Read The Heretic's Treasure Online

Authors: Scott Mariani

Tags: #Adventure, #Mystery, #Crime, #Suspense, #Thriller, #Contemporary

The Heretic's Treasure (9 page)

BOOK: The Heretic's Treasure
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She laughed but didn’t move away from the touch of his hand, and he dared let it linger there for a few seconds before snatching it away guiltily. She led him to a break in the trees up ahead. ‘This is what I wanted to show you. Isn’t it fantastic?’

Ben followed her gaze across the bay. From up here you could see the whole coastline, the sea stretching flat out to infinity. The sky was dull and leaden, but the view was spectacular.

‘I come here sometimes just to look at it.’ She paused. ‘And to be alone.’ She frowned up at the darkening clouds. ‘Looks like we’re in for some weather.’

As she said it, the first heavy raindrop spattered on Ben’s shirt. Then another.

‘Here it comes,’ she said. ‘We’d better take cover.’ She pointed. A few hundred yards away, just visible through the greenery, a half-built house stood alone in a weed-strewn building site. ‘Race you to that house,’ she said. Her eyes were lit up with excitement, and her cheeks were flushed.

She took off, sprinting across the rough ground, and he followed her. The rain was coming faster and faster, soaking his shirt. As he ran he watched her, thinking how lithe and athletic she was. She jumped over a low fence and reached the half-finished house a second before him. They ran inside the shelter of the bare block walls, and listened to the rain hammering on the roof. She was giggling, only a little out of breath. Her silk blouse clung to her. She brushed her wet hair back from her face. ‘That was fun. I win.’

He looked around him. ‘Who owns this place?’

‘Someone who ran out of money halfway through the build, I think. It’s been like this for ages. Nobody ever comes here.’ She wiped down her face and neck. ‘God, I’m soaked through.’

The rain outside had become a storm. There was a flash of lightning, closely followed by a long, rumbling clap of thunder. ‘This has been building all day,’ she said.

Ben walked over to the glassless window and looked out. ‘I love storms.’

‘Really? Me too. I can never understand why people are afraid of them.’

Another lightning flash split the dark sky.

‘You said you like to come up here to be alone.’

She nodded.

‘Why do you want to be alone?’

She didn’t reply for a moment. There was a silence, just the thunder crashing above them and the rain drumming on the tiles of the roof.

Then she said, softly, ‘I need to get away from him, sometimes.’

‘From Harry?’

She nodded again, biting her lip. ‘Ben, I haven’t been completely honest with you.’

He frowned, waited for more.

‘You know earlier on, when we bumped into each other in the bookshop and I told you I just happened to be in the area?’

‘Yes?’

She paused. Flushed, turned away from him. ‘I kind of lied. I wasn’t interested in the bookshop. In fact, I’ve never been there before. I don’t even like poetry.’

‘I don’t understand.’

‘I was there because of you. I wanted to see you. But I got scared, so I hung around trying to pluck up the courage to go into the hotel and ask for you. I was about to walk away when you turned up.’

He sighed. Put a hand on hers. It was trembling. ‘Zara, I—’

‘I want to leave Harry,’ she said, the words tumbling out. ‘I’m not happy with him. Just when I was about to tell him it was over, we heard about Morgan’s death. I couldn’t do it to him then.’

He didn’t reply. The rain was pounding even harder now, the storm right overhead. Lightning flickered in the sky, and another crash of thunder shook the house.

She ran her hands up his arms and pulled him towards her. ‘I know what you think,’ she breathed, her voice half drowned out by the roll of thunder. ‘You think I’m just some frustrated wife looking for an adventure. But I’m not, Ben. It’s not like that. When I saw you this morning, I…I’ve never felt…’ she broke off.

He wanted to say he’d had the same feeling, but he couldn’t find the words. It was all wrong, being here with her. She was Harry Paxton’s wife.

She shivered again. Looked up at him with sadness in her eyes. And at that moment, all logic deserted him. Their lips touched, just a little. Then the kiss became passionate.

He backed off, pushing her away. ‘No. This isn’t right. I can’t do this. I owe everything to Harry Paxton. I mean everything.’

She looked up at him, blinking in confusion. ‘What are you talking about? I thought you and he were just—’

‘He saved my life, Zara. He took a bullet for me. Nobody’s ever done that for me. I can’t betray him.’

She stepped back, eyes widening. ‘He never said anything about that.’

‘He wouldn’t. That’s the kind of man he is.’

The storm was moving quickly on. The black clouds were dissipating, and rays of sun were filtering through. The rain stopped as suddenly as it had started.

Zara shivered. They stood for a moment in uneasy silence.

‘We’d better get you out of those wet things,’ he said, putting his arm around her shoulders. ‘Let’s go back to my hotel.’

Chapter Twelve

They didn’t speak as Ben drove them back to his hotel. He pulled the car up and took Zara to his room. He didn’t care about anyone following. That was something he could worry about another time.

As he sat on the bed and listened to the patter of the shower, he sank his head in his hands. He was wet through, but he didn’t care. He felt terrible. ‘Of all the women in the world,’ he muttered to himself, ‘I had to go and fall in love with this one.’

Love.
He’d said it. The word hit him like a punch in the stomach.

Love wasn’t an emotion that came too readily to Ben, and normally he would have laughed at the idea of love at first sight. But, no matter how crazy it seemed to him, he knew that was what had happened. There was no other way to say it. No point in denying it. No point in trying to understand it. There was just something about her, and the thought of her so close was driving him wild.

He heard the shower stop running, and a moment later the hum of the hairdryer. He closed his eyes and lay back on the bed. After a couple of minutes the bathroom door opened and Zara came out, wrapped up in a white bathrobe. She walked to the window, her eyes averted from him, and stood with her back to him. He stood up, wanting so badly to go over to her and hold her, kiss her. But he fought it, and turned away to get himself a drink at the mini-bar. It would have been so easy to let too much happen. Nothing could-that was a forbidden zone. They had to go back to the yacht together and face Paxton at dinner-there was no way Ben could go through that, knowing he’d given in to what he was feeling.

After a while, Zara’s clothes had more or less dried out on the heated rail in the bathroom. She changed and brushed her hair while he quickly towelled his own and put on a dry shirt. They walked downstairs in silence. Ben checked out, paid his bill and they went out to the car.

Thierry was waiting for them at the jetty with the motor launch. Dusk was beginning to fall by the time they boarded the
Scimitar.

As they came on deck, Harry Paxton was standing at the rail watching them. When he saw the bag in Ben’s hand, his face broke into a smile.

‘Look who I happened to run into in town,’ Zara said to her husband. ‘Just think, we bumped into each other in this little bookshop. Don’t you think that was an amazing coincidence, Harry?’

Ben winced inwardly at the way she said it. Explaining too much. She wasn’t a great liar.

But Paxton didn’t seem to pick up on it. He was all smiles and charm as he got a crewman to take Ben’s bag and show him to his cabin below.

The cabin was more like a luxury hotel suite, a three-room apartment with glistening walnut panelling, Persian rugs and antique furnishings. But to Ben it felt like a gilded cage, and he wasn’t looking forward to the prospect of dinner with Paxton and Zara. He killed time in the vast cabin, leafing desultorily through some yachting magazines he found on a coffee table. The drinks cabinet in the living room was richly stocked with vintage wines, cognac and single malt Scotches. He filled a crystal tumbler with Glenmorangie and sat drinking it, staring into space, struggling to keep Zara out of his thoughts. Then he showered and shaved quickly, rummaged through his bag and changed into the only spare clothes he had left, a pair of black jeans and a black roll-neck sweater.

After half an hour there was a knock on his door, and the same crewman informed him that dinner was served.

The huge dining room was as opulent as anything on board a luxury cruise ship. Paxton greeted him, wearing an open-necked shirt and grey flannels. ‘It’s a bit showy, I know,’ he said, gesturing at the room. ‘But when your business is persuading oil billionaires and Japanese business tycoons to part with their money, you need to make a big impression. My clients expect the ultimate.’

There were three places set at the long, burnished dining table. Paxton showed Ben to the top of the table-‘As you’re the guest of honour.’

Ben sat, glancing down at the array of silver cutlery and the sparkling glassware in front of him. A door opened and Zara walked in. She looked stunning in a grey cashmere dress that was cut diagonally across the shoulder. Her hair was piled up in loose curls, and she was wearing a simple but elegant gold necklace. Ben struggled not to stare as she walked the length of the table and sat down facing her husband.

Staff brought in the first course, a dish of seafood pasta. Paxton reached for a bottle of Pouilly-Fumé that was sitting in an ice bucket, and poured out three glasses. ‘I want to thank you once again for deciding to help me,’ he said to Ben. ‘You don’t know what it means to me.’

Ben sipped the chilled wine.

Zara was avoiding his eye. She raised her glass, and spilled some wine on the tablecloth.

‘Are you all right, darling?’ Paxton asked with concern. ‘You seem a bit preoccupied.’

‘It’s nothing,’ she said. ‘I always get a headache after a thunderstorm.’

Paxton seemed surprised. ‘You love storms.’

She flushed a little. ‘It’s OK. It’ll pass.’

They ate. Conversation was sporadic, Paxton avoiding any mention of Morgan. Ben quickly ran out of small talk. Zara was quiet, toying with her food. The first course dishes were taken away, and the Steak Wellington main course arrived on a silver platter.

At a certain point Zara put down her knife and fork. She dabbed her lips with her napkin and pushed her chair away from the table. ‘I’m really sorry about this. But you’ll have to excuse me. My headache’s getting worse, and I have to go and lie down.’

Paxton was straight up on his feet, fussing over her. ‘You should have said, darling. You go and rest, and I’ll get you a painkiller.’

Ben was left alone for a few minutes as Paxton escorted Zara from the room. He knew she was lying-he’d have made some excuse to escape the atmosphere, too, if he could. The way Paxton so obviously cared for her made him feel even worse than before.

He was almost thankful that tomorrow he’d be leaving for Cairo, on a mission to avenge a man he’d never met.

Paxton returned a few minutes later, full of apologies for leaving his guest unattended. They finished eating, and Paxton invited Ben into an adjoining lounge that looked like a salon from the Palace of Versailles. He offered Ben brandy, and they sat and talked about the yacht business.

Finally, Ben had had enough of skirting around the main issue. ‘We need to talk about Cairo.’

Paxton glanced at his watch. ‘It’ll have to wait until tomorrow. I’m afraid I have an engagement this evening. There’s a chopper coming to pick me up for a business meeting in Monaco. One of my more eccentric clients, a Hollywood star who thinks everyone has to come to him. And of course they do.’ Paxton smiled grimly. ‘Make yourself at home. We can talk in the morning, and I’ll tell you everything you need to know.’

Paxton left a few minutes later, and Ben heard the helicopter come and go. He was glad to be alone again, even though his thoughts were in turmoil. He lounged back in his armchair and drank another large glass of brandy, trying to relax. But it wasn’t working.

He wandered back through the maze of corridors and passages, glancing at the rows of gleaming wood doors. Caught himself wondering where Zara was.

Back in his cabin, he grabbed the bottle of Glenmorangie and a glass, slouched on a sofa, aimed the TV remote at the big screen on the wall and flicked through dozens of satellite channels before settling on some mindless zombie movie that he watched idly for a while. Eventually he switched it off and sat in darkness. His thoughts passed back and forth like conflicting voices in his head.

It’s not right for Paxton to be asking me to do this for him. I don’t know these men I’m supposed to kill. They’re nothing to me. I have no personal reason to harm them.

But it’s only a job. You’ve done it before.

Not like this. Not since the army. You swore you were never going to do that again. You gave up fighting other men’s wars and killing other men’s enemies.

Are you just trying to justify your feelings for this man’s wife? You want to be with her, take her away from here. So you’re looking for excuses.

He kept on like that, argument after counterargument, until he felt exhausted. The fact was, he was here; and just being here, on board for the night, was as good as giving his word to Harry Paxton. Like it or not, he was committed now.

A sound made him sit up, suddenly alert. He listened. Nothing. Just the whisper of the waves against the sides of the vessel.

But then he heard it again. A gentle tapping on his door.

‘Who’s there?’ he called softly.

A crack of light appeared in the doorway, widening until he could see the figure there. It was Zara.

She slipped into the room and snicked the door shut behind her, closing out the light and merging with the shadows. He saw her dark shape move silently towards him, and step into the patch of moonlight that was shining in through the porthole.

‘Zara, you can’t be here,’ he whispered.

‘I had to come,’ she said, sitting beside him on the sofa. She moved close, and he could smell her perfume. ‘I need to be near you.’

BOOK: The Heretic's Treasure
12.66Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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