Stronger Than Passion
By Sharron Gayle Beach
Christina de Sainz is restless. Not that her life, that of a young widowed Patrona of a substantial Mexican estate, is at all bad; on the contrary, she is well-content with her orderly, secluded existence and the dignity she is accrued by her tenants on the estate, and Mexican society in general. Still, after two years of official mourning for the death of her rather foolish young husband, an unwanted yearning for something beyond her placid life assails her. Of course, the unease of the countryside itself may be affecting her mood. It is 1846, and Mexico is on the verge of war with the United States of America.
When a wounded man is found unconscious on her estate, Christina naturally suspects that he may be an American, and an army scout or spy. She does not realize how precise her forebodings really are . . . he is in fact Michael Brett, an English lord who has made Texas his home, and who is on a mission from President Polk to ascertain the truth behind a mysterious letter intercepted on its way to her from the Mexican general Santa Anna. Christina performs her duty as patrona by taking this man into her house and nursing him, incarcerating him as well, until her father-in-law the Conde de Castillo can arrive to take charge of him.
Christina finds that having this American in her home is disturbing. His unpredictable arrogance infuriates her. And his physical proximity bothers her, since she has grown quite unused to men. When he escapes from her locked pantry and she discovers him in her bedroom, there to read her correspondence and interrogate her regarding her relationship to Santa Anna, all of her fears coalesce as he incorporates touching and even kissing into his methods of extracting information. When he has gone, her memories of him are oddly combined with rage and shamed excitement.
She never expects to see him again. Yet while attending a grand fiesta at the estate of Santa Anna, she observes a man who resembles her former captive. She learns that this man is Lord Michael Brett, of the British embassy . . . and not “Jim Malone”, her prisoner. Later that night, her friend and perhaps future husband, Luis Arredondo, informs her that Michael Brett is really an American, a Texas rancher. Suspecting she has been duped, she follows Brett outside and recognizes him, threatening him with immediate exposure. Brett abducts her from the party, seizing the opportunity to protect himself and carry her off to Washington for further questioning.
They travel by closed diligence to Vera Cruz. Along the way, Michael’s cousin, a half-breed Indian adopted by the wealthy British-born Torrances of San Antonio and re-named
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Julian, intercepts them, frightening Christina with his half-savage, half-sophisticated ways. He gives Michael herbs to drug her. She awakens onboard a British ship bound for Havana, Cuba, where they will await another ship to take them to Washington. Unable to escape Michael for the moment, she insists that he hire a chaperone or maid to accompany her on the journey. Instead, he finds a prostitute named Penny, good-natured and eager to improve her unfortunate life, whom he hires to go with them. Outraged at first, Christina gradually comes to like the girl.
They arrive in Washington, and Michael takes them to his own townhouse. Christina is surprised to find it elegant, and that she is mistaken in her belief that he is ill-bred. She discovers that he is, truly, Lord Michael Brett, of England – as well as plain Michael Brett of Texas – and his brother is a marquess, crippled and very ill. The two brothers are mysteriously estranged.
Although Michael would like to keep her presence in Washington a secret, Christina is soon discovered by his Aunt, Lady Antoinette Torrance, and her guest from England, Lady Elizabeth Scott-Gould – an old “friend” of Michael’s. They move into Michael’s townhouse as chaperones, and Lady Antoinette takes Christina beneath her social wing, suspecting a romance between her and Michael – a suspicion which Michael himself has fostered in order to keep her from prying more deeply into Christina’s presence. He has threatened Christina with prison – or worse – if she refuses to keep her circumstances and her Mexican sympathies to herself, and for the moment she complies with his wishes. Meanwhile, Antoinette introduces Christina to Washington society by way of parties and balls. Michael permits this on the direct and outraged order of President Polk, who unfortunately does not care for his abduction of a lady. Christina is pleased to annoy Michael by attending every social event she is invited to; and hopes to discover a way of escaping him completely, and returning home to Mexico.
Christina learns that America is determined to win the war with Mexico, and grows frightened for her own estate and her tenants. Escape becomes even more important now. And Michael himself disturbs her with his casual attempts at seduction – which she is determined to fight off, but which are becoming more difficult to ignore by the day. Jealousy doesn’t help; Lady Elizabeth is certainly not repulsing any advances Michael may be making her, and even hints that they may be secretly engaged. Christina cannot halt her own annoyance. Matters are brought to a head on the night before Michael decides to leave Washington to return to Mexico, to join General Taylor and help with the war.
Christina has surprisingly met Colonel Angel Manzanal, Santa Anna’s aide, who has followed her trail to Washington; and who arranges her escape from Michael Brett for the very next day. She and Michael both attend a ball, neither aware that the other is planning to leave Washington at dawn. Michael becomes furious with Christina when he mistakenly believes her
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to be interested in another man, actually Manzanal. Michael takes her home, and they make love. She does not refuse him this time, for reasons inexplicable to her then. When she awakes the next morning to find Michael gone to Mexico, leaving her in the care of his Aunt, she storms away herself with Manzanal – unknowing that hurt pride and anger have precipitated her escape.
Christina and Manzanal, along with Christina’s maid Penny, travel under assumed names to Corpus Christi, Texas, where they hire men and horses to make an overland trip into Mexico. The trip begins uneventfully, despite Manzanal’s annoying flattery and attentions, and Christina’s strange feelings of sadness and regret. Yet once they cross into Mexico, managing to avoid any hostile soldiers or bandits, trouble overtakes them. They are followed by an unknown party of men. Manzanal makes camp for a few days at an Indian village and hopes that whoever is trailing them passes on by. He also plans to use this time to seduce Christina and convince her to marry him, long a desperately-sought goal.
The local Indians throw their guests a fiesta, and under cover of the noise, Manzanal assaults Christina in her tent. His attack is thwarted by the appearance of a man who savagely kills Manzanal. Christina, sick and in shock, recognizes the stranger as Julian Torrance – Michael Brett’s menacing cousin, Antoinette Torrance’s stepson. And apparently, it is no coincidence that he has arrived in time to retrieve her from Angel Manzanal’s clutches. Brett had sent him.
Julian is none-too-pleased with Christina and the trouble she has caused Michael. He takes her – and Penny – along with him, and his rough band of guerilla fighters, deeper into Mexico. During this time, Christina comes to both fear and respect Julian; but also, eventually, to understand him. She overhears stories told by his men about Santa Anna and the butchery he has caused in Texas. She asks Julian if the atrocious tales are true; and is treated to a surprisingly honest political discussion of the troubles between Texas and Mexico, and of the horrors wrought by Santa Anna. These revelations leave her disturbed and disillusioned. For his part, Julian’s attitude towards the Senora takes a turn for the better. He admires her willingness to listen and learn, along with her beauty. He begins to cautiously like her.
When a band of Mexican guerillas is spotted nearby, and a fight between the two opposing troops becomes inevitable, Julian sends Christina and Penny away to a village for safety, accompanied by a young Frenchman as protector and guard. But two of the Mexicans are out scouting alone, and discover that valuable white women are in the village and available for the taking. They shoot the young Frenchman, and try to claim the females. Christina seizes the youth’s gun, and shoots both men – killing them. When Julian arrives to fetch them, Christina is horrified at her actions. But eventually her shock is gone, and her own sense of self-reliance has grown.
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Julian escorts the women back into Texas, to a ranch called Dos Rios, owned by Michael Brett. He plans to leave them there, out of the way of the war, until Michael can come to claim them.
Dos Rios is only a day’s ride from San Antonio, the home of Lady Antoinette Torrance and her sons. Christina meets Gilbert Torrance, Julian’s stepbrother, on the evening of her arrival at the ranch. Christina finds him likeable, much more so than his cousin, Michael Brett – who also manages to appear at Dos Rios that same night, having just returned in from Mexico. Michael is accompanied by a young Indian girl, Leaping Spirit, his former mistress.
Christina is enraged by Michael’s angry rudeness, and by the presumption of the girl. She retires to bed immediately. But Michael wakes her from sleep, and they make love without any speech or recriminations. The next morning, however, Christina receives an indignant visit from Leaping Spirit, who informs her that when Michael leaves to return to Mexico, she is to become Christina’s new jailor.
Outraged, Christina resolves to escape immediately. She steals a kitchen knife and heads outside, for the stable. She encounters Julian, who philosophically allows her to leave. Yet he suggests that she ride to San Antonio, and stay with his stepmother, following the trail already left by Gilbert.
Christina takes a horse from the stables and rides away. But Michael follows her, and overtakes her, only a few miles out. They argue, and after drawing her knife on him she herself is accidentally struck. An appalled Michael takes her back to his home, and after her recovery, he finally agrees to take her back to her hacienda.
Michael and Christina depart for Mexico, and during the journey they come together as lovers, never speaking of their future as enemies. When the hacienda is near they part, concealing any reluctance from each other.
Pleased but uneasy to be home, Christina is surprised when Luis Arredondo arrives, accompanied by an escort of Santa Anna’s elite soldiers. He must take Christina to Mexico City for questioning – she is under suspicion for sympathetic dealings with America, due to rumors about her behavior in Washington.
After days of interrogation and her own exhaustive efforts at concealing much of her recent experiences, particularly those concerning Michael Brett, Christina is released into Luis’ custody for the duration of the war. Ill and in a state of numbness, she accedes to Santa Anna’s request that she pledge to marry Luis; not knowing that Santa Anna is plotting with Luis to reopen a silver mine belonging to Christina and use the silver for war. Shortly after, she receives a dangerous visit from Michael Brett. He has learned about the silver mine scheme.
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He tells her that she must not marry Luis Arredondo, who, despite the mine, has a violent streak.
Angry and hurt, Christina refuses to believe him. Michael, in an unusual tenderness, simply says goodbye and tells her whom to contact at the British Embassy if she ever needs him.
Distraught, realizing now that she does indeed love Michael, Christina returns to Luis. Luis, although triumphant at his engagement to Christina, is bedeviled by persistent thefts of silver shipments from his own mines. Unknown to him, they are perpetrated by Julian Torrance and his guerrilla band, on behalf of America. Sanity unravelling as his silver dwindles and the Mexican Army loses battles with America, Luis takes his frustration out on Christina. She gradually realizes that Michael was right about Luis, after all, and she is engaged to a cruel and vicious man.
She plans with Penny to leave Mexico City as soon as an escape can be arranged. But Luis, learning from his spies of Christina’s meeting with Michael Brett, is enraged, and has her watched closely. And when he suspects Michael’s involvement in the silver thefts, he taunts her with a trap he has lain to capture the thieves. He declares they are dead, and he has items of both Julian’s, and Michael’s, to prove it.
Christina rushes to Michael’s friend at the British Embassy, where she learns that, indeed, Julian is dead, but not Michael. However, Michael believes that Christina has betrayed the guerilla troop to her fiancé and is responsible for Julian’s death. He wants no contact with her.
Despondent, ill, Christina’s days now revolve around war. Mexico is losing and the Americans are marching towards Mexico City. Listless, Christina finds that she does not care who wins. She has lost love, and must marry a man growing increasingly deranged.
When Luis Arredondo’s mines are blown up – despite his decimation of the guerilla troop – Luis blames Christina, for conspiring with the Americans, and strikes her viciously, just as the American Army draws close. Christina fights back with a pilfered knife. Just as Luis is on the verge of killing her, Michael Brett arrives; only to be fired on by Luis’ hired mercenaries. Before he is shot, another man comes in from behind and threatens Luis. Julian, apparently raised from the dead.
Luis is killed, and Christina, injured, by Luis, miscarries the child she unknowingly carried. Michael’s child. She awakens at the British Embassy, shocked and grieved, to be told by Julian that Michael plans to depart for England. His crippled brother is dying.
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Christina resolves to bear Michael’s absence with what dignity she can, realizing that while once she had longed for excitement, now she yearns only for love. Yet, Michael will not leave her behind. She is coming with him to England, whether he must abduct her again or not. He has forsaken revenge in favor of his love for her. He has repudiated cynicism, as well, and wants to marry.
On shipboard again, Christina and Michael journey to his ancestral home, where he will lay to rest his own ghosts – within the bonds of a love that overcame a desire knowing no bounds.