‘It is going to be a beautiful day,’ the older woman observed, gazing up into the sky.
For you, perhaps, Lisa thought, remembering her meeting later that morning with Tino. ‘Yes, it is,’ she agreed politely.
‘My name is Stella. I live over there in that small cottage…’ The woman pointed to a quaint whitewashed building with bright blue shutters and front door, set back a little from the beach. ‘I watched you swimming. You are good.’
‘Won’t you join me for breakfast?’ Stella gazed down at the basket of freshly baked bread swinging from her arm.
Lisa’s stomach rumbled on cue, and they both laughed.
‘That’s very kind of you.’ Lisa was thankful to have found someone so friendly. Anything was preferable to eating breakfast alone on her balcony, where she knew she would only brood on the outcome of her meeting with Tino.
‘We will both join you, Ya-ya.’
‘Tino!’ Lisa stood back as the two embraced.
Stella was clearly overjoyed to see him, but Lisa resented the fact that her own face was burning. Why was it Tino always made her feel as if she had done something wrong? It was his behaviour that was outrageous. He was wearing a sun-bleached blue vest and frayed cut-off shorts, and might as well have been naked for all the toned, bronzed flesh on show. His feet were bare, and there was a dusting of sand on his limbs as if he had found time for a swim in the sea as well as his morning workout in the pool… while she was wearing a scanty bikini beneath a filmy wrap—not her battle clothes of choice.
‘Good morning, Lisa. I trust you slept well?’
‘I did, thank you.’ Lisa glanced at Stella, hoping she hadn’t picked up the undercurrents between them.
‘I have plenty of food for all of us. Come,’ Stella insisted, beckoning them towards her cottage.
There was a tug of amusement at one corner of Tino’s mouth, Lisa noticed as she hurried after Stella, and however she tried to mistime her stride he managed to keep in step with her. ‘I suppose you just happened by?’ Her tone was frosty.
‘Actually, I came to see Stella.’
Lisa’s curiosity flared. ‘Do you know her well?’
‘We’ve known each other for a number of years.’
‘I doubt it.’
The murmured comment stirred her interest even more. Who was Stella? And what was her connection with the most obnoxious man on the planet?
Having reached her front door, Stella opened it and beckoned them inside.
The interior was cool and shady with slivers of sunlight slanting in through the shutters. The air smelled faintly of herbs, and, gazing around, Lisa noticed that every window ledge was lined with terracotta pots sprouting densely packed greenery. ‘What a lovely home you have.’
Stella smiled, pointing to the easy chairs. ‘Please, both of you sit down.’
‘Are you sure I can’t help you with anything?’ Lisa said, ignoring this suggestion as she edged towards the kitchen door.
‘No, no.’ Stella was quite certain on this point. ‘You two relax, and let me prepare the food. I won’t take long.’
You two? Again she was bracketed with the last man on earth she would have chosen to be paired with. Lisa would have thought the distance that existed between them would have been glaringly obvious to everyone, especially to a woman who seemed as bright and observant as Stella. Wandering across the room, she casually picked out a window seat as far away from Tino as possible. Sitting down, she stared out through the barely open shutter.
‘Is that better for you?’
Lisa breathed in convulsively as Tino leaned across to open the shutters a little more for her. She could feel his warmth in every fibre of her being. And then he remained at her side so that the acute, and very troubling, awareness of him refused to fade.
‘You’re an early riser, Lisa.’
‘I always wake at dawn on a working day.’ Her voice was clipped, inviting no further conversation between them. And then, to Lisa’s relief, Stella bustled back into the room carrying a loaded breakfast tray.
‘Why didn’t you call me to bring this in for you?’ Tino demanded, crossing the room in a couple of strides to take the tray from her.