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Napoleon Hill

Tác giả: Sandra Brown
Thể loại: Tiểu Thuyết
Biên tập: Bach Ly Bang
Upload bìa: Duy Phuc Nguyen
Language: English
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Cập nhật: 2015-10-22 15:11:14 +0700
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Chapter 9
enny!" Cage was out of his chair like a shot. Before Linc or Kerry could even blink, he was at Jenny’s side and his hands had replaced hers on her swollen stomach. "Is it… what is it?"
She took several gasping breaths, then said, "Just one of those cramps I think."
"You’re sure? It’s not the baby?"
"No, I don’t think so. Not yet."
"Sit down, Jenny," Kerry said, scooting Jenny’s chair beneath her.
"I’m fine, really," she said, easing herself down. "I had these cramping seizures when I was pregnant with Trent."
"And they always scared the hell out of me," Cage said, running his fingers through his hair. "Should I call the doctor?"
Jenny raised his hand to her mouth and kissed it. "No. Don’t make a fuss. Sorry I made such a scene." She encompassed them all in her apologetic smile.
"You did too much today and were on your feet too long," Kerry admonished gently. "You stay right there and let us clean up the kitchen."
Over Jenny’s mild protests, the three of them began carrying the soiled dishes into the kitchen. Cage hovered around his wife. Half an hour later Kerry assisted her upstairs.
No one said any more about Linc’s leaving. He didn’t even think about the subject himself until he stepped out onto the front porch. When Cage joined him moments later, he said, "I really should go. My being here is putting an extra burden on Jenny."
"We wouldn’t hear of it. You’re welcome to stay for as long as you like, if you don’t mind sleeping in the single bed in Trent’s room. And I warn you, he snores."
Linc grinned. "Believe me, anything will be a pleasant change compared to where I’ve been sleeping." Hearing his own words, his grin faded. He remembered sleeping with only the ground for a mattress and only a vine for a blanket, holding Kerry close. The memory was bittersweet and assailed him with conflicting emotions. "Is that your Vette?" he asked Cage. He had to say something to divert his mind, which seemed to stay on a single track lately.
"Yeah. Want to see it?"
They left the porch and strolled across the yard toward the open garage. Inside it were parked a variety of vehicles, among them the vintage ‘63 Corvette Stingray that had caught Linc’s eye. He whistled long and low.
"It’s in showroom condition. How long have you had it?"
"Several years," Cage told him. "It was in bad shape when I bought it. I hired a guy to restore it for me. We’ll go for a spin in it tomorrow. It’ll still bury you in the seat when you get it up to fourth gear. One of my vices is driving too fast."
Linc withdrew a package of cigarettes from the breast pocket of his borrowed shirt. He’d bummed the pack off Gary Fleming earlier in the day. "Want one?"
"I’d love one," Cage said, but held up both hands when Linc extended the pack to him. "But I’ve sworn off. When we got together, I promised Jenny that I’d quit."
Linc squinted at his new friend through the cigarette’s smoke. "You must have had a lot of vices."
Cage laughed good naturedly. "I did. Too many to count. I’ve given up most of them." He winked suggestively. "Except screwing. Jenny and I do that a lot."
The men laughed together. "God, that feels good," Linc said after a moment. "I haven’t talked with a man who fluently speaks my language in over a month. Heard any good jokes lately?"
"Clean or dirty?"
While Linc smoked his cigarette, the occasional silences between them were comfortable. They didn’t have to work at being companionable because the groundwork for a new friendship had already been laid. It was based on mutual respect, a genuine liking, and perhaps recognition of each other’s maverick nature.
That’s why Linc didn’t take umbrage when Cage said, "About that fifty thousand dollars…"
"I don’t want the damn money."
"I didn’t think so."
Cage dropped the subject then and there. He didn’t probe for answers because Linc didn’t seem inclined to discuss the money. Cage could respect that. And Linc liked Cage better for not probing.
"You and Jenny seem very happy together." Talking to a happily married man about his wife was a new experience for Linc, and he felt awkward about broaching the subject.
Cage, however, responded without compunction. "We are."
"You’re lucky. I haven’t seen too many happy marriages."
"I haven’t either. I never take ours for granted though. Jenny gave up a lot to marry me."
"I know you gave up smoking and some hell raising. What did she give up?"
Cage grinned wryly. "Her common sense." They chuckled and Cage shook his head with chagrin. "Marrying her was the only way I could have her, and, well, you know how it is. We do things for a woman that we would never do otherwise."
You’ve got that right, buddy, was Linc’s self-critical thought.
"Speaking of Jenny," Cage said, "I’d better go inside and see how she’s feeling. Enjoy your cigarette. See you in the morning."
"I’ll buy some clothes tomorrow. Thanks for the use of these. Thanks for everything." They shook hands. Cage walked back toward the house and closed the screened front door behind him.
Linc finished smoking his cigarette meditatively. He liked the Hendrens tremendously. He also envied them their closeness to each other. He’d never been that close to another human being. Not to either of his parents. Not to a special friend. Not to anyone.
Cage’s and Jenny’s gentle teasing was based on affection. The love they shared for their little boy created an almost visible bond between them. By all indications, their bedsheets were kept warm with frequent and ardent activity.
Linc had intercepted numerous loving glances between them. He felt a twinge of jealousy that no one had ever looked at him with such unqualified love. In the farthest corner of his mind, he acknowledged that maybe he’d missed something.
Hell, what was he thinking about? Had a brush with death that morning turned him into a philosopher?
He had it made. He enjoyed a terrific career that involved travel and adventure. It was lucrative. It had won him acclaim. Women were easy to come by. They were drawn to him by his money, his fame, his reputation as a lover. He gave them the expensive gifts, the introductions to influential people, and the pleasure they wanted. And he was interested in only one thing from them. Once his craving for sex was satisfied, he thought no more about them.
The women in his life were bodies only. They were transitory. Women with no substance. Not like Jenny Hendren. Not like – muttering an impatient oath, he rubbed Kerry’s name from his mind. He also tried to eradicate her image, but was less successful at accomplishing that. He couldn’t forget the way she had looked when she came down to dinner. He hadn’t expected her to look so…womanly. He had expected a nun’s habit.
Instead, she had shown up wearing a dress that was made of some soft material that had clung temptingly to her delicate body. The skirt had whisked against her bare legs. Each time she turned, the shape of her breasts had been clearly profiled for him. Her hair had shone in the candlelight every time she moved her head. Her lips, faintly tinted with gloss, had looked as ripe and juicy as a berry ready to be plucked. And that’s all he could taste.
Oh, he had done justice to the meal. His stomach had cried out for the nourishment it had been denied for the past few days. But with every bite of food, he had also swallowed a taste of Kerry.
Linc groaned with resignation as he felt himself grow hard with a desire that would surely condemn him to hell. He couldn’t indulge the longing that heated his blood. He could only try his damnedest to cool it.
"How does that feel?"
"Wonderful," Jenny sighed.
Her husband had found her already in bed when he entered their master bedroom, after having checked on their sleeping son and making certain that the extra bed had been turned down for Linc. Kerry was using the guest bedroom.
Cage had undressed quickly and joined Jenny in their wide bed where he was now massaging soothing lotion onto the stretched, tight, itchy skin of her abdomen. It was a nightly ritual that both of them enjoyed immensely.
"The baby isn’t moving very much tonight," he commented.
"She’s resting after her performance at dinner." Ever since the doctor had confirmed that she was pregnant, Jenny had insisted that this baby was a girl. She fancied having a blond-haired, tawny-eyed daughter to round out their family.
"That was quite a show, all right."
"What do you mean by that?" Jenny asked testily.
"Only that I wasn’t sure if those cramps were real or just your sneaky way of getting Linc to stay."
Jenny moved his hand aside. "I don’t like your implication, Cage."
He only laughed at her pique. "That’s what I thought. You’re guilty as hell. Otherwise you wouldn’t be protesting so much." He leaned over and stopped her flimsy denials with a kiss. When he pulled back, he asked, "Should I be jealous?"
"Over what?" She traced the hair on his chest with her fingernail. His kisses still had the power to curl her toes.
"Over your going to such great lengths to keep Linc under our roof?"
"I haven’t admitted that yet, but if I did urge him – "
"Urge! I thought you were going to hogtie the poor guy to the dining room chair when he mentioned leaving."
"Well I do think he should stay and take photographs of the orphans when they meet their new families. And I did have a cramp."
His hands fell still and his handsome face registered concern. "A bad one?"
"No. It was one of those little contractions that don’t mean anything."
He reached for the bottle of lotion and poured some into the palms of his hands. He laid them on her breasts and began rubbing in the scented cream with lulling, circular motions.
She sighed, and her eyes slid closed. Cage gazed down at her with love. "How can you be so very pregnant and still so very beautiful?"
"You think so?" Lifting one hand, she idly brushed a dark blond strand of hair off his forehead.
"Do you think Linc thinks Kerry is beautiful?"
"I thought that’s what you were up to."
She stared at him guilelessly. "What?"
"Well anyone can tell – "
"Jenny, stay out of it."
"That they’re attracted to each other."
"They were practically biting and scratching across our dining room table."
She came up on one elbow. "Well I’ve known us to bite and scratch some! And over the dining room table, too."
Cage looked stunned, then burst out laughing. "You’ve got me there. Helluva private party, too, as I remember it." Wrapping his arms around her, he lowered her back to the pillows and followed her down with a lengthy, mouth to mouth, tongue to tongue kiss. When he finally raised his head, her eyes were lambent, but she hadn’t dropped their argument.
"I think there’s friction between Kerry and Linc because they’re fighting a strong attraction."
"What does Kerry say?"
"Nothing, and that’s curious, don’t you think? She avoids speaking his name aloud if at all possible. After what they’ve been through, you would think that she’d be dropping his name left and right. She tries too hard not to look i at him, but I’ve caught her at it a thousand times today. Did Linc say anything about it when the two of you went to the garage?"
"Sorry, darling," he said, nuzzling her neck, "I couldn’t break a confidence between gentlemen."
"Then he did say something about Kerry!"
"No, be didn’t. But he’s… restless. That’s the word I’m looking for, I think. His skin is too small for him. He’s angry."
"How do you know?"
"Because I recognize the symptoms. I know what it feels like to want a woman you can’t have. You’re mad at yourself for being hard all the time, and you can’t keep yourself from getting hard every time you think about her. It’s like if you don’t give it to that particular woman, it’s gonna fall off." He flicked his tongue over her large, rosy nipple. "And on that note…"
"We can’t, Cage. The doctor said it’s too late."
"I know, but – " He sighed when she placed her hand where he ached to feel it. "Ahh, Jenny." He closed his mouth around her nipple and sucked it gently.
Speaking on short gusts of air, Jenny said, "So, if you didn’t talk about Kerry, what did you talk about?"
His hot mouth moved to her other breast. "You. I told Linc you were my only vice."
"Hmm, Cage." She gasped when his tongue played upon her sensitized breast. "He’ll think I’m terrible."
"He’ll think you’re wonderful. What every man wants in a wife. A lady in the parlor – "
"And a harlot in the bedroom."
"Right," he snarled affectionately, sliding his hand between her thighs.
"We can’t have-"
"There are other ways."
"But we have guests in the house." Her voice slipped another notch with every feather-light caress of his fingertips.
"That’s your problem," he whispered seductively. "You’re the moaner."
It was too quiet.
Kerry stood at the window of the guest bedroom, gazing out over the barren landscape, wondering what was keeping her awake when her entire body was crying out for sleep. She had finally come to the conclusion that, after almost a year of living in Montenegro, she was missing the nighttime jungle sounds.
She felt exposed because, save for the mesa forming a silhouette against the sky, there was nothing to break the sameness of the landscape. No encroaching trees, no hanging vines, no dense brush. And no sound.
But then she heard a barely audible sound. A squeak. She glanced down and saw a dark shadow slipping through the gate onto the terrace that surrounded the Hendren’s lovely swimming pool.
Her heart began its unnatural hammering, as it always seemed to do whenever he was around. This time, however, her rapid heartbeat was partially due to anger. How dare Linc blare out her indiscretion to the Hendrens! She had come to expect nothing but churlish behavior from him, but he had sunk to an all-time low that night at dinner.
His participation in the rescue must have come as a surprise to them. They might have assumed that she would need assistance at some point, but they were no doubt shocked that it had come in the form of a renowned photojournalist.
The orphans had made it impossible for her to de-emphasize the role Linc had played during their ordeal. Because, when in doubt about what to do, they all turned to him for guidance. Even though he didn’t speak Spanish, he conveyed messages to them with facial expressions, gestures, and a pidgin Spanish-English that they understood and heeded.
He acted as a surrogate father to all of them, particularly to the younger ones. He might not have wanted the role, but it had been foisted upon him, and he had grudgingly accepted it. In fact, he seemed to enjoy toting Lisa in his arms and entering mock wrestling matches with the boys.
Kerry knew that Cage and Jenny had probably been burning with curiosity. Only politeness had prevented them from coming right out and asking. Linc suffered under no such restriction. Out of pure meanness, he had provided them with all the lurid details of how he had met Kerry while she stood there in mortification.
Throughout the day, she had held her breath, afraid of being exposed as a fraud. She was afraid that someone would mention a name, a name that would undoubtedly trigger a volatile response from Linc. The subject had been stamped around so many times that Kerry had become as nervous as a cat with a long tail.
By one means or another, the truth would come out. He would discover that she wasn’t what she had led him to believe she was. When he did, she wanted to be as far away from him as possible. She didn’t have to guess what his reaction would be. He would be livid.
That morning, after he had kissed her, she had started to tell him. Fearing that one or both of them might die, she had wanted to confess her lie. But she had been robbed of the opportunity by the arrival of the rescue plane. Then, after they had argued over the blasted money, she didn’t want to tell him. It served his mercenary soul right to live under the misconception.
She had felt both relief and despair when, at dinner, he had announced that he was leaving. She wanted him to leave before he found out that she wasn’t a nun. On the other hand, the thought of his leaving had crushed her. She would probably never see him again. Such a possibility was devastating. She would always be grateful to Jenny’s baby for providing an adequate, but not catastrophic, diversion.
Now, Kerry watched him, unseen, from her darkened second story window as he paced the terrace, smoking. It was consoling to know that he wasn’t able to sleep either. She wasn’t the only one in an emotional quandary tonight.
Of course what he was feeling wasn’t deep emotion. It was lust. She had seen it, blazing in his golden brown eyes, before he carefully screened them. He might be antagonistic toward her, but he wasn’t indifferent. Small comfort, that. They were still irreconcilable. He was fighting a contest of wills. She loved him.
She saw him grind out his cigarette hi a planter. He looked like a man bedeviled as he raised his hands to his face and rubbed the heels of them against his eyes. She thought she heard a muttered curse, but, because it was so obscene, hoped that she had imagined that.
As she watched, he leaned down and pulled off the boots Cage had loaned him. The boots he had worn out of Montenegro had been so caked with mud that the Hendrens had insisted on throwing them away with the rest of their clothes.
Linc then began pulling at the buttons of his shirt until they were undone. He peeled it off quickly and tossed it onto a patio chaise. A white gauze bandage was taped to his shoulder.
He worked free the buckle of his belt but left the belt in the loops of his jeans. The metal buckle clinked softly as he unbuttoned the top button of bis fly.
Kerry covered her mouth to stifle a small, yearning sound when she realized what he was going to do. It was a dark night. The moon was a slender crescent positioned low in the sky and shedding very little light. The evening was warm. The fault wind was as hot and dry as the arid ground it swept over.
It was the perfect night for a nude swim.
Especially if one’s body was hot and restless. ferry ceased to breathe. In fact, she lifted a hand to the base of her throat as though to verify that she had a pulse, because everything inside her went perfectly still. She was mesmerized by the motions of his fingers as he worked the metal buttons from their stubborn holes. She couldn’t actually see his fingers moving, but she could see the movement of his arms and elbows as he struggled with the button fly of the Western jeans.
And then he was hooking his thumbs into the waistband and pushing them down. At about his knees, he let them go. The soft, well-laundered denim pooled around his ankles. He stepped out of the jeans.
And Kerry knew one thing for certain: Jenny bought Cage’s underwear. The low-slung, hip-riding briefs were the kind of undergarment a woman liked to see on a man. They were light in color and showed up in stark contrast to Linc’s dark, lean body and the surrounding night.
Blood was pumping thickly through her veins.
She saw Linc raise his hands to his waist. His thumbs slid beneath the elastic band. Then…
He was splendidly, primally, majestically naked. Rawly, proudly male. And beautiful. So beautiful it hurt to look at him. The sight of his nakedness affected her like a piercing spear through her chest.
She slumped to her knees and rested her chin on the window sill. She exercised no maidenly shyness. Her eyes boldly moved over him. His body hair grew in intriguing patterns and showed up as fuzzy shadows on his tanned flesh. It clustered darkly and thickly around his sex.
He turned. Kerry got a glimpse of a marvelously symmetrical back. Muscled shoulders tapered to a narrow waist, and the sides sloped into a straight, shallow spine. His buttocks were taut. He walked with a swagger that excited and aroused her. His thighs were lean. His calves looked as hard as apples.
Long before she had seen her fill, he dove cleanly into the water. He hardly made a splash. He swam the length of the pool underwater before he surfaced, and then remained in the shadows beneath the diving board for a long while before he began swimming laps. He cut through the water as sleekly as an eel, his arms arcing out of the water and catching the meager moonlight.
Kerry’s body ached. Her skin seemed on fire. Her breasts j tingled. She covered them with her hands in an attempt to contain that delicious, blooming sensation, but found that touching them brought no relief. It only made them more agitated. The merest movement of Jenny’s sheer batiste > nightgown against her nipples provoked shameful stirrings deep inside her.
Finally Linc swam to the edge of the pool. He opened his hands flat on the tiles and stiffened his arms, levering him self out of the water until he could get one foot up on the side. He shook the water from his head and peeled his hair back, holding it off his face with both hands behind his head for several seconds before dropping his arms. He ran his hands over his arms and legs, skimming off the water.
Kerry moaned and her body flushed hotly when he ran one hand down his chest and stomach. Before it reached that thatch of dark hair, she squeezed her eyes shut.
When she opened them again, he was stepping into the discarded briefs. He tucked everything comfortably inside before letting the elastic band snap against his waist. Kerry’s mouth was dry, but she swallowed hard.
Linc bent at the waist and scooped up the rest of his clothes, then walked toward the back door of the house until he disappeared from Kerry’s sight. She didn’t move, but maintained her place on the floor beside the window until she heard him come upstairs and go into Trent’s bedroom and gently close the door behind him.
Because her thighs had gone the consistency of warm butter, and she felt weak and feverish all over, she virtually crawled to the bed. She kicked off all the covers. She | couldn’t stand anything abrading her skin. Or rather, being touched anywhere, everywhere, was such a delicious sensation that she thought it best to deny it to herself.
What was this malady? A tropical fever just now manifesting itself? Or was it simply desire for the man she loved?
Linc accidently stumbled onto the intimate scene. He muttered his sincere apologies and immediately withdrew, but Cage and Jenny called him back.
They were sitting at the kitchen table. Cage’s hand was splayed wide over his wife’s abdomen. Both wore radiant smiles. "Come in, it’s okay."
"I didn’t mean to interrupt." He felt uncharacteristically gauche and callow.
"You’re not interrupting," Cage said.
"Cage loves to feel the baby move."
"What would you say this is, a ballerina or a place kicker?"
Linc grinned self-consciously. "You could stuff what I know about babies into a thimble and there’d still be room."
Cage removed his hand from Jenny’s tummy and poured their guest a cup of coffee. "I’m the breakfast chef. What’ll you have?"
"Ham and eggs?"
"Sounds great."
"Orange or grapefruit juice, Linc?" Jenny asked him.
"Orange, please."
She picked the appropriate pitcher off the table and poured htm a glass. "You’ve never been around children?" she asked him nonchalantly.
"Not until this week."
"None of your own?"
Cage cleared his throat loudly, but Jenny didn’t acknowledge the subtle reprimand. Linc appeared to be unaware of it. In fact, he was acting rather distracted, as though he were listening for something. "Uh, no, I’ve never been married."
"Hmm." Wearing a complacent smile that had nothing to do with the innate serenity of pregnancy, Jenny sat back in her chair and sipped her tea.
She ignored Cage’s reproachful glance when he returned to the table and slid a plate of food in front of Linc. "Dig in."
"This is great. Where’s yours?"
"We ate earlier," Jenny told him.
"I’m sorry I slept so late. Is everyone else already up?"
"I sneaked in early and got Trent out of bed. I didn’t want him to wake you," Cage said. "The Flemings and my folks have taken all the kids to the hospital to see Joe."
"Including Trent?"
"He pulled a temper tantrum. Roxie, as usual, gave in. Sarah wouldn’t hear of him being left behind either," Jenny told Linc. "Between his grandmother and my best friend, I’m afraid Trent is being spoiled rotten."
Kerry hadn’t been mentioned. Linc hesitated to bring up her name, but now, while she wasn’t around, was a good time to ask the questions that had been eating at him.
"How did Kerry get involved with your relief organization?"
Both Jenny and Cage tried to mask their surprise. "She never told you?" Cage asked. Linc shook his head and [ shoveled in another bite of eggs.
"She came to us," Jenny said. "After going through the ordeal of her father’s trial, she – "
Linc’s fork clattered to his plate. "Whoa, whoa, what trial? What father?"
Cage and Jenny exchanged a glance. "Wooten Bishop," Cage said, as though that explained everything. And it very nearly did.
Slowly Linc pushed his plate aside and folded his arms on the table in front of him. "Wooten Bishop? The Wooten Bishop is Kerry’s father?"
His hosts nodded simultaneously. Linc expelled his breath on a long gust. "Sonofagun." He shook his head in disbelief. "I never would have put their names together. I remember now that he had a daughter. I guess I never paid much attention to how old she was or what she looked like. I was in Africa when that story broke."
"He tried to shield her from the scandal as much as possible. Of course she was greatly affected by it anyway."
"Obviously," Linc muttered, staring into his coffee cup.
The Wooten Bishop family had been subjected to public scrutiny and ridicule only a couple of years earlier. After a long and illustrious career in the diplomatic corps, Bishop had been called home from Montenegro when it was alleged that he had personally profited from that country’s political strife. He had used information made available to him as a diplomat in money-making scams.
When he was found out, all his shady dealings were aired over network television. There had followed a nasty, albeit enlightening, Senate hearing and a subsequent criminal trial. Only one month after his sentencing, he had died of heart failure in a federal prison.
"I asked Kerry about her childhood," Linc said hoarsely. "She said that it had been charmed."
"It was," Jenny said sadly, "before the tragedy. Kerry once told me that something inside Ambassador Bishop snapped after the death of her mother. He was never quite the same."
"Did she know about his corruption?"
Cage shook his head. "No. She suspected, but couldn’t believe it. She was shattered to learn that her father had ruthlessly exploited a people who had had so little to begin with. She told Jenny and me that she went through a period of hating him. Then all she could feel for him was pity. It’s little wonder that she made such a personal sacrifice to go to Montenegro and try to make up for her father’s wrongdoings."
"She had no business going there. She could have gotten herself killed!" Linc exclaimed, banging the table with his fist.
"You’re right, Linc." Jenny laid a gentle hand over his. "She came to us, volunteering to go there and teach. We told her that there was plenty she could do here to support the cause without putting herself in danger. But she wouldn’t have it any other way.
"I don’t think any of us can really appreciate the sacrifices she made," Jenny went on. "Until the scandal broke, she and her family had traveled all over the world. They were highly respected, often guests of royalty and heads of state."
"She’s well educated I guess," Linc remarked glumly.
"The Sorbonne."
A muscle in his cheek twitched.
Cage swirled coffee around in his cup. "It was rumored several years ago that there was a romance budding between her and a young man in Britain’s royal family. But when I teased her about it, she said that’s all it was. A frivolous rumor."
Jenny was reflective. "She hardly looked frivolous yesterday when she got off that airplane. I don’t think she’s ever been taken seriously. Maybe thaf s what she had to prove. She went to Montenegro to announce to the world that there was more to her than what was evident on the surface."
"I still don’t get it," Linc said, frowning. "It doesn’t make any sense."
"What, Linc?"
"Why would a beautiful, charming, intelligent young woman like Kerry, who has everything going for her, give it all up to become a nun? I mean, isn’t that going a bit overboard just to make a point? Sure her ol’ man got caught with his hand in the till. There was a big scandal. But no… What’s the matter?"
"A nun?"
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