Vistaria Has Fallen, Chapter Two

Picking up from last week – more romantic thriller goodness…

(Vistaria Has Fallen: Book One)
A Romantic Military Thriller



Chapter Two

Fifty-three minutes later, a sullen soldier escorted Calli down the narrow, steep stairs to the front office of the police station. Her escort was one of the four chastised by him, the stranger who had churned her insides so much she still felt a lingering, throbbing need.

The soldier led her to the high desk in the corner and dug behind it. He placed a single sheet of paper on top and held out a pen. He tapped the sheet with his other hand.

She turned the sheet around, glanced at the gibberish. “What’s it say?” She suspected the document was a release or waiver.

He shook his head. “No Ingles.

“Callida! Thank god!”

Callie whirled to face the shouter. Her Uncle Josh, his curly brown hair rumpled, strode toward her. He was sweating despite his tropical weight suit. He hugged her, squeezing tight. “We’ve been worried sick!”

“We?” She behind him.

“Minnie and I—” He looked around, then frowned. “She was right there. Where is she now? I swear she will be the death…” He started back to the door.

“Uncle Josh, wait. Can you tell me what this says? They want me to sign.”

He came back to the desk, muttering to himself, distracted by his daughter’s absence. He pulled reading glasses out of his breast pocket, slipped them on, then lifted the sheet and peered over the top of them to read. He dropped his chin to his chest for a better view. “Hmm…doesn’t seem too intimidating. You’re attesting that you have been treated well and given fair consideration during your incarceration.” He leaned toward her and lowered his voice. “I’d sign it. They’re big on due process here, even though it doesn’t work like ours.”

“That surprises the hell out of me,” Calli raged. “Do you know where they’ve been holding me?”

He nodded his head vigorously. “Yes, yes. Sign, anyway. We don’t want to annoy them now you’re so close to the door.”

He had a point. Calli sighed, then signed on the line at the bottom.

The soldier’s smile was stiff. “Gracias, muchas gracias.” He put the sheet back under the desk.

Uncle Josh tucked his hand under Calli’s elbow. “Let’s go.”

“Hang on.” She looked at the soldier. “My bags,” she said. “I want them back.”

His smile faded. “Qué?”

“Uncle Josh, tell him. My luggage, my stuff. They have it somewhere.”

Josh cleared his throat, then spoke in Spanish that sounded English and awkward even to Calli’s uneducated ears.

The soldier shrugged and replied.

“Okaaaay,” her Uncle said. He blew his breath out. Then he tried another slow sentence in Spanish.

The soldier gave him a dirty look, then climbed the stairs, treading heavily.

“Is he coming back?” Calli asked.

“He might. Let’s give it a minute.”

Three minutes passed. The soldier returned with Calli’s shoulder bag hanging from his fingers. He put it on the desk, then shoved it toward her.

Calli took the bag. “Wow, what did you tell him?” she asked Josh.

“I said I would call the same people I called last time if he didn’t give you your things. I think. My Spanish is still horrible.”

“I want to ask you about that. About the people you called,” Calli said, looking through her bag. The wallet was missing. “The rest of my stuff?” she asked the soldier.

He looked her in the eye and crossed his arms. “No.

“Even I understand that,” Calli murmured. She remembered what the red-headed man had said. Count yourself lucky no matter what is returned. It was hard to give up a suitcase of clothes and personal items, though.

“You got your handbag, Calli. I’d say call it quits and let’s go,” Josh said. He took her arm again and tugged. “Come on, let’s go home. Minnie can lend you clothes from that monstrous collection of hers. I’ll take you on a shopping trip, tomorrow.”

Calli studied the soldier, not breaking his stare, not willing to let him think he’d got the better of her. He professed to speak no English. He knew more than he admitted. She shook her head. “I wish you well of my clothes, soldier. Plus, whatever else you took out of my bag. I know you have them. I’m only dropping it because you have the home turf advantage. I will remember this, though.”

The soldier’s eyes narrowed. Otherwise, he didn’t react.

Calli let Uncle Josh pull her to the front door. They stepped into the busy, lantern-lit square. The night air refreshed her. She could smell the ocean. It was still warm. There was no need for a sweater. She no longer had one to put on, anyway.

Josh looked around, frowning. “Where is she? I’m so glad you came, Calli.”

“You want me to play watchdog, Uncle Josh? Is that why you flew me here?”

He pushed his hand through his hair. That was why it looked so rumpled. “I don’t know what else to do,” he confessed. “I’m worried about Minnie, in this place. The troubles with the rebels, the tension. Even right here in the city. Beryl’s not well and I’ve got my hands full with setting up the mine. We’re starting from scratch, for god’s sake.” He swung his head from side to side, scanning the street for a sight of his daughter. “Where is she?”

Calli looked around for a petite brunette. Minnie would be difficult to spot among the thick swirls of people dancing and moving around the big square. On a temporary stage in the far corner, musicians with guitars, flutes and drums were playing. Their music was rhythmic and infectious. Calli tapped her foot. Her hips swayed in time to the languorous melody.

Most people in the square were swaying just as she was. Many of the women held up their arms, weaving their hands in the air with graceful motions. Their hips swung they turned, dipping and whirling. The men spun them, danced along with them for a few steps, their hands on the women’s hips. Then the women moved on to another man to dance beguilingly in front of him. Some couples, hips locked together, spun as a pair, their attention on each other.

The men, in contrast to the glowing colors the women wore, dressed almost completely in black—tight black pants and short black jackets, with white shirts beneath. Some of them wore the Spanish style flat-brimmed black hat and nearly all of them wore well-heeled boots. Some had discarded their jackets while they danced.

Calli could see a pair by the horse statue in the middle of the square. They danced together in a shadowy corner created by the marble soldier and the pawing horse. The woman draped her arm around her partner’s neck while he tightened his arm around her waist.

Calli watched him bend his partner over his arm. As she arched back, her head dropping low, he smoothed his hand up her torso in a long, loving caress that ended at her breast. The woman smiled as he lifted her back up, his hand still at her breast. They turned slowly, looking deep into each other’s eyes. Then their mouths met and their steps slowed even more.

Calli licked her dry lips and looked away. She cleared her throat. “They call this a fiesta?” she asked Uncle Josh. “This is more like…a carnival.”

Uncle Josh shrugged, still busy scanning the square. “It’s a religious festival, although I don’t know what religion celebrates the moon except for the older pagan ones.”

“Isn’t Vistaria Catholic?”

“Nominally. There are pockets of this and that everywhere. Vistaria’s been invaded by a dozen different cultures throughout its history. Maybe that’s where the carnival atmosphere comes from. They’re not inhibited, are they?”

“No,” Calli murmured. Then she spotted Minnie and realized why they had not seen her straight away.

Shadow lay over the wall of the police station. The light from the paper lanterns didn’t reach that far. Minnie leaned against the wall, laughing up at a soldier who stood over her, his hand propped on the wall by her head.

“There she is,” Calli said.

The soldier’s head hovered by Minnie’s. As Calli skipped down the steps, heading in her direction, his finger slid along Minnie’s cheek. He was tall, as tall as Uncle Josh, with wide shoulders and small hips. He’d pulled his dark glossy hair back into a short ponytail, revealing the olive skin and dark features of a typical Vistarian. He was gorgeous.

Even as Calli made her way toward the pair, she marveled over Minnie’s ability to draw the sexiest man in the area to her side. Calli never had figured out this quality in her cousin. It could be her attitude, the way she walked, the shape of her body, her clothes. Maybe it was her beautiful, dark almond-shaped eyes and the strong brows over them. Perhaps it was all of those things. Whatever the ingredients, the effect was undeniable. Almost without exception, any warm-blooded male in Minnie’s vicinity responded to that mysterious element.

In Vistaria, during Fiesta, it would cause trouble. Minnie didn’t always know when to retreat. Calli, though, had experienced a tiny taste of the different attitudes here. Her gut clenched. No wonder Uncle Josh looked harried.

She hurried over to her cousin. “Minnie. There you are.”

Minnie smiled up at the soldier before looking at Calli. “Just having a chat.” She smiled. “Dad said it might take a while to find you. I stayed outside to listen to the music. Calli, this is Eduardo, right?” She looked up at the soldier.

He straightened from his lean and turned to face Calli squarely. He wasn’t one of the men in the holding cell. Good.

“Friends call me Duardo. I insist. Eduardo, I like not.” His voice was low. Rich. His eyes twinkled, as if he laughed mentally. He held out his hand to Calli.

She took the offered hand. He surprised her by turning her hand. He brought the back of it to his lips. They were hot against her skin. “My pleasure to meet you, Miss Calli.” His slow smile showed white teeth.

“…er…thank you.” Calli pulled her hand away the moment he released it. His old-fashioned courtesy had bamboozled her. She couldn’t help feeling feminine and appreciated. No wonder Minnie had succumbed.

She grabbed Minnie’s arm. “Say goodnight, Minnie.”

“Yeah, ‘kay. Duardo, it has been a blast.”

“Most certainly, Minnie.” His smile grew heated.

Calli yanked on her cousin’s arm, as Josh reached them.

“Minnie, when are you going to remember you can’t just wander off by yourself?” he said.

Adios!” Minnie called to Duardo as he walked away. She looked at her father. “I was just talking! I didn’t wander. I’m ten feet from the door.”

He pushed his hand through his hair again. “Can we please leave?” He sounded exhausted. “The car is on a side street. No parking here tonight. Come on. I don’t know about you two, but I need a good, stiff belt of scotch.”

“Me, too,” Calli said, watching the tall, wide-shouldered soldier join his friends and move on. Their uniforms were not the only ones in the square. There were many others. Duardo’s group, like the others, were not dancing or drinking as freely as the men in civilian black.

The situation in Vistaria right now is…explosive.

The red-headed man’s voice rumbled in her mind, all the way to Josh’s apartment.

* * * * *

The scotch and soda slid down her throat, hissing all the way. Calli sighed. She put the heavy glass on the coffee table and looked around the room. Uncle Josh had rented an apartment in an ancient, well-maintained building in the hilly section to the south-west of the city center.

It had taken only ten minutes to reach the building despite slow navigation through narrow, winding streets. Josh ushered them inside, then checked on her aunt, who dozed in their bedroom while recovering from a bad migraine. Minnie headed for her room to find clothes and essentials for Calli.

When Josh reemerged from the bedroom, he went straight to the silver tray and decanters on the sideboard and poured them both the promised stiff belt of scotch. He gave her a glass, then dropped onto the sofa opposite Calli’s with a heavy sigh. In the quiet room, she could still hear distant music from the streets.

The apartment had white adobe walls, hung with Vistarian art and interesting textiles in the same jewel colors the women had been wearing tonight. Bedrooms and utility rooms all connected with this central room, with no corridors. The big kitchen was part of the central room, separated only by a huge chopping-block island.

Terracotta tiles covered the floor throughout, including the big balcony beyond the sliding doors. The balcony featured carved wood curlicues at each corner, dark with age. Blue Wisteria-like flowers hung in big clusters from the tangle of vines that climbed up the adobe walls arching over the balcony.

“What are those flowers?” Calli asked as Josh gulped half his drink in two big swallows. “They look like Wisteria. I’ve seen them everywhere.”

“Yes, they’re Wisteria,” he said, without looking.

“They’re blue, though.”

He nodded. “It’s a tropical variant that grows wild here. It’s the national flower of Vistaria, of course.”

That would be why so many women had been wearing it. “Why ‘of course’?” she asked.

He rubbed his eyes with a thumb and forefinger, then let his arm drop across the back of the sofa. “Vistaria is Spanish for Wisteria. That’s what this country is called. La Vistaria de Escobedo. The Wisteria of Escobedo. Escobedo’s Wisteria. Escobedo’s country, for all the difference it makes, too.”

Calli frowned and shook her head. “I thought it was just called Vistaria. What’s Escobedo?”

Vistaria de la República de Escobedo,” Josh intoned. “The Republic of Escobedo’s Vistaria,” he added when Calli didn’t reaction. Then, “I have thrown you in the deep end, haven’t I? The Escobedo family has been the virtual royal family here since forever. José Escobedo y Castaños is the current president and supreme commander of the Vistarian Army.”

“The military junta,” Calli murmured.

“A damn benign one, too. It’s thanks to Escobedo’s moderate policies that we—the mining company—are here.”

“Is that who you called to get me out of jail? Someone high in the government?”

“Nothing so impressive. I phoned the government liaison assigned to work with us while we open the silver mine. I asked him who I should call. He never got back. I must have sounded upset, though, because he did do something. I’m sorry we didn’t get to the airport to pick you up, Calli. We were on our way. I hadn’t planned on traffic grinding to a halt because of the fiesta. By the time we got there, you had disappeared. People remembered seeing you, though Customs wouldn’t tell me a damn thing. That’s when I phoned the government liaison. What happened?”

“I waited for a while. I even tried phoning the apartment. When I got no answer, I figured something had happened to you. I thought I’d find a cab, point to your address on the email you sent me and get him to take me there. The information desk at the airport told me there were no taxis, although if I walked up the street I could hail one. So I walked and watched for a cab. That’s when the five men came around.”

She explained what had happened. The jostling and the grope that had caused her to react. “The man at the jail told me I broke at least one nose and handed out a few bruises. If the soldier police had been feeling less generous they might have charged me with assault. The man, though…he understood why I had reacted that way.”

“What man?”

“I don’t know who he is. I do know he carries a lot of weight.” She thought of the way the roomful of Vistarians had snapped to attention. “I’ve never seen people scramble the way the men did when he walked into the room. We talked, then he said I’d be released shortly and you’d be waiting for me.”

“They phoned me and said to come and get you.”

“Who did?”

“The police station.” He frowned. “You explained what happened to you?”

“I didn’t get to explain much. He knew all about me.”

“A general?”

“He wasn’t wearing a uniform. He had red hair and they called him Roger.”

“Red hair?” Josh paused from rubbing his eyes again, startled. “Roger?” He thought about it. “For a minute I thought…no, if they called him Roger…” He shook his head. “I have no idea who it is.”

She frowned. “Who did you think it might have been?”

“No one. A passing idea, too ridiculous to consider seriously.”

Minnie emerged from her bedroom carrying an armful of clothes. She dumped them on the coffee table. “I don’t have much you can wear, Calli. You’ve got six inches on me. All the pants will be high-waters. There’s a skirt and some tee-shirts and something for bed, if you wear anything to bed.” She held up diaphanous pink baby-doll nightdress and winked at Calli, her pixie-like features filled with mischief.

“Minnie, do you have to talk that way?” Josh asked.

“Dad, it’s Calli. She knows me.” She dropped the pajamas on the pile and patted the collection. “Tomorrow, I’m taking you shopping. I know exactly where to go.”

“Of course you do,” Calli said. “You would’ve had it figured out twenty-four hours after landing here.”

One hour,” Minnie said. “I met a woman lawyer in the customs and immigration lounge at the airport. I asked her where she got her suit and, voila, insider information on the best shopping spots on la colina.

“‘In’, you mean,” Calli suggested.

On,” Minnie said firmly. “Colina is ‘hill’. The city is Lozano Colinas, and the locals shorten it to ‘the hill’, coz good ol’ Lozano lost claim to his hill when he kicked the bucket.”

“It sounds so much prettier in Spanish. You’d better add a Spanish-English dictionary to the shopping list.” Calli hid her sigh. Minnie was vibrating with excitement at the prospect of taking Calli shopping and showing her around. She wouldn’t spoil Minnie’s fun.

* * * * *

She danced, whirled, dipped. Her silk skirt brushed her legs with cool, light caresses. She was as free, her heart light, bursting with elation and tingling with joy. She lifted her hands up to the stars, the music encouraging her to swing and turn.

Hands settled on her hips and a warm weight pressed up behind her. The weight was blood warm. Hot. She laughed, the contact fizzing through her blood. She let him feel the sway of her hips. He pressed himself against her and a silvery thrill ran through her. He wanted her. He wants me.

They swayed together, their feet moving in gentle spirals as they turned. His hand rested low on her abdomen. His fingers spread out and pushed against her, turning her to face him. She looked upon a broad chest covered in a white shirt. It was a common business shirt, not the full white cotton shirt she had expected.

When she tried to see his face her view was blocked by the brim of a black hat, bent low. She ducked her head to glance beneath the brim. He lifted his head and their gazes met.

It was him. His dark red hair, thick and shining in the evening glow. He studied her with the same speculative, heated gaze she remembered. She willed him to kiss her, her hand moving in restless little strokes against his hard chest and shoulder, the silk warm under her fingers. Her need for his mouth to touch hers built like a scream inside her.

He shook his head, a tiny movement from side to side. It was the same little movement as the first time he had refused her.

Her disappointment was so acute it stabbed at her chest like a knife. She gave a cry—her throat hurt with the strength of it, yet no sound emerged. He let her fall back again. She held out her hands, unwilling to lose contact with the heat and hardness of him. She was falling too hard and too fast…

* * * * *

Calli awoke with a whole-body jerk and a soundless cry that strained her throat. She realized she had been dreaming and fell back on her pillow with a shuddering sob of relief.

It had been so intense!

She rolled over on her side, hugging her still-throbbing body, trying to claw back fragments of the erotic dream.

He sat in Josh’s leather office chair, one hand on his knee, the other elbow propped against the arm of the chair, his long forefinger resting against his temple.

Calli drew in a sharp, startled breath, her already taxed heart leaping. Fright tore through her. Ice in her veins. At the same time, her aroused, prepared body moved to high alert.

He watched her, the same measuring stare from her dream.

Calli sat up, bringing the damp sheet with her. “What are you doing here?” she whispered.

“You are a restless sleeper, Miss Munro,” he said, just as quietly.

“Are you crazy? You must leave. Right now.”

“I’m not crazy.” He got to his feet. “If I were, I would not have understood what you did not say to me in the holding cell, this evening.” He walked toward the bed.

Calli shrank back, against the headboard, pulling the sheet with her.

He did not touch the mattress. Instead, he lowered himself until he could meet her gaze. The blue of his eyes seemed to glow in the light coming from the wide windows. Full moon, she remembered. Fiesta de la Luna.

“I know you.” His low voice rumbled in her mind, her heart.

Yes, yes, you do. You see my soul. You see I want you. My heart locks when you’re near. I can think of nothing but how much I want you to touch me.

“You have to go,” she said aloud.

“Do you want me to go?”

She couldn’t lie when the truth pushed at her insistently. She said nothing. Instead she scrambled from the bed and headed for the door, intending to shepherd him from the apartment. She was three steps from the bed when she heard a noise behind her and whirled.

He straightened up, staring at her. “My God, look at you,” he breathed. “You are…magnificent.”

She glanced at herself, at the fragile chiffon of the baby-doll pajamas and the tiny matching panties with their satin bows. Her cheeks grew warm in reaction.

“Your legs. Such endless legs.” He moved towards her. “Athlete’s muscles. Callida, you are more beautiful than I suspected. Your hair is glowing in the moonlight.” He halted just in front of her, so close his body heat fanned her skin. He brushed a thick lock of her hair back over her shoulder. His hand whispered across her skin, a fleeting touch that sent a shudder through her.

She couldn’t move. She could not resist the primal urges strumming through her and send him away—not when she wanted him to wreak havoc upon her, to turn her inside-out with delight. Take me. Now! she wanted to beg, only she didn’t speak the words for he controlled the moment.

Her body throbbed, heavy with expectation. She wanted him to drag her to the floor, to take her with rough, frantic movements, his body a heavy weight on top of her. She wanted to be held and stroked.

“What do you want?” he whispered, his lips against her.

She opened her mouth. Nothing emerged. She could say nothing, nor make a sound. The words were ready to tumble out. She fought to speak them and failed.

His hands dropped from her. He stepped around her and walked away. She lifted her hand toward him, pleading, yet the words still would not emerge, not until he left. Then the cry of frustration and despair tore through her throat.

* * * * *

Calli sat up in her borrowed bed. Her heart and head pounded with the pressure of dream-induced horror and a sexual excitement more intense than any she had ever experienced. She pulsed with coursing arousal. Her chest heaved beneath the pink chiffon.

She took deep, measured breaths, bringing her pulse down, working for calm. It took long minutes, for her mind was a jumble of dream images, still fresh, still able to arouse. Chief amongst them, the feel of him holding her. Soft, warm silk beneath her fingers. Underneath the silk, the hard wall of chest muscles. His mouth mere inches from hers. His knowing gaze. The waves of wanting poured from him, washing over her. The pressure of his hips against hers. The powerful, arousing pressure.

“Ah, shit,” Calli murmured to the dark. Playing back the dream memories wasn’t helping steady her pulse. She reached for the glass of water on the desk next to the bed.

The desk would be removed tomorrow, along with the leather chair in front of it. Her uncle had intended to use the bedroom as his study, only the demands of the mining site kept him away from the apartment for long hours. He spent all his time there. It was another reason he had begged Calli to come to Vistaria to help Minnie and her mother.

Calli groped for her watch until she remembered it had been taken from her. It was still dark, though—reason enough to lie down and try to find sleep.

Add a watch to the list, Calli, she reminded herself.

His eyes, his body against her, followed her down into an uneasy sleep. They were accompanied with writhing shame. She may have resisted his dream image. She had not resisted the lure of him in person. She had almost begged to know him better. That was something she would never tell another living soul. Not even Minnie, who might understand.

Thank God she would never see him again.

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