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Authors: Jill Tahourdin

Summer Lightning

BOOK: Summer Lightning
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SUMMER LIGHTNING

by

Jill Tahourdin

Malta was paradise—or should have been

Chloe was delighted to accept a photographic assignment in Malta, but Dominic Vining, the archaeologist with whom she’d be working, didn’t want a woman on the site.

Unexpectedly Dominic changed his mind. His ex-
fiancée
, Louise, had arrived and Dominic needed Chloe as protection against Louise’s attempts to regain his love.

Chloe was unwilling to act as Dominic’s new interest. He was a powerfully attractive man—and Louise was a dangerous woman who’d risk almost anything to keep Dominic and Chloe apart!

 

CHAPTER ONE

Chloe’s neighbor glanced up, eyebrows quirked, from the learned-looking papers he had been immersed in since he had taken his seat, seeing her half rise in her seat, clutching its arms, as she felt the plane become airborne.

“Your first trip by plane?”

The question fell into the sudden quiet after the revving of the four engines and the roaring rush down the runway. One or two heads turned to look at Chloe incredulously, or with the calm superiority of the seasoned air traveler.

She turned on her friendly, disarmingly candid smile.

“No, of course I’ve flown before. But I still hate the moment when we leave the ground.”

Her snapshot assessment of him had noted a well-shaped dark head, a lean, rather long, heavily tanned face, an imperious nose and fine gray eyes whose casual survey of her was half-tolerant, half-impatient.

“Well, take it easy,” their owner recommended. “What goes up has to come down, you’ll find.”

It was cold comfort to offer. Her eyes remained apprehensive behind their thick fringe of lashes. The fluttering in her stomach could still be felt.

Her neighbor was already deep in his reading again. Evidently his conversational limit had been reached...

She concentrated on watching, through the window on her right, while the crazily tilted landscape below righted itself, then retreated till it had the look of a school contour map done in colored clay and stuck with toy houses, trees, roads, railroad tracks. As they soared steadily upward it gave place first to a rash of small, fluffy clouds, then to a solid, cotton-wool layer that hid the earth entirely.

Above this the plane rose with such stately dignity that she relaxed and leaned back in her seat with a sigh of near pleasure.

So here I am, on my way to Malta,
she thought with a kind of astonishment—for until a week ago, no place had been further from her thoughts. It had been the purest chance, her bumping into Ronnie Fairfax, whom she hadn’t seen for months, in Fleet Street after a visit to her agents in Ludgate Circus.

They had practically collided as they waded, shoulders hunched against the sleety February wind, through the abominable gray brown slush that was yesterday’s virgin snow.

Ronnie had let out a whoop of mingled agony and delight, grabbing her by an elbow to steady her.

“I think I’m concussed, but no matter. Well met, Chloe, my sweet. You don’t know it, but you’re an answer to prayer. Look, let’s come in out of this foul wind for a minute.” Drawing her into the shelter of a convenient office building, he had given her an intense look, full of harassment, excitement, appeal.

When she laughed at him he said urgently, “No, listen, girl, this is serious.”

“I’m listening.”

“Look, a few months ago I took a three-months assignment in Malta, starting next week. But meantime I’ve somehow got engaged to Rosemary...”

“Lucky you. She’s a darling.”

“Thanks. But the thing now is...”

“You no longer want to go to Malta?”

“Absolutely not. I mean, three months...”

“Unthinkable.”

“So how about you going in my place, Chloe, pet? The work is right up your street, and I can fix it by sending a telegram to this archaeologist—he knows me, I’ve done stuff for him before, you know, at Salamis in Cyprus.”

“Oh, but...”

“Come on, Chloe. Have a heart.”

“But mightn’t he...?”

“It’ll be spring in the Mediterranean,” Ronnie reminded her in the dulcet tones of the tempter. “Could you bear to miss it?”

Chloe glanced at the gloomy weather outside. Could she?

“I’d have to know a good deal more about the job first,” she temporized. But she was only putting up a token resistance. Already her mind’s eye was seeing asphodel and almond blossom, purple blue seas sequined with sunlight, skies so blindingly azure one needed sunglasses...

When Ronnie had finished explaining she said with sudden gaiety, “Well, why not?”

She was always eager for change, new places, new faces.

And what was the use of being a free lance, answerable to no one but the most tolerant and uncensorious of godmothers, if she couldn’t make these snap decisions?

It would take a few days to disengage herself from current work and dates, and get suitable clothes for a kindlier climate. And then...

“All right. If you can fix it for me I’ll go,” she promised, without any further weighing of pros and cons.

“Angel! I’ll fix it.”

Wringing her hand till she winced, Ronnie slipped adroitly into the moving crowd on the pavement before she could change her mind.

Have I been led up the garden path,
she wondered as he vanished. Then she had laughed aloud. Her volatile spirits had soared as she stepped out again into the driving sleet.

The copilot’s voice came over the loudspeaker, informing the passengers of the plane’s height, speed and position. Chloe listened and gasped—so high and so far, in so short a time!

She would have given voice to her astonishment—for this was, in fact, her first flight in a plane of this size and power—if her neighbor’s attention hadn’t been so completely taken up with his maps or blueprints or whatever.

The plane chose this moment, however, to plunge abruptly earthward like a lunatic elevator. Before she could stop herself she had half risen in her seat again.

Her neighbor came out of his trance to lay a firm brown hand—whose excellent shape she noticed even in her state of alarm—on her arm.

“Just a little air pocket,” he told her, using the soothing tones of one reassuring a nervous horse. “There she’s steadying again. We’re climbing back. You can relax.”

“I’m trying to,” Chloe said rather shortly. Her reactions to flying always mortified her, for she was a seasoned traveler by road and rail and sea.

“All right. All right.”

His good-humored tolerance annoyed her, so did his immediate return to his studies.

But after she weathered a few more abrupt plunges with increasing nonchalance, he spoke again.

“She
is
bumping rather, isn’t she? But I see you’re getting the idea. Perhaps you’d like to talk a bit? Takes the mind off the motion. How far are you going?”

He had returned his papers to a briefcase, which he locked. Now he slewed around a little in his seat, as if to get a better look at her.

As their eyes met he smiled—a swift, warm, wholly charming smile that lit and transformed the dark, serious face.

It was her instant undoing. It happens like that, once or twice in a blue moon, when a girl meets a man for the first time. A spark—something electrifying—seemed to flash from him to her. It felt like a thousand watts. Suddenly she was deeply, excitingly aware of him.

Not that she knew what had happened to her. All she knew was that her heart had seemed to turn right over...

With an effort she pulled herself together and summoned the poise on which as a rule she prided herself.

“I’m going to Malta,” she said.

The words brought to her mind how her godmother had remarked with a twinkle, on hearing of her plans, “They used to call them ‘The Fishing Fleet’ in my day—gels who went out to Malta in the season, looking for husbands in the Navy.”

Lady Stanton, whose Kensington flat had been Chloe’s home since her mother had remarried and sailed for Nassau, was a vice-admiral’s widow.

“Of course, there’s something in the very air of Malta—as no doubt you’ll discover—that seems to
breed
romance.”

“But I’m going there to work, godmother. I expect the dig will be miles from anywhere social.”

“I do hope not. Naval occasions can be such fun in Malta—waltzing on the quarterdeck—the uniforms and colored lights—the ship’s band... You’re very devoted to that career of yours, aren’t you, dearest?”

“I suppose I am. But not to the exclusion forever of love and, well marriage, if that’s why you’re shaking your head and sighing.”

“I’m relieved to hear it.”

“It’s just that I want to have something of my own to do, that I’ll never get tired of. Then when I marry—if I do—I won’t find myself with nothing to live for, as poor mummy did, except thinking about whether her husband stays home or goes away, keeps on being in love with me or doesn’t...

“So wise of you, Chloe, dear. I so agree.” Certainly it had been with no ideas about getting herself a man that she had taken on this assignment and still less of feeling this way about one she had only just met, whose name she didn’t yet know, who might already be married, a family man...

He had been opening a pack of cigarettes. Now he offered her one and flicked a lighter.

“I’m going to Malta, too,” he said. “You’re on a visit, I suppose?”

“Not exactly a visit.”

“Then...?”

Such was the impact of his personality that she found herself launching at once into explanations, though she was usually reticent with strangers. In any case, she had nothing to hide, so she could speak freely.

“I’m going out to work. Actually I’m taking someone else’s place. Only for three months, but it was altogether too good a chance to miss.”

She saw he was watching her from under black brows that had suddenly come together in a frown.

“Go on,” he ordered, so curtly that she threw him a quick uncertain glance and hesitated, her mouth half open.

“Well?”

“I’m a press photographer. I rather specialize in architectural subjects. Stone fascinates me. I love its textures and colors.”

“Hardly a woman’s line, I should have thought.”

“Oh? Why not? Well, the person I’m going to work for is an eminent archaeologist, an Englishman whose mother belongs to the noble Maltese family. I never knew till now that Malta has its own nobility, did you?”

“I did. Go on.”

“It seems this man has made another important Stone Age find on the island and wants detailed photographic records in color. Well, that happens to be my line. I think it’s going to be madly interesting work.”

“The devil you do!”

There was no mistaking, now, the note of sharp anger in the man’s voice. Chloe’s eyes opened wide in surprise and shock. They were a clear golden brown and set a little aslant, giving a piquancy to the charming oval of her face. He met them with implacable gray ones.
What can I have said,
she asked herself nervously.

“Is your name by any chance C. Linden?”

At his tone her chin lifted.

“I’m Chloe Linden, yes. How did you know that?”

“You evidently aren’t aware that I am the archaeologist for whom you propose to work?”

She gave a little gasp. She was completely taken by surprise. She hardly knew what she had expected her employer to be like—elderly, scholarly, perhaps bearded and rather scruffy...

Certainly the vague mind picture she had formed couldn’t have been less like this man, with his comparative youth—thirty-four or five, she judged—his strong masculinity, the vitality, overlaid with an air of confident authority that made him somehow formidable.

“You mean to say
you
are Professor Vining?” she exclaimed incredulously.

“I am Dominic Vining. And let me tell you at once that if I’d had the slightest idea that the C. Linden mentioned in Fairfax’s telegram was a girl...”

He stopped short, with a gesture of barely suppressed irritation.

Waiting for him to go on, she fancied she saw a glint of humor in his eyes. But when he spoke again it was with quelling decision.

“Naturally I’d have declined the offer of her services.”

Chloe felt her color rise.

“Why naturally?” she demanded with asperity.

When he shrugged his shoulders and didn’t at once reply she went on more calmly, “I can assure you, Professor Vining, that I’m perfectly qualified and—and competent to do the work you require. Otherwise Ronnie Fairfax would hardly have asked me to take his place.”

He gave her that implacable look again. It affected her so unpleasantly that she wondered how in the world she could have felt about him as she had, when he smiled at her with such warmth and charm only a few minutes before. “That doesn’t happen to be the point.”

“Then tell me what it is.”

“The point is that I will not have a woman—let alone a young and ... attractive one—on a dig.”

So I’m attractive, am I? Thanks very much,
Chloe thought derisively. She felt on the brink of hysterical laughter but held back, being well aware that hysteria wouldn’t get her anywhere with this man. Calmness, coolness to match his—that was the line to take.

So she waited, her eyes wide, interrogative.

“Women always cause trouble on a dig, sooner or later,” he stated didactically.

“Trouble?”

He frowned impatiently. “Emotional trouble. Rivalry, jealousy, sex if you like—surely I don’t need to particularize, Miss Linden.”

“I don’t understand. I would be there to do my work—as efficiently, I hope, as a man would. There’d be no need to bring emotion into it, would there?”

“No need. But that’s how it goes. Women
are
emotion mongers, as I know from painful experience. And that sort of emotion can disrupt a team of men who’d normally work together happily for months on end.”

She wanted to shout, “You can’t say women do this, women do that, as if we were all as alike as peas in a pod. You can’t generalize about women. It’s illogical. It’s absurd.”

Instead she said quietly, “So you think I would make trouble, Professor Vining?”

“Perhaps. At any rate I prefer not to take the risk.”

“If you think...” she tried again, and fell silent, biting her lip.

How could she assure him, witheringly, that she had no emotional interest whatsoever in any male member of his precious dig, when only a short while ago she had been thrown into a tumult of emotion, simply because
he
had smiled at her?

“I—I think you’re utterly unfair,” she said lamely.

“Possibly. Nevertheless...” His tone was final.

With a gesture of frustration she ran her fingers through the shining chestnut hair that curled softly around her head. Professor Vining flicked a brief glance at it, his face expressionless. She dropped her hands into her lap.

“May I know what you intend to do, then?”

“I’m sorry, Miss Linden. I must send you back to London.”

Back to the cold February wind, the sleet and slushy snow.

BOOK: Summer Lightning
12.96Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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