Read Welcome to Paradise Online

Authors: Jill Tahourdin

Tags: #Harlequin Romance 1967

Welcome to Paradise

WELCOME TO PARADISE

Jill Tahourdin

When Alix went to Rhodesia to join her
fiancé
she found he had fallen for another girl—and she was surprised that she herself didn't really mind.

Should she now marry the wealthiest and most astute farmer of the area, or the sworn enemy of her magnificently impressive Aunt Drusilla?

 

CHAPTER ONE

THE
signpost said “Welcome to Paradise.” And alongside, in
the
other language of the country, “Welkom na Paradys.” And underneath, in both languages, “Slow down.
Reco
mm
ended
speed under 30 miles per hour. Beware of animals crossing.”

“This is your turning,” Richard Herrold said. His strong brown hands swung the car off the broad tarmac of the national road on to a rough causeway raised some three or four feet above the level ground on either hand. Dotted among clumps of milkwoods to their left were the crazy-walled, shabbily-thatched pondokkis of Africans. The car bumped and lurched past the dwellings stover ruts and stones.

“The road to Paradise,” mocked Alix, his passenger, with the slow, infectious laugh that began in her eyes. He already found himself
angling for it, though he had
known her for less than twenty-four hours.

“A bit hazardous, but gets you right there,” he told her with a grin; and immediately had to brake hard for one of the hazards—a very new donkey, all fluff and startled charm.

“Oh, what a
pet,”
Alix exclaimed, putting her head out to get a better view.

Richard engaged first gear.

“Far too much livestock roaming loose near the road,” he said severely. He doted on animals, especially young ones, but not when they might imperil his new Zephyr car. “Never saw such a menagerie.”

Alix saw that the salt meadows on their right were indeed alive with sheep, cows, donkeys, horses, even ostriches, and their young. From their coats ethereal white egrets gobbled the ticks. Geese gaggled, and ducks floated happily on the shallow pools left by the last high tide.

“And any one of those,” Richard prophesied, “may at any minute decide that the grass on the other side is
greener. You see?”—as an alarmingly pregnant cow scrambled up the verge and crossed just ahead of them, taking her matronly time.

Alix laughed again.

“Is that the lagoon?” she asked, indicating a flash of blue between distant trees.

“That’s it. The houses are on this shore, out of sight over to the left.”

Leaving the causeway, they climbed a little through stands of pines, wattles and gums, emerging on to a grassy, wooded plateau that sloped away to long, smooth beaches. Richard turned the car right, off the track.

“Let’s stop here and have a smoke, shall we? It’s too early yet for tea—your aunt may be resting.”

He was considerably taken with his passenger, and anxious to prolong their t
ê
te-
à
-t
ê
te. He felt absurdly pleased when she nodded happily and took the cigarette he offered.

Pulling out his pipe (“You don’t mind this?
...
Good.”) he set about the ritual of filling and lighting it. Alix looked about her with charmed interest.

From up here they could see the whole lagoon, a splendid stretch of dancing water backed by soft green hills. At the seaward end big incoming rollers crashed and foamed. Inland, the green valley swelled upward to forest-dark foothills and indigo peaks.

“I thought blue lagoons only happened around coral islands,” she objected idly.

“They happen
here,
in the Cape, when a big river comes bursting out of its mountain gorge and spreads itself around. Where it meets the sea it piles up a nice big sand bar and dams itself in—and hey presto! a tidal lagoon. You find them all along this coast—though not many as good as this one.”

It certainly was good, Alix thought, her glance picking out the white and pastel-coloured houses dozing among flowers and greenery in the golden afternoon light.

Whatever she had expected from her aunt’s breezy descriptions, written in her enormous hand, about three
words to the line and six lines to the page, it hadn’t come up to the reality.

“What a perfectly adorable place,” she exclaimed.

Richard smiled at her and resisted a strong, growing temptation to hug her. She really was such a charmer with her warm voice and big brown eyes, and the sedate manner that was at odds with her quickly-roused enthusiasm or mirth.

Puffing at his pipe, he told her, “The chap who first discovered it was so struck with it he said, ‘Why this is Paradise!’ And years later when he took up land and became the first white resident, that’s what he named it.”

Alix turned a lively glance on him.

“But that was my aunt’s husband, Sir Edgar Merrick,” she cried. “They’d met in India, where she’d gone to explore and paint, and he was Governor of a province. And they got married and came to the Cape on a motoring honeymoon. They found Paradise by accident—lost their way or something. And when Uncle Edgar retired—it was in ’47 after India was partitioned

he
became the first resident, and ‘Laguna’ was the first house. Didn’t you know?”

She broke off, wondering what was wrong. For Richard’s face had fallen—there was no other word for his sudden change of expression. But he covered up quickly.

“Really? So it’s Lady Merrick who’s your aunt?”

“Of course. Oh, I see—Mrs. Murray just said a very old friend—she didn’t mention her name, did she? Do you know Aunt Drusilla, then?”

“Not yet.”

Alix
said, in her enthusiastic way, “She’s a marvellous person. So travelled. So original. Between her first and second husbands she actually lived on a sailing yacht in the Mediterranean with two Maltese for crew, and had
fabulous
adventures. My brothers and sister and I used to love it when she came to stay, and yarned for us.”

“I rather
think
my father knows her,” Richard said dryly.

With his mind’s eye he was re-reading an explosive paragraph in the letter he had received from his parent a few days ago, in Durban:

There’s an old girl here, one Lady Merrick, who’s doing her darnedest to put a spanner in the works. One of these memsahibs from the palmy days of India, used to being the Queens Pin, riding on the Rajah’s elephant and everybody salaaming. I particularly must have her place, but my lawyers tell me she flatly refuses to sell at any price. Obstinate isn’t the word.
Pigheaded
. All on account of some sentimental nonsense about her Late Lamented.

But I’ll have her out on her ear. You know me, Dicky. I don

t let
anyone
or
anything
stop me when I’m set on something. And I’m set on this. I’ll bring it off if it’s the last thing I do before I die
...

Irreverent laughter stirred in Richard. But a second later the thought struck him that this could be awkward for him, now that he’d met Alix, and badly wanted to know her better. He was sure of it when she said:

“And he doesn’t like her?”

“Oh, really, how would I know that?” he disclaimed hastily. “I only came back here a month ago, and I’ve been over to Natal since.”

To his relief Alix didn’t insist.

“Does your father live in Paradise too, then?” she asked.

“Not yet. Our home is in Edward, five miles away, for the time being. But he will.”

Catching the note of wry amusement in his voice, she looked a question.

“The fact is, Alix, he’s got this idea of developing Paradise as a super holiday resort. He’s already formed a company, and has taken out options on most of the land he’ll need. He’s made up his mind to put it on the map in a big way.”

“O
h.
But
...”

“I know. But you see, you don’t know my father. He’s halfway to seventy, looks and feels fifty, and is what they call a Character. He’s supposed to have retired years ago. Made an adequate pile in Rhodesia out of real estate. But he’s still bursting with energy and ideas. And he thrives on opposition and loves risk, a gamble, drama. He simply has to have an outlet for his
...”

“Dynamism?”

He hesitated, and Alix supplied a word.

Richard grinned.

“Or devilry. Rather uncomfortable to live with, my mother used to say—but at least never dull.”

“Couldn’t he have taken to politics?” Alix wondered. “He did. But he quarrelled with the party and resigned. Goodbye to politics.”

That made ‘Alix laugh again. She glanced at the agreeably sun-tanned face of her companion, and speculated as to whether he got his forceful English nose and chin, and the touch of diablerie in his grin, from his character of a parent.

“So he’s planning to play the serpent in Paradise?” she hazarded.

Richard’s grin deepened.

“Some of the residents seem to think so.”

“The ones that came here for peace and a quiet life?”

“That’s it. His view, you see, is that the average age of the residents is a darned sight too high. He thinks what Paradise needs is a younger, livelier crowd—folks from up-country on holiday with their families, kids and teen-agers and young marrieds, the kind who’ll pep it up and make it hum.”

“In fact, goodbye to peace and quiet?”

“Well—perhaps.” Hopefully he offered another cigarette, but Alix shook her head.

“Oughtn’t we to be going on? You can tell me more as we go along. How, for instance, he plans to attract this younger crowd?”

Richard began to knock out his pipe. Delaying tactics.

“He’ll get them in the first place with a magnificent caravan park. At present, you see, camping and caravans aren’t allowed in Paradise. He plans to change all that.”

“And then
...
?”

“Then a humdinger of a country club for get
-
togethers, dancing, cinema shows, yacht racing, speed
-
boating, deep-sea angling beyond the bar, tennis, bowls, golf, the whole works. Later on, when it’s all booming as he’s convinced it will, a tip-top beach hotel and lido, and a floating restaurant for the gourmets and connoisseurs.”

Alix looked out over the quiet lagoon, empty but for a few fishing dinghies, some sea-birds and a sailing boat with a red sail.

“And you?” she asked curiously. He didn’t, somehow, look the lido-and-floating-restaurant type
...

Richard’s grin was rueful.

“Me? Oh, I’m cast for the humble role of architect. It occurs to me,” he went on with guile, “that there’ll be scope here for you too. Laying out the gardens, I mean
...

“There might be, if I had any intention of making more than a short visit here,” Alix replied in rather a cool tone.

Richard looked amused.

“A lot can happen during even a short visit,” he told her, and started up the car.

He had spoken lightly, but Alix’s quick upward glance took note of the determined set of his strong jaw. She felt a little prick of uncertainty, not to say alarm. It occurred to her that she would be well advised not to underestimate this easy-going, amiable-seeming young man
...

She had met him yesterday at the house of the Murrays in Port Elizabeth. They were old friends of her aunt’s pre-India days, and had collected her at the docks and put her up for the night.

Richard had turned up unexpectedly to see them on his way through, and she had been glad to accept his prompt offer of a lift to Paradise—the alternative being a communal vehicle known as the Railway Bus which made tedious detours, he warned her, to outlying villages en route.

“Do go along with Richard, dear,” Mrs. Murray had urged. “I can guarantee he’s an excellent driver—though a little too fast for me, I’m afraid.”

Richard had certainly driven fast; but Alix was a child of her age and loved speed. Stretches of virgin forest, stands of gums, pines, wattles and oaks, flowery verges, mountains and glimpses of azure sea had flashed past in a dizzy blur. She had enjoyed every minute of it.

He had stopped to give her lunch at a forest inn, a sprawling picturesque affair of thatched rondavels set in an old mature plantation of yellowwoods. A leafy canopy spread above them as they sat in the garden, sipping the iced lager he had offered as aperitif; the sun, striking through it, spangled the ground with warm gold.

As Alix lifted her glass Richard touched with a finger the heavy signet ring she wore.

“Is it family? Or engagement?” he asked.

“It doesn’t look much like an engagement ring, does it? Bernard, my
fiancé
, lent it to me—it’s an heirloom, you see—in lieu of the diamond he hopes to afford one day.”

Richard said sapiently, “Ah, I see. An Understanding.”

It was more, much more than an understanding. She was led into further explanations—unnecessarily detailed ones? she wondered now. But he really seemed to want to know, and had such a persuasive, half
-
humorous way of lifting an eyebrow and waiting for her to go on.

“I took a diploma in Horticulture three years ago, you see. And then I got a job as under-gardener on Bernard’s father’s place in Berkshire.”

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