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Authors: Iris Johansen

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BOOK: Tender Savage
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“I’ve been relying on myself for a long time,” she said quietly.

“So have I.” The weariness was back and with it she had the vague impression of a deep and
abiding loneliness. “But I think I’ll be stretched to the limit this time.”

Before she could answer, the key turned in the lock and the door swung open to admit the guard carrying the new microphone.

TWO

I
T TOOK THE
guard over an hour to replace the microphone and during that time Lara sat silent on the cot, every muscle stiff with tension. Lord, it was hot. The white stucco walls seemed to hold and breathe heat into the room like a giant oven. She could feel the perspiration beading the nape of her neck beneath the heavy length of her hair. How had Ricardo stood it all those months?

She glanced at him out of the corner of her eye. The heat didn’t appear to be bothering him. He
wasn’t even sweating. He sat motionless on the floor beneath the window a few feet away from the cot, his hands looped loosely around his knees as he watched the short, black-mustached guard splicing the cord back into the socket of the microphone. Ricardo seemed totally absorbed by the procedure.

Lara’s gaze shifted restlessly around the cell. There was little enough to see. The cell’s interior was as stark and barren today as it must have been when occupied by the monks. The cot on which she was sitting contained only a meager pillow and a thin, lumpy mattress covered by a raw cotton sheet. The washstand across the room was occupied only by a cracked and stained blue washbowl. The sunlight streamed through the bars at the window, painting blocks of light on the flagstones of the floor before Ricardo and touching the curls falling over his forehead. She could see no trunk for personal possessions, no books, nothing to distract the mind from the deprivation to which Jurado had condemned his prisoner. Ricardo had said he wasn’t even allowed pencil and paper, she remembered.

“How do you stand it here?” she asked abruptly.

Ricardo’s glance shifted from the guard to her face. “This is the luxury suite compared to where they put me when I first came here. Jurado thinks he’s pampering me at the moment. Every evening they take me down the hall to the bathroom and let me take a shower. I get to wash my clothes twice a week. They feed me once a day. What more could a man ask?”

“There’s nothing to do.”

He smiled. “They can’t keep me from thinking. I plan campaigns, do memory exercises. I even compose poems.”

“The poet-warrior,” she murmured.

He made a face. “Media hype.”

“The media certainly loves you,” she agreed.

“Publicity helps the revolution. I have friends and backers in America and Europe who see that everyone knows what’s going on here.” His lips thinned. “You’d be surprised how few countries are willing to supply arms to the junta now that the spotlight of public opinion has been focused on places like the Abbey. Two years ago every cell
here was filled. Now Jurado only chances holding a favored few for his entertainment.”

“So you let your backers exploit you.”

“It’s a small price to pay.” He was silent a moment. “When I was a student at the university, I wanted to be a poet. I could see myself doing nothing for the rest of my life but writing beautiful words that would shake the world.”

“Some people would say that your book did shake the world.”

“Some people. Not you.”

“I’ve never read your book. Not my cup of tea.”

“What
is
your cup of tea, Lara?”

“I’ve never wanted to shake the world. I just want something of my own to hold on to. Someday I’m going to live in a small town and have a home by a lake and lots of dogs and a few close friends.” She looked down at the floor. “I’m not the type of person who would ever start a revolution.”

“I think you’re wrong.”

Her gaze lifted swiftly to see the faintest smile indenting the corners of Ricardo’s lips as he said,
“It’s not the rabble-rousers who form the foundation of a revolution; it’s the silent majority. If wood is ready to burn, it takes only a spark.”

“And you think I’d take only a spark?”

He gazed at her thoughtfully. “I think a woman who would rush headlong into a situation like this has enough fire to set an entire country ablaze.”

She swallowed and looked quickly across the room at the guard, who had completed the splicing and was plugging the cord into the socket. “He’s almost done. We’ll have to be careful what we say from now on.”

“We haven’t said anything that Jurado couldn’t hear.”

She realized with astonishment that what he said was true. Their conversation had been casual, almost impersonal, and yet she felt as if every word had been charged with meaning and intimacy.

“What do we do now?”

“Wait.”

She slowly leaned back against the stucco wall.
“I’m not very good at composing mental poems and I have a terrible memory. Can we talk?”

His gaze had shifted back to the guard. “If I don’t have to look at you. Where the hell did you get that gown?”

Scorching heat flowed over her again. “They gave it to me at the infirmary after they … examined me.”

“Oh, yes, the examination.” Ricardo’s clasped fingers tightened until the knuckles turned white.

“Did they hurt you?”

“No, but they weren’t exactly clinical.” She laughed shakily. “They scared me.”

The guard replaced the microphone on the shelf and switched it on. Without looking at either of them, he turned on his heel and strode from the cell.

Lara gazed in fascination at the small black box. She felt suddenly stripped, humiliated in a deeply personal way.

“Don’t let it bother you,” Ricardo said. “It doesn’t really make you less than you are to have your privacy invaded.” His dark eyes were suddenly twinkling. “On the contrary, you have to
reach a certain stature before you have the dubious honor of having clods like Jurado try to make you feel this helpless.”

It was the second time he had effortlessly guessed what she was thinking, but this time she felt no wariness, only gratitude. His light comment had banished the sense of defilement and made Jurado’s listening presence seem pitiful and unimportant.

“You’re the one with the stature.” She wrinkled her nose. “I’m just along for the ride.”

“Ride?” His eyes gleamed with reckless humor. “That’s certainly what Jurado has in mind, but I had no idea you were in agreement.”

The color flew to her cheeks as she caught the double entendre. Dammit, she seemed to be doing nothing but blushing since she had come into this cell. “You know I didn’t—”

“I know,” Ricardo interrupted, his smile vanishing. “Sorry, my mother was part Irish and sometimes the wild Celt gets the upper hand.” His gaze went to the microphone. “I’m well aware you don’t want to be here any more than I want you here.”

He was trying to protect her, to banish any hint of intimacy Jurado might seize as a weapon. She knew what he was doing and yet the words still hurt her in some strange fashion. “I’m glad we understand each other.”

“Yes.” He wearily leaned his head back against the wall and closed his eyes. “There’s no question we understand each other.”

At twilight two guards came to take them to the bathroom and shower at the end of the corridor. One of the guards was the small, mustached soldier who had replaced the microphone and the other was taller, uglier, with broad cheekbones and a hooked nose.

Ricardo spoke urgently as they reached the bathroom. “It will be all right. Ignore them. They have orders not to touch you.”

“What do—” She didn’t finish the sentence as the taller guard opened the door and pushed her into the bathroom. Ricardo didn’t follow, but the guard did, and she understood what he had been trying to tell her.

When she had finished using the bathroom, the grinning guard opened the door across the room and motioned for her to precede him. As she passed, he gave her a surreptitious, obscene caress, and she bolted into the shower room. She wished she had a blackjack to smash his sneering face. She wished she could make him feel as helpless and embarrassed as he had made her feel. She wished she could—

The shower cubicle across the room was obviously meant for one person and that person was already occupying it.

Lara moistened her lips with her tongue as she saw Ricardo standing naked beneath the spray. His skin was golden brown all over, his muscles corded and sinewy with power in spite of his leanness. A triangle of black hair thatched his chest, narrowing to a pencil-slim line at his waist before surrounding his manhood. She pulled her gaze quickly back to his face. “I didn’t expect … this.”

He smiled grimly. “Why not? Jurado said we were to do everything together.”

The guard shouted an order as he pushed Lara toward the cubicle.

“He told you to undress and get in the shower. Don’t fight him.” Ricardo turned away from her and lifted his face toward the spray. “It will be over soon.”

She had thought nothing could be as humiliating as what had happened in the bathroom, but it appeared she had been mistaken. Lara drew a deep breath, jerked the gauze gown over her head, and dropped it on the floor. She ran toward the shower stall, avoiding the guards’ clutching hands, if not their stares and lewd remarks. She ducked beneath the cold spray and turned her back to the guards, staring desperately up at Ricardo’s face. “I hate this. I hate
them.”
She could feel the tears running down her cheeks and she didn’t know if they were tears of anger, embarrassment, or fear. “I’d like to—”

“Shh, I know.” He kept his gaze on the gray Formica wall over her head as he reached for the soap. “Just think of something else.”

Her gaze dropped to his chest and she inhaled sharply. Now that she was closer she could see his
abdomen was crisscrossed with tiny scars. “What—”

“An ice pick. One of Jurado’s less subtle methods.” He began to massage the soap into her hair. “He prefers an electric cattle prod.”

Lara felt sick. “I’m so sorry.”

“Why? It’s over.”

The torture was over perhaps, but she doubted if the memory could ever leave someone who had suffered the treatment Ricardo had undergone. “I feel ashamed. I’m weeping like an idiot over having them stare at me when you—”

“Hush.” His tone was as gentle as his hands massaging the soap into her hair. “It’s the little humiliations that hurt the most.” He made a face. “Though I’m afraid I didn’t ascribe to that doctrine when Jurado was wielding the cattle prod.” He tilted her head back and let the cold spray wash the soap from her hair and then turned her around so that she stood with her back to him. “You said you wanted dogs. What kind of dogs do you like?”

“Mutts. Big furry mutts. They seem to have more character.” She could hear the guards
laughing and she kept her gaze fixed on the wall. “I can’t stand this. When can we get out of here?”

“They’ll get bored soon.” He added half under his breath, “Or so hot, they’ll go looking for one of the
putas
who serve the prison.” He pushed her forward so that he stood in the full stream of the spray. “I had a Labrador when I was a boy. He went with me everywhere.”

“I’ve never had a pet. I meant to get one when Brett and I left our foster home, but then we were both in college and it didn’t seem fair.”

“What did you study in college?”

“Pre-law. I want to be a lawyer. I’ve always—Are they still looking at me?”

“Yes.” His voice was thick. “And at me.” He took a step back. “Jurado’s going to be very pleased with their report.”

Lara stiffened as she realized what he meant. He was aroused. “I thought cold showers were supposed to—”

“Not after five months. I feel as if I’m turning it to steam as it hits me. Lord, your skin seems to shimmer. Do you know how much I want to touch you?”

She moistened her lips with her tongue. “What was your dog’s name?”

“I don’t remember.” His laugh held a note of desperation. “I can’t remember anything.”

The water didn’t feel cold to her any longer either and she was barely conscious of the gaze of the guards, she realized with amazement. Ricardo was no longer touching her, but she could sense him only inches away, and she had a mental picture of him as she had seen him just a moment ago standing beneath the spray, his long dark hair as lustrous and thick as seal fur, his lean body as tan and tough as well-oiled leather. What had they been talking about, she wondered hazily. Dogs. What a crazy thing to discuss at a time like this. “It’s not good to raise big dogs in the city,” she said breathlessly. “They need to run.”

“We didn’t live in the city. My family had a rancho at the tip of the island. You have a mole just in the hollow of your spine.”

“Do I? I didn’t know that.”

“It’s very tiny.” Ricardo’s voice was so soft, she could barely hear it. “Right at the exact place where your bottom starts to swell so sweetly.” He
was silent for an instant. “The water is polishing you, making you gleam like burnished gold.”

She could feel her breasts swell as they lifted and fell with the swift acceleration of her breathing. The muscles of her stomach clenched helplessly.

Lara heard a sudden shout of laughter and then a swift barrage of Spanish from the guards. “What are they saying?”

He was silent a moment before he said hoarsely, “That you’re ready for me, that I should cover you as a stallion does a mare, that I should make you spread your legs and sink deep into you. That I’m a fool to wait any longer.”

Dear God, she
was
ready for him. How could such a savage, primitive response happen under circumstances like these? Her voice was muffled, strangled. “This isn’t me. I don’t want this. We have to get out of here.”

She could hear the harsh sound of his breathing behind her. “You’re damn right we do. I’ll leave first and throw on my clothes. You stay here until I call you. They’ll be too busy taunting me to bother you.”

She could feel a shift of air, a withdrawal of warmth, and he was gone. She closed her eyes and reached out blindly to press her palms on the wet Formica-covered wall of the shower cubicle.

She tried to shut her ears to the guards’ laughter, block out everything but the sound of the spray hitting the tiles.

BOOK: Tender Savage
4.37Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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