THE doctor was leaving the Castillo d’Oro when the sound of a helicopter low overhead stopped him in his tracks. As he paused, his hand shading his eyes from the sun, it landed and a tall figure disembarked.
The figure, immediately recognisable even at a distance, appeared to see him and hit the ground running, reaching the doctor’s side before the helicopter had lifted off again. He had covered the hundred metres or so with a speed and grace that in the medic’s envious opinion would not have looked out of place on an athletic track.
‘How are you, Luiz?’
The question was strictly rhetorical.
There were few people who looked as little in need of his care as Luiz Felipe Santoro. Despite his exertion, the hand extended to the doctor was cool and dry, and its owner, not even breathing hard, presented his usual immaculate appearance complete with formal tailored suit and sober silk tie.
The doctor always found the vitality this young man projected slightly exhausting and today was no exception.
It was hard to guess looking at him now that Luiz Santoro had once been a delicate child who had suffered more than his fair share of childhood ailments including asthma.
His delicate constitution combined with an adventurous—some called it reckless—personality meant the doctor had treated the young Luiz for many bumps and bruises, and on one occasion a broken limb.
It seemed likely to the doctor that it was that streak of adventure that his parents, before they had left him in the care of his grandmother, had tried unsuccessfully to quash that made Luiz, to quote his grandmother, ‘the only member of this family I can stomach.’
That, of course, was on the occasions her favourite grandson hadn’t incited her wrath by refusing to jump through one of her hoops, but then when the two people involved were strong-minded individuals, both incapable of compromise, there were bound to be sparks.
It struck the doctor as ironic really that the only member of the family that neither wanted nor needed the fortune the rest of his family eyed so covetously was likely to inherit. Luiz, with his steel-trap mind and competitive streak, had made his first million before he was twenty-one and was already incredibly wealthy in his own right.
‘I’m surprised to see you. Your office told me you were mid Atlantic on your way to New York when I rang.’
‘I was.’ Luiz dismissed his altered travel arrangements with a wave of his long brown fingers. ‘How is my grandmother?’
The medic felt the sweat break out across his brow as he met, with as much composure as he could summon, the younger man’s dark eyes. It seemed to him that there was more than a hint of the ruthlessness the press spoke of in his dark, penetrating gaze.
The doctor tried hard to put a positive spin on his account of his patient’s health, but Doña Elena’s health was not what it had been.
Luiz summed up the situation in his usual concise manner. ‘So you are saying, though she has improved slightly since you contacted me, it is possible my grandmother might not get better.’
Luiz had always prided himself on being a realist, but this oddly was the first time he had allowed himself to believe that his grandmother was not indestructible. Recognising that should not hit him so hard—her decline was inevitable—but that did not stop him feeling as if he’d just been kicked in the guts.
The doctor sighed and looked sympathetic. ‘I’m sorry it could not be better news, Luiz,’ he said, struggling to gauge the younger man’s reaction. It was not easy when his eyes gave as much away as the mirrored surface of dark sunglasses. ‘Of course if I am needed…’
Luiz, his expression sombre, inclined his head in acknowledgement of the courtesy. ‘Goodbye, Doctor.’
He was still standing watching the man leave, thinking about the great gaping hole the death of his grandmother would leave, when a cheery voice hailed him.
He turned in response to his name to see Ramon, his grandmother’s estate manager, approaching at a trot.
Ramon had replaced the previous manager five years earlier. Experiencing a lot of resistance in the early days of his tenure, he had appealed to Luiz for support in his efforts to bring about some much-needed changes to the estancia set high in the Sierra Nevada, where tradition was important and his modernising ways were viewed with suspicion.
Over the years the two men had developed not just a relaxed working relationship, but a friendship. When Luiz had discovered the desperate condition of his grandmother’s finances—she had taken some appalling advice and put all her financial eggs in one basket; they had smashed—Ramon’s expertise and energy had helped him to save the estancia from imminent financial ruin.