Nightshine, p.10
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       Nightshine, p.10

         Part #4 of Kyndred series by Lynn Viehl
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Page 10


  “Not a problem. In my line of work, I see plenty of naked guys,” she advised him. “But if you really want my forgiveness, stop calling me Charlotte. ”

  “I’ll try. ” By this time he couldn’t think of her as anything else, but he had no wish to antagonize her. “Charlotte is a lovely name. Why do you prefer Charlie?”

  “Charlotte is too old-fashioned. Here. ” She brought him a large gold velour robe. “I found a supply of men’s and women’s clothes. Mostly casual stuff, like this. ” She tugged at the edge of the cloth wrapped around her breasts.

  He studied the vivid orange sarong under the lacy white shrug she was wearing. Both made her look like a present waiting to be unwrapped, he thought, until the reason why she was wearing it dawned on him. “He took our clothes from us? He left us both here naked?” When she nodded, he felt a surge of violent anger. “Did he touch you?”

  “I don’t think so. ” She wrapped her arms around herself. “I checked myself thoroughly, and I didn’t find any bruises or other signs of an assault. ”

  What she didn’t say was that she still felt violated. Taske wanted to find their abductor and beat him senseless. Even better, now that his back had been healed, he could. “Where is this bastard?”

  “I wish I knew. ” Her expression turned grim. “I’ve looked through the entire place, and there’s no one here but us. ” She pointed to a speaker set into the wall. “A man spoke to me through that yesterday, after I woke up. What he said repeated a couple of times, so it had to be a recording. He said this was our new home. ” Again she looked as if she wanted to say more, but lapsed into silence.

  Taske looked around the room. “Did you recognize any of the surrounding area outside the house?”

  “I didn’t go out,” she admitted. “By the time I finished going through the house it was dark, and I really didn’t want to leave you alone for long. ”

  She averted her eyes, and a slight change in her stance suggested she wasn’t being entirely honest with him. “My dear, surely you know you can trust me. ”

  “Of course I do. ” Now she turned around and brought her hand up to her chest, pointing with one finger to one side of the ceiling and then the other. “If you’re feeling all right, maybe we can take a walk down to the beach. ”

  Taske glanced up discreetly and saw the two security cameras mounted on swivel bases; she had turned her back on them to conceal her hand movements. As he deliberately walked back to the glass wall, he heard the faint whir of gears and confirmed with another glance that one of the cameras had followed his movements. Now he understood her odd silences; they were being actively monitored.

  Taske hoped whoever was spying on them was close by. The fury streaming through his veins needed an outlet. “I’ll need to dress first. ”

  “The clothes are in here. ” She gestured for him to follow her into a walk-in closet. Once they were both inside, she leaned close to whisper, “There are cameras in all the rooms and hallways. I don’t know if he can hear us, but still, watch what you say. ” She reached for some clothes hangers and in a normal voice said, “These look like they’ll fit you. ”

  He pulled on the denim cutoff shorts and the thin, bright blue tank top, and surveyed himself. “I look like a Beach Boy. ”

  “Sorry there aren’t any Valentino suits. ” She took the robe and hung it from a hook. “Ready?”

  He nodded and followed her out. She picked up a short length of polished, carved teak propped beside the arched doorway and held it like a club. “Where did you find that?”

  “It used to be part of a chair downstairs. ” She gave it a test swing. In a lower voice she added, “I played softball in college. If he comes at us, just give me some room. ”

  “If he comes at us,” he countered, “hand it to me. ”

  She gave him a skeptical look. “You ever mix it up with anyone, rich man?”

  “One can use a cane for more than walking, honey,” he assured her.

  Charlotte guided him to a narrow, spiral staircase made of tiled steps and sided in glass panels suspended between bamboo supports. As they descended he noted the display of primitive animal masks inlaid with turquoise, gold, and bone.

  “Mesoamerican,” he murmured, pausing beside one likeness of a snarling jaguar. “Not a relic, however. Quite new. ” He reached out to touch it before he stopped and glanced at his bare hand. He had been bare-handed since waking up and somehow had not noticed. That discovery shook him down to his heels. “Charlotte, please lend me your bat for a moment, if you would?”

  She handed it over, and Taske closed his eyes as he curled his fingers around it. Since childhood he’d never had to consciously use his ability; it manifested the moment he touched anything. Upon contact he could see the entire history of any object, from the moment it was created until the present date, no matter how old it was. His ability had enabled him to become one of the foremost experts on antiques in the world, but it had come with a heavy price. Just as King Midas had been cursed to turn anything he handled into gold, Taske saw the history of literally everything he touched.

  Gradually an image came to him of Charlotte lifting a small chair and repeatedly striking it against a stone pillar until one of the legs snapped off. Beyond that he saw nothing, no image from the past, no vision of who had brought the chair to this place, or who had purchased it, upholstered it, carved or assembled it.

  Taske opened his eyes, unsure of what to think as he handed it back to her. “Thank you. ”

  “Nice artwork,” she said, her eyes briefly shifting to the camera overhead watching them. “I can’t wait to see what’s outside. ”

  Another glassed-over water floor, this one stocked with circular green leaves and pale white lilies, led them to a wide entrance hall with towering walls. Taske noted the display of odd-looking weapons, hung far out of reach, which had the same ancient design yet new appearance as the masks by the staircase.

  Charlotte inspected the teak door before she tried the ornate brass latch and slowly opened it. An exterior stepped platform led down to a walkway of shell-studded polished coral, which wound around through tumbleweed-shaped agaves and billowing mounds of white sweet alyssum before it disappeared.

  The area beyond the house stood lush, green, and entirely deserted.

  Taske heard the sound of the sea clearly now. “Perhaps we’re somewhere on the coast. ”

  “This isn’t California. ”

  “How do you know that?”

  “I just do. ” She turned around, and for a moment the glory of her sun-gilded features took his breath away. “None of it rings a bell with you? Maybe it’s someplace you went to work on your tan?”

  “I fear our whereabouts are a mystery,” he said, “and alas, the tan is congenital. ”

  “‘Alas’?” She shook her head. “No one says ‘alas’ anymore, Sam. Not for at least the last hundred years. ”

  “Another thing about the deterioration of the English language to mourn. ” Again he detected the note of scorn in her tone. He wondered what he had done to earn it, and how quickly he might dispel it. For some reason Charlotte didn’t like him, and that would not do at all. “Let’s have a look at the beach. We might be able to see something from there. ”

  Charlotte silently accompanied him down the coral path and along a grassy trail through a dense thicket of banana trees. As they passed one ripe bunch she stopped and inspected them.

  “These look okay. ” She snapped off two, handing one to him, and proceeded to devour hers in a couple of bites before taking another and doing the same.

  Her show of hunger worried him. “Isn’t there any food at the house?”

  “Enough to feed an army, but after the way they drugged us, I’m not touching it. ” She sighed and tossed the peels away. “Come on. ”

  Chapter 4

  The two bananas helped settle Charlie’s empty, churning stomach, but ever
y step she took away from the mansion made her anger burn brighter. Although Sam seemed as surprised as she was at waking up in this tropical paradise, she still couldn’t get rid of the suspicion that he knew more than he was telling her. He’d told her he was handicapped, which he was anything but, and then there was that business on the stairs with the mask and her club.

  By the time they reached the edge of the walkway leading down to the empty pier she felt ready to explode. She took a moment to look for surveillance equipment before she turned on him. “Okay. I need to know exactly what this is about. For real. ”

  “So do I. ” He studied her face. “I see. You still have some doubts about me. ”

  “Some?” she snapped. “I’m kidnapped, drugged, and dumped at a Club Med for millionaires. I wake up naked, with pearls in my hair, next to a cripple who is in shock from blood loss and nearly dies on me. Twelve hours later his wound disappears, and suddenly he’s not a cripple anymore. In fact, he looks like he can run the hundred in five flat and tosses me around like I’m a rag doll. So yeah, Sam, I have doubts. Not some; many. ” She moved her hand horizontally from left to right. “Imagine a mountain range of doubts. ”

  “Let’s walk down to the water,” he suggested. “The sound of the waves should cover our voices. ”

  The pristine, powdery amber sand spoiled her attempt to stalk down the beach, and that annoyed her almost as much as Sam’s neutral expression. Once they were standing in the sea up to their ankles, she glanced back and went still.

  Only the tiered, flat rooftop of the mansion was visible from the shore, but the beach itself curved away from them on both sides, hugging the landmass in an irregular circle before it vanished behind it. The only other structure in sight was the long wooden dock. The coast and roadways she had expected to see didn’t exist, and over the very tops of the trees to the left she saw a distant green blur swaddled by ocean.

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