Read Higher Than Eagles (Donovans of the Delta) Online

Authors: Peggy Webb

Tags: #dangerous heroes, #secret baby, #humor, #romantic comedy, #small-town romance, #Southern authors, #romance ebooks, #romance, #Peggy Webb backlist, #the Colby Series, #pilot hero, #Peggy Webb romance, #classic romance, #comedy, #second chance at love, #contemporary romance

Higher Than Eagles (Donovans of the Delta)

BOOK: Higher Than Eagles (Donovans of the Delta)
7.92Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

Higher Than Eagles

Peggy Webb

 

 

Copyright 2011 Peggy Webb

Cover art design 2011 Kim Van Meter

Publishing History/Bantam/Loveswept

Copyright 1989 by Peggy Webb

All rights reserved

 

 

PROLOGUE

Rachel looked good in black.

Jacob drew his coat collar up against the chill and leaned against the solid oak tree, watching her. She stood proud and elegant, her honey-colored hair twisted into a chignon and her eyes wide and green under the bit of black hat that dipped over her forehead. A single strand of pearls gleamed against the stark black of her dress.

The wind caught her scent and blew it across the packed red clay and cold stone markers. Roses. Rachel always smelled like roses.

Jacob felt as if someone were twisting a knife in his gut, probing the old pain that had been with him for six years. He’d thought he could put Rachel behind him. Heaven knew, he’d tried. The Middle East, South America, China, Africa—he’d been to them all, courting danger with the abandon of a man who had lost paradise and had no hope of regaining it.

But now, seeing Rachel beside the open grave, he knew that she would never be merely a part of his past. She was a flame inside him that refused to be extinguished.

Jacob bit back a sound that was part curse, part anguish. He almost turned to go, but the dull sounds of earth hitting the casket held him. Rachel was burying her husband, and now she was free. Free to love and betray again.

The wind picked up, howling over the gravestones, as the small gathering of mourners began to disperse. She was walking in his direction, her head turned toward the gray-haired man who held her arm—Martin Windham, her father. Jacob remembered him as a ruthless man whose pleasant social manners camouflaged an iron will. He hadn’t aged much in six years.

But then neither had Rachel. She looked as fresh and elegant as she had when he’d first met her.

Suddenly she saw him. Her face went white, and her eyes widened. She spoke to her father briefly. There seemed to be a quiet argument between them, then Martin turned and strode in the direction of a parked black Mercedes. Rachel hovered beside the open grave a moment, then she lifted her chin in defiance and came slowly toward Jacob across the now-deserted cemetery.

He wasn’t prepared for the impact she had on him. Standing before him, tall and elegant, she made his heart race. He braced himself against the tree.

“Jacob.”

He died a small death when she spoke his name. As always, her voice was soft and musical, like a symphony whispering through pine trees.

“Hello, Rachel.” He pressed hard against the tree, fighting the sweet memories aroused by the fragrance of roses, cursing the weakness that had sent him flying to Biloxi.

“Why did you come?”

“To offer my condolences.”

Rachel twisted her hands together, then abruptly put them behind her back so Jacob wouldn’t see the effect he was having on her. After six years he still made her quiver inside. Guilt slashed through her. She’d just buried her husband, for pity’s sake. She had no right to be reacting to another man, even if that man was Jacob Donovan.

“How did you know?”

“I was in Greenville when it happened. Apparently Martin had it printed in the paper.”

“He would. He loved Bob.”

 
Did you? Was it love that drove you to his bed not two months after I left the country?
Jacob wanted to ask. Instead he studied her, his gaze burning over her as if he could probe the secrets of her heart. Even in the feeble light of the January sun, Rachel radiated that special fire that had once warmed him, that particular glow that set her apart on the stage.

“Are you still singing, Rachel?”

She felt something jolt inside her. Once Jacob had known everything about her—what she was thinking, what she was doing, what she was planning. The knowledge that he no longer knew saddened her. And yet, she thought, it was not surprising. Jacob would not have kept up with news of her, would not have known that she had records on the top-ten chart, that she was in great demand as a nightclub performer—not only in Mississippi but throughout the United States. No, Jacob Donovan had too much pride to hold onto something that was no longer his. And besides, he had no interest in music; his love was flying.

And yet . . . he was there, bronzed and bold and brash and altogether too real. A small chill ran along her spine. Whether it was due to an old passion she’d tried to forget or to fear, she didn’t know. And she dared not question it.

“Yes. I’m singing. But not lately, not since Bob’s first heart attack.”

“Rachel.” He reached out as if he wanted to touch her cheek. His hand hovered there in the air between them, the sun glinting off the sprinkling of red hairs, gleaming on the flat, squared-off nails.

Rachel’s skin tingled, as if he had actually brushed against it.

“I’m sorry,” Jacob said, drawing back from her. The tree trunk seemed to steady him.

She knew he was talking about the death of her husband, but she couldn’t keep from thinking of the past. They’d been so much in love, inseparable from the moment she and her father had moved to Greenville. She was an up-and-coming singer, and Jacob had just completed his law degree. Then, without warning, he’d joined a fire-fighting team that specialized in oil field fires. He’d quickly gained fame as one of their most intrepid troubleshooters. The dangers inherent to his profession became overwhelming for her. When he’d been called to an oil field fire in Saudi Arabia, they’d quarreled bitterly. Two months later she had married Bob Devlin, her manager.

Rachel studied him. He still wore danger and charm with equal ease. And he still made her heart turn inside out.

“I’m sorry too,” she whispered.

Around them, the wind moaned and the old iron gate creaked as Martin approached. But neither of them noticed. They were caught up in each other. A flame sparked in the center of Jacob’s blue eyes. His cold expression thawed.

He bent down and kissed her quickly, before he could change his mind. His hands caught her shoulders and his mouth claimed what had been stolen from him six years earlier. He felt her brief resistance, then the sweet flowering of her lips as she responded to him. It was a small victory, but it gave him no pleasure. Instead it served to deepen his pain.

He jerked his head back and stared down at her, watching a thousand emotions play over her beautiful face. The last was shock that they could kindle such passion in the chilled atmosphere of death.

“Goodbye, Rachel.”

Jacob turned and walked away while he still could, leaving Rachel among the tombstones, leaving her to break some other poor fool’s heart.

Rachel watched him go, then turned and joined her father. Martin’s black Mercedes transported her along in a cocoon of comfort and quiet to the big white house that looked out over the Gulf of Mexico, the house she and Bob had shared since they’d left Seattle and moved here two years ago. She walked into the polished hallway and stood listening to the sounds of silence.

She had no idea how long she stood there, but suddenly the silence was broken by a low, droning noise, the unmistakable sound of an airplane. Instinctively Rachel ran onto her columned front porch and looked up.

An old World War II fighter, a P51 Mustang, roared over her house. It was Jacob. She knew. For unlike him, she had kept up. She’d known precisely when he’d purchased the expensive antique. He was flying hard and fast, cutting through the sky, soaring higher than eagles, just the way he’d always said he would.

She shaded her eyes against the sun and watched until he was out of sight.

“Goodbye, my love,” she whispered, then, turning, she went back into her house.

 

 

CHAPTER ONE

Biloxi was sweltering in June.

Jacob, who could have been cooling himself in any mountain resort in the world, told himself he was there to visit the fly-boys at Keesler Air Force Base. He wanted to caress the turbo props, run his hands down the sides of the military jets, feast his eyes on the tankers.

He had just returned from Maracaibo, where he and his specially trained team had extinguished one of the biggest oil field fires in the history of his career. He’d courted danger once more and won, and he felt good.

“That Devlin woman is singing tonight at Louie’s. Man, what a looker.” Captain Mark Waynesburg squinted into the sun as if seeing a vision, then turned his attention back to Jacob. “A group of us are going. Want to join us?”

“Rachel’s singing again?” Hearing her referred to as “that Devlin woman” sent a shock wave through him. She used to say, in some of their more intimate moments, that she’d been born to be a Donovan.

“You know her?”

“Yes. I know her.”

“Then you’ll come?”

Jacob rammed his fist in his pocket and started to refuse, but his basic honesty asserted itself. Wasn’t Rachel the reason he was in Biloxi? He’d spent the last six years running from the truth, but the time had come to face it. He would never be free of Rachel until he knew why she had jilted him for another man.

“Count me in,” he said.

Mark clapped him on the shoulder. “She’s the best singer ever to hit this town. You won’t regret it.”

He already did. The last time he’d seen Rachel, she had been standing beside her husband’s grave. Six months ago. And even then, he couldn’t keep his hands off her. What would it be like this time? Knowing she was free? Knowing that nothing stood between them? Nothing except misunderstanding and betrayal and guilt and six lonely years, he reminded himself. Dammit, he’d go. He had to go. Seeing her again was the only way he could learn the truth.

 o0o

Rachel saw him at the back of the audience—Jacob Donovan, his unmistakable hair, his eyes so blue, they looked like twin pieces of sunlit sky, even in the smoky dimness of the nightclub.

Only her training kept her from missing a beat, saved her from forgetting the words. As she crooned the Jerome Kern love song, she watched him lean forward in his chair. Nothing showed on his face—not love, not hate, not guilt, not longing. To the casual observer he appeared to be just another man enjoying her music. But she knew better. He was Jacob Donovan, the great pretender. And now that he was in Biloxi, she had to be on her guard.

She finished the song and left the stage to wild applause. Backstage she paced, praying he would leave, praying she would never have to face him again.

Jacob stayed for her second show. His companions had gone, but he was there, slouched low in his chair, twirling a half-empty glass in his hands, his gaze riveted on her.

She tried to avoid looking directly at him, but in the middle of
The Man I Love
her eyes sought him out. Old habits die hard, she thought. She had never sung that song without thinking of Jacob Donovan. Now she could no more resist looking at him than she could deny her own name. Her stomach quivered, and her hand tightened on the microphone.

 
Why are you here
? she wanted to scream. Instead, she kept on singing.

By the time she finished her show, the club was empty except for Jacob and a couple of teenage lovers. Par for the course on a Tuesday night.

She hurried to her dressing room, anxious to be away from the searchlight of those bluer than blue eyes. Her hand was on the zipper of her gown when she heard his voice.

“Hello, Rachel.”

She whirled around. He was leaning against the door frame, his face unreadable, his eyes as cold as glaciers.

Her hands faltered on the zipper. “Jacob.” She gave him a brief nod, and tried to maintain a professional distance. “Did you enjoy the show?”

“I didn’t come back here to talk about the show.”

“Why did you come?”

Instead of answering, he left the doorway and moved into the room. His eyes raked her from head to toe, and then she saw the flame leap in their depths. That look of pure passion evoked memories so powerful, she had to catch the back of a chair to steady herself. She remembered Jacob in the sunlight beside the river, pressing his bronzed body into hers; Jacob with hay tangled in his red hair, his eyes crinkled with laughter; Jacob waking in her bed, reaching for her and telling her she was the wind beneath his wings.

Her tongue flicked over her dry lips, and she stood so still, she could measure the exact rhythm of Jacob’s footsteps as he came toward her.

When he was only inches away, he stopped, pinning her to the spot with his intense gaze. She pressed a hand over her heart as if to calm its fluttering. The silence stretched between them until she could almost hear the air crackling with tension.

At last he spoke.

“You always did need help with your zippers, Rachel.”

She held her breath as Jacob gently turned her around. Goose bumps popped out on her arms.

“Do I make you nervous?” Lifting her hair, he dragged his fingertips lightly across the back of her neck.

BOOK: Higher Than Eagles (Donovans of the Delta)
7.92Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

Other books

The Origin of Satan by Elaine Pagels
Deadly Wands by Brent Reilly
Ten Year Crush by Toshia Slade
Leaving Triad by K.D. Jones
A New York Romance by Winters, Abigail
AllTangledUp by Crystal Jordan
Stand-In Wife by Karina Bliss