Authors: Anne Stuart
Tags: #Romantic Suspense / romance, #Adventure, #kickass heroine, #rock and roll hero, #Latin America, #golden age of romance
But apparently she’d made some sort of lasting impression. Maybe as the one who’d got away. Except that she hadn’t gotten away—he’d thrown her away. So why was he here again? What did he want from her? It couldn’t be sex—Randall wasn’t the sort who repeated himself. Maybe it was wounded pride? But it was her own pride that had been wounded, not his. Not to mention her heart, her soul—God, the very memory still tightened her nerves.
Thank God she no longer cared. Thank God for Mack,
who’d taught her what real love was all about, so that she would never again have to mistake obsessive craving for the real thing. Thank God that she could look at Randall’s tall, elegant body, his thin sexy mouth, and his dark, tormented eyes, and not feel a thing. Not a tiny little thing at all.
“What are you looking at me like that for?” He’d stopped in front of his door and searched through his pockets with uncharacteristic abstraction before coming up with his room key. “Are you afraid I’ve lured you to my room to have my wicked way with you?”
“Randall,” she said sweetly, “I’m not afraid of anything. Least of all you.”
He opened the door and ushered her into his elegant hotel suite. The French doors were open to the bedroom beyond, and fresh flowers scented the air-conditioned air.
, Maggie thought. The flower of death.
She turned her back on him, strolling toward the windows. “Hurry up, will you? Mother hates to be kept waiting. She won’t make her grand entrance until everyone is there.” There was no reply from him, and she turned. “Randall?”
He was standing very still, staring at the flowers. There was a note propped against the crystal vase. He moved very slowly and picked it up in one long-fingered hand. “Go back to Washington,” he read aloud in an expressionless voice. He stopped reading, crumpling the paper in his hand. “A secret admirer, I suppose.”
“Is that all it said?” There was more to it than that—her instincts were too well-honed not to notice his sudden hesitation.
“No threats? No ‘or else’? Pretty tame, if you ask me,” she scoffed, moving across to him. “Surely they don’t expect us just to slink away at the first sign of trouble.”
“Maybe they thought it would be worth a try,” he said abstractedly.
If he’d been expecting it, she never would have made it. But he was thinking of other things, and it was child’s play to grab
his arm, bring it down over her knee, and force him to release the paper. Maggie was across the room and out of reach before he even realized what she’d done. The crumpled paper was spread out before her eyes.
“Go back to Washington,” she read, “or it will be Gemansk all over again.” She raised her eyes to meet Randall’s angry, impassive ones. “All right, Randall,” she said. “What happened in Gemansk?”
“You know as well as anyone what happened in Gemansk,” he said. “Mullen screwed up, I flew in to get you out, and we spent a week in a squalid little apartment before we split up to make our way home. Those are the essentials.”
“But something’s missing,” Maggie said, determined not to back down this time. “You sent me out expecting me to whore for you and then you disappeared. Don’t you think you owe me an explanation after all these years?”
“Why? You didn’t whore for me, as you so sweetly put it. Wadjowska gave you the visas without soiling your innocent body.”
“How did you know that?”
Randall turned from her. “I know everything that happened in Gemansk six years ago,” he said, his voice curiously lifeless.
“That’s more than I can say. Why don’t you tell me what happened, Randall? You owe me that much.”
“I owe you nothing.”
There was real rancor there, and anger that mystified Maggie. As far as she knew, she was the wronged party, and she’d held that anger inside her for years. “Not after running out on me?” she questioned lightly.
“Damn you, I didn’t run out on you!” he snapped, stripping off his rumpled jacket and throwing it onto the couch. She could see the beginnings of a bruise on his temple, and his high cheekbones were flushed with anger. He glared at her, but Maggie refused to be intimidated.
“Didn’t you? It looked like that to me.”
“Things aren’t always what they seem. I don’t have time for this right now, Maggie. We’re due at your mother’s—”
“My mother can wait. I want to know why you abandoned me in Gemansk. I want to know what that note is talking about. I want to know what the hell happened.”
“I don’t give a damn what you want to know,” Randall said, turning his back on her and heading toward the bedroom. “It’s ancient history, and it doesn’t bear repeating.”
“It’s not ancient history to me,” she cried, racing after him.
He’d unbuttoned his shirt and was in the midst of shrugging out of it when she caught up with him. “Then that’s your problem,” he said with deliberate patience. “Do you want to watch me do a striptease or are you going to let me change in privacy?”
She’d caught hold of his arm, and now she dropped it, blushing. “Damn your nasty tongue, Randall.”
“You didn’t always hate my tongue, Maggie.”
That was her limit. She marched from the room with all her dignity, slammed the doors behind her, and threw herself down onto the sofa. The note was still crumpled in her fist, and she tossed it down onto the glass-topped table beside the flowers, grimacing at it. Score another point for Randall. He’d managed to best her again, and there was nothing she could do about it. For years she’d been convinced that something more went on in Gemansk than she’d known about. There were too many holes in the story.
In the end, she’d given up trying to guess what had happened. Maybe it had been wishful thinking on her part; maybe she’d been looking for an excuse for Randall’s callous abandonment. She’d even managed to find an excuse for his sending her to Wadjowska’s bed—a trip she’d thankfully never had to complete. Sexual barter was a standard weapon in a female operative’s arsenal. How could he have known that she wasn’t used to trading her body at the drop of a hat?
But of course he’d known. He’d known just how inexperienced she was; he’d probably known just how passionately in love with him she was. And he’d sent her out anyway.
But Miroslav Wadjowska had contented himself with a few lustful glances, a pinch, and a reluctant farewell. And Maggie had raced back to the apartment with the papers tucked into her pocket, only to find Vasili waiting for her and Randall gone.
Vasili, a seventeen-year-old Resistance fighter with the face of an angel, the soul of a poet, and the fighting instincts of a jackal, had left with her. She’d opened the packet of papers Wadjowska had given her and found that Randall’s weren’t with them; he must have planned to abandon her all along. Vasili had asked no questions; with all the tact of romantic youth, he’d flirted gently with her, coaxing a smile as they crossed the drab industrial city to the crowded train station. He’d ridden to the border with her, saying good-bye in her compartment with a surprisingly soulful kiss. He’d jumped down from the train with buoyant grace, only to be confronted by a squadron of dark-uniformed men.
If only he hadn’t run. But he had—he’d taken off on his swift long legs, drawing his enemies away from the train and away from her. As the train pulled out of the station and across the border, she’d watched him get cut down by a spray of bullets. Throughout the years, she’d never been able to rid herself of the feeling that he’d died for her. If it hadn’t been for Randall’s dereliction, Vasili would still be alive.
“Are you ready?” Randall’s voice broke through her memories, and she looked up stonily. He’d changed into another dark gray suit, and he looked perfect, as always. Even the dark bruise on his temple matched his eyes, she thought grimly.
“What are we going to do about your warning note?” she demanded, not moving.
Randall shrugged. “Not a damned thing. I have more important things to worry about than obscure threats. I want to find out what’s on those videotapes of Caleb’s. The sooner we get through this dinner of your mother’s, the better. I don’t suppose there’s any chance of our ducking it?”
“No chance at all. Besides, I intend to set a little trap—”
“Forget it, Maggie. We don’t know enough about our enemy to risk it.”
“But that’s the whole point—we could find out who’s behind this, if we’re lucky.”
“And if we’re not lucky, we could end up in your mother’s bathtub. Does your sister own a VCR?”
“Of course—doesn’t everyone? We can watch the movies there, if that’s why you’re asking,” she snapped, still ensconced on the couch.
He nodded, apparently taking it for granted. “There’s an all-night electronics store over by Evanston. We’ll put in an appearance at your mother’s and get the tapes from Caleb, then go and pick up another VCR and television and end up back at your sister’s. We’re going to need two machines if we want to compare prints.”
“We’re going to be up all night!”
“You don’t have to be involved in this, Maggie,” he offered politely. “You can go on to your mother’s, and I’ll take care of everything.”
“Over my dead body.”
“Then don’t complain.” He leaned over, and for a moment Maggie thought he was reaching for her. She jerked away, startled, but he was going for the flowers. He picked up the vase and dropped it in the wastebasket by the door. “Let’s go.”
She rose, tugging at the too-short skirt. “Did you know that Vasili was shot helping me escape?” She hadn’t even known she was going to say it—it just popped out.
Randall switched off the light, plunging them both into semidarkness. Maggie felt her usual, instinctive tightening of panic. Then the streetlight filtered through, and she could see his face, could just barely make out the bleak expression. “I knew,” he said, his hand on the doorknob, making no effort to open it.
“I consider you responsible,” she said, with cruelty that was foreign to her.
He didn’t flinch. “So do I,” he said. And opening the door, he moved into the hallway without a backward glance.
In Maggie’s memory, there were evenings that had seemed longer, but very few. Sybil had surrounded herself with the cream of Stoneham Studios’ management; Alicia’s grating laugh echoed through Sybil’s suite at the Mandrake. When Caleb wasn’t looming over a harassed-looking Kate, he was standing dourly in a corner, disapproving of all and sundry. Sturdy, sensible Kate looked ready to fly apart in a thousand directions. Randall moved by her side like the Gray Eminence, the skeleton at the feast.
It had been easy enough for Maggie to abandon him. All the women flocked around him like chattering magpies, and Maggie had slipped away with a wry grin. He hadn’t lost his touch over the years. If only there were some way she could figure out what drew women to him, maybe she’d be immune.
Damn it, what was she thinking of? She
immune, and had been for six years. Or at least since she had met Mack. But Mack was gone, no longer able to protect her, and she felt herself slipping back into the insidious current, and the more she struggled, the more useless it all seemed.
“Are you all right?” Kate’s voice startled her, and Maggie looked up. They were relatively alone in a corner of the vast living room, a small oasis of quiet amidst the revelers.
“I’m fine. I’m more worried about you.”
“You needn’t be. I’m surviving,” she said in clipped tones, pushing a wing of her chestnut hair back from her pale face. “Brian’s asked for a postponement on the custody hearing. We won’t go back to court for another two weeks.”
“Is that good or bad?”
“Depends. If we could have gotten a ruling in my favor with no complications, I would have felt like a new woman. Two more weeks gives us enough time to have this whole situation blow up in our faces.”
“Can’t you fight the postponement?”
“My lawyer says I can try. I’m just afraid I’d fall apart in
court. I figure I’ll have to take my chances that you’ll be able to clear everything up.” She smiled up at her sister, a trusting smile that quivered around the edges. “I’m counting on you, Maggie.”
, Maggie thought desperately. She wasn’t Sybil’s daughter for nothing; she had a tiny amount of acting ability, too, and she called on every ounce of it. “Don’t worry, Katy,” she said, her voice cool and determined. “Have I ever let you down before?”
“No,” Kate said, eager to be reassured.
There’s a first time for everything
, Maggie thought. “Well, I won’t this time, either. Trust me.”
“Sure.” Kate’s voice was abstracted, her attention lost, and Maggie followed her troubled gaze. Caleb McAllister was bearing down on them, an intent expression in his blue eyes, and Maggie could have been in Timbuktoo for all the attention either of them now paid her. “I think,” Kate continued, standing her ground and speaking more to herself than her sister, “that I will get drunk. Queenie’s already put Chrissie down in the guest bedroom, and I may just pass out on Mother’s sofa.” She moved away without another glance in Maggie’s direction, pushing past Caleb’s advancing figure. She didn’t get very far.
“Where do you think you’re going?” Caleb demanded, catching her arm.
“To get drunk,” Kate said defiantly.
“What do you think that will solve?”
“Nothing,” she snapped back.
Maggie stood off to one side, watching, completely ignored by the two combatants. She knew she should withdraw, but for the moment she was too fascinated by a side of her sister she’d never seen.
“Don’t be a child, Kate. You’ve had too much to drink as it is. I think we should go for a walk and let some of your mother’s champagne wear off.”
“And I think you should go to hell.”
Maggie stood watching and made a small bet with herself.
Kate was a strong, stubborn woman, but she’d been through too much in the last few days. Caleb looked equally stubborn, and he had the advantage of being in the right. The best place for Kate right now was alone with him, and she knew it, even if she was fighting it.
“Don’t swear,” Caleb said automatically. “Did you bring a coat?”
“For Christ’s sake, it’s ninety degrees out there!”
“Don’t swear,” Caleb said again, “or I’ll keep your mouth so busy you won’t be able to say a word.”
Kate just stared up at him, temper warring with amazement. And then her stubborn chin shot out. “Caleb,” she said in her sweet, polite little voice, “go fuck yourself.”
He was very efficient, Maggie had to admit that. Caleb McAllister hauled her sister into his arms and planted his mouth on hers, pushing her up against the wall with gentle strength that was at odds with the temper in his eyes. Kate struggled for a moment; her arms thrashed, her hands pushed at him, but then she slid her arms up around his neck and kissed him back with enthusiasm that didn’t surprise Maggie at all.
And then she did slip away, past the oblivious couple, out into the crowded living room with only the slightest bit of an ache in her heart. She wanted to be kissed like that, she wanted to be yanked into someone’s arms and held until she gave up fighting what was right and inevitable. She wanted to be loved again.
“Darling, you look so sad.” Sybil swooped down on her, emeralds and diamonds flashing at her throat and ears, her jet-black hair a cloud around her beautiful, ageless face. “Were you thinking about Pulaski again?”
In fifty-four years Sybil hadn’t learned tact, and she never would. Maggie shook her head, managing a half-smile. “No, Mother. I was thinking about his eventual successor.”
“And who is that?”
She should have known Randall would be there, she thought, unable to still the little nervous start his deep voice caused her. She turned to look him straight in those stormy
gray blue eyes. “I haven’t met him yet,” she said firmly. “Mother, we’re leaving now.”
“But darling, we haven’t even served dinner yet.”
“Randall and I will get something later.” She let herself be enveloped in her mother’s scented arms. “Take good care of Chrissie.”
“Of course, dear heart. She’s delighted to be visiting Queenie and Moomaw.”
“Moomaw?” Maggie echoed.
“That’s what she calls me. Charming, isn’t it? And it doesn’t sound depressingly grandmotherly.”
Maggie’s smile broadened. “It does have that advantage. My children are going to call you Granny.”
“Heaven forbid. Give me plenty of warning, darling. And give me time to grow into the part.”
“Don’t worry, Mother. I have yet to meet Pulaski’s successor, remember?”
Sybil’s magnificent aquamarine eyes traveled up, way up, to Randall’s face, then to Maggie’s, then back to Randall’s. And she smiled a very knowing smile. “If you say so, dear,” she murmured. “Where’s your sister spending the night? She said something about my sofa.”
“I think Caleb has other plans.”
“That tall young man? How very nice. I’ll do my best to be discreet.”