White Diamonds



White Diamonds

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Sandra Rutledge is a woman who has never taken risks. Until, one fateful night in the secluded mountains of Pennsylvania, she stumbles upon a fortune in diamonds

Even more shocking is the man who is carrying those diamonds: handsome, celebrated Senator Wyatt Randolph.

A government conspiracy has sent him deep into hiding...and deeper still into the inviting safety of Sandra's tender embrace...

Excerpt from White Diamonds


Shirley Hailstock


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.

Wyatt Randolph!

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. 


 Twenty-four inches and more on the way. . .Sandra turned at the crackled sound of the radio weatherman's voice. She hugged herself as a sudden chill shook her. In all her years of growing up in Budd Lake, New Jersey, snow had been a natural result of winter. Yet today was the first time she'd felt stranded and faced with several feet of the white puffy flakes.

The last time she'd been at the cabin John had been alive. The grass was green, sloping like an emerald rug away from the cabin. They'd played like children, laughing, running, and rolling down the hill, then ending the day making love in the large bed upstairs. It had been a happy summer. Summer had turned to fall and then winter. Three winters since his death. Would the pain ever go away completely?

Sandra turned away from the window and stretched. Snow continued to pile up outside the cabin as it had all night and all day. The sun, low in the sky, dropped quickly behind the mountains. In moments the light was gone and the solitary cabin was draped in total darkness. She lit several lamps, suddenly needing the light for no apparent reason.

She'd been up here alone many times and had never felt remotely uneasy, yet tonight she was afraid. Upstairs a man who'd been stabbed lay in her sister Annie's bed. Wyatt Randolph had become both famous and notorious in the last week. Sandra didn't know which of the many newscasts detailing his background she should believe. In her experience, what the newscasters said was rarely the real story. Yesterday, her life had coincided with the senator's, and that fact didn't make her comfortable, even if she discounted the millions of dollars in precious stones he'd had with him.

Reviewing the facts in her mind as she often did aloud in class for her students, she thought: he's a U.S. senator with access to all manner of information not available to the public; he could be a member of a powerful sub-committee, although as a junior senator he would have little power; he'd been missing for over a week and apparently no one knew where he was, at least no one who'd come forward. Unease made her shiver, but she continued her mental assessment of the facts. He'd been stabbed. Quickly, she turned about, looking in every direction as if someone else was in the room and could hear her thoughts and knew that the senator was only a floor away. Running her hands up and down her arms, she tried to dispel the coldness that seeped through to her bones. Someone had deliberately tried to kill him. He could have fallen on a knife, she thought, rejecting the theory before it had time to form. And he'd come here. Why? They didn't know each other. Her father, the senior senator from New Jersey, was not there and her mother was so closely followed by the media that it would be easy to find her if it was a doctor he was seeking. He had to be looking for her father. But why then hadn't Wyatt gone to his office or called?

Sandra had the phone in her hand and was dialing before she could decide what she would say when her father answered. She checked her watch. It was after eight o'clock, but she knew he would still be in. His secretary, Michael Waring, spoke crisply in her ear after the first ring. He told her that her father was unavailable and could not be reached. She knew better man to try to badger an answer out of him, but this was an emergency. She wouldn't politely accept that he was away and say good-bye.

"Where is he?" she asked.

"He can't be reached at the moment."

"This is an emergency. I need to talk to him."

"I'll ask him to call you when he returns."

"Are you expecting him tonight?" Often the two of them worked late, and since her mother had left town, her father had no reason to go home early.

"He didn't say."

Sandra's frustration level increased. Why was Michael being so mysterious? He'd never been that way before. "Please ask him to call me when he returns, no matter what the time," she added.

"I will."

Sandra replaced the receiver and quickly lifted it again. She tried the Georgetown house. The maid told her the senator had gone away last week and had not returned.

This was not unusual for her rather. But why hadn't Michael said something? Senator Rutledge often went on fact-finding missions, some of them publicized, others not. Yet, this time she feared something was grossly different. Her hands grew clammy and she brushed them down her long sweater.

"Stop scaring yourself," she told the empty room. There was a perfectly logical explanation. It was like mathematics; everything fit together and worked in a logical order. All she had to do was wait for the junior senator upstairs to regain consciousness and ask him her questions.

Remembering the man in the bed, she looked at the ceiling. Sandra had been called upon twice today to use Herculean strength to save his life. She was more than a little afraid of what she had done. Suppose infection set in, suppose he began to bleed again? What if a fever developed? Suppose he needed a real doctor? What could she do? Her mother had been bound for the airport when Sandra's call had stopped her. It wasn't likely Sandra would be able to repeat what she'd done earlier.

Melissa Rutledge had used her calm professional voice to take away the panic Sandra felt at having to check the senator's body and then close his wound. She'd done exactly what she was told, even reconnecting the automatic chair apparatus to the stairs they hadn't used since Sandra's grandmother passed away six years ago, to get Wyatt Randolph to a comfortable bed on the second floor of the house.

He'd been little help in his semiconscious state, and Sandra had used all her available strength to get him to one of the three bedrooms. When she'd finally laid him down and pulled the quilt over his prone frame, she remembered her mother's last instruction, to call Brian, the forest ranger at the Pocono station. She knew she should report the stab wound, but Wyatt Randolph was a United States senator. Shouldn't she give him a chance to explain before he found himself confronted by a roomful of police? Her logic didn't make sense and she knew it. He'd been stabbed. He carried a cache of diamonds clearly worth enough to start a revolution, but something made her want to talk to him before she reported him to the police.

Sandra knelt on the sofa, her finger playing with the bright stones lying on the small table that held a lamp, several books, and a candy jar filled with leftover Christmas candy.

She'd cleaned the blood away until they shone, yet they were flawed. She could see the flaws with her naked eye. It didn't mean they weren't worth a fortune. The diamonds were another reason she should report to the authorities. Gunshots and stab wounds were required by law to be reported. Her mother had told her that just before she hung up. She felt guilty that she hadn't followed Melissa's instructions. They had a good relationship and Sandra never lied to her. Yet today, when she'd asked who the man was, Sandra told her his eye was swollen so badly and his face so bruised that he'd be hard to recognize even if she knew who he was. Technically the truth, she rationalized, but she'd recognized Wyatt Randolph the moment she'd pulled his slumped body up in the car.

Sandra chewed on her lip remembering her decision not to call Brian until she could at least talk to the senator. Maybe she'd been wrong. She should have called the police. The snow had continued until it was impossible to reach the small house now. If the senator died it would be her fault.

Again she looked at the stones, fifteen of them. They'd make a beautiful necklace, she thought with a wry smile. What was he doing with them? she wondered. Why did he have them banded about his waist and who had tried to kill him? 


"K7950 calling K5895. Princess, are you there?" Sandra's spirits lifted at the absurd tag Officer Brian Court used when he called her on the shortwave radio. He called frequently when she was staying at the cabin under the pretext of checking to make sure everything was all right. Sandra knew he had a crush on her, but that was all it was. Going to the unit, she flipped the switch to TALK and spoke into the microphone. "K5895, the Ivory Tower: Good morning, Brian." She smiled into the instrument, ignoring the rules of ham operators. Brian had called the Rutledge cabin the Ivory Tower because it was so far up the mountain. When she was younger he'd dubbed her sister Annie the princess of the tower and referred to Sandra as the other princess.

Sandra didn't mind. Brian acted like most men did when they saw her beautiful sister. He still called them both princess. "I'm fine," Sandra lied. She'd put twenty stitches into Wyatt Randolph and a nervousness she couldn't define settled on her since she'd found him in the road yesterday, but she kept this from Brian.

"Just checking. We had a might of snow last night."

"The weathermen were right on the money this time. Twenty-four inches," Sandra confirmed. Thank God, she finished silently. She'd gone out after getting Wyatt to bed spent an hour in their Jeep plowing a path back to his car. Then she'd put the Jeep away and walked to his car. It had taken her another hour to get the car up to the cabin. Without four-wheel drive it was virtually impossible to climb the mountain road, or what passed as a road. Her mother and father had wanted absolute privacy when they built the cabin. It sat near the top of the mountain with few avenues of access other than the air and a four-wheel drive vehicle.

"Drifts must be up to your porch." Brian's voice jarred her back to the present.

"And then some," she told him. Sandra had stepped onto the porch at first light. The blowing snow of last night completely covered the path leading to the spot where Wyatt's car had been. The five steps that led to the cabin's wide porch were obliterated.

"You sure you don't need me to fly up there and bring you down?"

"I'm sure, Brian." She held the strain in her voice. She didn't want any visitors until Wyatt was conscious. "Besides," she remembered. "You and Starfighter can't occupy the same space."

She bit her lower lip. She didn't think the senator would want to find a representative of the law, even if it was only a forest ranger, when he opened his eyes. Her conscious tugged at her for a moment. She knew her mother was right and she should report to Brian that Senator Randolph had been stabbed and was comfortably asleep in Annie's bed. Yet, something made her hold that information back. Why was he on that road? Of all the places in the world he could choose to go, why did he pick the road leading to her family cabin? It had to concern her father. Yet, Sandra didn't discount her sister, Annie.

Annie had always been a wild one, and millions of dollars in diamonds could be part of a scenario that had her name on it. On the other hand, Wyatt Randolph was a senator and so was her father. She shivered at the thought that somehow the two of them had something in common. Either way, she had to find out the truth before she let Brian or the police know about him.

"How are you fixed for food and water?" Brian's voice had a serious note in it when it pulled her back to the shortwave. She knew he was concerned about her. She also knew he was a fine ranger. Her mother said he often called to check on her when she was there writing one of the many medical articles she published each year. Her trips were generally taken during summer weather. Why Sandra had chosen to prepare her defense during the winter, even she questioned now. She'd told herself the timing was right. Her exam was scheduled for the end of April. The cabin was deserted. She'd have absolute quiet to concentrate, no hikers dropping by unexpectedly, and she wanted to prove she could withstand the memories of John and this place without falling to pieces.

"Princess?" Brian called her back to the present.

"No problem," she continued. "All services are still working." The electricity and water had been unaffected by the sudden cold and mountainous snowfall.

"I don't like you being up there all alone."

"Brian, I'm not alone." She had a U.S. senator in residence. Granted he was unconscious, but he was there. "You're at the end of the radio and I've got a Jeep with a snow plow if I really need to get down the mountain."

"That Jeep won't be much good in this kind of weather. It would take you hours to plow that road, if you could do it."

How well she knew that. Brian's voice told her he had doubts of her ability. Sandra's chin raised an inch. She had plowed that road, at least as far back as the senator's car. The Jeep had front-wheel drive, but had been hard to move. The car now sat safely in the car shed next to the Jeep. The night's snowfall had completely covered any trace of her handiwork.

"I also have Starfighter," she told him.

"Yeah," Brian laughed. "Thank God for that."

Sandra suddenly looked up. She heard a thump upstairs and knew Wyatt must have awakened. Her heart thudded as if Brian could see through the handset.

"Brian, honestly, I'm fine. If I need anything you'll be the first person I call."

"You make sure I am," he paused.

"Have there been any new developments on 'the ground' I should know about?" Again she used his designation for the distance between the ranger station and her cabin. She hoped he'd tell her the latest news about the man she was harboring.

"Other than the weather, Senator Wyatt is still commanding the front page."

"Anything new on his whereabouts?"

"Only speculation. One paper even has him in our neck of the woods. In order for that to happen he'd have to be a polar bear."

Nervousness gripped Sandra that made her hands shake. She grabbed the microphone with both hands. Thank God they didn't have the computer hookup that transmitted real time images. "He does represent this state." Sandra tried to make her voice sound normal, but the sound came out unusually high. "Coming here doesn't seem unreasonable."

"He's never been here before that I know of. Not even when your father comes up. If he's found in these parts I'd have to believe the stories that he's at least one egg short of a full dozen."

Sandra wasn't sure of that yet. Wyatt Randolph was still unconscious. She looked up again as if she could see through the beamed ceiling. At the moment she only knew that Senator Randolph was in the area and that he could have died trying to get there. She had yet to determine why he didn't seek medical help but instead had driven up a mountain in a snow storm, a stab wound in his side, to reach her parents' cabin with a cache of diamonds tied around his waist.

He had to be looking for her father, the senior senator from New Jersey and chairman of the powerful defense subcommittee. Were they working on something together? Had he asked him to meet him here?

"I have to go, Sandra," Brian said. She heard the static of another call coming in over the open airwaves. "Remember to call me if you need anything."

"One more thing, Brian." Sandra's heart beat fast. She didn't want Brian to become suspicious, but she needed to ask him a question. "There haven't been any . . . strangers in the area, have there?" She bit her lower lip, hoping Brian didn't hear the hesitation. "Princess, are you sure you're all right up there?"

"I promise you I'm fine. It's just that with all the snow, I feel a little isolated." That was the truth. "I wondered if there were any climbers or polar bear buffs in the area, just in case someone knocks on my door."

"We've been all over this area, and with the falling snow, only a fool with a death wish would be out in it. As far up the mountain as you are, they'd never reach you before they froze to death."

How little he knew, Sandra thought. Wyatt Randolph must have been very determined to get as far as he got and without the aerial surveillance of the forest rangers finding him.

"It's good to know," she said. "At least I can sleep well."

"Princess, I can have a chopper there in no time."

"Brian, don't think about me. I'm sure you have plenty to do rescuing tourists and weekend skiers."

"Ain't that the truth. Last night we took two skiers to the hospital suffering from exposure and frostbite. They'll be fine."

"Who were they?"

"A couple of college kids," he said. "Don't worry, they weren't from Rutgers. I think they came from somewhere south of here, Morgan or Howard. So they weren't here trying to get you to change their grades."

Sandra laughed with Brian, glad to hear there was nothing more to add to her increasing feeling of paranoia.

"Well, Princess, I have to go now. Duty calls. K7950 signing off."

"Thanks, Brian, and I will call you if I need anything. K5895, Out."

He didn't know how true that was. The uneasiness that had settled over her since she found Wyatt bleeding in the snow had not left with the light of day. Someone wanted him dead, and if they'd tried to kill him once, she didn't think they'd stop until they'd completed the job. He was here for whatever reason. Whoever was looking for him was probably not far behind. What would she do when they caught up with him? Hopefully, Brian would be close enough to summon.

Sandra heard the thump again as she switched the microphone off. She ran up the stairs and into the room where she'd left Wyatt. He was sprawled diagonally across the twin bed, his bare feet on the floor as if he'd tried to get up and fallen back against the pillows. For a moment she stared at his legs, powerful, athletically muscular. Her stomach clinched. Sandra moved into the room and checked him. He was asleep, his breathing even. Perspiration lay on his forehead, but he was cool to the touch. Raising his shirt, she saw the stitches were holding and no additional blood had seeped through the dressing. Lifting his legs, she swung them back onto the bed and covered him with the sheet and quilt.

Next to the bed she'd placed a bowl of water and a cloth. She wrung out the cloth. He was so far across the mattress she had to balance herself on one knee and lean over him to dab the perspiration from his brow. He was a handsome man, she thought. Not as good-looking as the newspaper pictures showed, but in those his face wasn't swollen and bruised. His skin was dark and smooth. Strangely enough, she liked touching it. She continued sponging his face after it was no longer necessary. The swelling around his eye was smaller this morning, and it didn't appear so veined as it had the night before.

She stared at him. Half of his face was unmarred. That half was gorgeous. She could only imagine what he would look like without the disfigurement. Her mouth suddenly went dry. She swallowed, trying to wet her throat. The stubble on his face showed he'd gone several days without a shave. It in no way detracted from the strength of his features. She could see why his constituency had voted him to office. Without knowing his platform, she thought he had an honest look. She wondered why they had never met at the many political functions she'd attended in support of her father.

Wyatt had brown eyes; indeed she'd looked into them earlier. As if he could read her thoughts, his eyes opened and he stared directly into hers. Sandra, caught off guard and feeling as if she'd been discovered doing something wrong, was paralyzed. For a moment they stared at each other. Then Wyatt's eyes closed and he went back to sleep.

Sandra let go of her breath and sat back on the coverlet. What had happened to her? The man only looked at her and he wasn't even fully awake, yet her heart was pounding and she felt as if she couldn't take enough air into her lungs. Quickly, she scrambled off the bed and stepped away from him. Wyatt didn't move, didn't even know she was in the room. Sandra felt gripped by some indefinable aura that bound her to him. Why? she wondered, but got no answer.

She left the room, closing the door and taking a deep breath. It wasn't possible. She knew nothing about him outside of what the news media had reported over the last week. Until he woke up, she was going to have to wait to find out his reason for disappearing. Hopefully, when that happened she'd have better control of herself.



Wyatt groaned and opened his eyes. He couldn't see anything, just a large, hazy blur. He blinked several times. Finally he could make out the bedpost at the foot of the small bed. In the corner a bureau materialized, then a dresser with a mirror. The door in the center of one wall stood half open. He could only see the rough surface of a wall outside of it.

"Ohhh," he moaned. Every part of him hurt. He raised his hand to his aching head. Unintentionally he hit his eye. Agony shot into his head. His entire body clinched. As the pain subsided, he gingerly felt the swelling about his eye. His hand touched a gauze bandage near his brow.

Memory surged into his consciousness. Had they caught him? Why wasn't he dead? He tried to sit up. Pain shot through his side, sapping him of energy, forcing him back against the pillows. Sweat poured off him and he opened his mouth to take in gulps of air. Where was he? Trying to calm himself, he breathed deeply, his chest heaving as he gritted his teeth and waited out the pain.

Light flowed through the windows. Bright light. He concentrated on that instead of the paralyzing agony in his side. It must be late afternoon. He didn't recognize the room and he wasn't tied to the bed, so he must have been found by someone who hadn't called the police or the FBI. It could be Senator Rutledge's men who were holding him.

Wincing, he pushed himself up, feeling his left side. They'd stabbed him, tried to kill him. And it was his fault. Why had he gone into that alley? When he spotted the man following him, why hadn't he gone for the car or the subway? The alley was darker than the street, and he thought he could hide. He'd been wrong. Wyatt had turned at the last minute, feeling something was wrong. The man was coming toward him, fast. They struggled, fought, traded blow for blow. He saw the knife too late to dodge it. Luckily, he'd rolled away and came up with the gun. Chip's gun. The guy had run, and Wyatt had taken a breath. He got to the car and started driving. How he got here he didn't know.

He remembered the snow, blinding snow, and then he passed out. Someone must had found him, someone who'd dressed his stab wound. Who? It felt tight under the bandage. He wondered if whoever had found him was friendly. He hoped so, for he was in no condition to escape a capture. And he was still alive.

Where was he? He listened for a sound, any indication that he wasn't alone. He heard nothing. Had whoever found him left him alone?

He swung his feet to the carpeted floor and hung his head as dizziness accosted him. It cleared in a moment and he tried to stand. The effort washed him in perspiration. Clamping his teeth together, he shifted his weight to his good side and squeezed his eyes shut. The pain in his head vied for dominance over that in his side. Still, Wyatt forced himself up. A minor victory he told himself as he spread his feet and let go of the bedpost several agonizing moments later. He could stand. Pushing his shirt aside, he placed his hand over the dressing and tried to force the burning pain concentrated there away. The dressing was clean. He wondered who had tended him and why?

Listening again, he heard nothing. He limped quietly toward a closed door inside the room. Opening it only wide enough to see inside, he found a bathroom. Pushing it further, he found it empty and connected to another room. The second room looked much like the one he'd awakened in except it had a queen-size bed and more female frills to it. Closing both doors, he used the facility but didn't want to alert anyone to his presence by flushing the toilet. He checked his face in the mirror and frowned at the broken and discolored skin. He looked as if he'd been in a fight, and God knows he had.

Carefully stripping the dressing off his side, he looked at the neat row of thread that held his skin together. Again he wondered who had done this.

Returning to the bedroom, he limped to the window. Maybe his car was outside. If he did need to run, he didn't want to do it on foot.

"God!" he breathed. He'd never seen so much snow. He'd grown up in Philadelphia. With the subways and elevated trains, snow generally melted quickly after falling. During his junior year at Morgan State University, he and several fraternity brothers had taken a trip to Switzerland to ski. Some of the Florida brothers had never seen snow before. He'd at least seen it, but what was outside this window could rival the Alps.

He wondered if the entire house was surrounded by as much snow as what he could see from the windows in this room.

There would be no escaping if he was being held by the men who'd tried to kill him. But if he was, why hadn't they killed him? They had to have found . . .

His hands went to his waist. Where was it? He jerked his shirt aside. Suddenly he weaved back and forth, grabbing the windowsill to still the room and make the whirling halt. The band was gone. His gaze darted around the room. His watch and wallet lay on the nightstand. His pants hung from a wooden butler in the corner and his shoes sat in front of it. He was wearing his shirt and shorts. Nowhere did he see the band or the stones.

He couldn't have lost them. One man had died for those diamonds. He was almost the second, but somehow he'd escaped his assassins and made it here wherever here was.

What was he going to do now? He needed to know where he was and how many people were in the house. He needed to know if they were friend or foe, and if they were foe what more they wanted from him.

The first thing he needed to do was get dressed. He found the thought difficult to execute. The pain in his side took more out of him than he cared to admit. Sweat popped out on his brow, dizziness overtook him several times, and thoughts of giving up and going back to the comfortable bed had to be forcibly removed.

After the last week, Wyatt knew the benefits of having the element of surprise on his side. He had to leave this bedroom, before whoever was holding him came back. There was only one door. He hoped there was no guard standing outside it. Quietly, he peeped through the opening. The hall looked deserted. He opened it wider and slipped out. He pressed himself against the wall, straining to hear. Not even a floorboard creaked. The stairs were several feet away.

He made his way toward them, the effort requiring every ounce of strength. Then he heard someone move. A chair scraped across a floor. He froze still, sure whoever it was knew of his movements. He listened intently. No one started up the stairs. Sweat beaded on his forehead and rolled into his eyes. He wiped it away with his sleeve. How many were there? he wondered. The sound had not repeated and he could hear nothing more. That could mean only one person was in the house, or it could mean, if there were others, they weren't talking. At the top of the steps he peered down. He saw nothing.

Then she walked by. He jumped back, flattening his back against the rough wooden wall, grinding his teeth together to keep the pain inside. His hands were sweaty and his head felt as if he was carrying the Congressional Record on it. His hand went to the sore spot on his side. Who was she? Was she alone? He'd seen her only briefly as she passed. She had dark hair pulled into a ponytail, and she was wearing black pants and a ski sweater.

He wondered if he could still ski. If he had any chance of escaping it would have to be over the snow. He remembered trying to get up the road and knew that was no longer a way out. He hadn't been on a pair of skis in at least a decade, and with the pain in his side, he wouldn't last more man a few feet before he'd need to shift his weight onto the side that certainly wouldn't support him.

He didn't like the situation. He was trapped. His only choice was to go down the steps and find out how bad it was. They hadn't killed him yet, and they did have the stones. What else could they want?


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