“Well, well, well. What have we here? A package for Señorita Lolita Hernandez.”
I step forward and try to snatch it from him. He holds it up out of my reach and makes a tutting noise. “Not so fast, mi niñita.”
His little girl. Revulsion slips down my spine as I glare at him. The power he has over me is a palpable, vindictive force.
“Why are you being sent packages? Does your mother know about this?”
I shrug as nonchalantly as I can. “Can’t a girl do a little shopping?”
He weighs the package in his hands. “It doesn’t feel like clothes or shoes. What have you been ordering? Could it be…books?”
“I like to read. So sue me.”
Zacarias nods in mock-understanding. “Of course. Books. In that case, let’s take this to your mother and see if she shares your taste in reading material.” He turns towards the door.
“Wait!” I chase after Zacarias. He halts in the doorway, his back to mine, one ear cocked. “It’s textbooks. I’m taking an online course this summer. Something to keep my mind busy and keep me out from underneath your feet. I won’t make any noise if I’m studying.”
If I frame this in terms entirely for his benefit, maybe he’ll hand the box over. I remember the textbooks it contains. Principals of Environmental Law. Human Rights: Law and Practice. Freedom of Information In Context. I glance nervously from the box to his broad back. Something tells me if he opens it and sees these books, they’ll end up in the trash. Zacarias doesn’t seem big on human rights.
He turns slowly toward me, frowning deeply. “Your mother wants you to focus on getting a husband.”
“I can do both.” I hate the wheedling tone in my voice. I’m eighteen and I shouldn’t have to beg for my own things like I’m living under a totalitarian regime. “There’s only so much nail buffing and hair curling I need to do for an evening out. If I don’t have hobbies to fill my days, I’m going to be such a pain to live with.”
Zacarias’ eyes narrow. “Are you threatening me, Lolita?”
bsp; I force a laugh and it comes out high-pitched and nervous. “No! Of course not. I was just pointing out that idle hands… I mean, you must have noticed by now that if Mama doesn’t have anything to occupy herself with she starts sighing about the house and sulking. I take after her like that.”
It’s risky, criticizing Mama to her overzealous new husband, but it seems to work. Zacarias’ eyes flash in momentary agreement. He starts to pass the box over and I reach for it with both hands.
Then he draws it back again. “Wait.”
Biting down on the inside of my cheek, I force myself to express nothing but neutral patience.
“Perhaps we can come to an agreement, Lolita.”
That predatory smile of his is back. My stomach sinks through the floor. I relive in vivid detail the feel of his belt tight around my throat as he demanded I call him daddy. There wasn’t anything remotely fatherly about what he was doing to me.
“We’re going to a ball tomorrow night,” he reminds me.
“Yes, and I promise to dance with as many eligible men as possible,” I recite with a sigh. “I’ll smile and act interested and appealing. I know you want to get rid of me, too.”
“No.” His voice is as hard as granite. “I don’t want you dancing with anyone. I don’t want you smiling at anyone.”
I stare are him, confused. “I don’t understand.”
Zacarias steps closer and I feel the heat radiating from his body. “If you so much as look in another man’s direction, I will see to it that he dies a slow and bloody death.”
My eyes widen. “Don’t—don’t you want me married and gone from here as soon as possible?”
His gaze glitters like obsidian. “Gone, mi niñita? Why would I want such a pretty treasure as you gone?”
Cold dread runs down my spine. I can feel his eyes all over me. How could my mother marry such a fiend and bring him into our home? “Mama will be so angry with me. She’s made me promise to meet as many men as possible.”
Zacarias finally places the box into my hands. “Who would you rather be angry with you? Me, or her?”
He smiles into my stunned face, and then strolls out of the room.