CAPITOL CHRONICLES SERIES
Under the Sheets & White Diamonds Box Set
Sometimes happily-ever-after is short lived...
And sometimes it's not. . .
This was certainly a better place to work than the Assassination Bureau. Robyn Warren stood backstage, a three-pound headdress of pink fur balanced on her head. In moments, she'd be on stage for the second time in her twenty-five years. The first time had been two hours ago. She rubbed sweaty hands down her hips and waited. The curtain went up, and the lights rose, bathing sixteen scantly clad women in a blinding white light.
With a smile plastered to her face, Robyn listened to the music and counted the beats, as she performed the newly memorized steps. A single sound of tapping feet worked in unison to the music of 42nd Street. It was exhilarating. Blood pumped through her system, mixing with adrenaline, restoring the energy her afternoon of rehearsal had depleted.
She felt her nervousness leave her. She could tell by the twinkle in the eyes of the other dancers when they passed each other forming a set of four circles that blended into one larger circle and finally opening into a straight line that she was a part of the group. The audience applauded in the middle of the routine. The sound was deafening to her ears. For the first time she looked beyond the footlights, wondering if the man from the pool was somewhere out there. It was hard to see anyone with the lights in her eyes. Besides she didn't know anyone here, except Susan, who was dancing on her left. Robyn had only been in Las Vegas two days. The man by the pool was a stranger. They hadn't even said hello.
The dance ended much too soon, and she followed the line of bobbing fur backstage to change for the next number. There wasn’t much time for musings. As soon as they had switched from pink to white lace, she heard the call of five minutes. It meant they were to line up backstage, according to a preset system. She stood between Vera and Susan, the three of them were the same height.
The second outing on the stage seemed shorter than her first visit. She was breathless from the exhilaration and excitement. Susan had been right, she loved being out there. Almost before she knew it, she was back in the dressing room. The noise level was high as every¬one tried to get dressed for their dates. Robyn moved aside. Susan had quickly dressed and was the first to leave the room. Smiling at Robyn and telling her she’d see her back at the apartment. She disappeared through the door. Her dress changed and her face remade without the heavy greasepaint worn against the harsh lights of the stage, she looked happy and beautiful.
By the time Robyn was dressed, the room was clear. She flipped the switch, throwing the room into darkness and leaving behind the smell of sweat, perfume, and makeup. From the top of the stairs, she saw him -- the man from the pool. While there were people moving around him, carrying scenery and lights, he stood still. His black suit, distinctive against the surroundings, made his presence commanding. His white shirt made his skin darker by contrast. Robyn smiled when he looked up at her.
"You must be lost," she said, as she came down the steps.
"I don’t think so." His voice was deep and dark like a warm night.
"If you're waiting for one of the dancers, I'm afraid you've been stood up." She could not imagine anyone forgetting about a guy whose brown eyes were so warm they could melt ice. They followed her all the way to the bottom step.
"I'm waiting for you," he said quietly.
Sandra Rutledge's eyes opened wide as she stared at the red stain dripping through her fingers. The white snow, reflecting from the ground, made the color stand out brighter.
The man in the car lay slumped over the steering wheel. Instinctively she grasped the door handle and pulled. It opened easily.
At least he had the foresight to unlock the door and turn off the engine before he. . . she stopped, refusing to utter the word. The car was stuck, but it hadn't been in an accident. The airbag had not deployed. Looking down, Sandra saw breath congealing in the cold air. A sigh of relief escaped her.
He was alive.
She had tried to pull him up when she felt the stickiness that dripped through her fingers and stained the snow. She hadn't seen his face. What was he doing on this road? It was the only one that led to her parents' Pocono Mountain cabin. Except for the local park rangers who sometimes came to check to on her, no one came this way without an invitation. And she, as the only occupant at this time, had invited no one.
Her mother's first order would have been to check the extent of his wounds, but Melissa Rutledge was a doctor and her daughter was not. So Sandra pulled him upright to find out who he was.
She gasped when his pale face came into view. Wyatt Randolph! She stumbled back a step, the depth of the snow checking her movement, as she recognized him. His head hit the steering wheel before she could recover her surprise.
The junior senator from Pennsylvania's face had been plastered all over the news for a week. Stories of his disappearance topped every newscast. Speculation ranging from him being in a sanitarium to a covert operation in a foreign country had played over different news stations. Sandra knew none of them were true. She was the daughter of a U.S. senator and from her experience most of what was printed or reported had only the semblance of truth to it. He could be anywhere.
So, what on earth could Wyatt Randolph be doing here? Why was he bleeding? And who had beaten him up? She frowned at the bruises discoloring half of his face. One eye was swollen, with blue veins visible against his pale skin.
"Damn," she cursed. What would her mother do now? Sandra thought for a moment, then pressed her hand to his throat. She felt a pulse. Her breath came out with relief at the weak but steady thump against her fingers. Stop the bleeding. The thought came from nowhere. She tried to find the source of the blood flow, but his position in the car hindered her. She had to get him back to the cabin. At least there she'd be able to see what she was looking for. Not that she'd know what to do then, but at least they wouldn't freeze to death in the wind. She reinforced her decision by telling herself she couldn't undress him here, with snow flying in her face and the north wind whipping at them. She pulled his legs out of the car and placed his feet on the ground. Polished black shoes sank into the deep snow. He wasn't even properly dressed for this kind of weather, she thought. Where were his parka and boots? Again she wondered what he could be doing up here. The weather forecast called for an additional twenty inches of snow before morning. That would add to the double-digit amount already covering the ground. Any fool would know better than to try these roads in a car without four-wheel drive during a snowstorm.
Sandra heard a groan as she called on all her strength to get him out of the driver's seat. Good, she thanked herself. The groan meant he was still alive. His weight leaned against her, almost crushed her. One hundred and twenty pounds could hardly carry him. She dragged him across the short expanse to the snowmobile and placed him on the seat. It had to be a good mile back to the cabin, she estimated. Sandra was good on a snowmobile. She used it as a pleasure vehicle often plowing through the snow just for the heck of it. Occasionally she'd take it down the mountain to satisfy an uncontrollable craving for chocolate, but when she came to this out-of-the-way sanctuary, she brought everything she'd need for her stay. A six-foot-plus hunk of dead weight had never been on her list of cravings. And trying to balance an unconscious man while she wove the snowmobile over uneven terrain would be an Olympic challenge.
She took a deep breath, calculating the distance between their position on the road and the cabin on the distant hill. Despite the wind and cold, she was sweating, yet her hands were raw. She took a moment to put on her fur-lined gloves. Mounting herself behind Senator Randolph, she turned the key in the tiny vehicle and set off for the cabin. "I can do this," she said out loud, hoping the words would make the actions true.
His body wobbled like a puppet from side to side, forcing her to compensate quickly for his shifts. The snow pattern behind her looked as though a drunk had woven a crooked line to her door.
How she got him into the cabin she'd never know, but she did have him on the table of her mother's surgery. Melissa Rutledge often came here to write and relax. She wrote many of her papers in this cabin. She also found out that as a doctor she was often needed for some emergency. What had started as a small den had grown into a full surgery. This is where Wyatt Randolph lay.
Now what? Sandra asked herself. She checked his eyes, lifting the lids to make sure. . .of what,that his eyeballs were still there? She'd seen it done countless times, but had no idea why anyone did it. Sandra was the daughter of a famous surgeon, a woman whose medical skills included the successful transplantation of human hearts. Melissa Rutledge led a team of experts whose mastery was world renowned, yet she, Sandra, didn't know how to change a bandage.
She did know there was more blood on the senator's belly than had been there before. Either she had made the wound worse by moving him or the heat in the cabin was warming him. The bruises on his face were superficial. She didn't think there would be any permanent damage to his eye, despite the fact that he looked like a monster from an old black-and-white movie. Whoever beat him had only damaged one side of his face. The other half was unmarred. Carefully she began opening items of clothing to reach the source of the blood. Her protected fingers worked quickly to unbutton his coat and shirt. When she should have found skin, she discovered a band around his waist.
It was a crude attempt at a money belt. Blood soaked it. She frowned, skewing her nose at the amount covering the cloth. In this storm he should have picked a different road on which to get stranded, one where there was a doctor!
Sandra glanced at his face. He was helpless, unconscious. A paleness clung to him like a death shroud. She was his only hope. Sandra went back to work, taking a pair of bandage scissors and cutting the bound cotton in two places. She lifted it away and stared at the gaping wound. Blood oozed from it. Even her untrained eyes knew he'd been stabbed and that he needed stitches.
Absorbed by the thought that she was going to have to administer to this wound, she let go of one side of the cloth she held. Suddenly, she jumped at the noise and stepped away from the shards of glass pecking her legs as they fell from the bloody cloth and danced about her feet.
Sandra gasped, dropping the cloth. Diamonds, huge, cut stones, stained the white floor, skittering about like bloody jumping beans before momentum ceased and they came to rest. Her mind whirled with questions as her eyes darted back and forth between the floor and the man on the table. What was he doing with all these diamonds? An unnamed fear rose in her throat but she pushed it down. She didn't have time for that now. At the moment she had a man who needed her complete attention.
Ripping off the rubber gloves, she dropped them in the medical wastebasket and, without lifting the receiver of the speaker phone she punched her mother's phone number at George Washington University Hospital in Washington, DC. She waited while the secretary connected her, praying silently that Dr. Rutledge was available and not in surgery.
Sandra knew surgeons could assist in operations in all parts of the world by satellite hookup. Here, in the remote Pocono Mountains, they didn't have that kind of equipment and she was no doctor, yet the man lying on the table behind her would bleed to death if she didn't get help for him. This was the best she could do. Sandra let out a relieved breath when her mother's strong voice came over the line. She was going to have to walk her through the steps that would save the life of a United States senator. Then Sandra could wonder about the diamonds on the floor.
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