‘Yes, you made your opinion of counselling quite plain at the time.’
‘One cannot alter what has happened; one must just accept.’
‘Terribly fatalistic and fine.’
‘We Greeks are fatalists.’
‘You’re the least fatalistic person I’ve ever met. And sometimes it helps to talk…but I didn’t come here to discuss the benefits of counselling.’
‘Are you likely to tell me what you did come for any time this side of Christmas?’
‘The boy is yours.’
A spasm of anger passed across Angolos’s face. Paul watched with some trepidation as his friend took several deep breaths. There was a white line etched around his lips as he said in a low, carefully controlled voice, ‘Anyone but you…Paul…’
‘You’d knock my block off, I know, but I still have to say it. The boy, Angolos, he’s the living spit of you. Oh, I don’t mean a little bit like—I mean a miniature version. There’s absolutely no doubt about it in my mind—Nicky is your son.’
‘Is this some sort of joke, Paul?’
‘I’ve got a warped sense of humour, Angolos, but I’m not cruel. If you don’t believe me I suggest you go look for yourself.’
‘I’m not buying into this fantasy.’
‘They’re staying at the beach place.’
‘I have absolutely no intention of going anywhere near that woman.’
‘Well, that’s up to you, but if it was me—’
Angolos’s eyes flashed. ‘It is not you. You have a wife waiting for you at home; you will hold your newly born child in your arms…’ He saw the shock on the other man’s face and, worse, the dawning sympathy. ‘The truth is, Paul,’ Angolos added in a more moderate tone, ‘I envy you. Never take what you have for granted.’
PEOPLE sitting in the hotel sun lounge opposite, munching their cream teas, watched as the tall, dark-haired figure emerged from the Mercedes convertible and adjusted his designer shades. A buzz of speculation passed through the room.
Who was the stranger? There was a general consensus that he looked as though he was somebody.
It was exactly as he remembered it, Angolos decided as he scanned the beach. Progress and the twenty-first century had still to reach this backwater.
Despite the fact the sun had retreated behind some sinister-looking dark clouds, there was still a sprinkling of hardy, inadequately clad individuals on the sands. Some were even in the water, which, if his memory served him correctly, was cold enough to freeze a man, especially one accustomed to the warmth of the Aegean, to the core.
Angolos had no specific plan of action. He knew that Paul was wrong; he had made this journey simply to extinguish any lingering doubts. After all, the unformed features of one dark-eyed, dark-haired child looked very much like another.
Saying the resemblance was striking was hardly proof positive. Frankly the unscientific approach from someone who really ought to know better surprised him.
Paul had to be wrong.
Then why are you here?
Because, he admitted to the dry voice in his head, if I don’t see this child for myself I’ll never know for sure. A niggling doubt—or was it hope?—would always be there. Irrational, of course; if he had a son he would know. It was simply not possible.
The part of the sea front he had reached was newly pedestrianised. There were signs excluding litter, dogs, and skateboards…and it had worked; he had the stretch pretty much to himself. He could see the church spire in the distance. He knew if he headed in that general direction he would end up where he wanted to be.
Although in these circumstances want was not really an appropriate term.
The Kemps’ holiday home was reached by a narrow, tree-lined lane that ran one side of the churchyard. A more direct route was via the beach—the house boasted a garden gate that gave direct access to the dunes and sand.
Angolos chose the more direct route. The sooner this nonsense was over with, the better, as far as he was concerned. He could not really spare the time as it was.
Angolos was not a man who lived in the past, but under the circumstances it was hard to prevent his thoughts returning to the first occasion he had walked along this stretch of sand.
He had been euphoric after receiving the final all-clear from the hospital earlier that morning. His first thought had been to immediately drive down to the coast to share the good news with the friend whom he owed his life to. If Paul hadn’t picked up on those few tell-tale symptoms and cajoled him into having a blood test that had revealed his problem, he’d had no doubt that he would not have been here now.
His plans had been frustrated. Paul and his wife Miranda hadn’t been at home. Driving along the sea-front road on his way back to the capital, on impulse Angolos had pulled the car over.
The sea air had filled his nostrils; the sun had warmed his face; he had felt alive…he had been alive.
There was nothing like a brush with death to make a man appreciate things he would normally have overlooked, but even had his senses not been heightened he would have noticed her. Why one pretty girl should have attracted his attention when there were so many pretty girls in the world remained a mystery.
Maybe it was the fact she had refused his impulsive offer of dinner that had made the honey-haired English girl with the golden eyes remain in his mind the rest of the day.
And maybe it had been coincidence that had made him return to the beach late that evening when the light had been fading, but Angolos was more inclined to consider it fate.
And fate was not always kind.
When he’d tried the second time, Paul and Mirrie had been home. They had opened a bottle of champagne to celebrate and had insisted he should stay the night. He ought to have been able to relax—he had been given his life back; he had been in the company of friends—but Angolos had felt strangely restless.
The evening had been sticky and stifling; a few distant rumbles had promised thunder. When he’d announced his intention of taking a walk on the beach, his understanding hosts had said fine, and given him a key to let himself in.
Walking along the pebbly foreshore, he hadn’t immediately appreciated that the figure in the waves had been in trouble. Assuming the swimmer had been messing around or drunk, he had turned a deaf ear to the cries.
When he had realised what had been happening he had responded instinctively to the situation. On autopilot he had fought his way out of his jacket as he’d run down the beach, pausing only at the water’s edge to step out of his shoes.
He was a strong swimmer and, even hampered by his clothing, it had taken him very little time to cover the hundred or so metres. Even though clearly exhausted, desperation had lent the struggling swimmer strength as she had wrapped her arms around his neck, dragging him down. She had clung like a limpet—yes, even in the desperation of trying to break her stranglehold, he had registered that the body sealed to his was female—and in his weakened condition it had taken him a few worrying minutes to subdue her.
Fortunately she had appeared to have exhausted herself fighting him, and had remained passive as he’d towed her to shore. The undercurrent, which had presumably been too strong for her to negotiate, had been against him on the way back. The swim back had taken its toll on his remaining strength.
The relief when he’d got her ashore had been intense.
It wasn’t until he had carried the limp and bedraggled figure from the water and dumped her, coughing, onto the sand that he had recognised her. Lying at his feet had been the golden-eyed girl from earlier.
Something had snapped in his head. That someone like this girl with everything to look forward to could have been so careless of life when he’d known how fragile and precious it was had incensed him beyond measure.
Anger had coursed through his body and brain, causing his vision to blur and his hands to shake. He hadn’t been able to recall being this angry in his life—not even when the doctors had given him a poor prognosis. On that occasion he had had to control his feelings, but not now. He had been incandescent with rage.
Dropping down onto his knees beside her, he had taken her small heart-shaped face between his hands, pushing aside the drenched strands of hair that had clung like fronds of exotic seaweed to her face.
He had been able to feel the rapid beat of the pulse that had throbbed in her blue-veined temple. Her taut breasts had lifted as she’d tried to drag air into her oxygen-starved lungs. The black swimsuit had clung to her supple young body as lovingly as a second skin. Her skin, he’d noticed, had an incredible, luminescent clarity, at that moment it had been icy cold.
The image of her lying there was so perfect it might have happened yesterday. His body responded to the memory as if it had been that night nearly four years earlier. He was rock-hard.
‘How could you be so stupid?’ he demanded then. He shook her until her eyes opened.