A Change of Hearts (Chapter Five, page 1 of 1)

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The next morning was warm and sunny, so the ride Señor Medena had arranged would be especially pleasant. Yet Señor Medena never left the house. Instead, Felipa met them at the corral. Felipa looked slim and feminine in a black riding outfit - which might explain all the men lined along the fence watching them. Alex waited for Carmen to mount and then handed Destiny to her.
“Are you sure you don’t want me to take her?” He asked.
“It’s alright. Morino said this horse was gentle.”
Jonathan looked confident atop a Welch gelding.
All eyes were on Alex as he mounted. As he turned the horse around, he eyed the men suspiciously. The corral was silent when he gently kicked the horse’s ribs to urge it forward. Then the horse bunched up under him. In that instant, it was obvious why they were watching. That arching of the back was the only warning Alex had before the horse went into a bucking frenzy.
Carmen’s mouth went dry with fear. She urged her mount a safe distance away, motioning for Jonathan to follow. When they turned around, Alex was still on the horse. Jonathan watched Alex, his expression both anxious and enthused as Alex rode the horse until it settled down. The men cheered as he turned the horse and rode it out of the corral. Without a word, he rode past Carmen and Jonathan. His face looked pale and he rode with an alien stiffness. Felipa kicked her horse into a lope and rode up beside him. She said something and then rode ahead.
Waiting until they were out of view from the men at the corral, Carmen rode up beside Alex. His face was still pale.
“Are you alright?” She asked.
He made a face and stopped his horse. Unbuckling his belt, he pulled his shirt up and examined the knife scar on his abdomen. Pressing on the scar, he winced.
“I guess,” he finally said.
Not even a year had passed since the stabbing, but he had been doing well. The belt buckle that deflected the knife from his heart was now irritating the scar. Normally it was a raised area, dark pink, but now it looked red and angry.
The shock of what happened gave way to fury as Felipa turned back to them. Carmen glared at her.
“How could you? He could have been badly hurt – the kids could have been hurt. If I hadn’t taken Destiny . . .”
“Carmen,” Alex said softly. “Nothing happened. They wouldn’t have let me get on the horse with Destiny, and they didn’t know about the knife wound. They were only having fun.”
“I did not think of his wound,” Felipa admitted. “He did not act as if it was bothering him. But he is right. We would not let him get on the horse with Destiny.” Her anxious gaze went from Carmen to Alex and back again. “He is an excellent horseman, you know.” When no one said anything she sighed, her attention on Carmen. “I am sorry. I should have known you would feel this way.”
Carmen stared at her. What was that supposed to mean?
“Let’s go,” Alex said, tucking his shirt into his pants.
Alex didn’t like people making a fuss over him, and two women doing it would be double the embarrassment. He was alright and they probably wouldn’t do it again. His brusque dismissal was a simple way of saying they needed to move on and put this behind them. Maybe that was what Felipa was talking about – that she fussed over him too much.
The rest of the ride was pleasant. Apparently the horse knew the rider meant business, because it didn’t act up again. Still, by the time they returned, Alex looked exhausted. He had probably been hurting during the ride, but refused to say anything.
That evening he went to bed early and slept until dawn – indication enough that the bucking had taken its toll. Maybe he should see a doctor. It might have done damage inside.
Yet the next morning he acted normal – even cheerful. Maybe it was jet lag – whatever that was. She certainly didn’t feel any different.
After breakfast Felipa took Destiny and Jonathan to see a new foal that was born during the night. Señor Medena asked Carmen and Alex to come to his office with him.
Sinking into his huge leather chair, he motioned for them to sit down. Carmen sat down, but Alex remained standing. A touch of humor lurked in Señor Medena’s dark eyes, but he continued as if he didn’t notice.
“How do you feel today, son?” Señor Medena asked, watching Alex with what appeared to be genuine concern.
Alex shrugged. “As good as ever.”
“Ah, that is good. I must apologize for the incident yesterday. The men did not know of the wound. I spoke to them and they will not do that again.”
Alex said nothing, his stoic features giving no suggestion of what was on his mind.
Señor Medena sighed. “Felipa will be punished for her part in the incident.”
Why?” Alex asked sharply, his brows drawing down. “The men are as guilty as she is.”
Raising a brow, Señor Medena spoke with exaggerated patience. “But I have said they did not know you had a wound.”
Alex leaned forward and placed his hands, fists down, on the desk. “Would it have been better if I had fallen off and broken my neck? They were well aware of what could have happened. They were also well aware that if I fell off the horse, it might get out of control and hurt my wife or children.”
Señor Medena glanced at Carmen and then back at Alex. That elegant shrug was so familiar that it brought goose bumps to her skin.
“Then I will punish the men also.”
“I’m not asking you to punish the men. I’m asking that you don’t punish Felipa. She has already apologized and I have accepted her apology. I don’t need . . .”
He stopped abruptly and straightened, his expression going bland. “I think that’s sufficient.”
“Very well,” Señor Medena said, his lips trying to suppress a smile his eyes couldn’t hide. “I will tell her you ask that I not punish her. Is this good?”
Alex didn’t respond.
“Do you have more requests?” Señor Medena prompted.
“It’s none of my business how you run this outfit.”
Señor Medena raised a silver brow. “Some day . . .”
“You have three girls, Señor Medena” Alex interrupted. “Any one of them has more experience at this than I do.”
Señor Medena folded his hands under his chin and studied Alex thoughtfully. “You will not call me father?”
“You are my father,” Alex conceded without emotion. “I have been made acutely aware of that fact since I was a child.”
Señor Medena gazed up at Alex sadly. “You are my only son.”
“I’m not your only child,” Alex said stubbornly.
“We are back to that?” Señor Medena asked, his voice crisp.
“We are,” Alex answered curtly. “Now if that’s all . . .”
Señor Medena motioned to the door. “Go if you wish.” He paused. “You have no respect for me?”
Getting no response from Alex, he shrugged and turned to his desk. “Then go.”
Carmen stood as Alex strode across the floor. He paused at the door to wait for her.
She hesitated at Señor Medena’s desk and he glanced up at her expectantly. In that moment she was certain she saw something in his eyes - something akin to remorse. She moistened her lips.
“He doesn’t say anything because, in spite of everything, he gives you the respect a father should have. He . . .”
“Carmen,” Alex interrupted in a stern tone. “Let’s go.”
For another moment she hesitated, and then joined Alex. He closed the door and they walked several yards down the hall before he spoke.
“Don’t plead my case for me. I can talk,” Alex said, his voice still firm but gentle.
“I’m sorry, but you weren’t going to speak in your behalf.”
He frowned. “There was nothing to say. We never have or will see eye to eye. You saw how he was.”
“Yes,” she hesitated, biting her lower lip.
His gaze wandered over her face. “But what?”
“Maybe it was just my imagination, but I thought I saw something . . . in his eyes.”
“What?” Alex was watching her intently.
She shrugged. “Love . . . respect . . . hurt. I don’t know, but I think you are more than simply an heir to him. I feel certain of it.”
His laugh was more a snort. “Yeah, a good fight. He’s so stubborn.”
Carmen smiled up at him. “Like father, like son.”
Alex looked surprised for a moment and then his lips clamped together firmly.
“I’m sorry,” she said, reaching for his arm. “But you are alike in some ways.”
“I’m not like him,” Alex stated firmly.
“No,” Carmen agreed, slipping her arm around his and squeezing it. “You’re not like him, and I’m glad.”
He gazed down at her, a wry smile on his lips - his eyes mocking her.
“Don’t patronize me.”
She grinned. “Yes sir.”
Releasing his arm, she darted ahead playfully. He instantly gave in to chase her down the hall. He caught up with her where the hallway turned, grabbing her waist and turning her around. She slipped eagerly into his arms and their lips met hungrily.
From behind them, Felipa’s amused voice teased. “Get a room.”
Alex released Carmen. “Get a life,” he answered instantly, his eyes twinkling with mirth.
Felipa giggled. “I would like to.” She still held Jonathan’s hand.
Destiny rushed Alex. “Daddy! We saw a baby howse!”
Alex tossed her into the air. “You saw a foal,” he corrected.
“Yeah!” she said excitedly when he lowered her to sit on his arm. “And we saw a baby howse too!”
Jonathan was gazing up at Felipa with an adoring expression.
Alex glanced at Carmen, his eyes twinkling. He took Carmen by the hand and leaned close to her ear.
“I’ll talk to him,” he whispered.
That evening as she gave Destiny a bath, Alex talked to Jonathan. When she put Destiny to bed, Jonathan was watching a movie.
“Good night,” Carmen said to him.
He glanced up and smiled. “Good night,” he said cheerfully.
If only Alex could talk to his father that way. Would this coolness last forever?

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