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Saras surprise, p.1
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       Sara's Surprise, p.1

           Deborah Smith
 
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Sara's Surprise


  DEBORAH SMITH

  #372 BAD FOR EACH OTHER

  by Billie Green

  #373 FEELING THE FLAME

  by Joyce Anglin

  #374 PENTHOUSE SUITE

  by Sandra Chastain

  #375 ONCE BURNED, TWICE AS HOT

  by Patt Bucheister

  #376 SARA’S SURPRISE

  by Deborah Smith

  #377 GOLDEN SWAN

  by Judy Gill

  “Why can’t I charm you out of your fortress, Sara?” Kyle asked.

  “You did. I’m here. You’ve got fifteen minutes,” she said firmly.

  “Speaking of timing, tell me when you last went out on a date.”

  She frowned at him, deep wariness glimmering in her eyes. “I’m not lonely, Kyle.” She began trying to tug her hand away from his.

  “I’m not asking for personal reasons,” he said quickly. “I just want you to be happy.”

  “So when was your last date, Mr. Surprise? Maybe we’re both hermits, only in different ways,” Sara suggested, a victorious gleam in her eyes.

  “I haven’t walled myself away—”

  “But I’m right, aren’t I? You’re baiting me, patronizing me. Are you so afraid you have nothing to offer a woman that you have to prove you do, even if it’s only by playing therapist?”

  Months of frustration and self-doubt boiled over. Kyle grabbed her by the shoulders and cursed softly. “See for yourself what I can still offer.”

  She murmured an anguished litany as he lowered his mouth to hers. “Don’t. Can’t. Shouldn’t.” But then he was kissing her, moving his lips over hers in seductive challenge, putting every skill he possessed into the kiss as he tried to strip away time and bad memories and scars, both his and hers.…

  SARA’S SURPRISE

  A Bantam Book / January 1990

  LOVESWEPT ® and the wave device are registered trademarks of Bantam Books, a division of Bantam Doubleday Dell Publishing Group, Inc. Registered in U.S. Patent and Trademark Office and elsewhere.

  All rights reserved.

  Copyright © 1989 by Deborah Smith.

  No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system, without permission in writing from the publisher.

  For information address: Bantam Books.

  If you would be interested in receiving protective vinyl covers for your Loveswept books, please write to this address for information:

  Loveswept

  Bantam Books

  P.O. Box 985

  Hicksville, NY 11802

  eISBN: 978-0-307-79664-6

  Bantam Books are published by Bantam Books, a division of Bantam Doubleday Dell Publishing Group, Inc. Its trademark, consisting of the words “Bantam Books” and the portrayal of a rooster, is Registered in U.S. Patent and Trademark Office and in other countries. Marca Registrada. Bantam Books, 666 Fifth Avenue, New York, New York 10103.

  v3.1

  For Jack and Ann,

  who don’t mind having a flaky sister,

  and for our mother,

  who just traded a lifetime of station wagons

  for a cherry-red sports car.

  Contents

  Cover

  Other Books by This Author

  Title Page

  Copyright

  Dedication

  Chapter One

  Chapter Two

  Chapter Three

  Chapter Four

  Chapter Five

  Chapter Six

  Chapter Seven

  Chapter Eight

  Chapter Nine

  Chapter Ten

  Chapter Eleven

  One

  Moonspell Keep.

  The mere mention of it made the storekeeper fumble with his unlit pipe. His wife nearly dropped a roll of nickels. From their positions behind an old cash register festooned with snapshots of prize trout and trophy deer they gaped at Kyle. They’d been staring for other reasons—the usual ones—ever since he had parked his rental car and ambled into their cozy little backwoods grocery and hunting supplies shop. Now their eyes grew even wider.

  “Nobody ever asks us how to find that place,” the storekeeper explained. “The owner don’t allow any visitors.”

  Kyle pulled the brim of his golf hat lower over his eyes, pushed his sunglasses higher, and smiled as though castles in the mountains of Kentucky were an ordinary topic. “The road to Moonspell Keep,” he repeated. “Can you tell me where it is?”

  “Why?”

  “I’m a friend of the owner’s. Dr. Scarborough.”

  “Anna’s dead. Died of a heart attack about six months ago.”

  “I know. I’m a friend of her daughter. Sara Scarborough.” Again a good-natured smile lifted his mouth. “The other eccentric Dr. Scarborough.”

  “Oh. Didn’t know she had any friends.”

  Kyle hunched broad shoulders inside a gaudy Hawaiian shirt. On a personal level he revered the truth. On a professional level he used it sparingly. What to label his relationship with Sara Scarborough fell somewhere in between. If the memory of shared courage could be called friendship, they had it. If one-sided devotion could be called friendship, he had it.

  “She’s gone funny in her mind,” the storekeeper’s wife warned. “She’s a hermit. Put barbed wire on the walls around her place. Keeps mean geese, trained to attack. Won’t talk to hardly anyone. Almost never comes out.”

  Attack geese? Kyle’s amusement held a deep current of sorrow. Except for the creative use of geese, it sounded as though she fit the post-hostage profile perfectly. Barricades and seclusion had become the norm for her.

  “I knew her mother,” Kyle told the two people who continued to watch him closely. “Funny minds run in the Scarborough family.”

  They nodded in solemn agreement. “Her mother was a genius too,” the storekeeper said, as if that explained everything.

  “Go down the road three miles,” his wife instructed. “Turn at the entrance to the national forest. She lives inside the government properly, you know. Sara’s grand-daddy built that weird place before the government came along. Forestry service land is all around it.”

  “It sounds secluded.”

  “Yep. Take the fourth road on the left and follow it for fifteen, twenty minutes. You’ll see an odd gate on your right. Big stone pillars with stone dragons on top of ’em.”

  “Thanks.” Relieved to have the directions, Kyle glanced around the jam-packed little store. “Have you got any Coco-Moos?” The chocolate sodas were one of his weaknesses. In his younger years he’d pictured himself as a sort of southern James Bond, suavely making his request under the most glamorous and dangerous of circumstances. Coco-Moo, if you please. Shaken, not stirred. These days he’d take his Coco-Moo any way he could get it.

  “In the back cooler,” the storekeeper said, curious eyes fixed on Kyle’s forearms beneath the sleeves of the Hawaiian shirt while his teeth bit into his lip as if to prevent him from asking morbid questions.

  “I used to wrestle alligators,” Kyle lied cheerfully. Then he went to the cooler, his mouth a grim line. He ought to be accustomed to the stares, he thought, but he wasn’t. He opened the glass door and peered inside. The Coco-Moos, like a fine wine that was being kept for only the most appreciative customers, were hard to locate. He knelt down, drew his sunglasses off, and began to look.

  A family came in, and he knew from their conversation and their accents that they weren’t mountain locals. They’d come to camp out at the national park and enjoy the fall scenery. Kyle kept one ear tuned to everything they did, even as he searched for his drink. Years of risky work had taught him to stay alert in even the sa
fest situations; a year-and-a-half of retirement hadn’t changed his instincts.

  “Eureka,” he said softly, then angled one long, muscular arm into the cooler and struggled to grasp his treasure—a six-pack of small bottles full of frothy chocolate drink. The roar of the cooling unit distracted him, and he jumped when he felt a tiny hand patting his leg. Kyle fumbled hurriedly to put his sunglasses on but dropped them. They clattered to the floor by his knees.

  “Toy,” a gurgling little voice exclaimed.

  Kyle withdrew his head from the cooler and looked down at a toddler in a blue corduroy jump suit. The child squatted beside him, head down, hands and attention focused on the shiny aviator glasses. A silent litany of curses ran through Kyle’s mind as he thought with certainty of what was going to happen when the little boy looked up.

  “Hello,” Kyle said gently, but knew that his attempt at friendship wouldn’t matter.

  The toddler raised his head, grinning. “Toy!” The grin faded when he saw Kyle’s face. He dropped the sunglasses, his expression crumpled, and he let out a wail of sheer terror. Then he ran for his mother as fast as his short legs could move.

  Kyle stood quickly, pretended to be at ease, and smiled his apology at the child’s startled parents. As he paid for his drinks he put on a great show of ignoring their awkward attempts to calm their screaming son.

  Moonspell Keep. It sounded like a good place to hide from reality. Maybe Sara had the right idea after all.

  List. List. Where was it? Without it she was hopeless, Sara thought drolly. Well, being absentminded fit well with the image of a scientist. She had better doublecheck her chores for the afternoon before she got busy again. She left the microscope and crossed the lab to her desk, where she shuffled through stacks of notes and computer discs until she found a sheet of pink paper with white unicorns galloping across the top.

  One. Check phototropism test. Two. Plot new incubation period for the triphilidums. Three. Read article on leaf cell protoplasts. Four. Wash a load of diapers.

  “Test, plot, read, wash,” she said aloud. “Got it.” A sleepy cooing sound came over the lab intercom. Sara listened, smiling, then went back to work at the microscope. A second later the intercom switched to a different channel and began a low-pitched beeping. Sara sighed with annoyance. It was too early for the mail, the wrong day for Tom and Lucy to deliver groceries, and Santa Claus didn’t visit in September. Obviously, another curious tourist had just driven through the main gate.

  She left the lab and hurried down a magnificent stone hallway with walls adorned in medieval tapestries. Entering the keep’s security room, Sara punched buttons on a console. On a wall covered with small television screens, one flashed to life. Sara put her hands in the back pockets of her jeans and gazed at it, seeing only an empty cobblestone driveway by the second gate, the real gate, a barricade made of a thick sheet of steel set in the ten-foot stone wall that surrounded the main grounds of the estate.

  “Hurry up, tourists,” she said impatiently. They must be driving slowly, gawking at the changing leaves of the forest. She pushed a button that turned on the gate intercom and listened for the sound of a car. Finally she heard it. She cleared her throat, preparing her usual polite this-is-private-property speech.

  A shiny dark sports car screeched to a stop by the camera and intercom. The car’s tinted window whirred down. Sara gasped softly and sank into a chair.

  Kyle Surprise curled one brawny forearm out of the car and pressed a button mounted on a short stone post. A bell chimed in the security room, and Sara jumped. A dozen emotions tore at her, sorrow and affection warring with fear.

  He propped his elbow on the car window with jaunty aplomb and seemed to gaze directly into the camera, though his eyes were hidden behind silver sunglasses. He wore a light golf cap pulled so low that only a few wisps of his hair showed.

  “Oh, Kyle, you can’t disguise yourself,” Sara said, filled with bittersweet heartache. The longer scars extended from under the glasses down the angular planes of his cheeks; shorter ones bisected them, zigzagging horizontally toward his jaws. Below the sleeve of a floral print shirt that looked gaudy even on a black-and-white video screen, a half-dozen jagged ridges made paths through the hair on his forearm.

  The last time she’d seen Kyle those scars had been much harsher, much fresher. That had been nineteen months before at a special government hospital in Virginia. He had never been long from her thoughts in all the time since.

  He tapped his fingers on the sleek dark side of his car, then pressed the visitor’s bell again. Her hand trembling, Sara activated the gate intercom. What did you say to a man who had captured your imagination from the first moment? A man whose quiet confidence and good-natured courage had given you hope when there hadn’t been any before? Sara swallowed tears. Was there anything to say to a man who had been maimed trying to rescue you?

  She took a deep breath, bent close to a microphone on the console, and said as cheerfully as she could, “It’s either Kyle Surprise or one of the Beach Boys dressed for a summer concert.”

  He smiled broadly at her greeting but didn’t stick his head out the window to get closer to the intercom and camera, as most visitors did. Of course, a man who had been in Kyle’s line of work had the technical expertise to know that she could hear him and see his face perfectly well right where he was.

  “Telegram,” he offered, making his deep southern voice sound absurdly prim.

  She laughed behind the knot in her throat. “No way.”

  “Candygram.”

  “Can’t accept it. I have candy in the pantry already.”

  “Florist?”

  “I have a laboratory full of flowers.”

  He thought for a second. “Male stripper-gram?”

  “I have …” Sara faltered. She didn’t have. She needed. Badly. And there had been a time when she would have encouraged Kyle Surprise to make good on his teasing. Her shoulders slumped and she covered her mouth with one hand, fighting a sound of anguish. She could never encourage him now.

  “You have?” he prompted her, and a scar moved in his cheek as the muscle flexed under it.

  “I don’t have.” She grasped the cold metal ledge of the console and hung on like a tree struggling to survive a tornado. “Tell me about your stripper act.”

  He continued to smile his broad, all-American smile that made her think of wheat fields and sunflowers. But something hard settled around his mouth. “Sorry, I’m not in the stripper-gram business anymore.”

  She hurt for him so much. The scars don’t matter, she wanted to tell him. They really don’t. “I like your Florida clothes,” she commented in a vague attempt at normal conversation. “We never see anything so, uhmmm, cheerful, up here. Especially after the weather turns cool.”

  “I know why. I’m freezing.” He clasped his chest and asked quaintly, “Want to invite me inside the castle to get warm?”

  She stalled for time. “What are you doing so far from the beach?”

  Even with the sunglasses covering his expressive eyes she could tell that his humor was a facade. It faded now, replaced by a look of quiet determination. “Dinah asked me to come check on you. She expected you to get over this reclusive phase by now. She’s worried because you won’t visit her or let her visit you.”

  This was the kind of attention Sara had feared for months. She shut her eyes and willed thoughts of sympathy, friendship, and loneliness away. “I’m making a break with the past,” she told Kyle in a low, firm voice. “I think it’s the best thing to do.”

  He shook his head. “I understand what you’re going through, but shutting yourself away from your friends isn’t the way to handle it. Believe me. Dinah went through the same feelings, but Rucker wouldn’t let her give in to them. Now she’s doing fine.”

  Sadly, Sara looked at the television screen. She and Dinah McClure had been prisoners together in South America, true. They had suffered the same torments and fought back with the same bold but us
eless courage, true. But the aftermath of their ordeal had not been similar.

  Sara bowed her head over the console’s microphone. Hers was no ordinary post-hostage situation. “I’m sorry you made a long trip for nothing. I’m fine, really. Tell Dinah you spoke to me and everything’s all right. Give her and Rucker and the baby my love. And tell your brother hello. Oh, and Drake Lancaster too.”

  “You mean you’re not going to let me see you?” Despite the sunglasses and low-slung cap, his consternation was obvious.

  “That’s right.” Sara stared hard at his image, trying to absorb every detail before she switched off the camera. Afterward she would play the tape over and over, just to look at him.

  “Sara, I’m no threat to you,” he said patiently. “No one is anymore.”

  “Everything that reminds me of those ten months in Surador is a threat.”

  He inhaled sharply. “I know that I’m not easy to look at. Hell, you’ve heard the old line.” His voice became sardonic. “ ‘What bothers you most: when the women scream or when the children point?’ I’m the walking personification of that. But, Sara—”

  “No.” She put her head in her hands. How could she let him think he was so ugly that she couldn’t bear the sight? “It has nothing to do with your scars. It has to do with mine. Thank you for making the trip. Now, please, go back to Florida.”

  “I can’t do that, Sara.” He sighed. “I rented this car at the Lexington airport. I’ve already agreed to keep it until the day of my flight home.”

  “When is that?”

  “I don’t know.” His teasing grin appeared. “That depends on how soon you cooperate.”

  “Come on! I’m deep into my research. I really don’t have time to play hostess!”

  “Ten minutes. Give me ten minutes.” He smiled tightly. “I get it. You’ve injected yourself with some kind of plant hormone and turned into a mutant green thing. Can I have the movie rights to your story?”

  “Please go away.”

  He shook his head. “Ten minutes.”

 
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