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Saras surprise, p.16
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       Sara's Surprise, p.16

           Deborah Smith
 
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  Kyle’s mouth formed a merciless smile. “A few months later? A few days? A few minutes after dessert? What?”

  “A few months.”

  “You saw a lot of him before then?”

  “Yes. Whenever we were both in the city.”

  “Let me tell you what we know, and then you think about repeating this part of your story—and give me the true version. Diego de Valdivia had a reputation with women. The kind of reputation that a bull in a barn full of eager cows might envy. He wasn’t known for patience. He wasn’t the type who would chase a woman for several months before he got her into bed.”

  “Think what you want. I told you the truth.”

  “So you successfully played innocent with a sadistic, amoral man who as far as we know never had a long-term relationship with a woman before. You want me to believe that?”

  Sara dug her fingernails into the chair arms. “I met him, he was interested in my work; he was intelligent, charming, and very attentive. I thought he was a legitimate Suradoran businessman. He was good at hiding what he really wanted, which was to know about my work with viral herbicides. I explained that what I hoped to do was create a cheap, environmentally safe compound for agricultural use. A weed killer that wouldn’t hurt anything but the weeds.”

  “So, what attracted you to him sexually? His fascination for farming?”

  “I had a … a relationship with him for several months,” she continued doggedly. “I thought for a very brief time that I loved him. But before long I realized that he was using me to get information. I told him so. I broke off the relationship. He made some very ugly threats, but I thought he was bluffing. He left me alone. I assumed that I wouldn’t have to worry about him. I never expected that he was so determined that he’d follow when I went back to the States to visit my mother.”

  Audubon interjected, “Where you’re saying that he kidnapped you—and Dinah McClure, a friend who happened to be with you at the time.”

  “Yes.”

  “A pretty damned weak story,” Kyle told her. “So you let Valdivia haul you back to one of his plantations in Surador where he forced you to create the kind of herbicide he wanted, something so deadly it could be of military value. And you did what he asked without quibbling.”

  “I was a prisoner. He threatened to send people to hurt my mother. He threatened to hurt me. He even threatened to hurt Dinah, who was pregnant. He would have, too, even though he was obsessed with Dinah—he actually seemed to love her.”

  Kyle slashed the air with one hand. “So you ignored your romantic feelings for him? You were some sort of martyr for Dinah’s sake, when your lover admitted that he loved her?” His voice rose. “Tell the damned truth, Dr. Scarborough. You were still sleeping with Valdivia, the kidnapping was a hoax, and Dinah McClure was the only innocent person in the whole deal.”

  Sara trembled with rage at the unfairness of her situation. She had no proof, Kyle would never believe her, no one would believe her, and nothing she could say would make any difference. “I hated him,” she retorted, her voice low and fierce “I was forced to work for him. I was glad when he died. I’m innocent. You can despise me for having been Valdivia’s lover before the kidnapping, but you’re wrong for thinking I collaborated with him.”

  “Despise you?” Kyle said softly, his eyes narrowing. “It might be different if I thought you were telling the truth.”

  She held his gaze levelly, cruel and unrelenting. “No. I’ve always known that you wouldn’t want me anymore if you knew that I had been touched by the man who put those scars on you.”

  His eyes glittered with fury that was mixed with an anguish that made her heart ache no matter how much she tried to ignore it. “You’re still telling one lie after another.”

  Sara laughed wearily and put her head in her hands. “What now?”

  Audubon cleared his throat. “Noelle is Valdivia’s daughter.”

  She jerked her head up instantly. “No.” She would never stop protecting Noelle. She would reveal nothing, not even in self-defense, that might be repeated to Noelle someday.

  “Yes,” Kyle countered sharply. “You were sleeping with the bastard up until the time my brother showed up. You were lucky that you were able to pull off the innocent-victim act.”

  “I must be a great actress. Diego de Valdivia is not Noelle’s father.”

  “Give us the father’s name, then.”

  She flinched. “I … I never learned his name.”

  “Convenient. You must have been hot as hell for the guy to be in too big a hurry to catch even a first name. I tell you, Doctor, I had no idea that you used so little restraint.”

  She was drowning in despair, and suddenly so tired that she could barely fight anymore. It was hopeless anyway. “A rebel soldier is Noelle’s father—”

  “Why did you fake the herbicide you gave us?” Audubon asked, his dark eyes boring into her. “And who got the real herbicide?”

  “You mean it didn’t hold up under further testing?”

  “That’s right. It’s worthless as a weapon.”

  “Thank God!”

  Kyle gave her a derisive look. “You’re going to go to prison if we find out that you gave a different version of the herbicide to Valdivia’s people. And if you go to prison, your daughter will probably be put up for adoption.”

  She stared at him in shock. His announcement almost broke her. “I didn’t. I didn’t.” She gulped for air and said loudly, “I did not give anything to anybody else! I did the best I could to create a hoax that would fool Valdivia, but I didn’t know if I had succeeded!” She stood, shaking badly. “You can’t make charges against me, because I didn’t do anything wrong. All you have is suspicion and circumstantial evidence. I want my daughter now. We’re going home.”

  Audubon shook his head. “In the morning we’ll be doing a blood test on her. You see, Valdivia had a number of children by different women. We’ve got blood samples from a few of them. You’re a biologist—you know what kind of conclusions the new tests can give us when we compare Noelle’s genetic material to that of the other children. We’ll know for certain whether she’s Valdivia’s daughter.”

  Sara grasped the back of the chair and held on. Her knees threatened to buckle. “I think you’re lying about the other children.”

  “No,” Kyle told her, his tone thick and troubled, as if he’d had as much as he could take for the moment too. “But if you want to put Noelle through the pain of giving a blood sample, well do it. Personally, I don’t like the idea of sticking her with a needle to get an answer that you could give us easily.”

  Sara looked from him to Audubon. “It’s pointless to keep pretending,” Audubon said, not unkindly.

  “I … we don’t want to draw Noelle into this,” Kyle added, his voice leaden.

  Sara turned furious, tear-filled eyes on him. “Don’t offer your concern. She’s nothing to you anymore.” Tears slid down her face and she almost sagged. “To you she’s just … Diego de Valdivia’s daughter.”

  Kyle’s expression tightened, and his eyes no longer looked cold, only sad. The scars stood out vividly, almost as if taunting her to remember that she was indirectly responsible for them. “Thank you for making this simple for all of us.” He turned away and stared into the fire, his fists clenched by his sides.

  “So tell us about your relationship with Valdivia,” Audubon prodded. “Let’s say that you did break off with him, that he did kidnap you later and hold you hostage for upwards of a year, that you were forced to work for him, and that you weren’t personally plotting anything illegal with your research. How would you describe your romantic relationship with Valdivia during the time in which you were held hostage, the time when your daughter was conceived?”

  Sara faced him bitterly, reckless and broken-hearted. “None of your business. I don’t care what else you say or do, or what else you threaten me with. I’ve been humiliated enough. I wanted to protect my daughter from the past, and I failed.”
She glanced at Kyle, who still had his back to her. “I wanted to have a new life with a man I trusted and loved. That’s lost, now, too.”

  She was dimly aware of Kyle pivoting to gaze at her. She couldn’t bring herself to look at him. Instead, she kept her eyes riveted to Audubon’s. “You can accuse me of having poor judgment about Diego de Valdivia. That’s the only thing I’m guilty of. Now let me go and try to make a life with what little peace of mind I have left.”

  Audubon’s expression never changed. But after a moment of looking into her eyes he slowly lifted one hand and gestured toward the door. “Your daughter,” he said softly, “is upstairs in the fifth bedroom on the right. You may spend the night as my guest, or you may take her and leave.”

  Sara looked at Kyle, then. “Is there any reason why I’ll ever have to see you again?”

  He seemed drained, troubled, as tormented as he was angry. “No.”

  “Then I hope you respect my privacy. I’m sure you agree that Noelle should be allowed to forget you as quickly as possible.” Sara had to fight with her voice to keep it from revealing all her despair. It was a losing battle. “She … she couldn’t possibly understand … of course.”

  “Sara—”

  “Things are different,” she said in a rush of emphasis. “You’ve destroyed so much … please don’t destroy the rest.”

  “I understand,” he said wearily.

  She snatched her coat up and ran from the room.

  Ft. Lauderdale. It should have felt good to be back in the sun again, good to be near the beaches and the ocean, in a pastel-hued city where the most pressing problem was how to handle the annual spring break madness. But it all seemed dark and colorless to Kyle as he left the airport in a low-slung red convertible. The weather was warm and muggy, typical for October. Before Kyle went to his brother’s town house he stopped by his own place, an old beach cottage that he had restored, as he had the car he was driving. He told himself that home was where he wanted to be, and he changed into shorts and a polo shirt.

  Tess Gallatin was similarly attired when she answered the bell at Jeopard’s town house, though her darkly exotic beauty made even shorts and a T-shirt seem special. With one hand she was trying to fasten a long clip into her shoulder-length black hair, but when she saw Kyle’s face she dropped the clip and clasped both hands to her mouth in astonishment.

  “What did you do? Oh, Kyle, Kyle!” Her lilting English voice made even shock sound musical. She turned and called toward the back, “Jep! Kyle is home! Come here quickly!” Then she grasped Kyle’s hands and pulled him inside a coolly elegant, white-on-white living room.

  She barely had time to shut the door before Jeopard Surprise came striding into the room, a long white robe belted around his waist, his light blond hair still wet from a shower. He stopped abruptly and stared at Kyle as Tess had done.

  “When did this happen?” he asked.

  Kyle sat down on a sofa and rubbed his face wearily. He was more distraught over it than happy, at least at the moment. “It was this way when I got up this morning.” To say it had been that way when he woke up would have been inaccurate, since he hadn’t slept last night after Sara’s departure from the mansion.

  “You want to explain?” Jeopard prodded. He and Tess sat down on a facing sofa.

  “I’ve been using a concoction that Sara Scarborough fixed for me. Something she made up from rare plants in her greenhouse. Until this morning I hadn’t seen any results.”

  “The scars look so much lighter,” Tess said in an awed tone. “It’s a vast difference. Will they get even better with further treatments?”

  “There won’t be any more treatments.” Kyle looked at Jeopard grimly. “It’s all over with.” Briefly, trying to sound as unemotional as he could, he explained.

  When he finished, Jeopard’s blue eyes, so much like his own, were troubled. And yet … there was something warmer about them, something more understanding and sympathetic than Kyle had seen in years. Tess reached over and smoothed a strand of damp hair along the nape of Jeopard’s neck, her gesture comfortable and loving and intimate. Kyle watched the quick, very private look Jeopard gave her in return. The love in it made him ache for everything he had just lost—or thrown away. He wasn’t sure. Lord, he wasn’t sure of anything.

  Jeopard’s gaze came back to him. “The question, little brother, is this: If Sara is telling the truth about her relationship with Valdivia, if it was nothing more than a misguided affair that ended before the kidnapping, then how do you feel about her?”

  Kyle shook his head. “She had Valdivia’s child nine months after you brought her out of Surador. She was still involved with him right up to the last.”

  “And she didn’t explain why?”

  “She wouldn’t explain. I’ve got to find out what she’s ashamed or afraid of, what she’s still trying to hide.”

  “And then? Your scars look much better, but you, frankly, look much worse. Pardon me, but you look unhappy as hell.”

  “Dammit!” Kyle leapt up and began pacing. “I want to trust her! I want to know the rest of what happened between her and Valdivia.” He stopped, his shoulders slumped. “There’s just so much I don’t understand.”

  “Teodora,” Jeopard said suddenly. “See if you can find Teodora Sanchez. She may know something.”

  “Who was she? The servant in Valdivia’s hacienda?”

  Jeopard nodded. “The one who helped us with the escape. She was close to both Sara and Dinah. Afterward we helped her get into this country. She’s living somewhere in Miami.”

  Kyle pivoted and started for the door. “I’m on my way to Miami.”

  “Would it be graceless of me to remind you that Tess and I are getting married in one week, and that you’re the best man?”

  “I’ll be there. I love you.” He pulled the front door open and stood there for a moment, looking at the two of them. “I love what you have together. I want the same thing for myself—and Sara.”

  The beautiful young woman who opened the door had the coloring and features of an Indian, but her eyes were a light, crystalline blue. She wore a white sundress with high-heeled sandals, and the sandals made her tower over Sara even more than she would have towered in bare feet.

  “Yes?” she said, smiling first at Sara then at Noelle, who sat in a car seat by Sara’s feet. Finally the woman looked at Daisy, who leaned against Sara’s legs, on the verge of falling asleep.

  Sara cleared her throat. “I’d like to leave a package for Kyle Surprise. I’m Dr. Scarborough.”

  The blue eyes brightened even more with curiosity. “I’m Tess Gallatin, soon to be Kyle’s sister-in-law. In fact, the wedding is tomorrow.”

  “I won’t keep you, then,” Sara said quickly. She pointed to a large ice chest that sat on the other side of Noelle’s car seat. “That is packed with orchid blossoms. They’re very rare orchids, and Kyle uses them—”

  “On his face! You should have seen the results!”

  Sara swallowed hard. “When?”

  “The day he came home from Virginia.” The blue eyes filled with compassion. “I don’t know all the details of yours and Kyle’s problems, but I do think you ought to present the orchids to him your—”

  “No, I don’t believe that would be best. And … my daughter and I are leaving the country tomorrow. We’re going to Europe. I don’t know when or if well be back. So I just wanted to leave these orchids for him.”

  “Sara.” Jeopard Surprise came to the door and stepped outside. He looked at her with some of his old reserve—he would always be the “Iceman” to her—but there was also a gentleness that she’d never seen before. “Kyle’s out of town. I don’t think he’ll be back until tomorrow. Dinah and Rucker are here for the wedding. Stay. See them before you leave the country. Introduce Noelle to them—tell them whatever you think best about her. Dinah was like a sister to you. You owe her a good-bye visit.”

  Sara stood in the bright sunshine, feeling hot and uncertain a
nd sad. “You’re sure that Kyle won’t be back until tomorrow?”

  “Positive. He’s been in Miami all week. I just talked to him a minute ago, and he said he’d be home in the morning.”

  “All right, then. I’ll go get a motel room, and—”

  “No.” Tess smiled widely. “We’ll get you a room on my yacht. All the guests are staying there tonight. We’re having a party on board.” When Sara looked at her askance, she explained with amusement, “I’m a princess, you see. I have unlimited use of a giant boat.”

  “All right. As long as someone puts me ashore early in the morning. I don’t want to cause any trouble on your wedding day.”

  Jeopard knelt by Noelle’s car seat. Noelle laughed and offered him her pink pacifier. “This trouble looks too sweet to resist.”

  Sara thought wearily, I wish that Kyle agreed.

  There was a glittering party on the ship’s main deck at sunset, but Sara moved through it woodenly, thinking about the hours she’d spent talking with Dinah and her husband, Rucker, the trust and support they had offered her, and Dinah’s distress over her sudden plan to leave the country. Sara had told them everything, knowing that Dinah would believe her because Dinah knew Valdivia so well, and Rucker would believe because he trusted Dinah’s intuition.

  Sara tried to concentrate on the handsome crowd, the champagne, the caviar, the compliments she received on the beautiful green cocktail dress that Kyle’s sister, Millie, had loaned to her. The whispering music of a string ensemble floated on the evening air, and some of the couples were dancing.

  It was a happy scene, with Jeopard and Tess at its center. Millie and her husband, Brig McKay, a jovial, mischievous Australian, gave a toast. Erica and Kat, Tess’s cousins, offered toasts of their own. Their men, James Tall Wolf and Nathan Chatham, stood beside them, smiling. Audubon had sent an enormous spray of red roses, but the only guest who had any relation to Jeopard and Kyle’s former line of work was Drake Lancaster, who had also retired after the Suradoran mission. Drake was with James Tall Wolfs sister, Echo.

  Sara felt like the only lonely person in the world, and every second that brought her closer to tomorrow’s departure made her heart break a little more from loving Kyle.

 
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