This time, when Julia opened her eyes, she stretched in bed and found the space next to her empty. This time she didn’t panic. After Damian had made love to her for a second time, he’d put her doubts to rest. She hadn’t said it out loud, but she hoped he knew that she loved him. And deep inside, Julia wished he felt the same way for her, too. But she wasn’t going to dwell on that, she had spent the night with him and nothing could make her happier.
As she continued to stretch, she reveled in the lazy sensation possessing her bones and muscles. Maybe they could hang out in here all day. Or they could go down to the pool and just lay under the sun, not thinking about the past and focusing on the now. The smell of food as it wafted from the kitchen to Damian’s room, had Julia’s mouth watering.
And like a stone on a slingshot, she bolted forward to a sitting position.
Since coming here, Julia had taken care of tidying up her room. Except the day of the scorpion encounter, Julia had taken care of making her bed and cleaning her room and doing her own laundry. But since Damian had been busy even during the weekends, there was nothing guaranteeing her Esperanza wouldn’t come here any second and make Damian’s bed. Especially if she’d already seen him roaming downstairs.
She was so preoccupied in getting out of Damian’s room and back to her own, she miscalculated the height of the bed and grabbed on to the edge of the bed, before she went falling down on her bare ass on the hard and cold floor.
Julia slipped quickly back into her dress, though she wore nothing under it, and fished her panties from under Damian’s bed. Her hand opened the door and seeing no one in sight, she made a beeline for her door across the hallway and breathed out once she was inside.
In order to make her I-spent-the-night-in-my-room story plausible, Julia changed into her shirt and shorts and sort of ruffled the bed covers so the bed would look slept in. Though Esperanza would not mind, Julia couldn’t help but see her like a mother and no one wanted their mother to find them in the bed of some guy, totally naked.
As if she’d been spying in on her, her phone beeped an incoming text message. Julia couldn’t suppress her smile when she saw it was from Sonia. The message read:
-OMG! OMG! What happened after we left? Tell me, dying to know. Call me!
Julia texted back.
When her phone beeped again, she wondered if these women had some sort of hidden sixth sense because this time it was Magdalena with more or less the same text as Sonia. Julia replied in the same way.
“Oh come on.”
She rolled her eyes to the ceiling when she received one more incoming text. Not bothering to glance at the number which said unknown, she opened the message only to find the next words.
-Check your email.
Unease began to crawl up on her back, but Julia imagined it was probably Sonia or Magdalena still messing with her. She tapped the icon on her Iphone. Julia noted there were two new emails on her personal inbox.
She opened the first one, already preparing a smart comeback to whatever Magdalena or Sonia had emailed her. When the image of herself from yesterday standing near the edge of the garden overlooking the town, filled the screen, she gasped. The caption, “You sure looked beautiful,” was written under the picture.
Wary, she opened the second email. It was then that she felt the whole world turn on its axis. She staggered until her legs hit the edge of the bed. The second email had the same image than the first one, only this one had been modified either by using Photoshop or some other similar program. Her face, unlike the first one, looked like someone had used her as a punching bag and her dress was in rags, with bloody stains all over her body. Julia felt the nausea rise from her stomach as she read the words under the image:
Too bad you won’t be around anymore to impress us with your beauty. Prepare to die, bitch!
When she scrolled up to see the sender’s email, Julia couldn’t focus her eyes on the blurry letters. She realized it was because her hand was shaking. She stilled it by clasping her wrist with her other hand. Julia’s heart literally stopped when she read the address: firstname.lastname@example.org.
“No.” That wasn’t possible. Damian wouldn’t have……….Then, as if someone were reading it again, certain lines from the letter echoed around her: you and your father owe me and since daddy dearest is gone, that leaves you, my beautiful Julia. Don’t worry, soon you’ll be in hell with your lying, deceiving father.
Had her father done more damage to Damian? Was he seeking payback? Was all this just some ploy to get her to trust him so he could have his revenge? But it didn’t make sense. Not after last night, not after…….
She crouched next to the bed as if she were in the middle of a war zone, her hands over her head.
Damian swung the door open and ran to her side. She was shaking and she’d gone as pale as snow.
“Jesus, Julia. What the hell is going on?”
He made to grab her arm but she glued herself to the floor and shook her head. “Don’t….don’t touch me.”
“What’s going on?”
“Nothing. I just need you to leave.”
“Like hell I am. Not this time. Not when you’re like this.”
“I’m fine.” She snapped.
Undeterred by her outburst Damian said.
“Esperanza just mentioned that ever since you came back from your run the other day, you’ve been jumpy. ” His narrowed stare cleared and his eyes went wide when he said. “Wait a second. The day at the pool, those scratches I saw. What the hell happened that day Julia?”
Realizing she looked like an idiot, Julia stood up and moved away from Damian. From over her shoulder she said. “I fell, that’s all.”
“Bullshit. Don’t lie to me.”
“Damian please, leave me alone.”
He was next to her in two strides and he grabbed both her arms to turn her to him. “Don’t do this. Don’t shut me out. Especially not after what happened last night.”
She snorted derisively, her only defense against his growing curiosity and his worry. Julia wasn’t used to letting go, leaning on someone else. She shook away from his firm hold.
“Why? Because we slept together?”
With his temper bubbling near eruption because she was shutting him out, he said in a low and cold tone. “Yes. Because I have a right to know what has you so rattled up and freaking you the hell out. And,” he added, his tone softening, “because you’re done going through stuff on your own. Not anymore, Julia.”
She opened her mouth to counter his words, but thought better of it. Instead, she only shook her head and gave him an answer devoid of the passion they had shared the night before.
“I can’t deal with you right now. Just…..please, go. This has nothing to do with you, Damian.”
Something twisted in his gut at her rejection. He wanted her to trust him. Hell, after last night he wanted them to pick off where they had left off, to hell with what people said. He hadn’t considered it would be Julia hesitating on them.
Damian noticed she was clutching her phone as if her life depended on it. Ignoring her dismissal, he asked in a steely voice. “What’s in the phone?”
When she turned transparent, he simply made to grab the phone but Julia took another step back. “Show me the phone, Julia.” His command was menacing, but Julia also detected an underlying trace of hurt.
Defeated and surprisingly ashamed that she was being so difficult, Julia extended her trembling hand and gave him the phone. Also, her whole being wanted to know if it had been him all along.
Damian took the phone but muttered angrily. “How the hell do you use this.”
“Oh, give me that.” Julia snatched the phone back and unlocked the screen. Silently, she showed him first the text message then the two emails. His reaction to the first email with her picture was of puzzlement. Then, Julia saw the array of emotions mar his features as she opened the second message and then scrolled the screen down so he could read the text under the image.
His mouth pressed into a thin line when he saw the altered picture. She saw the outrage explode in his face and a series of expletives left his mouth, and then, when she pointed out the email address, he went ballistic.
“What the fuck is this?”
And in that instant, Julia knew Damian had had nothing to do with it. She let go the breath she didn’t realize she’d been holding.
“I don’t know.”
“Like hell you don’t.”
It took several heartbeats for his rage to pass. In the meantime, Julia no longer hid the fear from her face and Damian cursed some more before he crushed her to him. From under his hold, Julia began to tell him everything.
“I don’t know what’s going on. The day from the pool, I’d gone out for a run. As I was heading back, I noticed a pickup truck following me. At first, I thought it was Joaquin or Raul or Felix or maybe even one of the girls. As I walked over to get a better look at the driver, he drove his car at me and I had to throw myself to one side of the road. I swore he was going to back up and finish the job but whoever he was, let’s say it’s a he, drove away.”
“Why didn’t you say anything?”
Instinctively, Damian started to inspect her body for any injuries. His hands traced her arms, her hips, then went back up to her face, until he was sure she was in no pain. Flashes from their night together reminded him he hadn’t noticed the scratches anymore.
“Because I thought it was some jerk being funny. Then……” She stopped, glancing over at the drawer in the dresser. With legs that felt like rubber, about to give away under her at any moment, Julia went to it and took out the letter. She gave it to Damian silently, and saw the same play of emotions as before, his eyes hardening and his hand clenching, almost ripping the paper.
“When did you get this?”
“I don’t know.” She pressed her hands to her temples, going back to the days she’d been here. “The day after Sonia’s karaoke night.”
Damian said nothing and left the room, only to return seconds later, with his BlackBerry in one hand. “I didn’t send those emails nor did I………..” His own face went so pale, Julia’s stomach rolled with nausea.
“Damian? What’s wrong?”
He didn’t know if he wanted to just slam the damn phone against the wall or simply go out and find whoever had decided wise to mess with him or Julia. When he glanced back at Julia, he saw the concern in her eyes and decided it was best he showed her.
“See for yourself.”
Julia took the phone and saw the same picture that had been sent to her, though this one not altered. Despite feeling claws of apprehension tearing through her insides, she felt a sudden outburst of outrage. Because the crazy person behind all this was dead on alienating her from her friends and now Damian, by making her suspect them.
“Did you leave your phone somewhere last night before I found it in the kitchen?”
“I think I put it on one of the tables after I’d gone out with Joaquin. But quite honestly I’d forgotten all about it until you took it to me.”
“Whoever this is, is just trying to play with me. Quite frankly, I’m getting sick of it.”
He took the phone from Julia, going over the messages again.
“Do you have problems back in New York?”
“What? No. I mean, I get into a fight with my upstairs neighbor every other day, because he likes to Riverdance on his floor. Other than that, no. I mean not something that would require I die. Besides, they mention my dad, Damian. This person knows about my dad’s death and whatever my dad did or didn’t do, he is now holding me accountable. And he knows about me and writing. No one knows that Julia Andersson writes all those books. Except you and Danny and my boss and neither of you want me dead.”
“You think they’re connected? The letter, the pictures and the guy from the road?”
“I don’t know. That letter was sent to me to my apartment. I don’t…..”
She looked lost, Damian thought. And it infuriated him, especially since someone had deigned come into his house and scare her.
All of a sudden Julia whispered. “Oh my God.”
“What?” He searched her face. Her eyes were to big for her face.
“Well, do you think,” she gulped, afraid the answer would be yes, “do you think the scorpions in my bed…..”
But Julia didn’t have time to finish. She saw it all replay inside his eyes. When he found her and his fear of almost losing her. Whoever this person was, he or she was serious in wanting her dead. Without confirming her suspicions, he made for the door, stopping before stepping out.
“Get dressed. We’re going down to the police station.”
“Damian, I don’t think we need to…..” She started to complain but when Damian’s stare found her, Julia knew he was as pissed as she was still shaken up. Pretty bad.
“Get dressed, or I swear to God I’m taking you in that to town. You have ten minutes.” He slammed the door to her room, and she collapsed in a heap of shaking bones to the floor.
It took her less than five minutes to put on some jeans, a bra, the first shirt she found and her sandals before she was out the door. Damian was already inside his car. Without so much as a word, he drove through the open gates and down the winding road as if the madman himself were chasing them right now.
Julia gave her statement to the Chief of Police, or by his title in Spanish, Comandante Ramos, while Damian remained quiet behind her. His hand rested protectively on her shoulder, as Julia told Chief Ramos about the incident on the road. He hadn’t said a word since they left the house, but Julia could tell he was barely keeping it together, just as she was.
“I was walking back home when I felt someone following me and I turned. There was this truck, a pickup truck, behind me. At first, I thought it was someone I knew, but when it just stood there I waved at it to pass. Right before I began moving towards it, it sped in my direction. I just threw myself to the side of the road.”
Though he’d heard if before, Damian’s stomach clenched with sheer anger and frustration. He’d been too busy shutting her out he’d failed to notice something was amiss.
“Can you tell me anything about the car?” Chief Ramos asked in a thick Spanish accent.
“I think it was a Ford Lobo. It was dark blue or black. It was so covered in dust I couldn’t really tell. It didn’t have any plate numbers though.”
“Was it a new truck?”
“I’m not sure.” Julia tried to bring back the image of the truck back to the foreground of her mind. But even now she couldn’t be sure. “It did look kind of new, but like I said, it was covered in dust.” “Anything about the driver?”
“The windshield was all smoked, but I remember making out a cap and dark lenses. It was hard to make a face though.”
Chief Ramos wrote down on a pad he had on his desk at the police station, which was a white building with a big Mexican flag waving outside. As they’d walked in, Julia having come that one time when they’d brought them here after her mother had complained from the noise outside the house, noted that it hadn’t changed much. If only, it had a fresh coat of paint. There were still the same cells all around a courtyard; the main offices upstairs occupied three rooms.
La Providencia wasn’t a town that characterized itself for its high rates in crime. It was more filled with street brawlers, drunk men or women making a disturbance, some kids stealing cigarettes or booze. Nothing major as some psycho trying to kill one of its tourists.
Chief Ramos finished writing. Then putting his pen down, he said to Julia.
“We’ll locate the truck but most of these people bring trucks from the United States and then sell them here. Besides, almost everyone here drives a pickup truck, even the same brand and model you just described to me. But will look into it.”
“Okay.” Julia replied, far from reassured.
She then went on to show him the letter she’d received, described the scorpion incident and finally, showed him the two emails and text message she received this morning. When she began describing the day of the scorpions inside her bed, Damian’s hold on her shoulder tightened and Julia remembered how worried he’d been that day.
“I had gone out that day to go to Whisper Mountain. I found Raul Castro, my friend, and after having an early dinner at his place, he gave me a ride home. It was already dark when I got to the house. I was exhausted, so I took a shower and then decided I would call it a day. I got into bed and that’s when I felt the sting. I pulled the covers away and saw the scorpions and then…..”
“How many?” Chief Ramos interrupted her.
“Oh……three I think. Yeah, there were three.”
“Okay, go on.”
“Anyway, I……went down to the kitchen because I knew that’s where the antidote would be.” Julia skipped the part where she tried to find antidote in the upstairs rooms. She didn’t want to upset Damian more than he already was. Most likely, whoever had done that had emptied the upstairs rooms off the antidote.
“I gave myself the shot, but I think the venom was already working fast. I collapsed on the floor. That’s when Damian found me.”
Chief Ramos turned his attention to Damian. He asked him some questions like where was he before, how long did it take him to get Julia to the clinic and if he had any idea who could’ve done it.
“Well, if I knew, we wouldn’t be here, would be?” Damian snapped.
“I understand you’re upset, Mr. Solis. But I have to ask these questions. Ms. Andersson, who knew you were heading out?”
“Esperanza and Joaquin.”
“Okay.” He jotted down the names on his notebook.
“Wait. You don’t think they are responsible, do you?”
“Like I said, I have to ask. Was there anyone else?”
“I….don’t know. Oh, wait. There were a couple of men helping Joaquin in the garden but…….”
“I’ll get their names from Joaquin. And you said you received these today?” He pointed to her phone on his desk.
“And you’re sure you didn’t send them?” He asked Damian and it was all it took for him to lose it.
“Yes, I’m sure. I don’t think you understand the severity of this. Someone is threatening Julia and has managed to do so inside my house. Instead of wasting time asking what you already know the answer to, you should do your job and start looking for this bastard.”
“Damian don`t.” Julia grabbed his hand and tried to get him to relax.
“Damian.” The chief called him by his first name as he’d known him when he was just a deputy and Damian was still living in this town. “The thing is, we might be dealing with someone who knows Julia. They sent this letter to New York,” he picked up the piece of paper, “but somehow managed to trace her here. If the truck incident and everything else are connected, then it must be someone Julia knows. From what this letter says, I understand you are a writer.”
“Do you get this type of correspondence back home?”
“No, because no one knows Julia Andersson is Kate Morgan. Only my boss and my sister and Damian, but he only found out a few days ago, after that letter was sent to me. I mean, I write for a magazine were I use my name, but whoever this is,” her head inclined in direction of the letter, “knows I am Kate Morgan.”
Dizziness assaulted her as she recalled her conversation with her friends on that lunch she had with them, before she was supposed to go back to New York. “Oh wait. I told my friends, you know Sonia, Magdalena and the rest, about Kate Morgan.”
Chief Ramos lifted one eyebrow, skeptical, while Julia chased away the terrible thought beginning to form inside her head. Damian said. “Surely they don’t have anything to do with this.”
“You said Raul saw you that day when you were on the mountain. And if I’m not mistaken, he drives a truck similar to the one you described. All four of them, plus their spouses, where at the party….”
Julia didn’t let him finish. She took a step toward the Chief’s desk and exclaimed.
“You’re kidding me, right? Damian’s right, they couldn’t have done it. Besides, the letter was sent to me before I came down here. I told them about me being a writer only after I saw them. It doesn’t make sense. None of them knew where I lived in New York.”
Unfortunately, as hard as she was trying to deny it, the seed of doubt had been planted inside her and she was more confused than before. Would any of her friends want to hurt her? Maybe the letter was a separate incident? Then, what about the stuff that had happened since coming here?
Damian’s patience had reached its limit and he moved Julia to the side. He put his face inches away from Chief Ramos.
“I want you to start doing your job and stop this nonsense. I want to know who went into my house and put those scorpions and who took those pictures. Preferably, before whoever is behind this fulfills his threat to Julia.”
Unfazed and keeping his calm Chief Ramos said. “I agree. But the truth is Damian, you’ve had people in and out of your property since you bought it. And almost everyone in town was up at the party last night, me and my wife included. I’ll do my job but I assure you, I’ll look into every possible angle some of which might make Ms. Andersson or you uncomfortable. I’m advising you to deal with it.”
Before Damian could counter, the Chief added. “And no, I’m not going to wait around until Julia gets hurt. I’ll arrange for a patrol car to cruise outside your house every hour or so. And I suggest you don’t go anywhere alone, Ms. Andersson. Please, don’t mention this to anyone. If we expect to catch this person, it’s better he thinks you’ve dismissed his threats, for the time being.”
“Like a patrol car is going to do any good.” Damian challenged Chief Ramos. Julia pulled him back to the office’s entrance and thanked the chief of police.
“We appreciate it, thank you ,Chief Ramos. Let’s go, Damian.” There was nothing more they could do for now.
It took her a couple more pulls of his arm before Damian followed her out and down the stairs. He had parked his car on one of the side streets, so they walked next to the kiosk in silence for a while. Damian was the first to say something as he glanced back at the police station.
“Ridiculous. Now what? Are you going to look into your friends’ eyes and wonder if anyone is behind all this? Or better yet, let’s go and ask Esperanza and Joaquin if they woke up one day and decided to kill you.”
He looked ready to continue his tirade of outrage so Julia stopped walking.
“Stop it. Just stop.” She begged. “I need you to get over this. I need to know you’re stable enough, so I can lose it, because I’ve been hanging by a thread here and I just….I need to….”
Her tears were of anger, frustration and yes, fear. Chagrined, Damian went to her and wrapped his arms around her.
God, it was good to know she didn’t have to deal with this alone. She didn’t want to. For the first time, she was tired of facing stuff on her own. She wasn’t needy, hadn’t been before her problems with Damian and her father. She always figured out a way to solve her problems but at least before, she’d had someone to share them with.
“I’m sorry, Julia.”
“It’s not your fault. I just hate this. I hate not knowing and feeling scared. I went on a safari in Africa for God’s sake and I was inches away from a freaking lion, and not even then was I afraid. I just don’t know who can it be. Book critics are harsh but no one has ever yelled murder after reading my stories. Susan is pretty direct so if she had a problem with me she’d tell me to my face and not send such coward letters. My friends…I don’t have any friends in New York besides Susan and the people I work with at the magazine, but I don’t socialize with them. My life is writing and nothing else. And as to Sonia and the others, they wouldn’t be capable of something like this.”
She used the back of her hand to clean her face. Damian helped her by dabbing at more tears streaming down her cheeks. Then he asked. “And me?”
“You were about to kick Chief Ramos’s ass. If you had had a problem with my father you would’ve confronted him in person.”
He looked like he was about to say something else, but only hugged her again and stroked her back in a soothing way.
“I won’t let anything happen to you. I promise.”
“I know.” And she did. She knew that whatever happened, Damian wouldn’t leave her side now, nor she his.
The sound of her phone pierced through the chirping birds and relative calm of the town, despite it being already ten in the morning. She eyed her phone like it was a freaking time bomb. She muttered, upset against Damian’s chest. “I hate this.”
“Give it to me.”
Julia didn’t bother to argue and gave him the phone. Damian’s voice went cold as he answered. “Yes?”
Then his face softened and he said in a more friendly tone. “Thank you. I’m glad you had a good time, too.” He waited as the caller said something else. He smiled, and Julia’s curiosity was piqued.
“Sure, she’s here. Hang on.”
He returned the phone to Julia.
“It’s for you. It’s Sonia.”
Relieved, she took it from him and didn’t get to say so much as what’s up, before her friend’s excited chatter impeded her from uttering another word.
“Oh. My. God. Damian answered your phone? What was it on his side of the bed? Oh my God, I’m dying here Julia. And your none of your business reply, not funny. It is my damned business, I am your friend, okay? But you can tell me all about it later. Right now I’m calling to invite you to the river. Remember you mentioned yesterday you wanted to go because of that article you’re writing? Well, the gang decided to head out there today. There’ll be games, music, booze, food, you remember, right? So what do you say?” Sonia was out of breath when she finished.
Julia gave Damian a quick glance before saying. “First of all, just because he answered my phone it doesn’t mean we slept together. And we aren’t in bed right now. In fact, we’re down here in town running some errands. Second, I’d love to go to the river.”
“You realize you’ve just blown your cover, right?” Damian snickered.
Julia poked him on the ribs.
“What?” He winced, then smiled, seductively, making her catch her breath. “You’re the one who managed to deny then accept we did sleep together practically in the same sentence.” He said on a low voice.
She poked him again and tried very hard not to burst out laughing herself. “So the river? At what time will you pick me up?”
Sonia was already in a fit of giggles and Julia barely understood her when she specified the time. “In an hour.” She hung up, not having controlled her hysterical giggle attack.
“So the river, ha?”
“It sounds fun.”
“Any reason why you don’t want me to go?”
“Oh, I….” Julia stuttered. She wasn’t used to have someone wanting to go anywhere with her because she usually went by herself. She just assumed Damian would go away on work like he had done last weekend.
“I didn’t…..think you’d want to come.”
“I don’t know. Do you? Want to come to the river?”
“Sure. It’s been ages since I last went. Unless you’re still holding a grudge for when the guys beat you girls at volleyball.”
Julia snorted. “Please, you cheated and you only won by a point. It’s not like you were headed for the Olympics.”
“I guess we’ll have to see.”
“I guess we will.”
“But you might want to call Sonia and tell her I’m taking my car.”
They reached Damian’s car and Julia hesitated before getting in.
“Damian, you car’s kind of nice.” She patted the hood like she was stroking a fine piece of jewelry, making her point.
“So in case you’ve forgotten, the road to the river is dirt, full of potholes and if it rains, we’ll never get out. This car is too low. I doubt it is made for such rough terrain.”
“Which is why I bought another one.”
“You what? Wait, what car?”
Her answer came when they drove through the gates. Julia noticed for the first time a new car under the other available car space on the house’s garage. It was a brand new black GMC Cheyenne. In her rush and haze from this morning’s scary emails, she’d failed to notice the truck as she’d come outside.
Damian answered her question before she said it out loud. “Last night, when Joaquin came to find me, it was because they’d finally brought the truck. I bought it at the same time I bought this one. However, I couldn’t drive two cars back and they were out of stock. So as soon as a new one arrived to the dealership they brought it to me.”
“And you’re right,” he waited until they were out of the car, his arm over her shoulder as they made their way to the house, “the BMW isn’t made for rough terrain, it certainly had the farmers wondering if I was serious or just some rich guy trying to trick them.”
Once inside, Damian guided Julia back upstairs.
“You know, before our morning drama, I had come down to the kitchen to bring you some breakfast in bed.”
Her eyes went big in amazement. “You were?”
“Yes. That’s when I saw Esperanza. After she figured out we slept together, she told me I better take good care of you and then she mentioned you being jumpy.”
“So, just because some jerk decided to ruin my plan, it doesn’t mean we can’t salvage it.”
“Was breakfast all you had in mind?” Julia put her hands on his shoulders and shuddered at the playful glint in his eyes.
“Then breakfast can wait. Sonia did say there would be food at the river.”
Damian’s reply was to ravage her mouth with his, and for both of them to run up the stairs, laughing and then stumbling on his bed. The reason their breakfast in bed had been interrupted, already at the back of their minds. The hunger they felt for each other begging them for it to be satisfied.