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Authors: Jean S. MacLeod

Meeting in Madrid

BOOK: Meeting in Madrid
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MEETING IN MADRID

by

JEAN S. M
AC
LEOD

Her future appeared rich with promise

Catherine Royce set out for Madrid, her spirits high. Spain fascinated her, and her new job as tutor to a willful teenager would certainly be challenging!

But she was completely unprepared for the volatile reactions of her young charge’s aristocratic family—reactions that were soon followed by damaging accusations.

Nor was she prepared for the overwhelming passion within her that her employer, the aloof and alluringly handsome Don Jaime, seemed to incite—

To

AUDREY

with many pleasant memories of our days in Madrid

 

CHAPTER ONE

The
house was full of packed suitcases; people were going away. Catherine Royce surveyed the little pile on the polished floor of the hall with mixed feelings as she drew on her gloves, realising that the scene was not new to her. Over the years her parents had departed for distant corners of the earth with amazing regularity, leaving her in the charge of one relative or another when she had been too young to go with them and sending her off to boarding- school when she was older. Later, when her schooldays were over, they had remained in England just long enough to see her safely installed at the college of her choice before they had hastened off to India, and now they were bound for America on a lecture tour which would last for a year.

A whole year, Catherine thought, full of new experiences for them all because now she, too, was going away.

Her mother came swiftly down the curving staircase from the floor above, a tall woman in her late forties with a thin intelligent face and fine brown hair which she wore coiled closely round her head.

‘Have you everything you’ll need, my dear?’ she asked in the practical tone she used when she was organising her husband’s journeys to far-away places. ‘Passport, immunisation certificate, your letter of introduction, any medication you may need, a book for the journey?’

‘Everything, Mother. You needn’t worry. I’m fully equipped for the direst emergency!’ Catherine reached up to kiss the sallow cheek burned by constant exposure to drying winds and sun. ‘I might be just a little bit nervous about meeting these people, but that will probably sort itself out when I do. The agency assured me that they were a good family—“well-respected” was the phrase they used—and would give me a pleasant home.’ She held her breath for a moment. ‘Quite apart from teaching English to a young Spanish
senorita
, I’ll be brushing up my own Spanish and gaming an impeccable accent.’

‘You’re really quite sure you want to go?’ There was a suggestion of doubt in Nancy Royce’s eyes as she asked the question, although she could not understand any daughter of hers not wanting to travel abroad. ‘You really ought to spread your wings a little and make some practical use of your gift for languages.’

Catherine turned towards the staircase, furious with herself for wanting to cry, for wanting to stay here in the only home she knew.

‘Is Father ready?’ she asked to cover a desperate sort of loneliness, a desire for belonging. ‘I really ought to have ordered a taxi.’

A tall, spare man in a grey suit made his appearance on the floor above, coming to the baluster rail to look down at them.

‘Ah, there you are!’ he observed. ‘All ready to go?’

‘Ready and waiting.’

The Professor came slowly down the stairs. He had been over forty when his only child had been born, too old to adapt to a baby in the house, and Catherine had always thought of him as vaguely kind, but she loved him dearly. He had talked to her like a grown-up person for as long as she could remember, encouraging her in her school work, passing on the knowledge he felt would be useful to her, but he had never been able to cope in an emergency, his thoughts being fully taken up by his profession. It had been left to her mother, who was more practical in every way, to make all the necessary decisions, and it was Nancy Royce who had advised her daughter to make the most of her fluent Spanish and seek a position abroad.

She kissed her daughter on each cheek as the Professor reached the hall.

‘Do your best, my dear,’ she admonished. ‘A first job is always exciting, but it can also be demanding. I’m sorry I can’t come with you to the airport,’ she added, checking the pile of suitcases on the floor, ‘but we leave ourselves at three o’clock and there are still a score of last-minute jobs to attend to. You understand?’

‘Perfectly!’ Catherine kissed her in return. ‘I’ll write just as soon as I get there,’ she added. ‘I have your New York address.’

On the way to the airport her father sat beside her in a protracted silence for a long time before he produced a package from the capacious inside pocket of his shabby overcoat.

‘It’s a book,’ he explained almost apologetically. ‘I thought you might like to have it. It was written by an old friend of mine and it’s about Spain. Spanish history, really.’ He put the package on her knee, patting it gently. ‘I think it will interest you and give you a truer insight into the Spanish character.’

Their fingers touched for a moment over the book.

‘Thank you,’ Catherine said. ‘I’ll treasure it.’

He looked vaguely uncomfortable.

‘We’ll meet you in a year’s time,’ he said. ‘Meanwhile, Cathy-’

‘Yes?’

‘If anything should happen, if you’re ever in any difficulty, go to the Embassy. I’ve given you the address on the Fernando el Santo in Madrid, just in case.’

‘What could go wrong?’ Catherine asked as he parked the car. ‘I shall be doing a job to the best of my ability and if I don’t succeed and am asked to go I shall look for another one.’

‘Best to come back to England, in that case,’ he advised, ‘but I don’t think there’s any fear of you falling down on the job.’

‘That’s because you’re my father!’ She gave his arm a tight squeeze. ‘There are a hundred reasons why I might fall flat on my face!’

He smiled his disbelief.

‘I was thinking more of the people you might meet,’ he confessed. ‘I find people difficult, but I hope you’re more like your mother and can deal with them.’

‘I’m like you—a dreamer,’ she wanted to say, but the words would not come. Perhaps, she thought, I should steel myself to be my mother’s daughter, after all.

When the big jet lifted off at the end of the runway she turned the book he had given her over in her hands, but she did not open it until they were south of the great barrier of the Pyrenees and she was looking down on the broad Iberian peninsula for the first time. It was then that her father’s parting gift seemed truly significant, a guide which might help her to understand the people she was about to meet and the land in which they lived.

It was a slim volume, easy to read and beautifully illustrated, a brief record of Spain’s colourful history ‘written in blood and gold’. When her concentration strayed she looked down on the scene beneath her, on Castile, the land of castles, wondering what she would find there. Dreaming, she allowed her thoughts to wander until the book slipped from her fingers to be retrieved by the smiling air hostess who had welcomed her aboard.

‘Your first visit?’ the girl asked. ‘You’ll love Madrid. I’m always happy to be on this route.’

She handed back the book as it had fallen, open at one of the illustrations which graced the central pages, and Catherine found herself gazing down at a man on horseback.
El Conquistador.
She read the caption beneath the picture with a sense of shock because horse and rider had seemed suddenly to come alive. They had grown out of the page to become even larger than life, yet the armour they wore placed them securely in the past. It was a statue in bronze, the man’s face finely chiselled to suggest strength of character and purpose, his firm hand clenched on the shaft of the tall lance he carried, yet there was a hint of cruelty about the mouth and a suggested arrogance in the proud carriage of the head which she did not like. These were the men who had gone out to conquer a whole new world, men of ambition and a fierce, inherited pride to whom ruthlessness was a way of life, yet she tried to imagine a look of compassion as well as purpose in the forward-gazing eyes. No doubt the statue was one of Jaime I of Aragon, the
conquistador
king, or one of his many conquering knights.

Abruptly she closed the book, thrusting it deeply into the pocket of her travelling satchel because the man on the bronze horse had disturbed her with a look and because they were no more than five minutes away from Madrid.

The sprawling capital of Spain rose like a mirage from the vast tablelands which surrounded it, an oasis of colour in the lonely stretches of slaked sand and granite mountains lying beneath her. It was not what she had expected; not from the air, anyway.

‘Fasten your seatbelts, please.’

The hostess came along the aisle, looking from side to side to see if her request had been complied with, and then, almost imperceptibly, they had touched down. It had been an uneventful flight except for the fact that the portrait of a man on a bronze horse had disturbed Catherine for no reason that she could possibly understand.

Dismissing the thought, she followed her fellow-travellers to the exit, proffered her passport for inspection, and found herself walking down the length of the main hall wondering how she would identify the person who had come to meet her. Apart from the fact that she would be picked up at Barajas and should display the agency card prominently in her hand she had no way of telling who might be waiting for her, but she supposed it would be someone from the Madroza household, probably a chauffeur with the family car to take her luggage.

Then she saw him. It was the man on the bronze horse whose proud face and concentrated gaze had disconcerted her as he had sprung to life from the printed page. He wore a plain grey suit and white shirt, with a striped silk tie in grey and maroon, nothing to connect him with a knight or a
conquistador
king, but there was the same look in his eyes, the same autocratic turn of the head as he surveyed her fellow-travellers one by one. The proud scrutiny passed over her as he walked on, but somehow Catherine knew that he had come to meet her. She made a small, brief movement with the agency card, hoping that he would see, but for a moment the arrogant back was turned and she was still unrecognised.

No doubt she had been wrong. She drew a sigh of relief, aware that she had been deeply shaken by the encounter, and looked about her for a more prosaic figure in the uniform of a chauffeur.

‘Miss Royce?’ The man was standing beside her looking down at the agency card from his substantial height. ‘Forgive me if I passed you by originally, but I was looking for someone quite different. Someone much older,’ he added deliberately.

‘I’m sorry,’ she found herself saying. ‘I had no idea I should have been in my dotage.’

Her sardonic rejoinder seemed to glance off him.

‘You have other luggage?’ he asked, glancing at her travelling satchel. ‘We must go immediately to pick it up.’ His English was impeccable, with only the slightest hint of an accent in his deep voice, but he was frowning. In one way or another she seemed to have displeased him. She hesitated, conscious of the slow pounding of her heart.

‘You are—?’

‘Jaime de Berceo Madroza,’ he introduced himself, inclining his dark head in what might have been a bow. ‘My grandmother wrote to your London agency some time ago and we had your answer last month, but I do not think you mentioned your age. However, it is essential that we have a tutor for my niece immediately.’

‘But you’re disappointed that I’m not middle-aged.’

A faint smile touched his lips.

‘I am not your employer,’ he returned briefly. ‘Your age—or lack of it—must be a question for my grandmother to settle in her own way. You seem to have the qualifications she asked for, and perhaps age was not stipulated. Have you your luggage receipt and I will collect it for you?’

He held out his hand in a commanding gesture which she had almost expected and she gave him the luggage slip to go in search of her suitcases. In a few minutes he had returned with them on a trolley pushed by a willing porter, although there had been very few in evidence when she got off the plane. A man like Jaime de Berceo Madroza, she reflected drily, would be able to conjure them out of thin air.

She followed the tall, distinguished-looking figure out to a waiting car. It was long and sleek and beautiful, suggestive of wealth in an unobtrusive way, a worthy vehicle, no doubt, for the man who strode by her side, and he held the door open for her with the courtesy she should have expected.

‘We have not far to go,’ he informed her politely. ‘But perhaps you have been in Madrid before?’

BOOK: Meeting in Madrid
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