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Authors: Martha Hix

Mexican Fire (8 page)

BOOK: Mexican Fire
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Awaiting that golden opportunity, he glanced at Alejandra. The flawless, pale face that had been shocked upon acknowledging the unexpected visitor was now animated in fury. Obviously she cared not for being foiled in her plans. He liked a woman with spirit.
Despite her anger, she had never looked lovelier to Reece. His groin began to warm, blood swirling to his shaft. He shifted in his chair, reveling in the sheer beauty of Alejandra. A gardenia as delicate as her complexion was fashioned into her chignon. A diamond necklace, sprinkled with emeralds and rubies as vibrant as the Mexican flag, rested on the swell of her breasts. Fingerless gloves accented her graceful arms and hands. She would, of course, have been stunning in a flour sack, but she wore a low-cut gown of taffeta and lace, its green hue emphasizing the verdant highlights of her hazel eyes.
Beautiful was Widow Sierra.
So was a pearl-handled bowie knife.
Both could be deadly.
Reece turned his inspection to the decor. The dining room's ambience couldn't be faulted. Everything was spit and polish, gardenias and camellias, candlelight and crystal. Food and wine were being served while from outside, in the courtyard's shaded discretion, the primitive and sensual sounds of marimba floated through the half-opened doors.
“May I take your plate, Señor?” asked the serving girl.
Reece shifted his attention. The meal's first course—some sort of salad—was taken away, untouched by either him or Alejandra. His lack of appetite had nothing to do with the unappetizing oranges and almonds that had garnished the greens. What was the matter with him, wanting to bed Alejandra? What happened to his determination to remember the Alamo, and not give Antonio's accomplice the upper hand? The beribboned cock-o'-the-walk now slurping up turtle soup was behind that visit Alejandra had made to Casa Montgomery, and if Reece were to disregard that fact, he'd be a dolt of the first water.
The courtyard musicians struck a new tune, the vocalist singing about women betraying men. It seemed fitting.
Reece fiddled with his soup spoon, his curiosity running at full tilt, as he glanced across the table to that empty chair. The urge to mention it ate at him like a buzzard did carrion. Yet something else chewed at him. Just a small substance known as his conscience. If Alejandra was honest about her Federalist connection . . . That seemed doubtful. And . . . remember the Alamo.
“I'd say it's wicked of your other guest, not making an appearance,” he probed.
“Well, uh, y-yes. That is so.”
“I agree.” Antonio nodded, continuing the noble spirit he had donned since arriving at the late Don Miguel Sierra's hacienda. “I would not have missed—”
Interrupting in a tone as warm as a St. Louis blizzard, Alejandra clipped out, “My s-sister ought to be here. She's been detained. Apparently.”
Detained. Right. His suspicions confirmed by the flimsy, convenient excuse of a sibling—always handy in times of need—Reece parked his elbows on the walnut tabletop. “Is that so?”
“Why would I lie about a thing like that?”
“You tell me.” Putting her on the spot didn't fill Reece with pride. What could he do, though? He had a point to make. Besides, with Alejandra in collusion with Antonio, what would it hurt to put her in the line of fire?
“Your sister is the one you mentioned the other night? The one who works with you?” He waited in vain for an answer. “You remember what you said, don't you? That night you extended your invitation, I seem to recall you mentioned that others would be here. Never would have guessed you meant your sister.”
Antonio was listening and watching.
Candlelight reflected Alejandra's emerald-and-diamond earrings, but those light-points were dull compared to the prisms of her revealing hazel eyes.
She would make a terrible gambler.
Which didn't have a damn thing to do with right here, right now, and what was right. Or wrong. Right or wrong or in between, Alejandra had battle in those eyes.
The silence was so profound that Reece could almost hear foghorns in New Orleans.
“What a terrible shame that the lovely Señora Navarro cannot be with us tonight,” Antonio said, unmuzzling the quiet. “Let us hope she has not taken ill.”
“She is not infirm.”
Antonio cocked his head. “My dear Doña Alejandra, you are not yourself tonight. It is unlike you to be short with others.”
“You insult me, making such a remark,” she responded while Reece chuckled inwardly at the other man's statement. Alejandra had professed not to be well-acquainted with Antonio, but Antonio damned sure seemed to know a lot about her.
Continuing to study his hostess, Antonio asked, “Do you not wish my presence?”
“Of course you are welcome here.” Her tone was less than convincing. “My house is your house.”
Never having had the ability to leave well enough alone, Antonio said, “Perhaps you are unwell, Doña Alejandra. My beloved Ines tends to get fractious from time to time, too.”
“I am quite well,
gracias a Dios
. Have some of the fruit ice, General. It will clear your palate for the next dish. And with any luck, it will turn your concern from my state of health.”
Reece listened to her irritation. Indeed, she was transferring her anger at him to the man who had set her on her devious course, but wasn't she carrying it all a bit too far? After all, Antonio was her associate.
Or was he?
Thinking along that line brought forth Reece's purpose in being here. He waited a moment before confronting her with the lie that tied her to the conspiracy against him. “Alejandra, I know you're pleased to entertain Antonio . . . just as pleased as you were to see him at San Fernando Church.” Shock sliced across her features as he said this, and Reece suddenly wished he hadn't. Why hadn't he confronted her in private about her lie? Well, hindsight was always better than foresight . . . and he was in it this far. “When was that? About six or seven weeks ago, as I recall.”
“How did you—?” She sipped her wine, then carefully replaced the goblet on the table.
She shouldn't be this nervous about her lie, Reece figured as her mouth tightened fractionally.
“How astute of you to recall such a brief meeting, Señor Montgomery. But you have me at a disadvantage. I didn't realize you were spying—Oh my goodness, what a poor choice of words! Pardon me. I wasn't aware of your
that morning.”
“I was there,” he stated, uncomfortable with her comeback. He hadn't expected her to strike back like that. Well, ole boy, he asked himself, what did you expect?
“Shame, shame, Señor, eavesdropping on our conversation.” She placed her fingers across her delectable bosom, and spoke to Antonio. “My, General Santa Anna, I'm disappointed in you, associating with a man who has the habits of a cackling old gossip.”
Antonio chuckled at Reece's sudden frown.
“Cackling old gossip?” he echoed around his chuckle. “My good man here shouldn't be so compared. Granted, he lets nothing pass his notice, but that is a plus of the tactician, not the minus of a—”
“Thank you, Antonio, for the compliment,” Reece put in. “As I was telling Alejandra that night she asked what you intend to do about all the nasty French flotsam that's stinking up the bay, you are a fair and just—”
“That wasn't what I asked you,” she cut in, her face blanching.
“Oh?” Reece endeavored to look abashed. “Maybe I did get it a little wrong. You asked me how His Excellency was doing. And I said fine. Because he is. Just look at him.” Reece hitched a thumb toward the Mexican's amused face, then lied, “He couldn't be more ready for the trip I told you all about, Alejandra. His trip to Mexico City.”
“Ah yes, my trip to the capital . . .” No one had ever accused Antonio López de Santa Anna of being thick-headed, and he wasn't a disappointment in this instance. Smugly, he commented, “It sounds as if I was quite the subject for conversation.”
“You got that right, Antonio.” Reece watched Alejandra. She seemed intent on buttering a roll. “You did want to know all about Antonio, didn't you, Alejandra?”
She nibbled on a piece of crust. Patting her tightened lips with a linen, she nodded and rang a silver bell for the serving girl. “Of course I'm curious about my husband's commander. Ninfa, bring more wine for my guests. Tell Cook we'll have the red snapper now. And ask the musicians to leave; they're giving me a head—Just tell them to leave.”
“Sí, patróna.”
Reece, wanting to get back to the subject, said to Alejandra, “Pardon me if I sounded like a cackling old gossip with all my references to this or that conversation—” he turned his regard to the other man “—but I just want you to know, Antonio, I have nothing to hide about my last visit with our hostess here. I've nothing to hide from you, period.”
There. It was done. Reece had spread bald-faced lies for Antonio's benefit—just in case she had been honest about her beliefs—and he'd given away neither a single secret nor a hint about their true plans. And he had shown the cur of Manga de Clavo that not even the beauteous Alejandra could entice him into disloyalty.
Why didn't he get a rush of satisfaction, proving himself?
Her ring finger touched her temple before she said, “What a peculiar thing you said, Señor Montgomery, pointing out your honesty. Peculiar, unless you have something to hide.”
“Doña Alejandra, you should see to your headache! It has clouded your reason. The loyalty of Colonel Montgomery has been proved many times over.”
A smirk of satisfaction lurked at the corners of Reece's mouth as he looked to his left, to Alejandra. She was glaring at him. “Why are you called ‘colonel'?” she asked bluntly.
Antonio didn't give him a chance to answer. “Because I elevated him to a position of importance. Many know him as El Cazador. But I call my good friend by the military rank he has earned. None has been more loyal than he.”
With feigned innocence that was remarkable considering her lively features, she uttered a “my goodness,” then smiled blandly. “Tell me, General, have you settled your differences with President Bustamante? Has he restored your rank?”
“Not yet, Doña Alejandra. But it is only a matter of time before the French make a move against us. Has our good friend”—he motioned at Reece—“told you I've offered my services to Commandante Rincón at the fortress?”
This line of conversation had Reece uneasy. It would contradict the Mexico City lie—if Antonio intended to tell more of his plans.
“Your offer to defend San Juan de Ulúa was brought to my attention,” Alejandra replied. “At the same time I was told you are gathering an army. I was . . .” She brought steepled fingers to her lips. “I was given to understand you're more interested in challenging Anastacio Bustamante's government than in defending our shores.”
Reece had never said anything of the kind. What was she up to? Before he could question her remarks, Antonio shook his head and waved a finger.
“Doña Alejandra, you are out of sorts tonight, and it's quite unbecoming,” he scolded, using the same tone he employed with his daughters. “You must be careful of the tales you carry. A misinterpreted word or two—to a less prudent person than I, of course-could cause problems for me.”
“I assure you, General Santa Anna, there is nothing wrong with my powers of observation.” Her eyes settled on Reece's, yet her words were addressed to the other man. “I was also told your ambitions know no limits, that you yearn to redeem yourself after losing Tejas.”
“Redeem myself?” Antonio croaked.
Reece leaned toward her. Where the hell had she gotten these preposterous yarns? They were pap. Maybe not
, but . . . He realized she wanted to extract payment for his transgression of bringing Antonio to Campos de Palmas, but all this pepper up her nose couldn't come from a minor infraction of gallantry and good manners.
Could it? Of course it could, he decided. He had been a boor to bring Antonio here. Reece felt rotten. Her reactions were much too strong for a woman caught in a little lie. She wouldn't be this irritated. And he got the sinking suspicion that he had been wrong about Alejandra.
“Redeem myself?” Antonio repeated, full of gall and wormwood. “With the fires of patriotism and noble ambition in my heart, I led a valiant campaign to maintain the territorial integrity of Mexico. Yet I should redeem myself? Who filled your head with such blasphemy?”
Alejandra's eyes focused to her right, grazing the tabletop and glancing off silverware before climbing up to Reece's frowning face. Then, quickly, she settled her gaze on her countryman. “Oh, my, surely you wouldn't wish me to name a name, Your Excellency,” she replied in a coo, using the term of respect for a first time. “It should be more than obvious.”
Suddenly her lashing out was all too clear.
Reece sat in stunned silence.
Alejandra was a cornered, wounded animal. For days Reece had been adamant in his conclusions that Antonio had used her to test his loyalty. He had been wrong. Dead wrong. He was exposing Alejandra, the Federalist, to her enemy.
With an invisible knife twisting in his gut, Reece couldn't breathe.
How could he rectify his wrongs? What could he do to gloss all this over? If he couldn't think of something, and quick-like, no telling what would happen. To either one of them.
Into the heavy silence, Antonio said, “My man Montgomery would never do me false.”
Saved. He was saved. But was she? Maybe. It was then that a plan formed in Reece's mind. “Alejandra,
be careful of what you say, as Antonio cautioned.” His mouth eased into a forced smile as he scanned her flushed and furious features. Reaching to take the hand she yanked away, he said, “You're letting our lovers' spat get in the way of reason, and—”
BOOK: Mexican Fire
2.68Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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