Αρχική σελίδα Star-Crossed Lovers

Star-Crossed Lovers

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Έτος:
1990
Εκδότης:
Doubleday
Γλώσσα:
english
Σειρές:
Once upon a Time...
Αρχείο:
EPUB, 214 KB
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1

Shades of Gray

সাল:
1988
ভাষা:
english
ফাইল:
EPUB, 169 KB
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Śrimad Bhagavad Gita

সাল:
2002
ভাষা:
portuguese
ফাইল:
PDF, 2.87 MB
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Contents



Synopsis

Note:

Prologue

One

Two

Three

Four

Five

Six

Seven

Eight

Nine

Ten

Epilogue





Synopsis




HER ENEMY, HER LOVE...



Perhaps if she'd stayed in Atlanta, Michele Logan would never have had to face Ian Stuart, the ruggedly handsome architect whose family had feuded with hers for centuries. But in the sultry paradise of Martinique fate threw them together and tempted them to end the deadly struggle that had caused so much tragedy. Shocking, urgent desire swept away reason on a tide of need, and suddenly Michele lay in the arms of her enemy, the last man in the world she must ever love. Ian vowed that she could trust him, insisted that the war was over, but could this consuming madness, this sweet ecstasy, be the ultimate revenge, the perfect betrayal of those she cherished most? Bound by ties of love to opposite sides, they struggled to believe in each other's promises, but both were haunted by shadowy evil that seemed determined to destroy all they had. Could it be that love was stronger than hatred, that destiny had joined their hands to heal old wounds?





Note:

No one knew how it had all started, or even when. A fascinated historian approached each family just after the turn of this century with the idea of researching and writing the story; each family shot at him. Aggrieved, he talked to the press instead, and a publisher had become interested enough to offer an advance.

With interest and support backing him up, the historian did a thorough job of research, and came up with a story colorful enough to satisfy all but himself. To the end of his days, he complained that he had never been able to find the source of the feud; he had traced a long and violent sequence of events all the way back to the fifteenth century, but even that didn’t answer the basic question of when and how things went wrong.

Upon publication of his book, the historian was hardly surprised to learn that Cameron Stuart had promptly taken out an ad in a national newspaper proclaiming the feud had st; arted, of course, with Tavis Logan throwing in with the house of York during the Wars of the Roses and then sealing his treachery with a marriage to a “weakly French slut.”

Grady Logan, not to be outdone, had taken out a larger ad insisting it had been Wingate Stuart who had supported the York claim to the throne and then had stolen Tavis’s French wife — unpardonable villainy. Which meant, Grady pointed out triumphantly, that Cameron was descended from that French slut.

And the feud went on.

The historian shook his head and sighed while newspapers and magazines ran bits of his book to feed curious readers.

It had been a Logan, said the Stuarts, who had whispered gently but forcefully into Henry VIII’s ear to rid himself of his Spanish queen, thus helping to oust Catherine of Aragon. A Stuart, cried the Logans, had rigged the evidence that had lost Anne Boleyn her head.

Jane Seymour, having died in childbirth, apparently escaped the effects of the Stuart-Logan feud, but popular belief held that Anne of Cleves was accepted by Henry only because of the flattering portrait a Logan had put before him; a Stuart had gleefully helped Henry out of that marriage.

Logan retaliated by subtly pointing out the prettiness of Catherine Howard at court, and Stuart caused her downfall — and the loss of her head — by guiding the king’s council to find strong evidence of her infidelity. Both sides claimed the happy marriage Henry enjoyed with Catherine Parr.

It seemed there was much fodder for the feud during Henry’s reign, between the king’s marriages and his strong mistrust of the Plantagenets, to say nothing of his break with Rome. Since both Logan and Stuart were of the old nobility, it seemed to have been the height of insanity to cut at each other by using a suspicious king as a tool — but both, somehow, survived.

They survived also the short reign of the last Tudor king, Edward VI, the nine-days’ “reign” of Lady Jane Grey, and the few years of “Bloody” Mary I. Both Logan and Stuart were somewhat foolhardy when it came to their feud, but neither was fool enough to use Elizabeth I as they had her father, Henry; nor were they reckless enough to encourage handsome sons to chase after the Virgin Queen.

Both Stuart and Logan had eyed askance Elizabeth’s successor James I, winced when James’s son Charles I declared war on Spain, and shook their heads when he lost his. They had kept quiet and still while Cromwell “reigned” and were relieved when Charles II was crowned.

By the time George III began having his troubles with madness, both Logan and Stuart, separately, of course, had decided to try their luck with America. And both were incredibly lucky in their adopted land; but the family feud went on.

Too late to choose opposite sides in the Revolution, they lost no opportunity in later years and generations to keep feeding the fire. (They had a fine time during the Civil War, for example, though hampered a mite by the fact that both families lived in the Deep South.) What one supported, the other attempted to destroy; what one had, the other had to better.

At times the feud was ridiculous, such as when Jeb Logan painted his privy red to match Cal Stuart’s house. Cal had retaliated by creeping over one night to move the privy behind its pit; when Jeb came out for his before-bed visit and walked into the pit, his enraged screams could be heard for miles.

And, inevitably, the feud was sometimes tragic. Stuarts and Logans had been killing each other, for good and bad reasons — or no reason at all — for generations, and the move to America did not stop that. Theirs was a long list of duels, brawls, and deaths. They stole property from one another, destroyed property, sabotaged each other’s reputations and business dealings. They imbued their children with their hatred, encouraging more destruction and revenge for destruction.

The historian had discovered a single pattern in the feud which he found fascinating, but no one else seemed to grasp its significance. As nearly as he could determine from the historical evidence, it appeared that in each generation events conspired to produce a critical moment during which the feud could have been stopped.

It seemed to happen in the youth of each generation, when they themselves had no personal grievance against each other and might have risen above the hatred of their elders. But, inevitably, the critical moment was overlooked, or discounted, or those involved simply failed to pass the test. They were drawn into the feud and found their own reasons for continuing it. None had been able to find within themselves whatever was needed to stop the hate.

On it went a circle with no beginning and no foreseeable ending. In sheer pigheaded spite they chose similar homes, similar businesses, and similar lives. Flying in the face of all logic, they chose to live near one another, so that children brought up to hate were pointed at specific targets.

Long after other well-known family feuds had ended, wounds healed and forgotten, the Stuarts and Logans continued to hate and plot, until the situation was ripe for a shocking conclusion.

It was a pity the historian couldn’t have lived to see the finale. He would have loved it.





Prologue




“Damn him!” Charles Logan looked at his son with bitter gray eyes. “I don’t suppose we can prove it?”

Jonathan Logan shook his head, the same hard emotion reflected in his blue eyes. “Not a chance, Dad. The inspector was smart enough not to put the money in his own bank account, and my source at city hall won’t go on the record with what he knows.”

“But he’s sure it was Stuart?”

“Who else?” Jonathan laughed shortly. “The inspector was paid to keep us tied up for weeks while he looks at every piece of wire in the building; he’s not about to accept our word that the electrical work is up to code. And you can bet Stuart’s building has already been approved. Unless we do something to slow Stuart down, we don’t have a hope in hell.”

The elder Logan turned to stare out the window of his tenth-floor office. In the distance, between two other buildings, he could see his own latest effort rearing skyward. From the outside it looked complete, but even now his crews were at work doing what they could inside it. Until the inspector passed all the wiring in the massive building, most of the work couldn’t be finished.

Though always fiercely competitive with his nemesis, Charles Logan never permitted slipshod work due to haste. But on this job, he had pushed his crews to do it right and fast, because there was so much at stake.

And now...

“Dad? We aren’t going to take this lying down?” Jonathan’s voice was incredulous. “If Stuart finishes his building first, he’ll get the Techtron contract and it’s worth millions. He’ll crow all over Atlanta that he beat us —”

“He’s not going to beat us.” Charles’s voice was deadly quiet. “No matter what we have to do, he’s not going to beat us.”

Frowning, Brandon Stuart gazed out his office window as he listened to one of his foremen. He said nothing until the man finished his report, then turned to stare at the man.

“We’ve dealt with these suppliers for years, Carl. What the hell’s going on?”

The foreman shrugged helplessly. “Beats me, boss. To hear them tell it, half the material we order is out of stock, and the other half turns out to be not what we ordered. I’ve had to send four trucks back just this morning. It feels to me like we’re being stonewalled.”

“Logan,” Brandon Stuart said, making the name a curse.

The foreman blinked. “I don’t see how, boss. Unless — well, I suppose they could be favoring his orders over ours. All the places we’re having trouble with supply him too.”

“I want it stopped,” Stuart said in a voice that grated. “I don’t care what it takes, or what it costs, I want it stopped. I won’t let that bastard beat me!”



* * *



“They don’t know about it?”

“No, my love, they don’t. They don’t know how strongly the seeds of hate took root.”

Troubled, she said, “Dangerous.”

Cyrus Fortune smiled at his lady, but though the smile glowed with the love he always showed her, there was little reassurance in it. “The wild card, I’m afraid. I can’t be sure how the others will react to it. But a festering wound must be opened to let the poison out.”

“She’ll be hurt.”

Cyrus sighed heavily, his benign dark eyes fully expressing his sorrow. “I don’t see how it can be avoided. That wasn’t a part of my plan. But I should have anticipated what he would do.”

“Nonsense.” Her tone was bracing, but she softened it with a smile. “At any rate, I feel sure you’ll do what you can to lessen any unanticipated blows.”

“What I can.” Cyrus glanced out the small window at the thick white clouds beneath them and sighed again. “But where there is love — real or manufactured — there must be pain as well. Some blows can’t be softened.”

There was nothing she could say to that, and she knew him too well to pretend answers she didn’t have. Instead, her small hand slipped into his, and she remained silent while the sleek jet cut downward through the clouds toward its landing on the island of Martinique.





One




“You need help?”

They faced each other, surprise in both their expressions instantly supplanted by mistrust and wariness. He stopped dead in his tracks as though he’d run into a wall, and she felt a sudden compulsion to pick up something heavy.

Michele Logan recovered first, throwing off impulses that were ridiculous, she told herself. “Damn thing died on me,” she said, waving a hand at the rental compact parked off the side of the road. She looked at her would-be rescuer and swallowed a giggle — surprising herself at the burst of humor and wondering if chivalry was dead, choked to death long ago by the Logans and the Stuarts.

“I’ll look at it,” he offered, proving that Stuarts could overcome destructive impulses just as well as Logans.

At least when the familiar battleground was more than two thousand miles away.

Michele stood back, still conscious of her own wary tension, and watched Ian Stuart bend down to peer beneath the car’s raised hood. She caught herself glancing up and down the deserted road, and felt like laughing aloud to discover she was fearful of even being seen with a Stuart.

Her father, an otherwise reasonable man, would have been tempted to disinherit her after one glance at her companion... or thunder about doing so.

But her father was back in Atlanta, not here on the island paradise of Martinique. In fact, there was no one here who could possibly know or care that representatives from both sides of a very old feud had unexpectedly encountered each other on the road to Fort-de-France.

She studied the enemy, trying to be as objective as possible. He was a big man, with powerful shoulders setting off an obviously athletic body of unusual strength. He was the kind of man who looked sexy in jeans and formal clothing alike, drawing feminine stares wherever he went. At the present, he was wearing jeans and a pullover shirt. He had wheat-gold hair worn thick and just shaggy enough to make a woman want to run her fingers through the shining strands.

Most women, Michele reminded herself, surprised that she had to. But not me.

She also reminded herself that she had never been attracted to fair men, but then had to admit silently that blond hair went awfully well with a tanned, handsome face and ice-blue eyes. Still, Ian Stuart was the last man in the world she could ever be drawn to.

In a peculiar way, they knew each other well. Ian Stuart and Michele’s brother, Jonathan, were the same age, and the families both owned houses and businesses in Atlanta, Georgia. As children, Michele and Jon had competed against Ian in horse shows and rodeos, and the boys had brawled on and off their different schools’ football fields.

Michele knew for a fact that Jon had lost at least one high-school girlfriend to Ian Stuart, and that Ian had lost two desired horses at auction to Jon’s determined bidding.

Michele was twenty-six, Ian was thirty-one, and this was the first time in their adult lives that they had met face to face and alone.

She didn’t know how to react to the unexpected situation. All her life she had listened to invectives directed at the Stuarts in general and their neighbors in particular; she’d even spat a few curses of her own. She could have listed their treacheries going all the way back to the fifteenth century. Instinct told her she should be raining invectives of her own now, but common sense questioned the need for it.

Ian looked up and saw her watching him, his pale blue eyes as wary as her own probably were. He straightened slowly and looked at her for a moment in silence, then glanced at the compact. “This needs a mechanic, which I’m not,” he said in a neutral tone. “I’m going into Fort-de-France; I can send a tow truck back. Or,” he added after a moment, “I can give you a lift.”

Michele found herself wondering if the earth would open up and swallow them both at this heresy, and laughed as she realized her muscles were braced for a thunderclap. It was ridiculous! “Thanks, I’d appreciate a lift,” she said. “I can call the rental company from the hotel and have them deal with it.”

“Where are you staying?”

“The Arcadia.”

“So am I.”

Moments later, sitting comfortably beside Ian in his own rental car, she dismissed the fleeting guilt at her traitorous behavior. Because it wasn’t traitorous, not really. She was a sensible woman and saw no reason why she should prefer to roast in the hot sun rather than accept a brief ride from a man who had never done her an injury.

“Lucky you came along,” she ventured casually.

“I might have been stuck out here all day.” There had been a few passing cars, but none had stopped.

“I half expected you to throw the offer of a ride back in my face,” he murmured.

“At home, I might have,” she admitted, turning her head to gaze at the colorful tropical landscape all around them. “But who can fight in paradise?”

Ian sent her a glance, taking the opportunity of her distraction to study her unobtrusively. It had been years since he’d been this close to Michele Logan. On that last memorable occasion, she’d been thrown by her horse during warm-ups for a Grand Prix jumping event, and he had offered her a hand up. Sixteen-year-old Michele had rewarded him for his pains by roundly cursing him, and had regained her feet under her own power.

She had also beaten him in the event. Ten years had changed her... a lot. Then she’d been thin as a rail and all legs; she was slender now, but no one would ever compare her to a rail. The faded jeans and pale blue T-shirt she wore clung to every curve, and those curves were voluptuous enough to inspire erotic fantasies. Her legs were still long, but they, too, were the stuff of men’s dreams. Her waist-length black hair, wild as a colt’s mane for most of her childhood, was confined neatly in a French braid now, and the severe style emphasized the delicate bone structure of her lovely face. Those bones had seemed awkwardly arranged during her childhood and adolescence, but maturity had smoothed sharp planes and angles into striking beauty.

On the rare occasions in the past when Ian had seen her — at a distance, naturally, and usually across crowded rooms — he had always been conscious of faint surprise. From tall, robust parents of average looks had come this slight, smoke-eyed, raven-haired woman of unusual and distinctive beauty; she was a throwback to the Celtic ancestors she and Ian could both claim, as physically unlike her present-day family as he was unlike his own.

Ian wondered if the differences were only physical; her brother Jon would have chosen a ride with the devil over one with a Stuart.

Feeling her attention shift back to him, he said, “What are you doing in paradise?”

“Vacationing,” she answered in the same pleasant tone she’d been using, her low voice rather husky. “November in Atlanta was unbearable. All that cold rain. I had vacation time coming to me, and the company wasn’t willing to let me take it next year. So, Martinique.”

She had chosen not to enter the family construction business, he knew. He thought it odd, but interesting that she was employed by a large insurance company as an investigator.

“I’d planned to come with a friend,” Michele said, “but she got held up by her job and won’t be arriving for a few more days. How about you?”

“Business,” he answered. “I’m supposed to be meeting a potential client here, but he’s been delayed.”

“You’re an architect, aren’t you?”

He nodded, very conscious that she was looking intently at him. His awareness of her surprised him more than a little. “Like your brother,” he said, and from the corner of his eye saw her grimace slightly.

“I wonder if, pardon the pun, that was by design.”

Smiling faintly, he said, “Jon and I both being architects? I don’t know about your father, but mine wasn’t happy with my career choice. He felt growing up around the construction business provided all the knowledge I’d need to take over the company one day. I was born to follow plans, he said, not draw them.”

She laughed softly, and he was astonished to realize how focused his senses were on her. It was just like the first instant he’d recognized her there by the car, when he had felt the shocked wariness of encountering not an enemy, but something totally unexpected.

“Not by design then,” she said dryly. “Dad hit the roof when Jon announced his career plans. He complained that all those summers working for the firm had been wasted. He’s come around in the last few years, though, especially after Jon convinced him that an architect would be an asset to the family business.”

“Mine still has reservations,” Ian said. “We argue about once a month, regular as clockwork.”

“Who wins?” she asked, amused.

“Me. Dad says he takes consolation in the knowledge that strong-minded men breed strong-minded sons.”

“And daughters,” Michele commented somewhat dryly.

“Your father didn’t like your being an investigator?”

If she was surprised by his knowledge, it didn’t show on her face. “Are you kidding? Whenever he catches my eye, Dad looks wistfully at some of the old paintings hanging on the walls of our house. All done by our ancestral Southern belles, of course. He didn’t mind my showing horses or running barrels in the rodeo, but he winces whenever he has to face the fact that his gently nurtured daughter is a licensed investigator.”

“Were you never tempted to get into the family business?”

Michele was silent for a moment, her gaze directed at the windshield but unfocused. Then she looked at Ian. “The business end of it interested me, but some of Dad’s goals weren’t mine. I couldn’t see expending so much energy in a rivalry that was so... bitter.”

It was the first time either of them had mentioned the feud. Ian wanted to probe her feelings on the matter, especially since her statements indicated she was far less rabid about it than her father and brother. But they reached the hotel just then, and as he pulled the car into the circular entrance drive, he felt a definite reluctance to part company with Michele Logan.

A parking valet came out to take the car, and they walked into the cool lobby together, both silent. Neither spoke until they were in the elevator. Michele pushed the button for her floor, watched him follow suit, and realized absently that his room was three floors above hers. Then Ian broke the silence in a mild tone.

“We’re both alone here for the time being. Have dinner with me tonight.”

Michele was conscious of shock, but it took her several seconds to realize why.

Because he was a Stuart.

All her life, she had been told repeatedly and with passionate insistence that there was nothing on earth worse than a Stuart — except two of them. Told, moreover, by the father she had always adored. And no matter what logical protests her rational mind could counter with, it was impossible for her to discount what had been drummed into her since childhood.

As the elevator doors opened onto her floor, Ian pressed a button on the control panel to hold them open. He looked at her steadily. “Here at the hotel, of course. The food’s great.”

She drew a short breath, freed at last from a cold place she was horrified to find inside her. A place that had been sown with dark seeds. She felt shaken and was aware of an almost overpowering relief; the seeds might have been sown, but there was nothing dark and twisted growing there. Only an echo of what might have been.

Or what might yet be.

That flashing insight reminded her that she was far more than a mere continuation of a story that had been written in stone five hundred years ago. She was an individual with her own thoughts and beliefs, and it was entirely up to her whether she chose to hate another person — with or without sufficient cause.

And neither this man nor his family had given her any cause to hate.

“Michele?”

Had he ever said her name? She didn’t think so. It felt unfamiliar coming from him, a roughly beautiful sound like nothing she’d ever heard before. She looked up at him, uncertain and more than a little wary, but the cool hint of challenge in his eyes made her decide. “Sure.” Her voice was unsteady, and she concentrated on firming it up. “I’d be glad of the company.”

Ian smiled. “Good. I’ll meet you in the lobby, then. Around seven?”

Michele nodded. “I’ll be there. And thanks for the rescue, Ian.”

“Anytime.”

She got off the elevator, almost immediately turning right to head down the hallway to her room. It wasn’t until she was inside that a shaken laugh escaped her. She felt strange, as if all her emotions had been tumbled about and left in a heap.

She dropped her purse on the big bed and kicked off her sandals, then went to adjust the temperature of the air conditioning. It was unsettling to discover the room was actually cool according to the thermostat; it seemed hot to her. Deciding firmly that the time spent in the sun after her car broke down had given her a very mild case of heat exhaustion, she called room service for a pitcher of iced tea. She spent the next few minutes on the phone with the car rental company, then changed into shorts and went to let the waiter in with her order.

After he’d gone, she banked the pillows on her bed and curled up with a glass of cold tea. She’d turned the television on to a news channel, but didn’t pay much attention even though she stared at the screen.

Ian Stuart. A peripheral part of her life for nearly as long as she could remember, he had suddenly appeared center stage with no warning. And she didn’t know how she felt about that.

A scene from ten years before sprang vividly into her mind, surprising her with its clarity. A show ring during warm-ups for a Grand Prix event. She’d been riding a young horse, expecting nothing from him and intending only to school him over moderate jumps so he could become accustomed to shows. He had balked at the third jump and shied violently, throwing her.

Ian had been there, riding an experienced jumper, and he had been the first to offer her a hand up. Mortified at having been dumped like a Sunday rider practically at his feet, she had spat a few biting comments on his ancestry and had picked herself up without his help. The sting to her pride had been painful, and it was lucky her young horse wasn’t a timid one who would have been easily ruined by being pushed too hard too soon; when she rode him into the ring later, she was riding fiercely to win.

She had held her mount with iron control, refusing to let him run out at the jumps, driving him over them with sheer determination, riding him harder than ever before. The result had been a spectacular victory, and her horse had become the best jumper she’d ever owned.

All because of embarrassment.

The memory gave her pause. Was it only the ten years between sixteen and twenty-six that made her feel differently about Ian Stuart now? Or did she feel differently? She hadn’t ridden to beat him that day because of family rivalry; the feud between their fathers hadn’t even entered her head. She had done it because the toss had made her feel like a fool, and she’d wanted to show Ian that she was a first-rate rider and could handle any horse.

Childish pride, she decided. That was all. She hadn’t even thought about Ian during the years after that occasion. Oh, she’d seen him from time to time at a distance at social or charity events, and both her father and Jon had offered frequent scathing remarks about the doings of Ian and his father. But she hadn’t thought about him consciously, hadn’t considered his unique and disturbing place in her life. She’d been busy finishing school, going to college, getting a job. She had dated regularly, but hadn’t become deeply involved with any of the men she saw.

The phone on the nightstand rang, and Michele nearly jumped out of her skin. Grimacing, she picked up the receiver. “Hello?”

“They’ve done it to us again,” Jon announced without preamble.

She didn’t have to ask who “they” were, or why her brother had called to tell her about it; Jon tended to keep in touch with her almost daily if she was away from home, and was always quick to report the latest underhanded dealings by the Stuarts.

“What now?” she asked, suppressing the knowledge that her brother would demand her immediate return if she told him that Ian was in Martinique and in the same hotel.

“They’ve bribed half the inspectors, that’s what.” As always, when he spoke of the Stuarts his normally pleasant voice was hard. “Our crews are sitting on their duffs waiting for the final inspections of the electrical and plumbing work, and the inspectors are staring at every piece of wire and pipe in the damned building.”

“Jon, you don’t really believe they’ve bribed city officials?” She made the attempt even though she knew it would be fruitless.

“Payoffs and kickbacks. Hell, you know how it works.”

“I don’t suppose you have any proof?”

“Michele, what’s wrong with you? Since when have the Stuarts been stupid enough to leave fingerprints?” Even that backhanded compliment was grudging.

She leaned back against the headboard of the bed and sighed softly. She loved her brother, but, like their father, he had a wide blind spot when it came to the Stuarts. “Sorry,” she said in a light tone. “I guess it’s just hard to hate in paradise.”

Jon grunted a response that could have meant anything, then asked, “Is Jackie with you?”

“No, she was delayed. She’ll be here in a few days.”

“What’re you going to do?”

Michele could hardly help but laugh. “Brother dear, I believe I can entertain myself for a few days alone. I’ve been pretty good at that since I left the crib.”

“Well, be careful.” He sounded amused by her tart reply, but also a bit restless. “Big girls have more to worry about than little ones, and you’re a long way from home.”

“I’ll be fine, Jon. You just promise me that you and Dad won’t try some harebrained stunt to get even with the Stuarts for what you think they’re doing.”

He laughed. “I’ll probably talk to you tomorrow, Misha.”

His childhood nickname for her reassured her only a little, because he hadn’t promised. “Jon —”

“Don’t fall for some tall, dark stranger. Bye.”

Michele cradled the receiver, troubled. She got up to refill her glass, then settled back on the bed. She didn’t feel guilty at not having told Jon about Ian’s presence. Her brother had always been overly protective of her when it came to men, and he would have reacted violently to the knowledge.

But she was disturbed, both by what could be happening in Atlanta and by her own actions here. Her rational mind told her that having dinner with a man in the hotel was nothing to be worried about, but the fact that the man was Ian Stuart troubled her a great deal.

She glanced at the clock on the nightstand. Five. In two hours, she was supposed to sit down to a civilized meal with the sworn enemy of her father and brother. The very thought seemed melodramatic, but Michele wasn’t tempted to laugh, or even to mock it. She was only too aware that the simple act of having dinner with Ian Stuart was enough to tear violently the fabric of her family.

If they ever found out.

He was standing near the desk in the lobby when Michele came out of the elevator, and she walked toward him steadily with the unnerved feeling of having burned her bridges. She had dressed to give herself courage; the midnight-blue linen dress she wore was full-skirted and high-necked, but left her back and arms bare, and she knew the style suited her.

He must have thought so, too, for she could see the appreciation in his striking pale blue eyes as he looked at her. He, too, was dressed informally in a light-brown jacket and dark slacks, with his white shirt open at the throat.

“I thought you might stand me up,” he murmured as she reached him.

“I almost did,” she admitted honestly.

“What made you change your mind?”

Michele drew a short breath. “Sheer cussedness, I guess. I like to make up my own mind about things.”

“And people?”

“And people.” She managed a smile.

Ian smiled slightly as well, but his eyes were very intent. “Of course, the fact that no one’s going to know about this didn’t influence you at all.”

“Of course not. Besides, you could have hired a photographer to take pictures to send to my father.” She blinked, conscious of shock at her own words.

Ian took her arm lightly and began leading her across the lobby toward the dining room. “I didn’t.”

“I’m sorry. I don’t know why I said that.”

“Because you’ve been taught to suspect the motives of anyone named Stuart.”

“Do you suspect my motives?”

“No.”

Michele looked up at him as they walked, a little surprised to find that her head barely topped his shoulder even though she was wearing heels. “Why not?” She was honestly curious, wondering if their upbringings had been so different or if Ian had simply risen above his.

Ian didn’t answer until they’d been shown to their table in the quiet restaurant. When they were supplied with menus and left alone again, he looked across the table at her. “Because I think you’re honest, Michele. If you wanted to fight me, you’d do it openly.”

“With all my motives flying like flags?”

“Yes. I wish you could believe the same about me.”

She hesitated, but couldn’t lie. “I want to. The rational part of me does.” “But,” he murmured.

Michele nodded. “But. I was thinking about it up in my room. Do you suppose that after five hundred years it’s become imbedded in the genes?”

“I’d hate to believe that.”

“So would I.” She bent her head and began studying the menu, adding lightly, “I’m starved. I skipped lunch so I could explore the island.”

The soft lighting in the dining room combined with her black hair and gleaming blue dress to lend her a curiously insubstantial air. And her manner toward him intensified the impression, because she was troubled and wary. Ian couldn’t stop looking at her, even as he told himself this was worse than reckless, it was insane.

He wasn’t worried about sitting across a dinner table from Michele Logan; that was certainly harmless and even his father — after an initial explosion — would be able to make little of it. What bothered him was his reaction to her. Every fleeting expression in her smoke-gray eyes fascinated him, and her delicate face held his gaze as if she were his lodestar.

When he had taken her arm and walked beside her through the lobby, he had been vividly aware of her warmth, of the faintly spicy scent of her perfume. He had wanted to put his hand on her bare back, to touch the pale gold skin that looked so soft and silky. Then she had glanced up at him with those haunting eyes, and he’d felt a jolt to some part of him. He didn’t know what it meant, but he knew instinctively that something had been forever changed by it.

“I think I’ll have the chicken.” She looked at him, faint color rising in her cheeks. “How about you?”

He realized that she had felt him staring at her, that she was disturbed by the steady gaze. “The same,” he said, without the faintest idea of what he was agreeing to.

Michele folded her hands over the menu and fixed her eyes on them. In a conversational tone, she said, “What we were talking about before is something neither of us can forget, you know. Suspicions. Whether they’re imbedded in the genes or the mind, they’re still there.”

“I don’t have any reason to hate you, Michele. And you have no reason to hate me.”

She nodded. “I know. But not hating is one thing; becoming friends is something else. Even if we could, I mean. Even if we wanted to. Because it isn’t just us.”

“Why?” He leaned toward her unconsciously, wanting her to look at him so he could see what she was thinking and feeling. He didn’t think about what he was saying, he simply felt compelled to make her understand something that was very clear to him. “It’s just us here, Michele. No fathers or brothers looking over our shoulders. Nobody around who gives a damn if we’re enemies, friends... or lovers.”

She felt a strange flare of heat at the last word and didn’t know if it was the word itself or the husky way he said it that caused her reaction. She didn’t dare meet his eyes because she was half afraid of what she might find in his gaze. Tension wound tightly inside her, like a spring coiling, and she couldn’t seem to hold her breathing steady.

“Michele?”

Softly, still without looking at him, she said, “When I was a little girl, I didn’t know that Stuart was a name. I’d heard my father say it many times, but all I knew from his tone of voice was that a ‘Stuart’ was something bad.”

Very deliberately, he reached across the table and covered her folded hands with one of his own. “I thought Logan was a curse until I was seven. But I’m not seven anymore. And you’re not a little girl. We have to start with just us, Michele. Or else blindly follow twenty generations of tradition in our families.”

She stared at the big hand covering hers, feeling the warmth and heavy strength of it. Finally, she raised her eyes to his, seeing in them some of the intensity that she had felt earlier. “I don’t think I’d be a very good trailblazer,” she said unsteadily. “There’s so much I’d be risking. So much I could lose. Would lose.” Her father’s love. Her brother’s.

For a brief moment, Ian’s hand tightened over hers, then he leaned back and withdrew from her. “All right,” he said quietly. “I suppose that not hating is something.”

Ian signaled the waiter, going on in the same mild tone. “We can at least have dinner. In peace; the families don’t have to know we’re even on the same island.”

Michele gave her order and listened as he gave his. She felt a strong sense of loss and also a bitter feeling of failure. She had never really failed in her life, not at anything that mattered to her — and somehow Ian mattered to her very much. She wasn’t sure why, perhaps simply because it was her nature to make up her own mind about things. Sometimes, there was no choice to make. If she could have believed that the feud could be stopped because she and Ian made peace between them, she would have risked it, she told herself fiercely. But she knew both her father and brother too well to think that was possible.

“Don’t look so troubled,” Ian said softly. “Maybe when it’s our turn to carry the torch, we can do a better job with it.”

“No,” she said. “Maybe you don’t want to hate, but Jon does. Dad’s poisoned him. He’s heard so much more than I have. I don’t know, maybe he got the brunt of it because he was older. Or maybe because he’d always keep the Logan name. Dad isn’t rational where you’re concerned. And no matter how good your intentions are, Ian, if somebody hates you long enough and tries to hurt you often enough, you’ll hate too.”

Ian frowned slightly. “It sounds as if your father is more bitter than mine. Do you know why?”

She shook her head. “No. But Jon knows something. When we were younger he said that your father had done something terrible to ours a long time ago. He wouldn’t tell me what it was.”

“It must have had something to do with a woman.”

She was surprised. “Why do you say that?”

“Otherwise, Jon would have told you.”

Michele thought about that, and somewhere deep inside she felt a little chill. Had some unknown woman intensified an already bitter rivalry? What had happened? Women were vulnerable when men feuded; they could be hurt in so many ways. They could be used as weapon or as victim. As soon as that thought occurred to her, she felt another chill and then anger hard on the heels of it. These damned suspicions! Ian had merely suggested that the two of them make peace, not crawl into bed together.

Into bed... together...

Her breathing seemed to stop for an instant, and a wave of dizziness swept over her. Images flashed in her mind, images that were raw and powerful — and undeniably exciting. For the first time in her life, she felt the shocked awareness of her own sexuality, and the images were so strong they were almost overpowering. The thought of being in bed with Ian Stuart triggered a surge of emotions as confused as they were complex.

“What are you thinking?” he asked suddenly.

Michele felt heat rise in her face. She wasn’t about to confess the erotic images still playing through her mind, not the least because they shocked her to her bones. “I was... wishing that it was simple. Wishing it was just us.” She heard the husky words emerge, and felt another jolt because she knew it was true.

“Would you trust me then?”

“I don’t know. But I’d only be risking myself if I took the chance.”

The waiter arrived and began to serve their food just then, and Ian didn’t respond to what she’d said.

Michele was grateful for the reprieve, using it to try desperately to cope with these stunning, unexpected, and wholly unfamiliar feelings. She ate food she didn’t taste, bewildered by what had happened to her — and why it had happened.

Why had it happened? Why had her chance encounter with Ian and the reckless act of having dinner with him sparked these wild surges of desire? How could she possibly feel such things for this man of all men? She had never felt desire until now, not at all; her strongest interest in a man had been mild and detached compared to this.

But now...

Tension coiled in her as her emotions churned chaotically. Make peace with Ian? No, that would never be possible now. Even if it were just the two of them, she knew that what she wanted of him had little to do with peace. It was as if some barrier inside her had collapsed into rubble at the slightest touch, and what she saw beyond that shattered wall terrified her.

“Michele?”

She looked up at him, seeing a lean, handsome face that was all too dreadfully familiar now, because something, some deeply buried instinct, told her it had always been behind that wall. Waiting.

It was too much to accept, to think about; she had to get away from it. She set her fork aside automatically and pushed her chair back. “Excuse me,” she murmured, rising jerkily to her feet.

“Michele, what’s wrong?” He was on his feet as well, staring at her with concern and something else in his eyes.

She couldn’t answer him, because all the answers were so terribly dangerous. Without another word, she hurried away from their table. She heard him call after her, but the sound of her name only made her move faster. She was almost running by the time she reached the lobby, and barely noticed a few startled faces as she raced across and fled out into the night.

The hotel boasted a strip of private beach, deserted this late, and it was there Michele ran. She kicked off her heels almost as soon as she left the hotel, leaving them where they fell. She passed the blue-lit pool and blindly followed the path through the lush garden until she felt sand under her feet and saw the moonlit darkness of the ocean.

When she reached the water she turned, racing on the wet sand. For years she’d made a habit of morning runs to keep in shape. She ran fast now, the wind tearing her hair free of its braid and whipping her skirt out behind her. She ran because she had to escape.





Two




“Michele!”

He caught up with her at the northwest end of the beach as she approached a ridge of volcanic rock jutting up from the sand that marked the boundary of the hotel’s private beach.

When he grabbed her hand and forced her to stop, pulling her around to face him, she felt an instant of anger and half raised her free hand as if she would have pounded on his broad chest.

She stared up at him, her clenched hand motionless now. She could see him clearly in the moonlight, and she wished it was dark because she knew he could see her just as clearly.

“What are you running from?” he demanded.

Almost idly, she noted that he was in excellent shape since he wasn’t even breathing hard from the race. Her own heart was pounding, and she couldn’t seem to draw enough air into her lungs. “Let me go,” she demanded.

He released her hand but only so that he could grasp both her shoulders firmly. “I want to know why you’re running, Michele.”

She felt smothered by him, trapped, despite the open space all around them. He was so big, and he’d caught her all too easily and quickly in spite of her head start. She couldn’t escape him. But she had to stop this before something irrevocable happened, before it was too late. Panic rose in her, and this time her fists did pound against his chest.

“Let me go! I won’t let you do this to me, I won’t!”

Ian barely felt the blows. He had run after her instinctively, thinking only of stopping her because there had been something wild and frightened in her eyes. It was in her voice now, in the supple strength of her slender body as she fought desperately to get away from him. Her words made no sense to him, but the thin sound of her voice did. She was afraid of him somehow, almost terrified, and the realization was like a knife in his chest.

He should have released her simply to reassure her that he wouldn’t hurt her, but he didn’t want to see her run away from him again. Without stopping to think, he pulled her into his arms, trapping her hands between them and holding her firmly.

“Michele, stop it. Be still. I’m not going to hurt you.” He forced himself to speak quietly. She went on struggling for a moment, but then her breath caught as her movements made her lower body press against his, and she seemed to freeze.

A small wave lapped over their feet gently. His hands were on her bare back now, and her skin was every bit as soft and smooth as it looked. Her hair had come loose, tumbling down her back and over his hands like warm, heavy silk. She was utterly still, hardly seeming to breathe, but her delicate body was pressed against his and he could feel every curve, feel the warmth of her.

“No,” she said in a very soft but distinct voice. Her head tilted back slowly as she looked up at him, and moonlight shimmered darkly in her eyes. Against his chest, her fingers uncurled and spread, but she didn’t try to push him away.

His own fingers were moving, lightly probing the straightness of her spine as one hand slid up toward her nape and the other found the small of her back. She felt so fragile against him, so feminine, and his entire body was reacting wildly, all his senses so sharpened it was almost painful. His heart hammered against his ribs, and a jolt of pure, raw desire settled in his loins with a throbbing ache.

“No?” he murmured, knowing that they weren’t talking about fear now. Her eyes were wide, fixed on his face, her lips slightly parted and trembling.

“Don’t do this. Don’t let this happen.” Her voice was little more than a whisper.

His arms tightened around her. “You knew it would happen, didn’t you? That’s why you ran.”

The admission she had made horrified her, leaving her painfully vulnerable. “That’s insane! How could I possibly even think — Let me go, Ian!”

“You knew,” he repeated, his voice deepening and going rough. “You felt it too.”

Michele shook her head, but it was a helpless not a negative gesture. If she had felt trapped before, it was nothing compared to this feeling. The very suddenness and stark force of the attraction had granted her no time to find a defense, and her effort to escape had been useless. And somewhere inside her, deeper than thought, was an acknowledgment of inevitability.

Being in his arms felt so right. Her body had known that the instant it had touched his, and she couldn’t deny the sharp excitement surging through her.

Michele felt him move, a subtle shifting that brought her more intimately against him. She gasped at the sensation and managed a single, strangled protest. “Don’t.”

Ian bent his head slowly, blocking out the moonlight until all she could see was the glimmer of his eyes. Her own eyes closed slowly as his lips touched hers. For an instant she sensed that she was poised on the brink, as if she still had a choice. But then the choice was made, and there was no going back. She felt herself melt even closer against him, her arms lifting to his neck, her mouth opening wildly beneath the increasing pressure of his.

As easily and simply as that, something detonated between them, and the shock waves of it made them both shudder. Ian gathered her even closer, lifting her up against him so that she was nearly off her feet. Her breasts were pressed to his chest, burning him even through their clothing, and her yielding loins fit his as if their bodies had been made for each other.

Michele was drowning in waves of heat, totally helpless against what was happening. She had been kissed before, but the experience had always left her unmoved. Apparently she wasn’t a sensual woman; she had never felt the slightest urge to go beyond kisses. In Ian’s arms, though, no simple urge drove her; the need to be closer, to have more of him, was a compulsion stronger than anything she’d ever felt before.

His mouth was hard and hungry, the deep exploration of his tongue making her entire body quiver. She responded without thought or hesitation, the urgency inside her sweeping all else before it in a tide of need. Every stark, new sensation was somehow familiar, as if she had always known how it would be with him. The hard strength of his chest compressing her aching breasts, his taut belly against hers, the throbbing fullness of his loins nestled intimately in her yielding softness — it was all familiar and what her body craved.

His hand tangled in her hair, and his legs widened as his other hand slid below the small of her back to hold her harder against him. Pleasure exploded inside her, hot and dizzying, and a moan of desire caught raggedly in her throat. Then he lifted his head abruptly, and the sound she made in response was a murmur of disappointment.

“Michele.” His voice was dark, liquid, the heavy need in it a sound that was almost pain. His entire body was taut, and his chest rose and fell as if he had run some desperate race.

“Don’t stop,” she whispered, tightening her arms around his neck as she tried to pull his head back down.

For an instant, Ian almost gave in. The slender body in his arms was warm and willing, moving against him even now with a need that matched his own. And her breathy plea snatched at his control, the implicit surrender filling his mind until he could hardly think of anything but drawing her down to the wet sand and fusing their bodies together in a heated mating. Only the sure knowledge that she would hate him afterward gave him the will to stop.

Both his hands found her hips, and he gently forced her lower body away from his. She squirmed in his hold, trying to move closer again, and Ian bit back a groan. Harshly, he demanded, “Who am I, Michele?”

She blinked up at him, bewildered. “Ian,” she murmured.

His hands tightened, and he made himself go on, hating this. “Ian what? Finish it.”

Her lips, pouty from his kisses, quivered suddenly, and she went still in his grasp. “Stuart,” she whispered.

“Is that who you want in your bed?”

The stark question went through Michele like a cold knife, bringing sanity at last. Her arms were still around his neck. She removed them slowly, then stepped jerkily back until his hands dropped from her. Her legs were shaking, her body was shaking, and it hurt to breathe. Part of her wanted to cry out to him in anguish, demanding to know why he had spoiled it, why he’d had to remind her of what they were; another part of her was trying to cope with the enormity of what she’d almost done.

“Thanks... for reminding me,” she forced herself to say as steadily as possible.

“I want you, Michele,” he said in a low voice that was almost guttural. “Right now, right here in the sand, I want you.”

She was dimly aware of understanding that he had stopped because the choice she would have made in the heat of desire was a blind one.

Michele knew it too. Her mind had been programmed implacably against him for twenty years, yet her body craved his desperately at the first touch. There was no way to reconcile that conflict. No way at all.

She drew herself up stiffly. “You shouldn’t have come out here after me,” she murmured. “You should have let me run.”

He shook his head slowly. “You can’t run from this.”

“I have to.”

“Michele —”

“I have to. I won’t destroy my family, Ian. That price is too high; I can’t pay it. There can’t be anything between us. Not even peace.”

“There is something between us. It isn’t hate, and God knows it isn’t peace, but it’s real, Michele. You can’t ignore it. And you can’t run away from it.”

“Watch me.”

He swore under his breath, then said roughly, “And if I pulled you down in the sand right now? If I kissed you and touched you until you were holding on to me just the way you were a few minutes ago? Could you run then?”

With naked, simple honesty, she answered, “No.”

He took half a step toward her, almost as if her admission had yanked at him, then stopped and held himself as stiffly as she. “But you’d hate me, wouldn’t you?”

“I think I would.” She felt tears sting her eyes and blinked them back. Her hands spread unconsciously in a gesture of helplessness, then fell. “Stay away from me, Ian. For both our sakes. For the sake of that torch we might be able to carry better than our fathers have.”

“And that’s it?”

Michele felt impossibly tired; her entire body ached dully with the throbbing echoes of what he had awakened in her. She nodded and turned away from him.

“Wait.” He hesitated, then muttered an oath and shook his head as if he were at a loss. He reached into the pocket of his jacket and withdrew her small clutch bag. Holding it out to her, he said, “You left this at the table.”

She accepted the purse automatically, and then kept walking back up the beach toward the hotel.

He didn’t follow her.

She found her shoes near the door she’d run out earlier and picked them up without bothering to put them on. Her hose was ruined, she knew, and both sand and the residue of salt water clung to her feet and ankles. She didn’t care. Ignoring the few curious stares she garnered in the lobby, she crossed to the elevators and rode up to her floor.

She felt immeasurably changed and numbly bewildered by the suddenness of it. Yesterday she had been confident and secure, her emotions on an even keel, virtually detached from the feud that had altered and ruined so many lives. But in only a few short hours, her detachment had been stripped away from her.

Her father had often been annoyed by her disinclination to join him in cursing the Stuarts, but he had shrugged away her lack of venom because he loved his daughter. Perhaps he even knew on some level that hate was a particularly ugly thing on the face of a woman. Still, it had never occurred to him that at the core of herself she didn’t hate as strongly as he did. He simply expected it of her.

And she knew without a shadow of a doubt that if he discovered how close she had come to lying in the arms of his enemy, it would devastate him.

Michele had once thought the feud rather melodramatic, but her wry amusement had died on the day she’d first seen — really seen and understood — the depth of her father’s hatred. She’d been no more than thirteen, becoming a woman with all the reluctance of a tomboy, and she’d fought her father fiercely when he had decided it was time for her to wear a dress and play hostess for some of his business dinners. Since her mother had died years before, he had been without a hostess, and Michele unwillingly had accepted that role.

Michele leaned against her door for a moment, then fumbled in her purse for the key and let herself into the room. She closed and locked the door and tossed her purse onto the bed, dropping her shoes on the floor.

It was during that first business dinner that a chance remark by one of the guests showed her the feud in a new and far more serious light. She had left the room for some reason, returning moments later and reaching the doorway just in time to hear the remark. She couldn’t remember, now, the exact words, but one of the men had said something about how beautiful Charles Logan’s daughter was going to be one day. She had paused, unexpectedly pleased. But then another man laughed and said something that had driven the pleasure away.

“Stuart has a son just about the right age. That young man has a roving eye; take care it doesn’t light on Michele. What perfect revenge that would be!”

She had felt shock, and then she had seen her father’s face and had understood what hate really was. His stony expression and the cold glitter in his eyes had been so dreadful that she had felt sickened by it. And even though his response had been uttered lightly, she had heard the implacable truth in it.

“The day a Stuart lays a hand on my little girl is the last day he’ll ever see. They won’t even have to waste money burying him because I’ll blow the bastard into a million pieces.”

She wasn’t a little girl now, but she was still her father’s daughter, and though the appalling truth that she had virtually invited seduction might possibly stop her father from getting his gun and going after Ian, nothing would prevent him from disowning her.

Ian was far less concerned by what a relationship between them would do to his father, she knew. Perhaps his father was less bitter. Or perhaps it was just that Ian knew what was, to Michele, a painful truth; a man could sleep with the daughter of an enemy and call it revenge. Or he could simply confess to a sexual attraction and shrug off who she was.

But a woman... no, it was different for a woman. To sleep with the son of her father’s enemy would be the worst possible blow she could deal her father, and one from which he would never recover.

She was on the point of collapsing onto the bed when there was a sudden hammering on the connecting door to the next room, and a lively voice called out.

“Michele! Hey, open up — I made it!”

Jackie. Her best friend since childhood, and the one outsider who understood all too well the hatred between the Logans and the Stuarts. Orphaned and living with an aunt and uncle, Jackie had spent more time in Michele’s home than in her own while they were growing up, and as a result, she had heard the Stuarts cursed for most of her life.

Michele glanced down at herself and then stepped to the mirror over the dresser. The reflection she saw made her wince. Her hair was tumbled wildly around a pale face, her lips swollen and reddened, her eyes holding a strained, darkened expression. But there was little she could do about her appearance; another bang on the door indicated that Jackie was waiting impatiently.

Opening her side of the connecting door, Michele deliberately spoke first. “When did you get here? I’ve been walking out on the beach.”

Jackie looked her up and down, and then laughed. “No kidding. You look like hell, friend.”

“Thanks a lot.” Michele kept her voice light.

“As a matter of fact, the desk clerk told me he thought you’d gone out. I just got here a few minutes ago. Keep me company while I unpack, will you?”

“Let me take a shower first. I’ve got sand practically up to my knees.”

“Okay,” Jackie said amiably, turning back toward the open suitcases on the bed. “I guess you’ve eaten?”

“Uh huh.” Had she? She couldn’t remember. But she wasn’t hungry.

“Well, I’m going to call down for something. The airplane food was the usual cooked cardboard. Want anything?”

“Not to eat. Some iced tea.”

“I’ll order it.”

Michele retreated from the doorway. She got a sleep shirt from one of the dresser drawers and went into the bathroom. The bright light in that tiny room, unlike the shaded lamps of the bedroom, showed her even more clearly how she looked. Jackie had noticed nothing unusual, but Michele knew her friend too well to expect her to go on missing the obvious.

She stripped out of her clothing and took a long shower. When she got out, she dried off and wrapped her thick hair in a towel, then pulled the sleep shirt over her head. She was trying not to think, to keep her mind blank, but another glance in the mirror brought back vivid memories of Ian’s kisses.

She looked kissed, thoroughly kissed, her lips faintly swollen and their color deeper than usual. She held a washcloth under cold water and then pressed the cloth to her mouth in an effort to erase the signs.

What she was doing sent a pang of bitterness through her. How dreadful to feel the need to wipe all evidence of a man’s kisses from her face! Especially when she had invited those kisses and had responded wildly to them. Michele fiercely pushed the thoughts away.

Room service had come and gone, leaving a tray on the small table by Jackie’s balcony doors. Michele took one of the chairs — the one out of direct light of the lamps — and poured herself a glass of tea, while Jackie took the other and began eating the club sandwich she’d ordered.

“So how’s Martinique?” she asked cheerfully. “I know you’ve already explored since you got here yesterday.“

“It’s just what the travel brochures promised. The scenery is gorgeous; wait until you see Mont Pelee. Fort-de-France has colorful houses and palms lining the streets. It’s really beautiful.”

“Well, since you were walking on the beach tonight, I gather the hotel has a respectable one?”

“So-so. It’s only about half a mile long, and we’re so close to the harbor that there’s a lot of water traffic. But the hotel grounds have a lovely garden, and there’s a big pool.” She conjured a smile. “The service is good, the food’s fine, the bed’s comfortable, and rum is cheap.”

Jackie giggled. “Neither of us likes rum.”

“Well, it’s cheap if we want any. In the meantime, we can lie on the beach or by the pool, and when we get tired of being lazy we can explore the island. I only got a quick look at it today, so there’s plenty left to see.”

“It sounds wonderful,” Jackie said with a luxurious sigh. She was a redhead with bright green eyes and a vivid face. Full of life she seemed like a sister to Michele, who had loved her since they were children.

“A nice vacation. Speaking of which, I thought you were going to be held up a few days?”

“The crisis was resolved sooner than expected.” Jackie grimaced. She was employed by one of the television stations in Atlanta, where crises occurred on a regular basis, especially in the news division where she worked as an assistant to a producer. “As soon as the dust settled, I told Doug I was gone and vanished before anything else could happen.”

“He didn’t waylay you at the airport?”

She grinned. “Obviously not. I’m here. I could have sworn I heard somebody calling my name in a pitiful voice as I escaped into the wild blue yonder.”

“Leaving a note for Cole?”

Jackie’s piquant face softened instantly at the name of the man in her life, but then her mouth twisted. “A message on his answering machine, dammit. He was out of town.”

Michele hadn’t yet met the paragon who had stolen her friend’s heart, but she’d heard his name often enough during the past weeks.

“Where is he this time?”

“Lord knows. You’d think even a sales representative would know where he was going, but Cole never seems to. He barely had time to send me a dozen roses with a note. He said this trip would last only a couple of days, so I’ll try calling him tomorrow. I wish he had been able to get time off. It would have been great.”

“Thanks,” Michele murmured.

Jackie cocked an eyebrow at her. “Not that you aren’t loads of fun, but boasting a gorgeous man on my arm is definitely preferable to my childhood friend and roommate from college. Besides, I want to find out if he snores.”

“You haven’t yet?”

“Who’s had time to sleep?” Jackie managed to look both deliriously happy and slightly self-conscious.

Michele felt a pang of envy, and instantly smothered it. Smiling, she said, “Then why on earth are you taking your vacation with your old college roommate? I know we planned this trip ages before you met Cole, but I would have understood —”

“I know, but he said he was going to be working long hours for a while, and I needed a break. Be-sides, Cole and I are too new to be making demands on each other. I don’t want him to get the idea that I can’t move a step without him.”

“Just don’t feel obligated to stay here with me.”

“I won’t.” Jackie finished her sandwich and rose to resume her unpacking, adding in a calm tone, “By the way, what’s happened to you?”

Michele sipped her tea to give herself a moment. “What do you mean?”

“Look in a mirror. I’d guess you’ve had some kind of shock. Obviously you’re not going to volunteer any information, so I suppose I’m going to have to pull it out of you.”

Michele had always confided in her friend. But this was something she couldn’t confide to Jackie, who would never understand; she might not have Logan blood, but she had adopted the family and seemed to be convinced that a Stuart was the lowest animal on earth.

Michele felt very alone, trying to think of something that wouldn’t be a lie — and wouldn’t be the truth.

Jackie continued to unpack, but darted inquisitive glances at her oldest and closest friend. At last she said softly, “It must have been pretty bad.”

Drawing a deep breath, Michele said, “I need to wrestle with it by myself for a while. Do you mind?”

“Your father and Jon are all right?”

“They’re fine.”

Jackie nodded. “Okay. Just don’t forget I’m here when you’re ready to talk about it.”

“I won’t.”

After a long, thoughtful look at her friend, Jackie announced she was going to take a shower, and Michele returned to her own room and moved around restlessly.

The ringing of the phone startled her. She frowned as she went to the bed and sat down, glancing at the clock on the nightstand before answering. Jon wouldn’t call twice in one day unless...

“Hello?”

“Michele, don’t hang up.”

She felt her heart begin to pound, and swallowed hard. It was the first time she’d heard his voice over the phone, but she had no trouble recognizing it. “I wasn’t going to,” she said steadily. “I wanted to tell you something. Jackie got here a little while ago, so I’m not alone now.”

“And you want me to stay away,” Ian said flatly.

“I told you that on the beach.”

He was silent for a moment, then sighed. “That isn’t going to be easy, Michele. I meant what I said out there. I want you.” His voice was low, and the last three words were a husky demand rather than a mere statement.

Michele leaned her head back against the headboard of the bed and closed her eyes. Why didn’t she just hang up? She should hang up. Her pulse was racing and she felt hot. “Even if I knew I could trust you, it wouldn’t be possible. Don’t you understand?” Her breath caught as the haunting suspicions flooded up from the depths of her mind. “Or maybe you understand all too well.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?”

“Do you want to destroy my family, Ian, is that it? Is that what you’re trying to do?”

“This isn’t about our families, dammit, it’s about us.” His voice had sharpened and gone hard. “You and me, and what’s between us. It doesn’t have a thing to do with anyone else.”

“You’re wrong.”

“No, I’m not. Twenty generations, Michele. Twenty generations of people living with hate and suspicion. Maybe you want to be part of that, but I don’t. Your brother can hate me to hell and back, and I won’t fight him. Do you understand that? I won’t fight him. If I have to, I’ll leave Atlanta, but the feud stops with me.”

“Why?” She cleared her throat and steadied her voice. “Why are you so determined?”

His voice went low and rough again. “I held a Logan in my arms tonight. Maybe it never would have happened if we hadn’t met in paradise, but it did happen. I can’t be certain about much, Michele, but I know I could never hate you. So how could I hate your brother?”

Tears stung her eyes, but still she was remembering Jon’s evasiveness earlier. What if something was happening, or about to happen, in Atlanta that would force Ian to hate? What if her father and Jon gave him no choice?

“Michele, please trust me. I won’t do anything to hurt you, but I can’t stay away.”

She drew a shaky breath, fighting an intense longing. But clashing with that were suspicions and fears and the overwhelming knowledge that it just wasn’t possible. “If you don’t want to hurt me, you have to stay away. Good-bye, Ian.” She cradled the receiver gently.

For three days, Ian stayed away. He made certain Jackie never caught a glimpse of him. He recognized the redhead as the one who, on the rare occasions he had been anywhere near her, had looked at him as if he were a leper. He had always felt more hostility coming from her than from Michele.

Still, he managed to watch Michele from time to time as she and her friend came and went. She was clearly bent on spending as little time at the hotel as possible, probably to keep away from him. But on the third day Jackie dragged her out to the pool, and Ian overheard the redhead laughingly say that she’d had enough sightseeing for a while and wanted to be lazy.

A slow anger built inside Ian when he saw Michele glance uneasily around. The hellish feud between their families had done this to her — and to him. A grown man and woman, attracted to each other yet fighting to ignore their feelings because they were supposed to be enemies.

Attracted? Lord, the word was useless to describe what he felt when he looked at her.

It had hit him only the night she’d hung up the telephone on him that he had wanted Michele Logan for a very long time. He had vivid memories of her at varying ages...and of his admiration for her talents and determination, as well as her beauty. He had known it somewhere deep inside him for years, but it wasn’t something he had allowed himself to dwell on because the very idea had been unthinkable.

Until now. They were thousands of miles from home and the battleground both recognized; perhaps that had made it easier to consider the unthinkable. And after he’d held her in his arms, had been burned by the fire between them, the unthinkable had become the necessary.

Watching her during those three days, Ian went over and over it in his mind. He listed all the arguments against them, tried to see and understand that her risks would be greater than his, asked himself why he couldn’t just forget this insanity.

But when he saw her just after dawn on the fourth day, he knew that he couldn’t forget her, he couldn’t let her run away, and he couldn’t stay away.

The sun was barely up, hanging low and brilliantly orange over the island when he came out of the garden and caught sight of her on the strip of sand. The beach was deserted except for them. She was walking slowly along the waterline toward the place they’d stood when they’d kissed. And just as it had been before, he followed her without thought.

She reached the low ridge of volcanic rock, and this time climbed up a couple of feet and sat staring out at the sea. Her shining raven hair was hanging down her back in a simple braid, the end tied with a bit of lace. She was barefoot and wearing a white dress that made her look even more delicate and feminine than usual. The dress had a full skirt and thin straps tied on each of her shoulders.

She was unaware of his approach, and Ian reached her before she saw him. He felt his stomach tighten as he stepped up to her. He was standing literally, between her legs; she had her feet braced apart on the rock, her skirt bunched up carelessly and draped between her thighs. They were nearly at eye level since he was still on the sand.

Michele’s eyes widened, but she didn’t say a word.

He didn’t dare move closer; even without touch-tag, their proximity and provocative positions charged the air between them. But he couldn’t help lifting his hands and resting them lightly on her thighs, just above the knees and below the bunched folds of her white skirt.

“Where’s your friend?” he murmured.

“She’s sleeping in. She isn’t a morning person.”

“Have you been out here every morning? If so, I wish I’d known.”

Michele cleared her throat softly. “I usually run in the mornings. I didn’t feel like it today.” She was trying hot to shiver in pleasure as his thumbs rhythmically brushed the sensitive flesh of her inner thighs.

“I tried to stay away,” Ian said roughly. “But I can’t, Michele.”

She started to push his hands off her but somehow couldn’t complete the motion; the moment she touched him, it was as if her own strength drained away. She was throbbing for his touch.

He wanted to move fully into the cradle of her legs, to kiss her moist lips, to feel her in his arms again. The driving urge to lose himself in her until there was nothing on earth but the two of them and the fiery heat of mating was so powerful it filled his mind and sent a shudder through his body.

Her eyes closed suddenly and her slim hands gripped his wrists almost frantically. “I don’t even trust you,” she said in a voice that was nearly a moan. “Don’t do this to me!”

Ian drew a deep breath and grimly hung on to his control. How could they sort through the tangle of thoughts and emotions when their physical response to each other was this explosive? It was almost impossible to think at all. He’d never wanted a woman so badly in his life, and it was clear that her need was just as great.

“Look at me, Michele,” he ordered tautly.

She caught her breath, her lids lifting slowly to reveal shadowed, haunted eyes the color of a mountain fog.

“Let me teach you to trust me. Give me a chance. Give us a chance.”

“Even if —” She broke off as he shook his head briefly.

“One step at a time,” he urged, his voice still rough and strained. “We have to be sure. If you can’t trust me, we’ll never know how it could be between us. It’ll end right here.” He wondered if he had a hope in hell of keeping that promise when he could barely hold his own desire in check. “Please, Michele,” he added softly.

She felt something inside her give way, deeper than the first wall that had crumbled the other night. And quite suddenly her mind was clear and quiet, the pain of indecision gone. As if she’d been straining against some irresistible pull and had finally let go and accepted the inevitable.

She gazed into those striking pale blue eyes, and her hands slowly relaxed their grip on his wrists. “All right,” she said unsteadily. “Now what?”

Ian turned his hands to catch hers and stepped back, gently drawing her down to stand with him on the sand. “Now we try to get to know each other,” he said.

Michele looked up at him, her fingers unconsciously clasping his. “I’ll have to tell Jackie.”

“How will she react?”

“Not well. She practically grew up in my house, so she’s heard the Stuart name cursed most of her life. I’m not even sure she’ll keep the confidence.”

“She could call your father or brother?”

Michele shrugged. “I’ll try to talk her out of that. I don’t want them to know, Ian. I don’t want to hurt either one of them if — if it isn’t necessary.”

He nodded, accepting that. “Why don’t you both have breakfast with me? On that little terrace by the garden.”

Not sure Jackie would even consent to sit at the same table with a Stuart, Michele managed an uncertain smile. “I’ll ask her.”

Ian held her hand as they began walking back toward the hotel. Striving for lightness, he said, “Tell her she can be watchdog, and protect you from the dragon.”





Three




Jackie Flynn leaned over the balcony railing and breathed in the morning air happily. She wasn’t, by nature, a morning person, but this island life agreed with her, and she was finding it no hardship to rise earlier than usual. She was beginning to understand why Michele loved mornings. She was already up and about, probably running on the beach since that was her habit. Even on vacation, Michele wasn’t the type to laze away her days.

Jackie leaned farther outward, peering to the left to try and catch a glimpse of the garden path to the beach, which was obscured by a wing of the building. She spotted Michele.

With a man.

A big blond man, Jackie noted with interest, and he was holding Michele’s hand in a way that was possessive rather than casual. She watched them emerge from the garden and walk past the pool, every step bringing them closer. Her smile faded, a niggling uneasiness growing inside her. From her position she could see Michele’s face well, but only the man’s profile as he talked earnestly with her.

There was something about him...

The conversation several floors below was finally finished, and the man half turned to watch Michele walk on alone. Jackie could see his face now, all too clearly. She jerked back away from the railing, feeling sick.

“Oh, my God,” she muttered.



Jackie was standing in the doorway to her room.

She looked pale, Michele thought, and her eyes held a queer, stunned expression. “Jackie? Are you all right?”

“I saw you.” Jackie swallowed hard. “I saw you with him.”

Michele slowly crossed the room to the table by the balcony doors and sat down in one of the chairs. Her friend’s extreme reaction didn’t surprise her, but it saddened her and made her think bitter thoughts. Twenty years of poison had made Jackie hate someone she didn’t even know, someone who had never lifted a hand against her, and that was a terrible testament to the power of brainwashing.

“Tell me I didn’t see that,” Jackie begged, coming into the room and sinking down on the corner of Michele’s bed. “Tell me it wasn’t Ian Stuart.”

“It was.”

“Michele...”

“I had car trouble the day after I got here,” Michele said steadily. “He stopped to help me.” Then a touch of painful mockery entered her voice. “The sky didn’t fall, Jackie. I wasn’t hit by a bolt of lightning. He didn’t turn into a Medusa or a gorgon or Jack the Ripper. He just offered me a ride back here, and that night we had dinner together.”

Jackie’s piquant face was marred by her anguished expression. “Michele, he’s a Stuart! He and his father have done their best to ruin your family for years —”

“No. Not Ian.”

“Oh, and I suppose he told you that?”

Had he? He’d said that he wouldn’t fight her brother, Michele remembered. That the feud would stop with him. But he hadn’t actually denied any involvement in the past. She felt pricking little doubts creeping nearer and fiercely pushed them away.

“Jackie, try to understand. I didn’t go looking for this; I didn’t know he’d be here on the island. And the last thing I want to do is hurt Dad and Jon.”

“But?” Jackie demanded sharply.

“Something happened that first night —”

“Did he hurt you?”

Michele shook her head, sighing. “No, nothing like that. It happened inside me, not because of anything he did. For the first time in my life, I — I felt like a woman. Everything came crashing in on me, so many emotions and needs and fears. It scared the hell out of me; I ran like a thief.”

Jackie was staring at her, frowning. “Actually ran? Where?”

“Out on the beach.”

“He followed you.”

“Yes. And he knew why I was running, what I was running from. When he kissed me —”

“I knew it!” Jackie exclaimed, her normally pleasant voice hard. “The bastard’s trying to seduce you!”

Michele felt a flash of sheer rage. “Is he?” she snapped back. “Then he missed a great opportunity that night, because I couldn’t say no. I asked him not to stop!”

Jackie drew back a little and they stared at each other, shock on one face and anger on the other. It wasn’t the first time they’d quarreled, but it was by far the most serious disagreement they had ever had.

“He’s up to something,” Jackie finally said, her tone unsteady. “He wants to hurt you, Michele.”

“Why are you so sure of that? Because he’s a Stuart? Does his name make him incapable of anything but hurt when it comes to me? Can it possibly be that he’s just a man who happens to find me attractive?”

“Is that how it is with you?” Jackie asked. “Do you find him — attractive — because he’s just a man? Do you feel that way in spite of his name, Michele? Or because of it?”

“What do you mean?”

“Forbidden fruit. It’s supposed to taste sweeter.”

Michele felt a jolt, the ugly little doubts creeping nearer again. Then she shook her head and muttered, “Nothing’s that simple.”

“Isn’t it? Ian Stuart is the last man in the world you should get involved with. Your father would disown you in every sense of the word. So would Jon.”

“I know that.”

Jackie looked shocked again, and uneasy, as if she’d expected the reminder to cure her friend instantly of this madness. She stared for a moment, then said in a thin voice, “It would be a feather in his cap, wouldn’t it? He could destroy your family and enjoy himself doing it. Make you care about him until nothing else mattered, until you broke your father’s heart and —”

“That’s enough.” Michele tried to stifle her anger as she got to her feet and squared her shoulders. “You’re my closest friend, Jackie, and I know you want what’s best for me. So let me find out for myself what that is. Maybe it won’t be Ian, but I have to make up my own mind. I can’t hate him just because I’ve been told I should.”

Jackie was silent for a moment, then asked stiffly, “I guess you expect me to keep my mouth shut about this?”

“To Dad and Jon? I hope you will.” Michele slipped her feet into sandals and made sure her room key was still in the pocket of her skirt. “Maybe there won’t be anything to tell them, in the end. But if there is, it should come from me.”

Staring at the floor, Jackie said, “All right. I’ll keep quiet. Maybe you’ll come to your senses before they’re hurt by this.”

Michele went toward the door, then stopped and looked at her friend. “Ian’s invited us for breakfast. Do you want to come?”

“I’m not hungry.”

Not that she’d expected any other response. “We’ll be at a table on the terrace if you change your mind.” She was almost at the door when Jackie’s quiet voice stopped her.

“Michele?”

“Yes?”

“He can hurt you so badly. He can hurt you more than any other man ever could.”

There was nothing Michele could say to that, because it was the truth. Silently, she left the room and went to join Ian for breakfast.

“She didn’t take it well,” Ian noted a few minutes later.

Settled in her chair across from him in the morning sunshine, Michele conjured a faint smile. “Afraid not. I can’t even blame her for it, really. She’s a wonderful person, but she isn’t any more rational about you Stuarts than anyone in my family is.”

“I suppose she pointed out all the reasons you shouldn’t see me again?”

“Oh, yes.” Michele sighed. “All the reasons I’d thought about and a few I hadn’t.” Then she shook her head. “No, that isn’t true. Jackie didn’t say anything I hadn’t already said to myself. It just sounded... worse coming from her.”

Ian’s jaw tightened. “I can imagine.”

Michele glanced past him, then stiffened a bit. “You won’t have to. I guess she changed her mind.” Ian rose as Jackie moved toward them, and Michele added in a low voice, “I hope you have a thick skin.”

He certainly needed one, Ian decided during the next hour or so. Jackie didn’t hide her hostility one bit, and if she could get a barbed comment in, she didn’t hesitate. Ian didn’t mind for himself; it would take more than the venom of this antagonistic redhead to make him lose his own temper. But he minded for Michele, because he knew it bothered her. She didn’t say very much, hardly touched her breakfast, and more than once angry color rose in her cheeks.

The last thing Ian wanted to do was come between Michele and her friend; the cost of this relationship would likely be high enough without that loss. But he couldn’t bear to sit by and allow this hate-filled young woman to tear their relationship to pieces before it had a chance.

He signed the check, rose, then gently pulled Michele to her feet. “If you’ll excuse us?” he said pleasantly to Jackie.

She ignored him, looking at her friend instead. “John’ll probably call, Michele. Want me to tell him you’re slumming?”

Evenly, Michele replied, “I never knew you were cruel, Jackie. Until now. Tell him any damn thing you want to.” She turned away abruptly.

Ian saw Jackie’s face whiten, but whether with anger or shame he couldn’t say. He caught up with Michele in a few steps, and took her arm, guiding her back through the lobby and toward the front doors.

“Well, that little experiment was a mistake,” he said wryly. “She hates my guts. And it isn’t even her fight.”

“I’m sorry.” Michele’s voice was low, her head bent.

He didn’t reply until they were in his car and heading away from the hotel. “You don’t have any reason to be sorry. Jackie’s as much a victim of five hundred years as we are.”

Michele half turned on the seat to look at him. “But we aren’t reacting the same way. Why not? What makes you and me different?”

“Something stronger than both of us. Something that might even be stronger than the feud. That’s what we have to find out, Michele.”

The barbs Jackie had planted stung Michele’s flesh... and she wondered what influence they would ultimately have on her relationship with Ian. All through breakfast, she’d been conscious of the aches of longing inside her, and every jab from Jackie had only made her more aware of it.

Gazing steadily at Ian now, she felt the longing intensify, numbing her doubts and suspicions. She wanted his arms wrapped around her, his mouth on hers, his hard body pressed against her. She wanted to forget that they were anything but a man and woman. Her wishes were so simple, so clear, so untroubled by any doubt, fear, distrust.

“Where are we going?” she asked huskily.

Ian sent her a quick glance, and a muscle leaped in his jaw as his hands tightened on the wheel. “Dammit, don’t look at me like that,” he warned in a taut voice.

It should have embarrassed her that her feelings showed so plainly on her face, but somehow it didn’t. She was aware only of a tingling satisfaction that his response was so instant. “I can’t help it,” she murmured.

He drew a short breath, and the telltale muscle in his jaw flexed again as he stared straight ahead. “You’d better try, because it makes me want to drag you into the backseat like some horny teenager.”

Michele tried to look away from him, but she couldn’t. His blunt statement sent a stab of excitement through her, and the recklessness of that feeling pushed everything else out of her mind. She had to press her lips tightly together to keep herself from saying there was nothing she’d like more than to take him up on that rough promise.

Ian glanced at her again and instantly forced his attention back on the road. His brief look was enough to jerk the threads of his control painfully tight. He was going to plow the car into one of the palms lining the street if he wasn’t careful, or else just pull over in front of someone’s house and make love to her no matter who happened to stroll by. She was sitting there beside him in her prim white dress — except that it wasn’t prim at all. The bodice had some kind of fishnet panels down both her sides and another in front, between her breasts; golden flesh was clearly visible through the net all the way to her slender waist. She wasn’t wearing a bra; all he had to untie were the flimsy straps at her shoulders and smooth the sheer linen away to feel her naked breasts in his hands. The way she was looking at him only made matters worse. Her haunting gray eyes were soft and unfocused with the desire of a woman.

Ian cleared his throat harshly and held on to control with an iron grip. “Michele, for both our sakes, we have to be careful. If we become lovers before you trust me....”

Lovers. The word made a wave of heat wash over her. To be Ian’s lover, to lie in his arms, to feel his weight on her, to know his possession. That was what this was all about, she knew, what both of them had hesitated to name aloud. It was the connection that drew them together even though they were supposed to be on different sides of a war. Not rational or even sane, the compelling attraction existed, and they had to decide how best to deal with it.

She turned her head away finally, staring through the windshield, trying to gather her scattered wits. “Where are we going?” she repeated in a steadier voice.

“The waterfront park,” he answered, his voice still a little strained. “I thought we could walk for a while. Talk.”

“With lots of people around,” she murmured.

“Lord knows I’d rather be alone with you. But I think we should avoid that.”

Michele didn’t protest his decision, even though a part of her wanted to. Ian was right. It was too dangerous for them to be alone, too tempting. She remained silent until they were walking slowly along one of the paths of the waterfront park. The place was busy with tourists, mostly American, but nonetheless it was a quiet and peaceful place.

“You said I was too honest to have hidden motives,” she said, glancing up at him. “How can you be so sure? I mean, you must have listened to as many attacks on Logans as I have on Stuarts over the years.”

“Attacks on Logans, yes,” he admitted. “But always against your father and Jon. I don’t believe my father ever said a thing against you personally. The closest he ever came was when he raked me over the coals when you beat me in that Grand Prix event ten years ago. He said I ought to be ashamed of myself for letting a Logan brat on a green horse beat me.”

Michele couldn’t help but smile. “I was determined to win that day — but not because you were a Stuart.”

Rather dryly, Ian said, “I know. You were mad as hell at being dumped at my feet.”

Startled, she said, “Yes, but how did you know that?”

He walked a few more steps in silence, then drew her hand through the crook of his arm. “It was in your eyes. Not hate, but something fierce and obstinate. As I remember, you had a few nasty things to say about my ancestors when I offered you a hand up, but that seemed more or less automatic.”

She looked at her hand resting easily on his arm, with his hand lightly covering it. The offering of help she had furiously scorned at sixteen she had accepted the other day. And she wondered suddenly if anything would have been different had she accepted the first time.

“What are you thinking?” he asked.

Michele sighed. “What else?”

“It’s never far away, is it?”

“It’s not something either of us can forget. Ian, you said you wouldn’t fight Jon. But have you? In the past, I mean?”

In a deliberate tone, Ian said, “I’ve never done anything against your father, your brother, or their company, Michele. I’ve never used an unfair business tactic to gain an advantage over them. Never.”

“I had to ask,” she said quietly.

“I know.” His hand tightened over hers. “Let’s make a bargain. No more talk about the feud, or our families for a while. We’re two people getting to know each other, and that’s all that matters now.”

“I’ll try.”

“Good enough,” he murmured.

They spent the entire day exploring the island. With all the caution of people walking a tightrope, they steered a careful course between the attraction they felt and the conflict of who they were. In getting to know each other, they discovered a surprising amount of common ground as well as a peculiar bond of understanding.

The latter, Michele thought, was certainly due to who they were. It was ironic, but the very threat to their relationship was also what enabled them to so quickly gain a sense of each other. They shared a unique background, a history linking their families for five centuries, and no matter how negative that link was, it was a powerful bond.

Michele was thinking of that as she unlocked her door early that evening. She and Ian had eaten lunch and dinner away from the hotel, not returning until late, and she wondered what Jackie had made of their extended absence.

The worst, no doubt.

The connecting door was closed on Jackie’s side. Michele sighed but made no attempt to open it. Given her friend’s present state of mind, there was really very little for them to say to each other. She went to take a shower, emerging a few minutes later dressed for bed in a sleep shirt.

“Michele?” Jackie was standing in the doorway to her room, wearing short pajamas and looking as if she’d been crying. “Can — can we talk? I have some iced tea in here.”

Silently, Michele followed her friend into the other room, sitting down by the balcony doors and accepting a cold glass. “Did Jon call?” she asked.

“No.”

Conscious of a niggling worry, Michele frowned at her glass. It wasn’t that Jon called every single day, it was just that during his last few calls he’d been unusually silent about what was going on with the company — and the feud. He knew his sister had never approved of the “eye-for-an-eye” concept, and though he was quick to report some foul deed of the Stuarts, he was generally silent about what he and their father did in retaliation.

That was what had Michele concerned. Though Ian had denied any involvement in the troubles between their families, he had said nothing about his father, and Jon had seemed certain that a Stuart had been behind the company’s recent problems — though that was, of course, his inevitable reaction to difficulties with the business. She couldn’t help but feel uneasy about what might be happening in Atlanta, especially since she and Ian were trying to build a bridge instead of a fence.

“I’m sorry,” Jackie blurted as she sank down on the bed and drew her legs up. “Sorry for the things I said, the way I acted this morning.”

Michele was more than a little surprised. “That’s quite a change of heart,” she noted slowly. “Quite a sudden change of heart.”

Jackie looked miserable. “I’ve been thinking about it all day. I’m your friend, Michele. I should be on your side no matter what. Lord knows nobody else is going to be.”

“How can you be on my side? You hate Ian.”

“No matter how I feel about him, I know how hard this has to be on you. I could see it on your face the other night. And you were right, it’s your decision. It has to be. You aren’t a child or an idiot. If your feelings for Ian are strong enough to overcome the fact that he’s a Stuart, then — well, who am I to tell you it’s wrong?”

Michele nodded, still surprised. “I’m glad you’ve changed your mind.”

With a rather uncertain smile, Jackie said, “Hey, I know how tough a relationship can be with the normal number of strikes against it. You don’t need me pointing out the obvious.”

Michele sipped her tea, then said quietly, “You aren’t giving us a snowball’s chance in hell, are you?”

As quietly, Jackie said, “I can’t lie to you, friend. I can’t see a happy ending for this. We’re thousands of miles from home, and maybe you can see Ian differently here. But back in Atlanta, he’s a Stuart and you’re a Logan. In Atlanta you’re on opposite sides of a war. And sooner or later, you have to go back to your real world.”

“Maybe we can go back together.”

Jackie stared for a long moment, then leaned back on the bed. Her lips twitched in a sudden, rueful smile. “Well, if that happens, I want to watch. It ought to have about the same affect as Sherman’s march through Atlanta.”

In spite of her change of heart, Jackie turned down Ian’s occasional invitations during the next two days. She was civil enough when she found herself in his presence but took care to avoid him. Michele accepted Jackie’s limited support, then firmly closed her mind to all the problems that lay ahead. She also accepted Ian’s determination to avoid the temptations of being alone together, and though it cost her sleepless nights she was even grateful for his resolution.

They explored the island, swam in the hotel’s pool and walked on the beach — always with other people around. They shared meals and thoughts and opinions. They became familiar with each other’s expressions and moods. Their closeness grew, and with it an ever-heightening sense of where their relationship was leading.

She had realized only in her early twenties that she had been ridiculously overprotected when it came to men. Since she’d been something of a tomboy, it hadn’t disturbed her that her father had refused to allow her to date until her eighteenth birthday, or that her brother had found fault with every boy who’d expressed an interest in her. And she hadn’t protested the situation simply because she hadn’t been much interested in the dating scene.

It was only when she finished college and found a job that the reins had begun to feel uncomfortably tight. She continued to live at home because it was home, but also to avoid a fight with both her father and brother, and there definitely would have been a fight. Living under her father’s roof, Michele felt she owed him the respect of conducting herself according to his rules. Perhaps because he felt the lack of a strong feminine influence in his daughter’s life, Charles Logan had always been fierce about conventions — and his were decidedly old-fashioned.

The Logans were a family shaped by a Southern heritage, and Charles wasn’t the only father of such a family who still harbored visions of Southern belles and gentility despite the realities of life in the final quarter of the twentieth century. He would have been shocked and deeply mortified if Michele had chosen to live openly with a man outside marriage. Though his remarks on the subject had been clumsily delivered during her early adolescence, his meaning had been clear; nice girls were virgins on their wedding nights.

And Michele Logan was a nice girl.

“You’re very quiet.”

They had spread beach towels on the sand just outside the garden and in the shade, away from the path of traffic to and from the beach. There were other hotel guests on the beach, but they were some distance away — visible, but not intrusive.

Michele set her book aside and rolled over on her stomach. She gazed toward the ocean rather than at Ian, wishing she had the nerve to dive into his arms and abandon everything else. Her doubts were growing rather than disappearing. She felt a sense of desperation, a painful feeling that she was going to lose something infinitely precious if she didn’t act — and act quickly.

“Can I trust you?” she asked abruptly.

“I hope so.”

She sat up and looked at him. They were both wearing bathing suits; he also wore a light wind-breaker, and she a sheer linen caftan over her two-piece suit.

“After these past few days... I just don’t know.” Michele shook her head. “Does trust come in a blinding flash? Am I supposed to wake up one morning and say, ‘Yes, today I trust Ian’? Or look at you and somehow know?”

“Michele —”

She felt tense, quivering on the edge of a chasm. “It isn’t going to happen, Ian. You can’t overcome twenty years in a week. That’s all we have left, a week. Not even that, because your client is due here day after tomorrow. And I go home in seven days.”

“What are you saying?” His voice was rough.

Michele struggled to find the words. “What happens when I go home? I’m no more certain of anything than I was the first day. I don’t know if I can trust you. I don’t even know if I trust myself to — to understand what I’m feeling. All I do know is that what we don’t find here, we won’t find in Atlanta.”

Ian took a deep breath, aware that they had reached some kind of turning point. Michele had weighed it all in her mind, he knew, had wrestled with it in silence even while she’d walked beside him and smiled up at him and talked of other things.

She had struggled against a lifetime of conditioning and had ended up, now, certain of nothing except her uncertainties.

And it was an impasse; Ian didn’t know what he could do to win her trust. Frustration gnawed at him, because he wanted Michele to the point of madness and she was held tauntingly out of his reach by a feud neither of them wanted any part of. He had pushed himself to the screaming limits of restraint when he wanted nothing more than to lock both of them in his room and shut out the world, and the waiting had him tied in knots.

“Ian?” She was gazing at him and felt a flutter as if something caged deep inside her sought escape. She’d never seen him look like this, his lean, handsome face hardening, his eyes containing a glitter that was hot and bright with a promise she instinctively understood. For an instant she was conscious of panic, but then heat rushed in to overwhelm her doubts and fears.

He leaned toward her, and Michele found herself being eased back onto the blanket. She felt the hardness of his thigh against hers, the strength of his arm under her. His head lowered, his mouth brushing hers very lightly, and his breath was warm.

“Maybe we haven’t been looking in the right place,” he muttered huskily.

Michele gazed up into those vivid eyes, smothered by the pounding of her heart, his first touch sending a dam-burst of sensations flooding through her body. The strength of her own feelings made her hands shake as they lifted to touch his face. “Maybe we haven’t,” she agreed in a whisper.

Ian made a low, rough sound and buried his face between her breasts. She caught her breath raggedly, her fingers sliding into his thick hair as she felt his mouth moving on her. The sheer material of her caftan was a frail barrier, but even that was too much, and he impatiently sought the warm flesh beneath. The first three big buttons down the front of the garment yielded, and he nuzzled between the lapels to find the curves of her breasts.

Michele’s skimpy bathing suit was the final barrier, but Ian didn’t try to remove it. His mouth slid along the cup of her bra, his tongue darting out to taste her silky skin. He felt her shudder, felt her fingers tighten in his hair as a smothered moan escaped her, and that soft, uncontrolled sound sent a jolt of frantic need through him.

“Yes?” he demanded thickly against her.

She moaned again, and her voice was so low it was hardly more than a whisper. “Yes... yes.”

Ian raised his head and then kissed her deeply, molding his mouth to hers hungrily. Her response was instant, heated, her body arching against him wildly. He forced himself to remember where they were, and it was like fighting his way through a red-hot haze of necessity. Muttering a curse, he caught her hands and got to his feet, pulling her up.

“Ian?” Her voice was unsteady, bewildered.

“We’re going up to my room,” he said roughly. “Now.”

Michele didn’t protest. She couldn’t have. She held on to Ian’s hand like a lifeline, and even if her father and brother had been standing in the lobby, she wouldn’t have paused or even hesitated. The need inside her was so strong it was like something with a life of its own, filling her until it could hardly be contained, until the pressure of it was almost unbearable. Was unbearable.

She didn’t care what this cost her, what she lost because of it. Whatever price was demanded of her, she’d pay it.

In the elevator alone, Ian pulled her into his arms. “I’m not going to give you a chance to change your mind,” he murmured, staring down at her with blazing eyes.

The fierce jolt of pleasure when Michele was pressed against his hard body made her catch her breath and close her eyes. Her arms slid up around his neck, and she stood on tiptoe to fit hers