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~OCEANS OF FIRE: CHAPTER ONE~
Last Updated: March 06, 2015 11:14:48


Sea Storm by Christine Feehan

Bright colors; orange, pink and red streaked across the sky, turning the ocean into a living flame as the sun set low over the sea. Twenty feet below the surface of the water, Abigail Drake stilled, mesmerized by the sudden, rare beauty of fire pouring into the sea like molten lava.

The dolphins swimming in lazy circles around her took on a completely different appearance as the bands of orange shimmered through the water casting shadows everywhere. She was suddenly, acutely aware of night falling and that just a few feet away murky darkness could so easily hide danger. She knew better than to dive alone. It was one of the stupidest things she'd ever done, but she hadn't been able to resist when the day had been so perfect and she'd spotted the wild dolphins and knew they'd come looking for her.

Sea Haven on the northern California coast was her hometown. Abigail was one of seven sisters born to the seventh daughter of the magical Drake family, each gifted with unique talents. The Drake sisters were well known in Sea Haven, protected, cherished even, and it was the one place they could relax and be themselves. Except Abigail. Only here, in the sea, was she truly at peace.

The northern California coast was also home to several species of dolphin and she knew most of them, not only by sight, but also by their signature whistles. A signature whistle was as good as a name and most researchers agreed that dolphins used each other's name when communicating. This particular group of dolphins had a signature whistle for Abigail and she'd heard them calling to her as she stood on the captain's walk of her family home. She'd been away for months researching in other oceans far away, yet when she returned, the dolphins welcomed her home just like always.

A few years earlier she'd worked with this particular group of dolphins while earning her PHD, cataloguing them, each contact, every sighting, paying special attention to communication. She was intrigued by their language and wanted to be able to understand them. She'd worked with two of the males on understanding some sign language. Over the years, each time she came home, she visited with them, maintaining a relationship. Although none of her sisters had been available to dive with her, the call of 'her' dolphins had been irresistible and she'd taken out her boat to join them.

Federal law required a special permit to swim with wild dolphins in the United States and Abigail had been fortunate enough to be granted permission for her research off the California coast a second time, but she was careful to keep a low profile, not wanting to draw attention to the presence of the dolphins. They could travel fifty miles easily and were difficult to track on a daily basis, but this group, as well as many others, often called to her using the same whistle. It was very unusual to have the dolphins identify her and give her a name and she was particularly pleased that they knew she was back after her long absence.

Abigail rolled over and swam belly to belly with Kiwi, a large adult male who had formed a tight bond with Boscoe, another male. The two males normally swam in synchronization, their movements an astonishing underwater ballet. Boscoe curved his body in the exact motion at precisely the same time as Kiwi and swam close to Abigail as the three of them made a lazy loop together while several other dolphins danced in a long curving circle as if they had choreographed every move ahead of time.

Dancing with dolphins was exhilarating. Abigail studied, photographed and recorded dolphins, but tonight she was simply enjoying them. Her equipment, always with her, was nearly forgotten as they performed the strange, intriguing ballet for the next forty minutes. At first the red of the sinking sun spotlighted them in a fiery gold, but as dusk fell and the night darkened, it was much too difficult to continue as much as she wanted to stay.

Reluctantly, Abigail pointed to the surface and shifted position to begin her ascent. The dolphins swam around her in loose circles, their bodies flexible, unimpeded by their heavy muscles and enormous strength. It was surprising how the dolphins could rocket through the water, diving as deep as they did and using so little oxygen. Abigail found them fascinating.

She surfaced, pushing her mask on top of her head and lying back to float as she stared up at the big round ball in the sky. Her soft laughter echoed across the water. Waves lapped at her body and splashed over her face. She allowed her legs to gently sink so she could tread water as she stared in awe at the white caps, turned into sparkling jewels by the brilliance of the full moon.

Beside her, a bottlenose dolphin surfaced, circling her in a graceful loop. The dolphin shook its head from side to side, emitting a series of squeaks and clicks. She struck out for her boat, a lazy crawl, whistling to the dolphins in a short, chirpy goodbye she always used.

It took only a few minutes to stow her camera and recorder before climbing in. Shivering, she again glanced at her watch. Her sisters would be very worried and she was in for a lecture she knew she deserved. The dolphins poked their heads out of the water, grinning at her, round black eyes shining with intelligence.

"I'm going to get in big trouble thanks to you two," she told the males.

They shook their heads at her in perfect synchronization and dove together, disappearing beneath the surface only to come up on the other side of her boat, whistling and squawking at her. Abigail shook her head just as firmly. "No! It's dark or it would be if the moon weren't so full. You two are really trying to get me one of Sarah's lectures. When she starts, the rest of us cringe."

While she had everything fresh in her mind, she sank down onto the cushioned seat and hastily scribbled notes on her observations. She recorded everything to look at later, but she always dictated while she was driving the boat after first jotting down details of sightings and any identifying marks of new dolphins in the area. It was important to her study to get DNA samples to test for pesticides and any other manmade toxins in the dolphins systems as well as for communicable diseases and of course, family ties.

Boscoe whistled, a distinct note that made her smile. Abigail leaned over the side of the boat. "Thanks for giving me a name, boys, but it isn't enough to make me risk a Sarah lecture. I'll see you tomorrow if you haven't taken off."

She'd let the time get away from her so that darkness had really fallen as she wrote out her notes. She was still a good distance from home and she heaved a sigh, knowing she wouldn't get away unscathed this time. Sarah, her oldest sister, was certain to be waiting, tapping her foot, hands on hips. The image made her smile.

The moon spilled brightly onto the water, forming mystical fantasy pools of liquid silver on the surface. Small white caps glistened across the sea as far as she could see, adding to the beauty. She turned her face up to feel the slight breeze as she started the engine and began to make her way back to the small harbor where she kept her boat. She'd gone several miles out to sea to join the dolphins and she was grateful for the moon as she picked up speed to reach the coastline. Boscoe and Kiwi raced along beside her, zooming through the water like rockets and leaping playfully.

"Showoffs," she called, laughing. Their acrobatics delighted her and they followed her right through the narrows beneath the bridge into the harbor.

Without warning, the two male dolphins raced directly in front of her boat, criss-crossing so close she throttled down, shocked by their behavior and terrified for them. They continued to repeat the maneuver, over and over until she had no choice but to halt her boat just inside the harbor, the wharf in sight.

"Kiwi! Boscoe! What are you doing? You're going to get hurt!" Abigail's heart leapt to her throat. The dolphins often rode the bow of the boat, leaping and performing in the current, but they never repeatedly crossed so close in front of the boat. The large males kept surfacing, side by side, standing on their tails and chattering at her. She had no recourse but to stop the engine completely and drift in the sea to keep them from injury. Here, the swells were larger, so that the boat was tossed a bit by the heavier waves at the mouth of the harbor.

The moment the engine was quiet, Kiwi and Boscoe returned to the side of the boat, spitting water at her from the side of their mouths and shaking theirs head vigorously as if to tell her something. Several other dolphins poked their heads out of the water, spy-hopping as they looked toward the wharf. She knew spy-hopping was a common practice dolphins and whales used to view the world outside of their water environment by simply sticking their heads high in the air above of the surface. They seemed to be looking for something outside the water.

Abigail sat still for a moment, baffled by their unusual behavior. She'd never seen either male dolphin act in such a way. They were highly agitated. Dolphins were enormously strong and fast and could be dangerous and bottlenose males sometimes formed coalitions with other males and herded a lone female until they captured her. Surely they weren't doing such a thing with her? Had they formed a coalition with the rest of the male groups to keep her from the harbor?

She glanced from them to shore. The moon spilled light across the dark waters and the wooden boards that ran out over the water. Buildings rose up, two restaurants with glass facing the sea, illuminated by the moonlight, but the businesses were closed and the harbor was devoid of the bustle of activity that took place during the day.

Her boat rose with the waves and slid deeper into the calmer waters of the harbor itself. Sounds drifted across the bay, voices, muted at first then rising as if in anger. Abigail immediately scooped up her binoculars and focused her attention on the wharf. A party fishing boat was tied up as usual beside the restaurant. Just beyond the wharf was a second pier in front of a metal business building. A fishing boat was moored there, which was highly unusual. The fishing boats used the other side of the harbor and she'd never seen one tied up close to the businesses.

A small speedboat, a Zodiac, engine humming softly, was moored beside the fishing boat. She could make out at least three men in the speedboat. One, wearing a plaid shirt had his arm extended and looking closely she suddenly feared he held a gun. A second man stood up. The action put him directly in the moonlight. It spilled across him revealing his salt and pepper hair, navy shirt and the gun in his hand. Both guns were pointed at a third man who was sitting.

White tendrils of fog had begun to float from the sea toward shore, forming ghostly fingers, obscuring her vision even as her boat drifted closer to the wharf. She blew softly into the air, raised her arms slightly to bring the wind. It rushed past her, taking the streamers of gray mist with it, clearing the way across the expanse of water.

Someone spoke harshly in what sounded to her like Russian. The man sitting replied in English, but the ocean boomed against the pier as her boat drifted even closer and she couldn't hear the words. Abigail held her breath as the sitting man launched himself at the one in the plaid shirt. The man in the navy shirt picked up a lifejacket, held it over the muzzle of the gun and pressed it against the back of the victim's head as he struggled desperately for possession of the other gun.

"Shoot him now, Chernyshev! Shoot him now!" The voice carried clearly, thick with a Russian accent.

She heard the muffled explosion, a pop, pop, pop that Abigail knew would forever haunt her. The victim's body slowly crumbled and fell to the bottom of the boat. The fishing boat next to the pier moved slightly and both men turned their heads, one shouting an order.

Gasping, she realized the distinctively marked fishing boat was one she recognized. Gene Dockins and three of his sons ran a fishing business out of Noyo Harbor. The family lived in Sea Haven and was well liked. To her horror she saw Gene slowly rise from where he'd been crouching in the bottom of his boat. His hands were raised in surrender. He was a large bear of a man with wide, stooped shoulders and a shock of gray hair that fell to his ears in a shaggy bowl, wild and untamed like the sea going man he was.

Her breath caught in her throat and her heart began to pound. The man gestured with his gun for Gene to climb out of his boat. The fisherman went to the ladder, paused and dove into the sea just as the guns went off. Abigail knew by the way his body jerked as he fell, that Gene was hit, but she could see his arms move as he hit the water and went under. He was definitely still alive. The other two men cursed and began shooting into the darkened waters, guns spitting through lifejackets in an attempt to muffle the sound.

Abigail gave Boscoe's signature whistle, throwing her arm forward in a command, hoping the dolphin would obey. Though she only had a small ability for telepathy with her sisters, she had a much stronger connection to the dolphins and they often either understood, or anticipated what she wanted. Boscoe took off like a rocket, heading for the pier instantly and erupting with several squeaks and whistles that were clearly signals to the other dolphins in the pod.

As she reached for her radio to call for help, the two men in the speedboat spotted her. At once the man with the salt and pepper hair turned and brought up his arms in a two handed stance. Abigail's blood froze with sudden fear. Other than the sharp diver's knife attached to her belt and the long punch stick, a device of her own making she carried to ward off sharks in the event they attacked her during a dive, she had no weapons. No real way to protect herself. Bullets hissed into the water and thunked into the side of her boat. Snatching up the punch stick, she dove. Something hot sliced across her back and shoulder just as she hit the water. Salt stung adding to the burning pain, but then she went numb with the combination of adrenaline and the icy blast of the ocean.

She came up gasping, worried about more than just the pair of gun-wielding murderers. Ordinarily only sand and a few leopard sharks inhabited the harbor. The fishermen were meticulous about keeping any fish remains from the harbor waters, but several more dangerous species of sharks inhabited the waters along the coastline, preferring the shallow channels. The area was known to have great whites as there was a seal rookery close. With both she and Gene bleeding in the harbor's water she knew she had to get to safety as soon as possible. She faced away from the harbor, toward the cliffs of Sea Haven, lifting both arms up and out of the water, still clutching the punch stick in her hand as she called the wind and sent it across the ocean in a message to her sisters.

The speedboat was bearing down on her fast, both men firing at her. Bullets zipped through the water, one cut through the air so close to her ear she heard it as it whistled past and penetrated the water behind her. She dove again, kicking her legs up to get a faster push toward the deeper water, her heart pounding as the boat came up on her, the propeller cutting dangerously close.

She had to hurry, had to get to Gene. Boscoe, if he were holding Gene to the surface, would be vulnerable to attack from sharks, should any be drawn into the harbor. The dolphin couldn't hold the bleeding fisherman up for long if sharks became aggressive. Looking up through the motion of the water, she could see the two men peering over the edge of their now stationary boat, trying to get a shot at her. She moved carefully, knowing she had to come up for air and attack all at once. Kiwi brushed close to her in reassurance, and took off to the opposite side, drawing the attention of the two men by suddenly leaping out of the water almost in the face of the man with the plaid shirt on.

Kiwi signaled with a series of clicks as he leapt and Abigail lunged out of the water on the opposite side of the boat. Chernyshev's gun was tracking the dolphin as his partner fell back in alarm. Chernyshev fired off a round just as Abigail slammed the end of the punch stick against his calf and triggered it. He screamed as the blow was delivered with tremendous force, the sound muting as she disappeared back beneath the water.

The water closed over her head and Abigail kicked away strongly, swimming down a few feet for cover in the murkier depths and heading out to sea, away from where they would expect her to come up. Almost at once she felt the pull of the water tugging at her, grasping her body and rolling it. She was coming up on a shallow channel and the back wave was dragging her down.

Kiwi bumped her, sliding his fin almost under her hand in invitation and she grabbed with more instinct than thought. He took her through the stinging sand with a burst of speed and rocketed into the calmer waters of the harbor straight toward the pier. When she couldn't hold her breath any longer, she let go and kicked strongly for the surface, coming up choking, spinning wildly around to keep the speedboat in sight.

The speedboat was beside her own vessel and the man with the plaid shirt leaned in to grab something, before shoving off out toward open sea. Kiwi nudged her again, presenting his fin. He was clicking and squawking, pushing at her in urgency. She caught his fin and went under, allowing him to pull her through the water at a pace she'd never be able to go herself.

Kiwi halted abruptly just as Abigail was certain her lungs were deprived forever of air. She kicked strongly, anxious to rise to the surface. Something brushed against her back. Eerily, it felt like fingertips skimming across her shoulder blades and she spun around to find she was face to face with a dead man. His eyes were open and he stared at her in a kind of macabre horror, his dark hair floating like strands of seaweed and his face pale beneath the water. His arms were outstretched as if on a cross, yet swaying with the movement of the water and he rolled with the incoming wave, his body bumping against hers.

Her stomach lurched, and she gasped, losing her last bit of air and swallowing sea water. She kicked, desperate to reach the surface, her head breaking through as she coughed and gagged. Her eyes burned from the salt, or maybe from tears, but she dragged air into her lungs and caught at Kiwi a third time. Something scraped down the back of her leg as the dolphin pulled her through the water. A gray shadow slid noiselessly by.

Abigail fought the urge to try for the surface. She knew the skin of a shark was covered with hard tooth-like scales called dermal denticles and when rubbed from tail to head felt like sandpaper, the exact sensation she had down the back of her leg. Whatever had scraped her was following, trying to circle, but Kiwi was taking her through the water at a dizzying speed. Kiwi's echolocation was so precise they nearly hit Boscoe who was still valiantly keeping Gene's face above the water.

Astounded, Abigail watched as several dolphins began to ram sharks, driving them to the bottom hard so that debris rose from the floor of the ocean and churned in a dark mass. The normally docile sand and leopard sharks were aroused by the scent of blood. If a great white was in the vicinity, she was certain it would be rocketing through the water to join in the frenzy. She added to the melee, shoving her punch stick against a small shark and triggering the pressure block to deliver a forceful, powerful punch to the shark's nose in an effort to deter it. She reset the stick as quickly as she was able and swam to the pier.

Tossing the punch stick onto the wooden planks, Abigail attempted to pull herself out of the water. Her back burned and her arms protested. She fell back into the sea almost on top of a small shark. Kiwi rammed it, hitting it hard, driving it down toward the bottom as she made another try. Using one of the dolphins, as a stepping stone, she was able to drag herself out of the water far enough to gain a cross piece of wood to use as a ladder.

Immediately she reached down and snagged Gene's shirt, pulling him around and freeing Boscoe so the dolphins could swim away from the sharks. She hooked him under his shoulders and dragged him, wincing as she scraped his back against the wood. He was a big man and his water-logged clothing added to his weight. She struggled to hold him, whistling to the dolphins, begging for further aid. Boscoe returned, using his enormous strength to shove the unconscious man up and out of the water. She was able to pull Gene nearly all the way onto the pier, although his legs dangled over the edge. She saw Kiwi come up from a dive, blowing water from his air hole and dragging the dead man by the arm. As she reached down to get the stranger, she was horrified to see blood on the dolphin. The bullet must have skimmed him just as one had sliced across her. She dragged the dead man onto the pier, pulling him back behind her and away from Gene.

Abigail signed for Kiwi to go out to sea, to head for Sea Lion Cove. More than anything she wanted him safe after all he'd done for her, but she had to try to save Gene. She knew her sisters were out on the captain's walk. Worried. Waiting. Ready to help.

"Come on, Mr. Dockins, you can't die on me," she whispered. She had no idea how he'd gotten mixed up in this, but she didn't believe for one moment that he could have done anything illegal. She'd known him most of her life. His wife, Marsha, had often comforted her when other children were afraid to play with her. Gene had taken her out in his boat often and told her tales of the sea.

She could see where the three bullets had torn into his body, one in the shoulder, one in the chest and one had shaved skin from his skull. He was bleeding profusely now so she clamped down hard on the two worst wounds.

The back of her neck prickled in alarm. Somewhere, out at sea, a dolphin squawked a warning. She swung around, reaching for the punch stick, a pitiful weapon against a gun.

"Don't you move." The voice was low and shook with rage and the accent was not as distinct, but it was definitely Russian.

Abigail froze, her stomach clenching. The dolphins couldn't help her now. She could only hope that her sisters had sent aid and it was on the way. She sensed movement behind her, but she didn't hear footsteps. Her entire body tensed. She shifted slowly, enough so when she turned her head, she could see shoes and trousers. He was standing over the dead man.

A stream of Russian curses burst from his mouth. He stepped forward and grabbed her braid, yanking her head back to press the muzzle of his gun between her eyes hard. Her heart stopped. Her gaze collided with a pair of midnight blue eyes, black with ice-cold rage. There was a moment of absolute terror and then recognition fought its way into her brain. Her heart resumed its frantic pounding. She kicked out at him, suddenly furious herself, slapping the gun away from her face. "Get the hell away from me!"

"Calm down. I'm not going to hurt you." He tried to fend off the kicks to his shins. "Damn it, Abbey, what the hell are you doing here? Look at me! You know me. You know I would never hurt you. It's over. You're safe. I'm not going to let anything happen to you."

She choked back a sob and turned away from him, trying to regain control of herself. She hadn't seen those eyes in four years. Aleksandr Volstov, Interpol agent and heartbreaker extraordinaire. He was the last person she expected to see here. The last person she wanted to confront when she was on the verge of hysteria. Damn him anyway. She had the right to be hysterical after he shoved a gun in her face. Avoiding looking at him, she crawled over to Gene again and pressed her hands to the wounds to try to stop the flow of blood. He was deathly pale, and his lungs were laboring for air.

"Who did this, Abbey?"

She didn't look up. "Two men in a Zodiac. They took off out of the harbor and if you call the sheriff and coast guard, they may be able catch them."

"Did you get a look at them?"

"I'm trying to keep Gene alive and it takes concentration. I can't answer your questions right now."

"That man lying there dead is my partner, Abbey. Who did this?" There was ice in the voice, a warning.

She felt a shiver go down her spine but she kept her attention focused on the fisherman. "Call the coast guard, and an ambulance. I doubt if they were stupid enough to take the speedboat out to open sea where they could be caught, but you might get lucky. There are a few caves along the coastline large enough to hide that small of a boat and it's calm tonight so if they know what they're doing that's where they'll be."

Aleksandr crouched beside her and caught sight of the blood on her back and down the back of her leg. "You're hurt!"

"I've got to work on Gene," she protested when he tried to tug her to him.

"I'm sorry, lyubof maya, but this man cannot possibly live."

His gentle tone, a caress of black velvet, was almost her undoing and she turned on him, furious, fighting back tears. "Don't you tell me he won't live! The dolphins risked their lives for him and I'm not giving up. Just keep your enemies off my back while I do this."

It wasn't fair that she was angry with him. And maybe she wasn't. Her body was shaking with shock and overload of adrenaline. And she could feel her own wounds, burning and throbbing. Mostly she felt fear for Gene and his family. She wasn't Libby or Elle or even Hannah with their tremendous powers. Even Sarah would be better than Abigail, but she was all Gene had.

"And don't call me your love, either. I'm not your anything."

She raised her arms up over her head to bring the wind, to whisper a chant, a plea, a need for a joining, and she sent the wind out over the ocean to the cliff house where she knew her sisters waited. Where she knew, would always know, she was accepted, flawed or not, and they would always come to her aid when needed.

She heard the sirens fast approaching. She heard the boom of the sea and the song of the whales and her own heartbeat. There was a rhythm of life there, an ebb and flow that was continuous and strong. And she found Gene's heartbeat. Slow. Stuttering. Out of sync with the universal flow. "I've got you," she whispered softly. "I won't let you go."

Abigail didn't have a first aid kit, but she had the Drake magic. It welled up like a fountain, a power from deep within her, fed by the wind and sea. She could feel herself connecting with Hannah and Sarah, feel strength pouring into her as she placed one palm over Gene's head wound and the other over the small hole in his chest.

Wind rushed up from the surface of the sea. Dolphins leapt and somersaulted. At a distance, several whales breached. Power crackled in the air all around her. Through her. She felt Elle, her youngest sister join in, the rush of power welling up from somewhere inside Abigail to burn down her arms and into her palms. Kate's strength added to the steady stream. Joley joined in, her voice strong on the wind, her power pouring into Abigail. And then, from a distance, Libby joined them, aiding Abigail with her tremendous gift of healing. The surge was so strong she shook with the force of it, the burning in her palms so pronounced it was difficult to keep her hands steady over the wounds.

The wind blasted her face and brought with it the fog, obscuring all vision on the water so that she was wrapped in a silvery cocoon, kneeling there on the pier with Gene lying so still and Aleksandr's body heat warming her. The relief nearly overwhelmed her. Hannah and Joley and Elle were often conduits for power, but never Abigail. It was both frightening and exhilarating to feel the strength and heat pour from her into the mortally wounded fisherman. It wasn't the same as her gift, but much stronger and more focused. She felt his skin burn beneath her palm as if absorbing healing properties. She felt his chest rise as if Gene struggled for breath and she knew he lived, although his injuries were grave.

As the power faded, her legs gave out and she sank back onto the pier shaking, arms and legs like lead. The terrible price for having and using power was a debilitating weakness afterward. She lay helpless, listening to the waves lapping at the pier and the wailing of the sirens as vehicles filled the parking lots along the harbor.

"Abbey," Aleksandr's voice was gentle. He took off his jacket and spread it over her violently shaking body. "The paramedics are here. How bad are you hurt?"

She looked up at him. The lines and planes of his face so achingly familiar to her. Tears blurred her vision. Fog swirled above her head. She knew her sisters lay on the captain's walk, or wherever they had been when they had completed the joining, just as drained of strength. The wind fluttered softly without the power of the Drake sisters carrying it and she heard the last notes of Joley's incredible voice fade away.

Footsteps thundered toward her. The wooden planks of the pier creaked and groaned in protest, shaking beneath the weight of people running. She wondered if the boards would give out and she'd be dropped back in the ocean for sharks to feast on. She was definitely hysterical. It wasn't a good time to be staring into Aleksandr's eyes and wondering why his lashes were so long. Or wondering why she could never get his face out of her dreams. Why she heard his voice calling to her across oceans. Abigail closed her eyes and turned away from him.

"You. Stand up slowly with your hands where I can see them. Back away from her." She recognized Jonas Harrington, the sheriff. He was using his voice of total authority, which he did often, but this time it carried a hint of something deadly in it.

Abbey's heart contracted. Her eyes locked with Aleksandr's. His expression was hard, eyes, as cold as the arctic sea. She knew he could kill a man swiftly and efficiently, going from stillness to action in the single beat of a heart.

"Don't hurt him." The words escaped, so low they were barely discernable, but Aleksandr could read the fear so apparent on her face. And it wasn't for him.

"This is the sheriff and I'm ordering you to get your hands where I can see them and back away from the woman."

"Please." She whispered the plea to the Russian. Beside her, Aleksandr rose with unhurried ease. Calm. Cool. Never ruffled. He turned to face Jonas, his hands up, palm out.

"You." Jonas nearly spat the word. Jonas holstered his gun and reached down to check the pulse of the man lying so still. "Volstov. I should have known you'd be involved in this somehow. This man is dead. Who is he?"

"My partner. The ones who murdered him are out there somewhere." Aleksandr indicated the expanse of sea beyond the harbor.

Jonas examined Gene next. His eyes met the Russian's and he heaved a sigh as he went to Abigail. Jonas crouched down beside her, taking her hand. Jackson, one of the deputies stood at his back, facing out toward sea, but his body posture was clearly protective. "Let's get the medics in here, Jackson."

It occurred to Abigail that Jackson was being drawn into the Drake family circle whether he wanted to be or not. Jonas always had been there. Tough. Uncompromising. Someone to count on when things got bad. Her fingers wrapped around his wrist and held him there.

He glanced from her to Aleksandr and his face hardened perceptibly. "What's the damage, Abbey?"

She made an effort to tell him Gene needed immediate help. Jonas shook his head. "We'll get life flight en route, hon, we'll get him to San Francisco. The paramedics are with him. I want to take a look at you."

"Home." She managed the word, lying back to stare up at the wisps of drifting fog. She wanted to get home where she was safe. Surrounded by her sisters and protected by the walls of her house.

"I want them to examine you, Abbey, and don't give me any grief over it, either," Jonas said, moving back to give the paramedics room, but retaining possession of her hand.

"Libby," she said, trying to pull her hand away so she could push at the paramedics.

"Not Libby. She's going to be as weak as you are. Maybe weaker. Good old fashioned medicine will have to do," Jonas replied firmly as he stroked back her hair.

Aleksandr leaned over her. "What did they look like?" His fingertips brushed droplets of seawater from her face with exquisite gentleness. The pads of his fingers slipped over her cheekbone and then her lower lip.

She wanted to tell him, but the moment his face was in front of hers, tears burned and she hurt, inside and out. His touch sent butterflies winging in her stomach. As hard as she tried to form the words to describe what she had witnessed, nothing would come out. She turned her face away, closing her eyes in desperation.

Jonas immediately shifted position so that Aleksandr was forced to move back and break contact with Abigail.

"Can you talk, Abbey?" He asked.

His voice was so gentle she wanted to tell him to stop being nice. She really had to fight the tears. She shook her head.

"You'll have to question her later, Volstov," Jonas said abruptly.

Aleksandr lifted his gaze to the other man's face, a cold raking that would have given a lesser man pause, but Jonas didn't even flinch.

"We're going to shift you, Abbey," the paramedic said.

She opened her eyes and blinked several times to clear her vision. She'd gone to school with Bob Thornton. She nodded and helped roll so they could look at the back of her legs and shoulder. It hurt more when she moved. She was suddenly acutely aware of the wounds, when before it was mostly the terrible lethargy that distressed her.

"The bullet sliced through her skin, Jonas, but it doesn't look too bad," Bob reported. "See here, it's a bit deeper through the muscle on her shoulder, but relatively shallow along her back."

"Thank God," Jonas said, relief clear in his voice. "What happened to her leg?"

"I'd guess a shark raked her making a pass."

"Damn it, Abbey." Jonas rubbed his thumb over her hand. "She looks pale, Bob. Are you sure she's going to be all right?"

Aleksandr made a small sound, a growling in his throat that might have been a protest of her injuries. He moved around Jonas to Abbey's other side. She kept her eyes firmly closed and he didn't make much noise when he moved, but she felt him brush her arm just before he circled her wrist and brought her palm against his thigh. She was shivering and couldn't stop no matter how hard she tried. His body felt warm against hers and unfortunately, tipped on her side the way she was, he was pressed close to the front of her. As soaked as she was, she was getting his immaculate suit wet as well.

"She's in shock, Jonas," Bob said. "Wouldn't you be? Someone shot her. A shark nearly got her. She pulled Gene out of the water, at least it looks that way. And there's a dead body here. I'd say she has reason to be pale. This is going to hurt, Abbey," he warned.

Whatever he used on her leg and back robbed her of every bit of air from her lungs. She almost lunged out from under the paramedic and Jonas, desperate to get away from the fire racing over her skin, but she ended up practically in Aleksandr's lap. He caught her in a firm grip and held her still while the paramedic worked on the wounds.

"I can do that, Volstov," Jonas offered. "I'm sure you have more important things to do." He paused for a moment as the other paramedics lifted the unconscious fisherman onto a gurney and raced him toward the helicopter. "Gene's safe now, Abbey," he added. "They're taking him to San Francisco."

"I wouldn't want to mess up your crime scene," Aleksandr replied before Jonas could shift him. "My partner is dead. There is not much I can do until Abbey tells me what she knows. You go on ahead and get what you have to get done, and I'll take care of Abbey."

"My crime scene people are the ones entering the crime scene. My officers know what they're doing."

Aleksandr ignored the edge to Jonas's voice, refusing to relinquish his place holding Abigail. "You'll have to go to the hospital," he said to her.

"Home, to Libby," she was adamant. "Jonas. Take me home."

"Don't worry, Abbey," Jonas assured. "As soon as you're cleared, I'll have Jackson take you, but I'm going to need answers as soon as you're feeling stronger."

"I can't clear her to go home, " Bob protested. "Abbey, you know I can't do that. You need to be checked out by a doctor. You have serious wounds."

"Libby is a doctor," Jonas said. "Bob, you know she has to go home."

"I'll take her," Aleksandr said decisively. "If her sister is a doctor and she isn't in danger of bleeding to death, I'll take her to her house."

"No you won't," Jonas said firmly. "You're going to stay here and tell me what the hell you're involved in that I have one dead body, another nearly dead and Abigail Drake injured."

"And in danger," Aleksandr said.




CHRISTINE FEEHAN, #1 NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLING AUTHOR

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