A Killer Opening

(unedited) Chapters

CHAPTER FOUR

As Amelia hurried across the hotel lobby, the ceiling-mounted fans circled like vultures over the guests’ heads, stirring up welcome gusts of cool air after the blistering afternoon heat.

Oliver grinned at her from behind the reception desk, tossing her once beautifully organised room keys high into the air like an inept juggler at Butterfinger’s Circus. Amelia was going to have to deal with Oliver before his malevolent anger towards her guests sabotaged their ultimate goal.

‘Drop the keys, Oliver,’ she practically growled. ‘Or I will be forced to withdraw your bridge privileges.’ Oliver scowled. With just the two of them, he hadn’t had the chance to thrash anyone at bridge for over a year. Which was why, after a visible internal struggle, he surrendered to the inevitable, dropping the keys with a thud and no doubt scarring the surface of her polished olivewood desk.

 

Maud was standing halfway between the desk and the drawing room door, slightly apart from the main group who were milling around the desk. Her body was rigidly upright, her face pinched, lip curled, eyes darting around the room in a way that reminded Amelia of a cobra rearing up to strike. Amelia’s own shoulders tensed at the sight, and her body went rigid in readiness for Maud’s habitual response to Amelia’s hopes and dreams. There was nothing she could do to prevent the inevitable recrimination, not without tipping the already inexplicably antagonistic atmosphere over the edge.

 

Oliver’s scowl deepened; his sharp eyes fixed on her mother. ‘Delightful, isn’t it?’ he purred, stirring the tension just as the fans stirred the air above them.

 

A battle raged across Maud’s face before, miraculously, settling into a frozen mask of truce. ‘Why of course it is. I would expect nothing less from any daughter of mine,’ she replied, her tone stiff and formal, her gaze still roaming the room. ‘But I can’t imagine why we have not been offered refreshments in this oppressive heat,’ she complained, heading toward the stained-glass double doors that led to the airy living room.

 

So, not a truce exactly, Amelia thought, absorbing the impact of that not-so-subtle dig at her lack of hospitality. And so, it begins… Amelia watched her mother cross through the threshold, then pictured her making a B-line for the decanters. 

 

Even without the expected follow-up blow that usually came, Maud had emerged victor in their short exchange. It was the waiting that filled Amelia with dread. She was waiting for that first disparaging word about her creation, and the delay was making it all the worse.

Maud was beyond horrified, that much was clear from her frozen mask, which reminded Amelia of the creepy African voodoo mask her father had once brought home for her; a treasure from one of his adventures. A mask that Amelia had instantly adored but which had soon been relegated to the basement by an obviously terrified Maud.

 

But Maud had not spoken a single word of her horror at Amelia’s dream, which meant one thing: Maud wanted something from someone, likely Amelia, and she wanted it enough to play nicely with others.

 

Whatever it was, Amelia would not be giving it to Maud until after Saturday’s party, if she gave it to her at all.

 

Oliver cleared his throat, gently reminding Amelia that she was ignoring her other guests. She was making Maud the centre of her universe, again.

 

Unfreezing, she moved to sort through the messy pile of keys, grabbing the three she needed before saying, ‘The hotel staff, including our chef, have headed back to Mallorca with the yacht. They’re taking a few days off, which leaves Oliver and I in charge of your comfort. But fear not, Oliver is a very capable cook and if you are in need of nourishment between meals, there is always fresh fruit, homemade cookies, a variety of juices and tea and coffee making facilities in your rooms, as well as on the sideboard in the dining room. So, you won’t starve, and the professionals will be returning in good time to prepare for the grand opening on Saturday,’ Amelia said with an airy smile that did not reach her eyes. They were eyes that still longed to follow her mother into the drawing-room.

‘I’ll show Daisy, Price and Leo up to their rooms,’ Amelia said to Oliver, holding the keys like prizes over her head. ‘If you wouldn’t mind grabbing Maud, then showing her, Sawubona and the lovely Tantriana where they’ll be sleeping before we lay out the lunch buffet in the dining room.’ Then raising her voice for everyone to hear she continued her tour guide impersonation. ‘We have an hour of free time now, so that you can rest, freshen up and help yourself to the lunch buffet. Afterwards, we will go down to the shrine room for yoga and meditation. Finally, we will head straight up La Colina Alta for a nice cuppa and a closer look at our splendid flamingo visitors.

 

‘Herb,’ she said, twisting around, searching for the journalist, meaning to give him directions to his bungalow…but he was gone.

 

‘Like the bloodhound journalist he is,’ Leo said, his voice an impersonation of a David Attenborough nature documentary, ‘Herb Hogan has stalked his prey to the living room where he and his fellow predator will be rewarded with three fingers of scotch and a cube of ice.’

 

Amelia’s own imagination conjured a more likely scene of Maud guzzling directly from the decanter, and Herb riffling through the cupboards in search of a juicy story. She winced at the thought. ‘Oh-kaaaay... If you would please follow your allocated host, we can all leave the…predators… to enjoy their kill.’

 

***

‘Watch your step on these stairs,’ Amelia warned, as she took hold of the hand-rail and began to climb. ‘Did you know that one person falls down the stairs every 90 seconds in England? Probably far more here in Spain with all the marble floors and industrious mopping that goes on,’ she joked as she led her charges up the helical staircase. Leo, Daisy and Price trailed up behind her and then followed as she walked toward the wide corridor that led to the East wing.

‘No elevator,’ Price gasped, as he lumbered along in her wake. Amelia hesitated long enough to glance over her shoulder to see him mounting the final step at the head of the staircase. He was shimmering like a mirage, his dove grey shirt turned charcoal with sweat.

Amelia threw Daisy a conspiratorial grin, but Daisy was still an empty shell, apparently inhabiting a dream world where no one could touch her, although from the sheen on her skin it seemed Daisy had struggled with the stairs almost as much as Price. Amelia doubted, in Daisy’s case, her difficulty was due to the heat. No. Daisy, it seemed, was taking Heroin Chic quite literally these days. Every rib was visible through her clingy gown. Her frailty made the stairs the equivalent to climbing the Eiger.

 

‘This one’s yours, Leo,’ Amelia said, unlocking the door to his suite and pushing it wide open. The room was furnished in dark wood, with soft yellow walls, other than the one behind the canopied bed which was decorated with turquoise patterned wallpaper.

 

‘Rest, freshen up, partake of the buffet but be sure to be down in the lobby at 3.30 prompt,’ she ordered with a smile. Leo tugged on his forelock and bowed low, before disappearing behind the door.

 

The next two doors were opposite one another. ‘Price, this is yours,’ she said swinging the door open. ‘Oh…and the lift is tucked away just around the corner at the end of the corridor in case you need it.’

 

‘Only works in one direction, does it?’ Price practically snarled in response. Amelia cringed; they should have taken it on the way up. Damn it, Amelia! Can’t you do anything right?! Her long since internalised version of her mother’s voice raged inside her head. But before she could apologise, he too disappeared behind his door.

 

‘Don’t mind him,’ Daisy said. Her first spontaneous words since her arrival. ‘It’s not personal. He can’t abide anyone.’

 

‘Like Maud,’ Amelia murmured, opening the door to Daisy’s suite and ushering her through.

Daisy walked directly into the centre of the room and spun in a slow circle. Amelia watched as she took in the white painted walls and ceiling, the fine wicker furniture and the palm print curtains and bed covers.

 

‘It’s lovely,’ she said. Her words sounded to Amelia like the words of a polite child thanking a distant aunt for an unwelcome Christmas or birthday gift—perhaps a monogrammed handkerchief—as she drifted across the room to stand by the floor to ceiling window overlooking the beach.

 

Amelia was about to launch into more proud-mamma descriptions of the island when Daisy began checking the locks, moving from one window to the next, rattling the catches and then moving on again. She flicked every light switch on, then off, she clicked the torch on and off. She even struck a match, then counted how many were left in the box. This all happened while Amelia stood rooted to her spot just inside the doorway. Not for the first time that afternoon, she thought, Thank goodness she’s here. If anywhere can heal whatever is wrong with my old friend, it is El Pedrusco.

 

‘Are you alright?’ she asked. In days gone by she would have rushed across the room and hugged her tight. But this Daisy was too brittle to hug.

 

‘Why wouldn’t I be?’ Daisy asked vaguely.

 

‘Well…uh…I’m not a great fan of the dark either, but…’ she left the final words hanging, choosing instead to gesture first toward the windows and then to the blackened match on the dresser.

‘Oh that,’ Daisy said, a twang in her voice she had not possessed when they were two little English girls running around the island, playing Nancy Drew to Leo’s black-hearted robber.

‘I’m better,’ Daisy continued. ‘It was years before I could sleep more than an hour at one time, but now I can, it’s just…I need to know I’m safe.’

 

‘You should have come home!’ The words burst out of Amelia. ‘We could have helped. You know Seb and I would have done anything to help. I wrote and I called and called but you never answered. I wanted to be there for you, but you didn’t let me in!’ Amelia’s voice broke from years of pent-up emotion she had never acknowledged, even to herself.

 

Daisy watched her outburst with impassive eyes. ‘What use would it have been? What use to drag you down with me?’

 

‘I could have listened—’

 

‘And what, pray tell, would I have said? Perhaps I could have told you about the terrorised girl, kept caged like an animal, bruised and broken for the entertainment of monsters?’ Amelia gasped in horror at the words. ‘Yes, now you see. I had enough nightmares of my own without being responsible for yours.’ Daisy’s voice rose on every word to a snarling, feral crescendo. It was horrible to witness but it was real and it was honest and it was present. In that moment, Daisy was more animated—more alive—than she had been for the previous hour. Perhaps there was still hope for her old friend.

 

The door swung open and Price barged through it. ‘The innkeeper delivered your garment bag along with my luggage,’ he said. ‘It will need pressing before the damned party, so I’m going to take it down to the laundry.’

 

You’d have to be stupid to believe this charade, Amelia thought. A sudden interest in the laundering of party dresses? No, Price had bounded in on his white charger in defence of an obviously distraught Daisy.

 

But Amelia was going to allow the charade to pass without comment. He was, after all, looking out for her, even if Amelia had wished he hadn’t. They were getting somewhere.

Having achieved his goal, EveryoneHasTheirPriceWhitney spun on his heel with surprising grace for a big man and made to leave.

 

‘Don’t forget our yoga and meditation class at 3.30!’ Daisy called after him, a weak smile plastered on her face. There was genuine friendship between the two, and even though Amelia was certain she could never warm to that kind of rude, Amelia was happy that her friend had found that in the snake pit that was Hollywood.

 

Price poked his head back round the door. ‘You won’t find Price Whitney twisting himself into a pretzel, not even for Hollywood’s favourite princess. I’m gonna fly solo and take myself off on a tour of this itty-bitty island, see if I can’t regain my land legs.’

 

With that he peered at Daisy, like he had X-ray vision and was scanning her for…well, Amelia wasn’t quite sure, but she thought perhaps he was scanning her for wounds. Then after a painful fifteen or so seconds, the peer turned into a scowl as he wrapped his sausage fingers around the back of his neck and rubbed back and forth. He shook his head, muttering, ‘I knew this was a bad idea.’ Then he left.

 

Daisy was back in the centre of the room looking like a lost child. Not knowing what else to do, the boulder growing exponentially in her stomach, Amelia turned to leave.

She thought she might have spotted a chink in her friend’s armour, but she could also tell she would get no further just now. Still, Amelia decided, she was going to make the most of the next few days. Everything is cracked… that’s how the light gets in, she mused as she took hold of the handle and pressed downward.

 

‘It really is a lovely room,’ Daisy said, her voice barely a whisper. ‘And thank you for the furniture. I’ll make sure to be down in the lobby in good time.’

 

Amelia nodded. Much of the wicker furniture—the rocking chair, the old cabinet that doubled as a dresser, the writing desk—was from Uncle Seb’s living room in the old house. Amelia had commissioned the bed and the dressing tables to match. She had missed her old friend and she had gone to great lengths to make her feel comfortable. She wondered if she noticed or remembered her grandfather’s things.

 

‘I’ll see you later Daisy,’ Amelia said, turning to look at her friend. ‘Oh, and Daisy?’

‘Yes Amelia?’ Daisy replied, her face stiff with tension, her voice strained. She had had enough for one day.

 

‘Welcome home.’

***

Amelia was peeking out between the gap in her thighs. Her legs were spread wide, her knees locked, her upper body collapsed forward and she was swaying like a tree in the wind, according to Sawubona, who was sitting cross-legged with his palms together in prayer position, chanting, ‘Oh my, how big is your bum?’ over and over. At least that was what it sounded like to Amelia. If this is meant to be boosting my minuscule self-esteem, it is not working.

Though, come to think of it, that probably wasn’t what he was chanting, and at this point, with the blood all flooded to her head (and fingertips), she was struggling to care. Her hands throbbed as the blood struggled to make the steep climb back to her heart.

Daisy was lying like a pile of sharpened sticks on the mat, while Maud stood upright, impatiently tapping one sock-covered foot on the floor. Leo and Wendy were gamely trying to follow Sawubona’s instructions, and Herb was sitting on his bum, collapsed like a wobbly toddler, while Sawubona droned on, ‘Oh my, how big is your bum? Oh my, how big is your bum?’

 

Gazing between the gap in her thighs, silently reminiscing about everything she loved about standing upright, and wondering whether, at this stage, she was even capable of such a feat, Amelia spotted Beatrice Besson by the door. She watched as the mosaic artist glided into the room, a lovely orange and green cereal-sized mosaic bowl complimenting her green smock and her hair which was perhaps one shade lighter than the orange of the offering. Like a living benediction, Amelia thought. But it might just be the rush of blood to my head.

The room filled with the scent of bougainvillaea flowers as Beatrice carried her offering to the shrine. Amelia gave a little wave of one hand between her legs. It put her off-balance and she tipped too far forward, falling, but she improvised, turning it into a forward roll like they’d practiced in school gym classes all those years ago. Unfortunately, Amelia had never really mastered that particular roll, and she ended up sprawled on her mat looking like a more crumpled, curvier version of Daisy’s stick-pile.

Her head was spinning. Her body rebelled and she wretched, and by the time Amelia untangled herself, Beatrice had completed her little bow or curtsy or whatever it was she did on her daily visits, and had glided out the door.

 

Amelia focused on righting herself, then scanned the room, checking that none of her guests were similarly indisposed, and also checking to see if they had noticed her little tumble. Leo the contortionist threw her a wink, silently confirming he had witnessed her humiliation, Wendy was bravely persevering with the class. Maud, unsurprisingly, was still tapping her toes, but Herb and Daisy appeared to have picked up their mats and walked, like in the scriptures. The pinched look on Maud’s face told Amelia she had missed something significant. But what?

 

Oh well, maybe Thursday’s tantra class will be more to their liking, Amelia thought, crossing her fingers while reluctantly opening her legs and collapsing forward once again.

 

Fifteen minutes later, after making shapes with her body she was sure it was not intended to make, Sawubona had stopped his incessant chanting.

 

Ten minutes after that, Amelia stood with Maud, Price, Leo and Wendy outside the front of the shrine room, waiting for Oliver to bring the jeep around. She had taken a moment to pop to the kitchen, which is where her hounds, Tulip and Monty, could predictably be found whenever she lost sight of them.

 

The guests would have the choice of riding in the jeep up the unmade road to the summit or hiking there with Amelia and the dogs.

 

Just as the jeep rolled to a halt, Daisy appeared from behind the hotel, walking from an area where the cliffs were high as skyscrapers—still wearing those blasted stiletto heels—and Herb strolled up from his bungalow, which was just to the east of the main building, nestled at the foot of La Colina and set well back from the cliffs.

 

‘Please do be careful if you go walking along the clifftops, especially in those shoes,’ Amelia said. ‘You do know that a whole gaggle of Japanese girls have died after falling off their platform shoes?’ she added, her voice tight with worry.

 

‘Yes Lia, I have heard the tales. Though in my defence, those poor sweet babies had not been walking on spikes for two decades.

 

‘And if I do happen to fall, I pinkie-swear not to sue you from beyond the grave,’ Daisy replied, pursing her lips, spinning ever so competently on said heels, and marched across to the jeep as comfortable as a farmer in wellies. She pulled up her dress, just enough that she could raise her foot twelve inches off the ground to reach the sill, and hopped gracefully up onto the front of the two rows of bench seats behind the driver.

 

Amelia hoped the sarcasm was a sign that the island was already weaving its magic and healing the trauma Daisy so obviously still carried. Looks like Daisy won’t be hiking with me, Amelia thought, then watched as Maud, Wendy, and Price all hopped into the jeep after her.

‘Looks like it’s just you, me and the dogs taking a hike, old duck,’ Leo said from beside her. His voice was like a warm hug, and she found herself turning to him and grinning.

 

‘That’s good. I owe you an explanation and an apology and no doubt it’ll come out smoother without an audience,’ she said as the jeep took off down the driveway with Oliver honking the horn like a goose on crack.

 

‘Sounds deep, Lia… But whatever it is you think warrants an apology, to me it’s water under the bridge. All is well between us,’ Leo said, heading off after the jeep.

 

‘Ahem.’ Amelia cleared her throat to attract his attention, then instead of heading down the driveway, she walked across the front of the hotel building, past the eastern bungalows and along the dirt track that led up the mountain. Leo followed. Ahead, they could see the dirt thrown up by the jeep’s wheels as Oliver turned left off the main road and onto a track on the far side of La Colina Alta.

 

‘I love the fact you forgive so easily, and I’ll definitely be taking you up on that, but all the same, I would like the opportunity to explain what happened seven years ago.’

 

‘It’s your choice if you want to dig up ancient history, my love,’ Leo said. Then, as she was about to launch into said explanation, she was sure she heard him mutter, ‘Our history is the least of my worries.’ Amelia felt a shiver roll up her spine as she remembered Leo’s killing stare boring into Bill’s back from earlier. She wanted to ask him about it, but first she needed to bare her soul.

 

‘As you well know, I was eight years old when I lost my father. What you may not know but I’m sure you guessed, over the next few years I slowly, inch by inch, lost what was left of my mother to the bitter demon inside her. At sixteen I lost my best friend Daisy and at twenty-three I lost you. After those hits, I had only one person left in this world who was more precious to me than life, apart from grumpy old Oliver, and that was my Uncle Seb. When I lost him a year ago, I had nothing left, nothing at all.

 

‘And the strange thing is, after the initial shock and grief, and over time, I discovered that at last I was free. I had nothing left to lose and so the fear I carried with me wherever I went just slipped away one day, never to return.’ Leo was smiling, his teeth gleaming in the sunlight. Though he looked sceptical.

 

‘Oh, don’t worry too much. Caution is a habit that does not let go so easily. I suspect I will always project my fears onto those I love…’ she didn’t finish that thought, just went back to the story she was desperate to recount.

 

‘Seven years ago, before you went off gallivanting in search of both our fathers, you had a meeting with Maud, correct?’ she asked, grabbing for Tulip’s collar as she went barrelling past them and into the undergrowth. Damn, it looks like I’m going to be hosing her off later.

‘I did,’ Leo replied, then… nothing. It seemed if she wanted to apologise, it would be her doing all the talking.

 

‘She told you I felt sorry for you. “After all, dear Leopold, you were effectively orphaned when your father went missing,”’ Amelia said, imitating Maud’s nasal tones. ‘She told you that I only cared about you because of our shared loss. That I had voiced my trepidation at being tied to you. But Leo, she lied.’ Amelia dragged in a lungful of air and continued.

 

‘I knew from the age of five, hiding just off stage at one of Maud’s productions, that I was destined to marry a handsome prince. I wasn’t fussy about him actually having royal blood flowing through his veins. Even at five, that part wasn’t important. What was important was that he’d simply adore me from our first chance meeting on Piccadilly, until the day he died peacefully in his sleep, of a broken heart, just months after I had passed away from a short, and hopefully painless, illness. And the important part of that was that he died after me so I wouldn’t have to suffer through losing him.’ Leo smirked the old Leo smirk, amused. He held out his hand to help her clamber over some rocks that barred the narrow path. She didn’t judge his smirk, for he had heard the same story many times before.

 

‘I embellished the dream through the years. We would live behind a white picket fence in a tiny village in the Cotswolds or the Lake District or some other romantic-sounding corner of England, and I would fill our house with shiny-faced children who’d attend the local Church of England school where they’d excel, or not, because that wouldn’t matter, as long as they were healthy and happy.’

 

‘Then, at eight years old, I met a darling boy of ten, named Leopold Alcott. I had a face for my prince.’ This time Leo grinned, then let out a shrill whistle calling Monty back from the brow of a small rise in front of them. The dog stopped and looked over his shoulder before lolloping off into the undergrowth in search of his great love, Tulip.

 

‘Through the years I crushed on you terribly and when at eighteen you asked me on a date, I thought I had died and gone to Heaven. I jumped at the chance, of course, and after that, if we hadn’t already been joined at the hip, we would have been then.

 

‘You were my first,’ she said quietly and Leo flushed beetroot. ‘Leo and Lia forever, it seemed so perfect. I shared my dreams with you and you shared yours with me.

 

‘Everything was wonderful. I was in love. But then, something happened. I couldn’t understand it. On the day, I was certain you were going to ask me that biggest of all questions, you stood me up. Days went by and nothing.

 

‘I had not woken up in my long dreamed of fairy tale with a sparkling ring on my finger, but in The Critical World of Maud Lavender. The familiar recrimination-filled world I had inhabited my entire life, a place which I was certain no one in their right mind would care to reside.

‘Then a letter dropped on the mat four days later. You told me you were off to Africa in search of my father, Maynard, and your father, Bennet, and you would not return until you located them. But I knew you had gotten cold feet. That I was not enough, not the dream girl to you like you were the dream boy to me.

‘So, I let go of that dream of caterwauling children, hungry for their breakfasts and late for the school bus, in Market Lavenham or Stockley Chippenham or some other double-barrelled village that should have been mine.’

 

Somehow, they had come to a halt. Leo’s attention was full on her as he stood facing her, reaching out to take hold of both her hands.

 

‘Lia…’ That one word was a plea, a plea to stop torturing herself.

 

‘Then, thirteen months ago, after years of agony, when I was certain the scab had healed over that wound, I learned that Maud had caused my pain. And what was more, she had not an ounce of shame over it.

 

‘She had gone to visit you, and she had told you not the truth she claimed, but a horrible, terrible lie. And instead of coming to me, talking to me, you left.’

 

‘Calm down, Lia—’ Leo tried again to stop the diatribe but Amelia was a woman possessed, vomiting up the black tar that had infested her soul for almost a decade, desperate to get it out once and for all.

 

‘I have lived in fear for as long as I can remember. Most of it was Maud’s fear, carried by me. But some of it is mine. The part that is mine is the part that grew from knowing what it feels like to reach out for your dream, to want it so badly you can hardly breathe, and then lose it. To lose the person you love. That part, not wanting to take a chance again having fallen so hard…that was all mine.

 

‘Then Uncle Seb’s gift allowed to me to escape the terrible knowledge of what she had done. I can barely remember those first weeks after I got here. I only left my room to shower and eat. But soon the island sun tempted me to the beach, then to exploring, reacquainting myself with the old haunts I remembered from our childhood adventures. It wasn’t long before I found myself clambering up rocky outcrops, then venturing into the damp caves behind the hidden beach and roaming the laterite paths along the cliff tops. As I explored, my heart slowly healed, at least a little, which allowed me to at last fully understand Uncle Seb’s dream of opening a healing hotel on this island. It was like an epiphany. If this place could heal my own wounded heart, couldn’t it surely do the same for others?’

 

‘This is your new beginning,’ Leo murmured, the light of understanding illuminating his face.

 

‘Yes, a new beginning. A different dream. But a dream nonetheless.’

 

‘And Seb wanted you to bring me here. Why?’

 

‘Uncle set me a deathbed challenge, and part of that was to bring you here. I can’t begin to understand his motives other than that they were guided by his innate goodness. But whatever they were, I want you to know that I would have wanted you here anyway, wanted it right down to the marrow in my bones. And part of that wanting was to give me this opportunity to make sure you know—right down to the marrow in your bones—that the feelings I had for you back then were not pity, they were love. But mostly I just wanted you here because…I missed you.’

 

There they stood, two minutes from the top of her almost-mountain. Amelia facing Leo, both her hands wrapped in his. Staring into each other’s eyes, hers green, his bright blue, and slowly, tentatively, they began to smile.

‘Thank you, Lia,’ Leo said. ‘Thank you for bringing me here and for explaining. It means a lot to me that you want me here. This year has been tough and it feels good to be here in a place where I have only happy memories,’ Leo paused, swallowed and then said. ‘You know what a dunce I can be, how gullible.’ Amelia nodded and smiled.

 

Oh yes, her Leo had a massive heart and he certainly led with it, sometimes at times when he should have been guarding it.

 

‘What happened?’

 

‘Well, I got mixed up with someone I shouldn’t have, and like a fool, I got my pals in London mixed up with this can’t lose venture he introduced me to. And that venture turned out to be a tad…irregular, which means I’ve become a bit of a persona non grata in dear old Blighty.’

‘Go on. What happened?’ Amelia smiled, encouraging him to open up to her as she had to him.

 

Leo shrugged, and gave a half laugh that didn’t look natural. ‘No need to get into the details. Suffice to say, it all blew up just before your last letter, so I thought, Leo, my old man, now is a fantastic time to take a little holiday with old chums to give us all a little time for the dust to settle.’ Amelia’s glow faded a little and she felt the air being sucked out of her lungs when she realised, he hadn’t come for her, at least not in the way she would have liked.

 

But of course, he hadn’t. Why would he have when he thought Amelia had never truly cared for him?

 

‘Anyway,’ he continued. ‘Thank you for telling me the truth and thank you for giving me a place to stay. It might help me sort out my head.’

 

Amelia nodded and smiled, okay with ending their talk there. The opportunities to talk later would be there, she knew, and at least the weight of her apology had been lifted off her shoulders. She had done it. She had cleared the wreckage that was their past and she was ready for whatever came next.

‘Shall we catch up to the others. I don’t know about you, but I could murder a martini,’ Amelia said. Leopold Alcott nodded and dragged her the rest of the way up to the peak.