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Saras surprise, p.10
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       Sara's Surprise, p.10

           Deborah Smith
 
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  “What—” he began.

  “Get your car!” She shivered visibly. To his amazement, the bundle under the coverlet moved a little.

  “Sara, what—”

  “Get your car. I have to go to the hospital!”

  Whatever her problem, he’d ask questions later. Kyle stepped into his room only long enough to grab his wallet and keys, then jam his feet into his running shoes. By the time he ran out she was in the castle’s foyer. She cried silently as she struggled to hold on to the mysterious something in her arms and unlock the massive door at the same time.

  “Easy,” he said, taking the key from her.

  “Hurry, please hurry.” Her voice was ragged, unrecognizable, her expression utterly distraught.

  He pulled the door open. “Wait at the end of the bridge. I’ll be right back.” Thank God, the bridge was down. Kyle raced across it, then headed around back, where he’d parked the sports car. A minute later he jerked the car to a stop beside her, already opening the passenger door as she reached for the handle.

  She slid into the front seat. Daisy, whining with an odd sound of fear, crowded inside by her feet. The interior lights revealed nothing of her puzzling bundle, because she still had the coverlet pulled over its head, top, or whatever, like a hood. Sara slammed the door, and crisp autumn darkness covered her mystery.

  Kyle signaled the gate to open and barely gave it time to clear before the car hurtled through. “Hurry,” Sara begged.

  “Give me directions to the hospital.”

  “Go back to the main highway. Take a left. It’s fifteen minutes from here.”

  “I’ll make it in less than that.”

  After they left the driveway and hit the paved road of the national park, Kyle floored the accelerator and devoted all his concentration to driving. Years of experience with frantic and dangerous situations had taught him the folly of trying to do more than one risky thing at a time, so right now his only concern was driving as fast and as safely as he could.

  Dimly he was aware of Sara pulling the coverlet back and touching whatever lay inside, of Sara trying not to sob and sounding even more distraught because of her efforts.

  The mountain highway was nearly deserted and, except for a few sharp curves, easy to negotiate. Kyle glanced at the speedometer once and saw that it was tilted all the way to the right. He felt a boyish thrill of satisfaction. Those high school years when he and Jeopard had raced stock cars on dirt tracks in Florida had not been wasted.

  The county hospital sat on a hill above a tiny town with one traffic light, which Kyle ran. He began to feel a delayed rush of adrenaline as he swung the car up to the hospital’s emergency entrance. Soon he’d get some answers. He had a feeling that he was about to learn a great deal about Sara’s mysterious lab work. What kind of animal/plant thing had she created back there? Frankenflower? The bright light of the hospital’s emergency entrance filled the car.

  Kyle leapt out and reached the passenger side by the time Sara shoved the door open. “Let me.” He grabbed for her so quickly that she was startled. Kyle pulled the strange bundle from her arms and into his.

  “No!”

  “Shh, Sara. Whatever it is—” His voice died as the coverlet fell open. Kyle stared down at a beautiful dark-haired baby who seemed to be asleep. Shock poured through him.

  Sara vaulted from the car, grabbed the baby, and ran for the hospital doors.

  “Well, I have a simple diagnosis,” the doctor told Sara finally, studying the long graph that the electrocardiogram had just produced. “She must have just swallowed a fraction of that plant, because all it’s done is make her go sound asleep. Her vital signs are a little sluggish, but normal.”

  Sara sagged against the end of the examining table. She kept the fingertips of one hand against Noelle’s head, reassuring herself with the warmth of Noelle’s scalp. She felt Kyle’s hand, strong and comforting, against the small of her back. “I couldn’t tell if she’d swallowed any or not,” Sara murmured wearily. “But I knew that even one leaf would have …” She couldn’t finish that thought.

  Kyle slid his arm around her. “What now?” he asked the doctor.

  As a nurse removed the electrodes that were taped to Noelle’s chest, the pudgy, friendly looking doctor grinned, happy to give good news. “We’ll just keep her overnight, for observation. You and your wife can stay with her if you want.”

  “All right,” Kyle told the man. “We will.”

  For the first time in an hour Sara took her eyes away from her daughter’s small, still form, clad only in a diaper. She looked at Kyle dully. His eyes were somber but not angry. Not angry yet, anyway, she thought with a stab of despair. He would demand the truth.

  The nurse started to pick up Noelle. “I’ll take her,” Sara said urgently, reaching out.

  The nurse shook her head but smiled. “You’re a nervous wreck, Mom. I’m just going to transfer her to something with wheels on it, so we can take her upstairs. Hospital policy.”

  Sara dogged the nurse’s steps as she took Noelle to a gurney. The nurse got a blanket. “Here, Mom. You do the tucking. I’ll send an orderly in a minute.”

  Now, as the frantic atmosphere calmed down, everyone left Sara and Kyle alone with Sara’s secret, a secret no more. She covered Noelle with the blanket, then bent over her with a convulsive little shiver. Wrapping her arms around the baby, she put her head next to Noelle’s and cried, partially from relief over her safety but also from the torment of knowing that she could no longer protect Noelle or Kyle from the truth.

  She felt his hand caress her hair. “She’ll be fine, Sara,” he said, his voice low and troubled.

  “Thank you. Thank you for helping me get her here so fast.”

  “You didn’t have to keep her hidden from me.”

  “Yes, I did.”

  “Why?”

  The orderly came over, and her presence effectively ended the conversation. Not until thirty minutes later, when Noelle was settled in a crib in a tiny private room, Daisy had been coaxed into keeping the hospital’s security guard company for the night, and Sara’s hands were steady enough to hold a cup of coffee without spilling any, did Kyle ask the question again.

  The hospital was small, only half full, and informal; the room was in an adult ward, since pediatrics was low on both patients and nurses that night. Sara and Kyle sat on the bed, their legs dangling off the side. He looked at her grimly. “Why couldn’t you tell me about your baby?”

  Sara stared into the crib and curled her hands tighter around the plastic coffee cup. “I didn’t want anyone to know about her,” she explained wearily. “So no one from our government or any other government could use her to force me into cooperation.” She paused. “The way I was used to force my mother.”

  Kyle squeezed her knee. “Sara, what happened with Valdivia was a fluke. He was a lone wolf, a renegade. Even the Soviets didn’t care for him too much. No one else is going to bother you.”

  She looked at Kyle warily, her nerves frayed. “What do you mean, what happened with … with Valdivia? What do you think happened?”

  “Shh. Calm down. I mean your kidnapping. The forced research.”

  “Oh.” Her shoulders sagged. Another minute’s reprieve.

  Kyle slid a hand across the nape of her neck and massaged gently. “You told the doctor that Noelle is ten months old. Even a non-genius like me can figure out that she was born eight or nine months after you were rescued in Surador.”

  “Yes.” Sara gazed into her coffee, feeling a blackness that matched its color.

  “I think I can guess what happened.”

  She almost cracked her coffee cup. “Go ahead.”

  “There were a lot of rebel soldiers involved in the rescue. Young, idealistic, courageous—and they liked Americans.” Kyle chuckled ruefully. “Surador is one of the few countries in South America where anyone likes us. You were in shock. I know that from my brother’s report. Especially after he told you that Valdivia ha
d committed suicide.”

  Sara nodded, her heart racing. What was he getting at?

  “It’s only human to need comfort in a situation like that,” Kyle continued, his hand stroking her neck, his voice soothing. “And there must have been a soldier who wanted to offer it. You didn’t have the ability, at that moment, to think about the consequences.” He paused, then gestured slowly toward the crib. “Nine months later you gave birth to those consequences.”

  Sara bit her lower lip until it throbbed. She shut her eyes, trying desperately to judge the wild possibility whirling through her mind. Would it work? It could. Why not? How would anyone ever learn the truth?

  You’d be living another lie, telling another lie to Kyle. You don’t want that, do you?

  I’ll live any lie if it will keep him and Noelle from being hurt by what Valdivia did.

  Sara swallowed harshly. Then she looked directly into Kyle’s sympathetic blue eyes. She knew then, as goose bumps ran down her spine and a precious new hope began to burn inside her, that she had a chance to offer him love, to help him chase away his own dragons. The chance was worth the lie.

  “I can’t believe how much insight you have,” she whispered. “It’s incredible.”

  “I’m right?”

  She nodded. For a fleeting second she felt guilty over his compassion. Then she reminded herself that this deception would spare him a great deal of heartache. Tentatively she asked, “Do you think I was wrong to keep Noelle?”

  “You obviously could have chosen not to keep her, but you didn’t. And you’re obviously crazy about her. So why would I think there was anything wrong about it?”

  She managed to smile. “Because I think you and I were raised the same way—to expect Mommy to marry Daddy before she has a baby.”

  “I expect Mommy to live in the real world, where it’s not always so simple.”

  Her heart nearly burst with devotion for him. “We unwed mommies of the world salute you.”

  “I still don’t understand why you just couldn’t tell me—or anyone else—about Noelle. Were you that afraid for her safety?”

  “Yes.” That much was true, though not for the reason he thought. Any link to Valdivia would bring a horde of government investigators down on her. Their suspicions might lead to some kind of incriminating circumstantial evidence. What if they tried to charge her with conspiracy, or treason? What if they tried to take Noelle away?”

  “What now, Tinker Bell?”

  “I suppose I’ll start learning to trust the outside world again. If you’ll help me.”

  The slow, wide smile that spread across his mouth took her breath away, and she was reassured that her deception, if it held up, would be the most loving thing she could do for him.

  Reality had not seemed quite so real last night, Kyle thought grimly. He woke up as he had gone to sleep—lying on the hospital bed, fully clothed. The only difference was that Sara was no longer curled up beside him. As bright morning sunshine caressed her, she bent over the crib and spoke quietly to her daughter. He heard Noelle’s sleepy cooing, in return.

  He watched the sweet, gentle scene and his throat closed with emotion. How would Sara feel about having him around Noelle? He didn’t doubt that the child was going to scream every time she saw his face. Sara might be able to deal with his scars, but he wondered how she’d deal with the fact that the sight of him would terrify her daughter?

  “Oh, I see that crabby morning expression of yours,” Sara murmured to the baby, and smiled so tenderly that Kyle couldn’t take his eyes away from the beautiful, tormenting sight. “Are you hungry? The doctor says that I can feed you if you are.”

  Kyle had a sudden mental image of the baby nursing at one of Sara’s breasts. He’d seen women nurse before, but never his woman and his baby, which was, despite the swift mental kick he gave himself, the way he thought of Sara and Noelle.

  Kyle cleared his throat. “I’ll come back when you’re finished.”

  She looked startled. “Good morning.”

  He got up off the far side of the bed and casually maneuvered toward the door, hoping that Noelle was still groggy and wouldn’t notice him. “I’ll come back,” he repeated.

  Sara laughed, to his relief, appearing happier and more relaxed than he’d ever seen her before. Telling him about the baby had done her a lot of good. “You look as if you expect a raid from the vice squad,” she teased. She touched her denim shirt. “I bet that if I started undoing buttons, you’d run.”

  He wagged his finger at her. “I never run from an unbuttoned woman.”

  “Well, relax, Surprise. I don’t breastfeed.”

  Kyle leaned against a wall near the door, making certain that he was standing where Noelle couldn’t crane her head and see him easily. Already she was waving her arms and looking around. “Oh? Why not?”

  “It hurt too much each time I boiled my nipples.” When he looked at her blankly, not quite certain why anyone would boil nipples, their own or otherwise, she laughed again. “I can see that you know as little about feeding babies as I did.” She smiled, her green eyes alight with affection. “That’s all right. To answer your question, I didn’t have enough milk to make the effort worth Noelle’s trouble. So after a couple of months of dedicated misery for both of us, I started giving her a bottle.”

  He shook his head. “A scientist and an expert mother. Now when I talk to you I can feel ignorant on two levels.”

  “Believe me, being a scientist came easier to me than being a mother. I always trusted facts rather than instincts. But now that I’ve got the hang of motherhood, I think my instincts are pretty reliable.”

  “I’d say they’re terrific.”

  She blushed with pleasure. “Would you like to be introduced to Noelle?”

  “Later.”

  Her eyes clouded. “Is anything wrong?”

  “Nah. I just thought I’d go down to the security guard’s office and check on Daisy. She might have fallen asleep and been mistaken for a doorstop during the night.”

  “All right, but come here and say hello first.” She reached into the crib, her eyes gleaming with pride as she studied the baby. Slowly she lifted Noelle out. “She’s not quite herself, so don’t expect any smiles yet. Kyle? Kyle?”

  He had already left the room.

  Sara’s confusion and worry grew when he waited an hour before returning—and came back then only after sending a nurse’s aide to make certain that Noelle was napping. He strode in quickly, looking brusque and formal even though he was still dressed in yesterday’s sweat pants and a faded football jersey.

  “Daisy survived the night,” he announced, “but two doctors and a lab technician were hypnotized watching her sleep. They’re lying on their backs on the floor, snoring, with their arms and legs in the air. It’s not a pretty sight.”

  Sitting on the bed, Sara shifted Noelle in her arms and was dismayed to see him take a step back, as if wary. “She is asleep, isn’t she?” he asked.

  “Yes, Kyle,” she answered, frowning.

  “I’ve taken care of the checkout process. As soon as a nurse comes to wheel Noelle downstairs, we can leave. I thought I’d let you and the baby have the back seat of the car, and I’ll put Daisy in the front with me.”

  “Does your car have a trunk? Noelle and I could sit in there if you’re really ashamed to be seen with us.”

  He looked so stunned and then so apologetic that she regretted her barb. “I’m not ashamed,” he said hotly.

  “Then what is it?”

  “Nothing.” Noelle stirred, yawned, and rubbed her eyes. “I’ll be downstairs in the car,” he said, abruptly leaving the room.

  When they returned to the keep he went to the kitchen to fix a late breakfast.

  “I’ve unlocked the doors to the back,” Sara told him after she had finished settling Noelle in her crib. “You’re welcome to come see the lab, the greenhouse, and the nursery too. If you’re interested.”

  He studiously pushed st
rips of bacon around on a griddle. Sara noted that his bacon was laid out in neat, orderly rows. It was military bacon, a sign of an organized mind. When she cooked bacon she usually spent too much time trying to see where it cooked fastest in the pan, or which end curled first, or how the amount of shrinkage related to the heat of the stove. Usually she ended up with burned bacon.

  “I’d like to see the lab and greenhouse,” he told her.

  But not Noelle’s nursery. Sara sat down at the table and watched him carefully. He was either worried about Noelle’s reaction to his scars, or he wasn’t too pleased to have a baby around in general. There was one way to find out.

  “I’ll be back in a minute,” she said pleasantly.

  “Not too long. I’m scrambling the eggs right now.”

  By the time she returned, carrying Noelle, he was dumping the finished eggs on a plate. He pivoted, saw the baby staring at him, and froze.

  Her heart in her throat, Sara glanced at Noelle’s equally startled eyes and prayed for good results. “Kyle, meet Noelle. Noelle, meet Kyle. Ky-ul.”

  The coaching over the past few days paid off. Noelle’s head bobbed toward Sara, then back toward Kyle. “Cal,” she said distinctly.

  Sara tried to smile despite the tension Kyle radiated. “Congratulations,” she quipped. “Your name is now Cal. Don’t feel bad. My name is Mop. At least yours is flattering.”

  “She’s going to cry.”

  Sara glanced at Noelle’s puckering mouth. “Probably. Later on shell also soil her diapers, throw her toys, and argue when I try to get her to take a nap. All perfectly typical of a day in the life of a baby. It won’t have anything to do with her like or dislike for you.”

  “Cal,” Noelle said again, with more emphasis. She reached out with a small hand, curling her fingers at him.

  “Why is she doing that?” he demanded. “Look, she’s getting teary.”

  He was right. The tears slid down her cheeks. She turned her head and burrowed into Sara’s shoulder. With sinking hopes Sara watched Kyle’s expression stiffen into a mask. Only his eyes revealed his humiliation and sorrow.

 
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