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v1.5
July 2007
Wild Thing
Anne Stuart
He was beautiful.
The pictures had been astonishing enough, but they failed to prepare her for the reality of the wild man…
There was no other word for him. Beneath the tangle of long dark hair, beneath the deeply tanned skin and rough beard, he was absolutely stunning. Libby let her eyes run down the entire length of his body, his lean, muscled shoulders and chest, his long legs ending in bare, narrow feet.
She stared at him in awe and fascination, silent, wondering. Most definitely masculine, most definitely human, most definitely him.
It was her worst failing as a scientist. She couldn't disassociate from her subject. But it was hard to be objective when the subject under her examination was a living, breathing, potent male.
* * *
contents
Prologue 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16
* * *
ISBN 0-373-16845-4
WILD THING
Copyright © 2000 by Anne Kristine Stuart Ohlrogge.
All rights reserved. Except for use in any review, the reproduction or utilization of this work in whole or in part in any form by any electronic, mechanical or other means, now known or hereafter invented, including xerography, photocopying and recording, or in any information storage or retrieval system, is forbidden without the written permission of the publisher, Harlequin Enterprises Limited, 225 Duncan Mill Road, Don Mills, Ontario, Canada M3B 3K9.
All characters in this book have no existence outside the imagination of the author and have no relation whatsoever to anyone bearing the same name or names. They are not even distantly inspired by any individual known or unknown to the author, and all incidents are pure invention.
This edition published by arrangement with Harlequin Books S.A.
Visit us at www.eHarlequin.com
Printed in U.S.A.
* * *
Prologue
^ »
It was bloody hell being a minion, Alf Droggan thought grumpily. It was a far cry from what he'd planned, growing up in the mean streets of London. He could have been a bookie like dear old Da. Or a pub owner, or even a judge, if he'd ever bothered to pay attention to Latin during his years at Saint Mary's School of the Innocents. Not that there'd been anyone innocent in that place, from the nuns to the scrubby young malcontents who'd filled the seats and did their time.
That was where he'd met Mick Brown. They made a good pair, the two of them. Mick was small, wiry, ferret-faced and quick. People assumed he was the smart, mean one.
Alf was big, slow-moving, slow-speaking, seemingly a simple soul. But in fact he had twice the brains poor Mick was blessed with, and he could be mean as a snake, while Mick tended to take things as they came.
They'd been together for more than thirty years now, mates since they'd been in the detention center together, and no one, not bosses, not cops, not the occasional wife or girlfriend, got in the way of their bond.
And in fact, they'd landed in the gravy this time. Security consultants to Edward J. Hunnicutt himself. Ed Hunnicutt, the seventh-richest man in the world, working fast on becoming number one. Security consultants, when Hunnicutt had security companies at his beck and call. It was just another term for minion.
But a well-paid minion for all that, Alf thought, leaning back in his leather chair and reaching in his pocket for his ciggies. They weren't there, of course. Old Ed was a health fanatic, and there was no smoking anywhere near him. Couldn't be a proper minion without a cigarette, Alf thought grumpily.
Mick was sitting by the two-way mirror, his nose pressed up against the glass, endlessly fascinated by what lay beyond it. Hell, he might just as well be sitting with his face up against a mirror—Mick was easily amused.
'Alf,' Mick said excitedly. 'He's starting to move. Can I hit him with the stuff again?'
'Not yet, Mick,' Alf said. 'Last time we gave him too much and he started twitching. What do you think Old Ed would do if we accidentally killed the bugger?'
'Yeah, but if we wait he might wake up enough to do some damage. He's right huge, he is.'
'Then we'll do like we did last time. One of us takes the hypodermic, the other covers him with the tranquilizer gun. He's not breaking any more of my bones. He tries it again, I'll break his neck,' Alf said, shifting his cast. At least it was his right arm, and he was left-handed. He'd still managed to fight the bastard off and jam the needle into his arm so hard it had broken. And then when he'd dropped to the floor Alf had satisfied himself by kicking him in the face.
Old Ed hadn't been pleased by the mess he'd made of his prize possession. He'd spoken quite sharply, and Alf had had to apologize. Minion or not, Alf knew that Ed Hunnicutt was richer than the queen, and he paid well for brute force and discretion. Things that Alf and Mick specialized in.
He wasn't finished with the thing locked behind the thick, mirrored glass. He didn't dare touch him again until Old Ed lost interest, but his time would come. No one messed with Alf Droggan and got away with a few a bruises. He'd get what was his.
'He's waking up,' Mick said, his voice high-pitched with excitement. 'Come on, Alf. Let me get the needle. I won't give him too much, I promise.'
'All right, Mick,' Alf said kindly. 'You go ahead. The lady's coming soon, and we don't want her to be scared away by him. Not that Old Ed's money won't overcome any scruples she might have.'
'Money can't buy everything, Alf,' Mick said, cheerfully heading for the drug cabinet.
'Can't prove that by me. Or by anyone I've ever met,' Alf said. 'They all have their price. Old Ed will get the lady doctor jumping when he snaps his fingers, just like we do.' Another minion, he thought. Just what Edward J. Hunnicutt needed.
Chapter One
« ^ »
Dr. Elizabeth Holden had never been so tired in her entire life. It didn't make sense—she'd spent the last eighteen hours comfortably ensconced in a first-class airplane seat, with every amenity she could possibly want. She'd dutifully taken walks every hour to stretch her muscles, she'd slept deeply and well, and since she'd deliberately removed her watch the time changes shouldn't be affecting her.
Of course, the last jog in that tiny deathtrap of a plane could be the reason. She hated small planes with a coward's passion. She wasn't overly enthusiastic about the big ones, either, but at least she felt marginally safer in them. She'd almost refused to get onto the small plane waiting to take her to Ghost Island, and in the end it was only her precarious self-respect that made her do it.
She'd survived the flight, but just barely, and she was ready to get on with her task.
She hated not having her watch, just hated it. She needed order and regulation in her life, and not wearing her watch made her feel vulnerable. A small price to pay, but she hated it.
She leaned back against the leather seat of the limo, wondering if she could search through her briefcase and put her watch back on, now that her journey was almost at an end. But then she'd have to ask the huge, monosyllabic driver what time it was in this time zone, and she wasn't sure she really wanted to know.
She glanced out the window at the tropical growth. It was early evening, she guessed, though for all she knew it could be just after dawn. Shadows lurked beneath the lush forest that surrounded the narrow road, and she wondered just what kind of wildlife lay hidden back there.
Not snakes, she hoped. Libby hated snakes with a simple, terrifying passion. But this was an island, a huge private island off in the middle of nowhere. Weren't islands free of snakes? Ireland was, if Saint Patrick had done his job properly, and so was Hawaii. She could only trust this remote island was similarly snake-free.
She sighed, shoving a hand through her short-cropped hair.
It must be nice to be the seventh-richest man in the world, she thought. Edward J. Hunnicutt could have absolutely anything he wanted, be it a large private island somewhere in the general area of Australia, be it an entire university at his bidding, be it an up-and-coming research anthropologist who hated snakes and didn't like to leave civilization.
When Edward J. Hunnicutt snapped his fingers, the president of Stansfield University jumped, and the entire faculty followed. It was Hunnicutt who supported the entire science department, Hunnicutt who funded Libby's research and position. Hunnicutt who wanted Libby to drop everything, get on a plane and fly halfway across the world to conduct research on his newest finding.
And Libby jumped, dropped and flew as ordered. Grant money was the name of the game in research, and Hunnicutt was a billionaire with a hobby and agenda. He wasn't content with earning a fortune so staggering that Libby couldn't even begin to imagine it. He wanted to be responsible for great scientific achievements, and he was willing to buy them, no matter what the price.
And obviously Libby Holden was willing to be bought. The thought should have depressed her, but at the moment she was simply grateful someone wanted her.
Don't think about it, she ordered herself. So Richard decided he'd rather sleep with graduate students than marry you. Fine and dandy. Sex was overrated, Richard was a pompous bore, and she'd do much better concentrating on her career than a failed relationship that had been over for more than a year.
But the fact of the matter was, Richard had expected to be Hunnicutt's fair-haired boy, and he didn't like it in the slightest that Libby had been chosen in his place. He'd made it vociferously clear that he was better qualified, had seniority, et cetera. If Libby knew him, and she did, he'd still be blustering and protesting.
And she couldn't necessarily blame him. She had no idea why Edward J. Hunnicutt had chosen her for his top-secret research project, and if the damned man ever decided to meet with her she had every intention of flat-out asking him.
It was almost dark by the time the limo pulled to a stop, and Libby blinked, wondering if jet lag had finally turned her brain to mush. She scrambled out of the back seat, into the dense, tropical heat, and stared upward in awe.
It was an impressive edifice, a fortress, all shiny and so new she could smell the lumber and fresh paint over the humid scent of the jungle behind them. It sprawled across the top of the bluff, and she realized belatedly that they'd been climbing higher and higher. It was too dark to know for certain, but she suspected they were at the highest point on the island, and if there were any windows in the place they'd look out over the entire area. There were no windows in the front.
'What is this place?' she asked the driver, who was busy hauling out her suitcases. He ignored her, starting up the front steps, and she had no choice but to follow him. She could see several separate buildings off to the left, almost hidden by the jungle growth, and those buildings looked just as new as this one. Someone had gone to a great deal of effort and expense to build this place. But then, expense was no object to someone like Edward J. Hunnicutt.
There was no handle on the front door, no window, no bell to announce arrivals. Nevertheless the door swung open silently as the chauffeur approached it, laden with her luggage, and she scrambled after him, her laptop clutched to her chest.
The door swung shut behind her, silently, and she found herself standing alone in a white, empty hallway. The chauffeur had disappeared, abandoning her in the air-conditioned stillness. She took a tentative step forward, and a light came on. She stepped back, and it went off. She tried it again, two steps forward, and more lights illuminated the hallway. Downright creepy, she decided, wondering if there was any way she could talk her silent driver into taking her back.
There was no way she was getting on another puddle jumper for the foreseeable future, and the mere thought of it was enough to stiffen her resolve. 'Is anyone here?' she called out. She'd hoped her voice sounded brisk and professional, but there was a betraying wobble to it, and she cleared her throat, annoyed with herself.
'Right here, my dear.' And Edward J. Hunnicutt himself appeared from a recessed doorway she hadn't even noticed was there, a faintly amused expression on his face. 'Did you think we'd abandoned you?'
'I'm a bit jet-lagged,' she said faintly, stalling for time. 'I didn't know what to think.'
She still didn't. She'd never seen the infamous Edward J. Hunnicutt in the flesh—he tended to be reclusive. Somehow she'd expected he'd be different.
She wasn't a very tall woman, but he wasn't much bigger than she was. She knew from her research that he was even younger than she was, and he'd amassed his astounding fortune through computers, but beyond that she didn't care. Finances bored her—the only use she had for numbers was to quantify scientific data. He wasn't a bad-looking man, nor particularly handsome. As a matter of fact, he was almost alarmingly average, with a bland, even-featured face, brown hair combed straight back from his high forehead, trim body neatly attired in a lightweight tropical suit. He didn't look like a computer geek, a financial wizard, or a multimillionaire. He didn't look like much of anything at all.
'You were very kind to drop everything and come here at such short notice,' he said, both of them ignoring the fact that it hadn't been a matter of choice. 'I'm sure you'd like a chance to rest and freshen up, but I'm afraid I'm on a tight schedule, and if we're going to talk we'll have to do it now. I'm leaving in ten minutes.'
She stared at him blankly. 'Ten minutes?' Take me with you, she almost begged. Back to Richard's smirking face, to admit failure before she'd even started? Back to the tiny airplane? No. 'Fine,' she said briskly. 'Where can we talk?'
He gestured into the room, and she preceded him, once more assaulted by the stark whiteness, the shocking newness of the place. No windows in the room, and little furniture—just two chairs and a small table. Hunnicutt took one, signaling for her to take the other.
It was surprisingly comfortable. She should have known that a man with his kind of money would spare no expense. 'What am I doing here?' she asked. 'What's this mysterious, important scientific discovery I've been brought to observe, and why all the secrecy? Why me?'
'In what order do you want me to answer your questions, my dear?' He sounded like an amused elderly uncle. He was three years younger than she was, she reminded herself testily. And at least three billion times richer. 'I wanted you because of your particular qualifications. You have doctorates in both anthropology and linguistics, you're intelligent, unsentimental, unattached and reasonably ambitious. I've had my eye on you for quite some time now, and I've been most impressed. You aren't aware of it, but I've been behind most of the grant monies that have been supporting your work. I knew that sooner or later you'd be just the person I needed, and that time has come.'
If that was supposed to set her mind at rest, it failed dismally. She was certainly intelligent, and most definitely unattached. She wasn't so sure about the unsentimental or ambitious part, but she wasn't about to correct him. 'Why am I here?' she said instead.
'To observe and document my discovery. I'm afraid Dr. McDonough had only begun when he met with his unfortunate accident.'
'Dr. McDonough? William McDonough was working on this when he was killed?' She was astonished. William McDonough's death two months before had shocked the entire scientific community. He hadn't been well liked, but the man had been utterly brilliant, and there had been rumors of an astounding discovery just before he died. That discovery apparently had just fallen in her lap.
'An unfortunate car accident.' Hunnicutt shrugged. 'Not one of my personal limousines, of course, nor one of my drivers. Since then I've made certain that my associates are properly provided for. It was a great loss to science, if not for mankind.'
No, not a loss for mankind, if half the stories were true. 'And what was he working on?'
Hunnicutt smiled, the look of a pastry chef about to present a perfect crème brûlée. 'Something extraordinary.'
<
br /> Libby had never been known for her patience, and eighteen hours of jet lag didn't help matters. 'Didn't you have to leave in ten minutes?'
Hunnicutt blinked, obviously not used to being rushed. And then he smiled again, this time a bit more rigidly. 'There's a folder full of Dr. McDonough's notes in your rooms. That will give you something to start with. I want everything documented, observed closely. Two of my men will be assisting you, Brown and Droggan, and they'll know how to get in touch with me in case of emergency. In the meantime, secrecy is of the utmost importance. You know how it is in the scientific world—if anyone had a notion of my discovery we'd have people crawling all over this island.'
'I thought you owned it.'
'I do. That won't keep them away. We'll make our announcement when the time is right and no sooner. And the time won't be right until you've finished your work.'
'My work on what?' she demanded, frustrated. 'What did you discover? Dinosaur eggs? A lost tribe? Aliens?'
'Close,' he said. 'I've discovered a missing link.'
She stared at him in disbelief. 'Link? Between what? Don't tell me you've found some kind of Yeti or Sasquatch.'
'Not quite. Tarzan might be a better choice.'
'Tarzan,' she said blankly, wondering if Hunnicutt had lost his mind.
'We found a wild child, Dr. Holden. A creature raised up in the jungle with no outside influence. Just think of the possibilities for research. They're endless, and you hold them all in your hands.'
She looked down at her hands, still clutching her laptop case. Small, strong hands, ringless. 'I want to see him.'
'Of course you do,' Hunnicutt said serenely. 'And you will, once you read through the preliminary reports. Besides, you need time to get accustomed to the new time zone and climate. It's a far cry from Chicago in January, isn't it? The creature isn't going anywhere. We have him sedated, kept in a controlled environment, and a few more days won't matter.'

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