Read Welcome to Paradise Online

Authors: Jill Tahourdin

Tags: #Harlequin Romance 1967

Welcome to Paradise (6 page)

But already Alix was
be
ginnin
g
to feel a tiny
stirring
of sympathy for Andrew Herrold’s point of view

though not for the world would she have said so to her aunt.

Later on in the morning, when the tide was turning, a wind came whistling across the lagoon from the west. It came in a wild tearing gust, as if
the
earlier light breeze had suddenly grown up. The gust died away quickly; but soon it was blowing really hard.

Alix stared in wonder to see the blue lagoon turn indigo-dark, angry. A multitude of white crests rode it as the squall raced across from beneath the low green hills towards their beach.

The seagulls, confused by the noise and fury, f
lopped screeching on to the littl
e islands of sea-grass and cowered there, unable to take off again. A heron and some egrets huddled miserably beside them. Spume flew off the tom crests and drifted like rain down
-
lagoon. Dinghies that had been left at anchor rocked and spun wildly.

“Good heavens, does it often do this? Alix asked from the window.

“Not often, thank goodness. Mostly during the cool weather. It’s what’s known locally as a westerly buster. Our
s
umm
er
wind is the south-easter, you know. These westerlies are a bore—they flatten the garden in no time.”

“There goes a branch off the flowering gum now,” Alix said.

“Bother. I hope it won’t last—it won’t be pleasant driving to Northolme in this.”

“No, I suppose not,” Alix said, hoping it would blow a gale so that they would have to cancel their date. “I say, one of those boats has broken loose. It’s being driven ashore. Hadn’t I better go and pull it up before it damages itself?”

“Do if you like. But take care, dear.”

Out in the open, Alix was surprised at the weight in the wind. Seeing Francis having a surreptitious smoke under some bushes, she called to him to come and help her. She knew she wouldn’t be strong enough to battle with the boat alone.

“Miss Ellix going to get wet,” Francis observed with his amiable, vacuous grin.

“I know. But never mind. Come on.”

She was, in fact, drenched and quite exhausted by the time they had it safely pulled up out of harm’s way.

She said kindly, “Thank you, Francis, you were a great help.”

“Don’t mention, Miss Ellix,” he begged her, lifting the dreadful hat.

I wouldn

t care to be caught out in a small boat, in a blow like that,
Alix thought as she hurried back into the house to change her sopping clothes.

The wind died away a little around noon, then blew again with increased fury. The odd thing, to Alix, was that though some flurries of rain fell, most of the time the sun shone brilliantly so that the wild water seemed to give off flashes of light.

The sea-birds, poor things, still cowered. Now and then they tried to rise into the air, only to flop back again, baffled.

 

CHAPTER
SIX

ALIX put on a slim-skirted jersey suit of moss green, and pulled a matching soft angora cap over her hair. Her aunt had fixed a net over her iron-grey waves and skewered on a sort of toque, vaguely Queen-Maryish. She too wore a suit, an old but very good one of heather tweed. She looked very well in it.

“We’d be airborne in anything full-skirted today,” she observed deeply. “You look very nice, my dear. Quite charming. And so appropriate.”

“Thank you, Aunt Drusilla. May I drive?”

“How about a licence?”

“I brought my International.”

“Good. I’ll be navigator.”

Alix was delighted. She loved driving; had even enjoyed driving the tractors at the Priory. If she had been a man, she would have wanted to be an engineer of some sort.

“We turn off a good way before the Edward road,” her aunt told her. They took, in fact, a “dirt” road that circled part of the lagoon at sea-level. Along this bit the wind, still blowing furiously, seemed to rock the car.

It was better when they took a wide track going uphill through indigenous forest. This emerged at length on to a high plateau of rather open land, closely turfed as if sheep had grazed it.

“There you are. That’s Northolme,” announced Lady Merrick, in the gratified tones of one successfully producing a rabbit out of a hat.

Eric Gore’s house stood back from well-shaven lawns shaded by one or two magnificent trees. It was built of stone, with long balconied windows, a handsome pillared portico, and a lot of very decorative wrought
-
iron work and carving.

On three sides it looked directly on to the river valley and the lagoon. It was high enough to command a wide prospect of the Indian Ocean beyond the bar.

On the fourth side the forested mountains backed it. The road swept up to its portico round a big circular bed crammed with immense bushes of hydrangea.

“Charming, isn’t it?”

“Very,” Alix agreed politely. She was, in fact, much impressed with its handsomeness and size.

As she braked to a standstill Eric Gore came out to greet them.

“Welcome to Northol
me,” he said in his light smooth voice, using what Alix had come to recognise as a current local greeting. “Do come indoors quickly. It’s hardly possible to stand in this blow. How are you, Lady D.? And you, Miss Rayne? I was afraid the weather might be too much for you. Awfully good of you to turn out on such a day.”

“Not at all, Eric. I wouldn’t miss it for worlds. May the boy bring that suitcase in? It’s got our dinner things in it—if we may have a room to change in later. Couldn’t turn out in pretties with a westerly blowing,
m’m?”

“Of course not. Mrs. September”—he referred to his coloured housekeeper, Alix supposed—“will show you to a suite.”

“How grand that sounds, Eric.”

He gave them his complacent smile.

“I only hope the others won’t be put off.”

“The others?”

“I arranged a little party of ten—thought it would be more amusing for you than my undiluted company,” he told them, with a smug pseudo-modesty that made Alix dislike him more than ever.

This feeling of dislike was intensified when he put his hand under her elbow, as if to help her up the stone steps leading to the portico—and as if she were decrepit enough to need help!—and murmured, in a tone at once teasing and malicious, “I hope the second fishing lesson was as successful as the first.”

How does he know it was my second? she wondered. And why mention it, anyway?

She managed to answer light, hiding her annoyance

after all, she was his guest.

“Just the usual beginner’s luck,” she said, and added quickly, “What a splendid position your house has, Mr. Gore.”

That deflected his attention from herself. For the next half hour he showed them round, drawing their attention to the pictures—many of them the eccentric modern kind that looked as if they might have been painted with a trowel, and meant nothing at all to Alix, who preferred a picture to look recognisable, at least

the exquisite furniture, the china, the collection of ancient and modern weapons in what he called the armoury.

“My family brought a good deal of this stuff out here,” he told them; but he didn’t say from where. Ordinarily Lady Merrick wouldn’t have hesitated to ask him; but today she was too bemused, by the thought of how
very
agreeable it would be if Alix were to become mistress of all this, to be her brisk enquiring self.

“Such a pity we can’t go round the farm,” Eric Gore said regretfully when the tour of the house was over. “But luckily I can show it to you in another way.”

He showed them a brass telescope that stood on a swivel stand in a big bow window that seemed to have been specially built out to give an all-round view.

“With this,” he explained, “I can see everything for miles around in every direction.”

He fiddled with the instrument, looked through it, and made some adjustment for height. Then he drew up a chair and invited Alix to look for herself.

He had trained it towards the river below. Here it made an enormous loop, on either side of which his farmlands lay. She found herself looking into a series of paddocks. Some contained Jersey calves; some were being grazed by heifers in calf; some by dairy cows. So strong was the telescope that she could see the hairs on the animals’ coats, their eyes and eyelashes. She exclaimed, “How extraordinary!” and thought how banal her comment sounded. She wasn’t usually tongue
-
tied—that was the effect Eric Gore seemed to have on her.

“Let me move it a little,” he said. “There. See that large paddock a little up the hillside, with the thorn hedge round it? You can see my newly imported Jersey bull there. Did you know that though Jersey cows are as tame as pet dogs, the bulls are among the fiercest of any breed? This one’s a real problem child.”

“You mean he’s dangerous?” asked Alix, looking at the splendid fawn and sable creature who stood so proudly alone.

“I do indeed. Actually, nobody is allowed to go near him but my manager and myself. Not that anyone wants to.”

“He does look a beauty.”

“He is. But as O’Rourke—that’s my manager—says, a divil to handle.”

When Lady Merrick had looked and admired, he said, “Now let me show you
Paradise
.

When Alix looked again she could see the shrubs in her aunt’s garden, Colonel Braines walking his dog on the beach, people hitting balls on the golf course, Mr. Hunt baiting his hook in a small boat, three ostriches grazing on the low hill slopes
...

“My dear Eric, it’s wonderful—a real peep-show,” cried Lady Merrick admiringly when she too had looked. Her jolly neigh rang out.

Alix thought, That’s just what it is—a peep-show. She knew now how he had known about her fishing. He had been watching her through this horrible telescope. It made her intensely uncomfortable to think of him, seeing everything that went on,
spying.

Though why should it? she wondered, not quite understanding her own reactions. Perhaps it was that compelling ice-blue stare of his that was distorting everything for her.

“Of course, the whole point is that I can watch what is happening to my valuable stock without actually having to be down there all the time,” he explained easily. “Can’t trust these coloured fellows, as you know, Lady D. And my manager, excellent chap, can’t be everywhere at once. So I need to be able to keep my eye on things.

“Of course, of course. But I bet you see some amusing things going on in Paradise, too,” suggested Lady Merrick with a touch of unfamiliar archness.

He didn’t deny it. He even dared to smile at her

Alix—rather meaningly. She found her natural impulse towards amiability—which usually stood her in good stead—beginning to wear very thin.

To change a distasteful subject she said, “What wonderful flower arrangements, Mr. Gore. Who can have done them?”

“I do them myself, Miss Rayne. It amuses me. And we bachelors have to learn to do for ourselves, you know.”

“My dear Eric, you must marry,” Lady Merrick said deeply. “This lovely room would make such a perfect setting for your wife.”

“My wife. Ah yes. But first I must find her, mustn’t
I?”

The ice-blue gaze returned to Alix, and to her fury she felt herself blushing. He turned his eyes away at once, with swift tact, but not before she had caught the gleam of satisfaction—and something else, acquisitiveness—in them. I detest him, she thought angrily.

The thought of him arranging bowls of flowers repelled her. Yet there was nothing effeminate about him. On the contrary, he was intensely, disturbingly male. That uneasy thrill she had felt at their first meeting returned to trouble her. She felt strangely ill at ease.

The whole evening, in fact, was fast turning into a nightmare. She had hoped it would be better when they had changed, and the other guests—all strangers to Alix, from Edward and the surrounding far
min
g country—had arrived.

But it was worse. Eric Gore’s manner towards her became so noticeably possessive. As if, she thought indignantly, he had some rights in her. As if he were showing her off.

I’m imagining it, she told herself—she was, indeed, far from being the sort of girl who thought every man she met was falling for her.

But she knew she wasn’t imagining this. She knew, intuitively, that Eric Gore—so handsome in his well-cut dinner clothes as to be almost startling—had in fact been attracted from the very moment of their meeting. She guessed, too, at the enormous gusto in him; and that he would stop at nothing to get what he wanted.

During the long, superlative dinner—which she forced herself to eat, so as not to cause comment, though she felt as if it would choke her—she caught interested glances. Arch looks. Raised eyebrows. She could sense that people were intrigued,
noticing.
She even caught a whisper, indiscreetly loud, later over the coffee and liqueurs: “Such a de
lightful, unspoiled girl. But a
little
too
sweet-and-twenty for Eric, wouldn’t you
think?”

She blushed to her hairline with mortification.

How dare he lay her open to this sort of thing? What right had he? And why didn’t her aunt see what was going on? Or did she see—and not mind?

The endless evening ended at last. Alix must have acquitted herself better than she knew, so warm were the invitations she
received
from the other guests to visit them at their homes. It gave her considerable pleasure to be able to say, “Thank you so much—you are so kind—but I’m afraid I’m leaving in a day or two.”

That puzzled them, she could see. Well, let it.

“A perfectly delightful evening,” her aunt boomed in a replete voice as they drove home. “Do admit, dearest, Eric does things extraordinarily well.”

Alix obligingly admitted it. Thank heaven, she wouldn’t be seeing him again, she thought.

She wasn’t clairvoyant. She had no means of knowing how mistaken she was—nor of the desperate danger into which she—and Richard Herrold—were to be rim by Eric Gore.

Now that she was leaving it, Alix realised how much she already loved Paradise. Though she had decided on her course of action and was determined to follow it, at heart she really didn’t want to go. Yet apart from Aunt Drusilla, what, really, was there to keep her here?

She didn’t know. Once again—it seemed to be happening all the time now—Alix was at a loss to understand herself. I’m becoming what the American movies call “just a crazy, mixed-up kid,” she accused herself wryly. Time I took hold of myself.

Lady Merrick, she knew, didn’t want her to go either. But fortunately her mind was so much occupied with the coming meeting at Northolme, which would decide the fate of Paradise, that when Tuesday—the day Alix was to leave on the bus—came along she had less emotion to spare for their parting than might otherwise have been the case.

She contented herself with saying gruffly, “I’m going to miss you abominably, my dear. Now promise, you’ll come straight back if
...

“I promise, darling,” Alix said, kissing her.

“Don’t bother to ask. Just arrive.”

“I will. I swear I will, Aunt Drusilla. Shall I go and get the car out?”

“Do, dear.”

Lady Merrick was going to drive her in the Dodge to the junction with the national road, where she would pick up the bus. Alix set off for the garage, which was round at the back of the house.

When she came back, in the Dodge, she found another car standing in the drive. It was Eric Gore’s glittering American monster, with his driver at the wheel. As she got out of the Dodge this man came towards her, touched his cap, and
proffered
a square envelope.

It was addressed to herself.

“From Master, Miss,” the coloured driver told her. Alix opened it and found a single sheet of thick, expensive notepaper inside. She read the words on it

written in a curiously spidery, pointed writing—with mounting vexation.

... Please do not deprive me of the pleasure of sending you to Port Elizabeth in my car. It has to go there, in any case, to pick up some goods I ordered there.
Frederick, my chauffeur, is an excellent driver. He will do whatever you ask.

The note was signed Yours devotedly, Eric Gore.

Speechless, Alix handed it over to her aunt, who had come outside on seeing the two cars.

“Really
...”
she began on a note of extreme exasperation.

She saw, however, that her aunt was beaming.

“There you are, dear, isn’t that enormously kind of Eric? You’ll be
much
better off than in the bus. And
there’s no need to worry about that—I’ll see to cancelling for you.”

“But I
...”

“Come with me, Frederick, and get Miss Alix’s air
-
cases. They’ll go in the back seat easily. Only two
...
.”

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