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       Amber Beach, p.1

           Elizabeth Lowell
 
Amber Beach


  Elizabeth Lowell

  Amber Beach

  For Sunny and Al Runnells,

  Friends for all the seasons of life

  Contents

  1

  HONOR DONOVAN TOOK one look and knew the man was…

  2

  OFF TO THE southwest, a bank of clouds lay like…

  3

  JAKE TURNED HIS battered four-wheel-drive truck into the…

  4

  PRETTY AS A postcard, isn’t it?” Jake asked.

  5

  THE SALTY LOG was an old hangout for the loggers,…

  6

  “IT’S JAKE MALLORY.”

  7

  IT WAS STILL dark when Honor’s alarm clock went off.

  8

  THE SOUND OF the SeaSport’s engine deepened and expanded like…

  9

  THIS TIME JAKE took the helm. Honor didn’t argue.

  10

  TEN HOURS AND fifteen fishing spots later, Jake still had…

  11

  IT WAS FULL dark by the time Jake buttoned up…

  12

  IT WAS STILL dark when Honor was startled awake.

  13

  HONOR’S HORRIFIED EXPRESSION told Jake everything he didn’t want to…

  14

  THE WEATHER WAS better than Jake’s mood, which wasn’t saying…

  15

  SILENTLY JAKE TURNED off the ignition of his truck. He…

  16

  RESNIKOV SPREAD HIS fine-boned hands on the table as…

  17

  “TURN HERE,” JAKE said. “We’re going to my cabin.”

  18

  “WELL?” HONOR ASKED impatiently, trying to look past Jake’s shoulders.

  19

  AFTER MARJU LEFT, Honor started making salmon salad in an…

  20

  WHEN JAKE EMERGED from the bathroom he was wearing fresh…

  21

  WHEN JAKE CAME into the kitchen carrying his duffel, Honor…

  22

  TOOK AN hour for Honor and Jake to get to…

  23

  HONOR WAS SO furious with the two bullheaded men in…

  24

  “I STILL THINK you should have gone to the hospital,”…

  About the Author

  Other Books by Elizabeth Lowell

  Copyright

  About the Publisher

  1

  HONOR DONOVAN TOOK one look and knew the man was trouble. On the other hand, she was already in the kind of trouble even her family’s company, Donovan International, couldn’t handle.

  “If you’re from the police, shut the door on your way out,” she said. “If you’re a reporter, go to hell.”

  “Been there. Done that.”

  “You have the T-shirt to prove it?”

  He reached for the buttons on his stained denim jacket.

  “Never mind,” she said quickly. “Are you a reporter?”

  “No. I’m a fishing guide.”

  “Piranha?”

  “You are the Ms. Honor Donovan who advertised for ‘a person with expertise in Pacific Northwest waters in general and SeaSport boats in particular’?”

  She sighed and accepted the inevitable. The big man with the black beard stubble, light eyes, scarred left eyebrow, and clean fingernails hadn’t wandered by accident into her missing brother’s Puget Sound cottage. Despite this man’s less-than-cozy looks, her instincts said he was a better candidate than the others who had come looking for the job.

  One of the men had been a cop trying to pass for a fisherman. Another was a recent immigrant whose English defied understanding. A third man was convinced she really wanted the body he was so proud of. The fourth man’s English was good, but his eyes had made her think of things that lived in swamps.

  It had been three days since anyone else had applied for the job. She was going nuts counting minutes and waiting for Kyle to appear suddenly in the doorway with his crooked grin and a good explanation of why the cops thought he had stolen a million bucks in amber. She refused to consider any other reason for his disappearance, especially the one that kept her from sleeping, the one that made her throat close around tears she wouldn’t cry.

  Kyle had to be alive. He just had to be.

  “Miss Donovan?”

  Belatedly Honor realized that the most recent applicant was still waiting for her to say that she was indeed the one who had posted ads all over the small town of Anacortes.

  “I’m the one,” she said.

  “You took the words right out of my mouth.”

  She looked at his mouth and knew how Little Red Riding Hood felt when she first saw “grandmother’s” teeth.

  “Excuse me?” she asked.

  “Your ad could have been written with me in mind,” he explained.

  “Do you have references?”

  “Driver’s license? Fishing license? Boat handler’s ticket? Tetanus shot?”

  “How about rabies?”

  The retort popped out before Honor could think better of it. It came from a lifetime of dealing with big brothers.

  “Sorry, Mr . . . .”

  “Mallory.”

  “Mr. Mallory.”

  “Try Jake. Saves time.”

  “Um, Jake. I meant references given by people you worked for in the past.”

  “You don’t know much about fishing guides, do you?”

  “If I did, I wouldn’t have to hire one, would I?”

  He smiled.

  She thought of poor Little Red. “You should work on that smile. It really isn’t reassuring.”

  Jake tried to look downcast. It wasn’t any more convincing than his smile.

  “If your hands are half as quick as your tongue,” he said, “I’ll make a fisherman out of you in no time.”

  “Fisherwoman.”

  “Ain’t no such animal.”

  “Fishersan, then.”

  “Fishersan?”

  “Man and woman both end in an. Do you want the job?”

  “Fishersan,” he said, rolling the word around on his tongue. “Yeah, I want the job. We’ll be the only fishersen on the water.”

  This time Jake’s smile was slow, warm, amused, and something more. It reminded Honor that she was a woman as well as the scared younger sister of a missing man. She looked down at her hands and cleared her throat.

  “Fishersen?” she asked, distracted. “Oh, I get it. En. Plural. Men and women. You’re pretty quick yourself. When can you start?”

  “Do you have a fishing license?”

  “No.”

  “Then we can’t start yet. Too bad. The sun is out. The wind isn’t. Slack tide in a few hours. It doesn’t get any better than this in the San Juan Islands.”

  “What would we be fishing for?”

  “Whatever we catch. Less disappointment that way.”

  “Is that your life philosophy?”

  “Only after I grew up.”

  She lifted her head and looked at him intently.

  “What’s the matter?” Jake asked. “Are my ears on backwards?”

  “I was just trying to imagine you as a child in need of growing up.”

  “Funny. I have no problem imagining you that way. Can you swim?”

  “Like a fish.”

  “Considering my profession and all, you might want to rethink that description.”

  “You have a point.”

  “It’s on the business end of the hook. First lesson of fishing.”

  Ambushed by Jake’s slow, unexpected smile and deadpan humor, Honor laughed almost helplessly. Then she had to fight tears that were burning behind her eyes.

  In the past few weeks she had been through too many sleepless nights. That was why after only two minutes with Jake M
allory she felt like she had been hit by a truck. His particular combination of rough edges, male warmth, and wry intelligence would have appealed to her under any circumstances. Right now, when her defenses were down and her emotions were all over the place, he was lethally attractive to her.

  Bad choice of words, she thought. Really bad. If she started thinking about death she would cloud up and rain all over Kyle’s messy desk.

  Blinking hard, Honor stared through one of the cottage’s many small windows. Beyond the panes of glass, fir trees swept down rocky slopes to the cold blue-green waters of Puget Sound. Amber Beach was a strip of tawny sand ringed by dark rocks and stranded logs bleached pale by the sea. Kyle’s twenty-seven-foot powerboat gleamed whitely next to the floating dock he had built. He had named the boat Tomorrow, because he rarely had time to go fishing today.

  Now Honor was afraid he might never have time.

  She cleared her throat, rallied her thoughts, and said huskily, “The business end of a hook. Sharp. I’ll keep it in mind.”

  “Better in your mind than in your thumb. How soon can you get the license?”

  “Fishing?”

  “Yeah.”

  “Any time, I guess. Where do I get it?”

  “Anywhere they sell fishing gear.”

  “Fishing . . .” Slimy, slippery, smelly, disgusting fish. She sighed. “I can hardly wait.”

  Jake’s eyes narrowed until little more than gleaming slits of gray showed between black eyelashes. He didn’t know what he had expected of Kyle Donovan’s sister. He only knew that it wasn’t Honor.

  “You should work on your enthusiasm,” he said.

  “I’ve had a rough month, as you probably know if you read the newspapers.”

  “Losing a husband—” Jake began, as though he didn’t know who Honor was.

  “Brother,” she corrected.

  “Brother, huh?”

  “And he’s not lost. Not really.”

  “A brother who isn’t lost, not really. Is that why the police are expecting him to turn up here?”

  “What do you mean?”

  Jake shrugged and thought fast. It was something he was good at. Most survivors were. His first thought wasn’t comforting: if the lady with the sad, sexy mouth, stubborn chin, and baggy black sweat suit hadn’t noticed the plainclothes cop hanging around the turnoff to the cottage, she was either too stupid or too innocent for whatever game Kyle was playing.

  Or had been playing. Missing could be another way of saying dead.

  “The name on the mailbox is Kyle Donovan,” Jake said. “He’s the one who has gone missing, right?”

  Honor nodded. The motion sent sunlight gliding through her short chestnut hair. Her unusual amber-green eyes gleamed with the same tears Jake had heard in her voice. He shook his head slightly. She looked much too vulnerable to be the sister of a liar, a thief, and a murderer.

  But then, life had taught Jake that looks were a lousy index of character. Actions were what counted. Honor was a Donovan aiding and abetting another Donovan. She might look as sweet as a Girl Scout selling cookies, but when she advertised for a fishing guide, she had declared her entry into an international treasure hunt whose only rule was winner take all.

  Jake intended to be the winner.

  “You can tell me all about your problems while you show me the boat,” he said.

  “That’s not necessary. I’m looking for a fishing guide, not a father confessor.”

  “All part of the service,” he said, turning away. “Like bartending.”

  “Don’t you want to discuss salary?”

  “A hundred dollars a day.”

  “That’s not a discussion.”

  He turned back toward her. “Two hundred.”

  “A hundred it is.”

  “Sold. Let’s go look at the boat.”

  Wondering if she had made a mistake, Honor shoved back from her brother’s desk. The sudden movement jarred one of the many small cardboard boxes scattered across the surface. One box skidded over papers and fell off the edge. A hunk of rich, transparent yellow leaped out of the cardboard, heading for a crash landing on the bare floor.

  No sooner had she realized what was going to happen than Jake moved.

  Nothing hit the floor.

  “My God, you’re quick,” she said, startled. “Thank you. Kyle told me that amber can shatter like glass.”

  Jake didn’t need Honor’s words to know that he was holding amber. Nothing else on earth had quite the same warm, weightless, satiny feel. He shifted the piece into a shaft of sunlight coming through a window and let the light play through the golden resin. Unless he was mistaken—not likely—he was holding an exceptionally fine chunk of Baltic amber.

  “That’s part of a shipment my sister and I just received,” Honor said. “I’ve never worked with amber before, but it’s really fascinating. So old, so enduring, yet so exquisitely fragile.”

  Jake gave her a sideways look. “Are you a dealer?”

  “No. A designer. The Donovan males wouldn’t let mere females go out in the big, bad world and buy rough gems.”

  “Smart of them.”

  “That’s a matter of opinion.”

  “Your brother didn’t go missing in Disneyland.”

  Honor’s mouth flattened.

  The phone rang. She reached for it with a sense of relief. If another reporter was calling, she would enjoy slamming the receiver down in his ear.

  “Donovan residence.”

  “Hi, Honor. How’s it going?”

  Her oldest brother’s deep, impatient voice came through the receiver as though pushed through wet sand.

  “You sound like you’re on another planet,” she said.

  “Petropavlosk/Koryak Autonomous Region.”

  “Say again?”

  “Eastern Russia to folks who don’t live here. The Kamchatka Peninsula.”

  Honor’s hand tightened as she tried to keep hope or dread from thickening her voice. “Have you found Kyle?” she asked starkly.

  “No.”

  “Neither have the police.”

  “The police! Did you call them after I told you not—”

  “I didn’t have to call anyone,” she interrupted. “For the last three days cops have been all over Kyle’s cottage like a bad smell. What’s going on?”

  Static filled the line. She could almost hear Archer thinking fast and hard.

  “What did they want?” he asked.

  “Like you, they don’t answer questions, just ask them.”

  “What questions?”

  “Who am I, what am I doing here, when was the last time I saw Kyle, when was the last time I heard from him, have I received any packages—”

  Very carefully, Jake put the piece of amber back in the box and set it on the desk.

  “—do I know a man with two fingers missing on his left hand and Third World dental work—” Honor said as though reciting a lesson.

  Jake wished he could swear aloud. Every word she said told him more than he wanted to know about Kyle and Honor and amber . . . and not nearly enough. Either she was a hell of an actress hiding knowledge of where Kyle had stashed the amber or she was an innocent sucked into a game only pros should play.

  He hoped she was an actress. But whether innocent or as guilty as her brother, Honor still was Jake’s only chance of finding the missing amber.

  “—am I sure I haven’t seen or heard from Kyle,” she continued in a monotone, “when did he come back, why didn’t he contact me when he landed in Seattle—”

  “What?” Archer demanded. “When did Kyle—?”

  “Ask the cops,” she interrupted curtly. “It’s their story, not mine. I haven’t seen hide nor hair of Kyle. Reading between the lines, his passport came through SeaTac. Presumably with him.”

  Her brother let out his breath in a string of Afghani curses.

  “I’m sure I would agree if I spoke the language,” she said. “What’s going on?”

  “Ha
ve you checked Kyle’s post office box?”

  Her fingers clenched around the phone. “I repeat. What is going on?”

  “What about his answering machine?”

  Silence and static gathered.

  As always, Archer outwaited his younger sister.

  “Yes and yes,” she said through her teeth.

  “And?”

  “No and no.”

  “Keep trying.”

  “It would help if I knew what I was looking for.”

  “Your brother. You remember him, don’t you? Kyle of the charming smile and strange eyes.”

  “Don’t forget the stolen amber,” she retorted.

  “What?”

  “Stolen. Amber. Am I ringing any bells?”

  “I’d ring your bell if I could get my hands on you. What kind of amber?”

  “Ask the cops.”

  “That was all they said?” Archer asked. “Stolen amber?”

  “Yes.”

  “Raw or worked?”

  “They didn’t say. What was in the shipment that disappeared along with Kyle?”

  “Who said anything about a shipment of amber pearing?”

  “The cops.”

  Archer grunted. “Not good. Someone is telling tales out of school.”

  “Don’t look at me. You haven’t told me anything except to come here and wait. Is it true?”

  “What?”

  “Did Kyle disappear along with a fortune in stolen Baltic amber?”

  “I don’t know. Is that what the cops are saying?”

  “Implying,” she said distinctly. “There’s a difference. The difference between being questioned and being charged. What about Lawe? Where is he?”

  “Last I heard, he was still in Lithuania.”

  “What about Justin?”

  “Kaliningrad,” Archer said. “Is Faith with you?”

  “No. She’s on her way back to San Francisco from Tokyo. She’s going to spend a few weeks in Hawaii along the way.”

  “For these small things, Lord, I am grateful.”

  “What does that mean?”

  “It means that you and your dear twin get into more trouble together than apart.”

  “The same could be said of Lawe and Justin,” she pointed out. “But look on the bright side.”

  “Show it to me.”

  “Mom could have had three girls. Faith, Honor, and Chastity. Can you imagine being saddled with a sister called Chastity?”

 
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