Characters: Dr. Robert Helm, Colonel Montoya, Captain Grisham, Tessa Alvarado, 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
Robert poured more brandy into his sister’s glass. They had returned to his adobe after dinner, and were now relaxing in his small but cozy sitting room. He’d started a fire that had soon taken the edge off the damp California spring night.
“You must be exhausted.” He sat down next to her on the settee. “You’ve had a very long day, and the fiesta is tomorrow – you should get some sleep.”
“I am tired, but too tired to sleep.” She stretched her head back, closing her eyes. “Just let me sit for a while beside the fire.”
“Drink your brandy, it will help you relax,” he instructed.
She did as he bid, lazily taking a few swallows from her glass. “It almost doesn’t seem real,” she said softly. “I thought I’d never make it here, and yet, finally, here I am.”
He looked sidelong at his sister. It hadn’t escaped his notice that she’d managed to avoid explaining how she’d arranged for the passage to California. “And how exactly did you get here, Isabelle?”
She shot him a quick look before dropping her eyes to the glass in her hand. “What do you mean?”
“Isabelle…” he chided.
Sighing, she replied, “You won’t like it.”
“My God, what did you do?”
At the tone of trepidation in his voice, her head shot up. “Lord, Robert, nothing like that! What do you take me for?” She was partly offended and partly reassuring.
‘I’m sorry, it’s just…” He wiped his face with a hand. “Just tell me.”
“Lord Haley arranged for my passage,” she said bluntly. “He didn’t like it, but he respected my wishes.”
Robert leapt to his feet. “That pompous, arrogant little…” He suddenly seemed to remember his sister was present and cut off whatever other choice words he might have had on the subject of Lord Haley.
“You see? I knew that’s how you’d react!” He continued to pace around the small room, muttering to himself. “Do sit down, Robert,” she instructed tiredly. “Let me explain.”
“Fine!” He took his seat and waited.
“I know how you feel about him, but he loved Andrew, they were best friends from the time they were children. You know that.”
“Yes.” That one word was clipped.
“Lord Haley… Thomas,” she amended, “isn’t the man you knew. War and loss have changed him. You know how devastated he was by Andrew’s death. However much you disliked him, you can’t deny that, Robert.”
He shook his head as if he’d like to gainsay her words, but he couldn’t. “I know.”
“About a year before Waterloo, he lost an eye. He was sent home to England to recuperate. We became reacquainted then. He looked out for me. After the Sunderland’s broke the engagement, he was the one who helped me pick up the pieces. He’d invite me to gatherings at his estate with his friends as often as he could to keep me from father’s notice. Arranged for his sister to have me as a guest at their home in London in the winter. After our father died, he took me in, cared for me as if I was his own sister. He said he owed Andrew that.”
Robert realized she was crying, and put a comforting arm around her shoulder. “I’m so sorry, Isabelle. I should have been there. I should have never left you behind.”
“It’s not your fault, Robbie. I understand why you had to leave. And so did Thomas, whether you choose to believe it or not. He has as many regrets as you do.” She fell silent, leaning into her brother’s embrace.
“So he paid for your passage to California.”
“Yes, and for a maid who stayed with me as far as San Diego. He wanted to make sure all the proprieties were observed.”
“I will repay him, of course.”
“No! You will do no such thing! It would be an insult. You must see that?”
“No, Robert! This time it is you who must swallow your pride. This was done for love, and no amount of gold can repay it.” She stood, walking to the fireplace, staring into the flames. “A fresh start, Robbie.”
“What haven’t you told me?” he asked softly.
She looked over her shoulder, shrugging slightly before turning away once more. “He wanted to marry me. My lack of dowry was of no concern to him, he had no father to answer to.”
“But you refused him. Why? Because of me?” He felt a pang of guilt that his intense dislike of Lord Haley might have kept his sister from a marriage that would have made her happy.
“I won’t lie to you, Robert. Knowing you would never give your blessing to such a union played a part. But in the end, it was because to Thomas I was a way to remember Andrew. And I wanted to be loved for me, not the memory of my dead brother.”
Isabelle looked out the kitchen window at the fog that draped the courtyard. When she had traveled to California, she’d had no idea that there would be such a vivid reminder of the home she’d left behind. She felt a pang of homesickness as she watched the fog drift amongst the branches of the trees and slide across the rooftops. Like this, it was almost as if she were looking out her own bedroom window at home.
After the emotionally charged revelations of the previous night, she had actually slept like the dead. Whether it was the relief of unburdening herself, or the brandy, she wasn’t sure. But she had woken up this morning feeling like anything was possible. She just needed time to adjust. Absently, she wondered if she would ever think in Spanish. And she wondered if Robert did after all the years he’d spent in the Spanish colonies.
“Absolutely not!” she heard her brother say from behind her.
She whirled, startled by his sudden appearance. “What?”
“Go take off that black thing and put on something else!”
She looked down at her dress. “But, Robert—“
He interrupted her protest. “He doesn’t deserve it, Isabelle. I won’t allow you to cover yourself in mourning for our father any longer. You’ve paid enough.”
It was as if a weight was lifted off her shoulders. “All right.” Truth be told, she hated the black crepe dress and everything it represented. Robert was right. It was time to put it aside.
Before Isabelle could return to her room to change, there was a knock at the door. “Were you expecting company?” she asked her brother.
“Probably a patient,” he said as he pulled it open. “Senorita Alvarado, what a surprise!”
“Good morning, Doctor,” she greeted him as she entered the hall. “Is you sister about?” she asked, only to answer herself as she caught sight of Isabelle in the doorway. “There you are!” Under her arm she held a paper wrapped package.
“Senorita Alvarado, what a pleasant surprise,” Isabelle greeted their guest. “May I get you some tea?”
“That would be lovely!” Tessa smiled warmly. “And I have something for you, a small welcoming gift.”
“For me?” Isabelle accepted the package that Tessa handed her.
“If you ladies would excuse me? I have a few patients to see to before the fiesta,” Robert interjected.
“Of course, Doctor,” Tessa said. “I’m sure Senorita Helm and I will become great friends.”
“Excellent! And, Senorita Alvarado, make sure my sister changes before you let her out of the house!” He grinned at the two women before heading through the door to his office.
Tessa set her teacup back in its saucer. “I’m so glad to have the opportunity to get to know you better, Senorita Helm.”
“Isabelle, please,” the other woman said.
“Tessa.” She pointed to the package that still sat on the table in front of them. “Aren’t you going to open it?”
“Oh, yes, of course! You really shouldn’t have,” Isabelle protested as she picked it up.
“Nonsense! I know what it feels like to come to a strange place where you don’t know anyone. I know you have your brother, but it can still be very lonely.”
Isabelle undid the brown paper, revealing a lace shawl in dark terracotta. “It’s exquisite!” she breathed, running her fingers across the delicate lace. “Tessa, this is far too fine a gift!”
“Every Spanish woman has a lace shawl,” Tessa explained. “This was my mother’s. Her colouring was like yours -- the shawl will bring out the copper in your hair as it did hers.”
“You are too kind.” Isabelle didn’t know what to say. Such generosity from someone she barely knew was totally foreign to her.
“Don’t cry!” Tessa took a hankie from her pocket, dabbing at Isabelle’s eyes.
“I’m sorry, it’s just… your kindness…” Isabelle fought to control the emotions that threatened to overwhelm her.
Tessa placed a hand on her arm. “Haven’t you ever had a friend?”
She shook her head. Thinking back, she realized she never really had. Growing up, she’d had her brothers, and when they’d gone off to war, there were the social acquaintances a young woman of her station maintained, but no real friends; never a confidant her own age. “No,” she whispered.
Placing the shawl across her shoulders, Tessa said, “Now you do.”
Part One ][ Part Two ][ Part Three ][ Part Four ][ Part Five ][ Part Six ][ Part Seven ][ Part Eight