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Saras surprise, p.11
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       Sara's Surprise, p.11

           Deborah Smith
 
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  “I can pretty much guarantee that it won’t get any better than it is right now,” he said grimly.

  “I think you’re wrong,” Sara said. “But for now we’ll drop the subject.” She turned to leave the room.

  Noelle was now crying softly, making tired little noises. But her hand shot out over Sara’s back, toward Kyle. “Cal!” she called plaintively.

  Sara swiveled back to face Kyle. “She wants you or something you’ve got. Since you’re a stranger, I suspect ‘Cal’ refers to scrambled eggs. Why don’t you bring her a spoonful?”

  “And see her retreat completely?”

  “No, that only seems to be what you’re doing.”

  “Yow. That went right to the heart.”

  He got a teaspoon and jabbed it into the pile of eggs. Slowly he advanced toward Noelle, the spoon clasped tightly in his big, nimble fingers. Noelle stared at him without blinking, without breathing.

  “I feel as if I’m watching a lion tamer trying to sneak up on a lion,” Sara teased gently. “Kyle, you look as if you think she might roar.”

  “She might,” he said in a tense, hushed voice.

  She opened her mouth, but only to accept the eggs. In her usual fashion she ate half and let half decorate her lower lip. His fingers trembling, Kyle wiped her mouth. She pursed her lips at him in gratitude and made a smacking sound. She held out her arms.

  Sara’s throat burned with tears. “She wants to give you a kiss. Do you mind?”

  “Are you sure that’s what she wants?”

  “She might ask for a date later. But I think you’re safe.”

  He moved closer by inches, alert for any sign that Noelle was going to recoil the second she discovered that he didn’t look like other people. Sara realized that until today Noelle had seen very few people besides herself and her mother. For all Noelle knew, every man had funny lines and ridges on his face. And what girl, of any age, could resist Kyle’s big blue eyes?

  He placed his face within kissing range. Noelle grabbed his hair with both hands and planted a tiny, soft pucker on his cheek. A look of wonder came into his eyes. “Can I hold her?” he asked hoarsely.

  “Of course. But don’t be upset if she doesn’t like it. You’re a stranger.”

  A beloved one, apparently. Noelle put her arms around his neck and sat very still inside the crook of his elbow. His face, perhaps because it was unusual, mesmerized her. She gave him a sudden smile, bright, dimpled, and totally unafraid. And then she kissed him right on one of his scars, like a tiny enchantress releasing him from an evil spell.

  Sara put her head on his shoulder and looked away so that he could stop fighting the moonlight that shimmered in his eyes.

  Eight

  For the rest of the day he and Noelle were inseparable. He carried her around the castle, listening solemnly while she described things in terms no one but another baby might understand. He helped feed her and laughed when she threw stewed apple at him. He read Zane Grey to her. He held her while she slept.

  And the whole time Sara said silent prayers of thanks and other prayers that this was just the beginning of a dream so wonderful that nothing could ever destroy it. She watched Kyle with so much love that she knew he couldn’t help but notice; she floated effortlessly through the day in a haze of affection and desire and finely tuned anticipation.

  As a chilly mooncast autumn night settled around the keep, they built a fire in the great room. The smell of it permeated the castle with a cozy feeling of comfort and happiness. In the kitchen Kyle fixed dinner while Noelle babbled at him from her high chair and Sara simply sat at the kitchen table, smiling.

  Afterwards they sat on the couch in front of the fire and quietly watched Noelle pester Daisy. “I never thought I’d like dogs again,” Kyle murmured. “But I guess Daisy’s unique. She’s not a dog. She’s an ottoman that slobbers.”

  Sara wanted to slide close to him on the couch, but she sensed some reserve. It wasn’t going to be easy for him to relax, to believe that she saw so much more than the scars when she looked at him. She smiled and sipped from a mug of cider laced with brandy, confident that everything would work out.

  “I didn’t want a dog,” she told Kyle. “I didn’t want anything to remind me of that day in the courtyard. But Daisy was so opposite from those monsters. She reminded me of the good that balances all the bad.”

  “Not all of it,” he corrected her, frowning thoughtfully into his own mug. “But enough.”

  “Noelle is a balance.”

  “Yes.” His expression softened. “You’re right about that. She’s your best revenge.”

  “My what?”

  “The compensation for what Valdivia put you through. The only good thing that came out of the situation. Do you understand what I’m saying? Because you were in Surador and you met Noelle’s father, you have a wonderful little girl.” He hesitated, then said grimly, “No. I’m sorry I put it that way. I won’t give Valdivia any credit for bringing Noelle into the world. I don’t even like to think of the bastard being indirectly responsible for you having her.”

  Sara squirmed inwardly. “He, uhmmm, he was a complex man,” she said haltingly, weighing each word. “Sadistic, self-centered, arrogant—and yet he was capable of a twisted sort of love. He was obsessed with Dinah. I’m sure you read that in Jeopard’s report.”

  “Yeah. Apparently his only regret was that he couldn’t make her return the feeling. She was lucky that he didn’t force her into a relationship. It was ironic that he had a sort of honor where she was concerned.”

  “She was lucky,” Sara agreed, swallowing a knot of emotion in her throat. She desperately wanted to say, I wasn’t.

  Kyle stared into the fire, his mouth set in a harsh line. “I have to admit something that may sound cynical to you. I’m glad that he was obsessed with Dinah. I know that he frightened her, and of course I’m glad that he didn’t do anything worse, but … better her than you.”

  “You’re not cynical. Just honest.”

  Sara shuddered with a rising tide of anguish that did nothing to make her want Kyle less. She needed to be reborn in his arms, to have his tenderness and his body make her forget the last time she’d been touched by a man. It hurt that she couldn’t tell Kyle everything about her and Valdivia. Everything was a long, humiliating story that had begun years before the kidnapping, before she’d learned exactly what kind of man Diego de Valdivia was.

  “Time for your bath,” she said abruptly, knowing that she couldn’t sit any longer and act casual.

  “Do I get a rubber duck for the tub?” Kyle asked, amused and startled. “Will you wash behind my ears?”

  Sara forced a laugh as she went to pick Noelle up. “I was referring to your friend here. But you’re welcome to be my assistant. Just prepare to be splashed.”

  He rose and came over to them, frowning a little. “James Bond was never confronted by domestic life. I’ll tell you what. Let’s all go take baths—in different bathrooms.”

  “All right. Would you like to rendezvous in the nursery in thirty minutes?”

  He drew himself up and gave her a playful salute. “Mission accepted.”

  Kyle found her in the nursery tucking a pink blanket around Noelle, who lay in the crib with one small arm around a toy bear. “Hi,” she whispered, her eyes glancing briefly over the burgundy robe that hung untied over his white T-shirt and burgundy jogging pants. “You’re color coordinated,” she noted, and turned her attention back to Noelle.

  “Sophistication is my middle name.” He sighed. “It isn’t easy being this debonair.”

  He stood at the foot of the crib, his eyes taking in Sara’s soft blue robe and the white sweatshirt that showed above the loosely belted waist. Her hair was damp and tousled from the bath; she smelled of lemon soap. Her face had a fresh-scrubbed blush, and the elfin features, set in a gentle, slightly pensive expression, were heart-stopping.

  His body pulsed with the sight and scent of her, and his reaction caused h
im to close and tie his robe. Cotton jogging pants didn’t hide a man’s thoughts very well. When Sara glanced at his actions, he muttered, “It’s cool in here.”

  She checked a thermostat on the wall. “Seventy-three degrees.”

  “In Florida we call that cool.”

  Even as every impulse strained with desire for her, his more rational observations told him the truth. She wasn’t dressed to seduce or be seduced; she was dressed to be friendly, comfortable, and unappealing. She failed miserably at being unappealing. He glanced down at her feet. She was wearing the silly slippers with tiger faces on them. He had to give her credit. Without speaking a word, she was kindly telling him no.

  Today he’d begun to think that a future was opening up for them. Maybe it would, in time. But not tonight. He realized that he was stroking one finger across a scar on the opposite hand. The scars were always there, always taunting.

  “Kyle?” He pulled himself from his painful reverie as Sara straightened, gazing at him worriedly. “Are you okay?”

  “Sure.” He gestured jauntily at the room. “I’m just not accustomed to so much pink.”

  “You know, sometimes you get a look in your eyes that reminds me of your brother. As if everything just froze over. It’s deadly cold.”

  He smiled sardonically. “I use it to frighten small animals and little old ladies.”

  “Cal,” Noelle’s sleepy voice called. She made a smacking sound.

  “I can tell that it works,” Sara said, smiling. She stepped aside. “You’ve terrified this baby bunny, as you can see.”

  He sighed with pleasure as he moved around the crib. Noelle held up the hand that wasn’t clutching her toy. A giggle ended in another comical pursing of her lips. He bent down and kissed her on the tip of the nose. She returned the favor, then yawned.

  “I’m insulted,” he quipped.

  Daisy stretched out on her dog pillow under the crib. Sara turned the lights off, leaving only a night-light that cast a warm yellow glow. Kyle stepped from the room as she kissed her daughter good night, murmuring soft words that seemed to deserve privacy. He would have given anything to believe that someday he might be included in the love between them.

  She left the door open and walked into a shadowed hallway where modern carpeting and light fixtures contrasted with stone walls and medieval decor. A narrow hallway led off it—the secret passage to her bedroom, he knew now. Another led to the lab and the staircase that went into the greenhouse below.

  She pointed toward that hallway. “Come with me.” Silently he followed her to the wide stone stairway. The stones were cold on his bare feet as he descended behind Sara. She opened a steel security door. “I want to get something from the greenhouse. I thought you’d like to look around.”

  He followed her into a world of great warmth and ripe, earthy scents that made him remember the hot aroma of a Florida marsh. The cavern was a jungle—an organized jungle, with charts and tables and clinical-looking cubicles whose translucent walls seemed to glow from the lights within. Parrots fluttered across the ceiling; insects hummed.

  “Eden underground,” Kyle said, awed. “What kind of plants are you growing here?”

  “Rare ones—at least, rare in terms of our knowledge of them. They’re from the rain forest. No one has studied them before. There are still hundreds of plant species waiting to be discovered—if we don’t destroy the forest first. The other problem is that the Indian tribes who know how to use these plants are all dying out or giving up their traditions. We’re losing the last generation of medicine men who can tell us what miracles these plants might produce.”

  “Miracles?”

  “Medicine. Like the liniment I gave you for your back. Like cures for everything from cancer to the common cold.” She paused, looking hesitant, then added softly, “And something that I want to try on you tonight. If you don’t mind.”

  He put his hands on his hips and arched a brow in mild defiance. “Do I look like a guinea pig?”

  She grinned. “We’ll discuss your species orientation later. Look, what I have in mind won’t hurt you, I’m certain. I can’t promise that it will produce any dramatic results, but it would be interesting to experiment with. I’ve tried it on myself, so I know that it’s safe.”

  “Okay, I’m fearless—or at least too dumb to say no. What is it?”

  She pushed up the sleeve of her robe and pointed to a small white scar on her forearm. “I got this twenty years ago when I played ‘Two Musketeers’ with my brother, using a couple of swords from my grandfather’s collection. This scar used to be much more noticeable.”

  Kyle grabbed her arm and studied the innocuous white line intensely. “What did you put on it?”

  “Can you stand to smell like an orchid?”

  “I can stand to smell like a swamp if it makes my scars look better.”

  She laughed. “Good. It won’t change them overnight, and it won’t make them go away. But it may fade them, especially the smaller ones.” She took Kyle’s hand and led him through the greenhouse to one of the glowing cubicles. Inside were racks of brilliantly colored orchids, smaller and more fragile than any American variety he’d ever seen. The flowers had the delicate beauty of butterfly wings.

  She plucked the blooms from several plants. “Now we go up to the kitchen and make a facial with these and a little milk.” She smiled at him puckishly. “I knew I’d find a reason to use my blender someday.”

  Upstairs she turned the orchid blooms into flecks of bright color in a milky froth. Carrying a hand towel, she nodded toward the great room, where the fire still burned high enough to provide light.

  “The easiest way to do this would be for you to stretch out on the rug. Take off your robe. I’ll do your face and arms.”

  Any worries Kyle had about the effect of her touch were momentarily forgotten in his intrigue over the orchids. He removed the robe, stretched out with his head on a big throw pillow and, just to be on the careful side, jumbled the robe over his belly and thighs.

  She sat down beside him, holding the blender. “Shut your eyes.”

  He did as she asked, but couldn’t resist warning, “If this potion turns me into a dandelion, I’m going to sue you, Doc.”

  “But you’ll have great petals.” Chuckling, she began to spread the cool mixture on his face.

  Kyle flinched inwardly at the feel of her fingertips exploring his scars, but his slight discomfort couldn’t destroy other, more compelling responses. Within a minute he was very glad that he’d covered himself with the robe.

  “I’m trying to massage the liquid into the scar tissue,” she explained softly as her fingers stroked the ugly ridge across his nose.

  “Other than myself and my plastic surgeon, you’re the first person who’s touched my face.”

  Her voice dropped, becoming husky. “That’s too bad. It’s such a nice face.”

  “No compliments, all right?” he said. “I don’t believe them, and I don’t expect them.”

  After a second she agreed wearily, “No compliments.” Her fingers moved to one of his arms. She rubbed the liquid into it from elbow to hand. Then, as if the small scar on his palm required an inordinate amount of attention, she took her time stroking it.

  Kyle shifted his legs, feeling the caress in areas that had little to do with his palm. She performed the same magic on the other hand, and he used all his concentration to keep from moving in an even more noticeable way.

  “It’s too damned warm in front of this fire,” he grumbled, breathing faster. “Floor’s hard.” The floor wasn’t the only thing that fit that description, he thought. He arched his back a little and drew his knees up.

  “Be still,” she cautioned. “This stuff has to dry for a minute or two. Then you can move. In the meantime”—she tugged his T-shirt up to his nipples—“I’ll use the rest of the mixture.”

  Kyle could barely keep from groaning as her fingers spread over his chest and stomach, massaging the liquid into the scars
there. One scar ran across his right nipple, and when her fingertip slid over the sensitive nub, Kyle bit the inside of his lip to stifle a growl of encouragement.

  Her fingers glided along a ragged scar at the center of his chest, tracing without inhibition a path that he knew so well, had studied with loathing so many times. The scar bore an uncanny resemblance to a V; it looked as if Valdivia’s dogs had left his personal brand near Kyle’s heart.

  Sara’s touch made his skin tingle as if a grid of high-voltage wires lay just under the surface. No other woman’s touch had ever had such an incredible effect, bringing the heat of desire and emotion to the surface until his control was weakened with each stroke of her fingers.

  Because his skin had become a supersenitive canvas for her magical art, the warm, foreign drop of water that fell on his stomach was an abrupt intrusion. Kyle opened his eyes quickly and looked at her. She was crying as she looked at his torso. One of her tears had fallen on him. Pity. He died a little as embarrassment crawled through him. “Stop it.”

  Her startled gaze flew to his, and her lips parted on a soft murmur of apology. “You don’t understand,” she whispered.

  “No tears. No damned tears.”

  She swallowed harshly and scrubbed her cheeks with the back of one hand, hurrying to comply. But she shook her head in rebuke. “Why won’t you let me feel sorry for you? It’s only human for me to cry when I think of what you went through. I know what happened to you after that day in the courtyard. I know that you were taken to another hacienda and treated like some sort of prisoner of war.”

  He cursed viciously. “Who told you about that?”

  “Jeopard. When we were all at the hospital, going through the—what did your people call it? The debriefing. You wouldn’t tell me anything, remember?”

  “I didn’t think you wanted to hear the details. I didn’t think you could take it. There was something haunted about your eyes. Maybe you don’t remember as well as I do. You avoided me most of the time at the hospital. Then you left without even telling me good-bye.”

 
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