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Authors: Patricia Hagan

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BOOK: Golden Roses
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“So that is why you want her to marry him.”

“That and the fact that he is duty-bound to do so. I have told him he is not an honorable man if he does not live up to the agreement made by my father and his father—that he and Maretta would marry one day.”

“Well, that doesn’t seem fair to either of them,” Amber said, and Valdis flashed her an angry look. “They were babies. What right did their parents have to promise such a thing? People have the right to fall in love, Valdis.”

“It is the way. Do not interfere in something you simply don’t understand.”

“I’m sorry,” Amber lied. Oh, it was fun to goad him!

She feigned a yawn. “Valdis, it is lovely out here, but I am very tired and I would like to go to my room now.”

Without a word, Valdis turned and took her in his arms, oblivious to her indignant struggles. “I wish to kiss you good night, little one. I want to fall asleep with the memory of your sweet lips upon my mouth.”

Amber twisted her head from side to side, pressing against his chest. “Valdis, stop it!” she cried angrily. “How dare you? Stop it at once!”

Grabbing her head, holding it viselike in his hands, he kissed her, chuckling deeply over her furious struggles. When at last he released her, she staggered backward, wiping her mouth as though something poisonous had touched her.

“It will be better,” he taunted, his hands on his hips, dark eyes dancing. “I can tell that you have never been kissed by a real man. I will enjoy teaching you how to please me.”

With a cry of outraged horror, Amber fled back into the house, lifting her skirts so that she could run. She did not stop running until she reached the sanctity of her room and slammed the door. Sliding the tiny brass lock into place, she turned and leaned against the door, chest heaving with dry sobs.

She was startled to see Dolita standing by the bed, watching her sadly. “That lock will not hold him, señorita, not if he wants to come in,” she whispered.

“Oh, Dolita, what am I going to do?” Amber began to pace up and down the room. “I hate him. I really and truly hate that man.”

“As well you should, for he is evil,” the young maid blurted.

“I must get out of here!” Amber turned beseeching eyes to her. “But I must have the money he stole from me. I’m not worried about making my way back to Suevlo. I will walk if I have to. But I don’t have money for a train ticket, or for food, and there is no one I can borrow from. No one.”

Dolita shook her head. “If I had anything, I would give it to you, señorita, but I have no money at all.”

Amber asked desperately, “Is there a safe in the house? I’d never be able to break into one, but that’s probably where my money is.”

“There is no safe. Señor Valdis fears being robbed, so he takes his money to the bank in Cuadid, thirty miles north. Your money is probably hidden in his room.”

“Then when the time is right, I will just go and search his room till I find it,” Amber said.

“They say,” Dolita continued in a whisper, “that Señor Valdis is in debt. He drinks too much, and when he is drunk, he gambles.”

Amber stepped behind the dressing screen and reached for the nightgown Dolita had left there. “Dolita, all I care about is getting out of here the first chance I get.”

“Señorita, please be careful,” Dolita begged nervously. “If he catches you in his room, there is no telling what he will do. And if he finds out you are planning to run away, he may post guards at your door again.”

“I am leaving, Dolita,” Amber said, determination hardening as she recalled the kiss. “And don’t worry, I’ll be careful. I know I don’t dare make a mistake.”

Suddenly Dolita started at the sound of the doorknob rattling. She whispered in terror, “He is trying to get in, señorita.”

Amber responded calmly. “Go to the door and ask who is there, Dolita. If he knows I am not alone, he will leave.”

Trembling, Dolita did as she was told, calling out in a shaky voice. But there was no reply, only the faint sound of footsteps retreating down the hall.

Amber sighed. She was safe, but only for a while. There was, she knew, no real sanctuary for her there. There was only a relentless, lurking evil.

Chapter Four

Amber stood at the edge of the palm-lined terrace. Like everyone else, she was watching the young girl on the terrace twirling about, her arms raised above her head as she clicked her castanets. Dipping and whirling to the flamenco music of the guitars, red underskirts flipping saucily beneath black lace, the girl made a lovely picture.

But Amber’s mind was on the misery her life had become, not on the party, which she had moved through like a sleepwalker.

Glancing upward, she stared at the closed draperies of Allegra’s room. Amber had tried to speak with her again every day, but her door was always locked and Allegra would not respond to her knocking. Dolita had confided that servants were saying that Señor Valdis had forbidden his stepmother to speak with Amber.

Valdis. Just thinking of the man made Amber’s stomach roll. How she loathed him! For the past week, he had been all politeness and solicitude. But she was not fooled by any of it. Valdis was a lecher, and a cruel man, and there was nothing she could do but endure him when he was unavoidable and dodge him whenever possible.

She moved away from the clapping, noisy crowd and loud music, grateful that Valdis was, for the moment, not hovering possessively beside her. She could see him inside, talking to three men. Business problems, she thought. He looked agitated.

Stepping down from the terrace, she entered the garden with its flowering, fragrant orange trees. A silver half-moon filtered down, casting lacy shadows on the mossy grass. A soft, warm breeze whispered through the night air. It was all so ironically beautiful, she reflected.

Suddenly, she heard Valdis’s voice calling sharply, “Amber! Amber, where are you? Are you out there?”

Quickly, she ducked behind a large palm tree, pulling her long skirt tightly about her legs. As he passed nearby, she held her breath. He returned to the house after a minute, and she darted down the moonlit path, not knowing where it led, just wanting to escape Valdis for a little while.

Amber had still not found an opportunity to search his room. Dolita said she had never known him to be around the house so constantly. He had not even gone to Cuadid for his regular weekend gambling and drinking binge.

Amber plunged on into the night, lost in misery. There had to be a way to escape…
had
to be.

The path ended at a large wooden gate. Beyond, she could hear the soft, gurgling sound of a rushing stream. It would be nice, she decided suddenly, to kick off her tight satin slippers and wade in the cool water.

The gate opened and closed with a grating squeak, and she moved through the shadows toward the sound of the stream. Reaching the edge, she removed her shoes, then lifted her skirts waist-high, preparing to step into the water. A rumbling sound caused her to freeze.

She turned slowly, looking fearfully toward the thick, black woods beyond her. It had sounded almost like thunder. Just then she heard it again. She began to move back toward the gate, terror bubbling in her throat as the rumbling sound deepened and came closer.

Suddenly there was a crashing sound, and a huge black shadow lunged from the bushes. She screamed. Moonlight illuminated the deadly horns on the great beast’s head.

The bull was staring straight at her, eyes shining like red coals. He lifted his head, and the dread sound pierced the air once more, drowning out her cry of terror.

She turned and ran, but tripped and fell to the ground. Rolling quickly onto her back, she saw that he was raising a hoof, pawing at the ground. He lowered his head and bellowed angrily again. She knew instinctively that the beast was about to charge, to send one of those spearlike horns plunging into her flesh.

Hoisting herself up on her elbows, oblivious to the skin being scraped away as she moved, she dug her heels into the ground and began to scramble backward.

There was movement behind her, and she looked frantically around to see two men crawling cautiously over the fence.

“Do not move!” one of them ordered in a deliberately calm voice. “Stay where you are.”

“Watch him, Mendosa,” the other man said to his partner. “He’s a killer.”

In the eerie moonlight, she watched as the man who had first spoken removed his coat and moved forward. She did not want to look at the bull, for a fresh wave of terror ripped through her each time he bellowed. The man, however, did not take his eyes from the animal. The bull’s head was lowered in readiness for attack, but the man kept moving toward him, calmly and steadily.

The stranger spoke sharply to her in a thick Spanish accent. “When he moves, get to the gate as fast as you can. Do not hesitate for a second. Move quickly.”

Suddenly the bull charged, and Amber could feel the earth tremble beneath the thundering hooves.


Toro
!” the man cried, leaping in front of Amber, snapping his coat sharply. “
Toro
!” To her he yelled, “Run! Quickly!”

She scrambled to her knees and crawled a few feet before she felt strong hands grasp her around the waist and lift her high in the air. Her rescuer swung her over the fence and dropped her on the ground with a painful thud.

“She’s safe,” she heard him shout. “Get the hell out of there.”

“Ahhh, the evening has been so boring,” was the laughing reply. “I think I will make a few passes.”

“Mendosa, you’re crazy,” the other man shouted. “He’s not one to play with.”

Amber got to her feet shakily, feeling a shadow of anger over being treated so roughly. Dusting off her long skirt, she moved to the gate. She could see the man called Mendosa flicking his coat, stepping quickly to one side just as the bull charged the coat.

“You’re a stubborn fool!”

She looked up at the man who had lifted her over the fence as she moved to stand beside him. He felt her presence and turned to give her an angry grimace. “Will you just get out of here? You’ve caused enough trouble.” He turned away, dismissing her.

“I only wanted to go wading,” she said shakily. “I’m sorry if I caused any trouble. I didn’t know there was a bull—”

“I don’t give a damn,” the man growled.

Stung, Amber looked away to where the other man was dancing about the charging bull. Incredulous, she could hear him laughing. “Why, I think he’s enjoying this!” she gasped.

“Of course he is. He doesn’t have any sense. Now, get out of here. Go back to your party.”

She flamed with indignation. “Don’t issue me orders. I want to thank that man, and—”

“Mendosa, if you don’t get out of there, I’m going to shoot him,” he warned, ignoring her completely.

“Ahhh, you would not want to kill such a magnificent beast,” Mendosa said as he turned, raising his coat high above his head. The bull spun just beneath his arms. “This is Señor Valdis’s prize seed bull. He would not take kindly to your destroying him.”

“Then get out of there.”

Amber gasped as the man pulled a gun from beneath his coat and pointed it at the bull. “Are you really going to kill him?” she cried.

“If Mendosa doesn’t get out of there right now, I’m going to put a bullet through the bull’s brain. Then you can explain to Valdis that your stupidity caused all this.”

“If you would only let me explain,” she pleaded.

“I am coming,” Mendosa called. “Do not shoot him.”

She watched as Mendosa lured the bull into making a pass close to the gate. As the beast rushed by, Mendosa leaped, landing beside Amber, a wide grin displaying shining, even white teeth. “Señorita Forrest, I believe,” he said, bowing. “I have been looking forward to meeting you. Like everyone else in the valley, I have heard of your loveliness. But now I see that all I have heard was wrong. You are not merely lovely. You are most beautiful. Allow me to present myself—Armand Mendosa.”

“I’ve heard of you!” she cried. “You really are a matador.”



. I do not usually fight the bulls in their pastures, only when a lovely lady is in danger.” He flashed his smile once more, then turned to the man beside him. “This is my foreman, Señor Cord Hayden.”

Cord Hayden still regarded Amber coolly, but some of the anger left him. He murmured, “Sorry if I was rough on you, but you could have been killed. That bull gored a matador in the ring last year. He should have been put to death, as is the custom, but Valdis wanted to use him for breeding.”

“I’m truly sorry,” Amber said desperately, “but I didn’t know there was a bull here.”

“Just don’t go wandering around anymore,” said Hayden.

Her eyes suddenly locked with his, looking up, for he was at least a head taller than she. He was, she realized, quite handsome…though there was the touch of the wolf about him. His eyes were dark brown and framed by long, thick lashes. His lips were full, sensuous, accentuated by a thin black mustache. Black hair curled around his face, giving him almost a little-boy look—but she understood intuitively that the appearance was misleading. This was all man, a real man, and one to be reckoned with.

But there was something else about him…something quite disturbing. It was as though she had met him before. But she told herself that she could not have.

BOOK: Golden Roses
13.99Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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