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"Because you're the man I need."
Rafferty Lewis shoved his hands into the pockets of his slacks and stared broodingly out the window. That the view afforded him was the striking expanse of a Trinidad beach cheered him not at all; he would have preferred the New York skyline he normally saw from his office window.
However . . .
"You can refuse, of course, Mr. Lewis. After all, I have no legal claim on you. Not one I'd care to be called on to prove in court, at any rate."
"I'm glad you realize that."
"But you were sworn in as a federal agent, Mr. Lewis. And Mr. Long is willing to give you a leave of absence; since you and your partner handle all the work for Mr. Long, I took the liberty of inquiring--"
"Hagen, for heaven's sake just tell me what Josh said."
"That you'd be a damned fool to get involved."
"He should know."
Rafferty sighed explosively. A damned fool. Well, he probably was one, since he was here. He didn't like the setup, not one bit, but Hagen had been adamant about it. And, if nothing else, Rafferty had learned respect for Hagen's intelligence, no matter what he thought of his methods. Had Hagen deliberately chosen to approach him when Zach and Lucas--both of whom would probably have tried to dissuade him--were out of touch on business for Josh? For that matter, Josh himself was out of reach on his honeymoon somewhere in the South Pacific. And only Hagen would have had the nerve to intrude at such a time to ask if Josh minded giving up his attorney for a while. Only Hagen would have been able to find Josh.
Rafferty smiled. He would have given a lot to have been a fly on the wall during that conversation.
It had been just a month or two since the secretive federal agent's machinations had involved them all: Joshua Long, who commanded a formidable financial empire, and the three men who worked for him and were his friends. And at the conclusion of that hectic, troubling, dangerous episode, the wily government agent had managed to draft Josh and his men into "temporary" service.
Temporary, my eye! Rafferty thought now. Hagen had intended all along to call in those markers, one by one. He wouldn't get hold of Josh again; Raven, Josh's bride, would see to that, Rafferty guessed. But, he thought ruefully, Hagen had managed to get him.
Thinking of Zach and Lucas, Rafferty decided that Hagen would have a more difficult time enlisting their aid on future assignments. The massive security chief and the shrewd investigator for Joshua Long's empire were tough men. Neither was prone to being backed physically or metaphorically into corners.
As for himself, well, his strongest trait was curiosity. And Hagen had known that. Damn him.
A soft, perhaps timid knock at the door of his suite recalled him to the present, and he turned from the window, unconsciously squaring his shoulders, and headed for the door. With no idea what he would confront, he was braced for the worst. He opened the door, and his golden gift for words, greatly polished by a Harvard education, failed him totally.
"Mr. Lewis? I'm Sarah Cavell."
Rafferty had wondered how on earth he would deal with this particular part of the operation; now he wondered about it again, but for an entirely different reason. Clearing his throat, he hastily stepped back and gestured for Sarah Cavell to enter. "Uh, come in, please."
As she passed him to go into the living room, Rafferty caught a hint of some elusive fragrance that went to his head in an unnerving manner. He felt a sudden strong pulse throb through his body on a wave of heat. Never before had he experienced such an instant, powerful reaction to a woman. It shook him badly.
Still, he was able to put one foot in front of the other to follow her. Barely.
Hagen had offhandedly called Sarah Cavell "attractive."
Hagen, Rafferty decided, badly needed his head examined. Or his eyes.
Sarah was a tiny woman, barely five feet tall if that. And though another woman might have called her petite, no man worth the name would. Her vibrant, surprisingly lush curves of breasts and hips were sure to stop traffic and haunt dreams.
Her hair was that rare, striking color between red and gold, and it hung thick and shining to the middle of her back. Styled simply with a center part, that silky sweep of burnished hair framed a face that was too delicately perfect to be real. She was like a painting; every feature was finely drawn with artistic excellence. And in that strikingly perfect face, her eyes were simply incredible. Huge and shadowed by long, thick lashes, they were a clear, pale green.
In that single, flashing instant, Rafferty wanted Sarah Cavell more than he'd ever wanted anything or anyone in his life. All the training and experience gained in his thirty-four years of living hadn't prepared him for this. His responses were no longer controlled by his mind. Instead, two million years of instincts were in command. His mind grappled with the situation, trying to master instinct, fighting impulses just this side of savage. And the fact that he partially succeeded was due almost entirely to the strength of his own force of will. A complicated situation, he thought grimly, had just become nothing less than impossible. How could he do what he was supposed to?
He waved her to a chair and sat down across from her, hoping his reaction hadn't shown on his face. It was said he had a poker face when he desired one; with any luck at all, that was true. And he was, after all, a lawyer, so he got his tongue in gear. "First names, I think?"
She nodded agreeably. "Unless we want to have people staring at us. That kind of thing perished with formal Victorians." Her soft voice was dry.
"True. So, Sarah, why is a nice girl like you about to spend a few weeks with a total stranger?" he asked. Her reaction to his question pierced the fog of his mind. He thought he saw something in her eyes before she answered, something that looked like fear.
"It's my job." She shrugged a little, her green eyes unreadable once more.
Rafferty had learned early in his career that he possessed an innate ability--call it an instinct--to detect anomalies. If something was out of sync in a situation he simply felt it, like an itch at the back of his mind. And that itching was fierce now.
He brushed a thumb along his jaw slowly, watching her, unaware that he was wearing his best professional poker face to hide the turmoil she caused. "Hagen said you'd fill me in," he said abruptly, "on what we're supposed to be doing."
She met his steady gaze, her own unflinching. "Our assignment," she said, "is to make contact with an undercover agent who has coded information. I was pulled--brought in for this--because I'm a cryptographer. Hagen said that twice in the past they've--we've--bought a pig in a poke and found it worthless, so my part in this assignment is to verify the information." Inwardly, Sarah swore at herself, wishing desperately that the handsome face across from her would reveal something of the man behind it, reveal something of his thoughts.
Rafferty noted the lapses and hesitations in her statements, and on top of everything else, he had to wonder. "I see. So we're to sail the Caribbean on this yacht Hagen provided until we make contact with the agent?"
"Why me?" His gaze held her eyes, seeing the flicker of hesitation in their green depths. "Hagen said it was because I was the man for the job. As far as I can see, any one of his male agents would have sufficed to provide . . . cover for you."
Sarah's mind recalled an answer to a question she had asked her superior, the same question Rafferty Lewis had just posed.
"Rafferty Lewis was an assistant district attorney at a ridiculously young age," her boss had told her. "Unfortunately, he had a problem playing political games. Joshua Long hired him, ostensibly to handle his legal affairs. He and his partner do that, of course, but Lewis is also a dollar-a-year man for the government. He's done some work for the Justice Department, and has been in on a couple of crime commissions and task forces. He's a pilot, and he holds a sharpshooter rating with all handguns. He's also extraordinarily cool under pressure and has an ability to fit himself into any situation he encounters. Gets about as nervous as a bag of cement."
Sarah shook her head slightly, as her thoughts returned to the present. "I can't answer you very well, I'm afraid. Hagen simply told me that you were the best he knew for this assignment."
Rafferty, with recent events very much in mind, shook his head slightly. "That man was born with a motive behind him," he said dryly. "From what I've seen, he has a reason for every action he takes, and every choice he makes. How long have you worked for him?"
"Oh, several years," she said, vague. "But his--our--organization is a large one; I only met him when he briefed me on this assignment."
Rafferty watched her cross slim, tanned legs, reminding himself that he was feeling suspicious and nothing more. Certainly nothing more. But his wayward mind persisted in thinking that she had the most fantastic legs, and what did it matter that she was either lying or concealing something from him?
"Then you"--he cleared his throat of a tendency toward hoarseness--"have never worked with him personally?"
Remembering Raven, he asked, "What's your specialty?"
"I told you. I'm a cryptographer."
"Puzzles, coded messages and information--like that?"
All Rafferty's instincts, legal and otherwise, warned him that he'd better get all the information he could before this thing began. Past experience told him there might well be little time for it later. At the moment, however, he couldn't think of many questions to ask. Except the ones he couldn't ask, the ones he wanted very badly to ask, the ones having nothing to do with the assignment.
"Did you love your husband very much?"
"Can you forget him?"
"Could you want me?"
He cleared his throat again. "I see. Well, if I have the sequence of events correctly, we're to check into another hotel here in Trinidad for a couple of days, then board the yacht and set sail for some country. . . . What was it?"
"Kadeira. It's northwest of here."
"Yes, I've heard of it. And while we sail around Kadeira, we're supposed to make contact with the operative with the coded information?"
She hesitated. "Um . . . sort of. Actually, the agent is more or less incommunicado because of his cover. We have to go to him."
Rafferty drummed his long fingers soundlessly on the arm of his chair as he forced himself to consider this second disconcerting aspect of the situation. And he knew now why Hagen had been so evasive in naming their destination. Rafferty would have laughed in his face if he'd been told they were actually to go into Kadeira. "Correct me if I'm wrong," he said morosely, "but isn't Kadeira having political and social difficulties at the moment? The kinds of difficulties which make it inadvisable for tourists to visit the island?"
She was chewing her bottom lip, drawing his gaze despite all his good intentions and nagging suspicions, causing his heart to pound heavily and every muscle of his body to tighten, and her soft voice sounded as if it were afraid of itself.
"Uh, yes. The president there claims it isn't a revolution and that he's in control, but there have been a few incidents in the past months involving American tourists. They don't get many tourists," she added.
His fingers drummed faster. Dammit, why couldn't he take his eyes off her? "Yes. As I recall from the news reports, a salesman from Wichita was arrested for being a spy. Bit paranoid, aren't they?"
She looked uneasy for a moment. "He was released," she offered.
"Uh-huh. But the toy manufacturer from Billings hasn't been seen in over a month."
Her eyes widened, but Sarah Cavell had nothing to say.
Rafferty stopped drumming long enough to run his fingers through his thick copper hair. His tawny eyes frowned at her. "Tell me, did Hagen suggest we go into this island paradise armed? Or are we being given diplomatic immunity to perform an act that Kadeira's president--judging by his record--would certainly consider an act of espionage?"
Sarah examined her long, bronze-lacquered nails. "About guns, personal choice, Hagen said. I should mention, I couldn't hit the side of a barn if I was standing next to it."
"Great," Rafferty muttered, becoming unwillingly fascinated in a horrified kind of way. "And the rest?"
She seemed to find the secrets of the universe in the metallic gleam of her nails. "Oh . . . no diplomatic or political immunity for us, I'm afraid. Kadeira doesn't exactly recognize American nationals as being . . . worthy of such honors. We're reasonably safe outside the three-mile limit, but once inside Kadeira . . ."
"And how," Rafferty asked carefully, "are we supposed to get inside Kadeira? Being unworthy American nationals, I mean?"
"Hagen said that it's been arranged."
"Oh, did he? Did he happen to mention just how it's been arranged?"
Rafferty began to entertain notions of locating the elusive Hagen and choking the information out of him. It was a blissful possibility while it lasted. He sighed. "I see. We just leap blindly into this thing, trusting Hagen beyond the limits of sanity. Do you happen to speak Spanish?" He watched her shake her head slowly, and wasn't surprised. "Neither do I. And from what I've seen of the rare news footage, neither of us looks as if we belong in Kadeira. How in the name of hell are we supposed to get into that country without getting ourselves arrested?"
Sarah lifted her hands in a kind of shrug and tried a smile that she couldn't quite pull off. "Hagen said it's all arranged," she repeated softly.
Rafferty wished he smoked. Or drank to excess. Any escape would have been pleasant at the moment. "Right. Well, ignoring that question for the moment, what about later? Once we're inside Kadeira, how do we make contact with the agent holding the information?"
Sarah studied her nails again. "We'll receive a signal from him to arrange a meeting. At the meeting, we'll receive the information, which I'm to verify. Then we just . . . leave Kadeira."
From the Paperback edition.