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
Calli gripped the bars in the window, stretched up on her toes and looked out upon the carefree people celebrating La Fiesta de la Luna fifteen feet below. When she had arrived on the island, a scan five hours ago, she’d had no time or patience for the festival Vistarian citizens celebrated for the three nights of the first summer full moon. It wasn’t her choice to be here. If she had been given a choice, she would still be home in Montana, sitting in her big armchair, the latest The Economist on her iPad. Dragging her suitcase through the swirling revelry had annoyed her.
Now, though, she would give anything to be in the square, mingling with them. She wanted to be free. Instead, for the last three hours and twenty-five minutes, she had been in this jail.
She put her back to the window and faced the bars of the dingy cell in which she stood. It was barely a cell. Two short walls of bars penned her in a three foot square corner. Although, when she looked at the rest of the room, she welcomed the bars.
The holding cell of the Lozano Colinas city police barracks was on the second floor of an adobe building on a large, rectangular, cobble-stoned public square. The walls of the room had once been white. Now they were a dirty yellow-gray from years of dirt and smoke. It was a hot, airless room.
Five men occupied the room. They wore green army uniform pants with red stripes along the side seams and dirty white collarless dress shirts. Their green jackets hung over the backs of their chairs. One jacket hung from a nail driven into the wall.
It was clear they resented being on duty on the first night of the festival, for they were holding their own party. Bottles of whiskey and black rum with colorful labels dotted the round table with the battered, stained wood surface. Half-a-dozen old tobacco tins sat between them as ashtrays for the cigars and thin yellow, harsh-smelling cigarettes they smoked.
The four swarthy, sweating men played cards, laughed and spoke in loud voices. From their gestures and expressions, Calli guessed the conversation was ribald. Many of the comments were about her, for they would glance at her, then comment in the bastardized Spanish that was common here. A deep belly laugh followed.
Their thick cigarette smoke fogged the air and the big, multi-colored Vistarian currency cluttered the table.
In the corner opposite her cell, the leader of the group—possibly a sergeant—sat on a stool with a woman on his knee. He gripped her waist as he whispered into her ear. Her clothes were similar to those Calli had seen in the few short minutes she had been on the streets outside the airport tonight. She wore a white off-the-shoulder blouse, a dark cummerbund and yards and yards of long skirt in panels of glowing, multi-colored silk that floated about her tanned legs. With her dark, straight hair wound into a bun on the back of her neck and a spray of the odd blue Wisteria tucked behind one ear, plus hoop earrings, the woman looked wonderful.
Every woman dressed that way had been intriguing. They moved with the sophisticated confidence of sensual, mature women, their hips swinging. Calli had never mastered that confident poise.
The sergeant’s hand pushed inside the woman’s blouse. Beneath the cotton, his fingers cupped her breast, the thumb moving as he stroked the nipple. The woman gave a small, low laugh. Her shoulders arched to give him easy access.
Calli swallowed. It seemed La Fiesta de la Luna shared Mardi Gras’ lack of inhibitions. A fear-filled thought struck her. Is that why the soldiers stare at me that way?
She looked back at card game and caught another furtive glance thrown her way. A low comment. A chuckle that moved around the table.
Yes, she decided. They were sizing her up.
She brushed at her pants, wishing she had worn shapeless sackcloth for the flight. The jeans and tee-shirt were perfectly respectable in Montana. The waist-band sitting at her hips was conservative compared to what her students wore.
Now she was conscious of the ribbon of flesh that sometimes appeared beneath her tee-shirt. The shirt was a favorite and fit snugly from too many washings.
Calli turned away from the table. She watched through the tiny, barred window. She would stare at the endless carousing on the street for hours if it meant she didn’t have to look at the men behind her. Her knowledge of Latin America countries came from books, yet her gut said watching the soldiers would invite trouble.
How could she get out of this mess? They hadn’t offered a phone call before throwing her in here. There had been no paperwork of any kind. How would anyone—Minnie, Uncle Josh—even know she was here?
They would worry when she failed to arrive at her uncle’s house here in the city. Although, with the festival in full swing, would they be able to trace her?
Calli sheered away from the worry. Instead, she watched the dancing and merriment below. The square was the heart of the festival. Hundreds of people appeared willing to endlessly party. Entertainment to while away her night. She wouldn’t be sleeping.
He entered the room silently. Calli didn’t notice him at first. He caught the soldiers off guard, too. “Atención!” one shouted. The men scrambled to their feet, knocking over stools. Strained grunts and comments sounded and a soft, feminine cry of dismay.
Calli whirled, alerted.
The man standing by the door with one hand on the handle wasn’t in uniform. He didn’t even look Latino. Dark red hair and midnight blue eyes. Pale skin that went with that coloring. He looked more Irish than her great-grandmother, who had emigrated from county Kildare.
American? Help, at last?
Only, the men were rigid. Waiting. The sergeant now stood, locked into a salute, quivering with perfect attention. The woman next to him leisurely pulled her blouse into place.
The red-headed man sized up the men.
What had the soldiers called him? Calli recalled the soft, alarmed words they had spoken, alerting each other. Amongst the mongrel Spanish, she’d heard “Roger”. Was that his name?
He glanced at the woman and shook his head. “Rosali…” He spoke, his Spanish clearer than anyone Calli had heard tonight. It was too fast for her high school level comprehension.
The woman shrugged and smiled. She moved to the door. He patted her shoulder as she passed. She shut the door behind her while the man examined the room once more.
None of the soldiers had moved.
He said a quiet word. They relaxed, although no one sat.
The man spoke to the sergeant in the same understated tone. He didn’t use his hands. In this land of flamboyant gestures and uninhibited volume, he was contained and controlled. His hands stayed at the sides of his dark, modern suit.
The sergeant rattled off a stream. Explanations, Calli realized. They had been busted.
Who was this guy?
When the sergeant ran out of words and fell silent, the man studied him for a thought-filled moment. Then he replied.
The sergeant quailed and nodded.
Red-head spoke to the other men, who scurried from the room.
The man in the dark suit turned, finally, to look at Calli. It felt like she had been pinned by lasers. His direct, unflinching gaze locked onto her face. The blue of his eyes was black, as if a trick of the light made them appear indigo only when reflected correctly.
He slid a hand into his pants pocket, pushing the open jacket aside, revealing a crisp white business shirt. “You have been in Vistaria less than five hours, Miss Munro, and already you are in trouble. It does not augur well for the remainder of your stay here.” His English was flawless. His voice had a gravelly quality that caressed the back of her neck.
Calli shivered. “It’s not my fault. There were three of them. I kept saying no.”
He considered her. “Then you backed up your ‘no’ by breaking one nose and leaving cuts and bruises for them to remember you by.”
“How many times must I say no before it sticks?” She tried to keep her voice sweet and reasonable, despite her resentment.
Again, the thoughtful silence. “This is not Montana, Miss Munro. This is Vistaria, in Latin America, during the Luna festival. Vistarians have learned to treat Americans with suspicion and prejudice. You should make allowances.”
“Like they did for me?” Her voice was rising.
The men who had come up to her in the dark tonight had made no allowances. They had moved out from a shadowed side street, blocking Calli’s path toward lights and civilization. Their sudden appearance scared her.
The men moved around her, hemming her in, talking rapidly, laughing and smiling as she struggled to understand them. Now Calli recalled the many repetitions of “Americana” dotting their talk. They pushed at her shoulders and arms.
Calli didn’t want to play. She shook her head and said ‘no’, while trying to step out of their tight circle. Then a hand cupped her buttock and she reacted.
Three years of karate had paid off…sort of.
The red-headed man on the other side of the bars did not agree with her. “You are a visitor, Miss Munro,” he told her. “Things are different here. You cannot demand the rights you are used to in the States.”
“You’re not American,” she judged.
His mouth curled up at one corner. “No, I’m not American.”
“Don’t I at least get a phone call?”
He considered her request and stepped closer to the cage. Calli was already standing next to the bars. His pace brought him within a foot of her. She didn’t like having to tilt her head to look him in the eyes. At five feet ten, she didn’t have to raise her chin often. Calli held her ground, unwilling to reveal how he bothered her, as she would if she stepped back.
He spoke just above a whisper, yet each word reached her, clear and precise. “Miss Munro, your nationality is declared by your hair, your skin, your demeanor. You come to my country dressed in provocative clothes, during the festival when inhibitions are loosened. Then you complain when you are subjected to unwanted attention.”
She pushed at locks of hair that had fallen about her face, conscious of their golden wheat color and their wild disarray. They had escaped the long braid she wore. “I didn’t go looking for trouble,” she said, in the same whisper. Murmuring seemed appropriate.
“You must understand Vistaria if you wish a peaceful stay. Americans are not loved. They are looked upon with suspicion. You have been subject to a small degree of the prejudice that fear engenders. You would better spend your time here being as insignificant as possible.”
Callie swallowed back her response. He seemed like a tolerant man in comparison to the soldiers who had locked her in here. She suspected, though, even he would not appreciate being told she didn’t want to be in Vistaria at all.
He went on. “The situation here is…explosive. We have guerillas in the mountains looking for a reason to swoop upon the capital. An incident involving untrustworthy Americans would give them the excuse they need.”
Calli licked her lips. “You mean rebels, don’t you? They are rebels in the mountains.”
He smiled. “Touché, Miss Munro. You have revealed my own prejudice.” The smile was deprecating, touched with wry humor. It reminded her he was only a man, with weaknesses and passions.
He stood much too close. Despite the bars and the mere inches that separated them, she could feel his body heat against her. His masculine, strong scent curled around her, evoking a sense memory of being wrapped in a man’s arms.
The man watched her, not moving, his gaze as fixed as a hunter’s.
The pit of her stomach rolled. “Do you know me?” Her voice was husky.
“Yes.” The answer was low, a verbal caress as beguiling as his scent.
Her heart leapt and thudded hard. “I mean…” She cleared her throat. “You know my name.”
“I know all about you, Miss Callida Munro.” He pulled his hand out of his pocket. Her passport was in it. He slid it through the bars towards her. “Take it. Keep it on you. Once I am gone, you will be released. Your uncle, Joshua Benning, waits for you, downstairs.”
She took the passport with a sigh of relief and pushed it into the back pocket of her jeans. It was warm from his body heat.
His hand returned to his pocket.
“Do you have anything else of mine in there?” she asked, nodding towards his hand.
“Should I have?” He seemed surprised.
“They took my handbag, my luggage.”
“The soldiers. The police. The men who arrested me.”
“This country is run under a military junta.” His tone was polite and formal, as hers was, when she lectured.
“I’m sorry. I’m woefully ignorant about Vistaria. I’m insulting you.”
“You are no worse than most tourists here.”
“I’m usually better prepared. I’m a college professor. You make me feel like a big, ugly American blundering around and tripping over her own ignorance. I came in a hurry. That’s my only excuse.”
“Just as I have requested of you, I am also making allowances.” He gave the same little lift of the corner of his mouth. “And you are not a quite a professor, yet.”
“How on earth do you know that?”
“The Internet is available in Vistaria, too, Miss Munro. I looked up your college website.”
“Dry reading for a festival night.”
“On the contrary.” He took his hand out of the pocket. “You may or may not get back your belongings. I will see what I can arrange. Consider yourself lucky regardless of what is returned. Good night, Miss Munro.”
She grabbed the bars. “Wait.”
He swiveled back. One brow lifted in query.
“Are you going to tell me who you are?”
“No name? Nothing?”
He turned back, patience in every line of his body.
She swallowed. “This is inappropriate and I don’t know how to do it in a way that isn’t totally forward…only…can we…can I…hell…” She cleared her throat again.
He showed curiosity, then dawning understanding. She recognized it as clearly as if he had spoken, for her whole body took an internal leap. Her heart was choking her.
Throughout their short interview, the expression in his eyes had not changed from the cool assessing one. Now she saw heat flicker there. “You have not had your fill of Vistarian men?”
The knowledge in his gaze made her chest hurt. Her body tingled. It killed her finesse. She had run out of time, anyway. He wanted to leave. She shook her head. “Not you.” She kept her tone as soft as his.
“Ahh…” An entire conversation lived in that breathed response. Calli heard understanding, pleasure…and regret.
He lifted his hand to where she clutched at the bars. It was his right hand, hidden from the sergeant. The long fingers rested against hers. His touch thrilled her. The tip of his finger slid against the tender flesh of hers. She shivered as desire rippled through her.
He recorded every minute reaction with his dark blue eyes. He gave another of the half-smiles. Regret lingered in his face. He moved his head a fraction.
She let her hands fall away. This time, when he turned to leave she did not stop him. Instead, she rested her heated forehead against the cold bars and closed her eyes, as shame flushed through her.
Now, more than ever, she wanted to go home. Even if the man lived up to his promise to set her free, she would still be a prisoner on Vistaria.
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