"Are you sure that you don't want to come back with me right now?"
Ed was packing his small suitcase while Holly was sitting on his bed, fiddling with one of his shirts. "Nah, I'll stick around for a little while longer, but I'll visit soon, I promise."
He looked at her, surprised. "Visit? Aren't you coming back for good?"
"I guess at some point, but right now I'm so confused that I'd rather stay put. Am I making any sense?"
"It depends. Is that the only reason why you want to stay? Or is it because of Diego?"
Holly looked down, unwilling to answer.
"Holly?" Ed pressed on.
"Would it be so bad if I wanted to stay because of him?"
Ed didn't answer immediately. He was thrown several times in Diego's company in the last few days, and he had to admit that the man was impressive. He was handsome, rich, cultured and refined. He was also extremely generous and had a great sense of humour. Most importantly, it was obvious that he was crazy about Holly. No, she would not be a fool to want to stay and start a life with him, if it weren't for one thing, or should he say, one man.
"Are you falling in love with Diego?"
Holly reddened. "It's a little too soon to tell, don't you think?"
Ed shoved a pair of pants in his suitcase and closed it. "Oh come on, Holly, when you're attracted to a man, you don't think twice about it, you just go after him. I've seen you at work!"
She went to the bar and started to fix herself a gin and tonic. "You don't mind, do you?" she asked, turning around.
He shook his head, waiting for an answer.
She sighed and took a sip. "I like him and I respect him. He makes me feel good and safe. So what if I am not exactly head over heels in love with him? Why shouldn't it work?"
Ed raised his hands, half-amused and half-frustrated. "Because it's never worked before! Every time you've tried to play it safe with a man, you ended up getting bored and going back to Roger. You might not remember all the times that you did this, but take my word for it."
Holly frowned but refused to accept defeat. "It's different this time, because whatever hold Roger has over me, I don't remember it, therefore I can't feel it."
"Ha! First of all, you're lying. You might not recall the past six years, but you're still attracted to Roger. Second of all, do you really think he's going to let you go without a fight? You're his wife!"
Holly looked around. "I don't see him anywhere, and it's been more than a week."
"The man came back from the dead after fifteen years; so somehow, I don't think that a couple of weeks will be a problem."
"I'll take my chances."
Ed walked up to her and pointed his finger at her nose. "You, honey, haven't changed at all!"
Then he took his suitcase and headed for the door, shaking his head.
Sitting in front of her mirror in her lacy underwear, she decided that tonight was the night. She had to move on one way or another, and if Diego made a move, she wouldn't push him away. She took her best dress out of the closet, the black one with the sequins, and slipped it on.
She was putting her golden mask on when he came to pick up her a few minutes later. He smiled at the sight of her and took her by the hand to lead her to the lobby and then outside the hotel. They were soon drowned in the wild throngs of people dancing and singing in the streets. They went with the flow, Diego never letting go of her hand. They stopped by a fountain full of people and mingled for a while, splashing each other while dancing. Then Diego took her hand again and led her away.
"I'm taking you to a place that's very special to me."
"Can't wait," she replied, squeezing his hand.
They had been pushing through the crowd for several minutes when Diego turned toward her to make sure she was still following. For a split second, she could see him freeze while his eyes zeroed in something behind her. She turned around but could only see a sea of colourful masks, all frozen in a cheerful expression. She looked back at him inquiringly but he only held on to her more tightly and picked up the pace.
As they walked away from the crowd, the sound of the music became fainter and was replaced by the rhythmic sounds of the water splashing on the shore. They turned a street corner and finally were on the one of the wharves flanking the canal. Small lights were hanging from the surrounding trees, giving out a soft glow. Holly could see from the line of yachts quietly floating in front of her that this particular wharf was probably reserved to the wealthy of this world.
Diego pointed to one of the boat lining the wharf and asked if she liked the name. In the dark, it was hard for her to make out the words at first, and when she finally did, she let out a cry of surprise. Beautiful stranger.
Diego smiled. "I had the name changed last week, a couple of days after I met you."
"Oh, Diego, you shouldn't have done this!"
"Why not? This is just to show how much of an impression you made on me. I can't stop thinking about you, Holly, and I want the whole world to know."
He pulled her to him and lightly kissed her neck, slowly making his way towards her face. She parted her lips in anticipation and sighed when his mouth finally covered hers. His kiss soon turned passionate and he held her so tight that it became hard for her to breathe. Then two things happened almost simultaneously.
First, she felt like lighting was splitting her brains open and she suddenly saw herself and Diego in the back of a truck, struggling against one another, her dress almost ripped to shreds. Before being able to make sense of it, she was thrown back into reality when she felt something yanking her away from him. She looked around, out of breath, and almost stumbled down when she discovered Roger standing beside her.
He tossed aside the red mask he had been wearing and pulled Holly behind him. Then he turned toward Diego, hatred piercing trough his eyes. "I'll thank you not to touch my wife."
"She didn't seem to mind," Diego replied arrogantly.
"She might when she realizes who you really are, Guerrera."
Holly cried in surprise. She looked at Diego, not wanting to believe it.
"Don't listen to him Holly, I love you," Diego pleaded.
Roger went on. "What was the plan, Guerrera? You thought you could hide you true identity from her forever?"
"I love her."
Holly walked up to him, looking at him straight in the eyes. After a few seconds, he couldn't hold her gaze any longer and looked down. "It was you who had me kidnapped, wasn't it?" She asked in a low and smoldering voice.
"It's not like that, let me explain – "She slapped him with all her might before he could finish, then started to walk away.
"Don't go, Holly," he asked pitifully. When he saw that she kept walking, he repeated his entreaty, this time in a steely voice that made her turn around in spite of herself. She found the barrel of a gun pointed right at her.
Roger cursed and took out his own gun, pointing it at Diego. His hands were shaking. "If you hurt her, I will blast you to pieces."
Diego stared at him then started laughing. There was something off with his eyes, a slightly crazy look that Holly had never noticed before. She waited for his next move with a pounding heart.
"If Holly dies, than I don't see the point of sticking around either, so I couldn't care less about your threats, Thorpe."
"Now, you can't mean that Diego," Holly managed to blurt out. "We barely know each other."
He turned to her. "There is no one else for me but you, Holly. I know it in my heart. And if I can't have you, then this jerk certainly won't."
Before Roger had time to react, Diego held up his gun to her and fired.
Holly heard two more gunshots before collapsing on the ground, and then nothing.