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Saras surprise, p.15
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       Sara's Surprise, p.15

           Deborah Smith
 
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  “Sure,” she told Tom. “Why don’t you and Lucy come over tomorrow? You can visit with the baby and I’ll tell you all about her.”

  “All about her?” Tom echoed. “That’s just what we’d hoped for, Miz Sara. Just what we’d hoped for.”

  The next day Tom loaded the geese into his van with Sara’s help. She lured them with an offer of crushed corn. Afterward she and Tom walked back into the castle and sat down on the hearth rug, where Lucy was stretched out with Noelle bouncing on her back. Daisy stood close by, looking a little perturbed by the stranger who was playing with her baby.

  “Sh-she really is a w-wonder,” Lucy said, pushing her thick glasses up a little. “Do you have any p-pictures of h-her when she w-was newborned?”

  Sara smiled. “Yes.”

  Tom looked at her quizzically. “But you said you just got her.”

  Sara winced at her carelessness. “The adoption agency sent a few photographs. I’ll see if I can find them. Be right back.”

  She went to her bedroom and rummaged around in a dresser drawer filled with instant snapshots, the kind that develop themselves while the photographer watches. Sara chose several close-ups of Noelle. It would be impossible for Tom or Lucy to tell where they had been taken. Pleased with her progress, however small, toward becoming more open and trusting, she walked back into the great room with the snapshots held up proudly. “Here you—”

  She stopped, speechless at the sight of Lucy sitting alone on the couch, her glasses gone, her expression somehow more sophisticated than before. “Where are Tom and Noelle?” Sara asked, trying not to sound anxious.

  Lucy Wayne—stuttering, pathologically shy Lucy—looked at her calmly and said, “Dr. Scarborough, there’s no need to be alarmed, I assure you.”

  Sara was dimly aware of the snapshots fluttering from her hand. “Who are you?”

  “We work for Audubon.”

  Horror clawed at Sara’s throat. “Where is my baby?”

  “My partner has left with her. Daisy went along too.”

  White-hot fury poured into Sara’s fear. She had never been a violent person, but the idea that these people had schemed to steal her daughter drove everything but maternal fury from her mind.

  She grabbed a poker from the hearth and advanced on the tall blond woman, who stood swiftly and held up both hands in a placating gesture. “All you and I have to do is follow them, Dr. Scarborough. My partner is taking Noelle to Virginia. To Audubon. He thought this would be the simplest way to get you there without a problem.”

  “Have you ever heard of the Bill of Rights or the Constitution?” Sara shouted. “You people can’t come into my home and take my child!”

  The blond agent vaulted gracefully over the couch as Sara advanced. Keeping the couch between the two of them, she eyed Sara’s lethally raised poker with grim consternation. “You’re a very intelligent, calm, logical person, Dr. Scarborough. Be reasonable.”

  “I’m Noelle’s mother! I want my daughter back, or I’m going to very intelligently, calmly, and logically wrap this poker around your neck!”

  “It’s too late to change the plan. My partner’s already driven off the estate with Noelle and Daisy in the van. Relax, Dr. Scarborough. My partner raised five sisters. He’s terrific with children. Noelle will be just fine. You go pack some clothes, do whatever you have to do to close this place up for a couple of days, and I’ll be waiting right here. We’ll take your car. All Audubon wants is some answers to a few questions.”

  “He wants to coerce me into something I don’t want to do!”

  “No, he just wants the truth. Now, come on, Dr. Scarborough. Kyle Surprise is already waiting for you up in Virginia. You obviously trust him. You can trust me too.”

  Sara stopped by the couch, the poker raised like a baseball bat. A sudden thought made her hands quiver on the wrought iron handle. “Did Kyle know who you really are?”

  “Yes. But not until a couple of days ago.”

  The poker wavered. Finally Sara let it sink to the floor. “Was he in on this plan to take my daughter?”

  “I can’t discuss these issues with you, Doctor. I don’t have the clearance. You’ll have to ask Kyle yourself.”

  Sara staggered to the fireplace and rested her head against the cool, familiar stones. Maybe Kyle had set her up. Had he planned it from the first day? She wanted to cry, but she had no tears. She had only a numb, single-minded determination to get Noelle back and then never let anyone dangerous get near her again.

  • • •

  Audubon’s housekeeper kept coming to the door of the garden room to glance at Kyle as if wondering when he would do something appropriate, like either go into a drunken rage or curl up, pitifully, on the floor, as potted as the ficus trees.

  Kyle was also aware that Audubon stopped by the door occasionally but didn’t say anything. There were no worthwhile words of wisdom; no words that would carve the bitterness out of Kyle’s chest, and Audubon knew that.

  Kyle sat in the darkness for hours, his head resting on the smooth back grid of a wicker chair. He held an untouched bottle of bourbon and contemplated throwing it at the plants because they reminded him of Sara’s greenhouse. Only last night he had crumpled two of the rare orchids she’d given him into a glass of milk and spread the strange mixture on his face and body, reveling in memories of Sara’s touch. He had begun to doubt that her whimsical orchid treatment was going to help his scars, but using it made him feel closer to her.

  Tonight, beyond a ceiling of shimmering glass, the night sky was mercilessly cold and overcast. Kyle wanted to merge his thoughts with that sky and forget the image that kept hammering against his skull—Sara making love to Diego de Valdivia. Whether she had plotted some kind of twisted scam with the bastard was still undetermined, though it seemed logical. How could she have been his mistress, then the victim of his kidnapping, and then become his mistress again, bearing his child, a child that she adored?

  No. She must have helped him fake the kidnapping. But why? And why create a herbicide that didn’t work? He shut his eyes. Unless there was another herbicide, the real one, deadly and effective, and Valdivia had sold it to the highest bidder while Audubon’s people were concentrating on a fake. Somewhere along the way Valdivia’s plan had gone awry; he had ended up dead, but Sara had gone free.

  The scenario was a convoluted mess; there were too many questions that only Sara could answer. But about one thing there was no doubt, and it damned every claim of innocence she might try to make: Audubon had proof of her happy, voluntary, long-term affair with Valdivia.

  Kyle raised a hand to the scars on his face, and his stomach twisted with nausea. Had she shared Valdivia’s bed the night after … he leaned forward, set the bottle of bourbon on the floor, and buried his head in his hands. Dear God, he loved her so much, and he was shriveling up inside until there was nothing left but that awful, tormenting love and so much bitterness that he didn’t know which way to turn.

  “Kyle?” Audubon lounged in the doorway, looking casual and yet never relaxed, his military clothes changed for loafers, dark slacks, and a gray pullover that was probably made of cashmere. “Mike Antonetti just got here. With the baby. And the dog.” Audubon paused, then said, smiling, “And a lot of geese.”

  “What makes you think I want to see Valdivia’s bastard daughter?”

  Kyle hated those words, but he stood up and faced Audubon belligerently. From somewhere toward the front of the mansion he heard the soft, tired mewlings of an unhappy Noelle. The marrow seemed to flow out of his bones, and his knees went weak. “There’s no reason for me to see her yet,” he muttered.

  “Sara Scarborough will be here soon. Are you going to be ready to talk to her?”

  “I’m retired, not senile. If you need help getting answers from her, I won’t screw up my part.”

  Audubon turned toward the sound of footsteps approaching the garden room. “Mop,” a tiny voice called sadly. “Mop.”

  “Mop?”
Audubon inquired. He flicked a wall switch and recessed fixtures filled the garden room with soft light.

  Kyle squinted and rubbed his eyes, glad for an excuse to force the sting from them. “She’s calling for her mother.”

  Mike Antonetti, alias Tom Wayne, appeared beside Audubon. With his fake buckteeth gone and his hair pulled back neatly, he was almost unrecognizable. In his arms he carried Noelle, who was wrapped in a baby blanket. Daisy shoved between his legs and came to Kyle, whining and wagging her tail as if very relieved to see him.

  He stared miserably at Noelle. Her tear-swollen eyes went wide with recognition. Both little arms shot toward him. “Cal!” She wiggled in Antonetti’s arms and made a tragic, pleading sound.

  “Sorry about this,” Audubon said, looking uncomfortable. “I had no idea.” He motioned to Mike Antonetti. “Take her upstairs.”

  When Mike turned to leave, Noelle began to cry with tiny, gulping sobs, while she reached toward Kyle frantically. Kyle swayed in place. He felt as if invisible hands were pulling him apart inside. Daisy poked her nose into his hand and whined again.

  Noelle’s crying was the most heartbreaking—and broken—sound he’d ever heard in his life. “Cal. Cal,” she finally managed, and slumped against Antonetti’s shoulder, so exhausted that she was gasping for breath.

  “Take her upstairs,” Audubon said again, to Mike.

  “Cal,” Noelle whimpered, gazing at Kyle with bewildered, tragic eyes.

  Mike started walking away. Kyle’s control broke apart. “Wait.” Kyle strode to him, fiercely ignored Audubon’s scrutiny, and took Noelle. She wrapped both arms around his neck and kissed him several times, then burrowed her head into the crook of his shoulder like a mouse curling up for the night.

  Kyle turned his back to the other men, swallowing hard to get control of the knot in his throat. “I’ll hold her for a few minutes and then take her upstairs.”

  “This is going to be more of a problem for you than I ever expected,” Audubon said quietly. “It might be best if you let me talk to Dr. Scarborough alone.”

  Kyle went to the chair and sat down. He realized that he was embracing Noelle so tightly that she was squirming a little. He stroked her back in apology, and she murmured happily. He swiveled to stare at Audubon. “At the moment I don’t know what the hell I’m doing, but it won’t have any effect on me later. Just leave me alone with the kid. It’s way past her bedtime and she doesn’t have her pacifier or her rubber frog. That’s why she’s so upset.”

  “Oh, I see,” Audubon said dryly. “I could swear that she’s perfectly content without her pacifier or rubber frog, now that she has you.”

  He and Antonetti left the room. Daisy collapsed by Kyle’s feet, sighing heavily. Kyle shut his eyes and tried not to remember who had fathered the little angel who was snuggled deep in his arms, but he remembered her mother in excruciating detail, and bitterness left very little room for mercy.

  Eleven

  Kyle was waiting for her, Sara thought, sad and angry. He was waiting to help Audubon interrogate her. No matter what his motives, no matter how much he might cajole, tease, or gently prod for a truth she wouldn’t give, she would never forget that he had conned her into this situation. He had helped steal her baby.

  Lucy Wayne’s real name was Victoria Coursey. Victoria was an ex-actress turned cop turned Audubon agent. In her purse she carried a small automatic pistol and a picture of her pet hamster. She was disgustingly calm at all times.

  Which was the opposite of Sara as Victoria guided the station wagon along the driveway through Audubon’s estate. In the darkness beyond acres of manicured lawns sat a Tudor-style mansion. The exterior was dramatically lit by flood lamps; the mansion was both forbidding and stately.

  Sara’s heart thudded, and the muscles of her back felt as if they would snap. She was frightened now … and furious and ready for battle. And when she let herself think about a future without Kyle she could scarcely keep herself from crying.

  Victoria parked the wagon in a brick courtyard. Together she and Sara walked to an impressive entrance inset with ornately carved doors. Sara jumped when they swung open without warning. A tall, rugged man with dark eyes, dark eyebrows, and a mane of snow-white hair stood there, one hand on each door.

  It was a dramatic confrontation; Sara suspected that it had been planned that way. “Dr. Scarborough, how nice of you to let us force you into coming here,” he said in a deep, cultured drawl. Then he smiled pleasantly and extended a hand. “T.L.B. Audubon. Please, call me Audubon.”

  She ignored his hand. “I want my daughter back.”

  “Of course. Come inside.” He angled the hand toward Victoria, who shook it quickly. “Good work.”

  “Dr. Scarborough made it pleasant.”

  “I threatened her with a fireplace poker,” Sara corrected her grimly. “And I’m not too far from being violent now. I want to see my daughter immediately.”

  “Please. Come inside. Your daughter arrived just thirty minutes ago. She’s happy and comfortable, I assure you. Now, let’s see what we can do about making you feel the same way.”

  He led them through the mansion to a large study, where a fire crackled under a marble mantelpiece crowded with gleaming trophies. “Sit down, Dr. Scarborough.”

  Victoria waited by the door to the study. “Do you want me to stay, Audubon?”

  He waved a hand at her. “Thank you, no. Good night. I’ll speak with you and Mike early in the morning.”

  Victoria nodded. “Good night, then. Good night, Dr. Scarborough.” When Sara didn’t answer, she left the room.

  Sara stood firmly in the middle of the study, her hands clenched. Audubon flashed a beautiful smile. “Please, let me take your coat.”

  Sara shrugged her arms out of a wine-colored cloth overcoat but clutched it to her stomach defiantly. Audubon’s eyes flickered with intrigue at the sight of her white sneakers, pink overalls, and the pink and white sweater underneath the overalls. The sweater had a line of unicorns across the chest. Sara glared at him coldly.

  “I don’t look much like someone who’s sinister, do I?” she asked sarcastically. “Well, I’m not.”

  “Your coat, please.”

  “I’m not staying.”

  “We have a lot to discuss, Doctor.”

  “Not until I see my baby.”

  “No. We talk first.” He went to a massive desk, where he sat down, and swung both loafered feet onto one corner. He pressed a button on a phone console and said simply, “Dr. Scarborough is here.”

  He released the button without waiting for an answer. Audubon gestured toward.a plush leather armchair. “Please. It’s against my nature to sit while a lady stands.”

  “But it’s not against your nature to spy on innocent people and coerce them. Hilarious sense of priorities you’ve got.” Sara’s ears caught the distant sound of measured, forceful footsteps crossing marbled floors and growing louder with each second. Kyle? She twisted toward the study door, every nerve on alert. Just let the traitor give her one reassuring smile! Just let him try to soothe her hurt feelings!

  He stepped through the doorway and halted, gazing at her with blue eyes so cold that she shivered. Sara stared at the contempt she found there, and her throat constricted with horror. He knows about Valdivia and me.

  “Your daughter is asleep,” he told her, his voice threaded with distaste, as if it took great effort for him to speak to her at all. “You can see her after you answer my questions. If you want something to drink or eat before we get started, say so right now. There’s a bathroom down the hall if you want it.”

  “No,” Sara muttered, stepping back numbly. She went to the armchair and sat down, still hugging her coat against her stomach. She was empty, beaten, ruined. No one could prove or disprove that she had been Valdivia’s willing accomplice, but the accusations would destroy the secrets she had so desperately hoped to keep for Noelle’s sake. And for Kyle’s.

  Sara gazed at him wretchedly as
he went to a bookcase beside the hearth and leaned against it, his arms crossed over his chest. He had changed into dress shoes, dark trousers, and a pale blue dress shirt, open at the neck. The cuffs of the sleeves were fastened with monogrammed silver links. The silver matched that on the latches of the dark leather suspenders he wore. His hair was neatly styled in a way she’d never seen before. The man who gazed down at her with his face set in a rigid mask was not the same man who had been her friend and lover, and he wanted her to know it.

  “We’ll start at the beginning,” he told her. “And it will be simpler if you tell the truth. When did you first meet Diego de Valdivia?”

  Sara leaned back in the chair and shut her eyes. She could only hope to escape from this ordeal with a little of her dignity intact. If she thought about the loathing in Kyle’s eyes, she would fall apart. If she thought about her own innocence, she would become too bitter to talk. “I met him one year before the kidnapping.”

  “We’ll get to the so-called ‘kidnapping’ later. Where did you meet him?”

  “In Quetano. I’d gone into the city for a short vacation, after working in the rain forest for several months. He was there on business. We met in a hotel restaurant. I was eating alone. He asked if he could join me. We had a mutual acquaintance, a professor at the local university. He was interested in my research into agricultural herbicides. We talked about his coffee bean plantations.”

  “When did the relationship become personal?”

  Sara gazed at him. His tone of voice whipped her. In self-defense she let sorrow and frustration build a wall that allowed only the most essential details to escape. “Are you asking me—”

  “How long after the first meeting in the hotel restaurant did you start sleeping with him?”

  She sucked in a tight little breath. “Eventually.”

 
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