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By Melissa James
Harlequin Enterprises LimitedCopyright © 2002 Harlequin Enterprises Limited
All right reserved.
Chapter OneLynch Hill Primary School Outback New South Wales
It happened again.
The quiet whisper of chilling menace limped up her spine and entered her flesh with pinprick accuracy, congealing her blood to ice. This primitive instinct, like a savage voodoo curse, always came when she had to run. Run for her life.
The depth of terror that came alive when Cameron was close.
A furtive search of the school grounds, the lane and the road beyond revealed trees, grass, the half-tarred road, softly lowing cows meandering around the paddock opposite the tiny Outback school. A tranquil country scene, nothing to fear.
But she wasn't paranoid. The pulsing beat of urgency inside her - the need to bolt - never failed. Cameron was here in Lynch Hill, using his cultured angel's face, the smooth persuasion of his TV evangelist's voice, the aura of wealth and success to get the information he wanted.
Have you seen this woman? Like a nightmare in automatic rewind, she could almost smell his spicy lime-coconut scent lingering in the air: the subtle benediction of fear. I'm here, Theresa.
"How'd I do, Miss Honeycutt?" Tessa started, clicked the stopwatch and walked to the boy panting by the ragged finish line at the end of the playground."Fifty-nine point five-eight, Matt - a brilliant four hundred! You'll blitz Sam Iliah at the Country Carnival. Any scout coming from the Australian Institute of Sport is bound to spot you."
"Awesome!" Matt lifted his hand; they slapped a high-five. A two-ton utility truck drove into the grounds of the school. The rushing breeze in its wake caused golden-ochre leaves to drift down from the trees lining the road, warming the cloudless autumn day with hues of fire. The horn beeped. "Matty!"
Relax, Tessa. Breathe. It's not Cameron. "Hi, Dad!" Matt jumped the fence, raced to his father's truck and hopped in. He hung halfway out the window to yell, "Thanks, Miss Honeycutt. You're the best teacher we ever had!"
Moments like this made all the hours she put in after school with the kids worthwhile. She swallowed the lump in her throat. She wouldn't be here to see Matt win his race, or to help Amy blossom into a great outback artist, or enjoy little Tani and Jarred's smiles of wonder at kinder gym again. Her darling kids would have to travel twenty miles each way to school every day. "Have a great holiday." Matt's father waved and drove away. In the sudden hush of the truck's departure, it returned. The slow, prickling sensation rose above her spine, making all the hairs on her neck lift.
It was real. It was now. Without turning her head, she searched her peripheral vision with swift glances -
And she saw him: the silent menace. A man hiding deep within the shadow of a thick belt of windbreak trees across the road. Anonymous clothes. Dark hat. Faceless, motionless, silent.
Oh, God. One of Cameron's goons had found her. Her stomach churned. Her heart pounded. Sweat broke out on her face. Every instinct screamed at her to run -
Act like you never saw him. She strolled across the field to the whitewashed building that was Lynch Hill Primary School. She locked the door, slung her bag over her shoulder and walked to the lane. She opened the old wooden gate, flicking a quick look from beneath her lashes.
He was still there, a silent shadow in the deep green darkness. And somehow she knew he'd been there before. Just watching her. Waiting.
Whistling a little tune, she ambled down the lane to the main road. She turned left toward the doubtful safety of her boardinghouse, heart slamming against her ribs and sweat trickling in the valley between her breasts. Get to the car, to the car....
Pretending to tie her shoe, she shot a glance back. He was still there, unnerving her with his dark sense of quiet. Almost invisible. A ghost of the pines.
The taste and scent of fear filled her mouth. She straightened and continued down the road away from him, kicking at rocks and fallen leaves, making a hopping step once or twice. A country teacher celebrating the Easter break.
A soft, oh, so soft crunching of pine needles behind her. She spun around. He was coming out of the shadows into the sun.
Tessa braced herself to run - But her silent watcher turned in the opposite direction, walking without hurry to an old red one-ton pickup truck.
Even from his back view, she could feel the heat emanating from him, the sense of power and strength held deep inside. So much purpose in every movement. Hints of simmering fury kept under tight leash. Hidden danger radiated from him like an aura: a raw, earthy male.
Fascinated, she kept watching as he half turned for a moment. Five-eleven, maybe six feet. Broad shouldered, strong build. A taut backside encased in well-worn Levi's. Scuffed boots long past their quality prime. A dented Akubra hat kept his face in shadow. Loose dark curls touched the collar of his form-fitting shirt. Such beautifully muscled light coffee skin, he almost appeared a statue: an ancient messenger of Zeus. Obviously a physical man. So perfect of form ...
A long-buried memory stirred. He looked - he looked like -
It began in her fingers. The shock hit, like a tiny current of power flowing up her arm, leaving her trembling in its wake as it flew to her very core.
"David?" A weak, stunned whisper. "David?" Perspiration broke out anew, brow, palm, throat, breast. The pain of shock streaked from fingers to toes, flashing past her heart in its lightning journey, kick-starting a pounding beat: boom-boom, boom-boom, boom-boom.
"It's crazy," she muttered. "I'm insane. It can't be him...."
But her eyes kept telling her what her mind knew to be false. Her stomach clenched. Her lungs seized. Her pulse stormed and crashed in her ears, boom-boom, boom-boom.
The man kept striding across the grassy paddock, head down, feet rolling from heel to ball. He had a strange walk, compelling to watch: head down, feet moving as if feeling for hidden treasure beneath.
Just like David once walked. David, the beloved. How she'd loved his name, its meaning. As she'd loved his tribal, totem, dreaming name. Jirrah the dolphin, her magnificent creature of the sea. How well it suited him. The sleekness, the movements of grace and beauty; the playfulness, the instinctive purpose beneath. Jirrah. The name she'd cried aloud in passion, in the trusting confidence of young love.
Then he was gone, and there was nothing left. Nothing but chasing shadows. Looking for David in every man she met, long after she'd married Cameron Beller.
Don't be stupid. David's gone, and he's never coming back. But she couldn't stop watching the man behind her. Her wondering gaze drank him in, as a desert wanderer finding oasis. David, oh, David ...
He climbed into the battered pickup and drove away, past the belt of pines and small scrubby paddocks lining the battered road, toward the tiny Outback township of Lynch Hill.
From over her shoulder she watched him leave, her eyes fixed on the empty street where he'd been.
Excerpted from Her Galahad by Melissa James Copyright © 2002 by Harlequin Enterprises Limited
Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.