Hidden star, p.5
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       Hidden Star, p.5
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         Part #1 of Stars of Mithra series by Nora Roberts
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  “A refractometer,” she repeated, pushing at her hair. “It’s an instrument that measures the characteristic property of a stone. The refractive index.” Her hand froze as he watched her. “How do I know that?”

  Carrying two glasses, he settled on the floor beside her again. “What’s the refractive index?”

  “It’s the relative ability to refract light. Diamonds are singly refracting. Cade, I don’t understand how I know that.”

  “How do you know it’s not a sapphire?” He picked up the stone from where it sat like a paperweight on his notes. “It sure looks like one to me.”

  “Sapphires are doubly refracting.” She shuddered. “I’m a jewel thief. That must be how I know.”

  “Or you’re a jeweler, a gem expert, or a really rich babe who likes to play with baubles.” He handed her a glass. “Don’t jump to conclusions, Bailey. That’s how you miss details.”

  “Okay.” But she had an image of herself dressed all in black, climbing in second-story windows. She drank deeply. “I just wish I could understand why I remember certain things. Refractometers, The Maltese Falcon—”

  “The Maltese Falcon?”

  “The movie—Bogart, Mary Astor. You had the book in your room, and the movie jumped right into my head. And roses, I know what they smell like, but I don’t know my favorite perfume. I know what a unicorn is, but I don’t know why I’ve got a tattoo of one.”

  “It’s a unicorn.” His lips curved up, dimples flashing. “Symbol of innocence.”

  She shrugged that off and drank down the rest of her wine quickly. Cade merely passed her his own glass and got up to refill. “And there was this tune playing around in my head while I was in the shower. I don’t know what it is, but I couldn’t get rid of it.” She sipped again, frowned in concentration, then began to hum.

  “Beethoven’s ‘Ode to Joy,”’ he told her. “Beethoven, Bogart and a mythical beast. You continue to fascinate me, Bailey.”

  “And what kind of name is Bailey?” she demanded, gesturing expansively with her glass. “Is it my last name or my first? Who would stick a child with a first name like Bailey? I’d rather be Camilla.”

  He grinned again, wondered if he should take the wine out of her reach. “No, you wouldn’t. Take my word for it.”

  She blew the hair out of her eyes and pouted.

  “Tell me about diamonds.”

  “They’re a girl’s best friend.” She chuckled, then beamed at him. “Did I make that up?”

  “No, honey, you didn’t.” Gently, he took the half-empty glass from her, set it aside. Mental note, he thought—Bailey’s a one-drink wonder. “Tell me what you know about diamonds.”

  “They sparkle and shine. They look cold, even feel cold to the touch. That’s how you can easily identify glass trying to pass. Glass is warm, diamonds are cold. That’s because they’re excellent heat conductors. Cold fire.”

  She lay on her back, stretching like a cat, and had saliva pooling in his mouth. She closed her eyes.

  “It’s the hardest substance known, with a value of ten on Mohs’ hardness scale. All good gem diamonds are white diamonds. A yellowish or brown tinge is considered an imperfection.”

  My, oh, my, she thought, and sighed, feeling her head spin. “Blue, green and red diamonds are very rare and highly prized. The color’s caused by the presence of minor elements other than pure carbon.”

  “Good.” He studied her face, the curved lips, closed eyes. She might have been talking of a lover. “Keep going.”

  “In specific gravity, diamonds range between 3.15 and 3.53, but the value for pure crystals is almost always 3.52. You need brilliancy and fire,” she murmured, stretching lazily again.

  Despite his good intentions, his gaze shifted, and he watched her small, firm breasts press against the material of his shirt. “Yeah, I bet.”

  “Uncut diamonds have a greasy luster, but when cut, oh, they shine.” She rolled over on her stomach, bent her legs into the air and crossed her ankles. “This is characterized technically as adamantine. The name diamond is derived from the Greek word adamas, meaning ‘invincible.’ There’s such beauty in strength.”

  She opened her eyes again, and they were heavy and clouded. She shifted, swinging her legs around until she was sitting, all but in his lap. “You’re awfully strong, Cade. And so pretty. When you kissed me, it felt like you could gobble me right up, and I couldn’t do a thing about it.” She sighed, wiggled a bit to get comfortable, then confided, “I really liked it.”

  “Oh, boy.” He felt the blood begin its slow, leisurely journey from head to loins and cautiously covered both the hands she had laid on his chest. “Better switch to coffee.”

  “You want to kiss me again.”

  “About as much as I’d like to take the next breath.” That mouth of hers was ripe and willing and close. Her eyes were dreamy and dark.

  And she was plowed.

  “Let’s just hold off on that.”

  Gently he started to ease her back, but she was busily crawling the rest of the way into his lap. In a smooth, agile movement, she wriggled down and hooked her legs around his waist.

  “I don’t think— Listen—” For a damsel in distress, she had some pretty clever moves. He managed to catch her industrious hands again before she pulled his shirt off. “Cut that out. I mean it.”

  He did mean it, he realized, and accepted the new fact that he was insane.

  “Do you think I’d be good in bed?” The question nearly had his eyes crossing and his tonguetied in knots. She, meanwhile, simply sighed, settled her head on his shoulder and murmured, “I hope I’m not frigid.”

  “I don’t think there’s much chance of that.” Cade’s blood pressure spiked while she nibbled delicately on his earlobe. Her hands snuck under his shirt and up his back with a light scraping of nails.

  “You taste so good,” she noted approvingly, her lips moving down his throat. “I’m awfully hot. Are you hot?”

  With an oath, he turned his head, captured her mouth and devoured.

  She was ripe with flavors, pulsing with heat. He let himself sink into her, drown in that hot, delicious mouth, while the humming purrs that rippled from her throat pounded through his system like diamonds cased in velvet.

  She was pliant, almost fluid, in surrender. When she dipped her head back, offering her throat, no saint in heaven could have resisted it. He scraped his teeth over that smooth white column, listened to her moan, felt her move sinuously against him in invitation.

  He could have taken her, simply laid her back on the books and papers and buried himself in her. He could almost feel that glorious slippery friction, the rhythm that would be theirs and only theirs.

  And as much as he knew it would be right, it would be perfect, he knew it couldn’t be either, not then, not there.

  “I’ve never wanted anyone as much as I want you.” He plunged his hand into her hair, turning her head until their eyes met. “Damn it, focus for a minute. Look at me.”

  She couldn’t see anything else. She didn’t want anything else. Her body felt light as air, her mind empty of everything but him. “Kiss me again, Cade. It’s like a miracle when you do.”

  Praying for strength, he lowered his brow to hers until he could steady his breathing. “Next time I kiss you, you’re going to know just what’s going on.” He rose and lifted her into his arms.

  “My head’s spinning.” Giggling, she let it fall back on his supporting arm.

  “Whose isn’t?” With what he considered really heroic control, he laid her on the couch.

  “Take a nap.”

  “’Kay.” Obediently, she closed her eyes. “You’ll stay here. I feel safe when you’re here.”

  “Yeah, I’ll be here.” He dragged his hands through his hair and watched her drift off. They were going to laugh at this someday, he thought. Maybe when they had grandchildren.

  Leaving her sleeping, he went back to work.

  …She was digging in the di
rt. The sun was a torch in a sapphire sky. The surrounding land was rocky and baked into muted shades of browns and reds and lavenders. Strong and pungent was the scent of sage from the pale green shrubs struggling out of cracks and crevices in the earth. With spade and hammer, she went about her work happily.

  Under the narrow shade of a boulder, two women sat watching her. Her sense of contentment was strong, and stronger yet when she looked over and smiled at them.

  One had a short cap of hair that glowed like copper and a sharp, foxy face. And, though her eyes were shielded by dark wraparound sunglasses, Bailey knew they were a deep, deep green.

  The other had ebony hair, though it was tucked up now under a wide-brimmed straw hat with silly red flowers around the crown. Loose, the hair would fall past her shoulder blades, thick and wavy to the waist. It suited the magic of her face, the creamy complexion and impossibly blue eyes.

  Bailey felt a wave of love just from looking at them, a bond of trust and a sense of shared lives. Their voices were like music, a distant song of which she could only catch snatches.

  Could go for a cold beer.

  A cold anything.

  How long do you think she’ll keep at it?

  For the rest of our lives. Paris next summer. Definitely.

  Get her away from rocks long enough.

  And the creeps.

  Definitely.

  It made her smile that they were talking about her, cared enough to talk about her. She’d go to Paris with them. But for now, she chinked away at an interesting formation, hoping to find something worthwhile, something she could take back and study, then fashion into something pretty for her friends.

  It took patience, and a good eye. Whatever she found today, she’d share with them.

  Then, suddenly, the blue stones all but tumbled into her hand. Three perfect blue diamonds of spectacular size and luster. And it was with pleasure, rather than shock, that she examined them, turned them in her palms, then felt the jolt of power sing through her body.

  The storm rolled in fast and mean, blocking the flaming sun, dark, grasping shadows shooting out and covering the landscape. Now there was panic, a great need to hurry. Hurry. Hurry. A stone for each of them, before it was too late. Before the lightning struck.

  But it was already too late. Lightning stabbed the skin, sharp as a knife, and she was running, running blindly. Alone and terrified, with the walls closing in and the lightning stabbing at her heels….

  She awoke with her breath heaving, shooting straight up on the sofa. What had she done? Dear God, what had she done? Rocking herself, her hands pressed to her mouth, Bailey waited for the shudders to pass.

  The room was quiet. There was no thunder, no lightning, no storm chasing her. And she wasn’t alone. Across the room, under the slant of light from a globe lamp, Cade dozed in a chair. He had a book open on his lap.

  It calmed her just to see him there, papers scattered at his feet, a mug on the table beside him. His legs were stretched out, crossed comfortably at the ankles.

  Even in sleep, he looked strong, dependable. He hadn’t left her alone. She had to block an urge to go over, crawl into his lap and slide back to sleep cuddled with him. He pulled her, tugged at her emotions so strongly. It didn’t seem to matter that she’d known him less than twenty-four hours. After all, she’d hardly known herself much longer.

  Pushing at her hair, she glanced at her watch. It was just after three a.m., a vulnerable time. Stretching out again, she pillowed her head on her hands and watched him. Her memory of the evening was clear enough, no breaks, no jumps. She knew she’d thrown herself at him, and it both embarrassed and amazed her.

  He’d been right to stop before matters got out of hand. She knew he was right.

  But, oh, she wished he’d just taken her, there on the floor. Taken her before she had all this time to think about the right and wrong of it, the consequences.

  Some of this emptiness within her would be filled now, some of those undefinable needs met.

  Sighing, she rolled to her back and stared up at the ceiling. But he’d been right to stop. She had to think.

  She closed her eyes, not to seek sleep but to welcome memory. Who were the women she’d dreamed of? And where were they now? Despite herself she drifted off.

  Cade woke the next morning stiff as a board. Bones popped as he stretched. He rubbed his hands over his face, and his palms made scratching sounds against the stubble. The moment his eyes cleared, he looked across the room. The couch was empty.

  He might have thought he’d dreamed her, if not for the books and papers heaped all over the floor. The whole thing seemed like a dream—the beautiful, troubled woman with no past, walking into his life and his heart at the same time. In the morning light, he wondered how much he’d romanticized it, this connection he felt with her. Love at first sight was a romantic notion under the best of circumstances.

  And these were hardly the best.

  She didn’t need him mooning over her, he reminded himself. She needed his mind to be clear. Daydreaming about the way she’d wrapped herself around him and asked him to make love with her simply wasn’t conducive to logical thinking.

  He needed coffee.

  He rose and trying to roll the crick out of his neck, headed for the kitchen.

  And there she was, pretty as a picture and neat as a pin. Her hair was smooth, brushed to a golden luster and pulled back with a simple rubber band. She was wearing the navy-and-white striped slacks he’d bought her, with a white camp shirt tucked into the waist. With one hand resting on the counter, the other holding a steaming mug, she was staring out the window at his backyard where a rope hammock hung between twin maples and roses bloomed.

  “You’re an early riser.”

  Her hand shook in startled reaction to his voice, and then she turned, worked up a smile. Her heart continued to thud just a little too fast when she saw him, rumpled from sleep. “I made coffee. I hope you don’t mind.”

  “Sweetheart, I owe you my life.” He said in heartfelt tones as he reached for a mug.

  “It seems I know how to make it. Apparently some things just come naturally. I didn’t even have to think about it. It’s a little strong. I must like it strong.”

  He was already downing it, reveling in the way it seared his mouth and jolted his system. “Perfect.”

  “Good. I didn’t know if I should wake you. I wasn’t sure what time you leave for your office, or how much time you’d need.”

  “It’s Saturday, and the long holiday weekend.”

  “Holiday?”

  “Fourth of July.” While the caffeine pumped through his system, he topped off his mug. “Fireworks, potato salad, marching bands.”

  “Oh.” She had a flash of a little girl sitting on a woman’s lap as lights exploded in the night sky. “Of course. You’ll be taking the weekend off. You must have plans.”

  “Yeah, I got plans. I plan for us to toddle into the office about midmorning. I can show you the ropes. Won’t be able to do much legwork today, with everything shut down, but we can start putting things in order.”

  “I don’t want you to give up your weekend. I’d be happy to go in and straighten up your office, and you could—”

  “Bailey. I’m in this with you.”

  She set her mug down, linked her hands.

  “Why?”

  “Because it feels right to me. The way I see it, what you can’t figure out in your head, you do on instinct.” Those sea-mist eyes roamed over her face, then met hers. “I like to think there’s a reason you picked me. For both of us.”

  “I’m surprised you can say that, after the way I acted last evening. For all we know, I go out cruising bars every night and pick up strange men.”

  He chuckled into his mug. Better to laugh, he’d decided, than to groan. “Bailey, the way a single glass of wine affects you, I doubt you spent much time in bars. I’ve never seen anyone get bombed quite that fast.”

  “I don’t think that’s
anything to be proud of.” Her voice had turned stiff and cool, and it made him want to grin again.

  “It’s nothing to be ashamed of either. And you didn’t pick a strange man, you picked me.” The amusement in his eyes flicked off. “We both know it was personal, with or without the alcohol.”

  “Then why didn’t you…take advantage?”

  “Because that’s just what it would have been. I don’t mind having the advantage, but I’m not interested in taking it. Want breakfast?”

  She shook her head, waited until he’d gotten out a box of cereal and a bowl. “I appreciate your restraint.”

  “Do you?”

  “Not entirely.”

  “Good.” He felt the muscles of his ego expand and flex as he got milk out of the refrigerator. He poured it on, then added enough sugar to have Bailey’s eyes widening.

  “That can’t be healthy.”

  “I live for risk.” He ate standing up. “Later I thought we’d drive downtown, walk around with the tourists. You may see something that jogs your memory.”

  “All right.” She hesitated, then took a chair. “I don’t know anything about your work, really, your usual clientele. But it seems to me you’re taking all of this completely in stride.”

  “I love a mystery.” Then he shrugged and shoveled in more cereal. “You’re my first amnesia case, if that’s what you mean. My usual is insurance fraud and domestic work. It has its moments.”

  “Have you been an investigator very long?”

  “Four years. Five, if you count the year I trained as an operative with Guardian. They’re a big security firm here in D.C. Real suit-and-tie stuff. I like working on my own better.”

  “Have you ever…had to shoot at someone?”

  “No. Too bad, really, because I’m a damn good shot.” He caught her gnawing her lip and shook his head. “Relax, Bailey. Cops and P.I.s catch the bad guys all the time without drawing their weapon. I’ve taken a few punches, given a few, but mostly it’s just legwork, repetition and making calls. Your problem’s just another puzzle. It’s just a matter of finding all the pieces and fitting them together.”

  She hoped he was right, hoped it could be just that simple, that ordinary, that logical. “I had another dream. There were two women. I knew them, I’m sure of it.” When he pulled out a chair and sat across from her, she told him what she remembered.

  “It sounds like you were in the desert,” he said when she fell silent. “Arizona, maybe New Mexico.”

  “I don’t know. But I wasn’t afraid. I was happy, really happy. Until the storm came.”

  “There were three stones, you’re sure of that?”

  “Yes, almost identical, but not quite. I had them, and they were so beautiful, so extraordinary. But I couldn’t keep them together. That was very important.” She sighed. “I don’t know how much was real and how much was jumbled and symbolic, the way dreams are.”

  “If one stone’s real, there may be two more.” He took her hand. “If one woman’s real, there may be two more. We just have to find them.”

  It was after ten when they walked into his office. The cramped and dingy work space struck her as more than odd now that she’d seen how he lived. But she listened carefully as he tried to explain how to work the computer to type up his notes, how he thought the filing should be done, how to handle the phone and intercom systems.

  When he left her alone to close himself in his office, Bailey surveyed the area. The philodendron lay on its side, spilling dirt. There was broken glass, sticky splotches from old coffee, and enough dust to shovel.

  Typing would just have to wait, she decided. No one could possibly concentrate in such a mess.

  From behind his desk, Cade used the phone to do his initial legwork. He tracked down his travel agent and, on the pretext of planning a vacation, asked her to locate any desert area where rockhounding was permitted. He told her he was exploring a new hobby.

  From his research the night before, he’d learned quite a bit about the hobby of unearthing crystals and gems. The way Bailey had described her dream, he was certain that was just what she’d been up to.

 
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