Julia sat on one of the plastic chairs next to the small reception desk at the notary’s office. When she’d stepped in a few moments ago, the clerk, a young boy of about twenty, had told her that Mr. Ruiz would be with her shortly. Julia glanced around the empty room. No sign yet of the new owner. Her hands were getting all sweaty from her mounting nerves and anticipation. The clerk cleared his throat as he pointed to the short bald man coming out from the back office.
Julia stood up and shook hands with Mr. Ruiz, the notary. She recalled him vaguely, as he had always attended the party her family gave for the entire town, the Saturday before the town’s main celebration. As with everything else that had been neglected with the house, Julia knew that tradition had been forgotten as well.
Mr. Ruiz gave her his condolences about her father and motioned her to the chair she had been sitting on.
“So where do I sign? I have to get back today and the sooner I leave, the more light I’ll catch once I enter the mountains.”
“Oh, si, si. But we must wait for Mr. Solis to get here. I’m sure he’s on his way.”
“I hope so because I’d hate dri…….” Julia froze mid-sentence as the name registered in her brain. Did he say Solis? Maybe she heard him wrong. Her Spanish was far from good and his English wasn’t perfect either. Maybe he’d meant to say another name?
Julia get a grip. It’s not like he is the only Mr. Solis in the whole world.
With a voice not as steady as before she asked. “I’m sorry did you……did you just say Mr. Solis?”
“Yes, the new owner of…” He trailed off but only to greet with a nod the newcomer behind her. Julia experienced a tremor all over her body.
“Right on time. Mr. Solis, welcome.”
Julia turned around and her legs buckled beneath her. She literally had to hold on to the edge of the desk to keep from falling to the floor. She let out a small gasp as her beating heart recognized the pair of dark eyes eyeing her with contempt from the notary’s entrance. Damian Solis.
“You!” She croaked, though it was hard to miss the sinking disappointment in her voice.
“Ms. Andersson. He is Mr. Solis. He bought your old place.” Mr. Ruiz announced, oblivious to the wounds opening up inside her.
“What the hell are you doing here?” Julia demanded, looking straight at Damian. When he continued to stare at her, she willed the rush of memories to stop. Then, addressing the notary without taking her eyes off Damian she said. “There’s got to be a mistake, Mr. Ruiz. He couldn’t possible have…” She stumbled on the last words because Damian began walking her way. His tall frame making her feel small, and his eyes never leaving hers.
The bald man scratched his head in confusion as he failed to understand why was Julia so put off by this revelation.
“I assure you, there isn’t. He contacted my office right after you put the property on the market. He was the only bidder who offered double its market value price. I thought you were aware of this. Didn’t you see his signature on the initial paperwork that was sent to you?”
“I…… I usually signed them first then sent them back to his lawyer, I didn’t….” Her throat felt tight and she was pretty sure the room’s temperature had gone up many degrees. Afraid to move in case her knees would just give away beneath her, she closed her eyes for a moment as her own heart galloped wildly inside her chest. When she opened them again, he was moving slowly towards her.
It was like watching a black wolf getting ready to pounce on its prey. The way he moved was nothing far from dangerous-looking.
Julia tried moving further back but found her legs pressed against the reception desk. Her breathing was coming out strong as she felt a wave of emotions wash through her. There he was, the only man she had ever loved and the only one to break her heart.
With just a few strides of those long legs, he was now standing next to her but focusing all his attention on the red-faced notary who probably wondered if he was going to get fired over this. It was as if Julia had simply vanished and the only people left were the notary and Damian.
“I apologize if I kept you waiting, Mr. Ruiz. I had to stop by somewhere else before coming to see you.”
“Oh no….no problem. I was just explaining to Ms. Andersson that we needed your presence in order to begin.”
“Well, as you can see, I’m here. So I don’t see any reason to delay this.” Not even after the notary mentioned her name, did he turn to look at her. She had had ten years to get him off her system. To act cool and aloof and not fall apart at the mere sight of him if she ever saw him again. And she was failing miserably.
Julia’s own body had started shaking with pent up anger. She never saw this coming. She couldn’t find her voice. The hurt he had caused her invaded the air around her. It was like a slap to the face. Julia could feel the tears of rage threatening to spill out. Like hell was she going to give him the benefit of seeing her cry.
Without so much as a backward glance at Mr. Ruiz and Damian, she grabbed her purse from the chair and ran out of the office. Outside, her head turned in all directions until it found Sonia’s restaurant. Something told her everyone but her, had known all along about the mystery buyer.
Damian Solis watched Julia as she ran to the other side of the town square and entered a small restaurant.
He thought he would be prepared. Hell, it had been his idea to meet her in person after all. Damian had been naive enough to think that he would be able to keep his emotions in check when he saw her again. But the moment she turned around and pinned those pools of light brown on him, he had had to call on every ounce of self control to stop himself from letting the resentment he felt towards her, make all hell break loose.
Unfortunately, he also hadn’t been prepared for the sudden burst of desire at the mere sight of her. His body had tensed as he recognized the familiar signs of want that he had experienced when he had been with her. He fisted hands at his sides as he tried to put his frustration on hold. It looked like time, distance and the many years learning to transform love into hate, hadn’t been able to erase those feelings from his body.
Damian excused himself and went outside, not sure what to do next. The whole plan had been to come here and rub the painful truth in her lying face. That he, Damian Solis, the man who her father had humiliated on countless times and who made sure he knew he would never measure up to the Andersson’s rich life expectations, the man she had let go in order to continue enjoying the benefits of her wealthy lifestyle, was more powerful than Benjamin Andersson had ever been.
Hell, he was now the rightful owner of the same house he had been denied entrance to. One of the most coveted properties in La Providencia. He had wanted to show her the same contempt she had shown him ten years ago when she wrote him that letter. A letter whose contents had made him act like a raging lunatic for days, as the pain of losing her had felt like someone had teared out his heart and for the first time, had caused him to feel ashamed of his own humble background.
It was already a done deal. The minute she came back and signed the last documents, he could go on with his life and his work and put her face and the memory of her startled reaction away for good.
Yeah right, a voice scoffed inside his mind. If that were the case then why did he feel this increasing need to go after her? Before Julia fled, he had glimpsed the naked pain passing through her eyes. Probably her pride being trampled on, at having the man she had left because he hadn’t been able to offer her the luxury she had been used to all her life, pay twice the price asked for the house up on the hill.
Yes, that was it.
“Damn it.” Damian breathed out, raking his hands through his thick mass of dark hair. As her shocked face floated back to the foreground of his mind, Damian noticed the fatigue imprinted all over her face and the dark circles like two beacons of grief on her face.
His own mother had been the one to call him about Julia’s father. That’s how he had learned as well that the family would have to sell the house. He had done his own digging. Being now in a position of money and power opened many doors that would’ve normally shut in his face before. Damian had learned Benjamin Andersson had been in deep debt and that selling the house had been the only solution. Word on the street had it Julia had also put some of her own money to settle things with her father’s creditors. Probably all that lawyer money she had been making over the years.
It had shocked him at first to hear Julia wouldn’t be fighting for the property. Then, as he’d discovered she still lived in New York, bitterness made him realize she probably didn’t want to leave her comfortable, luxurious life for the simplicity of La Providencia. Just like she had never intended to leave it for him.
However, as much as he hated himself for admitting it, he knew her well enough to know that there was something else that had made her look pale and frail under the afternoon sun. If the debt was settled than why had she looked so hollow? Was it only grief over losing her father? Or something else?
Damian cursed under his breath as he kept looking at the restaurant where she had disappeared. He had work to do and the last thing he had was time to put up with her spoiled rich girl’s tantrums, or worry about her feelings. She hadn’t bothered with his ten years ago.
If she was so mortified his money would be the one saving her family from disgrace, he didn’t care. In fact, he could call that part of his plan a success. The next part would be finalized once her delicate long hands signed on the dotted line.
Damian Solis. The reason why she had stayed away all these years. If learning the truth about his betrayal had been hard enough, seeing him again after ten years had sucked out all the air from her lungs. Which was why she sat with her eyes glued to the ceiling, breathing so hard, several of the people eating at the other tables eyed her with worry.
He looked just like she remembered him. Older – he was three years her senior- but still as mind blowing with his good looks as ever. Damian had never been a pretty boy, one of those model type guys who looked too pretty that they lacked genuineness. No, Damian had always had that rugged, hard look about him. A sort of bad boy vibe that drew you to him. Not that he had ever acted on it. It had always given Julia goosebumps and butterflies inside her stomach having his attention on her. Of all the girls that had come and gone through town, he had noticed her. Back then, Julia had never ceased to be baffled by it.
But the real punch to the stomach were his eyes. Deep, soulful, all knowing eyes. Dark brown, seductive. When they looked at you it was as if they saw right through you, revealing all of your secrets. Julia had been mesmerized by them, they had made her feel special, unique. The only woman capable of making them shine with what she had believed had been love but firing up with passion when they’d sneak out at night just to be together.
“Julia? What are you doing here? Aren’t you supposed to be at the notary?” Sonia put down the tray she’d been carrying on a nearby table and pulled a chair next to her friend.
“Did you know it was…..him? That he had bought the house?” Her voice was a faint whisper.
Julia’s face fell when she saw the answer on Sonia’s face.
“I heard rumors. But I wasn’t sure. That’s why I chose not to say anything. Oh, Julia. I’m so sorry.”
Julia groaned and put her head between her knees.
“Why? I mean of all the people in the world, why him? And why the hell does he have all that money? Oh my God. Don’t tell me I just sold my house to some criminal or something.”
Sonia patted her head as she answered. “I don’t know, sweetie. You do know he, too, hasn’t come back in the same amount of time as you. Not since he….”
“He got another girl pregnant while swearing he loved me? Yeah, how could I ever forget that.”
After a long pause Sonia said. “His life has been a mystery as yours has been to all of us.”
The world around Julia was spinning fast. Why had she offered herself to deal with all of this? How come her mother or sister got to stay out of this? She had a job, a life, she didn’t need this humiliation again. Julia lifted her head a few inches to continue the conversation. “Well, I was happy living with the mystery. God, I can’t do this.”
“The worst part is that he looked at me as if I had been the one to lie and cheat. Then, he basically ignored me and pretended I didn’t even exist. Hello? I am the one who got hurt. I should be the one doing the ignoring. Instead, I just ran away like I am the one with something to feel ashamed of. If only, I am ashamed I ever set eyes on him and believed his lies.”
Julia could feel the sour recriminations accumulating in her chest. The first time she had had no one to talk to. She had had to swallow all of her broken pride and learned to start all over all by herself. But now, Sonia caressed her hair in a soothing manner, like she had wished her mother had done instead of saying I told you so over and over.
“Want me to call the boys and ask them to beat the crap out of him? Maybe money has made him weak and he now fights like a girl.”
Julia smiled despite herself and lifted her head.
“That would be excellent. Though by the look he gave me, I am pretty sure he could hurt them more than they could him.”
She got up and felt drained. All of what she had avoided feeling during these past ten years was clinging to her like lead. It was a wonder her legs were able to keep her standing upright.
“I should get back. It’s just a stupid signature and then I am out of here. I am a bestselling writer for God’s sake. I shouldn’t be intimidated by anyone, especially him.”
“Want me to come with you?” Sonia got up. “Nothing says intimidating like my I-am-so-pissed-at you stare, just ask Stephan.”
Julia hugged Sonia. When she let go her lips curved slightly upwards. “I think I need to do this on my own.” She let out a tired breath. “But thanks for the offer, though.”
“Okay. You just go back there and show him he can’t affect you anymore. A man who lies isn’t worth your tears or your time.”
Sonia walked Julia to the restaurant’s entrance and glanced over at the notary’s office, hoping to catch a peek of Damian. She, too, remembered he had been quite the handsome one when he’d lived here. Too bad he had let all of them down.
“I’ll write as soon as I’m back in New York. Maybe before I come back you and Stephan can go visit me. Take a break from your work here.”
“You’re kidding me? I was already thinking December might be an excellent time to go and see you in the Big Apple.”
Julia smiled weakly before making her way back to the other side of the town’s square. Sonia saw her falter right outside the notary. Even from here, she could see Julia squaring her shoulders and bracing herself to deal with her painful past.
It was even harder to walk in with her head held high and keep the blush of embarrassment from showing on her cheeks. They probably thought she had gone totally nuts by the way she had run away before.
Julia cleared her throat and approached the reception desk without glancing at Damian, who sat at one of the plastic chairs and was busy checking God knew what on his Blackberry. Before she could say anything, Damian said without looking up at her. “Some of us don’t have time for your rich girl tantrums.”
Ignoring him, she said to Mr. Ruiz. “I apologize about before. If you wouldn’t mind I’d like to get this over with.”
The look Mr. Ruiz gave her was far from reassuring. She felt like those times when she dreamed she was walking on the street with no clothes on and people laughed and pointed at her.
The poor man was sweating profusely and his eyes kept darting from Julia to Damian until finally he decided it was safer to focus them on the papers before him.
“Well, Ms. Andersson, I’m afraid that won’t be possible today.”
“Excuse me?” Julia choked out the words.
“I…..when you left, Mr. Solis began reading the papers one last time and he pointed out to me that your name was misspelled. Also, the date was written incorrectly plus there are some other errors.”
“So? You must have the file on your computer here.” Julia dismissed the tingle near her heart at the memory of Damian’s deep voice saying her name when he had held her close to him. Instead, she opened her purse and pulled her wallet out, opening it to where her driver’s license was visible through the plastic compartment.
“There’s my name and I’m sure the corrections won’t take more than ten minutes.”
Mr. Ruiz turned a horrible shade of purple and began pulling at the collar of his shirt.
“Ms. Andersson, our computer crashed this morning and it will take us several days to have it fixed.” Anticipating her next question he added. “No, we don’t have backup files. We are going to have to draft everything again.”
“I can’t believe this.”
This was not good. Did this mean she would have to face him again? Or maybe she could convince him to just mail her the freaking papers so that she could sign them and be done with it.
“Believe it. As a lawyer, you should know everything must be spelled out perfectly in order to avoid any future misunderstandings and confusions. For all I know, you’d find a way to screw with me, again.”
She hadn’t sensed him standing behind her. He took her by surprise as she inhaled his smell. God! He smelled good. Damn him. A mixture of after-shave and some expensive cologne was enough to send her own senses rocketing up to the sky.
“Excuse me?” She whirled around, her temper ready to crack.
“I mean, your dad was a talented lawyer. You probably inherited his talent and could find a way to damage me.”
Julia wasn’t aware that she had lifted her hand until she heard the low curse escaping from his lips the second she hit his cheek. Mr. Ruiz’s shocked gasp made her turn her head after she registered Damian’s startled stare.
“Listen, in case you forgot, I have to leave today. I have an early flight to catch tomorrow and I don’t have the patience to play along with this man’s paranoia. So, you know where to contact me. Have his lawyer send over whatever it is that needs my signature and this time be sure you check the damned papers before wasting my time.”
Julia was about to turn on her heels and storm out when he spoke, dangerously calm behind her.
“I’m afraid that’s impossible. The reason my lawyer asked you to come is because this final process has to be done in the presence of Mr. Ruiz here. So you’ll have to be here when the corrected papers are ready.”
She turned back to where Damian was standing just a few inches away from her. She considered slapping him again just for the hell of it. What did he intend she do now? Wait by the phone and drop everything so she could jump on the first plane back here to sign his stupid papers?
“Then what do you suggest I do? How long until this is taken care of?”
Mr. Ruiz looked like he was considering hiding under the desk until Julia left his office.
“I don’t know.”
“What do you mean you don’t know?”
“Well, señorita, as you might remember, the town’s festivities are about to start in a few weeks and it’s our busiest time of the year. We are swamped with permits for the booths and the fair that sets up every year. Not to mention that we also manage the rental of all the cottages.”
“I’m afraid I can’t give you a specific date.”
“I have to go back!” Julia was one step away from yelling. “I have a job. What am I supposed to do? Drop everything and come back whenever you need me to?”
“You could stay here….” Mr. Ruiz shrunk his shoulders when he heard Julia’s sharp intake of breath.
“Stay? Are you out of your freaking mind? I can’t. I….you, this is all your fault.” She spun around, dabbing a finger at Damian’s chest.
“I assure you, I want this business to be finished as much as you do, probably even more.”
“Then can`t you just trust me and not have me sit on a plane for five hours then drive two and a half more just so that you can see it’s me signing?”
“No.” The finality of his answer irked her. She wanted to scream.
“What do you propose I do?”
“I don’t care. What you do is no longer my business.”
Julia flinched away from the hate dripping from his words. Confounded as to why he was treating her with such contempt she sighed, already the pain winning this round. “Oh trust me. I know you don’t care.”
Damian looked at her like he had no idea what she had meant by her words. But his feelings or anything that had to do with him, were no longer part of her business as well.
“I guess I’ll check myself back into the hotel again,” Julia said in defeat, “and you,” Julia spoke now to the notary, “you better have those damn papers ready because if I lose my job over this, then you can bet your ass I’ll take yours.”
When Julia stepped outside, Mr. Ruiz cleared his throat and said to Damian. “Excuse me, Mr. Solis, but should I tell her that the hotel is full?”
“No. Why ruin my fun?” He gave him a sardonic smile.
“I’ll be in touch. And I do agree with her in one thing. Those corrections better be done fast or I can assure you it’ll be worse than you losing your job.”
The notary nodded, too panicked to mutter a response. Once outside, Damian leaned against the door of his black BMW Series 5, deciding it might be worth it to see Julia Andersson throw a fit, if only to witness just one thing not working just because she wanted it to.
“You’re joking, right? What about the room I left this morning?”
“I’m sorry Ms. Andersson but with the town’s celebration we have a full occupancy, not to mention those who come for summer vacations.”
“Okay, how about one of the small cottages?”
“They are all taken. I’m sure if you ask Mr. Ruiz, he’ll tell you there’s nothing available.” The hotel clerk gave her a sympathetic smile and added. “I suggest you ask your friends to let you stay with them if you really have to stick around town.”
Julia let out a moan of despair. What now? It was like God himself had gotten bored and decided to amuse himself by watching her run out of options. And nothing said “let’s make this the worst day possible” than discovering the man she had been anxious to meet, even grateful, was the one man she despised with all her being.
She mumbled a thanks to the hotel’s receptionist and walked back outside.
The sky was a pool of changing colors. The blue of the sky was being tainted pink by the disappearing sun, and soon, night would fall upon them. Somehow two hours had passed in between her shock of seeing Damian and her going to Sonia’s restaurant and then coming back again. She had only one choice left and Julia was already anticipating another late night of road driving. She made a mental note to stop by one of the convenience stores located on the way out for some junk food to keep her awake.
His voice made her jump as she passed next to him. His body was camouflaged against the black BMW as he wore a black shirt and black trousers. Not even his eyes held that light that had drawn her to him.
“Leave me alone, Damian.”
“I guess you can’t always get what you want.”
“Oh sweetheart you did that for me ten years ago.”
She remained silent, her stare avoiding his.
“Tell me, Julia, what is it that has you lashing out at me?”
“You’ve got to be kidding me.” Julia shook her head, unconvinced by this whole clueless act he was putting. Quite frankly, he playing the part of the offended party was getting on her last nerve.
“I assure you, I am not.”
“I don’t have time for this.”
She didn’t have time to get away as his hand shot out and grabbed her arm.
“Back off!” She hissed, finally looking at him.
“Not until you tell me.” Damian glared at her.
“Tell you what? Don’t you already know?”
“I don’t, so please enlighten me.”
Julia broke free from his grasp, putting some distance between them. She rubbed the place where his hand had held on to her and said. “You’ve been playing me from the start. All this nonsense about not revealing your name. What the hell was that about?”
“Can’t you tell, Julia? I wanted to see your face when you knew who I was.”
She began to pace like a caged lion, then stopped and asked the same thing she had wondered with Sonia. “How could you even afford a place like that?” Julia pointed at the bright dots lighting the property’s perimeter. A place that, despite the setback from before, no longer belonged to her family. It was now owned by the same man who would probably trample on it like he had her.
“Are you involved in something illegal? How come no one knew anything about you until now? Because let me tell you, if you think you are going to tarnish what my father built just so you can keep on….”
“It is really killing you, isn’t it?” He cut her off.
“Yes, it’s killing you that someone like me, someone your family would look up and down with disdain, is the person responsible for saving them from social disgrace. And if no one knew about me was because I was working hard earning what I now have. Even us, the unworthy of princesses such as yourself can make something out of ourselves. I did.”
Again, Julia was confused by the words coming out of his mouth, but since her head was starting to throb, she only asked. “And what about the illegal stuff?”
He surprised her by laughing, the sound making her skin crawl as it sounded empty. His dark eyes hardened at the same time.
“God, you’re such a snob. No, Julia I’m not involved in anything illegal. I worked my ass off to be where I am and have what I have. God, I was right about you. You never did see me as something more than a rich girl’s fantasy. It was all a lie, you were just an illusion, we were never real.”
This time when she blinked, a single tear slid down her cheek. He really meant that. Julia heard the regret in his words.
“This can’t be happening.” She whispered.
“Well, guess what? It is Julia. Things change and I’ll be damned if I don’t revel in the fact that the one person your father looked down upon as if he was worth nothing, is now richer and more powerful than he ever dreamed to be. Too bad he died before he got to see it all.”
Who was this man? Looking at her with genuine contempt blazing like fire that was burning holes on her skin and deep in her heart. Once upon a time, another type of fire had lighted up the brown in his eyes, like logs being consumed by flames every time he had held her and kissed her as she regrettably remembered all too well.
His words were like a fist shattering a mirror, the scattered pieces making it impossible for her to recognize the man standing in front of her. She had never known he could be ruthless and not care about other people’s feelings. When or why had he gotten so bitter?
Yes, she accepted her father had been awful to him, but she had always defended him. Why was he taking out his rage on her? What more damage did he want to cause than taking away the one thing that had meant the most to her, her love for him?
Julia had been sixteen when she first met him. She had seen him during one of the town’s local celebrations talking to a bunch of other guys, as she had been hanging around with her own group of friends. One look at him and she had felt butterflies in the pit of her stomach. As if sensing her, he had stopped his own conversation in order to stare back at her. Time appeared to have stopped for those brief seconds when their eyes locked on each other. Damian would always tell Julia that it was he who had felt her near him even before he had seen her. That a strange current had made the hairs on the back of his neck stand up. And that when days later, he mustered enough courage to talk to her, he’d known that his life would never be the same.
Snapping back from her brief reverie, Julia didn’t bother to offer any sort of comeback. Silently, she made her way back to her car.
Without glancing back at him, Julia pulled out from her parking spot and drove out of town. Maybe she would have to see him again, but there was no way in hell she was going to put up with his superior attitude or with his nasty remarks about her or her family. As much as they too had treated her like she didn’t matter, he had no right to talk about her father like that, especially when he had done everything to prove her father right. Damian Solis had never been interested in her. Worst, he had never been in love with her.