A Stormy Spanish Summer(10)

By: Penny Jordan

How justified his grandmother would have believed her ruling to be had she lived long enough to know what Felipe’s daughter had become.

Vidal had felt for Felicity’s mother when the two of them had returned early from a visit to London to discuss various private matters to find that not only was Felicity having an illicit teenage party that had got badly out of hand, but also that Felicity herself was upstairs in her mother’s bedroom with a drunken, ignorant lout of a youth.

Vidal closed his eyes and then opened them again. There were some memories he preferred not to revisit. The realisation that he had inadvertently betrayed his au pair’s love affair. The night his mother had come into his room to tell him that the plane his father had been in had crashed in South America without any survivors. The evening he had looked at Felicity sprawled on her mother’s bed, her gold and honey-streaked blonde hair wrapped round the hand of the youth leaning over her, whilst she stared up at him with brazen disregard for what she had done.

Brazen disregard for him.

Vidal’s chest lifted under the demanding pressure of his lungs for oxygen. He had been twenty-three—a man, not a boy—and appalled by the effect Felicity was having on him. Revolted by the desire he felt for her, tormented by both it and his own moral code—a code that said that a girl of sixteen was just that—a girl—and a man of twenty-three was also exactly that—a man. The seven-year age gap between them was a gap that separated childhood from adulthood, and represented a chasm that must not be violated. Just as a sixteen-year-old’s innocence must not be violated.

Even now, seven years later, he could still taste the anger that had soured his heart and seared his soul. A bleak black burning anger that Felicity’s presence here was re-igniting.

Vidal flexed the tense muscles of his shoulders. The sooner this whole business was over and done with and Felicity was on a plane on her way back to the UK the better.

When Felipe had been dying, and had told him how badly he felt about the past, Vidal had encouraged him to make reparation via his will to the child he had fathered and then been forced to abandon. He had done that for his uncle’s sake, though—not for Felicity’s.

Upstairs in the room Rosa had shown her into, before telling her that refreshments would be sent up for her and then leaving, Fliss studied her surroundings. The room was vast, with a high ceiling, and furnished with heavy and ornate dark wood furniture of a type that Fliss knew from her mother’s descriptions was typical in expensive antique Spanish furniture. Beautifully polished, and without a speck of dust, the wood glowed warmly in the light pouring in through the room’s tall French windows. Stepping up to them, Fliss saw that they opened out onto a small balcony, decorated with waist-high beautifully intricate metalwork, its design classically Arabic rather than European. Try as she might, Fliss could not spot the deliberate flaw that was always said to be made in such work, because only Allah himself could create perfection.

The balcony looked down on an equally classical Moorish courtyard garden, bisected by the straight lines of the rill of water that flowed through it from a fall spilling out of some concealed source at the far end of the courtyard. Either side of the narrow canal were covered walkways smothered in soft pink climbing roses, their scent rising up to the balcony. On the ground alongside them were white lilies. The pathways themselves were made from subtle blue and white tiles, whilst what looked like espaliered fruit trees lined the walls of the courtyard. In the four small square formal gardens on the opposite side of the rose walkways, white geraniums tumbled from Ali Baba–sized terracotta jars, whilst directly below the balcony, partly shaded from the sun by a sort of cloistered, semi-enclosed area, there was a patio complete with elegant garden furniture.

Fliss closed her eyes. She knew this garden so well. Her mother had described it to her, sketched it for her, shown her photographs of it. She had told her that it was a garden originally designed for the exclusive use of the women of the Moorish family for whom the house had been built. It was obviously an act of deliberate cruelty on the part of Vidal to have given her this room, overlooking the garden he knew her mother had loved so much. Had he given her the room her mother had slept in? Fliss suspected that he hadn’t. Her mother had told her that she and Vidal had occupied the top storey—the nursery quarters—when they had come to stay with Vidal’s grandmother, who in those days had owned the house, even though Vidal had been seven years old at the time.

Fliss turned back into the room. Heavily embossed with a raised self-coloured pattern, a rich deep blue brocade fabric hung at the windows and covered the straight-backed chairs placed at either side of the room’s marble fireplace. The cream bedspread was piped in the same blue, with tasselled blue brocade cushions ornamenting its immaculate cream width. The dark wooden floorboards shone, and the antique-looking blue-and-cream rug that covered most of the floor was so plush that Fliss felt she hardly dared walk on it.

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