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'It's pronounced sin-cere!' Vicki St. Cyr leaned on the hotel counter. She was used to having her name mangled.
"Don't believe a word of it." The deep, rich voice in her ear made her start and spin around. Those familiar flashing dark eyes were settled firmly on the hotel clerk. "She's not to be trusted at all."
The young female behind the desk looked up, and her face took on that foolish sparkle of a girl suddenly confronted with the attentions of a handsome predatory male. "Can I help you, sir?"
"I'll let you know." Jack looked back at Vicki, and she felt her blood heat.
"Hi, Jack." Vicki realized, too late, that she'd crossed her arms defensively over her chest. "Fancy seeing you here."
"Vicki, what a surprise." His voice contained no more astonishment than hers. His gaze seemed to peer right through her carefully groomed exterior and flay bare a small part of her soul. If she still had a soul. "I hear you're looking for me."
She swallowed. How had he heard? She'd hoped at least for the advantage of surprise. But then Jack had always been two strides ahead of her. Why would now be any different? "I have a proposal for you."
He leaned against the counter like a lazy puma. "How romantic."
"Not that kind of proposal." Her voice had a prim, schoolmistressy snap that she instantly regretted. "A business proposition."
"Perhaps we should go somewhere more private." His dark eyes added an undercurrent of suggestion to his words. He turned his head to the clerk. "She won't be needing her room."
A surge of desire, tangled up with fear and anticipation and evenalreadyregret for what she was about to do, rose through her body like a flash flood. She lifted her bag higher on her shoulder. She was strong now. She could handle him. She'd have to.
"Why won't I need my room?" The question was purely for show because they both knew the answer.
"You'll be staying with me. Just like old times." His broad, sensual mouth widened, like the habitual slight grin of a crocodile. He grabbed her bag off the floor and strode for the door. Vicki's faithless eyes tracked his tight behind, clad in faded denim, and the way his worn T-shirt hugged the thick muscle of his back.
"Should I cancel the room?" The desk clerk didn't take her eyes off him, even after he disappeared through the revolving door. "There will be a cancellation charge of fifty dollars because it's already"
"Yes." Vicki put her credit card on the counter. What was another fifty on top of what she already owed? It would save a fortune over staying in this expensive boutique hotel. Two years of trying to "keep up appearances" had left her close to beggary. Lord knows she wouldn't be here otherwise.
But desperate times called for desperate measures, like daring to set foot in Jack Drummond's lair.
Jack was behind the wheel of his vintage Mustang when she got outside. The fierce South Florida sun beat down on the tarmac and threw dazzling diamond reflections off the custom jade-green paint job. The engine was already running and the passenger door open for her to get in. Did he know she didn't have a car? In the old days she'd have rented one and insisted on driving it just to keep the escape hatch open. Right now she didn't have that luxury. She climbed in and settled herself against the soft leather seat. "How did you know I'd be here?"
"My spies are everywhere." He didn't look at her as he pulled out of the parking lot and left the exclusive Ramona Beach Inn behind.
"You don't have any spies." She seized the opportunity to study his face. Skin tanned to a rich copper as usual, dark hair flecked with gold. "You've always been a one-man band."
"You've been hanging around the New York Drum-monds." He still didn't turn toward her, but she saw the muscles tighten in his hand on the wheel. "Figured I was next."
Vicki drew in a breath. "I spent a relaxing few weeks with Sinclair and his mom. It was fun to catch up with old friends."
A smile twitched at the edge of his mouth. "You always have an ulterior motive. The fun is in figuring it out."
She stiffened. "My motives are very simple. I'm helping Katherine Drummond locate the pieces of a three-hundred-year-old family chalice."
"And you're doing this because of your passion for history?" This time he did turn to her. His smile deepened, beneath his bold cheekbones. "I heard you became an antiques dealer."
"The chalice has an interesting story."
"Oh, yes." His voice deepened into a throaty narrator's drone. "Three brothers, tossed by the stormy seas on their passage from bonnie Scotland, bid goodbye to each other in the New World but pledged one day to reunite their family treasure. Only then could the mighty Drummond clan regain the luck of their esteemed ancestors." He tossed a mighty laugh out onto the wind. "Come on, Vicki. That's not your style."
"There's a reward." Might as well come clean. Jack was more likely to be tempted by money than sentiment.
"Ten thousand dollars." He turned off the main road onto an unmarked and unpaved side road, fringed by spiky palms and tall scrub pines. "I've got junk worth more than that in the trunk of my car."
"It's twenty thousand per piece. I convinced Katherine to raise it. To attract the right sort of treasure hunters."
"Like me." She was gratified when he turned to look at her. His dark gaze met hers and a jolt of emotion leaped through her. Old feelings, long buried, started clawing their way to the surface. She felt a shimmer of panic. "Not that I really need the money, of course. But if I'm going to look for an old cup, there might as well be a profit in it."
"And you need my treasure hunting expertise to claim the reward."
"You're the most successful treasure hunter on the Atlantic coast. I read an article about your new boat and all its expensive equipment. You're famous."
"Some would say notorious."
"And most likely the cup fragment is somewhere in your house." She'd found the first piece in the attic of his cousin Sinclair's Long Island mansion.
"If it's anywhere at all." His hand slid on the wheel as he turned down another unmarked road. The pines and saw palmettos ended as abruptly as the road, which descended suddenly to a beach. Jack swung the car to the left and parked near a broad wooden dock. A good-size boat, white with gleaming chrome rails, bobbed at the far end.
"Your dock looks different than I remember."
"It's been a long time." He was already out of the car and carrying her bag down the dock with feline grace.
"Not that long. There was a building here and a gate." And a bench where they'd once made love under a bright full moon.
"Gone in the last hurricane. Road keeps getting shorter, too."
"Must be frustrating to lose expensive real estate to the sea."
"Not if you enjoy change." He swung her bag into the boat and turned to watch as she walked along the wood jetty. She hoped her own walk had a fraction of the swagger she admired in his.
He helped her onto his boat, where he'd already slung her bag. She walked around the deck to where a big, padded fighting chair held a commanding position. She perched herself on the seat and grabbed hold of the armrests. Jack had never been a slow driver. The boat lurched to a start and the propeller wash foamed beneath her feet as the engines roared into action. She braced her feet against the footrest as they leaped and bounced over the choppy water. Within a minute or so, Jack's island appeared over the horizon. Fringed with palms, no building visible, it looked like the kind of place you could get marooned and die. And she was going to be trapped here with Jack Drummond, unless she geared herself up for a long and bracing swim.
The dock on the island looked the same as the last time she saw it, years ago. Built of coral rock and carved in the elaborate style of some ancient and wealthy Drummond ancestors, it was flanked with two stone turrets that probably once concealed armed men. Maybe they still did, if tales of Jack's wealth were to be believed.
"Lost your sea legs?" Jack grabbed her arm when she wobbled while trying to climb out of the boat.
"I haven't spent much time on the water lately."
"Shame." His gaze hovered on her face and, to her horror, she felt her skin heat. How did he have this effect on her? She was the one who ate men for breakfast. He was just some scurvy sea dog from her past.
Does he still think I'm beautiful? The sudden thought stabbed hera pang of insecurity.
Who cares? You're not here to make him fall in love with you. You need his help to find the cup and then you can wash your hands of him forever.
The old house on the island was obviously built more as a fort than a cozy residence. Limestone walls rose from behind the wild hedge of round-leaved sea grape that separated the pale strip of beach from the interior of the island. Only two tiny windows pierced the stone block exterior, although the iron-studded doors were thrown open to let in the morning sun.
"Is there anyone else visiting you?" The open door shoved unwelcome thoughts into her brain. Another woman? She hadn't dared to assume he was single. He never was for long. Women swarmed Jack Drummond like sharks to a flesh wound.
"We'll be alone." He strode ahead of her, sunlight picking out golden highlights in his dark hair. Shadow cloaked him as he entered the tall arched doorway into his private sanctum.
Good. She didn't need competition at this stage. It would be embarrassing flirting in front of someone else. Trying to compete. She might have enjoyed that in the old days, but she didn't have the brash confidence of raw youth anymore.
The intricate colored-marble floor of the entrance hall stood in lush contrast to the fortress exterior. Jack's ancestors may have been pirates, but they also loved beautiful thingsexpensive thingswhich might explain why they became pirates in the first place.
Jack looked as arrogant as ever. Even from behind he radiated self-assurance, his broad shoulders set easy against his powerful neck, his hairtoo long, as usualcurling almost to the collar of his T-shirt. Jack didn't bother to conform to norms of fashion or try to fit in. He didn't need to. Born into a semicriminal dynasty of treasure hunters, he'd excelled in the family trade and made more moneylegallyin the past five years than all his ancestors put together.
He filled a glass of water at the monstrous steel fridge and turned to her, offering it. "Too early in the day for champagne, but I'm celebrating your arrival all the same."
The twinkle in his eye disarmed her as she took the water. Was he really happy to see her? "The pleasure is mutual." She raised her glass of water. Let the flirting begin. "I've missed you, Jack."
"This is getting better every minute. I still can't figure out what you're after."
She smarted under his unromantic retort. He leaned against the broad pine table in the kitchen and crossed his powerful arms. Tiny golden hairs stood out against thick, bronzed muscle. She cursed herself for noticing.
"Isn't it enough to visit one old friend while helping out another?"
"Nope. And half of a twenty-thousand-dollar reward isn't enough to tempt the Vicki St. Cyr I know. Unless your financial situation has changed." His eyes narrowed slightly, and she felt their dark perceptive power.
She swallowed and stiffened but tried not to show her anxiety. The press hadn't yet sniffed out her father's sudden descent into financial ruin. The confusion created by his death from a stroke had provided a smokescreen. Her mom had slipped off to Corsica with a wealthy friend of her dad, and the only person left holding the empty bag was her.
"I can always find something pretty to spend ten thousand dollars on." She played with her silver bracelet, which was probably worth about twelve dollars. "It's a curse to be raised with expensive tastes."
"Unless you're born gagging on a silver spoon. You've never needed to make money."
"I find it emotionally satisfying." If Jack knew she truly needed the money he'd be less likely to help her. He'd be unable to fight the urge to play with her, like a cat with a trapped mouse. "It makes me feel normal."
Jack threw his head back, and a great guffaw filled the kitchen, bounced off the stone surfaces of the walls and floor and echoed off the high ceiling. "Normal? You're probably the least normal person I know, and that's why I enjoy you so much."
"It's been a long time, Jack. Perhaps I'm more conventional than I used to be."
"I doubt it." A tiny smile pulled at one corner of his mouth.
"Why do you bother to make money?" Going on the offensive might be her best line of defense. "You could have lived comfortably on the ill-gotten gains of your ancestors, but instead you're out there every day trawling the oceans for gold doubloons as if your life depended on it."
"I get bored easily."
Vicki's stomach clenched. He'd grown bored with her. Eight magical months, then one day he was gone, off to pursue more elusive treasure and find a new damsel for his bed. "So you do. And what do you do with all the money you make?"
"Some of it I spend on new toys, the rest I just keep lying around the house in sacks." Mischief twinkled again in his eyes, which stayed firmly fixed on her.
She fought a sudden urge to scan the place for burlap bags filled with Spanish silver. "I have expensive taste in boats, especially my newest."
"I'd like to see it."
"Her." Mischief sparkled in his eyes again. Vicki tensed as visions of a hard-bodied blonde crept into her mind. "Oh, your boat is female."
"They all are."
"Why is that?"
He shrugged. "Maybe because they drive us men crazy." His gaze lingered on her face, and she felt her skin heat. "But we love them anyway."
The word love made her jump slightly. Not a real jump, a jolt deep inside her. Either way, it made her feel even more off kilter than she did already. How did Jack Drummond manage to fluster her like no other man?
"So, this cup. It's part of your family history and probably stowed in a dusty corner of this old pile." She gestured at the stone walls around them. "Any idea where it is?"
Jack tilted his head slightly as if thinking. "No idea at all."