The sound of the gunshot echoed through the alleyway. Beatriz Cardoso Madeira let out the breath she didn’t know she was holding as the gun quivered in her hand. The victim collapsed to the ground, and the crimson red blood pooled from the gunshot wound. It was a clean shot to the heart. He was killed instantly, but not before he looked at his former lover one last time.
There was a pleading look in his eyes—one that begged for mercy and leniency despite all he’d done. After all, no matter how cruel and heartless the now-deceased Emilio Formosa Delgado was, he was still a coward on the inside.
Beatriz walked towards the corpse. “It didn’t have to be this way,” she began. “I never wanted to be the one to put a bullet through you, but look at us now.” She laughed bitterly.
“Everyone told me you’d be the death of me,” she continued. “The night I told you I was pregnant with Isabela, I thought you really would kill me. I knew your temper was infamous, but I’d never seen you like that… especially not towards me.” She swallowed. “But I never listened to them. Sex, drugs, screaming matches—that was us.” She paused for a moment. “We were addicted to one another. Even if it was going to get us both killed.”
She looked down at her former lover. It was surreal to see Emilio like this. Where was the man who was the picture of arrogance? Where was the signature smirk that had found home on his face? Where was the narcissistic swagger that he had before he walked up to her and swept her into his arms? Yet now as a corpse, Emilio was still. Calm. Lifeless.
Under the moonlight, his skin shone lily-white and the crimson-colored blood stained his shirt. His body wasn’t even cold yet, but Beatriz could see none of the Emilio she’d once cared for. Emilio had been narcissistic, self-absorbed, and he treated her like she was nothing: he was just her type.
“You once asked me if I loved you,” Beatriz said quietly. “When we were at the hotel in Cascais. I didn’t answer—I just asked you if you loved me. You didn’t answer either. Despite everything, I never truly loved you. Lusted for you, yes, but love… I think I’m incapable of loving someone.” Her tone turned to steel. “Especially not someone like you.”
“But none of that matters now. It doesn’t matter if I loved you or not. It doesn’t matter if you meant anything to me. You deserved this. You deserved far worse than this for what you did tonight. You deserved far worse than dying in this goddamn alleyway for what you did tonight!” Her breath faltered. She shook her head. “You were always a monster, Emilio, and I should’ve never believed otherwise.”
Beatriz spat on the corpse, and she stood in silence for a moment. She felt her heart pounding from the intensity of the night.
She pulled out a pack of cigarettes and an old lighter. The lighter flicked on, and the small flame illuminated the alleyway. She lit the cigarette and took a long drag before she spoke again.
“Vincenzo,” she called out.
A dark-haired man emerged from the shadows. He had a boyish charm to him with his face void of hair and gentleness that was uncharacteristic for those involved in the cartel world.
“Clean this up,” Beatriz ordered.
Vincenzo nodded without question.
When Beatriz and Vincenzo were growing up, their two families—the Guerras and the Madeiras—had been allies of the cartel world, and ever since they were teenagers, Vincenzo had been hopelessly in love with Beatriz. He was like a puppy chasing love and validation from a mistress who did not reciprocate.
Vincenzo had always been compassionate and thoughtful. For that, Beatriz found camaraderie with him, and for a short time, the two were lovers, but he was no Emilio. Vincenzo Guerra Oliveira was too selfless to be Emilio.
With that, Beatriz left the alleyway and took another cigarette drag as she stared at the sleepy town of Santa Rainha, Portugal.
How utterly undisturbed this town looked. Peaceful, even. Under the town’s suburban facade, over a decade of bloodshed marred the town. It was ingrained in their past as a bitter part of their history.
During the dictatorship, Santa Rainha was hit hard: almost every one suffered from economic losses, and in the ashes of the economy, the cartels moved in and claimed their share of the town. Santa Rainha had been the home of the drug trade and the heart of the violence that went hand in hand with cartel life.
With the illiteracy rate surging and the economy regressing, even ordinary citizens were forced into dealing and smuggling illicit material, if only to make a semblance of salary to allow them to survive another day.
Santa Rainha was a war zone where only the armed dared walk the streets. It took the deaths of more innocent civilians than one could count before the cartels declared this town a neutral territory. Faction hostilities were to be put aside and discarded here. Blood was never to be shed in Santa Rainha again.
So long as someone was here, they were protected. The wives of cartel members could walk the streets without security, and children of rival gangs could play with one another at the same park. Santa Rainha was the town of neutrality, the land of peace.
Beatriz supposed she’d ended that peace tonight.
She shook her head. Now was not the time to dwell on what she had done. Beatriz took one final look at the town before she entered her car.
Only half an hour ago, she’d been sitting here with one hand on the steering wheel and one hand on the gun to Emilio’s head. The automobile felt empty and eerily silent: she was accustomed to having Emilio beside her, and now he was gone. Soon to be six feet underground.
She was used to running back to him after every fight. She felt hollow without that option now.
He was her addiction. She knew it now, but that didn’t make any of this easier. When they were together, she felt as if she was high. Emilio could be so inviting and so intoxicating: his words were poison coated in honey. A part of her knew he was only hurting her, but the bulk of her was too fixated on how euphoric he made her feel. The rest of the world was screaming at her to leave him, yet she was deaf to their pleas. She was intoxicated on her lust and false love for him. Everything they did together was impulsive and passionate, and neither of them cared about any of the consequences. Petty joys and fast pleasures were their favorite toys.
Every horrible thing he did seemed utterly insignificant. Even when he almost killed her, the moment he returned nine months later, she was back in his arms. Whenever he was gone, she only wanted him more. She craved him; she desired him; she needed him. He was her fix, her obsession, her little addiction, and now he was gone.
Beatriz cursed loudly. He was a monster, but damnit, she seemed to have a thing for monsters.
She turned on the radio. She was tired of being alone with her thoughts. The sound of fado music filled the night’s air as Beatriz Cardoso Madeira drove off from the scene of the crime.
The rural countryside replaced sprawling towns as kilometers of lush green hills came into view. Underneath the blanket of night, there was untouched serenity in the countryside. It was a land tucked away from the turbulence of the city and the tumultuousness of society. There was a solace to be found in the silence of the countryside where life was raw and natural: the rural world was one of frugality and integrity where honest men maintained the land and survived off the fruits of their labor.
As the automobile neared the forest, the towering trees welcomed Beatriz like an old friend. The trees clustered around the sides of the road, and the leaves blanketed the road with a perpetual shadow. The trees were natural barriers that secluded the inside of the forest from the watchful gaze of the outside world.
To the rest of society, only the Portuguese flora and fauna resided in this forest, which made it the perfect location for the Madeira family to build their estate.
Beatriz drove down the lone road with only the hum of the engine and the sound of the radio keeping her company. She rounded the corner and came across the metal gates that separated the Madeira Estate from the outside.
Around the clock, there was a guard posted beside the gates to ensure that only authorized personnel entered. Regardless, without asking for identification, the guard opened the gates for Beatriz: her yellow automobile was a trademark.
Isabela was the only thought on Beatriz’s mind as she entered the estate. For as long as Beatriz could remember, she’d called it an estate, not a home. A home had life and vibrancy to it, a semblance of a soul, but Beatriz wouldn’t use any of those words to describe the Madeira Estate: it had only been a home when Beatriz’s mother was there and when the oranges were still ripe and plentiful, but those days were long gone.
Perhaps Isabela still saw this place as a home, one where the misery of the outside world could not reach her. Inside of these gates, she was invincible, and between the walls of the compound, she had everything a child could need. She was blissfully unaware of how her family was able to afford such a lavish lifestyle and blissfully unaware of the reputation of the Madeira family on the Iberian peninsula: while the rest of the country was calling Beatriz Cardoso Madeira a kingpin, sweet Isa was calling her mamãe. Innocent and ignorant—that was the way Isabela was raised.
In their world, young children needn’t know the business that made their family both feared and affluent. What they needed to know was language, diplomacy, the analytical subjects, and it was all to prepare them for the life laid out in front of them. Even if Isabela didn’t know it, she was her mother’s heir. Plain and simple.
“I need a drink,” Beatriz thought to herself. She longed for something to dull the events of the night. “But after Isabela.” She had to ensure her prized heir was alright.
Beatriz walked up the long and winding marble staircase as she slid her hand along the railing. The estate was draped in darkness, both figuratively and metaphorically. The maids had shut off the lights and left for the night to return to their impoverished families.
Beatriz knew she could turn on the lights and welcome brightness into the somber estate, but there was quiet in the darkness. Peace, even. She was fond of the night and the blanket of silence that was draped across the estate.
For as long as Beatriz could remember, she’d suffered from insomnia. Medication only led her to sleep for long hours, paralyzed inside of her mind, as visions of what once was played in her head as a sickening and petrifying film.
Sleep had never come easy to the youngest Cardoso Madeira child. In her youth, she could recall the sounds of her beloved mother screaming and sobbing until the early hours of the morning came.
As a child, Beatriz feared the night because then was when she would see her mother at her most broken state, but once her mother was gone and bitter silence returned to the Madeira Estate, Beatriz grew to love the silence of the estate: at least if it was quiet, no one she loved would be suffering.
Beatriz came to the residential wing of the estate, and she knocked on the door of Isabela’s nanny, Constança.
“Constança?” Beatriz called.
“Who is it?” Constança’s voice was muffled through the door.
“Beatriz. Is Isa awake?”
“Is anyone else with you?” Constança dodged the question and furthered the interrogation.
“I’m alone, Stança. I want to see minha filha.” I want to see my daughter.
The door opened only a crack. Beatriz watched as Constança surveyed the area with hawk eyes before she relaxed and addressed Beatriz.
“I wanted to make sure he wasn’t here,” Constança explained. “Beatriz, tell me, is he…” she trailed off.
“I took care of him, Stança,” Beatriz said quietly. “He can’t bother us ever again.”
Constança nodded. “Good. He deserved what he had coming.”
“He did,” Beatriz replied. “I just… Despite what everyone said about him, I never thought he would try to—” she faltered. “Do what he tried to do tonight. Tell me, is she… Does she… How is Isa?”
Constança lowered her voice. “Isa is none the wiser of what happened tonight. She thinks her parents just went for a drive, and that’s why you both left.”
Beatriz didn’t say anything, but there was an unspoken question on her mind.
“She has none of the common side effects,” Constança continued. “I’ve been monitoring her ever since you both left. She seems alright but… Still, Beatriz, if you were only a second later, then she would’ve—”
“I know.” Beatriz’s voice was hard. “I know, Stança. I just want to see my daughter now.”
Constança nodded. “Isabela!” she called. “Tua mamãe is back.” Your mother is back.
A sweet-faced child bounded over and threw her arms around Beatriz. “Mamãe!”
Beatriz hugged her tight. “Isabela, meu tudo.” My everything. “Let mamãe take a look at you.” She pulled back and took a look at her daughter.
Beatriz scanned Isabela’s face for any irregularities, any symptoms or signs of budding sickness. To Beatriz’s relief, she found none. Isabela still looked like the cherubic child that Beatriz had left only an hour ago.
Yet still, Constança’s words echoed in Beatriz’s head: “If you were only a second later, then she would’ve—”
“Died,” Beatriz mentally finished. “She would’ve died.”
The harsh reality of what could’ve transpired tonight rang in her head, as loud and persistent as the tolling church bells. Dead. Dead. Dead.
“Why are you staring, mamãe?” Isabela giggled as she looked up at her mother.
“She looks so much like minha mamãe,” Beatriz thought. She looks so much like my mother. “The same sweet brown eyes, the same trusting smile…”
Beatriz stroked Isabela’s cheek with her thumb. “No reason, Isa.” Beatriz swallowed. “No reason at all. So, tell me, what have you and Tia Stança been up to?”
“Tia let me stay up late,” Isabela said proudly. “We read my new book. The one papai bought me.”
Beatriz felt her heart skip a beat. “Really?” She faked a smile. “Did you enjoy it, meu tudo?”
“I don’t like sad endings,” Isabela frowned. “I wish papai could’ve read it to me. Papai is the best storyteller.” Isabela giggled as the smile dropped off Beatriz’s face.
“Mamãe?” Isabela asked.
“Where is papai?”
Beatriz swallowed. She dug her nails deep into her palm. She knew this question would be coming, yet that didn’t soften the blow. It pained Beatriz to look at Isabela and be reminded of what happened tonight.
“Papai… papai is on a trip,” Beatriz said looking down. “He has business to take care of elsewhere.”
“Will he be back soon?” Isabela asked innocently.
Beatriz dug her nails deeper into her palm. She knew it would leave marks until morning. “No, Isa. Papai is very busy, but you’re lucky, aren’t you? You got to spend all day with papai before he left. I bet it was fun, wasn’t it?” Beatriz tickled Isabela’s stomach, and the little girl giggled.
“Come here.” Beatriz swept Isa into her arms and hugged her tight. Beatriz brushed Isa’s hair softly and kissed her forehead. “I’m so glad you’re alright.”
“Of course I’m alright, mamãe,” Isa laughed. “Why wouldn’t I be?”
Beatriz smiled and kissed her daughter’s forehead. “I’ll always keep you safe, meu tudo. Me, Tia Stança, and Tio Vincenzo—we’ll never let anyone hurt you.” She hugged Isabela tight.
They stayed like that for a moment until Beatriz pulled back from the embrace. “Now, Isa, mamãe has some work to do. You can stay up a little longer with Stança, and then you must get some sleep. Little meninas need their sleep.” Little girls need their sleep.
Beatriz began to walk out of the bedroom.
“Goodnight mãe,” Isa said. “Eu te amo.” I love you.
Beatriz paused in her footsteps. She walked back towards Isa. She stroked her daughter’s face and smiled. “I care for you very much, Isa. You are my future. Goodnight.”
Beatriz kissed Isabela’s forehead, and Beatriz walked out of Constança’s bedroom, shutting the door behind her. She leaned against the door for a moment and shut her eyes.
When she closed her eyes, she saw Emilio fall limp to the ground as the blood pooled from his chest. The sound of the gunshot replayed in her head as a torturous vinyl. She knew sleep would not come to her tonight, so she might as well get some work done.
Beatriz walked down to her private study, the one that smelled of old mahogany, cognac, and cigars. The study had once belonged to her father and her grandfather before him. When she looked at this room, Beatriz could still picture her father sitting at the desk with a cigar in his mouth as he reviewed the financial records.
As a young woman, Beatriz would sit in her father’s study alongside him. After her mother was hospitalized and Tomas died, Beatriz and her father depended on one another: for Beatriz, she needed a parental figure to look up to, and for her father, Santiago, he needed a new heir to the Madeira cartel.
“The cartel is the only thing keeping us alive, Beatriz,” her father had explained. “It is our empire. It is our livelihood. The cartel is the only thing that allowed our family to survive when the rest of the country was burning. Everything you do, Beatriz, must be for the good of the cartel. As long as the cartel is alive, our family name will be alive.”
When the dictatorship was still in place, the Madeira family were like millions of others who were destroyed by the economic regression. For generations, the Madeiras had been rural farmers who tended to their land and passed their farm down to their eldest child. The farm was their livelihood—it was their everything.
During the time of the dictatorship, Beatriz’s grandfather owned the farm, where he lived with his wife, their seven children, his brother, sister-in-law, and their two children. Everyone worked the land for they knew the farm was their livelihood, and without it, they were nothing.
A disastrous harvest came that devastated the family. Their livelihood came from selling their crops to the nearby towns, yet now they had nothing to sell. As the economy trembled, it became painfully apparent that even if they did have something to sell, no one in Portugal could afford to buy it.
While the rich sat pretty among Salzar’s inner circle, basking in their newfound wealth, the Madeiras found themselves stuck in an inescapable cycle of poverty that only worsened by the week.
Beatriz’s grandfather did what millions of others had done, and what millions of others will be forced to one day do. He had a family starving to death, a failing farm, and he lived in a country where the economy was only regressing. Everything he did was to ensure his family survived. He began selling illicit goods, the contraband barred under the dictatorship to afford scraps of food for his family. Her grandfather had never received a formal education, and he was illiterate most of his life, but he was no fool: like most, he realized there was an entire flourishing black market underneath his nose—the drug world.
Then, suddenly, the money came pouring in as the Madeiras became more affluent than they’d ever been before. Their empire stretched from the Iberian peninsula to the furthest stretches of Latin America. Their family name was whispered in alleyways, spoken about with hushed awe of the glory of the budding cartel. These poor former farmers managed to become one of the wealthiest families in Portugal, even wealthy enough to abandon their farm and build a hidden estate in the heart of the countryside.
From drugs, the cartel dipped into money laundering, kidnapping, murder—anything to keep their family name alive by whatever means possible.
Still, the Madeiras were not the only cartel in Portugal, and the rivaling cartels vied for the power and wealth of the Madeira cartel. Violent drug wars broke out, and Santa Rainha was the stage of it.
Eventually, to the horror of the Madeira family, Beatriz’s tia, Maria Theresa, was shot and killed in Santa Rainha for being a Madeira. Her murder sent shockwaves through the community, and the shock of it caused Beatriz’s grandfather to go into cardiac arrest.
Following his death, Beatriz’s father took control, and he negotiated a pact between all the cartels to declare Santa Rainha neutral territory. It had been that way for decades. Until tonight.
“Everything I do is for this cartel,” Beatriz thought. “Emilio had to die, so the cartel could live. Isabela is my heir, and without an heir, the cartel dies.”
“You taught me well, papai,” Beatriz whispered to the portrait of her deceased father. “You taught me well.”
With that, she sat down at the desk, lit a cigar, and reviewed the financial records.
“Constança?” Beatriz called. “Is that you? Is something wrong with Isa?”
The door swung open. It was Vincenzo. “Isa is fine, Beatriz.” He strode into the room, and he poured himself a drink at the bar cart. Whiskey. “Constança put her to sleep.”
Beatriz nodded. “Very well.” She took a long drag of her cigar and blew the smoke into the air. “It’s been a long night for all of us.”
Vincenzo took a seat at the chair in front of her desk, and he finished his glass before he spoke again: “You killed him.”
They sat in silence for a moment.
“What happened tonight, Beatriz?” Vincenzo asked quietly. “I thought you loved him.”
“I love no one, Vincenzo,” Beatriz said. “The only woman I ever loved was minha mamãe, and I haven’t even seen her since I was four.” Beatriz stared down at her desk before she looked up at Vincenzo. “He tried to kill Isa.”
Vincenzo swore. “Goddamnit! I knew it. I knew something was wrong the moment he arrived. I should’ve stayed with Isa.”
“How could you have known what he was going to do?” Beatriz shook her head and laughed bitterly. “His own blood… his only child, and he tried to kill her. I knew he was a monster, but I never knew he would…” she trailed off. It pained her to finish the sentence.
“Emilio never wanted a child,” Beatriz began. “He never wanted that permanency. Our entire relationship was passionate and lust-filled—a world of sex, drugs, and luxury.” A hint of a smile appeared on her face before it slipped away. “He always had anger issues.”
“‘O Príncipe,’” Vincenzo said. The Prince. “All of Iberia knows Cezário Évora Delgado would let his son get away with murder. There are few men as unhinged as Emilio with that much power.”
“Several years ago, back when I was still pregnant with Isabela, Emilio and I rented a h-hotel,” Beatriz stuttered as she spoke. It was uncharacteristic of her to show a moment of weakness, yet Emilio brought out the weakness in her.
“At the time, I’d known I was pregnant for about a week. After we slept together, I told him that I was pregnant. He…” Her breath shook, and she shut her eyes. “I had seen that side of Emilio before. I had been slapped by him, grabbed by him, hurt by him, but none of those incidences were as bad as that night.”
“When I told him, I could see the shift in him as he turned into the monster that I knew. His voice was deathly calm at first, and then he began screaming, telling me how he never wanted a child, how fatherhood wasn’t meant for him. I was terrified. I tried to get dressed, but then he began throwing things around the room.” She stared ahead at nothing, lost in the memory of that night.
“He broke the television, the mirrors, everything that came into his path. He was on a rampage of destruction. I tried to run out of the room, but he—he grabbed my arms tight enough to leave bruises, as he screamed at me. I’ve never feared for my life as much as I did that night. I had no security with me, and I was locked in a room with Satanás.” She let out a shuddering breath. “So I took a lamp, and I hit him in self-defense.”
She let out a bitter laugh. “O Príncipe was not used to being reprimanded. He didn’t expect me to fight back. He looked at me surprised, but he didn’t say anything. He looked at me like he didn’t know who I even was. Not the mother of his child, but some street whore who’d robbed him. He left the room and slammed the door behind him, leaving me alone in a destroyed hotel room. That was the night I called you to pick me up from the hotel, and I did not see Emilio until minha Isabela was a month old.”
“I don’t love him, Vincenzo: I have never hated a man the way I hate Emilio Formosa Delgado. He treated me like I was disposable. I meant absolutely nothing to him. He cheated on me; he hurt me, yet, I ran back to him every time. The second he came back after Isa was born, I welcomed him back like he’d done no wrong. The only condition I gave him was that our daughter would know he is her papai, whether he liked it or not, and he obliged. He never loved Isa, but he was still a common sight in this estate.”
“Emilio and I continued our on-again, off-again relationship for all of Isa’s life,” Beatriz continued. “However, two weeks ago, I realized I was pregnant.”
Vincenzo’s eyes widened. His mouth opened and closed several times before he spoke again. “Beatriz, congratulations.” His brow furrowed. “A pregnant woman shouldn’t be smoking: the child will have birth defe—”
“I’m not pregnant anymore.” She stared down at the table and shook her head. “I lost the baby.”
“I’m so sorry, Beatriz,” Vincenzo said. He put his hand on top of hers. She could see the pity in his eyes. “How did the baby—”
“I’ll get to that.” She sighed. “When I told Emilio I was pregnant, he was enraged, and he stormed off. I assumed I wouldn’t see him for several months again, but last night, he came back to the estate. He told me how this time, he wanted it to be different. This time, he wanted to be around for the pregnancy. He promised he would be there for our child to be born. He treated me the way I always wanted him to treat me.”
“He spent all of today with Isabela. For the first time, he wasn’t an absent father. He played with her. He read to her. He treated her as if he’d loved her his entire life. For the first time in decades, it felt like there was a semblance of a family in this estate. It almost felt like a home.” She swallowed. “Almost.”
“A few hours ago, Emilio and I were in the kitchen together. I was tired, and Emilio offered to make me some tea to help me fall asleep. After I drank it, Emilio left to go to the residential wing. For a few moments, I felt fine until. Until I began cramping. I’d never felt such immense physical pain. I could barely even pull myself to the bathroom.”
“When I pulled down my underwear, I saw red. Blood. I’d lost the baby. I didn’t understand how I had miscarried so suddenly until Constança knocked at my bathroom door. She told me how Emilio had dismissed her for the night and told her he would put Isa to bed. Constança said something felt off: he’d never been close to Isabela, yet now he was alone in a locked room with her and bringing her a cup of tea to fall asleep. That was when I realized Emilio had drugged me to induce an abortion, and he was going to poison our daughter, too.”
“I grabbed the handgun in the kitchen and the keys to Isabela’s bedroom, and by the time I made it up there, Emilio had the cup centimeters away from her mouth. I ignored the stabbing pain in my stomach and the pain of Emilio’s betrayal: all that mattered was saving Isabela. I shouted at Isa not to drink it, and I told her to go to Stança’s room. Emilio didn’t even try to object. He knew he’d been caught.”
“With a gun to his head, I led him to the car, and I told you to trail behind us. In the car, Emilio admitted everything, and I drove him to the town where we first met years ago, and I shot him.” Beatriz looked up at Vincenzo. “And that… that is what happened tonight, Vincenzo.”
He was silent for a moment, soaking in the information. “I always knew he was a bastard but killing an innocent child… Even I never thought he could sink that low.”
“Neither did I, Vincenzo,” Beatriz said quietly. “Neither did I.”
They sat in silence for a moment. Both of them knew that the events of tonight would trigger a catastrophe, one that was slowly budding and taking poisonous shape. However, they both knew that the events of tonight were unavoidable and a mere consequence of the very world they lived in.
“‘A life for a life,’ my father used to say,” Beatriz said. “Emilio tried to kill minha filha, so I took his life. It's what the law of the cartels declares.”
Vincenzo looked up. “The Delgados follow that same law, Beatriz. They will expect atonement for Emilio’s death—”
“I know, Vincenzo.” Beatriz sounded tired. “I know.” She shut her eyes. “Sometimes I wonder what it would’ve been like if you were Isabela’s father and not Emilio. You were always more of a father to her than Emilio ever was.”
“She might not be my flesh and blood, but I would do anything for Isabela,” Vincenzo responded. “She is minha vida.” She is my life.
“When you first held Isabela, I could see in your eyes that you wished she was our child,” Beatriz said. “You always wanted us to be together.” She smiled. “Do you remember when Emilio was gone and you and I began our affair?”
Vincenzo smiled softly. “Of course. It was all I ever wanted.”
“Spend the night with me, Vincenzo,” Beatriz requested. “Hold me again like when we were together. Love me like you always have.” Her eyes were pleading. “Make me forget about Emilio, about Isabela, about the rest of the world, except for us.”
Vincenzo leaned forward, and he stroked her cheek. His hands were not calloused like Emilio’s but soft and gentle. When Vincenzo looked at her, he looked at her as if she was the most important thing in the world, like she was the very sun that gave him his life meaning. There was a devotedness to Vincenzo, the soft reassurance that no matter what, he would love her.
“Of course, Beatriz,” Vincenzo whispered. He stood up, came to the other side of the desk, and made her stand up. He was a few inches taller than her, and he kissed her softly. He leaned his forehead against hers, and she looked up at him.
There was an unspoken string of words at his lips, ones that died before they could be uttered, yet the ghost of the words hung heavy in the air.
I love you.
Beatriz could see the words; she could feel the tender words dancing around them. Regardless, she didn’t say anything, nor did he expect her to. He merely held her hand and led her to her bedroom, where they would spend the rest of the night.