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CAPTIVE HEART

Kimberley Reeves

CAPTIVE HEART
When Jayda is kidnapped and held captive deep in the jungles of Columbia, she knows there is only one man who can save her. Colt Strickland. But she has little hope that the only man shes ever loved will come to her rescue, not after storming out of her life three years ago believing shed betrayed him.

Chapter 1
Jayda held her breath, praying they hadnt seen which direction shed run, that they wouldnt come searching the dank alley and find her huddling behind the trash bin. She pressed her hand over her mouth, desperately trying to keep from gagging. The smell was atrocious; a mixture of putrefied meat and rotten vegetables from the bin and the overpowering stench of urine from the alley itself.

God, what had she been thinking? How had she ever convinced herself she could do this all on her own? She should have waited for Michael to return from Cartagena, but it was too late now. Theyd seen her face, they knew who she was, and Michael would be unreachable for at least another three days. There was only one other person she could call, one man in all the world she knew would come without question or hesitation.

Colt Strickland. Her chest tightened. Even now, just the thought of him made her whole body ache. How would she ever survive seeing him face to face after all the time and pain that lay between them? Jayda still remembered the taste of him, the scent of his skin, the intense gaze of his blue eyes as he made love to her. She swallowed the painful lump in her throat. It wouldnt do any good to remember him that way.

She summoned up the image of Colts angry face and the thunder in his eyes the last time shed seen him. Colt; stomping out in a rage after saying horrible, hateful things that still stabbed at her heart. Colt; driving away while she stood in the rain crying and begging him to stop. But he hadnt stopped, and hed never made any attempt to contact her in the weeks and months and years that followed. Shed died that day.

She could have kept trying to call him, but she hadnt. She could have gone to him and tried to explain, but she hadnt done that either. Hed been hurt and angry, thinking shed betrayed his trust, his love. But Jayda had been experiencing all of those emotions too, her own pain magnified by the knowledge she was carrying his child.

If hed loved her as much as he said he did, he would have stayed and listened. He would have fought for her or at the very least demanded to know why shed done it. If hed only loved her as much as she loved him. It was that heart breaking thought that had kept her from going to him; he loved her, but not enough to believe shed never betray him, not enough to keep them together, not enough to see he was the only man shed ever love.

Jayda pushed him from her mind. None of it would matter anyway if she didnt get out of here. She drew in a breath to steady herself before inching her way to the corner of the trash bin and peering around it. Nothing stirred; no sound of running feet or hushed voices echoed down the alley, no movement of any kind, and that more than anything is what struck fear in her heart.

There was no use fighting, not when there was only one way in and one way out. Jayda squared her shoulders and stepped out from behind the bin, watching calmly as, one by one, her abductors emerged from the shadows to greet her.

***

Michael Cortez stretched his long legs out on the lounge chair, soaking up the early afternoon sun at precisely the same time Jayda was surrendering herself. His yacht was anchored several miles out in the Pacific Ocean off the coast of Cartagena, Colombia, where he intended to

spend the next few days. Out here there were no pressures from the business, no family badgering him about his lifestyle, no terrorist groups to be on guard against, no bodyguards hovering over him. Just peace and quiet and the pleasure hed find burying himself inside Isabels delightful body.

That was the plan anyway, right up until the helicopter with the Cortez logo circled overhead just as the last of the days sun slipped behind the horizon. Isabel stood up, casually pulling on a robe to cover her nudity before leaning down to kiss his cheek and disappearing below deck. He admired Isabel, and felt much more for her than the others, Michael decided. She knew when to make herself scarce and didnt pout about it when business interfered with pleasure. Shed lasted longer than most too, and he thought he might just keep her around for a while.

He didnt bother to rise as the chopper gradually descended closer to the deck, though he knew it must be important for Gabe to have risked defying his instructions not to be disturbed. Michaels temper would have spiked immediately if he and Isabel hadnt just spent the last two hours indulging in an extremely satisfying sexual encounter. As it was, he was only mildly irritated when Gabe tossed the nylon rope out the door and descended until he was low enough to jump onto the deck.

Michael arched a brow. This better be a matter of life or death.

I certainly hope not, Gabe said, his staid expression causing Michael some alarm.

My family

No, theyre fine, just fine. ItsMiss Daniels.

Michael sat up. Jaydas back in Colombia?

It seems she never left.

Fear clutched at his heart. Thats impossible. I watched her board the plane a year ago. I saw it take off.

Gabe shook his head. You saw her go down the boarding ramp, but she never got on the plane. I checked with my sources at El Dorado International. Miss Daniels didnt take that flight.

Where is she now?

Gabe shifted uncomfortably. It hasnt been confirmed yet, but I thought you should know. We believe she was kidnapped early this afternoon.

Michaels jaw flexed. Terrorists looking for ransom?

Its possible, but rumor has it the Cali Cartel is behind it.

Christ, if the Cartel took her it means Delgado found out shes been gathering evidence. He stood up abruptly, his heart sinking at the idea of Jayda in Roman Delgados hands. Thats why she left, or rather pretended to leave, wasnt it? She wanted to make sure Delgado believed shed broken all ties with me.

She was protecting you in the only way she knew how, Gabe said solemnly.

The anger that had been absent when Gabe arrived suddenly rose hard and sharp, but it was aimed more at himself than anyone else.

I should have known shed come back. It was just plain stupid to believe Id convinced her to give it up. He paced back and forth for several minutes, trying to stay focused on what needed to be done rather than what was happening to Jayda. I want every resource tapped to find out who took her and where theyre going.

Ive already set that in motion.

Ill need one or two men who wont be afraid to go up against Delgado

Done, Gabe said. One is a native Colombian and very familiar with both the guerrilla groups and the Cartel. I have a suggestion for the second person, but Im not sure how youll take it.

He stopped pacing and looked at the man whod risked his own safety numerous times for Michaels sake. There were very few people he trusted with his life or that hed trust with Jaydas. Gabe was one of them.

Were not exactly on speaking terms, you know. The last time I saw Colt he was tearing out of my driveway after breaking my nose and Jaydas heart.

Hell come if you call, and no one will fight harder to get Jayda back.

I dont know, Gabe. We were close as brothers once but he cut us both off as if wed never meant anything to him.

Gabe reached into his pocket and pulled out a cell phone. He handed it to Michael. Hell come if you call, you know he will.

A cell phone wont work out here, Ill have to wait

This one will. We dont have time to waste, Michael. Make the call.

I dont know his

The phone number is already programmed in. Just press the number one button then send.

Michaels brows drew together. Since when did you start issuing the orders?

Gabe didnt look the least bit concerned that hed piqued his employers temper. Im not issuing orders, Im merely suggesting that if you want to save Jaydas life, you need to make that call.

Michael jabbed at the button, scowling at Gabe. Hell probably just hang up on me, he said tersely.

Gabe remained firm. Hell come.

***

Jayda clenched her jaws, forcing herself not to cry out. The bastards had knocked her out with chloroform then tied her up and stuffed her inside a cloth bag of some sort. She could tell

by the roar of the engine and the way her body bounced up and down against the hard metal that theyd tossed her in the back of a jeep and were now outside Cali.

The road they were on was obviously unpaved and she felt battered and bruised from being jostled around so much. Her throat was so dry she was finding it difficult to swallow, but her body was soaked with sweat and she was certain shed suffocate to death if they didnt get her out of the bag soon.

She didnt want to think about what theyd do to her once they reached their destination but couldnt seem to stop herself. Rape, torture, and eventually death. Her body would be dumped somewhere in the endless miles of jungle and probably never be found. Sooner or later, either her brother or Michael would call her cell phone and wonder why she didnt call them back, but neither of them would even consider looking for her in Colombia. Michael thought shed gone back to the states last year and her brother believed she was teaching in the south of France.

It wouldnt have made any difference anyway. Roman Delgado would make sure her body was never discovered once he was through with her. Hatred burned in her heart as Delgados image swam behind her eyes; hatred shed carried with her day and night for the past three years. Roman Delgado was a man who was used to getting what he wanted, his position as the leader of the Cali Cartel giving him the power and financial means to procure just about anything. Resistance wasnt something he incurred often, and when he did, he dealt with it quickly and generally with violence as an example to anyone who dared stand in his way.

Jayda had come to Colombia six months prior to her twenty-third birthday as part of a two year program teaching English to the lower class citizens of Cali. The program was funded by various charitable organizations in the United States and shed felt privileged and excited about having been chosen. Young and nave, she believed her status as a U.S. citizen would offer her protection and shed fearlessly traveled through the city using the public bus system, totally oblivious to the fact that she was no more immune to the threat of kidnapping than anyone else.

Shed known, of course, that terrorist groups often kidnapped civilians for ransom or as a bargaining chip for political reasons, but she didnt concern herself with it. After all, she was just a teacher and couldnt possibly be of any interest to them.

Only a few months into the program, she received word the funds they were to wire for living expenses had been refused by the Colombian bank and it was uncertain how long it would take to resolve the problem. Alone in a foreign country with very little cash to survive on, Jayda decided to put an ad in the paper for private tutoring. Her ad was answered immediately by a Mr. Ramon Delgado who offered her top dollar to tutor his sisters two children. Shed been elated to have received a response so quickly and accepted his request for an interview the day after the ad was posted.

Jayda had been impressed by the sleek black car Ramon Delgado sent to pick her up and even more impressed with the mansion it delivered her to. Shed been spending so much time with the impoverished civilians of Cali, it was an unexpected but welcome pleasure to find herself in such a grand home. Shed been shown into his study and instructed to wait and it hadnt even occurred to her to feel nervous until he entered the room.

Roman Delgado was imposing to say the least. Hair as black as coal, his skin the golden brown of native Colombians, and an air of confidence that announced he was a man of unquestionable authority. He was tall and handsome, his sexy smile and dark eyes making her blush from the thoughts that rolled through her head when he reached out to shake her hand. At least thats what she thought he was doing, but instead of shaking it, hed lifted her hand to his lips and pressed a feathery kiss to her fingertips.

Its so nice to meet you, Miss Daniels, he said smoothly, his gaze sweeping over her in such a way she had the unsettling feeling he was mentally undressing her.

Flustered by his attention, her blush had deepened and hed laughed softly, quite amused by her response to him. He charmed her through the forty-five minute interview then offered her the job, which she accepted without hesitation. How silly and foolish shed been not to have asked around to find out what kind of man Ramon Delgado was. If she had, Jayda never would have accepted the position no matter how much he offered.

She divided her time between the students she taught in the morning and Ramons niece and nephew. He thoughtfully had his driver pick her up in the early afternoons and generally rode with her when she was dropped off. His infiltration into her personal life was so subtle, she wasnt even aware of it until nearly a month had passed. It started with the drives home then a few visits to the room where she taught the children. Before long, he was inviting her to walk with him in his gardens after shed finished for the day. Jayda was flattered, her young heart fluttering whenever his hand lightly touched her back or slid seductively down her arm.

Then one evening after lessons, Jayda had gone downstairs to let the driver know she was ready to leave. She never presumed that Ramon would accompany her, though she secretly hoped he would, and this day was no different than any other. After gathering her things and waiting in the car for nearly twenty minutes, she asked the driver to go ahead and take her home. Hed glanced at her through the rearview mirror, clearly thinking shed lost her mind.

My instructions are to wait for Mr. Delgado, he told her. It would be wise for you to do the same.

Jayda didnt like being told what to do and she certainly wasnt going to sit in the car all night on the off chance Ramon would join her for the ride home. She thanked the driver for his advice then climbed out of the car and began to walk the mile long trek to the bus stop. The countryside was beautiful, though it was still a little hot and humid, so she didnt mind the walk at all.

There was a small village she had to pass through before getting to the bus stop at the far edge of it and Jayda strolled leisurely down the main road, stopping now and then to look into the shop windows. She didnt notice when Ramons car pulled up several feet behind her, but she did have a fraction of moment to wonder curiously why people suddenly seemed to be shifting to the opposite side of the road before he grabbed her arm and whirled her around.

You were told to wait, he growled.

Jayda shrank from the dangerous look in his eyes. II didnt think you were coming

His fingers bit into her arm. I didnt tell you to think, he hissed, I told you to wait. Now get in the car.

Jayda jerked her arm away from him. I prefer to walk, thank you, she said curtly, then turned on her heel intending to make a hasty, indignant retreat.

Again he grabbed her arm, but this time the fury in his eyes sent a cold chill straight through her heart. His voice was low and deep when he spoke, and there was no mistaking the threatening undertone.

You will get in the car right now and stop making a scene. I had very special plans for you and I tonight that did not include chasing you all over the countryside.

Whwhat plans? She squeaked as he physically hauled her towards the car.

He stopped abruptly and yanked her into him, pinning her to his chest with one arm while his free hand cupped the back of her head. His mouth crushed down on hers, his kiss hard and demanding. Jayda struggled against him, her feeble strength no match for his power. When he finally lifted his head, the look he gave her was no longer one of anger but of raw desire.

He arched a brow, grinning. Does that answer your question?

Jaydas eyes flashed. Let go of me, she gritted.

When Im ready. His grip on her tightened. And make no mistake, sweetheart, its going to be a very, very long time before Im ready.

Im not going anywhere with you! I quit, she shouted. His amused laughter only angered her more. How dare you treat me like this! I demand you let me go Jayda cried out when he grabbed a handful of hair and jerked her head back.

Youre trying my patience. Dont misunderstand me, I like a spirited woman, but I prefer not to tame that temper of yours in public. His hand slid to her bottom with familiarity. I want you, Jayda, and I intend to have you so be a good girl and get in the car.

Shock registered on her face when he ground his hips into her, proving just how aroused he was. His arrogance knew no limits and she was appalled that he would do such a thing to her in full view of the towns people. She shoved against him but it was like trying to move a brick wall. Jaydas heart was pounding wildly in her chest as the first strand of fear began to wind its way through her body. She glared at him defiantly.

Let me go or so help me God, Ill scream bloody murder.

Ramons cocky smile faded. He lowered his head so they were cheek to cheek and whispered in her ear. My sweet, nave little Jayda, you can scream until there is no more air in your lungs and no one will come to your rescue. I could take you right here on the sidewalk and not one person would lift a finger to stop me. He lifted his head. Look around if you doubt me. He let loose of her hair.

Slowly, she turned her head, her eyes moving from person to person. No one looked at her. No one showed even the remotest interest in what was going on. They all carefully kept their faces turned away, almost running in their haste to get as far away from her as possible. What in the world was going on? She looked back at Ramon.

PleaseI just want to go home.

Tomorrow perhaps

She shook her head. No, now, I want to go home now.

Ramon caressed the side of her face, his touch almost loving in its gentleness. Dont make this any harder than it needs to be. I promise not to hurt you, Jayda. Ive already taken such great care not to frighten you, but Im tired of waiting and Im afraid if you delay the inevitable much longer, I wont be able to control myself.

The inevitable? Why you arrogant bastard, I wouldnt sleep with you if you were the last man on earth! Now let me go or Ill press charges against you for assault.

Ramon heaved a heavy sigh. Have it your way, sweetheart, but dont say I didnt warn you.

Jayda suddenly had the air knocked out of her when he tossed her onto the hood of his car. With one quick movement, Ramon tore her shirt open then reached for the zipper on her jeans. She let out an enraged scream, kicking and pummeling him with her fists with every ounce of strength she had but it didnt even slow him down. She didnt know what stunned her more; that Ramon intended to rape her right there or that no one was doing anything to stop him.

Jayda grabbed frantically at the waist band of her jeans, trying desperately to pull them up even as he worked to yank them off. She was crying, pleading with him to stop but Ramon only laughed as he tossed her jeans aside and pried her legs apart. She squeezed her eyes shut,

praying it would be over with quickly. She held her breath, cringing at the feel of his hands moving over her thighs when he suddenly stopped what he was doing.

Something tells me the lady isnt in the mood, a mans deep voice sounded off to the right of them.

This is none of your concern, Strickland, Ramon said icily.

Jayda opened her eyes and followed Ramons gaze to the man leaning casually in the doorway. Well, as casually as one could look while holding a gun. He wore a lazy smile, but the expression on his face was every bit as deadly as the one on Ramons. He didnt take his eyes off Ramon, though his words were meant for her.

Get your clothes, honey, and come over here by me.

Shes not going anywhere, Strickland, Ramon growled.

I think that should be up to the lady, dont you?

Jayda struggled to sit up then slid off the end of the hood, crumbling in a heap on the ground. Tears blinded her as she scrambled to find her jeans and shoes, all the while certain Ramon would grab her and shove her in the car before the man could do anything to stop him. When she finally had everything, she rose unsteadily to her feet and staggered to where the man was standing. He reached out and gently pushed her behind him.

Youre going to regret this, Ramon said, his voice shaking with rage.

Im sure I will, the man said, though he didnt sound the least bit concerned. Run along now, Delgado, my trigger finger is getting decidedly itchy.

Jayda hovered behind the mans massive body. She hadnt gotten a good look at his face, but the sound of his deep, rich voice made her feel oddly safe. He was tall, probably six foot four or five, with broad shoulders and impossibly long legs. She didnt know why hed come forward to help her when no one else had, but knew shed be eternally grateful to him for doing so.

How long she stood there trembling like a leaf, she didnt know, but it seemed to take forever for Ramon to climb back into his car and take off. The man Ramon referred to as Strickland waited until the car disappeared then holstered his gun and turned around.

Are you okay?

She nodded mutely, clutching her jeans and shoes to her chest. He offered her a kind smile.

I wont let him hurt you, I promise. Do you live around here? She shook her head. Maybe we should get in my truck then you can tell me where I can take you.

He put his arm around her, gently pulling her along beside him. His truck was parked just around the corner and though she wanted more than anything to get as far away from Ramon as she could, Jayda balked when he opened the door and urged her to get inside. She turned her frightened eyes to him but something in his face stilled her jittery nerves.

I know youre scared, he said softly. Maybe youd feel more comfortable if you put your jeans back on first.

He gently pried them from her hands and held them out so she could step into them then pulled them up over her hips and zipped them for her. Then he kneeled and slipped on first one shoe then the other, careful to keep his movements slow and nonthreatening.

He stood up and took her hand. Better?

Yes, she said in a hoarse whisper.

We need to go now, sweetheart. Delgado could be back with reinforcements any minute now.

When she offered no protest, he helped her up into the truck then went around to the drivers side and climbed in. He fired up the engine, pausing long enough to ask, Whats your name?

Jayda Daniels, she mumbled.

Jayda. A beautiful name for a beautiful woman, he flashed a disarming smile. Im Colt, Colt Strickland.

Chapter 2
Jayda studied his face as they drove towards Cali. He wasnt handsome in the strictest definition of the word but he exuded a sexuality that she recognized even in her shaken state of mind. Colt was masculine in every sense of the word. Besides having an incredible body, he had a strong jaw, full lips, and eyes the color of a clear summer sky. He was heavily muscled, his shirt straining over his chest and arms, and he had an air about him that was confident but not cocky. He didnt say anything to her until they got close to Cali, then he asked where she lived.

The bottom dropped out of her stomach. Hehe knows where I live, she said, her body starting to tremble again.

Colt reached out, his warm hand covering hers. Do you have family or any friends you can stay with?

She shook her head. I barely even know the parents of my students. Ive only been here a few months, you see, and if the bank hadnt refused the deposit from my sponsors, I wouldnt have had to go work for Ramon.

Shall I take you to a hotel then?

Tears welled up in her eyes. No, I dont have the money for that. I guessI guess Ill just have to go home and hope he doesnt show up.

Colt frowned. I might as well have left you there then. He wont give up, you know. Not until he gets what he wants.

You cant mean that, she cried. If I dont let him in my house and use caution when I go out, surely hell give up after awhile.

Jayda, honey, do you have any idea who Ramon Delgado is?

Well II know hes wealthy and owns a lot of land. Obviously hes well respected because people jump to do what he tells them.

Colt groaned. Didnt you check him out before you agreed to work for him?

I didnt have a choice, she answered defensively. I was running out of money and he offered me a higher wage than what I was asking for.

Im sorry, I didnt mean to upset you. Delgado is head of the Cali Cartel.

The Cartel? As in cocaine dealers?

Cocaine dealing isnt the only thing Delgado's involved in. Hes a ruthless animal whos committed just about every crime you can conceive of. Rape is just one of the crimes he prides himself in.

Jaydas stomach rolled dangerously. He would have done it, wouldnt he? He would have raped me in front of that whole village.

Yes.

But why? I never did anything to him.

You defied him, spoke back to him in front of people. Jayda, if he catches you again, he wont be satisfied with just assaulting you once.

That did it. Pull over, she said, frantically rolling down the window to get some air.

Whats wrong?

She clutched at her stomach, her face draining of all color. Pull over, pull over Her hand flew to her mouth just as the truck came to a stop.

Jayda bailed out of the door, falling to the ground where she promptly threw up everything shed eaten that day. She thought about the way Ramon had tossed her onto the hood of his car and threw up again. Her eyes closed for a moment and the memory of him ripping her shirt brought the bile back up to her throat. Ramon, pulling off her jeans, his hands moving up her thighs. She groaned and threw up a third time.

She crouched there for several minutes, gulping in air until her stomach finally settled again. Only then did she realize Colt was beside her, holding her hair back with one hand and offering a bottle of water with the other. She took it gratefully, swished some of it around in her mouth and spit it out before taking another sip and swallowing it.

Colt helped her to her feet. Listen, Jayda, Im staying with a friend of mine right now but the place is big for one more

Oh, I couldnt ask you to do that.

You didnt ask, I offered. You cant go back to your place. Delgados probably already got someone watching it. He brushed a stray curl from her forehead. Its not a game, Jayda, if he catches you, hell hurt you.

Why are you being so kind to me? You hardly know me and you not only rescue me from that fiend but offer me a place to stay.

What can I say, he grinned, Im a sucker for a damsel in distress.

She couldnt help smiling. Okay, say I do stay with you for awhile. Eventually, Ill have to go back to my house and then what?

Colt shrugged. Who says you have to go back? I have to confess, Michael and I arent the tidiest men in the world. Were both too busy to worry about keeping house. What if you gave up your place and took a position as a live-in housekeeper and cook? You could work it around your teaching jobs. We wouldnt charge you for rent and even pay you a salary. Were hardly ever there so it would practically be like living alone. What do you say?

Dont you need to talk to your friend first?

Colt laughed. Somehow I cant imagine Michael balking at having a beautiful young woman around the house taking care of us. Why dont we make a quick stop at your place to pick up some clothes and whatever else youll need for the next few days. Then this weekend, Michael and I can go with you to pack up everything else.

Jayda was so happy, she threw her arms around his neck and hugged him. You really are a knight in shining armor, Mr. Strickland.

Colt chuckled. Hardly, sweetheart. As a matter of fact Im having some very not so honorable thoughts right now.

He pulled away from her and leaned into his truck, digging around the back for a few minutes before pulling out a light weight jacket and draping it around her shoulders. Until then, Jayda hadn't realized just how badly her blouse had ripped. She blushed profusely to discover that her bra was clearly visible along with the bare flesh of her cleavage. She pulled the jacket across her breasts self-consciously.

Dont be embarrassed, Colt said as he helped her back into the truck. His eyes sparkled with amusement. To tell the truth, I should have offered you the jacket earlier but I thought they were just too damn beautiful to cover up.

Jaydas blush deepened, but it wasnt because she was embarrassed this time. The way Colt looked at her had sent a rush of heat tearing through her body. It was insane, considering shed been attacked less than an hour before, but she couldnt help the way she felt. She said very little as they drove until they hit the outskirts of Cali when she instructed him how to get to her house. After theyd gathered her clothes and a few other essentials, Colt took her to his house to meet Michael.

Michael Cortez was simply breathtaking and he knew it. She adored him instantly. He welcomed her like an old friend and told her he was happy to have her there. Then he showed her to her room and helped Colt haul her things in, making her promise to come to him if she needed anything at all.

Their kindness was so overwhelming she was nearly in tears as she set about putting her room in order. When everything was in its place, Jayda took a nice long shower and emerged feeling a million times better now that shed scrubbed the feel of Ramon Delgados hands from her skin. Colt and Michael were kicking back in the living room and she could tell by their hushed, angry voices that they were talking about what had happened to her.

She didnt interrupt them, but went directly to the kitchen to make dinner and began her duties in taking care of these two wonderful men whod gone out of their way to help her. Jayda hummed a happy tune as she worked. In spite of Colts ominous warning that Ramon wouldnt give up until hed finished what he started, she didnt feel the least bit concerned. She was safe here, and with Colt and Michael watching over her, she felt certain in her heart and mind that Ramon Delgado would never get close enough to hurt her again.

***

Jayda spent the next several days putting the house in order after her work day at the tiny school house where she taught the less privileged children of Cali. She loved both jobs; teaching and taking care of Colt and Michael, and she derived a great deal of pleasure as her relationships with all of them grew. She found the children cooperative and eager to learn, and while her two men werent quite so eager to be trained on how to pick up after themselves and learn a new routine, they did it to please her.

As the days and weeks progressed, they got used to her gentle prodding and soon the three of them had formed a tight bond that went beyond an employer-employee relationship, if

one ever existed that is. From the first day Colt brought her there, theyd set themselves up as her protectors and she adored them both for it.

Although they grumbled at first when she began waking them early each morning, they quickly got over it when they discovered a hot breakfast waiting for them. Then after theyd been fed and shed cleaned the dishes, Michael would drive her to the schoolhouse and wait with her until the children began arriving. She suspected he waited outside each day until he was sure Delgado wasnt going to come around before leaving, but he never said anything and she never asked.

In the early afternoon when the school day was done, shed find Colt waiting outside to pick her up. Those were the times Jayda looked forward to the most because inevitably he would make some excuse not to take her straight home. She didnt really care what they did; sometimes they went down by the river and just talked, sometimes hed take her hand and go for a walk in the park or browse through the little shops on the outskirts of Cali. What mattered the most was that she was with Colt and that for a little while each day, she had him all to herself.

He wasnt as devastatingly handsome as Michael, nor did he have Michaels smooth talking manner, but in Jaydas eyes there wasnt a man alive who could have rivaled the pure masculinity the seemed to exude from every pore in Colt Stricklands body. She loved to listen to the sound of his voice and often lost herself in the depths of those magnificent blue eyes when he spoke. She loved his strength, that inner intensity that drove him, and even the sometimes brusque way he had when it came to getting what he wanted. Colt was ambitious, as was Michael, but they approached it in such divergent manners it was a wonder to her that they

remained such good friends. She remembered asking him about it one afternoon as they sat on the bank of the Cali River.

How did you even become friends? I mean, Michael is so laid-back and youre so When she paused, Colt arched a brow. Intense, she finished with a laugh.

I guess thats probably why we get along so well. Michael uses his charm, taking things a bit slower, and manages to convince people they actually want what he does. Me, I lose patience too quickly. If I want something, I go after it relentlessly until I get it. We make a good team, he said, lying back in the grass and staring up at the sky. Once we get this import/export business back on its feet, well both be set for life.

How did you two meet?

Believe it or not, we got thrown together in the same dorm room in college.

And you became great friends?

Colt laughed. Hell, no. We hated each other on sight, or at least we tried to. Back then I was all about hitting the books and he was all about hitting on the women. His love life was sorely interfering with both my studies and his. When Michael started failing and his parents threatened to make him go back to Colombia, I made a deal with him. From dinner time to eleven every night, we studied, and from eleven to seven in the morning he could have as many women in the room as he wanted.

And that worked for both of you?

It worked out great for me but Michael found out that after studying for several hours he just didnt have the strength to carry on like hed been doing. But he also discovered he actually enjoyed studying Business and that he had a natural talent for it. We partnered up in a few class projects and blew the rest of the class away.

Jayda stretched out beside him. So what happened after college? Did he invite you to come here?

In a manner of speaking. Wed discussed going into business together in the states, so after graduation we started thinking about the type of company we wanted to have. Then Michael got word is father was dying and was summoned home. He wasnt sure how long hed be needed here so he asked me to come with him so we could continue planning our future.

But you never left, she said more as a statement than a question.

No, as it happened his fathers failing health had kept him from keeping tabs on his business and after going over the books, Michael discovered more than a few employees had been skimming the profits and had left the company near bankruptcy. He felt obligated to stay and take care of his mother and two sisters by taking over the company and trying to turn it around.

How old was he when that happened?

The same age as I was, twenty-two.

So you stayed to help him?

Michael felt he was letting me down after all our plans to start a business in the States. The company had potential, but not with its current dishonest employees. Michael realized he couldnt do it alone so he offered me a full partnership if I stayed and helped him make a go of it.

What about your own family, werent you concerned youd miss them so much youd want to go home?

Colts expression changed, becoming hard, almost bitter. I never had a family. My father took off when I was five and never looked back.

Why did he leave?

He found out my mother was pregnant again.

Jayda rose up on one elbow, staring at him in disbelief. He left because she was going to have his baby?

No, he left because hed told her after I was born that he didnt want any more children. Apparently, Mother didnt know that shortly after I was born hed gotten a vasectomy.

Ouch, Jayda said.

Yeah, well, that little indiscretion on her part cost me a father because he refused to believe her when she swore I really was his child.

That must have been tough on you, having your father abandon you and your mother bearing an illegitimate child.

His voice became wistful. Actually, I think I would have liked having a brother or sister. After my father left, she started drinking heavily and picking up on any man who would dish out a few dollars to help with rent and food, or in most instances, a bottle of wine. They were trash, all of them, and I usually stayed hidden in my room unless hunger drove me to go in search of food. One night when I ventured out of my room, I discovered my mother and a strange man going at it in the living room. Of course, I had no idea what they were doing and thought he was trying to hurt her.

Jayda cringed. That must have been just awful for you.

Colt stared up at the sky, a pained expression on his face and it was all she could do to keep herself from hugging him to offer what little comfort she could.

It was awful. I was scared but I was also angry so I ran at him and started hitting and kicking with everything I had. He swatted at me like I was some pesky fly but it was enough to send me flying across the room. Mother looked at him, then at me and I honestly think shed forgotten I still lived there until then."

"Something in her seemed to snap. She flew into a wild rage, punching and scratching the man, screaming at him for hitting her baby. Colt drew in an unsteady breath. He beat the hell out of her. She ended up losing the baby and I ended up in the custody of Child Services. I spent the next thirteen years bouncing from one foster home to another until I was old enough to be on my own.

Jayda had tears in her eyes by the time he was finished. It was the saddest story shed ever heard and she had to wonder how Colt could have turned out to be the honest, strong

minded man he was after a childhood like that. She couldnt bear seeing him looking so broken. Jayda inched over next to him and curled up by his side, not quite sure how hed react. To her relief, he wrapped her arm around her and pulled her even closer.

Did you ever see her again?

No.

Did you want to?

Colt stroked her back absently. When I was younger I did, but as I got older it was just easier to hate her for not trying to get me back.

Jayda tilted her head back to look at him. How do you know she never tried?

For a moment he just stared blankly at her. II guess I dont know. I just always believed if shed wanted me back, I wouldnt have been pawned off on other people for all those years.

My friend, Tracy, works in Social Services, she told him. Its not as simple as saying I want my child back and they reunite you. She says that sometimes children get lost in the system for years, that even when the parents fight like hell to get their kids back the courts move so slow they hardly know each other by the time they get to be together again.

The hardness in Colts eyes faltered. You really think she might have tried?

Of course I do, she said passionately. Didnt she go after this man when she saw hed hurt you? So maybe she wasnt the best mother in the world and the hardships of surviving after

your father left drove her to drinking, but she obviously loved you. You were too young then to understand alcohol is a disease that some people cant control, but surely you know better now.

Colt pressed a kiss to her forehead then hugged her to him fiercely. I never thought about it like that before. All I ever considered was what I had gone through and how betrayed I felt. Maybe she did try, maybe she did.

Theyd left for home shortly after that, but it preyed on Jaydas mind for days. Shed seen the pain in his eyes, heard it in his voice when hed been telling her about his childhood, but she also knew shed brought him some semblance of peace with the belief his mother actually might have tried to get him back. So one night while both the men were out, Jayda made a call to her friend in the Social Services Department. She gave Tracy what little information she had and asked her to see what she could find out. Tracy promised to do her best, but told Jayda not to get her hopes up because of all the years that had passed and the confidentiality laws she was bound by.

Not wanting Colt to get his hopes up either, she didnt tell him what shed done. It took Tracy over two months to find out anything. She offered to send copies of everything shed found but only if Jayda swore on her life not to let anyone but Colt know because the information she was divulging was supposed to have remained sealed. Tracy also made her promise to destroy everything once hed had a chance to read them. Jayda had to wait another agonizing week before the large manila envelope finally arrived and then debated on whether to read them first or just give them to Colt.

The dilemma was that she felt she didnt have a right to read them, but if she didnt and they only proved his mother hadnt tried to get him back it would only hurt him even more. In the end, she decided to call Tracy to see if shed read them herself. All Jayda was hoping for was that Colts mother had made the attempt at least once, certain that hed be able to let go of the sadness and bitterness if he had that to hold on to instead.

Im sorry, I never read them, Tracy told her. I was nervous enough just making the copies and then all I wanted to do was get them mailed to you so I wouldnt get caught with them.

Jayda let another two days go by before she finally decided she just couldnt give them to Colt if it was only going to cause him more pain. She locked herself in her room after dinner and opened the envelope with shaky hands. It didnt take her long to find what she was looking for and the elation she felt at being able to pass it on to Colt was almost too much to contain.

She read through a few more pages then spent the next hour pacing her room, waiting for Michael to go out for the evening as he generally did on Friday nights. When he finally left and she was sure she and Colt would be alone, Jayda waltzed out to the living room and dropped down onto the sofa beside him.

Colt was watching the news and only glanced briefly at her before turning his attention back to the television but something in her expression must have given her way because after only a few seconds he turned to her again. He studied her face for a moment, narrowing his eyes suspiciously.

What are you up to?

Jayda couldnt stop herself from smiling. I have a present for you.

His brows arched but the suspicious look remained. Its not my birthday.

She handed him the envelope. Consider it a gift for all the nice things youve done for me.

What is it?

Oh, stop acting like its some sort of trick and open it.

Colt opened the envelope and pulled out the stack of papers inside and set them on his lap. Jayda watched him nervously as he read through every single document, page by page, not once looking up at her even after hed finished the last one. He just sat there staring at the papers in his lap, his face totally expressionless, and suddenly Jayda wondered if shed overstepped her bounds. She swallowed the lump in her throat. All shed wanted to do was ease some of his pain but it seemed shed accomplished just the opposite.

Colt IIm sorry. I guess I should have asked you if you wanted to know

The sound of her voice broke the thoughtful trance hed been in. Colt set the papers on the coffee table then cupped Jaydas chin and gave her a soft kiss.

Thank you, he said in a hoarse whisper. I cant tell you how much this means to me.

Jayda put her arms around his neck and gave him a hug. I hope it helps knowing she tried for years to get you back.

It does, he said. I just wish I would have tried to find her when I got old enough to be on my own.

She drew away from him. Its not too late, Colt. You could still do it. Her heart swelled at the hope she saw in his eyes.

Youre right, he said, a broad smile on his face. He stood up, pulling her up with him and gave her a crushing hug. Thank you, Jayda. Then he crossed the room, grabbed the phone book and started thumbing through it.

What you doing? She laughed.

He didnt look up but the excitement in his voice was undeniable. Getting the number for the airlines. With any luck, Ill be able to catch a flight to the States tomorrow and start looking for her.

The bottom dropped out of her stomach. She didnt know why she hadnt considered that hed have to return to the United States to search for his mother and for just a fraction of second she regretted having given him the papers. Then he looked up and gave her a brilliant smile before reaching for the phone and Jayda couldnt help being happy for him. She helped him pack that night and by lunch time the next day, Colt had left Colombia.

It was only after shed returned to the house which now seemed so empty without him, that the full impact of what shed done hit her. It was true shed given him hope, given him an inner peace he hadnt known since he was a child. But shed also given him a quest that took

him away from her, a quest that could last for weeks or months, maybe even years. The thought of never seeing him again terrified her and threw her into a deep, dark depression.

Thats when Jayda first realized she was hopelessly in love with Colt Strickland.

Chapter 3
Its been a long time, Colt.

The old familiar rage surged through him when Colt realized who was on the other end of the line. He was only a heartbeat away from hanging up the phone when Michael said the one thing that could keep him from doing it.

Jaydas in trouble.

What concern is that of mine? He said harshly, though his chest tightened painfully.

Shes been kidnapped.

A cold fear wound its way through his heart. When? Was it Delgado?

It happened earlier this afternoon. Were not sure if Delgado is behind it, but we think so.

You think so? Colt bellowed. What have you done to find her and why the hell werent you watching over her?

Michael sighed heavily. I didnt even know she was still in Colombia until I got word shed been kidnapped.

What do you mean? Hasnt she been in Colombia with you for the last two years?

No, she hasnt. I put her on a plane, or rather thought Id put her on a plane to the United States a year ago. She led me to believe thats where she was but Gabe says she never left Colombia at all.

Colt rose from his desk to stand by the window. Why were you sending her away and why would she trick you into thinking shed stayed?

Its a long story, Colt, and right now we dont have a whole lot of that to spare. I need your help, will you come to Colombia?

There was no hesitation in his answer, no hesitation in his heart. Ill catch the first available flight and be there in the morning. Ill call when I know my arrival time.

He disconnected the call, only vaguely wondering how Michael had gotten his phone number. His mind was on Jayda, the only woman hed ever loved. The only woman hed let get close enough to crush his heart, and by God, shed done a royal job of that. Colt turned away from the window and sat back down at his desk. There would be plenty of time to revisit the pain hed suffered at her hands later. Right now he had a flight to book.

Hed never thought that luck played much of a part in his life, but if there was such a thing, it was working in his favor tonight. He managed to book a flight leaving Los Angeles International at eight oclock, which gave him one hour to pack and be at the departure gate. Colt was ten minutes early for the eleven hour flight. He hadnt had much time to think since Michaels phone call, but as he settled into his seat and thought of what was happening to Jayda at the moment, his stomach instantly knotted.

He should have been happy that things hadnt worked out between Jayda and Michael, but he loved her too much to wish that on her. Why had she stayed in Columbia after Michael saw her off at the airport? What had happened over the last two years that made Michael send her away? Had she been happy there? Had she ever thought of him and those hot, steamy nights theyd spent in each others arms?

He closed his eyes and pictured her as he had so many times since hed left Colombia. Hair the color of corn silk, eyes the color of jade, lips that made his insides quiver whenever hed tasted them. He remembered her beautiful smile, the perfect shape of her breasts, those deliciously long legs that had wound themselves around his hips when he made love to her. Pain stabbed at his heart. Hed loved her more than life itself and shed betrayed him.

Colt opened his eyes again, staring out the window as the plane lifted off. Shed been so frightened that first time hed seen her. Delgado had been stripping her clothes right in the middle of the village, her cries echoing through the streets. Hed been furious at the brutal way Delgado was treating her, though hed been careful not to show any emotional at all when hed interrupted the assault. Then afterwards, shed trembled so violently when she told him Delgado knew where she lived and Colts heart had melted. Some primal desire to protect her had risen up deep inside of him and hed asked her to come home with him.

Over the months that followed, hed grown to cherish his time with her and hed found a greater happiness just being with Jayda than hed ever known in his entire life. Then when shed given him the papers from Social Services, providing him with the knowledge his mother actually had tried to get him back, he began to realize just how much she meant to him. She was

kind and thoughtful with a wonderful sense of humor and a smile that nearly stopped his heart every time she turned it on him.

Hed thought about her a lot after hed returned to the States to look for his mother and called her often. Whenever he started getting discouraged, shed boost him back up and hed continue his search. It took almost three months to locate his mother and almost a week after that to build up enough courage to call her. At first, shed been guarded and sounded as if she wanted to hang up and pretend hed never called. Then shed asked if he would meet her so they could talk in private.

Colt was a bundle of nerves as he waited on the bench at the park she'd asked him to meet her at. He hadnt seen her since he was five years old, yet the recognition was immediate when she approached. For a moment they just stood there, an uncomfortable silence growing between them, then shed burst into tears and opened her arms to him. Colt was once again the small child whod been abandoned, though he towered over her by a good foot, and he realized just how scared hed been that shed reject him.

Theyd sat on the bench and talked for several hours about everything that had happened since that night. He learned that shed been injured much worse than he thought and was hospitalized for two weeks. Then shed petitioned the court to get him back, but the social worker on the case had got wind of her questionable lifestyle and the alcohol abuse. She was told her only chance of getting Colt back was to go into rehab and clean herself up. Six months later, she emerged as a recovering alcoholic, determined to straighten her life out and bring her son home.

She was disappointed once again when the social worker told her shed have to have a decent home and a stable work history before theyd consider handing him back to her. So shed gone in search of work and took a waitressing job, saving every penny she had and staying in a cheap, run-down apartment until she had enough to move someplace nicer that Social Services would approve. By this time, over two years had passed when she returned to request he be placed back in her custody. She was told they would arrange for someone to inspect her apartment and review her work history before making a determination.

The weeks and months dragged on as time after time, a stumbling block was placed in front of her. Then she met a man, she told him, a decent man who fell head over heels in love with her. Colt was nearly ten years old by then and she was afraid to tell the man about him. She cried when she told him how she agonized over grabbing for her chance of happiness or continuing to fight for her son. In the end, she convinced herself that hed been placed in a nice home with a loving family and had gone on to marry the man.

I loved you with all my heart, Colt, she said, her eyes brimming with tears. God knows I love you still. But Im married now with two children that know nothing about you or my past. How can I tell them what I once was, that I gave up on my own son? I cant ask you to forgive me for what I did, but I hope that knowing I tried for all those years to get you back will give you some peace.

He hadnt asked if he could see her again, hed gotten what he needed from her; the confirmation that she loved him and that shed fought for him. He told her he forgave her for choosing to go on with her life, and he meant it. Then hed given her a kiss on the cheek and walked away.

He felt the years of pain and anguish begin to fade and knew he had Jayda to thank for it. Thats when he made the decision to pursue a relationship with her once he returned to Colombia, praying that she would be open to something more than just friendship with him.

He didnt tell Jayda or Michael he was coming home because he wanted to surprise them. They knew, of course, that hed met with his mother but he hadnt told them he wasnt going to see her again. Anxious to get back to the two people he cared most about, Colt booked the earliest flight he could the following day and arrived at the airport in Cali at eleven fifteen at night. He caught a taxi to the house and just stood there looking at it for a few minutes after hed gotten out, realizing for the first time that this really was his home because of Michael and Jayda.

He slipped quietly into the darkened house and deposited his suitcase in his bedroom then tip-toed down the hall to Jaydas room. The minute he was inside and had the door closed behind him, he was filled with the scent of her and couldnt wait another moment to hold her in his arms. He crossed the room quickly then sat down on the edge of the bed and leaned over, pressing a soft kiss to her lips. The room was dark, he couldnt have been much more than a shadow, but she cried out his name and threw her arms around his neck.

Colt! Oh, Colt, Ive missed you so much.

Ive missed you too, sweetheart he said, his voice a bit muffled.

She was hugging him tight, his face was buried in her neck, but Colt didnt mind and found it a little disappointing when she finally loosened her grip and let him sit up.

What time is it? Why didnt you tell us you were coming home? Are you here to stay? God, its so good to have you home

Take a breath, he teased. Its almost midnight, I wanted to surprise you, and yes, Im here to stay. Does that answer all your questions?

Jayda laughed. I cant help babbling, Im so excited to have you back. Did you get dinner on the plane? Can I get you something to eat?

Im fine, just incredibly tired after an eleven hour flight. Im sorry I woke you, but I just couldnt wait until morning to see you.

I would have been very angry if you hadnt come to see me no matter what time of night you got here.

Colt smiled in the darkness. I should you let you go back to sleep.

How on earth can I sleep now?

Simple. You close your eyes and relax.

I cant relax! Stay with me, Jayda said, her hand reaching to rest lightly on his arm.

Colt knew it was an innocent request, but it didnt stop the rush of desire that swept through him. Jayda, honey, what would Michael think when he saw me coming out of your room in the morning?

Not a thing. Michaels not here and he probably wont be back until lunch time tomorrow.

What you mean hes not here?

Oh, dont sound so angry. He didnt leave me all alone. Gabe is here.

An uneasiness settled over him at the idea Jayda had been left alone with a man he didnt know.

Whos Gabe?

Michael hired him after you left. He needed someone to take your place when I got off work and whenever he couldnt be here. Gabe has been very helpful. I like him a lot.

Jealousy raised its ugly head. Just exactly what have you and Gabe been doing while I was away that makes you like him so much?

Jayda was silent for a moment. Obviously not what youre thinking since you found me alone in bed.

Christ, hed hurt her, he could hear it in her voice. Im sorry, Jayda, I guess II just dont like the idea that someone could take my place.

Colt, no one could ever take your place, she said softly. Now kick off your boots and pants and crawl under the covers with me.

Mypants?

Goodness, Colt, you have underwear on dont you?

Well, yes

And sleeping in your jeans is going to be incredibly uncomfortable, dont you think?

Yes, but

Then take them off!

Colt squeezed his eyes shut, certain she was trying to kill him. He didnt know how he was going to survive sleeping in the same bed with her without wanting to strip her naked, but the thought of going back to his own room alone was even more torturous. He kicked his boots off then stood up to remove his jeans and decided he wouldnt be comfortable wearing his t-shirt either. He drew in a steadying breath and climbed into bed with Jayda, who immediately maneuvered herself next to him, resting her head on his shoulder.

Much better, she sighed, draping her arm across his chest. Im so happy you came back. I was afraid her voice cracked.

Colt drew her closer. Did you really think I could stay away from you forever?

I wasnt sure. I thought you might want to stay there because of your mother.

No, honey, this is where I belong. Im glad I found her, but she has her own life now and I have mine. I missed you something awful, Jayda.

You did?

Of course I did. Now hush and go to sleep.

Jayda snuggled closer and Colt groaned inwardly. She was so warm, so soft, so damn sexy in her innocence, it took every ounce of self-restraint he had to keep from yanking her panties off and burying himself inside of her. He understood now, the meaning of experiencing both the agony and the ecstasy, because thats exactly how he felt right then. It was pure ecstasy having her in his arms, and enormously agonizing not to be able to do anything more than hold her.

Colt? Jayda whispered drowsily.

What, honey?

Can we go down by the river tomorrowjust you and me?

Anything you want, baby, anything you want.

She was asleep within minutes, but Colt fought it off as long as he could. He wanted to savor this time with her, breath in the soft scent of her skin, enjoy the feel of her body pressed so close to his. Oh yes, he was going to work diligently at getting Jayda past this image she had of him as just a friend and when he did, he planned on carting her off somewhere private for a solid week. Colt drifted off to sleep with a smile on his face, dreaming of all the things he intended to do to her once they were alone.

***

Jayda lost all track of time. Had it been their intention all along to kill her slowly by leaving her in this canvas bag to die of thirst and dehydration? She was hot, tired, barely able to hold onto consciousness. It seemed as if theyd been traveling for hours, but she really didnt know because she kept drifting off into Never-Never Land.

Her arms were numb from being bound, as were her legs, but the rest of her body felt every bump and sharp curve the jeep took. Even if she did manage to get out of this damn bag, she wouldnt have an ounce of energy left to do anything else. She wouldnt think about it, she told herself. Shed take her mind away and think of Colt

The night Colt came back from the States was one of the happiest memories she had of him. Shed felt so warm and safe wrapped in his arms and prayed with all her heart that hed do something, anything, to indicate she was more to him than just a friend. But hed only held her, doing nothing more than giving her a soft kiss on the cheek in the morning before leaving her bed to take a shower.

What was it going to take to make him look at her differently, to see that she wanted and needed a more intimate relationship with him? Maybe today when they went down to the river, shed muster up the courage to kiss him the way shed longed to last night. And if he rejected her, what would she do then? She didnt know, but it was that thought that kept her from making the first move.

They went early, leaving right after breakfast so they could be back around noon when Michael came home. Lying in the soft grass with her head cradled in the crook of his arm, Colt told her everything that happened the day he met his mother and how he felt he could release the

pent up anger and resentment now. It made her happy to know shed been a part of it, that shed been responsible for easing some of the inner turmoil that had plagued him most of his life. Maybe now he wouldnt be so afraid to share his love with someone else.

Did she mention your father or what happened to him after he left?

No, and I didnt ask. It would have been opening wounds that didnt need to be opened.

Do you ever think about him?

Not much, he admitted honestly. It was my mother whod always shown me love when I was little. My father was really just this imposing shadow that hovered over the both of us. Im glad he left her, otherwise she wouldnt have found happiness with her new husband and family.

At the cost of yours, she said rather harshly.

Colt pressed his lips to her temple. Dont be angry on my account, Ive carried around enough of it for ten people over the years. Its time I let it all go and move on with my life, starting with the shipping company.

Michael says the company still isnt solvent, she said solemnly, and you might lose it anyway in spite of how far youve come in turning it around.

We wont lose it. We just need to figure out how to come up with the money to get it back on a forward motion. Two of the ships need repairs that are going to run us about thirty

thousand if we want it done right and we need another hundred and fifty thousand to make the whole business operational enough to begin making profits.

The banks wont lend you any money?

Colt snorted. Not likely since the companys been on a downhill spiral until the past few years and even now, were just barely keeping our noses above water.

Jayda thought about it for a moment. What if you had an investor? You know, someone who wanted to put in enough to get you rolling for a small percentage of the business.

We thought of that, but decided we dont want any outsiders in on it with us. Besides, who would invest in a company that looks like its going to fail?

Someone who knows you and Michael, someone who has a tremendous amount of faith and trust that youll turn it around.

Thats a lovely sentiment, honey, but the only one who fits that bill is you and I know you dont have anything but what your sponsors send you.

Jayda tipped her head back to look at him. I have money, Colt.

He smiled in amusement. Not the kind of money were talking about, but I appreciate the gesture.

But I do have it. I have a trust fund my grandparents set up for me that Ive been able to access since I was twenty-one. I havent even touched it.

Colt gave her a look of surprise. But youve been living off the meager amount you make tutoring. Why would you do that if you had money of your own?

Because that wasnt the purpose for coming here. How could I set myself up in luxury then convince my students I understood their way of life? I had to be their equal, or at least not come off as the wealthy American whod taken pity on them. Granted, the house we live in is nice, but theres three of us there, actually four with Gabe now, so thats acceptable to them. Let me do this, Colt. Let me help you out and in return, you can give me a small percentage of the business.

Youre serious?

Very serious. I love you both, you know that, and theres not anyone I trust more than you and Michael. Once the company starts making money again, my investment will eventually be repaid and continue to grow. What do you say?

How much money and what percentage are we talking about?

Jaydas smile was brilliant. Two hundred and fifty thousand. And before you say anything, that would still leave me with fifteen thousand in the bank so you wouldnt be tapping all my resources. You could give me two percent of the business, that way you and Michael are still equal partners with forty nine percent each.

Colt stared at her blankly for a moment, looking as if hed just won the lotto and didnt know how to respond.

Youd really do that for us? You really have that much faith well make the business successful?

Jayda reached up and touched his cheek, her eyes locked to his. I trust you with my life, Colt, certainly I can trust you with my money.

Jayda, II dont know what to say.

Say its a deal and I can have the money wired into your business account within the week.

Id have to talk to Michael first, but Im sure hed be open to the idea. Oh, baby, do you have any idea what this means to me, to all of us?

Yes, she smiled happily, it means therell always be a bond between us.

Chapter 4
Once Colt and Michael had the money, the company turned around quickly. Repairs were made to the ships, supplies were purchased to export and there was enough money from what shed loaned them and the profits from the exports to purchase the imports they needed. Within six months, the Cortez-Strickland Shipping Corporation was well on its way to being the successful company theyd always dreamed it would be. She never regretted handing over the money, especially once she saw how much pressure it took off both the men.

The only concern in her life now was whether her sponsors would be able to raise the funds to allow her to stay in Colombia once the two-year program ended. With just a little over six months left, she was getting worried theyd drop the program and without a working visa, she wouldnt be allowed to stay. Jayda was happy with her life here. She loved teaching English at the little school house and shed taken on tutoring two siblings in a very nice home not too far from where she lived. But more than anything, she wanted to stay because of Colt.

Theyd grown closer since hed come back and it wasnt just because shed helped them with the business. Maybe it was because hed finally been able lay his resentment and bitterness about his mother to rest, or maybe being separated for those few months had somehow made him realize he could open himself up to her. Whatever the reason, Colt seemed to be able to share his feelings with her easier than he had before and expressed himself not only with words but in other ways too.

It was so subtle, so gradual, that Jayda hadnt even stopped to think what it all meant. Physical contact between them had always been limited to holding hands as they walked or a hug

now and then. But now it seemed Colt sought out every opportunity to touch her in some manner. If he wasnt holding her hand, he had his arm draped casually over her shoulders or looped around her waist.

And though he hadnt made any attempt to kiss her other than on the cheek, she often felt he wanted to but for some reason held himself back. Was he waiting for her, she wondered. Was he waiting for her to give him some indication she wanted him to? Or was it that she just wanted Colt to kiss her so much she was imagining she saw something in his eyes, reading things into his gestures that werent really there?

Jayda didnt think that was the case, but she couldnt figure out why he was holding back or what she could do to encourage Colt to take the initiative. It was getting more and more difficult to hide her true emotions from him, especially since even the slightest touch of his hand made her quiver both inside and out. Something had to break and soon, she thought, because she was certain shed end up shamelessly throwing herself at him one of these days if it didnt.

As the time neared for her work visa to expire, Jayda began to worry shed be deported and never be able to pursue the relationship she longed for with Colt. With only three months left and no word from her sponsors that an extension had been granted, she had no choice but to tell Michael and Colt about the possibility shed be forced to return to the States. Colt looked almost panicked at the idea.

We wont let that happen, he said fiercely.

Of course we wont, Michael added with calm assurance. I have friends at both the Consular and the Embassy who can tell us how to work around it and well have at least three

months after your visa expires before you even have to report to the Embassy. Dont worry, honey, between Colt and I, well figure something out.

I hope so, she said, wondering despondently how she would ever be happy again if she was separated from these two men who meant so much to her.

Colt reached over and took her hand. Dont worry about it. Havent we taken good care of you so far?

Jayda beamed at both of them. I couldnt have asked for better guardian angels.

***

Michael woke up with a groan when the alarm clock went off at precisely five oclock. Colts plane wouldnt touch down for another two hours but he wanted to have time to check in with all his contacts and have at least a few answers ready before he had to face his old friend.

Guilt as well as a blinding fear had been eating at him ever since Gabe told him Jayda had been kidnapped. After all the years he and Colt had watched over her, making sure Delgado and his men never got within striking distance, it was killing him to know hed ultimately failed her anyway.

There were a lot of things he needed to tell Colt about what really happened between himself and Jayda, things he should have confided a long time ago. But shed made him promise to keep quiet and in doing so, theyd all paid the price for it. Colt and Jayda loved each other and theyd both be miserable for the rest of their lives if they couldnt be together. He knew this,

yet hed done nothing to help the two people he loved most in this world. If hed only gone to Colt and made him listen, none of this would be happening now.

He remembered the day Colt brought Jayda home and asked him if she could stay with them for awhile. Shed seemed so small and helpless but that wasnt what made him agree to let her move in. It was the way Colt looked her and the protective, possessive manner in which hed put his arm around her waist when hed introduced her. He knew his friend well, and bringing a woman to his own house was simply something he didnt do. It didnt matter that Colt had only just met her, there was something special about Jayda and shed somehow managed to get to him in a way no other woman had.

Before shed come along, Colt had been quite content to find comfort in the arms of a different woman a couple of times a week. Every now and then there would be one that would hold his interest for a few repeat performances, but they didnt last much longer than that. After Jayda moved in, he noticed Colt spent less and less time on the prowl until gradually he wasnt seeking out the company of any woman but Jayda.

Michael had found it quite amusing to watch. Hed once believed Colt was just like him, that hed never let his guard down long enough to allow any female to get to his heart, but hed been dead wrong. Apparently, it just took the right female; Jayda.

For the two years Jayda was in Colombia on a work visa, she and Colt had pretended to themselves that they were just good friends. Hed often wondered if he should go to Colt and force him to admit his feelings for her and act on them. But he decided if it didnt happen on Colts terms and in his own time, there was nothing he could do to help it along. So hed

remained impassive to what was developing between them with the hope that one or the other would finally gather the courage to confess their love.

He stroked Isobel's hair absently, smiling to himself when she snuggled closer. He envied Colt for having found a woman who captured his heart so completely and Michael wondered if hed ever be able to find a love like that. Maybe it was time he stopped distancing himself from the beautiful woman in his arms and see where it led.

Hed been unfair to her, treating her like she was simply there for his amusement, never giving her any more than he had to. His sweet, sweet Isobel, who never demanded anything from him, though he sometimes saw the longing in her eyes for more. He eased his arm out from beneath her head then leaned down and kissed her soft lips.

Is it time to get up? She asked sleepily.

Michael smiled down her. Why dont you just sleep in. Id like you to be here when I get back.

Isobel opened her eyes. Areare you sure?

He knew she was confused by his request. How insensitive hed been to always make her leave in the morning, never allowing her to take part in his daily life. What a cold hearted bastard hed been and still she came to him without complaint, without expectations. Why? Michael traced the delicate line of her jaw with his finger.

Why do you put up with me, Isobel? You deserve so much more than what Ive given you.

She turned her head into his hand and pressed her lips to his palm. Youve given me what you could.

Is it enough?

She lifted her eyes to his. For now.

Michaels chest tightened at the thought of never seeing her again. Im not good at this, Isobel. Im not even sure Im capable of anything more, but Im willing to try. I dont want to lose you, baby.

Isobels arms twined around his neck, a happy smile lighting up her face. You just gave me more than I suspect youve given any woman. Ill be here when you get back.

Michael lost himself in the taste of her delightful mouth for several minutes before reluctantly leaving the bed to take a shower. It hadnt been nearly as difficult as hed thought it would be and was decidedly content with his decision to stop hopping from one meaningless relationship to another. His mind wandered once again to Colt and Jayda as he got out of the shower and toweled off. Theyd been so happy together and he would have bet his life that nothing on earth could ever tear them apart.

Michael went back into the bedroom to dress, shaking his head at how differently all their lives would have been if hed only stepped up to the plate and worked to keep them together. But maybe hed have a second chance now that Colt was returning to Colombia. He wouldnt even entertain the notion they wouldnt find Jayda and get her back.

If he had to tie them both up and gag them so theyd listen, thats what he was going to do. Theyd spent enough time pretending they could live without each other; it was time for Michael to break his promise to Jayda and tell Colt the truth.

***

Colt tried to brace himself as he moved in line behind the other passengers deboarding the plane. He didnt relish the idea of seeing Michael again. There was still too much bitterness, too many painful memories to just put it all aside and forget how much he wanted to kill him for what hed done with Jayda. Hed trusted Michaelno, Colt stopped himself. It wouldnt do any good to keep dwelling on the past when theyd have to work together to save her.

Michael was waiting for him at the gate, looking as apprehensive as Colt felt. He didnt bother trying to pretend they were still friends or that there was any chance they could be again. Colt simply nodded his head in lieu of any verbal greeting and headed for the baggage pick up area. Once hed retrieved his luggage, they walked side by side, neither of them saying a word until after theyd left the airport.

Gabe eyed Colt through the rearview mirror then cast a furtive glance at Michael who was sitting beside him with a face of stone.

If you two intend to find Jayda, I suggest you bury the hatchet now. We all need to be working together and that means we have to be able to communicate.

A sharp stab of pain hit Colt square in the chest at the mention of Jaydas name. Gabes right, he said. she needs us, all of us. So tell me what you found out so far.

It wasnt Delgado, Michael told him, although I suspect it was because of him that Jayda was kidnapped.

Colts brows drew together. Im not sure Im following you.

Gabe found out that Delgado had a price on Jaydas head. Oh, not to kill her, but to kidnap and deliver her to him. We both know hes been trying to get at her for years, but with you and I making sure she never went anywhere alone, his men couldnt get close enough to grab her. So he put out the word that hed pay quite handsomely for her safe delivery to him.

Safe delivery, Colt hissed. He wants her brought to him safe and sound so he can violate her himself. So who took her then, guerillas?

Yes, one of the small bands operating in Cali. A few of their members were was seen chasing her down an ally. A few minutes later they emerged carrying a large canvas bag.

The color drained from Colts face. She has to be terrified. What I dont understand is why she was still in Colombia.

Gabe pulled the car into Michaels driveway. You two go on into the living room and talk while I collect the information weve gathered so far.

Colt followed Michael inside, impatient to know what theyd found out. He dropped down into the armchair while Michael took his place on the sofa. He hadnt even had time to pose his first question when a pretty brunette appeared in the doorway, stopping abruptly when she saw Colt.

Im sorry, I didnt know you had company.

Michael smiled warmly at her. Its okay, honey. Come and sit down with me. This is Colt Strickland.

Isobel glided elegantly across the room to offer Colt her hand. Ive heard so much about you, its nice to finally put a face to the name.

Colt shook her hand then shot Michael a heated glare when she went to sit beside him on the sofa. Does this mean you and Jayda are no longer together?

Michael put his arm around Isobel then locked eyes with Colt. I think its time you knew a few things, old friend. In spite of what you think, Jayda and I were never together.

Colt rose to his feet, his face a mask of rage. I dont know what youre playing at, old friend, but Id say marrying her pretty much makes you a couple.

His eyes moved to Isobel, who seemed surprisingly calm at this revelation so she obviously knew Michael and Jayda had been married.

Sit down, Michael said evenly. Im going to tell you how it really was, then you can decide for yourself if Im telling the truth.

Gabe walked into the room bearing a tray with four glasses and a decanter of iced tea. He carried it to Colt first. Have some tea and listen to Michael. Its important that you hear him out.

The muscles in Colts jaw flexed but he did as Gabe asked and poured the tea then sat down again.

Get it over with, he growled testily.

***

Jayda got her first breath of fresh air and a glass of water shortly after the jeep came to a stop nearly eight hours later. The bag had been removed and along with the ties that bound her, but her arms were so numb she could barely hold the glass they offered her. She gulped it down greedily then held it out and demanded more. The man whod given it to her looked a little taken back that shed dare talk to him it that manner then shrugged and refilled it.

I have to go to the bathroom, she said with a stubborn tilt to her chin.

The man nodded off to her right. Three minutes. Theres nothing but jungle for miles so dont bother trying to run.

Jayda limped into the heavy foliage and quickly relieved herself, using leaves to clean herself as best she could. It was difficult getting her jeans down because they were so damp after so many hours stuffed inside the hot bag. They were just as hard to pull back up and shed just managed to tug them up over her hips when the man barked at her to come back. She struggled with the zipper for a few seconds then emerged to face her captors.

There were six men in all. Guerillas, she guessed, judging by the clothes they wore. She didnt understand, having fully expected to find herself delivered to Delgados door step. Four

of the men were busy setting up camp, the other two waited for her to come to them. Jayda crossed her arms, her eyes moving from one to the other.

Why have I been brought here?

The one whod given her water spoke first. Ramon Delgado has set a handsome sum of money for your capture and subsequent delivery to him.

If thats true, then why bring me here instead of straight to Delgado?

Because, the other man said, we dont much care for Delgado. Hes been very reluctant to pay the taxes we imposed on hisoperation. Now we have a bargaining chip.

Jayda laughed derisively. And you honestly think he wants me bad enough to agree to pay these taxes? I think youre going to be very disappointed.

Hell accept our terms. You see, hes obsessed with having you, Miss Daniels. Youve managed to evade him for over three years and thats not sitting very well with Delgado. At this point, hed probably give up half of everything he has just to get his hands on you.

Why? Im sure there are plenty of women whod be willing to hop into bed with him so why is he targeting me?

The man grinned. For just that reason, you arent willing.

Exactly how much has Delgado offered for me?

One million, but hell pay more when he finds out there are others wholl be bidding for you.

The air was squeezed from her lungs. Whwhat do you mean?

Were not stupid enough to believe Delgado will keep his promise to pay the taxes once hes had his way with you so we needed to ensure hed part with enough money to make up for it.

So youre going to put me up on an auction block and sell me to the highest bidder? She stared at them incredulously. Im nobody, Jayda said. I dont have any rich relatives, no political ties, no one who cares one way or the other if I live or die. So what makes you think anyone will even bid against him?

You underestimate your value, Miss Daniels. You see, weve spent almost as much time watching and waiting for a chance to capture you as Delgado has but we were kept at bay by your two gentleman friends.

Jaydas eyes widened. Oh God, they intended to involve Michael and Colt.

No, she choked. Please, you cant do this. Theyll give up everything theyve worked so hard for. It will destroy them.

Neither of the men seemed overly concerned about it. Perhaps your friends will be spared financial ruin if Delgado wins the bid.

Theyll never let Delgado win, she said despondently.

What had she done? She should have gone back to the States when Michael told her to. She should have given up seeking revenge on Delgado for what hed done instead of staying in Colombia and working with the Cali police to bring him down. Oh God, how could she face Colt and Michael knowing shed ruined them both?

Colt already hated her, though she knew hed still do everything he could to save her, but this would only make him detest her even more. Michael would know shed deceived him by remaining in Colombia and he would hate her just as much. Jayda looked at the two men, desperate to coax them into leaving Colt and Michael out of this nightmare.

If youre so sure Delgado is willing to pay that kind of money for me, why bother involving anyone else? Why not just pretend someone else is bidding against him?

No, the man said firmly, it has to be real. Delgado is sharp, hed see right through it. Hell figure out who hes bidding against and go to them to offer them money to bow out. When they refuse, it will accomplish two things; hell know were not lying about someone else bidding on you, and hell be even more determined to push the price up so far they wont be able to top it.

At least she had that to hold on to; Delgado would make sure he offered more than Colt and Michael could.

So what happens now?

We will finish setting up camp then contact your friends and Delgado. Tomorrow the bidding war will start. We will accept one bid a day from each of them until the end of the week, at which time we will request their final offers.

Five days, she said flatly.

The man whod done most of the talking apparently decided the conversation was over. Evando, bring her near the fire. When shes done eating, get her settled in her tent. He turned his eyes to Jayda. The jungle is dangerous enough during the day. At night, it would be fatal to a petite thing like you. Stay in your tent.

After hed left them, the man hed called Evando gripped her arm and led her to the fire the others had built. Even though the temperature had dropped slightly as night fell, it was still hot and humid and Jayda wasnt particularly thrilled with sitting in front of a fire. But as she settled herself on the ground, the aroma of whatever meat they were roasting practically set her mouth to watering. When Evando finally handed her a plate, she devoured it before hed even eaten half of his own dinner.

After allowing her another bathroom break, she was shuffled off to a tent that was barely big enough to sit up in. It didnt matter, she was too worn out from the long ride in the jeep to do anything but lay there anyway. Jayda curled up on her side, more frightened than shed ever been in her life.

But it wasnt concern for herself that made her insides tremble because she knew none of the men would touch her. She was too valuable and Delgado would be furious if they abused her

before delivering her into his hands. No, it was the numbing fear of what Colt and Michael would do when they found out what these men were up to that gnawed at her.

Since the day shed first met them, theyd watched over her, protected her. How would they react to the news she was being held captive by guerillas that planned on handing her over to Delgado? Theyd go ballistic, she thought. And worse, they wouldnt just sit around the house waiting to place their daily bid. Theyd do everything in their power to find out who had taken her and where theyd gone, then Colt and Michael would come after her.

This more than anything had her stomach in knots. They werent military men, and had no background in fighting guerillas who were experts in warfare, but that wouldnt stop them. Jayda sent up a silent prayer to keep them safe then closed her eyes and let sleep overcome her, blessedly releasing her from the anguished thoughts that had haunted her all day.

Chapter 5
Colt lay in bed staring up at the ceiling. It felt as if his chest was being crushed by a one ton weight and he had to force himself to breath. Two years. Thats how much of his life had been wasted because of stubbornness and idiotic pride. Two long years spent in agony, imagining Jayda in Michaels arms, in his bed, giving to his best friend what shed once given only to him.

Hed tortured himself night after night with images of her kissing Michael, sharing her laughter, her smile, and worse, her heart. Hed grown more and more bitter as time passed because nothing he did could drive her from his mind or diminish the love he had for her. He closed his eyes, refusing to think of all the pain hed endured, all the pain hed caused. Instead Colt let his mind wander back in time, back to the days when he and Jayda were together and the world made perfect sense.

Shed been worried about getting deported because her sponsors hadnt renewed her grant. There was too much turmoil in Colombia, more specifically in Cali, and the sponsers didnt want to be responsible if something happened to her. So Michael had talked to friends both at the Colombian Consulate and at the Embassy and managed to secure a working visa for Jayda that extended her stay for another six months. The solution had really been very simple; she would go to work for Cortez-Strickland Shipping.

Youre wonderful, Jayda exclaimed when she heard the news. She threw her arms around Michaels neck and hugged him, laughing and crying at the same time.

A twinge of jealousy streaked through Colt as he watched them from his place beside the fireplace. Then she left Michael and came to stand in front of him, gracing him with her beautiful smile. She moved into his arms, hugging him in a way that seemed almost intimate, causing his heart to race and his breath to come up short.

Its for you, Colt, she whispered in his ear. The reason I want to stay is you.

She let her arms slip from around his neck, for a moment looking uncertain as if she was afraid of his reaction and regretted what shed said. Colt smiled down her, his heart surging, and was rewarded with a brilliant smile from Jayda. She left them then, declaring that she was going to make them a meal theyd never forget. Michael waited until she left the room then turned to Colt, arching a brow.

Is there something youd care to tell me?

Colt was careful to keep his face expressionless. What do you mean?

I mean the hug that was much more than a hug and the fact that you were grinning like a Cheshire cat when she whispered something in your ear.

Your imagination is running away with you, Michael. Theres nothing going on between Jayda and I.

Yet, Michael said pointedly.

Colt didnt deny a relationship with Jayda was definitely something he desired. Would it bother you?

Would it matter if it did?

No, but Id rather know you were for it than against it.

If it makes you both happy, Im all for it. Im just surprised it hasnt happened before now.

What makes you say that?

Michael chuckled, shaking his head. First of all, youve been crazy about her since the day you brought her home. Secondly, you havent been with another woman for quite some time and spend every spare minute with Jayda. And last, if a woman looked at me the way Jayda looks at you I can guarantee Id leave my carousing days behind too.

Shes something else, isnt she?

Yes, she is. Michaels expression changed, becoming quite serious. Dont hurt her, Colt. If you arent ready for something more than a roll in the hay then you need to keep it from going any further.

I wouldnt do that to Jayda and I think you know that.

I know you wouldnt do it intentionally. I just want you to make sure youre ready for it because once you start something, Jayda will give you everything shes got. Shell be devastated if it doesnt work out.

Colt knew he was right. Ive thought about it for a long time, Michael. Shes everything I want. Ill make her happy, I swear on my life I will.

Boosted by what Michael said about the way Jayda looked at him plus her whispered confession that he was the reason she wanted to stay in Colombia, Colt set out to create an opportunity to get her someplace private so he could kiss her. It wasnt easy setting his plan in motion because Jayda was still tutoring a wealthy couples two children as well as working at Cortez-Strickland. By the time she tutored in the morning the put in her hours at the shipping company, she was dead-tired and generally retired to her room shortly after dinner. It was disappointing to say the least but the weekend was coming up and he decided thats when hed let her know he wanted to take their relationship to the next level.

He thought about it constantly; the taste of her lips, how her body would feel pressed close to his, the promise of something more. If he hadnt been so wrapped up in his own fantasies about Jayda, he might have noticed the subtle change in her mood those last few days before the weekend began. As it was, Colt was oblivious to the fear that hovered behind her eyes as he dropped her off in front of the house she was tutoring just before noon on Saturday.

Ill pick you up at five, he told her as she climbed out of the car.

Jayda offered him a weak smile. Dont be late, okay?

Colt promised to be there on time, only idly wondering what had made her say that since hed never been late in all the years hed been picking her up from work. He drove off, his mind already planning out the evening with Jayda. He wanted everything to be perfect and had gone to great lengths to make sure nothing could go wrong. Hed made reservations at her favorite restaurant and had packed a small bag with their swim suits and towels so he could take her on a short drive to a secluded beach on the ocean afterwards.

After a refreshing swim, he planned on stretching out on the beach towels and kissing her far into the night. He made no assumptions about taking her to bed that night because as much as he wanted to make love to Jayda, he didnt think shed be ready to take it that far. Still, he couldnt help hoping thats how the evening would end, though he wouldnt pressure her into anything. When he finally did take Jayda to bed, he wanted her warm and willing.

Colt spent a few hours at the company then drove home. After taking a shower, he crossed the hall to Jaydas room. He didnt want to have to take her back to the house after work so he pilfered through her closet and selected one of her favorite dresses and a pair of sandals. Hed tell her only that they were going out for dinner and ask her to change at the Morales house, the place where she was tutoring.

It wasnt until Colt parked his truck across the street to wait for her that he started getting nervous. What if hed misread the signals she was sending out? What if her remark about him being the reason she wanted to stay was totally innocent? What if he kissed her and she rejected him? Colt shook his head, laughing at himself. Never in his life had he doubted his ability to seduce a woman, but then again, his goals had been different before.

He checked his watch, a little concerned that it was five fifteen and the Morales hadnt returned home yet so Jayda could leave. What was keeping them tonight of all nights? He was anxious to get the evening started and growing quite impatient at how inconsiderate they were being. Another ten minutes passed before he finally saw them turn down the road. Colt glanced at the house, his nerves starting to act up again, and that's when it happened.

A thunderous boom tore through the house, shattering glass and sending pieces of wood flying everywhere. Colt stared in horror as a second explosion split the air and smoke began to billow out every shattered window. Flames engulfed the house in a matter of seconds as he shoved the door of his truck open and bolted across the lawn screaming out Jaydas name. The intense heat of the fire drove him back and he was forced to stand there, his heart consumed with a pain so sharp and agonizing he could barely breathe as the fire devoured the house and everyone in it.

***

Jayda woke with a start. Shed been dreaming about the fire that had destroyed the Morales home, reliving those first few terrifying moments when she thought they were being bombed. She hadnt stopped to look around and try to figure out where the explosion had come from but had grabbed both the childrens hands and raced with them into the relative safety of the forest behind the house. She led them a good thirty feet past the tree line before stopping and telling them to crouch down behind a tree and stay there.

Jayda made her way slowly back towards the house but she didnt have to see it to know what the crackling noise meant. Flames shot out of every window, devouring everything inside and licking hungrily at the structure itself. Tears pooled in her eyes. Nothing would be spared. Mr. and Mrs. Morales had lost everything in less than ten minutes. No, not everything, she comforted herself, they still had their children. Jayda hurried back to CeCe and Octavio who were crying but had obediently remained where shed left them. She dropped down to her knees and gathered them both in her arms, hugging them to her.

Its okay, were safe, she crooned. Listen. Can you hear the sirens? Theyre coming to put the fire out and soon Mama and Papa will be here to get you. Would you like that?

The children quieted at the sound of her calm voice, though she could tell they were still frightened. She distracted them by telling them short stories about the forest animals, all the while keeping her ears peeled for the sirens so shed know when they arrived. What she really wanted to do was take the children and run as fast as he could to the front of the house where she knew Colt would be waiting. Jada knew he must be thinking she and the children had been killed in the explosion and it broke her heart to think what he was going through. But she knew whod planted the bomb, just as she knew he probably had someone nearby making sure no one escaped the house alive.

She should have told Colt about the call shed received two days ago, though it probably wouldnt have prevented what had happened this evening. Jayda hadnt thought about Ramon Delgado in months, having grown accustomed to Colt and Michaels presence anytime she left the house, so it came as quite a shock when she answered the phone and heard his voice.

The fact that his call came only after both men had left for work and Gabe was outside changing a flat tire could only mean Delgado had someone watching the house. It probably meant he was also responsible for the flattening the tire as a rouse to get Gabe outside. Her stomach had knotted instantly and her heart thumped erratically in her chest.

Jayda, my love, its been such a long time.

Delgado, she whispered hoarsely.

You remember the sound of my voice. Im flattered. I havent forgotten about you. I want you, Jayda, and one day soon I will have you.

Why cant you just leave me alone?

I told you, I want you. Ill make you a deal, though. One night, Jayda, just spend one night with me and Ill never bother you again.

Her stomach lurched dangerously. Never, she gritted, and theres nothing you can say or do that will ever get me to sleep with you.

His voice went cold. Youd be very wise to think it over before giving me an answer.

I dont have to think about it. You have my answer and its the only one youll ever get.

Youre going to regret this, I promise you. Things have a way ofhappening when I dont get my way.

Jaydas hands started to shake. What does that mean?

Youll see, my love. Ill call you in a few days. Maybe when you see what Im capable of, youll reconsider your decision.

Just leave me alone, she hollered into the phone.

Delgado laughed softly. Ill be seeing you, Jayda.

Now as she huddled in the forest with the children, Jayda understood his veiled threat. It was no mistake that the bomb went off twenty minutes after the time she usually left the Morales house. Delgado didnt want her dead, he only wanted to prove that he could get to her if he really wanted to. Hed also made a very harsh and vivid point: hed do whatever it took to force her into his bed, including killing innocent children.

And if he was willing to do that, what would keep him from going after Colt or Michael? As much as it hurt her to think about it, the only way she could keep that from happening was to leave Colombia and take away Delgados reason for going after them. When Jayda was sure the fire trucks had arrived and felt safe taking the children out of the forest, she held out a hand for each one of them.

Shall we go find Mama and Papa now?

Are they waiting for us? Cece asked, her big eyes peering up trustingly at Jayda.

Im sure they are and theyre probably very worried about you so wed better hurry.

She led them off to the left about a hundred feet before angling right and heading out of the woods so they would be in no danger from the fire or smoke. Even that precaution didnt keep them from gagging on the thick smoke as they emerged and made their way between the two neighboring houses. It wasnt until they rounded the corner that they heard the gut wrenching sobs of Mrs. Morales above the roar of the fire and the din of the crowd that had gathered to watch.

Ceces grip tightened and Jayda squeezed back, telling her their Mama would stop crying once she saw they were safe. Jayda and the children worked their way through the throng of people, following the sound of Mrs. Morales frantic sobbing.

Mrs. Morales, she called out when they were within several feet of her.

Cece! Octavio!

Jayda let go of their hands, nearly crying herself at the happy reunion. Mrs. Morales dropped to the ground, her arms open wide as the children ran to her. Mr. Morales, whod never been anything but stiffly polite to Jayda and somewhat indifferent to his children, went down on his knees, his arms encircling them all. At least something good at come of this, she thought. Maybe now their father would realize just how much his family meant to him and not be so afraid to express his love.

She turned away from them, her eyes scanning the crowd for Colt. As tall as he was, she was sure shed see his dark head above all the others who hovered around, but she didnt. Jayda took a few steps, intending to search for him when Mr. Morales rose to his feet and stopped her.

I dontI dont know how to thank you. We were almost to the house when the explosion happened and we thoughtwe thought

I know, Jayda said gently. Im sorry I couldnt get them to you sooner but I had to make sure whoever did this wasnt still lurking around. We were out back when it happened so I hid with them in the woods.

You did good, Miss Daniels. Mrs. Morales and I will forever be in your debt. When we figure out where were going and get settled again, I hope youll come back and keep tutoring the children.

Id like that. I have to go now. My friend was waiting outside to give me a ride and he doesnt know Im okay yet.

Mr. Morales surprised her by leaning down and kissing her cheek. If theres anything I can ever do for you, call me.

Jayda assured him she would then shoved her way through the onlookers, searching for Colt. Fear began to thread its way through her heart when she couldnt find him and the terrifying thought that he might have been close to the house when it blew up made the level of fear escalate to such heights she could barely breath.

He had to be here, she told herself, but where? She needed to stand on something, elevate herself so she could see over the entire area. Jayda stopped. Colts truck. If she could find his truck, she could stand in the bed and look around. Maybe shed even find him there. Yes, she thought, it only made sense that he was in his truck since she hadnt found him among the crowd.

Anxious to locate the truck now that shed comforted herself with the thought shed also find Colt there, Jayda wound her way past all the people to the spot across the street where he usually parked. Her heart sank in her chest to find it empty then just as quickly soared when she spotted it further down the road. He must have moved it when the firemen arrived.

She all but ran to the truck, halting abruptly when she found the cab was empty. Jayda glanced back at the house. Had he tried to go in after her? She shook her head. No, she wouldnt allow those thoughts to torture her. She walked numbly towards the back of the truck, determined to climb up on the bed and find Colt. Thats when she saw him sitting on the curb behind the truck with his back to her.

His shoulders were slumped and he had his elbows propped up on his knees, his hands covering his sagging head. A low, rolling moan rumbled deep in his chest, the sound so achingly mournful it nearly broke her heart. She drew in a steadying breath and went to him but he was so distraught, so lost in his grief it didnt immediately register there was someone beside him. Jayda leaned down and touched his shoulder.

Colt? He lifted his head at the sound of her voice, the stark look of pain in his eyes making her wince. Its okay, I

Colts hand shot out to grip her outstretched arm and yanked her down into his lap. He crushed her to his chest, the harsh sob that was torn from his throat bringing tears to her own eyes.

Jayda, he rasped. Oh God, I thought Id lost you.

She pressed her cheek to his because any other movement was made impossible by the death grip he had on her.

Its okay, now. Im here, Colt, Im safe.

When I heard the explosion he stopped, shuddering violently.

Im fine, I promise. Theres not a scratch on me. Colt, she said softly, look at me.

Slowly his head lifted, his hold on her loosening just enough she was able to free her arms. She cupped his face in her hands, nearly losing herself in the depth of his dark eyes.

Im fine, the children are fine, no one got hurt. Im sorry I couldnt find you sooner to let you know.

I couldnt take it if something happened to you, he said shakily.

Jayda laced her arms around his neck. I was so afraid youd tried to get inside the house to save me. She smiled up at him. But were both here, safe and sound.

He stared at her for a moment, his eyes still glistening with tears. I was going to take you to dinner tonight. I was going to

When he didnt continue, she asked, You were going to do what?

This, Colt said, lowering his head to capture her lips.

A soft moan caught in her throat when his mouth covered hers; the kiss so slow, so tender, so incredibly intoxicating, it set her whole body to tingling. The taste of him was so much better than shed ever imagined and it ignited a passion within her that Jayda hadnt even know she was capable of. She pressed herself into him, her lips parting to allow him greater access then almost cried out when the kiss deepened and his tongue found hers.

Colt fed on her hungrily, grinding his mouth into hers with a desperation that shook her to the core. She welcomed the assault, giving as much as she took because she understood the

emotions that had driven him to this state. Too many years had been wasted denying themselves and now that the floodgates were open, there was nothing either of them could do but let it carry them away.

It must have been quite a sight; the two of them clinging to each other, kissing as if theyd never stop while the fire that was ravaging the Morales home raged on, not three hundred feet from them. When Colt finally lifted his head, Jayda had to smile at the positively drunken look on his face.

You have no idea how long Ive waited for you to do that.

Really? I was afraid I might be jumping the gun when I decided I was going to kiss you tonight. He dipped his head, brushing her lips lightly with his. How long have you wished for this?

Jaydas insides melted at the feathery touch of his lips. Since about an hour after you rescued me from Delgado.

Colt drew his head back. Seriously?

Sometimes I wanted it so bad I was afraid youd see it in my eyes.

Why didnt you say anything?

Jayda laughed. What would I have said? I couldnt just come right out and tell you I wanted you to kiss me and I wouldnt have the vaguest idea how to seduce a man. My only choice was to fight to stay in Colombia and hope one day youd feel the same.

Oh Jayda, honey, if Id only known. I was an idiot not to have seen it and an even bigger idiot for not acting on it when I finally realized how I felt for you.

Well, the good news is Ill have my Saturdays and mornings free for awhile until Mr. and Mrs. Morales get settled again.

Colts arms tightened around her. Oh, no you dont. Youre not going to work for them or anyone else. Theres too much political unrest, and working for people like Morales who have political ties will just put you at risk at again.

Jayda glanced back at the fire which was almost contained by now. It wasnt Mr. Morales political ties that brought this on. It was Delgado.

Colts whole body went rigid. What makes you think it was Delgado?

She looked back him guiltily. Because he called me two days ago after you and Michael had left for work. It was the day Gabe had a flat tire, remember?

Why didnt you tell me?

Dont be angry, Colt. I just didnt want to worry you.

Damn it, Jayda, this isnt something you can ignore and hope it goes away. Hes a dangerous man and hes had his men watching you ever since you got away from him.

Jaydas eyes widened in surprise. You knew his men were watching me?

Of course we did, why do you think we were always so careful to make sure you didnt take public transportation or got picked up by anyone but Michael or I?

But you never said anything. Didnt you think I had a right to know?

There was no reason to tell you. It would have upset you too much. At any rate, you wouldnt have been able to pick out any of his men even if theyd been put in a line up for you. It would have served no purpose to let you know.

So you and Michael just put your own safety on the line for me every time I went out. Jayda frowned, not at all happy to find out the risks theyd been taking for her sake. You should have told me, Colt. I never would have stayed in Colombia if Id known.

And thats another reason we didnt tell you. Neither of us wanted you to leave and we knew Delgado wouldnt dare try to take us out of the picture.

Just what makes you so sure about that? He didnt seem to care that the house he was blowing up would have an entire family in it. It was just pure luck that none of them was inside.

No, he wouldnt care bout Morales or his family because it would be easy for him to pin it on someone else. I cant tell you why Michael and I are off limits for Delgado, youll just have to trust me when I say we are.

You know him, dont you? The day Delgado attacked me, he called you by name. Jayda reached for another memory. His driver never made any attempt to stop you from taking

me either. Oh, Colt, please tell me you and Michael arent involved with the Cartel or drug trafficking!

Chapter 6
Not exactly, he said evasively.

Jayda sat up. Not exactly? What does that mean?

Colt pulled her back into his arms, laughing softly. Calm down, sweetheart, its not what you think. Michael is going to wring my neck for telling you this, but I know he trusts you and Im sure you wont let it go any further. Michael and Ramon Delgado are cousins.

Thats impossible, she cried. Michael is one of the most honest, kind hearted men I know. How could he be related to a monster like Delgado?

Michaels grandfather died shortly after his father was born. His grandmother was left destitute. She had no money, no family, and a newborn baby. Apparently, shed caught the eye of Ramon Delgados father some time earlier so when he offered to marry her, she accepted. She gave birth less than a year later to another son. They were night and day, Michael and Ramons fathers and there was no love lost between them. But they were family, like it or not, and the Cartel wont touch family.

But how does that make you safe? Youre not family.

Technically, no, but Delgado knows Michael and I are as close as brothers so harming me would bring down a whole lot of trouble that Delgado doesnt want. If it had been anyone but me or Michael trying to stop him that day, they wouldnt have lived to tell the tale.

Jayda shivered. Hes a horrible man, pure evil. She rested her head against his chest. I dont understand something, Colt. If youre protected because of your relationship with Michael, why isnt that protection extended to me? Weve all lived together for over two years now.

Its not the same, honey. Now if you and Michael were married, that would be a totally different story. Unfortunately for you, and lucky for me, it wasnt Michael you chose to fall for.

Jayda tipped her back. I dont feel unfortunate, she said softly. I feel like the luckiest woman alive.

Colt pressed a light kiss to her lips. You must be wiped out with the day youve had. Would you like me take you home now?

She held his eyes with hers, the butterflies fluttering madly in her stomach, her heart beginning to race. She didnt want to go home, not with Gabe and Michael there. Her dues had been paid with all the months and months of waiting for Colt to look at her just as he was now. He admitted hed planned on kissing her that night, but kissing wasnt the only thing he wanted, she could see it in his eyes. It wasnt the only thing she wanted either.

I dont want to go home. I want to go someplaceprivate, someplace where we can be alone.

His voice was weak when he spoke. Are you sure?

Im sure, very sure. Colt, I want you to make love to me.

Jayda laughed when he nearly dumped her on the ground in his haste to stand up.

Sorry about that, he grinned sheepishly.

He helped her into the truck then hurried around to the drivers side, easing forward through the thinning crowd. All that was left of the house were smoldering ashes and a ghostly structure that bore no resemblance to its former beauty. Jayda knew she should tell Mr. Morales she suspected Delgado was responsible for destroying his house but what purpose would it serve? Theyd never be able to pin it on Delgado and at least this way, the Morales family would benefit from political sympathizers.

Colt reached out took her hand. Its not your fault, Jayda. For all we know, it really was related to Mr. Morales political affiliations.

I know. I just feel awful about them losing all their things.

You saved their children. I doubt theyre worried about things that can be replaced.

If theyd been on time tonight

But they werent, he interrupted. Now scoot over here so I dont have to lean across the seat to touch you.

Jayda promptly did as he asked, feeling much better pressed close to his side with his hand resting intimately on her thigh. She didnt want to think about the explosion or the fire or Delgado anymore, she only wanted to think about Colt and the long night ahead of them. She wondered idly if she should tell him how inexperience she was but quickly decided against it.

She didnt want him to hold back when he made love to her, Jayda wanted it all; the passion, the raw desire, the pure masculine strength of him. Admittedly, she was a little nervous, but she wasnt afraid of him. Colt would never hurt her.

The hotel he selected was located just on the outskirts of Cali. Beautifully landscaped, it was obviously one of the finer accommodations in the area and she was glad hed chosen a place that was so upscale. Colt pulled into a parking space and cut the engine, immediately drawing her into his arms for a long, amorous kiss before getting out.

Its not too late to change your mind, he said as he lifted her down from the truck.

Youre not trying to get out of this, are you? She teased.

Colt looked at her as if shed lost her mind. Good God, no! I should warn you though, Im not sure Ill last very long the first round.

Jaydas heart fluttered. The first round? How many rounds were there when making love? She wasnt sure, and now she was worried about whether Colt would even find any pleasure from someone as inexperienced as she was. She smiled thinly at him when he took her hand and led her towards the hotel, suddenly feeling incredibly inadequate.

How could she even begin to compete with the women hed been with; women who knew how to please a man, knew what to expect and what was expected from them. She glanced down at the soiled shirt and grass stained jeans she was wearing and cringed. Maybe she should have waited. Maybe she should have asked him to take her home so she could shower and change and put on something more feminine and seductive.

Jayda was in a near panic by the time they got to the check in desk. Shed have to tell him, let him decide if it was worth wasting his money and time on someone who might be a total disappointment to him. She gnawed anxiously on her lip as the couple ahead of them finished registering. It was now or never. Just as Colt started to move up to the counter, she tugged on his hand.

Wait! II need to talk to you first.

His disappointment was evident, though he tried to hide it. Whats wrong, honey?

Nothing, its just She pulled on his hand. I need to tell you something in private.

A worried frown appeared on his face but he didnt say anything as she pulled him away from the counter to a more secluded part of the lobby. Jayda cleared her throat, her nerves just about shot. She tried to smile but was sure it looked more like a grimace than anything else. Finally, she decided the best thing to do was take a deep breath and blurt it out.

Ive never done this before, Colt.

He rubbed his chin, looking perplexed. Never gone to a hotel with man?

No, I didnt mean that. Well, actually its true, but thats not what I was trying to say. I just thought it should really be your decision if you wanted toyou know, because I dont want you to be disappointed and Im afraid you might be

Jayda, youre killing me. Whatever you think you need to say to me, say it so we can check in.

She drew in a deep breath and let it out slowly. Ive neverdone what were about to do.

Colts face went blank, as if what shed said was beyond comprehension. Youyouve never slept with a man before?

A soft blush stained her cheeks. Not exactly. I mean, I have but I was only seventeen and I thought I was in love and so I..." Her blushed deepened. "It only lasted a few minutes and the only thing I really remember was how much it hurt. I was afraid to do it again and I broke it off with him. So you see, I may not be any good at it and I just didnt want you to feel likelike youve been cheated or something. Colts deep laughter took her by surprise.

Cheated? Oh, baby, how could you even think that? Colt gathered her in his arms, pressing his hips into her then chuckling at the startled look on her face. Does it feel like Im having second thoughts?

Jaydas knees went weak. He was incredibly hard, the zipper on his jeans straining as he continued to rub himself seductively against her.

Youre not disappointed that I dont have any experience doing this?

Quite the opposite, he said, his voice deep and sultry. Im elated to know this will be your first real experience in making love and that no man has ever touched you the way I intend to.

He kissed her, a low moan catching in his throat when Jayda melted into him. He lifted his head, his eyes dark with desire.

I want you, Jayda, more now than ever.

I want you too, she said, her voice barely above a whisper.

He smiled down at her reassuringly then took her hand and once again approached the check in counter. She didnt say anything as he signed the register and paid for the room, nor did she speak on the elevator ride up to the fifth floor. Her body was already tingling in anticipation, the muscles in her abdomen aching with need as he opened the door and followed her in. Jayda walked to the middle of the room and stopped, her eyes drawn to the massive bed. She jumped nervously when Colt came up behind her, his hands gliding slowly down her arms.

Turn around, sweetheart, he said gently. Jayda was trembling as she faced him. Are you scared?

Not of you. Its justwell, I dont really know what to do.

Trust me, honey, youll know exactly what to do and when to do it. You just need relax and it will come to you. Now take off your shoes while I close the curtains and dim the lights.

Jaydas hands were shaking as she pulled off her shoes. In spite of his assurances, she was still nervous and worried about doing something wrong. Colt returned to her, taking a few minutes to take off his boots before pulling her into his arms and kissing her. She liked kissing him, it was the only thing she was confident she was doing right and it made her forget about everything except how incredibly good it felt.

He took his time kissing her, making sure that no corner of her mouth went unexplored, and by the time his hands moved up beneath her shirt and gently pulled it over her head, Jayda

had lost some of her inhibitions and offered no resistance. But when he slipped first one bra strap over her shoulder then the other, she couldnt seem to stop herself from trembling.

Easy, sweetheart, Colt said softly, as he unclasped the bra and let it fall to the floor. He cupped each breast gently. So beautiful

Jaydas eyes closed. His hands were warm, his caresses so soft it seemed he was barely touching her at all yet her body came alive, every nerve ending tingling so intensely she wasnt sure how much more she could take. Colts mouth sought hers briefly before moving to her neck, to the swell of her breasts, then closed over the taut peak. She gasped when his tongue lapped over the sensitive flesh, making slow, erotic circles until she was squirming in his arms and begging him to stop.

Its too much, she whispered breathlessly.

Colt lingered for a moment longer before lifting his head and pulling his own shirt off. Now were even, he grinned.

Jayda shook her head, returning the grin. Not quite.

She placed her hands on his chest, splaying her fingers across the corded muscles then glided them slowly over every inch of exposed flesh. His breathing was as short and ragged as hers and it boosted her confidence to know she had the power to excite him. Taking control and being the one to administer the tortuous feathery touches helped ease some of her tension but Jayda also found it was arousing her as much as it was Colt.

She hesitated for only a moment before inching her hands down the flatness of his belly to unhook the button on his jeans. She fumbled with the zipper, his firm erection straining against the material impeding her efforts, but at last Jaydas shaking fingers managed to ease the zipper down. A low moan rumbled deep Colts chest when she pushed his jeans along with his boxers down over his hips and thighs.

Jaydas breath caught in her throat when he stepped out of puddle of clothes at his feet and stood before her, magnificent and wholly male in his nudity. She reached out tentatively, taking him in her hands, surprised at both the smoothness of his skin and how incredibly hard he was. She was thoroughly enjoying herself, delighting in the way he seemed to grow thicker and harder each time she closed her fingers around him. Jayda let out a startled squeak when his hands clamped down over her wrists, abruptly ending any further exploration.

Baby, youre killing me, he groaned. I promise you can let your hands wander at will later, but right now its all I can do to hang on until Im inside of you. He reached for the snap on her jeans. I need you, Colt said huskily as he shoved her jeans down, quickly followed by her panties.

Jaydas heart hammered against her chest, her breath non-existent as he pulled her into to him, his lips warm and tender as he kissed her. She locked her arms around his neck, molding herself to the hard contours of his body, a scorching heat instantly surging through her when flesh met flesh. Her senses exploded; the muscles in her abdomen contracting sharply as he eased her back onto the bed and lowered himself over her.

Nothing could have prepared her for the glorious feeling of Colts body as the weight of him pressed her down into the soft mattress. His mouth closed over hers, no longer soft and tender, but hard and hungry, sending Jaydas senses spiraling into overload. She seemed incapable of forming any words or thoughts, her mind a total wasteland as Colt slowly reduced her to nothing more than a compilation of raw emotions, desire, and a desperate need for something more.

Colt was right when he told her shed know what to do and when to do it. Aching with the need to feel him inside of her, she didnt wait for him to coax her legs apart but opened them willingly. A deep growl rolled from the back of his throat as he positioned himself at Jaydas opening and began to slowly ease himself inside of her. She knew he was trying to be gentle, but the pressure was enormous, the pain sharp and stinging as her muscles stretched to try and accommodate him.

His failure to break through the barrier and sink into her inner heat was taking its toll on Colt too. His own muscles were rigid, the expression on his face strained as he struggled to maintain control. Jayda drew in a deep breath, waiting for just the right moment then thrust her hips up, impaling herself on the length of him. A strangled sob tore from her throat as her muscles protested the harsh invasion, the thickness of him filling her with a pleasure that battled the pain. For a moment Colt held himself still, whispering words of comfort and calm assurance while her body adjusted to him.

Jayda had never felt so close to anyone in her life and it wasnt just the physical intimacy of having their bodies joined. It was the way her inner muscles clasped around him as if he was a part of her that was being welcomed home and the way he filled her heart with such joy. And

as he slowly began to move in and out of her there was such a feeling of completeness it brought tears to her eyes.

Am I hurting you? Colt asked, alarmed by her tears.

Jayda smiled up at him. No, noIve just waited so long for this and its so much better than I ever imagined. Dont stop, she whispered, pulling his mouth back down onto hers.

Freed by the knowledge he wasnt hurting her, his thrusts came harder and faster tossing Jayda into a whirlwind of sensations that seemed to be pushing her up and up until she thought she would die if it continued much longer. A heavy coiling tightened deep in her abdomen and her heart thumped wildly as each powerful stroke of his body brought her closer and closer to the top. She clung to Colts broad shoulders, calling out his name in breathless gasps, telling him it was too much, that it was not enough, that he had to do something or shed go insane.

Colts rhythm slowed for a moment as he moved his hands beneath her bottom and lifted her hips into him. He drew back slowly then drove himself into her, the deep penetration setting off a chain reaction of explosions that seemed to go on forever. He rode her through it, his fierce thrusts making her climax so many times, Jayda wasnt able to discern where one ended and another began. Then incredibly, he grew harder, thicker, and she had to bury her face in his neck to muffle the wild, animalistic sounds that tore from her throat. Colts own guttural moans ended abruptly with one final thrust of his hips. He shuddered violently then he let out one last groan of satisfaction before collapsing over her.

They lay there for quite some time, drawing in much needed air and desperately trying to grasp the enormity of what had just happened between them. Jayda wasnt entirely nave about

what went on between a man and a woman in the bedroom, but shed certainly never expected anything as emotionally charged and powerful as this had been. Even the pain shed experienced on his initial entry was washed away by the physical pleasure that followed and she had to wonder if it had been so forceful because of her love for Colt.

When his breathing evened out and he was finally able to separate himself from her, Colt rolled on to his back and gathered her close to his side. Jayda molded herself to him, gliding her hand slowly back and forth across his chest, mesmerized by how incredibly masculine Colt was and the thrill it brought just to be able to touch him.

Colt pressed his lips to her temple. Are you okay? I wasnt very gentle in the end

Im fine, more than fine. I never knew it could be like this, so strong, soexplosive.

Neither did I, he said earnestly.

Jayda tipped her head back. You dont have to say that, Colt. I know it probably wasnt as good for you as it was for me, but Ill get better in time if youll teach me.

He kissed her softly on the lips. Sweetheart, if it gets any better than this, Im not sure Ill survive. I dont know how to explain it except to say that is was more than just sex, more than just physical pleasure. His fingers stroked the side of her face for a moment before he kissed her again. I never believed it before, but its the only possible explanation for how different it was with you than any other woman.

Jayda eyed him curiously. Never believed what?

A soft smile played on his lips. That having sex is different when youre in love.

She didnt know what to say, didnt dare believe hed just said that he loved her. II wouldnt know, she stammered.

No, you wouldnt, he agreed. But thats because youd never consider having sex with a man you didnt love, would you?

No, Jayda answered simply.

So you admit that youre in love with me?

I always have been.

Colt hugged her to him. My beautiful, Jayda, how stupid Ive been not to see it before now. When I saw that house go up in flames, all I could think of was how miserable my life would be without you and how his voice faltered for a moment. Look at me, honey.

When she lifted her eyes to his, Jayda saw what was in his heart, knew even before he spoke the words what he would say.

I love you. I love you so much it makes my heart ache just to think of it.

Oh Colt, she cried, just before his mouth closed over hers.

He made love to her again, but the second time was slow and tender, lasting much longer than the first. Afterwards, she lay in his arms, breathing in the musky, masculine scent of him

until fatigue finally overtook her and she drifted off to sleep. Sometime later, Jayda woke to the feel of Colts warm lips as they left a moist trail down the side of her neck.

The night was an endless cycle of making love then sinking into an exhausted sleep only to be roused again by Colt kissing or caressing and eventually taking her again. By the time morning came, she could barely move, though she didnt regret even a single moment of their time together.

Where are you going? She mumbled sleepily when Colt climbed out of bed.

He leaned down and kissed her. Go back to sleep, honey. Im going to take a shower and run a few errands, then Ill be back.

Jayda sat up, covering herself with the sheet. Youre leaving me?

Colt gently pushed her back down. Im not leaving you for long so you can stop frowning. I just have some things to do at the office that cant wait. Now, I want you to sleep for awhile longer and Ill bring something for breakfast when I come back.

Youre not sorry, are you?

Colt laughed softly. Sweetheart, the only thing Im sorry about right now is that youre too sore to make love to again. I shouldnt have been so inconsiderate last night but I just couldnt seem to get enough of you.

Jayda smiled. I dont recall complaining.

No, and I love you even more for it. Now be a good girl and go back to sleep.

Jayda snuggled back down under the covers, following his deliciously naked physique with her eyes until he disappeared into the bathroom. Only when she heard the sound of the shower being turned on did she try to fall asleep again. Colt was right about how sore she was; every muscle in her body seemed to cry out in protest when she moved, but she was simply too happy to worry about it. He loves me, she thought giddily, then promptly fell asleep.

When Jayda woke a several hours later, she was a little disappointed to discover Colt hadnt returned. Sluggish and feeling as if shed been drugged, she forced herself to get out of bed and took a long, hot shower. By the time she emerged, refreshed and not quite so achy, Colt was just pulling food out of bag and setting it on the table. When he looked up to find her standing there in nothing but a towel, his body visibly tensed.

Damn, he said as he crossed the room and pulled her into his arms. I honestly thought Id over indulged so much last night that I could handle being alone with you without getting aroused. He pressed his hips into her, grinning when she gasped, her eyes widening in surprise.

Is that normal? She asked weakly. Even as tender as she was, Jayda couldnt stop the wave of desire that swept over her.

Its certainly not normal for me, Colt said, his lips sliding down the side of her neck.

A soft moan caught and held in her throat when he tugged at the towel and let it drop to floor. It wasnt until they left the hotel late that evening after making love several more times that she realized they hadnt once used protection. Jayda tried to convince herself that she couldn't possible get pregnant after only one night with him and that being only one week away from her monthly cycle meant she was probably infertile.

But when she wasnt feeding herself reasons why she couldnt possibly have conceived a child, Jayda was thinking about all the times Colt had reached for her and the countless times hed spilled his seed inside her body.

Chapter 7
He should have used protection, Colt thought, recalling all the passionate hours of making love to Jayda that first time. He should have, but from the moment shed told him she wanted to go someplace where they could be alone, he knew he wasnt going to. Never in his entire life had he slept with a woman without using a condom but Jayda was different and he couldnt bear the thought of having even that thin separation between her flesh and his.

Colt knew the chance they were taking even if she didnt, but it hadnt mattered. Of course, not in his wildest dreams had he imagined he could get aroused as many times as he had, but once hed gotten a taste of the passion she ignited, he couldnt seem to keep his hands off of her.

Colt turned over on his side and kicked the covers off. He needed to get some sleep. The next few days were going to be exhausting, but his mind couldnt stop replaying the conversation with Michael earlier. If only Colt had used protection when they were at the hotel, if only he hadnt decided to fly in that puddle jumper instead of taking a commercial flight to Bogota, if only hed been able to get back to Jayda a few weeks sooner.

So many of the variables that played a part in the destruction of their relationship could have been avoided or altered to change the chain of events that followed. But it seemed everything conspired to tear him and Jayda apart and hed been too blinded by jealousy and anger in the end to see the truth.

Theyd been inseparable for the next few months, spending their days together at work, their evenings filled with love and laughter and talking about the future. And their nightsthose

long, sultry Colombian nights when they made love for hours before falling asleep in each others arms. Colts love for her had gone beyond anything hed ever known and he wanted nothing more than to spend the rest of his life with her.

Then hed gotten a call from one of their suppliers for the export side of the business and had to go to Bogota in person. He could have taken a commercial flight, but he would have had wait to catch a flight until late in the afternoon which meant hed have to spend the night there. He didnt like the idea of leaving Jayda even for a day, but the thought of sleeping alone was torturous so hed arranged for a flight through a small, private airline so he could arrive in Bogota early in the morning then return later that afternoon.

The flight was short and Colts mind had been so filled with thoughts of Jayda that at first he paid no attention when the aircraft began to descend because hed lost all track of time. It was only when he glanced absently out the window that he noticed how rapidly they were descending and how dangerously close they were to the trees of the jungle below. Hed barreled to the front of the plane intending to throttle the pilot for flying so negligently, but when he got there it was evident the poor man was scared out of his mind.

Were losing pressurethere's nothing I can do, the pilot shouted.

Colts blood ran cold at the sight of the quickly approaching ground. Christ, pull up, pull up!

But it was already too late to do anything but try to protect himself as best he could. He hollered at the pilot to get to the back of the plane then raced back and buckled himself in. He grabbed a cushion and put it on his lap then doubled over and buried his face in it, hoping the

pilot was doing the same. Within minutes the plane hit the trees, sheering the tops off as it made initial impact then continued its path deeper and deeper until at last it came to an abrupt halt.

Colt unbuckled himself with shaky hands, thanking God for allowing them to land without the plane being torn to shreds. He was halfway down the aisle, praying the pilot had fared as well as he had when the plane suddenly pitched forward. Thats when Colt realized they hadnt hit the ground at all but were suspended in the trees a good two hundred feet up.

It was his own weight moving to the front of the plane that caused the balance to shift. There was a sickening crack as the branches began to give way. Colt was thrown forward and had just a fraction of a second to try and right himself before the plane plummeted to the ground.

He thought he was dead. Even when he was finally able to focus and could see the stars in the night sky, he wasnt fully able to grasp that hed somehow survived. Every muscle in his body ached and his right leg throbbed angrily. He was feverish and so weak he could barely lift his head. He drifted in and out of consciousness for several days before the fever left him and he was able to comprehend that he was lying on a cot and was obviously receiving medical attention. Colt was amazed to learn that the plane had gone down less than a thousand yards from a guerilla camp, but even more stunned by the fact theyd taken him in and tended to his wounds.

Hed fractured his right leg and had to be stitched up in a few places, but other than that, his wounds were minor. The pilot, he learned, had lived for only a few hours and had been buried somewhere in the jungle. He also discovered this particular guerilla group was highly sought after by the government and that theyd been in hiding out for almost eight months

without communication with the outside world. They survived off the jungle and the one jeep that was still operational was secured over a mile away. Colt had no choice but to wait until his leg was healed enough to make the perilous trek through the jungle.

It took him almost six weeks to regain enough strength and by then he was willing to risk anything to get back to Jayda. He knew she had to think he was dead and it killed him to know the grief she must be suffering. It was only the thought of holding her again and hearing the sound of her voice telling him she loved him that had kept Colt fighting the fever those first few days and it was what spurred him on through the jungle in spite of the ache in his leg. The vision of her face swam before him, urged him on, kept him from going insane until at last he and the guerilla who was to drive him to the nearest town finally reached the jeep.

Colt was dropped off near the edge of a miniscule town in the middle of nowhere where he limped his way to a rundown bar and was told there was no public transportation out of the place. No one in town owned a vehicle, they simply walked or rode their horse where ever they needed to go and the only visitor from outside was a man that stopped in once a month to supply the bar with alcohol. There were no phones and the only mail coming or going went via the truck driver when he dropped off the liquor. So Colt offered the man the fifty dollars he had in his wallet to let him stay there for the next two weeks while he waited for the delivery truck.

He spent his days and nights dreaming of Jayda, imagining the look on her face when he walked into the house and the night that would follow his return. He ached for her, longed to be with her, and sent silent prayers to God to watch over her until he returned. Those two weeks seemed endless but at last the truck arrived and three days later, Colt was dropped off in Bogota. His first stop was at the bank where he withdrew enough cash to buy new clothes and get a hotel

room so he could clean up. From the room, he reserved a flight to Cali that was to depart four hours later.

Colt considered calling Jayda, but he cherished the dream of seeing the look on her face when he walked in and was reluctant to give it up. It started raining shortly before he left for the airport and by the time he boarded the plane it was pouring. Normally, he wouldnt have thought anything about flying in a storm but after the experience hed just had, he was a little leery as he took his seat. The flight was a little bumpy, but relatively uneventful. Even so, he was glad when they finally landed and he was able to get his feet firmly on the ground again.

Colt could barely contain his excitement as the taxi pulled up to the house and he got out. He quickly paid the driver then hurried through the pouring rain and up the steps only to find the door was locked. His keys, he realized, were lost somewhere in the jungle so he had no choice but knock on the door. The huge smile he was wearing faded quickly when a middle aged woman he didnt know answered the door.

Yes, may I help you?

Iyes, Im Colt Strickland. I live here. Who are you?

The woman looked puzzled. Im sorry, there must be some mistake, Mr. Strickland. The only people who live here are Mr. and Mrs. Cortez.

Colt found the idea of Michael being married so ludicrous he laughed. I dont believe it! But what about Jayda? She still lives here, doesnt she?

Of course. As I told you, Mr. and Mrs. Cortez both reside here.

The bottom dropped out of Colts stomach. Jayda married Michael?

The woman smiled. A month ago tomorrow. Would you like me to tell them youre here?

He nodded numbly then stepped inside and followed the woman to his own living room. When she left him, Colt glanced around the room that was so familiar to him, his eyes locking on the mantle above the fireplace and the framed picture that hadnt been there before he left.

The closer he got to Michael and Jaydas wedding picture, the colder his heart grew. Theyd betrayed him, both of them, less than three weeks after hed disappeared. How long had it taken Michael to turn his comforting arms into those of a lover? How many times had his friend made love to Jayda while Colt had been lying in the jungle dreaming of the day he could return to her? A burning rage began to fuel itself in the depths of his soul.

Who the hell do you think you are coming to my house parading as Michael stopped abruptly when Colt turned around.

Surprised?

Colt, my God, I cant believe it.

Really? You must have been so devastated by news of the plane crash you felt compelled to marry the only woman Ive ever loved.

Hold on, Colt, let me explain Michael ducked as the wedding picture was hurled across the room at his head.

You disgust me, both of you, he spat venomously. I trusted you to take care of her while I was gone and the minute you think Im dead, you hop into bed with her. I wonder, was it as good for you as it was for me?

Michael took a few tentative steps into the room. Look, Colt, I know youre upset, but if youd only let me explain

Whats to explain? He shouted. You married her! God, I could kill you for that.

I had to marry her, it was the only way I could protect her.

From who, Delgado? You could have done that without marrying her.

It wasnt just Delgado, she needed the protection of the Cortez name.

Thats it? Thats the best excuse you can come up with for seducing Jayda and conning her into marrying you?

I didnt con her into anything, Michael said, his own anger beginning to rise.

So she just came to you willingly three weeks after Im gone and agrees to marry you? Thats the biggest load of crap

Damn it, Colt, she was pregnant. What was I suppose to do?

Colt stared at him blankly for a moment as what hed said began to sink in. Slowly, the color began to rise in his cheeks as a furious rage took hold and without a word, he crossed the room to where Michael was standing. The two men glared at each other, neither of them

prepared to back down. Colt wanted to kill him, wanted to put his hands around Michaels throat and squeeze the life out of him, but even as the thought crossed his mind he knew he couldnt do it. Because of Jayda.

She was pregnant with Michaels child and as much as it hurt Colt to know shed been unfaithful to him, the baby would need a father. So he did the only thing he could to salvage some of his pride; he drew back his fist and nailed Michael square on the nose. Michael reeled back, lost his balance and collapsed on the floor.

You broke my nose, he said in astonishment.

Count yourself lucky, Colt growled. What I really wanted to do was break your neck.

If you would just stop and listen for a minute

From behind them, Jayda gasped, then grabbed at the door frame to steady herself.

Colt, she said in a hoarse whisper.

Colt turned his anger on her. Dont worry, I didnt do anything but break your husbands nose.

Her hand flew to her throat. Oh God, Colt, what have you done?

He was on her so fast she didnt have time to react. Colt gripped her arms so tight she flinched, but he was beyond caring whether he hurt her or not.

You said you loved me, he gritted between clenched teeth. Is this what you call love, hopping into bed with Michael as soon as Im out of the picture, getting yourself pregnant so that hes forced to marry you?

Colt, nothats not how it is

Save your breath, Jayda, I wouldnt believe anything you told me now anyway. I might have expected Michael to try something with you, but I never would have guessed youd be so quick to whore yourself out.

Jaydas eyes flooded with tears. I didntoh, Colt, let me explain

You make me sick, both of you, he said cruelly. I hope youre very happy knowing what youve done to me.

He released her so abruptly, Jayda stumbled backwards, hitting the wall with a loud thump. For just a fraction of a second he wavered, his heart aching to pull her into his arms and make sure she was okay. Then his eyes moved to the elegant hand that was clutching at her stomach and it hit him like a punch to the gut that inside there was a baby growing, a baby that Michael had planted there.

He turned and stomped out of the room, grabbing the spare key to his truck from the hook by the door and walked outside without looking back. He almost hit her as he backed out of the driveway and again, the urge to take her in his arms was almost overwhelming. Jayda ran to his window and pounded on it, calling out his name in between sobs.

Colt, please, please dont leave me. I love you, I

He didnt wait to hear more of her false confessions of love and that was the last image he had of her; Jayda, standing in the rain, sobbing her heart out, telling him she loved him. He didnt bother going back to the house for any of his things and ignored all the phone calls from both Michael and Jayda. Any messages they left were erased without listening to them and as soon as he reached the States, Colt tossed the phone and got a new one.

He wrote to Michael just once, instructing him where to send his portion of the profits from Cortez-Strickland shipping and asked him to try to find a buyer so he could sell out. Oddly enough, Colt knew Michael wouldnt cheat him where the business was concerned and soon thereafter, money was transferred on a regular basis to the account number hed given Michael.

That was almost two years ago. The money had been good and Colt had been able to start a new business in California that had grown quickly and was making quite a tidy profit itself. But none of it meant much to him because without Jayda, his success, his little victories, they all seemed hollow.

Then he got the call from Michael saying Jayda was in trouble and hed come running. He hadnt hesitated, hadnt even thought twice about catching the first flight to Colombia because somewhere deep in his heart, he still held out hope that one day shed come to him and beg him to forgive her. And he would have, Colt thought. As much as it hurt to know shed slept with Michael and had his child, he would have swallowed his pride and taken her back in a heartbeat. If only shed asked. He heaved a heavy sigh and flopped over on his back again, the conversation with Michael going round and round in his head.

We searched for three weeks, Michael said, and even then Jayda begged me to keep looking. She refused to believe you were dead and cussed like a sailor when I told her we had to give it up. We didnt even know where the plane had gone down and after three weeks had passed with no word from you, even Jayda had to give up hope.

Let me guess, she was so grief stricken, she hopped into bed with you?

Michaels eyes narrowed. Thats the last nasty remark about Jayda Ill put up with. I never slept with her, Colt. There was never anything even remotely like that between us. She came to me one morning in tears and told me she was pregnant and didnt know what to do. He leaned forward. She was almost three months pregnant with your child, Colt.

The color drained from Colts face, remembering all the horrible things hed said to her the night hed come home and the shattered look on her face when he accused her of whoring herself out. He thought of her racing out of the house in the cold and rain, crying as if her heart was being ripped out, begging him to let her explain. But hed driven away and left her there with his child growing inside her womb. His head dropped in shame.

She must hate me, he said flatly.

I wish to God she had started hating you, then maybe she wouldnt have suffered so much.

Colt looked up. Sheshe still loves me?

She never stopped, though I cant for the life of me figure out why. I wanted to protect her and the baby, thats why I asked her to marry me.

What about the baby, is it here? God, he didn't even know if he had a son or a daughter.

Michael shook his head sadly. No, she lost it, Colt. Im sorry. The night she ran out after you, I had to drag her back inside and help her to her room. It damn near tore my heart out the way she was crying. I told her to get out of her wet clothes and crawl into bed and that Id check on her when I got back from the hospital.

A look of heavy guilt stole over Michael's face. She promised she would and Ileft her so I could go have them bandage up my nose but by the time I got back it was late and her light was off so I just went to bed.

Colt swallowed the massive lump in his throat. What happened?

It rained all that night. When she hadnt come out of her room by nine the next morning I went to check on her. The room was cold and the balcony doors were open. I found her huddled in the corner of the balcony where shed been all night and I thoughtGod, she was so cold I thought she was dead. I picked her up and carried her into the house but as soon as I took her inside, she tried to fight me. She said she had to go back out to wait for you because she knew you loved her and that youd be back.

If only I had let you explain, Colt said, shaking his head remorsefully.

And if Id only gone after you and made you listen. We could go on and on about all the things we could have and should have done, but it wont change what happened.

He took a sip of tea before continuing, smiling warmly at Isabel when she placed her hand on his arm in an obvious effort to comfort him.

Jayda was in the hospital for a month with pneumonia and almost died. She lost the baby the first night she was there and was inconsolable. When I brought her back home, she spent most of the time in her room, crying or sleeping. Gradually, she came out of her room more and more often but she rarely did anything but sit on a lounge chair on the deck and it was all I could do to get her to eat a few bites of food each meal.

Thats when I stepped in, Gabe said. She was depressed and had become totally dependent on Michael to see to her needs so I told him he had to divorce her and send her away. Without Michael acting as her crutch, shed be forced to pull herself out of it.

And it worked, Michael said. As soon as I told her I was filing for a divorce and shed have to leave Colombia, she started to show a spark of life. I hated doing it, but it was for her own good.

Colt wasnt handling the things Michael told him very well. All he could think of was that hed abandoned her when she needed him most and shed almost died because of it. And the baby, his baby had paid the highest cost of all. He looked at Michael, the man hed accused of stealing Jayda way from him and was even more guilt-ridden than before. Michael hadnt abandoned her. Hed done the only thing he could to protect both Jayda and the baby, hed married her.

So why did Jayda stay in Colombia? Colt asked.

I dont know, but I suspect it had something to do with trying to bring down Delgado and his operation. I have no idea what shes been doing or where shes been hiding out for the past year. I wish I could tell you more, but I didnt even know she was here until Gabe told me shed been kidnapped.

Colts eyes shifted to Gabe. How did you know shed been taken?

Gabe looked a little uneasy. Someone I know saw it happen and knew I was friends with her so they contacted me. I had it checked out and discovered which group of guerillas had taken her.

Colt glanced at Michael who had the same doubtful look in his eyes. Who saw it happen?

Does it really matter? Gabe replied.

Im just curious as to how this person happened to be there at precisely the same time Jayda was or why theyd think to come to you.

Michael bristled at that. Surely you arent accusing Gabe of having anything to do with Jaydas abduction.

Of course not, but I do find it a bitquestionable.

To his surprise, and Michaels, it was Isabel who spoke up. It wasnt Gabes friend who saw it happen, it was mine. And it wasnt just coincidence that they were there.

Isabel, dont, Gabe started, but shed obviously made up her mind to divulge the secret she and Gabe shared.

Ive kept this from Michael too long as is it, she said.

Michael looked just as confused as Colt. I dont understand, Isabel. How are you involved in all of this?

She turned to face him, a sad smile on her face. Im so sorry, Michael. I never meant to hurt you. I knew eventually Id have to tell you everything, but Id hoped for a little more time. She drew in a deep breath, letting it out slowly. My name isnt Isabel Ortiz, its Isabel Santiago. Im a member of the Colombian Ministry of Defense; specifically, an officer in the Anti-Narcotics Directorate.

Michael looked as if hed been kicked in the stomach. Youre working undercover? Here, in my house? For Gods sake, Isabel, dont tell me youre investigating me for drug trafficking!

We had to be surebecause of your relationship with Ramon Delgado.

What relationship? Michael shouted. Except for the mistake of my grandmothers marriage to his grandfather, there is no relationship.

I know that now, she said calmly, resting her hand on his arm. Actually, you were cleared months ago.

Michael pulled his arm away. If I was cleared, then why are you still here?

Colt recognized the look of betrayal in Michaels eyes; it was the same look hed worn two years before when he arrived at the house to discover Michael and Jayda were married.

Isnt it obvious? He asked his friend.

Michael turned his anger on Colt. No, its not, why dont you enlighten me?

A slow smile spread across his face. The reason Isabel is still here is because shes in love with you.

Chapter 8
For a moment, Michael was too stunned to say anything. Then he turned to Isabel, who was clutching her hands in her lap, her back held rigid.

Is it true? Are you in love with me?

Yes, she said quietly.

I dont know what to say, this is so

You dont have to say anything, Michael. I never expected youd feel the same, though I hoped one day you would. She turned her gaze to Colt. Ill tell you what I know about Jayda, then Ill go. She came to us about a year ago and offered to help gather evidence that Delgado was involved in drug trafficking and operating cocaine-processing labs. Im sure you know weve been trying to nail him for years, but hes extremely cautious and he covers his tracks well. Jayda convinced us she could pull it off so we agreed in exchange for the renewal of her visa and the provision we clear Michael right up front.

Was sleeping with we me part of the deal? Michael asked bitterly.

A light blush rose to her cheeks. No, it wasnt, and if anyone would have found out Id have lost my job.

Gabe leapt to her defense. I think you should listen to what Isabel has to say and reserve judgment until after shes done.

Colt agreed, though hed already made up his mind that Isabel had never intended to use Michael.

Gabes right," Colt told Michael, "we need know everything if were going to find Jayda.

Isabel kept her eyes on Colt and even from where he was sitting he could see how hurt she was by Michaels hostility.

As I said, Jayda came to us. The first thing I did was accompany her to CortezStrickland to examine the books.

Michaels anger spiked at that. She let you look at our books! What the hell was she thinking?

As part owner of the company, I can assure you it was legal for her to do so, Isabel said stiffly, still keeping her eyes averted. It didnt take long to determine there was no connection between Cortez-Strickland and Delgados operations. But in order to be a hundred percent sure, I needed to search the house.

And thats when you decided it was time to get cozy with me?

Isabel's faced crumbled. It wasnt like that. Jayda and I had it planned out. I was going to pretend my car broke down and she was supposed to be there to let me in and wed form a friendship so it wouldnt seem strange when she invited me over again. Except she and Gabe got stuck in traffic that night and you answered the door.

Michaels expression softened. I thought you were the most beautiful woman Id ever seen.

She turned to look at him then. Nothing that happened between you and me had anything to do with the investigation, Michael. I need you to believe that. I fell for you so fast and hard I didnt know what to do. I wanted to tell you the truth, but I couldnt and I should have stopped seeing you at least until it was over, but I couldnt do that either. I just wanted to be with you.

When he didnt say anything, Isabel turned her head away from him and finished her story, but not before Colt caught the look of utter desolation on her face.

After you saw Jayda off at the airport, I picked her up and set her up in a safe house. She dyed her hair black and spent some time in the sun so shed blend in better with the native Colombians, then she set out to nail Delgado. Most of the time, I tried to accompany her whenever she went out or at least sent someone from my team along. But Jayda was obsessed with getting the evidence we needed and she became reckless, leaving at all hours of the night, taking off on her own, disappearing for days at a time.

Why? Colt choked. I dont understand why shed put herself in situations that would put her life on the line.

Isabel glanced at him sharply. Maybe she felt she had nothing to live for so it didnt matter.

Shame washed over Colt. Its my fault, all of this.

No, she shook her head, were all to blame in one way or another. The closer she got to the information we needed, the more risks she took. I should have pulled the reins in on her when I had the chance.

And I should have told you as soon as I found out she was still in Colombia, Gabe said to Michael. I spotted her with Isabel a few weeks ago but lost them in traffic. When I approached Isabel about it, she asked me to keep quiet until she had a chance to tell you herself. Im sorry, Michael. If Id told you

All right, Colt interrupted, so we all agree weve screwed up and now Jaydas suffering for it. What can we do to get her back home?

***

Jayda woke up crying, as she had every morning since Colt left her. Her heart ached for him. Where was he right now? Had Michael told him shed been kidnapped? And would he care even if he did know? She sat up, wiping the tears away with the back of her hand. What was the use of thinking about Colt? He didnt love her. Even if Michael convinced him to come back to Colombia, it wouldnt make any difference. None of them knew where shed been taken so there was no chance theyd be able to find her.

And if by some miracle they were able to outbid Delgado, it wouldnt change how Colt felt for her. Maybe it would be better if Delgado did win. At least Michael and Colt wouldnt be ruined financially and she doubted Delgado would let her live long enough after hed done his damage to worry about it. Losing Colt had been the most painful experience of her life. Anything Delgado did to her would pale in comparison.

Jayda shuddered, remembering the feel of Delgados hands on her skin the day Colt had rescued her. No, she couldnt allow him to touch her again no matter what happened. She tilted her head, listening for sounds of the men outside her tent but even the jungle was quiet this close to dawn. If the men were all sleeping, she could slip out and be gone before they noticed. There was little chance shed find her way out of here but death by one of the jungles predators was preferable to being handed over to Ramon Delgado.

Jayda eased the zipper up on the tents entrance and poked her head out just far enough to get a glimpse of the other tents. If a sentry had been posted to keep watch, she didnt see him and only hoped if there was one, hed either fallen asleep or wasnt looking her way. She slipped out of the tent, pausing just long enough to pull the zipper back down, hoping it would buy her time if they thought she was still asleep. Then she crept around the back side of the tent and ducked into the foliage. Jayda picked her way through the thick plant life as silently as she could until she was sure she was far enough away they couldnt hear her, then she began to run.

There were no paths, no breaks in the heavy undergrowth, and even with the first light of dawn breaking, there was very little light. She had no plan other than to run as fast as she could and get as far away as possible before what little energy she had forced her to stop and rest. The jungle was enormous she reasoned, so it was unlikely theyd find her if she could only get deep enough before they discovered shed escaped. That was the hope she held onto as she pushed her way through the bushes, ignoring the nicks and cuts as the vines grabbed at her hands and arms.

When her legs finally gave out on her, Jayda dropped to the ground, sucking in air. Already it was so hot and humid her clothes were clinging to her and the blood on her arms was

sticky and starting to itch. Her eyes misted with tears. Oh, Colt, where are you? Why did you leave me all alone? Even now, she loved him so much she could barely stand it. At one time shed had this grand illusion that going after Delgado would consume so much of her time and thoughts that she could push the memory of Colt out of her mind.

At best, she only managed to forget him for an hour, maybe two, before the underlying pain of losing him would surge forward and strangle even more of the life from her. She hated waking up each morning without him, hated going to bed alone at night even more. Every breath she drew was forced, every beat of her heart stabbed at her chest. Without Colt, her life was an endless cycle of pain.

Jayda rose wearily to her feet and started walking listlessly, not conscious of the direction she was taking and not really caring. She walked until her legs ached and her throat was so dry she could hardly swallow before she allowed herself to stop. Then she curled up beneath a tree that was so tall it made her dizzy to look up at it.

There had been no angry voices echoing through the jungle, no sound of trampling feet in pursuit of her, no indication that they had any idea at all where to find her. Only the sounds of the jungle were audible as its inhabitats stirred with the new day. Jayda closed her eyes, a sad smile playing on her lips. It would all be over soon.

***

Colt set his gear by the front door and checked his weapon one more time before placing it with the rest of his things. Isabel had been invaluable. She not only knew which guerilla

group had taken Jayda, but also where their camp was. In truth, the Ministry of Defense knew where the majority of the guerilla groups were and what they were up to.

Unfortunately, since forty percent of Colombia was controlled by guerilla forces, they had to pick their battles carefully and often chose to leave the smaller, less powerful groups alone. But that didnt mean these small groups werent kept under a watchful eye to make sure they didnt grow in size or power. If anything good could be said about Jaydas kidnapping, it was that shed been taken by a group the Ministry kept close tabs on.

Theyd talked for quite some time the night before and decided the best thing to do was wait until after theyd made their first bid for Jayda. As soon as that was completed, theyd take off for the jungle, locate the guerilla camp and rescue Jayda. While Isabel was busy arranging for transportation and someone to lead them to the camp, Gabe fixed it so that any calls to the house were transferred to Michaels cell phone in case they didnt find Jayda before the next bid had to be made. Colt and Michael's jobs were to compose a list of the things theyd need to bring and to make sure all the guns and rifles were cleaned and ready to go.

At precisely ten oclock in the morning, the phone rang. Michael glanced at Colt nervously then picked it up and offered two hundred and fifty thousand dollars. They wouldnt know until the next day if theyd bid higher then Delgado. With any luck, theyd have Jayda back soon and it wouldnt matter. No one spoke a word as they picked up their gear and headed for the jeeps theyd be traveling in. Not until Isabel climbed in beside Michael, that is.

What do you think youre doing? He growled.

Im going with you, she said firmly.

The hell you are! Now get out so we can get going.

Isabel crossed her arms, staring straight ahead. Im going with you and thats final.

Damn it, Isabel, Im not playing games.

Colt watched them argue back and forth with amusement for a few minutes before stepping up beside Isabels door. He looked past her at Michael who was positively livid.

Why dont you want her to come, Michael?

Michael glared at him. You know damn well why I dont want her with us.

Colt arched a brow. Shes trained in jungle survival, is an excellent marksman from what I hear, and shes supposed to act as our decoy. How do you propose to extract Jayda if Isabel doesnt come with us?

Well figure something else out, Michael snapped. I dont want her along. He looked directly at Isabel, his eyes cold as ice. I can barely tolerate her presence as it is, Im not about to spend the next eight hours in the jeep with her.

Isabels strangled sob made them both flinch. She tried to shove her way out of the jeep but Colt blocked her way.

Hold on, honey, he said gently. To Michael, his voice was much harder. The biggest mistake I ever made in my life was letting Jayda get away. I left her knowing she thought I didnt love her, that she meant nothing to me, when the truth is I havent been able to take a

breath since that didnt hurt for thinking of her. Dont make the same mistakes I did, Michael. Tell Isabel the real reason you dont want her to go.

The cold faade Michael had maintained all morning slipped from his face. He reached out and wiped away the tear that was making a slow trail down her cheek. Im scared for you, Isabel. I dont want anything to happen to you. It would kill me if you got hurt.

Colt stood up. You might as well tell her the rest since youve gone this far.

Michael chuckled, throwing up his hands in surrender. Fine, you win. He leaned over and gave Isabel a soft kiss. I love you, too, sweetheart. God knows I havent shown you, but if youll give me another shot, I promise to spend the rest of my life making up for it.

Colt left just as she threw her arms around Michaels neck. When he climbed into the jeep Gabe was driving, he couldnt help laughing.

I dont think Ive seen anyone fight falling in love as hard as Michael has.

Gabes eyes widened in surprise. He actually told her he loved her?

Yes, and I imagine hell want to put a ring on her finger as soon as possible to make sure she doesnt get away. Now if you dont mind, Id like to go collect Jayda so I can live happily ever after too.

***

Jayda groaned as consciousness slowly returned to her, along with a dull headache and sharp, stabbing pains in the heels of both her feet. Had some wild animal been gnawing on her?

God, she didnt want to wake up, she just wanted to slip back into the nothingness that shed fallen into earlier. But her ears were already honing in on the sound of mens voices and she knew if she didnt get up theyd find her and bring her back.

Her eyelids opened just a crack then closed again, her spirits plummeting even lower. She was back at the camp, in front of the same little tent shed escaped from that morning. How had they found her? And how had they managed to bring her back without waking her? She bit back the tears, refusing to let them see her cry.

You need to drink, the man they called Evando said. He helped her sit up then lifted the cup to her lips. You shouldnot have run, Miss Daniels. I warned you the jungle was dangerous and you would not find your way out.

I didnt want to get out, she croaked.

Drink more, he insisted. I do not understand. Why would you run if your intent was not to get out of the jungle?

Jayda pushed the cup away. Because Id rather die out there than end up in Delgados hands.

His smile was almost apologetic. It is unfortunate that we have to use you, but the money will keep our people in food for a long time.

And supply you with guns and ammunitions, she said dully.

That too. I regret that your actions made it necessary for us to incapacitate you.

Her eyes followed his to her feet which were now bare. Jayda grimaced when she caught sight of the partially dried blood on the blanket beneath her feet. She'd heard horror stories where kidnap victims had their achilles heels sliced to keep them from fleeing their captures and prayed they hadn't done that to her. She looked up at Evando, her eyes wide with undisguised fear.

"What did you do to me?"

Nothing permanent, I assure you, just a few cuts along the heels to make it more difficult for you to walk and, of course, you will not get your shoes back until it is time to leave. If it is any consolation, your friends won the bid this morning. When she didnt respond, he went on. Delgado thought he would get away cheap by bidding a hundred and fifty thousand. He will be extremely annoyed to find out Mr. Cortez beat him out by another hundred thousand.

Two hundred and fifty thousand, she said weakly.

Cortez-Strickland Shipping would be crippled beyond repair in no time if the bid went much higher and this was just the first day. Evando left her then, promising to return shortly with something to eat, but she wasnt worried about food. After hed gone, she examined the wounds theyd inflicted on the soles of her feet.

Two deep, parallel gashes still seeping blood had been cut into each foot but it obvious the wounds had been cleaned afterwards. Still, without socks or shoes, theyd be infected in no time if she attempted to walk on them. They were tender even to the light touch she applied with her fingertips so there was no doubt in her mind Evando had effectively hobbled her, making escape impossible.

Jayda lay back down on the blanket and curled up on her side. She was helpless now. All she could do was wait out the week until Delgado eventually won the bidding war and accept her fate. The only option left to her now was to remain cooperative and let the wounds heal so at least shed have a chance at putting up a fight once she was in Delgados hands. And she would fight, Jayda decided. If he was going to use her body, hed have to beat her unconscious to do it.

Inevitably, her thoughts turned to Colt. She closed her eyes and could almost feel his gentle touch as his hand moved up her thigh then her stomach and finally to her breast. His caresses were light and feathery, drawing her into a blissful state of sexual drunkenness before his mouth would close over the taut peaks, nipping and sucking until she was so close to climaxing all he had to do was slip his fingers between her thighs and shed explode.

Only after he was sure shed been taken care of would he allow himself to enter her. Hot and throbbing, he would thrust into her, stretching her sensitive flesh until she was reduced to a quivering mass of jelly. It was always so good with Colt, so passionate, so incredibly sensual. Jaydas erotic daydream was interrupted when Evando handed her a tin plate with meat on it and set another cup of water on the blanket beside her.

Eat it all, he ordered, then left her again.

She ate slowly, more to keep her strength up than because she was hungry. Shed grown used to not eating for long periods of time out of necessity since she often had to stake out one of Delgados men for hours before they made a move. At first shed only wanted to remain in Colombia in case Colt returned and had used Delgado as an excuse so the Ministry of Defense would allow her to stay. Later, it became an obsession.

She blamed Delgado for a lot of what happened because if she hadnt been so afraid of him she never would have married Michael. And if she hadnt married Michael, there would have been no misunderstandings or angry accusations the night Colt came home and she wouldnt have fallen into such a state of depression that shed risked her own health which ultimately caused the death of her child.

Poor Isabel had tried so hard to keep Jayda under control and she loved her dearly for it. But Isabel didnt understand the inner turmoil and agony that spurred her on, although her friend was suffering an agony of her own by having fallen helplessly in love with Michael. Jayda knew all too well how Michael kept his feelings safely locked away because none of the women hed ever been with had cause him a moments concern once he decided he was bored with having them around.

So it surprised her when the affair with Isabel continued long after the time other women had been discarded and she could only assume hed put on the same silly blinders Colt had before he finally admitted he was in love with Jayda. She hoped in the end, Isabels determination to open Michaels eyes would be successful. Theyd be good together. Of course, they would have to get past the hurdle of Isabels deception, but even that could be overcome if Michael truly loved her. Anything was possible if they could hold onto that love.

Jayda finished the last of the meat and water then lay back down on the blanket. She was hot and tired and though the headache had gone away, her feet still burned from the cuts. Two hundred fifty thousand dollars, she thought grimly. Was she worth that much? Was she worth risking everything theyd worked so hard for over the past three years? She didnt think so.

And it served no purpose, really. Theyd save her life, for what? So she could go back to the same lonely, hollow existence shed endured over the last two years? So that Colt and Michael could start all over again with nothing?

No, it would be worse than before, because they wouldnt have each other to rely on. Colt would go back to the States to struggle through his financial ruin while Michael remained in Colombia to do the same. The only comfort she could offer herself was that maybe Isabel would be able to pin her murder on Delgado and lock him away where he couldnt hurt anyone else.

Jayda spent the rest of the late afternoon drifting in and out of sleep, waking fully only when Evando made her sit up to eat or drink. Twice he carried her into the jungle to relieve herself and was decent enough to turn his back and walk several feet way to give her some semblance of privacy. When night time finally fell, she lay in the darkness staring at the fire the men had built wondering what was happening back at Michaels house in Cali.

Were they even trying to find her or had they decided the best thing to do was to continue to try to outbid Delgado? It was an exercise in futility if Delgado had decided to win because his wealth far outweighed any amount Colt or Michael could come up. Still, the fact that hed made such a low bid the first day gave her a little hope that he might just keep the bidding low or give up altogether.

Eventually, Evando came to tell her it was time to go inside the tent. I need to cleanse your wounds first. He squatted down next to her. I warn you, Miss Daniels, if you try to escape again, I will take your clothes from you and leave you tied up for the rest of the week.

Jayda nodded slowly, terrified at the idea of having her clothes removed and being exposed to these men. Shed felt fairly safe from any kind of molestation until then, but putting the temptation of a naked woman in front of them was just adding pressure to an already volatile situation. They were getting restless as it was, she could see it in their rigid movements and the quick tempers. She wasnt about to add fuel to the fire.

I wont try anything, she promised.

Evando reached down and lifted her left foot. This is going to hurt, but it is all I have to ward off infection.

Jayda clenched her jaws as he poured the granulated salt directly into the open wounds. In spite of her valiant effort not to make a sound, a gutteral scream tore from her throat as Evando took the palm of his hand and ground the salt into the cuts. Knowing what to expect didnt diminish the shock when he took the other foot and did the same and a second scream echoed through the jungle. For several moments afterwards, Jayda was in too much agony to do anything but gasp for air and try to stop the flood of tears that streamed from her eyes.

The pain will lessen soon, Evando told her. Go inside now and remember what I told you.

Jayda crawled on all fours into the tent and collapsed on the pile of blankets. She was only vaguely aware that Evando had pulled the zipper down on the tent until he spoke her name from outside the closed flap.

I am tying it shut, Miss Daniels. If you need to relieve yourself in the night, call for me. I will be sleeping just outside.

They werent taking any more chances, the money theyd gain from her ransom meant too much to them. It didnt matter anyway. She had no intention of trying to get away again. If they caught her when she was capable of running, theyd certainly have no trouble catching up with her now that she could barely stand.

Jayda buried her face in the blankets to muffle the sound of her sobs. But it wasnt the wounds inflicted by Evando that caused the stinking tears to fall; it was the wounds in her heart, the ones that shed carried with her every minute of every day since Colt walked out of her life.

Chapter 9
Michael stepped in front of Colt, physically blocking him from going to Jayda.

We have to stick to the plan no matter what, Colt, you know that.

Theyre hurting her! For Gods sake, you heard her screams.

Michael held his ground. Going to her now could be disastrous.

Colts eyes blazed with fury. Let me go, or so help me God, Ill bust your nose a second time.

Isabel put her hand lightly on Colts arm. Whatever they did to her, its over now. They wont do any permanent damage because it would anger Delgado. Please, she said softly, if we try to rescue Jayda now, she could get caught in the crossfire.

Colts shoulders slumped. Without a word, he moved to the far side of the small alcove theyd set up camp in and dropped to the ground. What had they done to Jayda to make her scream like that? It gnawed at his guts, tore at his heart. Small beads of sweat formed on his forehead, but it wasnt from the humidity or heat. He was terrified for Jayda, more scared than he could ever remember being in his entire life. It took every ounce of strength he had not to go barreling into that camp and fire on the men whod kidnapped her, but he knew Michael and Isabel were right.

Gabe came and sat down beside him, offering him a small cup of liquid. Its whiskey, take it.

Colt gulped it down in one swallow. Ill kill them, he said fiercely. If theyve done anything to hurt her, touched her with their filthy hands

Gabe refilled the cup from a pint sized bottle he produced from his pocket. Isobels team will take care of them once youve gotten Jayda safely out of there.

Colt nodded sullenly then downed the second cup but refused a third. How did she look? When you saw her with Isabel, did she look okay? Was she taking care of herself?

She looked different because of the dark hair, of course. She was terribly thin and Gabe shook his head.

And what?

"I dont know. She just didnt seem like Jayda anymore, at least not the Jayda I knew when you two were together. Ive got to be honest, Colt, I almost didnt recognize her at all and it wasnt just the physical changes. It was the expression on her face, the vacant look in her eyes as if she was lost and didnt really care if she was ever found. It was heartbreaking.

I did that to her, Gabe. I took a beautiful, giving woman and reduced her to a hollow shell. Ill make it up to her. Somehow

Colt swallowed hard. How? How could he possibly make up for all the horrible things hed done to her?

Shell forgive you, Gabe said confidently.

Colts voice shook when he spoke. Why would she?

She loves you. She always has and she always will.

I hope youre right, Gabe.

I am.

Its going to be a long night.

Try to get some sleep. Ill take first watch.

Colt grimaced. I doubt Ill sleep much knowing shes less than a quarter of a mile away and theres nothing I can do but wait.

Try anyway, youll need to be alert.

Colt stretched out on the layer of large leaves theyd collected earlier to pad the floor of the alcove and used his back pack as a make shift pillow. It was lumpy, but the change of camouflage clothing hed packed for Jayda helped soften it a bit. It was after nine oclock; less than seven hours to go before theyd set out to rescue Jayda. He went over the plan in his head one more time, though hed already run through it a million times that day.

Theyd crept in close to the camp earlier that day and had seen Jayda lying in front of a small tent that was set a little apart from the others and theyd all agreed it had to be the one shed be sleeping in. At four in the morning, theyd make their way back to the camp. Colt would be the one to sneak up behind Jaydas tent and make a slit up the back to extract her from. If all went well and none of the guerillas woke up, hed have her out of there in a matter of minutes and head north.

Michael, Gabe and Isabel would wait until they were sure he got Jayda out safely then stick close to the camp until someone discovered she was missing. Then Isobel would act as a decoy. With her dark hair and slim figure, the guerillas would assume she was Jayda and give chase. The three of them would then lead the guerillas south, in the opposite direction Colt was taking, right into the waiting arms of Isobels team.

If by some misfortune Colt was discovered trying to rescue Jayda, he was to make a run for it and find cover in the jungle while the other three picked off any guerillas that followed him. It would eliminate gunfire inside the camp and keep Jayda safe until theyd taken out as many men as they could. Then theyd regroup and bring in Isabels team if necessary to surround the remaining members in camp and try to negotiate a surrender. Colt wasnt at all happy with this contingent plan but it was their only option if something went wrong and he wasnt able to get Jayda out undetected.

Colt was to take Jayda to a pre-designated spot theyd prepared on their hike into the jungle and wait there until Michael contacted him on the two way radio hed have with him. Best case scenario, Isabel's team would have all the guerillas rounded up and carted off, then a helicopter would be sent to pick up Colt and Jayda. If the worst happened and some of the guerillas escaped, he and Jayda were to remain hidden until the men were captured before a chopper would be sent in.

Theyd discussed this at length and decided it would be too risky to come out in the open even for the short period of time it would take the chopper to lower a ladder so they could climb up. Colt had enough provisions in his backpack to last three days, possibly four, though he sincerely hoped it wouldnt stretch out that long. He would be armed, and from their vantage

point at the waterfall, it was unlikely he wouldnt spot anyone approaching long before they got close enough to pose a danger.

Colt closed his eyes. By this time tomorrow, Jayda would be back in his arms where she belonged.

***

Jayda woke with a start. For a moment she lay there, not quite sure what had dragged her from the heavy sleep shed been in. She sat up, turning her head slowly towards the back of the tent. It was pitch black so there was no way she could have seen even the faintest of outlines if anyone or anything was close to the tent. Even so, she knew just the same that someone was lurking there.

The sound was so slight, it was practically inaudible and had she been asleep, it probably wouldnt have woken her. Just a light scratching noise then the smallest hint of fresh air just before a large hand brushed over hers. Colt. She knew it, felt it with every fiber of her being. She reached out in the darkness and slipped her hand into his, allowing him to pull her out of the opening hed made. When she was completely free of the tent, he pressed his cheek to hers.

Crawl, he whispered.

On all fours, Jayda crawled silently beside him until they were several feet into the jungle. Then he gripped her arm and helped her to her feet. For one brief moment, Colt hugged her to him before taking her hand and leading her deeper into the heavy foliage. Jayda clamped

her jaws shut, each step causing excruciating pain as the tangled growth of vines and shrubs stabbed into her open wounds and created new ones.

She followed him blindly, certain shed hear her captors trampling after them any second now, but after a good fifteen minutes had passed without incident, she began to breathe easier. When Colt finally stopped and drew her into his arms, Jayda was barely able to stand.

He lowered his head so his mouth was next to her ear and whispered, Are you okay?

Y-yes, she stammered, but I dont have any shoes. They took them so I couldnt run.

Oh God, sweetheart, you should have told me. Ill have to carry you the rest of the way. He let her go just long enough to lift her up into his arms. Ill need you to grab the marker flags off the trees when we get to them, he said as he started to walk again.

Markers? How can you see where youre going let alone find markers on the trees?

Colt laughed softly. I forgot you cant see me. I have night vision goggles on.

Jayda slipped one of her arms from around his neck and touched his cheek, inching her fingers up until she felt the strap that held the goggles on.

You can see me?

You have a lovely green glow to your skin, but yes I can see you.

She looped her arm back around his neck and rested her head on his chest. You shouldnt have come. If they catch you her voice hitched in her throat.

They wont. Michael, Gabe, and Isabel are waiting back by the camp. If anyone stirs, shell lure them into a trap.

Jayda grimaced. Michael knows about Isabel?

She told us everything, including the danger youve been putting yourself in. Were going to have a nice long talk about that later, he said sternly.

Jayda just smiled. As long as there was a later with him, she didnt mind. How did Michael take it when she told him who she really was?

Not well. He came to a stop. Reach straight out and grab the flag, honey. Down just a littlethere you go. Now stuff it down the front of my shirt so you dont accidently drop it.

Jayda did as he asked then put her head back on his chest. She inhaled slowly, the familiar scent of him as intoxicating as wine. For the first time in months, she felt warmth beginning to creep back into her heart. Tomorrow he might be gone again but for now, for this moment at least, he belonged to her.

They continued through the jungle for quite some time, stopping every so often to pull the markers from the trees. As he walked, Colt told her how Isabel had confessed who she really was and how shed helped Jayda remain in Colombia. He also told her that Isabel and Michael had worked it out and how Michael finally admitted he was in love with her. Jayda asked a few questions now and then but for the most part she was content with just listening to the sound of his voice.

This is it, Colt said as he started making his way up an incline.

Jayda lifted her head. Is that a waterfall?

Is it light enough outside to see now?

Not quite, but I can hear it. It must be close.

Itll be a lot closer in a minute. Thats where well be staying until Michael lets me know theyve got everyone rounded up. Theyll send a helicopter to pick us up when its safe.

Were going to camp next to the waterfall?

In a manner of speaking. Youll see in a minute.

Colt continued up the incline a little longer then veered off to the right, the sound of the waterfall growing more pronounced by the minute. When they were finally standing right next to it, he set her down gently on her feet. Jayda clenched her teeth against the sharp pain that shot up her legs.

Jayda, honey, whats wrong?

Iits nothing. Is this where were staying?

No, but I cant carry you the rest of the way. It shouldnt be too bad because youll be stepping on stone instead of vines and undergrowth.

She forced herself to smile. Ill be fine. Lead the way.

Colt took her hand. Stick as close to me as you can. Theres one spot where well have to go single file so youll have to hang onto the back of my jeans and follow right behind me. He gave her hand a quick squeeze then headed towards the waterfall.

They walked for a short distance, the sound of the water cascading off the rocks growing louder and louder until it would have been impossible to hear each other speak without shouting. Thats when Colt moved her hand to the back of his jeans, waiting until shed secured both hands before inching forward. It wasnt until her bare feet touched the smooth stone that Jayda realized they must be bleeding because of how slippery it was. Of course, the rock ledge was already wet because of the waterfall, but the blood on the soles of her feet made the trek even more perilous.

She clutched the band of Colts jeans, grateful he was moving so slow even as she prayed theyd be off the ledge soon. A few minutes later, Colts arm reached back and pulled her onto dry ground. Jayda was confused, disoriented by the sound of the waterfall off to her left instead of directly in front of her as it had been only moments before.

Wait right here and dont move, Colt told her.

He left her for just a few seconds to light the halogen lamp hed placed in the corner then took off the night goggles and tossed them next to the lamp.

This is incredible, Jayda said, glancing around the small cave in awe. Were actually behind the waterfall!

Colt pulled the marker flags out of his shirt, letting them drop to the ground. Its great, isnt it? Isabel said they use it sometimes when theyre checking up on the guerilla group that kidnapped you.

Its amazing. From inside, the waterfall isnt nearly as loud as it was from the outside. I suppose that has something to do with the cave. She eyed the small pile of blankets in the corner. I really need to sit down, my feet

Of course, honey, how stupid of me Colt stopped abruptly when he glanced down. Jayda, youre bleeding!

She limped to the blanket and lowered herself down, her eyes widening when she saw the trail of blood shed left.

Im sorry, Colt, I didnt realize I was making such a mess.

He grabbed the lamp and hurried to her side, kneeling down to inspect her wounds. Good God, Jayda, Im not worried about that, Im worried about the cuts on your feet. Why didnt you tell me it was this bad?

It wasnt as if there was anything you could do about it. Do you have something to wash them off with?

Yes, yes, of course.

He reached around her and retrieved his backpack, digging around in it until he located the first aid kit. A second look at her feet told him hed need something to clean the blood off

with but the only material in his bag was the spare clothes hed brought for her. Colt peeled off his shirt and tossed it aside then pulled his t-shirt over his head and proceeded to tear it into smaller strips.

Let me just rinse these off and get them a little cleaner so I can use them to wipe the blood off your feet.

Jayda nodded mutely. The sudden shock of seeing Colts bare chest after only being able to dream of it for the past two years was making it difficult to breath and even harder to form a straight thought. Her eyes followed him to the edge of the cave as he held the cloth under the water then rung it out, his muscles rippling in the glow of the lamp light. She loved him more now than ever and it made her chest tighten painfully knowing he didnt feel the same.

Colt kneeled down once more, lifting her left foot and began gently removing the dirt and half dried blood with the wet material. The cleaner her foot got, the easier it became to determine where the worst wounds were. When he saw the two parallel cuts on her heel, a dark scowl formed on his face.

They did this to you? He asked, his voice shaking with anger.

I tried to get away. They figured it would stop me from trying again.

I could kill them for doing this to you, he growled. He lifted the other foot, cleansing it as carefully as hed done the first, though the look on his face was still thunderous. Why didnt you leave Colombia when Michael told you to?

Jayda flinched at the harshness in his tone. II had no place to go so I decided to stay here and try to help take Delgado down.

It wasnt your responsibility.

I felt it was, she said with a defiant lift of her chin.

Colt applied antiseptic cream to both feet and began bandaging them with gauze. It was a stupid thing to do Jayda. You could have been killed. I cant believe you did something soso reckless. Just what would you have done if we hadnt been able to find you? He set her foot down, his anger picking up steam. What if Delgado had won the bid and they handed you over to him? Do you have any idea the things he would have done to you?

Tears pooled in her eyes. I justwanted to stay hereandandI wanted to get even with him. She looked at him, her face filled with misery.

Get even with him for what? For attacking you three years ago or for setting a bomb in the Morales home?

Jayda shook her head. For making me so afraid that I felt I had to marry Michael. She looked down at her hands, her throat constricting. And for making me lose you.

Colts anger dissipated as quickly as it had come. You blame Delgado for what happened between us?

I never would have married Michael if I hadnt felt threatened by Delgado. And if I hadnt married him, you wouldnt have left me. She lifted her tear stained face to him. Dont you see, Colt? I had to stay in Colombia in case you came back.

Colt leaned forward, lacing his fingers behind her neck. I wanted to, he said hoarsely. God, honey, you have no idea how much I wanted to come back for you. But I thought you and Michael would still be married with a new baby and I couldnt stand the thought of seeing you togetherseeing you happy with someone besides me. Jayda, Jayda, he whispered, his lips brushing hers, tell me you still love me. Tell me I havent destroyed everything.

Jayda threw her arms around his neck, pulling his mouth down onto hers. He kissed her with a desperation that burned into her soul, breathed life back into her as nothing else could. When Colt lowered her back against the blankets, his mouth hot and hungry and possessive. Jayda surrendered to that possessiveness because she belonged to him now and forever, had belonged to him from the first moment theyd laid eyes on each other.

There was a sudden flurry of activity as their fingers tugged frantically at buttons, belts, and zippers until at last nothing separated them but the few breathless moments it took Colt to knee her thighs apart and plunge into her. His thrusts were hard and heavy, his hips pounding into her furiously as if by driving himself deeper he could somehow brand her with the power of his love.

Jaydas legs were twined around his thighs, her own hips rising to accept the onslaught, her inner muscles sheathing him so tightly she could feel every throbbing inch of him. Emotions were running too high, the passion too strong for it to last long, but the climax that ravaged her

was so intense her whole body convulsed violently as the waves of pleasure thundered mercilessly through her, leaving her both physically and mentally drained.

The muscles in Colts shoulders tensed beneath her fingertips as his own climax chased hers. His eyes were closed, his face strained as he fought for that final burst of pleasure. Jayda whispered his name, letting her hand slip from around his neck to touch his cheek. She wanted him to look at her, wanted to see his eyes when he released the proof of his love inside her body. She called his name again and this time, he opened his eyes, locking his gaze with hers.

Jaydas breath caught in her throat as he surged into her, and for a moment she caught a glimpse of Colt as shed never seen him before; unguarded, without any walls, his emotions as vivid and real to her as her own. Everything shed experienced over the past two years; the pain and despair, the endless days and long, lonely nights, shed believed were hers alone to suffer and endure. But they werent.

Colt had shared it all. The ache in her heart had been felt in his. The suffocating darkness that had slowly squeezed the life from her had also found him and done the same. She hadnt been alone, not even with the miles and time that separated them because Colt had been there sharing every agonizing moment of it.

Jayda pulled him down to her, pressing her cheek to his. Im sorry, she rasped, tears streaming down the sides of her face. Im so sorry for everything. I never meant to hurt you, Colt. All I ever wanted was to love you and be with you. I should have gone after you, done anything and everything to make you listen.

Colt buried his face in her neck. Just tell me its over, he said thickly. Tell me well never be apart again.

I promise. Never again.

I need more than that, Jayda. He lifted his head, propping himself up on one elbow so he could look at her

More? What more can I do or say

Tell me you love me, that youll always love me.

Oh, Colt, I do, I will, always.

Now tell me youll come back to the States with me. Tell me youll marry me. Tell me youll have my babies and grow old with me. Say it, Jayda, say it and mean it.

Jayda drew him down for a kiss. Ill come with you to the States, she whispered and kissed him again. Ill marry you and have your babies. Her mouth sought his once more. And Ill grow old with you, Colt.

She closed her eyes, a soft purring sound rolling in the back of her throat as he moved back over her. She welcomed him back into her body, accepting the love he gave her with a heart that was so full she thought it would surely burst. Colt captured her mouth with his, for they no longer needed words to express how they felt for one another.

Each slow, gentle thrust of his hips told her how much he loved her. Each stroke of his hand against her skin promised a lifetime of burning desire and a passion that would never die. And each deep, penetrating kiss sealed the vows his body made.

Chapter 10
Colt knew he should get dressed in case Michael called to say the chopper was on the way, but hed spent too many days and nights dreaming of holding Jayda in his arms again to give it up so soon. She was curled up next to him sound asleep, her soft skin beaded with moisture from the heated passion theyd just shared. He chuckled to himself, pulling her closer. Three times hed taken her in less than an hour; a record for him, and that included the first time hed slept with her. He didnt know exactly what it was about Jayda, but it seemed as if he could never get enough of her.

Colt sifted his fingers through her dark hair. He didnt like it much, preferring her natural golden color, but shed assured him it wasnt a permanent dye and would wash out in a couple of weeks. Shed lost weight too, and he didnt much like that either, but once they got out of here hed make sure she ate right and put on at least ten to fifteen pounds. Colt brushed his lips lightly across her forehead. Once they got out of here, there would be a lot of changes, the first of which would be to make her his wife. He let her sleep for another twenty minutes before waking her with a kiss.

Wake up, sweetheart, he said softly.

Jayda snuggled closer, her voice thick with sleep. Again? She murmured.

Colt laughed. No, baby, I dont think I could go another round if I tried. We need to get dressed in case Michael calls.

Oh, she yawned, sitting up sluggishly. Will he call soon?

I hope so. He pulled on his boxers and jeans then gathered her clothes and helped her dress in the clean clothes he'd brought. It may take the guerillas a while to notice youre missing. How long did they let you sleep yesterday morning?

To tell the truth, I dont know how long they wouldve let me sleep.

Colt pulled his shirt on, eyeing her curiously. What to do you mean? Did you come out before they told you to?

Jayda gave him a lopsided grin. I guess you could say that. They were all sleeping so I took the opportunity to go explore the jungle.

You did what? Please tell me you didnt go running off by yourself.

I couldnt very well ask them to provide me with a guide, could I?

Colts body shook with anger. Its not funny, Jayda. You know how dangerous the jungle is, why would you do that?

Jayda averted her eyes. Im terribly thirsty, could you get me some water?

He stood there for a moment trying to control his temper but he was so mad he wanted to shake her. Retrieving a bottle of water from his backpack, he crouched down beside her and handed it to her.

Im waiting, he said, his voice deceptively calm.

She took a sip, then another. I couldnt bear the thought of Delgado touching me.

His stomach knotted at what that statement inferred. You were hoping

Jayda lifted her eyes to his. That the jungle would kill me before he did, she finished for him.

God, honey, Im so sorry you had to go through that. Did you get very far before they found you?

I was gone a good portion of the day before I finally had to stop. Im not sure if I fell asleep or passed out, but when I woke up I was back at the camp. I have no idea how they found me or how they got me back without me knowing it.

Thank God, they did find you. If youd gotten lost out there, we wouldnt have had any idea where to even begin to search.

I know, Jayda said solemnly, but it didnt even occur to me that you and Michael would attempt a rescue. All I could think of was making sure I didnt end up in Delgados hands.

Colt cupped her chin and leaned over to kiss her. It doesnt matter now. Youre safe and Im not going to let anyone hurt you again. He kissed her again then got up and dug around in the backpack. I have some dried meat and fruit if youre hungry.

Jayda laughed when he produced the airtight plastic bags that contained the flattened food.

It looks delicious, she teased as he sliced the plastic and handed her a sliver of meat. What about Michael and Isabel, and Gabe, of course. What kind of danger are they in?

Colt sat down beside her. Isabels probably got the least to worry about because theyll think shes you and wont want to take the chance of killing her. Michaels scared to death shell get hurt so hell stick close and that will probably keep him safe too. Its Gabe whos actually taking the biggest risk, but my understanding is that hell be up ahead to cover them on the off chance the guerillas start firing on them. They wont have far to go before they meet up with Isabels team. With any luck, there wont be any gunfire at all.

I hope not. I dont think I could handle it if anyone got hurt because of me.

Theyll be fine, sweetheart. Well probably hear from Michael soon and then this will all be over.

They ate the rest of their meal in silence, each of them lost in their own thoughts. When they finished, Colt refilled the bottles from the waterfall and put them in the backpack along with the empty food wrappers. Jaydas eyes followed him around the small alcove, a soft smile playing on her lips as she drank in the absolute beauty of him. Then he reached for the weapon hed placed beside backpack and her smile faltered. It was silly, because he obviously couldnt have risked coming after her without it, but it made her uneasy all the same.

An M16 assault rifle, she said flatly. It looks like an automatic.

Colt arched a brow. It is. Since when have you become so familiar with weapons?

Since Ive been hobnobbing with arms and drug traffickers. Ive learned a lot in the past year, none of it very good. The M16 and AK-47 are the most popular, but M60 machineguns and rocket launchers get their fair share of attention.

What else have you learned? Colt asked with a frown.

Oh, lots of fun stuff. I know that guns and ammunition cartridges are brought in by black market dealers from Central America to use in trade for drugs, cocaine mostly. I know the guerrillas have proclaimed themselves as some sort of military police and claim to represent the poor in their struggles against the wealthier classes, though most of them seem to have lost sight of that and simply fight because its the only thing they know anymore. The movement has changed over the years, lost its focus. So have the people.

You sound as if you sympathize with them.

Jayda shrugged. The people dont traffic the drugs.

No, but theyve set themselves up as armed protection for the crops and profit from the production nonetheless. They use vehicle bombings, kidnappings, assassinations, extortion, and a whole slew of destructive methods in the name of their movement.

I suppose most of them do, but not all of them. Some of them still believe theyre doing it to protect the poor, lower classes. Its just incredibly sad. Colombia is so beautiful in so many ways, yet its people cant enjoy the beauty of it because of all the turmoil.

Colt checked his weapon then propped it against the wall of the alcove. Im sorry, honey, but I just cant share your views on this, especially since it was guerrillas that kidnapped

you and offered you up to Delgado like a sacrificial lamb. Dont kid yourself, Jayda, they did it for the money so they could buy more weapons and kill more people.

I know youre probably right, she sighed. Still, the men who took me were as decent as they could be under the circumstances.

Like slicing your feet so you couldnt walk, Colt said derisively.

They could have done worse.

Colt shook his head. I think this is something well never see eye to eye on.

Jayda had to agree. Lets talk about something else then.

Like what?

She smiled up at him. Like when you intend to marry me.

Sweetheart, Id marry you right now if theyd only kidnapped a preacher too.

Youre a very funny guy, she laughed.

You think Im joking.

Arent you?

Colt crossed the short distance between them and scooped her up in his arms. Im dead serious, Jayda. Were going to take the first flight out of Colombia and head straight to Las Vegas.

She laced her arms around his neck, looking up at him in total adoration. I suppose youll want to take a cab from the airport right to City Hall.

Absolutely.

You really want to marry me?

Absolutely, he repeated, lowering his head to kiss her.

The world and everything in it evaporated into nothingness the minute his lips possessed hers. Was this really happening, she had to ask herself. Was she really here in his arms, kissing him? As if in response to her question, Colts mouth pressed harder, his tongue moving in a slow sensuous dance around hers.

Oh yes, this was real, as real as the burning ache that was beginning to make its home between her thighs. She could feel the heat of it, knew that if he touched her there shed be hot and moist. Jayda drew her head back, her eyes dark with desire.

I want you, she whispered.

Colts response was immediate.

***

Maybe it would be easier if we didnt get dressed until Michael calls, Jayda suggested as Colt tugged his jeans back on.

As appealing as that sounds, I think it would be wiser to keep our clothes on until the Chopper arrives.

Jayda finished buttoning her blouse and lay back on the blanket. Can I help it if just the sight of you makes me want to get naked with you?

A low growl rolled in the back of his throat. Saying things like that is not going to make this any easier.

She smiled mischievously. It wasnt my intent to make it easier. My intent, she said in a soft, sexy voice, was to make it hardermuch, much harder.

I cant believe I ever thought you were sweet and innocent.

Come and lay down beside me, Colt.

No, he said firmly, its much too dangerous being that close to you.

Ill behave, I promise. When he gave her a doubtful look, she stuck her lip out in a pretty pout. Dont you believe me?

Not for one second, sweetheart.

Jayda laughed. Just wait until

Her voice trailed off when Colt reached out to snap up the rifle, his eyes trained on the small opening leading into the alcove.

Colt, what is it?

Without taking his eyes from the opening, he stretched his arm out to her. Take my hand, honey, and get behind me.

Jayda took his hand, her heart pounding furiously in her chest. What is it, whats wrong?

Colts strong arm swept her behind his back just as a mans voice hollered out, Do not shoot, do not shoot!

She didnt have to see him to know who it was, she recognized his voice. A cold fear threaded its way through her body as Evando stepped hesitantly into the alcove. Jayda shifted a little to the left, just far enough to peek around Colts broad shoulders. Evando stood there, his eyes locked to Colts, but his rifle was aimed at the ground not at them. His shoulder was bleeding from a gunshot wound and was quickly being soaked up by his shirt.

Colt kept his rifle trained on Evando, his voice was low and deep, the sound of it so menacing it made Jayda shiver.

You have two seconds to say what you have to say before I pull this trigger.

Evandos eyes never wavered, though his voice shook a little when he spoke. We were ambushed, all of my men are dead.

Your men must have fired first then, Colt said coldly.

Evando shook his head. No, nowe were chasing the woman. We thought it was Miss Daniels but when we got closer, I realized it was not her at all and called out for my men to retreat. That is when the firing started. They were slaughtered, all of them.

I dont believe you. Their orders were to capture you and your men. They wouldnt have fired unless one of your men started shooting first.

You are talking about the police, but it was not them who killed my men. The woman and her companions were being fired upon too.

Jayda gasped. Are they okay?

Colts arm shot out, preventing her from moving away from the protection of his body. If it wasnt our men who ambushed you, then who was it?

Delgados men, Evando said bitterly. He must have figured out who was holding Miss Daniels and sent them out here to kill us and retrieve her. You have to get out of here before they discover this place.

Colts eyes narrowed. How do I know youre telling the truth? How do I know your men arent waiting right outside to kill me and take Jayda?

An indulgent smile curved Evandos lips. I assure you, I did not ask my men to shoot me to make my story believable. They are dead and you will be too if you do not leave soon. If I found you, they will find you.

Colt was still suspicious. How did you find us?

Evandos eyes flickered to Jayda for a moment. The blood from Miss Daniels wounds left a trail. It was not difficult to follow.

Oh Colt, its my fault, she cried.

I can lead you both out of here, Evando told them.

Colt remained distrustful. And why would you do that?

Because Delgado is responsible for having my men killed. I will die myself before letting him get his hands on Miss Daniels now.

Colt stood there for a moment before slowly lowering his rifle. How long do we have before they find us?

Not long. If they have found the camp and followed the trail of blood, we have ten, fifteen minutes at best before they are on us.

Then we need to hurry

No, Jayda said, her stomach turning at what she was thinking, what she was planning on doing.

Sweetheart, we cant stay here.

Youre right, we cant. Just you and Evando.

Jayda, what are you saying?

She drew in a shaky breath. Ill slow you down. I can barely walk, let alone run, and theres no way youll make it out of here if you have to carry me.

Im not leaving you, he said sharply.

Listen Colt, if we all go out there, theyll kill you and you know it. But if I go out alone

No, I wont hear of it.

Jayda reached up, placing her hands on each side of his face, forcing him to look at her. Her voice was soft and calm when she spoke.

I know youre scared for me, but its the only way for all of us to survive. If you go out there, theyll kill you and take me to Delgado. Whos going to rescue me then? Ive spent the last two years without you, Colt, and it nearly killed me. I wont do a lifetime without you. I need you to live so I can live.

Colts eyes reflected the anguish in his heart. I cant just send you out there alone.

You have to. Just listen for a minute, she pleaded. If I go out there and let them find me, theyll leave so you and Evando can get away. You know theyll take me to Delgado so all you have to do is get back to Michael and then come after me. Its the only thing that makes sense.

I cant, Jayda, I just cant

The desperation in his voice was heartbreaking but she knew it meant he saw the truth in what she said.

You have to do this, Colt. You have to let me go.

He nodded slowly then drew her into his arms. Ill come for you, he said fiercely.

Jayda smiled up at him. I know you will.

If there was any other way

Colt was interrupted by the muffled sound of Michaels voice coming from the two way radio. He let loose of Jayda and yanked it from the backpack.

Michael where are you? Delgados men are practically on top of us.

I know, Michael said breathlessly. We barely escaped ourselves. Ill send the chopper

Its too late for that. Colts eyes moved to Jayda, feeling as if his heart was being ripped out. Were trapped, Michael. Jaydashes going out alone.

Have you lost your mind? Michael shouted.

Its the only way to keep from getting myself killed and as Jayda pointed out, who would rescue her then? He smiled softly at her before continuing. I only have a few minutes so you need to listen. Jaydas going out alone to let them find her. I want that chopper in the air

now so they can follow Delgados men and tell us where they take her. Get a second chopper on its way to pick me up as soon as the area is clear. Have you got all that?

Yeah, I got it, but I dont like it one bit.

Neither do I, Colt sighed, but our choices are pretty slim right now. Just make damn sure that first chopper doesnt lose her. He signed off and tossed the radio on top of the backpack then turned to Jayda. Ill get you back, I swear to God I will.

Im not afraid, she told him, and it was true. Hed come for her, just as he promised.

Colt set the rifle aside and grabbed her up in his arms, hugging her to his trembling body. I love you, he said hoarsely.

Jayda kissed him softly on the lips. I love you too, and by this time next week, I fully expect to be Mrs. Colt Strickland. She let her arms slip from around his neck. I have to go.

She turned away from him, gave Evando a brief smile then walked to the opening of the alcove as quickly as her injured feet would allow. She didnt look back for fear her bravado would fail her, besides the fact she didnt think she could take looking at Colts tortured face a minute longer. Then she slipped beneath the waterfall and carefully negotiated the ledge, sighing with relief when she was once again on solid ground.

Before she was even halfway down the incline, Jayda could hear the voices of Delgados men as they made their way towards her. She forced herself to move faster in their direction, anxious to get as much distance between her and Colt as possible.

When she felt shed gone far enough, Jayda dropped to the ground and unwound the bandages on her feet then stuffed them down into the thick foliage. She didnt want to take the chance theyd figure out someone had helped her escape the guerillas and didnt think theyd believe her captors would slice her heels then be kind enough to bandage the wounds.

Gritting her teeth, Jayda smudged her feet with dirt then rose and picked her way through the dense undergrowth, following the sounds of voices until they werent more than twenty yards from her. She stopped and looked around, chose a tangle of bushes to duck into then sat down and calmly waited for them to find her.

***

Colt paced back and forth in the small space of the alcove like a caged animal. He was half out of his mind with worry for Jayda, though he knew Delgados men wouldnt dare hurt her. That knowledge didnt keep his guts from twisting though, or relieve the stabbing pain in his chest. He was helpless to do anything at the moment and that gnawed at him even more.

Evando was wisely keeping himself to one corner and out of Colts way and even more wisely had chosen not to attempt any conversation. The minutes ticked by at an excruciatingly slow pace while his anger did the opposite and escalated with alarming speed. He swore under his breath, glaring at the radio every few seconds as if he could bully it into coming to life.

What was taking them so long to get out of the jungle? Jayda wouldnt have made it too difficult to find her and it wouldnt take them long to clear the area, so why wasnt Michael calling him? Hed half decided just to follow Delgados men on foot when Michaels voice finally called out to him.

Theyre far enough away we can send the chopper in for you now but itll be another ten minutes before it reaches you.

What about Jayda?

Isabels men have a visual. We wont lose her, Colt.

Just get me out of here, he growled.

Less than ten minutes later, Colt and Evando made their way to the pickup spot near the top of the waterfall. A few minutes after that, they were settled inside the chopper as it glided above the tree tops and headed away from the jungle.

Chapter 11
Jayda put up just enough of a fight to make Delgados men think she was afraid of being captured, but the truth was she was far calmer now that she knew Colt was safe and had confidence that he wouldnt be far behind her. She wasnt sure just how he thought they were going to get her out of Delgados clutches, but knew he'd figure something out. The only thing that made her nervous was whether he'd be able to do it before Delgado got his hands on her.

As the jeep bumped over the uneven terrain, Jayda tried to keep her mind off where they were taking her and focused on Colt instead. She could still feel the warmth of his lips on hers and his scent lingered on her clothes and skin. It comforted her, gave her strength she wouldnt have had otherwise. Shed always held out hope hed return to Colombia one day and that by some miracle theyd find each other again, but she never really believed they would fall so quickly into each others arms or still be as passionately in love as theyd been before Colts plane went down.

Jayda smiled to herself. He loved her. All she had to do was get through the next several hours then she and Colt would be together again. Theyd go back to the States and be married and start a whole new life, a happy life, one without tears and broken hearts and endless hours of loneliness. Her hand moved absently to her abdomen.

It still hurt to think of the baby shed lost but it warmed her from head to toe to know shed be given another chance to carry Colts child. Only this time, shed take care of herself and protect the precious life that grew inside her womb. A burst of love shot through her. It was possible she was already pregnant after the numerous times theyd made love in the alcove.

Yes, life was going to be good from now on. No, it would be much better than simply good; it was going to be marvelous, perfect, spectacular. Just the thought of waking up in Colts arms each morning after making love the night before made her insides quiver. Theyd take long walks, just as they used to, and spend hours and hours talking and enjoying each others company.

Of course, shed have to learn to cook so she could take care of him properly and shed take special care to perfect the dishes he liked most. Everything was going to work out, she told herself, and all she had to do was keep Delgado from touching her until Colt came to get her.

***

The chopper touched down just long enough for Michael, Isabel, and Gabe to climb aboard. They all looked at Evando guardedly as they settled into their seats but waited quietly for Colt to explain who their unexpected guest was. He noticed with amusement that Isabel was keeping her hand on her weapon while Michael was keeping a firm arm around her. Gabe eyed Evando with the same suspicion Colt himself had done earlier, his surly expression letting everyone know just how displeased he was to be sharing a ride with a guerilla.

This is Evando. Hes one of the men who kidnapped Jayda. Colt held up his hand to stop Isabel from drawing her weapon. He also warned us about Delgados men and offered to lead us out of there, but there wasnt enough time.

Isabels hand relaxed on the butt of her pistol though she didnt remove it. Did any of the other men make it out alive?

No. It was Delgados punishment for making him bid on Miss Daniels instead of bringing her right to him. Evandos face was hard, his voice even harder. He thinks he can do anything, kill anyone he pleases and get away with it. When the rest of the group hears what hes done

They wont have time to move on him before we take him down, Isabel interrupted.

He is above the law, lady, you will not be able to hold him for long.

We will this time. We may not have enough evidence yet on the drug and arms trafficking to lock him away, but we will be able to nail him for kidnapping.

Colt wasnt concerned with what would happen to Delgado afterwards, he wanted to work out how to get Jayda out of there.

Whats the plan? He asked, his eyes moving to each of them in turn.

Michael answered first. Plan A, I go in alone and try to reason with Ramon.

Colt stared at him blankly. Thats it? Thats all youve come up with?

Not exactly, but Im hoping it will work. Delgado keeps the house well guarded so storming the place is out because Jayda might get caught up in the crossfire. Of course, that doesnt mean we cant make them a little nervous by having Isabel and her team posted outside drawing their attention.

Colt nodded. So Isabels team will distract the guards while you keep Delgado busy so I can find a way inside and get Jayda.

It shouldnt be too difficult with Delgados men focusing on the front of the house. Theres always the possibility youll run into a few men around the backside of the house so youll need to be prepared to take them out and youll have to do it quietly.

I want to help, Evando interjected.

Ill be with Colt, Gabe said icily.

Evando turned an expressionless face to Gabe. Are you skilled at killing a man without making a sound? Can you scale a wall, bypass a security system?

Gabe glared at him. Im going in with Colt. If it wasnt for you, Jayda wouldnt even be there. Beside the fact youre injured, I dont trust you to do whatever it takes to get her out.

Isabel put her hand on Gabes arm. I know you want to help, but hes right. Colts chances of getting Jayda out of there unharmed are better with someone whos had experience around men armed for warfare. She glanced at Evando. Is that shoulder going to slow you down?

No. Evando leveled his eyes at Gabe. We were wrong to take Miss Daniels and offer her up to a man like Delgado. But at the time, I did not know her and thought only of the money she would bring to my people. She is very brave and any woman who instills the kind of loyalty I see in all of you is worth dying for.

Colt saw the slight nod of Gabes head and knew hed accepted Evando.

Good, we all agree then. As soon as its dark, we go rescue Jayda.

***

Although Jayda hadnt known exactly where she was when shed been held by the guerillas, shed been fairly certain they were deep in the rain forest, so she was both surprised and alarmed when the jeep pulled away from the tree line less than an hour later. She was even more distressed when they followed the rough dirt road for only a short distance before veering off and coming to a stop. For a few terrifying moments, Jayda thought Delgado had ordered them to kill her when she was dragged from the jeep. Then from overhead she heard the unmistakable whir of helicopter blades.

Panic welled up inside her when the chopper landed and she was hustled inside. Within minutes they were in the air and the entourage of jeeps turned back onto the dirt road to continue their trek. It was a trick, she thought in horror. She knew Isabel, Michael, & Gabe had been in the jungle and were probably following at a safe distance, but were they close enough to see shed been skirted away by the chopper or would they continue to follow the jeeps thinking she was in one of them?

Jayda wrapped her arms around her waist, feeling physically ill. Oh God, they could follow the jeeps for hours and all the while shed be at Delgados mercy. She huddled in the back where Delgados men had placed her, her insides churning. What would she do if they didnt figure it out and come after her? She squeezed her eyes shut, biting back the tears.

Would Colt even want her if Delgado managed to violate her before he could rescue her? She knew he wouldnt blame her, just as she knew Colt would blame himself, and every time he touched her, every time he even looked at her, the guilt would eat at him. Hed picture

Delgados hands on her, visualize them together in bed and eventually it would be too much. Would he look at her with disgust then? Would it sicken him to know that Delgado had been inside of her, claiming a part of her that had belonged only to Colt?

She shook her head. No, she couldnt let it happen. No matter what, she couldnt let it go that far. Shed learned a lot in the past year, a lot about self-defense and even a little hand to hand combat. Delgado wouldnt be expecting that after her weak performance in protecting herself the first time hed attacked her.

Shed fight with everything she had, and if she got the chanceJaydas stomach lurched at what she was thinking. She opened her eyes slowly, her expression cold and emotionless. Left with the option of being sexually assaulted by Delgado and losing Colt or killing Delgado if she got the chance, Jayda knew her choice was clear.

She sat in a daze, steeling her heart, preparing herself to act with survival in mind and nothing else when the time came. If she hesitated even for a moment, Delgado would get the upper hand and it would all be over. Shed never best him physically unless she caught him by surprise, and that element of surprise would last only a few seconds. Shed have to find a weapon, but that didnt concern her much. Almost anything could be fashioned into a weapon of some sort. What bothered her was how close shed have to be to Delgado in order to kill him and the method shed have to use to do it.

There were three main arteries in the body that could be severed with even a small blade and still kill a man within minutes; the carotid artery in the neck, the brachial artery on the underside of the upper arm, and the femoral artery located between the groin and thigh. Shed

taken a class on self defense once that Isabel taught but it wasnt an ordinary learn-how-to-jabthem-with-your-elbow type class. It dealt with a much harsher method of protection utilizing a knife and pinpointing the most effective targets to use.

Shed been shocked at first, mostly because she knew Isabel on a personal level and had never really thought of her in any terms but as the kind-hearted woman Jayda knew her to be. To discover Isabel not only knew the fastest way to kill another human but that she also taught courses on the use of deadly force was almost beyond Jayda's realm of belief. But after shed listened to the realities of life as an Anti-Narcotics officer, she fully understood the dangers Isabel and her fellow officers faced on a daily basis. Drawing a deep breath, she tried to recall everything shed learned.

The first thing she'd been taught was to twist the blade slightly when pulling it out to make a bigger wound channel and to break the natural suction. Going for the carotid artery in the neck might be tough because its protected by layers of muscle required a good deal of force. In her current condition, Jayda wasnt sure she had the strength needed to hit her mark with the decisiveness that would be needed to make it a fatal wound.

A slash to the inner elbow severing the brachial artery would cause unconsciousness within forty-five to sixty seconds, but shed have to be precise in getting the blade before the division into the ulna and radial arteries. No, the best and easiest target would be the femoral artery on the inside of the upper thigh.

Severing the femoral artery would cause him to lose consciousness in as little as fifteen seconds and Delgado would bleed out in a matter of minutes. It was brutal and Jayda fervently

prayed she wouldnt be forced to do such a vile thing, but she had to be prepared for the worst. She only hoped she could live with herself afterwards.

She was still working on putting her heart and mind in deep freeze when the chopper set down on a pad behind Delgados mansion. The only good thing about being brought to the place she once worked was that she was familiar with the layout of the house which would make escape easier in the event she had to kill Delgado.

She knew where every body guard was positioned both inside and out and if he hadnt altered their routine, she also knew when they made their rounds. It wasnt that shed actually been there during the late evenings or nights to witness it herself, but their schedules were posted in the kitchen where they took their meals and shed often studied it idly when the children stopped their studies for an afternoon snack.

It didn't escape her that she was handled with much better care when exiting the chopper than she had been when theyd shoved her into it and could only assume it was because they wanted Delgado to believe her bedraggled appearance had nothing to do with them. She was escorted into the house by two men who led her through the back and into the study then promptly left, closing the door behind them. Ramon Delgados eyes raked over her for a moment before he spoke.

The guerillas who took you were animals to treat you so poorly.

Jayda glared at him. You have me brought here for the sole purpose of raping me and then have the nerve to call them animals?

Delgado stood up and came around his desk to stand before her. Not rape, my love, seduction.

Im here against my will, thats hardly the setting for seduction. I find you disgusting, Delgado, and just the thought of you touching me makes my skin crawl.

Ramons eyes flashed. It seems youve lost that blushing shyness I once found so enchanting. He reached out and lifted a lock of her hair. Im not fond of this color either, but thats easily remedied. I have a room prepared for you and had intended to allow you time to shower and rest a little before dinner, but I think Ill send someone up to take care of that hair first.

How long do you intend to keep me here?

He smiled down at her, a smile that didnt quite reach his eyes. That all depends on you, my love. The sooner yougive yourself to me, the sooner you can leave.

Jayda clenched her fists. Ill never give myself to you, never!

Oh, I think you will, he said. All you need is the right incentive. But well discuss that once youve had a chance to bathe.

Jayda crossed her arms, lifting her chin definitely. And what if I refuse to get all cleaned up for you?

Delgado grinned. Then Ill bathe you myself.

He reached out and wrapped his fingers around the back of her neck, pulling her so close his lips were just inches from hers.

Dont push it, my love, Ive waited far too long to maintain much patience.

His mouth crushed down on hers in a hard, brutal kiss before abruptly letting her go and returning to his seat behind the desk. Within seconds, one of the men whod escorted her into the house entered the room, gripped her by the arm and led her out of the study and up the stairs to one of the bedrooms. Jayda was left alone, but the loud click after hed closed the door told her she was locked in.

Unsure of how much time shed have to herself, she quickly scoured the room for a weapon but came up empty and moved onto the bathroom. A quick search proved to be just as disappointing. She was just about to do another sweep of the room when she heard voices just outside the door.

Jayda couldnt have been more surprised at the entourage of people that filed into the room if theyd been dressed as circus clowns. They lined up like soldiers readying themselves for roll call just before Ramon Delgado swept into the room. He introduced them one by one but she paid less attention to their names than what their purpose was for being there.

A pretty young woman was there to work on her hair, a more matronly one to take her measurements for alterations to a dress Delgado apparently intended Jayda to wear that was now too big because of all the weight shed lost. Two more women were to give her a manicure and pedicure while another was supposed to see to it that she was brought something light to eat.

Jayda turned her eyes to Delgado. Is this pampering supposed to make me want to fall into your arms?

With a small hitch of his chin, the room was quickly emptied, leaving her alone with him. He put an arm around her waist, drawing her gently to him while his other hand reached to caress the side of her face.

Why do you fight me, Jayda? Our joining is inevitable. He lowered his head so that his cheek rested against hers. I would make it good for you, my love, he whispered. I would give you anything you wanted, take you anywhere you wanted to go. His lips brushed lightly against her skin. Let me make love to you, Jayda. Let me unleash the passion you ignite in me.

Jayda didnt fight him. Any attempt to free herself now would be futile and only serve to make him angry.

Ramon, pleaseIm begging you, let me go.

His hold tightened on her possessively. I want you, Jayda, and I intend to have you. He stroked her hair, pressing a soft kiss to her cheek. I wont hurt you. I can be gentle, my love, and I want to bewith you.

Jayda closed her eyes. Why, Ramon? Why me? You could have your choice of women. Im nothing special and Ive done nothing to make you believe there could ever be anything between us.

But you are special, and its because you dont throw yourself at me as other women do that I desire you. The others want to be with me because of my power, my wealth, but youyou werent impressed by any of it. It would be so different between you and I. He pressed his hips into her. Do you see what you do to me, Jayda? You excite me like no other woman has. His voice deepened. Just thinking of being inside of you makes me hard.

Jayda fought the queasiness his words brought. Slowly tilting her head back, she put on the performance of her life.

Dodo you mean what you say, Ramon? Youd begentle?

Desire, dark and dangerous, clouded his eyes. If you came to me willingly, yes. My God, the things you do to me.

His mouth closed over hers, hot and hungry, but not rough as shed expected. Jayda trembled involuntarily, the revulsion too strong to remain impassive, but Ramon obviously took her reaction as one of sexual longing and pulled her closer. She forced herself to relax, not totally, but enough to make him believe she was starting to give into him.

Her lips parted hesitantly, allowing his tongue to find hers, and still he maintained the tenderness hed promised though his own body shuddered in response, a low moan rumbling deep in his chest. He raised his head, whispering her name in a ragged breath then studied her face for a moment.

You are still frightened.

Yes, she admitted. How can I not be?

Because of the way you were brought here?

She shook her head slowly. Its you, Ramon. You frighten me.

His brows drew together, a slight frown forming on his face. I told you I would not hurt you and I meant it.

She cast her eyes down demurely. Itits not that.

Then what, my love?

You make mefeel things I shouldnt, Jayda said in a hushed tone.

Her hands were pressed against his chest and she felt it swell beneath her palms. She had power over him, she realized. Not much, but it was there, and it would work in her favor as long as she continued to keep up the faade that she wanted him too.

Dont be afraid, he soothed. After tonight youll welcome these feelings. Ramon cupped her chin, easing her head back until she was forced to look at him. I will leave you to my people now. Would you object if I came to see you when they are through?

Fear, strong and real this time, hovered in her eyes. Ramon

Just to see you, nothing more, he promised with a soft smile.

Her nod was almost imperceptible. Ramon kissed her, his lips lingering for a few minutes before he released her.

If you need anything, tell one of the women and they will get it for you.

Jayda didnt expel the breath shed been holding until he left. Tonight...she shuddered, he meant to sleep with her tonight.

As the women came back into the room to administer the pampering Ramon had ordered, she let her mind wander to thoughts of Colt. Where was he? Did he know she was already at Ramon Delgados mansion? Was he with Michael and the others, working on a plan to get her out of here? Or were they all still following the convoy of jeeps, still hours away from Cali? Jaydas stomach knotted. Tonight. They just had to get here before Delgado came to her, they just had to.

***

The first chopper continued to follow the jeeps, making itself visible now and then so the men below would be fooled into believing their trickery had worked. The second chopper landed in Cali less than an hour after the one carrying Jayda set down at Delgados mansion. They gathered at Michaels house to wait until darkness fell, each of them dealing with the stress and emotions in their own way.

Colt paced endlessly, raking his fingers through his hair now and then, muttering oaths; the frustration mixing with guilt and anger and an overwhelming fear he couldnt seem to master. Michael stood at the window, shoulders tense, his face grim, while Isabel flitted back and forth from his side to the sofa, offering support when she could and remaining solitary when she couldnt.

Surprisingly, Gabe and Evando had struck up a strange sort of friendship and talked quietly in front of the fireplace mantle, sharing ideas on the best way to incapacitate a man

without alerting anyone to their presence. It was a somber group, their moods continuing to deteriorate as the afternoon dragged on.

Im going to the kitchen, we all need to eat something, Isabel finally said, pushing herself up from the sofa.

Ill go with you, Michael offered, crossing the room and taking her hand.

Evando rotated the shoulder Isabel had bandaged earlier. I need to keep my shoulder from getting stiff. Is there anything I can do to help?

As if on cue, they all migrated to the kitchen, each of them jumping on the tasks she assigned to them. It wasnt much as far as distractions went, Colt thought as he pulled the ingredients for a salad from the refrigerator, but it was something to help pass the time and for that he was grateful. There were still a good three hours before night fell and another hour after that before theyd all be in place and Michael could approach Delgado with a plea to let Jayda go.

They all agreed he wouldnt give her up, but with Michael occupying Delgado and Isabels people holding the attention of the guards, there was a good shot Colt and Evando could find Jayda and get her out of there. As he chopped the vegetables, he thought of the all too brief time hed had her all to himself in the alcove.

Shed made love to him just as fiercely as hed made love to her, and the way shed looked at himhe swallowed hard, the pain in his chest almost too much to bear. She loved him. Colt stopped what he was doing and braced his hands on the table, his head dropping

down. Jayda, his beautiful Jayda. Hed lost her once, he couldnt do it again. Isabel's touch was so light on his arm, his mind barely registered it.

Shell be fine, Colt. Shes not the same person she was a year ago, shes stronger, has more of a survivor instinct.

What good will that do her? Delgado has her and hehe could be touching herright now he could be

Hes not, she said firmly.

Colt looked at her, his voice filled with despair. You dont know that.

I do know that. Hell want her cleaned up first. Then hell make sure shes dressed in something soft and silky before sitting down to dine with her.

Colt stood up slowly. What are you talking about?

Michael stepped forward, his arm looping around Isabels waist and pulling her close to his side.

Listen to her, Colt, she knows.

How? How do you know, Isabel?

Isabel drew in a slow, uneven breath. Then she looked at Colt, her eyes cold and distant.

Because thats what Delgado did to me.

Chapter 12
Jayda stood before the full length mirror, pleased with her appearance in spite of the fact that Delgado was responsible for it. The dark color had been lifted from her hair and the light blonde hue that was her natural color now framed her face. Her fingernails and been filed, buffed, and polished and though her feet were now bandaged, the toes that peeked out had nails just as carefully painted.

The nightgown she'd found laid out on the bed when she emerged from the shower was a pale pink made of the finest silk and conformed to her figure as if it had been made especially for her. It had thin lace straps, was cut just low enough to show a modest amount of cleavage, and fell in gentle folds around her legs all the way to the floor.

Jayda froze when she heard the click of the door being unlocked, knowing full well who was entering the room. Ramons face appeared behind her, his eyes meeting hers in the mirror. He raised his hands and let them rest on her shoulders for a moment before gliding slowly down her arms and back up again.

You look beautiful, he said, his voice deep and husky.

I feel better. Thank you foreverything, she said timidly. He liked the frightened doe act, she could see it in the smile he gave her.

I heard about the cuts on your feet. I am sorry they hurt you like that. He took her hand. Come, you need to rest.

Jayda let him lead her across the room, balking when he went not to the seating area but to the bed.

Ramon, she squeaked, please, IIm not ready

He laughed softly. My frightened little rabbit, I have no intention of making love to you before you have had a chance to recover from your ordeal. He reached down and pulled the blankets back. Climb into bed. I will come for you in a few hours when dinner is ready.

She did as he asked, letting out a silent sigh of relief when he pulled the covers up her waist then just as quickly tensed up again when he kicked off his shoes and stretched out beside her. He lay on his side, propped up on one elbow and let his eyes roam over her face, stopping on her lips for a moment then moving down to the swell of her breasts before leaning over to kiss her. Had she not known what violence this man was capable of, Jayda might have been deceived by the gentleness of his lips.

She tried not to think of Colt and what his reaction would be if he knew what she was doing right then. But instinctively she knew that as long as she remained pliant, playing the role of the shy maiden denying her secret desires to Ramons masculine seducer, she was safe from being sexually assaulted. At least for the time being, that was.

He liked the idea that he had the power to overwhelm her with his tenderness, changing her from the defiant victim into the willing lover, so she let him kiss her for awhile before allowing him to slowly coax her mouth open and accepting the deeper more ardent kisses that followed. Jayda forced one shaky hand to inch over his shoulder and settle lightly on the back of his neck, a move that brought a low moan from Delgado.

He kissed her for several more minutes before raising his head, his labored breath preventing him from speaking at first. He brushed a stray curl from her forehead then traced a line with his finger from her temple, down the line of her jaw and over her lips.

Rest now, he said quietly, kissing her one more time before rolling away from her and rising from the bed.

Jayda nodded mutely then closed her eyes, waiting a full ten minutes before throwing back the covers and climbing out of bed. Crouching down beside it, she slipped her hand between the mattress and the bed spring, sweeping it slowly back and forth until her fingers closed over the object she was searching for. Jayda examined the metal rat-tailed comb shed stolen from the woman whod done her hair. Ramon no doubt insisted that the woman use nothing but the finest quality hair styling tools, the comb with the pointed metal handle being one of them.

The tip was sharp and would easily puncture the skin, the handle long enough to reach and sever the femoral artery, and the end with the teeth was wide and easy to grip so twisting it wouldnt be difficult. Shed wrapped the end with the teeth on it in a torn piece of clothe napkin shed pilfered when one of the women brought her some fruit earlier. Not only would it protect the metal from biting into her fingers, but it would also make it easier to grip.

Jayda slipped back into bed, stuffing the comb into the case of the pillow beside her. Her heart was racing wildly and it took her quite some time to calm herself. She didnt want to kill Ramon. Even knowing he had every intention of climbing into bed with her that night, her mind revolted at the idea of taking his life.

Hed been nothing but kind to her since shed gotten there, treating her as if she was someone he treasured, and hed done nothing more to her than what shed allowed him do. Oh, she wasnt fool enough to believe he wouldnt use force if she didnt give in willingly, but her resolve to kill him had crumbled a bit under his gentle administrations.

She closed her eyes and immediately Colts handsome face appeared. An aching throb began to build in her heart at what he must be going through right now, wondering if Ramon had already taken what he wanted. Thats what she would have to remember, what shed have to focus on when Ramon came to her tonight; the pain it would cause Colt, the rift it would put between them.

Only then would she be able to do what was necessary in order to save herself and her relationship with Colt.

***

Isabel, what are you saying?

She looked up at Michael, who gave her an encouraging smile, then back at Colt and answered his question.

Seven years ago, I caught Delgados eye when I was working undercover. I was posing as the daughter of a gun runner and was supposed to try and get a look around his mansion while he discussed business with my father. The problem was he had guards posted both inside and out so there was little I could do. He got me alone for a few minutes before we left, told me how beautiful I was and that he wanted me.

Michaels arm tightened around her. Delgado became obsessed when she refused him and had her followed until eventually they managed to find her alone and kidnapped her.

I was young, Isabel said quietly, and scared half to death. I thought he was going to use me and when he grew tired of me, hed kill me. But it wasnt like that. He set me up in a beautiful room, had some of the women in his employ do my nails and hair then had a lovely gown brought to my room.

He was trying to seduce you, Colt said stonily. That way he didnt seem like such an animal.

Yes, andhe was kind, gentle even. He treated me like I was made of fine crystal and II

You were so young, Michael told her, and Delgado was a master at what he did.

She gave him a sad smile, though it held gratitude too for his defense of her actions.

Ramon Delgado is a very handsome man and though I fought him at first, he charmed me with his tenderness and what seemed like genuine emotion for me. She looked away from Colt, her voice growing quiet, shameful. I slept with him, willingly, knowing full well it could cost me my job. It was a full week before anyone figured out Id been kidnapped and who had taken me. By the time they organized a raid on Delgados mansion, Id slept with him several times so II lied and told them he hadnt touched me.

Colts eyes met Michaels. There was no condemnation there, nothing accusatory or judgmental for what had happened between Isabel and Delgado. He understood, as Colt did, that

shed been too young to defend herself against a man like Ramon Delgado who preyed on the vulnerability of women. No wonder shed jumped at Jaydas offer to help nail Delgado, she had her own vengeance to extract.

What about the kidnapping? He finally asked when she remained silent. Surely, you could have gotten him for that.

I wanted to press charges and would have, but after denying hed sexually assaulted me, Delgado had the perfect blackmail tool. If I filed kidnapping charges, hed make sure everyone knew that Id slept with him, that Id become his lover. My superiors were furious when I refused, but I played it off as being too psychologically damaging for me to testify and since they wanted him for more than just kidnapping, they let it drop.

You dont have anything to be ashamed of, he told her. And it does give me some peace of mind to know shes safe for at least a little while, but I have to admit it worries me that Jayda might fold to histactics.

No, she said vehemently, Jayda would never fall for his tricks. She loves you, Colt, and theres nothing Delgado could ever do to make her betray you like that.

Colts mood lifted considerably. Shes talked to you about me?

Isabel laughed. Endlessly.

Michael pressed a kiss to her temple. Go finish up dinner, baby, itll be time to head out soon. He watched as she moved across the kitchen to take back the stove from Gabe. Shes something else, isnt she?

Colt grinned. Hed heard that tone in his own voice before and knew exactly what it meant.

Have you asked her to marry you yet?

Not yet, but soon. I want to wait until weve got Jayda back and all this turmoil has settled down some. He turned back to Colt. Ive missed having you around, you and Jayda. It hasnt been the same since you left. I dont suppose youd consider staying in Colombia when this over?

Not a chance. Im taking Jayda back to the States where shell be safe from Delgado. He started chopping the vegetables again. I have my own company now, Strickland Industries. Its doing quite well, but its been rough running it all by myself. I could use a good partner.

Cortez-Strickland has been struggling a bit too, Michael said without elaboration.

Colt didnt look up, but it felt good to mend his fences. Maybe you should sell out, find another venture to put your energy into.

I just might do that, my friend.

***

Jayda woke to the feel of warm lips on hers. Colt. She wound her arms sleepily around his neck, pulling him closer. With a jolt, she realized it wasnt Colt she was kissing so amorously but Ramon Delgado. Whether he felt her sudden withdrawal or simply stopped

kissing her on his own, she didnt know, but he was smiling quite contentedly when he raised his head.

Did you sleep well, my love?

Yes, but Im still so tired.

You can rest more later, right now you need to eat.

Im really not very hungry, Ramon

Hungry or not, you will eat, he said in a voice that told her it wasnt a request.

I dont have anything to wear.

What you have on is fine. He drew back the covers and offered her his hand.

She took it reluctantly and let him pull her out of bed, wincing at the pain when she put weight on her feet.

I cant go down to dinner in just a nightgown and it will be difficult for me to negotiate the stairs.

I have already thought of that, he smiled down at her. I am having dinner brought up here. We will set up a table in front of the balcony and leave the doors open so you can get a little fresh air. My staff should be here shortly.

She tried to sound impressed. It seems youve thought of everything. Id like a few minutes to freshen up, if you dont mind.

He leaned down, kissing her lightly on the cheek. Go take care of your needs. Everything should be ready by the time you are done.

Jayda limped off to the bathroom and relieved herself then stood in the bathroom feeling a bit panicky until she heard his staff moving around in her room. Being alone with Delgado was dangerous enough, but shed all but invited him into her bed when she woke up thinking he was Colt. Shed have to be more wary, more alert, ward him off as long as she could with her timid maiden act. Drawing in a steadying breath, she left the bathroom to join him.

A small round table, complete with a lace white clothe and candles had been placed in front of the open balcony doors. Fine china, crystal wine glasses, silverware polished until it gleamed in the soft light, and plates laden with food. She really hadnt been hungry when she woke up, but the aroma that filled the room was enticing and her stomach growled at her to hasten to the table and send some nourishment its way.

Ramon hurried to her side, wrapping an arm firmly around her waist and helped her to the table. Once they were seated and the wine was poured, he dismissed the two members of his staff whod remained to serve them. Jayda wasted no time cutting into the glazed chicken, followed by several bites of sauted vegetables and a sip of wine. Perhaps it was because shed eaten the tasteless food the Evando had given her for the past several meals that made this one so much more savory, or simply that shed neglected feeding herself such fine food since Colts departure from Colombia.

I am glad to see you eating, Jayda. You have not been taking care of yourself properly and have gotten much too thin.

I eat enough to survive, she shrugged.

Survive, yes, but you have not had much of a life the past year or so, have you?

Jayda looked up from her plate. What do you mean?

Since your divorce from Michael, you have been hiding out, not really doing much of anything, why is that?

I didnt want to leave Colombia. Michael made it impossible for me to stay by divorcing me so I had to change my appearance and keep a low profile.

Delgado eyed her for a moment. Why did you marry him in the first place when you so obviously had feelings for Strickland?

She took a sip of wine, desperately trying to keep her hand from shaking. She wasnt very successful.

I thought Colt had died in a plane crash. Emotionally, I was a wreck and Michael was good to me, took care of me. So when he asked me to marry him, I accepted.

Ramon arched a skeptical brow. And the baby? Was it Stricklands or Michaels?

Jayda recoiled as if shed been struck. How did you know about that baby?

I have my sources. So, whose was it?

She saw no reason to lie. Colts.

Michael married you knowing you were carrying Stricklands child, how gallant of him.

Jayda bristled at the derisive tone he used. Michael is a good man, dont belittle what he did.

Was it a real marriage?

If youre asking whether I ever slept with him, the answer is no.

Delgado looked quite pleased by her answer. If he only married you to give the baby a name, why did you not divorce after you lost it?

I was depressed, he took care of me. When I wouldnt snap out of it, he divorced me. I think it was his way of making me stop depending on him and start taking care of myself again.

Ramon took a few bites of his chicken, mulling over what shed said. Why did you stay in Colombia?

Jayda looked down at her plate. She had no intention of telling him the real reason.

II had no reason to return to the States and I had friends here who wanted me to stay.

Like Isabel?

Her head snapped up, shock registering on her face before she could mask it.

Isabel is one of them, yes.

Did you know she and I were lovers once?

She told me.

He finished the last of his chicken and pushed his plate away. Then you must have known my men would recognize her, maybe even be keeping an eye on her?

Where was he going with this? Jayda met his gaze with a slow dawning of understanding.

Yes, she answered simply.

Ramon reached across the table and took her hand. He lifted it to his lips, brushing a light kiss across her fingertips.

There is no need to be embarrassed. I wish I could believe it was intentional, but I am sure it was subconscious. Staying in Colombia, keeping company with Isabel; whether you admit it to yourself or not, you wanted me to find you.

Jayda wanted to laugh at his arrogance. Instead she averted her eyes, looking past him through the open doors of the balcony and the quickly darkening skies. Oh, Colt, where are you? You promised to come for me, you promised. Time was getting short. Soon Delgado would expect her to go to bed with him. Indeed, she was already feeling sluggish from the meal and wanted nothing more than to go to sleep. But she had to stall, had to keep the conversation going.

I find it difficult to believe you were still trying to find me when you thought Id gone back to the States.

Ramon laughed softly. No, my love, I knew you hadn't left Columbia. My men spotted Isabel at the airport and thought it was more than coincidence you were both there at the same time. They believed, as Michael did, that you had gotten on the plane and were watching Isabel to see what she was up to when you joined her.

If you wanted me so bad, youd have taken me then.

My men would have, if theyd had the opportunity, but Isabel is quite adept at losing a tail.

Jaydas eyes widened. She never told me we were being followed.

She probably did not want to upset you. At any rate, they lost you. It took them quite some time to track you down again, what with the changes in your appearance. He let loose of her hand and reached out to cup her chin, turning her head so he could see her face. I have wanted you since that first day when I interviewed you to teach my niece and nephew.

Jayda trembled beneath his touch, the heated gaze, the sensual tone of his voice.

You terrified me, she said earnestly. Not at first, but later when youyou tried to She swallowed hard, the trembling intensifying.

I am sorry, my love. I lost control but it will not happen again. You are shaking like a leaf. He dropped his hand from her chin and reached for her glass of wine. Take a few sips, you will feel better.

She should have refused the alcohol knowing shed need her wits about her when the time came, but right now she was a nervous wreck and needed something to calm her down. She lifted the glass to her lips and took a small drink, enjoying the sweet taste of it, then took a few more. Delgado was watching her closely and it made her even more nervous. She set the glass down and met his steady gaze.

Ive become an obsession for you, she stated evenly, just as Isabel once was.

An obsession, yes, but not like Isabel. If my men had not tracked her down as soon as they did, I would have moved on and found someone new to amuse me.

Jaydas temper flared. Is that all she was to you, an object to amuse yourself with?

He shrugged indifferently. She was better than most but inexperienced. You, I could never give up on.

And when you grow tired of me, what will you do?

Is that what has gotten you so uptight, you think I will get bored with you after a few days and throw you out?

Isnt that the routine?

She couldnt hide the bitterness in her tone, the man was despicable, but he took it to mean she didnt want to be treated like all the others; used and then discarded.

It would not be like that with you, Jayda. He stood up then and held out his hand. I want to prove it to you, he said softly.

She shook her head, shrinking away from him. Im not ready, Ramon. IIm too nervous and scared

In a few minutes, you will be more relaxed. I know the first time may be difficult for you, but I promise I will do everything I can to please you after that.

A wave of nausea ripped through her and suddenly the room was too hot, too stifling. She couldnt breathe. Jayda pushed her chair back and stood up, ignoring his outstretched hand, but the minute she was on her feet, the room starting spinning. She swayed precariously for a moment then all but fell into Delgados waiting arms.

Jayda looked up at his smiling face then back at the table and the glass shed drank from that was now nearly empty. Her eyes moved to the bottles of wine, two of them; one that hed poured into his glass and the other hed poured especially for her. How had she missed that, how could she have been so careless? She turned back to Delgado.

What have you done? She asked feebly.

He pulled her closer, brushing his lips lightly across hers. Do not worry, my love, it will not hurt you. I just wanted to make it easier for you.

She tried to push him away but his arms were holding her too tight and what little strength she had was quickly waning. In spite of the iron grip he had on her, Delgados kiss was nothing but gentle. One hand moved up to cradle her head, his fingers twining through her hair as the kiss deepened. She was locked to him from shoulder to thigh, the muscles in his chest crushing her breasts, the rigid bulge of his arousal throbbing against her belly. A helpless whimper escaped her lips when he lifted her in his arms and carried her to the bed.

Her heart was hammering against her ribs, the thundering noise almost deafening as he lowered her onto the mattress. She struggled to sit up but even that was too much of an effort. Jayda fell back weakly, her breath coming in ragged sobs as Delgado removed first his boots then his shirt. And all the while he watched her face, his eyes growing darker, his own chest rising and falling more rapidly by the second. When hed stripped off the last of his clothing, he lowered himself over her, possessing her mouth once more.

Jayda was crying, her lips trembling beneath his. He tried to sooth her with gentle reassurances but she wasnt listening. All she could think about was Colt and how disgusted he would be that she wasnt even putting up a fight. Delgados hand wandered over her body, cupped her breast for a moment then glided down her thigh and began inching the nightgown up around her waist. Her mind screamed at her to make him stop, to do what shed so carefully planned earlier when shed stolen the metal comb.

She tried to focus, tried to get past the fog that was keeping her from thinking straight. She reached out for the pillow beside her and slipped her hand inside the case. There was a moment of triumph when her fingers brushed against the tip of the comb, but it was short lived. Jayda let out a startled squeak when Delgados hand gripped her wrist and forced her arm over

her head along with the other. He pinned them with one hand while the other hand moved up under her nightgown and tugged at her panties.

Ramon, no, she cried. You promised to be gentle

Shhhh, my love, I am not going to hurt you.

My hands, let go of my hands.

He laughed softly. You have just had your nails done, my kitten, and I have felt the sting of those claws before.

Then he twisted the band on her panties, tearing the thin material, and removed the last barrier between his naked body and hers.

Chapter 13
Colts face was a mask of fury as he watched Delgado and Jayda through the open balcony doors and the intimate dinner they were sharing. From his perch in a tree on the edge of the woods that ran along the back side of Delgados house, he had a clear view of the bedroom and the two people inside. He adjusted the view on the binoculars, grinding his teeth when Delgado lifted Jaydas hand to his mouth and kissed it. She remained calm, impassive, turning her head demurely, and that infuriated Colt even more.

What did you expect her to do? Evando said from the branch just above him.

Well I didnt expect her to be entertaining Delgado in her bedroom dressed in a silk nightie, he snapped.

And you believe she does this by choice?

Colts anger slipped a notch. Of course not, but she doesnt seem to be too upset by all the attention hes giving her.

Because she is a very clever woman, Evando said quietly. You are letting your emotions cloud your thinking. Stop focusing on Delgado and watch Miss Daniels body language.

Colt grunted a reply but honed in on Jayda, studying her for several minutes. Her shoulders were tense while her hands fluttered nervously when she spoke, and though Delgado often leaned towards her, Jayda remained straight backed in her chair. There were no smiles, no laughter, only the occasional shy routine hed watched her perform for the past twenty minutes.

Evando was right, she was playing it smart, biding her time until they came to rescue her. And God knew he wanted to go to her, now, not in ten minutes or twenty minutes or however long it took for Michael to draw Delgado away from her.

Where the hell is Michael? He should have been inside by now.

He may well be, but Delgados men will be reluctant to interrupt his dinner.

He damn well better

Colt stopped abruptly when he saw Delgado rise from the table and pull Jayda into his arms. A string of expletives flew from his lips when they started kissing. Playing it smart was one thing, but she was leaning into him, letting him kiss her and doing nothing at all to push him away. It stabbed at his heart, the pain greater than any hed ever known. Unable to watch any more, he lowered the binoculars when Delgado lifted Jayda in his arms and carried her to the bed. There had been no kicking, no screaming, just pliant acceptance, maybe even yearning for what was to come.

She wants him, Colt said dully.

Evando kept his own binoculars trained on the couple. He watched Jaydas feeble attempt to sit up, saw her hands push uselessly against Delgados chest as he stretched himself over her. He saw other things too; the way her arms fell limply at her side, the lack of response as Delgados hands slid down her body, the stark look of despair on her tear-stained face.

She is crying, Evando said.

But not fighting, not trying to keep him fromfrom

He has drugged her.

Colt started to lift the binoculars to his eyes, but just couldnt force himself to look. How do you know that?

The sluggish way she is moving, the lack of response at his touch. Evando lowered the binoculars. It is time to go. Delgado just got dressed and left the room.

Colt swallowed hard. Did he

No.

Thank God, he muttered as he swung down from the tree.

***

The angry growl that rumbled in the back of Ramon Delgados throat made Jayda flinch in fear. His eyes were murderous as he rolled off her and pulled his pants on then went to the door and yanked it open.

This better be damn good, Delgado roared.

She strained to hear what the person on the other side was saying, but he kept his voice so low only a few words filtered back to her. The conversation was brief, but had obviously brought her at least a short reprieve because Delgado returned to the bedside and snatched up his

shirt. He was fuming as he shoved his arms in the sleeves, but his face softened when he saw how frightened Jayda was.

He leaned over her, softly caressing her cheek. I have to leave and attend to some business, but I will not be long. Just close your eyes and rest until I come back.

She shook her head, terrified hed return and take her while she slept. I wont wake up, she said shakily.

Delgado sat down on the edge of the bed. I promise you it was just a small dose of tranquilizer. He leaned down and kissed her, lingering for a few minutes before lifting his head. Believe me, I want you conscious when I make love to you. I want to look into those beautiful eyes when I enter you, hear the soft, feminine sounds you will make when I bring you pleasure. If you do not want to sleep, then just rest until I return. I will be as quick as I can.

With that, he got up and left the room. Jayda stared up at the ceiling. God, how was she going be able to kill him now? Maybe it was just an act, maybe if shed been able to fight him, Delgado would have reverted to force, but she didnt think so. Isabel had warned her, but she hadnt really listened because she remembered how violent Delgado had been three years before when hed attacked her in public. But now it was different, now she understood why Isabel had fallen into a sexual relationship with Ramon Delgado.

He was dangerous, powerful, lethal. Ramon saw what he wanted and he took it. Yet shed also seen how kind he could be, how incredibly gentle, and in spite of everything, she had to admit the man exuded sexuality. It was this unlikely combination in the different facets of his

personality that threw her off balance and made her balk at killing him so coldly. She closed her eyes and prayed for a miracle.

***

Michaels determination to remain calm and deal with Ramon rationally was shot to hell the moment his cousin walked into the room. He took in the bare feet, unbuttoned shirt, and angry scowl on Ramons face and lost it. Michael clenched his fists, fully intending to tear him limb from limb but didnt make it half way across the room before two of Ramons goons stepped between them.

Michael glared at them, but his words were for Ramon. I want her back, he growled. I swear to God, if youve hurt her

Easy cousin, Ramon said, waving his men away. She is fine. We had a lovely dinner and right now she is in her room resting.

Dont white wash this by pretending Jaydas here because she wants to be.

Ramon arched a brow. Do you hear any screaming or crying, any pounding on the walls? He started buttoning his shirt. You came at a very inopportune time, Michael. Say what you have to say then go.

Im not leaving without her. You kidnapped her and I want her back.

Kidnapped? I did not kidnap Jayda, I rescued her from the guerrillas who were trying to ransom her off to the highest bidder. I must say, I was not at all pleased to find out you had won the first round.

Michael took a step towards him. If it wasnt for you, they never would have taken her to begin with. Youve been terrorizing Jayda for years. Well, youve had your fun, give her up, Ramon.

Or what?

Michaels eyes narrowed. Or Ill have the two dozen Anti-Narcotics agents waiting outside rummaging through this house along with every business and piece of land you own.

Ramon laughed. Do not kid yourself, cousin. All I have to do is offer a nice bribe to the lead agent and he will have his people backing out and stumbling all over themselves to apologize for the inconvenience.

A slow grin spread across Michaels face. She.

What?

She. The lead agent is female, and there isnt a dollar amount you could name that would tempt her.

Everyone has their price.

Not everyone. Perhaps youve heard of her, cousin. Does the name Isabel Santiago mean anything to you?

Ramon looked genuinely surprised. Isabel is out there?

Just waiting to haul your ass in for kidnapping and whatever other charges she can drum up.

The two men locked eyes for several minutes before Ramon spoke. You are bluffing. If she had a search warrant, she would have been at my door step demanding to be let in.

She didnt want to take the chance Jayda would get hurt. Were willing to make a deal. Isabel will call her men off if you let me have Jayda.

You have nothing, Ramon said evenly. I did not kidnap her, I saved her from those animals. And right now, my lovely little Jayda is upstairs lying in bed waiting for me to return to her, so if you will excuse me

Michael was on him so fast Ramon didnt have time to call for his men. He grabbed two fistfuls of shirt and slammed Ramon up against the wall.

You lay one finger on her and Ill kill you.

Ramon smiled. You are a little too late for that threat. It is really too bad you did not take advantage of the situation when you were married to her because I have to tell you, making love to Jayda was one of the

Michaels fist stopped him from finishing the sentence. Within seconds, Ramons men wrestled him back and were working him towards the door. Ramon rubbed his jaw.

Give my love to Isabel, he said as they dragged Michael from the room.

***

Jayda was in that blissful state of being half awake and half asleep when she heard the soft click of the door lock. Beneath the blanket, her fingers tightened around the comb. She felt sick to her stomach, but she had to do it, she had to because all her dreams of marrying Colt and having a family would be lost if she let Ramon take her. No, no, Delgadoshe couldnt think of him as Ramon. Ramon was kind and sweet, it was Delgado whod attacked her that day, Delgado whod made her so afraid shed married Michael and lost Colt as a result.

Jayda kept her eyes closed, afraid shed lose what little courage she had if she looked at him. It was unnerving how quietly he crossed the room, but she felt his presence as he stood over her, knew the precise moment he leaned down. He whispered her name and he sounded so much like Colt, for a moment her resolve crumbled.

But shed been fooled once into believing he was Colt when hed kissed her while she slept, she wouldnt be fooled again. His hand, so warm and gentle, touched her shoulder and in that instant Jayda knew she couldnt do it. She couldnt kill Delgado, but maybe she could wound him bad enough shed be able to escape.

She held her breath, waited until his shadow fell over face then lunged at him, striking at his chest. One firm hand clamped over her mouth, while the other wrestled the make-shift weapon from her grip. She fought him with everything she had, kicking and hitting with her free hand, twisting her body, and finally sinking her teeth into the meaty part of his hand. The air was crushed from her lungs when he threw his weight on her and pinned her to the bed.

Jayda, honey, stop fighting me.

Her eyes snapped open. Colt! Oh God, I thought you wereoh never mind. Youre here, youre here. She threw her arms around his neck, pulling him down for a brief but passionate kiss.

We have to go, he whispered, though what he wanted more than anything was to simply gather her in his arms and hold her.

Colt lifted himself off of her, ignoring the stinging in his hand where shed bitten him. Far from being angry that Jayda had attacked him, damn near stabbing him as well as chomping on his hand, he was elated to know shed put up a fight. She thought he was Delgado when he leaned over her and shed meant to inflict some pretty serious bodily harm. Colt reached out and took her hand, loving her more at that moment than ever before.

Jayda took the hand he offered but even with his help, standing up was a major effort. She leaned heavily into him, letting her head rest on his chest.

I cant seem to make my arms and legs work right. I think he put something in my drink.

Colt kept a firm hold on her as they made their way to the balcony. I know, Evando said he thought youre reactions werent quite right.

Her stomach rolled sickeningly. Howhow could he know that unless Her gaze moved to the open balcony doors. Oh God, she cried, you saw what he was doing!

Colt urged her towards the balcony. Dont, sweetheart. It doesnt matter now. All that matters is that youre safe, or at least you will be as soon as I get you out of here.

He leaned over the rail and was relieved to find that none of Delgados men had returned to their posts around the back perimeter. He could only assume that Michael was still occupying Delgados time and the lack of security at the back of the house meant Isabel was doing just as good a job keeping everyones attention focused on the front.

The biggest problem now was getting Jayda down the same latticework hed climbed in order to reach her room. Judging by the way she was clinging to him, she was weak as a kitten and he was afraid shed plummet the two stories down if she attempted to descend on her own. Colt was cursing himself for not bringing a rope when his sharp eye caught the slight movement below.

He drew Jayda back into the shadows, putting a finger to his lips. Leaving her propped against the wall, he ventured to the railing and peered over the side. He waited for several breathless moments, half convincing himself that hed been mistaken when the man stepped out of the darkness directly below him.

Colt, hurry, Evando whispered just loud enough for him to hear.

Colt glanced back at Jayda whose body was slowly slipping down the side of the wall and knew there was no way in hell theyd make it down the trellis with any kind of speed. It would take them at least ten or fifteen minutes and the urgency in Evandos voice told him they didnt have that long.

Thered been no doubt in his mind he could reach Jayda or that he and Evando would be able to escape into the woods and circle around to where Isabel and her team were waiting, but he hadnt considered Jayda would be so incapacitated shed barely be able to stay awake. He

had to do something and fast before Delgado returned to the room. Not that Colt didnt relish the idea of shooting that low life scum for what hed done to Jayda, but even a single shot would bring every one of Delgados men running.

Colt pulled the cell phone from his pocket. There was only one thing he could think of. It was a long shot, but right now his options were pretty slim. He dialed Evando, not wanting to risk speaking loud enough one of Delgados men might hear them. He explained his plan briefly, returning to Jaydas side to support her with his free arm, then hung up and dialed a second number. As he repeated the plan to Isabel, Evando made his escape back into the woods.

Jayda listened to Colt, quite sure hed lost his mind. Theyd never pull it off, not with Delgado just downstairs and at least three other men patrolling the house. She realized when theyd been standing on the balcony that his original plan was for them to make their escape down the trellis, but in her current groggy state, she could hardly manage climbing down without falling and breaking her neck. But what Colt was planning now was just insane and she tried to tell him so as he ushered her across the room and out the bedroom door.

He all but carried her down the hall, pulling her into one of the spare bedrooms just as Ramon Delgados heavy footsteps sounded on the hardwood steps. Jaydas heart was pounding in her chest as Colt whisked her through the darkened room. With only the pale glow from the moonlight filtering through the windows to guide them, she was amazed that he found the walkin closet so quickly, but within seconds, hed lowered himself to the ground at the back and settled Jayda on his lap.

She laid her head on his chest, comforted by the strong arms that held her so closely. Even so, she began to tremble when Delgados outraged roar echoed throughout the house. They could hear his angry voice as he barked out orders to search the grounds and find her, then the sound of receding footsteps as he and his men tromped down the stairs.

Jayda was scared to death, but more for Colts safety than her own. She pressed herself closer to him, terrified Delgado would find them but apparently no one had remained behind to search the rooms. As Colt had hoped and relayed to both Evando and Isabel, Delgado believed shed managed to climb down the trellis.

By now he had to know what role Michael had played in her escape and would be absolutely furious with his cousin. Being related by blood had kept Michael safe from Delgados wrath over the years and she prayed it would still hold true now. As they huddled in the darkness for what seemed like forever, the effects of the drug Delgado had given her slowly began to wear off. She closed her eyes for a moment, the strong, steady beat of Colt's heart beneath her cheek calming her shaky nerves.

How long do we have to wait? She whispered.

Michael will call my cell. Its set on vibrate. As soon as we get the signal, well leave.

Im scared.

He gathered her closer. I wont let him hurt you, he said fiercely. I wont let anyone hurt you ever again.

Im more worried about what hell do to you if he catches us. If we dont make it out of the house, will Isabel be able to send her people in to get us?

No. Im trespassing and Ive technically broken into Delgados house. Hed be perfectly within his rights to shoot me.

Oh God, she moaned.

Colt stroked her hair. Dont worry, sweetheart, I have no intention of getting caught or being shot. Were going to grow old together, remember?

She smiled in the darkness. I remember. I love you, Colt.

I love you too.

Several more minutes passed and she was starting to think Michael would never call when Colts body suddenly tensed.

Its time. Are you able to walk?

I think so. Im still feeling a little out of sorts, but its not as bad as it was.

Colt rose and helped her to her feet then cautiously led her out of the closet and into the bedroom. He listened at the door for a few seconds before easing it open and peering down the hallway. He gave her a brief, reassuring smile, squeezed her hand, then slipped out of the room with Jayda in tow.

She walked on the balls of her feet, more to keep the weight off her heels than to move silently, though it accomplished both goals. The house was eerily quiet and even outside there didnt seem to be any telltale sounds to indicate they were still searching for her.

Shed overheard Colt telling Evando to head for the woods and wait until he heard or saw any commotion at which point he was to draw the attention of Delgados men and lead them away from the house. Jayda had no love for Evando, after all he was responsible for kidnapping her, but she held no bitterness in her heart for him either. Hed been as decent as he could be while theyd been at the camp and hed come to find her and Colt in the jungle to offer to help them escape when he could just as easily have left them there at the mercy of Delgados men. Hed also apparently volunteered to help rescue her from the mansion putting his own life at risk, so for that reason, she hoped he made it out of the woods unscathed.

She and Colt crept along the hallway until they reached the landing at the top of the staircase. He glanced back at her questioningly, and though she was still feeling the effects of the drugs, Jayda nodded, hoping she wasnt wrong about her capability to negotiate the stairs. They moved quickly from there, descending rapidly, and were only a few steps from the bottom when Colt suddenly halted.

Jayda leaned around him, certain shed find at least one gun aimed in their direction. But it wasnt one of Delgados men who stood at the end of the staircase staring at them, but the young woman whod done her hair. The womans eyes were wide with fear and for a second Jayda thought it was merely because of Colts size or perhaps because she didnt recognize him as one of Delgados men. But her attention wasnt focused on Colts face, rather it was aimed

more towards his midsection. Jaydas eyes followed the womans gaze, zeroing in on the cold steel of the handgun Colt held.

Lower your gun, Jayda said softly. He shook his head, the movement almost imperceptible. Colt, please. Cant you see shes scared? Slowly, his hand dropped. She looked back at the woman. Go, she urged.

The young woman turned, took a few steps, then stopped. There are two menout front. She glanced up at Colt and Jayda. Please, she whispered, take me with you.

Jaydas heart went out to her. My God, this woman wasnt an employee at all, but one of Delgados captives. How long had she been held prisoner here, forced to play beautician for each successive kidnap victim? Had she also been seduced by Delgado? And once hed grown tired of her, had he then sentenced her to a life of servitude?

Colt tugged on Jaydas hand. We have to go. When they reached the bottom of the steps, he nodded to the woman. Stay close. When they got to the door, he let go of her hand and again addressed the woman. Whats your name?

Adela.

He gave her an encouraging smile. I need your help, Adela. I want you to go out first, just a few steps, and let me know if you see the two men. Dont say anything, dont even look back, just turn your head in the direction of the men so I know where theyre at. When they order you back inside, do as they ask but leave the door open. Can you do that?

Yes, butyoull take me with you?

I wont leave you behind, Adela, I promise.

She looked scared to death, but turned and reached for the door handle. Colt nodded once, then pulled Jayda behind the door so they wouldnt be seen if the men happened to be right outside. Adela squared her shoulders, opened the door, and stepped out onto the porch. From between the crack in the doorway, Colt watched her with weapon drawn, his body tense and waiting.

Chapter 14
For several breathless moments, Adela stood on the porch, her head moving from side to side before she hurried back inside.

No one, she said excitedly. There are many people outside the gate, but none of Delgados men are around. I dont understand

Colt grabbed Jayda around the waist. Lets go.

Together, they hurried outside with Adela close on their heels. She could see the headlights of what had to be half a dozen cars just outside Delgados security gate. As they started running towards the lights, she could also see there was a vehicle parked just inside the gate. Fear ripped through her that it might be one of Delgados men whod been sent to keep an eye on Isabel and her team, but apparently Colt had no such reservations because he didnt break stride for even a second.

Jayda half expected to hear Delgado or at least one of his men hollering after them to stop, but again their escape remained unimpeded. Colts pace slowed to fast walk, for which Jaydas lungs were grateful. Then just before they came abreast of the car, the door swung open and a man stepped out. Jaydas heart nearly stopped when she saw the gun in his hand, then was instantly flooded with relief when he flashed her a broad smile.

Did someone call for a taxi?

Jayda raced forward, throwing herself in Michaels arms. God, am I happy to see you.

Michael hugged her to him, planting a kiss on her cheek. Same here, honey, but were not home free just yet.

He let loose of her then turned and opened the back door of the car. Reaching in with one hand he yanked out one of Delgados men who didnt look at all pleased about the handcuffs that kept his hands locked in front of him.

Colt arched an amused brow. A hostage?

Michael shoved the man towards the gate. Actually, hes our get-out-of-jail-free card. He knows the code to the gate.

The man glared at them. Delgado will kill me if I open it.

Michael made a point of lifting his gun a little higher. And Ill kill you if you dont, now key in the code.

Colt shuffled Jayda and Adela into the back seat of the car then took the drivers seat and waited for the gates to open. With less than twenty feet between her and freedom she shouldnt have been feeling as tense as she was, but somehow Jayda just couldnt believe that it had really been as easy as simply walking out the front door. She was still holding her breath and glancing nervously out the back window when they pulled through the gates. Michael followed on foot then jumped in the passenger seat.

Not a sign of Ramon or his men, Michael said as they drove away from the mansion. I would have bet my last dollar hed have figured out almost immediately that you and Jayda

werent in those woods, but once they went in, not a single man came back out. How long do you think theyll search before they realize they wont find either of you?

From her position in the back seat, Jayda could see Colts face in the rearview mirror. He was grinning. She leaned forward, her eyes locking with his in the mirror.

Wheres Evando? She asked in a strained voice.

Colts grin broadened. Right now Im sure hes deep in negotiations.

Michael looked at Colt. Negotiations?

Evando and I had a little time to talk while we waiting in the jungle for the chopper to arrive. We made adeal.

Jayda clutched at her stomach. Delgado had done enough damage to her life and it chilled her to think Colt might have agreed to become part of a murder plot.

What kind of deal? Please tell me Evandos not going to kill him.

Colts grin faded. The expression on his face hardened.

Would it bother you?

Of course it would bother me. Colt, please

Dont worry, he said icily, hell live to seduce other women. It was part of the deal that they couldnt kill him, though Im sure Evando wont be able to resist the urge to rough him up a bit.

Jayda sat back in the seat, stung by the accusing tone in his voice. Was he inferring shed been successfully seduced by Delgado? Michael didnt say anything, but his shoulders visibly stiffened. It definitely wasnt her imagination that there was some hidden meaning to Colts words and theyd obviously had a similar effect on Michael.

With a sinking heart, Jayda recalled what Colt said about him and Evando watching while she and Delgado ate dinner. How much more had he seen? She turned her head towards the window while Colt explained the details of his agreement with Evando though she wasnt sure if he was still talking to her or whether he was addressing Michael.

According to Colt, the original plan was for him and Jayda to climb down the lattice then make a run for the woods. He knew it wouldnt take long for Delgado to discover she was gone once Michael left but by then theyd be far enough ahead of Ramon and his men, theyd be safe. In the meantime, Evando and his guerrillas would lay in wait to capture Delgado and his men then have a little sit down to go over the terms of their negotiations.

Of course, how soon Delgado was released depended solely on his willingness to cooperate, though Colt said he doubted Delgado would escape totally untouched considering how bent on revenge Evandos men were. By the time he finished his story, they were back at Michaels house.

Isabel and her partner along with one other police vehicle had followed them and Jayda hoped it didnt mean shed have to endure telling the whole story while one of the officers took a report. Adela, whod remained quiet the entire time, gave Jayda a brief hug of gratitude then was escorted by one of the female officers to the waiting squad car.

Isobel came to stand beside her. How are you holding up?

Her eyes moved involuntarily to Colt who was talking to Michael and Isabels partner and didnt look at all happy about what was being said.

II dont think Colt believes the attraction was all on Delgados side.

Thats ridiculous, Isabel exclaimed.

Yes it is. I really thought we were going to get back together, but if thats all the trust he has in me, I dont see how it will work.

He loves you, Jayda. You didnt see how scared he looked just before we headed for the jungle to find you. Im sure he was imagining all sorts of horrible things and beating himself up for not being able to protect you.

Colt, scared? I doubt theres anything that would scare him. And why should he beat himself up, it was my decision to stay in Colombia and my own carelessness that left me vulnerable to the kidnapping.

Isabel shook her head with a smile. Look at them, she nodded to Michael and Colt. Neither of them is the type of man to accept weakness in themselves, any weakness, and it killed Colt to have to stay behind in the jungle while you set out to get yourself captured. It left him feeling helpless, and Im sure it was ten times worse for him to have to sit up in that tree watching Ramon maul you when what he really wanted to do was charge in there and save you. She glanced back at Jayda. And youre wrong about nothing being able to scare Colt. The thought of losing you again terrifies him.

Jayda didnt say anything. She looked at Colt, so strong, so handsome, so sure of himself. Was Isabel right? God, she hoped so. Because if what Isabel said was true, then maybe his cruel remark in the car was merely a cover for what he was really feeling. She wished hed finish up and go inside with her. She needed him, needed to feel the warmth and security that being held in his arms always gave her. But more than anything, Jayda needed to hear Colt say he loved her and still wanted to marry her. She heaved a heavy sigh.

Im going inside, Isabel. I need to take a shower and then Ill probably just go right to bed. Could you tell Colt Ill be in my room if he wants totalk.

Isabel arched an elegant brow. Talk?

Judging by how cold he was on the ride here, I doubt hell even want to do that.

After thanking Isabel for all shed done, Jayda turned and limped towards the house, suddenly so weary and dispirited she wished she could just skip the shower and tumble right into bed. Even as desperate as she was to be alone with Colt, she almost hoped he wouldnt come to her room because she simply didnt have energy to talk and was certain thats exactly what hed want to do.

She didnt want to give him the details of her time at Delgados mansion and she sure as hell didnt want to see the look in his eyes when she told him. Even less desirable was the need shed feel to defend herself for not having fought off Ramons advances. Jayda didnt want to defend herself nor did she think Colt had a right to put her in the position to do so. She was so lost in her own thoughts, she let out a startled cry when Colt suddenly appeared by her side then swept her off her feet.

You scared me half to death, she squeaked. Really, Colt, this is totally unnecessary, Im perfectly capable of walking.

Humor me, he said brusquely.

Jayda didnt dare utter another word of protest, not with the storm that was brewing behind those blue eyes of his. He strode purposefully into the house, the muscles in his jaw flexing, lips drawn into a thin line. Why was he so angry? No, angry was too mild of a word. He looked positively murderous and Jayda trembled, suddenly afraid to be alone with him. He didnt say a word when he entered her room and kicked the door shut behind him, and he didnt bother to turn on the light. To her immense surprise, Colt carried her to the bed and gently laid her down.

Colt, I

Dont talk, he cut her off.

The room was too dark to see his face, but the tone of his voice was enough to keep her from saying anything further. She heard the clunk as first one boot hit the floor and then the other, followed by a soft rustling as Colt stripped off his clothing. Of all the things Jayda imagined would happen once they reached her room, this certainly hadnt been one of them. Within a matter of minutes, hed also divested her of the nightgown Delgado had given her then lowered himself over her. The first thrust was hard and deep.

Youre mine, he growled softly, withdrawing slowly then plunging into her again.

Jayda gasped and arched into him as each successive forward motion of his hips drove him deeper. She didnt question his motive for taking her straight to bed; it was quite obvious in the fiercely possessive way he was making love to her that Colt was staking his claim. He wanted to make sure she understood in no uncertain terms that she belonged to him. It was completely unnecessary as far as Jayda was concerned because shed always belonged to Colt and always would, but he needed it so she gave herself to him with wild abandon, giving him total domination of her body.

It didnt last long and when he collapsed over her, his big body quivering in the aftermath of an explosive climax, Jayda held him to her, sifting her fingers through his hair and whispering all the things her heart had ached to say throughout the long separation shed endured. Gradually his ragged breathing evened out and he lifted himself from her, immediately reaching out to pull her close by his side as if he was afraid shed be taken from him again if he let loose of her for even a moment. They fell asleep, locked in each others arms and for the first time in almost two years, both of them dared to dream.

***

She didnt wake until well after dawn. Opening her eyes with an effort, she smiled sleepily, her heart picking up a few extra beats at the sight of Colt propped up on one elbow just watching her. He touched her cheek, letting his hand slide down her neck to her chest then shaping itself over her breast. He leaned over, kissing her deeply, seductively, then took the better part of an hour to make love to her.

In spite of the physically and emotionally taxing ordeal shed gone through in the past few days, Jayda felt rested, as if just being with Colt somehow replenished her. Indeed, she did feel like the balance had returned to her life. They lay there for awhile, touching, caressing, kissing, satisfying the need to be both giver and taker until Colt finally broke the silence.

We need to talk, he said quietly, and whatever needs to be said has to be said now, before we leave Colombia. Once we get back to the States, I dont ever want to discuss it again so any questions we have, any doubts or concerns need to be addressed here and now.

She nodded against his chest. Do you want to get dressed first?

Colt hugged her to him. No. If were both naked itll be a lot harder for one of us to stomp off in an angry huff.

She tipped her head back to look at him and was relieved to see he was smiling.

It would be kind of tough for you to leave anyway with me clinging to you like a human vine.

Colt laughed, the sound of it warming her from head to toe.

I do love you, Jayda. He kissed her soundly on the lips. And Im not leaving you ever again.

So who goes first and where do we start?

Well start where it ended, right after the plane crash.

Then you go first. I dont know anything about what happened or how you survived.

Colt told her the whole story. All I could think about was getting back to you. I should have called when I finally made it back to civilization. If I had, you would have been able to explain what happened and why you felt you had to marry Michael.

His voice was solemn and sad. She shared his pain.

I should have tried harder to get you to listen to me, gotten to you somehow before you left Colombia. Jayda moved her hand slowly back and forth across his chest; it was a balm that soothed the ache in her heart for all the time theyd lost. I was so hurt by the things youd said that night, so wrapped up in my own misery that I couldnt see how easy it was for you to jump to the wrong conclusions.

Colt stared up at the ceiling, reliving those first few days and weeks when hed felt so betrayed by both of them he thought hed lose his mind.

And I was so consumed by anger and bitterness, I was afraid Id end up killing Michael if I stayed in Colombia. I thought time and distance would make those feelings go away, make me forget you and what we had together.

Time didnt help, Jayda said. It only added loneliness into the mix.

Michael told me how he found you on the balcony, soaking wet from the rain. The tone of his voice changed, grew strained as the guilt washed over him. You lost the baby because of me, because of what I did to you.

Jayda nuzzled her nose against his neck. No, it wasnt your fault, it was mine. I should have had the sense to go back inside.

You were distraught and who could blame you after the awful things I said?

It doesnt matter now, she assured him.

Michael said it was the pneumonia that killed the baby, but I have to know

Jayda looked up at him when he didnt finish the sentence. What, Colt?

His face looked drawn as his eyes met hers. I pushed you. Just before I left, I shoved you against the wall andI have to knowis it possible thats why you lost the baby?

She rose up on one elbow, lightly touching his cheek. No, she said firmly. The doctor said it was probably because of all the stress Id gone through after your plane went down. I wasnt eating or sleeping right and my immune system was already pretty shot when I caught pneumonia. Dont you dare blame yourself.

Colt covered her hand with his own, turning his head to press a kiss into her palm. Then you cant blame yourself either. If it was all the stress youd endured prior to that night that weakened you, then you might have lost the baby anyway.

Maybe, she said, but deep down inside she would always wonder.

You and Michael stayed married for almost a year after that. Was there everI mean, did you and he

Never, Colt. He married me to keep me safe from Delgado and to give the baby a name. There was never more than that between us. After I got out of the hospital, I fell into a dark depression I just couldnt seem to pull myself out of. To tell the truth I never even tried, but then why would I? I had Michael to take care of me and he was extremely overindulgent, allowing me to wallow in my sorrow and even hiring a nurse to take care of me. I guess hed finally had enough and told me he was filing for a divorce and shipping me back to the States.

It wasnt that hed grown tired of taking care of you, sweetheart, and it wasnt even his idea to divorce you. Gabe told him he wasnt helping by indulging you, that youd never come out of it if he didnt force you to stand on your own two feet again. Michael was torn up at having to send you away.

Jayda put her head back down on his shoulder. Im glad you told me. I thought he resented having helped me out and was probably dancing a jig when I left.

But you didnt leave, Colt said with a touch of reproach to his tone.

I couldnt. I kept hoping her voice trailed off.

It still hurt. Even with Colt right here beside her, his arms encircling her, the warmth of his body pressed along the length of hers, Jayda couldnt quite believe it wasnt all just a dream.

I kept hoping youd come back and that somehow wed work things out. And I blamed Delgado. Not for one thing in particular, but for the chain of events caused by my fear of him.

At the mention of Ramon Delgado, Colt instantly tensed up. She could feel it in the way he held her and the way his breath seemed to slow as if he was forcing himself to control his

temper. The insinuations hed made earlier when they were in the car came back to her, the sting no less painful than when hed first said them. It started in the pit of her stomach and threaded its way to her heart. Jayda tried to move away from him, but he only pressed her closer.

No, baby, weve already proved distance didnt do anything but make things worse. Were going to talk this out; good, bad or indifferent, and deal with it. He cupped her chin and drew her head back, kissing her for a long time before urging her to continue. Im naked and youre clinging to me like a vine, where am I going to go? He teased.

She smiled at that, not quite believing he was as relaxed as he was pretending to be, but at least he was trying.

Just before the divorce was final, I went to the Anti-Narcotics Division of the Ministry of Defense and offered to help them bring Delgado down.

Exactly what did you say to convince them you could get to Delgado when they havent been able to get near him?

It wasnt so much what I said, but who I said it to.

Isabel?

Yes. I told her Delgado was obsessed with me. He was familiar with all the men and women who worked Anti-Narcotics so it was nearly impossible for them to even get close to any of his operations. But with my hair dyed and dressed like a native Colombian, I wouldnt draw any more attention than a fly. Plus, if I got caught by any of his men, theyd bring me straight to Delgado.

And Isabel said okay to that, knowing if you were brought to Delgado hed sexually assault you?

Dont be angry, Colt. She didnt like the idea and refused at first. She told me what happened years before when shed been kidnapped and taken to him, but in the end, thats how I convinced her to let me do it. If I got caught, Isabel knew shed have time to get me out of there before he did anything to me.

Colts body shook with anger. He drew in a few slow breaths of air, expelling it just as slowly before he spoke. Even then, he could barely keep his voice level.

So you spied on Delgados operations knowing what hed do to you if you got caught. Im trying to understand this, Jayda, I really am, but if you were so afraid of him you married Michael, why would do something that only increased your chances of being caught by Delgado? Was there someattraction to him?

God no, there wasnt any attraction!

Then why?

Because I didnt care, she said flatly. Id lost you and nothing seemed to matter anymore. Once I stopped believing youd return to Colombia, I had nothing.

But you told me you stayed because you hoped Id come back.

Hoping isnt the same as believing, Colt.

No, I suppose it isnt.

To tell the truth, I thought if I got caught, Delgado would use me then have me killed. I was beyond caring. At times, I wished he would catch me and get it over with because every day was just so much of an effort.

Colt couldnt really condemn her for feeling as if she wanted someone else to end it for her, God knew hed had those feelings himself plenty of times over those long, empty days without her. But it still bothered him that she didnt seem to be afraid of what Delgado would do to her before he was finished with her, and it didnt help that Colt had seen them kissing or how little resistance shed put up.

Youre thinking there must be some small part of me that wanted Delgado to take me to bed.

I dont want to think that, Jayda, but I cant help it.

Her chest tightened and tears misted her eyes. The only man I ever wanted was you, Colt. I didnt want to sleep with Delgado. The thought of him even touching me was repulsive, but Id grown so cold inside, there was no room for fear. And I trusted Isabel when she promised she wouldnt let anything happen to me.

Colt hated himself for what he was about to say, but he had to know everything if they were going to have a life together.

You didnt fight him, Jayda. I watched you while you ate and sipped wine. I never saw you push him away or do anything to stop him from touching you. After making love to me just that morning, were you still so cold inside you didnt care?

Chapter 15
Jayda jerked away from him so fast, Colt didnt have time to pull her back down before she was scrambling off of the bed. Tears were streaming down her face and her whole, beautifully naked body was trembling.

What did you want me to? She sobbed. Should I have struck at him and given him a reason to hit me back? Should I have kicked and clawed until I got him so angry he raped me just to prove he was still in control? I played him, Colt. I pretended I was too timid to admit I wanted him and let him kiss me because I was buying time so you could come and save me like you promised.

He reached out for her but she backed away. Jayda

No, dont touch me! You wanted us to bear our souls, to get everything out in the open, so here it is. Ramon Delgado didnt treat me like I thought he would. He didnt lock me in a room and try to attack me, he let me bathe and had my hair done then gave me a silk gown to wear. He was kind and gentle and if I wasnt so much in love with you I might have been tempted by the seduction he so carefully played out. But I wasnt fooled, Colt, and I didnt want him to touch me or kiss me or take me to bed. All I wanted was for you to come and get me but you didnt. Every minute that ticked by brought me closer and closer to begin violated by that man and still you didnt come for me.

Colt sat up. I couldnt, Jayda. God, dont you think I wanted to? But we had to wait until dark or it wouldnt have worked.

Jayda wrapped her arms around her waist, regretting now that shed agreed not to get dressed. She blinked back the tears and drew in a shuttering breath.

I played him for as long as I could, but throughout the entire dinner I was planning my own attack, my own escape. Id stolen a metal rat-tailed comb from the hair dresser and was going to wait until Ramon got undressed and was close enough I could stab him in the femoral artery. I was going to kill him, Colt. Rather than let him use me and chance losing you forever, I was willing to kill the man.

As the last words left her mouth, Jayda covered her face with her hands and sobbed openly. Colt was off the bed in less than a heartbeat, cradling her in his arms.

Thats what you had in your hand when I was finally able to come for you?

Y-yes, she stammered. I thought you were Delgado, but by then I didnt think I could go through with it. How could I live with myself knowing Id killed a man? So I decided to try and wound him bad enough Id have time to get away. Except by that time, the drugs hed given me had kicked in and I had so little strength left.

Colt remembered how close shed come to nailing him with the pointy end of the comb and how hard shed bitten down on his hand. She had fought Delgado, or rather shed fought Colt himself, but she believed at the time he was Delgado. He coaxed her back to bed, stretching out beside her and wiping away her tears.

You must have been scared to death thinking you were all on your own. He kissed the corner of her mouth. No more tears, sweetheart. He kissed the other corner. Forgive me.

Jaydas lips parted, the taste of him so heady it dulled the pain clutching at her heart. His kiss was soft and gentle, more tender than any hed ever given her before. It warmed her from the inside out, drove out the cold fear they were on the verge of losing each other again. For a moment after his lips left hers, she was afraid to look at him, afraid shed still see the doubt hovering behind his eyes.

I was jealous, he finally said.

Jayda did open her eyes then. Jealous? Oh, Colt! She reached up, framing his face between her hands. Youre talking about a man who had to kidnap me to get me into his bedroom. How can you possibly be jealous of a man who drugged me to make me pliant, a man Id planned on stabbing rather than let touch me?

When you put it like that, it sounds

Foolish?

Colt laughed. Worse, but Id appreciate it if we just left it at that.

Jayda slipped her arms around his neck. As long as youre only a fool for me, I can live with it.

Youre the only woman Ive ever loved, Jayda.

She studied his face for a moment. Were thereothers after me?

He could have lied, and in truth his first impulse was to do just that to spare her feelings, but he knew shed been honest with him and wouldnt repay that with anything less than honesty himself.

Yes, he said simply.

Something deep inside withered but she had to know the truth no matter what it was.

Did you love any of them?

No, it wasGod, this sounds so cold-hearted, but it was purely for the sex. It only happened twice and to tell the truth, it wasnt good, not for either of us.

She supposed she should have been hurt, but the fact that he was being honest about it told her it really hadnt meant anything to him.

Twice with the same woman?

No. Im so sorry, sweetheart. The first time was almost a year after I left and I guess I thought it would help me get over you. But it didnt help, it only made me feel guilty; guilty for being unfaithful to you and guilty for using that woman. I didnt even spend the night. When it was over, I waited until she went to sleep then got dressed and left.

Jaydas face remained expressionless. And the second time?

Colt swallowed the enormous lump in his throat. He expected her to be upset, to cry or get angry or even say how much he disgusted her, but not thisthis impassiveness that implied she was emotionally withdrawing from him.

The second time was nothing, less than nothing. She got pissed because I wouldnt kiss her.

Jayda arched a brow. Before, during or after?

Colts jaw flexed. During or after.

Hmmmm, and why was that?

Why did it piss her off or why wouldnt I kiss her?

I can figure out why she was mad.

Colt shrugged. I dont know, I just didnt want to.

Jayda smiled. It was too intimate.

At the risk of digging myself in even deeper, dont you consider having sex intimate?

Jayda ran her hand slowly down his chest. It certainly can be, but it doesnt necessarily have to be. Kissing is different. Kissing blazes a trail right to the heart.

Again, a lump the size of a boulder lodged itself in his throat. Was there everafter me, I mean?

Jaydas hand stopped moving. She lifted her eyes to his and could have cried for all the emotions she saw stirring there.

What man could even begin to compete with you?

He shook his head remorsefully. Ive hurt you, over and over. It cant be much of a competition.

Youre right, she said, then laughed at the grimace he made. What I mean is, there is no competition. Youre the one I love, the one I want, the only man who ever did or ever will hold my heart captive.

A low moan of want and need rose from deep in his chest. There were no more words after that, at least none that were spoken verbally, and when they emerged from the bedroom the following morning, all the pain and sorrow and loneliness theyd suffered through in the past was simply that; in the past.

They strolled hand in hand to the kitchen and were surprised to find Isabel and Michael sitting at the table sipping on steaming cups of coffee. Isabel hid her smile behind her cup but Michael didnt bother. He was grinning from ear to ear as Colt settled into one of the chairs while Jayda got two cups and filled them with the hot brew.

I wasnt expecting you until dinner time, Michael teased. Whats the matter, Colt, you lose some of your stamina living the easy life in the States?

Colt grunted his reply, but Jayda smiled sweetly as she handed him his coffee.

You look well-rested, Michael. She leaned down and kissed Colt on the cheek then yawned dramatically, turning that sweet smile back on Michael again. Im surprised you got any sleep, what with the noise we were making all night long, but when somethings that good, its simply impossible to be quiet about it.

Colt nearly choked on the coffee that was halfway down his throat. Isabel let out a short laugh before stopping herself while Michael could do nothing but stare at Jayda incredulously, sputtering a few unintelligible words before clamping his mouth shut and lapsing into silence. Jayda patted him on the back before taking her place beside Colt.

Colt chuckled, shaking his head. Youre something else, sweetheart.

Yes, Michael said dryly, Ive forgotten how witty and charming she could be.

Jayda ignored his caustic remark. Wheres Gabe?

Isabel got up to pour another cup of coffee. He magnanimously volunteered to do a little grocery shopping so wed have something to eat for lunch and dinner. He should be back anytime. I hope you dont mind, but I asked Evando to stop by this evening to dine with us.

Jayda cast a furtive glance at Colt, but to her surprise he didnt oppose the idea.

I dont mind if Jaydas okay with it. Did you talk to him this morning? Im a bit curious as to how things went last night after we left.

We talked briefly, Michael said. He said Ramon was amazingly agreeable.

Ill bet he was, Colt replied, considering he was surrounded by men whod just as soon kill him as look at him.

Jayda sighed. So I guess his crimes still go unpunished.

Isabel offered a sympathetic smile. Well get him someday.

Michael reached out and took Isabels hand. Dont include yourself in that someday, sweetheart. Im afraid the Ministry of Defense will have to find someone else to lead that crusade.

Jayda and Colt exchanged amused glances as Isabel visibly bristled.

Dont go all macho on me, Michael. Im not giving up my job just because you think its a little dangerous.

He only smiled, lifting her hand to press a light kiss to her fingertips.

Im offering you a new job in its place, one that will probably be just as dangerous and challenging, and immensely more time consuming.

Isabel shook her head. Im not working at the shipping company.

I wasnt talking about the shipping company, I was talking about the position youll be taking as my wife and the mother of my children.

Isabel gasped. Michael

He leaned forward and kissed her. What do you say, honey, will you marry me?

Yes, she squeaked, throwing her arms around his neck.

Colt looked at Jayda and winked. Surely youre not going to allow Michael to outdo me.

She slipped her hand in his. I wouldnt dream of upstaging a marriage proposal, but perhaps there is a way

EPILOGUE
Jayda flipped the steaks on the grill then returned to her lounge chair beside Isabel.

Its hard to believe almost eight months have gone by since we left Colombia. Do you miss it much?

Isabel stretched her long legs out, basking in the warm summer sun.

I miss some of my friends, but I really had no family there. I certainly dont miss chasing after drug lords and gun runners. My place is with Michael, Id be happy anywhere as long as were together.

The last several months had been a period of adjustment for all of them. Colt and Michael sold off Cortez-Strickland shipping and put the money into expanding Colts shipping company here in the United States. Of course, they argued over whose name came first when they formed another partnership. Colt insisted the company had established its name already as Strickland Industries, while Michael maintained it wasnt fair for him to sell Cortez-Strickland only to have his name dropped from this one.

They settled on C & S Industries. It wasnt until after the name had been made legal that Colt pointed out the C could also stand for his own first name. Jayda smiled to herself. They were fiercely competitive but it only made each of them stronger in their own right and she was glad to see theyd become as close as brothers again.

Michael and Isabel had gotten married a week before leaving Colombia then all four of them had flown to Las Vegas, Nevada where she and Colt were married. After that, it was

practically non-stop work for the next few months as the men expanded the business and the women went in search of their ideal houses.

Jayda found the beach house quite by accident when shed pulled off the road to check the map for directions and spotted the For Sale sign nearly obscured by an overgrowth of bushes. It was a monstrous thing that had been neglected for quite some time, but shed fallen in love with it and theyd closed the deal less than two weeks later.

Michael and Isabel held out a bit longer, waiting for a more modern home, but it was only a mile down the same stretch of coast which made them all happy. She and Isabel had become as close as their husbands were, splitting their time between furnishing the Cortez home and remodeling the beach house.

For the most part, Colt and Michael let them do as they wished with the houses and seemed satisfied they were equally matched. Until one day a few months ago. Theyd all been taking a stroll through the beach house and admiring the improvements when Michael discovered Jayda had started decorating a nursery.

Youre not pregnant, are you? Hed asked as if he was upset they hadnt consulted with him first.

Colt put his arm around Jaydas waist, a broad grin on his face. Not yet, but were working diligently at getting her that way.

Thats all it took for a new competition to begin, namely, who could get their wife pregnant first. Colt had always been an ardent lover, but now it seemed she had only to look at

him in a certain way or let her kiss linger too long and he was on her. No room in the house was sacred, no hour of the day off limits.

She and Isabel had giggled like school girls when they figured out what was going on but they were both reaping too many benefits to pull the reins in on it. Then the inevitable happened and Jaydas cycle was late. She waited two weeks to tell Isabel then squealed with delight to discover her friend had also missed her cycle.

Theyd spent the greater part of the morning calling around to find the best obstetrician and setting appointments, but they were far too excited to wait the three days until they could be seen so theyd raced down to the drugstore and purchased two early pregnancy tests. Theyd brought them home, took turns using the bathroom, then huddled together over the plastic strips praying they would change color.

Two minutes later, she and Isabel swapped strips to share the results. They were pregnant. Theyd made a pact to wait until after the doctors visits for confirmation, and tonight they planned on telling their husbands.

Jaydas eyes wandered to the swimming pool where Colt was preparing to execute a dive. He was utterly magnificent. His dark hair was damp from the last dive, his body held rigid as he readied himself. He was positively breathtaking as he flipped off the board, did a flawless backward twist, then sliced through the water. The cocky grin he wore as he swam towards the side had Michael up in arms, but Jayda wasnt paying attention to Michael; she couldnt tear her eyes away from her husband.

His muscular arms pulled him effortlessly to the side of the pool directly in front of her. Her lips parted, air hissing from her lungs as he lifted himself over the side. Water glistened off the hard planes of his chest, gliding down his flat belly to the swim trunks that now clung like a second skin to his hips. Colt flashed a disarming smile before turning back to Michael to rib him about being second best.

My God, Isabel whispered, just looking at him makes me break out into a cold sweat.

Jaydas head snapped around, unable to believe her friend had said such a thing about Colt. A giggle bubbled up from her throat when she realized Isabels eyes were glued on Michael and that she looked just as lustful for her own husband as Jayda was for Colt.

Jayda picked up her glass of iced tea, sipping at it thoughtfully for a moment. She was picturing Colt as hed been last night and again this morning when hed made love to her, hell bent on being the first to impregnate his wife. She saw the heat smoldering in his eyes, felt the way his muscles quivered each time he thrust into her as if he could barely maintain control. She heard the deep, guttural moan that never failed to send a thrill racing through her just before he released his seed deep in the warmth of her abdomen. She squirmed in her seat, knowing the sexual marathon would only get more intense in the days to come.

Jayda, Isabels hoarse whisper made her reluctantly let loose of her daydream. I have an idea

Jayda laughed at both herself and the woman beside her. They were hopelessly in love with their husbands and quite addicted to the passionate love making sessions that had occurred with increasing frequency since that day when Michael saw the nursery for the first time.

I know, she sighed, turning her eyes back to Colt.

Maybe we were a little hasty in deciding to tell them tonight.

Jayda grinned. I really dont see any reason we couldnt delay telling them for another week.

Or two, Isabel said as she watched Michael take a dive off the board.

She lifted her glass, clinking it against Isabels to seal the secret pact.

Heres to stiff competition, she said with a laugh.

And to the women who support it so wholeheartedly, Isabel added.