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"Well, well, if it isn't Miss Eastman. I'd recognize those tits anywhere."
Delanie froze, the bright tropical sun suddenly cold on her bare skin. Even with her eyes shut she recognized that deep velvety drawl.
The only man who'd ever seen her naked.
No, more like, improbable.
What were the chances of Kyle bearing witness to the only two outrageous, out-of-character acts of her entire twenty-seven years? Delanie had to admit, her one step on the wild side all those years ago had been incredible, but she'd never expected to see him again.
Besides, it was highly unlikely he'd turn up here, on this inaccessible mountaintop, deep in the jungles of South America, thousands of miles from San Francisco, and light-years from the last time she'd seen him.
After all this time she was still mortified by her uncharacteristic lack of restraint with the man. She was a woman who needed to be in control of her emotions at all times. With Kyle Wright she hadn't been capable of remembering her own name, let alone maintaining her equilibrium.
"Ah," he said, and God help her, no matter how unlikely it was, there was no doubt whatsoever that the man walking purposefully toward her was Kyle. "The perfect woman. Beautiful, practically naked, and mute."
Fiery red burned through the thin membrane of Delanie's eyelids. She sensed the head-to-toe skim and scorch of his gaze as she frantically tried to think of something sophisticated and witty to lob back. The bottom half of a string bikini, a thick gold necklace, a nice tan, and nerves of steel had sufficed until a few moments ago. Now her small bare breasts felt as prominent and conspicuous as mountains.
Come on, she thought frantically. Think, damn it. Think.
Okay. So what if it is Kyle. I'm sensible. Pragmatic. Competent. I can handle this.
Their fling four years ago had been like a comet ride. Quick. Hot. Intense.
And history before they'd learned much more than each other's erogenous zones.
Chances were, she was overreacting
No she wasn't. After all this time, he'd recognized her by her boobs.
But their blazing seventy-two-hour sex marathon hadn't exactly included delving deep into each other's lives. She'd fibbed, no, downright lied, to him that weekend in San Francisco, pretending to be considerably more sophisticated and experienced than she really was. That would work to her advantage now.
The fine hair on Delanie's nape prickled as Kyle's deliberate footsteps scraped on the brick surrounding the swimming pool. His shadow slid over her. His knee brushed the top of her head.
The thought of his large hands trailing up the swell of her bare breasts brought back memories best forgotten. Nevertheless her nipples immediately perked up in response to the mental stimulation. Sweat pooled at the small of her back with the determination to remain motionless beneath Kyle's up-close and personal scrutiny.
Time's up. Think faster, damn it!
Delanie pretended she was her sister Lauren. Confident in her beauty, comfortable with her naked body, secure in the knowledge that whoever the man may be, he'd wait for her next move.
She finally found her voice. "Don't even think about it, pal."
"Talk about wishful thinking." Kyle's laugh was arrogant and mocking. "My hands are in my pockets, honey. But if you're advertising your wares and offering freebees we'd best go inside."
"If you know anything about our host, you know Ramon doesn't share." Delanie felt each individual throb of her heart beneath the gold necklace at her throat.
"If Montero isn't prepared to share, he shouldn't allow you to sunbathe out here stark naked, now should he?"
Had anyone ever died of humiliation? Delanie wondered, hot with embarrassment. Could this be the same man who'd crooned love words to her?
This wasn't the time or the place to dredge up long-buried memories. She'd better get her act together and remember that embarrassment and hurt were the least of her problems. She was in a place where one screwup could get her killed.
Slowly she opened her eyes and sat up, deliberately keeping her expression bland as she swung her legs over the side of the chaise before standing.
Kyle Wright in the flesh.
He was all hard muscle and razor-sharp intellect. Big, solid, and achingly familiar.
Delanie's first impulse was to fling herself into his arms. She squashed the ridiculous notion in a heartbeat, grateful that she wasn't known for impulsive acts. Casually she strolled around behind him, making no move to cover herself, despite the overwhelming desire to do so. Until she knew what part Dr. Kyle Wright played in Ramon Montero's plans, she had to keep her head and play the role she'd cast for herself.
Barefoot, she was eye-level with Kyle's broad shoulders, which were clad in a black silk T-shirt, and with the extraordinary sight of his dark hair hanging in a braid down his back, almost reaching his fancy tooled-leather belt. It was impossible to ignore the shoulder holster and gun he wore as unceremoniously as another man might wear a watch.
For several moments she mimicked his scrutiny. "Funny. You don't look like a doctor."
He gave her an up-and-down scan as she completed her circuit, his eyes cool, unreadable. "And you don't look like awhat was it you said you were? I forget."
That's because "kindergarten teacher" hadn't sounded nearly as sophisticated and cool at the time as "dancer."
She'd implied exotic dancer, when all she'd been was the third swan from the left in the corps de ballet.
During the summer.
In the local amateur ballet company.
The fib had been easy to sustain for three days. Especially since they hadn't done a whole hell of a lot of talking.
"Oh, yeah, that's right," he drawled, "a dancer."
Rude, arrogant bastard. She wanted to slap him, but reminded herself that unlike her mother and sister, she could control her temper. There was no point going off half-cocked until she knew what he was doing here and how his agenda might interfere with her own.
Except for his sensual mouth, his face could have been carved from unemotional granite. Kyle was six-foot-four of pure heartache, with dark hair, and darker slashing eyebrows over penetrating pale green eyes. He hadn't changed that much since last she'd seen him, although the lines beside his mouth were deeper and she didn't remember his mouth having the harsh sardonic curve it wore now. All he needed was a gold hoop earring and a cutlass between his teeth.
He looked older, harder, more dangerous than the day he'd taken her virginity. It would've been easy to forget this man with the razor-sharp tongue and ice-hard eyes.
Within hours of their first meeting they'd been hot and sweaty in her hotel room. Would she have left the bar with this Kyle?
Not in a trillion years.
That Kyle had made her feel safe. And beautiful. And cherished.
This Kyle made her want armor plating.
She'd have settled for a bra.
She compromised and, as usual, used her tongue as a shield. "Well, well." She widened her eyes wide in feigned surprise. "If it isn't the wrong Dr. Wright." Proud her voice was steady, Delanie lowered her sunglasses to the end of her nose to look up at his face. "I recognize you so much better from the back."
"As I recall, we had more contact face to face," he said silkily.
"Funny." Delanie picked up her glass of soda from the table and drained the ice-diluted contents. "That's not my most lasting memory." That was the view from the bed as Kyle's silhouette was limned against the open hotel room door, just before he shut it behind him.
Without warning his hand curled around her waist to draw her closer. Her sunglasses fell to the brick at her feet with a small clatter.
"Perhaps you need a refresher course." His fingers skimmed down, the G-string no barrier, as he caressed the firm flesh of her behind, drawing her even closer.
Her gaze locked with his and she lifted her glass, giving the contents a dangerous tilt. "Perhaps you need to be cooled down." Lauren would've known how to handle him with one hand tied behind her back and her eyes closed. But she wasn't her sister.
Figuring even a bimbo had standards, she inserted her hand between her mouth and his. "Back off."
His breath scorched her fingers. Her breasts flattened against his chest, smearing the fine silk of his T-shirt with coconut-scented oil. Dropping her hand, she stared up at him, keeping every nuance of emotion off her face. His fingers tightened on the cheek of her butt. The second he dropped his arm she put a few feet of patio between them. His studied equanimity didn't fool her for a moment. She was pretty sure the cool, calm, and oh, so collected Dr. Kyle Wright was furious.
Logic dictated he couldn't be angry with her. They hadn't seen each other in years.
Whatever the reason for his anger, the look he was giving her chilled her to the marrow. She felt the imprint of his fingerprints pulse on her skin.
Oh, Lord. She couldn't pull this off with him here, she just c
Damn it! She had to. Her sister's lifefor that matter, her own lifedepended on everyone believing she was a not-too-bright chorus girl.
"See those men?" She glanced casually to the opposite end of the enormous patio. Normally Ramon's militia gave her the willies, but she welcomed their presence now. The uniformed soldiers, as conscientious as ever, had their camouflaged backs turned to the pool area. Cradled in those minimum-wage arms were maximum-wage Uzis. "All I have to do is"
Her bare toes nudged the sunglasses she'd dropped. She bent to pick them up, forcing each breath to mirror the last. Slow. Easy. Unaffected. She straightened, settling the frames back on her nose. During the last few months, every second of every day had stretched her nerves to the breaking point. Montero's private mountain retreat in San Cristobal was absolutely the last place she knew to search for Lauren. Four weeks with him in the States, and almost a week up here, and she still hadn't found even a hint of her sister.
Ramon Montero terrified her. For that matter, he'd scared her long before Delanie had ever met him. She'd had a bad, bad feeling about Lauren's infatuation with Montero the first time her sister had called her. The more Lauren had raved about the wealthy Las Vegas casino owner she was dating, the more worried Delanie had become.
Lauren had sloughed off all her questions. And the few times Delanie had managed to pin her down for answers Lauren had laughingly told her Montero was gay. All the millionaire wanted was a pretty girl on his arm for show. In exchange he lavished her beautiful sister with expensive clothes and jewelry. It all sounded sordid and unlikely. Not to mention dangerous.
But Lauren, like their mother, thrived on excitement. They could skydive their way through life with impunity. Delanie was always their safety net.
Scared on behalf of her sister, Delanie had gone on line and researched Ramon Montero. The man was a suspected terrorist. He was a drug dealer. And if he was indeed gay, he covered it well. There was no mention of it in any of the hundreds of newspaper articles about him Delanie had forced herself, with mounting alarm, to read. There were countless mentions, however, of death, destruction, and mayhem that seemed to follow him like a thick black cloud.
The man was scary as hell.
Delanie couldn't figure out for the life of her how the authorities could know so much about Montero and not slap him into a cell for the rest of his unnatural life.
She'd called Lauren and begged her to come home to Sacramento.
Naturally her sister had laughed. Delanie was such a prude. Always had been, always would be. One of these days she should try getting a life, and having some fun for a change. Sheesh. What a drag her older sister was, what a stick-in-the-mud!
Then that last frantic call two months ago.
Lauren finally admitting she might be in way over her head. Delanie might be right about Montero. If big sis could just come and bail her out of this latest screwup, this would be absolutely the last time, she promised, sounding hysterical.
It was a couple of weeks before spring break, money was tight, and besides, Delanie was up for a part in that year's production of Swan Lake and didn't want to miss any rehearsals. She'd booked a flight to Las Vegas for ten days later.
By the time she'd arrived Lauren had disappeared.
Guilt-riddenit was the first time ever that she hadn't rushed to her sister's sideDelanie had applied for a job at Montero's casino that very day.
Getting a job at the Cobra hadn't been easy. She'd had to lie through her teeth about work experience, and make it look convincing. The personnel manager at the hotel/casino wouldn't have hired a kindergarten teacher for any of the jobs Delanie knew she'd need to attract Montero's attention.
Dancer was number one. She had the long legs required to be one of the Cobra's showgirls, and she was a pretty good dancer, not great, but good enough to pull it off if she had to. Luckily she hadn't had to.
There was that clothes thing again. Unlike Lauren, Delanie preferred keeping hers on. She'd been relieved when she'd been offered the job as cocktail waitress in the high-stakes area instead.
It had taken several weeks to bring herself to his attention. Then the last five weeks in Ramon's company. None of which had changed her mind about the suave man who'd so infatuated her sister. The son of a bitch had something to do with Lauren's disappearance, she knew it.
So here she was, in the middle of a jungle, high on a mountaintop, behaving as recklessly as Lauren ever had.
She was already living on her ragged nerves. She didn't need the unexpected and unnecessary ingredient of her one and only ex-lover added to the already toxic soup bubbling around her.
Lord. Fear was exhausting.
From the roof of the hacienda, the tiny eye of the surveillance camera tracked a slow circuit of the patio. Montero would hear about this meeting; he didn't need to see it, too.
"Don't touch me again," Delanie warned, her gaze steady on his face. "Ramon won't like it. And more to the point, I don't like it."
"Is that any way to talk to an old friend?" Kyle asked.
"We were acquaintances."
"Ships that passed in the night?"
"The Titanic and the Andrea Doria," Delanie agreed sweetly.