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Authors: Elizabeth Hunter

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BOOK: The Beads of Nemesis
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“To annoy you,” he said quietly.

Morag looked at him quickly. “But why?”

He turned his eyes on her, studying her gravely with an enigmatic expression. “I thought it might help you to get it all together; It did, didn’t it?”

“I don’t know what you mean!” she denied.

“Morag, if you say that once more, I’ll take you home now and leave you to stew in your own juice! I’ll give you five minutes in which to tell me all about Delia and then we can both forget all about her. She never was as important as you imagined.

“She was to me!” Morag kept her tone even with difficulty. She was afraid that she was going to burst into tears. “I saw the way you looked at her when we arrived in England. But it was too late, wasn’t it? You were already committed to me, but it was she you wanted to kiss and-” She broke off, horrified by the sight of her own jealousy so plainly revealed for him to see.

“And she would be more than willing to take me from you. Is that it?”

She nodded in earnest now. “But I couldn’t let her have you. I couldn’t, Perry! I’m so sorry, but I couldn’t!”

“Didn’t it ever occur to you, my love, that I might have had some ideas on the subject? If I’d wanted Delia, don’t you think I could have got out of marrying you? I’d had one marriage where neither of us cared very much for the other. Do you think I’d want to go through that again?”

She stopped crying and stared at him. “But you were - you did! I mean, you married me!”

He gave her a mocking look. “Exactly!”

“D-didn’t Delia attract you at all?”

The corner of his mouth kicked up into a smile. “Not at all!”

Her eyes widened. “I don’t think you should have made use of her like that. She might have got hurt.” “Unlikely,” he decided. “Not that I would have minded inflicting a little pain in that direction. She had done so much to hurt you!”

“But that’s nothing to you!” she protested.

“On the contrary,” he assured her, “it affects me very dearly. You’re my wife, and no one hurts you but me! David didn't matter. Anyone with half an eye could see that he had meant nothing to you. He hadn’t even kissed you properly.”

“Why told you that?”

He laughed. “You did!”

She remembered that she had, that she had told him that no one had ever kissed her before he had done so, and the memory brought a sweet confusion to her face. Had he known then that she had had no defences against him, but had fallen headlong in love with him at first sight?

She put a hand up to her hot cheeks. “He wasn’t particularly interested in that - that side of things,” she explained.

“Just as well!” Pericles said. “I prefer to teach my own wife how to make love! But I had to be sure that you weren’t being carried away by the emotion of the moment. I wanted you to love me enough to stand up and fight for me, my unselfish darling - and, you see, you did! Even if you had to get my whole family to help you do it, you got rid of Delia!”

“You mean you wanted her to go?”

“Well, she isn’t my favourite person. I’m sorry to say it about your stepsister, but as a woman she’s a pain in the neck!”

Unexpectedly, Morag chuckled and he looked enquiringly at her. “You sounded just like your mother,” she said. “I’m sure you both think that a woman is a useless being unless she’s subservient to some man!”

The gleam of humour in his eye grew more pronounced. “Don’t you?” he mocked her.

“In a way,” she admitted. Her eyes met his and her heart jerked within her. The laughter died away from her face and she averted her face hastily in case he should read there of her need for him. The silence stretched her nerves and made it unbearable not to look at him. “Perry,” she began. With a sudden movement she cast herself on her knees beside him. “Perry, I love you. I love you so much it hurts. Please, love me a little bit!” He made as if to speak, but she put up a hand and covered his lips with her fingers. “I know you want me, and - and if that’s all, I promise you it’ll be enough for me, but-”

His arms went round her in the most satisfactory way. “If that had been all, I wouldn’t have made you my wife!” he mocked her. “Travelling round Greece on your own, you were fair game for any wolf who came along.”

“I was not! I can look after myself perfectly well.” Her natural honesty made her wonder if that was quite true. She might not have wanted to protect herself against Pericles Holmes, no matter what suggestion he had made to her. “Against anyone else,” she ended meekly, veiling her eyes with her eyelashes and wishing heartily that she had retained a decent silence and not let her indignation get the better of her. “I mean,” she began again on a gulp. “Your meaning is perfectly clear,” he assured her.

“Oh,” she said.

His arms tightened about her as she half-heartedly tried to escape his embrace, “Sweetheart, don’t you know yet that I feel the same about you? Long before the dress, or my mother’s painting of you, I was plotting your downfall. I was afraid I’d put you off me once and for all, but I kept telling myself that you were my wife and that you must have expected me to take you sooner or later. If you were frightened at first, I thought I could overcome that.” “But - but I was quite willing.” She remembered that he had said she would have to do better than that. “It was wonderful!” she forced out. The words that had always evaded her came tumbling into her mind, and they were somehow easy to say - at least to Pericles. “I couldn’t believe it when I first saw you,” she said. “You were so beautiful to me! N-not in a feminine sort of way, you could never be that and you know it, but a man can be beautiful, more beautiful than a woman, and I wanted you to make love to me then. You must have known that when you kissed me that time, but after we were married you didn’t seem to want me. I thought you were wishing you hadn’t, and then I thought perhaps you were Greek enough to think that any woman was better than none, and so I bought the dress and - and made Dora give us the painting, because I thought you’d know then, and it must be rather daunting to have a wife who doesn’t -well, you know. But I didn’t think it was going to work. It was such a relief when-” “Then why did you go back to your own room?” he asked her.

“I wanted to be more to you after all. I wanted you to love me too!”

He held her away from him, looking deep into her eyes. “I think you were afraid too,” he said. “You looked scared stiff when I threatened to drive you up into the mountains and make love to you there.”

Her eyelashes veiled her green eyes for an instant, but then she looked back at him. “I was afraid I wouldn’t know how to please you,” she confessed, “and I was shy. I’m still a little afraid of you. You see, I never knew that one could feel like this about anyone and - and it takes a bit of getting used to!”

His hand grasped the nape of her neck in a possessive gesture. “Darling Morag,” he whispered, “I love you, love you, love you, like I’ve never loved any other woman, nor ever shall.

But I had to be sure that you loved me too. I knew my mother

would tell you all about Susan, and I didn’t want to be another

lame dog for you to break your heart over because you’re made

that way! I was scared of being another David to you, someone

you would give up in an excess of generosity, if Delia and I

looked like being attracted to one another. I’ll never get over

the moment when I got home today and found you’d stood up

to her and meant-to cling on to me no matter what!”

She smiled, her eyes very bright. “Did that pay for your pride, Perry?”

He kissed her lips. “I hope you think it’s worth it. My pride was

lacerated by Susan’s indifference. You are quite right, my love, it is

daunting to mean less than nothing to the woman in your arms.

But with you not even a passionate physical response was enough

for me. I wanted your heart and mind as well!”

“They’re yours,” she answered. “I only want to belong to you,

Perry nothing more. Where you lead, I want to follow - with love.

Because I don’t think I can live without you. Without you,

everything is dust and ashes, and only you can make it all glorious

for me like - like being born again!”

He held her close, a look that she had never seen before on his

face. “Morag, agapi mou, for someone who is afraid of words, you

can make them sing a lyrical song when you try.” He kissed her

slowly, his mouth lingering against her soft, parted lips. “Will you

forgive me for making you say them?”

Her arms slipped up round his neck and her fingers buried

themselves in his hair, luxuriating in the feel of it. “Oh, Perry,

don’t you know yet how it is with me? You said you wanted the

words - all of them, and I nearly died at the thought, but your will

is mine, and I knew I’d have to find them in the end if I wanted -

your signature on the final peace treaty. And I do! You don’t know

how much I do!”

“On my terms?” he whispered.

She nodded helplessly, scarcely aware of the gentle way he held her. “On your terms,” she agreed. “Because I love you!” She tipped up her face for his kiss. “On any terms,” she said, and she was no longer ashamed of the hunger in her voice.

The sun was setting and the boy who looked after the site had appeared from nowhere, a knowing grin on his face.

“We close now,” he said. “But you can come back in the morning. We very seldom have any visitors in the early morning.”

Pericles grinned. “It sounds as though we’ve got our marching

orders,” he said. “Did you mean it when you offered me the

sanctuary of your tent?”

“Yes, of course.” Morag gave him a shy look. “But if you’d rather

go home -?”

“Certainly not! I intend to have you to myself for a few hours at least before we have Mama preening herself that she did the whole thing on her own, and the children claiming all your attention, thinking that you belong to them-”

“But I do!” she laughed. “I want them to think that. It wouldn’t do to exclude them! Besides, I like them.” She clamped her mouth shut, determined to say no more, but then she smiled and gave him the victory. “Kimon has a smile just like yours,” she confided.

“My dear girl,” he said, his eyes very bright, “if that’s all it takes to make you happy. I’ll have to see what I can do! Though I rather hope that we manage to reproduce that guilty look of yours as well.”

“I’d like that,” she murmured, determined not to let him see that he had embarrassed her. “But only if Kimon and Peggy don’t mind!” She put her hand in his. “Every child should come first with both parents. It’s horrible when you don’t!”

His fingers stroked her cheek. “I don’t think the twins have anything to worry about. You’ll find room for them all in that loving heart of yours. I’ll vouch for that. Shall we go and get a meal in Marathon, and then come back and make our camp on the headland, outside the old town there?”

She nodded, becoming aware of the boy who was still waiting for them to go. “There’s something I must do first, though. I have something for Nemesis, as a kind of thank-you, because she did give us a handsome measure of joy today. I wouldn’t like her to think we weren’t grateful.”

“Are you afraid she’ll take it all away again?” he teased her.

“No,” she said, but she didn’t sound particularly certain. “But I wouldn’t want her to think me guilty of hubris either!”

He laughed and said something to the boy in Greek. The two of them stood side by side and watched her as she mounted the high

step on to the floor of the ruined temple that had been dedicated to Nemesis so many hundreds of years before. There was a place a little towards one end where, probably, once her votive statue had stood, the only one extant where we know what the original looked like and haven’t had to guess from later copies.

Morag stood quite still for a long moment, savouring the moment. It was likely, she thought, that she would never be quite as happy as she was at that moment. No one could live on the peaks all their life, nor would she want to, but neither would she have been without this one day when Pericles had said he loved her.

She took the shells from around her neck and laid them carefully on the ground in front of her.

She stood up, and smiled at Pericles, and remembered a speech she had once learned from the Eutnenides. She thought it was Athena’s command to the Furies when they had agreed to settle in her land.

“Blessings,” she quoted, “in harmony with a victory that has no evil in it: blessings from the earth and from the waters of the sea and from the sky. And you must pray that the wind's breath may pass across my land in sunlight; that the fruits of the earth and increase of grazing beasts, abundant, thriving, may not fail my citizens in time to come; and that the seed of man may be kept safe.”

Pericles came to the edge of the temple and lifted her down,

with a smile as intimate as her own,

“Amen to that,” he said.

BOOK: The Beads of Nemesis
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