A New York Times Bestseller
With a new identity, a staged death, and a chance to flee the treachery that stalks her, Rachael has escaped from a faceless assassin. Now, thousands of miles from home, under the lush canopy of the rain forest, she's found sanctuary. But in this world teeming with unusual creatures walks the most exotic of them all. Rio is a native of the forest imbued with a fierce prowess. He is something to be desired . . . and feared.
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Christine Feehan - I live in the beautiful mountains of Lake County, California. I have always loved hiking, camping, rafting and being outdoors. I’ve also been involved in the martial arts for years - I hold a third degree black belt, instruct in a Korean karate system, and have taught self-defense. I am happily married to a romantic man who often inspires me with his thoughtfulness. We have a yours, mine, and ours family, claiming eleven children as our own. I have always written books, forcing my ten sisters to read every word, and now my daughters read and help me edit my manuscripts. It is fun to take all the research I have done on wild animals, raptors, vampires, weather, and volcanoes and put it together with romance.Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:
THE small launch chugged up the fast-moving river at a pace that allowed the group of travelers to see the surrounding forest. Thousands of trees competed for space, as far as the eye could see. Creeping vines and plants hung low, some sweeping the water’s surface. Brilliantly colored parrots, lorikeets and kingfishers flitted continually from branch to branch, so that the foliage appeared to be alive with movement.
“It’s so beautiful here,” Amy Somber said, turning away from the forest to look at the others. “But all I can think about is snakes and leeches and mosquitoes.”
“And the humidity,” Simon Freeman added, unbuttoning the top two buttons of his shirt. “I’m always sweating like a pig.”
“It is oppressive,” Duncan Powell agreed. “I feel like I’m suffocating.”
“That’s strange,” Rachael Lospostos said. And it was strange. The humidity didn’t bother her at all. The heavy trees and creeping vines sent blood singing through her veins, making her feel more alive than ever. She lifted the heavy mass of thick dark hair from her neck. She’d always worn it long in memory of her mother, but had sacrificed it for the sake of a very good cause—saving her own life. “I really love it here. I can’t imagine anyone lucky enough to live here.” She exchanged a small smile of camaraderie with Kim Pang, their guide.
He nodded toward the forest and Rachael caught a glimpse of a noisy troop of long-tailed macaques leaping from branch to branch. She smiled as she heard the rasping call of the sap-sucking cicadas even above the roar of the water.
“I like it too,” Don Gregson admitted. He was the acknowledged and respected leader of their group, a man who often visited the rain forest and raised funds for medical supplies for regions in need.
Rachael stared into the rich, lush forest, longing growing in her with a strength that shook her. She heard the continual call of the birds, so many of them, saw them flitting from branch to branch, always busy, always in flight. She had a mad desire to dive out of the boat and swim away to disappear into the dark interior.
The boat hit a particularly choppy wave and threw her against Simon. She had always had a good figure, even as a young girl, developing quickly with lush curves and a woman’s generous body. Simon pressed her close when he caught her courteously, her breasts mashing against his chest. His hands slid down her spine unnecessarily. She dug her thumb into his ribs, smiling sweetly as she extracted herself from his arms.
“Thanks, Simon, the currents seems to be getting stronger.” There was no annoyance in her voice. Her expression was serene, innocent. It was impossible for him to see the smoldering anger at the way he took every opportunity to touch her. She glanced at Kim Pang. He saw everything, his expression every bit as tranquil as hers, but he had noted the position of Simon’s roving hands. “Why is the river becoming so wild and choppy, Kim?”
“Rain upriver, there is much flooding. I warned you, but Don consulted with another and was told the river was passable. As we get farther upriver, we shall see.”
“I thought a series of storms was coming,” Don defended. “I checked the weather this morning.”
“Yes, the wind smells of rain.”
“At least with the wind blowing so hard, the bugs leave us alone,” Amy said. “I am waiting for the day I don’t have fifty bites on me.”
There was a long silence while the wind tugged at their clothing and whipped through their hair. Rachael kept her gaze on the shore and the trees with their branches raised to the rolling clouds. Once she saw a snake coiled around a low-lying branch and another time she spotted flying fox hanging in the trees. The world seemed a rich and wonderful place. A place far from people. Far from deceit and treachery. A place in which one might be able to vanish without a trace. It was a dream she meant to make a reality.
“The storm is coming. We have to take shelter fast. If we’re caught on the river, we could all drown.” Kim Pang delivered the ominous warning, startling her. She’d been so absorbed in the forest she hadn’t been paying attention to the darkening sky and spinning clouds.
A collective gasp of alarm went up from the small group and instinctively they huddled closer together in the power launch, hoping Kim could get them upriver before the storm broke.
A surge of adrenaline rushed through Rachael’s bloodstream, triggering a rush of hope. This was the chance she’d been waiting for. She lifted her face to the sky, smelled the storm in the wild wind and felt droplets on her skin.
“Be careful, Rachael,” Simon advised, tugging at her arm, wanting her to hang on to the edges of the boat as they whipped through the choppy water toward the encampment upriver. He had to shout the words to be heard above the roar of the water.
Rachael smiled at him and obediently caught at the boat, not wanting to appear different in any way. Someone was trying to kill her. Maybe even Simon. She wasn’t about to trust anyone. She’d learned that lesson the hard way, more than once before it sank in, and she wasn’t about to make the same mistakes again. A smile and a word of warning didn’t mean friendship.
“I wish we’d waited. I don’t know why we listened to that old man saying today was the best day for travel,” Simon continued, yelling the words in her ear. “First we wait through two nearly clear days because the omens were bad and then on the word of some man with no teeth we just all climb in the launch like sheep.”
Rachael remembered the old man with shifty eyes and great gaps where his teeth should have been. Most of the people they met were friendly, more than friendly. Laughing and always willing to share everything they had, the people along the river lived simply yet happily. The old man had bothered her. He sought them out, talking Don Gregson into leaving in spite of Kim Pang’s obvious reluctance. Kim had nearly backed out of guiding them to the village, but the people needed the medicine and he guarded it carefully.
“Is the medicine worth money to the bandits?” She shouted the question to Simon above the roar of the river. Bandits were reputed to be commonplace along the river systems of Indochina. They had been warned by more than one friendly source to be cautious as they continued upriver.
“Not only the medicine, but we are too,” Simon confirmed. “There’s been a rash of kidnappings by some rebel groups to supposedly raise money for their cause.”
“What’s their cause?” Rachael asked curiously.
“To get richer.” Simon laughed at his own joke.
The boat bumped over the water, jarring them all, shooting sprays of water into their faces and hair. “I hate this place,” Simon complained. “I hate everything about this place. How could you want to live here?”
“Really?” Rachael looked into the jungle as they rushed by. Tall trees, so many blurring together she couldn’t tell one from the other, but they looked inviting. A refuge. Her sanctuary. “It’s beautiful to me.”
“Even the snakes?” The boat pitched wildly and Simon grabbed for a hold to keep from being thrown overboard.
“There are snakes everywhere,” Rachael replied softly, unheard above the roar of the river.
She had been careful to disappear from her home in the States, had planned out each step carefully, with patience. Knowing she was watched, she had gone casually to the department store and paid a huge sum of money to a stranger to walk out wearing her trendy clothes, dark glasses and jacket. Rachael paid attention to details. Even the shoes were the same. The wig was perfection. The woman strolled slowly along the street, window-shopping, picked a large store, changed clothes in the rest room and walked away a good deal wealthier than she had ever imagined. Rachael should have disappeared without a trace right then.
She purchased a passport and identification in the name of a woman long deceased and made her way to a different state, joined a church group on a medical relief tour of the remote areas of Malaysia, Borneo and Indochina. She managed to escape the United States undetected. Her plan had been brilliant. Except it didn’t work. Someone found her. Two days earlier a cobra found its way into her locked room. Rachael knew it wasn’t a coincidence. The cobra had been deliberately planted in her room. She had been lucky to see it before it had a chance to bite her, but she knew better than to depend on luck. Anyone she met could be a paid assassin. She had no choice but to die, and the storm would provide the perfect opportunity.
Rachael was comfortable in a world of deceit and treachery. She knew no other way of life. She knew better than to depend on anyone else. Her existence would have to be solitary if she managed to survive. She kept her face averted from the others, loving the feel of the wind. The humidity should have been oppressive, but she felt it as a shroud, a blanket of protection. The forest called to her with the fragrance of orchids, with the cry of the birds and the hum of insects. Where others cringed at every sound and looked around fearfully, she embraced the heat and the moisture. She knew she had come home.
The boat rounded a bend and headed for the rickety pier. A collective sigh of relief went up. All of them could hear the roar of falls in the distance and the current was increasing in strength. The men worked to maneuver the boat to the small dock. One lone man stood waiting for them. The wind tore at his clothes. He stared into the surrounding forest nervously but stepped onto the shaky muddy platform that served as a landing, raising his hand to catch the rope thrown to him by Kim Pang.
Rachael could see beads of sweat on his forehead and dripping down his neck. His shirt was stained with sweat. It was humid, but it wasn’t that humid. She looked carefully around, her hands automatically reaching for her backpack. She needed the contents for survival. She noted that the man tying off the rope to their launch was shaking, his hands trembling so much he had difficulty with the knot. He suddenly dropped flat, his hands covering his head.
The world erupted into a nightmare of bullets and chaos. Amy’s high-pitched screaming sent birds shrieking out of the treetops, rising upward toward the boiling clouds. Smoke mixed with the veil of mist. Bandits poured out of the forest, waving guns wildly and shouting orders that couldn’t be heard above the roar of the river. Beside her, Simon suddenly slumped down into the bottom of the boat. Don Gregson bent over him. Duncan dragged Amy to the bottom of the boat and reached for Rachael. Eluding Duncan’s hands, Rachael quietly pulled on her backpack and snapped the safety catch around her middle. Kim frantically tried to cut through the rope tying them to shore. Whispering a silent prayer for the others and for her own safety, Rachael went over the side of the boat, slipped into the fast-moving water and was immediately swept downstream.
As if on cue, the heavens opened up and poured down a wall of water, feeding the strength of the river. Debris churned and raced by her. She kept her feet drawn up in an effort to avoid any rocks or snags. It was difficult to keep her head above the choppy waves, but she struggled to keep the water from her mouth and nose as she allowed the current to carry her away from the bandits running toward the launch. No one saw her in the swirling rush of tree branches, leaves and foliage being carried rapidly downriver. Again and again she went under and had to fight her way to the surface. Coughing and choking, feeling as if she’d swallowed half of the river, Rachael began an attempt to catch at one or two of the larger trees the force of the water had toppled. The first one she missed and her heart nearly stopped as she felt the pull of the water dragging her downward again. She wasn’t certain she had enough strength left to fight the monstrous suction of the river.
Her sleeve caught on a snag below the surface, jerking her to a standstill while the water swirled around her. She clawed frantically for a branch. Leaves came away in her hand. The water tugged relentlessly, pulling at her clothes. One boot flew off and spun away from her. Her fingertips found the rounded edge of a thick branch and dug in. Her shirt ripped and the water claimed her, pouring over her head, forcing her toward the bottom. Somehow she hung on to the stationary branch. Rachael wrapped both arms around it and hugged it tightly, once more breaking the surface with her face, gasping for air, shivering with terror. She was a strong swimmer, but there was no way she could stay alive in the raging waters.
Rachael clung to the branch, fighting for air. She was already exhausted, her arms and legs leaden. Although she had gone with the current, trying to keep her head above water had been a terrible fight. Even now the water fought to get her back, pulling at her, dragging at her body continually. When she was able she edged along the fallen tree until she was wedged between the trunk and the branch and could pull herself up enough to gain the massive root system. She was on the far side of the river now, away from the rebels and hopefully too difficult too see in the downpour.
Concentrating on each inch she could gain, Rachael began to scoot onto the closest branch. A snake struck her hip and was swept away. She couldn’t tell if it was alive or dead but it set her heart pounding all over again. Cautiously she stretched her body along the root, pulled herself up out of the water, lying there panting, afraid of her precarious position. One wrong move could send her toppling back into the water. The tree shuddered as the water tried to pull it free of its anchor.
The branch was slick with mud from the embankment where it had torn lose, but it formed a bridge of sorts to the shore. It seemed a million miles away. All the while the rain poured down, adding to the slippery surface. Rachael wrapped her arms around the root and slowly scooted, inch by inch, over the twisting, curving limb. Several times she slipped and had to hug the root, her heart pounding until she regained her courage and could continue forward. An eternity later she managed to step onto the bank. Her foot sank into mire that sucked at her boot when she tried to pull it free.
Rachael took the remaining boot off and threw it far out into the water, away from the trees where it might get stuck and call attention to where she had managed to get ashore. Her one hope was that the tree, holding on by a few precarious roots, would be swept downstream, leaving no trace of her escape.
Barefoot, mud squishing between her toes, soaked and shaking with fear, Rachael crawled over the marsh to the edge of the tree line. Only then did she try to see what was happening on the opposite shore. She had been swept hundreds of yards downstream and the pounding rain formed a nearly impenetrable curtain. Rachael sank down behind foliage, peering through the sheets of rain as she donned her spare boots, brought along for the very purpose of sacrificing her other pair should she have the opportunity to go overboard. She hadn’t counted on such a wild current, but the chance to make an escape, in spite of the danger, was too good to turn down.
The bandits seemed to be angry, herding those remaining alive into a small shivering group. They were all shaking their heads. Several men paced along the riverbank looking for something . . . or someone. Rachael’s heart sank. She had a sneaking suspicion the raid had been aimed at killing her. What better way to insure her death than to have her meet with a stray bullet while they rounded up prisoners to ransom? Kid...
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Descrizione libro Thorndike Press, 2004. Hardcover. Condizione libro: New. book. Codice libro della libreria 786262982
Descrizione libro Thorndike Press, 2004. Hardcover. Condizione libro: New. book. Codice libro della libreria 0786262982
Descrizione libro Thorndike Press, 2004. Hardcover. Condizione libro: New. Codice libro della libreria P110786262982