Read Welcome to Paradise Online

Authors: Jill Tahourdin

Tags: #Harlequin Romance 1967

Welcome to Paradise (15 page)

“Hullo, stranger,” she said.

Richard had just finished baiting his hooks. He made a careful cast and then turned to give her a hand over the ste
rn
. His eyes travelled over her face and hair and figure. He said pleasantly, “Good morning. Want to fish?”

“I wondered what had happened to you. I was afraid I’d
...
well, offended you. At the airport, I mean. I’m afraid you thought me very silly to panic as I did.”

“No. It was very natural.”

‘Then
y
ou
weren't angry
?”
He laughed.

“Did you think I’d been sulking, Alix?”

“Not sulking. Just—keeping away.”

He handed her a small rod, ready baited.

“Try a cast with this,” he said. “Careful now. Check it
...
That’s it. Good girl. Now sit down here.”

She sat on a thwart facing him; he sat in the stem. He said, in a confidential tone, “The fact is, I’ve been busy catching up on arrears of work. And also, I’ve been doing some very important thinking.”

“Oh?”

“You see, Alix, I’m hoping to get married before I leave here.”

“M—married?”

He nodded, watching the tip of his rod.

“I didn’t know you were en


“Engaged? Oh, I’m not—yet. She knows I’m in love with her. But she hasn’t told me, yet, how
she
feels about me.”

“Have you known her long?”

“Not very. It was love at first sight, you see.”

“Oh.”

Something gave her line a tug. She struck, then started to reel in. The tip of her rod bent over. Then suddenly the tension gave way. The line went slack.

“That’s the big one that got away,” Richard said with a grin. “I expect your bait’s gone. Reel in and I’ll re-bait it for you.”

When she had cast again he went on, still confidentially, “The trouble is, she was engaged before, and only lately broke it off. I have a feeling she wouldn’t like to think I was trying to catch her on the rebound—would she?”

‘No,” Alix agreed. Her voice was very low.

“Good. You’re a girl. You know how other girls’ minds work. I’m glad you agree with me.”

He ran a hand through his thick dark hair, ruffing it up. It was wet, as if he had already had his swim. Usually he wore it so well brushed and disciplined that she hadn’t realised how curly it was. He said ruefully, “I’d be prepared to wait, give her any amount of time. But
I
fancy there’s another fellow in the
r
unnin
g
now.”

“A—another fellow?”

“Yes. And he’s older, better-looking, and much more richer than I’ll ever be.”

“You surely don’t imagine
...

“I

m not sure”—judicially—“if she’s encouraging him—or not.”

“You can’t believe


“You see, Alix, she swims with him, goes for long rides in his car and his motor launch, and dines at his house.”

“Perhaps she couldn’t avoid
...”

“Of course, some girls think it amusing to have two or three chaps dangling after them, don’t they?” Squarely, Alix’s brown eyes met his.

“Is she that kind of girl?”

“She’s the sweetest, the truest, the most adorable
...
But you don’t want to listen to that sort of stuff, do you? That wasn’t what you asked, was it?”

“No.”

Nelson, returning from an excursion, was in grave danger of fouling their lines.

“Nelson, go home,” Alix said rather breathlessly. “I’m sorry, Richard, I’d better take him away.”

“No, don’t go.” In quite a different voice he said firmly, “Home, Nelson. Go on, boy. Go home.” Surprisingly, after a startled look, Nelson turned away and paddled for the beach.

“The answer to your question,” Richard resumed, “is no, she isn’t that kind of girl. But I think she ought to be given time to decide between us—don’t you? I mean, I’m afraid I tried to rush her—but she soon showed me that that game wouldn’t work. So now perhaps I’d better hold off for a while and let him have his chance.”

He waited, eyebrow lifted, head tilted a little on one side, for her considered judgment.

“It doesn’t seem to have occurred to you,” Alix said with spirit, “that possibly she—this girl—mightn’t want either of you.”

He pursed his lips.

“Oh well. Of course that may well be. In which case there wouldn’t be much either of us could do but fold up our tents, like the Arabs, and silently steal away

would there?”

“I don’t know. I’m not a man,” Alix retorted. She felt suddenly cross. She wanted to run away from this

this
pointless
conversation. But she couldn’t just drop her rod and dive overboard—could she?

After a long moment she asked, “So what do you expect her to
do?”

He reflected. Then he said, “Make up her own mind for herself.”

“You mean you won’t ask her again?”

“No.”

“But if


“I’ll be going away soon,” Richard went on, as if he hadn’t heard, “so there isn’t much time. But
if
she’s going to love me at all, she’ll find out, surely, before I’m due to leave. She’ll send the other fellow packing. And then she’ll come to me and admit that if I don’t take her with me it’ll break her heart entirely.”

His eyes were on hers; she caught the Herrold twinkle in them.

“I think you’re expecting rather a lot of her,” she said. He shook his head.

“But not too much. Not if she loves me as m
uch as I love her. Because she’ll
have found out by then that it’s the only way. She’ll have understood that it’s
over to her.”
He had been thinking to some purpose, these last few days, Alix told herself wryly.

Now it was she who needed time to think. Her mind was in a whirl. Her heart was thudding to beat the band. But that might be with astonishment, indignation, or sheer shock.

Carefully she reeled in her line and laid down the rod. She stood up, and waited while Richard laid down his rod and stood up too. As she made ready to slip into the water she said in a shaken voice, “I believe you really mean that, Richard.”

Richard gave her a level look.

“You bet I do, my sweet,” he told her, and steadied the boat as she dropped overboard and fled.

 

CHAPTER THIRTEEN

IT was true that Alix had been out with Eric Gore in his launch. Not alone; Lady Merrick was there too. But still.

She had been working in the garden when Eric Gore came striding through the gates and along the drive.

He said, “Good morning. You look very busy.”

“Yes. I’m doing a gardening job for my aunt. Moving the hedge.”

“Ah, yes. To annoy Herrold, isn’t it? Well, I’ve been busy on the same sort of thing. I’d like to show Lady
M.
what I’ve done. You too—if you’ll come. I’ve got my launch lying off the point. And as it’s such a grand morning I thought we might go down and have a look at the bar before going up-river.”

“It sounds very nice. I don’t know ... my aunt
...
” Alix stammered, not wanting to go, but not knowing what excuse to make.

“Why not let’s go and ask her? And if she can come,
you
will too?”

“Well—thank you. If she thinks I can be spared from my job.”

“I’ll persuade her, never fear.”

He would, of course. She hadn’t a hope of getting out of this jaunt. But what harm, after all, if Aunt Drusilla was there? She was hot and a little bored with this tricky sawing and pruning, which she had to do herself. And it certainly was a wonderful morning, all blue and white and gold, with a moderate south-easter blowing and white-caps frosting the blue.

Presently she heard Lady Merrick’s voice.

“A charming idea, Eric. Alix, we’re to eat a picnic lunch up the river, did you know? Eric has it all arranged. Run along and change if you want to

it’s much too good a day to spend in toil.”

It was no use to argue. Alix stowed her tools, gave Francis instructions for the rest of the day, and went up to the house. She changed quickly into shorts and white short-sleeved shirt, found a white sweater, sandals and a scarf for her hair, picked up her swimsuit and a towel in case they might want to bathe, and rejoined her aunt and Eric Gore in the garden.

The big white launch lay off more or less where Richard fished for steenbras. They stepped into the tender and Eric Gore poled them skilfully out to it. An African took their painter and Eric helped them aboard.

Before they started off he showed them, with pardonable pride, over the launch. It was beautifully fitted, meticulously kept. Like its owner, Alix thought. No expense spared. Nothing lacking.

“Delightful. Quite delightful. How lucky you are to have such a toy, Eric.”

“I hope you’re both going to enjoy playing with my toy—often, Lady M,” he said with a glance at Alix.

Lady Merrick beamed. She looked fondly at her niece. Eric really is serious about her, she thought. How very agreeable it’s all going to be if it comes off. So suitable too. So
much
more satisfactory in every way than that affair with Bernard Falkener was.

His behaviour during the outing did nothing to change her reading of the situation. He really couldn’t have been more attentive to Alix. When they had been down to the bar, and had circled two or three times round the wide bays into which the lagoon opened up before joining the sea, and were on their way up-lagoon again, he had even encouraged her to take the wheel of the launch.

“She steers very easily. Try her,” he had said.

As they neared the head of the lagoon Eric Gore took over. There were shoals and sandbars that made navigation rather tricky, he told them. In the river, too, you had to know the channel. He, of course, knew every inch of it. He looked competent, confident, and almost too handsome to be true as he spun the wheel delicately and turned the launch this way and that.

He turned round to wave a hand at something on their left, and they saw what he had been doing. Wherever there was a possible landing place on the river banks, with short grass and shady trees instead of the more usual mass of impenetrable reeds, he had erected his notices:

PRIVATE
...
NO
...
LANDING

“In future, these places will be for myself and my friends only,” he said smugly. “So far as Herrold’s hordes are concerned, the river will be out of bounds. And my telescope will show me any trespassers, ha ha.”

It seemed so childish, Alix thought. It didn’t even make as much sense as her aunt’s closure of the coast road.

Something about Eric Gore’s attitude to Herrold and his scheme to develop Paradise had puzzled her from the start.

He was a farmer—a business man. She would have expected him to welcome it. She couldn’t believe, somehow, that his hostility sprang, like her aunt’s, from a genuine desire to preserve Paradise exactly as it had always been.

She was convinced he had some other, subtler reason, but she couldn’t imagine what it could be.

They landed at one of the placarded spots. The bank here was low and accessible; the water ran alongside it deep and clear. It was the very place for a picnic.

The boy brought a hamper ashore, laid a cloth on the sward, and set out things to eat and drink.

Everything was beautifully done, of course. The salad was young and crisp, the light white wine chilled to just the right temperature. There were hot chicken patties, curry puffs as light as air, asparagus tips and a piquant dressing, cream cheese flavoured with chives, the crispest of rolls and the most fragrant of coffee.

Lady Merrick was in contralto raptures of appreciation. Their host smiled with his usual complacency.
Alix
thought derisively, I wouldn’t be surprised if he started to purr!

After a while he dropped the formal “Miss Rayne” and without a by-your-leave, began to call her Alix. He began to make meaningful little remarks. “We must do this often, I think, mustn’t we, Alix?”

or “You haven’t forgotten you promised to come fishing outside with me, have you?”

or “I’m looking forward to
showing you what the launch can really do.”

And all the time she felt the compelling gaze of those ice-blue eyes on hers. All the time she felt him barefacedly
wooing
her. She had never been more
self-conscious
and embarrassed in her life.

The fact was that she simply didn’t know how to deal with him. He was someone quite outside her previous experience of men. She had the alarming feeling that he would take no refusal; that what he wanted, he would have.

I’m
scared
of him, she thought with a little shiver. He isn’t normal. I don’t believe he’s quite sane.

Her mind went back to her conversation with Richard. It amazed her that he should have thought there was any question of her choosing between them. Yet he hadn’t been joking when he spoke of ‘another fellow.’ He evidently thought of Eric Gore as a serious rival. She wondered how he could be so obtuse.

She thought how very much she might have enjoyed this river picnic, if her host had been anyone else but Eric Gore.

A day or two later, Richard called at ‘Laguna.’

Alix, busy as usual in the garden, was surprised to see his Zephyr turn in at the gates. But though he saw her working with Francis, he merely waved a hand, and drove
on to pull up at the front door.
She saw him take the steps two or three at a time.

After a little while Alix pulled off her gloves, laid her tools down in the wheelbarrow, and strolled up to the house. She had the normal woman’s share of curiosity, and wanted to know what this visit was about.

She heard conversation in the dining room. Her aunt’s contralto boom, the unusually attractive timbre of Richard’s voice. Evidently her aunt hadn’t been proof against his engaging personality—they seemed to be talking quite amiably.

“Hallo, Richard,” she said from the doorway, and strolled into the room.

Spread out on the table was what she took to be an architects’ blueprint—if that was what they were called

of a house. This Richard, pencil in hand, was expounding to Lady Merrick. She looked up to give her niece a wink.

“Very charming, very charming indeed,” she said. “You might call it a modernised copy of ‘Laguna.’ Clever of you, Mr. Herrold, to have fitted such a beautifully functional—is that the new word?—interior into such a faithful copy of my old walls. But why show it to
me?
I’m not thinking of building, you know.”

Ri
ch
ard unrolled another blueprint.

“My father wanted me to show you this plan of the new site, too,” he said. His smile was full of charm. His manner was suitably—but not too—deferential.

“As you see, it’ll be right away from the tourist area,” he said. “Very secluded. Lovely view out to sea. Sheltered from the south-easter. And with access to the water, which is good and deep for bathing here, by way of these steps.”

“My dear, Mr. Herrold, you’ve missed your vocation. You should have been an estate agent. Most persuasive, I find you. I’m sure your father won’t have the slightest difficulty, with your assistance, in selling this plot and house.”

Richard lifted an eyebrow. Into his grey eyes came the Herrold twinkle.

“But not,” he queried, “to you, Lady Merrick?” Lady Merrick gave her jolly neigh—rather a derisive neigh this time.

“But not, Mr. Herrold,” she agreed, “to me.”

Deftly Richard rolled up his blueprints and tucked them under his arm. With one hand he smoothed back his dark hair. He was wearing his grey town suit and looked very professional and correct, if you didn’t happen to notice the hint of wickedness in his eyes.

“Then good morning, Lady Merrick. Good morning, Alix. I won’t take up any more of your time,” he said.

“Oh. Won’t you
...
?” Alix began impulsively. But with a quick look that meant “No, I won’t” he had waved a hand and shown himself out. She heard his footsteps along the veranda; imagined him leaping the steps three at a time; heard his car start up and leave.

“Well!”
exclaimed Lady Merrick deeply. “The impertinence!”

“Richard isn’t

” Alix began to defend him.

“Oh, I admit Richard isn’t. I admit that if he weren’t a Herrold I might find him a very agreeable young man. No, I was referring to his
father.
Just imagine, Alix, having those plans all drawn up, as if the whole thing was settled, signed and sealed. How is one to
cope
with such a man?”

“I don’t know, Aunt Drusilla.” She didn’t know how one coped with a man like Richard, either. A man who told a girl he loved her, then because she didn’t answer, because she wasn’t anyway free to answer, decided he would never ask her again; decided it was now
over to her
...

These Herrolds,
muttered Alix to Alix helplessly, and returned to her garden, which at least was something she
could
understand.

‘Laguna’ had a second visitor that morning—James Gurney, who sometimes dropped in on Lady Merrick for a pink gin before lunch.

“Had these police wallahs in this morning,” he told them after his first appreciative sip. “On a dagga hunt, it
seems. They
tell me somebody’s retailing it to the locals in quite a big way. Tried a spot of interrogation on my old Shilling, but dumb as he is, really only just off the tree, y’know, he was too spry for them. Smokes dagga, of course. Pie-eyed every Monday morning and as glum as they make ’em till the effect has worn off—but not a word of info, did they get out of him as to how or where he gets the stuff.”

“I suppose somebody’s quietly making a fortune out of it,” Lady Merrick said. “Expensive stuff, isn’t it?”

“Costs nothing to grow, and sells at about a bob a whiff,” agreed Mr. Gurney. “Fools, these chaps are, spending their little earnings on the muck. But that’s the trouble. Once you start, it’s hard to stop.”

He got up to mix himself another pink gin, and the talk drifted away from dagga. He had come,
in
fact,
to
ask if Miss Alix was fond of sailing.

“Why yes, I love it. I haven’t done very much since I was a child down in South Devon,” Alix said. “But of course we lived in small boats there.”

“Well, now. I just wondered. There’s
my
old
four
teen
-
footer, lying up on the hard at the boatyard beyond Edward, and never used. Gunter-rig, very easy to sail single-handed. I wondered—if I got it down here, would you care to use it?”

“Oh, Mr. Gurney! How wonderful of you to think of it,” cried Alix, her face lighting up. She had been thinking, only this morning, how perfect the water was, how just right the wind, for a sail up-lagoon. “If Aunt Drusilla says I may, I’d just love it.”

“Of course, my dear child. The lagoon’s safe enough, so long as you keep away from the seaward end on a falling tide, and watch out for westerly busters. You know how to handle a boat—and you’re a strong swimmer. Very kind of you, James, to think of it.”

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