Authors: Terese Ramin
An Updated Edition of the Silhouette Intimate Moments Classic
RWA GOLDEN HEART AWARD WINNER
Copyright ©2012 by Terese Ramin
Published in the United States by Blue Jay Media Group
ebook ISBN–13: 978–1–936724–16–1
Copyright ©1989 by Terese Ramin
Cover design ©2012 Blue Jay Media Group
All rights reserved. No portion of this book, whether in print or electronic format, may be duplicated or transmitted without written permission of the publisher, except where permitted by law.
Updated Silhouette Intimate Moments
WATER FROM THE MOON
HER GUARDIAN AGENT
FIVE KIDS, ONE CHRISTMAS
A CERTAIN SLANT OF LIGHT
American Heroes Against All Odds
Harlequin Romantic Suspense
ACCOMPANYING ALICE (Safe Haven)
SEX ON THE BEACH (by Terese Ramin, Betty Hanawa, Beverly Rae and Sydney Somers)
BABY BE MINE (2 Novels in 1 – by Anne Marie Winston and Terese Ramin)
BEWITCHED, BOTHERED & BEVAMPYRED
To the daughter who stole my manuscript pages as they came out of the typewriter and wrote her own stories in crayon on the clean side when she was two.
And to the boy who built stories out of Legos and told them to her.
I love you guys with all my heart!
CASIA CAME UPRIGHT in the bed, quivering, hands over her ears to block out sound. She was drenched in sweat, and she was freezing.
Outside in the predawn sky, thunder swelled and crashed, rattling balcony doors. Caught in the netherworld between dreams and consciousness, Acasia started and jammed her knuckles into her eyes, rubbing hard to assure herself she was awake. It was thunder, only thunder, nothing more.
Again the storm asserted itself, and glass panes trembled.
Acasia shut her eyes against the noise and tried to orient herself. She was in a Zaragozan hotel, not crumpled on the floor of a vile–smelling van, listening to an unseen terrorist’s demands. She was alone. Lisetta was not near her feet, gasping for breath, screaming and whimpering behind her gag. She was thirty–three, not seventeen. She had survived. She was not helpless. Lisetta Gianini had been dead for fifteen years. It had not been Acasia’s fault. She mustn’t feel guilty for being alive.
Beyond the sheer curtains shading the balcony doors, lightning crackled. Acasia caught herself in the middle of a dive for the floor and jerked herself erect, wiping away nightmares with an unsteady hand. She had to think clearly. The ruling issue here had to be not fear but how to behave wisely in spite of fear. She couldn’t allow the return of old horrors to interfere with her protection of an old friend.
No, she thought, correcting herself, not an old friend. Always more.
Shaking off the last of sleep’s effects, she threw her legs over the side of the bed and leaned tiredly over her knees. The old green army T–shirt she’d worn yesterday lay on the floor where she’d thrown it. She reached for it, balled it up and used it to mop the perspiration from her face, to dry her hands. Why in hell had she let Paolo dredge up old history by allowing him to talk her into this job: physically protecting the man she’d protected herself from for half a lifetime? Because Paolo didn’t know her pre–Lisetta history, though Acasia remembered the time well. And because, on the small chance all went well, Cameron Smith would never see her. And also because, modesty aside, Acasia Jones was pretty damn good at what she did.
She flipped her wrist over and glanced at the lighted dial of her watch. Five a.m. She slipped out of bed and went out the balcony doors for a taste of air. Dawn rain smeared beauty across the face of the momentarily peaceful city, hiding the scars of its painful birth and insecure present. Beyond the rain clouds, pink smudges brushed the South American sky, painted a gloriously deceptive tapestry on the background of gray and blue. Acasia had seen dawn over Magdalena, Zaragoza, too often to be falsely soothed by the view; she knew everything there was here to fear.
She swallowed a lump of fear now, her fingers finding the concrete balcony rail and kneading it anxiously. Eight hours yet until the crucial negotiations over the mining of Zaragoza’s strategic metals took place between the man she hadn’t seen for sixteen years and the other, the one she knew to be a madman. What was Cam thinking, anyway? He had people, experts, to handle international bargaining for him. He was a Plymouth Rock–pure Boston–blue–blooded commodities wizard, an electronics genius with lucrative patents—a target, not a diplomat, damn it! He dealt in paper transactions, stock trades, not the kind of wholesale destruction that was the hallmark of the most violently emerging country in the Third World. Acasia slapped the balustrade angrily. How the hell could he be so stupid?
As though to punctuate the sentiment, there was a rumble of mortar fire, and smoke appeared in the sky just south of the city. Stiffly Acasia turned her back on it, considering the eight hours she had to go over her plan. Government troops were fighting rebels to the south, so if escape became necessary she would take Cameron northwest, through the rain forest, toward Venezuela. Easy. She liked simple plans.
She left the rain for the sanctuary of her hotel room, looked at the disheveled bed and shuddered. Seven hours and fifty–nine minutes in which to dream. Bile rose in her throat at the unwelcome thought. She’d take the waking dreams, thank you very much.
The dim light above the desk to the left of the balcony switched on at her touch. A financial magazine, dog–eared and torn, lay on the blotter. Acasia picked it up, allowing the magazine to fall open automatically to the spot she was seeking. How many times in the last couple of days had she looked at this cover, looked into this face, Cameron’s face, reading the article on him often enough to have memorized the words? There had been a time when she’d thought she would never tire of looking at his face. Even now, if she shut her eyes and concentrated, she could remember his breath on her lips, the taste of his tongue, the touch of his fingers on her skin. Their texture had been rough with the calluses he’d gotten from building and creating things. Gadgets, he’d called them. Thingamajigs and whatchamacallits. Gizmos.
Water from the moon, her father’s voice whispered. The things you want that you can never have.
She smiled sadly, greeting lost opportunity with regret. The article profiling Cameron proclaimed him, at thirty–four, a man for all seasons, the world’s youngest billionaire, a hands–on businessman who guided his own fortune instead of having someone else do it for him—a man who thrived on diversification. He’d once told her that imagination was the key to everything.
She remembered him as a magician dealing in future possibilities, a dreamer of dreams she knew were impossible. He’d known he would have a home and a research complex with laboratories and graduate students studying a complementary blend of electronics and medicine, with himself at the helm. Rhiannon, he’d named his dream, after the elusive witch of Welsh mythology who rode her white horse just beyond the hero’s reach until he finally thought to stop and ask her to dismount. Rhiannon had declared her love for Pywll—and then he’d had to win her. Which was, Cameron had informed Acasia, not unlike their own relationship.
In spite of herself, Acasia smiled at the memory. Two of the best things about Cam had been that he was never bored and was never boring. She had loved him and resented him. And he was unfinished business.
She held his picture to the light, taking in every line, every nuance. He looked the same, but different, more; the potential of adolescence had fulfilled itself. His cheekbones were still high, his chin square, his mouth wide and not too full, his skin lightly tanned—his mother’s genes telling. The dark straight hair, the eyes, wide–set and pewter gray, the perfectly straight nose, the square, solid build—these were his father’s. He looked even more like that hard–nosed old bastard than he’d used to. Maturity had added hardness, self–confidence, authority, had given him the look of a man who could get what he wanted but could also roll with the punches—and she’d sure as hell like to give him one!
Why couldn’t you have been this strong when strength was what I needed? she asked his image silently.
With a snort, Acasia put the magazine down and let one finger trace Cameron’s image. If he’d been like this at eighteen she would have had no need to run from him, would have gone to him, might even have kept her promise to meet him in London….
Past sins. It was too late for regrets now. It had been too late since her last lying letter to him all those years ago. Now, if he had the misfortune to require a hostage–retrieval expert before the close of his meeting with Sanchez, he was her job. Period. She was here to keep him alive, nothing else. She had to remember that.
As though to emphasize that fact to herself, she turned from the magazine to pick up a well–used map, ticking off escape routes in her mind. She didn’t need to look at it; she knew Zaragoza too well. Every inch of it was engraved indelibly in her memory, but the make–work kept her from thinking, kept her concentration on the practical concerns of this mission.
Practical. A nylon duffel bag sagged open beside the desk, and Acasia leaned down and slipped her hand inside it. The oiled wood and cool, curved steel of a Remington 12–gauge lay reassuringly beneath her searching fingers. Beside it were half a dozen small but heavy cardboard boxes. A shotgun and shells, two of the practical accoutrements of her profession.
She slumped into the chair before the desk, her arms clasped tightly around herself. The faded desk light hummed loudly in the silence. Damn you, Cam!
Seven hours left. And then, if all did not go well, Acasia Jones and Cameron Smith would have an impromptu reunion, their first in sixteen years.
God, she was scared.
* * *
"Come now, Mr. Smith." Emilio Sanchez, self–declared president of Zaragoza, leaned forward over the conference table, irritated. "To a man of your means, a few million is a paltry amount—a mere pittance. Surely you understand how badly our small nation needs your money. Niobium is a strategic metal. Doing research, setting up mines and plants… all this will be costly. You must see that."
Cameron leaned back in his chair and surveyed his surroundings. There was a certain opulent sterility about Sanchez’s rooms. They showcased the man, not themselves. Open and cool, they subtly directed the visitor’s attention toward the man whose political dominance of Zaragoza, automatically granted him a dignity and respect he did not deserve. Cameron leaned forward decisively. "What I can see, Mr. President," he said bluntly, "is that you’ve invited me down here not to advise you on the mining and marketing of strategic metals but to obtain the funds to consolidate your power without accepting the concomitant financial responsibility. Now—" his voice changed timbre, became brusque, businesslike "—my proposal to you stands. I will send you a team of engineers and scientists with enough seed money to get things started. You will supply me with the signed documents stating you will repay my initial loan within the time stipulated. The rest is up to you."