Authors: Iris Johansen
She lifted her head and braced herself.
She turned and bolted from the shower. Ricardo was standing only a few feet away, her gown in his hands. She ignored the guards by the door, her gaze clinging desperately to Ricardo’s face.
He smiled at her, a smile so tender and comforting that she caught her breath. Then the gown was enveloping her, being pulled over her head and then quickly down, covering her. Not that it covered very much, she thought gloomily; her wet body caused the wet cotton gauze to cling wherever it touched.
“See, it’s all right. You did fine. You were very brave,
He gently smoothed the wet hair
away from her face before gathering it over her left shoulder to wring the water from its thick length. Lara felt an odd quiver of pride ripple through her at his words. She felt as if he had given her a medal. He continued softly, “It’s all over now.”
Was it over? Perhaps the humiliation was finished, but she felt as if something else had just begun. She had been joined, if not physically, then certainly emotionally, with Ricardo during those minutes in the shower. The experience of shared desire, shared humiliation, shared isolation, had made her dependent on him as she had never been dependent on anyone else in her life. The bond still existed. She couldn’t seem to look away from him. “You shouldn’t touch me, should you?” she whispered.
“No. Not like this.” His hands dropped away from her hair. “Lust is all right. Tenderness …” He turned away abruptly. “No, I shouldn’t have touched you.” He held out his hand. “Come with me. Stay close and hurry.” His lips tightened to a hard line. “We need to get back to the cell double
quick. I don’t think I could stand having them put their hands on you right now.”
She slipped her hand in his, and his clasp quickly tightened around it.
The door of the cell closed behind them, shutting out the snickering remarks of the guards. The cell was dark, its only illumination the moonlight streaming through the window bars to pattern the floor as the sunlight had previously done.
She could discern Ricardo only as a shadowy silhouette as he strode across the cell to stand with his back to her at the window. He reached out with a curiously violent gesture and gripped a bar with one hand as if he wanted to rip it from the window.
“Thank you,” she said quietly.
“For what?” he asked. “Not raping you in front of those guards? They haven’t turned me into that kind of an animal yet.”
“You were kind to me. You helped me.”
“It wasn’t personal. I don’t care anything about you. I
care anything about you.”
She stood gazing at the rigid line of his spine from across the cell. As she watched, he lowered his head to rest it against the arm upraised to grip the bar. That gesture held a world of weariness and somehow touched her, hurt her. “I realize it wasn’t personal, but you made that ghastly situation easier for me and—”
“Go to bed.” His words were muffled against his arm.
She hesitated, uncertain what to do. She didn’t want to go to bed. She wanted to go across the room and comfort him. He seemed terribly alone in this moment.
“Go on,” he said.
“Where will you sleep?”
“On the floor. I’m used to it. I can sleep anywhere.”
She moved slowly to the cot across the room. “You take the pillow.”
He released his grip on the bar and turned to face her. “I don’t want—”
“You take the pillow,” she repeated stubbornly, and tossed it to him. “After the day I’ve had, I think I could sleep in a cactus bed.”
“Don’t say that too loud. Jurado will probably get rid of the cot and have one set up tomorrow.”
Lara stretched out on the cot and closed her eyes. The oppressive heat of the day had vanished and the cool wind blowing into the cell sent a shiver through her. “There aren’t any cactus plants on Saint Pierre, are there?”
“Jurado would have them flown in.” He paused. “Why are you shivering?”
“How did you—” she stopped. The man was positively uncanny. He couldn’t possibly see anything but a pale blur in the darkness, but he had detected that almost imperceptible movement. “My gown’s wet. If you remember, I didn’t wait to dry off.”
He was silent a moment. “I remember.” He was suddenly moving in the darkness. “Take it off.”
“You can’t afford to get sick in this hellhole.
My shirt is dry; you can wear it to sleep in tonight.”
“But won’t you be chilled?”
“I can close it out.” He tossed her the shirt. “Wear it.”
She hesitated and then sat up and slowly pulled the gown over her head. He was right; it was stupid to take a chance on becoming ill when they had so many more threats facing them. She slipped on the shirt and buttoned it to the chin. The material still held the heat of his body and smelled of soap and perspiration.
“How do you close it out?”
“There are ways. I just have to concentrate.”
She laid the cotton gown on the floor and stretched out again on the cot. “Like yoga?”
“A little. Yoga, self-hypnosis. I use my own mixed bag of techniques.”
So that was how he survived the torture. “Can you shut out everything?”
Another silence. “No, not everything.”
The stillness of the cell was suddenly charged again. She felt the same hot, dizzy excitement she had experienced in the shower knowing he stood
behind her, wanting her. Crazy. Feeling like this about Ricardo Lázaro was insane. He represented every insecurity she feared in life.
“For the Lord’s sake, go to sleep.”
She could hear the slight increase in the tempo of his breathing, caught the chord of tension in his voice, stretched taut, ready to break. She closed her eyes, but that was worse. Robbing herself of vision made her other senses all the more acute. It was the scent of his shirt, not the man himself, she inhaled with every breath, she told herself. He was five feet away and she couldn’t possibly feel the warmth his body was exuding. “That’s an excellent idea. Good night, Ricardo.”
He sank to the floor beneath the window, linking his hands loosely together over his knees in the same position he had assumed earlier in the day.
The soft way he said her name was like dark, sensuous music. She curled up on the cot, trying to shut the thought of him out of her mind. Exquisite sensitivity and quiet, hard-edged strength. Poet-warrior.
She must not let him affect her like this, she told herself desperately. She was here for only one reason and that was to make sure he escaped from the Abbey and gave her a promise to keep Brett out of his damn war. She must not let him capture her imagination and emotions as he had her brother’s. It was only being so closely confined with him, sharing this enforced intimacy, that was causing her to react in a manner so unlike her usual sensible self. She had counted on walking away from this encounter with no emotional baggage. She had not thought a bond could be forged in the short time they would have together, but she couldn’t deny that something had happened between them.
She forced herself to relax her muscles and breathe deeply, steadily. All would be well. She just had to get through the next two days and she would be on her way back to the world she knew and understood.
She only had to get through the next two days.
She was still awake.
Ricardo could almost feel the waves of tension Lara emitted across the short distance separating them, and his linked hands slowly clenched together until the knuckles whitened.
She had come to help him and he was not an animal.
But, dear heaven, he wanted her
She was little more than a child, a brave child blundering into an ugliness of which she could have no conception.
The graceful line of her spine flowing into the swelling womanliness of wet, gleaming buttocks …
A woman should have the right to choose her lover, and Lara had been given no choice.
She wouldn’t refuse him. She might protest at first, but he was skilled enough to wake her to the realization that she wanted him as much as he wanted her
Seduction? And where was his fine philosophy now? Seduction deprived one of free choice as surely as force.
He hurt. He wanted to touch her, to move between her thighs and hear her cry out in a frenzy
And Jurado would win. The bastard would have them.
Paco would attack day after tomorrow and Jurado wouldn’t be sure enough of Lara’s hold on him to move before the attack
Lord, was he so depraved, he’d be willing to risk what would happen to Lara if he were wrong?
His teeth bit into his lower lip until he tasted the coppery taste of blood on his tongue.
He had only to get through the next two days.
“Your lip is cut.” Lara’s concerned gaze lingered on Ricardo’s lower lip. “I didn’t notice that before.”
“It’s nothing.” He popped the last bite of melon on his plate into his mouth. “Finish what’s on your plate. You won’t get anything else for the rest of the day.”
“I’m not hungry.” The heat in the cell was suffocating, the air as hard to breathe as it had been yesterday. Lara pushed the plate of fruit away. “Not exactly high in protein.”
“It’s cheaper for them to gather fruit from the rain forest. I usually get meat once a week.” Ricardo took her plate and his own and set them beside the door. “It’s enough.”
“How do we get through today?”
“The same way I do every day.” He dropped to the floor and began to do push-ups. “Exercise first.”
She watched him from the cot. She still wore his shirt and she could see the flex and pull of the muscles of his arms and abdomen as he went on exercising for an incredibly long time.
“You do this every day?”
“Several times a day. Exercise pumps oxygen to the brain and makes me more alert. Lassitude is a danger in a situation like this.” His tan torso gleamed with perspiration, but he was breathing only slightly heavier than when he had started. When he finally stopped, Ricardo leaned back against the wall and grinned at her. “Your turn.”
“No, thank you. My idea of exercise is a swim at the YWCA every few days.”
“I should have guessed you were a swimmer. Swimming muscles are smoother.” His gaze focused on her calves and then traveled up to her naked thighs. “Sleeker.”
The last word was thicker, huskier, than the ones that had gone before and she resisted the temptation to pull down the shirt. Instead, she jumped up and reached for the gauze gown she had laid on the floor last night. “This must be dry now. If you’ll close your eyes for a minute, I’ll give you back your shirt.”
He obediently closed his eyes, tilting his head back against the wall. “You didn’t sleep well last night.”
“No.” She unbuttoned the shirt and let it slide down her arms. “How did you know?”
“I didn’t sleep well either.”
She pulled the gown over her head and settled it over her hips. “You said it wouldn’t bother you to sleep on the floor.”
“It seems I was wrong.”
“You can open your eyes now.”
His lids flicked open and he smiled at her. “I think I like you in my shirt better.”
She avoided his eyes as she picked up the shirt and tossed it to him. “Neither of us has a large wardrobe here. You can’t afford to give me your clothes.” She sat down on the cot and raised her arms and began to run her fingers through her hair, trying to comb out the tangles. “I don’t suppose you have a brush?”
He shook his head.
“I didn’t think so.” She made a face. “It’s funny how we take things like brushes for granted and never realize how—” She broke off as she looked up to see him watching her. “Why are you looking at me like that?”
“Like what?” He pulled his gaze away and shifted it to the floor. “I was just looking.”
She glanced down at herself and suddenly realized her raised arms had pulled the bodice of the gown taut, revealing the shadowy outline of her nipples pressed against the gauze. She hurriedly lowered her arms and searched desperately for
something to break the silence. “Aren’t you going to put on your shirt?”
“Not yet.” He slowly raised his gaze to meet her own. “It still has your scent.”
A wave of heat tingled through her, and the breath left her body.
He glanced away again, one hand clenching the material of the shirt. “Why don’t we play word games?”
What else had they been playing? she wondered wildly. “Word games?”
He sat up straighter. “It will give us something to do. Take our minds off …” His brow furrowed in a frown. “Twenty Questions. We’ll play Twenty Questions. I’m thinking of something. Try to guess what it is.”
She hoped it wasn’t what she was thinking about.
His frown vanished and his sudden smile held a hint of mischief. He pursed his lips reprovingly and silently shook his head.
Drat the man, it was clear he had guessed exactly what her thoughts had been. Still, the amusement had lightened the atmosphere between
them and that change was certainly welcome.
She sat down on the cot and smiled back at him. “Is what you’re thinking about animal, vegetable, or mineral?”
sat back on her heels and glared accusingly at Ricardo. “Everyone thinks of a whale as a fish.”
“It’s a mammal,” Ricardo said with a complacent smile. “You didn’t ask the right questions. Don’t blame me if you think of a whale as a fish. What the devil did they teach you in that college?”
“A whale swims in the sea. Why shouldn’t I think of—” She stopped and broke out laughing.
“Boy, was that a dumb mistake. All right, you got me.”
“It’s about time you admitted it. I’ve never seen a woman as stubborn as you are.”
She wrinkled her nose at him. “I don’t like to lose.”
“Obviously.” He gazed at her thoughtfully. “And you don’t lose often. You’re very bright. I think we broke about even for the day.”
Lara nodded. “But I would have tipped the scales my way if you hadn’t come up with that blasted whale.”