Raquel lay in bed, smiling, watching the rays of the morning sun filter through the thin white curtains. She was under strict instructions from both Sergio and her daughter that she was not to leave the bedroom under any circumstances, and she waited patiently as she heard clattering and laughter coming from the kitchen. She’d woken up an hour ago when Sergio had snuck out of the door, and she had gotten up to shower, then slipped back into bed to wait. She knew what day it was, she knew what to expect, but she loved the fact that Sergio and Paula were preparing this ‘surprise’ together. After three months of living together, Sergio was finally getting more comfortable around her daughter, though he still got nervous sometimes and often came to Raquel for advice. He took his role in Paula’s life very seriously indeed.
A tantalizing smell was now coming from the kitchen, and Raquel propped herself up against some pillows in anticipation. A few minutes later, she heard giggling outside the bedroom door, then the door opened and Paula and Sergio came in, carrying a big bunch of flowers and a breakfast tray respectively. Paula jumped onto the bed, handed her the flowers, then threw her arms around her neck and kissed her on the cheek.
“Happy Mother’s Day!”
Raquel hugged her daughter and kissed her back. “Thank you, my darling! What a lovely surprise!”
She looked up at Sergio, who grinned at her and winked. “Happy Mother’s Day, Raquel.”
“I have a gift for you!” Paula said, then raced out of the room.
She put the flowers aside as Sergio deposited the tray on her lap, laden with pancakes, fruit, fresh orange juice and coffee. The pancake on top of the pile was cut in the shape of a heart, and Raquel smiled up at him in delight.
“Aren’t you just the cutest”, she said, grabbing him by the shirt and pulling him in for a kiss.
They broke apart as Paula came running back into the room, then proudly presented Raquel with a drawing she’d made. In it, Paula had drawn herself, Raquel, Sergio and Marivi on the beach in front of their house. Underneath the figures, Paula had written: ‘For the best mom in the world’, but what really touched Raquel was the single word she had written at the top of the page: ‘Home’. She pulled her daughter into an embrace and kissed her all over her face so the girl squealed with laughter and tried to wriggle free.
“Thank you sweetheart, I love it! Now, do you want to share my pancakes?”
Sergio sat down on the edge of the bed as Paula settled herself next to Raquel and accepted bites of pancake. After a while, Marivi appeared in the doorframe, and Raquel smiled at her.
“Happy Mother’s Day, mamá.”
Marivi smiled back. “And to you too, mi hija.”
“How are you feeling today?”
“Good”, Raquel said, recognizing her mother’s way of expressing that she woke up clear-headed.
“What are your plans today?”
Sergio cleared his throat. “I thought we could all go on a little trip together.”
Paula looked up, eyes shining. “Yes!”
“Where?” Raquel asked.
He smiled. “It’s a surprise.”
Paula scooted over to him. “But you can tell me! It’s Mother’s Day, so it should only be a surprise for mom.” She leaned her head close to his. “Whisper it so she doesn’t hear.”
He shook his head, still smiling. “No, it’s a surprise for you, too.”
Paula protested, but Sergio was adamant. Raquel smiled as she watched them argue. She’d been a bit worried about how Sergio would adapt to life with her family, to a child and a grandmother suddenly barging in on his peace and quiet, but he seemed to be taking it all in his stride. She was careful to give him plenty of time to himself, keeping Paula away from his study when he was working, and in return, he seemed happy to spend time with them.
She put her tray aside for a moment and stretched on the bed so she could nudge him with her foot. He looked up at her, smiling, and they shared a long look. As Paula chatted away obliviously, he stretched out a hand and ran light fingers over the sheet from her ankle to her knee. Marivi suddenly cleared her throat.
“Paula, shall we go for a walk?”
“If mom comes too.”
“Don’t you think we should let her finish her breakfast in peace?”
“Then I want to stay here with her.”
Marivi tried a different tack. “There was a high tide tonight. There will be a lot of new shells on the beach.”
Paula hesitated. She did love shells.
“Maybe we could find your mom one of those pretty pink shells that are so rare.”
“I would love one of those on my bedside table”, Raquel added persuasively, and Paula relented and got off the bed.
“Will Anna come with us?” she asked, referring to Marivi’s nurse, who had become part of the family.
“Of course”, Marivi said. She threw a meaningful look back at Sergio and Raquel on the bed. “The weather is so lovely today, I’m in the mood for a nice, long walk. I think we’ll be gone for at least an hour.”
They left, and Marivi closed the door behind them. Raquel grinned broadly at Sergio.
“I love it when she has a lucid day. So considerate of her.”
Sergio frowned at her in confusion. “Considerate?”
“To get Paula out of our way for an hour.”
He looked even more confused. “Was she in the way?”
She laughed. “Sergio, she left us alone so we could have sex.”
“Oh!” he said, coloring. “That’s… embarrassing. Were we that obvious?”
She shook her head. “No, I don’t think we were, my mother’s just very perceptive. Or she used to be, before…” She trailed off, then shook herself and smiled. “Besides, she’s your biggest fan. Has been since the beginning.”
He gave her a shy smile and seemed very pleased.
“So”, she continued, sitting up and caressing the back of his neck. “Shall we make the most of this stolen hour?”
His eyes were warm as he looked at her. “Yes please.”
She kissed him, then whispered: “Go lock the door, then.”
He hurried to do so, then turned and gave her such a look that a shiver ran down her spine.
“One hour”, he said, slowly walking around the bed, his eyes not leaving hers. “We can do all sorts of things in an hour.”
“Yes”, she said, her eyes dancing. “We could play chess, for example. Or do laundry. Bake cookies.”
He nodded, sitting down on the edge of the bed. “All excellent suggestions. Can I make one, too?”
“Of course”, she said, and he put his fingers under her chin, gently tilted her head up, and kissed her right underneath the line of her jaw.
“Hmm”, she smiled. “That’s a great proposal. Do you have any arguments to support it?”
He responded by kissing her throat, and she tipped her head back and sighed, running her fingers through his hair. “You make an excellent case. But I think I’m going to need a little more convincing.”
She leaned back into the pillows as he moved down to kiss her chest. When he nipped at a nipple through her top, she hummed in contentment. “I have to say that’s very persuasive.”
He smiled and took off her top, then flicked his tongue over the very tip of her nipple, and she gasped as the sensation of it went straight through her to start up a delicious tingle between her legs. Then he ran his tongue in slow circles around her other nipple, until she was squirming for him to take it into his mouth. When he kept teasing her, she made a plaintive sound and he looked up, one eyebrow raised.
“Have I convinced you already?”
She nodded, and he finally closed his mouth over her nipple and sucked. She gasped out an ‘oh!’ and tangled her fingers into his hair. After several seconds, he stopped and looked up again.
“But I haven’t even made my strongest argument yet.”
“I’m all ears”, she murmured, smiling as he took off her pajama pants. Then she frowned. “Hey, that’s not fair, I’m naked and you’re still fully dressed. Take off your clothes.”
He shook his head as he spread her legs and settled himself between her thighs. “I don’t need to be undressed for what I have in mind.”
“Now”, he said, between pressing kisses to the inside of her thighs. “Are you sure this is how you want to spend this hour?” He gave her the lightest of licks, and she shivered. “We could still… bake cookies?”
“No”, she whispered. “You’ve convinced me.”
“Are you sure?” he asked, flicking his tongue again.
“Yes”, she breathed, opening her legs a little further. He accepted her invitation and ran his tongue over her – one long, lingering stroke that made her sigh. Then he looked up again.
She laughed. “Sergio, if you don’t stop teasing me immediately, I’m going to sit on your face. We only have an hour, now move!”
“As m’lady commands”, he murmured, then pressed his mouth to her. She threw her head back and breathed in sharply, gripping the edge of her pillow. He knew exactly where to go to make her moan, circling and licking and dipping down every once in a while to taste her. When she was wet enough, he slipped in two fingers, palm up, and firmly pressed upwards. She arched her back and tilted her hips to increase the pressure, and he struck up a rhythm with his fingers and tongue that soon had her gasping. He shifted a little, and she moaned as his tongue hit the exact right spot. Taking her cue, he focused exclusively on the one spot now, picking up the pace a little, and she soon felt the wave inside her begin to build. What he was doing felt so delicious, part of her didn’t want it to be over so soon, but her body reacted to his expert caresses with such enthusiasm that she could only grip the sheets and moan as the wave crested and broke, a fiery tingling washing over her for several long seconds until he eased off and she relaxed back onto the bed, breathing hard.
He pressed kisses to her thighs as she recovered. Then she propped herself up on her elbows and smiled at him.
“That was amazing. Now come up and finally take off your clothes.”
He shook his head. “I want to do this again.”
“But it always takes a little longer the second time.”
“You know I don’t mind that.”
She glanced at her watch. “But our hour is almost halfway already. We won’t have time for anything else afterwards.”
“That’s okay”, he said, inching his way up again.
“But what about you?”
“Today is your day. Let me spoil you.”
He pressed his mouth to her again, and she fell back into the pillows with a sigh and a smile.
“Well, if you insist…”
He gave her plenty of time to warm up again, running his tongue all over her, avoiding her most sensitive spot for a while, allowing her to recover entirely before venturing there again. When he finally did, she sighed and stretched luxuriously, fully enjoying the lovely sensation of his tongue on her, doing exactly what she liked best. The feeling inside her returned, more slowly this time – a soft, languorous tingling starting right at her center and making her moan softly.
“Oh, that feels so good. Don’t stop.”
His fingers entered her again, adding another delicious sensation, and she surrendered herself to him completely. He kept his touch lighter this time, taking into account that she was already sensitive, and she reached down and twined her fingers into his hair, sighing with pleasure. He kept going, and soon she felt the pressure begin to build again, filling her up slowly, getting her closer and closer, and then suddenly she was there and the feeling swept through her again, more intense and lasting longer than the first time, making her tremble and moan his name, over and over and over again. Finally it subsided, and she pushed gently against his head to make him ease off. He didn’t stop immediately, though, eliciting several delicious aftershocks by stroking her, feather-light, with his tongue.
Finally he stopped and moved up, taking her into his arms and stroking her shoulder and back as her breathing slowly returned to normal. She shot a look at her watch.
“Fifteen more minutes. Do you want to risk it?”
He shook his head. “Let’s not push our luck. They might not stay gone for a full hour after all, and I’d hate to get interrupted.”
She nodded. “I agree.”
He pressed a kiss to her hair. “Oh, I’ve missed this.”
She smiled. “What do you mean? You went down on me only yesterday.”
“No, I don’t mean that. I’ve just missed making love with you in the mornings. During the week, we have to get up so early to get Paula to school, and in the weekends she’s usually knocking on our door before we’ve had the chance.”
She shot him an apologetic look. “I’m sorry. I know it’s not the same as when it was just the two of us.”
He smiled at her. “It’s okay, I’m not complaining. This was just a nice change of pace, that’s all. I really enjoyed it.”
“But you didn’t even get anything out of it.”
“Ah”, he said, his eyes sparkling. “That’s where you’re wrong.”
They lingered a few more minutes, then got out of bed. Raquel got dressed, then went to get more coffee. When she entered the kitchen, her eyebrows shot up.
“Sergio?” she called to him, “Did we have a very local hurricane?”
He came into the kitchen too, and ran an embarrassed hand through his hair as he observed the state of it. “I’m sorry, Paula and I got a little… enthusiastic preparing you breakfast.”
“Well”, she said, “we can’t leave this for the cleaning lady, she’ll quit the moment she sees this.”
She moved to start cleaning up, but he caught her around her waist.
“No, no”, he said. “I can’t possibly allow you to clean on Mother’s Day. This is my mess, I’ll take care of it. Why don’t you pack us some lunch in the meantime, so we can leave when Paula and your mother get back.”
Ten minutes later, Paula came running into the kitchen, pink-cheeked and proudly presenting her mother with a beautifully curled pink shell. Raquel kissed her.
“Thank you, sweetheart. Now you help Sergio clean up the mess you made.”
Paula grumbled, but when Raquel pressed a tea towel into her hands, she helped dry the things Sergio was washing. Fifteen minutes later, with the kitchen clean and lunch packed, they were ready to leave. At the last moment, Marivi decided not to go with them. The clear-headedness she had woken up with was starting to fade, and she said she’d rather stay in her familiar surroundings. Raquel kissed her and left her in the competent hands of her nurse.
They got into the car and drove off, playing car games with Paula to pass the time on the long drive. The girl kept asking Sergio where they were going, but he stubbornly refused to say. Raquel didn’t say anything, but she was bursting with curiosity as well. Around noon, they found a tiny deserted beach at the foot of a cliff, and they descended the steep stairs carefully to have a picnic on the sand. After eating, Paula put on her bathing suit and went to play in the waves, while Sergio and Raquel leaned back against the rough rock, hand in hand, and watched her.
“So where are we going?” she asked him the moment Paula was out of earshot.
“I’m not telling you, it’s a surprise.”
“Come on”, she wheedled. “I’m not a child anymore, I’m too old for surprises.”
He smiled. “I don’t agree.”
“Just tell me Sergio!”
He laughed. “You’re as bad as your daughter!”
She nudged him with her elbow. “Tell me!”
He looked at her, eyebrows raised. “No.”
She put her arms around his neck. “Please tell me?”
She pushed him over onto the sand, then sat on top of him. He was so surprised that she got his wrists pinned to the ground before he knew what was happening.
“Hey!”, he said indignantly. “I’m sure this isn’t a sanctioned interrogation technique!”
She grinned. “Tell me and I’ll let you go.”
He gave her a stubborn look. “You know, I could easily get out of this.”
“I’m sure you could”, she said, amused.
“But I don’t want to hurt you.”
“You’re very considerate.”
“You’re setting a terrible example for your daughter.”
“She’s not looking.”
She lowered her face until it was only inches away from his. “Tell me.”
He shook his head. She bent down and bit his earlobe. “Tell me.”
He shook his head again, and she brushed his lips with hers. As she was pulling back, though, he lifted his head and kissed her, and she couldn’t resist kissing him back. He flicked his tongue over her lips, and she opened her mouth to deepen the kiss, losing herself in it for a moment. The very second he felt her relax, he broke her grip on his wrists, closed his arms around her and rolled her over, pinning her to the ground with his body on top of hers. She laughed and he grinned down at her.
“Never let down your guard, Inspectora. You should have known better.”
“I suppose I should have”, she smiled, not particularly bothered.
He bent his head to kiss her again, then he got off her and helped her up. “Let’s go. We shouldn’t get there too late.”
Raquel called Paula back from the ocean, wrapped her in a towel and rubbed her dry. When the girl was dressed again, they went back to the car for the last stretch to their destination. Finally they passed a sign that gave away where they were going. Paula had been studying English intensively over the past three months, both in her international school and with a private tutor, so she could read the sign.
“Underground river tours!” she exclaimed, her eyes big. “Cool! Does that mean we are going to be in a boat on a river under the ground?”
“We are”, Sergio smiled.
Raquel smiled too. She loved little adventures like this just as much as Paula did. Sergio parked the car, and they got out, paid at the ticket stall, then were guided to an entrance into a big, rocky hill. Their guide took them down a flight of rough stairs, hewn out of the rock itself, and as they went deeper and deeper, the air became damp and a little chilly. Paula shivered with the excitement of it, and Raquel took Sergio’s hand and squeezed. At the bottom of the stairs, a small boat was waiting for them. Their guide got in first, then held out his hand to help in Raquel. Sergio went next, then he lifted Paula into the boat, to sit between him and her mother. The guide untied the boat and it was caught up in the slow current of the river, while the guide used a long stick to keep them away from the edges. The river took them along, and after a few minutes, they entered a long dark tunnel. The only light now was the one the guide was carrying.
“Don’t worry”, the man said. “This is the darkest part.”
Paula shivered again, and Sergio looked down at her. “What do you think, Paula?”
“It’s a little scary”, the girl admitted, shifting closer to him and slipping her hand in his.
Sergio’s eyes went big, and he hardly dared move as he looked over Paula’s head at Raquel, who gave him a radiant smile. He held the girl’s hand in his so very carefully as the boat moved on, until the tunnel suddenly opened up into a large underground chamber, where colored lights were mounted on the walls, illuminating dramatic displays of stalactites and stalagmites hanging from the ceiling and growing up from the ground. They all gasped at the beauty of it, looking around with big eyes, and Paula pulled away her hand to point at the various impressive formations that surrounded them. After the first chamber, there was a second one, and a third. In between, the river took them along various passages, sometimes so narrow that the sides of the boat scraped the walls, one time so low that Sergio had to bend his head. It was all a thrilling adventure, but the best was saved for last. The final chamber wasn’t as big as the ones before, but the walls were covered in tiny crystals, sparkling brilliantly in the mounted lights. Paula’s eyes were as big as saucers, and Sergio and Raquel were equally impressed. The guide threw a loop of rope around a nearby stalagmite so the boat remained stationary, allowing them to look for as long as they wanted. Finally, Sergio nodded and they drifted onwards again. One final narrow passage led them outside, where they blinked their eyes against the sudden light of the sun, feeling like they were emerging from a fairytale world of wonders.
Paula kept chattering excitedly as they walked back to the car, and Raquel took Sergio by the hand and kissed his cheek.
“What a lovely surprise”, she said, and he gave her a warm smile.
“I’m glad you liked it.”
On the drive back, Paula fell asleep fairly quickly. Raquel looked back at her and smiled.
“Tired out by the excitement of the day.”
Sergio glanced sideways at her for a moment, then said in a low voice, filled with wonder. “Raquel, did you see that she took my hand?”
She gave him a tender smile. “Yes, I saw.”
“She was scared, and she took my hand.”
“She feels safe with you.”
He shook his head, unable to believe it.
They talked softly as they drove the rest of the way home. Paula woke up as the car stopped in front of their house, and she ran straight inside to tell her grandmother all about the day’s adventures. Sergio went out to get them dinner from a street food stall, and they all ate together companionably, Marivi a little confused at times, but otherwise alright.
After dinner, Raquel took Paula straight to bed. It was their little ritual for Raquel to read to Paula for a bit before she had to go to sleep, and they were starting their first English book tonight, to stimulate Paula’s learning of the language. Raquel had chosen ‘Matilda’, by Roald Dahl, and Paula liked the first chapter so much that she begged for a second one.
“No”, Raquel said. “You had a long day, you need to sleep now.”
“But I slept in the car! I feel sooo awake!” The girl opened her eyes wide to show how awake she was. “Another chapter, please?”
Raquel shook her head. “My voice is getting tired.”
Paula gave her a sly look. “Maybe Sergio will want to read a chapter?”
Raquel suppressed a smile. “I don’t know, darling, he’s probably busy.”
“I’ll ask him!” she said, then jumped out of bed before Raquel could stop her, returning only seconds later with a confused-looking Sergio in tow.
“What do you want me for, exactly?”
“To read to me!” the girl said, getting back into bed and making room for him to sit next to her.
Sergio looked at Raquel, who smiled and shrugged. “If you don’t mind?”
“No, of course not. I… I just don’t know if I’ll be any good at it.”
Raquel got under the sheets with Paula, and wrapped her arm around her daughter as Sergio settled himself against the pillows on the other side of the girl and took up the book. He started off a little hesitantly, but soon found his stride as he got caught up in the story. His English was smoother than Raquel’s, and he didn’t trip over Dahl’s quirky vocabulary. Paula looked up at him in absolute delight as they came at a piece of dialogue and he started using funny voices for each of the characters: a nasal whine for Matilda’s mother, a deep, dark rumble for the Bulstrode and a mere whisper for Miss Honey. Raquel allowed him to continue for two full chapters, caught up by his performance herself, before reminding herself of the fact that it was past Paula’s bedtime and she should put an end to the show.
Paula embraced her mother, then pressed a kiss to Sergio’s cheek, making him blush furiously. They all said goodnight, then Sergio and Raquel left and closed the bedroom door.
“That’s a good story”, Sergio said. “I’m really enjoying it.”
Raquel smiled. “A story about a child who loves books and is smarter than everyone around her? Yes, I thought you might like that.”
“Do you think Paula might let me read to her again tomorrow?”
She snorted. “After tonight’s performance, I don’t think you’ll have a choice.”
He turned to her with serious eyes. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to intrude on this time you share with your daughter.”
She smiled at him and stroked his cheek. “Oh darling, don’t worry about that. It makes me so happy that Paula is taking to you so well.”
He gave her an appealing look. “Do you think she likes me?”
“I’m sure she does.”
He sighed in relief. “I’m so glad Raquel, you have no idea.”
Sergio spent the rest of the evening reading, while Raquel, Marivi and Anna sat outside at the porch table, drinking tea and talking. Two hours later, when they were in bed together, Raquel turned to him.
“So”, she said. “If I’m not mistaken, today we’ve been here exactly three months. Time for a first assessment? How are you finding life with four women in the house?”
“Five”, he corrected her.
She frowned. “Me, Paula, mother and Anna. That’s four.”
“You’re forgetting Amber.”
She laughed. “Yes, right, of course, how could I forget the cat. So: life with five women in the house?”
He thought about it for a moment, while she watched him a little anxiously.
“It’s very different from how my life was before”, he said finally.
She gave him an apologetic look. “I know. I’m sorry.”
“I didn’t say that was a bad thing!” he hastened to add. “Though it’s not always easy. I’m still very nervous about doing something wrong around Paula. It’s sad to see Marivi on her bad days. Sometimes I wouldn’t mind a little more peace and quiet. I also wouldn’t mind some more time alone with you.”
She nodded. “I understand. Please tell me if there’s anything I can do to make this easier on you. I know you didn’t ask for any of this.”
He gave her a surprised look. “But I did.”
“Do you think I walked into this with my eyes closed? I knew perfectly well what I was getting into, Raquel. You asked me, that morning in your bedroom, if I would really cross the world with a mother and a daughter and a grandmother, and I said yes. I meant that. I’ve never not meant it. I may not have realized what it would entail exactly, but I knew enough to make an informed decision.”
“But why did you agree to it in the first place?”
He looked at her earnestly. “Because you make it all worthwhile.”
She gave him a tender smile. “Really?”
“Really. And there’s something I didn’t expect.”
“How nice it can be to have a family. I like playing games in the evenings. I like the conversations around the dinner table. I like the laughter. My life is so much more chaotic than it was before, but there’s so much more love in it, too. And earlier today, when Paula took my hand… that sort of thing is so humbling, in the best way. I had never imagined myself with a family, Raquel. But now that it’s here, I wouldn’t want to change it. You know what the best part of my life was, before I met you?”
“The months we spent at the house in Toledo, preparing the heist. That was my first taste of life in a big family, and I loved it. This is almost like that. Only better, because now I have you.”
She leaned in to press a soft kiss to his lips. “You’re everything a woman could ask for.”
He gave her a crooked smile. “I’m really not, but I appreciate the sentiment. And speaking of what a woman could ask for…”
He nuzzled her neck, and she hummed her approval. It only took him a few minutes before she was gasping his name.