Harris started to visit the Ortega garden as if he expected to become the master of the house. He spread muddy footprints everywhere he tromped.
Alicia monitored these visits from the shade of the cooking ramada, a thatched awning that kept the noonday sun from ruining the food, where she and Nina shelled peas and ground corn on a molcajete. A wooden plank and a few buckets under the ramada made up the space they used for food preparation.
Harris prowled the grounds, taking notice of every detail of the hacienda. He examined the trumpet vine winding its way around the arbor and picked up a lemon fallen from the tree. On one visit Alicia thought she heard him exhale, “At last.”
What did he mean, “at last?” Had he mumbled on, musing that at last he could corner the second Ortega sister alone? Did he think he found access to their property? Maybe he planned to trick a silly girl whose papa controlled a land grant into marriage to gain a gift of property from her dowry.
“A perfect day for a perfect young lady.” Harris greeted Clara on that visit with an exaggerated bow. Her giggles floated across the garden. “None of these flowers can compete with your beauty.”
“Welcome back to Rancho Refugio, Captain. It seems we are the talk of the pueblo.” Clara dipped her chin and pinched her cheeks to make them rosy. Was she lovestruck by Harris?
“I am embarrassed by your attentions,” Clara went on, leaning against the garden shed. Was she impressed by his charm? Alicia determined that this pesky man only pretended to love Clara. “Your adventures are so thrilling. Tell me more about your plans, Captain.”
Harris must have thought Clara would be the sister to fulfill his land-hungry desires. He already tried her older sister Dolores, but she disappeared to Laredo after they got serious and spoke of marriage.
Then Alicia heard Harris say the same thing to Clara that she’d read in Dolores’s diary.
“We will surprise your papa with a quick marriage, my dear. Trust me, I know the law. This land is your rightful dowry.”
Would he trick Clara into plotting against the family? He was a man; Clara was her older sister. But Alicia needed to figure out some way to stop them.
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