I stare at the box in my hands. The books I won from him, but at such a dear price. Maybe it wouldn’t be such a terrible thing to be married as soon as possible. At least it would get me out of this horrible house.
A tense morning gives way to a long, scorching afternoon. Valeria is shut up in our bedroom preparing for tomorrow night’s ball. I left her lying on the sofa in our suite with slices of cucumber over her eyes.
I prowl the long corridors of the castillo like a trapped animal. I don’t know who I am anymore. I don’t know why I never noticed before how cold my wife is. She’s the same with Lolita, barely looking at her daughter as she arranges her life for her without a please or thank you. I should leave this place.
I walk out through the French windows onto the terrace. The turquoise surface of the swimming pool sparkles in the sunlight. Sitting cross-legged on a sunbed beneath a huge umbrella is Lolita. She’s bent over her books and making notes, wearing a loose, see-through white kaftan over her bikini.
I clench my hands into brutally tight fists. Here is the number one reason I should leave. I can’t trust myself around Lolita. I’ve already acted despicably, using what I know about her lies and her powerlessness to manipulate her into situations in which she has to do as I say.
She shifts on the sunbed, and I catch sight of her smooth inner thighs. I should leave, and yet here I am, hungering for what’s forbidden.
With all the strength in my body, I turn and head back into the castillo. The lounge isn’t safe; Lolita might come inside at any moment. I retreat to the kitchen, empty now while the staff take their afternoon siesta. I sit at the kitchen counter with my head in my hands, trying to come up with a way to free myself from this mess. As the Black Fox, I want to cherish Lolita and keep her safe. Love her. Be with her. As Zacarias, I feel dark compulsions toward the girl. I want to hurt her. Torment her.
Sandals click on tiles. I lift my head and see Lolita. She stares at me for a few seconds, frozen in the doorway. Then she turns and goes to the refrigerator, ignoring me.
I wish it was that easy for me, but I am painfully, achingly aware of the soft curves of her body, her gentle breath, her pulse that thrums beneath the fragile skin of her throat. As she reaches for a cold drink, the hem of her kaftan rides up, revealing the peachy curve of her ass. I could grab her. Bend her over this counter and rub my forefinger back and forth along the length of her slit. Hook a finger into the fabric of her bikini and draw it aside, baring her pussy to me, and plunge into her tight, wet heat.
I leap to my feet, and the stool I’m sitting on topples to the ground with a clatter. Lolita whips around, her eyes round and frightened. I clench my fists either side of my head as if it’s about to split open. The pain that sears me is blinding. I let out an animal groan and double over.
“Zacarias? Are you…okay?”
I hear a hesitant footfall in my direction, and the scent of flowers fills my nostrils.
“Get out of here. Get out!” I roar at the top of my lungs like a cornered beast. I can’t control it much longer, and if she comes any closer I’ll snatch her up and do terrible, unforgiveable things to her.
There’s a gasp, and then the sound of running feet fading into the distance. Slowly, I straighten, my chest heaving. The black spots dancing in front of my eyes settle as I get my breath back.
I look around. I didn’t hurt Lolita. I didn’t chase her down. I can resist these horrible impulses. I’m the Black Fox, and I’m stronger than lust. I’m master of myself.
I can beat this curse.
Lolita spends the rest of the day out by the pool. I watch her from one of the castillo’s high windows, telling myself that it’s for her own safety; that I have to know the instant she comes back inside the house so I can keep out of her way. I end up sitting in the window for hours and hours, ignoring all discomfort, hunger and thirst, drinking in the sight of her bent over her books, her hand moving across the page as she writes.
My sweet girl, I think, watching her sweep her long hair from one shoulder to the other. Mi niñita.
Mealtimes are under strict control and everyone must dress neatly and come to the table at eight—except when Valeria feels unwell. Apparently she has a headache tonight, and lies on the sofa in our bedroom with a scarf over her eyes and a hand to her brow.
“Can I bring you anything, mi amor?” I ask from the doorway.
“No. Just go away.”
Blanca, the little dog, jumps into her mistress’s arms and is greeted with affection.
I head downstairs alone. Just two for dinner, then.
The housekeeper has set out cold meats and salad in the kitchen. I sit on the rear stairs, out of sight, waiting for Lolita to make up her plate and disappear to her room before finally daring to get some food myself. I tong lettuce leaves onto my plate, my insides feeling twisted and shaky as if I’m recovering from a long illness.
I take my dinner out by the pool and watch the swallows diving for insects in the dusky light. The garden is fragrant and peaceful. Olive groves and grape vines sweep the valley below, and in the distance the hills roll beneath an open sky. This place is paradise on earth, exactly the retirement I wanted for myself, and yet I feel trapped. Trapped and alone.
An hour later, night has fallen, and I walk with heavy steps up to the master bedroom. The door is open and I can hear Valeria splashing about in the en suite. Blanca blocks my entrance, her lip curling as she growls at me.
My wife comes out of the bathroom and pads toward the bed, one hand across her brow. “Mi amor, I still have such a headache. I’ll keep you awake with my restlessness. Go and sleep in the spare room, won’t you?”
It’s not the first time I’ve been banished to a different bedroom because Valeria claims to have a headache, but it’s the first time I haven’t minded one bit. My own head is splitting. I cast a final glower at the dog, who seems triumphant now that her mistress has ordered me out, and head down the hall to the guest bedroom without a word.