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Saras surprise, p.8
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       Sara's Surprise, p.8

           Deborah Smith
 
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  He was startled to see the kitchen light on; even more startled to find her asleep with her head on the kitchen table, a half-finished cup of coffee sitting near one outflung hand. A blue robe covered her from neck to ankles. Kyle pressed his lips together tightly to keep from laughing when he saw her sophisticated footwear.

  Dr. Scarborough favored giant, fuzzy, tiger-striped bedroom slippers with whiskers and plastic eyes on the fronts. Those shoes endeared her to him. He would have loved to stroke her hair, but that being too much like a caress, he simply shook her shoulder a little. “Wake up, tiger-toes.”

  “Morning,” she said raspily, squinting up at him.

  He frowned at the exhaustion in her face. “Did you work all night?”

  She nodded, looking dazed and groggy. “Most.”

  “Why?”

  “Uhmmm, uhmmm …” She frowned, moved her hands around on the table in vague patterns as if sorting through answers, and finally said, “My plants are like babies. Uh-huh. You never know when they’re going to grow teeth.” Satisfied with that explanation, she put her head down on the table and fell asleep again.

  “Plants with teeth,” Kyle teased under his breath. “I hope there’s a rabies shot for philodendrons.” He took her under both arms and lifted her to her feet.

  Her chin and eyelids rose slowly, until she could finally see him. “Hmmm?”

  “I’m going to carry you to your bedroom.”

  “Good plan.”

  He scooped both arms under her and lifted her easily. With her softness cradled against him and her head resting trustingly on his shoulder he could have carried her to the next state and back if she’d wanted him to. He caught the scent of her unusual perfume again; he’d never smelled anything quite like it before. It reminded him of the sweet, milky smell of a puppy—which was a compliment, though he doubted she’d agree. Few women wanted to be told that they smelled like a dog.

  He walked through the great room and entered the main hallway. When he reached the double doors of her suite he tested them with a foot, and one swung open. From the corner of his eye he noted that the strange extra door in one wall was shut … and undoubtedly locked.

  But mysterious doors were the least of his concerns at the moment. He carried Sara to the bed, a queen-size model atop a simple base of dark wood. It was neatly covered in a green comforter with delicate print sheets that peeked out at the top. There was very little evidence that she’d slept on it the night before.

  She sank gratefully onto the comforter and burrowed her head on a pillow encased in material that matched the sheets. Everything about her and her bed was fresh and neat and wholesome, Kyle thought, but it wasn’t a prim, don’t-touch wholesomeness.

  On the contrary, with the incandescent light of dawn slipping over her she looked infinitely touchable. He made a low sound of frustration as his body tightened into a fierce protest against not touching her. Kyle busied himself by pulling the comforter and sheets out from under her.

  She murmured a compelling sound of appreciation when he removed her funny slippers. He couldn’t let the harmless opportunity pass, so he rubbed her feet.

  “Oh, Kyle.” She sighed, sounding as if he’d just brought her to a peak of pleasure.

  All right, so she knew what was happening and she wasn’t unhappy about it. That didn’t mean she wanted anything more. His hands trembling with restraint, he draped the bed coverings across her legs. He halted, staring at the thick terry-cloth tie around the waist of her robe. He ought to quit torturing himself right now and leave the room.

  But he told himself he was in control; there wasn’t anything wrong with just loosening her robe to make her more comfortable. Besides, he could see the neck of a floppy gray sweatshirt between the lapels. She certainly wouldn’t be embarrassed to have him see more of that.

  “Do you want me to help you take your robe off?” he whispered, trying to sound unaffected by the desperate heat racing through his body.

  Her eyes still shut, she frowned as if thinking, but the limp-wristed way she dragged a hand over her forehead showed that nothing was coordinating very well. “Sure,” she said eventually, and tried to help by fumbling with her tie.

  He gently pushed her hands away and unfastened the knot. Unappealing sweatshirt regardless, his breath caught as he eased the robe apart. Her breasts were pert, pointed mounds under the soft material, and the area between the bottom of her shirt and the top of the bedcovers revealed several inches of sleek thigh and a hint of black silk panties.

  Come-hither lingerie, a sweatshirt, and goofy-looking slippers with whiskers. The woman was sexy, athletic, and disarmingly unconcerned about having silly feet. It was a great combination. “Sit up, Sara,” he ordered softly. “Pull your arms out of the robe.”

  She managed to prop herself up until he got the robe off. Then she sank back, tugged the covers up to her waist, and made an mmmm sound of happiness. Kyle tried to set a world record for procrastination as he fiddled with the robe, straightening it, folding it, unfolding it, and finally arranging it on the far corner of the bed, just so. He hated to leave her. Without touching her, without hoping for anything, he’d just like to stand and watch her sleep.

  But he knew that he’d look ludicrous—worse, lecherous—if she woke up enough to realize that he was staring at her like a man who’d never seen a woman before. Plus waking up to his face wouldn’t exactly make her day.

  “Sweet dreams,” he said, bending over her. He very lightly tucked the covers around her waist.

  “Kyle.” She sounded more as if she were dreaming than awake. Her hand settled on top of his, and the fingers stroked languidly, moving over a small white scar without hesitation.

  His breath stalled when she pulled his hand to her lips and kissed the palm, her lips soft and incredibly smooth. The blood pounded in his ears. It wasn’t just his loneliness or the basic need for a woman’s touch that destroyed his control; it was Sara, sweet, strong Sara, who posed so many mysteries but offered so many answers.

  Kyle cupped her face in his hand, turned it toward him, and held her gently while he lowered his mouth onto hers. He gave her a slow, thorough kiss that explored every fraction of her lips; a constantly changing kiss that tugged and caressed, slipping back and forth over her mouth, finding she was instantly agreeable. Her tender and giving response blinded him with feelings that he’d never had before, an intense blending of desire and emotion that brought tears to his eyes.

  He sat down beside her, still kissing her and being kissed back, now with growing wildness as she became more awake. Her arms circled his neck and began to pull him closer. Renewed confidence sent happiness scorching through him. She needed him. They needed each other, and together they could erase every memory of Diego de Valdivia.

  Kyle put one arm under her shoulders and rested a hand on her shirt, then sought one of her breasts and rubbed it with a very light, tantalizing pressure. She moaned against his mouth and arched her back; Kyle smiled, feeling giddy with amazement over her reaction. He lifted her a little and began to ease the sweatshirt up.

  Abruptly her eyes opened, wide, startled, and directly on his ravaged features. One hand slid to the side of her head; she tugged at the wisps of hair over one ear as if she had to make sure it was she who was really on the verge of making love with him.

  “No,” she said, her voice and eyes anguished, but firm.

  Kyle froze inside as the true scenario became evident. She hadn’t thought too much about what was happening until she woke up enough to remember what he looked like. Until now she’d simply been indulging her own desperate need for pleasure and affection. Now she saw; now she remembered; now she couldn’t go any further.

  “I would never do anything to hurt you,” she whispered hoarsely. “You’d better go back to your own room.” She still held her hand against one side of her head, as if she wanted to shake it in disbelief but wouldn’t give in to the urge.

  “You’re killing me with kindness, Sara,
” he answered with a low, harsh chuckle. “But I appreciate the honesty. I think.”

  “If things were different in my life …” She let her voice trail off.

  Kyle searched her eyes. You mean if I weren’t so hard to look at. He knew he had to be philosophical. Bitterness was no good and would only lead to self-pity, if it hadn’t already. He wasn’t sure what he felt right now, but he resolved never, never to embarrass either himself or Sara with another display like this.

  “I’m sorry,” he told her. “It won’t happen again.” That was one of the oldest lines in the world, but he meant it.

  “I’m so sorry,” she answered, and tears slid from the corners of her eyes. She shook her head, still holding her hand flat over one side of it. “So sorry. You can’t know how much.”

  Kyle eased himself away from her and stood up. “Believe me, I know,” he said. He heard her crying as he left the room.

  Six

  The incident taught her a new lesson about Kyle, one that made her watch him with adoring eyes. As the days passed, he never mentioned the heated moment again; he never even hinted at it. This man didn’t brood, nor did he put up angry defenses to torment her.

  Even though she had hurt him, rejected him, and undoubtedly bewildered him, he was still determined to rescue her from her seclusion. He was still her friend, and she could depend on him for help of any kind, anytime.

  She couldn’t accept that help. She couldn’t encourage him to stay. If she treated him cruelly, it was for his own good. And Noelle’s.

  So Sara stayed away, avoiding every opportunity to talk to him, refusing to let him draw her out of her lab except for an occasional meal. She spent all her waking hours exploring worlds she could control, or at least view objectively. Struggling to put order back into her thoughts, she drove herself relentlessly. The slides under her microscope brought forth answers even when nothing in her confused emotions made sense. Research was soothing, distracting. If only she were as good at examining and cataloging her feelings.

  “You’ve made me a desperate man,” Kyle announced one night toward the end of his first week at the castle. They had just finished dinner. She was headed back to her lab.

  He stepped in front of the door that led from the great room. Blocking her exit without the least bit of hesitation, he crossed his arms over his chest in a gesture of resistance. He wore a red plaid shirt, jeans, leather suspenders, and his hiking boots. Sara thought he looked like an angry lumberjack eyeing a tree that refused to fall.

  “How can I help you if I never see you?” he asked.

  Sara sidled over to the fireplace, watching him cautiously. She felt small and trapped. His blue eyes gleamed with fierce determination.

  “You just saw me,” she said lightly. “We just ate dinner together. Vegetable soup and corn bread, remember? And we talked about music. You refused to believe that plants love Barry Manilow.”

  “I want to talk about you. That’s what I came to Kentucky to do.”

  “Me? All right. I like Barry Manilow, but if I want my branches to grow faster, I listen to Bon Jovi.”

  Sara tugged at the neck of her pink sweater. Inside it her skin felt too warm, as it often did when she was with Kyle. She tried to look calm.

  “Have a seat,” he ordered, nodding toward the couch.

  “And if I don’t want to?”

  “Then you can stand up while we talk.” He pointed to the thick wooden beams overhead. “You can hang from the ceiling. Or crawl under a chair. Whatever. But you will talk to me.”

  Sara sank into one corner of the couch. He sat down on the big hearth rug, between her and the fire. Her eyes filled with tears of admiration at the way firelight shot gold and copper streaks through his hair. The shadows obscured his scars; she suspected that he had chosen that spot because of the shadows.

  “I warned you that I wouldn’t have much time to visit,” Sara reminded him. “You knew that from the first.”

  “You’re deliberately avoiding me, just like you’ve avoided the rest of the world for the past nineteen months.”

  “No, I—”

  “Tell me something. Did you go to your mother’s funeral?”

  Sara flinched. “No, I didn’t.”

  “My God.” He was silent, frowning as he studied her. “Don’t you see how much you need help? You let strangers bury her because you were afraid to leave this place.”

  Old misery welled up, fresh and painful inside her chest. He’d never know the agonies she had gone through while her mother’s body lay in a New York morgue. Her only consolation had been the secure belief that her mother understood, that her mother knew that Sara had no one with whom to leave Noelle and no way to hide her from the curious attendees at a funeral.

  “Mother didn’t attach much importance to ceremonies,” Sara said dully. Kyle must think she was heartless, she realized. “When my father and brother were killed in the Arctic storm, she and I went into the garden here and planted two oak trees. Among the roots of one my mother put my father’s favorite pipe; under the second tree she put my brother’s high school baseball cap. That was our memorial service, and it was perfect.”

  “You were too afraid of the outside world to go to your mother’s funeral,” Kyle insisted, emphasizing each word between clenched teeth.

  “There was no need for me to go. Her body was cremated. That’s how she wanted it. One of her dearest friends—an old colleague from her university days—took the ashes to a park and spread them among the flowers.”

  “That should have been your duty, don’t you think?”

  Yes, Sara screamed silently. But keeping Anna’s granddaughter a secret from government investigators was my duty too.

  “I simply had no need to express my grief in a morbid ceremony. Sometimes I think you don’t understand me very well, Kyle. Maybe you ought to realize that I’m happy being alone. And that I’m not a very sentimental person.”

  He described that claim with one blunt word. Sara gazed at him unhappily. Was there any way to bridge the gap between her desperate need for his affection and her equally desperate need to keep him from knowing about Noelle?

  She jumped as the transmitter in her left ear produced an ominous succession of sounds from the nursery—Daisy barking, Noelle making gleeful noises, a loud crack as something hit the floor, and then static as the transmitter went dead.

  Sara stood up. Act calm. Be nonchalant. “Good night.”

  “What the hell?” He vaulted to his feet. His long, easy strides beat her to the hallway door. He flung an arm across the opening so quickly that she ran into it.

  Sara gazed up at him worriedly. “I have to go. Thanks for dinner. It was great.”

  “You’re not going anywhere, Tinker Bell. Tonight you’re sitting and talking. No argument.”

  “Kyle, I can’t! I have an experiment—”

  “Forget it. I don’t believe you. You probably go back there and sit in front of your damned television sets and spy on me with cameras you’ve got hidden in the house.”

  “I’m not that eccentric! And if there were cameras inside the house, I’m sure you would have found them by now. You’d have done another striptease and then cut the cables!”

  He thrust his jaw forward belligerently. His mouth thinned with impatience. “Just what have you got in your lab? Hmmm? Go ahead and check on it. I’ll go with you.”

  “Please, please.” She sank her hands into the front of his shirt. “You promised that you wouldn’t intrude on that part of my life. You swore that you wouldn’t.” She touched a finger to a scar on his cheek. “You swore on these, remember?”

  He twisted his face away from her touch, but looked at her with grim acknowledgment. “All right,” he said wearily. Then his fingers snaked forward and plucked the tiny transmitter from her ear.

  “No! Give that back!”

  “I noticed this a day or two ago, but I tried not to indulge my curiosity. What are the plants saying tonight, Sara?”

&
nbsp; She tried to grab the device. He held it beyond her reach and braced a restraining hand against her shoulder. Frustration and concern for Noelle’s predicament brought a string of harsh words from Sara’s mouth.

  “Very creative, Doctor,” Kyle said pleasantly. “I’ve never been called names by a genius before. I’m honored.” He put the transmitter into his ear and listened for a second. “The begonias are tampering with the radio again. It’s not tuned to a station.”

  “Please let me go,” she begged, bowing her head to his shoulder, all dignity lost. “I’ll do anything you want, later. Right now just please give me that transmitter and let me go to the … to my lab.”

  Sara stared up into his face and knew that Jeopard wasn’t the only one in the Surprise family who could look as inscrutable as a sphinx. Then a flicker of victory shown in Kyle’s eyes, and he smiled thinly. “You’ll eat every one of your meals with me from now on,” he told her.

  “All right.”

  “You’ll give me at least two hours after dinner every night, just so that we can sit and talk.”

  “Fine.”

  “And tomorrow we’ll drive over to Lexington and spend the whole afternoon. I bet you haven’t been to a decent-size city in months.”

  That trip would be impossible. But Sara nodded numbly because all she cared about at the moment was getting to the nursery. “It’s a deal.”

  He placed the transmitter in her hand. His fingers closed snugly around hers. “Scout’s honor?”

  “Yes.”

  He grunted. “You were never a scout. There aren’t any troops for ten-year-olds who work calculus problems for fun. And no merit badges in advanced botany.”

  “You have my word,” she said, wincing because she knew she would have to break it.

  “Good enough.” He let go of her hand and stepped back. “Go to the lab. I’ll see you at seven for breakfast.”

 
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