Read Mexican Fire Online

Authors: Martha Hix

Mexican Fire (9 page)

BOOK: Mexican Fire
7.12Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads
“¡Silencio, sinvergüenza!”
“Now, now,” he tried to placate, “I know I'm a scoundrel. We shouldn't air our problems in front of His Excellency,” Reece went on. “Let me make everything up to you, my darling. In private.”
Those eyes, those bewitching cat eyes, moved to rest on Reece's mouth. She took a tiny sip of wine, then ran the tip of her tongue across her upper lip. “Do you think you could?” was her dulcet murmur.
“Yeah,” he said, falling to English and leaning toward her. He yearned to do many things. All of which should be done in a very private place. “I can make everything right. And good.”
“Could you now?”
Reece had nary a moment to bask in her changed attitude. Anew, her face recaptured its rigid shield. Rising from the table, she gripped the edge of it. She looked straight down the table and said, “You might want to look into something else, Your Excellency. The evening I called on him, to invite him to dinner, I saw a rider leaving Casa Montgomery. Naturally I recognized François of Joinville.”
She had gone too damned far! Reece scowled. What was it going to take to shut her up?
Antonio, his brown eyes growing rounded, sucked in his breath. “Is what she charges true?”
“No need to ask him, Your Excellency. His forked tongue would form nothing but lies. I am telling you the truth. This Anglo you have taken into your trust is a foreign agent!”
Doubt flickered in Antonio's eyes. “Montgomery, say it isn't so.”
The urge to grab her, to shake her was more than Reece could contain. Collapsing like a hut of sticks was everything he had struggled to attain over the past thirty-two months.
“I am not an agent for the French.” Reece stood and stepped to her. Grabbing Alejandra by the shoulders, he yanked her to him. “You are the liar, you green-eyed witch.”
Chapter Eight
Alejandra was shaking.
She had been for more than an hour, ever since she started lying to the vulture Santa Anna about that cobra, Reece Montgomery—whose clever, forked tongue had saved him from paying the price of her accusations, despite her ceaseless efforts.
She had one thing to be thankful for as she paced her bedchamber and tried to ignore the knots in her stomach. Reece had rushed the other man from Campos de Palmas before the fish course could be served, thus saving her from plunging a butter knife into his rotten, black heart.
It had been bad enough, his forcing Santa Anna on her. Then, when she had realized the Tejano snake had no intention of aiding her cause and that he was doing everything possible—outside of calling her a Federalist!—to expose her as a villainess, she had been as furious with herself as she was with him. Why hadn't she, right from the beginning, been more cautious of his reputation and lack of principles?
Why hadn't she just kept her mouth shut tonight? No way could she prevail over his venomous tongue.
“You are the liar, you green-eyed witch,” he had drawled during the aborted dinner as he stomped over to grab her into his arms. His embrace both repelled and intoxicated her. “I'll not abide any more of your shrewish tongue.”
She wanted nothing to do with this betrayer of promises, yet he smelled of wood and leather and faintly of wine, but mostly of warm and clean man, and the bacchanalia of the evening—all the danger and forbidden excitement—did something quite strange to Alejandra. She was drunk with desire . . . with passions she had never imagined possible.
Fight it! she told herself. Fight him!
If only he would unhand her . . . Maybe then she could gather her wits. She couldn't. Not with the silk of his shirt and the steel behind it plastered against her bosom, and not with his huge hands splayed across her derriere to press her to his thighs, and certainly not with his sensuous lips half parted as if to beckon a kiss.
A kiss wasn't what he wanted.
“You never saw any Froggie prince leaving my house, and even if you did see him or some look-alike on the road fronting Casa Montgomery, I can't be blamed for it. I don't keep a sentry posted to take note of any and everyone who travels a public road.” Reece's fingers squeezed the round of her behind. “Now, tell General Santa Anna you lied.”
“I did not.”
“You did.”
Santa Anna shoved one hand in his pocket and threw the other wide. “Stop this! You lovers embarrass me.”
“We are being scandalous,” Reece said, grinning down at her. “And that's exactly what all of this is: a lover's row.” He glanced a mustachioed kiss off her cheek. “You see, Antonio, I didn't take her seriously when she promised I'd regret it . . . if I didn't arrive here with a proposal of marriage.”
The nerve of him! Proposal of marriage—huh! A woman would have to be lame of faculties if she wished to spend the rest of her life with such an asp! Wouldn't she? One thing was for certain there would never be a dull moment.
And you must be dull-witted, Alejandra!
He released her, and she half lurched to gain footing. “I think we should take our leave, Antonio,” Reece said, “so that my darling may pull herself together. ”
And so they had departed.
Leaving Alejandra foiled in her efforts to thwart Santa Anna . . . not to mention her efforts to expose Reece as faithless to anything or anyone Mexican. Her fight was paralyzed.
A wail of frustration reverberated through her sleeping chamber. She grabbed her hairbrush, throwing it across her bedchamber. She despised the cursed El Cazador!
A knock on the door whirled her around. Ninfa entered the bedchamber. The moon-faced girl's color high, she said, “Manuel, um, he, um, located your sister. She was with Señor de Guzman.” Dropping her chin, she laced her fingers. “They were in the stable.”
“¡Madre de Dios!”
Rushing to a window, Alejandra opened it and stuck her head out. The moon afforded a clear view. She looked down the carriageway, then across the lawn to the stable's outline. Nary a movement did she detect. Were they still in their hideaway?
 
 
Five minutes later, Alejandra had thrown off her wrapper and had grabbed a cotton skirt and a jacket, which she was buttoning to her chin. She stomped toward the stable door. Nonchalant as she pleased, Mercedes strolled into the moonlit night. She hummed a tune while pulling straw from the disarray of her blond hair.
Alejandra, scowling, halted an arm's length from her sister. Yet she couldn't utter a remonstration. As much as she thought it sinful for Mercedes to lay with Erasmo, she realized her sister must be terribly unhappy in her marriage to have sought the arms of another man. Erasmo, on the other hand, should have been more gallant.
Mercedes spoke. “You're to blame, you know. You were the one who reminded me it isn't hate I feel for Erasmo.”
“Mercie, I never meant—
¡Maldición!
What about Joaquin!”
Mercedes passed her sister. Alejandra whipped around, catching her arm. “I intend to have a few words with Erasmo about you.”
“You'll have a hard time doing that. He borrowed one of your horses and rode out. Five, maybe ten minutes ago.”
“To go where? Home?”
“Eventually. I think he intends to make a detour first.”
“To do what?”
“To put a bullet between Señor Montgomery's eyes. ”
Alejandra gasped. Just minutes ago, she would have gladly and with much satisfaction taken Reece's life. Now that it was in true jeopardy, she knew she had to frustrate Erasmo's purpose. Why, she neither comprehended nor accepted.
She rushed into the stable and went for a knife as well as her favorite mount. Weapon clamped between her teeth, she climbed, agile as a monkey, atop the mare's russet back. A hank of black mane twisted between her fingers, she took the closest route to Casa Montgomery. The beach route.
 
 
Reece was alone at Casa Montgomery.
Wishing Pepe were here to lend an uncomprehending ear, he stripped naked in anticipation of a short night of rest. But he couldn't sleep and knew it. Before dawn he would rendezvous with Antonio, at Fort Sante Fe in Vera Cruz, where they would finalize tactics for the former general's approach to the commander of San Juan de Ulúa. Reece ached to get inside that fortress and down into the dungeons. Howbeit, the scheme had nothing to do with his restlessness.
He had missed his chance with Alejandra. Her temper simmering below the ladylike surface was what attracted him the most, even beyond her beauty and the sexual aura she didn't even seem aware of. The challenge excited him. But he'd gone too far.
A solitary walk along the beach might fill that emptiness, might relax his knotted muscles. Might. He grabbed a pair of doeskin breeches, yanking them up his long legs, then went for a cigar and a Lucifer.
Walking barefoot along the shoreline and staring at moonlight reflected off the salt-scented waters, Reece puffed on his cigar and listened to the surf. Which seemed to mock, “Fool . . . fool . . . fool.”
There was no denying the charge.
Antonio had believed Reece's explanation: a lovers' quarrel precipitated the treacherous accusations of Widow Sierra. For all his cunning and genius, Antonio Santa Anna did have a gullible streak. To put it mildly.
Reece, to put it even less mildly, could neither pat himself on the back for cunning nor applaud his own genius.
Making peace with the lovely Alejandra was probably beyond the realm of possibility. He had been a cad, a heel, and a bounder by disbelieving her vehement federalism.
There was a hollow feeling in his chest, one he couldn't describe, it being so foreign.
He kicked the sand, his big toe encountering a piece of driftwood. Pain shot up his foot, and he was glad for it. It served him right to suffer for his mistakes. If only he had accepted Alejandra's impassioned pleas . . . If only he had given her the benefit of a doubt . . . If only, if only, if only!
If onlys were for spineless, gutless cowards incapable of rectifying their mistakes.
What could he do to right his wrong?
“Killing isn't good enough for you.”
Reece whipped around to face the voice's owner. No more than four feet separated them. Under the full moon stood a broad-faced Mexican wearing a silver-studded bolero over his bullish chest and a wide sombrero above a sneering face that sported a nose like a flattened potato. He brandished a flintlock pistol.
The warm breezes took a sudden chill. And Reece cursed himself for leaving his knife in the house.
“Hold up there, hombre,” he said in Spanish, patting the air, “you've either mixed me up with someone else, or you've mistaken me for a man with a few coins on his person.”
“You have nothing I want. Except your life.” A harsh chuckle emitted from the big Mexican. “I know who you are. And I am going to kill you.”
Reece had never been a coward, but he wasn't stupid when it came to arguing with a deranged man and the business end of a firing piece. “All right, I've done something to offend you. No reason why we can't talk it over before blood goes to flowing.”
The Mexican took a step closer, hunched his shoulders and shook the pistol. “You know what you've done, you Tejano mongrel. You will pay for the woman. Si, you will!”
Christ, Reece thought, you don't reckon this ugly lout is husband to one of the ladies I've entertained here lately?
This was a less than auspicious moment to be ruminating the like, what with the
pistolero
standing so close Reece could smell horse and hay and the heat of anger.
He made a few quick assessments. The Mexican was big. That ought to mean slow. Of course he had anger on his side, but what the hell? Reece went into action. He ducked, swinging to the right and bringing his knee up against the assailant's trigger arm.
“Awgh!” the bigger man cried as the weapon fell to the sand. He pitched forward, his sombrero flying into the cresting water and nearly knocking his quarry off his feet. Righting himself, Reece thrust his forearm against the meaty shoulder, and pushed. The Mexican careened, then landed on his side in a whoosh of expelled air and spewed sand. He grabbed for the pistol.
His chest heaving, Reece stomped his heel down on the brown hand.
“Awgh!”
It was then that hoof beats and a feminine shout grabbed Reece's attention. He half turned, looking down the beach. A woman, her hair flying behind her, rode bareback on a tall horse. Rode straight for him and the prone Mexican.
“ 'Rasmo, no!”
Alejandra! What the hell was she–
Something hard struck the crook of Reece's knee. Caught off-guard, he folded. The beach came up to meet him. He tasted the wet, salty grit. Spitting, he shoved an elbow into the soft sand, and tried to gain a superior position. A fist as big as a cantaloupe slammed into his jaw.
The long tongue of living fire blazed through his face and head, jeopardizing Reece's consciousness. He shook his head, blood flying from his cut mouth.
Pistol in his grip, the Mexican stood over him. “I will finish what I started now.”
“Don't, 'Rasmo! I beg of you—don't!”
“Get back, Alejandra,” Reece demanded.
Sprawled once more on the beach fronting Casa Montgomery, Reece was in no position to wonder why Alejandra was coming to his defense. But the thought did burst in his mind as she dove between him and the gunman.
In an explosion of lights and acrid fumes, the gun fired.
Chapter Nine
The surf roared as loud as the pounding in her head. Dazed, she lay on the beach, cradled in a nook strong and protective. And her arm felt as if a thousand nails had beeen driven into its flesh.
What had happened? And was that Erasmo, horror in his wide face, rushing toward her? Was this Reece, starlight in his golden hair, who held her? In hope of clearing her senses, she moaned and moved.
“Shhh, my darling,” Reece whispered while wrapping a piece of material around her wound. “Lie still.”
“What have I done!”
Reece's head jerked up. “You shot her, you bastard. What the hell do you think you did?”
Tossing his pistol into the lapping waves of the Gulf of Mexico, Erasmo wailed, “Please, oh please, forgive me,
amiga.”
For which transgression? she tried but couldn't ask.
Alejandra's mare approached. Wiggling her ears, Moscada lowered her nose to her fallen mistress.
“Away with you, beast,” ordered Reece, pushing at the horse's muzzle. Then, gently, he amended, “Go away, beauty.”
Moscada retreated two steps.
Erasmo fell to his knees and took Alejandra's cold hand. “I didn't mean to hurt you. Honestly I didn't. It was”—he pointed at Reece—“it was he I sought to fell!”
“Shut up, you melodramatic ass, and go for a doctor.”
“I will not leave her to the likes of you. You,” Erasmo said, adding emphasis, “go for help.”
“Get going, hombre.”
“Take your hands from her.”
Through her pain, Alejandra observed the two men glare at each other. Neither would back down from his stand, she sensed. Right now she didn't know what she wanted or who should aide her, but she had unfinished matters with both.
The situation between Erasmo and Mercedes was a topic for another day, she decided.
But this traitor holding her—he needed to be dealt with. Right now. If . . . if she could find the strength.
She requested hoarsely, “ 'Rasmo, fetch Joaquin. Please do it. You know where he lives.”
Uncertainty in his moonlit expression, Erasmo moved not a muscle.
“Please.”
This time Erasmo relented. He turned and limped down the shoreline, toward the small silhouette of his mount.
Now she would deal with Reece Montgomery. Now!
But her body betrayed her, betrayed her just as he had. Alejandra surrendered to her physical agony, or was it mere exhaustion? Leaning her cheek against his hard, hair-dusted chest, she clutched at her torn flesh. A tear formed.
It was kissed away by lips tender and caressing.
“We have something between us.” He extracted the knife secured now at her waistband. “Your calling card,” he said, lifting a brow.
Alejandra ached to spar. Weak from her wound, she could not act on her determination. Or did her reasoning have something to do with the warm shelter he provided?
As much as she wanted to hate the man without honor, she couldn't.
And then Reece moved her off the cradle of his lap. She felt a strange emptiness. The feeling fleeted, for he lifted her into his arms and, Moscada trailing behind at his heel, he carried Alejandra to the beckoning lights of Casa Montgomery.
Pausing short of the patio, Reece turned his head to the mare. “Stay, beauty. I'll see to your mistress.”
“That's debatable,” Alejandra mumbled, somewhat recovered and all too clearly remembering her anger.
Through the French doors of his bedchamber he carried her. A hurricane lamp lit Reece's sleeping room. The sea-tinged breezes billowed the gossamer mosquito netting of the soft bed where, parting the sheers, Reece placed her.
He straightened; the net framed his naked torso. “Just lie still,
querida.
I'll gather some things to wash you with.”
Her head resting on a down-filled pillow, she stretched a leg on what had been a pristine silk sheet. “No,” she protested, remembering all her anger at Reece, “just leave me alone.”
“As you wish.”
He turned on his heel and vanished into another part of the house. Even though she was pained as well as angry, Alejandra felt abandoned. It would have been gallant of him at least to protest, wouldn't it?
Consider the source.
She burrowed her face into the soft pillow. Weary and wounded, she fell to sleep.
 
 
He cursed the midnight. He wanted to shake her senseless. He ached to break every bone in her body. She knew how to hurt him without striking a physical blow. And she was gone, had been for hours.
Joaquin Navarro knew not her destination. Perhaps it was to Papa the Arrogant Frenchman, doubtfully to the succor of her witch of a mother. Perhaps she had fled to her long-suffering sister—the widow of Campos de Palmas—who needed to be laid as surely as Mercedes needed to be flogged.
Joaquin Navarro, standing in the great room of Hacienda del Noche, took a fifth swill of mescal. The fiery cactus liquor burned his gullet, but he was unmindful of that woe. His beautiful, vicious wife was the agony tearing through him.
His line of sight traveled across the onyx floor, up the onyx staircase to the second floor of the home Toussaint money had provided. Where, this afternoon, Mercedes had made light of his manhood.
How dare she say it was his fault, her inability to conceive a child?
Impotence had never been a problem, at least not until today. Damn her! She could just go to hell for all he cared.
Making a fist, he slammed it into the portrait that hung on the rock wall.
“¡Dios!”
He yelled in pain as bones splintered—metacarpals, he knew in an instant—yet no blood gushed. The grand portrait of Mercedes Toussaint Navarro went undamaged. He couldn't even spill his blood on the bitch.
Joaquin was a man in hell. Emotionally and physically.
From the corner of his eye, he spied a half-Indian woman approaching. “Go away!” he bellowed.
She flipped her long, blue-black hair over a shoulder, and parked a hand at her wide waist. Her stomach, big as a balloon, wrought a wicked smile from Joaquin, despite his collective pain. Here was the evidence of his manliness.
“Josie, get me a chair.”
She scooted a heavy wooden one close to him. He smelled her particular and arousing scent, cinnamon and wood smoke and unwashed woman. For all his breeding and refinement, Joaquin Navarro, physician from Soria, was enthralled with the earthy.
Her dark eyes snapping, Josie said, “Just look at your hand—the one that should hold your scalpel! You have done yourself in.”
“Hardly.”
“Huh! You are a fool for letting your haughty wife hurt you so deeply that you would jeopardize your calling.”
“Watch your insolent tongue.”
Never in her twenty years had anyone stifled Josie Montana with words. “Ah, Chico,” she said, using her petname for Joaquin, “you should leave that blond-haired
puta.”
Standing next to her lover, she thrust her stomach against his cheek. “This is where you belong. With me. And with your son.”
Maybe he did belong with Josie. Now there was a woman. Fiery Josie. Who screamed in ecstacy when he took her. Who reveled in his virility. Who would birth his child any day now.
He started to touch the rounded belly, but the effort in lifting his broken hand brought renewed agony.
“Get away,” he repeated, flinching from Josie's nearness.
Yet he didn't mean those words, not really. He wanted Josie; he wanted Mercedes. He wanted peace of mind. He didn't know what he wanted, but to covet the peasant went beyond the realm of society. And society meant everything to Joaquin. “There's no future for me with such a peasant as you.”
Her brown face turned white, yet she elevated her chin. “You should have thought about that before you filled me with your seed.”
He walked to the wall, resting his forehead against the cool stone. Life wasn't fair! His child should be growing in Mercedes's body. It wasn't right, his bloodline being tainted with that of his housemaid's. Why, his child would be brown and broad-faced—and forever an embarrassment to him.
But it would show his wife that he could become a father. Ha! In her way of twisting facts to her own delusions, Mercedes would never believe the story. The only revenge with Mercedes was to get a babe on her.
“Chico,” Josie said, tearing his thoughts away from his wife, “let me doctor your hand.”
“You doctor me? Ha! I am the doctor, and I won't have your filthy hands touching my wound.”
“You didn't mind my—filthy hands touching you when—”
He veered around. Leaning against the wall, he ordered, “Shut up, you peasant
puta.
Be gone with you. I want you packed and away from del Noche before dawn!”
“Chico, you are wavering again,” she taunted. “You think you want me and our child, you think you want the señora. For a man with so much privilege, why can't you be happy?”
He lurched toward her. “Don't point out my flaws. Just be gone with you.”
“And the child?” she queried and took a step backward.
“Drown your vile spawn, for all I care.” He didn't really mean that, but . . . “Better yet, offer his beating heart to one of your pagan gods!”
There was hurt in Josie's black eyes, but he cared
nada.
All he wanted was for his hand to mend. And for Mercedes to return, where he could get a proper Navarro from her.
Josie turned and walked to the chair that Joaquin had abandoned. Her palm flattened on the wide wooden arm. Raising her chin, she asked, “And the good señora? How will she feel when I present your son to her?”
“Don't threaten me.” He staggered over to the woman who could ruin him, if he gave a damn. Or if Mercedes gave a care. He extended his good hand and pushed against the offending mound of gut. “You never knew your place, but it's time you found it. Away from here!”
Josie stumbled backward, clutching her stomach. Fury as thunderous as storm clouds in the rain forest darkened her black eyes. Words had never hurt her, but violence against her child was another thing. A stream of curse words spilled out of her mouth as she rushed forward.
With his good hand Joaquin grabbed a candlestick and waved it at her. “Stay back, you no-good
puta!”
She didn't. He swung the brass weapon at her. He heard the rush of expelled air as the candlestick struck her diaphragm. The gravity of his deed struck him with the force of dynamite.
“Josie—”
“I will kill you, you evil bastard!” she threatened at the crescendo of a tirade. She jerked the candlestick from his grip.
“But I love—”
She slammed the heavy brass club against the side of his head.
—
you and I'm sorry for—
Stars flashed before his eyes. His stomach roiled. By reflex, his injured hand went to his broken skull. Joaquin lunged to the side and fell against the wooden chair. His neck hit the armrest.
He felt the snap, then . . .
BOOK: Mexican Fire
7.12Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

Other books

Remembrance and Pantomime by Derek Walcott
Coast to Coast by Betsy Byars
The House of Breath by Reginald Gibbons
Punto crítico by Michael Crichton
Secrets by Erosa Knowles
I'm Watching You by Karen Rose
No Regrets by Elizabeth Karre