Home > Diamond Bay (Rescues #2)(6)

Diamond Bay (Rescues #2)(6)
Author: Linda Howard

Of course it was cool! She brought herself up sharply, shaking her head to clear it of the cobwebs of fatigue. He'd been in the water for God only knew how long, but he'd been swimming, however weakly, the first time she'd seen him, and she was letting precious seconds tick past when she should be acting.

It took every ounce of strength she had to roll him onto his stomach, because he wasn't a small man, and the bright starlight revealed that he was solid muscle. Panting, she straddled him and began the rhythmic push-pull action that would stimulate his lungs. That was another thing her grandfather had taught her, and taught her well. Her arms and hands were strong from the gardening and swimming she did, and she worked on the man until she was rewarded by a choking cough and a stream of water gushing out of his mouth.

"There you go," she breathed, not ceasing her efforts. He went into a paroxysm of coughing, his body heaving beneath her; then he groaned hoarsely and shuddered before going limp.

Rachel quickly rolled him onto his back again, bending anxiously over him. His breathing was audible now. It was too rapid and too ragged, but he was definitely breathing. His eyes were closed, and his head rolled to the side when she shook him. He was unconscious.

She sank back on her heels, shivering as the ocean breeze went right through the wet shirt she wore, and stared at the dark head that rested on the sand. Only then did she notice the clumsy binding around his shoulder. She reached to pull it away, thinking that perhaps it was the remnants of the shirt he'd been wearing when he suffered whatever accident had cast him into the ocean. But the wet fabric beneath her fingers was denim, too heavy for a shirt in this weather, and it had been tied into a knot. She pulled at it again, and part of the fabric came away. It had been folded into a pad and shoved under the knot, and high on his shoulder was a wound, a round, obscene mouth where there shouldn't have been one, showing black in the colorless light.

Rachel stared at the wound, her mind jolting with realization. He'd been shot! She'd seen too many gunshot wounds not to recognize one, even in the pale light of the stars that reduced everything to silvery gleam and black shadows. Her head whipped around and she stared out to sea, straining her eyes to see the telltale pinpoint of light that would warn of a boat, but there was nothing. All her senses were alert, her nerves tingling, and she was instantly wary. People didn't get shot without reason, and it was logical to assume that whoever had shot him the first time would be willing to do so again.

He had to have help, but there was no way she could throw him over her shoulder and carry him up to the house. She stood, scanning the dark sea again to make certain she hadn't missed anything, but the expanse of water was empty. She would have to leave him here, at least for as long as it would take her to run up to the house and back.

Once the decision was made Rachel didn't vacillate. Bending, she grasped the man under his shoulders and dug her heels into the sand, grunting with the effort as she pulled him far enough out of the water that the incoming tide wouldn't lap around him before she could get back. Even in the depths of unconsciousness he felt the pain she caused him by tugging on his wounded shoulder and gave a low, hoarse moan. Rachel winced and felt her eyes burn momentarily, but it was something she had to do. When she judged that he was far enough up the beach she let his shoulders down on the sand as easily as she could, muttering a breathless apology to him even though she knew he couldn't hear her. "I'll be right back," she assured him, touching his wet face briefly. Then she ran.

Normally the path up the beach and through the stand of, pines seemed like a fairly short one, but tonight it stretched endlessly ahead of her. She ran, not caring about stubbing her bare toes on exposed roots, heedless of the small branches that caught at her shirt. One such limb was strong enough to catch her shirt, halting her flight in mid-step. Rachel threw her entire weight against the fabric, too frantic to pause to untangle it. With a sodden ripping sound the shirt tore, and she was free to resume her wild plunge up the slope.

The welcoming lights of her small house were a beacon in the night, the house an oasis of safety and familiarity, but something had gone very wrong, and she couldn't shut herself inside its refuge. The life of the man on the beach depended on her.

Joe had heard her coming. He stood on the edge of the porch with his hackles raised and a low, rumbling growl issuing from his throat. She could see him silhouetted by the porch light as she sprinted across the yard, but she didn't have time to calm him down. If he bit her, he bit her. She would worry about that later. But Joe didn't even glance at her as she bounded up the steps and slammed the screen door back on its hinges. He remained on guard, facing the pines and the beach, every muscle quivering as he placed himself between Rachel and whatever had sent her flying through the night.

Rachel grabbed the phone, trying to control her breathing so she would be able to talk coherently. Her hands were shaking as she fumbled through the telephone book, looking for an ambulance listing, or a rescue squadmaybe the sheriffs department. Anyone! She dropped the book and swore violently, leaning down to grab it again. Rescue squadthey would have paramedics, and the man needed medical attention more than he needed a police report made out on him.

She found the number and was punching it out, when suddenly her hand froze, and she stared at the phone. A police report. She didn't know why, couldn't logically explain it to herself right then, but abruptly she knew she had to keep this quiet, at least for now. The instincts she had developed during her years as an investigative reporter were sending off steady warning signals, and she obeyed them now as she had obeyed them then. She slammed the receiver back onto its hook, shaking as she stood there and tried to force her thoughts into order.

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