A Stormy Spanish Summer(8)

By: Penny Jordan



Was it perhaps here in this house that she had first seen and fallen in love with Vidal’s adopted uncle—the man who had been her own father? Fliss wondered now. Perhaps she had seen the handsome Spaniard for the first time here in this very courtyard? Handsome, maybe—but not strong enough to stand by her mother and the love he had sworn he felt for her, Fliss reminded herself starkly, lest she get carried away by the romantic imagery created by her surroundings.

She knew that her mother had only visited the family’s house here in Granada very briefly, as most of her time in Spain had been spent at the castillo on the ducal country estate, which had been Vidal’s parents’ main home.

The thought of what her mother must have suffered caused a sensation inside Fliss’s chest rather as though iron-hard fingers had closed round her heart and squeezed it—fingers as long and strong as those of Vidal He had played his own part in her mother’s humiliation and suffering, Fliss thought bitterly, and she turned quickly away from him—only to give a startled gasp as her foot slipped on one of the cobbles, causing her to turn her ankle and lose her balance.

Immediately the bright sunlight that had been dazzling her was shut out as Vidal stepped towards her, his hands locking round her upper arms as he steadied her and held her upright. Her every instinct was to reject his hold on her, and show him how unwelcome it was. He moved fast, though, releasing her with a look of distaste, as though somehow touching her soiled him. Anger and humiliation burned inside her, but there was nothing she could do other than turn her back on him. She was trapped—and not just here in a place she did not want to be. She was also trapped by her own past and the role Vidal had played in it. Like the fortress walls with which the Moors had surrounded their cities and their homes, Vidal’s contempt for her was a prison from which there was no escape.

Walking past him, Fliss stepped into the building, standing in a cool hallway with a magnificent carved and polished dark wood staircase, to take in the austere and sombre magnificence of her surroundings.

Portraits hung from the white painted walls—stern, uniformed or court-finery-dressed Spanish aristocrats, looking down at her from their heavily gilded frames. Not a single one of them was smiling, Fliss noticed. Rather, they were looking out at the world with expressions of arrogance and disdain. Just as Vidal, their descendant, looked out on the world now.

A door opened to admit a small, plump middle-aged woman with snapping brown eyes that swiftly assessed her. Although she was simply dressed, and not what Fliss had been expecting in Vidal’s mother, there was no mistaking her upright bearing and general demeanour of calm confidence.

She realised her assumption was wrong when Vidal announced, ‘Let me introduce you to Rosa, who is in charge of the household here. She will show you to your room.’

The housekeeper advanced towards Fliss, her gaze still searching and assessing, and then, ignoring Fliss, she turned back to Vidal. Speaking in Spanish, she told him, ‘Where her mother was a dove, this one has the look of a wild falcon not yet tamed to the lure.’

Fresh anger flashed in Fliss’s own eyes.

‘I speak Spanish,’ she told them both. She was almost shaking with the force of her anger. ‘And there is no lure that would ever tempt me down into the grasp of anyone in this household.’

She just had time to see the answering flash of hostility burn through the look Vidal gave her before she turned on her heel to head towards the stairs, leaving Rosa to come after her.

CHAPTER TWO

ON THE first floor landing Rosa broke the stiff silence between them by saying in a sharp voice, ‘So you speak Spanish?’

‘Why shouldn’t I?’ Fliss challenged her. ‘No matter what Vidal might want to think, he does not have the power to prevent me from speaking the language that was, after all, my father’s native tongue.’

She certainly wasn’t going to admit to Rosa, or anyone else here, her early teenage dream of one day meeting her father, which had led to her secretly saving some of her paper-round money to pay for Spanish lessons she’d suspected her mother would not want her to have. Fliss had come to recognise well before she had reached her teens that her mother was almost fearful of Fliss doing anything to recognise the Spanish side of her inheritance. So, rather than risk upsetting her, Fliss had tried not to let her see how much she had longed to know more about not just her father but his country. Her mother had been a gentle person who had hated confrontations and arguments, and Fliss had loved her far too much to ever want to hurt her.

‘Well, you certainly haven’t got your spirit from either of your parents,’ Rosa told her forthrightly. ‘Though I would warn you against trying to cross swords with Vidal.’

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