Character(s): Dr. Helm, Montoya, Grisham, Tessa, Marta, OFC
Summary: Dr. Helm and Tessa find someone quite unexpected on his doorstep, and Colonel Montoya plots to use her to his advantage.
Santa Elena Welcomes You
Tessa sat at her kitchen table watching Marta as she kneaded the evening's bread. The other woman was older than Tessa, with long curly dark brown hair, and amber brown eyes. The Gypsy, though Tessa's servant, was much more than that. Marta had been a mother to Tessa when her father, the late Don Rafael, had sent Tessa to Spain at the age of twelve to be properly educated. She had returned to California with Tessa after the death of her father the previous year.
"How was your trip into town?" Marta asked curiously.
"It was interesting." Tessa had a distracted look on her face.
"Oh, how so? Though I'm sure from the look on your face, Dr. Helm was somehow involved." Marta smiled knowingly.
"Don't tease, Marta! You know it's the Queen he cares for, not me." She slumped in her chair. "I wish I could tell him the truth, and not play the part of a woman he barely notices, let alone respects." The young woman sighed dejectedly.
Marta brushed her hands off on her apron, coming to sit next her. "You could tell him. You know you can trust him. Why put yourself through this pain, Tessa?"
"I can't. I won't put him in even more danger than he is already from aiding the Queen. Montoya was fully prepared to have him killed last winter, and it wouldn't take much to put Robert back in his sights. And now, it's even more vital to keep him safe."
"I told you my trip into town was interesting. I was walking with Dr. Helm, and when we arrived at his office, there was a woman waiting for him; his sister."
"His sister? How can that be? Didn't you tell me she was supposed to marry some nobleman's son in England?"
Tessa shrugged. "That's what Robert told me, but she was alone, and he introduced her as Isabelle Helm."
"What was she like?"
"She seemed pleasant enough. Pretty, about Vera's height, very fair, with her brother's eyes and chin."
"But not his nose?" Marta asked, a twinkle in her eye.
That got a laugh from Tessa. "No, not his nose."
"That's probably just as well, don't you think? While it's a fine nose for the very handsome doctor, I'm sure it's best suited to a man."
"Marta!" Tessa exclaimed in amused outrage.
"What? It's true!"
Tessa just shook her head. "We should invite them to dinner, don't you think? Help her to adjust to living here, so she won't feel isolated. Santa Elena is a far cry from London."
"Mmmm... And to have an entire evening to yourself with Dr. Helm," Marta said with a smug smile, "wouldn't be a hardship either, would it?"
Tessa just sniffed and Marta's smile grew wider.
Robert poured wine into Isabelle's glass. They had finished their lunch and had moved to the walled courtyard of the adobe. The back of the building, with its own entrance, housed his office and exam room; the front contained his private quarters. In the center was the courtyard, with its private entrance to the street outside.
The courtyard was tiled, with a cistern, summer kitchen, an herb garden, and a few small citrus trees. Under the bougainvillea covered pergola where they now sat was a small table and a few chairs. The afternoon sun had warmed the air, and the walls surrounding them protected them from the cool spring breeze.
Isabelle sipped her wine tentatively. "This is lovely," she said with some surprise.
Robert laughed. "Believe it or not, California isn't quite the end of the world. It has its charms." His sister didn't look like she quite believed him. "It's from the Hidalgo Hacienda," he added. "I'll have to introduce you to Senora Hidalgo. She's about your age, and I think you might get on with her."
Though she nodded, it was clear she wasn't really paying attention to what he was saying. "That would be lovely, I'm sure."
Taking her hand, he squeezed it gently. "I'm glad you're here, Isabelle." And he was. One of his greatest regrets was leaving her behind in England. But their father had practically disowned him when he'd resigned his commission. Had told him to never set foot in the family home again. And Robert hadn't. But if he was being brutally honest, he'd been too wrapped up in his own pain to give as much thought to the young sister he'd left behind as he should have. He swore to himself in that moment that he would make it up to her.
"I am too," she whispered, blinking back tears. She brushed at her eyes angrily. "I promised myself I wouldn't cry!"
"You're allowed, you know."
"No! I've shed more than enough tears. I'm done!"
"If you change your mind, I have a hankie," he offered, trying to lighten the mood.
The ghost of a smile brushed her lips and she nodded. Beyond the walls, the sounds of horses and the chatter of bypassers could be heard, and in the trees of the garden, the small sounds of birds. "It's very peaceful here. Hard to believe that less than twenty-four hours ago I was aboard ship, anxious about what might await me."
Then she looked her brother square in the eye. "It's gone Robert, all of it: the house, the land, the entire contents of the estate. You may have the title now, but I'm afraid there's nothing left to go with it."
Taking a gulp of his wine, he stared off into the distance. "I never wanted the title. It should have been Andrew's, never mine. I had no interest in it then, I have none now."
"I know." She sighed. "I knew things were bad, but it wasn't till after father died that I realized the extent. After the back taxes were paid and his gambling debts settled, there was nothing left. They let me keep some personal items, but they even took mother's sapphire necklace, the one grandmother gave her on her wedding day. Worse, they took the portrait of mother wearing the necklace. You remember the one?"
"I do. You used to spend hours looking at it as a child."
"Since I never knew her, it was my only connection to her. I think I believed that her spirit looked down on me from that painting. Silly, I know."
"Not silly," he protested. "Perfectly understandable. I don't know if it will make you feel the loss any less, but, Isabelle, if you want to see mother, you have only to look in the mirror. You look so much like her."
"Do I honestly?" A real smile appeared this time. "Thank you, Robbie, for telling me that."
"It's only the truth, dearest."
He poured them both more wine. "Was money the reason you didn't marry James Sunderland? The letter you sent with the book last Christmas didn't say, only that the engagement had been called off."
Nodding, she explained, "When James' family discovered there was not the agreed upon dowry, they broke off the engagement."
"I'm sorry. I remember how I felt when Camilla's family refused to let her marry me." The memory of that day was a bitter one still.
"Don't be. Unlike you, I didn't love my intended, and he didn't love me. It was an arrangement between our families, nothing more. Oh, we were fond of one another, I suppose, and he would have been an agreeable enough husband, but nothing more."
"Still, you didn't deserve the humiliation!" he protested vehemently.
"It's all right, Robbie, truly. The last year has been instructive in regards to swallowing one's pride. I feel quite virtuous now!"
"You are too good, Isabelle."
"Nonsense! You'll find I'm still as stubborn and headstrong as ever I was. And rather vain as well," she finished primly.
"I'm pleased to hear it!"
"I will remind you of that the first time I fail to heed your counsel and you're cross with me."
"I'll try and remember that." After sipping some more of his wine, he said, "So, the Sunderlands broke off the engagement?"
"Yes, and they sent James' oldest brother to do the deed. You remember Everett, don't you? Everett broke the news, and he seemed most discomfited that I was there, but father had insisted. And of course, father blamed me for it. Flew into a rage, telling me if I'd been a proper lady with any accomplishments whatsoever the lack of a dowry would not have mattered." She didn't meet her brother's gaze.
All good humour was now erased from his face. Clenching his fists, he asked softly, "Then what happened?"
She swallowed, looking down at her hands clasped on the table in front of her. "Everett tried to assure him that the fault was not with me, but that just made it worse. He hurled horrible accusations before taking me by the wrist, breaking it before Everett was able to intervene. He was appalled and at the same time relieved, I think, that his brother had escaped marriage into such a family." Her voice was deceptively calm as she recounted the circumstances of her broken engagement and all that followed.
There was inarticulate snarl of grief and rage from her brother. She placed her hands over his clenched fists. "I couldn't tell you that in a letter, Robbie. How could I? There was nothing you could do for me so far away. I didn't want to add to your burdens."
He bowed his head. “I have failed you, as I did Andrew before you.”
“I won’t hear such talk, Robert Helm!” She shook his hands. “It is in the past, all of it. You were no more responsible for Andrew’s death on the field of battle than you are for my treatment at our father’s hands. So stop it this instant! Do you hear?”
“I had forgotten just how bossy you could be.” He brushed a curl of russet hair from her face. “I promise you, things will be different from now on.”
Isabelle raised her glass. “To the future.”
Robert tapped his glass against hers. “The future.”
Part One ][ Part Two ][ Part Three ][ Part Four ][ Part Five ][ Part Six ][ Part Seven ][ Part Eight