Authors: Iris Johansen
The rays of the sun streaming through the window onto the stone floor had lengthened and she noticed in surprise that it must be late afternoon. The hours had flown by at light speed while they had played a variety of word games before finally returning to Twenty Questions. She had become so involved, she had almost forgotten where she was and the danger surrounding them.
Ricardo had made her forget. In the past hours he had shown her another side of his character entirely. His wit had made her laugh, his cleverness had aroused her admiration, and his zestful
enthusiasm had swept her up and away from their depressing surroundings like a runaway roller coaster.
“How do you do it?” she asked suddenly, her laughter fading. “How do you manage not to let being here bother you? I’ve only been in this cell one day and it would have driven me crazy if you hadn’t taken my mind off being here.”
“There are usually small pleasures you can find to distract yourself in any situation. If I hadn’t been here to show you the way, you would have eventually found it yourself.”
“I’m not sure you’re right about that.”
A sudden brilliant smile lit his face. “Because you don’t like to lose.”
She chuckled. “I can’t deny that, can I? But it’s not the kind of—” She broke off as she heard the sound of footsteps coming down the hallway. She tensed, her gaze flying to the door.
“Easy,” Ricardo said quietly, sitting up straighter. “It could be nothing.”
“Or something.” She moistened her lips with her tongue. “Animal, vegetable, or mineral?”
“Good.” Ricardo’s tone reflected both surprise and respect. “Laughter will always keep you from losing, Lara.”
A key was being inserted in the lock.
“I’ll try to remember that. Though it’s going to be—” She broke off as the door was thrown open and Jurado strode into the cell followed by two guards.
“Animal,” Ricardo said precisely. “No guessing there.”
Lara found herself laughing even as she felt fear tighten her throat.
“Very amusing,” Jurado said as he looked at both of them. “Evidently your entire day has been amusing.”
“If you didn’t want us to have fun, you should have joined us instead of eavesdropping.” Ricardo stretched his legs, crossing them at the ankle. “The sight of you usually succeeds in putting a damper on any party.”
“I didn’t put the woman here for you to play children’s games with her.” Jurado’s voice held
barely restrained fury. “You sounded like two squabbling infants.”
“Sorry.” Ricardo shrugged. “Maybe I think of her as an infant. You’ll just have to wait and see if I change my mind, won’t you?”
“Will I?” Jurado crossed the cell in two strides and grabbed Lara’s wrist. “I don’t like to wait.” He jerked her to her feet. “You didn’t think of her as an infant last night in the shower. My guards have eyes.”
Ricardo stiffened as his gaze shifted to Lara’s frightened face. “You’re angry with me, not her. Let her go.”
“Oh, no. I think you need a little jolt to make you realize who is in control here.” He pulled Lara toward the door. “My guards don’t think of her as an infant.”
“No!” Ricardo jumped to his feet. His expression was guarded, but his muscles were bunched as if ready to spring. Then his stance changed as he forced himself to relax. “All right, I admit I find her desirable. Is that enough for you, Jurado?”
“Of course not. She still goes with me.”
Terror iced through Lara as Jurado jerked her toward the door. She would not cry, she told herself fiercely. This entire scenario was aimed at Ricardo and she knew Jurado wanted her to weep and plead to make it more difficult for him.
“Do you want me to beg?” Ricardo asked hoarsely. “Very well, I’ll do it. She has nothing to do with our war. Don’t hurt her, Jurado.”
“No please?” Jurado taunted as he glanced at Ricardo over his shoulder.
“Please,” Ricardo grated, through clenched teeth.
“It’s not enough. I believe I’ll let you have time alone to consider how much you appreciate the woman’s company.”
“What are you going to do to her?”
“I’ll let you guess.” Jurado’s eyes gleamed with malicious enjoyment. “You know me. What do you think I’ll do to her?”
“Jurado, damn you. Don’t do—”
The slamming of the door of the cell cut off Ricardo’s protest, and Jurado propelled Lara down the corridor toward the door of the cell block.
The last rays of the setting sun were streaming into the cell when Jurado returned Lara over three hours later.
Ricardo’s gaze flew to Lara’s face, but Jurado gave her no time to speak as he pushed her across the cell toward Ricardo. “Did you miss her, Lázaro?”
Ricardo’s gaze never left Lara’s face. “What did they do to you?”
“Now, does she look ill-treated?” Jurado pushed Lara to her knees on the stone floor before Ricardo. “We thought we’d made her quite attractive.” He touched a silky strand of Lara’s fair hair. “She’s showered and perfumed, and we even brushed her hair until it shone. She couldn’t have had a more personal beauty treatment at the most exclusive salon in the United States. And all for you, Lázaro.”
“Is that what they did to you?” Ricardo’s gaze searched her expression.
She nodded. “It was enough.” A shudder went through her. “Their hands on me. I hated it.”
Jurado leisurely began to undo the buttons at the bodice of Lara’s gauze gown. “She’s most unappreciative. She doesn’t realize how lenient I’ve been to her, does she, Lázaro?” He pushed back the folds of material to reveal the upper slopes of Lara’s breasts. “But you realize how much worse it could have been.” He said softly, “Doesn’t she have pretty breasts? Don’t you want to touch them?”
“I think you do.” Jurado smiled. “If you don’t touch them, I will. Do you want to see me fondle her?”
“I’m going to kill you one day, Jurado.”
“How fierce you are.” His smile faded. “Touch her, Lázaro.”
Ricardo stood unmoving, looking down at Lara.
Jurado’s voice cracked whiplike in the room. “Touch her. Fondle her.”
Ricardo dropped to his knees in front of Lara. “I’m sorry,” he whispered. “Lord, I’m sorry.”
“I know you are.” Her eyes were bright with tears. “It’s all right.”
His gaze held her own as his hands slowly slipped into the opening of her gown and gently cupped her breasts.
She closed her eyes and drew a shaky breath as his warm, callused palms caressed her. She had expected to feel defiled, but there was nothing crude or obscene about Ricardo’s touch, only the most exquisite tenderness.
“I see you like her,” Jurado said with satisfaction. “I knew you would.”
“Shut up, Jurado.” Ricardo’s voice was thick. “You’re getting what you want.”
“Not entirely. She looks like a sensual angel kneeling there with her hair flowing about her. How could any man resist taking her to bed? I really believe I’ve outdone myself.”
“Get out of here and let her alone. Haven’t you put her through enough?”
“You’ll have your privacy soon enough. Doesn’t she smell sweet?”
“Yes,” Ricardo said hoarsely.
“Her breasts are really quite lovely. How does it feel to have your hands on her?”
Ricardo didn’t answer.
“You don’t have to answer. I can see for myself. These five months are telling on you, Lázaro.” Lara heard the sound of footsteps as Jurado crossed the cell. “I’m leaving you now. Do enjoy yourselves.” He paused at the door. “And you
enjoy her tonight, Lázaro. Matters aren’t proceeding quickly enough to suit me. I’ll give you until midnight. If you don’t perform with suitable virility and enthusiasm, I’ll take her to the guards’ quarters.”
Lara’s eyes opened as the door slammed behind Jurado. Ricardo’s olive complexion was paler than she had ever seen it and lines of strain carved either side of his mouth.
“Are you really all right?” he asked thickly.
She nodded jerkily. “It wasn’t pleasant, but perhaps Jurado’s right and I should feel lucky.” She looked down at his hands still covering her breasts. A tingling shock went through her as she saw the contrast of tan hardness against her softer fairness. The hot color rose to her cheeks as she felt her nipples harden against his palms in mindless response.
His gaze followed her own and he stared for an instant as if mesmerized before he drew a deep, harsh breath and slowly withdrew his hands from beneath her gown.
Her breasts felt chilled without his warmth. She said hurriedly, “Thank you for trying to keep them from taking me. It couldn’t have been easy for you to plead with that bastard.”
“Pride doesn’t mean much when—” He broke off and began to button her gown. “I’d have done a hell of a lot more to keep them from putting you through that.”
His fingers were trembling and her concerned gaze lifted to his face. “I’m really fine. You don’t need to worry.”
“Worry?” His voice was shaking as his hand reached out to cup her cheek. “Do you know what I felt waiting here helplessly while I imagined what they were doing to you?”
She glanced anxiously at the microphone on the wall. “Be careful. Jurado should be back in his office at any moment.”
“We still have a minute or two. Don’t you see?
It’s too late, damn his soul.” He laughed harshly. “He has us.”
She nodded. “I know he has us.”
“And a big part of me is happy as hell I get to take what I want.” His tone was tormented. “What kind of man does that make me?”
“Human.” She tried to keep her voice even. “It’s all right, Ricardo. I knew this might happen when I came here.”
“Did you?” His expression was agonized as he leaned forward and whispered into her hair, “We have to stall him until after tomorrow morning. Sex is nothing to Jurado and it’s hard for him to believe it can mean anything to someone else. He should give me a few days to become attached to you after …” He smoothed her hair back from her face. “But he’ll prey on anything softer, so we have to be very careful. You understand?”
“I understand.” But Ricardo didn’t understand, she thought with a shiver of apprehension, and how would he react when he did? She sat back on her heels and looked up at him. “Well, we don’t seem to have many options, do we?”
He slowly shook his head. “Jurado’s not bluffing. He gave me those three hours of hell to make sure I knew I wouldn’t have another chance.”
Her stare dropped to the middle button of his shirt. “Then I guess we’ll have to do what he wants.”
Ricardo muttered a curse under his breath.
The color flew to her cheeks. “If you can. Being ordered to make love to a woman must be a complete turnoff.”
“Oh, I can.” Ricardo laughed shortly. “Believe me, I can. I’m so hot, I could have taken you in front of Jurado, and the bastard knew it.”
And she had known it too. Even with her eyes closed she had felt his hunger and need as he had fondled her breasts.
His need and her own.
“Then it will be easy for you to—”
“But it won’t be easy for you.” Ricardo interrupted harshly. “Dammit, you’re a virgin. Suppose I hurt you?”
She smiled tremulously. “I don’t think you’d hurt me as much as Jurado’s guards.”
“A great choice,” Ricardo muttered. “Lord, this shouldn’t be happening to you. Why can’t I
She could sense his torment as she had his need and she felt an overpowering desire to rid him of it. “Stop torturing yourself,” she said lightly. “You’re not destroying my life. Virginity is nothing in this day and age. I’ve just been too busy to rid myself of it.”
“It’s not ‘nothing’ to the man who—” Ricardo broke off and drew a deep breath. “I’ll try to make it easy for you.”
Her gaze lifted to his face. “Now?”
He shook his head. “There’s no hurry. We have until midnight and I refuse to perform on demand. We’ll find a way not to lose to Jurado.” A sudden smile lit his face. “You must make me a promise. I want you to forget about the microphone and Jurado and where we are.”
She looked at him in bewilderment. “How can I do that?”
“Concentrate. You forgot them all for a while earlier today when we were playing games.” His
smile faded and his intent gaze met her own. “I won’t have you remember this as a horror.” His voice lowered. “Do this for me,
She couldn’t look away from him. He was suddenly different from the quiet, self-disciplined man she had known since she had walked into this cell. It was as if he had unhooded a light he had kept carefully veiled. This was the man who dominated hundreds of thousands of followers with the sheer charisma of his personality. She felt enveloped, surrounded by the force field of his will. “What do you want me to do?”
The last light filtering through the bars cast a rose-gold glow over the cell, softening the barren starkness wherever it touched and leaving the rest of the cell in shadows. Ricardo’s features were lit in the same ambivalent manner, his high cheekbones darkly hollowed, but the beautifully shaped lips and sparkling black eyes appeared softer, more tender. Lord, he was beautiful. “Imagine what?”
“That I’m your lover.” He reached out and
gently brushed a strand of hair back from her forehead. “And that there’s no war, no revolution. It’s a world where the only problems are fierce fathers who protect their beautiful daughters from the young men who wish to snatch them away from them.” He leaned forward and his lips brushed the tip of her nose. “Go sit on the cot,
She rose to her feet and moved dreamily toward the cot. The golden haze didn’t reach to this shadowy corner of the cell and she knew she must be only a pale blur to Ricardo. She knelt on the cot, her gaze flying back to where he was kneeling in the pool of light. “And did you snatch me away from my fierce father?”
He nodded. “From the moment I saw you, I knew I had to have you. Your father owns the rancho next to my own and every day I’d see you riding your palomino mare, your fair hair shining in the sunlight. For the last week I’ve watched you ride out from your father’s
with its red-tiled roof and high stucco walls and waited to catch a glimpse of you as you galloped by the lake
that borders my property.” His voice lowered. “I knew I should court you properly, but this afternoon you reined in your horse by the lake and looked at me, and I forgot everything. I think you forgot everything too.”