Follow the Sun

Follow the Sun

Deborah Smith

April 2016 $17.95
ISBN: 978-1-61194-700-7

Their heritage brought them home . . .

 
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A LEGACY OF ADVENTURE, INTRIGUE—AND PASSION

THE PRINCESS . . . AND THE HUNK

TESS GALLATIN . . . A savvy and successful diamond broker, the part-Cherokee society girl was also a woman with a mysterious past, full of secrets.

JEOPARD SURPRISE . . . Enigmatic and sexy, he'd slipped aboard Tess's boat to search for the legendary blue Kara diamond. But from the moment he laid eyes on the sophisticated beauty, he was irresistibly drawn to her fire and spirit.

THE REDHEAD . . . AND THE BAD BOY

ERICA GALLATIN . . . The emerald-eyed, flame-haired builder had come to North Carolina to claim the land that was her birthright as a Cherokee descendent—and to convince Cherokee businessman James Tall Wolf that she belonged there.

JAMES TALL WOLF . . . Consumed by desire for Erica, he was determined to drive her away from the reserva¬tion he called home—until he was seduced by his elusive prey.

THE WARRIOR . . . AND THE MAVERICK

KAT GALLATIN . . . She knew of the bitter feud between the Gallatin and Chatham clans that stretched back generations—but that didn't stop her from losing her heart to the sensual Nathan Chatham.

NATHAN CHATHAM . . . He'd come to Georgia on a mission of revenge, but how could he resist the part-Cherokee war woman who surrendered to him with such fiery abandon?

Deborah Smith is the New York Times and Number One Kindle bestselling author of The Crossroads Café, A Place To Call Home, and many other novels. She lives in the Blue Ridge mountains with her husband, a menagerie of shelter dogs and cats, and a pond full of goldfish. Learn more about her books at bellbridgebooks.com.

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Excerpt



Chapter 1

THE REPORT WAS titled simply, "Gallatin, Tess—Profile of Suspect in Kara Diamond Disappearance.” Above that title was stamped the national seal of Kara. Jeopard Surprise thought that the ornate red-and-silver seal was very pretentious for such a small Scandinavian monarchy.

It bolstered his suspicion that Olaf, Duke of Kara, was a pompous man, who would make a pompous ruling prince. Jeopard doubted the intelligence of anyone who’d pay a fortune for the return of a relatively obscure diamond that had been stolen more than two decades before.

A small yellow note was stuck to the report’s plastic cover. Jeopard eyed it, arched a blond brow at the message, and laid the report aside for a moment. With quick, efficient movements he punched numbers into the smart phone resting on his knee and waited for his brother’s hearty hello.

When it came it had an echo, as if Kyle Surprise were hundreds of miles away, rather than in their office, five miles from Jeopard’s apartment.

"You should switch to Verizon,” Kyle said solemnly.

"Stick your note elsewhere.”

"Oh-ho, a direct hit to the Iceman’s dignity.”

"If I had any dignity. I’d tell people that I was an only child.”

Kyle laughed at the barb, as usual. "That’s cold. Iceman, cold. I thought you had a plane to catch for California.”

"I’m going. Tell me what you meant by ‘Don’t scare her with your charm?’”

"The babe is used to young, fun-loving guys,” Kyle shot back drolly. "Do your best to impersonate one.”

And, chortling, he hung up in Jeopard’s ear.

"Fun-loving” wasn’t even in Jeopard’s vocabulary. He raised a glass of brandy to a mouth made too grim by too many years of reading reports such as the one on Tess Gallatin.

He felt nothing but cold, professional curiosity about her. That lack of emotion had earned him harsh nicknames from enemies and respectful ones from friends over the years; it was the trait that made him so good at his work.

It was also the one trait that depressed the hell out of him.

He returned to reading the report. It contained the facts of her life in a concise, unequivocal list. Twenty-six years old. Residence: A sailboat, the Swedish Lady, Big Cove Marina, Long Beach, California. Widow of Royce Benedict, age sixty-two, jewel thief, died two years earlier—cancer.

Father: Hank Gallatin, Cherokee Indian, Mercenary soldier. Mother: Ingrid Kellgren, Swedish, professional athlete. Both deceased.

Cherokee Indian? Jeopard scanned that information twice. She was part Cherokee? Well, at least that was different.

Occupation: Diamond broker. Education: Elementary and second­ary—Smithfield Academy, London; college—UCLA, bachelor’s degree in business administration.

Lifestyle/personality profile: Married Benedict when she was twenty; inherited his entire estate over objections of his two daughters; sexually promiscuous both before and after Benedict’s death. Business associates rate her tough, manipulative. Approach with caution.

Jeopard almost smiled at that last note. While the brandy seared his throat, his eyes narrowed in a thoughtful squint.

Compared to the assignments he’d been given during his career in a govern­ment agency, her case was fluff. Even compared to the assignments he took now, as an independent investigator, her case was fluff. In effect, he was about to take his first vacation in ten years.

He flipped the last page of the report and studied a series of photographs. After he stared at them, mesmerized, for a long moment, he slung them and the report into a nearby trash can and downed his brandy in one painful swallow.

THE CHEAP DOMESTIC rental car wasn’t accustomed to Tess Gallatin’s Grand Prix driving style. But then Tess Gallatin wasn’t accustomed to cheap, domestic cars.

She steered the straining little automobile around a bend bordered by lovely, Victo­rian-era houses on one side and a tree-shaded college campus on the other. Picturesque little Gold Ridge, Georgia, backed by distant mountains, suddenly appeared before her like an obstacle course waiting to be negotiated.

It was so beautiful that it made her hurt inside with an odd wistfulness, as if she were returning to a home she’d never seen before. There were trees, lots of trees, and a brilliant blue sky untouched by smog.

Tess propped one olive-hued elbow out her open window and zoomed into the town square past a neatly preserved brick courthouse fronted by a dignified sign that read, "Welcome to Gold Ridge, Georgia, home of the first U.S. gold rush, 1829. Courthouse and gold museum open for tours.”

In a musical British accent she murmured, "All right. Lawyer Brown, where the hell are you?”

She checked her written directions, then peered at a tourist’s mecca of quaint storefronts. Finally she spotted a glass door with "T. Lucas Brown, Attorney At Law,” painted on it in gloriously ornate letters. T. Lucas Brown’s door was sand­wiched between a country cafe and a dulcimer shop. She swung the rental car into a parking spot so fast that when she braked, it made the tires squeal.

A minute later she was striding up a steep old staircase. At the top of it a ceiling fan hummed and clacked rhythmically over a reception area staffed by a Betty Davis clone wearing a white organdy dress.

Tess politely told her she had an appointment.

"Your cousins are already here,” Betty informed her, puffing on a long e-cigarette. "You’re late.”

"I’ve never visited Georgia before. I left the terminal at Hartsfield Interna­tional, took a right, and immediately got lost.”

The receptionist scanned Tess’s slim turquoise dress and white fedora with a curi­ous gaze. "Gawd, you’re obviously from California.”

Feeling more amused than annoyed. Tess cocked her head to one side and re­turned the appraisal. "You’re obviously not shy around strangers.”

Betty grinned, nodded, and punched an intercom line on her phone. "The third one’s here, boss.”

A booming voice answered, "Dear Lord! A smorgasbord of beautiful women! Send her on in!”

Tess wondered what kind of lunacy she’d encountered as she went where Betty pointed. A rotund, black-bearded man threw a door open and exuberantly waved her inside. "Ms. Gallatin! Meet Ms. Gallatin and Ms. Gallatin!”

Her heart pounding, Tess stepped inside his office and gazed raptly at the two women seated in scroll-backed chairs by T. Lucas Brown’s large desk. They rose, gazing back just as raptly.

The tall one, a lanky Amazon with shoulder-length chestnut hair and fair skin, was very businesslike, in a gray pin-striped outfit. The short one, a curvaceous Kewpie doll with an incredible mane of inky black hair and skin the color of dark honey, was very athletic, in jeans, running shoes, and a baggy T-shirt with a road-race logo.

The tall one smiled, came forward, and shook Tess’s hand formally, but with gen­uine warmth. Her voice droll, she said, "I’m Erica. Born in Boston. My great- grandfather was Ross Gallatin, and that’s about all I know concerning the Gallatin Cherokee blood. I own a construction company in Washington, D.C.”

The short one grinned, came forward, and pumped Tess’s hand merrily. "I’m Kat. Born in a circus trunk. My great-grandfather was Holt Gallatin, and I think he robbed banks for a living. I’m a nomad, although I have a dinky little apartment in Miami.” She paused, thinking. "And I’m a professional kickboxer.”

After a stunned moment, Tess laughed. She’d known her cousins less than a mi­nute, yet she already felt an affectionate kinship with. them. "Tess Gallatin,” she announced, and smiled at the double-take they did over her slight English accent. "Born in Sweden, raised in England and California. My great-grandfather was Silas Gallatin, and he owned a shipping business in San Francisco. I’m a diamond broker and I live on a sailboat in Long Beach, which is about an hour’s drive south of Los Angeles.”

T. Lucas Brown smiled. "I’m a plain old country lawyer, and I’m fascinated by all three of y’all. We have a will to read. Take your seats.”

When they were all settled he looked at each of them, shaking his head in awe. "What a smorgasbord,” he repeated. "None of you have met before?”

Tess traded apologetic looks with her relatives. They shook their heads almost in unison. T. Lucas chuckled. "Incredible. Do you know that you all share the same birthday?”

Tess turned toward Erica and Kat in amazement. "September twenty- seventh?” They nodded, as intrigued as she was. "But different years, I assume. I’m twenty-six years old.”

"Thirty-three,” Erica told her.

"Twenty-eight,” Kat said.

"This has mystical implications,” T. Lucas noted solemnly. "Which brings me to the reading of Dove Gallatin’s will. Let’s see, you share the same great-great grandparents, Justis and Katherine Gallatin—their sons were your great-grand­fathers. That makes you cousins of some sort—third cousins, maybe. Who knows? Dove Gallatin was your great-aunt, Kat, and I’m too confused to figure out what that makes her in relation to Tess and Erica.”

"My mother was Swedish. My father told me he was almost full-blooded Cherokee, but I know nothing about his family,” Tess admitted. "Including Dove Gallatin.”

"Same here,” Kat added.

"Ditto for me and the Gallatin Cherokee history,” Erica said. "I’m only one- sixteenth Cherokee. The Gallatins in my branch of the family didn’t marry back into the tribe, the way Kat’s and Tess’s ancestors did.”

T. Lucas Brown sighed heavily. "I hope Dove’s bequest sparks y’all’s interest in the family heritage. You can read her will if you want, but it’s extremely simple. She left you two hundred acres of land north of Gold Ridge. The three of you are co-owners.”

Tess blinked in surprise. "Land?”

"Land that’s been in the Gallatin Family for over a hundred and fifty years. It belonged to Justis and Katherine—probably belonged to her parents before that. Anyhow, Katherine’s will stated that the land must pass down through the family. It went to her son, Holt Gallatin—Kat’s great-grandfather—and then to Dove, his daughter. It can’t be sold outside the family. It can, however, be leased.

"And you ladies will be happy to know that the Tri-State Mining Company has come to me with a lease offer for you. They suspect that there’s enough low-grade industrial gold on your property to make a mining venture worthwhile. Y’all would get plenty of income to pay the property taxes and a small percentage of the min­eral rights.”

"Hooray!” Kat said. "Let’s do it.”

"Sounds terrific,” Erica added.

Tess nodded. "I agree.”

"Now, hold on, hold on. There’s something else to consider.” He reached into a desk drawer and retrieved a small cloth bag. Brown opened it and took out three large gold medallions.

Tess found herself gazing at them in open-mouthed wonder. They were nicked and dulled by years of handling, but the craftsmanship was superb. Each was a quarter-inch thick and at least three inches in diameter, and each had a small hole bored in it. The holes were worn as if by long use on a necklace.

Each bore a line of delicately molded symbols stamped in a circular pattern. The messages—if that was what they were—began at the outside perimeter of each medallion and wound to the center.

Brown flipped the medallions over. The strange symbols covered the other sides, as well. Attached to the hole in each medallion was a small white tag. Brown glanced at the tags, then handed the medallions out.

"These are absolutely magnificent,” Tess whispered as she smoothed her finger­tips over the strange gift. She glanced at her cousins and saw expressions of awe on their faces too.

"Each of you gets one,” Brown told them. "Dove specified which of you gets which medallion. That’s her handwriting on the tags.”

Tess studied the bold, artistic script. "What do you know about Dove Gallatin?”

"Not much. She spent her entire life on the Cherokee reservation up in North Carolina; she was at least ninety when she died. She never married. She considered herself a psychic, I understand. I have no idea how she decided which of you gets which medallion. The symbols are different on each one. They’re Cherokee script.”

"Sequoyah’s syllabary,” Kat interjected vaguely, staring at her medallion.

"At any rate, ladies, I think it would behoove you three to track down some fam­ily history before you let a mining company tear up the Gallatin land. It’s said that your family buried their gold around here. These medallions may hold clues to something your ancestors left.”

"Who made the medallions?” Tess asked.

"Don’t know. Your great-great-grandmother Katherine, perhaps.”

"Can you take us to see this land?” Kat asked.

"Sure, if everyone wants to.”

Tess looked at Kat and Erica. They nodded eagerly.

TESS KNEW AS soon as she saw the magnificent valley that she wanted to learn more about the people who had loved it. Erica and Kat stood silently beside her, their medallions clasped in their hands. T. Lucas Brown waited beside his Land Rover at the end of the old trail that was the outside world’s sole access to this spot.

"I say we go back to our respective homes and do some research into our branches of the family,” Erica suggested. "And we meet back here again in, say, a couple of months to decide about the mining lease.”

"Good enough, Washington,” Kat chimed. She gazed at Tess, "What d’ya say, California?”

Tess smiled. "If nothing else, I want to get to know you two better. Certainly.”

She held out her right hand. Erica and Kat placed their right hands on top of it. Tess had the oddest notion that someone, somewhere, was watching with ap­proval.

WHUMP.

Tess careened sideways on her lounge chair. The large, ostentatious yacht bul­lied its way into the berth beside her sailboat, bumped it again, and sent Tess sprawl­ing to the deck on her hands and knees.

This was not how she wanted to spend her first day back from the Georgia trip.

Tess staggered to her feet. Her Swedish Ladywas forty feet long, big enough to have comfortable living space below deck and room for a patio table with a bright orange umbrella and four chairs above, but the yacht dwarfed it.

Against the sun she could make out only the silhouette of the man seated at the control console on the deck above her head. The yacht’s bow plowed into the marina dock and bounced at least five feet backward.

Luckily for the yacht, the thick concrete dock was lined with a wood buffer.

Tess huffed in dismay. He was probably another weekend captain who’d rented a berth at the marina so that he could park his floating mansion and serve cocktails.

The interloper cut his engine off and stood up. Hmmm, at least this weekender had a nice build. Correction—he was wearing nothing but swim trunks, and he had a fantastic build, youthful but filled out.

When he raised his arms to ram both hands through his hair in disgust—the yacht was quickly sliding away from the dock—Tess was treated to an even more marvelous view of his body. He didn’t look particularly tall, but he was so perfectly proportioned that she couldn’t be certain. He gave "proportioned” a breathless new appeal.

And he was floating back out to sea.

Tess got up, stepped carefully around the Lady’smast, and went to the port rail. She cupped her hands around her mouth and called, "Come to the foredeck and throw me your lines!”

He looked down at her, a dark, intriguing form against the blue sky, his eyes cov­ered by aviator-style sunglasses.

Tess waved toward the bow of his yacht with both hands. The movement opened the unbuttoned white shirt she wore over a black maillot. The newcomer pulled his sunglasses down an inch and studied her rakishly, smiling.

"What’s the foredeck?” he asked in a pleasantly deep voice.

The handsome idiot. "The front of the boat!” Tess ran to the bow of the Lady, crossed her gangplank to the dock, and went to the neighboring berth. Facing his monstrous boat, she yelled again, "Throw me your lines!”

He was smiling as he came down the staircase from the bridge, and despite her­self Tess felt the effect of that smile. What She could see of his face seemed to be older than his youthful body, but that only made it more mesmerizing.

He trotted across his foredeck, and Tess fought to keep herself from gaping as she got a closer look at him. The sun glinted off tousled blond hair that was long and the rich color of wheat on top, short and dark gold around his ears.

The beautiful blond hair and his unforgettable, strong-jawed face. Which Hemsworth brother was he—Chris or Liam? Tess glanced up and down the busy Sunday-afternoon marina. Every woman within a radius of a hundred yards was staring at Captain Handsome.

Moving with a fluid grace that stole her concentration, he lifted a heavy rope and carried it to the edge of the deck. A full thirty feet of bilge-green water sepa­rated him from the dock.

"Ahoy, me pretty,” he yelled cheerfully. "Don’t let me line catch you una­wares.”

It already has, she thought numbly. Around the marina she had a reputation as a recluse. So why was she staring up at Captain Blond as if she wanted to be his galley slave?

Tess clicked back to reality, stepped to one side, and watched him toss the heavy line with a coordinated strength that came from natural athletic ability. When it plopped on the dock she looped it around a cleat.

"Tow yourself in, captain, before someone clips you.”

He clutched a chest dusted with dark-blond hair. He staggered around, trying to look pitiful while he tugged at the bow rope and finally secured the yacht close to the dock.

"Thank you for your help, fair lady,” he said in a raspy tone. "I just got this boat last week, and this is my first time docking it. You were very gentle with me.”

Tess sighed. "You’re welcome.”

"My name’s Jeopard Surprise. I love useful women with English accents and beau­tiful smiles.”

Tess grimaced. She walked back aboard the Ladyand picked her book up from the lounge chair. Best to go downstairs and avoid Captain Obvious before he disappointed her more.

"You’re on your own, Mr. Surprise.”

"You saved me from washing out to sea! At least tell me your name!”

Tess pointed to her fawn-colored skin, then to the straight black hair that floated around her face and neck in a simple cut ornamented by softly structured bangs. "I like my privacy.”

"Your berth’s registered to a Royce Benedict. Are you Mrs. Benedict?”

"Do you always investigate your neighbors?”

"The information is in the marina’s files for anyone who wants to know.”

"Then you know without asking that I’m Tess Benedict and that my husband’s deceased.”

"I understand that your husband was a retired diamond broker—”

"Don’t play asinine games with me. Good day, Captain.

Tess went downstairs and out of sight, where she closed the curtains, stretched out on her queen-size bed, and tried to read her book.

Surprise. Jeopard Surprise, Who was he? What did he want? And why did his­tory suddenly seem so alive with current events?

JEOPARD HELD A cold glass of water against his forehead as if it could ease his pain that way. Gone was the wisecracking facade, and in its place was his true persona—quiet, serious, brooding.

All his smiling at Tess Gallatin Benedict had given him a headache.

He picked up the phone beside his bed and called his brother.

"Kyle? Yeah, it’s yours truly calling from Hell.”

Kyle Surprise laughed until Jeopard cut him off with a terse string of obsceni­ties. "Is she as beautiful as the pictures in the surveillance report?” Kyle finally managed to ask.

Jeopard hesitated for a moment, shut his eyes, and remembered long legs, high breasts, and cheekbones a model would envy. He remembered a noble, slightly hooked nose and alluring, deep-set eyes that revealed her Cherokee heritage.

He remembered exotic dark hair that wasn’t quite black, and skin the color of a deep, golden tan. He remembered a melodic voice that sounded sweet even when she was annoyed.

He remembered that she was as sleek and expensive-looking as the silver Jaguar she kept in the marina parking lot.

"She’ll do.”

"Did she seem inclined to fit the report’s description? A bed bunny? Ready to hop for every carrot that comes by?”

"She watched me as if she might entertain the notion, but she didn’t exactly leap into my hutch. God, she’s so young. I felt ancient.”

"Chill out, gramps, you’re only thirty-eight.”

"I’m too old to play a male Mata Hari.”

"This is a curse cast by all those poor women who trailed you over the years. For once, you have to be the chaser, not the chasee.”

"Remind me to go back to my old career. Busting spies and terrorists was easier than playing private investigator for the rich and famous.”

There was dead silence on Kyle’s end of the phone. Then finally, softly, "Not for me, bro. Not for me.”

Jeopard winced. "Hey, kid, what did the doc say yesterday?”

"A few more operations and I’ll only resemble Frankenstein when I’m in bright light.”

Jeopard felt a familiar ache of regret. Kyle had been badly hurt a year before dur­ing a mission in South America. A Russian agent had tossed him into a locked room with a pack of kill-trained dogs.

It had been the end of Kyle’s enthusiasm for security work, and Jeopard had seen the end coming for himself as well. Millie, their youngster sister, had begged them both to give it up, but particularly Jeopard.

The years of danger, of losing friends and lovers to an honorable but deadly game, had taken a toll on him.

Never one to mince words, Millie had told him that he was becoming some­thing worse than the enemy he fought. He was becoming a machine.

Or so it had been, until now. This fluffy Tess Benedict job was perfect for Kyle—charming, outgoing, fun-loving Kyle. Only, Kyle didn’t think his face quali­fied him for such work anymore.

Jeopard hinted hopefully. "Even with scars, bro, you’d be better with this Benedict woman than I am.”

Kyle’s jaunty tone returned. "Oh, no, Jep. You’re gonna learn to enjoy being coy and cute. I insist. Consider it a challenge.”

"Maybe I can find out if she has the Kara diamond some other way.”

"Oh?”

"I’ll threaten her with my Cary Grant routine. She’ll have to tell me about the diamond or die laughing.”

Kyle was still guffawing when Jeopard hung up the phone.

THE ANTLER CHARM. Tess was sitting on her cabin floor the next morning, surrounded by more history books, when she remembered it. She hurried into the galley, went to a dining booth built into the wall, and knelt under the table.

She slid aside a specially designed panel and reached into the base of the booth, where a small safe was secured. A tiny light fixture, keyed to the opening of the panel, illuminated the safe’s well-worn dial.

The safe had belonged to Royce for many years, and in its time had protected jewels worth millions of dollars. He had given it to her as a sentimental wedding present, and along with it the promise that he’d teach her everything he knew about diamonds.

Tess spun the dial quickly, and the door popped open. She reached in, pushing aside personal jewelry, personal papers, and a cloth bag containing a hundred thousand dollar’s worth of uncut Brazilian diamonds. She had to deliver the dia­monds to a wholesaler in Los Angeles the next week. She grasped a piece of deer antler the size of her thumb.

Her heart pounding with excitement, she quickly closed the safe and remained crouched under the table, studying the gift her father had given her not long before his death.

The amulet had been caressed by respectful fingers until it was nearly white. It was made from the curving tip of a deer antler, and the blunt end was covered by a cap of gold topped by a tiny ring, so that the amulet could be worn on a chain.

Her father had told her that the amulet had come to him from his father, Benjamin Gallatin, a blacksmith on the Cherokee reservation in Oklahoma. It might have been made by Benjamin’s father, Silas, the half-Cherokee son of Katherine and Justis.

Enchanted, Tess studied the most important aspect of the amulet—the Cherokee symbols carved deeply into its surface. She went back to the cabin and retrieved the gold medallion she’d left laying among her books.

The symbols on the medallion were undoubtedly separated into words or phrases, and she squealed with delight when she saw that one of the phrases matched the symbols on the antler amulet.

The security buzzer sounded, meaning that someone had stepped on a detec­tion panel hidden in the bow deck. Tess went aboveboard and met a tall teenage boy carrying an enormous arrangement of cut flowers in a ceramic base.

"Hiya, Tess,” he said, peeking through the flowers. "Some guy called the shop and ordered these for ya. Mom said to tell ya she’s thrilled to have a partner who gets guys to order two hundred dollars’ worth of flowers.”

"Brandon, good lord, who sent these?”

"Uh, uh... He nodded toward a card stuck in the jungle of blossoms.

Tess opened it and read, "How about coming aboard for that margarita? Jeopard.”

She groaned at his determination.

JEOPARD HATED peeking out the yacht’s window. In the old days his agents had called him the Iceman, because of his emotionless facade and unbending dignity. The Iceman had confronted Third World dictators face: to face without breaking into a sweat; he’d impressed the most brutal terrorists with his utterly cold demeanor; he’d traded urbane witticisms with powerful women and watched with objective pleasure while they turned into purring kittens.

And now he was hiding behind a curtain and cursing forcefully because the teen­age delivery boy was still in Tess Benedict’s cabin twenty minutes after deliver­ing his flowers.

Jeopard smiled sardonically.

If Mrs. Benedict was a cradle robber, then he might as well head back to Florida.

But there was hope—if he could impress her enough: After all, this was the self-serving woman who, at twenty, had married a wealthy man almost three times her own age.

It was definitely no love match, judging by the information Jeopard had re­ceived. She’d known from the beginning that Royce Benedict was dying of cancer. He’d taught her what he knew about diamonds and used his contacts together started as a respected broker.

Which was hilarious, considering that before his illness Benedict had been a jewel thief of international renown.

Jeopard sighed, hating the sordid business of prying into her life and wishing that his old cynicism would overwhelm him so that he wouldn’t care whether Tess Benedict was a gold digger—or in this case, a diamond digger.

 

Chapter 2

"SORRY ABOUT THE shower problem, Brandon.”

Brandon rolled his eyes and shrugged. "No problem. At least it’s fixed now.”

"Poor kid. I owe you one. Want to drive the Jag to school next week? You can chauffeur your boyfriend. "

He whooped loudly. "All week? We get out for the summer on Friday. Until Friday?”

"Sure. If I need a car, I’ll borrow my granddad’s station wagon.”

"You’re great! You’re really out there, Tess! You’re fantastic!”

After Brandon left she stood beside Jeopard Surprise’s yacht for nearly a mi­nute, composing a firm speech. Her gaze drifted to the yacht’s name, painted on both sides of the bow in black script edged in gold. She hadn’t noticed it before.

Irresistible.

Tess climbed a wide gangplank to the bow. deck and followed a canopied side deck toward the stern. The yacht’s windows were at knee level along the deck. Tess knelt down, one hand raised to tap on them. She really didn’t mean to peer inside, but the curtains were thin.

Jeopard Surprise, wearing nothing but an air of concentration, stood in his luxuri­ous bedroom admiring himself in a full-length mirror.

She’d seen him in nothing but swim trunks the day before, but, oh, what a differ­ence the loss of that simple covering made. His rapt scrutiny of himself confirmed her notion that he was vain. But in his case, vanity was justified. The sheer window curtains made him more tantalizing by screening him with gauzy white.

Tess remained by the window, her fist frozen in a tapping gesture, her insides dissolving into worrisome sensations of elemental attraction. He had the torso of a boxer—blocky and compact, not top-heavy with muscle. His upper body tapered only a little into his flanks, but there wasn’t a spare ounce of flesh around his waist.

No. Jeopard Surprise’s beauty came from a combination of muscle, grace, and virility that epitomized masculine charms. The virile part lay docile right now, but it was awesome, nonetheless.

Turning from side to side, he rubbed his hands up and down his stomach, stop­ping just short of the luxurious triangle of blond hair low on his belly. He nodded solemnly at himself, then twisted to look over his shoulder at his rump.

Tess groaned in dismay as Jeopard stretched languidly, every muscle taut and in­viting. He nodded again, then slapped both hands on his chest as if to say, Good stuff. He had obviously concluded that his appearance was acceptable.

She more than agreed. And she had to get off the Irresistiblebefore she went over­board.

Tess leaped to her feet. Just as she did, she saw his head snap up sharply toward the windows. Had he seen her?

She tiptoed along the side deck and heard his cabin door bang open. Stepping onto the dock, Tess halted. A dull, leaden feeling filled her stomach, while her face burned.

He could now be heard striding across the bow deck.

She turned around slowly, her chin tucked, and gazed up. He came to a stop at the edge of the bow. Her mouth dropped open, and she gasped.

He was carrying a small cannon of a handgun, and the fact that he held it pointed in her direction didn’t help her feelings. But he’d put on a robe, thank heavens—at least she wouldn’t have to deal with his other weapons.

Tess backed across the dock another couple of feet, clasping her hands protec­tively over her chest. Jeopard Surprise tracked her with steely eyes, and a deep frown formed between his brows.

"You invited me,” she called in a high, unnatural voice.

After he scrutinized her for several seconds, the deadly look began to fade from his eyes. He blinked. His stance wavered, then relaxed, and he quickly lowered the gun.

"You? What the hell were you doing?”

She stared at the gun. "Fearing for my life.”

He glanced at the frightening piece of artillery in his hand. A weary expression crossed his face. "I apologize. Don’t worry. I rarely shoot anyone I’ve sent flowers to.”

"I’m very glad.”

He remained still, studying the gun as if lost in thought. Tess watched with grow­ing fascination. Royce had often commented, with approval, that she loved to tease the limits of safety. It was evident in the way she drove a car, he said, and in the fact that she had married a jewel thief.

She hadn’t believed Royce until that moment. Now she admitted that she liked a hint of danger, and the complex man above her offered not only that, but mys­tery.

"Don’t get the wrong idea. I came over to thank you for the flowers, and I... heard my boat’s alarm system buzzing, so I had to hurry... .” She paused, frown­ing. She was no good at such ridiculous lies. Tess lifted her chin and said defiantly, "Oh, hell, captain, I was coming to tell you where to shove your flowers. I accidentally looked into your bedroom window. After I enjoyed the show for a few seconds I decided to leave before you realized that you were being ogled. My only problem was that I decided too late. I do apologize, but you should buy thicker curtains.”

With that she turned and marched back to the Lady.

Jeopard stared after her while his senses slowly returned to a lower level of alert­ness. Ogling him, she’d said. Enjoying the show.

He began to smile sincerely, and it was such a foreign thing that he didn’t even notice.

TESS LAY ON HER stomach in the middle of her bed, crying without a sound, the antler amulet clasped in one hand. Dove Gallatin’s medallion clasped in the other, a book open in front of her.

When the bow alarm buzzed, she brushed at her eyes hurriedly and said a small thanks for the fact that she didn’t wear any makeup and therefore wasn’t smearing any across her face.

A warm California night had descended, and the dock was a sultry place of shad­ows and pools of light from regularly spaced lamps along the water’s edge. The other side of the dock abutted a thick concrete wall, and past it was a grassy lawn dotted with tall palms, beyond which was the marina parking lot.

Tess climbed the stairs from her cabin and found Jeopard standing on the bow, framed by a background of palms and suggestively shadowed by the dock lamps.

She halted at the top of the steps, her heart kicking into overdrive. He stood with one leg angled out, his hands shoved casually into the pockets of camel-colored trousers. He wore Docksiders and a white polo shirt.

"Well, Peeping Tess,” he said solemnly, "the least you can do is walk over to the Zanzi Bar with me and have a nightcap.”

"Bravo to your diplomacy and sense of humor.”

He nodded, his attitude quiet and thoughtful. "I understand this place, the Zanzi Bar, is an up-scale hangout for the boating crowd around here.”

"Yes.” Tess tilted her head to one side and studied him curiously. "You seem different. Subdued. Did my antics unnerve you?”

He chuckled ruefully. "I haven’t met many women who’d have admitted what they were up to. It’s unfair. My standard approach won’t work on a woman as honest as you. I’ll just have to be myself and hope for the best.”

"Marvelous! I knew there was a likable, no-nonsense person behind that frivo­lous facade.”

"Honesty,” he grumbled. "I love it.”

"I’m too honest, and it gets me in trouble sometimes. But I do like your new atti­tude.”

"Good. Then let’s make friends.”

She gestured toward her shorts. "Give me time to change.”

"Should I alert the media?”

She arched a brow. "After seeing you in action, I don’t think you need help.”

"In the bedroom, or chasing pretty trespassers?”

Tess chuckled, felt her stomach drop languidly, and stifled a desire to answer, "Either;” She pointed over her shoulder. "You may wait at my patio table, Captain. I promise to hurry.”

"I promise to wait.”

She kept her word, and came back above deck to meet him less than ten minutes later. He sat at the table, slowly folding and unfolding a gum wrapper she’d left there, his head bowed in an attitude of deep thought.

Ah, yes, this side of Jeopard Surprise was more intriguing by the minute.

"I’m ready, Sundance. Stop thinking so hard.”

He looked up, stood gracefully, and swept a slow gaze over her softly draped sundress of earth-tone shades. His assessment was bold enough to make her breasts tingle but debonair enough to avoid offense.

"Sundance?” he repeated.

"I watched a streaming video of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid not long ago. I like the nickname.”

Even now the light was dim, making it difficult to study him. On impulse Tess reached for his hand and tugged. "Step forward, and let me have a look at you.”

He smiled a little and did as she asked.

When she stood less than a foot from him in a soft beam of light from the dock lamps, she could only stare up at him blankly, mesmerized. It was a distressful thing to have her mind go on vacation simply because his somber blue eyes were study­ing her back intently.

"Thank you,” he answered. "I like the way you look at me.”

She broke the spell by laughing softly and stepping back. But he stepped for­ward.

She arched a dark brow. "If I put on some Ella Fitzgerald and we do this repeat­edly, we’ll be dancing,” she quipped.

"I like your taste in singers. Okay, where did you get those silver-blue eyes?”

"Daddy was part-Cherokee Indian, but he married a Swedish girl.” Tess gazed up at him in silence, trembling inside, her eyes riveted to his. "Yours are a darker shade of blue.”

Hypnotic. And yet there was something shadowed about them, a coldness deep beneath the surface. Since the coldness wasn’t directed toward her, she wouldn’t worry about it yet.

He brushed a fingertip along the soft underside of her left eye, then her right.

Jeopard touched her with incredible gentleness, using the same fingertip that had curled so expertly around the trigger of a deadly gun. The thought somehow reassured her that she had no reason to fear him, though others undoubtedly did.

She took a slow, reviving breath.

"Yes, my mother was Swedish. How’s that for intriguing? A Swedish mother and a Native American father. People consider me exotic-looking. Like a very odd parrot.”

His mouth quirked up in delight. He seemed surprised that he found her so enter­taining. After another second, he tilted his head back and laughed richly. Tess bit her lip and gazed at him with concern.

He caught himself, smiled pensively at her, then frowned. He took her chin be­tween his fingers and turned her face to one side and then the other, letting light fall directly on it. "Have you been crying?”

She stepped back but his fingertips still brushed her face. "I was reading an ac­count of the Trail of Tears. You know—when the U.S. government forced the Cherokees to leave the southeast and go to Oklahoma. It happened in eighteen thirty-eight. Thousands of people died.” She hesitated, then added softly, "My people.”

He removed his hand slowly, his fingers almost caressing her as he did, and she had to concentrate to keep from leaning after them.

"I don’t know a great deal about Cherokee history,” he admitted.

"Come on, Sundance. I’ll explain while we walk to the bar.” She pointed to the medallion that lay between her breasts on a long gold chain. "I’ll tell you about my family. As much as I know.”

He held out a hand.

As she led him from the Lady she began explaining about Gold Ridge, Georgia, her remarkable cousins, and Dove Gallatin’s mysterious intervention in their lives.

"SO. THAT WAS MY first foray into my Cherokee heritage,” Tess finished, curv­ing her hands around a tumbler of Scotch as she sat at a small table with Jeopard at the Zanzi Bar. "And I’m afraid that it’s hooked me. I’ve been raising my consciousness lately.”

She’s not what I expected.

"You think I’m whimsical, Sundance?”

"No. I admire your dedication. I haven’t run across much dedication lately. Tell me more about yourself.”

"I was born in Sweden. My mother died in a skiing accident when I was two. My father was an entirely wonderful man, and he loved me, but his work didn’t permit him to raise a child alone. I grew up with my mother’s parents, in Sweden, then went to boarding school in England. But I visited my father often, here in California.” She paused, smiling at the memories. "The Swedish Lady was his boat. He left it to me.” Her smile faded. "He died of a heart attack—oh, let’s see—seven years ago. When I was nineteen.”

"What kind of work did he do?”

The smile came back. "Have you ever heard of Sam Daggett?”

Jeopard chuckled. "He’s second in my heart only to John McDonald’s Travis McGee character. The Daggett books are classics.”

"I’m glad you think so! My father wrote them!”

"Your father was J. H. Gant?”

"Uh-uh. Hank Gallatin. J. H. Gant was his pen name. And he lived quite a few of the stories he wrote about, I guarantee it. When he wasn’t J. H. Gant, author, he was truly Sam Daggett, wanderer and adventurer. That’s why I couldn’t stay with him. He was always running off to exotic places to help some crony or other get out of trouble.”

Jeopard stared at her with new fascination. Her father didn’t sound like the merce­nary who’d been described in the report.

Hell, this case became more disturbing by the second. Sam Daggett, along with Travis McGee, had inspired his earliest—and most idealistic—dreams of adven­ture. Those dreams had culminated in a career in Navy Intelligence and eventually in private security work for driven, dedicated T.S. Audubon. His youthful fantasies were the only thing he still cherished about the world’s intrigues.

"You look as if I just handed you a Christmas present,” she murmured.

"You did.”

She took a sip of her drink. "Captain Sundance, I’ve been babbling about my­self and I have yet to learn anything about you.”

Professional wariness closed around him tike an invisible cloak. "You know a lot. I’m a terrible sailor, I have a bedroom with a full-length mirror, and I pack a large pistol for chasing women.”

"We’re talking about the Magnum .44, you mean.”

Jeopard smiled wickedly. "That too.” He couldn’t help enjoying her. The fact that she had recognized the gun impressed him. Of course, J. H. Gant’s daughter would know about such things.

"Quit dodging, Sundance. What do you do for a living that allows you to buy large pistols and cumbersome boats?”

He fed her his standard story about Surprise Import/Export in Fort Lauderdale. Her smile tightened, and she searched his eyes intently. Damn, she knows I’m hiding something.

"Jeopard, whatever you really do for a living, I hope it’s legal. If your im­port /export business has anything to do with drugs, you can keep away from me. The farther, the better.”

Jeopard laughed with just the right amount of sincerity. "I’m clean, legal, and legit. I’ll give you a business card tomorrow, and you can check me out.”

She shook her head, smiled, and relaxed visibly.

He held up his right hand so that she could see the heavy gold insignia ring on it. "Naval Academy—Annapolis. The navy was my career until a few years ago. I was a SEAL. Do you know what that means?”

She nodded. "Special forces. Very elite. Also very tough.”

"So you see where I get my gun-toting. Clint Eastwood habits?”

"All right.” She nodded, satisfied, but after a moment of thought added wryly, "I guess SEALs don’t learn how to handle yachts.”

He chuckled. "It’s not part of military training, no.”

"So, importer/exporter, what are you doing so far from Florida?”

"I exported myself here for a two-week vacation.”

"You had a more experienced captain export your yacht, I hope.”

"It’s leased. I boarded it off the coast at Laguna Beach.”

"Thank heavens you didn’t have far to navigate before you rammed my poor Lady. The seafaring world wasn’t threatened too badly.”

"You’re hurting my feelings.”

"I suspect that few things hurt your feelings. However, I do apologize for malign­ing you.”

He grasped his chest theatrically. "You’ll have to do better than an apology. You’ll have to have lunch with me tomorrow.”

She clasped her hands on the table and looked at him formally, much like a schoolteacher addressing an errant boy, he thought.

"Captain Sundance, tell me the truth. Are you married?”

"Would anyone marry such a rotten docker? No.”

"Ever?”

"No.” He watched her try delicately to hide her curiosity. "Never fear, Tess, I have no desire to do your hair or redecorate your boat.”

She gave him a rebuking look, but chuckled, "I wasn’t asking for personal rea­sons.”

"Oh? Are you a reporter for the Marina Enquirer?”

Her soft laughter crept into his bones and refused to leave.

"I can assume, then, that you’re just another carefree player?”

"I haven’t been carefree for a long time.”

She studied him quietly. Jeopard took a slow swallow from his drink and wished like hell that she’d stop.

"I believe I will have lunch with you. Jeopard.”

Jeopard nodded, forcing himself to look pleased. He was too seasoned, too cyni­cal, and too wise to let a job get to him. She was just a job, after all. If she had the Kara diamond, he’d get it from her. And when she realized his deception, she wouldn’t have anything else to do with him.



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