Freedom’s Price

Liam saw her just by chance. Marisala was walking quickly down the street, nearly three blocks away from his condo. Her backpack was over her shoulders, her suitcase in her hand.

What the hell…?

He pulled his car in next to a fire hydrant, leaving his flashers on as he ran after her. “Marisala!”

She turned to see him chasing her, then turned away, never even breaking stride.

“Hey,” he said, finally catching up to her. “What’s the matter? Where are you going?”

She didn’t slow down as she glared at him and let loose a volley of Spanish.

His own Spanish had become quite good after two years in San Salustiano, but it had been a long time since he’d used it. He caught the gist of her words, though — something about sewer rats, horse manure and him. Something about a letter from Santiago that she’d found and read, something about deceitful, dung-eating former friends…

She knew. Somehow, she’d found Santiago’s letter, and she knew.

Liam swore sharply, running once again to catch up with her. “Marisala, I swear, I was going to tell you–”

She spun to face him then. “Yeah?” she said. “When? When were you going to tell me that Santiago has asked you to teach me how to dress, and how to stand, and how to be quiet when the men are talking? When were you going to mention that he has asked you to teach me how to walk and make small talk and even how I should wear my hair?”

She was furious. She was shaking with indignation, and Liam knew he’d made a mistake. “I’m sorry. I should have told you right away.”

“I don’t need your help. I don’t need a guardian. And I certainly don’t need your false hospitality.”


“How could you make such a stupid agreement? How could you even consider doing what Santiago asked?”

“It didn’t seem like such a big deal. All you need to do is learn how to come on a little less strong–”

“So I come on too strong?” She all but kicked in him the shins, and Liam knew that she would have liked to. “Thank you so much for informing me of that fact. I had no idea I was so utterly repugnant–”

“Marisala, your uncle is from another generation. It would be much easier for you to get along with him if you–”

“If I do what? If I sit quietly in the corner and not interrupt when he is speaking, even if I have something important to add? If I wear the dresses and skirts he wants me to wear? Or if I spend the rest of my life with Enrique, a man he paid off to marry me?”

“Paid off? What are you talking a–”

“I was almost married a few years ago.”

Liam knew that. He’d been invited to the wedding, but he’d sent his regrets. He’d made up some excuse so he didn’t have to go and watch Marisala marry someone else. It hadn’t been until Santiago had written to him a few months ago that he’d found out the wedding plans had fallen through.

“A few days before the wedding, I found out Santiago had approached my lover, Enrique Morales. I found out that Santiago had offered him a very large sum of money to marry me. I didn’t know this when he proposed. I thought–” Marisala raised her shoulders and lifted her chin. “I was foolish, but I found out in time and there was no wedding.”

Her lover. Enrique. Liam hated the man, deeply, perversely, not just because he had clearly hurt Marisala, but because he had touched her, loved her. And because she had loved him enough to want to marry him.

He forced himself to stop thinking about Enrique Morales, the bastard. He forced himself to banish the pictures that had sprung instantly to mind — pictures of Marisala, dark eyes heavy-lidded with passion, wrapped in another man’s arms…

He had to clear his throat before he could speak. “Mara, why don’t we go back inside and talk?”

“Because I have absolutely no desire to talk to you, that’s why not. Because it’s going to get dark soon, and I have to find a place to stay tonight.”

Liam felt a flash of frustration that was surely amplified by thoughts of Enrique — thoughts that wouldn’t be good and go away. He took a deep breath and worked to keep his voice even. “Okay, I know you’re mad. You have a right to be mad. I should have told you. I’m sorry. But just because I made a mistake doesn’t mean you’re not going to stay with me until we find an–”

She picked up her suitcase and started down the sidewalk. “I have nothing more to say to you. I’m twenty-two years old, I don’t need a guardian. I don’t need you. ‘We’ are not going to find anything together. Leave me alone.”

Liam knew he had to stay calm. Sooner or later Marisala’s hot temper would cool, and she would once again see reason. He followed her. “Look, I’ve got a pizza in the car, I’m parked in front of a hydrant. Let’s just–”

“No. It’s obvious your loyalties lie with Santiago.”

They were creating a scene, right there, as he chased her down the sidewalk. Some of the people passing by were giving them a wide berth, others were lingering, watching their exchange with great interest. Liam blocked Marisala’s path, feeling his own temper rising dangerously high despite his best intentions. “Forgive me for wanting to help an old friend.”

Lightning blazed from her stormy eyes. “Oh, so what am I? A plate of refried beans? How could you side with him like this?”

He threw up his hands in exasperation. “I was unaware that a new war had started in San Salustiano with you and Santiago on opposite sides!”

Marisala turned away from him to smile sweetly at a young man walking past them on the sidewalk. “Excuse me. I need a place to stay tonight. I was wondering if you could be so kind as to let me stay with y–”

Liam grabbed her arm and pulled her away from the man. “Marisala! Damn it!”

The man hesitated, glancing warily from Marisala to Liam before walking swiftly on.

“That’s what you have to learn to stop doing!” His voice was dangerously close to a shout. “That’s the kind of behavior that drives Santiago crazy!”