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Saras surprise, p.17
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       Sara's Surprise, p.17

           Deborah Smith
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  When she turned and saw him approaching her through the crowd, she almost collapsed.

  His gaze, troubled and determined, met hers and held it as if he intended to hypnotize her. He angled between people, his broad shoulders twisting gracefully inside a dark jacket and pale shirt. His carelessly knotted tie seemed to have suffered from anger, impatience, or both. Tailored, camel-colored trousers sleekly encased his long legs but seemed too civilized for his stride—graceful, stealthy, and filled with the tension of a skilled hunter preparing to capture his prey.

  Sara turned swiftly and went to Jeopard. “Kyle has come back early,” she told him. “And I’m afraid he’s seen me. I’m very sorry that this has happened. There won’t be a scene, I promise. I’m going to the nursery and collect my daughter, then wait in my cabin. Can you have a member of the crew take us ashore?”

  Kyle spoke behind her. “No.”

  Sara pivoted and faced him squarely. “Jeopard will explain why I’m here. I didn’t plan to see you again. There’s no need to be angry. I’m leaving. Good-bye.”

  “You’re not leaving.” He took one of her hands in a tight, commanding grip. “I knew you’d be here tonight. Jeopard told me.”

  Sara looked from one brother to another, her throat constricting with fear. “Why are you trying to trap me? I haven’t done anything wrong.”

  Jeopard squeezed her shoulder gently. “Go with Kyle. You two need to talk in private.”

  She swiveled her gaze back to Kyle. “I won’t answer any more humiliating questions. You’ve gotten your pound of flesh. Please don’t take any more revenge on me and Noelle.”

  “Let’s go talk,” Kyle ordered softly, his hand tightening on hers. “We can’t discuss this in public.”

  “I didn’t do anything wrong. What do you want, to scrape together so much rumor and innuendo that you can convince a court that what I did for Valdivia constitutes treason? Do you despise me that much?”

  Kyle leaned toward her, his expression shuttered. “People are beginning to stare. Either come with me voluntarily or I’ll scream.”

  Scream? Flabbergasted, she scrutinized him and found a trace of humor in the set of his mouth. He was enjoying her discomfort, she decided. He was so confident of his ability to make her do what he wanted that he could tease about it.

  “Let’s get it over with,” she said dully. Sara let him lead her away. They went down one level and followed a side deck that fronted the ship’s largest cabins. He stopped at a door and unlocked it, still gripping her hand possessively while he did.

  Inside he let go of her, locked the door behind them, and flicked a switch that lit a small lamp over a corner bar. Shivering with anxiety, Sara noticed vaguely that the cabin was even more elegant and plush than her own.

  “A pretty place for an interrogation,” she muttered.

  “Sara,” he said, his voice weary. He came to her, took both her hands, and looked down at her silently. Sara studied his face and was shocked to find tenderness in it.

  She shut her eyes, convinced that she was mistaken. “Your scars are much better.”

  “Thanks to you.”

  “Thanks to Mother Nature. I suppose Jeopard told you why I came to Florida. I wanted you to have a supply of orchids. There was no point in letting the blossoms go to waste in the greenhouse.”

  “You left all your beloved plants uncared for? And your parrots? What about them?”

  “I donated everything to a research institute. They’re sending people to collect all the plants. And the parrots.”

  “Where are you planning to go in Europe?”

  She shook her head. “I’ll travel a lot before I settle down. I’ll probably live in England eventually.”

  “You think you can protect Noelle from the truth about her father by just crossing an ocean?”

  “I’m going to try.”

  His hand squeezed hers, his nimble fingers caressing her palms in a soothing way that made her gaze at him in disbelief. “It won’t work,” he told her. “The only way to protect Noelle is by teaching her that she’s loved for herself, no matter what her father did.”

  Sara smiled bitterly. “Those are ironic words, coming from you. You can’t love her for herself any more than you can love me.”

  His eyes pinned her with quiet intensity. “You’re wrong.”

  Sara snatched her hands away. “Stop it! A week ago you could barely stand to be in the same room with me. Nothing’s changed.”

  “You’re wrong.”

  “Stop saying that!” Her fists clenched, she backed away. “You set me up from the first day you came to the keep.”

  He grasped her arms. “I came to you as a friend. It was only at the last that I had to go back to work for Audubon. I did it because I love you. I had to have answers that you wouldn’t give.”

  “You helped Audubon find out about Noelle. You helped him force me to admit things that couldn’t help anyone and could only hurt Noelle and me. They hurt you, too, though. You didn’t count on that. I tried so hard to protect you. From the very first I tried not to draw you into my life.”

  He pulled her close to him and stared down into her tear-filled eyes. “The truth hurts like hell, but I’m glad to have it. I’m glad to have you.”

  Stunned, she sank back speechlessly when he let her go. He raised a hand and stroked the backs of his fingers down her cheek. “I know the rest of the truth, now, Tinker Bell. I know what happened between you and Valdivia after the kidnapping.”

  As his meaning registered, her hands rose to her throat in horror. “What do you think happened?”

  “I’ve been down in Miami all week looking for Teodora Sanchez.” He paused and let his hand cup her chin gently. “This morning I finally found her. We had a long conversation about you.” His voice dropped to a gruff whisper. “I know what he did to you, sweetheart.”

  Sara turned away blindly and stumbled to a chair. She sank into it, her head drooping, one hand covering her face. Kyle followed and knelt in front of her. “Did you think I wouldn’t believe you?” he asked, his tone low and raspy.

  “Yes. Why would you? Why would anyone, after the way I’d been involved with him before the kidnapping?”

  “Now I hate the bastard more than I ever could for my own sake.”

  “He raped me twice,” she murmured brokenly. “I threatened to stop working if he touched me again. My research was important to him, so he left me alone.” A breath shuddered in her chest. “Until the very last. After I gave him the herbicide, the night before Jeopard and the others came to rescue Dinah and me … he decided to … celebrate, he called it. That was the night that … that’s why I have Noelle now.”

  “And you never told anyone except Teodora?”

  “I didn’t want Dinah to know. She was pregnant, and Valdivia was always tormenting her, always on the verge, we thought, of forcing her into his bed. I couldn’t scare her by admitting that he was capable of rape. I didn’t want anyone to know. I felt as if it were my fault for being such a poor judge of character in the first place.” She looked away, angry and humiliated. “Teodora happened to see some bruises on me, and she guessed the truth.”

  Kyle bowed his head into her lap. His hands gripped the sides of the chair. Sara gazed down at him, tears on her cheeks, her control nearly gone. “From the minute I learned I was pregnant I thought of the baby only as my child, never Valdivia’s. When I saw you again, at the hospital, I knew I could never explain that to you. I wanted to be with you so much, but it was impossible. I didn’t want to destroy you; I didn’t want you to think that you’d been a fool that day in Valdivia’s courtyard. I … I didn’t want you to hate me.”

  Tentatively, uncertain about Kyle’s feelings for her, she laid a hand on his hair. “Can you understand how I could hate Valdivia and love Noelle? Can you understand how I could love you so much that every lie seemed justified, as long as it protected you from more pain?”

  He raised his head. Tears slid between the sc
ars on his face. “Everything you touch is filled with magic. I understand.”

  “Everything?” she asked, her tone soft and desperate. She laid one hand along his face. “Is there enough magic to keep you from thinking about Valdivia when you look at me? When you touch me?”

  “I’ll show you.” He stood, lifted her to her feet, then picked her up. He carried her to the bed and lay down beside her. Gently he cupped her face, held it, and kissed her with slow, sweet devotion.

  Sara broke from his embrace and, crying, twisted away from him. “I never expected you to accept it. Don’t be kind to me out of sympathy or guilt. I need you to love me the way you did before you found out the truth.”

  “That’s what I’m trying to do,” he said as his quick, agile hands unzipped the back of her dress. “I’m going to show you that nothing’s changed, sweetheart.”

  He peeled her dress down to her elbows and began kissing her shoulders. Slowly he slid his hand around her and stroked her breasts through slip and bra. She shivered and remained huddled with her back to him. He made a low sound of distress. “You have to show me that you haven’t changed either. I know you must resent me for the way I’ve interfered in your life. I don’t blame you for having a lot of second thoughts about me.”

  “Not second thoughts. Just the fear that”—her voice nearly deserted her, and she could barely whisper—“just the fear that Valdivia has taken something away from us that we’ll never get back.”

  Kyle turned her to face him and looked down at her with anguished eyes. “Are you going to let him win? Or are you going to trust me? Are you going to believe that I love you more now than before?”

  “Oh, Kyle.”

  “I want to make you happy, and I know I can do it. He never made you happy and never could. He didn’t deserve you, and despite all the grief I’ve caused you in the past few weeks, I’m selfish enough to think that I do deserve you. That’s my victory.”

  She cried and put her arms around his neck. “Be selfish. Let’s fight him together. Let’s chase the memories away forever.” She pulled Kyle to her for an adoring, tear-dampened kiss.

  He loved her like sunshine loves the dawn, chasing the darkness away moment by moment with his whispers and his touch, filling her until she glowed with shared power. Afterward they lay spellbound and silent, clothes jumbled around them as if they’d tried to build a nest, their faces nuzzled close together. He brought her hand up and drew it over his scars, still so vivid. “They’re gone,” he promised.

  Sara brushed her lips across his face. “I never saw them to begin with.”

  A little later they dressed and solemnly assured each other that no one would suspect, from looking at them, that they’d been making love. He put his arm around her and they left the cabin. Sara rested her head on his shoulder and latched both arms around his waist.

  Strolling along a side deck through the darkness of a warm night, they gazed at the ocean and the sky. A full moon hung there like a silver ornament. “I’m sure the keep must be full of elves tonight,” Kyle told her. “And they’re wondering where their queen and princess have run off to. Do you think the elves could get used to having an ordinary human around all the time?”

  “I don’t know what ordinary human you mean.” She tilted her head back and looked at him in the enchanted moonlight. “I know they’d love a dragonslayer like you, though.”

  “Speaking of dragons, you’ll be happy to know that your geese trapped Audubon in a tree.”

  “Oh, no!” But she couldn’t help smiling thinly. “I’m so pleased.”

  Both of them laughed then, and kissed each other gently. “Wait here,” she told Kyle. “I’m going to the nursery and get Noelle. You keep our place in the moonlight.”

  Very soon she returned, Noelle in her arms. Sara watched Kyle’s face anxiously as she came to a stop beside him. Daisy padded up and flopped by their feet; she would always guard her people, and she would always remind them that dragons can be good, and loving.

  Noelle squealed with delight and held out her arms to Kyle. “How do you feel about her?” Sara asked, her throat tight.

  Tears of happiness rose in Sara’s eyes as he took her daughter and cradled her in a tender, protective embrace. He slid the other arm around Sara. Noelle bowed her head to theirs in the moonlight. “Cal,” she whispered in wonder, as if caught in the magic of the moon.

  “There’s one thing we have to do right away,” Kyle said.

  Sara lovingly laid one hand against Noelle’s cheek and the other against his. “Yes?”

  He hugged them closer to his heart. “Teach her to say daddy.”



  Deborah Smith, Sara's Surprise



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