She held her hand to her chest and saw the solid frame of Makso Yurcich darken the passage.
His face was long with brows hooding his eyes like cliff edges. With not an ounce of spare flesh, his jaw and cheekbones were pronounced, and two deep lines ran from the corners of his nose to the edges of his mouth.
“I can understand your wish to feel the artistry of the sculpture. She is very fine, isn’t she? Modelled with love by a sculptor who must have known she would outlive him by thousands of years. She’s from the third century AD, carved in pink alabaster.”
“I didn’t mean to be nosy. I got worried I’d been forgotten. Forgive me.”
“I cannot condemn someone for having an interest in art. It is my passion. My apologies. I had an urgent call. Pleased to make your acquaintance.”
He held out his hand and, for some reason, she hesitated to be taken in his hold. His presence was so domineering. He was the sort of man who would hush a room by walking into it.
She felt her hand encompassed in icy fingers. His grip was tight.
“Come to my office. We will talk business.”
Makso’s office was neat and controlled, like its owner. He sat down in a black leather swivel chair looking out on to a sparkling swimming pool.
He bid Mel to sit on the smaller chair opposite, in front of a leather-topped desk. Along the wall, glass-fronted display cases held books ranging from art reference works to some on property, trade and farming.
“So . . .” He steepled his hands.
Mel perched on the edge of her seat. Surely now he saw her cut-price suit he would know she was unsuitable.
“What do you think of my estate?” He waved his hand theatrically.
“I’m glad you think so. I’ve worked hard to achieve my aims. I do not tolerate shirkers or malingerers. Are you a malingerer?”
“Certainly not. I work hard for my employers. I spent the last fourteen years as nanny to a girl who’s grown up into a bright, happy individual. I kept house for her father, a prominent lawyer. I also cooked, shopped and cleaned Oscar’s flat. I think I can say that they’ve come to be my friends.”
“That is a firm testimonial. I am impressed that you regard friendship as important. My wife –” he looked across the swathes of lavender to the distant sea “– is unwell.”
“The birth was difficult. There was a degree of medical intervention which has left her . . .” He stopped.
His mouth moved, but nothing came out. For the first time, Mel felt sorry for this powerful man. However much money he had, he still had problems.
“The trauma of birth has left her dejected. She has no spirit for life and I fear she may neglect our son.”
“I’m sure that wouldn’t happen, Mr Yurcich.”
“Makso. I am Makso to everyone.”
Mel had trained at the famous Norland school for nannies. Its motto – “Love Never Faileth” – had been her guide.
“Could it be that what you are describing is post-natal depression?”
He paced the room. His leather shoes trod silently on the thick white carpet.
“Top doctors have made their pronouncements. What they have not done is make my wife better. Hiroko was full of sadness even before the birth of our son, Ivo. There was a sickness in her mind before she became pregnant.
“I believed having a child, which was her greatest wish, would cure her. She told me that was what she wanted. Now, she leaves Ivo in his cot and lets the nurse tend him. Such neglect isn’t natural.”
Mel listened intently. As she did, her own heart felt tight in her chest.
Feelings of sadness at her childlessness were raw. She felt for the young woman she had never met.
At that point, the sound of a crying baby filtered into the room. Makso halted. His eyes narrowed.
“My son needs a mother. A wife has obligations.”
He winced at the crying, the lines on his face deepening, the shadows about his jaw blackening. The inability of his wife to care for their son went against the grain.
Mel was desperate to be of use. Now, far from thinking this job might slip through her fingers, she was determined to win it. She hadn’t come all this way to be defeated.
The crying became more insistent.
“Where is that nurse?” His voice raised a notch.