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you like lake trout?'

'What do you mean?'

'This,' she said, indicating the rod by her left foot, 'is a fishing-rod. It is attached to the

line in the water, on the end of which is a hook I baited with a worm about twenty

minutes ago. Very soon a hungry fish should be paddling along, and '

'Perhaps you have acquaintances who find you amusing,' he broke in, with harsh

sarcasm. 'I assure you I do not! I meant, what did you mean by your first statement?'

Kirstie had her own brand of sarcasm in plenty, and she indulged it by pretending

surprise. 'Francis, I would have thought it was obvious when you found yourself mobile

and free to leave. The exercise is complete, the kidnapping a success! There are plenty

of provisions inside, and the wildlife is so shy that you are quite safe to venture forth

weaponless. Surely you have already asked yourself why I've bothered to wait around,

instead of heaving you out of the helicopter and flying off again, because I assure you

there was no need.'

The evening shadows were deepening rapidly and the temperature dropping, but he had

shed his suit-jacket. His white shirt shone out in stark contrast to the profuse greenery

behind him. Both the rolled sleeves and his stance, with hands resting casually on those

angled hips, appeared to be habitual. His baffled fury did not. She pursed her lips and

narrowed her eyes, for it was pretty clear that he wasn't much used to being crossed.

Francis stared at the petite woman in front of him. She held herself so tensely that every

line of her body vibrated. Her short blonde hair stood up in untidy peaks. It looked as if

she simply hadn't bothered to use a comb that day, or—and this observation was made

with the utmost reluctance—as if she had run her fingers repeatedly through her hair, in

either worry or terrible doubt.

His hard green stare was sceptical as he scoffed, 'You stayed just to talk? I find that hard

to believe.'

She said with undisguised contempt, 'You would. The concept involves a certain sense

of responsibility for one's actions, a trait that seems to be distinctly lacking in your own

personality.'

Underneath his still present anger, she could see his mind racing. 'Curiouser and

curiouser. You sound as though you hate me,' he commented, almost absentmindedly as

his straight black brows lowered in a frown. 'But I could swear that we've never met.'

Her smile was feral. 'Hate you?' she replied with an angry little laugh. 'I don't grant your

existence so great an acknowledgement!'

'You acknowledged it enough to break several laws!' he retorted. As he felt surprisingly

unsteady on his feet in the foul aftermath of the drug she had given him, he just sat

where he stood and dropped his head into his hands. Kirstie watched, feeling strange.

Those long fingers dug into his temples, as if by sheer determination he could force his

headache away. 'And, like a fool, here I am trying to make sense out of it! For God's

sake, why?'

'Louise Philips.' She dropped the name, like two hard stones, into the conversation and

watched the ripples of shock spread out. His head reared back with the force of it. 'She is

why.'

'God! No wonder you looked so familiar. You must be her sister. You are, aren't you? I

should have seen the resemblance before,' he whispered, staring at her incredulously.

'But that doesn't make any sense! Louise is no reason for what you've done!'

'Isn't she?' Kirstie countered in a swift attack. 'You certainly seem to have a convoluted

morality. Should I call it a
convenient
morality? Is there any reason for what you are

putting Louise through, other than bloody-minded selfishness? Perhaps you can't grasp

concepts like loyalty, consideration, simple kindness, but even you should understand

sheer desperation.' Silence greeted that rejoinder, and the line of her mouth grew ugly.

To think that she was feeling guilty for what she had done to him. She might as well

have saved herself the effort. Kirstie picked up the rod and reeled in the line. She said

abruptly, 'The explanation is over with.'

'Over with!' he exclaimed, surging upright. To Kirstie's overwrought mind, it appeared

that he just kept rising and rising forever, until he stood above both trees and building in

a magnificent tower of rage. 'You haven't even begun to explain yourself!'

She raked him with a steel-claw glance. 'What else did you expect—an apology? This

may come as a great shock, but I don't have to justify my actions to you!'

'You sure as hell should justify them to somebody!' he snapped. 'Maybe it would curb

that distinctly criminal tendency of yours!'

'And you are so very whitely washed?' she sneered in retaliation. 'Only the sinless are

supposed to cast the first stone, Francis!'

His eyes flashed emerald fire. 'I am a man, not a saint. I have never claimed to lead a

blameless life, but at least I've always been inside the law! You're the one holding the

gun in your hand!'

'Just call it self-protection!' she snarled.

He barked out an angry laugh. 'As I recall, that wasn't the case earlier this afternoon!

How is that for a convenient morality?'

Simmering with fury, not the least of which was directed at herself, Kirstie turned to

stalk back to the cabin, the fishing-rod slapping against her thigh with each stride.

Francis kept wary pace several feet to the left of her.

'I did wrong,' she said after a moment, with careful control, and then turned on him grey

eyes that were ferocious with self-condemnation and antipathy. He sucked in an audible

breath at the sight. 'And I'm not proud of that. I've never done anything so wrong as

what I've done today! I knew it before I did it, I went ahead and did it anyway, and I

would do it again if I had to. Somebody had to stop you. You were tearing her apart!'

'But how? Everything you've said indicates that you feel you have some reason for doing

what you're doing, but it isn't apparent to me! Listen to me! Can't you see that we seem

to be talking two different realities here?'

She would not let him get to her. Unravelling at the edges, feeling every one of his

questions chip away at her control until she felt like turning on him and shrieking like a

fishwife, Kirstie clenched her teeth and said nothing.

Goaded by her stony lack of reaction, Francis strode ahead and slapped a hand on to the

cabin door, effectively stopping her in her tracks. He turned his face, clenched with

concentration, towards her. 'Look at it logically. Life doesn't get as crazy as this.'

'Get away from the door,' she ordered him through gritted teeth.

He held up both hands in a gesture that in anybody else would be conciliatory. 'Just wait

a minute,' he said sternly, clamping down his own anger with iron force. Then, as she

made a sudden, uncontrolled movement, 'Calm down, all right? All I want you to do is

answer one question. Aside from everything else, how is putting me out of action for six

or seven days going to keep me from contacting Louise after I get back to New York?'

She ran a suspicious stare down the length of his taut body. 'What is the point of all this?'

He leaned forward a little and she drew back. 'Try to stretch your imagination. Pretend

for a moment that I don't know anything.'

Oh, he was good. He was very, very good. He was the essence of troubled spirit and

earnest effort. Kirstie could have felt concern, if she hadn't actually known Francis

better. Was it any wonder that Louise had been so taken with him, until the mask had

dropped and he had revealed his true colours?

The thought made her smile with grim triumph. 'Clutching at straws now?' she asked,

with a gentleness that was no kin to tender feeling. His stare was so intent, it was

blinding. The pressure from it made her burst out, 'Look—the pretence isn't going to do

you any good. With her wedding a week from tomorrow, and you effectively cut off

from civilisation, there isn't a thing you can do to stop it now. Give it up, Francis. Can't

you see you've lost?'

A pause. Dusk was settling in fast, lending them the deception of its blackness like a

cloak, but she was still quite able to witness his reaction. For the second time that day he

showed shock beyond all barriers. He looked as if she'd slapped him. Oh, why did he

look as if she'd slapped him? Beyond all reason or determination, Kirstie's heart began

an apprehensive pounding.

After a moment, Francis said blankly, 'What wedding?'

CHAPTER TWO

It wasn't FAIR.

Despite all the racing her mind had done just half an hour ago, it refused to work fast

enough to handle all the implications of what Francis had just said. When the pieces did

begin to fall into place, with a vertiginous sensation that was almost physical, she

wished they hadn't.

It was so impossible, it couldn't be true. Francis just stared as she shook her head and

laughed angrily, both at her own gullible reaction and at him. 'Oh, no, you don't,' she told

him, hardly aware that she was backing away. 'You can't take me that easily. You knew

all along that she was getting married.'

So much reaction and emotion packed into the man in such a short space of time made

his eyes unreadable. All he said was, quietly, 'I didn't.'

That plain statement sounded damnably honest. She cried out against it. 'Why are you

lying?'

'Why would you think I'm lying?' he asked, still in that lethally quiet voice.

'Because nothing else makes sense!' A shiver ran all over her body at his own savage

laugh, reminding her that they were all alone miles from anywhere, and all that lay

between them was a thin veil of deception.

'Join the club. It is not a nice feeling, is it?'

The tension from the day, her sleepless night, the man in front of her all combined to

make Kirstie's composure snap. 'I don't need to stay for this!' With an abrupt violence,

she threw down her fishing-rod and whirled towards the helicopter. She wouldn't listen

to this man's lies, wouldn't let him ruin her thinking. She would go home, and Francis

Grayson could go to hell.

She ran across the thick tangled grass to the wide, flat clearing where the helicopter

rested, some forty yards away from the log cabin. Here and there the ground was split

and rocky; white pines and red spruces at either end of the clearing flashed past the

edges of her vision.

At the helicopter, she scrambled into the pilot's seat and strapped herself in. Her fingers

flew over the controls to switch on the night lamps; she knew the machine so well, she

did not even bother to look.

Francis stood well to one side, put his hands in his pockets and watched. He was thrown

into sudden harsh illumination, but Kirstie spared him only a quick glance as she put the

gun in her lap and started the helicopter.

Or, at least, she tried to start the helicopter. The overhead blades did not begin their

familiar throbbing. The engine did not even turn over. With a horrible premonition that

she was wasting her time, she tried again. 'I don't believe this,' she whispered. Her hands

began to shake. She clenched them into fists and drove one into the bubble of glass with

bruising force. 'Damn him!'

Francis strolled up beside her. He smiled as she turned to stare at him. 'Leaving me alone

in the helicopter,' he said equably, 'was the second mistake you've made.'

'Stay away from me!' she snapped, grabbing the gun and bringing the muzzle of it

around to him. 'What did you do to the engine?'

'That would be telling. What are you going to do about it?' Kirstie ground her teeth as

she glared at him. Francis took a deliberate step closer. She shrank back in her seat and

raised the gun higher. Then, his eyes very light, he asked her once again, 'Could you

really have struck me over the head earlier?'

The moments ticked by. Kirstie knew than that he had her, completely, for she had run

out of bluffs. She was suddenly very tired and didn't care if he saw or not. The hand

holding the gun lowered until it was lying in her lap. Her lips twisting wryly, she

answered him with a shake of her blonde head.

Francis walked forward, curiously without any trace of anger. He reached over and

disengaged the gun from her unresisting fingers with care. It was a point thirty-eight

revolver. He checked it and did not seem surprised to find it unloaded. Snapping the

carriage back into position, he looked at her and said, 'Now that we've got that out of the

way, we'll sit down and you can start explaining things.'

Gathering strength from somewhere, Kirstie flipped off the helicopter's lights and

unbuckled her straps. It was now very dark and the night air was musical with a

multitude of insects. Francis stepped back, and as she climbed out she had the presence

of mind to notice that the gun had disappeared into his pocket. She refused to look at

him as they walked back to the cabin, where she bent to retrieve her fishing-rod. Once

indoors, she groped for the light switch and flipped it.

Francis had moved to the centre of the room, turning as the yellow-hued lights came on.

BOOK: i 077f700896a1d224
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