Authors: Sarah Collins
Cassie and Taylor scored a front row seat after they pushed their way through the throng of reporters standing outside the door.
Taylor pulled Cassie through them once again as they heard shouts of, “Any statement, Miss Lewis?” from at least 20 different directions. The commotion left them breathless and they took their seats, both laughing.
“That was bizarre,” Taylor said, turning her head to the back of the room where the photographers covered the doorway.
“I feel like Beyonce or something.”
“Well, you don’t look like
Beyonce,” Cassie said, grinning. She was grateful to Taylor for the levity, as her heart had been heavy all night. She couldn’t sleep, and morning hadn’t come soon enough. The butterflies in her stomach hadn’t subsided with daylight, and the program she held in her hands was twisted beyond recognition.
“So, what do you think he’s going to do?” Cassie said, leaning back in her seat and eyeing the dais at the front of the room.
It sat empty, with 10 minutes until the press conference was scheduled to begin.
Cassie leaned forward, her hand on Taylor’s knee.
“I don’t know. I have absolutely no idea.” She glanced around the room, recognizing many sympathetic faces from the ceremony yesterday, their presence gratifying.
“Do you believe he can fix this?” Taylor
said, her eyes full of questions.
“I have absolutely no doubt he will, and I can’t quite explain why,” Cassie said as her heart warmed with the memory of his touch.
His sincerity had moved her, and she utterly believed he would make this right.
The door behind the dais opened, and the sound of electronic camera flashes became almost deafening.
Taylor grabbed Cassie’s hand as they watched the Board of Directors walk in and take their seats on the platform, its purple velvet cloth in front stamping them with regality. Alejandro’s mother, comfortable in this arena, sat down coolly, turning her gaze directly to Cassie. She smiled slightly, nodding, and turned toward her son as he entered the room.
They both leaned forward as Alejandro followed the group in a few steps behind.
His Armani suit had “business” written all over it, and she had to look twice at him to remember his face as it was last night in the firelight. Searching, she tried to read his expression. Her heart sunk as she realized he wasn’t smiling.
The group took their seats, and Alejandro walked to the podium, blinking as the photographers took picture after picture. “Ladies and gentleman, thank you for joining us today.
On behalf of the Board of Directors, I would like to thank those of you who sent messages regarding the vaquita sanctuary. All opinions were received and weighed before coming to a decision.”
Alejandro spoke a bit about the resort again, and the ecosystem surrounding it, and Cassie couldn’t help but think he was stalling.
His eyes remained steady on the door at the back of the room as he spoke, and she wondered when he would get to the point.
He ended his overview of the issue, his face changing completely, a look of utter relief washing over him.
He smiled, his joy obvious as his eyes flashed at what he had spotted.
Turning to the back of the room, Cassie glimpsed Diego standing there, his hands in front of him holding his hat.
He smiled at Alejandro, his expression guarded, as he moved a few steps closer. He was almost unrecognizable to her without his blue jeans, cotton shirt and fishing hat. The hat he held today was that of a Latin gentleman, and the expensive suit he wore made him look like an entirely different man. If she had run into him outside, she wouldn’t have known who he was.
She looked back to the dais, where Alejandro’s mother was whispering with the woman on her right.
She suddenly turned to Alejandro as the murmurs in the audience grew louder, capturing her attention. She had stopped listening when Alejandro began to speak of the vaquita, and now, she peered toward the back of the room, shielding her eyes against the bright stage lights the photographers had set up.
“Before I announce the decision of the Board of Directors regarding the water and shore rights for the
vaquita sanctuary, I’d like to introduce someone to you. Ladies and gentlemen, it is with great honor I present to you my uncle, Pablo Vasquez.”
Cassie gasped as Senora Vasquez jumped to her feet and immediately crashed to the floor.
Alejandro jumped to his left just in time to catch her before she hit the ground, laying her gently on the carpet. “Water, please,” he shouted, as he loosened the buttons around his mother’s neck. His uncle and his father arrived at the same time with water, their eyes meeting as they rushed to help the woman they both loved.
“Clear the room,” Alejandro commanded, gesturing to the assistants in the back.
As they shepherded people out the back door with efficiency, an assistant motioned for Cassie and Taylor to exit with the others. “”They stay here,” Alejandro said, turning back to his mother’s side.
Senora Vasquez’s eyes fluttered, opening wide as her brother bent over her.
Her hand reached toward his face, her palm resting on his check. Tears spilled as she drank in his smile. “Pablo, I never thought I’d see you again. I’d given up all hope.”
“Nina, father kept us apart in more ways than you know.
Even after my wife and son were killed, he wouldn’t let me return and inflict shame on the family.”
Sitting up, she never let her eyes leave her brother.
“Oh, Pablo, you lost Maria? And you had a son?” she wailed, grasping him in a tight hug.
Pablo explained his wife and their young son had been killed in a boating accident.
Bereft, he had spent several years building churches and homes in the south campos, lovingly crafting the ladrillo structures dotting the landscape.
“It was the way I chose to mourn, Nina.
I had to create beauty, as Maria created beauty for me.” He held her hand tightly, brushing back her black hair with affection. “I tried to contact you, but father intercepted.”
Why would he do that if Maria was gone,” she said, her knuckles white around Pablo’s hand.
“He decided I could come back if I agreed to work again for the company.
He insisted it was the only way I could erase the shame. Maria and I had such a quiet life, and to me, her memory was not shameful. I declined, and he forbade me from contact with you and your family.” Pablo stood as Nina lowered her eyes and shook her head.
Pablo turned his kind eyes on his brother-in-law, taking him in a warm embrace.
Turning to Alejandro, he said, “And this young man’s courage is what brought me here today.” He wrapped his arms around Alejandro, smiling widely. Alejandro returned the embrace, his eyes bright.
“I couldn’t help but replay the story in my mind, of Uncle Pablo’s decision to leave the family and marry Maria.
I had heard he had built beautiful homes, and when I saw the house in Playa Luna, I wondered if it had been built by Pablo. Then, after spending the day with him on the water, I noticed the resemblance to Mother,” Alejandro said, taking a seat by his mother.
“He found me last night, at my home.
He shared with me your plans to set aside the space designated for the vaquita sanctuary in my honor and that of my beloved Maria. I came today to tell you the highest honor to my wife and son would be allowing the sanctuary. If the vaquita survive, that would be something she would have been very proud of.”
Cassie’s head spun, the shock of seeing Diego as Pablo still rippling through her mind.
Alejandro took her hand, giving it a squeeze. As Cassie squeezed back, Taylor patted Alejandro on the shoulder. “Way to go, Detective Vasquez,” she said, her blue eyes twinkling.
Senora Vasquez stood, leaning on her husband’s arm and crossed the dais.
She reached out her hand to Cassie, smiling. “Miss Lewis, it appears you have your sanctuary after all. Would you consider naming it after Pablo and Maria? That would make me very happy.”
“It would be an honor, Senora,” Cassie said, with a slight nod of her head.
“I can’t think of anything more wonderful.”
Pablo again embraced his sister, his brother-in-law and all the family members on the dais.
Alejandro turned to Cassie, his eyes gentle. He put his hand under her chin, tilting her face to his. Her eyes filled with gratitude, she reached up to kiss him, their warmth reaching deep into her heart.
“Ahem,” she heard behind her.
She turned, and Senora Vasquez motioned to assistants at the back of the room. “Please usher the public back in. We have a vote to take.” With a nod to Cassie, she resumed her seat as the Chairman of the Board of Directors of Costa Azul International.
The stunning brick pillars were the first thing Cassie noticed as she neared the beautiful house on the bluff, its arches enclosing a dramatic patio that overlooked the sea.
She had been allowed to watch from afar as it grew, brick by brick, but Alejandro had kept her from seeing more than that until now.
Alejandro slowed as they came closer, pulling the jeep to a stop at the bottom of the short road that lead from the beach to the dune.
“Stay here a minute,” he said, hopping out of the Jeep and jogging toward the house. As he disappeared behind the tall front door, she sighed, her eyes closing as the warm gulf breeze caressed her face.
How did I get so lucky?
she thought, as the video of the past year played out in her mind, she smiled, remembering her panic when she believed the vaquita would become extinct. Now, thanks to Costa Azul International, the vaquita had their home and were increasing in number for the first time since they’d been discovered. The vaquita had their home, and she had found hers.
Her eyes fluttered, bringing her to the present, a smile dancing on her lips as she surveyed the beautiful, brick house on the bluff.
Alejandro had started back toward the jeep. She had gotten to know him more deeply this past year, and he was no longer able to hide his emotions from her as he once had. As he hurried down the road to her, his excitement and anticipation clearly matched her own.
“Everything is ready for you.
I hope you like it, mi amor,” he said, as he opened her door and held out his hand. His smile was infectious, and Cassie threw her arms around him, laughing.
“Alejandro, I can’t believe you’ve had this whole house built for us and haven’t even let me see it once.
How do you know I’ll like it,” she said, drawing back from him.
He took her hand slowly, his lips resting on her palm.
“I know your heart, Cassie Lewis, and I know what will make you happy. Come, see our new home,” he said, pulling her with him up the road.
They walked up the hill toward the house, comfortable in each
other’s silence. She was honored he had done this for her, and he had put his heart and soul into it. Planning and building with his Uncle Pablo had been a joy for both of them as they forged their relationship, built on respect and love they hadn’t had the opportunity to know before.
Cassie had spent the past year designing the breeding sanctuary, shepherding teams of scientists in and out of the area as they implemented their plan.
Progress had been swift, and she anticipated the first residents in the sanctuary within a few months.
At the same time, Alejandro had given her a home, relishing the secret planning and scheming with his uncle, keeping all details from Cassie.
The construction had been a joint effort, Alejandro planning and designing their home as he worked on the construction of the resort, and Pablo building the house lovingly, with his own hands, as he had built his churches in the past. It was a true gift of love.
They drew near the entry of the house, passing through a small patio with a fountain made of colorful Mexican tile, water flowing into a basin on the ground.
Brightly colored bougainvillea flowers waved in the breeze as they walked under the shaded roof of the entry.
Alejandro gestured for her to lead the way toward the front door, his eyes gleaming.
Her chin dropped as she looked up at the tall double-entry doors, her hand to her mouth. “Alejandro, they’re beautiful,” she gasped, running her fingers over the two dolphins etched deep into the dark mahogany.
“I had them made especially for you,” he said as he pushed the door open in front of her.
As she passed into the beautiful entry, stunned with its beauty, she was drawn to the four massive windows. The magnetic pull of the view drew her closer, as her gaze was drawn to the beach below.
“Do you like it?” Alejandro said, anxiously searching her face.
“I hope I haven’t made a mistake.”
Cassie fell silent, her eyes taking in the view, and the magnitude of the gift. “I can’t believe you did this for me, Alejandro,” he said, her voice quiet.
“This is the best gift I’ve ever received.”
face lit up as he threw open the French doors leading to the patio beyond the beautiful windows. “Come, there’s more,” he said, reaching for her hand.
They reached the edge of the bluff, and she breathed deeply, taking in the vista.
Before her, down the cliff and across the sand, was the breeding sanctuary she had created. As the warm breeze rose from the sea, she rested her head on his shoulder.
amor,” Pablo said, stepping onto the patio, his hat in his hands. He grasped Cassie in a tight hug as she crossed the patio. “Is it to your liking, little one?”
“Pablo, you did this for me?” she said, hugging him tightly.
“You built a beautiful home for us.”
As he lowered his eyes, he said, “I built it for the two of you, yes.
But I also built it for Maria and Esteban in their memory.” He placed his hat on his head and turned toward the sea. “They would be very proud of what we have done here,” he said, turning toward the road. “I know you will be happy here, and we have work to do. Alejandro, show her the last surprise.” Nodding to them both, he disappeared toward the mountains.
Cassie turned to Alejandro, her eyes searching his face.
“There’s something special that Pablo wanted you to see,” Alejandro said, pulling her toward a wrought-iron metal staircase leading to an upstairs balcony.
Close behind him, she climbed the steps.
On the grand terrace overlooking the sea, Alejandro stood near a large column of brick, shimmering yellow and orange in the disappearing sunlight.
She moved closer, her eyes wide. “He did all these whale-tails himself?” she said, her hand reaching to touch the brick before her. Her eyes traveled up to the top, and she felt his hand tighten as she surveyed the intricate design in the wall, facing the sea.
“Yes, each one.
He did this for you,” he said as he admired the expert artistry. As she gazed at the pattern of the moonrise that Pablo had designed with the brick, its rays shooting to all co rners of the patio, she turned to Alejandro, her eyes wet. She thought of how close she had come to believing he would give it all up for his family. She knew now that he was her rock, her rescuer, and she could rest her heart in his hands and not take on the world alone.
“Yes, we will be happy here.”