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Authors: Alli Sinclair

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BOOK: Under the Spanish Stars
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Mateo cocked an eyebrow. ‘What is this tough boots business?'

‘It means she's very strong and won't give in easily.'

‘Ah,' he said, ‘this is because of her flamenco spirit.'

‘Maybe.' She shifted in the seat, trying to get comfy on the hard metal.

‘It is important you have a knowledge of
gitanos
before we go. What do you know?' Mateo asked.

They were going? She'd passed the test? Her heart raced and she willed herself to remain relaxed and not freak out Mateo and make him renege.

Tucking her hair behind her ears, she calmly said, ‘All I've learnt is stuff from books and the media and, to be honest, I don't tend to believe what other people say because their own experiences taint their views. I much prefer to find out for myself.'

‘I had a feeling you had the common sense. This is good. Trust must work both ways. Not all
gitanos
are thieves and lazy like many people believe. No one gets in the media for being a nice person and looking after family.
Los gitanos
I know have good hearts, work hard and mind their own business. Many Spaniards and foreigners persecute the
gitanos
because they do not understand the traditions and laws they hold dear.'

‘Like?' She sipped the delicious coffee, choosing not to worry about her growing addiction.

‘The oldest man in the clan is the boss and this upsets many of the women's liberation people around the world, but what they do not understand is that it is really
gitanas
, the women, who truly rule the clan. The
gitano
men know this though they will not admit it. They are very careful not to upset their womenfolk.' His laughter bellowed across the plaza and a few passers-by turned to stare, but he seemed content to ignore them.

‘What about school? Isn't there an issue with the kids not going?'

‘It is only an issue for the government.
Los gitanos
do not care for their children to attend school because they believe it will fill them with ideas that go against the
gitano
beliefs. If that happens, there is a risk the child will move away from the clan and tradition will perish, like with other cultures.
Los gitanos
should be the only ones to decide if their children go
to the school. The big problem with
los gitanos
, for what I see, is when people do not understand they become scared, then judge and it turns to hate.' Mateo sipped his coffee. ‘I am sorry, my mouth is doing the running thing again, yes?'

‘I don't mind at all. It's nice to hear someone speak nicely about
gitanos
.'

‘How can I not? They have been good to me.'

‘Did they teach you how to play flamenco?'

He nodded, gulped the last of his coffee and threw some euros on the table. ‘You want to go now, yes?'

Mateo stood and pulled out her chair. They took off across the plaza, Charlotte hurrying to keep up, wishing her legs were long like Abuela's. Weaving through a maze of streets, they passed more cafés, sweet aromas of coffee and freshly baked goods wafting through the air. Eventually, they reached a car park. Mateo grabbed keys out of his pocket and stuck one in the passenger side of a small yellow car that looked like it had been used as target practice for stone-throwing kids. It reminded her of the first car she'd scrimped and saved for when at university.

‘You will get in, yes?' He opened the door for her.

Climbing in, she miscalculated how low the car seat was and landed with a thud on a seat with no springs. She curled her legs into the confined space and turned to face the front while Mateo strolled to the other side then entered the vehicle, his long legs easily sliding in to the minimal legroom. He shoved a key in the ignition and turned it; the car coughed in protest, so he banged his fist on the dashboard a couple of times and the small beast came to life, filling the cabin with toxic fumes.

‘Do not worry about the smoke, it will disappear soon.' He ground the gears as they travelled down the street, while Mateo skilfully dodged pedestrians, cyclists and gaggles of tourists. It didn't take long before they hit the outskirts of Granada and true to his word, the stench and smoke from the car dissipated.

Granada's centuries-old buildings faded in the distance as they approached the hilly fields and olive groves. As the miles fell behind, Charlotte wondered how wise it was to embark on a journey in the Spanish countryside with a man she barely knew, but her desire to help her grandmother outweighed any fear of her companion being an axe-murderer. She snuck a peek at Mateo, who focussed on the winding
road ahead.

As if sensing her looking, he turned to her and said, ‘Not far from here is the city of Ronda, in Málaga province. Ronda is famous for beautiful bridges and vast canyons. It is also significant for flamenco.'

‘Really?' She enjoyed these snippets because they helped piece together the mystery behind flamenco.

‘I like that you are interested.' The smile reached Mateo's eyes. ‘
Rondeña
is a
palo
—'

‘Sorry to interrupt but what's a
palo
?'

‘It is a style of song. For example, in flamenco there are fifty types of
palos
. Some are more popular than others, of course. Some
palos
have dancing and singing and guitar, some are only danced by men, others only by women, and some may only have dancing and the
palo seco
—a stick that is hit on the floor in a special rhythm. It is very complicated, this flamenco business.'

‘I'm beginning to see this.' Charlotte didn't mind the distraction, at least it would keep her from worrying about Abuela for a moment. ‘So what's this
rondeña
?'

‘
Rondeña
is part of the
fandango malagueño
and is the oldest fandango ever known. The lyrics are mostly about living a simple life in the country and the song has a three-count
compás
, or rhythm. The dance has no set moves and is one of wildness. Me, I love
rondeñas
. They are beautiful. The best player of this music is Ramón Montoya. He created a solo guitar style, but it requires special tuning. Listen.' He fiddled around with the CD player and the cabin filled with slow, haunting guitar strumming and Mateo hummed along.

Charlotte closed her eyes and allowed the music to wash over her. Out of the flamenco
palos
she'd heard so far, and they were always playing in the background somewhere in Granada, the
rondeñas
appealed the most. Perhaps she and Mateo had more in common than she'd thought.

Mateo.

Doubts now crept in about him being the kind of man who shows foreign women a ‘good time'. For if he was, surely he would have made a move on her by now. And he certainly wouldn't be going to these great lengths if he was only interested in one thing. After all, with his charm and looks he could woo just about any woman of his choice but that didn't appear to be what Mateo was about. His love of flamenco and obvious
affection for
gitanos
showed he had depth, making him all the more alluring.
Sigh.
And his questioning about her intentions before he took her to the clan also showed he didn't do things on a whim, not like men who picked up foreign women as sport. Clearly Mateo Vives was different to most, and, as much as she wanted to fight it, a flicker of attraction sparked within.

Oh, Charlotte Kavanagh, where are you going with this?

Risking a sneak peek at her companion's long fingers on the steering wheel, she wondered what it would be like for him to run them over her body. Would he bring as much passion to lovemaking as he did when playing guitar? Would he—whoa! What? Turning to stare out the passenger window, Charlotte concentrated on the fields now covered in a blanket of darkness, a thin film of sweat breaking out on her forehead.

Get a grip, Kavanagh
.

The music floated through the cabin and she tried to immerse herself in the notes, but her detour into what-if territory with Mateo had shaken her.

When the song finished, she politely said, ‘I understand why you like it so much.'

‘I am sorry, perhaps I bore you with my talk of flamenco.'

‘Actually, I really like hearing about it.' They fell into silence as they turned off the main road onto a smaller one. ‘Please don't take this the wrong way—'

‘Whenever anyone says this then what they have to say is likely to offend, yes?'

She drew her lips together in a straight line.

‘It is okay, Charlotte, say what you must. It is hard to upset me. Maybe I am as tough as the old boots?'

The car filled with laughter and when it fell away, she asked, ‘The reason you're taking me to see your friends … is part of it because of who my grandmother is?'

‘I will not lie and say no. Her departure from flamenco remains a mystery and I am interested to find out if you can solve it. It is strange she does not tell you why.'

‘Yes, it is, but she's a closed book when it comes to her flamenco days.'

‘The years of Franco were turbulent. People who lived through this era have a strong opinion about him—love or hate. You must always be careful when talking with older people of Spain because it is easy to upset
them, especially if you do not know how they feel about Franco.'

‘Okay.'

‘And with
los gitanos
. Always be careful with how you speak with them. Respect and reputation are very important but I am sure you will do the right thing.'

The list of how to behave grew longer and longer, and although she was well versed in reading people from various backgrounds and cultures as a result of the diversity of clients in her job, the
gitanos
were going to be her biggest challenge. Thank goodness she had Mateo on board.

‘We will see how you go. The shot is long but we will try our best, yes?'

She wanted to reach over and squeeze his hand, but hesitated, worried about how Mateo would read this action. ‘I can't thank you enough for the help you're giving me.'

He waved his hand in the air. ‘It is nothing. You are a nice person, Charlotte Kavanagh, how can I say no?'

‘You certainly know how to charm.'

Mateo's grin convinced her he knew exactly what he was doing. Were all men from Granada like this? So far, her experience with Granadian men had been limited to a handful who worked in restaurants and hotels and they'd been polite, but not charming. Not like Mateo Vives with his suave personality and devastating good looks. She glanced at him again as they drove into the night. Even the little bend in the middle of his nose appealed to her.

‘Did you break it?' she asked, pointing at the middle of his face.

‘What? My nose?
Sí
. A little while ago. It is a long story but the short version is that my brother did not agree with what I had to say.'

‘He punched you?'

Mateo nodded, but looked anxious as he slid his hands up and down the steering wheel. ‘Nothing most brothers would not do to each other, yes?'

‘I've never punched my brother, although he's deserved it a few times.' Charlotte smiled, remembering the rivalry between her and Steve when they were teenagers. Thank goodness those days had passed. ‘Aren't you too old to have fisticuffs with your sibling?'

‘Fisticuffs?'

‘Having a punch-up fight.'

‘I think I am too old, but my brother does not believe this.' Tapping on the steering wheel, he said, ‘So we are nearly there. Be prepared to go along with what I say and do, okay?'

‘Absolutely okay.' Mateo was going out on a limb for her and she had no intention of creating any angst between him and the people he considered family. Which made her wonder about his biological family, given the snippet she'd learnt about his brother. She sensed that topic, along with many others, was not going to be shared willingly. ‘Is Cristina part of the Giménez clan?'

‘Yes. Why do you ask this?'

‘I was just wondering why we didn't speak to her last night.'

‘Last night was not the right time. To ask her a favour, it is better if we do this on her territory.'

‘This is a
gitano
thing?'

‘It is a Cristina thing. She is complicated.'

‘I think she hates me.'

Mateo held his thumb and index finger close together. ‘Maybe a little.'

They swung off the road and onto the narrow path that led to a field. A full moon hung overhead, casting a golden light across silken straw blowing in the light breeze. Between the distant trees an orange and yellow glow flickered, and when the car stopped in the middle of the field Charlotte sensed she'd just stepped back in time.

CHAPTER
6

‘Where are we?' Charlotte's voice cracked.

‘You are nervous?'

Charlotte bit her lip and shook her head.

‘Charlotte Kavanagh, I hope you are not doing the lying thing.'

She let out a sigh and said, ‘Going to new places scares me.'

‘Why?'

‘Because …' She took a moment to get her thoughts straight. ‘Because I get worried that people won't accept me into their group.' Wow. That had come out so easily, yet she'd never had the courage to say it out loud before. What was with this Mateo Vives? Did he have some kind of super human power with getting her to reveal her innermost thoughts and emotions?

‘I can assure you that you are very likable and even though the Giménez clan do not accept outsiders, they will not be rude.'

Mateo's words did little to calm her nerves but she exited the car regardless. A lone figure stepped out from the cluster of trees. With arms and legs that went on forever, the woman sauntered across the field, long skirt and dark hair fanning out in the gentle breeze.

As she drew close, her rosy lips broke into a wide smile but the shadows fell across her eyes. ‘I thought I heard your car, Mateo!'

BOOK: Under the Spanish Stars
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