Page 6 of The Black Fox

Zacarias glares out the window, his jaw tight. “I’ll keep a close eye on her. I won’t stand for that sort of behavior under my roof.”

His roof. He only just met me and he thinks he can dictate what I do? I’m a grown woman, not a child.

Mama simpers at her husband. “Mi amor, I knew I could count on you. Be as strict and forceful as you need with her. Her father was weak, and I’ve always thought she needed a real man to teach her how to behave.”

Zacarias smiles and takes her hand. “With pleasure, my dear wife.”

I think I’m going to be sick, but at least I know now. Mama’s married a man who’s just as horrible as she can be.

I back up a few paces, and then walk with purposeful, noisy steps through the doorway, as if I’ve only just come downstairs. Blanca, Mama’s toy poodle, jumps up from the sofa and gambols around my feet, yapping gaily.

“I’m going down into town to see Sofía,” I announce, naming one of my old friends from when I was small. Sofía’s mother used to be employed here as a cleaner. Mama hated that I befriended her daughter, saying that it wasn’t proper.

Mama takes a sip of her wine and grimaces. “Must you? I don’t want you catching fleas and bringing them home.”

My fists clench at my sides, but I fight to keep my voice gracious. “Can I get you anything while I’m in town?”

I glance at Zacarias and find that he’s gazing at me speculatively. His dark hair is swept back and there’s a short, dark beard on his jaw. His brown eyes are nearly black, and though he seems relaxed, I sense a storm going on behind those eyes.

A storm that rages because he’s looking at me.

I look away quickly, telling myself not to be so fanciful. My mind’s playing tricks on me because I don’t like him.

“No,” Mama says with a sigh. “You can go. If you must.”

“Back by eleven,” Zacarias calls after me, as if it’s his business what time I come home. I go back upstairs to get my things. Telling Mama about my coursework can wait for another day.

I let myself out the back door and hurry down the winding gravel footpath into the town. As the castillo disappears behind me, I find I can breathe again.

Hours later, night falls, and I haven’t gone to see Sofía. Solitude is what I crave right now, and space to think. At nine, the restaurants around the square start to fill with people, and my belly rumbles when I catch the scent of roasting beef. I buy a bocadillo from a street vendor, a sandwich filled with sliced meats and mustard, and eat it walking around and gazing at the people. Simple pleasures. Small freedoms. I enjoy them. At the boarding school our days were strictly regimented and we were never allowed to go anywhere alone. There were no men, either, apart from a few crusty old professors.

My gaze lingers on the tanned, strong men in crisp white shirts sitting outside restaurants. Men at café tables playing cards and drinking coffee, their tight T-shirts showing off their muscular backs. Any one of them might be the Black Fox. Would I know him, if our eyes met? I feel that I would, somehow.

Sometime later I see that it’s five minutes to eleven, and I’m on the far side of town. Reluctantly, I turn my feet towards home. The streets are dark and I walk quickly. A thin sliver of moon hangs in the sky, providing just enough light to show me the way up to the castillo.

At twenty minutes past eleven I open the door at the rear of the castillo and step into the long, cool corridor. There are angry voices echoing from one of the rooms ahead. I creep forward, curious to know what the fight is about; hoping that it’s not about me.

I peer through a crack in the open door and see that Zacarias is pacing up and down, looking like he’s ready to do murder. Mama is sitting on the sofa in her dressing gown, her hands clenched in her lap.

“Zacarias, I hate that she’s been here less than a day and she’s already making you worry and lose sleep. Please go to bed.”

He growls, and the sound is like the warning snarl of a wild beast. Fear plunges through my body.

“No. Lolita is going to be punished for this.”

3

Zacarias

“If she’s not back in ten more minutes, I’ll go and look for her myself.” I’ll tear her from the arms of whatever horny teenage disaster has his sweaty mitts all over her. Or she might be hurt, lying bleeding somewhere, attacked—

A figure steps into the room, her eyes blazing. “For heaven’s sake. I’m only twenty minutes late.”

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