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Authors: Nora Roberts

Birthright (6 page)

BOOK: Birthright
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“Well, for Christ's sake, Leo, what am I, a diva?” She pulled the water bottle out of the slot on her belt, drank deep. “I don't have a problem sharing authority with Nick. I asked for him because I know we work well together.”

“Yes, well . . .” Leo trailed off at the sound of an approaching engine. And worked up a pained smile as he spotted the new arrivals. “You can't always get what you want.”

Shock came first, racing with recognition as she spotted the brawny four-wheeler in demon black, then the ancient pickup truck in a hideous medley of faded red, rusty blue and primer gray pulling a dirty, white travel trailer covered with scratches and dings.

Painted across the side of the trailer was a snarling Doberman and the name
DIGGER
.

Emotions, too many, too mixed, too huge, slammed through her. They choked her throat, twisted her belly, stabbed her heart.

“Callie . . . before you say anything—”

“You're not going to do this.” She had to swallow.

“It's done.”

“Aw, Leo, no. Goddamnit, I asked for Nick.”

“He's not available. He's in South America. The project needs the best, Callie. Graystone's the best.” Leo nearly stumbled back when she spun toward him. “You know it. Personal business aside, Callie, you know he's the best. Digger, too. Adding his name to yours greased the grant. I expect you to behave professionally.”

She showed Leo her teeth. “You can't always get what you want,” she tossed back.

She watched him jump out of the four-wheeler. Jacob Graystone, all six feet one and a quarter inches of him. He wore his old brown hat, its brim and crown creased and battered from years of hard wear. His hair, a straight-arrow fall of black, spilled out beneath it. A plain white T-shirt was tucked into the waistband of faded Levi's. And the body beneath them was prime.

Long bones, long muscles, all covered in bronzed skin that was a result of working outdoors and the quarter of his heritage that was Apache.

He turned, and though he wore dark glasses, she knew his eyes were a color caught, rather beautifully, between gray and green.

He flashed a smile—arrogant, smug, sarcastic. All of which, she thought, fit him to the ground. He had a face too handsome for his own good, or so she'd always thought. Those long bones again, sharp enough to cut diamonds, the straight nose, the firm jaw with the hint of a scar slashed diagonally across it.

Her pulse began to throb and her temples to pound. Casually, she ran a hand down the chain around her neck, assured herself it was tucked under her shirt.

“This blows, Leo.”

“I know it's not an ideal situation for you, but—”

“How long have you known he was coming?” Callie demanded.

This time, it was Leo who swallowed. “A couple of days. I wanted to tell you face-to-face. I didn't think he'd be here until tomorrow. We need him, Callie. The project needs him.”

“Fuck it, Leo.” She squared her shoulders as a boxer might before the main event. “Just fuck it.”

He even walked smugly, she thought now, in that damn cowboy swagger. It had always irritated the hell out of her.

His companion stepped out of the truck. Stanley Digger Forbes. A hundred and twenty-five pounds of ugly.

Callie resisted the urge to curl her lip and snarl. Instead,
she put her hands on her hips and waited for the men to reach her.

“Graystone.” She inclined her head.

“Dunbrook.” His eyebrows lifted between the tops of his sunglasses and the brim of his hat. His voice was a drawl, a warm and lazy slide of words that brought images of deserts and prairies. “It's Dr. Dunbrook now, isn't it?”

“That's right.”

“Congratulations.”

Deliberately she looked away from him. One look at Digger made her lips curve. He was grinning like a hyena, his smashed walnut face livened by a pair of spooky black eyes and the glint of his gold eyetooth.

He wore a gold hoop in his left ear, and a dirty blond rat's tail hung beneath the bright red bandanna tied around his head.

“Hey, Dig, welcome aboard.”

“Callie, looking good. Got prettier.”

“Thanks. You didn't.”

He gave her his familiar hooting laugh. “That girl with the legs?” He jerked his chin toward the students. “She legal?”

Despite his looks, Digger was renowned for being able to score dig groupies as triumphantly as a batter connecting with a high fastball.

“No hitting on the undergrads, Digger.”

He merely sauntered off toward the shovels.

“Okay, let's run through the basics,” Callie began.

“No catching up?” Jake interrupted. “No small talk? No ‘what the hell you been up to since we parted ways, Jake?' ”

“I don't care what you've been up to. Leo thinks we need you for the project.” And she would devise several satisfactory ways to kill Leo later. “I disagree. But you're here, and there's no point wasting time debating that or bullshitting about old times.”

“Digger's right. You're looking good.”

“If it has breasts, it looks good to Digger.”

“Can't argue.” But she was looking good. Just the sight
of her blew through him like a storm. He could smell the eucalyptus on her. He couldn't smell the damn stuff without having her face swim into his mind.

She wore the same clunky watch, pretty silver earrings. Her open collar exposed the line of her throat where the skin was damp with sweat.

Her mouth was just a bit top-heavy, and naked. She never bothered with paint on a dig. But she'd always slathered cream on her face morning and night no matter what the living conditions.

Just as she'd always made a nest out of whatever those living conditions might be. A fragrant candle, her cello, comfort food, good soap and shampoo that had the faintest hint of rosemary.

He imagined she still did.

Ten months, he thought, since he'd seen her last. And her face had been in his mind every day, and every night. No matter what he'd done to erase it.

“Word was you were on sabbatical.” He said it casually, without a flicker on his face to show his thoughts.

“I was, now I'm not. You're here to co-coordinate, and to head up the anthropological details of the project now known as Antietam Creek.”

She angled away as if to study the site. The truth was it was too hard to stand face-to-face with him. To know they were both measuring each other. Remembering each other. “We have what I believe to be a Neolithic settlement. Radiocarbon testing on human bones already excavated from the site are dated at five thousand, three hundred and seventy-five years, plus or minus one hundred. Rhyolite—”

“I've read the reports, Callie. You got yourself a hot one.” He glanced around, already assessing. “Why isn't there any security?”

“I'm working on it.”

“Fine. While you're working on it, Digger can set up camp here. I'll get my field pack, then you can show me around. We'll get to work.”

She drew a deep breath when he strode back toward his
four-wheeler. She counted to ten. “I'm going to kill you for this, Leo. Kill you dead.”

“You've worked together before. You did some of your best work, both of you, together.”

“I want Nick. As soon as he's available, I want Nick.”

“Callie—”

“Don't talk to me, Leo. Just don't talk to me right now.” She gritted her teeth, girded her loins and prepared to give her ex-husband a tour of the site.

T
hey did work well together. And that, Callie thought as she showered off the grime of the day, was one more pisser. They challenged each other, professionally, and somehow that challenge forced them to complement each other.

It had always done so.

She loved his mind, even if it was inside the hardest head she'd ever butted her own against. His was so fluid, so flexible, so open to possibilities. And it could, it did, latch on to the tiniest detail, work it, build on it, until it gleamed like gold.

The problem was they challenged each other personally, too. And for a while . . . for a while, she mused, they had complemented each other.

But mostly they'd fought like a pair of mad dogs.

When they weren't fighting, they were falling into bed. When they weren't fighting or falling into bed or working on a common project they . . . baffled each other, she supposed.

It had been ridiculous for them to get married. She could see that now. What had seemed romantic, exciting and sexy in eloping like a couple of crazy teenagers had turned into stark reality. And marriage had become a battlefield with each of them drawing lines the other had been dead set on crossing.

Of course, his lines had been absurd, while hers had been rational. But that was neither here nor there.

They hadn't been able to keep their hands off each other, she remembered. And her body still remembered, poignantly, the feel of those hands.

But then, it had been painfully apparent that Jacob Graystone's hands hadn't been particularly selective where they wandered. The bastard.

That brunette in Colorado had been the last straw. Busty, baby-voiced Veronica. The bitch.

And when she'd confronted him with her conclusions, when she'd accused him in plain, simple terms of being a rat-bastard cheater, he hadn't had the courtesy—he hadn't had the
balls
, she corrected as her temper spiked—to confirm or deny.

What had he called her? Oh yeah. Her mouth thinned as she heard the hot slap of his words in her head.

A childish, tight-assed, hysterical female.

She'd never been sure which part of that phrase most pissed her off, but it had coated her vision with red. The rest of the argument was a huge, boiling blur. All she clearly remembered was demanding a divorce—the first sensible thing she'd done since laying eyes on him. And demanding he get the hell out, and off the project, or she would.

Had he fought for her? Hell no. Had he begged her forgiveness, pledged his love and fidelity? Not a chance.

He'd walked. And so—ha ha, what a coincidence—had the busty brunette.

Still steaming from the memory, Callie stepped out of the shower, grabbed one of the thin, tiny towels the motel provided. Then closed a hand around the ring she wore on a chain around her neck.

She'd taken the wedding ring off—yanked it off, she recalled—as soon as she'd received the divorce papers for her signature. She'd very nearly heaved it into the Platte River, where she'd been working.

But she hadn't been able to. She hadn't been able to let it go as she'd told herself she'd let Jacob go.

He was, in her life, her only failure.

She told herself she wore the ring to remind herself not to fail again.

She pulled off the chain, tossed it on the dresser. If he saw it, he'd think she'd never gotten over him. Or something equally conceited.

She wasn't going to think about him anymore. She'd work with him but that didn't mean she'd spend a minute of her free time thinking about him.

Jacob Graystone had been a personal mistake, a personal failure. And she'd moved on.

He
certainly had. Their little world was incestuous enough for her to have heard how quickly he'd dived back into the single-guy dating pool to do the backstroke.

Rich, amateur diggers, that was his style, she thought as she yanked out fresh jeans. Rich, amateur diggers with big breasts and empty heads. Someone who looked good on his arm and made him feel intellectually superior.

That's what he wanted.

“Screw him,” she muttered and dragged on jeans and a shirt.

She was going to see if Rosie wanted to hunt up a meal, and she wasn't going to give Graystone another thought.

She pulled open the door and nearly plowed into the woman who was standing outside it.

“Sorry.” Callie jammed the room key in her pocket. “Can I help you with something?”

Suzanne's throat snapped shut. Tears threatened to overflow as she stared at Callie's face. She fought a smile on her lips and clutched her portfolio bag as if it were a beloved child.

In a way, it was.

“Didn't mean to startle you,” Callie said when the woman only continued to stare. “Are you looking for someone?”

“Yes. Yes, I'm looking for someone. You . . .I need to speak with you. It's awfully important.”

“Me?” Callie shifted, to block the door. It seemed to her
the woman looked just a little unhinged. “I'm sorry. I don't know you.”

“No. You don't know me. I'm Suzanne Cullen. It's very important that I speak with you. Privately. If I could come inside, for a few minutes.”

“Ms. Cullen, if this is about the dig, you're welcome to come by during the day. One of us will be happy to explain the project to you. But right now isn't convenient. I was just on my way out. I'm meeting someone.”

“If I could have five minutes, you'd see why this is so important. To both of us. Please. Five minutes.”

There was such urgency in the woman's voice, Callie stepped back. “Five minutes.” But she left the door open. “What can I do for you?”

“I wasn't going to come tonight. I was going to wait until . . .” She'd nearly hired a detective again. Had been on the point of picking up the phone to do so. To sit back and wait while facts were checked. “I've lost so much time already. So much time.”

“Look, you'd better sit down. You don't look very well.” The fact was, Callie thought, the woman looked fragile enough to shatter into pieces. “I've got some bottled water.”

“Thank you.” Suzanne lowered to the side of the bed. She wanted to be clear, she wanted to be calm. She wanted to grab her little girl and hold on to her so tight three decades would vanish.

She took the bottle Callie offered. Sipped. Steadied. “I need to ask you a question. It's very personal, and very important.” She took a deep breath.

BOOK: Birthright
6.51Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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