Authors: Sally Clements
Skye had finished smearing antiseptic cream onto Tempest’s cut feet. She bandaged them and eased on a pair of soft bedsocks, then emptied away the bowlful of blood-tinged water.
She turned to Jake, sympathy in her eyes. ‘Do you want a quick shower, Jake? I’ve a casserole heating.’
‘I’ll get you some clean clothes.’ Daniel offered.
‘Great, thanks,’ Jake said, and followed Daniel out of the room.
‘I need to get something from the cottage.’ Tempest struggled to her feet, but her sister shook her head determinedly.
‘I’ll go get it. Your feet are a mess, and it’s cold and dark out there.’ Skye pulled on her Wellington boots, snagged a torch from the dresser and pushed the door open. ‘What is it you want?’
‘The maple box.’
Jake stepped under the powerful jets of hot water and closed his eyes, leaning against the shower wall for support. It had been a hellish couple of days. His body relaxed under the water’s onslaught, but his mind worried over the details.
She was such an impulsive wildcat, diving in to help him, not once but twice. Could she be involved somehow? He didn’t want to believe it, but doubt ate away at him. He squeezed a handful of lemon scented shampoo from the bottle on the shower rack, and rubbed it through his hair, then leant back to let the water flow down his chest.
When he’d come back into the kitchen and seen her sitting with her sister bathing her feet in the warm water, a rush of concern had taken his breath away. An echo of the time he first held her body steady and gazed into those blue eyes at the museum.
They were the most extraordinary eyes he’d ever seen. Blue like the flowers which sprung up everywhere in his mother’s rooftop garden.
What did she call them? Cupid’s Dart?
His mouth twisted. Cupid might very well have winged him, but it wasn’t a direct hit. He barely knew Tempest and she was altogether too feisty for his tastes, the woman just wouldn’t listen to reason.
Sure, he’d wanted to kiss her. When he held her temptingly curvy body against his and carried her in from the helicopter an unfamiliar yearning had taken his whole body captive. It must be because they had been forced together by the abduction. He was tired, exhausted, hungry. She wasn’t his type. His type was steady, dependable, reliable. Tempest ticked none of his boxes. He pushed errant thoughts of her soft mouth away and focused on the problem at hand.
Maman must be going through hell.
Paul’s involvement meant he couldn’t contact her; any careless move on his part would put her life in danger.
His eyes were dry and sore, and he rubbed them with the back of his hand. His solid, reliable father wasn’t here to help, hadn’t been since he’d acted in such an impulsive, reckless way he’d torn his family’s happy lives to pieces in an instant.
The only person his mother could rely on was Jake. And there was no way in hell he would let her down.
Towel-dried and dressed in some of Daniel’s clothes, Jake strode back into the kitchen. Tempest sat just where he’d left her, for once. Her hair was even redder when wet, and had started to form soft curls as it dried in the kitchen’s heat. Her sapphire eyes blazed in the pallor of her face, and black circles ringed them. The navy sweatshirt and matching trousers covered every inch of her delectable body. She was the furthest thing from a temptress, yet he yearned to kiss her.
‘Sit here.’ She patted the chair beside hers. ‘I’ll put some cream on your wrists.’
She cradled his hand between hers and the familiar flash of awareness shot up his arm. She felt it too. Her hands trembled and her eyes darkened to midnight.
‘You look better,’ Jake said.
She glanced away, avoiding the attraction that sprung to life between them. Her mouth looked so soft, inviting. He leant forward, compelled like a nail to a magnet. She pulled in a tiny breath, and reached for the open tube of cream.
His fingers laced through hers, intensifying the contact. His thumb rubbed the spot between thumb and index finger gently. There wasn’t any denying their connection. She
deny it. He wouldn’t let her.
She whispered his name, and a flare of heat burst to life, then faded as the back door opened. Tempest pulled her fingers away in a rapid rush.
Skye came in with a wooden box which she placed on the table.
‘Here it is.’ She took a heavy pot from the Aga, and placed it in the centre of the table. ‘Now, time for something to eat.’
Tempest quickly smoothed antiseptic cream over his wrists, eyes down, as a faint pink blush suffused her features. Her fingers trembled. When she finished she darted up away from him to fetch plates and glasses from the cupboard.
The moment drifted away, its echoes fading. Then Daniel joined the party, and they ate, the rich casserole and crusty bread sating one of his body’s hungers.
When the meal was cleared away and they sat with mugs of coffee in front of them, Tempest reached for the box.
‘I’ve had an idea about this robbery. I think we should let it go ahead.’
He stared at her, unbelieving. Was she involved with Paul, somehow? Was this all part of an elaborate plan?
‘I don’t understand.’
The muscles of his face tensed. His mother was in danger. There was no way any plan she might have would make sense. He glared at her, heart slamming shut instantly.
‘Not to let them steal the Egyptian exhibit, but to make them
they have.’ She opened the box. ‘You’ll need my help, and it will take some work, but I’m pretty sure we can get your mother out of there.’
Jake’s gaze shuttered.
‘Listen Red, I appreciate all you’ve done for me – ‘
‘I was in the museum for a reason, Jake, and it wasn’t just to look at the exhibits.’ She reached into the box and placed a colour photograph in front of him. ‘Do you know what this is?’
He picked it up and examined it carefully
‘Is this part of the gold exhibit?’
Tempest pulled a black velvet bag from the box and carefully released the drawstring holding it closed. Her smooth fingers smoothed over the velvet, setting off a traitorous response in his body, imagining those fingers caressing him instead of the bag. She slid out a gold bracelet and passed it to him across the table.
‘I’m a goldsmith. They want me to make two replicas.’
He turned the bracelet around in his big hands, examining it for potential flaws.
‘That one’s finished, and I’m just at the final polishing stage with the other one.’ She gestured towards the back door. ‘I live in a cottage at the bottom of the garden, and have my studio down there.’
‘So that’s why you were at the museum.’ Relief flooded over him.
‘Yes, I had a meeting with your mother. The museum wants to display my replicas when the originals return to the Cairo Museum. We could exchange the originals for the replicas before the theft. Paul could steal them, instead.’
Her mouth curved in a smile, her excitement evident.
‘And my mother could escape. I have miniature tracking devices we could fit into the replicas, so they could be tracked.’ He steepled his hands and brought them to his lips, turning the plan over in his mind. ‘That could work.’
‘Tee must help,’ Skye pointed out with irritating logic. ‘There’s no way to do it without her.’
There had to be some way to keep Tempest out of it. She went with her gut, just dived in to the most dangerous of situations. He couldn’t take responsibility for her. It was too much. Jake’s jaw clenched. ‘I don’t like it; it’ll be dangerous.’
‘We don’t really have a choice.’ Tempest said. ‘We need to act fast, before we lose the element of surprise.’
Jake frowned. ‘But how will we make the switch?’
The exhibition was due to arrive from Egypt in a couple of days. There were too many variables. Too much to go wrong.
‘I know the curator from the Egyptian Mus eum, we both do. He was a friend of our father’s and I’ve worked for him before. He’s coming over with the gold exhibit.’
Tempest’s eyes flickered like blue flame. Excitement lit her entire body. She was right. And she knew it.
‘There’s nothing we can realistically do until the morning.’ Daniel stood from the table, and ran a hand through his hair. ‘We should all get some sleep.’
‘The spare room is made up,’ Skye said. ‘And there are sheets in the airing cupboard to make up the blue room. Just borrow night things from there too.’
‘We’ll manage.’ Tempest threw her arms around her sister and hugged her tight. ‘Thanks for everything Skye. See you in the morning.’
Skye nodded, and made for the door. ‘See you tomorrow, Jake.’
Tempest wobbled and almost fell as she got up from the kitchen chair. Jake was off the chair instantly, holding her upright.
She stepped back as if unsettled by his nearness. ‘We’ll make up the bed. It’ll only take a minute.’
‘Find me the bedding. I’ll do it.’
She smiled weakly. ‘I’m next door.’
A noise permeated her consciousness, forcing Tempest from dreams of chests of gold doubloons and a tall dark pirate. She blinked in the morning light.
Skye’s spare room.
The events of the previous day flooded back in glorious Technicolor.
She crawled out of bed, and looked down at the nightie Skye had leant her. Skye had completely different taste. Where Tempest went for an oversized T-shirt to sleep in, Skye favoured light, cotton nighties with cleavage revealing necklines. The nightie swooped low in the front, and stopped a couple of inches above the cuts on her knees. It was just about decent. She pushed the door open, and dashed down the corridor to the bathroom.
To her horror, the door swung open just as she reached it.
Jake stood in the doorway. Her mouth dried instantly at the sight of his barely clad body. Dark hair dusted a wide brown chest, and his shoulders put Michelangelo’s David to shame. Her gaze swept lower, over a flat muscled stomach to a small pink towel which barely covered him.
Surely there was a bigger towel in the bathroom?
She moistened her dry lips with the tip of her tongue as he strode towards her on long, finely muscled legs. The man was poetry in motion. She swallowed.
I didn’t think men could look as good as that.
His firm lips tilted up at the corners in a widening smile and a blaze of heat rushed over her as his green eyes darkened to jade.
‘If you keep looking at me like that, I’m going to kiss you.’
The thick rumble of his voice rumbled through her, breaking the spell. Her fascination morphed into instant mortification. She’d stared like a teenager gazing at a poster on her bedroom wall. A hot flush rushed into her face. Her legs trembled, and she didn’t know where to look.
God, how embarrassing.
Her usual measured tone deserted her, replaced by a bat-like squeak. ‘I need the bathroom!’
‘It’s all yours.’
He stepped to the side, a look of pure heat in his eyes as she hugged the wall and manoeuvred by him, casting a lingering look at the acres of hot wet man standing so tantalizingly close on the way past.
Her hands shook as she locked the door. Her heart pounded in her chest, as though she’d just run a marathon. What if she’d taken a step towards him instead of scampering for the door? He’d watched her like a hungry lion eying a fresh kill. If she’d made a move towards him she’d be in his arms right now instead of quivering behind it.
Her enforced celibacy was playing havoc with her starved libido. Her brain replayed his look in an endless loop, unable to let it go. Would he look at her with heat in his eyes when their eyes met in the kitchen?
Only one way to find out.
Jake had the cup half way to his mouth when Tempest sauntered in through the kitchen door and barely managed to put it back on the table before spilling it all over himself.
Skye looked up from the large pine table where she was determinedly writing on a large pad of paper, while simultaneously taking hungry bites out of a pain au chocolat.
‘Morning sis, coffee’s on.’
Jake struggled to get his libido under control. When he’d bumped into her earlier upstairs she’d looked hot, in a mussed, just out of bed way. The thin cotton had skimmed over every curve, exposing a flash of cleavage that dried his mouth, and made him wish he was wearing something less revealing than a towel. He’d stayed awake all night, convincing himself his reaction to her was one of a tired man, whose senses were fried.
This morning’s double whammy of Tempest revealed the truth. Tempest MacKenzie was incendiary. Whether he was tired or not.
His gaze slid over the well-worn denim cupping a curvy bottom which her prim grey skirt hadn’t even hinted at, and then continued downwards. Taut thighs, bare feet. His hands itched to touch and he crunched them into hard fists under the table. With a struggle, he forced his attention upwards, only to be thrown into chaos again at a pair of perfect breasts enticingly outlined by clinging blue fabric.
She nodded briefly his direction, and filled her cup with coffee.
‘Don’t even bother talking to her before she’s had two cups of coffee. My sister, unlike me, can’t function at all in the morning until she’s had her fix,’ Skye teased.
She’d seemed perfectly able to function when her eyes had blazed a trail over him upstairs. More than able.
Tempest cast her sister a glance over her shoulder. ‘It’s true.’
She wandered out of the back door. Her still form was visible through the window, sitting on the top step of the veranda. Jake looked after her thoughtfully.
‘Is she OK?’
The stress of the previous forty-eight hours was bound to take its toll. Concern welled up within him.
‘She’s always been like that, ever since she was a little kid. It takes Tee twenty minutes before she’s willing or able to talk to anyone in the morning.’ Skye smiled as her eyes met his. ‘Don’t take it personally; she’s like that with everyone.’ She raised her voice. ‘There are croissants in the oven, Hon.’