After a two-year wait, Jamar finally had the opportunity to shoot his brother out of the sky. Now that the slime worm, Cade, had arrived, Jamar's cunning would pay off. Banking his spaceship to lock on his brother's craft, Jamar targeted Cade in his cross hairs. And fired.
Jamar's missile homed in on the ship breaking out of orbit. At this angle, it couldn't miss. But even as a thrill of satisfaction sizzled through Jamar, he noted three discharges and the pilot's ejection from the craft.
He checked the scanner and pounded his fist on the console.
Damn, Cade. The man possessed more tricks than a dock rat. Instead of attempting to return fire, he'd ejected his precious cargoalong with himself. So when Jamar's missile struck and Cade's ship disintegrated into a ball of flames, the stubborn bastard hadn't died.
Jamar swore and brought powerful scopes on line, watching as his brother plunged into the sea. He prayed he'd soon be fish food. Cade should never have been allowed to leave the creche. But that slime sucker had fooled his educators and his taskmasters, hiding his minuscule measure of cunning behind a devious mask. Cade's deception was a blight on all Jamar held sacredorder and discipline. So when the rebel had secretly conspired to foment discontent and disrupt the economy, Jamar had sworn to crush the nuisance.
Yet, his brother still breathed. But not for long.
It wasn't every day that Shara Weston saw a man fall out of an otherwise empty sky. Back in her Hollywood days, she would have assumed coke and booze accounted for the strange sight of a man plummeting toward the sea. But Shara had abandoned her movie career almost five years ago and she hadn't sniffed, injected or drunk herself into oblivion in almost a decade. She couldn't be hallucinating.
The sonic boom's echo that had drawn her attention from the Polynesian coral reef to the sky had been real. Lifting her head from the turquoise water, she'd anxiously thrust back her face mask and searched for the aircraft responsible for disturbing her late afternoon swim in her favorite island cove.
But she couldn't see any aircraftjust a body falling through clouds too wispy to hide a plane. Shara held her breath, watching him fall, waiting for his parachute to deploy. It didn't.
When the horrifying notion finally sank into her stunned brain that no canopy was about to flare open, Shara's adrenaline revved. Replacing her mask over her eyes, her snorkel into her mouth, she swam for her boat, using her flippers to propel her through the water. Years of swimming made her quick, powerful and efficient.
As her arms churned the water in an effort to reach her boat, her thoughts swirled over the mystery of the man's fall. It didn't matter if he was a downed military pilot or a stuntman or a paparazzi come to spy on her in a plan gone terribly wrong, Shara couldn't survive another death on her conscience. Whatever his circumstances, she was the only person around who could help him. Her home on Haven Island in the South Pacific was wonderfully private, yet sometimes privacy could be damn inconvenient, especially if he required medical care.
He crashed into the ocean about twenty feet from her and struck the surface with enough force for a backlash wave to tug her under. Spinning ninety degrees to the left, she searched for him in the clear water. Bubbles surrounded his body but she made out a golden flight suit and his dark hair.
Please, please let him be alive.
Praying he wasn't a dead body someone had pushed out of a passing plane to dispose of, hoping his limbs would begin to move and he'd swim toward the surface, she hovered a moment. But he remained as still as her heart that seemed to have stopped beating.
She'd heard of freak accidents where people had survived a fall from such heights. So if he was alive and the force of the fall had merely knocked the wind from his lungs, she might yet save him. Shara gulped a large breath of fresh air through her snorkel, then dived downward. He was about four meters below the surface, and with the sea calm and the sun bright, she had no difficulty snagging him. Grabbing his gloved hand, she tugged, kicking them both upward.
She burst back to the surface and gratefully sucked oxygen into her lungs. As she breathed, she turned him unto his back, slung an arm around his neck and shoulder, and staying on her side, swam him toward the stern of her boat.
There was no way from her position in the water that she could shove the man's large body unto the diving platform. Somehow, she tossed her flippers into the boat, then climbed aboard with one hand while preventing him from floating away with her other. With both her feet planted on the decking, she hauled him up, first his powerful chest, then his muscular legs. She tossed aside her mask and snorkel, then wasting no time, she rolled him onto his back, pleased a pulse beat in the strong cords of his neck, but he wasn't breathing.
Tilting back his head, she pinched closed his nostrils, placed her lips over his mouth and blew air into his lungs. "Come on. Come on. Come on."
She exhaled more air into his mouth.
"Breathe. Damn you. Breathe."
Pale as a jellyfish, he didn't so much as flicker one black eyelash. Fierce determination compelled Shara to keep filling his lungs with air. No blood seeped from his nose, mouth or ears. He had a pulse and he was not going to die in her puddle of the ocean. Surely he hadn't been under water long enough to drown.
"Take a breath. Come on, man. Stop being so difficult. One breath."
He coughed, spit out water. With a groan, he opened his eyes, sea green eyes as deep as her lagoon. Bronzed skin tones replaced his former pallor. Relief washed over her, even as she noted his features. A bold nose and a strong jaw complemented his direct stare and made him as handsome as any of her costars, if she discounted the twist of his lips that grimaced in obvious pain.
With another grunt, he clasped one hand over his obviously injured shoulder, while still managing to convey his interest in her with a piercing stare. The reminder that she wore only a minuscule bikini caused a smidgeon of wariness to trickle through her psyche. Now that she was fairly certain he'd live, she wondered if he posed a threat.
Was it simply coincidence that out of the entire Pacific Ocean, he'd crashed in her backyard? She had to consider if he'd deliberately sought her out. While the world hadn't forgotten Shara Weston the movie star, reporters came to Haven much less often now that she was merely a casting consultant. But she remained wary, knowing that one compromising photograph could sell for big bucks. One exclusive scoop could make a reporter's career.
"Easy. Don't sit up yet." Shara placed a hand on his good shoulder, pleased at the warmth that indicated he'd thrown off the chill of the deep.
"I'm fine." Voice tough, but threaded with pain, he ignored her instructions. Shoving his good hand onto the deck, he raised himself to a prone position, shaded his eyes from the sun and searched the empty sky. At his effort, sweat beaded on his brow. "Have you seen anything . . . odd?"
"Other than you falling out of the sky?" she cracked, and when he didn't react, she figured from the way he cradled his arm that he was in more pain that he wanted to admit. "After your swan dive into the ocean, you may have dislocated that shoulder."
He licked his top lip, apparently needing the taste of salt to believe he'd fallen into the ocean. Glancing sideways at her, he spoke carefully, almost as if he feared he might offend. "You have medical training?"
"You're holding that arm just like my stunt double did after Sweetie Pie bucked her off."
"Finest horse that ever made a movie." She bit her bottom lip. "Maybe you should"
"I'm fine." The confident timbre in his tone suggested he was accustomed to giving orders.
He obviously wasn't fine. As he clutched his forearm to take the weight off his shoulder, his fingers trembled. Yet, with his gaze once more on the sky, he exuded masculinity, even as he again licked his top lip and a tiny smile of satisfaction curled his lip. The breeze carried his tantalizing scent to her nostrils and sunlight glinted off his reflective gold flight suit that molded to his broad shoulders. His wet dark hair, cut military short, spiked straight up and emphasized his chiseled cheekbones. A chest wider than the Pacific Ocean revealed the guy was in shape, possibly dangerous, reminding her that she had no idea of his intentions.
Shara stepped into her boat, opened a locker and tossed him a towel. Feeling too vulnerable in her skimpy bikini, she thrust her arms into a robe and tugged the belt tight.
Plucking two bottles of ice water from the cooler, she kept one, untwisted the cap of the second and offered it to her guest who had yet to make use of the towel. "Shara Weston."
When Cade held her glance and introduced himself as if he'd never heard of her or the scandal, he raised her impression of him another notch. However, unless he was in too much pain for her name and face to register, or unless he'd grown up under a rock in a third-world country, he'd undoubtedly read her name and had seen her face plastered on any of a dozen magazine covers during her scandalous heyday.
"Thanks for . . . saving my life." Cade accepted the water bottle without letting his eyes drop to the open v-neck of her robe, winning another point in his favor.
"No problem." She twisted off the cap of her bottle, took a healthy swig, appreciating the cool liquid on her parched throat. Shara hated personal questions so she hesitated to ask them. But her curiosity got the better of her. "You a pilot?"
"It's one of my skills." He downed his water in several long gulps, then neatly recapped the bottle with only one hand.
When he didn't volunteer more information, she raised an eyebrow. "So exactly how did you end up here?"
A muscle clenched along his jaw. "I was shot down."
No kidding. And he'd survived a fall without a parachute. True, he'd landed in the water, but still, he'd fallen thousands of feet and the crash should have broken every bone in his body and caused all kinds of internal injuries. That he'd survived was a miracle.
But why hadn't she seen any burning metal falling into the ocean? "Where's your plane?"
"When another pilot locked onto me, I ejected before he got off his shot," he explained with a commanding air of self-confidence, as if he hadn't questioned his decision to eject for even a second. "The missile disintegrated my craft."
She hadn't heard of a war breaking out, especially over Polynesia. She didn't even believe any nearby islands possessed a landing strip long enough for military aircraft either, but she supposed an aircraft carrier could be nearby.
"Where are you from? Who shot you down?" She shuddered. She knew all too well about accidents involving weapons. "Were you on a training mission that somehow went wrong?"
"That's classified." He craned his neck to search the sky yet again.
"Did you take off from a"
"That's classified, too." The words sounded dangerous, menacing, but he delivered them softly, almost with regret.
"You're just full of secrets."
"You have no idea." Cade grinned, his smile all the more charming for his attempt to ignore the pain in his shoulder. It had been so long since she'd allowed a man to talk to her, never mind charm her, that the sudden warming heat in her core took her by surprise.
"Is your wingman coming to rescue you"
"I'm alone." He had a solitary air about him, as if accustomed to the success or failure of a mission riding solely on his broad shoulders. However, she sensed no violence or threat coming from him and that eased her mind over her own safety. She didn't like the idea of bringing a stranger to Haven, but between his injury and the storm clouds moving in from the west, she saw no other choice.
"Let's get you back to my house and take care of that shoulder."
He turned irritated sea green eyes on her. "You haven't been listening."
"Sure I have. You said that your shoulder's fine." Shara moved to the bow of her boat, pulled up the anchor and secured it on deck. Her sarcasm got the better of her. "In fact, you're in Olympic gold medal form, no doubt able to swim across the ocean back to wherever you came from."
He let out a soft chuckle, then winced. "I wouldn't go that far."
"Your pupils are dilated. When the shock wears off, the pain will likely increase." She started the engine, turned starboard and set a course for her dock. When she noted his keen interest in a gorgeous stand of royal palms, she spoke with pride. "Haven's a tiny island, about one hundred acres of paradise, but I have my own water source and there's a surprising variety of flora and fauna."
"You own all of this?" Cade moved into the copilot's seat, careful to avoid jarring his arm.
She smiled with pride. "I bought Haven from a nervous seller. When the volcano at the south end rumbled and shot ash into the sky, I convinced him to sell the place to me."
Cade's gaze scanned the southern peak and returned to rest on her, his eyes full of curiosity. "You aren't worried the volcano will blow?"
She shrugged. "I had experts look over the place. They figure there's as much chance of an eruption here as there is of an earthquake taking out LA."
As she navigated through the reef and along the shoreline, they passed papaya, mango and breadfruit trees, several varieties of coconut palms and dense tropical plantings full of ferns, palmettos and banana plants. Wild chickens, iguanas, and turtles roamed the island, but Haven housed nothing more dangerous than an occasional mosquito that she could swat awayuntil now.
As an ex-actress Shara was good at reading people, but she couldn't get a bead on Cade Archer. Composed, intelligent, thoughtful, he kept his feelings checked. And he didn't talk about himself unless she pressed. Although he hadn't given her one solid reason to question his integrity, she sensed a well-hidden determination in the angle of his jaw and the glint in his eyes as he assessed his surroundings and took in the scenery with more than a casual eye.
"Would you consider selling your island?"
She shook her head. The first three years she'd lived here, she'd never left. Although during the last twenty-four months, she'd vacationed and had done some consulting abroad, Haven was not for sale. "This is my home. To me, it's paradise. No press. No trick or treaters. No nosy neighbors."
"You live here all alone?"
She hesitated, then nodded, seeing no point in lying when he'd see for himself soon enough.
His eyebrows rose in surprise or disapprovalshe couldn't be sure. "Don't you fear pirates? Or storms? Or what if you get sick or hurt or lonely?"
"I have a satellite phone and a shotgun." And a vibrator, but she kept that fact to herself. In all ways important, she could take care of herself. "I also have medical books that will instruct us how to set your shoulder. Unfortunately for you, I don't keep painkillers on hand."
"Why not?" For an extra beat, he studied her face with an enigmatic expression.
"What I don't have, I can't ingest." She kept her tone light, noting a wry but indulgent glint in his eyes as her thoughts veered to the thirty-year-old bottle of scotch she kept on her mantle. Many a night she'd taken that bottle down, played with the seal, but it had yet to be broken.
She'd love a drink right nowto take the edge off a disconcerting day. No longer accustomed to sharing space with another human being, much less entertaining, she couldn't help feeling as if he'd invaded her world, her personal space. She'd moved to Haven in order to heal. And Cade's presence and questions were bringing back painful memories.
The Chevas had been a present from Bruce Langston, her leading man and husband's first-ever gift to her. During their four-year relationship, she'd never opened the bottle, and after his death, she'd kept her promise to him to stop drinking. She'd saved the aged alcohol as a memento, not only of their too-brief marriage but to test her willpower, to prove she was still strong enough to resist temptation.
With the afternoon's sun setting into the west, thunder clouds moved in. The breeze kicked up and the ocean responded by spewing white caps. In deference to her injured guest, she kept the boat speed slow and the bouncing to a minimum. However, by the time she'd entered her tranquil and protected cove on the lee side of the island to dock, Cade's bronzed face had paled to a sickly white and he clenched his teeth against the pain.
After she secured the boat with a line at the bow and another at the stern, he carefully climbed onto her dock, his breath coming in sharp grunts accentuated by a soft hiss. He staggered and two deep lines of worry appeared between his eyes.
Taking a quick step to his good side, she slipped an arm around his waist and tried not to recall how long it had been since she'd last touched another human being. "Think you can make it to the house?"
His knees buckled, and she took the brunt of his weight on her shoulder. If she hadn't supported him, he might have toppled into the water or onto the dock and caused additional injuries. Shoving her shoulder into his armpit, she half-carried, half-dragged him toward her home.
"You can make it to the porch, can't you?" she coaxed. "One step. That's right. Now another."
Between Cade's clammy skin and the shudders that racked his body, she feared he had internal injuries and was about to keel over. But without his help, she'd never make it from the dock and over the stone path along the beach, never mind carry him up her porch stairs. Cade was a big, rugged man. Although she tightly gripped him, her muscles ached and her legs shook from her effort. She needed him to remain conscious and keep his feet under him.
He spoke with calm and authority. "I must . . . rest."
"Not yet. Soon," she promised. "Soon you can rest." She feared if they collapsed, she might not coax him back onto his feet. Together they covered the last dozen yards but wobbled to a halt at the bottom of the steps. "We have to go up."
"Up," he agreed with a cross between a grunt and a groan and a curse.
Breath coming in pants, muscles quivering with effort, Shara urged him with words and pushed him with as much strength as she could muster to climb one step, then another. The ten steps seemed like ten miles. And when they reached her porch, his legs buckled. She'd barely lowered him onto a chaise lounge before he passed out.
Shara didn't attempt to wake him. If he'd suffered from internal injuries, there was nothing she could do to help him, but if she could find the medical book and figure out how to pop his shoulder back into place before he came to, it would be a blessing. Hurrying into her home, she automatically wiped her sandy feet on a braided throw rug before treading across her wooden floors into the library. This was where she read scripts for A-list actors to help them decide whether to accept or turn down a proffered role. This was where she corresponded with the world, where her satellite cell phone and the occasional mail boat kept her in touch with friends and clients.
She'd stocked her library with hundreds of books and she'd catalogued them by categories. Gardening and food preparation took up one shelf of her bookcase. Engine repair, boating and navigation manuals shared shelving with carpentry and fishing books. Heading straight for the medical section, she removed a text from the top shelf and her first aid kit from her bottom desk drawer. With a scowl, she stopped by the fireplace to pluck the Chevas bottle from the mantle.
She'd vowed never to break the bottle's seal.
But did it count if the hooch wasn't for her?
Shara snatched a glass from her kitchen and returned to her front porch to find Cade once again conscious, but lying in the exact same position in which she'd left him. The sun had set and she flipped on a light. He didn't turn his head, but followed her movements with his eyes. His chest heaved and his breath sounded raspy. His color remained wan.
Pulling up a chair beside him, she opened the Chevas, poured three fingers into a glass. The rich golden color and the savory scent made her mouth water, but she ignored her burning yen for one quick sip.
Instead, she lifted Cade's head with one hand and tipped the rim of the glass to his lips with the other. "Drink."
He sniffed. Took a gulp. And sputtered. "Are you trying to poison me?"
How ironic that he didn't like the taste of the scotch that she had to fight against downing. "Chevas will help ease the pain."
"Sure." His reaction and questions seemed peculiar. She placed a hand on his forehead to check for fever but his flesh felt normal to her. She held the glass to Cade's mouth again. "Drink some more."
He sipped and swallowed, screwing up his eyes but downing the alcohol. She kept the glass to his lips until he'd drained it. And when he lay back, he mumbled, his tone low and husky. "Mmm. That wassssn't ssso baddd."
Wow. The alcohol must have made a beeline from his gut to his brain. She supposed it was too much to hope the booze would work that fast on his pain as well. "How's the shoulder?"
"Goodd 'nuf to hold you." His voice, deep and sensual, sent a ripple of interest through her. A ripple she was determined to ignore. So what if lately she'd been yearning for conversationone that wasn't by satellite phone. So what if she missed chatting about her day during a walk or over dinner with someone who cared. So what if she missed touching and being touched? Her recent yearnings likely meant she would be all-too susceptible to the first man she'd let set foot on the island in five years.
Annoyed she wasn't immune to his charms, Shara sighed, needing a distraction from the totally hot man on her lounge chair. She picked up the textbook and turned to the back where the appendix listed medical problems.
Cade hiccupped and then spoke slowly to enunciate each word with the excess care of a drunk. "You're reading backwards."
Shara turned to the page she needed, consulted the diagram. Did she possess the strength to pull his arm straight then slowly release it back to the correct position in the socket? The medical text suggested the procedure should only be done by an expert, and her stomach rolled as she read how she could cause more damage. But her closest neighbor was a three-day boat ride away, and by sea, it could take a week to reach a real doctor. The text also said that the sooner the arm returned to the proper position, the sooner it would heal.
"Give me your hand." She moved back her chair to the correct angle.
Jaw thrust forward, Cade shook his head, his profile strong and rigid. "Don't want to."
She didn't argue. Leaning forward, she picked up his long, callused fingers and gently raised his arm. Following the text's directions, she placed her bare foot under his armpit but on his ribs.
Two dimples appearing in his cheeks, Cade grinned at the sight of her foot. "Pretty toes."
"This may hurt." Betraying none of her uncertainty over the procedure, Shara slowly applied tension, tugging on his wrist and implementing pressure with her foot against his ribs to cause the necessary separation between his shoulder and the socket.
In fascination, Cade stared at her toes. Then he jerked up his head, his mouth twisting into a line of discomfort, his eyes hardening. "Ow. That hurts."
"Sorry." She kept right on tugging.
Cade grunted, his arms stiffened. His entire body tensed and bowed.
And something in his joint moved. Very slowly, she lessened the pressure. When she finished, she noted his hand had slipped into hers and his former grimace had relaxed noticeably. "How do you feel?"
Eager affection radiated from him. "Kiss me again."
Again? "We've never kissed." She attempted to draw back her hand.
He refused to release his grip. "You kissed me back to life. I tasted the salt on your lips."
He remembered her artificial respiration? How was that possible? He'd been unconscious. Shara didn't have to be a doctor to know Cade's reactions were all wrong. First he'd survived a fall from a plane without a parachute, without sustaining one broken bone and apparently no internal injuries beyond the dislocated shoulder. Next, he'd recalled memories from when he'd been unconscious, and last, she'd never seen anyone who had gotten drunk that fast.
And his flight suit was composed of a very strange material. She could have sworn when he'd been in the water that the sleeves had covered his arms down to his gloved hands, but now the material was short, hugging impressive biceps.
Shara really could use a drink. She stared at the open Chevas. Licked her bottom lip.
He tugged her closer and she didn't want to risk hurting his shoulder by resisting. She sat beside him, close enough to inhale the scotch on his breath that taunted her, tempted her. If she kissed him, she'd taste the delicious liquor on his lips.
While the alcohol had clearly lowered his inhibitions, she didn't have an excuse for the sudden desire to kiss him that flooded her. She simply craved the boozenot the man.
Attributing her sudden fascination with his mouth and the yearning for him to the overload of leftover adrenaline from her taxing afternoon, she squared her shoulders. "How's your shoulder? Will you let me fix a sling?"
"So pretty." His tone was singsong but pleasant and musical and very powerfully male. "I'll let you do whatever you want with me."
Sheesh. One little drink and Military Man had turned into charming Lover Boy. Wary, but amused, she finally disentangled her hand from his and opened the first aid kit.
Cade raised his head. Catching her by surprise, he brushed back a loose lock of hair from her face and kissed her brow. "Thanks for making the pain go away."
"You're welcome." His eyes held hers, almost as if he knew exactly what he was saying.
Again she thought his reaction odd. She'd seen a lot of drunks. None of them got wasted as fast as he had. None of them recovered as quickly. It was almost as if his system worked at super-human speed.
"I didn't mean for us to meet like this," he mumbled, his tone cagey.
"Really?" She dug through the first aid kit, putting aside ointment, bandages, scissors. Behind a roll of tape, she found a folded sling.
"I was supposed to . . .
She shook out the sling and adjusted the neck strap to the roomiest setting. "You were supposed to what?"
"Supposed to seduce you."
He wasn't making any sense. Obviously the alcohol was doing his talking and she took no offense. "You're a pilot and you've been shot down."
"But not in hostile territory." He seemed quite proud of himself and his gaze on her was as soft as a caress. "You like me, right?"
"Sure." She hadn't known him long enough to make a decision, but so far, so good. He'd piqued her interest, made her aware of him as a man. She slipped the material over his head, bent his arm and placed it into the sling. "I'm certain you're a really great guy. But you shouldn't get any wild"
The roar of an aircraft cut off her words. A roar so loud it sounded as if it the plane was about to crash into her home.
Tilting her head to search the night sky, she saw hellish sparks. Flames. Smoke. Surely two different people couldn't crash into her island on the same day?
Her porch shook as if sprayed with hail that ripped large holes in the deck. Dust from the eaves rained down and her eyes teared.
What the hell was going on?
Cade grabbed her shoulders, tucked her against his chest. A strong, hard chest. "Get down. We're under attack."