Authors: Lindsay McKenna
By day, dark-haired engineer Cait Monahan was the only woman for the job—troubleshooting a behind-schedule pipeline in Argentina. By night, she was a woman alone, tormented by dreams of her husband’s tragic death. In her need, she reached out to Dominic Tobbar, whose kisses enflamed her senses and melted the barrier of the past. Cait was tough on the outside, but vulnerable underneath. Could she ever learn to love again?
To Genivieve Nauman, who loved romantic stories as much as I do.
Cait Monahan’s travel-weary eyes met the golden-brown gaze of the man striding like a caged jaguar next to the small flight desk. He gave a cursory glance to her dark hair, unbound and cascading like shining silk over her shoulders, and traveled down the length of her two-piece tweed pantsuit. A shiver of awareness made Cait’s skin tingle. From the way he was looking at her, you’d think he’d never seen a woman wearing slacks before. She shrugged with more nonchalance than she felt. Where she was going, jeans, shirts and hard hats were the usual attire.
The set of the man’s mouth was grim and he moved noiselessly, each stride fluid, his bare arms powerful. He was dressed in jeans, a short-sleeved chambray shirt and work-boots. His clothes, although faded and well worn, accentuated his well-muscled male body. His thick brows were drawn downward in silent concentration, and his square face suggested a primitiveness barely held in check.
Cait’s senses reeled with assorted impressions as his features changed like quicksilver. One moment he looked savage, the next merely deep in thought. She glanced behind the desk at the attendant, who was busy typing out a message, then turned to the stranger.
“Excuse me. Is this the Miron Corporation flight desk?” she asked.
His insolent glance burned into her, and Cait stiffened. “Yes, it is,” came the throaty reply. He gave her a look of exasperation, as if not wanting to be bothered by her presence. “Señora, you’re obviously lost.” His piercing gaze softened as he looked her up and down in slow appraisal. “However,” he murmured, “your plight is a definite advantage to me. Beautiful women should never travel alone.”
Cait stared wide-eyed at him, caught off guard by his sudden change in mood. His voice had spun a silken cocoon, like fingers stroking her skin, making her excruciatingly aware of her own physical hungers that had been denied for over a year, ever since the accident…ever since Dave’s death. She watched as a slow smile spread across his features, making his face seem less cruel. His hand came forward, and he took a strand of her dark hair between this thumb and index finger.
“It must be fortune smiling on me. I’m glad you got lost.”
Cait fought to shrug off the strong effect he had on her. My God, she was twenty-nine, hardly new to the world of men. Why was she acting dumbstruck, her tongue frozen in her throat and a peculiar aching beginning deep within her? Sudden anger aroused her and she took one step back, jutting her chin out and glaring up at him.
“On the contrary, Señor. I am hardly lost! I’m supposed to meet a pilot from the Miron Corporation who will fly me directly to the Rio Colorado construction site.”
Disbelief flared briefly in those leonine eyes that suddenly became hooded by thick ebony lashes. “You’re C. F. Monahan?” he asked blackly.
“Yes, I am. Cait Monahan, from Brentworth. Are you the pilot?”
For a moment, Cait wasn’t sure whether he was going to curse outright or stalk off. He stood there, hands resting tensely on his hips as he continued to stare down at her. An invisible current of tension grew between them, and Cait gripped her bag tightly, her knuckles turning white.
“You must be Señor Tobbar,” she finally managed.
His black hair dipped across his head as he bowed mockingly. He pushed the rebellious strands back, and one corner of his mouth twisted upward in a cool smile. “I see my reputation has already reached you, Señora Monahan.”
She didn’t bother to extend her hand, too shaken by his blatant advances. If he was embarrassed, he did not show it. After interminable seconds, he added in an almost growling tone, “I’ve been called many things at the construction site, but you can start out with Dominic if you prefer.”
Mystified by his manner and dizzied by the almost physical caress of his voice, Cait murmured, “Obviously you weren’t expecting a woman.”
Dominic shook his head, his eyes stormy. “Obviously I wasn’t. I hope you didn’t bring a caravan of suitcases with you, because I’m in a hurry, and there isn’t time to sit around here passing pleasantries.”
Cait throttled her anger, setting her lips in a firm line. “Customs has already passed my two suitcases,” she answered stiffly.
“Good. At least you travel light,” he drawled, and then turned to the man at the desk. Cait stood anchored to the spot, calmly watching him, amazed by his flagrant lack of respect for her. After all, as project superintendent for the behind-schedule project, she was his new boss. But she decided to say nothing. Once they got to the site and she picked up the reins of authority, she would deal with Dominic Tobbar’s attitude. Now was not the time or place. She was tired from the long flight to Argentina, and he looked as if he had already put in a long, hard day. Tempers always flared when schedules weren’t being met.
Dominic turned back to her. “Pablo will escort you to the plane.” He indicated a dark-haired man approaching. “I’ll be back in five minutes.”
Cait had the childish urge to time him, but she didn’t. Pablo smiled shyly, greeting her in broken English.
The plane, a twin-engine Beechcraft with the Miron insignia, stood on the apron, looking sleek and powerful. Cait climbed into the copilot’s seat and strapped in, waiting for Dominic Tobbar to return. The clear night sky held thousands of blinking stars. She shivered. It was cooler than she had expected.
Dominic appeared exactly five minutes later. The light from the building slanted across his head and broad shoulders, reminding Cait of a knight who had just walked out of the dark ages. There was not an iota of wasted motion about him, and she felt herself being pulled into a vortex of capability that seemed to emanate from him. In a flash it struck her that, if he chose to, he could be a formidable adversary.
Sighing heavily, Cait faced forward. Once they were aloft, the lights of Buenos Aires quickly disappeared, to be replaced with velvet blackness. Unlike night flights over the States, where dots of lights always indicated small towns, Argentina remained closed, swathed in an ebony coat. Dominic trimmed up the aircraft, and Cait glanced over at him.
“How long will it take us to get to the site?”
His face had taken on an eerie green cast as the lighted instrument panel reflected off his features. “ETA is in two hours and ten minutes,” he replied in a distant tone.
Cait mentally cursed him. Why was he being so damn hostile and abrupt? She tried once more. “It looks like you’ve put in a few hours today.”
He tilted his head to appraise her slowly, as if deciding whether he should snap, snarl or bark. Cait’s stomach knotted and her breath snagged. Then, as quickly as his savage expression had appeared, it was replaced by an unreadable mask. “Yes, it’s been one hell of a day, and by the looks of it, there are going to be many more.”
“I take it you weren’t supposed to be the pilot for this trip?”
“No, I was not. I’m too damn busy to be playing chauffeur.”
Cait tried to shrug off the tension building between them again. The atmosphere in the cabin was one kilowatt away from exploding. Compressing her lips, she frowned, trying to put all his abrupt, accusing statements together. “Didn’t Señor Campos inform you of who I was?”
His mouth formed an ugly smile. “Did he tell me the boss was going to be a woman? No. But then,” he added darkly, readjusting the trim tab slightly, “Campos enjoys putting me on the defensive. So I guess I shouldn’t be surprised at all.”
She fell silent once again, reminding herself not to grip her hands so tightly in reaction. Concentrating on the throbbing of the engines, she finally began to relax and closed her eyes.
“How’s Hank doing?”
Cait blinked her eyes in confusion. “What?”
He gave her a bored look, then returned his attention to the gauges. “I asked if Hank is going to make it.”
She rubbed her eyes tiredly. “Last I heard, he had made it through surgery and was in the recovery room. The operation was a complete success.”
She recalled her conversation with her boss, Chuck Goodell, who had sent her to Argentina after only two weeks of rest. She was sorry Hank Parker, former head of the pipeline project, had suffered a major heart attack, but she was relieved to be out in the field once more, away from the haunting memories of her dead husband.
Dominic nodded. “Good.”
She slid back into the seat, wrapping her arms around her body to stay warm. Completely confused by Dominic Tobbar, she decided to try to sleep. Soon darkness calmed her and she dozed.
Her slumber was punctuated with bits and pieces of an old nightmare. She was cold, so very cold as she stood on the wrecked gas platform two miles off the Indonesian coast. She felt a snake of terror uncoiling within her as she watched the frenzied efforts of the rescue crew. It was one hundred and ten degrees and 100 percent humidity, but she was cold to the bone, because Dave was trapped beneath the bent and twisted drilling tower, along with five other drillers. Sweat was running off her, and she felt the icy fingers of death around her heart.…
Someone was calling, a voice from very far away, but it wasn’t Dave’s voice. Cait moaned, moving around in the seat. Suddenly she snapped awake, her eyes unseeing as the last fragments of the nightmare lingered.
“I asked if you were all right,” Dominic Tobbar demanded.
Cait looked down to find a jacket tucked around her. She met his intense gaze. “No…I mean…” She licked her dry lips and pushed a strand of hair off her face. “I’m fine,” she answered, her voice oddly husky.
“I thought you had malaria, or something, the way you suddenly broke out in a sweat. Did you just get back from the Orient?”
Cait was unable to answer his hard, staccato questions so soon after awakening from the grip of her nightmare. For an instant, she saw concern flicker in his gaze. It made his face look pleasant, almost boyish.
“Yes—Indonesia,” she stumbled. She was perspiring heavily. Reaching for her canvas purse, she pulled out a linen handkerchief and dabbed her forehead and cheeks. He didn’t seem satisfied with her answer. His gaze lingered hungrily on her features, and she felt stripped and helpless beneath his probing stare.
“We get a lot of malaria up in northern Argentina. You looked like a classic case. Came on fast and sudden. I have a thermos of coffee in the glove compartment,” he added. “We both need some.”
She was thankful for the diversion and relieved by his less aggressive stance. After pouring the hot liquid into two plastic cups, Cait sat back and sipped it silently. She was still trembling. God, why wouldn’t the trauma go away? Why did she have to relive the horrible accident again and again? She swallowed hard, trying to shore up her battered emotions. The coffee was warm and comforting in her hands, and it began to soothe her jangled nerves.
“Better?” Dominic inquired.
She nodded, managing a weak smile. “Yes, thank you.”
“What did they do, haul you off one project and throw this one in your lap?”
“Almost,” she admitted, glad that he was being more civil. “I finished off an oil platform near Java two and a half weeks ago.”
He smiled thinly, banking the plane toward an unseen area far below. “Well, you’re either very good at what you do or you’re the only one Brentworth could find to send down to this mess.”
She was still too shaken to think of an adequate defense. As usual, she would have to prove her abilities all over again. If she had been a man, the challenge would never been thrown.
The plane came back on an even keel beneath his touch, and he looked over at her, studying her left hand where she still wore the plain gold wedding band Dave had given her nearly five years ago. “Your husband going to be joining you at the site?” he asked acidly.
Rebuffed, Cait found it nearly impossible to hide the hurt of freshly healed wounds. A lump formed in her throat, and she swallowed hard. “No. He’s dead. He died a year ago, in a platform accident.”
Dominic sat back, pursing his lips, glancing at her out of the corner of his eye. “I’m sorry,” he muttered.
Cait wasn’t sure he was apologizing for asking the question so nastily or for Dave’s death. It took every-bit of willpower to control the anguish that threatened to explode within her. She sighed softly. Why was Dominic Tobbar able to shred her carefully built walls in moments, when no one else had done so in almost a year?
“Then you’re a woman doing a man’s job?” he prodded, his tone less cruel but nonetheless probing.
Cait detected a glimmer of humor in his tone, and she smiled, closing her eyes and relaxing. “The only thing you have to remember, Señor Tobbar, is that I’m project superintendent. Don’t let my gender concern you.”
She did not look to see the effect her words had on him, but she heard him laugh softly, a rich, deep sound that filled the cabin.
“Campos is in for a big surprise, I’m afraid,” he murmured, and then fell silent.
Minutes later, he guided the Beechcraft onto a rough dirt airstrip feebly lit on either side. It looked dangerous, and Cait made a mental note to make sure it was properly lighted in the future. The plane rolled up to a waiting sedan and jeep. Switching off die engine, Dominic turned to her.
“Welcome to Rio Colorado, Señora Monahan.” He smiled coldly and opened the door. “You’ll be in the very capable hands of Señor Campos from now on.”
Cait pulled the jacket from around her shoulders and handed it to him. “Thanks for the loan.”
He nodded, and an inquiring glint shone in his eyes. Silence hung between them, and Cait’s breath caught in her throat as she fell under his disturbing gaze. Suddenly his features relaxed and the impenetrable wall around him seemed to melt away. His mouth, pliable and strong, mesmerized her. He smiled slowly, and reached out toward her.
Cait swayed forward in response, feeling tenderness and concern flowing from him, charged with an almost primal desire…for her. A shiver of longing made her tremble as if he had actually run his hand up her arm and placed his mouth lightly on hers.
But, still without touching her, he allowed his hand to drop back to his long, muscular thigh. “Too bad you weren’t lost,” he murmured, and then he disappeared into the night. Cait felt as if something of great value had slipped from her grasp.