Javier Bernal. Just that name does funny things to my insides. We met him in The Artists Trilogy, and even though I personally never stopped cheering for the other guy, there has always been something utterly irresistible about this psychotic Mexican and his brand of mischief. He never really showed any redeemable qualities, none that could truly outweigh the wickedness of his ways, and yet I always hoped he would find his happy ending and perhaps even abandon the ‘dark side’ for the right woman. Well… I should have known from the beginning that no story with Javier as the leading character could ever be considered ‘ordinary’ by any stretch of the imagination, and that to truly enjoy his ‘grand finale’, one would need to abandon all hope of redemption and simply enjoy the debauchery of it all. And what a delicious ride it has been! Karina Halle has once again proven that she can make us fall in love with anyone she pleases, regardless of how depraved and morally questionable their character is, and that armed with a pen, she is the truly dangerous one.
“My destiny was constantly being rewritten and it would continue to be until it was fulfilled. Until I was at the top of the world and I had everything I’d ever wanted at my feet. Until I could crush everything with none of the mercy that was bestowed upon me.”
Back in Mexico and now a powerful drug cartel leader in his own right, Javier has put his past behind and focused all his energy on building the empire he has always dreamed of having. Forever hungry for even more power and influence, he kidnaps the wife of Mexico’s largest drug lord, planning to exchange her life for a slice of her husband’s drug trade. But nothing prepares him for Luisa Chavez, former beauty queen, and the first woman in a very long time to challenge him and make him question his ways with her stubborn defiance of him.
“They could try and carve me up, they could rape me, torture me, try and confuse me with hospitality, but they would not get to me. They would not break my soul. They would not see my pain.”
Luisa was born poor, but she has always been surrounded by unconditional love. Now the sole bread-winner in the family, she struggles to make ends meet in order to provide for her elderly parents, but never stops making their wellbeing her number one priority in life, no matter the cost to her dignity or pride. But when her beauty catches the eye of one of the most infamous drug lords in the country, her fate is sealed the moment he decides to make her his wife. By agreeing to marry him, she escapes the squalor of her daily life by entering a living nightmare. And when Javier kidnaps her, she then enters another.
“Perhaps I should have been more afraid. I was just … sad. Sad that my life had to go this way, sad that I could never catch a break. Sad that I’d probably never see my parents again.”
Trapped, tortured and living in constant fear, Luisa is determined not to let her captors break her spirit, never showing her true emotions to any of them, least of all to the most dangerous of them all—the man who slowly awakens her body and forces her to embrace the woman dying to come out and play. Lines gets crossed, walls get cracked, but there inevitably comes a point when difficult choices need to be made, and when they are both forced to make sacrifices in the name of what they believe in the most.
“Love didn’t build empires, it ruined them.”
A superb depiction of the gritty reality of Mexican drug cartels, this is a story that will force you to leave your own morals and beliefs at the door, and simply ‘swim’ in the darkness of a world where it’s every man for himself, where survival is the only priority in life, and where every monster has their own nightmares to keep them awake at night. There is something utterly entertaining, if not confronting, about being able to embrace a reality filled with nothing but depravity and still manage to find something beautiful in it. This is a love story. This is a horror story. And it is so ugly at times, that each rare moment of beauty is nothing less than blinding.
“You were always my captive. I was always the man holding the knife.”
There was a strange moment of silence and I concentrated hard, trying to hear more than the obvious. They were all waiting. Waiting for the order. Waiting for the man in charge to speak.
It came from the left of me. His voice was cool, calm and collected. I didn’t have to see to know who had taken me. The man I’d heard so much about. The man I’d been taught to fear.
“Gentleman,” he said and I could almost feel his infamous eyes on my body, “remove the bag.”
There was a rustle and my face was immediately met with cool air that seized my lungs and bright lights that blinded me. I scrunched up my face, afraid to look, to see. Now it was all so real and I wanted to stay in the dark.
“Who did this?”
Suddenly cool hands were at my swollen cheek and I flinched.
“Who did this?” my captor repeated, an edge to his level voice, his cigar-laced breath on my face.
“Sorry,” Franco mumbled. “It was the only way to quiet her.”
A heavy pause filled the room like deadweight. Finally the fingers came away from my skin and my body relaxed momentarily. I felt the man stand in front of me, bending over so he was in my face, the spicy scent of tea and tobacco emanating off of him.
“Look at me Luisa Reyes.”
Chavez, I thought to myself, I will always be Luisa Chavez.
“Darling, aren’t you curious to where you are?”
“My name is Luisa Chavez,” I said. I opened my eyes to see golden ones staring right back at me. It was like looking at an eagle. “And I know where I am. I know who you are. You are Javier Bernal.”
He raised his brow in amusement and nodded. I’d seen his picture before, on the news. There was only one and that was his mugshot but even in that photo, his eyes made an impression on you. They saw right into your depths and made you question yourself. He was one of the men whom Salvador feared, even though Salvador had more power. He was the one I had been told to watch out for, the supposed reason why I’d always been locked in the compound or escorted by the local police to go shopping.
And yet here I was, tied to a chair in a cold, leaking basement with nothing in it except five cartel members, a video camera and a knife that lay on top of a stool in front of me.
All of that for nothing. I could escape Salvador but I could never escape the cartels.
I had asked for this fate.
“You know why you’re here,” Javier said with deliberation, straightening up in his sharp black suit. He walked over to the stool, swiping up the knife, and glancing at me over his shoulder. “Don’t you?”
I could only breathe. I wanted to look at the others, at Este, at Franco, at the two other mystery men, but I was frozen in his gaze like a cow in headlights.
“What is the knife for?” I asked, my throat painfully dry.
“You’ll find out after,” he said. “It is for your husband. For your Salvador.” He stepped to the side and waved his arm at the camera. “And this is also for him.”
He eyed someone over my shoulder and gave a sharp nod. I heard a rip from behind and a piece of duct tape was placed over my mouth. I squirmed helplessly and the lights in the basement dimmed. The men stepped to the side while Javier went behind the video camera. A white light came off the front of it and bathed me in an eerie glow.
Javier cleared his throat, his face covered in shadow and said loudly, projecting to the camera, “This is Luiza Reyes, former beauty queen of the Baja State and property of Salvador Reyes. Salvador, we have your wife and we have a long list of demands, demands which I know you can meet. I expect full cooperation in this matter, or she dies in the next seven days. If she’s lucky. I’ll give you some time to think about what you’re willing to give up for her. Then we’ll be contacting you. Good bye.”
The light on the camera switched off but the rest of the room remained dim.
“I hope your husband checks his emails often. It would be a shame to have to put this on YouTube.”
There was a smirk on his face at that as he slowly walked toward me, the knife glinting in his hand. His eyes burned through the shadows, then grew somber.
He held up the knife. “I think it’s only going to hurt the first time.”
My eyes focused on the silver of the blade but the terror inside me grew too strong and my urge to breathe through the duct tape became too difficult. My lungs seized in panic, pulsing dots appeared in my vision. I felt a hand on my collarbone, gripping the edge of my blouse and then everything went black.