Who Rides A Tiger Anne Mather Ëèòàãåíò HarperCollins EUR Mills & Boon are excited to present The Anne Mather Collection – the complete works by this classic author made available to download for the very first time! These books span six decades of a phenomenal writing career, and every story is available to read unedited and untouched from their original release.“He who rides the tiger, dares not dismount…”When Domique meets her enigmatic employer Vincente Santos, she is swept away on a torrent of feeling – ending in a whirlwind marriage! But soon there is trouble brewing in her Brazillian paradise…When she finds out that Vincente’s motives for making her his wife are not as clear cut as she thought, Dominique is devastated. But she is still willing to risk her heart on the man she believes is her destiny. Being with Vicente is as perilous as riding a tiger – Dominique knows she will never willingly let go, but what if she is thrown…? Mills & Boon is proud to present a fabulous collection of fantastic novels by bestselling, much loved author ANNE MATHER Anne has a stellar record of achievement within the publishing industry, having written over one hundred and sixty books, with worldwide sales of more than forty-eight MILLION copies in multiple languages. This amazing collection of classic stories offers a chance for readers to recapture the pleasure Anne’s powerful, passionate writing has given. We are sure you will love them all! I’ve always wanted to write—which is not to say I’ve always wanted to be a professional writer. On the contrary, for years I only wrote for my own pleasure and it wasn’t until my husband suggested sending one of my stories to a publisher that we put several publishers’ names into a hat and pulled one out. The rest, as they say, is history. And now, one hundred and sixty-two books later, I’m literally—excuse the pun—staggered by what’s happened. I had written all through my infant and junior years and on into my teens, the stories changing from children’s adventures to torrid gypsy passions. My mother used to gather these manuscripts up from time to time, when my bedroom became too untidy, and dispose of them! In those days, I used not to finish any of the stories and Caroline, my first published novel, was the first I’d ever completed. I was newly married then and my daughter was just a baby, and it was quite a job juggling my household chores and scribbling away in exercise books every chance I got. Not very professional, as you can imagine, but that’s the way it was. These days, I have a bit more time to devote to my work, but that first love of writing has never changed. I can’t imagine not having a current book on the typewriter—yes, it’s my husband who transcribes everything on to the computer. He’s my partner in both life and work and I depend on his good sense more than I care to admit. We have two grown-up children, a son and a daughter, and two almost grown-up grandchildren, Abi and Ben. My e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org (mailto:email@example.com) and I’d be happy to hear from any of my wonderful readers. Who Rides A Tiger Anne Mather www.millsandboon.co.uk (http://www.millsandboon.co.uk) Table of Contents Cover (#ubbbde198-3c92-50fe-9234-b51eefb28548) About the Author (#u69cd15fe-3f8a-5f74-9de0-6ec24c9d7cbd) Title Page (#uf04ae7bd-bf6a-582e-a497-33bdc7e1e2e3) CHAPTER ONE CHAPTER TWO CHAPTER THREE CHAPTER FOUR CHAPTER FIVE CHAPTER SIX CHAPTER SEVEN CHAPTER EIGHT CHAPTER NINE CHAPTER TEN Copyright (#litres_trial_promo) CHAPTER ONE (#u284209e1-df11-5903-8a8c-d56f805fdcd1) THE international airport at Galeao was like all international airports; cool, efficient, but impersonal. Sitting in the airport bar drinking her second glass of Coca-cola, Dominique thought that she might have been anywhere in the world were it not for the predominantly Portuguese accent, and the dark skins of the men around her, who all seemed to find the silvery glint of her hair and the Scandinavian blue of her eyes rather arresting. Sighing, she glanced again at her watch, wondering how much longer she was going to have to wait. The message which had been handed to her on her arrival had been less than explicit. It had merely stated that John had been unavoidably delayed, and would she wait at the airport if he was not there to meet her as arranged. She lit a cigarette, conceded a slight smile to the youth who had been eyeing her avidly for the last half hour, and drew on it deeply. It was difficult not to feel impatient even though she knew that Bela Vista was some distance inland. After all, John had known for over a week the date and time of her arrival, so surely he could have arranged to stay overnight in Rio, rather than leave her waiting at the airport for an indefinite period. Since arriving she had taken advantage of every facility the airport offered. She had visited the ladies’ room and showered and changed into a cool cotton shift, much more suitable to the heat outside the air-conditioned walls of the airport buildings than the mohair suit she had been wearing when she left London thirty-six hours ago. She had done her hair, taking time to loop it into the rather sophisticated style John preferred, and she had applied a light make-up to the smooth, creamy skin of her face, accentuating the curve of her cheeks and the curling length of her lashes. But now, as time wore on, she was beginning to wish she hadn’t bothered. She had explored the airport shops for genuine examples of Brazilian wood-carvings, had a meal, a modest European meal, in the airport restaurant, and had finally taken refuge in the airport bar, hoping her stay would be short-lived. Earlier in the day when the giant Boeing had circled Galeao prior to landing excitement had held her in its thrall. There were so many exciting landmarks to see and exclaim at: the gentle Sugar Loaf mountain, and the peak of Corcovado with its vast statue of Christ, standing arms outstretched, as though encompassing the whole sweep of Guanabara Bay. The peaks beyond these two were so jagged and impressive that she almost lost sight of the white smear of Copacabana beach, faced by the skyscraper hotels that are such a violent contrast to the favellas, those slums that cling to the hillsides around Rio. She had sensed the atmosphere and known instinctively that all the weeks of waiting had been worthwhile. It was incredible to imagine that soon she would see John again, feel his arms around her, and find that security in his presence that had attracted her to him in the first place. The dismay she had felt when he had first announced he was going to work in Brazil had all disappeared, to be replaced with a sense of gratitude that through him she was to see a little more of the world. But six months ago, when he left England, she had still been in the process of recovering from the death of her beloved father, and maybe that was why she had been unable to look ahead with any degree of confidence. Her mother had died many years ago, when she was only a baby, and her father had become the mainstay of her existence. That he should be killed on his way to attend a patient had seemed doubly painful, particularly as that patient had been one of his ‘regulars’, a man convinced he was capable of contracting every tiny ailment that might be about. But Doctor Mallory had never neglected to answer any call, and in the blanketing fog in which London had been wrapped that evening it had been only too easy to collide with another vehicle. For weeks Dominique had been numb with grief, unable to believe that her father was dead and she was alone in the world. There were distant relatives, an aunt and uncle and some cousins in the north of England, but Dominique had not wanted to share her grief with strangers who at the most could offer sympathy. It was during these weeks of misery that she had first met John Harding. John was the son of Adam Harding, her father’s solicitor and close friend, and he had recently returned from the Middle East where he had been working in the laboratory of an oil company. He was a pleasantly attractive young man, in his late twenties, and Dominique was attracted by the warmth and gentleness of his manner. Aware of her recent bereavement, John had gently prised her out of the shell she had wrapped about herself, and endeavoured to show her that life went on in the same way as it had always done. At first, Dominique was reluctant, unwilling to allow anyone to witness the painful apathy that possessed her. But gradually, in John’s presence, she began to smile again, to live again. The worst part of all had been finding another job. She had always acted as her father’s receptionist and of course although another doctor was to take over the practice she couldn’t bear the thought of continuing in that capacity. It was John who found her another position. He had a colleague, a dentist in fact, who was looking for an attractive young woman to take charge of his records, do a little typing, and admit his patients. Dominique had accepted the job gladly, and when the house in which she and her father had spent so many happy years was sold she allowed John to find her a flat. Adam Harding had encouraged their friendship, and Dominique knew that he and his wife were hoping that this friendship would blossom into something more binding. Dominique, who had always thought herself so self-confident, found it was very pleasant allowing someone else to do all her thinking for her, and when John obtained a position in a laboratory in London, she was content to allow her life to drift along smoothly. However, after several months, John was offered another position – in Brazil. Dominique was horrified. Somehow, she had imagined John would always work in England now, and sooner or later it was taken for granted they would get married. John’s parents were as keen as he was, and probably in other circumstances, if Dominique had not so recently lost her father they might already have been married. But the job in Brazil demanded an immediate decision, and although John was eager that she should go with him, as his wife, Dominique hesitated, too uncertain still to do anything impulsively. So they got engaged, and it had been agreed that as soon as John was settled there, and had an apartment suitable to accommodate a wife, Dominique should join him and they would get married in Brazil. Naturally, John’s parents were a little disappointed that they would not be at the wedding, but they understood Dominique’s situation. During the weeks after John’s departure Dominique had suffered many pangs of regret that she had not taken the plunge and gone with him, but eventually she orientated herself to her new circumstances, and began to enjoy life again. She made friends with the two girls who lived in the adjacent flat to her own and went out with them from time to time, to the cinema or the theatre, and sometimes even to a party. Every week she visited the Hardings and most week-ends she spent with them, either visiting their country cottage in Wiltshire, or going down to Sussex to see their daughter who was married with three children of her own. Dominique adored the children and she felt an immense sense of gratitude to the Hardings for providing so many diversions to fill her days so that her life with her father was not a painful thing to recall, but rather a pleasant feeling of nostalgia. With their help she had erased the hopelessness which had engulfed her at the time of his death. John wrote quite eagerly, his letters long and descriptive, providing Dominique with a pictorial record of his life in South America. She learned of the contrasts of the country where she was soon to live; the painful poverty and excessive wealth of its people, the extremes of climate it possessed, but most dramatic of all its savage beauty that assaulted the eyes and gripped the senses. Already Dominique felt familiar with the country, and with Bela Vista in particular, the area where John was living and working. This community was composed of a mixture of nationalities including North Americans, Germans and British, as well as the Brazilians themselves. The oil company was owned by the Santos Corporation who presently employed John, and according to his letters it was quite a large concern. Dominique glanced at her watch. She had adjusted it to the local time scale, and it read a little after four-thirty. As her plane had landed at eleven that morning she was naturally becoming a little disturbed at the delay. Surely if John was going to be so late he could have suggested that she book herself into a hotel overnight and thus alleviate these hours of waiting? She was in the process of deciding whether or not to order a third glass of Coca-cola when she became aware that a man was scrutinizing her very intently from a table half-way across the room. She gave him a cool quelling stare, but it produced no result that she could see. Instead, he lifted his glass of spirit from the table and tipping his chair back on two legs surveyed her rather appraisingly. Really, she thought impatiently, this was too much! Sliding off the bar-stool on which she had been perched, she lifted her overnight case and marched purposefully towards the door. However, she was forced to pass the man’s table and despite her annoyance at his insolence she could not resist taking a second look at him. He was certainly one of the most attractive men she had ever seen – dark-haired and dark-skinned, with eyes of a strange light tawny colour that gave her a rather mocking stare as she passed. He was lean, with hard features that she thought could look almost cruel on occasions. He seemed to epitomize all that was alien and unfamiliar and dangerous in this alien, unfamiliar and dangerous country. She shivered, and pushing open the door emerged into the wide reception hall. Sighing, she looked about her, praying for a sight of John. Didn’t he realize how strange and nervous she was bound to feel here? What could possibly have delayed him for so long? Surely he couldn’t have had an accident! Could he? She walked across the hall and seated herself on one of the comfortable chairs, and taking out her cigarettes she lit one, drawing on it deeply. Tapping her fingers on the arm of the chair, she was absorbed with her own anxieties and was unaware of anyone approaching her until a deep, masculine voice said: ‘You are Miss Mallory, are you not? Miss Dominique Mallory?’ Dominique started, and her eyes widened as she looked up into the face of the man from the bar. Recovering her composure, she said, with as much coolness as she could muster: ‘You know my name?’ The man stood before her, regarding her almost derisively, his hands thrust deep into the pockets of the trousers of the immaculate dark silk suit he was wearing. ‘There are not too many unescorted English women filling in time at Galeao,’ he remarked lazily. Dominique stubbed out her cigarette and got to her feet. She felt at less of a disadvantage that way. Even so, despite her own height, he was still much taller than she was. ‘Please be more explicit,’ she said, trying to sound cold and aloof, and failing. He shrugged. ‘Of course, Miss Mallory. Forgive me for wasting your most valuable time!’ He was mocking her again. ‘My name is Vincente Santos. I am a – shall we say – colleague of your fiancå’s.’ Dominique relaxed a little. ‘Oh, I see,’ she exclaimed. ‘Is John not coming after all?’ ‘Unfortunately no. He has been delayed. I will explain more fully in a few moments. Is this all your luggage?’ Dominique hesitated, glanced down at her case, and rubbed her nose thoughtfully. ‘Er – do you – I mean – have you any means of identification?’ The man half-smiled. ‘You do not trust me?’ Dominique compressed her lips. He was making it very difficult for her. ‘It’s not you in particular, you understand,’ she said hastily. ‘Only you might be anybody. You could easily have heard my name from one of the airport officials, and – well ….’ She spread her hands expressively. The man shrugged his broad shoulders. ‘You are right, of course, Miss Mallory,’ he replied, with a slight bow of his head. ‘It is always safer to take precautions. However, I can assure you I am who I say I am. There is only one Vincente Santos!’ Dominique stared at him. Was he serious? Really, the conceit of the man! ‘Don’t you have any papers?’ she asked stiffly. ‘A driver’s licence, perhaps?’ Vincente Santos patiently withdrew his wallet from his pocket and produced a passport and an international driving licence. Dominique barely glanced at them, certain that no would-be abductor could be so sure of himself. ‘Thank you,’ she said, glancing down at her case. ‘This is all my luggage. My other cases were sent independently.’ Vincente Santos nodded, and putting away his wallet bent and lifted the case. ‘Come with me,’ he said, and strode away across the hall so that Dominique had almost to run to keep up with him. Outside the airport buildings the heat hit her like an actual physical force, and she gasped. The air-conditioning inside had not prepared her for this. Santos glanced her way. ‘This is cooler than in the middle of the day,’ he remarked. ‘You’ll soon get used to it.’ Dominique managed a faint smile. Already she was wishing that John had asked someone else to meet her. Someone who was less blatantly attractive and sure of himself. With Vincente Santos she felt at a disadvantage, and despite the fact that he was faultlessly polite, she had the feeling that he was merely amusing himself at her expense. A sleek green convertible awaited them outside the airport, and Vincente Santos threw her case unceremoniously into the back, and then opened the door for her to climb in. Dominique slid in and waited for him to join her, taking in the delicious perfumes of a positive riot of flowers that grew beside the paved car park. The colours were brilliant and various and she felt an unwilling shiver of excitement slide along her spine. Towering above were the ragged peaks of the Serras, and away in the distance the blue wash of the Atlantic. It was exotic and exhilarating after the greyness of London, and even Santos’s lazy tolerance seemed to lose some of its mockery. He climbed in beside her, saw her expressive face, and smiled, revealing even white teeth that contrasted sharply with the dark tan of his features. ‘You have not been to Brazil before?’ he murmured, turning the ignition. Dominique shook her head. ‘No.’ ‘But already you feel the pulse of our country,’ he remarked casually, and drove the car out of the parking area. Dominique liked his expression. That was exactly how she did feel. The excitement which had gripped her before the plane landed was returning, and with it a sense of awareness of her surroundings. There was something primitive and untamed about the country, even with its soaring skyscrapers and luxury apartments. How could anyone forget that the Matto Grosso was not too far away with its impenetrable forests and dangerous rivers where a man could be lost without trace? Just another of the facets of a country as complex as its history. Maybe it was that sense of the unknown that thrilled her so. Like the impetus that drove a man to risk his life to discover the savagery of primitive civilizations. She became aware that Vincente Santos was speaking to her and endeavoured to orientate herself to her present situation. ‘You used to live in London, I believe,’ he was saying. Dominique nodded. ‘That’s right. At least, in the suburbs. Tell me, why didn’t John come to meet me? And where are we going now?’ He smiled again. ‘I was beginning to think you had forgotten the purpose for your visit here,’ he remarked lazily. And then: ‘Bela Vista where you are to live is in these mountains, but the roads are not to be recommended. They are little more than tracks in places. Do not imagine though that Bela Vista is an uncivilized place. It has its museum and its art gallery and its university. But to get there – ah, that is another matter.’ Dominique wrinkled her nose. ‘Go on.’ He shrugged expressively. ‘There was a landslide on the road.’ Dominique gasped. ‘Was – was anyone hurt?’ ‘No. But your fiancå was – what do you say? – stranded. So he telephoned me.’ ‘You – you were in Rio?’ questioned Dominique slowly. ‘No, I was in Bela Vista.’ Dominique gave an exasperated sigh. ‘Please, Mr. Santos, don’t tease me. How could you get here and not John?’ Vincente Santos swung the car round a precipitous bend in the road, causing Dominique to cling apprehensively to her seat, and then said: ‘I have other means of transport. A helicopter!’ ‘Oh! Oh, I see!’ Dominique nodded. ‘I naturally assumed ….’ She shrugged. ‘Do you live in Bela Vista, Mr. Santos?’ ‘I live in many places,’ he replied enigmatically. ‘But I do have a house at Bela Vista, yes.’ Dominique digested this, and as she did so she wondered whether he might be John’s employer. After all, the names were the same, but Santos was a common enough name in Brazil. If this man was part of the organization what was his connection with her fiancå? How well did he know John, and conversely, how well did John know him? There were a hundred questions she wanted to ask but couldn’t. Instead, she said: ‘Are we going to Bela Vista now?’ ‘The road is blocked,’ he reminded her patiently. ‘I know. I meant of course by helicopter.’ He looked rather sardonic, causing a faint flush to colour Dominique’s cheeks. She was intensely aware of him, and it did not make for relaxation. He was the kind of man of whom she knew nothing. There was a sensual line to his mouth which disturbed her a little. He was obviously used to the company of women, and it was annoying to realize that she hadn’t the faintest idea of how to deal with him. It wasn’t only the alien cast of his features, or the fact that his clothes and car and whole attitude depicted wealth of a kind she had never before experienced, it was something else, something indefinable that made him different from any other man she had ever known. And it was infuriating to know that he was aware of his attraction, and probably of how she reacted to him. Stiffening her shoulders, she said briskly: ‘What do you intend doing with me?’ He gave a lazy laugh. ‘Doing with you, Miss Mallory? That’s a curious expression. What do you imagine I am going to do with you?’ The car curved over a promontory and below them was spread the land-locked harbour of Rio de Janeiro, with Guanabara Bay beyond, studded with islands that glistened like jewels in the rays of the sinking sun. Dominique stared entranced for a few moments, and then gathering her thoughts, she said briefly: ‘You must know what I mean!’ He inclined his head, the wheel of the car sliding through the hard strength of his brown fingers. ‘Yes, I know. And I realize you are eager to meet your fiancå again. After all, it is some time since he left England, and a lot can happen in only a few months. However, it will be dark soon now and I do not care to risk putting down the helicopter among these mountains in darkness.’ Dominique twisted the strap of her handbag. ‘So?’ ‘So I regret to tell you that you must spend this night in Rio. A room has been booked for you at a hotel there where you will be very comfortable, and tomorrow – well, tomorrow you will be able to cast yourself into the arms of your beloved!’ Dominique gave him a hard stare. ‘Thank you,’ she said, coldly. ‘I don’t need you to give me instructions!’ ‘I’m sure you don’t,’ he agreed mockingly, allowing his gaze to slide over her so that she flushed uncomfortably in spite of herself. Then he frowned: ‘You still distrust me, don’t you, Miss Mallory? Why?’ Dominique sighed. ‘I didn’t say that!’ ‘No,’ he remarked. ‘It is your whole attitude. Perhaps you think I have kidnapped you. When you reach the hotel you will be able to speak to Harding on the telephone.’ The telephone, thought Domnique with relief. Of course! Why hadn’t she thought of that? Vincente Santos was still giving her a slightly sardonic look. ‘You are a beautiful woman, Miss Mallory, but I regret to tell you I have known many beautiful women, and in my experience I do not have to kidnap them to make them submit!’ Dominique could not have felt more embarrassed, and it was with relief that she saw the outer environs of the city appearing. Even so, she was unprepared for the poverty and squalor of some of those dwellings which were little more than shacks, their occupants looking little better, with thin angular bodies and dirty faces. Her horror at these revelations must have communicated itself to him, for he said: ‘Where there are very rich there are also very poor. You are like everyone else, Miss Mallory. You want to see only what you expect to see.’ Dominique looked at him. ‘And how do you see it, Mr. Santos? Or perhaps you do not see it at all?’ Vincente Santos’s expression darkened. ‘Oh, I see it, Miss Mallory!’ Dominique glanced at him. There was a bitterness in his voice that was different from the casual amusement that had been there before. Then he said: ‘You imagine perhaps that I have only known this kind of life, this affluence, perhaps?’ Dominique bit her lip. ‘I didn’t think about it, Mr. Santos.’ ‘Then perhaps you should think before you speak,’ he said, somewhat bleakly, and she wondered what unknowing spark she had ignited. The city of Rio de Janeiro was unbelievably beautiful. Even Venice, which she had visited with her father, had not the individuality of architecture that Rio possessed in such abundance. Or maybe it was the grim overhanging buttresses of the Serras that brought such grandeur to an otherwise contemporary scene. The streets were thronged with cars and people and the noise was deafening. There was a predominance of young people, dressed casually in beach clothes. The girls in their bikinis and the young men with their sun-bronzed torsos resembled nothing so much as the high priests and priestesses who worshipped at the shrine of the Sun-god. Dominique saw old dowagers dressed entirely in black, like old crows in their severity among birds of paradise. There were dozens of children, ragged urchins with filthy faces, but so dark and attractive that they drew the eye. There were churches and museums, and tall skyscraper buildings, among streets lined with trees and paved in black and white mosaic. The hotel Vincente Santos drove to stood in a quiet side-street, off the main thoroughfare near the centre of the city. The hotel was tall and handsome, grey-stoned and respectable, not one of the monolithic palaces that faced the beach at Copacabana. It had a strange kind of old-world charm that was in variance to the almost blatant modernity of its neighbours. Yet despite its appearance inside it was modern, with lifts and wall-to-wall carpeting. Dominique was to learn that to Brazilians wall-to-wall carpeting was considered extremely desirable, even if it did make bedrooms stiflingly hot. The car was left in the car-park and they entered the hotel, Vincente Santos going ahead to speak to the receptionist. From the amount of deference he received Dominique gathered he was a valued client, and she hovered near the swing doors, unwilling to interfere. Then he turned and said: ‘Your room is ready. I expect you are tired and would like to shower and change before dinner. It will be served in the restaurant any time after seven-thirty. Harding has already telephoned to question your arrival, and will ring you back later, I imagine. I do not think there is anything else—’ Dominique linked her fingers. Somehow now that he appeared to have discharged his duty she was loath to let him go. Perhaps it was the strangeness of everything and this sense she had of being completely alone, but she hesitated uncertainly, wishing they could have left for Bela Vista right away. Vincente Santos moved towards the door. He moved with a sinuous feline grace, like a tiger, the muscles across his back rippling smoothly beneath the thin material of his suit. And like his counterpart in the animal kingdom Dominique realized he could be dangerous. She didn’t quite know how she knew this. Certainly his manner towards her had not suggested the predatory male; even so he had spent several minutes staring at her in the airport bar when he must have known full well who she was, and she shivered slightly at the recollection. He looked back at her as he reached the doors. ‘You are satisfied?’ he asked smoothly. ‘Of course.’ Dominique was hasty. Whatever her feelings she had no intention of letting him realize her uncertainty. ‘That is good. I will pick you up at ten in the morning. Good night, Miss Mallory.’ ‘Good – good night, Mr. Santos.’ Dominique was conscious of a page picking up the case which Vincente Santos had stood beside her, and then he gave a brief nod and disappeared through the swing doors. ‘This way, senhorita,’ said the page in heavily accented English, and Dominique recalled that Vincente Santos had had little accent. Then she gave the page a faint smile and followed him across to the lift. Her rooms were spacious and luxurious, with many windows overlooking the city. She could not see the favellas from here, and despite the noise of the traffic in the distance it was peaceful. A fan whirred lazily causing a cooling draught of air and the water in the shower was lukewarm. Afterwards, she lay on her bed, staring at the telephone, willing it to ring. Maybe if she could hear John’s voice she could dispel the feeling of anxiety which seemed to have taken possession of her. CHAPTER TWO (#u284209e1-df11-5903-8a8c-d56f805fdcd1) SHE must have fallen asleep, for when she opened her eyes the telephone was ringing, and the room was dark apart from the lights from outside in the street. Shivering slightly, she leaned over and switched on the bedside lamp. It revealed a cream-coloured telephone beside the bed, and as she lifted the receiver she glanced at her watch. Eight-fifteen! It couldn’t be! Then she said: ‘Hello, Dominique Mallory speaking.’ ‘Dominique! Is that you? Oh, thank heaven!’ John sounded relieved and anxious. ‘How are you, love? I’m sorry I had to leave you in the lurch at the airport. Did Santos explain?’ ‘Yes, of course, John.’ Dominique wriggled into a sitting position. ‘Oh, it’s marvellous to hear your voice after all this time. I’m fine. The hotel is very comfortable.’ ‘Good, good. Have you had dinner?’ ‘Actually no. I must have fallen asleep,’ exclaimed Dominique, with a laugh. ‘But I’m ravenous now. Looking forward to seeing you. Has the landslide been cleared yet?’ ‘Cleared? You must be joking! Things don’t move at that pace round here. Landslides can take anything from a week to a month to be cleared.’ ‘Oh, I see.’ ‘Why? You’re not nervous about coming in on the chopper, are you?’ John sounded worried. ‘Santos is a good pilot.’ ‘No – of course not.’ Dominique reached for her cigarettes. ‘Tell me, John, who is this man Santos? Is he something to do with your company?’ ‘Yeah. His father founded the corporation, actually.’ ‘I see. So he’s your boss, then?’ ‘Heck, no! Vincente Santos doesn’t worry over-much about the corporation. He’s far too busy spending the money it earns!’ John sounded slightly bitter. Dominique frowned. ‘You don’t sound as though you like him.’ ‘Santos?’ John snorted. ‘We have nothing in common. As for not liking him, that’s quite an understatement. But as he hates my guts, too, I’m not too worried about that!’ Dominique felt disturbed. She had never heard John talk this way before. ‘Then – then how come he was the only person you could ask to meet me?’ she exclaimed. ‘Helicopters are not two a penny,’ remarked John dryly. ‘Besides, when I phoned in about the landslide someone else asked him to come. He was the logical person to ask in the circumstances.’ ‘I see.’ Dominique digested this. ‘What – what are you doing now?’ She lit her cigarette. ‘Where are you phoning from?’ ‘My apartment. You’ll like it, Dom. It’s in one of the new blocks and it’s spacious. I’ve not got much furniture yet. I’m leaving that to you. You’re to stay with the Rawlings like I wrote you. I’ve fixed the wedding for five weeks hence. That will give you time to get acclimatized and also time to get what you want for the apartment. We have some good stores and Mrs. Rawlings has said you can borrow her sewing machine to run up curtains and such like.’ Dominique drew on her cigarette. ‘It doesn’t seem real somehow,’ she said, shaking her head. ‘I mean – being here in Brazil!’ John laughed. ‘That’s natural. You’ve just flown several thousand miles. It takes time for your mind to catch up with your body!’ ‘I suppose that’s what it is,’ she nodded. ‘Well, anyway, roll on tomorrow. Phones are such inadequate things when I’m longing to see you and hold you and kiss you.’ John’s voice was husky. ‘I love you, Dom!’ ‘And I love you, John,’ she murmured. ‘I’ll go now, then. Go have some dinner and then have an early night. You must be exhausted!’ ‘Not now. I’ve just had about three hours’ rest. But I will go and get some dinner. Will you meet me when we land, John?’ ‘Of course. G’bye, honey.’ ‘Good-bye, John.’ After he had rung off she sat staring at the telephone for several minutes. It was strange how different John sounded now from the man she had known in England. Or maybe he didn’t sound any different, she was just hearing him differently. She sighed and stubbed her cigarette out in a brass ashtray. She had the strongest suspicion that she should not have had these six months away from John. What if they had both changed? What if her opinion of him was different now that he was taken out of his normal environment? But that was ridiculous. If you loved somebody, you loved them no matter what. You didn’t change because of circumstances or environment. She slid off the bed and opened her overnight case. Apart from the suit she had been wearing when she left London and which she had changed at the airport there was a navy blue uncrushable dress which she had packed for her first night at Bela Vista to save her tackling her other trunks. Taking it out, she laid it on the bed and then sluiced her face before applying a light make-up. Her lashes were naturally long and she darkened them with a little mascara, smoothing some eye-shadow on to the lids. Then she applied a pale lipstick and wriggled into the navy dress. Her hair was thick and long and heavy, but she couldn’t be bothered to attempt a sophisticated knot, so she added an Alice band which kept it back off her face. Then she left her room and took the lift down to the restaurant. At this hour of the evening it was not too busy and the waiter showed her deferentially to a table. Maybe he thought she was some close friend of Vincente Santos, she thought dryly. Certainly she had never experienced such obsequious attention before. She chose a dish comprising beef, black beans and rice, which while being rather rich and spicy, was rather delicious. Then she had an orange dessert, with real fresh oranges that somehow tasted different from the ones she was used to eating back in England, and finished with cheese and coffee. ‘You enjoyed the meal, senhorita?’ It was the head waiter bowing beside the table. Dominique flicked ash from the end of her cigarette and nodded enthusiastically. ‘Thank you. It was delicious!’ ‘I am very happy. Perhaps a liqueur with your coffee? Brandy perhaps?’ Dominique shook her head regretfully. ‘Oh, really, no. The wine with the meal was quite enough for me. I don’t have a strong head for alcohol.’ She offered the explanation with a smile. ‘Are you endeavouring to lead the innocent into temptation, my friend?’ remarked a deep voice lazily, and Dominique looked up, startled, to see Vincente Santos standing behind the head waiter, looking dark and lean and disturbingly masculine in a dark dinner suit. The head waiter glanced round and smiled with real pleasure. ‘Ah, Senhor Santos,’ he said, nodding. ‘You startled me. I was merely offering the young lady a liqueur, but she seems unwilling to accept.’ Vincente Santos moved round the table, pulling out a chair and straddling it lazily. ‘So, Miss Mallory. You are afraid to take any risks, is that right?’ Dominique controlled her blushes with difficulty. ‘I didn’t say that, Mr. Santos. I don’t have a head for spirits, that’s all.’ ‘But that is sad!’ he mocked her gently. ‘Particularly as I know my good friend Enrico here possesses some of the finest brandy in the whole of Brazil.’ He looked up at the head waiter. ‘The senhorita will drink with me later, Enrico. You may go.’ ‘Sim, senhor.’ The waiter left them, and Vincente Santos gave her an appraising glance. ‘You look very charming, Miss Mallory. It seems a shame to waste such beauty on the restaurant of the Maria Magdalena.’ Dominique felt her nerves jumping. She was quite sure he wasn’t seriously suggesting that he had come here for any other purpose than to ascertain that she was being adequately looked after. ‘What would you suggest, Mr. Santos?’ she parried coolly, endeavouring to appear composed while her stomach was churning with suppressed excitement. Vincente Santos smiled. ‘What would I suggest? Well let me see – I know a night club, called the Piranha, where we could dance, and there is a good cabaret.’ Dominique shivered. ‘Piranha? Aren’t they the fish that can destroy a living creature in minutes?’ ‘That’s right.’ His reply was laconic. ‘I’m not considering offering you as a sacrifice, Miss Mallory.’ Dominique bit her lip. ‘You have relieved my mind,’ she retorted quickly. ‘However, as I’m quite sure you’re not seriously suggesting that we spend the rest of the evening together, I’ll wish you good night again.’ She got to her feet, but he rose also, blocking her way. ‘You do not think I am serious?’ he questioned. ‘Why? Surely, entertaining the fiancåe of my colleague is the least I can do in the circumstances.’ ‘You are hardly a colleague of my fiancå,’ returned Dominique quietly, looking down at her handbag. ‘Ah! You have spoken to the good fellow!’ he said sardonically. ‘And has he warned you against me?’ ‘Of course not. Why should he do that?’ Dominique made a movement. ‘Please – excuse me!’ ‘In a moment. Do you object to my asking for your company?’ Dominique sighed. ‘Of course not.’ ‘But you refuse?’ Dominique gave a helpless movement of her shoulders. ‘Mr. Santos, it may amuse you to make fun of me, but I’m growing a little tired of it. Excuse me.’ Vincente Santos moved aside. ‘I was mistaken, obviously,’ he said indifferently. ‘I had thought you looked lonely.’ Dominique looked up at him in exasperation. ‘So you took pity on me?’ ‘Hardly that. However, I am quite prepared to show you a little of the cultural capital of my country.’ Dominique took a step, hesitated, and glanced back at him. ‘It was very kind of you,’ she said awkwardly. ‘And – I would like to have seen a little more of the city.’ ‘Yet you still hesitate. Am I such a terrifying person? Does the prospect of a few hours in my company repel you so?’ Dominique smiled. ‘You know perfectly well that you are deliberately misunderstanding me,’ she said. He came round the table to her side, looking down at her intently. His fingers stroked the bare skin of her forearm almost absently. ‘As I said before, Miss Mallory, you are a beautiful young woman, and I should like to take you to the Piranha.’ Dominique felt the muscles of her arm tense beneath his casual touch. Her breathing seemed difficult, and there was a trembling sensation somewhere near her knees. Was he aware of the effect he was having on her? He didn’t seem so, but that was no guide. For all his urbanity his innermost thoughts were enigmatic, this she sensed. She tried to shrug these thoughts away. She must be crazy, allowing him to disturb her so. It was too long since she had seen John, known the company of a man. She was behaving like a schoolgirl. Why didn’t she just refuse his offer point blank and go back to her room? That was what she ought to do, what John would expect her to do. Why then did the prospect seem so dreary? Had the sleep she had had destroyed any further chance of rest for some time? Why couldn’t she feel pleasantly tired instead of vigorously alive? ‘I really think I must refuse,’ she murmured reluctantly. Vincente Santos lifted his shoulders, the fine material of his suit gleaming in the artificial light. His thin face wore that slightly cruel expression as he said accusingly: ‘You’re afraid, Miss Mallory!’ She could have agreed with him, she was afraid, and she wasn’t quite sure of what. ‘Don’t be ridiculous!’ she snapped. ‘Then come with me. Prove I’m wrong!’ he taunted her. Dominique’s fingers tortured the strap of her handbag. ‘All right, Mr. Santos. All right, since you insist, I’ll come with you.’ ‘Good.’ His fingers gripped her arm, guiding her across the almost deserted room. ‘I admire your courage!’ Dominique wrenched her arm out of his grasp. ‘One doesn’t need courage, Mr. Santos. Only fortitude!’ But he just laughed at this, and she could have hit him. Rio at night was a magical place, lit with a million electric bulbs. The traffic was just as congested, but now music could be heard from every street corner, and the rhythm of the guitar beat into Dominique’s brain like some seductive drug. The Piranha was near Copacabana, a huge neon-lighted building with a brilliant decor that was toned down by discreet lighting. It was the kind of place Dominique had always abhorred, following her father’s tastes in music, and later John’s. But with Vincente Santos she saw it through different eyes. There were several rooms; in one you could dance, in another drink, in another eat, and in yet another gamble. Dividing the rooms were aquariums filled with a variety of species, and only in the foyer was there a huge tank of the fish that gave the club its name. Dominique shivered when she saw them, and Vincente Santos said: ‘They can reduce a man to a skeleton in minutes, did you know that?’ Dominique wrinkled her nose. ‘I did know, as a matter of fact,’ she said. ‘Devil fish!’ ‘Hmm.’ He slid an arm around her shoulders casually. ‘Come on, we’ll have a drink.’ ‘Just tomato juice for me, please,’ she said, uncomfortably aware of his arm, and walking just a little quicker so that he had to drop it. However when he handed her a drink a few moments later it was certainly not tomato juice. ‘Heavens, what’s this?’ she gasped at the tall glass of liquid. ‘My own recipe. Taste it!’ She did so, and found it was delicious. It seemed to be lime and perhaps lemon, with something else added, something that certainly gave it a lift. Deciding that one drink couldn’t possibly harm her, she accepted a cigarette and they walked into the room where a cabaret was taking place on the dance floor. There was a Brazilian fire-eater followed by a Portuguese guitarist who sang quite appealingly. Dominique sipped her drink, smoked her cigarette, and listened to the cacophony of sound around her. There was a mixture of accents, from Portuguese and Spanish to pure North American. She heard the guttural sound of a German voice, followed by a very British accent, and she glanced at Vincente Santos. He was watching her. He seemed to be constantly watching her, she thought, and it embarrassed her. She had never experienced such intense appraisal before. ‘Must you?’ she asked. ‘Must I what?’ ‘Stare at me.’ ‘Why not? I like staring at you.’ Faced with such candour, Dominique was at a loss for a reply, and he said: ‘Leave your drink here. Let’s dance.’ The cabaret was over and the band was beginning to play. The music from guitars, organs and drums was vibrant and pulsating with rhythm, and the lights were lowered as couples gathered on the dance floor. ‘I don’t. That is—’ she began, as he took her hand and drew her through the tables where people were sitting to the far end of the room. ‘You don’t what?’ he asked softly, as he turned and slid his arms around her, pulling her close against the hard muscular strength of his body. Dominique shook her head. With Vincente’s eyes upon her, so near now, she found it difficult to think coherently. ‘I’ve never danced to beat music before,’ she confessed. ‘I’m quite a square really.’ He gave a soft laugh. ‘Oh, Miss Mallory, whatever gave you that idea?’ They moved slowly, and Dominique found after all that it was easy to follow Vincente’s movements. Besides, the dancing seemed of secondary importance to their actual situation. If John could see me now, she thought, a trifle wildly. He would be absolutely astounded! And with good reason, she added silently. She had known what kind of a man Vincente Santos was from the moment she saw him watching her in the airport bar. Why then had she succumbed to the temptation of going out with him? Was it because all her life she had thought before acting, never doing anything on impulse? Or was it simply because the strength of his personality and the way he had taunted her had aroused her indignation, and she had wanted to prove she could be as impulsive as anyone else? Certainly he made the men she had met back in England seem a trifle tame by comparison, and there was an addictive sense of excitement in taking such risks. After all, tonight would soon be over and then she would be with John again, and Vincente Santos would fade into obscurity. Once, while they danced, she glanced up at him, her hair brushing his cheek, and he looked down at her with his tawny eyes, eyes that seemed too penetrating, and his mouth was very close to hers. Hastily, she looked down again, endeavouring to control the fast beating of her heart. So far and no further, she told herself firmly. The dance was soon over, and as they were leaving the floor they were halted by an excited cry from a woman who was also leaving the dance floor with her escort. Tall and slender, with jet black hair piled high with jewelled combs into a French knot, she was easily the most beautiful and exotic creature that Dominique had ever seen. Her gown, a long clinging affair of heavy cr?pe which moulded her perfect body, was in a brilliant shade of red, and it contrasted vividly with her magnolia colouring and dark hair. ‘Vincente!’ she exclaimed, flinging her arms about his neck and kissing him rapidly on both cheeks and then lingeringly on his mouth. ‘But I did not know you were in Rio! Why did you not let me know? I have been back two weeks from Europe, and I am desolate. You have not been to see me!’ Vincente glanced at Dominique over the woman’s head, seeing her embarrassment, and then disentangling himself firmly. ‘I have been busy, Sophia,’ he said, his voice cool, so that the woman looked at Dominique and gave her a studious glance. ‘Oh, yes,’ she said questioningly. ‘I can see you have. I would have thought she was a little young and unsophisticated for your tastes, my sweet!’ Vincente’s eyes darkened. ‘Did I ask for your opinion, Sophia?’ he remarked icily. ‘No. But then I feel I have the right to voice my inmost thoughts to you. After all, you invariably come back, chåri!’ Dominique turned away, sickened by this exchange. She made her way back to their table, and re-seated herself, wishing she had the courage to walk out of the night club. But outside was a strange alien city and she didn’t much fancy trying to get a taxi alone at this time of night. A few moments later a shadow fell across the table and she looked up into Vincente’s dark face. ‘Do not do that again,’ he snapped. ‘Do what? Leave you to your mistress?’ she exclaimed, stung by his assumption that he had the right to dictate her affairs. He caught her wrist and wrenched her up out of her seat. ‘Come,’ he said. ‘We will go somewhere else.’ Dominique struggled uselessly. ‘I want to go home, Mr. Santos,’ she said coldly. ‘At least – back to my hotel!’ He did not reply, but merely turned and walked out of the restaurant, practically dragging her along behind him. Outside the night air was warm and velvety, and millions of stars twinkled overhead, vying with the myriad strings of lights that edged the promenade adjacent to Copacabana beach. The sound of the ceaseless surf was like thunder in their ears, and Dominique took several deep breaths to rid her lungs of the smoky atmosphere of the club. They reached the car, and he put her inside firmly, and then walked round to get in beside her. He flicked the ignition, and the powerful engine roared to life, and they drove out of the parking area and along the sea front. Presently he turned off into the winding side streets, steep thoroughfares that wound round the older buildings of the city. Dominique wanted to ask where he was taking her, but his expression brooked no interference and she kept silent, wishing with all her heart she had never been foolish enough to come out with him. Eventually they emerged from the side streets into a wide avenue of trees, and he drove along this towards a park at the far end. Near the park were several blocks of luxury apartments, and it was into the forecourt of one of these apartment buildings that he drove. He halted the car, pocketed the keys, and helped Dominique out. She looked up at the block fearfully, and then at Vincente. ‘Come,’ he said, and she had no choice but to follow him. Inside several lifts transported the tenants to their assigned destination, and it was into one of these that he drew her. He pressed the button for the penthouse, and the lift shot up silently. Dominique barely had time to collect herself before they were stepping out into a wide carpeted hall. Vincente closed the lift doors, pressed a button, and it glided away. Then he took Dominique’s arm and led her towards double panelled doors. Producing his keys, he flung open one of the doors, and gently urged her inside. When he switched on the lights, Dominique just stood and stared. She had never seen such luxury in all her life. Shallow steps led down into the body of the room on to a floor that was tiled in mosaic of blue and gold, an iridescent kind of mosaic that glinted in the artificial lights. Skin rugs adorned this floor, echoed in the seats of deep armchairs which were otherwise made of black leather. Almost a whole wall had been given over to a window that gave a panoramic view of the city, fitted with a venetian blind that could be adjusted to admit light but not the dazzling sunshine. Tonight it was open and even from the doorway Dominique could see the shimmering lights below them. Long golden curtains hung at the windows also, and several lamps in a very contemporary design provided oases of brilliance. And yet in spite of its opulence Dominique thought it was a very attractive room, and one in which one could completely relax. Up here, away from the noise and bustle of the street, it was like being in the air-conditioned cabin of an airliner. Then she became conscious of Vincente Santos again, as he closed the door and walked ahead of her down the steps and into the room. ‘Well?’ he said, somewhat mockingly. ‘What do you think?’ Dominique stiffened. ‘It’s beautiful, of course. But you don’t need me to tell you that.’ ‘Agreed. However, I would like your honest opinion.’ ‘That is my honest opinion. Can we go now?’ ‘Madre de Dios!’ he swore angrily. ‘Relax, damn you! I’m not a monster. This is my apartment.’ ‘I gathered that.’ Dominique hovered by the door. ‘Then come and sit down.’ ‘I’d rather not.’ ‘Why not?’ ‘If – if John knew I was here – well – obviously he wouldn’t like it.’ Vincente stared at her incredulously, and then he burst out laughing. ‘Oh, God!’ he exclaimed, at last. ‘You knew your inestimable fiancå would not care for you to spend an evening in my company long before you left the hotel, didn’t you?’ Dominique flushed. ‘So?’ ‘So you took that risk and here you are!’ ‘What do you mean?’ Vincente loosened his tie and pulled it off. ‘What do you think I mean?’ ‘I warn you, Mr. Santos, my fiancå—’ she began hastily, glancing round at the door. ‘Oh, grow up!’ he muttered in disgust. ‘Contrary to your beliefs, I do not attempt to seduce every female that comes within my orbit.’ ‘Then why have you brought me here?’ He shrugged. ‘To talk to you.’ Dominique looked sceptical. ‘About what?’ ‘You.’ He removed his jacket. ‘Come and sit down. It’s hot, and you must be feeling the heat. Come on. Take it easy. Play it as it comes. Stop trying to anticipate something that may never happen.’ Dominique heaved a sigh. Obviously the whole of this floor was leased by him. What chance would she have if he decided to take advantage of her? He had sent the lift away. She would not have time to summon it as a means of escape. She might as well accept that for the moment she had been foolish enough to place herself within his power. As though aware of what thoughts were passing through her mind he said: ‘No, you can’t escape, so you might as well enjoy it. Come and sit down. I’ll make you a drink.’ Dominique ventured down the steps and seated herself in one of the armchairs with the leopardskin seats. They were superbly comfortable, and she wriggled back comfortably, wishing she could kick off her shoes and relax completely. But that would have been like betraying herself, and she had no intention of doing that. He handed her a drink, flung himself into a chair opposite and offered her a cigarette. When they were both lighted, he said: ‘There, it’s not so bad, is it?’ ‘Why have you brought me here, Mr. Santos?’ ‘Make it Vincente,’ he said easily. ‘Mr. Santos sounds ridiculous when you consider our situation. And your name is Dominique. I like it. It suits you.’ The way he said it, with a faintly foreign inflection, made it sound different from the way she had heard it before, and she liked it. ‘Tell me, Mr. Santos,’ she said, ignoring his edict, ‘why did you come back to the hotel tonight?’ ‘I was curious.’ ‘About me?’ ‘Hmm. You intrigued me. You’re frankly not the sort of woman I would have thought would find a man like Harding attractive.’ Dominique was staggered. He made outrageous remarks sound so ordinary. ‘You don’t know anything about me,’ she exclaimed annoyedly. ‘Don’t I?’ He drew on his cigarette lazily. ‘I know you are what Sophia said you are – young and unsophisticated. Such a combination is a novelty to me. The women of my acquaintance acquire knowledge at a very early age.’ ‘Don’t you mean experience?’ asked Dominique tautly. He shrugged. ‘If you like,’ he agreed equably. He swallowed the remainder of his drink and left his seat to get another. As he did so, Dominique’s eyes were drawn to a photograph on the low table nearby. It was the picture of a girl of perhaps nineteen or twenty. She was very attractive with short black curly hair and a small heart-shaped face. She wondered who it was a photograph of. Certainly it bore no resemblance to the woman Sophia. He turned from the cocktail cabinet and intercepted her interest. ‘And what thoughts are penetrating your devious little mind now?’ he asked, a little harshly. ‘That is my sister!’ ‘Oh!’ Dominique took a sip of her drink. ‘She’s quite beautiful.’ ‘Yes, isn’t she?’ His mouth twisted sardonically. ‘Beautiful – but unhappy.’ ‘Unhappy?’ Dominique looked up. ‘That is perhaps too weak an expression,’ he said bleakly. ‘Devastated is maybe nearer the truth.’ ‘But why?’ Unwillingly, Dominique was curious. ‘She fell in love with a man who was merely playing with her emotions,’ replied Vincente grimly. ‘When she discovered his true character she was distraught. She refused all offers of sympathy, and has locked herself away in the convent of St. Teresa.’ ‘I see.’ Dominique stood down her glass. ‘I’m sorry.’ He studied her thoughtfully. ‘Are you? Are you, Dominique?’ Dominique ignored his penetrating gaze with difficulty. She glanced at her watch. ‘Heavens! It’s after one,’ she exclaimed. ‘I must go!’ ‘After one,’ he mimicked her lazily. ‘So late! You are tired?’ ‘Of course.’ Dominique stood up. ‘There are plenty of beds here,’ he remarked mockingly. Dominique turned a little pale. ‘Please, Mr. Santos! Don’t tease me!’ Vincente Santos stood down his own glass and came round to her side. ‘Did I sound as though I was teasing?’ he asked huskily. Dominique stood her ground. ‘I chose to take it that way,’ she said, her own voice rather small and insignificant. He hesitated, still looking at her, and then with an angry exclamation he turned and lifted his jacket. ‘All right, all right, we go,’ he said abruptly, and mounted the shallow steps in a single stride. Dominique heaved a shaky sigh of relief and followed him. Outside the air was deliciously cool, and she climbed into the car with trembling legs. Suddenly she felt very tired, as though the last half hour in Vincente’s apartment had reduced her stamina to nil. It seemed only seconds before they were drawing up outside the Hotel Maria Magdalena, and Vincente thrust open her door and indicated that she should get out. Obviously now he was eager to be rid of her. She got out unsteadily, but he did not wait to see her into the hotel. As she mounted the steps the car roared away into the night. In her room she stripped off her outer garments and then flung herself on the bed, aware of a sense of anti-climax. All of a sudden the evening had gone sour on her. She wasn’t really sure why. It could be because of his easy acceptance of her resistance, but mainly she thought it was because to him the night was still young, and there would be other women, just like Sophia, eager and willing to satisfy his desires. But that was nothing to do with her. If he had attempted to make love to her she would have been horrified. Or would she? As she rolled miserably on to her stomach she acknowledged the plain fact that she would have liked to have known what it was like to have him touch her, caress her, and to feel that hard, cruel mouth exploring her own. CHAPTER THREE (#u284209e1-df11-5903-8a8c-d56f805fdcd1) DESPITE her disturbed frame of mind Dominique slept well and was awakened by the sound of the traffic at about eight o’clock. It was a glorious morning, a shroud of mist enveloping the upper slopes of the city that presaged another hot day. She showered and dressed in the cotton dress she had worn the previous afternoon, hoping it did not look too crumpled, but it was all she had apart from the navy dress and somehow she didn’t want to wear it again just now. She applied make-up, did her hair, and went down to the restaurant a little before nine. She ate lemon flapjacks, drank several cups of coffee, and had the first and most enjoyable cigarette of the day. At nine-forty-five she went back to her room, collected her things together, and carried her case down to the foyer. Then she seated herself on a red banquette to wait. However, after only a few moments the receptionist approached her. ‘Ah, good morning, Miss Mallory,’ he said. ‘There is a car waiting for you outside. Will you go out?’ Dominique hesitated. ‘My bill …’ she began. ‘That has all been taken care of,’ replied the receptionist smoothly. ‘I hope you complete your journey in safety.’ ‘Thank you. I’ve been very comfortable here. Good-bye.’ Frowning a little, she emerged from the swing doors on to the steps of the hotel. A dark saloon was waiting at the foot of the steps. As she appeared a man in chauffeur’s uniform got out, and held open the rear door for her. ‘Is – is this Mr. Santos’s car?’ she asked puzzled. ‘Sim, senhorita.’ The chauffeur nodded politely. Dominique gave a faint sigh, and moved down the steps to climb into the back of the limousine. ‘Where is Mr. Santos?’ she asked as casually as she could. The chauffeur got into his place behind the wheel. ‘Senhor Santos offers you his apologies, senhorita, but he has some urgent business to attend to. He has asked me to escort you to Bela Vista.’ Dominique’s nails bit into the palms of her hands. ‘I see.’ The vehicle moved smoothly away from the kerb, and she sank back against the soft upholstery. She felt disturbed and confused. Why had he decided not to take her after all? Was it something to do with what had happened last night? But what had happened, after all? She lit another cigarette to calm her nerves. Forget Vincente Santos, she advised herself angrily. In an hour or so she would be with John. It was John she had come here to be with, not Vincente Santos. The chauffeur drove more carefully than his employer, yet even so they reached the small domestic airport quite quickly. Dominique was ushered ceremoniously out of the limousine and into the gleaming silver and blue helicopter that awaited them. The chauffeur left the car in the hands of one of the airport stewards, and then shedding his peaked cap he climbed behind the controls of the aircraft. Dominique glanced at him. He was a man in his middle forties, she estimated, with dark skin and rather friendly blue eyes. The propellers began to revolve, and in a few moments they were airborne. Dominique had never flown in a helicopter before and for a while she was terribly nervous. The panoramic window at the front gave one the impression that one was about to tip forward into oblivion, but after a minute or so she realized she was quite safe and began to enjoy it. Even so, it was quite a nerve-racking experience flying across such a bleak and savage landscape. The saw-tooth peaks of the Serras seemed to beckon like devilish symbols, luring a man to destruction. ‘What is your name?’ she asked the man presently as she began to relax. He gave her a smile. ‘Salvador, senhorita,’ he replied. ‘And you work for Mr. Santos?’ ‘Sim, senhorita.’ Dominique nodded. ‘You have known him long?’ ‘Twenty years, senhorita. Senhor Santos was only a boy when I came to work for him.’ This was interesting, and although she realized she ought not to feel so curious about Vincente Santos this was a way of learning a little more about him – about the enigma. She was seeking about in her mind for a way of questioning Salvador without his actually being aware of it, when he said: ‘You have come to Brazil to marry Senhor Harding, haven’t you, senhorita?’ Dominique felt the hot colour surge into her cheeks, ‘Yes,’ she said shortly. ‘Yes, I have.’ Salvador nodded, in a satisfied way, and Dominique had the impression he believed he had achieved something. Like master, like servant, she thought a trifle irritatedly. But he had succeeded in halting further questions from his passenger. She realized that whatever she might ask now would merely make her sound unnecessarily curious. ‘Does the journey take long?’ she asked, assuming a cool indifference. ‘Forty – maybe fifty minutes,’ replied Salvador. ‘You are eager to reach your destination, senhorita?’ ‘Of course,’ said Dominique briefly. Then: ‘Do you know my fiancå?’ ‘Senhor Harding? Yes, senhorita, I know him.’ Salvador was certainly not expansive in his answers to her questions. Dominique sighed. Then she drew out her cigarettes. She seemed to be smoking far too much, but she needed something to do to fill in the time. When her cigarette was lit, Salvador said: ‘What do you know of Bela Vista, senhorita?’ Dominique glanced at him. ‘What do you mean?’ ‘Nothing of any consequence, senhorita. It is a beautiful little town. Set among these mountains like – how would you say – a rose among thorns. There are many blocks of new apartments, built by the government for the workers, and there are parks and places of interest. I am sure you will like living there.’ Dominique listened with interest. ‘Do you live in Bela Vista, Salvador?’ ‘I live where Senhor Santos lives,’ he replied simply. ‘Sometimes at Bela Vista, sometimes in Rio, sometimes in Europe. Senhor Santos is a restless man, senhorita.’ ‘That I can believe,’ remarked Dominique, a trifle dryly. ‘It was not always so,’ said Salvador, as though forced to give some explanation. ‘But Senhor Santos is not a man to be easily understood. I can remember when he was a boy of perhaps fifteen or sixteen – eager for life – for experience. Now he has learned it is not experiences that destroy a man but people!’ Dominique studied the glowing tip of her cigarette. ‘You’re very loyal, Salvador,’ she said curiously. ‘Senhor Santos has given me everything,’ said Salvador fiercely. ‘Education, occupation, position! I do not forget, senhorita.’ Dominique raised her dark eyebrows. Obviously Salvador considered Vincente Santos more than merely his employer. Then she gave her attention to the scenery. She was spending far too much time brooding on affairs that should be of no concern to her. The hills in the morning light were a mixture of shades of grey and blue and brown, sometimes dark and forbidding, and at others green with foliage. In the ravines fast rivers surged unceasingly, while here and there were collections of dwellings, and the upward drift of blue smoke. A road wound between the hills like a dun-coloured snake, disappearing sometimes beneath the overhanging cliffs of hard rock. The shadow of the helicopter moved steadily onwards, and she began to wonder how much longer it would take. Then, suddenly, Salvador began the downward sweep and below she saw a green valley, spreading out as their height decreased, totally at variance with its surroundings. And in the valley she saw the town of Bela Vista. There were houses on the outskirts of the town, huge affairs with swimming pools and tennis courts, while nearer the city were tall blocks of apartments, and offices, and schools. At the furthest point from the town towered a cluster of machinery and buildings that Dominique presumed must be the refinery and the laboratory where John worked. The helicopter came down lower and below them Dominique could see a kind of park with a stretch of greenery big enough to take the powerful propellers of the helicopter. Salvador brought the craft level, steadied it, and then put it down neatly on the stretch of green, not far from the bustling main thoroughfare of Bela Vista. ‘So we are here!’ he said, giving her a slight smile. ‘We have landed safely, and there is your fiancå eagerly waiting for you.’ Dominique looked, saw several people at the perimeter of the area, all seeming strange and unfamiliar to her, and for a moment her heart missed a beat. Then she recognized John, but he had changed enormously. He now sported a thick beard and moustache, and his hair had grown rather long since his arrival. He must have had it cut, she supposed, but it was still straggling on the collar of his shirt. Big and broad, dressed in denim slacks and a brilliant orange shirt, he looked almost a stranger. She got out of the helicopter carefully, with Salvador’s assistance, and then before she had time to hesitate John was beside her, hugging her enthusiastically, pressing his rough cheeks to hers. ‘Dominique, Dominique, Dominique,’ he was saying excitedly. ‘Oh, it’s marvellous to see you, Dominique!’ She struggled to free herself, self-consciously aware of the eyes of the sightseers watching them. Salvador was watching them, too, a strange expression on his face. ‘John!’ she protested, at last. ‘Let me get my breath!’ John gave her a final hug and then, keeping his arm across her shoulders, walked with her across to Salvador. ‘Thanks, Salvador,’ he said casually. ‘Sorry about the mess-up! But these things happen, don’t they?’ ‘It was nothing, senhor,’ replied Salvador carefully. Dominique noticed that his voice was cold. Obviously, like his master, he didn’t like John much either. Then they were free to go, and John was leading her across to a low slung blue car and putting her case into the back. ‘Well?’ he said, spreading his hands. ‘What do you think of it?’ Dominique shook her head. She was not yet over her first impressions of John, and his question made her aware of how engrossed she had been with her own feelings to the exclusion of everything else. ‘I – I haven’t had a chance to take much in yet,’ she exclaimed. ‘But from the air it was beautiful. It’s amazing to think that such a place could flourish here, among these mountains.’ ‘Yes, isn’t it? Still, you’ll soon get used to it. I’ve been offered a permanent post here and I’m seriously thinking of accepting it.’ Dominique gave him a faint smile. ‘Are you? I thought you only expected to be here about two years.’ ‘So I did,’ replied John, turning on the ignition, and starting the engine. ‘But like I said, they’ve offered me a better position, and I like it here now I’ve got used to it. Oh, I know it’s a bit isolated, and some people don’t like the country, but I do. And I’d like to see a lot more of it. I thought we’d take the opportunity on our honeymoon of exploring a bit of the interior. We can hire almost everything we need – tents, sleeping bags, cooking equipment and so on.’ Dominique wrinkled her nose. ‘I thought we were going to Petropolis.’ ‘We were. But this is more exciting, don’t you think?’ ‘I don’t know,’ said Dominique doubtfully, and it was left at that. They drove along the Rua Carioca towards the outskirts of the city, and Dominique said: ‘Where is your apartment?’ ‘Not far from here. But we’re not going there. The Rawlings have a house, just outside of town, and they’ve invited us both for lunch. That’s who you are staying with, you remember?’ ‘Of course.’ Dominique nodded, quelling the feeling of disappointment she felt that she was not to have some time alone with John for a while yet. There were so many things they needed to talk about, and she felt she needed to get to know him all over again. He seemed much different from the well-dressed, gentle young man she had known in England, and it was a little disturbing to realize you were going to marry someone in five weeks who had become a stranger to you. Still, she argued with herself, they would soon change that once they were alone together. The Rawlings’ house was detached but unobtrusive, without any of the expensive embellishments she had noticed on some of the houses here from the air. Inside, it was dull and unimaginative, and after meeting Marion Rawlings Dominique didn’t have to wonder why. Marion Rawlings was a woman of about thirty-five, with wheat-coloured hair that could have looked very attractive but didn’t. She wore old-fashioned dresses, which came to well above her knees, making Dominique supremely conscious of the length of her own skirt which had not seemed at all unusual back in London, or Rio either for that matter. She greeted Dominique with a lack of enthusiasm that was rather daunting, but her husband, Harry, more than made up for it, shaking hands with Dominique vigorously, while his rather narrow-spaced eyes viewed the attractive picture she made with a rather embarrassing intensity. Dominique decided she was not going to find the five weeks before her wedding passing very quickly. Êîíåö îçíàêîìèòåëüíîãî ôðàãìåíòà. Òåêñò ïðåäîñòàâëåí ÎÎÎ «ËèòÐåñ». Ïðî÷èòàéòå ýòó êíèãó öåëèêîì, êóïèâ ïîëíóþ ëåãàëüíóþ âåðñèþ (https://www.litres.ru/pages/biblio_book/?art=39925178&lfrom=390579938) íà ËèòÐåñ. Áåçîïàñíî îïëàòèòü êíèãó ìîæíî áàíêîâñêîé êàðòîé Visa, MasterCard, Maestro, ñî ñ÷åòà ìîáèëüíîãî òåëåôîíà, ñ ïëàòåæíîãî òåðìèíàëà, â ñàëîíå ÌÒÑ èëè Ñâÿçíîé, ÷åðåç PayPal, WebMoney, ßíäåêñ.Äåíüãè, QIWI Êîøåëåê, áîíóñíûìè êàðòàìè èëè äðóãèì óäîáíûì Âàì ñïîñîáîì.