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Saras surprise, p.5
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       Sara's Surprise, p.5

           Deborah Smith
 
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  He pulled his pistol and aimed for a point right between the animal’s eyes. If it made one step toward him, he’d shoot. Hi, Tinker Bell. Didn’t mean to upset you. I just did a Santa act down your chimney. Then I killed your pooch. Ho, ho, ho. Kyle lowered the pistol but didn’t remove his finger from the trigger.

  At the same time, he swept his gaze around a bright, contemporary bedroom done in pretty pastels—nothing like the other rooms, with their dark, ornate furniture and stone floors. Through an open door across the master suite Kyle saw a large bathroom. The blue-tiled floor was wet; a thick white towel was jumbled on the side of a blue tub. He turned his attention back to the bedroom, studying the door that stood open in the wall to his left.

  Kyle gave it puzzled scrutiny. It wasn’t an ordinary door. For one thing, it was too narrow. He would have had to turn his broad shoulders sideways to fit them through the frame. The door hinged on the left side, so that it opened toward him, and he couldn’t see what lay beyond it. Not yet, anyway. He would.

  “Back, mutt,” Kyle told the lanky dog. He made his voice very kind and complimentary. “You’re the ugliest damned dog I’ve ever seen. You’ve got splayed feet and a pigeon chest. If your eyes were any closer together, you’d look like a cyclops. I hate dogs.”

  The snarl faded a little. The tip of a bushy tail wagged.

  “You’re stupid too,” Kyle said sweetly. He eased a hand forward. “Make friends, potato-head.” A salvo of barking poured from the dog’s throat. Kyle jerked his hand back and pointed the gun again. He heard footsteps scuffing softly on a carpeted surface beyond the odd-looking door.

  “Daisy, what is your problem?” Sara pushed the door open and peered around it. She gasped audibly when she saw Kyle, and both hands went to her throat in a protective gesture. “Oh, no, no!”

  “Call ‘Daisy,’ ” he said as calmly as he could, considering that “Daisy” looked as if she were ready to do a pit-bull impression.

  “Don’t shoot her!” Sara bolted into the room, hurriedly locked the strange door by entering a code into a small box beneath the doorknob, then ran to Daisy and knelt beside her. She wrapped both arms around Daisy’s neck and gazed up at Kyle in speechless dismay.

  He gazed back with an equal amount of discomfort. The short, sheer robe she wore was a shade of green that intensified the green of her eyes. It was tightly belted around her waist, which made the top gape, revealing an expanse of fair skin and the inner curves of small, perfectly formed breasts.

  She’d somehow managed to splash water all over the front of the robe, and it clung to her breasts and belly in breathtaking detail. Her face was flushed from the heat of the bathroom, and her damp hair lay in pretty wisps along the edges of her face. An incredibly provocative elf glared up at him.

  “Get out! Damn you! You lied to me! Get out!”

  “I’ll be waiting,” Kyle informed her. He let his eyes roam over her in a nonchalant way as he backed out the door. “In the great room.”

  “Get out!”

  He bowed like an old-world gallant, then stepped into the hall and swung the bedroom door shut.

  Distracted and afraid, Sara checked and double-checked the lock on Noelle’s nursery door. The nursery, her laboratory, and the security room were all on the back side of the keep’s main level, with the bedrooms, great room, kitchen, and dining room on the front, though a secret hallway connected Sara’s bedroom to the nursery. She had come down that hallway when she heard Daisy bark.

  Sara hurriedly dressed in jeans and a sweatshirt, then headed for the great room. Kyle had deceived her; worse than that, he now threatened the sanctuary that she’d spent the past nineteen months building to protect the secret she intended to keep at all costs. What kind of man would continue harassing her with such single-minded devotion?

  One who thinks he’s doing it for your own good, she admitted silently.

  He stood in the great room, rubbing a wet kitchen towel over his sooty face. The gold and copper tapestry of his hair was a grimy mess; his shoes, jeans, flannel shirt, and jacket looked as if they’d never be the same. “I came down the chimney,” he explained. “Merry Christmas.”

  “My unwanted chimney sweep,” she said grimly, clenching her fists. “Why? Give me a reasonable excuse.”

  “None available, except that I’m a mean bastard at heart. I want to make you miserable—so miserable that you’ll run like hell right back to the real world.”

  “I’m definitely miserable. But I’m not leaving this place. And you’re not staying.”

  “I can’t go back the way I came. A dragon spooked my reindeer. I’ll have to catch the next sleigh, and I don’t have a sleigh schedule.”

  She groaned with frustration. “Stop trying to make a joke out of this!”

  “I won’t be a problem guest. Tell me what’s off limits and I’ll stay out of it. I swear.”

  “I don’t trust you. I tried to already. In return you broke into my home, sneaked into my bedroom, and threatened my dog.”

  “I wouldn’t have shot that genetic reject. I mean it. I can’t make any promises about defending myself from the vicious rottweilers, though.” He glanced around coyly. “Where are they?”

  Sara sank into a chair and put her head in her hands. “There aren’t any attack dogs.”

  “That was a pretty nasty deception you used on me, Sara.”

  “I know. I suppose we’re even, then.”

  “All right. Even.” He came to her and squatted beside her knees.

  “This is an impossible situation,” she muttered.

  “Have a little faith. I’m not going to hurt you or anything you care about.” His tone filled with disgust. “We beat Valdivia, you know. He didn’t get to sell your research the way he’d intended, he was exposed and shamed in a way that ruined him, and he killed himself because of it.” Kyle took her hands. “But if you and I still let him control our lives, then he won. He got the last laugh. I hate the S.O.B. and everything he created. I won’t let him win.”

  Sara stared at him numbly. I hate the S.O.B. and everything he created. Would that include Noelle? If she’d had any hope that Kyle could accept her child, it withered. Who could believe that she loved a child who had been conceived in fear and hatred? Noelle must never be hurt by the stigma of Valdivia’s legacy, and Kyle must never be hurt by what would surely look like an ugly betrayal of everything he had sacrificed.

  Sara met his eyes and was nearly hypnotized by the way the vibrant blue stood out against the grime on his face. The concern and sincerity in his gaze made her want to scream with frustration. She could happily spend the rest of her life looking into those eyes. “You don’t know what you’re asking from me.”

  “Just friendship. Just trust.”

  “Just.”

  He smiled wearily. “We both know how rare those things are in the world.”

  “You absolutely won’t leave. I’d have to call the sheriff to drag you off. And you know I won’t do that.”

  He shrugged, managing to look both remorseful and pleased. “I swear I won’t go anywhere except where you give permission. I swear.” He took her hand and brought the fingertips to one of the harsh white ridges that zigzagged across his cheek. “I swear on these,” he said gruffly.

  Sara shivered inside. She was trapped. She could either play along or tell him the truth. Maybe, just maybe she could keep Noelle hidden from him.

  “I … I won’t have much free time,” she warned. “I have crucial work to do in the lab. I can’t be away from it for very long.” She began to plan how she was going to heat baby food over a Bunsen burner.

  “I’ll be a terrific guest. I can cook,” he announced abruptly. “Do you like chili?”

  “I suppose … yes.” Every nerve in her body felt the slow, soothing stroke of his fingers in her palm. “How long did you hide on my roof?”

  “Six or seven hours. It took me that long to remove the stone chimney cap.”

  “Your determination is
amazing.”

  He grinned. “You ain’t seen nothing yet.”

  “Don’t get overconfident. I have to do some shopping today. You can’t come with me. And don’t ask questions about it.”

  “All right.” He thought for a second. “Do you play cards?” She nodded fervently. “Poker?” he asked.

  “Oh, yes! It’s been so long! I’ve missed it so much!”

  “What else have you missed?” He looked at her closely, his eyes searching. Sara’s breath stalled as she wondered what he was going to suggest next. It hurt so much to know that she couldn’t encourage anything more than friendship.

  Kyle, I’d like you to meet my daughter. The man who scarred you for life is her father. Do you think you can forgive and forget?

  She didn’t know how she was going to go shopping for her monthly baby supplies without him discovering Noelle. She couldn’t leave the baby untended. Sara trembled inside and struggled for a plan.

  “What have you missed the most?” Kyle persisted.

  “I like to talk,” she told him dully. “That’s one of the things I’ve missed. Conversation.”

  A wide, handsome smile slid across his mouth. “I knew my tongue would come in handy here.”

  “Bite it,” she instructed, lifting one reddish brow.

  “Whatever you say,” he agreed. “Your wish is my command, fair lady.”

  If only it were that simple. Sara wondered how she was going to resist the temptation.

  She had to admit that it was exciting to sit in the kitchen with another adult, even a dangerous one. Kyle’s presence created strange responses in her over-wrought senses, but at the same time soothed her. She watched the graceful masculine strength of his hands as they curled around a pottery mug; she found her thoughts wandering in abstract ways. The lip of her own mug suddenly had textures she’d never noticed before, and when she drew her mouth over it she remembered every nuance of his kiss.

  “Here are the rules,” she told him. “If you follow the main hall past my bedroom, you’ll see that it ends at a set of security doors.” She smiled grimly. “They’re built of two-inch steel plate, they’re wired with alarms, and they unlock only on a voice command—mine. Don’t ever try to get past those doors.”

  “That’s where your lab is?”

  “Yes.” And Noelle’s nursery.

  “It’s a deal.”

  “The front side of the keep is yours to use as you want. Pick whichever of the guest rooms suits you best.” Sara looked up at him and managed a smile. “I hope you appreciate the combination of medieval decor and modern central heating.”

  “After tents and a cheap motel, it’ll be great.”

  “I suppose you need to go back to the motel to get your clothes and things.”

  “Yes.” He took a swig of coffee and swallowed deeply.

  Sara was intrigued by the silky flexing of muscles in his throat. She quickly dropped her gaze to the open collar of his filthy shirt, but found herself admiring the curly, dark blond chest hair it revealed.

  “Can you drop me off at my car when you go shopping?” he asked. “I left it near the main road.”

  Sara rubbed her forehead and tried to hide her distress. This was going to be more complicated than she’d thought. She had to go buy baby supplies; she had to take Noelle with her. All without him noticing. “Okay,” she answered, frowning.

  “You need to tell me how to open the gate and get back into the castle without using the chimney. Don’t look so worried about it,” he urged, sounding puzzled and a little impatient. “Just what do you think I’m going to do—sabotage your research? Spy on you and report back to my old cronies? I’m retired, Tinker Bell.”

  “I’m sorry if I appear paranoid. It’s just that I’m afraid that the government will always be curious about my new projects.”

  “If they’re watching, they’re not going to interfere with your life.”

  Her head snapped up. She shoved her coffee cup away, stood, and went to the bay window. The window seat was decorated with throw pillows covered in her mother’s crochet. Sara snatched one into her arms and hugged it as she stared blindly out the window. Kyle rose and came over to her. She quivered when his hands cupped her shoulders from behind.

  “You’re really terrified of being under surveillance?” he asked gently.

  “Yes. I get mental images of swarthy guys in trench coats hanging around outside my gate.”

  “Nah.” He stroked her arms. “I feel certain that no one is watching you in person. Besides, if our people keep an eye on you, it’s only to make sure no unfriendly types ever get a chance to coerce you again.”

  Sara hugged the pillow harder. “Our government has its own schemes and needs,” she said. “I’m not certain if they’re any better than the rest.” What if the government busybodies found out about Noelle? It would be easy to estimate her birth month and determine that she’d been conceived right before the rescue in Surador, that her father had been one of the black-haired, olive-skinned nationalists of Spanish descent.

  Sara couldn’t help shivering. What if that discovery led to the truth about her and Valdivia? Would she be accused of aiding him? Could the authorities take Noelle away from her, or use the baby to force her into the kind of research she’d sworn never to do again?

  “Tinker Bell, I didn’t mean to upset you.”

  She whipped around and searched his face. “You have inside information. Am I being watched?”

  “Not closely, I imagine. Remember, I’m retired. I’m not cleared to receive information on current operations. But no one from our side is going to bother you. You’ve watched too many silly espionage movies. The real world is not full of spies and devious plans. It’s pretty straightforward most of the time.”

  “I don’t think I’ll ever feel completely safe again,” she whispered hoarsely. “I used to be so overconfident. I thought I was smarter and tougher and more independent than everybody else. I roamed all over South America planning ways to save the world with biology.” She made a derisive sound. “The great Dr. Scarborough—young, brilliant, wealthy, pretty—so stupid when it came to judging human nature that she couldn’t tell when she was getting into deep trouble.”

  “Valdivia was a chameleon,” Kyle said bitterly. “For a long time we thought he was just another aristocratic patrón, with an eye for luxury and a way of charming everyone he met. So he fooled us too.”

  He pulled her to him and held her tightly. Sara dropped the pillow and wrapped her arms around his waist. She cried out sadly because his comfort and strength were a torment, a gift she could never keep.

  “Shhh,” he crooned. “If I were James Bond, I’d know exactly what to do next. I’d say something cocky and suave, like ‘I have a lovely little villa on the Mediterranean, where the sun is warm and the champagne is cold and the nights are very, very hot. Come away with me, my beautiful, sad Dr. Scarborough. There’s a wonderful view of the ocean from the villa’s master bedroom.’ ”

  Sara’s senses whirled; reckless need sang in her blood. She loved the feel of his chest hair tickling her cheek. His torso pressed closer to hers, and his thighs parted slightly, inviting hers to nestle between them. All it would take to feel him resting intimately against her belly would be a subtle roll of her hips.

  “If this were a James Bond film,” Sara said weakly, “I’d be wearing something much sexier than a floppy gray sweatshirt and jeans, and I’d have a much bigger bosom. I’d lick my overglossed lips and say with just the right amount of kittenish sophistication, ‘Oh, Mr. Bond, I’d love to see your waves crest.’ ”

  He threw his head back and laughed. Sara looked up and enjoyed the white flash of his teeth and the way laugh lines gave his face a wickedly mischievous expression. The harshness of the scars couldn’t dim the sheer joy in this man. It lay under the surface like a spring that nourished every bit of life that came near it.

  But his laughter died when he looked down and noticed her scrutinizing his sav
age features. “Daydreams,” he said with a grunt of dismay. “They’re harmless.” He stepped back abruptly. “You’re going shopping? I’ll make you a grocery list. You can bring back the ingredients for Surprise chili.”

  “Abracadabra. It will be provided.” Feeling awkward and emotional, Sara covered by making a comical curtsy. “The sorceress of Moonspell Keep, at your service. Spells cast, potions mixed, wicked enchantments broken.”

  “Can you turn a frog into a prince?” he asked with grim humor that bore no trace of self-pity.

  Sara studied him for a moment, wanting so much to help that she momentarily forgot all her worries. “It should be easy. I like frogs and princes. I’ll see what I can do.”

  He nodded. “Deal.”

  Sara gazed at him solemnly. “Deal.”

  Four

  Sara smoothed the soft collar of Noelle’s pink snowsuit. “Stay quiet, little bunny,” she whispered to the baby. “Just until I get you to the truck.” Noelle’s black lashes fluttered but her eyes remained closed. The pacifier in her mouth wiggled up and down with each movement of her mouth. She was utterly trusting and innocent. She was also, thank goodness, sound asleep. Looking at her restored Sara’s confidence. She closed the top of the wicker picnic basket in which the baby slept.

  All she had to do was keep Noelle out of sight until she dropped Kyle off at the end of the driveway, where he’d left his car. It would be a ten-minute ordeal, no more. Sara couldn’t think of a reasonable excuse for refusing him a ride. Besides, his quiet scrutiny unnerved her, and she didn’t want to provoke any more questions than she could help.

  Her plan was simple. The pickup truck had a camper hood. Curtains covered all the windows. During the past hour Sara had carefully secured the curtains with masking tape, so there’d be no chance of Kyle catching a glimpse between them. With a length of heavy rope she had fastened Noelle’s car seat in one corner of the truck bed. After they were safely away from Kyle, Sara would move the baby to the front seat. The day was sunny; the camper’s interior was pleasantly warm. Noelle would be comfortable and Daisy would keep her company. Ten minutes. That was all Sara needed.

 
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