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A Treasure Worth Seeking
By Sandra Brown
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This item is a preorder. Your payment method will be charged immediately, and the product is expected to ship on or around September 1, 1992. This date is subject to change due to shipping delays beyond our control.
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Table of Contents
A Preview of Mean Streak
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In spite of the calm assurance she projected, Erin O'Shea was quaking with nervousness as she pressed the doorbell. She heard the chimes tolling within the interior of the house. It was an attractive house, situated in one of San Francisco's middle-class neighborhoods.
Glancing over her shoulder at the other houses lining the street, Erin reflected on the well-maintained neighborhood. The lawns were well kept; the houses, if not ostentatious, were immaculate and tasteful. The house she stood before was painted dove gray and accented with white trim. Like all the other houses on the street, it typified San Francisco's architecture, having the garage level with the street and the house elevated. Steep concrete steps led up to the front door, which boasted an old-fashioned etched glass window.
She tried to peer through the opaque glass and glimpse some sign of movement as she listened for approaching footsteps, but could see nothing and heard no sounds from within the house.
What if no one were at home? Erin hadn't thought of that possibility. Indeed, she had thought of nothing since she had deplaned from the flight from Houston except finding this house. Her thoughts while navigating the picturesque streets of San Francisco had been single-minded and purposeful. Today was the culmination of a three-year search. She had prevailed over musty record books, endless long-distance telephone calls, slammed doors, and disappointing false leads to be standing here at this moment.
Today she would see her brother for the first time in her life. Today she would be face-to-face with her only blood relative.
Her heart lurched when she heard footsteps coming toward the door. His wife? A maid? Her brother? She swallowed hard.
The door was opened slowly. He stood in front of her. "Mr. Kenneth Lyman?" she asked.
He didn't answer her. Instead his eyes raked her from the top of her head to her toes. His rapid inspection couldn't have taken more than a fraction of a second, but she felt that he had missed nothing.
"Mr. Kenneth Lyman?" she repeated.
He nodded curtly.
All her nervousness fled and was replaced by immeasurable joy when the man confirmed that he was her brother. He was so handsome! She was surprised to find nothing in his features that resembled her. He was as fair as she was dark. Whenever she had tried to visualize him, she had conjured up a face that was a masculine version of her own, but this man was nothing like she expected.
His hair was sandy brown, but when only a glimmer of the weak February sunlight struck it, it shone golden. Perched atop the mussed strands was a pair of eyeglasses with narrow tortoiseshell frames. The eyebrows that bridged his wide forehead were thick and as golden as his hair. Blue eyes, which were scrutinizing her closely, were fringed by thick short lashes that were dark at the base and gilded at the ends.
His nose was straight and narrow. The mouth underneath it was firm, wide, almost stern. There was a beguiling vertical cleft in his strong chin that suggested a stubbornness of will.
"Forgive me for staring," she apologized even as she continued to look at him intently. Would she ever tire of seeing this face she had searched for for so long?
He still didn't say anything. His eyes darted behind her as if he expected to see someone accompanying her. They took in the white Mercedes she had rented at the airport, the house across the street, the entire surroundings in one sweeping glance before they came back to her. It was disconcerting that he hadn't said anything. But then, he didn't know who she was.
"I've come a long way to see you," she said for a start. "May I come in and talk to you for a moment?"
"What do we have to talk about?"
Her heart was pierced by a sweet pain at the first sound of his deep, low-timbred voice. But the pleasure changed to shyness in deference to his harsh tone. He probably thought she was selling something. "I… well, it's rather personal." She didn't want to introduce herself to him while standing on the doorstep.
"Okay. You'd better come in." He moved aside and she took a tentative step through the front door. He glanced around the yard once more before closing the door and turning to face her.
Standing this close to him, she was made aware for the first time how tall he was. She was considered tall for a woman, and yet he seemed to tower over her. Or maybe it was his overbearing attitude. Her brother seemed to exude power and a commanding control. He wasn't muscle-bound, but radiated a strength that was intimidating.
Erin looked past the loosened knot of his necktie to the strong cords of his neck. The sleeves of his shirt had been rolled to his elbows to reveal tanned, sinewy forearms. The white cotton was stretched across a broad chest that tapered into a flat stomach, and his long legs were hard and lean beneath gray flannel slacks. Perhaps he played basketball. Tennis? Surely he was athletically inclined to have maintained this wiry physique. She knew him to be thirty-three.
He perpetuated the unnerving silence and stared at her with as much temerity as she was looking at him. When she shifted her handbag from her shoulder to under her arm, every muscle in his body tensed though he hadn't actually moved. He was like a cat about to pounce.
He isn't making this easy for me, Erin thought. Maybe he didn't want to know what had happened to the younger sister from whom he had been separated thirty years ago. Maybe he wasn't even aware he had a sister.
"My name is Erin O'Shea," she said by way of introduction.
"Miss O'Shea," he spoke her name in that same stirring voice. His blue eyes hadn't left her face. She moistened her drying lips with the tip of her tongue.
"May I sit down somewhere?" she asked.
With an outstretched hand he indicated a room to the left of the entrance hall and she walked toward it. She assessed the comfortable furnishings of the house. It was tastefully, though not expensively, decorated. Somehow the interior of the house didn't coincide with her first impressions of her brother. She thought he would have leaned toward a more austere decor to match his taciturn personality.
What was she doing? She hadn't been with him for more than a few minutes, and she was already analyzing his psyche! Still, the house, this room where she was taking a seat on a splashy sofa, didn't seem to fit the man. Most likely his wife had decorated the house.
"Is Melanie at home?" she asked politely.
His answer was slow and careful. "No. She had to go out."
Erin smiled and relaxed somewhat. She was glad that they would have some time alone. Having an audience when she identified herself might make them both uncomfortable. "Now that I think about it, I'm surprised to find you at home in the middle of a weekday. I would have thought you'd be at the bank." She knew her brother was a banker.
The eyes he had narrowed on her now shifted to her brown suede purse, which she had placed beside her on the sofa. He had a way of making one feel that he hadn't missed a movement. "I came home early today," was his only reply.
"Kenneth—may I call you Kenneth?" At his nod, she continued. The time had come. "Kenneth, what I'm going to tell you will surprise you." She laughed nervously. "Maybe shock is a better word." She looked at her hands clasped tightly together in her lap, then lifted her head and met his eyes directly.
"You knew that you were adopted?"
Again the blue eyes narrowed as they studied her. There was an almost imperceptible lowering of his clefted chin to indicate an affirmative answer.
She drew a deep breath. "I've been looking for you for years, Kenneth. I'm your sister."
His face registered no expression. She sat tensely, waiting for some reaction. Erin had expected him to rush across the rug and embrace her, laugh, cry, curse, show dismay, anything but sit there and stare at her with his masklike face fixed in rigid lines.
Finally, he reached for the eyeglasses on top of his head and took them off, twirling the stem in his hand as he said, "My sister?"
"Yes!" She nodded her head enthusiastically, making her short dark curls bounce. "I know it's incredible, but it's true! May I tell you what I know?"
"Please." He still wasn't excited about her revelation, but at least he was responding. More than anything she wanted to dispel his wariness of her.
"We were adopted from a small Catholic orphanage in Los Angeles. Did you know that?"
"I think so," he answered noncommittally.
"You are three years older than I. Our mother gave us up for adoption when I was only several months old. I was adopted by a couple named O'Shea. Soon after they got me, they moved to Houston, Texas, where I grew up. It wasn't until I was in high school that I began to be bothered about who I was and where I came from. I guess that's true of all adolescents, but having been adopted, it was even more important for me to find my roots, so to speak. I'm sure you can relate to that feeling."
"Yes," he said. He was slouching in the overstuffed chair with his arms folded across his chest. It was a relaxed position, but Erin sensed that his insouciance was deceptive. Her brother seemed never to be totally relaxed.
"It was years later that I was finally able, financially and every other way, to begin an earnest search for my true identity. There are organizations now that help adopted children locate their natural parents or lost siblings. Believe me, by now I know them all. I left no stone unturned. Almost four years ago—"
She broke off when the red telephone on the desk rang. With the alacrity of a striking snake, he uncoiled himself from the chair and shot across the room. He jerked up the instrument in the middle of its second ring and answered with a curt "Yes." He listened for a moment, never diverting his eyes from Erin's astonished face. "Yeah. No, everything's cool. I'll be in touch." He replaced the telephone receiver and then returned to his chair. "Go on," he said calmly.
Erin was nonplussed by his abrupt, economical movements. Didn't one usually say "Excuse me" when they answered the telephone while engaged in conversation with someone else? And why had he attacked the telephone instead of answering it casually? Was he expecting an important call?
"Well, I…" she stammered. What had she been saying? He seemed suspicious of her losing her train of thought.
"You were saying, 'Almost four years ago…' "
"Oh, yes," she said nervously. "Almost four years ago, I began an extensive search for our natural parents. My adoptive mother understood this compulsion I had to find them and supplied me with the name of the orphanage in Los Angeles. I was heartsick to discover that sometime subsequent to our being adopted, it had burned and all the records with it. That set me back for months. Finally, I was able to locate a nun who had been at the orphanage at the time we were brought in. That was when I first learned about you." To her chagrin, her voice began to quiver and she could feel tears filling her dark, liquid eyes.
"Can you understand my happiness that day? I had a brother! Someone I shared a heritage with. I began to examine faces in a crowd. Each man of your age, I studied, wondering if he might be you. I won't bore you with all the tedious details now, but I traced your adoptive parents. That was relatively simple since they had stayed in Los Angeles. I'm sorry about their demise. They were killed several years ago, I believe?"
"I lost Dad, Mr. O'Shea, when I was in college. I hope you were as lucky as I with the family who adopted you. The O'Sheas loved me as if I were their own flesh and blood. And I love them."
"Yes, my parents, or rather, the Lymans, were terrific."
"Oh, I'm so glad," she enthused. "One of the agencies I was telling you about helped me trace you here. I know all about you, but not nearly as much as I want to know. I want to know everything about you, your life."
The glasses were precariously clinging to the tip of his nose, and he stared at her over their frames. Now he took them off and placed them on the table at his elbow. "That's quite a story," he said. "We don't look much like each other. Who would believe that we're brother and sister?"
She laughed, glad now that they seemed to be sharing a normal conversation. The hard lines around his mouth had softened. She must be patient with him. After all, she had dumped quite a load on him today. "I thought the same thing when you answered the door. There's no resemblance at all."
His eyes were taking in each feature of her face and she sat still while he perused her, allowing him the same privilege she had afforded herself when she first saw him.
He scanned the tumbled sable curls that surrounded her head and fanned away from her face. Dark, smooth brows arched winglike over her eyes—Natalie Wood eyes, one of her high school sweethearts had dubbed them. They were round and large and as dark as ebony. When she lived in New York, she had consulted a makeup expert who taught her how to accent them with just the right touch of pencils and shadows. The result was heart-stopping to someone meeting her for the first time. Her eyes expressed more of what Erin felt and thought than words ever could.
It made her nervous for her brother to examine her with such keen interest. His eyes dwelt an inordinate amount of time on her lips which were soft and moist and accustomed to smiling.
As his eyes traveled from her chin down her throat, he seemed to take note that her smooth complexion, delicately fair in contrast to her dark hair and eyes, extended to her neck and beyond.
Erin smoothed imaginary wrinkles from the skirt of her white wool suit as he continued to appraise her. The emerald green silk blouse she wore under her jacket suddenly seemed stifling, especially when his eyes lingered on the single strand of coral beads that rested on her breasts. She uncrossed her legs self-consciously when his eyes raked them from her knees to the toes of her brown suede pumps.
His eyes returned to her face and he stood up, crossing the room to stand in front of her. "Not every man is fortunate enough to have a sister," he said quietly as he looked down at her. "Learning of her existence in midlife is a phenomenon. Having her be as lovely as you is a rare pleasure indeed."
She blushed happily. "Thank you, Kenneth." He was proud of her! Perhaps in time she and this stranger could come to know and like each other—maybe even grow to love each other.
"Would you like something to drink?" He held out his hand and she accepted it unhesitantly as he helped her off the cushions of the couch. His hand was warm as he clasped her fingers fleetingly.
"Yes, thank you. The flight was crowded and I was too excited and in too big a hurry to stop for anything before coming here. I hope you don't think it was rude of me to just drop in like this. I thought it best to meet you in person and not try to introduce myself over the telephone."
"You were right. I'm glad you came straight here."
He was propelling her through the house—down the main hallway, through a dining room—into a sunny kitchen. She looked at the view out the window. Kenneth's house was situated on a hill, but unfortunately it didn't provide a view of the bay, or the Golden Gate Bridge, or any other distinctive landmark of this fabulous city. Instead, the view was dotted with the rooftops of houses on the lower slopes of the hillside.
Kenneth offered her a chair at the small round table that stood in the center of the kitchen. "What will you have? Coke? Beer? Wine?"
"Coke, please," she said. "I'm anxious to meet your wife. Does she know that you were adopted?"
He ignored her question as he opened a can of the soft drink and reached for two glasses in the cabinet over the counter top. As he chunked ice cubes into the glasses he said, "Melanie should be back shortly. She went out to run a few errands."
"How long have you been married?"
He paused as he handed her the glass of Coke. "Several years now," he answered lightly. He smiled charmingly, and for the first time Erin saw two rows of perfectly matched, startling white teeth. He really was quite handsome when he wasn't wearing that surly, suspicious expression. "You're married, I see," he commented nonchalantly as he took the chair across the table from hers.
She followed the direction of his eyes to the large diamond ring on her left ring finger. "No," she muttered. "Just engaged." For some reason, she didn't want to tell him about Bart right now. Bart had a way of dominating a conversation, and she didn't want even a mention of him to intrude on the special, rare intimacy of this first meeting with her brother. "Tell me about your work," she blurted out in order to change the subject.
"What about it?" he asked evenly. Erin was alarmed to see that he was staring at her again with that narrow-eyed stare that made her feel like a laboratory animal under a glass.
"What exactly do you do? I know you work at a bank."
"Yeah," he shrugged. "I guess I do a little of everything."
"I see," she said, though she didn't.
"You?" he asked. "What do you do?"
"I have my own business in Houston."
The thick golden eyebrows raised in silent query. "What kind of business?" He leaned his elbows on the table and propped his chin on his fists. The backs of his hands and his knuckles were sprinkled with crinkly blond hairs. His fingers were long and tapering, not thick and stubby like Bart's. His nails were well cared for, she noted objectively.
Erin raised her eyes to his. She could barely see the blue irises through the brush of thick eyelashes that screened them. His good looks made her uneasy. It was almost as if his handsomeness were a barrier to her getting to know him better. For some reason intimacy between them seemed dangerous.
"I… uh… my business organizes and stages fashion shows," she answered.
"I've never heard of anything like that," he said.
She laughed. "That's what makes us unique!" she piped and playfully tapped his hand with her own.
Exhibiting that same swiftness of action she had witnessed before, he captured her hand with his and held it tightly. For endless moments they stared across the table at each other. When he spoke, it was in a low, vibrating voice.
"You said a few minutes ago that you wanted to get to know me. I want to know you, too. I think we should start now, don't you?"
She swallowed convulsively and wished he would release her hand. It would be useless to try to retrieve it. His fingers seemed to be made of steel. She could see herself reflected in the pupils of his eyes, and her own revealing expression frightened her. She whispered tremulously, "Start what?"
"Start getting to know each other."
Before she could blink, he had stood up and come around the table. Before she could breathe, he had pulled her to her feet and encircled her with his arms. One hand embedded itself in her dark, rich curls as he tilted her head back and looked down into her face.
"What better way to get to know each other than with a kiss of reciprocal filial affection?"
The face that descended toward hers bespoke nothing of brotherly fondness. That was Erin's last conscious thought before she felt his mouth invade hers. His fingers were wound so tightly through her hair that tears of pain joined those of mortification that had already flooded her eyes. His other arm was secure across the middle of her back, pinning her arms to her sides and pressing her against his unyielding body.
She squirmed against him, but her movements only strengthened his hold on her. Deep in her throat she screamed, screams that were swallowed by his mouth that covered and absorbed hers. Her lips throbbed under the bruising pressure of his, and they were powerless to prevent his relentless tongue from entering her mouth.
Never had she been kissed like this. It was disgusting. It was a heinous sin. Knowing their relationship, the way he explored her mouth was decadent and revolting.
It was also thrilling.
She struggled for control—not physical control. Her limbs had been rendered useless and, to her shame, she leaned into him for support. She was fighting a losing struggle of the will.
She fought the sensations that danced up and down her spine. They were responsible for the trembling, melting warmth in the pit of her stomach that she strove to ignore. Her eyes, which had been opened wide with surprise and indignation, now closed of their own volition, disobeying her cerebral commands to remain open and scorn this odious man.
The rattle of a key being inserted in the back door lock saved Erin from the absolute degradation of submission. She renewed her struggling until she managed to push away from him, when he raised his head and relaxed his arms. He faced the door, though he kept a firm grip on Erin's upper arm.
The woman who came through the door was dainty, young, and blond. She was smiling in a childlike manner despite the sadness that clouded her brown eyes and attested to some deep worry.
The two people standing in the middle of the room were frozen in a caricature of an embrace. The woman's expression was bleak and guilty, her features ravaged, her face pale.
The man's mien was hard, cold, and fearsome. It was toward him that the blond woman turned quizzical eyes.
"Hello, Mrs. Lyman."
"Mr. Barrett," she answered shyly. "Wha—"
"Mrs. Lyman, do you know this woman?" he interrupted her. "Have you ever seen her before?"
The young woman addressed as Mrs. Lyman by a man who was supposed to be her husband looked at Erin and shook her head. "No, Mr. Barrett, I've never seen her before."
Erin raised incredulous eyes to the man who still retained a steel-band grip on her arm. The blue eyes that met hers were frigid and implacable.
"Who are you?" she demanded.
"That's what I was about to ask you, lady," he snarled as he cruelly ushered her across the kitchen. He called to the stunned Melanie Lyman over his shoulder, "Mrs. Lyman, please call across the street and ask Mike to come over here and monitor the telephone. Tell him to run a check on the car outside. I'll be in the study, but I'd rather not be disturbed unless it's urgent. And please don't go out unless you take one of the boys with you."
"No, I won't," Erin heard her say meekly. Apparently she was accustomed to taking orders from this brute, but Erin O'Shea was not. As soon as she could she was going to bring down such wrath on him that he wouldn't know what had hit him.
He pushed her into a small paneled room and slammed the door behind them, latching it soundly. She whirled around to face him, ready to do battle. To her horror, he roughly pulled her jacket from her shoulders and down her arms. He tossed it across the room where it plopped onto a leather sofa. She was too astounded to protest when he yanked the bottom of her blouse out of the skirt's waistband. He shoved her against the nearest wall, turned her around to face it, and raised her hands wide over her head.
She gasped in humiliation and repulsion when he clamped his hands under her arms and slid them down her sides. Inexorably, they moved around her rib cage, over her breasts, between them, and down to her waist. They insinuated themselves into the waistband of her skirt where they explored her abdomen and hips. When they had toured down the outside of her thighs, he swung her around to face him.
She never remembered being as furious as she was at that moment. Her blood boiled in her veins, making the pulse in her head pound. Erin blinked to clear her vision, which was impaired by rage.
"Aren't you going to strip search me?" she sneered.
"Only if I think it's necessary. Which at the present, I don't. But don't press your luck."
His smug answer infuriated her further and she struggled to push him away from her and put more space between them. Surprisingly he obliged her and took a step backward.
"Who the hell do you think you are to treat me this way? I demand an explanation from you this instant!" She knew her words would carry little weight with this bully. They sounded trite and melodramatic and childish to her own ears, but her brain was whirling, and she didn't seem capable of being more eloquent.
"Easy, lady. I'm about to identify myself to you and then we'll cut all this temper tantrum crap and get down to finding out who you are—which is more to the point."
He took a wallet out of his hip pocket and flipped it open. He held it inches in front of her eyes so that she could read: Lawrence James Barrett, United States Department of the Treasury.
Her wide eyes flew from the official badge to his eyes, which bored into her. She could actually feel herself melting under that hard gaze. Energy and anger seeped out of her.
God! What had she stumbled into?
"Pleased to meet you, Miss O'Shea," he said sarcastically. Taking her arm no less firmly than he had before, he pushed her toward the leather couch. "Sit down and don't move," he commanded.
Erin was too stunned and bewildered to object, and instinctively she obeyed him and sank down onto the sofa. Mr. Barrett picked up her jacket and searched the pockets. Finding nothing, he dropped it back on the sofa. Absently Erin folded it and placed it beside her. She didn't feel like putting it back on or tucking in her blouse. A fever seemed to have washed over her, and her skin was prickly with abnormal heat.
He went to the door and opened it. "Mike?" he shouted.
"Bring me that purse on the sofa in the living room, please."
"Sure thing," the anonymous voice answered back.
"And see if you can locate my glasses."
"They're on the table next to the chair you sat in," Erin answered automatically. He swiveled his head toward her in surprise. She could have bitten her tongue. Now he knew she had noticed him and his subconscious mannerisms.
"Check the end table," he said through the door.
While he waited for his subordinate to carry out his request, Lance Barrett watched Erin. Uncomfortably, she shifted under his stare and again felt like a specimen that required careful observation. She tried to meet his stare boldly and knew that she failed miserably. In her life, she had never felt more nervous or astonished at a turn of events. To borrow an expression from her mother, she was flabbergasted.
Mike was a younger man than his superior, short, with black hair. His features were nondescript. He had been chosen well for this type of work, Erin thought to herself. No one would ever remember him. He would remain faceless in a crowd.
Mr. Barrett took his glasses and her purse from the younger man and asked, "The car?"
- On Sale
- Sep 1, 1992
- Page Count
- 288 pages
- Grand Central Publishing