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To Save This Child
By Darlene Graham
Harlequin Enterprises, Ltd.Copyright © 2004 Harlequin Enterprises, Ltd.
All right reserved.
Chapter OneSomewhere over the remote mountainous regions of Chiapas, Mexico
KENDAL COLLINS breathed a prayer of thanks that at last they were safe. At last. Safe.
Though the mountains rolling beneath the belly of their small plane looked rocky and steep, forbidding in their vast isolation, Jason Bridges appeared to be in control, his hands relaxed on the yoke of his Cessna Conquest as he executed flying maneuvers with his usual precision.
Shuddering, Kendal released what felt like the first full breath she'd drawn in days. Even during the dark time of their captivity, Jason had always sworn he would keep her safe, but only now that they were airborne would she let herself believe it. Finally, they were leaving Chiapas far behind.
"Hang in there, sweetheart." Jason released the yoke long enough to squeeze her hand.
She gave him a brave smile, then twisted her torso, extending that smile to the two dear people strapped together into one of the rear-facing seats. Miguel Vajaras, age two, slept like the baby he was with his beautiful dark head lolling against the slender shoulder of Ruth Nichols, Jason's scrub nurse. Ruth adjusted Miguel on her lap and put a shushing finger to her lips. Kendal nodded her understanding. Miguel had been so frightened, confused and crying right up until the plane had lifted into the air.
"Miguel." Jason had distracted the child. "Look! Mountains!"
At the sound of Jason's deep voice, Miguel had quieted abruptly, straining forward in the seat to look out the window. "Moun-nan," he had echoed in baby talk. "Moun-nan. Eh-pane." He had repeated the unfamiliar English words over and over, until the drone of the plane's engine had finally put the exhausted toddler to sleep.
Kendal studied her adopted son's innocent brown face, so angelic in repose, not quite able to believe this sweet child was, at last, going to be safe and was soon going to be her very own. This ordeal had been so hard on all of them, but now they were safe. Safe.
She longed to be back in Ruth's seat so she could comfort her baby, but Jason wanted, needed, Kendal in the copilot's seat. They weren't out of Vajaras's territory yet.
"Get in front in case I need a navigator," Jason had said as he helped her into the plane.
And Ruth would take good care of Miguel. Ruth had always been good with the children, adept at calming their fears. Miguel was in good hands. Kendal tried to relax as she gave her sleeping little boy one last loving smile.
Ruth returned Kendal's smile before she closed her eyes in exhaustion. Their flight from terror had worn the poor woman out.
Kendal glanced at her future husband. His muscular neck was craned as he concentrated on the terrain below.
"Look at that, sweetheart," he said.
Kendal glanced out the small plane's window as the Canon del Sumidero came into view. The scenery rolling below them was exotic, breathtaking, but Kendal was sick of Chiapas and its strange seductive beauty. Right now she wanted to feast her eyes on the plains of Oklahoma ... and on Jason.
She studied his handsome profile for a second before her gaze was drawn down to his hands gripping the control yoke. She had noticed those hands the very first time they'd met in his office. The rest of his appearance could border on scruffy at times, but his hands were always immaculate, smooth and clean like any good surgeon's.
She would probably admire Jason's hands for the rest of her life. Even the way he wrote was strong. She loved to watch as he jotted orders or slashed his signature across a chart in neat, bold strokes.
But it was seeing him use those hands in surgery that had finally won Kendal's undying admiration. Jason Bridges made real miracles happen every day. She had witnessed those miracles in the worst of conditions down here in Chiapas.
Her eyes trailed from the control yoke down to his legs, also tanned and oh-so-muscular, bulging against wrinkled khaki shorts. It seemed his whole body functioned like one long, taut muscle. A six-foot-tall granite statue - that's what Jason was.
Her gaze flitted up to his cropped hair, dark as midnight, with strands of silver at the temples that created a delicious contrast to his clean profile, his chiseled lips, his square jaw. His skin, deeply tanned from the Mexican sun, glowed in the slanting sunshine that streamed through the plane's compact windshield. She sighed again, utterly content to just admire him.
He glanced over and smiled when he caught her doing so.
"What're you thinking about?"
"How much I love you."
He smiled. "I love you, too. Is Miguel okay now?"
She nodded and raised her finger in the same silencing gesture Ruth had used. Jason glanced back at his sleeping passengers. Then he reached across the narrow space and wrapped a possessive palm around Kendal's inner thigh. She wrapped her fingers around his wrist. His pulse felt steady, strong.
"God, I'm glad we're finally out of there," he murmured.
"Me, too." But Kendal found that she could still summon up the fear. The danger is over, she reminded herself as she suppressed tears, and gripped Jason's wrist harder.
"Ah, now." Jason flipped his hand up, capturing her fingers. "Please don't cry, sweetheart." He leaned toward her, glancing back and indicating that he wanted to speak near her ear. Their heads touched halfway over the center console. "Everything's going to be okay."
"I know." Kendal closed her eyes, flooded with relief as she pressed her head into his broad shoulder.
"Just remember how much I love you," he murmured. "And that I can't wait to be alone with you," his voice lowered further still, "so I can show you exactly how much."
Excerpted from To Save This Child by Darlene Graham Copyright © 2004 by Harlequin Enterprises, Ltd.. Excerpted by permission.
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