Until There was You
By Francis Ray
St. Martin's Press Copyright © 1999 Francis Ray
All rights reserved.
LUKE GRAYSON WAS RUNNING AWAY.
The thought brought a grimace to his handsome features as he tossed his worn duffel bag into the passenger seat of his oversize Dodge Ram truck. He'd never run away from anything in his life, and the idea that he had to now didn't go down easy. But what else could he do? he asked himself as he backed out of his driveway in the quiet residential area outside of Santa Fe. He'd pit his skills of survival against anyone or anything. Heck, he had before and won.
But this new opponent was tougher, craftier than anyone he had ever come up against. Every move he made was countered and matched. It made things worse, not better, that this newest adversary was his mother.
Ruth Grayson was proving to be sneakier than Luke thought. You'd think after thirty-four years a man would know his own mother. Heck, you'd think she'd know him. But no, she wasn't taking no for an answer. She wanted him married, and married was what he was going to be.
Every time he looked up, there was a woman in his face. It hadn't meant squat to his mother that Santa Fe had only a small population of men and women of color and even less of Muskogee Creek. She had gained the aid of her relatives and friends in her wide academic and civic circle, and suddenly women were coming from all over the country to visit. Of course, she had volunteered him to show them around.
Only his love and respect for her kept him silent. But that was exactly what his crafty mother had counted on. She knew none of her children would disrespect her. But enough was enough. He'd just come back from taking Shirley Hinton, number twenty-seven, to the Albuquerque International Airport. She was pleasant enough, but she had the most annoying habit of giggling. Unfortunately she tended to giggle over the smallest things. Her fifth-grade students in Oklahoma probably enjoyed her jubilance, but after two days it began to grate on his nerves. Knowing his mother, she had already lined up number twenty-eight.
His mother's family, the Falcons, were known for their stubbornness. To some it was called bullheaded. The results were the same. Once they started on something, they saw it through to the end. No excuses. No time-outs. For centuries that singlemindedness had helped his Native American ancestors overcome obstacles that would have overwhelmed a lesser people.
Now his mother had singled him out, and he was in trouble.
Luke didn't breathe easier until the lights of Santa Fe were reflected in his rearview mirror, then winked out completely. Safe. Leaning back against the smooth leather seat, he almost relaxed. In less than fifteen minutes he'd be at his cabin. Alone. The thought eased his grip on the steering wheel.
Since it was Friday and nearing midnight, he could look forward to two whole days of just being by himself. He wouldn't have to worry about who might call or drop by unexpectedly as he had for the months since Dominique and Trent's wedding. Shaking his dark head, he slowed to turn onto the two-lane blacktop. As soon as the Dodge Ram straightened, he increased his speed, his need for the peacefulness of the cabin growing.
The narrow road twisted like a mad serpent as it climbed higher into the Sangre de Cristo Mountains. Inky blackness surrounded him. The only illumination was his headlights that sliced though the night. Previous trips let Luke know that only a few feet from his wheels was a sheer drop of a hundred feet, and that drop increased with each rotation of his wheels. The road was not one you traveled at night unless you knew it. Those who had tried and failed weren't given second chances.
Five and a half miles after leaving the main road, Luke turned into a paved driveway. The truck bounced over gravel and came to a halt in front of a six-foot-high steel gate. Fishing the key out of the glove compartment, he quickly opened the gate, drove through, then swung it shut without bothering to lock it. The lock was to keep people out. He couldn't see the log cabin through the trees, but the calming of his soul told him it was there.
Aided by the glowing full moon, his keen eyesight picked out the towering peaked roof of the log cabin above the pine and spruce trees less than a minute later. Proud and sturdy, the log structure, properly cared for, would stand for generations to come. He and Daniel had made sure of that. Neither of them saw the sense of building something that would last only their lifetime. True seers thought not just of themselves, but of the future.
He had taken great pride in helping design the contemporary western theme of the house with its exposed log posts, expansive walls of glass, and unusual radiant-rock floor that heated in the winter, but in the summer allowed the heat to dissipate into a cool mass. He never forgot to give thanks to the Master of Breath for the gift of the trees and the healing link to Mother Earth. In the early days, a log house would have been impossible in Santa Fe due to the shortage of big trees.
Switching off the motor, Luke grabbed his bag and bounded up the wooden steps. In his mind's eye he could already visualize the home's light and warm interior, anticipate the series of four huge logs in the entry that rose to the loft with its shapely, curvilinear staircase, the great room filled with the natural, sun-washed colors. At last, he'd have some peace and quiet. Enormously pleased that he had outmaneuvered his mother and wouldn't be bothered by a woman for two whole days, he unlocked the door, hit the light switch on the wall, and entered the cabin.
The click of a gun stopped Luke two steps inside the open living area. He tensed. His dark head came up sharply. More rage than fear filled his eyes as he stared down the black hole of the gun barrel leveled at him, then beyond to the person holding the deadly weapon. His rage increased on seeing the gender of the person.
A slender black woman stood in the room he loved so well, holding a .380 steadily in both hands, her arms outstretched and straight, her legs braced in a wide stance. Neither his tension nor anger lessened because a woman held the gun that could blow a sizable hole in him. In his experience, a woman could be just as deadly as a man. More so because most people didn't expect them to be that vicious or cold-blooded. Again, Luke's experience had taught him otherwise.
"Who are —"
"I'll ask the questions," she said, cutting him off. "Who are you and what are you doing here?"
The accent was East Coast, cultured and cool. At another time, Luke might have been more amicable to answering her questions, but something about a gun being pointed at him in his own house pissed him off. "A man doesn't like staring down the barrel of a gun."
"Then I suggest you answer my questions. Neither one of us would like it very much if my finger happened to slip while I'm waiting."
Black eyes blazed. Luke tried to figure out if she were a real threat or simply a smart-mouth. He might not be able to tell the color of her dark eyes, but he could see no fear or hesitation in them. She'd pull the trigger if she had to. "You better make sure the first one counts."
A sleek eyebrow arched as a smile played around her lips. The semiautomatic lowered to roughly six inches below his navel. "Feel like talking now?"
"What I feel like is breaking your neck."
"Wouldn't be the first time I've heard that, and I doubt it will be the last," she told him matter-of-factly.
For the first time he really looked at her, looked beyond the weapon that could spit out six deadly bullets before he took two steps, beyond his initial surprise and anger to the woman easily holding the gun.
Tall and beautifully shaped, she had endless legs, which were shown to perfection by the side slits of the tautly pulled long gray silk nightgown. Her stunning face was feminine and delicately sculptured with a small nose, high cheekbones, and lush, sensual lips. On her slender feet were gray velvet slippers with a velvet bow.
There was no makeup on her rich mahogany skin. Her shoulder-length curly black hair was mussed. Apparently she had been in bed. Alone if he didn't miss his guess. He didn't think a woman who could so calmly hold a gun on a man would have much use for a man who hid while she faced an unknown adversary.
If she were alone, there was another point to consider. The cabin was high in the mountains and since the lock on the gate and front door hadn't been broken, it stood to reason that she had a key. He hadn't checked the windows to see if they had been broken, but he didn't need to. They were impenetrable. He'd seen to that.
A key meant she had permission to be there and that could only come from one person, Daniel Falcon, who shared ownership of the cabin. But try as he might, Luke couldn't think of one of Daniel's female acquaintances who would appear so comfortable holding a gun on a man. Or his male acquaintances for that matter.
"Luke Grayson," he finally said.
Up went her brow again. "Prove it."
"My wallet is in my hip pocket."
"Get it. Two fingers."
Trying not to let his anger overrule common sense, he did as she requested. He didn't like someone holding a gun on him, but he would like even less ending up with a bullet hole in him again. Time enough to think of a suitable retribution. "Here."
"Toss it." The level of the gun lifted to his abdomen. Her gaze didn't waver. "Very carefully."
The hand-tooled, brown leather billfold landed midway between them on a colorful Navajo rug. She never took her eyes from him. Luke cursed the woman and whomever had taught her to keep her eyes on the target no matter what.
"Seems we have a problem," she said mildly. "I'd ask you to kick it over, but I have a feeling the results would be about the same."
Luke folded his arms.
"You're just stubborn enough to be who you say you are. Unfortunately, I can't take a chance." Shifting the gun to her left hand, she crossed the room to the phone on the end table, hit the speaker, then the redial button.
An impatient male voice answered on the second ring. "Make it quick."
"Sorry, but this is Catherine and I have a situation at the cabin that is not as empty as you thought."
A razor sharpness entered the man's voice. "Who?"
"I'm calling you because I'm not sure. There's a mountain of a man who looks like he could rip my head off standing ten feet in front of me. Says his name is Luke Grayson, but not much else."
"Tall, six feet four, brawny with go-to-hell looks that match his attitude. Long, thick straight black hair tied at the back with a rawhide thong, black eyes as sharp as a wolf's fangs. The broken nose indicates I'm not the first person he had a disagreement with. Western style of dress, blue chambray shirt, obscene fitting jeans, and scuffed skin boots. Some silly women might find all that pent-up intensity and bulging muscles attractive." She shrugged a dismissive shoulder. "Too caveman for me. Guess the gun in my hand ticked him off."
"Catherine, tell me you're kidding?"
"About the gun or him being ticked?"
"Afraid I can't do that."
Laughter boomed over the line. "I can't believe you got the drop on him. I'll never let him live it down."
The frown eased from her forehead. "Then he is your cousin?"
"Sounds like it. Luke, stop scaring Catherine," the male voice commanded.
Luke didn't bother pointing out that she was the one holding the gun. "Tell her to put the gun away, Daniel, before I forget she's a woman."
"He's legit, Catherine. Luke, meet Catherine."
"Sorry, gotta go. Time for my son's midnight feeding and he's not known for his patience. Night." The line went dead.
Catherine looked at the angry man, snapped on the safety, and lowered the gun. He still looked ready to blow. His problem. He had scared ten years off her life. But at least this time it wasn't her imagination. "I'm already in the bedroom on the right. You'll have to take one of the others."
"Aren't you forgetting something?" he asked tightly.
"Not unless you want to take my order for breakfast," she ventured mildly.
The scowl on his handsome face deepened.
She shrugged. The thin strap of her nightgown slid over her shoulder. She didn't bother pulling it back up. "I didn't think so. Good night."
Entering her bedroom, Catherine closed the door behind her and leaned against it, her body trembling. She'd been almost asleep when she'd heard the noise outside. At home she had thought she'd heard someone several times outside her house, but the police had never been able to find anything. For a moment, she'd thought she was imagining things again. Then, she had heard the slam of a door.
The peacefulness of the woods and the isolation no longer seemed quite so beautiful and safe. She hadn't gotten the gun until she heard someone come up on the porch. By the time she'd retrieved the weapon out of her suitcase and opened her bedroom door, Luke was inside.
The size of him, and his easy entrance into the cabin had her automatically lifting the weapon. Some people could be trusted only when they could be controlled. Although she didn't like guns, didn't like what they could do to human flesh, experience had taught her she needed an edge.
Before she began her weapon training, her instructor had taken her to a busy hospital emergency room. That night she saw more than she wanted to of the damage a bullet could do to a person. Derrick Rodgers had wanted her to respect the weapon and its power. The police didn't call it deadly force for nothing.
Pushing away from the door, she looked at the gleaming automatic in her hand.
"Wonder if the tall man would be as ticked if he knew there wasn't a bullet in the chamber or a clip in the gun?"
Probably not, she thought. And Derrick wouldn't be any happier. He had taught her to be certain she needed a gun before she pulled it, but once she made the decision, she had better be ready for action. Unfortunately, the streets of Los Angeles at night, like those of many metropolitan cities in the 1990s, were sometimes just as dangerous as in the 1790s. That, too, was a lesson she had learned.
Sighing, she walked over to her suitcase. At least it wouldn't take her long to repack. She had come to the cabin for rest and relaxation, to get away from everything and enjoy some badly needed downtime. That was impossible with Luke Grayson around. Even if they hadn't gotten off to a bad start, he didn't look to be the restful type. Too intense. Too dangerous looking.
Los Angeles was full of big, powerfully built men who prided themselves on their well-toned bronzed bodies. Somehow she knew Luke's wasn't manufactured in a gym or fitness center or the result of steroids. He didn't have that beefy, bulging appearance that totally turned her off.
Yet, it wasn't just his size that unsettled her, it was also the intense way he had looked at her. She'd taken that dig at him for her own benefit. A woman could get into a lot of trouble with a man like that. And if there was one thing she prided herself on, it was staying clear of men who couldn't be easily forgotten.
She shrugged the thought and the nightgown off, then reached for her bra. She was leaving. She had enough on her mind without adding an angry man to the list. Driving down the narrow mountain road at night wasn't something she was particularly looking forward to, but she had faced worse things and survived.
LUKE WAS STEAMED. HE DIDN'T LIKE GUNS BEING pointed at him. Liked it even less that he had let a probable amateur get the drop on him again. The incident was too much of a reminder of the one that had occurred during his six-year tenure as an FBI field agent in Lincoln, Nebraska. One minute he and his partner had been interviewing a bank embezzlement suspect, the next thing he knew, the man had a gun and was shouting he wasn't going to jail.
Luke would never forget the look of surprise and horror on the man's pasty face when the gun he was holding in his shaking hand went off. In those seconds afterward, shocked disbelief had held the man immobile. By the time he had recovered, he had been advised of his rights and handcuffed, all the time babbling he was sorry. With the searing pain in his left shoulder, the gunman hadn't received any sympathy from Luke. The wound had left a three-inch scar on Luke's forearm and a lasting impression. (Continues...)
Excerpted from Until There was You by Francis Ray. Copyright © 1999 Francis Ray. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
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