Hầu hết những thành quả quan trọng trên đời đều được tạo ra bởi những người dù chẳng còn chút hy vọng nào nhưng vẫn kiên trì theo đuổi điều mình mong ước.

Dale Carnegie

 
 
 
 
 
Tác giả: Sandra Brown
Thể loại: Tiểu Thuyết
Biên tập: Bach Ly Bang
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Language: English
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Chapter 14
wasn’t ready for it, were you?" Cage’s question was rhetorical. The passenger riding in his classic Lincohl didn’t answer him, but continued to stare out the windshield. "When Kerry announced that she wanted to adopt Lisa, I nearly dropped my teeth."
Cage looked across the seat at Linc. He’d been anything but chatty since they’d left for the airport. His rugged features were set and grim. Cage, as usual, was driving too fast, so the scenery was nothing but a blur beyond the windows. The landscape wasn’t keeping Linc enthralled and silent. No, his sullenness was the product of something else. Cage had a fairly good idea what it was.
Companionably he went on, "What do you think made Kerry suddenly decide she wanted to raise a child alone?"
"How the hell should I know?" The question was explosive, angrily erupting from Linc’s chest. "Why does that woman do anything? She’s a wacko."
Cage chuckled. "Yeah, that crossed my mind, too." He glanced at Linc from the comer of his eye. "Sure makes for an interesting lady, though, doesn’t it? That unpredictability."
Linc made a disagreeable snorting sound, crossed his arms over his chest, and slumped deeper into his seat. "Unpredictability is another word for irrational. I’m telling you she’s crazy. Posing as a hooker. Posing as a nun. What the hell kind of rational person goes around pulling dumb stunts like that? She acts now, thinks later." He turned to Cage and pointed a warning index finger at him. "Someday her recklessness is gonna get her into a helluva lot of trouble."
Cage, hiding his smile, thought that Kerry was already in a helluva lot of trouble. Linc O’Neal was "trouble" if he’d ever seen it. Cage liked him better for it. He’d been trouble, too, and had always enjoyed his reputation of being the ‘bad’ boy in town.
It had been a rough night. It showed on both their faces. Neither had shaved. Their eyes were slightly bloodshot. They were still wearing yesterday’s clothes.
But there hadn’t been time that morning for them to return to the house before the commuter plane was scheduled to take off. Linc had insisted that he make this plane and not be delayed any longer. He’d also insisted that he could hitchhike to the airport or call the town’s only taxi service, so that Cage could stay at the hospital with Jenny. But Cage had been equally as adamant about driving him. Jenny and the new baby were inaccessible during doctors’ rounds anyway. After he had dropped Kerry at the house with Trent and Lisa, he and Linc had left for the airport.
The goodbyes Linc and Kerry had exchanged had been brief and polite, with the two of them barely looking at each other. Cage hadn’t had the heart to tell Jenny that Linc was leaving. She would be disconsolate when she found out that her matchmaking attempts had apparently failed.
Personally Cage thought that both Kerry and Linc needed a kick in the butt to bring them to their senses, but he couldn’t very well lecture Jenny and then go meddling in their affairs himself. Still, it wouldn’t hurt to rattle the seemingly unrattleable Mr. O’Neal just a bit.
"I would imagine that Kerry is going to have quite a bit of trouble on her hands. And soon."
Linc’s feigned indifference slipped. "What do you mean?"
"First with this adoption thing. She’s a single woman. The immigration people specified that the orphans could only be placed with established families so they wouldn’t impose an additional burden on the American taxpayers. I’m not sure that they’ll consider a single woman an ‘established family.’"
"It’s no longer all that uncommon for singles to adopt."
"No, but it usually takes longer. And, as you know, there’s a time limit on these adoptions."
"They wouldn’t send a four-year-old orphan back to Montenegro," Linc said.
"Probably not." Deliberately Cage made his smile too bright and falsely optimistic. "And if they did, knowing how headstrong Kerry is, she’d probably go back with Lisa before she would give her up."
"Back to Montenegro? She’d have to be crazy!"
"I wouldn’t put it past her. Once that lady’s mind is made up, there’s just no changing it. She may look as fragile as a butterfly, but she’s as stubborn as a mule. Believe me, Jenny and I found that out."
Linc lit a cigarette with shaking hands. He went through the motions mechanically, and, if his frown were any indication, he derived no pleasure from the tobacco.
"In that respect," Cage continued, "she’s a lot like Jenny."
"Jenny doesn’t strike me as being stubborn," Linc remarked distractedly.
Cage laughed. "Looks can be deceiving. I didn’t think I was ever going to talk her into marrying me. There she was, pregnant and living by herself. I begged her to marry me. She dug her heels in and stubbornly refused."
Linc was staring at him in astonishment. "Jenny was pregnant with Trent before you got married?"
"He’s mine," Cage said testily.
Linc held up both hands. "Hey, I wasn’t suggesting otherwise. It just seems, I don’t know, out of character for Jenny."
"It was. I take full responsibility. Someday when we’ve got more time, I might tell you the whole sordid story."
Linc settled back into his brooding. "Everything turned out well. That’s what’s important."
"Yeah, but it was touch and go there for a while." Though the speedometer registered ninety, Cage draped his left wrist over the steering wheel and laid his right arm along the top of the seat.
"I’d been tomcatting for almost twenty years before I slept with Jenny. I’d always taken extra precautions. You know what it’s like. I’m sure you never go anywhere without a supply of foil packages in your pocket." Cage grinned a just-between-us-hell-raisers’ smile.
Linc smiled back sickly.
"There’d never been an unfortunate accident." Cage smiled wryly. "I was damned lucky. The one time I didn’t use anything, I was with the woman I’d always wanted. That first time with Jenny, contraception was the farthest thing from my mind. Who knows," he said, shrugging, "maybe I had a subconscious desire to give her my baby so she’d have to take me in the bargain."
Linc was staring through the windshield again, but he was no longer slumping. His posture was rigid, as though he anticipated being ejected from the seat at any moment. He ran his palms up and down his thighs. He was grinding his jaw.
"Turn the car around," he said abruptly.
"Huh?"
"Stop and turn around. We’re going back."
"But your plane leaves in – "
"I don’t give a damn about the plane!" Linc barked. "Take me back to the ranch."
Gravel sprayed everywhere when Cage whipped the large, long Lincoln off the highway and onto the shoulder. He executed a flawless U turn and floorboarded the accelerator. He waved to the highway patrolman they passed. The officer only waved back. Catching a bat out of hell was a better bet than catching Cage Hendren when he was in a hurry.
The distance back to the ranch was covered in a third of the.time it had taken to get to the turn-around point. To Linc, who was rocking back and forth in his seat while he brutalized the inside of his jaw, it seemed to take forever.
He hadn’t even thought of that!
Sure, he’d planned on using something when he left the cantina with his "whore." But his supply had gotten left somewhere along the way with the rest of his gear. The morning he’d gone tearing after Kerry in Linc’s pickup, he’d been so damned mad that contraception had never even occurred to him.
And, Lord, how many times had there been since then? How many times in that one night of erotic fantasy-come-true had he…? It must have been at least…! He couldn’t even count the times.
Cage pulled the car right up to the end of the sidewalk. "If you don’t mind, I think I’ll go back to the hospital."
"Sure." Linc jerked his bags from the back seat and got out, slamming the car door shut behind him.
"I’ll probably be there for the rest of the day. Make yourself at home. If you want to get rid of Trent, call my folks to come pick him up."
Linc was already halfway to the front door. He nodded absently to what Cage was saying to him. Chuckling, Cage put the Lincoln in gear and drove it back down the lane.
In the entry hall of the house, Linc dropped his bags to the floor. The sunlight had been so bright outside that it took a moment for his eyes to adjust to the dimness. Impatient and unwilling to wait, he bumped into several pieces of furniture as he scouted the rooms on the lower story of the house. When they proved to be empty, he took the stairs two at a time.
He pushed open the door to the guest bedroom, but there was no one there. By the time he reached Trent’s room, he had worked himself into a froth. Where the hell was she, for crissake?
He shoved the door; it went swinging open and banged against the inside wall. Kerry had changed out of the wilted linen dress and had put on a pair of jeans and a cotton camisole. She was barefoot and her hair was hanging loosely down her back. She was sitting on the edge of the twin bed where Lisa lay sleeping. Trent was softly snoring in the other one.
For a moment, they only stared at each other.
Then Kerry bounded to her feet. "You scared me half to death!" She kept her voice down so the children wouldn’t wake up, but was as angry as a spitting cat because he had caught her crying. "Why did you come barging in here like that? I thought you were a burglar!"
In three long strides, line was beside the bed and gripping her arm. He pulled her across the room, and out the door. When they were safely on the other side of it, he thrust his chin out belligerently and said, "No problem. If I’d been a burglar you could have impersonated a karate expert."
"Very funny. And let go of my arm." She wrested herself free of his grasp. "I just got those children to sleep. They were exhausted, but too excited to settle down. Then you come charging through the door like a rampaging bull and – Wait a minute. I thought you’d be on your way to Dallas by now. What are you doing here?"
"Proposing."
Kerry gaped at him. "Proposing? Proposing what?"
"Marriage, of course. What does a man usually propose to a woman?"
"Lots of things. Among them, marriage is usually the last resort."
His face was dark and fearsome with annoyance. "Well that’s what I’m proposing. Marriage."
"Why?"
"Because I make good on my obligations, that’s why. On the way to the airport, Cage reminded me of something."
"What?"
"That we didn’t use anything to keep you from getting pregnant." He bobbed his head firmly, as though he’d just dropped a bomb of startling information. "You didn’t think of that, did you?"
Her hesitation was so fleeting that he didn’t even notice it. For a fraction of a second, she entertained the thought of letting him go on believing that they’d been careless. But earlier that morning, she had resolved that she would never use people again for her own gain. She couldn’t trick Linc that way; it would be unconscionable. By the same token, it enraged her that the only reason he had come back proposing marriage was because he felt obligated to do so.
"As a matter of fact I did."
That served to suck the wind out of his sails. Kerry took a great deal of pleasure in watching his puffed up arrogance fall like a knifed souffle.
"I thought about it over a year ago," she told him triumphantly. "Before I went to Montenegro, when there was a very real possibility that I might be raped by guerrilla soldiers, I started taking birth control pills. So, Mr. O’Neal, you’ve got nothing to worry about. You’re relieved of your ‘obligation.’ Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m very tired."
She spun on her heel, but took no more than a few steps before he grabbed the seat of her britches and jerked her to a halt. "What now?" she demanded.
"You’re forgetting something else," Linc said.
"Well?" Kerry folded her arms over her chest and all but tapped her foot with impatience.
Curbing an urge to strangle her, he said, "Lisa. Do you honestly think they’ll let you adopt her?"
"Yes."
In spite of her ready affirmation, Linc saw the chink in Kerry’s confidence and, like a mountain climber looking for footholds in the side of a sheer cliff, dug into it. "Well I’m not so sure. And neither are Cage and Jenny. He mentioned it on the way to the airport."
"I’ll exhaust every possibility."
"You still might lose."
"Then I’ll take her to live someplace outside the United States, to Mexico, anywhere."
"Oh, and that would be just dandy. A terrific life for a kid, having no sense of stability, no country to claim."
"I won’t give her up," Kerry cried softly. "I love her."
"So do I!"
The words echoed down the wide hallway. After the reverberation, the resulting silence was filled only with the sound of their breathing.
"You do?" Kerry asked in a soft voice.
He nodded curtly. "It was tearing my guts to shreds to leave her this morning. Did you see the way she clung to my neck, not wanting me to go?"
"She cried when you drove off, even though she had promised you she wouldn’t."
Linc was visibly moved. "See? She loves me, too."
Kerry’s heart had begun to race, but she wouldn’t let herself get too optimistic. She’d been disappointed too often in the past. She looked at the floor. "You could apply to adopt Lisa yourself."
"I’d have the same problems as you. Maybe even more because I’m a man. We’d have a better chance of success if we applied for her as a couple. And it would be best for Lisa. She needs both a mother and a father. I know."
Kerry’s heart twisted with love. The basis of Linc’s remote nature came from bis never having known parental love. She wanted to throw herself against him, to cover bis beard-stubbled chin with wildly happy kisses, but she restrained herself.
"That’s still not a good reason to marry," she said, playing devil’s advocate. "We’d be burdening Lisa with the tremendous responsibility of keeping two adults happy with each other."
"We wouldn’t have to depend on her for our happiness."
"Wouldn’t we?"
He turned his back to her and moved away. He slid his hands, palms out, into the seat pockets of his jeans. When he turned back to her, he looked more vulnerable than she’d ever seen him. "Lisa’s not the only reason I want us to get married."
"No?"
"No. I, uh, I wasn’t too hep on the idea of leaving you either. You’re a pain in the ass, but I still want you."
"In bed?"
"Yeah."
"I see." Her heart sank like lead.
"And-"
"And?" She lifted her head quickly and looked at him inquiringly.
"And…I,uh…"
"What?"
He ran his hand through his hair and blew out his breath. He looked supremely irritated. "Cage said you could be damned stubborn. You want to hear me say it, don’t you?" Kerry only looked back at him innocently. He swore softly. Then, flinging his arms out to his sides, he said, "I love you, okay?-"
"Okay!"
Kerry launched herself against him. He caught her, closing his arms around her and holding her close. Their mouths searched for and found each other. The kiss they exchanged was torrid and left them gasping for breath.
"I thought you’d never say it."
"I didn’t think I ever would either. Not while you were awake anyway."
"Awake?"
"It doesn’t matter," he said, laughing. "I love you, Kerry. God knows I do."
"I love you, I love you, I love you."
"I’ll probably make a terrible husband. I’m mean. Rotten. Crude."
"Wonderful. Talented. Brave."
During another hard kiss, he lifted her up to straddle his lap. She wrapped her legs around his hips and locked her ankles behind his back. He ate at her chin and neck while he fiercely whispered endearments.
When he pulled back, his eyes speared into hers. "I don’t have much to offer in the way of worldly goods. I don’t have a potto – "
She pressed her fingers over his lips. "You should have kept that fifty thousand dollars. You’d be that much richer."
"Very cute." He kissed her fingers aside. "I’m serious, Kerry. I’ve got money. I’ve been stashing it away for years, but I don’t even have a suitable roof to put over our heads."
"I do. I have a lovely house in Charlotte, North Carolina."
"You never told me that."
"You never asked. It’s beautiful. I know you and Lisa will like it."
"You’ve also got a college degree."
"But I don’t have a single Pulitzer Prize and you have | two."
"You know how I make a living. I’ll be away a lot of the time."
"No way, Lincoln," she said, shaking her head. "If you j think I’m going to turn you loose on a world full of beautiful women once you’re my husband, forget it."
"You can’t be suggesting that you come along."
"I certainly am."
"You and Lisa?" he asked incredulously.
"Think what an asset we’ll be."
"Name one."
"How many languages do you speak?"
"I’ve almost mastered English."
"Well I speak four and have a working knowledge of three more. With us teaching her English, Lisa will soon be bilingual. Think of all the help we’ll be to you."
"Yeah, but in a few years, it’ll be time for Lisa to go to school and – "
"I’m a teacher, remember? I’ll tutor her."
"But that’s not quite the same. She’ll need – "
"Linc, are you trying to weasel out of this already?"
"No. I just want you to know what you’re letting yourself in for."
"I do." When he still looked skeptical, she said, "Look, we went through hell and came out loving each other. It can only get better from here."
He smiled and then gave a shout of genuine laughter. "You’ve got a point."
"Everything will work out. We’ll make it work. One day at a time, okay?"
"Baby, when I can feel your heat this close, I’d agree to anything." He hitched her up higher. "If we didn’t have so many clothes on, do you realize – "
"I’ve already thought of that."
She squirmed against him and he grimaced with supreme pleasure. Carrying her, he went into the guest bedroom. As soon as her legs slid from around him and her feet touched the floor, they began tearing off their clothes, depositing them on the floor with heedless disregard for tidiness.
They moved into the adjoining bathroom, tacitly agreeing that a shower was in order. Linc reached into the shower stall and adjusted the water taps. He stepped in and drew Kerry in with him.
Beneath the spray, their mouths met as eagerly as their bodies. Their hands were so busy they regretted having to take the time to soap them, but when they did, their pleasure was multiplied a hundred times. They moved against each other with the sleek seduction of sea animals in a mating ritual.
He turned her around, put her back against his chest, and ran his hands over her front, massaging her breasts, rolling her nipples between his soapy fingers. His hard sex probed between her water-slick thighs. That slippery friction was breathtaking. When he slipped his fingers into her, she was as wet and warm as the water that trickled down their bodies.
Their skin was still damp when he laid her on the bed and bent over her. "We’ll fight."
"All the time."
"You don’t mind?"
She reached for him. "Linc, don’t you know by now that you have to go through a little hell…"
He gave himself to her and completed the thought. "To get to heaven."
The End
The Devil's Own The Devil's Own - Sandra Brown The Devil