December 31, 1958
She hadn’t meant to kill the man.
Standing now at the dark and open window of her bedroom in the Copacabana Palace, Linda Rose Armbrust stared into the night. There’d been a lot she hadn’t meant to do.
In the distance beyond the hotel steps, the neon frenzy of this foreign city rushed along the avenue, a barrier of pavement beside the beach, curving away with the bay in the shape of a crescent moon. Directly beneath her window lay the calm darkness of sand. Moving shapes of midnight visitors spread across its shadows, carrying little dots of flickering lights—burning candles. Even from her window on the second floor, she could smell the sweet fragrance of flowers scattered about. Their dropped petals glittered, and tufts of sand glowed in the sparkles of candlelight. A tingling warmth stirred deep within her as she watched.
But for how long?
It had been an accident, but in the end, that oily-faced man had died. Her heart hammered as his image flashed before her mind. Once again she’d had to run…
The memories were still too fresh. She pushed them away, gulping in the sweetly salty air. Pain knifed her bruised rib. She wasn’t in the States anymore. This scene outside her window proved that. She focused on the pinpricks of light out there on the beach. Her pulse settled and a sense of calm washed over the swollen tenderness of her aches and bruises. Voices softly chanted, as if they were performing some sort of ritual ceremony, like a marriage to the sea. The hiss of lapping waves sounded like a chorus. Soothing, rhythmic murmurs vibrated the air and tugged at her as if a humming chord connected her to them. Somehow, she felt a part of them.
Her wedding hadn’t been anything like this one.
She whirled around, swishing the silk of her brand-new negligee. A stranger lay naked and asleep atop the sheets of her bed. His face, soft. His olive-toned body, perfect. Their recent passion, delicious. Heat flared within her. Two fans droned on, but they only moved the hot, heavy air from one side of the bridal suite to the other.
There’d been no flowers, no candles, no guests at her wedding. All she’d wanted were the hastily signed documents. The passport with her new name. Rosalinda da Costa.
Because she would never be a victim again. Never.
Soft moans drifted chant-like from the beach, turning her attention back to the open window. Now some of the people out there were walking into the sea. Not swimming. They kept walking until the sea swallowed them. Moonlight sparkled on the froth of waves breaking gently over them. This wasn’t a wedding after all. It looked as if those people meant to drown themselves.
Alarm shot through her, clenching her muscles into familiar knots of panic. It was impossible for her to rescue anyone because she couldn’t reach them in time. It was already too late. Those who lingered on the beach would have to help, and now they started following the others into the sea, perhaps to do just that. Everything was okay, she told herself, until finally she believed it.
She was supposed to have drowned. That was the story he’d come up with.
And actually, in a way, it was true. Coming here, she felt as if she were drowning in the deceit of her new role. Everything had happened so fast. She’d thrown away all that had ever mattered, although without her little sister anymore, there wasn’t much left to lose. What other choice had she had but to come here to this foreign place with Gilberto? She knew his name, but not much else. He was a Brazilian cop she’d only met a couple weeks ago, and now he was her husband. He had seemed a better alternative than a U.S. prison. Was it even real, this new life that she thought she was living?
Dazed, her jaw and face still throbbing, she leaned against the windowsill, half expecting to see the snowy mountain backdrop of Denver resolve through the blur of her mind. But it did not. The postcard image of sexy Rio de Janeiro, the famous beach and pillar mountains to either side, displayed as silhouettes against the glow of the city.
The view through the open window pulled at her like the tide. The damp, salt air caressed her flesh; the sweet smell of flowers intoxicated her lungs. There was magic in the air, and it was seducing her.
She turned away from the window and rummaged on the floor for the boxes of new clothes Gilberto had bought for her. With each crinkling, bumping sound, she turned back to look at him, sleeping like the dead. Amidst the cottons and silks, her fingers touched the strings of her new bikini. She carried it to the bathroom, where she slid out of the negligee, stepped into the strings, and wrapped a towel over her bruised body. Then softly, ever so softly, she padded across to the suite’s door and slipped out into the hall. She ran all the way through the grand, pink, palatial hotel until her toes finally sank into sand, still warm from the day’s heat.
Whatever magic had pulled at her through the window was tugging even harder now, out here on the beach. She kept running, past the lit candles, over flower petals and strewn seashells. She’d always been running, but she didn’t have to anymore. That’s what Gilberto had said. It was finished. Her past could never catch up to her here.
Her breath caught in shallow pants, and she winced from the sharp stabs to her rib. Lurching around women—where were the men?—she tried not to spray them with her kicked-up sand. They bowed and murmured prayers over their candles. She ran on to the water’s edge and the tide sucking at her toes. More women lined the shore and threw flowers into the waves.
She had no flowers to offer to the sea. No candles, no seashells. All she had to offer was herself. And her own prayers. She was here, and here in Brazil was where she hoped to God she could finally stop running.
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