Night Child(4)

By: Ann Major

Once she had fought him. Now she was his. Forever.

Across the room Jeb's parents, Mercedes and Wayne Jackson, were watching the news as they sipped cocktails. As always, Megan's brother, Kirk MacKay, stood apart from the others, wrapped in his own brooding silence, a lone wolf apart from the pack. Tall and swarthy, dressed in tight jeans and a black shirt that was slashed at the throat and hugged his lean body, he towered behind the older Jacksons. Every muscle in his body felt taut, caged in. He had accepted the dinner invitation only because Megan had begged him to.

Kirk turned his back on the television, bent his powerful body over the bar and poured himself a bourbon on the rocks. A brown hand restlessly swirled the crystal glass, but he did not bring it to his lips.

A young maid in a black-and-white uniform came into the vast room and cast slanting flirtatious eyes in his direction. Kirk looked up from his drink. He had danced with her at a country-and-western dance last weekend. He remembered her pressing her body into his; just as he remembered the hot invitation in her eyes. All his life women had chased him. He smiled faintly, cynically, and she blushed to the roots of her hair at his attention, barely managing to announce dinner in a tiny faltering voice before stumbling from the room.

Mercedes arose to switch off the television, but just as she did, the commentator started talking about the latest kidnapping in the Middle East. Mercedes' hand hovered on the button.

"Leave it on," Kirk commanded. His attention was caught, rapt, as was Mercedes'.

"And now our latest on the Dawn Hayden abduction in Ali Naid, tiny oil sheikhdom of Prince Ali Hufaz. Miss Hayden is a principal dancer for the New National Theater of Dance and Ballet in New York City, and at twenty-five, she is one of America's prima ballerinas. On the night before last, Miss Hayden had just finished the finale of the first act of The Sleeping Beauty for one of Prince Ali's gala charity events when seven gunmen interrupted her mesmerizing performance and attempted to assassinate Prince Ali. Though the attempt failed, one of the prince's top aides, Mussa Assad, suffered chest wounds and is in critical condition. Miss Hayden was kidnapped by the alleged leader of the band of terrorists as he was escaping. There has been no word of Miss Hayden in over thirty-six hours, and all efforts to locate her have failed thus far."

A color photograph of the dancer flashed across the screen. She was dark, slim, graceful, with the long-necked, ethereal beauty so common to ballerinas. Her pale face was a delicate oval. High black brows winged above enormous shining dark eyes. Her smile radiated warmth. She had an unruly mane of thick, ebony hair that cascaded over her shoulders in wrinkled waves. Even in that still picture, there was something wild, something vitally, irrepressibly and eagerly alive about her, something undisciplined and unruly that had no place in the face of a classical dancer. Hers was no polished, emotionless cameo. She was a maverick, and it showed.

Kirk found himself unaccountably drawn to the girl. There was a haunting vulnerability about her. He wondered where she was, what was happening to her.

He slammed his glass on the gleaming bar, and everyone turned to look at him. He flushed darkly. "Sorry."

They knew too well his dislike of kidnappings and terrorism, respected his privacy and turned their attention back to the television.

Acid chewed a bitter path through him as he thought of that slim pale woman brutalized and murdered by rough terrorist bandits. Kirk's green eyes, so like his sister's, hardened. It was better not to think of the girl. With an effort, he forced himself to relax. It wasn't as if he knew her, as if he could do something about her, as if it was his fault— this time.

"Too bad they got her," he muttered grimly. "She's probably dead by now. If she's lucky." He bolted his bourbon and poured another.

"Dear God!" Mercedes bit into her knuckles. A former dancer herself in her youth, she was always interested in any story however remotely connected to the ballet world. She had been following this one closely.

"Damn fool idiot!" Kirk muttered. "Girls like her don't have any business over there in the first place. Prince Ali is a brutal and total dictator, and many factions in his country have sworn to kill him."

As the news story unfolded, only Mercedes and Kirk remained to watch. There were more photographs of the girl and a clipping of her dancing Ondine.

Transfixed Mercedes watched. "Her dancing isn't perfect, but it is wonderful. Really beautiful. I once knew someone else, who danced Ondine almost exactly like that! My sister Anna..." Mercedes shivered and moved closer to the television set. Unconsciously her hand had lifted to her heart. "No..." Her voice was low, strangled. "It can't be..."