VISTARIA HAS FALLEN
(Vistaria Has Fallen: Book One)
A Romantic Military Thriller
VISTARIA HAS FALLEN WILL BE RELEASED ON OCTOBER 19, 2017
EXCERPT FROM VISTARIA HAS FALLEN
COPYRIGHT © TRACY COOPER-POSEY 2017
ALL RIGHTS RESERVED
Supper was a long, multi-course meal served on silver platters by dozens of waiters, and finished with a standing toast for the general’s birthday. Then the hotel staff wheeled out a massive six-foot-high cake, parking it on the middle of the dance floor.
Big enough for a pretty girl to jump out of the middle, Calli thought.
With a fanfare of trumpets, the top of the cake popped open. Who emerged was not a scantily clad girl. A mature woman with a Spanish hat in her hand and a rose between her teeth, dressed in a traditional Flamenco costume that encased her bountiful figure in red satin stood up instead. She paused at the top, a hand in the air, for effect.
The room full of soldiers went wild. Calli heard a low chant; “Conchita, Conchita!”
Four men rushed to help her to the floor. Staff rolled the cake away while another escorted General Blanco to a chair on the dance floor. Conchita shimmied her way across the floor to drop the hat on his head, a kiss on his cheek and the rose in his hand. He laughed, playing up to her. With a toss of her head, at the rumble of Spanish guitar chords, she went into a wild dance in front of him.
The soldiers in the room remained on their feet, clapping to the music, stamping, their hips moving in time to the music. Their backs hid most of the dance floor from Calli. The lead weight that had been in her stomach since she learned Nicolás Escobedo’s identity gave her no enthusiasm for the floor show and no reason to stand or strain to see.
Instead she found her attention wandering upward, above the heads of the soldiers in front of her. She looked up at the gallery that ran around three sides of the room. A stone balustrade edged the balcony and tall columns supported arches that framed the top of the gallery. There was little light up there. The balcony was deserted. If she could find a way up there, she would be alone for a while and she could watch the show.
Better than sitting here alone.
She got to her feet and slipped between the ranks of soldiers to the side of the room. Their table was at the edge of the room and close to the door. It was far from the head table and the dance floor, as Duardo and his friends were junior officers.
Calli found the stairs to the balcony and climbed slowly, tiredness seeping through her. She had not slept on the plane and last night her dreams had robbed her sleep of any restfulness. The last few hours had been thick with action and events that took her attention away from the growing weariness. Now she was alone, she registered it as an ache in her bones, gnawing at her.
She emerged at the top of the stairs and stepped through a doorway onto the balcony. The door was hidden by a wall that jutted along the front of the gallery for six feet before the stone balustrade began. She walked along the balcony until she passed the wall and could gaze upon the ballroom. It was a sea of military uniforms. The round tables with their pristine white tablecloths stood in stark contrast to the uniforms’ darker hues. Shadows covered most of the room. On the gallery opposite Calli a single operator trained a spotlight on Conchita on the dance floor. To Calli’s right was the huge entrance to the ballroom. The doors’ arched tops reached up to where she stood, fifteen feet above the floor of the ballroom.
The slender columns that held up the arches over the balcony were not so miniscule, this close. They were five feet in diameter, solid granite and designed to last generations. The smooth stone of the closest column was cool against her bare shoulder. She sighed and relaxed against the support. The noise was less, this high. She hadn’t realized how loud it had become.
“Your cousin has found herself some interesting friends.” The words, low and quiet, came from her right, close by.
Calli jerked around, startled.
Nicolás Escobedo leaned against the wall next to the stairwell door, hidden from below. He was only four feet away. As she spun to face him he lifted a hand and made a small calming motion.
“Jesus Christ!” she breathed. “Did you follow me up here?”
“I’m surprised you even know where I was sitting.”
He did not smile. “You underestimate yourself.”
“I think I have a good grasp of my place in the grand Vistarian scheme—yours, too.”
He smiled. “You’ve been listening to Duardo.”
“Along with many others.” She took a breath, trying to still her heart from its frantic pattering. “Why did you come up here?”
He straightened from his lean. “There are things that should be said.”
“Now that I know who you are,” she added. “Why didn’t you tell me? Why did you…why did you let me…?” She grimaced. “Never mind.”
“You think your offer foolish because there is no chance that I, being who I am, would ever consider it. So you feel shame for beggaring yourself that way.”
She swallowed with a throat gone dry. “Yes,” she breathed. She couldn’t pull her gaze away from his eyes.
He held her gaze, not letting her go. “I watched the light leave your eyes when you heard my name. I saw you remember what you said at the station. That is why I stand here. I did not like watching your spirit die. Do you not know how refreshing it is to be made such an offer by a woman who has no idea who I am?”
Her mouth opened as her jaw sagged. “I imagined you have women throw themselves at you every day and I was just one of dozens—of no passing concern. A moment’s amusement.”
“Therefore, you squirm with shame for responding to a natural impulse.”
She gave a dry laugh. “It’s not natural for me. Not since Robert—” She clamped her jaw tight, realizing what she had been about to say, to no less than the brother of the President of Vistaria.
“You just remembered who am I, didn’t you?”
She looked at the stone balcony rail where her hands rested. “Yes.” She kept her gaze averted while her cheeks burned with embarrassment. “Did you come up here to watch me squirm while you reminded me of my foolishness, Señor Escobedo?”
He did not answer at once. When he did, his rasping voice was even lower. “I dreamed of you, Calli.”
Her whole body seemed to leap at the quiet confession. She looked at him, her pulse skittering.
He nodded. “Yes. I dreamed of you, of running my hands over that pale, soft skin of yours. Your long legs wrapped about my hips—I spent hours savoring the taste of your flesh, pleasuring you.”
She shuddered as a wave of pure silver excitement rippled through her, brought to life by the low, sensual sound of his voice, his words. She breathed heavily, remembering the knowing expression in his eyes. There had been regret there—and something else.
“Then, in the cell, I didn’t imagine…”
“No, you did not.” His voice reached into her mind and throbbed in her bones.
Calli turned to face him. She did not move toward him. She feared to hope, to make any movement that might reveal that foolish hope. “That is what you wanted to tell me?”
He shook his head, the same tiny movement he had made in the cell and she almost cried out her dismay, for she knew what came next.
“I wanted you to know, to understand how dangerous it is for me. For…us. You have been here twenty-four hours. I know your uncle will have brought you up-to-date on the politics of Vistaria. My brother Jose is a moderate, just as I am. We know we need American help to keep Vistaria whole. There are factions out there, though, who would tear this country apart before allowing a single American to wield influence here.”
“Why are we hated so much?” Calli whispered.
“It is a hatred born out of fear. For generations Vistaria has watched other North and South American nations fall under the might of the American economy and know‑how, their identities, their culture swallowed whole by the U.S.A. They tremble, knowing how easily it could happen here. Radical factions have played on that fear, whipping it up into hatred, bigotry and worse.”
The tiredness crept back into her bones. “I see.” She sighed.
“Calli, I am a bastard who cannot use his mother’s name as any Vistarian does by right.” There was bitterness in his voice. “Yet no one forgets who my half-brother is. I have power because I am brother to Jose. If a hint escaped of a foreign woman in my life, if Vistarians believed me to be under the influence of an American, what little power I have would be gone.”
“You want to keep that power so you can help Vistaria.”
“I must keep that power or the precarious balance will be lost and Vistaria will crumble into civil war and worse.”
Her eyes widen. “Is it that…critical?”
He sighed and pushed his hand into his pocket. “You’re used to thinking in terms of billions. This is a small country. We have barely a million people on the four islands. There are maybe six key people. I would be a fool if I didn’t know I was one of them. The army, for undisclosed reasons of its own, extends its loyalty to me. For as long as the army stays loyal to me and by extension, my brother, then the country can be held against the rebels. If I lost that loyalty, if they had any reason to think I betrayed them, then their sympathies would swing to the rebels. The civilian population would have no choice but to support the army and Vistaria would fall.”
“You have a tiger by the tail, don’t you?” she said. “You can’t let go.”
“You understand, then.”
She sighed. “You didn’t have to explain yourself. You could have left me…”
“Squirming?” he supplied.
“Ignorant of how you feel,” she amended.
He didn’t answer.
“You wanted me to know?”.
“Why? If nothing will come of it, why?”
“Because I could not stay away,” he ground out. “I want to live in your mind, at least.”
Far down on the dance floor, the show ended. “I have to go,” Calli said. “They will be looking for me.” She moved toward the stairs. As she passed him, his hand touched her wrist. It halted her. She looked at him as he straightened up from his lean. He was very close. His blue eyes were black in this light.
“I must go,” she repeated. “They are waiting for me.” Yet she couldn’t move her feet. With him standing this close, her body prickled with anticipation. He swayed. His hot breath bathed her nape. His fingers slowly stroked the inside of her wrist. He seemed to taste her with his fingertips. A shiver rippled through her in response and she turned her head to look at him.
“If it is so dangerous, Nicolás, then I must go now, before my delay is noted.” She added bitterly, “That is the point you wanted to emphasize, I believe?”
“I want to hear you call me Nick, like any other man you know.”
“You’re not any other man,” she whispered. Nicolás Escobedo’s pull on her was unique. She had never felt such wantonness.
He moved. His jacket brushed against her bare shoulder. His voice sounded in her ear. “I regret what cannot be.”
Because he taunted her with the knowledge that he wanted her after all, only to snatch it away with the next breath, she lifted her chin. “I dreamed of you, Nick. I dreamed of us making love.”
She watched his eyes widen, as the knowledge speared him. Then she moved through the doorway to the stairs that would take her back to the ballroom and the safety of a room full of soldiers.
Calli had been frightened of them at first. She had been wary and braced for trouble. The thought made her laugh. Trouble had come from an entirely unexpected quarter.
Perhaps she could convince Minnie to go home. She needed peace and time to think. Yet when Calli reached the table, it was empty. She spotted some of the occupants on the dance floor. Elvira, with her up-swept hair and black crepe dress, waltzed with one of Duardo’s men. Calli couldn’t see Minnie or Duardo anywhere.
* * * * *
Nick stood in the gallery alcove with his head down, his eyes closed, listening to the party below, while tension clamped his body into stillness. He could still smell a hint of her perfume, something light and clean. While standing next to her, her warm scent and the touch of perfume had wreathed his head, making him giddy with an explosive arousal.
The need to touch her had been almost overwhelming. Only the knowledge of how unfair it would be to indulge himself had stopped him.
I dreamed of you, Nick. Her voice was smooth and mellow, like brandy.
At least he had wiped the desperate shame from her eyes. He’d managed something constructive. True, anger had replaced it. He could live with anger. Better that she be filled with fury. It would give him the edge he needed to hold onto his sanity. While he clung to sanity, he could avoid any lethal decisions.
As long as she hated him, he could stay away from her.
* * * * *
Calli circled the upper floors then searched the service rooms on the lower floor. She found them in a small, unused kitchen, tucked away on a back corridor. Calli paused with her hand on the swing door. She didn’t want to interrupt them, only she couldn’t move. The first glimpse had caught at her heart and throat.
If she had been asked to find a phrase to describe that first astonishing sight, she would have said without thinking: pure, driven passion. The image would stay with her forever. Minnie lying on the wide steel counter, her back and hips a taut curve, offering herself as Duardo slid his tongue the length of her throat.
Her hands were in his hair, encouraging him, as she gave a low groan. He stood with his thighs against the table. His jacket was gone. His shirt was unbuttoned and half off, revealing smooth brown shoulders. Firm rounded muscles bunched and moved under his flesh as he slid his hand up Minnie’s thigh, pushing the dress up with it. He gathered the fabric around her waist, revealing garters and stockings, smooth bare skin and nothing else. Duardo made a deep rumbling sound of appreciation.
As Minnie reached for the fastening on his trousers, Calli’s heart picked up speed. She was caught in the spell, mentally a part of their pleasure, her own body responding. Her breath quickened.
To be loved like that, to be the object of such longing…oh, she wanted it! Her body trembled with the imaginary joy of taking a man.
As the pair came together, Calli forced herself to turn away. Her heart trip-hammering, she took a step on legs that seemed weak.
Behind her she heard Duardo’s voice, thick and slow. “One sip of you is not enough.”
“Drink your fill, if you dare,” Minnie said, very low.
Calli quickened her pace, heading for the ballroom.
When Minnie and Duardo returned to the table fifteen minutes later, she had herself back under control. She made no comment about their absence and they gave no hint of what they had been doing. Duardo treated Minnie with utmost deference, bowing over her hand when Calli said they had to go, uttering polite expressions of regret and gratitude for their company this evening. He gave no hint of the passion that had gripped him moments ago.
He’s a soldier and used to staying in control. Just like Nicolás Escobedo.
The comparison rankled, for Duardo had chosen to take the moments he wanted, unlike Nicolás.
* * * * *
“You going to tell me what’s eating you?” Minnie asked as she steered the car around another group of fiesta-goers wending their way home.
Calli stirred, her attention drawn from her dark reflection on the side window. “No,” she said, as gently as she could.
“Duardo thought he’d upset you.”
“He did? I’m sorry, I didn’t intend that.”
“Then you do like him?”
Calli roused herself, trying for Minnie’s sake to give an honest answer. “He’s an honorable and loyal officer. But, Minnie, he’s in the army. They lead such precarious lives. Especially now. There’s danger for him, being with you. Are you aware of that?” The echo of Nicolás’s words set up a pang of sadness in her.
“The army people don’t mind Americans,” Minnie said. “No one was rude to us tonight, just as Duardo said.”
“There is more to Vistaria than the army,” Calli pointed out.
“Lots of civilians work at the mine Dad is setting up. They don’t hold grudges either.”
Calli shook her head. “It’s not that simple.”
Minnie thumped the wheel. “Damn it, Calli, I have to live here. While Dad is working the mine, I have to live here. I have to find acceptance where I can. Do you think I’m so stupid I don’t know what they think of us? I can’t do anything about what they think, because they don’t know me. The only thing I can do is ignore them and find the few who don’t think I’m a parasite. Quit trying to depress me, because I don’t want to hear about it, okay?”
“Okay,” Calli agreed. “I’m sorry, Minnie. You seem to move through life with so little concern.”
“I get concerned,” Minnie muttered.
“About the latest dress length.”
“That’s something I can fix!”
“Okay.” Calli held up her hand, motioning for peace and realized the gesture echoed Nicolás Escobedo’s motion. She dropped her hand back to her lap and held it with the other. “God, I need sleep,” she muttered.
* * * * *
Something warm and soft supported her back. A hand, warmer still, pressed against the back of her shoulder, holding her. His hot heavy body moved against her. Hot skin touched hot skin, the moisture building between them. Sweat. And a softness of flesh over unyielding bones.
The pressure of his body against her was good. Welcome. It had been far too long since she last enjoyed the sensation of a man laying over her. It had never been like this. She had never been overwhelmed by a man’s size and weight and feeling smaller, weaker, more feminine.
He looked into her eyes. His hand was on her waist. It slid along her hip. The muscles there quivered as his thumb stroked across the little dip by her hipbone. Only, his touch did not give her the sharp jolt of pleasure she expected. It was ghostly, distant. She tried to protest only she could not speak, no matter how she struggled to get the words out…
* * * * *
Calli wiped the sleep from her eyes and let her hand fall back on the pillow with a sigh. Her body zinged with arousal. She swallowed, wishing she had put a glass of water by the bed.
Why couldn’t she speak in these dreams? What held her mute? The inability to talk shadowed both nights’ dreams, along with the thundering arousal.
The arousal was another novelty. She had not experienced a sexy dream since meeting Robert and never this explicit, this stimulating.
The hand along the hip…. Of all the images and sensations in the dream, this one burned in her mind. The possessive sweep of his hand against her hip had felt real in the dream, more real than the other ghostly, unsatisfying sensations.
She sighed again and turned over, bringing the sheet up and over her shoulder, burying beneath the cotton. The ache was worse now she knew he wanted her, too.
Why him? Why, after five years since Robert left did she now yearn for sex? And why with someone so impossibly out of reach?
Just before she fell asleep the solution occurred to her and astounded her with its simplicity. Sex was the issue. So go get some. Problem solved. Life back on track.
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