Lolita’s expression turns dreamy. “He was standing in the middle of the street, which had been empty just a moment ago. I could only see the silhouette of his cape and hat. He was so tall. So broad, and he had an aura about him, like you can’t help but feel safe just because he’s near. He’s a dangerous man, but he meant me no harm. I knew that without a doubt.”
I watch her, transfixed by the recollection flickering over her lovely face. Her hand is on the tabletop. I imagine picking it up and pressing a burning kiss to her palm.
It wasn’t winter, like she said. It was very warm, actually, and past midnight. I suppose she changed her story to winter to make it seem more proper that she was out alone after dark. I picked up her book and handed it to her. I didn’t get a good look at her face, but as I slipped back into the shadows, my lungs suddenly burned as if I was drowning. A voice in my head told me I had to go back to her, and for some reason, I obeyed. I hurried and looked for her. I ran this way and that down the deserted streets, listening for her light footsteps, peering hard through the dark for a glimpse of her skirt. But I was too late. She was gone.
“When was this?” Valeria asks suspiciously.
Lolita blinks, and comes back into herself. “Oh, years and years ago.”
It wasn’t years and years ago. It was just one year ago. I open my mouth to scold her for telling such lies, but catch myself just in time. She really will lie about anything. My hands itch to pull her over my knee and spank the truth out of her. I want her confession in gulping sobs with her luscious ass blazing beneath my hands and her slit wet with need. That it was hot and late. That she wanted me, and that she’s sorry, so very sorry, that she slipped away into the darkness out of my reach, when she could have been mine, then, now and always.
Because now it’s too late. I married her mother.
I lift my glass of wine to my lips and toss it down in one huge swallow to prevent a roar of anger and despair from escaping my chest. I was wrong. I never outran the curse. It gave me just enough rope to hang myself with.
The hilltop castillo rises before us as Zacarias drives us out of the town, all sheer sandstone walls and impressive battlements. It’s been in the family for generations. Our ancestors used to receive rents from all the people who lived hereabouts and take a cut of everything they farmed. I think Mama regrets the end of feudalism and the spread of democracy. She would have enjoyed being treated like a queen by the townsfolk.
I sit behind the driver’s seat. My new stepfather’s broad shoulders fill my vision. I watch the way his muscles bunch beneath his shirt as he makes a left-hand turn, and then glare out the window.
This summer is going to be hell. My stomach sinks even further as I remember that I won’t be returning to school come the fall. Mama has already made it clear that university is out of the question, and I’m to be married instead. She’s promised to find me a husband who will “curb my unruly ways.” Whatever that means. Probably lock me up and never let me do anything I want to do.
Zacarias turns the car smoothly through the castillo gates and draws up beside the water fountain that dominates the front entrance. The taxi driver who collected me from Madrid Airport will have already dropped off my luggage. Everything I own is now within the castillo, and it owns every inch of me.
I look up at the ornate stone carvings that decorate the sheer walls. Over the years as I’ve grown and Mama’s become stricter, I learned to hate this place. A beautiful prison. Maybe if I was allowed to be happy here then I could have grown to love it, but to me, it’s no more enticing than a jail cell.
Mama and Zacarias are talking and don’t notice as I head up the marble staircase to my room. I push open my bedroom door and step onto the cream carpet, taking in the four-poster bed and the gleaming en suite through the door. The balcony doors are open and I walk out onto the terrace, which is the only thing I like about this room that my mother decorated for me. I take deep breaths of the country air and gaze around at the hills, the olive groves, the winding streets of the medieval village below. The clouds spotting the azure sky. Everything about this place is heavenly, but it’s the devils who make hell, not the flames.
I play with my necklace, remembering Zacarias’ face as he spoke such vulgar things about the Black Fox. There’s another devil for me to contend with now—until Mama grows bored with him, at least. She grew bored with my father and cast him out when I was eleven. He never tried to see me again, and then he died when I was fourteen. I can barely remember him.
With a sigh, I go inside and collapse onto my bed. It can’t be true that the Black Fox has disappeared. He’s been protecting this area of the country almost as long as I’ve been alive. This countryside used to be filled with corrupt officials, murderers and rapists, and the Black Fox took them all down, one by one. He didn’t kill anyone or hurt them if he didn’t have to. He didn’t even dispense punishment. He just brought criminals into the light of day and handed them over to police whom he trusted, often in creative ways. A man who defrauded a charity was found tied to the statue he’d erected to himself with a list of stolen transactions pinned to his clothing. A mayor who groped his staff and blackmailed them into silence was handcuffed naked in the town square with I AM A PERVERT written over and over on his body in red paint. I think I love his sense of irony the best.
My eyes fill with tears. Please, Señor, don’t be gone. We need you. I need you. I need to believe there’s at least a flicker of goodness in this corrupt and greedy world.
I listen to the clock down in the town strike two, and my eyes drift closed.
I wake several hours later, get myself out of bed and go downstairs. I might not be allowed to go to university, but there are some distance education courses on environmental law and human rights that I’ve enrolled in. I need to tell my mother,
because if my textbooks arrive without notice then she’ll throw them in the trash and tell me I’m a sneak for going behind her back.
As I walk along the corridor to the living room, I hear voices.
“…don’t know what I’m going to do about her.”
It’s Mama’s voice. She must be talking about me. I don’t like eavesdropping, but I have to know what she’s telling Zacarias about me, and how much of a foe she’s turning him into.
“If we don’t have her married quickly, she’ll spend her days whoring around the town. I used to catch her with the village boys, and they were trying to get their hands under her dress. Disgusting.”
My face floods with color. I never whored, and I didn’t let boys put their hands up my dresses, either. I was kissed, once, and of course Mama saw and assumed the worst, calling me a slut and that I was no better than filth if I let the poor local boys touch me. I tried telling her that it was just a kiss and to stop being so obsessed with class like it’s four hundred years ago, but she wouldn’t listen to me.
I peer around the door in time to see Zacarias’ eyes narrow. “She’s not a virgin?”