Zacarias groans and wraps his arms and legs tight around me. “My Little Lo. Te quiero. Te amo con todo mi corazón.”
“I love you with all my heart, too, Zacarias. All of you, with all of me.”
A while later I get up and wrap my robe around my body once more and head out onto the balcony. I gaze around at the moonlit night. The vines are still. The sloping hill down to the village is silent. Not a creature stirs in the silver light. Zacarias joins me.
“Do you think Mama was possessed by the evil queen all these years, or just recently?” I ask him.
“I don’t know. Your mother wasn’t an evil person, though she could be cold and jealous, and so perhaps she was susceptible to be used for the queen’s purposes.”
I remember all the times she was cruel to me over the years and my heart feels wretched. The way she convinced others I would lie about anything. I think maybe he’s right. “But why was she jealous?”
My love smooths my hair back and kisses my forehead. “Because you are clever and beautiful, two things that she should have been proud you inherited from her. But instead of being proud, she resented you.”
I take a deep breath. “Did you…ever love her?”
He shakes his head. “No, mi niñita. I never loved her. I’m ashamed to say I thought of her as an opportunity. If I didn’t love the woman I married, I couldn’t fall prey to the curse. I didn’t realize that the curse was steering me toward you all along.”
What a cruel curse it is. I wonder how many other good men have spent their lives in torment because of it. I think about how my mother’s eyes flashed green and her face became terrible and mottled for a moment. I think that will haunt my dreams forever.
“What should we do now?” I ask him, gnawing worriedly at my nail. “Where shall we go?”
Zacarias wraps his arms around me and turns me toward him. “We shall stay here.”
“But are we safe here?”
He smiles, and the fear in my heart finally melts as I gaze into his warm brown eyes. “The curse is broken, and we have nothing to fear from her. We shall make this place our home.”
“Just you and me?”
Zacarias kisses me. “Yes. You and me. The Black Fox, his woman, and all our little foxes.”
A cool rain has freshened the vines, and the scent of clean earth wafts through the open windows. Lolita is sitting in a rocking chair by the open terrace doors, smiling down at the baby in her arms. Little Izabella’s chubby hands wave in the air.
I come forward and hold out my hands for the child, and Lolita places her into my arms. She’s so small, just two days old. My Lolita looks tired, but happy, as she gazes up at us.
“Papa loves his beautiful girls,” I tell her, kissing the baby and then Lolita.
“And we love daddy,” she tells me with a smile. It fades slowly as she studies my face. “You’ve had news. I know you have.”
I can’t hide anything from Lolita. Sometimes I wish I could still wear a mask, to protect her. “Yes, I’ve had news.”
I nod, and sit down on the sofa with the baby in my arms. I look down at this perfect little rosebud, and know that I would fight to the death to protect her and Lolita from all the evil in the world. “The private investigator sent me a report last night. He hasn’t found Valeria, but he did dig up some information about her marriage.”
“To my father? He died a long time ago.”
I shake my head. “Not to your father. Another man, five years ago. Did she never mention him?” The expression of shock on her face tells me everything I need to know.
“But why would she get married and not tell me? I suppose I was at school, but even when she married you she wrote and told me about it.”
“I don’t know, mi niñita. It seems like it was impulsive wedding, and the two of them separated almost immediately. The investigator couldn’t find any record of the divorce, and that man is still very much alive, so…”
Lolita’s eyes open wide as she realizes what this means. “So you were never legally married to my mother.”
“No. I never was.” I stand up and go to her, crouching down beside her chair with our baby in my arms. “Is it too soon?”
Her beautiful eyes search my face. “Too soon for what?”
“To ask you to marry me. I’ve never loved anyone but you, Lolita, and I never will. Except our little fox, and all the little foxes who will come after her.”
A slow, delighted smile spreads over her face. “Well, you won’t know until you ask me, will you?”