“Or he did,” she adds miserably. “No one’s heard of him for months.”
I clear my throat to distract myself. “Whomever he is, the Black Fox must have a bigger head than all Spain by now.”
“You think he’s still around then?” Lolita asks, a hopeful note in her voice.
I smile sleekly at her. “Oh, certainly. He’s still prowling the streets at night, looking for young women to snatch up and ravish with kisses.” I say this with relish, imagining pulling Lolita’s squirming body against mine in the dark and whispering that it is I, the Black Fox, I’m not going to hurt her, I’m just going to taste her a little.
Lolita swallows, and says hoarsely, “The Black Fox would never do that.”
“Do shut up about that idiot,” Valeria drawls. “He’s long gone, whoever he was. Sometimes I wonder if he ever existed.”
A taut silence stretches, and then Lolita says defiantly, “He did. I met him once.”
“Oh, don’t lie,” Valeria snaps.
I agree with my wife. I would remember her.
Lolita leans forward, and the cleft between her breasts deepens. “I did! I saw him. I was coming home from—from church in the dark.”
The way her cheeks turn pink makes me certain she was coming home from anywhere but church. Where was she really returning from? A boy’s house? My hands clench angrily in my lap, but I make my tone relaxed as I ask, “What did you see, Lolita?”
Her eyes meet mine, and they’re filled with gentle wonder. “It was winter, and not very late. I was hurrying, and I dropped my…my prayer book. When I turned around, he was there.”
Valeria scoffs and takes another sip of her wine.
Lolita’s expression turns dreamy. “He was standing in the middle of the street, which had been empty just a moment ago. I could only see the silhouette of his cape and hat. He was so tall. So broad, and he had an aura about him, like you can’t help but feel safe just because he’s near. He’s a dangerous man, but he meant me no harm. I knew that without a doubt.”
I watch her, transfixed by the recollection flickering over her lovely face. Her hand is on the tabletop. I imagine picking it up and pressing a burning kiss to her palm.
It wasn’t winter, like she said. It was very warm, actually, and past midnight. I suppose she changed her story to winter to make it seem more proper that she was out alone after dark. I picked up her book and handed it to her. I didn’t get a good look at her face, but as I slipped back into the shadows, my lungs suddenly burned as if I was drowning. A voice in my head told me I had to go back to her, and for some reason, I obeyed. I hurried and looked for her. I ran this way and that down the deserted streets, listening for her light footsteps, peering hard through the dark for a glimpse of her skirt. But I was too late. She was gone.
“When was this?” Valeria asks suspiciously.
Lolita blinks, and comes back into herself. “Oh, years and years ago.”
It wasn’t years and years ago. It was just one year ago. I open my mouth to scold her for telling such lies, but catch myself just in time. She really will lie about anything. My hands itch to pull her over my knee and spank the truth out of her. I want her confession in gulping sobs with her luscious ass blazing beneath my hands and her slit wet with need. That it was hot and late. That she wanted me, and that she’s sorry, so very sorry, that she slipped away into the darkness out of my reach, when she could have been mine, then, now and always.
Because now it’s too late. I married her mother.
I lift my glass of wine to my lips and toss it down in one huge swallow to prevent a roar of anger and despair from escaping my chest. I was wrong. I never outran the curse. It gave me just enough rope to hang myself with.
The hilltop castillo rises before us as Zacarias drives us out of the town, all sheer sandstone walls and impressive battlements. It’s been in the family for generations. Our ancestors used to receive rents from all the people who lived hereabouts and take a cut of everything they farmed. I think Mama regrets the end of feudalism and the spread of democracy. She would have enjoyed being treated like a queen by the townsfolk.
I sit behind the driver’s seat. My new stepfather’s broad shoulders fill my vision. I watch the way his muscles bunch beneath his shirt as he makes a left-hand turn, and then glare out the window.
This summer is going to be hell. My stomach sinks even further as I remember that I won’t be returning to school come the fall. Mama has already made it clear that university is out of the question, and I’m to be married instead. She’s promised to find me a husband who will “curb my unruly ways.” Whatever that means. Probably lock me up and never let me do anything I want to do.