NEVER SAY NEVER Geralyn Dawson October 2007 Signet Eclipse ISBN 978-0-451-22243-5
If they caught her, she’d die.
Torie Bradshaw’s pulse pounded with fear as she crashed through the island’s dense tropical foliage.In the dim, dappled sunlight, she pretended she didn’t see the snake coiled around a low-hanging branch on her right or the huge ball of termites hanging from a high branch on her left.Razor-sharp palm fronds sliced at her exposed skin and thorns pierced the negligent protection of beach shoes on her feet.If I’d known fleeing for my life was on the afternoon’s agenda, I’d have worn something more than a bikini and flip-flops.
Torie fought to keep panic at bay.So she was in a spot of trouble.She’d been in trouble before, hadn’t she?What about the time she got arrested by the French gendarmes for taking photographs in the Louvre?Or that time when the federales nabbed her because of a shot that included a government official frolicking on the Mexican riviera with a woman who wasn’t his wife?It hadn’t been pleasant, but she’d found her way out of those scrapes, hadn’t she?She could make her way out of this one.
If they caught her, they’d kill her.
Ironically, for once the trouble was not of her doing.Her work had nothing to do with her being on the wrong beach at the wrong time.She’d come to this godforsaken island off the coast of South America as a favor to her sister.Helen had wanted her to see first-hand that Collin Marlow wasn’t the snake Torie suspected him of being.
Torie had seen, all right.She’d seen the bastard in action and had taken pictures to prove it.
If only she’d been satisfied with the kissing shots.If only she hadn’t decided her sister might need stronger evidence to break off her engagement.Then Torie wouldn’t have put herself in plain view on the beach, angling for what was basically a porn shot with her zoom lense when the other boat approached.She wouldn’t have the photos of a man shooting Collin Marlow and dumping him over the side of his yacht.If she’d settled for the kissing shots, she’d be back at the compound instead of running through the jungle for her life, the digital camera’s memory stick tucked snugly between her swimsuit top and her breast.
From Torie’s left came the haunting cry of a howler monkey.At least, she hoped that’s what it was and not the cry of some other poor sap who’d gone out for a swim and stumbled across a murder.
Torie swallowed a fearful whimper and forged ahead, breathing hard in the heavy, humid air.Every few minutes, she paused a moment to catch her breath and listen beyond the cacophony of birdsong for the sounds of human pursuit.On her third such rest break, she heard it.Sure enough, something or someone–multiple someones–thrashed through the forest behind her.
She shuddered in fear, praying they weren’t as close behind as they sounded.Weird things happened to sound in the rain forest, right?The canopy above messed with acoustics.The killers could be a long way away instead of right on her tail.
Oh, God.I don’t want to die.
She still had dozens of items to accomplish on her To Do list.She hadn’t gone white water rafting yet.She hadn’t seen the Great Wall of China.She hadn’t had sex with a man she loved in broad daylight on a secluded tropical beach.
Torie startled when a bird let out a shrill shriek right above her.Her heart no sooner calmed from that bit of excitement then the tiny hairs on the back of her neck rose.
She wasn’t alone.
She lifted a foot to take off running just as a hand shot out of the shadows and clapped hard over her mouth, muffling her scream.Simultaneously, an arm gripped her waist and yanked her back against a hard body.Startled, scared to death, Torie froze stiff as a rough voice whispered in her ear.“Quiet. I’m here to help.You need to follow me.”
Not believing him, she struggled, trying desperately to get away.His grip on her tightened.She felt the warm heat of a gun barrel against her bare stomach.
“Stop it.Your father sent me.”
Dad?Hope rose within her, and she trembled as her thoughts came in a flurry.Was the general here on the island?Had the calvary arrived?Was the island surrounded by a small army of soldiers, sailors, and marines waiting for the signal to attack?Would they sweep onto shore and arrest the bad guys and free the damsel-in-distress?
Except, nobody would consider her a damsel.Most people–her father included–lumped her in with the wolves of the world, predators who prey on the innocents.They didn’t understand that eighty percent of the time, the innocents weren’t innocent at all.But then, they’d come to rescue Helen, hadn’t they?Not her.She wasn’t supposed to be here.
Maybe this wasn’t a rescue at all.Maybe he’d lead her back toward the house where he’d turn her over to the killers for interrogation, torture, and execution.Maybe by going with him, she’d be acting as naive as her sister.
The gun in his hand was no toy.This man was a real predator.By throwing in her lot with him, she might be condemning herself to the very fate she tried to escape.
Yet, what choice did she have?She knew the other guys were bad guys.They’d shot at her, chased her.They’d kill her if they found her.Mystery Man, here, might just be the answer to her prayers.
Behind her, the sounds of pursuit grew closer.The stranger’s arm tightened around her waist as Torie nodded her agreement.The hand over her mouth moved away, but he tapped her lips with his finger twice, signaling the continued need for silence.
She nodded and swallowed her need to drill press him for information.Despite the surge of patriotic gratitude she felt at the idea that the army had come to her rescue, now was not the time to break out into the “Star-Spangled Banner.”
The arm around her waist fell away.She turned and got her first good look at him.Holy Moses.He wasn’t dressed in fatigues, but in the dark slacks and white shirts the scientists on the island tended to wear to work.And dress shoes!All he was missing was a lab coat.He was no more suited for jungle running than she.
Nor did he have the rough-and-ready drill-sergeant look she expected in one of her father’s minions.He looked like…hmm… James Bond.The man was a gorgeous combination of Sean Conneryand Pierce Brosnan salted with a hint of Daniel Craig’s earthiness.
Could he be army intelligence?A soldier spy?That worked for her.As long as he was a good guy, she didn’t care what uniform he wore.
He clasped her hand in his and stepped forward at an angle to the direction she’d been traveling.He moved like a jungle cat, Torie thought.Silent and graceful.Deadly.She really really really really hoped he was truly on her side.
Plants scratched and sliced at Torie’s skin but she hardly noticed the discomfort.It took all her concentration to keep up with him while making only minimal noise.He must have considered her efforts inadequate, because he stopped abruptly, shoved the gun into the holster at his hip, scooped her up, and tossed her over his shoulder in a fireman’s carry.With his hand on her bare butt, holding her.
Well.This was…interesting.Her instinct was to struggle, but she forced herself to remain still.
His big hand felt like a branding iron on her cheek.
With him carrying her, they moved much faster than they had when he’d dragged her along behind him.For the first time in a long time, Torie was happy that she didn’t have the tall, statuesque build she’d always coveted in other women.Petite was a positive thing today.
She startled at the sound of a torrent of angry Spanish coming from off to their left a short distance away, and she burrowed her head against her rescuer’s back.He smelled of salt and sea and healthy sweat.She figured she must reek of fear.
With her head down, her eyes closed, and her heart pounding, flung over the broad shoulders of a stranger, Torie tried not to feel like a wuss.Ordinarily, she wasn’t a coward.A coward wouldn’t dangle from a helicopter to get the primo shot at a celebrity wedding.A coward wouldn’t sneak a miniature camera into a courtroom to capture the moment a Hollywood star learned his sentence after his conviction for a drunk-driving homicide.A coward certainly wouldn’t have crept into the locker room at the Super Bowl to get the money shot of the quarterback lip-locked with the team owner’s wife.
Yet, here in the inky darkness of a rain-forest jungle on a tropical island, bouncing on the shoulder of a stranger and armed with nothing more than her own besieged wits, the only thing keeping Torie from peeing her pants was the fact that her legs were draped over a government agent.Death was preferable to the humiliation of peeing on James Bond.
“We’re here,” he murmured.He eased her effortlessly forward, but rather than setting her on the ground, he stopped when they were chest to chest.Instinctively, her arms encircled his neck and her legs wrapped around his torso.“Get ready.It’s cold.”
The cenote?He’d brought her to one of the caves that dotted the island and gave access to the underground river?
“We’re going in.”
“What!” she said with a yelp.
Rather than respond, he stepped forward.Torie loosened her death grip around his neck long enough to yank the memory stick from her bikini top and toss it onto dry ground even as she sank into the icy water.
The cold sucked her breath from her lungs and she inadvertently squealed until her rescuer shut her up.
By kissing her.
Matt Callahan didn’t want to be on a South American island. He wanted…needed…to be in the Balkans, tracking down the latest rumor about his personal Enemy Number One, Ivars Ćurković, the soulless asshole of a warlord who’d tortured and murdered Matt’s little brother, John.Matt’s main goal in life was to find Ćurković and kill him, and he resented every minute away from his main pursuit.But he owed a debt, so here he was freezing his balls off in an underground river half a world away from where he needed to be.
At least the job had its perks.Matt had all but swallowed his tongue yesterday when he arrived on Soledad Island and got his first glimpse of Helen Bradshaw, P.H.D.
The sexy scientist was just a little-bitty thing, but man, what a package.Full breasts, tiny waist, and legs that stretched surprisingly long for someone who barely topped five feet.He’d always been a sucker for blondes, and he wanted badly to see what her hair looked like out of its tidy long braid.Her face…well…Helen was an apt name.Helen of Troy couldn’t have been more beautiful than Helen of Applied Genetics Research, Inc.And he’d formed that opinion before seeing her in her bikini.That incredible sight would be burned into his memory forever–unless he did something totally stupid like lose himself in the heat of her kiss and forget they had gunmen on their asses.But dammit, what red-blooded man wouldn’t take advantage of the opportunity to take advantage of such a fine example of womanhood?
So Matt indulged a second or two longer than necessary in the kiss.She tasted as sweet as she looked.
He wondered what had happened to make the shit hit the fan this morning.After searching the lab overnight, he’d caught a few hours sleep in the jungle.His plan had been to publiclyarrive on the island midmorning and approach Dr. Bradshaw with her father’s concerns about her fiancé, leaving himself plenty of time to snatch her before Marlow’s scheduled afternoon arrival if she chose not to cooperate.Then gunshots woke him and his plans had changed.
Reluctantly, Matt attended to business by kicking hard with his legs and propelling them to the surface where he ended the kiss and allowed her a breath.She gulped in air, then muttered, “I don’t think my father sent you to do that.”
Matt murmured in her ear. “Quiet now.Can you swim?”
“Shush.Listen to me.I’ve a place for us to hide until dark.It’s a short swim, but–” Now it was Matt’s turn to break off mid-sentence as his senses warned him of approaching danger.Two, maybe three, men approached from their right.He squeezed her waist in warning, then felt her shudder and nod.“Breathe,” he said, then he pulled her beneath the water.
Matt always prepared at least one bolt hole when he went on the job.When he’d stumbled across the cenote yesterday and having utilized a similar spot in the Yucatan years ago, he’d recognized the advantages it had to offer.Dr. Delicious’s pursuers would need incredible luck to find her here.They’d hide in the cave until night fell, then he’d see about getting them both safely off the island.
He led her into a narrow tunnel that was black as night.He kept hold of her which made swimming awkward, but he dared not let her go.He wished he’d had time to prepare her for this swim.Cave diving was dangerous even when a person knew what he was doing, but for a novice…well…he hoped the good doctor wasn’t claustrophobic.If she panicked, she could put them both in a world of hurt.
He spied the glimmer of light that identified their objective and swam toward it.Unfamiliar with Helen Bradshaw’s lung capacity–well, except in relation to that lengthy kiss–he determined it best to send her up first.He yanked her past him and in water turned blue with light, he pointed out, then up.Hoping she got the idea, he shoved her into the short tunnel that opened off the main one they’d entered. That-a-girl, he thought as she swam toward the light.
As Matt followed her out of the tunnel and into the lighted cavern, he realized he looked forward to the next few hours.He kicked hard, shooting for the surface, knowing they had lots of time to kill before dark.He was curious to hear her story.After that, who knew?
Maybe Dr. Delicious would need some comforting.
Torie gulped air when her head broke the surface.She swam toward a rocky ledge and held on, resting, breathing, trying to calm her wildly beating heart.That swim through total darkness, not knowing where she was going and following the lead of a man she didn’t know from Adam, had been the most frightening experience of her life.Worse than being shot at.
Of course, she’d been shot at before.Tunnel swimming had been a first for her.
Now that she had oxygen in her lungs again, she took a look around her.She was inside a large cavern complete with stalactites hanging from the ceiling.Or was that stalagmites?Whichever they were, they were gorgeous.This whole place was gorgeous.
Utterly captivated by the scene, Torie only vaguely noted when the man’s head broke the surface behind her.Sunlight beamed through a hole the size of a dinner plate in the surface, the single source of light in the entire cavern.It turned the crystal-clear water blue and illuminated the cavern in such a way that made it seem almost magical.Her gaze tracing the path of sunlight down into the water, Torie gasped.From the bottom of the cave rose a perfect pyramid of white sand.It must have been falling through the hole above for eons, undisturbed by man or beast.
“My God,” she breathed, then turned to stare at her rescuer who was treading water in the middle of the cave.Her voice echoed as she asked, “How did you know about this place?”
“I’ve dived the underwater cave system in the Yucatan.The topography of this island is similar, so when I found the cenote, I thought it worth exploring.It’s always handy to have a place to hide if you need it.Are you okay?”
Torie took stock.She had a few scrapes that stung, a few bruises, but nothing serious.Though the water was cold, she’d grown accustomed to the chill.“I’m fine.”
“There’s a place we can get out of the water over here,” he said, jerking his head toward the right.“Behind that stalagmite.”
He swam away from her and Torie took another look around. Such a beautiful place.Clean and peaceful.Relaxing.Torie took a minute and floated on her back, the tension that had held her in its grip since that awful moment on the beach flowing out of her, leaving calmness in its wake.
Color abounded in the rock formations.Reds and pinks and purples.The places where sunlight reached sparkled like jewels.
Torie sighed inwardly at the sheer beauty of the moment.
Then calmness descended into fatigue and she knew she’d best get out of the water before she drowned.Rolling over, she swam in the direction he’d indicated.Rounding the curve of the cave, she was treated to yet another sight of natural beauty–her rescuer’s naked backside.
Glory be.How many years had she been waiting for James Bond to drop that towel?
He was tanned and toned from head to toe with broad shoulders and corded muscles that flexed and stretched as he used one of AGR, Inc.’s green striped beach towels to wipe the wetness from his skin.Torie revised her mental description of the man.He was James Bond with a bit of Adonis mixed in.Or maybe, James Bond combined with a broader version of Michelangelo’s David.
How about James Bond with the best set of buns she’d ever been privileged to see.
He glanced over his shoulder and caught her gawking, but didn’t react beyond a slight lifting of his brow.He stepped casually into a pair of khaki shorts, then turned.She tried not to stare at his firm pecs, dark chest hair in just the right amount–not too thick or too thin–and mouth-watering six-pack abs. But Torie couldn’t help herself.She stared.She goggled.God bless the U.S. military.
He smirked a little as he extended his arm to help her from the water.When his hand clasped hers and he yanked her effortlessly out of the pool, sudden awareness of her own lack of clothing washed over her.She wished she’d worn Helen’s one-piece rather than her own suit.
Her feet hit dry land, and he handed her the towel.She tangibly felt his gaze as she made a few quick swipes, then wrapped the towel around herself, tucking one end at her chest.Then, summoning her confidence, she offered him a smile.“So, to whom do I owe my thanks?Captain Galahad?Lieutenant Knight-In-Shining-Armor?”
“I’m Callahan.Matt Callahan.”He flashed a grin in return.“No title.I’m not in the military, Doctor Bradshaw.”
She folded her arms, not certain she bought his claim.Did Military Intelligence people routinely deny their position?“But you know my father, Mr. Callahan?”
“How?Don’t tell me you’re a simple civilian.I won’t believe it.”
After a moment’s pause, he replied, “General Bradshaw assisted me during a visit to the Balkans.”
The Balkans?Events in Eastern Europe might not be making headlines these days, but Torie knew that struggle and strife continued in that area of the world.“That’s not exactly a tourist spot.Why were you there?How did my father help you?”
“It’s complicated.However, I’m glad to have the opportunity to help him in return.”
She puzzled over that for a moment.“Help him how?Not even my omniscient father could have anticipated what happened this morning.”
“Just what did happen?”Those gorgeous blue eyes narrowed.“Did Marlow arrive early?Did you stumble onto something you’re better off not knowing?Something to do with Gleaming Way, perhaps?”
Gleaming Way!Torie’s eyes went wide.She’d learned about the Peruvian terrorist organization when they’d kidnapped a Bolivian starlet a couple years ago.Had Helen’s boyfriend been involved with them?Maybe his status as a pharmaceutical mogul somehow tied them together.A drug manufacturer and drug runners did seem to go together.
“You answer my questions first.What brings you to the island?”
He studied her a moment, then nodded.“Your father is protective of you.When you confided your fear that a byproduct of your cancer drug research had the potential of being used as a biological weapon, he decided to take a look at everyone in your life.He didn’t like what he discovered about Collin Marlow.Three days ago, the general learned that Collin Marlow’s name is on a terrorist watch list.Two days ago, he contacted me and asked me to…escort you back to Washington where he can oversee your safety while you complete your work.”
That sounded just like the general.For once, Torie wouldn’t quibble over his methods.
Torie waited for Matt Callahan to elaborate, but when it became obvious he didn’t intend to say more, she tried to fit what pieces she knew together.Why send Callahan?Why not come himself?Unlike Torie, Helen listened to their father.She’d have done as he asked.
“I’m surprised he didn’t come himself.”
Something flickered across Callahan’s face.He agreed with her?That was interesting.
“Something he said…well…it occurs to me that sending me might have been an attempt to, uh, well, play matchmaker.”
“Whoa.Really?Who are you, Callahan?”
Grimly, he said, “I’m someone who can keep General Lincoln Bradshaw’s daughter safe.”
God, she hoped so.Even if she was the wrong daughter.
“Are you a mercenary?”
His lips twisted.“Do you honestly believe your father would want you involved with a mercenary?”
No.He wouldn’t.For Helen, the general would want only the best.He’d want someone who could fit into the elite social circles in which he moved.He’d want someone strong and smart and sneaky.He’d want…
The answer hit her like a fist.Torie’s jaw dropped.Her brows flew up.“Oh, my God.You’re CIA, aren’t you?You really are James Bond!”