Ria Gomes Author of Heaven in Her Arms
Excerpt of Heaven In Her Arms
Albuquerque Town, Goa, five years ago
Ricky Martin’s ‘Livin’ La Vida Loca’ blared out of the music system, but Darrell, who was too done-in to do anything but collapse, broke company with his dancing buddies. He trudged wearily across the silvery sands to crash heavily onto one of the several empty hammocks slung in a copse of tall coconut palms.
The impromptu party thrown by his friends had had him boogying on the beach most of the evening, until this late hour, and the exertion had left his throat feeling as parched as the desert sand.
“Hey Pete, mind passing a Kingfisher, please?” he croaked, turning his head toward the makeshift bar and the guy who’d tirelessly tended it the past few hours.
“A Kingfisher? Tonight?” Peter chortled with laughter. “Hey, you hear that guys?” he called, shouting to be heard by the rest of the gang jiving to the music. “Our groom hankers for a be-ee-er.”
“Aw, come on, Peter.” Darrell pulled a face at the few wild hoots that followed Peter’s announcement. “If you don’t pass me that stuff in two seconds flat, there’ll probably be no groom left for a wedding.”
“Yeah, we can see that,” Brian, who’d been stretched out on a hammock across from him quietly smoking a cigarette, piped up. “It’s way past time you got your backside out of here, Man, or else you’re sure to screw up the most important day of your life.”
“You’re right, buddy,” Darrell agreed. “Soon as I finish that lager, I’m out of here.”
“Here’s your ’Fisher, Pal.” Pete strode across the sand with a half-size bottle of Kingfisher, grinning while yanking off the top with an opener. “Just thought you might want to make the most of your bachelor bash and try something stronger before you take that plunge tomorrow.”
“Thanks for the thought, Pal, but I think I’ll pass.” Darrell smiled and tipped the bottle against his lips and drew in a long, thirsty swig.
“Care for a cigarette, Dude?” Richard sauntered over and clapped him on his shoulder. “Your very last before you take those vows?”
“Thanks, Richard.” Darrell wrinkled his nose in distaste “But I think I’m off that stuff for good.”
“You mean you never really missed it after you gave up smoking?” his friend asked incredulously.
“Naaah,” Darrell drawled. “Didn’t regret it once.”
“All for the love, of a gir-rrl.” The loony tune Brian struck up as he walked over with a deliberately unsteady gait—impersonating a drunkard—had them all guffawing like high-school teenagers.
They joked some, laughed some more, and then Brian and Richard decided to go join the rest of the guys down by the water’s edge.
“Think I better go chuck some more drinks in the icebox so they’ll be nice and chilled before everyone moves in for the barbeque,” Peter said, and he trotted off to fetch some more supplies.
Left all to himself, Darrell downed another short swig from his longneck, glanced at his watch and grimaced.
Ten twenty-five p.m.
The night was too young to start dinner. In fact, it would take a good couple hours before anyone even thought about attacking the grill, but that was fine by him. After the hectic day he’d had today, crashing on his bed was the only thing on his mind, and he had to get moving if he meant to be at his best tomorrow.
His wedding day.
Darrell drew a deep breath, his heart swelling with joy as the graceful image of the only girl he’d ever loved flashed across his mind.
He could hardly wait for the day to dawn. She’d look radiant as an angel in her grandmother’s white lace and satin gown. Her hand tucked in the crook of her father’s arm, she would slowly inch up the aisle to stand beside him…to be his, from that day on.
Forever, until the end of time. A love cherished. A promise fulfilled.
Recalling the words he was going to say, his lips curved into a soft smile.
I, Darrell Correia, take you, Michelle Albuquerque, to be my wife, my constant companion and love from this day forward. In the presence of God, our family and all of our friends, I solemnly vow to always be faithful to you, in sickness and health, in good times and bad, in joy and in sorrow.
I vow to love you unconditionally, to honor you, to respect you, to be by your side in each of your goals and dreams, to rejoice with you, to cry with you, and to love and cherish you for all eternity.
To love and to cherish Michelle. For all eternity. The words almost felt as if they’d been engraved on his heart since his first breath of life.
And then, later on that evening, he’d finally have yet another promise to fulfill. A promise he’d made to his bride when she’d only been a sixteen-year-old kid—to show her how it is for a man to make love to a woman. His woman.
Though he supposed he’d messed up things a bit when he’d succumbed to Michelle’s sweet seductive wiles a little more than five weeks ago.
Darrell raised the chilled beverage to his mouth.
Just the memory of that first wild coupling drove blood to his groin.
He hadn’t planned on it happening. Not before their wedding. But one miserable moment of weakness was all it had taken to turn four years of relentlessly suppressed yearning into an explosion of want. How the hell could a man who’d been starved so long refuse sustenance? Or stem the desire drumming through his veins to go to her right now?
He’d tried calling her on her cell all evening without any success, and now the need to hear the sweet voice of his bride—his need to see her—almost bordered on desperation. Thanks to Maria’s imposition of an outdated custom that banned a bridal couple from seeing each other for three days before their wedding day, he’d had to spend the last seventy-two hours without meeting Michelle. Now, his almost overwhelming need to go see her was enough to test the patience of a saint.
Thank Heaven, only a night and a few hours were all that remained before they were married.
“Hey, Darrell”—Pete, who had by now returned to the bar with more supplies, broke into his thoughts—“hope you aren’t planning on lounging in that hammock right up to the end of this party. You need to catch up on some sleep, man.”
“You’re right, Dude. I’m out of here right now.”
Downing the last of his beer, Darrell shrugged into his black, leather jacket, slipped on his sandals and then ambled across the sand toward the bar. He packed a mock punch on Pete’s shoulder when he got to his friend.
“Thanks for holding the fort here, Pal.” Darrell handed his empty bottle to Peter.
“My pleasure, Mate.” Pete grinned and shoved the bottle into an empty case. “Now, get moving and be sure you rest well. You need it after all the running around you’ve been doing, organizing things to the very last detail.”
“Hopefully, everything will be well worth the trouble. After all, it’s a ‘once in a lifetime event’.” Darrell grinned. “So, you better be there tomorrow with the rest of the gang.”
“Sure, Dude. How can I miss something as important as an Albuquerque wedding? Like you just pointed out, it is a once in a lifetime event…especially for small fry like us.” Peter set down the case he was carrying and pulled out a box of cigarettes. “What still beats me, though, is why one of us guys weren’t selected to be best man for your wedding. Why Mr. Albuquerque’s Personal Assistant?”
“You’re right.” Darrell shoved his hands into his jacket pockets and eyed the guys shimmying on the sands. “When Albuquerque first suggested I make Craig my best man I almost opened my mouth to protest. Then I looked at Michelle, and I knew that I’d have to shut my mouth and endure whatever the old crab decided to dish my way, if I knew what was good for Michelle and me. As it is, Albuquerque is doing us one colossal favor by agreeing to our marriage. I still have no idea what yarn Michelle spun to get her father to agree, but I wasn’t about to upset the apple cart by insisting on picking my own best man.”
“Yeah, guess that makes sense,” Pete said, thoughtfully eyeing the cigarette smoke curling in front of his face. “Knowing Albuquerque’s bullheadedness, holding your tongue was probably the wisest thing to do. Anyone who imagines he can argue with her old man has to be prepared to take a load of bull. God knows the Albuquerque’s have had the time of their lives riding roughshod over the rest of us for as long as anyone cares to remember.”
A slow smile lit Peter’s face. “I’m almost looking forward to seeing him stick his big foot into your married life, though—just to watch the fun of having the tables turned.”
Darrell narrowed his eyes. “He’d better not try doing that if he knows what’s good for him. The day he does will be the first and last time he meddles with my married life.”
“I bet nothing’s going to keep him from trying. You know they say you can’t teach an old dog a new trick.” Pete grimaced. “The old man’s much too used to flaunting his privilege and power every which way he can.” Peter drew on his cigarette one last time before stubbing it out against the bark of a coconut palm behind him, then flicking the butt into a nearby bin.
“Well, if he presumes he’ll be calling the shots in our marriage, he’s in for a nasty surprise. I’m not about to be intimidated by him, or his wealth and power.”
“Guess that’s what sets you apart from the rest of us.” Peter grinned admiringly. “Your ability to remain unaffected by the Albuquerque millions. At least, it didn’t stop you from bagging the woman you love.”
“Couldn’t afford not to, Pete. Michelle’s the only woman who completes me. It’s as if she’s the other half of my soul. I’d have been damned for life if I’d let Albuquerque’s affluence stand between me and her.” Darrell glanced at his watch and sucked in a breath. “Shucks, time I move, Pete.”
Pete raised his hand for a five. “Drive safely and have a nice night.”
“Yeah, right—you, too.” Darrell grinned, high-fived Peter, and then sprinted across the sand to the parking lot where the whole troupe had parked their bikes.
Straddling his second-hand Enfield, he tore down the silent back streets, Pete’s remarks on Albuquerque’s domineering tendency still preying on his mind.
For Michelle’s sake, Darrell seriously hoped her father wasn’t planning on handling the reins of their marriage.
Heaven help Armand Albuquerque if he tried. He, for one, wasn’t about to dance attendance on Armand’s dictatorial tunes, like most of the spineless mongrels of this town. Those who hung on his every word, as if they were mere minions, bound to the Albuquerques for life.
“Yes, sir. No, sir,” Darrell mimicked, his angry voice slicing the silence of the night. Boy, wouldn’t he just relish an occasion to cut the old man down to size. Albuquerque’s interference with his marriage would provide him with just the opportunity he needed to air the grudge he’d always nursed against the old man’s obsession for ruthlessly undermining even the basic rights of the underprivileged citizens of Albuquerque Town.
Armand Albuquerque, who’d spent most of his life keeping anyone, everyone and everything beneath his iron will, would finally have to face some mind-blowing home truths if he dared try his stunts on his son-in-law.
Darrell’s eyes narrowed. He’d have to handle things very tactfully, though. No matter what Mr.Albuquerque did, Michelle thought the world of her old man. Tearing strips off him would hurt her, and he’d never want that.
In an attempt to keep the ‘dhud-dhud-dhud’ of his bike from disturbing the neighborhood, he turned off the engine and coasted down the gentle slope that led into the compounded housing estate where he lived. Heading straight for the last of the several dilapidated one-story row houses, he parked his bike in the tiny space beneath the flight of stairs that led up to his own independent room. He was just about to take the stairs when a hand from behind clamped hard on his shoulder.
Darrell spun around and frowned.
Pete had assured him they’d been given the go-ahead to have that bash on the beach, so what could Officer Menezes possibly want with him at this time of the night?
A number of questions raced through his mind. Had there been some kind of brawl after he’d left? Had someone decided to go for a swim and gotten hurt?
“Hello, Officer.” Darrell smiled affably even though an icy dread slithered down his spine. “Is there something I can help you with?”
“You’re right, Boy, there is.”
Trouble, Darrell thought, his brows puckering. Someone is in big trouble. The officer’s tone said it all.
His scowl deepened when Officer Menezes raised his hand to dangle a set of handcuffs in his face.
Menezes smirked, the shadows of the night making the dark angles and planes of his face seem as harsh and formidable as his reputation. Not that Darrell had ever had the misfortune of experiencing the officer’s viciousness firsthand, but word had it that Menezes’ particular brand of law enforcement had more to do with oppressing disadvantaged citizens than bringing real offenders to book. That wasn’t quite so unusual, considering the fact that Menezes happened to hail from the same exalted background as Albuquerque—egocentric aristocrats, who considered it their moral responsibility to harass impoverished, and more often than not, innocent citizens.
“I’m afraid I have a warrant for your arrest, Correia.”
Darrell blinked. Now that’s news. “May I know for what, Officer?” He couldn’t help the edge in his voice despite his determination to appear calm.
“Let’s get to the station and discuss the details, why don’t we?” The officer’s teeth flashed with a predatory grin. “These are just to ensure you don’t take to your heels.”
“Look, Officer,” Darrell said, his bewildered mind struggling to make sense of this outrage, even as the cold metal was being clamped on his wrists. “If this has anything to do with the party–”
“This has nothing to do with your bachelor bash, Correia,” the officer cut in sharply.
“If it’s something else, then, you must know I wasn’t even in the neighborhood to–”
“Seems like you’ve been around this neighborhood long enough to screw up someone’s life,” someone familiar drawled from the shadows beyond the stairs.
Craig? Surprised, Darrell gawked at the other man just joining them. “Craig? What the hell’s going on here?”
“Why don’t you just do as the officer says and find out yourself, Lover boy?” Craig said tonelessly.
“I see no reason why I should,” Darrell muttered, the first stirrings of fury flushing out his fear. “Not when I know I’ve done nothing wrong. I don’t even know what this goof’s all about.” He dragged in a deep breath, told himself to take it easy, and then, turned his attention back to Menezes. “Officer, if you could please undo these cuffs, I’ll still come to the station to assist you in sorting things out—that is, if I can.”
“I’m afraid not, my friend.” Craig’s voice was sharp as a whip. “Desperate situations call for desperate measures. Let’s get moving, Officer.” Turning away, he stomped across the compound and out into the street.
“What the–?” Darrell started to yell, then clamped his mouth shut.
Raising his voice would rouse his mother. He saw no point getting her all worked up over some nasty misunderstanding that would be sorted out as soon as he got to the station.
Throughout their drive, Darrell retreated into a stony silence as he tried to figure out what exactly could have merited the disgrace of the shackles around his wrists.
What have I done? he kept thinking. What crime could I have possibly committed that Craig knows about and I don’t?
His narrowed his eyes to slits. Something about what Craig had said wasn’t quite right. But then again, nothing Craig did or said ever sounded right. Something was really odd about the personal assistant Albuquerque had had in his employ for the past few years. He was too slick, too smooth.
Darrell frowned. It was as if…as if Craig was a well-fed python keeping a close watch on its next prey. And this evening, it had almost felt like his words had been coated in venom.
His frown deepened.
Now that he thought about it, there had been some gossip. Rumors he’d chosen to ignore. In his opinion, whatever Albuquerque’s employee chose to do with his free time had nothing to do with him. But yeah, he’d heard about those things his pals claimed could get the guy in serious trouble someday, if he wasn’t too careful.
A muscle worked in Darrell’s jaw.
That was never likely to happen, not when Craig had Albuquerque—the town’s most prominent and powerful citizen—on his side. Honest or not, in this town at least, it definitely paid to have godfathers like Albuquerque and Menezes on your side. The rest of the guys didn’t stand a hope in hell of saving their skins if they happened to get on the wrong side of the law.
In fact, none of what was happening tonight was any surprise.
What was a surprise was the sight that met his eyes when he followed the officer into the police station. It damn near knocked the breath out of him.
On the only wooden bench of the dingy, old room, a young woman wept softly, her face in her hands. A big tear in her shirt sleeve exposed an ugly purple bruise.
“Wendy!” Darrell cried, leaping forward to soothe his distraught neighbor…until the strain on his wrists reminded him he was handcuffed.
“Who’s done that to her?” He could barely contain the fury thrumming through him.
“Shut up, Correia,” Menezes snarled. Wendy’s sobs got louder, her body shaking with heart-rending moans that sounded terrible in their despair. “Can’t you see what you’re doing to the girl?”
Dear heaven, Darrell thought, the officer’s words hardly making an impact on his stunned mind. What happened to Wendy?
Even though he and his mother had moved to this town much later than most other folks, he’d been living next door to Wendy for so long he considered her more the sister he’d never had than just the neighbor’s girl. Having lost her mother when she was about nine, the poor girl had had to grow up without a woman’s influence through the most crucial years of her life. Not surprisingly, she’d had a tendency to act like a tomboy most of the time—a trait that had always had older folks shaking their heads in dismay, predicting the girl was going to invite trouble someday.
Now, in her disheveled state, Darrell couldn’t help wondering if they’d been right, after all.
But what had happened, damn it?
“Wendy,” he said softly. “Wendy, please—could you try and tell me who did that to you?”
“Don’t play innocent, Correia,” Craig, who’d just entered the station after having followed the police van in his own car, grated harshly. “What unfortunate quirk of fate that some last minute changes in the catering got me to your door, only to find Wendy sitting on the stairs leading to up to your room, softly sobbing her heart out. How many women, Darrell? How many women will have to go through what you’ve done to her before you slake your thirst for sex?”
“What the hell are you implying?” Darrell snarled.
“I’m saying…” Craig smiled, his tone smooth as silk. “The woman’s turned you in for sexual assault.”
“What?! What utter bullshit!” Darrell exploded. “I wasn’t even in my room, damn it. I haven’t been home ever since I left right after the Rhos.. Wendy? Wendy, please—say something. Tell them this isn’t true.”
Slowly, so frustratingly slowly, she straightened up, and just for that one split second, Darrell thought he saw something akin to sympathy splinter in the puffy depths of her eyes…before it was replaced by the blind terror of a cornered animal.
The look in her face made him sick to his stomach.
“You need not say a word if you’d rather not, Wendy. Come on, Correia,” Menezes said, hustling him toward an inner room.
Darrell glanced back in time to see Craig sink down beside Wendy and drape a protective arm around her shoulders. “It’s over Wendy,” he heard Craig say soothingly. “Go sit in my car. Soon as I finalize things here, I’ll drive you home.”
Officer Menezes shoved Darrell past an old scarred door. A sour-faced officer sat behind a rusty, steel desk cluttered with piles of papers that looked like they hadn’t been touched for ages.
“Complete the formalities please, Faleiro,” Menezes requested of the other officer, directing Darrell into one of the rickety chairs in front of the desk.
“Hold it! Hold it, please, Officer.” Desperation laced Darrell’s words. “I still insist—this is all a big mistake.”
“Isn’t it always?” the officer purred. “Wish you’d thought about it before getting involved with the Albuquerque kid. But never mind.” An arrogant smile curled across his mouth. “Being holed up for a while will teach you not to presume you can meddle in places where you don’t belong…”
Darrell’s blood froze in his veins.
Armand wanted him behind bars so he couldn’t marry Michelle.
Cool it, cool it, he told himself, even as the full impact of the conspiracy hit him. It had all been arranged to do him in—to prevent their marriage. He’d been a fool not to realize it sooner.
That production out there didn’t have a thing to do with justice or fair play. But every intention to keep his cool flew out the door the instant Craig sauntered in, a smug smile playing on his lips.
“You knew.” Darrell shot to his feet and turned on Menezes, burning with unleashed fury. “You knew what transpired back there”—he jabbed a thumb in the direction of the lobby—“was an incredible piece of concocted dramatics.”
“Power play.” Craig’s grin resembled that of a croc that had just devoured its meal. “It’s called a power play, my friend, and it comes from having money. Heaps of money. Too bad you’ve been much too besotted with Michelle to see it coming sooner.” He folded his arms and rocked back on his heels as he gave Darrell a head to toe once-over. “What did you expect, after all, huh? That Armand would stoop so low as to make pure trash like you his son-in-law? If you’d been smart enough to take the hint the first time around, it would have been easier on everyone.”
Darrell struggled to think through the panic overriding him.
Michelle. Never mind that her mobile had been switched off earlier, he had to try and contact her. Now. They had to find some way to sort things out before dawn.
“I need to make a call,” he said, managing to fish his cell out of his jeans despite the handcuffs. He flipped it open to access Michelle’s number.
The next instant, the phone was plucked from his hand. “I’m afraid not,” Officer Menezes said grimly. He shoved Darrell back into his seat and pocketed the phone. “Finish the paperwork, Faleiro,” he instructed the officer sitting across from Darrell.
“I’m not signing anything,” Darrell yelled with the frustration he’d reined in this long. “You can’t put me behind bars. This farce is sure to hit headlines tomorrow and then you’re the ones who’ll be in trouble.”
“Afraid not, Lover boy,” Craig sneered, leaning his long, lanky frame against the officer’s table. “Nothing of that sort is likely to happen. Not when Albuquerque’s around.” And definitely not when I’m at the helm, manipulating things the way I always wanted them, his smug grin said.
“You can’t keep me in here,” Darrell insisted. “Not with the big event coming up tomorrow. I’ll be missed come dawn and–”
“Uh uh.” Craig shook his head. “I don’t suppose you’ll be marrying anytime soon. Well, not Michelle, anyway.”
“What exactly are you implying?” Terror tore through Darrell’s veins. Officer Faleiro, who had left his chair and shuffled around to the other side, urged Darrell to his feet and led him toward a dismal looking cell.
Craig laughed. A low, wicked sound that reverberated around the small, dreary room. “Exactly what you heard. Everything’s fair in love and war, Lover boy, and this is war.”
Darrell spun around, a fitting retort on the tip of his tongue, but Craig had already walked out the door.
Damn, Darrell thought, his hands clenching into fists. He reluctantly obeyed Faleiro’s order to enter the cell and jumped when the door slammed shut behind him. Be patient, Man, he told himself. It’s only a matter of a few hours before you’ll have your chance to pay him back in spades.
In fact, now that he thought about it, this atrocious episode would certainly make Michelle realize why he’d kept suggesting they set up home in a place where Armand Albuquerque would be just another name.
Prowling about the cell, he restlessly waited for the first hint of dawn and deliverance…never once imagining how long a wait it would be.
Ria is an Indian, born and raised in Goa. After completing her formal education, she worked at secretarial jobs for a couple of local firms before she married the man she’d dated since her college days. She resides with him and her children in Muscat-Oman, where she had initially worked as an Executive Secretary for the past several years. Later, she gave up her nine-to-five job after the birth of her second child and chose instead to be a homemaker as well as try her hand at her long cherished dream of being a writer.
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