Shades of Gray

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Έτος:
1988
Εκδότης:
Loveswept
Γλώσσα:
english
Σειρές:
Hagan
Αρχείο:
EPUB, 169 KB
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1

Raven on the Wing

Έτος:
1987
Γλώσσα:
english
Αρχείο:
EPUB, 160 KB
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2

Star-Crossed Lovers

Έτος:
1990
Γλώσσα:
english
Αρχείο:
EPUB, 214 KB
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Contents

Synopsis

Prologue

One

Two

Three

Four

Five

Six

Seven

Eight

Nine

Epilogue





Synopsis




Devastatingly good-looking and charismatic ruler Andres Sereno was ruthless when it came to his island of Kadeira--and to the safety of Sara Marsh. Abducting her was the only way he knew to keep her from his enemies--and the only chance he had to make her admit her love for him. Overwhelmed by his driven hunger, his urgent need, Sara could no more resist Andres than she could resist the next beat of her heart – but nothing in her life had prepared her for loving a man with darkness in his soul and danger in his blood. Adrift in a sudden storm with no safe harbour in sight, Sara had met her destiny – but could she burn all her bridges except the one between her and the fierce warrior whose untamed passion held her heart captive? Andres tried to shield her from his violent side, but Sara knew the cost: before she could surrender to the primitive force of their desire, she'd have to walk through fire and learn her own strength. Was this love the dream worth risking everything for?





Prologue




Hagen looked up, honestly surprised for one of the few times in his checkered career. Raven Long had just strolled into his office with the very large and very menacing Zach Steele behind her.

"Hi," she said casually.

Glowering, Hagen responded by demanding, "How did you get into this building?"

Raven shook her head in gentle pity as she settled a hip on the corner of Hagen's desk. "You really should get out more, you know. It's getting awfully easy to catch you off guard."

He ignored that. Splendidly. "I asked you a question."

Smiling, she jerked a thumb over her shoulder at her companion. "Zach's very good at things like that. You said so yourself."

Hagen stared at the big man who was Chief of Security for Long Enterprises and also was quite possibly one of the top three security experts in the world. And since Zach Steele was such an expert, Hagen k; new full well how capable he was at breaching other people's security systems— especially when Josh Long or his wife. Raven, former agent, required such a breach.

"Breaching the security of a federal building," Hagen said rather mildly, "is a federal offense, Mr. Steele."

"So it is," Zach agreed in his deep, soft voice, his gray eyes serene.

Hagen sighed. "Well, you're here." He looked at Raven with disfavor. "What do you want?"

She looked over her shoulder at Zach. "He still has the power to amaze me. He ropes innocent citizens into his nefarious plots, unethically, if not illegally, swearing them in as temporary agents and using them shamefully, and he has the nerve, the absolute gall, to ask what we want. Amazing."

Hagen didn't rise to the bait. "I'm waiting."

In a wistful tone Zach said to Raven, "One of these days he's going to get what's coming to him. And I want to be there."

Raven sighed an agreement, then returned her gaze to her former boss. Her merry violet eyes became abruptly hard. "Leave Sara Marsh alone," she said gently.

Hagen didn't bat an eye. "I don't know who you're talking about."

"Oh, I think you do. Or has your memory slipped with the passing years? A couple of years ago Sara Marsh left Kadeira and Andres Sereno; a few months after that you sent Rafferty and Sarah Lewis down there to get Kelsey out of jail. Remember now?"

Hagen smiled like a shark. "Now that you mention it, I do. But I fail to see—"

"A few weeks ago," Raven went on flatly, interrupting him without compunction, "there was an attempt to kidnap Sara Marsh. Luckily she has good instincts, and managed to slip out while her would-be abductors were slipping in. She was in touch with our Sarah for a while, but in losing your goons, she lost us too. Unfortunately she doesn't know us well enough to trust that we're entirely on her side. But you know that. And just as soon as we manage to locate her, we'll help her to hide where you'll never find her."

Hagen's smile slipped a notch. "That's a serious accusation. Raven," he said sternly.

"Isn't it?" she agreed cordially. "And kidnapping is still, I believe, a federal offense. Even more of an offense in this case because Sara was to be snatched for the express purpose of transporting her to Kadeira, which is the last place on earth she would choose to be, as her past actions amply demonstrate. Now she's being hunted. Since when have agents of the U.S. government decided to kidnap citizens on the orders of Andres Sereno? Or have you taken up pimping these days?"

It was an uncharacteristically harsh question coming from Raven, and Hagen's smile faded entirely. His pink Cupid's face hardened, and his pouty lips firmed into a straight line. After a long moment he said irritably, "You're being naive. And while we're on the subject, just what right did you and your colleagues have to help Derek Ross enrage an unstable Middle Eastern dictator a few weeks ago?"

Without hesitation she said, "The right as citizens to fight traitors. Now let's hear your answer."

He met her gaze solidly. "I, Mrs. Long, have the right and the duty as a government agent to exercise those powers granted to me by my commander in chief."

"Lot of that going around these days," Zach murmured.

Raven made a rude sound. "Let's cut to the chase, shall we? Sereno couldn't find Sara, so he called in a favor from you. And now you're planning to send her to Kadeira, even though she doesn't want to go."

"Someone else," Hagen said, "owes President Sereno a favor, if I recall correctly."

Readily she said, "Josh does. But you'll notice Sereno didn't ask Josh to kidnap Sara—because he knew that favor would be refused. Instead he asked you. And we all know you're capable of anything."

"You're out of line," Hagen said in a stony voice.

"So are you! We fought for years, you and I, to break white slavery rings; what in the name of hell do you think this is? She doesn't want to go back there, Hagen, and if that man really loved her, he wouldn't try to force her." Raven drew a deep breath. "So we're here to warn you. If we find out Sara Marsh has been taken to Kadeira against her will, we'll break the story to the press and get it worldwide coverage."

"I wouldn't do that if I were you," Hagen said mildly enough. "A new extradition treaty with Kadeira is about to be announced. It is perfectly legal to extradite criminals."

Raven slid off the desk and straightened up slowly. Her face was still, her eyes cold. "You bastard."

He smiled.

"That poor girl never broke a law in her life— not here, and not on Kadeira!" Raven snapped.

"It's on the record," Hagen said. Or will be by the time anyone checks, he amended silently.

Without another word Raven swung around and strode from the office with Zach. And Hagen barely caught her fierce statement to the big man.

"We've got to find Sara before he does."

Hagen looked at the brass ashtray on his desk, which contained a tiny pile of ashes; he had burned a message slip just before his visitors had arrived. "Too late," he murmured to himself. And then, to the empty office, he made a statement that none of his staff, past or present, would have believed.

"I've made a mistake."





One




She was too angry to be afraid. The injection they'd given her had acted quickly, and she was hardly surprised to awaken in the small cabin of a boat. She held her aching head with one hand and sat up on the bunk, gazing out the porthole at the open sea. That also didn't surprise her. It was sometime around mid-afternoon, she guessed. The day after the afternoon they'd shanghaied her. She'd slept a long time.

And she didn't have to look at a map to know that she was somewhere off the northern coast of South America.

They hadn't hurt her. In fact, her kidnappers had sustained considerable damage themselves from her struggles, because they'd been taking great pains not to hurt her. And she understood why, of course.

Andres would have them shot if they harmed her.

The cabin was small, but there was enough room to stretch the kinks from her legs. On a small table near the bunk she discovered a tray covered with a linen napkin, under which reposed an appetizing meal of cold chicken and salad. She ignored the food but poured a glass of wine from the carafe and sipped it.

Pacing the restricted floor space absently, she stretched aching muscles and automatically straightened her clothing—snug, faded blue jeans and a casual summer blouse the same color as her eyes.

As the last of the cobwebs cleared from her mind, she sighed and opened the door, unsurprised to find that it wasn't locked. Where, after all, could she escape to? She went up the steps and onto the deck, squinting into the bright sunlight.

"Good afternoon, miss."

She looked at the man who had spoken. He was a lean, hard man somewhere in his thirties, with soulful eyes and a rather chillingly gentle smile. She didn't know him.

"Hello." Somewhat mockingly she saluted him with her wineglass.

"The food—"

"I wasn't hungry."

He half bowed, oddly graceful. "I am the captain, miss."

She nodded. "When will we arrive?"

"In a few hours."

After a long silence she sighed. "I don't suppose," she said, "there's a boat I could steal to make good my escape?"

He blinked. "No, miss."

"And I also don't suppose it would be at all wise of me to jump overboard and try swimming for it?"

"No, miss."

"Then don't bother to hover over me, Captain," she said, and turned away to walk toward the bow.

Siran grimaced faintly, half in admiration and half in doubt. An interesting woman, his passenger. The men who had brought her to the ship off Trinidad had borne ample proof of her ability to defend herself, yet she seemed perfectly calm now. He watched her critically for a moment.

She was a tiny woman, barely five feet tall if that, dressed casually in jeans, a green blouse, and running shoes. And though another woman would have probably called her petite, no man worth his salt would have missed the surprisingly lush curves of breasts and hips, guaranteed to stop traffic and haunt dreams.

Her hair was that rare, striking color between red and gold, and it hung thick and shining to the middle of her back. It was styled simply in a layered cut from a center part, and that silky, burnished hair framed a face that was almost too delicately perfect to be real. She was like a painting; every feature was finely drawn with artistic excellence, from her straight nose to the sweet curve of her lips. And in that strikingly perfect face, her eyes were simply incredible: a clear, pale green; huge and shadowed by long, thick lashes.

Siran remembered another woman on a yacht under his command, a woman so like this one that they could have been twins. From what he had seen and heard, that woman had found love on her trips to Kadeira. What would this woman find?



* * *



She didn't hear him leave over the noises of wind, ocean, and engine, yet she knew when the captain had finally left her alone. An unsettling man, she thought vaguely. She didn't fear being alone with him on the small boat and felt a flicker of emotion that was a painful inner laugh when she came to this realization. There wasn't much about Andres Sereno of which she could be certain —except the fact that anyone in his employ knew only too well that she had to be kept safe. So she was. A bird in a gilded cage. No, not that, not really. Kadeira was a beautiful island but war-torn. And Sereno, though a powerful man, had chosen to build his country rather than his own personal wealth. The "palace" was a large, comfortable house, but there was nothing gilded about it.

She stood there at the bow, face into the wind, trying not to think. Trying not to remember.

But when the island first came into view, she was surprised by the surge of emotion she felt, and unnerved by the flood of memories that came to mind. It was such a beautiful island, especially from a distance—before the underlying rot became visible.

She flung the empty wineglass overboard with a stifled cry, then gripped the brass railing hard as she stiffened her shoulders and began dragging all the emotions into the dark room where she'd placed them more than two years ago. By the time the harbor came into view, she was calm again.

Not much had changed in two years, she thought. Not, at least, at first glance. It was a good harbor with plenty of room for the score of vessels riding at anchor and tied up to the dock. Except for a few fishing boats, all were military vessels, and all were armed to the teeth.

A cluster of buildings, mostly warehouses, stood near the dock. Off to the left was the striking vista of towering mountains and rolling hills that helped to make the island so beautiful, and off to the right, whitewashed and shining in the bright sunlight, was the island's only real city, and the home of most of its people.

No building rose more than five stories, and all the bright whitewash couldn't hide the scars of a country in turmoil. There was some construction going on but not much, and shorn buildings showed like broken teeth in the rubble of the bombed remains of cars, trucks, and buildings.

She swallowed hard, still fighting for emotional control. Nothing had changed, not realty. She had kept up with news reports almost against her will, and knew that the "rebels" still came down from the hills and raided periodically, making it Impossible for Sereno to put his economic development plans into effect. Kadeira was a torn country, a wound bleeding its life away.

Soldiers on the docks slung their rifles over their shoulders long enough to tie up the boat, and she paused only a moment to once more give the captain a mocking salute before jumping onto the dock. Ignoring the soldiers, she walked steadily forward to greet the slender man with a military carriage who was waiting for her near a long black limo.

"Colonel," she said briefly.

"Miss Marsh." Expressionless, he held the door for her.

She got into the car and looked steadily out the window during the ride, saying nothing more to Colonel Durant. She had liked him once, but she was afraid to let herself feel anything right now. They drove by the old presidential palace, now a hospital. And if she winced at the evidence of recent fighting—buildings she remembered as relatively intact were now in rubble—at least it was inwardly.

The limo passed through the guarded gates and wound its way up the drive to the plain stucco two-storied house. As she got out of the car she saw that the flowers she'd planted in window boxes were still alive and obviously cared for. But the bars on the windows, ornate though they were, were still visible, still a grim testament to their purpose—like the soldiers who constantly patrolled the grounds.

She followed Colonel Durant into the house, steeling herself against her memories. When he silently indicated that she should wait in the book-lined room she had once loved, she went in with gritted teeth.

The memories . . . She went to the French doors and stared out into the garden, her cold hands in the pockets of her jeans, her back stiff. Oh, Lord, the memories!

"Sara?"

She didn't move, didn't say a word. Her eyes closed and she swallowed hard. For a long moment she stood with her back to him, wondering dimly how many times she had heard his voice say her name—in her dreams.

Sara Marsh moved slowly, bracing herself even more as she turned to face him. He hadn't changed much in two years. He was unusual among his countrymen in that he was over six feet tall and powerfully built. He was dressed casually in dark slacks and a white shirt unbuttoned at the throat beneath an open jacket, but the informal attire did nothing to conceal the physical strength of broad shoulders and powerful limbs, or the honed grace of his movements when he stepped toward her. He was dark, black-haired, and black-eyed, his lean face handsome and bearing none of the outward marks or scars of his reportedly difficult and violent life.

Perhaps he was a shade leaner, the planes and angles of his face sharper, his eyes more deeply hooded. And there were, she saw with a curious pang, a few strands of silver among the ebony at his temples.

And she knew, then, that she had forgotten nothing. Nothing at all.

He was Andres Sereno, President of the island country of Kadeira, commander in chief of its army and navy, both titles earned by sweat and blood and viewed askance by an American government that had never been quite sure if he was enemy, friend, or merely neutral. He had been called a dictator—and worse.

"Hello, Andres." Her voice emerged cool and calm, and she thanked the fates for control.

He took another step toward her, and the quiet, innately powerful voice that had moved the people of his country was a little rough, a little husky. "You're as beautiful as I remembered."

Sara inclined her head politely.

His face tightened a little. "Sara, I know you're angry with me, but I—I had to bring you here."

"I'm here. I had no choice in the matter. But then, I should have known my wishes didn't mean a damned thing to you. I made it clear two years ago that I never wanted to see you again, yet I've been on the run ever since in order to stay one jump ahead of your hounds."

He shoved his hands into his pockets suddenly, matching her stance as they confronted each other. "Am I allowed no defense? No opportunity to explain my actions? I needed to see you, Sara. I didn't want to do this, but you gave me no choice."

Sara didn't have to fake scorn. "Oh, it's all my fault that I was kidnapped? Was I supposed to just tamely submit to your paid goons and come along like a good little girl?"

"They didn't hurt you?" he asked swiftly.

"No," she said flatly.

Andres relaxed almost imperceptibly. "Sara, I tried to respect your wishes. And I would have, if only you hadn't vanished so completely. The letters I sent to your sister's home were returned unopened. When I called, she refused to tell me where you were. What else could I do?"

"You could have left me alone!" she said fiercely.

"No, Sara, I couldn't." Softly he added, "Because I love you."

It shook her now as it had shaken her in the past, and Sara wondered wildly how a man so shut in and as remote as Andres could make that declaration so easily—and so convincingly. He was charming and charismatic, but there was a large room surrounding the core of himself marked keep out, and that was the part of him she was afraid of.

She drew a deep breath. "I don't care." She did, but that was something he could never know. "Whatever I might have felt for you died the day I found out those terrorists were on Kadeira."

"They're gone now," he told her.

"And that makes everything all right?" She could feel all her muscles tensing, and her stomach churning sickly when she thought of the terrorists. "Let me go, Andres."

"I can't."

Sara was aware of an inner tremor, and knew that her control was right on the edge, faltering. She didn't know how much more of this she could take. "Do you know what my life's been like for the past two years?" she asked steadily.

"Sara—"

"It's been hell. I've developed the instincts of a hunted animal. I can't walk down a street without searching every face, tensing at every sound. I can't have a home, because it's a lot easier and quicker to run from a hotel or a lousy apartment. I can't have friends, because I don't know who to trust. I haven't been able to do a damned thing with my life, and if I didn't happen to have income from my parents' estate, I wouldn't even have been able to live, except from hand to mouth, because I can't hold down a job! Is that what you wanted, Andres? Is that how you meant to punish me for leaving you?"

His face was white, his eyes bottomless. After a moment he turned and moved a few feet away before turning back to face her. His smile was twisted. "You could always make me feel things I didn't want to feel. That hasn't changed."

She wanted to cry. "Let me go."

He shook his head a little and said, "I have a proposition for you."

Sara waited, tense and afraid.

"A month. Remain on Kadeira for a month. If, after that, you wish to leave, then I'll see that you're taken back to the States." His voice was even. "And I'll give you my word of honor that I'll never interfere in your life again."

The silence was long as Sara tried to figure out what he was up to. "What do you expect to happen in a month?"

"I want. . ."He hesitated, then finished roughly, "I want the time with you, that's all. Is it so difficult for you to understand?"

"You want me to stay here, in your home?"

He sighed. "It's safer, you know that. Of course, you'll have your own suite of rooms."

Two years ago he hadn't tried to take advantage of her confusion, hadn't insisted on a physical relationship even though the attraction had been explosive; she wasn't sure about his attitude now. "And if I—I refuse your proposition?"

Andres seemed to brace himself. "I can't let you go."

She laughed shortly. "I don't seem to have a choice—again."

"You have a choice," he said quietly.

Sara knew what he was saying. "All right, then. I'll stay for a month. It's a small enough price to pay to be free of you for good." The final sentence was harsh, and she regretted the words even before Andres winced.

"I don't want you hurt," he said softly. "Just try to remember that, Sara."

She nodded, not trusting her voice. And she couldn't apologize for hurting him, because she couldn't let him know that his feelings mattered to her.

"The suite that was yours before has been prepared for you," he said formally. "The things you left are still here. If there are any other things you need, Maria will get them for you."

"Thank you." Sara kept her own voice formal. "If you don't mind, I'll go up to my rooms now. Is dinner at the same time?"

"Yes."

Sara escaped, her heart thudding and her eyes burning. She found that she remembered the way, up the curved staircase and along the open hall to the third door on the right. Andres's rooms were at the end of the hall.

She went into the sitting room, looking around to find that nothing had changed. The suite was light and airy, the colors pastels, the furniture comfortable. Her portable tape player and box of cassettes were on the small desk, just where she'd left them, and she had no doubt there would be fresh batteries. In the bedroom, the closet and dresser drawers still contained the clothing she'd left behind, carefully cleaned and neatly preserved.

She had been living in Trinidad for the winter when they had met, and so had most of her possessions with her. And when she had bolted from Kadeira in sick despair, all her things had been left behind. He had, she saw, kept everything, as if he had been confident she would return.

Sara wandered into the bathroom, unsurprised to find her favorite scents in soaps and bath oils. She wanted to cry again. She quickly stripped for a shower and stepped underneath the warm water, letting it wash away her tears.



* * *



Durant entered the library quietly, unsurprised to find Sereno standing at the French doors and gazing out into the garden. With the license allowed an old and trusted friend, he asked, "How did it go?"

Sereno laughed, a low sound that held no amusement. He didn't turn around. "Much as I expected. She hates me, Vincente."

"The terrorists still?"

"That—and the past two years."

Durant frowned at the strong, still back of his president. "I don't understand."

"They hounded her. She hasn't had a moment's peace since she left here."

"But when you told her—"

"I didn't. Nothing will change her hate for me, and I don't want her to be afraid. It doesn't matter." He sighed. "We have a month to do what we must. I can't keep her here against her will longer than that."

"Andres—"

"Does Lucio know yet?" Sereno asked. Interrupting.

"Undoubtedly. He has spies in the town, watching the harbor. Someone is sure to have reported her arrival. Andres, a month isn't enough time. After all these years Lucio knows the island like a wolf knows his lair. He's cunning, and he won't give up now that Sara is back; she's close enough to be too tempting to him."

"I know." Sereno finally turned to face his friend, and his smile was twisted. "But here, at least, I can protect her. Double the guard around the perimeter, Vincente. I want the best possible security here at the house, and Sara is not to leave the grounds."

Durant nodded. "Of course. And Lucio?" Sereno shook his head a little. "We wait for him to move. I don't dare weaken security here by ordering the men into the hills to look for him."

"If only—" Durant broke off, frowning.

"Yes. If only. If only we had more men, better equipment." Sereno laughed, again without amusement, and this time with faint bitterness. "I command a splendid navy, Vincente, and what good does it do me? Lucio fights on the land. And as long as his forces and mine are equally armed, it will remain a stalemate. I've used all the tricks I know, old friend."

"Not all of them," Durant said steadily. After a moment Sereno nodded. "Yes, Long owes me a favor. And what am I to ask, Vincente? Money for arms? He doesn't deal in guns. Should I ask him again to invest here in my country? What business would survive? How many times have we tried to rebuild, only to see our efforts destroyed in the night by Lucio's canny harassment?"

"There must be a way," Durant said flatly. "You've struggled for too many years, Andres. You've sacrificed too much. There must be a way to win!" He drew a deep breath, then said, "Lucio must be destroyed before he destroys you."

Sereno turned back to gaze out the French doors again. "Yes. Don't worry, old friend. He hasn't beaten me yet."

Durant left the library silently. He wasn't worried that Sereno might have given up; defeat had never been a viable option for Andres Sereno, and never would. Not, at least, where his country's future was concerned. But Durant knew only too well that despair of another kind could bow the shoulders of a strong man—especially a strong man.

And Sara didn't know the truth.



* * *



It was a couple of hours later when Sara ventured from her rooms. Downstairs, the door to Andres's office was closed, and she passed it silently. She found Maria in the kitchen, and the housekeeper welcomed her warmly and Insisted on preparing her a cup of the tea she loved.

"It's good you're back," she told Sara, nodding decisively, her bright brown eyes smiling. "The house has been so quiet and empty. So has he."

Sara refused to be moved by the simple comment. "I'm just here for a visit, Maria," she said easily. "A few weeks."

"Much can happen in weeks."

Unsettled by the comment, Sara agreed silently. Much could happen in weeks. It had before. Within the space of a few weeks her entire life had changed. She had met Andres, been fascinated and charmed, swept off her feet by his intense courtship, even to the point of coming here to stay at his home. And then, with dreadful suddenness, she had learned of the terrorists and, sickened by their presence and Andres's acceptance of them, had run blindly. And had been running ever since.

Sara drew a breath and set her empty cup aside. "I think I'll go walk in the garden," she told the housekeeper.

Maria nodded agreeably but said, cautioning, "Stay on the grounds. It's not safe to wander alone."

Thinking of the tall fence surrounding the grounds, Sara wondered if she would be allowed outside. She went into the garden, seeing here and there a shrub or a flower that she remembered suggesting to the old gardener, Carlos. There were even the roses she loved, scores of them in all varieties, planted neatly in beautiful beds, though there had been none in the garden two years ago. All around her she saw her own presence, her own influence; in the few short weeks of her stay here it seemed she had left footprints of a sort.

But the largest footprint she had left caught her by surprise, and she stood in the bend of the path, staring in wonder at the delicate little gazebo.

Her own words came back to her: "Such a beautiful view of the mountains here, Andres. You should build a gazebo, a place where you can come and just sit peacefully. A place to rest. You need a place to rest."

Sara half closed her eyes, hurting.

"Miss Marsh?"

She walked forward toward the gazebo but spoke to the man behind her. "You called me Sara before, Colonel."

"And you called me Vincente," Durant reminded her, following.

Sara stood inside the gazebo just gazing at the mountains for a moment, then sat down on the cushioned seat of a wrought-iron chair. "So I did. Were you looking for me, Vincente?"

He stood, militarily erect as always, and his thin face was hard. "I was. I wanted to talk to you."

She looked up at him curiously, aware of his tension. "Well, you have a—a captive audience," she said wryly.

His face seemed to harden even more. "I wanted to ask what happened to the woman who planted flowers in window boxes? What happened to the woman who loved roses and yet never waited for those Andres had ordered to arrive? The woman who brightened the house with her laughter. I wanted to ask, Sara, what happened to the woman Andres loved?"

"What happened to her?" Sara felt cold. "I'll tell you what happened to her. Somebody yanked away her rose-colored glasses, that's what happened. She found out she wasn't living in a fairy tale complete with a happily-ever-after ending." Sara drew a deep breath. "They were terrorists, Vincente, killing innocent people, men and women and children, murdering in wholesale lots, and Andres condoned it!"

"He never condoned it," Durant said quietly.

"He let them have sanctuary."

"There were reasons."

Sara laughed shortly. "Of course. They paid him money to live here, didn't they, Vincente? And Kadeira needs money. But I suppose that isn't surprising, that Andres would choose to fill his coffers with blood money. Variations of that have kept Kadeira a flourishing seat of revolution for fifty years."

"You don't understand anything," Durant told her. "You didn't grow up here, didn't go hungry as a child—"

"And Andres did. Yes, I know that." She kept her voice as cold as possible, unwilling to be moved. "Still, it doesn't justify what he did. Nothing justifies the acceptance of terrorists."

"You never asked him why, did you, Sara? You just ran in the night, tearing the heart out of him—"

"And I've been running ever since!" she said, Interrupting fiercely. "Hunted like an animal until he finally caught me. So don't expect any sympathy, Colonel Durant!"

There was a moment of silence, and then Durant said wearily, "He should have told you. Perhaps he would have, but you looked at him as though he were a monster, didn't you, Sara? Your mind was made up, and he was found guilty and convicted by you without even the opportunity to defend himself. You wouldn't have heard him, wouldn't have believed him."

"What are you talking about?"

Durant hesitated, glancing toward the house. Then he sighed. Looking back at her, he said evenly, "Andres has enemies, you know that. The rebel leader, for one."

Impatiently she said, "I know. Lucio."

"Andres and Lucio were once friends. In fact, Lucio was Andres's second in command in the revolution that deposed the former regime. Once Andres was in power, Lucio became . . . dissatisfied, bitter, resentful. Andres was forced to proceed with caution in his efforts to improve the country; perhaps Lucio felt he wasn't moving fast enough. I don't know the full story. I only know that there was a final, bitter confrontation, and Lucio fled to the hills and gathered an army. For several years now he has attempted to destroy Andres."

"I don't see what that has to do with me," she said.

Durant smiled bleakly. "Everything. The international press enjoyed their stories of a ruthless dictator falling in love with a young woman he had met in Trinidad. Within a matter of days everyone who could read knew the stories. You became a possible tool, Sara, for Andres's enemies to use."

After a moment she said slowly, "I don't understand."

"I think you do. One of the reasons Andres brought you here so soon after you met was to protect you. Once Lucio learned of Andres's feelings for you, he learned also of the first chink in Andres's armor. He could have captured you, used you to bend Andres to his will. When you ran away, Andres was half mad with fear for you."

"I was safe in the States," she objected.

"No. You were never running from Andres's detectives, Sara; we were never able to get that close. It was Lucio’s confederates who hounded you all this time. It was they who gave you no peace. If Andres had not called in a favor from an American agent with far greater resources than our own, Lucio may well have captured you. Andres had you kidnapped and brought back here so that he could keep you safe."

Sara couldn't believe it, refused to believe it. "I'm only staying a month. Then I have Andres's word that I can go home for good."

Durant nodded. "Yes. It gives us only a few weeks to accomplish what we have been unable to accomplish in years: to defeat the rebels. You will never be safe until Lucio is dead. He knows Andres too well."

Holding on to her precarious disbelief, she said, "It doesn't make sense! It's been two years. Lucio can't possibly think I can be used against Andres now—"

"He's hounded you for two years."

"I only have your word for that!" she snapped.

"You still don't understand, do you?" Durant said harshly. "With you in his hands, Lucio would have anything and everything Andres could give him. You are Andres's one vulnerability. Two years or twenty, it makes no difference. He would sell his very soul to spare you pain! And you looked at him as though he were a monster. Think about that."





Two




Long after Durant had stalked back toward the house, Sara stared at the spot where he had stood. "There are still the terrorists," she murmured to herself, but the words were hollow.

The thought was hollow. If it had indeed been Lucio, rather than Andres, who had hounded her for two years ... if Andres had brought her back here now only to keep her safe until he could deal with Lucio . . .

It wasn't Sara's intention to wait in the garden for Andres to come to her. If she had ever considered that he would come to her, she would have believed it unlikely after the things she had said to him. She meant to go to him, to ask him for the truth. But as she sat there in the peaceful gazebo trying to get up her courage, Andres did come.

He came with a guarded face and shuttered eyes, and his voice was calm and formal. "Vincente shouldn't have told you," he said, sitting down in the other chair. "There was no reason to disturb you with Lucio's mad schemes."

"I had a right to know the truth." Her voice was strained. "You should have told me. Would you prefer that I hate you for something you didn't do?"

"Does the reason for the hate matter?" he asked bleakly.

"I don't hate you." She heard the words emerge from her mouth and rose jerkily to go and stand at the railing, staring blindly toward the mountains. What had she said? Her control was slipping, and she grasped at it desperately. She knew Andres had gotten to his feet, because he wouldn't sit while a woman stood. She knew he was behind her. "I just can't understand ..."

"Sara."

She didn't move, didn't turn. No wonder his voice had moved a country already long sick of revolution and suspicious of promises to take up arms and fight yet another war. How easily it moved her, even now. And she was suspicious of promises too. She didn't want to fight. "Do you know how my parents died?" she asked abruptly, her voice uneven.

"No. You never told me."

Sara turned stiffly and faced him, her arms folded protectively, warning him off. "Terrorists."

Andres closed his eyes briefly, and his face tightened. "I'm sorry, Sara."

"They were in Europe. Just. . . coming out of a restaurant. It was their anniversary, you see, and they'd been celebrating. When the bomb went off, it shattered windows for a block. And there wasn't much left of the restaurant. Fifty people died, including my parents. Including a young mother and her baby who were strolling along the sidewalk. All dead. And do you know who claimed responsibility for the explosion?"

He knew. And he now knew why she had run away from him in such anguish. "The Final Legion?"

Sara nodded. "The Final Legion. Such a grand-sounding name, isn't it? Such a grand name for a pack of soulless murderers. They claimed responsibility, grabbing every headline they could, railing against a corrupt society. And they congratulated themselves on their strike for freedom. Then they just melted away . . . laughing." She caught her breath raggedly and lifted her chin, staring at him from hot, hurting eyes. "Six months later I came to Kadeira with a charming man and found out that he allowed them to live here. Knowing— knowing—what they were, he gave them a home."

"Dios, Sara, I'm so sorry." He stepped toward her, his hands lifting to hold her shoulders gently. "I never wanted to hurt you that way—"

"Is there another way?" she asked fiercely, jerking back from him and moving to put a safe distance between them. She didn't want him to touch her, because when he did, she thought she could mindlessly forgive him worse than terrorists, and that realization terrified her.

Andres slid his hands into his pockets and met her gaze steadily. "What would you have me say? I can't turn back the clock, Sara. I can't tell you they were never here. They were here, and I did allow them to stay."

"Why? Why?" Baffled, she shook her head helplessly. "Because they paid you money? What kind of man does that make you, Andres?"

He stood looking at her for a long moment with something almost hesitant in his eyes. And then, in a change that was as visible to her as a curtain dropping, he was shut inside himself. And she was implacably shut out.

"If you don't know what kind of man I am, Sara," he said remotely, "then nothing I could say would give you that knowledge. But I will tell you this: If I could turn back the clock, I would change only one thing. I would make very certain that you learned of the Final Legion's presence in Kadeira from me, and not from someone else."

"Only that?" she whispered.

"Only that. I would change nothing else. And I will not apologize for my actions, Sara, because I do not regret them. Do you understand? Given the identical situation, I would act now as I acted then."

The unequivocal statement should have made Sara at least more certain of her feelings. His own words, after all, were clear proof that she had been right to escape a man who could welcome terrorists and give them sanctuary in his country, accept payment for his hospitality from them, and then feel no compunction about what he had done two years later. But, oddly, his words only caused her to become even more confused.

It just wasn't right that Andres could do such a thing. And yet he had. He didn't deny it. He made no excuses, offered no defense. In fact, his own words were a self-indictment; Yet Sara felt as if he were showing her an image that was somehow distorted, blurred; there was something wrong with the image, and she didn't know what it was. Despite everything, she couldn't quite believe he was as villainous as he seemed. But she didn't trust even that mental wavering. There was still, in Sara, that young woman who had fallen in love with a complex, charismatic man—and had learned, at a high cost to herself, that her own judgment was tragically faulty.

What was he? What was he?

"I don't understand," she said finally, hurting too much not to try to make sense of it all.

"No, you don't." Andres's almost gentle voice was in stark contrast to the stonelike expression on his face. "Because I am not playing the game according to the rules, am I? I should apologize, tell you it was all a mistake. That I was wrong to do what I did. You could forgive me for a mistake. Those are the rules. But this isn't a game.

"You want things simple, Sara. Either I am as black as I am painted—or I am not. But the truth is never simple. You could forgive me were I to convince you that I feel regret or remorse for what I did. You could forgive me, and perhaps we could build on that, you and I. But we would build on a lie, and I'll have no lies between us."

Unsteadily she said, "What are you asking of me? That I trust you blindly, accept on faith that you had a good reason to allow them here? To receive money from them? What reason could there possibly be, Andres?"

"I did what I had to do," he answered flatly. "The reasons aren't important now. I gave them sanctuary. I won't apologize for that, Sara. Not even to you."

After a moment she turned and walked away from him.



* * *



"Well?" Lucio snapped out the question, frowning in annoyance at the sputtering lamp that barely illuminated the dank, dark cave.

His lieutenant, a burly, bearded man named Sabin, sketched a brief, somewhat haphazard salute and reported stolidly, "She's here. A small boat delivered her just a few hours ago. Impossible to get near her; Sereno had a cordon thrown up around the town, and snipers on the rooftops. He was taking no chances."

Lucio leaned back in his chair, his frown deepening. But there was neither surprise nor displeasure in his voice. "I always suspected Andres knew well how to guard a treasure," he remarked. "Particularly if that treasure was coveted by another."

Sabin waited in silence, having learned, like all Lucio's men, that their leader strongly disliked having his thoughts interrupted. In the flickering lamplight Lucio appeared both cruel and intelligent; in his case, appearances were not deceptive. His black eyes, unusually—and perhaps unnaturally—large and brilliant, were filled with cunning. His mouth, wide and mobile, was both sensual and cruel.

He was shrewd in military matters, and commanded loyalty from his men by the sheer strength of his personality—and by fear. They were all afraid of him, Sabin Included. But Sabin, like the other lieutenants who formed a barrier between Lucio and his army, was a man who knew nothing but war. When Sereno and Lucio had ended the last revolution and thus brought peace, men like Sabin had been left rudderless.

Eventually, of course, most of those soldiers would have fit themselves into a peacetime military. But in the interim they had been vulnerable, and Lucio's swift defection from Sereno’s regime had given Sabin and those like him a new war. Politics mattered not at all to them, only fighting. Lucio had offered a fight, and they had joined him.

And now, waiting patiently, Sabin felt little curiosity about his leader's reasons for wanting the woman. It would be, no doubt, because she could be used as a weapon in some way.

"Andres will see to it that she keeps to the grounds, where he can protect her," Lucio said, musing. "It would be foolish to storm his little fortress, of course. So we shall have to draw the woman out." He glanced up, saw Sabin waiting patiently, and gestured. "We will discuss it later. Dismissed."

Sabin saluted again and left the cave.

Alone, Lucio absently watched the lamplight throw weird shadows on the rough walls. He could hear, out in the cloying heat and damp of their jungle camp, the voices of his men; he didn't think about them. He thought about the woman— and about Andres.

The one could be used to break the other. Once in his possession, the woman would be the most powerful weapon he could hope to use against his bitter enemy. He hadn't decided how best to use that weapon, but he would. Like all his weapons, she would be used to maximum effect.

He meant to destroy Andres Sereno.



* * *



"What kind of man does that make you?" The question echoed in his mind long after Sara had disappeared back toward the house. He stood gazing at the beautiful mountains that not even half a century of revolution had been able to destroy, and he couldn't find an answer to her question.

Did the end justify the means? Did it matter at all that he had allowed them here so they could have been closely observed by the people who intended to bring them to justice? Would Sara understand if he explained that he had been asked by the head of a secret American agency to provide a base for the terrorists just so that they could be observed and studied, their weaknesses pinpointed—their next target identified?

Perhaps she would understand. Certainly she would forgive him, he thought. And yet he had been unable to offer that simple explanation. It was simple and factual, but it was not the entire truth. It was, as he had told her, far more complex than that. It was a matter of favors asked and owed, a matter of desperate need for his country, a matter of a delicate and dangerous chess game where people named as friends were in fact enemies, where people named as enemies were often friends.

In the end it had been a matter of his own conscience.

He had not sold them arms or offered aid, merely a base where they could live unmolested. He had helped make their continued existence possible, when he just as easily could have ordered his army to capture them. He could have had them executed or had them thrown into his prison for the duration of their natural lives, actions that most of the world no doubt would have applauded privately, if not publicly.

Instead he had offered them sanctuary here on Kadeira—in the eyes of the world. In Sara's eyes. And there had been no connection made by the world or by her when the Final Legion had been quietly and efficiently captured one week after leaving Kadeira, and before they could kill again.

Only Adrian, the leader of that group, had managed to escape, and he hadn't been heard of since. The Final Legion had been more or less forgotten in the year since their capture, replaced in the news by other groups. Forgotten by all except those like Sara, who had lost loved ones.

And by Andres Sereno. He would go to his grave with the blood of their crimes on his soul. But Andres could bear that. He didn't know if Sara could.

He left the gazebo, walking slowly back through the garden, his hands in his pockets. He wondered grimly if he would be able to sit across from her at dinner without disgracing himself; his hands always seemed to shake when he was near her.

She was so lovely . . . and so vitally important to him. And though he had learned to cope easily with foreign governments, with powerful men and enemies, coping with his love for Sara was still the most difficult task of his life. He could be nothing except what he was, and what he was unsettled and frightened her. He knew that. He had seen that even two years ago, even before the Final Legion had driven her away from him.

And because of all that he had never pressed her unfairly, had never taken advantage of the explosive passion between them. Because he had known that if they'd become lovers while some part of her feared him, it could have destroyed them both.

It might still destroy them.



* * *



High above the noise of New York City, in a large and luxurious penthouse office, only one voice disturbed the tranquility of a Wednesday afternoon.

"Hagen," Raven Long said with a rare note of anger in her musical voice, "has lived too long. I always knew that one day he'd do something unforgivable. Well, he's done it. The guys should never have stopped you from killing him. Josh." She was pacing restlessly.

"Oh, I don't know," her husband responded in an absent tone as he bent over a large map on his huge desk. "If they'd let me kill him back then, we probably wouldn't have Sarah, Teddy, or Kyle. Kelsey might have had to look for a new job, which means he probably wouldn't have met Elizabeth. I imagine Derek would have gotten Shannon without Hagen's—or our—help, but you never really know about these things."

On the other side of the desk. Raven bent down to rest on her elbows, but she was looking at Josh rather than the map, and she was smiling. "Guess you're right. Have I told you lately what an excellent husband you turned out to be?"

He looked up from his work, his normally rather hard blue eyes softening when they rested on her face. With a faint grin he asked, "What brought that on?"

Solemnly she said, "Well, you're being very patient with me. You've let me rant and rave and get it all out of my system. That's a rare quality in a husband—and much appreciated."

Josh chuckled but said in a grave tone, "You don't rant and rave very often, darling. And never without reason."

Raven, her reason brought back to mind, sighed. "Seriously, we are going to have to do something about Hagen, and soon. He's been let run wild too long." She shook off wistful thoughts. "First things first, though."

"Meaning Sara Marsh." Josh nodded. "I think you alerted the Corsair in time; they were sailing just off Trinidad, so their radar took In Kadeira."

"That's some boat you've got, friend," a new voice interjected.

"Kelsey, did you find Derek?" Raven asked, frowning down at the map.

"I've been out of touch, you know," Raven's ex-partner said in a wounded tone as he approached them.

She looked up at him, one eyebrow rising sardonically.

Kelsey grinned. "As a matter of fact, I did find him. He has a hideout up near Canada, though he calls it a hunting lodge. He swore at me for ten minutes once I managed to raise him by radio. Said he'd retired and was about to dust off that boardroom chair just as soon as he got used to being a married man. I said he'd never get used to it, and wasn't it nice? Anyway, I told him we were mobilizing the commando crew again and asked him if he wanted to play."

"Well, does he?" Josh asked.

"He's on his way. Shannon too. Do we have a plan, or will we charge blindly?"

"Charging Kadeira blindly," Josh pointed out, "would probably not be the best way to do it."

"Agreed." Kelsey joined them in contemplating the map, which had a course marked out from Key West to Kadeira. "So Hagen transported her by sea, huh?"

Raven indicated the marked course. "This is the only thing to approach Kadeira in the last forty-eight hours—just a boat. Anybody want to bet Sara isn't already there?"

After a moment Kelsey said soberly, "Are we sure she's there against her will? Absolutely positive? Granted Hagen's ruthless enough to kidnap her, but would Sereno have done it this way?"

Josh looked at him intently. "You tell us."

Kelsey glanced from Josh to Raven, then sighed.

"He's a cagey one, Sereno. Awfully hard to get a firm handle on. Where his country is concerned, I sure as hell wouldn't want to get in his way."

"But," Raven said, "you spent more time around him than any of the rest of us."

Slowly Kelsey replied, "Where Sereno is concerned, Sara Marsh is the wild card in his deck. I just don't know."

"From instinct," Raven urged. "What do you think?"

"Well, I think that in the past he's gone to the extreme of making certain she was never forced in any way. Now . . . Dammit, it just doesn't feel right! This sudden move after two years. It's out of character. Unless ..."

"Unless what?" Josh asked.

Behind mild eyes, Kelsey's mind was working swiftly. "Unless," he said softly, "she was in danger here. If Sereno believed she might be in danger, he'd move heaven and earth to get her under his wing where she'd be safe."

They looked at one another in silence.



* * *



Sara requested a dinner tray in her suite rather than face Andres again that evening, and though Maria was clearly unhappy with the request, she nonetheless brought the tray upstairs without comment.

It was hardly something Sara could continue for the duration; four weeks was a long time to hide out in a few rooms. In any case, her own personality would not have allowed such an action. But tonight . . . tonight she couldn't face him again. She felt raw. For two years she had managed to convince herself that leaving him was the best thing she had ever done, and now she wasn't sure of anything at all.

She didn't allow herself to think about it at first. She ate dinner, then set the tray outside her door. She listened to some of her tapes while absently pacing the room. She caught herself listening for a knock at the door and was so unsettled by this realization that she turned the music up louder and swore beneath her breath.

The evening dragged on. She took a leisurely bath, filling the suite with the scent of jasmine, and felt like crying when she discovered jasmine sachets in the drawer where her sleepwear had been kept. With a peculiar sense of defiance she put on a long silk nightgown and sheer negligee in emerald green, ignoring the fact that it was Andres's favorite color on her.

Or had been.

She couldn't avoid thinking any longer about the Andres she remembered so well: a handsome, charismatic man with a low laugh and a glow in his dark eyes that she'd never seen in the eyes of any other man. A man who had requested that she wear green often because she looked "so damned beautiful" in the color. A man who had ordered dozens of rosebushes because she loved them, and never mind the difficulties of growing roses in a tropical climate; the roses had been kept alive and well for two years. A man who, when caught by the international press nakedly wearing his supposedly cynical and ruthless heart on his sleeve, had reacted with rueful amusement.

He had told her he loved her less than an hour after their first meeting. He had proposed marriage an hour after that. And yet it had been nearly a week before he kissed her, a week filled with media attention that had unsettled her. Andres had been unfailingly courteous to the reporters, but blandly uncommunicative; she merely had been disturbed.

At the time she had seen his invitation to come with him to Kadeira as an offer of escape from the media, and because he fascinated and charmed her, she had accepted. Yet even then she had sensed something dark inside Andres, something that both attracted and repelled her. Common sense had told her that a man who had won his country's leadership with his own hands had to be touched by a certain ruthlessness, yet she had not allowed that knowledge to prevent her from becoming involved with him. He intrigued her.

And here on Kadeira she had seen glimpses of that darkness, though never in relation to herself. He was, she had discovered, passionately devoted to his country, and quite definitely ruthless in seeing to its good. The revolution still attempting to depose him had had its beginnings more than a year before they'd met, and Sara had seen him deal with some of the problems it caused.

The rebels had infiltrated the one weekly newspaper of Kadeira; Andres had immediately shut it down and allowed only international newspapers, shipped in weekly, to be available to his people. The television station, picking up and broadcasting international programs by means of a satellite dish, had been captured and used for propaganda three times by the rebels before Andres, lacking the manpower to protect it around the clock, reluctantly closed it. The radio station was taken off the air for the same reason. He strictly curtailed trade with other countries because the danger to their ships was great, and he adopted a policy of politely but firmly warning off casual visitors to Kadeira.

The majority of the people of Kadeira, loyal to Andres, went about their daily lives as best they could. Unlike many other dictators, Andres taxed his people as little as possible, using every other means at his disposal to raise the necessary money to keep his country going.

Including . . .

The house was quiet, and it was long after midnight. Sara opened the French doors of her little balcony and stood out in the warm night, listening to the silence.

Finally facing herself, she silently agreed with at least one thing Andres had said in the gazebo. He was right in believing that she wanted the answers to be simple ones. Yes or no; black or white; right or wrong. But what she wanted was Impossible in the real world. He said truth wasn't simple, and she knew he was right about that.

If life was simple, Andres, who undeniably loved his country, would have looked at the havoc of revolution and quietly stepped down just to stop the destruction. But it wasn’t simple, and he couldn't do that. Lucio had made it obvious that his own regime would be a merciless one. So Andres remained in power, struggling daily and sometimes ruthlessly just to keep his people fed, clothed —and alive.

Right or wrong?

Sara leaned on the balcony railing and sighed as she looked down onto the darkened terrace. Then she saw a glowing red ember and realized that Andres was there, smoking one of his thin cigars and watching her. Before she could draw back into her room, he spoke.

"Shall we play the balcony scene from Romeo and Juliet?" His quiet voice reached her clearly in the silence, not really amused, not really teasing.

After a moment she said steadily, "Let's not."

The red ember flared brightly as he drew on the cigar, and his face was revealed in a faint but hellish glow; in that instant he looked so implacably dangerous that she caught her breath.

"No. I suppose not. It doesn't really suit us, does it?" He gave a low laugh, half sitting on the balustrade behind him to look up at her: he was almost directly below her, and only a few feet separated them. "For us, it's Much Ado About Nothing."

Sara swallowed, but the ache in her throat remained. "Which line?"

"A line for you? That's easy. 'I see, lady, the gentleman is not in your books.'" Andres laughed again, mockingly this time, and flicked his cigar out into the garden. "My line is easy as well." He drew an audible breath and his voice lost its mockery, rasping over the simple words. " 'I do love nothing in the world so well as you; is not that strange?' "

Sara straightened and took a step back toward the doorway, conscious of her heart pounding and her eyes stinging. Damn him! How could he make her feel this way when—

"Sara." He spoke quickly, still a little rough. "Walk with me in the garden?"

"No." She fought to steady her voice. "I'm not dressed, Andres. I—"

"It's dark. No lights, no moon. Come down, Sara, please."

She wasn't sure, even after she withdrew into her room and closed the French doors, if she would go out to him. She wasn't even sure when she found sandals in the closet and put them on, or when she left her room and went out into the softly lit hallway. It wasn't a conscious decision. And as she walked through the library to the open terrace doors, she knew why she had refused any and all contact with Andres after leaving Kadeira.

Because she had known that if he had once said "Come to me," she would have gone, in spite of everything. Just the way she was going now. And she knew why. Yes or no; black or white; right or wrong—truth wasn't simple. Not simple, and never to be avoided even if it hurt.

His verses from Shakespeare triggered something in her mind, something she had read here in this room and had not forgotten because the words had rung so utterly true. Lines written by Elizabeth Barrett Browning.



And a voice said in mastery while I strove . . .

"Guess now who holds thee?"—

"Death." I said, but there

The silver answer rang . . .

"Not Death, but Love."



The silver answer . . . And love, like death, couldn't be avoided or denied. Ever. She could no more resist going to him when he called to her than she could resist the next beat of her heart. And nothing could change that stark, simple, painful truth. Whatever he was, whatever he had done or would do in the future, she loved him.

When she had left Kadeira and him, her numbing anguish had come less from the knowledge of what he had done than from the knowledge that she loved him—despite what he had done.

"Sara?"

Standing on the terrace, she watched him walk slowly toward her, and her mind screamed in silence, J can't let him find out! She was afraid. That darkness in him, that implacable ruthless-ness, would cause him to use the knowledge of her love against her, and she couldn't let that happen. She couldn't live with him as he wanted, marry him. She couldn't be with him through the years, loving in this kind of pain. It wouldn't destroy her love, but it would, in the end, destroy her.

She wasn't strong enough to love him.

"What is it, Sara?" His voice was low, and his hand grasped hers gently as he reached her side. "What's wrong?"

"Nothing, Andres." She heard her voice, light and mocking, and prayed that her control held. "Nothing at all."

After a moment he led her down into the garden, walking slowly along the path that wound in a relaxed pattern through three acres of fenced and patrolled grounds. "Have you become so brittle because of me?" he asked abruptly.

"Brittle?" Very conscious of the warmth and strength of his hand, she tried to concentrate on something else. But it was difficult; someone's hand was trembling, and she was very much afraid it was hers. "I'm two years older, and a hell of a lot wiser. What did you expect?"

Andres carried her hand to the crook of his arm and tucked it there, and she was a little relieved because at least now he wouldn't be as likely to feel her shaking through the linen of his white shirt. Oddly enough, it occurred to her only then that she shouldn't be touching him at all, that it wasn't safe. But she didn't retrieve her hand.

"Sara, in spite of everything, I don't think we want to tear at one another for the weeks we have together. Do we?"

"No." She sighed. "No, I don't think we do. Sorry, I seem to be the one doing all the tearing." In a voice containing all the calm she could muster, she added, "We made a bargain. It's over between us."

Andres didn't respond for a few moments, merely walking slowly beside her. When he finally spoke, it was in a contemplative tone, faintly wry but deliberate. "I suppose I should follow the rules this time. Play the game. Agree with you—or allow you to think I do."

"What are you talking about? It is over—"

"No, it isn't. We both know that, Sara. It didn't end when you ran away, it just stopped."

"We made a deal!"

"Yes. That you would remain here willingly for a month. I'll keep my part of that bargain. In a month, if you wish to leave, I won't try to stop you. And if you leave, I won't interfere in your life again. That was my bargain, Sara. I've never, at any point, agreed that it was over between us."

Sara halted, jerked her hand away, and turned to face him. Her eyes had grown accustomed to the darkness, and she could see him fairly well. He had also turned to face her, his head a little bent, and the shine of his dark eyes was like the surface of bottomless twin lakes, mysterious and potentially dangerous.

As evenly as she could manage, Sara said, "I'm leaving Kadeira in four weeks, Andres."

"Unless I convince you to stay."

"You can't. You won't."

He reached out suddenly and caught her in his arms, pulling her hard against him. "Can't I?"

Sara caught her breath and then lost it, dizzyingly aware of strong muscles and the hard heat of his body pressed to her own. In the first shocked moment she couldn't draw away, couldn't even try. Two years ago Andres had not taken advantage of the strong physical attraction between them, had not used desire to sway her. Not then. But this time, she realized hollowly, this time he would.

"No! Andres—"

"You've given me no choice, Sara," he said huskily. "I'm fighting for my life. And a soldier uses every weapon he can find."

"Weapon," she repeated bitterly, pushing against his powerful chest in an attempt she knew to be useless. "Is that how you see it, Andres? Sex is just another weapon to bend someone to your own will, to get what you want?"

"You've made it a fight," he told her, his voice growing ragged, strained. "I didn't want it this way, but if it has to be, I know how to fight."

"You won't win, not this time!" Sara didn't try to wrench herself free, because she knew only too well that his strength would defeat her, but she kept her arms stiff and fought to hold on to the anger.

"Won't I? Look at what you're wearing, Sara."

She went still, catching her breath and forcing her voice to remain steady. "I told you I wasn't dressed. I didn't expect to see you, to come out here—"

"You could have changed," he said softly but insistently. "But you didn't, did you, Sara?" One hand remained at the small of her back, holding her easily in place, while the other slipped between them and toyed with the thin ribbon tie of her negligee. "A woman wouldn't wear this to walk with a man she hated, would she? Not something like this, meant to be worn in a bedroom. And not his favorite color. It is green, Sara; I saw that while you stood on the balcony. My favorite color on you."

She could feel his touch between her breasts, toying with the ribbon until the negligee fell open, and she could feel her arms weakening, the strength of them slipping away. She couldn't move, couldn't even breathe, and the warm night was suddenly hot, closing in on her. "No." Her voice emerged in a whisper. "I just wasn't thinking. I—"

He traced the vee neckline of her gown slowly with his knuckles, the soft caress trailing fire, and the hand at her waist held her lower body tightly against the hardness of his. She was melting in the heat, the heat of the night and of him. Melting, and she couldn't seem to stop it. She tried to think, tried to remember why this was wrong, why she couldn't let it go on, but her thoughts were fogged, sluggish.

"You never let me see you in something like this before," he murmured. His hand brushed the full curve of her breast, separated from his flesh only by thin, sheer silk. "Why not then, Sara? And why now?"

She didn't have an answer, at least not one she was willing to give him. "Don't. Andres, please." The last remaining strength in her arms gave out, and like a warlock, he knew the Instant she could not longer resist him.

Even as both arms surrounded her, drawing her completely against him, his head bent and his mouth found hers. Before, Andres always had kept a tight rein on his desire, offering her only gentleness; now it seemed there was little gentleness left in him. His mouth was hot, hard, demanding. He kissed her with all the untamed force of his desire, and it was like a jarring blow that left Sara reeling.

She lost something then but didn't know what it was. Then she felt it leaving her, torn away by his implacable demand. And even though an answering fire in her matched his demand, even though her senses were vividly alive, her emotions were numbed by the sheer, overwhelming power of his desire.

It was like a sudden storm that blew up out of nowhere, battering her until she couldn't even fight to save herself, until she was left bruised and bewildered.

"You think you know the worst of me, don't you, Sara?" he muttered against her throat. His big body shuddered once, and he held her tightly. "But you don't. And you don't know the best of me."

Dimly Sara realized that her arms had somehow wound around his waist, and the knowledge that she was holding him with what strength she could muster was a distant shock. She had to stop this, had to—

"I could take you now." He lifted his head, staring down at her with eyes that burned even in the night. "I could, Sara. You wouldn't stop me. You wouldn't even try. And with this between us, you couldn't bring yourself to hate me in the morning. You know that, don't you?"

She stared up at him, hearing the voice that had moved a country. Hearing the voice that moved her and tugged at everything she was. "Yes," she whispered finally. "Yes, I know."





Three




The admission, made with bitter reluctance, quivered in the air between them. She forced her arms to release him, let them drop limply to her sides. Even now, with full knowledge and understanding of the consequences, she couldn't stop him. And it wasn't only her body that demanded his with an aching insistence; her heart, too, longed for a consummation that, if not complete, would at least leave her with something when all this was over and she was alone again.

Andres's hands rose slowly and framed her face. His eyes still burned, but his voice was suddenly gentle and deep, and his hands trembled against her flesh. "I know. Heart of my heart, I know. But you must know the best of me now, my love. I could never, would never, hurt you that way. I could never take from you anything you were reluctant to give me."

"You said it yourself." Her voice was soft, still, lost somewhere. "I couldn't stop you, wouldn't even try. And I wouldn't hate you for it."

"No," he agreed, touching her lips with his in a fleeting tender kiss. "You wouldn't hate me. But something between us would be damaged beyond repair. Trust, perhaps. My love, I couldn't bear it if you gave me only a part of yourself."

Sara swallowed hard, a dim and instinctive terror stirring inside her. "You want everything, don't you, Andres?" That darkness, that blackness in him swallowing her . . .

He made an odd, rough sound. "Don't. Don't fear that, my love. Don't fear me."

She wondered vaguely if she had stiffened physically, or if he had become even more adept at reading her face, her thoughts. And it was, finally, the bewildered fear inside her that found a voice for itself. "You want too much," she whispered. "You ask for everything from me, yet you— No. I can't." She felt cold inside, and frightened, and she struck out because there was no other way to fight him. "I won't give my soul to the devil when he hasn't one of his own!"

Andres flinched as though she had slapped him. He stepped back, his hands falling from her face, and turned away from her in a jerky motion.

"I'm sorry!" The words were torn from her in horror; she felt sickened by her own cruelty. "That was . . . unforgivable."

"Do you really think me a devil?" he asked, low.

"No. No, of course not." Sara had her arms folded protectively against the sudden chill of the night. She was conscious of the hot trickle of tears down her cheeks, and it felt as though some vital barrier inside her had ruptured. "Please . . . please, Andres, stop this. Stop me. Let me go." She wasn't even sure what she was saying, except that it had nothing to do with leaving the island, but she was at least sure of the knowledge that they could hurt each other so terribly.

"I can't." His voice was strangely calm.

"You have to." Her recognition of the awful power they held over each other made her voice shake. "Don't you understand? I'm like an animal in a cage trying to tear my way out. I—I'll hurt you without meaning to."

"Sara ..."

"I can't give you what you want! There's too much between us, too much I don't understand, too much I'm afraid of." She dimly wondered where her anger had gone. Now there was only this sense of desperation, this terrifying recognition that they were both somehow connected—and caught up in something that neither could control. "I don't have the strength for this!"

Andres slowly turned back to face her, though he didn't step closer. In the dimness of the garden he was a shadowy presence, big, curiously featureless. "You have the strength," he said in a deep, still voice. "You must have it. I can't stop this. I can't let you go. You haven't realized . . . Heart of my heart, the love I have for you is the best of me. And what will I be if I lose that?"

Sara couldn't breathe, couldn't move. His words shocked her, frightened her, moved her unbearably. The understanding that she was so terribly important to him was a burden, and she staggered under the weight of it. "No." Her voice almost wasn't there. "No, don't say that."

"I have to. You must know it."

She realized she was backing away from him only when she felt the jab of a bush behind her, and when she put her hand back automatically, the pain of caused by thorns was barely noticeable. He had forced from her the admission that she wanted him too badly to be able to fight him, or even to hate him afterwards she had shown him her own vulnerability where he was concerned, had given him the power to hurt her dreadfully.

But Andres had stripped away his armor as well, with a single, jarring admission of his own, and with that admission he had given her the power to all but destroy him.

"Sara ..."

She was running, and she didn't stop until her bedroom door was closed behind her. But she didn't escape him. She couldn't run away from him this time, she knew. This time there had to be an ending between them.



* * *



Late the following morning. Captain Siran, who had remained in his small boat that had been tied up at the dock overnight, sat on the cramped bridge writing a short note. He was ready to leave Kadeira and head back toward Key West, and manners required that he inform his host of his intentions. Manners, and the fact that Sereno's naval fleet took a dim view of boats leaving the harbor without proper permission.

Siran would have used his ship's radio to inform the president, but Sereno had sent word that his enemy could intercept radio transmissions now because of recently acquired equipment, and that it perhaps would be wiser to tell Lucio as little as possible. Captain Siran had no problem with that—except for one small thing.

That morning Hagen had radioed a very brief message.

Out of habitual caution the federal maestro had coded his message, but Siran was still bothered by the possibility of interception. Chances were good, of course, that Lucio wouldn't have understood the message even if he managed to decode it. But if he did understand . . .

Hagen, Siran reflected, had made a bad mistake this time. The situation could be defused if he'd only tell certain people things in order to placate them—but Hagen was notoriously unable to be open and aboveboard about anything.

Siran didn't like any of it. But there was nothing he could do about the situation, and he had his orders. So, along with his intentions of leaving, he added a brief message to Sereno: "From Hagen via radio this morning: Please be advised Long and company very distressed over disappearance of Miss Marsh. Their intentions unclear at this point. Past actions demonstrate they may take the matter into their own hands. Yacht Corsair projected to be in your area."

Siran went out on deck and beckoned to a nearby lieutenant. "Can one of your men take this note to President Sereno?"

The burly man nodded agreement. "Teo has been our messenger since the president forbade radio contact; I have a message to send as well. Leaving, Captain?"

"On the tide."

"Good fortune."

Siran nodded. "Thanks. And to you." He watched the soldier stride toward a group of men near the warehouses, continued to watch as a younger soldier climbed into a battered jeep and drove away. Then, sighing a little, Siran turned back to his preparation to cast off.

Thinking of the lieutenant's good wishes, he muttered, "May fortune favor the foolish." But nobody heard him.



* * *



Colonel Durant was frowning a bit as he handed the slip of paper back to his president. "Long? I didn't realize he knew Sara. It was the other one he knew, the woman who looked so like her."

Andres shook his head. "I shall have to ask Sara, but I believe Long and his friends became interested in Sara's well-being after Rafferty and his wife visited here. Of course they'd be concerned when she vanished, particularly if they know or suspect that she was brought here against her will."

"Nevertheless," Durant said, "what could they hope to do? Impossible to reach the island without our knowing—"

"They did once before," Andres murmured.

The colonel was silenced but only briefly. "Under cover of a storm. And Long himself didn't risk coming to the island."

"The Final Legion was here then. It isn't now."

Durant's frown deepened. "But the revolution exists; he would be in danger, and men of his wealth are cautious."

Sereno smiled just a little. "Vincente, in an hour or so Joshua Long could raise his own army—by comparison to which both mine and Lucio's would be pathetic."

"He wouldn't. International law—"

"International law aside, no, he wouldn't. But he could, if he chose. And a man such as he could, I imagine, find his way to Kadeira in caution and relative safety."

Accepting that, Durant asked, "We expect him, then?"

"We won't be surprised if he arrives."

Durant studied his old friend in silence for a moment. This new threat to the island was worrisome enough; Vincente was concerned over Sereno himself. The president seemed very tired, drained emotionally rather than physically. He had said nothing when Sara had failed to appear at breakfast, but his eyes had strayed often to the place that had been set for her.

The colonel had seen Sara slipping out into the garden a few minutes ago, and she had looked as drained and haunted as Andres did. Clearly there had been a confrontation of some kind between them, and just as clearly, it had resolved nothing. And Vincente was worried because if they both showed such strain after less than twenty-four hours...

"I need to ask Sara about Long and his friends." Andres's voice was slow, almost reluctant.

Durant understood the hesitation, and it didn't surprise him only because he, more than any other, knew just how strong Andres's feelings for Sara were. So he understood now that Andres was diffident about approaching Sara alone, even with so innocuous a reason, after whatever confrontation had so shaken the both of them. But perhaps, Durant thought, it was just what they needed—an impersonal topic to discuss.

"Shall I find her for you?" he asked.

Sereno was concentrating on a munitions Inventory before him on the desk, and didn't look up when he answered in a low voice, "Thank you, Vincente."



* * *



Sara had slipped into the garden because she was getting claustrophobic in her suite. She had paced the floor all night, unable to sleep or even to rest. And now she wandered in the garden, touching a shrub here, a flower there. Trying not to think but thinking all the same.

During the long hours since she had run from him the night before, Sara had come to at least one certain realization: Whether or not she somehow came to accept Andres's actions two years ago in allowing the terrorist group a sanctuary here, there was still the part of him she was afraid of, the darkness. And she couldn't live with a man she feared.

"The love I have for you ... is the best of me."

If that was true . . . she could destroy him. Or at least destroy that part of him she loved, that charming. Intense, gentle part of him. Just as she had done the previous night, she would, in her own panic, tear at him in her efforts to fight this between them, to escape him. She'd say cruel things, strike out at him. "I'll not give my soul to the devil..." She would batter his love until it lay around them both in ruins.

"... what will I be if I lose that?"

If she killed it, then . . . then she'd see the worst of him.

Sara wondered, dimly and tiredly, if that was what really drove her. Did she strike out at him, tear at the gentle layers of his love, because her fear compelled her to know the worst of him before she could love without reservation?

He hadn't shown that side of himself to her, whether consciously or not. But it was there. She sensed it, had glimpsed the darkness from time to time in fleeting moments. She knew it was there.

She tried to remind herself that some of the most monstrous leaders the world had known had loved passionately and even tenderly in their lives. That didn't change them, didn't alter what they were. So it shouldn't matter to her that Andres loved her, that he was gentle with her.

But it did matter.

She had to see him clearly, had to understand everything he was. She couldn't trust her Instincts, because those Instincts were in chaos. And she couldn't run away again. There had to be an end to it, one way or another. This time it couldn't just stop.

Yes or no; black or white; right or wrong. She had to see, to know and understand, the worst of him. There weren't any simple answers, weren't any easy solutions. And they could hurt each other so dreadfully.

"Pardon, Miss Marsh?"

Sara jumped in surprise, the heavily accented voice causing her to swing around. He was a young soldier with a shy smile and curiously Hat back eyes, bobbing in an awkward bow.

She forced her muscles to relax. "Yes?"

"The president, Miss. He asks that you come."

She nodded, preceding him along the path he indicated. And it wasn't until they'd nearly reached the corner of the house that Sara wondered abruptly why Andres would have summoned her to the area where the cars were kept parked—the only area at the front of the house that the perimeter guards couldn't see.

"Wait a minute. What—"

She discovered quickly enough the unexpected strength of the young soldier. And the quickness with which he clapped a sickly-sweet cloth over her nose and mouth defeated her before she even could begin to struggle. After that was only blackness.



* * *



By the time he had searched the entire garden, Colonel Durant was worried. It was unlikely that something had happened to Sara, but Durant preferred to err on the side of caution. And she had slipped away from these very grounds once before.

He went back into the house, asked a quick question of Maria, and, despite the negative answer, went up the stairs two at a time and rapped sharply on Sara's door. There was no answer. He went in, quickly searching the suite. Empty.

He returned downstairs and hurried to Andres's office where there was an intercom connected to the guardhouse at the gate. When he burst into the room, Andres looked up in surprise.

"Vincente? What—" He broke off, his face going tight and pale. "Sara."

Durant leaned over the desk to stab the Intercom button. "Morales."

"Colonel?" the gate guard responded instantly.

"Has anyone left the grounds in the past hour?"

"Only Teo, sir."

Durant's eyes met Andres's, and both held the same realization—Teo, the trusted messenger, his uniform giving him safe passage, would have gone unquestioned through the grounds.

"Did you search his vehicle?"

"When he came in, sir." Morales sounded puzzled, apprehensive.

"Not when he left?"

"No, sir." Definitely apprehensive now. "But, sir, he was driving a jeep with no top; we could see inside."

"You're absolutely positive he was alone?"

"I—there was a tarp in back, sir. But we checked under it when he came in. There was just some equipment, some sleeping bags." After an instant's hesitation Morales added stiffly, "We did wonder why he didn't take the harbor road—"

Andres spoke harshly. "Gather half a dozen of your best men, Morales, and get up here."

"Yes, sir!"

Woodenly Durant said, "He could have discarded the equipment out near the cars; no one would see it. If he knocked her out, hid her under the tarp . . ."

Andres reached for the radio behind the desk with some thought of contacting his patrols in the city but hesitated and looked at Durant. "He has no means of contacting Lucio, but if I order the men to find and stop that Jeep, Lucio will know something has happened, and he'll guess it has to do with Sara."

Durant nodded. "You don't dare risk it."

There was a big automatic in a webbed holster in the bottom drawer of Andres's desk; he got it out and stood, buckling the belt in place. And his voice, when he spoke again, was a bleak rasp. "She may have gone willingly, Vincente. She may have run away from me again."

Durant couldn't deny the possibility. "She must be found."

"Yes. Yes, she must be found." Andres's mouth twisted bitterly. "So that I may protect her."



* * *



Every breath Andres drew burned in his chest and caught raggedly in his throat. Every passing second was an eternity filled with anguished terror. She was gone, taken from him. She was gone, and he could barely think, could hardly feel past the numbing cold of his fear for her. He was vaguely aware that Durant protested when he got into an open jeep but ignored his old friend's worry over enemy snipers.

The jeep all but stood on two wheels as it shot through the open gate and turned hard onto the harbor road, then shuddered with the strain when it was almost immediately turned again at right angles onto the rougher road Morales had indicated that led to the beach before swinging back inland. It was a little-traveled, treacherous road, marked by hard-baked hillocks thrown up by the mud slides of the rainy season and by eroded gullies that were invisible until a vehicle was quite literally on top of them and unable to stop.

From the moment Morales had Indicated Teo's choice of route, Andres had been conscious of desperate urgency, and he pushed the old jeep to its straining limits. They could, if they were quick enough, catch up to Teo before he even knew he was being followed. But if he saw them and increased his own speed in an effort to escape . . . He was an inexperienced driver, and his chances of avoiding all the dangers of the road at high speeds were virtually nil.

But if they didn't catch him, if he reached the jungle's edge ahead of them, then he was gone. After years of war Andres knew only too well how easily an army could be hidden in those impenetrable depths; a lone vehicle would seem to disappear completely.

The stress Andres was placing on his jeep made the engine roar like a tortured thing. Only the seat belt he had automatically fastened kept Andres in place as they hit the worst of the road and the jeep defied the laws of gravity in its bouncing, jarring attempts to become airborne.

He heard Durant cursing steadily beside him, heard the grunts and muffled exclamations of the machine gunner behind him who was holding on grimly to his gun. But Andres was oblivious to everything but urgency and fear.

And then they topped a rise, and in the instant before the jeep plunged downward into a hollow, he saw Teo. The young soldier was no more than fifty yards ahead of them and going at a reckless clip, his jeep bouncing and slewing wildly.

"Andres, for God's sake!"

He barely heard Durant, concentrating on squeezing the last possible ounce of speed from his laboring engine. With an iron will and sheer determination he held the jeep on the road when it should have gone off, and at a speed that was nothing short of suicidal. After a sharp incline the road ended temporarily to become the beach, turning back inland nearly a mile farther down the coast. Andres never slowed. The last bend before they plummeted down onto the beach nearly finished them, the engine screaming shrilly when all four wheels left the ground. Then they were on the beach, level and smooth, and Teo was no more than twenty yards ahead of them. Andres's feeling of triumph was short-lived. Ahead of Teo's jeep, far down the beach where the road began again, was a small band of heavily armed soldiers. Lucio's soldiers. Whether or not they recognized Teo and knew he was bringing them a prize was unclear, but they instantly fanned out, dropped for cover in the rocks by the road, and opened fire.

Andres's machine gunner, well trained, immediately brought his own gun to bear on the soldiers, and the staccato chatter of his gun rose above the laboring scream of the jeep's engine. Andres barked out a harsh command to stop the gunner, sickly aware that the angle was deadly, that the soldiers in the rocks weren't high enough above them to make shooting past Teo's speeding jeep a safe exercise.

The angle was indeed deadly. The soldiers, aiming toward Andres's Jeep and the one behind, couldn't possibly keep Teo out of the line of fire. And it was inevitable that at least some of those men, few of whom were expertly trained or skilled marksmen, would hit the closer jeep.

Teo's vehicle slewed furiously until it pointed toward the sea, rose up on two wheels, and shuddered violently. Then it flipped over with a grinding crash and rolled over several times, finally coming to rest in gouged-out sand, its wheels spinning futilely in the air.

Andres felt something tear loose inside him, some sound, some part of himself. The jeep slid jerkily as he locked the brakes, not even aware that Morales and his men had sped past, guns firing at the band of soldiers hurriedly withdrawing from the beach. He was aware of nothing, not time or motion or events.

He would be told later that his seat belt had been wrenched cleanly from its floorboard bolts, that he had left the jeep and approached the wreck with such inhuman speed that his men afterward swore that his feet never had touched the sand. And he could never explain later, even to himself, what guided him away from the wreck when he had seen nothing thrown from it. But something guided him, or called to him, because he found Sara yards from the overturned jeep.

She was a limp, tarp-wrapped bundle hidden behind a jagged rock that rose from the sand. She didn't move when he dropped to the sand and muttered her name, or when he worked with awkward haste to untie the ropes that kept the tarp around her.

She didn't move when he threw open the tarp, when a hoarse cry broke from him like something dark and dreadful on the wind.



* * *



Her head hurt terribly, and her whole body felt sore and bruised. She thought she smelled jasmine but decided it was a dream. The voice was a dream, too, a dream slightly out of focus, because that wasn't his voice. His was a deep and commanding voice, sometimes gentle, sometimes hard, but it was never like this, broken and afraid and holding such pain. Never like this. So it wasn't his, of course.

She listened, idly, to the voice. The words it was saying were halting, as if half forgotten or long denied, Spanish words with an old, old cadence despite the erratic pauses. Her head hurt so much that she didn't try to translate with her uncertain Spanish, yet the meaning of the words seeped into her mind without volition and with surprising clarity. Praying. The voice was praying, and it wasn't accustomed to praying at all.

Floating, hurting, she nonetheless felt powerfully moved to look at the face the voice belonged to, because it was curiously familiar—yet unfamiliar. She tried to open her eyes, failing at first. But then there was a lightening of the darkness, and the scent of jasmine grew stronger. With an enormous driving effort she forced her eyes to open.

Her room. Her room in Andres's house, and that was why the jasmine. Her bed beneath her, blessedly soft against bruised flesh. And how had she bruised herself? Her head hurt.

The voice was more distinct, and she forced her aching head to turn, with agonizing slowness, until she could see him. There was something wrong with what she saw, and she was fretful because she felt she should understand why it was wrong. He was ... he was kneeling. By her bed. He was holding her hand in both of his, his head bent over her, shoulders bowed, his familiar voice broken and hurting in an unfamiliar way, saying old words in a half-forgotten prayer.

And it was wrong because . . . because a devil with no soul couldn't shed tears, even in an awkward, unpracticed way.

She felt a new pain, somewhere deeper inside her, and tried to tell him not to do that, not to hurt her like that. But her voice wouldn't come. Then he looked up, his ashen face tracked by tears, his black eyes so anguished that she would have cried out against such suffering if she could have.

For an eternal moment their eyes locked, and Sara felt a sudden easing of something, a curious sense of acceptance. Something that had bothered her terribly slipped away, even as she felt her eyes closing, even as she mustered her last strength to respond to his gentle grasp by tightening her fingers slightly. And she thought to herself as she heard his voice fade away that words of love in Spanish were wonderful to take into dreams.



* * *



Her lovely dreams were disturbed at some point by voices, one of them steady and competent, the other rough and urgent. Something painful was done to her head, and she cried out half consciously. The rough voice, softened and hushed now, soothed her gently until the pain eased.

"Aftereffects of the chloroform. Shock. Bruises. Eight stitches in the head wound. And scalp wounds always bleed a great deal. A concussion, certainly."

"Will she be all right?"

"Wake her up at least once every hour, just to be sure. If you can't get her to respond, call me immediately."

"Dammit! Will she be all right?"

Sara lost the conversation at that point, drifting away from it disinterestedly. She was vaguely aware of time passing. His voice called her now and then, and she always managed to rouse herself enough to murmur his name, though her eyes refused to open again for a long time.

A soft knock at the door half woke her some undetermined time later, voices reaching her clearly despite the lowered tones.

"Teo was killed, shot. Impossible to tell if it was our guns or theirs. We've recovered his body, Andres. Do you wish—"

"Send him back to his family." Andres's voice was flat and hard. "Not in uniform. Not even a dead traitor may go home wearing the uniform he betrayed." There was a slight pause, and then Andres added in the same tone, "Make certain everyone knows, Vincente."

"Very well, Andres."

Sara drifted away again, troubled by what she had heard.



* * *



It was night when she saw the room again, the lamps turned low and everything silent. And Andres was standing by the French doors leading out onto the balcony. Awakened by the throbbing of her head, she lay and watched him, as still and silent as he was himself. Someone had dressed her in the green gown, and she decided not to ask who had done that. She thought she knew, anyway. She watched him.

He looked so tired, she thought, so drawn. He had pulled back the filmy curtains with one hand and seemed to be looking out through the doors, but his gaze was blind.

She remembered, then, two strangely vivid scenes, one seen and heard, the second only heard. In the first, Andres as he had been beside her bed; in the second, his flat, hard order that had sent a dead soldier home stripped of his uniform and all honor.

"Andres?"

He turned instantly, crossing to her bed, his eyes anxious but his expression masked by control. "Sara, how do you feel?" His voice, too, was controlled.

She watched as he sat carefully on the edge of her bed. "I feel sore. And tired. What happened?"

"One of—of my soldiers seems to have been in Lucio's pay." Andres's voice was low. "He took you out in the back of a jeep, hidden in a tarp. We followed. During the chase some of Lucio's soldiers opened fire down on the beach. Teo was shot, the jeep overturned. You were thrown out. You had been injured, struck on the head either during the wreck or earlier—"

"It must have been during the wreck." She wasn't surprised that in Andres's voice and in his mind there could be the faintest question, the Inescapable idea that she might well have had a hand in her own apparent kidnapping. "He told me you wanted me at the house, and it wasn't until we'd nearly reached the cars that I wondered why you would have called me there. That's when he— chloroform, I suppose."

"Yes. Some was found in the wreckage of the jeep."

He had accepted her explanation instantly, she realized, and with a relief strong enough to penetrate through his control and show briefly on his lean face. She thought of that young soldier. "You sent . . . Teo . . . back to his family. Without his uniform."

"You heard that." It wasn't a question. His eyes shuttered themselves. "Yes, I did. He was a traitor, Sara."

The harshness of that disturbed her, but not as strongly as she had expected it to. She just wanted to make it fit, make it somehow a part of her unfocused image of him. "And if ... if it had been my idea? If I'd asked Teo to get me out of here? Would he still be a traitor?"

"Yes," Andres said flatly. "A traitor to me, Sara."

She thought about that, wishing absently that her head would stop pounding. Was Andres's action a harsh one under the circumstances? The leader of a revolution-torn country had to be certain of his army, yes; and treachery couldn't be condoned or forgiven. In Andres's world his action made sense.

"Sara, I'm sorry. I believed I could protect you here."

She looked at him, at the masklike face and shuttered eyes. His voice, she thought, gave him away, and she wondered if, with her, it always would. It was a curiously comforting thought. "You couldn't have known," she said finally.

He shifted a little, not quite a shrug, not quite a denial. "Perhaps. Sara, if you ever—if it ever comes to a point that you feel desperate to get away from me, tell me, please. If Lucio were ever to get his hands on you, I—"

"I won't run away again." Her voice was steady, certain. "I promise you that, Andres."

Doubt flickered behind the shutters. "No?"

She felt a smile curve her lips. "No. It doesn't seem to—to accomplish much, does it? As you said, nothing ended when I ran away before. It just stopped for a while. I've realized that I can't live like, that. Neither of us can live like that."

He looked at her for a moment, and she thought he was undecided, although his face revealed nothing. Then, slowly, he said, "Have you made up your mind about us, then?"

Again his voice gave him away, and she didn't need to see braced shoulders to know he was half prepared for an answer that would be a blow.

She tried to find words, in her own uncertainty, to tell him what she felt. "Can you make up your mind about a hurricane? No. It just . . . exists. Either you run, or else board up all the windows and ride it out."

He smiled a little, not with amusement but with understanding. "Have you boarded up the windows?"

"I can't run this time." Clinging to the emotional safety of analogy, she said slowly, "And I don't know what will be left standing when it's over. Maybe I'll find out that I'm not tough enough to ride out the storm. But I have to find out. We both have to find out."

"Can I make it easier for you?" he asked quietly.

"Yes." She drew one arm from beneath the covers and put out her hand to him, feeling the warmth of his long fingers closing instantly around hers. A little unsteadily she said, "Don't muffle the thunder, Andres. Don't cloak the lightning. I can't hide from any of it—even if you want me to."





Four




Andres looked down at the hand he held and, after a long moment, softly quoted, " 'God be thanked, the meanest of his creatures boasts two soul-sides, one to face the world with, one to show a woman when he loves her,' Is that what you mean?"

How odd, she thought vaguely, that he should quote Robert Browning about love when she had earlier quoted to herself Elizabeth Barrett Browning about the "mastery" of love. And how strangely moving it was to hear this proud, self-educated man turn often to the wise words of poets to express his own deep feelings.

She drew a deep breath. "Yes."

His mouth twisted a little, and he didn't look up at her. "Should a man not show the softer side of himself to the woman he loves?"

Her fingers tightened in his. "Andres, it isn't what I see that frightens me. It's what I don't see, what you won't let me see."

"So." He met her gaze finally. "You wish to see the face that took a country in bloodshed. The face that gave sanctuary to terrorists. The face that sent a dead boy home to his family branded a traitor for all to see."

She didn't flinch from his hard voice. "It's your face. It's you. Should either of us hide from that?"

"You wanted to," he reminded her almost reluctantly, his tone unchanged. "You tried. You ran from it in fear. We both know that. Do you really believe I'll allow the same thing to drive you away again?"

"Just because I can't see it doesn't mean it isn't there, Andres!"

"That part of me will never touch you." His voice was still harsh. "It doesn't exist between us."

Sara knew that Andres understood what she was afraid of; she also knew that his method of dealing with it would never be a solution for her. He couldn't—or wouldn't—defend his actions, perhaps because there was no defense, but he had seen her fear and had acted to banish it, taking care that the darkness she feared in him was hidden from her as much as possible. He could speak of it to her and would, but he would consciously try not to show it. Even now he was trying to shield her.

So she braced herself inwardly and said the only thing she could to show him how impossible his solution was. "You say you want my love, my trust; how can you expect that from me? How can I love what I don't understand? Or are you willing for less? Do you want me to love only a part of you, Andres?"

She hadn't flinched from his harsh voice, but he flinched from her quiet one.

Sara went on as steadily as she could. "I can't, you know that. Not and live with you." She suddenly wanted to cry. "I'd always be afraid of that part of you, always wonder about—about the darkness in you."

"Sara—"

"It's there. We both know it! You said I had to see the best of you; I have to see the worst too. I thought it was the terrorists, but you said yourself I hadn't known the worst of you. I have to."

"No."

"Yes." She steadied her voice with an effort. "Andres, I said I wouldn't run away again, and I meant that. But if you won't let me understand you—completely—then I'll never get over the uncertainty. I'd always wonder. And I'd have to say good-bye—this time—and walk away."

He said nothing, just continued to gaze down at the hand he held.

Sara searched his face and was conscious of a growing desperation. He'd shut her out, blocking the chinks so that nothing escaped, and she couldn't let him do that, not now. Not when it was so terribly important. "You said that I wanted the easy answers, the simple solutions," she said. "And you were right. I ran because there weren't any easy a