Whitewater (Rachel Hatch #6)
"You know I honor family above all else? For me, there is nothing greater than that. Our family is stronger than any other. The only reason for this is simple. We built our family's name brick by brick through our blood, sweat, and tears. The toils my father endured secured our place at the throne. That kind of thing only happens when each member of the family is strong. As with any building's foundation, we're only as strong as the sum of its parts."
Raphael Fuentes stood in the corner of the room and listened on as his father, Hector, delivered his ceremonious speech. This wasn't the first time Raphael had heard it, or at least a variation of it. The man had raised Raphael. And over his twenty-three years of life, he'd listened to his father espouse the meaning of family, and its worth. He'd grown up loving the man, not just for the power he wielded, but for the love he had shown Raphael and his two younger brothers, Gabriel and Jesus. And just three months ago, Raphael became big brother once again to Guadalupe.
He could see that his father hadn't been as pleased when his sister was born. Hector wanted only boys. As a child Raphael knew his father's love was true and genuine but doubted his sister would ever come to know it. His father didn't give his love freely, it came at a hefty price, its tolls increasing with each passing year. As the oldest male heir to his father's fortune and power, Raphael learned at an early age what it meant to rule and lead as his father had. At seven years old, Raphael watched his father use a dull machete to separate a man who had wronged him.
Even witnessing the beheading and the many to follow in its wake, Raphael went to bed every night praying for the strength of his father, to walk in the man's gigantic footsteps. And every morning when he woke, was saddened to see he was still the same old Raphael. He did his best to prove himself worthy. By the age of thirteen, Raphael knew deep down the differences between his father and himself spread as wide and long as the Rio Grande River cutting its path outside his hometown of Juarez. As he matured, his father took him to places, showed him things, and taught him what the family business was all about.
Raphael had felt the disconnect before learning the true source of his father's power and influence, then after he felt like he never had known the man at all. He saw it in his father's eyes too, the darkening. Over time, Raphael's disagreement became more obvious, and his father had begun to question whether Raphael was fit to lead. This was why his father put on such a big show. It was another lesson, another opportunity to test Raphael to see if he had proved his worth.
"But even the smallest fracture in the foundation of any building can lead to bigger cracks, until it all crumbles down." Hector Fuentes lectured the room's attendees, to include Raphael who remained silent while his father addressed the group. No one ever interrupted Hector Fuentes without consequence. Depending on your status within the family, some of those consequences had life-altering repercussions.
"What we do here matters. What we say to others matters. The money, the power, it means nothing if we don't have family. If I cannot trust every member in this room to carry forward the ideals and the secrets that our family holds, then it is all for naught. That's why today saddens me as much as it angers me."
Seated in the center of the room was a woman bound to a chair. Thick plastic zip ties held her and her ankles in place. A rope wrapped around her midline just under her ample breasts sealing her to the back of the chair.
Hector reached down and grabbed the top of the hood shrouding the woman's face and head and ripped it off. Raphael's eyes moistened at the sight of his mother's tear-soaked face. Raphael did not make eye contact with her. Raphael couldn't afford to let his father see the pain in his eyes, nor the hate that would surely follow. Instead, he looked just to the side of her at the hulking shoulders of a mountainous man. His father's right-hand security man, Juan Carlos Moreno.
Moreno had done a stint in the military before returning home to serve as Hector's most trusted soldier. He stood by with his deadpan golden eyes and scanned the crowd. Even in the close circle of friends, family, and upper echelon of the Fuentes Cartel, his father was smart enough to know that threats could come from anywhere. The woman bound to the chair was testament to that.
Hector worked the room, moving around and making eye contact with each member present as if he were a politician at a speaking engagement. "Isabella my love, to see you sitting here tears at my soul." The words sounded genuine, and maybe at some point they would've been. Even now they might still hold some truth of the love they used to share. To Hector Fuentes, though, loyalty trumped all else. Even love.
But to Raphael, his father's words sounded rehearsed. He figured they were. Everything his father did was done to perfection. That's why when things did not go according to his meticulous plans, there were repercussions. This was one of those moments.
"But you betrayed me." Hector turned and bent down, bringing his face inches from his wife's.
"Please," she uttered, barely above a whisper. Her voice quivered. She choked it down like an overcooked piece of steak. Then came a flash of defiance in her deep-set eyes. This resistance only seemed to energize Hector's fervor.
He stepped back and panned out to the audience. "I loved her. I still love her. She is the mother of my children and just gave birth not three months ago to my daughter, Guadalupe. Your sons stand by and watch." His voice darkened. "Because of what you did, they have to suffer. Because of what you did, our family must suffer. There is no worse crime than turning on your family." Raphael heard his father's words and recognized the hypocritical connotation.
Whitewater (Rachel Hatch #6)