Terms of Surrender(4)

By: Shirley Rogers


"Made myself at home? What do you mean by that?" Tanya felt as if she'd been slapped.

Jealousy got the best of David. That, in addition to fighting his own awareness of her, egged him on to find out exactly what kind of relationship she'd had with his father. "What else have you been doing for my father?" He looked at her mouth, could still remember the effect she had on him when he'd kissed her. And how hard it had been to walk away from her and the plantation.

"That's insulting to me and offensive to your father's memory," Tanya grated through clenched teeth. "Your father—" she began, then had to stop when her voice broke. She took a breath, then tried again. "Your father was very kind to me. He gave me a home, a place to belong."

The churning in David's gut subsided. That Tanya hadn't had an intimate relationship with his father pleased him more than it should have. "I was out of line. I'm sorry."

"Thank you for that." But she didn't sound appeased.

He raised a brow. "Your memory hasn't returned?"

She shook her head, sadness filling her. God, she wished it had. Still, she didn't admit to him that lately she'd been experiencing odd sensations, a strange perception of … something. Tanya wasn't convinced that the odd happenings weren't just her imagination. Not wanting to trouble Edward, she hadn't even told him, nor had she mentioned the intense, disturbing dreams she'd started having over the past month. "I still don't remember anything before waking up in the hospital."

Still too vivid was the fear that smothered her when she had awakened in strange surroundings. She hadn't known a soul. And, oh God, the panic when she'd realized that she hadn't even known her own name. According to the police, she had been a street kid with an impressive juvenile record who was scheduled to move into a group home. Offering her a chance to turn her life around, Edward had saved her from that horrible experience.

"So you stayed on at Cottonwood out of gratitude?"

"In the beginning." It had been fear, mostly. Because there had been nothing else for her. She'd needed something, someone to cling to.

"Ah, I see."

"Do you?" There was doubt in his eyes. He'd been away for years. She dismissed his attitude as ignorance. "I've handled the daily operations of the plantation for almost a year. Though at the time Edward didn't know he was ill, he'd begun to slow down. Your father relied on me to keep things going."

He studied her for a long moment. "There's a lot more to running this plantation besides growing peanuts."

He doesn't know, her mind whispered. He has no idea that the plantation no longer produces peanuts. Tanya opened her mouth to tell him, then stopped herself, deciding to wait to drop that news on him.

"I know that." She straightened her shoulders. Well over six feet, he towered over her five-foot-six-inch frame, but she refused to be intimidated by him. "I've computerized the schedule of crop rotation for the next five years." Along with changing the main crop to soybeans, the plantation grew cotton. Rotation of crops was important to fight disease and insure a successful harvest year after year. "And I personally negotiated a health insurance plan for your father's permanent employees. I haven't exactly been living off of your father."

"I didn't mean to imply that you don't work."

"Yes, you did."

She had him there, David thought. Apparently Tanya was in more control of the plantation than he'd realized. It was going to make it that much tougher to tell her that she was out of a job.

"Look. I really don't want to argue with you. I'll take your word that you've been running things as well as you could." David hadn't seen the accounts, so he wasn't about to compliment her on her success.

Her face softened. "I did it because I loved him."

"He cared for you, as well." David watched her thoughtfully. "His last words to me were about you."

"They were?" Surprise widened her expressive eyes. That his father had spoken of her warmed her heart.

"What did he say?"

For a moment he remained silent, almost as if he'd rather not reveal their conversation. "He made me promise to take care of you."

"What?" Stunned, she stared at him. David taking care of her. What a laugh. He didn't even like her.

"I promised him I would." He hesitated, then went on, "So, I don't want you to think that I'm going to just turn you out with nowhere to go. I've been thinking that since you never had the opportunity, it might be a good idea for you to go to college. I'll provide you with an expense account."

It took a moment for Tanya to absorb his words. When she did, her heart began to pound. "College?" Seconds later, her surprise gave way to anger. "I can't believe you. Your father isn't even cold in his grave and you're throwing me out?"

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