C H A P T E R O N E
[ his thief ]
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I lifted my head to the chilly breeze that came from the nearby sea, enjoying the cooling sensation on my damp face. I sighed, staring at my muddy hands and the unfinished garden in front of me. The mounds of dirt and patches of seedlings hardly seemed like they had been worked on for hours. I rinsed my hands off as well as I could in the bucket of water beside me and rose from my crouch.
“Si, Renzo, what is it that brings you here in such a panic?”
I took a good look at my father’s footman. His face was flushed from exertion and he wasn’t even in uniform. That gave me a start. The only time he spent out of uniform whilst on the house grounds was when he slept… or when he participated in a different kind of employment for my father.
“Hurry, señorita Ileana, por favor, we must get you inside the house. The maids are ready with a bath and a change of clothes.” He looked me up and down shrewdly. “Oh Ileana, what have you been doing?” he asked disappointedly.
“I think that is quite clear,” I said drily, sweeping my hand to encase the overturned earth and newest seedlings. There wasn’t even a weed in sight. I’d been at it all day, despite the sapping heat, and I was weary and sore. I knew I looked a sight, with my dress torn, dirt-stained and dishevelled. My long hair had whipped out of its braid and was tangled and stiff from the salty air and the forceful winds. I gave Renzo a haughty look and bent down to lift the bucket. “I do not understand what your rush is. Has a visitor called upon me?”
“Ah, ah, señorita, let me take that from you. You must hurry, ¡deprisa!” He made to grab at the bucket’s handle but I turned away and blocked him with my body.
“Answer my question, Renzo!” I demanded, feeling my temper rise. My arm was shaking with the fatigue of my work and the strain of the bucket’s weight but I stood firm, my feet fixed so that I was in perfect balance. When he snatched forward, a nimbly dodged back, dancing away from him and slapping his hand away. I made a tsk noise and gave him an expectant look.
“Maldito!” he grumbled, fisting his hands. “You act like a child still, Ileana, and you have twenty two years!”
I tossed my head, sending my dark brown hair flying to one side. “And you still act like a man who watched me grow from your knee’s height to your chin but you forget that age is nothing. In this situation, I have the authority.”
I drew myself up to full height, looking down my nose at him but knew that my attempt at intimidation would fall flat. Renzo was a head taller than me and spent much of his time running from place to place. He was quick, agile and strong. If he became too frustrated with me, he could simply toss me over his shoulder and carry me back without a care for my status.
“Señorita, if I was not so worried about bruising or scratching your skin, we would tussle right now and I would drag you back thoroughly whupped.” He shook his head and shrugged his shoulders in exaggerated defeat. “I will tell you so, please Ileana, put the bucket down.”
I gripped the handle tighter and glared. “I need to bring this water for the flowers that line the entrance path.”
“No, no!” His hand snapped out and gripped my free wrist. “There is no time for that. Señorita, la cabecilla has just arrived at the harbour. Rápido, my man tells me that he is giving orders for his men to do the unloading and he is reuniting with that swift beast, Fuego, to come straight here. Ah, mierda, we are wasting too much time! We should not make him wait!”
My grip on the bucket loosened and the thud as it hit the ground echoed in my ears. My head was suddenly light and my heart had risen to my throat, making it difficult for me to breathe. Water splashed over the hem of my dress and soaked the leather of my shoes.
I yanked my captured hand back. “Te sueltes!” I cried out for him to let me go in a desperate voice. I pulled hard again and nearly tipped over as I got free of his grip. I stumbled back for a moment as he looked at me quizzically, his head tilted with a frown marring his expression.