The general gist is: Manolito is a Familiar who is tasked to guard Mariella. He must do everything he can to protect her health and happiness.
Mariella's parents know he is a cat but nobody else does. To Mariella, he is another suitor there to woo her.
Using Talecraft Storytelling Cards
Genre: Historical Romance
Characters: Lovable Rogue and Competent Man (additional: Ingenue)
Key words: Social Class, Test. Plotlines: Forbidden Love, Discovery, Pursuit
Manolito de Anotnino y Salvo, such a dashing lad. His airs and ways are very reminiscent of his father. Don Rico remembered too well how he nearly lost his fiancé, now wife, to Megalito de Antonino y Sonsa. That fat bragger was like his son now, suave, confident and carried himself well. Maria Isabel was young then and she had full of spirits. She still does now. Back then, she wanted a man who was bold enough to lead her, bold enough to fight for her. Don Rico nearly lost. It was his determination that Megalito conceded and left the country. Maria Isabel did not mourn her lost love. It seems by standing up to Megalito, Don Rico captured Maria Isabel’s heart.
Now it begins again. Don Rico recalled the past. It was about this time of the year when that faithful day happened so long ago. The one and only time when Maria Isabel was to be Reina Elena, Megalito stepped into their lives and tried to woo Maria Isabel away from her rightful fiancé.
How would Manolito fare with his daughter? Manolito was lean, fair and well built. He was a beast of a man with his piercing green eyes, jet black hair and opalescent white skin. Megalito was fat but he had charms. He was a jolly fellow who laughed at danger in the face. His charms were old world, very courtly and could out-class the king of Spain himself. It seems Manolito has the same dynamic charms as his father. He was in the sitting room with the ladies charming them into liking him. His daughter and his wife were already enthralled.
Don Rico entered the sitting room. There was a fresh bouquet of flowers on top of the coffee table, obviously from Manolito.
“Beuna Dias, Don Rico.” Manolito gave a slight bow.
No, Don Rico observed. Manoltio was not like his father. He was more reserved but equally as courteous. Megalito must have drilled manners into the boy.
“Oh look, father!” Mariella pointed to the books littered around the sitting room. Her sisters were busy browsing them too. “Manolito brought these over. Spanish Magazines with the latest fashion abroad. I will really shine on Santa Cruzan!”
Manolito was tactful too. He can’t get angry, Don Rico found out. He wanted to but he couldn’t. This gentleman brought such a big smile to his daughter’s face. Meanwhile, at the other end of the sitting room, the boys were huddled together looking at the girls at the far side. They felt very unwelcomed.
“Ihjos,” Don Rico called them. “While the girls are occupied, what do you say to riding? I have good horses who can take on the rough terrain at the back forests.” The boys got up. They needed to stretch their legs. Don Rico had Spanish half-breeds to be boasted around. They were strong and fast.
“Senior Manolito, do you ride?” Angelo walked up directly to Manolito. Intent was in his eyes.
“When I have to, Seniorito Angelo.” He deliberately bated Angelo with his tone.
“How about a race?” He challenged.
“A challenge.” A glint in his eyes told Don Rico that this man welcomed it. “What would be race for?” He dared Angelo.
“The first dance with Seniora Mariella during the Flores de Mayo Fiesta.”
“Hmm? If I am to be her escort, I will also be the first to dance her followed by her father.” Manolito drawled.
“Then be third! I challenge you, Manolito de Antonino. I challenge you to a race!” He said.
“I accept.” Manolito smiled. He followed Angelo to the stables to pick his horse.
“What is Angelo up to?” Mariella noticed the exchange of words. She got up letting the magazines fall to the floor and followed Angelo and Manolito. Her sisters followed her.
Maria Isabel smiled but she did not follow. She knew what the outcome would be. It happened to her a long time ago. “Megalito, thank you for sending Manolito. She needs him even for this brief time.” She whispered to the wind and began to tidy the magazines.
Outside in the stables, Manolito carefully chose his horse. Angelo’s brothers helped their brother pick a fast horse. They picked a muscled strawberry gelding. It was sure to give bursts of speed in no time. Manolito smiled. He chose a docile mare. She was going to run for him. Carefully, he whispered his intent to the horse. The mare complied.
Don Rico watched the boys pick good choices horses. Angelo chose his favorite, Thunder. Thunder was named because his hoof beats sounded like thunder. He had power and lots to spare in a race. The girls joined their father under the shade and observed the show of raging testosterones.
“Senior Manolito, you are not riding with saddles? Surely there are saddles where you came from?” The boys jeered at him.
Manolito smiled, taking off his gloves. He beckoned a kitchen boy to come. “There are saddles but I do not believe this horse wants any. Shall we ride or just compare riding gear?” He gave his cane, hat, gloves, jacket, shoes and socks to the boy. “Niño, hold these for me.”
“I’ll guard them with my life, senior.” The boy was awestruck by the imposing young man who would trust him enough to hold his personals.
“What is that man doing?” Cecilia wondered. Manolito was down to his shirt and pants. He partially opened a few buttons on his shirt. With the grace of a jungle cat, he swung on the mare’s back with ease. “He’s riding it bare? That mare doesn’t even do anything but eat and sleep. How can he pick that?”
“We race to the edge of the river beyond the forest. One must take a red flower that grows beside the river and bring it here to Mariella.” Manolito stated. Angelo nodded. “There is no other place where the flower grows so you will have to get it at the banks.”
Don Rico accepted the terms of the challenge. He would judge them. “On your mark, ready, GO!”
Angelo’s gelding thundered away followed by his brothers. Manolito raced behind them in a steady speed. They came to the forest. It was dense but the gelding was determined to run through it. Manolito’s mare came steadily from the side knowing that Angelo’s brothers would not let him through. They lost each other some time later.
Angelo and his brothers reached the river banks. There were flowers growing beside it but they were not red. He and his brothers began searching. Manolito was nowhere to be found.
“Over here, Seniorito Angelo!” Manolito called from on top of a mangrove tree. He jumped to a thick branch that was impossible to carry a man of his size. He swung with ease and climbed higher to reach the hanging flower. It was red orchid that grew on the top branches of the tree. He pocketed a flower and swung down. Like a cat, he landed on the ground on his feet. “I shall be fair and wait for you, seniorito.”
Angelo was determined to get that flower. He got off his horse and climbed the tree with the orchid. Slowly, he inched his way not looking down. The orchid was on the outer branches but Angelo was determined. He extended his arms as long as he can, grabbing the petals before slipping and falling.
“Aahh!” He came crashing into the river.
To his seething anger, Manolito just smiled at him, his arrogant, smug smile. Angelo got up and ran to his horse. No way was Manolito getting the best of him. He raced his horse, slamming his spurs into the animal’s sides while whipping its rump. “Ha! Ha! Giddyap!”
Manolito asked his mare to run back to the Hacienda in all haste. The mare complied and ran in all speed in hopes of food and a grooming.
Angelo’s gelding ran like thunder but like thunder, it was brief as a flash and it started to slow into a steady pace. Manolito’s mare ran beside him and soon over took his horse. “Ha! Hurry! Ha!” Angelo urged the horse.
The girls and Don Rico waited patiently for the boys to return. Mariella’s sisters were already betting their desserts as to who was to win the race. Would it be Angelo on his fast horse or Manolito on his awkward mare?
Manolito came out of the dense forest, his hair flying, no sweat on him. His mare raced down the path leading to the hacienda. The mare stopped in front of Mariella with not even a hard whip from Manolito. He merely directed the mare with his bare feet and soft words.
Mariella’s heart thundered as the hoof beats came neared. Manolito was a wild beast coming from the wilderness. He was animal and man combined. He took a red item from inside his shirt and hooked it behind her ear. It was warm from the heat of his skin.
The boys came bounding out of the forest. Angelo was wet. He came to her and deposited a wet, wilted crumple of red on her gloved palms.
“Red orchid?” Or what was supposed to be one.
Angelo nodded but said nothing. His pride was crushed enough as it was. Defeated, he came off his horse and walked to the house. Don Rico ran after him to make sure he was alright. The rest of his siblings too came in a procession.
“Venido aquí, mi amor. Come with me.” Manolito reached for Mariella’s waist and pulled her up the horse. He reached for her shoes and gave them to the boy to hold. “The horse doesn’t want them.”
“You can talk to the horse?” She asked.
“No, I don’t neigh but anyone can feel what the horse is feeling. You just have to feel it.” He stroked the horse’s mane. “She doesn’t want the heavy bridle nor the feel of stirrups and whips.” Manolito explained. “Horses run faster without them.”
Mariella leaned on his chest. His heart beat a slow and steady rhythm. He smelled so fresh and warm, too much a man, too much an animal. “Manolito, I think I’m falling for you.” She whispered.
“You are falling, seniorita? I dare not let you. What would your father think of me if I let you fall?” He secured his arm on her waist and urged the horse to trot to the clearing.
In Manolito’s arms, she viewed the sunset beyond the hills. It was so romantic. Manolito was warm. His grip was firm, never letting her go. “Never fear, Seniorita Mariella. I’ll never let go of you.”