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Diamond Bay (Chapter Twelve)

Rachel liked Jane Sullivan on sight. Anyone who calmly petted Joe, then faced Grant Sullivan's fury without blinking an eye, was someone Rachel would like to know. The two women introduced themselves, while Sullivan stood with his arms folded across his chest, his golden eyes shooting fire as he watched his wife from beneath lowered brows. "How did you find me?" he rasped, his voice low and almost soundless. "I made sure I didn't leave a trail."

Jane sniffed at him. "You didn't, so I did the logical thing and went where you weren't, and found you." Turning her back on him, she welcomed Kell with an enthusiastic hug. "I knew it had to be you. No one else could have dragged him away. Are you in trouble?"

"A little," Kell said, his black eyes filled with amusement.

"I thought so. I came to help."

"I'll be damned," Grant snapped.

Jane gave him a cool look. "Yes, you may be. Sneaking out and leaving me with the babies!"

"Where are they?"

"With your mother. She thinks I'm doing her a favor. Anyway, that's what took me so long to get here. I had to take the twins to her. Then I had to figure out what you'd do if you were trying to keep anyone from knowing where you were."

"I'm going to turn you over my knee," he said, and he looked as if the thought gave him immense satisfaction. "You're not getting out of it this time."

"You can't," she said smugly. "I'm pregnant again."

Rachel had been enjoying the spectacle of Grant Sullivan driven to frustration by his pretty, darkeyed wife, but now she felt almost sorry for him. He went pale.

"You can't be."

"I wouldn't bet on that," Kell put in, enjoying this turn of events as much as Rachel.

"The twins are just six months old," Grant croaked.

"I know that!" Jane replied, her face indignant. "I was there, remember?"

"We weren't going to have any more for a while."

"The thunderstorm," she said succinctly, and Grant closed his eyes. He was really white by now, and Rachel was moved to pity.

"Let's go inside, where it's cooler," she suggested, opening the screen door. She and Kell went inside, but no one followed them. Rachel peeked out the door; Jane was wrapped in her husband's muscular arms, and his blond head was bent down to her dark one.

Oddly, that sight added a little more to Rachel's inner pain. "They made it," she whispered.

Kell's arms slid around her waist, and he pulled her back against him. "He isn't in it now, remember? He was retired before they ever met."

Rachel wanted to ask why he couldn't retire, as well, but kept herself from voicing the question. What had been right for Grant Sullivan wasn't right for Kell Sabin; Kell was one of a kind. Instead she asked, "When do you leave?" She should have been proud that her voice was so steady, but pride didn't mean anything to her at this stage. She would have begged him on her knees if she thought it would work, but his dedication was more than lip service.

He was silent for a moment, and she knew she wouldn't like the answer, even though she was expecting it. "Tomorrow morning."

So she had one more night, unless he and Sullivan planned to spend most of it working out the details of their objective.

"We're turning in early," he said, touching her hair, and she twisted in his arms to meet his midnight eyes. His face was remote, but he wanted her; she could tell it by his touch, by something fleeting in his expression. Oh, God, how could she ever stand to watch him leave and know that she'd never see him again?

Jane and Grant came inside, and Jane's face was radiant. Her eyes widened with delight when she saw Rachel in Kell's arms, but something in their expressions kept her from saying anything. Jane was nothing if not intuitive. "Grant won't tell me what's going on," she announced, and crossed her arms stubbornly. "I'm going to follow you until I find out."

Kell's black brows lifted. "And if I do tell you?"

Jane considered that, looking from Kell to Grant, then back to Kell. "You want to negotiate, don't you? You want me to go back home."

"You are going back home," Grant said quietly, steel in his voice. "If Sabin wants to fill you in, that's up to him, but this new baby gives me twice the reason to make sure you're safe on the farm, instead of risking your neck chasing after me."

There was a glint in Jane's eyes that made Rachel think Sullivan would have a fight on his hands, but Kell forestalled that by saying, "All right, I think you deserve to know what's happened, since Grant's involved in it now. Let's sit down, and I'll fill you in."

"On a 'need to know' basis," Jane guessed accurately, and Kell gave her his humorless smile.

"Yes. You know there are always details that can't be discussed, but I can tell you most of it."

They sat around the table, and Kell sketched in the main points of what had happened, the implications and why he needed Grant. When he had finished Jane looked at both the men for a long time, then slowly nodded. "You have to do it." Then she leaned forward, planted both hands on the table and bent an uncompromising look on Sabin, who met it squarely. "But let me tell you, Kell Sabin, that if anything happens to Grant, I'll come after you. I didn't go through all that trouble to get him for anything to happen to him now."

Kell didn't respond, but Rachel knew what he was thinking. If anything happened it wasn't likely that he would survive, either. She didn't know how she knew what was in his mind, but she did. Her senses were locked on Kell, and his slightest gesture or change of tone registered on her nerves with the force of an earthquake on the most sensitive seismograph.

Grant stood up, drawing Jane up to stand beside him. "It's time we got some sleep, since we're leaving so early in the morning. And you're going home," he said to his wife. "Give me your word."

Now that she knew what was involved, Jane didn't argue. "All right. I'll go home after I pick up the twins. What I want to know is when I can expect you back."

Grant glanced at Kell. "Three days?"

Kell nodded.

Rachel got to her feet. In three days it would be over, one way or the other, but for her it would end in the morning. In the meantime she had to make sleeping arrangements for the Sullivans, and she was almost grateful to have something that would occupy her time, if not her mind.

She apologized to Jane for the lack of an extra bed, but it didn't seem to bother Jane at all. "Don't worry about us," Jane soothed. "I've slept with Grant in tents, caves and sheds, so a nice living room floor isn't any hardship to us."

With Jane's help Rachel gathered quilts and extra pillows for a pallet, taking them from the top of her closet and stacking them on Jane's arms. Jane eyed her shrewdly. "You're in love with Kell, aren't you?"

"Yes." Rachel said the one word steadily, not even thinking of denying it. It was a fact, as much a part of her as her gray eyes.

"He's a hard, unusual man, but top quality steel has to be hard to be top quality. It won't be easy. I know. Look at the man I chose."

They looked at each other, two women with a world of knowledge in their eyes. For good or ill, the men they loved were different from other men, and they would never have the security most women could expect.

"When he leaves tomorrow, it's over," Rachel said, her throat tight. "He won't be back."

"He wants it to be over," Jane clarified, her brown eyes unusually somber. "But don't say that he won't be back. Grant didn't want to marry me. He said it wouldn't work, that our lives were too different and I'd never fit into his world. Sound familiar?"

"Oh, yes." Her eyes and voice were bleak.

"I had to let him go, but in the end he came after me."

"Grant was already retired. Kell won't retire, and the job is the problem."

"It's a big problem, but not insurmountable. Loving someone is hard for men like Grant and Kell to accept. They've always been alone."

Yes, Kell had always been alone, and he was determined to keep it that way. Knowing and understanding his reasons didn't make living with them any easier. She left Jane and Grant to bed down in the living room, and Kell followed her into the bedroom, closing the door behind him. She stood in the middle of the room with her hands tightly clenched, her eyes shadowed as she watched him.

"We should have left tonight," he said quietly. "But I wanted one more night with you."

She wouldn't let herself cry, not tonight. No matter what happened she would wait until tomorrow, until he was gone. He turned out the light and came to her in the darkened room, his rough hands closing on her shoulders and pulling her against him. His mouth was hard, hungry, almost hurting her as he kissed her with savage need. His tongue probed at hers, demanding a response that was slow in coming, because the pain was so great inside her. He kept on kissing her, sliding his hands over her back and hips, cradling her against the warmth of his body, until finally she began to relax and yield to him.

"Rachel," he whispered, unbuttoning her shirt to find her naked breasts and cup them in his warm palms. Slowly he circled her nipples with his thumbs and enticed them to hardness; the warmth, the tightening sense of excitement and anticipation began to intensify inside her. Her body knew him and responded, growing heavy and moist, readying her for him because she knew he wouldn't leave her unsatisfied. He slid the shirt off her shoulders, pinning her arms to her sides with the fabric while he lifted her, arching her over his arm and thrusting her breasts up to him. Deliberately he put his mouth over her nipple and sucked at her, the strong motion drawing hot tingles from her sensitive flesh. She made a faint, gasping sound of pleasure as the sensations swept from her breasts into her lower abdomen, where desire was pulling at her.

Her head swam, and she had the sudden sensation of falling, which made her clutch at his waist. It wasn't until she felt the coolness of the bed beneath her that she realized he had been lowering her to its surface. Her shirt was caught beneath her, with the sleeves trapped and twisted midway between her elbows and wrists, effectively pinning her arms while her upper torso lay bare for his marauding lips and tongue to savor. He looked down at her with a tortured, hungry expression in his eyes, then bent and buried his face between her breasts, his hands squeezing them together around his face as if he wanted to lose himself in the scent and feel of her satiny flesh.

She moaned as her body throbbed in need, and tried futilely to wrest her arms free. "Kell." Her voice was high, strained. "Let me get my arms out."

He lifted his head and appraised the situation. "Not yet," he murmured. "Just lie there and let me love you until you're ready for me."

She made a rough sound of frustration, trying to roll to one side so she could free herself, but Kell subdued her, his hard hands holding her flat on her back. "I am ready," she insisted before his mouth came down on hers and stifled any further protests.

When he raised his head again it was with hot satisfaction stamped on his taut features. "Not like you will be." Then he bent to her breasts again, not stopping until they were wet and gleaming from his mouth and her nipples were red and achingly tight. Gently he bit the undercurve of her breast, using his teeth just enough to let her feel them but not enough to bring pain.

"Let's get you out of these." The strain was evident in his voice, too, as he tugged at the fastening of her shorts. It came free, and the zipper rasped quietly as he slid it down. His hand went inside the opened shorts, burrowing under her panties to find the warm, moist, aching flesh he sought. "Ah," he said in quiet satisfaction as his fingers explored her and found her ready, indeed. "You liked that, didn't you?"

"Yes." All she could do was whimper the word.

"You'll like it better when I'm inside you," he promised huskily, and slid her panties and shorts down her hips and thighs, but not off. He left them just above her knees, and her legs were trapped as effectively as her arms. Slowly he ran his hand over her, from her breasts down over her flat belly, to linger at her naked loins.

She writhed under his probing fingers, her heart thundering in her chest and interfering with the rhythm of her breathing. "Don't you even think it," she cried, her hands clutching at the sheet beneath her. He was looking at her in a way that told her he liked holding her helpless while he teased her and enjoyed her body. He was more than a little uncivilized, his instincts swift and primeval.

He gave a low, rough laugh. "All right, love. You don't have to wait any longer. I'll give you what you want." Swiftly he stripped her, even of the shirt that bound her arms, and took off his own clothes, then settled his weight onto her. Rachel accepted him with a sigh of painful relief, her arms wrapping around him as he spread her legs and entered her. She reached her peak quickly, convulsing in his arms, and slowly he built her to pleasure again. He couldn't get enough of her that night, returning to her over and over, as if time slowed when they were locked together in love.

It was shortly before dawn when she woke up for the last time, lying on her side with her back to him, snuggled into the warm curve of his chest and thighs, just as they had slept every night since he'd regained consciousness. This was the last time he would hold her like this, and she lay very still, not wanting to wake him.

But he was already awake. His hand moved slowly over her breasts, then down to her thighs. He raised her leg, draping it over his thigh, and slid into her from behind. His hand flattened against her stomach to brace her as he began moving in and out of her. "One last time," he murmured into her hair. Dear God, it was the last time, and he didn't think he could stand it. If he had ever been happy in his life it had been during these too short days with Rachel. This would be the last time her soft body would sheathe his hardness, the last time her breasts would fill his hands, the last time he would ever see the misty look of passion in her lake-gray eyes. She trembled beneath his hands, biting her lips to keep from crying out as the pleasure built within her. When the time came he clasped her to him, holding himself deep within her while she turned her face into the pillow to stifle the sounds she made, then he thrust deep and hard and shuddered with his own release.

The room was growing light now, the sky glowing with the pink pearl of approaching sunrise. He sat up in the bed and looked down at her, her body damp and glowing like the sky. Perhaps this last time had been a mistake, because he hadn't taken his usual precautions, but he couldn't regret it. He couldn't have tolerated any separation of their bodies.

Rachel lay exhausted on the pillows, watching him with her heart in her eyes. Her body still throbbed from his lovemaking, and her pulse was only gradually slowing. "You may never come back," she whispered. "But I'll wait here for you, anyway."

Only the slight jerking of a muscle beside his mouth revealed his reaction. He shook his head. "No, don't waste your life. Find someone else, get married and have a houseful of kids."

Somehow she managed a smile. "Don't be a fool," she told him with aching tenderness. "As if there could be anyone else after you."

They were ready to leave, and Rachel was so stiff inside that she thought she would shatter if anyone touched her. She knew there would be no goodbye kisses, no final words to burn into her memory. He would simply leave, and it would be finished. He wasn't even taking the pistol with him, which would give him an excuse to contact her again to return it. The pistol was registered to her; he didn't want anything that could be traced back to her in case things didn't go as planned.

Sullivan had hidden his rental car somewhere down the road; Jane was going to drive them to it, then return to their farm. Rachel would be left alone in a house that echoed with emptiness, and she was already trying to think of ways to fill the time. She would work in the garden, mow the lawn, wash the car, maybe even go swimming. Later she would go out to eat, see a movie, anything to postpone coming back. Perhaps by then she would be so tired she would be able to sleep, though she didn't hold out much hope for that. Still, she'd get by, because she had no choice.

"I'll let you know," Jane whispered, hugging Rachel.

Rachel's eyes burned. "Thank you."

Grant opened the door and walked out onto the porch, which brought Joe to his feet, and snarls filled the air. Calmly Grant surveyed the dog. "Well, hell," he said mildly.

Jane snorted. "Are you afraid of that dog? He's as sweet as can be."

Kell followed them onto the porch. "Joe, sit," he commanded.

There was the peculiar, high-pitched CRACK! of a rifle being fired and the wood exploded on the post not two inches from Kell's head. Kell turned and dove for the open door just as Rachel leaped for him, and he knocked her sprawling. Almost simultaneously Grant literally threw Jane through the door as another shot exploded, then he covered her with his body.

"Are you all right?" Kell asked through clenched teeth, anxiously looking Rachel over even as he lashed out with one foot and kicked the door shut.

She'd banged her head on the floor, but it wasn't anything serious. Her face white, she clutched at him. "Yes, I'm f-f-fine," she stammered.

He rolled to his feet, crouching to stay below the windows. "You and Jane lie down in the hall," he ordered tersely, getting the pistol from the bedroom where he'd left it.

Grant had helped Jane to a sitting position, brushing her hair out of her face and giving her a swift kiss before he pushed her toward Rachel. "Go on, move," he snapped, drawing his own pistol from his belt.

There was another shot, and the window closest to Grant shattered, raining shards of glass all over him. He cursed luridly.

Rachel stared at them, trying to gather her thoughts. They were armed only with pistols, while whoever was shooting at them had a rifle, stacking the deck against Kell and Grant. A rifle had the advantage of accuracy over a greater distance, allowing their assailant to shoot from outside the range of the pistols. Her .22 rifle didn't have much power, but it did have a greater range and accuracy than the pistols, and she crawled into the bedroom to get it, as well as what ammunition she had. Thank God Kell had told her to buy those shells!

"Here," she said, crawling back into the living room and sliding the rifle toward Kell. He glanced around, his fist closing over the weapon. Grant was moving through the house, checking to make certain no one was coming up on them from behind.

"Thanks," Kell said briefly. "Get back in the hall, honey."

Jane was crouched there, staring at her husband with an odd fury in her chocolate eyes. "They shot at you," she growled.

"Yep," he confirmed.

She was fuming like a volcano about to blow, muttering to herself as she dragged the nylon overnighter she'd brought to her, unzipping it and throwing clothing and makeup to one side. "I'm not putting up with this," she said furiously. "Damn it, they shot at him!" She produced a pistol and shoved it into Rachel's hand, then dug back into the bag. She dragged a small case out of it, about the size of a violin case, and threw it at Grant. "Here! I don't know how to put the thing together!"

He opened the case and glared at Jane even as he began snapping the rifle together with swift, practiced movements. "Where the hell did you get this?"

"Never mind!" she barked, tossing a clip of ammunition to him. He fielded it one-handed and snapped it into place. Kell glanced over his shoulder. "Got any C-4 or grenades in there?"

"No," Jane said regretfully. "I didn't have time to get everything I wanted."

Rachel crawled to the side window, cautiously lifting her head to peek out. Kell swore. "Get down," he snapped. "Stay out of this. Get back in the hall, where it's safer."

She was pale, but calm. "There are only two of you, and four sides to the house. You need us."

Jane grabbed Grant's discarded pistol. "She's right. You need us."

Kell's face was set like granite. This was exactly what he'd wanted most to avoid, one of his worst fears coming true. Rachel's life was being threatened because of him. Damn! Why hadn't he left last night, as he should have? He'd let sexual desire override his common sense, and now she was in danger.

"Sabin!" The voice came from the pine thicket.

He didn't answer, but his eyes narrowed as he surveyed the thicket, trying to find the speaker. He wasn't going to answer and reveal his position; let them find out the hard way.

"Come on, Sabin, don't make it any harder than it has to be!" the voice continued. "If you surrender, I give you my word none of the others will be harmed!"

"Who is that joker?" Grant grunted.

"Charles Dubois, alias Charles Lloyd, alias Kurt Schmidt, alias several other names," Kell murmured.

The names meant nothing to Rachel, but Sullivan's brows lifted. "So he finally decided to come after you himself." He looked around. "We're not in a good position. He's got men all around the house. There aren't that many of them, but we're hemmed in. I checked the phone it's dead."

Kell didn't have to be told that their situation wasn't good. If Dubois used the rockets on the house, as he had on the boat, they were all as good as dead. But then again, he was trying to take Kell alive. Alive, he was worth a lot of money to a lot of people who would pay anything to get their hands on him.

He tried to think, but the cold fact was that there was no way out of the house. Even if they waited until nightfall and tried to sneak out, there was little available cover to use except for the bushes, which were right against the house. Away from the house, it was open for a good distance in all directions. That meant it would be difficult for anyone to catch them unawares, but it also meant the same thing in reverse. Even if he walked out and surrendered, it wouldn't save the others. There was no way Dubois would let any witnesses live. He knew it, and Sullivan knew it; he could only hope Rachel and Jane didn't realize quite how hopeless the situation really was.

A glance at Rachel dispelled that idea. She knew, all right. That had been the problem from the first; she was too aware, with no veil of ignorance to shield her. He wanted to take her in his arms and hold her head on his shoulder, assure her that it would be all right, but with those clear, level gray eyes on him, he couldn't lie to her, even to give her momentary comfort. He never wanted any lies between them. There was a shot from the bedroom, and all the color washed out of Grant's face, but before he could move Jane called him. "Grant! Is the kneecap where I'm supposed to shoot these people?"

If anything, he went even whiter, swearing long and low.

"Well, it doesn't matter," she added philosophically. "I missed, anyway. But I hit his gun, if that counts."

"Sabin!" the man yelled again. "You are testing my patience! This cannot go on much longer. It would be such a pity if the woman was harmed."

"Woman," instead of "women." Then Kell realized that Rachel hadn't gone out on the porch; they had seen Jane and thought she was Rachel. They were both slim and had dark hair, though Jane was taller and her hair was a little longer, but at a distance no one would have noticed.

It didn't give him much of an advantage, but it might help that Dubois would be underestimating the number of armed people.

"Sabin!"

"I'm thinking!" Kell yelled, keeping his head away from the window.

"Time is a luxury you can't afford, my friend. You know you can't win. Why not make it easy on yourself? The woman will go free, I promise you!"

Dubois's promises weren't worth the air it took to make them, and Kell knew it. Time. Somehow he had to buy a little time. He didn't know what he was going to do, but every extra second gave chance an opportunity to step in. Timing was always critical, and if he could stall Dubois it might throw the man off in some way.

"What about my other friend?" he yelled.

"Of course," Dubois lied smoothly. "I have no quarrel with him."

Grant's lips twisted back in a feral grin. "Sure. There's no way he didn't recognize me."

What a coup it would be for Dubois to capture both Sabin and the Tiger, the big tawny warrior with the wild, golden eyes who had ranged the jungle with Sabin and later been his prime agent. Each was legendary in his own right; together they had been incredible, so attuned that they acted as one man. Sullivan had had a run-in with some of Dubois's men a few years back; no, Dubois wouldn't have forgotten that, considering how Sullivan had made a fool of him.

A movement in the trees suddenly caught Kell's attention, and his black eyes narrowed. "See if you can get him to say something else," he told Grant, sliding the barrel of the .22 just a fraction of an inch outside the broken window and keeping his eyes fixed on the spot in the trees.

"Come on, Dubois," Grant yelled. "Don't play games. I know you recognized me."

Kell's finger tightened slightly on the trigger as silence reigned; was Dubois really surprised to find out they knew who he was? It was true that he had always operated from the background rather than risk his own safety, but Kell had been after him for years now, ever since Dubois had begun selling his services as a terrorist.

"So it is you, Tiger."

There it was again, that slight movement. Kell sighted down the barrel and gently squeezed the trigger. The report of the rifle echoed in the small house, drowning out any cry of pain, but Kell knew he hadn't missed. He also didn't know if he'd hit Dubois or someone else.

A hail of bullets tore into the house, shattering all the windows and gouging long splinters out of the walls and window frames, but the steel reinforced doors held. "Guess he didn't like that," Kell muttered.

Grant had ducked to the floor, and now his head came up. "You know, I never liked that nickname worth a damn," he drawled, then swung his rifle up. It was an automatic, and he fired it in the three-shot bursts of a well-trained soldier, making good use of his firepower without wasting his ammunition. Pistol shots came from both the bedroom and Rachel's office; then all hell broke loose again. They were tearing the house up, and cold fear filled him, because Rachel was caught in this barrage.

"Rachel!" he yelled. "Are you all right?"

"I'm okay," she answered, and her calm voice made him ache.

"Jane!" Grant yelled. No answer. "Jane," he yelled again, his face gray as he started for the bedroom.

"I'm busy!"

Grant looked as if he might explode, and despite everything Kell found himself grinning. Better Grant than him. Still, Jane's life was in jeopardy, too, and the thought of anything happening to her was almost as hard to bear as the thought of anyone hurting Rachel.

There was another lull, and Grant pulled out his empty clip and slapped another one into place.

"Sabin, my patience is at an end," Dubois called, and Kell grimaced. Damn, it hadn't been Dubois he'd hit.

"You haven't made the right offer yet," he yelled in return. Anything to buy time.

Jane crawled out of the bedroom, her hair all mussed and her eyes big. "I think the cavalry is coming," she said.

The two men ignored her, but Rachel scrambled to her side. "What?" she asked.

"Men on horseback," Jane said, waving her hand toward the bedroom. "I saw them, coming from that way."

Rachel felt like crying or laughing, but she couldn't make up her mind which. "It's Rafferty," she said, and now she had their attention. "My neighbor. He must have heard the shots."

Grant crouched low and ran through the kitchen to the back, where he could see. "How many?" Kell asked.

"Twenty or so," Grant said. "Damn, they're riding right into automatic fire. Start shooting and draw Dubois's fire!"

They did. Rachel crept up to a window, held the heavy pistol out it and fired until it was empty, then reloaded with shaking hands before emptying it again. Kell was making judicious use of the .22, and Jane was revealing remarkable skill herself. Had they given Rafferty enough time to get behind Dubois and his men? If they kept shooting, they might hit their rescuers.

"Hold it," Kell ordered. They lay flat on the floor with their heads covered while the walls were shredded by bullets. The light fixture crashed to the floor, sending glass flying. Grant cursed, and they looked over to see blood streaming down his face from a cut on his cheek. Jane gave a thin, high cry and made a move toward him, despite the continuing gunfire; Kell grabbed her and wrestled her to the floor.

"I'm all right," Grant yelled. "It's just a little cut."

"Stay close to the floor," Kell told Jane, then let her go, knowing that she'd fight him like a wildcat if he tried to keep her from Grant.

Then, suddenly, it was quiet except for a few scattered shots, and they were abruptly halted, too. Rachel lay on the floor, hardly daring to breathe, the acrid smell of burned gunpowder filling her nostrils and even her mouth. Kell put his hand on her arm, his black eyes drifting over her pale features as if he would burn her into his memory.

"Hey!" a deep voice roared. "Rachel, are you in there?"

Her lips trembled, and tears suddenly blurred her eyes. "It's Rafferty," she whispered, then lifted her head to call, "John! Is it all right?"

"Depends," the answer came. "These bastards here don't think it's all right."

Kell slowly climbed to his feet and pulled Rachel to hers. "He sounds like my kind of man."

Rachel felt like the survivor of a shipwreck as she walked out on the porch with Kell supporting her. Grant and Jane followed, with Jane dabbing at the cut on Grant's cheek, crying a little as she fussed at him. Without the arm around her waist, Rachel was sure she wouldn't have been able to stand.

She gave a ghostly cry when she saw three of the geese lying in the yard, blood on the white of their feathers, but there was no way she could make a sound when she saw Joe lying on his side at the edge of the porch. Kell turned her into his arms, pressing her face into his shoulder.

Big John Rafferty, armed with a hunting rifle and surrounded by his men, who were likewise armed, herded about fifteen men before him. Rafferty's eyes were fierce and narrow under his dark brows as he prodded a slim, gray-haired man before him. "We heard the shooting and came to see what was going on," John drawled. "I don't like riffraff shooting at my neighbor."

Charles Dubois was white with rage, his eyes fastened on Sabin. Beside him was Noelle, her beautiful eyes full of boredom.

"It isn't over, Sabin," Dubois hissed, and Kell gently put Rachel aside, handing her over to Grant. Kell had business to attend to, and explaining it to the law, then keeping it quiet would take some doing. "It's over as far as you're concerned," he said briefly.

Beside Charles, Noelle smiled her slow, sleepy smile, then suddenly wrenched free; because she was a woman, the cowhand behind her hadn't been holding her securely. And, somehow, she had a gun in her hand, a small, ugly revolver.

Rachel saw it, and everything moved in slow motion. With a cry she tore free of Grant's arm, hurling herself toward Kell. A man grabbed for Noelle's arm, and the pistol exploded just as Rachel hit Kell, knocking him away. She cried out again at the burning pain in her side; then there was only blackness filling the world.

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