Excerpts for Shades of Gray


Shades of Gray


By Kay Hooper

Loveswept

Copyright © 2012 Kay Hooper
All right reserved.

ISBN: 9780553590685

One

She was too angry to be afraid. The injection they’d given her had acted quickly, and she was hardly surprised to awaken in the small cabin of a boat. She held her aching head with one hand and sat up on the bunk, gazing out the porthole at the open sea. That also didn’t surprise her. It was sometime around midafternoon, she guessed. The day after the afternoon they’d shanghaied her. She’d slept a long time.

And she didn’t have to look at a map to know that she was somewhere off the northern coast of South America.

They hadn’t hurt her. In fact, her kidnappers had sustained considerable damage themselves from her struggles, because they’d been taking great pains not to hurt her. And she understood why, of course.

Andres would have them shot if they harmed her.

The cabin was small, but there was enough room to stretch the kinks from her legs. On a small table near the bunk she discovered a tray covered with a linen napkin, under which reposed an appetizing meal of cold chicken and salad. She ignored the food but poured a glass of wine from the carafe and sipped it.

Pacing the restricted floor space absently, she stretched aching muscles and automatically straightened her clothing--snug, faded blue jeans and a casual summer blouse the same color as her eyes.

As the last of the cobwebs cleared from her mind, she sighed and opened the door, unsurprised to find that it wasn’t locked. Where, after all, could she escape to? She went up the steps and onto the deck, squinting into the bright sunlight.

“Good afternoon, miss.”

She looked at the man who had spoken. He was a lean, hard man somewhere in his thirties, with soulful eyes and a rather chillingly gentle smile. She didn’t know him.

“Hello.” Somewhat mockingly she saluted him with her wineglass.

“The food--”

“I wasn’t hungry.”

He half bowed, oddly graceful. “I am the captain, miss.”

She nodded. “When will we arrive?”

“In a few hours.”

After a long silence she sighed. “I don’t suppose,” she said, “there’s a boat I could steal to make good my escape?”

He blinked. “No, miss.”

“And I also don’t suppose it would be at all wise of me to jump overboard and try swimming for it?”

“No, miss.”

“Then don’t bother to hover over me, Captain,” she said, and turned away to walk toward the bow.

Siran grimaced faintly, half in admiration and half in doubt. An interesting woman, his passenger. The men who had brought her to the ship off Trinidad had borne ample proof of her ability to defend herself, yet she seemed perfectly calm now. He watched her critically for a moment.

She was a tiny woman, barely five feet tall if that, dressed casually in jeans, a green blouse, and running shoes. And though another woman would have probably called her petite, no man worth his salt would have missed the surprisingly lush curves of breasts and hips, guaranteed to stop traffic and haunt dreams.

Her hair was that rare, striking color between red and gold, and it hung thick and shining to the middle of her back. It was styled simply in a layered cut from a center part, and that silky, burnished hair framed a face that was almost too delicately perfect to be real. She was like a painting; every feature was finely drawn with artistic excellence, from her straight nose to the sweet curve of her lips. And in that strikingly perfect face, her eyes were simply incredible: a clear, pale green; huge and shadowed by long, thick lashes.

Siran remembered another woman on a yacht under his command, a woman so like this one that they could have been twins. From what he had seen and heard, that woman had found love on her trips to Kadeira. What would this woman find?

She didn’t hear him leave over the noises of wind, ocean, and engine, yet she knew when the captain had finally left her alone. An unsettling man, she thought vaguely. She didn’t fear being alone with him on the small boat and felt a flicker of emotion that was a painful inner laugh when she came to this realization. There wasn’t much about Andres Sereno of which she could be certain--except the fact that anyone in his employ knew only too well that she had to be kept safe. So she was. A bird in a gilded cage. No, not that, not really. Kadeira was a beautiful island but war-torn. And Sereno, though a powerful man, had chosen to build his country rather than his own personal wealth. The “palace” was a large, comfortable house, but there was nothing gilded about it.

She stood there at the bow, face into the wind, trying not to think. Trying not to remember.

But when the island first came into view, she was surprised by the surge of emotion she felt, and unnerved by the flood of memories that came to mind. It was such a beautiful island, especially from a distance--before the underlying rot became visible.

She flung the empty wineglass overboard with a stifled cry, then gripped the brass railing hard as she stiffened her shoulders and began dragging all the emotions into the dark room where she’d placed them more than two years ago. By the time the harbor came into view, she was calm again.

Not much had changed in two years, she thought. Not, at least, at first glance. It was a good harbor with plenty of room for the score of vessels riding at anchor and tied up to the dock. Except for a few fishing boats, all were military vessels, and all were armed to the teeth.

A cluster of buildings, mostly warehouses, stood near the dock. Off to the left was the striking vista of towering mountains and rolling hills that helped to make the island so beautiful, and off to the right, whitewashed and shining in the bright sunlight, was the island’s only real city, and the home of most of its people.

No building rose more than five stories, and all the bright whitewash couldn’t hide the scars of a country in turmoil. There was some construction going on but not much, and shorn buildings showed like broken teeth in the rubble of the bombed remains of cars, trucks, and buildings.

She swallowed hard, still fighting for emotional control. Nothing had changed, not really. She had kept up with news reports almost against her will, and knew that the “rebels” still came down from the hills and raided periodically, making it impossible for Sereno to put his economic development plans into effect. Kadeira was a torn country, a wound bleeding its life away.

Soldiers on the docks slung their rifles over their shoulders long enough to tie up the boat, and she paused only a moment to once more give the captain a mocking salute before jumping onto the dock. Ignoring the soldiers, she walked steadily forward to greet the slender man with a military carriage who was waiting for her near a long black limo.

“Colonel,” she said briefly.

“Miss Marsh.” Expressionless, he held the door for her.

She got into the car and looked steadily out the window during the ride, saying nothing more to Colonel Durant. She had liked him once, but she was afraid to let herself feel anything right now. They drove by the old presidential palace, now a hospital. And if she winced at the evidence of recent fighting--buildings she remembered as relatively intact were now in rubble--at least it was inwardly.

The limo passed through the guarded gates and wound its way up the drive to the plain stucco two-storied house. As she got out of the car she saw that the flowers she’d planted in window boxes were still alive and obviously cared for. But the bars on the windows, ornate though they were, were still visible, still a grim testament to their purpose--like the soldiers who constantly patrolled the grounds.

She followed Colonel Durant into the house, steeling herself against her memories. When he silently indicated that she should wait in the book-lined room she had once loved, she went in with gritted teeth.

The memories . . . She went to the French doors and stared out into the garden, her cold hands in the pockets of her jeans, her back stiff. Oh, Lord, the memories!

“Sara?”

She didn’t move, didn’t say a word. Her eyes closed and she swallowed hard. For a long moment she stood with her back to him, wondering dimly how many times she had heard his voice say her name--in her dreams.

Sara Marsh moved slowly, bracing herself even more as she turned to face him. He hadn’t changed much in two years. He was unusual among his countrymen in that he was over six feet tall and powerfully built. He was dressed casually in dark slacks and a white shirt unbuttoned at the throat beneath an open jacket, but the informal attire did nothing to conceal the physical strength of broad shoulders and powerful limbs, or the honed grace of his movements when he stepped toward her. He was dark, black-haired, and black-eyed, his lean face handsome and bearing none of the outward marks or scars of his reportedly difficult and violent life.

Perhaps he was a shade leaner, the planes and angles of his face sharper, his eyes more deeply hooded. And there were, she saw with a curious pang, a few strands of silver among the ebony at his temples.

And she knew then that she had forgotten nothing. Nothing at all.

He was Andres Sereno, President of the island country of Kadeira, commander in chief of its army and navy, both titles earned by sweat and blood and viewed askance by an American government that had never been quite sure if he was enemy, friend, or merely neutral. He had been called a dictator--and worse.

“Hello, Andres.” Her voice emerged cool and calm, and she thanked the fates for control.

He took another step toward her, and the quiet, innately powerful voice that had moved the people of his country was a little rough, a little husky. “You’re as beautiful as I remembered.”

Sara inclined her head politely.

His face tightened a little. “Sara, I know you’re angry with me, but I--I had to bring you here.”

“I’m here. I had no choice in the matter. But then, I should have known my wishes didn’t mean a damned thing to you. I made it clear two years ago that I never wanted to see you again, yet I’ve been on the run ever since in order to stay one jump ahead of your hounds.”

He shoved his hands into his pockets suddenly, matching her stance as they confronted each other. “Am I allowed no defense? No opportunity to explain my actions? I needed to see you, Sara. I didn’t want to do this, but you gave me no choice.”

Sara didn’t have to fake scorn. “Oh, it’s all my fault that I was kidnapped? Was I supposed to just tamely submit to your paid goons and come along like a good little girl?”

“They didn’t hurt you?” he asked swiftly.

“No,” she said flatly.

Andres relaxed almost imperceptibly. “Sara, I tried to respect your wishes. And I would have, if only you hadn’t vanished so completely. The letters I sent to your sister’s home were returned unopened. When I called, she refused to tell me where you were. What else could I do?”

“You could have left me alone!” she said fiercely.

“No, Sara, I couldn’t.” Softly he added, “Because I love you.”

It shook her now as it had shaken her in the past, and Sara wondered wildly how a man so shut in and as remote as Andres could make that declaration so easily--and so convincingly. He was charming and charismatic, but there was a large room surrounding the core of himself marked keep out, and that was the part of him she was afraid of.

She drew a deep breath. “I don’t care.” She did, but that was something he could never know. “Whatever I might have felt for you died the day I found out those terrorists were on Kadeira.”

“They’re gone now,” he told her.

“And that makes everything all right?” She could feel all her muscles tensing, and her stomach churning sickly when she thought of the terrorists. “Let me go, Andres.”

“I can’t.”

Sara was aware of an inner tremor, and knew that her control was right on the edge, faltering. She didn’t know how much more of this she could take. “Do you know what my life’s been like for the past two years?” she asked steadily.

“Sara--”

“It’s been hell. I’ve developed the instincts of a hunted animal. I can’t walk down a street without searching every face, tensing at every sound. I can’t have a home, because it’s a lot easier and quicker to run from a hotel or a lousy apartment. I can’t have friends, because I don’t know who to trust. I haven’t been able to do a damned thing with my life, and if I didn’t happen to have income from my parents’ estate, I wouldn’t even have been able to live, except from hand to mouth, because I can’t hold down a job! Is that what you wanted, Andres? Is that how you meant to punish me for leaving you?”

His face was white, his eyes bottomless. After a moment he turned and moved a few feet away before turning back to face her. His smile was twisted. “You could always make me feel things I didn’t want to feel. That hasn’t changed.”

She wanted to cry. “Let me go.”

He shook his head a little and said, “I have a proposition for you.”

Sara waited, tense and afraid.

“A month. Remain on Kadeira for a month. If, after that, you wish to leave, then I’ll see that you’re taken back to the States.” His voice was even. “And I’ll give you my word of honor that I’ll never interfere in your life again.”

The silence was long as Sara tried to figure out what he was up to. “What do you expect to happen in a month?”

“I want . . .” He hesitated, then finished roughly, “I want the time with you, that’s all. Is it so difficult for you to understand?”

“You want me to stay here, in your home?”

He sighed. “It’s safer, you know that. Of course, you’ll have your own suite of rooms.”

Two years ago he hadn’t tried to take advantage of her confusion, hadn’t insisted on a physical relationship even though the attraction had been explosive; she wasn’t sure about his attitude now. “And if I--I refuse your proposition?”

Andres seemed to brace himself. “I can’t let you go.”

Continues...

Excerpted from Shades of Gray by Kay Hooper Copyright © 2012 by Kay Hooper. Excerpted by permission of Loveswept, a division of Random House, Inc.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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