An Offer She Dare Not Refuse
The evening was not going as Isabel had planned. The news about Lita stayed with her like an aching wound.
After their supper, back in the library, Señor Sierra Vargas brought out a very dark gray smoked glass bottle of very old cognac and poured two large glasses, handing one to Isabel after holding it in his large hands to warm it first.
“Smell its bouquet,” he suggested as he bent over his glass and breathed deeply. “Ahhh, there is nothing so fine as French cognac.” He lifted the glass and took a long swallow.
Isabel drank hers as of it were another glass of wine, hoping he would get to the point soon, hoping she could go back home soon, hoping … hoping. Soon she was feeling more than light-headed and she had to sit down on the large leather couch. He came to sit by her side and took her hand in his and lifted her fingers to his lips without actually making contact with them. Holding her hand just beyond his lips he began to speak again.
“I see the future this way,” he said. “There are powerful men in Mexico City who have asked me to consider the presidency. I have told them I would need one year to make my decision. They have suggested that I marry again. And that it would be a good thing if I were to have children. This would be one of my main purposes in marrying. These men have suggested that the woman I marry should be neither too young nor too old. Of course she must be of child-bearing age still. If she would be a widow, it would be preferable. A divorced woman would be unacceptable for reasons that are obvious. I have suggested a name already and they have approved. Of course you know that name was yours.”
“Señor,” Isabel started to speak, but he held up a hand.
“Before you say anything I would prefer if you would hear me out, for I am sure you will find what I propose desirable in all aspects,” he said and then continued.
“As you know, I am a wealthy and powerful man in Mexico. What you do not know is that my reach extends far beyond these borders. For instance, the show you are about to open in New York was arranged by me with my money and connections. And there is the man who helped your daughter across the border. He could not have accomplished this without my approval.”
At this Isabel gasped and withdrew her hand from his. Standing on wobbly legs, raising the glass to her lips and drinking the rest of the cognac. “How could you?” she whispered. “How could you do that to me? I have never done anything to you but abide by our agreement.”
He raised his hand and grabbed her arm and pulled her down to the couch again.
“I did it for a good reason,” he said, his eyes narrowing. “I did it to show you how dangerous it would be to stray too far. Or to think of relinquishing your side of our bargain. You see, my dear one, I could have Estrellita back here in one day. Like that.” He snapped his fingers. “But I wanted you to know just how painful it would be to withdraw yourself from my support. A woman in this world without a man’s protection is a poor thing at best. And a weak and vulnerable thing at worst, easy prey to the most unscrupulous carnivores of the planet. So you see, I did it for you. Everything I have done has been for you. Because the feeling I have for you is much more than a father or lover or guardian. I have worshipped you from the first day I saw the beautiful little girl so full of promise, so gifted and so pure. I wanted to keep you pure. You veered away from that path once. I cannot let it happen again. Lita will be back when I decide to bring her. And that decision rests with you.” He poured another glass of cognac and drank a bit, then filled her glass once more. He watched as she drank it as if it were medicine, one, two and then three gulps until the last drops were sliding from the globe of the glass into her mouth.