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

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The service on Christmas Eve day was, of course, about Jesus. The subject was how Mary had been a vessel to carry the son of god. After the service, Alex was unusually silent. Finally his gaze found Carmen as they walked toward the car.
“You know, Mary was really the first surrogate mother, wasn’t she?”
Carmen stared at him. “Well . . . I guess so, in a way.” Her gaze left his face as she considered the idea. The baby didn’t belong to Joseph. She glanced up at his face. “That would make Joseph a step-father, right?”
He nodded and smiled. “Interesting perspective, isn’t it?”
“Yes,” Carmen said. “They didn’t know about the science of surrogacy back then – but then, they didn’t know about cesarean delivery either.” Not that one had anything to do with the other, but the technology of surrogacy would have been inconceivable back then. She snickered at the unintentional pun and Alex frowned, his gaze an unspoken question.

Carmen shrugged. “Nothing. I was just thinking about technology.”
Jonathan tugged on Carmen’s arm. “Mom, when will the baby be born?”
“I think in August,” she said. The doctor hasn’t told us yet.”
By the time they reached the Medena Hacienda, Destiny was asleep. Alex unbuckled her from the bumper seat and carried her into the house. Dulce motioned to Carmen from a hallway, so Carmen told Alex to take the children up and she would be up shortly.
Carmen followed Dulce into the empty hallway. Dulce handed Carmen a picture, her face a study of emotion, but her lips revealing nothing. Carmen took the picture from her hand and studied it. It was a picture taken at the party and the focus was on Carmen and Alex. Carmen was looking at someone behind the camera and Alex was looking at a girl who stood about five feet from him. His gaze was clearly focused on her half exposed breasts.
Warmth raced up her neck. “Interesting,” Carmen said, handing the picture back to her.
Dulce glared at her. “It is for you. I do not need it.”
“Thank you,” Carmen said as if it were a gift. “By the way, neither Alex nor I drink.” She let her gaze fall sternly on Dulce’s face. “A spiked drink might seem harmless, but if a person was taking certain prescription drugs, it could be dangerous.”
“I did not know Alex would drink it.” Dulce snapped.
“But it would have been alright if I had?” Carmen clarified.
Dulce shrugged. “Perhaps it was foolish thing to do.”
“Very.” Carmen said. “Alex thinks someone spiked his punch. He’s irritated, but he probably won’t say anything. What do you think he would do if he realized that the drink was intended for me?”
Dulce stared at her for a moment, as if considering it for the first time. And then her eyes grew large.
“You did not tell him?”
“He’d have a cow,” Carmen said. “He’s very protective of his family.”
Dulce eyed her doubtfully. “You will not tell him?”
Carmen shrugged. “He doesn’t remember what happened. I see no point in telling him.” She sighed. “Why did you do it? What do you have against me?”
Dulce looked away. “You are so . . . “ she paused, groping for the right word. “He thinks you are better than us.”
Carmen stared at her in surprise. “I’m sure he doesn’t think that. If he treats me differently than others, I’m sure it’s because we are married. He feels responsible for me and the children.”
“He is possessive,” Dulce amended.
“A little,” Carmen responded, “but I suppose that’s natural, given our relationship. He makes final decision on things. That’s unusual, I know, but we both like it that way.”
“And you obey him?”
Carmen sighed. “I don’t think of it that way. If I didn’t want to do what he said I’d tell him so – and he would listen to my reasons. He doesn’t force me to do what he wants. I simply want to follow his lead.”
Dulce gazed into space. Her accent was still there, but the clumsy speech pattern was gone. “Not like Father. He wants us to do everything he says without question. If we do not . . .” She shrugged and then walked away.
Carmen stared after her and shook her head. She would have thought Dulce adored her father, but obviously not. The other obvious fact was that Dulce didn’t accept the inheritance issue. That would explain her resentment toward Alex.
Carmen found Alex relaxing in a chair next to the bed in their room. She dropped the picture in his lap and watched his reaction.
His inquisitive gaze met hers, likely sensing something amiss.
One glance at the picture and his neck turned red. The flush quickly invaded his face. He picked up the picture and sighed deeply, meeting her gaze.
“I apologize, Carmen. I wasn’t even aware that I was staring at her . . . there.”
Carmen nodded. “I know. I think everyone was guilty of staring at her at least once – if for no other reason, wondering if she was going to fall out of her dress. You just happened to get caught on camera.”
She reached out and took the picture from his hand. Some men admired women’s legs. Alex admired the breasts – which probably rated him right up there with the majority of men. She had no particular concern about that part. He was at least equally intrigued by hers. In fact, Alex wasn’t her concern about any of it.
“More important,” she continued, “Dulce gave this picture to me. Why would she do that?”
He shook his head. “Maybe she thought it was funny.”
“She didn’t. In fact, she said it was for me.”
He frowned. “Why?”
“Good question. I’ve been getting the feeling she is trying to break us up.”
His expression was skeptical. “Why would she want to do that?”
Carmen shrugged. “Maybe she thinks it’s a miss-match for you. Maybe she has someone more suitable in mind.”
His smile was wry. “Maybe you’re paranoid.”
“Maybe, but how else would you explain things like this?” She held up the picture.
His brows shot up. “Poor judgment – or taste?”
“Jealousy?” She suggested.
“Of what?”
“You. She obviously wants you to stay. Your father even offered you land if you would come down here to stay. Maybe she thinks I’m the only thing keeping you from doing that.”
His gaze shifted reflectively to nothing in particular. After a moment his focus came back to her face. “What else has happened to make you think she is trying to break us up? Has she been disrespectful of you?”
Actually, Dulce had been disrespectful with every look and word. Even inviting Tessa was disrespectful. It seemed unlikely that Señor Medena would invite Tessa. As for the drink, there was no point in bringing that up.
She tossed the picture in his lap again and made a face. “Do you mean, besides that picture?”
He stared at the picture. “Maybe we should go home.”
She had probably resurrected his memory of how Lori had tried to break them up. Of course, it was possible that someone might harm her. There was a lot at stake. Still, if they let it change their plans and begin living in fear . . . She sighed.
“Jonathan would be disappointed if we left before Christmas. But I think it’s important that we’re both aware of what’s going on, don’t you?”
He nodded. “I guess so.” He hesitated. “I wish we had never come here.”
“I know what you mean,” she said,” but wouldn’t all this have come up eventually?”
His head snapped up and he eyed her suspiciously. “Have you been talking to Dulce?”
“More like Dulce has been talking to me.”
His gaze became guarded. “About what?”
She sat down on the bed and sighed again. “I’m sorry. I didn’t realize what a mess it was.”
He stood and walked over to the window, staring out it absently. “It isn’t your fault. I’m the one who should be apologizing - for dragging you into this. I should have . . . “ He ran a hand through his hair. “It doesn’t matter.” He paced back and forth across the room, deep in thought. Finally he stopped in front of her.
“I don’t want to put the girls out of a home.”
Carmen stood and put her arms around him. “You won’t be, honey. Señor Medena is doing that. He is their father and he is ultimately responsible. He is trying to transfer that responsibility to you in the name of nobility.” She leaned back in his arms. “Even a bird is smart enough to push the fledgling out of the nest when it fails to fly on its own. All the girls have the opportunity of going to college while the money is still there. If they choose to stay here where there is no future, how can you be blamed?”
He pulled her close and kissed her forehead. Wrapping his arms around her, he sighed deeply.
“I know,” she said. “It isn’t that simple.”
“Actually,” he replied, “It is that simple. No one is guaranteed a free ride. If he wants to keep this estate in the family, he’ll have to leave it to his daughters. Otherwise, he’ll have to live with the idea that it will no longer be in the family after he passes.”
Carmen remained quiet for a few minutes, allowing him to think about it. Finally she spoke.
“Are you sure that’s the way you want it? I don’t want you to give it up because of me. I’ll go wherever you go - and I’ll be happy there.”
His voice was soft. “Am I being like him – making stipulations that ultimately take things away from my children?”
She hugged him. “What are you taking away? You have set aside the money for a college education. What could you give them here that you couldn’t give them at home?” Again she leaned back so she could see his face. “What if Señor Medena had three boys instead of three girls?”
A slow smile worked its way across his face and into his eyes. “I know life would have been a lot simpler for me.”
She wrinkled her nose at him. “But a lot more complicated for the other two, maybe. There is something to be said for being poor. You never have to wonder if someone likes you for who you are, and you never have to worry that they might be after your money.”
He chuckled softly. “Are you saying we should raise our children poor?”
“I’m saying their lives will be complicated enough without us adding problems to it. Just think. If one of your sisters gets married and has a boy, Señor Medena might change his mind about whom he wants to inherit the estate.”
His laugh was short and humorless. “I doubt that . . . but you never know.” He released her.
“We’d better get ready for lunch.” Glancing in the mirror, he straightened his jacket and tucked the tie back down into his vest.
Carmen watched him absently. “You know, I just thought of something.”
Alex spoke to her reflection in the mirror. “What?”
You said Eduardo was your cousin. Obviously your father has a brother or a sister. Why don’t they inherit?”
He turned, regarding her with apprehension. “Señor Medena was the first boy in his family. I’m his first son.”
“That’s stupid,” Carmen gasped. “This is the USA. We share.”
Alex sighed. “I know what you mean, but I didn’t make the rules - and apparently I have no power to change them.”
She hugged him, laying her head on his chest. She wasn’t telling him anything he didn’t already know. All she was doing was reminding him how powerless he was.
“It isn’t your doing . . . or your responsibility to change it. I see why you wanted to stay out of it completely.” She lifted her head and gazed up into his eyes. “But eventually it would have caught up with you. You know that, don’t you?”
He nodded, his gaze drifting off in contemplation.
She squeezed him once more and then released him.
“I’ll wake Destiny.”

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