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Isabel Makepeace, mostly known as Izzy, sank down onto a bench beneath an arching tree that would shade her from the fierce midday Spanish sun and blinked furiously at the crystal-clear blue waters of the Atlantic. She would not cry. She would not!
Thrusting out her full lower lip, she huffed at the fall of gossamer-fine, silvery blond unmanageable hair that was obscuring her vision and wished she wasn't such a monumental failurewished her feet didn't hurt so much when she could envisage having to walk miles and miles in search of somewhere dirt-cheap to stay while she looked for work.
Trouble was, being a scant five feet tall, she always wore killingly high heels, no matter what. Distinctly lacking stature, in the height department she needed all the help she could get.
Not that her family had ever commented on that to hervitally important lack. Lacking in brains, as her much older brilliant brother had cuttingly remarked on more occasions than she cared to remember. And lacking in common sense, as her father would sigh in exasperation while her mother merely shook her head sadly at the daughter who had been a surprise late arrival. An unpleasant surprise, Izzy sometimes feared, while vowing to try harder to live up to her brilliant brother, who was the golden apple of her parents' eyes.
The phone line from New Zealand had crackled with her father's displeasure when she'd told him she had left her job back in Englandthe job, moreover, that he had created for her amongst, as she strongly suspected, opposition from the other senior partnersand was taking another as an English-speaking mother's help to a wealthy Spanish couple in Cadiz.
He'd forecast that it would end in tears and he'd been right. It had.
The difference being she was not going to shed them!
The advertisement she'd seen in one of the national dailies had seemed heaven-sent. The successful applicant's duties would include looking after six-year-old twin girls and practising English with them, plus a little light housework. It had seemed like the answer to her prayersthe perfect way to start a new life.
That she'd actually landed the job had been a huge boost to her self-esteemespecially after the humiliation dealt her by the man she had adored with more romantic yearning than good old-fashioned common sense. Determined to forget Marcus and her broken heart, to prove herself to be the best ever mother's help and to show big brother James and her long-suffering parents that she didn't fail at everything she turned her hand to, she'd embarked on her new career with energy and goodwill.
She'd cheerfully swallowed the fact that although her new employers, Señor and Señora del Amo, occupied a large, opulent villa on the outskirts of the city, the room she'd been given was not much larger than a cupboard, with a small skylight, an iron-hard narrow bed, and a rickety chest of drawers that she'd banged her shins on every time she'd had to squirm past it to get into or out of bed.
The twins had been a nightmare, refusing to do a single thing she asked of them, and pretending they understood not a single word of English when their mother had proudly claimed the opposite. They had given her either blank stares or shrill giggles when she had attempted, with the help of a phrasebook, to speak to them in their own language.
It had soon dawned on Izzy that she was regarded as a low-paid skivvy. Her day off had been cancelled more often than not, and the 'light housework'piled onto her between taking the girls to school and escorting them home againhad translated into anything from sweltering over an Everest of ironing to scrubbing the marble paving of the immense entrance hall. But she'd got on with it because she'd been determined she wasn't going to walk out and admit yet another failure.
She had quickly learned to keep out of Señor del Amo's way as much as humanly possible because he sixteen flabby stones of oilinesshad seemed to think that because he was a wealthy banker and paid her paltry wages he was entitled to paw her whenever he felt like it.
Izzy had made up her mind to save as much as she possibly could to fund her escape. She'd planned to save the means of paying her way on public transport to one of the busy holiday costas, where her poor grasp of Spanish wouldn't be a problem, and finding somewhere cheap to stay while she looked for work in a hotel or bar. But it was a plan that had rapidly hit the dust this morning, when Señor del Amo had sneaked up on her while she'd been loading the washing machine.
Struggling to extricate herself from what had seemed to be an octopus's complement of arms, she'd been unaware that the Señora had walked in on the torrid scene until a shrill stacatto of Spanish had brought merciful release. Rubbing her mouth with the back of her hand to rid it of the shudder-making assault of wet, blubbery lips, she hadn't even tried to translate Señor del Amo's response to his wife. But her pansy-blue eyes had sparked with outrage when the Señora had turned her hard black eyes on her and ordered, 'Get out of our home immediately! How dare you try to seduce an honorable family mana husband and the father of two innocent girls?'
Stunned by the horrible injustice, Izzy had only been able to gasp with disbelief as her enraged employer had imparted with relish, 'From me you will have no references, and any money owing to you will not be paid. Your name will be forever linked with lewd behaviour among the civilised circles we move in!'
To have sprung to her own defence would have been a waste of breath, Izzy knew. Señora del Amo would believe what she wanted to believe, what made her feel comfortable, and even without looking at him she had known the Señor would be looking smugly triumphant.
There had been nothing for it but to pack her bags and go.
Looking on the bright side, she was glad to be away from the Señor's wandering hands and leery smiles, from the Señora's bossy, unrelenting demands and the terrible twins.
Her dignity restored, she had turned pitying eyes on the Spanish woman and told her, 'If you believe a word your husband says you're a bigger fool than I took you for.'
As Izzy had clipped out she'd almost felt daggers in her back, and she knew she'd made herself an enemy for life.
So here she was: no roof over her head, no job, and little likelihood of landing one in Cadiz with her scant knowledge of Spanish and not enough money to get her to the nearest busy holiday resort, where the language barrier wouldn't be such a problem, and where there would be plenty of bars and hotels looking for staff at the height of the season.
She wasn't going to break into her pitifully few euros to phone her parents in New Zealand, where they'd moved to be with her brother on her father's retirement, and ask to be rescued. To have to admit to yet another failure would be the final straw.
Her small chin firming, Izzy gathered her suitcase and slung her rucksack over her shoulders. Something would turn up. Maybe someone in the dockland area wanted someone to clean offices. It was worth consulting her phrasebook and asking, wasn't it?
An hour laterstill jobless, her feet killing herIzzy left the fascinating commercial docks with their huge cargo vessels, busy tugs, gleaming cruise liners and little fishing boats behind her and headed towards the old town. She wandered through the maze of narrow shade-darkened streets, where projecting balconies almost met overhead, giving respite from the blazing heat, seeking a café where the price of a cold drink would be much lower than she could hope to find in the smarter, newer part of town.
The irritating mass of her hair was dragging in her eyes, and her cotton T-shirt and skirt were sticking to her overheated body. She wondered if she took her shoes off to give her poor feet a rest she'd ever get them back on again.
But her self-pity vanished as the only other occupant of the narrow streeta frail, shabbily dressed old mantottered and collapsed. Concern tightening her soft mouth, Izzy dropped her luggage, ignored her protesting feet and sprinted forward to help.
His tough jaw set at a pugnacious angle, Cayo Angel Garcia descended from the penthouse suite he occupied when business demanded he spent time in Cadiz and exited the lift on the ground floor, instead of going down to the underground residents' car park and collecting the Merc.
He would walkburn off some of his anger.
Impatiently he ran long tanned fingers through his short, expertly cut midnight hair and lengthened his stride, his dark eyes narrowed against the white light of the morning sun.
Returning briefly to the castillo after two months out of the country on business, he'd found amongst his personal post a letter from Tio Miguel. Skimming it, he'd felt the usual mixture of deep affection and exasperation. The old guy was the nearest thing to a real father he'd ever had. Cayo's own father, Roman, had wanted little to do with him, blaming him for the untimely death of his adored wife when his baby son had been barely two months old.
It had been Miguel who had shown him the only familial affection he had knownwho had spent time with him, advised him. But when it came to taking advice Miguel closed his ears!
The elder of the two brothers, Miguel had inherited the vast family estates, while Roman had inherited the family-founded export empirean empire Cayo had then inherited on his father's death five years ago.
Cutting across the busy Avenida del Puerto, he entered the narrow, warren-like streets of the old city. He blamed himself for not putting his foot down. Firmly. His uncle, a lovable old eccentric, owned vast wealth, but he insisted on living like a pauper in a mean dwelling, uninterested in what he wore or the food he ateif he remembered to eat. His whole life revolved around his books. Cayo loved the old man dearly, but his unnecessarily austere lifestyle exasperated and worried him. He should have had him removed forcibly, if necessaryto the castillo, where he would be looked after properly.
But, believing that a man had the right to live his life as he saw fit, providing he did no harmand no man was more harmless and gentle than his uncleCayo had done nothing.
And look what had happened! Strong white teeth ground together in an excess of self-castigation.
The letter that had been waiting for him hadn't rung alarm bells. In fact he'd been pleased to learn that Tio Miguel had finally employed a new housekeeper. A young English girl, Izzy Makepeace, to take the place of the old crone who, it had always appeared to Cayo, had done little more than shuffle around the kitchen. And even there, he strongly suspected, she'd done nothing more energetic than lift a glass or six of man-zanilla and spend time gossiping with the neighbours on the doorstep.
When Cayo had voiced a strong suggestion that the crone be given her marching orders it had brought the inevitable mild response. 'Like me, Benita is old. She can't be expected to leap around like a teenager. We manage well enough. Besides, she relies on me for a roof over her head.'
Therefore Cayo had been gratified to read that the crone had left, to be a burden on her probably unsuspecting grandson and his young wife, and that his uncle had managed to find a young woman to take over her duties.
Skipping over the neat copperplate paean praising the new paragon's general excellence, Cayo had thankfully said goodbye to his growing unease over his uncle's domestic arrangements.
Until last night.
Cayo had combined a visit to his offices in the commercial docks here in Cadiz with a tedious but necessary dinner with business associates, and had planned a long overdue and pleasurable visit to his uncle the following day.
He had sat through the dinner last night, hosted by the banker Augustin del Amo and his wife Carmela, wondering which of the city's fine restaurants would be most to his uncle's liking when he took him to lunch the following dayafter Cayo had given the new housekeeper the once-over and made sure she knew her duties. First among these was the need to make sure the old gentleman ate regularly and well, of course. And then something said by the regrettably detestable Carmela del Amo had gained his full and riveted attention.
'It is impossible to get decent domestic helpmy poor children have been without a nanny for over a month now, ever since we had to tell the last one to leave. Izzy Makepeacean English girl. Such a mistake to hire her in the first place!' She had rolled her hard black eyes dramatically, managing to look martyred, and announced, 'I overlooked her slovenly laziness. I am a realist, and one cannot expect perfection no matter how much one pays. But when it comes to contaminating my dear, innocent girls I draw the line. The creature was little better than a puta.' Preening in the undivided attention of her guests, she had tipped her expertly coiffured head in her husband's direction. 'You know better than I, Augustin.'
The banker had looked smug as he'd leaned back in his chair, lifting his wine glass. 'You know how it is. Money is an aphrodisiac. I didn't dare be alone with her for one secondoffered herself on a plate. For a financial consideration, naturally. If I'd been the type to take a mistress then I might have been tempted. A lush little package if ever I saw one!'
In receipt of a look that would have wilted an oak in the prime of life, he had added quickly, 'But, as I'm a faithful family man, Iwetold her to pack her bags and leave.'
The anger that had been building ever since he'd received that unwelcome information made Cayo feel as if he were about to explode. The smallest amount of research would have given his uncle's new housekeeper the information that Miguel Garciascholar and local eccentricwas, to use her probable terminology, filthy rotten rich.
Izzy Makepeace, with the morals of an alley cat, had successfully got her greedy claws in one of the kindest, most innocent old gentlemen ever to inhabit the planet. But he, Cayo Angel Garcia, was about to ensure that this situation was sorted out immediately!
Make war was more like it!