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
An emergency involving a man who had punctured his foot with a pitchfork interrupted Isabelle’s explanation of just how she’d ended up in California. In a way, she was grateful for the reprieve. Robert was not going to like how her passage had been paid for. One thing she was sure hadn’t changed about her brother’s personality, and that was his temper. It had always gotten him into trouble in the past, and she was willing to bet that it still did.
She looked around the room that was to be hers here in this strange land. It was small, but neat, the walls plastered a gleaming white. The sparse furnishings and decorations made it clear that the room was has it had been when Robert had taken residence, and had never been used.
It took but a short time to empty her trunk, placing her few belongings in the drawers and clothes cabinet. Then she sat on the bed, staring at the wall. What on earth was she doing here, throwing her fate to the winds and coming to this wild and untamed land? She gave herself a mental shake. It was far too late now for second thoughts or regrets. The die was already cast and there was no taking it back.
“And that concludes our tour of Santa Elena,” Robert declared grandly, squeezing her arm. “What do you think?”
Isabelle paused momentarily before replying. “It was... short.”
“Yes, well, what Santa Elena lacks in size, it more than makes up for in atmosphere,” Robert assured her with a grin.
“I’ll have to take your word for it!”
After Robert had finished with his patient, it had nearly been time for supper, so he’d suggested a ‘grand tour’ of the pueblo. After, they would go to the hotel for dinner. Isabelle had been more than willing to go along with his plan. She had done her best during their walk not to gawk at the unfamiliar surroundings like a gormless country girl, but it was so very different from England! Everyone she had been introduced to so far had been warm and welcoming, and the nervous anticipation that had gnawed at her over the last many months was slowly fading away.
Robert led her up to the wooden deck in front of the hotel. “Trust me, Isabelle, it will seem familiar one day; perhaps not the comforting familiarity of home, but comforting nonetheless.”
“If I am with you, dearest Robert, it will always seem like home.” She rested her head against his shoulder. This was indeed a strange place, but being reunited here with her beloved brother, from whom she had been so long apart, made it worth it.
Their brief moment of tranquility was shattered by a voice. “I see it is true!”
Robert’s hand tightened ever so imperceptibly around her arm. “And what would that be, Colonel?” he asked as the man came into sight.
He wasn’t as tall as her brother, but he had a commanding presence. Impeccably dressed and groomed, he seemed almost incongruous in their present surroundings. And Isabelle needed no words to tell her that Robert did not like him one bit.
“Why, the presence of your lovely visitor,” the man exclaimed. "The news is all around town, Dr. Helm's mystery woman."
He turned his attention to Isabelle and she found herself quite taken aback by his eyes. Not brown as she would have expected, but steel blue, like the eyes of a wolf. And something told her he was just as dangerous.
Then he was introducing himself. "Colonel Luis Ramirez Montoya, at your service."
She extended her hand as Robert said, "Colonel, allow me to present my sister, the Honourable Isabelle Catherine Pembroke Helm."
Montoya bowed over her gloved hand, briefly raising it to his lips, his eyes never leaving hers. "It is a great pleasure to make your acquaintance, Senorita Helm." He held her hand for another beat before releasing it.
"Likewise," she responded politely.
"Indeed, I would have never believed such beauty in a woman could exist outside Spain. Your arrival here is like a beautiful rose being added to a bouquet of mere wildflowers here in our savage land."
Delighted, she smothered a grin. For the first time since leaving England, she finally felt like she was standing on solid ground. This was a game she knew how to play.
Isabelle quirked a brow. "I must say, Colonel, to discover that such a charming gentleman could exist outside of England is a pleasant, though a rather surprising, revelation." She smiled demurely, hearing Robert choke back laughter behind her.
This time, the smile on Montoya's face reached his eyes. "Then it has been a fine day, Senorita, when both of us of us can say we have learned something new, no?"
She nodded her agreement, matching his smile. "A fine day indeed, Colonel."
"I hope that you will be staying for a time here in our humble pueblo?"
This time it was Robert who answered. "My sister will be living with me for the foreseeable future."
She glanced up at her brother, then back at Montoya. "Robert is a compassionate man, Colonel, taking in his destitute sister in her hour of need. No woman could have a kinder or more loving brother."
Montoya looked as if he were enjoying some private joke. "Indeed, Senorita Helm, your brother's compassionate nature and kind heart are the stuff of legend here in Santa Elena. Though he's far too modest to tell you that himself."
"Yes, well, modesty is a virtue, Colonel," Robert said wryly.
He smirked. "So I have heard." Bowing to Isabelle, he said, "But I have kept you long enough. Doctor, Senorita, enjoy your dinner."
"You were right," Isabelle told her brother as Montoya walked away. "Santa Elena is just brimming with atmosphere!"
"You seemed to enjoy that," he observed.
"I did indeed."
"But 'destitute sister'? That was a bit much, wasn't it?"
"It's the truth! I am destitute. I did tell you, Robert, that I have little enough pride left these days. And I know how people talk. I don't want people making the incorrect assumption that I'm some sort of English heiress. I'd rather that any gentleman who might exhibit an interest knows from the outset that there is no money to be had."
"Fair enough; but lack of a dowry isn't necessarily an impediment to a good marriage here. Not to someone of Montoya's rank, of course. Though even were he the richest man in all of California, I wouldn't let him within ten yards of you," he said darkly.
"I gathered there was not much love lost between you and the Colonel," she told him.
"That would be one way to put it. However, there’s no need to ruin our supper with such talk." He opened the door for her, telling her as they entered, "There are few women here, and many Dons with younger sons who would find you perfectly suitable as a wife to any one of them. Not that I want you to ever feel as if you must marry, Isabelle." He took her hands, turning her to face him. "No more arranged loveless engagements. If you marry, I want it to be for love. It's the only thing you deserve."
She took a deep breath. She had felt as if she should marry so as not to be a burden to her brother. She didn't relish the thought of being the spinster sister, dependent on her brother and resented by his wife as an intruder in their home. But she liked the thought of marrying another James Sunderland even less.
Reaching up, she kissed him on the cheek. "You truly are the best of brothers."
Part One ][ Part Two ][ Part Three ][ Part Four ][ Part Five ][ Part Six ][ Part Seven ][ Part Eight