Read an Excerpt
A cognac in celebration, Don Remi?"
Remigio Alfonso de Vargas y Goyo sat back in the leather chair with his long legs crossed at the ankles. He disliked being addressed as if he was a royal relic. It was archaic. Remi was a man of the soil. In this day and age a title was absurd. He studied his loyal accountant with a jaundiced eye. "Of what?"
The tidy older man approaching seventy years of age poured himself a drink. "Your business has surpassed what it was befo" He stopped short of finishing the sentence. A slight flush tinged his cheeks before he looked away and swallowed the swirling amber liquid. "Well, let's just say Soleado Goyo is once again on its way to giving your competitors a major headache."
"Don't count my chickens too fast, Luis. We're in the middle of another drought cycle with no end in sight. The olive groves are always hit hardest. You know that." With the loss of the Spanish colonies in the l850s, Spain's wealth had diminished and the Goyos had been forced to work for a living. Gone were the fortunes of the previous Dukes of Toledo from which the Goyo line had descended.
"So you diversify in anticipation."
His caustic laugh resounded in the room. "Like my father once did? It ended up being the costliest mistake of his life and drove both my parents to an early grave. I'm afraid I'm a purist."
Luis shrugged. "It was a mere suggestion, Remi. You're the expert. Far be it from me to tell you anything."
"Your long association with Papa gives you the right."
"Nevertheless I'm only good with numbers."
"Which you do very well indeed," he muttered.
Remi levered his tall, powerful body from the chair. After twolong, grueling years of blood and sweat he'd finally paid off the last of his late father's bank debt. It had saved his family's honor and reputation in the region. However, he'd still dreaded this meeting with Luis. Each time he drove to Toledo on business it called up dark, bitter memories he only managed to suppress as long as he stayed too busy to think.
Right now he could feel the acid bitterness of betrayal scorching his insides like a river of molten magma. Once its journey started, no power could stave it off. At times like this he wasn't fit company for anyone, least of all Luis who'd been his cheering section for as long as he could remember. The older man deserved better.
In a few swift strides he reached the door, anxious to get back home.
He turned his dark head in Luis's direction. "Sí?"
"I'm very proud of what you've accomplished. Your father would be proud, too."
Not if his papa had already turned over in his grave.
Remi sincerely hoped his parent had no way of knowing how close his thirty-three-year-old son had come to losing everything five generations of Goyos had worked so hard to achieve.
If Luis didn't recognize Remi anymore, that was no surprise. The man who stared back at Remi in the mirror every morning couldn't possibly be Luis Goyo's sonhis firstborn offspring whose appalling lack of judgment in his personal life still continued to blacken Remi's world.
He gave Luis an unsmiling nod and left the office. In an economy of movement he descended the two steep flights of stairs to the narrow street where he'd parked his black sedan.
As a boy he'd been able to walk beneath the gothic arches of these ancient streets without feeling as if he was part of a parade crowd. Since that time tourists from around the globe had discovered Toledo and now flowed in and out of the city no matter the season. When at all possible, he went out of his way to avoid them. They were more stifling than the heat that had come to the heart of central Spain.
July brought an unforgiving summer sun that portended dry lightning and fires. A lick of flame could make a torch out of a gnarled olive tree. Maybe one day it would mistake him for one of them. Why not?
It was a hard life fewer and fewer owners of the large latifundia chose to embrace, but it was his life. Though every dream of his had been destroyed, the estate he'd inherited remained, giving him the last remaining reason to get up in the morning.
He removed his lightweight suit jacket and tie. After tossing them in the backseat, he got behind the wheel and started the engine. Soon he was winding his way past Moorish walls to the outskirts. For a while the road bordered the Tagus River, then opened onto the solitary plain where the traffic had thinned.
As he sped south, the great Alcázar of Toledo, standing like a sentinel on the granite hill behind him, disappeared. At three in the afternoon there were few vehicles on the road. While his car ate up the kilometers, he felt his taut muscles relax knowing that inside of fifteen minutes he'd be back on the estate with a ton of work to do before going to bed.
Work saved his life.
During the day physical labor kept him from reliving the past. Unfortunately the long dark hours of the night brought the demons he was forced to wrestle with over and over again.When he awakened in the mornings, he was emotionally exhausted.
Deep in his torturous thoughts he was barely cognizant of a car in the distance. It had just rounded the long curve and was coming in his direction. The driver must have seen the stray bull crossing the highway at the same time he did.
Remi's speed was such that he knew it would be too dangerous to brake, but the other driver obeyed the opposite instinct and the car swerved. In a split second it was on a collision course for him. He yanked the steering wheel to the right to escape impact. The other driver overcorrected to avoid him. To his horror the other car rolled behind him onto the shoulder and landed on the passenger side, coming to a stop.
He brought his car to a halt, then shot out and raced to the blue compact car whose tires were still spinning in the air. The front and rear windows had been broken. Glass lay everywhere. He looked inside. The driver was the only occupant. A woman. She was moaning.
Gracias a Dios, she was alive! The seat belt had kept her from being thrown.
Remi tried to the open the door, but couldn't. He reached in to undo the lock. "You're going to be all right, Senora," he assured her in his native tongue.
"Help me " came her anguished cry. "My eye I can't see" Though she spoke passable Spanish, she was definitely an American.
"Be as still as you can," he responded firmly in accented English. "Don't touch your eye or you'll make it worse. I'm going to lift you out. Let me do all the work."
As he reached around to undo her seat belt, he saw blood oozing down the right side of her face. Her shoulder-length blond hair was spattered with it.
He gathered her slight weight in his arms, aware of her flowery fragrance as he carried her to safety and laid her on the ground with as much care as possible. "I'll have you to a hospital shortly. Don't move."
"I won't," she whispered shakily in English through lips made bluish-white from shock. The pallor of her face and the fists her hands made let him know her pain was excruciating, but instead of screaming hysterically she showed a rare courage he could only admire.
No doubt a piece of flying metal or glass had caused the injury. He pulled the cell phone from his trouser pocket and phoned the police. After a quick explanation from him, they promised to send a medical helicopter immediately.
After the call was made, he rang his foreman, Paco, and explained what had happened. He told him to get one of the staff and come for his car. Paco could wait for the police and give them the details. Remi planned to accompany the woman to the hospital. Once he'd seen to her care, he'd talk to the police himself.
In his gut he felt responsible for the crash. It might have been avoided if his mind hadn't been somewhere else.
As he clicked off, he noticed several cars stopping to offer help. The injured woman reached for his free hand. "No people. Please" she implored. Her ringless fingers clutched his so hard that her nails dug into his palms, but he didn't mind. Her control was nothing short of amazing.
He told the other drivers the police were coming and waved them on. In another minute they were alone again.
"What's your name?"
An unusual first name. He liked the sound of it on her tongue.
"Do you have a husband or a boyfriend I can call?"
"Are you here with a friend or family member?"
"No." Every word had to be an effort.
"Hold on a few more minutes, Jillian. I can hear the helicopter coming. You'll be out of your pain soon."
"Is my eye still there?"
Madre de Dios. The fear in her voice killed him. "Of course. Everything's going to be fine." It had to be. "The bleeding has stopped. Don't cry. You wouldn't want the salt from your tears to irritate it."
"No." Her softly rounded chin wobbled. The sight of it reminded him how brave she was being. His insides quivered in response.
There were a dozen questions he wanted answers to, but he knew the hospital staff would get the pertinent information from her. Right now she was in too much pain to be interrogated.
"The helicopter's here."
"Don't worry about that now." He'd leave it for the police, who would need to see her passport. When they were through with the investigation, he'd get it back from them. "The important thing is to take care of you. I'll make certain all your belongings are returned to you."
"Thank you," she whispered.
Three medical personnel jumped down and hurried over to them. The next few minutes passed in a blur as she was examined and lifted on to a gurney. Remi followed as they transported her to the helicopter.
No sooner had he climbed inside and they'd taken off than he heard sirens. Out of the window he saw one of the estate cars with the logo approaching the accident scene from the opposite direction. Paco was now there to sort everything out with the police.
To his relief they were giving the woman antibiotics and painkillers through an IV. Already she was calmer. They'd braced her neck so she couldn't move her head. He was glad they hadn't tried to question her.
The paramedic closest to him grabbed a clipboard and started taking information, which he wrote down and would no doubt give to the police. "What's your name?"
His eyes widened. "Don Remigio Goyo?"
"I know your address. Soleado Goyo Estate, Castile-La Mancha. Are you acquainted with this woman?"
"Did you see the accident?"
"Sí," Remi said through gritted teeth. "We both tried to avoid an animal crossing the road at the same time. To her credit, her expertise at the wheel prevented a head-on collision."
"Did she tell you her name?"
"Jillian Gray. I'm not sure about the spelling of either name."
"Next of kin?"
"I don't know. The police will find out."
"She's very beautiful. Such hair like spun gold."
Remi had been trying hard not to think about that, or the exquisite mold of her lovely body wearing a simple blouse and skirt. Drops of blood stood out against the pastel green material, staining what looked so perfect. That was the problem with great beauty. It hid the greatest flaws. Never again would he allow it to blind him.
"She's American. No doubt a tourist," Remi muttered, "but that's all I know. Did you find any other injuries besides the one to her eye?"
The paramedic shook his head. "No, but she's going to need surgery to remove whatever's lodged in there."
Remi's mind raced ahead. "Who's the best ophthamologist around?"
"Dr. Ernesto Filartigua from Madrid. He operates at the Hospital of the Holy Cross."
"Then tell the pilot to fly us there. I'll get the doctor on the phone. I want an expert on her case."
"Our company doesn't normally fly north of Toledo, but for you we will." Madrid was only a half hour farther than Toledo by carnot a great distanceand it meant getting her the best care.
Remi exhaled a deep breath. For once he was glad his title could make a difference. This time his judgment wasn't impaired. A life was in jeopardy, possibly because of him. He had no desire to take on another demon.
"Sign here, and I'll tell him to inform dispatch."
Remi put his signature to the dotted line. While the other man spoke to the cockpit, he pulled out his phone once more and asked for information. If it was at all possible, he wanted to speak to the doctor before they landed.
When he got through to the receptionist, he learned the doctor was in surgery. She would inform him an accident victim with an eye injury was being flown in. The E.R. would notify the doctor of her arrival.
A half hour later the helicopter landed on the helipad located at the east entrance of the hospital. They rushed her into the E.R., where Remi admitted her, promising to give the triage nurse more information when he heard from his foreman.
While he waited in the reception area, several different E.R. doctors went in the cubicle to examine her. A little later a moustached doctor in scrubs appeared. One of the staff showed him behind the curtain at the far end of the room.
Remi walked over to wait. When the doctor came out a few minutes later, he said, "Dr. Filartigua?"
"I'm Remigio Goyo, the person who phoned for you to attend Senora Gray."
"Lucky for her you didn't waste any time, Don Remigio."
"How bad is her injury? I saw the accident. She said she couldn't see anything."
"That's common with a rupture like this. A glass shard has penetrated the globe of her right eye. The lab is running tests now to prepare her for surgery. After I get in there and remove it, I'll know more. Does she have family here?"
"No. I'm still trying to get answers from the police. Where can I wait while you're operating?"
"There's a reception area on the sixth floor, east wing."
"I'll be there." Tight bands constricted his breathing. "I've heard you're the best.