Authors Note: Thank you for all your feedback. I apologize for the delay, there's been a death in the family and things have been a little wacky.
I hope you like. It's the end of the Christopher/Belle story.
Marguerite waited until he was out of earshot before saying, "alright, so they couldn't live like that. What happened? what did they do?" She spoke firmly, quickly obviously wanting to get to the end of this tale.
Karla's gaze had been on Will and now she transferred it back to Marguerite.
She smiled sadly, saying softly "they did okay for a few years. I'm not sure exactly how they did it but they did. At every family gathering, at every gala and ball, at society wedding's and funerals, christenings and coming outs they ran into to each other. They were amazing really, never, not ever did they give the masses anything to gossip about. Ever. He always greeted her with a cordial kiss on the cheek, she never spent more than ten minutes in his company or three minutes alone with him. They couldn't, because even if you'd been blind and deaf you still would have felt it, the chemistry, the love that vibrated like ocean waves between them. Sometimes slow and small other times huge and fierce but always there, always flowing. It really was only a matter of time." Karla paused and took a deep breath.
Then continued, "As far as I know Bella only shared her bed with her husband on their wedding night. The staff and those that knew her as Lady Robert Messina didn't really like her. She was cold, frigid really. She had a way of looking at you that could cut you to the quick in an instant. A way of glancing at a person that let you know you were beneath her and her time." The explorers smiled slightly here, remembering a raven haired heiress they'd met years ago who could do the same thing. "She was different with me too after that, we weren't as close, she wasn't close to anyone." She said sadly, the pain of those years reflected on her face.
"It was three years later when things finally came to head." She said in a hushed tone, everyone was placing close attention, hanging on her every work, and she spoke softly deliberately, "Everyone was at the Mendoza country estate for a get-together. The men went out hunting and there was an accident, a shotgun went off and the bullet hit Christopher. The men brought him back to the house, he was semiconscious, covered in blood. Belle and I were in the sitting room trying to act upon the remnants of our youthful friendship when they came through the door. He saw her, reached out his hand to her. She stood, unconsciously I think, and was about to take his hand when suddenly Rosa was there exclaiming oh my god and grasping his hand, glaring at Belle. They didn't think he'd live. Belle was in shock, she didn't cry, didn't ask to see him, nothing, she walked around like a zombie. That night he had a fever and in his delirium he called out her name, first softly but by early morning he was screaming it out. When she heard that scream, his voice calling out to her, it was like taking an ax to a block of ice. Her calm demeanor shattered and she went upstairs and into that bedroom like she owned it. Didn't give a damn that Rosa was there, that the scandal was already spreading like wildfire. The staff commented over and over how he called out his wife's sister's name instead of his wife's. When Belle went up the news did the rounds in seconds. She sat on his bed and smoothed his hair. Within minutes he was calm. The Doctor decreed that she stay since her presence calmed him. Rosa disagreed, argued, yelled, stamped her foot, threw every tantrum possible but the doctor would not be swayed. He declared that Belle was to remain by his side. And she did."
Karla stopped here.
"Well.... what happened." Finn was on the edge of her seat and young enough not to care if she was being rude or not.
Karla looked at Marguerite and smiled, "what do you think happened?" she asked.
"I was conceived" Marguerite stated in a rather dull voice. Her mind reeling from everything she'd just heard.
Karla smiled wider, "No my dear. You were not conceived then. Something better happened. Something that made your conception possible. Isabelle Mendoza was reborn."
Karla smiled widely as she continued.
"She was in there with him for four days and five nights. The doctor came and went but other than that no one else was allowed in the room because it upset him. The medic was sure it was nothing but a miracle that saved his life. He'd lost too much blood the man kept saying, no one could live after losing so much blood but Christopher did."
"When Belle came out of that room her reputation was in shreds, there wasn't a household in Spain that didn't know what had happened, that didn't know that the youngest Mendoza had spent so much time alone with her sister's husband. Many remembered their dance together all those years ago and like I said stories were spreading like wildfire."
"Her father was furious, her mother in tears, and her husband --her husband was stoic. Like it didn't matter, like nothing was going on. Belle however, didn't care. The morning after she existed that room she made arrangements to have him transferred to a hospital in Madrid where he could finish his recuperation and she was to escort him. Rosa went wild, she had a hysteria attack and demanded that she be the one accompany her husband. Belle calmly told her that she was welcome to join them, if she wanted. Her husband asked her not to, she told him he too could accompany them but she was going. Her father told her not to, she didn't even acknowledge him."
"That's how it was from then on. Belle did as she pleased, she tried to accommodate your wishes with hers but if they didn't coincide, oh well. She did what she wanted."
"I'm guessing that didn't go over to well." Marguerite said dryly.
"No, she was putting her family, her husband to shame. That was not to be tolerated. Her father and husband decided it would be best for them to leave the country."
"Without consulting her?"
"yes, by the time she was informed of it. Everything was ready. Including her bags packed."
"Oh my..." Challenger said softly. Everyone else was silent, sensing the end of the story.
"She through a fit. Or so I heard. Threw things, smashed things, told them they'd have to haul her kicking, screaming, biting, scratching body out of the country because she wasn't leaving. Then she proceeded to lock herself in her room."
Marguerite smirked, "that was the end of that." she stated.
Karla shook her head gravely, "No my dear, you do not know the Mendoza determination --although..." she added with a smirk, "I'm sure you take after them. Belle's father had simply offered her the courtesy of telling her when what would be happening. Her objection made no difference. Her husband and father had made the decision. It was finished."
"And you say the future is barbaric..." Finn grumbled.
George glared at Finn.
"They were to leave the next morning. An intimate gathering was held to see them off that night and by intimate I mean all the cream of crop, the five most powerful families in Spain. My family and I attended. That night is blurred in my mind. Things seemed to move so quickly, one moment we were being offered champagne and the next... well..." taking a deep breath she continued. "Belle was expected to make an appearance, I didn't think she would --neither did half the people present but she did. She looked lost in that parlor, though, like she had no idea what was going on. Then realization dawned and she did the unforgivable --she said no --in public.
[Scene switches and we now see an elegant room with finely dressed men and women. A few waiters with trays offering champagne glasses move about the room. Belle, (nearly identical to Marguerite, except for the blue eyes) stands in the middle, her eyes narrowed. A tall man with dark hair, dressed impeccably stands before her, glowering at her. To the man's left another man stands --this one blonde and a tad shorter, his expression is blank. To the man's right, a middle-aged woman (An older Marguerite) stands. Her hair is in an updo, a string of pearls graces her throat and her eyes are panicky.]
"What did you say?" the man asked, his tone hard.
Belle's chin lifted, " I said NO. Much the same way I said no, this morning. I will NOT leave the country."
A collective murmuring could be heard around the room. Her father's face reddened, he opened his mouth but was interrupted by his wife.
"Oh honey, you don't mean that." the woman came forth, wrapping her arms around her daughter and beginning to draw her out of the room. "Not after all the effort your father and Robert have placed on your trip. All they want is to please you darling..."
When Belle refused budge, refused to break eye contact with her father, her mother felt her forehead. "You're burning up, darling, come on I'll put you right to bed. That's what you need a good night's rest, things will be much clearer in the morning." Looking at the room in general she added, "Please excuse us and have a wonderful evening."
"Everything is clear now, mother." Belle said her tone firm. Her eyes still meeting her fathers'.
The room was silent.
The woman moved to stand directly in front of her daughter, then gently with her index finger and her thumb tipped Belle's chin until the girl could do nothing but look at her mother.
In those blue eyes, so similar to her own, she found a warning --and so much fear.
"Trust me, my daughter, things are not clear." she said in the firmest voice Belle had ever heard her use.
She acknowledged her mother's warning, but did not heed it.
"My answer is the same now as it was this morning and will be the same tomorrow. NO." she lifted her gaze to her fathers'.
"I was not aware a question had been asked." her father stated
Again the murmur as the guests drew nearer, as in all high society circles a scandal was life's blood.
Belle remained silent. Her eyes defiant. The tension in the room was thick, when he suddenly threw his head back and laughed.
A rich laughter, deep and gravelly, he looked to his guests and shook his head ruefully, effectively defusing the tension, "Children." he stated as if this explained everything.
The guests laughed with him, looking to each other and nodding in agreement.
He reached out, taking a flute of champagne from a tray, casually he extended it to his daughter, his voice nonchalant as his spoke. Only those in the family saw the rage deep within his eyes. "Drink, daughter, and stop with this nonsense. Tomorrow you embark on seeing the world."
With an angry sweep of her hand, Belle sent the champagne glass flying out of her father's hand.
It shattered into infinite fragments, releasing its contents onto the polished floor. Most guests gasped, one woman emitted a small shriek when droplets hit her gown.
"I Will Not." she stated.
He was silent, studying her. "You will apologize to your husband and mother, to our guest for this inexcusable behavior, Isabelle."
"What about your behavior father is that too not inexcusable? When will you apologize to me? Ask my forgiveness for stealing my life from me? For dictating what I would be with out even consulting me!?" she screeched, dropping all pretense of calm. The last time she'd allowed his rule to dominate her life, she'd ended up married to a stranger.
"I AM NOT ACCOUNTABLE TO YOU!" he roared at her. "You are MY DAUGHTER and you WILL DO AS I SAY OR I GIVE YOU MY WORD ISABELLE, THERE WILL BE CONSEQUENCES!"
"What consequences Father, will I be miserable? Will my life be a living hell? Will my world be a prison of torment that I cannot escape? huh? Will I mourn each morning that I awaken with breath in my body? Because if that's what it is, it's too late! I'm already there! I've been there!! since the day you made..."
"That is enough Isabelle." Robert interrupted. His voice calm --cold. As it always was when he spoke to her.
It perplexed her to no end, how someone so closely related to Christopher could have so little of his passion. Robert Messina was nothing like his older cousin and in many respects seemed almost older than him. He had none of Christopher's laughter, of his joy in the world. He was as old as her father in many ways.
"You do not mean this." He said softly with more emotion behind those words then she'd ever heard him use.
He was begging her to take it back. To say that it hadn't been that horrible being married to him. To say that she had even a morsel of affection for him.
In truth though, she couldn't, she didn't know him. At all. He'd made no effort to know her, was always out and when they were together he behaved as if she was hardly present.
She met his eyes and told him what he already knew. "I do Robert. I mean every word." she said softly, forgetting she was in the midst of an argument with her father --speaking only to him. "You know it is true. You and I we... we were never meant to be. I will not hold it against you if you decide to travel without me, for however long you feel the need."
She was releasing him. Telling him to leave and he hated her for it. A red hot hate that coursed through his veins, leaving his head spinning. In front of all of society she had separated herself from him.
"Robert will do no such thing! You will leave this house tomorrow with him Isabelle!! OR so help me god you'll be sorry."
Turning her gaze to her father once again she bristled, "The only thing I'm sorry about is letting you tell me what to do for the last 17 years. Robert and I are over. I do not love him."
"LOVE Is not the issue!! He is your husband and it is wife's duty to follow her husband. A Mendoza fulfills their duty, Isabelle."
"You will not stay here. I will not harbor within my walls someone who does not know their place!!"
"Then I will go." she said boldly. Taking long strides towards the door.
Her mother followed her, "Belle please, think for a moment..."
"I have thought mother." she said.
Her father and Robert, along with a good portion of the guest followed her into the foyer.
She stood a few feet from the door.
"Not enough Belle..." Her mother added. Tears beginning to well in her eyes.
"I will not leave the country and if shelter is denied me here I will seek it elsewhere."
"Heed my words Isabelle Gabriella for I will say them only once." Her father's voice was different now and Belle knew --this was it. The end of the line-- his way or her way.
"Come stand before me now and I will punish you accordingly. Then you will retreat to your bedroom and tomorrow morning begin to travel the world with your husband. In time this scene you've caused will be forgiven and you may live your life as you have until this point --pampered and cosseted, sheltered and protected." He paused here and she felt a shiver slide down her spine. "Step foot outside that door... and you cease to be a Mendoza."
"Edward, No..." Belle's mother cried out, but he silenced her with a wave of his hand.
Shaking she walked to stand in front of her daughter. Her eyes spilling forth tears, "Belle please... your to young to see... just accept.... your life will be easier..."
"Easier yes, Mother, but will I ever be happy?"
Silence was her answer.
And Belle knew. She had to go. Tears filled her eyes as her father's words registered --cease to be a Mendoza. He would disown her. She would no longer be his little girl. Cease to be a Mendoza...
So be it.
Taking a deep breath she lifted her chin and met his gaze. For one moment Edward felt pride in his daughter. She was strong and in that insight that is awarded parents, he knew, with a certainty that alarmed him --she would fine. Finer than any of them ever would be.
Just as quickly, though, it was gone. In his entire life -- and he would live to be 86 -- Edward Mendoza would only feel that moment of pride in his youngest daughter once more.
"I renounce the Mendoza name and everything that goes with it." she said softly. "Good-bye Daddy."
It was the last time she called him that.
She never set foot in that house again.
"She gave it all up." Marguerite said. Her voice breathless as she pictured this young girl. So brave, so determined, so young...
"Yes. That night for the first time in years I snuck out. I knew where she'd go. And I had to get to her. An old mausoleum we used to play at, no one visited it. I found her there and we cried. A lot, about everything --what had just happened, what would, what could. The next day I took a message to Christopher in the hospital. Two day later he vanished. That same day the mausoleum was empty." She smiled.
"I believe dear, it was around this time you were conceived."
Marguerite smirked. "Momma can I play."
Will asked suddenly, finished with his snack he bounded over to his mom.
"honey there's no one to watch you. We're all a little busy."
"I'll watch him." Finn added. She loved to play with this little boy that called her auntie.
A few moments passed by as Veronica sat and Finn took over the small charge and left the tree house. They'd play within the fence for a little while.
"She contacted me about five months later. She was pregnant and living with Christopher in a small apartment. They were going to wait until the baby was born and then sail away. I began to visit her and we became close again. One day, a few weeks before she was to give birth, she confided in me that attempts had been made on Christopher's life. She was panicked. I calmed her. She gave birth to a beautiful baby girl. I was her godmother. Christopher was in love with her. He would spend hours sitting by her cradle watching her sleep.
[We see a handsome young man with gray eyes and dark hair. Dressed in slacks and shirt sitting on a chair. His gaze fixed on something across the room. It is Belle, her hair is short and she is holding a tiny dark haired child. A young Karla sits next to her.]
"You'll glare holes into them, if you don't blink Christopher." Karla said smiling.
He laughed, "I have something for you Belle. Karla helped me pick it out."
Belle looked to her friend who was grinning. "What is it?" she said smiling.
Christopher went and retrieved a case from a drawer.
"For the most lovely woman in the world." he said as he draped a delicate chain around her neck.
"Oh Chris...." she said softly, "its gorgeous." She said fingering the heart with one hand. "oh there's something written on it... To my wife, my heart, my soul, Our love binds us eternally." Tears spilled quickly from her eyes and Karla reached out to take the baby. She covered her face.
"Hey, hey, those better be tears of sheer joy." he said kneeling in front of her.
"I'm...I'm not your... your wife...I'm not." she whimpered.
He removed her hands from her face and gently tipped her face to look at him, "In every way --you are, have been, and will always be --my wife."
"I love you." she whispered.
"I love you." he stated.
They each others gaze.
"Great now that that's cleared up. Show her the other one." Karla interrupted.
With great fuss he produced Marguerite's chain, read the inscription and gently draped it around his daughter.
Belle took her baby in her arms again and looking at Christopher, said firmly, "We'll never take them off."
"Two months later he was murdered." Karla said. Her eyes filling once again. "I don't know the details. Only that Belle was there. That it was trade-- his life for hers, that he died to save her so she could save you. And that it was orchestrated by Robert Messina, somehow."
"She never would tell me how. Only that it was him, he'd killed Christopher. I didn't believe her at first. She was hysterical and I kept reminding her that the only person who knew there whereabouts was me, that I was never followed, that there had to be a mistake. Robert wouldn't kill his own cousin."
"She was positive. Not only that he'd killed Christopher but that she and Rita were next. That she had to get out of the country as soon as possible, that Chris wouldn't die in vain."
"I don't have many regrets in my life," she said softly after a moment. "The fact that I didn't take her more seriously is one of them. Its just... she was such a mess... I tried to talk to her, to help her but she wouldn't let me near her, wouldn't listen. She needed to get out of the country, she said, she was desperate. Desperate enough to go to her father."
"What!" Marguerite exclaimed, "the man who disowned her! What could she possibly think he would do for her?"
"Protect her, protect you. Be a father and stand by his little girl even though all of Europe now, was talking about their family."
"Europe?" Roxton questioned.
"Christopher's mothers' family is Italian Royalty. Half the Italian Royal house was present at the funeral. The majority greeted the grieving widow, Rosa. But his mother was always in contact with him and knew about Belle, about you. She just didn't know where you were."
"Anyway she went to father when he was at a restaurant, believing he'd be more sympathetic in public. He wasn't. He denied her. She had her infant daughter in her arms --begging for asylum from the men who'd murdered the man she loved and he pushed her out into the street again."
"Two weeks later... you were taken."
[Belle, a huge bruise on the side of her face, her eyes swollen and red, paces around the room stuffing random articles of clothing into a bag. Karla stands in the room, eyes wide and pale.]
"Where the bloody hell do you think your going Belle? huh? Answer me dammit!" she says reaching and tearing the shirt from her Belle's grasp.
"I have to find my baby." she said going to the bag and rearranging things it. Her voice is gravelly, broken, her face blotchy.
"Listen to Belle, Belle!" Moving to stand in her way Karla begins, "You need to think. First thing you have to get that face looked at by a doctor. Secondly, you need to contact the authorities and -- "
"--and tell them what, Karla?!" she roared. "That my SISTER stole my daughter!! That my HUSBAND helped her!! That HE MURDERED HER HUSBAND who also happens to be HIS COUSIN!!"
"If its the truth..."
"Nobody cares about the truth Karla." she yelled, tearing herself away. "It'd my word against a Messina's and a Mendoza's."
"YOU are a Mendoza."
"NO. I'm not. No one will recognize me as one."
"Then go to your Father, after this...."
"Never." she hissed at her, tears trailing down her cheeks, " I begged him to help me, to help his GRANDDAUGHTER. and He said NO. He denied me his help and I'll rot in hell before I ever address that man again."
"He's your daughter's grandfather."
"Like Hell He Is!! He's nothing to her, NOTHING. He's not worthy of being associated with anything of Christopher's." She cried than stopped, "Hell neither am I."
"I lost his baby.... he died so she could live and I let them have her." she cried, leaning against the wall, she slid to the floor. "I let them have her." she whispered.
Karla followed her down, "You didn't let them do anything. Look at this place its ruin. They broke down the door, for Christ sakes, look at your head, you did everything you could. It's not your fault and Christopher died for you, too."
She shook her head, "I should have done more, anything.... something oh god Karla do you know what she said? Do you know what Rosa's gonna do to my baby?"
"Belle don't do this to yourself"
"She laughed, said that this child born of passion, born of pure unconditional love --would never know the feeling. She said she would make my baby the most unhappy child, that she would destroy her, turn her into something no one could love...." she cried. And Karla felt her own tears fall, felt her heart break.
"I have to stop her Karla. Somehow. I can't let it happen... That's Christopher's baby... she can't have Christopher's baby..." Standing she resumed her packing.
The last thing she did was replace her locket, which Rosa had torn off her neck when the men held her against the wall.
"Robert promised he'd let Rita keep hers." she said softly looking into the mirror. "I wonder if he meant it?"
"He might have." Karla said softly.
Turning swiftly away from her reflection, Belle stated, "I have to go."
"The world is huge place, Belle. This is an infant we're talking about, you can't hope to find her without the help of the police... maybe the Italian police... you know Angelina... Christopher's mother...."
She nodded. "Maybe."
"You'll try on you own first though, right?" Karla said wryly, drying her tears.
"She couldn't have left Spain yet."
"But Belle, even Spain is so large...."
"Listen to me Karla," she said facing her friend. Her blue eyes calm. "I will climb every mountain, walk every street, swim every river in this country, cross every ocean in this world if I have too but I will find my baby girl."
Karla held her gaze for a moment.
"I know you will."
"We've corresponded rather regularly over the years." she added after a moment.
"She's in America now, married. Years ago, she almost found you. Or her husband did, he was in England on business and saw in the newspaper... oh." she said suddenly smiling as if she'd realized something.
"Of course, the article spoke of an expedition to a lost world. But it was printed the day you were to leave and he had been staying at the opposite end of town. He recognized you in the photo. You'd left by the time he got there. He tried to follow but time wasn't on his side. These things had to be planned in advance. She thought you'd return in six months, then the expedition was lost and..."
She let the sentence hang.
"She thinks I'm dead?" Marguerite asked.
"Your mother is a pit bull. She will believe you are dead when she sees your body. On the contrary she's funded several expeditions but the consensus is that you've all vanished." She smirked. "I can't believe it didn't dawn on me before... The Challenger Expedition."
"She didn't fund this one though?" Roxton asked.
"No, she's not even aware that I'm in South America.... we are still in South America right?" she asked hesitantly.
George told her yes. The others were silent.
"What an amazing story." Veronica said softly. Her mind still filled with the visions of this love story, ended so tragically.
Karla sought Marguerite's gaze. "Yes it is. I think, however, that it is about to get much more amazing."
Marguerite held her gaze, "Time will tell." she said firmly, "Time will tell."