Dirk Pitt released his hold on sleep, yawned a deep, satisfying yawn, and absorbed his surroundings. It had been dark when he arrived at the mountain cabin and the flames in the great moss-rock fireplace along with the light from the pungent-smelling kerosene lamps had not illuminated the knotty-pine interior to its best advantage.
His vision sharpened on an old Seth Thomas clock clinging to one wall. He had set and wound the clock the previous night; it had seemed the thing to do. Next he focused on the massive cobwebbed head of an elk that stared down at him through dusty glass eyes. Slightly beyond the elk was a picture window that offered a breathtaking vista of the craggy Sawatch mountain range, deep in the Colorado Rockies.
As the last strands of sleep receded, Pitt found himself faced with his first decision of the day: whether to allow his eyes to bask in the majesty of the scenery or to feast them on the smoothly contoured body of Colorado congresswoman Loren Smith, who sat naked on a quilted rug, engrossed in yoga exercise.
Pitt discerningly opted for Congresswoman Smith.
She was sitting cross-legged, in the lotus position, leaning back and resting her elbows and head on the rug. The exposed nest between her thighs and the small tautened mounds on her chest, Pitt decided, put the granite summits of the Sawatch to shame.
"What do you call that unladylike contortion?" he asked.
"The Fish," she replied, without moving. "It's for firming up the bosom."
"Speaking as a man," Pitt said with mock pompousness, "I do not approve of rock-hard boobs."
"Would you prefer them limp and saggy?" Her violet eyes angled in his direction.
"Well . . . not exactly. But perhaps a little silicone here and a little silicone there . . ."
"That's the trouble with the masculine mind," she snapped, sitting up and brushing back her long cinnamon hair. "You think all women should have balloon-sized mammaries like those insipid drones on the centerfolds of chauvinist magazines."
"Wishing will make it so."
She threw him a pouting look. "Too bad. You'll have to make do with my thirty-four B-cuppers. They're all I've got."
He reached out, wrapped an iron arm around her torso, and dragged her half on, half off the bed. "Colossal or petite"—he leaned down and lightly kissed each nipple—"let no woman accuse Dirk Pitt of discrimination."
She arched up and bit his ear. "Four whole days alone together. No phones, no committee meetings, no cocktail parties, no aides to hassle me. It's almost too good to be true." Her hand crept under the covers and she caressed his stomach. "How about a little sport before breakfast?"
"Ah, the magic word."
She threw him a crooked smile. "'Sport' or 'breakfast'?"
"What you said before, your yoga position." Pitt leaped out of bed, sending Loren sprawling backward onto her sculpted bottom. "Which way is the nearest lake?"
"Sure." Pitt laughed at her confused expression. "Where there's a lake, there's fish. We can't waste the day dallying in bed when a juicy rainbow trout lies in breathless anticipation of biting a hook."
She tilted her head questioningly and looked up at him. He stood tall, over six foot three, his trim body tanned except for the white band around his hips. His shaggy black hair framed a face that seemed eternally grim and yet was capable of providing a smile that could warm a crowded room. He was not smiling now, but Loren knew Pitt well enough to read the mirth in the crinkles around his incredibly green eyes.
"You big conceited jock," she lashed out. "You're putting me on."
She launched herself off the floor, ramming her head into his stomach, shoving him backward onto the bed. She wasn't fooling herself for a second with her seemingly super strength. If Pitt hadn't relaxed and accepted her momentum, she would have bounced off him like a volleyball.
Before he could fake a protest, Loren climbed over his chest and straddled him, her hands pressing against his shoulders. He tensed himself, circled his hands behind her, and squeezed her soft cheek bottoms. She felt him grow beneath her and his heat seemed to radiate through her skin.
"Fishing," she said in a husky voice. "The only rod you know how to use doesn't have a reel."
They had breakfast at noon. Pitt showered and dressed and returned to the kitchen. Loren was bent over the sink, vigorously scrubbing a blackened pan. She wore an apron and nothing else. He stood in the doorway, watching her small breasts jiggle, taking his time about buttoning his shirt.
"I wonder what your constituency would say if they could see you now," he said.
"Screw my constituency," she said, grinning devilishly. "My private life is none of their damned business."
"'Screw my constituency,'" Pitt repeated solemnly, gesturing as though he were taking notes. "Another entry in the scandalous life of little Loren Smith, congressional representative of Colorado's graft-ridden seventh district."
"You're not funny." She turned and threatened him with the dishpan. "There is no political hanky-panky in the seventh district, and I am the last one on Capitol Hill who can be accused of being on the take."
"Ah . . . but your sexual excesses. Think what journalistic hay the media might make out of that. I may even expose you myself and write a best-selling book."
"As long as I don't keep my lovers on office payroll or entertain them on my congressional expense account, I can't be touched."
"What about me?"
"You paid your half of the groceries, remember?" She dried the pan and set it in the cupboard.
"How can I build a business out of being kept," Pitt said sadly, "if I have a cheap screw for a mistress?"
She put her arms around his neck and kissed his chin. "The next time you pick up a horny girl at a Washington cocktail party, I suggest you demand an accounting of her financial assets."
Good lord, she recalled, that awful party thrown by the Secretary of Environment. She hated the Capital social scene. Unless a function was tied in to Colorado interests or one of her committee assignments, she usually went home after work to a mangy cat named Ichabod and whatever movie was playing on television.
Loren's eyes had been magnetically drawn to him as he stood in the flickering light of the lawn torches. She had stared brazenly while carrying on a partisan conversation with another Independent Party congressman, Morton Shaw, of Florida.
She felt a strange quickening of her pulse. That seldom happened and she wondered why it was happening now. He was not handsome, not in a Paul Newman sort of way, and yet there was a virile, no-nonsense aura about him that appealed to her. He was tall, and she preferred tall men.
He was alone, talking to no one, observing the people around him with a look of genuine interest rather than bored aloofness. When he became aware of Loren's stare, he simply stared back with a frank, appraising expression.
"Who is that wallflower over there in the shadows?" she asked Morton Shaw.
Shaw turned and gazed in the direction Loren indicated with a tilt of her head. His eyes blinked in recognition and he laughed. "Two years in Washington and you don't know who that is?"
"If I knew, I wouldn't ask," she said airily.
"His name is Pitt, Dirk Pitt. He's a special-projects director for the National Underwater and Marine Agency. You know—he's the guy who headed up the Titanic's salvage operation."
She felt stupid for not having made the connection. His picture and the story of the famous liner's successful resurrection had been headlined everywhere for weeks by the news media. So this was the man who had taken on the impossible and beaten the odds. She excused herself from Shaw and made her way through the crowd to Pitt.
"Mr. Pitt," she said. That was as far as she got. A breeze shifted the flames of the torches just then and the new angle caused a glinting reflection in Pitt's eyes. Loren felt a fever in her stomach that had come only once before, when she was very young and had a crush on a professional skier. She was thankful the dim light shaded the flush that must have tinted her cheeks.
"Mr. Pitt," she said again. She couldn't seem to get the right words out. He looked down at her, waiting. An introduction, you fool, she yelled inside her mind. Instead she blurted, "Now that you've raised the Titanic, what are you planning for your next project?"
"That's a pretty tough act to follow," he said, smiling warmly. "My next project, though, will be one with great personal satisfaction; one that I shall savor with great delight."
"And that is?"
"The seduction of Congresswoman Loren Smith."
Her eyes widened. "Are you joking?"
"I never regard sex with a ravishing politician lightly."
"You're cute. Did the opposition party put you up to this?"
Pitt did not reply. He took her by the hand and led her through the house, which was crammed with Washington's power elite, and escorted her outside, to his car. She followed without protest, out of curiosity more than obedience.
As he pulled the car into the tree-lined street, she finally asked, "Where are you taking me?"
"Step one"—he flashed a galvanizing smile—"we find an intimate little bar where we can relax and exchange our innermost desires."
"And step two?" she asked, her voice low.
"I take you for a hundred-mile-an-hour ride down Chesapeake Bay in a hydrofoil racing boat."
"Not this girl."
"I have this theory," Pitt continued. "Adventure and excitement never fail to transform gorgeous congresswomen into mad, insatiable beasts."
Afterward, as the sun's morning warmth fingered the drifting boat, Loren would have been the last person on earth to dispute Pitt's seduction theory. She noted with sensuous satisfaction that his shoulders bore her teeth and claw marks to prove it.
Loren released her hold and pushed Pitt toward the front door of the cabin. "So much for fun and games. I've got a batch of correspondence to clear up before we can drive down to Denver for a shopping spree tomorrow. Why don't you go on a nature hike or something for a few hours. Later, I'll fix us a fattening dinner and we'll spend another perverted evening snuggling by the fire."
"I think I'm all perverted out," he said, stretching. "Besides, nature hikes are definitely not my bag."
"Go fishing, then."
He looked at her. "You never got around to telling me where."
"A quarter of a mile over the hill behind the cabin. Table Lake. Dad used to catch his limit of trout there all the time."
"Thanks to you"—he peered at her sternly—"I'm getting a late start."
"I didn't bring any fishing gear. Your dad leave any around?"
"Under the cabin, in the garage. He used to keep all his tackle down there. Keys to the door lock are on the mantel."
The lock was stiff from nonuse. Pitt spit on it and twisted the sky as hard as he dared without breaking it. At last the tumblers gave and he squeaked the old twin doors open. After waiting a minute to adjust his eyes to the darkened enclosure, he stepped inside and looked around. There was a dusty workbench with its tools all neatly hanging in place. Cans of various sizes lined several shelves, some containing paint, some containing nails and assorted hardware.
Pitt soon found a fishing-tackle box under the bench. The pole took a little longer to find. He barely made one out in a dim corner of the garage. What seemed to be a piece of bulky equipment shrouded under a canvas drop cloth stood in his way. He couldn't quite reach the fishing pole, so he tried climbing over the obstruction. It shifted under his weight and he fell backward, clutching the drop cloth in a vain effort to catch his balance before both ended up on the dirt floor of the garage.
Pitt cursed, brushed himself off, and gazed at what barred him from an afternoon of fishing. A puzzled frown gripped his features. He knelt down and ran his hand over the two large objects he had accidentally uncovered. Then he rose and walked outside and called to Loren.
She appeared over the balcony. "What's your problem?"
"Come down here a minute."
Begrudgingly, she donned a soft beige trench coat and went downstairs. Pitt led her inside the garage and pointed. "Where did your father find those?"
She bent forward and squinted. "What are they?"
"The round yellow one is an aircraft oxygen tank. The other is a nose gear, complete with tires and wheels. Damned old, judging by the degree of corrosion and the grime."
"They're news to me."
"You must have noticed them before. Don't you ever use the garage?"
She shook her head. "Not since I ran for office. This is the first time I've been to Dad's cabin since he died in an accident three years ago."
"You ever hear of a plane crashing around here?" Pitt probed.
"No, but that doesn't mean it hasn't happened. I seldom see any neighbors, so I have little opportunity to catch up on local gossip."
"Your nearest neighbors. Where do they live?"
"Down the road, back toward town. First turnout to the left."
"What's their name?"
"Raferty. Lee and Maxine Raferty. He's a retired Navy man." Loren took Pitt's hand in hers and pressed tightly. "Why all the questions?"
"Curiosity, nothing more." He lifted her hand and kissed it. "I'll see you in time for that fattening dinner." Then he turned and began jogging down the road.
"Aren't you going fishing?" she called after him.
"Always hated the sport."
"Don't you want the Jeep?"
"The nature walk was your idea, remember?" he yelled over his shoulder.
Loren watched until Pitt disappeared through a clump of lodgepole pines before she shook her head at the incomprehensible whims of men and ran back inside the cabin to escape the early-fall chill.
Copyright © 2006 by Clive Cussler. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.