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Danielle Steel

Rogue

© 2008

To my infinitely precious children,

Beatie, Trevor, Todd, Nick, Sam,

Victoria, Vanessa, Maxx, and Zara,

who provide the love and laughter in my life,

keep me honest, give me hope, and

inspire me to do the very best I can.

All nine of you are my heroes!

I love you so much!

Mom/D.S.

rogue: a mischievous person,

a scamp,

a rascal,

an impish or playful young person.

– Webster's New Collegiate Dictionary

Chapter 1

The small single-engine Cessna Caravan pitched and rolled alarmingly over the swamps west of Miami. The plane was just high enough for the landscape to have a postcard quality to it, but the wind rushing in through the open hatch distracted the young woman clutching the safety strap so that all she could see was the vast expanse of sky beneath them. The man standing behind her was telling her to jump.

“What if my parachute doesn't open?” she said, glancing over her shoulder at him with a look of terror. She was a tall, beautiful blonde with a gorgeous body and exquisite face. Her eyes were huge with fear.

“Trust me, Belinda, it will open,” Blake Williams promised her with a look of total confidence. Skydiving had been one of his many passions for years. And it was always a joy for him to share the wonders of it with someone else.

Belinda had agreed to it the week before, over drinks in a very prestigious private nightclub in South Beach. The following day, Blake had paid for eight hours of instruction for her and a test jump with the instructors. Belinda was ready for him now. It was only their third date, and Blake had made skydiving sound so enticing that after her second cosmopolitan, she had laughingly said yes to the invitation to skydive with him. She didn't realize what she was getting into, and she still looked nervous now, and wondered how she had let him talk her into it. The first time she'd jumped, with the two instructors he'd arranged, had scared her to death, but it was exciting too. And jumping with Blake would be the ultimate experience. She could hardly wait. He was so charming, so handsome, so outrageous, and so much fun that even though she barely knew him, she was ready to follow him and try almost anything in his company, even stepping out of a plane. But now she was terrified again, as he turned her face toward him and kissed her. The sheer thrill of being in his presence made the jump easier for her. Just as she had been taught in her lesson, she stepped out of the plane.

Blake followed her within seconds. She squeezed her eyes shut and screamed as they free-fell for a minute, and then she opened her eyes and saw him as he gestured to her to pull the ripcord on her parachute, just as the instructors had taught her to do. Suddenly they were drifting slowly to earth as he smiled at her and gave her a proud thumbs-up. She couldn't believe she'd done it twice in one week, but he was that kind of charismatic person. Blake could make people do almost anything.

Belinda was twenty-two years old, a supermodel in Paris, London, and New York. She had met Blake while visiting friends in Miami. He had flown in from his house in St. Bart's to meet up with a pal of his own, and had arrived in his new 737. He had chartered the smaller plane and a pilot for their jump.

Blake Williams appeared to be an expert at everything he did. He was an Olympic Class skier and had been since college, had learned to fly his own jet, with a copilot in attendance, given its size and complexity. And he had been skydiving for years. He had an extraordinary knowledge of art, and one of the most famous collections of contemporary and pre-Columbian art in the world. He was knowledgeable in wines, architecture, sailing, and women. He loved the finest things in life, and enjoyed sharing them with the women he went out with. He had an MBA from Harvard, an undergraduate degree from Princeton; he was forty-six years old, had retired at thirty-five, and his entire life was devoted to self-indulgence and pleasure, and sharing them with those around him. He was generous beyond belief, as Belinda's friends had told her. He was the kind of man every woman wanted to be with- rich, smart, good looking, and devoted to having fun. And in spite of his enormous success before he retired, he didn't have a mean bone in his body. He was the catch of the century, and although most of his relationships in the last five years had been brief and superficial, they never ended badly. Even when their fleeting affairs with him were over, women loved him. And as they floated slowly down to a well-chosen strip of unpopulated beach, Belinda looked at him with eyes filled with admiration. She couldn't believe she had jumped out of a plane with him, but it had been the most exciting thing she'd ever done. She didn't think she'd do it again, but as they held hands in midair with the blue sky all around them, she knew she would remember Blake and this moment for the rest of her life.

“It's fun, isn't it?” he shouted, and she nodded. She was still too overwhelmed to speak. Her jump with Blake had been much more exciting than the one with the two instructors days before. And she couldn't wait to tell everyone she knew what she'd done, especially with whom.

Blake Williams was everything people said he was. He had enough charm to run a country, and the money with which to do it. Despite her initial terror, Belinda was actually smiling when her feet touched the ground a few minutes later, and two waiting instructors unhooked her parachute, just as Blake landed a few feet behind her. As soon as they were free of their parachutes, he had her in his arms and kissed her again. His kisses were as intoxicating as everything else about him.

“You were fantastic!” he said, sweeping her off the ground, as she grinned and laughed in his arms. He was the most exciting man she'd ever met.

“No, you are! I never thought I'd do something like that, it was the craziest thing ever.” She'd only known him for a week.

Her friends had already told her not to plan on having a serious relationship with him. Blake Williams went out with beautiful women all over the world. Commitment was not for him, although it had been once upon a time. He had three kids, an ex-wife he said he was crazy about, a plane, a boat, half a dozen fabulous houses. He just wanted to have a good time, and made no pretense of wanting to settle down, since his divorce. For the time being anyway, all he wanted to do was play. His early killing in the high-tech dot-com world had been legendary, as had been the success of the companies he'd invested in since. Blake Williams had everything he wanted, all his dreams had already come true. And as they walked away from the beach where they'd landed, toward a waiting Jeep, Blake put an arm around Belinda, drew her closer to him, and gave her a long, searing kiss. It was a day and a moment that Belinda knew would be engraved in her mind forever. How many women could boast that they had jumped out of a plane with Blake Williams? Possibly more than she knew, although not every woman he went out with was as

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