A Stormy Spanish Summer(9)

By: Penny Jordan

Fliss stopped walking, her foot on the first step of the next set of stairs as she turned towards the housekeeper. Her body had immediately tensed with rejection of the thought that she should in any way allow Vidal to control any aspect of her life.

‘Vidal has no authority over me,’ she told the housekeeper vehemently. ‘And he never will have.’

A movement in the hallway below her caught her attention. She looked back down the stairs and saw that Vidal was still standing there. He must have heard her—which was no doubt the reason for the grim look he was giving her. He probably wished he did have some authority over her. If he had he may have prevented her from coming to Spain—just as years ago he had prevented her from making contact with her father.

In her mind’s eye she could see him now, standing in her bedroom—the room that should have been her private haven—holding the letter she had sent to her father weeks earlier. A letter which he had intercepted. A letter written from the depths of her sixteen-year-old heart to a father she had longed to know.

Every one of the tenderly burgeoning sensual and emotional feelings she had begun to feel for Vidal had been crushed in that moment. Crushed and turned into bitterness and anger.

‘Fliss, darling, you must promise me that you will not attempt to make contact with your father again,’ her mother had warned her with tears in her eyes, after Vidal had returned to Spain and it had been just the two of them again.

Of course she had given her that promise. She had loved her mother too much to want to upset her—especially when …

No! She would not allow Vidal to drag her back there, to that searingly shameful place that was burned into her pride for life. Her mother had understood what had happened. She had known Fliss was not to blame.

Maturity had brought her the awareness that, since her father had always known where she was, he could quite easily have made contact with her if he’d wished to do so. The fact that he had never done it told its own story. She was not, after all, the only child to grow up not wanted by its father. With her mother’s death she had told herself that it was time to move on. Time to celebrate and cherish the childhood and the loving mother she had had, and to forget the father who had rejected her.

She would never know now just what it was that had changed her father’s mind. She would never know whether it had been guilt or regret for lost opportunities that had led him to mentioning her in his will. But she did know that this time she was not going to allow Vidal to dictate to her what she could and could not do.

In the hallway below, Vidal watched as Fliss turned on her heel and followed Rosa along the landing to the next flight of stairs. If there was one thing that Vidal prided himself about—one characteristic he had worked on and honed—it was mastery of his own emotions and reactions. But for some reason his gaze—normally so obedient to his command—was finding it necessary to linger on the slender silken length of Fliss’s legs as she walked away from him.

At sixteen those legs had been coltishly slender. She had been a child turning into a woman, with pert small breasts that pushed against the thin tee shirts she’d always seemed to wear. She might have behaved towards him with a calculated mock innocence that had involved stolen blushing half-looks, and a wide-eyed pretended inability to lift her supposedly fascinated and awed gaze from the bare expanse of his torso when she had walked into the bathroom whilst he was shaving, but he had witnessed the coarse reality of what she was: promiscuous, and without morals or pride. By nature? Or because she had been deprived of a father?

The guilt he could never escape wrenched at his conscience. How many times over the years had he wished unsaid those innocent words that had led ultimately to the forced ending of the relationship between his uncle and his au pair? A simple mention to his grandmother that Felipe had joined them on an expedition to the Alhambra here in Granada had been their undoing—and his.

There had been no way that the Dowager Duchess would ever have allowed Felipe to marry anyone other than a woman of her choice. Nor would she ever have chosen a mere au pair as a bride for a man whose blood was as aristocratic as that of his adoptive family.

As a child of seven Vidal had not understood that, but he had quickly realised the consequences of his innocent actions when he had been told that the gentle English au pair of whom he had become so fond was being dismissed and sent home. Neither Fliss’s mother nor Felipe had had natures strong enough to challenge his grandmother’s authority. Neither of them had known when they were forced to part that there would be consequences to their love in the form of the child Fliss’s mother had conceived. A child whose name and very existence his grandmother had ruled was never to be mentioned—unless she herself did so, in order to remind his uncle of the shame he had brought on his adoptive family by lowering himself to conceive that child with a mere au pair.

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