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PASSAGE OF THE NIGHT

Amanda Carpenter

Kirstie

had

gone

to

considerable

trouble

Her plot just had to succeed! She would abduct Francis Grayson and dump the attractive

businessman on a remote mountain in Vermont. And she'd leave him there until her elder

sister

Louise

was

safely

married.

But Kirstie hadn't made any allowance for Francis's quick recovery or his

resourcefulness.

Nor had it once crossed her mind that she might be just as susceptible to Francis's lethal

charms as Louise....

CHAPTER ONE

WHAT a hell of an afternoon it had been.

Francis Grayson shifted his briefcase from one big hand to another to ease aching

shoulders. The light in the lift indicated the basement of the car park building an instant

before the double doors slid open. That corner of the basement was pretty much

deserted, as it was past the rush hour.

He noticed with irritation that construction barriers and orange pylons were up,

sectioning off the corner where he had his parking reservation. Apparently the attendants

had not seen fit to warn him of the inconvenience. He set down his briefcase and quickly

shifted the equipment so that he could get his car through, and made a mental note to

call their office on Monday to complain.

Then, with his customary long, arrogant stride, he crossed the yards it took to reach his

metallic silver BMW. The underground lights threw orange stripes on the asphalt and

created long shadows between the massive concrete pillars. Down here it was hard to

remember that the evening outside was still golden and balmy warm.

To have attained the executive director seat at Amalgamated Trust was no mean feat at

the age of thirty-five. Based here, in New York, the finance corporation held offices in

all the major cities in the States, together with growing concerns in London, Paris, Rome

and Tokyo.

Such success suggested a certain amount of good fortune, let alone a driving calculated

intelligence. Nevertheless, Francis was no stranger to the kind of day where everything

seemed to go wrong. It was just a pity that this Friday had to fall victim to one of those

times.

He schooled himself to patience. After all, the working day was finished. Perhaps

something could still be salvaged from the evening, despite the fact that his date had

cancelled. He had two tickets to the theatre burning a hole in his pocket, and he had

promised his twelve-year-old niece Jolaine some time ago that he would take her out. He

would give his sister Patricia a call when he got home.

Light footsteps sounded; not quite an echo of his own, for the stride was much shorter.

Automatically Francis glanced in their direction in time to see a blonde woman stroll

around one of the concrete pillars, slight in jeans and nondescript jacket. He was sure he

had never met her before, but something about those large eyes, that greyhound-sleek

bone-structure, was familiar. An odd sense of recognition hovered like a bird about to

perch on his shoulder, but it proved elusive.

The question had barely registered before he wondered where her car was parked, and

then dismissed her presence as irrelevant. He reached the driver's side of his car and set

down his briefcase. Then a very odd thing happened.

The woman walked to the opposite side of his car, pointed a gun at him across the roof

and said, 'Hello, Francis.'

Even unloaded, the revolver had a disturbing unfamiliar weight. The handle slipped

slightly in her sweating palm, and Kirstie tightened her grip until her knuckles were

ivory-white.

She wasn't sure why Francis Grayson had surprised her. He wasn't exactly what one

would expect to find on the glossy cover of a magazine. Or perhaps he was. No smooth

good looks here, but the way he had moved through the basement car park had

awakened an irrational, primitive apprehension inside her.

He did not walk; he prowled. His fluid body was woven with a tight, animalistic grace

that paid mere lip-service to the civilised world. The aggressive jut of those broad,

rolling shoulders, the casual swing of the slim hips, those long, distance-eating swift legs

—all spoke of an integral, inherent power only tempered by the laugh-lines by his

mouth, the long, sensitive fingers. There was an all-encompassing masculinity that

surrounded him like a physical scent, and Kirstie's brows drew together in a painful

frown.

His face, his powerful body, those beautiful hands— everything about him had gone into

a waiting stillness when she had appeared on the other side with the gun. He said almost

casually, his emerald eyes on the gun, 'I don't suppose it would do any good to point out

that you are making a big mistake.'

Involuntary images crashed through her memory: her agonising over the difficult

decision, the sleeplessness, the anxiety, the heart-stopping point when she had walked

towards this dangerous man. From the moment he had seen her, it had been too late and

they both knew it. She said almost gently, her grey eyes dark, 'No, it wouldn't.'

Several years ago, Francis Grayson had made quite a name for himself playing football

for the University of Notre Dame. He had been one of the nation's leading sports figures

and could have made his fortune as a professional quarterback, had he so chosen. Kirstie

had seen film clips of the old games. His speed had a shocking elegance; the inherent

threat she had witnessed from the moment she first laid eyes on him in the basement was

no illusion, and, even with the car between them and the empty threat of the gun, she felt

exposed, made vulnerable by the very self-containment with which he looked down the

barrel of the gun into her eyes.

Oh, God, she didn't dare underestimate him.

He shifted.

'Stop!' she cried, throwing herself back three steps in panic. Francis froze again. Their

eyes clashed; she felt the impact shudder through her right down to the ground, and

knew by his tight, savage smile that he saw just how afraid of him she really was.

'Believe me,' drawled Francis contemptuously, 'I have no immediate desire to get shot.

My wallet is in my right breast pocket. I will reach for it slowly with my left hand.'

Kirstie shook her head. 'Never mind your wallet,' she said tersely. 'Reach instead for

your car keys— slowly. Unlock the back door and open it. Now slide the keys over to

me and step back. Back off!'

He did so, like a wild animal retreating from attack, checked but unbeaten. His

voracious green eyes ravaged her appearance as he whispered, 'Do you honestly think

that I will let you get away with this?'

So gently said, so implacably meant. Not a threat, not even a warning, just a simple

question ringing with devastating truth. She ignored the question as she began to pull

nylon cord from the inside of her jacket. She had to, for if she thought any more about

all the ramifications of what she did, of how she knew this man would never forgive, or

forget, and how inevitably she would pay the price for subduing him, she would freeze

and it would all be over.

She tossed the length of cord to him and he caught it with an automatic flex of his wrist.

'Make yourself comfortable by sitting in the back seat and tie your ankles together.'

His hard gaze met hers over the intervening roof. Even now he showed no fear, but for

an instant Kirstie saw the real man through that tough, calm exterior, and she sucked in a

frightened breath. She had never seen such rage or reaction shielded with such utter

control behind the mask of his face.

'And if I don't?' he asked, with no more emotion than he would when discussing the

weather.

If you don't, I am lost, she thought, and directed the gun with meticulous precision at his

gleaming dark head. 'Then so much for desire.'

After staring for a long moment at her poised, slim figure, at the unwavering grey eyes,

in which were equal measures of pain and driven resolution, Francis eased himself into

the car, bent, and tied his ankles together deftly, well aware that her sharp stare missed

no detail of the act.

It was a major concession. Her shuddering sigh was silently exhaled as she walked

around the back of the car. She tossed through the open door another item, which glinted

steely in the air and chinked heavily as he caught it. Handcuffs. Francis raised

expressive eyebrows and waited.

Concession, but again no defeat. She conceived the wildest suspicion that he had agreed

to go along with her just to see where it led him, not out of fear, not out of any regard for

his safety, and she drove her doubts away with deliberate harshness as she snapped, 'Use

them! Arms behind, not in front of you! Well done. We've gone past first base. Pardon

me, that was baseball. Should I have said the first kick-off instead?'

As she had intended, the dangerously unpredictable rage in those unique emerald eyes

faded to speculation. 'You seem to be a remarkably well-educated thief,' he replied.

Kirstie had lost none of her wariness, for all Francis Grayson's apparent incapacitation.

The sight of that big folded body lent itself to a great many images, but not one of

helplessness. She kept dividing her attention between him and the direction of the lift

doors. Every muscle in her body hurt, she was so tense.

However, she forced it all below the surface as with swift competence she swept his

abandoned briefcase up from the ground and tossed it in beside him. 'You persistently

misunderstand,' she said, prior to slamming the door shut on him. 'You are not going to

be robbed. You are going to be kidnapped.'

Kirstie was very aware of that brilliant gaze dissecting her every movement, assessing

threat and possible weakness. She now moved fast, racing to the front of the car where

she had previously stashed two blankets and a backpack. Scooping them up, she put

everything, plus herself, in the front.

She twisted in the driver's seat to parry the slash of those eyes. The interior of the car

was luxurious. It smelted of fresh clean aftershave and finer scents. Though her victim

was very quiet, the air around him crackled. By sheer force of presence, he dominated

the situation.

Two lines had begun to cut from either side of her delicate nostrils, and the short hair at

her temples was darkened with sweat. With a movement as compulsive as it was

sneaking, she wiped her mouth.

His attention never wavered; he saw her, damn him to seven kinds of hell. 'It would be a

pity to lose control at this late stage,' he said with hideous softness.

'Pity doesn't come into it,' she attacked back. 'One slip from me and you'd go for my

jugular vein.'

His eyes shifted down. Malice glittered bright like gold in the air. 'Such a delectable

throat it is, too. Granted, you've done very well so far, but you will slip. And when you

go down, you are quite right. I'll be waiting.'

Her moving lips felt stiff, her eyes cold. 'Don't bother warning me, Francis. I know all

about you. I won't slip.'

Behind his answering silence, she could feel his mind, dagger-sharp and unkind,

working furiously. Quite in control now, her fingers flashed over the fastening of the

backpack to draw out a thermos. She opened it and poured some of the liquid into the

red lid. The bitter smell of coffee filled the interior of the car. She turned back to Francis

and aimed her attack again at his composure. 'Black, no sugar, I believe.'

Most would have noted no reaction to that. Kirstie saw a tiny muscle by his mouth

twitch. 'Very well-educated indeed, for someone I've never seen before,' he said thinly.

'What other information have you managed to dig up about me?'

'Oh, you'd be surprised. It has been a very bad day for you, hasn't it, down to your date

cancelling tonight? What a shame about those theatre tickets. Getting them on such short

notice must have cost you a fortune. I know your favourite meal, how well you ice-

skate. I know about the scar on the inside of your left , thigh.'

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