Read an Excerpt
By Bobbi Smith
ZEBRA BOOKSCopyright © 1986 Bobbi Smith
All right reserved.
Chapter One"Jonathan"—Roland Stuart stood at the head of his massive dining-room table and raised his champagne glass in salute—"to our first successful joint business venture. May there be many more."
As the toast was seconded by Stuart's associates, Elliot Whitney and Alan Harris, Jon rose in response to Roland's pledge.
"And to Catherine, your bride of three months, whose loveliness is matched only by my own dear wife Susan's." Roland's eyes held a wicked gleam as he lifted his glass in Catherine's direction.
"To my wife," Jon agreed, gazing down at Catherine's upturned, becomingly flushed features.
Playing her part to the hilt, she smiled her pleasure at their praise. "Why thank you, gentlemen."
"You're more than welcome, my love." Jon's intimate words were meant as a private caress, but they grated on Catherine's nerves, smothering her moment of pleasure in Roland's duplicity.
After they again seated themselves, the meal began. From the turtle soup to the sumptuous pastries, each course was cooked to perfection by Roland's superb chef. When, at last, everyone was replete, the gentlemen retired to the study for after-dinner brandies and talk of the shipping world, while the women went to the main parlor to enjoy tea and conversation.
"Jon." Roland clapped him on the shoulder as he handed him a snifter of brandy. "I'm pleased that everything is working out so well for both of us. Why, within a year, the profits from our undertaking should more than double."
"We have done well," Jon concurred as he sipped the liquor.
"It's just a shame Mitch didn't live to see your success, Jon," Elliot Whitney, a longtime friend of the Williams family, commented. "You've become quite the astute businessman. I'm sure he would have been very proud of you."
Even after all these months, the memory of Mitch's brutal murder still hurt Jon, and it was only with supreme effort that he kept a tight rein on his emotions. "I have tried, since assuming control of the company, to base my decisions on what I thought Mitch might do under the same circumstances. I can only hope that someday I will be as successful as he was."
"His death was a terrible tragedy," Roland said sympathetically, as he turned away to refill his glass from the decanter in the liquor cabinet.
"And so mysterious," remarked Alan Harris. "Did they ever find the men who were responsible?"
"No," Jon replied. "All we know is that Mitch and his driver, Nelson, disappeared some time after he left Lucinda Blake's house. We found Mitch's body in the bay several days later, but we were never able to find Nelson."
"Do you suspect him?"
"No. They were very close. We think he must have met with foul play too."
"That must have been very difficult for you, having to identify Mitch after that many days in the water," Alan remarked.
"It wasn't easy." Jon was grim as he answered their gruesome questions. "The final verification was based on his clothing. There was no way I could recognize him." He suppressed a shudder as he remembered that fateful afternoon almost six months before when he'd gone to the morgue to look at the body that had been pulled from the bay.
"I'm sorry, Jon." Roland interrupted the grisly discussion. "This is hardly the time to bring up those unhappy memories. This is supposed to be a celebration."
"It's all right, Roland," Jon replied. "Mitch's death will never be easy to talk about, but with the passing of time some of the pain has eased." He fell silent for a moment as he recalled the agony he'd gone through when he'd learned that Mitch had disappeared and again when he'd confirmed that it was his brother's body in the morgue. If only he could have seen Mitch one more time to clear the air between them ... to let him know that he would abide by his decision ... to tell him that he did love him ...
"You were lucky to have Catherine help you through it all," Roland observed, dragging Jon back from his tortured thoughts.
Jon relaxed at the mention of the wife he so cherished. "She has been a great comfort to me."
"And she's such a beautiful woman," Elliot declared. "Your wedding was a small one, I take it?"
"Yes," Jon told him. "We kept it small and private. That seemed best in light of Mitch's death."
"I understand and I wish you both much happiness."
"Thank you, Elliot. I'm sure we'll be fine. I love Catherine and she loves me."
At Jon's last comment, Roland lifted his snifter to his lips. He took a deep drink of the potent brandy before turning the topic back to shipping. "Well, gentlemen, shall we get down to business?"
In the parlor, Catherine chatted with the ladies, but she was increasingly restive. How long did these interminable after-dinner sessions go on? These women were driving her crazy with all their talk of charities and good works. No wonder their husbands all had mistresses!
Catherine smothered a laugh as she imagined the scandal she'd cause if she told each of these pompous females exactly what their husbands were up to. Why, according to Roland, Elliot and Alan both frequented a certain house of pleasure, in Chinatown, that catered to "exotic" tastes, and she certainly knew personally what Roland enjoyed.
"Why, Catherine, you do look pleased with yourself." Susan had noted her feline smile. "Tell me, whatever are you thinking about?"
Adept at covering her true thoughts, Catherine smiled brightly at Roland's wife. "I do have some free time on my hands now, and I was wondering if it would be possible to join you in your charity work. I'm sure you accomplish so much."
"Thank you, Catherine. How kind of you to offer." Susan smiled at Chelsea Whitney and Laura Harris. "I've hesitated to invite you to join us because I thought you might be busy adjusting to married life, but now that you've expressed an interest, why, it works out perfectly."
"What do you mean?" Catherine sensed an undercurrent in the conversation.
"Susan has good news, but she hasn't made it public yet," Laura stated.
"Good news?" Catherine arched a delicate brow as she glanced at her lover's wife.
"I'm going to have a baby, probably in about six months." Susan's face was radiant.
Only years of successfully hiding her feelings prevented Catherine from losing control. With a gracious smile plastered on her face, she extended her best wishes. "That's wonderful, Susan. I'm sure Roland must be thrilled."
"Oh, yes. He was beside himself with joy when I told him. We're hoping for a son, of course—an heir to carry on the family name."
"Are you and Jonathan planning on having children?"
"We haven't really considered it yet." Catherine shrugged.
"God sends them when the time is right," Laura put in sagely, and Chelsea nodded in agreement. "I'm sure you and Jon will make many beautiful babies, just as Roland and Susan will."
It was all Catherine could do to keep from sneering at her pronouncements. So, Susan was going to have a child, was she? Jealousy burned deep within her. How dare Roland! Though they were together as often as possible, he still made love to Susan! The thought rankled, and she could hardly wait to be alone with him, to tell him what she thought of him and of his precious little "pregnant" wife.
The sound of the men's voices in the wide hall relieved Catherine immensely. She had had about all she could take of the ladies' talk of the upcoming birth, and she greeted Jon much more warmly than usual. Though slightly taken aback by her extra attentiveness, Jon relished the affection she showered upon him, and when she whispered of her desire to leave as soon as possible, he quickly extricated them from the social gathering. As they left, Catherine noted Roland's puzzled expression. His confusion pleased her, and she looked forward to their rendezvous the next afternoon at his office.
It was just past one o'clock the following day when Catherine instructed Florence to order the carriage brought around. Ever sensitive to her mistress's wishes, she did as she was told, reminding Toby, as she did every time Catherine went out in the afternoon, of the necessity for discretion.
Although it was broad daylight, few people paid any attention to the carriage as it pulled to a stop at the back door of Roland's establishment. Wearing a heavy veil to conceal her identity from prying eyes, Catherine was quickly admitted to the building by the armed guard who was always posted at the door. She hurriedly climbed the rear staircase, and swept into Roland's office, knowing he would be anxiously awaiting her.
"Darling." Roland came to his feet as she entered. "I've been waiting for you." He started toward Catherine, fully intending to embrace her.
"Don't 'darling' me!" she seethed, removing her veil to glare at him.
"Catherine? What's wrong?" He had sensed that something was troubling her last night when she and Jon had left early, but he had no idea what had upset her. Their plans had come to fruition, and he was aware of no problem between them.
"You're certainly very cool about this, Roland."
"Cool about what?" His tone hardened suspiciously as he reached out to place his hands on her shoulders.
It was then that she lost control and struck out at him, her hand connecting viciously with his cheek.
"How dare you spend day after day making love to me and then go home to bed your mewling wife!"
Without thought, Roland backhanded her, bloodying her lip and knocking her to the floor. "Don't ever hit me, woman," he snarled.
Cowed by his unexpected ferocity, Catherine cradled the side of her face and cringed away from him when he reached for her again.
"Look at me," he ordered imperiously, and Catherine looked up, too shaken to defy him. "Now, tell me. What's happened? Why are you so upset?"
Though his tone was cajoling, she knew the steel will his conciliatory manner concealed and she responded quickly, "Susan told me last night that she was pregnant."
"So, how can you leave me and go to her?" she demanded heatedly.
"She is my wife, Catherine, or have you forgotten that?"
"How could I forget? Especially now that she's carrying your child."
"Do you want to have my child?" he asked bluntly. When she hesitated, he smiled ferally. "Face it, Catherine. Since we can't marry, there's only one thing we can share."
Grasping her wrist, he pulled her up to him and kissed her passionately. "Jealousy doesn't become you, sweetheart. Remember that."
"Oh, Roland, I was so angry at the thought of your loving her." She sighed, then kissed him.
"My darling, there is no comparison between what we share and what I do with Susan," he muttered as he frantically worked at loosening her clothing.
"I know. I suffer Jon's lovemaking, but I live only for the time we have together."
"As do I." Roland pressed heated kisses to her throat, then drew back to look at her. "And you won't have to worry long about my sleeping with Susan. Once she begins to grow heavy with the baby, I'll make my excuses and move to the guest room. Believe me, Cat, I have no desire to bed a woman who's swollen and misshapen."
His hands roamed freely over her trim waist and hips, and as he continued to strip her garments from her, Catherine, driven by desire, succumbed to Roland's every demand. He, in turn, was consumed by untamed passion.
Far out to sea the day had become as dark as night. The ocean, in the grip of a tropical storm, pitched the Seastorm about as though she were no more than a child's toy. Lashed to the wheel, the helmsman fought to maintain some semblance of control over the ship, but nature, in her fury, overruled his feeble efforts.
At the first sign of bad weather, the crew had taken in the sails and had prepared the vessel for the coming battle with the elements. They now waited below in strained silence, hoping the worst of it would pass, but fate did not intend to grant them a reprieve.
A brilliant flash of lightning illuminated the gray-green sky with electrifying clarity. Jagged in its awful beauty, the vivid bolt rent the roiling clouds and speared its way toward the storm-tossed ship. In a crashing collision, the powerful storm-flame split the mast, hurling it to the deck. The helm and helmsman were crushed beneath the huge timber, and, out of control, the ship was at the mercy of the tempest.
Rolling helplessly in the raging, mountainous swells, the craft began to list, and Captain Warson knew with sickening certainty that the end was near. Struggling across the seaswept deck, he reached the companionway and shouted to the men below to abandon ship.
"Aye, Captain, but what about Williams?" came the answering shout.
"Leave the mutinous bastard!" Warson bellowed. "A watery grave is all the swine deserves!"
Then, as he was turning toward the longboat, a huge wave swept the deck, knocking Warson from his feet and washing him overboard. The crew scrambled up from the depths of the ship and tried to save their captain, but they were too late. They watched helplessly as he disappeared in the briny deep.
Realizing that their craft was doomed, the men battled to reach one of the lifeboats. Only one seaman, a young lad of about seventeen years, remained behind.
"Tommy! Why're ya lingerin'?" a mate bellowed to the youngster.
"It's Williams! I can't just leave him down there to die!" Tommy knew that Mitch Williams, the one man who'd befriended him on this voyage, was in irons in the cargo hold.
"You heard the captain! To hell with Williams! Save yourself. There's no time!"
But the youth turned back. "You go on. I won't be leaving without him."
"You're a fool, lad!" a sailor shouted.
Tommy paid him no heed and with a determination unusual in one so young, he began to make his way across the slippery deck of the canting ship to the hold's hatch.
Chained to the wall of the hold, Mitch Williams was giving serious consideration to his own mortality as the Seastorm pitched violently in the stormy ocean. With each successive roll, the wallowing vessel had taken on more and more water until he stood knee-deep in the threatening deluge. Most of the cargo had broken loose from its restraints due to the heavy seas, and he'd had to dodge the tumbling crates.
Alone and growing more concerned by the minute about the Seastorm's seaworthiness, Mitch fought against the shackles that restrained him. He knew from previous efforts that his struggles were useless, but he also knew that he wouldn't give up his life without a fight. He did not want to die trapped in the hold like a rat. With all of his might, he pulled at the single length of chain that attached the manacles on his wrists to an iron ring in the wall, trying to dislodge the ring; but the bolts holding it were secure and his efforts were for naught.
Panting and nearly exhausted by his exertions, he leaned back against the wall, trying to brace himself against the ship's constant rolling, but a sudden lurch threw him forward and he was left hanging by his arms as chilling water sloshed over him. When he regained his feet, he noticed that the water level had risen to midthigh.
Mitch knew that the Seastorm couldn't survive much longer with this much water in her, and a strange sense of calm overtook him as he faced the very real possibility of his own death. Prayers, taught to him in his childhood by his mother, came to his mind, and he said them silently, hoping for a miraculous deliverance, yet realizing that he had little cause for hope.
The Seastorm shuddered under the sweep of a giant wave, and Mitch suddenly wondered how young Tommy was holding up in the face of the storm. Shanghaied during a trip from his family's farm to San Francisco, Tommy had been ill equipped to deal with life at sea so Mitch had protected the lad and had tried to keep him out of the way of the vicious Captain Warson. But Warson was a brutal man, given to flogging the men for no particular offense, and when Mitch had protested a punishment he'd ordered for Tommy, the captain had turned his wrath on him, allowing Mitch to take the stripes in the young man's place.
Excerpted from Island Fire by Bobbi Smith Copyright © 1986 by Bobbi Smith. Excerpted by permission of ZEBRA BOOKS. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.