A Killer Opening

(unedited) Chapters

CHAPTER THREE

Hackles raised, Amelia and Oliver were enjoying their faux-angry staring competition when Bill wandered in unannounced and without bothering to knock.

He was dressed in a pair of indigo sailing shorts, a cherry-red pencil-striped shirt and soft-soled sailing shoes. As always, dapperly dressed with his wavey blond-streaked hair smoothed back with gel, he looked more like a model or actor off the front cover of a yachting magazine than the penniless sailor he claimed to be.

While working on Maud’s theatre productions, on both sides of the Atlantic, Amelia had met – and had crushes on – enough actors to know how differently they carried themselves when wearing their costumes to when they were in mufti; and Bill was never in mufti.

Amelia was the kind to notice details, so she couldn’t help noticing Bill’s little foibles. Every stride he took was long, smooth and measured, but every few steps his sole would skim along the floor, as if he couldn’t resist skating close to the edge. He walked with his hands shoved deep into his pockets, hinting, to Amelia at least, that he had something to hide.

She hadn’t quite decided about Bill. Sure, he looked yummy enough to slather on a chocolate cake, but beneath the frosted icing surface, there was something of the mushy peas about the man.

 

If Oliver was her Man Friday, that would make Bill – who had been marooned on her island exactly a month to the day before the coming weekend’s grand opening – Robinson Crusoe himself. Though luckily for him, unlike his fictional forebear, it seemed that with a little loving care and some chivvying along, his yacht would be salvageable.

 

‘You two have been holed up in this pokey little cave of yours for so long, you seem to have lost track of time,’ Bill drawled, tapping his watch and tutting.

 

Amelia looked down at her own slim wrist and gasped at what she saw. It was two pm, her guests were due to dock at… two pm.

 

‘Are we done duelling?’ she asked Oliver, jumping up from her chair, ready to dash to her car. Oliver nodded solemnly, stood up, smoothed his hands down his clothes to remove any creases, then strode out of the room without a word of goodbye. He had also not even acknowledged Bill, who stood slouched by her office door, smirking. Mushy peas, Amelia thought, before saying, ‘Okay, I’m off. Will you be here when we get back?’

‘Here or on the Titanic,’ he replied.

 

When Oliver had learned that catastrophe had struck Bill’s yacht on its maiden voyage just weeks into his planned round the world cruise, with customary acidity he rechristened it the Titanic.

 

‘Don’t bother to hold dinner for me if I’m still off tinkering,’ he ordered, leaning back against the door frame, crossing his legs at his ankles and shoving his hands, if it was possible, still deeper into his pockets. He was lucky Amelia was in a hurry, otherwise she might have reminded him who was working for whom.

 

The two of them had struck a deal; she needed all hands-on-deck to get ready for the grand opening and he – practically penniless, having spent all his cash on a Friday-afternoon-er of an around the world yacht – had agreed to help out in exchange for cash to buy parts.

Amelia wasn’t certain how much work Bill had actually done in the run up to the gala, though while breakfasting on her balcony earlier that morning, she had definitely spotted him and Pau working together to fix her uncle’s ancient tractor.

 

Tamping down her temper, Amelia grabbed her car keys, scurried past Bill and sprinted across the forecourt to her car.

 

Bill, she noticed grimly, had trailed her to the hotel entrance and had somehow managed to drag one of his hands out of his pockets to wave her off. The car tyres spun as Amelia tore down the hotel driveway leaving Bill Ash bathed in a red haze of Mediterranean laterite dust. She waggled her arm in the air in a belated goodbye just as she cleared the massive olivewood gates, swung the car sharply to the left, then thundered off down the island’s only paved road in a hurry to reach the tiny jetty. She was anxious to greet the first guests of the season – of any season if the truth be told.

 

The road, which Amelia had nicknamed Highway One back in her teens, spanned almost the full three-kilometre length of the island, and had once been perfectly paved. Extremes in weather, coupled with a general lack of maintenance, had degraded the black-top into the decrepit mess it was as she slalomed around potholes, palm fronds, and other detritus on her headlong sprint from the main hotel building to the island’s unassuming little harbour. She made a mental note to ask Bill if he and Pau could use the tractor they had been fixing, to clear up the road before the party on Saturday.

 

As Amelia drove, the wind poured over the windscreen, whipping the strands of her normally impeccably chestnut bob in frantic circles around her face like flames dancing in a hearth.

Gone were the greasy locks and all the extra pounds she’d piled on while she catered to every one of Maud’s whims. A year in the Mediterranean had turned her from anxiety-riddled and borderline obese to a happy, increasingly confident, healthily curvy, young Sophia Loren lookalike.

 

Except for today. Today, the anxiety had returned as her uncle’s deadline neared. But magically, as she drove, her body relaxed and her pounding heart unclenched. She’d never been able to resist this car with its drop top roof, bench seat, and white wall tires. Nor had she ever been able to resist a drive down Highway One, not even as a teenager when she, Leo and Daisy had visited her Uncle Sebastian’s paradise island on school holidays, and oughtn’t have been driving any car at all, let alone Uncle Seb’s pride and joy.

 

Now, almost fifteen years later, she was cruising the length of this island she called home, and would continue to do so with joy, at least until Saturday’s gala.

 

As she roared past kilometre two on Highway One, Amelia thought of how Uncle Sebastian couldn’t have provided her with a better distraction if he’d lived to do so himself. It might even have saved her sanity.

 

You see, Amelia, daughter to Maud Lavender and her long missing but never forgotten father, Anthony Ferver, had discovered, a little more than twelve months earlier, that everything she had built her life on was a lie.

 

She had overheard one side of a telephone conversation between her mother Maud and an anonymous caller, as she lay like a beached whale, sprawled across her bed at two pm one Thursday afternoon. ‘Oh, Amelia is such a lazy girl. Positively useless I tell you. Her personal hygiene is appalling, never bathes and she’s ballooned to the size of a heifer, I tell you. If I wasn’t here to take care of her, she’d be dead in a week,’ Maud had told the nameless person on the other end of the line.

 

Of course, they’d had had a blazing row after Maud had hung up, and during that row Amelia had discovered that Maud had been badmouthing and undermining her for years.

‘And I did young Leopold Alcott a tremendous favour when I put a stop to your silly little love affair!’ Maud had screeched at the height of their exchange. Everything that was said after that was a blur, as if her mind had seized like an oil-less engine.

 

Drop it! That’s in the past. You have enough on your plate today without bringing up old hurts, Amelia told herself as she rounded the final bend in the road, over the brow of a shallow hill. The harbour came into view.

 

Amelia pulled up at a viewpoint that overlooked the harbour, taking a few moments to ready herself for the onslaught. She opened the car door and walked to the cliff edge. There, moored at the old wooden jetty, right beside Bill’s yacht, stood an old-fashioned dual masted sailing ship. It had been a romantic treat, in honour of the occasion, for her special guests to arrive at their island hideaway in a Turkish gulet.

 

For a moment, she stared out across the aqua water at the grey-green cliffs of Mallorca to the north. Over the last few weeks, every time she gazed across the water, to the largest of El Pedrusco’s siblings, Amelia had felt a sense of doom, like her breath was being choked out of her. And now the reason for it is here, she thought, glancing down into the harbour where a group of people were milling around, while the sailors and Oliver offloaded their luggage.

Amelia’s guests had arrived. She had done everything in her power to meet her uncle’s stipulations. The rest was out of her hands.

 

***

By the time Amelia had jumped back into her car and wended her way down the zig-zag road to the harbour, the gaggle of people had surrounded Oliver’s jeep.

There was Daisy, her childhood friend, all willowy and honey-haired. Clothed in her signature, form fitting evening gown – this one was lilac – Dior sunglasses, and skyscraper sandals that wouldn’t last a minute on a hike to the summit of La Colina Alta. Amelia hadn’t seen her childhood friend since Daisy had been kidnapped off a London street when they were both sixteen. She had tried to make contact on countless occasions after Daisy was freed, but the other girl had never replied to her flurry of letters, cards and phone calls.

 

It had broken Amelia’s teenage heart to think of her friend damaged and alone, but then when Daisy had made it in Hollywood, every photograph and movie had showed a thriving, vibrant young woman, loving every moment of her new life with her father on the other side of the Atlantic. After that, Amelia had decided to keep her sympathy for herself.

 

Standing beside Daisy was their old friend Leo. He was six foot two with a slim build, and wore his cream linen suit like it had been made for him. His streaked blond hair, with its floppy fringe that seemed to have a life of its own, was mostly hidden by a Panama hat, and though she wasn’t close enough to see the startling blue eyes she had fallen in love with as a girl, she imagined them twinkling with unexpressed laughter. When they were flirting teens, that laugh had frogs jumping around in her chest and her knees turning to jelly.

 

But as she had learned in that row to end all rows, Maud had taken great pains to put a stop to their burgeoning love affair. He hadn’t wanted to come to the opening, she could tell by the tone of his first letter. It had taken every weapon in her considerable arsenal to persuade him. What finally clinched it was her insistence that it had been her uncle’s dying wish that he be there.

 

Leo had a soft heart. He was kind, loyal and had a quiet strength that suited his name. She hoped Uncle Seb, up there in the heavens, would forgive her little white lie about dying wishes.

 

Standing a little apart was an odd-looking couple. The man wore an orange, flowing robe with red cord tied around his waist and strange little string sandals on his feet. His hair was jet black, and reached almost to the cord at his waist. His skin was like honey, either from the sun or perhaps his heritage. Amelia thought he looked just like Robert Powell when he had played Christ in Jesus of Nazareth. This must be Sawubona, the guru she’d hired on the advice of a Hollywood wardrobe mistress she knew from when they had worked together on one of Maud’s plays in the West End. The woman had assured Amelia that Sawubona was a firm favourite of the fashionable Hollywood elite and would be a real draw for those guests in need of spiritual guidance.

 

To Amelia’s astonished delight, the guru had been quick to accept her offer of a three-month contract, and she had been equally thrilled by how reasonable his fees had turned out to be.

The woman at his side had to be his spiritual muse, Tantriana, the tantric practitioner without whom he had insisted he could not adequately serve their mutual clients. She was tiny, no more than five feet tall, of South-Asian heritage with dark copper hennaed hair. She was dressed in a white robe with an orange cord that set off her gleaming almond skin, and she wore a chain of daisies looped crownlike around her head. Her hourglass figure and striking classic features explained the guru’s insistence she accompany him.

 

Amelia felt a wave of relief. Surely this exotic couple couldn’t fail to impress her guests? Though something about them seemed contrived, which was normal for Hollywood. Amelia had lived immersed in theatre long enough to spot fake at sixty-paces, but as she had invited them not just to attract guests to her hotel, but to actually help those guests who chose to come to her island on a true quest for enlightenment and solace, she hoped she hadn’t made a mistake.

 

And there was the journalist, Herb, who was wearing what looked like a safari suit, with a pair of binoculars and a telephoto-lensed camera hung around his neck. Beside him there was a large man with thinning grey hair, a body that was padded far more than was healthy, just as her own had been for more than a decade. He was waving a fat cigar around, complaining about the goddamned sun. Amelia thought he looked like a Texas oil baron on vacation. It had to be none other than Price, Daisy’s agent, the man who had provided the endless list of requirements on Ms Forrester’s behalf.

 

Oliver was loading cases into the back of his jeep when a kind of flapping motion caught Amelia’s attention. Turning her head, she spotted the person she had been dreading seeing. Her mother Maud was busy piling bags, files, a giant floppy hat, and what looked like three shoe boxes into the arms of her harried secretary, Wendy Gale.

 

After she had discovered her mother’s duplicity, even before her uncle’s death, Amelia had begun to plan her escape. Breaking free of her mother’s control had taken a great deal of planning and Wendy had been the ace up Amelia’s sleeve.

 

Wendy was the perfect applicant for the position of Maud Lavender’s assistant. She had top notch references from directors and producers of both stage and screen. Amelia had taken to her immediately, though the other woman, who had skin so pale it was like alabaster and hair so white she looked like a Tolkien elf, was timid as a church mouse on first meeting, and hardly improved on further acquaintance. “Wan” was the word for her, and unfortunately her personality fit the description perfectly too. On paper, she had been perfect, but Amelia knew her mother would bully poor Wendy so harshly she worried she wouldn’t survive. Which was why Amelia had acted against her own best interests, just as she had most of her life, and suggested Wendy keep looking for alternative work.

Wendy had resisted, showing more backbone than Amelia had given her credit for. She had insisted she would take the job if it was offered to her. When Amelia had left the lawyers office the day of Sebastian’s funeral, her first call had been to Wendy to organise a final interview with Maud. She was gone before the interview took place but, as she had predicted, Maud offered Wendy the job. Like all sharks, Maud could spot blood in the water and couldn’t resist following its scent.

 

Sitting in the car and staring at my guests isn’t going to get everyone back to the hotel, Amelia berated herself.

 

‘Hola!’ Amelia called out to her guests as she jumped out of her car and strode across the small harbour to greet them.

 

Leo’s and Daisy’s faces were guarded as she approached. They had been three musketeers back in their teens, swallows and amazons running wild on this island, but time and life had built barriers where once there had been none. Not that the tension penetrated Maud’s obliviousness as she immediately began to imperiously allocate people to vehicles.

Maud, Daisy and Leo would join Amelia, of course. Price would not be separated from his client so he too would be travelling in the Cadillac. Lucky it has bench seats.

The staff, as Maud called them – Wendy, Sawubona and Tantriana, as well as Herb, the journalist – would travel with Oliver and the luggage.

 

The pile of cases which had been unloaded from the yacht did not seem to be dwindling much as Oliver marched backward and forward, from dock to jeep, packing them in like he was figuring out a jigsaw puzzle. Amelia guessed he’d be making another trip after dropping their guests off at the hotel.

 

‘Let’s be off,’ Maud ordered, not looking at Amelia as she climbed into the front passenger seat and slammed the door shut, leaving the larger-than-life Price Whitney to squish himself into the back with Daisy and Leo. As he settled himself, he reached over the seat behind and patted Amelia clumsily on the shoulder.

 

‘Name’s Price Whitney,’ he said. ‘Named by my old Pa, who always told me that everyone has their price. Said he’d made damn sure I’d never be able forget that one little piece of wisdom.’ Amelia had never before met anyone who felt the need to explain their name.

 

She knew her own name Amelia was the English version of the German one, Amalia, which meant hardworking and industrious, the exact opposite of what Maud had accused her of being on that phone call thirteen months earlier. She was about to mention it to Maud, as she would have in her previous life, but she thought better of it. No doubt Maud would manage to bring it back to Amelia’s terrible and heartless abandonment of her after the Will reading.

 

‘Don’t spare the horses!’ Price bellowed from the backseat as Amelia fired up the engine. ‘And damned fine horses you have beneath your bonnet, little lady.’

 

Amelia didn’t miss the double meaning in the man’s words. She ignored it, but she did not miss it. She also decided, in that moment, to do everything she could to avoid EveryoneHasTheirPrice Whitney.

 

‘Do you remember, in our teens, how we used to steal this big-bad beast and go joy riding up and down the island, Daisy?’ Amelia asked, changing the subject and smiling into the rear-view mirror at her old chum, who she had not clapped eyes on, other than on the silver screen, for almost fifteen years.

 

No response.

 

‘Daisy?’ Amelia called again, a little louder this time.

 

‘Oh…yes…You’re quite right,’ Daisy murmured in response before turning her face to look out of the window, gazing with unseeing eyes at the crew who were readying the ship for departure.

 

Amelia didn’t believe Daisy had heard a word of what she had said. Oh well, it’s only three days, she reminded herself as she shifted the car into drive and pulled away from the jetty, heading up the twisty road to the clifftop.

 

The vacant look on Daisy’s face reminded her a little of how Maud had looked after the kidnapping. When the teenage Daisy had been taken, Maud – who was also Daisy’s godmother – had gone so deep into shock that the doctor had prescribed a sedative so she could sleep. Daisy looked just how Maud had after taking the sedative.

 

‘Did you enjoy the gulet? Was the crossing a smooth one?’ she asked, again into the mirror, as she swung the big ship of a car out onto Highway One, heading for the hotel. This time she did not rush. They had plenty of time before they began the afternoon’s itinerary, and she wanted to take the opportunity to point out some of the island’s features as they went.

 

‘Smooth enough,’ Leo answered, his voice rough with emotion. They were the first words they had spoken since the day, seven years earlier, when he had failed to turn up at their planned date – a date at which Amelia had been certain he would propose to her. Something inside her cracked open at his words. Smooth enough. She hoped her explanation of Maud’s duplicity would be smooth sailing too. Surely the fact he was here said something.

 

It was enough for now and, like a warm hug, it gave her the motivation she needed to begin their guided tour. ‘Let me explain the layout of the island and the plan for these next few days we have together. Before the hoards arrive.’

 

‘The yacht is now readying to set sail and it won’t be back until Saturday afternoon, when it will deliver the guests to the gala. Until then, we will be like shipwrecked sailors, no internet, no television, just rest, relaxation and whatever pampering you fancy,’ she told them with a grin.

 

Maud harumphed, while Daisy continued staring out of the windows, this time gazing unseeing at La Colina Alta, the almost-mountain. She knew flamingos were wading in the shallows of the lake that lay at its foot.

 

‘The skipper took all our electronics when we boarded,’ Price said. ‘I’m gonna need mine back pretty soon.’

 

‘Oh no!’ Amelia said. ‘We promised you a restful, uninterrupted stay, and that’s what we will give you, whether you like it or not. Your laptops, tablets and phones are, as we speak, wending their way back to Mallorca on the gulet.

 

‘The next three days have been meticulously planned as an opportunity for you to see the island’s unique attractions, a place where you can get back to nature, free from the distractions and the emotional drain of TV, internet and mobile phones. We have employed Sawubona – a world renowned teacher – to offer spiritual guidance, healing treatments and yoga for your uptight, over-adrenalized bodies, there will be gentle hikes to get your blood pumping, as well as a snorkelling safari around the subterranean caverns, and in the evening, we’ll be playing old-fashioned board games and relearning the lost art of conversations in the evening after a home-grown vegan dinner.’

 

‘What the hell are you talking about? Who cares about some yogi, who by the way is no way world renowned, otherwise I’d be representing him? I’ve got genuine celebrities up the wazoo who need their hands held, their egos massaged, and more than both of those, they need constant access to me! And let’s not forget, Daisy, my princess, that I have a video meeting with a studio exec on Friday!’

 

‘Looks like you’re going to be a no show, old chap,’ Leo murmured sardonically, just as the old Leo would have. A whisper of a smile crossed his lips and Amelia felt a matching flicker of hope in her chest.

 

‘Harrumph…fine, I can be flexible. I can share your office for a few days,’ Price decided, ‘While I call up my clients and grovel a little…just like you should be grovelling to me right now, but for some unfathomable reason are not. And I can use your computer for the video conference on Friday. Just like that, back in the race!’

 

‘No office computer.’ Amelia said, giving a little shrug of apology. ‘No electronics at all, I’m afraid.’ After only five minutes in his company, Amelia’s head was beginning to pound. 

 

‘It was all in the brochure, Peppy,’ Daisy said, having apparently gifted the ghastly monster of a man with a pet name. ‘You did read the brochure, didn’t you, darling?’

 

‘Of course, I didn’t read the goddamned brochure,’ he snapped. ‘You said you needed a little getaway and I made that happen like I always make everything happen. I didn’t need a little getaway, but you said you needed an escort for moral support, so I made that happen too, by abandoning my other clients and flying halfway across the world to hold your hand. What in all that would make you think I’d have read the brochure?’ Price’s voice was rising and his already ruddy face was turning puce from hypertension. If Amelia hadn’t taken an instant dislike to the man, she’d have been worried for his health.

 

‘I didn’t read the brochure either, Amelia my love,’ Leo galloped gallantly to her rescue. ‘So maybe we could pass the time with you telling us about the island?’

 

Still on her side. What a relief.

 

‘This road, the island’s only road, runs from one end of the island in the east to the other in the west. Right in the centre of the island, a little to the north, over there–’ She took her right hand off her steering wheel and waved at the large hill to their right. ‘–is La Colina Alta, the highest peak on the island. Spreading out behind her, like a mother goose with her gaggle of day-old chicks, is a lumpy blanket of foothills that contour the island and shelter its southern shores from the Tramontana wind that pummels the north in the winter months,’ Amelia explained.

 

Looking around the car, from Maud’s stiff countenance, to Daisy’s flaccid one, then on to Price’s stony one, Amelia realised that the only non-hostile in the vehicle was Leo, so she focused what was left of her guided tour on him.  

 

‘The island is the three-kilometre-long and two-kilometre-wide tip of a long-submerged mountain in the Mediterranean Sea,’ she explained. Amelia never tired of the island’s apparent contradictions; rugged north with hardy pine trees bent double by the Tramontana and heather covered rocky outcrops, contrasting with the lush palm, cypress and olive groves of the more temperate south.

 

‘It gets pretty hot in the summer but never goes below freezing in the winter, so I can grow orange and lemon trees, and I have planted a vegetable garden to feed you lot, so I hope you’ve brought your appetites!’

 

‘Can’t wait, love,’ Leo said, giving her an encouraging nod, while Maud continued her silent assassination and both Daisy and Price whispered between themselves.

 

‘You will have spotted the lighthouse that sits prominently on the clifftop. Just to the south of it, nestled in the foothills of La Colina Alta, is a small artists community,’ Amelia continued gamely.

 

‘You’ll be excited to hear that the flamingos have begun to arrive. They migrate here each year and stay on our lake.’ Again, Amelia waved her hand out of the window in the direction of the mountain, with a large lake spreading out like an A-line skirt at its base. No one was interested; not really. Even Leo’s eyes had glazed over and she was about to give up and surrender to the silence for the last few minutes of their journey, when Price spoke.

 

‘At least you have a beach,’ he said, spotting the long white sand of the stunning kilometre long beach. ‘Small mercy I say, and we have them bigger and better back home, but at least we can top up our tans while we’re stranded here.’

 

Amelia was relieved when the hotel gate appeared in front of them. ‘My uncle, Sebastian Ferver, built his home on the island’s sheltered southwest corner, and in recent months, according to his wishes, I’ve made sweeping changes. I’ve gutted the original house and turned it into a combined health spa and yoga studio, incorporating a shrine room for meditation and silent contemplation. Right next to the health spa I built that red-roofed, white stucco traditional Mediterranean structure, which now houses the main hotel, as well as an art gallery and gift shop showcasing the island’s arts and crafts. Scattered between the larger buildings, hidden in their own small gardens, are guest bungalows. Inside the circle of buildings, you’ll find our central gardens and pool complex.

 

‘Our architect, Pau, is living in the lighthouse for the season, but he is determined to make sure everything is exactly as it should be,’ Amelia said.

 

‘It’d be exactly as it should be if it had internet,’ Price mumbled and Daisy laughed. It was a weak, mean, cackling kind of laugh, but it was a laugh. That must mean she was enjoying herself, mustn’t it?

 

‘At the very heart of his design is the landscaping of the central gardens that links the different buildings together with a network of little outdoor rooms and terraces that provide privacy but offer interconnectedness.’

 

When Amelia had left the hustle and bustle of London’s West End, she hadn’t missed it for a moment. Here on El Pedrusco, her feet were planted firmly on God’s earth and even after losing faith with her mother and actually losing her uncle, somehow El Pedrusco had done what it had always managed to do – it had taken her out of her pain and opened her heart. She dearly hoped the laterite soil of the hotel gardens would do the same for her guests.

Everyone sat silent. She could imagine Price’s heart had plummeted. Maud was silent for the same reason she had been silent throughout the car ride: she was sulking, and no way was she going to come to Amelia’s rescue by speaking now. Daisy might not have noticed the silence, or for all Amelia knew she might have been worrying where she could fill a prescription, which left Leo to get the conversation started again.

 

‘Three by two. Pequeño,’ Leo said, butchering the word, but she’d forgive him since this time she was certain she spotted a twinkle in his eye when she glanced in her rear-view mirror. ‘How many people live her full time?’

 

‘Inhabitants wise we’re a little thin on the ground. There is the community of three artists and, as I said, the hotel architect has set up his temporary home and office in the lighthouse. He’ll be here until after the grand opening but will no doubt move on to new projects soon after.’

‘Surely the architect has a telephone in his office!’ Price said, jumping excitedly on her words, a touch of desperation in his voice. Amelia felt bad to be dashing his hopes again, but it was like tearing off a plaster: the quicker you did it, the less painful it would be.

 

‘Nope. Sorry. Pau is young but like so many Spanish people, he can be traditional too. That’s why I awarded him the contract. I liked the way he ran with the concept of being tech-free on site. Of course, he utilized state of the art technology in his design, but whenever he is here on, El Pedrusco, he picks up his pencil.’

 

Maud, who had been silent since her last harumph, harumphed again. It seemed Amelia was to be punished for her desertion. She yearned to ask how things were going. Was Maud treating Wendy gently? But if she asked, Maud would sense weakness and attack. Amelia was too vulnerable today, the rock was too firmly lodged in her stomach, to open herself up to Maud’s vitriol. So, instead, she chattered on about the island’s inhabitants.

 

‘Other than Oliver and me, we have the artists, including Beatrice Besson, who makes the most wonderful mosaics – I can’t wait for you to see her artwork in the shrine room. Barron is renowned throughout the world for his ornithological impressionism, and he moved here to commune with our flamingos. And then we have our shadow artist, who does not use a name, considers it too plebian. Other than that, the only inhabitants here are two dozen goats that graze the hillsides, my dogs, Tulip and Monty, and our temporary visitors, a flamboyance of migrating flamingos.’

 

‘Can we get any closer to the flamingos?’ Leo asked.

 

‘After lunch,’ Amelia said. ‘We’re going to limber up with a yoga class at three and then jump in the jeep, or walk up the mountain if you are game, for sundowners and birdwatching.’

She swung the car right, driving through the traditional olivewood gates and into the hotel grounds.

 

‘Oh good,’ Amelia said with feeling. ‘We’ve arrived.’

 

***

As Amelia pulled up to a stop in the central courtyard, metres from the hotel entrance, she noticed that Oliver had already deposited his charges at the hotel entrance and was busy unloading their luggage from the back of his jeep.

What she hadn’t expected to see was Bill and Pau standing chest to chest, in the shade of one of the palm trees, gesticulating angrily. Seeing it, and already having had her nerves frayed on the journey from the jetty, Amelia had an urge to stomp over there and tell them to stop making her life more difficult.

 

Instead, because being the perfect hostess was the order of the day, Amelia gestured impatiently for Bill to join them and leave her usually perfectly collected architect in peace.

Bill just smiled, but she knew Pau had seen her discomfort when he crossed his arms over his puffed-up chest and snarled, ‘I don’t believe you. You know nothing about engines!’ then stalked off.

 

Bill rolled his eyes, mouthed the words, fiery Mediterranean bastard, shoved his hands in his pockets, and slouched over to greet them.

 

Embarrassed, Amelia turned to her guests ready to introduce the perfectly relaxed, smiling Bill but they were frozen like statues.

 

Not again! What have I done now? she thought, scanning her memory of the past few moments. Nothing.

 

But there they were. Daisy, her face no longer pale, was looking through Bill as if he wasn’t even there, focusing intently on Pau’s retreating back. Maud was rigid, frozen in time, her head tilted to one side and a frown on her face. Wendy, part hidden under a pile of Maud’s assorted possession, was gaping, eyes like saucers, in the same direction as Maud. Price was scowling at Daisy, and Leo’s face had gone beet red. He was staring determinedly at his shoes, but she knew Leo; he was friendly, relaxed, twinkly. He did not stare at his own shoes. Something had happened. What the devil did I miss?

 

‘Ah, um…as you can see, the hotel has been designed so that all of the rooms have either sea or mountain views. Daisy and Maud your suites have double aspect outlooks. When you are ready, follow me, and I will show you to your rooms,’ Amelia said, turning to lead her guests across the courtyard to the hotel entrance. She felt the stir of air at her back as her guests made to follow her. All the same, she glanced over her shoulder just to be certain, and when she did her eyes caught on Leo.

 

Maud, Wendy, Daisy, even Price, were all following along behind her, but Leo…Leo had shifted his eyes from the earth at his feet and was glaring daggers into Bill’s back as he sauntered away.