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PEACOCK IN THE JUNGLE

 

Wynne May

 

“You're a cheat—and I don't like cheats!"

Hugo was furious with Tirza—and with good cause. She had deliberately used him and lied to him.

Contrary to what Tirza had thought, Hugo was a man of principle and integrity, and his damaged opinion of her would not be easily forgotten.

Suddenly it became imperative that he not despise her; indeed, Tirza prayed that one day Hugo might grow to love her even a fraction as much as she loved him—the man she had deceived....

 

"You don't care about anything!" he accused

Hugo's fingers dug into her shoulders as he turned her around to face him. She gazed at him, and he returned her gaze coolly, fixedly, until she was forced to lower her lashes. Then his mouth was on hers.

Tirza was powerless to stop herself from responding, and she satisfied the longing to touch the firm skin beneath his shirt, opening it so that she could feel his body against her own. She freed her lips from his and buried her face in his chest.

His fingers turned her face upward so that he could go on kissing her. She was only vaguely aware of the faraway cry of some animal. Her world had narrowed to nothing more than the hard close circle of Hugo's arms.

 

CHAPTER ONE

Tirza’s
father was a rich man. His money came from office and departmental store complexes, high-rise housing complexes and a sheep farm in the semi-desert.

Her mother had been Cecilia Theron, before her marriage, and she had died in India.

Her childhood had been spent in luxury, if in loneliness. After her mother’s death she and her father had returned to South Africa and had divided their time between the Dutch-style mansion in Cape Town, a chalet in the Drakensberg mountains and a house, all steel, glass and open galleries, hugging the dunes to one side of the headland of the Robberg, which juts out into the Indian Ocean.

She did much on impulse and, at twenty-three, followed the dictates of fashion, more for her own amusement than from any sense of obligation. She also adored wearing sheer silk shirts and lacy tanga briefs beneath immaculate denims. When she shopped she never bought anything she did not like. There was a tiny gap between her two front teeth and her face, fabulous tawny hair, green eyes, slim body and unusual husky voice had all been described, and dissected, by countless magazines. People stared after her because she was Douglas Harper’s daughter.

At the moment she was sitting on a high stool in a ladies’ cocktail bar in a Holiday Inn on the Eastern Boulevard in Cape Town. The bar was smelling of smoke, liquor and perfume, but it was select and the women in it elegant and escorted. A young man with a moody and sarcastic kind of face was playing an organ and when he started to sing Tirza’s slim, tanned fingers tightened round the glass she was holding and turning round and round on the counter. As she tilted her head forward, her tawny hair slid over her cheeks, as she had intended it to do, and her dark lashes screened the hurt in her green eyes.

On the stool, next to her, Nigel Wright went on talking ... and talking, and she tried to switch her mind off him, off what he was saying. She didn’t want to listen to him, but the words kept hammering at her brain.

‘I intended telling you,’ he was almost whining, she found herself thinking bitterly, ‘I was playing for time.’ Vaguely, she was aware of his shoulders lifting. ‘I mean, it’s only been a month ... we’ve only known one another for a month.’

‘A month in which you gave me no indication that you were married.’ Her voice was ice-cold.

Nigel took a breath and expelled it immediately. ‘Look, Tirza, I know it might have been a bit premature to ask you to go away with me, but the offer was too tempting to say no. I mean, I could never afford to lash out on a place like this for two whole weeks. It seemed to come up at the right moment. Think ... two weeks, with nothing to do but to get to know one another ... what’s so wrong in that?’

‘With nothing to do except make love, because, of course, you were asking me to live with you for two weeks, during which time you might or might not have deemed it necessary to tell me that you are married. But in any case, I would have refused your offer, wife or no wife. It’s a pity I found out, though, isn’t it? You could have gone on playing for time. I kept this date with you this evening merely to let you know that I’ve found out. I never want to see you again—okay? I don’t know what gave you the opinion that I’m easy game.’

‘Perhaps because you’re a model,’ he said, his voice nasty.

‘Oh, I see ... because I’m a model. Thank you very much!’ She turned to look at him. ‘I can’t get over you,’ she said. ‘How naive can you
get?'

She modelled for Harper’s, when she felt like it, and for the small boutique in which she had an interest.

At the organ, the young man was singing his heart out. Automatically, Tirza found herself listening to the words. If you’ve been hurt, make up your mind, I’m sure you’ll find, someone who would ree ... ly lu ... huh ... ve you.

Suddenly she had a vision of a small girl without a mother, and then a teenager who desperately needed a woman’s hand and to turn to for advice. And then, later again, a girl who had been hurt once, at twenty, and now again at twenty-three. Being Tirza Harper was not all a bed of roses.

‘Tirza,’ Nigel felt for her hand.

‘Leave me alone!’ She snatched her hand away and the fingers of her other hand searched her cheekbones to reassure herself that there were no tears there. ‘Will you leave me
alone!
Her voice was low and tense. ‘I don’t want you here.’

After a moment he said, ‘How will you get home?’

‘Being a
model
, I’m quite capable of seeing myself home.’

She was aware that the man on the stool next to her own had stopped talking to a male companion and had turned his head to look at her. In the dimly-lit room their eyes met, before she turned away, flustered.

‘For the last time, are you coming?’ Nigel was getting to his feet.

‘No. You go back to your wife.’

‘Okay, if that’s the way you want it, but it doesn’t necessarily have to be my wife, believe me.’

‘I can quite believe that. Personally, however, I’m beginning to find this extremely boring. Would you mind leaving?’ She gave him her back.

Vaguely, she was aware of Nigel leaving the bar and she felt suddenly lost—a stranger among strange faces. To calm herself she concentrated on the man on the stool next to her own. Long legs, encased in elegant trousers. The hand on the counter, moving a glass this way and that, was well formed and tanned. She stole a glance at his profile. Hmmmm ... women would find him an irresistible force. His hair was well styled and longish in the neck.

‘We were lucky to get hold of her,’ he was saying. ‘She can match up and dye any and just about every conceivable shade and colour, ranging from pastel to exotic vibrance. Actually, I’ll be leaving again for Swaziland the day after tomorrow.’ Listening to him, Tirza thought that there was an indefinable magnetism about him, even in this dim light. It was obvious that he was the symbol of cool, self-reliant masculinity. Was he the kind of man who would cause a thrill of fear by asking a girl to go away with him for two weeks at a ‘fantastic place’, overlooking the sea? And was he married, too, into the bargain?

Suddenly he turned and their eyes met. That he had been aware of her scrutiny was obvious, and it showed in the way his eyes held hers for a long disturbing moment before they left her face and went over her briefly. She could tell by their expression that he thought she was trying to pick him up. Even in this light she saw that his skin had a matt Mediterranean kind of tan.

He fixed a steely gaze upon her. ‘Do I know you?’ he asked, in just the kind of voice she had imagined him to have.

‘No. I’m sorry.’ She was embarrassed. ‘I’m ashamed to admit it, but I was eavesdropping. You see, I gathered that you must have been discussing the weaving industry.’

His eyes, she saw, were dark blue and there was an almost hostile glint in them, so she said, ‘It doesn’t matter.’

‘Oh, but I can assure you it does matter. You see, I
was
discussing the weaving industry, and into the bargain I was also eavesdropping.’

‘Oh?’ Tirza gave him a troubled glance.

‘Cheer up,’ he went on. ‘Maybe he’ll come back.’

‘I see. Well, he won’t.’ Her voice was unfriendly.

‘You’ll rustle up someone else, I guess.
Models
always do, somehow.’ A flicker of something like amusement crossed his face.

‘That’s not very funny!’ she answered angrily.

‘I’m sure you’re an expert.’ This time he smiled. ‘Models always are, aren’t they?’

‘You’ve got a nerve!’ she snapped.

He shrugged. ‘I happened to hear one or two things, during the course of the evening.’ His eyes went to her empty glass. ‘Let me buy you a drink.’

Feeling humiliated and a little sick, she reached for her bag, which was on the counter beside her glass. ‘That’s not why I spoke to you,’ she said.

His companion had left the bar, she noticed, and the dimly lit space was awash with conversation and soft laughter. Her green eyes were angry and to him she turned again. ‘You spoke to me like that because you heard me say that I model. Right?’

‘Well, yes.’ He shrugged casually. ‘I guess if I’m honest I’ll admit it. I’m right, aren’t I?’ When he laughed harshly, Tirza realised that he was goading her and, ruffled, she turned away. She stared down at her glass, which was empty—the way she felt—and started to move it about, waiting until she felt composed enough to get up and leave. Suddenly the glass shot out from between her tense fingers and landed on the carpet between the two stools.

‘Allow me,’ he said and, seething, she watched him retrieve it. Looking at her, he said directly, ‘I know
I
need another drink and seeing that you’ve been sounding like a sighing epidemic here, beside me, I guess you need one too. Right?’

‘I don’t need a drink,’ she said. ‘I’m about to leave, as a matter of fact.’

‘Look,’ he said, ‘I have no objection to models. Besides,’ his blue eyes travelled almost insolently over her, ‘you
weave.'
He laughed softly.

‘And that makes it all right, I suppose? The good old-fashioned art of weaving. In any case, I don’t weave. I’m merely interested in the weaving industry.’

‘About having a drink with me—be charitable and forget what you
think
I meant,’ he said. ‘I heard you tell him to get lost, or words to that effect. You’re upset, I realise that now.’

Tirza watched him as he signalled the barman and then he turned to her again. ‘What were you drinking?’

She asked for a fruit juice. ‘But I’ll pay for it,’ she told him.

After he had given their order he said, ‘When I become aware of a chic, tawny-haired girl, with an elusive accent and a personal sense of style, having a set-to right next to me with a married man I quite obviously find myself becoming curious. And then, when that man walks off and leaves her— even when she’s told him to do just that—I’m more than just a little curious.’

‘In a generation where talking to a strange man in a dimly-lit bar doesn’t seem to matter, I nevertheless never trade on the fact,’ Tirza told him. ‘This situation, therefore, is outside my experience. It’s just that,’ she broke off and lifted her shoulders, ‘I’ve had a terrible day. At the moment
I
feel...’ she shook her head and smiled,

old
, and lost, into the bargain. I suppose it does help to talk, right now.’

Their drinks arrived and she insisted on paying for her own, and he watched her with some amusement. After a moment he said, ‘Well, here’s to the weaving industry.’

Smiling, she raised her glance in response. ‘But I don’t weave. I know about looms and—things— but I don’t weave. Right?’

‘What things?’ He sounded genuinely interested. ‘Well, for one thing, the superfine mohair that goes into looms.’

‘So, in other words, you’ve modelled garments which have been made from superfine mohair.’

‘Yes.’ She glanced down at her glass. She was thinking that she could have told him about her father who bought straight from the weavers for his many departmental stores—garments, curtaining, tapestries, carpets—but she remained silent. Apart from the fact that the man beside her was a stranger, she hardly ever spoke about her father. If she had been so inclined, she could have told him that her father just also happened to own a farm in the Karroo, where mohair was produced and marketed to Port Elizabeth, processed in Uitenhage and reached the factories in ‘top’ form, which meant that the hair was taken from the top of the angora goat, where it was longest. The mohair arrived in a condensed top form to be spliced and spun. Before she had become interested in that side of her father’s business, she had been bored nearly to tears over many a dinner table while her father went on and on about such things, always getting to his sore point, which was her brother Howard, who was living in Portugal, when he should have been living at home and taking an interest in the many Harper concerns.

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