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Authors: Sheila O'Flanagan

From The Heart (12 page)

BOOK: From The Heart
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Isabella querida
.
I’d treated him very badly. As badly as any man had ever treated me. I’d never quite got over the guilt I felt about Nico. The memories were flooding into my head now. Our first meeting near the Retiro park, where he’d paid for my café solo because I’d forgotten my purse. Going to an Irish pub with him. Listening to him playing at the Lux Hotel. Falling in love with him.
Damn it, I muttered savagely to myself, I hadn’t fallen in love with him. I’d fallen in love with the idea of someone as wonderful as him. It was completely different.
There was a sizzling sound and another waft of smoke and I realised that he’d extinguished the cigar. Then the sound of his patio door opening and closing again. He’d obviously gone to bed. With the beautiful Pilar.
He couldn’t be the same Nico. But it worried me that I seemed to want him to be.
I went back into my own room and closed the door. But I couldn’t let it go. I kept thinking about him and wondering if by some incredible chance . . . But so what if it was him? He was with Pilar, wasn’t he? And what did we have in common any more? Why would I want to talk to him? To be friendly, I reminded myself. To let him know that I’d grown up. To apologise again for not having told him about Tim. To tell him I’d once loved him.
I thumped the cushion on my chair. I most certainly wouldn’t tell him that! I hadn’t loved him. I’d used him. I might have loved him if I hadn’t been Tim-obsessed. But that was all in a different lifetime and with a different Isobel. I was older now. More sensible. And – despite what people thought – not flaky.
This was what I told myself as I stepped out on to my balcony again and leaned over the rail, as precariously as Pilar had done earlier that evening. I was trying to see into the room next door. My reasoning was that if by some extraordinary chance Nico Alvarez was there, I wanted to know. I didn’t want to bump into him around the pool or at the beach and be taken by surprise. I wanted to be ready for him. And so I needed to know who the man in Room 607 actually was.
The light was on in the room but I couldn’t hear anything. Nor could I see any movement through the heavy drapes which covered all but a sliver of the window, the sliver from which the thin slice of light gleamed. I thought about it for a moment, then swung myself out over the pastel blue and white wooden balustrades of my room and grabbed hold of the rail of the balcony next door. I swallowed hard as I glanced downwards. If I fell I’d probably break something. White Sands wasn’t a single building and the rooms were dotted around the green hillside so that none was more than one storey high. It wasn’t that far to fall really, but it would be directly into the succulent cactus plant below. I tightened my grip on the wooden rail. I definitely didn’t want to fall into the cactus plant.
It started to rain again. I swore softly under my breath and hauled myself up on to the balcony of Room 607, and stood on the wet tiles panting slightly. I realised that what I had done was incredibly stupid and foolish and that if the occupants of the room came out on to the balcony for any reason I would have a hell of a lot of explaining to do. I also realised that there was no possible way that Pilar’s companion (husband, fiancé, lover – who knew!) was the Nico I’d known. So I would basically be standing on the balcony of a complete stranger’s room and he would probably call the police and God only knew what would happen to me.
The rain beat down even harder. There was no way I could get back to my own room while it fell in its relentless torrent. I slicked my wet hair back from my face and prayed that it would stop soon.
Then I heard the sound of someone at the patio door. I slithered across the wet balcony and tried to fold myself into its darkest corner while my heart fluttered like a trapped bird in my chest. The door opened. I flattened myself against the wall and told myself that everything I’d always believed about not being flaky was wrong. I was incredibly flaky. And this was my flakiest stunt yet.
The man stood in the open doorway looking out at the rain. I couldn’t see him properly because the light from behind him meant that he was in silhouette. I sure as hell hoped he couldn’t see me either. I think I closed my eyes, just like I used to do as a kid when Dad played hide and seek with me. I always supposed that if I couldn’t see him he couldn’t see me either. He usually let me win. Maybe if he hadn’t I would have realised that closing your eyes isn’t a great way of hiding from anyone!
There was a sudden exclamation from the man in the doorway. I allowed one eye to open slightly and then I groaned as I realised he had seen me and was walking towards me. I wondered what the jail sentence was for prowling on guest balconies at five-star hotels. And I wondered how I’d manage to explain it all to Gabriella.

Qué hace?
What are you doing?’ he asked angrily.
I opened my eyes a little more.
‘I’m sorry,’ I said helplessly in Spanish. ‘I got the wrong room.’
‘The wrong room?’ He stood in front of me. The two of us stared at each other. I couldn’t believe it. I opened my mouth but I couldn’t speak.
‘Isobel?’ He sounded as gobsmacked as me. ‘
Isabella
?’
Isabella querida
.
‘Hi, Nico.’ My voice came from miles away and sounded unaccountably bubbly and cheerful and completely insane. ‘How are you?’
‘Isobel,’ he said again. ‘I do not believe it. Why are you here?’
‘Same as you, I suppose,’ I said breezily. ‘Holiday. Though I’m on my own and I saw your lovely Pilar earlier. She’s gorgeous.’
He stared at me as though I was an alien from another planet. As though I’d materialised in front of him, a life form he didn’t quite understand.
‘Isobel, why are you here, and on the balcony of my room?’ He frowned again. There were more lines around his eyes than I remembered, but even in the blackness of the rain-filled night, they still smouldered. There was more grey in his hair too, around the temples. It made him look distinguished.
‘Isobel?’ He was waiting for me to answer, and although I knew that I was supposed to be quick-witted (everyone in the Alicante office thought so), I really couldn’t think of a single sensible thing to say. I cleared my throat.
‘I heard a noise,’ I told him unconvincingly.
‘But of course you would hear a noise,’ he said. ‘This is my room. I am in it. There would be a noise.’
‘Well, yes . . .’ My heart was thudding in my chest now, in a mixture of fear and embarrassment and shock. ‘So everything’s all right then,’ I said as brightly as I could. ‘Excellent. I’ll just be getting back.’ I walked over to the balcony and – despite the still-teeming rain and the threat of the cactus below – threw my leg over it.
‘Isobel! For heaven’s sake, stop! You will fall.’
‘Not at all.’ I was getting good at sounding breezy.
‘Please.’ He bounded across the balcony after me and caught me by the wrist. His dark, dark eyes stared into mine. I blinked.
‘Well, if you insist,’ I said reasonably, ‘you can let me out through your room.’ Though what the gorgeous Pilar would have to say about a drowned rat woman walking through her bedroom was absolutely beyond me.
‘Isobel, I . . .’ He stared at me as I clambered back on to his balcony. ‘I am sorry, but I am at a complete loss. I don’t understand why you are here.’
‘Like I said, a holiday,’ I told him. ‘And, gosh, Nico – it’s lovely to see you again, and maybe we’ll catch up in the bar or something, but now I’d better get back to bed.’
And with that I marched through the open patio door and across Room 607 (my eyes flicking towards the queen-sized bed, though I didn’t see any sign of Pilar at all) and out of the door before he had half a chance to stop me.
Naturally I didn’t sleep a wink that night. Of all the places I might have expected to meet Nicolas Alvarez again, here in this hotel had to be right at the bottom of the list. Because, and despite what I’d told Julie about Alicante being four hundred kilometres away from Madrid, I
had
often wondered what it would be like to bump into Nico there. Strolling down by the marina, for example. Or sitting on the beach. Or shopping in the Corte Inglés. I had wondered and imagined it and thought about it from time to time but I always pushed the thoughts to the very back of my mind because – well, because I didn’t want to think about Nico any more.
That passing whim stuff. That ‘loving him but being in love with Tim’ stuff. It’s only partly true. I
had
loved Nico when I lived in Madrid but I was afraid to admit it, even to myself. Nico had baggage in his past too, you see. A failed relationship with a girl called Carmen which bugged the hell out of me because he kept a photo of her on the shelf in his apartment. I didn’t want to commit to Nico knowing that he was still in his heart committed to Carmen. (The fact that he’d gone out with my friend Barbara afterwards was irrelevant. As far as I was concerned Carmen was the issue when I’d been dating him.) And he was too damn nice to me. I didn’t trust him. I was used to Tim, who hadn’t been quite so nice. Back then, I was a bit of an emotional mess. And seeing Nico again had made all of those conflicting emotions come back.
He’d been great in bed.
I tossed and turned beneath the single sheet and remembered Nico being good in bed. I opened my eyes in the dark and listened for sounds of Nico still being good in bed. With Pilar.
‘Oh for God’s sake,’ I said out loud as I sat up and punched the big pillow. Forget all this. Forget Nico. Forget Tim. Forget all of it. You’re fine the way you are.
As is always the way when you’ve been awake all night, I fell asleep just before dawn. That meant that I was late for breakfast, not arriving down to the restaurant until nearly nine o’clock, when almost everyone else had finished (and despite the mountains of food that White Sands always provided, the complement of guests managed to devour most of it each day. So it was a couple of slices of watermelon and no bread for me that morning. But what the hell, I wasn’t really hungry). There was, of course, no sign of Nico or Pilar. Nor was there any sign of them on the beach during the day. I wondered, my heart lurching suddenly in my chest, whether they’d come to the Caribbean to get married. It would be the sort of thing that Nico might do. Especially if he was still on uneasy terms with the rest of his family. If that was the case, I mused as I sipped on a pina colada and stared at the empty gazebo at the edge of the water, where had he met Pilar and was he totally over Carmen?
I reckoned I was right about the wedding. People who came to the island to get married usually disappeared for a day or so while they checked out the arrangements and did whatever it was they needed to do. Then they spent a couple of days on the beach acquiring the smattering of a tan (though the hotel’s luxurious spa offered a comprehensive package of beauty treatments that included a spray-on gold mist which went very well with white) before tying the knot (or chickening out of the whole thing).
I wondered whether I’d still be around for Nico’s wedding. I only had another couple of days left. Somehow I thought that it would be better if I wasn’t still here.
The manager’s cocktail party was held that night. It was a weekly event that took place in the bar area beside the pool, with champagne and canapés, where the general manager of the hotel introduced himself to the guests and hoped that we were enjoying our stay. How could we not? The weather was perfect, the food was sublime and there really wasn’t anything you could possibly want that wasn’t already being provided by the hotel. But the party gave everyone the chance to dress up and chat together in different surroundings to the hotel bar. And the whole thing was both jolly and sophisticated, with coloured fairy lights strung up between the palm trees and gently burning candles dotted around the edges of the pool.
I wore a dress in deep purple silk which I’d bought a couple of months earlier in a tiny boutique off the Calle Gerona (I didn’t have the time to make my own clothes as I used to), along with a pair of very high-heeled but exactly matching sandals in softest leather (from one of Alicante’s many shoe shops). My hair – always a problem for me because I was forever trying to grow it and then getting too impatient and lopping it off again – I allowed to fall loosely to my shoulders in its soft dark waves. I wore make-up for the first time in a week and a pair of gold earrings along with a matching necklace which I’d bought for myself the previous Christmas courtesy of my bonus. I looked at myself in the mirror before going out and knew that I looked great.
But not as great as Pilar. She and Nico were already standing side by side when I walked into the pool area. In Ireland and the UK people usually associate continental style with the French or the Italians, but honestly, the Spanish are a very, very stylish race. They have an easy elegance about them when they dress up, and Pilar was effortlessly beautiful in a sky-blue chiffon dress which accentuated every curve on her otherwise lithe body. Her shoes also matched her dress but her jewellery was silver. And once again she’d put her hair up, though this time not in the severe style of the night before, but in a gentle twist so that occasional wisps brushed her perfectly complexioned face. I forgot to mention that she was younger than me. In her mid-twenties, I thought. Whereas I, twenty-seven when I’d first met Nico, had now embraced my thirties. Suddenly my gorgeous dress made me feel as though I’d tried too hard.
I watched them as they talked easily together. Every so often Nico nodded in agreement at whatever Pilar said to him and I decided that she was the one who wore the trousers in the relationship. I wondered how Nico coped with that. He liked independent women but, like all men I guess, he also liked getting his own way. She said something else to him and he laughed heartily, then made his way over towards my side of the pool.
I walked quickly into a group of people and accepted a glass of champagne from one of the waiters. I chugged back rather too much and the bubbles went up my nose. I sneezed, then coughed. My asthma was virtually nonexistent these days, what with living in a much drier climate, but whenever anything went against my breath I still needed my inhaler. I took it out of my tiny purple clutch bag and took a puff.
BOOK: From The Heart
8.14Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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