Chapter Thirty-One

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If you want total security, go to prison. There you're fed, clothed, given medical care and so on. The only thing lacking... is freedom."

-Dwight D. Eisenhower

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"Hector..."

"Yes, hermosa*?"

"I'm scared..."

"Of Nicolas?"

"Of him, of not standing a chance against the outsiders but mostly of what will happen if we do manage to take him down and win this war." Rachel admitted.

They were both on the oversized bed as the sky outside the window slowly descended into darkness and had been lying this way for hours after she'd told him about Juan.

Hector played with the hand lying over his chest absentmindedly while her head rested against his chest, the steady beating of his heart at her ear.

As the sun disappeared, so did any hope of getting this over with in a fast and efficient manner and that scared her but not nearly as much as the thought of what they would do if they actually managed to succeed.

The sky outside was now pitch black, although it wasn't very late. Shorter winter days had never been welcomed back at the compound as shorter days meant shorter daylight hours in which to hunt.

Here, the shorter days reminded her of that time so long ago when everyone had been forced to retire to their caves early on, not only because it wasn't safe to go outside at night but because the grueling cold could only be survived by huddling under blankets.

It seemed ironic that even though there was plenty of food, warmth and shelter in this new place, it was more of a prison than the mountain had ever been.

They'd come so far from being two scared kids on a mountain, hoping not to be captured by the poachers. It was hard to believe they were even the same people they had been when it all began.

"Think of it this way..." Hector trailed, his fingers still stroking her palm. "Once he's gone, and if we do succeed, we'll be able to build a better future for ourselves...a free one this time."

Her head lifted from his chest to look at him.

"Am I crazy for fearing that part the most?"

Gentle brown eyes met hers, softening at the words she'd just spoken. "No. Change is scary. I don't know what awaits us once this is all over but I do know that it has to be better than this."

"I just can't imagine a life without a Mark...a life where we don't have to hide anymore."

He was thoughtful more a moment.

"Close your eyes," He finally instructed. Rachel's eyebrows furrowed in confusion but trusting him more than anyone else in the world, she laid back down onto the pillow beside him and shut her eyes.

"Now picture yourself standing in a green field that stretches on for miles. The sun is warm but not overwhelming as it rises in the east and you can hear cows and chickens--"

"And a dog barking." She interrupted. "Because it's not really a home unless there's a dog, right?"

"That's right." He replied and she could hear the smile in his voice as he too recalled the conversation they'd had on the ship's nursery.

God, that seemed like so long ago now.

"It's all peaceful and quiet until Magdalena starts fighting with the chickens, which, by the way, is something she loves to do so that'll happen often."

Rachel laughed and he continued quietly. "Now you hear a car winding down the dirt road. But you're not afraid because whoever it is, you can be sure that they're not a poacher... because...because those simply don't exist anymore."

"Then who is it?" She whispered.

"It's Juan," Hector murmured back. "He's blasting Mexican music all down the driveway which naturally makes me stop what I'm doing to go make sure he's not there to give you too much trouble. He can be a real pain sometimes." There was a taint of sadness in the way he chuckled which made her heart clench.

Despite that, Rachel was completely mesmerized by his story, each little detail of it playing out in her mind like a movie. Swallowing the lump in her throat at the mention of Juan, she squeezed his hand and prompted him to continue.

"Mari is a teenager now and I like to keep a shotgun handy for when she decides to bring home a boyfriend...you scold me about it but secretly I know you think it's a little funny."

Laughing again, she found him with her eyes closed, her face pressing into the crook of his neck, her arms wrapping around him. Breathing in his scent was comforting and the story he tells is something she's not ready to let go of just yet.

"There's kids running in the field." She whispered tentatively against his neck. His hand paused the gentle strokes that he'd been making up and down her arm.

"Five or six of them?"

"I don't know about that..." Rachel giggled. "But at least one..with curly brown hair and blue eyes...his name's Jose, like his uncle."

Hector sucked in a breath at that, his hand going up to her face. Slowly, Rachel opened her eyes to look at him and found his chocolate brown eyes admiring her in a way that made her stomach flutter. She'd never imagined the color brown, so plain and simple, could be so beautiful.

Running his thumb across her bottom lip, he shifted, hovering over her while his mouth went straight for hers.

Her lips parted, letting his mouth mold over hers. The kiss was gentle, his fingers finding their place against her cheek, the soft pressure of his mouth driving warm sensations throughout her body.

His beating heart pounded against her fingers where they were splayed over his chest, the sinewy muscle beneath flexing as he rolled them onto their sides, her face still cradled by one of his hands, their foreheads touching.

"I love you, Ray. Whatever happens, whether we get that beautiful future together or we die trying, I want you to know that I love you."

Rachel swallowed down the knot in her throat. For some reason, hearing those words aloud not only filled her with happiness but also with dread as it all seemed so final. As if his declaration of love was the tipping point that would drive them into a point of no return.

"I love you too."

In that moment, submerged within their little bubble only Hector existed, only the sound of his husky voice, only the feel of his calloused palms over her cheek, only the weight of his love in her heart.

"It's dinner time." Hector said quietly as he pulled away.

"I know."

"Nicolas wants us to join him for dinner."

"Sit this one out." She suggested. "I'm sure he won't mind at all if you don't go."

"And let you go alone? I don't think so. I'll behave myself, I promise."

"It's not that I think you won't. I just don't want you to have to put on a brave face. I know you hate him for what he's done to Juan and it might be too soon..."

Hector sat up, pulling her along with him. "Rachel, hermosa, it's okay. I want to be there. We still need to learn as much as we can about him and about his habits, his schedule, everything. That way we can do what we came here to do."

"Okay." She conceded. "Okay. Let's just go get this over with."

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*hermosa=beautiful

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