Luiz, nodding as she left, would not have minded the addition of something more stimulating. It was not a need he felt when facing the collapse of a multimillion-dollar deal, but right now… He glanced down and winced. It seemed to him the tears would never stop. But gradually, over the next few minutes, to his relief they lessened until she gave a final deep, shuddering sigh and lifted her head from his shoulder, her damp cheek brushing his as she did so.
He made no attempt to stop her as she slid to the opposite end of the sofa.
Weak in the aftermath of the emotional excesses, Nell lifted her hand to push away the damp skein of hair that had flopped into her eyes.
‘I’m sorry,’ she muttered, not looking at him.
It bothered her that she had lost control, but for some reason it bothered her a lot more that she had lost control in front of this man of all people.
‘I’m fine now.’ Her level look dared him to contradict her.
‘Of course you are,’ he said, pushing a box of tissues supplied by the ever-alert Sabina her way.
‘About your father—’
Nell blew her nose. ‘I don’t want to talk about it,’ she said in a fierce little voice. ‘You’ve got what you want.’
Luiz, on whom her unfriendly attitude had not been wasted, angled a questioning brow. ‘I have?’
‘Well, your grandmother’s going to leave you her loot, isn’t she?’ She lifted her scornful red-rimmed eyes to his and added, ‘I suppose it beats working for a living.’
A look she couldn’t interpret crossed his face. It wasn’t guilt, but it should have been.
‘Perhaps we do not all have your strong moral integrity.’
The faint derision she heard in his voice brought an angry flush to Nell’s tear-stained face. ‘I’m not suggesting I’m perfect.’
Luiz looked at her, the red swollen eyes, the pink nose, and found himself thinking, Maybe not perfect, but awfully appealing. And not his type…even his grandmother had recognised this.
She sniffed and he experienced a sharp twinge of emotion. Refusing to recognise its source, he got abruptly to his feet and walked across to the table where the tea tray lay undisturbed.
‘Can I get something for you?’
‘You can get me Lucy, take me to her.’
He regarded her incredulously. ‘Now?’
He shook his head doubtfully. ‘You don’t look in any condition to go anywhere.’
‘Yeah, well, I’m terribly sorry I don’t reach your standard of airbrushed perfection, but we had a deal and I’ve done my bit, which, I have to tell you, has left a nasty taste in my mouth, so now it’s your turn. Do you actually even know where they are? If so just tell me. I’ll drive myself there—I have a car.’
The silence stretched. She was, he decided, more than capable of doing just that if he allowed her. The woman gave a new meaning to stubborn…or maybe, he conceded, she just had to keep going because if she stopped or slowed down she would feel. The grief would come crashing in. It was a coping mechanism that he recognised, he had used it after Rosa died. In his case it had taken the form of work and more work that had been viewed in some quarters as a lack of caring.
Not that Luiz had cared. Strange that back then he had been unconcerned what anyone thought, and now Nell’s assumption he was an avaricious scrounger felt like a slap in the face. It had been a warped sense of pride that had prevented him putting her right, warped because he had given her little reason to have a good opinion of him—a good opinion he still refused to accept he wanted.
‘The road, such as it is, is not good. Only a four-wheel drive or preferably a horse will get you there.’
‘I don’t ride a horse.’ But it was not difficult to see Luiz Santoro on one.
‘Then four-wheel drive it is.’
Nell gave a watery smile of relief. ‘You’ll take me?’
‘As you are clearly not fit to be let out alone—yes, I will.’
Nell let the inference she needed a keeper pass. She was just so relieved to actually be doing something and not standing around.
He glanced at the metallic banded watch on his wrist, screwed up his eyes as though making a mental calculation, and said, ‘I have some things to attend to, so we’ll say an hour’s time. In the meantime eat. I’ll send Sabina, who will show you where to go if you want to freshen up.’
His frowning scrutiny brought a self-conscious flush to Nell’s face. The last thing she wanted was to look in a mirror.
‘Who is Sabina?’ she began, but he had gone.
She did not have long to wait to find out as the Spanish woman appeared moments later carrying fresh coffee. Nell found her manner soothing as she explained in heavily accented but perfect English that she was the housekeeper.