Authors: Sally Clements
‘No, I go alone. I can get in and out quickly and easily, and Carter has the transmitters at the house. If he doesn’t come home, I’ll just let myself in and borrow them.’ He smiled. ‘I can do this a lot easier on my own.’
If they weren’t what they seemed, they were excellent actors. Looking at the concern on their faces, a band of iron squeezed around Jake’s chest. If they were on the level, he almost felt bad about misleading them.
‘OK, alone it is.’ Tempest broke the silence. ‘But you’ve got hours before you need to go. You better sit down and eat something.’
With a sigh of relief, Jake filled his plate and pulled up a chair to the table. ‘I’ll go around eight, which will give me time to get there and stake it out in the darkness. I’ll be back by two at the latest. A lot earlier if he comes home at his usual time.’
‘I need measurements to drill the stones,’ Tempest pointed out.
‘I can pull down the details from our company website; all the spec sheets are there, together with photographs of the components.’
‘Will you come down to the cottage and find them for me? I’ll need all time I can get to get them ready.’
Impatient, he finished off his chunk of baguette and stood.
Tempest worked steadily through the afternoon. It would be a tight fit, but the miniature tracking devices would fit in the lapis, if she could manage to hollow out the centres without breaking the stones. She needed to work, but every molecule of her was aware of Jake, and her fingers shook as she tried to block him out.
‘Go talk to Skye. Maybe she’s got something else for you to do.’
He stopped mid-pace.
‘That sounds like you want to get rid of me. Are you sick of me already?’ He grinned, the dimple making another appearance.
‘I don’t have much time, and you’re pacing.’
And looking so damn gorgeous all I want to do is kiss you.
‘Was I pacing again?’
‘You were pacing, and it’s driving me crazy,’ she admitted.
‘OK, I’ll go and see if Skye has something for me to do for the next hour. Then I’m heading off.’ An invisible thread seemed to spin between them, tying them together. He walked quickly to her, speared his hand through her hair, and brought her mouth up to his, kissing her hard and quickly. Her hands came up to his chest, but before she could touch him, he took a step away, breathing hard and fast. ‘I’ll see you later.’
Tempest’s heart thudded in her chest. Battling her body’s urgings, she crossed her arms to stop herself from reaching for him again.
‘I’ll wait up for you, so make sure you call if you are going to be late. Otherwise I’m coming to get you.’
It wasn’t an idle threat. If he was determined to walk into danger alone, she was equally determined to get him back safely. Jake wasn’t a stranger anymore, this was personal.
Seated behind his antique mahogany desk, Paul Grey stared out of the full-length window overlooking the park, and held down the button on his intercom.
‘Allie, ask Carter Wells to come in here, would you? He should be in the board room.’
The grey water of the artificial lake in the centre of the park glistened in the sunlight. Children and eccentric adults were sailing their model boats, and as he watched, a white sailboat pushed bravely away from the concrete edging, its full sails billowing in the rising wind.
‘Carter’s here, Mr. Grey.’
The disembodied voice from his desk shook Paul out of his reverie, and he pushed the button to answer.
‘Send him in Allie, and hold my calls.’
He walked around the door ready to greet the lanky engineer.
‘Hi, Carter, take a seat. Do you want a coffee?’
He bit down the instinct to snap as the other man’s eyes narrowed in distrust. Carter had never liked him and the feeling was mutual. If the company hadn’t needed Carter’s expertise, Paul would have found some way to get rid of him. Paul forced a tight smile. He couldn’t afford the luxury of sacking the engineer. Not now.
‘No thanks, Paul. What can I do you for?’
Carter slid into the nearest chair, crossing his arms in front of his chest.
‘I just wanted to check you have everything set up for the demonstration in the boardroom today.’
‘I have a full range of the products ready to demonstrate. I’ve rigged them up the way I always do. Is Jake coming in for this meeting?’ Carter’s gaze pinned Paul’s. ‘Jake was supposed to meet me yesterday, and he didn’t show. I have to talk over the next aspect of the Louvre job with him. He didn’t phone or even email me, have you heard from him?’
Paul avoided the other man’s eyes; lying was difficult, even though he’d had plenty of practice lately.
‘Jake called and asked me to take over for a while. He’s taking some time off. I reckon he’s exhausted, I didn’t question him too much about it, he works too hard anyway.’
‘It’s just not like him not to let me know…’ Carter’s plaintive tone trailed off as Paul glared at him.
know, so that’ll have to do.’
Paul strode to the window, stuffing his hands into the pockets of his expensive Italian suit, and stared out.
‘The Argenti Group will be here at three o’clock. I’m delighted you have everything set up for them.’
He faced Carter. The designs on Jake’s computer were protected. Carter had the only copies. The situation had to be handed delicately, without arousing the other man’s curiosity.
‘Why don’t you forward the designs to me and I’ll look them over?’
Carter hesitated. He stared down at his feet.
‘Only Jake and I have the schematics, Paul. They’ll take up a lot of room on your computer, and I’d have to install the software before you could look at the files. It’s quite a big job.’
Distrust flickered over Carter’s expressive face. Paul wasn’t an electronics engineer; he couldn’t make head nor tail of the information anyway. He’d obviously gone too far, asking for access to the company’s secrets. Now Carter would watch his every move over the next couple of days. Paul clamped his teeth together. It had been a stupid suggestion. There must be another way to gain access to the schematics.
‘I just meant a printout.’ He smiled, and Carter smiled back, although a trace of distrust lingered in his eyes. ‘Maybe you could just send me up a printout.’
‘Oh sure, I can do that.’ Carter rose, brushing his hands down his rumpled cargo pants. ‘I’ll be ready for the demonstration when they arrive.’
Carter left, and Paul sank into his black leather chair.
Just one more day.
Paul lowered his head into his hands, desperation welling up inside him.
In one more day, I’ll pull off a robbery, kill my best friend and his mother, and take over the company which should have been mine all along.
A chill settled in the region of Paul’s heart, freezing it. His hands dropped to his sides. They’d had good times, he and Jake. Too many to count. He forced the unwanted memories away, remembering only Jake’s offhand refusal to sell to the Argenti group.
Paul muttered under his breath. ‘You did it to yourself, pal, You should have listened to me, I’m your partner.’
He wandered over the window again and watched a small boy scoop up the sailboat from the water and walk away.
‘I’m your heir.’
After Tempest banished the man-sized distraction from her workshop, she spent the afternoon alloying gold for granulation. First, she prepared the copper, then carefully made a charcoal ingot mould, scraping the compressed charcoal down in thin even layers with her chisel.
Even though the bracelets were finished, she needed to prepare a thin flat ingot to use when making the adjustments. She made a wire mould by scraping out a depression in the charcoal with the tip of a screwdriver, then fired up her blowtorch, preheating the charcoal block to a glowing red for melting first the silver, then the gold and finally adding the prepared copper.
Hours ticked by, yet Tempest barely noticed the darkening sky in her concentration. When the ingot was ready, she mopped her damp brow and strode into the tiny kitchenette. She filled a tall glass with orange juice and ice and drained it. The next step was critical, she couldn’t afford any mistakes.
Back at the counter, she carefully drilled the centre of the lapis stones. They were a deep, vibrant blue, twinkling with tiny gold specks of golden pyrite and she knew, before even cutting them, that the smell would be terrible.
With lapis lazuli, the stronger the colour, the worse the rotten egg smell as the stones are drilled. The stones she’d selected were a near perfect match for the originals, dark and rich in both colour and density. As she drilled, the sulphurous smell hung in the air, permeating her clothes, her hair and even scenting the outer surface of her skin.
Eventually she was finished, and Tempest leaned back against the counter, a sense of satisfaction overlaying her exhaustion.
The sun had long since disappeared and the sky was pale grey as she turned off the workshop lights and made her way through the trees towards her cottage.
With her last reserves of energy, she set a fire in the hearth using logs from the pile stacked by the fireplace and tugged the heavy curtains closed with a shiver.
I’ll feel better after a long, hot bath.
Tempest climbed the staircase, muscles in her legs complaining as if scaling Everest. The small bathroom had one invaluable luxury, a huge enamel bathtub. She turned on the hot tap and reached for the heavy glass bottle of lavender essence, swirling a thin stream into the cascading water and breathing in the fragrant steam with delight. As the tub filled, she stripped off her dirty clothes and tossed them in the general direction of the hamper.
The hot sudsy water flowed over her body as she climbed in and sank under the surface. The enamel was warm under her back as her strained muscles released pent up tension. She closed her eyes and dipped under the foamy water. While washing her hair and soaping her body, thoughts of Jake flooded her mind.
He’d left alone, just as he’d insisted. With his jaw set in a stubborn line that brooked no argument. There was something about him, distrust, lurking under the surface.
No man had piqued her interest for a very long time, not since Skye’s wedding six months ago. And what a complete fiasco that had been. Tempest shuddered. The last thing she wanted was to remember Joe Delaney’s hands on her.
I was such a fool
Just because he told me he loved me and wanted to be with me, that didn’t mean I had to believe him.
After such a long time since her last intimate encounter it was hardly surprising Jake’s kiss had overwhelmed her yesterday.
A door slammed downstairs.
She hadn’t locked the front door.
Tempest held her breath, ears straining. Her heart hammered and her body tensed. Slowly, carefully, she climbed out of the bath. She pulled a thick white towel off the rack, and wrapped it around herself. Then pressed her ear to the door.
Her hands shook on the door handle as she pulled it open and edged to the top of the stairs. A strand of sodden hair dripped into her face. She pushed it away with an unsteady hand. Her feet made no sound on the carpet and she crept downstairs, panic blooming into a scream as a dark body suddenly appeared in front of her.
‘Tempest! It’s me!’ She recognized Jake’s harsh tones a moment before his arms encircled her, pulling her to his solid chest.
‘For goodness sake, Jake, what were you doing?’ Her voice was a squeak; adrenalin flooded her in a wave. She put both hands on his chest and shoved.
. Taken unaware, Jake stumbled backwards. ‘You scared the hell out of me!’
Her hands trembled as she tucked the unravelling towel closer, and pushed past him into the sitting room.
His voice was a low mutter. ‘I knocked, but obviously you were busy.’ Jake’s emerald eyes swept her from head to foot. She was wet and naked except for a towel which only covered her to mid-thigh. ‘The front door was open, you should have locked it!’
His eyes blazed and she bit back her response. He was right. On hearing the noise, the first thing that had gone through her mind was that the intruder must be one of the kidnappers.
‘I’d better go back up and get dressed.’
Jake snaked a warm brown hand out and held onto her arm, gesturing to the blazing fire. ‘Why don’t you warm up at the fire? I’ll go and get your bathrobe.’
Before she could reply, he was gone, long, loping strides taking him up the stairs two at a time. Tempest untied the towel in the emptiness of the sitting room, quickly rubbing off the excess water before wrapping it tightly around herself again.
‘Here.’ Jake held the robe open, and Tempest slipped into it. She padded across the thick carpet to the sideboard. Jake settled into the heavy armchair by the fire.
‘Do you want a drink?’ Tempest asked.
She sure did.
She poured two stiff shots of whiskey, and gulped a mouthful. The amber liquid burned and warmth bloomed in her chest. The fire was almost out. She passed him the glass and tossed a couple of logs onto it, watching the dying embers burst into life. Jake’s silence was unnerving and she swallowed down another mouthful of whiskey to steady her shattered nerves.
He was watching her. Nerves tingled and she moistened dry lips with the tip of her tongue. Heat flared as his eyes fixed on her lips and that tiny movement. Everything was getting hotter. Herself included. The robe covered her to mid calf, but under his blistering appraisal she was achingly aware that under it she wore only a towel.
‘How did you get on?’
Jake’s eyes flicked upwards to hers, the erotic heaviness lifting slightly. ‘I got them,’ he said.
He took a small black box out of his pocket and extricated two tiny silver canisters. Tempest took one from his outstretched hand and held it up to the flickering light from the fire.
She turned the canister around in her hand, admiring the workmanship and the skilled design, then handed it back. Her fingers brushed his, and she pulled them away as if burned. Never before had her body reacted to another’s touch like this.