“No. You’ve just got a nasty thorn in your leg.”
He removed the thorn, took a clean handkerchief and tied it tightly where he’d cleaned her skin.
“Thank you. What would I have done if you weren’t here?”
“Picked up your bike and gone on your way. Most snakes, even the ones that bite, have no interest in attacking. He was probably more terrified of you than you were of him.”
“I don’t know about that.” She held her hand to her throat.
“You’re going to have bruises. Are you OK?”
“I’m fine. It’s my pride that’s wounded.”
“Can I walk you somewhere?”
“The Villa Lavanda.”
“Ah, I’m going back there myself. I’m Greg Brodie, handyman and gardener to the great Makso Yurcich.”
Greg hauled the bike upright. It wouldn’t take him long to fix.
She limped beside him. She was shaken but seemed not to be one to dwell on misfortune.
“You’re the secretary and companion to Mrs Yurcich. Mel Sanderson, isn’t it?”
She had an engaging smile, and peaches and cream skin untouched by the sun. He guessed some Irish parentage had given her those luminous eyes.
She was weighing him up as she spoke.
“News travels fast.”
“Severina told me of your arrival. Have you met the missus yet?”
“Not yet. I want to. How long have you been here?”
“Just six months. I help Ivan, Severina’s husband, with the car and fix stuff around the house. I do the pool and a bit of gardening. It beats mouldering in Southampton.”
“What did you do there?”
“Worked in the shipyard, welding, engineering. I got out before they closed it as I saw the writing on the wall.”
As they walked, the trulli houses came into view then disappeared just as quickly.
“Who lives there?”
Greg glanced, then moved her quickly on.
“The workers in Makso’s fields. Farm workers.”
“They’re pretty houses. Where do the children go to school?”
“I don’t know.”
The house was in sight. As they approached, baby Ivo was crying.
“Poor Ivo.” Mel looked up towards the master suite. “Maybe I’ll get to meet Mrs Yurcich today.”
Greg edged her over the threshold.
“I won’t come in. If you need help any time, I lodge in the cottage by the pool. I keep an eye on the grounds.”
He pointed it out, keen to let her know exactly where to find him. He still wasn’t sure where her loyalties lay. Time would tell.
“I’ll sort the bike. If you want to go cycling, don’t go alone. Let me know. I like a bit of exercise.”
He watched her go indoors and hoped she would take up his offer. It wasn’t safe out in the fields for a woman alone. He could only do so much on his own, and her being here worried him. Then he set off back to his quarters to look for a bike repair kit.
* * * *
Mel showered and dressed. Greg’s hanky was a mess. She’d wash it before she gave it back. His kindness touched her.
She was about to go to breakfast when something caught her eye through the windows. A rolled-up ball of paper sat on her balcony.
She opened the doors. All was silent. She picked up the ball.
Inside a sheet of simple lined paper was a stone. Someone had thrown this deliberately for her to find.
Curious, she uncrinkled the paper. On it were three words which carried a wealth of meaning and sent a shiver down her spine.
Please help me.