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Authors: Iris Johansen

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BOOK: Tender Savage
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“I’d like that.” His tone was grave. “But I must return these books to the library.” He stood up and gathered the pile of books on the table into his arms. “I’ll be back in two hours.” He moved toward the door. “Now you should rest, I think.”

As the door closed behind him, she shook her head bemusedly. Would Manuel ever get over that heavy sense of responsibility? Another child wouldn’t have thought twice about letting books run a day overdue, and yet Manuel had stopped reading in mid story to make sure he got the book back in time. She had grown even more fond of Manuel in these last weeks and she would miss him terribly when Ricardo sent for him.

But she would soon have a child of her own.

Not only her own but Ricardo’s.

Her smile faded as she realized that a good portion of the joy she was experiencing was because
this was Ricardo’s child. Dear heaven, she had hoped she was getting over him, but there was a terrible sweetness in the knowledge that she would now always have a part of Ricardo with her.

The baby would be part of Ricardo and yet the child would receive only a genetic legacy from him. In a few weeks Lara would return to the United States, and Ricardo would be out of her life. What could she tell her child about its father when she had barely known him herself? She had known the lover and the prisoner in the cell. She knew little about the man the rest of the world knew.

She rose to her feet and moved slowly to the closet across the room. Ricardo’s book was still in the canvas tote bag on the shelf where she had placed it the afternoon Brett had given it to her. She took the slim volume out of the bag and carried it back to the couch. She sat down and opened the book to the first page.

——————

Two hours later she closed the book and leaned her head back against the cushions of the couch. Her throat was tight with tears, yet she felt exhilarated.

She had been wrong. Her child had a legacy. Dear God, what a legacy Ricardo had left the world in this book. Gradually, as she had read, all the bitterness and hurt she had felt toward Ricardo had disappeared. The book was written without self-pity, and yet the suffering and loneliness of the years resounded in every word. If their time together had eased both his loneliness and her own, what right had she to demand he give her more?

The man who had written this book was an extraordinary human being as well as a patriot. Even if he wasn’t able to love her, he was a man well worth loving. He had told her once he had wanted to write words that would shake the world, and these words had shaken and stirred her to the depths. She now knew why Brett had gone to Saint Pierre to fight.

“I’m back.” Manuel threw open the door and
ran into the apartment. “Now we can go—what’s wrong?”

“Nothing.”

“You’ve been crying.” His eyes searched her face. “Why have—” He saw the book and nodded, relieved. “Oh, it’s okay, then.”

“Is it?”

“You needn’t be ashamed. I’ve seen soldiers cry when reading Ricardo’s book,” he said matter-of-factly. “You scared me. I thought you were sick.” He took the book away from her and put it on the table by the couch. “Now we can go to the restaurant. Then I think you should come home and rest.”

She lifted her brows. “Why are you so set on my resting? I told you I was fine.”

“I have to take—” He stopped and smiled at her. “You would not have gone to the doctor if you had felt entirely well.” He tugged at her hand to pull her to her feet. “Come on. Now we eat.”

Lara stirred from a deep sleep.

A sound …

She opened drowsy eyes and saw a shadowy face bending over her. Fear jarred her into full wakefulness. She opened her lips to scream.

A hand clapped over her mouth. “Shh, it’s all right. It’s me, Paco.”

“Paco!” Lara’s eyes widened with shock as she twisted her head to avoid Paco’s hard, callused hand. “You scared me to death.” She reached over and turned on the lamp on the bedside table. The resulting pool of light revealed a strange, yet familiar, Paco. The same elfin features and bright eyes were there, but Paco wasn’t wearing his usual combat gear. He had on a dark-green uniform, with a knifelike crease in the trousers; his jacket sported a full complement of medals. “You look very grand. What are you doing here in the middle of the night?” Before he could speak, she asked, “You’ve come for Manuel?”

“Yes.”

She sat up in bed, pulling up the thin straps of her nightgown that had fallen from her shoulders. “I was afraid of that.” She glanced at the clock. “Good heavens, it’s three o’clock. Couldn’t you
have waited until morning? I’ll have to go wake him up.”

“He’s awake and dressed. He let us into the apartment.”

“Us?”

“I have a few men in the living room waiting.” He paused. “Bodyguards.”

She laughed uneasily. “I thought the war was over. You have to travel with bodyguards?”

“Not me.”

She looked at him, frowning. “Manuel?”

“No.” He grimaced. “You.”

“Me?” She swung her feet to the floor. “What the devil are you talking about?”

“Ricardo sent me to bring you back to Saint Pierre.”

She felt as if she had been struck in the stomach. “What?”

“He wants to see you.”

She felt a sudden soaring of hope and tried desperately to crush it down. “I find that hard to believe. He sent me away.”

“Things have changed.”

“Not between us.”

“Yes,” Paco said softly. “Ricardo knows about the child.”

Another shock. “He couldn’t know—I just found out myself two days ago. How?”

“Manuel.”

She looked at him uncomprehendingly.

He shrugged. “Ricardo gave Manuel orders to care for you and report to us regularly. I gave Manuel the name and address of our contact here in Barbados. When he found out you’d gone to a doctor, he let the contact know. That man then called the doctor’s office and found out she was an obstetrician and gynecologist.”

“You’re joking. You’re saying Ricardo had Manuel spying on me?” She laughed shakily. “He’s only nine years old.”

“Ricardo put it to Manuel as protecting and caring for you. It made Manuel’s stay easier to know he had a task to do. He’s been a soldier for too long to shake—”

“Stop saying that. He’s not a soldier. He’s only a little—Why am I arguing with you?” She picked up her robe from the chair beside the bed and put
it on. “It’s all nonsense. I’ll make you and your ‘bodyguards’ coffee before you take Manuel.”

He shook his head. “You have to come with us.”

“The hell I do.” She turned on him fiercely. “This child has nothing to do with Ricardo. I’m going back to the States in two weeks and I’ll be out of his life for good.”

“You don’t understand.” Steel had entered Paco’s voice. “I have orders to bring you back, and I have to do it, Lara.”

She looked at him in astonishment. “Are you talking force.”

He didn’t answer.

“Dear heaven, you’d actually kidnap me?”

“I have a plane waiting at—”

“And what if I struggle? Aren’t you afraid of hurting the great liberator’s child?”

“We’d see that you didn’t hurt yourself.” Paco looked both unhappy and uncomfortable. “Manuel said you were happy about the baby. I don’t think you’d risk losing it.”

“No, by God, I won’t let anything happen
to—” She stopped. “You’re really going to do this thing?”

“I’ll have your bags packed while you get dressed.”

“I can’t believe this.”

“He only wants to talk to you, Lara.”

“Well, I don’t want to talk to him.” She hugged herself, trying to still the shivers running through her. She didn’t want to see Ricardo and chance being thrown into that chaos of emotions again. In the last two days she had come to terms with her life and her future without him. “We said all we had to say.”

“It’s his child.”

“It’s
my
child.”

“Then come with us and tell him so.”

“I will.” She turned and strode toward the bathroom. “Since he doesn’t appear to be giving me any choice. I read his book. He doesn’t live by his convictions, does he?”

“I think he feels he has no choice himself, this time, Lara.”

“He told me once there are always choices. Well, I’m about to give him one or two that he
won’t find pleasant.” She glanced at Paco over her shoulder. “What about Brett? I won’t have him sitting in the hospital worrying about me.”

“I’ll make sure Brett knows about this.”

“Not about the child.”

Paco shook his head. “I’ll tell him we had a very good reason for inviting you back to Saint Pierre.”

“Inviting?” She slammed the bathroom door behind her.

A long black limousine bearing the green, white, and scarlet flag of the Republic of Saint Pierre was waiting by the hangar when the private jet landed shortly before noon.

Paco got into the front seat beside the driver. Manuel clambered into the backseat of the limousine beside Lara. The boy had stayed at Paco’s side and scarcely glanced at Lara during the entire flight from Barbados. He didn’t look at her now but fastened his eyes on the back of Paco’s head as the limousine glided away from the hangar and through the tall wire fence that bordered the
landing field. His dark eyes shone moistly in his thin face. “You’re angry with me.”

“Shouldn’t I be? I thought we were friends.”

“We are friends. But Ricardo is—”

“The Pied Piper,” Lara finished wearily. “Never mind. I’m not really angry with you. I should have known I couldn’t expect loyalty from Ricardo’s—”

“I
am
loyal to you,” Manuel broke in fiercely. “You don’t understand. Ricardo said you must be protected.”

“From myself?”

“You belong to Ricardo.” Manuel’s jaw set stubbornly. “He knows what is best for you.”

“Manuel, my boy, you’ve been living in those caves too long. I’m the only one who knows what’s best for me.”

The limousine glided down the ramp into the street, and Lara glimpsed the massive crenellated stone bulk of the
palacio
on the third hill in the distance. She unconsciously tensed as she thought of the battle that waited for her there.

A small hand crept closer and covered her own
on the seat. “Don’t be scared,” Manuel said. “Paco says he’s not angry with you.”

“Well, I’m angry with him.”

Manuel was silent a moment and then said haltingly, “It was the baby. That was why I did it.”

“What?”

“Bad things happen to babies when they’re not protected.”

And who should know that better than Manuel? she thought with a pang of sadness. Her annoyance with him subsided and she turned her hand over and clasped his. “I’ll protect my baby.”

“Ricardo can do it better. Ricardo took care of me.” He moistened his lips. “I get scared sometimes and I need—Ricardo makes it go away.”

It had taken a great deal for Manuel to admit to fear and he had done it as a silent apology for his part in bringing her here against her will. Lara gently touched his mop of dark hair. “Don’t worry; whatever happens, I’m not going to blame you.”

The limousine drove through the arched gates
and across the enormous mosaic-tiled courtyard before stopping in front of the
palacio
.

Two uniformed guards sprang forward to open the passenger doors. Paco got out and stood waiting on the steps until Lara and Manuel joined him.

“Ricardo is in his quarters waiting for you.” Paco took Lara’s elbow and propelled her into the gleaming foyer. “He apologizes for not meeting you at the airport, but he can’t go out on the streets these days without being mobbed and he didn’t want to call attention to your arrival.”

“Why not? I doubt if anyone would believe the great man capable of kidnapping.” Lara glanced around the huge reception area and then up at the frescoes on the ceiling. “This looks like a cathedral. A temple for the great liberator?”

Paco ignored the remark as he looked down at Manuel and they started up the great curving staircase. “The inauguration is tomorrow and we’re going to have to get you a fine outfit to wear at the ceremony.”

“A uniform like yours?” Manuel asked eagerly.

“We’ll see.” Paco released Lara’s arm as they reached a carved mahogany door guarded by two uniformed soldiers. “Suppose we go to the tailor now and see what he can do for you.” He motioned to one of the guards, who immediately threw open the door. “You and I will see Ricardo later, eh?”

Manuel glanced at Lara and then nodded. “Later.”

Lara was rigid with tension as she moved toward the open door.

“He’s doing what he thinks is right, Lara,” Paco said in a low voice, taking Manuel’s hand and turning away.

She scarcely heard him as she walked into the sitting room.

Ricardo was standing by the long French window across the room. He was bathed in sunlight that revealed the luster of his dark hair and the tension of his squared shoulders beneath the jacket of his dark-green dress uniform.

She stared at him and suddenly she was feeling the same overwhelming wave of emotion she had
experienced that last day at the lake before he had sent her away. She had thought she had come to terms with the past, but it was sweeping back. Dear Lord, she didn’t want to feel like this. She didn’t want to love him. She groped desperately for the anger and frustration she had felt on the journey here.

She moved forward and stood before him. “You used a child to spy on me. That’s despicable, Ricardo.”

“Yes, it is,” Ricardo agreed quietly. “Despicable. But I could see no other way. You wouldn’t have told me about the child.”

“No.” Lara glared up at him. “You’re damn right I wouldn’t. I said when we parted that I wouldn’t coming running to you if I found I was pregnant.”

“Running?” His lips twisted and he shook his head. “I knew you’d have to be roped and tied before you’d accept my help.”

“So you sent Paco and your goon squad to drag me back.”

He flinched. “They aren’t a goon squad.
They’re your bodyguards. I had to make sure you were safe.”

“And wouldn’t resist your invitation.” Her lips tightened. “I’m here. Say what you want to say and then send me back to Barbados.”

“I can’t send you back to Barbados. You’re carrying my child.”

BOOK: Tender Savage
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