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Authors: Candice Proctor

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Beyond Sunrise

BOOK: Beyond Sunrise
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Beyond Sunrise by Candice Proctor

Can life ever be a real adventure without falling in love?

Ever since she can remember, India McKnight has craved adventure, dreaming of lands past the horizon. Following her calling, she becomes a travel writer, a vocation that takes her far and wide. All the while, she vows never to risk her freedom by falling in love. But when she sails to the exotic and unknown regions of the South Pacific, a rugged man brave enough to be her guide just may be the one who can lay claim to her heart.

Having turned his back on the "civilized" world long ago, Jack Ryder has been living in seclusion, hiding from the pain and betrayal buried in his past. When the beautiful, hotheaded Scotswoman arrives at his hut looking for a guide, he agrees to take her to the island of Takaku--despite the challenge--just to prove that her stubborn theories about native life are wrong. But when their journey turns dangerous, their fates become forever entwined. Forced to rely on each other for their very survival, they soon discover that passion and even deeper peril await them . . . just beyond the sunrise.

2003 AAR Best Cabin or Road Romance

An Ivy Book

Published by The Random House Ballantine Publishing Group

Copyright © 2003 by Candice Proctor

Published in the United States by The Random House Ballantine Publishing Group, a division of Random House, Inc., New York, and simultaneously in Canada

ISBN 0-345-44718-2

Manufactured in the United States of America

First Edition: May 2003

Prologue

The blame all lay with India McKnight's mother. Or at least that's what the Reverend Hamish McKnight used to say on those rare occasions when he'd look up from his collections of sermons and theological treatises long enough to give some thought to the existence of his only child. What had Mrs. McKnight expected, he used to say, giving the girl such an outlandish, heathen name? And the books the woman used to read to her—
The Arabian Nights
and
Marco Polo
and all manner of other ungodly tales that might have been precisely calculated to inflame a child's imagination and set her to dreaming of faraway, exotic places when she should have been practicing her stitches and learning her catechism.

But when he considered his daughter's future—which was admittedly seldom—Hamish McKnight found consolation in the thought that, eventually, India would be forced to give up her unfeminine thirst for adventure and travel, and settle into the predictable, conformable life of a wife, preferably to some sober, sensible vicar much like the Reverend McKnight himself. Because Hamish McKnight died before this comfortable illusion was shattered by reality, he never knew how wrong he was.

Chapter One

The trade winds blowing off the Coral Sea were warm and sweet, evocative reminders of faraway places that whistled through the rigging of the ketches and sloops riding at anchor in the sun-spangled Rabaul Harbor, and flapped the heavy skirt of Miss India McKnight's sensible serge traveling outfit.

"Very sorry, mum," said the middle-aged Hindu trader who stood before her, his short legs splayed wide against the weathered dock's unpredictable pitch, "but help you I cannot."

India McKnight, spinster, Scotswoman, and travel writer of some renown, was accustomed to meeting— and overcoming—resistance. When the trading captain made as if to go around her, India simply shifted her weight until she was once more in his path. Since the man was short and slight, and India stood five feet ten in her stockings, the maneuver brought him to a stand again. "I was told your ketch is for hire," she said, softening the overt belligerence of her blocking tactics with a smile.

The Hindu's head rocked
back and forth on his shoulders in a motion that looked like
no,
but actually meant
yes.
"It is. But you don't want to go to Takaku. Not to the southern bay."

"On the contrary," said India, her voice calm
and even, "I assure you that I most definitely do."

"It's dangerous. Very dangerous." The Hindu's eyes bulged out as he leaned forward and dropped his voice in the manner of one imparting a terrible secret. "Cannibals, you know. A man from the London Missionary Society went there last
year. The Takakus listened to him read his Bible, and they let him pray over them, and then they had him for dinner. As the main course."

"I am not a missionary, and I am not asking you to accompany me on my expedition up the slopes of Mount Futapu. All you need do is anchor in the bay, convey me ashore in your dinghy, and wait some four or five hours until I return."

"The channel through the reefs at the southern tip of the island is dangerous." The Hindu squinted off across the brilliant azure water of the harbor. In the
misty
distance, far beyond Rabaul's golden shoreline and waving coconut palms, the jagged outline of the island of Takaku, with its towering volcanic cones and dark secrets, was just visible. "Very dangerous," he said again. "Rocky and narrow."

India tightened her grip on her large traveling reticule in a way that drew the trader's attention. "I'll pay you double your normal fee."

He licked his salt-cracked lips. "You want to go to Takaku? I take you to the northern end of the island, to the French port of La Rochelle. It's pretty. Very pretty. And no cannibals." An enthusiastic smile beamed, then dimmed. "Lots of French, though."

India shook her head. "It is the Faces of Futapu I wish to study, and they are far easier to approach from the southern bay than by an overland expedition from La Rochelle."

The Hindu stared at her, his full-cheeked, flat-nosed face becoming thoughtful. "Now I remember why I thought I had heard of you. You're that crazy Englishwoman writing a book about the Polynesians. There are no Polynesians on Takaku. Only black men. Headhunters." He paused. "Hungry headhunters."

"I am Scots, not English." India's tone was rapidly becoming less calm, less controlled. Near the end of the dock, a British naval captain standing with two other officers had turned his head and was studying her intently. "I know there are no Polynesians on Takaku now," she said, carefully lowering her voice. "But there are Polynesians on the island of Ontong Java, and on Tikopia, and if it's true that—"

"You want to go to Ontong Java? The steamer will take you there. It stops at many islands, Neu Brenen and Ontong Java and Fiji, before going on to Samoa and the Marquesas and the Sandwich Islands."

"I plan to visit many of those places eventually, but at the moment it is Takaku I must see."

"Not from my ketch," said the trader, and before India realized what he was about, he darted sideways and was around her, the intense tropical sunlight gleaming on his sweat-sheened brown cheeks as he threw a panicked look back at her and trotted toward the shore.

"Blast it," muttered India beneath her breath, for he was the fourth trader she had approached, and she was running out of options.

At the end of the dock, the British naval captain nodded to his associates and began to walk toward her. He was a tall, big-boned man who looked to be in his early thirties, with attractive, even features and pale gray eyes that crinkled at the corners. "I beg your pardon, madam," he said, touching one hand to the brim of his hat as he came abreast of her. "But you are Miss India McKnight, aren't you? The travel writer?"

India felt herself glow warmly with pleasure. The Hindu copra trader had heard of her, too, of course, but his opinion of her had obviously been less than flattering. "Why, yes. I am."

An open smile spread across the captain's suntanned face. "I'm Simon Granger. That's my ship out there, the
Barracuda."
He nodded toward a sleek corvette riding at anchor in the sun-drenched blue waters of the harbor. "I'm afraid I couldn't help overhearing your conversation, and I must say, I don't think you're likely to find anyone here in Rabaul willing to put in to the southern bay of Takaku."

India met his engaging smile with one of her own. "You're going to tell me it's dangerous. The pass through the reef is narrow and rocky, and the natives there have reverted to their old habit of solving their problems by eating them."

He gave a startled laugh. "That's about what I was going to say, yes."

"Then I am all the more determined to go there. In my experience, the most fascinating and rewarding places to visit are always those I have been expressly warned to avoid."

He laughed again, then sobered as he stared thoughtfully into the distance. "There is someone who might be willing to take you to Takaku, if you truly are determined to go there. His name is Ryder. Jack Ryder. He knows the reef around Takaku better than most, and he's not afraid of cannibals."

India looked at Captain Granger with interest. "Why not?"

"Perhaps because he lived with them for two years."

India sucked in her breath. "He lived with
cannibals?
An Englishman?"

"He's not an Englishman, exactly. He comes from Queensland, in the Australian Colonies."

"I see," murmured India, for it explained much. They had quite a reputation for lawlessness, the Australians. Not as bad as the island headhunters, of course, but bad.

"He has a small start-up copra plantation on Neu Brenen," the captain was saying. "There's a steamer leaving first thing in the morning that could drop you there."

"He lives on Neu Brenen? But that's a German island, isn't it?"

The captain's gently molded lips tightened. "The Germans think it is. And their gunboat in the harbor is the main reason Ryder settled there."

India knew a tremor of apprehension that mingled, contradictorily, with a quiver of interest. "He's a buccaneer, is he?"

"Not exactly. But he is a rough character. You need to understand that."

"Not too dangerous, surely, or you wouldn't have told me about him, now would you?" She held out her hand to him. "Our meeting was fortuitous, Captain. I appreciate your information."

Captain Granger clasped her hand in his, but shook his head. "There are many who would say I have done you a disservice, that I should have warned you to stay far away from the likes of Jack Ryder. And that I should have tried harder to talk you out of going to Takaku."

"That you could not have done."

Amusement deepened the crinkled edges of his eyes. "No. I don't think I could." He started to turn away, then paused to glance back at her, his brows drawn together as if by a worrisome thought. "If you do decide to look up Jack Ryder, it probably wouldn't be a good idea to mention my name."

"You are old enemies?"

He showed his teeth in a smile that struck India as cold and fierce and far from charming. "On the contrary. We were the best of friends. Once."

Chapter Two

The surf broke on Neu Brenen's offshore coral reef with a boom that was like a continuous, earth-shuddering volley of deadly cannon fire. Sometimes, Jack liked to climb the
cliffs
at the head of the bay and simply let the power of the crashing waves reverberate through him in a primitive, drumbeatlike evocation of eternity that made him feel both humble and oddly, exhilaratingly free.

But at the moment, Jack Ryder had a headache, and the endless bloody
boom-boom-boom
of the surf was about to drive him out of his bloody mind. Too much kava, he told himself as he staggered out onto the pandanus-roofed veranda of his bungalow. Finding the water bucket he'd left near the steps still half full, he upended its contents over his head, the breath wheezing out of him as the surprisingly cool liquid coursed down his naked chest and back, for he wore only a laplap wrapped low, native style, around his hips, leaving his legs and feet bare.

Shaking his head like a wet dog, Jack opened his eyes and squinted against the fierce tropical sun that turned the wind-whipped ripples on the lagoon below into a blinding panoply of diamond flashes. For a moment, he thought he saw a longboat striking toward his dock from the rusty old steamer riding at anchor in the bay. But then he thought, Nah, couldn't be, and shut his eyes again.

Above the din of the distant surf, the gentle patter of footfalls on the path around the side of his bungalow was barely audible. "I was wondering when you'd make it out of bed," said a young, cheerful voice.

Jack opened one eye, saw Patu's shining, smiling face, and groaned. Jack thought about leaning against the wall behind him, but the problem with woven bamboo walls was that you couldn't use them as a prop in a pinch. He went to sit at the top of the steps instead, and lowered his aching forehead to his updrawn knees.

"There's talk about an Englishman named Granger looking for you," said Patu. "Simon Granger, captain of the HMS
Barracuda."

"I've heard."

"They say he wants to see you hanged. Him and his first lieutenant, who just happens to be a cousin of the bloody Prime Minister of England. They say he's
sworn
to see you hanged."

"I've heard that, too."

"You don't seem too worried about it."

"You think I should be worried?" Jack looked up to find that Patu was no longer smiling.

"I would be."

The boy had been with Jack for almost four years now. Patu said he was probably around fifteen or sixteen years old, although no one knew for certain and he was so small and slight that he looked even younger. His mother was a Polynesian from an island near Tahiti, his father one of a long line of Englishmen who had sailed through the islands and made love to a dusky-skinned, exotic beauty, and then sailed away again. Most people thought Jack had adopted the boy, perhaps as some sort of atonement for the child Jack himself had abandoned, but the truth was that Patu had adopted Jack.

"I think you've been around the
papalagi
too long," Jack said now. "You need to go back to the lotus-eating islands of Polynesia, where the days are spent laughing and swimming, and the nights are for making soft, sweet love on palm-fringed, moonlit beaches."

"Huh." Patu came to sit on the step below Jack. Unlike Jack, Patu wore canvas trousers, an open-necked shirt, and shoes on his feet. "I think you musta done too much lotus-eating in your day." It was the irony of their friendship that while Patu had attached himself to Jack in order to learn the ways of that long-vanished English officer, Jack was determined not to let the boy forget the other part of his heritage, the Polynesian part.

In the bay below, sunlight gleamed on an eddy of water turned by a flashing oar.

"What you lookin' at?" said Patu.

Jack raised one hand to shade his eyes. "That ship that's just dropped anchor in the harbor."

"It's the steamer from Rabaul."

"Yeah. And why's it sending a boat to my dock?"

"Did you order something?"

"Through that rat- and cockroach-infested rust bucket?" Jack made a rude noise and frowned against the glare of the sun and the bleary haze of too many nights spent indulging in the pleasures of sin and excess. "What do you think?"

Patu climbed to the top step and peered into the distance. "I think something's coming, whether you ordered it or not." He grinned. "Or should I say,
someone.
A mail-order wife, maybe? Although from the looks of her, I'd say it's more likely somebody has decided you need your very own missionary, to convert you to the ways of the godly and save you from the fires of hell and damnation."

A terrible pain flashed across Jack's temple, and he groaned and lowered his head again. "You talk too much, boy. Just go down there and tell her to go away."

"Not me," said Patu. "She looks bigger than me. And meaner than you."

It was a bloody missionary, all right, Jack decided, frowning at the woman who sat ramrod straight at the prow of the longboat, her gloved hands gripping the plain handle of an austere parasol, the collar of her ugly, drab-colored gown buttoned up so high around her neck he wondered it didn't choke her.

He was standing near the end of his dock, his bare legs straddled wide, his arms crossed at his naked chest, when her boat knocked against the rough wooden pier.

"Kaoha nui,"
said the woman, evidently mistaking him for a Polynesian.

"G'day," said Jack, giving her his nastiest smile.

She blinked up at him, her nostrils flaring on a quick, startled breath as she took in the brown, nearly naked, overtly hostile length of him. He had to give her credit: she didn't miss a beat. "You must be Jack Ryder." The accent surprised him: crisp, no-nonsense Scots.

"That's right." He shifted his hands to his hips and leaned forward. "I don't know who you are or what you're doing here, but you can just tell these men to turn around and take you right back where you came from."

He'd made no move to offer her a hand, so she simply closed her parasol with a snap and clambered unaided up onto the dock with an agility that both surprised him and gave him a quick glimpse of long, slim calves and unexpectedly neat ankles disappearing into sensible, lace-up boots. "I am India McKnight," she said, carefully shaking out her skirts before she lifted her head and fixed him with a steady stare. "How do you do?"

He'd actually heard of her, although he wasn't about to tell her that. He even had one of her books.
In
the Footsteps of Montezuma,
it was called. It had been written with a wonderfully dry wit and an acerbic way of looking at the world that had appealed to him. He remembered finishing it and thinking, Now, that's one Scotswoman I wouldn't mind meeting.

Just went to prove how wrong a body could be, he thought.

"I've come to offer you a business proposition," she said, when he continued simply to stare at her.

"Not interested."

"How can you know when you haven't heard what it is yet?"

Patu had been right, Jack realized. The woman was a bloody Amazon. She barely had to tip back her head to meet his gaze squarely.

She nodded toward the sleek, American-built yacht riding at anchor in the lagoon. "Is that your boat?"

The glint of sunlight off the water hurt his eyes. It wasn't fair, really, having to deal with this bloody shark of a woman and a hangover, both at the same time. He hadn't even had time to take a bloody leak. He thought about taking one now, right off the end of the dock. That would surely send Miss Priss-faced McKnight scurrying back to her rusty steamer, where she'd probably sit down and write all about it for her next book. He wouldn't have expected the thought to give him pause, but it did.

"She's called the
Sea Hawk,"
Jack said, contenting himself with giving her another of his nasty smiles. "I won her off a couple of Yankee blackbirders in a poker game a few years back."

"And are you a blackbirder, Mr. Ryder?"

They were the lowest of the low, blackbirders. They called it recruiting, what they did, stealing young Melanesians and Polynesians and taking them away to work in the fields of Queensland and Fiji and South America, but it was really just another word for slaving. If she'd been a man, he'd probably have punched her one for that. As it was, he took a hasty step forward, then drew up short. "What do you think?"

She kept her gaze steady on his face, her gray eyes dark and solemn in a way that almost made him regret baiting her. "I think I owe you an apology," she said after a moment. "I hear you are familiar with the passage through the southern reef off Takaku."

She so took him by surprise that he answered her without thought. "Familiar enough. Why?"

"I would like to hire you to convey me to the bay below Mount Futapu. If we leave first thing tomorrow morning, we should be there before eleven. That would give me some four or five hours to climb the slopes of the volcano and investigate the so-called Faces of Futapu, and still—"

"Whoa, whoa, whoa." Jack brought up both hands to clutch the sides of his aching head. "I'm not
conveying
you anywhere, lady."

She gave him a calm, appraising look that took him straight from annoyance all the way to full fury. "You're concerned about the recent reports of cannibal activity in the area, I suppose," she said in a self-confident, faintly condescending tone that would have been enough, by itself, to aggravate him. "I can assure you, you will be in no danger. I am not asking you to accompany me in my ascent to the summit. You may remain safely aboard your yacht in the harbor."

"I don't give a rat's ass about the bloody cannibals," Jack bellowed. The echo of the shout reverberated in his head, making him groan.

She gave him another of those critical assessments, and this time he'd swear he saw a gleam of amusement sparkling in her clear gray eyes. "From the looks of things, Mr. Ryder, I'd say you have what we call in Scotland a
deevil of a haid.
Is that why you're so cranky?"

He walked right up to her, deliberately intimidating her with his big, nearly naked, sweat-sheened, sun-browned body. "I am not
cranky,"
he said, enunciating each word softly and carefully as he leaned into her, close enough that his breath stirred an errant, chestnut-colored curl peeking out from her sensible bonnet. "Nor am I some bloody tour guide. I'm an antisocial renegade wanted by the British bloody navy for mayhem and murder, which means you've probably far more to fear from me than from any headhunting black men of Takaku."

He saw her chest jerk as she sucked in a deep breath, her eyes growing wide as she stared up at him. She was younger than he'd first supposed, he realized, twenty-four or -five at the most, with smooth cheeks and fine eyes and the kind of clear-cut features that would probably be called handsome by those who admired that sort of woman. Jack didn't.

He also saw that she wasn't nearly as self-possessed as she liked to think she was. Her gaze skittered sideways to the longboat that still bobbed, waiting, beside the dock. She might not be afraid of cannibals, but a naked male chest in close proximity was obviously something else again. She probably would have gone away then and left him alone if he hadn't spoiled it all by adding, "Besides, the so-called Faces of Fatapu are a natural formation."

Too late, he saw the leap of interest in her eyes. "Natural? Are you certain? Because according to my sources—"

"Which sources?" Jack demanded, before he could stop himself.

"Dunsberry," she said, with a little lifting of her head, as if James Dunsberry were the definitive expert on the South Pacific.

"Huh. Dunsberry never got within a hundred miles of Takaku, let alone climbed to the summit of Mount Futapu. If he had, he'd have known that the Faces are just weirdly folded upthrusts of old lava."

"You've seen them?" Her lips parted on a little gasp of excitement that set him to thinking, for some reason he couldn't begin to understand, that this was exactly the kind of erotic, breathy noise she'd make when a man took her.

Jack stared off into the distance, and willed a certain wayward portion of his anatomy to behave itself. "Of course I've seen them," he muttered, wishing he were wearing something more confining than a twist of cloth around his hips.

"If it's true, you understand what this means, don't you?" she said, for all the world as if she were having an esoteric scholarly conversation in some stuffy London drawing room, rather than standing at the end of a weathered dock on a flyspeck of an island in the middle of the South Pacific, with a half-naked Aussie no-account preoccupied with lascivious thoughts of what she might look like if someone could ever get her out of that ugly, high-collared dress of hers.

"If it's true," she was saying, "then it is more important than ever that I go to Takaku and verify what you're saying. Dunsberry used the Faces of Futapu as proof of an ancient link between the rock-carving traditions of Laos and Burma and the statues and marae of the Marshall and Easter Island. But if he was wrong, if there never was a Polynesian rock-carving presence in Melanesia, then the break is significant."

"Just wait right there." Jack brought his bleary gaze and wandering attention back to focus on her animated face. "Where exactly do you think the Polynesians came from?"

"South America."

She said it with a tightening of her jaw and a steely gaze that defied him to laugh at her. He didn't laugh. But he did shake his head. "You're wrong."

"Am I?" Her tone told him she'd had this argument before. "The Polynesians are concentrated in the eastern islands of the Pacific. The common consensus, of course, is that they were forced to keep moving through the western islands such as New Guinea and the Solomons because of the presence of the headhunting Melanesians. But what if they're found predominantly in the eastern islands because they came from the east? It's the prevailing direction of the trade winds, isn't it? Botanists have documented numerous native South American plants throughout the islands—the sweet potato and coconut palm and many others. And if the
vegetation
could move from east to west, then why not the human inhabitants? I have compared photographs of the statues of Fatu Hiva with those I have seen myself in the jungles of Central and South America, and the similarities are startling."

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