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Authors: Iris Johansen

Tender Savage (18 page)

BOOK: Tender Savage
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“Next week? You’re not going back to Barbados?”

“I told you I was coming back to Saint Pierre. Paco found me a place in the hospital here. Afterward …” He shrugged. “Who knows?”

“There’s always a place for you in Saint Pierre, Brett,” Paco said. “As soon as we get you well, we’ll find out where it is.”

“Paco tells me you’re leaving for the United States tomorrow.” Brett smiled coaxingly at Lara. “I think it’s very unkind of you to run away just when I’ve arrived here. Why don’t you stick around and help ease your invalid brother in his hour of need?”

“I might do that.” Lara lifted her gaze to meet Paco’s over Brett’s head. She smiled defiantly. “It would only be the sisterly thing to do; wouldn’t it, Paco?”

“I understood it was most urgent you leave
Saint Pierre at once,” Paco said without expression.

“Did you?” Lara stepped behind Brett’s wheelchair. “Run along, Paco. I know you have zillions of things to do. Manuel and I will just take Brett over to the buffet to sample those luscious-looking crab hors d’oeuvres.”

“Lara.” Paco’s tone was warning.

Lara ignored him as she and Manuel swept Brett across the floor to the buffet table across the ballroom.

She had forgotten about the two guards at the door of Ricardo’s suite.

Dammit, why couldn’t one of them have been Pedro, who had guarded Ricardo’s quarters in the cavern? She could have used a break.

She stopped, tightened the belt of her yellow velvet robe, and marched regally down the hall toward them.
“Buenas tardes.”

They both nodded politely.

So far, so good. She smiled brightly as her hand went to the knob of the door.

Two rifles immediately formed a menacing cross in front of her face.

Wrong move. She smiled soothingly at them and knocked on the door instead of opening it. “Settle down. I’m not going to assassinate him. I just want—”

The door was flung open and Ricardo faced her. He had removed his uniform jacket and tie and wore only his white shirt, formfitting uniform trousers, and shiny black boots. He stiffened. “What the hell are you doing here?”

“Trying to avoid being shot by these kind gentlemen.” Lara gestured to the guards. “Maybe I should have worn my medal.”

“It would have been a hell of a lot more discreet than that robe,” he said hoarsely as his gaze traveled over her. “You’re ruining everything, dammit.”

“Are you going to let me come in or are we going to argue in front of the—”

He grasped her arm and pulled her into the sitting room before she could finish the sentence. He slammed the door and whirled her around to face him. “I can’t believe you did this. The
still crawling with reporters. If anyone saw you, it could be in every tabloid in the world by morning.”

“The guards saw me.”

“I can take care of them. They won’t speak or I’ll—”

“Have their tongues cut out?” Lara clucked reprovingly. “I’ve heard power corrupts. You’ve just been inaugurated and already you’re becoming as oppressive as the junta.”

“My men are loyal to me. I wouldn’t have to threaten them.”

“But you probably would. You look very intimidating right now. I do believe you’re letting emotion rule you.” She grinned. “And, personally, I’m all for it.” She took a step toward him and began to unbutton his white shirt. “I’m very tired of that formidable control of yours. It’s getting in my way.”

He looked down at her fingers undoing the buttons. “What are you doing?” he asked thickly.

“Isn’t it obvious? I’m undressing you.” She frowned. “And these little buttons are the devil. If you’d like to return the favor, I assure you that
you won’t have the same problem. I’m not wearing anything beneath the robe.”

“I know.” His gaze fastened on the clear delineation of her nipples pressing against the velvet and he unconsciously moistened his lower lip with his tongue. “What the hell are you trying to do to me?”

“Seduce you.” She cast a glance at his lower body. “And, judging by appearances, I think I’m doing rather well.” She parted the edges of his shirt, and her hands reached in to tangle with the hair on his chest. “Don’t you?”

A shudder went through him.

She bent her head and her tongue licked delicately at the small hard nipple half covered by the dark springy thatch.

“Lord.” The exclamation was a half-inaudible groan. He reached out and grasped her shoulders and began to draw her toward him. Then he stopped, his hands tightened painfully, and he pushed her away. “No.”

“Yes.” She swallowed. She had hoped it wouldn’t be this difficult. She didn’t know how to go about seducing a man. When they had come
together before, it had always been a natural merging of passion, with both of them contributing equally to the fire. “You want it. I want it. Let it happen.”

“I can’t let it happen. I’m not an animal. I’m a thinking human being who is responsible for his actions.” His hands closed into fists at his sides. “Why are you here?”

“Because I hate to lose.”

“To stay here is the surest way to lose.”

She would certainly lose if she stood and argued with him. It would be better to get him to physically commit before words got in the way. “I don’t agree.” She stepped closer to him and rubbed against him, letting him feel the sensuous flow of velvet and warm flesh.

He gasped and shuddered again.

She didn’t know how long she could go on. She was beginning to tremble herself. He was too close. It had been too long. She could feel a hot tingling between her thighs. “I’ve thought about it and decided I want to be
el presidente’s
mistress and have his covey of children after all.” She rubbed her cheek back and forth on his chest.
“Will you give me another medal if I have twins? They run in the family, you know.”

“Stop joking. I can’t do—” He broke off as her hand slid slowly beneath his waistband and down his muscular belly. “Lara, be sensible.”

“I can’t be sensible.” Her voice was muffled against his chest. “I love you.”

He went still.

“You never let me say it, but I think you knew that day at the lake.”

He drew a deep, harsh breath. “And what am I supposed to do about it?”

“You’re supposed to make love to me so I won’t feel like such a klutz standing here making the most important confession of my life.”

“I can’t tell you I love—”

“I said
love,” she said fiercely as she looked up at him with tear-bright eyes. “I don’t want words. All I want is tonight. One night, dammit. Is that too much to ask?”

He hesitated before a brilliant smile lit his dark face with tender radiance. “Then I’ll give you what you want.” He lifted her up and carried her into the bedroom. “You won’t lose tonight,
He laid her gently on the enormous bed, shrugged out of his shirt, and lay down beside her. “And neither will I.”

“Where did you get the robe?” Ricardo asked idly as he brushed a kiss on her cheek. “I gave it to the dressmaker for sizing.”

“I went into town after it.” She lifted herself on her elbow and looked down at him. “I thought I’d need every bit of seductive power I could muster to get the great liberator to take me to bed.” She grinned. “You were easier than I thought you’d be.”

He stiffened. “Not so easy. I only promised you one night.”

“I lied. I want the whole ball game.”

“We can’t have it.”

“Sure we can. You just have to give us a chance.”

“We’ve had our chance. In the morning you leave with Paco for the United States.”

“The devil I do.”

He gazed up at her. “Tonight meant nothing of
importance. I don’t want you as my mistress and I don’t love you, Lara.”

His expression was sincere, his words ringing with truth, and for an instant Lara believed him. Then she remembered his voice echoing over and over behind her as Jurado’s whip had lashed her.

She means nothing to me

He had lied to Jurado; now he was lying to her and for the same reason. He had become a master at hiding his emotions over the years and he had almost deceived her, as he had that day of the sniper attack. She would not let him bluff her into giving up so easily this time.

She had still not won the battle.

But she had won enough for now. She leaned forward and gently kissed his lips. “It’s all right,” she whispered. “Don’t worry about it. I’m not going to push you into saying you care about me.” She lifted his hand to her lips and kissed the palm lingeringly. “But can’t you at least tell me you like making love to me?” She put his hand on her breast. “Just to give a woman a little encouragement?”

He stared at her, a multitude of emotions conflicting
on his face. His hand reached up to cup her cheek with a touch so gentle, it was a tender blessing. “Oh, yes.” He suddenly jerked her down, flipped her over, and plunged deep within her. An expression of almost painful pleasure appeared on his face. “There’s no question. I definitely love this.”


Lara opened her eyes to see Paco’s face above her. This was getting to be a habit, she thought drowsily. But it wasn’t dark, as it had been in her bedroom in Barbados. The strong morning sunlight poured through the French window across the room. Ricardo’s room. Paco shouldn’t be in Ricardo’s bedroom, she realized vaguely.

“Lara, wake up.”

Lara glanced at the pillow next to her own. Empty. The pillow showed the indentation of Ricardo’s head, but Ricardo was gone. The knowledge shocked her awake and she sat upright in bed. “Where is he?”

“Gone.” Paco reached down and quickly
pulled up the silken coverlet to cover her bare breasts. She absently grasped it, her gaze searching Paco’s expression as he continued, “He came to my quarters at dawn and left the
shortly afterward.”

“Left for where?”

“I’ve had your bags packed. Ricardo wants you off Saint Pierre by the time he returns.”

The battle had resumed with a vengeance.

“Then he’d better be prepared to be gone for a hell of a long time because he’s going to have to run the blasted country from exile. I’m not leaving.” She ran her fingers through her hair, struggling against tears. “I should have talked sense into him when I had him, dammit. How was I supposed to know he’d run out on me when—” She swung her feet to the floor, winding the spread around her like an Indian blanket. “Where’s my robe? I’ve got to get out of here.” She saw the robe on the floor, snatched it up, and headed for the bathroom. “Send to my room for my clothes, will you, Paco?”

“Ricardo doesn’t want anyone to know you’re here in his suite.”

“Then please get them yourself, while I shower. I have to go after him.”

Paco shook his head. “He’s my commander in chief and the president of my country. I’m under orders to escort you to the United States.”

“He’s also your friend, dammit.” Lara glanced over her shoulder. “I can’t let him go now. You know how strong he is. I can’t give him the chance to rebuild the barriers I tore down last night.” She whispered, “Please don’t make me go, Paco.”

He hesitated and then sighed resignedly. “He’ll probably court-martial me for disobeying orders.”

“No, he won’t. The grounds for prosecution would bring me into the public eye and that’s what he’s trying to avoid.”

He smiled faintly. “True.”

She turned at the door of the bathroom. “Where is he?”

“He went home.”

“Home? I thought the
was home now.”

Paco shook his head. “Home has always been the rancho to Ricardo. The government officially
returned the property to him after the junta was defeated.”

“Where is it?”

“About seventy-five miles south of the city.”

“Will you take me there?”

“Why not? I can’t get into any more trouble than I’m in already.”

“Thanks, Paco.”

“De nada.”
Paco paused. “It’s your last chance, Lara. I can’t disobey Ricardo again. Are you sure you want to try this? I’ve never seen him more determined.”

“He’s crumbling.” She worriedly bit her lower lip. “Lord, I hope he’s crumbling. That damn control … Why does he have to be so strong?”

“That strength is the only quality that kept him alive for the last ten years.”

“I know. I know. I know it all.” She turned and flung open the door of the bathroom. “The Pied Piper,
El Grande Libertador
, the legend.”


roofed the large white stucco casa and wrought-iron ornamental bars protected the windows on the upper level.

“Don’t you recognize the ornamental bars your father placed on the windows to keep out suitors?”

Ricardo had given her his own home, drawn from his memories, to comfort her that night in the cell.

“It’s exactly the same,” she whispered.

“What?” Paco bypassed the
and stables and parked the Jeep outside the white stucco walls beside a Mercedes flying the national flag of Saint Pierre.

“Never mind.”

Paco glanced at the shuttered
. “The house looks as if it’s deserted.”

“I don’t think he’ll be in the house.” She jumped out of the Jeep. “Where’s the lake?”

“About a quarter of a mile over that hill.” He gestured to a rise to the south. “Do you want me to drive you?”

She shook her head. “I need time to think.”

He got out of the car and leaned on the front bumper. “Then I’ll wait here for you.”

He didn’t think she would be able to persuade Ricardo and was prepared to wait to pick up the pieces. Dear heaven, she hoped he was wrong.

She nodded in acknowledgment and set off quickly up the hill. She was shaking, she realized without surprise. She felt more nervous now than that first day Jurado had dragged her across the courtyard of the Abbey to the cell block where Ricardo Lázaro had been imprisoned.

Ricardo’s rancho was as beautiful as the word picture he had drawn for her in the cell. Her gaze wandered over lush green foliage, wide pampas-like pastures, rolling hills, and bright-petaled wild-flowers. Peace.

She crested the hill, and the small lake lay in the valley before her—a small gem of a lake surrounded by tall grass and cypress trees.

BOOK: Tender Savage
2.69Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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