Shadow game (Chapter Eighteen)

LILY wasn't in the least surprised at the lack of security guards. Phillip Thornton had to be in on whatever Colonel Higgens was up to and he must have insisted Higgens have full cooperation. The guards had been pulled to another part of the laboratories. She kept her head down, concentrating on the mechanism locking the handcuffs. She had never been good with locks. Even after studying how they worked, she rarely succeeded in opening them. It took finite concentration, a focused energy with pinpoint precision and skill. Lily was angry with herself for not taking more care to acquire the skill.

We're in place, Lily. Use your leg. Slow them down. We don't want the colonel to think you're capable of running. Ryland sounded very confident.

Lily frowned. I'm not capable of running. And don't get yourself caught. I can get out of this.

You're such a little liar. You need me to rescue you.

The taunting amusement in his voice warmed her. It was only then she realized she was shivering with fear. Lily tossed her hair and rolled her eyes in case by some miracle Ryland could see her, but she slowed her pace, dragging her bad leg a little more.

Colonel Higgens put a hand on her shoulder. "I'll have Hilton bring the car around so you don't have to walk so far." Now that he thought she believed Miller had disposed of her father, he could afford to be civil.

"He looks like the captain I danced with at the benefit," Lily ventured, to keep him distracted.

"They're brothers. Neither is very bright, but they come in handy." The colonel put his hand on his gun as they entered the elevator. He had little control of the guards on the ground area and any of them might spot the handcuffs. "I'll shoot anyone who tries to stop us," he warned. "Think of this as a national security mission. You have a chance to save lives, Dr. Whitney. You choose."

He paused to snatch two lab coats from a small room close to the elevators, tossing one to Hilton. "You look a little worse for the wear-put that on and cover up the blood." The other jacket he arranged over Lily's wrists to hide the cuffs. "We're going to walk out all together, very close to one another. Hilton, you'll go get the car and bring it up to us."

He's sending his henchman to get the car. This man killed my father.

The warmth suddenly surrounding her was strong. She realized immediately the other men were tapped into the telepathic wave of energy, listening, waiting and ready to strike on her behalf. It made her feel a part of something. When had she gone from being so alone and devastated to belonging?

Does anyone actually use the word "henchman"? Ryland asked.

There was a collective murmur of negatives, a few laughs and snorts of derision.

I'm sorry, honey. The verdict is no one uses that antiquated word.

Antiquated? Her breath nearly stopped in her lungs when she spotted two security guards coming toward them near the end of the long corridor. Should I have used "bad guy"? Would that be more modern? The overload of adrenaline was making her shaky, almost high, but it numbed the pain in her leg, allowing her to function properly.

A few more minutes, Lily, Ryland encouraged her. Your heart is beating too fast. Slow it down.

Another voice broke in. It's the anticipation of seeing us again. She likes me. Gator drawled the words in his Cajun accent.

Lily had to keep from laughing in spite of the dangerous situation. She didn't dare look at Higgens, afraid her expression would give her away. The men were outrageous in their efforts to be reassuring.

I do, Gator. I thought you were so cute when I first saw you. The guards nodded to Higgens as they hurried past.

Changing of the shift. Everyone was tired. Higgens wasn't quite so stupid after all. The guards would not want to see anything unusual. They just wanted to go home to their families and rest.

You don't need to be looking at Gator anymore, Ryland decided. Not if you're thinking he's cute. What the hell is cute anyway?

Not you, Gator pointed out.

In spite of the banter, Lily sensed the edge of grim tension building in their voices. The double doors leading out into the complex were looming. She kept her head down and walked slowly, dragging her leg.

Hilton pushed open the doors and waved her through. Lily didn't look at him. He was dead. He just didn't know it yet. She kept walking until Higgens tugged on her arm, bringing her abruptly to a halt. Hilton trotted off. "That was smart to stay quiet with the guards. You wouldn't want blood on your hands."

Lily lifted her head to look him directly in the eye. "Don't let the fact that I'm a woman fool you, Colonel. I don't mind violence under the right circumstances. Someone is responsible for killing my father and I'm going to find them."

He smiled at her. His eyes were flat. "I hope you do, Dr. Whitney."

The car pulled up beside them. Higgens reached out to open the door for her. Lily half turned as if to slide onto the passenger seat. Instead she snapped out a front kick, putting her weight behind it. The kick took Higgens precisely in the solar plexus, driving the air from his lungs so that he collapsed like a deflated balloon. As he went down, Kaden loomed up behind him, finishing her work with a vicious chop to his neck. Colonel Higgens dropped to the asphalt like stone.

Kaden didn't hesitate, shoving Lily into the car and crowding in after her. "Go, go." Phase one completed. We have recovery. Repeat, we have recovery.

"They'll stop us at the gate," Lily pointed out. "Kaden, get these cuffs off me. I can't stand them." She was phase one. The retrieved object. The idea irritated her but not as much as the metal cuffs on her wrists.

"We're in possession of the gate at the moment, Lily," he replied gently. "Just a few more minutes. As soon as I know we're clear."

"Did Arly get out?" She was looking at the driver in an effort to identify him. He wore the white lab coat Hilton had been wearing.

Jonas glanced at her in the mirror and winked. "Arly's waiting outside the gates with the Porsche. Sweet little number, that car. I'd like to drive it sometime." He sounded very hopeful. He pulled the car right up to the gate. The uniformed man simply opened the door and slid in on the other side of Lily so she was surrounded.

Ryland framed her face in his hands and kissed her hard. "Damn it, Lily, I'm going to find a padded room and lock you up in it where I know you're safe," he said, then turned to watch their back trail. Lily could see the gun in his hand.

Behind them, the laboratories rocked with several loud explosions. She turned to look out the back window. Smoke billowed into the sky. "Who did that?"

"Kyle, of course. He does like to blow things up."

"There are a lot of innocent people working there," she pointed out.

Jonas drew the car up beside the Porsche. Arly was out of the car and pacing back and forth. They were four blocks from the laboratories and could hear the sirens blaring in alarm. Ryland dragged Lily out of the backseat and put her in the Porsche, taking the keys from Arly before the man could protest.

"What are we doing?" Lily asked.

"Getting you away from that place fast," Ryland replied.

"I didn't even get to hug Arly," she said. "He must have been so worried."

"He was worried?" Ryland changed gears with more strength than finesse. "You took ten years off my life. You'll have to hug Arly later. Right now I want you as far away from Donovans as fast as I can get you away. As far as I'm concerned the place can burn to the ground." A muscle jerked along his set jaw. "They could have killed you, Lily."

She leaned her head back against the seat as he maneuvered his way in and out of the light traffic. "I know. I was really afraid. But I got the disk and Higgens never had a clue." She closed her eyes. "Hilton was the man who threw my father overboard."

Ryland glanced at her, worried. "I know, honey. I'm sorry. Are you hurt? Did they hurt you?" He wanted to stop the car and examine every inch of her.

Lily shook her head wearily without opening her eyes. "Not really. But I was really, really afraid. He was going to kill me after he got the process out of me."

Ryland frowned. "You don't know the process, do you?"

"Not exactly. I see where my father was going and it wouldn't be hard, knowing him as well as I do, to figure most of it out. It's all in his laptop in the laboratory at the house. Everything is there. I would have made something up for Higgens." She was exhausted, wanting desperately to crawl into her bed. She held up her manacled wrists. "Can you get these off of me?"

She sounded so close to tears his heart turned over. "As soon as we get to the garage in the woods, honey. Hang in there a little longer."

Lily looked down at her hands. "I read about this kind of thing in those books, you know. In real life, it isn't nearly as exciting as reading about it."

Ryland put his hand over hers, his thumb stroking small caresses over her wrist. The cuffs were too tight, cutting into her skin. "I could do a lot with a bondage scene," he said, forcing speculation into his voice, hoping to make her laugh. If she cried, it was going to rip his heart out. "I think silk ties would do better than metal cuffs." His thumb traced the bluish circles forming on her wrist. "This would never happen with me. You have to be more discerning, Lily, when you go around experimenting with bondage." He wiggled his eyebrows. "I'd make a great master."

She nearly choked. "Master? I see. I'd be your slave."

He grinned at her wickedly. "That's one way to look at it. But tying you to the bed and taking my time exploring your body sounds good to me. I wouldn't mind taking a few hours to just give you pleasure."

Her blue gaze collided with his. Her entire body flushed at the idea. "Thank you for taking my mind off of the handcuffs, they really hurt. And they make me feel trapped. I almost feel like I can't breathe with them on."

"We're right here, honey, just a couple more minutes," he promised as he eased the Porsche into the garage and closed the garage door, plunging them into darkness. He reached for her hands. "I don't have my tool kit, so I have to concentrate. It may take a little bit of time."

"I don't care, just get them off of me." She wasn't going to cry now that she was safe and almost home.

It took a few minutes, Ryland working at the skill with precision until she felt the cuffs loosen and drop off. He handed them to her as he scooped her up. "I'm going to carry you, honey."

"I'm too heavy." She was just grateful to have the cuffs off.

Ryland made a rude noise and pulled her from the small car.

"Don't we have to wait for the others so they can get the guards around the house to look the other way?" She was tired. She wanted to sleep forever.

"We can do it ourselves. One at a time. I'll let you know when we have to combine our energy." Ryland scooped her up and carried her from the building into the thick stand of woods.

The morning sun was filtering rays of light through the dense canopy above them. Branches and leaves swayed and danced to the mild wind. Lily looked around her in wonder. She had forgotten beautiful things could exist. Birds were calling back and forth to one another in spite of the chatter and scolding of squirrels.

Lily settled her head against Ryland's shoulder, circling his neck with her arms. "I kind of like this part of the bondage thing. It feels like you're my slave instead of the other way around."

He bent his head to scrape his teeth back and forth playfully along her neck, his tongue swirling to ease the tiny nips.

Lily laughed softly. "I think it's true about sex being on the minds of men every three seconds. You are thinking about sex instead of guards, aren't you?"

"You say that as if it's a bad thing. Of course I am. All this talk is stirring me up. How the hell do you manage to smell so damn good all the time?" Lily felt the change in him, going from banter to business. He didn't stiffen, but there was power moving through his body, raw and deadly. He nodded toward their left. Lily felt the interruption in the natural flow of nature around them. A foreign presence was in the forest.

She closed her eyes, gave herself up to the common path, touching on the wave, feeding it, allowing Ryland to assume command. He did the directing, suggesting a walk in the other direction. The subtle flow of power persisted until the guard sauntered away, giving them free passage to the tunnel entrance.

Once inside, Ryland moved fast, knowing his way, taking her straight through the maze of passageways to the nearest corridor to her suite of rooms. Sunlight was pouring through the windows. He closed the drapes even before he laid her on the bed.

Lily stared up at his face. "I don't have the energy to find a recorder." She pulled the small disk from her slacks pocket and handed it to him. "Arly will have one somewhere. I just want to lie here and look at you."

He put the precious disk on the nightstand and knelt beside the bed to remove her shoes. "I want to look at your leg. Does it hurt?"

"I'm so tired, Ryland," she admitted, "I can't think about it."

Ryland tossed her shoes aside and dragged her slacks down, tossing them aside. "I forgot you weren't wearing underwear. For God's sake, Lily, no wonder I think about sex all the time. You go from scaring me to seducing me."

A small, reluctant smile tugged at the corners of her mouth. "How am I seducing you? I'm just lying here." The idea would have had merit if she hadn't been so completely exhausted. There was something about the way he looked at her that always managed to heat her blood.

Ryland examined her calf carefully, massaging the cramped muscles. She lay quietly under his ministrations, her eyes closed, wearing only her shirt. The material was hiked up, showing her navel and the underside of one breast. Ryland slid his hand possessively up her thigh.

Lily opened her eyes a tiny slit. "I don't know what you think you're going to be doing, but I want to sleep for a month."

"I'm inspecting the damage," he said. And he was. There was the beginnings of a bruise on her thigh.

"It's on my backside and my chest," she murmured sleepily. "I hurt everywhere, Ryland. Thank you for taking the cuffs off, I know it wasn't easy."

He gently took possession of her hands, turning them this way and that, frowning down at the dark matching bracelets of bruises. "How did you get the bruise on your leg?" There was rage building in the pit of his stomach, but he fought to keep it under control, fought to keep his voice gentle.

"I don't know. I got in a fight. Hilton slapped me and I lost my mind for a minute." She turned on her side, snuggling closer to her pillow. "I went after him."

"He slapped you? What else did he do?" Ryland pushed the material of her top up her back. Her buttocks had two bluish smudges. He was beginning to wish he could kill a man twice.

"Don't worry, I got him back," she answered. There was satisfaction in her voice. "I would have beat the holy hell out of him if Higgens hadn't interfered. I probably got the bruise on my thigh when he shot at my desk. Wood splinters went everywhere. I was so angry I wasn't feeling much in the way of pain."

"He shot the desk right next to your leg?" Ryland rubbed his hand over his face. "Damn it, Lily."

She didn't open her eyes but she smiled. Rather smugly. "You say that a lot."

"Don't sound so pleased. I'm getting gray hair. You got in a fistfight with this man? I would have thought the daughter of a billionaire would be more sophisticated than that."

"I'm too modern to let some caveman beat me," she defended.

His fingers were massaging her scalp, searching for damage. "And he hit you in the chest? Let me see."

"I'm not letting you see my chest." Her laughter was muffled. "Go away and let me sleep. That's a lame excuse to look at my breasts."

"I don't need a lame excuse to look at your breasts," he pointed out. "I want to see the damage." He simply caught the hem of the shirt and tugged until she gave in and lifted her body enough to allow him to pull it off.

"I really am tired, Ryland. Take the disk to Arly and see if it's worth all the trouble we went to. Give me an hour to sleep and we can go to General Ranier and see if he'll help us." Her voice was dropping lower and lower until Ryland was certain she would just drift off.

He drew the sheet over her body and lay next to her until he was certain she was asleep. Ryland lifted Lily's limp hand and examined her bruised wrist in the light from the morning sun. "Damn it." He said the words softly as he bent his head to kiss the purple circles, trying to find a way to heal her. He held her hand to his chest, over his heart as if somehow the way his heart beat for her would remove the marks.

He was so completely immersed in his desire to heal Lily's bruises, so focused on her, he didn't hear or feel any disturbance. There was no sound but something made him look up and he found himself staring at an older woman. She was framed in the doorway, a mixture of shock and fear on her face.

Very slowly and gently Ryland placed Lily's hands on the sheet and sat up. "You must be Rosa," he said in his most charming tone. "I'm Ryland Miller. Lily and I are…" He sought hastily for a word. Any word. He didn't want to say "lovers" but "friends" seemed ridiculous when he was sitting on Lily's bed and she was naked beneath the sheet. The woman was making him feel like a teenager who'd sneaked into his girlfriend's room. He had absolutely no idea what he would do if she ran screaming through the house.

"Yes, I'm Rosa." She glared at him. "Why hasn't Arly told me about you? He must know you're in the house. No one can be in the house without his knowledge."

"Well, ma'am." The woman had pinned him with her steely eye and Ryland-whom full-grown men could not make afraid-squirmed. "It's complicated."

"It doesn't look very complicated to me." Rosa swept into the room, clucking her disapproval as she approached the bed.

She spotted the dark purple circling Lily's wrists and shrieked in horror. Rosa actually smacked her own chest.

Ryland was stunned into silence. The woman took up the entire room with her presence, intimidating him as no one had ever done. He couldn't tell if she were going to faint, or scream, or grab something and strike him over the head.

"What happened to my baby?" Rosa's gaze fell on the discarded handcuffs and her eyes went wide with shock. There was a sudden hushed silence.

Ryland felt color creeping up his neck. His shirt suddenly felt too tight and beads of sweat began forming on his skin.

Rosa stooped to pickup the offending manacles and dangled them in front of his face. She broke off into a torrent of Spanish. The tirade lasted so long she ran out of breath. It was the only thing that saved him. He had the feeling she had used up every curse she knew and some she'd just plain made up.

"Now, ma'am. Don't go getting the wrong idea," he said. "I didn't put those cuffs on her. Someone else did that."

"There is another man in here?" Rosa's head whipped around and she stalked to the closet, yanking open the door. "This is one of those menage romances? You teach my little girl this?" She inspected every corner of the closet. "Tell him to get out here and face me!"

"Ma'am…" Ryland was torn between laughter at what she was thinking and desperation at the idea that she might try to toss him out. "Rosa, it isn't that at all. Lily was attacked tonight by an enemy. They tried to kidnap her."

Rosa screeched, her voice hitting high C and rattling the windows. She actually threw the handcuffs at him so he was forced to duck. Ryland leapt from the bed and tried to stop her. "Don't, for God's sake, woman, you're going to wake the dead. Stop it, will you?"

On the bed, Lily stirred, lifted her head slightly, and turned over to regard Rosa with sleepy eyes. "Did Ryland frighten you?"

"Me?" Ryland worked his finger around his shirt collar. "How can you say that? She thinks I've been playing some bondage game with you."

Lily's eyelashes fluttered, drifted down. "Well, you wanted to play a bondage game with me, didn't you?" There was amusement in the soft sleepy notes of her voice.

"Lily, I was making you laugh, cheering you up." He was beginning to sweat under Rosa's disapproving gaze.

Someone snorted loudly in derision. Ryland whirled around to find Kaden and Nicolas standing in the doorway with Arly right behind them. Several other men were pressed behind him, trying to see in, drawn by Rosa's screams. With the door wide open, the soundproofing had done no good at all. Ryland threw his hands in the air in defeat and sat down heavily once again on the edge of Lily's bed. "Lily, wake up. This is your crazy household and you can deal, with it."

Lily's soft laughter played over his skin like the touch of her fingers. "My knight's armor appears to have chinks in it. Rosa's harmless, a sweetheart, just be nice." She rolled over and the sheet dipped dangerously, exposing tempting creamy flesh.

Rosa gasped in outrage. Ryland caught the sheet and dragged it to Lily's chin. "Don't move. The neighbors have arrived."

Lily's lashes lifted and she gaped at the crowd gathering in her room. "Good Lord. What happened to the privacy acts? I'm certain I'm entitled."

"Not if you're screaming," Kaden pointed out.

She clutched the sheet to her. "I wasn't screaming," she denied adamantly. "That was Rosa! All of you go away. I want to sleep."

"I don't think you had sleeping in mind," Kaden ventured. "I distinctly heard you say Ryland was interested in bondage. Are you planning on putting cuffs on him, because I want to stay around for that."

"You were watching my movies," Arly accused.

"What movies?" Gator chimed in. "Are you holding out on us? You have some good bondage flicks and you're not sharing?'

"You're all obsessed with bondage," Lily felt compelled to point out.

"Lily!" Rosa's voice silenced the room instantly. "Who are these people and what is going on in my house? I demand an answer immediately."

Lily looked around for a robe. Ryland found one for her and, using the sheet for a screen, helped her into it so she could sit up. "I'm sorry, Rosa. I should have told you. My father was involved in something at Donovans. An experiment to enhance psychic talent." She stared at Rosa, willing her not to fall apart.

Rosa went pale beneath her smooth olive skin and searched for a chair. Arly helped her to sit down. Rosa's gaze never left Lily's face. "He did this evil thing after all we went through before?"

Lily nodded. "Things began to go wrong. Someone wanted his notes. They wanted the process for themselves to sell on the market to foreign governments and terrorist organizations. Even in the private sector, enhancement could be used for profit. In order to do that, they had to convince Dad the experiment was a failure. They did that by murdering the men one by one and making it appear to be the results of side effects."

Rosa crossed herself, kissed her thumb. "This is not right, Miss Lily."

"I know, Rosa," Lily said softly, wanting to comfort her. "Dad became suspicious that the deaths were due to sabotage not side effects and he asked me to look things over. He didn't tell me anything, obviously hoping I would see something without prejudice. Unfortunately once I was brought into the project, these people thought I could provide them with the process for enhancing. So they murdered Dad and threw his body into the ocean."

"Madre Mia!" Rosa stifled a cry of alarm and reached out for Arly's hand, holding it tightly. "You are certain, Lily? They've killed him?"

"I'm sorry, Rosa, yes, he's dead. I knew it from the time of his disappearance. These same people tried to use your fear to get into this house and search for Dad's work. They weren't able to do so, thanks to Arly, but they've continued to try."

Rosa rocked herself back and forth. "This is wrong, Lily. So wrong. He promised he would never do such a thing again. Now he's dead. Why would he do this thing?"

"These men are men he worked on. I helped them escape from Donovans and brought them here. One of the men is recovering from a brain injury."

Rosa was shaking her head furiously in protest. Lily continued doggedly. "I'm teaching them the exercises that worked for me and helped me function in the outside world. They have nowhere else to go, Rosa. They're wanted men, hunted, and if we turn them over, they'll be killed."

Rosa shook her head hard, not looking at Lily.

"They're like me, Rosa. Like me. Where else can they go? They need a home. You and John and Arly and me, we're all they have. Do you really want me to send them away to be lolled?"

A sob escaped Rosa's throat. Arly hunkered down beside her chair and wrapped his arm around her shoulders, whispering something softly to her. She leaned her head against Arly's shoulder, all the while shaking it in denial but it was halfhearted.

"Rosa, I'm in love with Ryland." Lily admitted it in a low tone, but so clearly in the silence of the room, it was impossible not to hear.

Rosa looked up, her attention captured.

Lily tangled her fingers with Ryland's. "I do love him and I want to spend the rest of my life with him. This is your home. It will always be your home. You're my mother and no daughter could love you more than I love you. If you truly don't want Ryland and these men here, we will leave. All of us. I'll go with them."

"Lily." Rosa's eyes swam with tears. "Do not talk of leaving. This is your home."

"It is your home too. I want it to be their home for as long as they need it. I can help them. I know I can. We have a disk, something my father recorded and hid. I'm hoping there's incriminating evidence on it. If so, I'll make copies and give General Ranier one of them. If necessary I can go above him. If it clears their names, all to the good; if it doesn't, we'll keep working to find evidence."

"They have to come after you now, Lily. Colonel Higgens knows he tipped his hand. If he can't reacquire you, he'll try to kill you," Ryland said grimly.

"I know that. He'll find a way to search the house. It won't be easy and he'll never find the tunnels or the men." She looked at Kaden and Nicolas. "You'll have to really guard Jeff. He won't be able to move fast. Who's with him now?"

"Ian and Tucker. They won't let anyone bother Jeff," Kaden assured her with absolute confidence.

"Good. My escape is just going to make Colonel Higgens all the madder. He'll definitely come here with a warrant of some kind. He doesn't like anyone thwarting his plans." She leaned into Ryland. "You were right about him."

"I want to hear the disk," Arly said.

Ryland tossed the tiny disk to the security man. "You have anything that will play that?"

Arly caught the disk and stood up straight, digging through his pockets until he came up with a miniature voice-activated recorder. "Absolutely. I took it with me thinking it might come in handy if we were stopped." He popped the disk into the recorder after removing the blank one.

There was a small silence then a voice jumped out at them. "Take him to the clinic. Pump him full of that shit. Zap his brain a few times with electricity and it will look like he had a stroke. I want him dead by tomorrow." The sound of Colonel Higgens's voice was harsh. "And when Miller takes his sleeping pill tonight, take him to the clinic and fry his brain. I've had all I can take of his insubordination. Get the job done this time, Winston. I want Hollister dead and Miller a vegetable. If that doesn't convince Whitney his experiment was a failure, kill the son of a bitch. Tell Ken I want Miller taken care of tonight."

"Miller doesn't sleep much. We can't go near him if he's awake."

Higgens swore. "Ken can't field Whitney's calls forever. Sooner or later Whitney will get through to Ranier. I can arrange something for Ranier, maybe a fire. It has to look accidental. You can't just kill a general and his wife and not have an investigation. Faulty wiring would do it. First things first. Arrange for Hollister to have a breakdown so we can cause a little brain damage and get rid of that bastard Miller."

There was utter silence in the room. Ryland let out his breath slowly and looked at Lily. "I'd say that would be enough to convince Ranier. Arly, can you make copies for us?'

"No problem. I can make several and we'll keep the original in Lily's little safe room." Arly winked at her.

Lily reached for the phone and called the general's home. After a brief conversation she looked at the others in frustration. "The maid said they were out for the day and would return tomorrow morning. She wouldn't say where they went. At least he's taking precautions."

"Why don't you all get some rest? You were up all night and it's nearly noon now. If we can't talk to Ranier, we may as well take a break." Ryland wanted Lily to sleep. The bruises on her body were becoming more apparent with each passing hour.

"I can cook a meal for everyone," Rosa offered, throwing her support fully behind them in the one way she knew. "And I'm a nurse. Let me see this man who is ill."

"Rosa"-Lily slid deeper beneath the sheet-"make them do those exercises. I'm too tired to see that they do them."

"I thought we were taking the day off," Gator protested. "Kicking back, watching the old bondage films."

"You must never take a day off from the exercises," Rosa scolded. "It's important to do them every day." She started herding the men from Lily's bedroom, but suddenly turned back and marched stiffly to the bed. Glaring at Ryland she snatched up the handcuffs and took them with her.

Arly, falling into step beside her, leaned down and whispered wickedly in her ear. It earned him a slap on the arm but Rosa could be heard giggling as she closed the door behind them.

"Did you see that?" Ryland demanded. "She took the handcuffs."

Lily wiggled out of the robe and let it fall to the floor. "So you wouldn't think about using them on me."

"I wasn't thinking about using them." Ryland shoved a hand through his dark hair, tousling the curls more than usual. "Why does everyone think I'd use metal cuffs? I'd use silk." He leaned over Lily, pressed a kiss between her breasts. "I wouldn't mind tying you up but I'd use silk."

Her laughter was smothered by the pillow when she buried her face in it. "Poor baby, no one will believe you. Rosa thinks you're kinky."

"Well, I am," he admitted. "But just with you. And she took the cuffs and went giggling out of the room with that bondage freak Arly. Now that's scary stuff."

Lily summoned enough strength to smack him with the pillow. "That's disgusting. Don't even think about the two of them doing anything together. Rosa is like my mother and Arly… well… he's Arly." She looked at Ryland. shook her head. "No way. It isn't possible. They would never…" She trailed off again and shuddered.

Ryland laughed at her. "Yes they would. He looks at her with that look in his eye. Men know these things." He dropped his clothes on the floor and slid beneath the sheet, wrapping his body around hers protectively.

"I don't want to know so don't let me in on it if you find out Arly and Rosa are seeing one another. Do you think General Ranier and Delia are really okay?"

"I think Ranier is a wily tiger and Higgens grabbed the wrong tail. He's gone somewhere to stash his wife. That's what I'd do, and he'll come back prepared to fight a battle. He won't stop until he's dead or he's won." He circled her body with his arm, cupping her breast in his palm possessively. "I didn't much like having all those men in here knowing you were wearing nothing but a sheet. We're going to have some serious talks about underwear."

Lily laughed and turned over to face him. Her gaze drifted lovingly over his face. "You're the most beautiful man I've ever seen. When you're around, I can't see anyone else." Her fingertips traced the contours of his face. Found the rough-edged lines, the small scars, his stubborn jaw. All the while she looked at him with love.

"I'll have to make certain I'm always around, won't I?" he said.

"I think that would be a good idea," Lily agreed.