Read an Excerpt
By Heather Graham
OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIACopyright © 1983 Heather E. Graham
All rights reserved.
It was a steamy, miserable day; perspiration was dripping stinging salt through her brows into her eyes. Blair Morgan impatiently swiped the back of her hand across her forehead. She paused in her soup-ladling efforts to squeeze her eyes shut, wryly thinking that the heat here today wasn't much worse than on any tennis court in Acapulco or St. Martin. In all honesty, she much preferred this place to those luxurious playgrounds. Then, without warning, she felt the most absurd, unexplainable longing for home. Not D.C. per se, but the manor in Maryland that was really home. The proud Georgian house with its rolling acres of cool, blue-green landscape ... She blinked, and met a pair of small, deeply beseeching brown eyes. God, she thought fleetingly, what a beautiful kid. Then she snapped out of her trance to smile encouragingly and serve him a bowl of soup.
"Gracias, señora," the child whispered, silently adding, angela de dios. Angel of God. She was beautiful, this norteamericana, with eyes like the greenest pasture and hair that flamed like a brooding sunset, deep and rich. To the children she was kindness itself, but Miguelito also knew she was capable of being an avenging angel, like some of those out of the Old Testament in the Bible they studied with the padre at the chapel. He had seen her flame into action against the official-looking men who sometimes came in their big jeeps to inspect the compound.
"De nada, Miguelito, de nada." She smiled, but she seemed distant, and Miguelito clutched his crust of bread and his soup bowl and moved away.
Blair continued ladling, wondering idly if her right arm would grow larger than her left with a massive muscle like the jai alai players she had met years ago in the Basque country of Spain. No, she told herself, glad to find a source of inner amusement, ladling soup was not comparable to jai alai.
Finally the waifs of the recently devastated village were all fed. Blair lifted her floppy straw hat from her head and waved it in the still air as she pulled back the neckline of her short-sleeved khaki shirt, the saturated material clinging to her body.
It was times like these that made having grown up filthy rich a pity. The only time she had actually ever perspired as a girl had been on purpose—to acquire a perfect tan. And when the sun bore down too heavily, she would simply roll into the shimmering water of the cool, crystal-clear pool.
Well, she wasn't a girl any longer, she told herself staunchly. Those days were gone forever. She was here in this war-ravaged country because she chose to be. Life had been good for her, but when it had fallen apart, she had decided to try and return some of the good.
The useful activity had kept her from growing bitter, from following a spin of society that might have resulted in only superfluous affairs to combat the loneliness of her first loss. And she was needed here. No one cast those you- can't-be-serious looks at her—looks which she had been schooled to tolerate whenever she had attempted to do something solid.
She winced, squinting her eyes into the sun. Analytically she supposed it was possible to understand such attitudes. She, the daughter of a wealthy man, had married a wealthy man. Even a master's in psychology did little to get it across to anyone that she was an intelligent human being, capable of manual labor. Thank God for Kate! Kate, who had believed she could do much more than preside over diplomatic teas with efficiency. Kate, who had helped her make her dear but possessive father realize that what she needed after the tragedy was an outlet for her energy and grief.
As she thought of her friend, Blair glanced up to see the slight, redheaded young woman walking over to her, waving a straw hat in the heat as she was. Blair laughed at her approach and called dryly, "I think you look as sticky as I feel."
Wrinkling her nose again, Kate cupped a bowl of the thin soup and stuck a finger in the tepid liquid to taste it. "I can tell you something that might make you feel a little better."
"There's a beautiful little stream not a half a mile away." Kate sighed happily. Pleasures such as bathing were a luxury and not to be taken lightly.
"Wonderful! Are the males of our crew being gentlemen tonight and allowing us first dibs?"
She was teasing. Their crew consisted of six—three women and three men who were always gentlemen. Thomas Hardy was a dedicated doctor who was barely aware of his own wife, the cheerful matron who was the third female, Dolly. She claimed that staying with the Hunger Crew was the only way to see her own husband, but she was a motherly sort who couldn't be torn away from needy children. Harry Canton was a thin, studious fellow in his early twenties who blushed when a foul word was heard. Juan Vasquez, their native navigator, was a grandfather several times over and an educated man with a gracious Latin flair. He kept the women knowing they were feminine with a teasing charm he complained of being too old to fully vent upon them. He reminded Blair of a swarthy version of her own father.
"We get first dibs," Kate said cheerfully. "But Tom wants to see you in the med tent first. Seems we have a reporter coming in tomorrow, and he wants to warn you to make a disappearing act."
Blair groaned. The Hunger Crew was an apolitical organization, although it was supported by several governments. Every time a reporter came in, it was apparent he hoped to trap someone into voicing a political opinion—sure to twitch official noses. But it was worse than that for Blair. She used her mother's maiden name on official registrations, but if she was seen, her notoriety followed her. Few knew of her father, but even fewer failed to connect her face with that in the newsreels of Senator Teile's untimely and tragic death. The Hunger Crew accepted her anonymity; a reporter seeking a story did not.
"See Tom," Kate said. "I'll wait for you in the stream."
Blair strode quickly across the small compound to slip into the doctor's tent. As usual, when he wasn't busy patching up wounds or injecting antibiotics, his thin face was pressed into a book while he stroked his graying beard. Blair called his name twice to get his attention. He looked up absently, then slammed the book shut. "Blair," he smiled. "Come in. Sit."
She did, realizing as she perched on a hard, fold-up chair just how tired she was. "What's up?"
He scratched his head and vaguely grinned. She saw that he was unusually puzzled and serious. "Kate told you about the reporter?"
"Yes. Is there a problem?"
"No, no, the usual stuff. I really wanted to talk to you about something else."
"Were you thinking of going home, Blair?"
Blair frowned, now puzzled herself. "Well, yes, but not now. I signed up for two years. That's some months off. Why?"
"We're being sent two new recruits," the doctor said, shaking his head slightly.
"That's wonderful!" Blair exclaimed. "You've been requesting extra help—"
"Yes, but never expecting to get it." He rose from his seat on his bunk and began to pace the hard earth floor. "I was just wondering ..." He shrugged and looked directly at her. "Do you know something I don't?"
Blair shook her head. Tom Hardy never mentioned the family connections she wished to keep hidden, so she felt she owed him an honest answer. "I'm sure nothing big is up," she answered truthfully. "I just got a letter the other day." She smiled ruefully. "And I guarantee you, Dad would have given me dire warnings if there was a possibility of danger. No"—she shook her head again—"the elected government is now firmly in power. There hasn't been a report of guerrilla action in almost a month."
"Ah, well." He sat again, scratching his brow. "Maybe they've just begun to appreciate us a little!"
"That's probably it," Blair agreed, rising with a sheepish grin. "Now, if you don't mind—"
He waved a hand to her, picking up his book. "Get on out, Blair. Enjoy your swim."
She did. The stream was beautiful. Sheltered by a riot of multicolored foliage, it was a natural haven, running from the slope of a cliff with a bubbling noise that sounded delightfully like laughter. There was even a little place beneath sculpted rocks where the stream flowed off to form a small waterfall.
Kate was briskly drying herself when Blair appeared with soap in hand. "You won't believe this," she warned Blair, "but that water is actually cold."
"Good!" Blair laughed. She couldn't really remember what cold was, but the sensation, when her warm flesh hit the water, was marvelous. Goose bumps now rose on her skin, but she happily ignored them and swam leisurely to the waterfall, twisting her face to receive the cascade. She barely acknowledged Kate's wave and call of "I'm going back."
Nor did she notice that the foliage to the left of the foaming pool fluttered slightly without benefit of a breeze.
It would have never occurred to her on that late Sunday afternoon that she was being watched.
He stood in the bushes, motionlessly, his breath a whisper that joined the air, vital yellow eyes the only sign of life within him.
It was her. She didn't resemble the picture much at the moment, with her hair a sleek wet mane down her back, but her fine features were unmistakable. And, of course, she had been clothed in the picture. A muscle twitched in his jaw; he didn't like the role of voyeur. Yet he couldn't suppress a purely male, purely human appreciation. The photograph had given him no clue that her form was as fine as her face—healthy, tanned, with a wiry strength apparent in long slender arms, longer, shapely legs. Her breasts were high and firm; the narrow expanse of her waist and rounded curve of her hips inviting, just right for a man's hand.
Heat suffused through him that had nothing to do with the humid day, and he had to call on reserves of training to keep himself from wiping a new layer of sweat from his jaw. Princess, he reminded himself, efficiently quenching the ache in his loins with the reminder that he despised being where he was, and that it was the fault of her and her little tilted-nose defiance....
Still, she did create a scene of surrealistic beauty, her form exquisite as she lingered in the cool, clear water, laughing with a melodious sound harmonious to the rush of the stream. Her legs were folded beneath her as she perched upon a boulder beneath the fall and lifted her arms high as if in supplication, stretching with an intoxicating arch of her supple back.
Damn. It was pathetic to be wishing himself back in the Middle East. This assignment could just be the trigger to an early retirement....
Eventually she left the stream and he was able to backtrack to his own small encampment. He ate a desultory meal without tasting it, and tried without success to make his lean body comfortable in a sleeping bag.
Despite the insect nets, he was eaten alive by mosquitos. When he finally slept, he had forgotten all haunting images of the woman in the stream.
He was too busy cursing her.
Craig Taylor drove his jeep into the complex of the Hunger Crew unit just as the pink streaks of dawn began to take on a yellow hue. Already there was a bustle of activity; scores of natives were lined up to receive portions of gruel from a massive iron pot.
His eyes quickly scanned the scene, but he didn't see Blair Morgan. A slim redhead was spooning up the sticky stuff that looked to be some type of porridge; a young man barely out of his teens was doling out milk to children; a middle-aged woman seemed to be dispensing fruit.
As the ignition of his jeep sputtered out, Craig saw a frazzled bearded fellow rushing out to meet him with an eager smile upon his face. And once again he silently railed against the powers that be for putting him in this position. The man was ecstatic over the extra help he thought he was receiving.
"Welcome! Welcome!" The bearded man extended a hand. "I'm Tom Hardy, in charge of this chaos."
"Craig. Craig Taylor," Craig returned, responding to the surprisingly strong and enthusiastic handshake. He grabbed his duffel bag and leaped agilely over the side of the jeep, twisting his features into a facsimile of a light-hearted grin. "Where do I start?"
"I like that exuberance." The doctor laughed, assessing the new man. Odd, he didn't look the type to be here. In spite of his shaggy haircut and casual attire, something about his striking yellow eyes denoted authority. And he was built like steel piping. This was no young idealist out to save the known world. Oh, well, he decided philosophically, people all had their reasons for joining the outlands. He didn't ask a lot of questions; in his area he could judge a man or woman for themselves and for the fruits of their labor.
And as he thought of "fruits of labor" his smile increased to a degree that split his shaggy beard. It was going to be nice to have an intelligent and brawny man around. Especially with the supply wagon due in.
"For now," the doctor said, not at all ashamed to hide his elation, "you can meet the others. Later ... well, I'll have some heavy work for you. Unloading. Hope you won't mind being put into action."
"Not at all," Craig said, issuing his lie with remorse. "That's what I'm here for." Hell, he'd be happy as a lark to get anything done for the trusting doctor. The man was just as much a pawn as he. More so. Hardy didn't have the benefit of knowing.
"Come on along and meet the crew," Tom invited. "And I'll get you moved in."
Blair heard the arrival of the jeep and assumed that the reporter was arriving. It was time to make herself scarce.
Pulling her sunhat low over her forehead, she quietly disappeared into a trail behind the tents, becoming immediately swallowed up by the brush. She didn't need to push far into the jungle, nor did she care to. A little clearing within hearing distance of the compound afforded her shade from the heat and a smooth flat rock to call a chair. She settled down with a handbook to edible jungle foliage, determined to wait it out.
Blair quickly set aside her book, however, when she heard the arrival of a second jeep. Curiosity overrode caution and she tiptoed back through the sheltering trees.
The second jeep had brought the reporter—she knew it instantly. The man alighting did not belong in the tropics. He was dressed in jeans all right, but designer jeans. She could see a multitude of labels even from her distance. He wore a tailored shirt, the long sleeves rolled to his elbow. A pencil was perched behind his ear; his stance was a swagger.
A budding Cronkite, Blair thought dryly. Her life hadn't left her overly fond of reporters. Some were responsible professionals, but she had also met those devoid of sensitivity or a sense of responsibility about getting the facts straight.
Blair listened idly while Dr. Hardy droned on in bored, clipped tones, bluntly refusing to give an opinion on anything that involved the politics of this remote, ravaged country, no matter how the young Cronkite persisted. The interview didn't last long; Dr. Hardy knew his place in life; he knew what he wanted, what he was doing. No reporter was going to twist anything out of him except the mundane truth—the Hunger Crew had one purpose, and one purpose only: to bring relief to the civil victims of disaster.
The young reporter was obviously discouraged. Dr. Hardy turned away even before the man had climbed into the jeep. Ready to take the short walk back, Blair suddenly froze instead. Apparently the man had spotted her hair through the trees. Instinct was pulling him out of the jeep again, and in her direction.
Blinding, bitter memories of the press kept her feet still when she should have been moving. The reporter didn't know who she was yet, but if he came any closer ...
Her feet had almost begun to move when immobility assailed her again, this time from surprise.
"Where do you think you're going?" A deep voice leaped out at the reporter, spinning him in his tracks.
Blair glanced swiftly from the reporter to the unknown man issuing the curt demand. He was another stranger, a man to fit the voice, so tall that his tawny head would brush the peak of their tents. He wasn't looking at her, but at the bothersome visitor, his yellow stare a tangible thing that fixed the reporter where he stood. There was a definitive aura of danger to the tall, tawny man, an essence of quiet power that seemed to radiate throughout the compound. Blair could well understand the reporter's hesitance to take another step.
Excerpted from Tempestuous Eden by Heather Graham. Copyright © 1983 Heather E. Graham. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
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.