Authors: Sue Moorcroft
Tags: #Literature & Fiction, #Women's Fiction, #Contemporary Women, #Romance, #Contemporary, #Contemporary Fiction
She got the idea.
He'd had enough of hearing about her problems, and was too polite to snap at her to shut
, for crying out loud. Perhaps she ought to be thoroughly affronted, but, actually, she could see his point. She'd been self-absorbed, she couldn't blame him if he was sick of hearing her whine. Every problem she took to him, her pain over Giorgio's death, worry for her mother, emptiness and fear over her son, even her exasperation with a well-meaning big sister.
Deliberately, slowly, she reached up and fitted her lips to his. Soft lips, parted, offering a different kiss altogether. She felt the muscles in his shoulders gather, as if he might pull away. But he stayed, parting his lips as her tongue tip explored, then gradually beginning to participate, sliding his hand into the small of her back and pulling her close.
Her heartbeat kicked up a few gears and she let herself wallow in his embrace.
She tightened her hold on him, murmuring against his mouth, 'Take me to bed, Adam.'
He groaned, thrusting against her and making her gasp. 'It's not the right time. You're caught up with Giorgio and his family. Your head's with them.'
'All of me's here!' she hissed, thrusting back. 'From the neck up as well as from the neck down.'
'You shouldn't make me want you like this, Jude.'
'I've never really understood why not.'
There was to be no long, delicious disrobing, this time. Adam just grabbed her suddenly by the hand and raced upstairs with her, hustling her into her bedroom, hauling her shirt over her head, snapping off the button at the waist of her trousers with his impatience. 'I want you!' As if she might not have gathered that. His breathing was hot and uneven, gusting out of him and fluttering back in. He flung back the covers and lowered her to the sheet, then shucked off his jeans and T-shirt in two seconds.
She gasped as he let himself down on top of her, kissing, nibbling, rubbing against her, pulling impatiently at her underwear, whispering her name, kissing her eyelids, cheekbone, collarbone, breast, stroking his jaw against the softness of her stomach and touching her with his tongue to leave a cool trail.
Moonlight shone into the room. Adam lay on his side.
She wriggled closer, seeking safe harbour in the curl of his body. 'I was beginning to think that would never happen again.'
'I've had the same thought.' He did his half smile.
Cautiously, she smiled back, unsure of his odd tone. 'You seemed fairly... enthusiastic. Do you still wish I didn't make you want me?'
He kissed her forehead, then her hair. 'Perhaps - now I think how I dragged you up here like a caveman. Had I better go back to my own room? Will you be embarrassed if Richard and Erminia realise we're in bed together?' He seemed suddenly remote.
She shook her head. 'They're so late that I should think one of Erminia's relatives has offered overnight hospitality.' She slipped her hand around his waist. 'I'm sorry that I've been preoccupied.'
'I understand.' But he made a sound suspiciously like a sigh. 'It's what you came here for.'
'Tomorrow, I must try to speak to Maria.'
He began kissing her again, insistently, giving her mouth something else to do other than tell him her plans.
Much later, when Judith was sliding off heavily into sleep, her back spooned against his front, his bony, warm arms looped around her, she heard him in the darkness. 'It's a small country.'
'Malta? Of course.' When she was less sleepy she could quote him facts about the Maltese Archipelago, size at widest and longest points, population, visitor numbers and even rainfall.
'A small world,' he added. 'Far away from Britain.' She couldn't understand why he sounded so sad, and she wanted to ask what he meant, find a way to reassure him.
But her dreams whooshed up to carry her away.
She was in bed alone. Even before opening her eyes she knew that the warmth of another being was absent.
She unglued her eyelids and stretched, gingerly waking muscles that had been exercised by a night with Adam. She smiled. Evidently, no one had told him that his stamina ought to have waned this far into middle age.
'About time.' His voice came from the doorway. 'I was going to wake you, if only to check that I hadn't killed you.' Dressed already in black jeans and a black shirt with the sleeves rolled up, he'd brought her a late morning brunch of ham, cheese and crusty bread, with tea in two of Erminia's pretty butterfly-strewn mugs.
She laughed, hoisting herself up against the headboard, letting the dawn-pink cotton covers fall to her waist. 'I thought I stood up to the action pretty well. It wasn't me who had to leap out of bed and cavort about the room because of cramp!'
'No, I suppose somebody was needed to stay in bed and giggle.' He leant forward and kissed her naked breast, his lips hot.
She caught the back of his head, stroking his hair into his neck. 'Come back to bed. I promise never to giggle again.'
Slowly, he freed himself, kissed the corners of her mouth and smiled, crookedly. 'Jude, if I get into bed with you again, I might never get out. And I don't want you to think that all I'm good for is no-strings sex.'
He pushed himself back to his feet, leaving her to eat, shower and dress.
When she caught up with him he was out in the midday sunshine, rocking on two legs of a chair and studying a book of drawings by M. C. Escher. He was fascinated by the work of Escher, that master of mathematical mosaic, optical illusion and reflection. It was one of his favourite Sunday treats to listen to The Hollies or The Eagles while he gazed at the masterly work.
'Lizards or geckos?' he asked, indicating a drawing where unlikely looking reptiles appeared to walk in and out of a mosaic. His hair blew over his forehead, and he pushed it back.
She laid her hand upon the strength of his forearm. 'Adam I don't want you to think that I only want you for - '
He covered her hand quickly with his, and squeezed it. 'Don't let's do this now.'
'But I just want to - '
!' He snatched his hand away and turned a page so roughly that it should have ripped from the book's spine.
He'd never raised his voice to her like that before, and she recoiled. 'Why are you so angry with me?'
His voice softened, but his gaze remained fixed upon his book. 'I'm angry at myself, not you, which is why it's not the time to talk. I shouldn't have let sex cloud the issue. I turned basic, and I wish I hadn't.'
She waited for further illumination. 'Because...?'
'Because it was amazing.'
'Yes, it was. Absolutely amazing, and I don't regret it at all!' She was aware that she was using what her mother would call her 'difficult voice'.
He turned to a page to where a single drop of water captured a world of reflections. 'Judith's satisfied with the way things turned out, so that's OK, then.'
She'd never encountered him in this mood before, angry, rueful and troubled. Until now he'd seemed prepared to go at her pace, to wait for her while she traversed a road more rocky than his. Misery clouded her vision. She'd viewed their return to lovemaking as a breakthrough, but he was treating it like... like an awful error of judgement. 'That's not what I meant - '
'How many times do I have to repeat myself, before you believe that
I don't want to talk
There was no point persisting while he was churning with anger. Better if she went to see Giorgio's parents and got that over with - she longed for the saga of the crucifix to be done - and then when she returned, hopefully he'd be his normal self. They could talk honestly without ghosts and missions hanging in the air between them. To discuss how she'd expected to feel at home again on the island, but couldn't. Stiffly, she rose. 'I have to go out for a while.'
He turned a page slowly, to a house with an enormously bulbous balcony in its centre. 'Thought you might.'
'I honestly don't think I'll be very long.'
A silence drew out. As she turned away, he said, 'I'm going to see if I can change my flight. Leave a bit earlier.'
She hesitated. 'I'm sorry you feel like that.' And then, when he didn't respond, 'Change both tickets, won't you? I'll go when you do.'
Siesta was a good time to find the older generation at home, and the afternoon was hot by the time Judith climbed the hill of Tower Road to find the turn off for the house of Agnello and Maria Zammit. She was amazed at how the temperature was making her head throb, considering it was only just May. She was reacting like an English tourist, wiping sweat from her forehead with exaggerated care in case she increased the pulsing ache that was building there, making squinty eyes at the sun and cursing herself for not putting her sunglasses in her bag.
The Zammit residence was in a tall and narrow street built of creamy limestone near the twin bell towers and cupola of the charming Stella Maris Parish Church, built so that sailors in the harbour could always have it within their sight. Although several houses in the street boasted traditional gallerija balconies painted dark green or plum red, it occurred to her that there was no comparison between these residences and Saviour's set on the St. Julian's side of Sliema. Agnello hadn't made the money that his little brother had. His house would fit into Saviour's four times.
She sighed as she approached, remembering Maria Zammit's barely contained fury at their last meeting, and wondered, wryly, whether she ought to check that Stella Maris Church - the star of the sea - offered sanctuary to non-Catholics.
The door was panelled, the highly polished brass knocker looked like the result of an intimate moment between a sea monster and a dolphin. Before she had a chance to change her mind, Judith seized it by its bulbous head and rapped sharply. And in a few moments she was face to face with Giorgio's mother.
Maria looked first shocked, and then irritated. Her dark eyes narrowed into the lined skin around them, and she gave a little ladylike sniff of disapproval. Her dress bore a small, eye-aching geometric design, her hair was almost entirely silver now, and she wore small wire-framed glasses that matched it.
For an instant, Judith felt like just giving the whole damned thing up, she was tired of being a target for antagonism. She could return to Richard's house and spend a day or two being a tourist with Adam before getting on the flaming plane for England, whenever he'd arranged. Why should she continue to knock on doors and force people to speak to her who patently didn't wish to? She could even, as Adam had suggested, have pushed the crucifix through the letterbox and turned away.
But that was ridiculous! For goodness' sake, she was a perfectly respectable middle-aged woman, and not prepared to act as if she were ashamed of her existence. She pulled herself up to her full height - considerably more than Maria's - and lifted her chin. 'Good morning.'
Maria Zammit's muttered, 'Good morning,' was no resounding welcome.
It had been in Judith's mind to suggest that they take coffee and cake together in a café, like mature and civilised women with a matter to discuss. But, seeing Maria's face, she made a sudden decision to save her breath.
Instead, she reached brusquely inside her pocket. 'I've brought you this.' The gold, getting duller by the day, hung between her fingers.
Slowly, as if she couldn't quite believe it wouldn't be whisked away again, Maria Zammit reached out, and took the golden crucifix.
Kissing the suffering Jesus, she crossed herself, closing her eyes on a moment of pain, as Judith had done so many times. The eyes reopened, and she frowned, looking baffled.
Judith frowned back, shading her eyes against a dagger of sunlight slicing into the street. 'For a while I believed it was OK for me to keep it. But now I realise it belongs to you. Saviour told me what was in Giorgio's Will.' She turned to go.
But then she swung back, ignoring the way her headache seemed to move separately, painfully, anger fuelling a sudden desire to make her point. 'I know that you blame me for his death. But I made your son's life happy for his final couple of years. Perhaps, in time, you'll come to think of that.'
Slowly, Maria shook her head. 'You take him under the sea.'
Letting her breath out on a long sigh, Judith hunched her shoulders in frustration. 'Not that day, I didn't!' And then, more gently, 'I agree that if I'd been there, it wouldn't have happened. I believe that, as you obviously do. But I asked him...' Her voice caught in her throat as a sudden vision of Giorgio blazed across her mind, the angry frown lines digging grooves between his black brows as he'd shrugged off her pleas to postpone his dive. He'd been so irritated that she'd shut up. She cleared her throat. 'I asked him not to go without me. But he'd made up his mind.
mind. But if you want to blame me, I understand that it might help to make me a focus for your grief.'
She'd probably said too much, and said it too rapidly for Maria's instant comprehension. But what use was there in pounding over the same old ground again, anyway?