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Authors: Alli Sinclair

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BOOK: Under the Spanish Stars
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‘What?' Katarina continued fanning herself.

Raul frowned. ‘Federico, this is not a
palo
we have rehearsed. It is too risky.'

‘What do we have to lose?' He gestured towards the dour-faced audience. ‘Do they look like they want to be here? If we don't pull out something spectacular, create a night they will remember and tell the world about, then this will be the only performance the company will make. Then we'll be on the streets sleeping with the rest of Spain.' Anxiety flashed in his eyes and she suspected it had everything to do with reporting a failed opening night to the Lobos.

Salvador said, ‘Federico—'

‘We should do it.' Katarina put the fan on a nearby chair and placed her hands on her hips. ‘Federico is right. We have to go big, get them engaged and
tangos gitanos
is perfect for this.'

Salvador shook his head. ‘But you and I have barely performed it in the past because we've never got the formula just right. Then there's Raul …'

‘Salvador, you talked me into joining this company. Do not make me regret my decision.' She didn't look at Federico or Raul for fear she'd just offended them.

‘What about
bulerías
?' asked Salvador.

‘
Bulerías
is too radical.
Tangos gitanos
has the perfect ingredients that will appeal.' Katarina placed her hand on Salvador's arm. ‘I promise you it will work.'

‘She's right,' said Raul and the second his eyes met hers, she knew her suggestion was within reason.

Salvador grabbed a glass of water and took a large swig. ‘Fine. We'll do it, but be it on your heads if this fails.'

‘It won't,' Katarina and Raul said in unison.

‘Then it's decided.' Federico alternated between staring at the musicians and dancers on stage and the audience. ‘Just make sure it's the best damn performance you've ever done. My neck is on the guillotine.'

‘So are ours,' said Katarina.

‘Yes, yes.' Federico coughed, then stepped aside as the other group walked off the stage to lukewarm applause as the curtains closed. Two of the musicians swore under their breath and three of the dancers stomped towards the dressing rooms.

Salvador stood on the stage, waiting for the curtains to open while Federico lurched forward through the gap and addressed the audience. ‘There has been a slight change in the program, ladies and gentleman. We now offer you some of the best
tangos gitanos
you will ever see, featuring a dancer with a fire in her heart and flaming hair—
La Flama
.'

Raul grabbed Katarina's arm and pulled her into the darkness. His mouth was deliciously close to hers, his warm breath grazed her clammy skin. Leaning in, he paused then tentatively placed his lips on hers. Her head told her to push him away; her skin ached for his touch. The weight of his body gently pinned her against the wall as they engaged in a hot, fiery kiss. Every inch of her body missed him, like it had been waiting all these years to experience his touch, his love, once more. Wrapping her arms around him, she closed her eyes, lost in the luscious moment, shutting out the world around them.

Raul pulled away slowly. ‘
Duende
will surface on or off the stage when the moment is right.'

CHAPTER
8

Charlotte tucked the paper bag under her arm as she hurried out of the art shop, keen to get back to her hotel room. The energy from last night still flowed through her, creating a buzz within and awakening a desire she hadn't felt for such a long, long time. Once she'd joined in the festivities and not made a total fool of herself,
los gitanos
had turned out to be a welcoming, friendly bunch who were disappointed when she and Mateo had to leave. The only exception was Cristina, but Charlotte had begun to get used to Cristina's weirdness.

An image flashed before her of Mateo playing the guitar, his head bent low, his concentration unwavering. His intensity intrigued her and made Charlotte question her own desires. Witnessing Mateo's ability to give in and surf a tide of emotions, to follow his heart and do what made him happy … she wanted that and more.

The only person who could really make a decision about her passions was Charlotte. And that's when she stumbled across the art shop in a side alley of Granada, opening its doors for the day. What was a girl to do but scoop up a large bag of art supplies? A thunderbolt hadn't just struck … it had knocked her over and lit up the entire city.

Skipping up the steps of the hotel, she made it to her room, opened the door and laid her swag on the bed. Maybe now, so far from home, Charlotte could paint without fear.

The more time she spent away from her job, the more she realised how much she hated it. Hated the pressure. Hated the way it took over every minute of her life. Hated how it had changed how she thought and acted. Constantly analysing risk and how it affected her clients meant it had crept into her own life, leaking through in small, insidious ways that blanked out her creativity and quashed her freedom-loving nature. She yearned to
spend a day not being bombarded with ‘what-if' questions. What if she parked near that tree, would it fall in the wind? What if she went on that scuba diving holiday in Greece, would she get the bends? What if she quit the family business, would her father disown her?

Slumping on the chair, she pushed the new art supplies away with her foot.

Charlotte chastised herself for being absurd. One night with
los gitanos
and she was contemplating chucking in her hard work for a simpler lifestyle. And now she'd wasted a couple of hundred euros on art supplies that would remain in their wrapping. How bloody ridiculous.

A knock at the door sounded and she got up to answer. Standing on tiptoe she peeked through the small hole. Mateo. He wasn't due for a few more hours but she was more than happy for him to be a distraction. Undoing the chain on the door she swung it open.

‘
Hola
, how is my flamenco dancer not-in-training?'

‘
Hola
,' she said, taking a moment to enjoy his friendly smile.

‘I am sorry for being early, but I have news.'

‘Good, I hope.'

‘I try not to deliver the other kind.'

‘Excellent.' She let him in, then instantly regretted it. The art supplies were still on her bed and that would no doubt lead to questioning about why she possessed them. The tussle within her own mind was tough enough, let alone having to discuss it with someone else, charming as he was.

Mateo sat on the only chair in the room. ‘Your charm worked last night so today we visit the Giménez clan again.
El Jefe
wishes to speak with you.'

‘That's very good news. I thought my chances were low.'

‘They were non-existent until your friend Leila got in his ears.'

‘Really?'

‘She did the vouching for you and the word of a
gitano
holds much weight.'

‘So I gathered. Just so you know, I didn't set out to charm anyone. I had no intention of dancing or getting in the limelight at all. I was trying to fly under the radar, if anything.'

‘If this is you flying under the radars, I would like to see what you do when
you look for the limelights. Your dancing, it surprised everyone.'

‘Including me.'

Mateo nodded. ‘Me too. You are a natural. You do not appear to have the soul of an Australian woman.'

‘What's that supposed to mean?'

‘I … uh …'

Charlotte laughed. ‘Don't finish the sentence because you'll only get yourself into trouble.'

‘Okay, I will leave this topic alone to save myself. Phew!' Mateo wiped his brow in a dramatic fashion. ‘So, let us go now before
El Jefe
changes his mind.'

She grabbed her bag and followed him towards the door. ‘Is he really called
El Jefe
?'

‘Yes. The power has gone to his brains and he gets angry if he is called by the name of his birth. He does not talk to many and prefers to spend most of his time in his caravan.'

‘A bit like the wizard in the land of Oz.'

‘Who?' Mateo reached into his pocket and grabbed his car keys as they got into the lift.

‘Never mind.' She waved her hand. ‘Let's just hope he's still in a talkative mood by the time we get there.'

* * *

Leila met Mateo and Charlotte at the edge of the forest and bounced beside them as the trio headed to the community. She chatted the whole time, begging Charlotte to impart her knowledge of Australian idioms and although they'd only met twice, Charlotte had already developed a strong liking for this engaging, effervescent woman.

They wove a wonky path past the dwellings, the children smiling and waving like they'd known Charlotte all their young lives.

‘You better watch out, they may ask you to dance again.' Mateo nudged her with his elbow.

‘I think I've broken my leg.' She leant over and rubbed her thigh.

Mateo shook his head and laughed as they halted at the base of the steps of
El Jefe
's caravan. Leila climbed up, knocked on the door, then disappeared inside.

‘No Cristina today?' Charlotte fiddled with the tassel on her handbag.

‘She has business to attend to in Granada.'

A black magic convention?

Muffled voices snuck out between the gaps in the door and windows while Charlotte and Mateo stood quietly. It was hard to know what conversation to have when waiting to speak with the one man who could make or break her grandmother's quest for truth.

‘I see you had art material in your room. You said you were not artistic, but it appears this is not the case.'

Damn.
Trust her to befriend the only man in the world who noticed things in front of him that didn't involve short skirts or low-cut tops.

‘It's a long story,' she said.

‘You have many of these.'

‘I do. Sorry, but I don't think now is the time to talk about the whole art thing.'

‘Okay,' he said with a nonchalance that only made her want to blab everything.

The door creaked open and Leila made her way down the steps. ‘
El Jefe
will see you now.'

Charlotte cocked her head in Mateo's direction. ‘Can he come with me?'

Leila nodded. ‘Yes, of course.'

Mateo gestured for her to go first and she took a deep breath and climbed the stairs. Knocking three times on the door she waited for acknowledgement, but Mateo leant over and whispered, ‘Go in.'

Entering the dark interior, it took a moment for her eyes to adjust. She hadn't contemplated what it would be like inside, but she certainly hadn't expected the hot pink lava lamp in the corner of the room, or for the place to smell like pipe smoke mixed with freshly baked apple and cinnamon pies.

‘
Bienvenidos
.'
Welcome.
The large voice filled the small room. In the corner sat a small bald man very much like the Wizard of Oz. Charlotte stifled a nervous giggle.

‘Thank you so much for seeing me,' she said, still standing, once again wondering what to do with her hands.

El Jefe
gestured for her to take a seat on the lime green vinyl chair,
while Mateo sat next to her on a tiny stool. A long silence ensued. Charlotte was loath to speak first in case she broke some cardinal rule about addressing
El Jefe
.

The old man placed his pipe on the ashtray, formed a steeple with his hands and rested them against his chin. ‘I have seen the painting. Yes, the artist is from our clan, but this is all I will say. The answer which you seek must be obtained from the Sanchez family.'

He spoke slow enough for her to understand, but his beautiful Spanish accent didn't match the disappointing words. She took time before replying, hoping the building frustration didn't reflect in her voice. Concentrating on enunciating her Spanish, she said, ‘
Gracias, El Jefe
,
pero
…'

Words choked at the back of her throat.

Mateo leant forward and gently touched her knee. ‘Take your time.'

‘It's hard enough saying what I need to in English, let alone Spanish.'

‘Then tell me and I will translate. You will do fine.' He winked then turned to tell
El Jefe
about translating.
El Jefe
shrugged, a good enough sign for them to continue.

Gathering courage, she said, ‘I'm afraid the Sanchez family members you suggest I speak with are impossible to find. I've tried contacting them, but I've reached a dead end every time.'

‘Then I cannot help.' He focussed on emptying his pipe and refilling it with tobacco.

Charlotte shot Mateo a wide-eyed look and he frowned, as if saying, ‘I have no idea why we're here, either.'

‘Please,
El Jefe
, I understand you don't want you to go against your beliefs by talking about the artist but my
abuela
is very unwell. This is her only chance of solving a mystery that has plagued her for decades.' Mateo translated then the small room filled with silence for an excruciatingly long time.

‘Thank you for your respect.'
El Jefe
gave a small nod. ‘I am afraid I can do no more than tell you to find the Sanchez family. They have answers. Ask about your great-grandfather. This family, the Sanchez people, live on lies—lies that have affected my family. I choose to say no more. Please, go now.'
El Jefe
gestured towards the door and Charlotte did as asked, disappointment trailing behind as she exited the abode. She made an effort to fall in with Mateo's steps as they headed towards the centre of the
community.

A young kid raced past on his bicycle and she stopped before colliding with him.
El Jefe
's words rattled around her brain then finally settled enough to make sense:
the Sanchez people, live on lies—lies that have affected my family.
‘Bloody hell.'

BOOK: Under the Spanish Stars
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