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Authors: Martha Hix

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BOOK: Mexican Fire
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Alejandra's mouth dropped.
“Close your mouth, Dulce. You don't look pretty that way.”
Mercedes departed the next morning for the mountainous village of Coatlpoala, home to both Pepe Zecatl and Josie Montana. Alejandra had mixed emotions about the trip's objective. She knew her sister had honorable intentions—seeing to Chico's welfare—but what if Mercedes made a nuisance of herself? What if Josie resented intrusion from Joaquin Navarro's wife?
Telling Mercedes to be prudent in her words and actions would be an effort in futility, Alejandra was certain. So, she prayed for the mission's success.
And she wondered about Don Valentin's mission. To her relief, a message arrived that same day. The
would sail for Tampico this evening. He thanked her for her help. And he asked her to keep abreast of any pertinent information that their faction could put to good use.
Thinking about the elderly don brought another thought to mind. Had something happened to Reece?
She told herself not to be fatalistic. He was still angry over their quarrel, that was all. He wasn't in peril. LaTouche had seen him after she had left Casa Montgomery. Pepe obviously had done nothing to thwart him. Thanks be to the Lady of Guadalupe.
It was no accident, though, that two days later she rode by Casa Montgomery. It was deserted. She called on Gordo the
He had seen nor heard nothing of Reece. Through Gordo, Alejandra contacted Lupita. The elderly woman, like Gordo, hadn't seen the colonel or his houseboy; not a whisper had she heard pertaining to their whereabouts, either.
Alejandra, dejected, returned home. All night she rolled and tumbled in her bed. Where was Reece? If only she could have a few words with him, perhaps they could iron out their differences, maybe not to become lovers again, but at least to be civil to each other. Doubtfully that would happen with the speed in which Papa and Mamacita reconciled, but surely there was some hope for herself and Reece.
Red-eyed, she dressed the next morning and trudged downstairs. To face another lonely day without Reece.
entered the eating room as she sipped breakfast coffee. She put down her cup when he said, “I bring news. President Bustamante's government has collapsed. The invalid Santa Anna has been drafted to replace him.”
It was as if Alejandra's heart stopped beating. “No!”
Jaime sighed. “It is true. As we speak, El Presidente prepares for the trip to Mexico City.”
Her hands covered her face.
I should've put a stop to that tyrant. I should have done something more than I tried to do.
She had set out to thwart him. To bring honor to Miguel's death. To keep other young Mexican men from his ignominious fate. Too much time had passed, while she sat and did nothing.
“Have you”—she swallowed—“heard anything about opposition? Jaime, is anything being done to bar Santa Anna from the presidential palace?”
He laughed. “Stop the saint Santa Anna? No, Doña. He will go to his destiny on a wave of popularity.”
Something had to be done to thwart him. Something. But what? Where were her comrades when she needed them? She wasn't acquainted with the local ones, and they were few in the aftermath of December fifth; the Yucatecans were strangers; and her friends were in Tampico. She was here in Veracruz state. As was the Veracruzano
Santa Anna.
It was up to Alejandra Sierra to halt his grand entry to the capital. An idea, evil and brutal, rushed to mind.
No. She couldn't go that far. But what else could be done?
Her sister's admonishment came back to her, giving her pause. “. . . if you let your stupid, federal-istic heart overrule your brain, you don't deserve to be the owner of this grand
Alejandra couldn't leave Campos de Palmas without making certain the land would be for its people. She penned a letter giving Papa the power to act in her stead—in case she never returned.
She rose from her chair. It toppled behind her. “Tell Zenon to prepare my carriage.”
Chapter Twenty-Five
Manga de Clavo, Santa Anna's estate near the Veracruz village of Puente Nacional, was a palatial hacienda possessing a mansion of white stucco. Its serenity belied the atrocities of the owner. On Alejandra's closer inspection this afternoon, when her coach halted on the carriageway, she amended her assessment on serenity. A cadre of soldiers, muskets raised, moved from hiding places behind trees and shrubbery.
Alighting the conveyance, Alejandra lifted her nose. With a stride purposeful and steady, she bluffed her way by the guards. Her path took her by the chapel draped in black bunting that held the remains of Santa Anna's leg. Ruminate over it, she wouldn't. She had a purpose in seeing El Presidente . . . and she worried about Reece. Perhaps she could find out what had happened to him . . . before she did her evil deed.
The mistress of Manga de Clavo, a tired-faced woman of early middle age, was not pleased to see Alejandra Sierra. Her thin shoulders rigid, Doña Ines stood in the vestibule and barred Alejandra's entrance.
And Santa Anna's wife didn't even know there was a knife as well as a pistol hidden in the caller's skirts.
“The president does not wish to entertain a fallen woman.”
Apparently gossip had spread like fungus about Alejandra's loose behavior of late. She, however, would not be stopped by insult. “Doña Ines, why don't you allow your husband to decide for himself?” Lecher that he was, he'd probably enjoy fraternizing with the unsavory. Alejandra painted on an innocent smile. “I wish only to congratulate him on his great triumph.”
“You might have wished him well on his return to Mexico.”
“Surely you can understand my silence. My mourning was extended.”
“Go away.” Ines started to turn her back. “Do not insult my children with your presence.”
“I have heard your son would not know an insult.” That was cruel of Alejandra, but she was desperate. “I am told that the boy suffers an underdeveloped mind.”
“Who said such a thing?”
Actually, Mercedes had been the relater. “It doesn't matter who told me. What I am trying to say is, we all have things we are not proud of.” Damn these Santa Annas in the first place for being ashamed of an afflicted child! “The scandal has not spread, rest assured. Of course, if I were to leave with a bad taste on my tongue, who could know what nastiness I might scatter?”
Alejandra had no intention of making good on such a despicable threat, but why grant an advantage?
“What would be the hurt in allowing me to congratulate El Presidente?” she asked.
“You will bring evil on this household, Doña Alejandra.”
She certainly hoped so.
A triumphant smile swallowed, Alejandra followed Señora Santa Anna to the Napoleon of the West.
In a wheelchair, he sat on the patio with a blanket draped across his lap. “Doña Alejandra . . . what a pleasant surprise.” He smiled, yet his face was waxen and ravaged by physical agony. “Excuse me for not getting up to greet you.”
Her palm flattened against her hidden pistol as Doña Ines receded into the house. Alejandra assessed the man she had known only in the bloom of his health. His appearance shocked her. Obviously he had lost weight, and there was more gray at his sideburns. Beneath the blanket, a single foot protruded. Her heart wasn't so hard that she couldn't pity such a sight.
By appearances alone, he seemed vincible and frail. How could this ravaged man be so powerful?
Don't think weakly toward him, she cautioned herself. Yes, he was grievously injured, but the dead and injured, both Mexican and otherwise in the 1836 Tejas campaign, had suffered, too. Santa Anna had extended the rebels no quarter, and he hadn't given a snap of consideration to his own men.
Not so much as a hospital wagon had accompanied the Mexican Army to Tejas. As for physicians, there had been but one, hired along the way, and he turned out to be a charlatan. The entire cost for medical supplies for almost seven thousand troops had been less than three hundred
Two thousand soldiers had perished on the march to San Antonio de Béjar alone.
Santa Anna would pay for his indifference.
She stepped closer to curtsy. “El Presidente, I am here to offer my best wishes.”
His hand took hers. “Sit down, Alejandra,” he ordered, familiar for the first time. “Sit down next to me.”
She took a bench to his left.
“Alejandra, if I haven't told you before, I apologize, but I want you to know how proud I was to have your husband under my command. He was a valiant leader. Thanks to his shrewdness, we became aware of the weakness in the Alamo's north wall. We as a nation owe him gratitude for successfully storming that fortress.”
Alejandra stared at the ground. How could Santa Anna justify that shameful deed? Surrounded men had been slaughtered! Yet she couldn't help but feel pride in his praise of Miguel.
Resting an elbow on the arm of his wheelchair, El Presidente said quietly, “You look lovely today. It lifts my spirits to see you.”
He could be charming, and had a way with people that made them feel as if they were important to him. When he saw the gain. His hypnotic eyes had lulled a gullible nation, and they were trained on Alejandra. She tried to steel against his charisma. Yet she became stangely drawn into it. Trying to snap the hold, she took a breath and glanced at the house. Doña Ines moved away from a window.
Alejandra turned her regard back to the President of Mexico.
“Thank you for calling on me with your best wishes,” he said. “They warm my heart. I will do everything in my power to honor such faith.” He smiled again. “I am pleased my countrymen have shown confidence in a return to good and honorable government, though I do regret having to leave the succor of home to serve.” During his discourse, he bloomed before her eyes. “I don't deny, of course, that as a young man I yearned to glorify my name, but during these past treacherous years, I have desired nothing higher than the contentment of being a family man. But honor declared that I challenge King Louis Philippe's abuse.” He exhaled loudly. “My unworthy life was spared. To serve our grand and glorious Mexico.”
Alejandra forced herself not to scowl. Such a capital actor was this despot.
“And the people know I can be counted on to glorify my country's name, even in my weakened condition,” Santa Anna went on.
When Diablo dons a halo.
“I'm pleased to hear that,” she lied flatteringly. “What will you do to accomplish such a goal?”
“Ah, many things. I leave for the capital tomorrow. Alas, my family will not accompany me. My wife must stay and care for the children, and their absence will make me suffer a great degree.”
Children had never been reared in the capital? Doña Ines was to be kept in exile, Alejandra assessed, to keep their afflicted son hidden. It was all she could do not to verbalize her thoughts.
He said, “I will do my best to bring peace in these times of trial.”
If only his sentiments were genuine, how lucky would be the republic!
“Something bothers me,” Santa Anna said after a stretch of silence in which a servant presented a tray of coffee and cakes that went untouched. The serving girl withdrew into the house, and Santa Anna proceeded. “You say you are here for felicitations. If your sentiments are real and good, why did you open your home to the Federalist Don Valentin Sandoval?”
Her shoulders stiffened. Her mouth went dry. Seeking neither to draw suspicion nor the soldiers certain to answer a call to arrest a Federalist foe, Alejandra replied, “My motives were humanitarian. I feared for his life in the siege of Vera Cruz. And his consumption . . . well, I felt my servants could nurse him well.”
“Because you are a Federalist.”
Her heart thumped in fear. With Santa Anna as president again, it was even more dangerous to be thus aligned. She leveled her eyes with his chin. “I have been in the company of Federalists, Your Excellency. But I am faithful to my husband's beliefs . . . in you and your party.”
Please don't let my face flame at this lie.
She smoothed her skirts; she glanced around the flower-bedecked patio.
“Alejandra, I think you should be more prudent in your choice of friends.”
“It is kind of you to be concerned.” A question edged at her heart. “What makes you think I was aligned with the opposition? Did Colonel Montgomery say something which could have been misconstrued?” Please don't let this be true, she prayed.
“He said nothing.” Santa Anna shook his head. “My dear Alejandra, I know the comings and goings of prominent people. I make it my business to know everything. I have long known about your friendship with Señor de Guzman.”
But did he know about Reece and his background? Surely he didn't. Alejandra would not try to enlighten El Presidente. Ever again. She had no urge to put Reece in jeopardy, even though he had done her false once again by not making good on his promise to intervene with the French on Don Valentin's behalf.
If anyone would know his whereabouts . . . “Since you are so well-informed, perhaps you know talk is abundant about the colonel and me.”
Santa Anna grinned, saying wryly, “Are you still giving him as much trouble as you did at your dinner party?”
She squirmed. “Actually, I haven't seen him in days. Have you?”
“I have not
“But you know where he is.”
“Will you share the information with me?”
“Ah, here comes Dr. Moran.” Santa Anna wheeled the chair forward. “Alejandra, may I introduce you to my new physician?”
A leather satchel in his hand, a tall man with serious mien walked toward them. He looked to be about forty. His height rivaled Reece Montgomery's. Edward Moran answered the introductions with curtness.
Santa Anna had much to say about the physician. Dr. Moran, a bachelor from New York, had been journeying through Mexico on his way home from inspecting his silver-mining interests in Taxco, when he had been pressed into service. A man of considerable means was Dr. Edward Moran.
During all this, the face that bordered on handsome turned scarlet. “Your Excellency, we must get your bandage changed,” Moran said and cast a glance at Alejandra. “You should leave, señora.”
“I—I, uh, I think I'll stay.” When she left here, if she could make a clean escape, she'd take not only information about Reece's whereabouts but also Santa Anna's life. And she wasn't going to let El Presidente out of her sight.
Trouble was, she had been hasty in her strategies to simply stroll out here and pull Miguel's old dueling pistol. Necessity called for the right moment to proceed with her plans.
“Ready, Your Excellency?” asked the doctor, and Alejandra regarded each man in turn.
Moran pulled back the blanket, then began to unwrap the soiled bandages. She gasped. Her hand going to cover her mouth, she forced her eyes closed.
“Nasty job they did on him, didn't they?” the doctor said. “The butchers.”
“Take a look, Alejandra.” Santa Anna's voice was determined. “Take a look at what our enemy started and Federalist-sympathizing doctors finished.”
She took a breath for courage. Opening her eyes, she was revolted anew. The leg had been amputated below the knee, and the shinbone protruded two inches below the flesh.
Her stomach turned over, then squeezed. She couldn't kill such a pitiable cripple. Just couldn't! She had to get away. Had to! She jumped from the seat and turned toward the house. And ran into the arms of Reece Montgomery.
“A little squeamish, are you?”
“That goes without saying,” Alejandra replied to Reece a couple of minutes after leaving the doctor and patient outdoors.
They stood in a small room decorated in the European fashion, off El Presidente's patio. At least a half dozen feet separated them. Reece made no move to close the distance, though his love hadn't diminished. He itched to rush forward and yank her into his arms, but he had been strong in the aftermath of Christmas, and would continue being so. They were through. She revered her dead husband above him, and too much divided them as a couple.
Besides, Reece was bone weary. Back at Casa Montgomery, it had taken some fast talking to persuade Capítan Guillermo Zecatl away from pulling the trigger. Fast talking and a couple of days of carousing and gambling in Coatlpoala. By the time they left the Totonac village, Guillermo was asking to be called Pepe again, and he had pledged his loyalties to Reece.
The two of them had rushed to Perote Prison, where they hadn't gotten past the hundred armed guards. Lacking proper documents signed by General Santa Anna, the warden wouldn't accept the excuse of two soldiers demanding entrance “to inspect the premises in the name of His Excellency.”
Storming the stronghold was an impossibility without a force of men behind him, which Reece had no chance of collecting. It was imperative he obtain signed orders from Antonio. Reece had to get into Perote Prison and free Garth. Provided he was there.
And Reece was here. His eyes went to Alejandra. Why did he keep remembering what it was like to be buried deep within her? Why did he recall . . . Hell, don't think about that, he told himself. But he would not act irresponsibly. “I have one question to ask you,” he said. “Is there any chance . . . ? Are you with—” his face flamed beneath the tan “—with child?”
“I'm not. Do you think so low of me that you wouldn't want our child, should there have been one?”
BOOK: Mexican Fire
8.51Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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