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Authors: Iris Johansen

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BOOK: Tender Savage
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Ricardo stood on the bank, gazing unseeingly down at the white water lilies floating on the water.

“There are water lilies floating on the lake and my Labrador is racing along the bank chasing a squirrel.”

Ricardo wore dark trousers and a white linen shirt, and Lara felt a curious sense of shock as she looked at him. It was the first time she had seen him in anything but a military uniform. He somehow appeared less stern, more vulnerable in the civilian apparel. Vulnerable … and lonely.

She started down the hill.

He must have sensed her presence, for his head swiftly lifted and he glanced over his shoulder. She saw him stiffen as he saw her approaching
only a few hundred yards away. She murmured a prayer under her breath.

“It’s just the same,” she called. “Just the way I pictured it. The
casa
, the ornamental bars, the lake. Only your big Labrador is missing.”

“Jaime is dead. They’re all dead.”

Lord, she had blundered already. The last thing she had wanted was to remind him of all he had lost.

“How did you get here?” he asked.

“Paco brought me. He thinks you’re going to murder him.” She stopped before him. “I told him I’d protect him from you.”

Every muscle in his body looked as rigid as if it had turned to stone; his face was expressionless. “And who’s going to protect you from me? I would have thought you’d be able to take a hint. It’s over, Lara.”

“You know me. I’m as stubborn as they come. I don’t take hints.”

“How can I make it any plainer? I don’t want you; I don’t want your child; I don’t want—”

“Oh, shut up.” Her hands closed into fists at her sides as the tears rose helplessly to her eyes.
“I’m tired of hearing you give me that bull. You love me. I know it, dammit.” Oh, Lord, she hoped she was right. “You love me and you want me.”

He was silent—as strong and guarded as an impregnable fortress.

Crumble. Please crumble
.

Lara took a step closer “You’re so damn stupid. Don’t you know what we could have together? We love each other and we’re going to have a child. You wanted to have someone to belong to you and now you have the whole shooting match.” She closed her eyes. “Wrong phrase. Oh, dear, I can’t say anything right. I wasn’t going to remind you of guns and shooting. I know that’s what set you off the day the sniper shot you.”

“He almost killed you,” Ricardo said hoarsely.

Her eyes flicked open as hope stirred. Ricardo’s face was still expressionless, but there had been a note of raw pain in his voice.

“He was aiming at you. You’re the one who got the bullet through the shoulder. Have you noticed me shoving you away because that might happen again? I’m more selfish than that. I’m going
to grab whatever happiness I can and stick close to you and make sure I keep anything away that can hurt you or—”

“Sometimes you can’t keep harm away. Sometimes, no matter how many precautions you take, it happens anyway.”

“Then we’ll have to face it.”

He shook his head.

She felt a wild burst of panic, and the tears that had been brimming overflowed and ran down her cheeks. “Don’t shake your head at me. You
love
me. Say it.” She took a step forward and grabbed his shoulders and shook him. “I’m hurting, dammit. Tell me.”

His fingers reached out to touch the dampness of her cheeks. “Oh, Lord,” he said hoarsely. “Don’t you see? I can’t say it. I can’t let anything happen to you.”

“I don’t see anything. I’m not your mother or your father; I’m not all the friends you’ve lost over the years; I’m not your dog, Jaime. I’m me! This is my choice.” She shook him again. “You say everyone has the right to choose, but you’re
taking away the most important choice in my life. I won’t let you do that.”

“Please stop crying. It … hurts me.”

“Do you think I’m not hurting? I’m bleeding inside.” She looked up at him. “I’ve tried persistence, seduction, and reason, and none of it is getting through to you. And I know I shouldn’t be getting this upset right now. Our baby will probably be born with a hideously bad temper and be—”

“As stubborn as his mother,” Ricardo said huskily.

“I have to be stubborn. You won’t listen to me. Well, I’m not going away. Do you hear me? You’ll have to put me in the Abbey again to keep me away from you.”

“I burned the Abbey to the ground.”

“I forgot. Well, I’ll follow you around barefoot and pregnant and ruin your image.”

“I don’t give a damn about my image.”

“You care about Saint Pierre. That’s all you do care about.” She shook him again. “No, you care about me too. I know you do. Crumble, dammit.”

“Crumble?”

“Like the walls of Jericho. Be strong with someone else. Fight with someone else. I’m on your side.”

“If you’d stop shaking me and let me say something, you’d see that I’ve already crumbled.”

She froze. “You have?” Her gaze searched his face. He was smiling, his face illuminated with the tenderness she knew so well. “You have!”

He took her in his arms and held her with exquisite gentleness. “How can I help it? I can’t have you running around the streets barefoot and pregnant. It would offend both Manuel and Paco’s sense of proper behavior worthy of a first lady.”

“Don’t joke.” She wound her arms around him, and her words were muffled by his shirt. “I’m feeling very insecure. I need cosseting and reassurance.”

“I love you, Lara.” His voice broke on her name and his arms tightened about her. “Too much.”

“There’s no such thing as too much.”

“I should let you go.”

“Let? I thought I’d made it clear you’d have to
hog-tie me, take away my passport, and close the borders to make me go.” Happiness ran through her in an exultant stream. She felt drunk with relief and joy. “I’m here for the long haul.”

“Lord, you’re stubborn.”

“I hate to lose. I would have been lost myself if I’d let you win this one.”

“I’m not so sure. You won’t be able to have what you want out of life.” He pushed her away from him. “No small town, no lake, no—”

“I can have a dog,” she said lightly. “I’ll get myself a mutt as big as an Irish wolfhound, buy him a jeweled collar, and flaunt him among the rich and famous.”

“I’m serious. I can’t even give you this right now.” He gestured to the lake. “My place is at the
palacio
and you’d have to live there too. If we lived apart, I couldn’t provide you and the child with the security measures I’d feel comfortable with.”

She made a face. “Why do I feel we’re going to be tripping over bodyguards even in the bedroom?”

He suddenly smiled. “Perhaps not in the bedroom
but everywhere else.” His smile faded. “I’m terrified of you dying. I
won’t
lose you.”

“No, you won’t lose me and I damn well won’t lose you. And, as for the cottage …” She shrugged. “It can wait.”

He kissed her. “Yes, it can wait.”

“And when I feel I need to get away from the
palacio
, I can come to you as I did in the cell and you can tell me about the rancho and we can pretend…. Maybe imagination is better than reality anyway.”

“Not for us,” Ricardo said. “Not from now on.” His index finger gently touched one tear-wet lash. “‘Bramble dew.’”

“That poem you quoted me,” she identified. “My eyes are swollen and I’m sniffing like a baby. I can’t imagine anyone comparing me to the heroine in a poem at the moment.”

He nodded. “There’s one more verse to it, you know.”

She tilted her head and gazed at him curiously. “Why didn’t you recite it before?”

“You wouldn’t even say you loved me at the time and I was afraid I’d scare you away.”

She chuckled as she remembered her impassioned pursuit of Ricardo for the past two days. “That seems like a very long time ago. Everything has turned around. My, how the mighty have fallen.”

“Crumbled,” Ricardo corrected, his dark eyes twinkling.

She nodded. “Crumbled. What’s the last verse?”

He smiled, his expression loving as he quoted softly,

“Teacher, tender comrade, wife,
A fellow-farer true through life,
Heart-whole and soul-free,
The August Father gave to me.”

Tender Savage
is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are the products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.

2010 Bantam Books Mass Market Edition

Copyright © 1990 by Iris Johansen

All rights reserved.

Published in the United States by Bantam Books, an imprint of The Random House Publishing Group, a division of Random House, Inc., New York.

B
ANTAM
B
OOKS
and the rooster colophon are registered trademarks of Random House, Inc.

Originally published in paperback in the United States by Bantam, an imprint of Random House, Inc., in 1990.

eISBN: 978-0-553-90774-2

www.bantamdell.com

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