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Authors: Elizabeth Hunter

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BOOK: The Beads of Nemesis
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mother?”

“I don’t know,” Morag answered. “Perhaps. My stepsister is very like her mother and he loves her very much.” The child sighed. “I can’t always remember Mummy,” she confessed. “I tried not to remember her because Grandma chose her to marry Daddy. Only Kimon says it’s wicked. Are you wicked too, Morag?”

“Often and often,” Morag agreed, smiling. “Would you like my necklace in place of yours? You could think of it as a present from your mother, if you don’t like to have it as a gift from Nemesis.”

Peggy accepted the shell necklace and put it round her neck. “Don’t tell Daddy,” she said solemnly. “Nobody ever understood before. I hate Grandma!”

“Why?” Morag asked curiously.

Peggy pursed up her lips, looking far older than her ten or eleven years. “You’ll find out! She’s all right with Daddy. She’s even all right with Kimon. But if you’re a girl, she’s horrid!”

CHAPTER TWO

Pericles took one look at his daughter’s face and said something to her in Greek. The child looked gratified and smiled and nodded. “Morag says she prefers being a girl,” she said in English. Pericles looked amused. His glance swept over Morag’s heightened colour. “I expect she does,” he agreed, his eyes inscrutable. “Give her back her necklace, Peggy. Being given that sort of thing is one of the perks “She said I could have them!” Peggy protested. “But I gave them to her,” her father insisted quietly. “If you want another necklace yourself I’ll buy you another one. But that one was specially for Morag. Hand it over, there’s a love!”

Peggy drew the shell necklace over her head and held it out with a reluctance that made Morag feel sympathetic. “It’s true, I did give it to her. I can buy another necklace for myself. I’ll go and find the boy.”

“No, you won’t,” Pericles muttered. He held her firmly by the wrist, still smiling. Morag wasn’t even sure that he knew how tightly his grasp was, or even that he was touching her at all. “That necklace was for you. Those frightful plastic beads that spoil the shells go with the colour of your eyes. It was the only one he had with green beads and those pretty, curving shells, and you’re going to keep it. If Peggy’s isn’t as nice, it’s her own fault. No one else broke the one she had.”

“I didn’t get one at all!” Kimon complained in an aggrieved voice.

“You aren’t a girl!” Peggy retorted, somewhat smugly. “Only girls get necklaces.”

“Grandma will give me something else,” Kimon answered, completely put out.

Peggy gave Morag a speaking look that told its own story. Morag looked straight back at her. “I’d rather have my shells,” she said with a firmness that surprised even herself.

“Grandma will give me a coin for my collection!” Kimon went on belligerently.

“I don’t care!” Peggy decided.

Morag smiled at her and the child smiled cheerfully back. “What is this?” Pericles asked. “Feminine collusion? A fine thing! Kimon and I will have to watch out to see that you don’t get the better of us!”

Peggy blinked. “Not of you, Daddy,” she said carefully, “but it will be nice to get the better of Grandma. She’s always giving Kimon things, and it isn’t fair. Morag will be on my side!”

“Is that so?” her father drawled. “Grandma does her best for you, Peggy. You need a woman on hand when you’re growing
u
p.”

“Then I choose Morag. I like Morag!”

“But I can’t be there all the time,” Morag said, embarrassed.

“Why not?” said Peggy. “Why can’t she stay with us, Daddy?”

Pericles shrugged his shoulders. “Why not?” he echoed. “Let’s kidnap her and take her home with us -”

“And keep her forever and ever!” Peggy finished for him.

“Yes,” agreed Kimon. “I’d like that too.”

“But not forever,”Morag said firmly. “I can’t stay forever. I have to go back to England at the end of the holidays.”

“Why?” said Pericles.

“Why?” said Kimon and Peggy in unison.

Morag’s eyes widened as she faced the three of them. Why not indeed? What was to stop her? “I have my own family,” she began, sounding so unconvinced that Pericles laughed.

“You have now,” he murmured, and, sweeping aside any further objections she might have, he went on, “The Holmes family - at least for a while, until you’re quite sure that you don’t want us anymore.”

And that was likely to be never, she thought in a bemused way. Her heart had always been far too swift to love and to hate, and she knew herself to be helplessly enmeshed with this family despite only just having met them. They seemed familiar to her, as if she had known them for years instead of minutes. Besides, there was the strange elation she felt whenever she looked at

Pericles - an emotion she had never experienced before and which she didn’t know now how to handle. It was a far remove from the quiet devotion she had felt for David, if devotion it had been. Perhaps he had been no more than a handy receptacle for her to pour her feelings into, and neither of them had really loved each other. She gave Pericles an oblique look from under her lashes and wondered what it would be like to be loved by him. It was a thought that couldn’t help but dismay her.

Her feelings must have shown clearly on her face, for he laughed suddenly and said, “You’d already decided to come with us, remember? I’m not going to let you get out of it now!”

He opened the door of the car for her and pushed her on to the seat with a rough gallantry that brought a smile to her lips. “Where does your mother live?” she asked.

“Lagonissi. It’s on the Apollon coast, on the way to Sounion. She used to live in Glyfada, but when they developed the international airport there, she found the noise a bit much and moved a bit further out of Athens. It’s mostly hotels and tourist apartments and villas, and it’s quite near where the President has his villa. The swimming is good, but the life is a bit unreal.”

“You don’t care for it very much?” she hazarded.

“No, my dear, I do not. But I can’t persuade my mother to move, and as the object of the exercise was for us to live with her, we were landed with it.” He gave her an amused look. “With your advent, if you last, we may find somewhere else for ourselves and leave my poor mother in peace.”

“Oh yes, please, Daddy,” the children exhorted him. “You can see why my mother doesn’t enjoy their company much,” he added dryly. “They have a distressing honesty.”

“Is that bad?” she interrupted him.

“Not when mixed with a rudiment of good manners, but it can be rather devastating when naked and unadorned.” Morag laughed, “I can imagine!”

His mouth twitched. “I suppose you’ve seen the results of a like honesty yourself, being the same sort of person?” he said, “Am I?” She was surprised first and then nettled. “I rather

pride myself on my manners!” she objected.

“I’ll remind you of that when you’ve coped with all three of us yelling at one another. We try to keep to a laid down pecking order. The children can yell at each other, you can yell at them, and I yell at you! Okay?”

“Do we have to yell at all?” she countered. She wasn’t sure that she liked the idea of being yelled at by him.

“There’s nothing wrong with your lungs, is there?” he asked with pretended concern. “We all yell, Morag. Perhaps you never yelled enough as a child.”

“It wasn’t the approved method of expression!”

“How forbidding you sound,” he teased her. “I didn’t know you were ever so disapproving!”

She lifted her chin. “But then you don’t know me at all, Mr. Holmes!”

“You can call me Perry, if you like,” he invited her.

“I don’t like!”

“Then you’d better make it Pericles.”

“I don’t like that either!”

He grinned, “You’ll get used to it.” He touched her cheek with his finger and shut the door on her. “You’re beginning to yell quite nicely,” he added. “Only you’re not allowed to yell at me. You’re only allowed to yell at the children.”

Morag was silent the whole way through Athens. She found the traffic nerve-racking and was ashamed of her fears, for Pericles drove both carefully and well. He even seemed to know where he was going, up and down the one-way streets, but then she supposed he had made the journey many times. For a while she wondered why the waiting cars invariably hooted when the traffic lights changed from red to green, but then she realised that they were almost impossible to see from those in front, and amused herself by trying to will Pericles forward before anyone had time to hoot at him. She was not sorry, though, when they had finally driven through the city, passing close beneath the cream-coloured Acropolis, surely the finest monument that any city can boast as its central feature, and came out at last on to the coast road.

“Not far now,” Pericles smiled at her.

She relaxed a little in her seat. “They drive very fast, don’t they?” she said, annoyed by the note of apology in her voice.

“It seems faster to the uninitiated. It’s a bit baffling at first, finding one’s way round the city. Looking at a map doesn’t help much, unless the one-way systems are marked. You’ll soon learn them.”

“I don’t drive!” The sharpness of her tone made her bite her lip. “I mean, I can’t just now.”

“Banned as well as fined? It might be as well if you kept that item of information from my mother, Morag.”

“I don’t think I’d drive in Greece anyway,” she said defiantly. “I’m not a very experienced driver. My father doesn’t like women driving his car, and I haven’t one of my own.”

Pericles smiled faintly. “My mother expects all young people to drive, especially young English women. If you say you don’t drive, it may even be a point in your favour. Susan didn’t drive either.”

“Your wife?”

He nodded. “Susan was brought up in Greece in a rather old-fashioned household. Women here are taught to obey their husbands and to leave all the decisions to them. Before that, they obey their fathers and learn all the domestic arts. Driving a car isn’t often included in their education.”

“Oh,” said Morag.

“Is that all you have to say? I thought you’d start yelling at me again about the equality of women in modern society.”

Morag laughed. “A bit obvious, Mr. Holmes!”

“Pericles.”

“Mr. Holmes,” she said again, “I told you, I prefer Mr. Holmes.” “Morag-”

“Yes, Mr. Holmes?”

“There’s a Greek side to my nature that prefers women to be meek and obedient. I don’t expect to have to repeat myself when I give you an order. You are to call me Pericles. Understood?”

She nodded. It occurred to her that she was a little afraid of Pericles Holmes and that she didn’t entirely dislike the sensation.

“I suppose it would be silly as you call me Morag,” she managed. It was not much of a last word, but it was the best that she could manage under the circumstances.

“I am in a privileged position,” he said with a sardonic smile. “I’ll call you anything I please.”

“Isn’t that rather unfair?”

“Life is unfair,” he said.

He turned off the main coastal road shortly after that,

apparently heading straight into the sea. “Welcome to my

mother’s house,” he said formally. “Kimon, you can make yourself

useful by carrying Morag’s knapsack inside. That’s one of the

other perks that we allow the girls.”

“Kimon doesn’t carry my things for me,” Peggy said at once.

“I do that!” her father reminded her. “Who’s carrying your

necklace now?”

“Morag. You only carry heavy things.”

Morag giggled unexpectedly. “I’m sure a Greek man wouldn’t do that!” she said. “I thought it was the women who did all the work!”

“Would that they did!” he returned drily. He smiled slowly at

her. “You look quite pretty when you’re amused,” he told her.

“We’ll have to have you laughing more often.”

She shook her head, her cheeks hot. “I’ll never be pretty.”

He touched her on the cheek, flicking her nose with one

finger. “You’re right, pretty is the wrong word, but I could find

you very attractive, Morag Grant, if you smiled a little more.”

She tried to pass it off as casually as he had made the remark.

“Then I’ll have to be as sober as a judge,” she said, and if her

voice trembled she was almost sure that only she had noticed it. “You can try!” he said.

“I - I” She swallowed. “David -” she began hesitantly.

He lifted his eyebrows in mute enquiry. “Yes?” he prompted her when she still said nothing.

“David thought I was pretty - sometimes.”

He shook his head at her. “Morag! And that was enough to make you love him?” He put a hand under her chin and forced her to look up at him. She tried to back away, but the warmth in his eyes stopped her. “You don’t know what love means, do you?

When it does come to you, fretting after what might have been with David will seem a poor substitute for the real thing. You don’t owe him anything.” He touched her cheek again, half-smiling. “Come in and meet my mother. She’ll be very glad to see you, I promise you. She hasn’t found it easy having the children here, any more than they have enjoyed being with her. Are you ready?”

She nodded, unable to find any words in which to answer him. She put up her hand to her cheek where he had touched her, wondering at the weakness which assailed her. She would have to pull herself together before she met his mother. What would she think if her unknown guest was quite incapable of greeting her in anything other than a foolish monosyllable, just because -because what?

Morag had no time to do more than brush down her tight-fitting jeans and try to smooth her shirt that, what with the heat and the dust from the day, was scarcely looking as neat and fresh as when she had put it on in the morning. Pericles drew her inexorably into the house after him and out again on to the verandah on the other side. He let go of her there, bending over the elegant figure of the woman who sat, straight-backed, on a wooden chair, looking out towards the sea.

“You’re home in time for the sunset tonight,” Mrs. Holmes said. “I thought you might have gone to Sounion as the children have never seen our most famous local site - Poseidon’s temple in the dying sun, when his famous blue hair turns to grey. Sometimes I can almost believe that he’s real when I watch the sea taking on the colours of the heavens. That is why I love this house!”

BOOK: The Beads of Nemesis
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