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Linden Bradley is back in her beloved Brazil to help save thousands of animals displaced by a dam going onstream. She meets Cole Dominguez, a rancher in the south whose mother is American but living in Connecticut. Linden's mother is African-American, her father caucasian. Their attraction to one another is instant but each is cautious because of past hurts. For the moment, her work on the rescue takes her away into a world of roaring waters and the vastness of Brazil's interior that submerges all thought. A ...
Linden Bradley is back in her beloved Brazil to help save thousands of animals displaced by a dam going onstream. She meets Cole Dominguez, a rancher in the south whose mother is American but living in Connecticut. Linden's mother is African-American, her father caucasian. Their attraction to one another is instant but each is cautious because of past hurts. For the moment, her work on the rescue takes her away into a world of roaring waters and the vastness of Brazil's interior that submerges all thought. A biologist from upstate New York, she plunges into treating wild animals and even eagles who have nested on the reservoir bed.
When she has recovered from her immense labors, Cole invites her to his ranch, where she meets his father. Linden loves the openness of the southern range. Brazil has so many faces, and Rio de Janeiro is another fascinating one. Carnaval here is like no other celebrated in the world. The costume competitions are prodigious productions, as are the parades. Rio is brash, noisy, musical -- there is nothing like it.
Carioca women, Linden Bradley thought, watching the beach from the shade of her sidewalk cafe umbrella, were a special breed of female. Skimpily shielded by cloth scraps, they undulated, never merely walked, across the hot sand. They raised bronzed arms with languid grace to summon the mate vendor for a cool native tea, or the coco verde boy, who zig-zagged eel-like through the crowd of oiled bodies with his basket of fruit. He carried a fearsome machete which he used to lop off the heads of the green coconuts, and from a quiver in his belt selected straws to tuck into the pale liquid. The chilled, creamy juice was one of Linden's favorite Brazilian foods.
She'd had her dip for the day, retiring afterward to shower in her hotel room overlooking Ipanema Beach. Her lunch was a leisurely feast of camaroes paulistas, huge prawns fried whole in the shell, and a salad of hearts of palm. During the years she had been away from Brazil she promised herself this treat if ever she came back. Three years after her divorce, she'd finally kept that promise. It went to prove how closely stomach and well-being were linked. Food was life, food was warmth, and food was Brazil -- where she had grown up.
A lithe mulatta sauntered past, followed by the collective stare of a tourist couple sitting near Linden. The wife did not object to her husband's behavior; perhaps she had become inured to it. The girl carried herself as if she were costumed in ball gown and tiara instead of a thong covering her lower parts, two triangles on her breasts, and a thin gold chain around her midriff. Yet there was an indolence to her swing that was pure Ipanema Beach. Like the girlin that song, she was indeed tall and tan and young and lovely. Linden could almost feel the pent-up breath of the foreign man. The girls were always the first local item that hit visiting men between the eyes.
She watched without envy, knowing she could match the girl's figure if she chose to display it. She herself was straight and slender, with legs whose extreme length had been her childhood despair until she reached her seventeenth year, when the overall proportions caught up. And then she, too, had done her share of sauntering on this same beach until her mother found out. The bikini she owned then was not so brief as the current model, but it was brief enough. She smiled at the memory of that innocent scandal. Momma may have been a mulatta, but she was American, and she did not subscribe to the tolerant Brazilian attitude about exposing the female body for everyone to see.
"A doll, Senhorita?"
The vendor had been working the row of sidewalk cafe sitters without success. Now he showed Linden a Candomble doll, a female figure dressed in white from turban to bell-skirted gown. The little mannequin was a perfect replica of the mysterious, secretive women who danced in firelight rituals and who it was said could either cure or cause terrible diseases.
"No, thank you." She hated to disappoint the vendor, but she expected to be in Brazil at least a year; there would be time enough to collect souvenirs. Souvenirs? She had enough emotional ones from growing up here. They had sustained her through lonely nights and long dark winters in North America. She had a year to revisit those memories and enjoy the bright hot day, a typical January summer.
A full stomach and tropical heat had their effect. She was near sleep.
"Miss Bradley?" a male voice inquired.
She opened her eyes. The voice belonged to a tanned face with a well-defined jawline. She looked up at him, taking in the smiling brown eyes, straight nose, and shapely mouth.
"Would you be Linden Bradley?"
"Yes. It was nice of you to meet me here, Mr. Dominguez. Please sit down."
"Thank you." He shifted the chair around to face her, ignoring beach, bikinis, and strolling scenery. "I have to admit, you aren't frighteningly North American as I expected."
"There are a thousand kinds of North Americans. Which do you mean?"
He smiled. "I don't know, and it doesn't matter."
An odd remark. Then she found herself speculating on the deep tan of his skin. How much was owing to the sun? His short hair was as black as hers, with a crisp curl in it. Mulato or mostly Caucasian? He was not dark enough to be pardo-negro. Why was his name a combination of Anglo and Latin?
"Mr. Dominguez, I'm a biologist, and for the past year I have been researching for a paper for my Ph.D. My field is zoology, but my thesis will be on improving meat production in domestic stock through advanced applied genetics. I have heard about your success in bringing up scrub stock on your ranch in the state of Rio Grande do Sul."
He had been watching her with increasing soberness. As she spoke, his eyes acquired a cool light.
She paused, wondering at his change of mood.
"Go on," he said.
"Well, I was wondering if you could let me visit your ranch to study your methods. I did a two-month tour of some of the most modern spreads in Texas, when I heard that you were trying something new down here." She stopped. Whatever was bothering him was definitely impeding the flow of her presentation.
He said slowly, "And who told you about what I am doing?" The expression on his face was bland, already skeptical.
"A rancher in Texas told me he'd been shipping you Herefords. One of his prize bulls went to you. He said you'd told him to put that bull on a special feed program for a full year before shipping. He'd told you sending the semen would be a lot cheaper, but you insisted on getting the bull. You had given him a list of grains especially high in amino acids."
"And did he show you that list?" His voice had a shriveling effect. She couldn't think of the next words of her prepared speech.
"He did not. He said it was confidential." She waited for a clue.
He folded his arms. "Someone by the name of Juca Machado wouldn't have hired you to report to him, would he?"
"Who is Juca Machado? Am I supposed to know?"
"You've never talked to him?"
"I said I don't know who he is! Please tell me why you are asking me these questions."
"Why, indeed. I will tell you, then. Juca Machado is a neighbor. His spread is twenty miles from mine, but we're neighbors because there is no one else in between. Rio Grande do Sul is a lot like Texas in many ways."
"I know," Linden said, and immediately regretted the comment.
"You know." A lack of inflection.
"I mean, I grew up in Brazil. I speak Portuguese, and I have traveled extensively in the south."
"Is that so?" He studied her with a new, distinct interest, not bothering to disguise his scrutiny.
Refusing to show discomfiture, she said, "Now, may I know why the third degree?"
He was silent for a moment.
"Juca is convinced I want to be cattle king of southern Brazil at his expense. I've tried to get him to work with me but he thinks what I really intend to do is sabotage his stock. He has certainly tried to sabotage mine."
"And you believe he wants to steal your feed formula?"
"That occurred to me, yes. He's been trying to bribe my gaucho cowboys to give him that information. Not that they know all the components of the feed." His mouth quirked at one corner. "I owe you an apology."
"Accepted." She had a feeling of stepping to safety from the edge of a cliff. "How come your first name is Cole? That's not anywhere close to being a Brazilian name."
"Mother is American. Father pioneered our section in Rio Grande do Sul. He was, is, quite a man."
He leaned forward. "Let's start over," he said, and shook her hand again. With regret he said, "I have to go. Where can I find you?"
"I'm staying here temporarily," nodding at the Hotel Sol behind them.
"And then what?"
"Until I find an apartment." In the past week she had seen six places, each suitable but beyond her pocketbook. Junior instructors in biology at Brockhurst U. had to watch their budgets, especially while on sabbatical with no pay.
"If you find one while I'm away, will you leave a forwarding address?" He stood up. "Moco," he called to the doll vendor, who hurried over with much swinging of dolls and clay pots. Cole picked out the Candomble doll and handed some notes to the vendor.
Cole turned to Linden and presented her with the little figure. "This is a keepsake until we can talk again."
She watched him stride away, enjoying the view of this Gaucho, man of the south, as much as any foreign man staring at girls in bikinis. She remembered a high school romance when she had fallen for her first Carioca male. Both sexes, especially Brazilians in coastal cities, were like graceful animals, loving the sun, at home with the earth. She had missed their vitality during the five years she had been the dutiful State Department wife of Robert. Cultural attaches did not work in sectors that included physically vital persons. From one third-level post to another they had moved in carefully orchestrated society, and she had soon learned to dress the part. Shortly after their marriage, Robert had been horrified when she put on a bare-shouldered, above-the-knee dress for a reception at the home of the American consul general in Trinidad. In her opinion it was perfect for the muggy evening, but Robert made her exchange it for a demure outfit with long sleeves.
"This is an expensive cocktail dress, in good taste," she had protested. "Or do you think it makes me look cheap?"
He flushed a bright red. Wordlessly he hugged her to him and kissed her throat, each ear, and the tip of her nose. Though ten years older than she, he seemed very young when he was embarrassed. "Poor Robert," she told him, hugging him back. "Love is complicated, isn't it?"
She should have recognized the early signs of trouble. It came, not from his parents or sister (who seemed to like her), but from Robert's own ambitions. No matter how hard Linden tried to please, he began to fault her for what she considered minute transgressions. He did not like her to speak her mind to other diplomat's wives. She complied by becoming taciturn, and finally curtailing her social contacts. Then he complained of having to do most of the mingling while she remained quiet and stayed aloof. Topics having to do with the color of one's skin made him uncomfortable. One day Linden asked him, "Why did you want to marry me?"
"I loved you," was his reply.
"Loved? You don't love me anymore?"
"Of course I do. I know what you mean; I am not perfect, Linden. The world is not a perfect place, and I'm only trying to be good at my job." His hand holding hers tight gave her one message; his very blue eyes unable to meet hers sent her another.
One day, she took steps to set him free. He did not protest, not then. When the final decree was handed down, he telephoned her, drunk. "I was never good enough for you," he said, his voice muffled with tears.
Linden had never been able to cry.
How long did it take to get over divorce -- over Robert? And even so, mending was not the same as feeling trustful again. "Get off it," she said aloud. "I'm alive, and I am having a good time."
A volleyball game on the beach was in happy progress. The youngsters' laughing remarks amused and at the same time mystified her. Some of the slang was new -- an eight-year absence made for a tremendous gap in her acquaintance with local jargon. And yes, there were the male bodies again, whirling in graceful contortions, those tiny swim trunks rivaling their female counterparts for brevity. In Rio de Janeiro, nature and fashion blended lustily.
That was it. She had not known that magic combination was missing from her life until her return. The joy was mixed with pain. She missed her father, the beloved strong man who had taken her on so many nature expeditions in the interior, that rough, wild country few urban Brazilians cared to know. He had always managed to find time away from his oil exploration company to take her on those trips. The two of them would plan each one with high delight, packing fishing tackle, mosquito nets, Coleman stove, cameras, even books, until their van creaked and sank low over its tires. With total disregard for storage problems at home they collected rock specimens and plants, woven mats bartered from Indians, and small injured animals.
Their villa had stood on this very boulevard, Avenida Vieira Souto. Now in its place stood a towering glass apartment building. Momma herself lived in such a building in Manhattan. In moments of weakness she allowed Linden to see how much she still grieved for her husband; the brisk uptown New Yorker she had become would have fooled anyone but her daughter.
Linden often wondered if being married to a white man had been difficult for Momma. But their situation had been different from hers and Robert's. Raymond Bradley started his own company, beholden to nobody (except the bank), and he made a success of it in the north central coast of this continent, where petroleum was abundant. That success supported his all but hopeless operations in Brazil.
Meantime, his daughter had things to do today. She rose from her comfortable chair and paid for her iced tea. Upstairs in her room she began to pack for the flight to Foz de Iguassu. She looked forward to this side trip to the spectacular waterfalls down south before proceeding to the outpost where Alberto awaited her. But first, one more thing.
She dialed a number on the telephone by the bed. "Sueli?"
"Are you ready to go?" Her girl friend sounded harried. Sueli's household revolved around a nursemaid who squabbled with the cook, and two small children who, their mother lamented, were a hundred years too young to send off to school. In addition to the normal state of confusion, she had a houseful of guests.
"I'll be packed in a minute. All my other stuff will be downstairs for you to pick up."
"What about getting to the airport? Be happy to drive you."
"I wouldn't dream of making you do it. You're already being terrific to keep my things."
"Whatever you say." Sueli sounded relieved. "But I have news. A friend of mine is subletting her apartment. Maybe you two can get together. I think you could afford this one." "Then I want it! Don't let her give it to anyone else. I'll call you as soon as I get back." One of the nicer things about being home was seeing her old school friend (did she actually think the word "home"?). Brockhurst U had better be home, or she could never settle in there again when she left Brazil.
There was little to take with her because it was high summer, for which she was thankful. Lugging around great heavy bags invariably spoiled the fun of traveling.
She changed into a white cotton apron dress, an old favorite that had been beige when she bought it in Rio ten years ago. The design was simplicity itself. Two short bands tied behind the neck, leaving her shoulders and back bare, and one long sash threaded through at the waist to meet at the back. Getting dressed in the summer around here took less than five minutes. For cooler nights, she folded a light wool cardigan into her hobo sling bag.
Cole's present lay on the bed and she hesitated, tempted to stuff it into the hobo bag. But it would get mussed and perhaps broken. She wrapped it in tissue and put it away in one of the suitcases to be stored with Sueli.
She finished up quickly: a comb through her bobbed hair, and some bronze lipstick. She touched a little to each cheek and worked it in, the simplest way she knew to match cheek to lip color. She seldom applied more makeup, content to leave her oval face to fend for itself, especially now, with her clear olive complexion darkened by sun. The one feature she wished she could improve was her nose, which she thought too long. She also had a long neck, which could have used a golden decoration, which she did not own.
Light of step and heart, Linden made ready to leave for Galeao airport. She was twenty-eight going on twenty again.
AT GALEAO, the ticket agent said, "Sorry, madam. Someone must have made a mistake. Your reservation is for tomorrow, not today."
"But can't you get me on this flight anyhow?" She refused to believe that one seat could be that hard to secure.
"Today's flight to Foz de Iguassu is sold out," the woman said apologetically. She was already motioning to the customer behind Linden to step forward.
Dismayed, Linden walked away and stood irresolutely in the center of the terminal, letting streams of travelers flow around her. She could either return to the hotel and try to get her room back, or call Sueli -- but no, Sueli's house was filled up. Oh, damn! Back to the hotel, then. She walked outside to hail a taxi, waving at one that was pulling up to the curb. The door opened, and the passenger getting out stared at her in disbelief. She stared back.
Copyright © 2000 by Lucille Bellucci