Authors: Jill Tahourdin
Tags: #Harlequin Romance 1967
“I have no intention
“Dear child, you surely wouldn’t hurt Eric’s feelings, after he’s been so thoughtful, by refusing such a kind offer?”
“The car has a radio. Music while you ride! And look—a lunch basket for you. Really, Eric is too sweet. Think how impressed the Murrays will be when you arrive in style in this Gorgeous Beast of a car, ha! ha!”
With a sigh Alix gave up. She kissed her aunt again, hugged Nelson, and climbed into the car. Perhaps it was true that it had been going to Port Elizabeth anyway—in which case perhaps it
rather silly of her to object to going in it. And why should Eric Gore lie?
Unless—a sudden suspicion struck her—her aunt had told him that she
might be coming back,
and he was ensuring that she would be under an obligation to him after all.
Rather far-fetched, she thought. Too obvious for the ordinary person, such as herself. Oh well—too late to change her mind now. Frederick was revving up his engine. Her aunt was standing waving on the steps.
“Goodbye, darling. Bon voyage. My love to the Murrays.”
“Goodbye, thanks for everything, Aunt Drusilla.”
She was looking at her aunt, she realized, through a mist of foolish tears. Resolutely she shook them away, and gazed for what might be the last time at the lovely lagoon, and the white and pastel houses nestling so cosily on its green banks.
“Goodbye, Paradise,” she said aloud.
Frederick turned round with an enquiring look.
“Nothing,” she told him hastily.
He drove on, through the ranks of pines and wattles and gums, down the incline to the rough causeway, past the salt meadows which were now flooded by the incoming tide, and on to the national road. This the big car proceeded to eat up at a steady sixty-five, which increased to seventy on the straight. It was glorious. Alix opened the windows and let the warm spring air blow on her. Mild exhilaration gradually ousted her annoyance and depression. She was off—on her way to Rhodesia; to Bernard; perhaps to everything she wanted of life.
The Murrays were indeed impressed when she stepped out at their door.
“My dear child, how sumptuous,” Mrs. Murray exclaimed. She directed Fredrick where to put Alix’s cases, then kissed her, gave the driver a tip, and drew her guest indoors.
“We were so surprised when Drusilla rang up,” she began; then seeing Alix grow pink, quickly ran on to talk of her journey, and said that tea was waiting, Sarah would be in with it in just one minute, and would she like to wash first or did thirst come before cleanliness?
Alix laughed and said yes, please, it did. She liked Mrs. Murray and was thankful to be spending the night with her instead of alone in some hotel. She settled down to give her all the news of Paradise, and told her of the portentous meeting which must be just about to take place.
Mrs. Murray was entranced.
“It’s too dramatic,” she exclaimed. “Do you suppose Drusilla has a hope of getting the better of Andrew?”
“Not really, Mrs. Murray. Actually, she admits she’s seen the writing on the wall, as she calls it—but she won’t let Uncle Edgar’s beloved Paradise go without a struggle.”
“But what, really, can she do?”
“I don’t quite know. She didn’t say. But she hinted at what she called ‘nuisance value.’ She and the owner of that car I came in are in this together. I shan’t know what’s happened till I hear from Aunt Drusilla up in Salisbury.”
“I don’t know how you could bear to tear yourself away,” Mrs. Murray exclaimed.
Alix found herself thinking, Nor do I.
She slept badly that night. She wasn’t sure whether what she was doing was wise or foolish. But it was too late to look back now. Soon she would be in the airliner, flying to Johannesburg where she must spend the night before changing into a larger airliner for Salisbury.
That was another thing that kept her awake. She had never flown before. Ghastly to think of making her first flight alone. Would she be scared? Air-sick? But didn’t they have charming air hostesses who fed you glucose sweets and gave you brandy if you looked ill?
She fell asleep at length and dreamed she was flying over the lagoon in a tiny plane, and then it turned out she was merely watching a flight of egrets, and Richard was saying, “I regret to have to tell you that those lovely-looking creatures are by profession tick-birds.”
And she was saying, “So disillusioning,” when there came a knock on the door, and Mrs. Murray’s maid Maria came in with her early tea.
“It goin’ to be a lovely day, Miss Ellix,” she said.
“Oh, good.” At least she wouldn’t be flying into storms and gales. Through the drawn curtains she could see the sun rising in splendour, in a sky all rosy and honey-gold. It did indeed look like a lovely day.
To amuse her Mrs. Murray took her out shopping, gave her coffee in a fashionable store which was putting on a mannequin show of spring fashions, and drove her back in time for lunch. Her plane was to leave at three.
A Zephyr car was standing outside the Murray’s door when they drew up there. Mrs. Murray said, “A visitor. Who can it be? I wonder.”
Alix glanced at it indifferently. Richard’s car had been a Zephyr, she remembered. What fun that drive in it had been.
As she followed Mrs. Murray towards the drawing room she heard her give a little scream of pleasure.
“Richard! My dear boy! What a delightful surprise! What are
“I’ve come to lunch, if you’ll have me,” said Richard’s pleasant voice. “I’m on my way to Salisbury to see this chap who’s holding down my job till I’ve finished down here. Flying by this afte
noon’s plane as a matter of fact.”
“But what an extraordinary coincidence. Alix is here. And she’s going by the afternoon flight too.”
“Is she?” Richard asked calmly. “Then we can travel up together, can’t we, Alix? Fun, m’m?”
Alix moving forward in something of a daze, sank gratefully into the chair Richard had pulled forward. Her knees, unaccountably, felt suddenly weak. She glanced up at him to thank
and looked hurriedly away again. She didn’t want to meet that look in his eyes. A look of warm delight. Of—love.
she only imagined that nearly-inaudible “I love you so much?”) Though he must have been driving for some hours, he looked fresh as the morning. He looked on top of the world. He had the air of one who had never had it better. Alix didn’t know whether her uppermost feeling was indignation because she couldn’t help suspecting that this sudden journey of his had something to do with herself, or relief because now she wouldn’t be making her first flight alone.
She wasn’t, had she known it, alone in her suspicions. Mrs. Murray—who was the sort of pretty, roundabout, motherly woman of whom people meeting her said at once, “Isn’t she a darling?”
had the keenest possible nose for Romance; and she scented it now.
Surely, she thought, it was the oddest thing
romance had something to do with it—that Richard should be flying to Salisbury today of all days?
She pricked up her ears when Richard asked with a grin, “And how was the bus ride, Alix? Not too bad, I hope?”
She cried merrily, “Bus ride! My dear Richard, if you could have seen the rich limousine in which she arrived! Complete with uniformed chauffeur too. Bus indeed!”
She realised, in the moment’s silence that followed, that she had dropped a brick. Richard’s face had seemed to close up. His pleasant mouth looked quite grim. And Alix was decidedly pink. She was offering a hurried explanation—though one of her favourite precepts, learned from her father, was “Never explain.”
“I’d actually booked on the bus. But then it turned out that Mr. Gore’s car was coming in to P.E., and my aunt insisted that I should take the offer of a lift.” Which if it wasn’t absolutely true, at least couldn’t be classified as a downright lie; and it did have the effect of defrosting Richard’s face. He looked, in fact, quite pleasant as he answered carelessly, “Why not? You’d have found the bus’s conducted tour a bit tiresome, I expect.”
Ah-ha, thought Mrs. Murray. So the owner of the big car is a rival. The plot thickens.
“You could have driven Alix over yourself if only you’d known, couldn’t you?” she suggested naughtily. But Richard wasn’t to be drawn. He said, “Yes, couldn’t I?” and forthwith engaged Mr. Murray in talk about something quite different. Man talk. Mrs. Murray turned away from it to Alix.
“Such fun that you’ll have Richard’s company this evening in Johannesburg,” she said brightly. “It’s
a place where a young girl can wander around alone, you know.”
Alix murmured politely.
she was thinking rather wryly.
THOUGH somewhere in the slight daze in which she was still moving when she boarded the airliner for Johannesburg Alix was aware of the glimmer of a warning red light, she had to admit that she was glad Richard was with her.
He was a seasoned air traveller. He knew the ropes. Thanks to him she was wafted through the formalities without pain. He was even able to calm, to some extent, her fears.
For she was convinced that the enormous conveyance in which they were presently seated side by side would never get off the ground. How could it?
“It can, and it will,” Richard assured her firmly. “And once we’re in the air you’re going to love it, I swear. The take-off’s always the worst part. But these chaps do it as easy as kiss-your-hand. And talking of hands,” he added with a laugh, “like me to hold yours when we start?”
Alix smiled wanly. Though she didn’t say so, she thought she probably would.
hold her hand, closely and warmly, when the pilot, having gunned up the engines to that final terrifying roar, began his take-off run. He had seen her white face and guessed how she was feeling.
But he let it go promptly as soon as they were airborne. He noted her fearful glances at the tilted landscape below them; her qualms when the machine banked or bumped. He saw her relax, thankfully, when the airliner had
hed its upward climb and had settled down to its stately progress above the clouds.
“There! Wasn’t so bad, was it Alix?”
She said shakily, “It was marvellous. Thanks, Richard, for the moral support.”
“All part of our service,” Richard assured her airily. “I say, Alix . .
He broke off as the pretty stewardess approached with magazines and her bright hostess smile. When she had passed on he asked, “were you surprised to see me at the Murrays’, Alix?”
“You know I was.”
“You didn’t mind?”
“What right have I to
d your taking a business trip?” she countered coolly.
He nodded. He gave her a meek propitiating look. She had to bite her lip to stop herself from laughing. She said severely, “But why, Richard?
“You know why.”
“You’re going to meet your
. You’re on your way to be married. I’ve no
to follow you round. I know all that. Of course I know.”
“Then why on earth
?” she demanded in exasperation.
“That’s my business, isn’t it?” Richard countered. “Let’s say I wanted to look after you on the journey, shall we? You wouldn’t want to deprive me of that little harmless pleasure, would you? You wouldn’t be so hard-hearted?”
“All I can say is, thank goodness Aunt Drusilla doesn’t know. She’d be furious.”
“Ah, Aunt Drusilla,” Richard said thoughtfully. “Yes, I’m afraid she would. Especially after what happened at Northolme yesterday.”
Alix started guiltily. In the shock of seeing him at the Murrays’, and her state of apprehension over this first flight, she had completely forgotten to ask
how the meeting had gone.
“Especially after what happened
she repeated. “What
happen, Richard? I ought to have asked you before, but I was in
“A bit of a flap?” he supplied. “Yes, well. I’m afraid you’re not going to like this, Alix.”
?” She looked so indignant that Richard broke in hastily, “Lady Merrick was marvellous. Magnificent. She made the speech of her life, I should think, in favour of Peace and Quiet and the Status Quo. She very nearly had them all convinced. She was grand.”
Suspecting mockery, Alix didn’t find it when her eyes met his. The Herrold twinkle was there—that was all.
“But my father, I’m afraid, was even grander. He sailed in with flags flying and all his guns firing.”
“Oh. What did
“He said they were rusting away in Paradise. He said, ‘For Peace and Quiet, read Boredom, B-O-R-E-D
“And to counter boredom, I suppose he promised them the earth?”
“Very nearly. Newly surfaced road from the junction. Eighteen-hole golf course instead of the present ill-kept nine holes. Better water and electrical supplies. Weekly film show. Free membership of the Country Club for residents. The whole works.”
“And of course they fell for it?”
“All of them?”
“All except your aunt and Gore. Oh—and old James Gurney.”
So her aunt’s old admirer had remained faithful? That was something, at least.
“My father’s a wonderful chap,” Richard said with pride. “There’s nobody like him, absolutely. The only
is—I never know from minute to minute what he may be up to next.”
he get up to next?”
Richard said ruefully, “He turned his big guns on your aunt. Told her he wanted ‘Laguna.’ Told her it was in the interests of her friends and neighbours
and considering ‘Laguna’s’ actual market value, of herself—to let him have it. Told her he was sorry she didn’t see her way to accept the eight thousand pounds he’d offered for it. Said he was now offering her the best three-acre plot at the seaward end of the lagoon, plus a new house to her design, in exchange. Said, ‘That’s my last word, my lady, take it or leave it. Well, what about it? It’s over to you.’ ”
“And of course my aunt turned it down?”
“I wonder that even your father had the nerve.”
“So did I,” Richard assented. She glanced up at him, met the incorrigible Herrold twinkle, and said scornfully, “I suppose you think it was clever? I suppose you think
“In point of fact, I blushed for him.”
“And so you jolly well should,” Alix retorted with heat. “He’s—he’s
she finished with a gesture of repudiation, of them and all their works. “I’m revolted. I don’t want to hear any more. I ought to be with my aunt now, supporting her and—and comforting her, instead of sitting here, hobnobbing with the enemy. I ought to
she finished furiously, “will you
Turning sideways to get a better look at her Richard saw that her eyes were actually throwing off sparks; her cheeks were the colour of his favourite species of rose.
He gestured to indicate the passenger cabin in which they sat, where every seat was taken. He turned out the palms of his hand and lifted his shoulders in an exaggerated shrug. He said deprecatingly, “Sorry, Alix. No parachute.”
He saw her chin quiver. She was pressing her lips together, trying not to laugh. The comer of her mouth was lifting—that small dimple he adored appeared in the cheek nearest him. She had given in. She was laughing. How he loved that laugh of hers!
“You’ve forgiven me?” he asked softly.
“I oughtn’t to.”
“It isn’t our quarrel, Alix.”
“I know, but...”
“Look, we’ll be coming in to land soon. They put us up at the Carlton for the night. You don’t know Jo’
burg, do you?”
“Then promise to dine with me, and afterwards I’ll show you the town.”
“You should. Darling Alix, Jo’burg is a must. And you can’t see it alone. So
Turning on him with sudden impatience, Alix collided head-on with the eager, beseeching, demanding look in his eyes.
It brought her up short. She caught again the flicker of the warning red light.
What was she doing? Agreeing—or on the point of it
to spend a gay, glamorous, romantic evening in the City of Gold with a man who had done his best to show her that he had fallen in love with her?
An undermining sort of evening, fair neither to Bernard, nor to Richard, nor to—herself?
No! she thought. No. It won’t do. I must get out of it somehow. Not now—that’ll only lead to an argument I might easily lose. Later
So she shrugged and answered sedately, “Thank you very much. I would rather like to see Jo’burg.”
“You shall. We’ll have a wonderful evening.”
The stewardess, bringing them tea, interrupted them. When she had gone, Richard began telling her some of the places they would look in on. Dinner, dancing, cabaret, a drive by moonlight
Alix knew she would have loved every minute of it. That in itself was enough to warn her she
Not while she was still engaged to Bernard.
Some time later the plane began circling to lose height. When they were below the cloud ceiling Alix was able to look down, fascinated, at the great city sprawling below. Skyscrapers, broad streets crammed with people and traffic, suburbs in spacious green gardens, great lion-coloured dumps of cyanide that would have looked less out of place alongside the Pyramids in the desert. So this was Johannesburg.
Now the terrors of landing struck cold into her heart. She felt the blood drain from her cheeks; she let Richard fasten her safety belt for her; she didn’t demur when once again he took her hand in his. It lay curled up in his palm as if it belonged there, warm and safe. But of course it didn’t. Only till this frightening experience was over and they were safe on terra firma once more
The landing strip was rushing up to meet them. They were going to crash. They were travelling so fast they would never be able to pull up
“There we are. Hold tight,” came the stewardess’s soothing voice. There was a slight, a very slight jar. Richard let go her hand and gave it a pat.
“So we’re safely down, Alix,” he said cheerfully. “Jo’burg, here we come!”
The cocktail lounge of the hotel was gay, with a tremendous coming and going and a sense of vigorous life. There was something invigorating in the atmosphere of this city. It even permeated indoors. People looked alert, purposeful, full of zest.
Sipping the White Lady Richard had prescribed for her, Alix suffered a pang of regret for what she was going to have to say. It took her quite a time to steel herself to saying it.
Came the moment when Richard said, “Time to go up for your bath now, Alix. Shall we meet down here in about an hour’s time?”
Now for it.
She put a hand to her head—said hesitatingly, “I’m terribly sorry, Richard. I’m afraid I don’t feel quite up to going out this evening. My head—perhaps it’s because I’m not used to flying. If you’ll forgive me, I think I’d better have them send up something later. I’ll take my bath now and get into bed.”
Had she done it convincingly? Whether or not, Richard was outwardly all sympathy. If he had looked a little taken aback at her rather sudden indisposition, he made no
He said gently, “You poor little girl. Too bad. But of course you must go to bed at once. Have you got aspirins? Then take three, and try to sleep. Later on, if you wake up, telephone Room Service to send you up some soup. Will you do that?”
He fetched her room key for her, and went up with her in the elevator to the door to her room. This he unlocked for her.
“There you are,” he said. “Bath first, to relax you; then aspirins and bed. Sleep well, dear ... Alix. I’ll ring you in the morning about eight.”
“Thank you, Richard. I’m so sorry about tonight.”
“Think nothing of it,” he said, smiling at her as he closed the door on her.
As he walked back along the corridor he was thinking ruefully, Poor little Alix. Got an attack of conscience, I suppose. I’ve been rushing her too much. Patience, my lad. The fisherman’s virtue. Patience till you’ve met this Bernard, taken his measure, seen the form. Less of this Herrold bulldozing, and a little more finesse. But oh damn, I was so looking forward to taking her out, dancing
with her, seeing her eyes sparkl
In her room, alone and lonely, Alix had plenty of time to tell herself that she had been a fool, ungrateful and unkind. She took a bath, lay in it for a long time, then zipped on her silk wrapper and telephoned Room Service.
Not for an invalid’s bowl of soup, though
She had discovered that she was ravenously hungry. When the waiter appeared with the menu, she ordered herself a substantial, delicious-sounding meal. Since she had elected to spend this evening in solitude, at least she didn’t mean to starve.
Luckily she had a new novel in her case. She took it out,
g, It had better be good.