She gave him a look of cool hatred. At least, that's how it looked to him. Then, without saying another word, she stood up and strode into the house.

Raul just sat there, staring openmouthed at the closed door. What had just happened? Had the most beautiful woman in all of Spain really just turned her back on him, without any good reason at all? He couldn't believe it! No one turned down Raul Santos!

But just as quickly as he had stood to make things right in his world, he reluctantly sat back down. There was no point. Nothing was going to make Raquel change her mind.

He had been warned that she would marry no one but that Frenchman, Antoine de Marseilles, who had mysteriously disappeared over four years ago. It was also rumored that he was dead, that he wouldn't return. That was supposedly why Raquel's father had finally accepted suitors looking to court his daughter. The only problem was Raquel, who still firmly believed that her true love would return and claim her. She had reportedly told someone that no matter how long it took, she would wait. No one else either could or would take Antoine's place. While there was still chance of Antoine returning, which was until there was cold, hard evidence that he was dead, Raquel Sanchez's heart was walled-up and locked. Now, watching the back door being slammed in his face, he knew that everything he had heard was true.

Heaving a great sigh, Raul stole one last glimpse at the stately villa, then turned and headed for home. "That's the last time Raquel will hear from me," he muttered, frustrated at her obvious inability to live in the present. What did he care if she lived to die an old maid? As soon as the thought flashed across his mind, however, he knew why. It would be a waste of a perfect specimen if she never married. How terribly sad.

xxxxxxx

Suitors came and went, and it became a byword among the young men of the area that if anyone wanted a wife, he should keep looking. But if anyone wanted a true challenge, Raquel Sanchez was the way to go. Many during the early months were forcibly thrown out of the house by Raquel herself, while her parents raced to the rescue of the young man. Still others were not even received by the young lady, who would simply refuse to come down from her room when a suitor was announced.

As the line of suitors increased, and the span of young men came from anywhere in the surrounding provinces, Raquel would no longer be found in the house, or even in the neighborhood, and would return on her own time.

One day, after six years of Antoine being gone, there was a surprising guest in the little Spanish town: a stranger, bedraggled and unkempt. He claimed that he had heard where he was that a certain young lady, Raquel Sanchez, was receiving suitors, and that this particular young lady was very beautiful. The townspeople affirmed this, but looked at him suspiciously. What was this beggar doing here, thinking he could win Raquel's heart? He must be out of his mind, a fool! Didn't he know her reputation?

Nevertheless, at his insistence, the villagers pointed him in the direction of the Sanchez villa, all the while shaking their heads. Just another casualty of love.

The stranger smiled to himself. He would win her heart, all right.

Fifteen minutes later, the man knocked on the door, which was promptly answered by a maid.

"May I help you?" she asked tersely, looking disdainfully at his dirty appearance and the silly expression on his face.

"Uh, yes, I would like to see Raquel."

"Señorita Sanchez?" It was obvious that she thought he was nowhere near worthy to be on a first-name basis.

But the man was already glancing past her, straining for a glimpse of the young lady. "Uh, yes, I suppose. Señorita Sanchez." The maid harrumphed and the young man suppressed a chuckle.

After several minutes, the maid returned, smiling smugly but trying to hide it. The man, still standing there, frowned. This was not a good sign.

"Señorita Sanchez is not here," she informed him. It was clear that she wanted to get rid of him, but he would not be put off so easily.

"Do you know where she is?" he persisted. "Or when she'll be back?"

"No and no, young man. And you had best be going before the master comes to remove you from the premises himself."

The man's expression darkened as he backed off the doorstep. If that was how it was going to be, then fine. He would leave. But he would be back, that much they could count on. With that in mind, he turned slowly away, tears pricking at the rejection in spite of himself. Why wasn't she home? Where could she be? In a fog, he pointed his steps towards downtown Irún.

xxxxxxx

Raquel was sitting on the side of an aging fountain in the park she loved, hands clasped in her lap, staring as the water bubbled along the little steps over and over. A single tear worked its way down her cheek, and she made no attempt to brush it off. "I miss you," she whispered, then mouthed the words that had become second nature to her. "Please, bring him home."

So involved was she in her thoughts that she didn't notice the young man walking up to her.

"Raquel?" He spoke her name softly, unsure.

She turned in surprise, her eyes widening as she took in his rough appearance, dirty and obviously mostly untended for some time. "I'm sorry, do I know you?"

The man took a step back, eyes clouded with an emotion she couldn't discern. "I—I don't suppose so," he murmured, beginning to continue down the path.

"Wait!"

He stopped.

"Who are you? How do you know my name?"

Making a small half turn, he faced her again.

"I'm here to marry you," he said at last, eyes dancing but only the hint of a smile on his face.

Raquel was taken aback. "Marry me?" she gasped, unable to veil the shock. Not even court her, but marry her?

He nodded, his face, full of joy and what could be termed love—and dead serious.