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

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That night it stormed and then turned cold. Christmas was only a few days away, and yet it didn’t seem like Christmas. At home, presents were under the tree, waiting for their return. They would purchase a few things for Christmas tomorrow. Alex had asked one of the men go into town and rent a car for them. Felipa enthusiastically agreed to go with them and watch Destiny and Jonathan while they shopped.
Carmen was up first, showering and dressing before Alex woke. While he showered, she straightened up the room. With nothing more to do, she wandered in to watch him shave. Leaning her back against the wall, hands behind her back, she watched him in the mirror. He glanced at her in the mirror and continued shaving. Rinsing the razor, he laid it aside and wiped his face with the towel.
He turned from the mirror and gazed down at her solemnly. For a moment they simply looked at each other. Finally he put a hand on the wall on each side of her head.
“What’s going on in that pretty head?”
She gazed up into his smooth features. “Nothing.”
He chuckled softly. “I know better than that.”
He bent his head and brushed her lips lightly with his own. Removing his hands from the wall, he placed them on her shoulders, pulling her closer. His warm fingers released her shoulders and traced their way up her neck, cupping her jaws in his hands. Once again he lowered his head, but this time his lips lingered on hers, searching for a response.
Her heart beat double time as a wave of passion surged over her. Right now she didn’t care where they were. It had been too long. He was so sweet - so patient.
Placing her hands over his, she eagerly returned his kiss. His hands slipped from hers, sliding down her neck and into her blouse – so warm and gentle. Finally she drew back, breathless.
“Not now,” she whispered. “Jonathan and Destiny are in the other room.”
“So, shut the door,” he said, his voice strained, and drew her into his arms, seeking her lips again in a hungry way.
For a moment she clung to him, pressing her body against his until desire for him drowned out every other thought.
When Destiny squealed and Jonathan laughed, it broke the spell.
“Alex,” she moaned. “We can’t – not right now.”
He released her and stepped back.
“Carmen, you’re driving me crazy.”
“I’m sorry,” she said. “I want to, but . . .”
“I know,” he said with a sigh, running fingers through his hair. “Let’s get the kids ready to go.
Felipa met them in the main room downstairs. She smiled up at Alex.
“Thank you for getting me off the hook. Dad even gave me some money to buy something for Destiny and Jonathan.”
Alex nodded. “Well, don’t get too extravagant. They aren’t used to it – and I don’t want them to be.”
Felipa’s delicate brows came down. “But you have money . . .”
“Our children will have everything they need, but not everything they want,” Alex interrupted. “I don’t want to spoil them – or anyone else to spoil them.”
Carmen glanced up at Alex. It was almost as if he were shutting Felipa off before she could reveal something. How much money did Alex have? For the first time it mattered to her. Not because she wanted the money, but because it might become an issue. The last time he made a business trip to Columbia, he had said they needed the money. Did they? Ultimately it had cost them a child and her ability to have more. It had provided the opportunity for him to accuse her of being unfaithful.
But that was behind them. Dragging it up again wouldn’t do either of them any good.

The shopping trip was exciting because it was so close to Christmas, but otherwise uneventful. Carmen bought a few gifts for Destiny and Jonathan, as well as one for Alex. With Felipa’s help, she also found a nightgown that was both fashionable and modest. It was time to shove those old inhibitions out of their bedroom. Maybe this abstinence was what she needed. She smiled to herself. Alex was going to be surprised tonight.
Felipa bought Jonathan and Destiny something inexpensive to keep them entertained and then fed them all lunch in the mall. Alex tried to pay, but she wouldn’t let him. It was probably the first money, other than the air fares, Señor Medena had been able to spend on Alex – and even then he had to do it through Felipa. Their differences couldn’t be merely heritage. There had to be more.
That evening all the women got together to wrap gifts. Since Destiny was with them, they set hers aside. A coloring book and crayons kept her busy while they worked and talked.
“Has Alex told you about the party?” Felipa asked Carmen.
Carmen glanced up at her. “Party? No, he hasn’t. Is it a Christmas party?”
Felipa shook her head. “No, it is a welcome home party – for you and Alex.”
No wonder Alex hadn’t said anything about it. In the first place, he didn’t consider this home. In the second, he was in no mood to be cajoled by his father. But then, a party didn’t seem like something Señor Medena would plan. More than likely the girls were throwing the party – likely only for Alex.
Carmen continued wrapping gifts and didn’t comment. If she was invited, it was as a guest of Alex, so he would tell her when and if he decided to go.
“I hope I find someone like Alex,” Felipa said wistfully. “How did you know you loved him?”
Carmen smiled at her. “I guess I didn’t at first.” She shrugged. “I realized there was electricity between us from the day I met him. I just thought it was because he was so good looking.”
Felipa tipped her head to the side, as if she was considering that information. Finally she smiled. “But it was more.” Her dark eyes fixed on Carmen, eagerly waiting for the rest of the story.
Carmen laughed. “I guess that’s obvious, isn’t it?”
Felipa rolled her eyes and looked embarrassed. “This is true. But how did you know?”
Maybe Felipa had a love she wasn’t sure about. It wasn’t something Carmen would normally discuss, especially in front of hostiles, but Felipa should know there was a difference between excitement and love. Carmen drew a slow breath and glanced self-consciously at Dulce and Alondra. Both were watching her as if she had something earth-shattering to say. Maybe they all needed to know.
“I knew because he proved to me that I could trust him with my heart and soul – the way you trust your mother and father.”
Felipa stared at the wall, deep in thought for a few minutes. Finally her sober gaze came back to Carmen. “But if you could trust him this way and there was no electricity, would it still be love?”
“Not for me,” Carmen said instantly, and then blushed. “I mean, there are different kinds of love. We love our parents, siblings and friends. If there is no electricity, it would be like one of those, don’t you think?”
Felipa nodded, her gaze becoming absent again.
Alondra watched Carmen reflectively for a while and finally spoke. “You love him very much.”
Carmen went back to wrapping her present. “So much that I can’t think of words that would express the extent of my love.”
“And he loves you this much?” Alondra probed.
“He must,” Dulce injected acidly. “She makes him want to do the test tube baby.”
Carmen caught her breath – and the denial. It was Alex who talked her into the IVF, but what did it matter? She had agreed.
She shrugged again. “We both wanted a baby. I can’t have one. It wasn’t an easy decision.”
Dulce stared at her expressionlessly. “Already you have two children. This is not enough for Alex to support?”
She swallowed down a crisp reply. It was true, of course. She contributed nothing to their income. Alex wouldn’t discourage her from going to work, but he had expressed more than once that he preferred her to be at home taking care of the children. It was the way she wanted it as well. She wasn’t contributing money, but she was certainly contributing her share.
“Alex and I both want another baby,” she finally repeated.
Dulce smiled without warmth. “I understand. It is not for me to say how he spends his money. Why you do not adopt another baby? It is not so good as a baby with your blood?”
Carmen mentally counted to ten before responding. “I feel the same love for Destiny and Jonathan that I will feel for the new baby. I want another baby because I want more children. It’s hard to adopt an infant, and even if you do, the mother has the right to change her mind for six months. I don’t want to bond with a child only to have it taken away.”
For a moment Dulce actually looked sympathetic. Then her expression grew bland again.
“It must be difficult for Alex to keep you happy. You want many things.”
Dulce!” Felipa snapped. She turned to Carmen. “I apologize for my sister. She would like to have so much attention.”
Dulce stood and motioned for Alondra to follow her. “It is late. Felipa, do not be long. We must get up early tomorrow and make plans for the party.”
The room was silent for a few minutes after they left. Finally Carmen looked at Felipa.
”Do you think I’m high maintenance?”
Felipa’s brows drew together, her expression perplexed. “High Maintenance? What does that mean?”
“Basically, that I require a lot of attention,” Carmen said.
Felipa considered the question a moment and then her brows resumed their normal position.
“Oh, you think Alex feels like you want his attention all the time?” She smiled. “He talks about you – thinks about you all the time. It makes Father crazy.”
Carmen’s smile was wry. “I think Alex makes a concentrated effort to drive his father crazy. It’s almost as if it is a lifetime goal.”
Felipa smiled as she expertly tied a big red bow. “He does not like the way father treats us – financially.”
“Doesn’t it bother you?” Carmen asked, setting a freshly wrapped present aside.
Felipa shrugged elegantly. “Not really. It is his money. I did not earn it. She sighed.
I do not want all this.” She waved her hand gracefully to include the entire estate. “I want what you have - a husband who loves me - and children. It is enough. You are happy.”
“I was raised poor,” Carmen said. “What about Dulce and Alondra? Do they want more? How do they feel about your father offering the estate to Alex? I know they don’t like me.”
Felipa’s giggle was like the tinkling of a crystal chandelier. “Alondra follows Dulce. Since you arrived, she is not sure this is the way. It makes Dulce jealous. Dulce watches you and tries to find things you do wrong. It is not easy.”
Carmen stared at her. “But I don’t know anything about dressing or acting like a lady. She doesn’t have any reason to be jealous of me.”
Felipa smiled. “One does not dress or act like a lady. One either is or is not a lady. You are a lady.”
Whatever the case, it certainly wasn’t worth arguing about.
“What about Alex? “Do they resent that your father wants only a son for an heir?”
Felipa sighed again. “It makes no difference how they feel. Father will not change his mind.”
“And if Alex refuses the inheritance?”
Felipa lifted a steady gaze to Carmen. “In the end, he will not refuse. If he does not take the inheritance, we will not have a home. Father knows this. Alex knows this.”
“That’s terrible!” Carmen gasped. “How could he do such a thing to his own children?”
Felipa said nothing as she wrapped the last present. After they put all the presents on a table, Felipa finally spoke.
“Alex defies father now, but he will not win. Father is powerful. He will see that the estate does not leave the family.”
Maybe that was the problem. Alex liked being in control, and he had none in this situation. Or was it the other way around? Maybe Alex wanted to be in control because he had been dominated all his life. His father was never able to get custody of him as a child. Now he was exerting his authority in another way. Of course, he too might be responding to something he never had.
“There’s more, isn’t there,” Carmen asked, watching Felipa’s face. “Your father loves Alex, doesn’t he? Did he love Mrs. Barnett?”
Felipa shrugged. “It grows late. I must go.”
Carmen picked up Destiny and followed Felipa out the door. What a mess. She shouldn’t have encouraged Alex to come down here. On the other hand, when the issue finally came to a head, she would have been in the middle of it all anyway. It was ironic that she should pity him for being forced to inherit something he didn’t want – especially so because she had been so poor before they met. No one wanted to feel forced into anything. Still, it could be a lot worse. Besides, after he inherited, he could always put someone in charge of the estate. It wasn’t as if he had to be there every living minute of his life. If he wanted to make it fair for the girls, then he should let them run the place. She should discuss all this with Alex. If he hadn’t hid it from her all this time, it wouldn’t be such a shock.

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