Carmella and Juan Blanco were both born in Colombia where they had lived until illegally immigrating to Corpus Christi, Texas, ten years earlier. This marriage was Juan’s second. Carmella was the mother of the two boys, but Juan’s first wife, Maria, had been the little girl’s mother. The little girl, Alicia, had no idea Carmella was not her natural mother since Maria had been murdered when Alicia was only seven months old. Carmella, who wanted Juan for herself, was responsible for Maria’s brutal stabbing.
As the daughter of the major Colombian drug lord in the southern area of the country, Carmella was used to getting everything she wanted and having Juan as a husband was no exception. He had worked for her father as a bodyguard, enforcer, and smuggling-crew chief. He was handsome, daring, passionate, and as ruthless as Carmella herself.
Juan had fallen out of love with his first wife, Maria, several years earlier when she refused to indulge his fantasy of sleeping with both her and her teenage sister simultaneously. His disdain for her was cemented when she delivered a daughter to him rather than the son he had demanded. He regretted Maria’s death briefly, for his daughter’s sake. Alicia had been made motherless, but, as it turned out, not for long.
Carmella, with whom he he’d been having an affair for over a year, insisted that he marry her. Saying no to Carmella was not an option for anyone; besides, he knew she would inherit her father’s lucrative drug trade when the old man died. The wedding took place exactly one month and one day after Maria was buried. Juan never knew if Carmella had personally slit Maria’s throat or whether she had ordered it done. In either case it was much safer not to know, and he never questioned it.
The Blanco private airport was located a hundred yards from the front door of their sprawling estate. The plane landed smoothly and Carmella waved away the limousine waiting to drive them to the house, choosing to walk the distance instead. The afternoon temperature was mild and the blue sky was absent clouds. Carmella and Juan walked first, followed closely by the two boys. Eva and Alicia came last, several steps behind the group. Back at the plane two men wearing holsters with pistols in them unloaded the luggage.
Walking side by side, Alicia took Eva’s hand in her own. “Do you want to see my room?” she asked. Alicia’s English was flawless with barely the trace of an accent.
“Sure,” said Eva, taking in as much of the house and the manicured grounds as she could. Never in her life had she seen a home as large and luxurious as the Blanco hacienda. To her it looked more like a grand hotel than a private home. A large angel fountain dominated the circular driveway in front of the home. Huge overelaborate wooden double doors stood behind decorative iron gates and atop great cement stairs, beckoning visitors into what Eva would eventually discover was a cornucopia of extravagant wealth, carnal excess, unchecked power, and violent bloodshed.
As they walked through the double-door entryway, Eva was certain she glimpsed the maid flash a brief, nearly imperceptible scowl toward her before turning her full attention to welcoming the family back with skillful deference and respect. Eva stood in awe at the foot of the huge double stairway with plush red carpet that dominated the entrance, and within moments she was climbing those stairs, still hand in hand with Alicia who guided their ascent with the jubilant enthusiasm of a puppy scenting a new adventure.
Alicia’s bedroom was large and lavishly decorated. Colorful murals of all varieties of baby animals with their mothers covered the walls and the ceiling. Alicia had given every animal a name, as if they were her real pets, and she recited the names to Eva as she proudly pointed each one out. From Alicia’s bedroom window Eva saw a very large swimming pool in the shallow end of which the two young boys were already playfully splashing. A bored-looking man stood nearby, smoking a cigarette and watching them. A rifle was strapped to his back by a brown, leather strap. Further away, Eva noticed stables. Two stables boys—one older, one younger—perhaps father and son—were walking about, apparently tending to their chores.
“Would you like to see your own room now?” Carmella was standing in the doorway, smiling pleasantly at Eva.
“Sure,” said Eva. “I’d like that.” Eva relished the thought of having her own room again after nearly three years of living on Melanie’s couch.
“I’m going too!” announced Alicia.
“No, Alicia,” Carmella responded, pointing her finger at the little girl. “Eva wants privacy now. She will be down to play with you later.”
“Will you?” Alicia asked Eva, her eyes distrustful.
“Of course I will,” Eva laughed.
Carmella led the way up two more flights of stairs. Eva’s room was on the very top floor. Compared to Alicia’s room, the furniture in this room was sparse, but adequate. The dresser was older and the wood was dilapidated. In one corner sat a desk with a metal desk lamp perched on top and a wooden, swivel desk chair that looked as old and worn out as the dresser. One easy chair with flowered cushions sat in the other corner with a floor lamp stationed behind it. On the easy chair Eva saw that her shopping bag filled with her things had already had been brought from the plane. The faded hardwood floor had a few shabby throw rugs covering sections of the discolored, worn, wooden slats. Two doors in the bedroom were closed.
“That door is your closet,” said Carmella pointing, “and the other is your bathroom.”
“My own bathroom! Really?” Eva said. She’d never had her own private bath before. The thought of it tickled her.
“Certainly, my little dove,” Carmella smiled proudly. “I promised you when we hired you that you would have only the best, that you would never regret your decision to come work for us, and that you would learn to love our children and Juan and me as well.”
“Thank you,” was all that Eva could manage.
The most striking piece of furniture in the room was the oversized bed. It was huge. Eva had never seen a bed this big. It was made up with a half dozen pillows of various sizes, shapes, and colors all spread over an exquisite white quilt. An ornate, iron headboard stood solidly over a substantial mattress. Eva stared at it with fascination.
“It was ours,” Carmella said, noticing Eva’s interest, “Juan’s and mine. When we got a new bed last year we moved this one up here. I hope you like it?” Carmella cocked her head and listened carefully for Eva’s reply.
“I’ve never slept in a bed that big,” she answered wide-eyed. “I never even saw a bed this big before. I hope I don’t get lost in there.”
Carmella laughed. “Don’t worry, little dove,” she said. “We’ll find you in there. We won’t lose you.”
Carmella approached Eva, gazed softly into her eyes, and tenderly caressed Eva’s cheek with the back of her hand. “You are a very lovely girl. Do you know that?”
Eva’s face reddened, and she lowered her eyes.
“Oh, you are, my little dove, trust me. You are a most beautiful girl.”
Without warning, Carmella leaned forward and kissed Eva affectionately on her lips. Startled, Eva immediately took a step back. “Don’t be afraid, little dove,” Carmella said, gently stroking Eva’s hair. “No one here will hurt you. I like you; Juan likes you. We are going to be very good to you here, and you are going to be happy. We are most generous with people we like.”
Eva cast her eyes downward and fixed her gaze on her hands, the fingers clutching each other tensely. She had no idea what to say or how to react. She wondered if she should run. Should she protest? Should she kiss Carmella back? Was this kiss affection or something more?
Eva felt trapped and exhilarated at the same time. Carmella smiled and the fragrance of her perfume was enchanting. Her lips had been moist and soft, and Eva found the sensation of those lips on her own pleasurable and stimulating. She had never been kissed on her lips by a woman before, except her mother.
Carmella glanced at the shopping bag of Eva’s clothes and belongings. “Are those all of your things?” Carmella asked.
“Yes,” said Eva. “I travel light.”
Carmella nodded her understanding. “Don’t be ashamed,” she said. “I was poor once, when I was little, but not anymore.” Her smile broadened into a triumphant beam. “Now I have the best of everything, whatever I want. And tomorrow,” she said, patting Eva lightly on her arm, “you shall have a new wardrobe: beautiful clothes and make-up and jewelry—anything you want, my little dove. Would you like that?” She cocked her head to one side.
Carmella was true to her word. The next day the limousine drove them into Corpus Christi, and they spent three hours shopping in a half dozen boutiques buying clothes, jewelry, and cosmetics for Eva. Carmella chose most of the clothes for Eva and her taste ran to more seductive and revealing outfits than Eva would have chosen for herself.
At just past 11:00 p.m. on Eva’s third night in the Blanco home she was startled by two sharp knocks on her door immediately followed by Carmella opening it and entering with Juan on her heels. The children had gone to bed hours earlier, and Eva had just begun drifting into a restful sleep. Carmella smiled seductively. Juan’s face was flushed and determined, and he looked as if he’d been drinking. Eva understood immediately why they were in her room this late at night. A foreboding comingling of lust and cruelty controlled Carmella’s expression. A shudder of fear raced down Eva’s spine and into the very soles of her feet.
Eva sprang upright in her bed. “What do you . . .”
“Be quiet and listen,” Carmella barked, pointing her finger at Eva.
Eva went silent. It was obvious that protest would be futile, even dangerous.
“You have nowhere to go, my little dove,” Carmella said, sitting on the bed. “Our compound is more than seventy miles from the city, and if you try to run away Juan will hunt you down and kill you.”
Eva glanced at Juan who was sitting on the desk staring hungrily at her.
Eva swallowed hard. Her stomach churned, and she thought she was about to vomit.
If she cooperated, Carmella told her, she would live with them pleasantly and in great luxury. She could use the pool, the stables, and all other amenities the ranch had to offer, and she would be paid $25 a week, which she would not have to spend since all of her food, clothes, and other expenses would be paid for by them. If she resisted, she would, as Carmella put it, “disappear into the night.” Carmella added that in her opinion Eva’s disappearance would be “heartbreaking” since Eva was such a “beautiful little dove.”
“If you cooperate,” Carmella said casually, “we may even let you leave after a few years, though maybe you won’t want to leave,” Carmella smiled and Eva saw the wolf behind her eyes.
Carmella listed for Eva the rules of the sexual dance they would enact. From what Carmella was saying and the way she was saying it, Eva deduced these were the same rules that had been in effect with Eva’s predecessor, Helen, but someone had violated a rule and Helen was gone and Eva was her replacement.
Concluding, Carmella reached into her generous cleavage, exposed by her low-cut blouse, and extracted five $100 bills. Taking two steps forward, she placed the money in Eva’s hand, leaned over, and kissed her firmly on the lips. Eva stared at the money in her hand. She had never even seen $500 at one time before and now it was about to be hers. Eva’s fist closed tightly around the money while Carmella waited expectantly for Eva’s reaction. Eva found herself recalling what Melanie had said just days earlier: “I mean for Christ’s sake it’s only sex. What’s the big deal?”