To Have and To Hold

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Chapter 32

The evening rush started with vehicles pouring into the streets. Angelo was busy navigating the now congested roads when he realized that he had not asked Louisa where she wanted to go. He chanced a quick glance at his passenger to gauge her mood. She was dry-eyed and calm in spite of the dark frown that still creased her perfectly arched brows. At least she’s not screaming at me anymore, he mused.

For the first few minutes of their ride, Louisa had exploded and ranted at him, at Gabriel, at Isabella, at the whole unfairness of them all. It was not a pretty sight, but Angelo let her expunge all the poison in her system without uttering a word. Had Louisa been any other female, Angelo would’ve dumped her on the sidewalk long before she’d bared her claws.

But Louisa was no other female. She was a woman hurting because of what he’d done. Well, partly at least. He would never assume Gabriel’s fault on himself. When Louisa finally ran out of steam, she withdrew within herself, lost in her personal hell.

“Where would you like to go, Louie?” he tentatively asked.

Her eyes were fixed unblinkingly on the road stretching out before them. Angelo waited for an answer, but she remained still and silent. Angelo reached for her hand; it was ice-cold. She turned to him, eyebrows asked questioningly.

“Hmm? What was that?” she said, her voice hoarse from screaming.

“I asked if there was somewhere you’d like to go.”

Louisa paused and shook her head. “Nowhere. Just as long as it’s far away from Gabriel,” she quietly replied.

Angelo squeezed her fingers to convey understanding. Louisa pulled away and turned back to the window, effectively dismissing him and the question of their destination.

Now, he was left to decide on his own. Angelo sighed. If only he could delve into Louisa’s mind.

She obviously didn’t want to go back to their house in Alabang. She would’ve said so if she did. Angelo did not want to take her home looking like that, either. Tio Ramon would be asking too many questions and he didn’t think he would be up to a parental grilling at this moment.

He thought of taking her to his suite at the hotel. However, knowing Gabriel, it would be the first place he would look. Louisa had already made it clear that she did not want to see her fiancé right now, so he quickly scratched that from his options.

They could go to Hacienda Constantina. Tio Ramon would not be there. Still, they could bump into Matthew and Angelo didn’t know if Louisa would be okay with that.

Tagaytay would be his best bet. A ways off the city, but also near Hacienda Constantina. Where inTagaytay, though? Not the Montoya resthouse, of course. The place held so many memories for Louisa that bringing her there would be a very cruel joke. He supposed he could just get them a couple of rooms in one of the hotels or manor houses in Tagaytay to let Louisa rest and recover a bit from her ordeal.

Yes, that would have to do, he decided. Tagaytay it is then. I can drive her to the Hacienda later if that’s what she wants.

Thankfully, the traffic considerably eased up when they reached the highway. They would make good time in reaching their destination if it stayed that way. Good news for Angelo since he was beginning to feel the effects of days of incessant drinking and smoking, and not sleeping.

Ever since he received that phone call from Isabella he had not had a moment’s peace. The constant tug-of-war between the desires of his heart and his sense of family placed a big toll on his well-being. Isabella’s call came at a time when he was feeling especially frustrated about his situation with Louisa. He’d already been told by his friend in London that there were rumors about Gabriel and Isabella circulating around their exclusive circles. He’d been hearing from ‘very reliable sources’ that Gabriel and Isabella were already secretly married.

However, since his friend had no way of confirming it a hundred percent, Angelo could not confront Gabriel nor tell Louisa about it. Then, just as he was wrestling with what he should do with such a volatile piece of information, Isabella called him saying she got his number from a mutual friend. Angelo could not think of any ‘mutual friend’ because they both moved in different circles. Intrigued by her alleged involvement with Gabriel, though, Angelo brushed that plot hole aside.

They had met for coffee. Angelo had been a bit skeptical, until Isabella divulged that she was indeed already married to Gabriel. She even had the papers to prove it. They had to keep it secret, she said, because of their families’ long-standing business feud. Neither of them wanted to turn into another ‘Romeo and Juliet’ sort of thing. She also told him that they had agreed to keep it secret only until such time that they were able to convince their respective fathers to accept their situation.

As per Isabella, she had no intention of reneging on their agreement, but when she had heard of Gabriel’s decision to honor his betrothal, she thought it prudent to bring their secret to light, to avoid any future complications.

Had Angelo not been blinded by his fury at Gabriel’s duplicity, he would’ve asked more questions. He would’ve dug deeper and put the evidence to the test. He would’ve used his rational, methodical mind in unveiling the truth to Isabella’s words.

But Angelo was a man in-love. And love often threw rationality out the window. He had let his desire for Louisa, his relief at finally having a valid reason to stop her from marrying Gabriel, to dictate his actions. When Isabella asked him to arrange a meeting between her and Gabriel, he did not even wonder why Isabella had to go through him to get to Gabriel. So wrapped up in his own feelings was he that he easily agreed without a second thought.

It was only when his heightened emotions had subdued a bit that he started to question his decision to help Isabella. He hated Gabriel for what he had done to Louisa, for making her fall for him knowing full well that he was already committed to another. But as his brother, he should have confronted Gabriel first before laying judgment on him. ‘Family always comes first’, his father always said.

But then again , didn’t Gabriel just make a mockery of their ‘family’ by keeping such an important matter from them? Did he really do it only because of the special clause in his inheritance like Isabella had alleged?

The Gabriel he knew would never stoop so low. The Gabriel he knew was honorable, loyal, responsible (if a bit over-bearing at times), and was never intentionally cruel. And what he did to Louisa, if Isabella’s claims were proven true, was right underhanded despicable and manipulative.

These were the thoughts that caused Angelo sleepless nights, caused him to wallow in drink, and indulge long-forgotten vices. Added to this confusion was his own contemptible desire to believe these things to be true. It provided him with an easy way to wrench Louisa away from Gabriel. He finally had proof that Gabriel did not really care for her.

And yet…

And yet, after he saw how happy Louisa was at marrying Gabriel – so excited attending to their wedding preparations, so breathless every time she talked about their wedding, so full of hope and dreams for their future – Angelo started re-thinking his chances of being with her. Sure, Louisa would cry off the betrothal now, but did it guarantee that she would be running to his arms once her engagement to Gabriel was dissolved? Wouldn’t she hate him, too, once she learned of his role in exposing Gabriel or would she be grateful for it? What about his parents, his siblings? How would they view his complicity in this debacle? Would they applaud or condemn him?

Angelo sighed. Too late to dwell on those thoughts now. It’s already been done. The secret was now out in the open. Nothing to do but wait for the fall-out. The consequences would hurt, but he could no more run from them than wish them gone. Time to man-up, take whatever fate dished out. He glanced at Louisa and his heart ached.

I’m sorry you had to find out this way, Louie. I really wanted to warn you...but, I guess I waited too long. I should’ve told you days ago, but I couldn’t. I was such a coward. Don’t worry. I’m here for you now, Louie. I’ll help you get through this.

Soon enough he found himself driving through the smooth roads of Aguinaldo Highway. He slowed down and focused on finding a temporary haven for them. A brightly-lit structure caught his attention. It was called ‘The Boutique’. He’d once heard a friend gush about that place. It was not a very large establishment, but it boasted of comfort, relaxation, good food, and most importantly, privacy. Having decided that this would be as good a place as any, he quickly swerved into an empty parking lot up front.

When he turned to Louisa, he saw that she was still asleep. He hated to break her bubble of tranquility, yet he had no choice but to wake her. He got out of the car, went to the passenger side and opened the door. He leaned down and kissed Louisa’s forehead. Her eyes flew open, the undercurrent of tightly reined-in fury flashing instantly. Her face softened when she saw that it was him.

“We’re here, Louie. Let’s go inside so you can rest, okay?” Angelo said, extending a hand to her.

Louisa nodded and took Angelo’s hand. She stretched her taut limbs and turned towards the white façade of the bed and breakfast hotel. Her brows drew down into another frown as she glanced back at Angelo. She gave him a strange smile – questioning yet knowing at the same time. Angelo smiled back, his heart jumping to his throat. Ignoring the nervousness that suddenly assailed him, he took Louisa by the arm and led her up the steps of the plush inn.

The moment they stepped through the glass doors, all their senses came to life. The soft music playing in the background and the delicious aroma that permeated the air instantly soothed and calmed their travel-weary bodies. The foyer opened up into a lobby area that was both a delight to the eyes and the spirit. It’s casually arranged colorful armchairs, each one different in design and ethnicity, evoked comfort, coziness, and muted luxury.

Angelo knew that this would also please Louisa, being a talented furniture designer and Interior decorator herself. Glancing at her, he saw that he was not mistaken. Her eyes glowed as she looked at the visual pleasures around her. A very interesting painting – reminiscent of Picasso’s style (he could not tell for sure, he wasn’t really a connoisseur of art) set on a stand beside the tall windows across the room had caught Louisa’s attention, leaving Angelo to attend to their accommodations on his own.

The Boutique, he learned, only had seven rooms. Angelo was amused by their very interesting names: ‘ I Escape’, ‘I Desire’, ‘I Dare’, ‘I Dream’, ‘I Surrender’, ‘I Love’ and (his favorite) ‘I Lust’. He thought ‘I Escape’ might come across like a nasty joke to Louisa, so he told the lady at the front desk to find something else. However, since it was a weekend, the only available room was the ‘I Love’, and only because the reservation had been canceled five minutes ago. It was located on the ground floor, which Angelo didn’t like, but at least it had a private patio.

He would’ve preferred an upstairs room, but the ‘I Lust,’ which was the most luxurious of the lot, with a large sitting area and its own private terrace was also the most sensual (the name gave it away, didn’t it?) of all the rooms (its bathtub sat facing the Taal Lake). Angelo would’ve chosen that room had it not already been booked for the next day with an accompanying theme package. It had to be prepared and set-up tonight. Besides, he had to take Louisa’s ragged emotions into consideration and the phrase ‘I Lust’ sounded a bit too suggestive.

So, he had no choice but to settle for the ‘I Love’, which seemed inappropriate as well, given the circumstances. The ‘I Love’, Angelo discovered, also had a small sitting area with a large sofa, guaranteeing that he wouldn’t be sleeping on the floor should Louisa decide to stay the night and not drive out to Hacienda Constantina.

The room turned out to be charming, cozy, and very sexy. It was a room designed for lovers. A large four-poster bed, evoking the romantic Victorian era all dressed up in cream and white, dominated much of the whole area. Numerous pillows of different shapes and sizes were strewn on top of it. What made the room exceptionally erotic was its very ‘revealing’ bathroom.

‘Revealing’ because the wall facing the room was made of clear glass leaving the bather exposed to whoever was in the room. Angelo’s throat went dry as he imagined lounging in the marvelous king-sized bed whilst watching Louisa shower. His cheeks flamed when he saw Louisa turn to him with mouth agape, her eyes as big as saucers. Then, to his dismay, she laughed (the imp)! She probably had the same idea as he did; only she found it hilarious while he found it extremely provocative.

Angelo grunted and turned to their escort, listening attentively to the man say that he would be bringing them their welcome drinks and toiletries later. He thanked him, gave him a generous tip, and showed him out with not a minute too soon. As soon as they were alone, Angelo surveyed the room. It really was a beautiful room, meant for seduction and sharing the joys of love. Too bad for him, actually. He was already in-love with the fascinating woman with him tonight, but he could not, without garnering heaven’s wrath, even imagine seducing the said woman at a time like this.

He saw Louisa slowly walk towards the sitting room and out into the patio. Her earlier amusement at the place was now completely gone. She looked forlorn standing there alone by the railing, looking out into the darkening sky. Angelo followed and stood behind Louisa. Only the outline of the Taal Volcano could be seen now, but he was sure that the view from out here would be majestic during daytime.

A cool breeze blew in from the lake and Louisa hugged herself against the cold. She was wearing a thin, white long-sleeved shirt over a black tank top. It apparently wasn’t enough to shield her from the nippy wind. Angelo leaned in and wrapped his arms around her, his warm body taking away much of the evening chill. Louisa slumped against him.

“What am I going to do now, Angelo?” she quietly asked.

Angelo stepped back and turned Louisa around to face him. His heart clenched at the tears swimming in her bright, hazel eyes.

This is my fault. I should have warned her about it. No! It’s Gabriel’s fault! He shouldn’t have played with her emotions like that!

“Don’t think about that now. You need to rest. We’ll talk about it later, alright?”

“I can’t, Angelo. Whenever I close my eyes, I see that woman...I hear her telling Gabriel that he was soon to be a father.”

Angelo blanched at Louisa’s words. Damn! Isabella said nothing about a baby!

“What? I’m sure you heard wrong. Gabriel would not do such a thing.”

“Oh, but I didn’t. And Gabriel apparently didn’t know about it until today. She was quite smug when she told him of her pregnant state,” Louisa said, the hurt creeping into her voice.

“Now that’s an added complication for sure,” Angelo mumbled as he raked his fingers through his hair. He heard Louisa sigh and walk back into their room.

’”I need to call my father. I don’t want him worrying about me,” she said over her shoulder.

Angelo was about to follow her, but decided against it. Louisa did not need him shadowing her every move.

He casually dropped his tall frame into the cushioned native couch, leaned back and propped up his long legs on top of the glass-topped coffee table before him. Then, he closed his eyes with a sigh. He was physically tired and emotionally drained. The silence was broken with his stomach growling – loudly and audibly. He was, obviously, also very hungry.

I’ll order room service later. Or maybe we could go out and explore.

He smiled at that. Louisa loved to eat. Maybe food would cheer her up a bit or if not, distract her at the very least. Yes, he would ask her if she wanted to eat out. He started rummaging inside his head for a place that Louisa would enjoy. He was so engrossed in planning their outing that when his phone rang, he did not even bother to look at the caller’s name.

“Yes?” he said without thinking.

“Angelo! Damn it! Where is she? Where did you take her?” a furious male voice growled into his ear.

Angelo froze. It was Gabriel.

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