"QUINN can go with you, Serena. At least, give your brother a piece of mind."
"Kuya, I told you, it's fine. I can drive on my own." I rolled my eyes at him even Kuya Duke can't see me. He's such a control freak. So controlling. And I'm already 25, hardly a child. Hindi ko na kailangan ng mga body guard.
"Ilang taon ka nang hindi nakakapunta diyan. What if you get lost? Iniwan mo pa si Franco. He can drive you to Sierra Ravenna."
I frowned. Pinagagalitan ba niya ako dahil iniwan ko ang personal body guard na hinire niya para sa'kin?
Well, it's his fault. I told him I don't need one but he keeps on insisting. And what's with that big man, Franco? Lahat yata ng galaw ko sinusumbong niya kay kuya. God, I craved for freedom.
I sighed angrily. "I have a map, kuya, so I'm good. Hindi ko na kailangan ng driver. Hindi naman ako mawawala e. The farm is ours. Besides, I'm here already." I just need to find Castillo DeVilla so I can get down to business.
Yeah... that torn sticking on my side.
Damn! My gas is running out and I'm not still getting there. Ang sabi sa navigation system ko, malapit na akong makarating sa boundary ng DeVilla Ranch.
Biglang nagsignal ng lowbat ang cell phone ko. "Shoot! Anyway, I gotta go, Kuya. Malo-low bat na ako." Good thing I brought my power bank. "I'll text you when I get there, okay? Babye! Mwah!" I heard him calling my name but I ended the call right away and dropped my phone on the empty seat beside me.
He will just nag non-stop. Dinaig pa ni kuya si Mama sa pagiging nagger niya. I just hope to God he wouldn't be like that to Tris and Earl. Baka maagang magrebelde ang mga pamangkin ko.
Iginala ko ulit ang paningin ko sa buong lugar. I'm not even sure where I am. All I see is a vast space of green land, bumps of hills, and wild grass. No establishments on sight. I don't even see passing cars. Mag-isa lang akong nasa highway and I don't think anyone would care if I suddenly changed lanes.
Three miles more and I still see the same view. I can see a display of mountain silhouette from afar, and a very dark long road ahead of me. Am I still on the right track?
Nakagat ko ang labi ko nang wala akong makitang gas station sa paligid. What am I gonna do if I ran out of gas? Wala pa namang dumadaang sasakyan rito.
Maybe I should have taken the other route and not this shortcut, kahit malayo sa Sierra Ravenna. At least, doon, malapit sa DeVilla at madali kong matutunton ang Castillo ni Draco.
Well, that's a weird name. Killian Draco DeVilla. His name sounds so eerie. Or is it just me?
I sighed and turned my phone on. Alas-kuwatro na at nagugutom na ako. Why is there no restaurant around? Or a cabin? God, this place is so archaic. It's a deserted land! May nakatira pa ba rito?
Maybe while I try convincing DeVilla with Duke's plan, I should start designing my own collection. Pero hindi naman siguro ganoon kahirap kausapin si Draco. I hope he's willing to change his mind about selling his land to Lionel. That man is a dirty squanderer. I'm sure he would waste the ranch if he put his hands on it.
Napatuwid ako ng upo nang madaanan ko ang isang lumang board sign sa gilid ng daan.
Welcome to DeVilla Ranch
Sa wakas! Pagkatapos ng ilang oras na beyahe, nakarating na rin ako rito.
Nagugutom na talaga ako. I should've eaten lunch before coming here, pero nakuntento na lang ako sa burger ni Mrs. Pierce kanina. I felt so full, that's why. But hours of travelling will worn-out an appetite.
Minutes passed. Sinunod ko lahat ng direksyong sinasabi ng navigation system ko. I've grown dependent on it ever since I took my driver's license 3 years ago. I just don't like the idea of a driver kaya kahit na ayaw ng mga kuya ko, I took a driving lesson.
Pero ngayon, parang gusto ko ng sukuan ang pinagsasasabi nito. It kept on telling me measurements, miles and speed when all I need is a simple right or left.
Now I don't know where I am. All I see are trees, all sort of different trees. Wala na ako sa main highway at halos baku-bako at makipot na ang daan rito.
I groaned. "Where the heck am I?"
You are three meters from your destination...
"Shut up, dammit!" Inis na pinatay ko ang navi system ko.
I feel really frustrated. I had been driving around in this God forsaken place for hours and I am still in the middle of nowhere. Wala pa rin akong makita ni isang bahay man lang, not even a damn cow.
Nakakita ako ng isang right turn, and I contemplated for a while. Should I go straight? What if I miss this turn and not know this is where I'd find Draco?
Crossroads are the damnedest thing, I thought and turned my car around and drove all the way till the end.
"Damn it." I cursed. It's already a dead end.
Huminto na lang ako at iritadong bumaba ng kotse. I welcomed the air. At least hindi gaanong mainit dito sa gubat. Napangiwi ako nang hubarin ko ang leather jacket ko at itinapon iyon sa loob ng sasakyan ko. My muscles felt sore and my legs were cramping for being so cooped up in long hours.
I swear, another dead end and I'm done. Uuwi na talaga ako ng bahay and I will tell kuya to hell with that DeVilla guy!
Napahawak na lang ako sa noo ko. Of course, I wouldn't do that. That's a bad idea. Pero nakakainis lang na tama si Kuya. I'm lost and I am stuck.
"Ugh!" I groaned out of frustration and leaned against the door of my car. I feel so worn out. Lumabas pa ako ng bahay na preskong presko, tapos ngayon... my face felt sticky from sweat and my body's overheating dahil kinailangan kong patayin ang air con kanina para makatipid sa gasolina.
I looked down at my crumpled gray crop top, black ripped jeans, and my ankle boots. I want to get out of them fast, pero wala akong dalang extrang damit. I didn't think I'd go into a battleground.
Driving back home, it's very tempting. But there's no way I'd go back a loser. I made a deal with my brother and I have to keep it. It's with a high price. It's about my life. My future. And this minor problem will not stop me.
Napatingala ako nang biglang lumiwanag ang ulap. I heard a deep rumble of thunder and the clouds looked very heavy and... dark.
"Great," I muttered under my breath. Just exactly what I need right now while I'm stuck here with a half tank of gas, foodless and hungry on a dead-end road in the middle of this forest.
"Terrific! Now I'm just gonna sit inside my car and wait here 'til a huge hungry bear showed up." Very Nice.
I flinched when another noise rumbled above the sky. I think, with a cloud as dark as that, there's no doubt a storm is about to hit this town. And if I go back now...
God, I don't even want to think about it! I'm not even sure if I have enough gas to make it to the next gas station.
Maybe I can call kuya...
Scratch that. Hindi ko gagawin iyon. He'd just tell me 'I told you so' and rub this on my face.
Napatingin ako sa paligid ko. So my only option here is to find the ranch or, at least, a place to stay before the storm comes. Malayo pa rito ang Sierra Ravenna, ang lugar kung saan lumaki si Mama. It's a few or more miles away from here. And I don't think with my car's condition, I can't get there without walking on foot.
It's been years since the last time I was there. I couldn't even remember how it looked like, the whole place, pero natatandaan ko pa rin ang ancestral house.
Sierra Ravenna was named after my grandmother, Corazon Ravenna del Pilar-Asuncion. It's a huge land given to her by my grandfather, Arselmo Andres Asuncion. Pero nahati iyon dahil sa panahon ng tagtuyot. Lolo Andres had to sell some part of the land to earn money.
My ancestors were farmers and cattle ranchers. Ipinamana ng Lolo at Lola ko ang natitirang lupa sa mga anak nila; sina Tita Anna, Uncle Toni, Uncle Andre, and my mom. They all have equal shares of this land. Pero ipinagbili nina Uncle Andre at Tita Anna ang hati nila kay Mama noong nag-migrate sila sa ibang bansa. Si Uncle Toni naman, ibinigay niyang wedding gift kay Ninaang parte ng lupa niya.
But after dad married my mom, they used the cattle business to sell meat and other dairy products at lumago iyon hanggang sa nabili na nila ang mga lupang dating sakop ng Sierra Ravenna. Now, my family owned the whole land. Except for that DeVilla Ranch that my brother wants.
Hanggang ngayon, lumalago pa rin ang negosyo. Pero dahil malayo ito sa Casablanca, iniisip ni Kuya Duke na magtalaga ng tao rito para mamahala ng lupa.
That's what I don't get. Bakit kailangan pa niyang kumbinsihin ang anak ni Argus DeVilla na ibenta sa kanya ang DeVilla Ranch? It's not like he can run the whole business. It's too handful. Sure, delegating will help. But this is something personal to Mom. She would want someone she can trust to run the animal farm. And I think, Duke just wanted the Sierra Ravenna to be complete and whole.
Nagsisimula nang sumakit ang ulo ko sa kakaisip. I'm just thinking in circles, kahit sarili ko hindi ko maintindihan. Why do I have to rationalize this anyway?
Fine if Duke wants the DeVilla Ranch. As long as I get the side of my bargain, then it's all a win-win.
Kumunot ang noo ko nang may marinig akong ingay sa likod ko. Wait, was that a goat I'm hearing?
Tumayo ako nang maayos para tingnan kung tama ako. And there it was; a man dragging five goats with him. Para akong nakakita ng anghel, sa totoo lang.
"Magandang hapon po, manong!" excited na bati ko sa kanya.
Sa itsura niya, parang ako pa ang mas excited na nakakita ng tao. He was just looking at me in an odd expression. Like I'm some kind of lost.
Well, I am lost. Weird ba iyon?
"Pwede ho bang magtanong?" Nilapitan ko siya para mas marinig niya ako. Naaninag ko sa ilalim ng sombrero niya na medyo may katandaan siya sa'kin ng pito o walong taon. "Medyo naliligaw po kasi ako. Hinahanap ko po kasi ang daan papuntang DeVilla. Saan po ba iyon?"
Lumingon siya sa likuran niya. "Kailangan mong bumalik sa daan tapos dire-diretso ka lang. Tapos may makikita ka ng malaking bahay."
Oh... So I took the wrong turn. Kaya pala hindi ko mahanap.
"Sige po, manong. Maraming salamat po sa tulong."
Pabalik na sana ako sa kotse ko pero bigla niya akong tinanong. "Bisita po ba kayo ni Sir Draco?"
I didn't miss the way he looked me up and down. Hindi naman siguro siya rapist o masamang tao...? "Parang ganoon na nga." Nginitian ko na lang siya at binilisan ang hakbang ko. Nasa liblib ng gubat pa naman ako. If I screamed, nobody would even hear me.
Muntik pa akong mapasigaw nang biglang kumidlat na naman. I'm never going to tell this to any of my brothers. Not even to my sisters. Baka makiisa na din sila sa gusto ng mga asawa nila.
I quickly slipped inside my car. Umatras ako at pinasibad na ang sasakyan.
"Mag-iingat po kayo, ma'am," sabi noong lalaki nang madaanan ko siya. "Mukhang uulan po ng malakas, baka abutan kayo ng bagyo rito."
He looked harmless though. Pero mabuti na iyong nag-iingat.
"Sige po, manong. Salamat po ulit." And I drove away.
I went back to the crossroad and drove straight ahead. Minutes later, I found myself driving into an opened old rusting gate. Sirang-sira na iyon na halos hindi na maayos ang pagkakatayo. Wild vines coiled everywhere around it and it looked like they're strangling the iron with their stems.
I slowed down my car and I could hear the cracking sound of the dry leaves beneath my tires. The plants lining the sides of the road were so overgrown that they block the whole light of the sky. It was so eerie.
And then there it was, the house. A castle in the middle of nowhere.
Tumigil ako ilang metro ang layo mula sa fountain sa gitna saka ako nagpasyang bumaba. Umihip bigla ang malamig na hangin at tinangay niyon ang ilang dahon na nagkalat sa lupa. They're so thick they covered the whole ground.
It's chilly out here and I thought about coming back for my jacket, pero hinayaan ko na lang iyon sa loob ng kotse at nagpatuloy sa paglalakad.
Tumayo ako sa tabi ng fountain na halos hindi na gumagana. It looked so weird and creepy. Tiningnan ko iyon ng maayos pati ang marble statue sa gitna. And I realized it was a mermaid who lost its head.
Nayakap ko tuloy ang sarili ko sa patuloy na pag-ihip ng malamig na hangin. My crop top wasn't even helping to hide my midriff. I didn't know this place would be so cold. And that it would rain.
Tiningala ko ang buong bahay and I felt a shiver run down my spine. It looked like a castle in nineteenth century. Old and spooky. It looked so gothic and huge. The paint was fading, there were wild flowers growing on the walls, the windows and up on the roof, and that flowers beside the giant door didn't even soften the grimness of the whole place.
This whole place screamed neglect and abandonment. Kung hindi ako nagkakamali, wala ni isang bisita itong si DeVilla. His house is built to scare people away.
So what do we have here? Draco DeVilla living inside a scary grandiose castle. He seemed to be the millennial Vladimir Dracula. Do really vampire live this days?
Siguro matutuwa si Kuya oras na makita niya itong bahay. The children would probably have a year worth of nightmare.
Well, I just hope he isn't so Draculish.
Sinubukan kong kumatok, pero biglang nilamon ng tunog ng malakas na ulan ang katok ko.
Shit! I cursed at the dark clouds. It completely obscured the sky. And lalaki ng patak ng ulan at ang lakas ng hangin. Nababasa na ang likod ko habang tumatagal na nakatayo ako doon. So I knocked and banged down the door, but no one was answering. Wala bang tao rito?
My hands are useless like this. Kaya kinapa ko ang doorknob at inikot iyon. Tumaas ang kilay ko. nang bumukas iyon. It's not locked?
"Tao po?!" sigaw ko nang pumasok ako. Eerie darkness greeted me. I stomped my wet boots on the rug and called again. "May tao ba rito?!" My voice was echoing all over the hollow wall of the house but no one was coming.
Nagpatuloy ako sa paglalakad. My boots were clicking on the marble floor as I explored the rooms. The house was big, huge, and wide. Puno ng antigo ang lahat ng hallway at bawat kuwartong masilip ko. Old furniture, couches that have seen better days, priceless paintings adorning the walls, exquisite chandeliers hanging high above the ceiling, ceramic vases filled with withered flowers. And every window I see was cloaked with heavy dark curtains that prevented light from coming inside.
Okay, so I gathered Draco isn’t much keen on cleaning.
"Is anyone home?" I called when I stopped outside a certain room. I'm not sure what it was. Isang lumang grand piano lang ang naroon.
Pumasok ako doon at sinilip ang bintana kung malakas pa rin ang ulan. I seemed to not hear anything from the outside. Makapal siguro ang pagkakagawa sa dingding kaya parang tahimik ang loob.
I walked over the piano and lifted the lid. Tumutunog pa ba 'to? I asked myself and pressed a white key. Seems fine.
I'm not really a musical type, but I know how to play guitar. Zeke was teaching me sometimes. Pero hindi ko pa rin makuha-kuha ang ibang chords.
I pressed another white key and that's when I heard the harsh gnarl behind me. My heart thud hard against my ribs.
Do vampires exist?
Huminga ako nang malalim saka isinara ang piano bago ako umikot. I snatched a breath at the sight of that big dog. Sisigaw na sana ako pero napansin ko ang taong nakatayo sa likuran ng aso.
"Oh my God! You scared me!" I breathed out. Natampal ko ang dibdib ko sa sobrang kaba.
I don't know what was I thinking? Vampires aren't real. Edward Cullen and his family only existed in Twilight, not in this world.
Out of relief, I didn't notice I was sagging against the piano.
"Paano ka nakapasok?"
Mababa lang iyon, but his voice seemed to rumble around the room like the thunder outside. And then when he stepped forward, away from the dark, I saw the man I was dealing with. My breath stalled and my stomach dipped.
Killian Draco DeVilla is truly Vladimir's heir. He’s taller than my brothers, darker, more menacing and rougher. His thick dark hair fell to his shoulder like a curtain overshadowing half of his face. Dark stubble covered his chin, his eyes were sending daggers, his hardened jaw was sturdy, and his lips unsmiling and not so friendly. Not so accommodating at all.
Nakasuot lang siya ng manipis na working t-shirt at lumang maong. His shirt clung to his body like a second skin, his hard muscles were ripping out of it. And those faded jeans that hung lazily low on his hips...
One growl from his beastly dog drew my attention back to his eyes. Napalunok ako. I don't even understand why I suddenly feel nervous. "Uh, the door's unlocked so I let myself in. My name's—"
"I know who you are."
"Oh..." Natigilan ako bigla. "Then maybe you know why I am here."
"Yes. You are trespassing," sabi niya sa napakalamig na tono. I couldn't remember when was the last time my brothers talked to me like that.
Uminit ang ulo ko. But I opted for civility and graciousness. Even in the face of hostility. Ngumiti ako sa kanya at nagpaliwanag. "I wouldn't call it exactly like that. Umuulan sa labas kanina at nakita kong bukas ang pintuan. And I’m here as your guest."
Naningkit ang mata niya. "Wala akong oras na tumanggap ng bisita," galit ang tono nito at tumalikod na. "You know where the door is,” he added sarcastically and then he left with his dog trudging behind him.
It was seconds before I could react. I was left speechless and dumbfounded! How could he treat his guest like that?!
"Sandali!" I ran after him. Naabutan ko siyang umaakyat sa napakahaba niyang spiral staircase. Sinubukan ko siyang habulin, my boots were thudding heavily on the carpeted stair steps as I ran after him. Pero malalaki at mabilis ang hakbang niya kesa sa'kin. By the time I reached him, he’s already holding the doors close.
"Good bye, Ms. Steele," he said in a stern voice and the door slammed shut on my face.