Why the hell was she just standing there flipping through brochures? Move, Susan, move! He mentally shouted at her. So not to panic the hoards of travelers, one choice came to mind. He ran toward the beauty with short, cinnamon brown hair.
Two seconds before the goons got to her, Brax snatched up the startled female, her huge brown eyes round with surprise. Just as she opened her mouth to scream he covered it with an end-all kiss. A kiss that hit him like a stun gun. His improvised performance wasn't supposed to work that way. She tasted like raspberry lifesavers. He smelled a hint of gardenia perfume, and tried not to notice the sweetness of either. Or how good she felt in his arms.
Susan Murphy struggled in his hold, he went for broke with his kiss, then of a sudden, she melted into his embrace and flat got with the program.
Some moments later, he pulled his lips away from hers. "Susan... sweetheart, I thought I'd never reach you in time," he said loud enough so others could hear. Giving her his most tender smile, he added, "I'm not about to let you go on this honeymoon by yourself." He took her arm and hustled her toward the departure gates.
Susan let out a squawk, as if someone had punched her in the stomach.
Her two pursuers veered off looking befuddled, cursing, and angry they'd been thwarted for the moment. Excellent, Brax thought.
"Look," the woman said, "that was a great kiss and all, but either you have me mistaken for the wrong person, or my friends put you up to this. My name is Toni, Toni Deveaux. Who--"
"That's as good a name as any, but why the hell weren't you being more careful? They nearly had you."
"What are you talking about?"
"Where are your bags? Our plane leaves in twenty minutes. By the way, I think we're booked into the honeymoon suite at the King Kamahamaha. I hope you appreciate all the trouble and expense Murphy went to for your comfort."
She skidded to a stop, nearly dropping her brochures. "Who are you? What reservations?" She held up several bright tri-folds in front of his nose. "I was standing here minding my own business, just about decided on San Francisco, when you came at me with this shocking little performance."
"Yeah, yeah. Can it, Susan, and shake a leg, will you? It's a long way out to the gate."
"Excuse me? Must you act so rude? My friends at the library meant well, but this is not going to work. I prefer to pick my own vacation, thank you. Wait a minute," She panted. "Did you say honeymoon?"
Murphy hadn't mentioned his estranged wife had grown two heads. Or that she was a consummate actress. "Gorchenko's men are out of sight. You can stow the act, Susan." How the hell had his boss ever let this one go? Susan's eyes were chocolate dreams. Her body... well, he'd better not go there. Murphy would kill him for ogling Susan. Though they were divorcing, Brax knew his boss still loved this woman, so it was hands off. This Hawaiian wedding was a fake. The honeymoon only long enough to allow the feds to apprehend the creeps who murdered Susan's parents.
She wriggled from his grasp. "I'm not going another step until you tell me what's going on."
"Damn, we haven't time for this," he ground between clenched teeth. "Didn't Murphy tell you the plan?" Brax reached into his pocket and pulled out a ring box. "Name's Braxton Krieger," he said so only she could hear. "I work for your husband's agency."
Inside the box lay matching gold wedding bands. Susan's eyes rounded as she gasped. She couldn't seem to form words.
"We're getting married and honeymooning in Kona, Hawaii. You're to hole up there with me until -- Never mind. There isn't time. We'll discuss names for us, and the details, once we board. Now move your butt, Susan. Please, ma'am," he amended. "Murphy will have my hide if anything happens to you."
Suddenly the strangest look came over Susan. Something dawned, shone in her face as bright as the sun. Mischief glimmered in her gaze. She linked his arm with hers, smiling up at him as though thoroughly besotted. That dazzling grin was enough to undo his knee joints right on the spot. At least she was going along with this charade. At last.
"What a wonderful surprise. I've always wanted to go to Hawaii. You're such a darling to do this for us, Braxton."
It's about time, he groused in silence, afraid for a moment that he'd targeted the wrong woman. But no, she was Susan Murphy. Her picture proved it even without doing justice to her beauty. Ol' Murph sure knew how to pick 'em. Too bad they couldn't have held things together.
"You never answered me. Where are your bags?"
"Oh, I put them in a locker until I made up my mind where I wanted to go. My funds are minimal since Mom died, so my choices are limited. I shouldn't accept such an expensive gift as a trip to Hawaii. I never dreamed my friends could be so thoughtful, so generous."
Brax shook his head. Something didn't feel right, but he headed for the lockers she'd indicated on a near dead run. For a woman who'd just witnessed her parents' murder and had a couple of hit men after her, Susan seemed far too cheerful. He had expected a gaunt-looking, haunted and frightened woman to accompany him on this bogus wedding trip. This woman was drop dead gorgeous and behaved as if she just launched herself off to Lark City Adventures. Her situation was no joking matter. The illegal adoption ring wanted her dead and wouldn't stop until she no longer drew breath. Gorchenko's reputation spelled ruthlessness with a capital R.
Brax retrieved her bags from the locker and set them on the floor, pulled out her picture again from his shirt pocket to give it another looksee. Yep, this was Susan. No doubt about it. Lousy picture, though.
While Brax stood studying a photo, Toni's gaze fell to her bags, feeling like Alice on the edge of the rabbit's hole. Glancing again at the tall stranger, she wondered who was in the photo she saw this Brax character look at, then shove into his pocket? Reared too polite to ask, she kept silent.
Despite her good manners, she was hungry for a taste of life on the outside of a library and a sickroom. After her mother's funeral, her grief softened in time. Toni worked and had managed her meager funds so she could get away. Everyone said she needed a long vacation, but she compromised on a brief one.
It occurred to her this mistaken identity could be a golden opportunity she'd be a fool to miss. Mr. Krieger hardly looked as if he meant to do her harm. He smelled of English Leather. He'd tasted like nothing in her experience. Her lips still tingled like more. Perhaps her friends were right. It was time to let go and learn how to have fun.
Next thing she knew, Brax hustled her aboard a 757. "You realize I have no intention of really marrying you," she warned him. "I mean, you're good looking and no doubt a very nice guy when you aren't being so pushy, but I don't know you. I can't wait to see what happens when we land and you have to tell me the jig is up, that there really isn't going to be a wedding."
"Will you hush, Susan? Sit down and buckle up."
"Sir, yes, sir!" she saluted with a huge grin. He looked ready to spit nails. "Grouchy, aren't you? Well, I can't say you're to blame. I'd be plenty testy if a bunch of librarian assistants roped me into something as wild as this."
"Librarians... Susan, I said you don't have to keep this up. Just follow my lead when we get to Kona. We'll go through the matrimonial motions and then hole up until it's safe to take you back."
The back of Toni's neck prickled in warning. "Safe? I'm sorry, but I don't follow you. Do you have some kind of a mystery script you're following for this job? It's not bad, I guess. I mean, it's kind of fun when you think about it."
He sent her an incredulous look, leaned back in his seat and closed his eyes, shaking his head.
The plane taxied, rose, and pressed her into the seat. A thrill cascaded through her. What a wonderful feeling. Her first ever vacation. She listened with rapt attention to the flight attendant's instructions in the unlikely event they should crash in the water. Toni couldn't allow herself to worry, though.
She looked at her companion. He appeared tired, now that she studied his features. His dark hair needed combing and he sported at least a day's growth of beard.
"Are you going to sleep? What kind of a fiancé are you, anyway? I thought you were going to discuss our 'wedding plans' with me." Toni giggled at the silly idea. What a bunch of neat, crazy friends she had to give her such a wild gift.
She decided she would make the most of it and have the time of her life. Imagine what it would be like to really be marrying this slightly worn hunk. He was too good looking for his own good and probably knew it.
Brax lifted one eyelid to peek at her. "Yeah, I was hoping to grab a little shuteye. Haven't been to bed in nearly 27 hours. I'm just coming off an assignment in Guatemala, supposed to be on my way to Mexico for a month's rest. Murphy had other plans. He's still gimping around on that damned cane and couldn't go. I was elected because he trusts me to protect you."
"In that case, Murphy must like me."
Brax opened both eyes. "Just because you left him doesn't mean he quit caring."
Toni blinked. "I don't suppose it would do any good to tell you that I've never been married? Not even close, in fact." If she had been, she certainly wouldn't have walked out without a drastic reason.
He shook his head and again shut his eyes, leaned back. "For somebody who just watched her parents being shot to death, you are one weird lady. Must have warped your mind."
"Well, of all the -- If you ask me, this script is a little overdone, wouldn't you say? You aren't funny. My poor mother died from cancer, not bullets. I'm no longer amused, Mr. Krieger."
When she received no comeback, Toni frowned at Brax, but he didn't see it. His chest rose and fell evenly in slumber, his lips parted, lines in his face smoothed. The man was exhausted. Probably partied all night, if she were to guess.
She took the opportunity to look her fill, marveling at his rugged handsomeness. His dark blue eyes were closed now, but when open, they were the deepest blue she'd ever seen.
Brax had a strong jaw, a small scar on his chin, and what might have been a broken nose. None of it detracted from his looks.
Toni admitted a strong attraction to him, couldn't help it. Steady, girl, she told herself. She was smart enough to know she was as vulnerable to male attention, to male companionship, as any teenager high on her own hormones.
There never had been time for dating after college, and her mother's long history of illnesses kept Toni sequestered in their modest home ever since her father left. Ripe and willing is what most men would peg her if they knew. An unsung virgin spinster of thirty whose prospects grew dimmer every passing year.
The plane gave a mighty lurch and she grabbed Brax's arm. "Wh -- what's happening?" she said, squeezing his biceps in a death grip.
The plane continued to bump along the sky, and the only thing keeping Brax pinned in his seat was his lap belt when he shot up in alarm. He grabbed her shoulders. "What is it, Susan? Are you all right?"
"I keep telling you my name's Toni." She tried struggling from his grip. "Better you should ask me what's wrong with this plane? Are we going to crash?"
He scowled and gazed at her hard and deep. "You're as white as a sheet. Don't tell me you're afraid of flying?"
"I really couldn't say. This is the first time I've been on a plane. I didn't expect flying to feel like bounding over a rutted road."
Another tremor shook the plane and a strangled squeak discharged from her throat.
"Take it easy. We're just going through a little air turbulence. We're not in any danger, though we might be when we land, if those two goons follow us."
"This has gone far enough. Let go. You're beginning to scare the daylights out of me. What men? What are you talking about? This flaky honeymoon is all a joke isn't it? My friends at the library hired you, didn't they? And just who is Susan?"
Copyright © 2001 by Lee Emory