Read Heart of the Dragon Online

Authors: Deborah Smith

Heart of the Dragon

DEBORAH SMITH

#498 TOO FAR TO FALL
by Linda Jenkins

#499 THE LADY IN RED
by Fayrene Preston

#500 MOONLIGHT AND SHADOWS
by Glenna McReynolds

#501 THE SECRET LIFE OF
ELIZABETH McCADE
by Peggy Webb

#502 STARFIRE
by Laura Taylor

#503 HEART OF THE DRAGON
by Deborah Smith

“Can we sit down and hold a civilized argument?” Kash asked as he glanced around. “I never conduct important discussions in boudoirs smelling of cinnamon bath soap. Do you think of yourself as a cinnamon bun, a cookie, or a steaming cup of hot spiced cider?”

Rebecca stiffened and gave him a fierce look. “A cold vanilla milkshake with poison in it. Please, take a big sip.”

“Invitations were made to be accepted.”

He pulled her to him and kissed her lightly. Her sharp gasp broke against his mouth. He held her in a loose embrace, one she could easily pull away from, but instead of shoving him away, she twisted her mouth tightly on his. Kash was astonished at his impulse and her reaction, but he refused to break the kiss.

He felt her tremble against him. Slowly her hand dropped to his shoulder and clenched his soft cotton undershirt. Her mouth was as mobile as his own, and just as aggressive. Waves of desire shot through him, stunning him. He was far from being a stranger to desire, but not this scalding, elemental sense of losing himself in her.

Dragging her hands over his shoulders, Rebecca kneaded the hard muscles and felt them flex in response. He was the shadowy force she’d been drawn to all her life, the visitor in her nighttime dreams, the first man who’d ever caused her to forget everything but the primitive need for fulfillment.…

HEART OF THE DRAGON
A Bantam Book I October 1991

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Copyright
©
1991 by Deborah Smith
.
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v3.1

Contents
One

Though he stood in cool, elegant silence at the window, Kashadlin Santelli’s insides churned with impatience as he awaited the arrival of a woman he’d never met. His stillness came from lifelong practice, from an emotional distance he cultivated as a shield. But questions boiled inside him, and he leaned closer to the large, ebony-rimmed window two stories above the street.

Kash stroked the pale silk curtain, thinking distractedly that it was as smooth and soft as a woman’s skin, and as cool as Rebecca Brown’s nerves must be. The combination intrigued him. She must have extraordinary self-confidence if she was here in Bangkok for the reason he suspected. The Nalinat family was inventive, to have gone all the way to America to hire a spy.

Yes, Rebecca Brown was a puzzle. He would meet her, assess her intentions, and judge her honesty for himself.

With a slight smile he silently warned her that his own nerves were far more than a match for hers. He was skilled at uncovering treachery and protecting others from it. If Rebecca Brown had been hired to cause trouble for his client, he would open her as easily as a lotus flower and pluck her secrets out. Innocence of any
kind was an elusive treasure in life. He had learned that even as a child. Especially as a child.

Shaking off a dark memory, he glanced around the office he’d arranged to have for the afternoon, and prided himself on his judgment. For atmosphere he’d chosen a building with traditional decor, where gold dragons scowled from carved teak wall panels and the finest Thai silk covered heavily embroidered pillows piled on a long red sofa. The room’s desk had majestic tiger heads sculpted into each corner of the mahogany top, and on the top lay a pad of pale parchment paper, a slender gold pen, and for decoration a smooth block of jade as big as a brick—hard, unyielding, its purpose a mystery. He wanted her to worry about the mysteries, to consider that she was tampering with a people and a place where the rules were ancient and not at all like her own.

And him—she was tampering with him. He wanted her to realize that he was unlike any man she’d known before. If she was involved in the scheme he suspected, he wanted her to be afraid of him.

The street below him teemed with small golden-skinned people in a mixture of Western and Asian dress. Saffron-robed Buddhist monks walked among businessmen wearing suits and ties. Cars and buses jostled with bicycles and puttering open-air
tuk tuks
, motorized three-wheel scooters with passenger compartments in the back.

Vendors in colorful shirts and trousers and broad-brimmed straw hats squatted among their wares on the sidewalks outside modern boutiques filled with Western goods. Kash knew that everything, from a hot meal to a fine diamond, from the commonplace and legal to the exotic and
very
illegal, could be purchased on a Bangkok street.

Physically he didn’t fit in with the people below. He was much too tall and broad-shouldered, barbaric by their standards. And his facial features only hinted at
his Asian heritage. But inside, a part of him would always be the tough, streetwise little boy who belonged to this part of the world.

Through the curtain he glimpsed the white sedan as it pulled up at the curb below. His heart rate quickened from the anticipation of meeting Rebecca Brown and hearing for himself the ludicrous story she’d been telling all over the city. When the driver opened a rear door, Kash turned away, preferring to wait until she was in his office, face to face, before he saw her the first time. The curtain’s silk made a sensual whisper as he drew heavy drapes over it.

Rebecca Brown slid a hand under her hair and delicately adjusted the hearing aid in her right ear. Her Thai escort, the slender, unhappy-looking man who’d hardly spoken a word in the long ride from her hotel, was now trying to tell her something. But they were in the middle of a bustling sidewalk, and several Thai businessmen were gesturing politely for her to move her somewhat tall, awkward self out of their paths. She remembered a scene outside her hotel yesterday. An elephant had wandered away from his owner and into the street, blocking every vehicle larger than a motor scooter.

Now she knew how the elephant felt.

She nodded to the businessman apologetically and pressed her palms together in a prayerful gesture beneath her chin. The Thais called it a
wai
. It could mean hello, good-bye, or in this case, pardon me, I’m goofy, she thought with embarrassment. The men detoured around her gracefully, with strained smiles.

“Pardon me, what did you say?” she asked her escort again, craning her head down to his and touching the sleeve of his white suit.

His eyebrows shot up. She pulled her hand away and winced inwardly. She kept forgetting that it wasn’t
proper for women to touch men in public, even when the man was a boyfriend or husband, or in this case, a scowling executive from the Vatan Silk Company who’d been given the obviously unpleasant task of taking her—finally!—to meet Mayura Vatan.

“You will go upstairs alone,” her escort said, louder this time. “I leave you now.”

“But—”

“Office number two-two, on the second floor.” He made a curt
wai
to her and turned toward the car.

Rebecca resisted an urge to tug at his sleeve. “Is Ms. Vatan expecting me? What building is this? Does the company have offices here too? I thought we were going to the other offices, the ones I’ve visited before.”

“You will see.” The driver opened the door so that her escort could slide into the sedan’s dark interior. In the noonday heat the car’s air-conditioning burst toward Rebecca like a wonderful cool fog. “Are you going to wait here?” she asked hurriedly, brushing away the feathery hair stuck to her damp forehead.

“No, but you can always find a taxi. Good day, Ms. Brown.”

A little flustered, Rebecca stared after the car until it merged with the bumper-to-bumper traffic. Well, rudeness and desertion wouldn’t stop a real adventurer, she told herself, and retucked her damp white blouse into a long, matching skirt. Toting her soft leather satchel and feeling a little foolish, she went inside the office building and found an elevator. The building’s tenants were listed on a small chart encased in glass on the dark enameled wall adjacent to the elevator. She saw office 2-2, but found no name beside it.

A knot of dread and bewilderment grew in her stomach on the short ride up. The door opened into the small lobby of a single suite. She stepped out slowly, studying the heavy double doors facing the elevator. They had ornate brass handles in the form of curving snakes and were inset with glistening lacquered red panels. The
effect was exotic and forbidding. Her heart began pounding as if the doors hid a hungry tiger. There were still tigers in the mountains of northern Thailand, she recalled.

Rebecca smiled tightly. She hadn’t come all the way from Iowa to be scared off by her own imagination, vivid and colorful though it was.

She went to the doors and knocked firmly. The sudden loud thudding of footsteps on the other side made her eardrum ache, and she winced. She’d forgotten to turn the hearing aid down to normal. Throwing a hand up to her ear, she nervously fiddled with the volume.

As the footsteps halted and the doors clicked open, she scooted the control in the wrong direction. A high-pitched electronic squeal zapped her ear.

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