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Saras surprise, p.13
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       Sara's Surprise, p.13

           Deborah Smith
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  “Let me have a try at it. I’ve been the sorcerer’s apprentice two or three times. Looks easy. I bet I can manage alone.”

  “I’ll take that bet.” Grinning mischievously, Sara sat down on the foot of the bed and waited. She heard Noelle giggling and Kyle talking in a low tone, the emphasized words occasionally making his progress clear.

  “Ugh,” she heard him say. Then, “Chew … toes … incredible contortionist … be still … wrestling … strong … ouch … a tornado with legs!”

  “Need some help?” Sara called, trying not to laugh.

  “No. I’m going to put her on the floor. I just need a bigger arena.” Then, a minute later, “Run for your life! She’s loose!”

  Sara got up and went to the door. Noelle was crawling down the hallway, chortling at her freedom, her fresh diaper flopping open on one side, only half pinned. Kyle and Daisy followed her. Kyle wiped imaginary sweat from his forehead. “That’s all I could manage before she got away.” He pointed to the diaper. “It’s a new style.”

  He swooped his hands under Noelle and picked her up. She squealed with joy and patted his face. His smile grew wide under her exploring fingers. “Who loves ya, elf princess?”

  “Cal!” she squealed.

  “That’s right. Cal.”

  Sara came to the two of them, grinning, her eyes damp from the sight of trusting baby and loving man. This was her revenge against Valdivia.

  Kyle glanced at her carefully as he stopped his sports car beside the ever-watchful dragons at the gate. Sara sat stiffly in the car’s bucket seat, both arms wrapped around Noelle as if evil wizards might try to pull her away at any second.

  “We’re just going to lunch,” Kyle reminded her.

  She nodded finally. He helped her put Noelle into the baby carrier that was anchored to the backseat. When they were done, Sara faced forward and clasped her hands in her lap. Her face was pale. “I’ll be fine. You just have to remember that I’ve geared all my energies to keeping her a secret for almost a year and a half, ever since I learned that I was pregnant. It’s not easy to relax.”

  “You’ve got to believe that no one is interested in you anymore. You’re just an average citizen.”

  “Kyle, you’re the one who told me that the people from your old organization are probably keeping tabs on me. What are they going to think when they find out I have a baby?”

  He chuckled. “When I said they were keeping tabs on you, I didn’t mean that they’re watching every move you make. They’re undoubtedly curious about your research, that’s all, and they’ll do their best to find out what you’re doing before anyone else does. But they don’t care about your personal life. You’re allowed to have a baby.”

  “But the father was … was Suradoran. You don’t think anyone would find that disturbing? Questionable?”

  Kyle reached over and brushed his fingers across her cheek. “What would our government accuse you of, Sara? Being human? Needing to take comfort from a rebel soldier? Sara, we support the rebels’ cause. You didn’t exactly cavort with the enemy.”

  “I didn’t cavort at all,” she said defensively, stiffening in the odd way she always did whenever he mentioned Noelle’s father. “It wasn’t, uhmmm, something I did for fun.” She glanced back at Noelle, who looked a little perturbed by the emotions that were swirling around her. “But I don’t regret the outcome.”

  “Neither do I,” he said quickly. “I don’t live in the past. All I care about is today, this moment. All I care about is the fact that we’re together, the three of us.”

  She grabbed his hand and kissed it. “That’s all that’s important. I love you. Noelle loves you. Don’t ever forget that.”

  Her fervor puzzled him. It was as if she were afraid of something, something she wouldn’t mention. Kyle shook his worries away and decided that they were the result of being so close to her in spirit and dreams. For the first time in his life he wanted to be part of another person’s future.

  “Well have to buy a stroller for Noelle,” he said, smiling. “Because we’ll be going out a lot, the three of us.”

  “Yes. Yes.” She sounded pleased. “The three of us.”

  The little town near the national park was a model of laid-back southern style. Nothing new had been built in the last forty years, but the old stores were kindly cared for and the town square was a hospitable place of giant oak trees cloaked in red fall leaves.

  Kyle swung the sports car into a parking place in front of a small, homey restaurant with rocking chairs on its narrow porch. Inside they found a table in one corner and put Noelle in a high chair provided by a plump waitress who stared at the three of them without hesitation.

  Kyle knew that they made an intriguing family—him with his scars and Noelle with her chocolate-colored hair and dark eyes, a coloring that a blond father and redheaded mother rarely produce. He grinned to himself. Family. He didn’t care if anyone stared. They couldn’t hurt Sara or Noelle, and the scrutiny they gave his ravaged face didn’t bother him as it would have just a few weeks before. He was loved and needed; the world was perfect.

  Tom and Lucy Wayne shuffled in halfway through the meal. With his buck-toothed, gold-plated grin and her pathetic shyness they looked like some insulting Hollywood version of hillbillies. They gaped like stunned trout when they spotted Sara with a baby they’d never seen before.

  “What you got there, Miz Sara?” Tom asked, stomping over to their table. Lucy crept along behind him, peering over his shoulder.

  Kyle glanced at Sara. Her eyes were suddenly shuttered with uncertainty. “I’m adopting a child,” she said. “She’s from South America.”

  Kyle groaned with dismay at her deception. What would it take to convince her that the past couldn’t hurt her or Noelle?

  “Sh-she sure is p-pretty,” Lucy Wayne stuttered, nodding so vigorously that strands of her long white-blond hair shook free of its braid. “When’d you get her?”

  “Just a few days ago,” Sara told them.

  “What place is she from?” Tom asked.


  He gave her a blank look, obviously not certain what Brazil was other than a type of nut. Lucy edged up to the table and stared at Noelle in awe. “You sh-shoulda t-told us. We l-love b-babies.”

  “Until recently I wasn’t sure that the adoption would go through.” Sara twisted in her seat and fumbled with Noelle’s bib. Noelle seemed fascinated with Tom and Lucy. She smeared mashed potatoes everywhere but on her mouth and started to chew. Sara laughed nervously and rose from the table. “I need to clean her up.” She took Noelle from the high chair and held her close. “I’ll just take her to the bathroom and be right back.”

  “We sure look forward to seein’ more of her next time we come to your place,” Tom said, his eyes never leaving the baby.

  “Of course. Next week. You can visit with her.”

  Sara hurriedly carried the baby through a set of swinging doors at the back of the restaurant. Kyle stirred restlessly, hating the discomfort this first outing had caused her and hoping that she’d stop worrying so much.

  “You p-plan on stayin’ at Moonspell Keep f-for a while?” Lucy inquired.

  “A while.”

  Tom’s angular face registered awe. “You must be a rich feller. You’re takin’ a long vacation from your job. You helpin’ Miz Sara with her work?”

  Tom and Lucy’s questions were beginning to strike an odd chord in Kyle’s mind. Suddenly alert, he gazed into Tom’s carefully shuttered eyes and wondered what they hid. At the same time, Kyle grimaced at his cynical suspicions. Perhaps he’d let Sara’s nervousness get to him. He gave the couple a trademark Surprise smile. It revealed nothing but good humor. “I’m just a friend of Sara’s—just helping her with the new baby.”

  Tom studied him intently. “Well, we look forward to seein’ more of you.”

  Kyle nodded pleasantly, wishing like hell that they’d go away. Lucy craned her head around her husband’s shoulder. “Sur
e do want to see more of you and that baby. But for now we best be goin’.”

  “Didn’t you come in to eat?”

  “Changed our minds,” Tom told him.

  Lucy grinned. “You tell Sara we said good-bye.”

  She had lost her stutter. A warning, almost like a premonition, began to hammer inside Kyle’s head. “I will.”

  They turned to leave. Casually Tom looked back. “Oh. Audubon says hello.”

  “Yes,” Lucy added. “He hopes that you’ll come to visit soon. Very soon.”

  Shock made a great stillness grow inside Kyle as he watched them leave the restaurant. Now he knew why his instincts had told him from the first that something wasn’t quite right about Tom and Lucy Wayne; they were too odd. They were fakes.

  Suddenly all his reassurances to Sara seemed foolish. Something was going on that he didn’t understand. He could either tell her what had just happened and destroy her fragile confidence, or he could keep quiet until he knew more.

  She came back from the rest room, toting a cleaned-up Noelle, who reached out to him with both arms. “She missed you,” Sara said, smiling. Kyle made a great show of talking to the baby, while he silently began making plans. Audubon undoubtedly wanted to know whatever he knew about Sara, and that information must be more important than Kyle had ever imagined. Noelle’s appearance was some kind of turning point. Why?

  “Where are Tom and Lucy?” Sara asked, settling into a chair beside him.

  “They changed their minds about eating.”

  She sighed with relief. “Good. Their questions made me squirm. I’m sorry about the adoption story. I just can’t get over the feeling that the less anyone knows about Noelle, the better.” She shook her head and looked at him with green eyes full of apology. “Do you think I’m hopelessly silly?”

  Kyle grabbed her hand and brought it to his lips. “Not at all,” he said.

  Kyle had been quiet since their lunch at the restaurant, and Sara began to worry about his unusual brooding. She told herself that he was just exhausted—after all, she’d hardly given the poor man much chance to rest over the past few days, and she was tired too. They curled up on her queen-size bed with Noelle between them and napped all afternoon, but when Sara woke up she found Kyle standing at her bedroom window, gazing into the autumn dusk, lost in thought.

  He wasn’t interested in fixing supper; for the first time he let her cook. She made her gourmet specialty—hot dogs and canned soup. Afterward they sat in front of the fireplace and took turns reading an old National Geographic to Noelle, who snuggled next to Daisy on the rug. Noelle fell asleep in the middle of “Great Whales of the Pacific,” with her head on Daisy’s golden side.

  “I need to make a business call to Jeopard,” Kyle said. “Would you mind if I use the phone in the kitchen? I need to sit at the kitchen table, where I can take notes.”

  Sara hid a feeling of dismay. He seemed secretive, and that wasn’t typical of him. But she shrugged casually. “Sure. I’ll put Noelle to bed and go get a couple of orchid blossoms from the greenhouse.” Every night she put the orchid and milk blend on his scars. So far it had produced no effect; Sara told him to be patient, though her own results with the mixture had begun to show up more quickly.

  “I won’t be long,” he promised, and headed for the kitchen.

  Sara gave him his privacy, taking longer than necessary to get Noelle and Daisy settled in the nursery, then dawdling in the greenhouse. By the time she returned to the great room he was standing in front of the fireplace, his hands shoved into the pockets of faded jeans, his shoulders hunched under a white sweater, as if he were cold.

  “Is everything okay?” she asked, going to him and slipping one arm around his waist.

  He studied her so intensely that she shivered inside. “When I look at you, everything’s fantastic,” he said vaguely. He pulled her close. “Yes.”

  “You’re crushing my orchids,” Sara protested, chuckling. She held them up. “Ready for another treatment?”

  “Ready for anything, if you’re involved.” He kissed her with an intensity that bordered on desperation, and his sweet wildness ignited the heat that always simmered between them.

  When he stopped she looked at him groggily, her mouth feeling deliciously hot and swollen, her body flushed with expectation. “We better take care of the orchid treatment first,” she whispered. “Otherwise I’m sure we’ll forget.”

  He tilted his head toward the hearth rug. “Here, as usual?”


  She hurried to the kitchen and blended the concoction. He had removed his sweater by the time she returned. Standing very still in front of the firelight, he was backlit in a way that made her think of an exquisite statue—a visual feast designed to arouse women during some primitive dance of fertility. Without a word he sat down on the rug; she knelt, facing him, and set the bowl of liquid to one side.

  Sara dipped her fingers into the mixture and gently touched his face, stroking the worry lines on his brow as well as the scars. He sat silently, his blue eyes watching her the whole time that she smoothed her hands over his face and torso.

  Sara reveled in the restrained passion they shared. She leaned forward and brushed her lips across his, then moved around behind him. His back muscles flexed and relaxed under her fingers, and she remembered how they had flexed at other times, when his whole body was moving and her hands were urging the motion.

  Sara finished rubbing the orchid bath into his scars. Slowly she trailed her fingertips down his spine and languidly drew circles in the small of his back. “Done,” she whispered. “Just sit still and let it dry for a minute.”

  He laughed hoarsely. “You touch me until all I can think about is making love to you, and then you tell me not to move. This is torture.”

  She knelt beside him and deftly unfastened his jeans. The breath shuddered in his throat as she uncovered him. “I’ll try to make your torture easier to bear,” Sara murmured, and began by kissing the hot, smooth skin low on his belly.

  “Sara,” he said, filling her name with a shivering mixture of encouragement and control. Then, less than a minute later, “I can’t take any more, sweetheart. Come here.”

  There was an anguished, starving sound in his voice that made her ache to soothe him, to sweetly fill him with love. Sara took his hands. “Come with me.”

  She led him to her suite and they undressed each other quickly. Once they were in the shower Sara caressed and held him while the warm water cascaded over them. She trembled at the raw need in his body and was caught in his strange torment.

  He jerked her close under the spray, his hands parting her, sliding wet into her most feminine secrets, building her pleasure to such a fever that she sagged against him and held tightly to his shoulders.

  “Believe, believe,” he said against her mouth, before his tongue swept inside to command her.

  “Whatever you want. I do believe you.” She answered his anguish, not the puzzling words.

  Kyle grasped the backs of her thighs and lifted her against his fiercely aroused body. Then he pressed her to the tiled wall and entered her in such a slow, wickedly gyrating way that she was pulsing inside before he had hardly begun to love her. The hot water coursed down their bodies, making her nipples slide through the patterns of his chest hair, being tickled and scrubbed.

  Sara gasped and cried out, and as water skimmed her lips he sank his tongue inside again. She wrapped her arms around his neck and gloried in the powerful arching of his body, the fierce possession of his hands holding her legs around his hips, the tender care he gave her with his mouth.

  But as he called her name she sensed again that urgency, the melancholy that she’d never heard before. Frightened, Sara held him tightly as his warmth filled her. He trembled violently with release and continued to hold her hard against the shower wall.

  “What’s wrong?” she begged.

  “Shh.” Gradually he set her down, feathering kisses across her face as
he did. Sara flicked the shower controls, and the water stopped, leaving a silence punctuated by the savage rasps of her and Kyle’s breath. She gazed up at him anxiously.

  “Whatever it is, tell me. Are you … you aren’t having second thoughts about us, are you? Just say so.”

  He cupped her face in both hands. “Sara, no, no. My God, how could you think that?”

  “You’ve closed yourself off from me. I don’t know what to think. And you’re upset about something.”

  He nodded. “We need to talk.” He glanced down at their flushed, naked bodies. “With fewer distractions.” He didn’t say anything else while they dried each other off and slipped into their robes. Then he swept her into his arms and carried her to bed, where he sat down, cross-legged, in the intimate circle of light from the small lamp on her nightstand. He held her on his lap and looked down at her with troubled eyes.

  “I have to leave tomorrow, on business,” he told her. “I shouldn’t be gone for more than two or three days.”

  Sara gazed at him in amazement. “Is that all that’s worrying you? Of course, I wish you didn’t have to go, but—”

  “I want you to know about my work.” He paused, frowning. “For years I had to be so damned expert at telling lies, or half lies, or simply misleading people by leaving out considerable portions of the truth. Audubon encouraged his agents to have a certain dramatic flair. In other words, coming up with good disguises and good con jobs was part of my job.”

  She felt the blood leaving her face. “Since then you’ve been pretty bored running an import-export business, I suppose. I’ve been wondering how you could be happy in an ordinary business. But what—”

  “Shh. I’m getting to the what,” he told her. “Deception made my work so much easier. But then, somewhere along the way, I realized that it had taken over more than just my work. That’s what happened to Jeopard too. He created a character that had very little humanity. It scared the hell out of the people he had to deal with, which was exactly what he wanted it to do. But eventually he became that character. Thank God, now he’s fallen in love with a woman who sees the man he used to be. He’s going to get married, maybe even have children. I don’t know if she can change him completely, but she’s made a good start.”

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