We don’t believe in rheumatism and true love until after the first attack.

Marie E. Eschenbach

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 13
e needed a cigarette.
He could have lit one, but he was afraid the smell of smoke would wake her up. He could have returned to his room or moved to another part of the house to smoke, but he couldn’t bring himself to leave her yet. He could have stayed away from her in the first place.
That’s what he should have done.
It would have been much more prudent not to have stopped when she opened her door to him last night. He should have accepted her apology, which was unnecessary to begin with, perhaps shaken hands with her, maybe given her a friendly little good-night kiss on the cheek, and then beat it into his bedroom, locking himself in if necessary.
Had he done that, he wouldn’t have to hurt her. He could have exited her life as breezily as he had entered it.
Well not quite.
Yesterday morning was still listed in the column of his sins.
He muttered a terse obscenity. No matter how you looked at it, it was a muddle. He was involved with Kerry Bishop. He had been since she had enticed him to leave that cantina with her. And he would be until he waved goodbye to her, saying something clever like, "Here’s lookin’ at you, kid," and riding off into the sunset.
It worked in the movies. Poignant, bittersweet goodbyes made terrific scripts. In real life they stunk.
He placed his forehead against the cool windowsill and pressed hard, as though trying to drive his head through the wood. Saying goodbye was only half the problem. Even after he did, it would be a long time before Kerry was out of his system. He might just as well admit it. She had her claws in him, but good. He was steeped in Kerry, and she was all he could think about.
Her smile. Her voice. Her eyes. Her hair. Her body.
Again he swore and pressed down the swelling flesh beneath his jeans. His body was responding to his recollections of last night. He didn’t know how he could possibly get hard again, but he was. He would have thought he’d been pumped dry last night. They had been insatiable. Their lovemaking had been earnest and playful and lusty and tender, but had always, always, left them wanting more.
Had he ever met a more responsive woman? In any country? On any continent? At any age? Their loving had gone beyond sexual gratification. Kerry had opened up something hidden deep inside him. It was that element to their lovemaking that he found so disturbing.
Having resisted the temptation as long as he could, Linc turned his head around and looked at Kerry where she lay sleeping. He couldn’t hold back the smile that softened his stern mouth and relieved his face of its usual cynicism.
One shapely leg was lying outside the light sheet, which had been their only cover all night. He’d embarrassed her by raising a light bruise on the inside of her thigh with a fervent kiss.
"Who else will see it?"
Laughing, she had thrown her arms around his neck. "Jealous?"
It had surprised him to realize that he was. He had initiated her, by God. He had introduced her to the pleasure her body was capable of experiencing. He, Lincoln O’Neal, had taught her how to give pleasure. The thought of another man enjoying this wonderful, affectionate, sensual woman, whom he had discovered, had filled him with a crimson rage.
Now, he could see that slight discoloration on the tender flesh of her thigh and remembered how delightful it had been.for both of them when his mouth had put it there. His gaze moved over her. There wasn’t an inch of her body that didn’t bring an erotic memory rushing to his mind. From the arch of her slender foot to the crescent rim of her ear, he’d caressed, kissed, licked, tasted.
Yet, for all the sensuality she had expressed last night, she looked as innocent as a child now, with her dark hair lying tangled on the pristine pillowcase, and her lips, still rouged by his kisses, slightly parted. Her lashes were dark and feathery, her cheeks creamy.
One breast was peeping from beneath the sheet. With each breath, it rose and fell beguilingly. The tip of it was rosily pink. He intimately knew its texture and taste. How many times during the night had his mouth returned to her breasts, taking and giving pleasure?
With an inaudible groan he turned his head to stare out the window again. The landscape was just being bathed with the glow of the rising sun. Where only minutes ago everything had been gray, now colors became distinguishable. The sky had been a pale noncolor; now it was vividly streaked with the reds and golds of sunrise.
The dawn was a beautiful sight, but it did nothing to lighten Linc’s black mood. He had to leave today. Hanging around any longer would be just plain stupid. Any further delay would only make things messier. Because, face it, you can’t stay under the same roof with her without wanting her in bed with you.
This thing between them, whatever the hell it was, couldn’t go on. Sooner or later they both had to get on with their lives. His common sense told him that sooner was better.
Mission accomplished. End of story. Over and out. They’d done what they had set out to do. It was time to move on to other endeavors. She’d gotten all the orphans safely out of Montenegro. They’d all been placed with families, except for Lisa, and that was no cause for alarm. Finding parents for her wouldn’t be difficult.
Linc had decided to accept the offer an international magazine had made for his photographs documenting their escape. The price he had demanded would financially sustain him until the next military coup, or airplane crash, or volcanic eruption, or whatever it was that caused mayhem and havoc which people wanted to see pictures of.
Odd, that he wasn’t feeling his usual restlessness. He had a wanderlust that had never been quenched. At the drop of a hat he had been ready to pack his cameras and catch the next plane out. Why was he dragging his feet this time?
That’s an easy one, you bastard. Take a look behind you.
All right, so it was Kerry. He wasn’t too anxious to leave her. But what other choice did he have? What could he offer her? A cluttered, dusty apartment in Manhattan where he picked up his mail every month or so. The bathroom doubled as a darkroom. He stored his chemicals in the living room. He didn’t own a car. An answering service took his telephone calls. He ate out every meal except breakfast, which he usually skipped. The only appliances in his kitchen were an unstocked refrigerator, which he used only to make ice, and a coffeepot.
But even if he had a fully equipped, lavishly furnished penthouse on Park Avenue, he couldn’t ask a woman like Kerry Bishop to share her life with him. He was from the streets. A thirty-five-year-old hoodlum. He’d had no formal education. He wasn’t just rough around the edges, an unpolished gem, he was seedy to the marrow.
She had lived in comparative luxury. She could probably speak more languages than he could name. She was refined, educated, and a member of the socially elite. And whether she believed it or not, no one was going to hold her old man’s corruption against her. On the contrary, she was probably admired by many as a tragic heroine.
She was also the best damn thing ever to happen to Linc O’Neal, and he simply couldn’t handle it.
Breathing a slow, silent sigh, he crossed the room and gazed down at her. If things were different… But they weren’t, and there was no sense lamenting what couldn’t possibly be. Life would sure be dismal without her. She was like a spark, constantly ready to ignite, shedding warmth and light on his cold and dreary world.
Linc braced his hand on the wall behind the bed and leaned over the headboard. He was tempted to kiss her one last time, but was afraid that would wake her up. Instead, he touched her lips lightly with his thumb. Lord, she was beautiful. She was exciting. His gut twisted painfully at the thought of never seeing her again after today.
He’d never said the words to another soul. Possibly he’d said them to his mother, but he had been so young when she died that he didn’t remember. He knew he’d never said them to the dour, unfeeling man who had sired him. He whispered them to Kerry Bishop now.
"I love you."
Seconds later, her violet eyelids fluttered. He was afraid his confession had awakened her, but she came awake too slowly for that to be the case. She stretched sinuously, raising her arms above her head and pointing her toes as far as they would reach. The movement pulled the sheet away from her breasts and left them vulnerable to his gaze.
His jaw was steely with tension as he restrained himself from leaning down and taking one of those perky, pink nipples into his mouth and worrying it slowly with his tongue until she came fully awake. It cost him tremendous effort, but he kept his features remote.
When Kerry’s eyes opened, she had an unrestricted view of his armpit. Impishly, she reached up and tickled it. He lowered his arm and turned away.
"It’s early," he said over his shoulder. "You don’t have to get up."
"I want to get up if you are. Or could I tempt you back into bed?"
He glanced at her as he pulled on his shirt. Her dark blue eyes were sultry with invitation. The sheet was draped over her lap, but she sat with back straight, breasts bare. Her hair was spilling over her shoulders. Her nipples were high and pointed. She looked like a priestess of some South Seas pagan cult.
He didn’t need to be tempted. He wanted her so badly already that he could barely pull the fly of his jeans together.
"No. I need a cigarette."
"You can smoke here."
He shook his head. He heard the apprehension creeping into her voice and avoided looking at her. "I need coffee, too. Do you think Cage and Jenny would mind if I started a pot?"
"I’m sure they wouldn’t."
Linc could see in the mirror over the dresser that her eyes were following every single movement he made. Anxiety crept into her expression. She had no doubt expected affection and tenderness this morning. He hadn’t even given her a token "morning after" kiss. He couldn’t trust himself to. If he ever held her again, he knew he wouldn’t be able to let her go.
"I’ll see you downstairs." Cursing himself, he headed for the door.
"Linc?" She had used the sheet to cover herself. That more than anything stabbed at his conscience. No longer a beautiful woman, unashamed before her lover, she was now self-conscious in her nakedness. Her smile lacked conviction, but she made a valiant attempt at one. "What’s your hurry?"
"I’ve got a lot to do today. As soon as I shoot the orphans meeting their families, I’m out of here." He couldn’t bear her shattered expression, so he turned away and grabbed the doorknob. "See you downstairs."
Once the door was closed behind him, he paused in the hallway. He would have been surprised by the agonized expression on his face. He clenched his teeth to hold back a cry of anguish. Then, expansively cursing life and the tricks fate played on people, he went downstairs.
Kerry let the water of the shower beat against her with punishing force.
It hadn’t been a dream. Her body bore the marks to prove it. Even without physical evidence, every precious memory was branded on her mind. Linc had been her lover last night. More than that, he had loved her.
He had been exquisitely tender. Attentive to her every desire and need. Affectionate. Extremely sensual. It was as though he had read her most secret sexual fantasies and fulfilled them.
This morning, he had been a cold, remote stranger, as hostile as when he had first learned that she had shanghaied him. Only this time had been worse. Then he’d been angry. This morning he’d been indifferent. She preferred a negative emotion to none at all.
As she descended the stairs after dressing, her indomitable optimism encouraged her to believe that Linc’s distant mood this morning stemmed from his need for nicotine and caffeine, and that after he had had his morning ration of both, he’d be reaching for her again and kissing her with the boundless passion he had demonstrated last night. Maybe he just wasn’t a morning person.
She refused to consider the nasty alternative: that she was an "easy lay" and that once he had satisfied his curiosity and gotten his fill of her, he was ready to move on.
But the moment she entered the kitchen, she saw that the latter was true. He glanced up at her indifferently. Not a glimmer of personal feeling was to be found in those implacable golden brown eyes. He gave her a cool nod, then resumed sipping his coffee.
"Good morning, Kerry," Jenny said cheerfully as she spooned Cheerios into Trent’s greedy mouth. "Cage, would you please pour Kerry some juice?"
"Just coffee please."
"What would you like to eat?" Jenny moved Trent’s glass safely away from the edge of his high chair’s tray and deftly wiped milk from his mouth at the same time.
"Nothing, thank you," Kerry mumbled into the cup of coffee Cage handed her. She kept her head down. What had she expected? Professions of love over the breakfast table? He had promised only to give her pleasure. He had kept that promise.
"You look smashing this morning," Jenny said.
"I was just about to comment on that myself," Cage said. "New dress?"
"Yes and thank you." She was wearing a casual, two-piece linen dress in lemon yellow. Her accessories were azalea pink and robin’s egg blue. "After bush jackets, anything would look good." Kerry tried to inject some light-heartedness into her voice, but without much success. "Has anyone heard from the children this morning? Are they ready?"
"I checked in on them just a few minutes ago," Cage said. "They’re in a state of controlled chaos, but they’re getting packed."
"Any leads on Lisa?"
"None so far, I’m afraid," Jenny told her.
Linc scraped back his chair. He hadn’t said a word since Kerry came into the kitchen. He hadn’t eaten. "I promised Joe I’d carry him downstairs. I’d better go see if I can help him dress." He skulked out.
"Go wash your hands, Trent.’’ Jenny lifted her son frpm his high chair, a move that earned her a stern admonishment from Cage. "Kerry, there’s plenty of coffee. Cage, will you please help me in the laundry room a minute?"
As soon as they entered the utility room beyond the kitchen, Jenny turned to him and asked, "Are you sure you heard Linc.go into Kerry’s room?"
"When did he come out?"
"What are you, the dorm mother?"
"Did he spend the night?" she whispered.
"I think so, but it’s none of our business."
"What’s the matter with them?"
"Everybody has an off night now and then."
She shot him a look of consternation. "You never have."
Grinning complacently, he leaned down and kissed her neck. "That’s true." Then her mouth got its first honest kiss of the day. "Come to think of it, neither have you."
She squirmed away from him. "You make it impossible for me to remain decent. Ladies as pregnant as I am aren’t supposed to feel sexy."
"Their tough luck." Cage reached for her again.
"Cage, stop it. I know what you’re doing. You’re only trying to distract me from the subject of Linc and Kerry."
"Right. I am."
"We’ve got to do something."
"No we don’t."
"But what?" she added, ignoring his response.
"Jenny." He pressed her shoulders between his hands, forcing her to pay attention. "I know I sound like a damn broken record, but I’ll say it one more time. It’s none of our business."
"They love each other. I know it! I can feel it!"
She was cutest when she was annoyed. He smiled down at her and bobbed his eyebrows suggestively. "You want to feel something? I’ll give you something to feel."
"Oh, you’re impossible!"
"That’s why you love me. Now, unless you want to pay the consequences for locking yourself in the laundry room with a very bad boy, I suggest that we get down to the business at hand. This is going to be a helluva day."
It was almost dusk before the Hendrens and Kerry and Linc sat down on the outdoor furniture on the porch and drew exhausted breaths. The day had been even more hectic than Cage had predicted it would be.
A barbecue picnic had been catered by a local restaurateur to relieve the initial awkwardness of the orphans meeting their adoptive parents.
The couples who had adopted the children were all Kerry had hoped for. She tearfully waved goodbye to the children, confident that each would grow up in a home filled with love.
She had demurred from accepting any praise and shied away from the media. Reporters, who had at last been granted access to the ranch, pressed her for interviews, but she kept them at a minimum. When she did speak with them, she focused their attention on the children who had enriched her life so much over the past year and took little credit for herself.
Roxie and Gary Fleming left for home with their daughters. Reverend and Sarah Hendren had left with Joe only a few minutes earlier. His parting with Linc had been almost too painful to watch. The boy had struggled not to cry. There was a tension around Linc’s mouth, too, as he and Joe solemnly shook hands, exchanging pledges to stay in touch with each other.
Now Trent and Lisa were playing together on the lawn. Lisa gave no indication that she felt rejected. In fact, she hadn’t even questioned being left behind.
"There’s leftover brisket in the kitchen." Jenny wearily waved her hand toward the house. "Supper is every man for himself."
"No thanks," Cage said, speaking for all of them. "I could drink a beer though. Linc?"
"I really should be getting to the airport."
He was ready to leave. The clothes he had bought in La Bota were packed in a new duffel bag and his new camera and additional lenses were stored in their protective, customized bags. They stood on the porch steps ready to be placed in the car for the drive to the airport. There was a commuter plane to Dallas leaving later that night; there he would make a connecting flight to New York.
Kerry had learned of his travel plans through Jenny. Her heart was breaking, but she refused to show it. She had assumed the same detached air that he had started the day with. Though her image was imprinted on the film in his cameras, she could have been a stranger to him. In a few weeks he probably wouldn’t even remember her. She would be just another notch in his belt. Hers would be just one of many names on Lincoln O’Neal’s international list of sexual conquests.
Tonight, when it was all over, tonight, when she was alone in the bed where they had shared such splendor, she would cry into the handkerchief he had given her. Until then, she would act as casual as he did. As he had pointed out to her beneath the mesquite tree, she was good at playing roles.
"Surely you’ve got time for a beer," Cage said.
"All right," Linc agreed. "One beer."
"I’ll get it." Jenny pulled herself up by the armrests of her chair. "I’ve got to go inside to the bathroom anyway."
She took only a few steps toward the front door before she clutched her tummy and exclaimed sharply, "Oh my!"
Cage shot out of his chair. "What is it? Another one of those damn cramps?"
"Indigestion? I told you to lay off that barbecue. He uses enough cayenne to – "
"No it’s not indigestion." Jenny smiled radiantly. "It’s the baby."
"The baby?" Cage repeated stupidly.
"The baby. Such as in rock-a-bye baby."
"Oh, Christ. Oh, hell." Cage gripped her arm. "How do you know? Are you in pain? When – " Suddenly his chin snapped up and he peered closely into her face. He even turned her toward the porchlight to see her better. His eyes narrowed suspiciously. "Are you sure?"
Jenny burst out laughing, realizing that he thought she was staging a false alarm to detain Linc. "Yes, I’m sure."
"But it’s three weeks early."
"According to the calendar maybe. But Baby thinks otherwise. Now, unless you want me to drop your daughter on her head here on the porch, I think you’d better go upstairs and get my suitcase. It’s in the – "
"I know where it is. Oh, hell, it’s really the baby. Jenny, will you sit down please!" Cage roared when she took a step toward the door. "Do I call the hospital, the doctor? How far apart are the pains? What can I do?"
"First you can calm down. Then you can go get the suitcase like I asked you to. I’m sure Kerry will call the doctor. His number is posted on the cork board near the phone in the kitchen," she told Kerry calmly. "Linc, would you please check on Trent? I think Lisa just fed him a June bug."
Jenny returned to her chair on the porch and watched with amazement and a great deal of amusement as they all rushed around like headless chickens, bumping clumsily into each other as they raced to do her bidding.
Cage forgot his manners and reverted to using the language he had learned in the oilfields from the roughnecks. Trent was enjoying the crunchy June bug so much that he set up a howl when Linc, who was looking a little green around the gills and moving as though his hands and feet had suddenly grown disproportionately large, fished it out of his mouth.
Of the three, Kerry maintained the most composure. It was her hand that Jenny grasped before the wheel chair rolled her toward the labor room as soon as they arrived en masse at the hospital.
"Everything will turn out fine. I know it." She smiled at Kerry meaningfully as they wheeled her away.
Since Cage was Jenny’s birth partner and his participation was required in the labor room, it fell to Kerry and Linc to watch Trent and Lisa and to notify Cage’s parents and the Flemings. They were told that for the time being there was nothing they could do and that they might just as well stay at home until further notice.
Cage came to the waiting room to give them periodic reports, which amounted to nothing except that the baby hadn’t arrived yet.
"How’s Jenny?" Kerry asked him.
"She’s beautiful," he said enthusiastically. "God, she’s just beautiful."
When he left, both Kerry and Linc were smiling over the man’s apparent love for his wife. But when they glanced at each other, their smiles faded. Knowing that her unreciprocated love for him must be transparent, Kerry turned away to check on the two young children. The supply of picture books and Bible stories in the hospital waiting room had been exhausted. Finally Trent and Lisa had fallen asleep on the sofa. Kerry and Linc had, at different times, offered to take the children home, but Cage was insistent that they stay.
"Jenny wants Trent to be here when the baby is born," he told them. "That way he’ll feel like he’s a part of it."
"Funny how they can sleep through all this hospital commotion," Kerry said now as she ran her fingers through Lisa’s dark hair.
"Yeah." Linc’s chair was only a few inches from the corner of the sofa where she sat, but it might as well have been miles. "Any prospects on Lisa’s adoption?"
Kerry shook her head. "The foundation is working on it."
"i hope Immigration doesn’t start hassling you."
Kerry rubbed her hands up and down her arms as though suddenly chilled. "Surely they wouldn’t send a child back there." She stared down at the sleeping Lisa, then looked up at him. "Before you leave, I want to thank you again for all you did to get us out."
He shrugged irritably.
"No, please, let me thank you. We wouldn’t have made it without you. And before I forget…" She reached for her purse and took out the check she had filled in and signed earlier in the day. She extended it to him.
His eyes dropped from her face to the check. With a sudden movement that startled her, he snatched it from her hand. He read it, noticed that it was drawn on her personal account and that she had a beautiful signature, then viciously ripped it in half.
"What did you do that for?" She had been hoping that by paying her debt, she would feel a sense of finality. As long as she felt obligated to Linc, he was still a part of her life. Until he was extricated completely, she couldn’t get on with the business of living without him. "It’s untainted. I never touched my father’s money. My mother left me an inheritance."
"I don’t care where the money came from."
"Then why did you tear up the check?"
"We’re even, okay?" he said harshly.
Her lips parted slightly as she sustained another painful blow to her heart. "Oh, I see. You’ve already been paid for your services." She drew a shuddering breath. "Tell me, Linc, was last night worth fifty thousand dollars?"
Furious, he surged to his feet.
"We’ve got a girl!"
Cage’s sudden appearance startled them. They spun around. He was grinning from ear to ear. "Six pounds, seven ounces. She’s beautiful. Perfect. Jenny’s fine. No complications. You can see the baby as soon as she’s weighed in, foot printed and all that." After he received their hearty congratulations, he knelt down and whispered to his son, "Hey Trent, you’ve got a new baby sister."
Though Kerry protested, Cage insisted that she go in to see mother and child first. At the end of the corridor, she checked in with a nurse and was led into a postnatal ward.
Jenny was the only new mother in there. Her daughter, wrapped in a fuzzy pink blanket and wearing a stocking cap, was cradled in her arms.
"I had almost forgotten how wonderful it is to hold them for the first time," she said serenely as she gazed down into the mottled, wrinkled face that she thought was beautiful.
Kerry was touched by the peaceful expression on her friend’s face. Jenny’s conversation was liberally sprinkled with Cage’s name, and Trent’s, and Aimee’s, which was the name she had given her daughter.
Kerry left the room, knowing that she’d seen love epitomized. The Hendrens were filled with it. It shone from them. Kerry celebrated their happiness, but also envied it. Jenny’s contentment with her husband and children only highlighted the emptiness of her own life.
She had lost her mother prematurely. Her father had died in disgrace. Kerry, hoping to rectify some of the wrongs he had committed, had taken on the responsibility of a whole nation. Oh, she had succeeded in her mission, but what did she have to show for it personally?
In a way, she had been as manipulative as her father. She hadn’t resorted to corruption, but she’d been just as fraudulent. People commended her on the tremendous sacrifice she had made. But in her heart she knew that she hadn’t made any such sacrifice. What she had done had been for herself, not for the orphans of Montenegro.
She had used them as a cleansing agent to scrub away the stain on her family’s reputation. She had endangered nine children, put their lives in peril, so she could feel absolved and guilt free. It was her way of saying, "Look at me. I might bear my father’s name, but I’m not like him."
And to whom had she been trying to prove that? To a world who really didn’t give a damn? Or to herself?
She returned to the waiting room. Cage was holding his sleepy son on his lap, while in Spanish, he was describing the new baby to Lisa. The little girl was sitting in the crook of Linc’s arm. One of her hands was resting on his thigh in an unconscious gesture of trust and affection. It was then that Kerry knew what she was going to do.
The Devil's Own The Devil's Own - Sandra Brown The Devil