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Authors: V. K. Black

Unexpected Places (9 page)

BOOK: Unexpected Places
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‘Soooo, you pretend to be a bad boy and swear a lot because you had everything handed to you?’ Ariana shook her head.

‘Hey,’ he said, grinning. ‘I
am
a bad boy, no pretending necessary. You’ll see tonight how bad I can be.’ His smile died. ‘Being a bad boy has kept me alive these last couple of years. Since Changpu and his sweet little employees—’ he enjoyed Ariana’s guilty flush, ‘—decided to get rid of me.’

Then he chuckled ruefully. ‘But yeah, the swearing started when I was at school, and my mates and I wanted to act tough. It’s a habit now.’

‘One that you could break, if you chose,’ Ariana said sternly. If she’d had wire-rimmed glasses she’d be glowering over the top of them.

‘Yes, Miss,’ he said meekly, grinning.

The mountain was getting closer. He narrowed his eyes to see any semblance of elephant tusks on the western bank.

‘I can absolutely understand why you’d rather be chasing after priceless emeralds than sitting in an office,’ Ariana said, ‘but I did a bit of research on
you
…’

Luke raised his eyebrows incredulously.

‘…and the internet article said you had a degree in business, and that you’re a brilliant businessman.’

He laughed. ‘Bob will like that. Dad was horrified when I said I wanted to be an archaeologist. Mum had only just died. So I compromised, and studied business as well. Then Dad had his heart attack. He’s still weak and shock isn’t good for him. So I’m sort of stuck.’

‘What are you looking for?’ Ariana asked, noticing him searching the river’s bank.

He tapped the elephant tusks on the map, in answer.

‘It’s worked out well,’ he mused. ‘Dad’s happy, thinking I’m a sensible businessman. Bob is happy because he loves what he’s doing, plus he gets a cut of everything I find. And when I can get out of the business crap, which is as often as possible, I’m happy. There, up ahead!’

The mountain loomed above them. Two large pointed outcrops of rock jutted into the river. Luke slowed the engine and steered the boat toward them.

He dropped the anchor and felt it catch. The day was as hot as hell. Did he have to use the dinghy? He grinned. ‘Ready for a swim, Moonbeam?’

* * *

‘Yes!’ Ariana laughed. The humidity in this part of the world was unbelievable, and she loved swimming. Then Sister Katharine’s lectures on their army cadet camps came back to her. Safety first. ‘But, what about crocodiles or…hippos…or things?’

‘There you go again, revealing your lack of research.’ And that hard, angry expression came back, the one when he remembered she worked for the other side, and had a tendency to hit him over the head. ‘Hippos? Old Changpu sure scraped the bottom of the barrel with you, didn’t he? There’s nothing deadly on this island, except the odd snake. Unlike you, I’ve done some research.’

‘Well, bully for you,’ she said coldly.

Luke laughed. ‘There’s that funny way of speaking again. I think my grandmother used to say that.’

Well, her favourite nun, who used the expression all the time,
was
pretty old.

Luke turned her around and smacked her backside. ‘Okay, little enemy, a temporary truce. We’re going down to the galley to pack.’

Luke already had most of his gear ready, so all they had to do was pack their lunch. With Luke wearing a waterproof knapsack on his back, they dived in from the aft deck. The water was a brilliant shade of cold. They surfaced at the same time. He wore the same ecstatic smile she knew she wore. ‘Whoo-hoo!’ they both yelled, laughing, their voices echoing back their delight. Ariana turned a quick somersault, as the fresh, cold water swirled around her.

Luke grabbed her hand, pointing to the narrow little pebbled bay in front of the tusks. ‘Come on, water baby.’

They both struck out and swam strongly toward the shore. The depth changed abruptly from deep to pebbles at knee height. After wading ashore, Luke dropped his bag and shook his head like a terrier, grinning. ‘You’re not a bad swimmer, little Ari.’

Wet, black curls of uneven lengths adhered to his face. Blue eyes sparkled. White, even teeth smiled in delight. Maybe it was the exhilaration of the swim. Maybe it was the silence. A few birds twittering in the distance and the rushing of the river against rocks downstream emphasised how alone they were. Just this tall, handsome man, with his black T-shirt and board shorts clinging to his strong frame. Tanned biceps bulged where the wet cloth encircled his arm. Her mouth dried as Luke’s smile died. A throb, down deep in her pelvis, reminded her about their sexual payment deal. The throb hinted in no uncertain terms that the deal was fine with her. Luke stepped closer, cupped her cheek in one large hand, and lifted her face toward him. ‘Later, Ari. I’ll be all yours after I find the emeralds.’

Dislodging his hand as she turned, she stalked toward the huge mountain.

I’ll be all yours.
Goodness, he was an arrogant man. Mr Irresistible.
Hmmph.

‘Since my alternative to you was being the girlfriend of twenty angry men, you shouldn’t rate your attractions too highly, Mr Donahue,’ she snapped at him over her shoulder.

Luke grinned. ‘You weren’t in as much danger as you thought, baby.’

‘What do you mean?’ she asked, frowning, as she stopped and faced him.

‘Those guys could speak a bit of English. They told me you were a movie star, come to visit their little island.’

Her whole body tensed. ‘So…so they didn’t say anything about a…a yellow-haired slut? And they weren’t going to…to…’

Luke pressed his lips together. His eyes watered. ‘Nope,’ he said in a strangled voice. Then he burst out laughing.

Ariana breathed in and out slowly, curling and uncurling her fists. ‘Then our agreement is over, Mr Donahue,’ she said through gritted teeth. ‘You lead me to believe you were saving me from those men. You tricked me.’

As he strolled toward her, he was still grinning. ‘Oh no, little Ari. The deal was, I get you off the island. And I will.’ He reached out and brushed her cheek with his knuckle. ‘And you still owe me. You’ve caused me a world of hurt, baby.’

Ariana tossed her head, shaking away his fingers. Although she gave him her best Sister Maria death glare, a tiny part of her brain acknowledged his point. She growled. ‘Don’t forget we’re on different sides,
baby
. When
we
find the emeralds, keep a good hold of them, Smarty Pants.’

Pivoting around, Ariana made to stride off toward the mountain. She got about two steps before Luke grabbed her hard by the waist, swung her around, and lowered her, with surprising gentleness, onto her back. She tried to scrabble away, but Luke landed on top of her. With his heavy weight pushing her into the ground, she lost the ability to breathe. They lay, chest to chest, faces almost touching. His long, strong legs anchored hers beneath him. She gave up trying to scrabble. She couldn’t move a muscle. Long seconds passed, as he glowered down at her.

‘Luke,’ she gasped. ‘I can’t breathe.’ Immediately he lifted his weight, and she took a huge lungful of air.

‘I’m sorry,’ he said, looking genuinely remorseful. ‘I keep forgetting you’re so tiny.’ Then the anger, which had disappeared with his apology, returned. ‘I haven’t forgotten for one second that we’re enemies. I could fuck you right here, right now.’ He twisted his hips and forced her legs apart. To her shame, that spark of excitement throbbed again between her thighs.

Please don’t let him see it.

He smiled knowingly down at her. ‘And you want it, don’t you, Moonbeam?’

Darn, he saw it.

‘I can see it shining out of those pretty green eyes of yours. But the only reason I’m not fucking you right now is that I can’t be bothered. I have more important things to do. But don’t worry, sweetheart. Tonight, you can have your reward.’ He rose lithely, and stood, smiling down at her.

With a scream of embarrassed rage, she sprang up. ‘
My
reward? Oh, you are such a…’ But she couldn’t think of a word bad enough. Instead, she curled her fist and swiped wildly at him. He easily blocked her punch.

‘Well, this is more like it, little Ari.’ He laughed, his anger gone and devilment in his eyes. ‘A fight!’ He dodged her left fist, which grazed his cheek. ‘But you’re a little outclassed, height-wise. Tell you what,’ he said, twisting away from her knee, which she’d tried to insert into his groin. ‘You move onto the higher ground, and I give you a few lessons, to make this fairer.’

‘You condescending bas —’ she clapped her hands over her mouth.

‘Bastard?’ he said approvingly. ‘Come on, Ari. Swear at me again.’

She shook her head mutinously, her lips closed.

‘No?’ He grinned. ‘Too bad, I’d love to hear naughty words come out of your mouth, Princess. But the lesson. Stand like this. Weight balanced. Left fist to the front.’ She copied his stance. Part of her, the one that wasn’t seething with anger and embarrassment, was interested. She’d always wanted to learn self-defence. ‘Let’s see that left jab of yours, with a right punch to follow. Like this.’ A flurry of caresses, which would have been punches if he were in earnest, touched her cheeks.

Growling, she tried, copying the way his punches flew from his shoulders. He grabbed both her hands, frowning, and uncurled her fists, wrapping her thumbs around the outside of her fingers. ‘That’s how you make a fist, Moonbeam. Your way, you’ll break a thumb, if you ever manage to hit me.’ He let go of her hands.

‘Then let me hit you,’ she said through her gritted teeth, practising her left and right jabs again, and meeting with frustrating air each time.

He laughed, genuine amusement in his eyes. ‘Oh no, Moonbeam, you need to be better than this before I let you hit me.’

She gave a squeal that sounded, even to her own ears, like an infuriated kitten. ‘Stop calling me ‘Moonbeam’!’

‘Make me. Now, an upper cut with your right. Do that combination — jab, punch, upper cut.’ His right fist brushed the underside of her jaw, in demonstration.

She was going to hit him and wipe that smug, teasing smile off his handsome face, if it killed her.

‘Good girl, I like the way you’re using your shoulders.’ The man blocked every one of her punches with ease. And, as an added insult, he wasn’t even out of breath. ‘Now try a left and right hook.’ His fingers brushed her temples.

Breathing hard, she tried to copy his left and right punches. Her punches, even though she kept missing, were getting harder, surer.

‘Now, see if you can combine all of them. Jab, punch, upper-cut, left and right hook.’ He backed away from her, eyes alight with laughter, deflecting every single punch she threw.

Panting with near exhaustion, sweat almost blinding her, she jabbed at his chin. And connected. Her hands dropped to her sides, as she watched Luke wryly move his jaw. ‘Luke,’ she gasped in horror. ‘I’m so sorry. Have I hurt you?’

He gave a shout of laughter, his eyes full of admiration. Not a tease or taunt in sight. ‘You learn fast. And no, my angry little bantam, you haven’t hurt me. I might have a bruise tomorrow, but no lasting damage.’

‘A bruise! Luke, I feel terrible.’

He gave a slow, disbelieving shake of his head. ‘You must be one of Changpu’s absolute rookies. We’re on opposite sides, remember? You’re supposed to hit me.’

Oh goodness, Jason, what have you got me into?
Her list of sins was growing by the minute. Because, as well as seeming to be distressingly proficient at delivering pain to Luke, she also knew she liked him, despite him being her ‘enemy’. When he wasn’t driving her crazy, that was.

Luke wrapped his arms around her and drew her toward him. Their bodies touched as he held her in a gentle hug, and he dropped a kiss on the top of her head. He stared down at her. His lovely, blue eyes held a strange expression. Wistful, maybe? He sighed. ‘Let’s go find my treasure.’

* * *

Why did she have to work for Changpu?

Then Luke groaned at himself. Ariana might act like a sweet little thing, but she was in business, same as him. She’d made her own bed by putting herself in the enemy camp.

He passed Ariana her water bottle. She was going to need it. The mountain might seem close, but it was a half day’s walk away, and, like every day in this part of the world, it was hot, like living in a sauna. He stared at the mountainside through his binoculars. Turning to Ariana, he tapped the map, pointing to the mountain drawn on it. ‘See that black shape that looks like an elephant’s trunk?’

She nodded, examining the map with interest.

‘Look through these.’ Luke handed over his binoculars. Ariana pushed back the baseball cap he’d found for her, and, after a brief glimpse, gasped in surprise. ‘It’s an entrance into the mountain.’

As they began the long walk through the lush green grass toward the mountain, silence fell. Luke forced himself to ignore the huge attraction he felt for Ariana. There was a fortune at stake for him. And her, if she could figure out how to get hold of the gems. He smiled. She’d surprised him with how quickly she’d picked up the rudiments of boxing. That had been a real punch she’d landed. Even so, she was a raw beginner. Duking it out with him to get the emeralds wasn’t going to be one of her options.

Sweat poured off them both. Ariana’s shirt clung to her every curve, making a mockery of his vow to get back to business. Her wet, now dark-blonde hair, confined in its ponytail, curled over her shoulder. Cute. Then he tamped down once again on the whole sex thing. That was for tonight. Time for business right now.

They waded through marshy, swampy soil. Ariana lost balance on the slippery mud, and fell. ‘Are you alright, Moonbeam?’ He reached down to help her up. She grinned and frowned at the same time. Cute.

‘Ariana.’ She scrambled up by herself and kept walking. ‘I’m fine. Hurry up, old man. You’re slowing me down.’

Chuckling, he fell in behind her, admiring her sexy little arse, which was being hugged by his T-shirt.

‘And stop looking at my bottom!’

Another hour of hard walking at a steep incline, and Luke called a halt. As they sprawled in the sparse shade the small bushes provided, they drank, and ate the lunch Ariana had packed. Some more of the pancakes she’d made at breakfast, folded around some stir-fried, shredded vegetables with spices, including the dreaded chillis, and grated coconut. They tasted sensational.

BOOK: Unexpected Places
10.84Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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