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Authors: Iris Johansen

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BOOK: Tender Savage
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“No, you’re right. It was a dream, but it’s time I woke from that dream.” He smiled sadly. “It was also nostalgia. You’re a very special woman and you reminded me of the old life. You brought back a beautiful memory, Lara, and I thank you for it.”

When she remembered the conversation of last night, his words sounded reasonable. Why couldn’t she have realized earlier that she loved him? Perhaps she could have turned her longing for the past into something more. Now it was too late. “You’re welcome.” Her tone was brittle. “Anytime.”

“The helicopter will land in a glade near the caverns. I’ll send Paco to get you an hour before it’s due to arrive.” He hesitated. “You’ve given us so much, but there’s one more favor I’m going to ask of you. Manuel. Will you take him with you? When we launch the offensive, it won’t be safe for him here. I promise I’ll send for him as soon as the war is over and pay his expenses while he’s in Barbados with—”

“Of course I’ll take him,” she interrupted harshly. “But I won’t take your money.”

He nodded and turned toward the door. “Good-bye, Lara.”

“Wait.”

He looked back over his shoulder.

“Say it,” she said desperately. “I have to hear you say it. Look me in the eye and tell me you don’t love me.”

He was silent a long moment and then he turned to face her. He stared directly into her eyes and said slowly, enunciating every word clearly, “I don’t love you, Lara.”

She closed her eyes tightly as the pain rushed through her.

She heard him mutter something under his breath, and then she heard his footsteps echoing on the stone as he left her quarters.

The beige and red helicopter hovered over the ground and touched down on the grass.

Manuel started at a run across the glade while Paco and Lara moved at a slower pace.

Paco frowned. “I don’t like to see you go like this.”

Lara looked straight ahead at the helicopter. “Ricardo was right. I don’t have a place here.”

“You belong to us now. Ricardo’s not thinking straight.”

“He appears to be perfectly lucid.”

They had reached the helicopter and Paco opened the passenger door and Manuel scrambled into the rear seat.

“Forgive him, Lara,” Paco said softly.

“You forgive him. He’s your friend.”

“And what is he to you?”

“An episode.” She tried to smile at him. “An adventure that’s now at an end.”

Paco shook his head.

“Don’t look so sad. None of this is your fault.” She leaned forward and kissed his cheek. “Good-bye, Paco. Take care of yourself.”

“And you.” Paco lifted her into the helicopter, his dark eyes shining in the glare of the helicopter’s landing lights.
“Vaya con Dios
, Lara.”

He slammed the heavy door and ducked back away from the spinning rotors.

Lara heard a murmur from Manuel in the backseat and she turned to see him staring at Paco with tear-bright eyes.

“It won’t be for long,” Lara said. “You’ll be able to come home soon, Manuel.”

“I know.” His voice was husky as he wiped his eyes on the back of his hand. “I’m a soldier and a soldier does what he’s ordered to do. I’m not crying. Dust got in my eyes.”

“I see.” Lara could feel a hot stinging behind her own lids as she looked at Paco through the window. It seemed such a short time since she had first walked into Paco’s command tent weeks before, and yet those minutes had changed her entire world.

The pilot started the engine and a moment later the helicopter lifted off, soaring high above the trees, before turning toward Barbados.

When Lara walked into Brett’s hospital room the next afternoon, he was sitting in his wheelchair by the window. As she looked at him, she felt a rush of relief that temporarily lifted her mood.
Brett’s color was good and he appeared stronger than when Lara had seen him less than a month before.

“I should break your neck,” he said as she bent down to brush a kiss on his cheek. “I nearly went into a tailspin when your note was delivered the day after you left for Saint Pierre. You had no business going there.”

“You’re my business.” She sat down on the visitor’s chair next to the table by the window. “You’re looking well. Have you started therapy?”

“Last week.” He grimaced. “It couldn’t have been this hard learning to walk when I was an infant. You’d think I’d do it better now.”

“You’ll get there.”

“Stop making encouraging noises and tell me what happened on Saint Pierre.”

“Nothing very interesting. Lázaro is free.”

“I know. I heard about his escape from the Abbey. Were you involved?”

“In a small way.” She changed the subject. “When do you get to go home?”

“The doctor said he’d like me to stick around Barbados until my initial therapy is finished.” He
met her gaze. “But I’m not going back to the United States, Lara.”

Her hand tightened on her purse. “Saint Pierre?”

He nodded. “I found something there.”

She smiled crookedly. “The Pied Piper.”

“He’s a remarkable man.”

“Yes.” She avoided his glance. “You know the war will probably be over by the time you’re on your feet again? Paco says one more campaign should do it.”

“I’ll still go back.” Brett reached over to cover her hand with his own. “Come with me, Lara. Saint Pierre’s going to be a new frontier, a new world.”

She shook her head. “You and Lázaro are the empire builders. I’m Betsy Ross who sits by the fire and sews the flag.”

“That’s not what Paco says.”

Her eyes lifted swiftly to his face. “Paco?”

“He radioed a message to me when you left Saint Pierre with explicit orders from Ricardo.” A smile tugged at his lips. “You must have done
some valuable work down there. Paco says you’re a national heroine.”

“He exaggerates.”

“Ricardo’s orders are that my sole duty until further notice is to take care of you.”

She felt the color rise in her cheeks. “I can take care of myself. How did you get the message?”

“Ricardo has several men stationed here in Barbados. They funnel supplies and send information from the outside world.”

“Did Paco tell you I brought Manuel back with me?”

He nodded. “I’m surprised the boy came. He’s nuts about Ricardo.”

“He’s only nine years old and he thinks he’s a soldier who has to obey orders. He’s infected with the same war hysteria as the rest of you.” She shook her head. “I’m beginning to think the male of the species is a little mad. You, in particular, brother dear.”

“You always did.” Brett squeezed her hand. “You never let yourself see that you were exactly like me. You’d go crazy without an occasional challenge.”

She shook her head. “You’re wrong. I like the quiet life.”

“Am I wrong? Did you really go down to Saint Pierre because you wanted to keep me from going back or because you were jealous?”

She stared at him, dumbfounded. “Jealous?”

“We’ve always been able to telegraph our thoughts and feelings to each other since we were kids. I talked a hell of a lot about Lázaro and Saint Pierre. Didn’t you really want to see and taste for yourself what I had found down there?”

“No, it’s not true. I didn’t—” She stopped. Both Paco and Ricardo had said she didn’t really know herself and she had adapted to life in the caverns with astonishing speed. Had she been lying to herself all these years?

“Think about returning to Saint Pierre with me. I don’t want to lose you.” He opened the drawer in the bedside table. “Do me a favor?”

“What?”

“Read this.” He pulled out a slim volume and handed it to her.

Right to Choose
, by Ricardo Lázaro.

She automatically flinched. “No.”

“A favor,” Brett repeated softly.

“It wouldn’t do any good. I can’t go back to Saint Pierre, Brett. There’s nothing there for me.”

“Read the book.”

She blindly took the book and thrust it into her canvas bag. “I have to go. I’ve rented a small apartment near the hospital and Manuel is waiting for me.” She smiled brightly. “We have to go shopping. Manuel and I are both practically naked. Combat gear just doesn’t cut it in the big city.”

“How are you fixed for money?”

“Well enough. I’ll worry about your medical bills later.”

“Ricardo will take care of them. The revolution is very well funded now, and the hospital bills for all his men in Barbados are sent to his backers in Europe and the United States.”

“That’s good to know.” Lara stood up and leaned down to press a quick kiss on the top of his blond hair. “I’ll be back tomorrow.”

“Late in the afternoon. I have my therapy in the morning and I growl at everyone for at least two hours afterward.”

“I can take it.”

He stared at her appraisingly before he nodded slowly. “Yes, I think you can. You’re a lot tougher than before you went to Saint Pierre.”

“Maybe.” She turned and walked toward the door. “I’ll see you tomorrow.”

“Promise me you’ll read the book.”

“Lord, you’re stubborn.” She gave him an exasperated glance over her shoulder. “All right, I’ll read the blasted book.”

“Soon?”

She sighed. “Soon.”

He grinned. “And you’ll tell me what happened on Saint Pierre that made Paco say you were a national heroine?”

“Someday, maybe.”

“Well, you win some, you lose some.”

Yes, you did, and at the moment Lara felt she had lost more than she had won on Saint Pierre.

The heavy door of the hospital room swung shut behind her.

——————

Two weeks later Ricardo Lázaro launched an offensive against the junta. Within four days the junta’s forces were in retreat and two days later the
palacio
was taken.

From the balcony of the
palacio
Ricardo announced the surrender of the junta, the establishment of the Republic of Saint Pierre, and the first democratic elections to be held on the island in over twenty years.

Three weeks later Ricardo Lázaro was elected by a landslide as president of the Republic of Saint Pierre.

Brett wistfully looked up from the newspaper. “Damn, I’d like to be there for the inauguration.”

“Maybe you will be,” Lara said. “You’re on crutches now and I’m sure you’ll be on the A-list for an invitation.”

“So will you.” Brett grinned. “Paco wouldn’t dare not issue an invitation to a ‘national heroine,’ would he?”

Lara shook her head. “I won’t be invited.”

“Sure you will.” Brett’s voice grew coaxing. “And wouldn’t you like to go to the inaugural ball with the crème de la crème? According to this
article, you’d be elbow to elbow with every head-of-state in the world.”

“Then they can do without this humble head,” Lara said. “And, speaking of heads, I have to go. I have an appointment at three to have the hair on this lowly head trimmed.”

“Have you read the book?”

He asked the question every time she came to see him, and her reply was always the same. “Not yet.” She held up her hand as he opened his lips. “Soon.”

He nodded. “How is Manuel?”

“Very good but aching to get back to Saint Pierre. I thought he’d enjoy a taste of movies and television and all the rest of the things kids like, but he looks down his nose at them. It’s really sad.” She shook her head. “He’s forgotten how to be a little boy.”

“Ricardo should send for him soon.”

“Yes, and I’ll miss him.”

“You’d better go or you’ll be late for your appointment.” When she didn’t immediately rise from her chair, Brett looked at her speculatively.
“You don’t seem very eager. Don’t you want to go?”

She didn’t know how she felt about this appointment that she had just lied to Brett about. Her emotions were in a tumult. One moment she was frightened, the next excited.

“Of course.” She smiled with an effort as she rose to her feet. “Yes, you’re right. I’d better go.”

EIGHT

“S
EVEN MONTHS. JUNE.”
Dr. Cambrian’s white smile lit her dusky face. “You’re in very good health and should have an entirely normal birth.”

“You’re sure?” Lara moistened her lips with her tongue. “June.”

“Quite sure.” The doctor’s British accent resounded in the affirmative. “I’ll prescribe iron tablets and I want to see you again next month.”

“I may not be here next month. I’m planning on going back to the States.”

“You’re unmarried?” the doctor asked. “It’s not good to be alone at a time like this. Do you have friends in the United States?”

“Yes.” Lara rose to her feet. “I’ll be fine. Thank you, Dr. Cambrian, you’ve been very kind. If I’m still in Barbados next month, I’ll be sure to make an appointment.”

A few minutes later Lara was out on the street, walking toward her apartment building a few blocks away.

A baby. What would she do with a baby? She still had to start her career. Now she would have to worry about babysitters and supporting two instead of one—

A baby.

Joy suddenly burst through her with dazzling strength, catching her off guard. A miracle, a child to love. All the problems that had loomed so large faded into insignificance before the knowledge of the gift she had been given. She could work out the difficulties. She was strong and healthy and fairly intelligent. Why had she been so worried?

Manuel was sitting curled up in a chair reading when she entered the apartment. He had discovered the public library the first week he had arrived in Barbados and had been devouring books ever since. He was dressed in jeans, T-shirt, and tennis shoes, and the clothes somehow looked inappropriate on him. The clothes were young; the eyes he lifted from his book were old. “Your brother is well?”

“Wonderful.” She tossed her purse on the couch. “Everything is wonderful.”

He smiled. “That is good.” He hesitated. “And Dr. Cambrian says you are well too?”

She turned to look at him. “How did you know I went to the doctor today?”

“I saw the name and the appointment on the note you left on the telephone table. I was worried.”

“Oh, it was nothing. I’m getting some vitamin tablets to make me feel better.”

Manuel put the book on the table and studied her. “You look happy.”

“Yes.” Lara ran across the room and gave him
a quick hug. “I’m happy and healthy and I think we should celebrate. Let’s go out to dinner. I passed a little restaurant down the street and the smells wafting through those doors were delicious.”

BOOK: Tender Savage
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ads

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