Spanish Serenade [MultiFormat]
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by Jennifer Blake
Description: They were united by a common hatred for one man, and brought together by a passion that neither one was expecting. Beautiful, headstrong Pilar Sandoval y Serna is desperate to escape the restrictive tyranny of her evil stepfather, Don Esteban. She is willing to forfeit everything for a chance at freedom. In her desperation, she turns to El Leon, a brooding nobleman impoverished by the malignant power of Don Esteban. Sharing their grudge, they enter into an alliance of convenience. Little does she know that the handsome brigand, El Leon, will lead her into a new sort of captivity. Pilar offers her entire dowry to El Leon in exchange for his loyalty and help. He plans to stage her kidnapping and eventual return to her beloved Aunt. However, before their plan reaches fruition, El Leon discovers that the dowry is a sham, and that Don Esteban is planning to kill them both. Not willing to settle for an empty trunk of fool's gold, El Leon is determined to get his money's worth out of Pilar...in any currency he chooses.
eBook Publisher: E-Reads, 1990 e-reads
E-Reads Store Release Date: November 2002
25 Reader Ratings:
Available eBook Formats [MultiFormat - What's this?]: eReader (PDB) [395 KB], ePub (EPUB) [317 KB], Rocket/REB1100 (RB) [348 KB], Portable Document Format (PDF) [1.2 MB], Palm Doc (PDB) [399 KB], Microsoft Reader (LIT) [337 KB], Franklin eBookMan (FUB) [364 KB], hiebook (KML) [864 KB], Sony Reader (LRF) [411 KB], iSilo (PDB) [326 KB], Mobipocket (PRC) [407 KB], Kindle Compatible (MOBI) [460 KB], OEBFF Format (IMP) [527 KB]
Reading time: 352-494 min.
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Pilar Marie Sandoval y Serna knew that what she was doing was nothing less than madness. To meet the brigand El Leon, the lion of the Andalusian hills, by chance and in daylight was dangerous enough, but to invite him to come to her at midnight in a dark patio garden was to place her honor and her life in his hands. The danger did not matter; some things were worth the risk.
Pilar drew her shawl around her as she paced back and forth over the patio tiles. The night was chilly, as it often was in late December in Seville. That coolness was, naturally, the only reason for the tremors that ran over her in waves. Why should she fear El Leon? Her stepfather Don Esteban was far more despicable, a devil in human form, yet she didn't shake when she faced him. He thought he had conquered her, her stepfather, but she would show him. She would.
It was a quiet night. From the town streets beyond the garden wall came only the occasional rattling of a passing carriage as late revelers made their way homeward. Somewhere far away a dog barked. Nearer at hand, perhaps three or four houses down, a lovesick swain strummed a guitar, softly serenading his lady with an old Andalusian melody. The music was intricate and flowing, the voice low and deep, rich with suppressed longing.
The moonlight shone down into the enclosed patio, filtering through the branches of the jacaranda and making deep pools of shadow under the glossy-leaved orange trees. It caught the water spouting from the tiered stone fountain, turning the splattering droplets to liquid moonstones. It traced the intricate pattern of the Moorish floor tiles and bleached the flowers of the trailing geraniums in their pots attached to the walls from rose to palest pink. Under its light the honey brown of Pilar's hair turned to gold, while her cheekbones were washed with a pearl sheen, and the warm chocolate brown of her eyes acquired more mysterious depths.
Pilar's pacing slowed. She stood still, listening to the distant serenade. There was something in it, in the man's voice, that drew an answering resonance from deep inside her. The empathy was unwanted, yet inescapable, moving her to tenderness and despair that was near tears. She felt she knew the serenader's pain, but also that he understood and shared hers. It helped, somehow, to still her apprehension.
The song came to an end. The last notes of the guitar died away, and all was quiet again.
Pilar gave her head a quick shake, as if to rid herself of the peculiar moonlight fantasy. Frowning up at that bright light, she moved deeper into the shadows under the loggia of the house. She must not be seen from inside. Her stepfather was at some official dinner, but her duenna was still up, working at her tatting. The duenna, a sister to Don Esteban who was terrified of her brother's shadow, thought Pilar was safely asleep. That was the way it must stay.
Where was El Leon? Surely he had received her message?
It was possible he had not; there had been so little time to give it, and no hope of repeating it. That she had found the chance at all was a miracle. Now she was in need of another one-- that El Leon would answer her summons. He might well have decided against it. It would be nearly as insane of him to show himself at the house of Don Esteban Iturbide as it was for her to send for him. Her stepfather would kill him on sight, as he might a stray dog.
There came a quiet rustling from the palm tree at the corner of the patio garden. Pilar stopped, going still. She strained her eyes in the darkness until they burned, her every sense alert for further sound. There was none. It must have been the cool night wind coming over the garden wall, or else a bird disturbed in its rest.
Her chest rose and fell in a long sigh. She drew her shawl closer once more and resumed her measured pacing along the loggia.
The amazing thing was that her stepfather had not yet killed her. The deed would not have troubled him; he had murdered her mother, after all. Pilar had no proof that was what had happened, nothing except her suspicions and her knowledge of Don Esteban; still, she was sure that it was so.
Pilar had despised the strutting little man with his cruel eyes and pointed, perfumed beard from the moment her widowed mother had introduced him to her as a prospective stepfather six years before. She had not troubled to hide her feelings in his presence and, moreover, had done everything a girl of sixteen could to prevent the alliance between him and her mother. It had not helped; her mother had been infatuated. Don Esteban was a lonely widower and also a man of charm and address, her mother had said, smiling fondly down on Pilar, smoothing the silk of the girl's hair as she sat on a stool at her knee. There would be honor and privilege in being his wife, for he was destined for a great position at court in Madrid. With the weight of her wealth behind them, combined with his, the two of them would shine there. It was natural for Pilar to resent the man who would take the place of her own father whom she had adored, but she would grow used to Don Esteban in time. And in a year or two, when she was a bit older, it was possible there might be a marriage arranged between her and Don Esteban's son by a previous marriage.
Never, Pilar had declared. No, not ever. She had met Don Esteban's beloved son during a visit. The young man had cornered her in a darkened salon, sneering at her protests, squeezing and pinching her body, and had cursed her when she kicked his shins and ran away. She would never accept such a vicious, egotistical suitor-- nor could she think the father any better than the son.
The choice had not been presented to her. Don Esteban had revenged himself upon her for what he called her meddling the moment the marriage celebrations were over. He had escorted her to convent school where he spoke personally to the mother superior, claiming that Pilar was wayward and spoiled and in need of severe discipline. He left instructions that she must be taught to respect her elders, to curb her tongue and stifle the unladylike fierceness of her spirit. Then within a few months had come the news of the death of Don Esteban's son in a duel. Pilar had been forced to stay on her knees in prayer for his soul for hours because she had dared to say aloud that she was glad he was dead.
In the end, Pilar had learned her lessons of obedience. She had learned to appear meek and compliant while rage burned inside her. She had learned to bow to a thousand petty rules while searching for ways to circumvent them. She had learned to accept punishment without flinching, assuming a smile of forgiveness even as she plotted vengeance. She hated the duplicity, but she learned.
For the six years of her incarceration she was not allowed to go home, never permitted to communicate with her mother. Still, Pilar heard rumors from the other girls who came and went. Don Esteban, it seemed, was of the old school which believed that, women should be kept shut up in their houses as in the days of the Moors, a belief he had taken trouble to hide before his marriage. There had been no shining at court for Pilar's mother, for her new husband decreed that his wife must not flaunt herself abroad, but stay submissively at home. She must not mind that he wore fine lace and rare emeralds. She must not question his expenditures or the whereabouts of her wealth which he had claimed as his own, or wonder about his supposed fortune. She must obey his every command, accept his every dictate. His word was law, and he did not want Pilar in his house.
It was in the past year that Pilar had received word her mother was ill with a wasting sickness. Pilar had written, begging to be allowed to come home, but silence was her answer. She had appealed to her only other relative, her dead father's sister who lived in Cordoba, in the hope that her aunt could intervene. Her father's sister had made inquiries, but it had done no good; Don Esteban assured the lady all was well and that Pilar was only trying to make trouble. Pilar had then written to her mother's confessor, Father Domingo, but could receive no satisfactory answer to what was happening, no permission for her release from the convent.
Then her mother had died. It was Father Domingo who had finally prevailed upon Don Esteban to allow Pilar to pray at the funeral bier for the repose of her mother's soul. People would think it odd, the priest said, if the dead lady's daughter was not there. They might begin to wonder why she was being kept away, wonder what it was Don Esteban was trying to hide. Father Domingo was no longer welcome in Don Esteban Iturbide's house, but an escort had been sent to bring Pilar to Seville.
The house where Pilar's mother had been kept a prisoner and where she had died had been in Pilar's father's family for more than five hundred years, since Ferdinand the Saint had driven the Moors from Seville. Pilar hardly recognized it when she returned. Where once the Sandoval family arms had been emblazoned above the door, there was a great, ugly Iturbide crest. Supercilious servants had taken the places of the retainers who had been with the Sandovals for countless years; Pilar could find not a single familiar face. The rooms and halls had been stripped of their fine old furnishings, their carved furniture, tapestries, and gold and silver plate. Her mother's clothing, her icons, her few pieces of fine gold jewelry were gone.
Everything had been looted to fill Don Esteban's purse, or else to further his ambitions at court. He had apparently achieved the success he wanted, for he had been given a position as pena de camara, or keeper of fines, one of the regidores of the Cabildo, the governing body of the city of New Orleans in the Spanish colony of Louisiana. Since he would wield considerable power, as well as retaining ten percent of the fines collected, the post promised to return to him far more in bribes than he had expended in gaining it. There were some who whispered that the position itself was a bribe meant to rid the king of Don Esteban and his ceaseless conniving for favor. If Don Esteban saw it in that light, he hid it well; he preened himself as if he had gained the highest of honors.
Pilar's mother, ill for many months, had died the day after Don Esteban had returned from Madrid with the news of his appointment. It had seemed a convenient coincidence, for a sickly wife could neither be taken to Louisiana nor left behind without it appearing that she had been deserted. Then Pilar had learned from her duenna, Don Esteban's sister, that Don Esteban had, some months before, brought a special tonic from Madrid for his wife. He had ordered her to take it, and issued strict rules that it be brought to her every day. On the morning of her death he had administered it to her with his own hands. Immediately after the death rites, he had returned to the house and commenced his packing for the voyage to Louisiana.
The night air of the patio garden swirled around Pilar as she came to a halt in mid-stride with her fists clenched in the cloth of her shawl. Had that shadow moved, there where the giant ceramic olla caught the water from the rooftop? She could not tell; it might have been the wind swaying the oleander shrub which grew behind it. Or it could be only her imagination and the waiting. She had waited the night before and the night before that, and El Leon had not come. If he did not come soon, tonight or the night after, it would be too late.
Deliberately, in defiance of the fear she would not acknowledge, Pilar turned her back on the shadowed corner and began to walk again. Somewhere a cat yowled, and from the street beyond the garden wall came the sound of low voices as two men carried on a murmured conversation while walking homeward. The sounds ceased and all was quiet once more. Too quiet.
Pilar shivered. In an assumption of self-control, she directed her thoughts to other things.
She had kept her suspicions about her mother's death to herself during the funeral rituals. It had been such a strain to hold her bitter grief and anger inside, however, that afterward she allowed herself to be drawn into a quarrel with Don Esteban over the looting of her father's house. It was his right to sell what he pleased, he said; the house had come to her mother on the death of her husband, Pilar's father, since there were no male heirs, and these same belongings became Don Esteban's on their wedding day by the wedding contract. But what did it matter? he inquired. Pilar would have no use for furnishings and jewels in the convent.
Pilar, retreating into caution, had questioned why she must return. She was told that she could not stay in the house alone while Don Esteban was in Louisiana, and there was nowhere else for her to go, no one to see to her welfare. She had no prospects for marriage, and was indeed an old maid at two-and-twenty. The convent would be a refuge for her, and Don Esteban would himself provide an endowment for the church in her name, a chest of gold worth several thousand pesos. This gold, to be sent with her on her return, would assure her comfort and gain for her the position within the convent hierarchy to which she was entitled by breeding and birth.
Pilar was not impressed by either the spurious concern for her welfare or the possible endowment that was less than a fraction of the estate that should have been hers on her mother's death. She declared firmly that she had no intention of returning to the convent, and that, moreover, she had a place to go and someone to look after her. She would take refuge with her aunt in Cordoba. A shouting match had followed. At the end of it, Don Esteban had shouted for his majordomo, and the two men had picked Pilar up bodily and carried her to her room. She had been thrust inside and the door locked behind her.
Two nights later she had awakened at the sound of a key in the lock. The door had swung open and a man had crept inside. She had sat up in bed, calling out, but he had not answered. He moved to the side of the bed and grasped her leg. She wrenched from his hold and slid from the bed. He caught her and they grappled in the darkness. It was then that her stepfather had burst into the room. He was holding a candlestick, and with him were several men and women, as if he had been having guests for dinner. The candlelight had revealed the man who had attacked her to be a lackey of her stepfather's, a loose-lipped and pimpled young man named Carlos.
The wrath of her stepfather had not fallen on Carlos, however, but on Pilar. She had lured the lackey to her bedchamber, he shouted in outrage. She was depraved, a disgrace to his house. She must marry Carlos or he, Don Esteban Iturbide, would send her back to the convent that very night, before she brought further shame upon both him and herself.
It was a trick and Pilar knew it; still, she was compromised beyond hope of recovery. Her stepfather's guests, standing behind him and staring with avid eyes, did not appear likely to believe her side of the story. If she married Carlos, she would gain nothing except a fumbling, lasciviously grinning nonentity for a husband, one who would have legal right to her body as well as everything she might own. Carlos was so much under Don Esteban's thumb that any portion of her mother's estate that might come to her legally on her marriage would be turned over to her stepfather at once. On the other hand, she might at least buy a little time with an agreement to return to the convent. With the last in mind, she had made herself appear crushed and contrite. She pretended to sob as she begged tearfully to return to her little cell with its single bed, where she would be surrounded by the gentle sisters and everything she had come to know and love. So appealing had she made it sound that for an instant Don Esteban had appeared reluctant to give his permission.
It had not been easy to maintain that air of drooping defeat while her heart corroded inside her with bitter rage, but Pilar had managed it. Her reward had been permission to go to Father Domingo's church for morning mass each day until her departure. There she had accosted the priest, pouring out her tale. The good father had only sighed and shook his head, counseling obedience and submission to her fate. Don Esteban could not be so black as she painted him; hadn't the grieving husband pledged himself to erect a stained-glass window in the church in memory of his wife? The ways of God were mysterious. Perhaps Pilar was meant to be a bride of Christ and this was His way of telling her so?
Pilar had no vocation, and she knew it well. She was much too fond of the pleasures and luxuries of the world, had missed them too intensely during her incarceration to ever give them up willingly. There was no thought of submission in her mind, but rather a teeming multitude of plans for vengeance and wild possibilities for escape.
One of the last had been triggered by the sight of a young man named Vicente de Carranza y Leon. He was a theology student at the university who in better days had lived in the neighborhood and still returned there every morning for mass. Vicente was a stalwart young man with a kind and attractive face, but one who seldom smiled. He had little to smile about. His family had been ruined by Don Esteban Iturbide some years before, shortly after the don's marriage to Pilar's mother.
The Carranzas and the Iturbides were hereditary enemies in a feud that had been going on for four generations. Don Esteban, it was said, had hired assassins to kill Vicente's father. More, Don Esteban's son, the young man who was to have wed Pilar, had abducted and violated Vicente's sister, after which the girl had committed suicide. When Vicente's older brother, Refugio, had challenged Don Esteban's son to a duel for the crime against their sister, then spitted him on his sword during the fight, Don Esteban had used his recently gained court connections to have Refugio charged with murder. Refugio's refusal to surrender to the men sent with the guardia civil by Don Esteban for his arrest had resulted in a fight: in which three of Don Esteban's hirelings were killed. Refugio had become an outcast, a brigand with a stronghold in the mountains who was called El Leon, the lion, after the big and deadly wildcats that roamed the hills, and also for his mother's surname, which meant the same. The hatred of Refugio de Carranza y Leon for Don Esteban at least equaled Pilar's own.
The next time Pilar saw Vicente standing outside the church, she walked quickly toward him. She outdistanced the duenna who hurried after her through the early morning crowds. As Pilar neared Vicente de Carranza, she looked into his thin, earnest face then let her shawl slip from her shoulders and slide to the ground. Vicente knelt to pick it up. She did the same. She murmured a few words as she took the shawl he offered. He gave her a sharp look from dark, expressive eyes before he inclined his head in a bow, but the young man made no answer. Pilar turned away as her duenna joined her, and walked into the church.
Had Vicente understood her? There had been so little time and no chance to be certain. Did he know who she was, know anything about her? Or if he did not know, would he trouble to find out? If he found out, would he do as she asked, or would he shrug off the incident as being of no importance? So much depended on that one short encounter.
Of course, even supposing Vicente passed on her plea to his brother to meet her in the garden of Don Esteban's house in the midnight hours, there was no guarantee that El Leon would come. It would take a rare combination of hatred, curiosity, and daring to bring him.
The hours of darkness were slipping past. Pilar's footsteps dragged. She was weary from her three-night vigil, yes, but it was the waning of hope that pressed hardest upon her shoulders. She had been so sure she could evade Don Esteban's plans for her, so positive she could best him. She would do it yet, with or without El Leon; still, she had placed so much dependence on the aid of Refugio de Carranza that it was disheartening to think she must find another way.
How she wished that she were a man! She would defy her stepfather with sword in hand, then demand an accounting for her mother's death and the looting of her heritage. What a pleasure it would be to run Don Esteban through with a steel blade and watch the sneer on his features give way to shocked surprise. Odious, strutting, vicious little man! To be forced to bow to his dictates would be beyond endurance. She would do anything, anything at all, to escape it.
A soft sound came from behind her, like the rustle of cloth. She started to turn. There was a single, swift movement, and she was caught from behind in a firm grasp, with an arm clamped like a band of Toledo steel around her ribs and a hand sealing her mouth. She drew in her breath, instinctively thrusting backward with an elbow. She connected with the folds of a cloak and, under it, a belly like a wall of stone. The hold upon her tightened abruptly, driving the air from her lungs. Her back was pressed tight against a hard male form while the warmth of his body and the soft wool of his cloak enveloped her.
"Be still," came a voice quiet and deep against her hair. "As much satisfaction as it might give me to defile a woman of Don Esteban's house on his own patio tiles, I'm not at present in the mood. Provoke me, and that may well change."
It was El Leon; it could be no one else. Anger for his distrust and his close, hard hold burgeoned inside Pilar, banishing fear. She shook her head, trying to dislodge his hand from her mouth.
"You want to speak, do you? Now that's encouraging, for I want nothing more than to hear you. But I would advise that the words be as soft and dulcet as the dove."
The hand on her mouth was lifted by degrees. She waited until it had been completely removed before she spoke, and the words were low and scathing. "Let me go. You're breaking my ribs."
"And shall I also lay my life at your feet all tied up with ribbons and faded roses? Thank you, no. Besides, I'm still entertaining the idea of reprisal. Intimate, of course."
"Tell me why I should not," he said, his voice suddenly losing its soft tone, becoming harsh. "The last rape was by an Iturbide upon a Carranza. It must be our turn."
"I'm not an Iturbide, nor do I have anything to do with your quarrel!"
"You are in the house of Iturbide, and therefore of it." The words were uncompromising. "Not of my own will. Besides, it was once my father's house." Pilar could feel the firm beat of El Leon's heart against her back. His implacable strength, his scent compounded of wool and horse, of fresh night air and his own maleness, crept in upon her senses. She wanted to turn to look at him, but could not move.
"I am aware of that, just as I know your name and station and recent history. I have made it my business to know, being neither an idiot nor a quixotic fool. What I don't know is what you want of me."
He released her waist in a sudden movement, then caught her wrist, spinning her around to face him. Pilar, off balance, put out a hand, bracing against his chest. She could feel the bands of muscle that sheathed it, sense the overpowering solidity of his presence. She stared up at him with her voice caught somewhere in her throat, stifled by doubt.
He was tall and broad, his shape exaggerated by the length and fullness of his black wool cloak. The features of his face were firm and regular and precisely molded, sun-bronzed even in the moonlight, but his eyes were no more than dark sockets shadowed by the wide brim of his hat. There was about him an air of stringent control coupled with an edge of danger. There was not a shred of sympathy.
Refugio de Carranza looked at the woman he held, and felt as if a hand had squeezed his heart inside his chest. He had come to this rendezvous out of purest wanton curiosity, to see what manner of woman could rouse Vicente from his studies and persuade him to use methods of communication that were reserved, usually, for direst emergencies. He saw. She was beautiful, with the fair skin and hail that spoke of the blood of Visigoth invaders in her veins, coloring that was common in northern Spain where he was born, but more rare here in the Andalus. There was pride in the tilt of her head and the set of her shoulders, and also determined bravery. Remembering the softness of her, the fragrance of her skin and silkiness of her hair against his cheek, he found it necessary to subdue a strong need to gather her close once more. He had thought himself invulnerable to the allure of her kind. It was incensing to be proven wrong.
"Well?" he said when she made no sound. "Did you have a purpose, or is it a game? Shall I seek to relieve your tedium, or would it be best if I guard my back?"
"I-- I would never betray you."
"Your assurance eases my mind. That, and my inspection of this fine garden. I can only suppose that if there's an assassin present, it must be you."
"It's a tryst, then. And here I am a laggard lover, behind in my embraces. Come and let me taste your sweet lips."
She gave an abrupt shake of her head, resisting the pull on her wrist that he still held. "It pleases you to make fun of me, though why it should I have no idea."
"Why not? There's little enough fun in the world for me and mine. But it would please me more to be told why I was bid to come."
"I want--" She stopped, horribly uncertain of the wisdom of what she meant to say.
"Yes, you want ... ? Everyone wants something. Shall I complete what you are too bashful to say?"
"No!" she said in haste. "I want you--"
"I knew it."
She glared at him in annoyance and embarrassment.
Then she saw, projecting over one shoulder, the neck of a guitar that he carried slung across his back by its shoulder strap. It came to her abruptly that he was the serenader she had heard; the timbre of the voice, its soft power, was the same. The knowledge eased the doubts inside her, though she could not have explained why. She drew a shallow breath and spoke quickly and a little too loudly.
"I want you to abduct me."
His grasp slackened. Pilar twisted her wrist free and stepped back. That she had surprised him gave her a fleeting satisfaction.
It was premature.
"By all means," he said, sweeping his hat from his head as he bowed with consummate grace. "I am at your service. Shall it be now?"
"I wish it might, but I have no means to pay you at this minute. If you will wait and take me as I am being escorted back to the convent, there will be a chest of gold, the endowment to be paid in my name. You may have it as your reward."
His stillness was complete, like that of a stalking cat before it strikes. When he spoke, the words had a slicing edge. "I am to be rewarded? Surely to have you would be enough?"
Angry confusion washed over her in a wave of heat. "You-- You won't have me," she said. "You will deliver me at once to my aunt in Cordoba."
"Will I?" The question was softly suggestive.
The man in front of her had once been a grandee of wealth and title, with all the instincts and manners of his class. Now he was a bandit, an outcast who made his way by preying on his fellow men. He was El Leon, a leader of thieves and outlaws who could only have gained his position by being stronger and harder than the men he led. How could she trust him?
How could she not?
"You must help me, Refugio de Carranza!" she cried, stepping toward him and clutching the edges of his cloak in her hands. "I'm saying this all wrong, but I had no idea how it would be. I meant no insult; I only thought that you would have use for gold. I don't doubt that if you agree to do as I ask, it will be for the sake of striking a blow against Don Esteban. It would be a great injury to his pride to have his stepdaughter abducted from under his nose. And if it happens in the open countryside, as the caravan takes me to the convent, there will be no way he can hide it, no way he can deny it."
He said nothing for a long moment. Finally, he spoke. "Don Esteban himself will be with the caravan?"
"So I understand. He wants to make certain that I am safely locked away again."
"You realize," he said, lifting his hands to close them on her clutching fists and loosen their hold, clasping them with impersonal firmness, "that what you ask will mean your ruin? There isn't a person in Spain who will believe that your chastity survived this abduction, no matter how short the span of time you remain in my company. The enmity between my family and that of your stepfather is too well known for it to be otherwise."
She lifted her chin as she met the dark glitter of his eyes. "I don't care, if you don't. I have already been compromised, so more talk can't harm me." She told him quickly of her stepfather's scheme.
Copyright © 1990 by Patricia Maxwell