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Authors: Sara Craven

Night of the Condor

BOOK: Night of the Condor
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Night of the Condor
By
Sara Craven
Contents

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

    Leigh tried to pull away from him…

    "Don't!" Her voice sounded high and breathless and her self-control was slipping. "That—that isn't what I meant, and you know it. You seem to have forgotten I'm engaged to be married."

    "On the contrary. But at the moment, I have more pressing matters on my mind," Martinez said huskily, his hand stroking down the sensitive curve of her spine. "
    Dios
    , Leigh, I had almost forgotten how beautiful you are."

    He pulled her against him so that she could feel the slight roughness of his body hair grazing her skin. "Now we're on equal terms," he murmured, smiling into her eyes.

    She tried to say "No," but no sound came. All she could hear was the rasp of hurried breathing—hers, she wondered insanely, or his?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

SARA CRAVEN probably had the ideal upbringing for a budding writer. She grew up by the seaside in a house crammed with books, with a box of old clothes to dress up in and a swing outside in a walled garden. She produced the opening of her first book at age five and is eternally grateful to her mother for having kept a straight face. Now she has more than twenty-five novels to her credit. The author is married and has two children.

 

Books by Sara Craven

 

HARLEQUIN PRESENTS

 

SUMMER OF THE RAVEN

WITCHING HOUR

DARK SUMMER DAWN

UNGUARDED MOMENT

COUNTERFEIT BRIDE

SUP WITH THE DEVIL

PAGAN ADVERSARY

A BAD ENEMY

DARK PARADISE

ALIEN VENGEANCE

ACT OF BETRAYAL

PROMISE OF THE UNICORN

ESCAPE ME NEVER

A HIGH PRICE TO PAY

THE MARRIAGE DEAL

 

HARLEQUIN ROMANCE

 

THE GARDEN OF DREAMS

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Harlequin Presents first edition December 1987

 

ISBN 0-373-11032-4

 

Copyright © 1987 by Sara Craven.

CHAPTER ONE

 

The view from her hotel bedroom window would have been panoramic, except for the fog.

Leigh could hardly believe it. Only a relatively short time ago, her plane had been circling the Jorge Chavez International Airport in brilliant sunshine. She had looked down in wondering delight at the city beneath her, and the foam-capped breakers of the Pacific Ocean beyond, with the great ridge of the Andes forcing its way to the shore like a giant, clenched fist.

Now, suddenly, it was all gone. The sunshine, the view, even the feeling of excitement and exhilaration which had filled her were all muffled under a damp, dismal blanket of grey mist.

The bell-boy who had carried up her bags had shrugged philosophically. 'It is the
garua, seňorita
. The curse of Lima. It comes, and when it is the will of God, it goes.'

'I see,' Leigh muttered. She wasn't sure she believed in curses, or that changes in climatic conditions were necessarily the workings of Divine Providence, but at the same time she wished the sun had kept shining a little longer.
The garua
seemed like a bad omen, she thought, then immediately chided herself for being over-fanciful.

Activity, she told herself briskly. That's what I need. Something to do.

She unlocked her cases, and started to hang her things away in the generous cupboard space provided. She smiled a little, as her hands touched the fabrics—silk, pure cotton, and the finest, softest wool—all her favourites, and most of them brand-new. Almost a trousseau—but then that was really the idea, she thought, her heart lifting.

This enforced separation from Evan had gone on quite long enough. She wasn't sure what the rules regarding the marriage of foreigners in Peru were, but Evan, she was certain, would be able to find out.

She had been disappointed when he hadn't been there to meet her at the airport, although she knew she was being unrealistic. Even supposing all the right messages had been passed along the line at all the right times, and she had been told how unlikely that was, Evan still probably wouldn't be able to drop everything at Atayahuanco and dash to Lima to see her. She had already resigned herself to the fact that she would have to go to him instead. But if this fog was going to persist, leaving Lima would be no great hardship anyway, she told herself, grimacing.

She looked restlessly round the suite, her unpacking completed. It was comfortable, and well appointed, and she might as well make the most of it, because Atayahuanco would be the total opposite. Evan had mentioned conditions there in his letters many times, jokingly at first, then, later, with increasing bitterness and resentment. And she had felt resentful, on his behalf. Evan hadn't deserved to be sent halfway round the world to some forgotten valley in the Andes to grub about in dirt and stone.

His only sin had been to fall in love with her, Leigh Frazier, her father's only daughter, and heiress to Frazier Industries and the network of companies and interests it controlled.

And to Justin Frazier, a self-made man who was proud of his achievements, an intended son-in-law who had neither money nor a steady job was an affront.

'But that isn't his fault!' she had raged, once Evan's departure for Atayahuanco was inevitable, and only days away.

'It's not a question of fault,' her father had returned. 'I feel he should be given a chance to prove himself—see what he's made of.'

'In South America—as some cross between an archaeologist and a social worker?' she had protested.

'It's a worthwhile project,' Justin Frazier had replied tersely. 'Evan's a history graduate, and he's always had a lot to say about poverty, and the dignity of labour. Well, Atayahuanco will give him a chance to study both of them at first hand.' He paused. 'He wants work. I've given it to him.'

'There are other jobs…'

'There could be—if this one works out.' He stood up, a tall man with a craggy face. Evan called him formidable, and she supposed he was. 'But not yet awhile.' He put a hand on her shoulder, and his voice gentled. 'You're young, Leigh, and so is your man. You need a breathing space, both of you, before embarking on anything as serious as marriage. If you really love each other, and he's the right man for you, then a year's wait—eighteen months even—isn't going to make a radical difference.' He paused. 'Unless you doubt him—or yourself.'

Which, of course, was unanswerable, as well as unthinkable, and he knew it.

Evan had been stoically philosophical. 'It might not be too bad.' He put his arms around her, drawing her close. 'And if it convinces your father that I don't simply see you as a meal-ticket for life, it will be worth any hassle.'

'That's ridiculous,' Leigh protested hotly. 'I don't think my father remembers what it was like to be young.'

Evan grimaced slightly. 'Perhaps not, but he has the right to apply some pressure if he wants to.' He sighed. 'I feel a bit like one of those guys in the old stories who were always being sent off on quests before they could win the princess.'

She had smiled at that, in spite of her unhappiness. She had always loved those stories. 'What are you going to do—climb a glass mountain, and bring me back a golden apple?'

'Maybe I will at that. After all, Atayahuanco was once an Inca citadel, and the Incas went in for gold in a big way. Perhaps I'll find the lost treasure they hid from the Spaniards, and lay it all at your feet.' He laughed. 'Your father would really be impressed then.'

'He certainly would!' She laughed with him, but the glance she sent him was slightly troubled, just the same. 'Evan, you do realise this isn't a conventional archaeological dig you're going on? It might have started out that way, but the emphasis switched a long time ago. As well as trying to build up a picture of how the Incas lived in that particular place, the team's trying to rehabilitate the Indian families who still live there, but have lost touch with their traditional skills and lifestyle. I don't think there's any treasure-seeking going on.'

'Darling Leigh!' He kissed her. 'You sound like a brochure for Peruvian Quest. I do know all that— my God, I should, because it's been drilled into me
ad nauseam
. I'm not going to Atayahuanco with any preconceived notions about what I'm going to find there. I'm going to convince your father that I'd make the ideal son-in-law—docile, obedient, and industrious.'

Brave words, thought Leigh, as she relived the conversation, but in reality Evan had been violently shocked by the conditions in the valley. And the desperate jokiness of his early letters, outlining the squalor and hardship on the site, had soon degenerated into angry bewilderment, and a string of complaints.

His most recent letters had suggested he was near the end of his tether, and it was these which had led to her sudden decision to fly out to Peru to join him, in spite of her father's forcefully stated opposition.

But this time, Leigh had been adamant. 'We've been apart for a year. We're of age, and we're in love. We deserve a little happiness.'

She had faltered slightly when she realised Justin Frazier was not prepared to assist in any way with her arrangements.

'I'm not going to ease your path for you, Leigh,' he said flatly. 'This whole idea is madness from start to finish. I can only hope when you get to Lima and realise the problems confronting you, your own common sense will bring you home again.'

His words had lingered uneasily throughout that interminable journey, in spite of her efforts to tell herself that when she got to Peru, happiness would be hers for the taking. But now—with Evan's failure to show at the airport, the sheer impersonality of this hotel suite, and, most of all, the swirling sea mist outside—all her old doubts had returned.

Leigh gave herself a brief mental shake. She needed some practical stimulation. She supposed she should eat, but she was too strung up to be hungry. On the other hand, some coffee might be good. As she moved to the internal telephone beside the wide bed to call room service, it rang, startling her.

She lifted the receiver. 'Yes?'

'Seňorita Frazier, there is a gentleman here at reception asking for you. Do you wish to come down and speak to him?'

A smile began to spread across Leigh's face. Evan, she thought, her depression lifting miraculously. She said, 'Ask him to come up here,
por favor.'

There was a short silence, then the clerk said, 'You are certain that is what you wish,
seňorita
?'

'Yes, of course,' Leigh returned with a trace of impatience. 'And will you arrange for some coffee to be sent up too.'

'At once,
seňorita
.' The phone went down.

She sped to the dressing-table, and tugged a comb through her shoulder-length tawny hair so that it curved elegantly towards her neck. She renewed her lipstick hastily, wishing with irritation that she had changed from the clothes she had been travelling in. But the spare lines of the chic sand-coloured linen dress still looked relatively fresh, she decided, and after their long separation Evan, she hoped, would be too delighted to see her to be over-concerned about the finer details of her appearance.

She put up a hand and touched the gold chain she wore round her throat. She thought, I'm nervous. Nervous of seeing Evan again. But that's ridiculous. It's what I want, after all, what I came all this way for.

For one nightmare moment, she tried and failed to remember what Evan looked like, reminding herself, as panic rose inside her, that the same thing was said to happen to brides on their way to the altar.

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