"There he is! That's Zack Damon's car!"
With a nearly inaudible swoosh the Silver Shadow Rolls Royce drew to a halt before the auditorium. Photographers and reporters converged on the car with an eagerness they hadn't displayed for either the rock star who had just gone into the lobby or for the governor, who was still lingering outside to shake hands with his constituents.
The reaction of the press was perfectly understandable, Kira Rubinoff thought as she carefully drew the hood of her black velvet cloak forward to shadow her face. Both the star and the politician constantly made themselves available to the media, while Zack Damon was almost as publicity shy as Howard Hughes had been. Perhaps wariness of the media was a trait shared by billionaires in America, where as much attention was paid to self-made tycoons as it was to royalty in Europe. Yet Damon was known to be exceptionally reclusive in that elite set of the reclusive. The only public functions he had attended this year were selected benefits and special fund-raisers for various American Indian welfare groups. By poring over newspaper and magazine articles in The New York Public Library reference room, Kira had learned a great deal about him, including the fact that he'd be attending this benefit. The Damon Foundation was a sponsor of the Indian Heritage Center; the Center had used Zack Damon's name and clout to pull in the galaxy of stars who were to perform tonight.
As the door of the Rolls was being opened by a uniformed chauffeur, Kira quickly stepped back into the shadowy mouth of the alley leading to the stage door. It was highly unlikely that Damon could spot her even if he were looking for her... which, most definitely, he was not. After all, he didn't even know her. Still, it didn't hurt to be cautious. In this, her first glimpse of the flesh-and-blood man, she definitely wanted to see, yet remain unseen.
Power. The word struck her like a blow as she watched him get out of the car. Quiet, effortless power. She knew from the articles she'd read that he was in his thirties, but he could well have been any age. He was tall and broad shouldered. Long, sleek muscles lent grace to the movements of his big body. By contrast, his face seemed brutal: black brows slashed across his forehead to frame eyes as night-black as his hair, and broad Slavic cheekbones ran parallel to a jawline that was firm and determined. That face, that composed, strong face revealed a man who had endured and waited, gathering about him forces only he could control.
He wore a black tuxedo with the casualness of one accustomed to evening wear, but who was still impatient with its necessity. And, she thought, he was handling questions from the reporters with much the same attitude he displayed toward the wearing of the tuxedo: accustomed, but impatient. Kira listened closely, not really interested in Damon's answers so much as the manner in which he gave them.
"You're not with Mallory Thane this evening. Does that mean your liaison is over?"
"I have no liaisons."
"It was reported that she stayed the weekend with you in Acapulco."
"I have no liaisons."
Blunt, impassive, soft-spoken.
"Is it true that the AirFlow merger is being fought by the unions?"
"You'll have to ask them."
"Are you half or quarter Apache, Mr. Damon?"
"Half. My grandfather was shaman of his tribe."
"You're also illegitimate. Right?"
That question obviously struck a nerve. Damon's gaze fastened on the reporter who'd asked the question. The man took a hasty step backward. "Yes, I'm both a bastard and a half-breed," he said softly. "Considering what I've made of myself, I'd say that speaks well for being both. And just what have you made of your life to date, Mr... ." He looked at the man's press badge. "Carter?"
The reporter didn't answer. He bent his head hastily over his notebook. Kira didn't blame him for avoiding Damon's challenging stare. She wasn't sure she would have had the courage to look Damon in the eye at that moment. How unnerving to experience the lethal swiftness with which he could change from neutrality to attack.
Another reporter spoke up. "You've been fighting for better education and employment opportunities for Indians for the last twelve years. Though I'm sure it's very laudable, don't you believe that a lot of what the American Indian experiences today is due to resentment of his savagery in the past?"
"No," Damon responded quietly. "I think his present situation is due to the fact that he wasn't savage enough."
But he would have been savage enough to hold what was his, Kira thought. She shivered. Oh lord, what had Marna gotten her into?
A small, graying man with a wide smile on his plump face had gotten out of the front seat of the Rolls. He was also dressed in a tuxedo, and he spoke as he stepped between Damon and the reporters. "Mr. Damon will give you a statement about his involvement with the Indian Heritage Center during the intermission. I'm afraid you'll have to excuse him now. It's time for him to go to his box."
He plowed ahead, running interference for Damon with the media, fending questions as fast as they were fired. As they entered the lobby the crowd closed around them, hiding Damon from Kira's view.
She drew a deep breath and tried to relax the muscles of her shoulders. Until Damon had vanished from sight, she hadn't realized how tense she'd become while observing him. Maybe it would have been better "to beard the lion in his den" without any prior knowledge of him. At least she wouldn't have been nervous. Heavens, how silly she was being. She'd been dealing with powerful people since she was a child, and shouldn't be intimidated at all by Zack Damon. But then, she had never been a supplicant before. Begging for help for the first time was bound to put butterflies in anyone's stomach, she reassured herself.
In a swift gesture of bravado, she tossed the hood of her cloak back. A mass of riotous auburn curls tumbled over her shoulders. She stepped quickly out of the alley and walked briskly down the street to where her taxi was waiting. The time for hiding in the shadows was over. It was time for her to act with her usual forthrightness and to accomplish her task.
Perry Bentley firmly closed the door of the box, shutting the reporters out. His genial smile vanishing, he turned to his employer and spoke rapidly. "Jansen called on the car phone just after you got out. Princess Rubinoff was in the crowd in front of this auditorium."
Damon's gaze flew to Bentley's face. "Here?"
"At the mouth of the alley. She was wearing a black velvet cloak, obviously trying to go unrecognized."
"Jansen followed her from her hotel. He couldn't be more sure."
Zack turned away to hide his expression from Perry, whose eyes revealed unabashed curiosity about this situation. It would take little encouragement, Zack knew, to cause Perry to unleash that curiosity in a barrage of questions. Perry wasn't at all intimidated by him, as most other people seemed to be, and most of the time Zack appreciated that quality in his assistant as much as his loyalty. But not in this particular matter. "How did she get here?"
"A taxi. She had it waiting for her around the corner from the thater."
"A taxi!" Zack muttered a brief, explicit curse that caused Perry to lift his brows in surprise. "What the hell is her brother thinking of to let her go running around the world without security?"
"Princess Rubinoff has the best security that money can buy," Perry reminded him mildly.
"But good King Stefan doesn't know that."
The savage tone of voice Zack used caused Perry's eyes to widen. He hadn't heard Zack speak so harshly in the seven years he had been working for him. Zack was usually quite soft-spoken. There was no need for a man to raise his voice when everyone was more than eager to listen.
"How stupid can the man be?" Zack snarled.
Perry shrugged. "I've heard he's not the most enlightened of monarchs, but then Tamrovia is so small, maybe he doesn't have to be."
"Get on the phone and call Jansen back. I want to know where she goes in that taxi."
Perry nodded and slipped out the door of the box.
The houselights went down; a spotlight was thrown on the velvet curtain at center stage. Zack sat down in a plushly padded chair in the rear of the box, his eyes fixed unseeingly on the master of ceremonies, who walked into the spot.
Why was Kira here? Zack wondered. She had been only a few yards from him and he hadn't even known it. After all these years she had finally been almost close enough to touch. He could have crossed the space between them in seconds. No, the space between them couldn't be measured by distances. Even if he had crossed those few physical yards, they would still have had a very long way to travel to meet each other. He mustn't get overeager just when it was most important to keep control. He knew about patience and control. Events could be shaped and worlds conquered by a man who possessed those two qualities. He drew a deep breath and concentrated hard to regain a sense of peace and tranquility. It took longer than usual to accomplish, but he had succeeded by the time Perry came back to the box.
"Well?" he asked his assistant.
"The taxi is heading north on the Santa Catalina Highway toward the Santa Catalina Mountains. If her destination is the one I think it is, she's going to have one hell of a taxi fare."
"My lodge." It was a statement, not a question.
Perry nodded. "It makes sense. According to the report, she flew into New York C...