The sun was high already in the sky when James’ eyes at last flickered dully open. His arms instinctively grasping for the girl who had lain so tenderly upon him the past night, whose words and cries and actions had left him lying there awake for hours in the dark, his mind inflamed with ardor…but she was gone. He was alone there in the bed – blessedly, damnably alone, his relief a hollow spectre before the deeper stab of disappointment. His first real action as he stirred awake, to glance blearily around the room, hoping he might look upon her beauty as a welcome to the day. Perhaps that they might talk about the night before.
God. Such madness, that. His memories of it were as vivid as if it were happening only now, feeling her body clench and squirm around his finger, that favored digit advancing at her urging into the velvet wetness of her womanhood. Her melodies of pleasure resounding in his ear, subtly emphatic sighs and whimpers, evocative enough to stir a dead man’s heart. And the hysteria which had come over her before the end…he was not wholly shocked by it, as her mother had been prone to such fits herself, when in the act. But it was still an all-too-tempting thing, to feel her body arch and shudder there against him, to hear that gasping little cry as she clung so tight and desperate to his chest. The seeming of a moment’s helplessness, in this girl so bold and strong.
Bold, yes. Even in light of the nights before, of her explorations with his hand, he still had not imagined she would dare so far. Perhaps his first few moments of passivity could be blamed on that, on the surprise that froze his will when she slipped his hand beneath her bedclothes, when he felt his fingers slide amidst that thatch of dewy, tangled hair. Perhaps. But for the afterward…there could be no excuse. Nothing to justify the way he’d only lay beside her, permitting her to penetrate herself upon his finger. No explanation but his weakness, his own depraved desires – he’d known that he must stop her, that this could not be allowed, but in the warmth and dark beside her he could not find the will to act on it. Could not refuse the sweetness of this sin.
Ah, and then the afterward. When she lay upon him, when his rigid, aching manhood had been pressed into her thigh, when she trailed those slender, skillful fingers down along his chest. When she offered herself to him, if he wanted her…if. The absurdity of that question. If water was wet, if the sky were blue. If he could think of anything beyond the way her womanhood had almost seemed to suckle at his finger, the silken, youthful tightness of her channel, the modest weight of her on top of him, and the feeling of those strong and sculpted legs entwined with his – it was no less than a miracle that he had not succumbed to his desires, that the paltry thing he called a conscience had grabbed his tongue for long enough to speak at all. One last gasp of effort, holding back the lustful roaming of his hands for sufficient time that she could fall asleep…a sanctuary, that. Before the soft and calming cadence of her breath, the gentle pressure of her bosom pushing at his chest with every inhalation, even the demon there inside him could not bear to wake her from her rest.
For what little it was worth. What good it was to last one single night, when so many more awaited. A sickly sort of certainty sat firm and fatalistic at the bottom of his mind – he would not be able to resist another. Not the way things were. Not when even in the sober light of a solitary morning his flesh was yet aflame with the remnants of her touch, when his perverse imagination whirled with lurid dreams of them together in the night, of those perfect legs wrapped tight around his back, of soaking in her pleasured cries as he thrust forcefully inside her, unleashing every ounce of lust that he felt seething in his veins.
And how much more damning, now, that the thought little even phased him, that it did not shock him anymore that he would think of her this way. That he could summon just the faintest twinge of guilt and self-disgust as he brought before his lips the finger that had been inside her, inhaled slowly of her scent still clinging to his skin…oh, that subtle musk of womanhood, rich and pungent, thick and heady as the spices of a foreign land. Filled with wordless whispers to the animal in man. All his recriminations were little competition to the excitement that it spurred, the eager appetite that tingled up his spine in anticipation of the night ahead. After all, a man can only take so much. She was so beautiful a creature, intoxicating and sublime, offering herself to him. And he had been without a woman’s company in what felt so very long…
The thought occurred almost unwelcome, a shiver of reason interrupting his inching towards surrender. Perhaps he was in need of the relief that only a woman’s touch can give…but that did not mean that it must be her. There were other women in the world, even if his eyes had scarcely seemed to notice them of late, women who were not his kin, with whom an hour’s leisure would not be the gravest casino şirketleri of sins. And while he little had the charm to win an honest woman’s fancy as swiftly as he needed, there was rarely any shortage of fallen angels to work the bars and brothels of the land. He still was in possession of that little pile of bills, neatly bundled in his pack – it might not be so hard a thing to buy a bit of respite, some clarity of mind. Perhaps to find his sanity again, once his frustrated haze of lust was burnt away.
Strange, though, the uncomfortable misgiving that flitted through him at the thought. Guilt, as though he were contemplating a betrayal. The memory of Alice there upon his chest, still trembling with hysteria, proclaiming so enchantingly sincere that she was now his woman, that they were joined. As if the night had been a kind of promise, a vow between two people that no church would ever wed, that he now threatened to forsake.
Nonsense. Reason was a scowling thing, stern and cold. Absurdity. A man could not be unfaithful to his daughter, whatever madness there had come to be between them – this was just another sign of his corruption, coming up with senseless reasons to give in. Whatever she had said, he would be a better father if he did this. Cleared his mind with a quick indulgence, so that her presence did not arouse in him desires to excruciating, so divine. And afterward…perhaps find her another man that she could love, that she should love, that would have no cause for guilt or hesitation at the power of her passion. Though this thought, too, made for a silent ache down in his marrow, one that he had to glare away as he rose up out of bed, preparing for the day.
It did not take long to track down Javier – the man was working in his office when James let himself in, peering over a ledger of tight-spaced, half-scribbled numbers. Seeming happy enough to drop it back down to his desk, looking up cheerily to the door as the other man entered. “Ah, good morning, Señor Blake!” Faint amusement in his ever-sunny smile. “Or good nearly-noon, as the case may be. It is good to see you up – your company at breakfast was sorely missed.”
“Had a rough night.” It seemed safe enough a thing to say, tense and still conflicted. Deciding how to broach the question he was there to ask.
“I could imagine, yes.” The response came back a trifle dry. “Would that we all could have such nights. I find my own of late to be a touch more settled than I might desire…but. You are hungry, I suppose? I would hardly think I need to say it, but you need not hesitate to make requests of the chef. He is not so busy in these days that he should balk at another chance to practice his craft.” Humor tugging slightly sideways at his lip.
“No, ain’t hungry in particular.” A bit too dry and stuffy in the room – James wet his lips before he spoke again. “Alice around?”
Javier’s eyebrow lifted up a trace at that, quietly bemused. Almost admiring, contrasting with the tone of faint apology in his answer. “I am sorry to say that she is not, so far as I am aware. She mentioned she was going into town for a purchase of some sort; I imagine she should be back before too terribly long, if you find yourself already starving for her company.” James took this with a grunt, seemingly impassive, leaning back against the wall’s dark red papering of damask; it was a few silent moments before Javier spoke again, beginning with a gentle little cough. “I confess, Señor, that I am a trifle busy. Is there something in particular I can do for you?”
“There is, matter of fact.” Straight to the point. That was the simplest way. Not to fuss about with subtle, coy suggestions – just to get an answer. “You said before there was a brothel in town. I was hopin’ you could tell me where it is.”
There was no mistaking the incredulity that shaped the other man’s expression as his gaze shot up again to James, eyes startled wide and jaw dropped just ajar in consternation. It took a flustered moment for him to find his composure once again, to paste the smile back upon his lips – albeit now a touch uncertain. Brief and troubled laughter. “You are having a jest with me, I suppose, yes?”
“No,” James answered brief and frowning. Wondering distantly now if he might not have been wiser just to find the place on his own. “Ain’t rightly in the mood for jokes. Just lookin’ for directions.”
“Señor Blake,” Javier answered somewhere between amazement and reprimand. His fingers curled now somewhat stiffly on the fine wooden desk. “I scarcely know what I should say. In truth, I am rather shocked that you would ever consider such a thing. I suppose I had thought better of you…what, after all, of Miss O’Connor?”
“What about her?” He muttered back, vague and uncooperative. Not quite meeting the other man’s eye, as his damned fool heart guiltily kicked up a little quicker.
“Come now,” Javier lectured firmly. “It is certainly no secret that the two of you are involved with one another. I am not myself so lofty a man as to moralize that you are cavorting together casino firmaları while still unwed…but this is quite another matter, now. That you would go behind the back of so remarkable a woman, for no more than a common prostitute – in honesty, I can little imagine how you could even wish it, much less think it to be acceptable.” The faint rasping of offense in his voice was positively scathing, compared to his usual gentle bonhomie.
“Listen, Hernández,” James fired strongly back, frustration already tight and ornery in his throat. Intending to defend himself from the man’s misjudgment of an accusation – how absurd it was to be maligned for this, for the desperate efforts of resistance to a sin more shocking than the man could have imagined. But the words died silent on his lips. There was nothing he could say, no way he could explain himself without revealing the truth. And the risks of that were far beyond what he could countenance. Instead he only shook his head, grimaced low and sour, and tried for bravado instead. “I ain’t askin’ for your permission, hear? Only for where the damn place is. If’n you don’t want to tell, I can just track it down some other way.”
The curling of disgust was more than evident in Javier’s expression as he answered. “If you are so determined to prove yourself a cad…the establishment is on the northern edge of town. One can scarcely miss it – the owner thought it clever to paint its outer walls in pink.”
James was already turning stiffly round to leave with a quick muttering of thanks when Javier spoke again. “And, Señor.” A note of warning in his voice, cold and firm. Threatening. “I cannot promise you that I will not be informing the young lady of your excursion.
Silence at that, looking back over his shoulder in Javier’s direction. A stab of nameless worry at the threat – it would hurt her to be told. No doubt, no question. Despite that there was nothing real between them, nothing that could be permitted, he knew that she would feel this as a betrayal, a rejection, and the weight of it hung heavy on his soul. The image of her lovely features twisted up in pain…he could almost see her there, desolate and beautiful, the beginning glint of tears in her deep and muddy eyes, and a sickly shudder of misgiving stroked like icy fingers down his spine. How could he think of this, of doing anything that would cause her suffering? He loved her – the thought, the feeling lumping suddenly inside his throat. God, he loved her so, more than made a lick of sense, far more than just a father’s fondness. If she were only there before him, if he could hold her tightly in his arms and kiss away her sorrows, tell her how he felt. Tell her that would be anything she wanted, anything that gave her joy.
It was no good. Reason desperately reasserted itself, wrenched back into control. If he loved her, he had to treat her right. The way a father should. Even if it hurt her, if it hurt him, if it was not what either of them wanted. Even if it made them miserable. That was reality. “You do what you gotta, Hernández.” A low and moody mutter, as James stepped out the door.
It was no more than minutes later that Alice rode up sedately to the stable, slipped down graceful from the saddle of her horse. A silly, unselfconscious smile glowing on her lips – she’d been wearing it since that morning, since waking up so sweetly in her father’s arms. The feelings of the night before still circulating in her veins, soft and warm, a buzz of bliss surrounding her like cotton wool. She’d hardly even felt the need to move – just lay there close against him, soaking in his body heat, luxuriating in his rich and textured scent, watching in adoring fascination as the sturdy bristles of his moustache shifted slightly with the even tempo of his breath. Happiness caressing on her consciousness like waves upon the shore, rolling slow and placid through her mind. Belonging. Love. Whatever anger there had been, whatever misery and hurt…it was in the past, forgotten. Forgiven. She had her pa again, in most all the ways that she had dreamed. She was never going to let him go.
The joy she’d felt there had scarce diminished in the intervening hours, when she’d finally, grudgingly slipped away for breakfast – quietly, so as not to wake him. And it was set to sparkle up a little stronger as she dropped her hand inside her coat, tracing foolishly delighted at the little package there within. A new tin of tobacco, laboriously purchased from a storekeeper who had either spoken not a bit of English or else had just refused to use it. A gift, for the man she loved. Perhaps enough to earn a kiss, or an embrace, or just his subtle, handsome smile…she could hardly wait to find out which she would receive.
But in the villa proper, she soon found instead that he was strangely absent. Not in their shared bedroom, nor in the parlor, nor at the dining table – she was about to head outside again for a circuit round the outer wall when she noticed Javier at the top of the central staircase, regarding her with an expression uncharacteristically grave.
“Howdy güvenilir casino there, Hernández.” She was first to speak, still too much of joy inside of her for any real formality. “You seen my…ah, you seen James around?”
There was a pause before he answered. Starting down the stairs, his tones quiet and reserved. “I have seen him, yes.”
“Well,” the grin flared up elated on her lips, her mood magnifying even this faint relief into a cause for celebration. “Where’s he got himself off to, then?”
Another beat of silence – Javier stood now before her at the bottom of the stair, his gaze serious and appraising. Questioning. “You care quite a bit for this man, if I am not mistaken.”
Her smile quirked crooked to the side, a reaction born more of expectation than of any true embarrassment. Perhaps she ought to be ashamed of it, that it was so plain to see…but with all the glow of love that filled her soul, she could little find the room to fit so dark a feeling. Could scarcely even bring herself to conceal the fact of who he was. Her father. Her pa… “S’ppose there ain’t no hidin’ it.” A blissful sparkle in her eye. “I figure I’m his girl.”
Perhaps a trace of disapproval – the man’s mouth pursed into a momentary frown. But he showed no other sign of a reaction as he continued, inquiring thin and delicate. “Have you considered that he may be unworthy of your regard?”
Her lips parted for a moment, pronouncing the beginning of some playful rejoinder…but she dropped again to silence before she fully spoke a word. How strange a question – it was a sour note to hear amidst her melody of joy, a touch of apprehension pressing cold at the back of her skull. A trace of worry deepening her tone, when at last she answered. “Ain’t quite certain what you mean.”
He paused again before he spoke, letting out a long and troubled exhalation through his nose. His standard smile flickering just briefly in his expression before it fell away again. “It is not an easy thing to say.” His eyes on her almost apologetic. “And, I am certain, harder still to hear…perhaps you should like to be sitting down before I say anything further.”
All of this forewarning did no favors for the tension growing in her gut, the anxious wondering of what this could even be about. A wave of sudden horror running sickly down her spine, as an unendurable notion suggested itself and was instantly rejected. He hadn’t left. He couldn’t have. Not now, out of the blue, after everything that had passed between them…she could not completely keep the quaver from her voice, despite the sharpness of her tongue. “You oughtta know by now I ain’t the faintin’ sort. Just say what’s on your mind.”
A little nod at this, acknowledging. “As you like. Señorita, it was scarcely ten minutes past that your paramour appeared before me in my office, asking…” A grimace curled in his expression, looking in her eyes – he shook his head again, fairly begging for delay. “You must not think, my lady, that this is any sort of a reflection upon you. You are a fine woman, beautiful and strong. Unique. My own wife would be dismayed to know how often I have thought of you, after just your brief appearance those few years ago. A man who does not value your affection, I feel, is little worthy of the name.”
If there was the edge of a suggestion to his words, she little heard it. Frustration tight and aching at her jaw, a jangling of nerves at his reluctance just to speak things plain. “For god’s sake, Hernández, what in blazes happened?”
Another inhalation, maddeningly slow, before at last he answered. “He asked about the local brothel. Where it is, how to get there.” His mien dropping heavy with cultured, sorrowful disgust.
“What?” Alice fairly whispered back, disbelieving. Not wanting to believe. After the magic of her night with him, the togetherness she’d felt, after she’d promised him that she was now his woman…he’d just gone out after some lady of the evening?
“Shameful, yes,” Javier intoned serious and low. “Though he scarcely seemed to realize the fact, himself…please, though, señorita, you must not let yourself be hurt by his behavior. I have seen men like him before, all too often – heartless men, driven only by their base desires, careless of whom they may injure. It is no fault of yours, that he would-“
“He was…” She interrupted with a tense and shallow murmur, words stumbling and uncertain. A nauseous feeling clutching at her stomach, at her throat. “He say why? Why he wanted to know? If he was maybe just…just gettin’ to know the town, if he…”
Even as she spoke them, she knew how flimsy these explanations sounded. Saw the painful look of pity in Javier’s expression as he gently shook his head, reached for her hand to squeeze it lightly in his own, his thumb stroking comforting along her knuckles. “He did not say.” Quiet words, pressing on remorseless. “But in truth, my lady, there is but a single reason he would have wished to know.” Silence just a moment before he spoke again, sliding back into his smooth and ceaseless melody. “As I had tried to say, though, you must not blame yourself. Some men are simply faithless by their nature – particularly those of a criminal bent. The proper action now is just to take him from your mind. It will aid you nothing for you to worry-“