Terms of Surrender

By: Shirley Rogers


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"Promise me."

Believing he'd misheard his dying father's whispered words, David Taylor knelt beside the massive oak bed and leaned closer. "Promise you what?" he asked softly. Considering their estranged relationship, he wondered what could be so important that his father would ask anything of him.

"Promise me you'll take care of Tanya."

That he hadn't expected. Of all the possibilities of what Edward Taylor would ask, David would never have thought of Tanya Winters.

Drawing in a deep breath, he looked into fatigued blue eyes. The figure lying before him no longer seemed the father who had been so strict and difficult through most of David's life. Now he saw him as a man, a shadow of the forceful figure he'd seen through the eyes of a child. At sixty, his hair, once light brown, had turned nearly white. Rapid loss of weight had left his skin wrinkled and pasty. Cancer had taken him down quickly.

"Father, I—"

"Promise!" Edward gasped for breath as he made a feeble effort to grab his son's arm.

"I promise," David said quickly, knowing there was little else he could do to ease his father's mind in his last moments. "Easy, now." He tightened his hand on his father's and encouraged him to lie back, wincing at the inflection of pain in the older man's eyes. "I'll take care of her. You have my word."

It wasn't an easy promise to make, David thought, as Edward succumbed to the weakness of his body and eased back to rest on the mattress. Since arriving at Cottonwood Plantation in Georgia, David had seen Tanya Winters, his father's employee, only a few minutes. But that had been long enough to stir up old, unwanted memories of his own deep-seated awareness of her—an awareness that hadn't dissipated in the five years he'd been away.

And from the way she'd greeted him with barely restrained disdain, she hadn't forgotten their heated parting. But there would be time to deal with Tanya later. Right now, his father was all that mattered.

He looked at his father's still body, his closed eyes. David almost hadn't made it back in time. His father's personal physician, Mason Brewer, standing only a few feet away, had informed him it wasn't likely Edward would make it through the day. David swallowed past the knot in his throat. He still couldn't believe his father was dying.

"We'd better get Tanya," Dr. Brewer stated in a quiet voice.

Their eyes met. David nodded and stood. He'd spent less than thirty private minutes with his father, and he supposed that at some point during that time, the two of them had made a peace of sorts. They'd never gotten along, and now they would never have the chance to make things totally right between them.

David's mother, Eloise, had died when he was ten, and after the loss of his wife, Edward had never been the same. As a child, David had tried to please his father. As a teenager, he'd given up trying when nothing he'd said or done seemed to bridge the gap between them. After graduating college, he'd moved away. His decision not to stay and help run his father's peanut plantation had widened an already emotional chasm between them.

So he'd left the plantation just outside of Cotton Creek, a rural town an hour's distance from Savannah, determined to make his own way in life. And he'd done well. His Atlanta-based acquisitions and mergers company, Taylor Corp., had made him successful and affluent. But it seemed that even that hadn't been enough to gain his father's approval.

The door opened and he looked over to see Tanya Winters enter the room. His gaze followed her movements as she slowly walked across the floor, her body fluid and graceful. As a seventeen-year-old, she'd been cute; as a woman, well, stunning was the only way to describe her.

But despite her slim, athletic body, she seemed to be barely holding up under the strain of Edward's illness. She'd pulled her straight, amber-blond hair into a ponytail at the nape of her neck, baring absolutely flawless skin. Her amber-gold eyes, swollen and red from crying, were filled with sadness.

As David stepped aside, she glanced at him, then just as easily dismissed him, giving her complete attention to his father. Though her movements seemed effortless, he sensed the energy it took to gather herself together and approach the bed.

She sat beside his father and leaned close to him. "I'm here, Edward," she whispered, her voice trembling. Slim fingers lifted his father's wrinkled hand and held it as she stroked his forehead with her other hand.

She spoke close to his ear, and he saw the old man's craggy face change, his eyes momentarily brighten. A weak smile formed on his dry lips. David's awareness of Tanya warred with jealousy and resentment. He hadn't expected to feel anything for her, but the minute she'd greeted him at the door, he'd realized that leaving hadn't done a thing to get her out of his system.

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