Not all of us have to possess earthshaking talent. Just common sense and love will do.

Myrtle Auvil

 
 
 
 
 
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 11
erry struggled up from the swamp of despair into which she had sunk and asked, "What kind of troubles?" She lowered herself into the chair Linc pulled out for her. "Not Joe?"
"No, not Joe," Roxie Fleming reassured her. "Physically he’s doing all right, but the doctor told us that he’s awfully depressed. Doc suggested that he be moved here this afternoon. He’ll recover faster if he’s not alienated from the other children."
"Here? Jenny, won’t that inconvenience you?"
"Not at all," Jenny told Kerry. "We’ll just move an extra bed into Trent’s room."
"I’ll leave," Linc said bluntly. "Then you’ll have plenty of room."
Jenny glanced at him with asperity. "I thought we settled that last night. We’re not going to let you leave, Linc. Besides, Joe will feel more at ease with you around."
That argument made sense, so neither he nor Kerry countered it. "Well, if you’re sure," Kerry said uncertainly. "It’ll only be for another day or so. Just until his adoptive family arrives to take him home."
Gary cleared his throat too loudly. Roxie shifted in her chair. Cage and Jenny glanced uncomfortably at each other.
"Did I hit a nerve?" Kerry asked intuitively. "I must have accidently stumbled onto the trouble spot you mentioned. What gives? Have Joe’s adoptive parents had second thoughts since he was wounded in the escape? The doctor assured me that his leg suffered no permanent damage, if that’s what’s bothering them."
"Actually, Kerry," Cage said with noticeable reluctance, "Joe never was spoken for."
Stunned, Kerry could only stare at him for a moment before crying, "What? That was a condition of my bringing the orphans out, that they would have a home ready and waiting for them."
"We know." Jenny’s normally serene face was filled with anxiety. "That’s why we didn’t tell you. Cage and I discussed it and decided that no matter what, we couldn’t let you leave any of the children behind."
"Most prospective parents feel that Joe is too old for adoption," Cage said gently.
"I see."
Kerry’s shoulders slumped with dejection. According to the clock, it was still well before noon. But it seemed that she had lived a thousand years since she had gotten up that morning. Her heart had already been heavy, knowing that she had fallen in love with the wrong man. That’s why she had sought the solitary peacefulness of a horseback ride. Then, what should have been an exultant experience had been a nightmare.
And now this. Just when she was about to accomplish the only worthwhile endeavor in her life, she was met with failure. Poor Joe. He, more than the other children, realized what coming to the United States meant to his future.
"He can’t be sent back," she said fiercely.
"You can count on that," Cage said.
Jenny laid a hand on her husband’s shoulder as though to hold him back. "You didn’t know Cage before he settled down, Kerry," she said, "but he’s a dirty fighter. He would take on the Supreme Court before he would let the boy be sent back."
Kerry smiled at Cage. "Thank you. I’ll appreciate anything you can do."
"I volunteer my services," Linc said. "And I’d be willing to bet that I fight a helluva lot dirtier than Cage."
"Oh yeah?" The other man sized him up. Then he smiled broadly. "Thanks. I’m sure I can use your help."
"Let’s hope it won’t go that far." Kerry stood up. "As soon as I change, we’ll get to work on it. I have people in-"
"I’m afraid that’s not all," Cage told her, indicating that she should sit back down.
She couldn’t imagine what news could possibly be worse than what she’d already heard. She eased herself back into the chair, mentally preparing herself for a blow.
"The couple who had spoken for Lisa called this morning," Cage began.
The floor dropped out from beneath Kerry. "And?"
"And, it seems that the lady is pregnant. It was confirmed only two days ago."
Jenny filled the ensuing silence. "They’ve wanted a baby for years. That’s why they jumped at the chance to adopt one of the Montenegran orphans."
Huge, salty tears formed in Kerry’s eyes. Not Lisa. She had tried not to form a special attachment to any of the children, knowing that the final separation from them would be heartbreaking enough. But the youngest of them, Lisa, had touched Kerry’s heart in a special way, probably because the child had been more dependent on her than the others had been.
"But surely, if the couple considered adoption at all, they’ve got enough love to give to two children," she said.
"It’s not that," Jenny said. "She’s had several miscarriages. They don’t want to jeopardize this pregnancy. The doctor recommends that she spend the next several months in bed. It would be impossible for her to care for the child."
Beneath his breath Linc said one of the words Jenny had tried to purge from Cage’s vocabulary. "Amen to that," Cage muttered.
"I see the problem," Kerry said despondently. "And I understand."
"It was a difficult decision for them. They had looked so forward to getting Lisa."
"Hell, we’d take her in an instant," Roxie said in her lovable, rough way. "But we’ve already got Cara and Carmen to think of. It won’t be so tough now, but college and all…"
Kerry smiled at her and Gary. "You’re generous to a fault. You couldn’t possibly assume responsibility for another child. It wouldn’t be fair to any of you. But I want you to know how much I appreciate the thought."
Kerry sought out Lisa where the little girl was splashing happily in the shallows of the pool. She squealed in delight each time the sparkling water showered her. "She’s so adorable. We shouldn’t have any trouble placing her in a loving home."
"That’s what we thought," Cage told her.
"But tomorrow is the day they meet their families. It will be psychologically shattering if she’s left behind."
"We’ve already put the word out through the branches of the Hendren Foundation. Of course in the meantime – "
"Cage," Jenny interjected warningly.
"In the meantime, what?" Linc asked.
Cage shrugged at his wife helplessly. "In the meantime, she’ll be turned over to the immigration authorities."
"Like hell she will," Linc exclaimed.
Kerry’s heart felt as hard and cold as a stone in her chest. Lisa would be frightened. She would think that all Kerry’s promises had led to nothing but fear and isolation from everything familiar. "We can’t let that happen."
"I’m sure it won’t," Jenny said. "Two very special people will be blessed with her." She set Trent down and stood up. "Kerry, Cage has agreed to watch Trent while we go to town and do some shopping. I don’t mind if you wear my clothes, but I’m sure you’d like to pick out some of your own."
"What about the children?"
"We’re staying with them," Roxie said. "Gary’s taken a | week of vacation so we could be at your disposal."
"And we’ll be here," Bob Hendren said, speaking for his wife, too.
"What about Joe?" Kerry asked. "I should be here when he arrives."
"We’ll be back well before that," Jenny said, laughing.
Roxie gave Kerry an affectionate shove. "Go, enjoy, you’ve earned it."
However, before they left, Kerry circled around to the terrace again after showering and changing. Cage and Linc had donned swimsuits and joined the children in the water. Cage was tossing Trent high over his head, barely catching him before he landed in the water. Linc was playing with Lisa.
Kerry’s eyes smarted with a fresh batch of tears as she watched him with the child. His face was split by a wide grin, and his eyes were crinkled with laughter.
Sensing her stare, he looked up at her where she stood on the deck of the pool. His gaze moved over her searchingly. Going warm with embarrassment, Kerry realized that her body was now familiar territory to him. She had no secrets from him. And she wondered, even as his eyes lowered to the spot that had known the touch of his hands and lips and sex, if he knew that she still ached there deliciously.
Lisa raised her arms toward Kerry in silent appeal. Kerry knelt down, and Linc carried the child against his naked chest to the edge of the pool. Kerry bent down to kiss the child on her slippery, wet cheek. "Goodbye, darling."
"Goodbye."
It was Linc who replied. Both surprised, their eyes clashed and held while tune seemed to stand still. Then, hastily, Kerry rose and rushed toward Jenny, who was waiting at the car. But her feet didn’t move as fast as her beating heart.
The two women made several stops. Kerry, using a line of credit Cage had arranged for her through his bank, bought several changes of clothes, underwear and shoes.
"I never knew a drugstore could be such a wonderland," she exclaimed. She rummaged through the contents of the sack she held in her lap on their return trip to the ranch. "I feel like I’ve discovered the mother lode. Skin lotion, hair conditioner, nail polish. I’m not accustomed to such luxuries."
"Maybe you should treat yourself to a week at some posh spa. Let yourself be pampered."
Kerry shook her head. "No. Not yet anyway. I’ve still got too much to do."
Jenny looked at her in alarm. "You’re not thinking of going back to Montenegro?"
"No. It’s gotten too dangerous. I don’t have a death wish." She carefully replaced her toiletries in the sack. "But there’s still plenty to do here. Raise money for food. Medicine." Her voice trailed off and her eyes stared sightlessly at the passing landscape.
When Jenny spoke, her voice was quiet. "You can’t go on making amends for your father’s corruption, Kerry. Sooner or later you’ve got to get on with your own life."
She sighed heavily. "I know."
"Cage and I let the cat out of the bag this morning, didn’t we?"
Kerry started, but she kept her face perfectly composed.
"Don’t worry about it. Linc had to find out sooner or later."
"I’m sorry. We assumed that he knew who you were. Then when we realized that he thought you were – "
"Please!" Kerry held up a hand to forestall her friend from saying the word aloud. "I’m ashamed enough as it is. Don’t remind me of the dirty trick I played on him."
"I know I’m being rude, but I have to ask. Why did you lead him to believe that you were a nun?"
"Jenny, you couldn’t be rude if you tried. Naturally you’re curious." She chose her words carefully, wanting her friend to understand her motivation. "You know how I coerced him into leaving the cantina with me."
"By pretending to be a prostitute."
"Yes. Well, I did things that I thought were, uh, you know, prostitutelike." She glanced away. "Linc is a virile man and he, uh…"
"I think I get the picture. He wasn’t ready to call it quits when you explained your situation."
She nodded. "In my position, what would you have done?"
"Probably nothing so ingenious," Jenny said with a commiserating smile. "He was somewhat… upset… this morning when he found out the truth."
"To put it mildly."
"Had he calmed down by the time he found you?"
"No."
Jenny was too tactful to pursue it further. Whatever had happened out there had had an impact on them both. Linc had looked as bleak as Kerry when they returned. And, as Jenny had noticed before, they avoided touching or looking at each other, carrying the avoidance to ridiculous extremes.
"Linc accused me of being a user, just like niy father," Kerry said expressionlessly. "And I suppose he’s right. I manipulated him." Tears filled her eyes and slipped from her lower lids. When Jenny saw them, she reached for Kerry’s hand. "You and Cage are so lucky to love each other the way you do."
"I know. But what we have didn’t come easily, Kerry."
Jenny had never confided to anyone, not even to Roxie, about Cage and her. Now was the time. If her story would help Kerry, it needed to be shared.
"The night Hal left for Montenegro, he came to my room," Jenny began. Kerry turned her head in an attitude of listening. "He made love to me. It was my first time." She drew a shaky little breath. "Only it wasn’t Hal. It was Cage." Ignoring Kerry’s gasp of surprise, she went on before she lost her nerve. "Then when I discovered I was pregnant – "
"You thought the baby was Hal’s."
She nodded. "Everybody did. And only Cage knew differently. Hal had been killed. It took Cage months to find the courage to tell me."
"What happened when he did?"
"I was mortified."
"I can imagine."
"I said terrible things to him." She shuddered now with the memory. "I cruelly rejected him. It took a tragedy to bring us back together."
She squeezed Kerry’s hand. "Linc reminds me of Cage. They’re both volatile men. Short-tempered. There’s an air of violence and danger about them. I used to tremble whenever Cage was in the parsonage. I would get as far away from him as I possibly could. Then one day I realized that the very characteristics that frightened me, also attracted me. I wasn’t nearly as afraid of his virility as I was of my response to it."
She glanced at Kerry out the corner of her eye. "Cage made me so jittery that I shied away from him. I couldn’t deal with the way he made me feel, like I was stepping outside myself whenever he was around." She took her eyes off the road long enough to glance across the seat. "Are you in love with Linc?"
Kerry lowered her head and eloquent tears rolled down her cheeks. She held back sobs only by clamping her trembling lower lip between her teeth. "Yes," she said on a low moan. "Yes. But it’s hopeless."
"I thought so, too, at one time. But I learned that the harder it is to come by, the more valuable the love."
The Hendrens thought that it was important for the children to be exposed to American customs as soon as possible. Kerry agreed. So that evening they cooked hotdogs on the outdoor grill. Later, Cage set up a television monitor and ran Disney movies through the VCR. It was worth all the hardships Kerry had had to suffer to see their joyous faces.
At intermission, they emptied another three freezers of homemade ice cream. Cage’s parents passed out cupcakes. Even though well-meaning folks and media were still banned from the ranch, baked goods, clothing, and toys were smuggled in.
Joe, who had been enthusiastically welcomed back into the fold earlier that afternoon, hobbled over to Kerry on his crutches. "Sister Kerry, didn’t you want any ice cream?"
"I’m waiting for the crowd to thin out." The children were thronged around Roxie, who was dispensing the ice cream with a long-handled spoon. "How does your leg feel?"
"A little ache. Nothing more."
"I haven’t had a chance to tell you how brave you were during the rescue." The boy made a self-conscious gesture, "I was very proud of you. Without you helping him, Linc couldn’t have saved us all."
Joe’s soulful eyes were downcast. "He came back for me."
Kerry, reminded of the animosity the boy had harbored toward Linc, suggested quietly, "Perhaps you should thank him for that."
"He already has."
The voice came out of the darkness behind her. Her knees went weak with the gruff sound of it. When she turned her head, she caught her breath sharply. He had borrowed one of Cage’s cars and gone into town on a shopping expedi-tion of his own. He was wearing new stonewashed jeans. They clung to his hips and thighs with a soft, tight fit. He had on a Swiss army shirt made of white cotton. The sleeves had been rolled up to his hard biceps. She smelled cologne on him for the first time and liked his selection. It reminded her of rain and wind. He’d had his hair trimmed, too, but it was still long enough to brush the collar of his shirt.
Linc moved out of the darkness and laid a hand on Joe’s shoulder. "He thanked me this afternoon, but I told him it wasn’t necessary. He covered my ass. In his own right, he is a freedom fighter for his country."
Joe beamed up at the older man and said proudly, "But now my country is the United States."
No one had had the heart to tell the boy that he, as yet, had no adoptive parents and that there was a very real possibility that he would be returned to Montenegro. Quickly Linc changed the subject. "Did Cage tell you what an uncanny rapport Joe has with horses?"
"He’s mentioned it a few hundred times," Kerry said, giving Joe a teasing smile. "You never told me you knew so much about horses."
"I never knew!" the boy exclaimed, his dark eyes shining.
That afternoon, when Joe insisted that he didn’t want to lie in bed any longer, he had been taken on a tour of the ranch. Cage had returned to the house with him, marveling over the boy’s natural rapport with the animals.
"He seems to speak their language," Cage said, smiling down at the adolescent.
Joe basked in Linc’s compliments. In Montenegro, he had seemed old beyond his years. He had shed that untimely maturity along with his hostility toward Linc.
"When you first joined us," he said to Linc solemnly, "I thought you meant to harm Sister Kerry, I know now that you wouldn’t hurt her." He didn’t notice the slight flinching of Linc’s muscles. "I’m sorry I had bad feelings toward you. You brought us to freedom."
Before Linc could make an appropriate reply, Trent Hendren came bounding up to Joe. He halted just short of tackling him, which he would have done if he hadn’t been warned earlier about hurting Joe’s thigh wound. "Joe, Joe." The child had been Joe’s shadow ever since he returned from the hospital. Joe didn’t seem to mind. In fact, he assumed a paternal air toward Trent. The child pointed excitedly toward the television screen where another movie was just starting. Smiling shyly, Joe hobbled toward the others with Trent tagging along beside him.
"So much a child, but so much a man," Kerry murmured as she watched him cross the patio.
"And intuitive," Linc said.
"About the horses?"
"About me." She turned her head and stared up at him. "He was right about my hurting you. Only his timing was off."
Her eyes fell away from his piercing stare. "Let’s not tall about it. Please."
"I’ve got to talk about it." He spoke softly, even though it was unlikely anyone would hear them over the antics of Peter Pan and Captain Hook. "Are you in pain?"
"I told you earlier, no."
"Why didn’t you warn me?"
"We’ve already established that, too. You wouldn’t have believed me."
"Maybe not this morning, but – "
"When? When, Linc? Think back. At what point during out friendship would you have believed me? When would have been a good time to casually drop that into the conversation?" She expelled a long breath. "Besides, what difference does it make? It had to happen sooner or later."
"But not so – "
When he broke off without finishing, she looked at him inquiringly. "Not so what?"
"Roughly."
For a moment they stared at each other. She was the first to look away. "Oh, that, well…"
"Did I hurt you, Kerry?"
"No."
Physically her discomfort had been minimal. Emotionally, it had been fatal. He had taken her out of anger. It hadn’t been an act of love, or even of sexual pleasure, but one of vengeance. Her body hadn’t been bruised, but her heart had been trampled. He had dealt her emotions a crippling blow, but she would be damned before she let him know that.
She tilted her head to its haughtiest angle. "That’s what you want to hear, isn’t it? Hurting me would have taken some of the gilt off your trophy."
"What do you mean by that?" he asked, lowering his brows dangerously.
"Your sole purpose was to make me admit my attraction to you. You set out to make me beg, remember? Well I did. You got what you wanted, didn’t you?"
"No, goddammit."
He moved nearer. His face was dark with anger. She could feel his body heat and, madly, felt cheated for not having felt his naked flesh next to her own. She had shared with him the most intimate act between a man and woman, but she still didn’t know the pleasure of her smooth skin rubbing against his hair-smattered body or the delightful friction that caused.
And, damn him, I still want to know, her mind cried.
"I wanted to bring you down a notch, but I would never have hurt you. I had no idea when I… I wanted to stop as soon as I… felt…" His eyes coasted down to her mouth. "But once I got inside you, I couldn’t stop."
Another of those long stares followed while each remembered the feel of his body snugly embedded in hers. Linc wanted to pull her into his arms again, but knew he couldn’t. So he released his frustration by lashing out at her.
"You gotta admit that you’re a little old to be having your first lover."
"It was never convenient. My mother died when I was sixteen. After that, I acted as my father’s hostess. Boy-friends rarely fit into the embassy’s social schedule. And in the last few years…"
"You were busy keeping your old man out of jail."
"No," she flared. "I was trying to keep him from killing himself. I didn’t have much spare time to cultivate relationships with men."
Linc, sincerely sorry for what he’d said, came back with, "Well, I had no way of knowing all that."
"What you don’t know about me would fill an encyclopedia, Mr. O’Neal. From the very beginning, you’ve jumped to wrong conclusions about me, forming your own erroneous opinions – "
"And whose fault is that?" Anger was the only way to effectively douse the flames in his loins. "Why did you keep me ignorant of the facts, pretending to be what you aren’t?" He took another step forward. "You’ve got your nerve, lady, accusing me of jumping to conclusions. And just for the record, you made a much more convincing whore than you did a nun."
She bristled in outrage. "How dare – "
"Your hands were all over me in that bar."
"I touched your thigh," she shouted defensively. "Low on your thigh."
"The hair. The juicy mouth. The come-and-get-it eyes. That crotch-teasing dress."
"I wish you would forget about that damn dress."
"Not likely, sweetheart. Were all those trappings really necessary? Why didn’t you explain to me from the beginning who your old man was?"
"Because, if you’ll recall, I thought you were a mercenary, a mean, low, unscrupulous – "
"Cut the insults and answer my question. Why didn’t you just sober me up and introduce yourself?"
"Because I didn’t know my father’s friends from his enemies in Montenegro. He had more of the latter than the former. So to protect both myself and the children, I thought it best not to tell you. The rebels would have murdered me on the spot if they had ever found out. My name was kept a secret."
"What the hell were you doing down there in the first place? For a Sorbonne graduate, you sure aren’t very bright."
She let the slight go and addressed the question. "Someone had to go and help these orphans."
"Agreed. Someone. You didn’t have to go yourself. If you’ve got fifty grand to pay me, you had fifty grand to pay a mercenary. You could have gotten yourself killed."
"But I didn’t!"
"And I don’t think you’ll be satisfied until you do!"
"What do you mean?" she asked sharply.
"When will you feel like you’ve made restitution for your daddy’s crimes? When they’re shoveling dirt over your face?"
Kerry pulled herself up to a rigid posture. "What would you know about moral obligation? You, who spend your life slumming. You, who has never thought of anyone but yourself."
"At least I came by everything I have honestly."
"Oh, you’re-"
"I hate to butt in."
Simultaneously, they turned toward Cage. He was wearing an amused grin. "Y’all sure are shouting a lot, and I apologize for the interruption, but something major has come up." He winked at Linc. "No pun intended."
‘Vivid color flooded Kerry’s face. She was grateful for the darkness which hopefully concealed it. "What is it, Cage?"
"Come over here with the rest of the group. Dad has something he wants to say."
When they moved into the circle of light, Reverend Hendren stepped forward. "This will come as a surprise to all of you. Sarah and I have been talking throughout the day and have reached a decision, which we’re sure will make our home a much happier one." He turned his head slightly. "Joe, how would you like to come live with us?"
It had been so unselfish and beautiful, what Bob and Sarah Hendren had done. Staring out her bedroom window an hour later, Kerry still got a lump in her throat when she thought about it.
Of course pandemonium had broken out when Bob Hendren first asked that astonishing question. At first Joe hadn’t comprehended all that the question entailed. When he did, his face broke into a radiant smile. He nodded his head vigorously and reverted to his native tongue. "Si, si." When Kerry translated to the other orphans what was happening, they grouped around Joe to exuberantly celebrate his good fortune.
When they had all been put to bed in their respective temporary shelters, Kerry caught up with the older couple. "I can’t tell you how glad I am about what you’ve done. I only hope that I didn’t pressure you into making the decision by what I said earlier today," she said with concern. Each of them embraced her. Bob said, "We both think this will honor Hal’s memory hi a special way. We’ll only have Joe for a few years before he goes to college. In the meantime, we can make certain that he catches up with his peers academically and socially."
"You see, Kerry," Cage’s mother said, "our house emptied of all our children so quickly. Cage was gone, then Hal left. Soon after that Jenny married Cage. Bob and I can’t fill those empty rooms. It will be so good having a young person there again. Trent already idolizes Joe, so he’ll fit well into the family. And he’ll have access to the ranch and the horses he seems to like so well. It all worked out beautifully."
That was one problem that had been resolved, Kerry thought, as she let the curtain fall back into place over the window. Maybe tomorrow would provide a solution to the problem of Lisa’s future. Kerry had hugged her tightly when she tucked her into bed. She looked like a little doll in her new dotted swiss nightgown. Lisa had spontaneously returned her hug and kissed her cheek wetly and noisily.
Concern about Lisa wasn’t the only burden she was taking to bed with her.
Guilt was a bedfellow. It pressed on her heavily when she recalled the scathing words she had flung at Linc. She had unfairly accused him of never thinking of anyone but himself, when actually he had risked his life countless times to save hers and the orphans’.
Why had she said that? Why did he, more than anyone she’d ever known, provoke her to do and say things that were so out of character?
Her hand paused in the act of pulling back the bedspread when she heard a heavy tread on the stairs. Jenny and Cage had retired to their bedroom as soon as his parents had left for home. The approaching footsteps could only belong to one person. Before she could change her mind, Kerry quickly moved toward the door. She opened it just as Linc was walking past. He looked at her in surprise.
"Is something wrong?"
She shook her head no, already regretting her spontaneity. His.shirttail was hanging out and his shirt was unbuttoned. The dark hair in his chest was a tempting sight. She followed its tapering pattern downward. The snap on his jeans was undone. He was barefoot. His hair had been tousled, seemingly by impatient hands. He looked heart-stoppingly wonderful.
When she just stood there rooted to the spot, saying nothing, he said, "I’m sorry if I disturbed you. I went back down to smoke a cigarette and – "
"No, you didn’t disturb me," she said on a rush of air. "I…I owe you an apology for what I said earlier." His eyebrow arched inquisitively. "About you thinking only of yourself," she blurted out, by way of explanation. "It was a stupid thing to say after all you did for us. You saved our lives and… and I ask your forgiveness for saying something so patently untrue about you."
When she dared to raise her eyes, she saw that his were slowly ranging down her body, which was clothed only in the nightgown she had purchased that day in town. She was backlit by the lamp on the nightstand. Her body was cast into detailed silhouette inside the sheer fabric.
"I’m glad you stopped me," Linc said huskily. "Because I owe you something, too."
She became entranced by his eyes. "You don’t owe me another apology for this morning. You’ve already apologized."
"I owe you something besides an apology."
"What?"
He backed her into the room. "A whole lot of pleasure."
The Devil's Own The Devil's Own - Sandra Brown The Devil