Now You See HimBy: Anne Stuart
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Francey let her long toes wriggle into the hot white sand. They were her one beauty, she thought dispassionately. How many people could say they had beautiful toes? And considering that she'd lived most of her life in chilly northern climates, few people had had the chance to appreciate the one gift nature had given her.
Here on the tiny island of St. Anne in the blue Caribbean she seldom wore shoes at all, and when she had to, she made to do with leather thongs. Still, no strange men were falling all over her, rhapsodizing about her toes. Which was just as well. She wasn't going to be ready to have any men falling all over her for quite a while. If ever.
She'd been lucky so far. In the time she'd been staying in her cousin's secluded villa, he'd sent very few people to intrude on her healing process. A couple of elderly women who'd just lost their husbands, a college student breaking away from drugs and an unhealthy relationship, a middle-aged woman facing cancer with remarkable courage. All broken birds, traveling to the peace and serenity of Daniel Travers's rambling colonial cottage. All of them eventually left, their healing processes begun. All but Francey, who stayed behind, walking alone in the sand, waiting for her own healing to start.
But today her luck had run out. Arriving on the evening flight from Boston was the first man Daniel had inflicted on her, and there was nothing Francey could do but accept with as much grace as she could muster. After all, she had no place else to go. At least, no place that she could face. The whitewashed walls of the villa, the wide boundaries of Daniel's land and private beaches, were all the world she cared to deal with. And if she had to share that world with another one of Daniel's charity cases, then share it she would.
It wasn't as if she weren't a charity case herself. Not financially, of course. Her personal fortune, while not in the league of Daniel Travers's, was respectable enough to keep her from having to worry. But emotionally she was as dependent as a welfare mother, and Daniel knew that.
Besides, the new arrival wasn't likely to make many demands. Michael Dowd was a semi-invalid from somewhere in the south of England, a man who was recovering from a near fatal auto crash. The hospitals had done the bulk of the work over the past few months. Now he just needed sunshine and rest, something the villa could easily provide. It was named Belle Reste for just that reason, and Francey could no more resent the intrusion than she could welcome it.
She would have to leave for the plane soon enough, using the absurd, pink-awninged Jeep Daniel had provided, but until then she was going to treasure the last moments of her solitude.
Maybe she should have pushed it. Maybe she should have forced herself to face the debacle her life had become, forced herself to deal with it. She'd been coasting on a mindless, dreamless breeze, the dark shadows left behind in New York. She'd thought there was no hurry, but Michael Dowd was about to prove otherwise. The presence of any man was going to force her to deal with things she would rather keep ignoring.
She could always abandon him to his own defenses, rent a house of her own. The tourist season hadn't geared up yet, and she'd made a few connections during her infrequent visits to town. Something would turn up.
But she couldn't do that to her cousin Daniel or the ailing Michael. Providing a haven for emotionally destitute souls was one of Daniel's many charitable activities, and Francey had taken full advantage of it. The least she could do would be to provide the kind of healing environment she'd been enjoying. She didn't know whether Michael Dowd could stay alone, but she suspected he needed someone keeping an eye on him at the very least, if not outright nursing.
The villa was big enough that he wouldn't have to get in her way. And he was hardly likely to be making a pass at her in his current condition.
She threw back her head and laughed, squinting up into the bright sunlight. Who the hell did she think she was? In the best of times, with the healthiest of males around, she was hardly irresistible. Even the forced proximity of Belle Reste wasn't likely to turn an invalid into a ravening beast.
Maybe she had been alone too long. Maybe she needed to get used to the company of men again. Someone weak and harmless would be a perfect start. He would probably be querulous—most sick men were—and no threat at all. She could cosset him with custards and fresh fruit, and outwalk or outrun or outswim him if he grew to be too much of a pain. He would probably talk about his girlfriend or his ex-wife or both, and he'd probably whine. All in all, there was absolutely nothing to worry about, she told herself.
Nevertheless, she was going to savor every last minute of her solitude. She was going to drink in the hot sun, the cooling breezes, the rich scent of the ocean and the tropical growth around the villa. She was going to sit and drink fruit drinks and think about absolutely nothing at all until she had to face the mountainous drive to the airport. And from the moment she picked up her unwelcome houseguest, she was going to be the perfect hostess.
But for now she was simply going to vegetate in the bright, glorious sunlight and hope the sun would bake more of the pain away.
"I don't want her hurt." Daniel Travers was a man in his prime—just under sixty, with a bull-like body, a high complexion, bright blue eyes and a deceptively hearty demeanor. He was a great deal more astute, and more dangerous, than most people credited him with being, and that was part of his great value.
Michael Dowd wasn't under any delusions, however. He knew just how far Daniel Travers was capable of going, and he knew enough not to antagonize him more than he needed to. Goad him far enough but not too far, and you got the best results.
"I'm not planning on hurting her," Michael said, leaning back against the leather seat of the Rolls. There was one thing to be said for Travers—he knew how to live well. At least this current assignment involved Rolls-Royces and a villa in the Caribbean. Better than a hovel in Northern Ireland anytime. "I just want to find out what she knows."
"She's gone through extensive debriefing…"
"You know that's not worth a damn if it's not done right. She was in shock, all her defenses in place, not knowing whom to trust. Now she's had a long time to recuperate, with no one bothering her, no one asking unpleasant questions. She's had a nice, peaceful vacation, and she should be just about ready to open up to someone who knows how to ask the right questions in the right way. Particularly someone as harmless as I am."
Travers's bright blue eyes slid over to him, doubtful, and Michael almost laughed. In his current condition he was no threat to anyone at all. He was pale, skinny, and he couldn't walk without the aid of a cane. At least it was better than the wheelchair he'd been inhabiting for longer than he cared to remember. But it was going to be a while before he was back at full strength, maybe longer. Before that wary expression in Travers's eyes would be justified.
Travers shook his head. "I don't think you'd be harmless if you were in a coma," he said. "That's why I'm warning you. Don't hurt her any more than she has been already. Find out what you need to know, and then I'll get you out of there. I have a dozen places at my disposal if you want to finish your recuperation."
"I've finished my recuperation," he said savagely, hating his weakened state. "I've just about gone off my nut these past few weeks. There's no end to the things I can accomplish, even while I'm still so knocked up. As soon as your cousin tells me about her friends, I can move on to another job, and no one will ever bother her again. I'm not that interested in pumping a lovesick female for information, but I'm sick of sitting on my butt watching other people ball up things I've been working on for years."
"That's between you and Ross Cardiff," Travers said stiffly. "I wouldn't presume to give you advice."
"The hell you wouldn't," Michael said with a ghost of a smile. "Particularly when it comes to your precious cousin. Don't worry, old man. She'll be safe as houses with me."
"Considering your expertise in explosives, that's hardly a sterling recommendation," Travers said. "Just remember, you're a dangerous young man. But I can be a dangerous old man, when me and mine are threatened. I'm letting you go to Belle Reste because I want this settled once and for all. Tread carefully."
"I can't do much else, now can I?" Michael countered, lifting his metal cane in a negligent gesture. "Don't worry," he said again. "When I leave St. Anne, your cousin won't even know her brain's been picked clean."
"For your sake, you'd best hope so," Travers grumbled as the Rolls pulled up beside a small private jet.
Michael didn't bother to answer. Private citizens like Daniel Travers were one of the few things that made his job easier. He didn't know what motivated the man—patriotism, civic duty, or sheer boredom—and he didn't particularly care. All that mattered was that Travers put his considerable resources at the disposal of certain select branches of the secret service organizations of various countries, Travers's own and Great Britain among them. All the man asked for in return was a vicarious taste of the excitement and the knowledge that he'd struck a blow for democracy or whatever he was after.
Michael suspected he was deeply disappointed by the recent easing of relations with Eastern Europe. Travers still managed to cheer himself up with thoughts of Middle Eastern terrorists and the subversive branches of the IRA, but even South Africa seemed to be mellowing. If things continued as they were, Daniel Travers would be out of a hobby and Michael would be out of a job.