COMES A HORSEMAN
SPECIAL THANKS: To Li and Jim who helped us come up with Gaspar and Vera's backgrounds and of course to MnD (^_^) her quick betaing. Teamwork is a marvelous thing and this story could not have been done without any of them.
Out in the countryside, Grisham and a half dozen of Montoya's soldiers were taking a break from practicing new military maneuvers. Grisham ordered the soldiers to dismount to rest by their horses. The men drank water from their canteens and he did the same. The heat in the valley was unbearable and he did not want them to dehydrate and collapse from exhaustion. He had planned to put the men through extensive exercises, but he needed them to be healthy and ready. A low, distant rumble caught the attention of the resting soldiers. Hearing the loud pounding upon the earth, they looked up and saw a large group of wild mustangs racing frantically across the mesa. The soldiers mounted their steeds and rode after the heard, wanting to see the magnificent beasts up close. Grisham, seeing the soldiers' departure was immediately enraged, and yelled for them to return. Out of the six soldiers, three defied his orders and continued in hot pursuit of the horses. Grisham reprimanded the three who stayed behind and ordered them to remain where they were. He rode out to wrangle up the other three soldiers. Irritated and furious, Grisham knew that his plan to exercise them that day had gone to waste. If the men were only as excited when the Queen of Swords made an entrance, Grisham thought disgustedly, they could probably manage to wrangle her as well.
The presence of the approaching riders had caused the herd of mustangs to split. The main body of horses galloped down into a canyon, while others took off and scattered across the valley. Montoya's soldiers chased the stragglers that had separated from the herd, and eventually, by some unanimous, unseen signal, concentrated on a single golden horse that had become separated from both groups. The horse had made its way to the perimeter fence of a nearby hacienda. By the time Grisham reached his men, the soldiers had cornered it by some rock formations. Before he could order them to leave the animal alone and return to the maneuvers, one of the soldiers spooked the already agitated animal, and it reared up on its hind legs as if defending itself from its entrapment. Fearing the animal was dangerous, the solder pulled out his rifle and took aim. The animal moved around so much, the soldier missed when he fired. The horse started at the sound and took off wildly through an opening between the men, knocking one off his horse. Grisham watched as the fast horse outraced Montoya's men's steeds towards the hacienda.
Grisham ordered, "Do NOT fire your guns. Steer it away from the Aguilara home!" He thought to himself, They're a bunch of idiots. Now I have to contend with a horse that is all riled up on top of being wild.
The Aguilara fence wasn't even a slight obstacle to the charging animal. A little girl played in the yard with her dolls, carefree of the danger coming upon her. Grisham knew that her life was in danger. He kicked his white stallion into action and rode as fast as he could to get the child out of harm's way. When she finally looked up, sensing the danger, she saw the horse coming straight for her. Frightened, she froze. Montoya's soldiers tried desperately to head off the horse, hoping to swerve the path of the animal, but they were too far away. By the time Grisham dismounted in the Aguilara yard, the child lay still on the ground admits pieces of broken fencing in the horse's wake. The soldiers chased after the lone mustang, firing randomly and wildly, trying to bring it down. Grisham shook his head. They can't hit the broad side of a barn, so how can they hit a wild mustang galloping at top speed away from them?
As the commotion of Grisham's angry shouts and the noise of the gunshots died away, there was a moment of silence before hysteria reigned. The sounds of the rifles echoed across the valley, and brought Señor Aguilara running out of his house. The moment he saw the small, still form lying in the dirt, he yelled for his wife and pelted towards his daughter's body. The little girl's mother came running out of the house, and screamed in panicked anguish. "Carina!" she cried out. Grisham knelt down by the girl, who was now in her mother's arm. She was thankfully still breathing, but was unconscious. He saw a large bruise forming on her forehead. "Your daughter needs medical attention. Get your wagon and take her immediately to Dr. Helm", Señor Aguilara, who nodded and jumped into action. "Do not move her too much. She may have broken something."
Miguel was loading the new supply of horseshoes onto the back of the wagon. He and Tessa had come into the pueblo to see Vlad the blacksmith about their order. Tessa saw Doctor Helm walking from the cantina toward his office, apparently on a break, so she stopped him. "Doctor Helm, it is a nice day, is it not?"
"Very pleasant, Tessa," Helm said, wiping the back of his neck with a handkerchief. "You look well. What are you up to on this rather laid back day?"
As if on cue, men on horseback rode into town and stopped in a swirl of dust declaring, "Wild mustang! Grab your guns! It has killed a child!"
Hearing the announcement, people ran out from inside the various buildings and gathered in the square. One of the men took charge and spoke. "There is a wild mustang that has just killed a child. We need men to help kill this deranged horse. Who will volunteer?"
Several men in the crowd voiced their agreement and immediately jumped into action, dispersing to prepare for the hunt. Miguel saw how everyone was fired up and asked the leader on horseback, "What's this about a wild mustang?"
The man shouted down to him, "He must be killed!" then rode off with the butt of his rifle perched on his hip.
Spitting mad, Miguel couldn't contain himself. Turning to Tessa he protested out loud, "You cannot just shoot a horse just because it is wild!" His eyes lit with the fire of battle, and he was away before she could respond. Tessa saw how much the news had affected Miguel. She watched him quickly unhitch a horse from the Alvarado wagon, mounting it bareback as he raced after the men.
The rolling sound of an approaching wagon coming into town caught Tessa's attention. Señora Aguilara was seated in the back of the wagon sobbing and huddled over as if protecting someone. The driver came to a complete stop as Helm rushed over to the side of the wagon. Tessa was filled with sorrow to see the limp form of little Carina laying in her mother's arms.
"Carefully take her to my office," Helm said.
The driver, one of the Aguilara ranch hands, said, "A wild mustang charged her. Came right for her!"
Helm pointed the way to his office, "Come, quickly."
Tessa felt helpless. Feeling that she could be of some assistance, she followed Dr. Helm and the Aguilara family to his office. Tessa saw the little girl lying unconscious upon the examining bed. She remembered Carina Aguilara very well. One afternoon she heard the little girl reading from a book. She approached her and noticed how proudly the little girl related the tale of Don Quixote to Tessa while her mother was shopping in the general market. It saddened Tessa to see the child so injured and fighting for her life when it had not yet even begun.
Andres rode into town to tell Señorita Alvarado that they needed new straps for the cow stalls. He didn't know if she would remember since it had nothing to do with Miguel or her horse breeding operation, which had been the only thing on her mind to his point of view. Ever since Andres had planted the idea of racism in Marta's head, he was pleased to know that she was starting to see his side of the story; but he was sure that Marta had still not talked to Tessa about it. The whole situation was aggravating. Andres didn't know what else he could, or would have to do to get Miguel fired. That little pipsqueak was still around, doing the job that he rightfully deserved.
As he entered the town, he saw a group of men waving their rifles high as they started to ride violently out of Santa Elena heading north. He noticed a single rider on bareback following furiously and recognized the rider as Miguel. He approached a few men, who waited for others to mount their horses, and wondered what was going on. He heard one of the men yelling to another crowd of people, "Who else wants to join our posse to kill the wild mustang! We will ride south to find this beast!"
Andres wasn't surprised by Miguel's reaction. He knew that Miguel would do whatever he could to defend the animal. Maybe the problem could work out to his advantage. It would be perfect if a stray bullet would kill Miguel by accident. A slight smirk spread across his face, Andres proceeded to join the posse. Instead of following the men heading south in their search for the wild mustang, Andres went north to catch up with the other posse, and Miguel, to see what would happen.
The first posse of men had sighted the golden horse north of the town's limits. The frightened mustang had been chased into a canyon passage with no exit. Miguel prodded his horse to reach the angered posse before they could kill and destroy a magnificent and defenseless animal. Watching the horse agitated and scared, the men trapped it by encircling the animal. The men yelled and rifles took aim on the target. Miguel broke through the barrier of riders and leaped off his horse, landing close to the wild mustang. Standing before the horse and waving his arms in a gesture of surrender, he yelled out to the men. "Stop!"
A single shot was fired from one of the men in the group who surrounded him and the horse. The sound of gunfire missed its target, but spooked the horse. The echo of gunfire and the voices yelling provided Andres with the location of where the posse was and he made his way towards the canyon passage. Reaching the spot, Andres saw Miguel standing before an angry crowd of trigger happy men. The scared animal would raise on its back legs and whinny in a high pitched tone. Andres watched as Miguel pleaded with the angry mob, whose intent was to kill it. .
Miguel yelled to the men, "Back off! This horse is no threat. The entrapment has just made it scared."
"Little hot shot," Andres said to himself as he came closer to the action. Andres could tell the mob of yelling men was making it worse by terrorizing the poor horse.
A voice yelled out loud, "It killed Carina Aguilara."
"We do not know for sure if the girl is dead. I know how to handle this mustang. Leave me to it."
Andres rode closer to show Miguel that he was there. Miguel released a sigh of relief to see a familiar face in the crowd. As Andres approached Miguel, he stared at the most beautiful horse he had ever seen. The color of the animal was a shiny coat of deep yellow, while the mustang's mane and tail were a gloriously rich gold hue. The stallion had a fine structure, very tall, with well-developed muscles. Its big eyes were skittish as it took in its surroundings. Miguel tried to calm the stallion by approaching it cautiously. The horse would back away and then charge forward as if challenging or defending itself. Miguel then asked Andres, "Give me that rope from your saddle."
Andres dismounted and took the loop of the rope, then slowly walked towards Miguel handing him the rope. The stallion had been cornered into a dead end in the passageway so it would be easy for Miguel to lasso it. Miguel took the rope and gently nudged Andres back. "Be careful. They have really scared this one," he whispered.
Andres was scared also to be so close to a wild horse. It was his first time encountering an animal that did not want to be captured. Miguel didn't seem too intimated by the stallion, so Andres tried to hide his weakness. When the men surrounding them had quieted and stilled, the grunts and sneezes of the horse were all that could be heard. Miguel carefully walked toward the mustang and tried several times to lasso it, but the horse would move and outmaneuver his attempt. The posse was silent as Miguel went about his business, then Andres was surprised to see Miguel loop the rope around the horse's head. The mustang struggled back, but Miguel kept a tight hold on him, even when the horse riled up. He gave the stallion some slack so the horse wouldn't choke. Andres saw a loop of rope on one of the men's saddles and asked for it. With rope in hand, he repeated Miguel's maneuver, and soon both men had a control over the horse.
After some fast talking and convincing, Miguel succeeded in coaxing the men, who wanted the mustang killed, to give the animal a chance. The angry mob had dispersed, leaving Miguel and Andres with the task of getting the horse back to Señorita Alvarado's corral. They rode on each side of the mustang with each man holding their ropes tightly but patiently. The mustang would roll through periods of being stubborn and seeking freedom. Miguel also had to contend with the trick of not letting the mustang rile up their own horses. Andres was intrigued at how Miguel managed to handle the stallion.
Arriving at the Alvarado hacienda, Marta saw the two riders approaching with the stallion in tow, confused. Miguel quickly explained to Marta what had happened. He informed her to send a worker with a horse to Santa Elena in order for Tessa to return home with the wagon.
Miguel and Andres escorted the stallion to the large corral and set it loose. The mustang took off with wild abandon as Miguel and Andres stood on the rails of the fencing. Watching the mustang sense its surroundings, they each had a different reaction to the horse. "He will break the fence," Andres said.
"Nah," Miguel said, not taking his eyes off the horse. "He just needs to work off energy and frustration." Then he smiled and said, "What a beautiful animal."
"The stallion is dangerous," Andres said. "It could have killed the Aguilara girl, but--."
"Oh, come on, Andres," Miguel said. "Horses do not purposely go after humans. It was spooked and she was in the way. It was just an unfortunate accident."
Whatever the consequences, Andres was concerned about having such a horse at the hacienda. It could certainly endanger the others, but to go against Miguel about anything with horses was like talking to a brick wall. He will see. One day, hopefully soon, Miguel Moreno will see that I was right all along.
Tessa and Marta were watching the wild mustang in the corral, and the two men who were tending to it as much as they could without being trampled. "Miguel is such a wonder," Tessa said. "To wrangle so much energy..."
The smile on her face signaled Marta to the fact that she was smitten with Miguel more than she was with the horse. Tessa continued, "I am so proud of Miguel for saving the horse and getting him back here. He did not even blink when he heard there was a horse in trouble. He just unhitched Fuego and rode off."
Marta felt a little hot under the collar. All the while they had been standing there commenting, not once did Tessa mention Andres' part in capturing the horse. "Andres did his part also, Tessita."
"Yes," was all that Tessa said as she continued looking at Miguel on the rail.
Marta cleared her throat and mentioned what had been bothering her since her talk with Andres at the failed introduction party in Miguel's honor. "Tessa?"
Marta waited for Tessa to look at her before she continued. "Why did you hire Andres as Horse Foreman, and then take it away from him?"
"I found someone more knowledgeable about horses and the business."
"Is that all?"
Tessa stared at Marta, and chuckled. "Of course. What is the matter?"
"It is not very good business sense to hire a man and then take the position away from him. This is between you and me, and you can be honest. Did you hire Miguel because he is not Gitano?"
"What? Where did that come from?"
Marta shrugged, now that she was bringing Andres' concerns to light, she wondered if it was the best time.
"Marta, I hired Andres because he is an excellent cattle foreman. Then I hired Miguel because he clearly knows more about horses than Andres does. Gitano or not is not an issue."
"Are you sure about that?"
"How can you ask me that? Where did you get that idea?"
Marta didn't want to get Andres in trouble and finger him as the origin of the thoughts that had needled Marta, so she just shrugged again and looked away.
"Andres is still my Cattle Foreman. I know that you are interested in him, and are probably more serious than you will admit to me." Tessa touched Marta's arm. When Marta looked at her again, Tessa said, "I am happy for you. Are there plans for your marriage?"
Before Marta could tell her that marrying Andres was in her plan, Montoya and Grisham rode up to the corral. Tessa went right into welcoming mode, and seemed to have forgotten the discussion that was important to Marta.
Montoya pointed at the mustang and said, "That horse must be killed."
"That is ridiculous," Miguel said, jumping off the corral fence to face the Colonel, still on his steed.
"That insane horse almost killed one of our residents, Moreno," Montoya stated. "My only concern is for the safety and lives of the people. Animals be damned."
"This horse only injured that child because your men fired upon it. Running was its only recourse, Colonel. With all due respect, you are wrong." Miguel told the officers, "I can tame this horse, and he will be the pride of the region. He has spirit and he is smart. What more can you ask of a steed?"
Montoya and Grisham regarded Miguel, and to Marta's surprise, Montoya replied, "All due respect taken, Moreno. Since the horse is captive, for now, I will hold off my decision for its execution. But if it gets free, and God forbid injury another resident in my charge, it will be your head, Moreno. I do not care who your father is."
"Fair enough, Colonel," Miguel said, with a respectfully bowed head.
Montoya turned his attention on Tessa and said, "Señorita, it is too late for invitations, but since Don Hidalgo's party was a failure, I am having a fiesta at my residence the night after tomorrow. You will honor me with your presence?"
"Of course, Colonel," Tessa replied. "Thank you for the invitation."
Marta smiled as Tessa's reaction didn't take notice of Montoya's slight against Gaspar, or Miguel. Her charge was too good to reveal her true feelings to the Colonel, but Marta wondered if she had told her the truth about Andres.
After Montoya rode off, Grisham dismounted and approached Tessa taking her hand in his. "It would be my honor, Tessa, to escort you to Montoya's fiesta."
Marta saw Tessa glance at Miguel, who was again focused on the mustang. Tessa smiled and said, "I will certainly take your invitation under advisement, Captain. Thank you."
"You're going to think about it?" Grisham seemed shocked. Marta had to turn away so her smile and slight chuckle wasn't detected. If the imbecile with a bit of power had only known how Tessa talked of him...
"If I may," Tessa said. "I will give you my answer tomorrow?"
"Sure," Grisham said, backing away. Then he bowed gracefully for Tessa and smoothly mounted his white horse. "Until tomorrow. My heart will be waiting for your answer."
As he rode off, Marta groaned. "He has been reading again."
Tessa laughed. "That could only come to no good."
Luck had definitely been on Miguel's side since his arrival in Alta California. He had landed this job working with animals he loved, but more importantly he had found the father he'd been searching for. There was much to be said for finding your own way in this world. As he knocked on the Alvarado back door and waited, he was so happy he was busting. He could see the mustang in the paddock from where he stood. He had made some headway in getting him broken, but it would take a long time to tame the stallion.
"Miguel, good evening," Marta greeted him, but without the normal generosity he had come to know.
He smiled. "It is a nice night, I thought Tessa and I could discuss our business out on the patio, if the Señorita is not busy."
Marta nodded her head in agreement. "I will get Tessa for you."
Miguel paced the small patio while he waited for Tessa. Some many plans and dreams rolled through his mind. Now that he had found his father and a well paying job, he pondered the possibilities of settling down. The more time he spent with Tessa, the more he found himself liking the idea. It was too soon to tell but the thought of settling down with Tessa had been in the back of his mind.
"Miguel," Tessa said as she walked into cool night air. Startled out of his thoughts, Miguel jumped. "I'm sorry I didn't mean to scare you," she apologized.
"Not to worry, Tessa, I have a strong heart."
"Marta said you had some business to discuss with me." Tessa sat down in the swing and gestured for him to join her. "More ideas for our operations, I assume."
"How did you guess?" Miguel laughed. "I just look around and see so much potential."
"I am so glad we ran into each other in Monterey," Tessa enthused. "You have made this venture so much easier than I ever imagined."
"I am glad to have been of assistance," Miguel face was sincere. "Shall I go over my ideas with you?"
The two of them talked and discussed Miguel's suggestions and Tessa was agreeable, to his delight, and was able to add a couple of improvements to his ideas. Marta's arrival with drinks and a light snack put business on the back burner.
"Stay and have a drink with us, Marta," Tessa invited.
"Gracias, Tessa, but I have other plans for this evening," Marta said with a smile.
"Off to see Andres?" Tessa teased the older woman.
Marta shook her head. "You always were a nosy girl. Enjoy your evening."
"You, too," Tessa called out to Marta's retreating back.
Miguel enjoyed Marta and Tessa's playful banter with each other. At times they were like mother and daughter, yet other times it was more friend and confidante. He missed his family at times like these, but finding out that his father wanted him in his life made the loneliness easier to bear. "You are awful, Tessa," Miguel playfully admonished her.
"Oh, please, you should see the way she teases me," Tessa defended. "Besides, all's fair in love and war."
"Remind me to never get on your bad side."
"Not to worry, Miguel." Tessa looked at him over her glass of lemonade. "I use my powers for good, not evil."
"I will surely sleep well tonight."
"A big strong horse tamer, afraid of little old me?"
Miguel had a feeling that the Señorita knew of her power, and had strengths that she only showed a select few. He kept on, "Put me up against a wild mustang over a headstrong woman any day."
"Speaking of wild mustangs, I cannot believe what an incredible job you did taming that horse today."
"He is not tame. I cannot believe they wanted to shoot him. It was not his fault."
"It was very brave of you," Tessa maintained. "You risked your life."
"It was nothing, just a matter of getting the rope around its neck and away from the commotion."
"You really do love horses."
Miguel settled back and popped a tortilla strip in his mouth. Marta was an excellent cook, and the tetilla cheese dip was the best he had ever tasted. "My first memories are of horses. My family had just started out in the breeding business. By the time I was six, I could ride as well as some of my older cousins. Grandfather refused to let me live in the stables when I asked his permission. Boy, was I mad at him for days after that."
"You wanted to live in the stables?"
"It was my fondest wish. I lived and breathed horses, so I figured I should sleep with them as well."
Tessa laughed. "The obsession started young."
Miguel watched Tessa laugh. The sound was like none other he'd ever heard. Rich and clear, it was like music to his ears. Unable to stop himself, he reached one hand out and softly touched her cheek. Her eyes closed at his touch and her chin tilted up to him. He lowered his lips to hers and kissed her. He was surprised when she returned his kiss.
Reluctantly, he pulled away. "I'm sorry, Tessa."
"Don't be," she said. "I liked it."
"Morning comes early, I had best be on my way." Miguel stood up and hurried off to the room he'd made in the new stables. "Good night, Tessa."
Tessa raised her fingers to her lips. She hadn't been expecting Miguel's kiss, but she wasn't upset about it either. Men were hard creatures to figure out. Maybe a good night's sleep would help her do that.
Andres had been coming from the paddocks when in the dusky twilight he'd seen Miguel stride across the patio. Marta had answered the door and Tessa had come out a short time later. He'd crept closer to the patio, hoping to hear at least a bit of their conversation. Miguel Moreno, Andres said as a curse. What gall! To bother the señorita in at night? I would never think to do that.
Curiosity had turned to anger when their talk of business had turned to the capture of the wild mustang. Miguel had failed to mention his part in capturing the wild horse. In his anger, Andres had almost stormed out of his hiding place to set the record straight. However, their silence had caught his attention. He very nearly choked when he saw the two of them kissing.
Andres' mind raced at the possibilities this kiss could bring. If Miguel and Tessa were involved and eventually married his chance of advancing would be crushed. He would always be a mere ranch hand on the Alvarado hacienda. No, he couldn't allow that to happen. Whatever it took to stop Miguel's upward climb, Andres would have to do it.
Grisham helped Tessa down from the carriage he'd borrowed for their date. His chest puffed with pride as he escorted her through the crowded plaza. The most eligible Señorita in all of Santa Elena was on his arm and he was going to make sure everyone noticed that fact, especially a certain English doctor. He steered Tessa towards where the doctor stood alone observing the festivities.
"Afternoon, Doc." Grisham preened in front of Helm. "No one to escort to the party? It's a shame the Queen can't show her face at one of Montoya's parties. You've got to pick ladies with better breeding, eh, Doc, like this little Señorita."
Tessa flashed a bright smile. "Oh, Capitan, you flatter me," she said, but Grisham thought there was just a tinge of sarcasm in it. Nah, Grisham told himself. You're just reading things into every little thing. The doc seems a bit... jealous. Grisham beamed as he looked eye to eye at Helm.
"It is a shame," Helm agreed, then added, "When a fine, honorable woman isn't welcome to dine among the elite of our little society, it's a shame indeed." Helm nodded at Tessa, "Good day, Tessa."
"What a loser," Grisham muttered as Helm walked off to join a group of Dons in conversation.
"Why do you say that, Capitan?" Tessa asked.
"Mooning after a woman he can never have. It's pathetic." Grisham laughed at his own cleverness.
Tessa seemed to frown, then said, "It is very romantic, I think. Besides, I am sure he is not the only man to ever do that."
Grisham eyed Tessa. Does she know about my dalliances with Vera? Wide-eyed innocence shone brightly on her face. Of course she doesn't know. How could she? She's too absorbed in silly girl things to know of such worldly behavior.
"We need a drink." Grisham said, to start the evening off properly.
"Oh, there is Vera," Tessa said. "I need to ask her about a dress pattern I would love to borrow."
After a stop by a refreshment table, they joined Vera and Gaspar. Greetings were exchanged and dresses were admired. Vera looked very nice indeed, even more than usual. If it wasn't for the fact that his date and her husband were standing right there, Grisham might not have been able to stop himself from carrying her up the stairs. It helped when Vera smiled, and to Grisham, that smile was just for him.
She said casually, "Tessa, I thought you would be escorted to this lovely party by Miguel."
Hm, Grisham thought. Why would she bring him up? Ah, she's just jealous.
Tessa laughed. "I did, too, but alas I find I have strong competition by a four legged beauty."
Gaspar chuckled, "Miguel is young yet. Soon I think he will discover that two legged beauties are more intriguing and certainly more beautiful."
"Gaspar!" Vera chided him playfully.
Ever since that shyster who claims to be Gaspar's kid came to town, Gaspar has been walking on a cloud. Grisham chuckled at the thought. Walk on a cloud? That bloated bag of boring hot air... Oops, people are looking.
Gaspar slapped Grisham on the back and said, "My petal, I only speak the truth. Capitan Grisham agrees with me."
A young boy interrupted their conversation. "Señor Hidalgo, Señorita Alvarado, Colonel Montoya would like to speak to you and the other landholders for a few moments."
"Tell Colonel Montoya we shall be right there," Gaspar told the boy. He held out his arm to Vera. "Coming, darling?"
Grisham saw that she was slyly looking up at him from her downcast face as she said, "You go ahead, darling, all that business talk will give me a headache."
Gaspar smiled indulgently and turned to Tessa. "Shall we?"
"Well done, Vera." Grisham snickered as Gaspar led Tessa away.
"Ah, Marcus," she drew out his name. "You seem to be fond of my friend."
"She's beautiful and a quite a catch. What of it?"
Vera lowered her eyes. "Should I be worried that I have been replaced?"
Whenever Vera acted jealous, Grisham's heart would almost fall out of his chest. They had to pay attention to who was around, and it was all he could do so as not to rip that expensive gown off her body right there and then. "As if that were possible," he said, indicating with his intense stare that they needed to be alone, pronto.
"Then why do you pursue her like a dog?" she asked, keeping up the jealous routine.
Grisham looked over to where Montoya stood holding court with the dons and donas. "Let's just say, Montoya is persistent."
Before he could quietly offer to meet her on the outskirts of the estate, Vera said, "That is fine, Marcus. You will do well if you just remember where your loyalties lie."
As Vera walked over to her husband, Grisham could tell that she was strutting. There was an extra sway to her hips. We got rid of that bag of gas, no one's paying attention to us, why did she walk away? Women...
Tessa was surprised that Montoya seemed to only want to talk to her, not all the landowners, as he had moved her toward a quiet corner. "What can I do for you, Colonel?"
"I have had many questions about the mustang in your corral, Señorita. The residents are concerned."
"About it escaping and killing someone. I find it in my best interest to just kill the animal and get done with it."
"No, you can not do that, Colonel. Miguel is confident that he can be tamed, and is in fact, right now, doing just that. You did invite him to the party, as Gaspar's son, did you not?"
"Yes, and he was not inclined to make an appearance. What should I read into that?"
"That he is driven. He is with the mustang, and soon, he will tame it."
Montoya laughed. "I have seen wild horses being broken before. That horse cannot be tamed."
"You will see, Colonel," Tessa said, with a prodding grin.
"Tell you what, Señorita. I will give Moreno the benefit of the doubt. In fact, I have placed a wager on the outcome if the horse can or cannot be broken."
"You, of course, wagered that he would."
"Well, maybe I will cover both sides tomorrow."
"When the horse is broken, Colonel Montoya, you will have the honor of the first ride."
"If it can be broken." Montoya bowed to her. "I will accept that honor. That horse is all anyone will talk about."
"You always have been no-good, two-faced, ignorant fools," they could hear Gaspar shout as he was across the room with Dons Ricardo and Lopez.
Montoya chuckled. "Ah, the fireworks have begun."
As Montoya walked toward them, Tessa wondered if that was the reason for the party in the first place.
As he walked into the stables, Miguel stretched from tiredness. He took the rope he used during the day and hung it on the wall. He didn't notice a presence nearby. Andres came out from the shadows. "Why have you not given me the credit that I deserve?"
Miguel had been startled, but said, "What credit? What are you talking about?"
"I did just as much as you did in getting that horse here, I have worked just as hard as you have in breaking him so far."
Miguel shrugged him off. "We will wait until the horse is broken before doling out credit, Andres. Go back to your cows. You have more in common with them."
Miguel starting brushing down one of the horses and only heard silence behind him. He was sorry he had said that, but Andres was so different than he. Andres was so concerned about who was doing what, and more importantly, who got the credit. Miguel turned to see that Andres had left. That was odd too. Usually, Andres was ready for an argument.
Miguel just kept his attention on the black horse in front of him as he finished brushing him down. He reached into the bucket and fed the horse a handful of carrots. Petting his mane, Miguel said, "Good boy. Chico, you are such a fine animal."
Many citizens of the region had made treks to Señorita Alvarado's corral to watch the progress of the popular horse being broken. Helm was amused as he made the trek himself for the first time, that people had actually brought picnic lunches. He thought to himself, Tessa should charge these people and buy more horses.
As Helm leaned on the corral fence, he saw the horse rear back, the blanket falling off his back, and then charge Miguel making him fall backward. The crowd gasped and Helm was just about ready to climb the fence to see if Miguel was all right. Miguel was. He got up, ignoring the running horse for the moment to tell the crowd, "For the last time, be quiet or leave!"
The crowd was so still, Helm was sure he could hear a pin drop, if not for the grunting of the horse. It was a beauty and had a way about him. The horse seemed regal, angry, yet scared. All eyes were on it as Miguel walked toward it on the other side of the corral with a folded up blanket.
Helm was amazed that the progress of the horse breaking had come this far along. They all watched as Miguel neared the horse, held out the palm of his hand for the horse to sniff, then stood still, to get the horse used to his presence again. The reins of the head covering hung to the ground, and Miguel slowly took them. When the horse didn't skitter, Miguel laid the blanket on his back. When the horse didn't seem to mind that, Miguel motioned to Andres, who was on the sidelines with a step stool. Andres walked slowly and set the stool by the horse and Miguel rubbed the horse's head as he stepped on it, then mounted the horse. It was a good thing that Miguel still had hold of the reins, as the horse immediately took off running.
The crowd again came to life and cheered with noises of many oohs and aahs. Miguel got the horse to slow, then stop, then motioned to the crowd to quiet again. There was no need for the motion, as the crowd knew to keep silence. Miguel ran his hand through the horse's gold mane and then whispered something to it. With a light nudge from Miguel's foot, the horse started to cantor, then trot around the corral. Miguel would move the reins, and the horse would move in the other direction. The crowd clapped. The noise didn't bother the horse, and Miguel had total command of it.
Helm hadn't noticed that Montoya was in the midst of the crowd, and thought it funny that he was. The man usually demanded, and received attention. Montoya walked to the corral and climbed up one rail. Miguel brought the horse to the rail and Montoya pet its head. "Good work, Moreno."
"Thank you, Colonel. I knew it could be done," Miguel replied. "A few more days will be all that is needed, and then you may have that first ride."
"The Señorita told you of it, eh."
"Of course, Colonel," Tessa said, climbing up the rail next to Montoya. "I always keep my promises."
Montoya stood on the balcony of his residence and looked over the square below him. The citizens of Santa Elena were bustling about in full force anxiously waiting for the moment when he would ride the tamed beast. He saw Gaspar and Vera proudly take their place on a dias that he ordered erected for the purpose of the day. Montoya wanted Gaspar to get the power with the other Dons back as soon as possible. Gaspar could be a stubborn coot, but he was the one don that Montoya could bend to see his way of thinking.
Don Lopez had actually uttered the words, 'We will see what kind of power you really wield with the Viceroy when I visit him next week.' Montoya had just laughed. Ever since Gaspar was shunned, Lopez had become front and center, and spokesman of the Dons. Montoya couldn't have that. He would become too big for Lopez' sizable breeches. Montoya knew just the kind of power he had with the Viceroy and Lopez would learn it. For Montoya to showcase Gaspar and Vera, it would indicate to the Dons that if Montoya had forgiven his lie, they should as well.
Montoya was pleased that Miguel and Tessa, along with Marta and Andres in the back of the wagon, had rode into town. The horse in question was riding alongside them saddled, but with no rider. Montoya smiled as he knew that to ride the beast was his honor that day. Montoya swept down his staircase and saw Carina Aguilara standing with her parents. She seemed a little scared. Montoya bent down to her and said, "The horse will not hurt you."
"Are you really going to ride him, Colonel?"
"Yes. I am." Montoya stood up, beaming, and tousled Carina's hair to indicate that she shouldn't be afraid.
Miguel handed the reins of the steed to Montoya as the crowd backed up. Montoya could see that Tessa had joined Gaspar and Vera at the dias, and Montoya would make an announcement of the horse, that he wanted to own.
Montoya mounted the horse, and it only fidgeted with the weight on his back. Montoya announced, "He is a magnificent steed."
The crowd parted for him, and Montoya nudged the mustang into a trot. Just then, the horse reared up and bucked Montoya. He tried to hold on, but the powerful horse tossed him off and almost trampled him. Montoya, angrier than hell, yelled, "Kill it!"
The crowd ran in every direction to get away from the horse, who was running wildly, bucking. Soldiers are ready to shoot it, but were afraid of it. It was a large horse, tall, solid, powerful, and was again too wild. The horse got out of the square and ran out of town. Montoya was helped to his feet by Grisham, and he yelled, "Arrest that man!"
Grisham looked at Montoya. "Who?"
"Moreno! He tried to kill me!"
Montoya painfully made his way up his stairs. "You shoot that horse, make sure Moreno does not get out of jail and I want to see Hidalgo immediately! Where is Helm? My leg hurts!"
The mustang had taken off like a bat out of hell. Chaos had run rampant through the small pueblo after the Colonel had been thrown. Miguel had been taken into custody, while Gaspar had railed angrily at Montoya. Helm had been the only one not caught up in the excitement. The years of war he had experienced helped to keep a calm demeanor in such situations. Something struck him as being very wrong. Seeing that Montoya was only shaken up and not injured, Helm had hurried to the stables and saddled his horse. Circling back behind the teeming throng, he rode off in search of the mustang.
About an half hour ride out of Santa Elena, he had spotted the horse wandering around a canyon. The horse was throwing his head at the saddle as if trying to move something. Helm approached it then slid off his horse, tying it to nearby scrub tree. Slowly, he walked in the direction of the agitated horse. The horse sensed his approach and reared on his hind legs. Helm stopped walking to not spook him and began to talk soothingly to the horse. Once the horse settled back down, the doctor continued walking towards it. Helm knew that if the horse sensed fear, it would take off again. Taking a deep breath, he centered himself and calmly reached out his hand and let the horse sniff his hand.
The mustang tentatively reached out its velvet nose to smell the stranger's hand and allowed the hand to stroke his muzzle. Helm smiled; he hadn't lost his touch. He'd spent his boyhood years camped out in his father's stables taming and riding his father's prized horses. Still moving slowly, his hand moved from the horse's muzzle down its long neck. The horse laid its ears back when he put his hand on the saddle.
"Whoa, boy," Robert soothed. He reached down and lifted the stirrup out of the way and unhitched the girth. After the saddle was removed, he took off the saddle blanket.
"So, this is the problem, boy."
Helm carefully removed a burr that had burrowed into the horse's back. "Looks like someone didn't want you to be ridden today."
Helm gathered up the mustang's reins and walked over to his own horse. He would take the burr and the mustang back into town and explain what had happened. Even though he was a little jealous of Miguel's attentions towards Tessa there was no way he'd let an innocent man suffer the wrath of Colonel Montoya. Just as he put his foot into the stirrup, he heard a scuffle of footsteps behind him. Helm didn't have a chance to register who was there when he felt the butt of a gun slammed into the back of his head, as darkness enfolded him.
There was no way that Miguel would have tried to kill Montoya, and if he had, it was the most unintelligent way to do it. Talking to Montoya as Maria Teresa had done no good, and Miguel was jailed unnecessarily. The town was quiet when the Queen arrived on Chico, but that didn't calm her nerves. They had to have expected the Queen to do something about in the injustice of a man's captivity. Kicking a few groans here, slashing her sword there, soon, Miguel was free and they were riding out of the pueblo.
The Queen rode out to the countryside, not far from her hacienda, and stopped. She told Miguel, "Get off here. You will be safe here, just do not go home for a few days. I will be back with food and water."
She saw Miguel's face in the moonlight, and wanted so desperately to jump off Chico and hold him. He had to have had an awful day. She was just about to ride off when Miguel took hold of the reins. "Chico?" Miguel said. Chico butt his head against Miguel's shoulder.
The Queen was stunned. Of course! He would know Chico! How could I have been so stupid?
"How ridiculous," she said, then rode off.
Helm carefully levered himself to his feet. He groaned as his felt the goose egg on the back of his head. Since he'd arrived in Santa Elena, he'd been bashed on the head more times than he cared to count. People should be a little more creative, he thought with a small chuckle. However, the humor of the situation faded as the dull, aching throb turned into a piercing, blinding pain at his joviality. Can this day get much worse?
"Doctor Helm, I see you are without your horse, again," a familiar female taunted from behind him.
Seeing the Queen, Helm lowered his head. "It seems to be a pattern for me."
"What are you doing way out here alone?"
"I was a trifle bored, so I decided to take an afternoon walk in the blazing sun," he answered as he started walking back towards town.
The Queen laughed. "You are such a funny man, Doctor Helm." She reined her horse in front of him, blocking his way. "Would you care for a ride?" She scooted forward on the saddle. "There is plenty of room."
Helm looked at her and then at the long dusty road in front of him. Ever a man of practicality, he grabbed the pommel and swung up into the saddle behind the Queen. Why walk when you can ride?
"You never answered my question," she said as she urged her horse to walk.
"Which one? You are always full of questions."
"Why are you out here without your horse?" she asked with exasperation.
His headache throbbed louder when he tried to come up with a snappy retort. Deciding it wasn't worth the pain, baiting her, he told her what he had discovered the mustang's problem and that someone had knocked him out. "Not only that, but now both horses are missing."
"Someone sabotaged Montoya's ride, but why?"
"Because he is hard to love?" Helm laughed cautiously.
They rode on in silence. On the outskirts of town, she stopped and let Helm dismount. "Tell Montoya what you have found as soon as possible, Doctor. And thank you."
Helm told her, "No, I thought I would go home and take a nice, long nap to get rid of this blasted headache."
Gaspar said, "I cannot be sorry that my son was saved by the Queen. This has been a travesty from the beginning."
Montoya countered, "He assured me that the damn horse was broken, Hidalgo! I could have been killed. No, you cannot trust family that comes out of the woodwork. How much do you really know about that so-called son of yours?"
"He is my son. I know enough to know that he would never do such a thing, Colonel. If you would just allow him to speak, he will set the record straight."
A knock on the door signaled that whoever was there wasn't going to wait for an invitation to enter. Montoya was not surprised to see Helm waltz in as if he owned the place. "I have proof of what happened, Colonel. It was an accident."
"What are you babbling about, Doctor. And quit coming in here without my permission."
"The horse that ran off, I found it and also found this," Helm said, reaching into his pocket and carefully taking out the burr. "This was under the horse's saddle."
"Miguel would never put that burr there," Gaspar said.
"That burr is too big to not see while saddling the horse, Colonel."
Montoya said, "So it was not an accident. Miguel did it."
"If he had," Helm said. "Then why was it that after I discovered the horse's problem was I hit on the back of the head? Miguel was in jail, was he not?"
"He was freed by the Queen. They are working together to get rid of me."
There was a commotion outside the window and all three men went to the balcony to see Andres dismounting from his horse and running to Montoya's stairs. Andres was stopped by two guards, but he looked up and yelled at the Colonel. "Colonel Montoya, I am so sorry that Miguel did this to you on your big day."
Montoya motioned for the guards to release Andres and walked down to him. "Yes? And?"
Andres bowed his head respectfully. "I just heard that Miguel was freed. I wanted you to know that I had nothing to do with it."
"Is that right?" Montoya just watched and listened to the stuttering man.
"If I had control of the situation from the beginning, Miguel would not have placed the burr under the saddle to throw you. I cannot imagine why Miguel would do such a thing, but he is young, and probably full of hatred for not having been raised by his father."
Helm could see that Gaspar reacted badly to that, but the Don held his tongue, not wanting to make a mistake, just listening. The men walked down the stairs, cornering Andres, who was skittish at them for staring at him. "I tried to stop him, Colonel. But he is younger and stronger than I."
"Keep talking, Andres," Montoya said, smiling.
"What?... What do you mean, Colonel?"
"I would like to know how you knew about the burr."
Andres said, "I heard the people talking about it."
"No," Montoya said, shaking his head for effect. He said, "We just found out the trouble with the horse. Myself, Don Hidalgo and Doctor Helm are the only ones who knows what the problem was, except of course, for the one who had placed it there."
Because they were all in the square, people started coming around to hear the discussion and to watch. The most interesting new arrival to the square was Miguel himself. Gaspar rushed to him. "My son, you were freed. Why are you back here before this is straightened out?"
"No one 'frees' me, or fights my battles, especially when I did nothing wrong. Colonel, I walked back here to face my accusers."
Andres, not being able to hold back, punched Miguel in the mouth. Montoya yelled, "Arrest that man!"
"Which one?" one soldier asked, ready to follow orders, if he only knew which man to arrest.
Montoya shoved him at Andres, "Him, you fool!"
As the soldier approached him, Andres grabbed the soldier's gun and pointed it at Miguel. Gaspar reacted and stepped in front of his son, pushing Miguel out of the way. The gun went off, and Gaspar fell to the ground. Andres dropped the gun and turned to escape, but didn't get far as Montoya grabbed a gun from one of his men and fired. Andres fell to the ground, his back stained by blood.
Miguel and Helm rushed to Gaspar, who is unconscious. "Father!" Miguel moaned as Helm checked his pulse.
Vera's mind had gone off in eighteen different directions since Gaspar had been shot. It was a blessing to have Miguel waiting with her for word on Gaspar's condition or she would have gone insane. Vera sat down after pacing the room anxiously. Her mind began to wonder off as she reminisced about her life. She not only thought about what might happen to her in the present and future if her husband died, but she also revisited her past. She had always been grateful to Gaspar for turning her life into one of lavish means, but only when she was this close to losing him for good did she realize that she had a love for him. That took her by surprise. He had never been an ideally handsome man, and was not a giving lover, never had enough endurance for her, but he wasn't just a father figure. Gaspar was her husband, friend, and confidante. If not for Gaspar, Vera had no idea where she would be now, or even if she would still be alive. The rethinking of her life had to include many people, one of which was Bernardo.
The year was 1806. After growing up dirt poor in Spain to an abusive father and a mother who cradled a bottle of wine more than her own children, a confident man in uniform who cast an eye in her direction was like water from heaven. Fourteen year old Vera fell hard for Bernardo when they met on a street in Barcelona after Vera had run away from home. It was only after she had married Bernardo that she found out that he was not a military officer, but a deserter. For over a year, they would go from place to place, one step ahead of any military looking for the AWOL sergeant. Vera had worked in various ways to make ends meet; the scheme that made them the most financial gain was when she would dance on a street corner as Bernardo pickpocketed the ogling males while their attentions were diverted.
Vera had not liked the life she had made for herself with Bernardo, but the last straw was when her loving husband bet her in a poker game that he knew he was going to win. She remembered him explaining how it went wrong--"How could I lose with four queens?"--right before he took off, leaving her with the man who had won her. It was at that moment when Vera realized that there was no security in men, but if she played her own cards right, she could control her own destiny. Sleeping with the married man who won her wasn't the worse thing she ever had to do, and he had set her up in a nice apartment in a so-so neighborhood. When she confided in Eduardo that she wanted to become a dancer, he had arranged for her to dance in a nice theater in Madrid.
After Gaspar had told her why he was in Spain, that it was because his parents were dead and he had come to claim his inheritance, Vera realized there was such a thing as happenstance, and that fortune had smiled in her direction for the first time in her life. Dancing in the theater was not as good a gig as she had hoped. One of the first lessons she had learned at the theater was that the other dancers were prostitutes.
Her last week of dancing in that theater consisted of one certain man in the audience every night. He had not missed one performance, and Vera knew that the large man had his eye on her, and only her. She did special moves to see if he was paying attention. She would dance only for him, as she could tell by his clothes that he was wealthy. When she got him to smile, and not ogle, performance after performance, she wondered why he hadn't approached her. Other men had.
After the performance on a Saturday night, she was going to join a party at a saloon not far from the theater. The night was foggy and drizzly when she stepped out into the alley from the stage door. Down the street, that large man was just about to get into his carriage, but then stepped back to the sidewalk when he saw her. Now is as good a time as any, she thought to herself as she strode down the sidewalk past him.
"Señorita," he said politely. "Do you have far to walk? Perhaps you would like a ride in my carriage."
Vera displayed her winning smile and sighed in relief. "Thank you, Señor," she said, not knowing his name. "I would appreciate that."
When they were situated in his carriage and the horses walked, he held out his hand. "I am Gaspar Hidalgo, and you are Vera."
"Yes," Vera replied, and saw the playbill for the theater on the floor of the carriage. "It is a pleasure to meet you, Gaspar."
"The pleasure is all mine." He asked, "Were you on your way home?"
"Si," she said, then pointed down the street to their left. "It is that way."
Gaspar expertly turned the horses down the street to the left. Vera exaggerated the carriage's sudden jerk to the side and leaned heavily onto the man. "Oh! I am sorry, Gaspar," she said with a smile, and lingered right where she was sidled up against his arm.
"Not at all," Gaspar said, putting his arm around her shoulders.
"You have come to the show every evening. You must like what we do."
"I have enjoyed your performances," Gaspar told her. "You move elegantly, Vera."
Before Vera could sweet talk the rich man, he stopped. For a large man, he moved quite quickly out of the carriage and into a store. She was perplexed as he hadn't invited her to go with him, and looked at the fine detailing of the leather seats with gold buttons. Suddenly, he had returned, with a bouquet of red roses in his arm. He presented them to Vera, saying, "To one who is lovelier than all of these rose petals."
"Señora Hidalgo?" Vera's concentration broke when she heard her name called. Doctor Helm approached her. She looked up and clutched Miguel's hand.
"How is my father, doctor?" Miguel asked, and helped Vera to her feet.
Helm smiled and happily reported, "The bullet went through his arm. When he fell, he hit his head causing him to become unconscious. Gaspar will be fine."
Vera was relieved that her life will not change. "Oh, thank you doctor. May I see him?"
Helm led her into the room where Gaspar laid on the bed. She rushed to his side and grasped his hand. "My petal," Gaspar weakly said. He lifted his other hand, displaying his weakness, and said, "Do not worry. I am stronger than I appear."
"Gaspar?" Miguel asked as he walked further into the little room after Helm shut the door, allowing the three privacy.
Gaspar lifted his head and smiled at his son. "Come, Miguel."
Vera allowed Miguel room to approach Gaspar's bedside. Gaspar offered Miguel his hand and his son didn't hesitate to grab it. He leaned over and kissed his father's forehead. "You could have died because of me..." Miguel said. "I am sorry."
"It was not you who fired that gun, Miguel."
"I was the one who motivated Andres to homicide. I did not realize how upset he was, I should have known," Miguel said, tears filling his eyes. "If you had died, protecting me...."
"It was the least I could do, my son. I did not want to fail you again."
"No," Miguel argued. "You did it to protect me. I always understood that, Gaspar. I always knew. You left me my family. If anything, I have felt sorry for you. You did not get to know them, or me."
"That will change, Miguel," Gaspar confidently stated. "I will make sure that you will not feel sorry for me any longer."
Vera was floored. Her husband who had carried so much confidence and had the respect of other Dons before Miguel arrived was concerned about failing his son. It wasn't long before Helm returned to tell them that his patient must rest and that they could see him in the morning.
Marta sat alone in the parlor with of her needlepoint. It had only been two days since Andres' death. Only a few from the Alvarado estate had gone to pay their respects to him, and Marta understood why. Once a man descends into madness, others tend to not rejoice in their friendship.
Marta pricked her finger on the needle and jerked it to her mouth. It was only then that she realized that Tessa had been hovering at the door and then entered. This would be their first conversation since Andres shot Gaspar and was killed by Montoya. "I believed him, Tessa," Marta said painfully.
"I did not like the fact that you thought I had hired Miguel only because I did not want another Gitano in my employ. That hurt me, Marta, and you know that it could not be further from the truth."
Marta nodded quickly. "But he..."
"He was my last chance, Tessa."
"Your last chance?"
"At happiness. I receive the title of Señora, only because I am an old maid. I always will be."
"Is that why you were so apt to believe Andres' lies?"
"I believed him because I grew up Gitana." Marta said this to Tessa not with anger or spite, but as a fact. "I had always been treated as second class by some, and as trash to others. You are the first and only Spaniard who has treated me like a real person, Tessa. I have loved being your duenna, I love you as a daughter. But I believe that you are the only daughter that I will ever have."
"That is nonsense. You are a beautiful woman, Marta. Do you not realize how men notice you?"
"I am almost past bearing years."
"Stop it. I will not listen to this."
"I loved him, Tessa."
Marta's announcement hadn't surprised Tessa, but the passion with which she said it, did. Tessa didn't know how to comfort her as adeptly as Marta would. When she put her arm around Marta's shoulder, Marta laid her head on Tessa and started to cry. Tessa offered Marta her satin handkerchief.
Marta, not one to show her emotions so openly, calmed herself and blew her nose. Tessa said, "It is all right, Marta. Time will heal all wounds and help you through this. As will I."
"You can say that. You are young, beautiful, and have three men turning their eye in your direction."
"Three? Heavens," Tessa said, hoping to lighten the mood. "I am so busy."
"Grisham," Marta started to count them all, but shook her head with gentle disgust. "Although I have no idea why you encourage him, Miguel and Doctor Helm."
"Doctor Helm? He knows where I live, he knows that I am open to a relationship with him, but has he made one move in my direction? No."
"Why must he make the first move?" Marta got a second wind now that the topic of conversation had shifted off of her to Tessa. "Invite him to dinner."
"Marta, there is someone by the name of Miguel..."
"Are you really serious about that young man? Or are you just settling, or... are you trying to make the doctor jealous."
"I saw how you were on Miguel's arm, in the doctor's presence, at the Hidalgo party."
"I would not be 'settling' to settle with Miguel."
Marta told her, "Tessa. I have just lost someone important to me, someone who held a promise of a future I want so badly, that I was blind to his motivations. Do not do that to yourself. Recognize that you love Doctor Helm and make sure that he knows it."
"I cannot just go and tell him that I love him, Marta. That will never happen."
"Okay, that may be so. But using another man to make Doctor Helm jealous may signal to the doctor that you are not available. Please. Tread carefully, Tessa. I do not want you to lose out on happiness that you want and deserve."
Unbeknownst to Marta and Tessa, Miguel had overheard everything they had talked about. He had stopped short of entering the room to inform them that he was going to see to Gaspar's homecoming. He left without them knowing he was ever there.
Miguel arrived at the Hidalgo estate and saw many carriages in the front yard. He proudly rode Oro, the golden mustang that he had successfully broken, to the entrance and tethered the horse to the post. When he entered the grand room of his father's hacienda, it was occupied with many Dons and Doñas expressing their best wishes for Gaspar's speedy recovery, and also hailing him a hero for saving his son's life. Miguel's presence was immediately noticed by Don Ricardo, who overtly welcomed him into the salon. The Don exchanged pleasantries and then walked Miguel over to Gaspar.
Miguel and Gaspar exchanged a knowing look and Miguel said, "Thank you for the welcome, Don Ricardo." He nodded at another man close by. "Don Lopez. It serves my heart well to know that my father has such fine friends."
Gaspar laughed hard, and held his wife's hand as Miguel felt a hand on his shoulder. Don Lopez brought another well dressed man to him and said, "Moreno, this is Don Castillo from Monterey."
Miguel shook the Don's hand. He had heard of the Castillo ranch, and had seen some of their topnotch horses at sporting events. The Don's stock was the envy of all who worked in horse circles. "It is a pleasure to meet you, Don Castillo."
"Same here, Miguel. Same here. I saw your fine steed that you rode up on. Is that the mustang that you broke?"
"Yes," Miguel said. "You had heard about him?"
"The gold mustang that almost killed a child and was broken by Alvarado's foreman? Of course. You are the talk of Alta California, lad. Come with me, we need to talk."
Tessa strode from her wagon to the Hidalgo front door. She had wondered where Miguel had gone off to, as they had planned to see Gaspar upon his homecoming. She saw the gold horse tied to the post in Gaspar's front yard, being ogled by a few men and many young boys, and wondered why he had left without her. She walked into the house to see Vera right away. "How is Gaspar?"
"He is doing too much, Tessa," Vera replied, a worried look on her face. "I have tried to get him to go upstairs and rest, but..."
Vera moved Tessa to a private corner and whispered, "But since the Dons have come to show their respect, Gaspar will not have anything to do with showing any sort of weakness." Vera shook her head and looked over all the men in the parlor. "They are such little boys," Vera commented. She took Tessa's hand again and said, "Come into the living room. I need company keeping the Doñas occupied."
Tessa laughed and followed Vera through the throng gathered. She spotted Miguel sitting with Don Castillo in the corner and couldn't help but wonder what they were talking about. Before she could tell Vera that she would join the women in a moment, Castillo waved to her and called out, "Maria Teresa."
Vera whispered to her, "Do not be long, Tessa. I have a special bottle of wine for us to gossip over."
Don Castillo and Miguel stood when Tessa approached them, with a noble smile on her face for Castillo. He hadn't been the most encouraging member of her father's circle when she had come to him for advise, and she was proud that her stock was robust. She had just gotten word that morning that her mare, Forajida, was with fowl. "Don Castillo. It is nice you again. You came to give Gaspar your best wishes?"
"Yes, yes, of course. Also, to have a chat with your man here."
"My man?" Tessa was surprised by his choice or words and blushed to Miguel, who chuckled.
"Your Horse Foreman here is quite the talk of Alta California." Don Castillo beamed when he announced, "Miguel is my new horse foreman. I am going into the horse racing business."
"He is what?" Tessa looked from Miguel to Castillo, hoping that she had heard wrong.
Don Castillo spoke, as Miguel hadn't, "He drove a hard bargain, Maria Teresa, but I will be paying him three times to get him to work for me, and of course, for me to have use of that magnificent horse outside."
"It is my horse, Tessa," Miguel finally said. "I hope you do not mind."
"Of course it is your horse, you found and broke him, but please," Tessa said, then paused. "You are going to work for him?"
Tessa could see the smug expression on Castillo's face and almost wanted to wipe it off. But she remained calm in the face of her father's peer. "Don Castillo. Excuse us, please," she said, friendly but firmly.
Castillo nodded to her, and said, "I know you have much to discuss." He told Miguel, "I will be expecting you for work Monday morning."
"I will be there, Don Castillo. Thank you," Miguel said.
After Castillo walked away and started to mingle with the others, Tessa directed Miguel to the corner. "You are going to work for him? What about me? What your father?"
"Monterey is not on the other side of the world. It is only a ride down El Camino Royale. I am not dropping off the face of the earth."
"He is right," Tessa said, moving toward the door. "We have much to discuss."
Outside, there was a family stepping up into their carriage for the ride home, and Tessa stopped until they were gone. Miguel had followed her, and for that, she was glad. She didn't know if the news that Miguel was leaving had affected her personally or professionally. And, she didn't know if she was affected because she was sad or angry. Or if she was angry, if it was directed toward Castillo or Miguel. She took a deep breath and faced Miguel. "So, how did this come about? Did you ask him for a position?"
"No, he offered it to me out of the blue. He wanted to buy my horse, but I told him that I came with any deals concerning Oro."
She only nodded, and he added, "It is my horse."
"I know, I know. You said that, and I know."
She started to walk away when others had exited the house. She still hadn't gotten a handle on her feelings about this whole thing. Miguel stopped her when they were away from everyone. "This is an opportunity of a lifetime, Tessa."
"I know. He is the richest Don in Alta California. He can buy and sell me, not to mention you and everyone who works for me. Or worked for me, as the case may be."
"I had to accept his position, Tessa," Miguel quietly said. "A position such as this is what I have dreamed of my whole life. I initially told him no. I am loyal to you. But then I realize that you are set. You have a good stock. I have trained some of your men well and they can care for the horses that you have. He offered me more reales than I had ever even imagined could come my way, and I will have earned it. It would not come from my father."
He took her hands in his. "You were the toughest part of this, Tessa. You are a remarkable woman. I thought so even before I saw you ride dressed in black."
Tessa remembered that Miguel had figured out that she was the Queen. With all the excitement of the few days, she had actually forgotten. The biggest reason she had was because Miguel had kept her secret.
"I do care for you Tessa, and I know that you care for me. But you do not love me."
Tessa looked up at him, knowing that he had spoken the absolute truth.
Miguel said, "You cannot love me as long as you love another. A certain Englishman with a degree in medicine."
In the matter of hours, two important people in her life had told her that she loved Dr. Helm. God help her, she did. But, she could probably never tell him. She could never tell Dr. Helm that she was in love with him, or that she was the Queen of Swords. At least, not while Montoya was military governor. If he got wind that Maria Teresa was his nemesis and that she was emotionally attached to Helm, he would use Helm more than he already had.
She was so lost in thought of the Englishman that it surprised her when Miguel gathered her into his arms. He told her, "Thank you, Tessa. For everything." Pulling back, he stood before her and looked into her eyes. He caressed her cheek tenderly and traced his finger over her face down to her chin. He lifted her mouth and placed his lips upon hers. She didn't resist when he kissed her again, for the last time. Tessa watched him as he silently reentered his father's house, leaving her alone with her thoughts.
Tessa woke up in the morning mindful of the many decisions she would have to make. First on the agenda was choosing which of her men familiar with horses would be her new foreman. Second on the agenda, finding a new cattle foreman also. Thoughts of Marta's grief came back to Tessa as she smelled a wonderful aroma emanating from the kitchen, Tessa entered to see Marta preparing breakfast. Marta was busy with her chores, and probably hadn't even noticed that Tessa had entered, so Tessa just poured herself some juice and sat at the table. Marta broke some bread, and smiled as she joined her, sitting beside her. "He gathered his things and left this morning," Marta said cautiously.
"I know Marta, we talked last night. He was offered a tremendous opportunity to manage a race horse business."
"You just let him go?"
"I did not want to stand in his way," Tessa chose to phrase it. "He knows who I am, Marta. He knows that I am the Queen."
"And he was not shot on sight?" Marta said, with a smile, that Tessa didn't understand.
"Well, there is a precedent of men who find out who you are. They live long."
Tessa sipped her juice, knowing that Marta was onto something there, but she certainly didn't have to bring it up.
"Tessa, are you sure he will not go and tell Montoya of this news?"
"Marta, I trust him. We both have a goal. Mine is to find my father's killer and Miguel's is to make his own way in the world without his father's help."
There was that smile on her duenna's face again. Tessa quipped, "Marta, why are you so happy? Did you really not like Miguel that much?"
Marta shrugged. "No. He was just a boy. A boy that caused a lot of problems, but a boy nonetheless."
"He is a year older than I am."
"You are wise beyond your years, and you have had me raising you."
Marta fetched the jam from the counter and returned to the table. As she spread it on the bread she had already cut, she waved the knife perilously close to Tessa's nose, so Tessa had to move back. "Now," Marta said. "If you want to talk about men..."
Tessa held the knife down and smiled, leaning in closer. "Yes? What about them, oh sage one?"
"What do you think Dr. Helm would like for that dinner you are going to invite him to?"
"Oh, you," Tessa said, standing up and laughing. "You have a one-track mind."