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By Mary McBride
Harlequin Enterprises LimitedCopyright © 2002 Harlequin Enterprises Limited
All right reserved.
Chapter OneThe ringing phone sliced through Dr. Elliot Hunter's sleep like a scalpel.
Okay. Okay. What time was it? Where the hell was he anyway? He opened one eye and saw a thin blade of daylight between drawn curtains - the resonant golden daylight that was peculiar to San Francisco in early autumn.
He was home. Thank God. The clock read 1:15 p.m., so he must've slept more than ten hours, but it seemed he'd only dropped into bed an hour or two ago after a sixteen-hour flight on a Royal Montebellan jet from Cairo, too exhausted and jet-lagged to even make love to his beautiful wife. He stretched out his left arm now, encountering only cool and empty sheets. No Kate. She would've left for the clinic hours before.
It'd be nice, he thought blearily, if she were calling him now, suggesting a lunchtime tryst. He snatched the phone from its cradle and grunted "Hunter" only to be greeted with a dial tone and another shrill, insistent ring. More awake now, Elliot realized it was the other phone on the bedside table. The secure phone. The one restricted for communication between the Noble Men.
Christ. He'd just spent eight days in the Middle East trying to cool tempers and to put out some of the fires forever being sparked in that volatile region. What morecould he do?
"Hunter," he growled into the second phone.
"How was your vacation?"
There was no mistaking his father's voice - tough as his wiry physique, tinged with his keen sense of humor. When Dr. Gordon Hunter had worked as a field surgeon in Vietnam - Captain Hunter, then - his mobile operating room had no doubt born a startling resemblance to the one in M*A*S*H. His father, in his late sixties now, was the best man Elliot knew, a belief he had made official when he'd asked his old man to stand up for him when he and Dr. Katherine Remson were married last year.
"The vacation was great," Elliot replied. "Thanks. I did some snorkeling."
He knew that his father would translate his words to mean that he had successfully and secretly entered Cyprus at Famagusta, where he represented the Noble Men in negotiations between Greece and Tamir.
"Was it pleasant?" his father asked.
"Only slightly," Elliot said.
"Ah, well." It was one of the few times the young surgeon detected weariness and worry in the elder doctor's voice. "I wanted to let you know I just put your sister on a plane to visit our old friend."
Elliot sat straight up in bed. "You what?" Our old friend was the commonly used code name for King Marcus of Montebello. Why the hell was Dad sending Sarah to Montebello?
"Marc has a young friend in need of her expertise," his father said, abandoning the standard, veiled communication, which wasn't like him at all, even in light of the secure phone.
Now Elliot was fully alert. Worried, too. He swung his legs over the side of the bed as he spoke. "They have child psychologists in San Sebastian, Dad. Why send Sarah halfway across the planet? What's up?"
Gordon Hunter sighed. "She got herself engaged while you were away. To that idiot accountant who works for Kate's clinic."
Elliot blinked. "Warren?" He took his father's gruff curse for a yes, then sat there rubbing the stubble on his jaw, doubly confused. As far as Elliot knew, his twenty-nine-year-old sister wasn't interested in marriage in any way, shape or form. And even assuming she was interested, why in the world would a woman as beautiful and vibrant and free-spirited as Sarah Hunter choose Warren Dill for a mate? The guy was completely humorless, an accountant to the marrow of his bones. His idea of a good time was probably knocking back a few lite beers while he read actuarial tables.
"Why?" It was the only question Elliot could think to ask.
"Your guess is as good as mine, but apparently her mind's made up. She's like your mother in that respect, you know." His father sighed. "Stubborn. Mulish."
Elliot almost laughed. Gordon Hunter wasn't exactly known for his fickleness or ability to be swayed once he'd made up his mind. He was a stubborn, diehard ally and a formidable foe. Sarah hadn't fallen far from the tree. "So you shipped her off to Montebello, hoping she'll come to her senses," he said. "It would've been cheaper to send her to London, Dad, or on a Caribbean cruise. Safer, too. Things are still pretty unsettled in Montebello. I heard there was a murder on the palace grounds."
"Yes, Marc mentioned that. The victim, Desmond Caruso, was his nephew. Rather a ne'er-do-well, I gather. Coincidentally, the child who needs psychological help stopped speaking at about the same time as the murder. You might know his father, Elliot. Sir Dominic Chiara is the palace physician."
"I know him by reputation." What Elliot had heard was that Dr. Chiara's promising career as a surgeon had been derailed by the death of his wife. Hell, they'd probably had a lot in common a few years ago. On the other hand, maybe not. Dominic, or Nick as he was known to friends, Chiara had been left with a baby son. Elliot had been left with no one when his wife and baby daughter died. "I didn't meet him. He was away on sabbatical when Katie and I were there last year after the bombing."
His father snorted. "Well, he's there now, and apparently in severe denial about his son's problem these past few weeks. At least according to the king. Marc's hoping Sarah can set the fellow straight."
"Knowing my little sister, she'll accomplish that in about two minutes."
"The hope, my boy, is that it will take her a bit longer than two minutes. At least long enough to forget about this ridiculous engagement."
Elliot laughed. "Careful, Dad. You're playing Cupid again."
"I'm damned good at it, too. Look at you and Kate."
The playfulness evaporated from Gordon Hunter's voice then. He was a Noble Man again, through and through, when he said, "Stop by the house this evening, Elliot. We'll discuss that snorkeling."
Excerpted from Sarah's Knight by Mary McBride 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.