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The love story of Luis and Cordelia
by Kate Hofman
Published by Awe-Struck E-Books, Inc. Copyright © 2008 ISBN: 978-1-58749-651-6 Electronic rights reserved by Awe-Struck E-Books, all other rights reserved by author. The reproduction or other use of any part of this publication without the prior written consent of the rights holder is an infringement of the copyright law. This is a work of fiction. People and locations, even those with real names, have been fictionalized for the purposes of this story.
Ocean Breeze, Florida: Thank heaven; that finishes the library, Cordelia Dunleigh thought. She stretched her tired back, unconsciously sensuous in thin white jeans and a cropped rose pink camisole top, which could not quite hide the beautiful shape of her breasts. She finger-combed her cloud of light auburn hair back, hunting for her slides, which she usually kicked off while working. For a moment, she paused at the glass doors to the garden, her mood lifted by the carefully tended flowers and plants; others, like the bougainvillea, a riot of colour spilling over a wall. She caught the reflection of her small, heart-shaped face in the glass and stared at her straight little nose and her huge sea-blue eyes with their long dark lashes. Tilting her head, she noticed her mouth. Even she had to admit it looked kissable. Shrugging, she shook her head at her fanciful thoughts. Turning back to the room, she gave the library one last look, and quietly closed the double doors. She had been astonished when Luis Montoya gave her the contract to redesign all the downstairs rooms of his huge mansion, which was more of a castle, actually. She had never worked in this exclusive area, west of the Inland Waterway in Ocean Breeze. The mansion with turrets at both ends, the roofline crenellated, was set in ten acres of parklike gardens, surrounded by an eight-foot fence, protected by state-of-the-art security, and inhabited by the elusive, reclusive Luis Montoya de Cabrera. She still wondered why he had chosen her. Of course, it was possible that he had mixed her up with her cousin, Crystal Dunleigh, the owner of Dunleigh Interiors. But Crystal ran the head office in New York, where she lived with her husband, leaving it to Cordelia to manage the Florida branch in Ormond Beach, just south of Ocean Breeze. Cordelia walked slowly back to the main reception room, where the beautiful parquet floor had just been sanded to remove heavy coats of ugly varnish.
Tonight, one of her crew would refinish the floor. Just then, she became aware of a thin wail. It sounded like a baby crying. She tried to remember what she had heard about Luis Montoya, but nothing much came to mind, except that he was a stunningly handsome man, a widower at thirty-five. He had been photographed at charitable dinners, recitals, art galleries, a few months after his wife's sudden death. At times it seemed impossible to open a magazine or newspaper without seeing a photograph of the dazzling, aloof Luis Montoya, escorting a famous international beauty or a model, an actress. Was there a child from his brief marriage--to an Italian princess, she seemed to recall. The cries became louder, and Cordelia sprinted up the stairs to see if she could comfort the crying baby. She ran along a wide hallway with thick, silky oyster-hued carpeting, the walls covered in slub silk of a slightly lighter shade. She quickly found the room, door ajar, where the baby was crying. Cordelia lifted the baby from its crib, saying soothingly, "Poor baby...what's the matter? Let's see. Oh, you're so wet, small wonder you're crying. We'll soon fix that." She put the baby down on the changing table with its thick, quilted cover, and began to remove the soaked diaper. "Oh, you're a little girl," Cordelia said softly. There was a foot-operated pail nearby and she dropped the diaper into it. She ran some warm water into a basin and gently washed the baby, distressed to see how red and sore she was. She hunted around and found a tube that seemed familiar. She had used this stuff when her nephew was a baby, suffering diaper rash. "There you are, honey," she cooed to the baby. "Does that feel better?" The baby's cries had changed to a sort of hiccupping sound. She held her little arms out, perhaps feeling instinctively that she was in the hands of someone who was used to babies. "Well, now that we've got you dry, I wonder if you need to be burped, honey?" Cordelia mused, lifting the baby, holding her upright against her shoulder, slowly and gently patting her back. After a few moments, the baby let out a big burp. When Cordelia continued her gentle pats, another burp. "Poor darling," Cordelia soothed, "Somebody forgot to burp you. More comfortable now, honey?" At that moment, a man strode hurriedly into the baby's room. A tall, dark, very handsome and alluring man, who frowned when he saw the baby in Cordelia's arms. Cordelia recognized him from the one brief meeting she had had with him, when he engaged her to do his interiors--Luis Montoya de Cabrera.
He gave her an aloof, appraising glance, asking curtly, "What are you doing?" Sounding far calmer than she felt, Cordelia said, "I'm Cordelia Dunleigh, your interior--" He interrupted her imperiously. "I know who you are. I hired you not that long ago. Why are you here, is what I asked." "I heard her crying, so I came up to see what I could do to comfort her--" "How do you know she's a girl?" he asked, still sounding aloof and very wary. Cordelia said softly, "I changed her diaper. She was soaking wet, poor baby. Anyway, she looks like a girl; I'd say she's about five months?" "Six. You're not merely an interior designer, you're a baby expert, too?" Cordelia lifted her chin, refusing to respond to his disdainful mockery. She continued her soft patting of the baby's back, murmuring soothingly to her, ignoring Luis Montoya completely. He was astonished. Never before had a woman ignored him the way this young woman was doing now. When he realized she was not going to respond to his taunt, he continued, his tone gentling slightly, "My friend and his wife must've gone out. His wife was to take care of my daughter." Cordelia held on to her temper with difficulty. What a way to look after a small, helpless baby. As quietly as she could, she said, "Well, she didn't burp her, and that is essential after feeding her a bottle. Particularly since she seems small for her age. An un-burped baby is desperately uncomfortable. You'll forgive me for saying this, but you are reputed to be rich. Why don't you have a properly qualified nanny for your daughter?" Luis glanced at her furiously, his dark eyes blazing. How dare this young woman speak to him in this accusing tone. Women never spoke to him like that. They murmured, they whispered, they coaxed and cajoled, they fussed over him and did their best to get him to like them. This woman didn't seem to care whether he liked her or not. She was, simply, deeply upset with him for not looking after his daughter properly. His eyes glittering dangerously, he said, forcing himself to speak calmly, "Diego Alvarez and his wife are childless. Perhaps Maria didn't know about burping. I had a nanny. Of course I had. She left this morning without giving notice, she simply left, saying my daughter was too difficult." Cordelia stared at him over the baby's head. She said, incensed, but holding her
voice down, "This darling little girl? Difficult? Well, of course, if the woman couldn't be bothered to look after her--you wouldn't believe how sore she is inside her diaper--if she didn't show her any affection, give her comfort, then of course the baby would become difficult." Intrigued in spite of himself Luis asked, "How do you know so much about babies? Your résumé said you're unmarried." "I am. Unmarried, I mean. My brother has a son, now four years old. I've often stayed with them so that my brother and sister-in-law could go away. They have a nanny, but wouldn't entrust their child to her alone." She cast a sideways glance at Luis, who had the uncomfortable feeling that she was criticizing him for relying solely on a nanny for his daughter. Before he could say a word, Cordelia continued quietly, "Of course I'm no expert, but I do love children. A baby feels that." As Cordelia kept patting the baby's back gently, walking slowly up and down, Luis nodded. "Ah, yes, I remember, your brother, the lawyer in Palm Beach. Well known and well respected. Married to Lady Rosemary, daughter of the Earl Colethorne." Careful of the baby's comfort, Cordelia did not turn around quickly, although she was startled by the details Luis Montoya had just given. "You had me investigated?" Although she kept her voice down, it was impossible to keep her outrage from showing in her voice, her eyes. The baby began to fret gently. Instantly, Cordelia's attention was on the baby again. She soothed, "Did I startle you, honey? I didn't mean to. Just you drowse against my shoulder some more. This is supposed to be your naptime. Mmm?" To Luis's surprise, his daughter hid her little face against the young woman's shoulder, her eyes closing, one thumb going towards her rosebud mouth. Luis sat down on the edge of the changing table, shrugging negligently. He threw Cordelia a glance she could not interpret. "You're offended because I had you investigated? That is standard practice. I am a rich man, known to like my privacy. You wouldn't believe how cunning, sneaky, devious these so-called investigative journalists can be, trying to get close enough to me to write profitably about my private life. Pretending to be an interior designer would be one of their easier ploys." Furious with him now, Cordelia whispered hotly, "Oh, really? You just try your hand at interior design some time, and you'll find out how easy it is to fake being one." He turned away to hide a grin of amusement at her spirited defence of her chosen
profession. "You might as well give me my daughter, and I'll put her back in her crib," he said, holding out his hands. "As you wish," said Cordelia, matching his earlier cool tone. Secretly, she was pleased when the baby protested with a little moan at being transferred. Luis raised a slim black brow. "She seems to like you." Full of compassion for this baby who did not seem to get much affection or comforting, Cordelia said, her voice unsteady, "I like her, too." Luis slanted a look at this unusual woman, who seemed to care genuinely for his motherless daughter. Ah! But wait--Was this perhaps a different, subtler way of getting him to let down his guard? On the other hand, she couldn't have known that he had arrived home and, after hurrying to his daughter and finding her asleep, he had gone straight into his library, where he had a baby monitor. Surprised, then interested, he had listened to Cordelia talking to his daughter. He didn't think she could've faked that. No. She really did like his little girl. Luis kissed his daughter gently and put her back into her little bed. He gestured to Cordelia, "Shall we...?" letting her precede him out of the room. He wondered how soon she would now make an effort to gain his interest. Women always did, he thought derisively. To his surprise, she asked, "What is your daughter's name?" "It's Luz," he answered, mystified by the turn the conversation had taken. "Ah. Light," she said with a gentle smile. She nodded, as if to herself. They descended the sweeping stairway in silence, and she turned with a brief nod that made her hair dance, to go back to work. He turned the other way to go to his library. Suddenly he halted, turning back to her. "I want to thank you for the imaginative way you've redone my library, and for doing it so unobtrusively. I was working there when I heard Luz on the baby monitor." Cordelia sighed. Glancing at her, he asked, his tone mocking, "Is that a sigh of relief because I have a baby monitor in my library? I have one on my belt at all times. Contrary to what you appear to believe, I love my daughter and--" His voice trailed off. Why am I telling her this? he wondered. "I'm sure you do," said Cordelia, "She's adorable. Of course you're away a lot on
business--" "Did you become friendly with my compañero Diego Alvarez just so that you could keep track of my movements?" Indignantly, she turned to him. "That is arrogant, Mr. Montoya. I'm not interested in your movements. I merely needed to know when you were away so I could do your library in that time. Maria very kindly told me the day you left, and gave me Diego's estimate of your return. It was a near thing, apparently. I finished your library some hours ago." For the first time, she really looked at Luis Montoya. Tall, at least six-foot-three, with long legs and a rangy build. Thirty-five years old, she had read in a magazine article about him. Thick blue-black hair, which would probably be unruly, given the slightest chance, very dark, long-lashed eyes under slim, winged black brows, an aristocratic nose with unexpectedly sensitive nostrils, a mouth which would be generous if Luis Montoya did not keep his lips pressed together so firmly. She looked farther down, and saw a blue silk shirt so thin it molded to his body, showing his deep chest. When she saw how tightly his washed-thin, light blue jeans clung to his hips, showing an interesting, worn place just where there was a decided bulge, she hastily looked away. Aware of her scrutiny, Luis let his eyes travel very slowly over Cordelia's body. She was undeniably beautiful, and not wearing any makeup except for some lipgloss. Moreover, she clearly wasn't wearing a bra, and her high, round breasts were lovely. He liked the delicate ribcage, the lightly tanned skin of the narrow waist showing between the bottom of her cropped top and her low-slung white jeans. In fact, he could see the delicate indentation of her navel. Dios--the gentle curve of her hips, the long, long legs. How was it possible he had missed all that when he had that discussion with her about redesigning his downstairs rooms? Of course, he had been rather busy with Chantal at that time--Distaste briefly curled one corner of his mouth. In any case, he had an ironclad rule about not mixing business with pleasure. Just as well, probably. On the other hand, once she was through with her designs here.... Perplexed at his thoughts, he shook his dark head, returning to their conversation. "The way you did my library is most pleasing. Tell me, how did you find out what my tastes are, what I like and dislike in furnishings?" With a gesture, he invited her to sit down on one of two love-seats facing each other by the fireplace in the room leading off the stairway. He sat down opposite her, waiting for her reply. "Well, if you liked your library the way it was, you wouldn't have asked me to redo it. So I looked at the other rooms and, yes, I did ask Diego to tell me what you liked or disliked there. That was a big help in finding a design for the library that I thought would please you."
"You most certainly pleased me," said Luis, his voice a shade warmer. "And I do thank you." "De nada," she said quietly. He lifted a brow at the Spanish expression, but let it go. He rose in one fluid movement and, with a quick nod to her, walked toward his library. Cordelia stared after him for a moment, before getting to her feet and going to the room she was working on. *** Luis worked in his library for several hours. So deeply immersed was he in his papers that he was startled when Diego came in, carrying a couple of files. "I thought you'd want to see these," said Diego, putting one of the files in front of Luis, who nodded, beginning to read. Just then a thin, thready cry sounded from the baby monitor. Luis rose quickly. "I wouldn't bother if I were you, amigo," said Diego. "Cordelia will be up there in no time. Luz seems to like her a lot more than she does my wife. But then, of course, my poor Maria doesn't know how to handle babies. More's the pity. All the same, I thought you said at the time that Cordelia was single. Did you perhaps mean she's a single mother?" "She's single, not a single mother," said Luis. "She's had a lot of experience with her nephew, she told me. And Luz is noticeably calmer, not so fretful. This is the first peep I've heard out of her since I laid her down. You know how often she used to cry when we had that nanny." Luis stilled as he heard Cordelia's soft voice, "Luz, honey, why are you crying? Come here and let me see." He heard Cordelia's voice die down as she evidently dealt with whatever was bothering Luz. Next, he heard, "There, a nice new diaper, and more of this goo to make the soreness better. Yes, in a few days it'll all be gone. What? Would you like to play? Good idea. Come and lie on this soft, clean blanket. Where are your toys? Ah, here they are. We'll play for just a little while, then it's time for your bottle." The soft voice died down and Luis heard only his daughter's gurgles. Suddenly he turned to Diego. "An idea just hit me. How about asking Cordelia if she would be willing to look after Luz, until we can find a suitable nanny? Would she be willing to sleep in the guest suite next to Luz's room? Tell her I'll be happy to reward her handsomely for anything she can do for my daughter." Luis glanced questioningly at his friend and went on. "Diego, I realize I should've let you go to
L.A. and Australia. You could've taken Maria and enjoyed the trip, taken some time off. Whereas I... All I could think of was that sullen nanny, and my helpless daughter dependent on her. Will you discuss it with Cordelia?" "Of course I will, but I think the request to have her sleep here, next to Luz's room, had better come from you." "I'm not so sure, Diego. She didn't seem to like me. She did not hesitate to tell me that I'm not much of a father. Oh, she wrapped it up a bit, but that's what she meant. She seemed surprised I had a baby monitor in the library and on my belt." "I think perhaps you underestimate the Montoya charm, amigo?" "I'm quite well aware of what you mean by the Montoya charm, amigo, but it doesn't work with her, let me assure you of that." To Diego's amusement, Luis sounded rueful. "She's only interested in Luz, that was painfully obvious." "Well, so much the better, then. You can offer her your hospitality without any fear of your offer being misunderstood. Although I must say, I can't imagine you being upset if you were to find Cordelia in your bed. She's a very beautiful woman. And she has a nice offbeat sense of humour." "No thanks, I have no death-wish. When did you find time to discover all these attributes in Cordelia?" "She and Maria have become friendly. Cordelia is so generous with her expertise, giving Maria all kinds of new ideas for our house, offering to buy some things for us wholesale. I don't think she has the faintest idea of how rich you and I really are. By the way, she was deeply impressed when she realized the magnitude of your estate here." "Well, she may be impressed by the estate, but she sure isn't impressed with me," said Luis. Diego suppressed a smile on hearing surprise and, perhaps, pique in Luis's voice. Yes, for a man with his spectacular looks, chased and practically fought over by famous actresses, international beauties, European aristocrats, it had to be upsetting to find that Cordelia wasn't impressed by his charm and allure. Privately, Diego promised himself to watch the situation. It might develop most interestingly. Yes, indeed. Aloud, he said, "I'd better go upstairs then and catch Cordelia while she is seeing to Luz. But I still think you should invite her to sleep in the guest suite next to Luz's room." Luis shrugged indifferently. "We'll see how well you do in persuading her to look
after Luz until we can find a really good nanny." Diego rose. "I'll come back as soon as I've something to tell you." Leaving the library, he was amused to note that Luis was listening to the baby monitor again. Taking the stairs two at a time, Diego quickly reached Luz's room. Tapping very lightly, he said quietly, "Cordelia, I'd like to talk to you for a moment, but it can wait if you're busy with Luz." "Come in, Diego. Luz is fine, she's just had her five-thirty bottle, so I'm going to burp her." Cordelia lifted Luz against her shoulder, and began to pat the baby's back gently and slowly. To Diego's amusement, the tiny mouth suddenly emitted a loud burp. "There's my clever girl," smiled Cordelia, taking the baby back into the crook of her arm, where Luz drowsed contentedly. Turning to Diego, Cordelia asked, "Well?" "Luis is greatly impressed by what you're doing for Luz, and he's very grateful. He wondered if you could be persuaded to look after Luz until we can find her a really good nanny. I've already alerted that very upscale domestic employment agency, and they've promised to leave no stone unturned, and all that. Would it be possible for you to put your private life on hold for a little while? Eat with us--I mean, with Luis, Maria and me. Luis realizes the interior designs you're doing will take longer because you'll be taking time out to see to Luz. He is more than willing to pay handsomely for the extra time, and as far as you are concerned, the sky is literally the limit. Luis will be delighted to pay you any fee you care to name for looking after Luz--" Diego stopped speaking, when he saw Cordelia's white, unhappy face. After a moment, he went on, "Cordelia, did I say something to upset you?" Cordelia shook her head. "No, Diego, you only spoke the words Mr. Montoya gave you to speak. The offer of the sky is the limit came from him, not from you. Please tell Mr. Montoya that what I do for Luz, I do from my heart. I don't want his money. The affection I have for Luz is something that can't be bought and paid for. I'll have to accept payment for the extra hours my crew will have to work, because Dunleigh Interiors can't absorb such an expense. But nothing, absolutely nothing for me personally, Diego. Please make sure that Mr. Montoya understands." Diego rose, smiling at Cordelia, extending a finger and gently caressing Luz's rose petal cheek. He was delighted to see the baby so contented. "May I tell Luis that you're willing to look after Luz until we find someone suitable to take care of her?"
"Of course, I'll be very glad to do that. But absolutely no money, Diego." "Gotcha," said Diego, leaving the room. Back in the library, Diego raised a brow at his friend. Luis, who had been listening to the baby monitor, turned to Diego. "Judging by what little I heard, and the expression on your face, no luck?" Luis asked, his tone dejected. "A partial success, Luis. She'll be very pleased to look after Luz, but she refuses to be paid a single penny for this. She said what she does for Luz she does from her heart, and you can't buy affection. She will, however, accept payment for the extra hours her crew will have to work because she'll be away often seeing to Luz. She'll accept that only because Dunleigh Interiors can't absorb the loss." "I see," said Luis pensively. Do you? Diego wondered. He went on, "In the circumstances, I thought it was probably wiser not to hit her with your offer of hospitality in the room next to Luz's. I really think you should do that yourself, Luis." Luis nodded. "Yes, I understand. I might as well go up now, thank her for being willing to look after Luz, apologize for offering her money for her babysitting services, and so on." Frowning slightly, he raised a brow. "Interesting twist. I've never before had to apologize for offering to pay someone for services... Always a first time, I guess. Ah, well, wish me luck, amigo." Luis got to his feet and left the library. Flying up the stairs in his usual style, he slowed to a dawdling pace, needing a few moments to decide how to word his request to Cordelia. Appeal to her feelings for Luz? Hardly fair, but for Luz's sake, he had no qualms about applying a little emotional pressure. He smiled, pleased with his decision, and walked calmly to Luz's room. Knocking perfunctorily, he entered. Cordelia looked up in surprise. "Mr. Montoya, you don't have to knock at your daughter's door." "I wasn't sure...if Luz did some spitting up, as she did several times on me, you'd probably have had to take your pretty top off to wash it. No way would I want to cause you embarrassment." He sat down on the edge of the changing table, his long legs stretched out, adding, "If we're going to be in here at the same time on occasion, perhaps you'll take pity on me, and redesign the room, so there will be two chairs instead of the one nursing chair."
Cordelia smiled at him, keeping her voice soft for Luz. "If you're serious about this, I'll be delighted to redesign Luz's room. It isn't very practical the way it's set up now, if you don't mind my saying so." "I don't mind in the least. The interior designer was a close friend of my wife's, an Englishman, who had probably never seen a baby, let alone a baby's room. I had to point out the various items of furniture that would have to be accommodated." Cordelia was scandalized. "And this man charged you for messing up Luz's room? Your lawyers could demand that--" Luis held up his hand, a strange, remote expression on his face, his dark eyes enigmatic. Quietly, he said, "That won't be possible. The man is dead." Cordelia breathed, "Oh, I'm so sorry, please forgive me. Of course I'll be glad to redo Luz's room. Would you mind if I used a rose pink colour instead of all this blue? Did that man, perhaps, think you had a son?" Luis shook his head, and Cordelia saw sapphire highlights glinting in his blueblack hair. Dear God, he's to-die-for... "No, he knew I had a daughter. Anyway, please do whatever you wish, spend whatever you like and send me the bill, including your own designer fee. And if rose pink means a colour similar to that cropped top you're wearing, I'd like to have Luz's room done in that shade." He was amused to note Cordelia's blush when he mentioned her top, but she didn't scrunch forward to hide the little strip of bare, satiny skin. Doing that would've been uncomfortable for Luz. He was obscurely pleased Cordelia was so considerate of his daughter. Luis remained seated on the changing table, delighted with the view this gave him of Cordelia's profile, until the cloud of light auburn hair half-hid her face as she bent over Luz. His tone formal, he said quietly, "I want to apologize for anything Diego said on my behalf that made you uncomfortable or, worse, offended you. Please believe me, I meant no disrespect. I never thought I could buy your affection for Luz. Affection is only worth something if it's freely given. "I know you think I'm an insensitive, unfeeling bastard who doesn't deserve to have Luz. Please give me a chance to show you that your judgment is, perhaps, unfair? I love my daughter, and while I was on this last trip, I decided I'd leave future trips to Diego. He enjoys travel with Maria. I hated every moment I was away from Luz." Hastily Cordelia whispered, over Luz's head, "Mr. Montoya? I never thought you
insensitive, unfeeling, and..." she began to smile, a little dimple appearing in her left cheek, "I'm sure your parents were married, so how could you be a bastard?" Luis threw back his head and laughed, showing dazzling white teeth. Luz looked up in astonishment, beginning to smile when she realized the laughing man was her daddy. At least, that's what Cordelia thought. "If my suggestion doesn't offend you, I was wondering if I could offer you hospitality in the guest suite next to Luz's room, provided you are willing to put your private life on hold for a few days, until the agency finds us a truly suitable nanny. Would you be wiling to stay here for Luz? I'm asking because you seem to be able to soothe her, and she used to wake up a lot in the night, screaming. I was afraid she was having nightmares, but how do you find out from a baby whether she has bad dreams? I found the only thing I could do for her was taking her with me to my room, letting her sleep on my chest." He was quietly amused to see Cordelia blush, but she said merely, "At her age, Luz should wake up only once a night. She'd need a new diaper, drink some formula, but not a whole bottle, just enough to stop her little stomach from growling. I'll be glad to stay here for Luz, but I'll need to go home to pack some fresh clothing--" "Of course, of course. Will you allow me to drive you?" "That isn't necessary, Mr. Montoya. I have my own little car here." "Yes, I noticed the little white two-door. What make is it?" "It's a Saturn, Mr. Montoya." "Ah. Even so, I'll be glad to drive you--unless, of course, you'd prefer Diego to do this. You have such a low opinion of my parenting skills, perhaps you also think I'm a menace behind the wheel of my car?" Luis had spoken lightly, a little smile tugging at a corner of his mouth. He was dismayed to see Cordelia's huge seablue eyes fill with tears. "I-I never..." she began, her voice unsteady. Taking a deep breath, she began again. "I never thought anything like that, I promise you. It was obvious to me right away that you love Luz. In any case, I had no right to say what I did about needing a proper nanny. As for your driving habits, how could I say? I've never been in a car with you." "That's something we can remedy right now, if you wish. As soon as you've given Luz her bath and put her to bed, I'd be pleased to drive you home." "Thank you. I bathed her right after Diego left. Then I let her stretch a bit and
cuddle. I think she'll sleep until it's time for her last bottle of the day. So I just have to put her back into bed," Cordelia said. "I'll do it," said Luis, glancing at Cordelia. "I'd like to put her to bed, I haven't seen her for such a long time." "Of course, just as you like," said Cordelia, handing him Luz. Luis managed to hide his feelings as he put his daughter to bed. She's agreed to let me drive her home, and she'll come stay here. Then he wondered why he should care what she thought of him. He had never cared what women thought of him, not even his wife. Perhaps Cordelia's initial contempt for him made him want to show her he loved his daughter? Yes, that must be it. *** An hour later, Luis guided Cordelia to the garage, a separate building, with an apartment above for the chauffeur. As he opened the side door into the garage, he said, "My favourite car is the two-door Jaguar convertible over there, but it has a small trunk. So I think we'd better take the Corniche." He led Cordelia to a white convertible, settling her in the passenger seat. When they had been driving a little while, Cordelia asked, "What kind of car is this? You said Corniche, I think it was, but the radiator is like a Rolls-Royce." "That's because the Corniche is a Rolls-Royce, Cordelia," said Luis. "It's the prettiest Rolls-Royce I've ever seen." Cordelia noticed that Mr. Montoya, as she still thought of him, had used her given name. "Yes, it's a pretty car," Luis agreed. He glanced at his passenger and saw her smile. "What?" he asked, one slim black brow lifted. Gazing at him from under her long lashes, Cordelia smiled. "I was thinking of a remark I once heard about the difference between small boys and grown men. Men's toys are a lot more expensive." Luis smiled appreciatively. "Cute," he said. "And true, I suppose. Yes, I like cars, and I have different cars for different moods." "I don't think my brother had as many model cars when he was a boy, as you have real ones," said Cordelia. "But I love this car; so comfortable, and you can hardly
hear the engine, just the quietest purr." "I'm glad at least my car pleases you," said Luis easily. He went on, "We'll soon hit the main road, and then we'll have to go either left or right. Where do you live, Cordelia?" "You mean your security investigators didn't ferret that out? Tsk, tsk," said Cordelia with a little grin. "Touché," said Luis, with an admiring glance at her. He liked quick-witted women. "Seriously, I know of course your company's address in Ormond Beach, but I've no idea where you live." "I live in Ocean Breeze North. If you'll go to the A1A and turn north on it, after a little while you'll see a small beachside condo building, just six floors. I live on the third floor. There's visitors' parking, I'll show you when we get there," said Cordelia, who was beginning to enjoy herself. After all, a divinely handsome man in a Corniche convertible was driving her. And Mr. Montoya was so nice to her, compared to how suspicious of her he had been that morning. Well, of course he was concerned about anyone who'd get close to Luz. Understandable. Luis slanted a glance at his passenger, pleased to see she had a half-smile on her lips, and that delicious little dimple in her left cheek. Should he offer her a drink at the Hilton, or the new Acapulco, after they had picked up her suitcase? No, perhaps he'd better not. Cordelia stretched out her hand to touch his forearm lightly. "Over there, on the right, see?" she said. "The visitors' parking is just past the steps going up to the front entrance." "Right, I see it," said Luis, driving smoothly to the parking lot. He helped Cordelia from the car, asking, "Do you want me to wait here?" Clearly, Cordelia hadn't thought that far. After an infinitesimal pause, she said, "Oh, no, Mr. Montoya. Please come up. Oh, by the way, for how many days do you think I should pack stuff?" Pretending to think, Luis suggested, "Why don't you take stuff for three or four days? If we're really unlucky with the quest for a nanny, we could always come back here and pick up more clothes. Or my housekeeper will have your laundry done for you." "Thank you," said Cordelia. They entered the condominium building and went up to the third floor. After they entered her apartment, she gestured for him to sit down, but he merely slouched
elegantly on one of the stools at the breakfast bar. She remembered her manners with difficulty--why was it so hard to think while Mr. Montoya was half-sitting there, his long legs nonchalantly stretched out? "May I give you something to drink, Mr. Montoya?" An unaccountable feeling of shyness suddenly hit her. "If you've some bottled water in your frig, I'll help myself. You go ahead and pack," said Luis easily. In under ten minutes, Cordelia returned to the living room. "All packed," she said gaily. Luis quickly picked up her suitcase and the small toiletries tote, making sure Cordelia locked her apartment door securely. Number 311, he noted absently. Twenty minutes later, Luis pulled up at his own front door, suggesting, "Shall we unload the luggage here?" He felt in his pocket for his door key, but the door opened and a handsome older woman said, "Con su permiso, Don Luis, allow me to help you." "Gracias, Dolores," said Luis. "Ms. Dunleigh will be staying with us for a while, looking after Luz." He turned. "Cordelia, this is Señora Sanchez, my housekeeper. Dolores, meet Ms. Dunleigh." The two women smiled and nodded at each other. A tall blond man came hurrying from the garage. "Let me put the Corniche away for you, Sir?" he asked. "Thank you, Adams, that's helpful." In an aside to Cordelia, Luis explained, "Adams is my chauffeur. He has the apartment over the garage." Cordelia nodded. Luis picked up Cordelia's suitcase and tote, saying to Mrs. Sanchez, "I'll take these up. Thanks, Dolores." He nodded for Cordelia to precede him up the stairs. As Luis was busy putting the luggage into the guest suite, he noticed that Cordelia had tiptoed into Luz's room to check on her. Following her, he glanced into the room from the doorway. His heart turned over when he saw Cordelia bend down over his daughter's crib, touching the silky dark hair with her lips in a gentle kiss.
"She should have one last bottle, but she's sleeping so soundly, I'd hate to wake her just for a bottle. I'd rather let her wake by herself," Cordelia explained to Luis, noticing him at the entrance to Luz's room. "Would you like to unpack?" Luis asked. "By all means, there's lots of time. We-that is, Maria, Diego and I--eat around nine o'clock." "You've kept to the Mediterranean habit of eating later in the evening? When I was in Spain and Italy and Greece, I found it easy to get used to. And yes, I'd like to unpack, get out of my work clothes and grab a shower." "Of course," said Luis. Briefly, he pictured Cordelia, nude, in the shower. With an effort, he forced his thoughts away from the image. "We'll see you in el salón privado, as Dolores calls the room by the stairway. It's sort of our family room. Easy to fly up the stairs when Luz cries. See you around eight-thirty, for some Amontillado and tapas. I'll look forward to hearing about your Mediterranean adventures." Smiling, Cordelia nodded, disappearing into the guest suite next to Luz's room. Luis went to his own spacious bedroom a little farther down the hall. He stripped and took a long, tepid shower, turning the dial to 'cold' for a final minute. Just a precaution, he told himself. Cool off his libido a bit. Strange how this woman, not at all his type--he liked blondes--affected him, in spite of her feisty way of answering back. Or, perhaps, that was what he liked about her. Most women--make that all women, except this one--were charming and acquiescent, and made it clear they were available to him. Not this one. But then, he never liked having it too easy. He picked up bikini underwear from his long rosewood chest of drawers, and went to his walk-in closet, selecting tight-fitting white Armani trousers and an emerald green shirt of thin silk. Feast your eyes, Cordelia. He had seen her eyes sweep over his jeans, then quickly look away, her long lashes downcast. Slipping his long brown feet into a pair of white leather slides, he left his bedroom, hesitating a moment, wondering if he should look in on Luz, but deciding against it. She was obviously fast asleep. The baby monitor on his belt hadn't given out a peep. Turning toward the stairway, he descended to the family room. He picked up The Wall Street Journal and sat down on one of the love-seats.
Soon, soft footsteps broke his concentration. Dolores approached. "Don Luis? Anything I can get you? Tapas, Amontillado, ¿quizás?" "Perhaps not, Dolores, just some Perrier, please. I'll have the tapas and Amontillado when the others are here." She nodded, going to the drinks tray. Some time later, Luis heard voices, realizing Diego and Maria were arriving. He got to his feet, taking Maria's hands into his and kissing her on both cheeks. "Good to see you again, Maria," Luis said. "Great dress." Maria was wearing a brown silk shift that showed her beautiful figure more by hinting than by displaying. "Thank you, Luis. You always liked subtle better than blatant." Smiling, Luis nodded. Diego saluted his friend silently, moving to the love-seat opposite. He had changed to black trousers with a pale grey lawn shirt. He held out his hand to Maria, who was showing signs of sitting down beside Luis. Frowning, she joined Diego. Soft, rapid footsteps were heard on the stairs. Luis and Diego rose, as Cordelia approached. She wore a camisole dress of aquamarine silk with thin straps. The slightly flaring skirt ended in a flirty ruche just at the knee. Luis hoped no one had heard him suck in a breath at the sight of her. How on earth would he be able to keep his eyes away from her beautiful breasts, he wondered. For that matter, he noticed Diego was also taking a second look. "Cordelia, come and sit down," said Luis hospitably, indicating the seat beside him. Cordelia acknowledged Diego and Maria, sitting down where Luis indicated. The moment the foursome was complete, Dolores appeared again, this time with a young man in black trousers and a white shirt, carrying a big tray of tapas, which he put on the coffee table between the two love-seats. "Amontillado, Don Luis?" Dolores asked, putting down four small plates with delicate linen napkins. Luis nodded. "Por favor." In an aside to Cordelia, he explained, "My father went to Spain to visit relatives. He met and married my mother there. Dolores became my mother's companion, after my father died. When my mother died, two years later, I asked Dolores to come run my household for me. She and my mother probably spoke more Spanish than English, and even now Dolores finds Spanish easier." Diego and Maria glanced at each other. It was unusual for Luis to mention anything about his family. Diego shrugged very slightly. After all, doing a little
Googling could discover these bare facts about Luis and his family. Still-Meanwhile, Dolores offered elegant crystal glasses of Amontillado on a silver tray. When they were served, Luis raised his glass, saying, "¡Salud!" The others hastened to respond with "¡Salud!" Luis glanced at Cordelia, silently rebuking himself for liking what he saw a little too much. He realized full well that any attempt on his part to start an affair with her would be met with a furious refusal. Worse, she'd walk away from Luz, if he made it impossible for her to stay. He sighed. "You pronounced 'Salud' exactly right," he smiled. She smiled back. "I've always had an ear for languages, and learned a little Spanish, Italian and even Greek, before I went on that trip." "I hope you learned to say 'No, I'm not that kind of girl' in all three languages," said Diego, grinning. "A woman so beautiful...was it a business trip?" Cordelia shook her head, and Luis noticed again the silky pale auburn hair dancing above her shoulders. Idly, he noticed the copper, honey, gold, bronze highlights. "No," she said, "My father gave me the trip as a vacation. You see--I had been working very hard to graduate a year ahead of my class." "You wanted to get a head start on the best jobs?" Maria wondered out loud. Again, Cordelia shook her head. She said quietly, "No. My mother was very ill, and the doctor didn't give her much longer. So I thought if I worked like the proverbial beaver, my mother might still see me graduate. That was something she was looking forward to, you see. And she did--see me graduate, I mean. She died a couple of months later. I wasn't sure about accepting the vacation, thinking my father might need me to be there for him, but he was adamant." She stilled. No one could be interested in this. She saw Luis lift a slim black brow, his dark eyes concerned and full of sympathy, silently asking her to go on. Thus encouraged, she continued. "When I came back from the trip, it was obvious that I needn't have worried. My father and his Personal Assistant were seen lunching, dining and so on, together. I didn't know that they had been lovers for a long time." "Oh, honey, that must've been hard to take. You must've loved your mother dearly to work so hard, just so she could see you graduate, and then to see her so quickly replaced." Maria's golden eyes were compassionate.
Cordelia gently shrugged one shoulder. "Yes, it was, but I hope I never showed my father how upset I secretly was. He had a right to the life he wanted." "And now?" Luis asked. "My father died about a year ago. He left nearly everything to his new wife, which I could understand. What was a little harder to understand was how she tried to have my mother's will overturned so she could also grab that money, which had been left to me." "But that's unconscionable." Luis was indignant. "She claimed that my mother had left part of my father's estate to me, and she felt she was entitled to that money. My brother, who is a lawyer..." she slanted a look at Luis, who smiled a little ruefully at her, "...proved that the money was from my mother's family and she was entitled to leave it to anyone she wanted. The judge agreed. In the end, her greed proved expensive, because the judge granted us costs." "Does she live here, this woman? Do you sometimes run into her?" Maria asked, concern for Cordelia clear to read in her eyes. "Yes, Pamela lives in a house on Frangipani Walk. That's in Ormond Beach. She's heavily into the social scene: Charities, well, you know," said Cordelia, with another little shrug. "Strange, I don't seem to recall ever meeting a Pamela Dunleigh." Maria frowned, trying to remember. "That's not surprising. After my father died, she took her maiden name back, so she is, again, Pamela Kennedy." Cordelia, unaware of having just dropped a live grenade into the conversation, reached for her glass of Amontillado and took another sip. She became aware of an appalled silence, and glanced around, surprised. Mistakenly assuming that the name 'Kennedy' had been the cause of the dismay, she said hastily, "Oh, she's not related to those Kennedys, but of course she hopes people will think she is." "You used to take out Pamela Kennedy, didn't you, Luis?" Maria asked. "Just once was enough," Luis said, his dark face a study in aloof displeasure. ¡Madre de Dios! Why on earth did Maria bring that up? Now Cordelia will be coldly furious with me. He was about to do what he could, to save the situation, when the baby monitor at
his belt gave out a thin cry. Instantly, Cordelia was alert, bending her head towards his waist. "Luz," she said quietly. "Please excuse me." She got up so quickly Luis and Diego barely had time to rise politely. Already, Cordelia was halfway up the stairs. "Excuse me," said Luis, and ran after her, taking the stairs two at a time, easily catching up with her as she reached the second floor. Dimly, he was aware of Diego berating Maria in rapid Spanish for trying to imply that Luis had had an affair with Pamela Kennedy. He held Cordelia back, touching her arm gently. "Cordelia, you've been looking after Luz all day, please relax downstairs and let me do this. I guess she wants her bottle?" Cordelia nodded. "Yes, I think so. Please, I'll be glad to do this for Luz," she said, turning away from him and hurrying to the baby's room. "Please don't turn away from me, Cordelia. How could I know that Pamela Kennedy, whom I escorted just once to a charity event, is a woman you rightly despise?" Luis said, clearly upset. Cordelia smiled gently at him. When they reached Luz's room, she hurried to Luz, picking her up, whispering, "Poor Luz, you're hungry and you need a new diaper. Well, first a diaper, right?" Deftly, Cordelia removed the wet diaper, disposing of it in the pail. She quickly filled a bowl with warm water and began to wash the baby. She turned to Luis. "See how sore she is? That's after two generous applications of this diaper rash ointment. But I'll keep on with it, and in another few days she won't be so sore any more." She bent over the baby and put on a new diaper. She said softly, "Would you like to have a bottle now? Tell me, would you like your daddy to give you the bottle, honey?" Lifting Luz from the changing table, she gestured for Luis to sit down in the nursing chair. "You'll give her only half the bottle, then stop and burp her, before you give her the rest?" she asked, her eyes anxious. Luis nodded, holding out his hands to take Luz from Cordelia, who shook her head. "You sit down and make yourself comfortable, then I'll give you Luz and the bottle." She smiled. "Thank you," Luis said softly.
He thought that 'comfortable' was not a word that described how he felt, right at that moment. All because of Cordelia, who hadn't a clue that his 'thank you' was because she wasn't upset with him for taking the Pamela woman to that charity thing. He still remembered it with horror. However predatory, brazen and aggressive most women were around him, she took the cake. Her damn hands were everywhere. Suddenly he wished he could feel Cordelia's hands all over him. ¡Bastante! He didn't want to disgrace himself, sitting with his daughter in his arms and a huge erection for Cordelia. No way. "I'm sorry Maria mentioned Ms. Kennedy," he said quietly, once Luz was drinking happily. Cordelia, tidying up the table, turned to him. "You don't owe me any explanation, Mr. Montoya," she said calmly. "One's private life should be just that--private. I am here only for Luz, and wouldn't dream of intruding into your uh...personal concerns." "I do want you to realize that my personal concerns do not include Ms. Kennedy in any way, shape or form. Her behaviour was truly appalling." He decided to say no more, not wishing to upset Cordelia further. To his relief, she smiled at him. After a little while, Cordelia suggested, "Should I take Luz from you now? She's had about half the bottle, and needs to be burped." "But if she spits up over your beautiful dress?" Luis objected. Cordelia smiled. "Well, this dress is washable, and my room is just next door. If Luz spits up, I could--" Suddenly she caught on. "Oh, of course. You've been away from Luz for quite a while and wish to burp her. Let me put a towel over your shoulder, just in case she spits up." Luis carefully removed the bottle from Luz's grip, and got to his feet. He saw that Cordelia had found a big towel in one of the table's drawers. She now draped this over Luis. He held his daughter against his shoulder, patting her back slowly and gently. When Luz let out a big burp, both adults laughed. When Luis finished feeding and burping Luz, he put her back into her crib. He waited until he was sure she was asleep, and held out his hand to Cordelia in an impulsive gesture. "Let's go back downstairs." To his delighted surprise, Cordelia quietly slipped her hand into his. *** In the night, Cordelia was awakened by a thin little cry coming from the baby monitor she had hung over the head of the bed. Instantly alert, she flew out of bed and hurried to the baby's room.
Lifting the baby from her crib, she soothed, "Luz, honey, are you hungry? Of course you are. Oh, and you need a new diaper, I think. Yes, you sure do." She put Luz down on the changing table, and hastily removed a smelly diaper, which she wrapped in several paper towels and a plastic bag, before disposing of it in the pail. She hastily switched on the extractor fan, filled a bowl with warm water and began to wash Luz more thoroughly than usual, soothing her skin with the ointment again. "There, all done," she said, quickly putting a fresh diaper on her. "Poor darling, you must've been so uncomfortable in that diaper," she whispered to the baby. At that moment, Luis hurried into his daughter's bedroom. Surprised, Cordelia turned around and couldn't hold back a little breathless gasp. He's handsome in his clothes, but like this...he's spectacular. She took in the unruly hair, the slight shadow on his taut jaw, the pale yellow silk robe which, untied, had flown open as he hurried from his bedroom to his daughter's. His athlete's chest had firm pectorals, outlined by silky black body hair. The thin silk pajama bottoms could not hide his being unusually well-endowed. He's the most beautiful man I've ever seen, she mused distractedly. For his part, Luis knew that he'd undoubtedly arrive later than Cordelia. But he slept nude, so he had to waste time putting on pajama bottoms and a robe. He was amused to note Cordelia had been in such a hurry to stop Luz's cries that she had forgotten to put on a robe, which was quite all right with him. As she bent over Luz, backlit by the light over the changing table, he could not help but stare at her beautiful body, veiled in gentle folds of some sort of gossamer fabric, it seemed to him. Silently, he berated himself for wishing fervently she would turn around. And then she did turn around, Luz in her arms. "Would you like to hold Luz, while I get a bottle for her to drink a bit from? Just enough to stop her little stomach from growling and keeping her awake." Luis tried his best not to stare at Cordelia's breasts as she put Luz into his arms. "Muchas gracias," he said dreamily. She smiled at him. "You're still half asleep," she said contritely. "Why don't you go back to bed? You must be so tired from your long trip, the change in time zones?" He shrugged dismissively. "I didn't fly in from Australia. I came from L.A, just three hours earlier than here. Moreover, I slept for quite a while on the flight across. No, I've probably had more rest than you, the last little while, and I'd really like to give Luz her bottle."
"As you wish," she said quietly, almost formally. She went to the refrigerator, taking out a bottle of formula, warming it in a bowl of hot tap water. After a while, she shook a few drops onto the inside of her wrist, nodding and giving him the bottle. "Why do you shake some milk onto the inside of your wrist?" he asked, settling Luz comfortably with her bottle. "It's a sensitive area," she said, busying herself with the already tidy table, unaware that this gave him another fascinating view of her back and her long, beautiful legs. "Ah, yes, of course. It's an erogenous zone, after all," he said quietly, careful not to look at her. He was amused at her sharp intake of breath, her repressive, "Mr. Montoya, when we're here looking after Luz, neither of us formally dressed--Oh, I forgot to put on my robe..." Her voice trailing away, she hurried toward the door, when he stopped her, saying calmly, "Cordelia, you're covered by several layers of whatever that fabric is. You may be sure that, if anything were on view, I'd already have seen it. Just relax, will you?" "As you wish," she said again, sounding more formal than he liked. She went on, "Well, I don't think you should be talking about erogenous zones. I'm just here to take care of Luz." "Of course you are, and I assure you I merely stated a fact. When you explained about the inside of your wrist being most sensitive, I suddenly remembered that it's considered an erogenous zone, that's all." Cordelia tried not to look into his eyes. Too dangerous, too intimate, she thought. She said rather hastily, "I think Luz has drunk enough for her little nighttime snack. Do you want me to burp her or will you?" "It's probably easier if I do it. I can take off my robe, so if she spits up, I'll only have to wash my shoulder and back." He was amused to hear Cordelia's little gasp when she heard his intention of taking off his robe. "Oh, y-yes, of course," she said. "I can put a towel over your shoulder." "Good idea," he said. "Let me just shrug out of this robe." He did just that, holding Luz to him first with one, then with the other arm. Cordelia approached with the towel. As she came close to him, she felt dizzy for a moment when she caught the
scent of his skin, a scent so masculine, so totally overwhelming. Her mouth went dry, and he lifted a slim, winged brow when he saw her lick her lips with the tip of her tongue. I'm getting to her, just as she's getting to me. Immediately, he berated himself for his visions of having her, naked and willing, in his bed. He should remember she was his one chance of having Luz looked after lovingly while Diego tried to find a new nanny. Surely that was more important than taking her to his bed, and inevitably having her walk out on Luz. I've been alone too long, he thought. Maybe I should call Chantal and invite myself over. But he knew he wouldn't. Because Chantal's charms, too blatantly displayed, had failed to stir him for some time.
Five days later, a new nanny arrived. A middle-aged, uniformed, arrogant woman, she virtually bristled with expertise. She was accompanied to the front door by one of the security guards, who carried her luggage. "Just leave the luggage here, Evans. I'll ask the housekeeper to have someone take the cases to Nanny's suite," said Diego. He continued, "Welcome, Nanny," his voice showing none of his dismay when he realized that this cold, hard-looking woman was going to take care of Luz. How had that damn employment agency got around Luis, making him believe this woman was fit to look after his daughter? "Luz's bedroom and playroom are upstairs, as is your own suite, Nanny," said Diego easily. "Did Mr. Montoya discuss with you--" Nanny interrupted him. "I discussed the baby only with the person who hired me, a Mrs. Alvarez," said Nanny repressively. "I see," said Diego. He wondered, had Maria totally lost her marbles, hiring this Marine sergeant in drag to look after poor Luz? His face giving nothing away, he said, "This way, please, Nanny. This is Luz's room." He opened the door and let Nanny precede him. "I believe Luz's schedule is posted by the changing table. Yes, there it is." Nanny gave him a repressive look. "I'll have my own schedule," she said, and ripped the schedule Cordelia had painstakingly written out off the wall. She threw it into the wastebasket. Now thoroughly worried, Diego said, "How can a small baby like Luz adapt to a different schedule? This is what she's used to." Nanny threw Diego a poisonous look and said, "The baby will learn to adapt." Luz awoke and, upset at hearing the rough, loud voice, she began to cry. Cordelia, who did not know about the new nanny, sprinted up the stairs as quickly as she could, hurrying to the baby's room. Surprised at finding Diego and an older woman there, Cordelia went quickly to the crib, lifting Luz in her arms. "It isn't quite time for your bottle yet, Luz, honey, but I think your diaper is wet. No matter, we'll soon have you all dry and soothed with the ointment," Cordelia cooed to Luz and laid her down on the table. Happy to hear the familiar, loving voice, Luz began to wave her arms and made little gurgling noises. Nanny chose that moment to say, "Get away from that baby, you fool. Babies
should learn early that crying doesn't automatically get them attention. This one will learn, too." Incensed, Cordelia said, "But she's wet. And her name is Luz." Nanny snorted, "Babies don't understand names. Get away from that baby." Now deeply upset, Cordelia said in a shaking voice, "Luz knows her name, she understands. And she never cries without reason." Nanny, now thoroughly exasperated by this infringement of her authority, seized Cordelia's arm and tried to drag her away from Luz. "Take your hands off me, you storm-trooper," Cordelia exclaimed, but Nanny was stronger than she, and finally managed to push Cordelia out of the room. Luis, who had heard the beginnings of this altercation on the monitor in his library, flew up the stairs to investigate, passing a sobbing Cordelia without noticing her, in his anxiety to get to his daughter. As soon as Diego saw him, he said, "Luis, I'm afraid that Maria made a serious error in judgment in--" Nanny's rough voice shouted him down. "This baby has been thoroughly spoiled by that woman who hurried to her the moment she began to cry." "I prefer that my daughter be seen to the moment she cries," said Luis coldly. "Don't interfere. I'll soon have this baby behaving according to my methods," said Nanny angrily. "Luz is my daughter, and I will 'interfere' as you call it, any time I see fit to do so," said Luis, his eyes black with rage and colder than an Arctic night. He went to the table, where Luz was still lying, unhappily looking around, crying softly. Luis picked her up and held her to his chest. To his dismay, he felt her diaper was wet. He turned to Nanny with glacial fury. "My daughter is soaking wet, and you want her to lie in bed learning your methods? ¡Bastante! Step away from my daughter. Now! You'd do well as a drill sergeant in a boot camp, but you're totally unsuited to take care of my daughter. "Diego, call our security chief and have this woman removed from my house, from the grounds. Next, pay off the agency and express our extreme dissatisfaction with this woman, who is not fit to be around helpless children. Make sure you tell them that. Thank you."
Luis turned to his daughter. "Luz, honey, I know," he soothed, softly kissing his daughter's silky black curls. "You miss Cordelia. Well, Daddy will get her back for you." He heard Diego dragging Nanny out of Luz's room and alerting the security chief on his cell phone. Placing his daughter back on the changing table, Luis quickly stripped the wet diaper off her. He frowned for a moment, trying to remember what Cordelia always did. Ah, yes, she washed Luz and then she put some sort of ointment on her. He ran some tepid water into a bowl, and washed Luz as gently and carefully as he could. He found the tube of ointment, applying it tenderly to Luz's still slightly sore skin. He was relieved to see quite an improvement since Cordelia had drawn his attention to Luz's inflamed skin. Which reminded him, where was Cordelia? He recalled vaguely hearing Cordelia exclaim on the monitor, "Take your hands off me, you storm-trooper." That nanny person must have manhandled Cordelia out of Luz's room. Holding his daughter tightly, Luis whispered under his breath, "If that bitch has hurt Cordelia, she'll wish she wasn't born." He kissed Luz's hair. "Let's go find Cordelia." Aware that he should have put fresh clothing on Luz, he wrapped her in a soft downy blanket and glanced through the open door into Cordelia's bedroom. No one there. He walked down the stairway with the baby, who was delighted with the unexpected trip and gurgled happily in her father's arms. "Cordelia?" Luis called, as soon as he was in the family room. Silence. Where could she be? He glanced into several of the rooms Cordelia had redone, pleased to see what a difference her light touch had made. He walked slowly with Luz to the huge main reception room, and there was Cordelia, kneeling on the newly finished, much lighter parquet floor, sobbing her heart out. "Cordelia?" Luis called softly. Luz gurgled. In a flash, Cordelia turned around. "Luz?" she said almost inaudibly, rising quickly from her kneeling position and hurrying to Luz, who stretched out her arms to Cordelia with a big smile. For a moment, Luis thought his own heart would break, when he saw how happy his daughter was to see Cordelia--and how elated Cordelia was to see Luz again. Confused, Cordelia gazed at Luis. "I don't understand--" she faltered. He felt himself seized by a profound rage at the bruises on her arms, reading in her drowned eyes the pain for Luz's fate at the hands of that blasted woman. After all, he had been there immediately to protect Luz from that woman, but Cordelia-"The storm-trooper is gone," said Luis, giving his daughter into Cordelia's arms.
Luz gurgled, laid her head against Cordelia's shoulder, and began to drowse happily, a thumb in her mouth. When he saw the blissful expression on Cordelia's tear-stained face, he said gently, "Let's go sit in the family room for a bit. We need to talk. Do you want me to carry Luz?" He was amused and touched when he saw her determinedly shake her head, heard her soft, "No, please, I--" He realized she couldn't talk past the huge lump in her throat. Small wonder, she had been so terribly upset. He frowned. What had he heard on the monitor? Did that nanny say that she had been hired by Maria? What had got into her to hire that gorilla? Didn't Maria realize how happy Luz was with Cordelia? He shook his head. He'd have a word with Diego; ask him to get Maria to back off. But wait. That first evening when Cordelia had dinner with them, Maria made sure that Cordelia heard about that Kennedy woman, making it sound as if he'd had an affair with the slut. He'd told Cordelia it was one disastrous occasion only. But what could Maria hope to gain by that? Cordelia's anger against himself? He frowned again. Clearly, he would have to have a very serious talk with Diego. Meanwhile, he would personally deal with Cordelia. If Diego was surprised, well, let him be. When they arrived in the family room, Luis gestured for Cordelia to sit down on one of the love-seats, seating himself beside her. He was not surprised when Dolores, whom he suspected of mind-reading abilities, came in, asking, "Don Luis?" "Good morning, Dolores. Ms. Dunleigh has been very upset. Tell me, what do you recommend?" "A glass of red wine, Don Luis. It will soothe the Señorita's nerves. Coffee will only make it worse." "Good idea, Dolores, and the same for me, please. Then, could you please find Señora Alvarez for me?" "She went out early this morning, an appointment at her spa-salon. She has a luncheon with several other ladies, I heard." "Ah. Thank you, Dolores." Evidently, Maria had seen to it that she wasn't around when the storm-trooper arrived. No matter. She had to return some time, and when she did, Diego would deal with her. Dolores appeared quickly with two glasses of what Luis recognized as one of his best wines. Good. Only the best for Cordelia, who loved his daughter.
Raising his glass to her, Luis said quietly, "Salud." Cordelia smiled at him for the first time since the disaster with the storm-trooper, whispering, "Salud." They drank and he was pleased to see a little colour returning to Cordelia's toopale cheeks. He waited until she had put her glass back on the table. "Cordelia, you're wonderful with my daughter, and I for one doubt very much that anyone could be as good with her as you. Would you, for Luz's sake, continue to occupy the suite next door to Luz's room? We could go back to your apartment and fetch some more clothes.... Well...?" "You know that I love taking care of Luz, and of course it's easy now, because I'm working here anyway; the work is going more slowly, but you've been so generous in paying the crew for the extra time. "But, Mr. Montoya, one day these rooms will be finished and I'll have to go to my next job. Already they aren't pleased with the delay caused by my being here several weeks longer than I had envisaged originally." "Can you hire someone to take your place at Dunleigh Interiors? I'll be glad to pay the salary for any extra people you have to hire." "Well, it isn't difficult finding someone to take over the management of the firm. Lance Dumaresq can do that. Of course, we'll also have to hire someone else to supervise my designs at my next job--" "I can't see any difficulty with that. Please tell your cousin--Crystal, is it?" As Cordelia nodded, he went on. "Tell Crystal that I'll be delighted to pay whatever extra expenses are incurred by your remaining here to look after Luz." "I'll try to hold down the expenses as much as I can," said Cordelia quietly. "You won't have to pay anything for Lance. He works there anyway, and will be only too pleased to take over the management of Dunleigh Interiors." Luis smiled. She was surely an unusual woman. Now she was trying to save him money. He wondered who Lance was. "Cordelia? Who is this Lance?" "He is equally qualified as I, but is junior to me. He's very nice, and he's familiar with my work, so he can take over, work from my designs. There are people who feel they rate the senior designer. When I'm not there, Lance is. In a way, it's a promotion for him." Luis was surprised to find he felt annoyed with Lance, who was so familiar with her work. Was that all he was familiar with? He wondered if there was something
between this Lance and Cordelia. "Is Lance the man who phones you here so often?" "Yes." Cordelia sounded apologetic. "He needs my advice on some design aspects from time to time." She was surprised to see Mr. Montoya frown. Was he concerned that she would neglect Luz for Lance? She smiled to herself. Not a chance. Lance was in a gay relationship. But she decided not to tell Mr. Montoya. Luis picked up his glass. "To you, and to our arrangement for Luz." Cordelia reached for her glass and lifted it to Luis. "I'll be glad to drink to that." *** Several weeks later, Cordelia said to Diego, "I wonder if I could have next Thursday evening off? I've a long standing dinner engagement that I'd hate to cancel." "Cordelia, of course, you must go have dinner with your friends. I have an uneasy feeling that it's the first time you're going out since you started looking after Luz. Would you like me to make arrangements for you to have a day off regularly?" "Oh, no, Diego. You know I love looking after Luz. What would I do with regular days off? If I need to do some personal shopping, I go while Luz is asleep and arrange with Dolores to have one of the maids sit in Luz's room. But thank you for this coming Thursday evening." When Diego mentioned to Luis that Cordelia would be away next Thursday for a dinner engagement, Luis frowned. "A dinner engagement? Por Dios, this coming Thursday I've agreed to escort Chantal to that charity dinner-dance at the Acapulco. I'm not sure I like Cordelia being away for the evening when I'm not here, either." "Dolores has things well in hand, amigo. She'll have her gentlest maid sit in Luz's pretty, newly done room the whole time you and Cordelia are away, and she will call Dolores if there's so much as a peep out of Luz." Luis shrugged, still not best pleased. "I suppose--" was all he would say. *** The huge ballroom of the new, upscale Acapulco Hotel was beautifully decorated for the charity dinner-dance, which would benefit underprivileged children in the area.
There was a general buzz when Luis entered, immaculate and stunning in evening clothes. The famous movie star Chantal Deslauriers was clinging to his arm for all she was worth. She wore a shimmering silvery chiffon gown that was practically transparent and seemed to be glued on. It was so low-cut in front and back that Luis frowned uneasily at the prospect of Chantal's silicone-enhanced breasts popping out of their confinement. He wondered why Chantal had chosen this vulgar dress. She must be aware that he preferred subtle over blatant. His face showing none of his private musings, he thanked the maître d' for guiding them to their table, allowing one of the waiters to pull out Chantal's chair. Chantal pouted. Why hadn't Luis himself seated her? He seemed distracted this evening. Did he have some business problem on his mind? No matter. Once she succeeded in having him come back with her to her suite, she'd banish any distractions from his thoughts. After all, the man wasn't born who could resist her charms, she thought complacently. "Luis, chéri--I should really be annoyed with you for neglecting me for so long. But when I phoned your house one day, Diego said you were in Australia, so I decided to forgive you, and make our reunion very, very special for you." Dios, I've got to get out of this. Because no way do I want to go back to her suite. Aloud, he said, his voice courteous and reserved, "I'm afraid that won't be possible this evening. I can't leave Luz alone for more than a few hours." "But chéri, Diego told me you have a new maid who is so good with Luz. I think he said her name was Cornelia." "Cordelia--as in King Lear, Chantal." Luis was grimly amused to see from her blank expression that the reference to Shakespeare's great play was totally lost on her. He added, "And she has a rare evening off tonight, so that means I'll have to be home for Luz." "Chéri, what use is it being so very rich if you can't even order a maid to stay home because you want to go out and be with me? If you threatened Cornelia with dismissal if she didn't stay with your little girl, she'd soon change her tune." Weary of discussing this any further with Chantal, who was intent on only one thing--having him come to her suite--he said quietly, "I don't expect you to understand." Chantal's narcissistic chatter bored him, and he was secretly disgusted with the avid, prurient glances thrown in her direction by men at nearby tables. Why couldn't she have worn an elegant, understated dress, instead of this vulgar rag?
He glanced away from her and let his eyes roam over the other diners. His dark eyes blazed when, half a dozen tables away, he spotted Cordelia at a table for two. She had her back to him, so he got a good look at her escort, a tall, handsome man with darkish hair, wearing faultless evening attire, he had to admit. Adept at hiding his thoughts behind an inscrutable facial expression, he turned back to Chantal, who was digging her fingers into his arm. "Luis, chéri, what is the matter with you this evening?" Just as he was about to issue a bored disclaimer, the band began to play. Luis recognized the enticing rhythm of the merenguë. "I want to dance this," Chantal exclaimed, loud enough for several tables around them to hear. If he did not agree to dance with her, men nearby would vie for the chance of getting their arms around her. He sighed and rose. "If you insist," he said, leading her to the dance floor. When they arrived there, he discovered that the dancers had formed a circle around one couple dancing the merenguë as it should be danced. As he had seen it danced in the Dominican Republic. He stood, entranced by the footwork of the dancers, coldly hushing Chantal's increasingly strident demands that she wanted to dance, now. He looked up at the dancers' faces, and was shocked to see Cordelia, looking more animated than he had ever seen her. He glanced at the man with her, and had to admit he was handsome, a well bred face, green eyes, dark chestnut hair. Was that why Cordelia kept her distance from him? Because of this man? That's probably Lance. Luis was quietly furious. I was right in surmising there's something between them, although she tried to pretend it was all business. The dance came to an end. The people who had been watching applauded spontaneously. Luis saw Cordelia curtsy shyly, while Lance bowed politely, formally, putting his hand at Cordelia's waist, guiding her back to their table. Damn! I wanted her to see me. Luis turned wearily back to Chantal who was now dragging him by the arm to the dance-floor. He was glad to find that the next number was a lively samba. This wouldn't please Chantal, who was looking for a chance to plaster herself against him. He always felt she was having vertical sex with him, so explicit were her moves. ¡Dios! And I put up with that. But not any more. He held Chantal a little farther away than even the samba required, thwarting her efforts to adhere to him like glue. By nine o'clock, they had finished dinner, and Chantal began her campaign to get
Luis to come back to her suite, rather than stay for more dancing. She had begun to realize Luis would not permit any clinging on the dance floor. Patiently, he said, "I told you, Chantal. I can't be away from Luz this evening because Cordelia isn't there. Allow me to see you to your door." "My door? Luis, if you don't stay with me this night, then I think--" Her eyes glittering angrily, she stopped herself at the last moment from making a complete break. Luis gave her the briefest of glances, shrugging disdainfully. "I think you're right, Chantal. It's better we don't see each other again," he said calmly. "Luis? Chéri, what are you saying?" "I'm merely putting into words what you began to say. Goodbye, Chantal. Have a nice life." Luis bowed, turned on his heel and began the long walk back to the elevators. Phewwww-*** When he got home, Adams driving his limousine, he found it was only nine-thirty. He walked to the family room, removing his jacket and tie. He undid the top of his dress shirt, taking out the cabochon-sapphire studs and matching cufflinks. He rolled up his sleeves, throwing himself onto one of the love-seats. He toed off his shoes, reaching down to remove his thin socks. Leaning his head against the cushions, he sighed. He muttered to himself, "That's a lot better than having to put up with Chantal. Dios, how she bored me. But I'll have something to say to Cordelia about this Lance." After some time, Diego strolled into view. "You're home early, Luis. I've been over here, in case Luz should wake. I figured you wouldn't drag yourself in until the wee hours." He sat down opposite Luis, glancing more sharply at his friend. "Luis? What's wrong?" "Nothing's wrong, Diego. I finished with Chantal, and no doubt you realize how relieved I was to get away from her." "But it has you annoyed?" "No, of course not. Chantal never meant enough to me to annoy me. No, I'll tell you what really irritated me. Cordelia was at the dinner in the Acapulco, with this guy, probably Lance. "Their table was easily visible from where I was seated, and she had her back to
me, but I could tell from the guy's lively interest that they were having a far more exciting evening than I was with Chantal. Dios, how she bored me. I'm glad that's over." Luis shrugged himself more comfortably into the cushions, and continued. "Anyway, Chantal wanted to dance, so we went to the dance floor. They were playing a merenguë, and when we arrived, the other dancers stood in a circle watching one couple dancing. It was Cordelia and that guy, Lance. Imagine them dancing so professionally, people stopped to watch them, applauding when they finished. ¡Madre de Dios!" Luis turned away, burying his face in his hands. "I'm tired." Diego rose and poured a glass of wine for each of them. "Here, that'll make you feel a bit better perhaps," he suggested, sitting down again opposite his friend. "Luis, you knew she was going out to dinner this evening. Anyway, she's home; I saw her come in, a while ago. What is it now? Ten-fifteen. Not much room for hanky-panky?" Luis sniffed disdainfully. "It's a matter of complete indifference to me what Cordelia does on her evenings off. I just wish she hadn't lied about Lance being merely a business colleague." "But Luis, you don't know that she lied about that. Why didn't you go over to her and make her introduce you to the guy? Then you'd have been sure." Luis shrugged contemptuously. "I wasn't interested enough," he said, his voice dismissive. "I'm glad to hear that," said Diego, throwing his friend an eloquent glance. "Oh, by the way, I've been meaning to tell you. Maria and I had a long talk about why she hired that god-awful nanny, when you had arranged for Cordelia to take care of Luz. Maria said that Cordelia seems so vulnerable, and you seemed interested in her. She thought if you started something with Cordelia and then you broke it off, the way you invariably do, Cordelia would be heartbroken. So she thought she'd try to find a new nanny for Luz, which meant that Cordelia would be able to get on with her designs, and be out of here before you could put the make on her." "I had no idea Maria had such a low opinion of me," said Luis, his voice chilly. "Of course she doesn't have a low opinion of you. She was merely concerned for Cordelia, so defenceless. When you escort all these international models and actresses, Maria is glad for you to have a temporary playmate. They can hold their own. When you break it off, they shrug and turn around to find another rich guy. Their hearts aren't involved, any more than yours is. But Cordelia--" Diego shrugged one shoulder, and went on,
"Maria said to Cordelia that she's a born mother. Cordelia told her she had mononucleiosis when she was thirteen, and the doctor said that meant she'd be infertile. Such a lovely woman, so loving with Luz--" Diego let the sentence trail off. Luis raised a slim black brow. "And Maria was afraid Cordelia might extend those feelings to Luz's father? Not a chance. She seems to be hung up on this Lance. Be sure to reassure Maria, and tell her to stay out of my private life." Diego frowned at Luis's last remark, and said, "Maria only meant--" "Yes, you told me several times, she wanted to protect the virginal Cordelia from my predatory ways." Suddenly, Luis seemed to realize that he had been most unkind to Diego about his wife, and he hastened to make amends. "Pay no attention to me, Diego. I'm in a foul mood tonight. And I understand what Maria was trying to do. It proves she has a good heart. Anyway, you can reassure her about Cordelia. I think I'll go to bed. Luz is bound to wake at three or four in the morning." "But Cordelia will take care of her, Luis. You get a good night's sleep, now." "Yes, I will. Buenas noches, Diego." But once Luis composed himself for sleep, he found sleep was elusive. At about three o'clock, the baby monitor emitted a little cry from Luz. He waited, to see if she would continue to cry or fall asleep again, but the next sound he heard was Cordelia's soft voice. "Luz, honey, did something wake you? You come here. Oh, oh, your diaper is wet. Well, we'll soon fix that, mmm?" For a little while there were no sounds except a clang, then a rustling. Luis nodded. Yes, that was Cordelia disposing of the wet diaper, unpacking a fresh one. Next, he heard Luz's happy gurgles, as Cordelia presumably washed her and put that ointment on again before giving her a new diaper. Then he heard Cordelia's voice again. "There's my beautiful girl, all clean again. I'll just put you back into your--No? Isn't that what you want? Tell you what. I'll sit here in this chair for a little while with you in my arms, and let you fall asleep like that? Would you like that, Luz, my little love?" Luis heard no more. She and Lance couldn't have--She'd have been too tired to hear that tiny little cry from Luz. In any case, he'd get to the bottom of this Lance thing. He'd be sure to meet her at breakfast. Pleased with his decision, Luis finally slept.
The next morning found Luis unaccountably tired. Of course, he'd lain awake until three, when he heard on the baby monitor how lovingly Cordelia dealt with Luz. Again, at five-thirty, Cordelia had sounded so happy and wide-awake, seeing to Luz. Finally, he dozed off again, and had to hurry to get to the breakfast room in time to meet Cordelia. Diego habitually ate breakfast at home with Maria, so Luis read the newspapers. After some time, he heard Cordelia's soft footsteps as she entered the breakfast room. It had been one of the first rooms she redesigned, and Luis was delighted she had made the room inviting and full of light. He half-rose. "Good morning, Cordelia." "Good morning, Mr. Montoya. I was glad you slept through Luz's three o'clock wake-up. Just a wet diaper." Not wishing her to know he had lain awake, listening to the monitor telling him exactly how loving Cordelia had been with Luz, he said, his face expressionless, his voice without inflection, "It must've been difficult for you to drag yourself out of bed after the performance I watched you give at the Acapulco." His black eyes, aloof, challenged her. "Oh, you saw us? Yes, I saw you, too--someone pointed out the actress Chantal Deslauriers to us, and--" Cordelia could not prevent a moue of distaste showing. She averted her face and helped herself to coffee and fruit. Dolores came in with Luis's breakfast of grilled tomatoes, a small filet mignon and some home fries. She put this quietly in front of him. Luis nodded, "Gracias," as Dolores left. He decided to ask Cordelia about Lance right now. "I was thinking, you must have known Lance a lot longer than you led me to believe, when you said he had joined Dunleigh Interiors a year or so ago," said Luis, his voice cool. "You danced together as if you'd been doing that for years." "Yes, we've danced together practically all our lives. But why would you think that was Lance? That was my brother, Philip," she said quietly, picking up a piece of toast. With some asperity she continued, "I'm surprised your little spies didn't send you photographs when they checked me and my relatives out before you deigned to engage me to do your interiors." Luis suddenly felt his heart lift. He thought he could afford to be magnanimous and
admitted, "You dance exceptionally well together." "We always did, somewhat to the annoyance of his wife, Rosemary, who has two left feet, and isn't too pleased when Philip dances with me." She rose, going over to the cafetière. "May I give you some more coffee, Mr. Montoya?" "Thank you, Cordelia," he said, holding out his coffee cup with a smile. They sat quietly drinking coffee for a while, until Cordelia said, "I wonder if I might ask for a few moments of your time, any time at your convenience?" "Any time at all," he said, "as long as you don't try to give me your resignation." He glanced at Cordelia and was dismayed to see unhappiness in her eyes. "Cordelia, what is it? Tell me," he urged. She took a deep breath. "I was thinking about this in the night, when I took Luz on my lap for a while because she wasn't keen to go back to bed. I probably have another three weeks; then, all your rooms will be finished, no matter how much I dawdle. "Of course I'd love to keep coming to see Luz, but you'll probably hire a very excellent nanny for her. I was thinking how hard it is for Luz to bond with one person, then have that person disappear, and she doesn't understand why she doesn't see that person any more, and probably wonders if it's something she did that caused the person to leave." Luis was dismayed to see Cordelia's eyes fill with tears. Tears she willed not to fall, but fall they did. Helpless, she turned her head away, trying to wipe them away with her fingers. Luis moved to her side, offering her a pristine handkerchief. "Thank you," she breathed, trying desperately to get control of herself. Unhappy and troubled, she was still fighting for restraint, when she heard his deep voice, "And you, Cordelia? How will you feel when you finish here and will only see Luz on an occasional visit?" He couldn't help feeling deeply uneasy about her answer. Cordelia lifted her aquamarine eyes to his and said simply, "Oh, my heart will be broken. But I'm an adult, and I understand what's happening. And I guess, in time, the pain will go away, or at least lessen. But Luz--" More deeply touched than he would've thought possible, Luis gazed at Cordelia, the expression in his dark eyes difficult to read. Finally he said, "I'm glad you brought this up, because I've been thinking about this too, and I wondered if in some way I could persuade you to continue looking after Luz. It's obvious to me that she's thriving in your care, and I want that to continue for her.
"If I paid for someone to carry out your designs at the other clients' houses? If I were to pay your salary as a designer? I know you refuse to accept money from me, but you've got to live. Please be reasonable, Cordelia, and accept some form of salary. Perhaps a continuation of what I've been paying you as my designer?" She shook her head and, in spite of himself, he was fascinated to see her hair dance above her shoulders. "That isn't necessary, Mr. Montoya. I told you my mother left me some money, and I have a small but adequate income from it. Since you so generously give me all my meals, I have hardly any expenses at all, just the rent at my apartment. So, really, there's no need to pay me for what I do for Luz." Luis smiled at her and slowly shook his head. "We'll talk about this some more, but if you'd be willing to continue taking care of Luz, I'd do anything you wanted, anything at all." "Except dance a merenguë in public, I'd guess. The lady you were with was tugging at your arm and you wouldn't budge." "That's because I was fascinated by you and your brother's footwork," said Luis, surprised at how lighthearted he felt because she had not been dancing with Lance. Cordelia pushed away from the table. "High time I went to Luz, and let her have a little playtime. And a stroll with her in the baby carriage. Not so much for fresh air, because I know the air conditioning you have for her room is state-of-the-art, but to give her something different to look at." "Yes, I've seen you with Luz in the baby carriage," he said with a grin. "Usually it means that one of Dolores's maids pushes the carriage and you carry Luz in some contraption--" Embarrassed, Cordelia looked away and said softly, "I've bought a Snugli and she sits in it, facing me, her little head against my heart. She seems to like that better." "No kidding?" said Luis. Becoming quickly serious, he added, "Will you think some more about what I've asked you? I'd like to discuss this with you again after you've had a little time to consider what you would like." "Yes, I will, Mr. Montoya. Thank you," said Cordelia, slipping from the room. Luis got to his feet, deciding he had better do some work, too. It would be in his new library, which Cordelia had made for him. Cordelia, who had been out with her brother Philip last night.
Suddenly, Luis felt wonderful. *** Three weeks later, all Cordelia's interior design work was finished. That evening, when Diego, Maria, Luis and Cordelia were having Amontillado and tapas, Cordelia said, "All the design work is now complete, Mr. Montoya. I was wondering if, perhaps some time tomorrow, you would go with me and look at the rooms. If there's something you don't like, please tell me, and I will make whatever changes you want." It seemed to Luis and Diego that Maria heaved a sigh of relief. She said to Cordelia, "I'm so glad that the house is all done now. If Luis feels the need to give a reception, the house is ready for it. Tell me, Cordelia, what will you do? Have you another client to go to?" "Yes, actually I have, but--" Luis smoothly interrupted. "Maria, please give Cordelia a chance not to think about designing interiors? She's worked so hard here, not only on the interiors, but also taking care of Luz. Let Cordelia at least have a breathing space while we're sitting here with our Amontillado and tapas." Maria, who had been told by Diego to stay out of Luis's private life, hastily subsided. "Luis? Should I start another search for a nanny at that upscale domestic service agency?" Diego, frowning, said to Maria, "Amada, in view of the spectacular disaster you engineered with that storm-trooper nanny, don't you think it would be wiser to leave the search for a nanny to Luis? After all, she'll be working for him, taking care of his daughter. Right?" Maria nodded. "Of course, Diego. I didn't mean to interfere." "We all know that," said Luis, who intended speaking to Cordelia after dinner, when Maria and Diego went to their own home. During dinner, Maria said brightly, "I haven't heard anything about Chantal for quite a while, Luis. Have you been too busy to take her out?" Luis thought, Dammit, I thought Diego told her to stay out of my private life. His handsome face showed only slight boredom at the question.
"Maria, if you must know, I escorted Chantal to that charity thing in the Acapulco because the publicity person asked me--one of the organizers--to do that. At the end of dinner, I saw her to her door. When I got home, I left word with Security that her calls were not to be put through, and to tell her so." Diego laughed. "And the first few days, the poor guys had their work cut out, blocking her calls. She tried every which way to get through to you, but Security was more than a match for her. Anyway, what do you mean by 'one of the organizers'? You're the chairman, por Dios." "Are you, Mr. Montoya?" Cordelia asked. "The chairman of that charity? That's a wonderful thing you do, finding bright children among the desperately poor and then paying their way through better schools and college, and not only the schools but you also give them decent clothes to wear so they don't feel like freaks." She smiled at Luis. *** Diego sensed that Luis had something to discuss with Cordelia and cut short Maria's attempt to stay and dawdle over coffee. "No, thanks, Luis. We won't wait for coffee. Maria will make us some when we get back. I know you still have work to do." "Good night, then. Diego, will you be here for the conference call with London tomorrow morning?" "Of course I will, Luis. Nine-thirty. Good night." Diego put his arm around Maria, hurrying her out of the mansion. Thanks, Diego. Luis pressed a button on the telephone. "Dolores? Ms. Dunleigh and I will take our coffee in the library, please." He listened for a moment, said 'Gracias' and got to his feet. "Cordelia, will you come with me to my library?" he asked, holding out his hand to her. He was pleased to feel her fingers slipping into his, as they walked together to the library. Was this a good sign? he wondered. He hoped so, because never in his life had he made so audacious a suggestion to solve a situation. He threw open the double doors and gestured for Cordelia to enter. He followed her, indicating the wing chairs on each side of the fireplace, where a fire was burning.
"I can't tell you often enough how very much I like what you've done for me here, particularly these chairs--so comfortable. And the jacaranda wood you chose for the side tables, a very unusual touch. Thank you again." Cordelia gave him a happy smile. "You can't imagine how good it feels to do an interior that really pleases the client." "You've pleased me very, very much, Cordelia," said Luis gently. A quiet knock at the door signalled the arrival of Dolores with the coffee. She served it herself, indicating some delicious looking galletas--cookies, and left. Luis was still wondering how to begin, when Cordelia said, "I was not too sure how I should answer Maria's pressing questions about my next assignment, since you said you wanted us to discuss this some more, privately. And then you stopped her so effectively. I was grateful." "Yes, Maria seemed unusually interested in when you'll be leaving here. I didn't want to discuss in front of her what is, essentially, a very private discussion between you and me. "Cordelia, I understand that you don't want me to offend you with offers of money, but please realize that my only concern is to protect you from the inevitable loss of income when, in due course, you go back to a junior position in the firm, because Lance has usurped the senior position that used to be yours. "Of course, I don't know what your relationship with Lance is--" Luis hesitated, taken aback to realize he was deeply apprehensive, awaiting what she would say. To his surprise, she laughed. "Lance is gay, Luis." His heart turned over. She had called him by his given name for the first time, and-most important--she had at last definitively laid his concerns about Lance to rest. Relief coursed through him at the thought that Lance meant nothing to her. "Why didn't you tell me that much, much earlier, Cordelia?" he said, a tiny smile lifting one corner of his mouth which, for the first time, he did not keep so firmly pressed together. "Because I was having too much fun watching you assign too much importance to Lance," she said, her smile causing that delightful little dimple to appear. They had finished their coffee, and Luis gestured to a small drinks tray set up in a corner of his library. She saw a bottle of red wine and a bottle of brandy. There were two crystal wine glasses and two brandy snifters on the tray. She shook her
head. "Not just now, thank you." He nodded. "Perhaps you will wish you had accepted a brandy, or at least a glass of wine, to mellow you a little before making a decision." She gazed at him, bewildered. What decision could he ask her to make that required her to be mellow? She barely whispered, "Please tell me." Luis took a deep breath. "Well, now that I know you aren't involved with Lance or-Are you by any chance involved with someone else?" He was surprised to feel deeply uneasy at the possibility. Cordelia shook her head. "No, Luis, there's no one. I thought you realized that when I came to stay here, never leaving for weeks and weeks on end?" "I wasn't certain," he said. For the first time she heard Luis sound unsure of himself. He rested his elbows on both armrests and steepled his long fingers, the tips resting against his mouth. "Cordelia, I have a suggestion that would make all our problems go away as if by magic. You would never again have to be concerned about your job, and I would, at last, be certain that Luz has the best possible care. "Cordelia--listen, would you mind if I invented my own name for you? You have a lovely name, but it's kind of long. Would you mind if I called you Dee?" She gazed at him in surprise. Slowly she said, "Of course, by all means call me Dee, if you wish." "Thank you." He smiled at her. "To continue, Dee, I have this suggestion to make. If we were to get married, you'd be Luz's mother. She'd have a happy life, not constantly in danger of it being broken up. You'd never have to worry about anything, ever. I'd be most generous to you--" She held up her hand. "That isn't necessary, Luis," she interrupted quietly. "This was never about money, you know that." "Yes, I do, but perhaps you'd indulge me? Let me be generous to you because it would give me great pleasure. Anyway, that's my side, Luz's side if you like. "Dee? Diego told me the other day of something you told Maria. You had mononucleiosis at age thirteen, and the doctor said you would be infertile from the attack. Well, so we would have only one child, our daughter, Luz. Would that make marriage to me seem more attractive to you?" Cordelia, white to the lips, gave him a tremulous smile. "Attractive...Luis, you're the
most attractive man I've ever met. And I like you so much, just from the times when we are with Luz. But we don't know each other--" "That's true, although, when we are together in Luz's room taking care of her, don't you think that creates a deeper bond than weeks and months of going out to dinner, movies, the theatre, with other people around us? Dee, we could take all the time we need to get to know each other, after the wedding. I promise you, I would expect nothing from you that you weren't willing to give me." Cordelia whispered, almost to herself, "Marriage..." With a little flare-up of spirit, she said, "Before I undertook this design work for you, I had seen photos of you in the newspapers, magazines, always escorting very beautiful models, actresses, European aristocrats. There was a lull, when you got married--to an Italian princess, I seem to recall? But it started up again, a few months after your wife died. Luis, if we got married, I couldn't allow that to go on." "But Dee, if we got married, I'd want to escort only you, ever." "You would?" She stared at him. Luis nodded. Cordelia went on, "But wouldn't you want me to stay at home with Luz? That's why you're offering marriage, isn't it?" "No, Dee, that is just one of the reasons. Dolores can assign one of the maids to sit quietly in Luz's room when you and I are out somewhere. Same as she did that Thursday of the charity dinner-dance." Cordelia bent forward, looking into Luis's dark eyes, trying to read there what he really felt. Finally she said, "You're used to having a princess for a wife. I'm just an ordinary woman--" Luis interrupted her quickly. "No, you are not ordinary, far from it." Surprised, she tried to think what marriage to this stunning man would be like. At last, she said softly, "Luis, if we did get married, I'd promise you absolute fidelity, and I'd expect the same from you. I realize that wouldn't be so easy for you, in a marriage in name, as it would have to be, to start with. The trouble is, I can't promise it will change, and neither can you. Right now, I suppose we could say we like each other?" Luis nodded encouragingly. He leaned forward, taking her hand into both of his, slowly bringing it to his lips. He felt encouraged by her swift intake of breath. He turned her hand and gently pressed his mouth to her palm, the inside of her wrist. "You see? An erogenous zone," he sighed against her skin. "Oh, Luis..." she whispered. After a few moments, she went on, her voice none too steady, "Worst case scenario. What would you do if I fell in love with you, but you
didn't fall in love with me? You see how difficult this could be? How can we know whether we'll ever have deep feelings for each other? Luis, I can't have a honeymoon with a comparative stranger--" Soothingly, he said, "Of course you can't. I realize that. And I will promise you fidelity, however long it may take us to reach a closer relationship. But you may find there are things about me that you dislike." Cordelia glanced at him. "Luis, be serious. You must know that's unlikely. You're not only handsome, you're bright, with a wicked sense of humor, you're brilliantly intelligent, and you're always kind to me. Of course I realize this is because of Luz. I think it's more likely that you'd get bored with me. And then what?" He frowned. "If you found you couldn't bear to live with me, we could agree that, when Luz is old enough to go to school, we would divorce. You'd find me generous because of what you've done for Luz." "Luis, I've always thought I'd marry only once, and that would be for life--and for love. I know that must sound naïve to you, but that's what I thought. I'd be married to someone I loved, who loved me. Now, you propose marriage for Luz's sake, and before I've had time to think about that, you're arranging the terms of our divorce." Luis was frantic, although nothing showed on his handsome face. Madre de Dios, she's going to refuse me. She can't, she mustn't. What can I do to change her mind? Urgently, he pleaded, "Dee, I only offered you this way out if you should find marriage to me distasteful. As far as I'm concerned, I also had always thought I'd marry only once. But my first wife died. If we got married, I hope you'd be my last wife. I promise I'll do everything in my power to make the marriage happy for you." He gazed at her, desperate to convince her to marry him. She gazed back at him, trying to read his eyes. At last, she smiled. "I'll do what I can to make you happy, too, Luis. And Luz, of course." He gazed at her, almost in shock. "You accept my proposal, Dee?" She gave him an incandescent smile. "Yes, Luis, I will marry you." He flew up out of his chair, pulling her up and into his arms. Realizing that he mustn't spook her now, he held her gently, brushing his lips over hers. "This calls for a celebration. Champagne? We could invite Diego and Maria back?" She smiled at him. "As you wish, of course, but if you don't mind, I'd prefer that we celebrate together. Then if there's anything you still need to know, all you have to do is ask. And champagne sounds delightful."
"Roederer's Cristal or Krug?" he asked. "Krug," she said softly. "You wonderful woman--you chose my own fave." His deep voice was huskier than usual. "You think that's a good omen, Luis?" Her voice was barely a whisper. He glanced down at her. "A very good omen, dearest Dee," he whispered back. Luis took her back to the family room, seating her on one of the love-seats. He sat down beside her and picked up the telephone. "Dolores, you're still at work? Well, this once I'm glad you are. Will you bring us a bottle of Krug, please?" He listened to what sounded to Cordelia like a surge of Spanish. She saw him nod, heard him say, "Estamos en el salón privado." He listened for a moment, said "Gracias." He replaced the receiver. A few moments later, Dolores approached with a silver tray holding a cooler with a bottle of champagne and two flutes. She looked searchingly at Luis, finally asking, "Don Luis? Is this a celebration--for you and the Señorita?" When Luis nodded, she went on, "Then I am very glad. Your mother would have been so very happy for you. She often--" Dolores let her voice fade away. "Sí, Dolores. Comprendo," said Luis quietly. Dolores took a few steps back, and said formally, "Con su permíso, I will wish you both happiness." "Thank you, Dolores," said Luis, with a smile for her. "Yes, thank you," said Cordelia. After Dolores left, Luis opened the wine and poured two flutes, giving one to Cordelia. "Thank you for agreeing to marry me," said Luis softly, touching the rim of his glass gently to hers. Cordelia's smile was radiant. "Thank you for asking me," she said equally softly. Her aquamarine gaze met his dark eyes. Luis wondered how she meant that, thanking him for asking her. Of course, she was glad to become Luz's mother, so she'd never have to be separated from his daughter again. Yes, that must be it. "I'll ask my jeweler in New York to fly in with a selection of exclusive designs in engagement rings for you."
Cordelia stared at him, astonished. "Oh, Luis, please don't bother. I can't wear jewelry when I'm looking after Luz." "But you're not looking after her all day long, and you simply must have an engagement ring, Dee." "Well, this is rather an unusual marriage, wouldn't you say, Luis? So why bother with the usual traditions? I would like to wear a wedding band, though, once we're married, a plain gold ring. Would that be all right?" He smiled at her. "Of course that's all right. I suppose you're thinking that, if I gave you a wedding ring thickly encrusted with diamonds, you'd have to take it off every time you were seeing to Luz?" She nodded, pleased that he had understood. He said, "Good idea--the plain gold ring, I mean. Because once I've put my ring on your finger, I want it to stay there. That's what we'll have, plain gold rings." Surprised, Cordelia asked, "You want to wear a wedding ring too, Luis?" "I most certainly do, my beautiful Dee. Will you excuse me a moment, I've just thought of something." She nodded, watching him get to his feet and stride to his library. When he came back, he had a large black leather box in his hands. It seemed to be quite heavy. Luis sat down beside her again, taking out his keys and selecting a small gold key to open the box. Cordelia gasped. The box was full of what was probably the Montoya family jewelry. "Oh, Luis--" she faltered. He smiled at her. "Since you don't want me to send for my jeweler, will you please select your engagement ring from the rings in this box?" "Oh, Luis--" she breathed, "I'd so much rather you chose a ring for me. Would you please?" "Of course I will, if you'd rather. Let's see--" Luis rummaged for a while among what seemed a treasure trove of fabulous jewelry. "Ah, yes." He showed Cordelia a beautiful ring. A big aquamarine surrounded by superb diamonds. "The aquamarine is beautifully clear, and it has that elusive flame of green at its depth. Will you wear this for me, a ring to match your eyes?"
"Oh, Luis," she whispered, surprised. "You noticed the colour of my eyes?" "You'd be surprised what I notice," he said, taking her left hand into his. He slid the stunning ring on her third finger, pleased to see how slim her hands were, how long her fingers with beautifully shaped nails. The ring fit perfectly. He kissed her hand. "Luis, I can't thank you enough for this beautiful ring," she said softly. He smiled at her, his dark eyes hard to read, but they seemed friendly. That was something... "A kiss will do." She stretched out her hand with the fabulous ring, resting it against his lean cheek, her fingertips caressing his sculpted cheekbone. She lifted her face to his and softly kissed his mouth. When she felt the warmth of his lips against her own, she gave a little sigh and glanced up. She was surprised to see his dark eyes turn a stormy black. She wondered if he had meant her to kiss his cheek, but before she could apologize, she heard his deep voice, a little huskier than usual. "I feel splendidly rewarded for my gift." She whispered, "Oh, Luis--" He smiled. It amused him that she had this habit of saying, 'Oh, Luis,' whenever she felt overcome by some emotion. This woman, usually so quiet, yet a tigress when it came to speaking up for Luz. He remembered how fearlessly she had addressed him the very first time they met, and how he had felt a sneaking admiration for her, even though he had, of course, proudly and coolly refuted the complaints she voiced on Luz's behalf. Quietly, he remarked, "I've always felt so very lucky to have Luz, and now even more. If I didn't have my daughter, you wouldn't have agreed to marry me, would you?" "Luis, if you didn't have Luz, you wouldn't have proposed to me, would you?" she said equally quietly. "We'll never know, will we?" he said lightly. He picked up the Krug, nodding at her glass. "Have a little more champagne? This is supposed to be a celebration, remember?" He was amused to hear her breathless voice, "Oh, Luis--" He thought he saw her eyes flicker, before she looked down at her champagne, and he could only see her long dark lashes, as she took a small sip.
Very quietly, he said, "For a while I forgot I'm a parent, and thought of myself only as a man." "Oh, Luis," she said again. He was aware of her eyes searching his face, his eyes. After a while, she sighed, "Yes, it would be easy to forget that you're Luz's father, and only think of you as a man. But for me, that would never do. You asked me to marry you for Luz's sake. I'd better remember that." "Dee, honey, I'd be delighted if you'd not remember that sometimes. Could you forget it for now? Enjoy our very private engagement party? Let us be Dee and Luis for a while?" She glanced up at him, her eyes luminous. "Are you flirting with me, Luis?" Amused, he shook his head. "Querida, when I'm flirting with you, you won't have to ask," he said easily, taking her left hand into his and kissing her fingers, turning her hand in the way now familiar to her, pressing his mouth to the palm, then to the inside of her wrist. "Just getting a little better acquainted," he smiled. "A-acquainted?" she asked, her voice breathless. "Yes, remember what I said when I proposed to you? That I realized we don't know each other very well, and we'd take our time getting better acquainted." "Oh. Yes. Yes, I remember." "Any ideas?" he asked, and slowly let his arm drop from where it had rested behind her on the love-seat's back cushions. He curled his long fingers around her upper arm where it met her shoulder, and very gently tugged her a little closer. "Oh, Luis," she whispered.
The next day, at Amontillado time, Cordelia hurried down the long stairway. Luz had not wanted to go to sleep without an extra cuddle, which Cordelia had been more than willing to give her, but time had run away from her. Arriving at last in the family room, anxiously glancing at her watch, she saw it showed eight-forty. Luis and Diego rose politely. Luis walked towards her, asking, "Luz wouldn't let you go?" She nodded, glad that he understood. "I'm sorry I'm late," she said softly. "I'm glad you're here, querida," said Luis. He took her hand and kissed it. Then he bent his dark head and gently touched his mouth to hers. He was amused by her almost inaudible, "Oh, Luis--" On hearing Maria's scandalized gasp, Luis put his arm around Cordelia. "Show Diego and Maria your hand, querida." A little shyly, Cordelia held out her left hand and displayed the stunning aquamarine ring. Diego got to his feet and said, delightedly, "I see that congratulations are in order. Luis, mi amigo, I am elated for you. Cordelia is a very special woman. I realized that immediately, and I'm so glad you did, too. Cordelia, make him happy. Luis is my best friend and it's about time he found real happiness." Before Luis and Cordelia could thank Diego for his heartfelt wishes, Maria said, apparently unable to believe her ears and eyes, "I hope this won't be one of those long, drawn-out engagements, which peter out after several years, and leave the prospective bride high and dry." "Maria!" said Diego repressively. "¡Bastante! Time you wished Luis and Cordelia a happy life together." "Of course I wish you happiness," said Maria. "But the wedding--when will it take place?" "As soon as we can arrange it," said Luis. "That won't be any time soon. The cathedral--" Maria began. When Luis noticed Cordelia's panicky glance, he hastened to reassure her, after a coldly furious glance at Maria.
"No, nothing like that, I promise you, querida. I'll have Father Mark Shaughnessy perform our marriage ceremony right here. I'll have one of the reception rooms suitably decorated to resemble a chapel. Does that sound better, Dee?" She smiled. "Yes, thank you, Luis...querido--That sounds a lot better." Luis was clearly pleased with her hesitant endearment, and smiled, his white teeth dazzling. Diego said, "Any help I can give you with organizing this, you know you have only to ask, mi amigo." "I know that," said Luis easily. "Dee, amada? Will you give Diego a list of people you want to invite to the wedding?" "Invite? Oh. Yes, of course I will," said Cordelia. Now that she was engaged to this charismatic man with the heart-stopping looks, she found it even more difficult to concentrate on what he said. "Actually, Luis, there's only my brother Philip, his wife and little son, and my cousin Crystal and her husband. I could telephone the invitations." "Of course you could, mi amor, but Diego will have to mail them a proper wedding invitation." "And you, Luis?" Maria asked. "Are you going to invite your Spanish relatives, important business connections?" Luis allowed his annoyance to show, glancing coldly at Maria. "Our wedding is a very private matter to Dee and myself, Maria. No way would I allow business connections to attend. Just our closest friends and family. I'm sure Diego has already figured it all out, haven't you, mi amigo?" Diego smiled broadly at his friend. "Indeed I have. You needn't give another thought to any of this, Luis. But you'll tell the decorators how to create the wedding chapel." "Yes, I will," said Luis, and began to feed Cordelia little delicacies from the tapas. Maria said, "Of course, when you married Paola, you had the huge cathedral wedding, the zillions of guests, and I can imagine that you don't want anything like that again. But Cordelia hasn't been married before, don't you think you owe her a certain amount of pomp and circumstance?" Before Luis could answer, Cordelia exclaimed, "Oh, no, Maria, please don't. I hate
big, ostentatious weddings. I want this wedding to be private, just between Luis and me. I'm inviting only my brother and my cousin and their loved ones." With a lift of her eyebrows, Maria said, "Well, perhaps you can persuade Luis to hold the wedding in Luz's room. That would be really private and--" Diego, incensed, said, "Maria! ¡Bastante! I will not tell you again." Maria, indignant in her turn, said, "I only suggested that because its obvious Cordelia wants to have a daughter in Luz, because she can't--" Diego rose hastily, his hand over Maria's mouth. He turned to his friend. "Luis, mi amigo, I need to talk to Maria seriously and privately. Perhaps you will excuse us for tonight from dining here? Good night, you two." With that, Diego marched his wife away. Luis and Cordelia sat in astonished silence. Luis, his arm still around Cordelia's shoulders, hugged her gently. "I think Maria has begun to take her self-imposed role as your defender a little too seriously. She as good as questioned whether a small, private wedding would be legal. Dee, tell me, are you sure you want just a small wedding? You don't secretly wish for a cathedral full of guests, a wedding dress with a ten-foot train?" Cordelia laughed. "Oh, no, Luis. I really want a very small wedding. And to think I was inclined to ask Maria to be my bridal attendant. But I'll ask Crystal. Philip may wonder why I don't ask Rosemary, but whenever she's sure Philip can't overhear, she's often very unkind to me. If it weren't that I'm so useful to her to babysit Rob, she would've cut me off ages ago. I don't want to complain to Philip, because it would put even more strain on his marriage. I thought I should tell you, in case you were wondering why I prefer to have Crystal as my bridal attendant. That's all right, isn't it? Having a bridal attendant, even for a small wedding?" Luis smiled. "Of course it is. You tell me exactly what kind of wedding you want, and that's how we'll arrange things." "Oh, Luis--thank you. You're so good to me. Luis, those things Maria said, did they make you change your mind in any way?" He shook his dark head, hugging her more closely. "No, my modest novia-fiancée, not at all. I'm seriously considering asking Diego not to bring Maria to dinner with us any longer." "I think Diego's having a very serious talk with her right now, and he'll make sure she drops this 'defender of poor Cordelia' attitude. Why would she do that in the first place?"
"Because Maria thinks that, every time I escort some woman, I sleep with her. Which means she must think I'm a predator, not particular in whose bed I sleep. Believe me, Dee, I've always been very selective and deeply fastidious. Moreover, most of these women hit on me the moment we're introduced. Can you imagine how off-putting it is for a man when a woman sort of licks her lips as she checks him out below the belt? Never, never, could I--" His voice trailed off. "Oh, Luis, that's awful. I-I want you to know I'm not like that at all..." He smiled. "I know that, querida. The first time we met, you glanced at me, and hastily averted your eyes when they drifted to my zipper." He was amused to see Cordelia blush, lowering her lashes. "That's what I like about you--your modesty, your gentleness, and, of course, your love for Luz. And I hope that, one day, you'll begin to feel some affection for her father, as well." "Oh, Luis, do you really? Then I will hope that you'll feel some affection for me, too," she whispered, with an endearing glance at him. "Querida, I--" He was interrupted. Dolores came into the room. "Dinner is ready to be served, Don Luis." "We'll come right now, thank you, Dolores." Luis rose, holding out his hands to Cordelia, to help her get up from the love-seat. She overbalanced and fell into his arms. Luis embraced her quickly, holding her tightly to him until he was sure she had regained her balance. In confusion, she gazed at him. As he held her, she had felt the heat and steely hardness of his erection blazing against her. Luis shrugged. "You're a very beautiful woman, querida, and I am a man." "Oh, Luis--" she whispered helplessly. "I-I don't see how you can promise me fidelity, a man so passionate. Maybe I should--I'm willing to try, if you need--" Deeply touched by her willingness to sleep with him if he needed that, he walked slowly with her to the dining room. "Dee, querida, I'll cherish you forever for offering me your body, willing to try making love with me while we are still getting acquainted. Thank you from my heart, but no. Never would I do that to you. We will wait until, one day, you may want our marriage to include intimacy. ¿De acuerdo?" "Yes, de acuerdo," she said, slipping her hand into his. Dolores awaited them as they came into the dining room. When they were seated,
she said, "Since you left the decision to me what to serve you tonight, I chose paella de mariscos. Will that please you, Don Luis, and your novia?" "Will you like a rice dish with shellfish, querida?" Luis inquired solicitously. "Oh, yes, thank you, Luis," she said, smiling at Dolores, who smiled back. "Ernesto will bring the dish, but I've told him not to serve it. I thought you and your novia would prefer to dine alone," Dolores explained. "Gracias, Dolores," said Luis. She went to the door and opened it to a young man, who carried a shallow oval copper dish from which arose a delicious aroma. Dolores indicated the trivet to Luis's left, and Ernesto placed the paella there. "Thank you, Ernesto. We'll serve ourselves. Good night. Good night, Dolores." "Buenas noches, Don Luis, Señorita," said Dolores, waving Ernesto out of the room and closing the double doors behind her. "Alone at last," sighed Luis. He began to serve Cordelia and himself. "I think we'll have the salad after, all right?" he asked, and Cordelia nodded. When they had appeased their appetite, Luis said, "I'm going to invite my late father's younger brother, Javier. We're fond of each other. Unfortunately, it means I also have to invite his wife, Elena, a real bitch, and her daughter Isabella, who suffers from two major delusions. First, she thinks she's the most beautiful woman on earth, and second, she thinks that every man she sees has the hots for her. When you meet her, you'll be able to judge for yourself." Cordelia nodded. "It isn't unlike my situation. I love my brother and my nephew, but my sister-in-law... But I really like Crystal's husband, Taki Lambros. He's quite famous as a stage designer for Henry Cameron's Broadway productions." "Yes, I've heard of him. In fact I think I met him when I was invited to a theatre party by Henry and his wife. When we're married, we'll spend some time in New York during the beginning of the theatre season and attend some first nights. Would you like that, Dee?" "Oh, yes, Luis, of course I would. But what about Luz?" "We'll take her with us, and arrange for the hotel's babysitting service to take care of her while we're at the theatre, at dinner, or wherever." "They would be kind and gentle with her, wouldn't they?" Cordelia asked.
"Amada, we'd be sure to meet the nanny before we allowed her near Luz. Please don't worry, I won't let anything bad happen to her." Cordelia smiled at him, reassured. "Of course you won't. I'd love to go to New York to see some plays. Could we see Crystal and Taki while we're there?" "Nothing simpler," said Luis easily. He glanced at her plate and frowned. "Is that all you're going to eat?" "You gave me quite a big helping," she protested. "I have to leave room for some of that delicious-looking salad, Luis." "I guess you do. What would you like for dessert?" "Just some fruit, I think, thank you." "Good idea, I'll have the same. I'll just tell Dolores." He went to the telephone on the sideboard and spoke briefly. When they had finished their salad, Dolores came back with Ernesto, who quickly removed the used dishes, placing before them delicate crystal bowls on saucers with bite-size pieces of fruit. "Thanks, Dolores. We'll have coffee in el salón privado," said Luis. "And then it's high time you went off-duty." "Do not worry, Don Luis, I had a rest this afternoon." "Even so, Dolores, I don't want you to overtax yourself." Dolores gave Luis an indulgent smile as she left the room. Later, when they were back in the family room, Luis said, "I forgot to ask you, what kind of wedding dress do you want?" He had to bend close to hear her whisper, "I want to wear a white dress to marry you, Luis." He nodded. "Yes, that'll be charming. Do you want me to take you to New York for your dress?" Astonished, Cordelia said, "Oh, no, thank you, Luis. I'll phone that little boutique on Main Street, across from the art gallery, and ask her to get some wedding dresses in." "If you're sure, then I'd like to go with you, buy you the wedding dress of your
dreams as a private wedding gift from me to you." "But Luis--You've already given me this huge, fabulous engagement ring--" "And you've given me so much more, by making Luz happy, you know that, don't you, querida?" "Oh, Luis--" She was interrupted by a thin little cry from the monitor at Luis's belt. Cordelia flew up. Luis held her back with a hand on her arm. "We'll both go." *** After Cordelia had quickly given Luz a new diaper, let her sip a little apple juice, cuddled her and let Luis put her back to bed, they walked slowly out of the baby's room. "If you don't mind, I'd like to go to bed, I'm a little bit tired," said Cordelia. "Of course. I think I'll do the same." They were at her door. "Good night, querida." Luis took her gently in his arms. "Will you kiss me goodnight?" "Oh, Luis--of course I will," she said, sounding wistful. "Good night, querido." She stood on tiptoe, one long, elegant hand against his cheek, caressing his cheekbone, her other hand lying on his chest, over his heart. She lifted her mouth to his and kissed him, her lips slightly parted. Later, he couldn't think how he kept the kiss soft and gentle. "Buenas noches, mi amor," he said. *** Two days before the wedding, Uncle Javier flew in with his wife and her daughter. Luis explained to Cordelia, "Uncle Javier married a widow with a young daughter, who has grown into a discontented, sullen woman of thirty. By the way, we won't go to the airport to meet them--Diego will." Although there were numerous guest suites at the house, Luis had arranged a two-bedroom suite at the new Acapulco, thinking its opulence might appeal to Aunt Elena and Isabella. He knew that Javier preferred the Hilton, as did Luis. When Isabella realized she was not to sleep at Luis's house, and thus saw her
plans to sleepwalk into his bedroom thwarted, she was incensed. "I bet that insipid fiancée of his insisted that I sleep elsewhere. Luis wouldn't be able to resist me, and then where would she be, looking ridiculous," Isabella fumed at her mother, who had avidly aided and abetted her daughter's plans to trap Luis into a proposal. That evening, Luis would host a dinner party at the Hilton's Café de Paris for his relatives. Cordelia's relatives were due to arrive the following day. Luis wished the others had been there to blunt the spiteful attacks on Cordelia by Isabella and her mother. He was delighted he had insisted on buying Cordelia not only the wedding dress of her dreams, but also three formal dresses--one long, two knee length. He smiled, recalling his request that the wedding dress be modeled, but Cordelia adamantly refused. "Luis, it's bad luck for the groom to see the bride in her wedding dress before she walks toward him as he waits for her at the altar." "You're sure of that?" he remembered teasing her. In his mind, he still heard her soft voice, "Oh, Luis, I need all the luck I can get--" And his own whisper, "No, you don't, amada, you'll see. We'll have a wonderful marriage. I promise you." *** Luis sent Adams with the limousine to pick up Javier, Elena and Isabella at the Acapulco. He drove to the Hilton in the Corniche, with Diego and Maria in the back, Cordelia by his side. Luis carefully arranged to be at their table ahead of time and, with Diego's help, made sure that Isabella would be seated as far from him as possible. He was grateful to Lucien, the unflappable Maître d' of the Café de Paris, who had reserved for Luis and his guests a secluded table in an alcove. When his guests arrived, Luis strode toward them, hands outstretched. "Uncle Javier, I'm so happy to see you." Javier embraced his nephew. "I can't tell you how delighted I am that you've found a lady to be happy with at last." The impatient voice of Elena was heard, "¡Bastante, bastante!" as she shoved herself forward for the traditional Spanish greeting, a kiss on each cheek, which
Luis was punctilious in bestowing, his lips barely touching his aunt's face. Impatiently, Isabella all but pushed her mother out of the way. "Luis, querido!" she trilled, her voice a little too loud, trying to plaster herself against him. Luis, adept at avoiding unwanted embraces, neatly sidestepped, holding her firmly away from him, as he very, very briefly bestowed the traditional kiss on each cheek. With a sigh of relief that this ordeal was over, Luis turned to Cordelia, putting his arm around her small waist. "Uncle Javier, Aunt Elena, Isabella, please meet my bride, Cordelia Dunleigh," he said. Javier glanced with interest, then approval, at Cordelia, and when she held out her hand, he took it in his and kissed it. "I am delighted that my nephew has found you," he said, with a very friendly glance at Cordelia and Luis. He took a step closer and politely, briefly, kissed her on both cheeks. Elena stepped forward and glanced at Cordelia, her eyes disdainful, and her manner, barely civil. "We were astonished that Luis was going to get married so soon after his beloved first wife was so tragically killed. But perhaps there was a reason for the haste? A bebé, perhaps?" Luis's eyes were black ice. He said, his voice contemptuous and glacial, "¡Tía Elena! Enough of your crude speculations. My fiancée is a virtuous lady." "Ah. She keeps you waiting until there is no going back for you. A clever woman, perhaps lacking in fire, or she would surely have surrendered to you already. Isabella would not be so mean-spirited, keeping you waiting until the ring was irrevocably on her finger. She would respond to passion with passion. I hope you know what you're doing, Luis." "I do, thank you, Aunt Elena. Let me just add that I'd never have considered Isabella as a candidate for the role of my wife. Never. Nunca. ¿Claro? I feel very, very lucky that Cordelia will marry me the day after tomorrow." Isabella slowly sidled closer and closer to Luis. Now, she tried to put her arm through his, sniping to Cordelia, "Your wedding is the day after tomorrow? A lot can happen in two days." Isabella was dismayed when Luis roughly yanked his arm from her grasp and bit out, "Keep your distance. Your possessive behaviour is unseemly and unwanted, Isabella." Elena and Isabella glowered at him.
Luis turned to his uncle and said, "Uncle Javier, here are Diego and Maria." He moved back with Cordelia so that Diego and Maria could greet the guests. When they were seating themselves, Isabella made a determined attempt to sit down beside Luis, but Diego forestalled her. "Over here, Isabella, between your father and me," he said easily. With a mulish expression on her already sullen face, Isabella sat down where Diego indicated. The dinner seemed interminable to Luis, who had his work cut out parrying and deflecting Elena's and Isabella's vicious barbs, inadequately disguised as 'interest,' aimed at Cordelia. At one point, Elena asked her peremptorily, "Why haven't you learned Spanish, since you're intent on marrying a Spaniard?" Instantly, Luis came to Cordelia's aid. "Aunt Elena, Cordelia wasn't intent on marrying me. I was intent on marrying her. I am an American of Spanish ancestry, not a Spaniard. There is no need for Cordelia to learn Spanish." His sensitive nostrils flared, as he took Cordelia's hand into his, bringing it to his lips. With a grateful glance at Luis, Cordelia said, "Con tu permíso, Luis, tu Tía es en error. Hablo español"--with your permission, Luis, your aunt is mistaken. I speak Spanish. Luis gave her a dazzling smile. Clearly, he was enchanted. Elena and her daughter could not hide their dismay that none of their ploys to make Luis's bride look stupid and undesirable had worked. Quietly, Luis said, "Aunt Elena, you will stop this distasteful inquisition now. And Isabella, I will not permit you to say another word to my bride. ¿Claro?" Javier weighed in with, "Elena, Isabella, bastante. If you cannot be civil, I shall call a taxi to have you driven back to the Acapulco. My apologies, Luis, Cordelia." By way of explanation, he said to Cordelia, "My wife has been trying to snare Luis for her daughter since Isabella was in her teens. The fact that Luis could not be less interested in his cousin has never fazed either of them." He turned to his wife. "You will stop your distasteful matchmaking right now, or I will send both of you back to the Acapulco and, tomorrow, to Spain. ¿Claro?" Furious, Elena bit out, "I've never had to be a matchmaker for my beautiful daughter, who puts everyone else in the shade. But, I have rather a headache, and would like to go back to my suite. Luis, will you call your limousine?" Before Luis could say a word, Javier snapped, "I will ask the maître d' to be good
enough to call a taxi for you and Isabella--No, Isabella, you are not staying. And you won't inconvenience Luis with your demands for his limousine, either." Javier lifted his hand slightly. Lucien came over as quickly as his dignity allowed. "Lucien, my wife has a dreadful headache. She and her daughter wish to return to our suite at the Acapulco. Could you arrange for someone to call them a taxi, and let me know when it is here?" "Certainly, sir. I, myself, will conduct the ladies to the taxi." "That is very kind, indeed. Thank you." Javier discreetly pressed a banknote in Lucien's unobtrusively waiting hand. A little later, Lucien approached the table again. To Javier, he said, "The taxi is waiting, sir." When Lucien began to guide Elena and Isabella to the taxi, Javier and Luis heaved a sigh of relief. "Gracias a Dios, they're gone. Now we can enjoy each other's company and the rest of the wonderful dinner you have chosen for us, my dear Luis," said Javier. "Allow me, please, to apologize one more time for their appalling rudeness to you and your beautiful bride-to-be." "De nada, Tío Javier. Unfortunately, there was no way to invite you alone to come to our wedding. However, now that I've seen Elena and Isabella in action, I will not allow them to attend the wedding. I want this to be a happy occasion for Cordelia and me. Will it upset you if I forbid them to attend?" "My dear Luis, not in the least. I'm going to send them back to Spain tomorrow. I wouldn't dream of allowing them to spray their poison around for another moment." Luis smiled at his uncle. "Thank you, Uncle Javier. Tell me, would you like to clear out of the Acapulco when they're gone, and stay at the house?" "My dear sobrino--nephew, nothing would give me greater pleasure. I realized that you couldn't invite us while Isabella firmly intended to sneak into your bedroom, and force herself on you. Once she and Elena are gone, I'll really enjoy staying with you. "Oh, but wait. You and Cordelia will want to go on your honeymoon. Please, let me not be in your way." "Uncle Javier, we've postponed our honeymoon for a while. Luz needs some stability in her life, and she'd be so upset if we were to leave now. So Cordelia has agreed that we put off our honeymoon until Luz feels more secure."
"Then I can only congratulate you again on your choice of bride, my dear Luis. Such a woman is a great rarity, but I'm sure you know that yourself. I know how unhappy your first wife made you. Ah, my dear nephew, in spite of your alwayscorrect behaviour, I'm not blind. I wish you blissful happiness with Cordelia." More moved than he would have wished to admit, Luis said, his deep voice huskier than usual, "Gracias, Tío Javier, muchas gracias." *** The following day was far more pleasant. Luis sent his limousine driven by one of his security officers to take Elena and her daughter to the airport. Someone from Luis's office would meet their plane in New York. The young man would make sure the two women got safely on the next plane for Madrid. Javier, on the telephone to Luis, was amused. "Making quite sure they actually depart, Luis? Good move." "Are you ready to leave the Acapulco and come to the house, Uncle?" "Indeed I am, my dear nephew." "I'll send Adams for you in the Corniche. Please remain in the suite. Adams will come up and take care of your luggage." Within the hour, Javier was happily ensconced in one of Luis's big guest suites. When he came down a little later, Luis invited his uncle to his library. They and Diego were soon talking business, enjoying themselves hugely. *** A couple of hours later, Cordelia's brother, Philip, arrived by car with his wife, Rosemary, and their little son, Rob, with his nanny. Cordelia greeted Philip delightedly, and introduced him to Luis. In his turn, Philip introduced Luis to Rosemary, whose greeting to Cordelia had been chilly. On the other hand, she fawned over Luis to such an extent that Philip frowned warningly at her. Rosemary was making an embarrassing spectacle of herself. Rob and his nanny had stayed back a little, but now Rob launched himself at Cordelia, saying, "Aunt Delia, have you missed me, Aunt Delia?" Cordelia caught Rob in her arms. "Rob, honey, I'm so glad to see you, and you bet I've missed you, lots." Luis noted the ill-concealed resentment with which Rosemary observed her son's delight at seeing Cordelia again. He decided Rosemary would bear watching. No
one, but no one would ever be allowed to hurt or harm Dee. He was surprised at the intensity of his protective feelings for her, but resolutely put the matter out of his head. He had duties to fulfill as host to these wedding guests. He smiled his cool, experienced smile at Rosemary, but his eyes held a dark warning. Dolores came forward to take the new arrivals to the largest guest suite with an adjacent smaller suite for Rob and his nanny. Diego said quietly to Luis, "The security officer has just brought the limo back. Those two bitches are definitely on their way to Spain. I've alerted Adams and the limousine for a trip to the airport to pick up Crystal and Taki Lambros. I think I'd better take off within the next fifteen minutes or so." Luis nodded. "Gracias, amigo." Luis and Cordelia went to the front entrance and down the steps as soon as Dolores mentioned that the limo was at the security gate. The moment Adams opened the door of the car, Crystal came tumbling out, quickly followed by Taki. "Crystal!" "Delia!" "Taki!" "Cordelia!" Cordelia beamed at her cousin and Taki. She reached for Luis's hand, pulling him closer. "Crystal and Taki, I want you to meet Luis Montoya de Cabrera, my almosthusband. Luis, my cousin Crystal and her husband Taki Lambros." Luis came forward, shaking hands with Taki, bringing Crystal's hand to his lips. "Welcome. I'll have my housekeeper take you to your suite, and when you've freshened up, please come downstairs to our family room. We'll have a little welcoming drink together. No doubt Dee's brother and his wife will come down, too." Dolores appeared as if by magic, taking Crystal and Taki upstairs to their suite. Where is Dee? Luis wondered. After a while, the baby monitor at his belt let him hear Dee's soft voice, bright young laughter, as well as the familiar gurgles of his daughter. He realized that Dee had taken her nephew to meet Luz. Leaning back in his chair, with a half-smile, he listened to the gentle sounds.
Only then did he allow himself to return to the thoughts that had preoccupied him earlier. He recalled the disagreeable hours when he had been forced to endure the attempted put-downs of his darling Dee by that avid man-trap, Isabella, and her conniving mother. True, he had deflected all their spiteful taunts, but-He sat up straight, shocked to realize where his thoughts had taken him. His darling Dee? Well, of course he felt affection for Dee, felt grateful to her for her loving care of Luz, and he felt protective of her, a woman so gentle--except when she was defending Luz. He relaxed, leaning back again, smiling. Cheerful voices sounded overhead, becoming more audible as their owners descended the stairway. Taki was chatting with a very animated Rosemary, who displayed an avid and profound interest in the theatre, somewhat to her husband's surprise. He smiled at Crystal, who raised a whimsical brow, shrugging lightly. Taki was handsome, and Rosemary was behaving true to her predatory self. Crystal thought, Poor Philip. And poor little Rob, never shown any motherly love. When they reached the bottom of the stairway, Luis got to his feet, inviting his guests to sit. He was not surprised to find the apparently mind-reading Dolores at his elbow, saying, "Don Luis, champagne, perhaps?" "Good idea, Dolores. Better bring both Krug and Cristal." Dolores nodded, gliding away. Taki and Crystal sat down on one of the love-seats. Rosemary waited until she saw where Luis would seat himself, taking the chair next to him. Philip sat on the other love-seat, where Javier soon joined him. "It seems inconceivable to me that Cordelia isn't here with you," Rosemary said to Luis, her manner and tone flirtatious, and slightly malicious. Luis barely glanced at her. "Dee is in my daughter's room, introducing her nephew to Luz," he said calmly. Dolores came back with Ernesto, who carried a big tray with two ice buckets, each holding a bottle of champagne. She said briefly, "Aquí," to the young man, indicating the credenza holding the drinks tray. Quickly, she took flutes from a cabinet with beveled glass doors, and went back to her employer. "Don Luis? How many Krug, and how many Cristal?" she asked. Luis looked around enquiringly. "Roederer's Cristal, please Luis, so divine," said Rosemary, her ambiguous wording meant to leave room for speculation that she thought Luis divine, rather than the champagne.
"My namesake, Cristal, please," said Crystal. The others asked for Krug. Dolores made a point of personally serving the wine, looking up when she heard soft, hurried footsteps on the stairway. Cordelia approached, carrying Luz, with her nephew holding on to her skirt. The moment he saw Cordelia, Luis got to his feet and went to meet her. "Here, give Luz to me," he said gently. Philip and Javier rose from the love-seat. Javier said, "Please, you two sit here with the children." He and Philip found two easy chairs close together, and continued their discussion about a new stock offer. Dolores quickly brought a flute of Krug to Cordelia, who thanked her softly, "Gracias." Rosemary's head snapped around when she heard 'children.' "Dammit, Delia, leave Rob to his nanny, this is a gathering of adults, not a babysitting club," she exclaimed waspishly. "You are surely not speaking in earnest, Rosemary," said Luis, his voice chilly, his manner aloof. Cordelia barely glanced at her sister-in-law. With icy politeness, she said, "When you're in your house you can obliterate all traces of your son if you wish, banish children to their own quarters, Rosemary. Here, you can't. This is Luis's house, and we welcome children when we're relaxing in this room. We often pick up Luz from her room and have her with us here." "Dee is quite right," said Luis, with a caressing glance for Cordelia. "Anyway, I'd like to get to know Rob a little better. Will you come sit between your aunt and me, Rob?" Rob's green eyes, so like his father's, were radiant, when he realized that Aunt Delia had calmly overruled his mother. He glanced from Luis to Cordelia, his eyes loving and trusting, his small face showing a pensive frown. "What is it, Rob?" Luis asked, his voice concerned. "Are you my Uncle Luis now?" Rob wanted to know, and when Luis nodded, he went on, "I was just thinking, now that Aunt Delia is married to you, she probably won't be able to come babysit me when my mom wants to go away." "That's true, Rob, Aunt Delia won't be able to come to your house any more. But
when your parents want to go away, they could drop you off here, or I could send my plane for you, and you could stay with us. Would you like that?" "Oh, Uncle Luis, you mean it?" "I most certainly do," said Luis, ruffling the boy's hair. Rosemary, furious at being overruled by Delia, that nothing sister of Philip's, now perked up. She leaned over to Luis, showing a startling amount of cleavage. "You're so good with children," she said admiringly. Addressing her son, she added, "But Rob, dahling, your Aunt Delia is not yet married. The wedding is supposed to take place tomorrow, so you really shouldn't call Mr. Montoya 'uncle' yet." Rob's face fell. He looked at Luis in confusion. Hastily, Luis reassured him. "You call me Uncle Luis from now on, if you'd like," he said, hugging the boy. "And, Rosemary, the wedding isn't supposed to take place tomorrow. It most definitely will take place tomorrow." "Of course, do forgive me. It's just that I find it difficult to think of Delia as the wife of one of the most sophisticated men in our circles. Oh, she's good with children, I'll give you that, but otherwise-- I'd have thought you would prize utter elegance and sophistication in your wife." Although his face remained inscrutably polite, inwardly Luis seethed with rage at this cold, haughty woman. How dare she say a disparaging word, to him! about his future wife? "My dearly beloved Dee is utterly elegant whatever she wears, and as for sophistication, you can have it. Most of the time it means that the woman who so describes herself is indicating she's slept around alarmingly. I prize virtue in my wife, and I have found that in Dee." With an effort, Luis kept his voice calm, but he could not moderate its aloof tone, nor the cold fury in his dark eyes. Fuming, because her belittling remarks had not had any effect, and instead had earned her a glacial rebuke from Luis, Rosemary decided to hold her fire temporarily. No doubt, better opportunities would present themselves where she could show up Delia for the boring, naïve, nothing woman she was. Actually, she quite liked being Philip's wife, but a flirtation, or better, a fling with the truly stunning Luis Montoya would definitely be worth her while. Unfortunately, he seemed to like children. No matter, she'd just pretend to like that baby girl drowsing on his lap. But Luis turned away from her, and began a conversation with that damn Delia. His voice was too low for her to hear what he was saying. And Delia only said, "Oh, Luis--" and gave a silly smile to that gorgeous man.
Rosemary thought, contemptuously, That's truly brilliant repartee, Delia. You won't be able to hold on to a man with his libido for more than a nanosecond. When he's thoroughly bored with you, I'll be waiting. She became aware of Philip's glance, and looked over at him. Almost imperceptibly, he shook his head at her. For one terrifying moment, she feared he had read her thoughts. Then she realized he was warning her to stop being unkind to his sister. Rosemary was almost relieved, when Luis asked his guests, "Would you like to have dinner here tonight, or would you prefer the Café de Paris at the Hilton?" "Here, if it isn't too much work for your chef," said Crystal softly, and Taki nodded his agreement. "I agree, Luis," said Philip, and Javier said cheerfully, "De acuerdo." "Well," said Rosemary. "I must confess I adore the Café de Paris, and I've heard so much about the new, exclusive restaurant in the Acapulco, the Aztec Café. But if everyone else votes for eating here--" "Yes, you're outvoted, Rosemary," said Philip quietly, throwing his wife a quelling look. Rosemary subsided, afraid to displease Philip too much. He was, after all, an excellent husband, handsome, rich, generous, a highly respected lawyer, and good in bed. She decided to capitulate, and said with a fake smile, "Oh, but I shall adore dining here." Luis took no notice of Rosemary, and said, all his attention on Cordelia, "And you, my almost-wife?" Cordelia said, "Oh, Luis, you know I prefer eating at home. Luz--" He smiled, quietly pleased with her answer. He raised a slim black brow to her and she nodded. Quickly, he rose with his drowsing daughter in his arms, Cordelia following him. "Will you come and help us put Luz to bed, Rob?" he asked the boy. "Oh yes, Uncle Luis, I'd like that a lot." Luis knelt by the boy, holding Luz carefully. He asked, "Would you like to learn how to pronounce my name? It isn't 'Lewis,' you see. My name is Spanish, and it's pronounced Loo-eess."
"Uncle Loo-eess?" asked Rob. "Yes, you did that exactly right," said Luis, touched by the boy's delight in having learned to pronounce his new uncle's name. He rose, and the little procession made its way up the stairs. When they reached Luz's room, Luis handed her to Cordelia and knelt again by Rob. "Dolores, that nice lady who brought us champagne? Well, she has arranged a little snack for you in Luz's playroom, which is next to her bedroom. I'll come with you and show you. All you have to do is press the blue button on the telephone. That means you're talking to the kitchen. Just say that you're Rob and you'd like to have something to eat now. Do you want your nanny with you? No? All right." "Thank you, Uncle Luis," said Rob, shyly caressing Luis's arm. Luis thought, Poor little boy, with that unfeeling bitch for a mother. He hugged Rob, asking, "Would you like to give Luz a sleep-well kiss?" "Oh yes, Uncle Luis, I would." Rob's eyes shone. Luis lifted him, holding him firmly so that Rob could kiss Luz's cheek. "She's so pretty," said Rob.
On the morning of her wedding day, Cordelia awoke, as usual, to soft, snuffly sounds, followed by a little cry from the baby monitor, and she hurried to Luz's room. She had just given the baby a fresh diaper, when Luis entered. "I'm sorry I'm late, querida," he said. "I wanted to be here first and see to Luz, so that you could get a few hours more sleep, but--" he shrugged, smiling apologetically. "But what?" she asked, wondering what he meant. "I sleep nude, so before I come in here I have to put on pajama bottoms and a robe," he said calmly. He felt deeply stirred, when something flared in Cordelia's eyes, and he saw her blush. Realizing it was more than his usual physical reaction to her, he wondered at this unfamiliar feeling. "Oh," she sighed. "I'm sorry, I didn't mean to--" "Ah, Dee," he said, and drew her to him in a gentle embrace. He bent his dark head, kissing her mouth softly. He felt her quick intake of breath with great satisfaction. Perhaps their marriage wouldn't be 'in name' for too long, he mused. Aloud, he said, "Just rehearsing for when Father Mark says, 'Luis, you may kiss your bride.'" "Oh, Luis," she whispered. "Kiss me back?" How can I kiss him back without giving away that I've fallen hopelessly in love with him, Cordelia thought frantically. With an effort, she calmed herself and stood on tiptoe to reach his mouth. When he felt her soft lips part against his, he nearly lost it. He did tighten his embrace a little, holding himself back with an iron will. "Querida, I shall look forward to being kissed by you on a regular basis once we are husband and wife," he said easily, kissing her again. "That's all you get," he said, teasingly licking the corner of her mouth.
"Oh Luis," she sighed again. They heard rapid little steps outside the door, and moved apart. Rob hesitantly pushed the door open a little wider. "Uncle Luis? Aunt Delia?" Saved by the bell, thought Luis. He knelt by the boy. "Good morning, Rob. Did you sleep well?" "Oh, yes, Uncle Luis, thank you." Rob put his arms around Luis's neck, waiting for a hug, which came immediately. Shyly, Rob said, "I like it here so much, being with you and Aunt Delia, and Luz." Quickly, Luis came to a decision. "Tell you what, Rob. I'll talk to your dad and ask if he'll let you stay with us for a while. Would you like that?" He was unprepared for the sudden tears in the little boy's eyes. "Uncle Luis, do you mean it? Stay here? Oh-- But mom said that you were going away to somewhere so...sofis..." Rob's face clouded when he recalled the hateful tone and the unkind words his mom had spoken about Aunt Delia. "No, Rob, we aren't going on a trip right now. We've postponed our trip because Luz would miss us too much, you see. When she's a little bigger and more used to being with other people, then we'll go on a trip. But it'll be somewhere quiet, not somewhere sophisticated--was that the word your mom used?" "Yes, I think so," said Rob. "So I could stay with you? You'll talk to Daddy? I think he'll let me stay. My mom--" "She'll let you stay when she realizes it means she can go away without having to worry about you." "Oh, she doesn't worry about me, only Daddy does." Rob's voice was matter-offact. Luis and Cordelia glanced at each other, horrified at the implication of what Rob had said so casually. Poor little boy. "I'll talk to your dad at breakfast, promise," said Luis. "But that won't be for a couple of hours, probably. It's just six o'clock." "Will you allow me to go outside and play, Uncle Luis?" "Of course I will," said Luis easily. "Enjoy yourself."
Cordelia was sitting in one of the comfortable chairs she had placed in Luz's redesigned room. She was concentrated on Luz and her bottle, but stretched out her arm to Rob, asking, "A little good morning kiss for Luz?" His eyes radiant, Rob came closer and leaned over Luz to give her a little kiss on the forehead. Luz let go of her bottle, gurgling and pulling Rob's hair. Looking delighted, he glanced from his aunt to his new uncle, asking, "Some time, when Luz isn't drinking, do you think I could hold her?" "Of course, Rob. That'll be fun for Luz," Luis responded immediately. "Oh, thank you, Uncle Luis," said Rob, practically catapulting from the room. Luis knelt by Cordelia's chair. "Father Mark was thinking of arriving around one o'clock to have a chat with you and me about the ceremony at two. If you think that leaves you too little time to get into your bridal gown, please say, and I'll ask him to marry us at three o'clock instead." "Oh, no, thank you, Luis. I'll get ready and wear a caftan for our talk with Father Mark. Crystal will help me into my dress, and--oh, Luis--?" "What?" he said, surprised, because suddenly she sounded so panicky. "Perhaps Father Mark will refuse to marry us when he finds out I'm not a Catholic?" He could only be pleased at the despair in her voice. Perhaps she really wants to marry me? He frowned to himself. Of course she does, because of Luz. He got to his feet. "Father Mark already knows," he reassured her calmly. "I told him. That's why he wants to talk to us before the ceremony. To make sure you understand what's going on. All right?" "Oh, yes, Luis, of course all right." Her smile was radiant. "You get some more rest now, Dee. I'll play with Luz and cuddle her for a while." "After I've burped her, I was going to feed her a few spoonfuls of these pureed carrots I made yesterday." "I can do that, Dee. You didn't get to bed until nearly midnight, and were up at fivethirty." "Exactly the same is true for you, Luis. And you stayed up a bit longer, talking to Diego and your Uncle Javier." "All the same, try to get a little more sleep, Dee. Please?"
"I will, Luis, thank you." "I'll look forward to hearing you say 'I will' again, this afternoon." His eyes were dark with an expression she could not read. "Oh, Luis," she said, with a little smile for him, hurrying from the room. *** The talk with Father Mark was interesting and reassuring to Cordelia. Luis had been adamant that the talk be held in his library, far away from the big reception room that had been transformed into a wedding chapel. Luis had been mysterious about this, refusing to talk about it. "You'll see when Philip brings you to me," was all he would say. Cordelia went back to the family room, where Crystal and Taki were sitting together. She was delighted to see that Crystal was wearing a slim ankle-length column of a dress in a delicate shell pink. It would go well with her dress. The moment Crystal saw Cordelia, she jumped up, turned back to Taki, giving him a hasty kiss on the mouth. "Gotta help my cuz," she explained, quickly running up the stairway. "I'm in here," Cordelia said to Crystal, as she stood aside to let her cousin enter the bedroom next to the baby's. "I like to be close to Luz." "Not any more, you won't," said Crystal, grinning wickedly. "From tonight you'll sleep in Luis's bed." Crystal laughed when she saw Cordelia blush. She added, "If you don't mind my mentioning it, it seemed that Rosemary would be only too willing to take your place. The way she was undressing Luis with her eyes--I'm truly sorry for Philip, whom I've always liked so much. Why did he pick that cold, calculating witch?" "I don't know. She probably displayed herself to advantage, faking deep feelings and all that. As you say, poor Philip, and particularly, poor Rob. After all, Philip can defend himself, but Rob.... Anyway, Luis invited Rob to stay with us 'for a while' and Philip agreed. So Rosemary will have to fall in with his wishes." Crystal was surprised. Eyes wide, she asked, "Luis isn't taking you away for a honeymoon?" "Not yet, Crystal. Luz is just beginning to feel safe, reassured, loved. Luis had to do quite a bit of travel when I started on his interiors, and apparently the nanny he had for Luz was not at all what he expected. On the morning Luis returned from
Australia, the nanny quit. Just left that baby lying there. "I heard a baby crying and hurried upstairs to see what I could do. Then Luis walked in, demanding to know what I was doing. Well, I was so incensed at finding this helpless baby crying, no nanny anywhere to be seen.... So I let him have it." Crystal, laughing now, said, "You met this gorgeous man and you let him have it because he didn't care enough for his daughter, in your opinion?" Half embarrassed, Cordelia nodded. "Well, I was so upset to see how raw poor Luz's skin was under the diaper. That nanny must've left her with a wet diaper for hours. Anyway, I took care of Luz, then I had that difference of opinion with Luis. Later, he asked me if I would look after Luz until they could find a really good nanny for her. Of course, I said I would." "And Luis fell in love with you and asked you to marry him," Crystal nodded with great satisfaction. Cordelia felt she couldn't tell even her cousin the humiliating fact that Luis had asked her to marry him because of Luz. She smiled, nodding. "Crystal, I'd better get into my wedding gown," said Cordelia, hoping to put an end to their talk about Luis and his feelings for her. Cordelia went to her closet, bringing out the dress. "Oh, dear God, where did you find this fabulous gown?" Crystal exclaimed. "It must've cost the earth. Still, when you consider whom you're marrying, it sure is worth every penny, hmm?" "Well, actually, Luis insisted on buying me the wedding dress of my dreams," said Cordelia. "But you didn't let him see it?" Crystal gasped. "No, of course not. I don't want to stack the deck against myself; letting the bridegroom see the dress ahead of time." "Oh, Delia, I just love this elegant, delicate bodice of pure silk, so thin that it drapes perfectly. I'm glad there are little cap-sleeves cut as part of the bodice. This is perfect. Luis will love you in it." Privately Cordelia wished with all her heart that, one day, Luis would do just that, love her. But, she thought ruefully, she had better not hold her breath. Crystal continued to go into raptures over the dress. "And the skirt, so elegantly cut. A mere stem of a dress of the silk, with that sexy split to the knee at the back, then the silk chiffon over. I'm glad you decided to be a
white bride." "I've the right to wear white, as you know. I'm glad you really like it," said Cordelia. "Want me to do your makeup, Delia?" Crystal asked. "No, thanks, Crystal. Luis doesn't much like makeup. So I'm just going to put on this moisturizer, then wipe it off, and put on some lip gloss." "Well, you can get away with that, and I can well imagine Luis liking your long, silky lashes better than those mascara'd spikes of Rosemary's." The two young women giggled delightedly. Outside Cordelia's door, Philip's voice was heard. "Delia, are you just about ready? You don't want to keep Luis waiting more than a few polite minutes, do you?" "Come in, Philip, I'm all ready except for a bit of lip-gloss," said Cordelia, hugging her brother as he entered. He was immaculate in dark Armani, white shirt, discreet tie. "Sis, you look stunning. Doesn't she, Crystal?" "She does, indeed. I've been trying to tell her how fab she looks, but you know how modest she is about her looks--practically self-effacing." The two grinned at each other over Cordelia's head, then Philip handed Cordelia a stunning bridal bouquet. Small white orchids and fragrant stephanotis trailed elegantly. The center of the bouquet, a big, pure white orchid, was surrounded by tiny white rosebuds. "Luis asked me to give you this," said Philip. He turned to Crystal. "And this posy of small white orchids and rosebuds is for you. So, ladies, let's get this show on the road. Crystal, you walk ahead, and look where you're going on that stairway. We can't afford to have any accidents on our way to Luis." "Right," said Crystal, beginning to walk ahead of her cousins. *** When Cordelia entered the reception room on Philip's arm, she was blown away by the décor Luis had ordered. All he had said to her was that he was personally deeply involved with the decorations. She thought he might have given instructions as to the flower arrangements, but this--
From the center of the ceiling, wide panels of thin white silky fabric curved to the walls, hanging down, obscuring the delicate pale olive silk wall covering that Cordelia had installed in this room. Pillars that had the look of marble were placed at intervals along the walls, arrangements of white flowers cascading from big white pillar candles, lit, on each marble pillar. Delicate garlands of white flowers were strung between the pillars. Cordelia took all this in very quickly, because her eyes strayed irrevocably to the far end of the room, where Luis waited at Father Mark's altar. Luis, so tall, so stunningly handsome in his black Armani, white shirt and subtle silver-grey tie, standing there with Diego, his best man, and Father Mark, who smiled encouragingly at her. The security staff had brought over Father Mark's portable altar that morning. He had set it up on a little dais erected for it. In front of the dais there was a wide white satin cushion, where Father Mark had explained she and Luis were to kneel at one point. For a moment, Cordelia had only one fervent wish--that this ceremony was for a real marriage--a marriage in which Luis loved her as she loved him. Tears obscured her vision for a moment. Don't wish for the moon and stars, she admonished herself silently. You won't get them. Cordelia smiled at her brother, whispering, "All right." Later, she could remember most clearly the moment Philip gave her into Luis's waiting hands. All her life, she thought, she would treasure his whispered, "Amada, you were worth waiting for." Predictably, she whispered back, "Oh, Luis." He smiled and turned her to face Father Mark. She would always remember the ring ceremony, she felt sure. Luis, putting his ring on her third finger, his deep voice a little huskier than usual, repeating after Father Mark, "With this ring I thee wed, with my body I thee worship, with all my worldly goods I thee endow." Then he kissed her hand. A moment later it was her turn to slip the wedding ring on Luis's finger, her voice no more than a barely audible whisper. Next, she heard Father Mark intone something, then, in a more everyday voice, he said, "Luis, you may kiss your bride." Instantly, Luis's arms were around her, and she curved her left hand around his neck, her right hand resting on his chest, as she lifted her mouth to his. He kissed her lips chastely. After all, they were in public, standing before the altar.
He whispered, "Dee, amada, I shall cherish you as long as I shall live." And she knew his words would stay forever in her heart. "Oh, Luis. I shall love you forever," she sighed, but he had heard. Did she say she'll love me forever? Ah, no. A figure of speech, with all these friends and relatives looking on. Father Mark turned them around so that they faced the assembled guests. With a gesture he indicated the bridal couple, saying, "Mr. and Mrs. Luis Montoya." Quietly, to them alone, Father Mark said, "I wish you two all possible happiness." Cordelia turned to the priest, whispering, "Thank you, Father Mark." "My heartfelt thanks, Father," said Luis. They moved forward, and were instantly engulfed in embraces from those present. His arm around Cordelia, Luis slowly made his way to Dolores, who had Luz on her lap, Rob beside her, Javier on Rob's other side. "This calls for champagne," Rosemary was heard to exclaim. "Not with my altar here." Father Mark's voice was authoritative. "That makes this room the house of God, and I will not tolerate festivities." "Oh, of course, Father," said Rosemary, noticing Luis's quick frown of distaste at her suggestion. "I didn't mean here, I meant in one of the other reception rooms. No offence meant." "And none taken, where none was intended," said Father Mark calmly. Luis turned to him. "I hope, Father, that you will be able to stay with us for the reception buffet and the wedding dinner, which will take place at nine-thirty." "Thank you, I should like that." Diego approached Father Mark and asked, "Will you come with me for a moment to Luis's library?" "Certainly, Diego." Father Mark walked away with Diego. Seeing Cordelia's enquiring glance, Luis explained, "Diego, as my best man, is in charge of giving Father Mark a cheque for conducting our marriage ceremony. That isn't something that can be done in public by slipping an envelope into his hand." Cordelia nodded and smiled at him. By now, she knew enough of Luis Montoya to
realize that the cheque would be generous, indeed. The bridal couple had now reached Dolores, who smilingly gave Luz into Cordelia's waiting arms. Rob jumped up from his chair and went to Luis, gazing at him with adoring eyes. "Now you really are my Uncle Luis," Rob sighed happily. Luis hugged the boy lovingly. When they arrived in the main reception room, they found the room festively decorated with vases of fragrant flowers. At the far end, a low, long chest of drawers had been changed into a champagne bar, with Krug, Cristal and mineral water in coolers, trays of flutes waiting. For Rob, there was orange juice. Two young men on Luis's staff, wearing the uniform of white shirt, black trousers, and black cummerbund, were going around with the champagne, one with Krug, the other with Cristal, and a few glasses of mineral water on each tray. Two young women in plain black dresses with small, frothy lace aprons were going around with trays of appetizers. Cordelia said softly, "Oh, Luis, you magician. This is so wonderful. And most particularly that you found a way of having Luz present." She bent her head to Luz and kissed the shiny blue-black hair, so like Luis's. At that moment, Rosemary's envious voice, thinly disguised as humorous, was heard. "Good grief, Delia. You're still carrying Luis's little girl? Anyone'd think he married you for your babysitting talents." Inwardly seething, Luis allowed only aloof displeasure to show on his face. "You are grossly mistaken, Rosemary. But then, that seems to happen to you often, doesn't it? Not that it's anyone's business but our own, but for the record, allow me to assure you that I fell deeply in love with Dee the moment I saw her. Ever since I've been trying to convince her to marry me. I feel elated that at last we are wed." Only those in the immediate vicinity of the bridal couple could hear Cordelia's whispered, "Oh, Luis--" It was close to midnight when the dinner party broke up. Diego had made arrangements to have Father Mark and his altar delivered back to his cottage. Slowly, the guests began to ascend the stairway to their suites. When Rosemary saw that Luis and Cordelia walked toward Luz's room, she said, envy distorting her voice, "Better be careful, Delia, and make sure Luis doesn't make you sleep in Luz's room rather than in his." Luis did not deign to answer her, but he put his arm around Cordelia's small waist, hugging her to him, pressing his lips to her temple, whispering, "Pay no attention to her, Dee, querida." He let her precede him into the room. Fortunately, Luz was
fast asleep. Cordelia tested the diaper, to make sure the baby was still dry. Satisfied, she nodded to Luis. His voice oddly hesitant, he said, "Dee, will you listen to me for a moment? I know I've agreed to a marriage in name only. That would mean separate bedrooms. But, with that vicious, envious Rosemary sniffing and nosing around, don't you think it would be better if you slept in my room? I promise I won't force myself on you. You know me well enough to be sure of that, querida? And I've a very big bed. Dee?" Shocked speechless, Cordelia gazed at Luis. She thought wistfully, If only he meant for me to sleep in his arms. But he'll stay well away from me. Well, so be it. "If you think that's better, Luis. You're right, I couldn't bear it if Rosemary found out this is not a real marriage." "Ah, querida, our marriage is real, all right. Father Mark pronounced us husband and wife. It's just that I've promised not to ask anything of you that you're not willing to give me. You'll be quite safe with me, Dee. I promise you that." "I know that, Luis," she whispered. More's the pity. "All right, then. Let's walk out of here together, our arms around each other's waists, in case of spies." Cordelia put her arm around Luis's narrow waist. "Yes, let's," she sighed. They had just arrived at the double doors of Luis's bedroom, when the door of Philip's suite opened, and Rosemary darted out, dressed in barely-there, diaphanous red chiffon. Just in case Luis had not noticed her, she uttered a theatrical, "Ooops! You've caught me, Luis." After a pregnant pause, Rosemary went on, "Going downstairs for a leetle brandy, to help me sleep. Don't let me disturb you." Coldly, Luis said, "You don't, Rosemary. Disturb us in any way, I mean. Good night. I'll have a tray with brandy put in your room. Help me remember, Dee, mi amor?" "Of course, amado," Cordelia said softly. Without so much as a nod to the woman, she leaned into Luis, who threw open the doors of his bedroom, aware of Rosemary avidly taking in every detail that was, briefly, on view. Luis hoped she had noticed the huge bed. As he closed the door, he realized that his very new wife was trembling. "Dee, querida, what's the matter?" he asked, concern tinting his voice. "Oh, Luis, I've just realized I haven't any clothes with me--nothing."
He smiled. That afternoon, he had discovered something. All Dee's clothes were neatly hung up in the second walk-in closet. He hoped she wouldn't think he had arranged to have this done. "I wouldn't be too sure of that, querida," he said easily. "When I came back here around six, to freshen up a bit, I realized that Dolores had arranged to have all your clothes hung up in the second walk-in. All your fold-away clothes are in that big bureau, over there." He nodded in the direction of a beautiful low rosewood chest of drawers. Surprised, she glanced at him. Slowly, she said, "Well, yes, of course. No one but you and I know that this is a marriage in name. Dolores did the logical thing, transferring all my clothes to my husband's bedroom. Luis, will this be inconvenient, uncomfortable for you, having me here?" "Why would you think it would be uncomfortable for me, having you here? Oh, I see what you mean. Don't give that a thought, querida. We won't be in each other's way, except that we're sleeping in the same bed. But as you see, it's a very big bed, no? There's a second bathroom through there." He indicated a door next to her walk-in. "Shall we say, we'll see each other later?" He turned, going into his bathroom. Cordelia stared after him, pulling herself together with an effort, as she ventured into her own bathroom. At the last moment, she hastily detoured to the chest of drawers, and chose the pale ivory, gossamer nightgown with the low-cut lace top, Crystal's gift. She hesitated. Would Luis think that she--? No, surely he wouldn't. She did want to wear this gorgeous nightgown. Perhaps, if she hurried, she could be in bed before Luis came back into this room. She didn't quite make it. When she came out of her bathroom, Luis was by his side of the big bed, lifting the duvet in one hand as he shrugged out of his silk robe and slid into bed. Her mouth went dry when she remembered he had told her only that morning he slept nude. Dear God.... Bravely she walked into the room. Luis quickly slid over to her side, holding the duvet up for her as she slipped into bed. "That's a beautiful nightgown," he said quietly. "Thank you. Crystal gave it to me," she said, worrying that he must surely think she wore it to seduce him-But his voice, his face showed nothing like that. All he said was, "When you hear the monitor, wake me. I want you to get some rest, more rest than you've been having ever since you agreed to take care of Luz." Confused, she said, "Luis, I.... Please believe me, I get lots of rest. I'll be glad to
look after Luz." "Promise me you'll wake me," he insisted, his will unyielding. "All right, if you're sure that's what you want," she said softly. "That's what I want." The smile he gave her nearly broke her heart. "Good night, Luis," she whispered. "Good night, mi mujer," he said softly. "Will you kiss me good night?" "Oh, Luis," she sighed, now thoroughly confused. "Of course I will if you want me to--" "I do want you to, and after you've kissed me goodnight, I'll kiss you goodnight, all right?" She nodded, sliding toward him. They seemed to be miles apart. When she was close enough to kiss his mouth, she again put her left hand to his cheek, her other hand on his chest, against his heart. Heat flooded her senses when she felt his satiny brown skin under her fingers. She touched her parted lips to his. "Buenas noches, querido," she whispered against his mouth. He bent over her, softly touching his mouth to hers, aware of her little gasp, her hand slowly slipping from his cheek, her arm going around his neck. "Oh, Luis..." *** Later, when he lay sleepless, staring at the ceiling, he wondered how he had held himself back from wrapping her in his embrace, hugging her tight, making her feel what he felt. But she expected this to be a marriage in name only. No, he couldn't do that to her. When Luz's little cries woke him around five-thirty, he was astonished to find her in his arms, held close. She awoke at the same moment, and stared, confused, into his dark eyes. "Luis?" "I don't know," he said, equally confused. "Were you, perhaps, cold in the night, and you needed to find the warmth of my body?" At exactly that moment, she realized just how hot, and how hard a certain part of his body was. She bit her lip. She should've remembered that Luis slept nude. Oh, dear God. What would he think of her?
Apparently he didn't think badly of her, for he smiled, sliding out of bed, sitting with his back to her on the edge, until he had slipped his arms into the robe, found his pajama pants and tugged them on. She hurriedly got out of bed, too, and went with him to Luz's room. Luis lifted Luz out of her crib. "I'm afraid her diaper is a real mess." She smiled. "Let me do it. Just give me one of those plastic bags, will you?" She switched on the extractor fan and hurriedly removed the diaper, wrapping it in some paper towels and putting the smelly parcel into the plastic bag, which she quickly tied off, putting it into the pail. "I'm glad you had that fan put in over the table." Luis filled a small basin with warm water, and Cordelia began to clean Luz, who seemed to understand what was going on, for she lay there quietly, with a little smile. When Cordelia had put the ointment on Luz's delicate skin again and given her a clean diaper, she asked, "Would you like to give her the first half of the bottle, Luis? Then give her to me to burp and--" There was a little scratching noise at the door and, when Luis opened it a bit farther, he saw Rob. "Uncle Luis, am I too late to hold Luz?" "No, Rob, you're just in time. Would you like to learn how to give Luz her bottle?" "Oh, yes, I would." Rob's voice was ecstatic. Privately, Cordelia wondered about the wisdom of letting a four-year-old give a baby a bottle, but Luis had already settled Rob in a big chair, wrapping Luz in a soft receiving blanket and positioning her just right in Rob's arm. He took the bottle of formula from Cordelia and showed Rob how to hold the bottle so that Luz could drink comfortably. "I understand, Uncle Luis," said the little boy, eager to help with Luz. Cordelia was relieved to see that Luis sat down on the floor close by Rob, so that he could, at any time, save the situation. To her surprise, this proved unnecessary. When Rob had fed Luz half her bottle, Cordelia gently took the bottle from Luz's mouth, explaining to Rob, "I'll have to burp her now. A baby drinks in a bit of air with the formula, and if it builds up, Luz becomes very uncomfortable. That's why I
burp her, like this." She sat beside Luis on the floor with the baby, holding her against her shoulder, slowly and gently patting Luz's back. To Rob's great amusement, Luz let out a huge burp. Patiently, Cordelia rubbed and patted her back a little longer, and there was a second, less noisy burp. "Good," she said. "Now we can give her the other half. Tell me, Rob, are you a little bit tired from holding Luz in your arm? She's quite a weight, and you're only four years old." "Oh, no, Aunt Delia. I want to do it. Maybe when she gets used to me feeding her, she'll like me a little bit back? I love her so much." Luis, aware of the sudden tears in Cordelia's eyes, quickly said, "I'm sure Luz loves you already. If she didn't, she wouldn't lie so calmly in your arms, you see." "Really, Uncle Luis? Oh--" The little boy squeezed his eyes shut. "By the way, Rob, I spoke to your father yesterday, and he said he'll be pleased to leave you here with us. He didn't say exactly for how long. I said we wanted you for a good long while. But won't you miss your father a lot when you're with us?" "No, Uncle Luis. I love Daddy, but he's so busy, I don't see him much. Not as much as I want--" "I think that's true of all young children with busy parents. If Luz could talk, she would've told me not to go on that long business trip to Australia." "Yes, but Luz also has Aunt Delia." The little boy said no more, perhaps realizing he had almost told his uncle that his mother didn't care about him. When Luz had finished her bottle, Luis took her from Rob and held his daughter against his shoulder, slowly and gently patting her back until Luz gave another mighty burp. He said, "Now, I'm going to lay her down on this big, soft pad, and let her play with her toes, roll around and gurgle a bit. For such a young baby, that's the only exercise she can get, see?" Rob sat on his heels, gazing rapturously at the baby. "She's so pretty," he said again. He got up from the floor and said, almost formally, "Thank you Uncle Luis, for letting me play with Luz." "You did more than play, Rob. You fed her. That's work." "Yes, I did, didn't I?" Rob made an inarticulate sound, hurrying from the room. Moments later, they heard the kitchen door crash shut. Rob had found a way to get out of the house.
"Come back to bed, Dee. You've only had about five hours' sleep," Luis urged. "If you're sure I won't be in your way?" she said hesitantly. Taking her in his arms, he hugged her gently, careful not to spook her with his heavy erection. "I'm sure," he whispered, touching her mouth with his. To his surprise, he felt her kiss him back. When Cordelia woke up again, she was lying in Luis's arms, his mouth close to hers, his long, curving black lashes fanned out over his sculpted cheekbones. He must have felt her stir in his arms, because his lashes fluttered, then he was wide awake. "Dee, querida, good morning," he said softly. He didn't loosen his embrace, because he simply couldn't bear to let her go. She felt so very good in his arms. Does it feel this good to her? he wondered. Doubtful. Still, she didn't try to wriggle away from him. Perhaps, if he took it very slowly and gently, one day she might-He shook his head, impatient with himself. "Dee, you know that it's tradition for the bride to give some sort of trinket to her bridesmaid, attendant, whatever. Would you like to give Crystal a very delicate diamond necklace of those thin baguettes? Know what I mean? She has a slender neck, like yours; the necklace will just rest in the hollow between the clavicles. "Normally, I would suggest you give this to Crystal privately. But in my opinion, Rosemary deserves a slap in the face for her rudeness to you." "Yes, the way she keeps hitting on you, undressing you with her eyes, I agree. She's got to be taken down a peg or two. In the past, I've never complained of her behaviour, afraid that it might make more difficulties in Philip's marriage. But frankly, I think he'd be better off if she left him." "Then it's agreed. My New York jeweler sent the necklace over by courier. I'll show it to you, and if you think Crystal would like it--" "A diamond necklace of baguette diamonds, you said. Luis, what on earth is not to like about that? Crystal will be ecstatic, I promise you." "All right, then. At breakfast?" Cordelia shook her head. "Uh-huh. Rosemary breakfasts in bed. Perhaps when we're having coffee at eleven or so?"
"Great idea, mi mujer. Feel like getting up?" "Of course, Luis. What time is it?" "Half past nine," he said with a little smile. "Half past nine?" she exclaimed, beginning to disentangle herself from their embrace. Only now did she realize that her left hand was resting on his hipbone, his naked hipbone--the cushiony lower inside of her thumb gently caressing his groin. Dear God-"Why didn't you wake me much earlier?" "Because you needed your rest, querida." They flew to their bathrooms and were ready in under twenty minutes. When they went to the family room with their second cup of coffee, Luis was pleased to see all their guests were there. He quickly slipped back to his library and picked up the pale grey suede box with the necklace. Thoughtfully, the jeweler had provided a small, elegant suede bag in which to present it, and some deep violet tissue paper to hold it in place. Sitting down beside Cordelia, Luis slipped the bag to her. She gazed at him. "Thank you, amado." Smiling, she went over to Crystal. "The bride's traditional gift to the bridesmaid." "Matron of Honour, Delia. I'm a respectable, married old lady, I'd have you remember." "Matron of Honour it is. Anyway, this is for you." Crystal squeaked with excitement. She realized from the silver grey suede envelope bag that this was no ordinary present. She removed the tissue paper and found herself holding the pale grey suede box. "What is it?" Crystal wanted to know. "Open it, and you'll know," said Luis casually. Crystal clicked open the little gold lock and found herself gazing at a diamond necklace. Bereft of speech, she stared at the baguette diamonds, winking at her in all the colours of the rainbow. At last, Crystal found her voice.
"Oh, Delia...Luis...this is the most beautiful diamond necklace I've ever seen." Calmly, Taki remarked, "It's the only diamond necklace you've ever seen." "I've seen diamond necklaces before--" "Not this close up, pedi mou--my little one," said Taki. "Here, let me put it on you, and then you can race to the nearest mirror to admire yourself." He fitted the delicate, elegant necklace around Crystal's slender neck, whispering to Luis, "You couldn't have found anything to please her more. Thank you." Crystal flew up the stairs to their guest room, and stared at herself in the bathroom mirror. Elated, she flew back down the stairs again. "Oh, Delia, Luis. Thank you so much. I love it, love it--" Just then, Luis was amused to notice that Rosemary was about to blow her top. To his amazement, she said to Philip, "That diamond necklace would be infinitely more suitable for me. After all, I am the daughter of an earl, used to wearing jewels. Why the hell didn't you tell Delia to take me for Matron of Honour?" His voice cold with contempt, Philip remarked, "Because she wouldn't have wanted you, Rosemary. As long as we've been married, you've sniped and bitched at my sister. You only stop when you need her to be there for Rob, so that you can go away for yet another extended vacation. "Even yesterday, you were sneering at her for not being sophisticated enough to please Luis. I suppose you think you'd be more his type? Don't make me laugh. Luis wouldn't touch you with a ten-foot pole. He's too fastidious, or are you too conceited to realize that?" "Damn you, Philip. You can keep your insults for your stupid sister, who won't be married long--Luis will soon be bored with her. I'm going to England to spend some time with my father. I'm leaving. Right now." With icy politeness, Luis said to Rosemary, "Diego will arrange for the limousine to take you to whichever airport you wish to go." Rosemary sat there, wondering what to do. She had publicly announced she was going to her father's, but now she wondered about the wisdom of it. What if Philip divorced her? Diego smiled at Luis. "Consider it done, amigo." He went to the telephone and spoke briefly into it. He listened for a while, murmuring, "Thank you." Coldly, Diego said, "Lady Rosemary, there is a flight to New York out of Daytona
Beach in three hours' time. It connects to a London flight with a three-hour waiting period. Do you wish me to book this?" Hoisted with my own petard, thought Rosemary. She often thought she could get away with things, only to find that she couldn't. She had been spoiling for a fight with Philip so that, by way of a reconciliation, she could have him take her to New York to buy some clothes, see some musical extravaganzas. But she had ruined it all by telling him she was going to visit her father. Too proud to change her mind, she decided to bite the bullet. She lifted her chin, saying coolly, "Yes, please, thank you. I'm going up now to pack. Philip?" "No. Luis has invited me to stay another few days, so there's no need for me to pack." Damn, thought Rosemary, how do I get my hands on some cash, then? It occurred to her that all the men present knew exactly why she had invited Philip to come up with her. They were laughing at her. Unbelievable. Unbearable. She'd think of something once she was in London. Let Philip pay this Diego back for the ticket he was ordering for her. Oh, wait. Perhaps Philip had left his wallet upstairs. Philip--and Luis, Javier, Diego, Taki--saw the sudden flash of confidence in Rosemary's eyes, and knew exactly what she was thinking. Calmly, Philip said, "No, you won't find my wallet lying about upstairs, ready for your plundering hands. You want to go to your father, by all means, go. But you will not do it with my money. Have I made myself quite clear?" With an almost inaudible "Damn you," Rosemary sprang up and hurried up the stairs. Cordelia went to her brother, saying quietly, "Philip?" He smiled at her. "Don't worry, sis. It's been a long time coming to a head, and now it has. Thank God, she can't take Rob. He hasn't got a passport, and with parental kidnappings and all sorts of other shenanigans, he won't be allowed on a flight without one." Luis said quietly, "Philip, I believe you told Dee that you'd taken a few weeks off-probably intending to take Rosemary somewhere. Well, she's on her way to England, and you've agreed to let Rob stay with us for a while. Why don't you do the same? Stay with us? There's lots to do--golf, tennis, swimming, sailing, you name it, you can do it here."
"Stay here? Luis, I'd love it. But you're supposed to be on your honeymoon; you can't enjoy the thought of a lot of people cluttering up the scenery." "We've postponed our honeymoon because Luz is only just getting over her fretfulness after suffering that unsuitable nanny. When Luz feels more stable, then I'll take Dee wherever she wants to go." Philip smiled. "If you think she's keen to buy clothes in Paris, Milan, London, forget it. Delia is clearly very happy looking after Luz. I doubt she'll want to go anywhere unless you plan on taking Luz with you." When he saw Luis's surprised expression, he added, "Don't forget, I've known her a long time." "So you have," said Luis. He thought, I was right. She doesn't want any of the things I can buy for her with my money. So if she should come to love me one day, it will be for myself. But I knew that. He smiled a secretive little smile. Ah, Dee.... Rosemary came down the stairs, manhandling two suitcases, a carry-on and a toiletries tote. Diego hastened to help her. "The limousine is waiting, Lady Rosemary." Hastily, she looked around. Philip, Luis and Delia were nowhere to be seen. Crystal and Taki were at the far end of the room, by the bookshelves. The older Spaniard, Javier Montoya, was reading the paper. He rose courteously, saying, "I wish you a safe trip. The others are in the garden with the children, getting some fresh air. Do you wish to see them before you leave?" She thought she detected a certain derisive mockery in his tone, and pride won. "No, thank you," she said. "I must be on my way. Goodbye." Javier bowed politely. "Goodbye." When the limousine had driven away, Luis, carrying Luz in a Snugli, smiled at his daughter. Cordelia, Philip and Rob came in again. It was a bit too humid to enjoy being outdoors, they all thought--except Rob, who was so delighted to have his father to himself that he would've been happy in the Sahara or stranded on an ice floe. Quietly, Cordelia said, "It's time for Luz to have a diaper change and a nap, maybe a snack of her formula. Will you excuse me?" "I'll go with you, querida," said Luis. "I thought tonight, perhaps, we could have dinner at the Café de Paris, and show off Crystal's necklace?" With a little squeak, Crystal hugged herself to Taki, saying to Cordelia, "You've got
yourself one prince of a husband, honey--second only to Taki, of course," she added hastily, when Taki gave her a very Greek look. "I'm glad my suggestion meets with your approval," said Luis. He held Cordelia back from leaving with Luz. "Perhaps you will all excuse us, but after we've put Luz to bed, I thought we should have a siesta, too. Our day begins at five-thirty, after all." "Great idea, Luis. Crystal and I should take a nap as well," said Taki. Javier said to Philip, "After an emotional upheaval, I've often found it helpful to play a game of chess. The need to think calmly and well ahead invariably reconciles me to my wife's worst excesses. And let me assure you, my wife could give yours lessons in sheer, vicious malice." "Chess?" said Philip. "You know, Javier, that sounds like an excellent idea. I can hardly wait for the day when I can start teaching Rob." "I was five when my father began teaching me," said Javier, "so you only have to wait a year." "Rob, what do you want to do? Play with your model cars or watch Mr. Montoya me play chess?" "Yes, please, Dad," said Rob, snuggling up to his father, who lost no time in hugging the little boy. Why have I allowed Rosemary to treat the boy in that loveless manner of hers? I'll start making it up to him right now. *** Upstairs, when all was serene in Luz's room, Luis walked slowly with Cordelia to his room, his arm around her waist. "Naptime," he said. "Luis?" "Yes, what?" "Did it bother you that I had slipped over to your side and was lying in your arms?" "No, of course not, why on earth would you think that?" "Just making sure," she said, slipping into her bathroom to take off her clothes and put on a pretty nightgown.
When Luis saw her, he groaned softly. "Querida, do you know what you're doing to me?" "Oh, Luis--I think so, querido."
His eyes black as night, caressing as velvet, Luis watched Cordelia as she slipped into her side of his bed. She leaned on her elbow and gazed at him. "Dee, please, don't torment me like this, unless--" He frowned and shook his head at himself, stretching out his arm to pull Cordelia closer. "Unless what, Luis?" "No, that's too unlikely to even think about. I promised you I wouldn't force myself on you, ever. But if you--" "Do you mean I have to force myself on you, Luis?" "No, of course not, I-- ¡Madre de Dios! Are you saying I'm not feeling this alone?" "Feeling what, Luis? Desire?" He bit his lip. "Yes, of course desire, but that's not all. I can't believe what you're making me feel. Tell me, what do you feel, Dee, querida?" "You want me to humiliate myself totally, Luis? You want to hear that I've fallen in love with you, although I know you're merely grateful to me because I love Luz? And, perhaps, desire because I'm in your bed?" He slid quickly closer, his arms around her tightening. "If you mean it. Is that what you're feeling? Because, Dee, mi amor, I think I've fallen in love with you." "Oh, Luis--" Her voice was the merest whisper, and he had to bend his dark head to hers to hear. "Are you sure? You're not just saying that because of what I said? Because I couldn't bear it if you meant that you love the way I look after Luz-Luis?" Dios, she's fallen in love with me. But I shouldn't--Only when I'm sure that's what she wants, too. He fought to keep control of himself, and found it quite a struggle. At last he said softly, "Dee, I swear to you, what I'm feeling is for you, you yourself, not for what you do for Luz, although I'm deeply grateful for that. You must know that. Oh, sure, a few times I said that you were my beloved bride, to my accursed aunt and her despicable daughter, to Rosemary. But, you know, even as I said those words, I began to realize I actually meant them. And you said 'querido' to me several times. Dee? Was it only for our guests, or was some of that for me?"
He slowly moved closer to her. One arm still around Cordelia, he took her chin between thumb and forefinger, forcing her to look into his eyes. Slowly, she lifted her lashes, gazing at him. When she saw his dark eyes flame with heat, she said, "Oh, Luis-- Yes, I meant it. I was glad I could call you 'querido' in public, but I wished--" Embarrassed, her voice trailed away and tried to look away from him. "You wished what, mi amor?" he asked so pressingly that she felt impelled to tell him the truth. "Luis, you must be well aware that you're very attractive to women?" He waved that away impatiently, taking her chin into his grip again, forcing her to look into his eyes. "Never mind about 'women'." His voice was dismissive. "I need to know about you, how you feel about me, Dee?" "Oh, Luis--" Her soft voice shook. "These past few days, when you hugged me and put your arms around me, I realized it was for our relatives' benefit. But, I began to wish that, one day, it would be for real. I've told you I've fallen in love with you. When we were together in the night, looking after Luz, that's when it began. There. I've said what I promised myself I would keep a deep, dark secret from you--how I feel about you. That I've allowed myself to fall hopelessly, deeply in love with you-I guess you, so handsome, so alluring, must be used to women falling in love with you all the time. And now, I've joined those women. Don't worry, Luis. It won't make any difference to my taking care of Luz. But as soon as we're alone again in your house, I want my own bedroom back. This is too dangerous, too heartbreaking, sleeping in your bed--" With an effort, she broke his grip on her chin and turned her head away, but not before he had seen the shimmer of tears. Instantly, Luis was contrite. What have I been thinking, making her confess that she loves me--no, that she's fallen in love with me--instead of chivalrously telling her first how I feel about her. "Dee, querida, forgive me for asking you how you felt. I guess it was because I could hardly believe you felt anything for me. You're the only woman who's ever stood up to me. I felt you despised me as an inadequate father." She shook her head, but he was not to be deterred. "Even so, I should've told you first how I felt. Mi amor, it was for me just as you said. When we were together in Luz's room, taking care of her, I fell in love with you, deeply, irrevocably. Not with the way you looked after Luz, but with you, you."
Lifting one hand, she laid it on his chest. A sigh escaped her, when she felt the heat of his satiny skin, the tickle of his body hair against the caressing palm of her hand. "Oh, Luis--" He held her in a tight embrace, as she melted into him, still incredulous that he should care. At that moment, the monitor gave out a little sob. Frozen against each other, they waited. The little sob became a loud wail. Ruefully, Luis said, "We'll have to work on her timing." "You stay here, Luis, querido, I'll see to her," said Cordelia, who had felt the heat of Luis's hard, heavy length against her body. He shrugged lightly. "Perhaps that would be better, right now." "I'll be back as soon as I can." Cordelia hurriedly grabbed Luis's robe to wear over her diaphanous nightgown. Later, when she had more time, she'd find out where Dolores's maids had hung up her robes. Right now, she needed to get to Luz, take care of her and return to Luis. Luis, who, incredibly, had fallen in love with her, wanted her. This has to be the shortest marriage-in-name on record, she thought, hurrying away. Luis lay back against his pillows, listening to the soft voice on the monitor, soothing Luz. The familiar little sounds as she took care of the baby. "There, all dry again, my little love. Isn't that nice?" he heard. "But it's a little early for your supper. Tell you what? I'll let you have some apple juice. Here. Is that good, honey?" In an agony of frustration, Luis realized that they couldn't prolong their 'nap' indefinitely. Javier, Philip, Rob, Crystal and Taki were still staying with them. Why on earth had he insisted that they stay? He grinned ruefully at himself. Because our marriage was in name only. Ah, but all that was going to change. No matter, they would have the nights. And perhaps a daily siesta-Now there wasn't enough time for their first lovemaking. No. For his first time with her, he wanted the entire night. Perhaps, if he were to take a cold shower? Yes, dammit. When Cordelia hurried back to Luis, he held out his arms in silent invitation. She rushed into his embrace and he held her lovingly, his mouth finding hers, parting her lips with the tip of his tongue. With a huge effort of will, he held himself back. "Mi amor, there won't be enough time for what I want for us. It's close to five, and
we should be waking up from our 'nap'--be available to our guests. But we'll have the night, all night. Will you forgive me for postponing our first time together? I was never into quickies, and I sense that you don't want that, either." She nodded, hugging herself to him once more. "You're right, Luis. Tonight, we'll be together, Luz permitting--" He laughed, hugging her one more time. "Want to share a shower?" He was amused to see her eyes widening. At last, she said, "A shower? Oh, sure, if you wish it." He was amused to hear her sound oddly formal, and said, "Only if you wish it, too, querida." "Of course, amado. Do you want me to wash your back?" "Yes, I think that would be infinitely safer than having you wash my front," he said. He was amused to see her blush, felt her hiding her face against his chest. His bare chest, which she kissed softly. "Oh, Luis...." *** Diego entered the family room and said, "Listen up, y'all. I've made a dinner reservation at the Café de Paris for nine o'clock." Luis asked Crystal, "Would you like the party to be formal, so you can wear the pink dress you wore as Dee's bridal attendant? I'm sure we'll all be willing to climb into our penguin suits to set off your diamond necklace." "You're such a tease, Luis," said Crystal, grinning. "It would serve you right if I took you up on the offer." "I wasn't teasing," said Luis calmly. "You want penguin suits? All right, then." "Thanks, Luis," said Crystal. "It'll take my best dress--that pink one--to live up even a little bit to the necklace." "Not true, gineka mou," Taki observed, his eyes eloquent. "That necklace would look stunning on you even without any dress--Thee mou, what have I said?" Taki hid his face in his hands, relieved when he heard Crystal's amused laughter. "What's 'ginnekkamoo,' Uncle Taki?" Rob asked.
"It's Greek for my woman, or my wife," said Taki, with a smile for the youngster. "Actually, Taki, that's the best way for a lady to wear a diamond necklace," said Luis with a wicked grin. He bent to Cordelia and murmured, "We'll have to try that. Soon. Very soon." Predictably, she blushed. Rob was sitting close to his father, drinking a glass of orange juice, and mouthing 'ginnekkamoo' to himself. He was so happy that, in the house of his Uncle Luis, children were welcome to be with the grownups. His father saw Rob's smile and winked at him. "Having a good time, Rob?" Overcome, Rob nodded vigorously. Diego said in an undertone, "Luis, I've asked Dolores to serve Krug and Cristal again. I thought that would please everybody." "Good idea, Diego. I wish we could invite two nice ladies for Philip and Uncle Javier, but--" "I was thinking the same, but I can't come up with anyone, either. And so hot on the heels of the departing harpies, Philip and Javier may prefer to be by themselves." "You've got a point, Diego. Just as well, because I insist on sitting beside my wife, and I think Taki feels the same about Crystal. By the way, warn Maria to wear a long dress." "Maria? You want her to come to dinner?" "Why yes, I thought that was understood." "I thought you wanted only me, after the way she went to town on Cordelia and you." "Nah, that was just because she saw herself as protecting Dee. Heaven only knows where she got the idea that I'm a predator who sleeps around every chance he gets. Mind you, I don't much care what she thinks, as long as Dee doesn't think that." Luis turned back to Cordelia, who was cuddling Luz on one of the love-seats. Leaning one knee on the seat beside her, he said, "I'll have to go to my library for a little while. Something you made me forget to take care of. Will you excuse me?" "Sure I will, Luis. It's time Luz was in bed, anyway." She rose with the drowsy baby in her arms, giving Luis a melting glance.
"I think we might as well go up now, and take our time getting dressed," said Taki. "Good idea," said Diego. "Be sure to top off your flutes and take them with you." "Diego, that sounds as if you had plans for Crystal, hmm?" said Taki, mocking a frown. "No, Taki. I'm making it easy for you to have plans for Crystal," said Diego. Crystal's delighted laughter cascaded down to them as she flitted up the stairway. Five minutes later, everyone had dispersed. Diego went home to tell Maria the dinner party would be formal. *** Cordelia kissed Luz goodnight, and made sure the baby was asleep. Quickly, she went to Luis's bedroom--she found it difficult to think of the room as 'their' bedroom, it was so masculine and suited Luis perfectly. She hastily disrobed and put on a pale green silk caftan. On bare feet, she hurried down the stairway, turning away from the family room, going to the library--and Luis. When Cordelia reached the grand double doors, she listened, and could hear Luis's deep voice, apparently just finishing a call. "...and Diego will be with you a week from Thursday to chair that meeting. Goodbye." With a perfunctory knock, Cordelia opened the doors just wide enough for her to slip through, closing and locking them behind her. She could only be pleased at the look Luis gave her as he got to his feet, his dark eyes hot, then flaming with sudden passion. "Dee, is there anything you want?" he asked, so very quietly. Cordelia smiled, walking around his desk. "Mmhmm," she whispered when she got close enough to touch him. "You." She raised her hands to his shirt and slowly began to unbutton it. His thoughts whirling, he wrapped her in his embrace. "But--" He found it impossible to say another word, so overcome was he by what she made him feel, just by unbuttoning his shirt. "Shhh, Luis, querido," she whispered, licking and kissing the satiny skin of his deep chest, silky black hairs outlining the lower edge of his taut pectorals. She brought one of his flat dark nipples to life with the tip of her tongue, then teasing the other. She reached up a little and found the hollow at the base of his throat an ideal place for licking, laving and kissing.
Overwhelmed by her attentions, Luis sat down on the edge of his desk, opening the V of his legs a little so that he could draw her close to his body, feel her soft curves melt into him. Madre de Dios, what she makes me feel. He was faintly aware of her undoing the clasp of his chinos, lowering the zipper just a bit; then her silky hair caressed his body as she kissed her way down to his navel. "Is this an erogenous zone, Luis?" she asked indistinctly, her mouth against his abdomen. "Dee, mi amor, I can't--" "Would you be more comfortable on the fur rug in front of your fireplace, Luis? I made sure the fur is very soft. Why do you think I did that, Luis?" "But amada, I--" "If you don't want to make love to me here, I can wait until we're in your bedroom, tonight. But let me make love to you a little, now? You did say you had fallen in love with me?" "Dios, of course I am in love with you, so very much. But, Dee, I wanted everything to be perfect for you--" "But Luis, you are perfect for me, though earlier, it seemed to me that you looked a little tense. So I thought.... But not if you don't want to." "Dee, amada, I want to. Come here," he moaned, holding her tightly to him, moving the few steps to the fur rug. "How does this thing come off?" he asked impatiently, faced with the zipperless caftan. She smiled, pulling the garment over her head, letting it float to the floor. "Now you," she said, and began to strip his shirt off his wide shoulders. Cordelia could only be pleased at his enraptured gasp when he saw revealed to him her slender body, the high, round breasts, the narrow waist, the auburn curls at the apex of her thighs. It took him mere seconds to strip his chinos down. He was glad he had, as usual, kicked off his slides while at his desk. Now all that remained was his silk bikini. He looked expectantly at his wife. She tried hooking her thumbs into the sides, but instantly understood that she could not strip his bikini down as easily as she did her own. Ah yes, that bulge-Blushing, she slipped one hand into the front of his bikini, so that the bite of the
elastic could not touch his erection. His long, heavy, very hard erection. "Oh, Luis--" she sighed. He stretched out with her on the soft fur, bending over her and beginning a sensual cascade of passionate kisses, starting with her mouth, then her slender, delicate throat, her breasts. Dios, her breasts-- He filled his palms with their intoxicating weight, and his body began to move rhythmically. "Touch me," he pleaded. Not quite sure what he wanted her to do, she slid her hand down his body, his bronze satin, deliciously muscled body. When she found his erection, she curled her fingers around him, or tried to. She quickly realized that her fingers and thumb would not reach all the way around. Dear God, he's so big. How on earth could I-? She shook her head. She wouldn't think about that. Luis would find a way. She kissed her way farther down his body, until there was only one way to go--kiss his erection. His body had begun to move more rapidly. Instinctively she adjusted her hold on him to match his rhythmic movements. When he felt her tongue on the head of his penis, licking and laving, felt her take him into her mouth, he thought he would die from what she made him feel. When he felt her suck, he nearly came undone. Hastily removing her caressing hand and mouth from him, he held her tautly against his body. He hoped she would understand his need to be very still until he had regained some of his control, which had invariably been absolute. But not with her. No, not with her. After a little while, he said, "I need to be inside you," and she opened to him instantly. "I need that, too," she whispered against his mouth. He moved back a little to kneel between her thighs, his heated gaze on her beautiful body. He hoped she was ready for him, because he couldn't wait any longer. All the same, with his very last vestige of restraint, he decided to take it slowly. He would not plunge into her with one fast, hard thrust, as he so much wanted to. He was enchanted to feel her hand guide him to her. She wants me! he exulted and began to penetrate her slowly, as gently as he could. He found her very small and tight. Evidently, she had not been with a man for a long time. He withdrew a little and penetrated farther, incredibly turned on by her breathy, sharp little gasp. Had he hurt her? Reassured when he felt her melting into him, he slowly began to give her more of him, captivated when hearing her soft voice, "Oh, Luis," as he finally gave her all
of him. Luis held very still for some moments, wanting to give Dee time to adjust to him, to get used to feeling him, so very aroused, inside her. But that was all he could give her--some moments. Increasingly, his body needed more, and he was elated to feel her respond, meeting passion with passion. Just as he began to feel concern about his control, he sensed that contractions were beginning deep inside her. Ah, she was as close to orgasm as he was. He thrust faster, aware only of the rhythmic clenching and relaxing of her intimate muscles around him, drawing him ever deeper into her. He felt the telltale prickle low in his back, and surrendered to the most cataclysmic orgasm he had ever felt, spilling into her, the hot flood of his seed inundating her in surge after inexhaustible surge, until he had given her everything he had to give. When Luis could think again, his breathing and pulse slowly calming, he tried to figure out what had just happened. Never before had he felt such surpassing rapture. How could this be? Was it because of Dee's feelings for him? Or because of his feelings for Dee? How had she made this so very special, unlike anything he had ever felt before? Becoming aware that he must be crushing her, he tried to lift himself away, but she would not have it. "Please, amado, stay with me a little longer, you feel so very good in me," she whispered, her arms holding him tightly. "Of course, mi mujer, if you want me," he whispered back. Yes, that's what she was now, his woman, his wife. After a while, he said gently, "I'll have to leave your body now, because if I don't, I'll want you again. And, most inconveniently, we have a dinner party to host for our relatives and friends." She nodded and said softly, "Oh, Luis, I could stay here with you forever." Enchanted by her guileless admission that she loved being with him, he kissed her straight little nose, slowly withdrawing from her body, amused when her intimate muscles clenched around him to hold him back as long as she could. It was all he could do to leave her. To her relief, he didn't turn away from her, but tucked her against him, her head on his shoulder. "Ah, mi mujer," he sighed. "We'll stay here just a little while longer, then we'll have to go upstairs and get dressed for dinner."
"I surely wish we didn't have to." She turned her head, kissing his upper chest. "You're the most beautiful man I've ever seen, Luis," she said softly, sighing with pleasure, her hand caressing his graceful ribcage. He smiled. "Would you care to make a guess at how many 'beautiful men' you've seen naked?" he said, a mocking light in his eyes. "Oh, a handful," she said calmly. "Don't forget I have a Fine Art degree, which means there was a certain amount of sketching the undraped human form. Most of the models were men." "If by 'undraped human form' you mean naked men, I think that's appalling, making innocent young women sketch men without any covering," he said, and for a moment she wondered if he was genuinely upset. Surely not? "Well, they weren't aroused," she said with a fine show of indignation. "And although they had handsome bodies, not one of them came even close to you, Luis." She became aware that he was slowly withdrawing from their embrace. "That's all you get. For now." He sat up. Courteously, he reached over to her caftan, holding it out to her. As she slid the garment over her head, he quickly put on his chinos, stuffing his underwear in a pocket. He reached under his desk for his slides. "When I saw you come in here, barefoot, I had a pretty good idea what you were planning for me," he teased, as they left the library, his arm around her waist. "I hope we meet no one on the stairs," Cordelia worried. "One look at us and they'll know--" "We're legally married, mi amor, and officially on our honeymoon, even if we haven't gone away." He hugged her closer. When they entered his bedroom, he invited, "Share a shower?" and she hastily nodded. He wondered about making love to her again, but he was afraid it might make her sore, she was so tight and small. Better put some healing ointment on her, and give her a rest until tonight. Yes, they would have tonight. *** Cordelia decided to wear the evening dress Luis had bought for her when they were at the boutique. It was a mere slip of hyacinth blue silk overlaid with matching gossamer chiffon, superbly shaped; on the soft blue background, a shadow print of stylized blue violets. When Cordelia came out of her walk-in, she heard Luis's sudden intake of breath,
as he held out his arms. "Just a kiss," he whispered. She hurried into his embrace, and when she felt the warmth of his mouth on hers, she parted her lips, kissing him back, moaning. "You have a to-die-for mouth," she gasped, touching the tip of her tongue to his lower lip. Madre de Dios-After a few moments, she sighed, "Allow me to observe that you look very sexy and totally stunning in evening clothes, Mr. Montoya." She saw he hadn't yet buttoned his jacket, and slid her hands inside, putting her arms around his narrow waist, hugging herself to him, breathing against his throat, "Oh, Luis--" He gasped, "Dee, please. Not now, when we've got to go downstairs soon." Contritely, she stepped away from him, and turned to the double doors to leave, but he held her back. He had found a beautiful diamond bracelet and matching choker in the big black leather box that held his family's jewelry. "I realize I haven't given you any jewelry yet, but of course all the family jewelry is yours to wear," he said quietly. "Will you wear these tonight?" Awed, Cordelia gazed at the stunning diamonds. She turned back to Luis, saying softly, "Luis, I'd love to wear the bracelet. But for tonight, let Crystal's necklace be the only diamond necklace at dinner." Unable to resist, Luis wrapped her tightly in his embrace, sighing against her mouth, "Why am I not surprised at you saying that? Dee, mi amor, I know I'm going to regret this, because there isn't time for a cold shower, but I need you to kiss me." "Oh, Luis," she whispered, sinking into him, doing as he asked. *** Luis and Cordelia found it difficult to endure the long dinner at the Café de Paris. All he could think of was making love to her on his wide bed. As she watched him, urbane, witty, an excellent host, she could hardly believe that he had lain naked in her arms a few hours earlier. During the endless evening, there was a moment of tension when Crystal admired Cordelia's dress.
"Luis bought it for me at the boutique where I was choosing my wedding gown," she explained. "He has a wonderful fashion sense, and knows better what suits me than I do." "Well," said Maria, seeing her chance to take a shot at Luis, "he's no doubt learned a lot about fashion from all those models he's been with." Cordelia hoped Luis hadn't heard. Crystal glanced at Maria in dismay. She thought it very rude of Maria to criticize her host in this manner. And criticize him to his wife, moreover. Fortunately, Luis had not heard, but Diego had. Taking Maria by the arm, his fingers biting painfully into her skin, he growled very quietly, "One more coarse crack out of you, and not only will I send you home now, I'll also divorce you. I'm sick of your cheap shots at my best friend. ¿Claro?" Frightened, Maria stammered, "Diego, you wouldn't-- You love me." With icy disdain, Diego curled his lip, sneering, "Don't count on it." Luis had heard Diego's last remark, and raised a brow to him. He wondered what had brought on his friend's peremptory tone with Maria. Diego shook his head, shrugging, and Luis decided to let it go. Diego would handle it. And he, Luis, had more important things to think about. How he would feel when, at last, he could hold Dee in his arms again. Dee, who had made him feel things he had never felt before; Dee, who filled his heart. With something akin to shock, he realized it was the simple truth: She filled his heart. *** When, at last, they got back to Luis's bedroom, their ecstatic reunion was all he had dreamed of. For Cordelia, it was a rapturous experience. Afterwards, they lay in each other's arms, exchanging lazy caresses, kisses, soothing words of endearment, of love. After some time, he said, "Dee, mi mujer, it's just occurred to me that my bedroom is, perhaps, too masculine for you. Would you redo the room to reflect the fact that both of us are sleeping here?" She shook her head, smiling. "But Luis, I love this room just the way it is. It's perfect for you. I can't imagine you in a room even the faintest bit feminine. And I like the feeling that I'm sleeping in my lover's bed."
He tightened his hold on her. "You do?" he asked, surprised. She nodded. "Mmhmm." Blissfully, she hugged him back. "If you keep doing that, I shall want to make love to you again," he said, mocking a frown. "Do you seriously think that would be a deterrent?" she asked. After a pause she said, "Make love to me again? Oh, Luis, are you sure?" She sounded dazed. "I'm sure." He smiled, pulling her on top of him. When she felt the hard, heavy length of his erection, she gasped. "I guess you are sure," she breathed, drifting soft, sexy kisses over his face, his throat, his shoulders--all she could reach, while he held her so tautly to him. "I can feel you're in a hurry to be made love to again," he teased. "Please continue with this most delicious foreplay." "You like this, Luis? Oh, I'm so glad. I wasn't sure whether--" She said no more, finding a far better use for her mouth--kissing him. It occurred to Luis that Dee seemed frequently unsure when it came to making love with him. Sometimes he felt her glancing at him as if to check whether he disapproved. She probably hadn't had many partners--and uninventive ones at that, he mused, and was surprised how the thought of any other man with her upset him. Upset him deeply. Well, of course he felt protective of her, and with good reason. Yes, that must be it. He lifted her up and positioned her slowly over his erection, amused at the sudden glimmer of realization in her eyes when she understood what he wanted her to do. He was enchanted to feel her place the tip of his penis against her most intimate folds. He lowered her gently, whispering, "Ride me?" "Oh, Luis," she breathed, and did as he asked. *** It seemed to her that they had been asleep hardly any time at all, when the monitor emitted soft mewling cries, waking her. Quickly alert, she listened intently to see whether Luz would go back to sleep. Apparently not. The cries were a little louder now. Cordelia hastily grabbed her caftan and threw it over her head. Luis, awake now, wanted to get up, too.
She shook her head. "No, Luis, let me. I'm wide awake." "You think I'm sleepwalking?" he asked, touched by her effort to save him getting up. "No, but you stay there. I'll have her settled in no time." She hastily detoured to where he was sitting on the edge of the bed, reaching for his robe. She kissed his mouth lightly. "Please, let me do this for you." "But--" "Luis, I want you to get plenty of rest, so you can entice me some more with your alluring virility." The last thing she heard was his shout of laughter. Then, she was out of the room on her way to Luz, whose cries were becoming louder. A clean diaper, a little apple juice, a cuddle, and Luz was ready to go to sleep again. Cordelia bent over the baby and kissed the silky blue-black hair. When she was sure Luz was asleep, she tiptoed out of the room and went back to Luis. A wide awake Luis, who leaned lazily against his pillows, hugely and most enticingly aroused, holding out one arm to her. "Vienes aquí, mi mujer." *** The next two weeks passed surprisingly quickly. Philip decided to take Rob to Disney World, a place Rob had longed to visit, but Rosemary had coldly forbidden as 'too totally plebeian, dahling.' Crystal and Taki went back to New York, imploring Luis to bring Cordelia on a theatre trip next Fall. Luis readily promised. Javier decided to pay a visit to friends in San Francisco before going back to Spain. It would give him a little more time to decide what to do about Elena. Divorce her? A legal separation? He shrugged. He'd do whatever it would take to rid himself of her, and her appalling daughter.
Once all their guests were gone, Luis slanted a lazy look at Cordelia. "Now about that honeymoon we've had to postpone--" "Oh, Luis..." In fact, Cordelia had glanced at the calendar with more than passing interest. It was now three weeks since Luis and she had become lovers, and her period was more than a week late. That afternoon, when Luis and Diego were ensconced in the library, Cordelia drove quickly to the nearest Walgreens for a pregnancy test kit. When she got home, she hurried to her bathroom. She read the instructions, followed them and checked. Positive. Pregnant. Oh, dear God, what will Luis say? He doted on Luz, his child by his beloved first wife. But how would he feel about another child--a child by a woman he said he was merely in love with? After all, he had married her for Luz's sake--there was no escaping that stark, unpalatable fact. He believed she was infertile from that teenage mono attack. Luis might well be furious with her for getting pregnant. Anyway, no need to tell Luis until she was absolutely certain. She'd make an appointment with her doctor. Cordelia went to the telephone, and felt less worried the moment she heard the calm voice of Mrs. Trefusis, Bill Reese's receptionist-nurse. "Doctor could see you in about half an hour, Ms. Dunleigh--oh, pardon me, I mean Mrs. Montoya. I've a cancellation. If you can get here in time?" "Sure I can, thank you, Mrs. Trefusis." She disconnected. Half an hour later, she was in Bill's examination room. "Congratulations, Cordelia. You're pregnant. Now you see what nonsense that was about your being definitely and permanently infertile from a mono attack when you were thirteen? It can happen, sure, but it doesn't always happen. In your case it surely didn't. "Luis will be ecstatic, I know. He's very good with children, I've often thought. Unusual in so sophisticated a man, but that just goes to show how deceptive appearances can be. Be sure to have Mrs. Trefusis set you up with a series of appointments, Delia. And the first one had better be when Luis can come with you;
I'm sure he'll want that." "Yes, I'm sure you're right, Bill. Thanks so much. Before I forget, we'd love to have you and Ashley come to dinner. Ask her to call me when she knows which evenings you're free." "I will. Off you go, now." Deeply troubled, Cordelia drove home. When she arrived, Luis was talking to Adams in front of the garage. He slanted his usual humorous look at her little Saturn. "Please, Dee, won't you let me buy you a new car?" "But Luis, this car is only four years old--" Not wishing to hold this discussion in front of Adams, Luis said, "Well, we'll talk about it some other time, when your mood is more receptive. Come and have some tea, I'm dying for a cup." "Of course," she said immediately. "Bye, Adams." Luis put his arm around her waist as they walked back to the house. She thought, I've got to tell him. Yes, I must. Tell him. Maybe tonight, when we're in bed. Yes. Two days later she still had not told Luis, and by then it was too late. That morning Luis received a call from Tom Fredericks, owner of the St. George Art Gallery. "Good morning, Luis. Tom Fredericks. Listen, I've received a painting by Jim Blackhawk, and it might just be what you need for your library. Any chance you could come by today or tomorrow to take a look?" "Thanks, Tom, kind of you to let me know. I'll come this morning, in about an hour." "Great," said Tom. "See you then." When Luis walked into the art gallery, Tom and his friend Jeff Harcourt were chatting with Bill Reese. "Luis," Bill exclaimed. "Congratulations. You must be so delighted. By my calculations, Delia got pregnant on her wedding night." "Ah," said Tom, grinning. "So all these stories about your celebrated and
astonishing virility are true. Apparently it even works with infertile women who've had mono as a teenager. Way to go, Luis. Needless to say, I stand in awe of you." When Luis could think again after the initial shock, he was immensely grateful for Tom's teasing. It gave him a few moments to realize fully what Bill had said. He smiled at the three men and said, "Yes, of course. I'm more delighted than I can say." "This calls for a celebration," said Tom, always glad for an excuse to give a dinner party. 'Feeding the multitude,' he called it. "Not so fast, Tom," said Bill. "By now you should know that a pregnancy is no joke for the future mama, who feels sick and can't stand even the look and smell of food. "I'll of course do my best for Delia, improving her blood sugar, all that good stuff," he said in an aside to Luis, who succeeded in nodding gratefully. Somehow, Luis managed to control his feelings. He looked at Jim Blackhawk's painting and bought it, inviting Tom and Jeff to come over for drinks soon, so they could see where more paintings were still required. "We'd love to come, wouldn't we, darling lad?" said Tom to Jeff, who nodded. At last, Luis managed to extricate himself from the friendly teasing, and drove home in a towering rage. He left the car at the door for Adams to find, and stormed into the house. It was close to noon. Cordelia sat in the family room with Luz and her bottle on her lap, a little dish with pureed carrots and apples waiting on a side table. She glanced up when she heard his footsteps, her face lighting up when she saw him. "Luis, you're back. Did you like the painting Tom was holding for you?" Ignoring her question, he said icily, "Bill Reese was at Tom's." His sensitive nostrils dilating, he gazed at her, his fury unabated. "Oh, Luis," she breathed, her eyes brimming with tears. "Yes, 'oh, Luis'," he mimicked her cruelly. "When were you going to tell me? Were you ever going to tell me? What were you thinking, not telling me that you're pregnant with my child? Were you planning to have an abortion, perhaps? Is it so abhorrent to you to be pregnant with my child that you couldn't bring yourself to mention this to me?"
Under this onslaught of incensed accusations, which clearly showed how upset he was, she could only shake her head in mute denial. At last, she said softly, "Oh, Luis. I love our child already, how can you doubt that for a moment? Of course I was going to tell you, but I realized how upset you'd be when you heard I was pregnant. Look at how upset and angry you are now. I know you love Luz, the child of your beloved first wife. I know you only married me so Luz would be looked after lovingly. Oh, you say you're in love with me, but--" She delicately shrugged a shoulder, lifting her head, turning away, too proud to let him see her distress, refusing to glance at him, certain she would see fury in his eyes; fury because she had let him down, getting pregnant when he didn't want her to. In despair, she bit her lip and continued, keeping her face averted, "I know you thought--so did I--that I couldn't get pregnant. If you had believed I could get pregnant, I realize that you'd have insisted I get Bill to prescribe a contraceptive for me. I can well understand you wouldn't want a child with me. All right, I'll go back to living in the room next to Luz's. I insist on that if I'm to stay and take care of her." Luis listened to her with growing astonishment. Does she really believe I make love to her because she sleeps in my bed, that she's a convenience to me? That I don't want a child with her, so loving to my little Luz, whose own mother never gave a damn for her. His fury evaporated in the face of her proud, resigned unhappiness, her quiet recital of reasons that proved to her he did not care about her. Madre de Dios, what have I done to her? He strode over to the love-seat where Cordelia was feeding the baby. He was dismayed to see her flinch for an instant. What did she think he was going to do, hit her? Shock arrowed through him. Never in his life had he lifted his hand against a woman, and he never would. Certainly not to her. He felt a spasm of pain in his heart at the thought that she believed him capable of hurting her. He had to put this right, and now. He sat down beside her, saying, "Dee, I saw you flinch just now. Did you think I would hit you? Never, never would I do such a thing--most particularly not to you, who has showed me only kindness and love. "Dee, is that what you think, that I love Luz, because Paola and I loved each other so much? Then let me tell you how my 'beloved first wife' died. She was lost at sea with her lover in his yacht, while I was in Europe on business. That was two months after Luz was born. And the only care Luz ever knew was that of a nanny. And mine, of course.
"I suspected Paola had taken a lover, but I wasn't sure. Once I was sure, I wouldn't have stayed married to her. "Oh, Luz is mine, no doubt about that. Paola was blonde, grey-eyed, her lover was a freckled sandy-haired Englishman. When she discovered she was pregnant, she wanted to have an abortion. I wouldn't let her. She agreed to have the child if I settled five million dollars on her the moment the child was born. I agreed. And whatever I felt for her, it sure wasn't love. She killed any feelings I might've had for her in the first few months of our marriage. "She never gave a damn for Luz. She was too busy getting her figure back, resuming her social life, and--as I found out after her death--having it off with her lover. "Dee, mi mujer, mi amor, you can't imagine how elated I am that you're pregnant with my child." As Luis recited the facts of his first marriage, he sat beside her quietly, his elbows resting on his knees, his face half-hidden in his hands. At last, he lifted his lashes and gazed at Cordelia. "Dee, how could you believe I would say I'm in love with you so that you'd be conveniently available in my bed? Ah, no. I told you I'm in love with you because I am, so very much. Why won't you believe me? Until I lived with you, I had no idea life could be so blissful. Dee?" She took the bottle from Luz's mouth and held the baby against her shoulder, softly patting her back, but her eyes were searching Luis's face. When the baby let out a big burp, she soothed, "That's my clever, beautiful girl. Now, are you ready for some pureed carrots and apples, yes?" Taking the little dish from the side table, she put it in front of her on the coffee table. "Dee, please let me do it," said Luis, wanting more than anything to hug her, but he realized the baby's needs came first. At least, when he was busy feeding Luz, his hands would be occupied and he wouldn't feel so bereft because he couldn't hold Dee. She gazed at him, confused. At last she said in her usual polite way, "Of course, Luis, if you'd like." Shifting the small dish toward him so that he could feed Luz more easily, she put the baby in his arms. To his dismay, he saw her hands were shaking. Dios, what have I done to her--was uppermost in his mind, although his hands automatically fed and cuddled his daughter. For the first time, he wished Luz would hurry up so he could put her back into her crib and be alone with Dee. After what seemed to him an interminable time, Luz turned her little face away
from the spoon with the pureed food. "Had enough?" he asked, secretly relieved. "Then let's get you back to bed." "Luis, we should take her outside for a while." "Dee, please, this once, could we put her to bed now and walk with her later? I need to talk to you, to get you to believe me. Believe that I'm elated you're pregnant with my child." Her eyes wide with astonishment, Cordelia said, her tone dubious, "Oh, Luis...are you sure? It would break my heart if you just said that because I'm pregnant and vulnerable, and later you'd--" She couldn't bear to finish what she had started to say. Luis, incredulous, began to understand her uncertainty about his feelings for her. Was that why she had offered him a life separate from her while she continued to take care of Luz? Madre de Dios.... He determined to do whatever it took to get her to believe him, to be sure of his love. His love? With a shock he realized it was the truth--he loved her. "Mi mujer, mi amor, I'm very, very sure. Believe me, I am ecstatic that you're pregnant with my child. How could it be otherwise, when I love you? What can I do to convince you? I'll do anything you want, Dee. Mi amada, anything." She smiled for the first time since he had stormed into the room. "This once I think we can put Luz to bed without a walk outside. It's very humid. But we'll have to give her some extra playtime when she wakes up again." "I'll carry her up," he offered. "Does she need burping again?" "Wouldn't hurt to try," she agreed. "And she'll probably need another diaper again. I changed her a little early because she was crying. Her skin is so sensitive to the acidy urine, poor baby." Together they walked up the stairway, Luis holding Luz against his shoulder, rubbing her little back, eliciting a burp. Turning to Cordelia, he said softly, "Not a day passes without my being grateful that you're her mother, instead of the woman who gave birth to her. But let's not waste another thought on Paola. I want to talk about us, Dee, mi amor." Her eyes huge, she smiled at Luis, the man of her dreams, the lover of her heart, whom she adored. Had he really said he loved her? She sighed, "If you're sure you care about me, then there's nothing to be said, except that I apologize for not telling you immediately we're going to have a child. I thought the news would be unwelcome, you see. So I kept waiting for a really opportune moment to tell you." She sighed again and fell silent.
He placed Luz into her bed and bent over her for a little sleep well kiss. Turning back to Cordelia, he embraced her gently. "Am I that hard to get along with? Have I such a temper that you were afraid to tell me you're pregnant?" "Oh, no, Luis, of course not. It was because I believed that you'd be upset to find I was pregnant." "Well, I'm not." He smiled. "I'm ecstatically pleased with your news. And now, is there anything you'd like to do by way of celebration? Dinner at the Café de Paris? We seem to go there for all our momentous milestones. Engagement, wedding-And now our first child." "Our first...?" Her eyes were huge. "Did you mean that, Luis? You want this child, and you'd even want to give it a brother or sister? Oh, Luis--" She sank into him, her arms tightening around his waist. He nodded. "Of course I do. Well, would you like to have dinner at the Café?" He drew her still closer, holding her more tautly in his embrace. "My appetite isn't that good, Luis," she apologized. "So if it's all the same to you, perhaps we could have a siesta together for our celebration?" His deep voice husky, he said, "A siesta, with you? My most favourite thing to do in the whole world." *** Luis and Cordelia had some blissfully happy months together and, once her appetite returned, Luis insisted frequently on taking her out to dinner at the Café de Paris. Lucien was delighted when told about the pregnancy, and was ever vigilant about dinner choices that might upset la petite maman, as he put it. Long before Cordelia's pregnancy began to show, Luis telephoned the Irina boutique, and received the owner’s promise that she would get some earlypregnancy dresses for him to choose from. Cordelia's observation that she could sew and would make maternity clothes herself fell on deaf ears. "I don't want you sitting bent double over a sewing machine," Luis said decisively. Cordelia knew by now that, when Luis was in such a mood, there was no point in arguing with him, so she capitulated gracefully. Luis had another surprise for her. He'd had a long talk with Dolores about a nanny to help out with Luz. Dolores recommended warmly the young Hispanic woman, Carmen Peña, who had asked for the privilege of looking after Luz when Luis and
Cordelia were out. She was a lovely, kindhearted young woman, who doted on Luz. "I want her to be on call for Luz, particularly at night. Now that my wife is pregnant, I don't want her to be woken up in the middle of the night, and do a diaper change, a formula snack, a cuddle. I was thinking, Dolores, if we had Carmen sleep in the guest suite next to the baby's room, I'd want her to have the baby monitor at night." "That sounds eminently sensible, Don Luis. Carmen will be delighted. I can confirm she's a light sleeper. She'll hear your daughter." "And, Dolores, get her some nanny uniforms, you know the kind of thing. I don't want Carmen to wear out her own clothes with Luz spitting up and all that. And figure out with Diego what her new salary will be." "Sí, Don Luis, I'll take care of everything for you." "I know that, Dolores. Muchas gracias." *** When Cordelia was close to five months pregnant, and began to show a little, Luis telephoned the boutique again. "I'll need some dresses, suitable for a woman five to six months pregnant. A couple of dinner dresses, and several evening dresses." "Ah, Mr. Montoya, you are thinking about the dinner the Conde de Medina-Vizcaya is giving? I'll make sure I find something for your wife to wear to the Count's party that is absolutely exclusive." "Thank you." Luis disconnected. Wanting to spare Cordelia the fatigue of trying on clothes, Luis went alone to the boutique. He had Irina model for him, and went home with three dinner and two evening dresses, to Cordelia's bemused delight. The Medina-Vizcaya invitation was for seven o'clock, with dinner at nine. Luis insisted that Cordelia have a long siesta that afternoon. He could not get enough of caressing her slightly thickened waistline, and the small bulge where his child slept. After his usual attentions, Luis bent his dark head, kissing Cordelia's abdomen. "Just saying hello," he explained. "I can't tell you how happy I am to be with you, Dee, mi mujer."
"Oh, Luis, I love you so much," she whispered back, catching her breath as she realized what she had said--that she loved him. Not that she was in love with him, but that she loved him. She waited tensely for some response from him, telling her not to go overboard with unwelcome feelings. But all he said was, "Same here, mi amor." Thank God, he hadn't realized exactly what she said; he just went with the general feeling. She became aware that she had been holding her breath all this time, and hastily let out a big sigh. At six o'clock, Luis reluctantly woke his wife, showered with her and offered his help with one of the new dresses. "I'd like you to wear this one," he said, bringing out a princess-line dress in a subtle pale blue-green. "The colour matches your eyes." His dark glance was a velvet caress. "I love it when we're together, getting dressed for a party, knowing we'll be back here again after a few hours, and it'll be even more fun taking our clothes off." She smiled at him, for a moment unable to utter a word. But then, that was the effect Luis so often had on her. He unzipped the back, letting her step into the soft folds. He zipped her up, catching the little hook at the top. Luis smiled at the way the dress flattered Dee's curves and hinted just very slightly at her pregnancy. He said gently, "Something's missing, mi amor. Sit down here a moment." When he returned, he gave her an elegant box of grey suede. She opened it, seeing a necklace of diamonds and aquamarines with a matching bracelet. Entranced, she gasped, "Oh, Luis..." "A small token of my affection." He helped her put the jewelry on. "Luis.... How can I ever thank you for this?" He winked at her. "Several things come to mind." *** They arrived at Ricardo Medina-Vizcaya's house at seven-thirty, politely late. Ricardo came forward delightedly to greet his friend Luis, and be introduced to Cordelia. After an admiring glance at her, Ricardo said to Luis, "Diego told me that congratulations are in order. Your wife is pregnant?" "Yes, she is," said Luis, a singularly happy smile lifting his mouth. "I nearly said,
'yes, we are,' because I feel that we're very much in this together." "Most understandable, my dear Luis," said Ricardo. "Come, let me get you some champagne." He signalled one of his servers, who hurried over with a tray of flutes. "At present I'm not allowed any alcohol," Cordelia said quietly. "Of course, my dear." Ricardo turned to the server. "Juan, bring some mineral water." Diego and Maria came over, and in no time at all Luis, Diego and Ricardo were exchanging views on some financial venture they were all watching with interest. Cordelia was idly chatting with Maria, wondering if she could excuse herself and sit down in a chair by one of the two fireplaces in the huge room. Just then, she noticed a coldly beautiful dark-haired woman, dressed in a flamboyant red dress, who stealthily approached Luis. "Luis, caro," she purred, trying to slip her arm around him. Luis sidestepped smoothly. His expression glacial, he said contemptuously, "If memory serves, the first time you tried to force yourself on me, Maria..." The woman interrupted him angrily, "Marisa." Luis paid her no heed and went on, "...you followed a waiter into my suite, and I had to have you expelled by security personnel. The Conde's staff will be equally obliging if you persist in bothering me. Step back, and stay away from me." Marisa, furious, turned away. Ricardo said to Diego, "At times I've wished to be as stunningly good-looking as Luis, but when I see how women practically molest him--" Diego responded, his voice contemptuous, "Ah, she's just a puta, Ricardo. A thousand-dollar whore, but still a whore." Ricardo frowned. "Who could have brought this woman?" He lifted a hand and his butler approached instantly. "Johnson, find out who escorted that woman, and demand that he remove her from my house instantly. And tell him he is not to return." Johnson bowed his head, murmuring, "Immediately, sir." He strode away in Marisa's direction. Maria had followed the incident with avid attention. Her face showing an
unpleasant sneer, she turned to Cordelia, saying, "I'm afraid that's going to happen to you a lot: Former girlfriends trying to reestablish relations with Luis." Cordelia smiled politely. "But that is most understandable. He's so stunningly handsome. So, when Luis escorts a woman, sees her politely to her door, she might wish--" "Ah, but is that all he does, dear, guileless Cordelia?" Maria spoke a little louder than she realized, attracting the attention of Luis, Diego and Ricardo. Her voice several degrees colder, Cordelia said, "Dear, sophisticated Maria, I suppose you mean to imply that I am too stupid, naïve and inexperienced to know what goes on in worldly circles. Allow me to point out that my husband is certainly a stunningly desirable man, but he is also extremely fastidious, and has a faithful heart. I knew that about him the first time we met. You've been married to Diego for several years. All this time you've known Luis, and still you cling to such distasteful, affronting ideas about him, hinting that he is a predator who doesn't care in whose bed he sleeps? You couldn't be more mistaken about Luis, and you will instantly stop these insulting remarks about my beloved husband." White to the lips, Cordelia turned away, only to see Luis take a few hurried steps toward her. He put his arm around her, kissing her fingers, her palm and the inside of her wrist. "Mi amor, thank you for what you just said. You're of course quite right. I've never accepted an invitation to a one-night stand. I'm so glad you know that about me." Diego said, "Ricardo, Luis, will you please excuse me for a moment? Maria has a headache and needs to go home. Perhaps your butler will call her a taxi? Gracias." He took Maria's arm and gave it a hard tug, his fingers biting deeply into her flesh, as he walked her out of the reception room. Cordelia whispered to Luis, "Excuse me a moment, please, I need to find the powder room. A little problem with pregnancy--I'm always searching for bathrooms." She shrugged apologetically. "Let me go with you, querida," Luis offered. "No, no, you stay here with Ricardo--and Diego, when he comes back." She smiled at Luis and quietly made her way out of the grand room. The moment Luis saw Cordelia return, he excused himself to Ricardo and went to meet her. His arm around her waist, he whispered to his wife, "I'll keep an eye on the time, so you can make another quick bathroom visit just before we go in to dinner." "Thank you, Luis, amado. You're so good to me."
"Not nearly as good as I'm going to be the moment I get you home, mi amor," said Luis.
A week later Luis, Cordelia and Luz went to stay with Philip. Rosemary had opted to remain in England with her father, and had reacted with surprising meekness to the divorce proceedings Philip had initiated. She asked only that the divorce be speedy. To Philip's surprise, she was content to leave Rob in his sole custody. Luis had discreet inquiries made through his London office, receiving word that Lady Rosemary and a Moroccan tycoon were an item. The tycoon was possessive and anxious for an heir; clearly not a good environment for Rob to pay even the briefest visit. Luis placed the report in his briefcase, intending to present it to Philip to do with as he wished. Philip asked Luis if Rob could go back with them for a while, because a deeply complicated case was going to take most of his time. "I feel reluctant to leave Rob mostly to his nanny and the household staff," Philip explained. Luis agreed readily. Discovering that Philip's house had state-of-the-art security, Luis felt relieved. Always, in the back of his mind, there was the fear of Luz's abduction. Of course he could easily enough pay any ransom, but once the ransom was paid, the kidnappers wouldn't have any reason to keep Luz alive. His heart stood still when he thought of this. In the mornings, Cordelia and Luz often went for a little walk in Philip's garden. At thirteen months, Luz could walk, but not for long. As usual, after a little while, Luz held up her arms in the 'Carry me' gesture, and Cordelia picked her up. As she walked with the little girl in her arms, she stumbled over a rake that had been left lying across the path. She felt herself go down and managed to fall on her side, to shield Luz from injury. For several moments, Cordelia could not move, the shock of the fall had been too great. Luz, frightened, began to cry, and when Cordelia tried to get up, she nearly fainted from a sudden, sharp pain. She tried to reach Luz, but couldn't. Philip's housekeeper, Mrs. Williams, had seen the accident from the kitchen window and hurried to Cordelia. White to the lips, Cordelia asked, "Please pick up Luz, she's scared from the fall." Instantly, Mrs. Williams did as Cordelia asked, quickly calming Luz from crying to mere sobbing. "Now, honey, I'm going to put you back on the lawn for a moment while I help your mommy up," she soothed. After helping Cordelia to her feet, she asked, "Do you think you could make it to the house, ma'am, if you leaned on me?"
"I'll try, Mrs. Williams," Cordelia faltered, hanging on to the housekeeper. Luis had heard his daughter crying and hastened toward the sound. He was devastated to see the housekeeper carrying Luz, while trying to support Cordelia, who was evidently in severe pain. "Dee? Madre de Dios.... What happened?" His arms went around her in support. Deeply upset, he felt her crumple up when another spasm of pain shook her. Frantic, he lifted her in his arms and hurried into the house, looking around for somewhere to lay her down. "Over here, sir," said Mrs. Williams, indicating a small sofa. "I've phoned for an ambulance, sir." Luis nodded, all his attention on his beloved Dee. Mrs. Williams also quietly alerted the family doctor, and asked that an Ob/Gyn consultant should stand by, because the lady who had fallen was nearly six months pregnant. She felt it unnecessary to disturb Mr. Montoya further; he was already so very upset. Indeed, Luis was distraught and shocked beyond imagining. His beloved Dee had fallen, and was now in such pain that he feared she might miscarry. He wondered whether, at five and a half months, their child would be viable. Mrs. Williams seemed to guess what he was thinking, because she said, shaking her head compassionately, "There hasn't been time yet for the baby to grow everything it needs to be born. I'm so very sorry, sir." The ambulance arrived. Two paramedics with a gurney took charge of Cordelia, one shaking his head at the other. "I want to be with my wife," Luis said in a tone that brooked no contradiction. One of the paramedics said, "Yes, of course, sir. It'll be good for her to know you're with her." "C'm' on, Bud," said the other, and they hurriedly got Cordelia into the ambulance, Luis sitting beside her, holding her hand, whispering over and over, "Dee, mi amor, I love you..." against her fingers. After the ambulance left, Mrs. Williams succeeded in alerting Philip, who went from his office to the hospital in a great hurry. He helped Luis cope with the Admissions office, asking his family doctor for the latest on Cordelia.
The family doctor, a man in his early fifties--Luis was too upset to catch his name-said quietly, "Mr. Montoya, I hate to have to tell you this--your wife has miscarried. But it was occasioned by a fall, right? Well, the good thing is that there is no reason why she couldn't carry her next pregnancy to term." Philip nodded to the doctor, concerned for Luis, whose dark face was ashen, his eyes black pools of desolation. He said gently, "Luis, shall we sit down here and wait?" "I want to be with her," Luis said through stiff lips, his voice shaking. The doctor, who had stayed with them out of concern for the deeply upset husband, said, "As soon as the gynecologist has seen to your wife. What we call a D and C, Mr. Montoya. Merely a routine procedure, to make sure all is completely tidy." "How long until I can be with her?" Luis asked, still in that shaking voice. "I'll just ask the.... Ah, here is Dr. Winslow now. Bob, how is Mrs. Montoya? Understandably Mr. Montoya wants to be with her." "Of course. Mr. Montoya, I'm Dr. Winslow, the gynecologist who attended your wife. I was called in by Dr. Badell, here. She's miscarried. Unfortunately, there was nothing that could be done about that. But I've taken care of her and she's fine. As soon as she's back in her room, you can be with her. I'm very sorry about your child." "Thank you, doctor," said Luis, his voice a little steadier. His pallor was causing Dr. Badell some anxiety. Quietly, he said, "Mr. Montoya, a miscarriage is sometimes harder on the husband than on the wife, who is, after all, in expert hands to help her get through this. But you? If you wish, I could prescribe something to--" He glanced inquiringly at Luis, who shook his head. "Thank you, but no. I need to be alert for when I can see my wife." "Quite so," said Dr. Badell calmly. "I'm sure you have enough inner strength to be there for your wife even as you have to cope with your own sense of loss." He turned to Philip. "Call me if there's anything else I can do." "Thank you for coming to help us." Philip nodded to Dr. Badell, as he left. Luis sat staring, unseeing. He couldn't have said how long he had been waiting, when a cheerful middle-aged nurse came in.
"Mr. Montoya?" she said. "Your wife is awake now. Would you like to see her?" "Yes. Yes, I'll come," said Luis, following the nurse. She stopped at a door on the left. "Someone to see you, Mrs. Montoya," the nurse said cheerfully. Standing aside to allow Luis entrance, she closed the door behind her. He hastened to the bed where Cordelia lay, pale and exhausted, and looking very, very sad. Distraught, he saw that her eyes were brimming with tears. "Dee... Dee, amor de mi corazón," he whispered. Cordelia looked at Luis and said, her voice barely audible, "Oh, Luis, I'm so sorry...." He sat down on the edge of the bed, anxiously glancing at her face to see if this caused her more pain. She gave him a faint, if tearful, smile. "Dee, you're all right, aren't you? The gynecologist, I forget his name, he said he had cleaned you up and you were fine. That's all that matters to me right now--that you're alive and will be well again soon. Ah, Dee, mi mujer, I've never felt so helpless in my life. There wasn't anything I could do for you, and I wanted so much to help you. Dee, mi amor." His shaking voice died away as he took her hand from where it lay on the coverlet, lifting it to his mouth. She felt him press kisses to her fingers, her palm. When she looked more closely at him, she saw that his lashes were wet. Surprised, she wondered why Luis was so upset--because she had lost the baby? Surely not. He'd been pleased for her that she was pregnant. Was it possible he'd wanted her to have a child? She'd always thought that Luz was enough for him. Aloud, she said, "Luis, amado. Of course I'm very, very sad that I lost our child, but physically I'm all right, nothing for you to worry about. It's just that I'd like to go home as soon as I'm allowed out of here." Luis nodded, bringing her hands to his mouth again. His voice was unsteady, assuring her, "Then that's what we'll do. I'll have my plane come here to pick us up. Adams can fly down in it and drive the Corniche back. I don't want you to spend over two hundred miles in a car after you've had a miscarriage, mi amor. Perhaps, when the doctor realizes we'll fly home, he'll be willing to let you go a little earlier. I'll promise to ask Bill Reese to check on you the moment you're home." She smiled. When Luis could organize things, he felt better able to cope with his personal feelings, whatever they were. Concern for her? Or was it the trauma of her losing the baby, she wondered.
She lifted her hand, caressing his lean cheek. She was shocked to feel it wet with his tears. She whispered, "Luis?" and somehow found the strength to bring her face close enough to kiss his mouth softly. When she felt the warmth of his lips against her own, a feeling of bliss flooded her senses.... Strange, to feel this way, now. "Oh, Luis," she whispered, and when he bent a little closer to her, Cordelia began to kiss his tears away, her hands entwined in his hair. After some oddly blissful moments, he rested her head back against the pillows, kissing her eyes, still full of tears. "Tell me, if you will. What happened? Did Luz kick you?" "No, querido. Luz and I were walking, and after a while she held out her arms. So I picked her up and walked on with her. There was a rake or something lying across the path, but I didn't notice it. Then I stumbled and fell. I was carrying Luz, so I couldn't try to break my fall with my arms. Poor Luz, she was so terrified when I went down." Luis frowned. "Dammit, I've told Luz not to ask you to carry her while you're pregnant. Why wouldn't she listen--?" "Luis, she's all of thirteen months old, you can't 'explain' things like that to her. For her I'm one of the people she turns to for help, and when she couldn't walk any farther, she asked to be carried. You can't blame her for feeling protected when she's with us. She didn't know I'd stumble over that rake because I wasn't watching." "But she made you lose our child. If she'd kept walking, you would've seen the rake--" "Luis, querido, she was tired, she's only a very little girl, just over a year old. Don't hold her responsible for this. Blame the gardener for not putting away his tools-that makes more sense. Please don't blame Luz." "I guess you're right, mi amor. It's just that I'm so very upset that--" She was dismayed to see the pain in his eyes, the white line around his mouth as he pressed his lips together. A moment later he hid his face in her hair, whispering, "I'm so desperately sorry--" She wrapped him in her arms. "I know, Luis, my love." *** Four days later, Luis's plane flew them back to Ocean Breeze. In Palm Beach,
Luis had ordered an ambulance to take Cordelia to the airport, and in Ocean Breeze there was another ambulance to take her home in comfort. Luis, with Luz on his lap, one arm around Rob, sat beside the gurney on which he insisted that Cordelia lie down. To Cordelia's dismay, Luz seemed to sense that her daddy was upset with her, although he did his best not to show it. From time to time, she turned to him, asking, "Daddy?" Silently, Cordelia pleaded with Luis, Please don't push her away. She needs you to love her unconditionally. But it seemed that Luis could not get over Luz's part in Cordelia's miscarriage. One morning, when Luis came out of his library to take coffee with Cordelia, he said, "I was talking to Taki this morning. He told me they could come down for a long weekend. Dee, you've been so unhappy, so listless. I was wondering whether it would do you good to see Crystal and Taki? I could send the plane for them on Friday and fly them back on Tuesday? Now that Taki has done all the designs for the new play, he doesn't have to spend every waking hour in the theatre. Dee, mi mujer?" She poured his coffee and gave him a grateful smile. "Luis, that's so generous of you, thinking of inviting Crystal and Taki. Yes, I'd love to see them, hear all the theatre news from Taki and all the design chitchat from Crystal. Thank you, amado." Pleased that he had been able to think of something that would cheer her up, Luis said, "I'll call Taki back this afternoon and arrange everything. Do you think you'll feel up to having dinner at the Café de Paris, mi amor?" "Of course, Luis. I'm not ill; you know that. I'll enjoy going to the Café de Paris again. Will you ask Diego and Maria, too?" She saw a slight frown appear on his handsome face, a little tug at the generous mouth to indicate that this was not a subject he wished to discuss. She decided to wait patiently for his response. At last, he said, "Ever since Diego sent Maria home from Ricardo's, I've been careful to invite only Diego. I didn't hear what Maria said but it had to be pretty bad to provoke you into the response that Ricardo, Diego and I heard." "Just more of Maria's overprotective nonsense. That time she made me really mad, when I tried to deflect her insinuations about you and that woman in the red dress. She said something pitying about 'dear, guileless Cordelia.' Suddenly, I couldn't take any more of her condescension, and I let her have it."
"Ah. That was why you said in that icy voice, 'Dear, sophisticated Maria.' Nice touch. Well, I think it's about time we showed Maria we don't take kindly to her sniping. Let's ask Diego, alone." "Or you could ask Diego and say that if he wishes to bring Maria? Then it's up to him." Luis smiled, with a lazy, explicit look at his wife. "As always, I adore your subtlety. That's what we'll do, invite Diego and leave it up to him to invite Maria. What do you think he'll do?" "At a wild guess, he won't bring her. Twice he has been deeply annoyed at her socalled quips. Once in our home, you didn't hear it, but Diego did, and he told her off very harshly. Then at Ricardo's." "I think you're right." Cordelia glanced at her watch. "Luis, I think it's time I went to get Luz from her playroom; she's more with Carmen than with us, these days." "Why don't we wait until Carmen brings her down after her lunch? It's natural that she spends more time with Carmen than with us now. When she was a baby she slept a lot. Now she spends a lot of time awake, and that's what we hired Carmen for, to be with her when we have other things to do." Keeping her voice very light and casual, she took her courage in both hands, asking, "You're sure it isn't because you're still upset with poor Luz about...?" Luis slanted her a look. "Perhaps a little. I realize it isn't her fault, but if she hadn't monopolized you so, always wanting to be carried--" Cordelia's eyes filled with tears. "Oh, Luis. Please don't think that way. Poor Luz. Shunted from one unreliable nanny to the other, there was no stability or feeling of safety in her life, except you. If you withdraw from her, she'll be devastated." Holding out his coffee-cup for a refill, Luis said, surprised, "You think so? My opinion, she's bonded more with you than with me. After all, I've only known her six months longer than you. And as you know, most of those months she spent with nannies. After all, her own mother couldn't be bothered with her." She gave him his coffee. "But you're her father, Luis. That must have a special meaning for her." "All right, I promise I'll try. Just to please you."
She flew to his side and knelt by his chair. "Thank you, Luis, thank you so much." She wrapped her arms around his waist, resting her head in his lap. He hastily put his cup of coffee on the side table and caressed her hair. ¡Por Dios! he thought. Didn't she realize what she was doing to him? What had Bill said about how long Cordelia would need to recuperate, until after her period? Better not ask. She was still so very upset about losing their child. Understandable. She had carried their child in her body; he had merely caressed her abdomen and kissed their child through her skin. Hardly the same thing. Even so, he was still so devastated at the loss of their child. How much worse, then, for her. Surprised at his silence, she glanced up at him, and was dismayed to see anguish in his eyes, his chiseled lips pressed together as if in pain. "Luis?" He shook his head and kept caressing her silky hair. "I was thinking, I'm still so very upset at losing our child; how much worse then for you." "You're still upset?" she asked, her eyes astonished. "Of course I am," he said, deeply troubled by her question. "I thought you knew that." She sighed. "Luis, I didn't realize you wanted our child as much as I did. I thought you were pleased for me that I was pregnant. But you really wanted our child? Oh, Luis, please forgive me." He managed a smile. "Well, now you know. And there's nothing to forgive, amor de mi corazón." She thought, Amor de mi corazón--love of my heart. If only Luis meant it. Luis decided not to go back to his library. He enjoyed the greater closeness with Dee, now that she realized he mourned their child as deeply as she did. Suddenly there was an excited little voice at the top of the stairway, and the gentle, restraining tones of Carmen's admonition, "Ten cuidado, Luz"--be careful. But Luz had seen her father and wrenched her little hand out of Carmen's, calling out, "Daddy, Daddy?" as she began to run down the stairs. Cordelia half-rose, realizing in despair that she couldn't get there in time to catch Luz. Luis was quicker. In two fluid leaps, he was at the staircase and ran up the treads three at a time toward his daughter, who just then began to fall over her own feet, her little arms held out to the father she adored. Hastily, Luis caught her, lifting her in his arms, kissing her rose petal cheek.
"Luz, mi niña, what you did there was very dangerous. Running down those stairs. Next time you let Carmen hold your hand, all right?" Luz said, "Wan' Daddy, Daddy," tightening her arms around Luis's neck. To her way of thinking, of course she'd run down the stairs to go to her daddy. In any case, her daddy had come to catch her, hadn't he, just as he always would? When Luis read her thoughts so clearly in the liquid dark eyes gazing at him with such unquestioning love and trust, he hugged her closer, ashamed that he had, for even one moment, held this loving child responsible for the devastating loss he and Dee had suffered. When they came closer to Cordelia, Luz began to sing, "Mommyyy, mommyyy, mommyyy." Cordelia smiled at her and held out her arms. But the little girl would not relinquish her place in Luis's arms. "No-no-no," she said, shaking her silky blue-black curls, "Wan' Daddy." Cordelia grinned at Luis, reminding him, "What was that again about her bonding more with me than with you?" Luis had the good grace to look contrite. He sat down on the love-seat with Luz in his arms, looking over at Cordelia, inviting her with a glance to come sit beside him. This she did with alacrity. Carmen descended the stairs more calmly. She said quietly, "Con su permiso, I could go have my lunch now in the staff room." "Sure, Carmen, go ahead," said Luis easily. "We'll keep her with us until it's time for her nap. Where is Rob?" "He's in the garden, Don Luis, helping the gardener," said Carmen, disappearing down the hallway leading to the kitchen. A few moments later, Dolores appeared. "Don Luis? May I pour a glass of wine? There's a bottle of the Australian Shiraz that you brought back with you, or the Pinot Noir." "The Shiraz will be fine, Dolores. Here, let me open it." "Don Luis, you stay there with your daughter. I'll get Ernesto." Clearly Ernesto was waiting in the wings, because he appeared promptly. Directing her question more to Cordelia than to Luis, Dolores asked, "Since you have Luz with you, will you want easy-to-eat finger food? A salad when she's gone for her siesta?" Cordelia glanced at Luis. "Thank you, Dolores, that's an excellent idea. That way
we can stay here with her." Dolores served the wine Ernesto had opened. "Thanks, Dolores," said Luis, and Cordelia smiled. Luz waved, "Dohdoh." When it was time for Luz's nap, she protested so vigorously that Luis decided to carry her up. He kissed her, leaving it to Carmen to get her little dress off and settle her for her siesta. Luis went back to his library, to arrange for the visit of Crystal and Taki, and discuss some other matters with Diego. He touched briefly on the planned dinner party at the Café de Paris. "We'd like you to come, too, Diego. And Maria of course." Luis thought this was as close as he could come, short of asking Diego outright whether he wanted Maria to attend. "Thanks, Luis, but Maria has been a bit off-colour lately, I don't quite know what's the matter with her. Lately, she's offended several people, your own wife among them. No, let's have an enjoyable dinner. I'll leave Maria at home." "Just as you wish, of course, Diego. Tell me, do you think Leandros and Irene Melissinos would enjoy having dinner with us? Irene is Taki's sister, did you know?" "Yes, I know. I think Irene's pleasure at seeing her brother would outweigh her chagrin at seeing the woman with whom Leandros was deeply involved before he met Irene." "Really? I didn't know that." "That's what you got me for, finding out all these background details of people you don't know," said Diego, deadpan. "Well, what do you think, then? Crystal is Dee's cousin. I don't want her to feel uncomfortable if Irene is likely to--" "Oh no, Irene is well-behaved. Leandros wouldn't have it any other way, trust me." Diego grinned. "Why don't you talk to Leandros, and leave it to him to decide whether it's a good idea to bring Crystal and Irene together at one dinner table. Although my take on it is that this is all some time in the past, and since Crystal married Taki--" "All right, I'll phone Leandros," said Luis, "but first, we'll deal with this file here." He and Diego were soon immersed. Leaving Diego to put the file in order, Luis punched in Leandros Melissinos's private number. Leandros picked up on the second ring.
"Melissinos," said a deep voice, a little darker than Luis's own. "Luis Montoya, Leandro," said Luis. "Have you a moment for a private chat?" "Always, my dear Luis. I want to tell you how very sorry Irene and I were to hear that Cordelia miscarried your child. We know what that's like. Our first daughter was stillborn, as you probably know." Luis hadn't known, but he made a sympathetic response. He said, "What I wanted to ask you is whether you and Irene would like to come to dinner with us at the Café de Paris? Crystal and Taki Lambros are staying with us over the coming weekend, and since Irene is Taki's sister-- You know Crystal and my wife are cousins. I thought it would cheer Cordelia up a bit if she had company over the weekend." "Yes, I remember only too vividly how deeply depressed Irene was at the time. Good move, having Crystal over. I seem to recall the cousins were close. At that time, Crystal was doing my interiors here at the condo for me." "They're gifted designers. Cordelia redesigned my interiors for me." Leandros laughed. "Ah, you've rid yourself of the Italian palazzo look? An excellent move." "Definitely and definitively, Leandro," said Luis, laughing in his turn. "As for your very kind invitation, Irene and I would love to come. We've nothing planned for this weekend that I know of. So either Saturday or Sunday would be fine with us." "In that case, perhaps, Saturday? Will you come to the house for drinks, say seven-thirty? I'll get Lucien to give me a table for nine o'clock." "Thank you, we'll look forward to that. Seven-thirty at your house for drinks. Oh, before I forget, Irene will kill me if I don't ask--dress formal, to please the ladies?" "By all means, Leandro." "We'll come in the limo; then there's no worry about parking, or watching our wine too precisely." "Great idea. I'll have Adams drive us, too. See you Saturday." "Saturday," echoed Leandros, disconnecting.
Diego glanced up. "Tell me, why do you call him Leandro? His name is Leandros, surely?" Luis explained, "His name is Leandros, that is the name on his driver's licence, the name he signs his letters with, how he introduces himself. But, when you address him, you must drop the 's' and call him Leandro." "I must remember that. They're coming on Saturday, you said?" "Yes. Drinks here, Saturday, at seven-thirty. They'll come in their limo. I'll have Adams drive us over, too." "Table for seven, at nine o'clock, Saturday?" "Exactly, Diego. Thanks." *** On Saturday afternoon, Luis insisted on a nap. Cordelia thought how supportive of her he was, so patiently waiting for her to tell him that they could, again, be lovers. Unfortunately, they couldn't yet. This had to be increasingly difficult and uncomfortable for him. She decided that, this afternoon, she would make love to him in the only way possible now. She would give him completion with her hands and mouth. Since the miscarriage, she had worn a nightgown to bed, but he slept nude, as always. Good. She wouldn't have to struggle with silk pajama bottoms, then. When he saw her get into her side of the bed without a nightgown, perhaps that might give him an inkling of what she had in mind for him. But would he permit this? On one occasion, he had adamantly refused to take his pleasure at her expense, as he expressed himself. Of course, that was when they could make love in the usual way. If she offered him a foot massage, and slowly worked her way up his legs? She smiled to herself. Great idea. Luis got into his side of the bed, stretched out his arms to her and invited, "Come lie in my arms, mi amor." He glanced over at her and raised a slim black brow when he saw her get into bed, nude. He was even more surprised when he saw her take a small bottle of baby oil from her bedside table. "I thought you'd like a foot massage. It might relax you a little?" Privately, he thought that feeling her hands on him would be anything but relaxing,
but she seemed keen on doing this for him. Well, he couldn't feel more aroused than he was right now. So what did it matter? "If you think so, mi amor," he said easily, trying to uncover his legs while keeping the duvet draped over his pelvis, and his heavy erection. She knelt by his feet and shook a few drops of the oil into her palm, rubbing her hands together, then started to massage his feet, in turn. She glanced up at his face. "Does that feel good?" she murmured, lifting his other foot onto her thighs. He had to admit that it felt very good, but it certainly wasn't making him feel more relaxed. If anything, he felt more aroused--just as he had thought, he reflected ruefully. "It feels wonderful, thank you," he said. Dee was trying so hard to make him feel good. The least he could do was tell her he was enjoying her attentions. Oh-oh. Dee was now massaging his ankles, his lower legs. He noticed she tucked his feet against her sides, and he realized with a shock that he could touch her breasts with his toes. Madre de Dios... "You have very sexy knees, Mr. Montoya," she said, bending over him, beginning to massage his knees. Inevitably, her fingers touched his thighs, his inner thighs-If she goes any higher, she'll see how aroused I am. Her gentle fingers were now massaging his inner thighs, higher and higher. Dios... Pushing the duvet away, she saw how very aroused he was, and asked softly, "Luis, is this for me?" His sensitive nostrils flared, the generous mouth lifted as his lips parted. "Dee, please, I know you can't. So why are you doing this to me?" "Because I thought I could kiss your--uh, until you--So you would feel relaxed this evening, less uncomfortable? I know that you once said you'd never ask me to do anything like this for you, but Luis, mi amado, I want to." "Take my pleasure at your expense," he frowned, the sculpted mouth pressing firmly closed until a white line appeared in the muscles around it. "That isn't how I see it, Luis. Just a way of giving you pleasure while I can't. Please, Luis, let me do this for you. I want to, so very much." "You do?" He sounded doubtful.
"Mmhmm," she smiled, gently moving his legs wider apart, giving her access to all of him. She knelt between his thighs, one hand slipping to the orbs swollen with his seed, the other taking hold of his erection; his long, heavy, rock-hard erection. The moment he felt her hands on him, his body began to move in an involuntary rhythm. "Please," he whispered, "Will you come closer so that I can hold your breasts, kiss your nipples. You've no idea how that turns me on." She smiled. "Oh, Luis, I've a pretty good idea what turns you on." Shifting her position so that her body was accessible to his hands, she let her mouth work its magic on him. "But if you want to kiss my breasts, I'll have to stop." "Then stop, for just a moment, but keep holding me? I need to kiss your nipples." "Anything you want, amado," she murmured, offering him her breasts, her hands continuing their caresses, cupping his sac holding the globes engorged with his seed, all the while rhythmically moving on his huge erection. "Dee, mi mujer, you have no idea how I've missed this," he sighed against her breasts. "Haven't I, amado? Why do you think I'm doing this, then...?" She gave him a few more moments, before turning completely around so that he could hold her breasts while she laved and licked and kissed the head of his penis, finally kissing her way down his shaft to the engorged orbs, which she laved and kissed, her long fingers reaching for that most sensitive spot, stimulating it. He groaned, his rhythm faster now. Slowly, she kissed her way up his shaft again until she could take him into her mouth. All she could hear from him were sighs and moans. Good. Sensing his need of her hand gripping him tightly in the rapidly increasing rhythm of his body, she gave him what he wanted, her tongue laving the part of his penis that was in her mouth. She felt him speed up his rhythm still more, and she did the same, sucking him with increasing passion. Dios, I've never felt anything like this, but if it continues I'll come in her mouth. I mustn't--Those were his last coherent thoughts. When Luis felt himself perilously close to orgasm, he tried to remove his penis from Dee's mouth, but she had too firm a grip on him, and merely shook her head, laving, then sucking more passionately than before. He felt the familiar beginnings of orgasm, and surrendered to what she made him feel, as he spilled into her mouth. Spilled and spilled. Dios.... She kept her hold on him, sucking more gently now, until she was sure he had spilled all his seed. Once she felt certain he had spilled completely, she slowly
relaxed her hold on his shaft, opening her mouth so he could withdraw if he wished. Which he did, very slowly, because she had made him feel so much...so very much. "You can let go of me now, mi amor," he whispered when his heartbeat and breathing had slowed a little, and he could think again. He sounded almost shy when he added, "I didn't mean to spill into your mouth. I tried to move away--but you had too firm a grip on me." "But Luis, I wanted you to spill in my mouth. It felt so good, so very good, when you did. And, oh, Luis, I love the taste of you--" With a shock, he realized she had swallowed his seed. Dios. He held her more tightly to him, slowly caressing her hair, her back, deeply moved by what she had done for him. At last he said, "I did--taste good to you? You're sure that was what you wanted to do?" She nodded against his chest. "Mmhmm. Yes, querido, that was what I wanted to do. Feel your seed spill into my mouth. Make you feel more relaxed, comfortable. I'm sorry I didn't think of this earlier, but--" He was scandalized. "But you were still weak from--what they did for you in the hospital. Never would I have agreed to--" "You wouldn't have agreed now, if I had asked you, Luis. That's why I was so sneaky, pretending this was about a foot massage." Shaking his head slowly, he said, "I'll never again be able to hear the words 'foot massage' without blushing, I swear to you." She laughed, and he was enchanted and relieved. It was the first time he had heard her laugh since the miscarriage. Gently, he said, "Mi amor, I want you to know--no one has ever done this for me. Oh, at times it's been suggested, but I've never permitted anyone to-- And now I realize why. This is something too intimate. Only with you." Tightening his embrace, he continued, "If memory serves, we were going to have a siesta, right? How do you feel about going to sleep for a while? You must be exhausted from what you did for me." She shook her head. "No, amado, I feel wonderful." He hugged her more closely to him. "So do I, mi amor. I feel absolutely wonderful." He tucked her head onto his shoulder, lifting her hand and placing it on his waist, amused when he felt it instantly slipping down to his hipbone.
"Sweet dreams, amor de mi corazón," he whispered. "I love you, Luis," she whispered very softly. She hoped he wouldn't hear, but he had heard. He thought, Dee loves me? Madre de Dios, if only she meant it. But no, it's just an expression. She's in love with me, and loves what our bodies give each other. But he could not resist saying, very softly, "Me, too, my love."
Luis awoke around six, surprised he had slept that long. Then he recalled what had happened before they went to sleep, and he was no longer surprised. Glancing at Dee, still asleep, he decided to kiss her awake. When he drifted soft kisses over her face and throat, she slowly woke up, saw Luis and reached for him, wanting to melt into him. "Luis," she began. Then, remembering that she invariably aroused him when she did that, she hastily drew back. "Forgive me, Luis, I didn't mean to make you uncomfortable." She sounded contrite. "Please don't worry, mi amor, I'm most comfortable, thanks to you," he said. "You are? But usually, a while later, you--" "That's when we make love together," he said. "Never before have I had all my seed sucked from me by your talented mouth, mi mujer. I swear to you I haven't a single drop left." He was amused to see her blush, and relented. "Come share a shower?" he invited. She nodded, sliding out of her side of the bed. *** Half an hour later, Cordelia went to her walk-in, intending to bring out her princessstyle evening dress, which matched the aquamarine and diamond jewelry Luis had given her that earlier time. Luis shook his head. "I don't want you to wear a dress that reminds you of your pregnancy, mi amor," he said. "Wait here." He went to his own walk-in, and came out with a stunning dress in a subtle aquamarine, an elegant stem of a slip-dress, covered with matching aquamarine silk chiffon, in layers of delicate petals. She gasped. "Luis? Where on earth--?" "Exactly where you think I got it--at the boutique. I know you hate trying on dresses, so I called that woman. I told her I now needed some dresses for your usual svelte, willowy self. She had your size on record, fortunately. Do you like this?" "Oh, Luis, it's fabulous. I-Thank you so very much."
"That sounds as if you like it. Good. Let me help you get into it." Once the dress was on, he drew her with him to the full-length mirror at the back of his walk-in. She took one look and gasped a breathy, "Oh, Luis--" "Those overlapping petals make you look like an elegant mermaid," he observed. "Just a moment, let me put your necklace and bracelet on." He quickly found the stunning diamond and aquamarine jewelry. "Oh, Luis," she said, predictably. Luis was, as always, immaculate in his evening clothes. Cordelia could not resist hugging herself to him, something he not only permitted but encouraged with a smile. They went down at seven to find Diego, Crystal and Taki already in the smallest of three reception rooms. For a total of seven people, that was more than adequate. But Luis frowned. "I don't want our friends--your relatives, Taki--to be received so formally. Let's go to the family room." Diego explained, "Dolores took us here, so--" "Ah yes, Dolores likes formality, I don't. I'll let Dolores know." Crystal was wearing her beautiful pink dress, and wore the baguette diamond necklace. The cousins walked together to the family room, admiring each other's dresses; Diego, Taki and Luis watching them indulgently. After a while, Dolores entered, accompanied by Ernesto, who opened a Krug and a Cristal. Dolores saw to it that each received the champagne of choice. When she served Luis his Krug, she said quietly, "Don Luis? I thought you'd want to receive Mr. and Mrs. Melissinos formally. Lo siento." "No need to apologize, Dolores," said Luis easily. "I like informality, and so does Mr. Melissinos. Moreover, his wife is Mr. Taki's sister, so in a way they are family. ¿De acuerdo, Dolores?" With a smile, Dolores said, "De acuerdo, Don Luis." At twenty to seven, the front door buzzer sounded. Luis said, "That's Irene and Leandros," and went to admit their guests. Cordelia thought how much she liked Luis casually opening his own front door. She walked to the entrance of the family room. Luis came back with Irene and Leandros. Irene, stunning in amethyst velvet, flew
to Cordelia as soon as she saw her. "Cordelia, I was so delighted to hear of your marriage to Luis. You're made for each other. I would've been in touch sooner, but we've been away in Greece." "Irene, it's wonderful seeing you again. Here's someone you'll be extra glad to see." Taki had come forward and, as Cordelia stepped aside, he took his sister in his arms, hugging her fiercely. Leandros and Luis halted in front of Cordelia, who held out her hand. Leandros brought it to his lips and said, with every indication of delight at seeing her again, "Cordelia--I'm very glad to see you. And to see you happily married to my friend Luis. As Irene said, we've been in Greece and only got back a few days ago." Taki and Irene were still embracing each other, talking in undertones in what was probably Greek, Luis thought. He led Leandros to the seating arrangement by the fireplace, and gestured to Crystal. "I believe you've met before?" Luis said, cursing himself for the unintended implication, which Irene would undoubtedly catch. Fortunately, she wasn't listening, still excitedly chatting with her brother. "Yes," said Leandros, with an admiring smile for Crystal, who looked ethereal in her beautiful pink dress and diamond necklace. "Pink suits you, Crystal. I've told you that before." His dark eyes slid with deep admiration over Crystal's svelte figure. When she held out her hand to him, he brought it to his lips with more than mere courtesy, Luis thought. "Leandro," she said quietly. "It's good to see you again." By now, Taki and Irene had joined the others, and Diego had come forward to say hello to these old friends. Dolores approached and asked if champagne was acceptable. "It is, if you have Krug," said Leandros with a grin for Dolores. "Señor Melissinos--as if Don Luis would offer you anything else to drink," said Dolores, raising a brow to Irene, who said, "Roederer's Cristal, if you have it?" "Of course we have it, Señora Melissinos. Señora Crystal only drinks her namesake in champagne." Dolores returned to the drinks tray, where Ernesto awaited her instructions. When they were all provided with flutes and had courteously raised their glasses to each other, they settled down to chat.
Leandros took the chair beside Cordelia's, saying, "I've been meaning to thank you for the brilliantly perceptive way you designed Irene's little boudoir. That wide divan in the corner--I can't tell you how much that delights me, and how often we take a little nap on it." "Then I'm well pleased," Cordelia smiled. "That's exactly what I had in mind." Irene heard Cordelia's reply to her husband and now said, "Lee, my darling, are you telling tales out of school by any chance?" "No, of course not, Irene. I was merely complimenting Cordelia on the brilliantly perceptive way she designed your little boudoir." "Hmm," was all Irene would say, but her glance at her husband was eloquent. Conversation became more general, although to Cordelia's sensitive heart it seemed that Irene managed to avoid any conversation with Crystal. Crystal, seated between Taki and Luis, did not seem to notice. Or, if she noticed, she did not care. Dolores had just gone around with a tray of fresh flutes of champagne, when Luz's little voice was heard in protest. "No! Wan' Daddy!" The guests looked in astonishment at Luis, from whose waist these sounds seemed to emanate. He shrugged. "I still haven't unlearned automatically clipping a baby monitor to my belt." He bent his head, frowning, as the sounds continued. Astonished, they now heard Carmen's voice, "No, Señora Alvarez, you will not take Luz from her bed to take a walk with you. No, Señora. Está loca--you are crazy. No!" "Dammit, Maria." With that, Diego was out of his chair and halfway up the stairs. With a muttered apology, Luis was right behind him. Taki asked Cordelia, "What gives? I heard about some of her rude, cheap shots at Luis, but what can she want with Luz?" Cordelia said, unhappily, "Oh, this goes back to when I was here redoing Luis's main floor interiors. Maria seemed to fear that Luis would start a casual little fling with me and would then leave me. Luis isn't like that at all. But Maria wouldn't give up, and kept warning me not to get involved, hinting unpleasantly broadly that Luis slept around. When she continued, even after we were married, I finally had to tell her off in no uncertain terms. Diego refused to have her included in parties and dinners any longer."
"What on earth could have provoked her into taking a baby for a walk at eight o'clock in the evening?" Irene asked, a puzzled frown on her beautiful face. "Maria is barren, Irene. Diego must've told her a thousand times that it doesn't matter to him. She felt friendly to me because I had mono as a teenager. At the time, the doctor told me it had made me infertile. So she thought that Luis and I would also have a childless marriage. "When I became pregnant, she seemed upset, and took endless cheap shots at Luis. I think there was some envy there, too. Not only because I was pregnant. From something Dolores let fall, I think originally Maria hoped to marry Luis, but he barely noticed her. Then, when Diego showed interest in her, she married him. Perhaps Luis and I getting married may have unhinged her a little. But if she's trying to get her hands on Luz, that's it. I'm sure Luis and Diego will stop her once and for all." The whine of an ambulance siren was heard coming closer. Diego appeared on the stairway, holding Maria firmly by the arm. Behind them, Luis walked down carrying his crying daughter, her arms tightly around her father's neck. When Diego and Maria came into the family room, she tried vainly to sound ordinary, saying, "How nice to see you again, Irene, Leandro," as Leandros halfrose. Diego quickly hustled her through to the entrance hall. Two paramedics entered the moment he opened the door. Diego said, "I've spoken to Dr. Miles Coulter, and he wishes you to bring Maria Alvarez to him in the psychiatric wing of the hospital. He said he'd be waiting." "Right," said one paramedic. "Dr. Coulter told us. We'll just get the lady on the gurney for the trip." He and his colleague quickly lifted the gurney down and, at Diego's gesture, brought it into the wide entrance hall. The other paramedic said, "Come on, Ms. Alvarez. Just lie down here." Frantically upset now, Maria said, "Diego, are you going to let these men take me to the hospital? There's nothing wrong with me." "If there isn't, you'll soon be back, Maria. But you've behaved so erratically lately, now endangering the welfare of a small child. That can't be overlooked. You go see Dr. Coulter. I'll be in touch." He nodded to the paramedics, who quickly put the gurney back into the ambulance. One got in with Maria while the other went to the driver's seat and hurriedly drove away.
Diego went back to the family room, feeling that some sort of explanation was required. Luis got to his feet quickly, Luz clinging to him for dear life. "Diego, let me get you something stronger than Krug. A brandy? You've had a ghastly shock." Diego shook his head at his friend. "So have you, Luis. She was trying to abduct your child. No, thanks, Krug will do me fine. This is no astonishing surprise to me, unfortunately. It's been some time coming. I'm just so very upset that her aberrations finally drove her to trying to take Luz--for a walk, she said. ¡Dios! I'm afraid she was probably trying to kidnap her, to have the child she's wanted so desperately. Luis, mi amigo, I can't tell you how sorry I am. If I had known she was this unhinged, I'd have done something about it long ago. I thought she was merely envious of Delia being pregnant." Cordelia said very quietly, practically without inflection, "Yes, Maria seemed unduly pleased that I had miscarried. I should've realized then that she was sick, and mentioned it to you, Diego. I'm sorry." Diego nodded, pouring himself a refill with a shaking hand. Luis had, meanwhile, succeeded in calming his daughter, who kept clinging to him, her little voice continuing its sing-song, "Wan' Daddy. Daddy, Daddy." "Well, mi niña--my little one--you've got me. You're here in Daddy's arms. And Daddy'll always be here to keep you safe." Luis's beautifully sculpted mouth tightened when he thought how terrified his little Luz must have been when Maria tried to lift her out of her bed. He was eternally grateful to Carmen, immediately alert to the danger Maria was to the child. Fortunately, Rob had slept through it all, his room being on the other side of Carmen's. Irene went over to where Luz was sitting on her father's lap, hanging on to him with both her little arms. "Hi, honey," Irene said. "Our twins are about your age. Perhaps your mommy and daddy will bring you over one day so you can all play together." "Wan' Daddy," said Luz, although her face showed the first smile since Luis had carried her, sobbing, into the family room. Taki leaned across his wife's lap and reached for Luz's satiny cheek. "Moro mou"--my baby, he said, his voice loving and compassionate. "You're safe with your daddy. He'd never let anything bad happen to you. You know that, don't you?"
Luz gazed at him, her dark eyes huge. "Un...Kaki," she said and reached a hand out to him, which Taki quickly took, giving her little kisses up her arm. Luz giggled delightedly. Crystal reached a delicate finger to caress Luz's other cheek. Luz paid her no attention. Cordelia laughed. "Luz is such a flirt. Sometimes I think she responds to men only. Of course, when she needed her diaper changed in the middle of the night, she'd suffer my ministrations. Otherwise, it's 'Want Daddy'." Leandros rose, going to where Luis was sitting with Luz on his lap. "Let's see if you're right, Cordelia," he said, and reached a hand to Luz, who seized it delightedly. She turned to Luis, asking, "Daddy?" "You want to be introduced? Luz, this is Uncle Lee. Lee, this is Luz." Luz smiled widely at Leandros. "Un--Lee," she said, clinging to his hand. "Q.E.D," Cordelia smiled. Luis glanced at his watch. "Twenty past eight. How about leaving here a quarter to nine? Gives me nearly half an hour to c-a-l-m Luz. Right now, I don't think she'll take too kindly to being put into her b-e-d." Luz frowned at her father, as if trying to figure out what he was saying. Diego said, "Why do I get the feeling she knows how to spell?" Luis grinned ruefully, "Uncanny, isn't it?" Twenty minutes later, Luz was fast asleep in her father's arms. Luis rose carefully to carry his daughter up the stairway. Carmen was at the door of Luz's bedroom. She asked, "Do you want me to take her, Don Luis?" He shook his head. "No, I'll put her to bed. I don't want her to wake up while I transfer her to your arms." Carmen nodded, following Luis into the room. He easily laid Luz down, pulling the thin coverlet over her. "Buenas noches, mi hija--my daughter." He kissed her silky hair. He straightened up, nodding to Carmen and going quickly back to the others. "Diego, will you come with Irene and me? That way there'll be three in our limo
and four in Luis's," Leandros suggested. "Thanks, Leandro, that's kind of you." *** Lucien, the maître d', was delighted to welcome the party to the Café de Paris, where he reigned supreme. He had arranged a secluded round table for the party. Luis thanked Lucien, gestured to the table, saying, "Please sit anywhere you wish." He waited until Leandros and Irene were seated next to each other--Taki on Irene's other side, Crystal next to him. The remaining seating fell into place easily. Henri, the sommelier, hurried forward, a pleased smile on his face as he greeted the diners by name. Luis glanced at Leandros, Taki and Diego. When he received their pleased nods, he said to Henri, "The ladies have been drinking Cristal and Krug. Will you arrange for a bottle of each, please? As for the gentlemen, they all agree with me that we're in the mood for some exceptional red wine to drink before dinner. Can you oblige, Henri?" "M'sieu, that'll be a great pleasure for me. Give me just a moment." In a remarkably short time, Henri and his helper had Roederer's Cristal open for Crystal and Irene, and Krug for Cordelia, who whispered to Luis, "I could've drunk Cristal this once, Luis. It seems so wasteful opening a bottle of Krug just for me." He smiled. She was trying to save him money again. "But Henri will be so pleased, later, mi amor." "All right, then. Thank you, Luis." She slanted him a loving glance. Everybody enjoyed the dinner party, and Cordelia was relieved to notice that Irene unbent sufficiently--perhaps under the influence of several flutes of Cristal--to start chatting with Crystal. On the other hand, Crystal might not be too pleased with the topic Irene chose. "I've been waiting eagerly for you and Taki to make me an aunt," Irene said to Crystal with a smile. "I've been waiting for Taki to decide he wants to be a father, Irene," said Crystal sweetly, neatly putting this conversational ball back into Irene's court. Irene was not to be deterred. She turned to her brother. "Taki, are you making
Crystal wait to have a baby until you feel paternal? That's very un-Greek of you." "Give it a rest, sis, please," said Taki quietly, but Irene persisted. Leaning past her brother, she said to Crystal, "When I was pregnant in New York, I had an excellent gynecologist. I'll give you her name. Maybe she could check things out for you?" Very quietly, Crystal responded, "That's kind of you, Irene, but it is not necessary. I was in a relationship before I met Taki. A week after Taki and I had begun going out, I found I was pregnant. Telling my lover was not an option, but of course I told Taki, in case he wanted nothing more to do with me. But Taki was so good to me, so supportive. He offered to marry me so that my lover's child would be born in wedlock. Of course I couldn't accept that. Anyway, I miscarried two months later, so--" With some satisfaction, Crystal saw Leandros's handsome face go ashen, as he stared at her, devastated. Irene was white to the lips, her face a mask of dismayed shock and, yes, of rage. ¡Madre de Dios! thought Luis, glancing at Cordelia and Diego in alarm. In his opinion, this dinner party was doomed. To his relief, Taki spoke up, intent on saving the situation for his wife's sake. "Crystal, honey," he said, his voice caressing, "I had hoped you'd never think back to those dark days again. When I remember how sick you were.... But something good came of it. You fell in love with me, and since I was already deeply in love with you, you agreed to marry me when you left the hospital." He turned to his sister, his eyes forceful and compelling. "Irene, please remember that none of this was any business of yours. Crystal and her lover were both unmarried and uninvolved with anyone else when they were in their relationship. Let's hear no more on this subject." "But I most certainly--" began Irene, nostrils flaring, eyes blazing. Leandros spoke for the first time, his voice shaking. "Taki is right, Irene. None of this is any business of yours. However, I need to ask Crystal's forgiveness, and express to Taki my enduring gratitude for taking care of Crystal--something I should've done, even if that meant that you, Irene, would've refused to have anything more to do with me. Now, would someone please suggest another topic of conversation?" He glanced apologetically at Luis. "Let me tell you--" Irene began again, furious now with Crystal and Leandros.
"No Irene, this isn't about you. It is about Crystal and the dishonourable role I played briefly in her life. I'm deeply sorry, Crystal. Why didn't you tell me?" "And spoil your just-begun romance with Irene? No way, Leandro. As I said, Taki was so good to me. He took excellent care of me." "How you could go from my husband to my brother, pregnant with my husband's child," Irene spat at Crystal, who ignored her with dignity. Taki quickly pointed out, "But Leandro wasn't your husband then, Irene. And Crystal certainly didn't go from one man to the other. Our relationship was platonic until some time after Crystal came out of the hospital. I asked her to marry me, and she said she would. And I asked her to come live with me in New York, where we got married in a ceremony not unlike the wedding you and Leandro had." With a smile for Crystal, Taki continued, "Now, as you asked earlier, Leandro, would someone please suggest a different topic of conversation?"
On Sunday morning, Luis tried to get Cordelia to sleep in a bit, but she wouldn't hear of it. She was anxious to be there for Crystal, in case Irene's taunts had been more disturbing to Crystal than she would admit When Cordelia and Luis went to check on Luz, they found her room empty. Dolores, who saw them descend the stairway, said, "Carmen has taken Luz and Rob to the garden to play before it gets too hot." Luis nodded. "Gracias." He and Cordelia settled in the family room with their second cup of coffee and the Sunday papers. Shortly afterwards, Taki and Crystal came down. Cordelia looked searchingly at her cousin, but evidently Taki had succeeded in restoring Crystal's usual sunny disposition admirably. The telephone burred discreetly. Luis lifted the receiver. "Montoya." "Luis, it's Leandros. I wanted to thank you and Cordelia again for having us to dinner last night. I thought Lucien and Henri outdid themselves to please you and your guests." "I'm glad you enjoyed the dinner, Leandro." "I owe you my apologies for Irene's unacceptable behaviour. Not only in pressing Crystal to have a baby, but the things she said to her later." "Don't give it another thought, Leandro. We certainly won't. Irene was very upset, and people tend to weigh their words less carefully when they are in some distress. I assure you that Crystal is her usual sunny self this morning, and Taki is utterly tranquil." "Luis, do you think I could talk to Taki for a moment?" "Of course. Let me get him." Luis gestured to Taki with the receiver, saying, "Leandro wants a word with you." Amiably, Taki rose and took the receiver. He wondered what Lee could want to discuss with him. "Lee? Kali mera--good morning." Taki sounded easygoing and casual.
"Kali mera, Taki. I want to thank you once more for all you did for Crystal at that time. Things I should've done for her. Taki, would you please allow me to reimburse you for the cost of the hospital, doctors, whatever? Crystal needed all that because of me, and I would be most grateful to you if you'd allow me to pay you back." "Lee, that isn't necessary. You know that Henry Cameron is famous for his generosity to all those who work for him. Henry's health insurance plan paid for all my expenses on behalf of Crystal. Yes, of course, she wasn't my wife then, but Henry said it didn't matter. His insurance covered, shall we say, significant others. This is primarily meant to cover gay couples. In this case, it worked for Crystal and me. So really, there's nothing to reimburse me for." "I see," said Leandros, sounding downcast. He continued, "I want to apologize profusely for the things Irene said to Crystal--" Patiently, Taki said, "Lee, if you'll remember for a moment how absurd and vindictive Irene was all those years ago about my going out with Crystal, about Crystal designing your suite, about anything to do with Crystal--I'm sure that by now you've been on the receiving end of some of Irene's more irrational outbursts. Pay no attention, Lee. I certainly didn't. Crystal's one wish is that you don't, belatedly, feel remorse about not being there for her when she was pregnant. How could you be? She didn't tell you. It's in the past, Lee. Let it stay there." "Taki...that's very generous of you, and of Crystal. Promise me you'll let me know if there's ever anything you want that I could help you with? As a very small atonement for a very grievous wrong I did to Crystal and, by extension, to you." "Lee--" "Promise?" "All right, I promise. I hope my sister won't make your life too difficult for the next little while." "It doesn't matter." It seemed to Taki that Lee's voice was not merely resigned, but steeled with some resolve. Leandros continued, "I told her last night, if she loved me, she wouldn't go on and on about this. But she keeps harping on my previous relationship with Crystal, which was over before I started going out with Irene. To her, this is a weapon in her arsenal for future fights." Taki heard Leandros sigh, before going on, "Perhaps you've realized that Irene doesn't really love me. She's in love with me, and she's gotten accustomed to the lifestyle I can provide for her, but true love? No." "Lee, would you like me to come over and light into her? Make her realize that she risks losing you if she isn't very, very careful and shuts up forever about Crystal?"
Leandros laughed, a little ruefully, it seemed to Taki. "I'm sure you could, if you put your mind to it, Taki, but no. I'll have to sort this out myself. Hope to see you in New York in about ten days' time. Some meetings I can't avoid. And no, I won't bring Irene." "In that case, Crystal and I will look forward to seeing you, Lee. Bye for now." Taki disconnected. He resumed his seat next to Crystal, and said in his casual, offhand manner, "Leandros apologized a number of times for not being there for you when-- You heard what I said to him. I must say I don't envy him the next little while with my sister. Trouble is that she may go too far, and Lee will not forgive her, as he has done so many times in the past. We'll no doubt hear all about it in ten days' time, when he comes to New York for meetings. He said he'd very much like to see us. I said we'd look forward to it." Crystal said softly, "I'm not sure I could stand another onslaught from your sister, Taki, palikari mou?" "Lee won't bring her, gineka mou." Cordelia asked, "What was that you said, Crystal?" Crystal smiled. "Palikari mou. That's Greek for my tall, handsome lover or husband." Cordelia tried the words. "Palikari mou?" "Yes, you said that exactly right, didn't she, Taki?" "Exactly right, Delia." He caught Cordelia's enigmatic little smile. "What?" he asked. "You've got a secret Greek lover?" Cordelia laughed. "No, of course not. Bite your tongue, Taki. I was just thinking that 'palikari mou' fits Luis perfectly, too." "But Luis isn't Greek," Taki objected. "He won't know what you're saying." "But I'll have fun explaining it to him, won't I?" said Cordelia. "I heard that," said Luis, taking his wife's hand between his palms. *** Leandros invited Crystal and Taki to lunch at the Hilton on Monday, assuring them
that Irene would not be present. Whatever passed between the three, Crystal did not confide in her cousin, and Cordelia wouldn't dream of asking. But it seemed to her that Crystal was noticeably more serene. Perhaps she had, at last, found closure about her ill-fated pregnancy and love affair. When Luis heard about the Hilton luncheon, he marveled at Taki's easygoing attitude to Leandros, with whom Crystal had been in a torrid relationship. He thought he couldn't bear to be in the company of a man with whom Dee had been intimate. He was surprised at the turmoil the mere thought created in his heart. A few days after Crystal and Taki flew back to New York, Cordelia and Luis were relaxing in the family room, waiting for Luz and Rob to join them after their nap. She said quietly to Luis, "Tell me, would you like me to ask Bill to put me on the Pill for some time?" Luis turned to her, surprise sparking his eyes. His voice none too steady, he asked, "Are you telling me you--?" She smiled. "Yes. A few days from now, we can resume our private life, amado." "Querida, I can hardly wait." His dark eyes turning a stormy black, his sensitive nostrils flaring, he took her hands into his, kissing their palms, touching the tip of his tongue to them. "As for you getting pregnant again, amor de mi corazón, only you know how your body feels. Your beautiful body, which will, in a few days' time, be mine again, to love and love--" Cordelia thought, Yes, Luis, you love my body. How I wish you loved me. Calmly, she smiled at him. "I'll go on the Pill then, for a month or so?" "Yes, I agree. Perhaps in a few months you'll decide you're ready to give me a child, mi mujer." He glanced at her, then, his gaze sharpening. "Dee, is something bothering you? Something's upset you? Tell me." Yes, Luis, something's bothering me. I love you, but you're merely in love with my body. Aloud, she said, "Of course not, Luis. Everything's fine. I'm just having my usual cramps. Perhaps that's what you saw in my face." "Dee, honey--let me massage you. Perhaps it'll make the pain go away?" His hand was on her abdomen, slowly massaging in comforting, soothing circles. He frowned, asking quietly, "Why do I have this feeling that there's something else upsetting you--something serious?" Luis reads me like a book, Cordelia thought. But she couldn't tell him she was
unhappy in this uneven marriage. She had known he married her for Luz's sake. She couldn't now blame him because she loved him with all her heart, and he merely loved what their bodies gave each other. She smiled at him determinedly. "For once your very sensitive antennae are picking up what isn't there, Luis. I'm just fine, with the exception of these cramps. I had heard they go away after a pregnancy, but mine sure haven't. Perhaps they go away only after a complete pregnancy." He was quick to pick up on the sadness of her tone and hugged her closely. He whispered, "Mi amor, please try not to think about that any more. One day, perhaps in a few months, you'll be pregnant again, and I'll take such good care of you. You'll carry my child to term, you'll see." Cheerful young voices were heard at the top of the stairs. Luis took his arms from around Cordelia, after another long, worried look at her. He could have sworn something was troubling her. Well, if she wouldn't tell him, he'd just have to find out in some other way. He turned to the stairway, with a determined smile for the children. Rob came down the stairs by himself. Luz walked more slowly, her hand held firmly in Carmen's. Rob hurried to Luis, a question in his eyes. Shyly, he asked, "Uncle Luis, may I sit between you and Aunt Delia? Hi, Aunt Delia." Cordelia stroked Rob's hair and smiled at him. Luis said, "Of course you may, Rob. Had a good nap?" "Oh yes, thank you, Uncle Luis. Carmen calls it our siesta. Is that Spanish for a nap?" "Yes, Rob, it is. Tell me, would you like to learn Spanish? At your age, it's easy. I'll just make sure Carmen and Dolores speak Spanish to you and, when you don't understand what they're saying, they'll tell you in English, and then repeat the Spanish slowly again." "Oh, Uncle Luis, I'd love that. Thank you. Does Luz speak Spanish?" "She understands me when I speak Spanish to her, but she can't exactly converse in either English or Spanish yet." "Oh, right. Silly of me, Luz is too young, I forgot." "Except she can say, wan' daddy," Cordelia observed with a smile.
Carmen now arrived at the foot of the stairway with Luz, who tore her little hand out of Carmen's and began to run towards Luis, calling, "Daddy, Daddy?" Predictably, she tripped over her own feet and would have fallen, but for Luis's lightning reflexes. He flew up from his seat on the sofa, and managed to catch Luz just before she fell. Luis sat back on his heels hanging on to Luz for dear life, gasping, "Luz, honey, you've got to be a bit more careful." He rose with her in his arms and went back to the sofa. Luz had her arms around Luis's neck in her usual death grip, singing "Daddy, wan' Daddy." Luis grinned at her. "Here's Rob, honey." Luz made a sound approximating "Ob," stretching out her little arms to Rob, who asked, eyes shining, "Could I please hold her on my lap, Uncle Luis?" "Here you go, Rob," said Luis easily. As he began handing his daughter to her young friend, he cautioned, "Be sure to sit well back so she can't slide off your legs. At times she's as slippery as an eel." "Ee, ee," said Luz, anxious to take part in the conversation. Luis smiled at her with deep tenderness, making sure Rob held her safely. Cordelia stretched out a hand to caress Luz's rose-petal cheek with a finger. She said softly, "Hi, Luz, honey," and was rewarded with a glance, a wide smile and "Mommy," before Luz turned her attention back to Rob. Luis stretched out his arm along the back of the love-seat. Gently caressing the nape of Cordelia's neck, he asked, "You all right, querida?" She smiled, and bent her neck to his fingers. Even if he didn't love her, he was so loving, always. "I'm fine, Luis." *** Two days later, Cordelia paid a quick visit to Bill Reese, and stopped off at Walgreens to have the pharmacist fill the prescription for the Pill. The next day, after Carmen picked up Luz and Rob for a nap after lunch, Cordelia said to Luis, "How do you feel about a siesta for us?" She was elated to see the sudden heat in his dark eyes. "Are you saying--?" "Exactly what you think I'm saying, amado," she whispered against his mouth.
To her astonishment, Luis got to his feet, bending over Cordelia and sweeping her up in his arms. He walked lightly up the long stairway to the upper floor, delighted to find one of the double doors to his bedroom ajar. He shouldered it open, closing and locking both doors. "Alone at last," he said, lifting her up again and placing her gently against the pillows of his bed. *** Luis and Cordelia spent an idyllic month getting reacquainted with each other, their siestas on occasion lasting longer than the children's naps. A few weeks later, Philip telephoned. Luis was in the family room and picked up. "Montoya." "Luis, it's Philip. I've finished my huge marathon case and yes, I won. So I was thinking, perhaps I could drive up next weekend to pick up Rob again? I've missed him so much, but I knew he'd be far happier with you than here, when he'd see me only rarely. Would that suit you?" "Of course it would, Philip. But if it's all the same to you, we could bring him. I've been thinking for some time that it's a shame, your family and mine being so far apart. Rob and Luz love each other like brother and sister, and yet they only see each other every three, four months or so. It's been in my mind to look around Palm Beach, to see if I could find a property that could easily be given state-of-theart security. If not, then a piece of land on which I could build what I want. What do you think?" "Luis, that's the best news I've had in a long time. Do you want me to check around very, very quietly, see what's available?" "That would be a help, thanks. I'll send Adams down with the Corniche on Thursday, and we'll fly in on Friday. Adams can bring the car to the airport and fly back with my crew. We can always decide later whether I want to fly or drive back." "I'll look forward to Friday, then. Give my love to Rob?" "Of course I will. See you Friday." Luis disconnected, smiling to himself. This would please Cordelia. Lately, she had seemed quieter than usual. When he asked if something troubled her, she invariably said that she was fine, everything was fine.
He shook his head, deciding to go in search of Diego, who needed to be apprised of his Palm Beach plans. He hoped Diego would be willing to make the move with him. Before he could get to his feet, Diego walked into the family room carrying a couple of files. He put these in front of Luis. "I thought you'd want to--" Luis held up his hand. "I will, in a minute, Diego. First there's something very important I have to ask you." He looked at Diego, who said nothing, seating himself on the opposite love seat, his whole attention on Luis. "Diego, it's been in my mind to make a move to Palm Beach. Not only would we be more centrally located for our Florida operations, it will also be wonderful for Rob and Luz to be closer. No doubt Dee will be happy to be closer to her brother. My own major consideration is, would you be willing to move with me?" Diego smiled. "Luis, that's something you don't have to ask. Of course I'll move with you. You're right. Palm Beach would be far more central for us. But finding a secure enough estate--" "That's what's on my mind, too. Philip is quietly looking into available properties. We can look at them and see what we can find. If not, we'll have to look for land and build our own. Perhaps enough land to have three houses, yours, mine and Philip's?" "Great idea. Do you want me to work on this and liaise with Philip?" "If you're sure you don't mind slogging around Palm Beach?" "Better me than you--Cordelia might not take too kindly to you missing your daily siesta," said Diego, with an explicit glance at Luis, who grinned back, totally unfazed. Just then, Carmen came down the stairway with the children. When Rob saw Luis, he began to run to him. "Uncle Luis?" Luis held out his arms and Rob ran right into them. Luis kissed the little boy, telling him, "I just spoke to your dad, who asked me to give you his love. We're going to Palm Beach this weekend, and will stay there for a while." "Oh, Uncle Luis," said Rob, overcome. His father had sent his love. "Daddy, Daddy, wan' Daddy," came Luz's small voice. When she saw her daddy holding Rob, she wanted to be held, too.
He looked around for Cordelia. Where was she? "Carmen, have you seen my wife?" he asked casually. "Sí, Don Luis. I saw her in the garden just now. I was looking down from Luz's windows." "Thank you." He turned to Rob and said, "Do you want to help me find Aunt Delia? I'll carry Luz." As they were about to go into the garden, Cordelia came up the path. Luis opened the door and stood aside for her to enter. "Where were you?" he said softly. "I looked for you and couldn't find you." "I needed to do some thinking," she said, equally softly. She needed to think, in the garden? What about? He felt it would be wiser to talk about this later, when they were alone. He began telling Cordelia about their trip to Palm Beach, and his plan to stay there for a while. Cordelia's face lit up. "Thank you, Luis. I'll enjoy spending some time with Philip. Did he win his case?" "Yes, he did. And I could wish you sounded that enthusiastic about spending some time with me." "Oh, Luis, you know I'm most enthusiastic about spending time with you." Her voice was reproachful. Noticing Rob's attention being riveted on them, he said quietly "Ten cuidado, los niños"--be careful, the children. Cordelia nodded and suggested a game of hide and seek, which took up the better part of the children's playtime. *** When Carmen had taken Rob and Luz upstairs to the little table in the playroom for their supper, Luis said, "Tell me, mi amada, what did you need to think about away from me?" Sitting down with her on one of the love-seats, he wrapped her in his arms. He was shocked at the pain in Cordelia's eyes. "Luis, please don't think this is in any way a criticism of you--I knew that you asked me to marry you because of Luz. I knew that you were merely in love with me--
with what my body and yours could give each other. But you see, I love you, so very much. It is this inequality in our marriage that is eating away at me. A worrying feeling of how long will you remain in love with my body? One day it may no longer excite you, and then what? "Moreover, I've a feeling I've become pregnant. I've tried to think whether I missed taking the Pill, but I can't remember. Given your alluring virility, if there were a tiny window of opportunity-- And so I have to ask you again--are you sure that's what you want, to give me a child?" Luis gazed at her. We need to be alone for this. "Please let's go upstairs, what you've said is too important to discuss here, likely to be interrupted at any time by Dolores, or Diego. ¿Por favor, mi amor?" She nodded, getting up to join Luis, already on his feet, holding out his arms to her. "I want to carry you upstairs, mi mujer," he sighed, and did just that. When they were back in Luis's bedroom, he seemed almost shy. He gestured to the room at large, asking, "Do you want to sit by the fireplace, or would you like to lie down? I'll be happy to do whatever you want." Cordelia smiled a little sadly. "Luis, after the siesta we had, I think it's safe to lie down on your bed. I'd feel inhibited by the chairs being so far apart." Gracias a Dios, at least she wants to be close to me. He picked her up again and placed her against the pillows. He kicked off his slides, lying down beside her, taking her hand in his and bringing it to his lips. "Did I understand you to say that I'm merely in love with you?" he asked. She nodded unhappily. He shook his head decisively. "Ah, no, amor de mi corazón. I thought you were merely in love with me." "Oh, Luis, how could you think that?" "That wasn't so difficult, mi amor. You'll agree that we're very good in bed together. I thought that was all you wanted from me. Do you remember that night, when I asked you if I was feeling this alone, you didn't say you loved me. Only that I didn't feel this alone. I thought you meant desire, passion, and you gave yourself so willingly to me. Dee, I know I'm attractive to women. I'd be a hypocrite if I pretended otherwise. So I thought that's what you felt for me--desire. You never said anything different." "Neither did you, Luis."
"Dee, mi mujer, I thought it was obvious that I was fathoms deep in love with you. And I said that to you, but you only said, 'Oh, Luis...' Not that you felt the same, and so I thought that you didn't. "And when I grew to love you, I thought it best not to burden you with that knowledge." "But I melted into you with all the love I felt for you. How could you not have realized how I felt about you? Oh, Luis--" "You see, that's all you ever say to me, 'Oh, Luis...' What exactly does that mean, Dee?" He took hold of her shoulders, lifting her to him. At the last moment he decided against kissing her. First he needed to know how she really felt about him. With an effort, he loosened his grip on her shoulders and took her hand into his again. She said, her voice so low that he had to bend his head close to hers, "All right, I'll tell you. I love you, Luis. Love you with all my heart. I fell in love with you that night when you came hurrying to Luz, and found her in my arms, drinking her bottle. You looked so devastatingly attractive, your hair a little tousled. I had only ever seen you perfectly groomed, all your facial muscles under control. But that time, barefoot, your robe unbelted, showing your bare chest-- You were the most beautiful man I had ever seen. But you seemed indifferent to your looks. All your concern was for Luz. That touched me so deeply." She lifted her eyes to his, surprised to see them a stormy black. She could not stop herself from undoing a few buttons of his shirt so she could slip her hand inside and caress his deep chest, tease a nipple with her fingernail. Slowly turning her head, she kissed his throat. She went on, "Of course I didn't for a moment expect you to feel anything for me. How could you, used to all these great international beauties, your late wife an Italian princess? When you asked me to marry you, I was just stunned. I realized it was because of Luz, and kept reminding myself that was why you wanted to marry me, to make sure Luz had stability, continued loving care in her life. When you said you'd accept a marriage in name to begin with, I thought it was because you didn't really want a close relationship with me. Why should you? That's why I made a point of promising and demanding absolute fidelity. No way would I agree to sit at home with Luz while you went back to your glamorous life with all those women." Her long lashes remained lowered, and he suspected it was to prevent him seeing her tears. He lifted her face to him with one long, lean finger under her chin, and when he saw the tears she tried so hard to hide, he kissed them away. "Dee, mi mujer, is it possible that you believed all that nonsense in the papers and magazines? Oh, I've had brief flings with a few of them, but not nearly as many as
you seem to think. I've always been selective, hard to please. I've told you that. Don't you remember my telling you at the time that I had no intention or wish to go back to that life? I wanted a life with you and Luz. You probably thought I meant a life with Luz looked after by you. "No, no, no, mi amor. I wanted a life with you. I hoped one day you'd agree to our marriage becoming a true one. "Do you recall how many times we made love that first night? Do you really think I'd want to do that if I merely liked you and found your body attractive, your presence in my bed convenient? Do you think it's usual to experience such surpassing rapture together? Ah, no, mi amada. "Tell me this--have you ever felt such rapture with any other man?" Luis had gone very still, the dark eyes unfathomable, his face inscrutable, as he waited for her response. At last it came...her voice no more than a whisper. "Oh, Luis, there's never been another man. I thought you realized that." His heart leapt. Gently, he said, "No. I-I thought perhaps you hadn't been with a man for a long time...that you...¡Madre de Dios! You were a virgin? Mine alone? Oh, Dee. And I just thrust into you. Forgive me, I must've hurt you badly." "No, you didn't, Luis. You were so gentle with me that first time. You never drove yourself into me. Not the first time, anyway. Oh, Luis--" She thought he would surely embrace her now, but instead he lay back against his pillows, beckoning her with a long, lazy finger. "Vienes aquí, mi mujer." She threw herself onto his body, into his arms. "Oh, Luis--I thought you'd never ask."
Cordelia visited Bill Reese a week or so later, and was told that, yes, she was pregnant again. Luis was overjoyed, and made plans to take such good care of her that she would be sure to carry his child to term. She smiled. Bill had assured her that everything was fine, and no special precautions needed to be taken. *** Two months later, Diego and Philip found a wonderful property of twenty-five acres, where they would first build a security fence, premises for the security staff, and so on. Three houses would be built, one for Luis, one for Diego and one for Philip, who agreed that it made little sense having to ferry the children back and forth between their residences. Luis said that this time he wanted a far more modest house, where he, Dee and their children could be truly at home. Diego was of the same opinion. Maria asked to be allowed to go back to her family in Spain, and Dr. Coulter agreed to this. Philip asked the architect who had built his big house to design something smaller and less ostentatious. Luis and Diego asked Philip to engage the architect for all three houses, so they would look harmonious together. A month later, building began. *** Another four months later, the three houses were ready for occupancy. By this time, Cordelia was nearly eight months pregnant, and Luis did not want to take any risks with her, preferring to remain in Ocean Breeze, with Bill Reese a phone call away. At her eight-month checkup, Bill said that he was concerned at her blood pressure slowly creeping higher. Not wishing to take any risks with Cordelia, he urged that a C-section be done the following day. Luis was distraught, but agreed. The next morning, at eleven, Joaquín Luis Javier was born by C-section. He was a beautiful child, resembling his father closely. Cordelia left the naming to Luis, since his son needed to have the names that were important to Luis's family: Joaquín for Luis's father, Luis for himself and Javier for his favourite uncle. As Cordelia was recovering, Luis spent all his time in her hospital room. She pleaded in vain with him to go home and get some sleep. Bill finally relented and had the nurses roll a second bed into Cordelia's room, because Luis refused to be
parted from her. When Luis finally consented to lie down, he pushed the bed closer to Cordelia's so that he could hold her hand, whispering, "I love you" against her palm throughout the night. Cordelia begged to be allowed to go home as soon as possible, so that she and Luis could lie again in each other's arms. She knew that for Luis there would be no sleep until they could hold each other in a tight embrace. They remained at the Ocean Breeze house until Cordelia was well enough to attend their son's christening at Father Mark Shaughnessy's small chapel in the grounds of the Ocean Breeze West estate. Philip and Rob came over especially for the event, Luis sending his plane to make the trip quick and easy for them. *** At last the day came when they would all move to Palm Beach. Luis had agreed to sell his Ocean Breeze estate to Raphael Thalassinos, a great friend of Leandros's. Luis left the furniture and furnishings in place, feeling reluctant to ruin Cordelia's beautifully designed interiors. Cordelia insisted on designing the interiors for their new house. Crystal came down with Taki to supervise the work. When Cordelia and Luis saw how Crystal had carried out her designs, they were delighted, and very grateful. Philip employed a local designer who had worked with him before, when he wished to obliterate the pretentious interiors Rosemary had insisted on. Diego agreed to use this designer, also. *** Philip wisely decided not to tell Rob about the ostentatious wedding with more pomp and circumstance than good taste when his mother married the Moroccan tycoon. When they were on their honeymoon in Bali, Rosemary had a freak accident while water-skiing, and she died a few hours later in a hospital. When Carmen told Rob that his mother had had an accident and was now in heaven, Rob turned his level gaze on her, saying, "I doubt that." Shocked, Carmen opened her mouth to argue with Rob, but Philip had heard and said, "Please do not disagree with my son, Carmen." Later, Philip told Luis with pride about Rob's remark. It showed that Rosemary's coldness and unkindness to her son had had no lasting effect on him, because he knew her for what she was.
*** Two years later, Cordelia gave birth to a daughter, Cristal--named for Crystal, but in the Spanish spelling. This had been an easy birth, and Cordelia recovered quickly. After Luis made some telephone calls, they flew back to Ocean Breeze so that Father Mark could baptize Cristal, whose other names were Cordelia, as Luis insisted, and Linda for Luis's mother. Cordelia made a habit of calling Cristal, 'Linda'--which pleased Luis deeply, and soon, the new baby was called Linda by all. That night, lying in each other's arms in a suite at the Hilton, Luis said, "If you agree, I would like to think our family is complete now. Every time you're pregnant, I live in mortal terror that something might go wrong with you. I don't ever want to feel like that again. Amor de mi corazón, will you indulge me in this?" "Oh, Luis, have I ever refused you anything?" she said very softly. "No, you haven't. Does that mean that you will agree to this request of mine, too, mi mujer?" "Anything you want, Luis, you know that." "You know what I want," said Luis.
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