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Authors: Kay Hooper

Captain's paradise

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Captain's ParadiseHagen [9]Kay HooperRandom House Publishing Group (2013)

In this alluring novel of romantic suspense from New York Times bestselling author Kay Hooper, two lost souls face their demons - and forge a connection as profound as the ocean is deep.When Robin Stuart is pulled, drenched and shivering, from the stormy seas, she can only cling desperately to the arms that surround her. But she has reason to suspect that she's traded one terror for another. Robin has been too close to danger not to recognize it again: in the eyes of the rugged, fearless man who saved her life.Michael Siran is an expert at playing dangerous games. But from the moment the terrified beauty with the piercing gaze sets foot on his ship, he's touched by a true sense of purpose. Throwing caution to the wind, Robin insists on remaining by his side - even though she is asking the world of a man who trusts no one. As they share a passion born in turmoil and fueled by peril, Michael is determined to give her everything - if he can only make her understand that even heroes are human, and that her courage runs as deep as his love.

PRAISE FOR THE NOVELS OF KAY HOOPER

BLOOD TIES

“Hooper’s darkly riveting Blood trilogy comes to a terrifying climax.… The chilling intensity of this novel is sure to haunt your dreams!”

—RT Book Reviews

“Series fans and newcomers alike will appreciate the appendixes, which include bios of Special Crimes Unit agents and definitions of their various paranormal abilities.”

—Publishers Weekly

BLOOD SINS

“Disturbing … Hooper pulls out all the stops.”

—Publishers Weekly

“Fans of Kay Hooper won’t be disappointed.”

—The Romance Reader

“Another solid entry.”

—Booklist

BLOOD DREAMS

“You won’t want to turn the lights out after reading this book!”

—Romantic Times

“Spectacular … With its fast pace, high-adrenaline plot, cast of well-developed characters, and fluid dialogue,Blood Dreamsfills every expectation a reader could have.… I highly recommend.”

—Romance Reviews Today

SLEEPING WITH FEAR

“An entertaining book for any reader.”

—Winston-Salem Journal

“Hooper keeps the suspense dialed up.… Readers will be mesmerized by a plot that moves quickly to a chilling conclusion.”

—Publishers Weekly

CHILL OF FEAR

“Hooper’s latest may offer her fans a few shivers on a hot beach.”

—Publishers Weekly

“Kay Hooper has conjured a fine thriller with appealing young ghosts and a suitably evil presence to provide a welcome chill on a hot summer’s day.”

—Orlando Sentinel

“The author draws the reader into the story line and, once there, they can’t leave because they want to see what happens next in this thrill-a-minute, chilling, fantastic reading experience.”

—Midwest Book Review

HUNTING FEAR

“A well-told scary story.”

—Toronto Sun

“Hooper’s unerring story sense and ability to keep the pages flying can’t be denied.”

—Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine

“Hooper has created another original—Hunting Fearsets an intense pace.… Work your way through the terror to the triumph … and you’ll be looking for more Hooper tales to add to your bookshelf.”

—Wichita FallsTimes Record News

“It’s vintage Hooper—a suspenseful page-turner.”

—BrazosportFacts

“Expect plenty of twists and surprises as Kay Hooper gets her series off to a crackerjack start!”

—Aptos Times

SENSE OF EVIL

“A well-written, entertaining police procedural … loaded with suspense.”

—Midwest Book Review

“Filled with page-turning suspense.”

—The Sunday Oklahoman

“Sense of Evilwill knock your socks off.”

—Rendezvous

“A master storyteller.”

—TAMIHOAG

STEALING SHADOWS

“A fast-paced, suspenseful plot … The story’s complicated and intriguing twists and turns keep the reader guessing until the chilling end.”

—Publishers Weekly

“This definitely puts Ms. Hooper in a league with Tami Hoag and Iris Johansen and Sandra Brown. Gold 5-star rating.”

—Heartland Critiques

HAUNTING RACHEL

“A stirring and evocative thriller.”

—Palo Alto Daily News

“The pace flies, the suspense never lets up. It’s great reading.”

—Baton RougeAdvocate

“An intriguing book with plenty of strange twists that will please the reader.”

—Rocky Mountain News

“It passed the ‘stay up late to finish it in one night’ test.”

—The Denver Post

FINDING LAURA

“You always know you are in for an outstanding read when you pick up a Kay Hooper novel, but inFinding Laura, she has created something really special! Simply superb!”

—Romantic Times

“Hooper keeps the intrigue pleasurably complicated, with gothic touches of suspense and satisfying resolution.”

—Publishers Weekly

“A first-class reading experience.”

—Affaire de Coeur

AFTER CAROLINE

“Harrowing good fun. Readers will shiver and shudder.”

—Publishers Weekly

“Kay Hooper has crafted another solid story to keep readers enthralled until the last page is turned.”

—Booklist

“Kay Hooper comes through with thrills, chills, and plenty of romance, this time with an energetic murder mystery with a clever twist. The suspense is sustained admirably right up to the very end.”

—Kirkus Reviews

Captain’s Paradiseis a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are the products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.

2013 Bantam Books eBook Edition

Copyright © 1988 by Kay Hooper

All rights reserved.

Published in the United States by Bantam Books, an imprint of The Random House Publishing Group, a division of Random House, Inc., New York.

BANTAMBOOKSand the HOUSEcolophon are registered trademarks of Random House, Inc.

Originally published in paperback in the United States by Bantam Books, an imprint of The Random House Publishing Group, a division of Random House, Inc., in 1988.

eISBN: 978-0-345-53957-1

Cover design: Carl GalianCover photographs: © iStockphoto

www.bantamdell.com

Bantam Books mass market edition: October 2013

v3.1

Contents

Cover

Title Page

Copyright

PrologueChapter OneChapter TwoChapter ThreeChapter FourChapter FiveChapter SixChapter SevenChapter EightChapter NineEpilogue

Other Books by This Author

PROLOGUE

HAGEN WAS ANNOYED. He was always irritated by delays in the execution of his plans, and since this was a particularly vital plan, he was more than usually annoyed.

“Where?” he demanded, speaking flatly into the mouthpiece of his telephone, equipped with a scrambler.

“Just gone, and his men with him.” The voice that replied to Hagen’s question sounded hollow because of the scrambler, yet not even the technological device to prevent interception of telephoneconversations could leach from it all indications of a strong and dynamic personality.

“You can’t even tell me where?” Hagen asked.

A rueful sigh came over the wire, and the voice replied with an underlying layer of mockery that made Hagen grit his teeth. “No, I can’t. I’ve been tracking that bunch for months, as you very well know, but this time they’ve given me the slip. Sue me. Now, if you want the women—”

“No,” Hagen said, allowing himself to grimace since he was alone in his office. “That’s the quickest way of committing suicide I know.” He muttered the comment, but his voice was clear and distinct nonetheless.

“That was my reading of the situation. In any case, the bait for your trap is momentarily out of reach. I’ll keep looking if you like, but I have to tell you the chances are slim until he decides to surface again. I wouldn’t be surprised to find out he’d gone to ground.”

“What?” For the first time, Hagen was honestly shaken. “Impossible!”

“Chief, every soul in that whole bunch has terrificinstincts. You may think your little tests these last months have been subtle, but what you left out of the plan was a culprit.”

“There was no need to—”

“No?” the voice interrupted sardonically. “You think they aren’t going to get suspicious when some unnamed enemy tests their security more than once? If I were in the place of any one of them, I’d be very busily trying to find out what the hell was going on. You’d better take it as a yes—that’s what they’re doing.”

Hagen was silent for a moment, then offered what he knew was a weak objection. “They wouldn’t leave the women unprotected.”

“Unprotected? Remember what Kipling said about the female of the species, Chief? Take that as a yes too. Those ladies need protecting about as much as a battleship does. You want my advice, you’d better back off for a while.”

Hagen ignored the advice. “Where’s the yacht?”

“Corsair? No sign of her in her usual area. They may be aboard her, but she could be in the South China Sea for all I know.”

“Have you checked with Captain Siran? He may—”

“Sorry, Chief. He’s unavailable.”

Hagen’s voice began to lose its forced patience. “Why is heunavailable?”

“Took a leave of absence for personal reasons.”

“What aren’t you telling me?”

There was a brief silence, and then the voice said, “Just that you can’t count on Siran at the moment, Chief. He has his own fish to fry.”

Hagen heard more than the words. Bluntly he asked, “Daniel, what’s going on?”

The sigh this time wasn’t wry or mocking; it was weary. “What goes around comes around. The captain has his hands full with a specter out of his past.”

“He’s alone?”

“He didn’t even give me a chance to argue with him.”

After a moment Hagen said, “If anyone can handle himself, it’s Siran. I could have used his help, however.”

“Yes. Well, your plans are on hold for the time being.”

“You’re absolutely sure you can’t locate them?”

“Afraid I can’t. You wouldn’t think a public figure of his prominence could disappear so quickly or so thoroughly, but he does seem to have the knack of it. So you have two choices, Chief. Either wait until he shows himself—however long that takes—or try to find out where he is from one of the ladies. The former being preferable to the latter, if you ask me.”

Hagen swore softly. “Agreed. If I show any interest at all, Raven will be onto it instantly.”

“You train your agents too well,” Daniel noted dryly.

“That wouldn’t bother me so much,” Hagen retorted irritably, “if only they’dremainmy agents.” He sighed. “I don’t suppose you’d be interested?”

Daniel chuckled softly. “No. You and I would no doubt lock horns. No, thank you; I’ll stick to my own bailiwick.”

Unsurprised, Hagen said, “It was worth a try. Well, keep me advised. And, if you hear from Siran, let me know.”

“Yes.”

The connection was broken.

ONE

WHEN SHE WASplucked, drenched and shivering, from the angry gray-green Atlantic, her first instinct, her only instinct, was to cling with all her remaining strength to the warm, wet arms that had saved her. And cling she did, like a desperate thing, until the man managed to break her grip and wrap her in a dry blanket.

A part of her consciousness was aware of being stripped of her wet clothing, swiftly and efficiently, of being dried briskly and dressed in something loose that was thick and warm. Acup was held to her lips and a fiery liquid flowed between her teeth, stopping their chattering. Then the softness of bedding was beneath her.

After that, only blackness, but it was blessedly warm and dry.

Her sluggish, weary mind surfaced a few times, vaguely aware of a faint light, of the lifting/falling motion of a boat on the sea. But nothing really registered, no single impression demanded that she think, and so she did not. She slept.

When she finally woke to the dim understanding that she was not where she should be but that where she was was better, the soft light still burned and the rocking motion had lessened. In an instant she identified the tiny cabin of a boat.

She was on a boat. But … she had escaped from the boat. Terror stirred in her sluggish mind, thick and suffocating. Or had it been a dream?

A dream. All a dream, of course, especially the bad parts. It was such a comforting notion that she accepted it instantly.

“Drink this.”

It was a command, uttered in a hard masculine voice. Inured to commands delivered by hard masculine voices, she obeyed. Pushing herself into a sitting position, she accepted a cup from a sun-browned hand. Sipping, she identified coffee laced with brandy. It tasted good. Only then did she raise her eyes to look hesitantly at the man.

The rest of him was sun-browned too, she saw. And since he was wearing only swim trunks and an unfastened windbreaker, she could see a great deal of his muscled body. It looked as hard as his voice and obviously possessed the kind of raw strength that could never have been earned in a gym. He had almost-black hair and sharp eyes and was, she thought, the most handsome man she had ever seen.

Still, she had been too close to danger too recently not to recognize it in this man. It was apparent not only in his tight jaw and firmly held lips and in the strange, shuttered gleam of his gray eyes; danger was an almost visible aura surrounding him, enclosing him.

Detached, she transferred the thoughts to images, and saw steel forged in a white-hot crucible, still dangerous to the touch.

“What the hell,” he asked in a quiet, rough voice, “were you doing floating in the ocean miles from shore?”

“Which shore?” she asked, feeling a flicker of interest.

He was sitting on the edge of her bunk leaning toward her. His eyebrows shot up at her question, then drew together in a frown. “Florida,” he said brusquely.

“Oh.” She considered the information, then answered his original question simply. “I don’t know.”

After a moment he said in a flat tone, “You’re covered in bruises and have a few minor cuts. There are no signs of a head injury.” He reached out suddenly, taking her right wrist and stripping back the sleeve of the heavy flannel shirt she was wearing. “Judging by these and your dilated pupils,” he said harshly, “I’d say you decidedto fly without wings and jumped off somebody’s yacht.”

She looked down at the bruised injection sites on her inner arm, and her mind fought to throw off the sluggishness. But it was difficult, and trying to concentrate made her head ache sickly. He thought she was someone’s party girl, she realized, and had the dim recollection that she’d been wearing an evening gown when he had pulled her from the water.

“Did you see a yacht?” she asked, meeting his gaze.

“No.” Almost absently he pulled the sleeve down and smoothed the material before releasing her arm. “But, as I said, you were miles from shore. And right in the party crowd’s playground.”

“It might have been a yacht.” She frowned at the cup in her hand, trying to think, trying to remember. “I believe it was a yacht. A big one.”

His breath escaped shortly in an impatient sigh. “Was the party in full swing, or will someone have reported your disappearance?”

Her mind was clearing slowly. “No. No, I doubt there was any report.”

He swore, the sound angry and abrupt. “Then I’ll have to alert the Coast Guard. Is there anyone else—”

“You don’t understand.” She stared at him, wondering with a paranoia inspired by the last weeks if she could trust him. While he stared at her impatiently, she made up her mind. She needed a place to rest and gather her thoughts, to plan. It wasn’t over yet; she couldn’t let it be over. But she needed time. If she surfaced too soon—

“What don’t I understand?” he demanded.

She took a long sip of the laced coffee. What a strange voice he had, she mused. Quiet yet hard. She drew a deep breath. “There wouldn’t have been a report, but not because there was a party. There wasn’t a party. They saw me go overboard. They … they shot at me. I was escaping,” she ended in a rush.

“What?”

Seeing the disbelief in his face, she realized dismallyhow it all sounded. Melodramatic. Unreal. Like something between the covers of a novel or in cinematic Technicolor.

She looked down at her flannel-covered arm and spoke softly, tonelessly. “They kept us drugged so we’d be quiet. But the drugs didn’t work on me at first. That’s why the bruises. I didn’t know what was going on most of the time, but when I came to once, there seemed to be a storm. The others were still unconscious, but I thought I could get help if I could just get off the boat. Everyone was busy because of the storm. I managed to get topside and … and jumped. I heard a yell, and then guns, but the water was rough and it was raining.… With any luck, they think I drowned.”

The man stared at her for a long moment, his gray eyes unreadable, something strangely taut in his expression. Then he stood, filling the small room, and took a step away from the bunk to reach for a bottle and glass on a nearby shelf. He splashed liquid into the glass and drank. Only then did he ask tersely, “White slavers?”

She was surprised at his quick comprehension, and wondered if he was just humoring her. But something about his hard face denied that possibility. When he turned to stare at her again, she nodded slowly.

“How many besides yourself?”

There was, she thought briefly, an element of unreality about the entire situation—conversation and all. This man was not reacting as she would have expected; he was neither disbelieving nor horrified. Nor did he seem sympathetic about what she had clearly been through. Instead, his tone was blunt and matter-of-fact, his expression remote.

“There were five of us,” she said, trying to analyze his reaction, fit it into some niche in her mind. “All blondes and—and redheads.” Her hand went briefly to her long, thick auburn hair.

“Did you know any of the other girls?”

The question confused her, which was hardly surprising, she thought, considering the befuddled state of her mind. “Know them?”

“Names,” he said impatiently. “Ages, backgrounds.Did you know anything about the other girls?”

“No. Not when we were first taken aboard. We were strangers. We didn’t have much of a chance to talk; they started the drugs right away. I know the other redhead’s name was Marcy.”

“What about the blondes?”

She looked at him, feeling a stab of uneasiness. There was something wrong with the question, and she didn’t know what it was. She couldn’t read his face. She wondered if anyone could. It was a closed face, giving away nothing. Slowly she said, “One was named Susan, I think. I’m not sure about the other two. They were—well, they looked like models. Mid-twenties, long fair hair, almost white. Sun-bleached, I guess.”

“Both of them?”

“Yes.” She stared at him, increasingly puzzled when she sensed more than saw his reaction to that. She could have sworn he was disappointed. Then he shrugged, as if to himself, a curiously wry twist to his lips.

“Any idea where you were bound?”

“I couldn’t get the route: they didn’t talk that freely in front of us. But from what they said, I gathered our destination was somewhere in the Middle East.”

His expression had grown preoccupied, his gaze distant when he put the empty glass aside and sat on the edge of the bunk again. After an unblinking appraisal of her, he said dryly, “And just how did you manage to get yourself shanghaied?”

Not quite ready to be that trusting, she said, “I went to a nightclub. In Miami.”

He appeared to accept her explanation. Slowly he said, “I suppose you’ll want to notify the police—”

“No!” Realizing how sharp her response had been, she held her voice calm with an effort. “No, I don’t want to report it. Those men … they play rough. If I went to the police, I’d be a loose end, a target. They think I’m dead. I want to leave it that way.”

His eyes had sharpened, and now searchedhers intently. “I see. You’re probably right. What’s your name?” he added, abrupt again.

It was, curiously, an out-of-sync question; normally it would have been one of the first asked. She wondered about this man’s priorities. “I’m Robin Stuart.”

“Well, Robin Stuart, my name’s Michael Siran. I fished you out of the water about eight hours ago just off Key West. It’s now sixA.M. and we’re approximately five miles off Key Largo, dead in the water.”

“Heading?”

“Miami.”

She nodded, trying to sort through her thoughts. “I wish I knew where …”

“Where the yacht went? It’ll have to stick fairly close to land for a few days; if they planned a water route anywhere, they’ll have to postpone the trip or make other arrangements.” He sounded preoccupied again, as if something disturbed him.

“Why?”

He looked at her, gray eyes shuttered. “Becausethe Coast Guard and various other law enforcement officials are patrolling very heavily. Rumor has it that an indecently valuable shipment of drugs is coming into the country via water. Everything that floats is being inspected bow to stern, and nobody leaves or enters U.S. territorial waters without due inspection unless they’re very, very lucky.” His expression was unreadable. “I was searched last night a couple of hours before I found you. I’d guess that the slavers are lying low for a while.”

“But that’s just a guess,” she said steadily. “If it’s really that—that hot, they may kill the girls. We were on that boat for at least two days before I got away. They can’t hope to keep the others hidden indefinitely, and if they can’t send them wherever they’re supposed to go …”

For the first time, a flicker of what might have been sympathy showed on his hard face; her sudden guilt was obvious. “You couldn’t have helped them,” he said quietly.

Robin stared down at her cup and chewed her bottom lip. “They’re just ordinary women,” shesaid softly. “With ordinary lives. In Florida on vacation, most of them. No family, no one to worry or make trouble over their disappearance.” She looked up at him suddenly, surprised by a fleeting look of pain on his face that was instantly gone, as though it had never been.

“There was nothing you could have done,” he maintained flatly. “Your getting away was sheer luck. And since you never saw the yacht—”

“Maybe I did see it,” she interrupted, staring at him, banking a great deal on that brief pain she’d seen. Or thought she had seen. “And maybe with a little help I could find it. Then I could tip the police, and they could search the boat.”

After a moment he said levelly, “Around a thousand miles of coast in Florida alone, and you expect to find one yacht?”

She held his gaze determinedly. “One very large yacht. It’s big, I know that. Manned by a large crew.” She took a deep breath. “Judging by where you found me, it looks as though that boat sailed down along the keys. Their heading—would you guess South America?”

After a slight hesitation he nodded.

“But they can’t get safely out of U.S. waters now. So they’ll probably hole up somewhere near the Ten Thousand Islands south of Cape Romano.”

“You know the coast.” It was neither approval nor question, but simply a statement of fact.

Robin was still pursuing possibilities. “There’s too much traffic near the Keys; they wouldn’t want that. And the southeast coast of Florida is congested. But they’d want to remain far enough south to run for it if necessary. It has to be the islands. If they still have the women, they have to be there.”

Michael Siran shook his head. “It isn’t a case ofhave to beanything. They could have slipped through the net, gotten away free and clear before they were spotted. Or they could be sailing calmly up the coast, where they’d find a plane somewhere to fly the women out.”

“But there’s a chance the yacht is lying low, waiting,” she insisted softly. “Isn’t there?”

He nodded reluctantly. “A slim chance. But no chance at all of finding it,” he added.

“Help me,” she said simply.

He ran a hand through his thick dark hair, staring at her impatiently. “Didn’t you hear me? You haven’t a chance in hell of finding that yacht! With or without me. It could be anywhere. It would take days to search the western coast, and it wouldn’t be a thorough job even then. And looking for a boat in these waters! Even if you found one you suspected, you don’t have the Coast Guard’s authority to board and search.”

“I’ll recognize at least three of the crew,” she said flatly, repressing a shudder. “I’ll never forget them.”

Michael stared at her for a moment, then said roughly, “Those bruises. Did they—”

“Rape me?” She shook her head. “No, not that. Apparently ourbuyerswanted their merchandise untouched.” Her tone was bitter. “But they seemed to feel that a few bruises would healbefore we were delivered. I fought the drugs, and them, so I was punished a few times.”

“All the more reason—” he began.

Robin felt desperate. She couldn’t leave the girls to the less than tender mercies of those slavers. She just couldn’t. She hadn’t meant this to become personal to her, but after sharing a terrified, drugged haze with young women who had no one else to care about them, the matterhadbecome personal. Very personal. But she needed help in order to help them. And something told her that if she could only sway this man, his help would prove to be invaluable.

“Please,” she said.

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