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Killer Affair
Cindy Dees


“How—” Her voice broke. She tried again. “How did you scare him off?”

He shrugged.

“Did you get a good look at him? Police have been chasing him all over the place. No one knows what he looks like. Well, besides the fact that he’s Caucasian and around six feet tall. I know that because my friend found a pair of his victims, and she got involved in the investigation and met the FBI profiler and she told me a little about the case, you know, what to look out for and…” And she was babbling. She did that when she got really nervous.

He stared down at her as if she was jabbering a foreign language at him.

She huffed, “You have heard of him, right? The guy who’s been running around the South Pacific stabbing lovers on beaches while they…do the deed.”

His eyebrows lifted at that, but he made no comment. Not real talkative, her handsome pilot. But, hey, the guy kissed like a god. She swayed toward him once more.

“C’mon,” Tom growled. He took off striding down the beach, his long legs outdistancing her quickly.

“Wait up!” she called after him. She ran through the heavy sand, feeling as clumsy as a drunken chicken. Ugh. Style noteto self: never run on beaches.

He stalked onward without slowing down to wait for her. Not exactly the most social guy on the planet when he didn’t have his arms around her and his mouth on hers. Exasperated, she tagged along, wishing he’d slow down, but too unaccountably annoyed at her uncontrollable attraction to him to ask it of him.

Eventually, they came to a stretch of beach bordered by tall, rocky cliffs. Before long, he veered away from the water and headed for a pale shape zigzagging up the face of the black, wet rocks. Her gaze followed the jagged line upward. She spied a dark, rectangular hulk at the top of it, perched not far from the edge of the cliff.

They drew a little closer and she saw that the pale line was a set of stairs. It led to a bure, a traditional Fijian dwelling made of stucco, logs and thatch. The house nestled within a grove of banyans and palm trees.

“Who lives there?” she asked cautiously. The last thing they need to do was walk into the Sex on the Beach Killer’s hideout.

Tom tossed over his shoulder, “The weather’s about to get nasty. We need to seek shelter now.”

“But—”

“Ladies first,” he interrupted gently.

With a sigh, she set her feet to the long staircase. Something inside her was disappointed that they’d found civilization. For a minute there, she could’ve really enjoyed being stranded in a deserted paradise with a hunky pilot who made her knees weak when he kissed her.

Not that the fantasy ought to do a blessed thing for her, of course. Madeline C. didn’t go for sand, drinking out of coconuts and building palm-frond shelters. She was a city girl all the way. She liked her plug-in creature comforts and was never caught without a makeup kit or the perfect shoes. Of course, she had neither at the moment. Her hair was a sodden mess, and her clothes were destroyed. She’d have to extract a promise out of the pilot never to reveal to anyone that he’d seen Madeline C. without her chic armor polished and firmly in place. And no cameras! If he took a picture of her looking like this, the Sex on the Beach Killer wouldn’t be the worst of his worries!

The Plan. She had to stick with the Plan. Build a new life for herself firmly anchored in the bright lights and big city. Find herself the richest—and nicest, of course—guy she could find and marry him with all due haste. No way was she spending the rest of her life working her fingers to the bone through drought and freezing cold and searing heat to scrape a living out of the ground. She was absolutely not repeating her mother’s mistake. No, sir. She was Madeline C.

She took a deep breath and peered upward, trying to catch a glimpse of the dwelling above her. Even if Tom did kiss better than ought to be legal, there was no room in her life for heavy panting with some beach bum bush pilot. Focus. It was all about focus. It was how she’d dragged herself out of the ocean, and it was how she would drag herself off the farm and into a new life.

She tromped up the stairs, her already exhausted legs burning fiercely. Her personal trainer back at the gym would be appalled that a simple set of stairs was doing her in like this. But hey! She’d spent a couple hours fighting the Pacific Ocean in all its fury. That had to count for something.

Man. What a day. This trip had been jinxed from the moment she and her fellow Secret Traveler reviewers left Chicago. She just wanted to get home, go to her favorite spa, get a mani-pedi, a full body wrap and a facial and forget she’d ever been to this miserable corner of the world with its cyclones and serial killers and tempting strangers.

She glanced at the ocean pounding behind her. The waves were getting bigger by the minute, swallowing a few more inches of the beach with every crash of surf upon the shore. She didn’t know a whole lot about the South Seas, but common sense told her that spending the night down on the beach might not be the smartest thing in the world to try with a storm rolling in. Reluctantly, she continued up the long line of steps.

Finally, several stories above the ocean, she set foot on level ground once more. Tom took her elbow and escorted her firmly to the house’s front door. He fiddled with the doorknob for a few seconds, and then the door opened under his hand. Good grief, the guy’d just broken into the place! She stared, appalled.

“Are you coming or not?” he tossed at her.

“I don’t think we should just walk in there like this.”

“Why the hell not?”

“Well, the owner might be scared if we barge in. What if he’s got a gun?”

Tom snorted. “The owner has several guns.”

Her eyebrows shot up in alarm. “How do you know that?”

He bit out, “I’m the owner.”

She stared. “What?”

He glanced over at her and didn’t bother to repeat himself. A girl could get tired of listening to herself talk, trying to have a conversation with this taciturn guy. She followed him inside. If she thought it was dark outside, it was inky black in here. She banged into something about knee-high and yelped.

“Stand still,” he ordered.

She was more than happy to oblige. A light flared on the far side of the room as he lit a match. He held it to the wick of an old-fashioned oil lamp and put a glass globe down over the flame. A dim, but warm, glow suffused the open space. The hard thing that had attacked her knees turned out to be a beautifully carved wooden end table.

The bure’s interior was bigger than she’d expected. A vaulted ceiling high overhead added to the impression, giant logs forming an inverted V of cantilevered support beams. If she wasn’t mistaken, that was a thatched roof on top of the log frame. Lovely. Grass for shelter from an approaching hurricane.

Bamboo and mahogany furniture blended seamlessly with the white gauze curtains and crisp, ice-blue linen upholstery. A kitchen occupied one corner of the space, separated by a gorgeously carved mahogany breakfast bar with a pair of elegantly curved stools before it. It was a shockingly stylish room. And he lived here? Clearly, he’d bought the place furnished.

She glanced over and saw him standing in front of a mirror, peering over his shoulder at his reflection. Checking out his deltoids? She knew guys were vain, but sheesh!

And then she saw the dark slash across his back, about two inches below his shoulder blades. The Sex on the Beach Killer. He’d said the guy had scratched him, but the cut extended almost all the way across his back!

“Good Lord!” she exclaimed. “You call that gash a scratch? I’d hate to see your idea of a serious wound. Let me see that.” She rushed over to examine the cut, which still oozed blood. “You need to see a doctor. That thing needs stitches.”

“No doctor,” he replied sharply.

“Why not?”

“Only medic on Vanua Taru is also the sheriff.”

She didn’t know which question to ask first. Why he wanted to avoid the law, or if they really were on Vanua Taru, which had been her destination this evening in the first place. Caution won out and she asked the second question, for fear of the answer to the first. “We’re really on Vanua Taru?”

He nodded, his lips pressed together in a tight line.

“Are you in pain?”

He shrugged, a tense move of a single shoulder.

She knew that look. Her brothers and father used to get it when they’d been hurt but didn’t want to act like sissies in front of one another. Tom was having a bout of macho maleness.

She rolled her eyes. “Well, at least let me clean that cut out. It has sand in it.”

“I’ll take care of it.”

“You can barely see it, let alone reach it. Where’s your first-aid kit?”
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