Authors: Iris Johansen
“How do I know?” Lara’s lashes quickly lowered to veil her eyes. “He just sent me here to tell you to be ready.”
“That doesn’t matter. I’m here to help.” She laughed shakily. “Though at the moment I can’t think why. I never expected to playact as some kind of sacrificial virgin when I came to Saint Pierre. It’s not my style at all. I’ve always been very sensible and practical.” She tilted her head as she heard the sharp clatter of footsteps on the flagstones in the hall. “They’re coming. Tell me, do they give you pencil and paper?”
He shook his head. “And the only time we’ll be able to talk freely is when we’re taken to the
showers. None of the guards or officers speak English except Jurado, but I never know when he’s listening.”
“Showers? When is that? Never mind, there’s no time.” She dashed across the cell, threw herself on the cot, and turned her face to the wall, curling up in fetal position just as Jurado burst into the cell followed by two guards.
Jurado’s cheeks were livid with fury as he looked down at Lara’s cringing form. “You disappoint me.” He strode to the cot, grabbed Lara’s arm, and jerked her to a sitting position on the cot. “No man likes an hysterical woman. Get hold of yourself.”
“I don’t want to be here.” Lara whimpered. “I can’t stay with him. I don’t know what to do. Can’t I—”
Jurado’s palm cracked against her cheek.
She cried out as her head snapped back from the force of the blow.
“That’s enough, Jurado.” Ricardo took an impulsive step forward, his hands clenching into fists at his sides. “Can’t you see she’s too frightened to know what she’s doing?”
“Then she’ll have to learn.” Jurado took a step back from Lara, and the annoyance disappeared from his demeanor as he saw Ricardo’s expression. He nodded approvingly. “It goes well. Your protective instincts are already aroused and you’ve barely met the girl. What will you feel after you’ve taken her to bed?” He motioned to the microphone one of the guards was examining. “How long will it take to fix that?”
“It will have to be replaced. I have to remove this one and then go to the storeroom and get another one.” The man shrugged. “Perhaps an hour.”
“Then do it. I have an idea we may hear some very erotic sounds coming from this cell in the next few days.” Jurado glanced back at Ricardo. “And then I’ll have you, Lázaro.”
Ricardo didn’t trust himself to speak. He should have remained silent when Jurado had struck her, but rage and possessiveness had risen like a red haze. Possessiveness? The thought sent a chill through him. “She means nothing to me,” he said without intonation. “Do what you wish with her.”
“I will.” Jurado strode toward the door. “And with you, my fine rebel.”
Lara forced herself to remain quiet until the guard disconnected the broken microphone and left the cell.
“What’s this all about?” She sat on the cot, her hands folded in her lap, her gaze on the rigid line of Ricardo’s spine. He had turned his back to her again and she could sense he was trying to distance himself from her, as he had done when she had entered the cell. “Oh, Renalto told me the reason he thought Jurado would throw us together, but I don’t understand it. Why does Jurado want us to—” She stopped and then started again, “I mean, I would guess that the junta doesn’t permit prisoners—”
“Sex?” He turned to face her and she found herself experiencing the same ripple of shock that had surged through her when she had first entered his cell. Ricardo Lázaro was different from what Lara had expected him to be. She had seen newspaper photos of him, but they had only depicted
his classic good looks, the glossy dark hair with just a hint of curl, the glittering intensity of the ebony eyes. The pictures had failed to reveal the burning vitality, the air of controlled power he exuded. Ricardo’s hair flowed past his shoulders and his green army fatigues were faded, ragged, and hung loose on his six-foot frame. Yet the man stood arrow straight and the bearing of his slender, sinewy body was quietly indomitable. “Sex is only a tool for Jurado. He believes I’ll feel affection for a woman who shares my bed. He wants a weapon to use against me.”
“Torture. Jurado didn’t succeed in getting the information he needs by torturing me, so he thinks to win the day by using someone else’s pain against me. It’s a common practice here to torture a man’s family before his eyes to make him break.” He smiled bitterly. “I wouldn’t follow his advice about making yourself appealing to me. It could prove very painful.”
“More painful than being gang-raped?”
“That would probably come first,” Ricardo
said quietly. “With me forced to watch—if Jurado was convinced you meant something to me.”
She shivered. “I feel like a piece of meat in a butcher shop.” Both the words and the shiver were genuine. What kind of world bred men like Jurado who used human beings as pawns? “I’m no side of beef and I’m no harem girl, and I hate being treated like either one. I’ll make damn sure you don’t find me attractive, even if I have to make a eunuch of you.”
A slow smile lit his hard face with surprising sweetness. “That’s the spirit.” He grimaced ruefully. “Though I’d appreciate you not being so enthusiastic about ridding me of that particular body part.” He moved across the cell toward her. “Your cheek is bruised.” His palm moved caressingly on the soft marked flesh and she felt a sudden hot tingle explode through her body. “I’ve already caused you pain. I’m sorry, Lara.”
Jurado had said Ricardo Lázaro was an earthy man, and now she could see that earthiness in his expression—the sensual heaviness of his lower lip, the flush that mantled his lean cheeks, the rapid drumming of the pulse in the hollow of his
strong brown throat. She found herself unable to look away from that throbbing betrayal.
Her voice sounded oddly breathless even to her own ears. “It … doesn’t hurt anymore.”
“No?” His fingers lingered on her flesh, his gaze holding her own. The air in the cell seemed to become heavier and charged with electricity. She couldn’t breathe and she couldn’t look away. She felt as if she were waiting for a storm to break.
“That’s good.” His hand dropped away from her cheek. “I wish I could say I could keep away any pain that might hurt you, but I can’t do that, Lara. I can’t betray—” He broke off and drew a deep breath. “If something goes wrong, I can’t let your pain matter to me.”
“I know that.” At last she managed to tear her gaze away from him. “And I have no intention of allowing myself to be hurt by that greasy pig. Paco Renalto and the rest of your army may be fanatics, but I’ve absolutely no inclination toward martyrdom.”
His gravity vanished and his lips twitched with suppressed humor. “Then may I suggest you’ve
definitely involved yourself in the wrong situation? Why the devil are you here?”
“I owed you a debt.” As he continued to stand there looking at her, she shrugged. “My brother is Brett Clavel. He was a sergeant in the platoon that—”
“I know Brett,” he interrupted.
“I wasn’t sure you’d remember him.” She looked away from him. “A lot of Americans flocked down here to fight for you.”
“Not for me, for Saint Pierre,” he corrected softly. “And for the right to choose.”
Her hands tightened on her lap. “No, for
she said fiercely. “You’re the Pied Piper. Do you think Brett would have left college and come down here to fight for Paco Renalto? Brett thinks you can walk on water. He could have been killed, dammit.”
“You resent me,” he observed, his gaze searching her expression.
“Brett is all I’ve ever had. I won’t have him killed or maimed because he’s dazzled by you. He doesn’t belong here.”
“And neither do you.”
“I had to come. You saved his life.”
He smiled crookedly. “Yet you hold me responsible for endangering it in the first place.”
“It was the only way to—” She stopped and drew a deep breath. “I suppose I really came because I want a promise from you.”
“I’m afraid I’m not in a position to grant promises at present.”
“You will be, when you’re free.” She gazed up at him. “When Brett comes back to Saint Pierre, I want you to promise to send him away.”
He became still. “A man must make his own decisions.”
“Not this one. What’s one more soldier to you?”
“One more soldier is nothing. But one more man is everything. I won’t interfere with your brother’s right to choose his own path.”
“The right to choose.” She smiled bitterly. “I don’t care about your damn philosophy. I want my brother safe.”
“I want all my brothers safe,” Ricardo said
tiredly. “Safe in their homes, away from the sound of guns. Someday it will happen perhaps.” He sat down on the cot beside her. “I can’t give you my promise, Lara.”
Dear heaven, he was hard as nails. Yet his expression in this moment wasn’t hard at all. He only looked sad and discouraged and weary, and she felt an infinitesimal softening toward him. But she mustn’t soften, she told herself desperately. She had to convince him to give her his word. “Then I’ll just have to keep at you until you do.”
The weariness in his expression vanished as he smiled at her. “I’ve never known a woman to go to these lengths to accomplish what she wanted. Are you always this determined?”
She nodded briskly. “You don’t get anywhere unless you set a goal and stick to it.”
“You’ve found that out through long years of labor and experimentation, no doubt. How old are you, Lara?”
She was annoyed by his indulgent tone. “Older than I look. People always think I’m younger because I’m small.”
Ricardo swore softly under his breath. “And Paco sent you here?”
“Brett is my twin and you had no compunction about accepting him into your damned army. Why should Renalto quibble about using me?”
“In the military, you have a chance. The Abbey is different.”
She swallowed, her annoyance banished by the panic that flooded through her. “Renalto thinks we have a chance to escape.”
“Maybe.” His gaze searched her face. “Why the hell didn’t someone stop you? Don’t you have any family?”
She shook her head. “My parents were divorced, and my mother died when we were twelve. My father couldn’t be bothered with children and took off for parts unknown right after the funeral. Brett and I spent the next four years in foster homes.” She shrugged. “What difference does my background make? I would have come anyway. Don’t women have the right to choose, too, in your brave new world?”
“Yes.” He grimaced. “But men also have the right to choose to try to protect them.”
She gazed at him in astonishment for an instant before she suddenly chuckled. “A sort of liberated sexism?”
“I never said my philosophy was foolproof against basic human drives.”
She shook her head, a smile still lingering on her lips. The man was not only bigger than life, he was completely disarming. “Well, the basic drive we should be focusing on now is surviving until we can get out of here.”
A frown wrinkled his brow. “I can’t understand why Paco sent you into a place like this just to warn me.”
Her smile faded and she looked away from him. “He wanted you to be prepared.”
“It’s too great a risk for you.” He stood up and moved restlessly toward the window again. “Lord, two days is a long time.”
“Not when you consider you’ve already been here for more than five months.”
“I wasn’t penned in a ten-by-six-foot cell with
a half-dressed woman for those five months,” he said tightly. “Jurado’s not stupid. He knows I’m horny as hell.”
Lara felt the hot color suffuse her entire body. Everywhere the gauze of her gown touched, her flesh was on fire with sensation. She could feel her breasts swell, the nipples harden with arousal at his words as well as the picture they evoked.
“Look, I’m sorry.” He didn’t look at her; his voice was low, the words measured. “You don’t have to be afraid of me. I won’t hurt you. It’s just that I find you … desirable. If you’ll help me, we’ll get along fine for the next two days.”
“I’ll help you.” Her voice was shaking and she carefully steadied it. “It’s a difficult situation and I don’t see why we can’t be companionable.”
“Don’t you?” He laughed shortly. “I could make you see why with the speed of light if I—” He broke off, and when he spoke again, his voice was once more controlled. “You’re right; there’s no reason.” He paused. “The guard should be back with the microphone any minute, so listen to me very carefully. Any conversation will have
to be general; never mention names or places. Don’t argue with the guards; just do as they tell you to do. They’re afraid of Jurado, but they’re not above an occasional cuff or kick if you annoy them. Okay?”
She nodded. “I won’t do anything to endanger our chances. I want out of here as much as you do.”
He lifted his gaze from the flagstone floor and smiled at her. “You look like a solemn little girl.” His smile vanished as his glance shifted to her breasts swelling beneath their veil of gauze. “Almost.”
Her eyes widened as she felt a hot liquid tingling start between her thighs. What was wrong with her? Every word, every gesture he made, evoked a physical response. “I … wish you wouldn’t stare at me. It makes me feel uncomfortable.”
“I’ve been trying not to look at you since you walked into the cell,” he said thickly. “This damn hellhole’s not very big and every time I look up I see—” He stopped, glancing at the door. “The guard’s coming.”
She had heard the footsteps, too, and felt
a rush of relief. At least the presence of the microphone would put a barrier between them. Ricardo’s effect on her both physically and emotionally was escalating by the moment into something most unsettling.
“Yes,” Ricardo said softly.
She looked at him inquiringly.
His gaze was fastened on her face and his smile was knowing. “It will help for a little while but not for long. We’ll have to rely on ourselves,
How had he known what she was thinking? For a moment she could almost believe the legends his followers had woven about him. Nonsense, she quickly told herself. He was merely accustomed to reading body language, and no one could say she had a poker face. Brett had always said her every emotion was mirrored clear as glass.