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Look at him, she thought, standing there like that, his black hair tousled, his shirt

unbuttoned at the throat, his face lined with tiredness but containing, above all else,

determination. She could hardly bear the sight of him, and she turned away.

Francis's expression flickered at the total rejection of her movement. Frowning, he

fingered the curved metal gun in his pocket as he studied the tense defensiveness of her

slim body, the blue shadows of bitter exhaustion that the indirect lighting threw down

the side of her face, the way she seemed poised for instant flight.

In the dense silence, Kirstie's quivering, tired muscles tightened once again with an

apprehension that was becoming almost unbearable. Then the man behind her shifted,

and she exploded into action. She was three steps away and moving fast for the door

before she realised that Francis had not moved towards her, but away. She glanced over

her shoulder, one hand outstretched to the metal screen door against which large white

moths were batting mindlessly.

Hands in pockets, Francis was strolling into the kitchen with as much ease as if he were

nothing more than an invited guest on holiday. Kirstie hesitated, breathing unevenly as

she stared at his broad back. He disappeared around the corner, and almost immediately

she heard the commonplace sound of cupboards and refrigerator door opening and


She was drawn to the noise like the moths were drawn to the light. Footsteps dragging,

she peered stealthily around the corner to find Francis Grayson in the mundane act of

making a sandwich.

Of course he would be hungry, after working hard all day. She was too, if she were to be

honest, growlingly so in her slim midsection that tweaked with sharp, reproachful pangs

when she laid eyes on the food she'd put away earlier.

She nearly leaped out of her skin when, without looking up, Francis said mildly, 'I don't

suppose you're going to come out from behind there and discuss reason. Madwomen

don't, I hear.'

'I can be perfectly reasonable when I want to!' Unfortunately her snapped response

wasn't planned. It had just fallen out of her mouth, in angry reaction against how with

apparent ease he had regained his former dangerous calm, and afterwards Kirstie could

have bitten out her tongue at the way it sounded.

'Ah.' He nodded as if she had confirmed some kind of conclusion he had reached and

took another bite of his sandwich. For all the attention he paid her, he might have been

talking to the wall. 'I notice some key words there. The question is, of course, whether

you want to or not. Are you going to sit down and have a sandwich, or hover around the

corner all night?'

Eat supper across the table from him? It would be like breaking bread with the devil.

The thought was enough to turn her hunger into nausea. And where was his anger? To all

intents and purposes, it seemed to have completely dissipated, but she wasn't enough of

a fool to believe that. Kirstie scrutinised what she could see of Francis Grayson, and

what she saw had her very worried indeed.

She knew, by his disorientated outburst by the lake, that, for all his formidable command

over himself, she had knocked him off balance earlier today. She had threatened him,

fooled him, drugged and angered and shocked him, and now there was no evidence of

reaction whatsoever. His total control made her go cold all over. That this man was

dangerous she hadn't doubted, but she was beginning to appreciate just how dangerous

he was, and it put her present position in a distinctly unfavourable light.

What was he planning? What form would his revenge on her take? How would he make

her pay for what she had done to him?

He had given her two choices: stay where she was or confront him. She wouldn't hover,

and she didn't have the courage to face whatever lay underneath this present facade.

There was a third alternative, and after a moment of consideration Kirstie took it.

Without a word she walked into the main bedroom and, though it seemed such a flimsy

defence, she locked the door behind her. Then she forced her tired body over to the

dresser, shook out a pair of sheets and quickly made the bed.

Her sister had been right about the man. Kirstie should never have entertained even that

one moment of terrible doubt. She could just imagine what he had been like with Louise,

persecuting and suffocating her, manipulating her into going out with him and

hammering at her to call off her wedding with Neil. Louise was too gentle. She didn't

know how to handle men like Francis Grayson.

Kirstie was honest enough with herself to know that she, too, didn't know how to handle

Francis Grayson. He had taken control ever since setting foot on the mountain, and he

was calling all the shots. He acted as if he was the original irresistible force. She

punched a pillow violently into a linen case. Well, he might be able to direct the action

in this scenario, she thought grimly, but she was holding the trump card, because today

he had met an immovable object.

Whenever that happened, there was bound to be trouble.

With a chill premonition, she looked back on her life. How uncomplicated her past

seemed, in the light of this battle of wills that could destroy everything. She felt, as she

had never felt before, as if she was saying goodbye to the sunny, madcap teenager she

had been, the cheeky prankster secure in the knowledge that, no matter what she did to

the various members of her tolerant family, she would always have their affection and


As a quieter, more restrained adult, she had returned that loyalty to her family threefold.

People were either on the inside or the outside of Kirstie's invisible circle, and rarely did

they cross the line. But those on the inside, oh, she loved them all; they were hers in the

truest, most unpossessive light, to cherish and protect them as much as she could from

the sadder reality the adult in her discovered in the world.

But what price would she pay now for that fierce protective instinct that was as natural

to, as inseparable from her as breathing? What would it cost the immovable object to

hold firm? Her self-respect was already on the line. She thought of her brother Paul, her

grandfather Whit. She thought of Christian, of Louise, and hoped with all her heart that

the price would not include their respect for her as well.

Francis's head had lifted at the sound of Kirstie's retreat, and he listened to the sound of

the bedroom door closing, the bolt of the lock shooting home. He sat there for some

time, thinking, and then he calmly made himself another sandwich.

Morning had appeared with full glorious orchestration right across her closed eyelids.

Kirstie groaned in real pain and squinted at the source of warm, blinding light. The sun

had just topped the trees outside and was shining through curtains she had neglected to

shut last night.

After staggering upright to shake them closed, she fell back into bed, but the damage

was already done. She was awake, and her mind had already started to run around the

problems facing her. They seemed to fall into two categories: the immediate, and the

ones facing her when she got home. Since she couldn't do anything about what was

waiting for her back in New Jersey, she thrust it out of her mind and concentrated on the


On the good side was the fact that she had successfully managed to transplant Francis

Grayson and immobilise him for the crucial period before Louise's wedding. However,

he had managed to immobilise her in the process, and that was terrible.

She did have control over communications, as she had hidden the helicopter radio, but

he had control over the helicopter. It was conceivable that she could sneak away from

the cabin to radio for help, but she wouldn't be able to describe what was wrong with the

aircraft. Kirstie did not have a mind that could grasp mechanics well.

That meant Whit or some other mechanic would have to make the six-day trek to check

out the machine. She could knock two days off that if they used either horses or a cross-

country Jeep, so that would be four days. If they couldn't fix it on the spot, there would

have to be another round trip for parts, since the heliport .on the mountain was literally

the only clear place to land for miles. She scowled furiously. Stealing the helicopter for a

day or two was a crime of a certain calibre. But half a month lost in manpower and

equipment would be enough to finish her off as far as her brother Paul was concerned.

All this, of course, was contingent on getting away from Francis Grayson so that she

could use the radio in private. And even the most optimistic train of thought meant that

she too would be missing her sister's wedding. The hurt and uproar that would cause

made her cringe.

Kirstie's heartbeat began to accelerate as she gradually became more agitated. She

buried her head under her pillow in instinctive denial against it. The sheets smelled like

the pine dresser, clean and tangy.

She was stuck in an impossible situation. Either she accepted the consequences of acting

without Francis's co-operation, which was unthinkable, or she would try to strike a deal

with him in return for mobilisation of the helicopter. He would want immediate

transportation back to New York, which was the one thing she couldn't give him. That

just brought her full circle.

The truth was, she didn't have a clue what to expect next. Louise's description was the

only definition she had of Francis Grayson, and social normality had been stripped

away. God only knew what he would do outside the restraint of his life and ties in New


He could be capable of anything.

Forty minutes later, after a dash to the bathroom for a stealthy shower, Kirstie dressed in

shorts and a light blouse, gritted her teeth and marched outside. In the face of whatever

that man chose to hurl at her, she would indeed be reasonable and rational. She would

refuse to let the situation get her down. Above all, she would refuse to let
get at her.

No matter what.

All her grim preoccupation fell away in the face of what was outside.

Francis was at the wood-pile, at one end of the clearing. He was chopping wood. The

rhythm of it echoed in sharp reports off the lake. The Vermont sun beat down on his

black head, making it shine, and rivulets of sweat slithered down his naked torso. The

helicopter sat, gleaming pristine and silent, not twenty yards away from him, and the

door of the cabin was in plain sight. Already there was a sizeable pile of split logs beside

him, yet he still reached for another one to set on the scarred oak stump.

Kirstie let out a long breath, only then realising that she had held it in anxious

anticipation as she'd left the sanctuary of her bedroom. The sound of the cabin door

shutting had attracted his attention. With the axe held poised negligently in one hand, his

sleek head turned to her, he looked as if he considered the point between her two

shoulders a favourable spot in which to bury the blade. It was an aggressive pose,

saturated with sheer male beauty. Kirstie frowned at her reaction to it before walking

around the corner of the cabin.

The sound of running footsteps dogged her. She set her teeth in furious impatience at the

way her pulse went crazy. Francis appeared around the corner, jogging lightly, one of

Paul's spare T-shirts pulled on in haste.

'Where are you going?' he asked.

'Nowhere with you,' she told him tightly.

He pulled to a graceful stop. The hot sun lent an odd golden tint to his green eyes. It

didn't seem quite human. She shook her head and backed away skittishly. 'If you

continue to grind your teeth like that you'll have problems later on in life,' he

admonished, holding his two great arms across that barrel chest. Her eyes riveted

themselves on the amount of muscle, so casually bunched. 'You wouldn't be thinking

about using that helicopter radio without me, would you?'

'I don't need the radio.' She sent him a small, unfriendly smile and turned away only to

stop with her hands clenched at her sides when he fell into stride beside her. 'Stop

following me. I am going for a peaceful walk. You can't come.'

'More to the point, can you stop me?' he replied lightly, sliding his gaze down the shape

of her bare legs. Still sweating from the heat of his earlier exertion, Francis's chest

heaved once. The T-shirt clung to his damp skin in a maddening fashion.

The thin control Kirstie had over herself stretched and broke. She breathed deep once,

fast, and burst out, 'I can sure as hell not go, you rotten bastard!'

'Why do you persist in seeing me as the villain of the piece?' he demanded, his

expression changing drastically. 'I don't have to take this from you! I'm the injured party


They stared at each other, and Kirstie could see a degree of her own amazement

BOOK: i 077f700896a1d224
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