Authors: Iris Johansen
“You won’t like it.” His gaze focused soberly on her face. “And you’ll have to do it alone. If you told Ricardo what we’re planning, he wouldn’t let you make—”
“Dear me, are you taking away Lázaro’s ‘right to choose’?” she asked with a touch of mockery.
“Yes, and he’ll curse me for it.” He shook his head wearily. “But we
“Then stop warning me and tell me how to get your god out of the Abbey.”
“Ricardo isn’t a—” He stopped and shrugged. “Ricardo has to be experienced. You’ll see.”
There was no question of that fact, Lara thought grimly. If Renalto’s plan worked, she was
sure she would see considerably more of Ricardo Lázaro than would make her comfortable.
The woman was barefoot.
Ricardo Lázaro’s hands tightened on the bars of the window as he watched Jurado propel the woman across the courtyard from the direction of his office. It was close to noon and the flagstones must have been burning hot beneath the soles of the woman’s small feet. Why the hell hadn’t the bastard given her shoes to wear?
Lord, he had been here too long. Why was he worrying about the woman’s lack of shoes when she would soon probably be suffering far more pain? Jurado seldom gave a prisoner his august personal attention unless there was information to be extracted.
The woman looked to be little more than a child, he thought with compassion, small and fine-boned with long fair hair of a shade somewhere between tan and gold. Jurado’s goon squad must have torn her from her bed, for she wore only a
loose white cotton-gauze gown with a high round neck that buttoned down the front.
She wore nothing beneath the gown.
And she wasn’t a child.
As she drew closer, he could see the generous swell of her breasts pressing against the bodice of the gown and glimpsed the dark pink of her nipples through the sheer cotton gauze. The blood rushed to his groin in an arousal as involuntary as it was primitive. He closed his eyes so that he could no longer see her. Self-disgust poured through him, and his hands tightened on the bars as he struggled to subdue his physical response. He was no mindless animal to lust after Jurado’s prisoner. He should be feeling only sympathy and anger for the poor woman.
He opened his eyes and the lust was still there.
She was a woman of gold, he mused. Her skin was a rich honey shade, glowing with silky health. She walked with a springy grace that caused the gauzy gown to flow sensually around her hips, revealing the dark shadow of her womanhood. His gaze lingered on that shadow in helpless fascination as he felt the thick throb in
his loins intensify until it became pain. Jurado had almost reached the door of the cell block and she stood in the courtyard, only yards away from Ricardo. He saw her hesitate, tense, brace herself as the door of the block swung open. She was very frightened.
Suddenly the lust dominating Ricardo was joined by another sensation just as powerful. He felt an agonizing need to protect her from what she had to face beyond that door.
Jurado pushed her inside the cell block and the door closed behind them.
Ricardo’s teeth clenched in frustration. Control. The isolation he had suffered had made every reaction and emotion painfully sharp. He couldn’t let himself be torn apart like this or Jurado would win. He wouldn’t have survived physical torture only to be defeated in the psychological battle the captain was now waging.
He heard the sound of boots on the flagstones of the hall and unconsciously tensed. No other prisoner occupied this section of the block and he knew those steps. He had come to recognize
them, wait for them, during those endless weeks of torture. Jurado was bringing the woman here.
He should have guessed Jurado’s purpose, but this woman didn’t have the voluptuous appeal of the others the captain had chosen. Yet, as he remembered the sensual delicacy of her body, he felt again a stirring he knew Jurado would notice if he turned away from the window to face him.
“I have something for you, Lázaro.” The door swung open behind him and he heard Jurado thrust the woman forward into the cell. “A pretty little pullet to while away the long hours. Turn around and look at her.”
Ricardo’s spine stiffened, but he didn’t move. His senses were so acutely aroused that even across the wide space separating them he could hear the light, rapid sound of her breathing and could catch her heady, sweet fragrance. With effort he kept his tone light and mocking. “Again, Jurado? I should think you’d give up. Do you consider the third time lucky?”
“Ah, but this one is different. I admit I made a mistake in judgment before. I should have known those other whores would never tempt a man of
your discrimination. I thought their extraordinary talents might be an inducement that would make you overlook—”
“You’re wasting your time. I don’t need a woman.”
“Oh, but you do.” Jurado must have pushed the woman forward because her scent was stronger. “Though your followers claim you have superhuman powers of self-control and self-discipline, you’re a man like any other. A very earthy man. Our informants tell us you generally require a woman several times a week.” He added softly, “And it’s been more than five months, Lázaro.”
“I really didn’t notice.” Ricardo’s lips twisted sardonically. “You’ve made every moment of my stay here at the Abbey so very entertaining.”
“We need to know the location of your arms cache.” Jurado shrugged. “We didn’t think torture would break you, but we had to try.”
“And you enjoyed every minute of it.”
“Of course. You’ve evaded us for over eight years. By the time we captured you, I had a great deal of frustration to release. Frustration is a terrible thing, isn’t it, Lázaro? And sexual frustration
is more terrible than any other for a man. Now turn around and look at her. She’s clean and pretty and her hair shines like sunlight.”
Ricardo released the bars and carefully kept his gaze from the woman as he slowly turned to face Jurado. “And no doubt you found her in the same bordello as you did the others.”
“No, this one’s a prisoner, just like you.” Jurado touched the shining wing of hair at the woman’s temple. “Her name’s Lara Albert. She was picked up at the airport trying to leave the country with several thousand dollars in our currency. She said no one told her our currency was not allowed out of Saint Pierre.” He added in English, “Say hello to the gentleman, Lara.”
The woman remained silent.
Again in English he asked, “Don’t you wish to greet the great hero of the revolution? How rude of you, my dear.” Jurado gently stroked her hair back from her face. “You’ll have to teach her better manners, Lázaro.”
Ricardo felt a sudden fierce surge of rage as he saw Jurado’s hand stroking her. Lord, what was wrong with him? He carefully masked his expression.
“You don’t need trouble with the United States. Let her go.”
“Actually, we were considering releasing her before I realized how valuable she could be. She was sent here to the Abbey until a decision could be made.” A smile lit his round, boyish face. “She’s only a secretary and her passport lists no next of kin. No one knows she’s been arrested. She offers us little diplomatic risk.”
“Why run any risk at all?”
Jurado ignored the question. “She’s entirely at your disposal, of course. Anything you wish to do to or with her is up to you. I’m afraid you’ll have to speak English with her to make your needs known. She understands very little Spanish.” He trailed off as his gaze locked with Ricardo’s. “She’s a virgin. Isn’t that remarkable in this day and age? Our physicians were quite startled during the examination they gave her when she was admitted to the Abbey this morning. Startled and stimulated. A man always likes to be first, and I had trouble keeping them off her. But one of my officers suggested she might be of value to us with you, and I knew at once that he was right.”
“No, he was wrong.”
Jurado shook his head. “You like Americans and you have the true soul of a knight. Obviously, such a man would be attracted to a helpless virgin. Why won’t you look at her? She’s a lovely little thing. Fine bones, pretty breasts, and that skin …” He sighed. “I truly envy you, Lázaro. Can’t you see she’s trembling with eagerness for the pleasure you can give her?”
Ricardo tried to keep his gaze from wandering toward the woman. “If she’s trembling, it’s from fear, and I’ve never found terror in a woman an aphrodisiac. Get her out of here.”
“Oh, no. She stays here with you,” Jurado said. “She’ll share your meals, your conversation, and your cot. I’ve always found propinquity to be a powerful spur.” His gaze moved to Ricardo’s lower body. “Particularly to a man in your state. I see the little one arouses you.”
The bastard. Ricardo felt a jolt of welcome anger that temporarily submerged the lust pounding through him. “So did your whores. It’s a natural response.” He smiled crookedly. “But I’ve learned to control my body. I have no intention of
letting you gain a weapon to use on me. You might as well give up now, Jurado.”
Jurado turned and moved toward the door. “We shall see. I’ll give you time to change your mind.” He paused to look back over his shoulder. “But I admit I’m a little impatient. If you don’t follow your natural inclinations within a reasonable length of time, I’ll take her from you and give her to the guards to enjoy.” He smiled as he saw the flicker of anger on Ricardo’s face. “You see, I do understand you, Lázaro. You have the misfortune of being an idealist, a protector of the weak and the innocent. Well, I give you an innocent to protect and enjoy at one and the same time. What more could you ask?” His gaze shifted to Lara. “A gang rape isn’t pleasant, my dear. You’d better make yourself very appealing to our great liberator.” He slammed the door behind him and an instant later Ricardo heard the guard turn the key in the lock.
Ricardo turned back to the window and stared blindly out at the courtyard. Lord, he didn’t need this. His hands reached out and again grasped the
bars at the window, the muscles of his upper arms distending as his grip tightened. He wanted to break something. He felt helpless and frustrated and as hot as a beardless adolescent in the first throes of passion.
He slowly forced his hands to relax on the bars. Nothing could be done about the situation and it would do no good to frighten the woman by a show of violence. She had probably gone through enough already at Jurado’s hands.
“It’s all right,” he said. “I won’t hurt you.” He gazed at Jurado strolling across the courtyard toward his office and thought how pleasant a sight it would be to see that small, dapper figure ignited by a flamethrower. “And evidently the junta’s pride and joy is giving you a reprieve from whatever he’d planned for you.”
“I notice you’re not saying I won’t have to worry after the reprieve.”
Her voice was low and faintly tremulous, and its femininity stroked and aroused him as much as that first sight of her. He felt the muscles of his stomach clench and then knot painfully. It was
only sex, he told himself. Sex had nothing to do with his mind or emotions. A man of will and intelligence could subdue even that most powerful and primitive of urges. “I don’t believe in lying. Jurado will do what he likes with you. He’s commandant of the Abbey and uses gang rape frequently as an interrogation tool.” He kept his tone deliberately matter-of-fact. “I can’t stop him from hurting you, but I can show you ways to make the pain less. We have a little time and you can learn enough to—”
“Is that a microphone?”
He turned and followed her glance to the small black metal object mounted high on a shelf in the corner of the room.
“Yes, the Abbey isn’t sophisticated enough for video surveillance, but Jurado likes to make me feel the lack of privacy.” He raised his voice. “Don’t you, Jurado?”
Her voice was shrill. “Everything here is hideous. How can they do this to me? I’m frightened and angry. I’m no whore to be—” She broke off. “And now you tell me they
can hear us while we—” Her voice rose hysterically. “Well, I won’t have it. I won’t!” She ran across the room to the washbasin and grabbed the water pitcher. She slung it at the microphone, knocking the device from its shelf and splattering both it and the white stucco wall with water. The smashed microphone crackled and hissed as it dangled on its long cord.
“That won’t do any good,” Ricardo said gently. “They’ll just replace it.”
“Is that the only bug?”
“Yes, it’s not really a security device. Jurado only installed it to annoy me.” “Tape recorders?”
“How long do we have?” Her voice was breathless, but no longer hysterical.
He slowly stiffened, his gaze narrowing on her face. “Jurado should be here in five minutes. Perhaps less.”
“The guards in the cell block?”
“They’ll wait for Jurado unless there’s a threat of escape. They know he likes to run the show.”
She flew across the room toward him and spoke quickly in a whisper. “Paco Renalto.”
He repeated warily, “Paco?”
“He sent me to tell you they’ll be attacking the Abbey day after tomorrow. He wants you to be ready.”
“Ready? I’ve been ready for over five months.” Ricardo felt a leap of hope he quickly smothered. “You expect me to believe you? Jurado delivers you to my bed and suddenly I find you’re working for Paco?” He shook his head. “Not likely.”
“You’ve got to believe me. We don’t have much time.” Lara moistened her lips with her tongue and whispered, “Renalto said to mention the caverns.”
Ricardo’s hand automatically clapped across her lips. “Quiet!”
Lara turned her head to avoid his hand. “I won’t say any more about it. I don’t even know what it means. Renalto just said to use it as a password.”
Ricardo was thinking quickly. The Abbey had been breached before by frequent raids but not in the last few years. The grounds were now well
guarded and enclosed by an electric wire fence, and even if the courtyard were reached, there were still problems. The Abbey was a one-story U-shaped building and the cells were all on the left side of the courtyard. He shook his head. “The cell block’s too well guarded for him to hit. There’s a machine gun mounted on the roof above Jurado’s office aimed at this side of the courtyard. How does he intend to—”