Authors: Nan Ryan
For Maggie Lichota
my patient and professional editor.
Why are we always saying goodbye
to somebody we like …
From Here to Eternity
HE INDIAN STOOD NAKED
in the sunlight.
His name was Tonatiuh—Sun God in the language of his mother’s people, the imperial Aztecs. The name fit him. Standing there on the rocky banks of the Puesta del Sol River, his tall, wet body glistening in the bright desert sunshine, Tonatiuh appeared to be a young god.
Around his neck, a heavy gold chain supported a gold medallion, his only adornment. The exquisite Sun Stone, resting on his smooth bronzed chest, glittered and flashed with the slightest movement of his lithe body.
Tonatiuh’s bronzed face was as smooth and beautiful and innocent as a young child’s. His luminous black eyes were warm and friendly, his nose straight, the curving nostrils suggesting a passionate nature. His lips, wide and perfectly formed, were the sensuous lips of his Castilian father, Don Ramon Rafael Quintano.
Tonatiuh threw back his head and shook his heavy raven hair, feeling the rivulets of water slide down his backbone and over his buttocks. Rubbing his long, black eyelashes that clung damply together, he dropped agilely to the rocks, stretched out, and allowed the sun to dry the beads of moisture from his chest and belly and long legs. A slim arm bent and draped across his closed eyes, Tonatiuh lay perfectly still, loving the feel of the hot sun touching his bare body.
He smiled with lazy contentment. This particular secluded bend in the Puesta del Sol was to him a jealously guarded haven. No one else knew of it. It was his own secret sanctuary. A place he had shown no one, would show no one. Here the river meandered down a sloping waterfall, the cascade spilling into a freeform lagoonlike pool. And, miraculously, from the barren rocky banks sprang lush greenery to shade the splashing falls and the clear water below. And, high above, where he now lay, a huge jutting rock overhang was the perfect place to meditate quietly or to doze in the burning Texas sun.
On this hot June morning, young Tonatiuh had no time for meditation or dozing. He tilted his forearm back from his eyes and glanced up at the glaring sun. It would soon be directly overhead. And, when it had reached its zenith, he was to be waiting, with the Sullivans’ fanciest carriage, at Orilla’s private railroad spur for the arrival of the noon train from San Antonio.
Amy Sullivan, the
’s only daughter, would be on that westbound train. She was returning home today after five years away in New Orleans at some fancy girl’s finishing school. The homecoming was all her father and his father and the servants and the hands had talked of for weeks. A big celebration party was planned for this evening, and already stay-over visitors filled the many guest rooms of Orilla’s sprawling hacienda.
The blistering sun suddenly went behind a cloud. A dark shadow fell across the smooth boulder where Tonatiuh lay. He rolled to a sitting position. His black eyes turned somber as a fragment of a forgotten dream suddenly came back.
had appeared to him again. Her long, black hair falling down her back, her strange, ceremonial robes flowing about her slender body. She had stood at the foot of his bed and shown him a set of numbers.
A five and three sixes: 5,6,6,6. No. No, it was 6,6,5,6. Nothing more. Just those numbers Then she had disappeared with the dream.
A hawk circled overhead in the cloud-darkened sky. Tonatiuh felt a chill skip up his naked spine. Involuntarily he shuddered, suddenly feeling uneasy.
The hawk winged away. The cloud drifted past. The blazing sun came out again to warm Tonatiuh’s troubled soul as well as his chilled body. The dream and the numbers had flown with the hawk, and the corners of Tonatiuh’s black eyes crinkled with a smile.
He draped his forearms atop his bent knees as his thoughts returned to Amy Sullivan. He recalled a plain-looking child—skinny, freckle-faced, and blond. Feet always bare and dirty, knees and elbows constantly skinned.
Little Amy. She was the only one who called him Tonatiuh. Even his father called him Luiz. Walter Sullivan, the
, and all the ranchhands called him Luiz. The servants called him Luiz, and even the people in the village.
He was Luiz Quintano to everyone except the beautiful Aztec princess who had named him Tonatiuh. And to little Amy.
Tonatiuh suddenly shot to his feet. He went up on his toes, stood poised for a minute, then came back down on his heels. He clasped his hands behind his head, thrust his pelvis forward, expanded his chest, and sucked in his belly. He inhaled deeply of the dry, desert air, his face lifted to that fiery God for whom he had been named.
Sighing, he bent and picked up the tiny scrap of well-tanned, supple leather that served as a breechcloth. When his groin was covered and the thong tied securely atop his right hip bone, Tonatiuh gave a low, soft whistle and his favorite stallion came prancing toward him.
On a slow-moving train steadily snaking its way west across the endless emptiness of southwest Texas, a beautiful young girl was smiling. Unbothered by the heat and the dust and the mile after mile of monotonous scenery, Amy Sullivan was aglow with excitement.
Five long years since she had seen this magnificent land of flowering cactus and swirling dust storms and relentless heat and blazing sun and starry nights. Leaning up to the train’s open window, Amy inhaled deeply, catching the familiar scent of the creosote bushes.
She yipped with joy when a couple of rugged vaqueros, laughing and shouting in Spanish, galloped alongside the train, twirling lariats high over their heads, making as if they would lasso the steam-driven locomotive.
Amy joyfully swept her new straw bonnet off her head and waved it wildly to the laughing cowboys. She felt her heart race with exhilaration when they reined in close enough for her to make out the distinctive SBARQ brand on the rumps of their horses.
She called to the riders. “It’s me! Amy. Amy Sullivan. I’ve come home!”
The expert horsemen yanked up on their reins, making their mounts rear their forelegs high in the air as they swept the sombreros from their dark heads in a welcoming salute. Amy responded to their gallantry by clapping and blowing kisses and watching until the pair finally pulled up, wheeled about, and turned back.
Still smiling, Amy sighed contentedly and leaned back. Already the train was traveling across Orilla land! She was back on the ranch. Within the hour she would be home. Would it have changed much? No, she happily answered herself. Her big, good-hearted daddy would still spoil her unmercifully. And her two older brothers would still resent it. And Don Ramon Quintano would still tell exciting stories of the Aztec princess who had been his wife. And his son, Tonatiuh, would ignore her. Just as always.
Amy continued to smile. She wouldn’t mind. She had been a bit of a brat before she’d gone to New Orleans, and she couldn’t blame Tonatiuh for not wanting her tagging after him constantly. What twelve-year-old boy would want an eleven-year-old girl trailing him?
Amy tried to imagine how Tonatiuh would look at seventeen. It had been so long since she had seen him. There were times when she could not recall his face. Would she recognize him? Would he recognize her?
The slackening train made Amy sit up straight. It was slowing and she knew that the moment had finally come. In seconds she would be stepping out onto the platform to be greeted by her daddy. She was already up out of her seat when the sound of the brakes screeching to a halt made her put her hands over her ears. The train stopped with such a sudden jolt, she pitched forward against the empty seat.
Her heart thundering, Amy stepped out into the aisle and hurried forward, so anxious she nervously sprang up and down in place while the conductor threw open the train door. A big smiling porter jumped out and placed a small wooden stoop down for Amy to step on.
Taking her hand, the porter announced needlessly, “Orilla, Miss Sullivan. You is home.”
Amy never answered. She couldn’t.
While the grinning porter piled valises and trunks and hatboxes on the wooden platform behind her, Amy Sullivan stood in the hot Texas sunlight on Orilla’s private railroad spur staring at the silent man who had come alone to meet her.
He was tall and slim and awesomely handsome. He wore a pair of snug, buff-hued trousers that clung to his lean flanks and long legs. A collarless pullover shirt of pale-yellow chambray, open at the throat, stretched across wide shoulders. He held a dark sombrero in his hands before him, his tanned fingers loosely clutching the wide brim. His blue-black hair gleamed in the noonday sunlight and his eyes, almost as black as his hair, held a warm light that was frighteningly compelling.
Remaining totally motionless, Luiz Quintano stared with unblinking intensity. He had expected a child, but a very grown-up young woman stood before him. Tall and slender and excitingly beautiful. Beneath a small hat of rose straw, gleaming golden hair was arranged in an attractive mass of silky ringlets that framed her lovely oval face. Her eyes were as blue as the clear Texas skies and her mouth, full and moist, held a hint of restrained humor at the corners. Her lissome body was pleasingly draped in a stylish suit of rose linen, its narrow lapels lying across a surprisingly full bosom.
The train chugged away and left them.
And still the pair stood as they were, staring at each other, the very air around them crackling with a strange, unexplained tension.
It was Amy who finally broke the spell.
“Will you take me home, Tonatiuh?” she said, and smiled prettily at him.
He took a step toward her. His voice was low and soft when he answered, “Only if that’s where you want to go.”
Flustered, Amy nodded.
He came even closer, so close she could see the powerful pulse throbbing in his smooth bronzed throat and the hot light in his beautiful black eyes. He smiled then, an endearing, boyish smile.
And he said, “Welcome home, Amy. We’ve missed you.”
HOPE,” SAID LUIZ
, putting his hands to Amy’s slender waist and carefully lifting her up onto the front seat of the gleaming black landau, “you’re not disappointed that the
did not come to meet you.” He climbed up beside her and turned to look directly into her eyes.
“Do I look disappointed?” Amy said boldly, feeling as if her cheeks were afire.
Luiz’s dark eyes dilated. He swallowed hard. “You do not. You look … you look …” He stopped speaking, tore his eyes from hers, and hastily unwrapped the long leather reins from around the brake handle.