Read The black invader Online

Authors: Rebecca Stratton

The black invader

BOOK: The black invader
12.46Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

This book made available by the Internet Archive.


KiRSTiE was already half-turned in the saddle before last-minute recognition of the voice pulled her up short, her back stiff and straight and resentment in every line of her slender body. It showed too in her deep blue eyes as she held her head high so that the light breeze of her own making lifted the black hair from her neck and tossed it back into a wild mane. There was an almost primitive beauty about her, and an unmistakable air of pride that came from generations of noble forebears.

The neat little mare she rode would have extended a warmer welcome to the advancing newcomers, recognising a stablemate, but her rider held her too firmly in check with tightly clenched hands. Hands that clenched even more tightly when the attempt to attract her attention was repeated.

'Senorita Rodriguez!'

Kirstie could hardly ignore it altogether, but she could and did refuse to offer encouragement by turning her head, for she had no doubt at all who it was riding up on her, or that Miguel Montaiies was about to join her, whether or not he was encouraged. She would rather it was anyone but him, no matter if her grandfather did accuse her of being not only unsociable but downright rude.

When he rode up alongside her Kirstie sneaked a sidelong look at him from the concealment of her lashes, and she was forced to admit, however grudgingly, that she had never seen a man sit a horse with more confidence and ease, or look more impressive. The way he handled the big Arab stallion he rode was merely an extension of the same arrogance that was one of the reasons for Kirstie's dislike of him, and she noted how the big creature responded obediently to the hard pres-

sure of muscular legs.

He was too confident, too arrogant in his superiority, yet he always somehow managed to convey the impression that he found her resentment of him regrettable but understandable in the circumstances, and his tolerance added to her dislike of him. He was smiling faintly, she noticed, an imperturbable and slightly cynical smile that always angered her.

According to her grandfather, who seemed to have a penchant for collecting information, the Montanes had come originally from Andalucia, and were descended from the Moors who had occupied Spain for so many hundreds of years, something that Kirstie found easy enough to believe when she looked at Miguel Montanes. He had a swarthiness that was much darker than her grandfather's complexion, and a certain hawkishness in the cast of his features that made the story only too Hkely to be true.

Dark Spanish eyes regarded her steadily, but it was difficult to assess their expression, and the strong, dark-skinned features gave nothing away. *May I ride with you, senoritaT

Kirstie would much rather he did not ride with her, for she found him much too discomforting because of the tolerance with which he treated her obvious dislike of him. A harsh and uncompromising lack of understanding would have been easier to deal with, but he seemed to realise exactly how she felt about losing the Casa de Rodriguez and, what was worse, pitied her.

'I'm not even sure which way I'm going,' she told hirn, being as discouraging as possible. 'I'm simply riding, Seiior Montaiies, and I'm not in any particular hurry either.'

It was an abrupt and extremely discourteous response and one that would have appalled her grandfather, but somehow Kirstie always found it impossible to respond to this man as she .did to other people. She recalled the number of times during the past month when she had seen him riding across the huerta, as if he and his mount

responded as one to some irresistible call. But not for anything would she have him know that the sight of them in the distance always filled her with a strange and disturbing sense of excitement.

'I'm not in any particular hurry either,' he assured her gravely, and because he accepted her ungraciousness without visible resentment, she coloured furiously.

His deep and, she had to admit, rather pleasant voice always seemed to assume a slightly pedantic tone whenever he spoke to her, and Kirstie suspected it might be because, despite nearly seven years in Spain, her Spanish was still faintly accented. She knew too that her grandfather had confided in him; told him how she came to live in Spain when her widowed Scottish mother remarried and that she was his only grandchild. In fact his easy and immediate friendship with her grandfather was another point against him in Kirstie's eyes, for she felt that her one comforter in the loss of the Casa de Rodriguez was less in sympathy with her because of it.

'I would still like to accompany you,' Miguel Mon-tanes told her, 'with your permission, senorita.'

'You may go wherever you like on your own property, Senor Montanes,' she told him with a bitterness she could not disguise, and he made no reply for a moment.

The glance he gave her unfriendly face spoke volumes, however, and yet again Kirstie felt her colour rise. He rode alongside her, holding the powerful stallion to a pace more suited to her own smaller mount, and she carefully kept her gaze straight ahead and her chin angled discouragingly. If she was quite honest with herself, she would have admitted that her intense dislike of him stemmed originally from the fact that he had been the one who actually negotiated the purchase of the Casa de Rodriguez, although he was not the sole owner. She would have felt precisely the same about anyone who took possession of the house and lands that had been in her family for more than two hundred years.

'You disUke me intensely don't you, Sefiorita Rodriguez?'

The question broke into her musing, and she turned her head instinctively, a sweep of long lashes quickly concealing the surprise she showed. Such bluntness was unexpected, and she felt it left her more vulnerable. *Don't you think I have reason to?' she challenged defensively, and his reply was swift and just as abrasive as his original question had been.

'No, senorita, I do not!'

Feeling at too much of a disadvantage to follow it up, Kirstie was silent. Although he was so much older than she was, in other circumstances «he was prepared to allow that she would have recognised him as a very attractive man, despite his arrogance. As it was he stood very little chance of even being liked, and only very occasionally did a small twinge of conscience tell her that she was being unreasonable. When it stirred it was at once suppressed.

In the early years of her life she had known many happy times at Casa de Rodriguez; when her time had been divided between her Spanish father's family home and her mother's country, and the years after her father's death had perhaps lent a dreamlike quality to its memory. But she had lived with her grandfather for more than six years now, and in that time she had developed a fierce and possessive love for the place, so that she hated the very idea of it passing into other hands.

She had wept bitterly when her grandfather told her that a disastrous business venture had ruined him, and that the house and lands would have to be sacrificed to provide enough for him to live on. The option had been quickly taken up by the Montaiies and so, with a few remnants of furniture and the bare necessities of life, the two of them had moved into a tiny, whitewashed barraca that had once housed their overseer.

It was within sight of the house, at the far end of a tree-shaded ride, and that was almost worse than moving completely away, Kirstie sometimes felt, for it was a constant reminder of all that the once proud and

prolific Rodriguez had lost. They were now reduced to one old man and a twenty-year-old girl, living in a bar-raca on the estate, and that was a very bitter pill to swallow.

It had been Miguel Montanes who took the unexpected step of allowing Kirstie and her grandfather the freedom of the estate, and suggested that she might still care to ride the gentle mare she was so attached to but could not possibly take with her. It was an oddly disarming gesture that she would rather he had not made, except that she could not resist the chance to take out the pretty, golden-coated mare sometimes.

But it was her grandfather*s seemingly passive acceptance of their situation that she found most difficult to come to terms with, for he had settled into the tiny cottage with far less complaints than she had herself, and sometimes made her feel rather ashamed. Even one servant was out of the question, so that Kirstie had needed to call upon the domestic skills that her practical Scottish mother had insisted she learned, and very occasionally it surprised her to realise that she actually enjoyed cooking meals for them.

One thing was still available to her; the vista of the huerta with its fertile acres of oranges and olives, and dotted with Httle white barracas just like the one she lived in with her grandfather. Most of the vast fertile plain was divided into smallholdings, subdivided by the precious irrigation system, and the Casa de Rodriguez lands were one of the very few large estates left. There was nowhere in the world to compare with the huerta of Valencia, and she loved it.

As if by silent consent they reined to a halt wHere the olives ended and the orange trees began, and the scent of them drifted over them with the light breeze. Sensing an air of preoccupation, Kirstie glanced at the man beside her and frowned curiously, for she could not believe that her dislike of him disturbed him to any degree.

*Are you settling down in your new home?' he asked.

and Kirstie looked at him sharply, suspecting something more than the obvious behind the question.

'I suppose so,' she replied cautiously. 'It isn't easy to

adjust, but ' She shrugged, leaving the rest of the

sentence unsaid.

'Don Jose appears to have adapted well,' he observed. 'He tells me that he's quite comfortable.'

Kirstie looked at him and her blue eyes were darkly shadowed. 'What else do you expect him to say?' she asked bitterly. 'He's a proud man and he's making the best of the situation because he knows he hasn't much choice.'

'While you are equally determined not to make the best of the situation,' Miguel Montaiies suggested, and met her resentful gaze steadily. 'You have no intention of making the best of something you can do nothing to alter, have you, Sefiorita Rodriguez? You will not accept that things could not go on as they were but must change drastically whether or not you like it.'

It was a discomfitingly shrewd observation that Kirstie had to admit was true, although she had no intention of letting him know it. 'The Casa de Rodriguez is—was my home,' she reminded him in a voice that shivered with emotion. 'It's been in my family for more than two hundred years, and one doesn't give up a heritage like that easily, Seiior Montaiies. How can you know how it feels to lose everything your family has possessed for so long?'

'I know it very well, sefiorita.' His quietness impressed her yet again with the sincerity of his feelings for her situation, but it did nothing to soften her attitude towards him. Miguel Montanes was not the type of man who invited sympathy. 'Although it was before I was bom, my family suffered the same kind of loss in the years before the war that tore our country in two. We know the bitterness of losing everything, we knew it for almost fifty years, but self-pity is not a constructive emotion, and obviously Don Jose has the intelligence to accept things as they are. He retains his dignity and

pride even though he has lost everything else.'

*He has no choice but to accept!' Kirstie retorted sharply, for she couldn't fail to recognise that he was laying the blame for her present bitter unhappiness at her own door.

'But he accepts it,' he insisted. 'Wisdom comes with age, so they say, and as it's necessary for you to live in a barraca, your grandfather has enough wisdom to make the best of what cannot be changed. Why don't you do the same, Seiiorita Rodriguez?'

She looked at him for several moments, trying to imagine how this man's family had come to terms with their similar loss, and knowing that it was because of it that he was so tolerant of her bitterness. 'Oh, you just don't understand,' she told him despairingly at last.

'Of course I understand,' he told her quietly. 'What I don't understand is your almost psychopathic hatred of me merely because I was the one who negotiated the purchase of the estate. It simply isn't reasonable.'

'You—you don't understand,' she said again, and kept her face averted because she knew in her heart that he did understand, and the realisation was disturbing.

The stallion shifted restlessly and hard brown hands brought him swiftly under control with the minimum of effort. 'Please believe that I know exactly how you feel,' Miguel Montanes assured her. 'But it requires a great deal of money to maintain a place like this, you must realise that, and Don Jose no longer has the means. He's refreshingly frank about his mistakes, and one has to admire him for it—personally I find him an admirable man in every way.'

'He is.' Her bottom Hp was trembling so that Kirstie bit on it hastily before he realised how near to tears he brought her by his opinion of her grandfather.

She looked a strange and beautiful mixture of child and woman with her dishevelled black hair and the shining dark threat of tears in her blue eyes, and Miguel Montaiies watched her for a moment with a warmth in his eyes for the wild, gamin beauty of her. Then he

shook his head slowly.

What he would haye said, Kirstie neither cared nor waited to find out, but urged her animal forward with a hght dig of her heels. The mare responded willingly and Kirstie gave her her head for a moment, enjoying the movement and the breeze created by it, and heedless of whether or not Miguel Montaiies chose to follow.

'Senorita Rodriguez!'

She ignored the call, using the distance between them as an excuse for not having heard, but the distance was soon lessened and the big stallion came thundering up behind them, making the mare waywardly skittish and harder to handle. Kirstie could handle her, but control was taken out of her hands when Miguel Montaiies reached over and took the bridle, pulling both animals to a halt.

Kirstie was breathing rapidly, as if she and not her horse had been running, and she cast a swift look from the corner of her eye at the face of the man beside her. His mouth had a hard set look that cautioned discretion, but she was feeling strangely lightheaded, and not in the mood to be cautious, so that she looked at him down the length of her small nose and showed a warning glint in her eyes.

BOOK: The black invader
12.46Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

Other books

The Last Passenger by Manel Loureiro
Raising Hell by Robert Masello
Lone Wolf by Nigel Findley
The Imperial Wife by Irina Reyn
Living Forest by Lyle, Travis