Former journalist SARA CRAVEN published her first novel ‘Garden of Dreams’ for Mills & Boon in 1975. Apart from her writing (naturally!) her passions include reading, bridge, Italian cities, Greek islands, the French language and countryside, and her rescue Jack Russell/cross Button. She has appeared on several TV quiz shows and in 1997 became UK TV Mastermind champion. She lives near her family in Warwickshire – Shakespeare country.
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THE LIFT DOORS slid together, and the steel cage began its upward journey with a faint lurch, which Abigail Westmore’s stomach uneasily echoed.
What the hell, she thought despairingly, was she doing, acting as a reluctant messenger between her cousin and her fiancé? Why hadn’t she refused—stood out for once against Della and her outrageous demands? Because unless she’d totally misunderstood the situation, the letter in her bag contained some kind of ultimatum, and was the last thing she wanted to be involved with, particularly when … Her mind closed off.
For the umpteenth time she looked in her bag to check that the letter was still there, that she hadn’t, by some Freudian slip, lost it on the way here. Then she glanced at her watch, making sure that her timing was exact. Della had been most insistent about that.
‘You’ve got to deliver it just before six,’ she’d said sharply. ‘So don’t go into one of your dreams, Abby, and forget. Everything depends on you.’
Abby had no wish for ‘everything’ to depend on her, particularly when it meant delivering a message to Vasco da Carvalho which he would not want to receive.
They used to execute people who brought bad news in the old days, she thought, grimacing at her reflection in the lift mirror. Not that she thought Vasco would go to those lengths, although she suspected he had a temper, but he would be less than pleased to know that Della had been discussing the rift between them with a third party.
She could always slide the envelope under the door and vanish, she thought, then sighed. No, she had to give the letter to him in person. Della had been adamant about that too.
‘And if he’s not there,’ she added, ‘you must phone me instantly—at this number.’ And she had handed Abby a folded slip of paper.
Abby had been mildly surprised. After all, she’d spent the greater part of her life, since her parents’ death, sharing her cousin’s luxurious home in St John’s Wood. She could, she thought, be expected to remember the phone number, even if she had been living in her own bed-sitter for the past six weeks. But when she glanced at the paper later, she was disturbed to see that Della had written the number of a Paris hotel.
Although she wasn’t sure why she felt uneasy. Della, and her mother, often popped across to Paris on shopping expeditions for Della’s trousseau. And now that Della had learned to her fury and alarm that her future married life would not be spent in the lap of luxury in Rio de Janeiro but on an obscure cocoa plantation in Amazonia, she would probably have to re-think much of her wardrobe. But it seemed odd that she was going shopping when matters between Vasco and herself were so unsettled.
The lift halted, and Abby emerged reluctantly into the corridor, her heels sinking into the deep pile of the carpet. It was the first time she had visited the apartment block where Vasco was staying, and it was all as luxurious as she’d imagined. She could see why Della had fallen into the trap of believing this was the kind of background Vasco belonged to, rather than some obscure corner of the Brazilian rain forest. She could understand, to some extent, why her cousin had been convinced that the cocoa bean plantation was just a temporary aberration—a rich man’s whim—and that when he was married, Vasco would cheerfully take his place in his family’s wealthy export company in Rio, with all that implied.
Abby had never been so sure. She didn’t believe Vasco’s dark, elegant good looks concealed any such weakness of purpose. The firm lines of his mouth, the determined set of his chin belied Della’s conviction that she could wind him round her little finger.
And Della’s shock and outrage when he had made it bluntly clear that the cocoa plantation was his life, and that, as his wife, she would be expected to share it with him, had been almost comical. Except that Abby had never felt like laughing.
She reached the door of the flat and stopped, swallowing nervously. There was a large gilt-framed mirror on an adjoining wall, and she looked herself over, pushing her fingers through her fine mouse-brown hair, silently rehearsing what she was going to say, if he answered the door. ‘Oh, hi. I was just passing, and Della asked me …’
No, that wouldn’t do, she thought ferociously. How could she go for the casual approach when she looked as white as a ghost, her eyes twice their normal size?
But Vasco da Carvalho had looked at her so seldom, she thought without resentment, that he might think her pallor was perfectly usual.
She wished with all her heart that she could have shared his indifference. She wished that the only emotion he had inspired in her could have been the polite interest anyone could expect to feel for her cousin’s fiancé. Only it hadn’t happened like that.
She was an ordinary, practical girl. She didn’t believe in grand passions, or love at first sight. If anyone had told her it could happen, she would have treated it as the joke of the year.
But it isn’t funny, she thought painfully. It isn’t funny at all.
She had walked into her aunt’s drawing-room one evening and found him standing, with Della, in front of the fireplace. And nothing had ever been the same again, nor ever would be.
It had proved the impetus she needed to get her out of her uncle’s home, however. She had made one or two unsuccessful bids for freedom in the past, only to be dissuaded by her aunt’s fretful accusations of ingratitude, but this time she’d stuck to her guns. There was no way she could go on living there, seeing Vasco every day, watching Della bloom as his future wife. She had thought her hidden feelings for Vasco were her own personal secret, but she had been wrong.
That was why she was here, hanging round his door, trying to pluck up courage to