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"I beg your pardon?" Marcos Navarre stared at the slight figure dressed in dark clothes. The gun pointed at his heart never wavered. "I said move."
This time the voice was less gruff. Marcos stepped away from the hotel room door, hands up just enough so this intruder wouldn't think he was about to do something crazy.
Like lunge for the gun.
If he could get close enough, he would do just that. This wasn't the first time he'd been on the business end of a weapon, and fear was not what motivated his seeming compliance. He'd become inured to violence during the years he'd spent living in South American jungles with a guerilla army. He knew without doubt there was always an opportunity, in situations like this, to gain the upper hand. So long as his hands were free, there was a chance.
No, fear was not at all what he felt. Rage was the word he was looking for. Bone deep rage.
The person facing him was small, though he knew better than to mistake small for weak. Darkness shrouded the room and he couldn't make out any details about his visitor. But Marcos had several inches of height, and many more stones of weight to his advantage.
The moment he had an opportunity, he would act. The key was to remain free, and to keep his senses on high alert. He refused to consider what he would do should this intruder attempt to restrain him in any way. Memories flashed into his mind: a dark room, the sharp odor of sweat and rage, and the feel of his own blood dripping down his wrists.
"You are wasting your time," Marcos said mildly. "I am not in the habit of keeping large amounts of cash in my room."
Marcos blinked. The gruffness in his intruder's voice was gone. The person holding a gun on him so coolly was most definitely a woman. He relaxed infinitesimally.
Who had he offended this time? Which of his ex-lovers was so incensed as to carry her desperation this far? Fiona? Cara? Leanne?
He was generous with his mistresses, yet there were those who refused to accept his decision to end the relationship when the time came. Was this a jilted loverand why couldn't he place her immediately? He was not so callous as to ever forget a feminine body or voice when they gave him such pleasure.
No, not a jilted lover then. Unless he was growing forgetful. Marcos frowned. It did not seem likely. He'd had a lot on his mind lately, yes, but surely not so much as to render him incapable of remembering a woman he'd been intimate with.
He kept his hands in her sight, moving carefully into the middle of the room to await instruction. She shrank back when he passed by, then righted herself boldly as if irritated she had done so.
Several moments passed in complete silence but for the whisper of the ceiling fan overhead.
"Retrieve the jewel," she said, all pretence of being a man gone from her voice now. So she'd made a decision to give up that deception, had she?
Bueno. It would make it easier for him to learn her identity.
"I'm afraid I don't know what you're talking about."
She growled impatiently. The gun gleamed bluish in the moonlight shafting into the room. He noted that she'd added a silencer. The thought did not give him comfort.
"You know very well what I mean. The Corazon del Diablo. Bring it to me if you wish to live."
Ah, so now it made sense. He should have ignored the ridiculous claims of the d'Oros and refused to bring the jewel back to America. But his business interests here could suffer if he did not put an end to their fraudulent claims. The courts in Argentina had already ruled in his favor. He did not need an American court's approval to keep what was rightfully his. What he'd paid for in blood.
Had this woman been sent by the d'Oros? Was the lawsuit merely a ploy to get the stone back into the United States so they could steal it? The old man was dead, but the girls were still alive. He shoved aside the pang of regret he felt when he thought of the youngest d'Oro girl.
Why he should still feel regret, when she'd manipulated him as much as any of them, was a mystery.
Part of him insisted she was innocentand part of him knew the dark depths to which the human soul could travel. Innocence was often a fagade for treachery.
"If you shoot me, querida, you will never have the jewel."
"Maybe I'll have something far better," she spat in a low voice.
All of Marcos's senses went on high alert. Something about that voice
Something he'd forgotten
"I'll take that jewel now," she continued. "It's in the safe. Open it."
Fury began to uncoil within him. Who was this slip of a woman and how dare she try to rob him of his family birthright? She was not the first to attempt it, but she would not succeed.
It was after the jewel had been stolen, when he was only a boy, that the military junta imprisoned his parents. They never returned. They were, like so many thousands of others, among the disappeared, those souls who were taken away by the ruling party and killed before democracy was restored in later years.
He blamed his uncle far more than he did the diamond. If not for Federico Navarre's ambition and greed, life would have been far different. But the Corazon del Diablo was all he had left of his family, and he would allow no one to take it from him ever again.
"Apparently you have failed to think this through, little one."
She took a step forward, the gun rock-solid in her grip. And then, as if thinking better of it, she stopped, shook her head so slightly he wondered if he'd imagined the movement. "Shut up and open the safe. Now."
He stood stiffly for only a moment. "Very well."
If he were lucky, she'd get too close.
Marcos strode toward the wall that housed the safe. Sliding the wooden panel aside, he flipped the dial in annoyance. Right, left, right. The tumblers clicked into place and the door opened.
"Frankie," a voice hissed. "Hurry."
Marcos stilled, straining to pinpoint the source. It had sounded oddly small and disembodied.
"Frankie," it said again, louder this time.
"Shut up," the girl said. "I'm working on it."
Ah, a radio. She was using a two-way radio to communicate with someone outside this room. Oddand a rather inept choice for a skilled thief. Yet another puzzle piece to consider.
"Step away from the safe," she ordered, the gun glinting as she used it to motion him away. "And keep your hands where I can see them."
Marcos backed away carefully, hands at shoulder height. The girl waited until he was nearly against the opposite wall before she moved. A flashlight blazed into life. She swept the interior of the safe, then spun toward him.
"It's not here," she said in disbelief. "Where is it?" He almost felt sorry for her. Almost, but not quite. "There are plenty of other jewels. Take them instead."
Her voice shook. "The Corazon del Diablo. Where is it?"
"It's not here," he repeated.
"That's impossible. I was assured" The gun was leveled at him again, her voice full of purpose. "Where have you hidden it?"
"Forget it, Frankie," he said smoothly, emphasizing the name the voice had called her. She had been assured? By whom? "You've failed. Now take what's there and go."
"You aren't the one in control here, Navarre. You will not tell me what to do. Not ever again," she added so quietly he wasn't certain he'd heard her right. Never again?
"Who are you?" he demanded, blazing hot anger sizzling through him like a living flame.
Before she could answeror tell him to shut up, most likelyhe reached over and flicked the light switch.
"Bastard," she cried, blinking against the light that flooded the room. Yet still the gun was firmly pointed at him.
He didn't care. The girl, this Frankie, was compellingand he'd never seen her before in his life. Sun-streaked hair was pulled into a tight knot at the base of her neck, its thickness indicating long length when her hair was down. Her skin was pale with a hint of golden color. Her eyes glared at him hot and dark. She was dressed in a workman's black coveralls, but the garment was a size too small because it clung to her generous curves like a protective sleeve.
She looked furious, determinedbut then she bit down on her plump lower lip and he recognized it for what it was: a crack in her armor. A current of desire arced through him at that single display of vulnerability.
Dios, now was not the time to be attracted to a woman. Especially not a woman with a gun pointed at his heart. Marcos clamped down on his wayward libido and tried to memorize everything about her. Should she get away, should she not shoot him in the process, he needed to remember what she looked like.
Becausefemale or not, vulnerable or nothe was going to hunt her down. He would find her and he would make her pay for thinking she could rob him of his birth right.
"Who are you, Frankie, and why do you want my necklace?"
Her eyes widened briefly before narrowing again. The gun shook in her grip. Odd when she'd been so controlled only moments before.
"You really don't know, do you?" Her laugh was strangled. "God, of course you don't. Because you're selfish, Marcos Navarre. Selfish and cruel."
Some little bit of knowledge buzzed at his mind like an annoying mosquito. He brushed it aside impatiently. He had no time to puzzle out what it was. He simply needed to remember this womanand possibly disarm and capture herbefore she could get away. "The Corazon del Diablo is mine. You will not steal it from me this night, so either take what's there and go, or shoot me and be done with it."
"I would like to," she said, her voice dripping with menace and fury. "Believe me I would. But I want that jewel, Navarre. One way or the other, you are going to give it to me."
Francesca forced down the bile in her throat. When he'd flipped the light on, she'd thought she would die. If he'd looked at her with pity, or shook his head sadly, she'd have crumbled like a house of cards. Her will and determination would have evaporated like an early morning mist, leaving her vulnerable and exposed.
But there'd been no flicker of recognition in his eyes, no stiffening of his form, nothing to indicate he had the slightest clue who she was.
And it hurt. Hurt like bloody hell that he hadn't known her. After all, she'd been the one to give him the Corazon del Diablo in the first place. Like a love struck imbecile, she'd handed it over just the same as she'd handed him her heart.
What happened next had been inevitable to all but the most blind of souls. He'd kept the jewel and discarded her love. Discarded her. She'd learned the truth too late. He'd conned her out of the diamond just like he'd conned her into believing he cared.
The Devil's Heart was aptly named. She'd given it to the devil and it had cost her nothing but heartache.
And now he stood here so haughty and handsome in his custom tuxedo, looking down his fine nose at her as if she were a bug. Her traitorous heart thumped painfully.
He was still so damn gorgeous. Tall, broad-shouldered, and as handsome as any movie star. He had a silver-edged scar that zigzagged from one corner of his mouth, a reminder of a long ago accident, she imagined. Far from ruining his dark male beauty, it only made it seem more potent. He had the kind of Latin good looks that made women prostrate themselves at his feet.
Just like she'd done. Idiot.
Her life had been ruined by that single act of falling for Marcos Navarre's smooth lies and sensual body. For thinking she had a future with him if only she gave him what he wanted. She'd been stupid. How could a man like him ever be interested in a chubby, shy, ugly girl like her?
He couldn't. Her sister had tried to warn her, but she hadn't listened. She'd believed Livia to be jealous. Livia, the beautiful one. The one who should have been the object of Marcos's attention. But Francesca hadn't wanted to accept the truth and she'd tumbled them into ruin with her need to be loved.
He'd fooled them all, she reminded herself. Charmed them all.
Didn't matter. It was her fault the Navarres destroyed d'Oro Shipping. Her fault that her father shot himself, that her mother clung to the remnants of her wealth in a drafty old house in Upstate New York, and that her sister barely ever spoke to her.
She'd made poor choices, choices that had cost her much more than hurt pride in the end.
She was through letting life beat her up and take away the people she loved. Her grip on the warm metal hardened.
Jacques was not going to die, not if she could help it. The old man had taken her in when she'd fled after her father's death, had given her a job and taught her everything he knew about the jewelry business. He'd also nursed her through the darkest moments of her life when she'd wanted to die, along with the child she'd never gotten to hold. After Marcos's betrayal, it had taken years to let a man into her life. Robert hadn't thrilled her the way Marcos had, but she'd told herself it was simply her youthful longings making Marcos seem so much bigger than life in her imagination.
Getting pregnant was an accident, but she'd wanted her baby as soon as she found out. Robert hadn't, though he'd stuck around for a few months, had even gone through with an engagement as if he were prepared to be a husband and father. Until she started to show. That's when he walked out.
When she lost the child so brutally, Jacques was the only one who cared, the only one who was there for her.
She loved Jacques and she owed him.
"The necklace, Marcos," she said firmly, leveling the gun at his heart once more. "I'll take it now."
"It's not here, querida. You waste your time."
Francesca lowered the gun to point at his groin. "Killing you would be too good. Perhaps I will simply have to deprive the female world of your ability to make love ever again. I am quite a good shot, I assure you."
She'd learned out of necessity. And though she never wanted to harm another human being, she had no compunction about making this man think she would do so if it meant she could save Jacques.