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Authors: Patricia Hagan

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BOOK: Golden Roses
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He grinned, slowly, and the sight of his lips curled back over shining white teeth caused Amber to cringe. She determined not to show it.

“You are going nowhere, my little sister.” He stood before her, boldly eyeing her from head to toe. “This is your home. It is my duty to my late stepfather to give his daughter shelter.”

“That’s very noble of you, I’m sure,” Amber snapped, “but unnecessary.” She turned to Allegra. “Thank you for visiting with me. I shall start packing my things now. Surely someone will take me to the train depot in Suevlo.”

Valdis’s fingers snaked out to wrap around her arm, squeezing painfully. Ignoring her cry, he pronounced, “No one will disobey me. Including you. Now go to your room and stay there until I say you may come out. You need some time for mourning—and to realize that you have no choice but to do as I say.”

Amber screamed, struggling in his grasp as Allegra looked on in horror. “You aren’t going to make me do anything, Valdis. I will find my way to Suevlo if I have to walk. Now, let go of me!”

He squeezed harder. The pain was excruciating. Despite her will to fight back, Amber was forced to stop struggling lest he break her arm. She stood limply, anguished tears streaking her face, and he continued to hold her as he spoke from between gritted teeth. “Hear me, little one, or I will make you curse the day you were born. You are going nowhere. You are staying here. In my home. For I find you extremely…desirable. You will live like a queen. But first, you must learn your place. If I have to leave my mark upon your lovely flesh, I will not hesitate to do so. Do you understand me?” He shook her. Amber could only nod.

“Good!” He released her, laughing as her knees buckled and she fell to the floor, rubbing at the angry red welts on her arm. “Besides,” he taunted, “you have no money to take you anywhere. Be grateful that I am so generous as to welcome you into my home.”

Amber would still not be cowed. “
Your
home?” she challenged, ignoring Allegra’s whispered pleas. “This is Allegra’s home. And Maretta’s. And my father’s, before he died. What right do you have to claim sole ownership of everything?”

His nostrils flared ominously and his fists opened and closed at his sides. “Not that it is your concern, foolish child, but Allegra deeded everything to me many years ago.”

“I can’t believe my father knew that,” Amber murmured.

Valdis threw back his head and laughed. Allegra began to sob, and Valdis looked at her with a gloating expression and chuckled. “He found out quickly enough after he married her. I was in Spain, buying new breeding stock, when Allegra led your father to believe this was her empire. When I returned, he found out the truth.” He pointed an accusing finger at Allegra, who was now sobbing wildly. “She cries because she knows he would never have married her if he had known the truth.”

In a surprising show of spunk, Allegra screamed, “That is a lie, Valdis. Lyman would have married me. You know why I am crying. You know why I cry every time I lay eyes on you—”

“Shut up, damn you!” He swung at her with the back of his hand, but she ducked in time to avoid the blow, burrowing her head beneath the pillows. Turning on Amber, Valdis shrieked, “Get out of my sight! I have had enough of your insolence. Go to your room and stay there until I allow you to come out.”

Turning back to Allegra, he whispered ominously, “Now I will deal with your insolent tongue.”

Amber’s eyes darted to Allegra, huddled in a tiny ball beneath the covers, shaking violently. How she wanted to help her! But what could she do? She was no match for this fiend. The only thing left for her to do was to get out while she still could. She jerked open the door and ran down the hallway to her room.

Let Valdis think her needy and dependent! she cried silently. He did not know about her money, the money she had hidden in the lining of her trunk! The money had come from sale of her grandmother’s possessions, and she had planned to give it to her father. Hers now, it would take her out of this nightmare.

She reached her room and nearly knocked Dolita down in her haste to get inside.

“Señorita? What is wrong?” Dolita was right behind Amber as she ran to her trunk and fell on her knees before it. Jerking the lid open, she reached for the back.

“Valdis!” Amber spat. “He…he is evil, Dolita! I must get away from here and he doesn’t want to let me go, and—” She screamed as her fingers slipped inside the lining. There was nothing there. Hooking her hand inside, she pulled with all her strength, ripping the cloth, finally yanking it free.

The money was gone.

After a long time, she looked up at Dolita. The girl was watching her with wide, frightened eyes, her hands clutched before her nervously.

“I had money in here, Dolita,” Amber said tightly. “Who has been in my trunk?” She slowly got to her feet and stood before the terrified girl.

Dolita shook her head wildly. “I did not take your money, señorita. You
must
believe me. Never have I stolen anything from anyone. I did not even know you had money in there. I have not been in your trunk, and—”

“You haven’t been in my trunk?” Amber echoed incredulously. “But you are my maid, aren’t you? You unpacked my trunk and put my things in that chest over there, and—”

“No, no!” Dolita cried, continuing to shake her head. “I put your things in the chest, but I did not take them out of the trunk. Señor Valdis took all your things and put them on the chairs. Then I put everything away.”

“And what was Valdis doing in my trunk?” Amber raged.

Dolita rushed on, telling her how Valdis had brought Amber to her room the first night, after she had gone into shock at the discovery of her father’s death. “By the time I was called here to your room, he had put you to bed, unpacked your trunk, found your gown…” Her voice trailed off as she saw the rush of new anger in Amber’s face.

“That…that monster undressed me?” Amber gasped. “He took my clothes off and put a gown on me? Oh! Oh, I could kill him!” She whirled about. “Then he took my money!
He
has it. And now he knows I have no way of leaving! Oh, damn him! Damn him to hell!”

“Please,” Dolita sobbed, holding her hands out in a pleading gesture. “Do not tell the señor I told you all of this. He will beat me. Please, you do not know the things he has done…the things he does when he is angry.”

Amber bit down on her lower lip, eyes narrowed as she stared into the empty trunk. “Don’t worry,” she told the hysterical girl. “I won’t say you told me.”

Dolita asked, “But your money? How will you get it back?”

Amber sighed. “Don’t worry, Dolita. I will escape that spawn of the devil, with or without money.”

Chapter Three

For two long, agonizing weeks, Amber was locked in her room. Dolita was the only person she saw. The maid brought in meals three times a day. Amber begged her to explain what was going on, but the frightened girl wouldn’t talk. Her gaze darted nervously around the room, as though Valdis were hiding somewhere.

On the fourteenth day, as Dolita came with breakfast, Amber cried, “I’m going crazy, sitting here not knowing anything. He can’t keep me locked up forever. When is this madness going to end?”

“As I told you before,” Dolita sighed, setting the tray down on the bedside table, “Señor Valdis announced that the entire household would observe a two-week mourning period. That period is over today. He may let you come out. But be careful, for he will always keep an eye on you, señorita. And do not ask the vaqueros on the ranch for help. They serve him as though he were a god. They will not help you.”

“Someone must help me,” Amber declared angrily. “Everyone on this damn ranch can’t be a devil worshipper. You aren’t. You don’t care for Valdis.”

“No, and I would leave if I could, but I could not find other work anywhere in the valley. You do not understand the power he has here. Please do not try to fight him. You cannot win, señorita.”

Amber gave her a probing look. “Dolita, I do not understand you. You are a beautiful girl, yet you wear dismal clothes. Is this to discourage Valdis? But surely there are young men who would love to take you away from this miserable place.”

Dolita dropped her eyes and blushed, and Amber prodded further. “See? You do have a beau, don’t you? Is he a vaquero here on the ranch?”

“Oh, no.” Dolita shook her head quickly, firmly. “No, he is a farmer and lives with his family. He is not really my ‘beau,’ as you call it. Reydro is my distant cousin. I see him when I visit my aunt. He smiles at me,” she added dreamily, a happy glow on her face. “I think he likes me. One day—who knows? For now…” The glow faded and her perpetual frown returned. “I work here, and I do as I am told, and I do as the señor tells me. I am lucky to have this job. I can work here because I speak Spanish and the languages of the Indians who work here, and also English.”

“Can’t you find work elsewhere?”

“This ranch is the largest in the valley, and the only one to hire workers. Others are so small they are worked by the family who owns them. I have no close family, only my aunt, and with twelve children of her own, she has no room for me. I must stay here. There is no place else for me to go.”

Amber sighed and began to pick at the bowl of hot corn and milk on the tray. “Maybe I could convince Allegra to leave. She can’t be happy here, and surely she has relatives she could go to.”

Dolita emitted a deep sigh. “She will not leave. She knows the señor would kill her if she tried. You should have seen her when he finished with her after she talked to you of private things.”

Amber threw her spoon down and cried, “Did he hit her, Dolita? I don’t believe it! She’s a woman, and—”

“I should not have said anything.” Dolita looked very frightened again and began looking around the room, afraid she had been overheard. “I only try to make you see you cannot escape him. You would do well not to try. It does not have to be so bad here, señorita. There is much luxury.”

“I don’t care about that,” Amber snapped. “Now tell me what he did to Allegra.”

Dolita took a deep breath, hesitating, then decided it was too late to keep silent. “Her servant girl, Bonita, said she had bruises on her face. She would not get out of bed for a long time, and when Bonita insisted she bathe, she saw her body and screamed. It was covered with bruises from the señor’s beating.”

Amber screamed, “That bastard! That devil! How dare he? Oh, I’ve got to get out of here!”

She slid from the bed. “You no doubt have a key to that door, Dolita. I’m going to see Allegra now. I want to make sure she’s all right and find out if she will go away with me.”

Dolita looked apologetic and murmured, “I do not have the key. There is a guard outside your door. It is he who lets me in. There is also a guard below your balcony. There is no way for you to get out of here.”

Amber was shocked. This was worse than she had thought.

Casting about for something Valdis might not have thought of, she cried, “Maretta! She can’t know how her stepbrother is treating her mother. You must get a message to Maretta. Tell her to come to me, to find an excuse for getting in here. I have to talk to her.”

Dolita took a step backward. “No,” she whispered fearfully. “I cannot take a message to her. If she told the señor, he would beat me. Do not ask this of me, please.”

Amber pursed her lips, nodding. Dolita was right. She had no right to ask the girl to risk Valdis’s wrath. “Then what can I do?” she asked herself out loud. “There has to be a way to get to her…”

“Do not waste your thoughts on that one.”

There was an angry gleam in the girl’s eyes as she said to Amber, “Señorita Maretta is just as vicious as her brother. She, too, has treated her mother cruelly. She regards her with contempt. She knows of the beatings, believe me.”

“Did Valdis beat her when my father was alive?” Amber had to know. She was vastly relieved when Dolita shook her head.

“No. There was very little fighting. The two of them stayed to themselves, rarely leaving their rooms. Señor Valdis insists on a formal dinner every Sunday evening, and it was usually only then that your father and the señora went downstairs. Valdis would sit and brag over how well he was running the ranch, and they would listen and say nothing, then hurry back to their rooms when dinner was over.

“You must understand something,” Dolita rushed on. “Señorita Maretta is the only person who has any influence with Señor Valdis. She knows how to get her way with him, but she knows how far she can go. She would never help you, and she would tell him if you asked her. I am the only person you can trust. And I can do nothing for you. I am sorry.”

Amber’s mind was awhirl. “Maybe I won’t try to leave just yet,” she mused aloud. “That was a good deal of money Valdis stole from me, and I want it back. Maybe I would be wise to stay here for a while and see what I can find out. I might be able to get my money back and also find a way for Allegra to leave with me.”

Dolita looked at her closely. “You are going to play a game, no?”

“I think it’s the only way. I’m not going to gain anything by continuing to rebel or threatening to run away. And, you know, Dolita, that money was all I had left of my family. That was my inheritance. If there’s any way to prevent him, I won’t let Valdis keep it.”

Amber forced a smile. “If you will draw my bath, I am going to wash my hair and get dressed up. Valdis may pay me a visit, and I want to start playing my new role.”

BOOK: Golden Roses
13.63Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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