, little sister?" he murmured, leaning back and toying with the dark amber drink in his hand.
"Now, Emmett, don't be such a disapproving old sod," Harris reproved. "She looks quite lovely tonight. Pay him no mind, Rachel dear. He's just jealous because you don't dress up like that for him. He's a demanding older brother."
It took Rachel a moment to regain her equanimity. Harris's words had struck a responsive chord, and she realized instinctively that despite her determination to seduce some hapless soul, her dress, her makeup, her come-hither look had subconsciously been designed for Emmett. She managed to smile composedly at her uncle, keeping her eyes averted from Emmett's glower.
"I thought it might be time to sample some of the social pleasures the island has to offer," she murmured. Emmett set his glass down on the table with a bang.
"Excellent idea. No need to immure yourself in that cottage just because your brother has chosen to be antisocial. A girl your age needs eligible male companionship. I'd be more than happy to introduce you to some of the young men I've met here. I must say, I'm glad to see you've decided to come out of mourning for that scoundrel, Ralph. He was never worthy of a Chandler, anyway. I'm sure if we just look around we'll find someone more suitable." He signaled for the waiter. "Take that group of men at the bar. I've played golf with them… All excellent fellows. Charming, well-bred. You could go a lot farther and do a lot worse, my dear."
"I never knew you had a secret ambition to be a pimp, Uncle." Emmett's voice was dangerously cold, and Harris gave him a suddenly nervous smile.
But Rachel wasn't about to be deterred at this point. Emmett might not recognize the danger in her absorption with him, and thank God he didn't. But it was up to her to do something about it before the situation turned into Greek tragedy.
She turned to look at the three men sitting at the bar, not the slightest bit troubled to find them eyeing her with avid interest. She lazily crossed one leg to give them a better view of the tanned expanse of thigh that she knew was her chief attraction, and considered the possibilities.
They were all handsome, tanned, blond. Two of them were probably in their late twenties, the third was older, possibly a few years older than she was. He was less pretty than the other two, with a ready smile and frankly avid eyes that held just a trace of coldness. It took her a moment to realize he reminded her of Emmett, and without considering the consequences, decided on him.
"Who's the man on the left?" she whispered to her uncle, reaching with one slender hand for the sweet rum drink he'd ordered her. Emmett said nothing, just continued to glare.
Harris swiveled around to intercept the lascivious look from the man. "Stephen Ames," he said shortly, some of the enthusiasm leaving his voice. "I think you could do better, my dear. He's charming, of course, but he has a somewhat unsavory reputation…
Better and better, she thought. Emmett had an equally unsavory reputation. Stephen Ames would prove an admirable substitute. "Could you introduce me?"
Still Emmett said nothing, watching her out of still, basilisk eyes. Harris cast a nervous glance at him, almost as if he were asking permission. He got no response. "I suppose so," he said finally.
"What does Rachel's young swain do for a living?" Emmett drawled suddenly.
"I don't really know… He seems to have plenty of money. He plays golf for large sums and wins consistently. He may possibly have
A faint look of contempt passed over Emmett's face. "Sounds likely."
"You used to do the same thing," Rachel said hotly, guilt and apprehension tightening her nerves.
He looked at her then, his eyes playing over her burnished face, the low-cut dress, and the soft, tremulous mouth. "That doesn't make it a good thing."
"I hate to interrupt, Chandler," a smooth voice broke in, and Rachel turned to see Stephen Ames leaning over her in a perfect position to look down her dress. "But I couldn't miss the chance to be introduced to this stunning creature. I thought I knew all the beautiful women on the island."
"Stephen Ames, my niece, Rachel Chandler. And this is her brother, Emmett."
Stephen smiled, his raft of perfect teeth dazzling in his tanned face. "The mysterious Emmett Chandler! And you're this young lady's brother. I must say I'm glad to hear that. I was afraid you'd be something inconvenient like a husband or lover."
Rachel was afraid she did not like Stephen Ames. For one thing, his voice was hoarse, with a hint of a whine in it, and possessed of an urban accent that grated on her nerves. For another, his heavy-handed charm made her uncomfortable, particularly combined with those avid eyes which seemed to burn her skin. She smiled back. "Only a brother," she said in a dulcet voice, the inviting tone just slightly forced.
"Then I don't have to ask his permission to take you out," he said, smiling with too many teeth. He had rested one hand on the back of her chair, and his fingers were stroking the bare skin of her shoulder blade, out of sight of Emmett's hawklike eyes. Rachel pulled away abruptly, then forced herself to lean back, ignoring the pain of her sunburn. Stephen's laugh was smug, offensive, and she was about to tell him to go drown himself when she looked across at Emmett.
His face was set in a grim line, his mouth was twisted in that cynical curve she disliked so much, and his eyes were hot and hostile as they met her quizzical look. He'd changed to a white, collarless shirt: the long sleeves had been rolled up to expose tanned, muscled forearms, and the first three buttons left undone to expose a tanned column of chest, sprinkled lightly with sandy-colored hair. A wave of longing, as intense as it was unexpected, washed over her, and she shut her eyes for a moment to blot out the sight of him.