Authors: Margaret Daley
Tags: #Harlequin author, #Debra Webb, #Carla Cassidy, #Romantic suspense, #Rita Herron
She would go to Mark’s place in Rio and find out what she could about his whereabouts. Since he was no longer at the hotel in Manaus, maybe he had returned to Rio and wasn’t in his apartment at the moment. She would keep calling until she had to leave the next morning. She prayed she was panicking for no reason.
Thirty minutes later she was on her way home to pack for Brazil, having left a stunned Nell behind to run the bookstore. When she had thought about a vacation in a warm, exotic place last week, this wasn’t how she had envisioned planning it. Samantha had imagined herself going to a travel agent and getting plenty of brochures on different tropical locales. Then she would have gone home, spread them all out on her kitchen table, and slowly read through each one until she had narrowed her selection down to one. Everything would have been done in an orderly, slow fashion. Wasn’t part of the joy of a vacation the anticipation beforehand?
While sitting at a stoplight, her conversation with Nell returned to Samantha’s mind.
“I can’t believe you’re dropping everything to go to Brazil to look for your brother! This isn’t you. You don’t do things like this,” Nell had said.
“My brother doesn’t disappear like this either. I can’t sit here and wonder what’s happened to him. I’ve got to find out. I can’t get any answers over the phone.”
“So you’re flying thousands of miles to get some answers?”
“Do you know of a better way?”
Nell had shaken her head. “Don’t worry about the shop. I’ll take care of it. If your brother calls, what should I tell him?”
“Find out where he is and tell him to stay put. I’ll check in with you every few days.” Horns blared behind Samantha, and she realized she was sitting at a green light with angry motorists waiting on her. Embarrassed, she gunned her engine and sped forward.
She welcomed the familiarity of her small house, and before attempting to pack, she fixed herself a cup of hot tea and sat down at the kitchen table to organize what she had to do in the next twelve hours before she left for Rio.
Passport. Thank goodness she had one from that aborted trip to Europe.
Clothes? What kind of clothes should she take to Rio? Wasn’t it summer there? Clothing for a hot, humid environment. A couple of sundresses. Maybe a pair or two of shorts. A bathing suit. Sandals.
The last thing Samantha put on her list of necessities was the latest book she was reading,
. It was part of a shipment that had arrived at the store the previous day. Samantha had been drawn to the title because of Mark, but now she could hardly put it down. It was an engrossing tale of adventure and intrigue by a new author whom Samantha thought would go far. She had gotten to the part where the hero had just rescued the heroine from a tribe of headhunters and they were fleeing for their lives.
With her list completed, she began packing and finished at eleven. After showering and getting ready for bed, she tried to sleep, but her mind danced with images of her brother, herself, and his unknown enemy. She sat up in bed, switched on the light, and started reading the next chapter of her book.
Harper swung the machete, striking the thick undergrowth over and over. The swish of the blade filled the jungle stillness with the urgency of their escape. Diana clung to Harper’s hand, glancing constantly over her shoulders as they raced through the jungle. She could hear the Indians behind her. She could imagine their savage faces as the headhunters followed, so sure she and Harper would be caught. This was the headhunters’ territory. They ruled it as they had for hundreds of years: by fear.
Samantha was immediately whisked into another world and didn’t put the novel down until she couldn’t keep her eyelids open another minute. She glanced at her bedside clock and gasped. It was three in the morning. She had to leave at seven!
Sleep finally descended, but it was a restless sleep, saturated with pictures of painted Indians with lip discs and spears tipped in poison. Samantha tossed and turned, visualizing herself as Diana as she last read about her: standing at the top of a waterfall with a rushing river in front of her and the headhunters in back. Either way Diana went appeared to be instant death.
Cold reality returned the next morning as Samantha hurried to make her flight to Rio via Miami. She wasn’t able to catch her breath until the plane was in the air and the meal was being served.
Then the idea of what she was doing struck her with a powerful impact. She was flying down to Rio with one day’s notice, trying to locate her brother in one of the largest countries in the world. She wasn’t a detective and really knew nothing, other than what she had read, about what a detective did to find a missing person.
What was happening to the sensible, logical woman she was?
That question returned to plague her in Rio as she waited while her brother’s neighbor, whom Mark had said always had his spare key, let her into Mark’s place. Before her lay the wreckage of a once presentable bachelor’s apartment.
Everything was torn or shattered, nothing left untouched. Someone had searched this place very thoroughly, and she knew it was connected with Mark’s mysterious phone call the week before.
Samantha moved slowly into her brother’s apartment. Suddenly she knew the fear Diana felt looking down at the rushing river. And Samantha knew what she had to do next: go to the Amazon to Manaus.
Brock Slader watched the dark Latin man sitting across the table. He had dreaded this meeting, and now Brock paused to sip his thick Brazilian coffee and try to gain some control of himself, of the situation. The conversation was not going the way he had hoped.
Brock welcomed the stirring of the air from the overhead fan as his gray eyes met the man’s black ones. Each appraised the other. Brock concluded that the Latin meant every word of his threat.
Brock set his cup down and stared into the man’s dark eyes. “Okay,” he replied, “I’ll do it. It seems I don’t have any other choice.”
“No, my friend, you don’t.” The Latin stood, shook his hand, and left.
Disgusted, Brock tossed a few bills onto the table and started for the lobby of the hotel where he had to wait. He found a lumpy chair that had a clear view of the front door and sat down.
* * *
Samantha entered the lobby of the Grand Hotel and instantly understood why Mark had said the hotel didn’t live up to its name. The furniture with its faded material and scratched wood had seen better days. The tiles were worn and several ceiling fans were the only means of cooling the room. The humidity of the jungle city at the “wedding” of two mighty rivers, the Amazon and the Rio Negro, was stifling.
But at the moment Samantha didn’t care about those things. She only wanted to locate her brother, and this was the last place he had been heard from. Mark hadn’t returned to Rio as she had hoped; no one there had seen him in weeks.
She squared her shoulders and walked up to the reception desk, setting her suitcase on the floor beside her, then rummaging through her purse until she found the pamphlet she had been looking for. Spanish for the Traveler was the only thing she had had in her store, and though she had known Spanish wasn’t the official language of Brazil, she had grabbed it as she had left her store.
She flipped through the pamphlet until she came to the phrase she wanted, praying her high school Spanish would be enough in a country that spoke Portuguese. Why hadn’t she stocked up on some phrase books in Portuguese?
“Do you speak English?” Samantha winced at her awful imitation of Spanish. She had barely made passing grades in the subject in high school.
The young man behind the desk frowned and looked at her questioningly.
“Uhh…” Samantha scanned her phrase book. Weren’t the Portuguese and Spanish languages alike, at least enough for her to be understood? She tried again in her stilted Spanish, “Do you speak Spanish?”
The clerk began to speak rapidly, but not in Spanish or English. Samantha didn’t understand a word he said. Why did Brazil have to be the only country in South America that didn’t speak Spanish? Then she would at least have a fighting chance—well, maybe a fighting chance to be understood.
Samantha held up her hand to stop his flow of words, but it seemed he didn’t even understand sign language. She glanced about frantically, and her gaze collided with a man’s across the lobby. Amusement brightened his gray eyes. He rose to his feet and strode toward her in one fluid motion.
“May I help?” he asked in flawless English with a slight Texan drawl.
“You’re American!” Relief fluttered through her, and she smiled.
“I couldn’t help overhearing your little exchange with this gentleman. Trouble, ma’am?”
His silver-bright eyes took an inventory of her features and left a heated trail where they roamed. He catalogued and assessed, all in a minute’s time.
Samantha blushed. She waved her clutch purse in front of her face as if she were flushed because of the heat, not the stranger before her. She knew she should say something in reply to his question, but she kept wondering what the result of his appraisal was. She couldn’t tell by his closed look.
One of his dark eyebrows rose. “Ma’am?”
This heat must be affecting her brain. She couldn’t seem to form a simple answer as she returned his bold survey, cataloguing his features as roughly hewn and bronze, assessing his appearance as rugged and earthy.
The clerk behind the desk said something to the man, drawing his intense gaze from her and breaking his hypnotic hold. He answered in what Samantha supposed was Portuguese. But then for all she knew it could be Spanish.
She clutched her purse to her chest and finally said, “I don’t speak Portuguese, and I’m trying to find my brother, who was staying here.”
The stranger’s gaze shifted back to her, and she felt warm again. His look was penetratingly disconcerting, as though it could cut right through to the heart of a person.
“What’s your brother’s name?”
“I’ll see what I can find out," his gaze swerved to her left hand, “Miss Prince.”
For the next few minutes Samantha tried to follow the conversation but found her mind instead drawn to the man questioning the young clerk. His voice was deep and rich with a slightly husky timbre. He had broad shoulders and a muscular torso that tapered down to a narrow waist and slim hips. He was tall, with a self-confidence that Samantha didn’t see in many people. It was conveyed in how he walked, talked, carried himself.
“I’m sorry, but your brother isn’t here.”
She was so absorbed in her study of the man that it took a few seconds for Samantha to realize he was talking to her in English. She blinked, wishing she had been listening to what he had said, not how he had said it.
“Your brother isn’t here,” he repeated.
By the sparkling gleam in the stranger’s eye, Samantha could tell he knew why she hadn’t been paying attention, and it had had nothing to do with her concern for her brother’s welfare. “He was staying here last week. When did he check out?” She really wasn’t surprised that her brother wasn’t there. She had come to the hotel because it was a starting point for her in her search.
More words were exchanged between the men before he turned to her and said, “He didn’t check out.”
“I thought you said Mark isn’t here.”
He smiled, a slow uplifting of the corners of his mouth that could only be described as sexy. “He isn’t. It seems your brother skipped out on paying his bill a week ago.”
Shock stole her next words. But her shock quickly receded to be replaced by the fear that she had been fighting to control ever since her brother had called. Mark would never do that. Unless…
“Did he take his things with him?” Samantha asked, feeling as though the expansive lobby were rapidly moving in on her.
“No, this man put them in a back storeroom.”
“Please ask him if I may have them.”
The stranger spoke to the man, then said to Samantha, “For the price of your brother’s hotel bill.”
“How much?” Samantha asked warily. When he mentioned a ridiculously high amount, she exclaimed, “For this place?”
“I think he’s throwing in some for his trouble. It really isn’t all that much in American dollars. It just sounds like a lot in Brazilian currency.”
“Very well.” Samantha withdrew her wallet and counted out the money, practically slamming it down on the counter. She was frustrated, confused, tired, hot, and getting absolutely nowhere.
“Anything else, Miss Prince?”
She looked up at the man. “Yes. Would you please see if he has a room available for me?”
“Are you sure? There are better places to stay than at the Grand Hotel, especially for," his gaze traveled down the length of her then back up to her face,“ for a woman alone.”
“Are you staying here?” Her question came out in a breathless rush. She had never felt so possessed by a look and to surprise her even more, not in a bad way.
“Yes, but I’m—”
“A man,” she said dryly, ready to defend her female status.
He chuckled. “I am a man. I can’t deny that.”
And neither could Samantha as she matched the challenge in his eyes with one of her own. His regard held an intensity that she had seldom encountered, and yet it was strangely unfathomable.
“But that wasn’t what I was going to say, Miss Prince. I’m familiar with the language and you aren’t. No one here speaks English.”
“You should stay at one of the bigger hotels.”
“I can’t. My brother might return for his things.”
“Not if he skipped out.”
“But he didn’t! Something’s wrong. Mark isn’t like that.”
Surprise widened his eyes for a few seconds. “When was the last time you saw your brother?”
“Two years ago.”
“A lot can happen to a person in two years,” he said as though he knew from experience.
She lifted her chin, her eyes narrowing slightly. “I’m staying. It would be easier if you asked the clerk—please.”
The man shrugged and made the arrangements for a room for Samantha. The young clerk insisted that she pay for two nights in advance and again she dug into her wallet and paid the man his price. So this was what it was like to travel and stay in a hotel. Mrs. Carson could have it although she was sure her customer didn’t stay at places like the Grand Hotel.